Friday, August 11, 2006



Wow, that’s a blunt title. If you could see me right now, you’d see me trying to look away.

I’m not exactly sure why. It’s not like money was a forbidden topic while I was growing up. On the contrary—money stumbled to the kitchen for breakfast, money fried up the plantains, money sat on the couch and drank beer with my father after a long day. Money consciousness was everywhere—and there was never enough of it. My parents dreamed of the day that they’d be able to afford the many luxuries they saw on television—or the day we’d be able to afford them in their stead.

Perhaps my greatest form of rebellion against my parents is to disagree, fundamentally, with their opinions on money and how essential it is to have a lot of it.

Of course, their message sunk in anyway, and suffered a sea change that I am only now dimly beginning to understand. See, I’ve always thought around money—worrying over specific bills, thinking about my own class issues. But I never really faced the way money shades every aspect of my life—how completely it lives in my shadow. On the surface, it’s simple—money is bad, a necessary evil with the emphasis on the evil part. I noted approvingly (and a little smugly) that most world philosophies and religions agreed with me. I would live my life unfettered by such material considerations! I would choose a career based on love and passion, not ever thinking about money! I would go to the expensive school, trusting that somehow I’d find the money to pay all of those school loans, even though the field of publishing is not known for being financially remunerative.

But this holy head toss about money masked a deep fascination with it—and a fear. I’ve always loved THINGS—beauty made tangible. When I was younger, I’d arrange and rearrange my small treasures, touch them like talismans, rotate them depending on my need.

I love objects and I hate that I love them. So I practice a form of asceticism, pretend I am above all that. Tell myself that I’ll prove that I deserve something I desire by learning how to make it (and alas, I never do). I’ll chastise myself for wanting something popular—am I a sheep? If I were really cool, creative, artistic, smart, fill in the blank—I wouldn’t need objects to validate that fact. Sure, I see all around that people use things to display something of their personality to the world. But, isn’t that a failing, somehow? Are we really the sum of all of our things? I feel in my heart that my answer is mostly a "yes" and I feel ashamed.

Meanwhile, I go around and around, putting off most purchases and suffering almost unbearable buyer's remorse on those few occasions I finally give in. I am the opposite of a conspicuous consumer. I am a material anorexic.

So I’ve long longed for money, but I never wanted to do anything to really earn it, fearing that it would compromise me, or sell a part of me that I could never get back.

On a deep level, I didn’t believe I could earn it. I didn’t believe I could offer something that people would want to pay for—that was what adults did. I didn’t believe that I could take care of myself, so while my friends from college made plans to move out of their parents’ homes and into small apartments crowded with roommates in outrageously expensive NYC, I stayed at home, congratulating myself on my good sense.

I watched them enviously. I could no more imagine paying all of those expenses on my own than I could imagine flying to Jupiter. I did the right things, I suppose, but always with that insidious little whisper in the background, I can’t afford it. I can’t take care of myself. No one will value me because I can’t do anything.

Oh, sure, I lived a good life those first years after college. Traveled, worked, had dinners out and movie dates. But the truth was, I didn’t pay for those trips—TEG did. He paid for most of our dates, movies—bought me books and CDs and leather coats and jewelry. He paid for most of our fairly expensive wedding. He paid for my first trip to India. Always, the refrain—he paid, he paid, he pays. And sadly, this makes me feel safe—like it’s fine to spend HIS money, but not mine (a moot point with a joint bank account--and sadly, I don't even know how much we have in the bank). My mother always wanted to be with a financially successful man—saw that as the way a woman achieved security and success for herself. She taught me that a woman should always have a sneaky little nest egg, caged from household accounts and hoarded from her "allowance" and that the man should pay for everything to show that he cares. I suppose that she saw that as the way a woman could wrest some control from a situation where she was essentially dependent and subservient.

I shudder to think that I have followed her script only too well. I don't pay our bills. I no longer have my own 401K or IRA account. My eyes glaze over when TEG shows me the spreadsheet. I thought this freed me to follow my happiness without worrying about money. Instead, I think about money, and power, and how I wish I had some more of both, all of the time.

