Friday, February 27, 2015

My Albatross

They say seeing is believing.

In Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a sailor kills a friendly albatross, and as punishment, is forced to wear the carcass around his neck. This gave rise to the phrase of 'an albatross around the neck' being used as a metaphor representing psychological or emotional burdens often seen as overbearing, or as a curse.

I've had such an albatross hanging around my neck these last few months, though at times it felt more like an anchor weighing me down. The value of my house went up this last year, and with that, so did the property taxes. In fact, the taxes are the highest they've been since I bought my house eleven years ago. I've been cutting out any unnecessary expenses as I've been trying to save every penny to be able to pay the new taxes. I've also been concerned about whether my income tax refund would be enough to help with the property taxes, and if it would come in time to avoid penalties.

Come tax time, I gathered all my documents, scheduled an appointment with my tax preparer and waited anxiously for the (hopefully) good news. In the end, I was getting a decent refund, meaning I'd get enough for my taxes and have some left over. Now, all I had to do was wait for the actual money to be deposited into my bank account, so I could actually write the check to the county tax collector.

Within a week (!) of my preparer filing my forms with both the state and federal governments, the refunds from both sources were deposited, the check was written and mailed off. Now, like an anxious child waiting for Christmas, I'm waiting to see that the check has cleared the bank, and the tax collector has certified my account as 'current.'

While in my head I know I have paid my taxes, and I realize it's just a matter of time for the system to catch up and I know my other financial situations are improving, I just can't let go of this dead weight that has been hanging around my spirit weighing me down.

How do you let go of something like this? I know my situation is changing, and yet, I'm not in a place to accept it, to feel the impact it will have on my life; physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

I've even created a spreadsheet of what my monthly finances will look like once my debt management plan is over. It looks wonderful. So, wonderful in fact, I'm beginning to make plans on what to do with the increase in my budget. It's hard to imagine that I will be in that position, soon.

Maybe it's because I haven't seen it yet. I haven't seen the evidence my check has cleared the bank. I haven't seen the evidence on the tax collector's website that my account has been stamped 'current.' I haven't seen the evidence that my payment to my debt management company has been stopped. I haven't seen the evidence that my bank account is growing.

But, I know I will. Maybe that's when I can let go of this heaviness.

 And then I can feel that my albatross is finally gone.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

That Sinking Feeling

It's beginning to sink in.

I'll be debt free soon.

Except for my mortgage, that is.

I'm watching my progress on my dashboard at the debt management program's website where I'm enrolled. While I am embarrassed to state how much I owed before, I am proud to say I have paid off 96% of  that debt. One more account will be paid off in a month, and the last one the month after that. Visually I can see the progress as they show a bar graph with one bar showing what I owed when I started, and the second one showing what I currently owe. I love watching that second one shrink! I often check in on the website just to give myself a boost when I'm having a rough day.

I share my progress with some very close friends who congratulate me and I beam with pride, yet I can't quite internalize what I've accomplished even though I'm watching my progress.

And yet, I'm writing down lists of things I need or want to accomplish, once I am no longer sending that payment.

I need to:
  • clean or replace the upstairs carpeting;
  • replace the dishwasher and stove;
  • redo the front flowerbeds and back garden;
  • buy new pots to transpot my houseplants;
  • attend to small household repairs;
  • rebuild my savings.
I want to:
  • continue to make my mark on my house with artwork and other furnishings that reflect me;
  • replace the curtains in my office as they're faded and need replacing;
  • replace the curtains in the guest room to match the other drapes upstairs as I have a theme going;
  • replace the living room sofa as my dogs ruined it;
  • replace my camera;
  • replace my laptop;
  • update my wardrobe by replacing the clothes that are worn out or stained;
  • live a little! Okay, maybe live a lot!
I think the fact that I'm making lists is proof that I know where I'm going, I know what's happening. And that's good.

I think the fact that I can't feel good about the success is a bigger issue. And that's not so good.

I think that comes from never feeling good about my successes before, because they were never acknowledged for what they were, "Very good, but you can do better."

I just don't know how I can do better than paying off all this debt. On my own.


