“The dear woman is having an orgasm over a bracelet: Get her a man!” [Meditation on Money, Inheritance Tax, and the Deeper Aesthetic Pleasures of Jewelry]

Starlight (Gold not Rose Gold), Touchstone Crystal.

My eccentric, literary, retired lawyer/economist FB friend, sailing around the world and currently cruising the American Samoa, does not understand many things in life. He has done everything from climbing tall mountains to biking long distances to riding champion dressage horses. He has many degrees from the University of Chicago but he doesn’t understand basic things about food, jewelry, and money, particularly as they relate to women. I will not here wax poetic on the centrality of good food (and wine and spirits) to “the good life,” but note that he’s quite hopeless on the subject of fine dining, whether prepared at home or at a restaurant.

Unlike me, my friend knows how to make money, a former partner at Cravath who raised and educated five terrific kids, two of whom were professional ballet dancers. And boats are of course gigantic, floating money pits, giving rise to the old joke: “What’s the happiest day of a sailor’s life? The day he buys his boat and the day he sells it.” Along the same lines, sailors often say, “If you want to know what it’s like to own a boat, take a stack of C notes into a cold shower and tear them up, one by one.” He has state of the art radar, sat nab, ham radio, computers and all the other electronics my father had on his CT 54 (this man also sails a Robert Perry boat, a Westsail 39).

But this paradoxical figure, who revels in sensory experience, physicality and natural beauty is oddly immune to the normal and perhaps bourgeois pleasures of food, fashion, and jewelry. This man and I have very different views about money. Of course he’s very left, like Paul Krugman left (but he has his own economic theories and would not want to be pigeonholed, I am quite certain). He studied with Milton Friedman and writes an economics blog which I never read because I didn’t study economics and find it deadly dull.

This handsome man of 70 (who served in the Army with what I take to be a significant security clearance) was experiencing difficulties with his WiFi, upon which he is of course dependent in the middle of the South Pacific. I commented, “Hey you’re the one who wants to redistribute shit! How does it feel?” He’s also for an insane inheritance tax which obviously I cannot condone. I’m not saying we should abolish inheritance tax and maybe if you inherit more than 5 million, it doesn’t really matter too much. But if you’re at a third-to-half of 5 million, the difference between 40% and 20% is gargantuan in terms of your life choices. Put baldly, it’s the difference between having to work and not having to work.

If I moved to New York (or Jersey or CT), I would be self-supporting in a year through a combination of writing, tutoring, and editing. I’d get some kind of personal assistant gig to a hedge funder or some charity hostess thing without much difficulty I am quite sure. So, if I had nothing to fall back on and never wrote a 12-million dollar book like that deep thinker Monica Lewinsky (or perhaps just a deep-throater with a fortuitous choice of penis) proposes to do, I would not be homeless or on welfare. I can’t make a living in Santa Barbara, but I have committed to stay in Southern California for the duration of my father’s lifetime (actually, my mother’s as well but she says that’s ridiculous since she’ll live till 90 or so barring a plane or car crash). Also I love my boyfriend and he lives in Santa Barbara. He’s tied to SB for another decade so that’s that.

But obviously, the financial support from my family underwrites this lovely life I lead without working. Now, my sailor friend friend advocates a tax far in excess of 40% and endorsed the equation of one of his very left-wing friends between those who inherit enough money to live (even as renters) with royalty. The (bizarre) implication was that someone who inherits 1.5 (or even 2) million is somehow akin to an English prince or member of the House of Lords when they wielded real political power.

The greatest power I’ll ever have is influencing a reader of Yelp to try my favorite pasta at restaurant or a reader of Victorian Chick in an unhappy relationship with a relative to handle it differently and find some measure of peace in life. People write to me privately all the time to thank me for writing about my triumph over depression and telling me I give them hope that happiness is attainable.

Even people who may work in the field of mental health or psychology ask for my advice on handling difficult family members and consider me experienced and even wise on such matters, having been estranged from my own family ten years and now living in perfect harmony with my parents 10 days a month. (One of course thinks of the famous scene in thirtysomething with Ellen and Hope when Hope’s mother is visiting and she tells Ellen that she values and admires and owes everything to her mother but someone finds herself unable to be in the same room with her for over ten minutes. Ellen: “Ten minutes? What’s your secret?”)

So my friend feels that money cripples people. Well, to this I say the following: if you’re wired or conditioned to be an emotional cripple and financial failure, certainly it’s better to have money from your family than to be broke and on welfare. Second, there is a world of difference between inheriting 2 million and 10 million, another difference still between 10 million and something in excess of this.

Of course I have stacked the deck here a bit. He doesn’t deny that living paycheck to paycheck is miserable, nor does he believe perpetual financial insecurity is desirable.  But he has this odd view that financial struggle and fear functions as a universal motivator and this is of course not true or all the broke and unemployed people in America would be on the brink of prosperity.

As someone who saw how my grandmother’s bone-crushing poverty as a child and teen psychologically mangled her for life, I do not buy the “nobility of poverty” bullshit. The meek may inherit the earth eventually, but before they do, their lives will suck. Particularly for extremely intelligent, talented, and sensitive men and women, poverty can ruin not just one life, but adversely affect a family for generations, whether those generations achieve wealth or not.

Money has all kinds of meanings and implications–stability, security, love, and freedom to name a few–none of which reliably or directly corresponds to a numerical figure. Some people handle poverty better than others. My best friend at Yale grew poor (or lower middle class) in Tulsa. Her mother was a secretary in the First Christian Church and her father a talented potter who sold his wares at swap meets across Oklahoma.

