Not related, or at least not consciously related, to my brief rant last week about my inability to comprehend New York City real estate prices, I started reading Meghan Daum’s essay collection My Misspent Youth over the weekend and was of course kind of gutted by the title piece, which was written, I think, in the late 1990s or early 2000s, but, if adjusted for inflation and a few key economic differences (she mentions friends getting rich off the stock market—although, well, I guess that still happens, doesn’t it?), could have basically been written this month, or last year, or at any point since. Much of it seems very tied to living in New York specifically but the general warped patterns of thinking about money and class and ambition apply everywhere, of course. Or at least I have certainly witnessed it in my own very-non-New York life (if not in myself, then in others, for sure). It makes pretty gutting tax day reading, if you need some of that. Or you could just eat some free Arby’s and barf and die like you probably want to anyway.
If there is a line of demarcation in this story, a single moment where I crossed the boundary between debtlessness and total financial mayhem, it’s the first dollar that I put toward achieving a life that had less to do with overt wealth than with what I perceived as intellectual New York bohemianism. It seems laughable now, but at the time I thought I was taking a step down from the Chanel suits and Manolo Blahniks of my office job. Hanging out at the Cuban coffee shop and traipsing over the syringes and windblown trash of upper Broadway, I was under the impression that I was, in a certain way, slumming. And even though I was having a great time and becoming a better writer, the truth was that the year I entered graduate school was the year I stopped making decisions that were appropriate for my situation and began making a rich person’s decisions. Entering this particular graduate program was a rich person’s decision. But it’s hard to recognize that you’re acting like a rich person when you’re becoming increasingly poor.