Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Hydraulic Belt Tensioners, Money, and the Writing Life

I have money on the brain this morning.  It's partly because of this great post of Kelli's, where she talks about reading Your Money or Your Life (actually, listening to the audiobook).  I read that book long ago when I had what seemed like insurmountable debt.  I found it both discouraging and inspiring.  It did teach me to think about my hourly wage as I considered whether or not to buy things; I found it a powerful exercise to look at an object and to say, "This would represent two hours worth of work for me; is it worth it?"

My spouse likes the term "opportunity cost."  Everything you buy means there's something else you can't buy, some place you can't visit, more work you have to do to pay for the object and its upkeep.  Some things are worth the opportunity cost; you need to have a place to live and food to eat.  But do you need to have the most expensive house you can afford or is it worth it to live more simply and to have more cash to spend on other things?

I think of this in terms of writing, too.  I could take on more teaching work and earn more money.  But that would come at the expense of my writing.  Do I want to sacrifice the writing time to earn more money?  Happily, my job pays me enough that I have the luxury of answering, "No, I do not want to earn more money if it means I lose writing time."

I also have money on the brain because we bought a hydraulic belt tensioner for the car yesterday.  Who even knew we had one?  But you know it when it goes bad.  The car makes a dreadful noise.  Maybe it's been making progressively worse noises, and I just didn't notice.  Car upkeep and maintenance is not one of my strong suits.  Once a mechanic asked me when I last rotated the tires.  I said, "Don't they go around by themselves?"  I was genuinely clueless.

When my spouse, who was dealing with the car situation yesterday while I went to work, told me we needed a hydraulic belt tensioner and how much it would cost, I said, "Do we at least get a new belt too, for that amount of money?"  We do.  We also got a new battery, because the old one went bad during the warranty period.  I should be happy about that, but I'd prefer that objects last the way they're supposed to.  When things fail, I start to mistrust everything and quiver in fear that nothing can be counted on to last.

A belt tensioner.  Why can't we call it a belt harmonizer?  Would I feel better about spending that money then?

No, probably not.  For the amount of money we spent, we could have had a really fun small kitchen appliance, like  a gadget that puts fizz in water or a juicer or a Kitchen Aid mixer that would do everything.

Still, I only have a gaspingly big car repair once in a blue moon, so I'm grateful for that.  It's still less than it would cost to buy a new car and to have monthly payments.  And for the most part, the car is reliable.  It's old, but durable.  Down here, it's not a target for thieves; my little car is surrounded by much better cars which have much better loot.

It seems a good metaphor for the writer's life I've created for myself.  It's a steady, non-flashy life.  It supports me in ways that I can't quickly articulate (mostly non-monetary ways), but that are important to me.

Don't get me wrong.  If President Obama chose me to be Poet Laureate of the U.S., I'd trade my Toyota Corolla writer's life for something bigger.  What's the metaphor here?  Is the Poet Laureate a Prius?  A Lexus?  Obviously a Nobel Laureate would be something even bigger and splashier, and I'd be willing to experience that too--but only after Margaret Atwood has her turn. 

But even if I never get to be a Laureate of any kind, I'm happy with the writing life I have.  And I wouldn't williingly give up that satisfaction for any amount of money.


Hannah Stephenson said...

It's kind of freeing knowing that being a poet comes with no entry-level wage (well, it comes with a 0 dollar entry-level wage).

Wendy said...

I think a poet laureate life might just be a new corolla...


"'Don't they go around by themselves'" made me literally laugh out loud. Thanks.

Kathleen said...

I think you should go ahead and invent a belt harmonizer!!

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