Tag Archive | life

You never know where you’re goin’ ’til you get there! (or, Revising my goals)

“People with goals succeed because they know where they're going.”

“People with goals succeed because they know where they’re going.”

When I set my goals for this year, I pledged to do monthly updates, since the years I’ve done that has resulted in better results than years I haven’t. This year has been complicated by the move, my husband’s surgery, and more craziness in my work schedule than usual. So there was a month that I didn’t post an update because we were swamped in the actual move. Then I declared June a reset month as we still had a lot of unpacking to do and were still trying to settle into new routines. By the end of June I’d realized that I really needed to reassess and reframe some of the goals, which is why in July’s update I only talked in really general terms.

The big goals now are mostly the same, but I’ve tweaked them a bit and decided to rearrange their priority:

Take care of us: reduce and prioritize. The move has changed a lot of things, and left us with a bunch of new tasks. People kept warning me before the move that it always takes longer to unpack than you think, for instance. And so far they’ve been right. It’s important to remember to take rests, not to let ourselves stress about things, and so on. However, not having the house quite as organized as we would like and so forth contributes to our stress level. So I’m going to count everything we do to further the unpacking and organizing of the house in this category, too. Which means this is no longer a separate main goal.

Don’t get mad, stay busy. My tasks are: write about things I love; listen to music and audiobooks more and podcasts less; spend at least half of my lunch break writing; set specific monthly writing/editing goals in each check-in.

Write, submit, and publish. More than half the year is gone and I’ve only submitted to two places. I have consolidated all of my notes for the revisions to the first novel. I spent much of July trying to get the editing/revision pass finished. While I need to work on finding other places to submit shorter work, I also need to get the big stuff done.

My specific tasks for June and July were:

  • Get back into the rhythm of editing the novel. Only so-so. I got work done, but I haven’t got new habits. Considering eight weeks of unplanned overtime as a mitigating factor, I’m going to consider this a mixed success.
  • Write at least two blog posts each month about things I like, rather than rants or commentaries. Done. Two one month and three the other!
  • Get the iris bulbs, monitors, and other things that we want to give away handed off to people who said they wanted them. We got a lot of stuff handed off, but there are still several people who wanted iris bulbs that I haven’t hooked up with since digging up the irises. So, half done.
  • Go through the rest of the Christmas decoration bins and finish that purge. Done! Finished! Completed! They are out of here, and the small number of boxes we had room for in the walk-in closet contain all the Christmas ornaments we kept.
  • Write something that isn’t in one of the novels. Sort of. I’ve written several things that I’m calling “prose skits.” They are stand alone vignettes that don’t have a traditional plot an resolution. But all of them are at least related to my fantasy novel series thus far.
  • Make significant progress on revising the first novel. Another sort of. I got through several more chapters, but a lot less than I hoped for.

It’s a mixed bag, but there was at least some progress on every task.

So, for August my tasks are:

  • Revise, revise, revise the novel.
  • Write at least two blog posts about things I like, rather than rants or commentaries.
  • Write at least two blog posts about the writing process.
  • Complete my action items from the last Corporate Board meeting.
  • Get more stuff handed off and finish cleaning out the veranda.
  • Get gaming sessions scheduled.
  • Review calls for submissions and figure out something to write for one of them.

Wish me luck!

Settling in to the new place

Fair Warning: This post falls into the “what I had for breakfast” category for some people. If you don’t want to read me rambling about things I like about our new home, things I’m getting used to about our new home town, how the move motivated us to take care of overdue tasks, and related topics, you’ll want to skip this. I’ll get back to the craft of writing, my love of all things sf/f, and various culture war issues soon.

So, in case you haven’t been following: we had to move from the place in Ballard that I had lived in since 1996 (and that Michael had shared with me since 1998) this year. On the one hand, it wasn’t our decision to move; on the other, the process by which the new owners of our old building went about it, we had many months notice to prepare and plan. On the gripping hand, we had to also fit in my husband’s surgery and recovery time, plus my work was even crazier with long hours than usual.

And now, after 32 years, I am no longer a resident of Seattle… Read More…

Confessions of a gift-guilty packrat

“Guilt: the gift that keeps giving.” —Erma Bombeck

“Guilt: the gift that keeps giving.” —Erma Bombeck

I’ve written more than once about being a packrat, especially recently, as the process of packing, purging, moving, unpacking, purging some more has really driven home just how much stuff we had squirreled and stashed away all over the place. One aspect of the packrat I’ve only touched on briefly is the guilt over gifts. Anxiety comes in many forms for packrats. We worry that if something we need breaks, or is stolen, or stops working or whatever that we won’t be able to afford to replace it. We feel guilt at the thought of spending money to replace something that we could have avoiding spending if we had simply kept a backup. We worry that someone we care about will be left in the lurch if something they need breaks and they can’t afford to replace it. We grow up being taught that people who waste money, or who don’t plan for an equipment or other failure, or who aren’t in a position to help a loved when when something breaks down are bad people. And so on.

