When Anne Shirley, a fictional writer who lives on Prince Edward Island, wins the Rollings Reliable Baking Powder contest with one of her beloved short stories, she’s flummoxed. She didn’t enter the contest, and even more perplexing, she hadn’t written a word about baking powder.
When Darlyn Finch Kuhn notified me that an excerpt of my memoir had been selected for an ekphrastic exhibition named POP: Perceptions of Poverty, I had to read the email twice. I hadn’t applied, and I didn’t grow up poor.
My dad was a military officer who worked his way up from an E-1 in night school. I was too young to remember the years when my mom had a grocery budget of $25 per week. By the time I got curious enough to notice, we were spending as much as $250 on a single trip to the commissary.
Money isn’t the kind of lack that drives the main narrative of my manuscript. The type of poverty I write about is love. It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly led to my sense of lack in that area. Just like the surplus of food in the world, there was plenty of love to go around in my childhood. But somehow, it never sunk all the way inside me to the places that needed to hear I’m okay. I’m enough.
The excerpt of my memoir that Darlyn asked to use hones in on the social anxiety I acquired by moving every two to four years as a military brat. Most people know me today as a moderately social introvert, but as a school-aged child and teen, I was next to mute. By the time my AP government teacher went on a rant in the middle of class about how frequent relocation will eff a kid up, I was already too shut down to say anything.
As an adult approaching my fourth decade of life, I have a lot to say. I’m coming to realize that love is a universal type of poverty that pays no heed to economic class, sexual orientation, gender identity, or life experience. It’s an invisible void evidenced only by its voracious appetite for praise, achievement, material possessions, sex, status, and even abuse. Being stuck in survival mode, whether physical or emotional, makes it that much more difficult to identify and fill the void.
Today I live a privileged life in every way. I have healthy food, comprehensive health care, good schools to choose from for my children, a house I call home, proximity to nature, and a partner who knows how to give and receive healthy love. My words ended up on display because I applied to the JaxbyJax Literary Arts Festival. While I can’t claim to know true poverty, I’m pleased that my perception of lack came through on the page. Unlike Anne Shirley, who was slightly mortified by the way her story gained notoriety, I’m proud to be among such talented artists and writers and look forward to learning from other people’s experiences. If you live in the area, please stop by the Jax Makerspace at the downtown library for the opening reception Wednesday, October 2, 5 – 8:30pm. The exhibition will be on display through November 19.
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