Spiritual Wealth

In the interests of full disclosure, I am not a Christian. But I do believe that there are a lot of important lessons to be learned from the Bible. I think there are lessons to be learned from many other sources as well. The trick is to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Unfortunately, the chaff often does not come from the philosophy itself, but from the way that philosophy gets twisted by others for their own benefit. Nothing makes me more angry than seeing people get taken advantage of. Nothing is so heartbreaking as seeing people preyed upon and then cast aside.

I may not be an expert on all things Christian, but I do know this: Jesus did not advise people to crave money. He never said that the way God shows favor is by making you rich in this life. He cast out the money lenders. He said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven.” (Matthew 19:24)

Basically, Jesus wasn’t about stuff. He wasn’t about accumulating riches. He wasn’t trying to show people how to game the system so that God would give them prizes.

He did not approve of greed. And he certainly never told anyone to go without groceries so that some creepy preacher could buy a private jet. Jesus would be horrified by the prosperity gospel.

Money is not the key to happiness in this life or any other. Whether you agree with him or not, does Trump seem particularly happy to you? He worships Mammon, and I wouldn’t want his life for anything. Golden toilets don’t make the going any easier.

Love, decency, kindness, generosity, the ability to learn and think critically… these things are priceless. Clamoring for stuff and money… that’s not your kingdom here on earth. It’s just a form of burial before death. If you learn nothing else in this life, let it be that.

Money Church

A big thanks to StoryCorps for inspiring this blog and my first book. http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Money Trumps Morals

It sounds like the beginning of a really bad joke. “Jamal Khashoggi walks into the Saudi Arabian Consulate…” But the punch line isn’t very funny. He never walks out again.

The Saudis tried to claim that he did leave, but there is no evidence of this happening on any of the cameras in the area. And Khashoggi’s fiancé was waiting outside for him. It’s not like he’d wander off and leave her. Not willingly. I mean, come on.

Khashoggi entered the consulate in Istanbul simply to get the proper paperwork to marry his Turkish bride to be. But he had also been in self-imposed exile in America, because he was a reporter that had been critical of the Saudi government. He had been working for the Washington Post.

Apparently that same day he went to the consulate, 15 Saudi operatives flew into town and wound up there. Their cohort included one autopsy expert, who was, according to NPR, complete with (shudder) a bone saw. Then these 15 men flew away again, with several new suitcases in tow. Khashoggi has not been seen or heard from since. I hope that in this case one plus one doesn’t equal two, but I have my suspicions.

In light of all this, Trump says we’ll be looking into it, but that he thinks stopping arms sales to Saudi Arabia is a bad idea, because it would hurt a lot of American jobs. Maybe we can do some other type of sanctions. We’ll see. But not arms.

What does it take, exactly, for morals to trump money? I mean, it was Saudi citizens who where the main players in 9/11, and yet they remained our allies. Now they can play a very sketchy role in the disappearance of a reporter who currently works for an American newspaper, but hey, let’s not stop selling them arms. Oh, no. We can’t do that. Perhaps a slap on the wrist is what’s needed.

Jamal Khashoggi
Jamal Khashoggi

Like the way my weird mind works? Then you’ll enjoy my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

12 Things to Discuss before Getting Married

I’m getting married for the first time at age 53, so I’m hardly an expert on the subject. But I’d like to think that my age is a plus. I’m not impulsive. I believe in doing my homework. I am all about looking before I leap.

Lord knows I’ve seen enough marriages fail to get a strong sense of what kills them off. It’s really important to have all the hard conversations beforehand so that you know what you’re getting yourself into. It also helps to know the other person’s hopes, dreams, and expectations in advance, and decide whether you’d be willing to help them achieve them.

Here are a few things you may wish to consider talking about ahead of your big day:

Money. This one is huge. Is one partner bringing a mountain of debt into the union? It’s only fair to bring this out in the open. How will you handle finances? How much credit card debt can you tolerate? What level of discretionary spending are you comfortable with? What are your plans, if any, for retirement? What are your expenses? How will you cope with financial emergencies? What are your long term financial goals, and how do you plan to reach them?