It’s a really complex web of guilt trips that we’re programmed with. And while most of those guilt trips are about necessities, not all of them are. We also have been taught to feel guilt over a lot of useless stuff. Specifically: anything that has ever been a gift. Don’t get me wrong: I love gifts. I love finding gifts for people I love. I love giving them. I love when someone gives something to me. Most people do. But we’ve all gotten those gifts that leave us scratching our heads. Why did this person think I would love this strange, ugly thing whose only purpose is to hang on a wall or sit on a shelf and isn’t like anything else I own at all?

The truth is, we know that we’ve made similar mistakes in gifting to other people. We found something we thought was cool, or that they would like, but it’s really not. So when we get gifts like that ourselves, we smile and say “thank you.” And we are grateful that they thought of us and went to the trouble and expense of getting this thing for us, even if we have no clue what we’re going to do with it.

But no matter how useless or inappropriate the gift is, we packrats have a very hard time getting rid of it. Years later it will still be on a shelf or in a closet somewhere, next to a bunch of other things I never use. Even if I’ve decided that it’s time for a purge and I’m specifically going through a part of the house looking for things to take to the thrift store, I’ll pick up the thing I never use that was a gift and immediately hear my grandma’s voice in the back of my head: “You can’t get rid of that! So-and-so gave it to you, and what sort of ungrateful person would get rid of a heartfelt gift?” Getting rid of the gift would be the same thing as saying I don’t love that person as much as I think I do. Getting rid of the gift would mean I don’t appreciate how lucky I am that people think of me fondly enough to get a gift. Getting rid of the gift means that I’m a very bad person.

All of that runs through my head at the thought of getting rid of any gift. Even a silly old knick knack that I don’t merely don’t like, but actually think is repulsive. Even gifts given by people who are no longer a part of my life.

When my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and various aunts and uncles were inducing all this guilt, they weren’t meaning to turn me into a borderline hoarder—they were trying to teach me not to be ungrateful. Thye wanted me to treasure friends and value friendship and be thankful for the love that came into my life. Just as they had been taugt. The fact that they were all packrats because of it didn’t eve cross their minds.

Every single weird little kickknack and odd odject d’art that was crammed into the homes of each of my great-grandparents had a story. If I pointed at something and asked about it they would tell a story about the dear friend or long-deceased relative or whoever that had given them the thing. The story they told didn’t always involve the gift itself. But it was about the person and how wonderful or funny or dear they had been. Each dusty item was a memorial to someone they cared about.

And it isn’t just gifts that do that. My late husband, Ray, was even more into plushies than I am. Some of the plush tigers and bunnies and such he owned for a very long time before we met. Many of them had spent years in storage while he was living in a series of rented rooms in other people’s houses. But some went with him to each of those rooms. Some were later kept near his favorite chair in the apartments he and I shared.

The problem is that Ray was a heavy smoker—like his mom and sister and brothers who liked to visit a lot. And many of those plushies became badly nicotine stained. I’ve spent years periodically taking the stained ones out and trying various cleaning solutions on them. Some cleaned up easily, but other have just resisted.

But every time I thought it was time to throw in the towel and admit they couldn’t be cleaned, I would immediate think, “But Ray adored it! What kind of heartleass widower would throw away something your husband loved!?” So they would go back into the closet or the back of a shelf until the next time I tried to clean them.

The process happened again during the move. For the first time in a long while I had all of the stained ones in a single place and I went through trying to clean all of them yet again. As before, they resist the commercial soap and various homemade concoctions I’ve put together from recipes on the web and so forth. They just won’t come clean. And since they are so badly stained, they shouldn’t be donated to a thrift store. When I mentioned this to Michael, he very delicately suggested it was time to “retire” them. I probably should have made a Bladerunner joke, but instead I just said, “I know. I just may have to hold a funeral for them.”

When Grandma died, we found literally hundreds and hundreds of teddy bears, easter bunnies, and assorted other plushies, each packed in plastic bags and crammed impossibly densely into a couple of closets. A lot of them had little notes attached in Grandma’s handwritting with some person’s name and a date. The vast majority of the names were people none of the family recognized. Grandma did lots of volunteer work at church, and over the years she helped and came to know a dizzying array of people who were there for a while and moved on with their life when they got through whatever calamity had brought them to the charity program. And Grandma seemed to remember them all.

For a few years after her death, everytime I saw either my mother or my aunt, they would try to foist some of those plushies off on me. “It belonged to your grandmother!” they would protest if I suggested donating it to a thrift store. It didn’t matter that many of them looked like they had come from a thrift store before Grandma got them. It didn’t matter that they had been hidden away somewhere in some cases for many decades. It didn’t matter that none of us had any knowledge of their existence before Grandma’s death; not one of us had a fond memory of Grandma telling the story of how this one was given to her. To my mom and my aunt, suggestions that we didn’t want them amounted to saying we didn’t want to remember Grandma, or something.

