Sunday, September 03, 2006

Best of the Blogosphere, Part 5: John Scalzi on Being Poor

(Fifth in an occasional and entirely whimsical series. Other entries here.)

When I began this series, I made it a rule that I wouldn't include any post which was less than a year old. The idea was to prevent this from turning into a hey-I-read-a-great-post-this-week series, and instead make it a series of old posts -- old by internet time, granted, but that's the relevant time here -- that I genuinely remembered and thought worth rereading. And so far I've stuck to that. Well, I will in this entry too -- by the letter, but not the spirit. For this entry is precisely a year old today. And I've known since I began this series that it would one day be an entry, and that that day would likely be today. Needless to say, saving up a post until it crosses the year-old finish line isn't in the spirit of picking only year-old posts.

But I don't care. Someone -- Robert Frost? -- once said that we knew a poem was a classic not because we never forgot it but because we knew at a glance that we would never forget it. I don't know if this is always true; but it unquestionably sometimes is. And it was for this post. It's just astonishingly wonderful. (I wondered earlier how it could have failed to win -- hell, even be nominated for -- a Koufax award. I'm still wondering.)

The post in question is by John Scalzi, who just won the John W. Campbell Award for best new SF writer. It's called Being Poor. He wrote it in the wake of Katrina, obviously, and the utter obliviousness of so much of what was said directly afterwards. It begins as follows:

Being poor is knowing exactly how much everything costs.

Being poor is getting angry at your kids for asking for all the crap they see on TV.

Being poor is having to keep buying $800 cars because they're what you can afford, and then having the cars break down on you, because there's not an $800 car in America that's worth a damn.

Being poor is hoping the toothache goes away.

-- and it goes on from there. It simply, merely, and utterly powerfully lists some of the small experiences, some of the components, of what it is to be poor.

It's an astonishing and moving piece of writing, and one that I wish everyone in the country would read. And certainly one worth rereading. And so the fifth official Attempts Best of the Blogosphere™ award goes to John Scalzi's incredible post Being Poor.

But don't just read the post, incredible as that is. Because the commentators pick it up, and add to it. And that, after all, is part of what makes the blogosphere so incredible: the comments, where, sure, people can say stupid things, but it also allows for rich discussion of many varieties -- including, as in this case, genuine extensions of the already brilliant piece of writing. So scroll past the deservedly-long list of trackbacks (which will include this post if I can get it to work), and read the comments. It's a long thread; some of it is taken up with trolls of the 'oh-they-deserve-it' sort, which you can skip. But read the additions to Scalzi's list. In fact, if you want to read all of them, you'll need to go read this post too, since at some point the comment section got so long that he continued it on a new post. But don't skip them: they are part of the whole, and part of what makes the whole as good as it is.

Katrina's anniversary has, indeed, faded too quickly from our national conversation, a mirror of the way in which the original event itself was too quickly forgotten. We did not learn the lessons we so desperately needed to learn, the lessons it so powerfully taught those who listened, about the state of our society and our government. One of the reasons that we didn't -- one of the reasons it happened in the first place -- is that too few people in this country who are not themselves poor know what it means to be poor -- above all, too few who run this country know it. Too few understand it in the genuine way that would prevent them from ever, ever asking "why didn't they leave"? But we need to understand it. We are morally obligated to understand it. Reading John Scalzi's Being Poor is a way to begin.

No comments: