My Goal Isn’t Wealth

Williams EducationI was emailing back and forth with Sarah from The Yachtless the other day, and she mentioned that the photo I use as my avatar isn’t a close up shot of my face. In fact — not only is it not a close up shot, it’s not even of me! And it occurred to me that I had never written a post about why I use the icon I do.

Here it is:

Williams EducationThat’s the actress Olivia Williams, playing the teacher Miss Stubbs in the film An Education. I like it as an avatar for me (since I didn’t want to use a picture of real me) because I have dark hair and glasses and, you know, I’m a teacher. And I probably often have that particular look on my face 🙂

But there’s more to it than that. An Education is one of my favorite movies. The plot, for those who haven’t seen it: Carey Mulligan is Jenny, a very bright high school student headed for Oxford University. But she’s chafing at the bit to get at life, real life! And when romantic older man Peter Sarsgaard shows up in a hot car, offering her exciting restaurant meals and jewelry and trips to Paris, she drops out of school. But! in a shocking twist, restaurants and jewelry and Paris, while exciting, are also being paid for by extremely dubious means, and the man of her dreams is not really very dreamy after all, in various ways which I won’t spoil too explicitly. This is one of the “educations” that Jenny gets. The other comes when she realizes that, in order to make something out of the wreck of her life, she’ll have to finish school and get to university somehow. At that point, although she’s worried she’s burned her bridges forever, she goes to see her teacher, who had seemed so buttoned up and downtrodden and boring. Here’s Olivia Williams’s apartment.

4656886718_795c208dc3_b She’s wearing pants! Her hair is still pulled back, but she looks relaxed. She’s living a grown up life. It’s not an upscale life; it’s a modest one room for both kitchen and living area, and I guess there’s a little bedroom and bathroom at the back. It’s certainly not getting taken to Paris. She doesn’t seem to have a romantic partner (as many intellectual women didn’t, in those days.) But it’s a quality life. Art, books, piano. You can imagine her having her friends over to drink tea or a cocktail, to talk and play jazz. It’s a life that’s she’s earned herself, through honest labor, rather than getting money cheap and easy either through marriage, or through swindling others out of it. This is the second kind of education Jenny gets: it only takes a few minutes, but she sees how meaningful this other kind of life can be.

Miss Stubbs agrees to help Jenny study for Oxford, and the other reason I love this film so much is that it’s the only movie I know of where the big climactic montage is of a young woman reading books — Jenny rediscovering how wonderful it can be to learn and think, rather than living the glamorous but totally inauthentic life she got sidetracked into. So the third kind of “education” the film suggests is the traditional kind: the kind you get through study and thought, rather than through experience of people.

I chose the icon not only because Miss Stubbs is a teacher, then, but because she stands in for some of the key things about my life, or that I want my life to be about. Being a single woman, being an intellectual, making enough money to live a decent but modest life, but not going after money because I want glamour or just for the sake of it. I know people who really want to be rich. I don’t. It’s important to me to support myself and to have a cozy living space (art, books, maybe a nice stereo instead of a piano). I’d like to go to Paris, sure, and I like jewelry as much as the next girl. But they aren’t the things I’m aiming for in my life.

29 thoughts on “My Goal Isn’t Wealth

  1. I love this. Everything about it. Such a great personal analogy. Thank you for explaining!

    I’ve always loved the archetype of the arty, learned single woman. I’m married, but think I would totally become that if I wasn’t married for some reason. Or, who knows, maybe I’d go more Norma Desmond. 🙂

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Thank you! Being an arty, learned single woman is not necessarily all it’s cracked up to be, but it definitely seems like my role in life 🙂 I like sensible shoes too much to be Norma.

  2. I love this. And I already loved An Education, but it hadn’t occurred to me that it IS probably the only movie in which the big climactic montage is of a young woman reading books. Ooh, now I want to watch it again! 🙂

    I think this whole theme — girls/women being sort of lured into thinking that the greatest good in life is to get married (which in a lot of books and movies happens to mean marrying a rich guy!) — is so, so important. There’s a lot to say here. I feel like I want to start a gender link-up. Hmmm…

    1. thesingledollar says:

      This is a perfect fit with your role-models-in-literature post, isn’t it? I am not opposed to love and romance, and as I recall (it’s been a while) Jenny does end up meeting a young man when she finally goes to Oxford. But I feel like there are so few fictional portrayals of girls realizing that their worth is not and cannot be defined by who they’re sleeping with, and learning to make a stable self that’s not dependent on a lover.

