Reaching That Summit

Recently I encountered a very angry young man who called me a “Bougie Baby Boomer.” He resented the fact that I was living so much better than he was. He seemed to feel that we should be in the exact same place in terms of comfort and financial stability.

To that I say, “Wait a minute, whipper snapper. It was a long, hard slog to get to where I am. You have to earn it.”

I remember the years when I lived in a tent. I remember sweating to pay off my student loans (although, granted, these loans are a lot more substantial for the current generation.) I remember having lawn chairs in the front half of my studio apartment for years on end, and a mattress on the floor because I couldn’t afford box springs. I remember surviving on canned soup with rice added in, and generic macaroni and cheese. I’ve been working since I was 10 years old.

I saw my 50th birthday long before I ever had more than one pair of shoes that wasn’t bought at a thrift store. My husband had to convince me it was okay to buy more than one pair of jeans at a time. I only recently got a phone plan that wasn’t pay by the minute.

At the risk of sounding horribly conservative, I really think it’s insane to expect everything to be handed to you on a silver platter. Getting to a point where you aren’t waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, wondering how you’re going to pay the bills, takes a lot of hard work, planning, and delayed gratification.

I was so excited today to be able to give my niece a Home Depot gift card as she’s moving into her first house. That was something I couldn’t have done until very recently. It feels good to be able to behave generously for a change. It brings tears to my eyes. It’s a luxury I couldn’t afford in my younger days.

I’m not rich by any means. And I am painfully aware that not everyone gets to pop their head out of the lower class. I never thought I would. But I’ve passed the soup and rice stage.

I’m not overly thrilled with our capitalist society. But like it or not, we are in this system. We are stuck playing by its rules.

So yeah, kid, you’re going to have to eat your share of Ramen noodles as you climb that mountain. Most of us have struggled to get where we are. It builds character. Man up.

Mountain Peak

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Bait

If a trout sees a fly flitting about on the surface of his river, he’s going to snap at it. It’s in his nature. And when it’s just nature at play, that’s a great idea. Everybody needs food.

Unfortunately, sometimes man is inserting himself into this little game, and then taking that bait means certain death for the trout. I’ve always had mixed emotions about that sort of thing. When you take advantage of the fact that another creature is going to do what comes naturally, it kind of seems like cheating to me.

Bait. It’s a sinister thing. And the worst part is that we use it on one another, too.

If you’ve ever snapped off an angry response to a hostile e-mail, you know exactly what I’m talking about. You took the bait. And that almost always makes things worse for you.

Humans have always struggled with delayed gratification. The bait is there now, and it’s soooo satisfying to snap at it. For a split second. Then the regret and/or embarrassment sets in.

Trolls, in particular, count on this. They get some weird satisfaction from getting a rise out of people, while hiding alone in their lonely little rooms, clad in their stained and stretched out tighty whities. And they are oh, so good at it.

When someone gives you bait, it’s hard not to take it. But as a loved one says, “Don’t let their stupid rub off on you.” Wise words, indeed.

I’m trying to remind myself that no one controls my timeline. I don’t have to respond instantly to an e-mail. The fact that I’ve never been very good with snappy comebacks is probably a good thing, after all.

Take a breath. Let things percolate. Give yourself the time to use your very valuable brain. Because hooks in the mouth hurt.

Trout fly

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Doing the Boring Parts First

True confessions: I’m addicted to Magic Jigsaw Puzzles on my computer. (Don’t get too excited. I’ve confessed this on my blog before.)

I tend to do them while watching Youtube or Hulu or DVDs. Gone are the days when I can be completely engrossed by moving pictures. I need to be doing something with my hands at the same time. With age, I seem to be losing focus. Or patience. Or maybe I’m just losing it. (Whatever “it” is.) I’d take up knitting, but I’m trying to reduce the amount of “stuff” in my life.

But I’ve noticed a pattern of late. I always seem to do the “boring part” of the puzzle first. If the puzzle includes a huge swath of plain blue sky, for example, I get that out of the way before doing the colorful city skyline. I’d never given it much thought. It just has always been thus. Come to think of it, that’s how I break down work tasks and home chores as well.

Now that I’m examining this behavior, I’ve figured out that this is a combination of delayed gratification and rewards. If I “suffer” through the blue sky part, then I’ll feel like I “deserve” the skyline part. I’ve earned it through sacrifice. (How utterly White Anglo-Saxon Protestant of me.)

And, too, if I were to do the skyline first, I might lose interest and not finish the sky, and that would feel bad to me on some level. I like to finish things. Case in point, a book has to be really, really awful for me to stop reading it midway through. It’s the same with a movie. I always hold out hope that it will get better. Because of this, I’ve been subjected to a lot of really sub-par media in my lifetime.

Maybe, just once, I should allow myself to eat the frosting and not the cake. Maybe I should see what it feels like to color outside the lines. Maybe I should let someone else worry about the boring bits for a change. At the age of 52, perhaps it’s high time I start being a little more selfish. After all, I’m all I’ve got. For that I deserve a cookie, don’t I?

Magic Puzzles. March 20

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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]