Living out of a suitcase in motion for a year is weird. At first, you try and keep possessions under control; you acquire no more than the ephemeral until you need extra socks and undies. And of course you can never resist books so they tend to pile up until you notice they mysteriously kept finding you until they filled up a box. Out of the books I shared my life with in the last 12 months, many remain unread for chronic lack of time, wakefulness, or both.
A more fiscally responsible person than me wouldn’t have spent money on books knowing there would be no time to read them. But I borrowed and acquired books as a celebration of hope; books were instrumental in keeping me alive during the years I lost to depression. The illness had taken away my writing voice but it hasn’t taken my eyes so I read with defiance and awe, I read to keep my brain on life support. With a book, you’re never alone and I read to palliate my people deficit because lonelinesses in parallel don’t add up to companionship of any kind. Sometimes, I stared at a page for the longest time until the characters transformed back into words and yielded their meaning.
Eventually, five years passed and I decided not to kill myself and stick to it so here we are, back on the page looking at life running away from us. That’s why we document it, to prove to ourselves that some meaningful things happened every now and then, that it wasn’t all just a short blur before everything faded to black. We hugged, we laughed, we loved, we created art and people, we evolved, and we changed innumerable times. Truly, the amount of time your average human spends obsessing about money is negligible in light of the amount of living they’re busy doing. As a rule, the less you have, the harder your life but you still hug, you still laugh, you still love, you still create art and people, you still evolve, don’t you?
Don’t you try and “Yeah but…” your way out of the creativity required to stay alive because if we humans weren’t innately creative, we’d have gone extinct a long time ago. We’re wired to do whatever it takes to survive but thankfully we no longer have to expand a vast amount of energy doing it, at least not in the West. We live on autopilot according to obligations, social media notifications, and the size of our overdraft.
Occasionally, we get vaguely curious about how to improve our lot in life but realize we have it quite good compared to most so we decide to keep coasting. For many, money isn’t enough of a motivation if it means less time with those who bring meaning to our lives, including ourselves. Therein may like one of the reasons why creators are often penniless: Thinking isn’t an assembly line job. Making something that wasn’t there before isn’t an assembly line job either, no matter what social media marketers will tell you. There is no formula for art; the only formulaic way to generate content is to use template and anything beyond the original is worthless.
Then again, if the original is useful and something people need, copies will pay off regardless until people tire of the product unless it is an evergreen concept. Put it that way, we’re always going to need toilet paper, at least until we’ve caught up with Japanese bathroom fixtures engineering. That’s why we love nothing more than a listicle that’s going to fix our life, making us as rich and famous as we dream of being in the few minutes it takes us to visit the bathroom, flush, and wash our hands because this is the only time we have to ourselves these days.
There are people in the world uninterested in being a top anything ever or a household name; they just want to be good at what they do. There are people in the world uninterested in what other people in the world think of them when everyone is trying to be a world onto themself. They’re more curious about why anyone would believe they can go it alone when many of us become incapable of carrying out the basic demands of life the minute our smartphone goes missing.
Perhaps you too are one of these people who aren’t bothered about the cult of the self and are more interested in our shared humanness. You like yourself well enough but happen to think it a little bombastic and unreasonable to pretend you are the one you’ve been waiting for. On the one hand, you’re quite a clueless, awkward human and, on the other, holding your own hand isn’t practical at all when it keeps threatening to kill you.
Out of nowhere, cancer slapped it away when it took my best friend before laying claims to my stepmom in September 2018. So far, she’s having none of it. And although depression still has a strong grip on my psyche, it has taken second place to the necessary endeavor of rebuilding a life. So I can be there for my parents, which by default means I have to be there for me, too, instead of simply waiting to die and wondering how best to expedite the process.
When you’re that intimate with death, when you stare it in the face every single day, money isn’t what you obsess about. Instead, you find yourself fixating on the tiniest, most inconsequential things because this is where all the joy comes from. Joy isn’t a winning lottery ticket or a luxury car, it’s that look in the eyes of a loved one that tells you without words how much you mean to them. It’s that look needing no language; you know their love in the meat of you, it is branded on your heart, forever warming you from the inside out.
Love, the unconditional, self-evident kind exists because it’s where your life force is, and it is the kind of love that multiplies. It is like fairy dust that touches everything and lends it a hopeful glow, no matter how desperate the moment, how heavy the words. And I have no idea where it comes from although I suspect language has a lot to answer for as it is how we communicate with our peers, directly or not.
The act of writing is an act of radical communication in so far as it indicates a willingness to put our emotions on the record. Sometimes we do this with just the one person via letter, email, or private messages; sometimes we do this with the world at large through our work. Whatever name you give it and whatever form it assumes, love powers everything.
It changes lives, it redeems them, it saves them it and it most definitely isn’t the doing of some abstract deity. That love is resolutely human and it carries us, but not because we’re our own superhero and we’ve sprouted wings. So here we are, back on the page, no longer dead and no longer lost and breathing life into one another on a global scale, one word at a time.
We’re so busy hugging, laughing, loving, creating art and people, evolving that we don’t have the time to obsess about money and much less write about it. Yes, it matters hugely but no, it doesn’t define our self-worth, our heart does, the people and places that make it beat faster do.
That’s our wealth, right there.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor now based in the Netherlands. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.