IRA And 59 And A Half

I should’ve listened to my intuition, even back then. When I retired early at 38, I hesitated to roll my 401K into an IRA because I suspected the tax benefits might not materialize. I was right. As a few financial professionals have put it, I had a perfect storm of bad luck. The penalties and lost opportunities cost me tens of thousands of dollars at the very time when I needed every dollar. Now that I’m over 59.5 years old, I can withdraw from my IRA without penalty, but there’s too little remaining to make any action worthwhile – unless another storm of bad luck strikes me. As with any financial action, caveat emptor rules. Let the buyer beware.

Do they even teach caveat emptor in high school? They did when I was there. They may have even taught it in junior high. Caveat emptor roughly translates as, “Let the buyer beware.” Just because the brochure and the sales pitch sound appealing, keep in mind that your situation may make those benefits moot.

Saving and investing are vital in today’s society. The arithmetic makes it clear, the earlier a person can invest, the longer compound interest can work in their favor, and the easier it is to retire early or at least benefit from the increase in assets. Investing, however, is not just about saving. Personal finance is about saving and withdrawing; because, if there is no withdrawal, then the money effectively has no value. That’s why buying stocks versus bonds versus real estate versus commodities versus any of the variety of investments is also affected by how to turn that investment back into currency. Are there penalties? Are there hurdles? Are there delays?

I’m coming up on the seventh anniversary of My Triple Whammy. As a series of unconnected misfortunes diminished my fortunes, I started selling stocks and taking on debt. Surely, the market place was rational enough that the investments would recover, or I’d get a good job, or I could sell my house, or…something, anything would save me. My Litany of Optimism remained a unrequited effort. I had two accounts to draw from, a regular portfolio and a rollover IRA. It hurt, but I stepped up my business to full speed, decreased my already frugal lifestyle, and nibbled away at my conventional stocks. That lasted a while, but that while was shortened by that perfect storm blowing away the three most promising pillars of my diversified portfolio.

Then came the day when I had to start selling stocks in my IRA, and withdrawing those finds. Investments that had been in a tax-deferred account were sold, hit with income tax, and hit with an early withdrawal fee. Money that I saved for later in my retirement was doubly decreased by policies that discouraged withdrawals. Those policies proved that an IRA is not the same as a rainy day fund, unless I was old enough. The extra insult was that, had those same stocks been in a conventional account, instead of being taxed as income, I could’ve balanced losses and gains to decrease my annual income taxes. What remains is less than a year’s living expenses instead of potentially several or at least a few years of funding a frugal lifestyle.

I say potentially because the proper analysis would take too much time and effort, and be too emotionally painful, with the only outcome being the ability to report an exact figure in this blog. It wouldn’t recreate the money. It wouldn’t give me the opportunity to rewind and restart knowing what I know now. Do we ever get that chance? Some lessons we learn and share for the benefit of others because it is too late for our older selves.

IRAs, rollover IRAs, 401Ks, Roths, like so many ideas they were developed with good intentions, intentions that are probably better met than not. People work hard at developing these investment packages; but none of them are panaceas. Life is too uncertain to fit nicely into something that works for everyone. Each represents doing something rather than nothing. Too many people do nothing, spending more than they make without investing any of it. The book that’s the basis of this blog is Dream. Invest. Live. because in today’s society it is usually necessary to bridge the gap between dreaming a dream and living a dream with something like investing.

If My Triple Whammy hadn’t happened, my projections were that I wouldn’t need to withdraw from my IRA until required to do so at 70.5 years old. Waiting that long would’ve allowed for 32 years of compounded interest, a very nice resource for late in life.

If. If. If. Every plan is based on Ifs. Every plan is based on assumptions, both explicit and implicit. Guess how long you’ll live, short or long. Will you have any extraordinary luck, good or bad? Will the politicians change the policies between now and when you need or want the money? Counting on Social Security runs into similar issues. Even if its finances are stable, will a later administration or congress change the rules of the game?

I am altering the deal. Pray I don’t alter it any further.” – Darth Vader, The Empire Strikes Back

As I get older, I notice that my intuition has been right more often than I thought. Maybe that’s selective amnesia, but I recall the distinct moment when I was considering the possibilities. I was 38 years old, visiting home, and sitting in our family’s basement TV room. My Dad was somewhat proud that I’d retired so young. My Mom thought it meant something was drastically wrong. I’d deposited the retirement savings that had been managed by Boeing. Setting up the accounts with Schwab (which was a much younger and innovative company then) I had the choice of putting it all into one account, or separating it into a conventional account and a rollover IRA. (The Boeing funds were separated in a way too complicated to deal with here.) The thought came to mind that a regular, conventional account was the way to go, but the big “should” echoed from conventional wisdom. I listened to the collective should and not to my intuition.

My apologies to my intuition, which this week has been sticking its tongue out at me and saying “I told you so.”

My Semi-Annual Portfolio Exercise is largely a review of what remains. Almost all of it is in my IRA. As my business improves, I’m already planning on generating enough surplus that I can begin investing again. That’s something I look forward to because I still have dreams, look forward to a better life, and realize my money can make money for me, possibly faster that my business can.

And, I buy lottery tickets because the lesson I learned about extraordinary bad luck is that I could also have extraordinary good luck. Stay tuned. And, caveat emptor.

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Perspective Shift – July 2018

My perspective is shifting, and returning to an almost-forgotten feeling. This is a good, precious, and to some people, unbelievable moment. I’m welcoming it, but I’m also making sure I remember both sides, the before and the after. The difference is distinctive enough that I’m not surprised that entire populations can’t understand the “thems” that are not their “us.”

My life is easing, a bit. Business is busy. Real estate is encouraging, and even profitable thanks to some generous fellow brokers who shared their listings and contacts. Unsolicited requests to help local business and organizations have been good for my consulting and writing businesses. Things are stacking up enough that, rather than grabbing every opportunity, as I have for the last several years, I’m in the situation where I am practicing saying no, at least sometimes.

The world is full of great advice. Frequently, each group seems to be telling another group how they should run their lives. “Tolerance and diversity? Sure, as long as you do things my way.” My circle of friends and family is full of great advice. That’s not a facetious comment. I’m truly impressed with the experience, wisdom, and insights among the people I know. But, every bit of advice is based on a series of assumptions. The explicit ones are easy to discuss. The implicit ones hide behind the defenses of paradigms, denials, accidental ignorance, and inapplicable perspective.

