connections, link-ups

Widening the Circle

Widening the Circle-2

Were you one of those people who spent a lot of time in chat rooms in the 90s? I definitely wasn’t. Partly because I wasn’t allowed to (remember all those warnings about how dangerous chat rooms were?), but also because I simply couldn’t understand the appeal of using a keyboard to communicate with someone I’d never met in real life.

But for me this has changed. Big time. I still have never been in an actual 90s-style chat room, but meeting people through blogging over the past few months has been an incredibly meaningful experience for me. I’m realizing that blogging is by nature an interactive medium, and as such, it presents incredible opportunities for discussion and connection. My absolute favorite part of blogging is having conversations with people—conversations that unfold primarily in the comments sections of my own posts and others’ posts. The post itself is always the starting point, but commenters often tell amazing stories and offer important ideas and insights that take the topic in new directions.

And to me this phenomenon is very profound. Here’s why:

There’s this essay by Oscar Wilde, “The Critic as Artist,” which introduces a pretty revolutionary way of thinking about works of art—and by a work of art I mean a painting, a sculpture, a musical composition, a poem, a novel, or arguably even a blog post. There are usually two people involved in a work of art: the creator (“the artist”), and the person reading or viewing or listening to the art (Oscar Wilde calls this person “the critic”). The traditional viewpoint is that the more important person in this equation is the artist, and that the job of the critic is simply to appreciate the art and try to figure what the artist meant. But Oscar Wilde flips this idea on its head, arguing that the critic might actually be just as important as the artist—that the critic is an artist too.

Here’s a short excerpt from “The Critic as Artist” that sums this up, using the example of the Mona Lisa and contrasting the artist’s (possible) original intent with what the critic brings to the table. I love this:

“The painter may have been merely the slave of an archaic smile, as some have fancied, but whenever I pass into the cool galleries of the Palace of the Louvre, and stand before that strange figure…I murmur to myself, ‘She is older than the rocks among which she sits; like the vampire, she has been dead many times, and learned the secrets of the grave; and has been a diver in deep seas, and keeps their fallen day about her: and trafficked for strange webs with Eastern merchants; and, as Leda, was the mother of Helen of Troy, and, as St. Anne, the mother of Mary; and all this has been to her but as the sound of lyres and flutes, and lives only in the delicacy with which it has moulded the changing lineaments, and tinged the eyelids and the hands…And so the picture becomes more wonderful to us than it really is, and reveals to us a secret of which, in truth, it knows nothing.”

A secret of which it knows nothing. In other words, we often focus on what Leonardo da Vinci was thinking when he painted the Mona Lisa, but another thing that’s really important is how the viewer sees the work, how s/he responds to and builds on what has already been created. And in a lot of cases, the viewer might contribute something that the original artist never even thought of.

Now, just to be clear, I’m not laboring under any delusion that my blog (or anyone’s blog, probably) is on par with the Mona Lisa. And I suppose one could argue about whether or not blog posts qualify as “art” (personally I’d say that they do). However, I think the general principle still holds true. Try it sometime: find a blog post you like, and read all the comments at the bottom. You’ll probably find that the ideas that readers have about the post spiral off into a million different, beautiful directions from the post itself.

So, with that introduction, here is:

An Invitation.

If you’ve been reading my blog, you may know that I really like thinking and writing about the money-related messages that appear in literature and popular culture. I believe these hidden messages are really, really important to explore because they help us to become more aware of how our culture views money, as well as how our own money philosophies may have come to be. And I get the sense that other people really like talking about this topic too: last week I posted something about the portrayal of wealth in books and movies, and many of the comments from the “critics” were like mini-posts themselves, and brought up ideas that I definitely hadn’t thought of.

So…I thought we could widen the circle of this discussion even more, through a link-up!

Consider this your official invitation to participate in the #pfmessages link-up, regardless of whether or not you have your own blog. (pf = personal finance.) Below is the topic for the link-up, followed by suggestions on how to participate.

Topic of link-up: the hidden messages about money and personal finance that appear in literature and popular culture. How you want to approach this topic is up to you, but you might consider:

  • Choosing a novel, movie, television show, song, poem, children’s book, comic book, nursery rhyme, etc., or even a whole genre of literature/film, and discussing its messages, hidden or otherwise, about wealth or personal finance. What kinds of choices do the characters make about money? How are these choices portrayed? What happens to the characters as a result? and so on. Feel free to write about whatever you’d like, but part of the idea here is to choose something fictional, where the messages are a little more hidden, so there’s something to deconstruct. (The money messages in “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” are already pretty clear.)


  • Telling a personal story about how money messages in movies, novels, TV shows, etc. have influenced you (or have not influenced you).

