Friday, March 30, 2007

Limboland: Guest Column Reprint by "bluegill"

Alfred Lubrano is a Columbia-trained journalist and author. He's also the son of a bricklayer. His book, Limbo: Blue-Collar Roots, White-Collar Dreams chronicles the feelings and experiences of those who move from one social class to another and the ever-present uneasiness of not fully belonging to either that accompanies that journey.

Having grown up with a shovel in one hand and a book in the other, it's a feeling I well understand. Certainly, it's one I've been struggling with more than usual as of late, owing to the fact that the notion of revitalization applies to one's person as much as it does to a city. Self-reinvention can be a tough business, especially if one leads a dualistic life to begin with.

It's likely a product of some logical fallacy whose name I don't have the energy to summon at the moment, but it occurs to me that the reverse is true as well. If my own revitalization process resembles that of a city, then the city's process must resemble that of mine, thousands of mes, all going through some sort of loosely collective, simultaneous experience, passing from one way of being into another.

Lubrano from Limbo:

We didn't know it then, but those days were the start of a branching off-a redefining of what it means to be a workingman in our Italian-American family. Related by blood, we're separated by class, my father and I. Being the white-collar child of a blue-collar parent means being the hinge on the door between two ways of life. With one foot in the working class, the other in the middle class, people like me are Straddlers, at home in neither world, living a limbo life. It's the part of the American Dream you may have never heard about: the costs of social mobility. People pay with their anxiety about their place in life. It's a discomfort many never overcome.

What drove me to leave what I knew? Born blue-collar, I still never felt completely comfortable among the tough guys and anti-intellectual crowd who populated much of my neighborhood in deepest Brooklyn, part of a populous, insular working-class sector of commercial strips, small apartment buildings, and two-family homes. I never did completely fit in among the preppies and suburban royalty of Columbia, either. It's like that for Straddlers, who live with an uneasiness about their dual identity that can be hard to reconcile, no matter how far from the old neighborhood they eventually get. Ultimately, "it is very difficult to escape culturally from the class into which you are born," Paul Fussell's influential book Class: A Guide through the American Status System quotes George Orwell as saying. The grip is that tight. That's something Straddlers like me understand. There are parts of me that are proudly, stubbornly working class, despite my love of high tea, raspberry vinaigrette, and National Public Radio. Born with a street brawler's temperament, I possess an Ivy League circuit breaker to keep things in check. Still, I've been accused of having an edge, a chip I've balanced on my shoulder since my days in the old neighborhood.

Listen to Lubrano's interview with Liane Hansen from NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday, October 26, 2003, and let me know what you think.


Thanks, bluegill, for permission to reprint your posting from March 20, 2007.

Limboland by Alfred Lubrano
ISBN 9780471714392 John Wiley & Sons Feb. 2005 (Paperback) $16.95 248pp.
Originally released in hardcover in Oct. 2003.

If you'd like to read more by "bluegill" (the nom de plume of New Albanian Jeff Gillenwater) and his colleague at NA Confidential, click that link. The permanent link to Jeff's posting and its associated comments is

I'll tell you that NA Confidential is essential reading. Ann and I read it every day. Its editors are literate and provocative, and the blog is always a pleasure to read.

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