Monday, May 27, 2013

The Unsexiest Topic of All

            Thoughts on Chapter 6 of The Artist's Way.  Part six of twelve on creativity.

            I just titled this post, thinking about money (the topic of Chapter 6).  Then I thought, "Hey, maybe poop is even unsexier?"
            No.  I'm pretty sure money still wins.
            In re-reading the chapter, and thinking about money both in terms of my own experiences and the complicated conversations around it with friends and old boyfriends, I realized it's a difficult subject to make simple, prescriptive statements about.  If I argue that we shouldn't be too stingy with ourselves, that we should "take care of ourselves," this claim easily gets co-opted by any- and everyone with more money than creative vision.  Suddenly, the very real need to love and try to be good to one's self gets turned into a guilt-evasion tactic around absurdities like shopping or manicures or expensive nights out or [insert your preferred indulgence].  Though actually, it might be an interesting experiment for Americans to pick one indulgence to just keep giving themselves if only to see how little it supports their creativity and happiness.
            On the other hand, if I argue that we should ignore money and the things it can do — or more subtly, if I pretend that we can talk about material abundance without discussing money — I'm denying the reality that anyone like me lives in.  In the developed world, and now most of the so-called developing world, monetary stuffs are ubiquitous.
            So in an attempt to avoid prescriptions, I'll blab about my own experiences with money for awhile.  Since I've both been on my own (i.e., left the protection and financial stability of my parents' home), and known I wanted to be a writer, I suppose I've had one iron-clad rule:  trust no one who speaks of "being practical."  Thus far, that phrase seems only to be uttered by people who either don't get that you absolutely can NOT have a full-time, 40-hour/week job, and a family, and have time to make art — or by people who want you to be as unhappy as they are. 
            There were many, many well-meaning grown-ups* who tried to tell me — an idealistic 20-something poet — that there were things I was going to have to think about in the future that would require more money than could be made working part-time in a dead-end job.  And on the one hand, they had a point.  Even though I don't want to do the "American dream" of working myself to the point of exhaustion until I'm in my sixties so I can suddenly stop working altogether and either be bored and waste American taxpayer dollars on my health problems, or go on long cruises to look at brown-skinned people (God, doesn't it sound glamorous!!??), I do realize that someday I will be old.  I will be old, and I will have more health problems than I have now, and I probably won't want to work as much as I do now.  So yes, saving money for the future is something I do, and those well-meaning grown-ups had at least that tiny little point.  However, they did grossly overestimate how much money is required.  In point of fact, I do not need to own a house with a yard, have a car, go on vacations, and throw money at children who could use healthy communities far more than new plastic or babyGap designed by...oh, whoever they use, I've lost track.
            The latter category, however — people who want you to be as unhappy as they are — is probably far larger and more insidious.  Because of course, they've spent a LOT of money convincing themselves that they're happy, and it's hard to call someone on this particular deception when they look so damned jovial.  (Americans go for happy/jovial; Europeans go for bored/cool.  I'm not one who thinks Europeans are doing any better than we are in terms of materialism.)  The truth is, being a consumer is antithetical to what we evolved to be.  It's also antithetical to what we were created in one day to be, so at least evolutionary science and seven-day creationism could agree on this.  Either way, Americans, and increasingly Europeans as well, define themselves by what they buy.  We feel an itch, we scratch it with money.  We feel a pain, we pay money to make it go away.  We want something, we agonize over how to get the money to buy it and rail at the universe if we can't have it.
            I'm not saying anything people don't already know, but I'm pointing it out because when I was younger and actively refusing to get in line for a grown-up job, a lot of the supposedly well-meaning grown-ups would get almost angry at me.  It wasn't that they were concerned for my welfare; frankly, I think they were pissed at the prospect of knowing they could have done any differently.  After all, they caved and got a misery-making job in order to support a family; how dare I suggest other things were possible?!  Several women I've known who were also raised in conservative Christian homes ran into the same thing regarding sex.  Their mothers weren't just worried about all the dangers — physical and emotional — attached to sex, many of which are pretty damn valid concerns for parents to have.  Their mothers were clearly angry to see young women having sex with multiple partners**, enjoying it, and not suffering all the dire consequences, the fears of which had kept them virgins until their wedding nights.
            This is all to say that so far, I'm sticking to my thoughts as above:  trust no one who speaks of being practical.  Typically, practicality is one of my own pet concerns in philosophical arenas, but not when it comes to money.  I live in a world that evaluates human beings — possibly created in the image of God, and at least the highest form of consciousness we know to exist — based on a number system in electronic devices run by a group of very, very smart and soul-less men.  And if anyone wants to argue with me about them being soul-less, go for it:  you try to have a soul while working — working for someone else, in a building not your own, from which you could be cast out at any given time — a 40-hour workweek.

