How Did I Ever Get to Be So Bourgeois?

During summers with my great-grandmother, I ate deer meat and government cheese and veg grown in the garden. I've had some very country club dinners at some very fance places, but when I think about comfort food… let's just say I asked a guy I know who hunts if he could kill a deer for me.

Mar 19, 2012 at 6:00pm | Leave a comment

So, I just made herbed butter with fresh herbs that we grew in our container garden. I was sitting there, with my magic bullet blender (as opposed to the other kind of magic bullet) and my crushed Thai red chili peppers (grew those in the fall), and I just about choked on how bougie my life has become.

Now, I'm not saying upwards mobility is a bad thing. Bootstrapping is a dangerously flawed idea, but I can acknowledge that and still acknowledge: sometimes people manage it. And sometimes, too, sometimes people are just lucky. I know that I have been very lucky.

When I think about class politics, I tend to identify as pretty solidly working class. My grandfather was a fireman until he retired. My uncles have been mechanics and laborers and roofers and those sorts of things. My mom married into a very different kind of family, so I grew up kind of straddling class lines - but because I spent more time with my mom's family, that became my default sort of world view even as I learned a lot about negotiating other environments.

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During the summers, when I stayed with my great-grandmother, I ate deer meat and government cheese and veg grown in the garden. I've had some very country club dinners, y'all, at some very fance places, but when I think about comfort food…

Let's just say I asked a guy I know who hunts if he could kill a deer for me.

I'm not proud. And I really like venison, I make no apologies.

The thing is, I have these moments now. These moments where I realize that my life bears very little resemblance to a working class life. No matter how much I will never escape my ridiculous Southern accent (especially when I've been drinking or talking to my family), I live a very middle class existence now.

My life involves knowing about tannins and shopping for cars based just as much on sportiness as on fuel efficiency. I work in an office, and I wear something akin to business casual. My husband and my dog and my cats and I don't own a home - but that's more a matter of choice and being unwilling to commit to any particular location. I spend too much money on eating out and expensive shoes. 

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It's not a sense of class betrayal - I don't exactly feel bad for earning a decent living. But there's a definite discomfort, because my context, my whole frame of reference has shifted. And when your frame of reference shifts, it's easy to lose sight of your old perspective.

Here's a concrete example: when I was in college, I pretty much just… didn't eat. It was part deep deep eating disorder and part being totes broke. I would feel like I was spending ALL THE MONEY if I spent forty bucks - mostly on Totinos Party Pizzas and Eggos, you know? And I'd wind up in line behind folks who were shopping and spending over a hundred dollars on their groceries.

It always made me pause and wonder - both that some people thought food was worth that much money and that people had that much money to spend. I mean, one of my problems with food has always been that we just have to keep buying and eating more of it - we're never DONE, you know? 

But earlier today? I bought a hundred and fifty dollars worth of groceries - I'm determined to talk about money more- (and only spent a hundred and sixteen - yay, Winn Dixie discount card) and didn't even blink. That was breakfast stuff and ingredients for crock pot lasagna (two thumbs way way up) and chicken breast because it was on sale… All of my purchases made sense in the world I live in with Ed right now. We're trying to eat at home more often so, obvy, we need ingredients to cook.

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I swiped my debit card, entered my pin, and didn't even think about how I'd have freaked out to even have a hundred and fifty dollars to spend on food at one point in my life. My last semester of college, I had a student loan and was the charity project of a friend's wealthy family. And I still was better off than uncountable other people.

Part of the discomfort is undoubtedly because I don't want to lose where I come from. I know that people are surprised every time my accent creeps out - they don't expect me to sound like such a hick. But that is my background; it's the where and who of my origin, at least in large part. It's strange to realize that people are surprised when I talk about certain experiences - they are working with an entirely different set of assumptions about me.

The rest of the discomfort is 100% the result of being afraid I am doing things wrong. I'm not a hipster - I'm not nearly jaded enough - but I do sort of understand the uniquitous self-consciousness of hipsters. I'm constantly aware of myself, sometimes painfully so, because I'm always examining my actions in case I somehow screw all of this up.

That's the hardest part of doing a little better than you expected your life to go - the visceral and unreasonable fear that you're going to screw it up and it will all be taken away. I love my working class roots and I don't want to forget that identity - but I also don't want to be forced by circumstance into once again nickel and diming my grocery bill each week.

I hate to be the person who says it but… I don't want to be broke as hell and depressed because there are no options all the time ever again. That's why I work a full-time day job and then come home and do freelance work. (Well, that and I don't sit still very well.) It's why I had such a hard time with my husband being unemployed.  It's why I feel like I am tempting fate just by writing this, by saying to you that, yeah, my life is bougie as hell and I think I'm probably doing it wrong but I don't want to give it up.

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Sitting in my container garden and drinking red wine is a fantastic way to spend an hour - even if it does make me think of how Granny DePratter was up every morning to weed her garden out of necessity while I am doing it just because it tastes better. I don't feel like I'm any better than my granny, though there are a lot of societal messages to that effect.

Which is probably the ultimate root of all of this, now that I sit here and think about it. It's that people look at me and think I occupy some place on a hierarchy that just doesn't feel natural to me; this place on the hierarchy is also far more comfortable than other places I've been. I don't think I'm better than my granny - but I also don't want to be forced into her circumstances, circumstances which limited her choices.

And that DOES feel like some sort of betrayal.