Posted in differences, know better do better, mindset, thoughtfulness, vulnerability

Birth lottery

The following popped up in my Facebook memories:

The crap this morning reminded me that while I am privileged enough to choose not to be here next year…or even just not to be in this neighborhood in the evenings and on the weekends…my kids here don’t have that choice. I didn’t earn this life. It was given to me and I didn’t squander it, combined with a whole host of dumb luck (see last week’s post re: finances and cancer for one of countless examples).

I wrote this during my last year teaching in south central Phoenix at a K-8 school in a low-income, high-crime neighborhood.

A few of my junior high kids had been caught dealing and using drugs on campus. Kids who did well for me. Kids whose names I wouldn’t have expected on that list. I was heartbroken and was reminded that their reality and my reality were so different.

That I didn’t attend a school like that had nothing to do with me. That I didn’t grow up in a neighborhood like that had nothing to do with me. That I’ve never had to live in a neighborhood like that has some to do with me and some not.

The point is—and I said it in the quoted portion—I didn’t earn my life. I was handed my life and I didn’t squander it.

(Other things in my life, including good mental health, pro-social interpersonal skills, etc., I worked my butt off and earned.)

Certainly there are some people who are handed a life like mine or better and squander it, most likely because they didn’t work their butts off to earn the other parts. (Societally, we don’t really talk about and definitely don’t deal with the other parts.)

But the majority of people in dire financial positions aren’t there because of bad life choices. They’re doing what they can with what they have. Sometimes, what is innate in a person is enough to help them get out of that type of situation, but we can’t blame everyone else’s failure to do so on the stars aligning for those few.

We judge them, I believe, for one of two reasons.

One is that many of us are not many paychecks away from being in dire straits ourselves. We judge to shield ourselves from that reality, to make it seem like a character flaw in them that we don’t have.

The other is that we need to believe that we did this ourselves. Because it doesn’t feel good to acknowledge that we have basic needs met that others don’t through no fault of our own. Again, we judge to make it seem like a character flaw in them that we don’t have.

But it’s not our fault that they don’t have what we do, necessarily. No need to feel guilty. Use your privilege to help. Do a little bit of volunteering. Donate to places that are reputable. (Donate money or items that are useful, not just what makes you feel good.) Speak up on behalf of those who don’t have a voice, or whose voices are ignored. Vote for people who support programs that help those among us who need it the most. Give the guy on the corner a couple of bucks without sizing up what he’s going to spend it on.

My reference to finances and cancer in the quote above?

If I’d been diagnosed 10 months earlier, I wouldn’t have had any health insurance. If I’d been diagnosed two years later, I would have paid a lot more out of pocket. If I was diagnosed now, I’d pay at least 10x what I paid then. That, my friends, is sheer dumb luck … if you can call a cancer diagnosis lucky.

 

Posted in know better do better, mindset, thoughtfulness

On buying…again

One last one (for now) on spending money and having stuff. (Budgets and smarter spending came before.)

It’s worth it to spend more money for good quality that will last longer, though it’s not always easy to tell what is better quality and what just costs more. And borrow or rent instead of buying things you’re not going to use often or more than once.

It’s worth it to spend extra now to save in the long run.

It’s worth it not to spend money on cheap crap with the intention of buying it, using it once, and throwing it away.

When we prioritize long-term use and savings over short-term considerations, the benefits are more than just saving money long-term.

We save time: the time it takes to shop for and buy a replacement. Depending on what is being replaced, we might save time on breaking down the old one (think: cheap furniture) and setting up the new.

We save the earth: we use less stuff (which means less resources used in their creation). We create less trash. “Less” also to all of the transportation required in all of the steps prior to and including acquisition and later, trash.

We save space: we don’t have a bunch of cheap (maybe broken) stuff lurking around the house.

We vote with our dollars: money is the loudest voice in capitalist America. When you buy more items that are good quality, you add your voice to the growing number of people saying “I want products that last.” The more of us there are, the more availability of these products grows.

