current smarts

Creatively, Mentally, Fabulous

TinyPeeps2k

We’ve heard many times that it’s the crazy ones that are creative and there are studies that may seem to prove such findings.

A post came up a few months ago by Scott Barry Kaufman about the link between creativity and Mental Illness. He has a book out called Ungifted, which may tell you without reading the post above what he thinks is true about said link.

Here’s a main takeaway: “There are many eminent people without mental illness or harsh early life experiences, and there is very little evidence suggesting that clinical, debilitating mental illness is conducive to productivity and innovation.”

And later:…my colleague and friend Zorana Ivcevic Pringle found that people who engaged in everyday forms of creativity— such as making a collage, taking photographs, or publishing in a literary magazine– tended to be more open-minded, curious, persistent, positive, energetic, and intrinsically motivated by their activity. Those scoring high in everyday creativity also reported feeling a greater sense of well-being and personal growth compared to their classmates who engaged less in everyday creative behaviors.

Creating can also be therapeutic for those who are already suffering. For instance, research shows that expressive writing increases immune system functioning, and the emerging field of posttraumatic growth is showing how people can turn adversity into creative growth.

I have no quarrel with that. People who have had hardships and/or are mentally ill have no ownership over creativity. Creating is awesome and can be healing and everyone should do it in whatever way they want.

Later, he talks about the families of those with mental disorders, and it’s interesting:Research supports the notion that psychologically healthy biological relatives of people with schizophrenia have unusually creative jobs and hobbies and tend to show higher levels of schizotypal personality traits compared to the general population. Note that schizotypy is not schizophrenia. Schizotypy consists of a constellation of personality traits that are evident in some degree in everyone.” (Maybe go read the entire article.)

But then we get to the very end and it’s this last paragraph that just kind of stuck me in the gut:

Which brings us to the real link between creativity and mental illness.

The latest research suggests that mental illness may be most conductive to creativity indirectly, by enabling the relatives of those inflicted to open their mental flood gates but maintain the protective factors necessary to steer the chaotic, potentially creative storm.

Well, I gotta say, that’s insulting on a few levels.

So, basically, the mentally ill people of the world are the conduits for creativity for all those around them who are strong enough to “steer the chaotic, potentially creative storm” because they themselves are not actually all that talented and couldn’t handle it even if they were?

Let me say this – I’m a creative person. You can divorce that from all the other things that I am if you want, but it doesn’t change. I’m still a creative person with or without the history of bipolar or the eating disorders or the MPD/DID. If you take the hardships in my childhood or the rocky part of self-medicating in my late 20s/early 30s with drug abuse and alcohol dependence, you’d still find me painting or doodling or crafting or writing.

BUT. But. I am a person with a history of all those things. And to say that my creative existence is not for myself but for others to feed off of, well, it just feels bad. To say I couldn’t handle the REAL creativity because I’m not strong enough, only those around me can, as they help corral me to safety, well, that’s just rude and belittling.

The times I felt I couldn’t handle my own creative power was when I had alien drugs in my system that were prescribed to me by doctors trying to help me get my levels back to a place where I could function. Anyone that has had to get on a new medication regimen for the first time or the 50th time knows what I’m talking about. You have a bloodstream full of new, tiny particles zinging this way and that way and you sometimes feel so lethargic your brain can barely think and you can hardly inhale and exhale correctly. Or your hands feel like they’re 20 feet wide. Or you start smelling all the sounds around you. And your teeth hurt.

AND EVEN THEN I still had the creative juices flowing but I couldn’t do anything about it. Thoughts wouldn’t form coherently and I couldn’t concentrate long enough to finish anything. Or picking up a paintbrush was impossible because it was heavier than a car.

But, this was all due to the management of my mental illness. It was because of medication in my system, which I needed so I could have some resemblance of a “normal” life.

I had the trauma and indignity of abuse in my early years. I spent the major part of my 20s trying to figure out how to be a parent and pretend my brain worked like everyone else’s did. In my 30s, things got increasingly worse health-wise for me before I was finally diagnosed with lupus in 2011. In the past couple of years I’ve finally started to make sense of how my brain and body work together and my health – both mental and physical – has never been better.

But through all my life I’ve had some form of creativity to fall back on – to keep me sane. To propose that my life of mental illness is somehow just to benefit those around me so that they can have a more fulfilling, creative life and that my creativity pales to theirs because of the very fact that they aren’t mentally ill and I am? Well.

I’m not going to run through my family members to try and see if my creative energy is rubbing off on them. I’m not going to start comparing us and ranking us according to who might be the most creative. According to who? And about what? And in what field? How presumptuous would someone have to be to think they knew the creative aspirations and secret heart of someone else? And who’s to say that any one person’s project in any field is any more or less creative than any other person’s in any other field? And how can you tell if said person can actually express all the creativity they feel?

I feel like I’m back in 4th grade art class and the teacher is “grading” our paintings.

