Saturday, June 30, 2007

Commitment Phobia - defined

This is a compendium of definitions I’ve found on commitment phobia.

Commitment phobia is rooted in fear. It’s the fear and avoidance of having to commit to anything, relationships in particular, and the fear of making poor decisions. A commitment phobic person sees decisions as permanent and often feels caged or trapped. Claustrophobia is common in people with strong commitment phobia.

They actually take commitment very seriously, which makes the decision to commit even harder. because on the one hand you avoid obligations, ties, and commitments but at the same time the you may secretly crave the lives of those who committed. But fear usually wins out. Commitment phobics desire freedom above all else.

Commitment phobia is sometimes thought to be associated with fear of death, fear of intimacy, etc. but they usually show signs of commitment fears in many areas of life. Sometimes it is so pervasive that it can interfere with our ability to make simple every day decisions or to manage and maintain our lives. We are prone to self-destructive behavior and escapism as a way to assuage our anxiety.

Usually the sufferer will be overly critical of the other partner in the relationship. They will set out to annoy or hurt the other person, thus sabotaging the relationship even if it seems to be going well. Sometimes they reject others from the word go, thus not allowing a potential relationship to develop and keeping themselves at a safe distance. Other people with commitment phobia can be flirtatious and affectionate and appear to want a relationship until the fear wins out and the other person is pushed away.

Some commitment phobics genuinely want to meet someone and get married, but often have unrealistic ideals regarding possible suitors. They may fall in love with someone they know isn’t interested in a long-term relationship. This way they can deliberately choose a person who can’t/won’t commit to them, therefore leaving them “safe” from long-term commitment.

The causes of commitment phobia are sometimes associated with a loss or trauma of some kind such as parental separation or bereavement or an illness that had a debilitating affect. Maybe as a child they had poor role models or witnessed/were victims of abuse – physical or emotional.

This can have an effect on their approach to adult relationships. Often, at the heart of the fear, is the fear of rejection by others. To pre-empt this they reject the other person first. Then they put distance between themselves and others and thus feel safe.

I personally don’t “suffer” from commitment phobia. I simply am commitment phobic. My normal everyday life is quite pleasant and happy. I only start “suffering” when the possibility of a relationship with a man exists.

And I am claustrophobic!

More later.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Commitment phobia

A friend and I were discussing my commitment phobia the other day. As familiar as I am with it and how it feels, I had difficulty finding the words to explain it. I was very tired at the time and knew I needed to postpone the discussion until later, so I told her I’d get back to her.

As it turns out, explaining commitment phobia is no easy task. There’s plenty of very clinical information about it and many people with varying degrees of “expertise” writing about it. After reading what they write, it’s pretty clear most of them have never experienced the raw emotions and the convoluted decision process a true commitment phobe goes through.
There's just not much in depth discussion of the underlying feelings that accompany it from people who actually experience it. So I'm going to devote some blog time to discussing it from a physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual perspective.

I’m going to try to explain commitment phobia to you from the perspective of a deeply commitment phobic person.

As I'm preparing to do this, if anyone has any questions about commitment phobia, please post them in the comment section. It will really help me in preparing my information.

Just thinking about this is raising my anxiety levels.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

I love my friends!

I have wonderful friends, some of whom I don't see very often. I just spent 4 wonderful days with many of them catching up on our lives. We were at our annual cult meeting (it's not really a cult but I enjoy confusing people) and while I was very busy working most of the time there was still time to renew our friendships. I even sang - in front of 1200 people!

That's right - I sing. When I was in high school Mom forced me to take singing lessons because she thought I had a beautiful voice and wanted me to excel at something. Like the piano lessons she also tried to provide for me, I wasn’t interested at the time. Over time my voice went with my confidence – down the drain. I smoked cigarettes, then pot. I neglected it and it lay fallow for years. When my confidence and self esteem finally started returning, so did my voice.

I’m not a great singer, not do I aspire to be one. However, I can carry a tune and my voice is good enough that several friends have asked me to sing for various occasions. I’ve sung in front of 20 people to almost 1,500 people. I never accept money and if someone insists, I ask them to make a donation to their favorite charity instead. As long as they don’t give me money, whether I’m good or bad it’s worth what they paid.

I think part of the reason people ask me to sing is because I often make fun of myself and tell silly stories. Everyone seems to have a good time. I’ve dressed as a mermaid, Minnie Mouse, a farmer, a vixen, an angel with horns and many other things. I’m known for writing funny new lyrics to old songs to fit the personality of the person for whom I’m singing.

I’m always nervous when I sing. But the way I make it through is by remembering that the person who asked me to sing believes in me. Because they believe in me, I believe in myself and I can sing.

My friends believe in me. For them, I can sing!

(I'm 5th from the left, brown sweater - with my eyes closed!)

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

I'm Baaaaaacccccckkkkkkkkk!!!!!!

Been gone for a few days with limited access to the computer. Feeling tired but refreshed.

Will update more later!

Still discovering things about this damned cell phone. Like: It helps to make sure the electrical outlet you plug it in to recharge the battery is actually working!

At the hotel where we stayed, they had an extra outlet on the desk. What I didn't realize is, it wasn't plugged into the wall. So, for 4 days, I charged my phone on a dead outlet. I discovered this as I was leaving this morning when I checked my phone for messages and found a blank screen staring back at me. At that point I was in a hurry to check out and get to my last meeting before going home, so I drove home with a dead phone.

Fortunately I arrived home early enough to check all my e-mails and answer them before everyone left the office for the day. No major catastrophes but a couple of rather peeved co-workers.

