You look so fucking tired, America . . .

You look fucking tired, America

I have never aspired to be a millionaire. I have only ever wanted to live comfortably and be able to afford the little things one should be able to afford in America. I wanted, when I grew up, at the very least (materially speaking): a dishwasher, doors that shut, windows that open, easy access to a washer and dryer (if it’s not in my house/apartment, I can walk to it), and a backyard where I could grow a garden, play fetch with a dog. I wanted to not go broke over healthcare. I wanted a job I looked forward to every day (and I did get that, and I hope that for as long as I’m in education I have that feeling).

I do not have a bad/hard life, economically. Not really.

I mean, compared to some in our generation, we’re doing okay.
We own a car. We rent part of a house (a WHOLE house once we get to Tucson) where the doors don’t properly close and the foundation is coming up from the ground, and we always seem to have mice despite our cats,
but we’ve been okay with these things because the landlord has never raised the rent, because we have lived close enough to Sarah’s job that we didn’t need the expense of TWO cars. We have had okay health insurance, though I have had to fight with them for virtually every drug and treatment, but for my surgery at a time in my life when I was really sad and frightened and didn’t feel like fighting with anyone, much less a corporate entity. I have never had a yard of my own. Maybe that will change in Tucson.

This is all a long way of saying, materially, I do not need a lot of stuff.

My wife needs/appreciates a bit more of the material than I do, but not by much.

We’re both pretty easy to please in terms of “stuff” and “living conditions.”

If it’s clean. If it’s reasonably safe. If it doesn’t have carpeting — we’re cool.

Easy.

We would like to own a home someday, but that might not be a possibility for us. We, along with so many of our generation (X), and those generations that followed, paralyzed with student loan debt (Boomers told us this would make everything worth it and all right), and often credit card debt, and in our case egregious medical bills (because I dared to get cancer in America!), have resigned ourselves to the idea that home ownership, a cornerstone of the “American life” the Boomers and Greatest Generation sold us (bill of goods, as it happens) may not be in the cards. (Though, again, the affordability of Tucson may usher this “hope” into reality territory. IDK.)

So we’re not too materialistic. We like our creature comforts — and this list sometimes gets longer/more particular as we age, as we really settle into and know who we are and what comforts us. (Hopefully mostly healthy. Nothing too much worse than wine or white cheddar popcorn or a sip of Cognac or cannabis or coffee and carbs. And in all of these things, moderation.) We’re American. We like stuff, but we don’t need ALL THE STUFF.

Some people NEED ALL THE MONEY AND STUFF. And that’s totally cool. Really the only difference between me and Elon Musk is that Mr. Musk NEEDS ALL THE MONEY AND STUFF, and I just don’t.

And I don’t think he’s any smarter or more clever than me or of better moral fiber or worth more (in ways that cannot be monetized) than me. Nor do I think I am smarter or more clever or more moral/deserving than Elon Musk. We’re just people who want different things in life. We need to learn to respect that in the country. One size does NOT fit all. Different people want different things. That’s FINE. (Barring certain things like “I want you not to have human rights” or “I want you not to have health insurance” or “I want you not to have a proper, healthy education” — if that’s what you “want” you are a psycho and really you should just stay inside and maybe we can find money for a “psycho-stay-inside” slush fund to financially support all you Americans — boy there are a lot of you — who are that fucking broken and unmended.)

Frankly, because of my deep sense of responsibility in all that I do, the very idea of being a billionaire makes me a little queasy.

That would be way too much moral/ethical responsibility than my bleeding little liberal heart could take.

Seriously.

OH, another bit of EVIDENCE to support my claim that I’m not “too materialistic” — I chose a career in education in America.

Not because I wanted to make that “sweet teacher money” (no such thing anymore exists), or because I wanted summers off (I hate summer and summers off are really not entirely “off” and last summer, because of Trump’s disinterest in controlling a motherfucking pandemic, my whole summer as a teacher was “on” while we frantically tried to figure out, with little to no state or federal guidance, what to do and how to do it),

but because I believe in my heart and soul that education has the power to make communities, countries, entire civilizations better for EVERY civilian (and civil servant because they’re people, too). I mean, if it’s done right. And we haven’t been doing it right (in education) for a long, long time.

My life’s work, my identity, my “pay it forward,” my expression of gratitude for all the gifts with which life has blessed me is in the work I do as an educator. Education is my religion. I believe in its miracles. I believe it can heal and uplift. I believe it can bring us closer, in all matters, to true justice (“true justice” sounds like the name of some kind of Matt Damon movie and probably is).

