Posts Tagged ‘money’

All Things Come to an End

July 26, 2013

I’m usually not very good at following things through. At least not strictly or blindly! It always reminds me of my upbringing in the rolling hills of the Emmenthal, where things were done according to age-old pre-established patterns as immobile and impenetrable as the jagged slabs of granite rock that piled up on the southern horizon of my childhood landscape. Under the sharp gaze of those snow capped peaks, which form the mighty Alps in the heart of Europe, even the most slight and unperceivable deviation from the exact repetition of an established process was frowned upon, first by your immediate neighbors, who were on a constant lookout, silently registering your every move and diligently taking notes when anything didn’t match the guidelines, and later by the corresponding authorities who had been duly notified. No decency was wasted when verbally delivering the message that such liberal behavior was not to be tolerated under any circumstances and unwavering corrections were in need to be demonstrated immediately. Switzerland is a nice place to visit, is what I always say.
Therefore doing something just because it has been done in a certain way before, or just because it is deemed reasonable, always has that sour taste of conditioned obedience, instilled in us purposefully from early on. Under its influence we humans cease to be free and become slaves to a mechanical process. We lose our most precious resource in life’s never-ending search for clarity and truth: the immediate awareness of constant change in mother nature’s dealings all around us.
It is therefore not so much out of respect for scientific rigor, but with the urgency of practical need that I proceed to continue last week’s inquisition into the strange but at the same time hauntingly familiar workings of our economy.
For the most part I consider myself cured from the narrow ways back in those Alpine valleys. I have diligently chipped away on my ‘Brätt vorem Chopf’, as the inhabitants of the land of cheese lovingly describe their neighbors’ lack of mental aperture. There is no more board in front of my head. What has not been removed through my frenetic nibbling has weathered away in the many storms along my path through this fabulous world.
One thing however did stick from the upbringing in my always currency-conscious homeland. I turned out to be an uncorrectable penny pincher! I gingerly keep my wallet under permanent house arrest, miserly require absolute fiscal discipline and firmly and sternly hold my material desires on an extremely tight leash that shows signs of wanting to become a noose. Stop the leaks at all cost, would be the maritime equivalent to my maxima absoluta on the marketplace, which of course leaves you with a very dry ship, if nothing else.
It didn’t take me long to find out that cold cash in my pockets can give easy access to things I had learned to long for, but that it also requires a good deal of mostly unpleasant activities to make it come back towards me. I quickly figured that the less I let it go, the less I have to sell myself to those unpleasant activities. And as with most everything else in my life I couldn’t help but driving this new insight to its most extreme application. It came to the point that at various times in my life I tried to be able to live without any money at all. Unfortunately those experiments came out unsuccessful, each and every one of them. In order to be economically self-sufficient you have to work very very hard. It can be it on a speck of land where every day under the sun you till the soil and plough the earth until your back breaks, only to see your upcoming harvest destroyed by some nibbling pest; or dumpster-diving the urban valleys of concrete to try fattening up by scavenging from the waste of my careless brothers and sisters. The hard work sooner or later wears you down, and you end up in a miserable heap of marginalized self-esteem, crying and wining in some lonesome gutter, and babbling in a self-impregnated idiom about the gigantic injustice of the society you happen to live in. The resulting conclusion of these rather unpleasant experiences is the realization that you have to participate in your local economy, if you like it or not, and less is not necessarily better. Should you be visually impaired enough to need a reason for this, here is a very simple one: All things come to an end. Let me tell you what I mean.
The private property you live your life on is nothing but empty space you stole from somewhere and claimed with a fictitious title. While this is true also in the physical realm, in the world of concrete things, I’m taking you here on a quick side trip into the mysterious field of psychology, the logic of the soul, if you want to take that label literally. In absence of a better description you want to direct your gaze towards your inside, towards that boundless space within you where your actions originate. It’s a highly difficult maneuver for the mind, beware of the constant loom of distraction and a multitude of very real looking illusions. If you persist though the rewards are great and you’ll find that reality is not so much a matter of things. But anyway, let’s start the search again.
The private property you live your life on is nothing but empty space you stole from somewhere and claimed with a fictitious title. The fact that you build a fence around it and defend it with more and more vigor might provide you with a sense or ownership and security, but as much as you would like you can never ignore the fact that it is, after all, empty space. You desperately need to fill it with things, little, comprehensible entities with readable functions. You hop across your defensive fences and leave your sanctuary. You have mustered the courage to face the challenge of dealing with your peers. Precisely as you have been told before you engage in transactions with them, barter, haggle, bluff, test, dig in, pretend, argue, make offers, threaten, give in a little, just enough to end up with an acceptable deal. At the end of the day you return to your spiritual den with a collection of things.
When you wake up the following day you look at your things and spend quality time in awe of their beauty and perfection. The day after that this beauty starts to wither and that perfection to crumble. Some things fade away quickly within hours while others take months. But all things eventually come to an end. If you stay within your splendid isolation you sooner or later find yourself again to be master of nothing but an empty hole.
The sweet honey in the jar, for which you have paid a miserable fraction of the work it cost the bees to collect it from zillions of blooming blossoms, one morning comes to an end. The ice cream comes to an end, before it melts, runs down the cone over your fingers and drips onto the ground. The shoe polish, that useless wax of social prestige, ends at the bottom of the tin after all that shining. The big, heavy bag of rice you bought at a bargain price, even that giant bag of rice little by little empties out and one day is gone. Love and adoration with time and routine wear thinner and thinner, its objects acquiring a stale dullness that make you sick if you hang onto them too long. Your friends, those incredible architects of self-esteem, one day are gone and leave mountains of grief and caves of loneliness. The batteries of your spaceship drain and lose their comfort-generating power bursts one by one, in spite of all your efforts at efficiency and diligent consumer consciousness. The cookie jar, of course, is always amongst the first ones to run on empty! And one day, you are absolutely sure about that, you yourself will come to a final stop in that predetermined spot at the center of the universe.
By now it must be blatantly obvious, vigorously exposed and terminally explained before your very eyes. In the isolation of jars, bottles and many other forms and shapes of containers, things by inertia must come to their bitter end. What brings an end to all this permanent concert of endings is the transaction on the outside of the fence, speaking exclusively on condition of economics, of course, since the source has not been officially authorized to reveal the unaltered truth. You renounce ownership to your isolated and highly militarized bunker-shaped sphere of empty space and live in the common space where you transact with your brothers and sisters fairly and openly, intensively and abundantly. We’re all neighbors, after all, aren’t we?
In my conversation with the other, in my flirting with the opposite, in my reaching out to the enemy, in my forgiving of all mishaps, in my receiving critical acclaim, in my path of no resistance, in my humble but firm passion for the marginalized and terrorized, in my hunger for constant change and permanent production, in my supreme being of all eyes and ears, in my pervious membrane of care and assistance, in my abundant curiosity for every and all, it is here in that communal effort of all that the creation of new things happens. Those new things take the place of the old ones and continue their legacy. The ending ends, and the economy prospers. All very plain and simple, it seems to me.


