Hillbilly Elegy

On my slow last evening home, I read my mother’s copy of Hillbilly Elegy in which autobiographer J.D. Vance depicts the travails of growing up poor and neglected in decaying Middletown, Ohio (quite close to my brother Ray’s home). Not only does novelist J.D. sift through the wreckage of his Mom’s addiction and multiple marriages, but also he offers some prescriptive hope for how to alleviate entrenched poverty.

My childhood was nothing like J.D.’s in that my stable parents provided everything I needed, including a moral compass, the value of education, and hope for a better life. I’ve never been poor, although I may have felt slightly wanting by comparison in my ultra-rich high school.

Nonetheless, like J.D. I wonder the extent to which our childhood shapes our adult life. Are we doomed to repeat our parents’ missteps? In a previous post, I do blame my parents for a lot: loneliness, poor communication, and inability to keep a relationship. Their marriage never encouraged me to have one of my own. I learned tools to relate to others, but these were the blunt coping tools of avoidance, self-reliance, and competition.

Although J.D. outlines the pervasive cycle of poverty, he does not let his past limit his present. Instead, he recognizes ingrained aspects he needs to overcome and works with his default tendencies. I’d like similarly to stare frankly at where I’ve been, how my ship flies on autopilot, define better what I want, and work better on how I can get there. Left to my own devices, I’m likely to grow old alone, anxious, and sarcastic. I want to rewrite that narrative.