Thursday, October 25, 2012

Gabrielle Calvocoressi's Voice

Dear Governor Romney,

Hi from Marfa, TX. My name is Gabrielle Calvocoressi. I'm a poet and an educator. I'm writing this from my desk in Marfa, where I'm lucky enough to be spending six weeks writing because the Lannan Foundation has faith in me and my writing and has made it financially possible for me to be here. I'm very grateful. Very few people get anyone to take care of them this well for any amount of time.

It's been a tough morning, though. For about the first two weeks I really forgot my worries about money and making it all work. I forgot about the thousands of dollars I owe in taxes because I made money on readings and certain kinds of teaching and taxes weren't taken out. And even though I should have been putting that money away, we were so broke, my partner and I, that I couldn't figure out how to pay all the taxes I owed and also eat and keep traveling to give readings and teach so I could get grants like the one I'm on now that will help me write the books that will get me a teaching job that will take taxes out and also help me pay off the taxes I owe and my student loans. If I could figure out how to pay those bills then I could start thinking about how to get affordable health care.

I guess what I want to say is I'm one of the people you were talking about. I feel really embarrassed and ashamed that I can't pay all of my debts. I also feel scared most of the time. I do this thing where I add numbers to calm myself: how much will I make this year, how much could I make if I worked more, if I added a few more students I could pay off my debt in ______ many years. And the thing is I know that I am incredibly privileged. I have a great friends, I am by any stretch of the imagination very successful in my field, I have been with the same woman for 17 years (this October!!), I think that if I lost everything, I would still have family who would take me in. I think it would take a lot for me to be homeless, though I think the likelihood of being homeless is actually greater for me than it was a decade ago due to the decline of the financial health of my entire family.

I grew up in a very financially comfortable family. I went to an elite prep school. A lot of that good fortune came from not living with my mother, who was mentally ill. I lived with my grandparents and then with my father, all of whom were very well off. My mother came from an upper middle-class family too but by the time I remember her she was not doing so well. And by the time she took her life when I was thirteen, she didn't have much. I remember being really scared and upset that she didn't have any of her own teeth. She must have been about 37 when she had most of them removed. Anyway, it really terrified me. That could happen to someone. After she died, I kept getting her disability payments and those helped put me through school. I imagine she didn't pay taxes. She couldn't work or really take care of herself very well. She's also one of the people you were talking about, I think. Sick people who don't have access to decent mental health services that might help them lead rewarding and productive lives. I'm sure you've probably had people like that in your family. I mean, everyone has, I think. I feel like I never did enough to help her.

Anyway, I just wanted to say that I've been thinking about David Brookes saying you are a nice man who is making terrible decisions and pretending to be something he's not. One time when my mom came to pick me up from Catholic school, I pretended I didn't know her. I was so scared the other kids would see her in her broken-down brown car and her funny way of talking (now I think it was probably from the medication) and they'd think I was just like her. Among the things I've done in my life that I can't seem to forget, that ranks really high. I doubt you and I have much in common in terms of our beliefs, but if David Brookes is right and you're saying things like this when you don't even believe them then I really wish you'd stop. It makes people feel terrible. It makes me feel terrible to think I might have a president who hates me so much. And I bet it makes soldiers and their partners feel terrible. And all the people who are trying to make lives for themselves in this world. And aren't you supposed to love the least among us?

Okay, I'm going to try and write now. Does a poetry fellowship seem stupid to you? Sometimes I feel dumb complaining. Like I chose to be an artist and aren't artists supposed to be broke? But I don't think anyone is supposed to be broke. I was raised to believe that you made a life by working hard at what you love and giving back to your community in all of the ways you can. I'm doing my best at both of those things. I'm the 47%

Looking forward,

Gabrielle Calvocoressi

Gabrielle Calvocoressi is the author of The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart and Apocalyptic Swing, which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award. She has been the recipient of fellowships and residencies from The Stegner Program at Stanford University, The Rona Jaffe Foundation, Civitella di Ranieri and The Lannan Foundation, among others. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Washington Post, Garrison Keillor's Poet's Almanac, The Boston Review and Gulf Coast. She is the Poetry Editor for The Los Angeles Review of Books. She's owes over $6000 in taxes that she is desperately trying to pay off. She has $38,000 in student loan debt. 
She cannot afford health insurance at this time.