So what do I contribute to our lives? I know money isn’t the most important thing—hell, I’ve spent most of my life loudly affirming that even as I repressed my own shadow desires for money and what it represented. Freedom. A way of propelling myself into the world. A way of being surrounded by things I love. Learning to depend of myself and stand up for myself, without endless compromises that really end up as me giving in completely. A way around the cognitive dissonance of considering myself a feminist, and living like a dependent child.

So much for me to face. When I do my mirror meditation, I see a woman who is waiting for her Fairy Godmother, or for ANYONE to take care of her. I see a woman who denies herself almost a matter of a course, so that the word "no" is the drumbeat of her days. I see a woman who desires and wants and needs, and feels powerless, and indecisive, and resents herself.

Why do I feel so much ambivalence about money? Somehow superior to those who have it and frankly enjoy it, but knowing that it’s a lie—this ascesticism is not rewarding, it’s not spiritual. It’s dour and soul killing. It just makes me feel endless lack, a hunger, and a fear that if I relax this death grip on myself for one second, I’ll spend every penny we have to feed this gaping maw of want.

In many ways, money rules my life just as much as it ever ruled my parents.

I don’t even know where to begin to heal my rift with money.

Sorry for the somewhat rambling nature of this post. I’m still puzzling this out, trying to name it somehow. I'm not sure I've done it here.



Blogger Ally Bean said...

me too. the same attitudes from my childhood. the same self-denial. the same someone else looking out for me. the same low-level sense of despair.

i resent money for making me feel so bad, yet crave what it can give me. it's a never-ending source of cognitive dissonance for me and most of the woman that I know.

if you find the key to it, please share it with us.

7:10 AM, August 11, 2006  
Blogger Star said...

I can relate on a different level. I grew up with the same eye to frugality; the farming life doesn't lend itself to a sense of security.

Now I find myself in a marriage where both of us work and can make ends meet. But I long to do something creative with my life, spend my days doing something that will bring smiles to the faces of others (of course, I'm not sure what that something would be), but I never get farther than just dreaming about it and pull back from identifying what that something might be specifically because cutting our income in half would be like shooting ourselves in the foot.

I don't want to live from day to day wondering if we'll be able to pay the bills, knowing that if I had kept the good job I have we would be fine. And so I stay in my job and wish for someone to give me a winning lottery ticket.

Money, money, money...

10:08 AM, August 11, 2006  
Blogger deirdre said...

"When I was younger, I’d arrange and rearrange my small treasures" I had to smile when I read this, an image of my younger self arranging my own small treasures flashed through my mind. So much of this post rings true for me and I wonder how much of the experience is true of immigrant families. I struggle to walk a narrow line of not wanting too much stuff and loving my grownup treasures.

11:08 AM, August 11, 2006  
Blogger paris parfait said...

Very thoughtful post. I've always struggled with money - either there's not enough or there's plenty and I spend it. As a single mom, it was a real struggle. So worrying about money infused many aspects of my life. It's always an underlying worry, probably because of those years when I struggled. It's true that most Americans would rather discuss politics, sex or religion - all the "taboo" subjects - than money.

11:46 AM, August 11, 2006  
Blogger paris parfait said...

Oh and the thing about money is to have enough to buy one's freedom - to make choices and do things without having to ask permission. I think never spending money is the flip side of the coin (spending too much money).

11:47 AM, August 11, 2006  
Blogger M said...

I have a distorted relationship with money as well - I don't even know how to put it into words really. I've just struggled with feeling I deserve to be financially independent, hating my student loan debt, and wishing like you to be able to just buy things without guilt. Thank you for being so honest as always! We will find a way to work through this, somehow.
(let me know if you do!!)

11:53 AM, August 11, 2006  
Blogger Colorsonmymind said...

So I’ve long longed for money, but I never wanted to do anything to really earn it, fearing that it would compromise me, or sell a part of me that I could never get back.

Oh my-I am in a moment of oh my goodness-I relate to this woman so freakin much it is blowing my mind....

Great post and I am just nodding my head

especially about the part where if you gave in you are afraid "I’ll spend every penny we have to feed this gaping maw of want.

I have this fear about money and other things too.


12:21 PM, August 11, 2006  
Anonymous Jen said...

Hi, love the title of your site. I found you through Pixie.

