The Real America


Today I parked next to a Ferrari convertible with a toddler’s booster seat in the front seat. Welcome to bizarro land.

Stumbling Gracefully and I were talking about “Friday Night Lights.” She said, “I like that show because it’s about the REAL America. We don’t live in the real America.”

Deborah’s comment today really struck me to my core:

I may have said this before, but it fascinates me how much time you spend worrying about how you compare to the rich and famous. I guess just because I don’t worry about that at all. I do worry about how I compare to the people immediately around me, my coworkers and friends, and how the childhood I’m giving J compares to what my parents gave me. Famous people, and the very wealthy, just seem too far away (literally and figuratively) for me to worry about. But I guess where you live, these people are NOT far away. That seems like it must be really hard.

Where I live is odd. It shapes me in ways that I know and ways I forget. To be amidst a lot of privilege day in and day out is my reality. All of my peers, my fellow parents, my longtime friends: they all live in luxury. To be sure, I am at the very bottom of the totem pole of wealth here. While I budget and don’t eat out and go to Safeway and rarely go out for an evening’s entertainment, life is not an economic struggle for us. I don’t see the struggle of others first hand in my personal life. In fact, when I first discovered ALI blogs I was amazed by how many people’s insurance didn’t cover infertility treatments or that most women and men in this country can’t afford even a cycle of IVF. That’s why Faces of ALI has become such an important work for me: it aims to tell the economic side of the story as well as the emotional side of the story. I was listening to an expert speak about Middle East politics today on NPR, an academic, and he said that the ONLY thing that will ever change minds about a subject is by SHARING STORIES. That’s why I really want to publish Faces of ALI. Before I turn 40. I want to change the way the infertile in our country get medical treatment. I want more tax credits, I want insurance to step up to the plate more. Every American deserves the chance to pursue infertility treatment. Not just the wealthy.

Because we all know that the Real America is a place of inequity, of vast differences in income, wealth, geography, belief systems and familial resources. I go visit my parents in Arkansas and drive the country roads riddled with broken-down trailers and rusted out cars and it reminds me of driving through the beautiful backroads of rural Tanzania and the huts and gardens and the rusted out trucks were there, too.

Justine wrote a haunting story about stumbling across an evicted home and finding a pair of tiny ruby red slippers amongst the abandoned possessions. Justine ran back home and took her son to help try to do some good in this crappy situation. The tenant was a single mother with five children, who was often high. Justine gathered up as many non-expired canned goods she could to donate to the public food pantry.

We see the many different elements of this odd, flammable patchwork quilt of our country, divided into squares by moral imperatives, by the gap between the wealthy and the poor and the middle class, by the educational opportunities or not young people have to pursue. By taxes. By healthcare costs.

What can we do to get out of our comparative comfort levels and understandings? Can we share stories? What can we do to help others?

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “The Real America

  1. Very good post. If you want to really see inequality you should come here to South Africa where the legacy of apartheid still lingers. I think I’m also fortunate to live in relative privilege. The unemployment rate is also very high. The majority of black people still live in townships (shacks) in bad conditions with limited services. We still have a long way to go but we are getting there, there has been a lot of change already. I think just talking and making people more aware helps.

  2. This: “We see the many different elements of this odd, flammable patchwork quilt of our country, divided into squares by moral imperatives, by the gap between the wealthy and the poor and the middle class, by the educational opportunities or not young people have to pursue. By taxes. By healthcare costs.”

    Thank you so much for this post. It made me cry. I grew up in such a disorienting way – between rural Peru, where we were the richest people we knew, and rural western New York, where we were among the poorest (and if you know how economically depressed that area is you know that’s something).

    What do you need from us to help you write and publish the Faces of ALI? I’m behind you all the way.

  3. I wish I knew what we could do to help. Even in my own family, there’s a real difference in wealth. My sister is as infertile as me, but I live in a mandated IVF coverage state and she doesn’t. Worse, I’m a CPA and she’s a social worker.

    At the end of the day, though, she’s the first one I call when I am having a hard time with IF. Because she knows me better than anyone and she understands what it’s like to long for a baby and know it’s not in your power to make it happen.

    I think that the power of connection is really underestimated. The more women that connect and talk about IF, the more likely they’ll talk about it with families and friends, the more people will realize, hey, this is a problem. The more people realize it’s a real medical problem, the more likely something can be done about it; employers will want to set themselves up as caring about their employees and will offer it as a benefit, even in a non-mandatory state. Who knows?

