Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Face of Poverty....


According to federal guidelines, I live below the poverty level. According to my tax return, I lived on $14, 037.00 in 2007.

I decided to offer this portrait, based on our discussion of the homeless yesterday and my assertion that they should not be treated like children.

So.. here is one portrait.. of one person... who is considered "poor". Actually, the term "I don't have a lot of money" is a better fit because "poor" in my opinion is a state of mind. It is an attitude. I'll explain this later.

I am college educated with a degree in sociology. In the work force, I was a unix system administrator at a large investment company making mid-five figures. I am divorced and do not have children. I am a reasonably intelligent person, although my relational spatial skills were impacted by a mini-stroke in the mid-90s. Sometimes it is hard to tell where one thing is in relation to another. I can not drive when tired. I drop things a lot. I have a hard time walking on uneven surfaces. Still, I can think ~ and quite well.

I make choices without anyone else's help. In fact, I prefer it. If I ask for help, advice is received with an open mind .. but the ultimate choice is my own and I am responsible for the results. My decision-making style tends to be pragmatic. I'm reasonably savvy which is partially evidenced by the fact that I live on such a low income and have everything I need. Note: not "everything I want." I rent the mother-in-law unit in someone else's house in a pleasant suburban neighborhood with beautiful lawns and sculpted yards.

I'm a fairly average looking middle-aged person. I'm overweight but that is not a result of my financial status. It is a result of bad food choices. When I'm depressed, I binge. It is not because it has been imposed on me by the system. If you met me at Starbuck's, you wouldn't guess that I have any disabilities. I'm articulate and can carry on a good conversation on a wide range of topics. I do not babble, own a tin foil hat or howl at the moon. You wouldn't assume that I am "poor". I dress well and am creditworthy.

I am also a very environmentally sensitive person. My sensitivity to light and sound is pronounced. Bright light and ambient noise can make me vomit, particularly when sounds compete with each other. The sound of bass will make me sick. I've had two emotional breakdowns, one in 2001 and another in 2004. Since that time, I have lived on social security disability insurance with a dual diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder and PTSD. I am a sober alcoholic but have never done recreational drugs. I am socially phobic until I feel safe in a group of people. Those diagnoses are meaningless and truly don't tell anything of relevance or about me as a person. Basically, they address my level of adaptation to the culture which has been poor. I am notably eccentric.

I am who I am... If you meet me here, I am one way. If you meet me in Thailand, you'll be meeting a different person. My spirit is lighter there. I am an outspoken cultural dissident and have been since the late 60s. I adopted my Thai way of life in 2001. I do not consider myself "unlucky" or "less than" anyone else while acknowledging that I am "different".

I like to think I am fairly typical of "poor" people. We are many and varied - individuals like everyone else. There are some who require far more assistance than I ever would. Those people deserve our help.

When I say "poor is a state of mind", it is a powerlessness in one's own life and approach to living. It is about being helpless, sometimes intentionally. It is about viewing the world a certain way and measuring oneself against it. It is buying the whole ticket that personal value is based on financial status. It is poverty of spirit. That leads to many poor people being chronically dissatisfied.

That comes from a variety of sources as well, not the least of which is the cultural edict that "poor people" are somehow "less than" those who have more, own more and consume more. It comes from the cultural theft of the dignity which should be afforded to every human being, regardless of their demographic status.

So.. just my opinion.. but the best way to help the "poor" is to change the cultural attitude. Allow people to be who they are with all the dignity they have coming as autonomous human beings.

The day someone says I should be told when to go to bed, when I can eat, when I can go potty, when I can come and go or what I have to value is the day I need to leave this earth.

Without dignity, there is no life.

So. .. if you have read this, you now know a "poor person". I hope it provides you with an alternative view to the media image - or the image promoted by the culture. We are not all lazy, drug-addicted baby machines. We don't all make bad choices and we're not all responsible for our external conditions. (We are certainly responsible for our responses to them.) Those images are promoted for one single reason: to "other" poor people and make it acceptable to "look down" on them. It creates fear and keeps the population in line. No one wants to be poor and looked down upon, judged as "less than" so they stay on the hamster wheel, producing and consuming, even if it kills them far too soon.

