Monday, March 1, 2010

Time is Wealth

Though bleak, Bageant's article also contains an implied upside: history provides a valuable wake-up call for us all if we dare to heed it. Still, Bageant's article lacks any solution that might help us supersede centuries of economic repression.

What struck me is Bageant's claim that no matter how much we yearn to shed the confinement of material possessions, none of us want to be part of what he calls the "We don't own shit society".

I'm the first to admit, the thought of being a "have-not" often makes my stomach a "have-knot". But today, I ask the question: "What is so awful about not owning a bunch of stuff?"

I am beginning to see a glimmer of a kind of freedom that I could enjoy independent of material things.  The only way to obtain this freedom is to shed the mindset that says, "If I don't have impressive possessions, nobody will take me seriously, nobody will think I'm a success, nobody will perceive me as valuable, nobody will be my friend, etc., ad nauseam."

That  mindset - the limiting, middle class mindset that neurotically asks "what will the neighbors think?" -  is the main obstacle that initially prevented me from acknowledging - and enjoying - the benefits of my new lifestyle. 

As my bankruptcy proceeding nears completion, I find myself asking, "What will my personal recovery look like?" At first, I pictured it as a reacquisition of all those material goods I lost: a spacious, stylish home, a deck surrounded by trees, matching dinner plates, a late-model car, vacations, electronic devices.

Sure, I'd love to have all those things again. But a new question has invaded my internal discourse: "What will the reclamation of all that stuff cost me?

Artist Willem de Kooning once said, "The trouble with being poor is that it takes up all your time." I have lost a home and have had to tighten my belt dramatically. I eat a lot more rice and a lot less meat. I only shop for necessities, and even those must be bargains. I may have lost all the trappings of a middle-class lifestyle, but oddly enough, I don't consider myself to be poor. There's one significant perk I have gained during the downturn: the luxury of time.

When my graphic design business was at its most successful, I worked 70-80 hours a week. I was on a first-name basis with the nice people who cleaned my office at 1 a.m. I had bought into to the system so completely that I wore my workaholic lifestyle like a badge of honor. I was constantly stressed, I ate poorly, and worst of all, I felt guilty if I took time off to try and enjoy myself. 

25 years ago, I equated spare time with not earning, and not earning with failure. What the hell was I thinking?

Today, I enjoy every moment of spare time my new lifestyle affords. I linger outdoors in the middle of a mild day, sitting in the sun and listening to the birds. I like being able to write a blog post or pick up my fiddle when the mood overtakes me. I have ample time to spend with my family - my precious girls Beth and Rebecca. I meditate every day. I breathe slowly and calmly. If rebuilding my financial life means sacrificing these things, forget it.

Everyone has heard the saying "Time is money". I'm beginning to appreciate an alternative quote attributed to a Surry County, NC musician named Paul Sutphin: "Time is music". 

Appreciating the extra time I can now afford has transformed the rhythm of my lifestyle into one that supports my health and happiness. I'm still working out the kinks, but on the good days, I find balance - buoyant, blissful balance. That's music to my ears!

It doesn't mean I've given up on regaining some of what I've lost. Hopefully, I will. But if I do increase my level of material prosperity, I pledge that it won't be at the expense of my newly-found treasures, balance and time.

My revised definition of freedom entails 1) releasing any material wealth that no longer serves me and 2) not giving two fucks about appearances. I use strong words because I think it'll take a fair amount of belligerent defiance on my part to live this declaration.

It's time to embrace only what works for me, and if my lifestyle appears odd or disheveled to those looking in, so be it. If need be, I'm perfectly content to be the guy wearing second-hand clothes with a big smile on his face.

16th-century English metaphysical poet and clergyman George Herbert once said, "Living well is the best revenge". I think Herbert understood the opulence of spare time and the catharsis of self acceptance.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I encourage you to comment on my blog. All comments will be moderated to eliminate trolls and spammers.