Fourteen Precepts in Fourteen Days: Day Five Do-Over
Fifth: Do not accumulate weath while millions are hungry. Do not take as the aim of your life fame, profit, wealth, or sensual pleasure. Live simply and share time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need.
Being Peace, by Thich Nhat Hanh
Some days a girl just wakes up groggy and out of sorts, particularly after a night dreaming that she’s being chased through Baghdad by threatening Baath Party officials, dreams that she couldn’t shake even after the world’s best puppy climbed in bed for a snuggle at three am. After a night like that, sometimes it’s hard to get your brain to figure out what it wants to write about a precept, even if it’s one of the precepts you’d really looked forward to writing about. So I’m going to take a do-over on this one (although in an effort to be zen-like about it, and to own all my stuff, I’m leaving the other post, the post I won’t refer to as “the stupid post,” down below).
Okay, here’s the personal challenge for me on this one. Renouncing wealth isn’t the hard part — anyone who decided, as I did, to spend a life writing novels, literary novels, in my case, dark literary novels pretty much gives up early on on the idea of being wealthy. Sure, some people get huge advances and movie deals, but some people also get hit by busses. I’ve been broke until about the last year or two, and I’m okay with that.
Here’s what has been a challenge, particularly since I’ve moved to Montana. I have these friends in Bozeman who I met when we were all in our early twenties. We were out of touch for a number of years, but when I came up here last year looking at houses, I looked them up. Now, I grew up in one of the wealthier suburbs of America, among, shall we say, the haute bourgoisie. I went to school with kids whose surnames were also the names of major corporations, and among people for whom having to work at all was often an option. Then I left that world, and worked my way through graduate school, and somehow wound up out here in the regular world where it’s simply a given that one has to earn a living. And that earning a living isn’t something one should be pitied for. And then I got back in touch with these old friends, and realized that they live in that other world, that world in which I was raised. When I told my girlfriend that I was looking at houses in Livingston, her immediate reaction was “Oh! You don’t want to live there”
And despite myself, I knew exactly what she meant by there. She meant out there in the world outside that carefully-defined bubble of “people like us.” And as I explained that yes, I did want to live in Livingston, not Bozeman, precisely because Livingston is funky, and a little rundown, and populated by weirdo artists and painters, I could see that my friend was not believing me. I could see that she assumed I was simply making the best of my “poverty,” putting a brave face on it. This is the same friend who looked at me with tears in her eyes and told me how proud she was that “you’ve done this all by yourself.” Which was sweet. But was also maddening. Yeah, me and about 95% of the rest of the world have gone to school, gotten jobs, bought houses “all by ourselves.”
So the challenge for me is to somehow stay friends with these people, when I feel like I’m always holding my breath to avoid losing my temper and accusing them of hoarding wealth, of living off trust fund money they didn’t earn themselves (which brings out the little tiny Karl Marx in me, ranting about living off the labor of others), of pretending to be environmentalists while driving two SUVs, of buying an enormous suburban house and turning what was ranch land into an acre of lawn, lawn that their kids don’t even play on, and most of all, of thinking that their excessive lifestyle is “normal” and just the way “nice” people live, and pitying me for “having” to live in a little house up here in funky town. The challenge for me is to somehow find a way to maybe start speaking my truth with these friends, who are really good nice people, with great kids, find a way to start speaking my truth about how I feel this “normal” bourgeois lifestyle is a danger to our nation and our world, find a way to start speaking this truth without sounding accusatory or judgemental.
So far, I haven’t done very well at this. So far, I’ve pretty much just been avoiding them. Which I don’t think is what the spirit of this precept is asking us to do.