Recently, I’ve been reading Mark Twain’s Following the Equator. For a man thought of as a humorist, he’s excellent at exposing bias and culture clashes. Oh, to have his skills. He points at inequalities, intransigencies, and ignorance while hinting at why and how one culture’s solution is nonsense in another situation.

When I was rich, or at least a temporary millionaire, I cared about the poor, the homeless, the hungry, those subjected to injustice. I did what I thought was appropriate, volunteered, and donated to various people and organizations. I continue to be amazed that treating people as if they are people is considered radical. Too many people are stripped of the title “person” and given some other label based on generalizations. But, generalizations are what define government programs and non-profit efforts.

As my money evaporated (My Triple Whammy), the issues of those in need went from academic to personal. The great advice and conventional wisdom that I was aware of became too abstract, inapplicable, and in some ways insensitive. You should eat right – but that can be expensive. You should look for different work – but stopping one job to find another means possibly losing a house and health. Beside, working hard is not a guarantee of financial success. You should exercise – but that takes time. You should meditate – but that takes time. You should, you should, you should… I began reciting an unspoken reply: “As Long As You Can Pay Your Bills,” ALAYCPYB. If you can’t pay your bills, your life changes. Advice sounds silly when the fundamentals of life are threatened and there’s no extra time or money. Survival rules.

The persistent, adventurous, and the curious can browse through the last several years of posts (not a small task) and read the chronicle of anxiety attacks, health issues, and enforced frugality that are common for people who can’t pay their bills. To those who say, “But, they should…”, I encourage them to look at the data. Suicide rates are up. The advice may be free, but evidently, something isn’t working. Consider the possibility that things have changed in America.

And yet, my perspective is shifting.

Money shouldn’t matter, and yet it does. My financial situation and business prospects have improved to the point that I can pay all of my bills as they come in. I’m close to paying off my credit card debt. The only bills I haven’t paid off were accidents of filing. I finally started spending money on things that were delayed for too long: bundle of socks, new underwear, new t-shirts. I even bought some of those plastic trays that sit under plant pots, rather than repurposing aluminum pie plates. Terracotta comes later. A splurge may happen. I know I have a big bill approached with a shift in propane, but I may buy myself an entire cord of wood. (And will probably split it with my neighbors, but it feels like a luxury, anyway.)

People tell me I look more relaxed. I know I feel more relaxed. I feel relaxed enough to now notice how tight my muscles have been in my head, neck, jaw, and chest. It is easier to drive because there’s probably enough to pay for most maintenance issues. Gas prices still bite, and must be paid to support my real estate work, but I don’t wince as much at the pump.

My perspective has changed. Instead of worrying about optimizing every minute of the day, spending as little as possible, and wondering what if anything might come next; now I find myself enjoying today and thinking about tomorrow more. Thinking, instead of worrying. Real optimism sprouting from my defense against pessimism and depression: My Litany of Optimism. I feel better.

I feel better, but I’m also as busy as ever. Ideally, I can take one day off each week, but real estate doesn’t work that way. Work continues to take from 8AM until 8PM with time for food, but there’s less freneticism involved.

As finances improve, even in the busy days, it is easier to include more of the shoulds.

Conventional wisdom claims that small businesses are more likely to fail if they are under-capitalized. That’s true. It takes money to make money. The poor don’t have enough money. The poor are under-capitalized, and yet many expect them to escape poverty without access to capital – and then they are judged as lacking intelligence, ambition, or skill. Now, I see them as trapped.

I haven’t exactly escaped, but I am making progress. I am making progress because someone capitalized me. Which sounds like ME, but in real terms, they provided the capital to help me progress. Call it capitalization and there may be straight lines in jokes, but call it charity and it becomes derogatory in some groups.

I don’t want to lose that perspective. Today, I can see both views, and can remember the more removed perspective that’s delivered with wealth. It is difficult to see the one extreme from the other extreme. Rather than generalize within a group, I’m more likely to generalize across the general population. People want a better life for themselves, their family, and frequently for their community. Everyone is fighting at least one major battle, regardless of wealth. Regardless of net worth, it is easy to imagine losing everything. I lost 98% and have met people who’ve lost more than 100%. Disasters and accidents happen. So does good luck.

My plan continues to be to write a sequel to Dream. Invest. Live.,Dream Invest Live cover though the title will be different. I’ve been riding a roller coaster through America’s classes, traveling from working class to middle class to millionaire to muddling by to…? Too often, advice comes from one perspective, and the advisor is surprised that it isn’t followed by all, or that a failure of it is the advisee’s fault. As writers know, the book may never be written. No one may care about what I’ve learned and have to share. But, I know that I’m glad to see and feel the shift, appreciate the various points of view, and continue to wonder how this will all turn out for me, the country, our society, and our species. Which advice will survive and help? It depends on your perspective.

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Maxwelton Fourth Of July Parade 2018

That title is longer than necessary, at least for anyone familiar with Maxwelton on Whidbey Island. There’s only one major parade, it’s on the fourth of July, has been held for over a hundred years, and merely has to be described as “The Parade” for any of the neighbors to know what you mean. For one day every year, the neighborhood gives up its one street and park to welcome in enough people to fill several small towns. And then, it’s gone, leaving enough snacks to keep the gulls, crows, squirrels, and chipmunks busy and wired for weeks.

The Smithsonian is collecting small town America stories, so maybe Maxwelton doesn’t qualify. Maxwelton was one of the largest towns on the island about a hundred years ago. There was even a regular Chautauqua hosted in a 3,000 seat amphitheater; but the switch from sailboats and steamships that landed on the shore, to cars on ferries at deepwater docks drew attention to other parts of the island. Today, Maxwelton is an interesting slice of American lifestyles: marvelous beachfront homes with gorgeous views on one side of the two-lane road, with farms and funkier homes on the inland side. Thanks to the county park, visitors can still access the beach, enjoy the playground, and maybe even play some baseball. It’s a mix.

The public park is the focus of the parade. There’s where the temporary plywood bandstand sits, just beside the backstop for the ball field. The parade is as ephemeral as the bandstand, pulled together just in time, and swept away to let the neighborhood get back to the business of living and relaxing by the water.

A team of volunteers organizes the event throughout the year, but it is the day of the parade that is obviously organic, casual, energetic, and fun.

Want to be in the parade? Show up. That’s about it. Show up about an hour or two before it starts. Hang out in the appropriate lot (which may have been cropped and mowed by livestock, but more likely by a John Deere). Tell the organizers why you’re there. Get a number. Get in line. Get ready to march, and stop, and march, and stop, and eventually probably get a round of applause as you pass the grandstand. Don’t be surprised if they don’t get your name right. They don’t know who will be there until everyone lines up.

