Bitcoins vs. Dollars

Bitcoin Accepted Here [by freeborn]
Bitcoin Accepted Here [by freeborn] (Photo credit: Adam Crowe)
Last night we were out at an Irish pub eating steak sandwiches. My son H. and I returned to a recent argument.

See, because of a conversation with a fellow coworker at new work city, I’ve become interested in bitcoins.

Honestly, I’d be interested in kumquats or any new kind of currency to replace the almighty dollar.

I’ve spent my whole adult life — spending and making and spending and obsessing about dollars. And if this bitcoin thing takes off, then maybe I can be free from the shackles of the national pastime – the pursuit of and the obsession with the American dollar. (This blog is called To Pursue Happiness, not To Pursue Wealth.)

Beyond that, I’m sick that banks get bailed out and individuals suffer bankruptcy. Where’s the love? H. told me, “Then blame Obama.” But I’m not blaming anyone (except the big banks. I’m so incensed that congress raised the student loan rates to 6.8 percent, and yet, you still consider yourself lucky if you get 1 percent interest on your savings account. Again, where’s the love?)

from our blogging workshop at new work city.
from our blogging workshop at new work city.

But I try to be part of the solution rather than the problem. And maybe bitcoins will solve the big bank monopoly.

I took one semester of economics at NYU with a Marxist professor, so my understanding of world economics may be skewed.

But as I understand it, bitcoins are a peer-to-peer exchange of value, a digital currency. They’re “mined for” on the internet so they’re scarce. They’re global.

Bitcoins need to be spent. Like all currency, the system’s messed up if you hide them in a shoebox under your bed. And they are currently valued at something like $90. They are not overseen by any vast financial machine (thus, making them perfect for drug dealers.)

My son and I had a good, heated discussion. Like, he actually said, “Do you think middle-aged and older people who take your writing workshops are going to pay you in bitcoins?”

“They’re not all older. And I don’t know,” I said, laughing “But I’d accept them as payment.” I started laughing so hard.

The idea was funny and true. I often think I am the first to discover great ideas. I had just told my son earlier how I was the first person to discover the artist, Pink, because I’d loved that song, Get the party started. And H. admitted he was the first to discover Cee Lo Green.

I digress. “Hey,” I said, returning to our economics argument, “I could pay my web developer with a bitcoin. We already use PayPal.”

My son thinks I’m crazy. That’s nothing new. To show I’m not the only crazy one, I mentioned how the early adopters, the Winklevoss  twins, those of Facebook fame, are opening a fund for bitcoins. H. was unimpressed.

So, to conclude my 4th of July rant, let me just say, when our founding parents set up this beautiful country, they set this country up as a DEMOCRATIC not as a CAPITALIST society.

A democracy means we all count. A democracy means we are free. We have free speech and we have freedom to try different currencies. We are free to pursue kumquats or bitcoins. Or happiness.

Read a lot!

Even more than writing, I love to read. And I love talking about books. At last night’s book club we discussed Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. Only two of us finished the book. (Yes, I was one of the two! And it was a loooooooooong novel.)

I found it compelling. I identified with every one of the f’ed up characters. I didn’t like that I saw myself in the depressed women. The character Patty was trying to be proactive. Still, she was reactive, self-defeating and messed up. She should’ve been in a book club. Reading helps.

We vote on the next month’s selection. In last night’s final voting, The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald was tied with my pick (and my mother’s recommendation), A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. I was disappointed that in the final round, the classic won.

Today, it dawned on me: I can read whatever I want, even books not picked by my book club. That’s what it means to be a grown-up. I like that part of adulthood. I can be proactive, not reactive. I am more than a character in a novel (or a writer of a blog.)

Drowning in Literature

I’m gonna drown myself in a book. Not just any book. A good book. A book with a fine bouquet.

Paperback or Kindle. From a box or bottle. Bought or borrowed. It’s all good. It all works, gets me out of my own head and into a different space.

I love love love love love reading. I can read everything and anything.

I took this picture last August at my friend's summer house on Saranac Lake.

When I’m down I grab a book and I down it.

I don’t care if it’s self-help (need it!) chick lit (love it!) or trash (gimme!).

I have been feeling a little down this week — maybe it’s transitioning the kids from school to summer or a slight anxiety about Chris’s health or simply not enough sunshine.

So I start with an appetizer, the front section of The New York Times, then I move on to the main course, right now reading Franzen’s Freedom. For dessert, I might read Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak (Thanks, Juliana for lending!).

I get lost in reading. I have to have something to read with me at all times — in my purse, beside my bed, in my bike basket. Something to comfort, transport, drown me.  Reading is my great escape.

And it is my Number 2 Rule — Escape Through Literature. I’m going to read a lot tonite, but first I have to finish watching the movie Chris borrowed from the library, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers.  That’s right, I’m drowning myself in a movie based on great literature. That counts too.

