Escape To Reality

Yesterday I returned from a couple of days in reality. Really, it was three days and two nights, but only from 9AM on Wednesday until 5PM on Friday. Nah. That was how long I was away from work and home. From 6PM on Wednesday until 6AM on Friday I was at a lake in the mountains purposely cut off from most of civilization. Ah. I needed that, a re-introduction to reality – and ibuprofen.

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a long windy road followed by a long windy trail

Okay, ibuprofen is civilization, just like the trail built by the National Park Service, the facilities they installed there, the road that got me to the trailhead, the gear I wore and carried in my backpack, and the infrastructure that got me there, including my truck. It was a long way to go to get past the more persistent and pernicious parts of the modern world. It was worth it.

BarclayforDrewIf you want to read about what it’s like to hike into wilderness there are plenty of books in the library. I wrote three of them. Become one of the rare individuals on the planet by buying one and reading it. You won’t be one in a billion, but you’ll be rarer than one in a million.

For decades, I hiked and backpacked for the exercise and because I enjoy climbing mountains. Nature was a special playground and an opportunity to relax and return to basics. This time was different.

My goals were echoes of those previous trips, and were the excuse I gave to get away. The reason was to get away, and that’s a good way to do it.

As I said in one of those books (probably the one about Barclay Lake), some people go to the hills to get away from their world as it is, others go there to enjoy the world as it was. The reason for this trip was getting away by returning to a place that is as real as I could reasonably reach in a narrow window of my life.

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Look at those feet pointing out at the lake. Sit by a lake and don’t worry about the tide forcing you to move. Settle in and watch the fish make ripples or the breeze make ruffles. It was Grand Lake in Olympic National Park, a site that’s limited to seven campsites but only had two other people at it. It would be easy to say that the steep climb down kept people out (the trail is flipped and starts high on a ridge and leads down into the valley), but every campsite at the next lake up was filled. I almost had the place to myself. (My trail report is online, in case you want some of those details.)

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Such a trip creates memories, tests physical fitness, and reinforces minimalism and frugality. This trip taught me things that won’t show up in photos.

There’s a bit of a rush getting to a campsite, especially when a backpacker arrives at dusk. It’s almost like an exercise in Maslow’s heirarchy of needs, backpacker style. Find a place to set up the tent. Set up shelter first as a protection against weather, which can shift suddenly, and as a place to store all the stuff that was stuffed into the backpack. Get water. Don’t expect a faucet. Expect to find a stream or lake to pump and filter from. Work for your water. Depending on the local critters, protect that food. If they’re aggressive enough, skip the water and go hang the food out of their reach. If you’ve got to go, go, as in finding a facility for the sanitary disposal of your internal waste. Grand Lake has a double luxury, composting toilets and a bear wire. Very nice. It is only after those basics are covered that it’s time to do things like eating, changing clothes, and arranging the gear around the camp and in the tent.

Your experiences will vary. Some photographers will immediately take photos if the light is right. They’ll do the rest in the dark, if necessary. Fisherfolk won’t just watch those ripples. Ultra-minimalists may have so little to do that they begin exploring because they are so unburdened. Whatever. I know what works for me.

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What really worked for me was what worked on me. I arrived as the sunshine left the lake. I knew my main activities after setting up would be eating, imbibing (a bit), and making a comfy place to alternately read a book and watch the world. The surprise didn’t arrive until the next morning.

I purposely didn’t have a watch, well, purposely because they all need work. Sometime mid-morning I was looking at the lake and realized how little I had to do to get through the rest of the day. First revelation: my life has become hectic enough that I think of days as something to get through. Second revelation: most of what I spend my time on is speculative, based on hope. At least for now, there’s an enormous gap between meeting my bare needs and meeting my needs in modern society. Until my work is sufficiently compensated, my desires are only for consideration when buying lottery tickets.

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I relaxed. In that moment, the muscles in my forehead and jaw noticeably relaxed. I became aware of how tight my body has been, not just from the prior evening’s shaky leg descent into the valley, but from the long hours typical of people in the Gig Economy trying to build and sustain a business. My sore quadriceps basically enforced the notion that I should sit around, nap, and read for the day. It was glorious.

The fish weren’t as entertaining as the fawn. Evidently, no one had convinced it that it wasn’t a dog. The little speckled deer bounced around the lakeside meadow for no apparent reason. Then, it would nibble for a bit, then dash off as if it was chasing something, and then dash back. The doe watched, ate, and let the kid play. Thank you, natural role models.

The day took forever. My throttle is set so high that I kept thinking there was something to do; but a nap and a snack later and the Sun hadn’t move much. Nap, snack, repeat and marvel at the wealth of time I lived within. At work, days go by in an unfulfilled rush. In nature, time lingers and saunters on by. Forget the ads, that’s still the greatest luxury, the ability and opportunity to be still.

So many people, whether jokingly or seriously, made sure I knew all the ways the trip could go bad. No need to tell me, I’ve helped call in a helicopter to recover a body, and I’ve carried out an injured person’s backpack. Their help, however, set a tone I had a tough time quieting. I’ve enjoyed climbing, but my shaky legs worried me, the first approaching storm of the season did the same, and I was already anticipating the rattly drive out that rattled me on the way in. Anxiety returned before dawn.

