SEMI-FULFILLED POTENTIALS

Pretty much my whole adult life

I’ve been more or less semi-retired

A full-time undergraduate and grad

Student and the poverty and the freedom

Writing and performing music

Writing and researching papers and theses

Bipolar disorder’s attenuated capacities

Avolition and crippled will to persevere

Those week-ends asleep in bed—

The weekend through: Friday till Monday morning

Those lost weekends

A post-doctoral funk and bad jobs

Part-time teaching and poverty

Writing and publishing a book and journal articles

Music and poetry and bad jobs

A good job preaching, a calling, and full-time pay

Recording a CD of my originals and poetry and newspaper bylines

Volunteer positions and committees and seminar presentations

All for joy and no pay

Pretty much semi-retired and all of it

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.

Getting and Spending

I think that western society finds its amusement primarily in spending money.  I know that I do.  It’s a real kick buying something new.  Almost more fun than enjoying the new thing that I buy.  William Wordsworth wrote this in his poem, THE WORLD IS TOO MUCH WITH US.  “The world is too much with us; late and soon,/Getting and spending, we lay waste to our powers.”  I wanted to entitle this blog simply, “Spending.”  But we also enjoy getting–just not as much as spending, I think.

We hear about how much poverty there is in the world, largely in developing nations.  But what we don’t hear about is community.  I’ve been impoverished and completely contented and happy.  This was in a small, rural town.  I spent many an evening sitting on back porches with friends, talking as the sun went down.  Or visiting with an elder family I knew.  Or basking in the sunlight on a summer afternoon with friends.  I read more philosophy then, drank but little.  Friends mattered more to me than they do now.

Now I’m more comfortable financially and it seems there’s always something I want.  I walked away from the casino today, which is all about getting and spending and only about it, with modest gains.  And I wrangled mentally about what I should have bet to make even more.  The stock market is the same–all based on getting and spending.  I just bought a new wool coat, but it’s too formal to wear to the blues club.  I’m thinking about buying a new leather bomber jacket.  Getting and spending.

I met only one person who said, “I have enough money.”  And that’s the only time I heard it in my life.  This person bought pots and pans for a women’s shelter with the extra money he had.  When I hear about poverty in the world, I wonder if the society in question has a sense of community that might their emotional wants more than spending would.  As was the case with me in my days of poverty in the small town.  In a society that derives its enjoyment from spending, as is ours, poverty is most certainly a curse.  But maybe poor societies are richer than ours.  (I most certainly am not talking about world hunger, which is a decidedly different issue.)  I’m not sure we can measure happiness by a culture’s ability to spend.  The cures may well be that we do measure our happiness by our capacity to spend.