During one of the worst – monetarily. Okay, also psychologically. I was suffering from post partum depression – periods in my life I came across a biography of Eva Peron. No, I don’t remember why. This was 92, and I think she was topical for whatever reason, and I was living from the “free books” rejected by used book stores and put up front because we were so far beyond broke.
How far beyond broke were we? Well, not only was Robert born by emergency cesarean which required two surgeons, but I then stayed in the hospital two weeks, prey to an antibiotic resistant infection.
At the time we didn’t have insurance, so the bill for that was about 20k. Also, the only job Dan could find was in another town. So we were renting a house, paying a mortgage, and had a brand new baby with brand new needs.
We used to buy rice bulk, and those huge frozen bags of vegetables, and that was pretty much what we ate. I read what I could get free, or from the library. (That Summer I read all of Piers Anthony back to back. A bad thing to do, but the library had him. Fortunately they also had Jerry Pournelle.) We had no TV. I waited for my birthday gift from my dad so that I could buy a winter coat.
Any extra money – there wasn’t a lot – went for either “celebrations” (rarely. But I did get a personal rejection on a novel.) in which we bought fast food, drove to the nice neighborhood half an hour away, parked and ate our fast food in the car surrounded by immaculate laws and pretty houses and people who were living lives so much better than ours.
There are two things needed to understand our mental state at that time. No, three. First, I was very depressed. I suspect if I’d gone anywhere near a doctor, I’d have been medicated at least temporarily. What’s more I’m not sure I shouldn’t have been. I had post-partum depression and worse, I was in a city about two hours away from all my social contacts. It’s hard to remember this, but there was no internet – that’s the other part – and life could get really small and closed when you neither had tv nor money for books. Both of these probably explain the third, which is that I thought we’d never get out of that place: our life was always going to be like that. At the edge of starvation, not able to send novels out when I should because we couldn’t afford $8 for postage, just day after day like that.
(We’ve had days almost as bad this last year, but they’re DAYS not day after day after day. It’s usually a cash flow issue and bills hitting before the payments I should get to cover them – the bane of the freelancer – NOT a way of life.)
Anyway, if you’re getting the picture of where we were… Dan bought me a book of the works of Leonardo da Vinci for $40, which meant quite literally we ate pancakes for dinner for a while, and that book was one of my main forms of respite, as was taking walks with Robert and daydreaming.
During this time, either because the library had it sitting around or because someone gave it to me, I read a biography of Eva Peron.
In it I came across a puzzling sentence. She was talking about growing up very poor and she said that she hated the “idea that there were rich people in the world.”
This was alien to me. It still is.
I’m not going to proclaim myself saintly and I’m not saying this to put myself above others. I have sins aplenty, and yes, even envy sometimes. I’ve been known to envy the way someone writes, or the ability they have to promote themselves. I’ve been known to be flabbergasted by computers and bitterly envy people’s facility with them.
More importantly, when the book business was all driven from the top, I could – and often did – bitterly envy the “darlings” who got taken up and wafted up to the heights with no effort and no ability I could see.
That last is the closest we’ll come to – I think – how she felt. But it wasn’t so much that. I didn’t want to have no one do better at publishing than I did. I just wanted the “darlings” to be people I could look at and see obvious superiority. People like Pratchett, say, or even Weber.
I didn’t want to read half-baked, badly plotted books and then read all the promotion proclaiming it the second coming of Shakespeare.
But even so…
I still can’t understand WHY she wanted there to be no rich people because she was poor. I remember reading it, and thinking of our pokey picnic lunches in front of people’s nice houses (I wonder what those people thought!) and thinking how much sadder, near unendurable, in fact, my life would be without those.
I liked to know that even though my life might never be more than unending drudgery, some people were living better lives. Even if I never got there, it was good to know other people were happy.
Later on, Dan said “Where did you always want to live” and I told him when I was eight I was going to live in Denver and be a writer. And he said “Great. We’ll go there.” And the rents were lower and the cost of living too, and his new job paid better. It took us six years to dig out from under, but Robert was eventually paid for, and they can’t repossess him.
And now, except for this last year – let’s hope the next year is better – which featured health and – not unrelated – cash flow issues, we’ve been at least okay. Oh, fine, we’re (still) not living the lives of the people in whose neighborhood we used to eat. Those were million dollar houses with landscaped yards. We might never get there – in fact, chances are we won’t though I’ll have you know I HAVE every intention of winning mega millions, if only I can remember to buy a ticket – but that doesn’t trouble me at all. Oh, sure, it would be nice, but actually once the kids move out we don’t even need a home the size we have, much less twice the size, and hey, I’m Death Of Plants and having grounds landscaped (unless we do it in cement) would be a waste of money.
All this is apropos of this “inequality” thing. All the flap about inequality puzzles me and makes me a little queasy. It’s Eva Peron all over again.
Why should I care that there are people who could buy me and sell me in half an hour’s work? Do I really give a hang?
I tell you where I’d like to be. I’d like to be at the place that a car repair doesn’t make our mouths go dry with anxiety and having the HVAC fixed is not a matter of waiting a propitious month. I’d like to be able to pay off my boy’s student loans (because we have about enough for ONE tuition, so we’re paying half of each.) I’d like to be sure when my 20 year old car quits (it’s been a trooper for us for about 15 years) we can get a new one without breaking the bank.
All of these have a good chance of happening when we’re not supporting college students.
Meanwhile, I know there are people a great deal worse off than us and carrying unbearable burdens and people so much better off than us that it’s ridiculous.
Neither bothers me. Oh, we try to help our friends who get to tight places. But we don’t feel it’s necessarily iniquitous that people make a great deal less than us. Yes, in some cases it’s luck, but that’s part of human affairs. Certainly I don’t either envy or resent the people who make a great deal more. Why should I, if I can make enough for our needs and we are (and we really are) quite happy with each other and the kids?
Why would inequality be a problem? People aren’t alike. Their abilities aren’t alike. Their capacity for work isn’t alike. I don’t feel guilty for what I’ve worked to have. I don’t expect people “above” me do either. Even if they inherited it. Someone worked for what they have.
The only inequality that bothers me is the inequality before the law. The people who are given special dispensation and special privilege and special exemption from regulations.
The other thing that bothers me is the societal equivalent of the literary darlings: people who are wafted up – usually by the political establishment, though they might be “businessmen” – to become post turtles, as in, no one knows how the turtle got on top of the post, it doesn’t know how it got there or what to do, and you can bet some damn fool put it up there.
Which again comes back to inequality of treatment.
That doesn’t bug me if it’s occasional – luck exists, and she’s no lady – but it disturbs living daylights out of me when it’s systematic and hinges on speaking brownnose to power.
It still doesn’t blight all my existence to know those people exist, mind. At most it makes me wish to fight for a fairer world, knowing it will never be perfectly fair.
But inequality? I sort of expect it. I take it as a demonstration that the world is working properly. Money is a stupid way to judge how people live, anyway, since some people live like kings on two cents and some people are poor on a fortune.
Why should I care that we’re not all equal? And why should the government care?
It doesn’t of course. It just sees a possibility – riding on the backs of those who hate the very idea of anyone doing better – to grab more power to itself. Because, again, money isn’t everything, and some people’s greed is for power, and those are ALL in government.
But there are people who do care. Their minds are foreign and strange. And others think they care, because the media has told us inequality is a bad thing over and over again (in service of a government power grab, of course.)
If you’re one of those, stop and think. Should you care if people aren’t equal? Equalite was never a call of the American revolution. People were very unequal then, even people who fought for independence.
But they fought for the right to be equal in the one way that counted – under the law.
And it’s the only way that should count for us too.