ODE TO THE LIBRARY
It has been almost four full months since I embarked on my no shopping decree that was going to be a month at a time and here I am. I have saved money for a rainy day for the first time in my fifty three year young life, followed a reasonable budget and had money left over to spare on a weekly basis. I have always been great at saving for retirement since I was in my late twenties. My grandfather barked his wisdom at me telling me to buy mutual funds and invest in the company 401k that was fortunately available at my young age and ultimately led me to the discipline of saving for my future. Fifty three came fast and I was really happy that I listened to him especially when it came to saving for my later and for my son’s education — I had enough saved to completely pay for his first two years of college. My nemesis was the rainy day fund. I never learned to save for the now, the present, the what if, living by the seat of my pants for most of my life and for the most part it has worked out for me, but not without a lot of stress and worry.
My grandmother, Kitsie, the one of Hot Fudge Sauce fame, my mother’s mother, was a perpetual money worrier, my mother and father were spendthrifts always having the latest car, kitchen gadget and not really teaching us much about the value of money and the self worth it inscribes when handled it with care and attention. Like food, money for me has been one of those go to soothers when the going gets tough. Eating a hot fudge sundae or going on a shopping spree at Williams Sonoma or Lululemon detoured me from the hole of emotion making it easy to avoid the bump in the road. In the throws of these outings though, the thrill of the spend or the indulging in the fudge covered up the hole like a sewer cap on a street, unbeknownst to this traveler as I didn’t notice the gaping crater as I blasted my way to the shopping center.
Amazon Prime changed some of this routine. Now at a moment’s notice I could Search! Find! and Buy Now with One Click! in less than two minutes all in the comfort of my flannel pjs warmly coated on the couch in my other more sensible grandmother Isabelle’s (aka total saver) lighthouse sweater. In two days voila like magic, a store could be brought to me. The thrill of seeing the UPS or FedEx truck pull up felt like a perpetual Happy Birthday to Me. I would eagerly open up the smooth and well packaged boxes emblazoned with the Amazon Prime label reminding anyone around me that I too paid the one hundred extra dollars per year for the joy of shopping from the glory of my couch in my pjs. The convenience of the Amazon store credit card tied this neatly into a glorious consumerism bow so I could rack up points to gather for more more more purchases.
When I decided to stop shopping for most things, and going instead the old school style of weekly outings to the bank to write myself a check and divvy the money up into neat little envelopes, it was a personal challenge to years of over spending, freely buying whatever I wanted whenever I wanted and wondering why I never had any rainy day fund money at the end of the month. I always admired my female friends who were on a budget, I never really could wrap my head or my wallet around the discipline. I came from the school of thought that everything happens in the divine right order, that all is well in my world, (thank you Louise Hay for giving me permission to blow cares to the wind). I believed that if you said things like I choose not to afford this rather than I can’t afford it somehow this would create the magical abundance that The Secret and all of the Tony Robbins twelve cd sets guilefully in his 3am informercials promised that I somehow found myself watching one early morning in Killington Vt. on an awkward ski trip in my former life when my son was about two.
Now I don’t want to give the wrong impression that I totally gave up shopping at Amazon Prime, not at all. I do have to buy many items for my business (wink wink) and the fine line between giving up shopping for my personal life in contrast to my business is a perpetual tightrope walk. But I have for the most part prevailed and book purchases were the first to go. When I did my last major purge, I couldn’t believe how many books I had amassed; clearly I love to buy books as much as I love to read them. As I contemplated my son standing in front of all of these books trying to decide what to get rid of, what to donate, what to keep, on the day of my funeral (cancer has this affect on you like this- the constant visualizations of your child having to make decisions about all of your crap), I was struck by how overwhelming it could be. I made a prompt decision to donate, sell or give to my friends most of my books. I don’t need to have them on display in my living room to demonstrate my literature worthiness, that is all my own ego and of all of the parts of my body I am happiest to free myself from, ego release is the bonus breast cancer gift that keeps on giving.
I decided to give the library a try. My Hot Fudge Sauce grandmother Kitsie was an avid library attendee. She was a teacher and read constantly always going back and forth from the from the Newton library to drop off and pick up another book. My grandfather too was a regular visitor to the library spending afternoons reading in the quiet space. (probably to get away from my grandmother’s incessant vacuuming and was a better alternative to the former hangout for this sober Irish Scottish drinker).
