On Value // Part 1: Lack
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about value. I’ve been considering the concepts of cost, resources, abundance, lack, exchange. I’ve been prompted to consider how the looming shadow of capitalism can keep us fixated on money, money, money. How it keeps our gaze so narrow that we miss all of the magic + miracles happening in the periphery. We are so fixated on this idea of striving for monetary riches that we miss all of the actual abundance happening in our lives— the kind that doesn’t take the form of dirty paper, chunks of metal, and figures on a screen. I’m also acutely aware of how one’s background influences their relationship to money.
In my mind, we grew up poor, but that is a relative term. What it probably actually means is lower middle class. What it definitely means is that any child who spends their formative years in Westchester County, NY, will quickly learn the difference between the perceptions of “to have” and “to have not”.
“To have” was to be outfitted in the latest 1990’s styles and trends, to have the butterfly clips, tomagotchis, and newest beanie babies as soon as they were released. To live in a large house with a manicured lawn, a spacious kitchen with snacks at the ready, and mom ready to serve them, because that was her full time job.
“To have not” was to live in a walk-up apartment, featuring occasional roach infestations from the Korean deli below. To have teenaged babysitters that you terrorized because mom was working. To beg and beg and beg for a Razor scooter because the other kids had them, and to be gifted with one the following season after the fad had passed. To buy shoes and clothes only when needed from the discount store.
There is a story that I find repeating often in my mind- of the “Disney Bank”. The Disney Bank was a 5 gallon plastic water jug in which my mom would toss her spare change. We called it the Disney Bank because we were saving to go to Disneyland! It filled slowly- I remember it getting to about halfway full. Then, one December, it was emptied out of necessity to buy Christmas presents, never to be filled again. I knew then, as a child, what was happening. We were never going to go to Disneyland, but somehow that plastic jug of coins had kept that dream alive in our minds for a short while.
AND YET, we were cared for. We had warm, cozy beds, food that filled our bellies, and shoes that fit our feet. We had a mom who worked her ass off and cooked us pasta alfredo and baked us birthday cakes with love. Who was always as generous with her resources as she could possibly be. Who bought me pet mice for my birthday when I *really* wanted them, who took us camping & fishing, who coached my softball team one year, who later in life let me dye my hair pink, and who has always accepted + encouraged this queer weirdo to be herself and pursue her dreams, whatever they may be, and however many 10’s of thousands of dollars of debt those dreams would put us both in.
In short, I lacked for nothing. Only with the clarity of hindsight, and the perspective born of my continued evolution and growth, am I able to see that now. And yet, this idea of being poor has permeated my entire life, and I still struggle to break free from its tight grip on my psyche. To break free from the idea that I am, will always be, and will always deserve to be lacking.
While I reshape the concept of my own resources, so too do I reshape my understanding of value. Value, in and of itself, is never an intrinsically objective fact. Value is an agreement between maker/ merchant / customer, or between practitioner and client. A treasured sentimental object from a loved one can have far more value to a person than an expensive set of china. A $400 haircut can have just as much value to a person as a $40 haircut can have to someone else. They are both receiving the same service, and they both the potential to be just as pleased or displeased with the results.