      1. Totally, yeah, it’s exactly the same issue that I was getting at. I definitely want to think/write more about this.

  3. And you are on target. 🙂

    I’ve never heard of this movie, but what a sales pitch! Off to reserve it at the library.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      It’s such a good movie! The whole cast is just great, and it’s so rare to see a movie about a young woman that’s so intelligently made.

  4. What a lovely story behind the picture, thanks for sharing. I just assumed the picture was of you 🙂 The movie that you referred to sounds like it has many positive messages. I should check it out. Society thinks that we should all follow certain formulas, one of which is you must get married in order to happy. Happiness comes in many ways and you can be perfectly happy without a partner and loads of cash.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      It’s a really good movie! I agree that marriage is not necessarily the path to happiness, though with the right partner it’s clearly a very good thing. That’s what the movie is about — Jenny things marriage to this cool dude will solve her life problems, and she is so so so wrong — and luckily she realizes it in time to learn another way.

  5. Jordann says:

    Oh I love this! I totally strive for this type of life as well, plus my husband, my dog and my two cats. Even though I have goals (like to buy a home, replace my car), it’s really only so I can have more of what I have now: a cozy, comfortable life full of good food, good drink and good company. Can’t ask for much more than that.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Right, exactly! “All that glitters is not gold.” Goals are good, but we should be careful to make sure they’re the right goals for a good life 🙂

  6. Very coo! I remember when this movie came out but I never saw it, and now I feel like I should add it to my list. I think it’s relevant to today…kids see the kardashians or other reality starts living up this “glamorous” life as if that’s the only way, but being ultra wealthy does not make you rich. Rich with health, good friends, privacy, comfort, etc.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      It’s really good — the cast is killer and the screenplay is very tight. And its motto is definitely “all that glitters is not gold,” which I agree is so relevant in this day and age.

  7. Oh my gosh, as the person who yells out “MONTAGE!” at the beginning of every movie montage (you can’t take me *anywhere*) and a devoted bookworm, this sounds amazing. I’ve never seen the movie, but I’m going to make a point of finding it in the next few weeks, because wow. A reading montage! Yay!

    Also, this is a fantastic point and post. Aiming for a life filled with things you value and comfort – in whatever shape it takes for you – is the best and most purposeful goal I can think of.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      I love a good montage 🙂 You’ll really like this film, I think. It’s about choosing “enough.”

  8. Mandy says:

    Adding it to my winter watch list!

    1. thesingledollar says:

      You’ll love it!

  9. I love this!!! And I’m putting that move on my winter break list!

    1. thesingledollar says:

      It’s super good! I’m glad so many people are going to watch it 🙂

  10. Hannah says:

    I loved this movie growing up. I always thought it was a little strange that you used a famous person avatar, but you now have my permission to continue to use it.

    Also, I think you’ve got a great perspective on wealth, even if I don’t share it.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Hee hee. You seem to have been the only one who recognized it. (“Growing up,” though? It only came out in 2009!!!!) I’m glad to have your permission 🙂

      1. Hannah says:

        That’s growing up. Junior year of high school!

        1. Hannah says:

          Correction, junior year of college, but I watched it with high school friends. I guess I am getting old.

  11. I’ll have to see this movie–it sounds right up my alley. Books, art, and simplicity are always what I imagined for myself rather than wealth. Thanks for the recommendation.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      It’s super good! I look forward to a wave of reviews since everyone is apparently going to watch it over winter break.

  12. That’s a great movie. I love your goals! I also love Miss Stubbs’ home. I sort of think about being rich but living like Miss Stubbs. What would you say to oodles of money but a modest, cozy lifestyle? Imagine the bursaries and scholarships you could establish . . . to help the Jennys of this world.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Oh, well, I guess I wouldn’t say no to that scenario 🙂

  13. ARBM says:

    Sounds like a movie to add to my watch list… I wonder if my library has it to borrow…

    I think that too often monetary goals are driven by greed… instead of evaluating what is really important. I am definitely looking to have a cozy comfortable life, no glitter or gold required for me.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      It’s a great movie — and it would be totally thematic to get it from the library!

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