I am a whiz at the computer, but this stupid cell phone has me completely frustrated. And I still haven't figured out how to make it do the dishes!

Saturday, June 23, 2007


Recent phone conversation with a friend:

Me: Hello!

Friend: Why didn't you call me back?

Me: When did you call?

Friend: Over a week ago. I left you a long message congratulating you on finally coming into the modern age?

Me: Huh?

Friend: Your new cell phone dummy!

Me: Oh, that! Thanks! You left a message?

Friend: Yes.

Me: Where?

Friend: On your new cell phone.

Me: When?

Friend: A couple of weeks ago. Right after you sent the e-mail saying you had one. Of course we had to try to several times because apparently it took you a while to figure out how to put your message in your voice mail.

*Short but very uncomfortable silence*

Friend: You didn't get the message did you?


Friend: Do you even know how to check your messages yet?

Me: Of course I do!

Friend: When did you figure out how?

Me: (sheepishly) Tuesday. Actually late Tuesday afternoon.

Friend: This Tuesday? As in this week? What 10 year old did you corral to teach you?

Me: He wasn't 10. He's 25 - one of the guys I work with.

Friend: So, he taught you how to check your voice mail?

Me: Yes.

Friend: How many did you accidentally erase?

Me: (sheepishly, again) Only 3.

Friend: Well, that explains why you didn't get my voice mail.

Me: Sorry!

Friend: That's okay. I'll call you again and leave another voice mail.

Me: Okay. Bye.

A few minutes later my cell phone rang.

Me: Hello.

Friend: You're not supposed to answer it.

Me: But it rang!

Friend: I told you I was going to call and leave another voice mail. Now hang up and don't answer the next time it rings.

Me: Okay. Bye.

Cell phone rings again. I obediently don't answer this time.

Five minutes later - after I re-read the instruction book and remember how to check my voice mail - I retrieve her message.

"Stephanie, you're an idiot. But we all love you anyway."

Aw. I have the world's best friends! I'm saving that message!

Friday, June 22, 2007

New Cell Phone

Yesterday I was morose. I apologize. It happens sometimes but it usually goes away pretty quickly.

Today I’m happy and excited again. I got a new cell phone a couple of weeks ago. My bosses gave it to me so they can find me wherever I go. This is my first cell phone and they had to drag me kicking and screaming into the modern age. Now that I have it – I LIKE IT!

It does everything except wash my dishes. I can check my e-mail at home and at work, surf the net, look up people in my contacts, and even make phone calls. I’ve also learned how to make it be quiet when I don’t want them to find me or when I’m in a meeting.

Having said all that, I’m still trying to figure some things out and every day I make some new and fascinating discovery. My latest discovery is that I had to file down the nails on my thumbs to use the tiniest freaking keyboard on the face of the planet. I have big farm girl hands. I was one of those girls who could palm a basketball in school, so this little keyboard is quite a challenge for me.

I also finally figured out how to use numbers and letters at the same time. Wow! This thing is taxing my brain! But the thing that most people have commented on is my voice message which only took about 4 hours to finally record. It says, “This is me. Leave me a message and if I ever figure out how to use this thing I’ll call you back.”

Several people have actually been brave enough to leave me messages. In desperation I finally acquiesced and asked one of the younger, more technologically savvy people in the office for help because I had all these voice messages and didn’t know how to check them. I’m pleased to report I have accomplished this task and only accidentally deleted 3 of them in the process.

God I’m good!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Thoughts on having cancer

Yesterday one of my dearest friends told me she has uterine cancer. She is a happy, funny, friendly woman with a great loving husband, 2 devoted children and 4 or 5 young grandkids.

The news made me sick to my stomach and brought back a flood of painful memories. I had cancer 25 years ago and the memories are still as fresh today as they were then. I wrote them in my original manuscript which will never see the light of day, so I decided to share some of them with you in this blog post. Be warned that this is going to be a long post.

Flashback to 1982.

Each October I went to my doctor for an annual physical. I always went then because it was my birthday month and easy to remember. I felt fine. I didn’t think anything of the physical and certainly didn’t expect to find anything wrong. I went back to work and forgot about it, expecting to receive that familiar follow up letter in a couple of weeks telling me all was well.

This time, instead of a letter, I received a phone call at home from my doctor saying he needed to talk to me. Apparently one of my tests indicated a problem. He wanted me to come in and talk to him about it but I figured if it was important enough for him to call me at home I didn’t want to wait to hear about it.

I insisted he tell me what was going on then and there. And he did. He told me I had an abnormal Pap and a high probability of cervical cancer. He said I needed to come in to see him as soon as possible to discuss my options for treatment so I made an appointment to go to his office a couple of days later.

I hung up and sat in silence staring at the phone as if some magical answers were going to pop out of it. I wanted to pick it back up and, as I had when I was a little girl, ask the operator to connect me to the person with all the answers that could make me feel better. But phones didn’t work that way any more. When I picked it up all I heard was a dial tone.

Slowly the realization of what the doctor said began to sink in. I might have cancer – cervical cancer. The big C! I was absolutely stunned.

In my family cancer was a devastating diagnosis. We were plagued by all kinds of cancer, and almost always with the same result – death. My dear Aunt Alice, my favorite person who taught me to drive in the fields and back roads of Southern Illinois, nursed me through my Rheumatic fever, taught me Spanish, put me in plays, took me on trips and loved me unconditionally, died of cancer in the early 60’s and I still mourned her.