Let’s pretend for a second that we can score where everyone falls on both the creativity and the mental health grids accurately. Like that’s a thing. Let’s pretend that mental illness doesn’t run in families. Let’s pretend that it’s ok to hypothesize that a member of a family should be thought of as a catalyst for everyone else in that family to feel more creative, a little better, a little “Phew, at least it’s not me!” about. Like they are the sacrificial lamb.

And now let’s stop pretending because it’s not.

Originally posted on RealMental.org.

Justice Fergie on Race and Blogging

I’ve been to many blogging conferences and had a mostly white experience. I’ve wondered why there weren’t more non-white people in attendance. I went searching online to find out if I was just missing something and found Blogalicious, a celebration of diversity in social media. This was about a year ago and after looking it over, I moved on, thinking it wasn’t for me because I’m white. Obviously, I didn’t read what the conference is about very well. It also shows how my thinking has been in the past, which I’m trying to change now.

It wasn’t until a few weeks ago when I started thinking and writing about race that I revisited the Blogalicious website after Kelly brought it up in an email exchange. Blogalicious Founder Stacey created the online community BeBlogalicious. They have a conference coming up October 21-23 which sounds really great. Stacey was kind enough to answer some of my questions. (You can find Stacey/Justice Fergie on Twitter.)

Was there a particular moment when you knew you wanted to start Blogalicious or was it a more slow-coming-about process?

It was a slow coming-about process. Pretty much all of the attendees of the blogging conferences around the time that we decided to plan a conference to celebrate diversity in 2009 were quite homogenous. Also, we were seeing the same handful of bloggers being offered all of the opportunities to work with brands. We were hoping to broaden the horizon and show advertisers that a fantastic and diverse blogging community existed.

What need is Blogalicious filling?

Blogalicious strives to fill the need of giving ownership of a corner of the social media landscape to those generally cut out of the popular conversations, events and opportunities. Part of our credo is that Blogalicious is for THE COMMUNITY. It’s not about us. We want bloggers of all backgrounds to feel as if Blogalicious is theirs to fulfill whatever need it is that they need to fulfill; whether it be the chance to network with power bloggers, to educate themselves about social media, to raise their own profiles and brand images, or to promote their businesses and blogs – we want our community to make Blogalicious their platform.

How do you think it’s doing at addressing that need?

I think we’re doing a decent job 🙂 The best evidence is that the Blogalicious name has taken on a meaning of its own. We are propelled by the community that we’ve created. We started out planning to host a small conference; now we have an online community (BeBlogalicious.com), eBooks being published, meetups around the country, a documentary about it and so much more. As @brokesocialite says in our movie trailer: “Blogalicious is a movement. It can’t be contained to an event or a website – it’s a spiritual experience.” I think that speaks volumes.

What kind of feedback do you get about the conference?

The feedback we continue to receive is unbelievable. We literally get emails weekly from people telling us how Blogalicious has changed their lives. Just last month a blogger came up to me at a meetup crying and saying that there’s no words to describe how important Blogalicious is to her. It’s heartwarming. The support from brands has been amazing as well. It’s as if they were waiting for an opportunity to reach a multicultural audience.

How do you see/hope the landscape of the blogging world changing?

I think it’s changing as we speak. There’s already so many new and exciting voices making names for themselves, which is a far cry from what the blogosphere looked like 5 years ago when I started. I think that there is a definite sense of community, which is important. My hope is that we continue to uplift each other and to share information and opportunities. There’s plenty to go around!

Your recent post on Babble where you say making a separate list to honor non-white women isn’t a great idea seems to contradict your creating a separate conference. Can you tell me more about how you feel regarding that?

Interesting perspective! I can see your point. But actually, I don’t think that the two can be compared. Here’s why: Blogalicious is not “a separate conference.” We’ve been very adamant from the get-go that it’s a conference to celebrate diversity, meaning that it’s inclusive and EVERYONE’S invited. It’s a conference where everyone can feel welcome – moms and non; white and non; skilled bloggers and non – you get the idea.

What is something everyone can do daily to help diversify their online world?

Read someone with a differing viewpoint that yours; attend an event you might not otherwise attend; the key is to step outside of your comfort zone. Oh and of course, attend Blogalicious ’11 😉

Watch the trailer for the documentary here:

Mocha Momma on Race and Education

I spoke with Kelly of Mocha Momma fame about race issues in general, approaching the conversation, but also specifically in education. Kelly is an assistant Principal and has been an educator for years. She has first hand knowledge of how perceptions of race affect our youth. She has some really great discussions going on over at Mocha Momma. We’ve had some lengthy phone calls, but I’ve narrowed down what I’d really like to share with you all. Please see below, my interview with Kelly.

Is this everyone’s fight? Why?

I’m sure it is, but I think we first have to get past being able to talk about it. It’s uncomfortable and people love to say in their comfort zone, but too often the conversation gets stilted because it becomes a wait-I’m-not-racist when that’s not the issue. It wouldn’t *get* there if people were willing to do more listening to one another. To be honest, it needs to come from the people who want to claim so quickly that they’re not racist. Not enough listening is going on so we can’t get to the meat of things.

What is your first memory of injustice or racism? How did it shape your life?

