Where’s a copier in this town? My poor copier is old and slow. Somewhere within walking distance of my office there should be a copier, but Langley isn’t the sort of town that has a Kinko’s. The foreclosure process requires many copies and heavy mailings; so, a solution must be found. The real solution ignores the bureaucracy. Find enough money and the money problems go away. That’s a better use of my time. Business is picking up, and I have an interview for an appealing job – and it’s lottery day. Hey, I’m doing whatever I can to resolve my solvency issues. They are important, but my solvency isn’t as important as my values – and frugality may provide a solution.
The mortgage company (really the mortgage servicer) did it again. They mailed me a package that arrived on the 26th. I didn’t pick up my mail until the 27th. They expect to receive a response by the 28th, not postmarked, but received. I do believe that approaches impossibility, especially considering that the package is slightly more documentation than is required to apply for a home mortgage. I suspect I won’t meet their deadline – unless they drive over here, bring a copier, and accept a receipt by hand. The last time I completed the package it involved four months of bills, years of taxes, and years of business records. Copy those. Fill out the forms. Mail off the package, registered of course; then send another copy to the state approved counselor. I suspect the mediator will want a copy too.
A dear friend invited me in for morning tea. I relayed the story with that confused mix of a forehead of stress-strained muscles and a bemused smile at the absurdity of the situation. How can anyone read the body language that is filtered through such a mix? Well, evidently, good friends can see past the surface and touch the reality within. Thanks for the hug and the compassion – and the tea, of course.
I have a litany of optimisms. Every day provides reminders of what I can’t do, or haven’t done, because of lack of funds. Every time I run into that, I also replay a variation on the litany of what’s going well. Each of my Backup Plans provides hope. Stocks can recover, and there are more reasons why my portfolio should increase. Business can improve, and it has, and continues to grow. Massive passive income is possible from books and photos, and sales are up. My house could sell, which would be bittersweet; and Seattle’s market is booming, so maybe Whidbey can too. Windfalls happen. I could even get a job.
I could even get a job is right. Even though I’ve closed the Monthly Jobs Report, I continue to look. There are more people unemployed than there are jobs to fill, but there are jobs to fill; Some of them are the work that I’d do even if I wasn’t getting paid. I am a fan and a champion of people and ideas. There’s a lot of work to do helping them both flow. This afternoon I have an interview, the first in months. This time it is for the task of Program Director for the Whidbey Island Writers Association (NILA/WIWA), a group I’ve been a member of and advocate for since I moved to the island. That job, or any of the other island jobs I’ve applied for, would greatly ease those strained forehead muscles, let me un-defer much deferred maintenance, and maybe even help me pay all of my bills, not just the barest minimum.
The moot burden from the mail and the optimism for this afternoon’s interview bounce my emotions off two extremes. That’s what it is like to be under-employed in America. Our role in society is increasingly defined by money even as wealth and income inequality increase. The bounce between the two extremes is becoming more extreme. If I get a job that pays enough to qualify for a new mortgage I’ll feel wealthy. I also know that if I got a full-time job that fully exercised my professional background I could quickly rise into the realm at the other extreme, just as I was a bit more than a decade ago.
Money’s influence has become much more pronounced. If I fill out the forms and mail the package on time, but don’t have the money, they get the house. If I get the money there are so many ways to keep the house that the forms obviously aren’t as important. If I get the money and lose the house – well, I’ll have lost that house, my home; and I’m sure I’ll find another. Maybe I have to give up something to get something better.
Thankfully, there appears to be a move towards redefining a life somewhere between the extremes. The creator of the now classic cartoon, Calvin and Hobbes, did a marvelous thing. He quit while he was ahead. He quit when he had enough. He quit because his values were more important than more money. He even recently created a new singular cartoon about redefining life, career, and goals. He created and then stepped away from cherished work for something more important: family. He could have been worth millions more, but he found something more valuable.
I talk and write about frugality: respect for the people and resources around us. To make it more personal, I live a life that is evidently frugal because I’ve found personal values that I want to live by. And I do live by them as much as possible. It has been refreshing to realize that I lived by them when I was a millionaire, and live by them even after so much loss. Not as a goal, but as a consequence, my expenses are much lower (except for the mortgage.) Lowering expenses without lowering quality of life sounds logical. We live in an illogical world which is why it is difficult to witness so many people living lives of much higher expenses without much of an improvement in the quality of their lives. I actually need to increase my expenses because I have too many Dammed Plans, but much of that is temporary and readily resolved with just a bit more money.
It is easy to make fun of the folks who proudly state that they haven’t watched television in years, as if they are out-of-touch. Some of them, of course, have merely switched their viewing to YouTube or Netflix. (So writes a fan of The Daily Show and the Colbert Report.) But I have noticed that the less people watch mass media, the less they are influenced by ads, and the more likely they are to encounter the difference between marketing and their values. They begin to live their own lives rather than mimicking models and celebrities. Clothing choices may become overalls or bicycling tights instead of suits and evening wear. Lucky for me, I’m actually paid to pass along and manage such news to such people in my role as Information Manager for New Road Map Foundation. (Also the host for the Simple Living Forums.) I’m also fortunate enough to have moved to Whidbey where entire communities are built around a diverse set of values. Take your pick. I’m a moderate, which means I stand near the intersection of many of those societies. Good parties, stories, and conversations are easy to find. I’m glad I know them both in the real and virtual worlds.
I’m working hard to keep my house. I’m working hard to get a job. I’m working hard at the jobs I’ve already got, including my own business. Much of my day is driven by the money which is driven by jobs and housing, but much of my life is driven by living according to my values – and hopefully finding a way to do so sustainably or even to thrive amongst the community and people and place that I love. That’s a lot of work, but that’s what I really value.