Examples of these purchases might be:

  • reusable water bottles (instead of disposable)
  • reusable lunch boxes (instead of bags)
  • reusable shopping bags (little to no financial gain but significant gain on storage and environment)
  • reusable kitchenware (tablecloths, napkins, placemats, dishes, glasses, silverware, baking trays)
  • rechargeable batteries
  • good quality furniture
  • good quality sheets and towels
  • good quality clothes and shoes
  • rent tools
  • use the library for books and movies
  • buy second-hand (wood furniture, bikes, tools, books, clothes, certain sports equipment)

That’s just off the top of my head. There are endless others.

 

 

Posted in know better do better, mindset, thoughtfulness

On spending money better

While writing yesterday’s post, I started on a tangent about the process of accumulating stuff and decided to develop it into its own post.

Even as a person who is not big on shopping and has done multiple purges of stuff over the last bunch of years, I still have too much stuff. Some of it has been gifted to me (hooray!), and some of it is hand-me-downs (hooray!), but most of it I spent money on.

And now I’m getting rid of it. Surely, there are things I’d rather spend money on. Taking classes or lessons, taking trips, save it up to buy a good camera.

Seriously: if someone said, “Fill up this little dumpster with stuff from your house (yours only! none from The Climbing Daddy or The Kid) and if you can fill it, I’ll give you a high-quality camera with a couple of accessories that you’ll want to start learning to take good photos,” I’d fill it! (Hmmmm… depending on the size of the dumpster.) Which means that I’ve spent a bunch of money on stuff that I could have spent on something better.

Now … some of that stuff was useful when I bought it and just isn’t being used any more. But some of it isn’t.

In the given fantasy above, I’d finally get rid of clothes that really need to go and for whatever reason, I’m not getting rid of them. Because the external push would be strong enough. (I’ve purged many clothes—not sure why I’m stuck on some of the ones that are left.)

I’d bet—though I haven’t conferred with him—that The Climbing Daddy would take that exchange as well, though I’m not sure what would be an enticing enough trade for him to do it.

I’d bet that The Kid would, too. He couldn’t fill a dumpster—he doesn’t have that much stuff in total—but I bet he’d get rid of a lot of stuff for a LEGO kit expensive enough that he doesn’t get it even for his birthday. (He doesn’t have tons and tons of toys, but he rarely plays with anything except LEGO.)

I bet either of them would trade excess stuff for a trip, depending on where it was to.

All I’m saying is: if I didn’t spend $20 here and $35 there and $10 on the other, that adds up and I could buy one thing or experience that I’d rather have than that collection.

Jeeze, even mundane things would be better than some of the clutter. Windows. A mattress. Random scattered house renovation daydreams.

All that said … I still have a wish list. I got things for Christmas that I’m happy to have. We just ran out of Home Depot and Lowes gift cards from our wedding and I’m sad that we’ll have to spend money to make acquisitions there.

It’s not a matter of not wanting but of being mindful with acquisition, especially of the little stuff. Because there’s a lot of it. And it doesn’t cost a lot. And it piles up and takes space and time (to deal with in cleaning and organizing) and ultimately takes money away from places I’d rather it go.

My current plan (that is hit or miss with implementation) is one in, one out. So, for example, I bought a new skirt. One skirt or dress goes in the donation box.

We also have a box all the time that is the donation box, so any little thing that’s ready to be outgoing but not trash or sell can be tossed into the box. It helps things to go.

Posted in differences, know better do better, mindset, thoughtfulness

Budgets and teaching and capitalism

So … this is likely to ruffle some feathers, but that’s how things go sometimes. (I’m always amazed at things that ruffle feathers—this one, at least, won’t catch me off guard.)

There’s been a lot of media attention to teachers’ salaries, and it’s rightly deserved. We’re not appropriately paid for the work we do.

Lots of teachers have multiple jobs. Right now, I do some personal training on the side and teach preschool music once a week. I’ve taught lessons, done health and wellness coaching, sold lip balm, done copy editing, played gigs, and whatever other bric-a-brac comes up.

I do it because those are things I enjoy and I’m happy to have some extra spending money. (Well, and a little slice of that I was hoping to make my full-time gig.)

But here’s the thing: I can pay my bills and contribute to retirement on my salary and have some left over for fun. The only times in my career that this has not been true was when I have been working only half time. No leftovers at that point.

When I graduated from college, I had a decent little apartment, a car with a small monthly payment, some credit card debt, some student loan debt, and I could pay my bills and have a bit left over.

