Filtered and Amplified

Fiction is life with the menial and the mundane stripped out. The dull gray is removed. The acts of existing in the world are nullified. All that’s left is a curated narrative to expand and fill that space.

Fiction is life, but filtered and amplified. And that’s why we’re so drawn to it.

Check

Most of you don’t know this, but I grew up in a seriously disadvantaged situation. From my 7th grade onward, my family lived in a housing project. Yes, we lived in “the projects”. For most of that time, we were the only white family in the entire neighborhood, and we had to endure our own unique hardships because of it.

I lost count of the number of bricks thrown through our windows inscribed with the words “Whitey go home.”

But I admit this much: systemically, we had an advantage on our neighbors. We didn’t have the burden of being people of color. I’ve heard of the phrase “twice as much effort, for half as much gain”, and I’ve seen it firsthand. Everyone in the hood struggled, but we were the few who got out.

When I’m told by someone to check my privilege, this is where I come from.

I had a multitude of opportunities thrown at me to help me rise from my station and see the bigger world around me.

I was in a federal program called Upward Bound that aimed to lift kids out of disadvantaged situations and push them into college. I have this program to thank for showing me that I could make my way at OBU, despite all my hardships.

I had well-meaning people at my church go out of their way to pick me up, take me home, fund my trips to youth camps, in order to help me be a better person. Some had selfish interests, some were genuine. Most wanted to help this scrawny white kid out. And I appreciate every one of them for what they did.

Even after lifting me up out of the morass of being in a hostile scene, I still had to contend with the social competition of the white kids. I mostly lost, but I still showed up when I could.

They say adversity makes champions, but that only holds true for those whom all other advantage has been handed. The game is rigged, even for people like me for whom the game was written to win. Once you’re in a situation where you don’t have to struggle for food, shelter, and clothing, you get into a new struggle for the best diets, the classiest homes, and the most fashionable threads to give you an attractive advantage over your peers. The successful ones rise to the top like cream in vat of milk, like the most explosive gas in a fractional distillation column.

If you’re at the bottom of the needs pyramid and concerned about how to make your government assistance stretch until the end of the month, you’re not going to win.

So, yes, my privilege has been checked thoroughly. Thanks for asking.

Poder Súper

If I found a magic lamp and a genie came out to grant me one wish, I’d wish for the superpower of language. I want to be able to communicate in every human language ever uttered, to be able to teach and convince and sway with the power of my words.

That genie, though, being a pernicious bastard, will certainly grant me my wish. But instead of being a force for diplomacy and change in the world, people would only seek me out so I can give them the translation to “La Bamba”. Then they’ll look up other translations and tell me I’m wrong.

Soothsayer

Eventually, we have to start believing our own bullshit if we are going to survive in the world. The soul that’s constantly wracked by self doubt will slowly fall behind and lose its place in the fray. Can’t just stand there gagging on everything coming out of our mouths, gaging each statement for veracity, tenacity, and moral turpitude, or we will spin down into a standstill, paralyzed, paranoid, and lethargic, never really sure that what we think and know is correct enough to join the conversation.

I don’t mean the big picture truths, the major moral questions of our society. I mean the assumptions we have about ourselves, our lives, the things we learn and the truths we deduce and synthesize from smaller fragments; the stuff we talk about over coffee, the bits of chatter in the cubicles, the water cooler talk. We make jokes about know-it-alls, but to some extent, they have it right — they’re sure of things and are unconcerned with being wrong, and when they are corrected, they either learn or they double-down. The happy medium is always somewhere in the middle.

I write this more to myself than to you, but if I can say it with enough conviction, if I can believe it, then maybe you can believe it, too.

All the Ladies

So, in the renewed spirit of gender equality with the recent progresses made by the #metoo movement, I’m trying to figure out the most appropriate thing to say when addressing a group of women.

See, last week I was getting a haircut; the staff on shift was all women. My stylist laid a hot towel on my neck and instantly I caught myself before I blurted out, “Oh, I forgot you guys did that.” Instead, I edited myself to be more true, but what actually came out was “Oh, I forgot you folks did that.” She guffawed at my use of the word “folks” because who the hell actually uses that word non-ironically?

So my question: is it okay to use “gals” instead of “guys”? My problem is that “Guys” is masculine and not gender-neutral. “Gals” is condescending. “Y’all” or “Folks” or “You” is too provincial. Is it okay to use “ladies” or “gals” or “women” when addressing a group of women? Is that a safe thing to do? Or should I just buck up and say what I feel is right anyway and take my lumps?

I know the romance/latin languages use the masculine pronouns and conjugations even in gender-neutral or mixed-gender contexts. Is that still appropriate here in English? I just don’t feel right walking up to a counter and greeting the women there with “Hey guys, what’s up?” You know? What gives?