Apologizing for Existence

Apologizing for Existing

“Larraine learned a long time ago not to apologize for her existence,” writes Matthew Desmond about one of the individuals he profiles for his book Evicted. Larraine lived in a trailer park, barely getting by on social assistance checks from the government. She spent unwisely, but, with no hope of getting to a more stable financial position in her lifetime, saw little reason to live more frugally.
The simple line from Desmond tells us a lot about people living in poverty. They are outcasts in our country and are looked down-upon no matter what they do. They are treated as if they are not doing the right thing, not working hard enough, and not deserving of smiles, compliments, or sympathy. Poor people are made to feel bad about themselves, about their reliance on others, and about the help they need from the government, from charity, and from private donations. They are made to feel as though they must apologize for existing and being so poor.
The narrative in our country is that one simply has to work hard and everything will be ok. As long as you are industrious and self-disciplined, you can have a car, a nice place to live, a TV, and good food to eat. You will be respected if you either work hard and earn your way, or have enough money on your own to get by without help from others. The reality for many, however, is that you must work very hard for very little, subsist on the same mediocre food all the time, and live without any frivolous spending or enjoyment, otherwise the more important bills won’t get paid. And even if you do all that, people still won’t want to associate with you, won’t want to talk to you, and won’t look at you as if you deserve to be treated like a fully human individual.
Is it any wonder that people opt out and chose to live with short-term pleasures, like expensive steak or commemorative merchandise, at the expense of making their gas payment for a month? This is the situation Larraine found herself in, and rather than acquiescing to the disparaging looks and disappointment from other people, Larraine chose to embrace her seemingly irrational and unwise spending habits. She chose not to apologize for her poverty stricken existence, to be human, and to accept who she was, even if it was not what the rest of her society wanted her to be.

Take Chances

There are a few things that I have always been terrible at doing.  Planning for trips, meeting up with friends for a late night, and getting involved with group volunteer activities are a few that come to mind.  What all of these activities have in common is that they require that I leave the comfort of my own home for a new adventure.  I enjoy the familiar and the routine, but like anyone else, I become bogged down without the opportunity to have novel experiences navigating the unknown.  The relationships I could build if I made more of an effort to get out and volunteer, spend time with friends, or explore new places would be worth so much more than the money I bank by taking things easy and settling for a quiet evening and an individual workout.

 

James Harmon in his book, Take My Advice, includes a letter written by  Michael Thomas Ford in which the author states, “Take Chances. I know that sounds simplistic, but it’s harder than you think.  I seem to pick this scrap a lot, probably because I need to be reminded of this on a fairly regular basis.  The older you get the more excuses you come up with for why you can’t quit your job and spend three months writing that screenplay or why it’s ridiculous for you to even think about running in that marathon.  of course it’s all a fear of failure. But failing is a lot better than wondering what might have happened.  If you’re pretty sure something isn’t going to kill you, there’s no reason not to give it a shot.”

 

I think that Ford’s quote hits several major points for me.  Taking chances and putting myself in new situations does sound like an easy thing on the surface, but once my day gets started it begins to feel impossible for me to do all of the things that I would like to do, especially when a bigger risk is involved with any given thing.  With my limited time I find that I fall back on the comfortable habits that I have developed.  I have worked hard to build myself a routine where I take care of all the work I need to in a day from work itself, to exercise, cooking and cleaning, prepping for the next day’s lunch, and organizing small things.  What soon looses a space in my day is the exciting and fun that accompanies the unfamiliar.  Spontaneous dinners with co-workers often don’t find a way into my plans, and I never seem to plan that road trip I have been longing for.

 

Ford is encouraging us to get out of our comfortable daily routines that maximize our responsibility and efficiency. He certainly is not advocating for us to be irresponsible and lazy, but rather he is urging us to do something new that will build memories in ways that material items and a checklist never will. The fear of failure that Ford mentions is what drives us into a mere existence as opposed to a full life.  We want to impress others, prove our mental strength, and be productive, but sometimes our motivation for these activities stems from external rewards and sources.  Shutting off the outside voices allows us to ignore the fear of what people would say or what may happen if we do fail at something, and gives us a new reason to do the exciting thing we have always wanted.