We’ll…call it (fall)

For the record, I always thought late summer was far superior to June and July. Of course, we operated almost exclusively on a school calendar for the better of three decades, so it’s strange now to be six months removed from a year being measured in terms of August-May.

What a difference! The weather is shifting, but will still be unseasonably warm (for my permanently adopted Northern blood) for a few weeks, I’m sure. The classroom schedule moved into my veins sometime over the last ten years. I still think instinctively in those terms, and the only Inception Totem that brings me back to this level is that I don’t have papers to grade or lesson plans to submit.

Tomorrow is the official beginning of autumn, and a necessary milestone to gather myself in various forms to look out across the abyss and survey the streams. Current report: steady movement, but direction and speed are unknown presently. Good enough to go with the flow, for now.

I’d like to take a moment to express gratitude for hidden opportunities. I didn’t move down expecting to set the world on fire, and the old gods and the new know that some weeks haven’t been easy, but the relocation did ward off stasis, and for that I am thankful. I think it’s easy to be lulled into a trance at 30 only to wake up after 50, wondering how that job and those years went by so quickly. I’d also like to tip my hat to those who haven’t had the turning points for which they have sought. I think they’re coming for you.

(Keep looking. It’s there.)

Less than one hundred days left this year. I’m looking to avoid all of the usual bloated I’m gonna statements and try something new this fall. A little more living in the days ahead. Here’s to all of us.

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Financial Reading: Start with Fundamentals

Ramit Sethi’s I Will Teach You to be Rich was a good read. It took about two days to finish, but I was committed, and Sethi’s style is pretty unconventional, as far as finance books go. I don’t think most finance books would go that quickly for me. A month ago, I decided to start reading more, and since I’ve become fairly consumed with why we don’t learn how to harness money, I thought IWTYTBR would be a good jump-off. I wasn’t disappointed.

Background: I paid off most of my egregious debt with a steady seven-year run of side gigs. I’m sure I could have done it in 3-4 years, but there were many bad behaviors that I needed to continue for a while, apparently. So, just less than two years ago, on a whim, I started to teach myself about investing. That’s an entirely different and much longer story, so I’ll cover that elsewhere. I don’t have it all figured out, but as with most things, you have to jump in and learn as you go to really make progress. Regardless of your income level, if you haven’t yet opened a brokerage account, you really shouldn’t wait. Even if you want to start with “safe” investments, you can easily start with $50, which is less than your last bar bill. Don’t wait, and don’t be afraid. If you are only putting your money in a bank, you’re making a mistake. Awesomely enough, my first main investment contact/spectator partner is a former student, which is pretty fucking cool.

Sethi’s book is accessible. Check out his website and social media presence if you are unsure, but I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Most of us who aren’t “in the know” regarding certain industries are often crippled by analysis paralysis, which is pig Latin for scared and/or lazy. Systems approaches don’t really work super-well for me, but I do appreciate the “6-Week Program That Works” that Sethi sets up throughout the book. The real value, in my opinion, is how Sethi breaks down what a lot of people think are complex financial concepts. Here’s a hint: they’re not complex. No, you won’t come out ready to test for a Series 7, but it’s nice to know that there are authors out there willing to buck the system that often presents as elitist–to help the “little guy” understand how investment really works. I think a huge shift has happened in the last fifteen years, and at this point, there really isn’t a reason to not be at least micro-investing. Check out Acorns to know more, or if you’re ready to start actually investing, head to Robinhood  to get started with the least amount of commitment possible.

If you’re the type that posts or retweets things like, “Public school didn’t prepare me to manage finances,” this is a perfect book for you. That’s not a dig, by the way. The whole time I was in school–first as a student and later as a teacher–there was always at least one elective course in finance, and I learned how to balance a check book in math class. I know not everywhere is like that, so think of this as a great introduction into adult financial math. You should be investing. You know you should be investing. The best way is just to start. By the way, that retirement plan you have through work? It’s probably not going to be enough, if you’re honest with yourself.

Finally, check out Ramit Sethi’s blog of the same name here. It’s the best free place to see how you might start taking control of your financial future, which is exactly what any solid advisor wants for you.

August

It’s a little over a quarter of a mile to the fishing dock at the south end of Lake Willastein. Sometimes I’m amazed that we didn’t even know the lake was there when we drove here to scout where we were going to live two years ago. Maumelle was nothing more than two rows of trees and a labyrinth of unfamiliar French names for streets then. Everywhere new looks so foreign at first, and then, later, you can’t remember how strange it once was.

