These days I am going through (or should I say, continue to be going through) some changes. Since 2004 really when I sold my belongings, donated my car to a charity and then headed to Paris with the intent of expatriating, my life has been moving on and on and on...
It has not stopped. Now I am in the throes of trying to make a career as a writer. Now, I call myself a writer. Now I am a writer. I have written some beautiful things several, including one of the most beautiful, was even published. I have the makings of a novel in my sacred notebook and in my sacred MacBook. I am doing just about everything I ever wanted, you know: writing, cooking, traveling, even living with abandon pretty consistently these days...the only thing that's missing is loving. But that's not what I plan to delve into here. No.
Now I live in poverty. In the past three months, I made $80 from my writing. Since I decided to make a go of it full-time, I no longer have money or time for the things I once did. I have gone through my savings, borrowed, begged, but not yet stolen, although I have been there too since I started on this path in 2004, and I've learned that no one anywhere should ever say "Never!" Never does not exist when you're really living. Sometimes you have to get that hustle going any way you can (well, within reason) This is not meant to sound high-handed or uppity. I'm no uppity negro (at least not about things like this). Anyway, to the point...
I am living in poverty. Proof: I'm on welfare now. I currently have a Link Card. Which, for those not from the great state of Illinois, means I'm on food stamps. Funny, like a drug, I am on food stamps and I have to admit that I might be hooked. When you take your card and swipe it and it pays without drawing money from your coffers, you feel as though you've been given a gift of some sort, especially when you head through the line at Whole Foods. Something exhilarating about food stamps at Whole Foods, I'm not gonna lie. The looks on the faces of the wealthy white folks...that's another post, another day, another commentary. Anyway, I'll miss my Link Card when this stage of life passes! The truth is, this Link Card, it's my right and I've been contributing to the fund for years so I have no qualms about making a withdrawal as piddling as my $160 a month.
In other areas of my life, I have had to seek rental assistance from the city's Department of Human Services. Who knew that there was rental assistance that didn't involve folding sweaters at the Gap on evenings and weekends after you finished your real day job?
Please don't get me wrong. Don't think I'm making light of poverty and what it does to people, on the contrary. Don't think that this is fun, this poverty stuff, as a great many of our brethren can attest to, is not for suckers. It's hard and I'm not even REALLY poor. In a sense I am doing this by choice, because with my Master's degree and my French fluency and the rest, I could go get a job and stack some paper, just like I was before I decided to let art rule my heart and thus, my life. But yes, it's tough, not only because you have to constantly be thinking about what's what, what will be, what might be, and what isn't, in a way that you don't when your bank account is padded, but because at every turn you have to prove that you are in need and what you say you are: POOR.
I'm learning that the prevailing sentiment is that poor people are criminals. That somehow they want to be poor. Now, of course, some of them are criminals let's just get that out there, because I have a few in the fam who stand out in my mind as shining examples, however, as trifling as they are, I don't think even they aspire to poverty. But overall, I know well in this three-year journey from young urban professional to artist that poverty causes crime in most circles, but again, another post, another day, another commentary.
I have had to produce documents detailing my poverty, I have had to get official documentation from friends and employers substantiating my plight and hope that someone somewhere sitting in an office would believe me when I said that I only had $5.37 in my checking account until God knows when, and "could you please help me out so I can by some soy milk?"
I have had people treat me terribly. First those who assumed that I am just another lazy Black Woman. Probably with a few kids--someone actually checked the yes box on a form and then asked me "How many?" without even looking up. Another case worker told me that she would pass me on for someone to deal with me. Yet another fat-punk-ass-hot-ass-breath-having security guard (oooh, sorry, it got personal for a minute) at a social service agency spoke to me in Spanish thinking first that I was Puerto Rican. When he found out I was not, he was extremely rude and refused to help me. I know this because while my spoken Spanish is rusty, I understand it like it was my own tongue. When speaking with my downtrodden Latin brethren, he was the picture of courtesy. Of course, I had to check them all. I had to tell them all: 'have some respect, show some respect, I am human and I am struggling, just like you are/have/may be one day.'
But none of that mattered.
It was only when they learned that I am a writer with degrees and travels under my belt and shit, speaking foreign languages and shit. It was only then that they showed a modicum of respect. Only when I wasn't just a trifling, po', black ass hood rat (what they assume of every Black Woman who walks in the door) that they began to look at my face. Even my beauty, my big butt, my smile, none of it mattered, at least not that I could tell. It's been an education for real. I don't want to end on a corny note saying things like: "it's all part of the journey..." or "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger..." or "I'll look back on all of this and laugh..." because the truth is, it shouldn't have to be, that's not always true, and I probably won't.
So I'll say, we should stop treating poor people like criminals, because when you are constantly worried you can't possibly be your best self or raise babies who grow up doing the same; we should support the arts so people who try to create beauty and truth don't have to struggle the way that they do; all black people are not trifling, uneducated lay abouts looking for a hand out; that security guard with all of his sin-verguenceria (how's that for Puerto Rican, security guard Garcia?) better be glad the homiez I could have called before moving to France are either on lockdown or dead, or he would be in a world of trouble. Maybe I'll just write a scathing letter to the editor and send it to the Chicago Tribune. How 'bout that, Garcia?