I don’t want to be that person. I recognize that hanging onto these things that I don’t and can’t enjoy simply because they were his is as irrational as my Mom being upset when I suggested a hunk of junk that had clearly once been a dime store window display that one of Grandma’s charity cases had picked up as salvage somewhere and given to her wasn’t a family heirloom.

There’s a difference between hanging on to something that you love or reminds you of someone you love (and that you have room for and you can enjoy and/or it serves a purpose), and hanging on because you feel guilt toward someone who is not going to be harmed in any way if you don’t keep it.

But I’m still probably going to hold a little funeral for the plushies…

We’re living in the future, but a lot of people don’t get it

An magazine ad from 1968: Western Electric is crossing a telephone with a TV set.  “What you'll use is called, simply enough, a Picturephone set. Someday it will let you see who you are talking to, and let them see you.”

An magazine ad from 1968: Western Electric is crossing a telephone with a TV set.
“What you’ll use is called, simply enough, a Picturephone set. Someday it will let you see who you are talking to, and let them see you.”

Some years ago I was attending a meeting of the committee that ran one of the local science fiction conventions. I had just joined the staff, and it was my first full meeting. One of the topics debated that day was a proposal that the committee obtain an email address that several committee members could check, because people kept asking why they didn’t have an email address. The only means that were available to the public (and thus people who might want to attend the convention) for contacting the organization was to either mail a physical letter to the club’s post office box, or to leave a voice mail message via a phone number that didn’t actually ring a phone. A system that was troublesome because if you didn’t check the voice mail box often enough, it would fill up with messages and no one could leave a new message.

During the debate, one person admitted that he had voted “no” each previous time the question had come up, but he had recently realized that it was as inconvenient for him and his friends that he didn’t have an email address of his own, as it had been inconvenient for he and his family that his elderly great-aunt refused to get a telephone. He wasn’t the only member of the committee to admit that they had been resisting adopting that “new technology.”

And this was a bunch of sci fi nerds.

Admittedly, it was sci fi nerds in the 1980s. Personal computers were still complicated gadgets that cost more than a car (the first IBM PC/XT had 128kilobytes of RAM and cost $5000, that’s the equivalent of $12,000 in 2017) and often had parts you had to solder together yourself. But my point is that even people who think they are forward thinking and tech savvy often have big blind spots about technology.

Such as the current dismay I keep seeing expressed online because so many politicians on both sides of the aisle have been talking about rural broadband. “Is this really a pressing need?” As a matter of fact, yes. It is nearly impossible in the modern era to apply for a job if you don’t have access not just to email, but a robust enough internet connection to fill out the often very-poorly scripted online applications. When my husband and I were recently looking for a new place to live, not only were the only reliable places to find available properties online, but often the only way to inquire about a property was to fill out a web form. Even after that point, we had to each fill out applications for background checks via a different website and system than we’d used to contact the property manager.

(click to embiggen)

The primary means to access services such as unemployment insurance, disability benefits, and so forth, is over the web. And that means needing more than a basic internet connection, you have to have a decent amount of bandwidth, or things time out. When new medical equipment is handed out, they doctor’s offices don’t have the time to show you how to use it, they give you a web address to access videos online. That’s how I learned to properly inject myself with insulin (including how to troubleshoot the injection pin and so on): they sent me to a webpage to watch the videos and read the warnings and disclaimers myself.

Internet access, particularly high speed/high bandwidth access, is no longer a luxury. Society, both businesses and institutions, have embraced the new technologies. Just as phones ceased being a luxury decades ago, then cellphones ceased being a luxury about a decade ago, and now smart phones have also crossed that line. For a number of people, particularly poor people, their smartphone is their only reliable way of accessing the services they need to get and keep their jobs, to take care of their kids’ needs, and so on.

Douglas Adams observed in an article in 1999:

“I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”

Which is accurate, but also just a bit dated. Technology doesn’t just move forward, but the rate at which things change accelerates. Adams’s rules could use a couple of additions. For instance, we might add “Any new and exciting thing creating jobs when you’re in your 20s is a dying, obsolete industry by the time you turn 40.”

And there are the people who don’t understand how mass production and the commodification of products makes things that once were terribly expensive available for a fraction of the cost. This comes up a lot in relation to iPhones, in particular. In certain circles it is popular to hold up the ownership of an iPhone by someone who is struggling financially as proof that the person is only struggling because of bad priorities. This doesn’t take into account the many, many ways that someone can obtain slightly older versions of currently expensive gadgets extremely cheaply. We’ve already established that have a phone, specifically a mobile phone, has become a necessity in our modern society. Getting a refurbished unit of some previous year’s model or a non-refurbished unit of a model from a couple of years ago for free or close to it as part of a cell phone contract is quite common. And then there are various sales and special offers one can find.