If that sounds too simple, you’re right and wrong.

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Obviously, someone is going to spend as much time creating their display as the organizers do raising money, arranging for the permits, and getting a basic idea of how the day will flow. Oh yeah. Someone must be out there getting the outhouses ready. Some of the displays are phenomenal. Super-tall puppets, gardens on bicycles, tiny artistic sheds on wheels, and the inevitable politicians on floats or in convertibles or in antique cars. (I felt like an antique because I’m now older than some of the cars. Ouch.) One display was a mini-parade of paintings of winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. 36657925_10216510082763757_1441357205965111296_n - Edited

Those displays make the best photographs, and get the greatest oohs, and ahs; but it is the spontaneous displays I enjoy the most.

Got a family reunion? Get everyone in line, and have fun with it. One family cut six holes in a table cloth, draped that over the heads of a half dozen of them, and marched as a picnic table. Another group had everyone wear oven mitts shaped like crab claws. One year, a group of us bicyclists wore capes quickly made just in time for us to ride (very slowly) and chant “Occupy Your Bike!”. The cutest were, as always, the kids, pets, and kids with pets dressed in red, white, and blue with sparkles and glitter.

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As the parade marches by, many in the parade throw candy to or at the folks on the side of the road. Thanks for the thought. Ouch! An appreciated counterpoint was the local school’s garden that passed out fresh peas (or was it beans?).

As stately as a parade can seem, Maxwelton’s is far more relaxed and playful. The people in the street parade know the people beside the street, so there’s lots of authentic waving, hand-shaking, and hugging. Exuberant kids dash out to grab the candy, say hello to friends, and sometimes try to join in while parents pull them back out of the traffic.

The parade starts with a proper honor guard and ends with the inevitable fire truck with lights blazing. After the last vehicle has driven by, they all park in the park, the national anthem is played, and then the games begin.

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Within a few hours, the neighborhood will retreat to the seasonally busy level, which seems quiet in comparison. Within a few weeks, the neighborhood will return to its much quieter and less crowded year-round population. The livestock can go back to feeding undisturbed by noise. The scattered remains of candy and fireworks will be swept into the trash, or swept out to the sea by the tides.

Describing the details of every entrant and display would be worthy of a book, but in sad commentary on modern society, there are too many cautions about publicly mentioning the specifics of children doing innocent things, too many controversies if a political opinion feels it wasn’t given equal coverage, and too many opportunities to violate people’s privacy thanks to facial recognition.

Yet, for a few hours, with the help of caring people, a community can spring up, have fun, and carry away memories – whether they happened in a small town, or not.

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Semi Annual Exercise Mid 2018

Silly habits that we get ourselves into. They can be so hard to give up. Decades ago (was it really that long?), I started following Peter Lynch’s example by regularly seeing if I could describe each of my investments simply. The idea was that, if an investor can’t explain what and why they hold an investment, they should consider investing in something they understand. I set myself a schedule: every six months, write a synopsis of each company and include a simple assessment of their prospects. I was silly enough to do it on either June 30th or December 31st (I’d have to check my old files to establish the date). Now, my businesses and commitments layer that exercise on top of the end of the month, the end of the quarter, and the end of either the first or second half of the year. This time, it also included the end of the week. Silly, but I’ll continue to do so because the exercise benefits my financial fitness, even when it is somewhat painful.

Through all the ups and downs of the first half of 2018, the total portfolio value hasn’t changed much. That’s a sad accomplishment considering the record setting stock markets. But, that’s partly the plan. Missing the gains isn’t part of the plan, but not being tied to the “markets” is definitely part of the plan.

The markets are defined by the indicies, like the Dow, the S&P, and the NASDAQ. They are dominated by the mega-corporations, which are dominated by the major financiers and institutions. I don’t expect to compete against them as they shuffle between MSFT, CSCO, SBUX, and whatever at nanosecond speeds. I invest in small companies that have the potential to become big companies, diversify because some won’t make it, and sell the successes when they are in high demand and short supply as reflected in a high share price. Allow me to introduce you to three where that worked: MSFT, CSCO, and SBUX as well as several others.

The strategy worked so well, and I described it well enough, that several of my friends encouraged me to write a book about it; Dream. Invest. Live., which I did.

That strategy worked for decades until, as a few financial professionals have described it, I was hit by a perfect storm of bad luck; what I call My Triple Whammy.

Since then, my portfolio has languished with no indication of whether the lack of performance is from a fundamental change in the investment world, my perspective, or simply bad luck following good luck. Being the optimist, I look forward to the return of good luck. Being the realist, I realize something systemic like computerized trading, or mega-corporations hoarding profits in tax havens could have changed the way things work to the detriment of small businesses. Luck may also be playing a role.

My portfolio hasn’t recovered, yet I remain optimistic, though not as optimistic as previously. Small companies with small revenues frequently survive by diluting their stock. A decade or two ago, my holdings were sufficient for me to step up to a significant level. If I owned 0.1% of a company, one-thousandth of the company, and the company became worth a billion dollars, my holding would be worth a million dollars. Score! Retire. Dilution has erased that potential in all of my long term holdings. As of last year, my MVIS shares were worth 1/40th of their original ownership value. The same is true in other companies. The market cap potential persists, and may even be greater, but the number of shares is so much higher that the benefit to the individual shareholder is much lower.

I may not be as likely to retire on one phenomenal success, but if a few succeed, I can at least rest more easily and take more days off. There are mountains to climb!

(The following are synopses of the synopses. The longer synopses, a funny writing concept, are reached by links below.)

AMSC, which was called American Superconductor, hoped to do for electricity what fiber optics did for information. Their superconducting cables are finally available, but the sales haven’t arrived. The potential persists, but I can’t tell if the issue is the adoption of innovations in a conservative industry, or a management team that lacks the proper sales skills.

Asterias (AST) and Geron (GERN) have similar biotech stories. They’re both in mid-phase clinical trials, far enough along to be encouraging, but far from traditional FDA approval, and hence profits. They also both have that same issue of trying to spread the news without violating SEC and FDA rules, resulting in indecipherable press releases.

MicroVision (MVIS) has a technology that has the possibility of disrupting the technology industry the way smartphones did to laptops, which disrupted desktops, which disrupted mainframes. As I wrote in its synopsis, “The current projection is that profitability is possible in 2019, but for years the recurring theme has been that “really good news” will arrive in about six to nine months.” And, then there’s the continual dilution and a management team that has lost its credibility, at least for me.