In my beautiful town of Bristol, RI we have a lovely library and it is within walking distance of my house. I am ashamed to say that I had only taken out books a handful of times usually returning them late hence making the library more of a magnifier of my weak spots of irresponsibility then the joy it should have been. But that was then. With this new direction of not shopping, going to the library and learning how to use it has become a source of great enjoyment for me. I learned that I could go on to the Ocean State Libraries network and basically type in any book and just like Amazon it would become available to me with a simple email to let me know when it was ready for pickup. I look forward to reading the Sunday NYT Book Review and it doesn’t cease to surprise me when I type in the book on the site and it is there, just like Amazon and it’s free! I am laughing at myself wholeheartedly. I have had to make the small adjustment of typing in the author’s name last name first. This has taken me some getting used to and you can see my annoyance when I repeatedly typed in Hannah Arendt and the library was telling me there was no such author. Ahhh, of course, the correct non Amazon Prime way, Arendt, Hannah. HOW EMBARRASSING. Was anyone looking? No! because there is no algorithm tracking my every search! Another bonus!!!
I have found myself actively finishing every book I start because there is a time line of when the book needs to be returned forcing me to turn off the television or put down the phone to check how many likes one of my writings recently received (yes I reveal my truth of shame here, embarrassing, but true and I really have to consciously force myself to not take part in the silliness of the eight grade world we now found ourselves in). I actually laid on the couch yesterday and read an entire book because I knew I had to return it this week.
There is a lovely old fashioned ritual to using the library that makes me connect to my grandmother. The crinkling sounds of the plastic protector covers on the books, the date due stamped with all of the previous dates in the inside cover, nameless but quantifiable. Taking care of the book, being more conscious of preserving its pages because it is borrowed not owned, walking down to the library and engaging with the volunteers by talking about books. I love watching the new mamas traipsing in with their little babes in tow hoping to instill a love of books before public elementary school gets a hold of their little minds and forces them to record the number of minutes they read the night before sucking the joy of the book right out of them. Yes really. There is the activity wall listing all of the endless events going on and looking around at the patrons who are either working on the free computers, reading the free newpapers or just sitting like it is a café without the wafts of coffee aroma luring you to stay and think you need to buy rather than borrow.
And The Quiet.
The quiet of the space, the people, the technology, the voices, the sounds. It has been a welcome bonus in my new land of not shopping and what I have noticed is how much I have learned to love the little joys that have come my way unexpected. And for the first time in my young life have saved money for a rainy day in less than four months. I actually look at my checkbook each day and I know exactly how much is in there because I didn’t spend any money the day or week before. Those twenty dollar debit charges “here and there” add up to enormous mountains of spending and what I have noticed is by not using my debit card ever and using cash instead always, I don’t have to play the incessant catch up in my check book that is inevitable with these constant miscellaneous charges of a lunch here, a pair of sneakers there, a scarf or a hat, the list never ends.
What I have learned from my depression era grandparents is that wealth is not spending, wealth is a maturity in knowing you value yourself enough to value the money that you earn. That by spending it willy nilly on every whim, I am in many ways not honoring the importance of its energy. Money has an energy of great purpose, but it can also lead to terrible outcomes. As women especially, we are often taught from an early age that when in doubt, go shopping, eat a bag of chips or a tray of cookies. But by all means, spend. By not spending for almost four months, I have had to face the inordinate amount of time that miraculously became available to me. I couldn’t believe how much time I had given to shopping, or thinking about buying something. The liberation came from releasing it and the library became my detour. Thank you Benjamin Franklin who had the foresight and brilliance to think that a library was a possibility.
“And now I set on foot my first project of a public nature, that for a subscription library … this was the mother of all the North American subscription libraries, now so numerous. It is become a great thing itself, and continually increasing. These libraries have improved the general conversation of the Americans, made the common tradesmen and farmers as intelligent as most gentlemen from other countries, and perhaps have contributed in some degree to the stand so generally made throughout the colonies in defense of their privileges.” — The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin