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2015111095125545Coraline’s been sleeping on her own lately, and this morning I sent Mia off to catch the bus to school and am now sitting in a quiet house, enjoying hot coffee for exactly 35 minutes and counting. I want to poke my head in to the bedroom to check on her, but I know it’ll wake her up. I get moments to myself at night, too, and end up pacing a little, ready to jump out of my seat if I hear her whimper. Her sleeping on her own has been one of those quiet moments of success that give me a chance to breathe without asking someone to help me do it.
Yesterday I did an interview for a radio station in Australia about the housecleaning essay Vox published back in July. The essay I’m turning into a book. I have to pinch myself often that this is my life. Yesterday was definitely not an exception, feeling a literal 15 minutes of fame. I had friends come over to listen to it, had a few beers, and ordered out for pizza. Coraline covered herself in spaghetti and we all patted our bellies full of food we didn’t have to cook ourselves.
It’s hard for me to celebrate, and it was especially hard for me to invite friends over to celebrate with me. I usually allow moments like this to pass. I believe that if I give them attention, I might jinx them in some way. If I poke my head in to check on them, recognizing they exist, they’ll vanish.
DSCN2175I’ve been going out on dates lately. I’m not totally sure I even want a boyfriend, and “relationship” has the same ick-factor of the word “moist” when I say it, but I thought it’d be good to try. I am happy single, but there are moments, during the holidays especially, where walking down a street alone in the midst of bundled up couples is too much to bear without feeling a little tug of sadness and wanting.
One of my dates asked about my writing, since I put in my online profile that I wrote for a living and it was something I’d dreamed of doing since I was ten. I told him I’d published some essays, and had kept a journal since I was a kid. He nodded in a “that’s nice” sort of way.
Later in the date he asked what I had going on that weekend and I told him about the Australian radio live interview. His jaw opened and his eyes got wide, and I went on to explain who I wrote for regularly and that I was preparing a book proposal for an agent who’d contacted me.
“I didn’t realize I was sitting across from a famous person!” he said. I couldn’t tell if he was saying that in a joking or sarcastic way or not.
I turned my head and said, “Yeah, I guess I’m a little famous.”
Being able to tell people about my job isn’t about that, though. For years I battled overcoming an inner voice in my head, the voice of my ex, who said I was worthless and that no one was ever going to love me. He said I was selfish for pursuing a college degree in writing, because I’d always be struggling and costing the tax payers money from being on government assistance.
Being able to tell people about my job is being able to say that I am successful. A professional, even, though most of my writing is done half-lidded and in pajama pants. I’m just at the start of my career, and it’s something I have to pinch myself over daily. I’ve had so many years, the last five especially, of showing my writing to people and being rejected, heavily edited, or watched them frown and tell me it needs some work. So I worked at it. It’s exciting to have things click, to find my voice and have the courage to use it, and get paid to write.
I almost threw up yesterday after the interview. It was only 15 minutes and I had no idea how many people had tuned in to listen, or just happened to be in a place on Monday morning in Australia where the radio was on that channel. My dog had horrifyingly barked through the middle and I fought through the distraction, but still felt awful. I had to stop. And breathe. And give myself that quiet moment of recognition. Not to relish, but to give credit: “You’ve worked hard to get here. Sit and enjoy it for a second.”
I guess I could say that about just about anything, but those moments are my favorites. Getting a chance to drink hot coffee in a quiet house ranks pretty high on the scale, too, though.
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Lately I’ve been writing a lot about how it feels to live in poverty. I’ve been published or featured seven times in the last week. I’m waiting on three more to go through edits, and another two to go live. On Tuesday, I’ll stand on a stage in front of a class at the college where I just graduated and give a talk about freelancing. I took that class two years ago.
DSCN1960But that’s not even the biggest full-circle moment. I’m working my way out of poverty by writing about my experiences in it. By opening myself up and taking a risk of admitting to others (namely internet trolls) that I’m still struggling enough to qualify for government assistance, I am getting to a place where I don’t need it anymore.
My first piece through the Economic Hardship Reporting Project was published yesterday. It’s the first time I’ve ever published something that said the words “I’m on food stamps.” Yesterday I wanted to curl onto my knees and heave sobs because of those four words appearing on a website. It was admitting how hard this has been while knowing the journey is almost over.
The piece was about the stigma involved in being on government assistance, or welfare, as most incorrectly call it. It’s about being compared to a wild animal receiving handouts on social media. It’s about feeling that judgment and hatred every time I pay for groceries, or even select items off the shelf.
I can honestly say I’ve never felt encouraged to get a college education as a single mother. I especially didn’t feel encouraged to pursue writing. I felt encouraged to work. I felt like I needed to work as many hours as I possibly could, no matter how low the pay, to get ahead. This is an idiotic system. Why wouldn’t low-income people be encouraged to educate themselves to earn higher wages? Not only was I going to school, though, I was taking out the maximum amount of student loans to pay for our meager fixed expenses like rent, insurance, internet, gas, phone, and utilities. I worked my way through college, and received grants and scholarships, but still ended at $50,000 in debt. Graduating meant failing my family at a chance to own a house.
DSCN1965Without the degree, though, I don’t think I would have stopped cleaning houses. I don’t think I would have thought myself on the same level as the people whose houses I cleaned. I don’t think I would have set my sights on top of the mountain, instead of being okay with remaining in the comfort of the trailhead at a job that required little skill or brain-power. Not thinking, not going to school, only working, was easy.
In a sense, I still feel the pull to get a regular job. I’ve written about this before. I think it’s only because writing is such a hobby to me and I feel like I’m not truly working. What is work, anyway? To a low-income person, it means being on your feet, asking people if you can get them anything, and performing customer service in the most direct way possible. Even if you’re working behind the scenes as a janitor, you still have customers to please.
But we’re all working in customer service. We’re all freelancers. Nobody (hopefully) forces us to work and we can leave anytime. And somebody, somewhere, appreciates the work we do, even if they don’t notice it.
I’m sitting in a café right now. I have a store-bought coffee sitting next to my laptop. I’m waiting for emails from editors, sending off essays, and fielding comments on my social media platforms. Last night I stayed up until 2 in order to meet a deadline. The work is constant, a mad dash, and a delicious hustle.
I just found out The Guardian’s running my op-ed tomorrow.
I think I deserve the night off.
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