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I’ll save you the internal struggle and skip straight to the angels. My plan was to climb slowly, taking all day if necessary. I was taking one of my breaks when I saw a couple coming up from below, slowly and steadily. I’m almost sixty. They were in their seventies. We chatted for a bit, as hikers will, and they let me fall in behind them. Their simple attitude, not feeding my anxieties and not trivializing them either, released much of the tension in my body (or my mind, more likely.) Without knowing they were doing it, they pulled me up the mountain. Simple things, simply said can be more powerful than energetic pleas. I bow to them.

My anxieties haven’t gone away because my situation hasn’t gone away. The truck shook during the trip out (where shaking was expected) as well as when it got onto pavement (where shaking is not expected.) I took advantage of Les Schwab’s offer to check out vehicles. They nicely confirmed that any persistent rattling was in me, not the truck. That helped me get home a lot easier.

Nature is reality. We are distanced from it and are mostly fighting battles that we create either personally or societally. The rains are back, and are welcome; so I don’t know if I’ll manage another hike or two this year. I certainly hope so. Nature is one of the best medicines I know, in addition to good friends and good luck. Let’s see if I can go for a walk tomorrow without having to rely on the ibuprofen, though.

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Unboxing A Cheap Roku

DSCN1374Cheap isn’t bad. Sometimes cheap can be just right. If you want a fancier word, let’s use frugal, which is another word I like. After almost eight years with my original Roku, I felt forced into a change. That’s not Roku’s fault, or even Netflix’s, though they did encourage it. Tonight I begin the test of whether I say goodbye to Netflix, or find out that Roku’s new device saves my subscription to that new version of that old service. Step one, explain how I and the new device got here.

Thank you, Netflix. When I got rid of DirecTV in December 2010 I dove into Roku’s offerings. They had hundreds of channels, many of which were free, and many of those were free for good reasons. Just because it’s free doesn’t mean it’s entertaining. And yet, Netflix was more than enough. It got me through lots of evenings when I needed a distraction. Binge watching as a mental salve in tough times. Goodbye to DirecTV’s monthly fees and hello to a one-time purchase and Netflix’s monthly subscription at one-tenth the price.

Eight years is a long time. I watched a lot of shows and movies. Netflix grew and matured. As children will do, it grew and matured in unexpected ways. Deep documentaries and old movies faded while superficial sensationalism and new Netflix content rose. The Netflix menu drove me towards “because you watched …” rather than letting me pick from specific genres or an easily reviewed list of new movies. Netflix content got big icons. Classic movies shrunk in comparison. My List reduced, reduced, and reduced to a few feeble picks with fewer occasional gems. I left DirecTV because of costs and obnoxious ads. I decided to check Netflix’s competition for fresh titles and old comforts.

While visiting a friend who had a new Roku, I browsed Amazon Prime, HULU, and several other channels. YouTube on my TV (really just a large monitor)? Yes! Finally, places that had Babylon 5 and Stargate SG-1! That’s enough to draw me in. Go home, click around on my old Roku, and get an interesting message. Basically, “You’re equipment is so old it doesn’t work with the new services.” I recall Roku claiming that services were initially available for my old Roku would continue to work. So much for either my recollection or their claim. At least they had a cheap solution. For about $20 they’d send me a new heavily-discounted Roku. (And of course took the opportunity to try upselling me. Ha!)

At that price I ordered one and waited. Slow snail mail is fine by me.

Today the box arrived. On Labor Day. So much for federal holidays when it comes to important things like watching old TV shows.

The unboxing begins. (Disclosure: Typically, I’ll take photos as I mix unboxing and chronicling, but I wanted to take the photos in natural light, so there was a quick photo session as the Sun set.)

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The box is only slightly larger than the old device. Inside, an even smaller device in an innovative series of trays that hold micro-electronics that would be science fiction thirty years ago. Open and unwrap and find most of the volume is reserved for cables. The actual electronics boxes are smaller than some in-line transformers that shove other cables aside on power strips. The connectors probably pick the size of the unit. Power in. Internet in. Video and audio out. Add a remote. There’s even room for a couple of batteries included.

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Earlier I described the unit to some friends as Ethernet in the back, HDMI out the front, and point the remote at the built-in receiver. Evidently, that’s one of the other units (maybe). Mine looks like a thumb-sized black box with some connectors on the back. Let’s see if this is as simple as it looks. Instruction manuals? Bah. At a guess, rummage through the available cords. Here’s a micro-USB port and a micro-USB cable. Port meet cable. The other end of the cable is a USB connector, and the thing with a two-prong plug has a USB port. Connect. Connect. The back of the thumb-sized box only has two other ports: an HDMI, and an old-fashioned A/V Out.

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Before connecting anything or plugging anything in I checked the back of my monitor. Gasp. Grimace. How could it not have an HDMI port? Oh. It’s that old or I’m that cheap or both. Whew. At least the A/V Out port is familiar and there’s a cable with the right pin and a three-color connector. OK. Let’s try this.

Begin plugging cords into power strips and immediately lose track of what goes where. Chase out some dust bunnies that have gone grey. Realize that there’s no Ethernet port, no way to directly connect to the Internet router sitting right beside it. I’m guessing wi-fi is required, in which case I’m going to grab my router’s password before proceeding.

OK. Put batteries into the remote. Turn on the monitor. And wonder why I’m looking at a blue screen. Ta da! “Let’s get started>” (My monitor is so old that turning it on or off changes the input source. Old switches get forgetful, I guess.)

