breaking down problems (and aliens), part one

this one’s going to have to be in installments. okay, so wow do we have problems… like, I, personally, have problems (no joke), but we, collectively, have PROBLEMS. and the relationship between me, my personal problems, and us, and our collective problems, is, I’m finding, an interesting thread to pull on. the first problem I have, and always have, every day, is that I need to make money. by some miracle of fate, I find myself “the breadwinner” keeping my family afloat through the month, earning just enough to pay the bills, the rent, the debt, and the food. But I’m not “well-off”, and have never been well-off. If I were well-off, I (presumably) would not need to worry about when the next check would arrive and how much it would be for. But, (but!) part of my problem with money is that I *don’t* just pay for the rent and the bills and the food, but I buy other things as well, less *necessary* things. I buy things like movie tickets and books, dinners out, and various toys. And I know that part of my problem with money is psychological, in that I grew up poor, and I think of myself as being poor, and when the check does arrive, I have this tendency to spend it as quickly as I can so that I can *stay* poor. so there’s this pattern of behavior, bundled up with my sense of self, with who I think I am and want to be, and it keeps me in this state. being a kind of science nerd, the analogy that comes to mind is one of an atom and its electron cloud, where I’m the atom, and the money coming in is energy, and rather than jump to a higher energy state, I keep shedding photons to get back to my normal, “poor” state. and, well, speaking of “poor states”, I live in Northern California. (ha ha.) and I don’t think I really realized, like, really *grasped* how poor my surroundings are. Until now. Part of the reason why I am beginning to realize just how poor this area is has to do with the Camp Fire, and another part has to do with a friend I made at the Library. so there’s this aggregator site that I read (religiously) called Hacker News, or just “HN” if you’re in tech. And since the Camp Fire, folks on HN have been talking about the town of Paradise, which is a town that I, living in Chico as a kid, partially grew up in. And I’ve got to say that it’s pretty surreal to be reading these comments on HN that are usually *far-removed* from Paradise and the surrounding area, to reading comments that are all about it. One of those comments that I read last week was this one: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18476916 The gold in that comment is this line:

Not sure how well this has been represented in the media, but Paradise as a community is poor as shit.

That line just really hit me. Part of it is because the author does seem to know how well that fact is being represented in the media, which is basically not at all, and the other part is that they have lived there themselves and saw it first-hand for what it was. And the whole reason this person is able to identify that Paradise is in fact poor as shit is because they are from somewhere else, or at lease have lived somewhere else, less poor than Paradise. the other “nerdy news” site that I read is Slashdot. And part of their dopamine-trigger effect is a little quote at the bottom of the page that updates periodically. Apropos of the current topic, a recent quote on Slashdot was this:

We Don’t Know Who Discovered Water, But We Know It Wasn’t a Fish

I hardly need explain the point of this quote. But you get the idea. Here I am, a poor person, living in a poor county, and I don’t really *see* the poverty, because it is all around me, and all I have ever known. OK. So now the second part, — not the second installment, but the second part of beginning to understand the poverty around me — which has to do with my new friend at the Library, Roman. Two weeks ago, I was talking to Roman about his plans for the future. And Roman, like the poster on HN, lives (lived, now) in Paradise, and is anxious to leave the area. You can imagine the reason why, and it is partly the same reason that the HN poster had, which is that Paradise is “poor as shit”. But that’s not the only reason Roman wants to leave. Roman had to remind me (funnily enough) during our conversation that he is Chinese. And if you’re a Chinese man in a poor town in Northern California, you get the kind of looks just walking around town that you’d rather not get. Because Paradise is not just poor. It’s poor and white. And you know what that means. That’s right. It means they voted for Trump. I think Trump is going to have to be a regularly featured character in these posts, because he really does *highlight* so much of what is currently taking place in the psyche of the American population, of which I must count myself a member. So then, what does Trump highlight? Racism, absolutely. Specifically the historical racism of this country, tied up with the KKK and lynch mobs, after the genocide of the natives, but also the modern racism of the new jim crow, the war on drugs, mass incarceration, for-profit prisons, etc., etc., etc. When he came to the area and had his photo taken with the locals, I don’t believe there was a single person of color in any of those photos. And Butte County has its own fair share of white cops killing unarmed black men. It happens so regularly across this country, I’m beginning to wonder if it isn’t some kind of ritual. So. Problems. Racism. My president is a racist, and the cops in my town are racists, and I despise them both for it. But then, why aren’t I racist? I mean, I must be, right? I’m just going to assume that I am, but that it expresses itself differently. I think that somehow, in Chico, during the 70s, the town was *just big enough* to be a part of the hippy movement. And the hippy movement was in turn part of the civil rights movement, if only tangentially. And the message of the hippy movement was love and peace and “imagine all the people”, and I grew up with a lot of that influence. But you know what wasn’t, really wasn’t, part of the message of the hippy movement? Wealth. There didn’t seem to be any … accountability. And that’s the other thing that Trump represents. The guy’s name is practically synonymous with “Millionaire.” And so here, in my little town, filled with poor white people driving around in their 4x4s with Trump bumperstickers, we’ve also got a community radio station that picks up Democracy Now, and Amy Goodman swings by every so often to rally the liberal troops with their “coexist” bumperstickers. But to what end? Problems. Poverty. Politics. And when am I ever going to get around to talking about the aliens?