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Hump Day Hmm: Accident of birth

If I wanted to, I could call everything about me an accident of birth.

At birth, very little was known of me other than the fact that I was not a boy, as my parents had been repeatedly assured I would be. Gazing at their little girl, my parents wondered what to do next. They had only a boy name chosen, and all my baby clothes, blankets, decor, etc. were blue.

They observed that, in addition to being female, I was also

dark haired
blue eyed
fair skinned
gifted with a healthy set of lungs

Perhaps because the chosen boy's name began with J, they focused on girl J names, somehow settling on Julie which was only slightly less popular than Jennifer.

Armed with a trendy girlie name and blue accessories, I revealed more about myself:

decent sleeper although tremendous early bird
mainly affable
good appetite
all parts in working order

But who was I? What could I do? Where did I belong?

From that point forward, it gets murkier. What is developed and what is gifted? I am also

reasonably intelligent
better at languages and arts than maths
US citizen
not very limber

These characteristics plus my life situation and experiences make me. I would not---could not---be the person I am under a different set of circumstances.

The life I lead is irrevocably influenced by genetics and the life I was born into: the accidents of birth. The point that it's an accident is crucial: it means there is nothing more worthy about me that brought me blessings and nothing less worthy about me that brought me curses.

Perhaps behind the accident is an intelligent design; regardless, it doesn't display a preference or favor.

Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well- warmed, and well-fed.

Herman Melville, US novelist & sailor (1819 - 1891)

It's funny how I never know how to answer the question, "Where are you from?" even though people have repeatedly told me it's a straightforward thing. My hesitation and uncertainty are often mistaken for hedging and dishonesty. I'm just not sure which place to claim. I usually begin with the place I loved best: Massachusetts' North Shore. I quickly clarify I'm not *from* there; I just lived there a long time and loved it best. I don't think I've ever met a listener of my long, drawn-out explanation of where I am from who understood.

Perhaps I ought to treat it as a rhetorical question, such as, "How are you?" with requisite reply of, "I'm fine thanks."

Therefore, I should select a single city, preferably well-known, and say that.

But which one? Should I say the town of my birth? The town we moved to nine months later? The place we moved a year after that? The various areas of a big city we bounced among? The city we moved to and from where I graduated high school?

I think the real answer to the question is that I am from middle-class America. I think that says it all, and region is almost irrelevant.

Isn't that something, these days, that socioeconomic class binds more than regional culture.

As with any life, though, it all began as an accident of birth. At the end of the day, I still am like any other human being...I just happen to have either similar or different circumstances. But I still breathe air, need food, and work hard to figure out how to do best by my kids with what I have.

“Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal.”

John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Read what other bloggers have to say about the Accident of Birth

Snoskred wrote Accident of birth - the SCARY country.

Mary-LUE wrote A Pair of Ducks? No, a Paradox!

Thailand Gal wrote Forgiving an accident of birth?

Lawyer mama wrote Of Privilege and Prejudice

Slouching Mom wrote An Accident of Birth

Sober Briquette wrote The Ugly Duckling

Ally of Zone family wrote Accident of Birth

Emily of Wheels on the Bus wrote Funeral Etiquette

Kim at After the Ball wrote Learning Difficulties

Gwen wrote Preaching to the Choir

Other links related to aspects of this topic I think you ought to read. And because what I think matters above all else (BWAHAHAHAHAHA!!) I hope you will.

Almsgiving or Tipping? Cecilieaux of Shavings Off My Mind tackles whether donations or additional pay are the better method of assistance in overcoming poverty.

The above references a Washington Post article about three members of Congress (the only ones not too pansy-assed to try this) who spent a week living on $21, the equivalent of weekly food stamps. Go read Lawmakers Find $21 a Week Doesn't Buy a Lot of Groceries.

And finally, The Secret, either directly or indirectly, has come up again with this topic. I think it is well known that I---to put it politely and diplomatically---think this is utter shit. So, I'd like to link you to two awesome articles about this:

THE SECRET: Think It and Make It So
By Marianne Williamson

Andrea at A Garden of Nna Mmoy wrote Secrets and Lies

Note: If you have a post you are putting up today or something related, send me the link!

Next week...I'm going to spin off of the above links. Have you kept a secret or have you lied, directly or by ommission, about something big? How did you make your decision---did it bring about justice? How did forgiveness fit in (or not)? Would you do it the same mext time? OR flip it and have it be someone kept a secret or lied to you. Or both. And feel free to give me feedback about this topic or suggest on. This is due NEXT WEDNESDAY.

copyright text and images 2007 Julie Pippert


Ally said…
Hi Julie, I just finished writing my version of Accident of Birth but can't figure out how to link it to yours... I'm still new at this blog thing. Can you link me up? It's at

Ally said…
Thanks for bringing up this interesting topic, and for the links to the Secret stuff. I've not read that book/watched that movie, and now I'll know what all the talk is about.
thailandchani said…
This is very interesting.. to read your perspectives on these things.