I woke on my own, a few minutes before any alarms. I pulled on a shirt and some athletic shorts and pretended to stretch as I walked down the stairs. Casey was in her usual position at the base of the stairs–she always leaves the bed sometime during our nightly unwind with light-hearted shows. She didn’t stir this morning as I walked by her. She must be dreaming, I thought as I peered around the corner and listened to her breath slowly and rhythmically. In the kitchen I quietly made coffee for two, then grabbed Casey’s leash and two baggies. She sometimes needs more than two baggies, but I was hedging my bets today. When I walked to the door and slipped on a pair of flip flops, she drowsily got out of bed wagging her tail, hit her favorite Yoga pose, and we were off.

I understand why people get up early in Arkansas. I don’t know what the temperature is already, but the sun is high enough to make you take notice. It was right around 7:15–one of my favorite times. Nobody is out yet, and those that are haven’t left themselves enough time to appreciate anything around them. They’re already in grim task mode.

We crossed the street from the entrance to the Villas, and started toward the lake. Casey was already fully awake, and pulling against the leash in her typical erratic fashion. She has never really walked calmly; I suspect that at least one of the 57 varieties is some kind of cattle dog. She doesn’t really belong on a lead; she belongs on acres of land, and I’m reminded of this by how quickly she noiselessly speeds off to chase a squirrel when her collar is not attached. This never fails to make me think of a small cabin on a decent stretch of land, steamy coffee on a frosty morning, and some terrier-lab mix zooming back and forth in the frame, like some sort of cartoon. One day.

There are a few runners at the lake, and I look down at my waist, knowing that I am two weeks’ honest effort away from looking like I should look, and feeling like I should feel, but I forgive myself and say, “Hell, at least we’re walking! Normally we’d still be in bed.” And just like that, any pre-effort guilt I had vanishes…at least until a septuagenarian shuffles by and says, “Beautiful pup!” and continues on his healthy arc toward the western side of the lake.

The dock is a nice checkpoint. Casey has a soft pant by now, and I’m pleased that I have exerted the effort to walk anywhere at all. One of my favorite things to do is pause at the end of the dock (after I make sure there aren’t any lures or hooks left on the platform), and just watch the water for a minute. Something tells me that I am close to understanding when I am still, there. I can’t quite put my finger on it yet. I must be just out of sight of it. Around the corner, maybe.

Casey has already started zig-zagging back to the path, so this one will be a shorter walk, but it counts. After all, we could still be in bed. It’s time to head back and begin the day. For some of us, anyway.

Give me a New Routine…or ten

Started clearing out the cobwebs this past week. I finally read a couple of books not related to passing an exam or certification, and I now have some small momentum going. What I’m looking for: something new to try. My creative output is lower than it should be–the ideas are still there, but I need to upend my patterns to see if I can harness the spark.

Quite a few of you out there have some routines or patterns that work for you for whatever it is that you create, and I’d like it very much if you would share (with anyone who reads this) what works for you, or what inspires you to keep going in those long hours.

I think that creative communities are essential in sustaining and encouraging quality content. Since I left education, I am deficient in that energy–one of the more interesting side effects of teaching is what the teacher gets from the kids–and boy, do I miss that energy. I also think that social media has leveled out right now, at least for the moment. I used to find all kinds of stuff online that would get the creativity flowing, but that was probably almost a decade ago. I think the most popular platforms are in a kind of stasis, and I am working to consume less until I create more.

So, Hi, artists and photographers and writers and anybody else who is doing something more than just working the day job. If you could take a minute to drop a line or two and share what works with you, it would really mean a lot to me. Also, I apologize in advance for those I tag, but I feel like the things you create are really wonderful, and I would love any insight into your process. If you don’t have a process, but you’ve come across something that really pumps you up, please share that as well.

Thank you!

 

 

Perspective, or Necessary Remix

I popped into Kroger after work to grab a few things for this weekend, and on my way out, this caught my eye:

This is a big deal for a couple of reasons. We live in a wealthy area. We ourselves are not wealthy (although we are working hard to change our behavioral economics in order to retire early–that journey will be covered extensively in other posts), but we live in a planned community NW of Little Rock proper. “Planned community” is often tied to “affluent,” in case that wasn’t clear.

