Archive for July, 2008
There’s a story behind my decision to read Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, but now is not the time to tell it. Now is the time to say this: it must, must be the lovechild of Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Nigel Slater’s Toast–the two books met on a shelf somewhere, had a torrid affair, and spawned a Winterson novel. (I do realize Slater wrote Toast quite a bit after Oranges, but it’s still a tempting thought).
It’s the summer of the ice cream van. Maybe I was oblivious last year but the ice cream van wasn’t around half as much as it is now. All day, every day: the inanity of the song, as it weaves in and out of our neighborhood streets. I can’t even hum it now; it’s just a constant backdrop.
You know that old Coldplay song that goes, “we live in a beautiful world……”?
Don’t we indeed?
I think it’s time for me to come clean about something–and I may as well do it publicly, because as many times as I tell myself in private, it never quite seems to sink in.
Here it is: I’m shit with money.
I’m not, like some of the best minds of my generation, mired in student loans, or credit card debt. No. The problem is that it isn’t that simple. I don’t owe anyone money; I have enough stored up to get by, and though I’m in a bubble of unemployed bliss at the moment, I have the capacity to get a job and keep it. I have a university degree and am on my way to another. If you put all that together, it spells someone grounded, someone with a stock of cash in a bank somewhere and a clear sense of how to budget.
At the very least, it spells someone who’s been given a chance at a clean financial slate. And that’s just it: for no good reason at all, I’ve blown my chance. Is it because I’m a girl? I never can resist that cute new dress in the window, or the perfect handbag, or the must-have shoes of the season. I think garments have my name on them (and some of them, as you’ll see from the picture, literally do!). Or is it because I’m young and carefree? I like being able to buy a round of drinks at the pub or a meal out for no good reason. Maybe it’s because the exchange rate is painfully not in my favor, or because I spent three months a year ago living abroad off my savings and nothing else. Maybe it’s because, for whatever reason, I’m more afraid of stinginess than starvation.
Fundamentally, I think it’s because it’s hard to think of myself as poor when I live like I do. I don’t just mean that I feel rich, emotionally–I do, but that isn’t the point. The point is that I have a sleek apple laptop, and a digital camera, and expensive jeans, and the two of us live in a three bedroom, two-storey house with an expanse of garden out back and four fireplaces. We jet off to California for a month and though I cringe at the $1,000 tickets (nearly twice what I paid just six months ago) I pay up anyway–cringing is a very different thing, after all, from not being able.
I sometimes don’t know how to reconcile the financial reality of my life with my life itself: how is all of this possible when we pay our rent late every single month because we always just barely have enough? Once, in a money-induced panic, we looked at moving, but it isn’t significantly cheaper to rent a shabby bedsit, and we came to the conclusion that the problem is us, not where we live.
What frightens me is that there’s a point where it stops being the relative poverty of youth–a glamorous poverty, if there can be such a thing, a state of lacking in which you feel the pressure not as a weight but as an incentive, a driving force–and becomes simple poverty. The possibility that we might actually run out of money completely–no longer cringing, simply unable–is real, and only gets realer with each month, each year, each pound spent. If I know what my life looks like from the outside in, and I know that I love it, how do I preserve it?
I don’t know if it’s possible to feel the grip of seriousness until it’s too late–having never known before what life looks like with an utterly empty bank account, I go on living as if I never will know, and hope that I won’t.
I’m feeling more human. Last night we had one of our epic Sunday meals. We’re pinching pennies so it was meatless, but what I find as an ex-vegetarian is that meatless meals feel just as natural as any other kind. The crown jewel was the pudding–boiled pears drizzled in chocolate and chili, which we followed with coffee and calvados, which is nicest if you don’t put too much of the spirit in (I did). It was a warm evening so we ate in the garden.
While we were cooking, we shared a jug of Pimms. I wanted to know what my life looked like from the outside. I went to the far reaches of the garden; I could see the terraced houses of East Oxford just starting to light up, and the potato plants that have begun to droop onto the walkway, and the window to the spare bedroom, and the garden shed that houses a broken bicycle, a bird’s nest, a veritable lace net of cobwebs, a host of dusty tools and cleaning supplies. I went closer so I could see through the window into the kitchen. There was a lot of food, and bottles of wine, and some handpicked lavender in a vase, and four young Englishmen, and an incongruous salt lamp from Poland (it really is made of salt–about twelve people, including me, have licked it to check). So that’s what it looks like, I thought.
Today I take the recycling out. I say hello to my bicycle, which is something I do every day. I make a salad of avocado, mozzarella, and French dressing. I idly rearrange some books, which is what I do when I think I want to clean the house but know deep down I don’t really. I wonder if I want a bath or not. I think I’ll likely walk into town later for a drink, if it isn’t raining, and if it doesn’t take me too long to get dressed (it always does).
So that’s what it looks like.