The bitter red pill

Saturday saw the end of whatever manic phase I was going through, or at last the end of whatever benefit I was receiving from going through a manic phase. Morning was not fun. Mornings are hardly ever fun but I felt hungover which is not typical for me.

I managed to pull myself together enough to squeak out 600 words or so. As I was making my way through my third proofread my son arrived home from college. I hadn’t seen him since January and should have been overwhelmed with joy. I was excited to see him but I didn’t feel like I could fully connect with the emotions appropriate for the situation.

I stopped what I was doing so that I could focus on him. I wanted to hear about school, his girlfriend, his theater projects and his music. He was eager to share his new EP with me. It’s really good stuff. These are some amazing kids, amazing musicians, amazing songwriters and it’s impressive what they can achieve with such limited resources. I listened intently as we discussed music and more.

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Then I was eager to get back to writing. My son was eager to get to writing as well. Unfortunately, blog writing and song writing do not go well together. I couldn’t concentrate. I found myself surrounded by music and getting frustrated. I was getting frustrated with my son. This was not his fault.

In fact what he was doing was brilliant. It just wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted him to stop. I wanted complete quite. Well guess what? What I want doesn’t fucking matter. I don’t get to order the world to meet my needs even if I have the power to do it. I could have told him to stop playing and he would have, but that would have been fucked up!

I was frustrated and annoyed but I kept it to myself. I wish that I could have felt the joy I know I have when I hear my son playing music but in that moment, it was no where to be found. Despite all the ways that I wanted the world to be there was no escaping reality.

Embracing, accepting and whenever possible, rejoicing in reality has been the theme of this past weekend. In a way, it’s the theme of my life.

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My friends, my close friends, those that hold a truly special place in my heart, we often talk about “real” people. I love evaluated, delineating and categorizing things. I don’t like doing this with people. People are far to complicated to be placed in boxes. The fact that we do; I believe to be at the core of many of our social problems.

My therapist says that there are two kinds of people: those who believe there are two kinds of people and those who don’t. I kind of like that but my favorite is; there are 10 kinds of people: those who understand binary and those who don’t.

So who are these “real” people. I mean all people are real, right? We all do things that are fake. We all lie. We all lie to ourselves. We all have blind spots and aspects of life we choose to overlook.

But how many of us really want the truth. How many of us would really prefer the truth to what we have convinced ourselves is real. I have my own take on reality but I’m not prepared to get into that right now. In place of my own thoughts I want to present this:

“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in itdoesn’t go away.” ― Philip K. Dick

Who is really willing to give up belief to live in reality. Who is so willing to embrace their doubt so completely as to give up their faith. Who is willing to take faith in the unknown and trust that reality it is better than the lie. Who, if standing before Morpheus, would take the red pill.

These are the noble souls we call real people, not because they would be the ones to take the red pill, but because they already have. Most were never given a choice. Most were slapped upside the head with such a heavy does of reality that they could never escape. I don’t know if this was the case for me. I feel like I was granted the opportunity for a mythical life of fantasy. I just never believed it. I kept trying to wake up. Now I am awake and it’s not pretty… but it is real. I’m not trying to escape, I’m just trying to survive.

Some of my friends are trying to get back in the Matrix through drugs, alcohol,  money, sex, violence, work, religion, self-righteousness, fantasy, denial… all  powerful forces, all things I participate in at times, all things that are no competition for reality. That is because they are all part of reality.

Okay, that is part of my take on reality. To say that reality is only what exists when we stop believing is to deny all that we believe in. Our beliefs, even if false or inaccurate are still real, they still exist and therefor cannot be separated from reality.  Sorry to get all existential but I am kind of an existentialist… just being real.