I’m not sure how old I was but it was an age when I could still be carried by my father on his shoulders or have to hold his hand while we were out. This incident was especially painful because I recall how my dad looked when it happened. We were out getting ice cream and we walked to Baskin Robbins where there was a long line. I was on his hip and the white woman in front of us kept looking back at him. Most of the time I paid no attention to the stares, but in the late 70s we were still viewed as something to be gawked at so I got used to it later in life. I’m sure I was fussing at him and being a brat about what I wanted and he was telling me no in a stern, parental voice but the woman butted in because I looked much whiter than my black father so she took it upon herself to say something to him about talking to kids that didn’t belong to him in a ‘nasty tone’. He let her have it and I recall being afraid of this confrontation in a public place. In my small child mind I began to wonder if I did belong and that shaped my life profoundly. Where do I fit in? Where do I belong? Will I always feel like an outsider?

Can someone be racist if they have no first-hand experience with other races?

Of course they can. Especially if they watch tv, read books, and see the news. Racism is covertly displayed in all these things because of constantly perpetuated stereotypes in those places. When you only hear those things and finally come into contact with the other race, that is your baseline. How would a person who has never met a black person ever know that the stereotypes are just that unless their experience is broadened by experiencing other cultures? This question reminds me of when people tell me they don’t see color and I have such a problem with that. Here’s the thing…that story I told about my father shaped my whole world. You have to know that about me to understand a lot of things about the person I’ve become. Conversely, I have to know important things about people, too, and that’s where the listening, understanding, and paying attention to differences of color and culture come in to play.

What can educators do? What about truth in history books?

Some of the things educators can do are already being done like finally trying to seek teachers of different cultures to reflect student populations. You already know this about me, Leah, but I took my current position for that very reason because the student population had 40% black students and there wasn’t one black teacher there. I had to step out on some faith and be the first one to say this wasn’t okay if students only saw black adults in their building as janitors and security guards. While those are fine, respectable jobs, they need to see a variety. This year, we have two new black adults in educated positions and I feel really good about that.

As far as truth in history books goes, we are losing the battle because of who makes money here. On a small scale, we can look at good pieces like James W. Loewen’s “Lies My Teacher Told Me” and teach students to read critically and think about history with analytical and interpretive minds. For example, I found something recently from my alma mater that profiled a woman (she is white) who has a high profile job as a jury profiler. In the article it mentioned that she got a great education from doing a college project where she examined people at a country club and she said that it gave her a diverse background. While reading it I thought, “Country clubs are diverse? Since when?” and it seemed ridiculous to me. I wanted to take that article into the classroom and ask the students to see if they could read that critically when presented with information that doesn’t sit well with them.

On a larger scale, we have to look at textbook adoption. The big states that seem to run the textbook publishing companies have traditionally been Texas and California. Whatever they use is mass produced and mass published and many states look to see what they’re using, even if it’s a poor choice of text. I’m still not pleased with many history books that treat black history in a demeaning manner. It’s relegated to a chapter or unit and separated from the rest of American history. It’s frustrating because black history IS American history. Who drives that stuff? Why are cultures so separate in world history when it’s so melded together?

What do you hope to accomplish with your online writing? Do you feel you are doing it?

I just want to start a conversation where there has been no conversation before. I want to teach people, but I know I must be gentle in that quest. Some people don’t want to learn. They only want to argue their point and why they are right. And even still, some people don’t think I should be doing it or elevating myself to a status of feeling important enough to start this conversation. Mostly, I aimed at calling something out and that is this: We’re not really ready to talk about race. When people tell me that Stockett’s book “The Help” has been instrumental in doing that I have to call bullshit. No way. Black people have been having this conversation for a long, long time and the world has largely been ignoring it. But a white woman comes along who grew up with a black maid and all of a sudden white middle class women are suddenly comfortable with the conversation. There is something horribly wrong with that scenario. I have been wholly unprepared for the responses I’m getting for my part in the conversation, but something tells me that I am doing it. We are getting there. And “there” is where people from different cultures, backgrounds, ages, etc… are having this conversation together. That is my goal.

What do you think of the white savior issue? Where do you see it? How can we change it?

I’m sick of it. It’s a tired, lazy way of writing and expressing creativity and we see it everywhere. Movies, books, news. We can change it by first recognizing it because I have had recent conversations with educated people who still miss it. That critical thinking piece I was talking about with students needs to happen with adults. (and without the rage and passive aggression that I have recently seen on my own blog comments)

Is there a specific group of people that need to be educated more than others?

Yes. Everyone who vehemently defends where racism is not.

If there are different education needs for different groups, how can we facilitate that?

As an educator, I have had to ask myself what to do with a classroom full of students with varying backgrounds and ability levels. Do I focus on the lowest achievers because there is a sense of urgency? Do I stick with the largest group in the middle academic levels? Do I teach to the kids who are highly achieving and exceeding expectations? The answer is this: you teach to the top. You always have to teach to the top BUT you offer the supports other students need in getting there to reach the goals you have for the class.

