I have to leave for work in an hour. I don't want to go. I keep telling myself that I have an easy job, and I do. But that doesn't change the fact that I don't want to go. It's not that I don't want to work at all, I just want a job that is challenging; a job where I am treated like a participant rather than a fixture. Sitting in that booth makes it all seem like it is on TV... you're not looking in at me, I am the one watching you. I see the day unfold and move into the night and the night fall back into the day. I see everything and I hear everything. I know every shadow and every corner. I have been here too long. I am wiser and older than I seem. Common sense isn't common and common courtesy is even less. You get to leave and I have to stay. It is a small space, please don't fart.
I have not always been concerned with social class; I have been aware of social distinctions most of my life but, until recently, I was largely unaware of the effect that class has had on my every-day existence. Growing up in a largely middle class community in the western suburbs of Chicago I had always assumed that I belonged to the middle class, we had all of the material luxuries; a house in a decent neighborhood, more than one car, my dad rode a motorcycle, we had a camper and took family vacations, had decent clothes, went to a nice school, went to church... your basic living-the-American-dream suburban lifestyle. Yet, looking back, there always seemed to be significant social differences between me and my peers in school and church. I believe one of the biggest differences was that my father turned a wrench for most of his working career while most other dads worked in an office. Did that mean that we were working class? Is “working class” a bad word? Was I excluded from the middle class without being aware? Over his career my father was able to work his way into sales and eventually upper management on a high school diploma. As he moved up in his career, our family moved up in our accumulation of status symbols but, did it really matter what we owned or where my father worked? Is that what social class is really about? Where did we fit in? What are the indicators of social class? How are social distinctions in our culture defined, what are the lines? How does social mobility work? Can we ever truly be socially mobile? How do people in our culture identify themselves within the American caste system? What is the history of that system? I would like to explore the issue of social class using arts-based research as a method of inquiry. I would like to interview other people and learn about their experiences with social class. I will photograph them and their environment; these photographs coupled with co-created literature documenting our conversation will serve as evidence to gain a better understanding of how people identify themselves (consciously or subconsciously) with a social class. Along with the photographs and writing, I want to explore my own experiences by continuing to develop and incorporate a body of drawings I have been creating that is based on memories of my family, their stories and our shared experiences in work, life, and relationships. The central figure in these drawings is a representation of a working class stereotype, an idealized form that represents “the worker” and relates some of the assumed characteristics of a working class existence from my personal experience. The drawings are based on my interpretation of past events, memories, wishes, and people who are important to me. The formless faces connote the individual but never give the individual an actual identity... for instance, if the power goes out, we call ComEd and report the outage, an hour later the power comes back on and we go on with our daily lives. What we might sometimes take for granted is the person who actually went into the wires and sorted everything out; for us there is no name, no face, just the result. Social class is a multidimensional issue encompassing political, religious, gender and racial issues. This project will not be able to address these issues in full; It will concentrate on social class while keeping in mind that there are many forces that shape our experience. These forces will inevitably make an appearance in the work and eventually will have a say in the direction the project moves. This is a start; it is an effort to gain a better understanding of social class, how we live together, and how we can make our shared experiences more meaningful.