Limbo

Spinning off from my previous post about the economy, I’d like to recommend a terrific (not new, but new-ish) book I’ve just finished: Limbo: Blue-Collar Roots, White-Collar Dreams, by Alfred Lubrano. If you’re like me and you were the first generation of your family to go to college, you may find this book as dead-on as I did on the subjects of school, career and family relationships.

Lubrano takes a personal look at what it’s like for people who come from working-class backgrounds who are attempting to enter “the middle class” as we know it today (and failing, or succeeding, or — as the title suggests — remaining in limbo). For some reason, nobody in the mainstream media ever talks about this these days — I guess far fewer are considered “working class” any more, since a great many more people have access to financial aid and some sort of college opportunity. But for people of my generation, anyway, the conflicts described in this book are still a part of daily life. (Here’s one type of conflict I blogged about earlier.) I never thought of myself as being in the vanguard of a cultural front, but I recognized myself in nearly every page of this book. Much of this stuff is not a revelation to me now — I figured it out painfully since my college days — but boy, I sure wish I’d had this book when I graduated high school.

If the economy should happen to go south in a major way, I wonder if something like this will play out in reverse. What’s going to happen to all those second- and third-generation non-working-class kids — the ones who will be sandwiched between the expectations of their well-to-do parents and the realities of having to do service jobs? I really worry about these kids. They may well be just as clueless (in reverse) as the generation that Lubrano terms “Straddlers” (the ones who are confused by “networking,” who don’t know how to power-lunch, who simply want to go home at the end of eight hours’ hard work, and just wish their managers would manage, for a change.) Will these kids become easy prey for destructive political movements in the future?

I cherish what my parents taught me, but very little of it is useful in a white-collar environment. Sometimes I wonder if I’m guilty of wishing for the political scene to change in a way that would enable me to use what I know and honor, rather than dutifully sticking to the new rules I’ve learned that I often feel so cynical about. So there could be a whole other generation of potentially destructive loose cannons out there, not just the young ‘uns.

On a broader note, one could almost read this book and apply it to our entire region at large — since Upstate New York has such deep working-class history. No wonder our region feels like it’s in such limbo.

These may not in fact be interesting times, but this is a fascinating book anyway. Highly recommended!

Updated: Bloggers of the World, Unite! (Too funny.)