Two people stand out to me right now in light of how things have unfolded here online in recent months and recent years. The first person is a friend from middle school and junior high school. I’ve not mentioned her yet on this blog although we’re still in touch to some degree, which is lovely… Back then I used to love going to cultural events with her. Her name was Sarah…
For my 14th birthday my parents sent Sarah and me to the (classic) Nutcracker ballet and we often went to films or museums together. And she also loved to travel. For example, Sarah was fairly well acquainted with Europe before her senior year of high school, having lots of adventures there by herself on at least a few separate occasions including seeing Michael Jackson perform live in Germany.
Sarah came from a middle class background. Or perhaps upper middle class. I’m not entirely sure. But either way, what she had was enough for a French pen pal who visited her here in the US to turn on her while she visited the pen pal in France and treat Sarah like absolute garbage (not a commentary on all the French people or France). She told Sarah that she was a heinous, spoiled American with a too big American house even though in reality Sarah was blessed but not spoiled and certainly not heinous in any way either. Ha! Naturally, after that, it was a scary visit for Sarah considering that she was only a teenager essentially alone in France…
When Sarah returned home from that vacation we spent long conversations trying to figure out why the French pen pal thought she was so rich and spoiled. *laughing* It made no sense to us back then…
As I’ve said before, I grew up in a very affluent section of the Twin Cities at a time when it was at its peak of affluence. Her home was worth around $300,000. to $400,000. and that was on the average to lower average end of things in the neighborhood in the late 1990’s, so we couldn’t figure it out (with inflation that’s around $450,000. to $600,000). We thought this French pen pal was genuinely losing her mind. Ha! “I mean, I have a normal house.” Sarah scoffed with sad indignation.
(Actually, on a related note, her mother and aunt used to collect rare Guerlain bottles. When I started collecting perfume myself a few years ago I thought of them.)
…Of course Sarah wasn’t pretentious either. In fact, quite the opposite. Once when we were at an art museum we accidentally ran into a lady who had just married into her family. That lady was an art historian and I believe she was there observing some exhibit with a friend. Anyway, Sarah was not excited to see her at all. We tried to avoid her. Apparently she (this lady) had come across as incredibly pretentious once at a family dinner by asking for a specific kind of herbal tea in an affected tone while others were having decaf black and coffee. She also had made a rather big deal about her PhD in art history…and Sarah found this lady’s manner very difficult to tolerate.
The second person who comes to mind was a friend in college. Her father was a professor at our college and her mother worked for the governor back then, but they had purchased their small old house (by American standards) of about 1,400 sq. ft. (in the nicest neighborhood mind you) when they were a young couple without many funds of their own. My friend shared that her father’s family was indeed wealthy, owning an estate next to Lake Michigan where they all met every summer and that her uncles were doctors at Mayo Clinic and that she, in accordance, had a cousin who was an executive at a very prominent music company, etc. etc. but that she never told people about all that background because she was afraid. She was comfortable with her seemingly more posh friends asking her if she was “poor” when they saw the size of her house as opposed to having them label her a, “rich bitch.” And indeed she was socially very adept and genuinely charming (although she likely wouldn’t have claimed that). She was and is quite popular, I think.
But all that to say that our understanding is always limited by our experiences. Having grown up in the suburb I did I don’t think, to this day, that I fully grasp certain outlooks. And it doesn’t help that I came from the background I did or that I have what I have had as an adult. That might sound condescending, but I’m being serious and sincere. To me that $300,000. to $600,000. house is still very middle middle class. And, if you look at certain statistics (and I do) it’s really not that big of a deal regardless of what’s technically “average”. Now, I don’t think that a house for that much is (it depends on the neighborhood) a bad house but…it’s well within the bounds of an average house to me. Condos or townhouses can be less and be average depending on where they are but…for a house that range still feels very average to me.