It's not that scary. Really. Being "poor", that is. We're just people - and most of us are perfectly decent people with good values and decent lives. It's okay to know us. We don't bite. And it's not contagious.

~*

40 comments:

slouching mom said...

Why hello, Chani! Look at you! You're lovely.

And this portrait is honest and powerful and brave. Thank you.

Sober Briquette said...

See, you made that look easy. And lovely. I totally envy your skin. (You did post a picture a long time ago, too.)

I have a lot of thoughts swirling around and not much time left to harness them. I think the most important one is that of choice.

And if so many of us with more would make better (more frugal) choices, how different the world could be.

QT said...

This is a great post Chani, and should serve to make other people ask what the heck they spend all their money on....I know a large part of your personal belief system involves shunning consumerism, and I wonder which came first for you?

Rebecca said...

Powerful post! I know a great many "poor" people and they are all kind, stable and looking at how to best get along in a world gone mad by greed, corporate corruption, insane political policies, etc. They may be "poor" in resources but are definitely rich in spirit. I applaud this post. Thank you for the picture, too. I know you value your privacy and it is courageous to put your lovely mug on your post.

Love and blessings,
Rebecca

Sorrow said...

When I meet some one, I don't ever have a clue how much money they make, and frankly, why would i care?
According to US gov, I am in the poverty range too.
I think there is a lesson, that we all need to learn about what money is, and what money is for.
thanks for this intimate look at your world.
namaste

Defiantmuse said...

I love that you wrote this. (and how nice to see a photo of you too!). I have always lived below the poverty level as well...and that's been a conscious choice. I agree with what you said yesterday about the dignity of people who are homeless. I hadn't really thought about that, the rules that often come along with help. But I suppose in history that has so often been the case....usually it seems that religious organizations were quick to help - if you accepted their God.

grace said...

What a fabulous post!

I am not poor now, but grew up poor, and your post rang very true to me. Good on you for saying it.

thailandchani said...

SM, thanks. :) I like the idea of giving a real picture of a real person who deals with this issue.

~*

De, choice is everything.. and is perhaps the greatest gift we are given as humans. We do get to choose... how we respond to things, how we live, what we value.

~*

QT, I always felt like an alien in a foreign land when it comes to consumerism. I couldn't see the point in it but sometimes did it anyway to fill up the empty spaces in me. My shunning of consumerism came many years before my disability. The disability just gave me some weird kind of permission to actually live my beliefs.

~*

Rebecca, thanks. I'll take the picture down in a few days. I'd hate to be at Target or somewhere.. and have someone approach me and say "are you the one who writes that wacko blog?" :)

Seriously though, I have found that people who have limited money and accept that are much happier in whole than those who have a lot and constantly guard it.

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Sorrow, right on! Money is just a means of exchange. It is not a barometer of human value.

~*

Defiantmuse, the rules seem to be in place as a means of establishing power-over. Most of the time, they are totally unnecessary. What difference does it make if a homeless person likes to sit up and read at night. They don't need a parental figure saying "lights out!" Rules that are for a good reason are easy to accept. Arbitrariness is not.

~*

Grace, thank you. :) It's good to see you dropping by here.

~*

Brandi said...

I was below the 'poverty line' until I was in my lat 20's. And I worked (still do) my ass off.
I understand.

Brandi said...

I was below the 'poverty line' until I was in my lat 20's. And I worked (still do) my ass off.
I understand.

RKK said...

I also believe that it is our response to our circumstances that really matter.

Being poor is not scary; in some ways it can give a richness of experience not available to those in more materially abundant circumstances.

I think that often, we also tend to look down on those who appear to have much. I think this attitude also has the effect of making people feel it is wrong to have even what they simply need, much less what they want, and can hold them down as well.

