You know, this book doesn’t come out until November 7, 2023, but I HAD to read it, so I could review it — then my readers would want to rush out and read it also. Stephanie Land is one of my favorite contemporary writers. “Maid” was amazing, but “Class” really continues the saga of ‘what happened next?’ I got my hands on an “advance reader” copy, but we won’t go into the ‘how.’ *Wink*
“Class” picks up where “Maid” left off, in that you find Stephanie and her child living in inexpensive housing, continuing to clean houses when and where she could, going to college at the University of Montana for writing, and having to reluctantly continue to utilize public assistance. The author, at this time in her life and vulnerability, underestimates that public assistance programs were created for people just like her in her cirucumstances. And yet, society has always made people who need public assistance feel as though they are criminals or “less than” (and honestly still do). Stephanie conveys that so effectively and consciously.
Going to school and working is hard enough; however, the author outlines co-parenting a precocious young child with an abusive Ex. I felt for her when she would plan for things when the child was to be with her father, then have to recoil and repunt when things fell through; in addition, her having to calm and sooth her child back from being whipped into a frenzy of emotional abuse that the other parent doled out to the child while in his care and keeping. Been there, done that…there should be some sort of *f-ing* trophy when you have to get your child back to “real life” and back in their routine, as it is an all-encompassing recovery effort! We won’t go into having to make excuses for the lies or the “big promises” that are made and never kept!!! GRRRRRRR!!!!
The “hunger deficit” is a real and legit thing, with single-parenthood, and only getting worse with food costs rising. She described things so well, that I actually felt her hunger pains, as I can recount many times I brought home food and my kids ate and I didn’t. I personally made too much to be considered for food stamps, but that deficit is definitely there and alive and well today!
My favorite part of the book was her speaking about “resilience.” Ironically, her speech on it made me reflect on a supervisor of mine, who was leaving (as he’d been rightfully promoted). He’s a kind soul, so I took no disrespect from what he said. He told me that he admired my resilience, so her speech on it fit right in that ironic clash of life themes/revelations.
Stephanie, in a chapter entitled, “Solid Gold,” was describing a situation where her EBT card was declined, because some of her paperwork that she had submitted to keep said EBT benefits was misplaced, but that she wasn’t allowed to get upset. Instead, she was expected to react gratefully, grateful that they were allowed to exist on $200 in food stamps per month, by the grace of society. Here’s the great zinger passage that made me hum with the fact that THAT feeling wasn’t just a skewed view of the world I also felt deeply:
“Immediate acceptance of any shitty situation was what most people seemed to mean by resilience, and they needed poor people like me to be that way. Otherwise, my suffering would be too visible to ignore, and they would have to deal with their feelings about that — whether helplessness or responsibility. If people were made too aware of our suffering — like knowing what Emilia ate for dinner every night or that we shared a bedroom — and if we were deemed innocent or undeserving of that suffering, then those people might feel the need to help out in some way. It was easier for a lot of people to imagine how strong and high-functioning I was, as opposed to how desperate and on the edge of disaster we actually were.
To change our society’s worship of the concept of ‘resilience’ would require a whole other way of thinking. But that’s unlikely to happen, not when there are whole systems in place to keep low-wage workers so desperate for paychecks that they’ll do all the jobs no one else wants to. Not when it would require trusting poor people with money for food without making them prove they worked their asses off for it.
Resilience is a flag we poor people could wave to gain that trust. If we proved ourselves time and time again — if we pulled up those fucking bootstraps so hard they broke and our response was to shrug it off before we found some way to fix them so we could immediately start pulling again — people nodded in approval. They might even have assigned us to the ‘deserving poor’ line when we needed more than what was offered. But if I told people about the debilitating panic attacks that sometimes took hours to recover from? About the times I got off the phone with Jamie after he threatened to take me back to court to force me to move to Portland and I fell to my hands and knees, unable to breathe? Well that wasn’t being resilient!
How did I expect to make it through all of these situations — such as a job with no health insurance or benefits or one fucking paid sick day when my kid’s temperature was too high for the day care I could barely afford the copay for? Resilience was the necessary acceptance of that situation. And if I figured it out? If I ducked my head down and barreled through and somehow got to work the though other times a similar situation required me to do that? That’s not just resilience, that’s on your way to success! Look at you, working hard and playing by the rules! That American Dream will all be yours in no time. People thrive on success stories, and I fought like hell to be the one they wanted. Success stories got noticed. They got help because they’d earned enough trust to deserve it.
I sound angry, don’t I? I hope I do. I’ve spent too much of my life pretending not to be angry, and I’m not doing that anymore. And I don’t even have as much to be angry about as a lot of people. I’m deeply aware that while our poverty put Emilia and me squarely in a marginalized group, our whiteness gave us camouflage. Because of our white skin, we weren’t immediately assumed to be poor and then treated poorly as a result. No one other than the grocery store clerks knew that I needed food stamps to afford staples. No one other than caseworkers offered me the left-handed compliment of noting how ‘well-spoken’ my daughter and I were. I got the occasional break from my poverty, at least in terms of its visibility to others. In terms of how it felt inside, the constant, crushing panic? I never got a break from that.”— Stephanie Land, from her book “Class”
Stephanie, while trying to write and study for her U of M degree, outlines the extreme loneliness that she felt in her life at this time. She definitely loved and fought for her daughter, but she describes how she would sometimes nearly lose herself through poverty and motherhood, studying and hanging out with younger adults than herself, sometimes finding belonging and connection to her youth — even if just through occasional sex or social interaction. She was mostly resigned to be on her own, but those glimpses also grounded her and revived her to continue caring for her daughter and pushing forward to becoming a writer. However, Stephanie also struggles with unplanned pregnancy and then comes to a crossroads: graduate school and a better life beckons to her, but what is a single mom to do???
This book was a testament to struggle and adversity, as it applies to merely surviving trauma and single parenthood. It’s hard enough to work, but to go to school, juggle all sorts of programs and due dates and expectations, and motherhood on top of that? It is also a handbook of hope and “challenges accepted.” I was totally invested and read it within three days, between things I had to do.
As soon as you can, PLEASE seek this book out! Sequels rarely resonate with me, but it was as equally compelling as the first book, “Maid.” Love and light and resilience! <3