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.

Advertisements

Strong Decades and the Other

I lived through the eighties.  I didn’t like the eighties when I was living in that decade.  But one thing I will say that I do like about the eighties is that the decade had a theme, a core, a strong culture to it.  I can list the prime values of the eighties:

  1. preppy–there were actual t-shirts then that said, “Preppy and Proud.”  Movies were made about prep schools.  The prevailing fashion of the day was preppy.  Part of this trend was the drive to attain Ivy League Schools.  The plot of “Risky Business” was the hunger for Joel (Tom Cruise) to go to Princeton.  The world’s most notorious preps were married in 1981–Lady Diana Spencer and Prince Charles of Wales.
  2. money–when I graduated from Harvard Divinity School (1985), the Business School had its largest graduating class in Harvard’s history.  Again referencing “Risky Business,” Joel wants to major in business and most of the movie is about his successful prostitution business.  “Working Girl” was about working-class Tess (Melanie Griffith) climbing the corporate ladder of the business world and competing with preppy Katharine Parker (Sigourney Weaver).  “Wall Street” was all about money, wealth, and power.
  3. cocaine–the drug of choice in the eighties for everyone, especially business-oriented, success driven executive types.
  4. technology–Bill Gates and Steve Jobs started their huge empires in the eighties.  The script of “Ghostbusters” was replete with techno-sounding jargon.
  5. lastly, the eighties had a distinct style of music.  We called it techno-pop.  But it was distinctive enough for my present TV music channels to have a station devoted to eighties music.

I didn’t like the eighties because all this was a rebellion against the values of the late sixties/early seventies.  Peace and love, back to nature, contempt for materialism and money, contempt for authority, dropping out of society, and love of art dominated the values of that generation.  Woodstock, where 500,000 young people all gathered for music and fellowship WITH NO POLICE OR LAW ENFORCEMENT, in peace, happened in 1969.  I think of song lyrics like those of Jethro Tull–“I didn’t care if they groomed me for success (yukk), or if they said that I was Just a fool,” “I’m sitting in the corner feeling glad/Got no money coming in but I can’t be sad.”  And that famous song from Pink Floyd that is still being played today, “Money, get away/Is the root of all evil today.”  The strong culture of the eighties seemed to be the opposite of all that the apocalyptic ’60’s and ’70’s were about.

But after the eighties, culture faded away.  There was a lack of gravitas to the succeeding decades.  By way of documentation, my TV movie channels have no station dedicated to ’90’s music, or 2000’s music.  There are indeed channels that are called “Clubbing” and “Urban” but these sounds are not likely to be memorable decades from now.  There may be a cause for this apparent cultural vacuity.  The ’60’s and early ’70’s were a rebellion against the strait-laced family values of the ’50’s, which, in turn, were a retrenchment from the horrid whole generation of war the early 20th century lived through.  And in the ’60’s and early ’70’s, the Vietnam War was spewing out carnage printed in living color in Life magazine each week.  But after Vietnam, there was no war or other strong ferment in society.  The ’50’s were the product of the World Wars; the ’60’s and ’70’s of the Vietnam War; and the eighties were a rebellion against the “Flower Children” of the ’60’s and ’70’s.

By no means am I wishing war upon society so that I might enjoy a strong culture again, and find memorable contributions to western history!  This blog is only an attempt to account for the apparent cultural vacuity I now live in, compared with the strong cultures I lived in when I was young.  I expect I will offend readers who are young now, as what I am writing may seem to be criticism of their world.  Elders criticized my generation when I was growing up, and it is a perennial fact of existence that elders criticize the young–it’s in the Renaissance Book of the Courtier.  But we rebelled against our elders, and their disapproval was a kind of badge of honor.  I am not criticizing young people.  As an olding man, I enjoy the company of the young.  But I’m not happy with the blandness I see around me in society.  It’s an easy way to live, but growing up in a world steeped in philosophy, with strongly held values, the world in which I now find myself is as bland as bread without gluten.