Love Letter on Money

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As much as other people shy away from talking about shame or sex, I’m even more reticent to touch money. In conversation, in society and even alone—I just don’t go there. It’s as if my mind thinks my money will multiply into a steady heap of cash if I just ignore that relationship.

Funny thing that—because untended relationships aren’t necessarily neutral. They grow unwieldy in the strangest places. They branch out like prickly weeds intent on strangling every pretty little thing you’ve ever sewn in your garden. And so with money. I’ve learned the only and best way to get them Grown Girl Panties snugly on and finally own all of my wealth, is by first fessing up to what I believe about money. Zero judgements. And then, to purge myself of the inherited poppycock that comes with being a human living a money-minded world.

But where did the crackpot money beliefs come from in the first place? I’m especially intrigued by this question right now. Like everybody else, I’m grossed out by the charges against billionare Jeffrey Epstein—alleged sex trafficker whose abuse of minors was out in the open for years, masked only by his outsize wealth. Besides wondering why any civilization is comfortable with one person accumulating that much wealth in the first instance, I’m curious how we became a society that places so much stock in wealth and its trappings that a subset among us get to live under separate laws? This isn’t a novel thought. But a few weeks ago, an amazingly insightful art historian and friend put it to me in a way that really hit home.

We were at The Met, walking through breathtaking pieces of antiquity from Middle Eastern civilizations that have given us arithmetic, algebra, the first legal codes and lets not forget, hummus! My friend said something I’m still chewing on. Power needs Beauty to make it more palatable and aspirational, she said. Dead beauty—beauty that is neither luminous nor transcendent, as I believe true beauty to be—takes up the task of masking the vulgarity and revulsion of raw, violent power.

Think of Trump Towers and the showmanship of wealth and beauty. No matter how gauche you find an all-gold toilet or foyer, you have to admit the raw attack of dead beauty fulfills its function, just the same. Think also of every dictator you’ve seen glorified in printed portraits forced onto people’s living room walls and across major highways. There is an attempt to equate their raw power with beauty. To mask what is ugly with the illusion of beauty, which gobsmack stacks of money will readily buy. Similarly, I think we live in a culture that is willing to mask ugly and uncomfortable abuses of power, say sex trafficking by a billionnare, with the trappings of vacant beauty.

How to reel in the madness? Lynne Twist’s The Soul of Money is helping me ask big and even exciting questions about what money means to me. How do I want to use my wealth as an expression of my deepest values and core beliefs. But at a wider and systemic level, I think the time for reckoning is ripe. And since I’m an artist in love with the restorative power of real beauty, I see our task as decoupling even the illusion of beauty from real beauty and from power. What I’m asking is, Can we train our tongues, ears and touch to see through wild displays of money for what they really mask and are? Can we see dead beauty and reject it on those terms. Knowing, it is all that tainted money can buy

Makhene