POV: Rich.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

POV ("point of view") is a series that addresses many of the same themes covered in my Equals Record column: growing up, saying yes to adventure, learning to embrace a quarter-life crisis. Each POV entry will include a photograph and a short reflection based on what’s pictured. While my previous column focused largely on ideas, POV focuses on moments - glimpses, glances, tiny stories. 

We were five or six when my childhood friend Jo and I decided we’d like to be shopkeepers. After school our mothers would take turns bringing us home to play til late afternoon, and we’d scour our houses for items to “sell”: baby clothes, plastic dolls with missing limbs, yellowed greeting cards, items pilfered from our parents’ desks: paper clips and notepads, heavy metal staplers.

We’d assemble our wares, name our prices, negotiate with each other over the value of things broken and old. Then whoever was the shopper would “buy” something (usually with pennies or pastel-colored Monopoly bills) and take it “home” (usually to the other side of the room).

This never got old. We restocked, renegotiated, repurchased, and rejoiced until one of our mothers arrived and it was time to leave. Then we’d go home and eat dinner with our families, take baths and go to bed feeling rich with our things.

The first year I lived in New York, I experimented with a number of different careers: I nannied. I wrote synopses for short travel films. I farmed. I made mood boards and sorted buttons at a fashion studio.

Eventually, by way of many twists and turns — and a very gradual replacement of babysitting hours with freelance work — I became a writer. I’d majored in writing in college. It made sense, I thought, that I was crafting some sort of career from it.

Years later, I sometimes wonder whether I could have chosen something a little more stable — or whether I’ll ever reach a point in my work that feels stable at all.

It’s a challenge: I love writing — and I choose to do it because it enriches my life in ways that I feel are important — but writers have a notoriously difficult time making a living. I was raised to believe that money doesn’t matter but I live in a city that requires a lot of it.

As I approach thirty I’ve wondered: at what point does money become important, and at what point do you make changes to your plans because of it? What does it means to me, personally, to be successful, and in what context does the word “rich” matter?

The other day, a friend referred to the city as “rich” because so many of the people she feels closest to live here. Growing up, my parents always told my brother and me that though we weren’t affluent in a financial sense, we were rich in the ways that were most meaningful.

I like that. And I like this, from John Waters, also: “My idea of rich is that you can buy every book you ever want without looking at the price and you’re never around assholes. That’s the two things to really fight for in life.”


When Lily, Jamie, and I moved into our Williamsburg apartment last summer, we lived without furniture for three months. The space was in exactly the location we wanted, with exactly the number of bedrooms we needed. It was full of windows and white light; its rooftop, though littered with trash, faced the river and the city skyline.

It was perfect — but much, much more expensive than we’d planned for — so we went without a couch, or chairs, or a real dining table all summer and fall. (Part of winter, too.)

We sat on pillows on the floor instead. Somehow, the thrill of living with best friends — the fact that we could have breakfast together every day and go home together at night — made it okay.

A year later, we have the basics at least, and our apartment has become — like all New York apartments —a physical representation of the time we’ve spent in this city, with photographs, samples of our friends’ artwork, books we’ve picked up from stoop sales, kitchenware we’ve inherited from our families.

Things look different but in most ways they feel the same.

Our space is full now, but of course, it always was.

You can find my previous POV entries, here, and the archive for my personal essay column on the Equals Record, here. Thank you so much for reading. Photo via my Instagram.


tara said...

Blown away, as always.

I love the definition of rich from John Waters. Oh, to be able to buy books without looking at the price! I'd buy a gigantic stack and be bankrupt in no time :)

Paw said...

brilliant and beautiful, a very nice combination. you are rich beyond imagination.

Anonymous said...


Trish said...

Lovely post. My daughter is 4 and loves playing shopkeeper with her little cash register - I hope she always feels comfortably rich, as you say, in the ways that are meaningful.

Trish said...

Lovely post. My daughter is 4 and loves playing shopkeeper with her little cash register - I hope she always feels comfortably rich, as you say, in the ways that are meaningful.

burntfeather said...

"I’ll ever reach a point in my work that feels stable at all." I wonder this too. I have this rule to live by and that's to not worry about money. I feel it's guided me and made sure I've never once felt like I was real financial trouble.

sw said...

I love this and feel the same way. Being rich in intangible ways such as possessing knowledge and experience and feelings and even in
tangible ways like being surrounded by like-minded people- that's what makes you feel accomplished :)

Anonymous said...

"Our space is full now, but of course, it always was."

your words soothe my soul.

Rachel said...

I often feel as thought thoughts of money consume my mind, and this makes me feel greedy...but the less money you have, it seems, the more you find yourself thinking about it. Not having to think about it is actually quite a luxury, and one I took for granted for the first 25 years of my life. Also, I love that picture. =]

Anonymous said...

As a writer who wants to become an acquisitions editor or literary agent, I know I'll never be rich. But I have a supportive family, a few solid friends and really, lately, that's all I need. I don't need a bunch of stuff to know I'm a success. Although I would like a better stocked kitchen - that would make eating home every meal a little more palatable, but slowly, I'm filling in those holes.

max said...


Shoko said...

Thank you all so much for your insights and your always-lovely words. Can't wait to be back soon...

Leanne said...

This is a lovely sentiment. I think with our media consumed with lush lifestyles an glamorous people we forget what is really important. yes money brings food and shelter but it doesn't "buy" all you need.

Leanne said...

This is a lovely sentiment. I think with our media consumed with lush lifestyles an glamorous people we forget what is really important. yes money brings food and shelter but it doesn't "buy" all you need.

fai o. said...

Love John Waters' quote, so awesome and brilliant!

Hena Tayeb said...

you said it perfectly, as you almost always do.
We discuss that, M and I. We don't need to be rich, we don't need fancy cars or designer clothing.. what I need is to be able to buy food without looking at the price, giving my children all that they need (not want) without having to do that maths.. and as long as we are all healthy and happy and together.. i am plenty rich.

Steph said...

This is really beautiful, Shoko. There are so many ideas here that I relate to and that are tricky for me. I grew up relatively poor in material things, because my dad was ill, but rich in the things that I value - reading, creativity, an appreciation of nature. I have educated parents who were able to give me those things, and in turn this gave me the freedom to make many unconventional choices in my youth and live well on very little money.

The thing is that I always wanted to be an artist and a historian, but after being without much money for a long time I decided to pursue a more marketable skill set. I now make a good salary and am building a good retirement fund, but I often wonder if I would like to leave that and return to something more creative. At the same time, my current work gives me a lot of freedom. I don't spend extravagantly, but I never have to actually worry about money anymore and I can afford to buy the art supplies and craft supplies that I need to do what I love, as well as travel to enjoy the beautiful things that have meaning to me. Likewise, I should be able to retire early and still have sufficient money to continue doing the stuff that I love. After a youth of relative income insecurity, there is something wonderful about the relative control that I have over my finances and my future. It's a truly difficult conundrum that I struggle with every day.

Tiffany said...

this is so funny, but my brother and i would sell clothes. we would take out all our favorite things from the closet and pretend we had a boutique :)though i may possibly have had enjoyed it more than him.

angela said...

I love that john waters quote and I think it's so true . Find out what's important to you! Being around good people is so crucial!

Shoko said...

Thank you all for your thoughts! Loved reading these stories and comments.

Hena, beautifully said.

Steph, it sounds like you're doing amazingly! I really admire your attitude — and how wonderful that you're still able to do what you love!



sho & tell © All rights reserved · Theme by Blog Milk · Blogger