I no longer carry credit card debt, and, except for a bit in grad school, haven’t since I paid that off the first time.

With few exceptions (inspired by poor judgement, not poor budgeting), I’ve always lived in the type of neighborhood I would prefer to live in, in an apartment or house that was well-kept and affordable. The apartment over the karaoke bar next to the drug dealers is a notable exception.

I don’t owe anything on my car.

We just paid off my most recent student loan debt.

No matter this has all ebbed and flowed, I don’t need another job. I just budget what I have.

We eat healthy food. We cook most of it at home. I was able to feed my son and I for six months on food stamps without compromising the quality of our diet. I budgeted for food a little differently then, and there were a few meals with more expensive ingredients that we just didn’t eat, but healthy doesn’t have to be expensive, even when none of the food you eat has coupons.*

I am not much of a shopper, but I also don’t buy cheap plastic crap. Not for the kitchen. Not for The Kid. Not because “it’s so cute!”

I’m generally healthy, which is part luck and part work. I had good insurance when I went through chemo, which was all luck.

My car hasn’t been hit, so I’ve not dealt with those expenses. I recognize all of this and understand that people have expenses that I don’t deal with.

But how people define “needs” baffles me sometimes.

If you don’t have enough money to pay your regular bills, then maybe Christmas cards at half off still aren’t in your budget. Or new clothes, even if they’re on sale. Or a trip to visit people, even if you miss them a lot.**

Scale back the need list. Live more simply. Cook at home. From ingredients. Use all the food you buy. Stop the endless stream of incoming.

If you’re in limbo with your place to live, choose wisely. (Moving just to save money needs to be a fairly drastic move to actually save money, but it might be an option.)

Someone on a teacher thread was complaining that they were making $60K (in my metro area) and couldn’t make ends meet; that makes me crazy.

On a larger scale, if you have less crap, you can live in a smaller space. Smaller spaces are cheaper to buy or rent, they’re cheaper to heat and cool, they’re easier to maintain.

The amount we spent on our house (just over a year ago) is substantially less than the amount we qualified for. Our spending would look quite a bit different if we spent up to what the bank deemed was our means.

Our culture is one that very highly values buying stuff. Occasionally it values actually owning the stuff, but mostly, we’re just encouraged to buy.

If, in this situation (like so many others…) we can just be a bit mindful, we can slow down the influx of stuff, we can have more money for things that are important to us (which might at first be getting rid of debt, which is not at all fun but so very important), and we can have more time to do things that are important, because we won’t have to work as much to sustain our lifestyles, and because we won’t have to spend as much time taking care of all the stuff we have.

*I had the advantage at that time still to live in the neighborhood that I lived in—there are many grocery stores within a couple of miles—and to have a car, and to have a kitchen and things to cook with and electricity. These are all hurdles of chronically impoverished people, and I don’t feel that my situation and theirs are at all comparable.

**There is an exception to this, but I’ll write about it another day.

Posted in about me, differences, know better do better, mental health

Traveling through life on a different train

This is something that I’ve thought of in defensive and angry contexts but am now thinking about when I’m not triggered…

Some people who I talk to totally understand weird crazy shit in my brain. I can talk about a reaction to something that I know isn’t a rational or logical reaction, and they get it.

Some people…don’t.

It’s fine that they don’t. In fact, how unsarcastically amazing for them that they can travel through life without this thing in their brain that makes them not react in unhealthy ways.

That wasn’t one of my cards. Am hyper-aware of that. Done lots of therapy. Am relentlessly working on myself and trying to heal wounds from decades past that keep getting ripped open by assholes present.

I suspect, at this point, that this will be a lifelong process.

Part of me is envious of people who don’t have this problem.

Part of me wonders if they’re just lacking self-awareness and don’t know they have this problem. (Unlikely.)

Part of me knows that they have other problems and we just don’t happen to talk about those, or those aren’t problems I have and am therefore not hyper-sensitive about, so they don’t set off the same reactions.

Part of me is grateful for my path, because while it has been really hard much more often than I’d like, it’s made me a hell of a person now. And I know that all hell I go through now or recently or soon will only serve to make me better.

Because I’m introspective. Because I’m resilient. Because I own my shit, learn from it the best I can in the moment, and move on to the extent that my crazy brain will let me.