However, I do think of you as far more than just a socioeconomic status. If I had to pick something out and say, "this is what I perceive as 'blessed' in Julie's life", I would say intelligence.

Sometimes forgiveness can get all confused with recognition of fortune, however we define that. I see the two as barely connected.

As with everyone, I view choices, footprints.. who does this person choose to be in the world?

In the end, that is what matters most.


Christine said…
"Isn't that something, these days, that socioeconomic class binds more than regional culture."

I think this is true to some extent, but regional culture has always had a huge impact on me, and can definitely play into how others perceive your or even how we perceive ourselves regardless of socioeconomic status. In some ways race is like this, too. Two people with the same socioeconomic background can be treated or perceived very differently if one is say African American an the other Caucasian. Very interesting stuff here, I wish I had some time to sit down and tackle this one.

And that question for next week--heavy! I bet it proves to be a really exciting topic.
Anonymous said…
I'm playing today, too.
Anonymous said…
I'm living in London now, and living abroad has really highlighted for me how much who I am is shaped by being from middle class America. You think you have so little in common with people because they are from another state or vote a different ticket, but then you move to another country and you realize just how many shared assumptions we all have.
Your post really hit the nail on the head.
Julie Pippert said…
Ally and De, I got you linked in and read your posts. Great!

Chani, I also think I am not my socioeconmic class, but when people ask someone like me, who has lived in a variety of places and circumstances, where are you from...they are trying to pin me down to some degree, figure out WHAT I am more before learning WHO I am...see how I am trying to distinguish? So to answer that, where I am from answer is: from suburban middle-class America.

I find it so odd the hard and fast buckets people seem to *need* to chunk others into, don't you? I say that as a guilty party at times too.

The interesting thing about calling my intelligence a blessing is that every coin has two sides, KWIM?

Sometimes the greatest gifts carry the headiest responsibilities and challenges. And in dealing with that, it can be too easy to forget, oh yes, this is a blessing.

And OMG...I think you just hit a concept that has been bugging my brain and heart for a long time.

Geez louise, you rock.

Yes yes yes...that's it. We shoudl not confuse forgiveness with recognition of fortune.

Okay how that has bothered me is so many people wanting me to count the blessings instead of deal with the curses. "Accentuate the positive! Eliminate the negative!"

And it pisses me off because it's like "hey pretend that never happened and look at all you did have."

A prime example is people wanting me to drop the IF as if it never was because I have two children now. It's like a tattoo on my soul though. It did happen, and it did affect me and does affect who I am.

It doesn't mean I WALLOW. It doesn't mean I burn with bitterness, why me. It's not an albatross any longer. But I won't dismiss it, or try to make it into lemonade.

Some things, no dice on that.

Some things, okay.

Now don't get me wrong...I do think it's important to see the good, too, and not mire in the bad. And there are times to accentuate the positive, count blessings, and make lemonade.

I don't think I"m explaining this well since it is all off the top of my head. Grrr. Well forgive brainstorm there. You just hit a key point for me.

And yes, who we chose to be (and see my comment to De too) is what matters.

It brings to mind a questions I have in my head for next week's topic: can one act completely define who we are?
Julie Pippert said…
Christine, maybe it is a factor of moving so frequently. I find that city/suburban middle class is pretty well middle class anywhere.

The vibe of downtown Houston---the people, how they dress and act---is really not very distinct from Manhattan.

If you dig, you can hear slightly different accents, some slight variances in behavior, but pretty common.

There are some areas (not any place I've lived) that are very distinct culturally.

My dad is from New Orleans and clings to the Cajun culture. That's a very distinct culture.

Now, you bring up race which is a crucial point. I agree. In the case of race, the race usually trumps anything else.

I hope next week is exciting!

I don't mean to get to personal...people don't have to share the exact nature of the lie; you can talk around it, too.
Julie Pippert said…
Emily, moving around a lot and even spending a great deal of time abroad has definitely taught me that truthfully, we do (as you put it) have a lot of shared assumptions. Maybe that is why I have to POV that I do. Good catch. Thanks!
Unknown said…
This is not a reply to the specifics of your post but instead a thought after reading all these posts. I wonder, after reading others' thoughts, how I or any of the other participants might change their posts, edit or alter them in any way in response to what we've read.

Lawyer Mama said…
"socioeconomic class binds more than regional culture"

I think you're right to some extent. I've moved around a lot as well and the "where are you from" question frequently stumps me. However, I do consider myself a Southerner and my family is from Louisiana and I was born there and I love it, although I could never live there, so I say Louisiana. But Middle Class America really fits so much better.