Children. Do you both want them? How many? Do you already have some? Who has custody? What is your philosophy regarding discipline, and child-rearing in general?

What goals do you have for your future? Do they align? If you want to travel and your partner simply wants to retire and watch Jerry Springer all day long, that’s a problem. What do you consider to be a successful life? What is most important to you in terms of a future? Where do you want to live? What kind of home do you want to have? What types of vacations do you like to take? What are your priorities? What are your expectations?

Sex, Intimacy and Fidelity. It’s okay to be who you are. But it’s only fair that you spell it out. If one person is asexual, and the other expects a high degree of intimacy, that’s a problem waiting to happen. If your philosophies regarding fidelity don’t align, it’s a recipe for disaster. If one person hates public displays of affection, and the other feels rejected if her partner won’t hold her hand, this is the tip of a much larger iceberg. Is pornography a big part of your life or do you have any sexual habits that your partner might find unusual? Discuss what you need to feel loved and sexually satisfied now, or your marital ship will sink like a stone.

Individuality. You don’t have to be joined at the hip. You don’t always have to like all the same things that your partner likes. You don’t even have to have all of the same friends. Becoming a football widow isn’t a big deal if you have interests of your own. Are you both comfortable doing things alone? If you have different expectations in terms of togetherness and attention, it’s best to work that out now.

Vices. If you smoke and your partner does not, you should find out if that will become a deal-breaker. If you have a drug addiction, your partner has a right to know. How much do you drink alcohol? How much is too much? You should even put your quirky habits out there. One person’s quirk might be another person’s intolerable oddity.

Health. Does your partner take health as seriously as you do? Are there any ticking time bombs with regard to family health history that you need to be aware of? How will you cope with a medical catastrophe?

Religion. What are your spiritual philosophies? Atheists and Fundamentalists can marry, of course, but they’d have to be extremely tolerant of their differences. If one is expecting the other to make a dramatic, very basic shift, and the other person isn’t willing to do so, then that will be a problem. Also, what holidays are important to you, and how do you celebrate them?

Politics. I’ve seen couples thrive in spite of political differences, but if politics is a huge part of your life, it rapidly becomes a definer of the content of one’s character. And in this current atmosphere of division, it’s not like you can ignore the elephant (or donkey) in the room. Will you be willing to agree to disagree on the issues? It’s never a good idea to go into a relationship with expectations that your partner will change and come to his or her senses.

Family. Unfortunately (or luckily, as the case may be), when you marry someone, you marry that person’s family, too. Everyone has a few nuts in the family tree. Having insane in-laws is not necessarily a problem unless you discover, to your horror, that your spouse expects said crazy relative to live with you in his or her dotage. Will you be okay with that? What does family obligation mean to you? Best to figure that out in advance.

Communication and Conflict Resolution. How do your resolve disagreements? If one is a shouter and the other tends to withdraw, you’ll never be able to meet in the middle. It’s all about respect. Talk about issues before they get out of control. Listen to what your partner is saying. Nip things in the bud as often as you can. Don’t stuff things. Don’t get hostile. Don’t just hope things will go away on their own. Take the initiative. How do you plan to talk things out?

Cleanliness. Can you tolerate your partner’s level of clutter? Can your partner stand your obsessive compulsive need for a spotless home? And how will the cleaning tasks be divided? This is 2018. You can’t assume that both of you are on the same page regarding basic chores. Talk about it.

Communication about all of the above is key. It’s important to know as much as possible about the foundation on which you are building your relationship. A solid foundation leads to a long-lasting home.

Are there any other topics that I’ve overlooked? Please share them in the comments below!

marriage

Check this out, y’all. I wrote a book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Yard Sales

About once every 15 years, I put myself through the torture of a yard sale. You’d think I’d have learned by now. They are an exercise in frustration, and unless the Yard Sale Gods are smiling upon you, these events tend to be a monumental waste of time.