In your wisdom you have reiterated one of the basic messages I get from many of your posts: There is no point in judging.

Anonymous said...

Fat + lazy = poor. No matter about all this shit you write here it still comes down to that. You could lose weight and you'd still be ugly because of the way you think. You're just trying to justify being a lazy, good for nothing shit sucking off the public tit.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I am horrified at the mean-spirited comment above, and question why a person would feel such strong dislike for a stranger that he or she would leave such hideous and inaccurate words here.

Your post is brave and beautiful, Chani, and I totally agree that poverty of spirit, which we have just seen demonstrated so well, is a far worse affliction than having limited financial means and living lives devoted to compassion and learning.

Most of us are brainwashed from childhood to believe that if we don't attain certain goals having to do with worldly success, we are failures. I believe that the real failures are those who live their lives in thrall to such miserable notions and are never able to enjoy the simple beauty of life on this planet.

Stacia said...

I've been to Russia 3 times and the first time there were no homeless people. Communism did not allow for it. The people I had met who had been to the US were disgusted by the wealth of our country and our treatment of the homeless. However, when I went back to Russia in 2005, I saw more homeless people. I know people in the US tend to think of communism as evil, but they treated their people better, with more humanity and dignity than we do. Everyone has a story and yours is a good one to prove that fat+lazy does NOT = poor (what is wrong with people?). Thank you for telling it.

Chanda (aka Bea) said...

Oh look, a Troll. Evidently you have "arrived" in terms of blogging. I almost feel sorry for this sad, close minded individual. And talk about being poor, this person is ultimately far poorer than anyone out there regardless of money.

Excellent post! If nothing else, it makes me think twice about my own addiction to consumerism, and what my ideas of "well off" are.

jen said...

oh Chani, you are lovely. and this post is fantastic.

it's so true. if we could put a name and a face on poverty i think we'd have a much harder time letting it continue, knowing our sister, brother, etc is suffering, which in fact, they are.

we_be_toys said...

Oh Chani! You have obviously struck a chord with the troll population. What an ass.
I respect your forthrightness and defiance of living and measuring the success of your life by the stuff you accumulate. "Normal" is something somebody with a test came up with - it really doesn't apply.
I love you just as you are!

JBelle said...

poor? You are rich, rich, rich.

Staci said...

It's a privilege and honor to meet you in this way. Your clarity of spirit and voice makes you a beacon, I'm so glad you are choosing to shine your light of awareness through this important topic. Yes, as jbelle said over at my place, come and see Chani's authentic beauty. And here you are. Thanks Jbelle for also pointing the way!!!

Jazz said...

This is my first time on your blog; I've been reading your comments on other blogs with interest for quite a while.

Powerful post. I'll be back for sure.

Ian Lidster said...

How nice to see you in 'sort of' person and to put a physical image to the wisdom that ushers forth from you fertile and thoughtful mind. You look just like you should, and it's a pleasing image indeed.
As for poverty, it is such a relative thing. Our so-called poverty would be called affluence in so much of the world.

Amy Y said...

You are beautiful! Thank you for posting a picture. For some reason I pictured you with dark hair. But I am glad you're blonde :)

This post was lovely...

I've been there, too, below the poverty line but not for long. The thing that I've learned about money is that people usually make do with what they have. By that I mean... when you make more money, you have bigger bills. More stuff. More obligations and responsibilities to banks and other types of lenders. It's almost the opposite extreme as far as discomfort goes, I'd think. Because at the end of the day, it's all just stuff. And I'd much rather be measured by the quality of my character than how much I paid for my stuff.

And that anonymous comment ~ behind abhorable and completely unncessary.

I say again ~ you are beautiful, inside and out.

nonlineargirl said...

That is a lovely post - very eloquent in your depiction of the normalcy of lives that are often objectified for one reason or another.

As someone who works on health care programs for people of low and moderate income, it is a useful reminder to see people as people, not as statistics or stereotypes.

Magpie said...