The enormity of the situation was overwhelming. It was difficult to comprehend what was happening. I had lots of questions but there were no easy answers. There were no answers at all.

I called a few people to let them know what was happening. The calls were short and direct. I couldn’t make small talk and couldn’t respond to their questions. The worst call was to my mother. She delivered the news that her mother, my Grandma Dickens, had died of cancer – cervical cancer.

By the time I arrived at my doctor’s office, I was absolutely numb. He said I had ‘carcinoma in situ’ defined as: cancer that involves only cells in the tissue in which it began and has not spread to nearby tissues. He said it wasn’t bad news because it was the earliest and most treatable form of cervical cancer. But it still felt like a death sentence and I thought I was too young to die. I was still trying to learn how to live – really live.

He explained the treatment options. I could have a complete hysterectomy and hope the cancer hadn’t spread. That might take care of it but there were no guarantees. Even if it did take care of the cancer it would give me a whole different set of problems to deal with for the rest of my life. My doctor recommended a more conservative course of treatment, starting immediately with a fractional dilation and curettage (D&C) and cone biopsy.

To bring a little perspective to this, when I was diagnosed in 1982, they knew a lot more about cervical cancer than they did when my Grandma Dickens died from it back in 1952. At that time they only knew how to diagnose it after the fact and usually too late to cure. By 1982, thanks to research great progress had been made in both diagnosis and treatment but cancer in any form was still a scary diagnosis.

You may be aware of the fact that recently scientists discovered the cause of some cervical cancers and developed a vaccine against them. They advertise it on television now and, when they do, I want to jump into the commercial and tell everyone to take the vaccine. I want to emphasize the importance of prevention because I experienced the debilitating affects of having the disease.

But that treatment didn’t exist in 1982. Just the word ‘cancer’ elicited massive fear, especially in a person with a familial history of the disease.

On November 1st, 1982 I went into the hospital and was prepped for surgery. I was given a shot of morphine for relaxation but we discovered very quickly I’m allergic to morphine, which meant another shot was required to negate the affects of the first one. Since I hate needles, this just added to the increasing anxiety, stress and depression beginning to engulf me. I went home the next day knowing we would have to wait three months then repeat the tests to see if the surgery eliminated the problem.

The next three months I went to work every day - business as usual, best foot forward, taking care of things and trying to stay above it all. I pretended everything was fine and worked hard to convince everyone this situation wasn’t affecting me, but underneath I was terrified.

My public persona was seemingly unaffected by my diagnosis. I even managed to take a twelve day vacation in Cancun where I met a good-looking pharmacist from Germany, and while I told him in passing about my cancer, I downplayed it to the point of a mere triviality, but it was always there in the background haunting me.

Physically, I was fine and no different than before. I wasn’t in any pain and never had been. In fact, I looked and felt really good. People were always surprised to learn I had cancer because there was no outward appearance that anything was wrong. Designer clothes and shoes hid a lot of problems.

Intellectually and emotionally, I was in total denial pretending everything was fine. I moved through my daily life and routine as if nothing had changed. In reality I was crumbling under the pressure. Privately the stress was excruciating.

Spiritually, I was in a vacuum with no real beliefs and nothing to propel me forward. I prayed a lot but was totally skeptical about the effect of prayer on my situation. Praying is complicated when you’re questioning the existence of the very God from whom you’re requesting assistance.

I started smoking a lot of pot again. It was the only recreational drug left in my arsenal at that point and I needed to escape. Alcohol in massive quantities didn’t like me as well as it used to and I gave everything else up when I returned to college. So pot became my antidote to the pain and anxiety. It never interfered with my life during the day; it just made it more bearable at night and on the weekends. Those were the most difficult times for me. It was then I was most alone and vulnerable to overwhelming feelings of sadness and remorse. I felt like I was being punished for having led a decadent and meaningless life.

At the beginning of March, I returned for more tests, convinced everything was going to be fine. Again, the call came with bad news. No changes. This time, the doctor conferred with an oncologist and together they did a colposcopy – another name for a nasty, invasive test that left me feeling violated. It wasn’t the doctor’s fault. It was just the nature of the test. The recommendation this time was cryosurgery – hopefully freezing it out of me. This turned out to be another nasty and invasive procedure. There was a quick follow up in May with a scheduled test for August.

And that’s how it was for the next few months. Test. Wait. Test. Procedure. Test. Wait. Test. Procedure. Test. Wait. Test. Procedure. Slowly, but surely, the disease was killing me – not physically, but emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. It was gnawing away at me.

By the time I reached the holidays in 1983, I was totally beaten down. Physically, I was exhausted - running on sheer willpower. I couldn’t sleep and when I did, my dreams were so vivid and scary I’d wake up even more exhausted. I wasn’t abusing my body but I also wasn’t taking very good care of it. I was disgusted with it for having contracted cancer. I could barely stand to look at myself in the mirror even though there was no outward sign of any problems.

I was exhausted intellectually too. Everything was forced and the long hours at work were no longer a respite from everyday life but a chore to which I was obligated. Everything and everyone irritated me. I’d been living a lie by pretending everything was okay. It wasn’t okay. The charade was wearing me out. Just deciding what to wear or which groceries to buy was totally draining.

Emotionally, I was depressed, stressed and miserable. I was on the raw edge of totally breaking down. I couldn’t do it because in public I was Wonder Woman but privately, I cried most of the time. I felt lost and alone – even when other people were there.

Spiritually, I had nothing on which I could draw. I was empty, drowning in misery. No one knew what to do to help me and I couldn’t give them any clues. I didn’t believe in anything anymore and didn’t know where to turn.

