Life, Death, and Student Loans

The title of this post sounds good in the order I put it, but I’m going to reverse that order as I write this. Since I graduated in 2008, my student loans have been a huge burden. Despite having paid off $10k, I’ve had to defer the loans and they have grown from around $35k … Continue reading “Life, Death, and Student Loans”

The title of this post sounds good in the order I put it, but I’m going to reverse that order as I write this. Since I graduated in 2008, my student loans have been a huge burden. Despite having paid off $10k, I’ve had to defer the loans and they have grown from around $35k to close to $50k. Since coming to the USA in 2013 the burdens of rent, auto insurance, auto repairs, health insurance, groceries, utilities, and every other bill that you are forced to pay when you try to have a life here have forced me to defer my loans again and again. I’ve built a couple of profitable businesses in this little town that have enabled us to live here – and my hope was that I would be able to sell them and pay off my loans – but the sad truth seems to be that people who live here don’t have the money or the ability to buy or more importantly to take over these businesses – it’s not that they are unable to do the work, it’s that they are (by and large) on social security or disability or retirement pensions that will penalize them if they earn money. It’s one of the reasons it is so hard to find good help here – people don’t want to screw up their current entitlements. So, as much as I hate to say it – it looks like my student loans will continue to grow and I will continue to defer them – indefinitely unless something changes.

And that brings me to death. I’m not sure, but I think debt remains even after you die. If I were to die, my family would inherit my debt – which is complete bullshit. I have a life insurance policy that would cover everything – but I certainly hope that in the event of my death they will take the money and give the middle finger to the debt collectors – it is not their debt and if I die, the debt dies with me – at least that’s how I think it should be. The debt owners should have a life insurance policy on me if they want to collect when and if I die. But, I don’t intend to die anytime soon. However, living in this town of retirement and disability and working as I do with liquidating the estates of the dead or soon to be dead – I am more acutely aware of my own mortality than I’ve ever been – and I’ve always been acutely aware of it. All of this American bullshit we worry about doesn’t matter – the chase after money, the chase after paying bills, the insurance, the stockmarket, the tech gadgets, blah blah blah. We are going to die someday and that is all there is to it. That awareness is what has led me to live the life that I’ve led – we have today but yesterday is gone and tomorrow never has a guarantee. We must live.

And that brings me to life. I want to enjoy the life I live and I want to give my daughter every opportunity to enjoy the life she lives. I want my wife to enjoy the life she lives. These past four years, we have been working towards several goals 1) American citizenship for my wife (which we have achieved) 2) Paying off my student loans (which I discussed above but am ready to give up on) and 3) Building careers and business which will support us and allow us to live the rest of our lives the way we want to live – this is a tricky one because my wife’s family still lives in North Africa – so the life we want needs to include a way to see them at least periodically. The life we want to live must also include warm ocean and sunny beaches – which is something the Oregon Coast simply does not offer. There are people in the USA who I love and care about, but if I do not see them for years at a time, I can deal with that. The same is not true for my wife and her family in Europe and North Africa – this has been a huge burden for her. And that brings me to it – we are ready to live. Because we are ready to live, we are ready to move along to a very different life in a very different place. We are putting it all together now as Sophia finishes kindergarten and Hanane finishes up teaching for the school year. Stay tuned for much much more…

My Smart Questions

I’ve been carrying around a piece of paper with these questions on it for a decade –

What do I want to accomplish today?
What is the most important thing I need to do today?
Is this the best use of my time right now?
What can I do to take the next leap as opposed to the next step?
What are my top three goals currently?
What (in my life) is most important to me?
What action can I take right now instead of worrying?

As a bonus – here is my plan for how to be rich:
1) Create your own opportunities
2) Have a growth mindset
3) Never stop learning

The questions are memorized and immortalized here – I’m going to throw the paper away now…

Extra bonus: The first rule of holes is that if you are in one, stop digging.