Suggestions for how to participate:

  • If you have a blog of your own and want to participate in the form of a blog post, simply publish your post sometime anytime on or before Sunday, December 27th, link back to this post, and use the hashtag #pfmessages when spreading the word about your post on Twitter so these posts can be easily findable by me and by others. Many thanks to Alyssa for this suggestion and for assuring me that yes you can just create a hashtag out of thin air (I need as much help as I can get when it comes to social media!).
  • If you want to participate but do not have a blog of your own (or have a blog but already have enough posts planned for December), you have two options:
    • leave your contribution in the comments section of this post, or
    • email it to me directly at: theyachtless [at] gmail [dot] com
  • If you don’t feel like contributing, but are interested in the topic, you can also participate by checking the #pfmessages hashtag this month and reading the blog posts of people who are participating—and, of course, commenting on their posts if you feel so inspired!

I’ll definitely post a contribution too, either next week or the week after. And then I’ll do a wrap-up post between December 27th and 31st where I’ll try to assemble all the emailed/commented contributions (and links to contributions on other blogs) in one place, and then everyone can have fun reading each others’ ideas. In the meantime, feel free to help me spread the word!

If you want to see a couple more examples of posts that talk about money messages, you can check out:

  • this fantastic post by The Single Dollar, which deconstructs one film’s messages about money and career, and talks about a personal connection to these messages
  • another post I wrote last month on gender-specific money tropes in several novels
  • (I’m sure there are lots more that I’m not thinking of or am not aware of; let me know if there are more past examples I can add to this list)

By the way: if you’re someone who reads blogs but has never commented: I get it. I spent seven months reading Blonde on a Budget religiously but never commenting, even though Cait always encouraged readers to share their thoughts (and still does). It wasn’t until after I started my own blog and was like, Ohhhhhh, now I understand the power of connecting with people virtually about ideas, that I actually posted a comment. And now I wish I’d started commenting earlier, because it turns out that it’s really exciting and rewarding to connect with others this way. So if you still don’t want to comment or participate in the link-up, I totally respect that. But if you have any inclination at all, I strongly encourage you to do it. It will be fun, I promise! If you don’t want to use your real name, make up a crazy pseudonym—half the personal finance bloggers I know have crazy pseudonyms anyway, so you’ll be in good company. I think it could be a really cool collective exercise, and a chance for even more critics-as-artists to be heard, because you deserve to be.

Ok, that’s all from me. Your turn. Are you in?
Also, if you have any suggestions on any aspect of this project, please let me know!

I still do not fully understand Pinterest, but I made this graphic for you in case you'd like to Pin it. :)
I still do not fully understand Pinterest, but I made this graphic for you in case you’d like to Pin it. 🙂

42 Comments on “Widening the Circle

    1. Awesome! I’m looking forward to reading your contribution! 🙂
      I actually hadn’t heard that quote by Oscar Wilde, but I like it a lot. He was a smart one!

  1. Yay, Sarah!! I am so excited for you! I am in, of course. 🙂 I cannot wait to contribute to this link-up. Thanks for providing an opportunity for everyone’s amazing ideas to come to life.

    P.S. This is so neat, your example on Leonardo da Vinci & The Mona Lisa. Oftentimes, we think about art as a one-way medium. The artist is trying to convey a particular message. It certainly becomes captivating when a form of art turns into a shared relationship between what the artist is trying to convey, also the response they are trying to conjure up. The first striking example that comes to mind is the artist Banksy. Certainly, he has jarring messages he would like to share – but by remaining anonymous it is much up to the audience that view’s his art to determine what thoughts are provoked from viewing. Great post, Sarah!

    1. That’s awesome, Alyssa! I’m so glad you’re into it. I’m excited to see what everyone comes up with. And thank you again for the hashtag help — I’m so clueless about that stuff.

      I have to admit that I know relatively little about Banksy, but now I’m even more intrigued. I need to watch “Exit Through the Gift Shop”. It seems like artists like Banksy have a lot to add to our collective understanding of art and public dialogue.

    1. Oooh, I love The Outsiders! I somehow never came across that book as a teenager; rather, I discovered it the year I was an 8th grade Literacy teacher. It seemed like a lot of the students connected with it too.

      Looking forward to reading your post! I bet it will fit in just fine with this challenge — it’s really whatever you want to make of it.

