Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Decisions You Make

A few months back I was talking with a friend about her damaged uncle.  My friend, while I'm sure she has struggled with different issues throughout her life, is one of those people who can just push through the discomfort quickly and emerge victoriously on the other side.  To an outside viewer, she appears to do it effortlessly.  I couldn't even begin to tell you what childhood mishaps attacked her self esteem because she never seems to have made them her home.  My struggles more closely parallel those of her uncle and I found myself trying to explain why a man in the final decades of his life could still be struggling with "but my parents mistreated me."  Repeated attempts made me believe three undeniable concepts are at work.

1.  No matter how old a person is, if he or she can still mentally touch an open wound from past mistreatment, there will be a corresponding degree of rigidity and incapability to change and move forward.  It is easy to assume the larger the pain, the greater the problems, but I don't think that necessarily plays out.  Or at least not in an obvious way.  For one thing, pain is individual.  Most of my childhood problems were more of the "Barbie gets caught on the outskirts of a bad neighborhood" variety.  There was a very funny moment in a very disturbing movie remake decades ago.  The movie was "The Collector" and the laughable moment was when the heroine, already being stalked by her eventual killer, heatedly explains her discomfort to the police.  "He gave me gifts!"  I can't tell you how many times I've remembered that scene and my nervous laughter when I've tried to explain my relationship with my parents and why I've struggled with self esteem.

Pain is individual.  We're not allowed to line up the damaged and judge whether or not they have a right to feel hurt.  I believe an individual's problem moving forward stems less from how badly he was hurt than what he does with that pain.  Do you remember one of your first childhood cuts or scrapes?  Remember poking the wound throughout the healing process to see if it still hurt?  A skinned knee will eventually scab over and that poke won't feel any different than it does to the adjacent skin.  Emotional wounds don't heal the same way and repeated checks, rather than confirming or denying forward progress, tend to create a habit of negatively reaffirming your life.  People who are stuck in this "Groundhog Day" of emotional pain seem to believe they can move to forgiveness when it no longer hurts and don't realize that the healing will begin (and it will hurt less) AFTER they forgive.

2.  Frequently, pain colors "the damaged's" entire life.  On a ten scale for difficulty, they wake up every day at about an eight.  Before the red lights, traffic jams, road rage or other daily challenges, they wake up thinking:  "What the hell might happen next.  I don't know if I can stand much more."  There's a good chance they have at least a few documentable obvious problems like debt or health issues.  Their baggage contains a whole lot of entitlement because "my life has just been so hard or unfair, I really need someone to acknowledge or validate my pain."  They don't need to poke the wound to see if it still hurts.  It always hurts.  It never goes away.  That is exactly how I felt during the years leading up to my divorce as well as a few afterwards.  "Can't anybody see I'm drowning here?  Somebody, anybody, please throw me a line."

I was talking with a friend recently about one of her retail customers.  The woman was one of those constant complainers.  Nothing was right.  Nothing was what she wanted.  All of which added up in the customer's view to discounts she was entitled to receive as well as a free coke.  I listened, all the while feeling very fortunate she had not been my customer.  Then I tried to explain to my friend why the woman might be that way only to discover my friend already knew.  A core limiting belief of people in that mode of thinking is "no one understands me."  In reality, a lot of people do understand and aren't without empathy at your situation.  They genuinely are sorry for all of the lemons life has handed you.  What they don't understand is why you felt the need to build a monument to that pain and move in there.  At the same time, you are not a lot of fun to be around and "if you can't find a way to "move on" emotionally, could you please just "move on" physically.  Seriously, there are other stores that sell this stuff, you know?"

This sort of person is stuck where they are because everything is filtered through "me."  Rather than noticing how hard the sales person may have tried before they gave up, they will be stuck in the fervent outrage of "how could they treat me that way?  Don't they know the customer is always right?  I'll show them.  I'm never coming here again!"  Never realizing the sales person is probably thinking, "You promise?"