This is easily the nicest place I’ve lived. We rent a perfectly-sized condo (I never knew the difference between a condo and a townhouse until we moved here), and we’ve downsized half of our possessions, if not more. We’ve changed careers and “lost” $40k in yearly income. We still have more than enough. And yet, for me, this emptiness. This questioning.

Some kind of If.

So, an innocuous red crate situated behind the cashiers caught my eye, and a not-dormant-but-not-where-it-should-be part of me thought, “Well, shit.”

There are needy everywhere. Before you start wringing your hands and wondering what religious or organizational affiliations I claim, let me stop you right there, Chief. I don’t have one. I have an evolving system of beliefs that can’t be satisfied by one house, one camp. I’m fine with that. I figure I’ll work on it as I go. I’m of the opinion that all of this (whatever this is) is larger than we can possible imagine, and we barely have conceived of our true cosmic insignificance. We can’t really help that, yet.

I have more than enough to eat. There are people that live less than four miles from me that don’t. I’m not okay with that.

These days, the sucker’s argument can draw one into troll-fests and bait posts faster than you can say, “Oh man, my life’s already over?!?” Let me try a different route.

My sister hipped me to food rescue programs in cities all over the U.S. in which volunteers gather food that would otherwise soon spoil and be needlessly wasted. These volunteers receive a notification, pick up the food items, and deliver them to those who need them. It’s a thing of beauty. Last I checked, Little Rock isn’t quite there, but I think there are other grass root programs that serve the same purpose.

I took a quick drive with Casey to see the Little Free Food Pantry, and it’s fashioned just like the little libraries I’ve seen in small communities. Take what you need, and give what you can. Cool.

This is where some might say, “Oh yeah, it’s in front of a church.” It becomes a hang-up. I don’t regularly attend church, so I don’t get drawn into the minutiae of “What kind of church is it” and so on. That’s not the point. Food goes into the box. People who need it get food from the box. People who want to give put food into the box. I love it. It makes me a little emotional thinking about it.

See, I don’t do much. I create fake pressures to fret and to worry about things that don’t actually concern me. I’m a mess at times.

However, I have a great life. I have opportunities all the time. I’m surrounded by nice, caring people. My pondering and preoccupation of the Human Condition torments me because I don’t do anything about it. It’s a cognitive behavioral issue, and it’s not the first time I’ve thought about it or written about it.

I wrote this quickly just to put it out there, because I’m out of practice working to be a better human. Spooky Mike said it best: “Dig it! Humans helping humans. It’s big.” These moments are often all we have. I think I need to spend mine a little better sometimes.

I’m a little all over the place with this one, but I know some of you will get it. We don’t have a lot of time, but we have a lot more time than some do.

It might be time to see what else there is that we can do.

“Can’t you just zonk me out?” or “Sink the Bismarck”

I’m a slow learner. Not in the traditional sense, but more in a behavioral sense. The last eighteen years could be characterized thus: I develop habits which may or may not be detrimental for my well-being, a mild chaos ensues, I narrowly dodge disaster, and then I venture into something else.

It’s a pattern, and I see it. The question as I get older is really a simple What If. Will I stay ahead of the curve, or will I keep repeating a slight variation of the same pattern? Can I break new ground while accelerating change somewhere else?

My recent and seemingly more permanent diversion is figuring out how to steadily change my behaviors while largely self-educating in finance, en route to an early “retirement.” Where I just spent the last 23 years, most people are looking for a Forever job with some “nice benefits” and a pension. It hasn’t worked out well for those of us below a certain age. Without slandering specific industries, as many Valley residents strongly identify with their career choice–indeed, they bunker down and attempt to ride out conditions that simply cannot be sustained elsewhere in the country–there never seems to be a realization that a job is not truly part of who we are. The times have changed.

Market forces, technology, terrorism, politics, the changes wrought by social media and a few dozen more reasons have micro-shaped our behavioral economies. I long harbored a sense of unease in my last two professions. Something wasn’t right, but I could never put my finger on it. That something was that I cannot find identity in a job. In this I know I am not alone. However, since I am a slow learner, apparently I needed to create massive debt through half a decade of bad behavior, then spend the next decade digging out. This was how I earned my epiphany. More on that some other time, maybe. It’s likely that it doesn’t have much to do with anyone else’s vision. That’s fine.

