Unresolved Issues

A few years ago, long after someone I loved very much had died, I discovered that he had done something pretty much inexcusable. The thing is, what am I supposed to do with that? I can’t fight with him. I can’t hear his side of the story. I can’t kick his sorry butt out of my life. Having died, he’s pretty much trapped in amber, forever there, and yet not there. I’ll never know the full story. I’ll never know what possessed him to do something that awful.

And on the other side of the coin, when I was about 6 years old, in a fit of pique because my grandmother had broken a beloved toy of mine due to her failing vision, I called her stupid. And then she died shortly thereafter. I never got to apologize. It brings tears to my eyes whenever I think about it. It’s not like she did it on purpose. I hope she knew I was being a silly child. I hope she forgave me. I’ll never know.

I think the worst part of grief is the unfinished business. The things you never get to say. The things you never get to hear. The questions that will never be answered. Part of you seems forever frozen in time.

I’m thinking about this today, because I heard a great quote on Tales from the Loop, a TV show that I’m binge watching.

“Things are special because they don’t last.”

That’s very true. If we all lived forever, our relationships wouldn’t be special. They’d probably become tedious and we’d definitely take them for granted. There’d be no issues to resolve because we’d probably stop caring. We’d know each other so well that we’d have it all figured out, and nothing would really matter. Forever is a long time.

So I’m going to try to focus on the fact that there were special things in my unresolved relationships. There was good. I hope this will smooth out the amber that they are encased in in my heart. Because I hate having them surrounded by raw, jagged shards. It hurts.

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Scarred for Life

I am currently sporting a three inch gash on my right cheek. The worst part about it is that I have been so sick that I don’t have a clue where it came from. I just surfaced from my swirling pool of delirium at one point and there it was. And of course the minute I knew it was there it started to hurt.

I hope it doesn’t leave a scar. I guess it’s actually more like a scratch. A bright red, deep, angry scratch. Maybe it’s something my enthusiastic dog visited upon me, or else the result of a bad wrestling match with my CPAP mask. I have been known to sleep walk and wind up in strange places, and Nyquil does tend to keep its secrets. I only know it looks like I’ve been in a bar fight. As people stare at me, I’m tempted to say, “You should see the other guy.”

It’s embarrassing to go out in public looking like this, especially since I don’t have a funny story to go along with it. It’s a good thing that I’m feeling so weak and unmotivated that I’m naturally lying low anyway. But in retrospect I needn’t have worried, because I forgot that I am now living in the Pacific Northwest.

You see, in Florida, if I had gone out like this, strangers would be stopping me on the street. “Child, what happened to you?” If I had been walking with my husband they might even say, “Did HE do this to you?” All while giving him the hairy eyeball. In the South, people are all up in your business.

But here in the Pacific Northwest you could walk down a busy street with a sucking chest wound and no one would even bat an eyelash. Here, no one wants to intrude. Its as if everyone walks around wearing a cloak of invisibility. You could have a second head growing out of your chest and the most intrusive interaction you’d have with somebody would be their inquiry as to what floor you are going to when you get on the elevator and can’t reach the buttons because your second head is in the way.

This has its pros and its cons. Sometimes I genuinely don’t want to be bothered with people, and here people make that very easy. You do you, I’ll do me. But I do miss that sense of community, and that honesty. Because come on, if you see a gash on a woman’s face, you really do want to know what the hell happened. At least I do. I’d rather someone asked than that they make up a story. I’d rather think that someone gives a shit rather than feel like I’m all alone in the world. I like my privacy, but I’d also like to think that there’s help out there if I should ever need it. Yes, there’s a happy medium in there somewhere. I just always seem to live out in the lunatic fringe, where all the extremes of behavior come home to roost.

In the meantime, until this wound heals, I’m kind of liking the Pacific Northwest realm of things. Here, my gash doesn’t exist. No one but small children will even look at it directly. No one will ever inquire about its origins. Therefore no one will never know that in this instance, their guess is as good as mine.

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Lonely Neighborhoods

I could never live in one of those housing developments where all the houses look exactly the same. They are devoid of personality. It would feel like living in a storage facility to me. A place where people are warehoused. Communities like that have no soul.

