Tag Archives: debt

The UnSpending Christmas = More Fun, Less Worry

Christmas is coming! Christmas is coming!

I giggled to death when a friend on Twitter, a member of Vancouver’s crazy Vespa club (“The Worst Scooter Club Ever”) and an awesome artist, Mark Pilon, decided to bring my Christmas tree to life.

I give you the Killer Christmas Tree — we’re currently securing film rights. Think death and jingling bells.

Obviously my place is decorated for the holidays. I’m getting into Christmas-cheer mode. I’ve even come to terms with the fact that, as much as I love the people in my life, no one’s getting “real” gifts. I’m making a lot of candy so as to spread the cheer this year, but that’s about it.

Fiscal realities, baby. Ho-ho-fuckin’-ho.

It’s tough to come to that place of accepting that your finances just don’t allow for the “traditional” Christmas, but it’s a damned good thing to accept, given the economy. I refuse to spend the next four months living with fear and regret for seasonal over-spending.

The best gift I can get this year? Knowing my utilities are finally paid off. It’s been that kind of autumn, and I know I’m not alone.

And, hey, I can do that, finally. It’s great!

What does it leave me for the holidays? Well, I can buy some wine, entertain a few people I care about, have coffee with some other friends, and that’ll be all it wrote.

Once upon a time, though, that was the point of Christmas.

It was about making paper-chains to decorate trees, and popcorn strings, doing snow angels, hoping Santa brought some $50 gift you’d been dying for, playing charades, drinking punch, and throwing snowballs. That was Christmas.

Then Hallmark and Best Buy and Sears and Apple and everyone else said, “Hey, here’s a great merchandising opportunity!” and we’ve been proper fucked since.

People used to be happier with less.

Now we have moreMOREmore and we’re more unhappy than ever. Cue the Prozac and Ambien and Halcyon and Lithium, eh? The medicated gift that keeps giving?

We spend, spend, spend under the delusions that the latest version of X-gadget is exactly what’s been missing in our lives. A purchase, then a week goes by, and, nope, that didn’t Spackle the little hole in our hearts either. Whatcha got for me NOW, Apple?

Commercialism isn’t the answer, and I think we’re finally figuring that out, thanks to economies around the world continuing to collapse like shaky houses of cards, but the problem is, we don’t have a fucking clue what the question is anymore.

Where’s happiness? What’s tradition? Where are we going, and why have we been trying to leave this Place anyhow? Why’d we ever start believing joy was found in a box on a shelf in a big store?

Christmas should be about finding that child inside of yourself, really meaning it when you tell people at cocktail parties that it’s nice to see them. It’s about walking down streets and smiling at decorations, admiring the shimmering lights dangling from trees at night, or stuffing a few extra boxes into a Food Bank hamper.

It’s about wishing for peace and love in the world, bundling up against the elements, singing stupid songs, loving a hot beverage, board games, and slowing down long enough to enjoy those slippers you’ve recently invested in.

That’s CHRISTMAS.

I’m really looking forward to dropping by a party with hundreds of people tonight, just because I’m hoping I see a lot of folks I’d love to wish well before the year draws a close.

It’s been a long time since I cared about seeing people, especially in large groups, or wishing them well, or congregating with mass numbers of any kind, but tonight I’d like to do just that. There are a lot of reasons I care this year, but most of them aren’t really for public consumption.

The main shareable reason I care about seeing people is that I know I can’t afford to spend my way to a “happy” Christmas. I can bask in the seasonal glow, though. I can just be there, participate, and be welcomed. That’s seasonal enough for me.

And this year, I think that’s exactly the kind of Christmas I want.

Somewhere along the way, industry, media, and commercial interests have stolen Christmas. They hijacked it and turned it into something that filled their tills and propped up their bottom line, and we lost the soul of the holidays.

The recession, this endless economy, it’s a gift, in a way — it’s our opportunity to say Christmas Is Not For You, Christmas is For Us. It’s for our tradition. It’s for remembering a way of life and a time of easy fun. It’s about movies like A Christmas Story, It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street. It’s about Bing Crosby and ho-ho-ho. It’s for candy and mulled cider and giggling children. It’s for snowflakes and cookies and slippers and blankets.