Freedom = Happiness

The sanctuary was big, round, and almost completely dark. It smelled baby-powdery, like a grandmother’s bosom. (I’ve noticed my most popular blogs have the theme of breasts as in breastfeeding or bra shopping, and I’m not above pandering so, yes, I’m mentioning bosom! And yes, this is a church blog.)

I do love that musty, incense-y, bosom-y church smell.

I debated at lunch time whether I needed to visit a church today since I was at devotions this morning at work. In the third floor conference room, we’d created multi-media worship stations, signifying Brokenness, Hope, and Beauty. We’d included fresh mint and time for conversation about the care of our shared space.

The theme was care of the earth. I think that was the theme. I just did what the rest of the team told me to do. And, of course, before devotions started, I cracked jokes with Jim and Morais (because, we’d agreed, every worship team needs a few hecklers as they’re laying out their cloths and getting into the serious business of prayer.) Seriously, I’m lucky to be part of such a creative, inspiring worship team (thanks to Sushil, Christie, Jorge, Lisa, Felipe, Noemi, Kathleen).

Back to West End, I waited for my Aha! moment, sitting in the bosom-y church by myself tonite. Nothing.

No wait. I remembered something Shane, my teacher, said at the end of Yoga when we were sprawled in Sivasinha. She’d read a quote by Thich Nhat Hanh, it was something like, “The freer you are, the happier you are.”

I quizzed Shane about the quote when I bumped into her in the women’s bathroom.

“Do you really think freedom is happiness?” Because I am looking for happiness. And freedom sounds like a good way to go.

“As in freedom from attachment,” she said.

“Ah,” I said. “Like detachment.” And this really helped me, because I easily get overattached — to ideas, to people, to this blog.

I loved that. I loved that in looking for answers in a church, I remembered what my Yoga teacher told me.

Life is a Sonnet

Let’s say each of us lives in a poem. I am living in a sonnet. My inner life is free verse, stream of consciousness. I am unwieldy, feminist, wild. I feel required to be tame, to serve, to rhyme. To tie it up in a cuplet.

I have to — simply must — follow the rules, the conventions, the beats, the script. The kids need to be at school, at the bus stop at a certain time. My husband, too, requires structure, doctors’ appointments, reminders to take his medicine several times a day. My coworkers rely on me to be collegial and productive.

So it’s true, I feel confined within a sonnet’s rigid structure. I long for freedom of expression. Shakespeare created a world that followed, “Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day?” Ah, genius! To take a world and implode it — and still live within it. To throw rocks at the Catholic Church while standing in the church’s front yard. Harder to take away a piece of the Berlin Wall if you were a world away, watching it all unfold on TV.

Change the sonnet’s structure while living within it.

On one of my earlier blogs, I wrote about how I cried over the story of the confined whale who killed the beautiful, helpful, passionate trainer.

It broke my heart. But I know why the caged whale kills. I know why the caged bird sings.

Sure, there’s safety in confinement, in living in a sonnet, in coloring inside the lines. Safety is appealing. Birds make their nests in homes that are familiar, made of ordinary twigs. They tidy them up with bits of string. But the whales in captivity are going blind because their eyes are not meant to only look up at their trainers. And their dorsal fins are getting floppy.

Creative birds and whales may find that safety is the enemy of art. The artist must break the mold. The bird wants to fly. The whale wants the expanse of the ocean. The actor considers the exit.

Remember in Sartre’s “Huis Clos” (Yes, I love speaking French!) (“No Exit”) when the door opened, not one of the three who had been confined got up to leave? Given a door creaking open on my stage set life, would I pass beneath the open door? And leave the play?

I might! There are times. Yes, I admit, when I long to stop caring — stop caring for others. Stop caring what others might think if I left the sonnet.

I long to smell the roses. To lie down beneath a rose-colored rose bush on a hot summer afternoon. I want to dig my fingernails into soil and taste the humidity, thick against my lips. To just slow this life down to a crawl and skip the appointments, skip the work-a-day world. Skip this one day, sit it out.

I do know, as I am about to leave through the open door, that wild abandon is not the only venue for creativity to flourish.

Love and meaning, definitely flowers, can bloom when fenced-in. I find freedom when I write. It is my way to buck the system, to explore, to travel to new, untrammeled territory. To let go of poetic convention.

Writing in fragments. Thinking in haiku. Dawdling over a dissertation for no degree. There are ways to live in a sonnet.

To be in any relationship — mother, wife, Christian writer — there are certain expectations. There are certain freedoms you must not entertain. But writing about them, singing about them — within your caged existence, within your “No Exit” stage set? Ah, sure, go ahead! Sing away! The other poets in their cages may sing along too. And then, stop and listen to the song. Get out of your own head and into someone else’s poem.

The act of singing, of writing, of expressing the truth can vault the singer, the poet, farther than their confinement. The songbird is never free. Yet the song may travel far. The tune may be repeated. The song lives. Shakespeare died but Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day? Ah that sonnet lives on.

I’m sure I should end this with a cuplet, but I have none. So I will give you his.

Sonnet 18

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate;
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

– William Shakespeare