Is it average? No, not quite. At least, based on the median home price in the US overall which is around $200,000. and was $160,000. as an average a year or two ago. But again, for nineteen of the most formative years of my life I was taught to believe that that range ($400,000. to a couple hundred thousand over a million by today’s standards) was some sort of average (read the range of the middle class). And if I’m honest, I still think that…
And my second thought based on the premise of the first, is that, again, I really don’t understand how certain things are perceived by those who are different than the people I’ve been friends with my whole life. Or people who I’m related to.
When I first realized that people would compete and label me a “snotty rich girl” on Instagram and make digs of all sorts, I was surprised and especially surprised as the bullying, harassing and competition continued and eventually worsened over the years. And again, I reasoned that if these people were going to be blindly hateful and attack me I might as well go full “Philadelphia Story” on them and both confuse and totally piss them off. I would make my gallery and blog so irritating and obnoxious to them by sharing things from my life that I had gathered (from their responses over the years) would work that they would figuratively march off in disgust. And, at times, while I couldn’t believe they didn’t understand certain aspects of my life they didn’t seem to, so I thought that for those who simply didn’t realize how transparent or awkward they were being out of ignorance, that my sharing more about myself would help them see the errors in their thinking. *rolling eyes*
Looking back in sadness, as I am today, I realize even more how misguided I was. But again, the people I’m used to knowing would either have just stopped talking to me if I seemed too brash or “embarrassingly open” (out of anger or otherwise) or they would have seen what I was up to and explained why they were so antagonistic to begin with. And actually there are plenty of folks who did start to ignore me over the past year or so. I, of course, ended up unfollowing them because I don’t follow people who don’t reciprocate on Instagram (I think it’s rude) and, on a related note, I wouldn’t think that that’s a big deal… But based on the angry message I got from one gentleman I had unfollowed last spring, apparently unfollowing people who ignore you is also very taboo by some people’s standards (not necessarily related to class)? But I don’t get that at all, even if/especially if the person unfollowing you is annoying in some way. …No, if someone is bothering you so much that you have to mute them or ignore them why would you care if they unfollow you?! They’re leaving you alone and you get to be the “good one” so why is that bad?
No, I thought for years (up until somewhat recently) that since my parents chose a very simple lifestyle while I was growing up that I had somehow managed to garner an understanding of certain things. Certain pains… Because I truly was brutally bullied growing up for not having as much money as my peers in our neighborhood. My parents didn’t have enough money to drive a new Jaguar, wear all the best clothing and take trips to Africa for giggles. They drove a Toyota, wore clothes until they wore out, and we took lovely, but much less glamorous, domestic vacations. And most importantly (by most people’s standards but not mine *rolling eyes*) we lived in an apartment because the homes nearby in our suburb were out of my parent’s price range and they didn’t want to live badly (not eat well, not be able to take at least simple vacations, have a ton of debt, etc.) or outside of a responsible budget. (They almost bought a condo a few times but sort of “chickened out” because it seemed too risky to the stability of our budget or wasn’t worth it.) …And I thought that experience had given me perspective on being monetarily poor or at least lower middle to working class… Ha! *rolling eyes* I knew my parents had had blessed families to some degree (their fortunes changed eventually) but…I didn’t see everything for what it was.
…And I guess despite all the very real pain from years of unkindness (the bullying really was vicious – I’m sure of that) it wasn’t enough to fully be able to avoid being offensive recently in ways I couldn’t anticipate. I knew I obviously wasn’t being polite by most standards by sharing certain things (intentionally the opposite out of exasperation), but…what I didn’t know was what I didn’t know. And again, that’s not meant to be condescending.
I just didn’t know how angry the people attacking me were… And perhaps I also didn’t understand why. Not because I don’t care. Very much the opposite. But because there’s a huge mystery between lots of different people today (and of course not just in regard to class) and the meaning of our words and our ways of dealing with it all and perceiving it are lost to one another. But as a gold standard for kindness and good overall intent, at least, I hope that if Sarah read my blog she would understand…