Thursday, January 29, 2015

Money and Self-Image

It's odd how one thing can affect your self-esteem. 

Like financial issues.

I recently blogged about the approaching turning point in my financial struggles. In May of this year, I will have paid off all my personal debt from before my divorce.

Paying off this debt, taking care of my dogs and cat, and managing to pay all the bills, including the mortgage- both before and after refinancing, while living alone has been a struggle. There have been times I've barely made it to the end of the month. But, I've learned I can be as frugal as I need to be. I've learned I have to do what I have to do in order to survive. No, I haven't necessarily enjoyed it. I've given up or seriously altered my spending habits, like my Yankee Candle obsession.

And at times I felt utterly defeated by it all. Even though, I knew I was doing all I could, and still managing to carry on, I was merely surviving. I wasn't enjoying life. I wasn't living. Depression was all around me. 

I even began to feel undateable. 

Yes, I could have found a roommate to help (and I tried, but no one seemed interested) but would I have learned to be as self-reliant and frugal if I depended on additional income? Would I have learned to appreciate my success? Probably not.

So, when I saw the end in sight and a bit more financial freedom, I felt a huge weight begin to lessen, that is until...

I got hit with a big car repair to the tune of an estimated $1,500 on top of the second installment of my property taxes and car registration, both due in April. I was counting on my tax refund for the latter two, and the repair threw me for a loop but I've also learned that whatever comes along I can handle it, maybe begrudgingly, but I'll get through it.

I did what I needed. I sold some securities I'd had for a while. I hated to, but I had no choice. The repairs ended up being less than what was expected and I ended up with a bit extra from the sale.

Just having that little extra began to lift my spirits and my self-worth. I felt like going out, or buying myself a little present. Or something for the house. I even began to glimpse the master bathroom remodeled, or see my back yard as a drought-tolerant California-native-plant-filled garden rather than the overgrown weed-filled eyesore that it is. But, I did nothing as the major expenses were still coming due soon. 
So, I just put it in my savings pending the outcome of my tax return.

And in time, I will achieve all what I want to achieve.

So, with the little extra money in my savings account now earmarked for something I have to take care of, my spirits have temporarily sunk once again.

But, it's very interesting how much we can tie our self-esteem to our financial picture. With the deeper breathing room I'll soon have, maybe everything will begin to turn around, and I'll actually feel like meeting people.
Or gasp! Actually date someone. Maybe.

After all, I still have my trust issues to overcome...

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Relationships

I recently went out with a gay male friend for lunch at a coffee shop near my house. As we stood in the vestibule of the restaurant waiting to be seated, he nudged me and indicated the ostensibly straight young man in the white t-shirt tightly stretched across his nicely developed chest draping himself across his girlfriend. 

I think I muttered an "Ewwww, no!"

My friend then pointed out the young Latino waiter with the neatly trimmed beard who had several open tables, "Maybe we can be seated in his section."

I think I said, "Yeah, whatever." 

To which my friend retorted, "I'm only trying to find guys I think you think are cute."

And I responded with, "I'm tired of men and their bullshit! I've sworn off men!"

And on later reflection, I can't even recall a time when my friend actually pointed out another guy to me, even the few times we were actually in West Hollywood rather than the gay desert where I live known as the North San Fernando Valley.

And all that got me to thinking about the R-word and what it means to me at this time. And so, this is what I've come up with:

Relationships are:
  • Challenging
  • Difficult
  • Time consuming
  • Draining
Wow! What a downer.

I realize my list is hardly positive. After all, I'm not in a place to regard them in a positive light right now. 

Okay, let me think.  Maybe there are some positives:
  • Companionship- wait, I can get that from a dog or cat;
  • Sex- I can take care of that need myself; and I don't want anyone poking at me in the middle of the night because he's horny, yet too tired when I'm in the mood;
  • Conversation- I can talk with my friends on the phone or via text, or during our occasional gatherings.
In facing my inner demons over the last few years, I've discovered my trust issues are now raised like the hackles of an alpha wolf fiercely guarding his pups.

No one is getting near them.

I've written about some of my trust issues before: how do I know he's telling me the truth, in any instance; his HIV status, his views on monogamy, his current relationship status, etc.

