finance · gratitude · retirement

The Ant and The Grasshopper: Retirement Edition

12.4.18.jpgYesterday morning, I ran into a coworker in the faculty lounge (basically, where we drop our lunch in the fridge and leave).  She’s youngish, new this year, and somehow we got to talking about financial planning (I think we were talking about her having moved out on her own recently).

She said she didn’t really understand the whole financial world, and I offered that, whatever she did, she should take advantage of the matching retirement plan at work.  She replied that she’d wavered on that for a few months, but has finally taken advantage of it, somewhat reluctantly.

I said, Yes, it’s an act of faith in the future.

She continued that, Yes, because who knows if that system will even be in place in the future.

And I added, Well, yeah, but I meant that it’s faith that we’ll even be alive to take advantage of it.

Thaaat… kinda brought her up short.  I guess people aren’t used to talking about mortality before their morning coffee.

I said I had some health history that makes me think about things like that, then another coworker walked into the room and it didn’t make sense to continue the frankness of the talk.  I told her to check out the book I’d read earlier this year, Money: Master the Game, by Tony Robbins — because although, yes, it was about the basics of personal finance, it also came with a values-based bent because it was him.  (Not to say that I subscribe to all that he says or does, but the basics are there.)

What I’ve been reflecting on lately is that, with my slight increases in income and sharing the costs of living with J., I have some money that I can decide what to do with right now.

This month, I decided to put a third of my pay into my school’s retirement plan.

And this both brings me be agita and glee!

Because what my coworker says is true (we’re putting faith in the financial systems of the future that we cannot predict), and what I say is also true (we’re putting faith in the body systems of the future that we cannot predict).

So, I’m left with a bit of a Ant and Grasshopper moment: do I put even more into my retirement, which right now I can afford?  How much is too much to put there?  What about saving it as cash so I can use those funds to support other, non-retirement visions and goals?

And also, what about just being the Grasshopper?

My Ant freaks out: SAVE YOUR DIXIE CUPS!

My Grasshopper replies, Okay, but for what?  For my 35-year from now self, or for my 10-years from now self, or for my 1-year for now self?

How much saving is too much?  How much should go into the deep future now while I can afford it, as I don’t have children or other large financial obligations?

As I ponder these questions, which I did in my journal this morning, I also wrote about the following moment of financial distress 12 years ago, when I was between jobs (again), literally didn’t have $5 in the bank or in my wallet, and didn’t know where my next rent payment would come from:

“Remember driving in my car to another interview & knowing that all I needed then, I had: coffee, gas, heat on, clothing — just at that moment.

At just this moment, I have much the same things: coffee, heat on, clothing.  Plus, here’s a cat, a glass of Airborne, a knitted blanket and a hat.  A pen, a page.

How abundant, and too, how little my wants & needs have truly changed over time.  In 50 years, it will be the same!  Coffee, gas, heat, clothing.  Perhaps a cat.  Or dog.

Thank you.”

It’s important, as I contemplate where to put my money to best support my visions and goals, that I remember to come back to the moment of where I am, to be present, and to be grateful.

Yes, save for later; yes, save for now.  But as I finagle with those minutiae, I must pull back the frame of focus to encompass all that I already have.

I don’t know that either the Ant or the Grasshopper had that present-moment awareness.

 

Advertisements
abundance · gratitude · healing

Owning Abundance.

10.29.18.jpgOn Friday after work, I was taking down the garbage from the Marin house, where J lives and where I’m apparently moving into (!).  As I was descending the stairs, a woman a little older than me was parking her car outside and getting her small son out of the car.  Many people turn around or park in the cul-de-sac where we live, walking dogs, playing, passing through the pedestrian short-cut, so I didn’t consider it odd, but she kept observing me.

She walked up to the front gate and asked, “Do you live here?”

I wasn’t exactly sure how to respond—since the answer was “sort of”—but I replied, “Yes.”

She told me then that she and her family used to live here when it was a rental property of the former owner and asked if a package had been delivered for her.  As it turned out, I was supposed to drop a “return to sender” package we’d received at the post office, but hadn’t done it yet… so YES!  I had her package.

