Poverty

storytelling, women

My dad was rich and we were poor.

He abandoned us — and then he went and bought a mercedes and a big sailboat —

My mother and my sister and I didn’t have enough — my mother worked hard, all the time. She was always stressed, miserable. She hated her job as a secretary. She was always working and yet we didn’t have enough — the lights were always getting cut off, or the phone, or the credit cards were maxed —

There was never enough. We were always catching up.

And then there was our father mocking us, the way we lived — making little digs at our poverty —

We would go spend the weekend with him on his yacht — and he was so stingy at heart, he wouldn’t feed us. Or when I would complain that I was hungry, he would make comments about how I was too fat and needed to lose weight — I was just like my mother —

My father suffered from poverty of the heart — he starved and starved his children —

He was aloof and had a distant model girlfriend (then wife) and cared more about money than he did about us — he made that clear. He would go on and on about how much he resented paying our mother — when it was obvious to anyone observing that we were struggling to get by and he was living like a millionaire. His parents (our grandparents) didn’t want to have anything to do with us because they saw us as leeches taking their son’s money.

I grew up as working-class poor with my mother and my sister, and the message was clear — men have money, get money, deserve money. Women don’t.

Now I work in the arts — in publishing and in Hollywood, where I see that pattern repeat itself — men get and women don’t. I wonder if I see it because it’s in my head and I’m destined to see it everywhere, or because the world I grew up in is the world we live in. I’m making a generalization, and I believe there are a lot of exceptions. I believe I’m going to be an exception, and I’m on my way. But I do think it’s taken me longer, and it’s been harder, than if I had been a man.

But maybe it would have been different if I hadn’t grown up in poverty, if I hadn’t grown up with the message that I deserved to barely get by, that I deserved the least, the minimum.

I think we find our level, our comfort zone, and mine has been poverty —

I’ve been poor all this time, when I went to an Ivy League school and I’m such a great writer and I’m sharp and bright and warm and I’ve got so much going for me —

I think my poverty starts in my heart —

I starved to a point beyond which I can’t recover from.

Until I was 11, my sister and I visited our father every other weekend. Then he vanished. We got a call three months later from him — he was sailing his boat around the world. I couldn’t speak, I was crying so hard. Until that call, I didn’t even know if he was alive. I didn’t tell any of my friends what had happened, I was so ashamed.

He stopped paying our mother, so if we were struggling before, now we were fucked. Money became terrifying, at the age of 11.

Now my father is very rich. Sloughing us off was very good for his bottom line. He owns airplanes and boats and a Ferrari and a gaudy Versace mansion on the water in South Florida. He fucks his 29-year-old maid/fiancee and still pays her to clean the house.

He tries to talk about the amount of money we’re going to inherit, and I’m like — fuck you. From the bottom of my heart, fuck you.

This entire process of trying to make it as a writer, first as a novelist then as a T.V. writer — has been nothing but difficult — and every time I thought it couldn’t get more difficult it did —

Putting aside the fact that he could have helped me the entire time and never ever did — he hurt me in this. He criticized me the entire way through for trying it, criticized me for how long it was taking to make it, when I was working soul-sucking day jobs —

And I have this sense that how he hurt me the most was by raising me trapped in the dark cold box of poverty. By molding my head within those limits, he set an upper-limit for the most I could ever make or have — so that I would never stray too far, never feel independent, never get powerful.

My mother was a secretary and my father was rich. And when I was struggling to finish my first novel, I wound up having to get a job as a receptionist to support myself while I finished it. That was painful, because the reason I went to Princeton was so I would never wind up like my mother. It was just going to be for six months until I sold the book — and then the book never sold, and I would up staying there for two long, painful years. With my father criticizing and deriding my choices the entire time.

Now I want to let go of poverty — tell myself it’s okay for me to make money, that it’s not siding with my father against my mother, it’s not turning my back on women. It’s good for me to make money, because then I can help other people like me (or unlike me). The way I grew up has no bearing on the way I want to live now, and I want to feel safe and comfortable and secure, and most of all, powerful now. Making money now isn’t turning my back on working people — instead, it’s empowering me so I can give working people a voice.

I’m working on it. I’ll keep you posted.

52 thoughts on “Poverty

  1. You just like knocking my socks off.

    There’s sad truths to my writing, hidden under layers of bullshit.

    You just expose yours, Mardi Gras for the mind.

    So fucken brave!

  2. J- This post, like all your posts, did not disappoint and is a contribution to me as a reader, saying to think, to challenge, to rise above, whatever that may mean in my particular context. As I have started my own business I have had more (noticeable) moments of the “woman professional” experience, some good and encouraging, and some where I feel I am being thought of as “new” or as “a girl” with something more to prove somehow than the those with an Adam’s apple or who speak at a lower octave than I do. I wonder at those of women who take on these underdog pursuits–revel in the challenge? Is it a refusal to accept a world that sees in unequal terms? Or am I just like the mister next to me and trying to eke out a living for god’s sake. All I know right now is I am summoning all courage and reserves and choosing to say my mind instead of going gently into that good night. Thanks for speaking too.

    1. A,
      My thoughts and hope are with you in this new venture …. this is exciting! I know it’s probably going to be difficult at times, but so worthwhile, right? Have you thought about writing about it?
      Thank you for your kind words.
      Love, me.

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