In a case like The Help, should people see it to educate themselves?

Educate themselves about what? How white people view things? I think we’ve had enough of that. Didn’t that already happen with Gone With the Wind? Driving Miss Daisy? Dangerous Minds? Come on, we’ve seen that story before and if the goal was to “educate themselves” and it didn’t already happen then I don’t know when it will. How many more Magical Negro movies do we need? No, that movie shouldn’t be used because it’s lazy. It isn’t a story about black women and their voices that were eventually found. It’s a story about a white woman and the black maids are simply essential plot devices to the salvation of the white person’s soul. It’s more alienation than transcendence, but look at how many people want to defend it.

What is one thing, small and accomplishable, the people can do today?

Get out of their comfort zones and start asking more questions rather than offering trite answers. This includes everyone because we all have much to learn.

How are kids growing up today being shaped in terms of race? How will their generation will look at things?

Children are looking at race differently than my generation did. It stands to reason that this is true of every generation, but this one worries me in the sense that kids are actually seeing MORE stereotypes in media than I ever did as a child. Jersey Shore, Bad Girls Club, Real Housewives are really terrible in perpetuating stereotypes of Italian and Black people (and others, I’m sure) but I also see this happening in way too many things on Fox News and many conservative ideals of people I know who seem to be out of touch with culture in a way that is damaging to children. It scares me because I think it will be harder to break these racial barriers down. It’s something worth investigating when talking to children because I think their view of how they’ve been shaped is the key to better conversations about race.

In Defense of Gwyneth Paltrow, or Coming to Terms with Being Racist

I know. I’ve seen it. It’s an ad where Gwyneth Paltrow is all serene and serious-face and sporting a jaunty-yet-possibly-meant-to-evoke-tribal-two-toned-blue-colored swipe across her pale, white cheek. The caption in bold lettering at the bottom states I AM AFRICAN. Under that, it says, “Help us stop the dying. Pay for lifesaving aids drugs that can keep a child, a mother, a father, a family alive.” To me that says, Let’s stop people from dying. We all come from the same place. We are family.

I’ve heard giggles and titters and loud eye-rolling, along with outright yelling and jeering about not just this ad, but pretty much everything Gwyneth Paltrow has touched lately. And I don’t get it.

Why does a white woman joining a campaign focused on Africa get met with distain? Is it because she’s white or because she’s “Gwynnie,” as I’ve seen her widely, familiarly and condescendingly addressed, because nothing brings a person down to beneath our level faster than minimizing them with a cutesie name probably reserved for family and close friends of girls under five. If it’s because she’s white, I’ve got a big problem with that and I’ll address it below. But if its because she is who she is, have we all just turned into a large group of Regina Georges? (Shout out to Tina Fey! Holla!)

It appears to me that Gwyneth’s worst “fault” is being who she is and not apologizing for it. She’s happy and confident and beautiful and rich and enjoys her life. She talks about clothes and accessories out of the average person’s price range . (She can afford it. I bet her friends can afford it.) And she has the audacity to not say she’s sorry she’s so happy and content. Because she doesn’t apologize, we think she’s stuck-up and flaunting it. She has a great voice. Her cook book, from what I glean from my friends and the internet reviews, is fantastic. She’s been in movies we all love and won awards for her craft. She’s worked with the Save the Children fund, seems to delight in hanging out with her kids and from all accounts, has a stable marriage. I mean, if you don’t like someone, you don’t like them. There are plenty of people I don’t care for. But I don’t need to publicly jeer at them and hope they fail, either. I’ll save my jeering and gnashing of teeth for people that are actually doing hateful and hurtful things.

We all want to be happy, living in abundance, safe and confident in our own skins. Those are the things I try to teach my kids. I mean, I’m all for ribbing or joking within reason, you need to have a sense of humor about yourself. But I’m calling sour grapes.

Before this turns into a GP fan site, which is not my intent at at all, let me state that the reason this is on my radar is that I’ve watched this kind of thing happen before, it is happening now, to good friends of mine, mostly women, who succeed and don’t apologize for it. It’s like we’re still in high school. We’ve got to stop this scratching and clenching and trying to knock the happy, beautiful people down because looking at them makes us feel bad about ourselves. They’ve worked their butts off to be where they are. Good for them!

Instead of all that junk, spend your time doing something better and worthwhile like improving yourself and your own life and get all those things you wish you had. The grass always looks greener, especially if someone looks like they have no problems, but everyone is struggling in their own way. Everyone is doing the best they can. Nobody’s life is a cake walk. And all that noise just takes away from the important stuff in life.

Now on to what I really want to talk about.

This I AM AFRICAN ad campaign, currently spearheaded by Alicia Keys, for Keep a Child Alive has other “non-black” people involved. The list includes David Bowie, Elijah Wood, Sarah Jessica Parker, Liv Tyler, Sting, Elizabeth Hurley, Richard Gere, Gisele Bundchen, Lucy Liu and Heidi Klum. Are we angry and disappointed in all of them or just Gwyneth? What are we saying, that only black people belong in the campaign? Because that is, I guess, “normal” and “good?” Not silly or distasteful or outrageous or arrogant, which are some of the terms I’ve heard in connection to Gwyneth’s ad.

