Recently, I’ve noticed repeated references to this person and her shenanigans through several of the blogs that I follow on WordPress, and as much as I’d attempted to avoid it, I’m beginning to wonder if this is one of those Universal slaps upside to my head.
When I look at over the trajectory of my life, I cannot deny the propensity of folks like her crossing my path, especially lately.
Maybe it’s because I was raised by two parents who had once considered themselves ‘hippies’ with a streak of ‘bleeding heart liberal’ thrown in, who raised their children to care about the environment and to have a good degree of social conscience. (The irony appears when I point out that my parents are also secretly closeted misanthropes, but I digress…)
There is the spooky-woo factor when I consider how I’d been told by several people since childhood that I seem to be somewhat of an empath…which could go a long way toward explaining why I often find it so difficult to resist being affected by the turbulent feelings of those around me.
Several years ago, I was gratified to discover in the pile of TheFerrett’s LiveJournal writings that there is a word for those folks that so easily incite, and sometimes, unconsciously manipulate the compassion of others – these people are referred to as clutchjumpers.
Once upon a time, I was an unfortunate magnet for clutchjumpers…if not, inadvertantly, a clutchjumper myself, before I learned the benefits of practicing a bit of discernment, and caution.
And so, the months have gone by, and I find mention of her again, again and again— and suddenly, it seems that several loosely related communities have had enough of her ‘grift’ as well as her story — and the length and breadth of that story goes a lot further back than I had previously thought. What a tangled web…
Upon reading her story, I realize that I am re-reading her story, because I recall seeing a signal boost a bit over a year ago concerning a young trans Pagan couple who needed food and clothing desperately as severe winter weather was approaching Boston, and they were about to find themselves on the streets. And seeing as how I didn’t have any warm winter clothing to send (I live in Florida y’all – I haven’t had to wear any ‘winter clothes’ with any regularity in years), I thought about sending her some cash.
About $25-50, possibly more.
And then I looked further into her blog, and I saw page after page of signal boosts and commentary, and I sat back and thought about it. It was Wednesday. My payday was Friday. I told my husband about the couple, and resolved to send them some cash on Friday, when my direct deposit became available.
But I couldn’t stop thinking about them. I even lit a candle for them, hoping good things for them.
I checked back the next day, relieved to see that they had gotten some help, and she was writing of being so close to getting out of the hole of financial instability. Aw, sister, I’ve been there, I thought. Good luck to you.**
Her story actually, in some ways, made me pause, because there was something about it that struck me familiar, and thus, I was hooked.
(Slight derailment…er, background follows:)
When my family and I hit our rough patch in 2004, we had to move closer to my husband’s family, and we ended up moving in with my husband’s older sister and her family, until we could get on our feet. My husband was unemployed, and couldn’t seem to find work in his field (tech/communications) and neither could he find anything above minimum wage, and neither could I.
We both worked at our local Publix.
And then, with the help and reference of a friend in the tech industry, my husband got a job opportunity that really could bring us up and out of our financial hole that 3 years’ of unemployment/minimal wage employment had brought us to; the only problem? The job was in Massachusetts.
So, while my kids and I stayed in Florida — we had just relocated to Florida from Massachusetts a little more than a year before, so it’s not as if we could’ve afforded moving back – my husband went up to Massachusetts to live and work. (He did fly home for one weekend every other month or so.)
So, I stayed working at Publix.
And into the picture comes P, my husband’s sister, who offered to watch my two-year- old while I was at work. It was supposed to be a mutually beneficial arrangement for the both of us. I wouldn’t have to pay the high cost of child care fees and P — an unemployed widow with 3 teenagers on Social Security whose husband passed away the year before — could supplement some of her meager SSI.
But what ended up happening was something positively Sisyphusian: most of my paycheck seemed to go exclusively into repairing P’s ancient passenger van, just so I could get to work in the mornings — along with buying P groceries (she was always ‘short’ because she really didn’t know how to budget money, along with claiming her ‘handicap’ of dyslexia as an excuse to remain willfully ignorant of learning how to budget money, or anything else), so both of us were left with the boulder of poverty at the end of each pay period for well over a year.
