A Little Bit of Wonder is where I journal about the somewhat roundabout way that I have been working to establish a career and a strong sense of self--I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about "direction" and "identity." I have a Master's Degree in Literature, but I'm no longer working as an English Professor; I'm starting the next step in my life as I work to establish a career as a writer in the non-profit sector.

At my companion blog, Little Wonder's Recommended Reading, you will find reviews for both books and other blogs that I enjoy. The two blogs are inter-linked, so you can access my reviews and reading challenges from the sidebar on the left.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Pursuit of Happiness: the Liberty to Spend, which is NOT an Unalienable Right

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Graduate school takes all your freedom and your energy; if you aren’t careful, it sucks out your personality. Over the past year and a half since I graduated with my Master’s Degree, I have been rediscovering different personal freedoms:

  • the freedom to appreciate my surroundings (take the time to watch the rain or the clouds, listen to the waves…)
  • the freedom to be artistic again (jewelry-making, watercolor painting, even Modge-Podging)
  • the freedom to waste time (I’m still not comfortable with this, but I’m getting better at it thanks to the internet)
  • and the freedom to read whatever the heck I want to read (this being the most important of them all, of course)

But for various reasons, I have not had a full-time job since graduating in Spring 2009. I only found part-time as an adjunct Composition Instructor, and I had to quit my usual summer job as a Summer Camp Supervisor because my husband and I packed up and moved from Washington D.C. to New York. Once I had most of our boxes unpacked, I had to hang around before beginning to teach again – because the semester hadn’t started up yet. That was great because I really got to explore Nyack during the beautiful summer months...

I walked downtown and spent afternoons reading in the beautiful historic Nyack Public Library or by the creek that runs through Memorial Park. (I also got a chance to work on writing a fantasy novel, although that has only produced very dissatisfying thus far.)

Being part-time employed or unemployed for almost two years, I have had a significant amount of freedom and flexibility – but very little cash flow, as you can imagine. This has meant that I have not been able to indulge quite as many of my whims as I would like, although I still managed to dig up cash from various resources when absolutely necessary. Reselling items on eBay in order to fund new purchases, selling hand-made jewelry on Etsy, and asking the family for birthday and Christmas money have all proven to be quite useful tactics. And God bless my Amazon credit card, which earns me points toward – you guessed it – free books.

Much of the time, though, I have still felt guilty when I spent even a little of my own money on things that I didn’t absolutely need. We have been pretty comfortable, though, at least in terms of day-to-day concerns for the past few years, despite the facts that we were both in graduate school at the same time. We haven’t had to live off Ramen and I’ve even been able to buy the occasional wedge of Brie. Sure, we’ve taken our vacations to Ocean City, Maryland, early in the season when the rooms are cheaper – but that means that the boardwalk isn’t as crowded. We haven’t gone to too many fancy restaurants – but that’s fine with me, because I’ve noticed that when you pay thirty dollars or more for an entrĂ©e, they actually give you less food (and I like to eat). All in all, we’ve been comfortable.

I have to admit that our lifestyle (luxurious relative to that of other graduate students) is due entirely to my husband’s foresight, fiscal responsibility and hard work. That subject deserves not just a separate blog post, but a full twenty-page essay – I don’t think I can even fully understand how much he has planned and sacrificed in order to make sure that we had health insurance and enough money to cover the bills, even planning for unexpected expenses like a good adult.

I, on the other hand, am not such a good grown-up when it comes to fiscal responsibility – but he’s been teaching me, and I’ve been trying very hard to learn. Book buying is an addiction, though, and the worst part is that when I occasionally fall off the wagon, it screws up all the conscientious effort that I’ve made to save money over the past few weeks and months prior to an unfortunate Amazon slip-up or an incident at Target. Then I agonize over my purchases, sometimes even returning them. I’ve gotten really good at returning things, actually.

When I got the job offer on Monday, though, it occurred to me that I would no longer have to feel guilty about dropping fifty bucks here and there, since my paycheck would be over double of what I had been making as an adjunct (and at no point would it just disappear for a few weeks or months at a time, between semesters). I can pay the grocery bills, save for retirement like my husband has been teaching me to do, and still have a separate “Amazon Budget.” I can actually allot money for the specific purpose of buying books. What beautiful idea… (Yes, these are the kinds of fantasies that I have.)

That fiscally liberated feeling settled onto my shoulders even before I finished talking to my new boss about salary, benefits and start date. As soon as our conversation was over, I exercised my new freedom in a couple of ways:

1. I changed my status and profile information on Facebook.

2. I deactivated my account on CareerBuilder and completely deleted my JobFox account. No more job alert emails!

But more relevant to the subject of this posting:

3. I surfed through my Amazon wishlist, wildly dumping things into my cart. No guilt, no holds barred. I watched the total grow with glee, knowing that I was now free to pursue my own happiness through whatever materialistic means that I desire. And if I haven’t been clear on the subject before, I am woefully, wonderfully materialistic.

4. Then I paused, and realized that it would be more fun to order just a few books at a time, requisitioning a small new stack every week from now on if I wanted. I can be perpetually waiting on a new package, making me feel like it is Christmas all year round!

So, I slowly began sorting through my Amazon cart, choosing a few books to purchase immediately, and some to order five days from now, when I can no longer control my giddy anticipation. (Do you see what I mean? Book buying is an addiction, a sickness.)

Perhaps best of all, though:

5. When my husband and I went out to dinner that night to celebrate my new job, we walked around the mall for a while. We saw a sign at the Disney store: Temporarily Closing for Remodeling. Everything 75% Off. And prominently displayed at the front of the store were these must-have plush items:

My husband and I gleefully purchased a full set for our nephew… and a full set for ourselves. He was as giddy as I was, having already declared that because I would now have a decent-sized paycheck, we could afford to spoil his sister’s son with all kinds of gifts. I find it ironic, adorable and hilarious that although my husband is the spend-thrift, he is already deciding how to spend my paycheck. But you know what? Fair enough. I’ve spent enough of his paychecks over the years that I owe him a little something. And now that I feel at liberty to spend, I could think of worse things to do than go toy shopping. Maybe he'll even let me buy him a few books...


Jeremy said...

Don't forget that you can still use the library... and our apartment still only has so much space for books...

Gemmag said...

Hi Lauren, I followed you over here from book blogs, I'm going to have a sit down with a cup of tea and give your blogs a good old read when I get off work, they look great though! I hope you will check mine out when you get the chance!! http://thefoldedpage.blogspot.com/

Gemma xx

Smile Soup said...

Great blog, and a HUGE congrats on the job!

I always find that when I'm earning money and can afford to buy things like books, due to the workload I find it difficult to find the time to read them...

Good luck!

Little Wonder Lauren said...

@Smile Soup: that's why I have stacks and stacks of unread books in various places around my apartment... oops :-)

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