That doesn’t even get into the hand-me-down process. Lots of people, when they upgrade a device such as a phone or tablet or laptop, rather than try to sell it somewhere, wipe their data and give the device to a friend or relative who can’t afford a new device themselves.

Luxuries aren’t what some people think they are. Sadly, the people least likely to understand this also don’t realize that being able to look with condescension on others for having or wanting nice things is a form of luxury on its own.

Finding a new equilibrium: writing, life, and more

Cat with a manual typewriter.We’re still in the process of unpacking. My husband told me that when he mentioned our unpacking activities to some friends, someone commented that if you get all the boxes opened within 5 years you’ve done a good job. When I told people we were moving, I had had a couple different co-workers and other acquaintances tell me things of how many years it’s been since they moved to their current place and how many boxes still haven’t been unboxed.

I found none of these comments either inspiring nor comforting.

The number of boxes we have left to unpack is pretty small, and there are little stacks of artwork and framed photos all around the house waiting to be hung up. My goal at the moment is to have the living room, library, dining room, and kitchen free of any unpacked boxes or other moving detritus by the 15th of this month–when we are hosting the monthly writers’ meeting at our place.

One thing that has been worrying me about the move is my exercise level and related health issues. For most of the previous 20 years I bused in to work each day and walked home (the walk taking a bit over an hour). That long walk was an important source of exercise. I learned a long time ago that exercise of its own sake (such as going to a gym) is just not something I can motivate myself to do. But walk somewhere instead of taking the bus or driving? That I’ll do.

The new place is much further from downtown, so walking isn’t practical. The nearest bus stop is only three-tenths of a mile from the office. The next closest is only five-tenths of a mile… and then because the bus is an express, the next is a mile further out but up on a highway overpass and not really a pleasant place to walk to. On the other hand, the first couple blocks of any walk to those bus stops is up a very steep hill (extremely steep, even), so I get my heart up to a respectable rate no matter what.

I’ve been experimenting since we started staying at the new place, and I now walk up that steep hill, and then keep walking up the less steep next four blocks, going past the nearest bus stop until I reach the place where normal streets merged with highway, then I turn and do a semi-random serpentine for several blocks winding my way back to the bus stop I walked by earlier. I say semi-random because I decide which way to go at several intersections based on the cross-walk signs. I can fairly easily get in a mile of walking this way (using the fitness app on my watch to keep track) before I get to the bus stop.

According to the fitness app (which uses a combination of how much you seem to be moving and your heart rate to determine how much exercise you’re getting) the entire 20-ish minutes this takes (no matter what I do there is time spent waiting to cross several streets) counts as good exercise. Which is funny, because my old route home, which was mostly flat (or at least such a shallow hill that it might as well have been flat) even though it took a bit over an hour to walk, the app usually only counted about 20 minutes of it as exercise. Clearly the early steep hill climb getting my heart rate up is a better start.

Anyway, while I hoped this was a good replacement for the longer walk, I wasn’t entirely certain I believed the watch app. I got some reassurance this weekend. I had a two-day visit with my mom and other relatives, and thus took a limited amount of clothes with me. I kept trying to tighten the belt I was wearing Saturday. It took me a few times before I realized that the reason I couldn’t get it snug was because I’d run out of notches on that belt.

I’ve been slowly losing weight for the last two years. I’d been exercising and trying to follow the prescribed diet for years without success on the weight front. Then once I was on new meds for my diabetes, suddenly weight starting melting away on its own. I’ve been being conservative. When I noticed pants were getting baggy the first time, I didn’t run out and buy all new stuff. I bought a couple of new, smaller pairs, and tossed the two older pairs that looked most worn. Then then I lost some more, I bought a couple more pairs and replaced a few more of the larger. I started buying smaller shirts as well. Then downsized another bit on the pants and so forth. The upshot is that I have several sets of clothes in the current size and one size larger at any time.

Anyway, I had another belt at the house that was shorter than the one I’d taken on the trip, and I can get is snug. But at this rate, in a couple months it will be too big, too. Clearly time to get a few more items of clothing the next size down and to get rid of some of the larger ones. So the weird walk to the bus seems to be providing an adequate amount of exercise.

During the intense parts of the move, I was often really low on energy during those few times I had time to sit and work on either writing or editing. I still got some done, but my productivity was way down. And it still is. There’s something about the new bus route that makes it harder for me to open up an editor on my phone and get some writing in during the ride. That writing time seldom produced huge amounts of work, in part because the old bus ride wasn’t really long. I had thought the new longer route would make writing easier. It hasn’t. I don’t know why. As soon as I open the app and start at the phone, I find myself looking away and not able to focus on any word-making.

