September 21, 2010

Sometimes it's too easy for things to be misconstrued

I mostly talk about writing on this blog, but I feel strongly about this, so here goes:

I posted this on my (personal) Facebook this morning, but quickly took it down, having decided there was too much room to offend or lead people to believe it was about them in particular, when it isn't really about anyone specific, but more of the attitude I've experienced over the last few years:

I don't have a smart phone, I don't have cable, I don't get mani-pedis or expensive haircuts, and I think a $10 shirt is too expensive. Maybe people should think about that before they make snarky comments about things we are able to do. It ain't cause I got benjamins stacked to the ceiling, it's because I've got my priorities straight.

Let me start by saying: Bear and I are very blessed. Bear has a job that allows us to have everything we need and some of what we want, including me being able to stay home to write.

That's one of the lovelier things about America, right? Even in the middle of a recession (and I live in one of the poorest areas of my state) people are still able to afford some things they want.

But it's also in part because we've managed to stay away from many of the trappings of modern life that, you know, kinda cost out the yin-yang.

Since we graduated college, we've occasionally faced an attitude I find extremely upsetting, one which essentially looks at what we have from the outside and says, oh, you do this or that, so you must be rich.

Well, for one thing, 'rich' is relative. If you compare me to the average person in Colombia or Nigeria or Afghanistan, heck yeah, I'm rich, and so are you. But compared to people here, other Americans? I'm solidly middle class — and happy with that. Sure, there are single mothers and elderly people on fixed incomes and homeless people, but align me with my peers, other healthy, working-age Americans, and I'm pretty darn average.

However, some look at aspects of our life and think because we are able to do certain things, like go to the movies or on trips, that we are rolling.

One, that's simply not the truth. Two, I grew up very humbly, and to be called rich is an insult to me; to me, rich means excess and greed. I don't particularly like money, and I'm one of the least materialistic people I know. In a personality full of flaws, that's one of my more winning aspects. The thing that amazes me is that occasionally we get comments on our finances (which is such a no-no anyway) from people who only see half the picture — what we have, but not what we don't have.

That's frustrating. I don't like when a person with an iPhone, newly manicured nails, and a $150 cable bill tries to make me feel guilty because I'm doing something they would like to do or have something they would like to have, but can't afford because they spent their fun money on other types of wants.

And that's not to say any of the things listed above are bad — if that is how you choose to spend your extra money, cool. But don't try to make me feel bad. I'm certainly not going to guilt trip you because you have the super sweet, shiny new phone with Facebook and Google apps that I really like, but don't buy because I have my money reserved for something else.

And let's not forget, either: 'necessities' are shelter, food, medicine, safety, and love (and remember, in the wise words of J-Lo, "Love don't cost a thing"). Anything else is a want. You want a smart phone, you want pretty French tips, you want satellite television, just as I want to do the things I'm doing and buy the things I'm buying.

And guess what? I suspect unless you really are one of those for-real rich people, you will never have enough money to afford everything you want — that's the nature of humanity. We get some, we want more. Happiness is learning how to distribute the finite resources you do have to best meet your needs and wants, and accepting that as it is.

So yeah, I travel. I'm probably going to see a movie at the theatre this weekend. But before you point a finger and try to make me feel bad for enjoying the fruits of our hard work (and let's face it, blessings, because no matter how hard you work, it can all be ripped from you at any moment), maybe you should think about all the things you have that I don't. Because I'm fine with what I don't have — I made a conscious decision to spend my money on one thing and not another.

But if you find yourself making those kinds of comments, you probably need to sit down and review your own situation.

If you want one thing, sometimes you have to give another up. That's life. But don't make someone else feel bad because you aren't making good choices.


The Blue Lipstick Samurai said...

Maybe it's because I just finished watching yesterday's VlogBrothers video, but I have found one more author you remind me of. In addition to JKR, your writing reminds me of John Green. You can touch on heavy subjects and keep it light, and you also manage to share strong insights without ever getting on a pulpit.

Two, I grew up very humbly, and to be called rich is an insult to me <- I never realized it, but I definately agree. Hmm.

Anonymous said...

I applaud you.

I grew up with the bare essentials. As I got older and my mom started working outside the home, we got to have a little more but we are - and always have been - what Homer Simpson calls "upper lower middle class." I'm okay with that.