I will say this, though: yard sales are an excellent way to discover just how worthless your stuff is. Every single “priceless” possession you have used to be money. Now you’re going through everything, trying to decide which items are more valuable to you if you convert them back into money. All the while, you are emotionally struggling with the fact that in the vast majority of cases, your financial return is going to be much less than your original financial output.

And I’m always shocked at the amount of man hours that have to be put into simply preparing for a yard sale. I’d say that for every hour of the sale, you put in an additional two hours in gathering the stuff, cleaning it up, pricing it, finding tables, making signage, advertising, getting cash in small denominations, schlepping your stuff into the yard, and creating an enticing display.

And if you’re like me, you overestimate how much people will be willing to pay. At first. Then, after being faced with an indifferent wave of lookie-loos, you drop your prices. Probably a couple times. At a certain point, you become convinced that you’ve priced things as low as you can possibly go. And yet, people will still bargain shamelessly. Will you take 10 cents for that autographed first edition instead of 25 cents? Can you part with Aunt Mabel’s complete set of porcelain flatware for a dollar instead of ten?

I can understand the bargaining instinct, but at a certain point it becomes insulting. And then, as the sale is winding down, you look at all the crap that has been left behind, and you know you’ll have to deal with it by putting it back in the attic or hauling it to the junk yard or to Goodwill, and you consider paying people to take it off your hands.

Bottom line: After about 20 hours of preparation and 10 hours of yard sale, we came away with $160. In other words, $5.33 an hour. Minimum wage. 15 years ago. Or today, if you live in the Bahamas.

But on the other hand it is a great way to meet your neighbors and sit out in the fresh air. And it does motivate you not to spend that 160 bucks on bringing more junk into your house. And you can catch up on your reading. So there’s that.

37407114_10213379377021984_656434340435066880_n

A big thanks to StoryCorps for inspiring this blog and my first book. http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

It’s All Stuff and Nonsense

I just finished reading a Rolling Stone article about the financial woes of Johnny Depp. Hundreds of millions of dollars gone. Poof. Just like that. Millions taken by hangers on, apparently without Depp even noticing until it was too late. Much signing of signature pages without reading the actual content of the document. 6 million in fees for paying his taxes late for 13 years in a row.

Then there’s the drugs and the alcohol and the stuff. The stuff! An 8,000 square foot estate above Sunset Boulevard. The rock club. The 1940 Harley Davidson. The horse farm in Lexington, Kentucky. 14 other fully furnished residences. A yacht. 70 Guitars, 200 pieces of art. 45 cars. An island in the Bahamas.

It is alleged that his lifestyle costs him 2 million dollars a month, including $200,000 a month on air travel and $30,000 a month on wine. He once spent $108,000 on suits in a single trip to Singapore. A 1 million dollar wedding, and an even more pricey divorce. He himself claims he spent 5 million to shoot the ashes of Hunter S. Thompson into the sky with a cannon.

For God’s sake, it really isn’t all that difficult. Look around you. All that stuff you see? It used to be money. Now it’s stuff. And that stuff isn’t going to make you happy or keep you warm at night. It won’t stop your loneliness or boredom. It won’t make people love you more. It’s just crap, and it weighs you down. Every object is an anchor.

Before you buy something, ask yourself if you really need it. If you’re honest, most of the time the answer to that will be no. I mean, cavemen had very little, and they survived.

Okay, so we’re not cavemen. All we really need is a SMALL place to live, a SINGLE mode of transportation, a knife, a spork, a bowl, a shirt, a pair of pants, a pair of shoes, and about 3 pairs of underwear. Everything else is frosting on the cake.

And believe me, I know how comforting it can be to hide behind frosting. You don’t have to be all emotionally naked and vulnerable when you’re surrounded by distracting luxuries. You are not exposed. But you’re also not free.

Johnny Depp is known for taking on controversial roles. I would challenge him, and all of us, to do that with our lives as well. Strip down to only the bare essentials. Divest ourselves of the junk. Take a good, hard look at ourselves.

And then, go live.