To be fair, it’s only been about a month since the really exhausting part of moving and cleaning the old place and such ended. And then we immediately hit rush mode on our main project at work and I started working a lot more long hours than usual. So it’s possible that I just need a week or two of more normal job workload and more manageable home workload before I can get back into the swing of things.

We’ll see. Wish me luck!

It’s the task that matters: catching up and assessing

“No one who ever bought a drill wanted a drill. They wanted a hole. It's the taks that matters.”

“No one who ever bought a drill wanted a drill. They wanted a hole. It’s the taks that matters.”

There was no Friday Links post last week, no Weekend Update, and I didn’t even post any Happy Independence Day posts. Last week every workday was way longer than usual. I was therefore completely beat at the end of each day. While I collected links that I meant to make into a Friday Links post, it was a smaller group than usual and I was just too wiped on Thursday to finish it. Then I spent Saturday and Sunday down at my Mom’s delivering and configuring her new computer, fixing some network issues, helping her with other things, meeting my grand-nephew who was only born three weeks ago, and seeing other family members and friends. Michael stayed home while I was on my mini road trip. He got a ton of work done on the house (set up the last closet organizer, unpacked a bunch of boxes in the computer room, and got out and sorted most of our artwork and hung a lot of it up) while I was gone. Then on Monday we ran to Ikea to pick up a couple of things we still needed. Michael did most of the work assembling furniture and installing the earthquake straps on both the new and existing tall bookcases. I cleaned and did more unpacking… and we declared a moratorium no working on the house for the holiday.

I have only gotten a bit of work done on my writing/editing project for the month. I started to work on a post to report on my goals for the year when I realized that I’ve changed a couple of them significantly, or maybe a better way to put it is to say I’ve made completely new resolutions during the course of our unpacking that have taken precedence? Anyway, I feel a need to process a bit more about my goals, our joint goals, and so forth. As they saying goes, I don’t really know what I think about something until I write it out, so that’s what the rest of this post will be. Click to read the rest: Read More…

Is that a light at the end of the tunnel, or an oncoming train?

When I set my goals for this year, I pledged to do monthly updates, since the years I’ve done that has resulted in better results than years I haven’t. The crazy wrinkle this year was that we knew that sometime after May 8th the new owners of the old building would give us a final move out notice, but that we couldn’t actually move until after Michael’s surgery and recovery was complete, which made it difficult to find a place to move to, since no one was willing to hold a place for more than a few weeks.

The last time I posted about the goals was at the end of March, when Michael was only a bit over a week into the recovery. My specific tasks for April were:

  • Pack and move!
  • Pack and move.
  • Squeeze some writing time in somehow.
  • Remember to have fun at NorWesCon (whether we attend the whole weekend or not).
  • Write at least two blog posts about things I like.

Once we finally had a lease signed in mid-April, that meant that my goals for the rest of April and all of May were:

  • Pack and move!
  • Move and unpack.
  • Clean out the old place.
  • Try to keep squeezing writing time in.

We’ve still got a lot of unpacking to do, but we’ve moved, so yay!

I got some writing in, but most of it was blogging. I did a lot of blog writing on the bus and during lunch at work. Having a slightly longer bus ride in (and being too far out to walk home, so I’m busing both ways) gives me a bit more time to write on the bus. Which is nice, though I’m finding it harder to get myself to write scenes on the phone than blog posts. I’m not sure why.

We didn’t attend NorWesCon, other than to show up at dinner time on Saturday evening, have dinner with our gang then run up to one of the hotel rooms to watch Doctor Who. But it was a great break during the first weekend that we were actually moving into a place, rather than packing and trying to find a place.

I’ve already written more about the packing, moving, hauling, cleaning, and so on than anyone cares to read, so let’s move on.

The big goals remain, though this is probably a good time to revisit them.

Don’t get mad, get busy. My tasks are: write about things I love; listen to music and audiobooks more and podcasts less; spend at least half of my lunch break writing; set specific monthly writing/editing goals in each check-in; write at least one blog post a month about organizations we can donate to that are fighting the good fight.

Reduce, pack, and prioritize. Now you might think this big goal could be marked “done” for the year, since we’ve moved, but it just needs to be rephrased: Unpack, reduce, and prioritize. We tried to purge a lot of things during the packing, but as we unpack we keep finding things that we realize should have been pitched rather than packed. And though the new place is a couple hundred square feet bigger than the old, we have a lot less storage. So, a lot of work to do here, still.

Take care of us. It’s important to remember to take rests, not to let ourselves stress about things, and so on.

Submit and publish. Initial task was to organize how I’m going to find calls for submission and set reasonable targets for the novel revision/finalization. I have thus far totally failed to get organized regarding submissions. Nearly half the year is gone and I’ve only submitted to two places. I have consolidated all of my notes for the revisions, and now that we’ve moved I can get back to that.