Neophotonics (NPTN) sits in the critical industry that enables high, and higher speed internet speeds, something in high demand. I haven’t figured out how they can manage to languish as poorly as my portfolio, but maybe that’s a temporary situation for both.

The first half of 2018 has been weird enough that I don’t expect to correctly predict my portfolio’s performance in the second half of 2018. The markets don’t like turmoil, but they might like a more efficient energy infrastructure, treatments for cancers and damaged nerves, dramatically improved electronics, and appreciation for higher internet speeds. I can hope, which isn’t a strategy, but it is what I have to work with.

Here are the links to the discussion boards I use. Feel free to comment here or there, and to pass along links to others. The bigger the discussion, the better the chance of valuable insights (as long as the trolls and flamers are moderated appropriately.)

Investor Village

AMSC

AST

GERN

MVIS

NPTN

The Motley Fool

AMSC

GERN

MVIS

NPTN

Silicon Investor

AMSC

GERN

MVIS

Reddit

MVIS

 

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Karate Again And Still

Ouch. I hurt myself. No one is better at knowing my weak spots than me. I did something silly and serious. I knelt down to meditate. Creak. Groan. Grr. Since 1984, I’ve been training in the martial arts. Since I moved to the island, and especially since My Triple Whammy, I’ve missed working out in one of my style’s dojos. A few weeks ago, a local, internationally known sensei agreed to let me rent time in his dojo so I could train somewhere besides my living room or carport. Step one. Kneel down to meditate. And listen to old joints complain. It’s good to be back for many obvious and un-obvious reasons.

Remember the original Karate Kid movie? My style, Shobayashi Shorinryu Karatedo, is very much like the old guy’s style (Mr. Miyagi.) Karate is about not fighting. Karate is about defense. The biggest fight is with the self, not the other.

Most folks react as if karate is all about punching, kicking, and shouting – like the villain in that movie. One of the lessons I’ve learned is that whoever attacks exposes their vulnerabilities, and not just physically. That’s an interesting lesson to reflect on during today’s politics.

The main benefits are less obvious. They influence my approach to personal finance, entrepreneurship, and how to deal with people.

Do not move unless it is to your advantage. Also, do not block the punch that will miss. It is too easy to react when there’s nothing to react to, to start defending when someone is merely posturing. Address real threats (of which there are enough to keep my PretendingNotToPanic.com blog busy), but pause and notice how many times people read between the lines when there are no lines, when nothing was said. Moving for the sake of moving can feel like getting something done, but it is wasted energy that may be needed later. Of course, when there is a threat, act. For me, for a while, that meant working seven days a week. Now, I’ve been able to keep my house, have built some equity in it, and can start taking days off.

Tight no-tight, and breathe. People see Bruce Lee’s phenomenal physique and think martial artists are iron-solid sculptures in muscle and bone. He wasn’t tight all the time. To be tight all the time is another waste of energy. Tight is also slow. To conserve energy, be relaxed and fluid; then, to act, tighten everything at once or in such rapid succession that a punch isn’t a fist, but coming from an entire body. I kept that in mind during that seven-day-a-week work schedule because I knew I couldn’t do it forever, and that the longer I did it, the more counter-productive I’d be. Throughout, find time to breathe. Without breath, energy gets depleted. Breathe, and be able to continue.

The biggest fight is with the self, so don’t fight it, befriend it. In business, there’s an exercise that’s meant to get to the core of a situation. Keep asking “why?”. Be like an annoying little kid and keep asking yourself “Why?”. Why are we acting and feeling this way? Why are we in this situation? Why do we care? Why? Why? Why? I even ask myself that when I write a post. Know yourself and know half the battle. Karate takes that further by asking about the other half of the battle, when there is one. If there’s an opponent, why do they feel and act that way, why are they in this situation, why do they care, why, why, why. Understand them, know both sides of the battle, and find there may not be a battle. Hard to do, but karate is not known for being easy.

I’ve been training for decades, and know that I’ve only begun. My drastic retreat as I defended my essentials for life meant my training has suffered. So, it’s no surprise that I have a bit of self-imposed suffering to do.

At least in my style, a typical class starts and ends with meditation. Kneel, or sit in lotus, or at least sit, and breathe. Just breathe. Work and chores and everything else is outside the body. Just concentrate on breathing.

But, about those creaky joints. Oriental and Asian martial arts history is mostly folklore because many of the documents and institutions were destroyed in various wars and societal calamities. One story leads back to the early Shaolin temples that predate karate. Supposedly, in China, a master of mediation and defense came across a temple that housed threatened monks. The monks regularly were assaulted and robbed. They prayed, but they didn’t meditate, it was that long ago. The visitor realized they should learn how to meditate first, to calm themselves. Unfortunately, the monks were so out of shape that they couldn’t sit or kneel for long enough for proper meditation. So, the visitor decided to train them for self-defense in the meantime, with the side benefit that they’d be able to meditate better. And so began at least one martial arts tradition.

I sympathize with those folkloric monks. Even though I’ve been maintaining my practice through the various formal exercises, I’ve neglected the basics of stretching and strength training. Those basics have less to do with fighting techniques and more to do with being able to sit in meditation for very long (something I have also lacked the time to do.) One of the ironies of martial arts, at least for me, is that the speed and strength of youth are gone, but my understanding of the techniques means my young self and body would have a tough time sparring with my old self and body.

Trust intuition, because in a fight the subconscious can be a great ally.

The less baggage or weight or whatever we carry around, the easier it is to be flexible and mobile.

The person who wants to fight might just beat themself up if you give them enough time; and don’t be that person, and be prepared, just in case.

There are too many opportunities to fight at every level from the global to the societal, to the national, to neighborhood, to the internal and philosophical. Lately, I’ve focused on the personal, particularly the personal financial because food, health, and housing are basic needs for survival. It is nice to have reasons for optimism that I can loosen up from that battle, to breathe, and to move to advance.

Now, if only I could kneel without having to pop a pill.

NSKA logo

Acknowledgments

I thank Kyoshi Warren Berto of Shorin Ryu Seibukan Karatedo for the use of his dojo. In typical Whidbey fashion, an international master in a style similar to mine just happens to have a dojo within walking distance of my real estate office

I thank my sensei, Kyoshi Jerry Gould (retired), of Shobayasi Shorinryu Karatedo for teaching me for decades. In typical Pacific Northwest style, I walked into his dojo without knowing until several years later that he was the chief instructor in North America for our style. 

