This has been a hard summer for us, financially, and when things are hard financially I find myself ruminating on money almost constantly, and even talking about it with other people despite money being a more taboo topic, in some circles, than sex. I obsess about it, frankly, constantly doing the math, trying to figure out how to spread this much money over this many needs, looking ahead to future weeks and months when we can pay for this or get that done or finish doing this thing. And at times like this it's easy to fall into the trap of “what-if” thinking.
Before I met Jeremy, he studied to be a chemical engineer. Being fluent in Mandarin he could have made at least $100K right out of graduation, if he'd stuck with that path, with limitless income potential. Instead he became a teacher. So there are times when I have to talk him down from self-doubt and remind him that, in addition to $150,000 a year, he'd be working 'round the clock in lifeless labor. He'd hardly see the kids, our family roles would be deeply divided, we'd have to live in a major city, and if all that is not bad enough, he'd most likely be working for Monsanto.
I have doubts, too. Why did I have kids right away instead of going to medical school? But questions like that are worse than worthless. The reverberations of our choices cannot be dismissed, and in this case, I might be cash-poor but I'm love-rich. The same applies to Jeremy becoming a teacher instead of a chemical engineer. Cash-poor. Love-rich. Blessed.
Of course, plenty of people find ways to “have it all.” They make buckets of money in work that nourishes the soul and have all the free time they like. But I don't know many people like that. Seems like compromises are inevitable. If it's money you want, you have to work like crazy to get it and make sacrifices when it comes to your family and the stuff you really like to do. If you want to serve your community and be around for your kids, your career might have to take a backseat.
I've kept our expenses down, focused on developing practical skills, and supported Jeremy in the work he loves. But I've still hoped to find something, some work that could bring in actual money while leaving me free to be around for my family.
Jeremy loves to cream me for judging my worthiness as a human being by a capitalist rubric. He argues that I need to stop considering my efforts useless if they don't provide an income. This has been a major struggle for me. I don't believe in gender roles whereby men work in the world, for society, and women work in the home, for the family. In my estimation and experience we're happier doing both, sharing the load. But I haven't found work that allows me to serve society alongside my family. Lard knows I've tried, but it hasn't happened.
Several months ago I found myself in a constant panic about our financial future, which led to the tentative decision that I would go back to school to study something in health care, probably nursing. At the time I was less concerned about how I would pay for school or how I would find the time to attend or study than I was about traffic accidents, pediatric cancer, devastated economies, and my helplessness in all cases. It seemed a very adult thing to do, picking a career based on employability and income and running with it. I was in a similar situation as now, panicked about every eventuality, wracked with guilt and self-doubt, which is a never a good place to make decisions.
Problems arose almost immediately. My first conceptions of the nursing program were uninformed. I thought it would be a 3-year program, but my prerequisites were too old, adding 18 months. Once I had those finished, I learned, less than 20% of nursing school applicants are accepted, by lottery, once a year. Clinicals would take place as far away as the Bay area, requiring four hours of commuting every day on top of 40 hours a week of classes and 20 hours a week of study. I'm a tough lady in some ways, but not that tough. I knew without a doubt that I didn't have the passion, resources, or fortitude to make this work.
I researched the LVN program and a few other health care positions, but then I started working at the farm and my interest in going back to school just petered out. Jeremy's colleagues entertained the possibility of restoring benefits, and I found that I really loved working on a farm, as I hoped I would. So my plans required recalibration. Again.
|What do I do now?|
Jeremy has the interesting philosophy that human life experiences can be divided into sevens. The first seven years of life represents one growth cycle, then the next seven, and the next, and so on throughout one's lifespan. Each growth cycle has a specific function, something to be accomplished before the next begins. The cycle that begins at the age of 28 is when one's "true life purpose" rises to the surface, and the desire to redirect one's life for that purpose kicks into gear. Jeremy cites 28 as the year he left his religion, decided to be a Waldorf teacher, and a few other major life changes. And maybe it's some philosophical placebo affect, but I feel some intentions of my own funneling and filtering and distilling down into one pinpoint of light.
In the past year I've arrived at many compromises, moments when I've taken a deep breath and just let it go. Like buying land and building a small house. Maybe it's not going to happen right now. I want to stay here, where land prices are outrageous, and I have serious conflicts about bank loans and mortgages (who doesn't, at this point in history?). So I've tried to focus on essentials: why do I want land? I want to grow food. So that's why we're here, renting this tiny decrepit cabin. We don't own it – our name will never be on this title – but the ultimate purpose can be carried out here, and maybe that has to be enough.
And thanks to a few books, as recommended by Maggie, I've come 'round to an unsettled compromise on paid work, too. I've taken a few small jobs at my kids' school, jobs that will bring in enough income for us to be comfortable while freeing me up to work in the garden and be around for my family. If my plans work out, as far as Broke Ass Farm is concerned, we'll have a small income from that direction, too – at least enough to justify doing it all day, which is what I'd be happiest doing.
We live “simply” (although it's really rather complicated!) for oh-so many reasons, the most practical of which is that it's wise to keep our cost of living down. Over the eight years we've been together, our cost of living has slowly crept up, from a $600/month one-bedroom apartment to an $1100/month three-bedroom house and beyond, from simple homemade food to lavish dinners, from buses and trains to a car loan. And now we're scaling back, seeking a measure of safety, a humble existence, which is a wise thing to have while living in a declining society. Having been through a catastrophic job loss at a relatively high cost of living, I am very cautious about elevating our standards beyond the essentials.
And I never want to lose sight of what's really important in life. Even when the poverty line seemed stratospherically high above us, we had love. This is not to aggrandize poverty. Involuntary poverty can make a person small and mean and bitter. But a chosen path that emphasizes relationships and stability over conspicuous consumption, even at the expense of many luxuries, can crystallize personal intention while tightening bonds of family and community.
I live in a very interesting town, one that is, in some ways, amazingly evolved, despite the way most people here struggle to survive. The differences might seem small from the outside, but from within I'm constantly surprised. Before I lived here I might have said that people are essentially the same everywhere, but I don't believe that anymore. People here are different. I'm different, since being here, and I want to embrace the spirit of this place, which is entirely about love, and solidarity.
What I don't want to do is operate from fear any longer. I don't want to lie awake at night thinking about childhood leukemia and spinal injuries and how to get in good with Kaiser Permanente before either occurs. I want to feel, for the first time ever, like everything will be okay if I just keep moving in the direction I feel pulled – even if there's no second car in that direction, no mortgage, no letters after my name, no stock portfolio (whatever that is).