Wednesday, September 25, 2013

In Which a Bunny Meets Gentrification, And It is Her

Recently, I came across a promising posting for a cheaper-than-my-current-abode house online and followed up. I met the potential housemates at their comfortable house. We seemed to have coordinating worldviews, and made each other laugh, and they loved my dog. These are my deepest criteria for housemates, and after twenty or so housemates in eight years, the last two are the ones that truly matter to me.

After about a week, I emailed, thinking that perhaps they had lost my email address and had had no way to contact me. But no, after careful consideration, and with regret because they did so enjoy meeting me and my pet, they had decided that their house community needed to open itself up to more diversity and more native and locally-raised renters as a small, one-household sized stand against the rapid gentrification of Somerbridge, and as an open home to encourage more diversity in the local housing market.

I understand these things, I love their principles. I support taking what responsibility for justice and better-worldness we do have into our own hands with the choices we make. I know I am one of thousands of white female New England natives with various degrees from decent schools, who moved to these little, slightly more village like, towns ringing Boston, in search of work or something. I am the problem. I am the gentry.

There are a hundred things I want to say but don’t have the words for. And so I feel sputtery and all that comes out is “It’s not fair!” or “I am saddled with too much student loan debt and have too many crap jobs on my resume to be gentry!”

For these reasons, I do not feel that I am part of the gentrification of the greater Somerbridge area. I am pretty sure that gentrification is the word du jour for wealthy, so that we can talk about the American class/caste system more comfortably. It implies money, implies that the new residents have more disposable income than the old residents and sort of ease them all out through demanding new supplies. A local independent and cheap grocery store became another link in the Whole Foods chain recently. I find this ominous.

Aside from the black amusement at being considered gentry, I come up only with the question “where am I supposed to live, then?”

This is my perennial question. I struggle with it on nearly every level imaginable. I remain ambivalent about my biological-breeding clock, but the alarms of my geographic, place-rooted clock is loud and incessant. I am constantly—big and small picture—looking for my home. Friends and I have boiled the routes to roots down to three main paths: geography, people, or occupation. You’ll move for a set of people, or stay somewhere for one very special person. You’ll make a life somewhere because of the shape of a ridgeline, the bend of a river, the thrum of a city. You’ll set down roots because you’ve found something you love to do in a particular place. The hope is that, whichever one of the three guides you, the other pieces will fall—quickly—into place and you’ll find yourself with a full life, where you ought to be.

I’ve tried all three and remain distressingly uncommitted. I moved for the love of a very special guy, once. But the other pieces were too slow in coming and I was too young, I think, to be patient. So I left and it was sad, but I have no regrets about trying that reason for rooting in place. It’s always worth a shot and the heart is quite resilient.

I moved to the mountains of New Hampshire, which I love like something between a holy relic and my own bones. But, there, the jobs were scarce and frequently limited by the seasonality of the tourist industry. I just got tired of changing my jobs every four months, of constantly hoping and looking for just one job, even for a few months, of spending May and November with one eyeball glued to the weather and the other to my dwindling bank account. I have a dream of a cabin-house somewhere—the second homeowner housing market inflates land and house values in those mountains to the point that it would be very difficult for a seasonal worker with a pile of student loans to ever afford to set down roots in that place, in that form.

This was one of the reasons I left the mountains and came to the city. It hurt to leave those mountains I do not stop loving. But I thought I’d be better able to find a way to get paid to do work that I love, if I came to a place, like Boston-ish, with more opportunities.

In many ways, not in the ways I would have expected a year ago, this has gone well. I’m happier than when I tried to live in a place for the other reasons, that’s certain on an almost daily basis. I am still working multiple seasonal and part-time jobs, though. Which is almost perfectly okay. I am happy in all my work—gardening and school-librarianing—and able to leave work at work and live my life in my spare hours. Besides, I've been unable to find a full-time, year-round job, (and yes, I have looked.) However, despite my overall job satisfaction, I’m often a little closer to hand-to-mouth living that I’d like to be. I don’t want to work three jobs. I’d like be able to set more aside for rainy days or someday building a cabin or taking a long vacation to write or hike or just not spending almost half my income on rent and utilities or whatever. Moving out of my current apartment would help this, but I cannot seem to find anything cheaper that takes dogs and doesn't require new vaccinations to be habitable. And then, when I do, my own allegedly “gentrifying” identity comes back to bite me.

There’s no final thought here. I don’t have any answers. I do support that would-be house for their stance on the homogeny of the community here. But it’s tough to be caught in the teeth of your principles, when your being and belief get muddled into Maslow’s Hierarchy of Basic Needs. It’s like classism and the terrible job market and the broken educational system and the criminal state of college funding and the national lack of infrastructure and over-population are real.

What’ll we do about it? Because, with classism, my friends, we’re going to have to solve this on our own—the rich and powerful will not.

(photo from I misread it at first as rabbitcaresoures.)

No comments:

Post a Comment