Friday, September 4, 2009

Some Random Thoughts about Class and Being an Artist

During my undergraduate and graduate years, I took out close to $100,000 in student loans. By the end of my first year of my PhD.D. program I had exactly 10 poems published. I told a friend: “It’s as if I spent $10,000 on each pub."

And when you think about it I had. It felt like a sweet deal. Pretty cheap actually. Spending that money allowed me to become someone else –an artist – I never thought I would have the originality to become.


We called my father Hipless Lew the Meter Reader. He roamed through people’s backyards, reading the energy dials on their meters. It was the same exact thing I do as an English teacher. He interpreted the numbers; I interpret texts.


In junior high school, my father started calling me a Bohemian. I had no idea what he meant. But I liked the sound of the word. That’s what I told him.

“I like the sound of the word,” I said.

“That’s what I mean,” he said, “That’s why you’re a Bohemian.”


When your parents don’t have much money, the first expense that goes is the dentist. I remember when I was in grade school my mother couldn’t believe the price of a cleaning. One day she shrieked, “This is outrageous. We’re never doing this again.”

I bragged to all my friends that I was never going to the dentist again. I suddenly became popular; everyone wanted to lack what I lacked.

Now I suffer from what seems to be permanent gingivitis. That’s how I can tell if someone finds me truly attractive: they’ll kiss me.


These days every professor claims to have been poor growing up. Everyone takes it all in.

It’s the new way for white middle-class people to feel better about themselves.

It’s the same way years ago when I was receiving my undergraduate major in Women’s Studies instead of English. (I heard that it required less reading and writing.)

Everyone claimed to be a person of color. They all boasted that be 1/16th Native American. It sounded cool. So I said I was, too.


  1. Great post.

    I realized that the price of getting an MFA was about the same price as a mid-sized sedan. I figure, it's one less Camry I'll have in my life. I'd rather have poetry than a 4-door.

  2. I feel like you only scratched the surface of something you wanted to say here. Interesting post for sure. I don't about the white middle-class feeling better because a professor came from a low-income family... middle-class struggles too.

  3. The middle class may struggle, too, but in academia it's true that there is a tacit agreement that the struggles are so much more authentic if one can claim working class origins. So you get, for example, radical Marxist social theorists who are trust fund babies and who secretly own stock in shopping malls. Meanwhile they loudly decry the capitalist enterprise, or even the desire of their grad students to make a living wage. Not that I'm against Marxism. I just don't like intellectual white wash. It's ironic, because even as those of us who actaully come from poor backgrounds are trying to transcend class origins by earning advanced degrees, some of our more privileged colleagues are rhetorically dumpster diving.

    Great post Steve. I'd love to see you do a sequel. And a prequel, for that matter.

  4. Anon 2: "Rhetorically dumpster diving" is my new favorite phrase.
    Maybe one day, Steve will grace us with all the part 2's to his part 1's.

  5. I'm not sure that 'claiming color' is something that has in any way gone out of style.

    But native american is still the top of the line for claimed secret ancestors.

  6. By the way, I found this blog, ironically, from a blog I was getting sick of reading, since all he ever did was brag about where he had been published. So today I read one of his newer blog entries, and he said he 'didn't give a shit' if anyone didn't like his bragging. It seemed very out of no where, but by the end of it, he said don't read his blog if you don't like it. So I left.

    But not before clicking on the link to the blog that apparently set him off. This one.

    You speak the truth. :P

  7. I really don't understand how it's "bragging," but alas.

    So when my book comes out, should I hope no one buys it, and should I not let people know, for fear that I may have been tagged with "bragging"?

    Now I can see why people don't start blogs. If you're published and let people know where to find your work, you're a bragger. If you're not published, you're pissed off at the rest of the world because you can't let people know where you're published.

    And unlike most, I'd love to know where your published and where I can find your work.

    Seems pretty cut and dry to me.

  8. A blog is whatever you make of it, and if you choose never, or rarely, to respond to comments, that garners a certain sort of atmosphere. One which I am not afraid to enter.

    But, when added to that, you have lots of posts about all the places you have been published, it does begin to verge on bragging.

    To me, at least. I didn't mention names because I am not trying to drag any names through the mud. It is merely the reason I stopped following one blog, and began following another.

  9. Like I said, Keith, when you get some stuff published and mention it on your blog, I'll support you like I do everyone else, and I'll also even try to check out your work at that point.

    I support the fellow writers I like, many of them who let others know where they're getting published. That's the point: You want people to read your work. It also helps to learn where you might want to send yourself.

    If you have a problem with that kind of community -- and it does strive to be a community, for those who take it seriously -- then that seems to be some kind of personal issue with which you're grappling.

    I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.

  10. You are presupposing that my unwillingness to engage in that community is resulting from my having not taken it seriously. That to be 'outside' is a sign of having not 'got it,' ignoring the chance that perhaps I get it and don't want it, if indeed that is its own community at all.

    I go to blogs to get a peak into another mind, and Google to read someone's works.

    I assure you, that were you blogging about plums, I still would not follow you, and it would not be due to any sort of personal issue I'd be grappling about toward plums.

    One Keith to another, I've read your blog and know you've no issue with publication, and so my good luck sentiments are unnecessary. But good luck anyhow. Your community is not mine. And I'm certain we are both equally fine with that.