(Image source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/437834395005227248/)
The other day I had a long conversation with the bank over the phone.
Before that, I had been on a weeks-long labour of minimalising my lifestyle, digging into the very core of how I live and how I conduct my day-to-day. The whole exercise touches on every aspect my life and my self, and I have had to make deliberate and final decisions on many things.
The bank conversation was due to happen, but at least I am glad that when it did, it was on my own terms, as much as it could be described to be that. That at least I was ready to speak when I finally spoke with them.
I have one last credit card to my name. Last year I paid off and cancelled my other credit card with the money I made from selling my car. The rest of the money I used to pay the monthly bills while I waited for the dayjob projects that came late into the year and stopped too early this year.
I have a good credit record with this one last card. But in the past two months I had failed to make payments because there simply wasn't anything to pay with. (In case you're wondering, the purchases made on the card were on most part groceries and gifts for the household, and a good part for the books and materials I couldn't get for myself with cash because the cash went to bills. Yes, I know, I have been living beyond my means and I am correcting all of that now.)
So anyway, it had come to the point that for the last two months I got multiple calls from the bank every single day but I never answered them. I knew what they were going to say. And I knew that it would be a fruitless conversation because they would force me to declare a specific date and amount of payment which I know I could not give, and the conversation would only go round and round without resolution, and it would only upset me further as I kept feeling pushed into the corner with no way out.
In the last couple of weeks, two dayjob projects were signed into approval so I knew money was coming in. I made computations and budgeted for the rest of the year, working on the assumption that there might not be another dayjob project for the rest of the year. (At this point I realise how much my art could help out with small daily amounts but as it was I could not do art with the demands of the dayjob, well at least until I sort out all the arrangements on that one.)
I figured I could update my credit card payments by late September or early October. Not a specific date but at least there's a specific period. As if on cue, the bank called last Friday, and I explained my situation. Then I was offered a payment arrangement contract and was told to make a payment of any amount that day as a token of intention and to call the bank again this Monday once the payment has registered.
I forgot to call Monday so I called Tuesday.
And then there was a very long interview on my capacity to pay, how I earned money, and a whole slew of deeply personal financial questions. They were asked because I was asking for the payment arrangement scheme which will mean I won't have to face a continually rising interest fee, but instead I will only have to pay a fixed amount for two years and then it's all over. The catch is, if I miss even a single payment, the deal is off and I would be expected to pay the amount due in full. (I still can't figure out how they imagine that happening if the reason why the payment failed was because there was no money then how in the world can one pay the full amount?) So they wanted to know if I have the capacity to make that monthly payment for 24 months, without fail.
In the end, I was granted the payment contract, and when I put down the phone I first felt a brief relief, and then a period of depression that lasted for almost two days before I pushed myself to get out of it fast.
I was depressed to the point that I lay on the couch and imagined drifting off to sleep and wishing I would simply never wake up because I was just so damned TIRED. I could never take my own life, but I kept wishing I would die a sudden painless death. I have thought like this a number of times, often late into the night when I battled insomnia. But that day I was thinking it in the middle of a bright afternoon.
The conversation with the bank played in a loop in my head. It pressed upon me so much of my lack and my inadequacy, and then the guilt flowed along with it out of the disappointment of other people's expectations and their unspoken regrets at what I had wasted of my life and my opportunities. I scolded myself for my stubbornness and my foolishness. I regretted my past. I mourned my present.
How do you make money? How long have you been making money that way? Are there other people in your household working? Can't they help you? Can't they lend you the money you need? Are there any other people who can help you? Relatives? Friends? Do you have any savings? How will you be able to make the monthly payments? Isn't there really anyone who can help you out for the moment to update your account? Is there no other way for you to get the money?
They brought back to me another conversation with another bank two or three years ago when I gave up my condo unit because I could no longer afford the amortisations. But why do you insist on doing freelance? Why don't you go back to being employed so you won't have problems paying? Can't you take on even just a part-time but stable job so you'll have sure money every month? Is there anyone who can help you out with a loan? What about your family? Can't they help you with money?
Do they realise that they are questioning the very fabric and foundation of my life? The very life choices I have made in the pursuit of what I believe to be bigger than what I am, my own life's bid for everlastingness that is beyond material and financial gain? Do they not think I have asked those very same questions to myself, and that if I had any useful answers I would have taken them?
And then it spiralled into my questioning my own creative journey, the very spine and soul of what I am and what I am becoming. Should I just push it aside, take up the corporate mantle again, and just "focus on the money as a means". But that is what I could not seem to explain sufficiently. I lived that before, and the reality is that the life that makes that kind of money has no space for the life I want to live. The values are different. The thinking is different. And if I were to do a good job to deserve earning all that money then I must be a certain kind of person. And that certain kind of person is someone that is false.
And then I got caught in the vortex of guilt, because I was thinking such selfish thoughts while people depend on me and expect me to take care of things -- the rent, the utility bills, the upkeep of a certain lifestyle, the meeting of other unspoken expectations. I know that some people still believe this is a mad phase I would snap out of. A whim. An indulgence. Surely I cannot be so irresponsible, so impractical.
I had this imagined conversation with the devil (or a genie, or a wizard). That I would trade away this knowledge and experience of my art so I would not long for it and I would not be distracted by it, and in exchange I would ask for a basic animal-like contentment with the steady, stable routine of a high-paying job and going through the motions of a template of success. Everyone will thus be provided for, there will be no lack, no wanting, no shortages, no worrying. There will be security, stability, as defined by modern society. The only absence and emptiness and poverty will be inside me but they will be asleep and unrecognised and so they will not really make me suffer. My life would then be a white lie, a sacrifice for the greater good of more people. For how do I even convince myself that what I'm trying to do is worth sacrificing the care, comfort, and pleasures of those who rely on me?
So you see, before you even begin I have begun on myself a long time ago. You cannot possibly match how much I have questioned myself and my motivations. How much I have made myself hurt,
The minimalism move is an effort to distill my need and use of money. I want to spend as little of it as I can, so I need not make so much of it. I would like to revive the idea of barter and trading items or favours. Spreading the idea of value and what's valuable beyond mere money. It's a dream, but I know it's not entirely impossible. Of course it all all still connect to money in some way, for there will always be people and institutions who value financial profit above all else. But I 'm thinking for instance, free paint and brushes for a series of painting process posts featuring that brand. Maybe a doctor would accept a painting for his clinic in exchange for a few consultations. Individual personalised arrangements and transactions. Or even a combination of money + in kind.
It will be my dad's birthday this weekend and already we are planning to postpone the planned small celebration because the money (cheques from my clients) is delayed. Again. So many layers of money delays in the dayjob front. Corporations have little concern for the day-to-day needs of the people they use, and occasionally the people inside corporations love to play with their power to release or not release a cheque just because they can.
Where am I? I lost track of what I wanted to say. Simply this, that I lose sleep battling my guilt for daring to be artist because it is not creating the life that is expected from me. That I am refusing to engage one hundred percent in the kind of work that will instantly solve all of my financial problems, and instead insist on this struggle without even the guarantee or the promise of sure success. That I am indulging in this quest to be something I cannot, at the moment, afford to be. An artist! A writer! To publish a book! What silly notions.
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I am an artist-in-progress. I started my creative journey in 2012 and have never stopped taking steps since. Always one step at a time. Always moving forward. It has been an increasingly tough and occasionally rewarding road.
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