I’m tempted to believe in scarcity right now. That the way things are is the only way they can be.
So I’m closing my eyes and remembering moments of not having, and what I might learn from them.
While my experiences are mild, there have been times when my daughter* and I lived on very little. I always hoped she didn’t feel a sensation of scarcity, even when money was very tight. I wanted to be able to take her out for burritos or ice cream, as her friends did. So we’d go and I’d order water to keep the bill low. I felt proud to sacrifice for her.
But one day – my daughter was about 9 years old – she was being very difficult, snapping at me unkindly. I felt angry and my voice began to harden, until she burst into tears.
“Sometimes I feel like you don’t care about me,” she cried.
I was stung. "When do you feel like that baby?" I asked.
"When we go out for burritos or ice cream and you don't even order anything. You make me eat all by myself.”
My heart was in my throat as I pulled her close. And I was so grateful to learn her truth.
In that hard moment, I glimpsed the story that I was projecting on us. That we were in scarcity and I needed to hide it. I was trying to create an image of abundance, at least in part, to make myself feel better.
Looking back on my actions, they feel understandable, forgivable, even commendable. Still, I saw something differently that day, in that hard moment.
My daughter’s truth crushed my false abundance story, and the idea that I was doing something for her. The collapse of that story opened the possibility of cultivating abundance with her. To get resourceful. To create. To turn a box of spaghetti into a “pasta bar” where she could pick her own toppings of sauce and cheese. To embrace the art of thrift store style, together, with joy.
2022 feels like a time of relentlessly hard moments. Whether it’s fear that there won’t be a hospital bed if we need it or that our paychecks won’t cover the price of groceries or that our drinking water will dry up or be contaminated by toxins, most of us are grappling in some way with fear that we will not be able to get what we and our love ones need to survive.
The hardness is real. And, scarcity feels like a debilitating story on top of the actual hardness.
What happens, what’s different, when we accept what’s hard without accepting a story of scarcity?
Scarcity says that my neighbors and I can’t create a community energy grid (like the Blue Lake Rancheria Tribe has done), or that the historical legacy of Black farming cooperatives can’t be reborn (as it is across the country), or that Indigenous languages can't be revived to flourish (as Native Hawaiians have so successfully shown), or that Black and Indigenous communities can’t get back the wealth created by their communities that philanthropy continues to hold (as leaders of Black-led Nexus Community Partners and Native-led NDN Collective achieved, in a small step forward, in December), or that artists can’t be supported as core to the health of a nation (as Ireland is poised to do with a basic income for artists and cultural workers).
A few years ago, when my daughter struggled with anxiety, everything I read said that I needed to send her to therapy, which our limited insurance didn’t cover. California had just slashed its public mental health budget, so the waiting list for high quality community providers was a year long. I dialed up highly-recommended private therapists who offered me discount rates of $130/hour.
I desperately wanted the systems to work for us, but they weren’t going to. I went with my gut instead. While the internet told me that therapy was our only option, I knew that my daughter always felt better when she was making art. So I reached out to some women friends with kids and we began a monthly meetup to make art together. We rotated gathering at one of our homes to create fantasy bird houses out of recycled materials, or make delicious creations out of chocolate and fruit that we’d give as gifts in old boxes we refinished as works of art. We even did public art together, like making a cluster of posters to honor Trayvon Martin, then putting them up, without permission, on the wall of a local recreation center. To this day, when my daughter feels anxious or overwhelmed, she picks up a paintbrush or sketchpad to grow her wellness.
I don’t want to give in to scarcity, to seeking the illusion of having. What I need is truth and resourcefulness, to create something else, something better, something real.
*My daughter, now 20, gave me permission to write and publish this blog. #consent