(And it wasn’t just me who tried to financially help her. A lot of people did…because it seemed so simple: if P could just get through this week, just get through this month; if P could somehow just get a hold of a little money — $30 dollars for gas, or just that $100 that she needed to settle up that late phone bill, or the $500 for her mortgage *just this once* — she’d be all set. P was always saying that. If only, if only…
But it was never that simple: P would somehow end up behind on yet another ‘something else’ next week, next month… and it seemed apparent rather quickly to lots of folks that P was always in need of help.)
It never seemed to end.
Then, I stumbled on the Ferrett’s essay on clutch-jumpers…and I saw the situation as it was, an episode of mutual clutch-jumping from which I wanted desperately to break free.
And yet, I’m glad to report, that as painful as it was for her, when push came to shove, and when P burned out all her options, lo and behold, she actually went out, got a job.
Nowadays, she shares a home with her mother (and my MIL) at Mom’s request, and you know what?
P handles her job and her household pretty darn well, considering that a few short years ago, P felt that her life couldn’t go on after her husband passed away.
Between that loss, and her seemingly culturally sanctioned ‘learned helplessness’ (P felt it was the job of society to support her because of her ‘inability to learn a trade due to severe dyslexia’ as well as believing that it was her husband’s duty to take care of everything, financial and otherwise, and thus, P was never really pushed to learn how to take care of herself in many ways, that is, until he was gone.)
Yeah, P does still get a little clutch-jumpy at times — sometimes she doesn’t see the forest for the trees — but her life is loads more financially stable and wouldathunkit, much more drama-free.
And now, my family, and myself: Several years ago, I realized that I am — we, as a family, are — finally in a comfortable financial place, wherein we could actually help others a little bit…
I honestly try to help, because I know what it’s like to be on the other side of things.
But…in the interest of being brutally honest with myself about this (re: Loki, here, especially), I want to admit that when I look back at some of my choices that I’ve made in the past –those years that my family and I spent on the other side of things — I can honestly say that I had been known to show some clutch-jumping, if not downright crazypants behaviors.
Yes, there were times, in leaner, tighter years, where I’d prayed for extra money in my budget, gotten it, and then turned around, only to focus on cheap, easy, temporary fixes for my hunger or other ‘needs’ by buying pizza and cheap furniture with some of that extra. Yes, I’d even sometimes let some bills slide further as a result, because I felt so desperate to have temporary happiness (mmm pizza! hey, movies — with popcorn and candy!) rather than to be responsible and pay my bills with every last bit of that money that had been budgeted.
So yeah, I wouldn’t always use all of the money for responsible stuff — just some of it.
But I imagine that some would call that clutch-jumping or crazypants behavior because buying pizza and going to the movies with ANY of the money might seem like I wasn’t entirely willing/focused on digging myself out of my financial hole, right?
And so I find myself not totally pure on the rush to judgment front.
I admit, it’s difficult not to judge her. I mean, why can’t she get her act together? Look at all the people helping her…
Well, it makes me think, you know…and I have to be careful.
It makes me think of all the folks along the way — when we were in the financial rough patches — who helped us here and there.
Family and friends who’ve let us live in their homes until we got on our feet, to keep my family, and me, from being homeless.
People who lent us cash here and there. (We couldn’t have moved our stuff to Florida without the financial help of one particular generous friend, for example…)
People who gave us rides to work and school and back home when we didn’t have access to our own transportation.
And so forth.
It is entirely possible that I may have been no different in several ways.
I haven’t always known how to help myself get out of a hole.
So, concerning my interactions with clutch-jumpers and crazypants people: While I still seek to be cautious and discerning, I still find myself seeking a balanced, thoughtful way of looking at the situation.
And so, I stumbled upon this post, which I came across just the other day.
In this post, I think that the writer, Abigail Norman, conveys her message with incredible compassion and grace concerning ‘crazypants people’ — without judgment, without rancor.
And lots of balance.
I heartily recommend that you check it out.
**And then, I got distracted by another signal boost of another form, and it was strange and almost inexplicable.
Well, let’s just say…I ended up sending Jalkr my very small donation…mostly, because of…well…horses. And one very large pig.