Yes, I've been hurt, and badly. We all have. Many people go on to get over their hurt and forge new and better relationships. Yet, right now, I see no need for one. 

I've always been independent, after all I am an Aquarian, the independent child of the Zodiac, the free-thinker, the misunderstood one. Yet, whenever a man came into my life and began to pay me some attention, I immediately began to think of developing a relationship with him, and stick it out despite red flags flapping frantically in hurricane force winds.

My dichotomy...my own personal catch-22;
To wit:

My first partner was a bit jealous and so afraid of losing me, we hardly ever went to gay events or clubs, to eliminate the potential competition, I guess. I saw elements of my stepfather in him: possessiveness, jealousy among the strongest. And because my ex wanted me, I stuck it out for nearly nine years until he died. It felt nice to be wanted and needed even if it wasn't by someone who could meet all my needs whatever they were.
 
My ex-husband couldn't communicate with me. I tried sharing my feelings regarding situations/conflicts and he couldn't take responsibility for his part. He shifted the blame to me. He also later turned out to be a bit possessive and chased the close friend he associated with my first partner out of my life. She and I were estranged for a number of years, until I learned he was responsible for pushing her away, and not someone else. And yet I stuck it out unhappily for almost sixteen years until he asked for a divorce.

The few men I've met since have also let me down, in that I saw that they were good, decent men and I found them attractive. I began to think of them as possible boyfriends, or more, but nothing materialized leaving me feeling rejected, hurt and now distrusting.

As my financial situation improves giving me resources and self-esteem to get back out there, I fear I'll be repeating the habits of settling for someone simply because he wants to be with me and I'll ignore the signs. Better to be with someone, anyone, rather than being alone. After all, I've done that before.

But, lately I've been thinking the opposite. It is better to be alone than with just anyone. And that is true. But, I've been thinking of making this my life's goal: be single. Accept it. Embrace it. Enjoy being single but not alone. 

I'll look to construct a geographically desirable social circle to socialize with. I'll attend writers' workshops to socialize and obtain feedback and encouragement on my writing.

I'll find a social group to hang out with to make new friends to occasionally catch a movie or a coffee.

And we'll see what happens...

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Fears vs. Limitations

It was suggested I use my limitations to hide behind to avoid confronting my fears.

Perhaps it's true.

First, let me define what I think a limitation is, and then identify the limitations I believe I have, as well as the fears I know I have.

To me, a limitation is a somewhat physical constraint. I say 'somewhat physical' in that I see time as a constraint on my schedule for socializing. Time exists, but is it 'physical?' We can't see, touch or taste it. But time does have a way of touching us. I've blogged about how much time teaching takes, both within and outside the classroom.

Money is also one of my limitations at this time. Money is indeed physical, as we can see and touch it. I'm not sure I'd want to taste it, who knows where it's been! I've also written about my financial recovery after my divorce. Yes, this limitation has indeed played a big part in my post-divorce not-wanting-to-date life. After all, a few allegedly well-meaning friends did tell me that if I kept saying I couldn't afford to go, potential dates would just quit asking. And while this would indeed weed out the superficial men, the ones who feel money is an all-important part of a relationship, and leave those who solely want to spend time with me, the lack of money still plays on my self-esteem. Which, of course, it shouldn't, but it does. And it has. Heavily.

My car has also been a limitation. It's a 2006 American model with approaching 120,000 miles. I grew up in an era where American made cars had a reputation for falling apart at 100,000 miles. It was drummed into my head. Friends and mechanics have warned me of potential upcoming costly repairs based on their own experiences with similar makes and models. Yet, none of those dire predictions has come true. Yet, they still weigh heavily on me; therefore, my car's aging has led me to drive less. That is, I have become a homebody. I rationalize it that I'm saving money on gas, and avoiding wear and tear on my car in the long run because I don't have the money for any repairs. And driving less means less emissions which in turn is better for the planet; therefore, I'm somewhat green.

As for my fears, I think they're pretty standard. Throughout this blog, I've identified fears of:
  • rejection
  • being used
  • being hurt
  • falling for the wrong man
  • settling for someone less than what I deserve
And then there's the other factor I've mentioned here in a post, I don't know how to date; to be selective, to make the right choices. I never had the opportunity to learn as a young gay man. Few gay men of my generation have had that opportunity. I settled for the two partners I have lived with because they wanted me.