There is a joke rebuttal ad that made the rounds aimed at Gwyneth for joining this campaign to fight against aids. It shows a beautiful African woman in traditional dress and has the words I AM GWYNETH PALTROW as the caption. And underneath that, there is paragraph which includes, “Help us Stop the Shameless famewhores from using the suffering of those dying from aids in Africa to bolster pathetic careers now that they are no longer dating Brad Pitt and no one gives a shit about them.” For me, the message is- don’t try. Don’t try because you are famous and because you are white and because you live in America.

By the way, David Bowie, whom I have mad love for, was not met with derision when his ad came out because he is married to Iman and already considered a humanitarian. So the problem with Gwyneth is that she is married to a white guy and isn’t considered a humanitarian? So she shouldn’t try? How does one become a humanitarian, anyway? Oh, by joining campaigns and becoming ambassadors and doing what one can? Weird. If only Gwyneth had tried that…….

I’m not saying any of the ads in this campaign are perfect. They show tribal paint and dress in a way that I find beautiful but some have said is mocking or inappropriate. I find it beautiful not because I’m secretly mocking Africans and the way they dress. I find it beautiful because I love color and culture and photography and appreciate the qualities we all have that make us individual and unique and tribal dress and jewelry is beautiful to me. Will you be mad or laugh at me because I don’t find it offensive as so many people have clearly pointed out it is or call me a racist?

I posit that if my finding it beautiful is offensive to you, it is more helpful to help me understand why, not yell at me and call me stupid and racist. I may be simply uneducated in the ways these images are harmful. I may not be savvy to the undercurrents and in that way, naive and in your opinion, racist or elitist. So educate me. Tell me how you feel. Let’s talk about it in a way that furthers the conversation, not shuts it down, leaving everyone defensive.

Another criticism of this campaign is the idea that by using the words I AM AFRICAN in association with an AIDS campaign, we are saying that Africa is a pit and *only* a pit of AIDS. Nothing else.

People, one organization cannot cover all things. They are more effective when they get serious about one aspect of a problem. It does not mean that said organization does not care about any other problems. Does that mean they shouldn’t try? If we tell a charity they should give up before they start because if they do try to do something, just one thing, someone is going to be upset or dissatisfied or worse, offended because they didn’t cover XYZ, we are sending the wrong message.

There will always be more things to worry about and campaign for and that is good because it means that we as a race keep learning and seeing things in a new way and hopefully finding ways to target problems and help each other. Hopefully someone will decide to do a campaign for causes not currently covered. One can only hope those campaigns will be memorable enough to spur discussion and elicit help as much as this one has. The answer cannot be that they never should have tried because they didn’t say the wording right or the photo isn’t perfect. Let’s be thankful for what people are trying to do and if you see something not currently covered, do that thing! Do your part to help where you can.

There are other issues at stake, like the Big White American Country sending money to the Poor Black (Country thanks for catching the typo, @Carolynedgar) Continent, causing more issues with the local infrastructure. I hear that. I worked with a non-profit with ties to Africa and saw many things that did not go how they ought to have gone. Until government is no longer corrupt, we could shovel mountains of cash to Africa and it wouldn’t better the infrastructure in any large, major way. In fact, it will probably make things worse.

Let’s put that aside for a moment. What about the “small” ways? What about the woman and child who received vaccines, food and other care because a charity provided it? That won’t seem like such a small thing to them, or frankly, to me. Is it better for them to go without because we haven’t figured out the best delivery system yet? Horseshit. Those people deserve the help. They are our family. Shame on the officials with means and ways in government that don’t change policy to truly help their poverty stricken people because they are corrupt. Shame on them, not shame on their people. Those people (all people!) deserve help and we should be taking care of our own. Let’s keep taking care of them in any and all ways we can while we work on the bigger problems.

I don’t want to try and “save” Africa or any other country. Africa doesn’t need saving. It is a country filled with smart, beautiful, competent people in the state and local levels who are already (and have been for years) busting their butts to help where they can. It is a disservice to them all to not acknowledge that. Africa needs partners with resources willing to make fair trade agreements so they can help themselves continue to grow. I don’t think Keep a Child Alive contradicts that in any way. And the more “white people” and ANY people who get involved along the way, the better.

Yes, I’m white. And I’m assuming there will be many people that suggest this is not my business and I don’t know what I’m talking about because I’m white and come from a place of privilege. But, please listen – if it’s not my business, then you discount not only me, but oceans of non-black people and if this campaign and ones like it are not meant for us, then who are they trying to reach? And if someone like me can’t bring this up and talk about it in a way that is nonthreatening to all sides, how will we ever further this conversation at all?