 

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Appreciating Fresh Water

Flush. Oh, how I look forward to that sound in my house, again. My neighborhood is on Day 5 of “Mandatory Water Conservation”. Our neighborhood of a few hundred homes gets its water from a local well. Over the holiday weekend (I don’t know exactly when), the pump broke. Since then, we’ve been waiting for the water to come back on. Since then, we’ve been involuntarily practicing the emergency preparedness we’re told to have in place, and getting a small but intimate lesson in what life was like for people affected by Katrina, for Puerto Rico for the last year, and for millions around the planet forever.

We’re lucky. The power goes out on the island often enough that people joke about it, bands sing songs about it, and plenty of people have generators or at least a proper attitude – as well as a good supply of wine, books, and lanterns. But, that’s only losing one main utility at a time (except for those who need power for their pumps.) Losing power starts as an interruption, rises to an inconvenience, and can reach worrisome levels; especially, if the power is out when it’s cold outside. Freezing nights without power can be bad, but there are simple fixes like letting the water run to keep the pipes from freezing, not opening the fridge or freezer unless necessary, and then bundling up while hunkering down.

Losing water happens less frequently. It’s hard enough for some to get motivated enough to gather earthquake kits, go-bags, and food caches; and that’s for emergencies that are either frequent or so well-documented that everyone gets a chance to hear about and prepare for them. Electricity is fundamental to our society and civilization. Water is fundamental to life. We got by without electricity until a bit over a century ago. We came from water, are bags of water, and can’t survive more than a few days without water. And yet, notice how few households have backup water when news media is covering disasters. Entire populations can turn from residents to refugees within days because of wars or damaged dams.

Our situation is far simpler, and yet, also an insight into how complicated something as simple as well water can be.

If you want the full description, visit the neighborhood’s web site.

Here’s another description. We live on an island, so our water has to come from here, not from some massive mountain reservoir. We don’t have a sewage system, so every house uses septic systems that are close to the surface. It’s a bad idea to get water from the vicinity of where toilets get flushed, so there’s separation between the two. Our water comes from a aquifer filled with rainwater, an aquifer that is over 300 feet down. That puts the bottom of the well below sea level. The pump lives in the well, and the well lives at the bottom of the hill. One way to simplify a water system is to put the water at the top of a hill or by using a tower; hence the iconic water towers in middle America that announce every town that sits beneath them. Getting enough water for a few hundred homes, to rise up a few hundred feet of well, then climb the hill, then fill two 50 foot tall tanks requires a big, expensive pump sunk into a very deep hole.

Fully filled, those two tanks seem like they could keep the neighborhood watered for days, especially if people aren’t watering and washing. Unfortunately, the tanks were drawing down rapidly during a heat wave over a holiday weekend.

inside air temp with windows closed, shades and curtains drawn, and awning deployed

Some time in there, the pump failed. When the emergency was announced, the necessary response was drastic. I don’t know about my neighbors, but I haven’t flushed for days thanks to friends in other neighborhoods. It also helps to work from the office rather than from home.

As I type, the pump repairs were scheduled to be completed. I’m definitely staying tuned to the news.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I live frugally. I have an earthquake kit, two rain barrels, a backpacker’s sensibilities, and a real estate business that’s busy enough to keep calling me back to the office. I’m lucky enough that I felt I have to hide the fact that I can water my garden (with some very icky and organic rain barrel water that is somewhat alive.) Honest, folks. I’ve only accidentally used the faucet once or twice out of habit, and quickly turned them off.

They didn’t know, or at least didn’t tell us, the prognosis the first day; but I remember the last time the pump failed (which also makes me wonder about warranties and alternative water sources.) I already had a few gallons of drinkable water stashed in cupboards. After work that day, I bought a couple more gallons. I also bought a big bag of ice cubes. No need to feel guilty about having a cocktail if the ice came from somewhere else. By luck, I’d also just refilled all of my hiking, bicycling, and commuter water bottles. Serendipity happens.

Events like this are reasons to be upset, but they are also lessons about what we take for granted. When I lose power, or electricity, or water, or the ability to flush, I better appreciate them when they return. That’s one of the side benefits of backpacking: come back home and marvel at clean water flowing on demand, and not having to dig a pit to poop into.

Cheers to the neighbors who delivered free gallons of water to each household. Special cheers to the neighborhing neighborhood that let us tap into some of their supply – though that seems to be consumed as quickly as it’s delivered because the tanks aren’t filling.

One neighbor’s comment about the free water pointed out how much better off we are than the people in Flint who, even though they get water, they take risks by drinking it. If all goes well (hard to avoid that pun), we’ll be able to get by with a few gallons of water from bottles before being able to have so much fresh, clean water that we can use it to flush slightly less clean water.

Pardon me as I check email, and the neighborhood’s web site and Facebook page for a status update.

As of 20:47 June 21, 2018 there’s no news since 23:31 June 20, 2018. I can tell from the power company’s map that the power has been restored, but no news. As I close this post, I don’t know if I have to continue my nomadic life and work schedule for another day or more. It is a very good thing that I have generous friends who aren’t picky about protocols when reality arrives.

I get my answer soon enough. Puerto Ricans continue to wait. Syrians are no longer Syrians, or aren’t as tied to a national identity as they are to a basic human need. Look back up a few paragraphs. I’m one of the lucky ones.

PS
1) Life hack to lighten the mood: Beer from a bottle doesn’t use up any of the water, doesn’t have to be washed, and the end product can be disposed of by watering a patch of lawn, discreetly.
2) A bit of more expansive optimism, American fresh water consumption is down even as the population rises. It’s down to “only” 82 gallons per person per day. A number which continues to startle me; but at least is heading in the right direction.

PPS – YAY!
“As of 7pm this evening, power has been restored to the Sandy Hook Community. The well is now pumping and our tanks are being refilled. However, we do ask you to conserve water until 5pm on Friday, June 22nd, providing the tanks some time to replenish.
The pool will reopen tomorrow (Friday, June 22nd) at 12pm.”

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Donald Leroy Trimbath Senior

In honor of Father’s Day, my memorial for my father. I thought of him today as I spent my day off volunteering for Whidbey Camano Land Trust by clearing invasive weeds on their property where I’m a Site Steward. The last thing I remember him saying to me was; “Do good work.” I do what I can. – Tom Trimbath, son of Donald Leroy Trimbath, Sr.

Trimbathcreative's Blog (Tom Trimbath)

Photo: Glasgow, Scotland, April 1945, about the time a young sailor was introduced to Guinness Photo: Glasgow, Scotland, April 1945, about the time a young sailor was introduced to Guinness

There were whitecaps on the bay today. They were nothing like the waters of the North Atlantic, or typhoon in the Pacific that my Dad survived aboard ship as a Merchant Marine in World War II. He died, Saturday, September 19, 2015 after a long life of hard work mixed with enough play. He helped raise three sons, including me, and will remain an example of a frugal life and an internal honesty.