Have you ever noticed that some neighborhoods seem more lonely than others? In some places, you see no one out on the sidewalks. Even the cars disappear into their own little garages, and don’t emerge again until it’s time to take someone to work or school. It’s positively dreary.

I prefer more vibrant neighborhoods, where everyone gets to be unique and has a reason to get out and mingle. I finally figured out what makes these places different. It’s completely a matter of zoning.

If you have small businesses mixed in with the housing, people are more apt to know their neighbors. They also get to know the people running the businesses. You eat at the local café. You walk to the library and the corner store. There are playgrounds for the children. People know each other’s dogs by name.

I think that neighborhoods that are all business or all residential are a blight on the landscape. They do not speak to the most basic human need to interact. We already have too much temptation to hide in our houses and stare at our televisions. We need incentive to get out there and engage with one another. Without that, we have even more reason to be polarized.

If a study hasn’t been done already, I think someone should look into the rate of depression as it correlates to the type of neighborhood in which one lives. I think the results would be quite interesting. In the meantime, I think more city zoning commissions should take actual human beings into account when planning livable spaces.

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You Do You

It occurs to me that a lot of the conflict and scandal and overall kerfuffle in this world could be avoided if we all stuck to one basic tenet: You do you. I’ll do me. (That is, as long as what you’re doing does not negatively impact others.)

For example, I’ll never understand why people get so worked up over which bathroom people use to pee. For heaven’s sake, there are stalls. You don’t have to watch. It’s not like you’re being peed upon. So why do you care? You pee in your stall, I’ll pee in mine. We’ll both wash our hands, and go about our business. We don’t even have to make eye contact at the sink if you don’t want to. Simple.

And why do you care if people practice another religion or choose not to practice one at all? How is that even your business? Are you worried that they will go to hell? Gimme a break. No you’re not. Worry about your own final destination. A believer ought to be able to trust that the God of his or her understanding will worry about everyone else.

Is there a good reason that you don’t want the best for others? As the saying goes, equal rights isn’t like pie. It’s not as though there won’t be enough for the rest of us if others partake.

Personally, I have a hard enough time keeping my own ducks in a row without trying to deal with everyone else’s flock. So, you do you. I’ll do me. And we’ll both be just ducky.

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Let’s Review

Every single day, my e-mail inbox is filled with requests that I review some product that I’ve purchased. Or someone wants my feedback on the service they recently provided me. (The only company I know that doesn’t do this is AT&T, because they already know that they give piss-poor customer service, and they couldn’t care less.)

I get it. It’s annoying. And I have to admit that like you, I often ignore these requests.

But by doing so, we are all shooting ourselves in the foot. Think about it. We all know that the larger the organization, the less they really care what you think of the goods or services they provide. They can afford a certain level of customer angst, because there are always more customers for them. Especially if they have the market pretty much cornered.

We as consumers benefit more when there are a large number of small businesses competing, rather than one big indifferent one. Competition brings prices down. Competition means much better customer service, because your business actually means something to these mom and pop companies. They desperately need your feedback. The only way most small companies can build up their reputations is through customer reviews. And who provides them? Us.

So help out that little company that’s selling stuff on Amazon. Give honest feedback on eBay. Give credit where credit is due. It may seem insignificant, but it helps us all.

Having said that, I’m one of those people who desperately needs your review. If you’ve read my book, A Bridgetender’s View: Notes on Gratitude, please leave a review on Amazon.com. This helps me in many ways. Enough reviews will get Amazon’s attention, and they’ll promote the book more. And you might encourage someone else to buy the book. That’ll help keep my dogs in kibble.

C’mon. Do it for my dogs. Thanks.

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The Fine Art of Begging

Recently I racked up $9,000.00 in debt by moving 3100 miles across country to start my life over after a series of setbacks that, frankly, are becoming too boring to even discuss. Everybody has problems, right? But a friend suggested I do a crowdfunding campaign through the Indiegogo website to help me get my head above water. I set a goal of 5k for my two month campaign, never really expecting to get a response.

The campaign ended just the other day, and much to my shock and awe I did reach 50 percent of my goal. But even more valuable than the money was all that I learned from the experience, about myself and about others. I never realized what a ride it would be until I hopped on.

