Get Rich (or Die Tryin’)

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My relationship to money is something I’m wrestling with. I got to reflect on it last year as part of my ‘‘Performing Stories’’ class, where ‘‘what’s your relationship to money?’’ was the initial theme. In class, we had to title our elusive autobiography at one point. I said ”Lili Monette, from rags to riches”, upon which my colleagues erupted in laughter.

My mother has always been a champion at handling finances and my father always made sure that I had everything I needed, despite uttering the line ”j’ai pas d’argent” way too many times. The situation hit rock bottom when I was about six years old and we had to go to the welfare office. I still remember the bleak looks of people there, most of them looking worse for wear. I promised to myself right then and there that I would never be in the same situation.

I had diner with my father a couple of weeks ago and we talked about money. As much as he never possesses a lot, he manages to be one of the happiest and most fulfilled persons I know. Of course, he is also conscious that I want what I didn’t have, and that I don’t want money worries to pursue me forever.

-You are not like me, you’re not gonna run after money your whole life, he told me with a sight.

My close family is one where money runs low, but where the art of living is fundamental. The other day, I went to see a play with my godfather. After the show, we were both hungry and decided to go out for diner. Upon entering two different ATMs, the reality was grim: there was no more money in his bank account. It did not stop us from going back to his place where he cooked crafty burgers with white toasted bread. He spilled the beans on his cheap regime: he buys onions in bulk since they are the cheapest vegetable and constantly cooks fish soups in the winter.

Money is on my mind since I’m currently underemployed. My readers and my friends (who may or may not be the same people) will be like ‘‘what? But you have five jobs!’’. Wait a minute.

Two stories ago, I was writing about the fact that I was working in a burger joint. After the horrific accident, I switched to being a waitress. Unfortunately, my first shift alone did not go down so well because of a crazy rush mixed with a couple of mistakes.

I got dismissed the next day over the phone. I felt like a product that could be returned to the store and exchanged for a better, brand-new one. I didn’t feel like a human being.

Two weeks later, I had to quit another job, since they did not have any shifts for me in the near future (I’m leaving Montreal in one month). Despite having tried desperately to beg my employers to give me shifts, the market has been running low lately. I got an array of answers like:

‘‘I’m sorry but you are at the end of the list, and it goes by seniority.’’

‘‘We don’t have any work right now really, but we’ll call you back.’’

‘‘For sure there’s nothing until May.’’

On a Sunday, I went selling some of my books and clothes with the graceful help of my BFF. She picked me up, driving in the sunshine.

It was around eleven o’clock in the morning and we were in much-need of coffee. Hence, we left our books at a used bookstore to let the bookseller pore upon them and went outside to enter a nearby hipster coffee shop.

We drank gourmet coffee on a stoop on Mount-Royal Avenue, simultaneously chatting and taking selfies.

She resumed the situation that we are in best: ”we’re not rich, but at least we’re happy!”.
I made a little more than a hundred dollars from selling old stuff, and it was done with perfect joy. I got rid and relieved of some of my past, while keeping one of my oldest relationships alive and well. It was our friendship and art of living, not the cash, that truly mattered.

I came to realize that my angst about money not only stems from my background, but also from modern society. There is a need to value what we do in numbers, but humanity is much broader than that.
I’ve realized that I get impatient when people are complaining that they have no money, but that’s because it’s something I fear, not only for myself, but for my loved ones, fellow artists and society as a whole. Inequalities are deepening and the poor are left with not much.

It is no coincidence that almost two years ago, a general student strike struck Québec. A long strike that was not solely about fees, but about principles, about being young and poor and fucking fed up of having to pay more constantly for something as fundamental as education, all the while earning meagre salaries from student jobs.

Life isn’t fair. Fortunately, I believe that our generation will change things.

In some ways, I can’t wait to have a big house, but that big house, if it’s empty, will be totally useless. I’ll need people to hang out with me in it because ultimatelly, money can’t buy me love.

I have been lucky and blessed to have a family and friends who possess huge amounts of creativity, humour and love. I just heard on the radio yesterday that children from poor families that had a lot of love, happiness and support growing up were 250 % more likely to succeed because they had to build an innate resilience. It definitely rang some bells. What’s more, my idols are women that went through hardship and expressed themselves creatively for the world to see. Women like M.I.A, Debbie Harry or Patti Smith are a constant inspiration for me. They, along with my loved ones and other passionate people, encourage me to keep working on creative endeavours and to never give up.

On that hopeful note, I’m more than ever conscious that the everyday struggle is definitely not over. I’ll just keep on hustling.

Lili Monette is a multidisciplinary entertainer and writer, and the Montreal editor of Blonde. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre & Development from Concordia University and is still somewhat studying.

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