This Month in Reality: I stumble through a review of Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

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I finished listening to this read-by-the-author audio book well over a week ago and I’ve been trying to decide what exactly I wanted to say about it. On the one hand, it was a touching memoir about surviving with grit, perseverance and the support of your family (or, at least, the pieces of your family who had gotten themselves together enough to provide support). On the other hand, the wider cultural moment that this book was released into has kind of positioned it in this place where people can trot it out to say, “Look! White people suffer, too!” whenever a person of color points to some systemic issue that is causing a lot of suffering. And, while it does make some good points about the wider culture and how people are struggling and the systems we have in place aren’t adequate to support us, they were points that I had read elsewhere. Drug abuse, incarceration, broken families, and intergenerational trauma are things that have definitely been subjects of discussion for awhile, just maybe not in the mainstream.

But, that’s maybe not a problem of the book itself but its reception?

So, on the one hand, I shouldn’t blame a book for its reception and its use or misuse by its readership. On the other hand, if we’re not going to have these conversations now about how, “yes, there are class issues in America, but no they are not entirely independent of race and ethnicity and engaging with one without engaging with the others doesn’t paint the full picture”, then when are we going to have them?

So, I’m in this weird place where I was really touched by the narrative, and happy to have been given an example of another American life (because J.D. Vance’s childhood is pretty far away from my Suburban middle class upbringing). But, I still see this book in a wider context in which, if we addressed some of the race-related structural issues scholars, activists and politicians have highlighted over the years (for example, here, in Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow), people like Vance would also benefit. I mean, if we decriminalized drug addiction and made more money available for treatment and support, maybe Vance’s story would be a little different.

So, I don’t know. It was a really touching story and it has given me a lot to think about. This is a worthy result for any book, but especially a book of non-fiction. And, its not that I don’t recommend it, it’s probably more that there are other things that I’d recommend about class, family and culture in America before I recommended this.

This Month in Reality: Tidying Up

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When I get home tonight I’m going to take off my shoes and thank them (they are super cute and have done the hard work of keeping my feet out of the mud today). My wallet, essential oils bag (yes, I’m that kind of dirty hippie that brings her own aroma therapy with her everywhere she goes), my planner and the notebook I always carry with me will be taken out of my purse and I will thank them and put them in their new spots. I will hang my purse up and thank it. Then, I will feed my hungry, hungry monsters. Finally, I’ll try not to feel silly for expressing gratitude to inanimate objects. Hey, you know how I said I was done reading self-help books? Well, I lied to both of us. I read The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. All of this thanking is Kondo’s idea. I’m down with expressing gratitude as a regular practice. It’s allegedly good for you. Thanking things isn’t a problem. (It feels weird, but I do all kinds of weird things so what is one more?)

So, I read this book and now I feel like I need to divest myself of half of my possessions. Which, on the whole, is probably not a bad thing. I am kind of a pack rat so I hang onto things longer than I need to. (And, I’m on the job market expecting that a move is in my future if I want to stay in my field, so having fewer things to move would be pretty awesome.)

The Konmari method seems to work as follows: Go through all your possessions one category at a time and get rid of anything you don’t need. Don’t move it to your Mom’s. Don’t put it in storage. Straight up give it away or sell it or throw it away. No longer have it within your reach. Keep the stuff that makes you happy. Not the stuff you feel like you should keep, not the stuff that you have “just in case”. Just the stuff that makes you happy. If you use your stuff as a barrier between you and the world to keep you safe, this is going to be an awful process. However, she gives you something to deal with the anxiety-inducing trash-fest. She wants you to start by thinking about what you want from life. How do you want to be seen? How do you see yourself? What are trying to radiate? How does your space reflect that? So, the life-changing art of tidying up is not just about divesting yourself of possessions. It is also about divesting yourself of ideas, thoughts, and patterns that no longer serve you.

In short, this is going to be a rough ride.

I think this is a great way to approach tidying up your space and your life. But, I also think that confronting your feelings and thought patterns is rough work and that it might be easier when you have Kondo there in the room with you. So, I recommend this book. It was an interesting read. But, if you’re going to use the Konmari method to get rid of stuff in your life you may also want to be in therapy or keep a journal of the process so you can work out your feelings as you throw out your stuff.

 

 

This book counts as my book by an Asian author in the Diverse Stacks, Diverse Lives Reading Challenge.