Ramblings on Class before performances in CT

I return to the Hartford, Connecticut area tomorrow via Amtrak (my favorite way to travel while I am not teleporting) to perform Queer 101–Now I Know My gAy,B,Cs at Manchester Community College on Tuesday morning and Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible on Wed evening at University of Hartford as part of their Colloquium series on civil liberties. Both shows are FREE and open to the public. Get details at my site.

I lived in Hartford for eight years, arrived the month before Sept 11th, and only just moved to Central Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna Valley, where my partner Glen teaches creative writing. It’s been a stretch in some ways moving from an urban to a rural setting, but I had grown up in the Sullivan County Catskills in rural New York State surrounded by fields and farms and wildlife. The country doesn’t scare me–it’s the suburbs. Never lived in suburbs before. That feels isolating in a way that I am not sure I can handle.

Glen and I just purchased a home in the city of Sunbury, PA (pop. 10,610, well now 10,612.) It is a small city stuck in the middle of lots of farm land, rivers and woods. It seems a perfect fit for us.  After living in the rural NY State until high school graduation, I have lived in New York City, Memphis, Lusaka, Zambia, Quito, Ecuador and Kiddiminster, England.  Glen grew up in Kruger National Park in South Africa (with lions and zebras for neighbors) but then lived in London, NYC, Miami and Madrid. We are city boys who understand and love the country.

Glen on the front porch

Buying a home (and a large Victorian like we did) feels odd on many levels. Most notably I feel I have shifted in class. I come from solid working class roots and although I have been to college, I never because a “professional” and entered a professional class. I guess I have been more of an artisan with a bohemian lifestyle. Now partnered to a college professor, settled in a large house I would imagine a doctor or a lawyer would call home, I feel class conscious. It is not a guilty feeling exactly, rather a disorientation. I recognize we got an inexpensive home during an downturn in the market and incentives to buyers. Still when you see the house, well you will understand my disorientation. It is like an opulent manor house. As Glen says it is a work of art with gorgeous woodwork and all sorts of special features. It possesses both a grandness and a coziness.

I don’t think we talk about class enough in the US, at least I don’t. I know a group of radical queers in Hartford who bring me back to class time and again–thanks Abbey and Deric. Also N. Jeanne Burns, a fellow Quaker, writes articulately about class. Megan Rohrer with her work among people who live on the streets as she as lived on the streets and has written a communal response to poverty. Perhaps one of the privileges that keep me blinded to class struggle and class oppression is my own class–living in “nice” neighborhoods, traveling in planes and trains and cars, so that I don’t SEE the struggles. I walk around with a curtain in front of my face that blocks the view and instead plays pretty picture and fun programs to distract me–Oh look it is the next generation of iPhones. Maybe I can watch Glee on it! You get the point. It’s easy for me to live as if everything were cool in the world, and if it gets too dreary, well there is always YouTube.

It seems I have to fight to stay awake, informed, engaged. So many forces conspire to dull my mind and keep me from seeing reality. Abbey was writing on her Facebook about how so many people can get caught up with a Cinco de Mayo celebration, but May Day–International Workers’ Day? (cricket, cricket)

What does poverty look like in my neighborhood? I don’t know. Strange how in Luke’s Gospel Jesus is quoted as saying,

Blessed are the poor…

But then in Matthew he gets quoted as saying,

Blessed are the poor in spirit…

Suddenly it moves away from a physical poverty to a spiritual one, to which many churches infer that they need to focus primarily on souls and not economic justice. (note: there are over 300 Bible verses that refer to economic justice while only five that may say something about gays, yet I hear much more about homosexuals than the homeless coming from most ministers) Maybe Jesus was being provocative or clueless or subversive. Not sure, but if I woke up physically poor tomorrow, I would not feel blessed.

In one of my recent Jesus Loves You! Twitter posts (you can subscribe here) I tweeted:

Jesus Loves You! Blessed are the poor–well not really. At Holy Praise Tabernacle we believe poverty reveals a lack of faith and hygiene.

The poor have a hard time of it even in churches (especially in churches) where everyone is quick to blame the poor person for their physical poverty. I muse muse muse over poverty and class as I work on my newest play I Can See Sarah Palin from my Window. I welcome your thoughts, information, resources around class and poverty.

