The headline to this post is a quote from legendary last-century film and theater producer Mike Todd. And while there are times I've had difficulty wrapping my head around that concept, I have to admit that I'm living proof of his credo.
See, I've been broke pretty much my whole life. The times I've had the luxury to spend money without seriously considering the consequences have been very few and extremely far between. Even now, over 20 years into a successful writing and editing career, I still go through periods where I'm glad for catered affairs that allow me to eat for free (and I'm not above bringing a large enough bag to squirrel away a few delicacies for later). I've done broke for so long that I've gotten pretty good at it, and when money gets extra tight, I just go into that ultra-frugal mode where money only leaves my hands when absolutely necessary.
The thing is, I've never really been poor because I've always lived on my own terms. What is poor to me? Poor is living on a comfortable income and being such a slave to it that you've left your dreams behind. Poor is living beyond your means (however much that is and for whatever the reason may be) and going deeper into debt every month.
Ever since I was in middle school I knew I was destined to write. I made a pact to myself early on that I would never let anything get in the way of my pursuit of a writing career. That has colored my choice of work and relationships. I never picked up a line of work for very long that got in the way of my writing time, and I avoided men who seemed like they would put their needs before my writing. Has this led to loneliness, bad relationships and a closet of old clothes and cheap, worn-out shoes? Yeah, but it also gave me a really fun life that allowed me to run around at all hours, sleep in, pick up a pen at any hour of the day or middle of the night and see my work in print a whole bunch. Which above everything else, is what really mattered to me.
And my mostly austere lifestyle has paid off. Eventually I found a guy who felt the same way about his music that I do about my writing and understood my priorities. And the times I've had an unexpected windfall, I've done sensible things like invest in real estate so that now I live in a great house that, even in this market, is worth several hundred thousand more than I owe on it — plus it's within walking distance of the library, post office and Trader Joe's, so I can go days without using the car (a nondescript 2002 Ford Escort which I bought used). I pay my bills in full every month. My work life revolves around pitch letters, deadlines (some of them self-imposed), and coming up with new writing ideas. I would much rather have a book contract, no matter how small, instead of a new pair of shoes. I'll just have new heels put on the old ones because they look cool and I really don't care. I would much rather be here in front of my computer, buried in a Word document than at a stupid shopping mall anyhow.
So in reality, my life is abundant — I don't have to do anything other than pursue writing gigs. My material needs are few and material wants even fewer. I have enough money to get by, and I can adjust down when needed. If a big chunk of money happens my way, as does happen periodically, I will use most of it to upgrade something in the house or squirrel it away for unexpected expenses, and take a little and splurge on something beneficial like a facial. I like money. Honest. But seeing my byline and having my stories read widely is more important in the long run — some of that will live on, long after the Big One has leveled Southern California and probably my house, and the clothes in my closet have finally gone so woefully out of style that I can't bear to bring them out anymore.
Over the past couple of decades, there have apparently been a few recessions, but I never noticed them because I was broke to begin with. I'm broke now, but really no broker than normal. But I wake up every day, knowing that because I am straight on my priorities, I'm wealthy in time and creativity and the energy to accomplish good, and sometimes even great things. For me, living any other way is tantamount to poverty.