I’ve been thinking about…

I've been thinking about beauty and expense a lot lately. Friday, I bought a leather chair. I'll show you photos when it arrives; it'll be a few weeks before delivery. I bought an ottoman too -- together, they cost almost as much as my computer (which is the most expensive item I've ever bought). The chair is extremely comfortable, and I find it attractive too. We looked at many many many chairs before buying this one -- so many were ugly, even the very expensive ones, at least to my eyes. But there was a general correspondence between price and beauty -- the chairs I liked better were more expensive, and the ones I liked best were well out of the affordable range for me. A few were more than I'd be willing to spend on a chair even if I could afford it -- I would feel guilty, spending $5000 on a single chair. But oh, those chairs were beautiful.

Kevin and I started looking at houses last night. We're not planning on moving soon -- for one thing, it doesn't make any sense to until we have some idea what's happening with my getting or not getting an academic job. But we figured out that if I didn't get a job, and we just went with his income, we could still afford to move into a slightly bigger place in our area. Three bedrooms instead of two, so I'd have an actual study, and a balcony for plants, maybe a fireplace. Or, if we were willing to move further out (giving him a noticeable commute instead of just walking in to work), we could have four bedrooms, a garden, a basement or attic for storage. Our closets have been overflowing with stuff for some time now -- SH stuff, SLF stuff, old skis and ski boots he hasn't used in years, that kind of thing. Yesterday, reordering the shelves, I moved all his chess books to sit on top of the bookshelves, because there wasn't enough room inside them. Our home is beautiful as it is, but it's a bit of a battle to fit everything in. We're okay right now, but six more months of accumulation will have us bursting at the seams.

So we started looking at some larger condos, some townhouses, some actual houses. And it was hard not to covet those gardens, those beautiful big rooms, those balconies and fireplaces and spiral staircases. Hard not to suddenly feel sharply dissatisfied with what we have. More money would let us have those beautiful spaces, and oh, that would be nice. We would appreciate them. I would take daily pleasure in them, in the same way I take pleasure in our current home, but more so.

So more money equals more beauty, more pleasure, yes? Yet at the very same time, some beautiful things cost next to nothing. I just got up from reading the Elizabeth Moon book, and went to go find a bookmark. I found one that I haven't used yet, a little paper thing that Karina sent me for my birthday. It's bordered in blue, with a lovely little sketch of an Italian palace, and some ornate flower-pattern edging, and in a pretty script, the words here I fell asleep. The bottom is cut into little steps, rather than being a simple rectangle. It's gorgeous, and so pleasing to the eye, and it reminds me of Karina when I use it, which is a different beauty and pleasure altogether.

The moral of this story is, more money equals more beauty, most of the time, but some beauty costs almost no money at all. And I know, I know, you know this. I was just thinking about it today, that's all.

5 thoughts on “I’ve been thinking about…”

  1. Mary Anne,

    I couldn’t tell if there was a tinge of irony in this entry, but I often think about this too. When we’re young, many of us (I think particularly young women) despise the thought of choosing a career for money. So we try to do what we love, follow the arts and literature and explore life. And one day we find ourselves unable to afford the kind of pleasures you describe, and become dependent on others for them. I guess my question is, if money helps you bring beauty in your life, and if you want/need beauty in your life, should you beware of choosing a profession that does not bring you money? I don’t mean this as a critique of you, I’m trying to think of how we, collectively, raise young girls–one of the mixed messages we send them is telling them at the same time to “be independent” but “do what you love” and sometimes those two things don’t mix. Whereas young men seem to take for granted the equation between money and things like beautiful homes, and set about putting themselves in a place to acquire them. I suppose it’s a question of priorities–given where you are now in your life, if you didn’t have Kevin, would you regret having decided to become a writer? Again, this might seem pointed, but I don’t mean it that way–I just think that one of the things that our generation of women collectively ought to be pointing out to the next generation is some of the more hidden trade-offs of life.

    M.

  2. I can’t speak for Mary Anne but I am someone who decided to put working on writing above all other priorities. I did experience some very tough times, financially. Yet, I have no regret for the choice I made. I still believe it’s what I needed to do. In the meantime, my idea of beauty went through a drastic change. I began to see things that other people think of as ugly, such as abandoned buildings with boarded up windows and trash around them, as beautiful. Beauty isn’t as simple as we make it out to be, and the “hidden trade-offs of life” as you call them, M. are hidden on many levels. Money can buy certain beauties, others it can not.

  3. Heh. I’ll think about the storage locker thing, Is it worth $600 this year to be less crowded? Hmm…

    M., I see what you’re saying, but I’m not sure I’ve experienced it in the way you’re talking about. There was huge pressure in my family for me to go into a financially-stable position (ideally doctor, but engineer or even accountant would have done), and I don’t think there was any gender-bias there. And I don’t think my resistance to that was a gendered response — I think if I’d been a boy, I would’ve still chosen to be a writer, and put up with the decade of barely-making-rent and huge-credit-card-bills that resulted.

    But that said…Kevin and I have talked about how our baseline assumptions about money are different. How men in our culture generally have in the back of their heads that they not only have to support themselves in the manner to which they’d like to become accustomed, but that they’ll need to support a wife and a couple of kids too, and their economic/job choices are influenced by that awareness. While women, deep in the back of our heads, often have an assumption that at some point, we’ll be taken care of. That sure, at this point, you need to be able to get a job and keep a job — but an awful lot of women I know still don’t do any long-term financial planning.

    I’m not sure what we can do to counter this sort of baseline assumption in women, other than incorporate financial planning classes into high schools. Which might be a good idea for everyone, actually.

    If we could train men to value a good, steady job in the women they date more than they value cultural standards of physical beauty, that would work too — but I have no idea how to manage that!

    But I want to note that I do really see value in the financially poorer path. I see this most dramatically in the South Asian-American community. 9 out of 10 writers/artists I meet there are women. 9 out of 10 activisits I meet there are women. Often single women — they’re not doing this because some man is supporting them, but because they think the work they’re doing is important and worth sacrificing some financial stability for. I could wish more South Asian-American men had that attitude; they might be poorer individually, but the world would be richer.

  4. Yes…I don’t know if a major campaign is necessary, perhaps just all of us discussing such issues with our younger friends/relatives. Not to talk them out of the financially poor path, but so that they choose it with open eyes–instead of having it be chosen for them.

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