by Giselle Renarde
Glad to see I'm not the only one with three books on the go. I'm such a commitmentphobe I can't even commit to one book at a time! heh.
One of the books I'm currently reading is Margaret Atwood's PAYBACK: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth. I'm going to excerpt some of the book blurb to give you a clearer picture not only of what this book is about, but of what it isn't about:
[Margaret Atwood] doesn’t talk about high finance or managing money; instead, she goes far deeper to explore debt as an ancient and central motif in religion, literature, and the structure of human societies. By looking at how debt has informed our thinking [...] from the stories we tell of revenge and sin to the way we order social relationships, Atwood argues that the idea of what we owe may well be built into the human imagination as one of its most dynamic metaphors.
This is a highly academic work. My brain needs to be fully engaged any time I sit down with it, so it's not the book I pick up with my morning coffee, but debt is a topic that's always interested me. I'm the kind of person who pays off their credit cards in full every month, the kind of person who'd rather go without life's frills in favour of squirreling money away.
This book deals with debt as a concept, but it's got me thinking about one particular debt in my life:
A few years ago, my best friend was in dire straits. I know she wouldn't want me to disclose specific details, but if you were to imagine three of the worst things that could possibly happen to a person you probably wouldn't be anywhere close to how bad things were. She needed a considerable amount of money and I loaned it to her.
She wanted to set up a payment schedule, legal contract, interest rate, all above board. I didn't care about any of that. I wrote her a cheque. She could pay me back when her life stabilized.
"Neither a borrower nor a lender be; / For loan oft loses both itself and friend.." Wise words, there, from our man Polonius. As someone who is debt-averse, I've never been a borrower. Except in this particular instance, I've never loaned anyone money. In fact, I don't tend to loan people much of anything. I don't have a lot of stuff--certainly not the kind of stuff anyone would want to borrow.
Here's the thing: I loaned my friend money knowing she would absolutely pay me back if and when she could afford to do so. That said, I wouldn't have loaned her the money if I absolutely needed it to keep a roof over my head. While the money wasn't a gift, I wasn't counting on getting it back. That's not to say she's absolved of her debt. The debt still exists, I just don't let it get to me.
This girl is not a shifty person. We've been friends for over 20 years. She knows me better than anyone, and I know her pretty damn well too. That said, we'll often go long stretches of time without being in contact. Doesn't matter. We have a heart-to-heart connection. If we never spoke again, we wouldn't love each other any less.
My mom and my girlfriend have kind of teamed up on this one. They've decided my friend has pulled a fast one on me. I almost never think about this debt, but they bring it up often. "Have you heard from her lately? Has she mentioned the money?" They have this immense emotion attachment to my money.
Lending money can ruin a friendship. That's what they say. If you know me well, you know I can't be pressured into doing... well, anything, really. I loaned that money because I wanted to. Maybe that's why I'm not boiling over with resentment. And while it might be nice for the debt to be acknowledged every so often, I understand that money is a touchy subject for a lot of people and debt can be a source of shame.
I wish I'd made a note of it because I'm sure to misquote, but somewhere in PAYBACK Margaret Atwood mentions an antiquated notion (from the Bible? from the Romans? I don't remember) that every seven years all debts should be forgiven. Not a bad idea, if you ask me.
Giselle Renarde is an award-winning queer Canadian writer. Nominated Toronto’s Best Author in NOW Magazine’s 2015 Readers’ Choice Awards, her fiction has appeared in well over 100 short story anthologies. Giselle's juicy novels include Anonymous, Cherry, Seven Kisses, and The Other Side of Ruth.