The Hoarding Urge

On a good day – I sell more than I buy. That’s how I make my living and support my family. I buy stuff and then I sell it. Hopefully, I can read the market good enough that I am able to buy for a lower price than I sell things. Sadly (for me, but I suppose good for the sellers I buy from) – sometimes I buy things that are not worth even as much as I pay for them. I like to think that doesn’t happen very often – but the truth is – it happens a lot. Usually the stuff I can’t sell goes in a box to Goodwill or the Hospice Thrift Shop- last week I donated two truck loads to the Elks thrift shop – I’m a frequent donator of stuff that doesn’t fit in my shop or stuff that I’m tired of looking at. And then, I also have a very full shop – and despite the fact that I’ve recently limited my buying – the shop seems to be getting more full. It’s not magic – I know why this is happening – in fact it is a good thing. (Drumroll because here is my confession)

I was a closet hoarder.

Right now, all you will find in my closet are clothes and shoes – at the beginning of the year – my closets were filled with tubs and crates. The drawers of my desk and dresser are now empty – but at the beginning of the year they were filled with parts of my hoard. My curio cabinet has a few things in it – but at the start of the year it was crammed full of ‘treasures’. My covered utility trailer has a couple of bicycles in it right now, but at the start of the year – it was filled with full tubs of more of my hoard. The storeroom and 2nd bathroom and the office in my shop were all filled to the brim with stuff – but finally I have managed to get them back to a manageable level. You can walk in them now and get to everything, but there is still work to do.

What was all this stuff? If you had asked me a few months ago – I would have told you it was treasure – stuff that was worth huge amounts of money – but now, I can tell you that while there were some valuables mixed in – the majority of that stuff was just mid range and low end antique store stuff – piles and piles and piles of it. Old marbles, boxes of antique post cards, vintage mechanical pencils, viewmaster reels, jazz records, boxes full of one hundred year old letters, four kids stamp collections from the 1950s and 1960s, binders full of $1-$10 baseball cards from the 1980s and 1990s, foreign coin collections, boxes of Bronze age comics worth anywhere from $1-$5, old cameras, about twenty-five pairs of vintage women’s gloves, more than a dozen sliderules, hundred year old eyeglasses, books I liked or wanted to read or thought were interesting, five separate rock collections, three rusty bikes from the 1960s, a Nintendo Wii and forty games, a bunch of older Nintendo stuff, and more…but that was the good stuff, under that was the stuff I was saving for a garage sale, the stuff not good enough to sell but that I was strangely attached to, pairs of shoes I wore long enough to put holes in them, old t-shirts I planned to use for rags, a car seat cover, golf clubs (I don’t golf), gold pans, car taillights, tools I don’t know the use of – it goes on and on. That’s the stuff I’ve been taking to the thrift shops – there is much more of that – things I might need but have had long enough it is not likely I will need them, cleaning products, seasonal flags, oh, my god, so much stuff – bags full of pens and pencils, dozens of staplers, sets of chipped dishes –

Why was I hoarding all this stuff? I can recognize a couple of reasons – first, it’s my job to get as much value out of every item I come across as I can. 2nd – while I was unable to find value at the moment – I saw potential value and hoped that the value would increase. 3rd – there was a sort of security and comfort in having those piles of stuff – knowing it was there just in case I needed it or needed to sell it – but, at some point, that changed – the stuff started to feel very heavy (rocks and coins and metal tools and car parts and other heavy stuff, but the light stuff too). I began to feel owned by the stuff and it just kept piling up in my closet, in my trailer, in my storage units (when I had them which I’m happy to say that I do not any longer). The stuff was crushing me.

