I was raised to believe that talking about money was tacky but, hell, here it is: I used to make a lot more money. I used to have full time jobs and, as such, didn’t have to worry about money for basic things. I once read an article that said that a steady paycheck is the worst addiction in the world. This could very well be true. Every two weeks, more money would show up in my bank account as steadily as the drip of morphine into an IV. I was on autopilot.
But all that has changed. I’m a freelancer now.
I went to a tax consultant recently and looked at my earnings for the year. It wasn’t pretty. I won’t talk numbers but I’ll say this: I am currently below the poverty line. (I take a small amount of non-ironic pride in the fact that I don’t qualify for food stamps this month.)
I’ll be fine but it’s definitely an adjustment. Now that I’m freelancing, I have to take everything into account. I take into account every single dollar both earned and spent. I account for all of my time, every minute. It’s like I’ve woken up to the cost of everything I do. It’s empowering but it’s also overwhelming.
I’m amazed at the amount of time and money it takes for just the basic maintenance of my life.
Take, for example, the sysiphean task of dishes. Every time you use a dish, you have to wash it. Every time. If you don’t, the dishes will pile up. This is a fundamental truth of life. I can worry about the state of the world, I can think about my life’s purpose, I can succumb to existential dread, but if I want a drink of water and all of my damn glasses are in the sink, I need to do them.
Dishes require dish soap and dish soap runs out.
I have uttered more curse words in the name of being out of soap than for any other circumstance. Not traffic, not insults, not even quoting The Big Lebowski. “F***! Are you f***ing kidding me? I’m out of motherf***ing dish soap again? Jesus F***ing Christ, I just bought dish soap like last week!”
It’s not the use of soap so much as it is the continual running out of soap which necessitates the purchase of more soap. The purchase then reminds me of how little money I have and the depressing fact that I need to spend that money on, of all things, soap.
And this holds true of all the other soaps: hand soap, bars of soap, laundry detergent.
But it’s not just soap. I need sponges, swiffer dusters, 409, batteries, plastic wrap, tin foil, garbage bags, recycling bags. I need toothpaste, dental floss, toilet paper, kleenex.
Paper towels have taken on as much value in my apartment as cigarettes have in prison.
There’s a special kind of self-hatred reserved for when a light bulb goes out and you think the you should just, like, have light bulbs around but you don’t and you think, “Why didn’t I get a lot of light bulbs the last time a light bulb when out?” So, you go to the convenience store and do you stock up on light bulbs? No. No, you don’t.
What is that black stuff in my shower and is it spreading?
And bills. The bills just keep coming. Every month: cell phone, power, gas. Bank fees. I have a monthly twelve dollar fee from Citibank for not using bill pay. Really, Citibank? You’re gonna do my like that? Citibank, I’ve had an account with you since I was eleven years old. Passbook plus, remember? Twelve bucks? Daddy can’t afford twelve bucks right now. Okay. Sure. Fine. That’s your policy. I get it. You’re just following orders. You know who else was just following orders? Yeah. Think about it, Citibank.
For Christ’s sake, what’s the standard deduction? How the hell would I know if I want itemized deductions?
And this is all just standard normal life maintenance, not the obsessions of a clean freak accountant. But maybe there should be comfort in the fact that the trivial trumps the greater issues like finding our place in the universe. Carl Sandburg said, “Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.” Perhaps our daily tasks and the time we spend on them are truly the substance of our lives.
Well, whatever. That prick probably had a maid.