Please don’t scream at me that I’m racist and I don’t understand. On many fronts, I’ve come to realize and am currently accepting the fact I’m passively racist and always have been. This is the result of poor education, inexperience and naiveté, not blatant disregard for others because of their skin color and excludes intentional racism, aggression and marginalizing. Those are the easy to recognize kinds of racism. I’m guilty of subtle yet pervasive types such as never thinking twice about how my day-to-day life might benefit from simply being white and taking for granted that life will always give me a fair shake, the benefit of the doubt. I’ve asked people I find beautiful and exotic looking what their ethnicity is, never realizing how rude that might sound. (I think it’s the natural interviewer in me. I just really like to know things about people.) And more than once I’ve touched someone’s hair. Uninvited. I know. But to be fair, I do that to people of all races, including white. (But I didn’t do it EVEN 1 TIME at the last conference I attended, so yay for me, I guess? Oh look at me, learning already…)

I want to learn. I want to understand. I’m looking for ways to educate myself.

I’m ready to listen. Tell me how you feel.

Get Out Of Debt Free Expensive Card

Joe and I have deemed this next 18 months or so our Get Out Of Debt season. We try not to be too hard on ourselves on how we’ve managed to get this way. We’ve both known that this moment would come, we’ve been anticipating it, but there wasn’t a lot we could do about accruing our debt, with the exception of not living where we live. Living near my ex so the kids have the ease of going to one home or the other has been the goal for 5 years. And we’ve done it. But we’ve paid a price to be sure. The trade off was slowly going into more debt a little at a time with occasional spurts of doing it fast when we ran into any issue outside of our very tight budget. Like a new tire for the car or a delayed paycheck.

There was a time a few years ago, when we even had to go to one of those short-loan places to pay the rent. You know the kind – where they charge you about 2745% interest for a week? We had to keep that going for a few months before we were able to break free, and man, that was a rough and expensive patch of time.

Because we’ve been careful to not get credit cards and max them out trying to stay afloat, it’s mostly family, friends and cars that we owe. Without family this past 2 years especially, we never would have made it. I don’t know what people do if they don’t have family. I suppose get into high credit card debt and then become homeless? So, things could be much worse and we’re thankful that they aren’t. But, they are bad enough for us both to be highly motivated to put every cent we can towards paying everything back and off as soon as possible.

I went over the numbers this past weekend and got very brave and actually figured out how much we’ve paid in overdraft fees to the bank in the past year. Add that amount to the money we paid the thieves that run the short-loans and you’ve got a number so high that it makes me want to throw up. It’s over 2k.

It’s expensive to not have enough money. If you have to make that payment so the electricity won’t get turned off and the bank allows it to go through, Thank God, but then charges you a fee for going under your actual balance, you just start accepting that it’s a part of the deal. You add an additional $30 dollars to anything going through that you figure the bank will cover, even though you know your don’t have that much. We got pretty good at identifying what the bank would accept and what they would turn away. Of course, you always run the risk of them turning everything away, which is within their right, and then you feel like an idiot and worse, have to pay additional fees if there was another bank involved and worst, let people down and tempt fraud charges if it happens too often.

WELL, we got tired of this game. And we’re on our way to being debt free. It feels great. It feels great to have a plan and know how to get there. But it’s only possible because we have enough income now. Six months ago, we didn’t and no matter how much we didn’t want to be in such bad shape, there was nothing to be done about it except move to Alabama or somewhere else where the cost of living was low. Which wasn’t something we were willing to do.

I swear it costs a lot to be broke. You miss out on cash-only incentives and lower prices and interest rates on loans. You are forced to take what you can get because you feel so desperate and just want to be able to eat next week. We held many a garage sale on a desperate Saturday.

We’re very thankful. Things are looking up. And it would be even more awesome if I started bringing in more regular money. Hello? Universe?

Current Smarts: Real Estate

If you just want the tips, skip to the end.

Some people notice that on my resume, I have a 2004 listing as a Real Estate assistant. I worked with my friend, Margot, and had a great time. She is a Real Estate Agent and only works with reputable people. In fact, she can be a little anal, but all in a good way, because there is no way something shady is going to go down while she is in charge. What you don’t see in my resume is a 2002/3 listing of loan ‘consultant’ which is what we called ourselves. I’d like to forget about the time I spent doing it. But maybe the lessons I learned have some value and I’ll try and share what I know here.

At the end of 2002 I was newly back to San Diego and looking for work and I needed it fast. I found a job with a company that did home loan refis. Our target market were the sub-prime people – those people with kinda bad to really terrible credit but still able to qualify for a refinance loan because they had equity in their home or their bankruptcy was over 3 years old.

I remember my first day on the job. I was sitting near the center of a very long desk, maybe 8 or 9 of us all together, each with a phone, a pad of paper and pen, and a computer printout of leads. These were supposedly ‘warm’ leads, meaning people that had qualified by merely existing, owning a home and hadn’t refinanced in the past 2 years which meant they most likely had some equity. It was a given that they had bad credit. My job was to call each of the people on the list, ask if they had received the letter we had sent them X number of weeks ago and ask if they could use a little extra money. I seriously tried. I made the first two calls, got hung up on, made another call, found someone that was vaguely interested but said to call back when her husband was home and then started listening to the people around me. Holy crap, they were full of it. They were saying all kinds of things that I knew weren’t true. But the fact that they got around 1% per done deal was the motivating factor for them to say just about anything they thought would help get the paperwork started.