The problem just wouldn’t go away and I was very tired of wrestling with it. I could have the hysterectomy but there were no guarantees it would make me cancer-free and there were all the long term issues associated with hysterectomies. Or, I could continue with the conservative route – invasive treatments, constant tests, and interminable waiting. Neither course of action was appealing. I wanted another option, but there wasn’t one.

In the months since I was first diagnosed, my life gradually changed. For some reason, many people aren’t comfortable being around someone with cancer – even in its mildest form. Maybe it’s a fear of their own mortality that makes them want to stay away. My closest friends stayed by my side no matter how difficult and dragged out things were or how bitchy and depressed I became. But many of my acquaintances disappeared. In retrospect, it was probably for the best because it cleaned a lot of artificiality out of my life but it still hurt like hell. I thought I needed those people and they weren’t there.

My terrible attitude probably had something to do with everyone exiting my life. But it was an interesting revelation to me about the lack of caring and sincerity in many people and it raised serious questions about why I felt they were so important in the first place.

The doctor told me my cancer was probably not fatal because we caught it so early, but I just couldn’t get past the word ‘cancer’. In my family it had always meant death. It was an all consuming and all powerful word. Just in case he was wrong, I made out my will and labeled everything in my house that had any value to make sure it would all go to the right people. It was one of the only things over which I had control.

And just because my life wasn’t stressful enough, I bought a house – a fixer two-flat in a transitional neighborhood just west of DePaul University. So now I had a big mortgage and a place that needed lots of work to add to my list of distractions. But, like my last apartment it had one very necessary component – a big closet where I could grow my pot plants. I had my priorities irrational as they were.

I was very organized and analytical about my whole life then. That’s the way I made it through each day - I made lots of lists to keep me on track. I had to write everything down as soon as I thought of it so I wouldn’t forget anything, but I was so preoccupied with my own misery that I forgot lots of things – including where I put some of my lists. They would turn up days or weeks later and I would beat myself up for not having accomplished things that really weren’t important. I yelled at myself because I couldn’t yell at anyone else.

By the time the holidays arrived I, who had always loved Christmas, didn’t really care. I sent out the cards and wished everyone lots of happiness and good cheer. I put up the tree, decorated it, turned on the lights, and pretended everything was great. I bought and wrapped all the presents and delivered them as cheerfully as possible. I did everything I was supposed to do. I pretended everything was fine.

But everything wasn’t fine. It was all just make believe – just another fantasy to shield me from the devastating unhappiness. Underneath that fake exterior the emotional pain was crushing me. I felt like everything in my life was crumbling beneath me. I was secretly waiting to die because everyone in my family who had cancer died.

I was like an iceberg emotionally, frozen in an unfeeling world of self-protection, with just enough warmth to keep people from staying away completely, but not enough to do what I needed most – to draw them to me.

But it was the only way I could cope.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Beautiful Green House!

WooHoo! The house is done and it's beautiful.



Happy Anti-Wife and Belle the Wonder Pooch

House pictures!

The house is being painted as I type and should be finished when I get home. I'll post pictures tonight. CAN'T WAIT!!!!!!!!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Thoughts on Father's Day

I’d love to tell you all the warm and fuzzy tales about my Dad and our relationship, but that would be utter bullshit. There aren’t any. Growing up, I remember him as always busy – working or playing golf with his friends, or going out to various functions. He didn’t sit around the house much and he certainly wasn’t interested in playing with his girls. I always wanted him to love me and he probably did, but not enough to pay any attention to me.

Still at age 11 when my Mom and Dad started having fights and my Dad left, I was devastated. My world came crashing down around me and reality took a big bite out of my ass. Daddies didn’t leave. They stayed and loved and protected their little girls, watched them grow up, and then walked them down the aisle and passed them on to their husbands. They didn’t leave!

My parents’ separation was very ugly. I remember the screaming and shouting and seeing Mom chase Dad through the house with a cast iron skillet and with a tennis racquet. It scared me to death. I begged them to stop fighting and my father not to leave but of course he had to. He was caught having an affair with his secretary and in our very small town this was very big news. My Mom moved my 2 sisters and me to another town 250 miles away and we only saw Dad occasionally for the next few years.

When I stayed with him in the summers I always worked, either as a bus girl, maid, or porter or sometimes at the front desk of his hotel. It kept me busy, but it created long and lonely memories. I remember once overhearing one of his employees commenting that I seemed to be a very sad girl. She was right. He didn’t know how to give me what I needed most – his time and attention. I was in his life but not part of it.

I went to college in the town where he lived and worked for Dad part time while I was in school. Having him in the same town was an advantage because I got to see him occasionally, I had a job, and a lot of people in town knew him and watched out for me. It was a disadvantage because a lot of people in town knew him and watched out for me. I learned to be very sneaky – or so I thought until he ended up having to extricate me from a couple of embarrassing situations. He never said anything except, “Try to be more careful next time.” I think in some ways I was too much like him for his comfort. I wanted him to love me and only seemed to get his attention by acting out. I acted out frequently.

We disagreed on almost everything. He was a staunch conservative Republican who boasted he never voted for a Democrat in his life. I was and still am a liberal Democrat and I never tired of reminding him that at every election I was proudly and deliberately canceling out his vote. In fact, that was one of my prime motivating factors for always voting.

When I moved to Chicago the first time, because I was still rather shy and not very assertive, Dad decided I needed something to bring me out of my shell and prevent me from being eaten alive by all those big city folks. So, he made me go to a Dale Carnegie course. It was a good thing for me. Those were the type of things he did for me that indicated he might actually care for me. They didn’t happen very often.