First of all, as one might expect, it’s kind of humiliating to have to beg for money. Essentially, you are telling the entire world, “I can’t do this on my own.” No one likes to admit that.

Second, you spend a great deal of time dealing with the complex issue that a certain percentage of people are bound to assume that you are asking for something that you don’t really deserve because you’re lazy or you’re a scammer. There’s really no simple way to protest your innocence. “I am not a crook” didn’t work for Nixon, and it wouldn’t have worked for me, either.

And then, at least for me, there was a nagging feeling that maybe it was true. Maybe I didn’t really deserve help. I can think of at least a billion people who are worse off than I will ever be. Who do I think I am? What makes me so special? Those are really uncomfortable questions to have to wrestle with.

The moment the campaign was launched, the vultures started circling. “For just $200.00, I can make your campaign go viral!” “Sign up for tips on how to increase your visibility.” These e-mails made me really uncomfortable. It was like my financial desperation had somehow become a business opportunity. For me, this wasn’t business. This was my life.

Also, I got some really weird reactions from distant family members. One even told me that what I was doing was inappropriate and an embarrassment to the family. Wow. Several of them still aren’t speaking to me, and the irony is, none of them helped out, even emotionally, and I never expected that they would. They had never stepped up before, so it would have surprised me if they did now.

But the amazing thing, the thing that still brings tears of gratitude to my eyes, are the people who did step up. Many of them, I know for a fact, are struggling themselves, and they were often the most generous. Then there were the people from my distant past, many of whom I hadn’t had contact with in decades, who supported me without hesitation. And total strangers who said, “I’ve been where you are. Here. Good luck.” Some people said, “I wish I could contribute, but I have no money to give. But I wanted you to know that I heard your story and I’m pulling for you.” Even those who just shared a link to my campaign on their Facebook pages hold a special place in my heart.

I am humbled by everyone who supported me emotionally as well as financially. The memories of that will be more precious than gold long after this debt is nothing but a bad memory. And some day when I’m able, I plan to pay this generosity forward. That’s a promise.

It is when you have to bare your soul and humble yourself way beyond your comfort zone that you truly discover who your friends are, and that the world is a generous place, indeed. What a gift.

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The Man Who Has Everything

I know a millionaire. He’s a good businessman; in fact, he’s hyper-successful. He came from humble beginnings and has had to hustle to get to the top, but hustle he did. No one can say he hasn’t worked very hard to get where he is.

He knows how to read people. A charming fellow, he’s the kind of guy you’d expect to be a motivational speaker. His catch phrase is “Change your story.” He will be the first to tell you that it’s your attitude and your way of looking at things that will make you either a success or a failure in life. In other words, your life is what you make it. After a few minutes in his presence you are sort of hypnotized by his force of personality, and you start to believe that anyone can be like him. Anyone can have the nice car and the gorgeous house and the boat and the vacations in the Caribbean, if only they think positively.

I think of this man every day, even though I’m sure he thinks of me rarely, if at all. The reason he’s in the forefront of my mind is that for one brief shining moment, I had money from the sale of my house and I didn’t want it to just sit and gather dust. I wanted it to work for me. Who better to ask for financial advice than a millionaire? I’ll regret that decision for the rest of my life.

I told him I’d need this money back in a year, but in the meantime I’d like to invest it, and he told me about a privately held stock that would most likely make me a fortune, and either way I could get my money out of it in a year. They usually didn’t entertain small investors like me, but he had an in with these guys. He’d make it happen for me.

That was a couple years ago, and the company is doing so badly now that no one wants the stock, and it hasn’t made me any money. In fact, I’d be shocked if I ever see my money again. Because of this, I teeter on the brink of homelessness.

I wake up from a sound sleep in a cold, clammy sweat on a regular basis, wondering how I’m going to keep my dogs if I have to live in my car. Every purchase I make has to be complete necessity. I add rice to the most unlikely things to stretch my groceries as far as I can. My life is in financial ruins, and I’ll probably have to work until I drop dead. The retirement cupboard is not only bare, it’s moldy and covered with cobwebs. That’s a terrifying position to be in when you’re 48.