So I started unloading it, putting it on the shelves to see if it would sell, listing it on ebay, and taking it to the thrift shops if I didn’t sell it elsewhere. And a funny thing happened…

As a dealer and a guy who runs the occasional estate sale, I’ve been in hoarders hoards. I’ve crawled through places that would make the American Pickers turn and run – and the funny thing I’ve found is that the hoarders generally have a mixture of the good, the mediocre, and the crappy – and there is usually really good stuff that has been allowed to fall into irretrievable ruin. Paintings allowed to mold, metal allowed to rust away, dishes that were valuable but now chipped and broken. Garbage mixed in with family treasures. As I began emptying my hoard and putting price tags on it and putting it on the shelves – I discovered the answer to how that happened.
When I got to the very back of my covered utility trailer, I found that it had developed a leak and three boxes were sitting in a puddle of water. In the back of my closet – mold had started to grow on the walls and then had jumped to the back of a painting, my tools in the toolbox had started to rust. Mice had chewed into a box of papers and made a nest. Mold, oh the awfulness of mold. Given time, Oregon will turn a hoard of the most valuable antiques and collectibles into a big pile of rust, mold, dirt, and trash. And yes, I found that somehow – there was even trash mixed in my treasure. If that process had been allowed to continue, my treasure would have mixed with my piles of ‘take to the thrift shop stuff’ and my throw away stuff and my ‘this might be useful sometime stuff’ and eventually – it would have become a big trashy hoard.

I still buy – but my closets and drawers and trailer are empty. My storerooms are getting emptier by the day and my shop is getting more full. It feels good to have all that treasure out where it can become someone elses. And here is something I learned long ago which is hard to put into practice. If you have something you think is valuable but you don’t know the value – you are probably going to overestimate it or not try to sell it and just sock it away until you know more. But when you try to sell it and no one buys it and then you lower the price and no one buys it and you lower the price even lower and no one buys it and maybe you even try to give it away for next to nothing and no one wants it – then the urge to put that away disappears and it is very easy to give it away or throw it away. The hoarder, in many cases, doesn’t want to know that there is no value in most of the hoard because if they knew, they wouldn’t want it any longer.

The stuff you aren’t selling isn’t doing you any good.

Myself at 45 – Goals Review for 2016

Here I am – I usually do this on my Birthday, but this year – I was away and unable to find the time – so here I go now. At 45, I’m just a few days shy of being exactly 5.5 years shy of my halfway mark through this life. I climbed the Chinese mountain that grants you life to 101 years old – so, here I am.

I feel good in my skin. I feel good in my head. I feel good in my spirit. It’s entirely possible that this is the most balanced I have ever been. I did not achieve so many of my 2016 goals – and yet, somehow, I won in this terrible year of nightmares and celebrity deaths.

2016, I dubbed it the “Year of Joy and Gratitude” back in 2015 when I was formulating my plan for the year. My purpose was “Be a better father, friend, son, husband, and brother. Enjoy life more. Make life simpler. Earn more money and use it well.” and the objective was “At the end of 2016 my life will be simpler and I will be focused on family, creativity, garden, health, and joy.” In the years that I’ve been doing this – I’ve found that years rarely comply to the structure I try to set for them. My path to this worthy goal consisted of seven categorized goals with each of them made up of multiple measurable goals. Here they are with analysis for end of year.

