We are a miserable race of insecure, bitter, and lonely people. We all feel ourselves terrible, inadequate, we live in fear of the scrutiny that would reveal our deficiency. I am especially aware of my faults, I hold myself to impossibly high standards and condemn myself for every flaw. There are precious days when my hyper awareness of my own base and vile nature drives me to noble if unsuccessful attempts at self-improvement.
But most days I hover between lethargic futility and outright depression. Recently I’ve been at a record low but a recent conversation with my younger sisters has revived me in the way that only they can. My sisters demonstrate infinite grace and nuance in dealing with an older brother so prone to self-indulgent whining and misery. They always manage to put things into perspective for me.
The gist of the conversation was that, for someone of my background, I’m really much less of a failure than you would expect. I don’t use my upbringing as an excuse for any of my failings, but when I am beating myself up it helps to reflect on how far I’ve come just to stave off feelings of self-hatred. As the child of two heroin addicts, born into a family of poor white trash, growing up in a house that was frequently without electricity or running water, I could have turned out much worse.
I could have turned out like my older siblings and cousins. I don’t want to be too harsh on my parents who I think had wonderful qualities despite their obvious failings, but when I think about my origins it’s easy to see why my family is full of alcoholics, drug addicts, all with tons of kids that they’re too poor to support and too stupid to raise properly. They’re just being exactly what they were raised to be. They’re a simple product of their origins. If you knew my parents, you would expect their children to be exactly like my older siblings. My half-sister’s mother smoked through her pregnancy, and in turn she smoked a pack a day through two pregnancies.
Once again it should be said that I’m not singing my praises, simply accounting for factors beyond my control. If you knew my family, my neighborhood, and the schools I attended you would know how much of a miracle it is that I’m alive, literate, childless, in decent health, and a non-smoker/drinker/drug user.
It’s amusing to note that while most of my friends and current peers think of me as white trash, an uneducated, rude, and tactless philistine my family and my peers from childhood think of me as an arrogant sophisticate, a sellout dandy with no street cred who thinks he’s better than everyone because he spent two semesters in college. A change in perspective makes a big difference.
Having my little sisters say all this to me has helped me get through a rough period. I’m writing this with one hand as my right hand is broken, leaving me out of work for a month with hospital bills, no income, and a scary level of uncertainty in my future career.
All of this has also prompted me to notice that almost everyone I know is more or less who they were born to be. All of my friends who are rich and successful come from rich and successful families, neighborhoods, schools. All of my educated friends come from families of educated people, and all my artistic friends come from families of artistic people.
This thought makes it especially insulting to be consistently patronized and condescended to by the products of the artsy, affluent, liberal upper crust for not meeting their standards of civility, education, or success.
I started the week thinking that I was worthy of nothing but contempt, wondering if I would ever be a worthwhile person, and as hokey and sentimental as it sounds, the words of two people I love were able not just to give me a little bit more faith in who I am, but to take a lot of my detractors down a peg.
I have to remember that while you’re who you are because of where you came from, I am who I am in spite of it.
“You try to plant something in the concrete…if it grows, and the and the rose petal’s got all kinds of scratches and marks, you not gon’ say, “Damn, look at all the scratches and marks on the rose that grew from concrete.” You gon’ be like, “Damn! A rose grew from the concrete?!” Same thing with me…I grew out of all of this…That’s what they should see…All the trouble to survive and make good out of the dirty, nasty, unbelievable lifestyle they gave me. I’m just trying to make something…You see you wouldn’t ask why the rose that grew from the concrete had damaged petals. On the contrary, we would all celebrate its tenacity. We would all love its will to reach the sun. Well, we are the rose – this is the concrete – and these are my damaged petals. Don’t ask me why, thank God nigga, ask me how!”-Tupac Shakur