The wind’s been blowing through Whidbey this week. Change is happening so quickly that hours after Wednesday’s news and blog my situation got better and worse, I heard more about others who hadn’t spoken before, offers of help included ideas for making my life into a movie, and that most inevitable change throughout history happened: a death. No life is lived according to a conscious plan, and a review of the various events driven by chance can turn any life into something incredible. I know I never believed my life would work out this way. Guessing how any of our lives will work out from where we are is what we all do to some extent, even if we know we’ll get it wrong. The way we live is incredible.
I won’t play with suspense. My Dad lost his lovely wife yesterday. I won’t go into details as the family is adjusting, naturally. But death, that ultimate transition, puts life into perspective. Unless we discover the secret to immortality, each of our lives, and all of our plans play out how we’re remembered and what we leave behind. Pardon me as I pause. You’re welcome to do so, too.
Prior to that news I was navigating changes in my logical plans and emotional response to my housing news. Monday the mortgage company used the word Foreclosure. Tuesday I set up a meeting with my real estate agent to see how that would affect the fact that my house is for sale. Wednesday morning I blogged about what I knew so far, and received amazing responses from friends and other readers. While talking with my agent on Wednesday afternoon I stumbled across a bit of mail from December that was lost in the stack of mortgage company letters. It arrived on a cold afternoon when I was doing something in the yard. I signed for it, quickly opened it, and then shoved it back inside my jacket to look at later when I was warm and dry. Not an excuse, but a reason why, when I got back inside I set it aside in the stack to look after I hung up a few layers of clothes. Distractions happen. The mortgage company sends me lots of mail. I forgot. On Wednesday I found it again and saw that it was a Letter of Default. My agent pointed out that my house and I were further along in the foreclosure process than I knew, and that I should talk to a lawyer because one disastrous scenario would have me moving out by the end of March. Thursday, in a thirty minute consultation, the lawyer sorted through many of those volumes that adorn legal offices and could draw no solid conclusion without more information; but, the most likely scenario is that I will receive a Notice of Foreclosure in the middle of the month. That means months of opportunities to resolve the situation, largely the way I’ve been trying to do for months already. But the costs are rising, the penalties are accruing, and legal fees are added to real estate fees. Stack them up enough without finding a job, or enough income from my business, or a dramatic increase in assets, and bankruptcy becomes a possibility. A good job, a sufficiently profitable business, a recovered portfolio, or even a lottery jackpot are all more appealing scenarios.
And the week started off so well. On Monday, my latest book came out in paperback. By Thursday, my Dad had a copy in his hands. I’d even made enough from the first day sales to order more copies. In the midst of his turmoil, I heard him smile. How much is that worth?
As I type, the wind continues to blow. Many pundits and spiritualists see 2013 as a time of transition. Spring always is. It seems that the world is making sure I am aware that nothing is immovable. The house creaks. Various household bits blow by. It’s a common occurrence in this neighborhood. Wait a few days and go pick up your stuff against someone’s fence downwind of the house. My house is saved from debris by an untended vacant lot occupied by six foot tall blackberry bushes, also known as the deer haven. It is possible to resist change the way some resist the wind; but, even my neighbor who built his fence from doubled and buttressed supports came home to find his fence in the neighbor’s yard. Yes, this is a windy neighborhood. It seems like the entire world is in the midst of such a wind.
Late Wednesday night, an idea resurged from many unconnected avenues. As friends commented on my blog, sent emails, or phoned from their commute (hands-free I’m sure) the idea was raised of turning my story into a movie. This isn’t a new idea. A friend with Hollywood connections actually informally pitched the idea about six months ago. One friend who has known me since 1980 made the point that we expect bankruptcy from people who didn’t pay attention to their money, people who felt entitled, the stereotypical people who aren’t willing to work. Stereotypical is a good word, because few folks embody all of those negative characteristics. His point was that from what he could tell, I’ve been frugal for decades, have worked hard throughout, have researched finances, and have generally tried to do the right things. (I guess he’s not the only one, which is why I was Board Secretary for New Road Map Foundation and a case study in the new edition of Your Money Or Your Life – before my recent upset.) That should be more than enough and not a path to bankrupt and homeless. An interesting counterpoint was that;
“It’s not that “how even doing everything “right” isn’t enough in today’s financial system.” It’s that the people who are doing well today are precisely the people NOT following the rules, . . .”
Pick a theme and get to work. One friend listed the requisite movie pitch details that I planned to work on this weekend. Instead I’ll be sorting through my old office clothes trying to find a suit that fits.
I can’t claim to have been exercising “Voluntary Simplicity” before it was term. The idea goes far back (for more recent examples visit the Simple Living forums); but, I can agree that I’ve practiced it before I heard the term. It is one of the bases for the book that inspired this blog: Dream. Invest. Live. Living simply, enjoying frugality, using personal values as a guide to making and spending money are ideas that seem obvious to me. Until two or three years ago it worked. I generally spent less than I made, invested the rest, and enjoyed the cushion that resulted. As my portfolio abruptly shrunk and as my business has been slow to grow, spending less than I made has become unlivable – especially with a mortgage. My diminished portfolio was diminished further as it was my only source of funds, now that is nearly gone.
My blog post fed into a common debate about, “What can we do for people in this situation?” There are those that say it is inevitable. We will always have the poor. There are those that say that anyone willing to work should be able to live and contribute. Mutual support is one reason why we form governments. Others say, this is obvious proof that the system doesn’t work anymore and adjustments or radical change is necessary. I know that on a personal level, assuming the system doesn’t suddenly crash (let me check on the sequestration) the only thing that matters is sufficient money to appease those who hold my debt and enough money to maintain my frugal lifestyle. We all know where money comes from: jobs, businesses, investments, windfalls, and sharing.
Yesterday I called a friend who has been unemployed longer than me. I asked her to handle some details while I navigate my turmoil. I can’t pay much but even a little could help both of us a lot. She’s happy to help, and she was happy to announce some other good news. Someone hired her. That makes all the difference in her life. So, while I’m joining my family in remembrance you are welcome, even encouraged, to peruse my resumes, consider me for consultations, buy my books, buy my house, or share a bit of your lottery ticket winnings. I’ll share mine. And if you can, fix this economic system (Occupy?). Having been a millionaire and now looking at bankruptcy et al, I can tell you, this system is incredible and is probably due to change – and not just because of me.
Tom, please accept my condolences over the death of your dad’s wife. I never met her, but the loss of part of one’s family is upsetting, and we can all relate. Your trajectory has been downward for long enough now that I have to believe an upswing is due/overdue. Keep your faith, Dude, in the midst of this chaos that must pass soon. I’m rooting for you.