Durbar Square Hindu Ascetic

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

The Ingredients of Happiness

It always comes as quite a shock when someone famous commits suicide. Hearing on the radio that Anthony Bourdain chose to take his own life nearly caused me to swerve off the road. This is someone I’ve envied. He got to travel. He had crazy experiences and met fascinating people. He won countless awards. No doubt he also made a boatload of money.

This was someone who was successful, rich, and had an exciting life. Three things many of us strive for, and yet, now he’s gone. On the surface, you’d think that his was a life worth living. But to make this permanent choice, he must have been in a great deal of emotional pain. He must have been suffering. Surrounded by all of us, who admired him, he must have been all alone. Of course, this is pure speculation on my part. I doubt any of us will ever know the full story.

The only thing I can know for sure is that I am happier than Anthony Bourdain was. I would never have guessed this a week ago. But there’s incontrovertible evidence of this now. I’m still here.

So, what constitutes happiness? One thing is for sure: it isn’t money. I know that’s a cliché, but clichés become clichés for a reason.

I know someone who is a millionaire, but he’s also a divorced, estranged father and a raging alcoholic. He’s one of the most miserable people I have ever met. Money does nothing to solve your problems when all is said and done. Most of us know this, and yet so many of us still seem obsessed with filthy lucre. It’s such a waste of time.

As far as I can tell, the two things you need to be happy are connections and purpose. Humans are social animals. They need community. The more you surround yourself with people you love who love you back, the happier you will be. And having a purpose, such as a job you love, or a goal to strive for, or even a hobby, makes life worthwhile. If you have none of those things, I encourage you to become a volunteer. Helping others is the noblest of purposes.

Don’t get me wrong. None of us can be happy all the time. People who are happy all the time are mentally ill. It’s how we cope with the rough patches that truly defines us. But there’s a lot that you can do to make your life satisfying overall.

If you are contemplating suicide or know someone who is, I strongly encourage you to seek help. Here in the US, a great resource is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Their number is 1-800-273-8255. Please, just do that one last thing before taking any steps that, once done, can never be undone. Surely you owe yourself that much.

Anthony Bourdain, I hope you have found the peace you apparently could not find in this life. I wish you had made a different choice.

Anthony Bourdain

A refreshingly positive book for these distressingly negative times. http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

 

How I Live Now

There was a time, not so very long ago, when I could have told you the exact amount of cash I had in my wallet, down to the penny. I’d wake up in a cold sweat, wondering how I’d pay my bills, or what on earth I’d do if I became seriously ill with no health insurance. For most of my life, I was about one flat tire away from utter homelessness. It was exhausting.

I learned to add rice to a can of soup to make it a meal. I was the coupon queen. I wore clothes until my meager sewing skills couldn’t keep them together anymore, and then I’d replace them at the thrift store. My shoes would all but disintegrate on my feet.

For entertainment, I’d play with my dogs, or take a walk, or watch PBS. I checked out mounds of library books. I knew when all the museums and galleries were free.

I’m not saying that all the joy in life is brought about by money, but life sure has improved now that the financial pressure has eased considerably.

I still keep a tiny bit of cash on hand for emergencies, but I couldn’t tell you how much. Mostly, I sleep through the night, and while I still avoid extravagant, unnecessary bills, I don’t worry about my ability to pay the ones I do incur. My health insurance is probably better than what most people have here in America. (Which isn’t saying much.) And recently I replaced all four of my tires at once without batting an eye. (Okay, maybe I swallowed hard for a second, but there was absolutely no eye batting.)

I still don’t eat at five-star restaurants, but I actually buy organic fruits and vegetables without considering them a splurge. And if I really want something in particular to eat, I figure out a way to get it. I can’t remember the last time I even opened a can of soup. I still use coupons, but I’m not ruled by them. I still shop at thrift stores mostly, but every once in a while I’ll get myself something really nice to wear. And my shoes are in good shape.

I have a lot more fun than I used to. I can afford to get out there and engage with the world. I eat out. I see the odd movie. I pay admission fees without perspiring, and occasionally donate a little extra to museums. I still love library books, though.

