Why I No Longer Watch Tom Cruise Movies

By being coddled by Scientology, he’s complicit in human trafficking.

Let me start off by saying that there are many Tom Cruise movies that I have enjoyed quite a bit in my lifetime. I think the man is a very talented actor (except when he’s not), and he’s not hard to look at (if he’s your type). So, when Dear Husband asked me if I wanted to see Cruise’s latest film, Top Gun: Maverick, which I’ve heard a lot of good things about, and which is also doing obscenely well at the box office, I inwardly cringed.

Because I can’t. I just can’t do it. Yes, the movie would probably be freakin’ fantastic. Yes, my little boycott isn’t going to make the least bit of difference to Tom Cruise. It’s just that morally, with what I know about what this man represents, I can’t give him a penny, let alone a portion of a ticket sale. I wouldn’t be able to look at myself in the mirror afterward. So I sent DH off to the movie with his best friends. Here’s why.

I’m not one who is particularly obsessed with celebrity, but I’ve written about Tom Cruise before. I have focused on him quite a bit, but not because he is who (or what) he is. It’s because he does what he does, and I’m forever attempting to understand it.

Tom Cruise is the poster child for Scientology. And Scientology is one of the longest running, most destructive cults in the world. (The only two American cults that have lasted longer are the Ku Klux Klan and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.)

I have to admit that I’m obsessed with cults. No, I don’t want to be in a cult. In fact, when I was in my 20’s, a friend of mine got sucked into a now defunct cult called Lifespring, and tried to pull me in as well. It was a very scary time, and it took me a while before I could trust strangers again, for fear they were recruiters. I wrote about this experience here. If you want to know one of my biggest regrets, if you want to know how it was possible for me to ruin someone’s life even though I had the very best of intentions, then check out that post. My friend disappeared off the face of the earth after I did that. I have been unable to find her to this day, and 35 years have passed. She has left no internet footprint whatsoever. I fear the worst.

I read and watch everything I possibly can about cults now, in an effort to understand how people get trapped within them. I want to know how cults work, and I have noticed that they all use a similar playbook. (Even Trump uses it, which makes the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up.) I also want to know what it takes for someone to leave a cult, and how/if they’re able to rebuild their lives in the aftermath.

I find anything that causes one to alter one’s thinking to be quite fascinating. Since 2016, it has become increasingly clear to me that a lot more Americans are susceptible to these alterations than I had previously thought. And maybe learning all I can about cults is a form of atonement as well, for the debacle with my friend. It’s complicated.

Speaking of having the very best of intentions, let’s circle back to Tom Cruise. My working theory used to be that that he hasn’t intentionally become such a detrimental force in the world. I genuinely believe that he himself is buying what he’s selling when it comes to Scientology. He has become so isolated from the real world, so sheltered and coddled by Scientology and its many lies that it’s easy to think that he has no idea what an evil organization he is propping up. He was a celebrity before he became involved in Scientology, so he has never seen its dark side like its non-celebrity members do (until he did.)

The truth is (and you can find this anywhere on the web if you take just a moment to look), Scientology’s only purpose is to separate you from your money. And they will do anything and everything to reach that goal. As in, they will take every penny you have ever had, and help you to defraud credit card companies to get more money from them, leaving you under a mountain of debt, and even then, they’ll continue to pressure you for money.

You may love your family very much, but if you join this cult and they do not, it’s very likely that you’ll never get to see or talk to them again. Anyone not in Scientology, and anyone who speaks out against them, is considered a Supressive Person, and they must be shunned, although the actual term for shunning in Scientology is “disconnection.” In fact, if you were born into this cult, or managed to talk your family into joining with you, then you will all be taught to spy on one another, and report any deviations from what Scientology deems acceptable.

One thing that Scientologists find to be unacceptable is anyone questioning Scientology. So if your twin sister starts asking questions, you will be expected to report her, and you will then be expected to shun her. She will be put out on the street with no money, no work references, and if she was young enough when she joined, no education to speak of. She will be all alone, and thrown away like garbage.

And heaven forbid you join the Sea Org, which is purported to be comprised of followers so dedicated to Scientology that they sign a billion year contract to become employees slaves. They are then given room and board, and something along the lines of $75 dollars a week as an allowance. And the living conditions have been reported to be as horrible as a prison cell in a third world country. The food you get will be disgusting, unhealthy, and in quantities that keep you on the verge of starvation.

