Savoring the Days Above Zero
Very early in the history of Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place I wrote a blog post inspired by an experience I’d had emailing a Facebook friend asking for advice on my career as a freelance writer. The friend suggested that I get a day job and pursue personal writing in my free time.
This flummoxed and depressed me. When I got the advice I had been making my living writing about pop culture since 1998. I did not, and do not, have any other job skills. All I can do is write about pop culture, and my madness, and politics, and family and the whole grand gestalt. I didn’t even know what a day job would entail and the idea of going into a toxic office every morning, hoping I’d still have a job at the end of the day was nothing short of dispiriting.
At first the email depressed me. Then it inspired me. I realized how blessed and lucky I was to be able to make even a modest, uncertain and unstable living doing only work that was meaningful to me, that reflected who I was and how I see the world, and reflected hard-won experience born of decades of battles won and lost.
I realized that I was willing to make a trade off of financial instability and uncertainty in exchange for creative and artistic satisfaction. A whole lot has changed in the year since I published that email. Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place has gone from an unemployable Juggalo’s dream of independence and autonomy to a sustainable business that has given me the best possible vehicle for my ferocious energy and ambition.
I wake up every morning excited to share what I have on the site with the world, but the economic uncertainty and instability that prompted me to send that email asking for advice has not abated.
I was lucky enough to be able to pay off the vast majority of my credit card debt but then I hit a sort of personal economic perfect storm two and a half months ago. In the space of two months, I moved from my apartment to a condo, went on a wonderful and transcendent but fairly pricy two-week tour following “Weird Al” Yankovic and had two quarterly tax payments due in a three month period.
I went from having a very small nest egg to going back to using my credit cards. Last month I did not have enough money on the first of the month to pay my first mortgage payment. And that fucking sucked. I felt like I was getting behind again, that whatever progress I might make in terms of saving money and paying off debt could be instantly reversed or negated by any number of random, unexpected expenses.
When you don’t have enough money to meet your expenses, even in the short term, you feel that desperation deep down in your bones. It reconnects you to that awful primal feeling of not enough. You feel like you’ve been on a treadmill all your life that you may never be able to get off.
That feeling sucks. It sucks to know that as of this writing, my next mortgage payment is still larger than the amount of money in my checking account. But I’ve learned to be grateful for everything. Yes, it sucks not to have a cushion in case of emergencies, or even just a gauntlet of irregular expenses, but I’ve learned to be grateful for every day that I am above zero, every day I have enough money to get by.
I’m trying like hell to be responsible and cautious in planning my family’s future, to see the big picture and take steps now that will improve my life in the future, like paying off my credit card debt. But it’s even more important to focus on the day by day, to take deep satisfaction from the days when I’m above zero and know that the days below zero will end eventually, and even if they do not, I have the incredible, life-affirming consolation of being able to do what I love for a living, even if that living is by definition more precarious than I would prefer.
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