Poverty is wearing me thin. I say this with a full awareness that I have never experienced true poverty. I have grown up with so many advantages and so many opportunities. As I write this, I am typing on my Apple computer, while periodically checking my iPhone (whose battery incidentally, was mined in the mountains of the Congo by human slaves). I am drinking Stumptown coffee, my preferred brand, wearing UBC sweatpants (I have both an undergraduate and a graduate degree from UBC). I have borrowed so much money from my mom, my sister, and my dad to distort the meaning of the word borrow. I have student loans and student lines of credit and visa debt. Debt is bad, but I have always had someone to borrow from in a pinch. I have had help and options and possibilities. And I know that most of the world does not have any of these. When I get sick or depressed, I always have a couch/bed/soft place to land at my mom’s. When creditors are beating down my door, I can always appeal to my Dad. I have wonderful relatives who take me on amazing trips to exotic places and have helped me pay for my education.
And yet, I have never officially lived above the poverty line. I have never made over 25,000$ a year. I am 35 and my dad pays my rent, and this makes me feel both privileged and ashamed. Intermittently I am reduced to eating bread and mustard and noodles with soya sauce because I run out of money for real groceries. Last month I went off my antidepressants and my ADHD medication because I couldn’t afford them. They cost upwards of 400$ a month. I quickly realized what a terrible idea this was, and decided to go into financial debt to avoid going into psychic debt. Sometimes my credit card gets rejected buying bread or cat food or toilet paper or fries at Macdonald’s.
This isn’t meant to be a litany of my financial misfortunes. In fact, for all the times my credit card has been denied, I have made five stupid purchases. I have never mastered the art of making money, and I’m also not good at saving money. This is a poor combination. I really want X book, so I decide it is worth living without groceries for the week, but then once I’ve actually eaten my way through all the groceries, I decide that actually I do need to eat, and so I buy groceries as well. Expensive cheeses and artisan breads. Part of this is related to entitlement and the world tells me some of this entitlement comes from being a millennial. I feel I should be able to live surrounded by books and wearing expensive scarfs and eating artisan breads, while still having the time to create. Sometimes I look around at everything that other people have managed to build for themselves, and I am both mystified and envious. When people talk about renovating their homes or even looking at houses, it feels they are speaking another language and that they belong to another world altogether. And I know that part of the problem is me, and entitlement–just because some people have these things, doesn’t mean I am entitled to have these things-and poor spending, and a disturbed vision of what it means to happy, but still there is a part of me that worries about what this lack of money, these worries about buying cat food or medication, does to creativity.
In her essay A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf meditates on the effect of wealth and poverty on the mind. She understands that “one cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well […] A woman must have money and a room of one’s own if she is to write fiction”. Creativity needs certain conditions in order to thrive, and these are conditions that traditionally have not be afforded to women in patriarchal society. My poverty is modest by almost any standard, and the opportunities available to me as a white cisgender woman in Canadian society are vast, but Vancouver is prohibitively expensive and me trying to make and save money has thus far proven to be like a shipwrecked sailor,desperately rubbing two bits of wood together to make fire. The combination of these things really makes me wonder if I will ever have a room of my own?