I asked to see the owner of the company, who I knew was upstairs. I had done ‘training’ the week before for an entire afternoon, like 4 whole hours (sarcasm intended), and I’d seen his office. The floor manager didn’t want to let me up to see him, but finally did let me, calling ahead and saying in a sarcastic tone that I was someone new with ‘some qualms’ to talk over. Then he chuckled and sent me up.
Continue reading

Current Smarts: Global Warming (and the imminent demise of the human race)

Global warming discussions are everywhere. There are those that believe it doesn’t exist. There are those that believe it exists but that it isn’t due to humans. There are those that believe if we change our output of dangerous gases, we can alter the atmosphere to such a degree that we can reverse the damage. There are those who believe that probably, there is nothing we can do.

Is it wrong for me to think that it might be a tad on the egotistical side to think that us humans 1.) are the major cause and 2.) can stop or reverse it? It reminds me of when people say there must not be life in outer space because we haven’t seen it, as if we, the humans on earth, are the most important and smartest beings in the universe.

Maybe the earth is just going through the cycle it’s supposed to go through. Maybe humans are meant to be here for a finite amount of time. Maybe we as a people are careless and hurt Mother Earth and use our resources too quickly but maybe it won’t make a difference if we don’t. I don’t think the dinosaurs were concerned with what crop they would be eating in 10 years. They woke up, lived their day and did the things that were natural for them to do which included eating what they found and living where it made sense to live. And maybe that’s us: we wake up, improve our lives, explore science and new technology and output whatever that entails and keep living our lives the way that makes sense. When you put us all together, we are a living, breathing organism on the face of the earth, causing whatever damage we cause in an effort to sustain life. And when earth no longer affords life, we won’t live.

Nihilistic? Not really. I do believe we have value and contribute to whatever the greater good is. And I definitely think there are ways to slow the impact of what is happening to our earth by shopping and eating locally, reusing and recycling and the like. I definitely think we should all be living conscientiously and trying our best to be good stewards over what we have been given. But I must admit that I have little to no faith that any changes will occur to the degree and with the timing that would be necessary to stop global warming and the greenhouse effect. There was nothing we could do to hurry our turn to live here and I don’t think there is much we can do to prolong our stay.

Current Smarts: Voting

My dad is Patriotic. Wait, I should have written it like this: CAPITOL P-atriotic. He used to read excerpts from newsletters written by Dobson and Schlafly at the dinner table. He sent me to John Birch camp. He gets tears in his eyes when he talks about the founding fathers. No, I’m not saying you have to be a die-hard Republican to be patriotic. I’m just saying my dad is both.

I can’t tell you how many times we talked about how great America was because it was a democracy and the people got to make the choices that shaped the direction the government went. And I believed it. Pretty much all of it. Until something happened. I turned into a teenager. And because I associated my father with being Republican, and based on that alone, I couldn’t support them anymore. I started watching the debates on TV and I didn’t like them. I turned into a Democrat just to be rebellious.

Somewhere in my mid-twenties, while married and living abroad, with my (then)husband fighting the wars and skirmishes that I had no control over (even as a Democrat!) I spent a year or so hating Clinton and wishing for a Republican president. The Germans didn’t want us there. We didn’t want to be there. As far as I could tell, we weren’t doing any good there and I didn’t understand what took so long for us to downsize our presence there. And then, we were downsized and it sucked even more than before because we had to drive twice as long (2 hours in no traffic) for just about any military type service. There was just no pleasin’ me. But, as I understand it, we still have a presence there and probably always will, just like we will in every country we put our people in. We are the friends that don’t know when to go home.

Somewhere during the 90s, I got a bad taste in my mouth about our government and how it worked. Or, didn’t work. I didn’t like the futility I felt in wanting anything to change. I didn’t see how anything could be changed. And I just kind of turned myself off. It didn’t seem to matter who was president or running the house.

In the late 90s, I had a very personal experience with our healthcare system when I tried to get help for my waning mental condition and found that in order to get well, I’d have to move out of California and continually debate my way to proving that I was incompetent in order to qualify for help. Which I eventually did. But it was dehumanizing and for months my depression was mostly about not feeling like a whole or worthwhile person after repeating just how incompetent I was day after day after day. Thankfully, I got the help I needed and am one of the lucky ones. However, my anger and frustration with our government and its Systems is pretty overwhelming. And then you have this war. And Bush being reelected. And why do I even get out of bed in the morning?

All of this is to tell you: I’m not a voter. The last time I voted was in 2004, and I hated it so bad that I immediately tried to purge it from my memory. It feels so WRONG and CONDESCENDING to find out at 1pm that your state has already been counted for one candidate or another when you haven’t even VOTED YET. Futility. But, I still went and cast my vote for the losing team.