The empathy that "damaged" is looking for is also the exit door he or she keeps missing.  It is a "get what you give" world.  If you aren't receiving any empathy, appreciation or consideration, there is a high likelihood you aren't giving them to anybody either.  Besides which, remember that notion "pain is individual?"  The worst childhood story I have ever heard involved the children of an undiagnosed schizophrenic woman who was also a single mom.  For the first eight to twelve years of their lives, mom locked them in a closet every day because "the voices" told her that was where they would be safest.  I don't know about you, but I know it wouldn't help my self esteem very much to be outrageously indignant about my poor treatment as a customer only to discover my persecutor's childhood was far worse than mine.  That isn't even because I know it is a "get what you give" world.  It is simply because I have this notion perhaps I don't deserve things I am unwilling to give to others.

3.  There comes a time where it is no longer a question of what heinous things may have happened to you.  If you aren't happy with your life, it isn't because of your parents, your government, your president, the Democrats or the Republicans or your boss.  You are the one ultimately responsible for your life and if you aren't happy, it is exactly like the internet meme says:  "If you want something you've never had, you have to do something you've never done."

Maybe it is as simple as counting your blessings instead of infringements against you.  Maybe the world is so offensive because you really are looking to be offended.  Maybe each time your thoughts repeat the word "me," as in the sentence "how could you do this to me," you could ask yourself what they might have been feeling right before they hurt your feelings.  Could you have unknowingly hurt their feelings?  If that is possible, is it possible they didn't know they hurt you?  Is it possible that was never their intention?

If you can't do any of that, consider this.  Writers, musicians and painters frequently learn their art by emulating the voice or techniques of established masters they admire.  Find someone you admire who has whatever it is you feel you lack.  Success.  Love.  Happiness.  They have it.  You want it.  So do what they do.  Read their blog or their biography.  Look up their Wikipedia.  Find out as much as you can about how they have lived their life and repeat it.  Fake it to make it.  Repeat it every day until you are living the life you want on your own.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Because people always ask .....

Whenever I mention I am in the process of working through my deceased parents' estate and selling their house, someone will say, "I need to get advice from you in the future about what to do about that."  Let's just say this is that advice.

There are two aspects to handling your parents estate to consider.  The first is easy.  It is simple legal paperwork.  Don't attach a lot of fear or unhappiness to it.  Just as when you were born, your parents filed a birth certificate announcing your name and relationship to them; paperwork will be filed announcing your death and the choices you made regarding what happened to your property.  You can also file paperwork pre-deciding choices you may have in how you choose to die.  Every bit of work you do towards doing that paperwork while you are still healthy is a loving gift to your children.

My father had a stroke in July 2010.  He lost none of his mobility, but a very large portion of his memory.  The very last check that cleared his bank account from before his stroke was one to the lawyer who drew up his Will, Trust, Durable Power of Attorney and an Advanced Health Directive regarding what lengths he would like a hospital to go to keep him alive should he need a ventilator or other machines.

I was very very lucky.  I hadn't been nagging him to do any of that.  Like most of you, the notion of bringing it up to him, particularly the part about the Will and Trust, felt like counting his money as my own before he died.  He was 77 years old when he had those documents drawn up.  He did not live to be 80.

You will need all four of those documents.  Look in bookstores and online to see if you can do them yourself, but you will probably need to contact a lawyer to have them done.  I had that and a few other things done a year or so ago and it cost me around $1000.00.  Keep the originals.  Show them to whoever insists on seeing an original, but make a lot of copies and give only those out.  If you have only the Will, instead of the Will and Trust, you will lose money and wait somewhere around a year for probate to close.  This is true no matter how simple the estate may seem.  Do yourself a favor and make sure you get both the Will and the Trust.  I cannot stress this enough.

You will need the Power of Attorney in case your parent gets dementia or is somehow otherwise incapacitated and you have to handle their affairs.  Even with the Power of Attorney, you will be amazed how many businesses will insist that you fill out "their" forms regarding Power of Attorney.  I was actually listed on my father's bank accounts as a co-owner, which is also a good idea to help pay for the medical bills that will begin adding up.  It makes an easy transition from your father signing the checks to you signing the checks.  Consider your name also being added to the title to your parents' automobiles or mobile home, if they happen to live in one.

Remember to check all medical bills against any medicare or health insurance that should be picking up part of the tab.  They will not do any of the legwork for you.  Avoid feeling cheap or like your parent doesn't deserve whatever medicare or assistance he or she has coming.  You have no idea how long the illness will last or whatever illnesses may be waiting behind the current one.  The goal is to keep your parent funded during this trying period.  You can't afford to overlook any discounts or assistance that may help.