This post has 6 Comments

  1. Glen Retief on April 25, 2010 at 10:43 pm Reply

    I love this post. I feel similarly shell-shocked about this house: it is not the kind of place I could ever have imagined myself living in. It is a house out of a novel–a CS Lewis book where aristocrats live in a rambling old country mansion. And like you, Peterson, I am stunned by the world we live in, where such a vast proportion of humanity are so tremendously poor, yet the middle-and upper-class in the prosperous West lives as though this reality simply doesn’t exist. Ryszard Kapuscinski’s Shadow of the Sun includes several brilliant essays that meditate on this topic: in one Kapuscinski lives in a Lagos slum and gets all his belongings stolen over and over again. If I remember correctly, in Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, several trenchant comments are made about the lumpenproletariat and who they are in a global sense. They are not just a small minority in capitalist countries, the unlucky who are unemployed, hungry, and homeless. The vast majority of humanity in fact live without stable food, jobs, or housing; they would love to be so much as “working class.”

  2. Brian Gerald on April 26, 2010 at 11:21 am Reply

    Thank you for creating the opportunity for us to reflect. I have become increasingly aware of the way I privatize my life: drive to work in my car, sit in my office, drive home to have dinner with my friends… I never HAVE to interact with anyone I don’t want to (of course, I don’t even have an office anymore). To challenge that, I try to walk and take public transportation and bike and interact with people around me.

    A tension I don’t have an answer for is around our neighborhoods. If I live in a “nice” neighborhood, I’m segregating myself and missing out, if I move to “not nice” areas, I am taking inexpensive (or otherwise vacant) housing and occupying it–taking it away from someone who might need or want it–and contributing to gentrification. Surely there is a middle way… what is it?

  3. Jane on April 26, 2010 at 11:23 am Reply

    Class bisects almost every other classification into which we put ourselves. I know that I must struggle to stay aware of the class issues in my own city. I live one block from an opulent park that has free WiFi in it. The great irony is that the park is home to many, and they don’t own computers. I’ve watched people wake up from underneath the tree in front of the lawyer’s office across the street from my house; they needed to be gone before the lawyer showed up for work. My city began a program called “Housing First.” The program grew from scholarship done by professors at the university at which I work. This program closed 14 encampments, ousting some 300 people, while providing housing for 100. It breaks my heart. I see the gentrification of my working class town; we battle the identity crisis of not being Seattle, and the major hurdle to that is money. I don’t want us to be Seattle; I want us to be Tacoma. Your “ramblings” are ones that I wrestle with everyday. I have a fairly secure job, a steady income, a comfortable studio apartment, and food. I strive to live more simply, yet I am caught up with the newest tech toys. How do we move beyond the pondering to make a real difference? I’m reminded of Mitch Snyder and wonder what he would say to us. Okay – enough of my rambling for the day.

  4. wlplreads on April 26, 2010 at 12:17 pm Reply

    Thank you so much for this post. I think that while class effects so much of our lives, positively and negatively, it is usually invisible. I remember one Yearly Meeting when a few Friends shared on the problems of the homeless. It struck me at the time that the term “they” was consistently used. It was one time when I felt a calling to speak and did not. “They” was in fact “me”. I had been homeless. And I have the feeling that I probably was not the only one. Until society realize that there is no great separation between them and us the problems of poverty will not be addressed. In the US we hold on to this idea that if we only try hard enough, work hard enough, we too can be well off. Those who are poor must not work hard or have somehow chosen their lot. What would our response be if we erased the mythology of ” the poor boy who pulled himself up by his bootstraps and made it big”, when we realize that for all the Bill Gates in the world there are millions who cannot get basic necessities. (end of tirade/sermon)

    Peterson I miss you and am sad I have to work and will not see you this week. Your house is truly beautiful and I hope it becomes a happy, refuge for you.

  5. wlplreads on April 26, 2010 at 12:19 pm Reply

    In case you are wondering this is Beth, I just realized that I am logged in as my blog for work.

  6. Tonya on May 14, 2010 at 3:38 pm Reply

    the house looks amazing. wonderful post. i think you spoke for many of us.

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