Money and Me: 2014 Edition

At the beginning of 2014, I started a project that would turn out to be far more ambitious than I’d expected, and ultimately change my life in big ways and small. I made a budget. For most people, that’s a small thing itself. For me –

I grew up poor, and that never really got better. I can’t remember a time I felt as though I had enough money to pay my bills, month after month, for more than a couple of months in a row. Over the years I got into bad habits with money, the kind of habits that come from knowing, for a sure and certain fact, that you will never be able to afford everything you need to get by, and you’re going to have to choose which thing to pay, and which to incur late fees on, or lose completely. Tiny, insignificant, choices, become monumental. Deciding whether to take my son to McDonalds for an order of chicken nuggets becomes a choice between giving my child a treat he’s been begging for all week, when he is cold and not feeling well and we haven’t been able to afford toys or movies or treats of any other kind and I already feel terrible that I can never do for him what other parents do for their kids — or washing a load of laundry we’ll need to get him into clean clothes for the school week. After a while, any money that comes in is paying off what’s already behind, and there’s never any hope that you’ll be able to build up savings, and the things you need to be even remotely comfortable and fed and safe are added to a growing list of things you mean to buy, someday, when you can…

The last couple of years have been the hardest for me that I’ve been through in a long time, but while all of that was happening, I figured out that I had everything I’d need for a good life right in front of me. In pieces, anyway. I had my writing, my son, the ability to do well at an administrative day job, and someone who made me want to be a better/more successful person. I had drive and skills, but those bad habits and some obstacles that felt impossible to overcome (debt, a lack of stable childcare, a horrible living situation) fed into the lack of hope that kept me from thinking any plan I put into place would actually work. Eventually I decided the future I could have was worth trying for, even though I was certain that everything I reached for would eventually be taken away. Continue reading

Slow and Steady

Recently, a great number of loose ends have begun to weave themselves together, and goals I’ve been working on for a year or more are suddenly falling into place. That includes:

Medical

A) I don’t have cancer. After a couple of months of tests and worry, I found out a week ago that my thyroid tumor is not only benign, but collapsing in on itself, so the planned surgery to remove it is no longer necessary. (If you missed the longer version of that story, read it here.)

B) A month ago I started taking medication for me ADHD, after a lifetime of struggling to stay on top of it without help. The process to get medication took several months, and involved starting therapy with a counselor to make sure it wasn’t depression (it’s not), seeing a general practitioner to rule out a different medical problem (it’s not) and finally seeing a psychiatrist to make sure it wasn’t some other psychological problem (not that either), plus a followup to find out if what I’m taking is working correctly and is at the right dosage (it is).

C) All of the above led me to so many medical tests/blood draws/psychological exams that I have now been declared “very healthy”. Yay!

Fitness

A little over 2 years ago, I was a hundred pounds overweight. There were a lot of reasons I got there and kept it on for several years, but I knew I needed to change my life for, similarly, a lot of reasons. I’m not guessing on my goal number–it’s based on a weight I actually was, after high school, after having a child, and even then I was still a little over my medically ideal weight. My real goal is a size/level of fitness, not a number on a scale, but when you’re 100 pounds away from where you want to be, picking a goal number helps you visualize where you’re headed. My plan is to get close to that spot, and decide then if I’ve lost enough fat, need more muscle, or would be more comfortable going down one more size. I’ll never be thin, I’m built on an hourglass shape but, luckily, I love the way I look when I’m healthy.

As of now, I’ve lost 35 pounds. It took two years to lose and keep off the first 20, plus learn how to stop putting it back on. I changed my diet, in tiny ways, changed my exercise (adding more as I got healthier), learned about nutrition and portion control and how to eat enough while not giving up the food I enjoy… and the more I understand all of those things, the easier losing weight has been. The last 15 pounds came off in the last two months, and I’m finally at a place where I don’t overeat, do work out. I can see the rest coming off without too much stress, if I give it a little more time.

Plus, last night I went out, wearing a simple summer dress I’d bought on sale for $9, in a standard size, and I looked good. *grin*

Job Hunting

A) I’ve needed a stable office/administrative day job for a while now, because freelance is too unpredictable when I have a child to care for and monthly bills to pay. Getting there meant having to find after school/summer care for my son, who has autism. Last summer, he wouldn’t have been accepted to a program for typical kids–he just didn’t have enough language and social skills. After a year of being included in a mainstream class (with a one-on-one aide), and then a few months of going to a one-day-a-week after school program for kids with special needs, and getting used to being away from me with our wonderful babysitter, he was finally ready to try being more independent.