A side comment about dementia.  If your parent suffers from that and is still able to live at home with you or outside caregiver assistance, at a bare minimum, remove the car keys where he or she can't find them.  If you can get the car out of sight and mind, you will be happier.  Trust me, you are going to hear, "When will I get to drive again?" more times than your parent ever heard "are we there yet?"  It is an uncomfortable position to be in, essentially being your parents' parent.  Telling him, "I didn't say you can't drive, the doctor did.  They revoked your driver's license." It just doesn't get the job done.

Try to summon up all of the patience you can muster.  Inside his mind, he does probably know what he wants to say.  He just can't pick the right words anymore.  My father went through a period where nearly everything became the word "Sine-aid."  Think how frustrating it must be to think television remote and only be able to mumble "Sine-aid."  Whatever personality he or she had before the stroke?  If it was a bit negative or angry, expect that times two.  Don't expect to receive patience in return.  He feels powerless and chances are, you are the poster child for everything he thinks is currently messed up and wrong.

It is a very good time to discover small little tasks or favors he can do for you.  Feeling useful and needed is an excellent combatant to the depression and boredom he may be beginning to face.  Seniors with a good attitude who have dementia due to a stroke can recover quite a bit of what was lost.  Or at least that was what I found when I read about it.  Giving them puzzles or video games like "Big Brain Academy" can help.  Try not to be too disappointed if they have a bad attitude.  My father immediately sneered at any gift that showed up at his house even slightly looking like it was "good for him."

I can't offer much advice about the other aspect to handling your parents' estate.  Your siblings.  That was another place where I was very lucky.  It may be lonely to be an only child when you're a kid and there is no one to help suffer the burden of caring for your aging parent, but there is also no one to fight with about distribution of heirlooms or how much their house is worth.

I would suggest simply trying to treat each other with kindness and dignity.  If one person has been burdened with much of the caregiving, he or she may feel a bit more entitled.  You may think that the most valuable piece in the estate, let's say a diamond ring or necklace, should be sold to benefit everyone, but your sister may remember playing dress up like Mommy and wearing it when she was three.  While everyone is stressed by their recent loss, your brother also may be struggling with the near break up of his marriage.  Communicate and be as honest as possible with each other.  Try to have empathy.  Above all, be grateful for whatever good things do come your way as a result of the estate and DO NOT fall prey to the limiting belief that the quality of the rest of your life will be determined by what you do or do not receive.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

An Interesting Week

When I was much more of a pessimist, the word "interesting" always triggered the notion of the supposed Chinese Curse, "May you live in interesting times."

Is there really any such thing as "boring times?"

Anyway, this has been an interesting week.  Filled with admiration and praise, love and affection, lies and deceit, disregard for my rights, and a "butt-dial" from someone I would have preferred had sincerely called.  Through it all, I remain me.  Standing tall and proud.  Well, ok.  Standing short and proud, open and loving and ready to face the upcoming week.  It has left me with not much to say, though.  No rants bubble up to my lips.  No pearls of wisdom that I want to share with you, the anonymous, unborn children of this childless woman, in the hopes you avoid the path of my mistakes.  Which must mean ……. it is time to teach you about market orders.

Never.  Ever.  Not ever.  Place a market order for a stock.  If you accidentally do, don't slit your wrists, but make note of the day and never do it again.

If you were going to buy a house, would you go to a real estate agent and say, "I really really want this house.  So just take note of what everyone else says it is worth and at the end of the day, buy it for me at whatever the top price that was named."  Not the lowest price.  The top price.

You would never ever do that, but that is what a market order is.

Explaining to you how to place an order for a stock the first time is a bit like explaining to a young girl how to insert a tampon for the first time.  Difficult without diagrams.  Let's give it a whirl anyway.

You will go to a webpage at your online brokerage.   It will probably be called "Trade."  On this page you will select the option of "buy" or "sell."  You will type in how many shares you want to buy.  (On a side note, never be ashamed of how few shares of something you are capable of purchasing.  It isn't like shame will miraculously lift you into being able to buy more.)  You will type in the Ticker Symbol of the stock you would like to purchase.  You will choose what sort of order type your order is.