  2. I love this idea as a blogger, an English major and someone interested in personal finance blogs. It reminds of a piece I wrote a while back about the song “Gold” by Imagine Dragons. Great song about the evils of money and how “Midas-syndrome” is ever-present in our society. I’ll link to that piece on twitter so everyone can see it. I think you might’ve convinced me to become a subscriber Sarah 😉

    1. Cool, Nathan, I am definitely going to check this out — thanks for tweeting the link to connect. Also, yay for the intersection between English and personal finance! Personal finance is not something I would ever have expected to be interested in back when I was in college reading Oscar Wilde and Dickens, but things have an interesting way of working out in ways we don’t expect, don’t they? 🙂

    1. Awesome, DC, thanks! I’m excited to read the Breaking Bad post, as well as everyone else’s. Thanks for the hashtag tweet as well! 🙂

  3. Oh, I’m glad I get to be an example! Thank you 🙂 That may be the best I’ve got to say, though…I’ll have to think if I can come up with something else. Lord knows I read enough fiction.

    1. Awesome, Emily! Yours is the first contribution — I’m so excited to read it! I also just retweeted your tweet. 🙂

      1. I have a new one up this week (ok, an old one I reworked). Winter is Coming, but Don’t Panic!: 10 Money Lessons I’ve learned from Geekdom

  4. Great idea Sarah! I’d love to participate. Looks like my idea of Breaking Bad was taken, so I’ll have to think about something else!

    I was the exact same way about comments. Before I became a blogger I read a lot of articles but never took time to share my ideas. I now see the value in receiving and sharing comments! I love the fact that the PF community is so friendly and supportive. It’s nice to be able to talk about money when it’s still a taboo topic among most of my friends and family.

    1. Awesome, Vic, I’m glad you’re interested in writing a contribution. Your comments (or as you put it, “tangents”) on my previous post were definitely some of the ones that made me think, huh, this could maybe turn into a whole big project! 🙂 I’m excited to see what you come up with!

      And I know what you mean — I feel really fortunate to have stumbled upon this incredibly kind and encouraging community. I can’t believe I didn’t know anything about it a few short months ago.

  5. I LOVE this idea (of course). 😉 Gosh, where to begin… Right now I’m stuck on Clueless (more Jane Austen!), and the subtext that you need money and privilege to find your ideal man, but I don’t think that’s quite enough of an analysis. This will be fun to think about over the next week and a half of nonstop travel before the holidays!

    Also, on the idea of the artist and critic, I’ve recently had to accept that our little blog qualifies very loosely for that artist/critic thing, because I’ve had folks write some comments that have made me say, “Are you reading the same thing I posted?!” But then they’ll write something very thoughtful and even heartfelt, and I just have to say, “Okay, fair enough! You read something very different, but that’s cool, too.” Of course as an appreciator of art, I absolutely believe that the two roles can believe very different things about the same work, but I never thought of a blog as fitting into that until very recently. I had this wonderful literature professor in college who used to say, “If it seems true, it’s true,” meaning that a reader’s interpretation is always right, regardless of what the author intended. A good reminder for all of us who write!

    1. I thought this might be up your alley. 🙂

      Yeah, the more I think about the question of whether or not blog posts qualify as art, the more I think it’s a really complicated question. I guess because “blog post” is a super general term — some blog posts are meant sort of as instruction manuals (I think), whereas others are much more on the creative non-fiction end of the spectrum. I wonder what bloggers who intend their posts to be mainly informative or instructional would say about this.

      I love your literature professor’s stance. A very freeing philosophy, and, as you say, a good reminder for writers.

      Looking forward to reading what you come up with! 🙂

  6. This is fantastic…and could be really interesting data for a conference paper (yes, I am always thinking about research….I can’t help it I am a rhetorician who studies the construction of messages in political and pop culture).

  7. Yay! I love this! (especially because your original post had already inspired me to write an article about these things and now I get to do it while ready everyone else’s! haha) I love the idea and community you’re forming over here at The Yachtless. I feel so lucky to be a part of it 🙂

  8. Just saw this link-up. I think it’s a great idea. We don’t realize it but there are plenty of references to money matters in movies or books that aren’t really about money at the outset and it’s only when we begin to think about the different stories with an ‘aware mind’ do we see the undertones.

    1. Thanks, Fehmeen. 🙂 Yeah, I agree, it’s basically all about awareness. There are so many messages of all types out there — not just about money but about all sorts of things — and I think it’s a really valuable exercise to try to think more about them on a conscious level. If you want to contribute something to the link-up, you’d be more than welcome!

  9. I can’t believe I didn’t see this earlier. I’m in. I’m going to spend all day thinking about this. What novel? What show? I mean, yikes. The 90s. All the ways Winona Ryder movies taught me about money. Shannen Dougherty was in Heathers AND 90210 – therefore having a very scary amount of influence on a particular age group and how they must think about money. So much to think about.

    1. Awesome, Amanda, I’m glad you’re in! 🙂 Wow, yes, Winona Ryder and Shannen Dougherty — I feel like that whole era/genre of movies had a LOT of strong messages about a lot of things, and money was probably a large part of that.
      I’m excited to read what you come up with! 🙂

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