the omission factor

I’ve always been conscious of my place within society. I’ve known, since the beginning it seems, that I’ve been on the peripheral edges looking in, wondering how to get “in.” I’ve been reading back through my blog in an effort to not reiterate things I’ve written about before, and I’ve realized how much my identity as a marginalized person has permeated my writings. I’ve also realized how much it has really affected me in what I’ve chosen to study, how I go about my education, and why I’m so keen to understand these artificial divides we construct.

I’ve written several times about our poverty and the trials that went along with that. As I’m pondering all of this, though, and re-reading my own writings, there are moments in my life that are becoming more important and more defining than others. Most of these concepts have to do with an omission of some sort.

Take, for instance, the linguistic style of dropping g’s. Obviously the dropped g has a connection to class. I didn’t realize how this impacts us in education until one day when my brother, Shadow, came home to tell me about the girl he was dating (who would later become his wife). He said, “Jennifer comes from a higher class than we do. She doesn’t drop her g’s.” I thought about it. I considered, very carefully, how I pronounced things. I started paying attention to how my classmates pronounced words. I realized that I was in the minority, that others, especially in an academic setting, were much more careful about their “g’s” than I was (or that it was just a part of their linguistic style). My omission of a consonant, whether noticed by others or not, set me apart in my own mind.

It is assumed, especially with an English background, that we have read the classics. It is assumed, when you walk into a college classroom (at least it was when I first started college, but I don’t think this is necessarily true now), that you will have a basic knowledge built upon certain texts. I haven’t ever really been introduced to the canon of English literature. I took Shakespeare in college because the one Shakespeare play I read in high school, Romeo and Juliet (of course), reminded me of the tickets I had won to see Much Ado About Nothing when I was twelve and how privileged I felt to go to a play at the university to see Shakespeare. I thought you were supposed to immerse yourself in Shakespeare to be educated (and to be fair, I actually love Shakespeare now). But I haven’t ever read Moby Dick, Huckleberry Finn, or even Wuthering Heights (which is on my nightstand because I thought it might be time). I can pass myself off as being knowledgeable and well-read, but in reality, I’m not. I read everything I could get my hands on, but acceptable literature was rarely available to me. This omission of a “real” literature background has forced me to have a distaste for canonical discussions. To me the very idea that only certain books allow us to have a cultured education is ridiculous.

I once took a creative non-fiction course. The first assignment in this course was to write about a real-life experience. I wrote about being trashcan kids. It’s such a real experience for my family, and one that is not shared by many people we know. We then had to share this writing with the rest of the class and have it critiqued. As the class read the story, I could hear the rumblings. Was that my panic or their disdain? Then came the discussions. “Disgusting.” “How can people live like that?” From that moment, I decided that it might be better if I didn’t share too much information about myself. It wasn’t until I was in a graduate class dealing with memoirs and trauma that I actually shared more. At that point, one of my classmates began talking about being raped. The class went silent. It was like they couldn’t relate. In order to alleviate some of the focus (because she was obviously still dealing with the emotions of the attack), I talked about being a walking cliche: poverty, homelessness, abuse, and other things. And yet here I am, fighting against the status quo to make my life different. Then my classmates opened up. Another talked about her alcohol addictions. Yet another spoke of living on the streets (by choice, but still about the impacts of that on her outlook). What I omitted, though, was that this is a struggle. Every day is a struggle to overcome these issues.

I own a home (which I’m trying to sell). I don’t tell many people about my home, and I have rarely invited people over. Why? Because while I own my home and the 2 1/2 acres with amazing mountain views, it is the type of home that automatically establishes an identity for the homeowner. I own a manufactured home. When people call it a trailer, I cringe. It’s on a stemwall. It’s in place. It doesn’t have aluminum siding or paneled wood walls (and I’ve lived in those types of homes, as well). My biases start coming out because of the stigma that is attached to that type of home. I don’t tell my classmates where I live and I don’t invite people over for study groups because I’ve heard their comments about those types of homes. This only places a larger divide between my classmates and me. I’m not one of them.

While some of these divides are my own creation, some of them are also based upon a societal need to define and organize everything and everyone into categories. If I try to pass or blend in through omission, is that defying categorization, or just feeding in to it?


  1. darlene

    i really like that you are writing about all this, it helps me to look at my own thoughts on the issue. i think that i was lucky because i was an avid reader and my mom encouraged it and found ways to keep me in books. she bought me a set of the classics when i was very young and somehow found a way to pay for them ~ i still have them on my bookshelf. we also had an amazing library in our small town and a book mobile. it is what i spent my time doing ~ when i went to university and started my english literature degree, i had the advantage of having already read most of the literature we were studying.

    the language thing .. i learned to speak like those around me. i have a good ear and took drama classes for years so changing the way i speak to fit my surroundings comes pretty natural. it also helped when i studied french and drama.

    i can see now that i did likely try and blend in though i was always forthright about where i came from, growing up in trailers and also about my metis (native) heritage. its interesting how it matters and doesn’t matter all at the same time.

    need to do more thinking about this.

  2. Sage

    Thanks for this post. I’m one of those who drops ‘G’s” and often butchers words… Coming from the south, there was always a bit of shame and feeling that we were inadequate (even though I did read 3 Shakespeare plays in High School as well as classics like Homer and even Jane Austen (God rest her soul, I hated her in the 10th grand). The trauma you’ve expereinced will make you a better teacher… Yet, it’s painful and I can’t imagine what you must have felt like when someone questioned people living like that. Good luck with your studies, I hope you’re enjoying MN.

  3. castillo

    This is an intriguing post Dawn; one that I appreciate you making. I have had a varied upbringing that has covered similar ground…living on food stamps, family addictions to drugs & alcohol, manufactured home living (all with their wheels still attached!), etc. While much of this did not include such traumatic elements as your own, I wholly relate to the questions of how does one share such experiences and how does it define us or the way in which we are perceived?

    I look at “trying to pass” as defying categorization. My past experiences are not the final testament to my character or my abilities. How I carry myself and how I function in society should be the true determination of who I am; even if I were living in home with wheels.

    I am not sure this really makes sense or helps further your discussion of this topic, but I felt compelled to share. I appreciate your posting this and thank you for it.

  4. kati

    My dad is a single parent who lost his wife (my mom, the breadwinner by far) to cancer when I was pretty young. We were plunged into a different class, sneaking to the thrift store before it was cool. A few years ago I saw the children’s library librarians again in my little hometown. Until I stood there as an adult with these women that I realized how much time I spent there as a kid. It was free, and the default location for any time of day. I confess that I didn’t explore the classics as well as I could have, but for me the main benefit to society that libraries give is a place for poor kids to hang out and grow up.

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