She was kind of dancing around the front gate, unsure of where to be while I retrieved it.  Her son said something that he meant to approximate, “We used to live here.”  I told him that as I was cleaning up the yard the other day, I found a green plastic stegosaurus — was it his?  Did he want it?

He said yes (of course), so I invited him and his mom into the backyard to get it from where I’d placed it on the fence post, a reminder of the families who’d lived here.

He snatched it out of my hand, his mom asked me a question about the house, commenting a little shyly on how different the backyard looked now (without any furniture!).  I wasn’t quite sure what to say.

I walked them out the front gate and off they drove.

I was struck by the fact that I felt embarrassed.  I felt embarrassed and almost ashamed that this woman and her family were kicked out of the home where I now live, where J now lives.

Clearly, that’s absurd, but it’s also how I felt.  That I was somehow to blame, as I was party to the choosing of this house, for her family having to vacate and move.  (The 2nd bedroom has those glow-in-the-dark stars still on the ceiling in real constellations from where they’d placed them.)

The “fault,” if there is one, clearly doesn’t lie with me.  It was a home that was being sold no matter what, and J happened to be the person to buy it.  The family was going to be asked to move no matter what.

But I felt embarrassed to tell this woman that I was party to owning this home.  That I do, in fact, live here.  That this abundance was mine.

This is the piece I’ve been sitting with for several days now: for years, I’ve been talking about abundance, wanting it, working toward it, “attracting” it, visioning it, vision-boarding it.

And now here it is and I feel toe-in-the-dirt shy to say I’m achieving some part of it.

A person could roll their eyes at the woe-is-her struggle to own abundance, but the truth is I think many of us struggle with owning our achievements or our successes or our overflows.

When I was living in San Francisco in a 1bedroom, I had social gatherings and parties regularly because I felt so fortunate with my abundant space that I wanted to and had to share it with others.  Those gatherings were one of the most joyful experiences about my time living there.

The wonderful thing about having abundance is getting to share it more widely.  If I eschew it, avoid it, don’t have it, or don’t embrace it, then I’m not really getting the full benefit of it at all — and would be better off back in a small life that I can feel embarrassed of for entirely different reasons!

“Owning abundance” was never something I foresaw would be a challenge, but having to shed the smallness and embarrassment that is arising in me will be a journey worthy to undertake.

How can we hold the excellent and wonderful things in our lives with equanimity?  How can we honor what we’ve worked for or have been given with gratitude, awe, and celebration?  And… are we allowed to?

 

gratitude · spirituality · success

Pete and Repeat were on a Boat…

10.3.18.jpegFrom the viewpoint of grace, which can [and will, when asked with gratitude] always give more, our lives should be a rising arc of abundance. ~ Day 13: Success Through Gratitude; Oprah and Deepak’s “Manifesting Grace Through Gratitude” Meditation Series

Okay, show of hands!  Who here has experienced life this way?  Who here wants to experience life this way?

Clearly when I track the history of my life, it is apparent that the above “law,” as they call it, is true.  It’s when I am wrapped in the horse-blinders of daily living that I entirely forget that law is so.

“A rising arc of abundance.”  Gosh, that sounds so nice, doesn’t it?

One way I’ve begun to sneak a peek over the side of those daily blinders is by writing down my weekly accomplishments before my Goals Group call on Tuesdays.  When, a few weeks ago, we’d arrived at the question of how we would “reward achievement,” we’d all come mainly to the idea that we would acknowledge what we’ve done.  So simple; so uncommon.

Therefore, to instate a habit of it (I love habits), I’ve begun to write down my week’s accomplishments on the Slack page we share to keep track of the weekly Goals Pages questions, our answers to them, our commitments to action for the week, and other somewhat germane comments (see: Kuramo’s vlog about self-love!).

On my own channel on the site, I’ve begun to keep this written log of everything I’ve accomplished in the week, and once I get started, it just pours out of me!

Anything from “cleaned the floor” to “got a massage” to “sent my bio to the J Weekly” to “went with a friend to the opera”!

All of these are accomplishments, achievements.  They’re ways that I am being and becoming more authentic and present and seen in the world (Yes, even cleaning my floor!  It means that I don’t have to feel gross at home, don’t have to fret when my piano player is coming over to practice, and don’t have those Serenity Moths gnawing at my self-esteem).

