Good Night Sweet December

Of Lost December Regrets

Good night sweet December. Another year, another season, another reason to talk about regrets. One more sunrise in which winter gives way to a hangover and promises to be better this year. It’s that reason for the season and the concomitant credit card debt. Christmas is my grumpy time. I’ve already phoned in the lament about our month-long binge of spending, feasting, and drinking that culminates on New Year’s Day with a solid hangover. If you want to read it, click here.

Good Night Sweet December TitheI was raised in the church. I’ve been a saved Presbyterian for most of my life. I know the reason for the season. And . . . you didn’t ask but my Google Search for the phrase, “the reason for the season” turned up 291 million hits. I think we have that topic covered.

I can say goodnight sweet December with a smile. My regrets faded to amusing stories of my salad years. My brand’s emotional melody resonates more love ballad than down and dirty blues. So, rather than blather on about how my cupboard is bare, my wallet wanting cash that isn’t there, I’ll live another day in my little heaven.

Y’All are All Pigs

Quickly, if you are a pig and are taking advantage of your privilege or position to get sex, you deserve every bit of consequence coming your way. Consent is a thing. Power imbalances are also a thing. Celebrate, flirt, do you. Just . . . the easy ignorance of boundaries was a boomer thing the youngins are not having. Defy that at your own peril.

Good Night Sweet December Naughty ListThat said, the noisy minority that is doing the usual and taking instances of the few to claim that the general is all like that, they need to check their narratives. Are there pigs? Sure. Do pigs deserve consequences? Yes. To say that the pigs are the way the rest of us are is not helpful. Saying that everyone is a pig just fills the headlines and does nothing to foment constructive change.

It’s all emo and whatever to scream at someone that they are a pedophile Nazi because they don’t agree with you in a manner pleasing to you. I know it feels good. Protip? All it does is make you look like an ignorant toddler. Merry Christmas Gene!

HanaKwanzaXMas from Us on the Naughty List

It’s Christmas Day as I type this. I’m at my usual Starbucks on Robinson Street. Inger’s place is an easy walk from here. She’s home but not the sort to appreciate an unannounced door knock. I texted her and got a Minions Merry Christmas gif in response.

Ray is with Itzel at the farm. I hear that Itzel got him a crocheted seat pad for his Ford 9N tractor. Ray arrived a nominal monk who knew a lot about meditation and squat about tractor farming. Since moving to Itzel’s farm he’s become enamored with old Ford tractors. Crocheted seat pad? Ask a farmer who has to spend 10 hours a day on a tractor during planting season.

Gene made it back to Oakland and the ashram. I hadn’t heard anything from him until my most recent piece. It seems I am a Nazi sexual predator. I was worried about Gene. He’s become almost normal in the last few years. It’s good to hear some passion in him.

 

I haven’t heard from Felina in a while. She’s back in Puerto Rico with her family trying to help rebuild. They got hit pretty hard.

As for me, I’m good. In 2016 I made the conversion from temp to permanent at work. This removed a layer between me and the client. It also solidified my status with my employer. I get PTO and health insurance in the deal. I also got a nice raise.

Normally on the Naughty List

I depict myself as an outlier in this space. At 19 I thought I understood what an evil hypocrite my Dad was. My troubles were his fault. Answer? Don’t live his life. Do something else. I never quite answered what else. Instead, I fell into cab driving and later, technology support. It’s been almost forty years. The recurring theme has been a tension between what I feel is the path my father set before me and my quest to find another less traveled road.

Since that cross-country bus ride to my grandma’s house in Albany, Ca. I’ve made a quixotic life following my nose. It came out ok, kind of. For the last decade, I’ve been regaining my seat at the table of my kin. We are WASP, from the landed gentry, found at interesting points in history making our small mark on crucial events. I inherited an expectation that I would settle into a white-collar union job, vote Democratic, marry, have some kids and stay in my lane until it was time to collect my gold watch and frequent flyer miles.

Something more interesting happened. Bits and pieces of it appear in this space. I wrote this if you want more than a hint.

Copacetic

Things are good. Yes, I am finishing the year with a mostly empty cupboard. But . . . the lights are on, the space heaters are making their annual feeble attempt at keeping the house warm, I still have my house and my Jeep.

My usual move at a time like this is to find a way to eat the comfort. I am alive when things are really shitty.  I’m absurd. I like it when things are fucked up. It’s my normal.

I want 2018 to be abnormal. Rather than live at the limit and sometimes over it, maybe inhale for a bit. Slow down I move to fast, got to make the moment last . . . sorry. In 2018 I want to solidify my position so that there is some ramp.