I want to comment more on the discussion regarding "accentuate the positive" but I don't want to hikack your comments. It bothers me as well. Many people think I'm just too negative. Ah, well, according to the Secret I'm due for some Cancer any day then.
thailandchani said…
Julie, I truly think that is a function of culture. The finding the positive in everything. My own belief is that sometimes things just suck ~ and it doesn't matter if we're rich, intelligent or fit any of the other social markers that are most often sought. It's healthier, in my opinion, to acknowledge that and to make it okay. And it's okay to feel bad about things. That doesn't mean sharing our misery with the world.. but it does mean that we get to tell the truth.

I admit that I rebel against social markers. I refuse to define myself by them or allow others to pigeonhole me with them. People always want to know certain things first: where do you live, do you have children, what do you do. (The latter question I answer with "lots of things. Sometimes nothing. How about you?") It's easy to recognize what is being done and I have no qualms about thwarting them.

I address many of those questions with the same kind of "hihowareyou" responses. The question isn't real after all. Blah blah. Yeah. Yeah. (Answer someone honestly some time when they ask "how are you". What they really want to know is "are you approachable".)

That is what I would do with the "where are you from" question. It's simply not relevant where you are from. It only matters who you are.

Your intelligence I call a blessing because you had nothing to do with creating it. You only get to decide what to do with it. It's inherited but cultivated only by your own determination. It means you have choices that someone less intelligent might not have. And, yeah, more responsibility.

Good discussion. I always like and appreciate your brainstorms so much. I might not be as bright as you are... (well, I'm not) but I sure as heck enjoy straining a bit to keep up. :)

Julie Pippert said…
LM, also according to the Secret anyone seeking a better life must shun you (and me too, I guess, and I supose we ought to shun one another as well?). BLECH. Is my objection getting any clearer? ;)

Hijack away or post it on your blog...just let me know either way b/c I'm interested to hear what you have to say.

I can just imagine next time someone asks me where I'm from, I come back with, "Big city suburban middle class US."

"But which one?"

"Oh pick any one; they are fairly interchangeable."

"GASP! No we are UNIQUE!"

I don't think I'll win any friends with that so I guess I am still stumped LOL.
thailandchani said…
Lawyer Mama, I hope you will hijack the comments. Your perspective on "accentuate the positive" would be very interesting. :)
Kyla said…
The post was great in itself, but the comments are just rocking!

I kind of wish that I'd hopped on board this one. With KayTar, I think I might have something to say on the accident of birth. But I don't know that I have the thinky in me today! Maybe if I get around to it we can retro link it.
Gwen said…
I know that you will let me post my thoughts on this tomorrow, yes? Yes?

And my parents were really hoping I was a boy, too, since I was their last chance for one. One more thing we have in common! :)

(Sorry can't be more deep right now, but it's all been a struggle lately, so this is what you get. :) )
Julie Pippert said…
Gwen, of course. :)

I am so not into asking people to stress. Stretch, yes. Stress, no. :)

I will leave this up a bit longer, so tomorrow is fine.

I am busy writing about four posts I will never publish LOL because they are about real life.

Kyla, the privilege of deadline extension is yours, too, if you want it. :) Or blog about it whenever and nevermind this roundtable. It has been an excellent discussion. I'm really excited with this roundtable...not just here on my blog, but on all participating blogs and the ensuing discussion there. It's been so insightful, thought-provoking, amazing.
S said…
I enjoyed this, Julie. Your post, the topic, and all these wonderful comments. Thank you, as ever, for coordinating this.
Unknown said…
"The life I lead is irrevocably influenced by genetics and the life I was born into: the accidents of birth."

I do wholeheartedly agree with this statement. It's funny, the more personal post that I might have written about my own circumstances of birth came up today in a very painful way. Just one of those family things that you always hope will change but never seem to. I always wonder how much my personality (something which I believe to be genetically coded) has affected the environment I grew up in and vice-versa. How much has my being a part of the family made it what it is and then in turn, contributed to who I am, and so on and so on.

"The point that it's an accident is crucial: it means there is nothing more worthy about me that brought me blessings and nothing less worthy about me that brought me curses."

I do agree with this but I would add that it would be good to consider what responsibility we have when we are given such things. What are our obligations to the world?

There has been great participation and response this week, Julie!
Girlplustwo said…
julie, damn, sister. this is good stuff. it's all an accident, isn't it? and yet it binds, as you said, us to others and our path in unbreakable ways. and how our fortune is our accident as well, and that alone is incredibly humbling.
Anonymous said…
My hesitation in answering has been a hedging. Sometimes I say that I'm a quasi-military brat or that I've been here since I was 15. In my experience saying that you're from "middle class America" is quite different from saying where I'm from, "working class America". I'm not ashamed of where I come from, but people do use it against you.
Mayberry said…
Very interesting. I think you're right that there's very little regionalism left in this country -- which I find so sad.

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