Friends tell me I shouldn't let my limitations get in my way of living a life. That's true. I shouldn't. But, how does one make time when there's so little of it left after working, commuting and sleeping? Those elements I can't change; I have to commute to work, and then sleep to be refreshed for the next day. Out of 168 hours in a week, I figure I have 68 left after the work/commute/sleep triumvirate has taken its toll. In those remaining hours I need to write, take care of my house and take care of me, which I do so little of anyway, and that leaves little time left over for dating.

I can't print any more money, the government frowns on that. Therefore, I must live within my means, and just when I think I'm making ends meet, something comes along to move one of them, sometimes kicking it further down the road way out of sight. And all that leaves no money left over for socializing.

True, I can rearrange my chores, and yes, there are free or low-cost adventures for socializing.

As far as my car goes, what's going to happen, will happen. I can't control that. I just hope it doesn't happen on the freeway, again.

But, there's also one thing I haven't mentioned.

Do I have the mental/emotional/physical/spiritual energy right now to meet someone new and get to know him while I am still getting to know myself?
That is a whole new post.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Blessing Jar

 
My Blessing Jar for 2015

My last post, NYE 2014/5, generated a discussion with a good friend about setting goals and the difference I see between New Year's Resolutions and my New Year's Attempts.

So, I will clarify...

To me, the words 'resolution' and 'resolve' denote a steadfast determination to succeed. My experience has been that I have never kept a resolution for a full year, and then I feel like a failure and my self-esteem takes a big hit. And very often we make resolutions that are impossible to keep from the beginning, so we end up self-sabotaging, by setting ourselves up to fail. Then, it often becomes a vicious circle until we finally give up and fully embrace the bad habit.

So, I decided I would be happier if I chose to at least attempt to change the habits I want to change. By embracing the change more slowly, the goal then becomes easier to manage, and my self-esteem doesn't take as big a hit, should I not keep my resolution. At least I made the attempt, now I can regroup, refocus and decide my next course of action. I learned this in Weight Watchers. Why resolve to lose fifty pounds in two months when five pounds in two weeks is more reasonable? And then take the next step...and the next one...and lose the next five...the next five... So, you may still end up losing the fifty pounds you need to, but in smaller attempts.

My jar entries from 2014.
Baby steps is still progress.

But, the only two real goals I do have this new year are two I began in previous years; to read more and to continue with my blessing jar.

Reading more is self-explanatory and I actually began this Attempt a few years ago when I officially signed up for the Goodreads Reading Challenge, where you challenge yourself to read so many books in a year. I didn't make my goal last year reading only 9 of 15 books I set for myself. This year, I'm trying to be more realistic, and have set my goal at 12, though I hope to read more than 12.
      For more information on the Goodreads challenge, click here.

In 2014, every night before I retired,  I took a small notepaper and wrote down something good that happened to me that day and placed in an empty jar. For example, I picked two at random:
  • 1/31~ To have an ordinary day is a blessing in itself.
  • 3/7~ Xena (the cat I lost in Jan. 2014) is in her urn and with the rest (of my furry children).
[Not many would consider the second event to be a good thing, but I saw it as the fact I was over my grief of losing her, she was with her siblings, and it was the closing of a chapter with my ex, signaling a new chapter in my new life.]

The idea is that on New Year's Eve to take out all the papers from the jar and read them to see what an amazing year you did have. (To be honest, I have not done that as of this writing, yet.)

I recall writing something down nightly through about May, and then sporadically throughout the remainder of the year. To get back in the spirit, I even challenged a friend to do it with me, and then we would text each other the "something-good-happened-to-me-today" nightly. This year I will attempt to write nightly, past May. Some people may prefer to do this in a notebook of some kind to see a more chronological list of dates, but I find I lose or misplace notebooks easily. The jar and note paper sit in my headboard where I see them as I'm getting into bed. Science also shows that thinking positive thoughts right before going to sleep aids in getting to sleep faster and yields better sleep.

This year, though, I'm switching things up a bit.

I'm changing my focus to the blessings in my life. Yes, something positive happening during the course of a day could be a blessing, so I'm not discounting that idea. And, I'm adding a positive quality about myself.