In exchange for these “perks,” you will work about 20 hours a day, seven days a week, and will be beaten and/or punished if you don’t follow the multi-volume, very detailed rules of Scientology. And one of those rules is that you have to obey every whim of those who have a higher rank than you do, which will be pretty much everybody. If someone asks you to scrub a septic tank with a toothbrush, then that is what you will be expected to do, without question.

Women, if you are pretty, you may be told by the higher ups that you have to be someone’s girlfriend, with all that that implies, and you will have no other choice. If you become pregnant while in the Sea Org, you will be forced to have an abortion. If you already have children when you join, you will leave them with total strangers in the organization, and might get to see them for an hour every few months, if you’ve behaved.

If you become problematic in any way, if you have violated any expectations, you will be sent to what is called the Rehabilitation Project Force, which is reported to be no better than a prison camp. You will do hard labor in the hot sun while wearing solid black boiler suits. You will attend a re-indoctrination program. You will be locked up, often in hot trailers, and deprived of food and water for long periods. You and your cellmates will be encouraged to beat each other up. You will be “audited,” which is another word for interrogated, 5 hours a day. You will not be allowed to see or talk to even those family members who are fellow Scientologists.

You will want to leave, but you won’t be able to. You’re locked up when you’re not working. The windows have bars on them. When you’re outside, you’re surrounded by a razor wire fence that points inward as well as outward. If you are even allowed to make a phone call, someone will be listening in. There will be guards everywhere. Most of these facilities prison camps are located in the middle of nowhere, so running is quite a challenge.

It’s safe to say that Cruise was never subjected to that side of Scientology, but by promoting it, he causes others to enjoy those many pleasures. If you’re famous and popular and you promote a movement, for example, Naziism, it doesn’t matter at all if you’ve never seen a concentration camp, never fired a gun, or never invaded another country. You’re still a Nazi.

What caused him to get sucked in? He claims he has been a Scientologist since 1986, and his first wife, Mimi Rogers, encouraged him to join, saying that it would help with his rampant promiscuity. (She denies this, by the way.) But given the matching set of blondes I saw on his arms when he walked right past me in Las Vegas while he was filming Rain Man the same year he married her, I’m guessing he hadn’t been cured yet. Not by a long shot.

But he is the perfect target for a cult. He practically had “Welcome” tattooed on his forehead. Obviously, I don’t know the man personally, but from what I’m reading, he came from a broken home and his father was physically abusive. He attended 15 schools in 14 years. He planned to be a priest but got kicked out of seminary for drinking. He had dyslexia. And he’s 5’7”, which is never fun for a guy. I suspect that all this made for a major cocktail of insecurity and a desperate need for love. Cults feed off of people like that.

He was already famous before Scientology. Risky Business and All the Right Moves had made him a household name. And Scientology loves its celebrities. They give them the royal treatment and they love-bomb them for the rest of their lives, because these people are their best advertisements for new recruits. So you might say that Scientology does work for them, although it sucks as much money as possible from them in the process.

Despite his previous fame, Cruise believes that he’s gotten where he is because of Scientology. He even says that Scientology “cured” his dyslexia. Poor man.

In 1990, the current leader of Scientology, David Miscavige, was laser focused on Cruise. He didn’t like the fact that Cruise was married to Mimi Rogers, because Rogers was not keen on Miscavige. So Miscavige decided the couple needed to be broken up. According to this article, Miscavige moved heaven and earth to throw Nicole Kidman into the mix. Sure enough, Cruise and Kidman had an affair, and he divorced Rogers and married Kidman in the same year, 1990.

Miscavige’s plan worked a little too well, though. He thought Kidman would be a homewrecker, but he wasn’t planning on her turning into a wife. Her father was a Supressive Person, having already left Scientology himself. So this union made him nervous, as well it should have. In 1993, Kidman had finally convinced Cruise to leave Scientology. I’m sure the fact that once you reach one of the higher levels of the cult, you are told about Xenu was a big help, too. It’s quite a story.

According to Wikipedia, “Xenu, also called Xemu, was the dictator of the ‘Galactic Confederacy’ who brought billions of his people to Earth (then known as ‘Teegeeack’) in DC-8-like spacecraft 75 million years ago, stacked them around volcanoes, and killed them with hydrogen bombs. Official Scientology scriptures hold that the thetans (immortal spirits) of these aliens adhere to humans, causing spiritual harm.”

You can’t make this stuff up. Unless you’re L. Ron Hubbard.