Distance glasses on (but perched on the end of my nose as I type.)

English = OK

Looking for wireless networks. Three found even though only one is mine and my house is basically surrounded by empty lots.

Enter password. Try to figure out a keyboard that is operated by remote cursor directions. Squint, even with glasses, to read the tiny type.

“Update available” Looks encouraging. OK. Because there’s no other choice. Less than three minutes to update. Automatic restart, with some odd audio cues. Check display setting because the icon looks like it should be circular but looks elliptical.

Activate your Roku – which involves remembering old passwords and entering codes on a handy computer. Have a computer handy.

Terms and Conditions – check. Oops. Actually click Check, not just OK.

Get logged out for “security reasons”?

Log back in without a problem.

The Roku screen on my “TV” says it will “update once you’re done” but the Roku screen on my computer isn’t telling me what to do. Maybe I have to “Link a device”.

Select the room the device is located in. That’s personal. Oh well, Living Room.

Oh, those pesky Check boxes are so subtle I can’t tell they’re there until I get the error message.

Now starts the sales pitch for other channels.

HULU is already checked. I don’t see YouTube or Netflix. Oops. Accidentally hit the Next button and magically the TV changes.

Another opportunity to sign in or sign up and I’ll pass hoping I can do that later.

“You’re done!” except the TV is updating 35 channels. Patience, couch potato. Ironically, one of the channels being updated in DirecTV. Nope. Not going to do it.

“All done> ” says the TV.

I’ll hit OK and see what happens.

Looks encouraging. I see Netflix, HULU, Pandora, Newscaster, and a couple dozen others. Rats. No YouTube. I’ll rummage around for that later. First. Netflix because that worked yesterday on the old machine.

Got to sign in. Guessing at usernames and passwords, a modern parlor game.

Interesting. The other screen used an ABC keyboard. This one uses QWERTY. Hello, Roku. Do your various departments actually talk to each other? You realize QWERTY is based on typing, not moving cursors around? Only took two tries.

Upgrade to HD? Not if I have to pay for it, which they require. No Thanks.

Success!

Now, I’m part of the 2018 Netflix with its auto-play, accelerated binge-watching that doesn’t leave time to breathe  between shows (popcorn has to be made sometime, but first I have to rush to stop the next show, or start one just to hit pause.)

I’ll check into HULU, later (which is really hulu but I don’t want to confuse the movies with the ritual dance.)

One significant and trivial upside is the new remote. The old one was wearing out. Too much scrolling in search past too many lesser run movies that probably each have their fans, but not enough appeal for me.

After I establish a HULU account and indulge in some of that familiar sci-fi, I’ll dive into the real draw, YouTube. Deep documentaries? What’s deeper than direct feeds from NASA and university labs? Classic shows? Maybe not as much, but the unfiltered creativity on YouTube is greater than my capacity to see it all.

Is this all worth it? Come on. Twenty dollars and an evening or two of exploration. I’ll probably save that much time by spending less time searching for good content. As for the $20; it’s nice to be able to spend so little to get so much – something I put off doing last year.

Now, even if you won’t excuse me, I have to exploring to do – after I add photos and publish this post. I sense popcorn in my very near future.

PS I just noticed that YouTube’s icon is on the cover. I hope I can find it in the machine.

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Gig Changes August 2018

Photo on 2017-06-23 at 17.34The only constant is change. As of September 1st, my list of gigs will shift by one. The total will stay the same; but, thanks to what’s happening in a few of my other gigs, my title at the museum (History of Computing in Learning and Education Virtual Museum) will shift from Project Manager to Management Consultant. That old adage about doors and windows opening and closing is simple but misses the reality. Doors and windows can be more than just open or closed. They can also be left ajar.

Rarely does it make sense to go cold turkey or burn your bridges or burn your cold turkey. I followed that advice when I left my aerospace engineering career. The logic was logical. If you’ve experiencing a major life shift, leave the old life behind. It is too easy to identify with that past job, title, role, or persona. You’re you, not your job. I retired (evidently temporarily) at 38 (hence my friends encouraging me to write the book on personal finance that is the basis for this blog, Dream. Invest. Live.) Dream Invest Live coverI dutifully switched to a completely different passion, teaching karate. Yeah. That’s a switch.

Looking back, it is obvious that maintaining at least some consulting work would’ve been a great backup idea. I’ve been a fan of commercial space since college, oh so many decades ago, and actually got to work in it. Following conventional wisdom meant missing out on the resurgence that is Blue Origins, SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, and others. But, the logic was sound – as long as the assumptions remained valid. Be careful with those.

The assumption was that a large diversified portfolio, a frugal lifestyle, and an open-minded approach would be enough to sustain a retirement. Alas, my Triple Whammy, my personal perfect storm of bad luck, undermined the monetary position turning a large diversified portfolio into something based more on hope and good luck than a credible investing strategy. That assumption took about a decade to fail, too long to re-establish an engineering career; hence, days with nine different money-making attempts that have yet to mature into a confidently sustainable income. Come on lottery.

One of my key gigs for the last six years has been the museum. One thing I enjoy about the Gig Economy is the opportunity to learn, and also to learn that many of my skills apply to more than one job. Management, planning, communications, and strategizing are useful in most ventures. With the museum I also discovered an appreciation for the thousands of librarian, archivists, conservators (sorry if I got that exact title wrong), all of the people who unearth, preserve, and present history. Many are professionals. Many are volunteers.