So, those are my two goals I am attempting this year. In addition, I want to enjoy a more overall healthy lifestyle, so I am attempting to eat better, be more active, be in better touch with myself emotionally and spiritually; and to read and write more. I will also attempt to socialize more, which will elevate my mood and then, in turn, elevate my positivity.

So, how do I know if I'm successful at these Attempts? All I said was I would do more of  them, right? And the reading and writing are quantifiable, so if I read even one more book and write a few more pages, I will have succeeded. And in my gut, if I feel I have eaten more fruits and vegetables, and gotten a little more exercise, that will count as success, right?

Here's to 2015 and my New Year's Attempts!!

Let's see how I do!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

NYE 2014/5

As I sit here and contemplate the year ahead and the year behind, I feel a bit two-faced; looking both forwards and backwards. Yes, the past is indeed behind me and unless I'm going in reverse, there's no need to be looking over my shoulder.

Unless there's a lesson to be learned to take forward. And I really can't think of anything new I've learned, just more about myself, most of which I've already expounded upon here.

Ad nauseum.

I do see some hope on the horizon as I've mentioned in a prior post. We shall see what that brings.

So, that brings me to the true point of this post, if I indeed have one.

How do I see the New Year in? Well, I don't make resolutions, because I know I won't keep them. The only one I've ever kept is the one never to make any again.

Though I do make New Year's Attempts. (Calling them 'attempts' rather than 'resolutions' sounds better. As long as I feel I have 'attempted' to improve whatever I've targeted, I will feel better about myself should I not succeed in keeping the pace for a full year which I usually don't.)

Anyway, I will attempt to eat better, I will attempt to take better care of myself- emotionally, physically, spiritually, mentally and financially. That last one really doesn't fit in with the others, but it does affect at least three of them; having no money can affect one's emotions and thoughts which in turn can affect one's sense of Spirit.

And I will attempt not to take things so personally.

Change is not easy, and personal change is even more difficult. Trying to change many years of bad habits of thinking is nearly impossible, but can be done. And I'm trying.

As I trudge stroll along this path, and take in the sights, and experiences, I will attempt to do so gratefully for having the experience to grow and get in touch with my true self.

After all, isn't that what life is all about?

Oh, and I will attempt to write more, be it here, or in my journal but especially on my works in progress.


Happy 2015 to you, my readers!!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Please Santa...


A friend posted the following video on his Facebook page. As I clicked on it, I recalled seeing it last year. As holiday travelers scanned their boarding passes, Santa came on a screen and talked to them, both children and adults, asking what they wanted for Christmas.

Please watch:


This time, as I watched the video, tears welling up in my eyes, I asked myself what would I ask Santa for?

And I thought.

And thought.

And thought some more.

I thought about what the people in the video asked for:

I really don't need another tablet, or a choo choo train. My sock and underwear drawer is kind of full at the moment.

I'm really not interested in a big screen television, right now. I don't even watch the small one I have now, and I realized having another one would take away from what precious free time I already struggle to find.

Then I looked around the house for other things I might need. Nothing came to mind.

What about non-material things?

No, I don't want Santa to bring me a boyfriend. Or a dog. Or a cat. Or a roommate. Or any of the appliances that are breaking down.

I did finally come up with something:

Peace.

I want Peace for those with troubled hearts, because of:
  • Grief over the loss of loved ones;
  • Pain from whatever source, whether emotional or physical;
  • Relationship problems;
  • Family troubles;
  • Intrapersonal struggles 
I want Peace for a world where all lives matter, not just black lives or cop lives, not just gay lives, but ALL human lives.
I want Peace between people, whether the differences are based on religion or culture; gender identification or sexual orientation; or economic status.

I want Peace on our planet, as we strive for a balance between commercial and environmental concerns.

That's what I want.

Please Santa, bring us Peace.



Sunday, December 14, 2014

Tightrope to Dawn

They say it's always darkest just before the dawn.

Mhm.

Both are in front of me. I can see the dawn in one part of my life, and while it is indeed visible, there is a dark patch just in front of it.

I say I can see the dawn in one part of my life because this one part is indeed coming to an end signaling a new beginning.

In a way.

No, I'm not getting married, ending my singleness. I'm not even dating anyone, nor looking to.

No, I'm not retiring, ending my teaching career; though that, too, is on the horizon, just a little farther out.

