This morning, on my walk with the dogs, rose-gold light poured across the Alleghenies after days of rain.

Today’s Quest 2016 prompt comes from visionary Jonathan Fields:

You wake up to discover a knock at your door. A wealthy uncle you barely knew has passed and left you a fortune. It’s more than enough to live out your days in glorious splendor, but there is a condition. To be eligible to collect, you must commit your full-time working energies to the pursuit of an answer to a single question of your choosing for the next 12 months.

You are welcome to continue that pursuit after the year ends, for years or decades if it warrants, but you must remain fully focused on seeking the answer until the last minute of the 365th day. A minute shorter, the entire inheritance goes to your annoying and equally long lost cousin, Philly.

What is your question?

First: this is a fantastic question. I’m chock-full of questions 24/7, but if I had to choose just one, it would be this:

How can I best use my gifts to leave this planet better than I found it?

Because this planet is freakin’ amazing and deserves all I can give it.


Here’s the thing, Uncle Moneypants. I’m filthy rich already.

This is the fallen tree beneath which a vulture chick grew up.

Thank you. Really. This is an incredible offer, and I have to say in all honesty that I’m seriously tempted. It’s very generous. But Philly can have it. He probably wants it more than I do.

Because–and I don’t fault you for not knowing this, since we never really knew each other–I’m not for sale.

You can’t buy a sky like this.

I know many of us are these days, whether out of avarice or extreme and heart-rending need. And I have to admit that things have been tight financially for my little family and me these past several years. My husband’s a teacher at an independent school (private school teachers make thousands less than public school teachers). I teach part-time. We’ve made a lot of financial sacrifices because

a) my husband is punch-drunk in love with his job. He loves his academic freedom, his kick-butt colleagues, and most of all his mind-blowingly amazing students.

b) we both believe strongly that for our family, caring for our children ourselves was the best of all possible worlds.

I get to raise my boys under this sky. I can’t imagine greater wealth.

c) I am pursuing a career as a writer, because I can’t not write, because I would be deeply unhappy and a fraud if I pretended that a 9-5 would fulfill me. I would rather my children have a happy mother than a wealthy one. I would rather my husband have a happy wife than a miserable one. I would rather, most of all, be happy for myself.

d) both my husband and I gave up the promise of high-powered professional careers because we want our jobs to support our lives and not the other way around.

I want a life full of kids and critters and friends and love. Full of muddy walks where Slinkster Cat comes skittering through the fallen leaves, crying because he’s afraid we’ve forgotten to ask him along. Full of cats and dogs giving each other kisses along the trail.

So I’m gratefully and respectfully declining your generous offer. I’ve made a commitment to my students–the brilliant, passionate college-bound seniors in my writing class and the make-me-want-to-tear-my-hair-out-but-I-love-them-anyway seventh graders in my introductory French class. I’m not going to ditch them for any amount of money.

The people I admire most have changed the world without money or privilege. Sure, money can do good things–great things–but I know, too, that we live in a culture that has come to value money above life, and I don’t want to participate in that delusion. I want to fight it. I want my kids to grow up believing that the power of the human heart is greater than the power of the Almighty Dollar.

You can’t buy this. I wish I’d known you so I could have shown you these woods in winter.

And, I also have to admit, I’m something of a contrarian. I don’t want money that comes with strings attached, even if they’re golden strings. Sure, I could devote myself to pursuing this question and probably come up with a lot of good stuff, but I wouldn’t feel like me. I’ve already lost one year of my life to an anxiety disorder, most of a year to a traumatic car accident, a year to postpartum depression. I’m not giving away any more.

I lost a lot of woods-time during those three years.

Besides, I don’t need money to pursue this question. I ask it of myself every single day. It’s not a 9-5 job–it’s my life. I live this question. To be paid for asking it–that seems superfluous.

I’d rather earn the money I need on my own terms. And I don’t need vast amounts–I just need enough.

My boys are cutting brush to erect a palisade in the back yard because they want their own Jamestown. This is enough.

Philly can have the money. It will probably do him good to live a year in his biggest question. On the last minute of the 365th day, I’m going to be too busy kissing my true love.

This is my path, and I choose it freely.

23 thoughts on “NOT FOR SALE

  1. Amen! What lovely photographs. Also a reminder that my life is blessed as it is. My husband and I made similar choices as you and yours. Although I was not a “writer.” Even now, I don’t necessarily identify with that title/identity–although it is what I do (for fun, and nourishment, and it’s pretty much how I process the world around me). Still, I thank you for the reminder. Also, how can I get the supercool shooting star effect on wordpress?

    1. Tina, thanks so much for reading and for being a kindred spirit in this! Sounds to me like you are a writer. 🙂 I think the effect is a falling-snow thing they do in December; mine just automatically does it every year, though I think I have a vague memory of “opting in” to it a few years ago when I started blogging here.

  2. More than like, love. And it’s so funny to me that I read this before writing my own response today because mine was going to be very similar. I’ll keep it brief today because you’ve already written what’s in my heart (with only a few details changed, of course.) :0)

  3. Brenna, all that light and heart pouring through in words, and in the photos…amen, spunky, and direct. Beautiful! I love the title too…here’s to your writing life…on your terms.

  4. You are a beautiful being on this planet. I’m happy to call you friend.

    As usual, you’ve inspired me with your delightful images — photos AND words — to return to my own center. Thank you.

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