There's no way to structure this coherently. They are random observations that might help explain the mental processes. But often, I think that we look at the academic problems of poverty and have no idea of the why. We know the what and the how, and we can see systemic problems, but it's rare to have a poor person actually explain it on their own behalf. So this is me doing that, sort of.
Rest is a luxury for the rich. I get up at 6AM, go to school (I have a full courseload, but I only have to go to two in-person classes) then work, then I get the kids, then I pick up my husband, then I have half an hour to change and go to Job 2. I get home from that at around 1230AM, then I have the rest of my classes and work to tend to. I'm in bed by 3. This isn't every day, I have two days off a week from each of my obligations. I use that time to clean the house and soothe Mr. Martini and see the kids for longer than an hour and catch up on schoolwork. Those nights I'm in bed by midnight, but if I go to bed too early I won't be able to stay up the other nights because I'll fuck my pattern up, and I drive an hour home from Job 2 so I can't afford to be sleepy. I never get a day off from work unless I am fairly sick. It doesn't leave you much room to think about what you are doing, only to attend to the next thing and the next. Planning isn't in the mix.
When I got pregnant the first time, I was living in a weekly motel. I had a minifridge with no freezer and a microwave. I was on WIC. I ate peanut butter from the jar and frozen burritos because they were 12/$2. Had I had a stove, I couldn't have made beef burritos that cheaply. And I needed the meat, I was pregnant. I might not have had any prenatal care, but I am intelligent enough to eat protein and iron whilst knocked up.
I know how to cook. I had to take Home Ec to graduate high school. Most people on my level didn't. Broccoli is intimidating. You have to have a working stove, and pots, and spices, and you'll have to do the dishes no matter how tired you are or they'll attract bugs. It is a huge new skill for a lot of people. That's not great, but it's true. And if you fuck it up, you could make your family sick. We have learned not to try too hard to be middle-class. It never works out well and always makes you feel worse for having tried and failed yet again. Better not to try. It makes more sense to get food that you know will be palatable and cheap and that keeps well. Junk food is a pleasure that we are allowed to have; why would we give that up? We have very few of them.
The closest Planned Parenthood to me is three hours. That's a lot of money in gas. Lots of women can't afford that, and even if you live near one you probably don't want to be seen coming in and out in a lot of areas. We're aware that we are not "having kids," we're "breeding." We have kids for much the same reasons that I imagine rich people do. Urge to propagate and all. Nobody likes poor people procreating, but they judge abortion even harder.
Convenience food is just that. And we are not allowed many conveniences. Especially since the Patriot Act passed, it's hard to get a bank account. But without one, you spend a lot of time figuring out where to cash a check and get money orders to pay bills. Most motels now have a no-credit-card-no-room policy. I wandered around SF for five hours in the rain once with nearly a thousand dollars on me and could not rent a room even if I gave them a $500 cash deposit and surrendered my cell phone to the desk to hold as surety.
Nobody gives enough thought to depression. You have to understand that we know that we will never not feel tired. We will never feel hopeful. We will never get a vacation. Ever. We know that the very act of being poor guarantees that we will never not be poor. It doesn't give us much reason to improve ourselves. We don't apply for jobs because we know we can't afford to look nice enough to hold them. I would make a super legal secretary, but I've been turned down more than once because I "don't fit the image of the firm," which is a nice way of saying "gtfo, pov." I am good enough to cook the food, hidden away in the kitchen, but my boss won't make me a server because I don't "fit the corporate image." I am not beautiful. I have missing teeth and skin that looks like it will when you live on b12 and coffee and nicotine and no sleep. Beauty is a thing you get when you can afford it, and that's how you get the job that you need in order to be beautiful. There isn't much point trying.
Cooking attracts roaches. Nobody realizes that. I've spent a lot of hours impaling roach bodies and leaving them out on toothpick pikes to discourage others from entering. It doesn't work, but is amusing.
"Free" only exists for rich people. It's great that there's a bowl of condoms at my school, but most poor people will never set foot on a college campus. We don't belong there. There's a clinic? Great! There's still a copay. We're not going. Besides, all they'll tell you at the clinic is that you need to see a specialist, which seriously? Might as well be located on Mars for how accessible it is. "Low-cost" and "sliding scale" sounds like "money you have to spend" to me, and they can't actually help you anyway.
I smoke. It's expensive. It's also the best option. You see, I am always, always exhausted. It's a stimulant. When I am too tired to walk one more step, I can smoke and go for another hour. When I am enraged and beaten down and incapable of accomplishing one more thing, I can smoke and I feel a little better, just for a minute. It is the only relaxation I am allowed. It is not a good decision, but it is the only one that I have access to. It is the only thing I have found that keeps me from collapsing or exploding.
I make a lot of poor financial decisions. None of them matter, in the long term. I will never not be poor, so what does it matter if I don't pay a thing and a half this week instead of just one thing? It's not like the sacrifice will result in improved circumstances; the thing holding me back isn't that I blow five bucks at Wendy's. It's that now that I have proven that I am a Poor Person that is all that I am or ever will be. It is not worth it to me to live a bleak life devoid of small pleasures so that one day I can make a single large purchase. I will never have large pleasures to hold on to. There's a certain pull to live what bits of life you can while there's money in your pocket, because no matter how responsible you are you will be broke in three days anyway. When you never have enough money it ceases to have meaning. I imagine having a lot of it is the same thing.