Which is not to say that people who have had a mentally easier life can’t or don’t have any of those qualities—anyone could have any of those qualities. And the act of living through struggles doesn’t grant you introspection or learning—we all know people who have been through hell and are bitter, nasty, judgmental people as a result.

I was recently introduced to a podcast: Armchair Expert. Dax Shepard, a person I was previously unfamiliar with, chats with a different person each week. I’ve only listened to a few episodes, but I’m enjoying it. Easy on the brain, which is what I was looking for. (Most of my podcasts induce a lot of thinking, and I wanted something…different.)

Anyway, he sat with Jay Leno on a recent episode. What was striking to me about it was how differently they’ve experienced certain similar things. Dax points it out several times—”so that’s how a mentally healthy person thinks about that” (or similar). Which is what got me to thinking about it. Even though this is supposed to be a podcast that doesn’t make me think.

Oh well.

 

Posted in exercise, know better do better, physical health

Entropy

I’ve been a little bit sick—not enough to stay home in bed, but enough to be exhausted, not mentally sharp, and need extra sleep—and so for your Friday, I’m offering you something written but not by me.

I had this saved on my computer. It’s the text of an email several years old. I don’t know who wrote it. (I have a couple of guesses.) I apparently didn’t save the email, or, more likely, it was sent to an account that is no longer active. I loved what it said, copied, pasted, saved … and didn’t consider that I didn’t save the header.

But it’s fantastic. I love it. And I think you will, too. And if you know who wrote it, let me know. If you wrote it, let me know and I can credit you. (And if you don’t want it posted here, I’ll take it down.)

Without further introduction…

This New Year was subdued at our house. My wife’s parents suddenly have a flood of health problems. I’ll spare you the details, but the usual stuff, diabetes, arthritis, hip replacement and, unfortunately, cancer.

They’re in what I call a degenerative cycle. One condition feeds the other. It’s a challenging cycle to break out of.

On the flip side of that, there are regenerative cycles also. You make one positive health change, which triggers another and so on.

Here’s a critical difference between the two. Forgive me for going a little physics geek on you, the 2nd law of thermodynamics says that in a closed system, things move toward higher entropy. In other words, stuff naturally falls apart. It’s a fundamental law of nature.

People too. If you do nothing (i.e. a closed system) you fall apart, no effort required. That’s the driver for the degenerative cycle, entropy.

Regenerative cycles are a fight with entropy. Energy is required and, the 2nd law of thermodynamics says, you can’t do that in a “closed system.”

So, what does all that mean for your health?

Sitting still, doing nothing, is a bad plan. That’s the way of entropy, the path of “falling apart.”

A regenerative cycle is powerful. It’s like a glider catching an updraft, minimal effort, lots of reward. But it requires energy from outside to get it going and maintain it.

In health terms, outside energy can be many things; family and friends, religion, the food we eat or new ideas and information.

I don’t know what your inspiration will be, your “outside energy.” But, watching my in-laws as they struggle with their health, I’m acutely aware right now, the upward spiral is one heck of a lot better than the downward.

Seek your inspiration. Welcome outside energy. Find your upward spiral.

Do it today, old man Entropy never sleeps.

 

Posted in about me, know better do better, thoughtfulness, vulnerability

Privilege

Every now and then, something crosses my path that rattles my thinking.

These are all examples of things that I had literally never thought about until someone else shared it.

• A post on Facebook pictured a wedding shop window display with a mannequin in a wedding dress in a wheel chair. The caption included, “it’s the first time I’ve ever seen disability portrayed in a shop window.”

• An article about Marie Kondo talked about people who blow back against her in ways that are racist against her and her culture, and that those people aren’t taking her in context.

• The same article talked about how the blowback against book decluttering is classist—both owning so many books and having the space to store them.

• “It’s a privilege to learn about racism instead of experiencing it your whole life!”

• The number of people who responded negatively to the following sentiment…and how they have no idea how lucky they are never to have been on the receiving end: “As Esquire editor Dave Holmes tweeted, ‘To anyone who’s ever been any kind of other, the goofy malice in that MAGA kid’s eyes is instantly recognizable.’”

What have you run into that gave you pause and made you consider—even if only for a moment—that you’re lucky that you’ve never had to think about that before?

