Oscar Wilde once said: “Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.” As much as I admire the work of the Victorian playwright, and as perilous as it is to disagree with such a renowned wit, I’ve never liked this quote and have found myself marshalling the ranks of my ideas against it. In short, Oscar, old boy…I beg to differ. I am aware, of course, that my temerity in this matter is emboldened by the fact that (barring the intervention of a good Medium) you are not available to skewer me with your repartee.
To be sure, living within ones means presents limitations. Donald Trump is free to buy either a Lamborghini or a second hand Subaru. I, on the other hand, am stuck with the ’99 Outback with squeaky windshield wipers and an odometer sporting 110 thousand miles. I readily admit that the imagination (and realization) of a consumer is liberated by a stuffed wallet.
But, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, I believe that there is more to life then the scramble to acquire money and the dizzying race to spend it. “Maybe Christmas,” said the Grinch, when his heart grew three sizes, “doesn’t come from a store.” Similarly, the imagination should not be hobbled by a singular identification with the power to acquire stuff. Maybe imagination means a little but more!
Last year we bought an old farmhouse in Western Massachusetts. It was a deeply romantic time for my family—charged with a pioneer optimism in the promise of new beginnings. When the first month’s bills arrived, though, we were dealt a reality check—the house’s archaic construction and an inefficient boiler conspired to nail us with crippling heating bills. Our new life was threatened by lack of means.
We put in a woodstove. I learned how to use a chainsaw, and found myself sawing downed logs in the back acres of generous friends. I hauled logs in the truckbed, split them with a maul and a wedge and stacked them under sheets of corrugated iron. I collected garbage bags full of pinecones that, I’d discovered, were as satisfyingly incendiary as calcified dragon spittle.
Adversity summons a particular species of imagination known as resourcefulness. Learning how to “get the wood in” represented not only my transformation to a backwoods hayseed—more importantly it made my sweat a meaningful part of the economy of our home. If I had the means, I might have simply replaced the boiler, or absorbed the exorbitant heat bill. Since this was not an option, I inserted myself into the elaborate scheme of energy production–learning how to top off the chain lubricant; feeling the bitter cold wind roaring across a ridge; internalizing the rhythm of a swinging maul; perfecting the beauty and utility of the woodpile.
I believe that resourcefulness is the imagination that mitigates lack of means. Furthermore, I believe that such capability is a greater measure of personal dignity then an ethos of entitlement.
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