Poverty is bleak and cuts off your long-term brain. It's why you see people with four different babydaddies instead of one. You grab a bit of connection wherever you can to survive. You have no idea how strong the pull to feel worthwhile is. It's more basic than food. You go to these people who make you feel lovely for an hour that one time, and that's all you get. You're probably not compatible with them for anything long-term, but right this minute they can make you feel powerful and valuable. It does not matter what will happen in a month. Whatever happens in a month is probably going to be just about as indifferent as whatever happened today or last week. None of it matters. We don't plan long-term because if we do we'll just get our hearts broken. It's best not to hope. You just take what you can get as you spot it.
I am not asking for sympathy. I am just trying to explain, on a human level, how it is that people make what look from the outside like awful decisions. This is what our lives are like, and here are our defense mechanisms, and here is why we think differently. It's certainly self-defeating, but it's safer. That's all. I hope it helps make sense of it.
It's worth noting opalcat's comment to the above:
I smoke. It's expensive.Really? $9 for a pack of cigarettes and you are bitching and whining about not having any money?
Leaving aside the health problems, of which I sincerely hope you have a ton as a result of this incredibly moronic choice you have made, how DARE you whine and complain and bitch and blub about how UNFAIRSSSSSZZZZZZZZ!!!!!!!! it all us that the rich get everyfing for free while poor little you has to work two jobs and is on food stamps or whatever and then you try and FAIL to sneak in, oh yeah I smoke as if we're not supposed to notice.
You also whine and bitch about how Planned Parenthood is three hours away and that's a lot of gas. MAYBE IF YOU WEREN'T THROWING AWAY $9 A FUCKING DAY ON GODDAMN CIGARETTES YOU'D HAVE MONEY FOR GAS.
That's nearly 3 gallons of gas you are sucking up into your stinking lungs, and yet you dare to whine and complain?
Especially since the Patriot Act passed, it's hard to get a bank account.
What does this even mean?
All I have to do to get a bank account is look on the Net to see which bank is going to fuck me in my butthole the least painful way, go to the nearest branch and sit down at the goddamn desk with an associate for 20 minutes. I need one form of id and some actual money, though it can be in another bank, and there are these things called 'transfers' by which money is moved from place to place and bank to bank.
Oh and everyone saying what a great OP this is and throwing you a huge pity party can go fuck yourselves as well.
I see that you are very angry at the assumptions you have made about me. Perhaps I can clear some of them up for you.
To begin with, I do not live where you live. Thus, things cost different amounts for me than you are used to. It is really none of your business, but I spend probably about $45 a month on my vice. You see, there is no law saying one has to buy brand-name anything, and it turns out that there are less expensive alternatives.
You also seem to think that I begrudge people things. I do not get that on rereading, but I think maybe it has more to do with your assumptions. You see, I do not mind that people get free things. I mind when people wonder why the poor don't avail themselves of more of them, because the world in which things are free is not the one I live in. That is a different thing entirely.
You assume that I am on public assistance. That is untrue. I was on WIC while I was pregnant. I got Medicaid for my other pregnancy. But I do not cost you anything, and you do not buy my food. You are not allowed to take that tone because you assume you're covering me. You're not, unless you are counting roads.
You assume that I have the slightest inclination to visit my closest Planned Parenthood. What I said was that it is too expensive for many women, and I used my own location as a handy example. I do not understand why that makes you angry, because it is true.
What the part about the bank account means is exactly what I said: it's harder to do now. You see, there was a very large terrorist attack, and the country went slightly berserk and decided to fight terrorist money laundering. Thus, the document requirements are now more cumbersome. It is similar to voter ID issues.
I think that perhaps you did not read all the way through, because I was pretty clear that I was not writing this for sympathy. I wrote it because someone asked me a question that I thought I could answer, and because people like you feel entitled to wish me harm simply because I dare to have a vice whilst poor. I wonder, are you truly angry that I have a vice? Is that what drives your rage? How much money would I need to make before I am allowed to decide for myself how to survive in the most logical way?
Or is the problem a different one? I do not have good luck with drive-by ragers coming back to explain themselves, but I would like to understand what you are really angry about. Is it that I am poor and insufficiently servile about it? Is it that you legitimately think that you are somehow morally superior? Is it that I dared to write my thoughts down and someone forced you to read them? Is it that you never spend fifty dollars a month on something that could be used elsewhere, and you are extra judgey about it because it is the thing you have to be judgey about? Is it that you are an antismoking warrior and doing the world A Service by wishing ill on random Internet bloggers? Is it that you are uncomfortable with the idea that even if I have no money I am allowed to sometimes complain about life? How rich do I have to be before I am allowed to have objections to the current class system? What amount of money do you think gives me the right to be human? Or is it that you never complain about things that suck in your life? Maybe your life is perfect and you have no complaints. I do not know. I try not to assume things about people on the Internet. I tend to just ask directly.
I hope you do come back, because I am curious: why are you really so full of vitriol? What is actually driving this?