How Time Becomes Money

January 30, 2013

So I’ve abandoned you all and dedicated my focus and attention to such mundane tasks as feeding the cruising kitty, so it can meow again and provide nourishment for future reporting about less mundane adventures. I do consider myself really fortunate when contemplating how little of my time has to be spent with the truly alienating activity of getting some hard currency coming our way. Living a simple life, where less is most often more, repair and reuse has subdued discard and replace, little is usually enough, healthy effort unsettles lazy comfort, yesterdays regrets and tomorrows uncertainties are welcome guests, and smiles and generosity has silenced guilt and greed, it makes each penny go a long way. A sturdy Swiss upbringing also helps to ease the itches and imaginary pains of the frugal regime. But when time comes to bite the bullet, there is no silver bullet for making it through the machinery of competitive economics and the silver lining is horrendously thin.

I apply my skills to provide a service to a fellow man in need and agree with him on a numerical value that service demands. He then digs into his pocket and extracts papers with numbers of commonly agreed abstract value. Once my service is complete he hands me those papers and we part with a handshake, both better off than before. Why does it all leave a strange mixed feeling behind, a long lingering aftertaste? I guess in the small, on the micro scale the economy of exchange, helping each other out, giving and receiving goods, using and providing services, feeding and cuddling each other is all healthy and good. Direct contact eliminates most trickery and pitfalls are obvious enough and easily avoided. As long as you don’t ask too many questions…

Then there’s the question of supply and demand. It certainly pays to be at the right place at the right time. The massive conglomeration of cruising boats in such a small place is mind-boggling. They have descended in drones into the higher latitudes, driven a little by reason and a lot by insurance mandates, escaping the treacherous tropics with their furious rotating storms but also in pit stop mode after having lurched for long across a big vast blue with little specs of land and frail to non-existent supply chains for all those parts. Those many parts that are needed to keep the complicated machinery in motion that grants the level of consumer comfort. Cold beer, satellite phones, radar domes, electric winches, frozen steaks, microwaves, ice cubes, water makers, backup generators, autopilots, computer screens, bread machines, internet hogs, sump pumps, ice cream sorbet, air conditioning, nifty navigation electronics, the list just self-replicates endlessly and continues on and on. Just figure all that can go wrong and you get an idea of the buzzing and bustling service industry the springs to life for six months of every year here at the upper end of the Veronica Channel.

Once it has grown to be an industry it is no longer a question of face-to-face deals and handshakes. Prices go up, tempers flare, expectations clash, stress builds, quality suffers, fairness fades, insurance rules, trust rots, payments default, credit swaps, deadlines loom and before you know it there’s my golden opportunity. Personal, friendly service, competitive price, let’s get it done attitude, immediate availability, cut through the crap efficiency, it’s all part of the marketing! So I’ve repaired water tanks, installed vents, patched gel coat, painted windlasses, oiled teak linings, fiberglassed broken life raft covers, reinstalled heads, closed stuck sea cocks, waxed topsides, designed a canoe sailing rig and many more little things.

Now the work seems to have tapered off and it might be time to head out and do some exploring of the many nooks and crannies of the coastline, watch the busy birds and lazy fish, count the rocks and climb the cliffs, listen to the siren’s song and take a peek at the mermaids basking under the midday sun on a slither of seaweed covered rock.