So June is going to be a reset month, now that the big disruption is over. My specific tasks for the month are:

  • Get back into the rhythm of editing the novel.
  • Write at least two blog posts about things I like, rather than rants or commentaries.
  • Get the iris bulbs, monitors, and other things that we want to give away handed off to people who said they wanted them.
  • Go through the rest of the Christmas decoration bins and finish that purge.
  • Write something that isn’t in one of the novels.

Confessions of a penny pinching packrat

Every single penny accounted for…

A recent Tumblr post reminded me of one of the reasons that people who aren’t packrats don’t understand packrat behavior. Packrat behavior is sometimes clinically defined in terms of controlling anxiety. The biggest anxiety in question, and the one we mention least often, is economic anxiety. And the thing about economic anxiety that is most misunderstood is that it is not irrational.

Tumblr user Ignescent explained it really well:

This really locked into my brain when I was reading one of the declutter your space things and it suggested getting rid of duplicate highlighters and pens. /Pens/. It suggested that you needed one or two working pens, so if you had extra you should get rid of them. That was when I realized minimalist living was /innately/ tied to having spare money, because the idea was, of course you just went out and bought the single replacement thing whenever the first thing broke. You obv. Had the time and money to only ever hold what you needed that moment, because you could always buy more later.
—ignesecent.tumblr.com

There were several years of my life when every single dime of every paycheck was already allocated before I got it. This wasn’t because I was bad at money management or because I was living above my means (at least not the way that people who like to throw that phrase around use it) or because I was lazy, it was because I made very little money, period. I was attending college part time and working three jobs (three jobs). My mom was working full time (when for health reasons she shouldn’t have been working at all), lived in another state, and was trying to support my younger sister. My parents had been divorced for years at that point and one of my dad’s least awful behaviors was that he absolutely refused to even fill out financial aid forms for any of his five children, let alone send any support that wasn’t ordered by a court.

In that situation, any unexpected expense—no matter how small—meant skipping at least one meal during that pay period. I’m not exaggerating. At least half of my meals at the time were things like cheap boxed macaroni and cheese. Not the “expensive” kind with a picture of orange sauce-slathered pasta on the box. I’m talking the plain white box with black block printing that sold for 20-cents a box (and about four or five times a year would go on sale for 10 boxes for a dollar, so you’d buy five bucks worth when it did because that meant you had a cushion in case of an unexpected expense later).

And a good portion of my childhood was spent with our family living like that. I talk about the bullying in school, but that wasn’t the only horror that school sometimes visited upon me. You don’t want to know the terror and humiliation that comes over a kid from a struggling family if you are informed that this next assignment requires your parent to buy something unexpected. Or that there is a $10 fee required for this class activity that is part of your grade.

So, yes, when Michael and I were loading the last of the Christmas decorations out of the storage space at our old apartment this weekend and I discovered yet another old monitor that we had wrapped up and stashed when we replaced it years ago, I felt a bit of embarrassment, because that meant we had a total of six old monitors to get rid of, instead of the two that we had thought just a week ago.

But another part of me knew why it was there. Because things break. You have the money now to buy that new monitor you’ve been pining after for months, and you’ve double-checked, triple-checked, and quadruple-checked your bank accounts and all of your bills for the next few months before spending the money (because you always do that before spending money), and it’s nice and pretty and so much better than this old thing you probably should have replaced a year ago.

But you do not, repeat, do not dispose of the old monitor. You don’t donate it to charity. You sure as heck don’t throw it away! You put it away, because if some disaster happens and your shiny new monitor gets fried when lightning strikes your building (it happened to my ex- years ago, one lightning storm and half of her electronics were fried) or whatever, you can pull that old monitor out of the basement and keep working for however long it takes to save up to buy a replacement.

Yes, sometimes when we replace an appliance or a computer part or accessory, we will pass it on to a friend we know needs it. But the reason we are able to do that? Is because we know that we still have the older one that we replaced four years ago in storage, so if something goes wrong for us, we have that back up.

It doesn’t matter that for years I’ve been lucky enough to have relatively stable employment and the wherewithal to cover my bills without worrying about skipping meals if a tiny unexpected expense comes up. It doesn’t matter because I know I’ve had to live that way before, and I know that it could happen again. It isn’t about an irrational fear or lack of planning.

It is planning.

There are checklists in the back of my mind all time: do we have enough food in the cupboard to make meals for the next couple of weeks? Do I know which bills I have to pay in the next two months and the approximate total to cover them? Is the gas tank on the car full? Did I pay up the Orca card so my bus pass will work for the next two weeks? If the microwave or stove break do I have an alternate/backup means to cook until we can get something replaced or repaired? And yes, if my pen runs dry when my rent is due, do I have backups so I don’t have to make time to go buy a replacement before I can write the rent check and hand it in on time?

Those aren’t silly, or paranoid, or stupid fears. My living spaces haven’t been cluttered my whole life because I have a sloppy mind.