It took weeks to find someone who’d even try a special needs child in their daycare; I got him into one program that kicked him out a week later–not because he’d done anything wrong, but because he didn’t always want to play with the other kids, and they wanted to oversee their children in a group, all at once, so they’d be able to run on a smaller staff. After a few more weeks, I got him into a better (but much more expensive) program partially run by the city, and it’s been wonderful. The staff talked to me about their concerns up front, since he wouldn’t have a dedicated aide and none of the other children have special needs, but it turned out to not be an issue. My son is doing great, he follows the rules, plays where he’s told, and the other kids like him. He’ll be going back in the fall.

During the summer he’s going to be at a camp that’s mixed typical kids/special needs kids, and have an aide for part of the day (swim lessons!), and he’s very excited to start.

B) Once I had that settled, I started sending out resumes. I had three interviews last week, and am waiting to hear back. I realized it’s like submitting stories: the longer they hold on to you, the more you hope you got in. It could still be a rejection, but it’s nice to feel you’re getting close to making a sale.

Personal

More than two years after K and I separated, I am finally divorced. It was going to take even longer, but we had a conference last week and settled everything. I ultimately decided that giving up some of what I was owed was worth it if it meant being able to move on with my life. I got stuck with some debt that wasn’t really mine, and didn’t get money I should have, but I also don’t have to try to fight a contested divorce from across the country (he’s in CA). I don’t have to spend more money on lawyers, or more time dealing with this. I can just be done.

Writing

Last month I started finishing up a few pieces I began last year, wrote new flash, and created a page for Free Fiction here. This week I put together my first short story collection. I’ve got ebooks now; the print version is processing, and I’ve submitted the ebooks to other distributors. Tracking my stats all year, staying organized, and writing even when I feel like quitting, helped me keep with it even with everything else I’ve had going on. I feel like I’m finally back to where I was in 2010, when I had a clear idea of where my career was going.

Dagan Books

We posted an update to our schedule, I’ve emailed the authors for Cthulhurotica 2 and our next novella and our first single-author collection; all of those things are now concurrently being worked on. By me. Yeah. It’s going to be a busy summer.

Finance

This is the one dark spot. Medical bills (I got my final bill for both the MRI and the biopsy), normal life expenses, and a month of having absolutely NO freelance work at all have put me behind. Too far behind to ignore.

I’ll need to raise some money for what’s due now, and will post tomorrow with links to buy my work, including signed copies of my anthologies and the new collection. Once this stuff is paid off, and I’m working again, I’ll be able to stay ahead, even put money into future Dagan Books projects, so I can see that very soon, I’ll be okay. I just need to get through this last, very stressful, moment, and move on.

From the outside it looks as if I suddenly have had a change in fortunes. Overnight, my life is better. But really it’s the cumulation of working hard over a long period of time, not letting my stress and fear get the better of me, and not giving up. That’s it. That’s my advice for all of you who’re struggling with the hard things in your lives. Don’t give up.

It can’t get better if you quit.

Spring Cleaning

This has been a slow, quiet, weekend. Not the bad kind of slow and quiet–where you’re anxious to do more but feel trapped into doing something else, or worse, nothing at all–but the good kind that feels like a long stretch after a nap. The weather has been lovely, blue skies and warm without being hot. I’ve had the front door open most of the weekend, letting fresh air in. The child has been great: letting me have quiet time when I wanted to get work done, going with me to run errands or walk outside, snuggling up to watch Adventure Time… he even let me extract a huge splinter from his finger (first time I’ve had to do that), and while it was in so deep I ended up having to cut it out with a pair of scissors, he held mostly still and let me do it.

We did the quarterly laundry run to wash ALL THE THINGS (which is different from the weekly trip to the much-closer laundromat for just clothes and such). Every so often I like to have cleaned all of the blankets in the house, and to run the giant shark through the wash. I got some writing and editing done too, tidied the apartment, and even updated my website. (What do you think? Can you find everything? Free Fiction is new, and About Me is updated.)

With the new box spring, my bed is comfy again, and I’ve actually been sleeping.