Sometimes I’ll look around and wonder how I got to this place. It was a long, hard struggle. It doesn’t seem real to me. I doubt it ever will. I keep expecting to wake up to another can of soup. And I doubt I’ll ever be able to retire. Because of that, I’ll always appreciate how I live now. I’ll never take anything for granted. I’ll always feel as though I’ve taken off a pair of shoes that were two sizes too small. For now, it really feels good to wiggle my toes!

Life. It’s so fragile, so precarious. Enjoy it as much as you can, while you can.

Financial Stress.jpg

Claim your copy of A Bridgetender’s View: Notes on Gratitude today and you’ll be supporting StoryCorps too! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

 

Staying Out of Trouble

At the risk of sounding ultra-conservative (heaven forefend), I really don’t get it when people are incapable of staying out of trouble. I mean, I understand making mistakes, believe me. I’ve screwed up a time or two. But when you do it over and over and over again, and can practically hear Dr. Phil whispering in your ear, “How’s that workin’ for you?” You really have to wonder.

Is it about bad choices? Because I’ve managed to choose not to break the law my whole life long. It’s not always easy. I’d love to grab that brand new suede jacket and run like the wind, but I choose not to. Sure, I’d like a little instant gratification every now and then, but the first time you tried to play with a candle flame as a child, you should have learned that actions have consequences.

Is it about feeling like you have no choices at all? I can relate to that, too. I’ve lived in a tent. I’m 53 years old and I’ve only just now managed to scratch and claw myself to the very murky, sketchy bottom of the middle class. And I know darned well I’ll never be able to retire. Things are stacked against the 98%. It sucks. But at least I can look myself in the mirror.

You see, I never had much. But I knew I had integrity, and that no one could ever steal that from me. I could, however, give it away. I chose not to. Because it was all I had.

I guess what it all boils down to is what’s most important to you. Possessions? Control over others? Or your own self-worth? Maybe think about that before robbing your next liquor store. Because that money isn’t going to stay with you. Neither will the drugs. In the end, all you have is you.

handcuffs

Check out my refreshingly positive book for these depressingly negative times. http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Messing with a Scammer

Early one morning, I was staring blankly at my computer screen, in an utter fog, wishing I weren’t allergic to caffeine, when the following message from my friend G popped up in Facebook Messenger:

“Hello Barbara?”

I knew right off the bat that this couldn’t be G. First of all, he would never call me Barbara. (The only person who ever used my full first name was my mother when she was pissed off.)

But the other big hint that this couldn’t be G was the fact that he passed away 3 months ago. For a split second, I wished fervently that it was really him, that his death was a huge mistake, but I knew better.

And that instantly infuriated me. This was clearly a scammer, and I bet he reached out to everyone on G’s contacts list, so that must have been a painful jolt to his wife and kids. How cruel.

So I decided to mess with this person.

Me: “Hi G! How are you?”

(As I typed that, I wished this guy was burning in hell.)

G: “Am fine, Busy online Searching on what to invest my Grant Money on and you?”

(Yep, definitely not G. G knew how to punctuate and capitalize.)

Me: “I’m good. Same old, same old.”

G: “Good. Was wondering if you’ve heard about the federal government grant?”

Me: “No I haven’t.”

G: “The Grant is placed for those who need assistance buying a home, paying for bills, starting their own business, going to school, or even helping raise their children with old and retired people .This is a new program, i got $100,000 delivered to me when i applied for the grant and you don’t have to pay it back.”

(I cannot believe anyone would fall for this scam during the Trump era. No way on earth is the government going to give us money to help ease our suffering, without some serious strings attached. This scammer must think the streets here are paved with gold.)

Me: “Wow. That’s good luck considering all you’ve been through.”

(Like, uh, dying.)

G: “Thought you might have heard about it already?”

Me: “No. We haven’t talked in months.”

(That’s putting it mildly. If only we could.)

G: “I contacted the online claiming agent through link and he checked me.”

Me: “Checked you for what?”

(Rabies? Psychopathy? A serious lack of common decency?)

