It’d be nice to love money for money’s sake. I’ve had friends whose happiness and peace of mind were directly proportional to how much money they were making and how much they had socked away. It’s a simple formula that yields results like:
“I’m only making $40,000 a year and I’ve only got $2,000 in the bank. What a pointless and desperate life I’ve led and what a loser I am.”
“At $125,000 per annum, I’m not doing badly. That $100,000 in mutual funds makes my life pretty, pretty meaningful.”
Unfortunately, I’ve got a much more complicated relationship with money. By itself, no matter how big or small a pile it makes, money is simply a battery of sorts, a collection of potential energy for accomplishing other goals. Better, money is gas in my life’s tank—it’s only useful when I want or need to go somewhere. Not once in my life have I thought about getting a bigger gas tank for my car or carrying around extra five-gallon jerry cans. Money is the juice that helps me do what I want to do.
Although it may not be apparent here, I write a cogent, well-documented and powerful proposal when need be. Without going too far into the weeds, I’ve never been money-driven, per se; rather, I like freedom to follow my next hunch, and money makes that easier. For example, when I was negotiating my salary for 2016, my goal was to walk away with enough money to finance three lengthy trips—I wanted to take each of my daughters on an eight- to 10-day trip, just the two of us, to any place in the continental US each girl wanted to go. Rather than looking for a significantly larger salary, I wanted money for the trips. And got it and we got them. Becca, Meri, Libby and I each had delightful and meaningful vacations together, sort of a capstone to their childhoods.
Meri, my middle daughter, got the first trip, eight days in San Diego and, more important, the desert to its east. While Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo have their charms, as does the ocean, it was the desert that really captured us. Pulling the rental car over at 10 pm beside the highway and walking 100 feet out into the emptiness, we might as well have been on the moon—except we could breathe. And gravity was the same. Still, you get the idea. As it happened, a man I loved dearly had overdosed on heroin the day before our trip, not enough to die, but my visit to his ICU room the morning of our flight, holding his unresponsive hand and telling him I loved him, let me know he wouldn’t last long. He didn’t. His girlfriend and parents took him off life support while Meri and I were in California, and Meri and I spent a hot desert morning mourning Glen Keating’s death by building cairns in his memory. Money made that possible, but not inevitable.
Six months later, Becca, my oldest, and I flew to Las Vegas for a day, then drove to the Grand Canyon, and all over Arizona and Utah. It was a delightful and magical two weeks, including the best pie I’ve ever had in my life. Really. In a diner outside Moab, Utah, I believe, we gorged on pie, then slept the sleep of the stuffed in an adjoining motel. Much of our time in the car was spent planning a podcast we’ve yet to begin, one on history and politics where Becca would be the liberal and I, thanks to my moderate views, would be cast as the conservative. The future is a big place, though, so keep checking ITunes for a release date. Money made that all possible, but not inevitable.
Finally, in early 2017, Libby and I flew into Phoenix and drove straight to Sedona for a few days, where Libby fell in love—with the town, not some danged boy. Strange memory I know, but I can’t forget Libby standing for an hour on a large sidewalk with a man who rescued snakes and reptiles and bunnies, a snake draped around her neck. We then took the train into the Grand Canyon for another couple days, where it was cold at night, but we hiked after dark along the rim, with a bowl of ink below and a jeweler’s cloth spread with diamonds above. After driving into Utah for a couple days, and eating pie at the same place Becca and I had six months before, we finished up in Sedona again, riding horses. Money made that all possible, but not inevitable.
With just two days left in 2017, I can look back over the past four months, the first third of my sojourn in the Tiny White Box, and know I’ve made hardly any money since coming up here—you can change that by buying On Account of Because through Amazon! On the other hand, I’ve hardly spent anything on living, so my bank account isn’t in danger. It’s 17 degrees below zero outside, Sam (is a dog) looks at me like I’m crazy whenever I open the door, and I haven’t properly washed since returning north. Still, I’m pretty, pretty happy.
Money makes the Tiny White Box possible, but it can never make happiness inevitable.