As far back as 2002 or so, I had a little money in investments. Didn’t last long there. Had to buy six cars, drink thousands of bottles of beer. That kind of thing. Light finally struck my brain after a disastrous stint in Arkansas public schools. My Southern friends, I promise you this: a giant section of the United States is unaware of desegregation lawsuits. It’s really just not a thing in 2018 elsewhere. I can’t spend any more time on that here or in my mind. Just know that the Great Divide that other states worked through faded much more than it did here, and that was a few decades ago. ‘Nuff said.

Years eleven and twelve of teaching high school being the nails in that career coffin, I started to ponder the Macro again. Why do we have to wait until 65 to retire? Why do people work jobs they don’t really like for forty years to get a pension and possibly live where they don’t want to? Do people really think they’ll live forever? Here are two great quick reads about the origin of “retirement age” here: https://www.ssa.gov/history/ottob.html and here: https://www.historytoday.com/richard-cavendish/death-bismarck.

Some of these questions are bigger than I can answer right now, and some are awfully personal. My answers will differ from yours. Call me a pessimist, but I don’t think I’m going to live a healthy and functioning life until 95. That’s not really written into my genetic code. I’m also not saying that I can’t make a series of changes that would enhance and prolong my life. Those are experiments for another time.

What I am saying is We Don’t Have Time. We Never Did. I’m super happy if you found a job that really defines you and marks your time on this rock floating through space. I don’t think that works for a lot of folks these days. https://youtu.be/_jexWBP5Jt4

In the weeks ahead, I’ll be posting things related to this most recent quest. I’ve been working on it for about a year. I’m hoping to have some guest posts from other like-minded folks. Not everyone is in the same camp as me, but I think this content could bring a lot of value. At the very least, it might have us question a few ideas. That’s never a bad thing.

The Second Half

We saw Jurassic World:Fallen Kingdom today, and there was an incomplete feeling as the credits rolled. I felt cheated. The movie had some predictable and some cool moments, but I felt an uncomfortable shift in a franchise that was somewhat reliable in expectation. The feeling started when the erupting volcano forces the evacuation of Isla Nublar, but it intensified as Owen and Claire watch a Brachiosaurus reach the edge of the island. I admit I am probably a little more susceptible than the average viewer to movie moments like these, but Jesus, it was a terrible feeling. Twitter reacted like, well, like Twitter does, but to me, a rather ordinary, seemingly innocuous heart-tugger moment in a popcorn flick felt a lot heavier.

I guess it’s the way of things these days. Every moment of news or announcement carries dread, and I have had enough of the Ominous. For much of June, it felt like people couldn’t wait to extend their misery to everyone around them–like they were trying to match their unhappiness with the oppressive heat. Granted, my circles are smaller these days, work-wise, but c’mon, already. I’m naturally pessimistic, and even I tried to call a timeout mid-month. Today’s matinee put me over the edge. I don’t want any more negativity. I’ve tried to run down the reasons I could be feeling this way, but I really think a lot of it is environmental. I also don’t think it has to be. Here, then, is what I propose for the second half of this year: let’s share cool things. Let’s get back to celebrating things. Not in a social validation feedback loop, either.

I just spent three months straight transitioning out of a 12-year career, and I am barely adequate in my new industry. Old dogs, new tricks, that kind of thing. I’m not sad or unhappy that I made the switch; to the contrary–I should’ve made that move sooner. That’s what’s funny about constant transition, though…it wears one thin. There are days when I miss cooking on the Vulcan Wolf (remember this?) after a long day in the classroom than my current Where-the-Hell-am-I-now adventures, but I’m sure that’s all part of the eventuality of everything down here. Stranger in a strange land.

Maybe there’s a lot more to the dinosaur standing forlornly on the edge of what should have been paradise, consumed by fire. It’s definitely not what summers are made of, though. I don’t think that’s the kind of thing that we should be watching, and it’s definitely not the feeling I am interested in having. Honestly, I’m not just disappointed in the filmmakers for that scene. They let us down.

However, for the second half of this year, it looks like I’ll need to get back to some behavioral psychology on myself. I don’t think the masses out there are very interested in spreading happiness, so it looks like we’ll be doing it for ourselves. To that end, I’ll be sharing whatever things help get me through a rough day or give me something to think about. I don’t want to sound like it’s a bigger deal than it is–I just don’t think there’s a lot of happiness going around right now.

It’s time to play a game or two with Ashley now. Sleep well.