I have not had an easy life (who gets an “easy life”? no one, that’s who.), but I have had it far easier than some. I have not always gotten
my wishes, but most of the time, when it really counted, when it was really important,
I have been blessed with what I needed: be it a job, a friend, a new city.

And I think if you’re blessed, you have to pay it back to the universe
(the young, the sick, your community, your family, your friends, the suffering, the lonely — stuff that virtually all major religions, as far as I know, value; and things that healthy societies value regardless of religion) in commensurate amounts. It’s like those adorable lending libraries that are trending right now in most communities: take one, leave one.

So if life has treated you like shit. If you have just been kicked around and mistreated and beat up and deprived of any love whatsoever, deprived of any supports of any kind; if you have been starved, in all ways, all your life 1) I feel so sorry for you. and 2) You don’t owe the universe SHIT . . . Your life has been real fucked up. I can’t even imagine.

HOWEVER, for most people this is NOT the case.

For most people, even in the worst of American circumstances (and there are plenty bad ones) most people (if I’m naive, I’m naive, but I think I’m right on this one thing) MOST people have had at least ONE blessing — be it a good friend, a loving partner, a sweet parent, a good kid, a cool aunt/uncle, your dream job, all that money and stuff you wanted, whatever it is for you . . .

And if you have even ONE good thing (like the aforementioned) you owe the universe ONE good thing back.
Take one, leave one.

You don’t have to go into public service or education or work for Save the Children or anything (I mean if you want to, for the right reasons, I fully support that), but you have to try to do one thing. To be at least that generous. Generosity seldom has much to do with money. You don’t need money to be generous, to be charitable, to help people out.
Sometimes a phone call will do it.
Sometimes it’s more complicated than that.

Maybe I’ve spent too much time in Flagstaff. I’m far less cynical now than I was when I first left Chicago/Milwaukee.
More prone to hope over despair.
Why the fuck not?
Good on you, Flagstaff, for softening me up a little.
Being a cynic/grumpy ALL the time was not good for my anxiety
(though trust me, I’m still plenty cynical and grumpy when I need to be).

As I write this, 2:49 PM MST, Arizona is still giving me hope.

Anyway. I was writing about “blessings” and “take one, leave one.”
And money.
And being a billionaire.

I’m going to go out on a limb and wager that virtually none of the people reading this will ever be a billionaire.

Sorry.

Living like a decent person, not sacrificing what’s objectively right or just or good at the altar of loyalty to a person or organization or idea, not selling your soul — well, those refusals are generally NOT rewarded in American society as it is.
Not financially at least.

Virtue is hard to monetize.

So if you want to go into life and make a fuckton of money in America and be a billionaire like Mr. Musk, you’ll probably have to aim to be a CEO of something or dumb down/compromise your art or get lucky on YouTube (it’s luck, you know this right? you know wealth has everything to do with luck and who ya know/who your daddy is/was and nothing much to do with talent, hard work, grit, sweat and tears — I mean, if those things equated wealth in all cases, most people I know and love would be so money rich . . . ).

This is where my well off (financially) readers might get a little defensive and say, “I’m not an idiot. I’m not a bad person. I’ve worked hard . . .”

Are you a billionaire?
Are you Elon Musk?
Did you come by it honestly, and not
by crushing people’s souls and ruining their lives?
Then I’m not talking about YOU.

And I’m not even talking about someone like Bill Gates.
That man has done what I think one should do if you are blessed with the kind of fortune and money he’s been blessed with.

And I do know some people who the average Gen Xer or Gen Zer or Millenial would consider “rich financially” (they are not billionaires or Elon Musk) and they are doing very well and they are lovely people who are generous with their monetary wealth and they’re not my friends because they’re rich: they just happen to be friends of mine who are rich.

I also have lots of broke as fuck friends who are lovely people, rich people (but not financially) who also have been generous with their money when someone needed it. And I have stingy friends.
And I love them equally because money ain’t shit.

I mean, we need it as long as we’re a capitalist country
and I really don’t think (despite what Qanaon or Trump might say or whatever)
that anyone’s coming for capitalism (or your guns) anytime soon.
So calm the fuck down.

