The unbearable freedom of being broke / by Tim Querengesser

Being broke means you have a lot of something.


Time is something most of us say we want more of, since we feel consumed with attending to work, relationships and goals. In our dreams, time is the antidote to what ails us in these moments. If we just had more time, we think, life would feel more manageable and our goals would be achievable.

But time is relative. When you have too little of it, time is a luxury good you peer at as if in a shop window along a fancy street. When you have too much of it, though, time is a blank sheet of paper that only you can fill, if you feel up to it. For someone who's lived responding to demands for their time, a sudden blank sheet of paper and endless time to fill it can feel terrifying. 

Let me tell you.

The excuses disappear. The challenge clarifies. Here is time. How you use it is what will make or break you. Time comes to be a very powerful force, like gravity.

'Time' is also a bit of a euphemism for poverty in the narrative of late-stage capitalism. Those who have a lot of time tend to have little else, unless they are uniquely lucky in life. When you have a lot of time your bank account tends to be rather small. Well, mine is at least.

I'm tempted to ask when prompted for payment, 'Do you take time?'

A man with endless time must consider his day strategically. Spending time is easy. But what will I spend my money on today while I enjoy my time? Food? A coffee? A bill? You can't spend it on all three. And you have plenty of time to mull that reality.

We call it 'free time' for a reason. 

The freedom of being broke is to realize that this is the reality you have been running from, filing your dreams on a mental 'to-do' list for some time far off in the future while, right now, you find ways to trade your time for that other thing we need, the freedom from poverty. To have the audacity to throw security away and embrace the weight of endless time is to accept comfort will no longer be an option.

This morning I have chosen to buy a coffee. This afternoon, I'll buy a can of Campbell's mushroom soup and use some left-over chicken to make a hearty meal. I hope to spend less than $10 on all of this today. Still beyond my daily budget of $0 at the moment but reasonable.

In exchange for this lack of comfort I feel an awakening. Walking down the street with no schedule to keep allows you to see, hear and feel the world you ignore when you do — birds chirping, wind blowing through trees, children giggling with parents. There is a richness all around us that we need time to see.

Embracing the empty sheet of paper is what time allows. It is not a painless process. It does not pay. It is romantic only until you experience it. But it is real, raw and unfiltered. It is what free feels like.

Soon, poverty will come to demand I exchange some of my time for a modicum of comfort. But I hope to revel in this strange nowhere, on the great blank sheet of paper, for as long as I can.  

© Copyright 2017 Tim Querengesser. No reproductions without license. Image: Flickr/Shawn McCready