So I have a friend. One of those special friends, a real friend. Someone who is not trying to become part of the Matrix. Someone who is trying to become who they really are. Someone who by quirks of fate was not born who they really are, yet was born in a time of scientific and technological advances to allow them to alter themselves and become who they really are, as all of us have the choice to become who we really are or to alter ourselves to become who we wish we could be. I’m not saying which is right. Who I wish I could be, my ideal person, is probably a far better person than who I actually am, yet I believe that I am here for a purpose and whatever that purpose may be, I will be.

Saturday night this person wound up sleeping on the floor. Probably because of my shifting moods. As the night came to an end for me I was not cordial. I was demanding, insistent and done with being awake. I was done and the couch was mine. I didn’t like that I was being rude but I was done pushing myself beyond my limits. I knew the cost of doing that and I wasn’t willing to pay it again.

The following night I was able to convert the couch into a bed and found a hansom soul by my side. The gratitude of this occurrence did not escape me.    This too was a person I would conciser a real person yet the feelings were not the same. I believe that all souls have equal value. I wish that I could treat all the same. I wish that I could be the slut that I used to be but something was different.

As morning came I needed to tell this gorgeous creature, as beautiful as may be, we did not have the chemistry that I desired. But real and in my honesty there was no opposition, disappointment perhaps, but no denial. We were real.

I think we are gonna crash

Over the past six years or so I have seen my financial situation get slowly but steadily worse. For the most part this hasn’t been a problem. I don’t need much. I don’t live lavishly, I don’t take vacations, I don’t drive much and I don’t need anymore stuff. Most of my money has gone to supporting my kids, caring for my friends and spending time with the people I love. This last year, however, has seen my income cut by 40% and my living expenses go up considerably, mostly due to increased auto expenses in order to see my kids who both live out of town, but also due to increased housing expenses; my mortgage has gone up $100 a month as a result of higher taxes and insurance cost.

I have done everything I can think of to cut expenses without jeopardizing my mental or physical health but it still isn’t enough to make ends meet. The past six months have been tooth and nail just to make it through. By putting off purchases and repairs, some creative financial juggling and some unexpected monies showing up just in the nick of time I have been able to squeak by. I knew I couldn’t keep it up for ever but I held on hoping for a miracle that never showed up.

I tried to refinance my home but I have too much debt, not enough income and not enough assets. Even though I had been paying my mortgage every month for the past 14 years without fail, and refinancing would have made it easier for me to keep doing that, I was told I was too broke to lower my mortgage payments. That’s fucked up!

I don’t have any savings because I’m carrying credit card debt. Any extra money I’ve ever had I have used to pay down my balances. Then when I hit hard times I turn to the credit cards just to get by. Now, that isn’t even an option. I am maxed out. For months I’ve just been making the minimum payments but in December I couldn’t even do that. I had to call one of my credit card companies to see what I could work out. This card has been closed for years so all I’m doing is paying interest and paying down the balance and I haven’t missed a single payment. I was able to refinance at a lower interest rate and a lower monthly payment. They let me slid for December as long as I paid them $125 by the 5th of January. I could do that and I though this might just be what I needed to balance my budget.

What I hadn’t anticipated was how much my van would cost me in January. This was the month where I could no longer put off needed repairs and I needed my van to do my job and see my kids. I had to spend the money. Once again, January saw me just squeaking by.

My primary source of income is Social Security so when that money came in for February I went on-line to pay my credit card bill. Instead of a bill for $125 like I expected I saw a bill for $250 with $125 being past due. Instead of my due date being the 5th of the month as we discussed, they switched it to the 26th. I never received a bill or any notification that they were doing this; not that I could have made another payment in January anyway, nor could I pay $250 by February 26th as the were requesting. So, I paid the $125 like I had planned and figured I would deal with this when I got back from tour.

Once I got back from tour I was able to deposit money in my checking account. I tried to take out $20 just so I would have some cash in my pocket but was told that funds were not available. This made me nervous  I could understand the deposited funds not being available right away but I should have had $70 in my account even before making the deposit. The whole day I was stressed out; wondering how much money I had, what bills I could pay or not pay, what I could sell to generate more funds and generally just working myself into a frenzy. I really try to never stress about money. I saw how disastrous it was for my parents growing up but there I was, falling apart over money.