We need money. And I just feel like everyone
in this country who has given to this country whether through
paid, shitty/not labor or charity or important contributions of art (musical, literary, visual et al) but maybe never ended up in Hollywood or The Louvre or those who’ve made incredible technological breakthroughs who
have paid their taxes, and haven’t hurt anybody badly or unnecessarily (I’m not including all the people we inadvertently hurt on our way through life; that’s a different, deeply personal thing that you’ve got to work on alone or with a therapist, usually)

deserve some basic shit in America
like a house to live in and call your own
and the ability to get better-than-average healthcare — whether you have a twisted ankle or stage iv cancer — without going fucking broke (and whether or not you have a job or insurance — healthcare is a goddamn human right).
And a decent (free) school to send your kid to where they will be treated well and won’t be beaten into submission (emotionally or otherwise) or have their spirits or dreams crushed or broken or disrespected or be cheated out of knowledge and experiences some other kids get because their dad is Bill Gates.
Whether your dad is unemployed or dead or a high school history teacher or gone away or wealthy as all get out you should be able to have access to a really fuckin good k — 12 education where the people actually care about you and the work they’re doing. I’m sick of this patriarchal “white dads passing down privilege to their white kids” shit. The rich white kids deserve awesome education, too.
The rich white kids are human beings, too.
They have their own problems and potentials, just like everybody else.
But they’re not the ONLY ones who deserve a good fucking education
and a good fucking life.
Not by a long shot.

And a “good life” doesn’t necessarily mean “rolling in Benjamins” (unless it does to you)

We need to stop equating wealth with a person’s actual human value.

Now if you want to get rich as fuck, I think you should be able to do that in America.

If you just need ALL THE MONEY AND THE STUFF to feel okay when you go to sleep at night, you go for it, champ! Make all the money you want in tech, or being a world renowned surgeon, or a lawyer for corporations, but stay in your money lane. And try to come by it honestly. Like try not to break human beings on your way to getting all your money and stuff.

As for the rest of us, those not aspiring to be billionaires, those with different priorities/goals, we deserve some basic shit in this country. Yes deserve. Why? Because we’re just as fucking smart and valuable and clever as Elon Musk. That’s why. Or a guy who plays sportsball. Or a lady who lies atop white pianos in a cocktail dress for a photoshoot in her home (looking at you, Melania). Let them have their candelabras and diamond studded wine glasses and their yachts and their gated communities and golf carts or whatever rich people like (actually, I like golf carts — deep down in my DNA there’s a moneyrich ancestor in there somewhere, one of the French ones, I know it) —

all that useless shit they bought with all their money, let them have it. They can’t take it with them, but that’s THEIR cosmic/existential blankie. So fine. Whatever.

Maybe money and stuff is your cosmic/existential blankie — I’m not judging, but just stay in your lane (like out of healthcare and education — like if you want to be philanthropic in those areas, please! We need you! ) and let the rest of us dorks who want to care for people (whether through social work, education, healthcare) or who work in grocery stores and big box stores that our American asses deemed essential during this pandemic, make a decent enough living that we don’t have to fight ALL the time for really basic shit. Stop making Americans, whose primary drive is not money, suffer and fight for everything (education, healthcare, food, housing, a proper yearly vacation — yeah, I’m tacking that on the bill because I do think it’s important), stop working us to death because we’re not Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos or Donald Trump, America. Let us hang out with our friends and our family. Let us have time to make beautiful things — whether it’s high art or a cross stitch pattern that says “Fuck 2020”(that could be high art, too. you know what? fuck it. fuck the whole notion of “high art” because, at least in America, it’s just a bunch of racist colonial sexist bullshit that gets forced on kids from the moment they step into school: ooh? Heart of Darkness? Robert Frost? How fresh! How of-the-moment, how RELEVANT. I’ll be honest: I told a group of students today that there’s absolutely no fucking reason in 2020, in HIGH SCHOOL, they need to be reading fucking My Antonia — there’s better, more important, recent work by LIVING writers out there. let’s hear some other voices. nonwhite. not straight. not rich. (Willa Cather was probably NOT rich because she was a woman “back then,” but I don’t know. The only white women who had time to write “back then” were usually the ones with rich white husbands or rich white daddies.)

— let us have time to be quiet, please.
— let us have consistent sources of peace in our life, please.

Today, this comes out of me as a prayer. I am praying, in my own way, that this election is over soon and that Biden wins and that we can start to heal, meaningfully. That we can stop fucking torturing each other. That we can start having the hard, but necessary, conversations.

This election has been torture. Torturous in a way I could have never imagined — just like most everything “big” that’s happened in 2020 — to me, to you, to all of us. Straight up fucking traumatizing.

I do hope it’s over soon. I need sleep. You need sleep.

America, you look really fuckin’ tired.

Educator, essayist, feminist, human.