1) Keep my family safe, happy and healthy with a combination of healthy food, exercise, games, and providing a safe home. – My focus on getting outside, getting more family time, gardening, reducing meat consumption, and getting my wife her US Citizenship worked. I rocked this goal. On the downside, while I expanded the garden we were assaulted by gophers, slugs, mice and rats, and raccoons who slaughtered our flock of chickens. The garden failed this year despite much more work going into it. Family trips were awesome and getting Hanane her citizenship was the culmination of a huge multi-year effort. A+ on this one despite the garden.
2. Be Fit and Healthy by eating better, exercising more, and meditating. I started the year at a bloated 193 lbs with a 36 inch waist. By summer I had dropped down to 168 and a 32 inch waist but by years end was back at 185 with a 34 inch waist. My failing points were quitting the gym when the school year started (because I could no longer go first thing in the morning) and also never really getting my addiction to sugar under control. I began using the Headspace app to be sure I got my daily dose of meditation and re-awakened my Buddhist practice. The meditation and Buddhism are so incredibly important that I won’t give myself an F in this category but will instead raise it up to a C.
3. Make more money by selling businesses, diversifying, paying off debt. I tried to sell my businesses without success this year. I was unwilling to sell for a loss. I managed to pay off all my credit card debt and improve my credit score but was once again forced to defer my student loans. Financially, I didn’t come anywhere near my goals – and yet, I earned more than the previous year, paid off all my credit cards (but they have crept back up again), and improved my credit score. I also became much better at the business I am in and streamlined my businesses to increase profits and decrease waste. Despite not getting anywhere near my monetary goals – I can’t fail myself here either. I earned a solid C and given the foundation which has been laid, I’m going to bump that up to a C+.
4. Paint, draw, sculpt, build. I didn’t do nearly enough painting, drawing, building, or other artwork – but I did enter three of my paintings in a juried show and managed to sell two of my paintings. B.
5. Lighten load sell and give away stuff. There is so much more work to do here. And yet, I am so much lighter than 2015. I sold, gave away, donated, trashed, and got rid of so much stuff. I changed my buying habits and developed new venues to get rid of my accumulations and earn more money. There is more work here, but I earned a solid A in this goal.
6. Write by writing words. I never knew that writing would become such a difficult thing to do. Creating the time and space for it is the really hard part. I did turn a corner and change from no writing to some writing – but there is a lot of progress to be made here. C.
7. Be joyful with gratitude, acceptance, love. This is a tricky one – I found this, but not in the way I expected. A big part of it was realizing that it’s okay to tell a whole class of people that they suck and I want nothing to do with them. Realizing that was okay and that I don’t have to make room in my life for assholes opened the door to the greatest feeling of acceptance I’ve ever known. My 2015 hippie formula was missing an essential part – it’s okay to turn your back and say fuck that person, they suck and it’s not my problem. A.

Usually there are a whole slew of unplanned goals that I write about here. This year, that didn’t really happen. I did however accomplish some noteworthy things that deserve a bit of extra credit. I taught my 5-year old daughter to read, do math (addition,subtraction, and beginning multiplication) and ride a two wheeled bike. I find myself the proud owner of a 1987 VW Vanagon, once again being a member of the VW tribe. There have been some rather profound personal discoveries which I can’t really describe with words but which come from meditation and self awareness. I’ve got a grasp on the tail-feathers of my inner peace. In a sense, I feel like I’ve been Steve Martin in that movie The Jerk and I’ve been clutching onto that chair and thermos whilst ignoring the seemingly simple wisdom of my share-cropping father who tried to point out the difference between shit and shinola. At some point in 2016, I dropped the chair and thermos and stopped rubbing shit in my hair. I get it papa. And that earns me an extra credit A+.

By my reckoning, that gives me a cumulative GPA of 3.31 which translates (by rounding up to a 3.5 or a B+ for 2016. That sounds about right.

Past Behavior

Past Behavior

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my past behavior. While I’ve always thought of myself as a good person – lots of the things I have done – in particular with regards to other people, have been atrocious. The truth is – my behavior was often that of a bad person. I hope that I am no longer a bad person who thinks he is good (or a good person doing bad things) but the truth is – I didn’t think I was those things before…so it’s very hard to know. The problem really comes with the ego and its ability to justify bad behavior as acceptable behavior or even good behavior. How many times have any of us done something mean or terrible – something a good person would feel bad about – but the ego has come to our rescue and said “that person deserved it” or “they had it coming to them” or even “somebody needed to do that”. I remember punching a guy in the face one time. The guy wasn’t attacking me, he had simply said some things I didn’t like. So I punched him in the face. Good people don’t punch other people in the face unless they are under attack or defending someone who needs to be defended. Period. I felt a twinge of guilt afterwards…but my trusty ego …it saved the day…said I was justified…told me that the guy deserved it…painted me as a hero to all the people who the guy had said mean things to (and he was an a-hole). So, I did a bad person action – I punched another human being in the face when I didn’t need to – and then, instead of telling myself I was a bad person for that, or correcting my behavior, I encouraged my behavior by letting my ego tell me I was a hero. There was a time, after that event, when I was looking for opportunities to punch people in the face. Bad behavior. And yet, my ego had convinced me that punching people in the face made me a hero. I’m sure that many or most or maybe even all bad guys … have fallen into that trap. What kinds of lies has your ego told you? I am only now beginning to understand the deceptions my ego has played on me…If my ego was able to convince me I was a hero when I was being a bad guy, what other illusions has it cast on me? What about you? I think it is worth thinking about…