This is the first time in about a month I took a break from job hunting. I’m very near to getting a day job, I think. I’ve put at least 30 hours a week into this job search (I know because I tracked it like it was a freelance job, so I could be sure I was working as hard as possible on it), with looking for open positions, writing a new cover letter for each resume, researching companies, and interviews/tests. I’ve signed up with the local temp agencies, and tested very well (typing speed, MS Office products, etc). After not getting any bites for a few weeks, I revised my resume, and that’s helped a lot. I’m now “under consideration” for a dozen positions; I was one of two candidates left for one job when they picked the other guy–an internal hire. I got into a final interview for another job, when we discovered they put the wrong hours in the ad.

I don’t take those setbacks personally. It’s like submitting a story–you can have the best, most wonderful, story ever, and it still won’t fit every market. Sometimes you have to revise it before it sells. Be polite, accept your rejections, and keep trying. I will end up with a good job eventually. I am qualified for the jobs I’m applying to, enthusiastic, and everyone who’s met me seems to like me. I was polite about the hour mix-up, so that place is keeping me in mind for their next open position.

Feeling confident about that, I spent this weekend getting other things done instead. I still have a lot to do, but the more I can get organized at home, take care of little things that have been bothering me (like my previous website theme), the easier it is for me to go forward from here.

And now? I’m finally going to organize my files. I even to get to play with my label maker.

My son, and the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary

“Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage? That the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited upon our children year after year is simply the price of our freedom?” – President Obama at tonight’s memorial in Newtown

My son is 9 years old, and is in the fourth grade at a very nice public school. We live in a small town, in a good town, and we happen to live in the right spot for him to attend the kind of elementary school people move to be able to attend. We moved here partly so that he could be in this school system, and they’ve been wonderful – supportive, involved, and committed to the kids.

My son is taught by the kind of people who, I have absolutely no doubt in my mind, would give their lives to save these kids. I know it.

We all heard that on Friday a monster stalked the halls of a similar elementary school in Newtown, CT, and killed little kids. Beautiful, happy, loving, little children. Kids younger than my son. Teachers like his teachers. A principle and school psychologist who ran into the path of bullets to try to stop what was happening. A special needs teacher who died using her body as a shield that sadly didn’t stop the bullets from killing the little ones she tried to hide beneath her.

Tomorrow my son gets to go to school, and someone, one of the kids, is going to be talking about Sandy Hook. That’s what kids do. They hear more than we think, and they trade those rumors, sorting out the truths we think they can’t handle. My son’s teacher and special education director planned to have a guided discussion with the students, to make sure that they knew the basic facts – to dispel fear, to make the kids feel safer. Of course, we have parents who object to this, who think their kids will never find out, who think we shouldn’t be talking about this tragedy with impressionable children.

I promise that if you don’t tell your child, someone will, and they’ll want to know why it wasn’t you.

My son has autism, but he knows what it means to lose someone he loves. To have someone chasing him around the apartment, making him laugh, being important to him … and have that person never walk through the door again. I don’t think he understands death yet but he knows what it means to say goodbye, to miss someone, and not understand why they don’t come back when he asks me for them. I’m glad they’re going to talk to him tomorrow, because I don’t want him to be confused, or scared, any more than he already is in a life that is missing a lot of the language skills he needs to navigate tragedy on his own. His life is already hard. I’m not going to make it worse because I wasn’t ready to talk about this.

my little guy

my little guy

For the record, I own guns. And I am willing to sit through any waiting period, fill out any amount of paperwork, even give them up entirely, if it means that not another small child is killed by a one.

Holiday Traditions

I don’t have a lot of family traditions. Growing up we had big family Christmastimes that weren’t about religion – we rarely prayed before a meal and didn’t go to church – but over time my family drifted off or passed away, so there aren’t reunions to go to anymore. I don’t go “home” for the holidays. I don’t get carried away with decorations and for the most part I don’t spend money on the trappings of holiday cheer. I would never buy a Christmas tree just to fill up my living room with something expensive, flammable, and dead. I have a small box of ornaments I like, but if my apartment caught on fire, that wouldn’t be what I saved*. It’s just so much stuff, in my opinion.

That isn’t to say I get all bah-humbug when the winter rolls around. Far from it! I love the winter, can’t wait until it snows, and do like a warm and happy home to be in when it’s cold outside. It’s just that for me, the holidays aren’t about celebrating the size of your tree or how many presents you can afford to put under it. What matters to me are the people you spend your holidays with, and what you can do to make them feel loved. You can spend several days decking your halls or you can spend that time reading books to your child, making cookies for your spouse, putting another log on the fire, and enjoying your life. Which one is better?

For me, it’s the family time.** Continue reading