When I was Teenage Budget Glamorish (for I have always been budget and in various stages of glamorosity), I started developing my own ideas of that age-old concept known as “the good life.” Really, I’ve turned over this notion in my little noggin since I was Little Budget Glamorous. When I was five, I decided the best life possible would have to be lived as a spy. As a spy, I would have apartments in Paris and in New York, and both would be full of truly fantastic clothes. I would travel everywhere doing whatever spies did and it would be awesome. Then I turned six.
My teenage self modified this concept to include having lots of ca$h, lots of travel, serious job prestige and still a closet full of awesome clothes. That self settled on a stockbroker as the ideal vehicle to such ends. Then I went to college and took some finance classes…
College Budget Glamorous by then was a young single mother. Her version of the good life included financial security (whatever that was), a strong future for the kidlet, and “living the life of the mind.” Then this version of the self graduated and tried to do just that.
It was frustrating.
For one thing, the stress of being a starving artist with a kidlet sort of takes away from the lofty amounts of time I figured I spend Thinking Deep Thoughts while being creative and fulfilled. Whatever that was about. I had all these notions of how to live ethically and with value other than moneydollars. I pondered the breakdown of community and why we were all so isolated. I wanted to do something meaningful. I knew that I had to work to live and I wanted a certain measure of “stuff.” But my Parisian apartment vision had been replaced by something tidy that I could call my own (though I went through various stages of wanting to build a “dream home” as well).
Now, I realize that my idea of the good life really should be more properly defined as “a life well lived.” It’s not so much about the stuff, but about the activity that stuff stood for. My tiny self wanted a Parisian apartment because I thought the view would be beautiful and somehow the inside would be delightful to come home to. I have achieved the same effect with my tiny little mid-1950s house here in Appalachia. I put some time and effort into making it that place that promotes creativity, supports the life I want as well as the life I have to lead, and generally speaking is just as dang glamorous as the apartment in my head (tho far more budget and still not completely finished).
Travel is the one consistent theme I’ve kept from little girl to now. The only thing that has changed is my idea of what I can afford. I may have gone to Mexico City instead of Paris, but for all purposes, the effect on my worldview was the same. Each place offers its own take on life and how one lives it. Just getting out of the country was good enough, even if it’s on a shoestring to the developing world. It’s a valuable part of my life experience and one I hope to continue to do.
Ultimately, it’s just about figuring out what all that “stuff” was supposed to mean. I don’t really want the floor to ceiling cavernous library with the leather chairs for reading. I want intellectual curiosity, escape and fantasy that books can offer. A Kindle will do. Or the used book store or the library. I didn’t really want a chef. I wanted access to neat foods. (So I learned to cook, and what I can’t cook, the occasional sushi binge fixes!) I didn’t really want high end dinner parties (OK, maybe once). I want the feeling of eating with friends and talking about interesting things. I can do that with potluck and it feels great. I don’t really want all the acreage and the massive gardens I used to want. I want to make my little vegetable and cottage garden on my own soil and visit other public parks and gardens instead. It’s the same thing without all the upkeep.
I’m still working on the closet. I cannot get past the clothes. For me, they’re forms of art. I’m just too budget limited to get what I truly want. So perhaps in that way I’m very materialistic!
How do you define a life well lived?