When I went back to college and got my 2 master’s degrees my Dad gave me a party for my graduation and he even told me he was proud of me. It was the first time I ever remember hearing him say that. I didn’t believe him.

He was married twice after my mother. The first stepmother gave a new definition to the term wicked – the secretary with whom he had cheated. Unfortunately, she lasted over 10 miserable years. She finally left for another man. She thought he had money and she had big plans for him. I heard he dumped her. Karma!

My second stepmother was wonderful and she took good care of my Dad. He still wasn’t interested in his girls, but since my sisters insisted, she encouraged him to get to know his grandkids. Since I didn’t have any kids, there wasn’t much reason for him to see me. They lived in Florida for the last 15 or so years of his life. In all that time, I was invited there once and it was more like a command performance. It was his 75th birthday party and I was told to come, given accommodations and plane fare and then summarily dismissed when the big party with all his rich friends was over.

I dutifully sent Father’s Day cards, birthday cards and Christmas cards and he dutifully sent cards and money on birthdays and Christmas. Occasionally we talked on the phone but there was never much to say. Generally we talked about my 2 sisters and their kids. It was really the only thing we had in common.

He died July 19, 2000. I cried briefly but more because all hope of ever having a warm happy relationship with my father was gone forever than because I was truly sad he was dead. His picture sits on my mantle, but it doesn’t evoke any strong emotions.

The ironic thing is – I look just like him.

Thursday, June 14, 2007


Since I returned from my writer’s conference I’ve posted some material from my manuscript on this blog. There’s a purpose to this. I know my manuscript is not publishable in its present form. It will never be publishable as a memoir. You’ll just have to trust me on this point. However, parts of it may be salvageable and I’m testing to see what kind of reactions I get.

I’m in my 50’s and made some pretty stupid choices and dumb mistakes in my life. Still, I’m quite successful and have emerged as a happy, irreverent, kind and loving person with many great friends.

The manuscript was sort of divided into 2 parts. The first part tells the story of my life and the second part tells all the lessons I learned and how I applied them. Several friends and acquaintances read it and they all had similar reactions. They all relate to some parts of my life, but the bulk of their interest is in the lessons and their applications.

So, I see 2 options for what I’ve written. First, I could turn it into a self-help type of book full of advice, wit and wisdom – all of which I’m chock-full of. Yes, I’m that person everyone goes to when they have a problem. I’m known for my ability to cut through the clutter and get things done or find options for other people. This is a blessing and a curse and I’ll tell you why some other time. Anyway, I’m thinking about a title like, “The Anti-Wife Tackles Life.” That’s option one.

The second option is to take some of the juiciest and most painful parts or my real life and turn it into a novel. I already have a beginning and an end in mind and some major turning points. I just have to come up with another 80-90,000 more words to go with them. Ordinarily I’d be afraid to write a novel, but in reading Holly Kennedy’s blog I discovered that you don’t have to write linearly – just cohesively. Her system might just work with my personality.

In the meantime I’ll blog. I find that I’m enjoying it far more than I thought I would and I’ve met some really interesting people. I like reading other writer’s blogs because they’re interesting and often literate and thought provoking. They challenge me to try and do better.

Anyway, those are my current options. I’ll keep posting parts of my manuscript occasionally and new material as it develops.

All thoughts are welcome.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Thoughts on money and finances

Saving is good. Debt is bad. The end.

Okay, maybe that’s a little too simplistic, so I’ll elaborate. I’ve never been poor, but I had some pretty lean times in the past brought on by my own inability to properly manage my money. I started babysitting when I was about 10 and received my first actual paycheck when I was 13. In high school, I babysat during the school year and often worked during summers and holidays. In college, I worked as a waitress at a pancake house, for my Dad at his hotel, or in the dorms. I worked at least part time my whole life.

In the beginning it never even occurred to me to save the money I earned. Until I moved out on my own and had rent and monthly bills to pay, I didn’t learn the basics of budgeting. Back then as long as I had at least a dollar left when I got the next paycheck, I figured I was doing well.

While I didn’t like being an insurance and securities salesperson and helping others with their financial plans, it was actually one of the most beneficial jobs I ever had. In order to teach my clients I had to learn myself. However, learning something and actually putting it into practice often don’t go hand in hand. It took me years to truly grasp all the concepts.

Bankruptcy was a horrible experience for me but – as with the cancer – from something awful came something beneficial. After bankruptcy I had no credit cards, loans or anything else to fall back on. If I wanted or needed something, I had to have the money to pay for it. There was no more buy it now and pay for it later at exorbitant interest rates for several years. I had to have the money in hand, or in the bank, or I couldn’t have whatever it was I thought I needed.

Being in this position puts you in touch with reality fairly quickly. You have needs – like money for the house, utilities, food, gas, insurance and the rest of the basics. Then there’s everything else. Adjusting to the fact that movies, clothes, dinner out, trips, etc. were not part of the necessity pool was very difficult at first. I was miserable because I felt like I wasn’t being allowed to live and partake in the American dream of excessive consumerism.

The situation forced me to look differently at what I already had. Maybe my clothes weren’t so shabby after all and could last a while longer. Renting movies or watching them on TV might not have the same effect as seeing them in a theater, but you could get up and go to the bathroom without missing anything. Pasta made at home tasted just as good as pasta from a restaurant because secretly I’m a really good cook. Staying home for vacations and holidays could be restful and I could get lots of extra things done that I didn’t ordinarily have time for.