Brave post. Thank you for sharing all of that.

And you look nothing like I thought you would...:)

MsLittlePea said...

Great post Chani. You're prettier than you've described in the past. Not that my admiration for your writing and way of life would have change because of a picture anyhow. I haven't been around much but I was here today. I loved this post and wanted to tell you that. As always you've given me something to think about.

thailandchani said...

Brandi, I really believe too many people have to work too much. I wish you didn't have to work so much and could concentrate on your art.

~*

RKK, yes.. and it's the hardest thing to do - to suspend judgement - because that's the way most of us have been raised. It's part of the socialization process. When we can get beyond it though, we'll be able to get out of the Age of Separation.

~*

Anomymous, I wish you peace.

~*

Susan, I see so much spiritual poverty around.. and it makes financial poverty look insignificant in comparison.

(I know it's a significant issue... but poverty of the spirit is so soul crushing.)

~*

Stacia, I think the thing most people don't consider is that the system of communism itself isn't bad. The administration was poor - but the intention was correct. Because of the propaganda of that time, most people don't realize that Soviet citizens were guaranteed health care, education through university level, jobs and housing. It wasn't perfect.. but if it had been administered differently, it would have been a very good system. Someone has to read and understand Russian history to see why it went the way it did.

Scandinavia has a good socialist system.

~*

Chanda, most of us used consumerism as a way to fill ourselves, to sooth ourselves. The culture is so hollow that it is one way of feeding the gaping holes in most people's lives.

~*

Jen, exactly. It is all about understanding that we're all the same.

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We-be, thank you. :) "Normal" is a scary concept because it is purely a social construct and very culturally biased.

I learned that back in college... but didn't understand how true it was until I traveled.

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Jbelle :) Yes.. I think so. I do feel rich.

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Staci, thanks for such a kind comment. :) If I can change thought just a little bit, I'll be happy.

~*

Jazz, thanks. I'm looking forward to your site, too. :)

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Ian, yes... it's relative. Most of the world doesn't even have clean drinking water.

Of course we won't mention that so much of that drinking water is dirty because corporations are dumping filth and chemicals into the rivers.

Nope. We won't mention that. :)

~*

Amy, that's a good point. Those who have more have to give more energy to protecting what they have.

As for the dark hair.. well.. I'm L'Oreal blonde. My hair is actually grey.

~*

NonLinear.. yes.. that's a good thing for all of us to remember. It's too easy to pigeonhole people so that we will be more comfortable.

~*

Magpie, I'd be afraid to ask what you might have thought I'd look like. LOL

I'm very ordinary.

~*

thailandchani said...

MsPea, thank you. :)

~*

Mary said...

Chani,

You are not poor, dear. What matters is that you are rich in spirit. You affect us (gobs of people) in a good way.

I've been poor, materially, but always rich in other ways.

I'm glad to know you so much better. And you know what? I always imagined you with dark hair. Don't know why. Thanks for your photo. I won't forget it.

Hugs,
Mary

wheelsonthebus said...

I was so grateful to actually see a photo of you (not the point of the post, I know).

BlackenedBoy said...

You are very right about the public's attitude toward the poor. I must confess that I, too, am guilty of the conventional outlook.

When I realize that someone is lower income, I immediately begin to wonder why, what they've done wrong, how they've messed up their lives, and if they're now desperate enough for money to be rendered untrustworthy.

What happened to your job where you made five figures?

thailandchani said...

BlackenedBoy, the thing the conventional view fails to acknowledge is the vagary of life itself. Things happen. People get sick. When we're young, we think we're invincible - that nothing we don't design could possibly come in and affect us.

It does. And it will.

Control is an illusion.

Only you are responsible for the way you think - and the way you view other people - although I would encourage you to change.. to look at things and others with compassion. As you are compassionate toward others, you will also be compassionate toward yourself.

Best to you.. and thanks for coming by.

