I am not sure how I feel about money. On the one hand, it’s pretty great and let’s me do a bunch of neat stuff. On the other hand, it messes with my head and makes me believe I am someone I’m not. It can both heal and damage – sometimes at once.
It really doesn’t matter how much I have, what I want is just a little bit more. I have a hard time with enough. I can find myself thinking that accumulation is equal to success. My grip can be pretty tight around a fist of dollars.
And then there was last night. I was part of a group gathering around the idea of taking some of their very hard earned money and investing it into small food companies. The return not measured just financially, but socially and environmentally. This was not a bunch of cigar smoking monopoly guys, this was what the politicians so flippantly describe as ‘ordinary Canadians’. It was both inspiring and challenging.
I then came home to an impassioned email from a friend who runs an important organization focused on justice and human rights. She’s tight for funds, and is keen to have me help out. Her ask was unabashed, because she believes that’s what money is supposed to be used for – for good.
At lunch yesterday I was having a conversation about generosity with a friend. I explained that, to me, it means having an open hand. It’s hard to hold on if I lay open my palm.
Another friend used to say, “money can’t buy happiness, but it does buy choice”. In fact, every dollar is that way. They all come with consequences, good and bad, and it’s left up to me to decide which.
I was sitting in the office of the sales guy at the dealership, talking about buying a new car. The more we talked, the more I realized I never wanted the damn thing in the first place. How did I get there?
Every so often I can make a decision, follow an idea, give in to desire, and find myself suddenly out of context. Like the new car smell, it can be pretty enticing, and seem almost obvious. Unless it isn’t.
Yesterday I heard a guy talking about how we’ve become so reductionist in our thinking. We parse things into their pieces to the point where we lose sight of the whole. I do that.
I can have a variety of selves. One for work, in the garden, for guests, or in the bedroom. On my good days I’m recognizable wherever I am, and then on others I’m in a showroom buying a vehicle I don’t want because part of me thinks I do.
It’s not that I am faking it, it’s that I’m paying more attention to the sum of the parts than the whole. I am trying to lift with only my left arm, ignoring the help the rest of me could bring.
It’s when the composite picture of me, actually looks like me, there’s congruence. It’s when I show up, and it makes sense. I’m authentic.
But, I gotta say, the hard part of the not-buying-a-car experience was that my increasing indifference turned out to be a brilliant negotiating tactic – as my angst rose, his price dropped. It’s really hard to walk away from a good deal.
There were ten of us at dinner last night. The conversation turned to food, and its cost and quality. Everyone there was involved somehow in growing, distributing, buying, or financing. We were united in our belief that we’re fucked.
The common conditioning is that we should expect to pay less for more – Costco sized amounts at ‘budget’ prices. Any wonder why as North Americans we are in such a contradictory state of being over fed and under nourished?
One grocery store chain in town is selling thanksgiving turkeys at less than a buck a pound. That means a bird that will feed a family of 5 has to be hatched, housed, fed, watered, raised, killed, prepared, packaged, and shipped all for less than $15. Something has to give – and that likely is the farmer, the welfare of the animal, and ultimately the nutrition and taste. One producer who talks about his ‘certified’ turkeys – explains that they never go outside, and that they have both their beaks and toes cut off so they are better protected in the crowded barns.
We eat because of farmers. It has become almost impossible for farms to stay running given the pressure on price. The big box grocery chains and fast food outlets have built an expectation that food is cheap – so the trickle down effect is how much the producer is paid to grow carrots, or pigs, or turkeys. It can’t be done without significant compromise. In the effort to just make mortgage payments and feed their own families, farmers succumb and do what they’re told.
In Canada this week, we’ll all be buying groceries for next weekend’s Thanksgiving. As the potatoes, yams, turkey, and maybe even brussel sprouts go into the cart, think about the folks that made all that possible, and how much it’s really worth to you.
This weekend it’s time to plant garlic. I thumb each clove into the dirt, cover the bed with straw, and that’s it. Nothing apparent happens for a very long time. It’s not until next July that we’ll see any harvest.
The garden is the one place where I am forced to practice foresight and patience. The plants won’t have it any other way. Everywhere else I have a choice.
I so enjoy spontaneity. “Let’s go do this” does way more for me than, “how about the second Tuesday of next month?” I have never understood couples who schedule their sex lives. What if you’re horny on a Wednesday, but you’re not booked in til Sunday?
There was that study done with kids and marshmallows. Each child was given one, and told if they wait until the teacher comes back before they eat it they can have a second. They visited the folks who were in the program years later and discovered those that deferred were actually more successful. Yah, but I bet they were boring.
All that said, I am the ancestor of my future happiness, as David Whyte suggests. I’ll have no garlic next summer, if I don’t plant now. There are consequences to not thinking ahead.
But how certain is the future? All I really know is what’s here now. But still I sow seeds, plant trees, and make compost. It can’t, and doesn’t, all happen right now. Time is itself an ingredient in the gratification, the anticipation, the expectation.
Whether it’s garlic, marshmallows, or sex, maybe there is something to be said for waiting.
‘Lying is still lying even if it’s to yourself’, a friend once said. I can be quite convincing. I’m a sucker for my own bullshit. I can be like two drunks at the bar trying to keep each other sober.
I’m not always giving myself the straight goods. I don’t trust my thoughts –they can be under the influence of everything from brain chemicals to ego. Often, looking back, I realize it’s my own garden path I’ve led myself down.
Then there’s that ‘core limiting belief’. The indelible thing that was imprinted from when I was a kid. It’s not true, but it’s there, and seems to have a super majority when it comes to me making choices.
Hindsight, like guilt and regret, is not all that helpful. I haven’t found I learn well from mistakes. What I need is a new conversation up front.
I want to develop my own voice of reason. One that might suggest “hang on here, let’s take another look at that”. If I’d had that around I’d have saved a ton of money, marriage anguish, poor parenting decisions, and very likely would not own those blue shoes that I thought looked so awesome in the store.
In other words, I could stand a good dose of self doubt. Before running headlong into the next potential disaster I’d like it to grab my cognitive arm and suggest I give my head a shake. While I have many around me who are more than willing to step in on my behalf, it’s really up to me to stand in my own breach.
At least one of the drunks needs to get off their stool and head for the door.
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