I never wanted for anything but I've also learned the value of a dollar. I'd rather save my hard-earned money to make one of my lifelong dreams come true than spend it on a cell phone or TV I don't need. I'm mocked for it but it's my choice. I don't mock others' choices.

Great post, Abby. Thanks for sharing. :)

Rachel Bateman said...

Excellent post, Abby! What you wrote on your Facebook page describes me perfectly - it's like I could have written it.

I was lucky enough to have grown up in the upper middle class. As far as I remember, we never lacked anything I wanted. We were able to travel (not extensively, but fairly often), we had the fancy-pants expensive cable package and new clothes and whatnot.

BUT, It came at a cost - my mom worked out of the home (which, I know is normal these days, but still, tax season was rough). That is something my husband and I decide before we were even married would not be the case in our house. So, since the day we were married, we have sacrificed some of the "finer things" to save for me to be able to stay home (and, luckily, I was able to do it early to write!). We almost never see movies in theatres or go out to eat, I don't ever buy clothes that aren't on clearance. Like you, we don't use smartphones or have cable. We get by on the bare minimum.

And because we do that, I can stay home to write (and soon, to mom :) ) and we can occasionally afford something fun. We got a new car recently and have already gotten snide comments about how it "must be nice" to be able to afford it. Well, we could afford it because we skimp in other aspects of life and drove a totalled (seriously, it was SUPER pretty :) ) car for YEARS to save for a new one.

Okay...I am ranting now, and my comment is almost as long as your original post. Kudos to you for writing this - it is great.

Remilda Graystone said...

I totally agree with E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G you said! So much truth in this post. I'm going to stop now because people like you described make me angry (and that's only because I know too many of them), and I'll go into an unnecessary rant.

Kudos to you for having your priorities straight! Thanks for the wonderful post.

I usually don't do this, but I think it's hilarious and such an odd coincidence that my verification word is: bedless. lol, one of those moments that deserves to be in a book.

Pam Harris said...

Wow, that was deep. And I think it's a shame that you had to even write this post. I don't think that you have to defend the fact that you're living comfortably. I'm in the same situation. My cousin and I are the first members of our family to get a college education and have careers. She's a teacher, and I'm a school counselor--so we're not exactly rolling in the dough. However, our family thinks we must always have money to spare because we have contracts--and sometimes get salty when we can't loan money, or buy expensive gifts. The whole thing is just frustrating.

Sandy Shin said...

Thank you for this lovely post. This is one of things that have been bothering me, and you've said it so much better than I ever could. My family is in the working class, and everything that we do have came at the expense of other things that we couldn't justify buying. But I feel that I'm fortunate, because though the most luxurious things I treat myself to are books, I'm not in want to things, especially things I don't need.

I think you've put it perfectly: "If you want one thing, sometimes you have to give another up."

People just differ on what they elect to give up.

Abby Stevens said...

THANK YOU to all of you! I was very nervous about writing this post - I was afraid people might take it the wrong way or think I was snobby, but I am relieved to find others feel the same way and are going through similar situations.

Glenna, you really know how to compliment a girl. Thank you. :) I am honestly flattered.

E. Elle - "Upper lower middle class" - I like that. I've never heard it before (shame on me, I love The Simpsons!), but that's a good way of putting it.

Rachel - We get the "must be nice" comments, too. It's hard for me to keep my mouth shut when I hear it, because I don't want to get all up in their business and point out everything they've been spending their money on, or how we've saved and scraped, etc., so most of the time I just give a little smile and move on.

My mom stayed home with my brother, sister and I, and I loved it. It was really nice always having Mama there when we got home from school and to see us off in the mornings.

Remilda - Bedless! Lol. Word Verifications are hilarious sometimes.

Pam - My husband and I are also the first members of our families to graduate from college, but luckily, we don't get comments from most of our family. Unfortunately, we did have one family member making comments, and it has really taken it's toll on the relationship. :( It is very frustrating, especially when the people criticizing (or asking for money, in your case) probably aren't good with money to begin with, and lending/giving them money is basically just throwing it down a black hole of poor spending.

Sandy - Thank you so much. :) I agree with you - even though we aren't wealthy and we can't have all the super-cute clothes or newest technology or what have you, I want for nothing in terms of necessities, so I'm very grateful.

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