By the time a party-approved candidate gets elected to any government position they have made so many promises, accepted so much money from special interests and scratched so many backs that it just seem so altruistic and naive to believe they are still working ‘for the people.’ How could they possibly? And if my only choices are two people that have been ‘party-approved’ and I don’t believe in them, where is my recourse? Why is it always the guy I don’t like or the guy I don’t like more?

I’ve been so ashamed to talk about this. Partly because of the way I was raised and partly because I do so appreciate living in a country where we have a certain amount of freedom. And I think the thing that my soul bridles against is that it feels to me that this whole voting thing we do is a charade, a game, a way for the powers that be to placate us (the little people) into thinking we are doing something, anything, when really we are just spinning our wheels. I also believe that if you are going to complain about something, you better be prepared to do something about it. Stop whining and change it. But in this case, I can’t figure out how to change anything, which has created some kind of immobility on my part. But, if the entire country was filled with people like me, nothing would ever get done and there would be no hope. So doing what I’ve been doing, not voting, can’t be the answer.

I went looking online to see if I was alone in this. I mean, I know that one of the main refrains we hear is that half of America’s people don’t vote and a close second is the youth of today don’t vote. Remember Sean Combs and the Vote or Die/Rock the Vote campaign? He got an additional 4 million voters in that demographic to come out and vote but everywhere you listened, they talked about how that campaign did no good and it was a waste. An additional 4 million votes were a waste? Then what good does my one vote do?

This guy thinks that voting is actually un-American. This guy is celebrating not voting 42 times. . I can see their point, but I don’t agree. Author Jane Haddam has some interesting views in her series. James Clingman wrote something wonderful in the Baltimore Times Online. A few years ago the Center for Voting and Democracy held an essay contest. Here is what the ‘youth’ had to say about why we don’t vote. Steven Hill, in 2002, writes that the youth not voting has nothing to do with them being apathetic, since the trend is for them to be more involved in the community than ever before. This article/class outline talks about how important each vote is going back as far as the election in 1824-25. Here is a frustrated Conservative. Proving that this is in no way a new problem, here is an article from 1976 which includes a nice breakdown of percentages for the time. Also, I didn’t realize that you were fined in other countries for not voting. Australia had a 97% voting turnout (in 1972) in part to avoid paying a $15 fine each. Youth Noise is trying to entice the younger voter. Apparently you can text your friends with voting messages. And they have edgy taglines:

“These are edgy attempts to raise awareness and bring young people into the site and get a better understanding of why it would be important to vote in the midterm elections,” said YouthNoise CEO Ginger Thomson of the ad campaign. By edgy, she means taglines suggesting young adults don’t vote “Because I like rich, old, white men telling me what to do,” “Because I like 90% of my paycheck going to taxes,” and “Because I’m so homophobic I can’t even touch myself.”

There is good information on the AARP’s Don’t Vote site by state. And if you live in California, Easy Voter has your info.

Do you vote? Why or why not?

Current Smarts: Online Gambling

Have you heard of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act?
Facts
Pro
Con

I started paying attention to the goings-on because my husband’s new job is with a payment company. Most interesting thing to note: his days off do not coincide with the rest of the world because those days are high shopping days and he must be at work to monitor things etc.

In any case, the large majority of their business is with retail but they do have a solid amount of companies that do wallet transactions, meaning, they remove money from your account and ‘hold’ it until you use it and then deposit it, in this case, at the gaming site. One of the main reasons these wallet companies exist is for online gambling.

Should online gambling be regulated or outlawed? What is wrong with the way things are right now? I’m not sure I see the problem. But if there is a problem, it makes much more sense to me to regulate and tax the gaming than to prohibit it. Didn’t we learn anything in the 1920s?

I hate Vegas because I can smell the desperation 30 miles out. It is a law in my family that we DO NOT STOP in Vegas no matter if you have to pee like a racehorse or if you are starving. I am not a gambler. I can count on one hand the times I have inserted a quarter, pulled a level and kissed my money goodbye. I have never signed up on an online gambling site and I have no plans to. I do not enjoy it and I do not see that changing any time soon.

However, I do see the propensity for problems with gambling. I am aware that there is a large amount of senior citizens in Vegas that gamble their entire SS checks the minute they get them every month. I understand that it can be an addiction. But to argue your point saying that 1 in 4 college-aged boys gambles online weekly and that we need to save them from themselves and then move from there to making it illegal makes no sense to me.

I think my main issue with the idea of making online gambling illegal is that this bill doesn’t actually do that. It is set up to penalize the ‘wallet’ companies that hold your money. This bill makes it illegal to be that company and do that act. The gambler will not get in trouble. But, the gambler may lose the money deposited in his account when the company he uses to hold his money gets nailed. If he does get it back, it will be after a long time.

My second issue is the hypocrisy of having a Lotto here in California that supports our schools, that is advertised on television and radio, that our government COUNTS on to subsidize costs to educate our children and then on the same coin passing this bill. So, it’s ok to gamble, but only if you do it the way we want you to. Is that the message? And if so, then regulating and taxing still makes more sense than prohibiting it.

Do you agree or disagree? What am I missing?