This is an amazing time in our civilization. A thousand years ago, very little was recorded. History was written by the winners. A hundred years ago, there were more voices, but the stories were just exiting the period of paintings and text. Within the last ten years, almost every voice can be recorded, written, photographed, and preserved in forms that have the potential to be immortal. In another hundred or thousand years, historians may look back at the pre-PC era as the Dark Ages, regardless of what happened in Medieval Europe.

That gig has been appreciated (and they’d appreciate your support) but it wasn’t enough so it wasn’t alone. I’ve been learning similar depths in writing, photography, consulting, entrepreneurship, social innovations, while taking a roller coaster ride through America’s wealth classes.

Thanks to writing about real estate, and the encouragement of friends, my career as a real estate broker is getting busy enough to warrant finding more time for it. Living on Whidbey Island as the place is being “discovered” (yet again) helps. Fortunately, I enjoy people, helping them, and helping my community. As stint at writing a historical documentary about the south half of the island also means a fun background for understanding why houses are where they are, and an appreciation for locals who’ve preserved those stories.

It is too easy for a “career” the Gig Economy to be messy collection of disconnected gigs. Sometimes saying yes to everything still isn’t enough to make enough. My museum work helped, but my other gigs and skills reinforce each other more strongly. A broker benefits from knowing how to manage projects, write about a property, coordinate photos, and work with a diverse group of people. So, more time for the mutually supportive gigs.

The museum continues. It is also changing in ways that benefit from on-site rather than remote help. I’ll continue to consult because I like what they’re doing, and I like to help people complete their projects.

To me, real estate, museum management, encouraging entrepreneurs, and my talks and classes are all about helping people, particularly helping them pursue their ideas, dreams, and sometimes dream homes. Maybe change is the only constant, but at some level some things never change.

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Balancing Porsches Kias And Philanthropy

dsc_7168Vroom! Roar! That’s not the sound of my truck. That’s the sound of the Porsche 911 that leapt up the highway as I took the right turn into the office parking lot. My guess is that the driver of the probably $150,000 car was frustrated for miles, stuck behind my lumbering pickup. Ah, the glory and curse of the island’s two-lane roads. That sports car’s throaty roar made me wonder about the driver and what they really wanted. I realized, they probably didn’t know, either.

Within seconds, the 911 could be hitting 60 mph from a stop. From their headstart behind the truck, they could’ve broken the speed limit in under a second. Ten seconds later, they must have eased the acceleration because there were other cars on the road. Even a car doing 10 mph over the limit would act like a road block to a car with a top speed of almost 200 mph.  Over $150,000 for a few seconds of thrills and a quick imposition of normalcy. That’s expensive entertainment.

Just at random, let’s look at a Kia Rio, a car I’d never heard of until I did the search while typing. Cost, ~ $15,000. Top speed ~ 120 mph. Time to 60 mph, ~ 8.5 seconds. So slow compared to the Porsche. At least on the island it can only break the speed limit (55 mph) by more than 100%, takes a few more seconds to do so, (less time than it takes to type this sentence, especially with a few backspaces included), and is probably much better at hauling groceries, finding parking, getting past speed bumps, and oh yeah, not putting the driver into debt if a fender gets bent.

And, the Kia Rio can feel equally frustrated following my truck that has a tough time getting up to the speed limit. More than two tons of truck powered by the smallest V-8 available and aged for 18 years makes a great speed limiting device on the island’s roads. And it isn’t the only one. As someone’s bumper sticker proclaims, “This ain’t the mainland. Relax. Slow down.” Relax and slow down may feel like an affront to people who feel the need for speed, but other people will pay thousands of dollars to attend a resort that lets them do that. The island also sees people who spend hundreds of thousands of dollars buying houses so they can relax, slow down, and enjoy the quiet.

The basic outline of those paragraphs flashed through my head in the minute or so after I got out of the truck. There’s no blame against the driver. Their choice, however, made me realize how powerful advertising is.

The driver was sold on the image and performance of a vehicle that is designed to break the law, and delivered with reminders not to break the law. They spent extra for that. They didn’t just spend a little bit extra. They spent enough extra to cover some family’s living expenses for three years. The driver was sold a luxurious dream many are proud of being part of. 

Even if the driver got to enjoy a few seconds of thrills every day, and didn’t get caught enjoying the thrills too much, I find it fascinating in a Spock sort of way that they don’t balance that against helping others for years. Seconds of forbidden luxury versus years of selflessly benefiting an entire family. Entire industries rely on never making those comparisons.

The opposite probably goes too far, too. Everyone having exactly the same things may turn life dull and static. With no social mobility there may be too few incentives for too many. I suspect the answer is between the two, and that our immature society has yet to find the right balance between stability and control (an inside joke and insight for my aerospace friends.) Mountains have great stability, but they don’t do much, and when they do move it’s bad. Great control is marvelous, but always having to be in control is tiring, and a moment’s distraction can mean disaster.

Finding that balance is something frugal folk endeavour to do frequently. Tiny houses, but with great details. Home gardens, filled with heirloom varieties. Working just enough to play a lot. Those are balancing acts I continue to strive towards in many ways. Working towards balance in life is probably my busiest hobby. There isn’t a store for that. There aren’t ads for that. Yet, entire philosophies have the same goal.