Do I blame this guy? He didn’t hold a gun to my head. I made this stupid investment myself. I’m a grown woman who trusted someone I shouldn’t have. I actually assumed his motivations were pure. That’s on me.

Unfortunately, I’ve since learned that this guy has placed several other people in similar situations. And these were friends he went to high school with who are no longer speaking to him. That makes the situation a little more scary, and more than a little bit questionable. It was his shares of stock that he sold me. Did he genuinely think he was helping me out, or did he see the vultures circling and want to unload as much of it as he could before they started devouring the corpse of the corporation? I’ll never know his motivations for sure. All I know is the damage that has been done to my life.

The frustrating thing is that he could easily buy his stock back and change my life entirely. The amount in question is chump change to him. And he has said that he would do so, or find a buyer for it, but I’ve yet to see any actual action on his part.

Recently I e-mailed him, telling him exactly how devastated my life is now, practically begging him for help, and he responded that he feels my pain. But later that day I noticed several new Caribbean photos on his Facebook page. He must be feeling my pain from the deck of a luxury yacht.

I’ve learned a lot from this man. I’ve learned that it’s easy for people to hover along the fringes of acceptable behavior in their pursuit of cold, hard cash. I’ve learned that your ethics and morality can be compromised, subtly at first, when you are in the throes of the pursuit of success. I believe that once the devil starts to whisper in your ear you’re bound to make bad decisions regardless of how decent you may be when you start your life’s journey.

I believe that the man who has everything has everything to lose, and so it goes with him. I’ve watched his life unravel as his morality has become more questionable. Oh, he still looks like a shiny new apple on the surface. He still has the nice cars and houses and boats, he still flies here and there when I can’t even afford a greyhound bus. But the apple is rotting from the inside.

He is in the midst of a divorce. He’s becoming estranged from friends and family. He no longer responds to e-mails. He tries to behave as if he’s happy, but he isn’t. He binge drinks to a shocking degree and despite his charm and his bank account, he’s all alone. If he doesn’t do right by people, if he doesn’t “change his story” by getting his priorities straight, at the end of his life all that anyone will be able to say about him is that he’s the richest guy in the cemetery. And that makes me sad.

Things fall apart, the center does not hold.

If you look at my bank account and my gullibility, you might see me as a failure. But I am loved. And I may lose sleep from worry, but I never lose sleep from having a guilty conscience. When I look in the mirror, I may not have a 300 dollar haircut, but I can look myself in the eye. So which one of us is truly richer?

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The Best Advice You’ll Ever Get

A friend of mine posted a meme on her Facebook wall that said:

“Teach your teenagers how to handle money NOW or they’ll be living in your basement when they’re 30.”

Truer words were never spoken. I was lucky to have a mother who knew the importance of teaching such lessons. As a matter of fact, at the age of 10 she had me start a business, growing houseplants and selling them at the local flea market, and that taught me much.

But the best advice she ever gave me was when I was a freshman in college. She understood it was important for me to get a credit card so I could build up a credit history, but, she said, “Never carry a credit card balance. Ever.” And she meant never, ever, EVER. To get me into the habit of thinking that way, she had me put cash in an envelope whenever I charged something, so I’d be sure I’d have it to pay off the credit card bill COMPLETELY at the end of the month. I did that for years.

Eventually I was so used to thinking of a credit card as a pay-as-you-go proposition that I no longer had to put cash in the envelope. I just got into the habit of knowing that if I couldn’t afford to buy something outright in any given month, then I couldn’t afford to have it.

If I needed to make a major purchase, I’d save up the money beforehand, and only THEN charge it. Delayed gratification isn’t as bad as you’d think, when you realize you don’t have to cope with the stress of credit card debt.

So here I am at age 48, with the best credit score you can possibly have, and all because I have always paid my credit card bills off in full whenever they arrive, even if it hurts. I’m not going to lie; I’m struggling financially. Times are extremely hard. But I could have easily made it a lot worse on myself by having to pay massive amounts of interest. At least I can say that any financial woes I experience are not due to a lifetime of poor judgment.

If my mother were alive today she could rest assured that her basement would never have to be converted into an apartment for me, and I take great pride in that fact.

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[image credit: abcnews.go.com]