Monday, November 14

On money and the lack of it.

All I ask is a chance to prove that money can't make me happy.
- Spike Milligan

When I was about eight, my sister and I opened up a bunch of cool, shiny batman figurines in the toy aisle of the Shoprite. With our boundless stealth and cunning minds, we assumed that Batman, Robin and Catwoman could have a quick adventure, and nobody would be the wiser. An assistant found us, obviously. My mom had to pay for the toys, obviously. And they were what, R50, maybe R60 each? Big money. She took our pocket money away, and a measly R10 a week would go towards the toys until they were paid off.

In the long run, my mom made a profit out of that embarrassing day, because she never restored our pocket money. It's been fifteen years, and I'm still paying off that bloody Robin.

Here's the thing about money.

People who have it don't think it's a big deal.

I kinda hate those people. And I kinda am one of those people.

My formative years (do people still say that?) I didn't have a lot of money. My dad loved casinos more than he loved our house, and he ended up trading the latter for the former. My mom worked at a deli and then as a taxi driver to keep the family afloat. I can't remember a time when she wasn't exhausted from work. We moved a few times before landlords could kick us out for not paying rent. My clothes were faded, exuberant numbers from family friends who'd clean out their wardrobes and think of poor Janet's girls.

While I saw myself as poor, I didn't have much angst about it. It wasn't a reflection on me that the adults in my life were selfish or mathematically challenged or whatever, right? And why would I want to go on school trips to Warmbaths anyway? I had my carefully curated collection of Pokemon tazos, and while I wasn't happy, I didn't let myself get miserable by entertaining the hope that I'd ever have anything more.

But things started to take a turn when I was about sixteen and my mom took a risk and opened up her own business: selling replica oil paintings at a stall at the local market. I helped out every weekend and things were painfully slow at first. We didn't have a single sale for almost four months. We'd be on our feet, showing people paintings, hope lifting the corners of our mouths while defeat dragged our shoulders down.

But one day, a nice blonde woman bought a Mediterranean scene and paid with a cheque that, to my astonishment, cleared. Money started trickling in, so slowly that I didn't realise we had any until we moved to a bigger flat in a nicer area two years later.

My sister, through sheer irrational willpower, had gotten herself through a year of university before it was time for me to apply. I told people I wanted to study publishing, because being a writer was far too foolish an ambition. Anyone can write, what made me think anyone would want to pay me to do it?

University changed my life because it changed my perceptions. Suddenly I was surrounded by people who didn't worry about money – they didn't even think about it. They had new cars and shopped in Sandton and didn't even know how much their course fees were. They had cards to pay for a R50 salad from the cafe every day. One of my first weeks there, I had a conversation with a guy who said he liked to travel, so I asked where he'd been. “Brazil, England, Greece, New York,” he began - I specifically remember my eyes widening at this point, so much so that I daren't remind him that New York wasn't a country. He was surprised at my surprise and even more surprised when I asked him how he managed it. “Well, just family holidays and stuff, you know...” he said edgily, as if I'd take all his travel away from him if he didn't justify it.

I had plenty of moments like that – accidentally making rich people feel uncomfortable by making them feel rich. Of course, making people feel uncomfortable is one of my undeniable talents, but I think I've gotten better at this particular strain of awkwardness. For instance, I no longer respond to people moaning about Paris being so crowded in the spring by sunnily saying, “I wish I had your problems.”

Though my mother's business was paying rent, I was reliant mostly upon my dad's sporadic support when it came to paying fees. For three years my stomach twisted every month's end, knowing that this will be the month that the money doesn't come together, this will be the month that they'll kick me out because I'm a fraud and these clothes belong to my mother's best friend who brought them over to our house in a big plastic bag.

But I made it through – call it luck or the law of attraction or a small financial miracle, but I got my degree. And after that, I got a year's Merit Award to carry on and do Honours, which I did simply because you don't turn down free stuff. Education doesn't grow on trees.

But the problem is that once I'd gotten out of university and out of the cast-iron socially acceptable excuse of having no money because I'm living 'the student life' (although I never abused alcohol on a regular enough basis to be worthy of that title) I've finally come to a conclusion.

