Ian and I have known, theoretically, since making our decision in July and embarking on our Orcas project, that building our house in the islands is going to have a significant effect on our spending habits.
We had a phone meeting this past week with our financial managers, and said goodbye feeling optimistic--what they were telling us--that building our home would take all of our remaining cash and that, therefore, we would be required to make a major lifestyle change--was entirely consistent with our own beliefs. "I'm not talking about just a 10 or 15% reduction in spending," said Phillip. "Most of our clients, when they need to reduce, find that amount hard enough."
"Oh, I know," I said, laughing. "We are talking about a major change here. I find it kind of exhilarating in a way, though," I went on. "I feel like I've been spending flagrantly, frittering away my money for a long time, and it will be a relief to have that option taken away."
Earlier this week in the depths of my illness, I spent an afternoon on the sofa downstairs watching the movie Uptown Girls, which I love. It's light and pretty and heartwarming in an uncomplicated way, and I sobbed--SOBBED--as the princess lost her tower, and her financial support, and her naive, ingenuous trust in how her world worked--but I really broke down when she, ultimately (and with the help of some dear friends), learned how to stand on her own two feet, and define herself, and actively choose and embark on her new path. I passed off the intensity of this reaction to exhaustion, but niggling deep in my mind was a suspicion that I was mourning my own coming change of circumstances. We're not exactly the same, me and Molly--my dad was a French horn player, not a rock star, and I was the one who absconded with my inheritance--but the similarities were enough to strike a deeply resonant note.
Last night Ian and I sat down in our living room and had what I now understand was our first ever real look at our spending habits. I've known for a long time that we were playing an unsustainable, and in some ways uncomfortable, game. I look in my closet, for example, and see stack upon stack of cashmere hoodies in a rainbow of colors. It's a large closet but I can't step in the door because the floor is littered in boots, shoes, flip-flops, and slippers. Shirts and pants and dresses and skirts and non-cashmere sweaters bulge from shelves and hangers. The rest of our house is not much different--books and art and artifacts and mugs and tchotchkes and unfinished projects abound. I grew up in an environment of judicious abundance--a great plenty of simple food, direct experience, and intellectual stimulation; but reserve and rationality when it came to discretionary spending. I meant what I said to Phillip: I do feel uncomfortably that I have been frittering my boon away.
I have not been wrong. We discovered, last night, that we, simply in living what has come to be our day-to-day lives, are hemorrhaging money. I have been moderately more active in spending the money and receiving the ostensible largesse than Ian, but we are partners and this is our challenge together. Not only can we no longer afford any discretionary spending; it is not clear that we can afford all of what we believe is necessary spending. I looked in shock--actual, literal, body-chilling, heartbeat-skipping shock-- at the total we spent last year on truly unnecessary things, and how much on things we believe are necessary, and how poorly those totals relate to how much money we are actually bringing into the house. I felt my house, my sense of self, my reality, my unconscious and frantically gripped safety net--pitch and yaw and groan and crash and pitch and yaw again. I felt nauseated, and then I REALLY burst into tears.
I don't know who I am right now. I don't know what, if any, of the beautiful, splendid, things in my life I can claim as mine anymore, as things that the fundamental, ur-me would choose. I have spent 20 years making impulsive rather than discerning choices, and I don't know how often I hit on something real. Everything looks different this morning.
I know that I did make some important long-term decisions about where to put my inheritance, and I understand that my newly-perceived penury is lifestyle-changing, not life-threatening (and only penury in hyperbolic, hysterical comparison to recent habits). I recognize that I am, still, unbelievably more fortunate than most humans, in most ways.
In fact, coming to this realization at this time still gives Ian and me the option to make a major choice, open to few. We still get to build our dream house, or at least a comfortable facsimile, and go live in paradise. Our home will be funded by our parents and ancestors, which is not an unheard-of position to be in. And, with that solid foundation, we will be set free on the world, to make our ways and our fortunes responsibly and independently.
But oh! My blindfold had been made of layer upon layer of Gorilla Tape instead of silk, and the act of ripping it off still smarts, and I'm still too blinded by the light of my future to see any of the details.