Monday, August 9, 2010

The Grand Illusion

So if you think your life is complete confusion because your neighbors got it made, just remember that it’s a grand illusion and deep inside we’re all the same. . .

Our friend, Morrissey, claims we hate it when our friends become successful. Do we really? Hate is a strong word.

I look around, I see the lives of others, and I judge myself. Everyone else seems to have it together while I do more than just stagnate, I actually fall behind. It seems as though my friends all make more money than I do, they have better jobs, they buy houses and drive nicer cars, they are in better physical shape, they go on lots of great vacations, they do more exciting things on the weekends, and I wonder how much did you pay for your bad Moto Guzzi? These things all make me feel inadequate.

You may be thinking “Life is full of choices and you can choose to do exciting things on the weekend as well.” I can’t do all the things they do and go all the places they go and drive their cars and live in their homes because I don’t make the money they make so phhhhlllbbttttt to that. And while money is not everything, it’s fairly important when it’s time to pay the bills. Living a life of high ideals and low overhead is great, but the phone company couldn’t care less. When I start feeling this complain-y and yuck-y and whine-y I try to remember the power of positive thought. It is said in more than two places that positive thought brings positive things into your life. That’s the general idea, I’m not quoting. But really, from “The Secret” to the Bible we are told to keep our collective chins up. I believe this, but I’m wondering about the time frame, c’mon already, I’m in my fourth decade of life here, can I get a break already? And the times when I mentally falter . . . when I just can’t look inward because I’m too caught up in looking out at everyone else, ugh . . . I feel like a failure. Sometimes these momentary lapses of sunny thinking can be cleared up by yoga, a walk outside, chocolate almond milk, or a little extra Progesterone Cream, but other times there are not enough non-dairy ginger snaps in the world to keep me from sinking further into my self induced abyss of pity.

But, Morrissey, I also see my friends successes as beacons in my dark nights of failure. I take delight in their achievements because I love my friends, I have no wish to see them fail, and I don’t want them to lose all they have gained, I would just like to have a slice of the pie too. If they can do it, I can too, I just haven’t found my way yet. Will I ever? Typically I feel I have found my way to “gainful employment nirvana” about every five years, and then the love affair ends. The world isn’t the same as it was just a few decades ago. My father worked for the same company most of his adult life, as did most fathers back then. But now we are free to switch companies and careers whenever we feel the urge. It’s great and at times I have loved the freedom and flexibility of my life, at other times it is quite sobering to feel I have no path, just aimless meanderings. I change my mind a lot. I change my mind about what to wear, where to work, what to do for a living, what creative outlet I will indulge in this year, and what my favorite color may be today. I’d like to say I’m constantly reinventing myself but the truth is, I just get distracted by shiny things in the sand. Is that why I’m in this place in my life now? And is it really so bad? I’ve done a lot of different things from radio to mortgage to massage therapy. I’m a renaissance woman.

That is not true, I’m just flighty.

But the same question remains, is that so bad?
Thinking back to the days after my divorce I recall a somewhat snobbish vision of myself I have carried as being poor but happy. “I don’t need money, I am above such trite weaknesses of human nature. I only need my soul, my soulmate, and my Great Divine.” What drivel. It’s such a romantic notion though, an old clapboard house, boiling hot on a Sunday night in summer, a fly strip that needs to be retired, and me sitting on my porch swing, barefoot, plucking at my guitar and singing softly. (I can’t even play my guitar, I just keep saying I’ll learn some day.) And yet, I can’t help but say I like the whole image. The image, however, doesn’t account for the difficulty of Monday morning when I have to get back to real life. Or Friday night when the rest of the world says “Let’s go out for sushi” and I can’t afford it. There is no dignity in being broke and I don’t care how high I hold my chin with indignation at the capitalist greed of sushi eaters, I want to go with them and I want to wear something a little bit nicer than overalls and a babushka. Righteous indignation is not all it’s cracked up to be. The sushi eaters of the world will not say “Oh gosh, we are terrible people and we too will give up all our worldly goods and live off raisins, nuts, and love.” They will roll their eyeballs, say “Oh go live in an ashram” and trot off leaving me to eat my ramen noodles in peace, love, and self righteousness. Awesome.

