Bright Pink Lipstick


1011074_10202997602243110_891455566_nI’ve spent the last several years writing blog posts about the Recession. Here’s how it started: an old friend of mine got hold of me. It turns out he was an editor for a website about the New Economy, and he wanted me to write my story. This is a familiar sort of occurrence among people of A Certain Age: thanks to the wild accessibility of really pretty much everyone through Facebook, people like me are reconnecting with folks we were too drunk or too careless to keep in contact with as decade after decade rolled past. For some time now, I’ve been ludicrously rewarded for epochs of bad behavior. Turns out that all of my exes and a whole bunch of lost friends are excellent and forgiving people, which makes me feel a whole lot better about my taste, but even worse about my carelessness and the time I lost with them.

Which brings me to: carlessness. My word processing program doesn’t want to even acknowledge it’s a word; it’s just a snippet of the zeitgeist and that takes longer to integrate into common parlance. It’s too close to “carelessness,” and maybe that resemblance is a bad thing. You see, outside of places like New York City and maybe Portland, not having a car–especially when you are the suburban mother of three–is a sign and symbol of having Blown It Big Time. But we are without a car. It was an easy decision at the time: we couldn’t pay the rent. What we had was a paid-for, valuable hunk of metal parked in the driveway and a roof we preferred to keep over our heads. Some people make another choice: to move in with family, perhaps. “Temporarily,” of course. But it was no accident that we had found ourselves in Northern California, far away from both of our parents’ households in Texas. We had severed the ropes of that safety net and had no regrets. You see, there are some sorts of safety that are so fraught with danger and damage that calling upon them feels like a sort of suicide.

So we carry on, working menial jobs and trying to shake money from trees. We take our children on errands in our bike trailers, pedaling in the sweltering heat or in downpours, faces held in caricature expressions of grim determination. It’s been an adventure. A noble experiment. So many others around us are in similar straits, so this whole thing–newfound poverty–has an air of camaraderie to it, and whole new ways of doing things have taken root. We’ve done it all: bartered, gotten backyard chickens, grown a vegetable garden. I’ve written so many essays about the New Simplicity that I’ve started to think of my style as “Chicken Soup for the Recessionista’s Soul.” This ghetto for my writing is eye-rolling in its tendency to put a positive spin on things but still keeps my work out there, in front of appreciative eyes.

But something horrible has happened to me this year, and I don’t know what to do. At some point–was it after the hundredth “no?” The thousandth? Was it day number 1350 of not having enough, or maybe day 1351? But somewhere along the line I realized this is not going away, and that struggling to pay the utilities is a monthly reality with no end in sight. That making Top Ramen for dinner had stopped being an amusing indulgence in crappiness, and has become–at times–economic necessity. I look at my children and I want to say, I’m sorry, I’m sorry you’re having to wear this need and pretend it’s okay, I’m sorry there are no birthdays at pizza parlors or dance lessons. I’m sorry I can’t send you with a handful of change that I don’t have so you can get a candy bar at the corner store. I’m sorry you notice what other families enjoy–simple things, a drive to the country and a weekend of camping–and you notice the difference and have to ask me why. I’m so sorry I cannot provide for you the things that were provided for me. I’m sorry that a simple trip to the doctor to check for pinkeye has to be a negotiation based on the twenty bucks in co-pay expense versus what may be curable with time and the hive mind of online medical care advice. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

I wear bright pink lipstick (one tube, annually, cheaply obtained) and have my cruiser bike decorated like a parade float. I let my children dress with lackadaisical freedom. We played by the rules and we lost everything that offered us safety and security, so to hell with the rules, I teach them. You will get screwed-over six ways to Sunday, so find the hidden magic, I say. Do you see that smooth brown stone? Pick it up and shift it towards the light, and you will see small bits of glitter like tiny stars. I try to tout this lifestyle as one we would have chosen back when we were flush with income and silly material wants, and YES: there are lessons we’ve learned. Yes, you can be a band of hobos with torn parasols, in satin and velvet castoffs, and yes, there are blackberries that grow wild all over this town.

But I’m done. The truth is that I’m toiling for not a lot over minimum wage, and those chickens in the back yard have come home to roost. There’s only so long you can go on before all your resources are tapped, and the barrel you’re scraping has well and truly reached bottom. I know we are required to be  grateful for what we have: no one in the family has chronic health issues, we have good public schools for our kids to attend, and we live in a patch of paradise that makes living without a vehicle or air conditioning a tolerable option. We have–praise ye gods!–health insurance from my husband’s low-paying retail job.

We have a marriage where our struggles manifest themselves in silent regret and disappointment (and a lot of space between us in our marital bed) versus thrown fists or addictions. But no amount of health-insurance-provided antidepressants can prop me up forever, and it’s me who has to keep this ship afloat. It’s doubtless my lifelong sense of entitlement that has probably contributed to my lack of ability to turn things around and make something from nothing, which is probably a story for another day. I’m forty-two years old. I have three children. I pull them where they need to go. I look at my husband while we sit on the porch and the hand I reach out to him is conciliatory.

Apologetic.

15 thoughts on “Bright Pink Lipstick”

  1. Thank you for writing so honestly and so well.

    You make me feel less alone in my struggles and that gives me hope.