He lived a version of the American dream. Born in coal mining country in southwestern Pennsylvania, got out as soon as possible by joining the Merchant Marines because he was too young for the other services, survived (except for a broken nose from a softball game in Marseilles), came home, became a trucker to avoid being a miner (which was wise considering…

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Fighting Depression

At various times, I’ve been cautioned not to write about this, but a string of news stories, fresh data, and conversations with friends came together for this post. It is not easy to write. Challenging taboos isn’t easy. Exposing vulnerabilities threatens facades. I may not do the subject justice, but I decided to join others in trying to talk about depression, depression that I’m hearing about in society and amongst friends and occasionally inside my own head. As one writer friend tweeted;

Even as I write this and paste that, I know I’ll already turn away from two inspirations for this post.

One : Yet another celebrity who seemed to have everything committed suicide.
Two : In the US, 25 states have seen a 30% increase in suicides in the last twenty years.

Depression has been tied to too many of these stories. In particular for this personal finance blog, many of the less public suicides have been tied to personal finance. The Great Recession wasn’t just an economic blip. It hurt. It didn’t just hurt bank accounts and retirement plans. It hurt people. I experienced the emotional assault unleashed by collection agencies. Their attacks left me physically shaking for days. They practice it. They’re good at it. I’m still surprised that I didn’t have a heart attack from people who so expertly knew how to reveal unsettling publicly available information, identify my emotional hot buttons, and hit those buttons with rapid-fire hammer strikes. I’m not surprised that many people decided that the only way out was – well – I guess I will mention suicide after all. One of the things that saved me was the organization that saved my house. Few find them or others like them (Parkview Services), unfortunately. I’m glad I did. (Details: My Mortgage Modification Chronology)

I live on a tourist island where there’s obvious income and wealth inequality. There’s a facade of “welcome to the cheery and pretty place.” And it is a cheery and pretty place. That’s part of why I am here. That facade, however, is propped up by what I call the Pageant of the Pleasant Peasantry. Hotels, restaurants, and shops cater to a clientele that appreciates the natural beauty, art, and culture of the island. The service is high-end, polite, and good at finding a balanced casual quality. Come here to relax and enjoy. It works. I didn’t truly begin learning to relax until I relocated here. Enjoy the service, but it wasn’t until I lost ~98% of my net worth, almost lost my house, and had to work about a half a dozen jobs, seven days a week, for up to twelve hours a day before I began to see behind the facade. The pageant is that polished and powerful.

Too many of the hotel staff, waiters, and baristas live in the woods or in cars. Drive through some of the parking lots farther from the center of the various attractions and see cars that the owners can’t afford to properly fix. Head to the middle of the island, back from the water and the views, and find households that are trying anything and everything to get by.

It isn’t just the people in the public view. On a recent rainy day, I gave a ride to a hitchhiker who was happy to finally get $1,000. He’s a carpenter who will finally be able to buy a cheap car so he no longer has to limit himself to the job sites within walking distance. Browse craigslist, or even better, drewslist, and see proud people selling essentials so they can buy things that are even more essential.

Many people who are smiling are slapping on their version of that facade. Recently, one friend interviewed me as a case study for a class on leadership. Honored to be included. One of his questions was, “How often are you happy?” My answer, about 10% of the time. He was surprised. He expected something more like 80%. I’m not surprised. We frequently base our impression of people from what we experience. I like people. When I’m with people, I smile. When I dance, I smile. But, that’s only part of my life. He also was caught by a data quirk. Ask a geek a question with a number in it and you may get too specific of an answer. About 33% of the time I’m trying to sleep, which I’m quite terrible at. Most of my time is spent working. I enjoy doing good things and getting things done, but the Gig Economy is too chaotic to encourage the flow that I’ve experienced when working with only words, only data, or only playing with ideas. The logistics of switching between the various roles gets in the way. It’s easy to get down to only 10%.

Some readers have cautioned me to not mention such things because it is too real, too much information for clients who want to work with the illusion behind Confidence and the Strong Declarative Statement. I understand that. Go look to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue or Mar a Lago for proof that reality isn’t as important as a strong and confident facade. Facts and logic aren’t in style, at least for a while.

We’re seeing the price of listening to those cautions.

I have another blog for “people who are eager and anxious about the future”, PretendingNotToPanic.com. The name gets more of a response than the posts. Pretending Not To Panic resonates. I say it, and people smile or laugh or nod their head or some mix of those reactions. They’ll talk about it privately, one-to-one; but won’t publicly admit that they’re pretending not to panic. It cracks the facade, which may mean smaller tips, fewer patrons, more rejections, a shorter list of clients. That’s the fear.

It isn’t just poor people. Anthony Bourdain wasn’t poor. Neither was Robin Williams. Both worked in an industry that paid them very well and provided creative outlets. Yet, behind the facades we placed on them, there were severe troubles.

Depression doesn’t have to reach suicidal levels before it should be addressed. Some countries measure their happiness index. That may sound silly in modern American culture, but wouldn’t it be better to working to that ideal rather than one of “if you struggle hard enough you’ll be allowed to survive?”

Depression isn’t something simple, and certainly not something that can adequately be collected into one blog post. There are many causes. I’m continuing to learn more about mine. I self-diagnose as depressive, because I know good news doesn’t lift me as easily as it did, and because my experience with avoiding foreclosure trained me to flinch at mortgage company emails and any hint of late bills. I also am feeling better. During that phase I flinched at phone calls. At least I don’t do that anymore. Thanks to some amazing support, my situation is improving. Appreciative consulting clients, shared real estate sales, and a financial “buffer” are getting me through some tough times. I’m smiling more. Bodily aches and pains are diminishing. I even had a party the other night and was pleasantly surprised by the joy I felt seeing friends for the fun of it. It’s been a long time.

There are shelves of books about the topic, each with a perspective that matches someone’s needs. Another will be added soon by one of my clients who is working from a pseudonym because they’ve been through a long and successful recovery, have insights, research, and a perspective to share – and yet need to use a pen name because their professional career must be protected by a strong and confident facade. Look for their longer story, soon.