Even with a partial scholarship to Yale, she worked two part-time jobs most of the time and took out loans to pay for her education. And she seemed fine with it; it was all she ever knew and while certainly it was a bummer and stressful, she wasn’t suicidal over her financial situation. My father, by contrast, was very poor as a child, and while his parents clawed their way into the middle class by his junior high school years before rising progressively from upper middle class by WWII and finally becoming well-off (but not “wealthy” or 1%-ers) by the 1950s, my father has been haunted by financial insecurity (some might say driven by financial terror) his entire life.

Moreover, Dad is irrational about money. He can be enormously generous and extravagant one day and ridiculously miserly the next. A new kitchen appliance or driveway for one of his adult children is no big deal, while a vet bill for 5K is. I wrote a blog about money and family a few months ago if you wish to hear more of this story.

But certainly, no one who has ever had money and lost it can deny that it is far worse to be poor or middle class if you once had money than it is to live on the margins when that is all you have ever know. This is a more serious point than the admittedly funny meme on Facebook that it’s nicer to cry in a Mercedes than on a bicycle. Obviously, people have different priorities in life and for some, material objects, private schools, real estate, vacations and the like are more or less important. These priorities also motivate career choices, spousal choices and childrearing decisions (to have or not to have kids chief among them).

I wrote on FB that I had bought a bottle of wine before I started to blog, intending this to be a funny piece on why jewelry orgasms are in the end deeper, longer and more multivalent than mere sexual orgasms but my point of departure–my sailor/lawyer/economist friend who, when I posted the piece pictured in the header, joked that I needed a man because I was having an orgasm over a bracelet–generated a blog in itself.

I am not seriously proposing that we replace orgasms, or sexual pleasure in general for the many women who have neither vaginal orgasms (as high as 70%) nor orgasms by other natural means (as high as 25% by some studies) with Tacori, Diamond Nexus Labs or Pandora (depending upon your tax bracket). But I truly do adore jewelry and I can stare at my wrist, finger or in a mirror, my neck and ears for long periods of time, experiencing waves of pleasure that are at once physiological and emotional. My body almost tingles and my lips curve into a smile which remains for well over a minute. My eyes sparkle with delight and I feel a sense of wellbeing and gratitude from head to toe.

In my experience, no orgasm can be guaranteed to produce all of these experiences simultaneously and certainly not for hours or days or weeks on end.
I should also note that the emotional intimacy which derives from sex with someone you love, laugh with and engage on multiple levels is to me distinct from the pure physiological experience of sex. This is not exceeded by a purely aesthetic and material pleasure of the sort afforded by a beautiful dress or coat or pair of earrings. However, orgasm qua orgasm seems to me highly overrated in the scheme of life’s ethical goods.

And this is what, on a serious note, I tried to explain to my friend. Those who love jewelry understand that it is total sensory experience: visual, tactile, and aural. Seeing a beautiful piece on your wrist or finger is more than visual. My new bracelet is incredibly smooth and cool on the skin and it makes a pleasing sound when it clicks against my Cathy bangle in the Lorian Platinum line of Diamond Nexus Labs (about which I have blogged many times).

I noted to a frequent wall correspondent (though not a real life or phone friend) that too few people nowadays know a thing about aesthetics as a philosophical discipline and therefore do not really know how wedded (for the German idealists certainly) are aesthetics and ethics. Leaving aside Kant, Hegel, Schiller, Herder, Hamann and others, David Hume’s “Of the Standard of Taste” used to be something a reasonably literate, college-educated person would know in basic outlines (which is to say, whatever Wikipedia has to say about it). This is no longer the case, which I suppose should not come a shock when something like 4% of high school graduates can’t define in a sentence or two what Brown v. Board of Education meant or accomplished.

But beauty matters. For Kant, natural beauty outweighed artistic beauty but he had plenty to say about the arts as well. If you’re interested, Paul Guyer’s 1979 Kant and the Claims of Taste (second edition with important introduction and additional chapter on fine art, 1999) remains the best single-volume study of the Critique of Judgment.

CJ is also known as the Third Critique because Kant’s study of art was part of a larger system (the Germans loved their systems, so much so that George Eliot–with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the British canonical writer most invested in German thought and literature, wrote of their “system mongering”!) intended to provide a totalizing vision of reality and human nature. It was an architectonic beginning with his study of mind/epistemology, the Critique of Pure Reason and continuing with his study of morality, the Critique of Practical Reason, though in the history of ethics, it is Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals which elaborated on his Categorical Imperative in the slim volume Bernard Williams called in his highly influential 1988 Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy the second most important work on ethics in the Western tradition since Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.

My Pantech sometimes takes fabulous pictures and other times barely adequate ones. These are a bit blurry but here are some other views of Starlight, gold-plated with Swarovski crystals inlaid. (I don’t think you can generally distinguish between real and fake stones in a pave or inlaid setting and these are quite brilliant.)

On my reading table with first edition Balzacs in need of new bindings in the background. (1903, Connoisseur edition)

Here it is stacked with Cathy and my heirloom ring, very heavy white gold with synthetic stones from Diamond Nexus, originally 2400 but just 599 on a Thursday e-steal. It’s a size 5 which is very small and likely the reason they were looking to offload it. 

Right-hand fashion band from DNL, Starlight Crystal bangle with Cathy DNL bangle from Lorian Platinum line.

I’m meeting J at Eureka! Burger my review of which you can find on Yelp. I love Yelp and now have 21 reviews. If you’re in LA, SB or NYC, feel free to check out my reviews.

Happy Thursday!

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