And it’s not too late. With social media, we have more communication between us than ever before, and we can declare new priorities, focus on the right things, and take back traditions and our quieter times.

If, that is, you’ve reached the same not-gonna-take-this-anymore threshold as I have.

Me and The Killer Christmas Tree, we’re bringin’ Christmas back.

Next: Sunday might be time to make popcorn strings. It’s…. been a while, and the tree does look a little nekkid. Maybe that’s why he’s so angry-looking… shrinkage. Poor balls.

Money Ain’t Everything

One of my favourite songs from my teen years was Cyndi Lauper’s “Money isn’t Everything.”

It feels like life comes in with built-in looped lessons, themes that repeat constantly throughout our lives. For me, money and patience are two lessons I’m forever learning about.

Money, though, is the one that causes me most grief.

Drowning piggybank, from TheDoublethink.com: http://thedoublethink.com/2009/06/how-much-to-spend-in-a-recession/

This year has probably been the most learned year on the money front for me. I’ve fixed a few things, changed my quality of life by way of making small choices, but I’ve still run into a great deal of hardship twice this year. Once during the Olympics, because you don’t realize until they arrive what a wild ride and party it is to live within, or how expensive life gets then, and, well, right now.

Having done the bad-back thing right before getting pneumonia, it’s actually been 7 weeks of consistent drain on my wallet, with little to nothing coming in, and it’s been hairy a couple times. Thank god for freezers with food in them and well-stocked pantries and beans and oatmeal, man.

But there’s a lot one can learn from hard times, even poverty.

There’s a gift in poverty, for those who are able to escape it.

I was raised by parents who’d come through a lot financially. My mother, I think, had it harder than my father — hers having been the kind of family that feared eviction on Christmas eve but returned home from mass with a giant gift box of food and clothing from the community, who slept three kids  to a single bed.

I still remember her telling me of those times, but I never “got” it. Not until the last five years.

Years ago, I was cursed to be stupid enough to fall into the “why me?” crowd when it came to being broke. I’d be jealous as shit of my friends who always got nice gifts. I felt like a victim, as stupid as that is.

I still resent people who can, and do, have all the things they want but have zero appreciation of just how fortunate they are to have it.

Some of them, if reading this, would probably have the whole “But you can earn your way out of poverty” attitude, and they’re right, to an extent. But what if you’re like me, or unluckier, where you have one year after another of illness or injury, misfortune or bad luck?

When it’s a six-month patch, you get through it and you move on. When it’s six years, or longer, it’s just an accomplishment to make it through month after month. Retirement? What? Savings? What? Survival, man.

I’m lucky, I’ve almost had it constantly be tough and hard for the last decade, but I always get by, I always make it through the hard patches. And every time I do, I’ve learned some new trick about money, some new way of saving a few pennies, but more importantly, I’ve always been able to remember that life is so much bigger and more meaningful than a balance sheet.

For those who think “time is money”, so just buy your food and work more — how? How does one magically make this more expensive, prepared, convenient food just appear? How does one afford to live spitting distance from the best job they can get?

They don’t. Not in this town, man.

There’s a reason money’s the fastest way to kill a relationship.

There’s nothing in this world we value more than money, there’s nothing that defines your life more — and nothing is more omnipresent than the reminders of just how much YOUR value is determined by the money you have or don’t have.

Try it. Wear tattered, out-of-style clothes with a bad haircut and zero accessories, carrying lousy plastic bags or beaten knapsacks, and be sure tote your insecurities and financial worry along with you, then enter into any decent shop in any reasonable area of town, and tell me you don’t FEEL your value lowering when you enter those establishments.

Or go experience the thrill of being constantly broke and listening to even your average friends talking about their new jeans or the restaurant they went out to, or the vacation they’re saving for, and try to ignore that little pang of “I wish…” that creeps up inside every time you think of small items you’d love to have.

Reminders exist everywhere of just how much you don’t have when you’re living hand-to-mouth. No matter how much peace you’ve made with your status, the constant reminders beat you down a little, just like how a single repeating drop of water can erode the hardest of stone over time.

Despite all this, the older I get, the more I appreciate that I truly value the important things in life, and through all my adversity, I’ve learned to really experience gratitude for the little things that come my way.