In 2004-2005 I went to counseling for stress-related issues. My counselor pointed out that I had a very thin support network, even though I had a lot of friends. I asked him the blunt question, “Am I crazy?” No. I delved a bit and we got into a conversation about modern psychology and sociology. As dysfunctional as the society was fifty years ago, and before, society and communities and friends were more internally supportive. Pardon the stereotypes, but this was part of his perspective. Fifty years ago, a man would come home from work, then hit the bar. At the bar, he might complain about work, his wife, his life, his kids; but he also may want to share good news with other men who had jobs, wives, and kids. Fifty years ago, a housewife, after taking care of the kids and the house, could get together with other wives and some wine, and similarly complain and celebrate with people who understood her situation. People had emotional outlets. As a society, we’ve worked hard at breaking down gender roles and barriers, reducing drunk driving, and emphasizing openness and diversity – but he pointed out that we also lost those support networks. Our society is in the process of redefining them through “tribes” and bizarre things like social media; but until we replace that network, one of his main jobs is to listen, as much as a barkeep or hairdresser or simply a friend, as a psychologist.

One of the most powerful things he said to me was; “You look like you are in so much pain.” My muscles relaxed so much at hearing those words that my sternum actually cracked. A very freaky moment. A freaky realization that no one else had said those few simple words. My issue at the time wasn’t depression, but stress; but he proved to me the power of listening. Others showed me the same power amplified by holding a hand, or providing a hug. Advice can have the opposite effect. Advice can come across as “Here’s what you are doing wrong”, “It’s all your fault”, “How can you be so stupid as to do…?” A defense must be raised and responded to before getting to the true listening. Try listening first. “I’m sorry to hear you’re in such a situation”, “How does that feel”, “I can’t imagine.” It is also one reason I am training myself to greet people with “It’s good to see you.” Ironically, asking someone “Hey, how are you doing?” in a public place can startle and scare. The same question in private, asked sincerely, however, maybe the best medicine.

I don’t feel that I’ve lived up to Richard’s challenge, “go deep into raw pain, to unleash the fury, the blood”, especially not in a first draft, which is basically what I post. But my eloquence or lack doesn’t matter as much as hopefully helping others know that they are not alone, and hopefully helping others consider other ways to help. We’re all in this together.

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Corporations Meet Owners MVIS 2018

Photo on 2016-06-01 at 16.08

Another year, another stockholders meeting. Another exercise in that dissonance between being able to own a piece of a corporation in America, while being treated as an inconvenience, and dismissed – unless a question is innocuous and positive. One key to wealth generation with the US has been investing in publicly traded corporations. That continues to be possible, but as wealth inequality grows, as companies hide their finances, and as “they who has the gold makes the rules”, it becomes harder to see that the same benefits apply. I just attended the Annual Stockholders’ Meeting for MicroVision (MVIS) and continue to find myself equally fascinated by the possibilities while cautioned by several realities. (I congratulate their graphic designer. This year the poster had proper punctuation, though the presentation did not.)

My book, Dream Invest Live coverDream. Invest. Live. was published so long ago that it is easy to forget that this blog is based on that book. Books are static. Personal finance is dynamic, hence this blog. As I prepare to write the sequel (something this blog is enabling), I wonder if that dynamic has shifted too much.

Paradoxically, even though information flows more freely because of the internet, the Internet Bubble, Enron, and the Great Recession (the Second Great Depression) inspired reforms that throttled information flow. If something is made public, it is readily available around the world. Unfortunately, in an attempt to level the “playing field” (as if this was a game) full disclosure requirements and forward looking statement caveats have provided management tools and excuses/reasons to conceal a company’s plans, operational information, and financial expectations from its owners – seemingly unless those owners are officers or managers. In a very well executed presentation of MicroVision’s prospects there were few quantitative facts, not even of publicly released financial data. If the company had proved the value of such secrecy by becoming profitable, it would be easier to believe the reticence was worthy. Competition sensitivity is real, but that reticence can be hard to distinguish from deciding not to mention mistakes.

Personal finance benefits from a person being interested in their finances. Prudent investing benefits from personal research. As research becomes more difficult for an individual, successful investing becomes more difficult. The simpler, more conservative alternatives continue to exist, e.g. no-load index funds; but the more aggressive alternatives become less attractive. If individual investing is only practical to those who have large net worth, then it becomes less possible for people with low net worth to significantly increase their net worth. Wealth inequality expands.

I’ve experienced the ability to grow a portfolio from a few hundred dollars to a over a million through prudent investing, a diversified portfolio, a modicum of research, and frugal living. Hence, my first retirement at 38 years old. Hence, friends encouraging me to write my book on personal finance for frugal folk. It may be possible to do that again, but I’m not so sure, anymore.

Companies seem to be more reticent, and more likely to use tax havens, and to use cash for financial investments rather than investing in research and development. Within the last two decades, automated trading has expanded from a few programs deciding what to trade, to advantages measured in nano-seconds and an emphasis on prices, hedging, and momentum instead of company fundamentals, strategies, and managerial effectiveness. Historically, shorts could be caught in a short-squeeze, an opportunity for longs to benefit from people who bet a stock would go down but instead went up. I hear echoes of investors looking forward to one, but shorting has become more popular and automated that effectively pessimism becomes more profitable.

I have yet to see the data, and it may not exist, but I wonder how much of the increase in market value is transferring to the majority. If the economic recovery feels uneven, is that one reason?

And yet, I continue to invest in the stock market. As my finances recover, I look forward to following my investing strategy: investing in small companies in disruptive technologies, and selling them after they’ve grown substantially. I continue to think that is possibly profitable for stocks like MVIS, AST, GERN, AMSC, and NPTN. (More about those in my Semi-Annual Portfolio Exercise, with a new one due at the end of this month.) Obfuscation, shorts, and computerized trading “should” not contain significant success. There remains the possibility that years of irrational pessimism about a stock can be followed by years of irrational optimism. I look forward to re-retiring.

I continue my journey from Middle Class to Millionaire to Muddling By, and appreciate you following my progress. There is enough uncertainty in the economy that any of my concerns can be negated by good news for my companies, positive financial reforms, or sadly another Great Recession. Considering history, the most likely future is one we can’t predict. Stay tuned.

For more about the specifics of the 2018 MicroVision stockholders’ meeting, go to Motley Fool, Investor Village, Silicon Investor, Reddit, or some combination. There, you’re likely to find other views and voices. Together we provide more than one perspective, and some do an excellent job at peering behind through the fog of obfuscation.

