♦Welcome to another edition of the Open Book Blog Hop!♦
Let’s start some something: Do you dog-ear books or use
a bookmark? Do you ever make notes in your books?
Welcome back to another Open Book Blog Hop! The authors included in this ongoing series wish to thank you for your reads. Even more so, we appreciate that you share our writings with friends. If you’re new to the series, welcome aboard. The authors engage and impress weekly. Prepare to become a regular reader.
If anyone knows me, they know I have a graduate degree. That should tell you the answer to this question right away! Growing up, that answer was quite different. Let me explain.
My youth is framed by the parenting and social norms experienced in the late 1970s and through the 1980s. I carried that into my young adult life in the 1990s and then things changed! What was so significant about my youth in this department? My mother grew up in poverty. Therefore, I was raised understanding that having things likes books was a privilege. We treated those books with the utmost respect. They were not left lying around. Pages were carefully turned and never bent. Marking a page was most certainly out of the question. A book was to be read carefully, reverently, and kept pristine.
My mother didn’t have new or always pristine things. She received a lot of hand-me-downs. Books were a luxury. When she married and started a family, she focused on changing a great many things in her life. She succeeded in that endeavor, but the ghost of what was haunted her. In fact, it haunts me.
Have you ever taken the course Bridges Out of Poverty? It’s a 1-day course intended for social program administrators and workers, creating understanding of client perspectives and the obstacles faced (financially, physically, and, most importantly, psychologically). The theory is that the course helps workers provide a more holistic approach to solving poverty. It should be required for lawmakers, along with more in-depth education on this matter, before they can take their seats. Yet, they think that’s not so necessary. Hopefully by the end of this blog, you’ll see why it does matter.
That course opened my eyes to why I participate in behaviors rooted in fear: protecting the objects I own, keeping them pristine, even a bit of hoarding. My anxiety and depression and often fueled by financial uncertainty, as well as the fear of losing friendships and family relationships. You might say, well that sounds pretty normal. I did not experience poverty first hand, but was socialized in a manner in which I am quite familiar with it. However, I don’t have the tools in place to help myself should I roll back into this situation due to a hardship. This would be the place where human capital comes into play. Yet, I wasn’t raised to understand these delicate maneuvers in the same way. In fact, I was taught to be utterly independent. Cue anxiety!
People are how those without capital survive. You may have heard of mutual aid, they trade of goods and services amongst groups instead of currency. It requires the maintenance of mutually beneficial relationships, which can be a job in itself. This often creates situations where sustaining abusive relationships is required for survival. It’s not always balanced, either, where you don’t find abuse. Yet, there is little choice for those without currency over barter, where those things needed are only obtainable via the good graces of others.
It’s a lot more complicated than that, and I am probably doing a terrible job explaining it, but I hope you see the deep difficulties and even the culture created here! Please remember, this shouldn’t be seen as negative when it works well! Mutual aid is a very intelligent means of economy and more often than not, sustainable for the environment. Hand me downs shouldn’t be looked down upon, but our society thinks new means morally upright. Weird flex, I know.
So what does this all have to do with the way I treated my books. My mother saw books as a tool for her children to assure they never slid into the poverty that she had escaped. They would provide a buffer or barrier from that life she left behind. She never wanted that for her family or self again. The state of those books mattered to her, too. Their pristine state comforted her, reassuring her that she was safe from those days at this time. It reflects a moral standard and self-worth (and thus how others perceive you).
Within this context, I was also raised in a middle class environment. That’s a totally different culture, where capital is security and even viewed as morality. Pristine objects attest to your value. I’m not saying I agree with all of that, but the fact is, these notions pervade! We just don’t always think about them in this context and move with them unware of the context and signals.
My mom often laments, “I just can’t have nice things,” in reference to when something gets damaged. I don’t know anyone middle class or above to be bothered by a chip in a vase, unless it was a sacred family object. But, in that case, it’s usually that Aunt Phoebe will haunt you for mistreating her favorite vase, or that they’ve anthropomorphized the vase into an extension of Phoebe and feel the chip has harmed her in some way. They don’t see this as a moral failure that is a sign you’re falling back into the trauma, or experience retraumatization.
The sense of being irresponsible with an object isn’t as pervasive nor corrosive as watching something you worked hard to obtain through struggle get damaged. It catapults you back into thinking you haven’t escaped and reminds you how close you are to losing everything. In other words, it triggers the trauma of having experienced poverty. Thus, writing in a book is disrespectful to the hard work and attainment. All items should be held reverently and in pristine condition to prove they’re newness and thus your morality and worth.
When I got to college, I had to purchase used books to afford my studies. Many of the students who had them prior to me wrote directly in the books. I had rarely seen this before, because the books at my public school were kept neat and clean for reuse, too, making writing them in forbidden and regulated. At home I was not allowed to write in them, so this didn’t surprise me. We could write on a slip of paper and keep that in the pages, but no writing on the book page itself. Highlighting was also popular in college but not grade school. When these books cost at least $50.00 a piece, it was very difficult for me to mark them up. Gut wrenching even. Why would I damage such a costly object that was going to teach me?
My used books were tattooed bodies. Sometimes, the students marked them in ways I needed, so I didn’t have to do the dirt myself. I also started using tab arrows! The way I was raised fought hard to maintain my books in good condition; in a respectful pristine manner. The act of writing on them or underlining passages got easier with time. Like a tattoo, there was story to uncover. I started to realize that my thoughts on the writing were just as valuable as the writing. The notes from other students helped me unravel that realization. When professors said, “highlight this paragraph,” you did.
Dog earring was probably the first way that I marked a page I wanted to return to, and felt that wasn’t so damaging to the book. After all, bookmarks inevitably fell out. I’d put a delicate highlight on a page number. This way, I unraveled those tendencies of a first generation middle class student. Some of these things did start in high school (in a rebellious manner), but were solidified through the process of undergraduate work (with purpose).
Once in graduate studies, writing all over a book was old hat. Post it notes, arrows and tabs, highlights were all free game. They helped me to better find the passages I wanted to revisit and remember the thoughts I had had in the moment of reading them. These things were imperative to writing papers. So, too, with writing my books. A random page with a note on it and no citation was a nightmare to deal with, and I had grown weary of that process when I could use my books as tools to complete my assignments and work to the utmost of my ability.
In this way, I found that books created and even stronger barrier to slipping into financial uncertainty. I owed that to my mother, and that is how I justified moving away from her lessons. No matter how pristine you keep your belongings, shit happens, but I still find myself muttering her line that I just can’t have nice things. It’s hard to unlearn historical traumas, especially when reminders come daily of how close you sit to the danger still.
Be kind to others. Those weird habits, boundaries, and triggers they may have were born from experiences you probably don’t understand from your perspective. Be respectful. That understanding can interpolate across many situations, so carry that with you.
Let’s hop through the other author answers by clicking on their links below. I can guarantee they all have an interesting word on this topic!