Author of the week
Stephanie Land knows well how both halves live, said Sian Cain in TheGuardian.com. Only a few years after she watched her daughter take her first steps in a homeless shelter, Land tried to bolster her meager income by taking a minimum-wage job cleaning sprawling suburban homes in Port Townsend, Wash. What she saw disheartened her: pills, cigarette stashes, porn magazines. One customer’s toilet had a seat whose underside was always caked with vomit. Land was invisible to many of her clients but knew them as no one else did, and she didn’t like that feeling. “I vowed never to have a house bigger than I could clean myself,” she wrote in an essay that went viral when it was published by Vox.com in 2015. The essay led to a book contract and to Maid, a best-selling new memoir largely focused on how the working poor live.
Land herself worked almost nonstop, said E. Ce Miller in Bustle.com. She was cleaning houses and doing landscaping when she first applied for government aid and learned that securing help for herself and her child was another part-time job. “It’s a lot of scrambling around,” she says, “not only to prove that you’re working, but to prove that you don’t have any money.” (At times, earning an extra $100 in pay could have cost her $400 in benefits.) She hopes her story will help kill a few myths—the myths that make the welfare system inefficient, poverty shameful, and the lives of her better-off former clients so empty. “Our society tells you that if you work hard enough, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, you’ll make it in America,” she says. “That’s where all the stigmas begin.” ■
February 1, 2019 THE WEEK