My world is only seen as a rising arc of abundance if I choose to see it that way.  This abundance is not limited to my bank account but there is clear evidence of an upward trajectory over the past dozen years.  And according to the groups with which I hang, financial abundance is an outward manifestation of our internal growth.  God is not separate from money, but money is also just a tool, but God is present in all aspects of my life including my finances, but my finances are only one measure of success…  Pete and Repeat…;)

I’ll conclude with another passage from that day’s meditation which may help to sort out this cycle of god/money/work/gratitude/action/grace:

What saves me from greed and selfishness is to take every gift with humility and gratitude. … Contrary to popular belief, it is not spiritual to shun external rewards — external rewards can be a sign that I’m connected to my true Source, which wants the best possible life for me.  What I need and want to avoid is my ego stepping in and claiming to BE the source of the good things in my life. 

Grace is always the source of abundance, not the ego’s selfish, anxious struggle.  

Grace needs my hands through which to work its goodness, and I need gratitude to become a conduit for that grace.  Pete and Repeat…

Good luck.

 

career · gratitude · meditation

Stupid gratitude…

9.19.18.jpegThree summers ago, I was smack in the center of an stunningly risky leap: changing careers.

The Fall/Winter before that, having come to the end of my rope in administrative work—and being somewhat far from my regular spiritual practice, my mentor having moved away—I gave notice at my job.  I said, for the umpteenth time, that I was going to do something “creative.”  And again, for the umpteenth time, I had no true vision of what that meant, except that it would feel better.

By the time the following summer rolled around, I’d worked as a minimum-wage retail employee, a temp, and a model for a computer equipment photo shoot.  My “plans” did not unfold well… mostly because I had no plan!

Sometime around January, having driven across town from that retail job (8 hours standing on a concrete floor, pain in my feet, knees, heart), I sat on a friend’s couch bemoaning that I was too old to be flailing like this.

She said I needed to choose something, that frankly it didn’t even matter what.  Just a few weeks later, in morning meditation, the idea came that I should be a teacher (specifically a HS physics teacher, but whatevs).

So, I took that idea and clung onto it with dearest desperation of life, because frankly, continuing to do this “life” thing wasn’t seeming all that appealing anymore.

I reached out to a private school teacher acquaintance; I reached out to my former ed director at the Sunday School I’d taught at; I emailed my friend who was a public school teacher and asked to see her cover letter and resume.

I had begun a mission: Operation Teach School.

By that July, would you believe, I was teaching school.  I had harassed the summer school department at a private school for long enough that they found a place for me teaching creative writing for a few hours a day for 6 weeks.  Thereafter, I had no prospects.

But, before those few hours with students began, I did what I do now: journal and meditate.

The free meditation being offered at the time by Deepak and Oprah was the 21-day “Manifesting Grace Through Gratitude,” and I listened and wrote down what they said.  Every day, for 21 days.

Ripley’s Believe It or Not, at the end of those 21 days, sitting at my computer trawling for jobs, an email came through from the dean of my graduate department:

There’s a job, teaching, in Oakland, with Jews.

Fuhggettaboudit!

You gotta be kidding me.

I applied for that job.  I interviewed for that job.  I got offered a different job with them.  I accepted that job.

And lo, I was a teacher.  6 months after I had committed to Operation Teach School, I was a full-time, gainfully employed faculty member.  Cue divine trumpets.

I bought that damn 21-day meditation on gratitude.

And presently, I’m relistening to and rewriting down what they’re saying.

It’s the worst. 

I hate that I know that gratitude works.  That writing a gratitude list works.  That closing my eyes and conjuring things I’m grateful for, when I open them, the world looks just a teensy bit more magical and technicolor.

I hate that it works because … IT’S SO SIMPLE.

It’s so simple, it’s so easily overlooked, it’s so neglectable and discountable and ignorable… that I do.  I neglect and discount and ignore gratitude.

And then I am reminded.  And then I remember.  And then I try it again.  I close my eyes, I write those lists, I pause to say thank you.

And goddamnit it works.  I feel different.

