Exiled in the parched desert of ordinary life – Geneen Roth’s Lost and Found

It has been three official weeks ….oh wait, nope, only two official weeks since I started this… And I’m obviously struggling. Not obviously to the outside observer struggling, but to my husband and mother, and those to whom I talk about things, I’m having a full out, big life crisis kind of moment about all of this lack of shopping. Who am I? What do I want? What do I need? Where am I going? What do I want? No, what do I NEED?! (It doesn’t help we just moved back to a city I left as a veeeeery different person 7 years ago and am now struggling to decipher who I am NOW.

But. I said I wouldn’t get too distracted, and I feel myself re-centered every time I read bits of this book again. I listened to it on audio book while I was doing a bunch of trips back and forth from Camrose to Edmonton as we were preparing to move at the beginning of June. Geneen Roth’s voice made those trips fly by, and I was amazed by how pertinent and relevant this text was, given that I had just stumbled upon it on the shelves of non-fiction audio at the Camrose Library!

Geneen and her husband lost thirty years worth of savings in the Bernie Madoff scandal (Ponzi scheme kinda thing). Having lost all of their money, she explores her relationship to it and how she spent it, how she considered it, how she ignored it, and how she ultimately, felt wayyy better NOT having any (well, they had some, but not nearly as much). She discusses the initial incident of discovering that the money was gone, and then how complex her relationship to money had always been. Once she was earning enough to support herself, she realized that she had always considered people with money to be “other” to her lofty cerebral way of life (as writer and meditator and spiritualist). So she did with her money what she thought was consistent with her beliefs: She gave it to someone else to worry about. Hence Bernie Madoff.  She felt that “focussing on money – either on ways to make more of it or on how and where to invest it- was complicated, shallow, and spiritually bankrupt.” HOWEVER, she said this led her to a feeling of scarcity, “because I was never aware of what I already had, I never felt as if I had enough.” This could apply to money, but it could apply to “STUFF” as well. Having just moved an entire house to a new city I’m incredibly aware of what I already have, and it’s A LOT. SO: step one = awareness.

Within the first two chapters she had hooked me, especially with her description of the shopping frenzy she experiences AFTER having lost all of her life savings. She just wanted to SHOP, as she said, “the need to shop doesn’t have to do with money, it has to do with fervour and fantasy and passion”, and who doesn’t need more of THAT in their lives ?!(can I get an amen?!) She describes the magic woven by the salesman about a particular pair of glasses, how it takes a particular KIND of person to wear them, how she must be an artist, how she can imagine herself being all kinds of successful and witty and erudite in them. And how her mother and husband describe them as goggles, and can’t imagine why she wants to wear them. Because they can’t see the image in her head that she’s created of herself WITH the glasses. They like her just fine without the glasses, but to her, she will only be amazing WITH them. That’s the power that we imbue our purchases with. (Or at least that’s what I do.) This lamp is going to make my house look amazing and me look all kinds of talented in the instagram picture I’m going to post of it, or this dress would make me FEEL like I’m organized and put together, even if I’m not, I have to have it! We give them life-altering magic, and thus the “need” is justified. “I’ll never feel like this without it,” I imagine. She says that “it’s as if life was bumping along at a humdrum pace and is now elevated to a heightened, electric state by the introduction of a new, gorgeous thing. Is it the thing I want or the aliveness?” EXACTLY, Geneen, EXACTLY.

This is what I’ve been struggling with for the last two weeks. The magic is gone. The magic of the new, the shiny, the oh my god, the eeks, the wow! The “look at me” factor. Who am I, without the new thing?? She says that once she finally decides not to buy them, “without the purchase of the glasses to look forward to, I feel like I am being exiled in the parched desert of ordinary life. And that’s where I am. This week.

I’ve noticed little improvements, such as: I posted a picture of myself in my old Ukrainian dance outfit and realized that I look great in blue and red (i.e. need more colour in my life) and I whined and complained for a bit about not being able to buy anything new. But then remembered I have ONE red shirt that I love, happens to have blue in it, and hey presto, felt amazing wearing it. And have only slight residual yearnings for a boho chic red dress for the summer *sigh*.

More from Geneen up next week, as she explores women’s relationships with money (spoiler alert, COMPLICATED), and the idea of “enough” money.

How do you feel about your purchases? Do you feel like they give you power over the everyday blues?

If you’re above that, how do you find the magic in the “parched desert of ordinary life” without buying something new? *asking for a friend*.

Happy Monday all!


2 thoughts on “Exiled in the parched desert of ordinary life – Geneen Roth’s Lost and Found

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