I grew up in a trailer or mobile home, the terms are used interchangeably. But such technicalities make no difference when you’re a kid, and every other kid who didn’t grow up in a trailer or mobile home had the benefit of dubbing you “white trash,” and “trailer trash.” Humans are no never so human as when we take comfort in hierarchies, even as children.
Everyone in school knew me and my family were poor. We didn’t live in poverty, but we were poor. My sister and I had to look after ourselves since our father worked 12 hours a day.
When you live close to the edge of poverty, you learn things early. You cram too much in too few years. You are surrounded by people who are economically similar to yourself and for wildly varying reasons, all of those reasons you are likely to learn at some point, for better or worse.
As I related in a previous blog, I suffered from childhood anxiety disorder, I found relief in the library. That meant traversing my mixed bunch, trailer park community, crossing roads and unsavory neighborhood elements in order to get to my local library. Liquor stores, check cashiers, pawn shops, strip clubs, questionable dwellings with questionable persons hanging around. Every trip was frightening. In my young mind, the payoff was worth it. I knew the books I would soon delve into would erase the worst of anything I may have just seen, heard, and even smelled. The same would be true when I made the trip back to my mobile home, mind lost in books once more.
I grew up in Irving, a city adjacent to Dallas. Irving was much smaller then and called a suburb of Dallas. The poor who had to find work in Dallas lived in Irving. Today, I sit from the comfort of my two story home in a high demand neighborhood of the ever booming Austin, Texas. Today, it is not unusual that I am treated as someone who grew up from an affluent home. I am often approached by others who assume to know my background. The implication of a comfortable childhood is apparent in the language used and the attitude assumed when I am spoken to. Having worked in the higher education system for nearly a decade, and the fact that I have two degrees, often put me in the position of being passively-aggressively challenged about a wealth and upbringing I didn’t have. I don’t bother to correct the projection others put on me, but I don’t engage with people who assume to know me either. It seems a waste of my time. I let my work speak for me.
As it turns out, my childhood background would lend itself to my style of writing. Had I earned degrees in writing, I might have learned of my actual genre much sooner. I had always labeled my work as a women’s fiction-slash-drama. I recently discovered that my style of writing is a sub-genre of Gothic, called Southern Gothic. I write with “dark elements” (better known to me as “the truth”), while set in the geographic location of Texas, a big ol’ chunk of the south. That makes Southern Gothic, apparently. The gritty and glaring real life depictions, plus fiction, coupled with location. Southern Gothic, like all of Gothic, can incorporate fantastical elements too. One day I may write a piece that includes magic and other worldliness, but for now, real life serves up more than enough to work with.
I once wrote a short story for my high school’s creative writing course inspired by a resident of my trailer park. A severely obese woman who spent her days divided between residing in her trailer to hobbling her way out to her attached deck, surrounded by her 10 dogs. In life, I never learned her name, in my story, I called her Edna. Edna, from her place on the deck, folds of her body spilling out from all directions on her distressed bench, stared boldly at any and all residents who passed by. Edna never spoke, but still managed to quietly challenge by site alone. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that Edna was angry, but no one knew why. In my work, I gave Edna a backstory that explained her current disparity, taking comfort in the company of her dogs. Claiming her untrained, no-collared, badly groomed furry companions were all that she needed. They were loyal, Edna’s character claimed. Edna’s backstory didn’t matter, the ending did. Edna died alone in her trailer from a massive heart attack. The residents suspected something was wrong as several days had gone by without Edna presiding over her usual place on the deck, glaring down all passersby. But hey, who cares? If anything Edna’s absence was an improvement so why rock the boat, was the general consensus of the trailer park residents.
What caused the first of many double-takes to come from my teachers over the years was Edna’s ending. She was found a week later, eaten by her beloved dogs. In life, the woman who inspired Edna did die alone from a massive heart attack. And she was discovered several days later, but not eaten by her dogs. Her dogs had disbanded and sought food elsewhere from other residents. That’s when people thought to look for the heavy set resident who rudely liked to stare from her deck. I didn’t realize it then, but such writing would become the basis of my work – the truth, with more steps. The world, as it is, is infinitely strange, my mind decided to make use of what was already there.
Examples of Gothic fiction includes:
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Phantom of the Opera, by Gaston Leroux
The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, by Victor Hugo
Almost everything by Edgar Allan Poe
And so many more. Here’s a full-bodied list from Goodreads
Examples of Southern Gothic fiction includes:
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, by John Berendt
A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams
In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote
Beloved, by Toni Morrison
Here’s an excellent Southern Gothic list from Goodreads. I hope to make it here one day.