Goals

New Years Resolutions don’t usually make it past the month of January. Our normal grind catches up with us. I stuck with the one about working out. I didn’t lose weight. Money? Money is my kryptonite. That and consistently going to the gym before work. And lifting weights. Lifting weights are really my kryptonite. The cool thing about New Years Resolutions is that December repeats until we become worm food. We get to make the promises again.

You can lump my list of resolutions into one bucket: things that I am conflicted about doing and are good for me. Without further, the list:

  • Work out in the mornings
    • Lift weights
    • Lower body and core strength. Because you can’t make me do crunches and I should.
    • Swimming
  • Complete at least baby step 1 of Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps.
  • Tithe at least 5% of my money. Tithing is one of my major malfunctions. I have fought this since I was a kid. With that, stop doing the person-to-person small acts of kindness as my primary means of giving to God. It’s time to settle my beef with the church and surrender to Him at the offering plate.
  • Purchase tangible goods like gold to build a better fiscal foundation.
  • Do the needful to reduce my debt and improve my credit score.

Give First Fruits

So . . . I have a short list of things I have accused the church of which justify my refusal to tithe. They are bullshit. The church is not the institution. It is also not the building. The church is its people. We remain a thick-necked and ornery species.  It should not surprise me that the church reflects our thick-necked and ornery nature. But it did. I still carry that water as I near my sixth decade of life.

Jesus is an absurd king. His church is an absurd church. I am an idiot for expecting absurd, thick-necked and ornery disciples of a martyred carpenter to behave in a way pleasing to me. Yet I do. So . . . the tithing thing isn’t about the money. Nor is it about the ways in which the people of the church behave in ways I find obnoxious. It’s about trust and surrender.

After posting Hair Ache I had ambitions to live on $4.00/hr. less than what I make. I said I’d report back this month. This is that report. Did I accomplish my goal? No. Well . . . a little.

In 2016 I made my pilgrimage to Mount Pleasant, SC to see the eclipse.  Earlier in the year, I celebrated Chinese New Year with my first flight/hotel/rental car vacation. Bertha, my old cop car, got too expensive to fix and instead of adulting and getting another car I let the expired inspection tickets pile up until I was in danger of losing my license. Enter Arty, my Jeep Liberty. 2017 was a year of using my resourcefulness to keep the throttle on my life mashed to the floor.

Good Night Sweet December

So I need a year to catch my breath. The thing I never count on in these cyclical bust/boom things is inertia. It takes time to pay down the cost of my bad behavior. There are things I do when money is scarce that are not smart. But . . . in the moment they are necessary for survival. What’s new is that with my job and such I can relax a little. At least, I will be able to relax a little after I clean up some of the messes that piled up while I stayed in survival mode.

What has to change is a shift from FUB and survival to a more settled fiscal diet. Leave some assets in my life instead of burning through them. It’s a counter-intuitive revolution. Move toward more boring. One of the methods is to tithe.

I’ve been syncopating my giving by tithing directly to those I encounter who seem to need a little help. It is how I avoided my beef with my fellow thick-necked disciples of Christ. It’s time to quit avoiding the fight and engage. With that said the charitable giving I’ve done person-to-person has to stop. In its place is the thing I’ve said I am justified in refusing to do: tithe.

The Talk to Walk

As always, there is the plan and the execution. I’m smart. I write great plans. As I say goodnight sweet December the task remains to execute the plan well. More about my progress in a few months.

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Hair Ache

I have a Sunday afternoon hair ache. As 2016 came to a close I wrote “Money“. Two weeks into this year as we were all making promises to do better this year I wrote 更多錢 (More Money). In May I posted “A Fist Full of Fiscal Fears“. 4500 words or so on a topic that hurt my heart since I was a kid. I love saying we can live on less. You need to live on less. Me live on less? How about, “no“.

Hair AcheIn 更多錢 (More Money) I promised to report back at the end of 2017. I need to spill so I don’t feel my hair ache so much. How am I doing? Terrible. I’m really good at hustling when the expenditures exceed revenue, sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for FUB reasons. This, living on less when I am making a dollar an hour more than what I made in 2001, not so much.

I made all those nice resolutions about living on less right when a lot of us do. Since then I managed to pay for a flight/hotel/rental car trip for Chinese New Years, put a down payment on a redunkulous (24% for 4 years!) car loan, and not end up destitute in Mount Pleasant, SC after a road trip and hotel stay to see the eclipse. Most years, asking me to find a couple grand above my usual bills for travel would be too big an ask. It is too big an ask. I hustled, worked my ass off, and made it so.

How’s That Hair Ache?