I struggle with this one too. I did come across a book that talks about the psych issues regarding money. Although some of the things in this book seem a little (or lot)materialistic, the general message about our conditioning while growing up is a good one. Like "money doesn't grow on trees!" You should be able to find it on Amazon. "Secrets of a Millionaire Mind"
Love your site!

6:37 PM, August 11, 2006  
Anonymous beansprout said...

Thank you for this very powerful post. Your words: "I see a woman who denies herself almost a matter of a course, so that the word "no" is the drumbeat of her days. I see a woman who desires and wants and needs, and feels powerless, and indecisive, and resents herself." They describe me...only my post would be entitled "LOVE" instead of money.

7:08 PM, August 11, 2006  
Blogger Jessie said...

Thea quoted you on the exact same things I was going to. I guess you tapped into something here that many of us can relate to.

Personally, I want everything. But at the same time I want simplicity. I want to have enough time and money to travel, write, make art, dress stylishly, have a good car, travel some more, own a house, or two, and fill them up with fine things, I want a cute this or a cool that...yet these are exactly the things (minus traveling, writing, and making art) that make me feel like I am drowning in a sea of empty, lonely, heavy, hollowness.

Money confuses the hell out of me. That's that.

11:33 PM, August 11, 2006  
Blogger Alexandra G said...

Thank you so much for sharing this. We all have relationships with money, for better or worse, and I can relate to so much of what you wrote. I think my mom could have written this too if she'd admit it. As the youngest child who grew up in a family where my dad made all the money and my mom never worked outside the home, I can vouch wholeheartedly that she contributed JUST as much as my father did. BOTH were irreplaceable. That said, it sounds like you are growing shifty with the power/money dynamics and I just wanted to let you know I have faith you will take the steps you want to as you are ready. Sanaya Roman wrote a really interesting book about money but I can't remember the title any longer. You are such an extraordinary person as clearly evidenced in your posts over the months.

9:10 PM, August 12, 2006  
Anonymous Fern said...

Great, thought provoking post...

Oh girl, you are not alone. I think everyone who isn't born into money can relate to having issues with it.
I chose a career because I knew it would pay well and I absolutely loathe it lately. Money has led me to this desolate place where I can't breathe or think or feel, and it's frustrating.
So what happens when you can pay the bills but you feel like you're creatively dead because of the means you use to do it?
Blah. To heck with it, lets all go get some tea...who's paying? ;)

1:27 AM, August 13, 2006  
Blogger AmberCake said...

Wow. Yeah. Shit. Money. Totally struck true with me, too, especially the bits about how it controls your life and "I see a woman who denies herself almost a matter of a course, so that the word "no" is the drumbeat of her days. I see a woman who desires and wants and needs, and feels powerless, and indecisive, and resents herself."

I don't typically think of this as being about Money, I think of me being so good at and so happy with being a chameleon and going along with whatever's going on and not wanting to explain myself if I want to do my own thing, say my own thing, have my own quiet or my own fun. But Money is SO BIG. And I have a Money Man, too. And it's so so so so so so hard to have my own relationship with money when he makes so much of ours. And of course, he can't trust my Money sense (which used to be so good, dammit, I never used to have all these crazy fussings about Money - or come off with the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia - not nearly so many, and I didn't let them paralyze me like this).

It's so much easier, too, or it was for me, when you're younger and less attached - to other people, to a place, to a life, to the things you like, to the idea of yourself and how you fit into our consumerist lifestyle - to let it go, to move forward, to forget about the financial aspects of our worries and decisions and trust that Money will take care of itself.

One of the best things my mother ever taught me was that Money is like a muscle - use it and you get more. And it does seem to work that way, maybe mostly for those of us who worry about it. Because you use it to enable you to move forward with things (home renovation, travel, buying more comic books, whatever), and then you find that ah, hell, that was silly, next time I won't even feel like doing that! Or you find ah, hell, it feels like a million bucks to walk into that kitchen, and you're a person who does stuff and why don't you go ahead and just get some other stuff done while you're at it?

Oh, anyway.

Hope that's helpful or interesting to you - your post was definitely both for me.

5:13 PM, August 22, 2006  

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