Eventually I stopped needing all the things that used to seem so important and started appreciating what I had. Whenever I needed or wanted something beyond the normal scope of my income, I was forced to save for it. Eventually, I started saving out of habit, so in case something came up, I would have the money for it. This all required a lot of discipline on my part and fiscal discipline was unfamiliar territory. It was a great learning experience.

I’m still saving, only now in a methodical way. I put money into a 401k and into a Roth IRA every year. I have no debt except for my mortgage. I keep that because it’s a good tax deduction, but have a plan to pay it off by the time I retire. I have one credit card with a low fixed rate that’s usually paid off monthly. I have one department store card because of all the extra discounts it offers that is always paid off monthly. I pay cash for most things and figure if I can’t pay cash for them, I probably can’t afford them and therefore don’t need them. And, my credit’s been perfect since the debacle of 1992.

I can live without a lot of things I once thought I really needed. I learned to reduce, reuse and recycle. I also learned I’m very handy around the house and a whole lot cheaper than most of the tradesmen and women you can hire. My work may not match the quality of theirs, but the joy I feel in accomplishing some home improvement or repair – especially if I never tried doing it before - is unparalleled.

Doing all this has reduced the amount of stress in my life exponentially. I took the fear out of my financial situation and replaced it with a good dose of reality and sensibility. I don’t resent being unable to have everything I want and find I’m more inclined to reduce the amount of stuff in my life now than accumulate more. Life is much simpler and far more enjoyable this way.

Saving is good. Debt is bad. The end.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

And the winning color is....

Drumroll please!!!!!!


It's actually a grayish, brownish green and looks really good in all light - or lack thereof which is a common occurrence here in the PNW.

Anyway, they're starting the process next Monday the 18th by power washing the entire house. Then they scrape, sand, caulk, prime and paint. I'll post pictures as we go so you can share in the progress.

After it's done and I recover financially, I'm going to put a cover on my deck - one of those clear ones so I can still see the sky. I really love looking at the rain! That's another reason to cover the deck - otherwise I'll never be able to sit out there!

One good thing about a fixer house - it keeps me out of trouble because I can't afford trouble. Maybe I should recommend a fixer house to Paris Hilton, only it would have to be more like a fixer chateau or castle.

Is it hot where you are? I actually had to turn my heat back on last week because it was so cold in my house!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Wants versus needs

After the comments about my internet dating piece, I thought some additional information might be helpful.

First, I really don’t see a correlation between choosing a car and choosing a potential life partner. Generally, we don’t expect – or even want – to own our cars for that long. I’d venture to guess that 3 to 7 years is the average ownership for cars. No matter how much we love them when we buy them, there’s always something newer, shinier, faster and with more features and better gas mileage rolling off the assembly lines. And if we buy one and hate it, we can trade it in. I was an office manager at a car dealership for 2 years long ago, so I know how it works.

Second, I don’t want a man who NEEDS me. I want a man who WANTS me and vice versa.

Needs are things necessary to sustaining our lives. We NEED primary things like water, air, shelter, food and chocolate. In our society, we also need secondary things like money to pay the bills for utilities, gas, insurance and other things we deem necessities.

Wants are things we desire because we believe they will enhance our lives. We WANT cell phones, cable TV, computers, new cars, designer clothes, big houses, money in the bank and love and friendship.

NEED implies incompleteness and that’s where I have a problem. I am a complete person as I am. I’m happy, have great friends, a wonderful job, my own house, the 2 cutest dogs in the world and money in the bank. I don’t need a man to complete me and I certainly don’t want a man who is incomplete.

I don’t think any other person can complete you. No outside source can fill the voids in a person’s life. We have to fill our own voids.

We can’t make someone else happy – we can only extend our love and our own happiness and joy to that other person and hope they’re receptive to it. Everyone has choices. We can choose to be happy and fulfilled, or we can choose to be miserable.

Third, as far as the “musts” on my list, I’m in my 50’s. I know myself very well. The things I’ve specified are important to me. Financially secure, emotionally and spiritually well adjusted, liberal to middle of the road, intelligent, great sense of humor, good looking and in good shape – all of these things imply a person who has successfully navigated the road of life and is enjoying the journey. Someone like me! I’m not defining exact height, weight, IQ or $ amount – just qualities I consider important.

I want someone to complement me – not complete me.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Thoughts on internet dating!

One of my favorite bumper stickers reads, “Tact is for people who are not witty enough to be sarcastic.”

I have intimacy and commitment issues and have spent a lot of time coming to terms with my problems with men and sex. Over the past few years I worked to redefine my relationships. I thought I made tremendous progress so several months ago I mentioned to a friend that I might be ready to try dating again. When she picked herself up off the floor, she suggested I try one of the internet dating sites.

Three months later (because I never do anything that has the potential to be life changing without thinking it to death anymore) after she and my other friends badgered me relentlessly every day about my “need” to do it, I signed up at one of the big national sites which shall remain nameless because I don’t want to get sued.

I’m a no-nonsense person and I don’t take crap from anyone anymore – just ask my bosses and the other people with whom I work. My philosophy is, if you can’t truthfully say something nice just walk away smiling. It confuses the heck out of people and makes me pretty happy. I decided my profile needed to be absolutely truthful – no lies - because I didn’t want any misunderstandings of whom I was or what I expected. When it comes to men, I lived a lie my whole life. This seemed like a good time to be completely honest.