A friend continues to ask me a question I frequently ask myself; “What would be different if I had a million dollars?” (He ups it to $5M, but I don’t need to go there.) I won’t bore you with the long list. Top would be getting healthier in a variety of ways (medical, physical, mental, spiritual, etc.) As for a house, it is refreshing that after almost a year as a broker I have yet to find a nicer house than my simple 868 square foot beach-less beach cottage, that’s actually bigger than I need; though a larger yard would be nice. Being re-retired is high up there, and I have a long way to go.

With a million, I’d basically be there and could return to my personal version of philanthropy; something that I discussed with representatives of the Ford and Rockfeller Foundations. They envied the power of a person who will help others without worrying about tax consequences. Other friends proved to me the value and joy in quietly helping someone. No publicity. No strings attached. See a need. Provide the resources. Trust them to know how best to use it. Know it will go wrong occasionally; but it’s more likely to go right and go right in powerful ways. That’s a joy.

As for having a million and having a truck, well, I think someone else could use the truck better. Personally, I think I’d need and enjoy an all-electric Jeep Wrangler. There are mountains to climb, nature to enjoy, and peaceful places to visit. The irony is that it would probably also kick butt on and off the road. Balance, balance. Got to have some fun, eh?

 

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Sleeping In

Scandalous. Which, by my typing it makes you realize it probably wasn’t that bad. Scandals are so common that even federal offenses don’t stand out. My scandal was internal. I slept in, almost until 8AM. Life in the Gig Economy kicked in with a quick assessment of what I might have missed. The good news was, nothing. The other good news was because of two or three or a few simple things that could finally line up to put nine hours between when I fell into bed and when I finally dove into the day.

Wake up and check in with everyone’s constant companion, the internet. It is too common now that people, like me, check their computer, tablet, or smartphone before their feet hit the floor. Our computers have trained us well.
Hey, email; anything important that’s about to reschedule the day, and maybe start it off with a panic? No? Whew.
Hey, stocks; anything in the portfolio actually moving the way I want it to? No. Rats.
Hey, social media; any notifications that are things I want to get notified about? Yeah, somewhat, kinda, but nothing urgent. Just stuff that I like to see: friends enjoying life, stuff like that.
At least for a short while, I’m one of the lucky ones that doesn’t have to check texts. I still use a flip phone. Most of my friends and associates know that email or – gasp – a real phone call is a better way to get in touch with me.
So much for lounging in bed. It’s become a crowded place, virtually.

That’s the norm, now. Work drives life. Wake up, get to it, and don’t stop until you have to because fewer get to stop when they want to. Hence, my trip to one of my friends who does excellent massages. (referrals available upon request)

She’s back in town after a departure that doesn’t need to be explained here. Hours of staring at the computer and clicking the mouse is an improvement over this time last year when I was doing all of that plus writing for several outlets. Carpal tunnel, sore neck and shoulders, tight forehead, and even a tight chest meant a simple head and neck massage meant following the strain all the way down to my lower back. I was so tight that, after a session or two my eyesight improved. My muscles were so contracted that the blood vessels were constricted. Relax. Relax. It had been about a year since my last massage. Go ahead work it all out, head to toe.

That probably helped me sleep better. Simple things like being able to bend down to pick something off the floor was suddenly easier. Gotta get back to karate, exercise, meditation, and stretching. Ah, but work.

Walk into a coffeeshop or an office and notice people bowing to their computers. Face tilted forward and down. Brow wrinkled. Eyes concentrating. Hands poised over the keyboard as if in prayer. Maybe even some arcane mumbling going on. Faces glowing in the soft light. Who’s in charge? Ergonomics experts must be in great demand, or are in anguish over watching what we do. Throw in the evidence that light from screens is training us to stay up late, and don’t be surprised if getting to sleep is difficult.

Fortunately, I live in a state with legal recreational marijuana. Ironically, I waited until the recreational use was legal, but I use it medicinally. Rather than light a pipe when I get home, I continue to pour a glass of wine or maybe just water. When it’s time for bed, though, here comes the pipe, or the homemade marijuana-infused rum, or good brownies, or some combination depending on the day. Maybe even some CBD oil. And CBD seems to be the key. Since marijuana legalization I’ve used marijuana to quiet my nerves, literally. Get the dosage right and my muscles spasms fade. Make the dose too small, and bump it a notch with a puff on the pipe. Make the dose too big, and get so fascinated by the world that I stay awake wondering at it. Now, however, I’ve switched from high THC (which produces a high) to high CBD (which just seems to be very mellow.) Last night was a good batch of brownies, and I basically slept through the night – slept through as well as any 60-ish male can who has to get up a few times to get rid of water.

Sleeping in may seem like a simple thing to many people. I know too many who wake up worried. Even without a computer they’re justifiably worried about the money coming in versus the money going out, whether they’ll have a home, or food, or health. Their worries aren’t abstract futures. They’re worries are about the next hour or two. Too many feel best hiding under the covers, not in a playful way, not in a luxurious way, but in a way of retreating from the world. I’ve been there. Now, I can make fun of myself for waking up with an iPad with a different set of worries. Silly me. As if there was a plan and any of us are in control – and yet, those who don’t have enough to pay their bills must try.