I want to be rich, damn it.

There, I said it. The depressing thing is that I don't just want to be rich now, I want to be rich five years ago. I've seen life on the other side. I want to be rich five years ago, so that I didn't have to spend my weekends at the bloody market holding up paintings and grinning like a maniac, so I could drive to house parties on the other side of the world in my own car, so I could go to fests where everyone walks around in flip flops and sleeps in tents and pretend to be poor for a long-weekend. And most importantly, I want to be rich five years ago so I could take all that stuff for granted.

The truth is, I'm sorta rich now – well, the teenage me would've thought that I'm loaded. I have a whole R500 in my bank account – do you have any idea how many chip packets with the tazo-strip that'd buy? I 'work' one or two days a week (still at that selfsame hell market) and don't have income the rest of the time, and yet a roof magically stays over my head and the good pickles are still stocked high in the cupboards. I spend my days writing, pushing, straining to get something of decent quality out of the hormone-soaked creative cesspool of my mind. I've written over twenty-thousand words this month, and all but eight of them are ugly.

I'm living a borderline-moneyless existence, while almost everyone I spent four years studying with are driving their lovely cars to work in posh buildings, or overseas traveling or studying or suffering the crowds of Paris.

And while I know it's only temporary, that maybe one day my words will be pretty enough to sell, I can't help but feel like I'm still paying off that bloody Robin.


  1.  Meh, I kinda suck these days. But you have inspired me to try :)
    I love that quote!

  2. Stop with the niceness, you're gonna make me cry.

    Sarah, you know I love you and I respect your opinion, because I know you're honest and you have good taste. I'm gonna be a dork and admit that I was literally fangirlishly hoping that you'd comment on this post and say nice things to me :3 and you've been too kind. YOU have to write more because I truly think you're better than me.

    Ugliness abounds but it's not so bad - I just read a quote that I think will become my new motto: "The first draft of anything is shit." Ernest Hemingway said that. And that guy's a genius so I think I'll trust him. :)

    And of course I knew this was you. What kind of a stalker would I be if I didn't know your aliases? ♥

  3. That's me, Sarah, btw. Clicked post before I realised it called me Nebridia.

  4. You're pretty much wonderful and I envy your talent. I cannot wait to read your novel (seriously, you know I wouldn't say that just to be nice). I miss you and you inspire me. Please carry on being honest and personal. It suits you. Also, ugliness is good in some ways, just don't lose sight of beauty.

  5. Oh gosh, I've done it again! I really didn't mean for this post to be in-your-face or trying to make some point about privilege. It was just nice to be honest about a topic I don't usually talk about, because most of my friends are the 'other people' as you put it - and it's really okay that you went to a private school, I really don't resent you for it! Everybody takes stuff for granted, and I wasn't trying to make you or anyone else feel guilty.

    That being said, I happily accept your jealousy of my imaginary future success! :)

  6. You make me laugh and now you make me be serious as well? Dude!

    This post made me confront the fact that I'm really one of the other people, and it made me uncomfortable, but that's because it should. I've only started to become aware of my privilege in the last few years - sort of the opposite of your varsity experience. I'd gone from a private school where girls in my class literally spent R10 000 on matric dance dresses (I didn't, for the record) to suddenly meeting people who hadn't had the sort of opportunities and privileges I hadn't realised I'd been taking for granted.

    And your words are pretty and I hope someone gives you money for them soon. As a warning upfront, I will be totally jealous of you when that happens, but I will pretend not to be, because you're my friend. I just wanted you to know that now. :)

  7. Karl! Thank you for reading, and for the lovely comment ♥ this is a new direction for the blog and I am quite excited about carrying on with it :)

  8. I must confess, this is the first time I've read your blog. I can assure you, this is not the last. It was beautiful, insightful, personal, tragic, and, most importantly, funny. I didn't vote in your poll, but, if today's blog entry is anything to go by, I'd say you'd better not let this go. Keep 'em coming! :)

    Karl :)

  9. you're stunning. Keep writing dasia my girl. Please. Keep writing.

  10. What a compliment! Thanks so much, I definitely will :)


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