~*

painted maypole said...

my husband and I have lived at poverty levels most of our married life as well. you wouldn't know it to look at us, or even come to our home, and admittedly I think we have recently crossed the threshold out of "poverty" i have certainly felt the strain of not having as much money as others, but we live rich lives indeed

as you do

Say It said...

You remind me of my father in that he didn't need much to make him happy. A couple bucks in his pocket, a bologna sandwich and a good book. My mom was always pissed because he didn't want more than he needed.

I think its a worthy attitude to have, not wanting more than you need and being satified with what you have. That realization is hard to acquire in this culture. If poor equals self realization and happiness, then poor is not really poor at all.

I also think that you know who you are, and are making the best choices for yourself.

It doesn't ever surprise me when ugly comments are made anonymously. People want their opinions but aren't always strong enough to stand behind them. That commenter should be pittied more than his/her distaste for their definition of poor that they live with.

Say It said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
citizen of the world said...

After my parent's divorce my mother and we kids lived at a very low income for a while, so I do understand it. And of course, I live in APpalachia, where poverty is rampant. There is something in all this about the degree of choice that makes a difference (getting back to that autonomy issue). I appreciated this post.

But I have to say, that anonymous comment is the sort of venom I delete without a second thought. It's cowardly and mean-spirited.

womaninawindow said...

From one "poor" person to another...I'm very pleased to know you.

Sienna said...

Chani, yes, what you write, and the others thoughts too, it hits right in the heart; it's "I know this".
Having said that, the strangest thing has happened but for a reason. I've become a capitalist. Just enough to achieve some things that are dear to my heart. It's difficult to explain in a few words but it is a means to an end. The motive is kindness and compassion, smeared in a layer of passion and iced with a dollop of narcissism? (Meaning, crikey I'm not bad at this; maybe I mean pride). Aw buggar, let's use both!

What you write means the world to me, I very much follow your writings and admire the guts and determination you have in overcoming the highs and lows of life. I had, had a feeling your path had been one full of challenges.

Peace to you!

Pam

Olivia said...

Chani,

I loved this post so much because I got to know you better.

I was poor financially for many years and now I am not. I also had a "poor" outlook on life, however. I think this distinction your make is a very important one. It has only been recently, in the past few years, that I understood how the two need not be related.

Also vitally important is the point you make about dignity as being intrinsic to a meaningful life.

I was grateful seeing your picture and being able to put a face with your name. You look like you write and it is wonderful to see you. I think that you are very intelligent (not reasonably) and have a great sense of humor. I am surprised that you have a technical background as you write very well, and it is rare to have both abilities at the same time.

I love also how you describe yourself as notably eccentric. That is a wonderful phrase that I too am going to adopt.

You write in the comments about how your disability gave you permission to fully live your beliefs. I think it is so, so interesting how oftentimes circumstances seem to help us do what we really want to do. Circumstances can help us to do things that we want to do but wouldn't choose without the circumstance.

I so agree with Staci that you have an extreme clarity of spirit and voice. It does indeed make you a beacon to share this with others and to help others to think and consider their values and beliefs. Some of course, will not be able to do this (e.g., the troll) but most will.

I agree with Amy Y that you are absolutely beautiful, inside and out!

So much to comment on, enough fodder for hours and hours of discussion. Since I've been a faithful reader, your best post ever.

Thank you Chani,

xxoo, O

Girl on the Run... said...

True a certain amount of money is needed to survive. However what makes us poor is way beyond the amount of money in our bank accounts. money is money it does not make us nor create us. it may provide a luxury or two but kindness, compassion, integrity, hope, inspiration, love are the most priceless aspects of self and the most important ones. Sure we need money to live... but there is nothing wrong with living modestly or living lavishly if we do not have those attributes.

All the best Chani... you're an amazing person. Thank you for sharing with us.

crazymumma said...

What a treat to see your face.

We were so poor when we started being a family, and my friends, at least some of it were so in denial about it that they would argue my resistance to expensive evenings out. They simply could not believe that a family of three could live on what we lived on.