    I love the Faces of ALI, too. Maybe it will help.

    xoxo

  4. This is a beautiful post and I totally agree with everything you said… except the phrase “real America.” Living in Chicago, it annoys me to no end when the media invokes the phrase to mean “not-cities.” I live in real America. Half the population of Illinois lives in the Chicagoland area – why does the condensed nature of where we live make us not count? Why does the fact that I take a train that smells like pee to work make me elitist? That’s not the point of this post, I know. You just stumbled on a pet peeve of mine 😉

    I hope you do publish Faces of ALI, and I would do anything I could to help! You put together our stories in such an amazing way that no one could help but feel empathy for the difficult situations we’ve been in. And though you profile individuals, how IF affects our collective community shines through.

  5. Count me in as another who wants to help you publish Faces of ALI. I think that sharing stories is the best way to encourage understanding. I grew up in a small town (cue John Cougar Mellencamp or whatever his name is now) and am familiar with the picture you painted of Arkansas. I thought Tanzania would be exotic, so it is amazing to realize that it may not be that much different after all.

  6. When I was growing up in small towns on the Canadian Prairies, I would never in a million years have believed you if you told me I would wind up living in Toronto. Calgary or Edmonton, maybe, but Toronto?? It’s hard to explain to non-Canadians the suspicion & disdain that Toronto evokes in TROC (The Rest of Canada) — New York or LA are probably the closest parallels in the U.S. People outside Toronto believe that Torontonians believe they’re the Centre of the Universe… and Torontonians… believe they’re the Centre of the Universe, lol. (How many Torontonians does it take to change a light bulb? One — he holds the bulb in place & the world revolves around him, lol.)

    When we were first married, we lived in a very yuppie, midtown neighbourhood, on the fringes of one of the most expensive areas of the city. Several of the city’s most exclusive private schools are in the area, & we’d see the kids in their uniforms hanging out at the McDonalds. I kept wondering what it must be like to grow up surrounded by such privilege and taking it all for granted. When the time came to buy a house, we wound up way out in suburbia, because we knew we could never afford a house in that neighbourhood (we could barely afford the apartment).

    When I go back to visit my parents, people will ask me, “So… do you like living in TORONTO??” with this quizzical look, like why on earth would you want to live there. I’ve lived enough places in my life that I have come to realize there is good & bad, advanrages & disadvantages everywhere you go. There are things about this city that drive me nuts (& the emphasis on money, & the insane real estate market are two of them) & things that I love. I think it’s up to us to make the most of things, wherever we are.

    There is an awful lot of money around here. But there is an awful lot of poverty, too. And a lot of people in the middle, struggling to get by. The divide isn’t quite so stark back where I grew up. But even there, I think there’s been a change — an inflation of expectations.The media has a lot to do with it. I think I wrote something similar in another comment elsewhere, but people aren’t just trying to keep up with the Joneses anymore, they’re trying to keep up with the Kardashians & the like, even if they don’t have the incomes.

    Well, I’m rambling (again). Fascinating discussion, though!

  7. I do think that our stories are the most powerful tools we have. It’s why I majored in English, why I wanted, in graduate school, to study comparative ethnic literatures (because ethnicity and economic class seemed to me, at the time, to have important congruences). I felt that there were stories that were not being told, that deserved more exposure. I still feel that way, though now I know that the stories and the silences have many more dimensions. But I wonder, too, how to GET those stories exposure. Yes, we tell them to our friends. To the people who will listen to us. But I feel like it’s tilting at windmills sometimes … there are so many other people who COULD read those stories, who have every right to choose to read something else. Or to not read (or listen) at all.

    It goes back to your post about being pigeonholed, a bit. About the things we have to say that really could appeal to a much wider audience. It also goes back to our discussions about projects like The Listserve. With so much choice in media now, how do we ensure that people choose to listen to the messages we think are the important ones?

  8. “That’s why Faces of ALI has become such an important work for me: it aims to tell the economic side of the story as well as the emotional side of the story. I was listening to an expert speak about Middle East politics today on NPR, an academic, and he said that the ONLY thing that will ever change minds about a subject is by SHARING STORIES. That’s why I really want to publish Faces of ALI. Before I turn 40. I want to change the way the infertile in our country get medical treatment. I want more tax credits, I want insurance to step up to the plate more. Every American deserves the chance to pursue infertility treatment. Not just the wealthy.”

    I agree that sharing stories is key to changing people’s minds about any subject, especially adoption, infertility and loss. I support you wholeheartedly in trying to get Faces of ALI published and am excited to read your next installment! Are you working on it now? How do you decide who to profile?

    Thank you for being one of many advocates for the ALI Community who does more than just “talk amongst ourselves” about the roller coaster ride that we have been on. I believe your Faces of ALI can, is and will make a significant difference in the perspectives of others, if we can somehow get them to read it! That is always the hardest part, since so often we are preaching to the choir.

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