food, farming, friends and family: a meditation on chosen simplicity and (in)voluntary complications – life.

Evaluating Value

Have I told you I have a sugar daddy? I do.

He’s an Environmental Scientist, makes ten bucks an hour (once Uncle Sam takes his cut), has paid my portion of the rent on more than one occasion, and happily kicks in more than his fair share for items ranging from ice cream cones to the hottest Goodwill fashions.

And do you know what else?

He has a sugar momma!

She’s an Unemployed Farmer, makes between zero and twelve dollars an hour (usually under the table), cooks a mean carrot ginger soup, and has made great strides in securing his (and her) storage veggies for the entire winter. Why, just yesterday she turned their compost pile and canned 7 pints of quince jelly (and that was by 2 o’clock!).

Money – and specifically, its scarcity – has made its way into my consciousness more so this year than any other. True, I’ve never been rich (my career interests have ranged from English Teacher to Farmer if that gives you a window into my financial aspirations). And luckily, I’ve also never been poor – or at least in a situation where I have felt desperate for money.

But since I’ve been old enough to work a job, I’ve most always been regularly employed. And so this year has been an experiment in stringing together odd jobs when I can, and finding satisfaction and validation in the other contributions I’m able to make. It’s hard to stack jars of apple butter and piles of folded laundry against a rent check, and I’ve spent plenty of time feeling guilty about the status of my bank account. But I think I’m coming to a place, with a lot of support (emotional and financial) from Neil and plenty of great conversations with both friends and acquaintances on the subject (our relationship with money is yet another elephant in the room that we don’t give ourselves a forum to really examine), where I’m allowing myself to give value to what I contribute .

But it’s just as useless to ignore money’s worth as it is to obsess over it. And I’m finding the middle ground, a healthy relationship with money, is a hard one to occupy. In trying to get there, I find Henrik Ibsen’s words pretty on point:

“Money may be the husk of many things, but not the kernel. It brings you food, but not appetite; medicine, but not health; acquaintances, but not friends; servants, but not faithfulness; days of joy, but not peace and happiness.”

My friend Jim has described his relative wealth as “money energy,” a way that he can fuel and support the values and projects he believes in. If you look in the dictionary for the word generous, there is a picture of Jim. Those of you who have met him would certainly agree. And for those of you who haven’t, but would like to – don’t worry; if you’re meant to cross paths, you most definitely will.

For the past couple of years, on the first or second weekend of October, I’ve gone to the Tonasket Barter Faire (aka Okanogan Family Faire) These events began as an opportunity to celebrate the end of the farming season, reconnect with your community and stock up on your winter essentials, trading your wool blankets, say, for some walnuts or cheese or potatoes. Why not have a bonfire and play some music while you’re at it? I really recommend going to (or creating!) a barter faire as a way to meet some great people, rekindle your creative fires, and rethink the monetary system (So … how many pounds of potatoes is your wooden bowl worth to me?) Tonasket’s Barter Faire has grown exponentially in the 36 years since it started, and has come to include vendors of all sorts, people from far and wide, and – money.

On the ride home from this year’s Barter Faire (Neil and I brought garlic braids, quince, and all kinds of canned goods.), I was feeling like a bit of a jerk when one of the first things I did was to start counting up the money we earned that weekend. Scratch that, I felt like a big jerk. We came back with honey, walnuts, squash, artwork, onions, everything we wanted to stock up on for the winter – and more – and here I was focusing on the dollars and cents. HUGE jerk.

Until Neil said this: “Erin, there’s nothing to feel badly about. One of the things we bartered for this weekend was money energy. We’ll need that too this winter.”

My sugar daddy isn’t much of a talker, but sometimes he says just the right thing.

So I’m quite obviously new to this blogging deal, but of course I wouldn’t mind making it an interactive thing. I’m wildly curious about how other people are mulling these ideas over:

* Where are you at in your relationship with money?
* Are you – or have you ever been – in a bread winner/bread baker dynamic? And how did you make it work? Or maybe it didn’t? How do gender roles factor into that relationship?
* What experiences have you had with events or ideas that feature different ways of understanding value (ie barter faires or alternative currencies)?
* Do you hate money?
* Do you love it?

What do you think?


One response

  1. sweet erin, I love your blog so much. You my friend have a way with words that I admire greatly. You may have noticed my blog is quite different, usually picture heavy and word light. I don't think thats bad, I just have a much easier time using pictures to describe what i love than words. I really loved this post especially because I do believe we are in a very similar place with the current state of our energy money accounts. I too struggle with feelings of insecurity at not financially contributing in ways i once did. But i do believe having both worked "normal" jobs and been a jill of all trades that it is admirable to flow through work as we are. There will most likely not be many times in our lives where we will have this option and I too am so grateful to my sugar daddy for giving me the opprotunity to explore what I love. And I'm fairly sure our sugar daddies really appreciate the ways we do contribute. I love you erin.

    November 22, 2009 at 1:35 am

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