In “A Fist Full of Fiscal Fears” I talked about the fiscal nuclear bombs set to go off in my life this spring and summer. It is the last week of August as I write this. The kids are back in school and though fall doesn’t officially start for another month we are all acting like summer is over. The bombs went off. I came out the other side still housed and still possessing my car and its loan. I made it through.

It is two-thirds through 2017. I used all my bad habits to get to this month with a better car and two big travel events in one year. So, clearly, when I want to, I can live on less. Yeah, I know, why not live on less and be a grownup? Y’know, pay down debt, save for retirement, keep my rainy day money instead of using it to buy yet more new shiny things . . . that. Tithe? Don’t say that word.

I write about money roughly quarterly. The topic keeps coming around to me and making my hair ache. This is yet another promise to actually, physically, truly be authentic when it comes to money and do what I keep saying I ought to do.

Things Work Out

Here I am again, with a Sunday afternoon fiscal hair ache on a payday weekend. One more time I don’t know how I am going to take care of myself for another 11 days. I used to start scheming, deciding who I’d boo-hoo at, pleading for money. But . . . being nearly 60 and able to work, working in fact, and the sympathy card lost its power.

But . . . as I like to say, “and then things work out“. I get in trouble and manage to come out stronger. I started 2002 a convicted wife beater, jobless, homeless, estranged from my son and his mother, and shunned by my family. As I sit in my favorite seat at Starbucks I have a house, a nicer car, better relationships with my son and his mom, and the family is grudgingly accepting the idea that I’m the titular patriarch on our bloodline. I’ve had the same job for almost 18 months. I’m doing ok.

To get here I maxed out the credit card and took money I’d budgeted for car payments to pay for my travel. Now that it is Sunday afternoon and my hair aches, I have to pay off the credit card and get back on track with car payments. I am behind with the City of Richmond so water, gas & trash collection are in jeopardy. Verizon is reminding me that I promised to pay them and I have not kept that promise. Verizon’s response? My phone is off until I pay.

Promises Are Free

Promises only gain credence in retrospect. Until they are fulfilled they are “Sed mulier cupido quod dicit amanti in vento et rapida scribere oportet aqua“. So, rather than spend another 800 words convincing you that this time I really am going to make a change I’ll just say this: it’s the third quarter and I feel like I’ve failed. I accomplished a hair ache.

If only I had a house I could accomplish my goals. Once I have a car I’ll be able to get things done. I need to make more money to enable me to achieve my bucket list. I have the house. Cars have been the way I get myself around for most of my life. This job pays about 40% more than I really need. My excuses for not living on less are evaporating faster than moonshine spilled in the Mojave Desert.

I’ve said I’d live on less for years. And for years there have been seasons of fiscal storms that give me a reason to live on more. This year, though I am making a living wage, I had to replace my car, I was behind on my bills (wtf? how?) and it felt like a ceaseless march of fiscal thunderstorms across my checking account. Each of which became a reason why I’d start living on less next payday–for 40 years.

Tipping Points

The hair ache has to get bad enough that the pain of change is less than the pain of staying the same. That is the tipping point for most of us. For 40 years I’ve been more stubborn, more willing to tolerate misery, than it takes to move me away from my bad habits with money. This has included being homeless more than once.

I can’t say why I am promising again to live on less or whether this promise is the one that will stick. I’ve seen many of my peers rise out of their homeless and criminal past to get comfortable only to backslide into another iteration of jail/half-way house/recovery. Will that be me? I hope not.

I am in a comfortable place. It is easier to slide into living on a bit more than what I make. Four decades of living paycheck to paycheck is a lot of momentum to overcome. But, quoting a Fellowship cliche, “nothing changes if nothing changes.”

Talk Walking Out a Hair Ache

My biggest grudge against God, against the church, against most everyone, is a failure to do as we say and say as we do. Virtue signaling is a venial sin. Don’t signal. Do. This puts an onus on myself. I am no better than those I accuse of sophistry if I too signal virtuous fiscal habits and still belly up to the buffet of first world resources possible with what I earn. Hypocrisy, more than a fear of backsliding, is what eats at me as each paycheck arrives and is spent.

It is the first day of September as I make this edit to the post. 2017 is nearing an end. The trend is toward another year of spending a bit above what I make. It is a “pick your moment” moment.

Goals for the second half: Tithe $1200.00. Pay off the credit card. Catch up all my bills. Complete Dave Ramsey’s “Baby Step 1”. So far, these promises are no better than Gaius Valerius Catullus‘ words from a lover. It’s the third quarter and I’m down by seven points. For better or worse, I’m stronger when I am losing. Will I win? Wait 4 months and find out.

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