Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Money Monster (When I Grow Up . . . )

At nearly forty years of age, I’m, once again, sitting on my sofa questioning what I want to be when I “grow up”.

Right now I’m dissatisfied with my life. I’m thirty-eight years old, and admit I haven’t a dime in savings that is my own. No. I spent my savings on our wedding, on moving from the East Coast back to the West Coast, on supplementing the low paying job I accepted once I returned to California in order to escape working in the cult otherwise known as the film industry (of which I am convinced gave me PTSD with it’s perpetual long hours, disregard for human life, and egos much too large to ever please).

“We” have savings. But not really. It’s his. I don’t have the option to say, “I’m going to take $300 out of savings and stay at the Four-Seasons in Santa Barbara for a treat tonight,” or “I’m going to take $10 out of savings to send a used book to my half-sister as a gift,” or even, “Enough with the worry lines, I’m getting Botox.” We’re a team. And whatever consequences I reap, we both must endure (frozen face included). It’s frustrating. Yes, I sound like a child throwing a tantrum. But please, hear me out (if you have the heart and patience for first world problems). I feel I’ve worked hard for many years and have nothing to show for it, other than the few deep horizontal lines on my forehead and the low whispers of desperation I hear in my mind when I have an inspirational thought I must instantly reject due to my current financial situation.

I am embarrassed to say (but what the hell, I’ll say it) that when I was in my early twenties, I was convinced I’d be financially successful by my current age. I’d worked hard to become a stand-up comic–surely I’d reach Ellen DeGeneres’ level of success by thirty-five—a house in Ojai and in Beverly Hills, ya, I could dig that. Surely I’d have my own television show or at least be good enough to participate in political discussions with Bill Maher. Though I wasn’t necessarily loving the idea of being known by all and having my sacred privacy ripped out from under me as others I’d known had experienced, I knew it would be a small price to pay in order to be assured I could go home to my humble yet cozy beach house where my loyal dogs and full library would be equally happy to see me. My white down comforter and candles would be calling my name by midnight, after an extra long soak in the bubble bath where I’d read a chapter of an intriguing story. All bills paid and vacation to a quaint cabin in the middle of Canada booked. I’d be safe and secure, without a worry, especially the kind surrounding the one force that I’d feared since I was a child—the almighty dollar.

Money was a monster, or so I was taught. It was frightening and all-powerful, but we couldn’t run from it because as much as we feared and hated it, we desperately needed and depended on it. And because of that dire need, we all made an unspoken agreement to be lowly slaves to it. And now, as an adult, I thought I’d long escaped its sharp talons, yet I find as I sit in my full anxiety today with the brainwashed mind of a domestic abuse victim, I am still money’s slave.

I’m not struggling to pay the bills as Mum did when I was growing up. She’d say, “Which bill should we pay this month? No lights or no heat?” Somehow a twelve pack of beer was never a concern, though. She’d say, “We don’t have money to send you to college, so drop it.” “We don’t have money to get your senior photos taken. I don’t care if it’s only $5.00.” “We don’t have $10 for that field trip, so no, you’re not goin’. End of story.”

No. Not any more. Thanks to the combined incomes of my hardworking hubby and I, the bills here are paid. I don’t have to fret returning home after a long day to find a yellow shut-off notice from the electric company posted on my front door. There’s never a time I turn on the shower shocked to find only freezing cold water. No government cheese and food stamps for us. Nope. My current complaint is about the freedom I’ve sought since I was a little girl—the freedom to look beyond paying bills and having necessities, and the ability to look forward to vacations, friendly visits, and comforting meals out. Having “the monster” makes the quiet times about the excitement of planning for fun times rather than struggling and worrying over bleak ones.

I was born into this slavery—I didn’t choose it. And though in many ways I’ve come up out of the mud and mire by learning how to manage my own finances and paying off all debt, like many of those who grew up during the great depression still can’t be convinced toilet paper is strictly a single-use item, I can’t seem to shake the hold it has over me.

I love to write. When I did stand up comedy, my favorite part of the process was writing because I’d get lost in it and everything I observed in life—whether it be the disgusting pink hue of an old woman’s strangely inappropriate attire, or the obviously confused fake Southern drawl of the café barista, I had a purpose, and that purpose was to write down anything and everything I saw. It may or may not have become something grand, but writing it down gave me a purpose, a motivation for leaving the house, for being out in public and interacting with others (not my natural forte at all, by the way—I take introversion to an extreme).  Writing makes me feel high—really high. A really good, happy high. How quickly I forget it is the only thing to bring me up a level higher than the usual melancholic existence I’ve reluctantly held claim to since my early youth. And yet, I find I’ll go a week or more without doing it and in my seemingly hopeless stupor I’ll ignorantly ask myself once again, “What am I doing with my life?” I’ll say, “I’m not happy. I feel like my skin is crawling. I’m anxious.” I assume those who have taken a liking to working out regularly and eating well feel this way after taking a week or two (or year) off. It feels horrible. I feel trapped and stupid for not remembering to take my daily dose of writing seriously. I’ve also, in my creeping, crawling skin, been known to say something along the lines of, “I can’t accept a life that is all about working at a (dead end) job, eating, sleeping, and going back to work, then dying! There has to be more to life for people than this!”  

Not that there is anything wrong with that kind of life. Some people strive for that, and I admire them for it. Whatever floats your boat, I say.

And just before I curl up into the fetal position ready to have that spectacular pity party (aren’t you jealous?), somehow truth whispers in my ear and reminds me of the passion that lies beneath the crawling skin, beneath the anxious heart, and beneath the never-been-botoxed worry filled forehead. I pick up my computer. Or, by golly, a pen and a notebook. And it happens. Magic.

What does writing have to do with money?  Depending on whom you ask, everything and nothing. Stephen King wrote in (the most amazing, must read memoir on the craft) “On Writing”: “I’ve written because it fulfilled me. Maybe it paid off the mortgage on the house and got the kids through college, but those things were on the side–I did it for the buzz. I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for joy, you can do it forever.”

Time and time again I’ve been told, advised, etc. that your passion should never be about the money, but about the “buzz” and the good it brings to yourself and perhaps others in the process. And often I put my writing aside because “the monster” will poke his head out of the muck and let me know how important it is that I have him in my life. And I work hard, and come home tired, and forget to write. And feel like (excuse my honesty) shit. I forget I am working so I can write.
. . . .

 Well, my skin isn’t crawling. I feel pretty good actually. I just wrote 1,480 words in less than an hour. And I didn’t get any poorer doing it. Electricity is still on. Water is still hot. Down comforter still white. I can finish the laundry. Put together a fantastic meal. Perhaps no planning for that quiet cabin vacation among the wild moose of Canada, but I can certainly sit back down at my computer and get high . . . any time I want (and take brief breaks by viewing online photos of cabins in Canada and their accompanying neighborly moose).


David Henise said...

I can't fully understand all the reasons why I can agree with this post. But I do. Sure, not on all details - I don't share your life. But so much of your sentiment while you wind your way through your childhood and money matters and writing, I just feel like I "get". As an autistic natural-writer who's been struggling with aging and feelings of incompetency, fitting into how others think about success and money, and sometimes forgetting to put the horse before the cart, I'm happy to have come across you (via a link to your interview on, if you're curious). My best to you...

Brandy Nightingale said...

Thanks for stopping by, David! I appreciate your comment - your honesty and openness is welcomed. Cheers~ b.