Anyway, Tom and Nicole backed way, way, way off the cult from 1993 to 2000, but the leader of Scientology wasn’t about to let go of his cash cow without a fight. By 2000, Cruise was sucked back in, but Kidman wasn’t. They divorced in 2001. Their two children, now adults, are still Scientologists, and therefore most likely have no contact with Kidman. This is the point when I really, really lost respect for Cruise.

By now there’s no possible way Cruise hadn’t heard some of the Scientology horror stories. He wouldn’t have been actively discouraged from looking at the internet during his 8 year “vacation” from the cult. Clearly, conversations must have taken place about it to get him to stay away that long. And yet he continues to promote this harmful belief system.

He also must know how different he is than the young man just starting out in Hollywood, before Scientology got its hooks into him. Check out this interview with Rona Barrett from 1984, when he was 22 years old. In it, he appears humble, family-oriented, intelligent, and quite articulate.

Now, contrast that with his interview with Peter Overton in 2005. That’s the Tom Cruise we know today. Arrogant. Full of himself. Defensive. Utterly sheltered/isolated by an entourage. Completely deluded (again) into thinking that everyone admires Scientology. Positive that he has all the answers and that we do not. Very adept at responding to questions without saying anything of substance.

And then, if you really want to see him out on the lunatic fringe, check out this video, which Scientology is desperate to quash. In it, he’s incoherently sure that the empty words he is spewing are real. He talks about helping the world. He talks about stopping to help when you see a car accident (but if someone that famous does such a thing, it hits the news. I looked. Nothing.) He talks about knowing, but doesn’t explain what he knows. (And I found that particularly sad, given that he seems to be oblivious to the world’s negative perception of his “religion.”) He talks about doing something, and getting it done, but doesn’t tell you what “something” or “it” is. I think he actually believes he can do all the things he does in his action films.

What I find most appalling about Cruise, what makes me not want to financially support him in any way, shape, or form, is that, by allowing himself to be coddled by Scientology, he participates in human trafficking. Check out this article and this one for more details, but suffice it to say that Scientology has used Sea Org members, those starving, 20 hour a day workers with the $75 dollar a week allowances that I mentioned above, to remodel motorcycles, sportscars, and even an airport hangar for Cruise. When Cruise was wooing Kidman, a group of Scientologists were made to till a field from midnight to dawn and plant it with wildflowers. And when it didn’t pass muster, they had to pull all that up and replace it with grass. One Scientologist was made to be his personal chef. And you don’t seriously think he does his own housework, do you? And you don’t seriously think Scientology would allow him to surround himself with a household staff that wasn’t comprised of Scientologists, do you? And if any of those people screw up in the slightest way, you don’t think David Miscavige doesn’t punish them physically and psychologically, do you?

Slavery is what that is. Pure and simple. I refuse to knowingly support slavery.

If you want to learn the truth about Scientology, straight from the mouths of people who have escaped it and are trying to pick up the pieces of their lives after this cult reduced them to rubble, I highly recommend the series called Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath. Even if you think Remini is biased, she interviews 3 seasons worth of devastated people, and it would be impossible to maintain a conspiracy that large. Impossible. Just as with the January 6th hearings, how many people have to step forward before you realize they are telling the truth?

With so many witnesses to the destructive power of Scientology, why is this organization allowed to maintain a tax exempt status, forcing taxpayers to support its antics while David Miscavige and Tom Cruise live luxurious lifestyles by standing on the necks of slavishly devoted cult members?

Because, when the IRS was investigating them, Scientology used its money and its mindless minions to bog the IRS down in 2000 frivolous lawsuits, and targeted individual IRS agents and made their lives a living hell. For years.

Scientology is not a religion. Legitimate religions don’t force you to give up your life savings and ruin you financially for their own gain. Religions don’t destroy families if they philosophically disagree. They don’t isolate you and tell you every single thing you should do and think. True religions don’t exist only to benefit the few at the top. Religions can tolerate questions, and don’t savagely attack those who ask them. Religions don’t jail, interrogate and torture their members. The wives of the leaders of a religion don’t mysteriously disappear for 15 years, like Shelly Miscavige has, probably because she knows too much.

But don’t underestimate Scientology’s power. Many people have taken the free personality tests that they offer, “just for fun,” and 500,000 dollars and many years later, they look up to see that it was all a harmful, life-ruining illusion. Tell everyone who will listen to avoid Scientology like the plague.

Also avoid Tom Cruise, Scientology’s main attraction. He is a slow-motion train wreck that I can’t seem to stop watching. In this internet age, when everyone can find out everything they want to know, social media is causing cults to circle the drain, for the most part. When Scientology finally dies out, and it will, I wonder what will happen to Tom Cruise, a man who has wasted his entire life in its promotion and pursuit.