By the way, we should talk about the 900 dollars I owe you.”

(I threw that in just to see if I could get this guy spun up and excited and waste more of his time. The more of his time that I wasted, the less time he’d be spending scamming someone else. But at this point, the scammer went silent for a day. I guess it takes one to know one. So I decided to give it one last try.)

“Seriously, though, I do feel guilty for not paying you back yet.”

G: “Forget about that yet. I know when you have it you will pay up.”

(What a mensch. Especially since I never asked G for money in my life.)

“Let’s talk about the good news. If you click on this link and fill out this form, you might be able to get the grant money, too.”

That’s when I started getting bored with the game. Of course I wasn’t going to click on any link and turn over my social security number or my bank or credit card information, or open myself up to ransomware. So, for my final salvo, I decided to let him have it.

Me: “Sorry, ‘G’, I’m not going to click on your link, and here’s why. You stole the identity of one of the most decent human beings I’ve ever known. He was kind and generous and supportive. He also died three months ago, leaving behind a lot of people who are heartbroken and who loved him very much. I doubt a scammer like you will ever be able to say the same thing, because you don’t build relationships, you take advantage of people. I think the real G would be highly amused by the fact that I’ve been able to waste so much of your time. I also think that since he was very protective of his loved ones, he’d be outraged to know that you probably also reached out to his wife and children, who are still grieving, and this must have given them considerable pain. Sitting in your dingy, third-world room in front of your crappy computer, you already know what I’m about to tell you: You are cursed. Maybe that’s revenge from my friend G and people like him, or bad karma from the pain you cause when you rob little old ladies of their life savings, or maybe it’s just your fate, but you wouldn’t be doing this if you weren’t desperate for the one thing that will never make you happy: Money. Know this: NOTHING will ever go right for you for the rest of your life until you change your ways and try to have a positive impact on people, rather than a negative, toxic one. Right now, you are pathetic. But you don’t have to stay that way. It’s up to you.”

I doubt any of this will sink in. I’m sure it wasn’t even read. But I have to say, I feel cleansed.

scammer

Like the way my weird mind works? Then you’ll enjoy my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Inherited Wealth

Recently, on my online newsfeed, I saw an article that asked the readers if it is ethical to pass your wealth on to your children. I confess, I didn’t read it. Why would I? It’s not a problem that I’ll ever have. My parents didn’t have much money to pass on to me, and I don’t have any children. Problem solved.

But I did think about the issue from a philosophical standpoint during my next long commute. Naturally, Donald Trump sprang to mind. I’m convinced that the only reason he has money today is because daddy gave him obscene amounts of money to begin with. Donald Trump is barely literate and has no people skills whatsoever, and how many times has he declared bankruptcy? There’s no way he’d have been a self-made millionaire. The world would be a much safer and healthier place if his father hadn’t given him that leg up.

But on the other hand, it’s the average parent’s instinct to try to make his or her children’s lives better than the preceding generation’s. Who are we to deny them that? It’s their wealth. (Well… it is and it isn’t. I’ll save that particular rant for another day.) They can do with it whatever they choose.

Having said that, though, I feel the need to point out that with wealth comes power. If you’re giving your child power that that child hasn’t earned, then you bear a responsibility to make sure your kid is worthy of that power. (Trump’s father never did that, and now we are all paying the price. Lucky us.)

It’s every parent’s duty to instill a strong moral compass in children. They need to grasp laws and ethics and morals. They should understand the need for, and frequently practice, philanthropy. They must possess a certain level of compassion and kindness. Above all, they should have respect for others. With such an unequal balance of power being presented to them on a silver platter, they must be taught to avoid the impulse to grab things (or people) that don’t belong to them.

If little rich kids don’t have these qualities (and unfortunately many do not), then giving them an enormous nest egg on which to lounge is a disservice to the human race. Sheltering them from the real world, and coddling them from life, only produces cruel, dangerous, psychopathic individuals. The last thing these warped individuals need is for you to throw power, in the form of big sweaty wads of cash, into the mix. It creates a toxic stew.

inherited

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5