Further Musings

Beauty smote his heart, he looked up from the forsaken land & hope returned to him

Archive for August 2012

What I Learned About Myself at Ikea

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This weekend, much to my surprise, I came face to face with a few realities about myself.   What brought on this bout of self-realization?  Ikea.

There’s a lot that’s changed since we’ve come to Providence.  One important change is that we’ve graduated.  Technically we graduated a year ago, but moving here feels like we’ve graduated from grad school/post-doc world.  We’re not students any more.  We’ve left Chapel Hill and the meager pay of a TA.  We’re professionals now, with professional salaries.  Two professional salaries with no kids.

And so over the weekend we went to an Ikea for the first time.  It was so enormous.  There were maps and arrows to follow so you won’t get lost.  As you followed the black arrows you went past and into rooms and small apartments decorated to give you a sense of how it all fits together: the comfy sofas, the cool wall hangings, the sleek chairs.  When you sit in them you temporarily move into a world where everything matched and nothing is sagging or grimy.

And as I walked around with the masses (and ate Swedish meatballs with them in the dining hall) it tapped something inside of me and I responded viscerally.  A switch flipped.  Suddenly I knew exactly what I wanted.  Nothing crazy.  Nothing more than what I deserved: a headboard and frame for our bed with distressed side-tables that match, laundry hampers with canvas liners, and sturdy book shelves cut and finished to match the bedroom furniture.

And it’s time to buy nicer things.  We have a hodgepodge of furniture.  Five mismatched dining room chairs isn’t going to cut it.  We shouldn’t have throw covers over multiple pieces of furniture to hide the stains and the ugly upholstery.  The only pieces we’ve bought new were the coffee table and love seat Charity bought a decade ago.  The rest is a mishmash of hand-me-downs and Craigslist.

It’s time.  It’s time to be like our friends and peers who had kids late (either by choice or not), who have enough money to buy a nice house, to buy new furniture, to upgrade from their beater car.  As we rode home Charity summed it up by saying, “I can’t think of a single piece of furniture that we own that I like.”

That feeling, that certainty, that surety that it’s time to do these things feels like the swells of the ocean… like a wave that lifts you off your feet and deposits you gently down again.  It feels exactly right…  and tonight I’m wondering where that feeling comes from.  I’ve never thought of myself as some who wants things… who wants objects, not just because they’re functional, but wants them because … because what?

Because I want to be a grown up and this is how I show that I’m no longer a child?  Because I want to be respected as a professional and these are the accoutrements of being one?  Because I deserve some luxury after all those years of sacrifice?  Because I can show my wife that the risk she took in marrying me finally paid off as now I have the money to buy her fine things? Because this is what normal people do when the leave grad school? Because we haven’t been able to have children like our friends?  They may have kids but they can’t live like we do… perhaps they’ll feel jealous of our stuff and that will salve my jealousy of their families?

And to my astonishment I’ve realized there’s an element of all of these ugly motivations that lurk around me.  They don’t dominate, but they’ve all flashed through me and several are remarkably ugly.  Did Charity marry me because she thought I’d be rich?  (I hope not!)  Do I really begrudge my friends the blessings of their children?  (When I do, I need to repent.)

This bout of self-realization has made me ask: who I am?  All those years in grad school I was happy to have the mishmash.  I’m a little dense about decorating but I knew it was mismatched.  I said it was sacrifice to live like that, but it was sacrifice with large dose of whimsy.  After all, part of the point of grad school is to be poor… of course you decorate with Christmas lights… but did you do it because you like them or because you can’t afford nice lamps?  How do you know if you’re thrifty if you don’t have a choice?

What I didn’t catch about the thrifty ethos of graduate school was that it’s really a contradiction… part of the point of grad school is to become a professional.  And part of being professional is the salary, which (as in my case without little ones to feed and cloth) means that you can start buying like one. You don’t need to live on hand-me downs and old things.  You can start buying nicer things… a new car, new pots and pans, and not feeling guilty when you buy the premium version of a product in the box store instead of the standard one.

This isn’t who I thought I was.  I thought I didn’t care about these things, but a big part of the truth is that I couldn’t care about them.  I didn’t have the money to.

Now I do.  Now I’ve been to Ikea and heard the Siren’s call.  Can Pandora go back in the box?

This is all tempered by the hope that we won’t have two-incomes and no kids for much longer and will need what money we have.  Function matters as well: it would be nice to have enough seats to seat four guests at the table for dinner.  It would be nice to have a sofa that didn’t make our backs ache after an hour or two.  And Charity is right when she says that beauty is a virtue worth pursuing in the way we decorate our home.  And yet I want to be honest about the Gollum like flash I’ve seen of myself.

So how does this end?  How do you know when you should buy something when you have enough money to the things you want without going into debt?  Should we start in on the $12,000 wish list we assembled that evening?  Should we buy on an as needed basis when we spot a deal on Craigslist?   I don’t know the answer to this, but I do know myself a little better.  And for that, I’m grateful to Ikea and this process.

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Written by furthermusings

August 21, 2012 at 8:17 am

Posted in Reflections

Visiting Newport

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My parents are in town for the week and we took Tuesday to head down to visit the Newport Mansions.  Needless to say they were pretty fancy.  Actually walking around the houses of the gilded age amazed me at the social lives that they lived.  $7,000,000 entertaining budgets for a 10 week summer?  Ballrooms that are bigger than the house I grew up in?  Wow.

Also had a yummy lunch at a local chowder house.  It’s nice to have some pictures of us together.  Thanks Pops!

Written by furthermusings

August 9, 2012 at 8:39 am

Posted in Travel

Joining the Yacht Club

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Now that I live in the northeast and am a professor I thought I’d round out the picture and feel really snooty by joining a yacht club.  Of course my version of a yacht club is a non-profit, community sailing center, but I still think I’ll tell Charity that “I’m headed to the club.”

This afternoon I finally made it down with Dad and successfully checked out on a Hunter 140 (pictured above).  I’ve been sailing on a number of occasions but never in a boat this small. I’m now certified to take them out.  Though it turns out they’re a lot tipsier than the big ones.   We only heeled over far enough to take on water once… Glad not to flip it on the first day!!

Written by furthermusings

August 6, 2012 at 8:19 pm

Posted in Around Town