August 03, 2007

Rant & Resolution

Sometimes I get so frustrated. I don’t know why things have to be so hard. I know I screw up and make mistakes and have to pay for them, but sometimes I just don’t understand. Very few things can upset me, twist me up into knots the way I have been lately. Those thing are threats - to my finances, to my academic future and career, and to my competency.

When I feel stupid, like I am out of my depth or don’t know what I’m doing, I can become depressed and upset but I always know I can remedy that situation. I may be incompetent, but not for long. I can learn, study, try harder, and eventually gain the knowledge and skills I need to do any job right.

When I suddenly run afoul of some bizarre rule or regulation the University or the government throws at me with no warning, I can become angry. I curse the inflexibility and unreason ability of the system as I frantically search for a loophole. I usually find it sooner or later, but not before I piss someone else off.

But when it comes to money, I start to feel truly helpless, which is the worst emotion of all. I feel I have only two choices. I can live a financially sound life, secure, with little or no debt, a nice home, good food, and a reliable car, but only if I choose a job which is equally bland. Or I can pursue my education, both academic and dharmic, bounce from job to job as my academic schedule changes, try to scrape together enough savings to come here, to SMC, when I can, and go into huge amounts of debt, and hope someday I’ll have the job which can both pay it all off and help me fulfill my own goals.

I feel lowest when all my scrambling comes to naught and I go crawling back to Mom and Dad. I was independent for four years after high school. I had a good job at the bank. I was making the mortgage payments. Then I decided to go back to school. The house took on a second mortgage, my credit cards ran up to their limits. Things got worse and worse until I realized I couldn’t keep the house. When we sold it, there was no way to repay my parents for the “Gift” of equity they had fronted us to cover the down payment, $20,000 we had been making payments on for the past four years. That equity was wiped out by the second mortgage which paid my first year’s tuition when I didn’t qualify for any financial aid.

I moved into my parents’ town home, a place I had never lived. Gas prices were rising and it was a 100 mile drive to the University and back every day. When I stumbled upon the little foreclosed condo in Lincoln, they helped me buy it, taking out an equity line on their town home. I make the mortgage payments on that - mostly.

Then things like the past several summers come up. I want something. I want something so bad I can taste it. One summer it was to take the summer structures class, so I wouldn’t have to take it in the fall and have a horrible class load. Last summer, it was to work here, with no pay, for seventeen days in May. I mistimed my paychecks (from my three summer jobs at UNL) and needed some help. Then this summer, I finally make it out here and I have two backup plans, both of which fail. I ask for help again, but only just a little, and when my accounts go in the red and they shut off my cell phone, I say nothing. I just wait for my financial aid to disburse, start looking for a fall job I was hoping I wouldn’t need, call the student law clinic about declaring bankruptcy and soak up the late fees.

Of course, it couldn’t just be one thing. Those bizarre University rules come up to bite me in the ass and they threaten to cancel my enrollment if I don’t pay my overdue health center bill seven days before my aid will run through and pay my tuition and everything else. No enrollment = no tuition = no aid. So, back to Mom and Dad, to be chastised for not giving them much warning. After a while even the promises to pay them back when my aid comes through, thus far dutifully kept, wear thin.

“Then we have to have a talk about hard working parents funding their daughter’s vacations.”

I just sit here and want to cry and get angry at myself because I know that is not going to help. I never feel better when I cry. So I just sniffle a little, blow my nose and wipe my eyes, and go back out to face the rest of the world. “C’est la vie,” I say with a shrug, when I really want to hit something and beg everyone I see to have pity and help me. I know very well they have their own problems, just like my parents do.

This is all of my own making - a result of my ambition and desire. And I admit I spent money I might have saved on things I wanted but didn’t need, back when I foolishly thought everything was going to be okay. So it is time to buckle down, get a little tougher, actually pay attention to that Dharma which warns of the suffering born from attachment.

I have gotten better over the years, better at fingering that lovely kimono and leaving it on the hanger, smelling that pretty candle and leaving it on the shelf, gazing up at that lovely painting and leaving it on the wall, flipping through that awesome book on Romanesque architecture and putting it back. Now, I have to get even better.

For a long time, I having been considering an article I read (in either Tricycle or the Shambhala Sun, I don’t recall) of a woman who stopped shopping for a whole year. She bought food and essential tools only. I have thought it a worthy idea and wished I could do that. I’m not that strong, I thought. But now I think, I better be! I have three more years of this crazy thing they call an “education” left to go!

Therefore, I resolve:

1) To purchase food only at grocery stores, in bulk and not pre-cooked or packaged wherever possible. 2) To not spend money in restaurants, excepting celebrations to which I have been invited such as birthdays, showers, going-away parties, etc. (No, Thirsty Thursday does not count.) 3) To ride my bicycle, take public transportation, or carpool/rideshare whenever possible and reduce money spent on gasoline and car care. 4) To purchase only those items required for my classes, such as test books and project materials. To return any unused materials for a refund and not saving them. 5) To purchase only such household items as necessary for normal maintenance, such as light bulbs, cleaning products, etc., and to make no further household improvements except those that can be done for free, such as from found materials and my own labor. 6) To purchase only gifts for others or the materials to make gifts by hand for those friends and family who might enjoy them. 7) To pay only for essential medical and legal services which might be necessary for myself (and my cat), and to find reduced cost, free, or pro bono services wherever available. 8) To go through my belongings and sell or give away at least 25% of my stuff.

I am putting these resolutions into affect from August 1st, 2007, until August 1st, 2008. I will update this blog with the progress I have made, the strategies I am using, amendments necessary to the Resolutions, and where I stumble.

For the next year I am going to experiment with living intentionally. I want to see if living this way in the modern city can reduce my cravings, desires, attachments, and, ultimately, my suffering.

As I always tell myself “Don’t just bitch, do something about it!”


greenfrog said...

May sound peculiar, but I'm glad you have chosen to live this part of your life "out loud," rather than remaining silent about it here. It seems a kind of integrity.

Monica said...

Well, if I may paraphrase your recent teacher, "the Dharma ain't all butterflies and flowers." This is the suffering the Buddha was talking about. I figure there are other people out there in tighter jambs than am. Maybe being able to relate can help us both.

Besides, I'm not a very private person. About the only thing I don't write about are personal relationships involving other people, and that's more for their privacy than mine.

So, thanks! I'm trying to keep it constructive and not too whiney.

greenfrog said...

Besides, I'm not a very private person. About the only thing I don't write about are personal relationships involving other people, and that's more for their privacy than mine.

This is my way of living, too, and with the same rationale. I lived too too much of my life keeping secrets -- sometimes even from myself.