Reflections about Money

For 3/4 of my adult life I’ve lived in poverty.  My impoverished life, though, was of my own making.  I was chasing a goal–education–and that was why I ended up poor.

I resented my poverty quite a bit, when I was in school.  I didn’t see why poverty was a necessary condition for education.  The English department at my university had a motto, “Going for broke!”  Back then, I spoke with a young woman once, and asked her if she were considering Ph.D. studies.  She said that she wasn’t.  When I asked her why, she replied, “I don’t want to spend the next 8 years of my life in poverty.”  However, pursuing the goal of higher education made my poverty bearable.  I had a higher purpose; it transcended the pecuniary world.  I tried to make myself feel better by thinking about Hemingway, and his poverty in Paris while he was learning to write.  Nobody likes poverty; but when one likes a calling more than money, one accepts one’s condition.

Now I have a comfortable income.  That has been for 12 years out of my 40 adult years.  I am still getting used to the feeling of having enough money, in fact more than I need.  But I am still pursuing a higher purpose, though, with my money.  I am recording a disk of my original music.  And that is draining a considerable amount of my income.  Some might consider this an extravagance, in that I’m not a professional musician and I’m not in a band.  But even as higher education is not always a money-making endeavor, but a meaningful pursuit, so music is not always a money-making endeavor, but art is a meaningful pursuit.  And without the CD project, I don’t know what I would do with the several thousands I am investing in this enterprise.  And for me, the purpose of money is to be used–not just possessed.

Most people secure gainful employment at a young age and spend most of their lives financially set.  I think self-image for many depends on money.  Sociologists have given us status labels.  They made up the categories, “upper-class; middle-class; lower-class.”  In doing so, they told us how we were to think of ourselves.  I try not to measure my self-worth by money.  But when I was an impoverished student, always riding in the back-seat of someone else’s car, not being able to buy “nice things,” not being able to take a girl out on a date, I felt worthless.  This, despite my higher calling, higher education.  My brother, a rich engineer, told me, “It’s only money.”  That didn’t help.  Now that I’m in a good financial place, I don’t think about money at all, don’t measure myself by money.

Growing up, my generation disdained money.  The rock music of my time sung songs against materialism and money (Pink Floyd wrote a song with that for a title).  We talked about love and peace; looked to get back to Nature.  Perhaps that’s why I didn’t pursue money in my life, but went for more spiritual acquisitions.  I made my bed and I’m happy to sleep in it.  Everybody makes their own bed.  They must sleep in it, and hopefully they are happy to, as I am.

In the Presence of Greatness

The ancient Greeks thought that certain men were divine, such as Pythagoras, Apollonius of Tyana, Alexander the Great, and in Homer, the great warrior Diomedes was called divine.  Other than Jesus, I am not one to deify human beings.  But I think I know what the Greeks were getting at.  A few times in my life, I’ve been in the presence of humans who affected me with such power that it was almost divine.

I just returned home from a concert by the Tallis Scholars.  They sang late Renaissance/early Baroque music a capella.  I listened breathlessly as the counterpoint melded into harmonies and phrases were tossed from bass to soprano, intricate cadences and all perfectly in tune and with perfect rhythm.  It wasn’t only the music, it was also the performance.  I have Renaissance music on my iPod,–in fact, I have recordings of the Tallis Scholars themselves.  But listening to these recordings don’t do what that concert did.  I was in the presence of greatness–in the compositions they sung and the way they sung them.

I’ve been in the presence of greatness before, without getting the impact this concert gave me.  I’ve seen Bob Dylan in concert, an awful concert at that, Santana, a good concert, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Emerson, Lake, and Palmer three times, and others.  I saw Steve Martin walking around in a New York art gallery.  But I wasn’t transported like I was at the Tallis Scholars concert.

The first time I heard Handel’s Messiah in the city I now live in was one of those experiences.  I alternated between heartfelt smile and tears of joy.  I went a second time a year later and the performance didn’t make such an impression on me.  This is going to sound funny, but another time I felt that power was at a bicycle race.  I stood near the finish line.  So I saw the cyclists in the last quarter mile.  That’s when they opened up.  In the home stretch, the cyclists gave it all.  Seeing those men giving 100% almost brought me to tears.  Another time I was at a Latin music festival and onstage there were four dancers giving it.  Watching them, too, made an impression on me.

I drove home from the Tallis Scholars wondering why I worried about things like money, traffic, material possessions, the worldly preoccupations I’m driven to pursue.  Seeing such a perfect dedication to art took me into another space, a special place, a holy place.