I don’t know why it pisses me off that gratitude works, except that maybe I think it’s “too cheesy.”  That it “feels lame” to talk about being grateful, that it’s so saccharine, or maybe that others will think I’m naive (that maybe I may think I’m naive).

But I gotta tell you: Whatever the causation/correlation between my “Manifesting Grace Through Gratitude” meditation practice and my receiving an email that would ultimately change the course of my life, there is a piece of me that does truly believe Grace was hanging around, just waiting for me to open my eyes and my heart.

 

career · gratitude · TEACHING

Why is a raven like a writing desk?

8.9.18 2There is a “gathering” feeling as the school year approaches.  The impending anxiety as the work you’d intended to do over the summer looms large.  The gleeful imagining of your reassembled and redecorated classroom.  The curiosity about the makeup of the new faculty and how it will gel.  The cynicism that the challenging dynamics that existed may persist.

The excitement to see your favorite students again, and the realism that 7th graders must needs grow toward independence and individuation, which may mean your favorites won’t be able to be who they were with you anymore.  And that’s okay; it’s just different.  Besides, you’ll have a new crop of 6th graders with whom to guffaw and conspire.

Arriving at my second year as a middle school English teacher, I experience a true love of my work, fully in its assets and detractions.  I worked as a 3rd grade teacher for two years prior to this, and “love” wasn’t what I experienced.  I felt merit in what I did; I appreciated who the students were, my own creative and professional development, and the leap of faith my boss took on a novice teacher.  But two years of chronic insomnia were enough to underscore I needed out.  And so, being here, looking my next year in the eye, I am so grateful.

I am grateful to walk through a university library gallery and snag a pamphlet on Alice in Wonderland sculptural interpretations, and feel excitement to teach my 7th graders this favorite of my books.  I’m grateful to toss my copy of The Outsiders on my bedside table just now, with the reminder to re-read it before the school year starts.  I’m grateful to fall down a Pinterest-like hole into the Facebook English Teacher groups… and feel awe, inspiration, overwhelm, and humility.

Many here know the path to anticipating my work with relish has been so rocky, its quarry-like walls have cut off the light of hope.  I squandered, despaired, agonized, railed, wallowed, isolated, and stymied.  That I can sit here today with excitement—and yes, plenty of realistic trepidation—is unfathomable.

And yet, I have swum up those fathoms.

 

generosity · gratitude · TEACHING

What act of generosity can I carry out today?

4.25.18.jpg

This is the central question I now have Post-Ited to my fridge.  Beneath it is one that reads, “What act of generosity did I carry out today?”

As things progress, stagnate, circumnavigate and develop, I can get a little lost in my brain, thinking about things to the detriment of actually doing them, particularly thinking about my relationship instead of myself.  Thinking is not always my highest mode of operation.

Therefore, it’s important for me to have a touchstone to come back to, coming back to myself and what’s happening before me and the people around me.

While contemplating this, today’s title question came to me: “What act of generosity can I carry out today?”  This helps me to reframe my day and my life to see how I can be of service in the world, and to employ the gifts I’ve been given to brighten said world.

I like the bookend nature of these questions so that, when last night I came home late from our school’s Open House, I got to reflect on what I had done for my students, rather than on the parent questioning me about why their 8th grader’s vocabulary scores weren’t higher on standardized tests.

Particularly, last night, I got to reflect on one piece of joy and light I brought to a family.

First off, my 6th graders are my saving grace.  While I enjoy and love (some of!) my 8th graders, depending on the moment, the 11-year olds are my delight.  Sure, teaching them during the last period of the day can challenge one’s patience, but that’s my own learning to ensure that there’s something active and capturing for that last 45 minutes of their schoolday.

One of my young students is one of those sports players I mentioned a while ago whom I’ve tagged as a strong writer, and his father stopped me in the hallway a few weeks ago to sincerely thank me for encouraging his son’s writing.  I replied that I was only acknowledging the talent that he clearly has.

And last night, that same dad and son came to Open House and, while the son interrupted with apologizing for grammar errors or “it’s not edited yet” interjections, I read them both the latest short story from the boy.  The father was staggered.  (If I’m not mistaken, his eyes were misty by the end of the reading.)  He was so clearly impressed and delighted at his son’s writing, plus it was my pleasure to read this story aloud and reflect to the son that his words (even without editing!) are of value.