Posted in differences, know better do better, mindset, thoughtfulness, vulnerability

MLK

In my home state of Arizona, the only reason today is recognized as a holiday is: the NFL rescinded the Super Bowl in the 90s because we didn’t recognize it. Magically, we had a change of heart.

(It was “them” not “we” at the time—I didn’t live here yet—but we still tend to be in the news for impressively ignorant things.)

I have a lot of thoughts about today …

…about the incident at the protest the other day…

…about the exaltation of good people to “infallible”…

…about the state of race relations in this country…

…and all of the other “other” relations in this country…

…about how people speaking out for social justice are supposed to turn the other cheek while the denigration and exploitation of people in this country (to say nothing of elsewhere) rises at an alarming rate…

…about how I have the privilege with most of these issues to think about them and deal with them when I have time and energy because they don’t affect me directly…

…about how my employer is putting us through Deep Equity training, and what it’s like and what it means…

And I couldn’t tease it all out and come up with a post that didn’t wind all over the place (bring Dramamine!) or get ranty (I do try to limit rants and there was one just yesterday and a bit of one the day before).

I wanted an end product that was strong, thoughtful, and maybe would make one person think twice about any one of the myriad of issues that are part of all of this.

So instead, I just ask: when you see injustice, speak up.

You would want help if you were on the losing side of any of those battles.

Let your mind be changed by people who are walking the walk. You don’t know more about someone else’s experience than they do.

Posted in know better do better, mental health, mindset, thoughtfulness, vulnerability

An African proverb

The tree remembers what the axe forgets.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.

I can, as the quote states, tell you stories about being a tree. Sometimes the giving tree (codependency much?). Sometimes a tree in a razed forest. Sometimes, um, a tree that fights back? Hahahaha the analogy only works for so long.

I can remember, though, some instances of being an axe, and in many of those cases, I’ve at least tried to apologize, even if it’s years later.

I’m sure there are others I forget.

But more important than either of those is this: when people tell me that I hurt them, I believe them.

I read somewhere else: “If someone tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t.”

True story.

Because that resonates with me so deeply on the receiving end—the biggest hurts I’ve endured have been dismissed by perpetrators—I do my best to acknowledge being on the giving end.

I’m not flawless at it. And if I’ve been your chopping block over and over, you’re much less likely to get that bit of vulnerability from me. Right or wrong, it is what it is, and for now, I’m OK with it.

What’s your experience?

Posted in about me, know better do better, thoughtfulness, vulnerability

Helpful critique

The other night, I had my second bouldering competition. (Read here about the first one.)

It was organized differently than the first one. As a person who appreciates both efficiency and safety, I liked how it was set up. As a person who prefers to boulder without people watching, I didn’t like it at all.

If I had gone later in the evening, there would have been more other people climbing at the same time, and I could have been blissfully ignored. But I went second, so there weren’t many of us to watch.

There also weren’t many people watching, to be truthful—less than half a dozen—but still. My preferred number is zero.

In the second area I climbed, I had to get out of an overhang. I don’t have a lot of experience doing that, so it wasn’t comfortable and I didn’t really know what I was doing, or how to better do what I was trying to do.

Onlookers cheered! Yay! But that meant onlookers looked.

Anyway.

The people watching are better climbers than I. (That’s just a statement of relative skill levels—not at all a diss to myself—and there’s no shame in it.) They could have, when I was done, given me advice on how to improve.

In that case, I would have been much more comfortable. I’m pretty good at receiving useful feedback when offered in useful ways.

On the other hand, some people don’t want to hear it. So if you’re the one with the potentially useful information, how do you decide if you should speak up or not?

Variables, I guess. At the comp, there were others climbing after me who they were watching, so there wasn’t time to chat.

I’ve talked to these people enough that I think they would know that I know that I’m not good at bouldering, which makes it more likely that I’d be open to feedback. If I was terrible at it but thought I was great, I would not likely be able to hear what they were saying.

And part of it comes down to: do you want to be helpful? If you’re not one who likes to approach people regardless, can you get over that hurdle?

“Hey, I was watching you climb, and I have some thoughts that might help. Would you like to hear them?”

Yes, please!

If you know better, help someone else to do better.