JANUARY 7, 2012 2:50PM

Bluish Blood

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Let us talk for a moment about privilege.

There is the type of privilege that is simply being here, now, alive. This is the highest. Then there is the privilege of, say, owning such an amazement as a dishwasher, an appliance that accepts greasy dishes and spoons and returns them new again after the mere press of a button (and the selection of a crossword puzzle's worth of interlocking processes). It also returns a bill from Central Hudson, which I guess is also something of a privilege. I try to imagine what my grandmother, with a family of five boys coming out of the Depression, might have felt having such a thing in her kitchen--either a dead faint, or the Hallelujah Chorus.

I am hugely privileged, of course, and I know it. Not only in having a dishwasher, but also, in a short list, the following: a view out my window of rough and wild mountains (only partly ruined by high-tension wires, which I'd be a sorry ass to dislike, given their gifts [such as dishwasher and bill]; trade-offs are also a form of privilege); a car in my driveway that has not failed to start every single time I have turned the key; two motorcycles in the garage that do not always do the same, but this in its own way might be considered a privilege (that of needing to engage with them fully); the dog whose happiness redoubles my own when I watch her bound ahead of me on the trail with every cell in her being on fire with exuberance; the surpassing love I feel for her in the morning, whether it's come too soon or not, Miss Bright Eyes, complicated and uncomplicated both.

It goes without saying that the privilege of having a child, healthy and smart and funny, embarking on his own path into a world of peculiar privilege entirely his own, stands as king at the head of this nation of marvelous luck.

The final privilege I wish to enumerate, though, is a little more strange: the privilege of occasionally brushing up against august privilege--that of impossible wealth and luxury. And then retreating again, to my own life of advantage. Though everything is relative, isn't it.

I have been dressed in a long gown, ready to go to a black-tie gala where I will drink champagne and eat the kind of dessert that always features thin curtains of chocolate making a cityscape on the plate, and wondered if I had enough money to pay the cabbie to get there. (Riding the subway from Brooklyn in formalwear, especially high heels, is only for the heroically brave, and I am an abject coward, apparently.) I have been to homes where I was waited on by servants--I mean, the house staff. I have partied in a home that used to be an embassy, where the walls were filled with modernist artworks that would have been in a museum had they not been bought by an individual with more money than most museums. (Imagine entering a small private library, snooping about hopefully unnoticed, and discovering that it is the Joseph Cornell room. As in, not one, but many, of his incomparable boxes. I had to pick my own jaw up from the floor.) I have been to little fetes that cost more than I earn in a year.

Then I got back into my jeans and went, once a week, to the soup kitchen at Goddard Riverside. After ladling food onto the plates of people who had parked their shopping carts containing all their worldly goods in the foyer, people who shuffled by with heads down, lost inside the private universes constructed as protection from the intrusion of the outside in lieu of four walls, I would lead them in "activities." I had no expertise--crafty I am not--but in having the privilege of all that I did, I was qualified. I proposed teaching videography. One older man who never spoke, who never joined any other group, joined mine. After a few weeks, he smiled. For the first time that anyone there ever saw. A few more weeks, and I was told by a staffer that he said he looked forward to video class. Finally, it was just him and me. And then I had to leave. To rejoin my own life of privilege, I suppose. The pain I feel on visiting this memory, of having made him briefly happy, and then leaving him alone, is nearly scorching. Twenty years later, I can still see his face in my mind: his eyes, darting up, meeting mine at last. Then dropping down. Afraid, alone, gentle. Unknowing of privilege. I could cry.

I have a friend whose worth is in the double-digit millions. I have heard her complain of things she wanted to have. But, she maintained, she didn't have enough money.

My declarable income qualifies me for food stamps, but I do not need them. I am lucky enough to buy what I like at the grocery store, and I eat out in restaurants. When it is a particularly fine one, I order the appetizer. Half the price, but more than enough. And gaze about me at the people who get whatever they want, and only eat a bit.

The greatest privilege of my privileged life is to have been able to walk the tightrope between two galaxies, and to pretend I am home in each. But I know I am not. I am only home in mine.

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open+call, occupy america

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Living ~ Harold Monro

Slow bleak awakening from the morning dream
Brings me in contact with the sudden day.
I am alive – this I.
I let my fingers move along my body.
Realization warns them, and my nerves
Prepare their rapid messages and signals.
While Memory begins recording, coding,
Repeating; all the time Imagination
Mutters: You'll only die.

Here's a new day. O Pendulum move slowly!
My usual clothes are waiting on their peg.
I am alive – this I.
And in a moment Habit, like a crane,
Will bow its neck and dip its pulleyed cable,
Gathering me, my body, and our garment,
And swing me forth, oblivious of my question,
Into the daylight – why?

I think of all the others who awaken,
And wonder if they go to meet the morning
More valiantly than I;
Nor asking of this Day they will be living:
What have I done that I should be alive?
O, can I not forget that I am living?
How shall I reconcile the two conditions:
Living, and yet – to die?

Between the curtains the autumnal sunlight
With lean and yellow finger points me out;
The clock moans: Why? Why? Why?
But suddenly, as if without a reason,
Heart, Brain, and Body, and Imagination
All gather in tumultuous joy together,
Running like children down the path of morning
To fields where they can play without a quarrel:
A country I'd forgotten, but remember,
And welcome with a cry.

O cool glad pasture; living tree, tall corn,
Great cliff, or languid sloping sand, cold sea,
Waves; rivers curving; you, eternal flowers,
Give me content, while I can think of you:
Give me your living breath!
Back to your rampart, Death.
This is what I consider privilege, the rest is moot. Your view is interesting, thank you for sharing.
truly wonderful...thank you for sharing. Your piece is beautifully written.
Privilege seems to be in the eye of the beholder. So many of us here in North America do not consider ourselves privileged in any particular way; we ignore, as you do not, all the many everyday, common things which speak - no, which shout - of our privilege.

I almost smile when I see those crowds of people who march with signs that say, "We are the 99%" while living here. The 99%? Who's kidding who? In world terms the vast majority of us are definitely the 1%....... so much so that without our privileges, we'd be very uncomfortable indeed. In fact, we might not even survive!

You are a beautiful writer. Write more.

Monro: Yes. Yes. Yes.

And thank you, truly, Michelle and Skypixieo.
Hi, Melissa. Sorry if I'm a little tardy here. I do know what you mean about walking one's own line. I've attended a garden party at Rideau Hall, where governors-general live, and biker stags, where no one gets out alive. Each, in its own peculiar way, was a privilege.

("The Man Who..." is on order.)
Friends are thinking of taking their daughter out of public school because they fear she is rubbing up against too many "rednecks" and might become one. Apart from the fact that this is well-nigh impossible, I say: Life is enriched by traveling on the largest map. If you only know those exactly like you, how can you learn? Think of all the great minds and talents who came up from poverty: this girl will be removed from the chance to rub shoulders with their like. But she'll know the etiquette of forks and knives, I guess.

(I do hope you like the book.)
Beautiful. In my opinion:

To be privleged, is to be born in this country.

To be entitled, is to believe you have earned or deserve that right.

To be rich is to ride your motorcycle with your brothers across Monument Valley and over the mountain passes of Colorado, broiled and frozen on the same day and then to share a meal together at the end of it.
You got that right, Raymond. Real right.

Thank you.
That's a simple expression of gratitude, without an injection of the tiresome reflection of liberal self-degradation. Privilege is as relative as our individual wants. Thank you, Melissa, for this creative collage of what privilege can mean to each of us.
I appreciate that too, Denise. The subject is rather infinite, isn't it? As well as our replies.