While I quickly made a smaller breakfast, I asked myself how I managed to sleep in. Guilt gets delivered naturally, thanks to my childhood training. Enjoying the moment kicked in that scandalous moment. What did I miss? What should I have done? Who will be upset? By the time I realized that nobody cared the opportunity to relax was gone.

A friend frequently asks me a question I even more frequently ask myself; “What would you do if you didn’t have to worry about money?” Lots of introspection suggests that, If I won millions through the lottery, my greatest luxuries would start with relaxing, helping others relax, and enjoying life. I probably would’t even sleep in much. The world is a fascinating place and there’s so much to do and so much that needs to be done. Decades of stress probably would lead to years of massages, trips, undoubtedly dancing, and a lot of time in nature. And, if I did sleep in, I might just roll over – at least for a while. As for the computer, well, it would sleep in, too.

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Misunderstanding Is Normal

“Why would they do such a thing?”, one of the most common questions in human existence since the invention of language besides “What’s for dinner?” “Why would you do such a thing?” That’s asked a lot less because it is too confrontational, and rarely is asked in a way that encourages a response. “Why did I do such a thing?” Ask that and invite yourself to understanding yourself and the rest, whether that’s political, compassionate, personal – and yes, even financial.

 

Why did I do such a thing?

That may be the best question to inspire a frugal lifestyle. Frugality can mean appreciating the value of your resources; not just money, but time, community, and nature. Frugal folks are less likely to spend freely, unless they’ve already thought through where they can and can’t do that.

Someone who can’t pay all of their bills doesn’t get to spend freely. Everything that asks for money is valuable and must be addressed. Prioritization of necessities becomes a necessity. I’ve recently been through that and can see it from here. Buying a box of paperclips or a new computer mouse can seem like a splurge and a luxury.

Someone who can pay their bills and not much else has some free cash, but it must be spent smartly or else it is too easy to fall back into not being able to pay those bills. A regular opportunity to buy small things or save up for something big eases anxieties like a bit of butter keeps the food from sticking.

There’s some sweet spot where there’s enough to spend freely without thinking, but not to excess. That spot is different for everyone, and it moves as circumstances change.

I feel sorry for people who indulge in excess. They can easily lose connection to personal values, true costs, and an understanding of folks who are at least partially frugal either by choice or necessity. Sadly, too many of them lose track of social values, too.

Congratulations to those who, regardless of income and wealth understand that values are real even though money is artificial. Even for them, values are personal and hence personal finance remains personal.

 

Why would you do such a thing?

That’s the question that creates debates, arguments, and rifts.

Ask it sincerely and gain insights that can explain why someone does something unexpected. It probably wasn’t unexpected to them. Ask it to learn without expecting to teach and the other person may appreciate the value of someone who cares enough to listen without imposing their values. Ask it without an agenda and find that you probably shocked them because it is so rare.

Some sociologist could comment on the history of such questions, but it seems that we are all so divided and opinionated that asking personal questions can feel like an offense or a reason to deploy defenses. Ask it and watch or hear responses like “What’s it to you?” “Why? What are you getting at?” It isn’t easy to ask it without at least some layer of implicit or explicit judgment. “Why’d you buy that?” “Why’d you buy that?” “Why’d you buy that?” “Why’d you buy that?”

No wonder it isn’t easy to get to understand each other. Imagine how valuable it is to master that skill. I’m still working on it.

It is also why sharing personal finance insights is so difficult. It takes time and trust to gain the understanding of the other person’s perspective before any additional value can be shared. Decades of experiences and situations are how each of us get to where we are. Someone who gives advice after only hearing five sentences about something complex is relying on luck, arrogance, or a lack of caring. No wonder listening is valued so highly.

 

Why would they do such a thing?

Welcome to divisive cultures and politics. If there’s a they, there’s an us. They are probably doing something they think is right, just like everyone.

As I type, I take quick breaks to search for the source of a quote that I’ll have to paraphrase. “Everyone does what they think is right, even if they don’t like it.” There’s always a justification or rationalization, though sometimes it takes years of counseling to uncover it. Ideologies make things sound simple. Realities are more abstract. People aren’t spending money the way you think they should? There’s probably a variety of reasons for that. Some will be practical, some ideological, some spiritual, some – well – accidents and randomness happen.

Few people intend to spend their way into poverty; though there are those who are trying to time their time and their money to run out at the same time.

Saul Bloom: You’re all aces in my book, but I want the last check I write to bounce.Oceans 12 on IMDB

Few people intend to lose touch with their real values; but along the way they were encouraged somehow to at least temporarily pursue other goals. Advertisers rely on this. Do you value early retirement or a fancier car? The car ads usually get bigger budgets.

 

As with most of my posts, I write this because I’ve witnessed it. I’ve received a surplus of advice from people who only know a snippet of an episode in my life. I’ve listened to friends criticizing friends who’ve made choices they don’t agree with, without trying to understand why. I’ve watched political debates that rely on prejudice and generalizations instead of recognizing that no one is average, no one is a stereotype, and that everyone can change.

Writing is an interesting exercise. Writing is an opportunity to collect ideas, organize them, and present them without being interrupted. That does not, however, remove the possibility of misunderstanding. If it was possible to write perfectly, then there’d be no debate over holy books. Expect less then from any form of communication, even ones are broad and personal as sitting with someone, listening to their story, maybe asking “Why would you do such a thing?” And then remember to ask it of yourself.

