birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

The Root and The Seed

What’s green and black and faced with fortitude? What’s something whose absence causes creativity and freedom, or mutiny and despair? It’s presence — and it’s absence— is one of the greatest barometers of character. I, for one, can’t stand it. Yet I cannot live without it. Money is the root of most evil. And yet money is the seed from which many good things grow.

I was taught the value of money at a young age. I was shown the weeks of peanut butter sandwiches my mother ate so that she could afford a tire for the car her brother bought her. I was told to pay the cashiers in small stores when the lines weren’t long, counting out grimy pennies and dimes. I learned how heavy a prize was exchanged for a tiny candy bar. I vividly remember lining up to join my brother and thousands of roaring, stomping fans in the football stadium, underneath the sky-high glow of those giant lights that burned by our house every Friday night. I wanted in, so there I stood, counting out the guts of my piggy bank. If you had patience to collect it or gumption to earn it, suddenly the options for adventure opened up.

And so it continues. As I age, as we all age, want muddies the definition of “need.” Getting admittance into the line of people behind the locked stadium doors is shinier, brighter, more curious. Playing in ditches of dirt with sticks and stones loses its luster. Closed doors are more inviting. Tickets, admittance, acceptance — all gained with money. And more and more of it is needed as more of it is spent.

Jump onto the treadmill to keep up the pace. It’s a treadmill for most, going nowhere. Earn it, spend it, rise up a level, earn more, then burn more. For some, it’s tiresome and they fall off, fall out of the cycle. For others, the muscling and grind paves into wide roads of opportunity, rich with options and flirts of more fortune. The roads lead to the top, or at least a top. Then there are some who unfortunately believe they want to spare their children, and their children’s children, that same hard grind. They give them opportunity, which if not done right, shows as the evil root instead of a strong seed. It’s a gesture often taken as a hand out instead of a hand up.

There’s something to be said for the freedom one gains with money. And there’s something to be said for the freedom gained when one has none. Maybe it’s honesty and clarity of one’s character or intent. Maybe it’s the magic of grit that works to become a glossy pearl. Without money, one certainly knows his real friends, his real needs, and his own values.

I think we must all grow through cycles of valuing money and what it affords. I’m now in the phase where I curse its prominence, its need as a traded ticket for things I value more than I did when I was younger: a comfortable home, access to good health care, a sense of security in an uncertain future. I struggle to find purposeful roles that pay enough to afford the life I enjoy leading, and are enjoyable in what I want to do day to day. And I’ve come full circle, appreciating the ditches of sticks and stones and the endless possibilities of adventure found in nature, for free. I have leveled out at a happy spot on the seesaw of work/life balance—for the moment. Yet I still play the lottery, crossing a line into wistful, wasteful dreams when I find myself crossing state lines. My great aunt had a saying she’d recite with gusto and a raised glass: “I’d rather be lucky than rich.” Maybe I’ll win both.

Capping Potential

Money qua Money