This weekend, I sat in a chair at the hairdresser’s four hours, some of it stroking her black cat who decided to befriend me finally and most of it spent reading Save Karyn, A Shopaholic’s Journey to Debt and Back. Yeah, I’m really intellectual like that. And did I mention I’m addicted to Shopaholic stories?
Frankly, I wasn’t keen on this book but I had just come of reading a series of amazing books (and I mean amazing in a light, heartfelt, yellow-covered way… not in an James Joyce way) and I needed something. And Curly tossed this one out and I decided to go for it.
Anyway, I didn’t completely like the first part of the book because Karyn, the protagonist came across as a bit too naïve and clueless (she came to New York from Chicago, not the back of beyond) but I was sitting in a chair with no end to the procedure I was undergoing in sight (I was straightening my hair, if you must know) so I kept at it. And towards the middle I started getting into it.
Basically, the story is about this girl who loves to shop and moves to New York. And who ends up running up US$20,000 in debt… and then loses her job.
At this point, I started getting the shivers. I’ve never been great with keeping track of money. I tend to go on extreme spending and saving sprees but I’m always too bored to check how much money I actually have. Right that minute I was spending HK$500 on straightening my hair. I had thought about the cost for exactly one minute before plonking down on that chair. Earlier this month, I’d bought a new bag to add to my collection of bags and shoes and clothes. Could I end up like Karyn?
Then I gave myself a little shake. I realise that I tend to get very involved in books and movies, more involved than I get in real life probably. V, who’s not a great fan of my reading habits (it’s testament to how much I love this man that I married someone who doesn’t care to read), says that it’s a crutch and an escape.
The first time I heard this theory I was appalled. I have never heard a single person hitherto profess the opinion that reading is bad for you. And don’t worry, I still don’t subscribe to it. But I have to admit that I use reading as an escape. I tumble like Alice into a different world and it makes everything that’s annoying me in the actual world disappear. Sometimes I get so involved in a book or film that even after I’m done with it, I’m affected by its mood for hours, even days.
Yes, reading widens the imagination, opens ones eyes to different possibilities etc but as V points out most of the time I’m lreading ight stuff, not anything that’s really challenging my mind.
Instead I often end up identifying with characters in the book, and relating the lessons of the book to my life. When they may not always be applicable.
Like Karyn. Yes, I’m a little clueless about money. But I’m so clueless that I never get into transactions that look even a little bit controversial. And I always read the fine print – here’s where being a reader helps in the real world – and if I don’t understand it, I tend to just avoid being any part of it. I never sign things I don’t understand. You get the point.
That saves me from a lot of trouble. Because it seems like these days it’s the stuff you sign that you don’t understand that comes back and bites you in the ass. Even if it promises to make you rich quick. Especially if, probably. Some of the stuff Karyn undertakes to get around her debt while continuing to shop was too befuddling for my little brain. But then, anything that has numbers in it makes me break out. Maybe some of you will have better luck.
Planning to read those bits out to V to see if the banker in him can make sense of it. These debt issues are the only parts of my chick lit collection that he’s interested in. Then again, maybe not. What if he starts explaining it to me and I have to pretend to be interested.
Anywho (as Karyn would say), at one point, she gets so desperate that she sets up a website asking people to donate a dollar. And it works! And this is the real point of this post.
Today, it’s pretty hard to believe in human goodness. Especially in a place like HK where everyone’s in it for themselves and that’s cool. Believe me, in India, people are poorer but they’re gooder (better just doesn’t seem to cut it here). But if you live in a place like HK, you’re constantly looking out for yourself. Because that’s what everyone does. Whether it’s a simple thing like finding directions or dropping a pen on the floor. Nobody’s first instinct is the help you out. And so you begin to focus on helping yourself out.
Now I come across as a very cynical person but possibly because of my upbringing, my first instinct is to help. Then my shyness kicks in and I generally let other people take the lead. But I have to physically stop myself from picking up other people’s stuff or offering seats to people who look even a little bit in need in the train. Even in India, if someone comes to me with a sop story about how they need money, I find it really really hard to turn them away. And if I do, I’m wondering about it forever – will my decision destroy their lives forever etc.
It’s not really the best way to be in this big bad world and that’s why my cynical side is around to help me from getting conned. For example, recently, I’ve been trying to sell off some of our furniture. And this girl came over to see our bed and said she’d like to have it. I didn’t feel like asking her for an advance right then so I didn’t (for which V growled at me). Then another woman called and said she’d like to take the bed and the cupboard, but didn’t want just the cupboard. Now, a lot of people would’ve just sold them both to her. But I had promised the girl the bed and I didn’t want to renege on that. So I smsed her to confirm and asked her to give me an advance. Then things started getting shifty. She bargained down the advance, then a day later started bargaining down the price of the bed etc. Frankly, my life would’ve been easier just selling the other woman the bed and cupboard.
But anyway, the book made me feel that human goodness is not totally dead. That there are people who will take a chance on someone else. On Saturday, I watched Pay It Forward, which is about this kid’s idea that he could change the world by doing three good deeds that would change the beneficiary’s life in some significant way and then ask them to do the same instead of paying him back. That movie made me cry. I spent the greater part of Saturday crying. Partly because V’s away but anyway.
The point being, this idea of taking a chance on someone else without defenses is becoming increasingly hard to do. The world is becoming a more assholic place and people have to protect themselves more. And living in HK as I said doesn’t make it easier.
But the book and the movie reminded me that to be nice is not always to be a fool.