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Tired With MVIS

You’re probably tired of reading about it, too. For years I’ve been writing about the mighty little company that could, that possibly still can. MicroVision is a story stock that has been less like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and more like the boy that cried wolf. Though in the case of MVIS it is more like repeated cries that someone’s spotted the pot of gold, only to find it as ephemeral as the rainbow. Yesterday they released quarterly earnings in a quarter that had the promise of a new CEO, a new strategy, and approaching profitability. At the end of today, the stock was trading at less than a dollar. Like I said, tiring.

Investing is easy if you have good luck. Investing is easy to give up if you have bad luck. Regardless of luck, investing remains one of the paths in the US to a more comfortable lifestyle. If your money can make money while you’re making money, that’s a powerful ally. That’s why, despite my Triple Whammy (unhappy seventh anniversary), I continue to invest in the stock market – and lottery tickets.

Investing is eased if management is transparent and communicative. The more an investor knows, the more likely the committed assets are an investment rather than a speculation. Unfortunately, MicroVision is known for a culture of opaque communications, obfuscation, and generally frustrated shareholders. The new CEO and the new report don’t seem to have changed that. As one respected redditor commented;

It’s “hide the pea” crap like this which causes some people to think they’re purposefully trying to look as bad as they can.” – geo_rule on reddit

In general, deciphering arcane corporate communiques can be difficult. That difficulty is eased with clear financial statements and obvious earnings. The better things are, the more reason to make that clear. Conversely, when things aren’t clear, people suspect things aren’t going well.

I’m tired of trying to understand MicroVision’s communications. I wonder how many hours I’ve spent doing my due diligence while possibly being undermined by obfuscation. I’ve been trying to see where the rainbow is headed while someone’s been either burying the gold or putting on a light show.

The effort has seemed worth it because I’m convinced of the technology’s potential, the possible market size, and the large niches available to the various competitors. There’s more than enough for everyone. The effort has seemed less worth it as dilution and a reverse split devalued my fractional ownership and number of shares. The effort has also seemed worth it because my interpretation of management has frequently been that the pot of gold, or at least commercial viability, is only a few months or a year or two away. That remains the case.

Of course, it is impossible to reach the end of the rainbow unless it is in a bubble that fits on your hand.

Management has convinced me that profitability is possible in 2019, that several customers are committed to the company’s technology and products, and that the risk of failure is dramatically reduced. Good. I’m also convinced that a buyout is more likely. The rhetoric seems to have shifted from “sticking with it to the end” to “turning down offers because they weren’t attractive enough.” Attractive enough for 51% is probably not attractive enough for me.

The company did well this last quarter, I think. It’s hard to tell. The company’s potential remains strong, but I can’t tell if the details of their strategy have significantly changed or if it was only the rhetoric.

I write this, not to vent (well, a little). Okay, a lot. This blog is about personal finance. Personal finance is personal which is why it can inspire emotions. Those emotions are something to be aware of. Too many people avoid thinking about their finances because they fear math, or think it is too complicated. Investing can be made simple in various ways. My way isn’t an example for everyone because I don’t mind some complexity. Supply and demand. If investors avoid complicated stocks, there’s less demand for them, which suggests I can buy value for a discount. If the companies succeed, people find reasons to learn more, or simply buy more. When that demand arrives, I have a supply to sell. It worked for years and decades – until that dreaded Triple Whammy mentioned above.

I’ll continue to hold MVIS shares because, as I wrote above, the potential is attractive. The company’s success has more to do with smart customers and less to do with whether I understand MicroVision’s management. I might even buy more, and may even buy a smartphone with one of their projectors embedded in it. (MoviPhone) Screen shot 2018-01-06 at 7.20.35 PMBut, I do so with less certainty. I will also spend less time tracking the stock and the fascinating yet somewhat moot discussions.

This blog is based on my book, Dream. Invest. Live. Dream Invest Live coverThat last word is important. Live. I wonder how much living I gave up trying to understand a company that doesn’t want to be understood. I’ll wonder a bit less, hopefully live a bit more, and hope (not an investment strategy) that the company and the stock succeed sufficiently to help me live my dreams.

There may not be any rainbows but the Sun is shining (as it has for billions of years). I have some errands and chores. I think I’ll put stocks aside, get out my bicycle, go for a ride, and have fun getting something done.

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Playing With A Wish List

Prepare to apply mental lubricant. Sometimes that’s what it takes to break free of mental ruts. (Tonight’s involves gin.) Part of changing perspectives is recognizing things that have been purposely neglected and suppressed. Occasionally, especially when circumstances change, it makes sense to consider changing priorities, spending habits, and accidentally ingrained habits. Several years ago I had switched from frugal by choice to frugal by necessity. I’m still frugal, but finances and possibilities have improved to where I can consider fixing or replacing things I’ve actively ignored. For decades, regardless of income or assets, I’ve played with another financial exercise. What do I want to buy, next?

When the answer to “What do I want to buy, next?” is commandeered by the basics for life: food, shelter, healthcare, etc. the list isn’t as entertaining. I continue to consider driving to the north of the island a luxury because I’m very aware of the cost of gas and my truck’s fuel efficiency. At times like that, a wish list includes having enough to eat, a place to sleep, reasonable health, and a way to get around. I know my perspective is changing because I’m thinking about things that are very useful, but not essential. Luxuries? Well, that’s a point of perspective, too. I bought a pack of new tee shirts a week or so ago and that feels luxurious. No more than the required number of holes. No frayed sleeves or collars. Soft, as if none of the fibers have been washed away.