So, first I included the word “mean” in my screen name. Now I’m not really mean but occasionally people who don’t know me have interpreted things I said while being sarcastic (see bumper sticker above) as being mean. I am incredibly sarcastic and make no apologies for it. So, I thought I should put “mean” in there just in case. Here’s the profile I submitted:

“Perfectly happy and content woman living a good life. Friends think I need a man because they all have them and want me to suffer too. No strings, no nutcases, no needy men should respond. Only those who are financially secure will be considered, because I do not need or want to be supported and am totally unwilling to support you financially.

You must be emotionally and spiritually well adjusted and basically liberal to middle of the road - willing to see all sides and not be firmly rooted in any religious or political crap. You must also be very intelligent and have a great sense of humor and be fairly busy with your own life because I really don’t want a clinging vine.

You must be good looking and in good shape. I walk my dog often and you have to be able to keep up with me. I am incredibly picky and like people who are nice looking and take care of themselves. If you are a Dr., it would be a plus because I seem to be falling apart piece by piece.

Overall, I’m a nice looking person in pretty good shape. Way too intelligent for my own good and extremely intuitive. Also extremely honest and totally uninterested in playing games. Don’t I sound like a great catch? Hopefully this will satisfy my sadistic friends who are making me do this.”

This was the toned down version. My friends thought the original one was a bit too harsh. What do you think?

Original Version: Total Bitch in need of a booty call. No strings, no nutcases, no needy men should apply. Only those who are financially sound will be interviewed. She doesn’t need or want to be supported and won’t support your sorry ass financially. Must also be emotionally and spiritually well adjusted and basically middle of the road – willing to see all sides and not be involved in any fundamentalist crap. Must also be very intelligent, have a great sense of humor and fairly busy as she really doesn’t want to spend a great deal of time with anyone. You must be good looking and in good shape. She is incredibly picky and won’t be seen with any skanks.

I think they objected to words like “skanks” or something. I personally liked the original version, but went with the other one on their advice. Anyway, I thought it was a rather good synopsis of me and what I was looking for and the site people didn’t reject it. I figured if anyone responded they must either be able to see past all of the rhetoric and into my true self, which would pleasantly surprise me, or they must be totally stupid and desperate. Either way, since I had no intention of initiating anything, I would be firmly in control.

I had hundreds of hits on my profile and bunches of e-mails and winks, all of which I promptly rejected. It’s not that I didn’t want to find someone. It’s just that the right one never appeared in my in-box. Or, maybe I really wasn’t ready. Who knows? But no one was able to tear me away from the “no thanks” button.

One response really floored me. This idiot had the nerve to e-mail me to tell me he thought my profile was “crap”. (Wonder where he got that word?) He told me my profile lived up to my screen name – especially the mean part – and if I ever had any hope of finding a nice person and a good match I should change my profile. He said my friends were probably right and having a man in my life would do me good. (Choke me now!) He also said I was probably lying about the mean part and I shouldn’t do that because honesty was very important. Then he had the nerve to wish me well in my search.

I was flabbergasted. Why did he even bother to respond? If he wasn’t interested, why didn’t he just move on to the next profile? I went back and reviewed his profile to see what had inspired him to be so absurd.

Religion was important to him, so my comment about not being rooted in crap probably didn’t sit too well with him. He said all the same things I read in a hundred other profiles about long walks, cuddling, intimate dinners, romantic evenings, loving and spoiling someone, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Did all these men take lessons from the same college – Boring U?
But one thing I noticed he had neglected to mention about himself – self important hypocrite!

Hey, at least my profile was honest. The more I thought about it the angrier I became. This bigheaded jerk had never met me. He didn’t know anything about me and was passing judgment on me based on a few paragraphs on the internet.

For about thirty seconds, I seriously considered responding to him and giving my opinion on his lineage. And then I hit the delete key and ate a small chocolate Santa.

When my six months membership was up, I quit.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Monday, June 4, 2007

Question: What does a WASP know about confession?

I rarely talk about religion with anyone because people can be so dramatic and fanatical about this subject. I try to steer away from anything this controversial and divisive because I need all the friends I can get. However, a friend asked me if I knew anything about confession the other day and I was able to honestly say yes. Now I’m a WASP – White Anglo Saxon Protestant - so my knowledge of confession ordinarily would come from the movies. However, not this time.

For the sake of perspective, I was raised as both a Christian Scientist and a Presbyterian. Yes, it was an odd combination, especially when you throw in the occasional vacation Bible school at the local Baptist church, and the Methodist church with Granny. My religious background was diverse, but Protestant. My greatest confusion was remembering whether I was a debtor or a trespasser that day.

I’ve always loved the formality of what I describe as super organized religions, like Catholicism and the Episcopalians. There’s something about their beautiful ritualistic ceremonies that makes me feel very connected to a higher power. Several of my friends over the years have been Catholic and I was always intrigued by the concept of confession.

While living in Chicago, I actually snuck into the box and confessed once. In the midst of my cancer, right before I hit rock bottom, I was riding a bus home from work one day when we passed an enormous Catholic church. I have no idea what compelled me but I jumped off the bus at the next corner and went into the church. I’d never been to confession before, but I saw lots of people confess in the movies, so when I saw someone coming out of what resembled the confession booth in the movies, I scooted in.

The priest quickly observed that I didn’t know the mechanics of confession and was therefore probably not Catholic. I think I said something like, “Look, I’m not one of you, but I have a really big problem and I need someone to listen. Are you in?” I thought for certain he was going to throw me out, but instead he was very kind and allowed me to bare my soul for quite a while. Then he told me to do a few things I didn’t really understand, and told me to “go with God.” I didn’t quite know where I was supposed to go with him, but then I figured out that was just the priest’s way of getting rid of me.

