Just finished two books on rough childhoods and chaotic backgrounds, J D Vance “Hillbilly Elegy” and Harley Flannagans “Hard Core – Life of my own”. They’re not just stories of children, and how their outcome in life is a result of childhood, it’s also very much a story about class and opportunity.
I grew up in the 70’s, with a housewife mom and a working dad. Both of them were active communists when they met (I was conceived on a Soviet friendly trip through the Iron Curtain in 1973, apparently in Transylvania). My dad came from Russian borgeouise and revolted against his background by becoming communist, but my moms genes came from true white trash lineage: my grandmother, to whom I was the apple of her eye, was born a bastard and had to move from home at a very young age to serve in a household, and my grandfather was an abusive alcoholic with travelling people blood.
It would be a lie to say I grew up like the kids in Appalachia or Lower East Side, but there are some similarities that shapes you: for instance I grew up dirt poor. Every summer from when I was 12, I had to work throughout my whole summer holidays to sustain my interests, and even additional bus card for music rehersal. But there was no weekly or monthly allowance, going to the movies, buying a record or going to concerts was budgeted for.
Since my mom hated her mother-in-law, who was from Russian high society, I didn’t spend much time with her as a child, and missed out on the opportunity to learn about social codes among the rich. Instead I grew up with poor food, and lack of anything but common sense for my kind. Clothes etc. was a bare necessity and not something that meant status. Rather lack thereof.
My father didn’t teach me much, since he worked most of the time, but he taught me to pay the bills and if there was anything left, I’d eat that month. He also taught me there was no such thing as a dishonest job. And he taught me to be loyal, though you probably shouldn’t in some obvious cases. My mother was a terrible person to grow up with. I know now that she probably has a Borderline Personality Disorder, something both me and my sister has been diagnosed with. She made promises of rewards that she would never keep, and she’d be embarrased with me and tell me that she was. Never once did she stand up for me, even when a teacher hit me, she was embarrased of the commotion I’ve caused with my bad behaviour.
My father wasn’t exactly a great source of encouragement either. Sure, it was great that I had my music and friends, but why did I opt for that shit music, and those shit friends? Nothing was good enough for him, and in hindsight, I hear the echo of his own past in my ear. But that took its toll, and my friends became my real family, since it seemed mine didn’t want me or at least didn’t accept me for who or what I was.
Early on, I decided that I’d leave the house as soon as I could, and that became my only goal. As JD Vance describes it in his book though, you might leave the house, but the culture of the house is always with you. And also like him, I was shaped by the community I surrounded myself with, other music freaks who didn’t trust society and authority and wanted to watch the world burn. That excluded most normal people, and the ones I kept close had to earn their respect as being credible in our subculture, as I had to have earn mine among my peers. This aspect and angle has taken me through subcultures all my life, basically because the life of the common people either has reminded me of my parents too much, or I’ve just felt like a stranger among those not extreme. As I’ve grown older, I’ve inherited my fathers talent as a social chameleon though.
I heard somewhere that you should find what you’re good at, and make that your living, rather than make a job out of your passion. Growing up, always feeling like I was never good enough and noone standing up for me, I’ve had to stand up for myself (which I’m pretty terrible at to be honest, and that’s a great part of why I’ve drank instead. Swallowing seemed easier), or find someone to work for who looked out for me. That creates a problem of identity, because I work best as a team, representing something that is larger than I. This may seem both humble and admirable, but it has created a path in my life where I’ve been loyal and not being payed neither in money nor in thankfulness, but been taken for a ride.
Another great error in my upbringing that still has great influence on my modus operandi, is my endless thirst for validation. As a child, I never had it from anyone but my grandmother, and she gave me rewards just for being me. That felt very good each and every time, and was the one thing I was looking forward to. In her place, I’ve gone on to reward myself constantly, to fill that gaping void in my soul: anything from candy, through records or books, to alcohol. Escapism has also been a great part of my character. Always looking for a way out, instead of facing whatever demons that were in my own mind. Leaving your surrounding and your context, creates the false idea that you are free from them, but in reality you just focus elsewhere at the moment. Soon enough, the demons catches up.
After these two books, I happened to open up Chris Grossos “Dead Set On Living”, a super interesting book on the Buddhist outlook on addiction. Like all therapies say, traumas in our childhood is the foundation for how we deal with the world as adults. But Grossos conclusion is founded in Buddhism, and this rings true within most Indian philosophies; we have a chance to heal our present projection of our childhood trauma, by accepting our condition, and embracing forgiveness.
I’ve been on wild goose chases, aimed for the moon and stars, in order to always fail. I now see that my mothers unrealistic approach to my rewards has had that impact on me. For the first time in my life, I feel the need to focus on one thing at a time, and not dream away but instead making plans, and work towards them. I am beginning to treat my work as a job and not a passion. I am fending off all wild dreams of the future, and instead focus on the now. It’s kind of liberating, once I accept that is where I am.
NP Travis Quite Free