I love a good meal, I’m passionate about great wine, I know a gorgeous sunset can’t be bought, I savour all the little moments life gives me, when I find the time to really absorb them.

Truth be told, I’m happy there’s a recession on some levels.

When it comes to the middle class and the wealthy, I’m glad they’ve had to wake up some. I’m glad we suddenly realize there’s more in life than the mighty currency markets.

I’m saddened by those who’ve lost everything, who’ve had lives crushed by fucking assholes in the economic world who just have no concept of debt or value.

It’s so ironic. The people who “create” finance in the economic world actually have zero concept of what a real dollar is worth, of just how far — or not — a normal living wage goes.

And they’re the ones who’ve helped bring everything, and every one, down.

Still, poverty has its gifts.

Gratitude is a gift you’ll never grow tired of. There’s nothing like actually really appreciating a thing. Anything. So many people I know just shrug off little moments of generosity. How could they? Don’t they understand?

No. Not yet.

But they will.

Not having disposable income makes problems harder to solve, time harder to find, health harder to manage, and a social life harder to have.

But, with the right perspective, it can really open your eyes.

Has the recession taught you to better appreciate life? Have you really learned what you need to learn from the last two years? Have you gained insights that will define your future and always keep you cognizant of what real “worth” is?

Have you used it to remember what life is really about — the world and people around us, moments in time, laughter, and creation? Have you learned to be kinder to others and generous in thought, action, and words, when finances fail you? Have you learned to be understanding of the trials others face and the compromises they need to make just to make it through their weeks?

It’s not too late to learn those lessons now.

Q&A: My Girlfriend Won’t Fuck Me Anymore

I get a lot of emails from readers from time to time, and for some reason, this past week has been filled with emails. Some are easy answers, some are ones I don’t want to tackle, some involve giving instruction (which I dislike doing, so I take my time), and some are just total mind-fucks, like this one.

The long and the short of it is a bit complicated, and due to privacy concerns, I don’t want to quote his email directly. Let’s call him Jimi, since he sounds like the rockstar type.

When he and his girlfriend got together, they had wild marathon sex constantly. He couldn’t get enough of her and it seemed to be mutual. He’s a guy with a sex drive in overdrive, and having a partner who’s into sex as much as he is happens to be a pretty major consideration when committing. He thought he had that in this woman.

She changed, suddenly, when her father had a heart attack. It turns out that she was raised Catholic, and in this moment of crisis, she turned to God and made a vow that, if her father was to live, she would abstain from sex until marriage.

Although he neglects to mention, I’m pretty sure the father lived, because Jimi hasn’t been getting laid much in the last two years. He’s in love with the girl, so he’s taking this in stride, but after two years of little happening, he’s nearing breaking point. Don’t get this wrong, she’s been getting her orgasms. He pleasures her orally, etc, and occasionally they “slip” and have sex, which is always good, but he says that, since she vowed God she’d abstain, he finds himself embroiled in guilt after they’ve finished. While he does non-intercourse things to satisfy her, it seems she doesn’t return the favours. Not very democratic, eh?

His dilemma is, how does he proceed? Does he marry her? Does he break up? Does he confront her? Honestly, fuck if I know.

Here’s the deal: Catholicism is a life-long all-ages ticket to ride the guilt train. You cannot possibly understand the absolutely overbearing sense of guilt and fear that is bred into you when you’re raised Catholic unless you’ve been exposed first-hand. Trust me, I not only drank the Kool-aid but spent 10 years in Catholic school, going to mass probably 5 times a week for 60% of that time. Guilt has been a lifelong struggle for me. It does not ever go away, as far as I can tell thus far.

And I understand the absolute horror of knowing your parent could die. I was far closer to my mother than I am to my father, and even so, when my father nearly suffered a stroke last year, I was terrified.

Religion, as we’ve all heard, is a crutch. Take that as you like, but when it comes down to difficult times, religion’s a pretty easy thing to lean on to get you through. Adversity is hard on all of us, but having a creed that tells you everything’s gonna be all right after the dying of the light somehow makes it easier to get through, regardless of how much you live your life according to the faith.

