A story about money, La Mer and tears

27 May

This is a story about money, expensive face cream, and tears.  I am writing about this because I spent a fat chunk of this afternoon sobbing about it – think burst water mains – and I need to process it, and words for the consumption of an audience are the only way I know.

On Friday, this delivery arrived at my grandmother’s house:

La Mer

It contained a pen and a little tub of La Mer, first promised to me by a woman’s magazine 6 months ago. I was excited because I thought they’d forgotten, and because La Mer is La Mer, and I’d never dream of buying it. I seldom spend much money on myself these days, for various reasons.

When I tweeted that photo and expressed my delight, I didn’t expect this response:

Screen Shot 2013-05-27 at 2.41.52 PM

It wasn’t so much the accusation that I am a “fuckin freeloading whore” that got to me. That’s the kind of over the top invective that’s easy to shrug off. I attract the attention of trolls routinely enough to view their abuse with a certain level of wan acceptance.

No, what got to me was the assumption that I look down on poor people.  That I am indifferent to them, that I feel zero empathy. And that also, by implication, I’d have the right to look down on them if I did spend money. Later, she rubbed it in:

Screen Shot 2013-05-27 at 10.28.11 PM

I probably have made bitchy, tongue-in-cheek comments about people at Hyde Park, because that is what I do; I play with irony and assumption, and this is dangerous because there are some people who cannot imagine you would say that and not mean it.

Why write about this here? Why bother responding to the kind of individual my grandmother would dismiss, quite rightly, as “a nasty piece of work”? Because this blog is rooted in the same tension contained in my response to that tweet. In guilt. In the fact that I drove a beautiful car, and looked like a rich person when in reality I was not, and that I felt bad about giving nothing to beggars. So I decided to go a little over the top, and give them a lot of money, several thousand over the course of the campaign, and see how that felt.

After I had to give the Evoque back, I felt poor again, so I stopped giving money away and started holding onto it again. A few months passed. I hit a rocky patch. I approached a young blogger whose fire and commitment to her cause I admired. She told me she needed money, so I gave her R10,000. She asked if I was nuts. I told her I didn’t know.

I met a friend down on his luck, and offered him a loan if he ever needed it. (As luck would have it, he did.) My young blogger friend needed another R5000. I met Mam Khanyi from Home of Hope at an art auction, and my heart ached for her, so I transferred R20,000 into her bank account when I got home, enough to buy one of the most expensive pieces on auction that night. Then I heard about a kid who needed school fees, so I donated R2500 to that, and R10,000 to someone who’s helping another kid through school, followed by another R13,000 after I heard the full story, and in between that the R6000 I earned from an NGO job to Lawyers Against Abuse, because everyone else had volunteered and I didn’t want to be the only one who made money out of a good cause.

(I am not mentioning specifics because I am fishing for compliments, by the way. The details are what they are, to save you the trouble of speculating. You can make up your own mind.)

I’ve calculated that over the past two months, I’ve donated R69,000, well over three times what I’ve earned in that time. This is besides the sizable loan to a business partner, more than the cost of a small car or fixing the rest of my teeth. I have weak enamel, the dentist tells me. I have to get the rest of my teeth crowned because I grind them, and this will cost around R100,000. Medical aid won’t cover any of it, and I can’t leave it much longer.

In some respects, this is madness, given that the Australia trip cost a fortune, that I earn less than I did ten years ago despite working a lot harder, and that I should be saving up for retirement. (I don’t plan to retire, which makes it easier.)

I don’t think this is generosity, per se. Yes, I love the idea of making a difference to someone else’s life. I love the idea of stepping and making the worry and fear go away, at least for a little while. Definite ego boost there; I know about worry and fear, and the joy when it lifts like sun after a storm.

But ultimately, this is a quest to buy the one thing I know I can never have: my own love. If I am generous to a point where I give away far more than I earn, I must be a decent person, right?

Maybe. Maybe not.

So before that tweet appeared in my timeline, I was stressing about money, and profoundly gloomy about the lack of any apparent connection between how hard I work and how much income I bring in, and how impossible this all is. I was, and still am, feeling overwhelmed by how much is riding on all of this, and how terrifyingly tiny the chink of light at the end of this tunnel. Because I know how much energy I need to put in, and much faith I have to have, and I don’t know where I’m going to get it from.

It would be so much easier just to walk away from everything. Only the centrifugal force of the hamster wheel keeps me here.

That’s why the troll with her random bitchiness got to me. The unfairness of it. The truth of it, too: it hit home, hard, because in Johannesburg, you are worthless if you don’t spend money. You might as well not exist. She knows it. I know it. We all know it.

That fantastically expensive little jar of La Mer contains something called Miracle Broth. What Miracle Broth does, I’m not entirely sure. though it sounds promising. Does it fix your life? Make you love yourself? Give you thicker skin even as it evens out your wrinkles?

I am hoping, just a tiny little bit, that it can.

The jar of La Mer arrived just in time.

The jar of La Mer arrived just in time.

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5 Responses to “A story about money, La Mer and tears”

  1. PM May 28, 2013 at 1:48 am #

    Well, Sarah, i continue to be impressed with your openness and honesty. I don’t really understand it, but it keeps me coming back to learn more. Thank you for your willingness to share.

  2. AM May 30, 2013 at 8:28 am #

    Congratulations on finally becoming the white version on Nonhle Thema – we now all know exactly how much money you do have .

    • Sarah Britten May 30, 2013 at 9:29 am #

      If only I had Nonhle’s money. (Kudos on the anonymous comment, by the way. I have zero respect for people who hide behind anonymity.)

  3. AM May 30, 2013 at 10:20 am #

    Oh but you dont mind ones that extole your virtures – oh the irony

    • PM May 30, 2013 at 4:44 pm #

      Assumptions, assumptions. maybe she has no respect for me, either. (although i have hardly been extolling her virtues…)

      But be that as it may…at least try to get your facts straight–you have no idea how much money she has. Sure, she has given some information about some of her cash flows, and some of her giving. So what. it hardly seems like bragging to me. indeed, if anything, Sarah seems to be pleading poverty–hardly Nonhle’s approach at all!

      your comparison does not hold water at all–a failed analogy. that suggests to me that your sole motivation here is to be a prick.

      Congratulations on your success!

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