I understand that there are hidden costs to the packrat behavior. I know that storing all these extra things is using up space that could be used for something else. Packing items super tight into every available nook and cranny means you have to spend more time later looking for something. It can mean that you aren’t aware of a physical problem with part of the house because you can’t see that back wall over there and don’t know that some water damage happened because the neighbor tried to fix a sink themselves rather than call a professional, and they cleaned up their side, but not before some seeped through to your wall.

And I right now I am hyper aware of how much extra time, effort, and money it takes to move (or sort through and dispose of) all that extra stuff that I’ve been storing all this time.

Knowing this makes it a little easier for a time to tamp down that chorus in the back of my head that speaks in the voices of my grandparents and great-grandparents about not getting rid of things that we might need some day.

The truth is that the chorus isn’t wrong. We might need that some day.

I say this because I don’t want my recent self-deprecating comments about my packrat tendencies to be taken as justification to upbraid anyone for being a packrat. It’s one thing for me to decry my own issues, but it’s important to remember that the “ideal” uncluttered minimalist lifestyle is a product of economic privilege that not everyone has. Scolding someone for not being able to achieve it is just as wrong-headed as blaming young people for not owning a house on the occasional purchase of avocado toast.

(Click to embiggen)

Who are you going to believe?

One night in the 90s my phone rang with the Caller ID showing a number I didn’t recognize. The area code of the number was for the region where my grandparents and several other relatives lived, so thinking that it was either one of my relatives are about them, I answered. The voice on the other end asked rather hesitantly to speak to me, by my old name (before I legally changed it). This made my heart race a bit, because if something awful had happened to my grandparents, I would expect anyone trying to contact next of kin would use that name.

I said, “Speaking. Who is this?”

“I don’t know if you remember be, but I’m —– ——-, I was one of your teachers at __________ Middle School?”

“COACH! What a surprise to hear from you!”

It is true that he had been one of my middle school teachers, but more importantly, he had been the coach of one of the team sports I mostly flailed at and specifically he was the coach who had taken time outside of school time to get me to a weight room and try to turn me into someone who wasn’t picked on so much at school. It was great to hear from him, but also a bit confusing. We hadn’t talked in decades.

He had gotten my phone number from my grandmother, and he’d been wanting to talk to some of his old students, specifically the ones he felt he hadn’t done enough for. I tried to argue that he had gone above and beyond for me, but he interrupted and told me to let him say his piece.

“We knew,” he said, “all of us knew which of the students were being mistreated at home. Some of you had the disturbing recurring bruises and such, others had less severe signs. We all knew, and we talked among ourselves about how we could help. But the law was different, then. If a teacher accused a parent of abuse, the teacher almost always lost their job, their career ended. It was our word against the parents’ and usually the kids would deny it, too, because they were too scared of the abusive parent…”

He went on for a bit, and I tried to assure him that I understood. I was well aware of how laws that protected teachers and doctors and so forth if they reported suspected abuse didn’t become common until years later. I also assured him that he had helped. “You believed in me. You talked me out of quitting. You showed me I could do more–could be more–than I believed I could. And that’s part of the reason a year or so later I was finally able to stand up to my dad. You’re one of the reasons I’m still alive to talk about it.”

As I said, he arranged for me to have work out time at the weight room up at the high school. That part that I haven’t mentioned is that he set it up so that the other kids didn’t know I was getting extra help. He made it clear that he understood that if my bullies knew I “needed extra help” it would make their bullying worse. He didn’t manage to turn me into a winning wrestler. But I got better, and discovered that I was actually good at running, so I joined the track team and later cross country. I was never a champion, but I stopped being the team member who always came in last. It didn’t make everything else in my life wonderful, but it made some parts better.

He still felt the need to ask forgiveness for not doing more. As we talked, I was able to put a few more pieces together. His wife had passed away less than a year before, so he had been rattling around their house with nothing but his memories and regrets. As he said, I wasn’t the only abused kid that had been one of his students. He mentioned a few who had died early deaths, from alcohol or drugs or suicide, and clearly he felt that their abusive childhoods had played a role. “I ran into your grandmother in the grocery store earlier this week, and she told me you lived in Seattle, doing something with computers. I was so glad to hear that you’re well.”

I tried to assure him that he had done good for me, and I knew he had done right by many others. “If it helps, I’ll say ‘you’re forgiven’ even though I never, ever felt wronged by you.”

It was an emotional night. I still tear up writing about it.

Domestic abuse is a complicated problem. So many forces in society enable the abuse and silence the abused. Abusers are good at presenting a respectable, reasonable facade. They are even better at casting doubt as to the reliability of any of their accusers. They are really good at teaching the abused to doubt themselves.

There is no simple solution to domestic abuse. Coach thought that if he made me into a better athlete, since my dad had been a champion in school, that maybe Dad wouldn’t abuse me as often. That’s not how it works. Abusers want control, and no success is ever good enough.