That said, I’ve made my own vows to God. I can’t remember what I promised then, but I remember being in the shower and just knowing with absolute certainty my mother was going to die, and promising God I’d behave better, be more moral, give up drugs, whatever the fuck I promised, if only she’d live.

She died. I was off the hook – literally and figuratively. I descended into a few years of craziness and here we are now. If she’d lived, I’m pretty sure my life would be a world away from where it is now, whether I liked it or not. That’s the price you pay when you promise God to behave better, and you secretly believe in His wrath, thanks to the upbringing you’ve been dealt.

Girlfriend made her vow, and now she’s struggling to keep it. The question is, where does that leave Jimi?

Between a rock and a hard place.

I’m a firm believer that, whatever you enter a relationship for – their looks, their personality, their sex drive – that you are, essentially, entitled to a reasonable expectation that that status quo will continue. If their sex drive dries up overnight, you have reason to be concerned about the future of your relationship. If they gain 60lbs, you have every right to be upset about the change in your lover. If they become moody and morose and give you no reason to enjoy spending time with them, you have cause to be concerned. It’s not selfish – it’s simply expecting your partner to live up to the terms of the agreement; that they are the person you fell for, and will continue to be that person, or will at least change in ways that are congruent to who they were at the time of the initial hook-up.

In the restaurant business, one of the “rules” for success is, you’re only as good as your last service. In relationships, we all go through rough patches, but the immediate past is the part that’s most relevant to the present, not the good times that were had five years past. Problems emerge, solutions need to be found, and life can hopefully continue. But if you’ve gone and changed the rules of the relationship without cluing in your lover, you are establishing grounds for dismissal.

Relationships go two ways. Agreements and communication and compromises are the lifeblood of any good relationship. If you have adversity and need to change how you’re acting in the relationship, you need to discuss that with your lover, otherwise, they have good reason for leaving you. It’s really that simple.

So, Girlfriend’s withdrawn the sex that made her so desirable. Fortunately, she still has personality and a lot to offer. The question is, can Jimi handle living a life with less sexual promise? That depends on him. She’s essentially notched herself down from love interest-non-pareil to friend with occasional benefit.

Her motivations for doing so may be questionable to the rest of us. Who knows, maybe Jimi can solve his problems over Bloody Marys and a little rat poisoning during a tete-a-tete with the father, but something tells me that, one way or the other, he needs to come to terms with the fact that his lover had no problem making a decision that impacted both of their lives in a dramatic way. Instead of turning to him for support, she turned to God. Not that I’m saying turning to God is a bad thing, I’m just saying Jimi should have been consulted before she decided the future of their relationship without his input.

And when she decided sex was no longer on the menu, she should have done the right thing and said, “This will change things between us, and while I can live with that, you need to decide if you can.”

The facts are, Jimi, pretty simple: She has changed, whether you want to understand why or not. She made a major decision without consulting you. She handles stress, clearly, in less than practical ways. She withholds sex either to punish herself or punish you, whether the eyes of God are watching or not. If things haven’t changed back to what you call normalcy yet, you need to accept that they may not ever change. She has a reason to explain away her lack of interest in sex now, and if you marry, who’s to say she won’t find a new reason then?

Your relationship is only as good as the recent past has been. We can’t go into our Way Back machines and remember fondly the way it usedta be, because the facts are, it is what it is, and you have to go with the averages.

Am I telling you to walk? No. I’m telling you to be realistic. Will she change back to the girl of old? Who fucking knows. Is that a gamble you’re willing to stake your sexual future on? Who fucking knows. Can you justify cheating on her to get what you need while she figures herself out again? No. Not for a second.

So you have a choice to make. You want to hold on to the memories of how it used to be and might one day be again, or do you want to live in the moment and experience life as it unfolds? You decide.

You could always let her know exactly why you’re going through so much emotional turmoil over this, and tell her you’ve been patient, you’ve tried to understand, but that she ultimately changed the rules of the game without telling you, and you’ve never had the option to choose – but now you’re making that choice, and you’re around if she decides you’re worth changing her mind about that vow, but for now, you need to discover yourself again.

Either way, you’re in a shitty situation. I feel sympathy for her, but she’s up against a mighty powerful religion that really, really fucks with your conscience. That, I know first-hand. Good luck, dude.