Thursday, November 4, 2010

Growing up in Grosse Pointe, AKA "capitalism personified"

I live in Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan, and have most of my life. A friend of mine once referred to it as "capitalism personified."

Accurate? Yeah, basically. But weirdly enough, as a kid, I thought we were poor. Why? Because the majority of my wardrobe came from K-Mart. Smart move on my mom's part; why buy nice clothes for kids who are just going to outgrow them anyway?

Anyone who has seen where I live knows that I sure as hell didn't grow up poor--not even close. Or if we are, in fact, drowning in debt (which I'm pretty sure we're not), we're still living really comfortably. My sister and I each have our own balcony off our respective bedrooms, for crying out loud.

It was weird to grow up thinking I was poor and then realize that I actually have way more than many (if not most) people do.

That realization came long before I moved to Saginaw in 2007. Actually, I don't doubt that my awareness of it factored into my decision to move to Saginaw, of all places. I guess I just wanted something a little more normal.

Let me explain why it is I once thought we had so little. Many of the kids around here had literally everything and more (not that I can remember now what kinds of toys were popular in the '90s). Plus, virtually every vacation from school (Christmas break, mid-winter break, spring break) meant I'd chill at home with my books and toys while my classmates went to Hawaii or Florida or in some cases, Europe. Obviously, that wasn't everyone's experience. But enough people did that on a regular basis that I felt as though I didn't measure up.

I realized quite some time ago just how ridiculous that is.

So I've really struggled with the fact that I'm from Grosse Pointe. I try to avoid talking about it. The "Hometown" section of my Facebook page is blank. It is something that I'm almost cripplingly insecure about. Just talk to anyone who has ever asked me where I grew up. I beat around the bush like nobody's business. I get really defensive about it. Shit, even right now, I'm being defensive about it.

One of the best books I've ever read is _Let Me Stand Alone: The Journals of Rachel Corrie_. Corrie grew up in Olympia, Washington, was incredibly aware of how privileged she was, and understood that as someone who had so much, she had a certain amount of responsibility to those who weren't as fortunate as she was.

And I think part of why I struggle with my hometown is that as much as I hate this place, I've been here long enough to notice that a decent number of the people who live here realize this about themselves. Some of the most generous and creative people I know live in Grosse Pointe.

And so I try not to make generalizations about this place, because I know that for one thing, there are some great people here. And furthermore, I know that it's hard to be a great person in a place like this. I'm definitely not there yet. I'd like to be. I'm working toward it. But I'm definitely not there yet. If I was, I wouldn't find it necessary to write a blog post like this. I wouldn't give disclaimers to my friends who visit from Saginaw, and I wouldn't get offended when those people comment on what they see when they come here.

What prompted me to write about this in the first place: Last summer, a friend of mine who lives in Cass City told me that he had to volunteer at a Tigers game for his fraternity, and asked if he could crash at my place rather than drive all the way back home so late at night. I told him that he could. It was nice; we drank beer, caught up on things, blah, blah, blah.

Last night he told me that he plans to drop out of college (he's currently a student at SVSU). I told him that I wasn't sure how I felt about that. For some reason, whenever I hear that a friend of mine plans to drop out of school, I feel tremendously sad, even though some of the most amazing people I've ever met have done that (including my mom). I didn't mean to place judgment on his decision, but I think that's how he took it. He said something like, "Well, unlike you, I didn't grow up in Grosse Pointe. I'm not as lucky as you are. I don't have as many options as you had when you fell apart last year. I have nothing, and no one, to fall back on."

I can't disagree with that; he's right. I had a lot to fall back on: namely parents who are both financially and emotionally supportive.

If nothing else, though, at least I can say that I'm aware of how much I have, and am trying to make the most of that. Let's be honest: A year ago, I was profoundly unhappy and seriously considered dropping out of college to live in the Yukon with my mom's free-spirited older sister. But I realized how much of a cop out that would be, especially given that I have the resources to stay in school. So I stayed.

At least Grosse Pointe didn't shelter me. At least it didn't make me greedy. I'm getting there. But I still have all kinds of guilt that I need to get rid of. And I know that until I can rid myself of that guilt, I can't really live the full kind of life I'm striving for, which means, ultimately, feeling lucky instead of guilty, and using what I have to help those who don't have it.

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