As children we were obsessively told how poor our parents had been as children and as graduate students, and it was not true. It was true that we had a great deal of inexpensive meat and many fatty dairy products, and that these had been rationed during the war. It was true that we had new clothes and chocolates. But we kept hearing about how we were poor, and that our parents had been atrociously poor, poor in ways we could never imagine. I learned that virtue was to get by on virtually nothing. Not just virtue, actually — validity as a human being.
Money, money, money, we had no money, yet we bought things. Nice things. We did not have new cars but we had new clothes. The rest of the neighborhood had cheaper clothes, or used clothes. I thought were living on credit. I felt terribly worried and guilty that I was costing our parents so much. I kept trying to get them to cease and desist with, or at least limit purchases of food and clothing, but I failed. I saved half my allowance and bought them a new chair for the living room which they really, really wanted and could not have afforded otherwise, they said. Yet there were certain other very expensive things they bought without batting an eyelid. They sent me to Europe and camping and I enjoyed beautiful sunshine and did not spend weekends working retail in florescent light.
They were waiting for their older relatives to die so they could get the money, they said. It was not a great deal of money but they wanted it. They asked us whether we were thinking in the same way about them. I was told it was crass to want money and also that I would not be able to make money. But if I were very good I would receive money, the only reliable money, more than I could hope to make. All of this teaching is why I have lower earning power than I should, a lower income than I need, and less confidence generally than is warranted. Right now it appears I should live on less than I do, but I am wondering how since I really have missed a great deal of life while trying to obey all of these edicts.
I suffer and live on a certain financial edge, and I cannot afford to do the things I would need to be able to do to be the academic I should be. At the same time I have a privileged life, as I notice every time I go into Sears or somewhere like that to shop for home improvements and meet clerks who have been inside that cavern all day. And I want a more privileged life, I want still more sunshine. I want autonomy, independence, confidence, innocence, power. I think the most important thing to remember is, the more I channel my Aunt V or my understanding of her, and the less I listen to my parents’ ghostly voices of death in life and life in death draining me, the more energy and confidence and earning power I will have. “You have no power over me any more” is my mantra.