When faced with all the lives he has ruined by being so visibly complicit, how will he handle that? I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Meanwhile, please join me in resisting the temptation to watch Tom Cruise movies.

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Let Your Riches Flow

You can make a huge difference without really sacrificing at all.

Most people agree that the filthy rich ought to pay their fair share of taxes. And yet these despicable few still manage to cling to just enough political power to thwart our efforts. It’s obscene.

If you’re a billionaire, it’s not like you’re cuddling up to your money in front of a warm fire, with hot buttered rum. It’s remote from you. You don’t have a personal relationship with it. It’s usually never even converted into cash. It’s just numbers. And no matter how extravagant your lifestyle is, you clearly don’t need all that money to survive, or you wouldn’t be a billionaire for long. It would disappear like the puff of smoke it actually is.

So what makes you cling to it so incredibly tightly? Why is it never enough for you? Why can’t you ever stop being afraid?

The ultra rich don’t seem to realize that the spending of money can bring joy. (And yes, you might say that some of them are philanthropists, but they send out less than one percent of what they should be paying in taxes, and donate a lot less of their income than the average poor person does.

If I had a billion dollars sitting around gathering dust, I could end homelessness in my county, which includes Seattle. That would transform this city. And no one would go to bed hungry in this area ever again. That would feel a lot better than the anxiety brought on by greed.

In essence, humanity is a closed system. When your money leaves you, it doesn’t just disappear. It’s just somewhere else. Your goal, if you want a happy life, is to make sure that, when your money goes elsewhere, as much of it as possible is doing some good. Is it repairing a bridge so it doesn’t collapse? Is it paying the heating bill for a family? Is it helping clean up the planet? Is it allowing someone to be educated? Is it providing vaccines to those in need? Is it helping someone start a business to raise their family up from the pit of poverty?

Doing these things has a ripple effect. It reduces crime when you allow people to be less desperate. Educating children leads to adults who are more apt to do good themselves. Allowing people to be safe and healthy and clothed reduces the hate and greed and violence in the world. And that, in turn, impacts all of us.

Needless to say, I’m a firm believer in the flow of money. It’s meant to be liquid. If you pay people a living wage, they’re able to participate in the economy. When you stop grinding down the poor, their strength and abilities empower us all.

Yeah, yeah, I’m looking at the world through rose colored glasses. But I’ve seen all of this with my own eyes. It really matters.

I have been making microloans through Kiva.org for 15 years. I’ve so far loaned $2,425.00, and I haven’t even felt it. Yes, that is a painful amount of money to me, but I haven’t felt it because it’s been the same $25 dollars, over and over and over again.

Here’s how it works. I make a $25 dollar loan to someone in a financially depressed country. Maybe 10 other people join me. That’s not that much to any of us, but to the person it’s going to, it can mean the world. It might be more than they usually earn in a year. It can mean the difference between safe drinking water and constant illness. It can mean they can start a business that will sustain them and allow their kids to go to school so that someday they’ll do even better.

And here’s the thing. (Yes, there’s always a thing.) I’ve been lucky so far, and the money has always been paid back. I’ve lent that $25 dollars 92 times, and like water, it has flowed back to me like the tide, so I have been able to loan it out again, to someone else. That money isn’t an object that gathers dust. It continues to do good, over and over and over again, even though it’s only 25 dollars to me.

I have helped people in 70 different countries. And I mostly loan to women, because I feel that women are held back more, and deserve a break from this cruel world. Lifting women up makes me feel good.

So my 25 dollars has been to Fiji, and Vietnam, and Burkina Faso, and Guatemala. It’s been to Palestine and Thailand and Nigeria and Colombia. It’s seen Madagascar and Tongo and Egypt and Haiti. It has started businesses and built wells and been to markets and farms and it has raised roofs. It has done good, and has caused me no hardship. None at all.

If we all did this, the world would be a much better place. And the people that are most capable of doing these things are the very people who aren’t doing so. It makes me sad.

I’d like to invite you to join me and make a microloan through Kiva. You can find them here.

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

Spiritual Wealth

Jesus did not approve of greed.

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.

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

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12 Things to Discuss before Getting Married

It’s really important to have all the hard conversations beforehand so that you know what you’re getting yourself into.

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!


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Yard Sales

You’d think I’d have learned by now.

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.


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It’s All Stuff and Nonsense

All that stuff you see? It used to be money. Now it’s stuff.

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

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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

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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

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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.


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