The Privileged Writer

This past week has been rough–I’ve been knocked down by a bad cold that has left me with a painful deep cough and more congestion and sinus pressure and fatigue than I’ve experienced in quite a long time.  I ended up taking off class twice this week, and I’m so far behind on grading that students are in a panic emailing me because they’re afraid they didn’t upload their journals correctly (side bar: I normally grade everything as I receive them for my online class, but now I’m a week behind).

In good news, however, I’ve been cared for very well by my boyfriend, who’s been busting his butt at work but somehow always has the energy to call to see if I need something, fix me soup before he’s even had a bite to eat all day, and who braves hugging me and kissing my forehead even though I sound, as my friend said pointedly this week, like death warmed over.  I also managed to get up to Season 4 in Friends and to sleep about 12 hours a day.

I’ve recovered a bit–feeling about 85%– and had some great news: I’ll soon have another part time position on campus doing something I really love: helping undergraduates with their Spanish.  Not a bad wrap to an otherwise exhausting week!

I’ve been thinking a lot about my path to being a writer and the recent article posted in Salon about the unspoken privilege behind many successful writers.  The article hit close to home: I wouldn’t be here pursuing my MFA without the monetary support I’ve received from my parents, who financed my undergraduate so I wouldn’t have any loans and who set up an educational trust for me that they decided they didn’t need to dip into when I was in college and left for me in case I wanted to pursue a graduate degree–or, as it turns out, two Master’s degrees at once (which I’m in the process of doing).  In addition, I received part-time work and scholarships from the universities I attend.  All of this has allowed me time to pursue my writing, though I have to admit–I’m even struggling with money on top of that, which makes me cringe to think about how my peers are faring who don’t have the same support I am grateful to have, and makes me feel ashamed of the times I’ve squawked about my bank account at the end of the month.  At the end of each month, I count my pennies and wager whether or not I can afford to pay for both my cat and I to eat well (side bar: she currently eats better than I do on a prescription diet).  Life keeps getting more and more expensive and I keep making less and less money–though more perhaps than the average bear in my shoes.

All this to say, I realize I’m in a position of privilege.  My dad would say to that, stop feeling guilty and go produce something worthy of that opportunity you’ve been given.  To that end, I’m making good on my resolutions and have applied to a poetry contest and submitted an independent tutorial topic to Bread Loaf so I can graduate this summer with all my credits (side bar: it’s on how 21st century minority women poets have revitalized the sonnet) and am continuing to try to be a better student, writer, teacher each day.  I’m trying to feel like I’ve earned my privilege–a weird, possibly improbable, unproductive thing to do.  It makes me sad and a little bit angry: being an artist shouldn’t be a privilege but a right to anyone who wants it.  But I’m grateful writers like Ann Bauer are calling us on our privilege in a way that isn’t full of useless guilt and finger pointing, but rather frankly owns her own privilege in a way that maybe, just maybe, makes it okay for all of us to own where we are, so that more open dialogue and perhaps one day change can occur.  In the meantime, I hope I remember this moment and if I ever do manage to achieve any sort of literary success in future that I focus instead on all that got me where I am, rather than focusing on my perceived shortcomings and limitations that–for many, many people, especially those of different socio-economic backgrounds than my own–aren’t really based in their reality.

Sign dollar and the books on scales. 3D image.

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