*grown-ups:  I am thirty-three years old as of this writing, and I still count myself among the not grown-ups.  It's a tricky definition, but I specifically think of it as an acceptance of consumerism.  Thus, I know many people well into their fifties and sixties, some with families and homes, that have blessedly escaped grown-up-dom.

**sex with multiple partners:  Though not necessarily at the same time.


  1. don't a lot of people find wealth VERY sexy, though?

    I know. The relative sexiness of the topic is hardly the point, but there's a reason The Bachelors are generally well-off.

    Especially liked the Miserable as They Are point.

    1. "Don't a lot of people find wealth VERY sexy, though?"

      I know. I did think about this gigantic caveat when I titled it. I think what I meant was more the discussion of money is seen as unsexy. Having tons of money itself is appealing; we just don't want to talk about the details of balancing our checkbooks.

  2. Philosophically, I'm with you 100%. I remember making specific vows that I would not live my entire live only 2/7ths of the time.

    But writers have an odd, twisted, almost circular relationship with money, in my experience. From my point of view, the high-level story is, I want enough money so that I no longer have to worry about money. Because when I'm worrying about money, I'm almost always worrying about something else. (Others may have different experience with this.) I'm worrying about the shame of not being able to pay bills, or the terror of becoming homeless. When I think a material thing will actually make me happier, or more efficient, and this theory gets tested, it usually turns out I was wrong.

    There is a very short list of things I actually want to purchase: travel, musical instruments, books. Okay, and food, and living indoors. And you can now scratch musical instruments off the list, because I really have all the ones I need.

    But mostly, I want money so that I can have the freedom to spend my time as I wish. That means writing time, and other creative, life-giving time. So trading more of my time for more money makes no sense to me. It would be like selling all my apples so I would have money to buy apples.

    The big complication came for me when I had children. Then, it wasn't about just making things simpler and working only as much as I needed to. Granted, my individual approach to parenting affected things: I wanted to say yes to them as much as possible. Good schools (the expensive kind), good experiences (a year in Paris, a semester in Bolivia), and freedom from crippling student loans.

    And so I find myself thinking about money way more than I want to. I long for freedom from it. I long for simplicity, so I can focus on what's important.

    Because you're right, money is less sexy than poop. Witness:

    1. "But mostly, I want money so that I can have the freedom to spend my time as I wish. That means writing time, and other creative, life-giving time. So trading more of my time for more money makes no sense to me. It would be like selling all my apples so I would have money to buy apples."


      I know kids change things radically. Witness my lack thereof so far. Also, I finally decided that if I ever do have a melt-down and decide to make a baby, I will save my sanity by not trying to have my writing and child-rearing compete for priority time and space (and money).

      And that clip from "You Me and Everyone We Know" is amazing. I totally need to watch that movie.

  3. One friend of mine quotes her grandmother as telling her: "My dear, the only regrets I have are the meals I didn't eat and the men I didn't sleep with."

    1. God this makes me happy. Also, I think I had a meal just a few days ago that would have made your friend's grandmother very, very proud.