This, my friends, is my act of generosity from yesterday.  I continue to feel that encouraging the talent of this student and others is my greatest act of generosity—and privilege.  While there are good writers in my classes and even poor writers, and I get to find the diamond in the rough of each of them, clearly the ones with writing talent are among my favorites.  I can’t help it, I’m an English teacher after all!

I am so honored and thrilled to have done something for this student (and the 3 other parents who stopped me last night to say that their child was absolutely loving my class, some even saying that their child didn’t even particularly care for English before).  This is my honor and privilege, and as much as I know there are still hills for me to climb professionally to feel more capable and confident and engaging in my teaching, I feel nearly dumbstruck with gratitude that I get to shine a spotlight into the talent-corners of these children’s lives.  Amen.

 

gratitude · loss · love · relationships

Conclusion.

Normal
0
0
1
553
3154
26
6
3873
11.1287

0

0
0

The Cousin, of teenage fame and love unquenched, is getting
married.
The Cousin (cousin of my brother’s best friend) and I had a
long-running on-again-across-oceans-again relationship begun when we were teenagers.
I found his photo recently when I was clearing out my “g-d box” of items taken care of by time and fate, and those still remaining in an
unresolved stasis. I didn’t put his photo back in the box, unresolved though I felt it to be — For the last month
or so, it’s sat by my jewelry box, the image of 16-year-old innocence and a complexity masked by his easy grin. I’ve spoken to it, asked it where he was,
if he was happy, what he was doing, if he thought of me, if we were through.
Last we’d truly spoken, I’d confessed that his moving to
California to join me was likely not a solution to the untethered life he was
looking to escape. California didn’t save me, I told him on the phone the night
of our last conversation. I had to do a lot of work for that to happen.
Our previous dreams of running away together, of his coming
to California with me when I initially moved, that painting of the white picket
fence that was more fantasy than reality, the painting of a life I wanted to
fall into with him, but knew was not supported by truth… All this was crushed
when I told him, No, you can’t move here to escape your life.
Years passed. There was one phone call, miraculously
coincidentally when I was home in New Jersey in 2011, clearing out my childhood
home before the house was sold. A fitting time to call, as I packed up a
childhood, and all its experiences. It was where we met, in fact — in my living
room, with my brother, his best friend, and his cousin, visiting from Ohio.
The brevity of that initial visit, a summer of love, to be
sure, meant that there wasn’t a foundation of reality to build upon, a life to support
our connection. And in that house, a few years ago, I packed up the life of the
person who’d fallen so passionately and deeply in love — as well and as messily
as a 19-year-old can do.
Our phone call wasn’t long. It was more a confirmation that we’d
allowed the strains of time and place corrode the thread that connected us.
But, I’ve never felt complete with that ending.
And so, his photo remained in the “to be resolved” pile in
my mental hopper, and for the last month, on my dressing table: his cheeky grin,
dark mess of hair, lips that rival a female porn star’s.
And that’s how I recognized him when I saw his photo put up
on Facebook yesterday by his aunt.
Time had changed him. His hair receded, cut short long ago
for a military life he chose when he couldn’t move here.
But his lips are the same. That pouting lower lip I
clung onto for hours. That framed his eager smile, formed his caressing
words, and confessed his inner demons.
And he looks happy. On a hilltop in Hawaii with another
woman. Someone who is available to make him happy, who can be there on his
journey when I can’t be, since I can’t be.
That’s our conclusion, then. It’s not the final phone
call I make to congratulate, to plant another seed or water a long-dead one. I
am not saint or enlightened enough to not want to love him still, but I am wise
enough to know we can’t – in the present, in reality.
So, I can put it here. I can write my gratitude for his
finding happiness, what I’ve really wanted for him, no matter my personal
desires. I can put here that I am glad to see him alive, well, experiencing
life. That this conclusion is fitting, acceptable, and perhaps a happy one.
But I can also put here this conclusion ends a chapter that has
spanned nearly half my life, has fed me great happiness, and has let me
experience a connection with another human that I thought eluded me – I can put
here that as I turn the page on “us,” I pack up that painting of the white
picket fence with a mournful finality.