No, I'm not getting a pet, ending my loneliness.

Yes, I'm trying to write my next few novels, but that will take time.

I'm talking about my financial struggles. They may indeed be ending, or at least easing up a bit. (No, I haven't won the lottery.)

When my ex left me, I kept the house and had a sizable amount of personal debt. Over the last four years, I have refinanced the mortgage, and am now able to say that by May, 2015, I will have completely paid off my personal debt. And the money I have been sending to pay these bills will not be deducted from my bank account any longer.

Yay, me! Time to celebrate that milestone!

That is the dawn. A new beginning, a new chapter, lessons learned and all the other metaphors I can think of.

Yet, there is a dark side coming first.

Per a suggestion from my tax advisor, I have decided to increase a pre-tax deduction from my paycheck to establish a Healthcare Spending Account. I've had this account for a couple of years, and have made good use of it. A set amount per month is taken from my paycheck before any income taxes are paid. Therefore, I am paying tax on less income. The money deducted is set aside and any qualifying health related expenses are reimbursed to me. As one of my therapists doesn't take my insurance, I pay out-of-pocket and these expenses do indeed qualify. So, I will get this money back when I send in the receipts and subsequently, I break even. One small downside, I will be getting a smaller income tax refund in 2016 as I will be paying less income taxes.

This also means I will be living on less money per month, and tightening the belt even more, until I am reimbursed, which I can do at any time. (I am currently researching recipes for grass stew, if anyone has any to share.) And I will be walking a financial tightrope of trying to get reimbursed before any bills get returned to me. I've managed so far, but as I'm more than doubling the deduction this time, this is a big step even if only for a short while. The deductions will continue for twelve months, but by June the debt payments will be finished and I can breathe a little.

It has been this financial struggle that has been at the core of my decisions over these last few years. While many may see these as excuses not to 'get out there,' this was indeed my reality. If there is not enough money at the end of a month for even one movie ticket, how can there be enough for two? With the price of gas fluctuating, what do I need to give up in order to fill my tank to get to work when gas is high again? Can I afford that extra tank of gas this month if I drive any more than what I currently do? Yes, even my gas is budgeted. My income is limited, and became even more so when my district instituted furlough days cutting my salary. Until I was able to refinance, I had to resort to using my savings just to survive, which then depleted my savings rather quickly, as I didn't have millions tucked away, unfortunately.

Recently, several people have suggested I find a roommate to increase my cash flow. One person was even shocked I didn't already have one being I live in a large four bedroom house. Earlier, I tried, but no one even answered my ads except someone who needed to move immediately! (I saw many red flags on that one.) I knew of two guys I would have considered as roommates, but neither opportunity panned out. So, I have come to accept that I was meant to go through this phase alone in order to learn some lessons:
  1. I am a survivor, I have been through other difficult times, financial or otherwise, and made it. I will make it to May.
  2. I am self-reliant. I have learned to rely on myself and myself alone. I don't need anyone else.
  3. I am strong. I will do what it takes to survive. I may not like it, but I can do it. And I will.
  4. And, perhaps, the fact that since I've gone through this alone, I will appreciate my success all that more.
I've also come to realize that roommates are like boyfriends and pets. The right one will appear at the right time, if the Universe so decrees.

So, what am I doing to help me make it through this dark patch? I will work out a timeline to determine when to submit receipts for reimbursement before bills are returned. I have signed up to do some tutoring after school for some additional pay. It's not much, but every little bit helps. I will continue whatever cost-cutting measures I need to, like shopping at off-chain markets, buying off-brand items, increase using coupons, only buy what I absolutely need, etc. After all, this is only for a short period of time.

Another bit of news is that my union and district are negotiating a new contract, which includes a possible pay raise. And there is an offer on the table from the district, so I'm hopeful of something. However, my instinct is that it will be settled toward the end of the school year when the district sees how much money it didn't spend, if any; and when I've been through the rough patch. So, because my financial picture is improving due to:
  • all my personal debt being paid off soon;
  • a possible raise in the future, and maybe even retroactive to the beginning of the school year,
I'm feeling better about some things.

While I'm not expecting my financial picture to look like this one:












 I'm thinking it will be more like this:



 But, this doesn't mean I'm ready to date.

Yet.