My Financial Leaps of Faith
I used to own a real Pier 1 Imports papasan chair.
I used to own a set of pots and pans.
I used to own a Crock-Pot. One of the old-school, stoneware ones. I also had a second slow cooker; one of the less expensive kinds that had a metal heating implement and a removal inner ceramic pot. I used them both pretty much constantly.
I used to own a breadpan made out of that baking stone material, the kind you aren’t supposed to wash with soap.
I had a garlic peeler and a garlic grinder and a Magic Bullet and different cutting boards for different types of food. I had different knives, too. I had leaded crystal wineglasses, or at least they had diamonds cut into the glass and I couldn’t tell the difference.
I don’t know who has all of this stuff now. I barely remember what I did with it. I remember that someone from Craigslist finally carried off the papasan chair. I remember once again getting rid of a collection of books, this time stacking them into the apartment’s giveaway pile instead of trying to sell them like I did in grad school.
I gave away a lot of things, from my copy of Death Comes to Pemberly to the garlic grinder, that were gifts from my parents, and I still feel pretty badly about that. Not that you shouldn’t give away a garlic grinder if you don’t plan on using it anymore, but my family gave me a lot, and I kind of squandered it all.
It was for a guy, of course.
I mean, that’s reductive. It was for me as much as it was for the guy. It was me moving in the direction of a connection that I couldn’t find where I was—and believe me, I had tried dating in DC. The Young Professionals in Foreign Policy didn’t want anything to do with the executive assistant. Plus, we were in our 20s, and everyone was all “well, I can’t get tied down because I’m waiting for my real life to start.”
I do consider the move to Los Angeles the point at which my “real life” started—or at least it’s the point at which I started making the friends and bulding the career I have today, which seems to be as close as that kind of definition gets. But I wish I could have found my real life and kept the papasan chair and the garlic grinder. It was yellow, with a pink flower painted on it. Why did I have to give that up? It could have fit into the corner of a box.
My biggest financial vice is that I take leaps of faith. I have to leave something behind every time I jump, and I can never see far enough ahead to tell what the other side of the cliff is going to look like.
These leaps cost me a lot of money, and I’m not just referring to my cross-country moves. In 2011, I decided to be the executive producer of a They Might Be Giants cover album and charity project called Mink Car Cover. We raised several thousand dollars for the FDNY Foundation, and I spent several thousand dollars out of pocket. (None of that was debt, thank goodness. It was all cash up front, saved from my think tank job.)
I ran a Kickstarter that cost me $3,000—and then I transitioned out of full-time music performance almost immediately afterwards. My recording engineer told me, on one of our last days together, that I was a talented musician but he thought my “true strength” was in writing. He said this without knowing that I had already started to figure it out for myself.
I took it as a sign that I should pull back on the music and go all in on the freelancing. It was another financial leap of faith, the kind that involved the words “I took it as a sign,” but this leap ended up pulling me back into financial solvency.
But the thing is that any of the other leaps could have, too. I could have married that guy, and we could have pooled our incomes and built our careers together. One of my Mink Car Cover collaborators, Aivi Tran, writes music for Steven Universe now, so there is at least the semblance of a path from “working on a charity cover album” to “writing music for one of the best shows on television.”
I could add up all the money I’ve lost in my life—the $3,000 from the Kickstarter, the cost of buying a new slow cooker when I used to own two—and it would probably be an embarrasingly large sum. About $25,000, I think. Maybe more.
It got me here, though. All my vices, the decisions I made on faith or for love, got me to where I am now.
It is easy to write that narrative as a victory. I think it’s just ordinary, though; making these kinds of financial leaps are just what we do in life, although some of us may leap more often than others. Saying “and then she, at 33 years of age, achieved everything you ever need in a life and remained financially solvent forever” sounds ridiculous.
So I’m not ending this with “but my financial leaps led me to this place, which means they were all for the best.” They just were. Yesterday I put a deposit on an apartment. Eventually I will buy a garlic grinder. Within a decade, I’ll have to completely reconfigure my career. Someday, I’ll put another stack of books in an apartment lobby, because I won’t feel like I can afford to carry them with me to whatever comes next.
This piece is part of a series examining our financial vices.