Yeah, Coach’s efforts to make me less of an athletic loser helped in many ways, but even more, his willingness to offer his time and ecouragement–to be a loving positive adult presence in my life–did far more in making me into a person who could make my own life better.

A few years later I learned from my aunt who still lived back there that Coach had died. I hope he believed me when I said he was one of the reasons my life had become better.

Thanks, Coach Clemens. Thank you for believing me. Thank you for believing in me. And thank you for teaching me to believe in myself.

They’re just things, that’s what we keep saying…

Picture of my tacky christmas ferris wheel decoration

Silly, tacky, with tinny music — and I Ioved it!

Humans form attachments to other people, to animals, to possessions, to places, et cetera. This tendency to become fond of things has been shown in various contexts to actually have survival value. But we don’t just form these attachments for practical reasons. Emotions are, by definition, not rational. And we can have conflicting feelings about things. Take, for instance, my tacky Christmas ferris wheel. It was a gift from my friend, Kats, who shares my fondness for certain types of kitsch. Her wife, like my husband, does not share this particular interest, and they both do a lot of eye-rolling at our taste in decorations.

The plastic ferris wheel is battery powered, and it had two modes: it could light up and the wheel would turn slowly. The ferris cars rock on the wheel, and the wheel has always been a little bit jerky in its motion, so the little plastic snowmen and penguins and beers and reindeer seemed to be waving cheerfully as the wheel turn. In the other mode you got the lights, the rotating wheel, and you got tinny versions of Christmas carols. It was like a dream come true for me, and my husband’s worst Christmas nightmare all in one!

I’ve had it for years. Every Christmas season since Kats gave it to me, I’ve unpacked it along with the ornaments we’re using that year, put batteries in it, turned it on to listen to the music at least once through its medley, then put it somewhere in the living room where I could see it. I would turn the ferris wheel on silent mode a few more times (since the music really annoys my husband). And I would turn the music on at least one more time before taking the batteries out and packing it away with the other ornaments.

Over the years there have been a few glitches. Pieces have broken off and had to be glued back on. One bit of fence broke off several times and eventually I had to admit that it was more glue than plastic and it couldn’t really be put back together. (Side note: in a testament to how awesome my husband is, he did spend some time trying to scan the broken bits to see if he could 3D print me a replacement.) One time a few years ago when I turned it on the ferris wheel wouldn’t turn. My husband fiddled with it and got it working again, but it was always with a more jerky motion than before. The motor was always loud enough to hear from across the room even when the music was playing. And over time the motor sound has gotten louder.

Then this last Christmas, when I put batteries in and turned it on, the lights came on, the motor made its usual sound, the wheel turned jerkily… and the music started to play, then glitched, then played a bit more, then glitched, and started to sound a bit off key. I thought maybe the batteries I put in were nearly dead, so I swtiched them out. Nope. The sound chip was definitely dying.

I set the ferris wheel up, because it’s still cheerful looking, and put off the decision of whether to keep or dispose of it until the end of the Christmas season.

Then we got the first official notification from the new owners of our building that they weren’t going to be raising anyone’s rent, no, they were going to evict all of us. They were applying for permits to do a major renovation to the building, and needed everyone out. They have a guesstimate it would be May or so when they would need everyone to go (once they got the permit process going, we got more official communication and a somewhat more certain timeline). That’s why, when I put the Christmas decorations away this last year, I pulled out all of the containers of decorations (we have way more than we can use in a given year), and went through them selecting stuff to get rid of. I reduced our collection by a bit (though we still have way too much). The ferris wheel, clearly, needed to go.

Except I wasn’t ready to let it go, just yet.

So, I didn’t pack it away nor throw it out. I moved it to the bookcase over by my favorite chair. It’s not Christmas time, but I don’t care. The ferris wheel gets to stay until we leave, I decided. Then it will be retired for good.

We have professional movers scheduled to come deal with the heavy furniture and whatever else we haven’t moved ourselves in about 10 days. So the ferris wheel’s end is looming. It’s just a thing. And as I recall, Kats said she bought it at a second hand place, so I’ve definitely gotten her money’s worth out of it. And my poor, long-suffering husband has already told me he’s going to buy me a new tacky Christmas thing to replace it this next year. So I shouldn’t feel too sad about it going. I am a little amused at myself to realize that some of my anger at the new owners (evicting everyone regardless is the least annoying thing they’ve done; there will be catty snarky blog posts about it eventually, but not now) has become focused on a few weird possessions.

The truth is that I probably would have gotten rid the the ferris wheel once the chip died even if we weren’t trying to reduce our hoard before me move. But I find myself blaming its demise on the new owners of the building. And maybe it’s a good thing to have something concrete to focus the annoyance on, you know? The ferris wheel, the tacky hanging lamp (I’ll talk about that after the move for… reasons), the rose trellises, and so forth are better ways to expend that kind of negative energy than some of the alternatives.

Right?

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