We’ve had this talk before, haven’t we? Money vs Art. You know what side I stand on. You know that I would rather take a “real job” to pay the bills so that I can continue to make the stories I choose to make instead of the stories I think will sell. But I’ve been thinking about this choice a lot lately, considering how it’s not simply art vs money it’s actually everything vs money.
I voted in Canada’s federal election on Monday. My team didn’t win but we—Canadians as a whole—managed to oust Stephen Harper and his Conservatives, so I count that as a win. I have a smattering of friends and acquaintances who were pro-Harper (just a smattering, this is the western-most part of western Canada, after all). When asked about their choice to back Harper, without fail, the reason these folks give is financial. Harper lowered taxes, he’s all about a strong economy, he’s all about business. For me, therein lies the problem.
A country, a province, a city, a municipality, a group of friends, a marriage, all of these require some kind of money management and fiscal responsibility. But every relationship, on a scale large or small, is and should be about more than just money. A marriage that is only happy in wealth is fundamentally flawed. A country that relies on wealth as the sole indicator of its health is likewise flawed.
What has always made me proudest about being Canadian is not that we are wealthy, even though, comparatively, we are. What has made me proud is that we are peacekeepers, not war makers; we are tolerant and inclusive; we care about the land on which we live and the oceans, lakes and rivers that sustain us; we value logic and science and keep our religions and beliefs outside of our government and public institutions; we are imperfect and we are vocal (and apologetic) about it; we welcome immigrants and refugees; we believe that even the lowest member of our society deserves to be cared for; we have lots of space and room to breathe; we can laugh at ourselves and often do; we choose trust over fear.
However brilliant Harper and the Conservatives may have been economically, everything in that list above suffered under their rule. Suffered greatly. For the first time in my life, I began to feel ashamed of my country. I began to lose hope.
Will our new Prime Minister restore what was lost? That remains to be seen. But my hope has been boosted by the millions of Canadians who got out and voted to make change. I am hopeful because this tells me that I am not alone in believing that there are bigger and more important things than money.
I say this as an artist who would dearly love to be paid more to create art. I say this as an artist who knows that she will likely never be able to live off the income from her creations. I say this as artist who will never quit making stories because that would feel like a living death.
I’m thinking about money and happiness because I know people who have loads of the former but little of the latter. People who believe there is a magic number at which happiness will appear. And because I know too well that life laughs at our plans.
My dad always wanted to cruise through the Panama Canal. When I was making the kind of money that would have allowed me to take him on that voyage, well, I was too busy making money to realize the wealth I had. I was too focused on that magic number. But when I cleaned out his place after his death and saw the books I had signed and inscribed and dedicated to him carefully covered in Saran Wrap, my heart was put at ease. I had not given him the Panama Canal but I had given him pride.
I’m thinking about money and love because my husband so often despairs that he can give me an unlimited supply of the latter but not enough (in his opinion), of the former. I want to show him every lonely person in the world, every soul who will go to bed tonight not feeling loved, not feeling wanted and needed. I want to show him all the dreamers who have been shot down by the people who they most needed to hold them up. I want to say that I would live penniless on the street before I would give up his belief in me and his love for me.
I’m thinking about money and art because I have a friend who is on the ledge, about to make that leap of faith. His story is beautiful and he needs to tell it in his own time, in his own way. But I would say to him…jump. Life is too short.
I’m thinking about money because I’ve moved to a bigger city with bigger (giant) stores. I walk through these stores, looking for the few items we need to make our home functional, and I see shelf after shelf after shelf after shelf after shelf of things no one really needs. These things that promise to heal the unhappiness you don’t even know you have. These things that require money. These things that require you continue to work at the job you hate in order to buy more of the things you think will fill that nameless void. And I feel angry.
I feel as if someone is up there pulling our strings and making us dance.
I’m thinking about art because I went for a run by the ocean today and for three miles my heart felt strong in every possible way. Beauty matters. No amount of money can do for me what three miles of ocean can.
I’m thinking about death because it has thrust itself into my life. I think that if I died tonight, I would die with a meager bank account but I would die rich—rich in art, rich in love, rich in beauty, rich in stories.
I’m thinking about the ocean. Beauty matters.
I am at peace tonight.