Well, I can do better by learning to better live within the means I will have, while making the necessary purchases I need and want, yet not all at once. And by truly asking myself if it is a 'need' or a 'want' and if it's a 'want', can I live without it? Then act accordingly.

I can also do better by taking time to just sit with the emotion I get when I start to see what I make of my house and as I see my bank accounts grow. In other words, as I make each repair or purchase, just sit and reflect on the fact that now I can do it, I can make the necessary repairs, or desired purchases.

And then appreciate it.

I'll just take it one step at a time.


Thursday, February 5, 2015

My Oxygen Mask

I did something unusual this past week.

I took a sick day.

Yes, I really was sick. I rarely take them, even if I am sick; which is rare, anyway. My district gives me ten days a year, and they accumulate over time. One of my former principals once advised me to save them as we never know what may happen in the future, i.e., hospitalization, severe illness, etc. When my first partner died, I used three weeks' worth as bereavement, since my district didn't recognize same-sex couples then. Ever since then, I've been collecting them, yet taking only one or two a year for mental health. As a bonus, if I have enough days saved when I retire, I can cash them in for extra service time, meaning I can either retire a year earlier than my current target and get one more year's credit for a full 37 years credit, or retire as planned in 2020 and get one extra year for 38 years. So, there's a plus to not using my sick days.

I do see the need to take them once in a while, at least for my mental health, if not for my actual physical health. This class has been exceptionally challenging this year. It seems each class has been more challenging than the prior since my ex left me. Maybe it is no coincidence; after all, my divorce has turned my life upside down-emotionally, mentally and financially, so as I'm coping through the changes, I'm not as 'on' my teaching game. My colleagues tell me otherwise. The students are just getting more challenging in their behaviors, and that my class is indeed a 'unique' group.

It's very stressful to take a sick day, planned or not. I need to make sure my lessons are up to date, I try to have everything ready for the substitute to make his/her day as easy as possible. Plus, I like to find a substitute I can rely on. In my years of teaching, I've encountered many substitutes who are very competent, as well as a few who leave a bit to be desired. I hate returning after taking a sick day to find out that the substitute didn't cover any of my plans and I have to reteach what I left for him/her to do, or that my class ran all over the substitute. I like to have a regular substitute or two who get to know my students and who my students get to know. It's easier for all concerned. Therefore, I keep a list of my preferred substitutes. It took me a while to find one, as many of my preferred substitutes were unavailable for the day I wanted, a Monday, as I guessed a few other teachers wanted to extend their weekend. But, eventually I did. So, I called the Substitute Office and reported my absence for Monday.

I've been feeling down a lot lately. A number of things have contributed to my feeling down, and ultimately to my getting sick. I've felt overwhelmed with all the changes in my life combined with the difficult class I have this year, the general workload that accompanies teaching and the continued demoralization of the profession. I must have looked so bad that when I walked into the faculty room yesterday, a friend told me I looked like I was about to implode. On top of all that, a number of friends have shared some of their concerns with me and like a good friend I've tried to be there for them. And yet, there's one friend I've ignored a lot lately.

Me.

Once I got over the fact I was actually taking a sick day, and ignored the actual cold I had, as well as the teacher guilt: will my class be okay? Did I leave enough work for the substitute? Will he survive? I knew I'd done the right thing. Yes, physically, I still felt miserable, but I knew my class was in good hands, though I feared they would they run roughshod over him. But, isn't that what he's being paid for? To manage their day and try and maintain my educational program?




A friend once reminded me of what they say in those airline safety demonstrations, "If you're traveling with a small child or someone else who needs your assistance, put your oxygen mask on first, before assisting others."

So, I slept some more after I woke up to phone the school telling them I wouldn't be in; then, I read a bit, I wrote some, chatted with a friend, read some more, wrote a few more lines, continued chatting, took a nap, forced gallons of fluids, and noticed my general mood beginning to elevate ever so slightly.

I actually felt better emotionally. As this was a Monday I was taking off, I'd also slept and rested most of the weekend which contributed to my physical improvement. Yet, the one day off from this class did me a world of good. Okay, maybe a small world, but it felt good to take the day. For me.

Maybe I'll use my oxygen mask a couple more times before the end of the year. Just don't tell my principal.


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!