Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Only boys who save their pennies make her rainy day...

NOW READING: Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence

Part of Lady Chatterley’s problem – a large part – is that society places all these weird constraints on her/everyone. I think a lot of us in the so-called modern world of melting pots, student loans, civil rights and such believe that people can grow up to be anything they want to be. We tell ourselves that things like her Ladyship on the manor, or people refusing to cross class boundaries, are things of the past, and yet…are they really?

I mean, how often do you really hang out with someone from a wildly different background than yours? I think the only thing we really ever cross is geographic lines. Seriously, think about it. I remember a guy I worked with at public radio’s The Savvy Traveler said some major sociology survey had shown that we all actually tend to live in “small worlds” of 10,000 or so people, that we tend to associate throughout our lives with the same people, who share our education level, economic status, and professions.

So really, we can easily sympathize with Lady C. when she laments that ol’ saying:

“The world is supposed to be full of possibilities, but they narrow down to pretty few in most personal experience. There’s lots of good fish in the sea . . . maybe . . . but the vast masses seem to be mackerel or herring, and if you’re not mackerel or herring yourself, you are likely to find very few good fish in the sea.” - p. 67

Living in L.A., hanging out with so many creative types, I started meeting more and more people who hadn’t gone to college but who were intelligent and vibrant and successful and creative. But being an artist or actor without a college degree is somehow OK in the eyes of those same people who look down on the Borders manager who DOES have a college degree but has a job that doesn’t require it. In fact I’d say working for Borders opened my eyes to the intense and very widespread prejudice against retail workers in this society, which was so silly to me: I met all kinds of smart, funny, degree-holding people at Borders. But everyone looks down on retail workers. What gives? Why do people feel justified criticizing someone who would dare to be happy in a job that doesn't pay well.

I am often highly amused in law school – highly! – particularly when I see the limited experience of people from Long Island (and Jersey) who have wound up at Hofstra and have seen precious little outside their own little small world (which may not even reach 10,000 as far as I can see). We have chapters in books called Essential Lawyering about how to interact with people from “all different backgrounds,” instructing law students to resist making assumptions, to think about what different things can mean to different people. Translation: "News flash! Not everyone is as privileged as you." Isn’t it funny that lawyers seem to interact most with the extremes of society – big corporate movers and shakers or those totally down and out, and often indigent? But your average random middle-class person: how often do I ever have need for a lawyer? Never.

I was thinking about this a lot when I was in Honduras, contemplating poverty, and again when I was forced to buy new clothes to wear to the wedding last weekend after Greyhound lost my bag. I have less money in my bank account right now than a whole lot of “poorer” people. I mean, my source of income is student loans. But I’m not considered to be in “poverty.” And how do I not slip down a class? Is it because of my parents, whom I haven’t lived with in a dozen years? Because of the apartment I rent? I don’t have any assets. I couldn’t get a loan if my life depended on it (other than a student loan). It’s so interesting to contemplate.

It’s as if there are certain assumptions and expectations that go along with defining us, which are not based on facts or reality, and as long as we can keep up those appearances that’s somehow who we “are.”

So when you think we're better somehow than the society that kept Lady Chatterley from loving a Tevershall groundskeeper, think about how shocked you'd be if for example some six-figure businessperson you knew started dating their "illegal immigrant" day laborer. Or just think about how we feel when we watch Cops. We think we are better than other people.

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