Trouble is, I have an easier time seeing this vision, or rather believing this vision, than I do of the vision of myself as successful. I have a vision of success that includes a great house, a green Jeep, a lucrative writing career, and a screened in back porch so I can write outside when it rains and Lucy and Delilah, my faithful furry felines, can go “outside”. Why does this one seem unattainable? Silly even? More of a pipedream than something I can truly have? I’m on to something here. Apparently I lack faith in myself. Why? I’m intelligent, I can be very driven when I’m very interested, and I believe I possess at least a modicum of talent. Am I afraid? Afraid it will be fleeting and, like everything else, run through my fingers like water? Afraid to love my job, my house, my green Jeep, and my screened in porch only to enjoy brief success and then lose it all? Afraid the infamous five year “I’m bored with my job” gremlin will find me no matter where I hide? Losing something is scarier than never having it. Losing equates to failure, never having is just, I dunno, never having.

There are issues that come with success. Taxes spring to mind but I’d be happy to live with that misery. And then there’s other people always assuming you’ll pay for dinner, I do this to my brothers. Sorry guys, you make more money than me, someday I will pay for dinner. Money is such a strange beast. It is not the root of all evil, the love of money is the root of all evil. Enough money can make your life easy in at least some areas, though not all. Less than enough money can drive you to do things of which you never felt you would be capable. Too much money can also drive you to do things of which you never felt you would be capable. It’s like water . . . drown or dehydrate without just the right amount.

I have learned through my own series of financial fortunes and misfortunes that the laws of our country allow those who have the least amount to be made to suffer the most through punitive actions. If you have enough money, you get stuff free, if you do not have enough money you get a 19% interest rate. How does this make sense? Celebrities who make more money in a day than I will likely make in a decade get free goody baskets at Oscar parties that are worth thousands of dollars. THOUSANDS. And to my knowledge not one of them has ever refused this gift and said ”Uh, no thanks. I don’t know if you know or not but I’m fabulously wealthy and I don’t need free stuff. Howsabout you sell all this crap and donate the money to a homeless shelter and maybe feed some starving people, eh? Ever thought about that?” (My sincerest apologies to any celebrity who has actually turned the basket of expensive crap down, good on ya and I mean it.) Still, even wealthy people make financial mistakes. Buy one too many private islands on credit and you too could feel my no sushi on a Friday pain and the 19% interest rate.

I want to go so many places. I want to do so many things and I feel so confined by income. There are choices. There are indeed choices. I have lots of shoes . . . lots and lots of shoes. Perhaps I don’t need them all. (By the way most of them were purchased in a former phase of life with a very different set of financial circumstances. I have donated many pairs of shoes and no longer buy them with the frequency and flippancy of my former life.) I would like to have new towels. My towels are old and thin, but what a boring thing to buy . . . still, I need them. Need. I NEED new towels. Those that I own are not thread bare, they are just no longer as thirsty as they once were. Do I need new towels? I don’t buy new towels because they are boring. BORING! Red shoes are much more exciting. But I have red shoes and I know for sure I do not need them. And what of all the trips I dream of but so far have not managed to take? I do not get paid vacation. Saving for a trip means saving an entire extra paycheck to make up for what I will not get when I’m off work. And in the meantime, the student loan company wants their money back . . . bastards. I watch “Three Sheets” because it’s funny and because it takes me places I’d like to see. It’s a free vacation in my living room.

So, what is the point of this story? I’m not sure. Money isn’t bad? I wish I had the freedom that better income and a better vacation policy may afford me? I have red shoes? I enjoy sushi? I need towels? Towels are boring unless you’re hitchhiking around the galaxy? Get it? Who gets it? C’mon, it’s funny if you get it.

I see people taking trips and making purchases that are put entirely on charge cards. Sometimes I think I will just throw caution to the wind and charge things too, but I can’t. I just can’t. I have been in credit card debt more than twice and have clawed my way out of it. I don’t charge things. I also haven’t seen Ireland, Belgium, Croatia, Chile, I don’t have those black boots I’ve been eyeballing, and it’s been ages since I’ve seen the inside of a sushi bar, but I will not charge any of these things.

I want to see change in my life and luckily, I have the power to initiate that change. I want to see Belgium, I want to eat sushi, I want totally unnecessary black boots, and I want new towels. I will have them all someday because vacations and towels and boots are not evil. They are rewards for a vision imagined and put into action, a job well done. There’s no shame in success and your friends will not hate it when you become successful.

I know this because I see all my friends successes, both financial and non-financial, and I delight in every one of their achievements, as I know they will delight in mine when my far off ship comes in.