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, mental health, thoughtfulness

About your friend who’s depressed

I have, at times, been a difficult person to love.

I struggle with depression and have been suicidal a handful of times over my decades.

I’ve done that dance enough times that I know that getting enough sleep, staying connected to people, eating well, and exercising every day in a way that raises my heart rate substantially (looking at you, running and bleachers) will prevent or reverse a downward spiral.

I also know that sometimes things just hit out of nowhere, or there are enough things that hit simultaneously that without warning, I’m in the pit.

When I’m depressed, I am unpleasant and frustrating to deal with. And I know it, but I also desperately need people. But people really don’t want to be around me (and truthfully, I don’t blame them). As people disengage, I become more frantically needy. It’s a horrible cycle that I’ve experienced more times than I care to recall.

I’m on the other side of that friendship right now. A friend’s wife left him without warning and he’s devastated, to say the least. He’s also unemployed, which adds a stressful layer of financial complication. He’s definitely depressed, having trouble functioning, having trouble seeing out of the hole he’s in. It’s totally understandable.

We were texting the other night, and he said, “Don’t get frustrated with me please. I am trying. Even when it seems like I’m not.”

I told him I’m totally frustrated, but it’s not a bad thing, because I understand where he is. It’s the kind of situation where getting out of bed and taking a shower is a major accomplishment—not in a joking meme sort of way, but a serious burn on energy and focus.

I get it.

I also get that if you’ve never experienced that, you might think they’re (we’re) exaggerating or “just wanting attention” (that phrase makes my skin crawl) or wanting other people to do their work for them.

Certainly there are people who exaggerate or are lazy, but in a depression situation, that’s not what’s going on.

Your friend needs you. Even if they’re ridiculously uncomfortable to talk with. Even if their reason and rationalizations are mind-boggling to you. Talk about other stuff if you need to. Tell them explicitly that you want to help them stay connected to people, but you need to talk about lighter and/or different things.

Create boundaries and stick to them, but be loving and assume positive intent. (If you say that you need to talk about lighter things and they continue not to, remind them—explicitly, not hinting—that this is what you need to be able to talk to them right now, and if they can’t respect the boundary, then cut off the conversation. If they need to talk about their stuff, they’ll need to talk to someone else right this moment.)

Depression is insidious. Be a good friend. Take care of yourself, but be a good friend.

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 meandering, thoughtfulness

Webinars

It’s been a while since I’ve attended a webinar. Nearly every one I’ve been to has been disappointing. Often, introductions are 10 or 15 minutes long. Content is thin, at best. I’m on board with selling your program at the end of the webinar, but I don’t think that your pitch should be longer than your content. And introductions don’t count as content.

So I gave up on them.

Mostly.

I went to one the other day—first one in years—on common mistakes in desert gardening, and it wasn’t the best way for me to spend that hour.

I did find out the common mistakes.

And the solution to each: don’t do that.

(I can’t imagine giving a webinar on mistakes in healthy living and letting the solution to each be “don’t do that.”)

Her course sounds like it might be good–and might go into more depth on trouble-shooting–but her webinar sounded like it would be good.

For me, this dissolves trust.

Friends, be assured that if I offer a webinar again, I will honor your time and include usable content.

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 meandering, thoughtfulness

Something borrowed

Nearly everyone has borrowed something from someone else at some point.

Sometimes, we give it back; sometimes not so much.

I’m in the process of getting ready to return something that was loaned to me (I didn’t ask to borrow it, but I was happy it was offered) two years ago.

Two years ago.

Yeah, I feel kind of stupid about returning it now. But: integrity. What’s left, two years later…

That said, there are things I’ve loaned out that years later, I still wish had been returned. (If you have my CD of Looney Tunes music, drop it in the mail, would ya? Someone in college had it, but I don’t remember who…)

I assume positive intent, and that people just forget to get stuff back.

There have been things I’ve taken a long time to get back to the giver, and they’ve told me not to worry about it. (Because they didn’t miss it? Because they already replaced it? Because it didn’t fit any more anyway?)

What’s your timeline on comfort level on returning something?

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?