    And thank you so much for that.

    elise

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  2. Corbyn this is one of the best things you’ve ever written. I believe it’s healthy to tell it like it is. We don’t always have to be happy and grateful. The truth is sometimes life sucks. I think it’s wonderful that you encourage your children to find their own magic, this will, I believe, prepare them well for the times of painful reality that are as much a part of life as happiness and joy.
    Thanks for sharing your truth. xo

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  3. Thank you for your honesty. And I entirely agree that we are in for the long haul of a Depression and should start calling it that. Restructuring an economy around new realities is not going to be easy or quick. But why do you feel it is all YOUR responsibilty?

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  4. Corbyn- You are way to good at writing to throw in the towel, you have done an incredible job of keeping things going, and have every right to feel like you have had enough, I would have had a great big old tantrummy meltdown and raised the white flag along time before this I am such a baby. So hopefully this is your moment of saying, this is the bottom, nohwhere to go but up, and you’re going to keep writing, and keep that positive spin going for all of you. And by the way, those are incredibly gorgeous, well nourished, happy looking little people on that couch, who are going to be pretty damn strong adults one day!

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  5. Thank you for such an honest and realistic look at life. We too have had a complete life change and although perhaps not to your extreme, it’s been tough. It is good to hear someone actually acknowledge how tough it is out there and not pretend that it’s all OK. Please keep writing, you are inspirational!

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  6. Baring your soul to the world is admirable, and I know you get a lot of good feedback for telling your story so eloquently, but I wonder if the trauma of the descent has tinted your non existent car windows a little? I know there is a story to be told inside of you that isn’t about YOUR story, but that can be colored by the experiences you have had… I know you are doing your very best in every moment to move to a reality that can help your family/kids, too.

    Maybe a writing project, a story, screenplay, or something could find it’s way to Kickstarter, or some other non-fiction source of income to pay the bills a little while you write and write the deeper story? I would love to talk to you about this when I come out to Sac in a couple of weeks to visit family. I am not sure if you are open to that or not, but there it is…

    I find myself trapped a bit in constantly working for the next check, timberframing, which is wonderful and everything, and it pays the bills, but it is really, really hard work, and I am so much wanting to do video and other writing projects myself, but can’t seem to find a way to just write…. (Too much to do around our farm and camp and workshop… blah blah blah.)

    Anyway, love, love, love your writing, and sorry that your subject is your pain and struggle. Here, have some chicken soup.

    Ricardo

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  7. This is your best post yet. It’s as though it’s all finally been stripped away and there’s nothing left but Corbyn. I don’t know where you’re going any more than you do but your journey has turned into something illuminating.

    Minutes before reading your latest post, I was reading an article in “Borderland Beat” about events along the Mexican border and the drug cartels and the author asked what the reader would do if they were impoverished, hopeless, oppressed by their own government and then were offered a job as a “narco”? We all think we know the answer. We all think that we have integrity. Maybe we do. But poverty brings different imperatives.

    Back in the 1960′s, during the “hippie” era, it was obvious that some of the folks experiencing that lifestyle were just children of affluence “experimenting”. On the other hand, some were legitimately poor. The poverty “tourists” could always go home. The others were stuck. Big difference.

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  8. Corbyn I look at your blue hair, your pink lipstick, your family at home on your (preloved?) sofa, pink crocheted blanket and orange butterfly cushion – and I just sigh with relief at finding yet another woman who is part of my simple living tribe… this woman whose home (and sometimes hair) looks like mine, and I am grateful. I remember reading that when you moved into your rental – an ugly house – you painted the walls cheerful colours. We will be moving back into our ugly house after almost 10 years away in the country. My first job will be to paint the front door red and the walls orange, green and magenta, and I will not feel alone – I will not feel quite so crazy in a very conservative community. I will remember you Corbyn and how for you too colour makes things a little better, and certainly more bearable – maybe even joyful.
    When I found out recently that we will be returning to the suburbs I was so sad… now I am choosing thoughts of life and faith, enhanced by the colours of the rainbow. (In fact I am painting again – images of free flowing women in purple and orange etc.) I saw a large, person sized plaque the other day. The words said something about life and its storms and that we can’t ignore it or wish it away but we can learn to dance in the rain. May you dance in the rain in the midst of this storm dear Corbyn. Somewhere over the rainbow is that pot of gold (and I am not speaking of money), and it is within us. Peace and all joy, Asta x

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  9. HI Corbyn,
    I first read your writing when your article appeared in Motherlode. Ever since, I have been following your story, and reading your blog. I have a feeling you and I would be good friends, as we are both sort of ‘out of sync’ with the typical american family model, or least feel that we are. My life struggles keep me focused, alive, and present, and that is a tremendous gift to my husband and child.
    You are smart, kind, funny and very, very honest and present in your family;s life. My gut instinct tells me things will change for the better for you and your family soon.

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  10. I have followed you since read in More.Admire your willingness to work so on writing,think many of us are turning this way during the depression.Glad things flowing better for you now. I am glad for what I have to be glad for . Days when I feel so very alone, depressed,scared of all the new stuff I have to do ,that is when I turn to a list of blogs..you guys get me through dark,sad times.
    Thanks.

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