Once I finished work I was able to get on-line. I saw that two automatic payments had been made from my checking account while I was out of town sending my balance into the red. I didn’t think this was suppose to happen. I thought the new Federal regulations passed in 2010 protected me from becoming overdrawn. Apparently it does not apply to automatic payments. Anyway, my deposit was enough to cover the payments and leave me with a positive balance. It didn’t appear that there were any overdraft charges so I thought all was good.

My next concern was my credit card payment for the computer I just bought so that I could start writing this blog. I hadn’t received a bill yet so I had no idea when that payment will come due. With no-interest financing I didn’t want to fuck it up.

I went to log-on to that account but was told that my ID and password did not match. What?!? It was the same ID and password I used last month to check my account before buying the computer. So I tried it again. Still no luck. I tried every combination I could think of but I still couldn’t get into my account so I clicked the link to have them reset my password. Fifteen minutes later I received an email saying that they didn’t have an account linked to that address.

WTF! I know they have my email address, they sent me the receipt for my purchase, goddamn it! What the hell is going on here?

So I picked up the phone and called the number on the back of my card. I just wanted to talk to a human being and figure out what was going on. Of course I had to make my way through a maze of computer prompts before that would even become an option. Actually, that never became an option. I got to the point where the computer voice told me that I would be transferred to the next available customer service representative but instead I was transferred back to the same computer voice now telling me to enter my card number. I complied but was told, “I’m sorry, I did not get that. Please enter your card number.” I tried again and got the same response.

“Fuck you! I just want to talk to a real person!!!”, I yelled into the phone but the computer voice just repeated over and over, “I do not understand your request. I do not understand your request. I do not understand your request.”

At this point I was shaking with frustration. My heart was pounding and I was ready to explode. I stopped myself just before hurling my phone across the room. I took a deep breath and said, “I’m done.”

I’m done with credit cards all together. I mean, who am I kidding?  I have no business using credit cards. Using credit to survive is fine when you know that things are going to be better in the future and you will be able to pay it back. I honestly thought that would be the case. I figured at some point I would be able to sell my house and get out of debt, but that’s not happening. My house is worth $50,000 less than it was in 2006 and it’s continuing to lose value. I see no chance of my financial situation improving, not in the near future, perhaps not ever. It’s time for me to stop borrowing and live within my means, measly as they may be.

In a moment of clarity it all made sense. A feeling of calm came over my body and I knew what I had to do. I had to break up will my credit cards.

DEAR CREDIT CARD COMPANIES: I can’t deal with this anymore. I’m sorry but you mother fuckers are on your own. I’ve got nothing left to give you. I tried my best. I hung in there as long as I could but now it’s over. We had a good run. You made shitloads of money off of me over the years but the gravy train has run out of track. Come after me if you want but I have given you my last dime. Literally, I’m broke; completely, totally, undeniably and utterly fucking broke!

… well not completely broke. I still had a little bit of available credit on one card. Okay, now this was clearly a dickhead move; maybe a little vindictive, maybe a last ditch effort at survival, maybe a purely logical decision; but considering that I was about to trash my credit rating I thought I might as well go all in. I was going to run up my credit card as far as I could. I headed to the liquor store and spent $70 on booze; 5 liters of wine, 1.75 liters of whiskey, 1.75 liters of vodka and a 30 pack of beer – enough to get me through the month for sure.

I still have $55 dollars left. Hopefully that will be enough to fill my tank, get a little food and toilet paper – then I’m done. I will spend what I earn and no more. And I’ve got a plan. I can do this. It is going to be okay.

By the way… my bank did sack me with overdraft charges, $37 for each payment, $74 in total. Yeah! Mother fucking bank, I’m done with you too! Tomorrow I am closing my account and as soon as I have some money saved up I’m opening an account at the credit union.

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