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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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A knot usually builds in my stomach at the beginning of the month. It’s a turnover of bills that are due, namely rent and that one private student loan payment I can’t defer. I’ve looked for work seriously for the past couple of months. As a freelancer, I figure at least five regular clients with added one-time jobs will be necessary to be lucrative. I currently have one, and the added two who have hired me but I haven’t worked at yet. I’ve found in this industry, getting from “hired” to “paid” is a big leap.
Snapshot_20150302Last night, I sat and stared at the closed blinds. Coraline slept in my arms. I’d overspent on stuff for Easter by five bucks, starting the dance of waiting for paychecks and direct deposits before checks clear. I thought maybe I was getting depressed. I’d been scrambling and scraping for too long. The last year has been especially tough, often not having enough, but we’d made it. I’d found an apartment we could afford. All the years of college, of toiling over words, of long hours promoting myself, gave me this launching point. We’d made it to me growing my online platform to something I could be proud of, enough to go out and ask people to hire me to write for them. I felt like jumping up and saying a proud “TA DAH!” and presenting Stephanie Land, Freelance Writer, and all the jobs would come in. My small amount of income would triple, I’d pay off my credit cards, and I’d be able to leave the state and take the girls on a trip somewhere. But all of these weeks went by so fast, and it was suddenly four months into the year and I’d only accomplished a fraction of my financial goals.
DSCN1509Recovering from putting myself through college with a newborn was harder than I’d thought. I had no idea I’d suffer from a fear of my own mortalityI didn’t think I’d be so enraptured with Coraline that months of having barely enough income and support to pay the bills would be worth it. But I still made progress. I secured good shelter. I gathered resources to help us through this (hopefully) last time of needing them. I lowered my monthly bills by $140 while adding life insurance. I used my tax refund to pay off a third of my credit card debt and transferred another chunk to one with 0% interest. I applied for funding to write a book. I wrote. I submitted. I got published and started the process again.
I hope this foundation will carry us through the next several years.  
But last night I felt sorry for myself, tired and weary of the struggle. I searched online for blogs written by other single moms who had done the same. Who had their kids full-time. Who’d gone from depending on government assistance to successful careers. But most of them were written by former stay-at-home moms who’d divorced. A lot of them focused on dating. Then I stumbled on singlemomsincome.com and this lady had gathered a whole list of ways to work at home. She has ebooks and links and words of encouragement. Enough that I felt inspired. But it still came from a post-divorce woman. Someone who’d started her family with a platform of marriage, and had a partner in the beginning. Her kids visited their dad every other weekend.  
I thought instead of occasionally posting on here, I should do so with purpose. In the next few weeks, I’ll add a tab that lists resources I’ve used when my total incoming money was less than a thousand dollars. Sometimes a lot less. Writing or talking about living well below the poverty level hasn’t been an easy topic for me. I hold on to a lot of shame and guilt surrounding it all. It’s time to let that go.
With luck, this blog might reach another full-time solo mom, desperate to not have to fill out applications for assistance and pay all her bills while affording dinner out. Maybe she’s a survivor of abuse, too. Maybe she’s estranged from her family like we are. And I can comfort her a bit, or give her confidence, and say “I know, I’ve been there, too.”
That’s who I’m writing for. That’s who I’ve always written for.
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