Right there.  That moment is the where you will be left with your wallet standing open and no idea what to do, metaphorically speaking.  Market is usually the default option and you will decide that must mean it is a benign enough choice. It is.  But you are doing this to capitalize on your unique capability to move in and out of the market quickly at the price ranges you want and need to make a profit.

The next option offered will probably be "limit."  That is the one you want to use both when buying and selling.  When you are buying, "limit" will mean:  Do not buy the stock for a price HIGHER than what I have listed.  When you are selling, "limit" will mean:  Do not sell the stock for a price LOWER than what I have listed.  You will roughly determine your price by observing what the stock is currently trading at.

As I have been typing, my day has gotten only more interesting.  Which, for the record, could never be a curse.  Boredom would be the curse.  Some days challenge the notion that time was invented so that "everything doesn't happen at once."   Today has been one of those.  On days like today, everything does happen, rapid fire, at once.  So let us discuss more on how to determine your price in a later blog.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Why I Never Learned to Cook (and why it is important)

It isn't right to judge people, even the judgmental.  It is something I struggle with daily, most recently when I saw this article:

This Onion Article Perfectly Illustrates Why No One Should Judge A Person On Food Stamps

While I agree we shouldn't judge a person on food stamps, for me, the article missed a huge part of the point.  The article focuses on the statistic that a growing number of America's armed service members are on food stamps, as well as many other households who have at least one person who is gainfully employed.  It is the typical American stance, if I have to do something, you have to do it.  If I have to be tested for drugs at my place of employment, you should be tested to get financial assistance.  If I have to work, you have to work, and if you're not working, you deserve nothing.  I could write and yell and whisper until I fell into my grave that this IS NOT empathy, except for oneself.  It seems to plainly come from a place of resentment.

In this article, however, the point that slapped me across the face was the woman, Carol Gaither, who judged what food stamp recipients were purchasing.  I've long heard concerns about them buying alcohol or cigarettes, but she resented them buying "Frosted Flakes" or other brand name goods, as well as, "high priced TV dinners."  "She also notes that two whole chickens and a bag of potatoes could inexpensively feed her family for a week."

Well goody for you Carol Gaither.

Let me tell you a little about myself.  I am an only child.  I grew up in a middle class home.  I have no debt and have never been a food stamp recipient.  But if I was one, you would be standing behind me in line, judging me.

Even on Thanksgiving, the vegetables on my mother's table came from a can.  No, they were not mixed into some sort of tasty casserole.  They were dumped out of the can, heated on the stove or in the microwave, and placed on my plate next to dry turkey and faux potatoes.  Yes, "Potato Buds."  Every Friday we had "Swansons."

Would it surprise you to know there are people who have never had real potatoes?  Or people working full time who have never cooked a chicken?  Who would stare at a raw one like a deer in headlights having no idea what to do or even where to begin?

It was only after my mother's death and teaching myself to cook via the services of Blue Apron, that I realized my mother had probably never had what could be described as "a delicious meal" in her life.  The idea certainly explained her tasteless, charcoaled, dry meats and why she never even mentioned food could taste better than this.  Why she never learned to cook, I can only guess, but as she was also so shy as to be a borderline agoraphobic, an easy guess would be she never had one at a restaurant or a friend's house either.

If my mother, who was a stay-at-home housewife from the time she married my father, didn't know how to cook and never taught me, why would you assume that people who are in the situation where they have to use food stamps (in a world where they are aware they will be judged for doing so) have been trained to cook anything from scratch?  When I went to college, I knew how to cook the following:  boil corn on the cob, boil hot dogs, toast bread for peanut butter and jelly, and open a bag of  "Peanut M&Ms."

Meanwhile, do high schools even have a class called "Home Economics" anymore, or has it gone the way of music, drama or art?  Some of the things we no longer are willing to pay to teach our nation's youth are skill sets we need our nation's citizens to have.  Do you honestly believe that everyone has so much debt and so little savings because they are happy living that way?  Couldn't it perhaps be because Americans won't pay to have children taught about finances in school and no one at home has the knowledge to fill the gap?

Things to think about the next time you are cluck cluck clucking about anybody in public doing anything of which you personally disapprove.  If you don't like it, don't do it, but remember, that person you're judging?  They may not know any other way.