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The Poverty Perspective, Part 2: I want to be more.

To celebrate my boyfriend’s birthday, I surprised him with boarding passes to a bedroom on a train. Once we had explored our little room and giggled and marveled, I made him wait in the coffin-sized bathroom while I unfurled an entire soiree from my suitcase. I strung white lanterns, draped fancy fabric over the seats, put down place settings, set out the food and a bottle of wine, and put his gift in his chair. The wee atmosphere I had created transformed the tiny space.

After dinner, we curled up together under the swaying lights and sipped wine as the train horn blew and the lights of towns and farms and factories rolled by outside our second-story window. It was, in a word, perfect.

If this were a lifestyle blog, I would have accompanied the above story with a smattering of darling pictures full of polka-dot ribbons and neat handwriting, and that would be it. But I don’t want that to be it.

I want to be more than my own dollhouse.

I even think I have an obligation, as a human being, not just to try to be more, but to tell you about it here, even if that’s uncomfortable for both of us.

With the life I’ve lived, I might as well have been shot into outer space, climbing into a gleaming rocket and offering that grubby cluster of open-mouthed kids a salute before I took off. I have enjoyed beauty beyond what any of us could have imagined when most of my friends were prying switches from trees in the front yard and peeling off their leaves while the adults stood in doorways, waiting to wield the weapon on its weeping deliverer. I once swam in the pool at the top of the Tokyo Park Hyatt (better known as the Lost in Translation hotel) while the sun set around me. And then there was the gigantic Jacuzzi tub in New Zealand, the one with my breakfast plate balanced on its edge and the gorgeous view of sheep-dotted hills rising up outside its window. And that dinner in the enormous square, at night, in Spain, with all of its balconies and the hundreds of dioramas behind them—some partially shuttered, some flung wide open for all to see. The hotel in Chicago where a maid delivered freshly baked cookies in the afternoon. The first-class suite on the airplane to Los Angeles, where I had my own bed and my own little salt and pepper shakers.

These are extreme examples, of course, rare and unusual gifts or perks that I never could have afforded if I were footing the bill. But that’s the thing about cultural and intellectual privilege: people start giving you advantages that the poor don’t have access to. The dynamic of life favors you more heavily without you noticing, because it doesn’t occur to you that the doorman doesn’t offer the same expression to everyone.

Even in my ordinary life, I’ve funded plenty of my own smaller, more common indulgences, whether I paid for them with cash or time: lattes, salon visits, gym memberships, throw pillows, cupcakes. The kind of indulgences that arrive topped with whipped cream or in a pretty box. The kind that almost anyone I’m likely to associate with can and does routinely afford, even as most of us lament how broke we are. The kind we barely recognize as indulgences at all, because not everyone can afford to choose the color of their walls.

I just wanted to be happy. No matter how much money you have or what you spend it on, I’m sure you do, too. Almost all of us have assumed, correctly or otherwise, that our happiness is the point, or that our children’s happiness is the point.

My life experiences have certainly not been fruitless. I was happy. I am happy. Hell, I’m often drunk on a complex cocktail of profound gratitude, enjoyment, wonder. I’m not here to present my life or yours as meaningless. I’m not discounting our search for beauty, our ability to foster tiny joys by way of coat buttons or key hooks. At least we are joyful. Plenty of privileged people aren’t, choosing instead to exist in a state of astonishingly steady outrage, paired with an amusing but unflattering air of disbelief, as if the rest of us climbed onto the bus to utopia this morning and left without them.

So, no. None of us are monsters. Many of us have used the significance of matrimony as an excuse to spend more money on one evening of our lives than it would have cost to buy my brilliant childhood friend an entire associate’s degree at the community college. But we still aren’t monsters, not really. That’s how complicated this is.

We do make choices that we don’t recognize as choices. We do use “need” in a way that would baffle or disgust anyone still stranded in my old stomping grounds. Some of our bucket lists don’t have a single item on them that isn’t about getting something we want. Some of us don’t even realize alternative options exist, because we have, often with the best of intentions, made universes out of ourselves.

But I think we could be more. I think we could climb out of our own stories if we realized our allegiance to those narratives, our servitude to that photo of a kiss at sunset.

Listen, I get it. I once slept in an $800 hotel room in Tokyo. I understand. I just want to be more than my own life. I want to walk out of the dollhouse and make stories that aren’t about me at all. If you want to be more, too, we should talk about it. If you don’t, the rest of this series is probably not for you. I’m not looking for a fight, I’m not interested in making you feel guilty, and I’m not here to convince you of anything you don’t already know. I just want to be more.

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