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Small Towns Rejoice

Small towns rejoice! The data are in. Living in a small town correlates well with happiness. The farther someone is from a city, the happier they tend to be.
Cities rejoice! The data are in. Living in a city makes it easier to make money. The closer someone is to a city center, the easier it is to find a good job at good wages.
Suburbs can rejoice because they have a bit of the best of both, and can mourn because they have a bit of the worst of both.
If you want data, you’re welcome to start with my post on PretendingNotToPanic.com and follow the links. (Which some have done and reached their own conclusions.)
This post is here to skip the data. I gripe about my economic life being tough, but I can pass along an anecdote or two that make me glad I moved to a small town.

Everything is relative.
I live on Whidbey Island, a long island with its southern tip a little less than a 30 mile crow-flight, plane ride, or boat ride from Seattle. That’s close. But, it is also far enough away and un-urban enough that some Seattle-ites couldn’t find it on a map. I know people in Seattle who are proud that they’ve never traveled to the other cities in their county. Whidbey? That’s the wilderness to them.
I live on the south part of Whidbey Island, a place known world-wide for its tourist destination town of Langley, a place that considers itself a city when it comes to naming their building city hall, but brands itself as the Village by the Sea for the tourists.
I live in Clinton, a place that is unincorporated, is a census-designated place, that is best known for the ferry terminal that leads to the mainland. Clinton is known for being a drive-through, a place along the “highway” (really a state route), the connects the southern ferry to the rest of the island. (Check out the Rural Characters having fun with Clinton.)
I may have a Clinton address, but I live so far south on the island that people who’ve lived here for decades don’t drive here on purpose. We aren’t on the way to anything, anything except peace and quiet for most of the year. Summer is a different story. My house is part of a small neighborhood that looks suburban, but it is a bit of suburbia with shoreline, views of the Olympic Mountains, easy access to the Puget Sound and the rest of the world’s oceans (for those intrepid souls), and even a marina. We may be closer to Seattle than the rest of the island, but we’re part of another world.

Scatchet Sunset – from Twelve Months at Cultus Bay

For over 20 years I lived in various urban and suburban parts of Seattle’s metropolis. Each had its virtues. Each made fun of some other part of the area. There were more than enough people, more than enough things to do, enough jobs that meant I frequently had to move, and more than I could see, visit, or do in a lifetime. Seattle is not a dull place. (Flashback irony: One reason Boeing said that hired me was because they had a tough time attracting young people in 1980. The city was seen as too quiet, too dull, and too wet. So much for that image.)

It was only after I moved off the mainland that I learned what my life and world lacked: community.

It isn’t that I didn’t have community. I did. I had a wide range of friends, people that Facebook helps me keep track of. We did a lot together. I didn’t realize, however, how much anonymity I had.

Within a year of moving to the island I ran into the fish bowl effect that small towns are known for. I moved to the center of the fish bowl, Langley. Yes, Langley is a tourist town, but it has residents, otherwise it wouldn’t be a town, or city, or village, or whatever. I was newly single. A single guy in his forties who was retired, active, had parties, liked to dance and cook, and was a writer – well, word got around. Word got around so much that if someone parked a car somewhere near my house overnight, I’d hear stories the next day about who I was with – even if it was just a parked car owned by a stranger visiting someone else. The rumor mill was active, and that’s an understatement.

The gossip was also common enough that it was a worry for the mayor. He sat me down to talk about it. Okay. He sat me down to cut my hair because he was my barber, but he was also the mayor. He asked me what I thought he should do about it. The city’s culture mattered to him and he saw it as detrimental. I agreed, and told him to leave it be. I’d just been through a divorce and retired early because of stress-related health issues (and because I had enough money). While living on the mainland, my immediate circle of friends and family knew some of what was going on, but most of it was hidden. We lived in different neighborhoods, worked and shopped in different places, and had other friends who weren’t part of the circle, the network. When it came to emotional support I had what my counselor (the mental health kind) called “a very thin support network.” They were people who cared, but they also had to care about a lot of other things, too. Within my neighborhood only one neighbor took the time to listen.

On the island, it isn’t true that everyone knows everyone, but if they don’t know you they know someone who does. They gossiped because they cared. If they knew what was going on, they’d cheer or sympathize as appropriate. Gossip happened when they cared but hadn’t heard enough of what was really happening. It was the other end of the spectrum, and could benefit from some moderation (especially those folks who purposely spread hurtful rumors because they thought it was fun). Its benefit, though, far outweighed its cost, usually. I’ve never seen so many instances of spontaneous generosity for people in trouble. They don’t help everyone, no person and no community can, but they don’t wait for the mayor or the preacher to gather and point them towards helping someone. In the best cases (usually in the worst circumstances) help can arrive before someone gets home from an accident or the hospital.

In the city, anonymity is the norm. Want to be rude? You’ll probably never see that person again. Go on a never-ending series of overnight stands? Same thing. Be polite? That’s great, but what goes around takes a lot longer to come around.

In a small town, everyone knows your name, or maybe your face, or they’ve heard of you, or at least you have something in common. Want to be rude? People do, but those are the people who have to avoid people. Want to date around? That’s natural, but there are few secrets. Be polite? Be polite. Be helpful. The local paper regularly runs their Hometown Hero section where someone is profiled for decades of simply being themself in extraordinary ways. Will there be massively inaccurate gossip? Of course. And that’s true for everyone, and everyone knows it. Just don’t expect juicy and wrong gossip to die quickly. There’s not as much to do as in the big city, and a good story can be worth a lot of social capital.

It is an interesting environment to live in. Imagine getting stopped in the grocery store (yes, they weren’t all replaced by supermarkets) by someone with congratulations or condolences. They heard the story, recognized a face, and may have offer a handshake or a hug.

I moved to this neighborhood in Clinton to enjoy the view and the quiet, but also to distance myself from the fish bowl of Langley. Enough can be enough, eh? I make fun of Langley. It’s a tourist town that is proud of itself; but it also may have the best example of community. From Langley Library to Good Cheer Thrift is about a 4 minute walk, according to Google. It can take two hours in reality. Traffic is not the issue, except that it is. Traffic in terms of meeting friends, dropping into shops, enjoying the gardens, and generally moving at an islander’s pace. Within a block or two, nothing may happen; or, folks may want to know about a dance, or have an idea for a business, of have a cause that needs support, or generally are just being friendly. Want a reason to rejoice? There’s one.

Now, excuse me as I skip editing this post. It has been a long day (real estate gets busy this time of year, evidently) and I have a party to prepare. It will be my first in years, and I’m looking forward to celebrating a bit of financial relief thanks to friends, clients, and my perpetually extended exercise in frugality. Step one, clear some room in the fridge. Party fixings are coming in. Oh well, I guess someone has to finish this box of wine. Can’t have my friends drinking the dregs. Cheers!

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