Sunday, July 23, 2006

Fargo, Revisited

There's more to life than a little money. Don't you know that?

"Fargo" was on AMC last night, and I had it on, not least because I really like that movie. In general, I don't usually like the Coen brothers' productions--I HATED "Barton Fink"--but "Fargo" is nearly perfect. The above quote sums up the whole movie.

Flip side, though--and, because it's me, you knew there was one; what else could I do with that undergraduate degree in philosophy?--there is some minimum. I read an interchange today where someone was bitching about not having enough money . . . and she was paying $7,000/month in rent, $2,000/month for eating out, etc. I can't imagine that; I have no idea what position one must be in, or the conditions under which one must have lived one's whole life, to say that with a straight face, not least because she spends in two months what I'll earn this year.

But the ensuing discussion did make me remember what I hate about the situation I'm in now: I constantly think about money. Not fantasies about having more, not resentment of people who have more, but a constant accounting: I have this much coming in; I have to pay that bill; don't forget to leave some wiggle room for the other thing; how extravagant can I be at the grocery store this week. For about two or three years in there, I didn't have to account for every fucking penny, or even every dollar, really. I didn't change all that much about my life, except I went out to dinner a little more and paid less attention to the prices when I did so, and I paid much less attention to how much was in the grocery cart when I went shopping at Whole Paycheck. But now I'm back to my previous life, when I do a running total in my head of the grocery cart's contents, where I account for what I'm spending, where I leave some wiggle room, where I wonder if this or that will tide me over.

And I hate it. I don't care, right this minute, if it makes me sound hopelessly bourgeois and middle-class. Yes, I know there are millions of people living in unspeakable poverty, or in the midst of unthinkable war zones, or both. I don't think my circumstances are somehow worse than those circumstances--quite the contrary. But we all have to play the hands we're dealt. I thank my stars/deities/luck all the damned time that I'm not living in Lebanon, or Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Congo, or the west side of this city, or Zimbabwe, or any of a number of other places. Given that I'm here, now, though, I just want to say that I hate this penny-counting, I hate how it occupies my mind, I hate how it constrains me (including constraining what I feel like I can give away), and I hate how bad it makes me feel for hating it. It's like an addiction, in the way that an addict spends a tremendous amount of time thinking about getting and using his/her drug, whether that drug is alcohol, cigarettes, heroin or something else. The other approach, I suppose, would be to be all la-la-la about it, but, in part thanks to my upbringing, I'm congenitally incapable of that. At least I know how to do it, and at least I know how to live (relatively) frugally, and I even know how to make it bearable most of the time. Just not right this minute.

6 Comments:

Blogger kStyle said...

Maybe you can find an approach in the middle, a relaxed awareness, a mindful accounting...

1:42 PM  
Blogger Emma Goldman said...

Yeah, I'm actually trying to work on that. I think it's because it's all been so sudden, I feel like I've been thrown back into it. When I step back, I realize it's not as bad as it was before . . .

4:38 PM  
Anonymous terrilynn said...

I'm in somewhat the same situation (recent separation included) and it's absolutely draining. For my part, there's also no little amount of irritation with myself that YET AGAIN, I find myself in this position, and that is heavy baggage. It's really easy for me to lose perspective when I go down that path.

I hope things get a little easier for you soon.

6:35 AM  
Anonymous dave, not craw said...

At least you have a job, Em. I'm making squat right now. I don't have any money to count, just debt. And today I get to borrow another chunk of change from a good friend of mine to cover my rent and our COBRA payment for next month (money she wouldn't even have to loan to me if it weren't for the fact that both her parents died within the last 11 months). I don't want to get into the Jaws conversation where we compare scars, but... I'd rather be doing something else except sitting here in front of my computer, chumming the waters with all of the resumes I'm sending out to companies that will never call me. Making croissants looks pretty good to me right about now.

3:14 PM  
Anonymous rootlesscosmo said...

There's an ongoing theme about What Ever Happened to the Left in this country. I have questions about the way the topic is defined, but besides that, I think it's not sufficiently appreciated--by people of my generation (I'm 64) or those born 20 and 30 years later--how incredibly easy we had it economically. Historians (E.J. Hobsbawm for one) call the period 1945-73 the Golden Age of the capitalist world, and so it was--if you look at things like annual growth rates, unemployment figures, indices of comfort like car ownership in Italy or TVs per capita in Japan, it's amazing. And it's anomalous--we who were young at the time thught, as young people always do think, that life was this way, that you could work at a dull job a year or so, save your mney (because living wasn't expensive if you were young and childless), take off for Europe or Mexico, come back when the money was gone and get another job right away, and a cheap apartment, and a clunker car, and carry on. So if our brand-new political views seemed to dictate that we go to work in an auto plant or move into a communal flat in Newark NJ or take to the woods and forage for roots and berries, sure, why not, what the hell, if it doesn't work out we'll just come back to Cambridge or Berkeley or Ann Arbor and get another clerical job at a research institute... maybe even re-enroll in grad school, there are plenty of grants and RA-ships going.

Old New Lefties--some at least--are still trying to find someone to blame for the disintegration of the 60's Left. It was the Weatherpeople, or the Maoists, or Cointelpro, or (the Todd Gitlin version) "identity politics"--i.e. uppity Black folk and militant feminists. But the 60's Left fell apart in Mexico and Tokyo and France and Greece and Prague all about the same time; it can't all have been the fault of Bernardine Dohrn or Kate Millett or Stokely Carmchael, can it?

I'm very gloomy about the tough conditions you face, Emma G; nobody should have to live like that, and nobody should blame people in your situation if they can't indulge the fine rrrrevolutionary gestures we liked to make forty years ago.

11:23 PM  
Anonymous rootlesscosmo said...

I should clarify that the "we" that had it easy was my lot, not our successors. "Boomers" is the wrong term--I was born during the war, not after, and the last ten years or so of the Boomer cohort left high school just about in time for Prop. 13 and Reaganomics.

12:25 AM  

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