I hear my ego in my mind…it usually makes itself known with a voice that says things like “What do I want?” or “What would make me happy?” or “What I really want is…” or “What I would like to do is..” – it’s really quite distinct from my normal thoughts or brain workings. I’ve started to address it as “I” – not in a judgmental way, but just recognizing that it is not me in totality…but simply a part of me. So, addressing my ego (mentally) I say “What does ‘I’ want?” or “What would make “I” happy?” and then “Will what “I” wants actually be good for me?” “Is what “I” wants something that will make me happy?” It’s not bad grammar…hopefully the way I am explaining it makes sense. In any event, the idea is to go beyond what gratifies my ego and move into decisions that gratify the totality of myself…

I just wanted to share. Do you have any experiences like this? What are your thoughts?

Thoughts after Attending a Book Festival as an Author

The book festival yesterday was thought provoking. Lots of thoughts were provoked. Here are a few of them. As a young person (and today as well) I read a lot – I was inspired by great storytelling from the likes of Tolkien, Verne, Piers Anthony, Robert Heinlein, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Dickens, Twain, and London. I am inspired by well written history, thought provoking philosophy and spirituality, and approachable, practical how-to books. I like books that allow me to learn. I love books that allow me to visit far off destinations and exotic cultures and landscapes.

As a younger adult – I was also dazzled by the reckless and dangerous lifestyles of many writers. Hard drinking, hard drugging, hard loving, emotional roller coasters – like Hank Moody from Californication – I wanted to live like that.

I was never inspired by popular fiction like detective novels, thrillers or best sellers. I never wanted to be some boring baby boomer slaving away over a word processor and sitting in empty halls filled with tables behind which boring baby boomers sit eyeing potential readers with hunger.Yesterday, I found myself right there. Best selling author Philip Margolin was there too, sitting behind a table, trying to smile, signing books. I had no desire to be him. I had no desire to read his books.

I’ve not wanted to be Hank Moody or Jack Kerouac or Hemingway for quite a while now. The desire has passed. The idea of being an older Jack London type, building a ranch, hosting friends, fighting for good political ends…that appeals to me. I’d still love to write compelling stories…but they need to be stories with a purpose, stories that have more substance than a Moody-esque “I drank, I got fucked up, I got fucked, it was awful, I survived, I did it again, something awesome happened, I was miserable, I did it again”

My books previously have been a combination of how-to, travel to exotic places, introduction to exotic ideas, and fucked-upness with an over-exaggerated desire to attract attention by offending. I was using offense as a hook…which was (perhaps) novel in the 80s and 90s but now, in the age of the internet, is just boring.

I’ve changed a lot. I admit it. Enough that I can see foolishness where before I thought there was brilliance. Enough to see problems where before I thought there was quality. I was in love with my title “Douchebags, Fags, and Hags” I thought it was hilarious…yesterday, honestly, I was embarrassed by it and while I still love the novel – am pretty sure I would have sold a lot more if I had called it “The Sultanate of Baboob” or “Pig and the Sexy Nun” or even just “Pig”. There were other things I noticed and was shocked by, such as my putting of an ancient pre-Columbian artifact showing two dogs fucking on the back of my rather serious “Liminal Travel” – I remember thinking it was funny – an artifact from the MET referencing an off-color joke on the back of my book – but it has nothing to do with my book. Why did I put it there? Probably the same reason I put the horrible back cover on Smooth Living – enough to see that Slackville Road is a good idea with bad execution…and an ugly cover. I was blinded with love for my own creations…and I think the time I’ve taken off from writing has been a good thing.

The money and time I spent yesterday did not yield a financial return, but even so, I think it was well spent.