Life in a Relatively Uncomplicated Bubble
Oprah had a feature in her O magazine where she would share “What I Know for Sure” and, in various ways over the years, she has invited her readers and followers to reflect on the things that they knew for sure as well.
Well, two things I would include in my own personal list of things that I currently know for sure would be:
1) I live in a bubble of sorts
2) My life is relatively simple and uncomplicated
To the first point of living in a bubble … that might strike some who know me as an odd statement to make since they see me as a well-educated, curious, global traveler with an expansive and inclusive world view. And even though I don’t participate in social media, I’m described by a friend—who is very much ensconced in that reality—as “the most aware, current, and in-the-know person not on social media” that he’s aware of.
When I received my doctorate, my mom wrote something in the card that accompanied my graduation present about how few people enjoyed learning as much as I did. (She should know; this was the third post-graduate present she’d had to buy me!) She also wrote in my chapter of her memoir (each of us kids got our own chapter) about how I have friends all over the world; case in point, I’ll be visiting two of them in Spain and Malta this fall.
So why in the world would I consider my life as existing within a bubble (of sorts)?
The things that I know and have experienced, and the areas in which I’ve been educated and trained, I’m quite conversant, and my understanding of them goes fairly deep. Ask me, therefore, about adjunct teaching in higher education—or pedagogy in general—religion or the Bible or theology, performance or oral interpretation or storytelling, spirituality and creativity (heck, you can even ask me about accordions!) and I can fill your ear. But pretty quickly outside of those circles (and let’s be clear … there are a LOT of areas outside of those circles; almost an infinite number!) I become a deer in headlights, trying to decipher words and phrases that might as well be spoken in Swahili. They simply do not compute in the specifically trained “bubbles” within my, albeit, well-educated brain.
It’s one thing not to understand or fully grasp the concepts or vocabulary involved in astrophysics or neuroscience because I rarely cross paths with any aspect of these disciplines in a meaningful or impactful way in my daily life. But there are dimensions of banking and investments, insurance, the law, or medicine that may—or do—intersect with my experience of life and I’m often clueless.
I could not begin to explain what the movie “The Big Short” (talk about a bubble!) is about, other than the 2008 banking crisis. (Even when the director breaks the fourth wall to literally explain key concepts, I’m in the dark: subprime loan; credit default swap; mortgage bonds; selling short … might as well be Charlie Brown’s teacher talking: “Mwya mwya mwya mwya mwya mwya.”) I have no idea what an annuity is and I always have to stop and think: is my monthly insurance payment a premium or a deductible? What, exactly, is the difference between an indictment and an arrest? And don’t get me started on health care and Big Pharma (definitely a post for another time!).
This bubble “sheltering” includes vocational ignorance as well. Years ago, my brother got a job at a cold food storage company. Turns out, meats don’t go directly from the processing plants to the grocery stores; they make a stop at storage facilities first. Who knew? I have a relative who serves as the Food Expeditor at his restaurant, responsibilities for which [according to the Internet] include “ensuring the smooth and timely flow of orders from waiters to the kitchen, checking dishes for accuracy and presentation, assisting in final dish preparation, maintaining fast service, handling customer complaints, and upholding quality and sanitation standards.” Makes sense but who knew there was an actual person whose job it was to oversee all that? Not me! And speaking of restaurants, a cousin of mine married a guy who connects restaurants needing to dispose of their used cooking grease with biofuel companies needing said grease to produce their fuel. I’m thrilled that this kind of upcycling exists, but I had no idea that someone could actually pay their bills with this type of work. Like I said, I live in a bubble.
Of course, it’s not lost on me that many people have no idea that “professional storyteller” is a thing that can pay the bills, either, so clearly I’m not the only one living in a bubble! 😏
And it’s largely the freelance storytelling career I’ve chosen for myself that has necessitated my second point above about living a relatively simple and uncomplicated life.
Some might see the lack of stability and benefits dictated by a freelance lifestyle as anything but uncomplicated. The fact that gig-economy folks like me have to scramble for enough work to pay the bills— and even then, there are no guarantees—may come across as much more complicated than steady work with unchanging hours and the same office colleagues and location every day. Perhaps. But for me, my “barely-squeaking-by” income of the last several decades has dictated that my life—in terms of where my limited money goes and what I’m able to spend my time and money on—has to be simple.
So, no second homes or boats or RVs or time shares. No extra pieces of land or mineral rights or 401Ks or trusts or m-u-l-t-i-p-l-e insurance policies. I have a checking account and a savings account. I do have a little money invested (and it’s totally worth it to me to have a financial adviser oversee all that because of the “Swahili/I-live-in-a-bubble”/I-don’t-understand-“The Big Short” reality mentioned above). I don’t have a partner or dependents, including pets. I own my house and one vehicle. That’s it.
Helping Dad get his affairs in order has brought into sharp relief how complicated his life is in comparison! His assets are much larger than mine, both in diversity and in value. The number of phone calls made and conversations had, files checked (not to mention first locating said files!) and papers signed, documents notarized and records submitted has been exhausting. I don’t say any of this in judgment. Dad worked hard, made a good living, and rewarded himself (and his family) accordingly. More power to him.
It’s helped me appreciate my own simpler, and yet very fulfilling, existence … even though it might occur largely in a bubble. It’s also made me realize a third thing I now know for sure: Whoever “cleans up after me” when I reach the end will likely appreciate my relatively uncomplicated bubble, too!