Shameless Lives: High Achievers in Families That Achieve Little

I’m a big fan of the Showtime series Shameless. The show is currently on its fourth season, and unexpectedly, it has taken a pretty dark turn in comparison to past seasons.

The show follows the Gallagher family, a dysfunctional group of people trying to make it in Chicago. The family is headed by their sister Fiona who manages to take care of 5 kids and teenagers while ensuring that her alcoholic con artist father doesn’t burn their home to the ground or sell it for booze.

As I come from a pretty disfunctional family (and I mean more disfunctional than is generally legally allowed), I was naturally drawn to the show. Actually, another family member recommended it to me after a long discussion about our mothers (not a hard connection if you knew them). I always related to the show because I saw myself as Fiona; the caregiver, making sure everyone survives, making sure everyone stays together. But this season is portraying Fiona in a new light. She is finally in a place where she can provide substantially for the family, and she screws it up without reason. The writers for the show have deepened her character, and they are showing that everyone has shades of their parents. As the most put together and responsible person in my family, I have seen myself lose a bit of control and spiral into the very things that I despise about my mother. That is why I appreciate the writer’s for having the balls to be honest (even though it breaks my heart.)

However, this isn’t a review about the show. Its a testimonial of sorts. Along with Fiona, there is the freshly 18 year old Lip. First of his family to graduate high school, (without much difficulty I might add; he’s a genius) Lip is struggling trying to make it in college. That world is entirely different than everything he left behind in his poverty stricken neighborhood. In his absence, his family has fallen apart. His brother is scouting out a liver for their dad, his 13 year old sister is dating a 22 year old (gross), his other brother ran away, and lastly, Fiona was arrested because Liam, the baby of the family, found her cocaine. Damn, right?

All in all, things are shit for the Gallagher family right now. Lip is just now finding his element in the world that he really felt he didn’t belong (i.e. college). But he has to choose?

I haven’t been faced with this choice in this magnitude, but every time I go home to my family, I feel more and more like an outsider. Every time we argue, I hear “She’s just trying to psychoanalyze us because she goes to college.” My family loves to brag about me and my accomplishments, but they often find themselves relaying false praises to their friends because, truthfully, they have know idea what is going on in my world. My education has become the butt of every joke, a punch line just to make me feel out casted.

My father, the only sane one (divorced family, lots of half siblings), calls this jealousy. He encourages everything I do, but still, when we are together, things feel different. We don’t communicate the same anymore either.

What does this? Surely it isn’t the limited education I am paying thousands for. How could a class on Moby Dick render me incapable of communicating with people that I share blood with? From my experience, it seems that people who get out, people who move on out of the cycle of low achievment, they are just a screwed as the ones who stay. My children will prosper from my accomplishments, but for now, I am forced to choose between two worlds. Which will I protect, and what will getting out of this life cost? How can we begin to communicate if we don’t speak the same language? I may seem like I’m being melodramatic, but if you have ever experienced this, you know.

It was through all of this thinking and watching and crying over the magnificence that is Shameless that I realized, I’m not Fiona. I’m Lip. I’m straddling both worlds: the one I want to be in and the one that made me who I am. In a few years, I’ll graduate and move out of state. My mom won’t have any company, and I will worry constantly about her bad habits, but I’ll let it happen. Does this make me selfish? Accomplishing my goals means letting go of them; letting them make irrational, irresponsible decisions. Is that selfish?

I plan to go home this weekend, and I’m sure I’ll have to play taxi driver from the local bar, and nurse when someone gets too rowdy with our dogs. But then I’ll go to bed, and study, and wish that I could tell them the truth about school and work and my latest paper. But I can’t, and that’s just a part of the shameless life that I’ve been brought up in. I want out, but what will I be willing to lose?

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