When I left, I put a lot of money in the offering thingy hoping God wouldn’t strike me dead for attempting to impersonate a Catholic just to be absolved of my numerous sins. I didn’t get hit by a bus on the way home, but it did take a long time to resolve my problems. Maybe that was her punishment.

If hell freezes over and I ever get married, my ideal wedding would take place in a cathedral type church. They’re vast and awe inspiring, but they also feel very intimate and spiritual. I don’t envision hundreds of guests. In fact, if it’s just me, the groom, an official and a witness, that would be absolutely fine. And as soon as the official says “you may kiss the bride,” I would like for a choir or soloist to sing “Ave Maria”. I know the song is associated with all things Catholic, but it’s one of my favorites and always evokes such a sense of peace and serenity. Of course, my mother would lobby for a rousing rendition of the “Hallelujah Chorus” but she doesn’t get a vote on this one.

And that’s my true confession!

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Backspace Report

As promised, here are my thoughts on the conference.

First, overall I really liked it. I learned a lot and met some terrific people.

There were a couple of things I didn’t like, so I’ll start there and get them out of the way. In my opinion, the venue sucked. I realize this is probably sacrilege to those who revere the Algonquin as the bastion of writing. However, as fabulous as it’s history may be it’s not set up for conferences of 150+ people.

It was very dark, had 2 small elevators, steep marble stairs with small treads and small meetings rooms. The main meeting room was long and narrow and those in the back could barely hear. Plus, the air conditioning really worked well. So well in fact that I wish I had taken my wool socks and long johns with me because we were freezing in there. It’s difficult to concentrate when your fingers and toes are starting to turn blue from frostbite.

I suggest a different, more conference friendly venue next year. Those who want to savor the atmosphere of the Algonquin can go have cocktails there. I plan lots of meetings and conferences and it would have been very nice to be somewhere with bigger rooms where we could have leveraged our group size into some preferred room pricing so we could have afforded to stay there and have things like coffee in the morning.

I also didn’t like the venue for our banquet. It was festive and the service was good, but the food was just okay and the acoustics were awful. There were 6 of us at our table and we could barely hear each other. When the awards were presented, you couldn’t even hear what the speakers were saying. Again, it seemed that atmosphere trumped practicality.

End of rants. Beginning of raves.

I met some wonderful people, most of whom were aspiring writers and they were an entertaining and interesting bunch. We were writing in several different genres so it was fun to discuss our projects and talk about the common struggles writers face. I thoroughly expect to see many of them in print eventually and hope to keep in touch with some.

The workshops I attended were well done and very informative. I learned a lot about the business in general and what really good writing is in particular. I learned how important the first sentence, paragraph, two pages and chapter are and why you need to spend extra time making them extraordinary. I learned how agents work and how decisions are made about what books get published. I learned why there are rules and the importance of following them. I learned the most common mistakes writers make and how to avoid them. They were all very interesting.

There were two things that really stood out for me. On Thursday, the keynote speaker was Michael Cader the founder of . He was amazing and gave a fresh and interesting perspective on publishing and why it has to change to keep up with the times. I am including a link to Kristin Nelson’s blog which gives a great synopsis of what he said. I think it’s vitally important that everyone realize that change is needed and inevitable. Approximately 95% of the books published every year don’t make money. If you want your book to succeed you need to be proactive in the marketing and publicity of it and the internet and alternate means of publishing are taking on new importance.

The second stand-out was the workshop on memoirs put on by Kim Reid, Kristin Nelson and David Patterson. This was the topic I was most interested in because this was my genre. I didn’t hear what I wanted to hear. I heard what I needed to hear. Between this workshop and the few minutes of Kristin and Kim’s time I had after it, I had the answers to the questions for which I traveled 2,400 miles.

Was my manuscript good enough to be published? No.
Was I ready to query? No.

My life is interesting to me and my friends, but in order to make it interesting to others, the telling of it needs a lot of work.

I came back with an amazing amount of insight and ideas. I’m not sure yet what I’m going to do – polish my memoirs, turn the book into more self-help, or do something completely different.

While I’m pondering all this, I’ve decided to become an advice blogger. One of my master’s degrees was in counseling. I have lived a long life filled with mistakes, stupid choices and many lessons learned. I have no fear of being sued because I have nothing worth taking, so I am marginally qualified to give advice.

So if you need advice on any subject, please feel free to e-mail me. I make no guarantees about the sanity or accuracy of my advice. And remember, you might want to check several other sources.

Caveat emptor!

Friday, June 1, 2007

Going Home

Sitting at the Newark Airport waiting for my flight back to Seattle. Had a great time at the Backspace Writer's Conference. Met some really great people with whom I will keep in touch - writers are very interesting. Talked to some interesting people and learned an amazing amount. Now have many things to ponder when I get home.

I'm running on about 3 hours of sleep last night and about the same from the night before. It's hard to sleep in a strange bed, but it's harder still when your brain absolutely will not shut down.

I have to totally rethink my book. Not quite sure how to do that yet, but after some sleep and some TLC from my dogs I'll start the process of reassessing everything.

Questions I have to think about:
Is my story worthy of being a memoir?
Should my book be more prescriptive/self-help as many people have suggested?
Should I scrap the whole non-fiction approach and just turn all the juciest parts into a novel?

Anyway, I'll sit down and give you a total recap of the conference tomorrow with my impressions.

Feel the pain in the brain!