January can be a difficult time of year for most of us, financially, owing to the one-two punch of the holidays and the fact that most companies no longer provide any kind of Christmas bonus (and, no, Jelly of the Month clubs don’t count). It was particularly tough for me this year, owing to the dual facts that (1) getting divorced is rather expensive and (2) working at an alt weekly – while magical and fulfilling in many ways, including in the way they let us drink beer at work – means that I make very little money.
More destitute than ever, I’ve been hoarding the gift cards I received at Christmas – a $5 Chick-Fil-A card here, a $5 Starbucks card there – knowing full well that there will be dry periods when a chicken sandwich and a grande coffee materializing out of seemingly thin air will make me feel like a triumphant prince among men. Or princess. (It doesn’t have the same ring to it, really.) And I’ve been lucky recently to have meals paid for by thoughtful friends getting me back for a meal they owed me – a great system, I suggest everyone invest in it – or generous friends treating me to a night out for helping them with a project or just because we haven’t caught up in a while.
And while I’m sitting pretty today with $172 in the bank after all my bills have been paid, the shadow of being in debt as I have been so many times before and in much fatter, richer times looms overhead constantly. So on nights when I’m not working or going out, I patiently stare at my refrigerator, my little pantry and wait for ideas to spring to mind from ingredients that I already have on hand. It should be noted that I’m not very good at this. I’ve written about this process (and its accompanying failures) before. And tonight wasn’t all that different.
Tonight’s meal was Basmati rice with stewed tomatoes, cooked down in a little olive oil, garlic, balsamic vinegar and red wine. Not terribly interesting. Not particularly inventive. Not going into any recipe books any time soon. But it was tasty, it filled me up, it gave me leftovers for lunch tomorrow and it made me happy.
This isn’t some hoary argumentum ad lazarum where I’m going to try and convince you that I’m happier now because I’m poor. Am I making far less money now than I ever have? Yes. Am I more satisfied with my life now than I’ve ever been? Yes. Cum hoc ergo propter hoc? No. But it is one of the things that’s making me happier these days. I’m living on less and making more of myself and more of my life. I’m not living on anyone else’s money but my own these days. I don’t have to answer to anyone but myself. And I’m more accountable and aware than ever. And there is a quiet, calm beauty in that.
And in a little bowl of tomatoes and rice.