This financial exercise started decades ago when I was in a tent waiting for a storm to pass. I’d read all of the books I’d packed. (Read any of my Twelve Month series books in the Cascade Mountains and notice that, when I run out of books, I pack up and head home.) Paper, pencil, and not enough light to read what I was writing were good conditions for something like a list. This was back when discretionary income exceeded almost all of my playful expenses. It was a nice place to be. And yet, even then, there were things I just hadn’t gotten around to buying. Some were simple curiosities, like a nicer set of pocket carabiners for a new key chain. Others were grandiose, like major voyages or home projects. There was, however, a long list of things to buy. After I thought I’d run out of ideas, I went back through the list and guessed at prices for each. So, I listed them all, just to see what the total would be. At least it would put lottery jackpots in perspective.

The list was easy to make, got very long, totaled to more than a minimum lottery jackpot, and woke me up in unexpected ways. Life was already good – and there was always something more to buy, use, or have. Then I saw something about how many things cost very little and were associated with little, daily annoyances: a broken watch band, a squirrelly computer mouse, sunglasses that weren’t quite right. Folks familiar with Pareto charts can appreciate what I did mentally and on paper. I marked off all of the items under some price point, looked at the total, and wondered what would be better: buying all of those potentially dozens of items or picking one item for the same total price that was much higher up the list. Sometimes, it was the one thing. Usually, it is the long list.

Adventurous but cautious, a chicken adventurer I am; which is why I took that list and didn’t buy those dozens of things. I’d buy one thing at a time, unless shipping costs suggested buying a few more things. I’d buy them, get them home, and use or properly store each one before I bought anything else. (Skis on sale in summer, and while I could hike onto a glacier to try them out, that would be a silly stunt.) Buying one thing at a time slows down the process, but actually using what I bought slowed things down enough that weeks or months might go by before I bought the next thing. By then, my priorities may have changed and something I thought was a need may have dropped right past want and down to inconsequential. I saved a lot of money by never getting around to buying some stuff.

Some point out that instead of ordering the list by price, list it by desire. That works too, but I found that two things I highly desired became roadblocks: early retirement, and significant philanthropy. That’s one way to reach those goals, by denying every other expense; but I’m not a fan of extremes. My wish list with prices lubricated many of those rough spots in my life. Besides, the exercise is voluntary, so I can step outside it and buy something pricey if I want to. Personal finance is personal, not just financial.

It has been several years since I’ve done the exercise. Now, spreadsheets make the sorting much easier. If I want to get quantitative about it, I can also use some of the analyses I’ve learned in various business management courses. The tools are there, but the mindset has shifted. That’s why a little mental lubrication is helpful. I need to break free of the habit of denial – without losing track of financial realities. My little seems like a lot, but it probably want make it far up the list. That would take a lot more.

Here are today’s results.

Oops. I did it again.
Before I even finished the list I took a walk, decided to run some errands, and bought three things that were refreshing cheap – especially because I started thinking about them. For less than $10 I bought an eraser, some post-it notes, and a box of envelopes. Seem trivial? Welcome to the world of people who don’t have enough to pay their bills. (ALAYCPYB)

Oh. Those things again.
Sure enough; every time I do this exercise some of the same things come up that can’t be bought: health, happiness, friends, freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom of expression (which I think covers freedom of religion and freedom of speech), etc. Every time, I also leave them on the list. If I try to keep from letting them in, I find myself rebelling against my higher values.

Okay, some real results.
I could knock off 14 items for a total of under $1,000. My comfort number is less than that, but those 14 items include things that are good for business (shirts without holes in them, printer ink), emergency preparedness (a camping tent, solar shower), and simple things like a lens cap for my SLR. I can buy all of those things for less than one mortgage payment.

The biggies, again.
Like paying for retirement, there are several things on the list that aren’t easily waved away for the price of one month’s mortgage: new roof, new windows, new kitchen, new driveway, new vehicle, etc. Do you see the trend? Houses are expensive, even small ones like mine. They’re also a valuable asset, so some of those expenses are also investments, but that’s true for other things on the list like classes, tune-ups, doctor visits, etc.

Today’s reality.
I’ve already bought a few items, and will buy others. For now, I’m slowing down the process with another requirement. I’ll work through the list, one or a few items at a time, but only after I get paid, which is basically twice a month. As I said above, however, personal finance is personal, so I might just buy that backyard tent I’ve been thinking about. Backpacking tents are great, but they sacrifice a lot for the sake of weight and pack size. Backyard and camping tents can even let me stand up, in some. A nice alternative on hot summer nights, good emergency shelter (as long as I store it outside where I can get to it), and maybe a spare room for when guests arrive (and I can sleep outside in luxury.)

The mental lubrication helps, but it can also hurt. Be careful out there, and don’t buy anything until later. As silly as it sounds, shifting perspectives, even when it is for good reasons, sometimes needs a bit of assistance. Habits, especially survival habits, can be hard to break or set aside when they are no longer needed. Keep them in mind if the need or want arises, but also keep in mind that sometimes it pays to play with a new wish list for a new lifestyle.

PS Oh yeah, and I want hurricane matches, and a massage, and maybe a saner world where facts and logic rule. Ah, to dream of such luxuries.

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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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