Part of the trouble with being middle class, I’ve discovered, is you’re not supposed to want to stay there. It is an aspirational position from which you should want to move up. Or down. You lack the glamour of the nouveau-riche; saying I “started from the bottom” now I’m here doesn’t sound so good when all I’ve got is a cookie-cutter suburban bungalow and a ford taurus. And it doesn’t have the working-class exoticism of eating pork n’beans straight outta the can, or the edge-of-your-seat drama of maybe not paying the rent on time. So, it’s time to move.
The middle is a bad place to be. Think about it: middle of a staircase? A little dangerous. Go up or down. Middle seat in a car? Your knees touch your chin, and not in a life-affirming way. You’re reminded of your monster butt as it’s crushed under neighbours’ hips. Middle of a book? You cannot post on Goodreads that you’re done. Middle of a storm? Now, the centre of a hurricane is fine, but of course centre suggests purpose, the point around which all else circles. Middle is, well, middling. Boring, without direction or motion. Undefined. Blobby.
Take the middle of a sandwich: its contents are rarely defined clearly. I mean, tuna can be like tuna with mayo or without, perhaps with added onions, pickles, celery (ew). Ham and cheese could desire a dollop of mustard, perhaps a wisp of lettuce. Basically, the middle is constantly striving to be something else, because, you see, it doesn’t want to be like all the other middles. And isn’t a sandwich defined by its bread? Not what’s in between the bread. What makes a sandwich a sandwich is that something exists between two breads.
Except in the case of open-faced sandwiches, where things seem a little more equal opportunity.*
I’m entering my moment in the sandwich generation. I modified my own middle by choosing a cat instead of a child, and now said cat is dying even though she’s younger than me. Bad choice, perhaps, but the care doesn’t differ all that much. A typical afternoon goes like this (all cat utterances approximated, naturally):
Pumpkin: Hi. Do you know where I am?
Me: You just woke up from a nap in your bed.
Pumpkin: Oh. Right.
Pumpkin: Hey, I have something to show you.
Me: Alright. [gets up from boring computer work]
Pumpkin: Where am I?
Me: I know you’re blind, but there’s only three rooms in this place.
Pumpkin: Right, right. I think I want to go in the bathroom …
… no, no, I want to go in the bedroom!
Here we are.
Me: What do you need?
Pumpkin: I think I need to be lifted into my bed.
Me: Like this?
Pumpkin: Yes, that’s what I needed. Thank you.
Five minutes later
Pumpkin: Hi. Do you know where I am?
Pumpkin: I have something to show you.
This generally goes on repeat 20+ times a day.
I wonder, as I care for Miss Senile, if I was supposed to aim higher? Like, be somebody? Or was I just supposed to stay here and stop trying: show up to work, do duties while zoned out, collect paycheque and spend it on aspirational whiskey (Drake’s Virginia Black looks good on the sideboard (which is a wealthy person’s piece of furniture)), and stop working on other projects? Start something: ‘I have big plans! I’m going to achieve this thing and be quite famous!’ and then stop because it got in the way of watching Riverdale and being tired from getting up to go to work, and fun weekend activities like mowing the lawn and taking yoga classes in my neighbourhood. But even Riverdale reveals, as Emily Nussbaum says, people may look happy, but are “just faking it.”
Let’s see what one of my favourite middle-classians, Chris McDonald, has to say on the subject. “On the one hand, to belong to the middle strata of society, is, for many, to be mediocre, average, another face in the crowd … On the other hand, middle-class values emphasize upward mobility and self-improvement; the central belief is that the individual’s hard work, innovation, and initiative will lead to material gain, satisfaction in life, and personal distinction.”
Yes. That is what will happen: I will become great. I don’t know if I’ll finish this project, however, since I am a dull nobody with nothing to say.
Hm. Maybe I’ll turn to my hero Knausgaard instead: “As far as the larger picture was concerned, I never had any doubt that I could attain whatever I wanted, I knew I had it in me, because my yearnings were so strong and they never found any rest. How could they? How else was I going to crush everyone?”
Oh yes, right. I am great. Nobody who came before me did this thing quite like I’m doing this thing. I will conquer! Achieve! I have a new routine: get up at 5 am every day and complete this amazing artifact I’m making. Someday, I will be adored. Someday, I will be the filling in an open-faced sandwich. And nobody will think twice about the foundational bread on which I was created.
*You know where open-faced sandwiches are popular? Denmark.