Six Money Habits Of Unhappy Couples.

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We’ve all heard the horror stories of couples suffering in a toxic money mix.

Married or unmarried – it doesn’t matter.

screaming married

Financial harmony is crucial to a couple’s long-term synergy with money.

From my experience, the ones with cohesive financial strategies are the most successful.

Over the years, I’ve documented several unfavorable money behaviors exhibited by couples. In greater than 95% of the cases observed, the relationships ended on bad terms.

The top six:

1). They disrespect each other’s credit. One of the worst fiscal violations I’ve witnessed is how credit is misused in a relationship which causes a party’s credit score to falter as credit card balances are increased leaving the trusting partner in a relationship, on the hook for the bills. I have seen otherwise smart individuals allow a partner to use their credit and turn a blind eye to misuse. Until it’s too late and they’re in a hole financially – spending years paying back big debts.

Rule: Never permit a loved one, including a marriage partner to take advantage of your available credit and perhaps ruin your credit score, whether it’s intentional or not. It’s not a matter of trust; it’s a matter of control. You must be the steadfast gatekeeper of your available credit and scores. If it’s true love, the other party will appreciate your discipline. If you do share credit, make sure to carefully examine all credit card statements and access credit reports annually for free at www.annualcreditreport.com.

2). Lack of communication. Especially when it comes to life-changing financial decisions or big purchases. It’s ok if you fail to mention lunches or an occasional discretionary purchase. When it comes to large expenditures like expensive durable goods or making big decisions that may affect both parties like a new job offer or decision related to retirement, it’s best to share all relevant information with a partner or spouse before moving forward. Even if it’s a wise decision, the action of sharing and receiving feedback is crucial to the health of a relationship you cherish.

Rule: Before financial decisions bigger than $100 bucks are executed, think twice and open up beforehand. Take to heart information shared through open dialogue. Get an objective third party involved in the mix to listen to both sides and weigh the evidence.

3). Little consideration for the blueprint. Deep in you is a money DNA. Since a small child, you have handled money based on experiences. You also learned from observation and communication – parents, grandparents. If your money mindset conflicts with a partner, that’s ok. There are methods of compromise. If your money mindset is disregarded or even ridiculed, then it’s time to question the viability of the relationship.

Rule: Whether you’re a deep saver or big spender, be receptive to the manner you’re treated if your partner disagrees with your money DNA. The couples who endure are the ones who find a working medium or a hybrid DNA strategy. The key is to watch for language of judgment and money behavior that jeopardizes the current situation or the health of the future household balance sheet.

4). Multiple bailouts are acceptable. You know the type. They mess up with money and then seek others to bail them out like parents or partners. Then the same reckless behaviors are repeated and bailouts continued. It’s bad news. Rarely do I observe couples last long traveling this endless loop. Usually, an observant partner is suckered in more than once and leaves the relationship financially and emotionally fragile.

Rule: A one-time bailout, depending on your financial situation is acceptable. No excuses or money provided when similar mishaps are repeated. It’s a hard rule and it will save you financially. Perhaps you leave with your self-esteem intact, too.

5). Financial success is resented. According to a Pew Research Study from May 2013, a record 40% of all households with children under the age of 18 include mothers who are either the sole or primary source of income for the family. To keep it in perspective, the share was 11% in 1960.

Since the financial crisis I have witnessed women taking additional charge of their finances (and the families) and men in the relationship growing increasingly resentful.

I have worked with couples where women have become increasingly unhappy when partners have taken on additional work responsibilities and time away from their personal activities.

Resentment is poison to any close relationship and detrimental to elevating finances to the next level.

Rule: A resentful attitude over a partner’s success requires thorough and truthful self-reflection. Instead of wasting precious energy on negative emotions, objectively witness and attempt to find ways to mirror the good habits of a successful partner. Ask for guidance. Be open to criticism if it’s positive and leads to self-improvement.

6). Fractured retirement planning and savings goals. Couples who are hesitant to blend retirement goals and fail to align their efforts to meet jointly-created goals, ostensibly fall behind or at the least, miss out on the synergies that accompany working together toward a comfortable retirement.

Rule: Retirement planning is a partnership objective. Coordinating retirement account salary deferrals, examining company retirement plan allocations as one and periodically reviewing progress together must be mandatory for couples who are serious about the quality of their retirement years.

Random Thought:

Couples can be a galvanized force to greater wealth or rapidly deteriorate their combined net worth.

Ongoing financial drama can ruin a relationship.

Be open to the signs, fix them.

walking away

 

Or walk…

Stones to Gravel to Dust: 10 Ways To Grind Your Way To A Better Life.

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Amazing.

When you consider barriers in your mind and heart for the purpose of protection from the illusory risk of being hurt or disappointed, you eventually arrive at a crossroad. When regret over the moments you forgot to live intersect with the art you failed to create, the souls you missed to touch.

Something inside slams the life out of you. Your face is smashed against the stones.

heart wall

In time, walls absorb warmth and dehydrates the health of human vibrancy and a passion for discovery, the willingness to learn. It sucks the all color out of your elevation, dulls the tastes in the mouth; the art you once created withers into gray muck.

And.

Apathy crowds out empathy with each new brick.

The process occurs in great stealth, like absorbed vapor; slowly the walls drain life’s air from who you were before the shit bag of who you are (but it’s not who you really are.)

Walls destroy iterations of all that’s noble in you. The “you” back to childhood – when you were a sponge and innocence opened doors to enrichment (and a few worthy bruises).

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You’re.

Eyes wide closed. Blind in the dark. Blinder in the bright. Full steam forward, head down, guarded.

Numb.

Dumb.

Void of passion.

.blindfold cliff

Oh, the hours, the years, the efforts to create what you believe keeps you safe.

Until events outside your control (and those subconscious within).

Rock the foundation.

And reveals the wall for what it is.

Enemy.

evil shadow wall

The first crack in the wall rocked me good. I was sad to realize – I was living a sham. Lifeless corporate job where my sense of well-being was uprooted by assholes in ivory towers almost on a daily basis, an unhealthy infatuation with people I wouldn’t give a second glance at today, and too much alcohol to dull the bullshit, made it palatable.

I was running from pain. At least I thought.

Part of the agony came from the growing realization that I was needing to break free, get my life back, to survive and thrive for whatever years were left.

I helped myself as much as possible with mental stamina I absorbed from the energy of others; people no longer in my life were efficient wall destroyers, too. I’m thankful they were there to take pick axes to it.

However, as I live in peace, I’m grateful every day they’re gone. Ground to dust and cast to the winds of the past.

They no longer effect me.

All the precious energy wasted building and reinforcing structures that had one mission - to live and destroy the builder.

I’m still not sure about the genesis of the angst. Why or when do people decide to chip away at their wall beasts? The chisels, the motivations are different for everybody.

A shock perhaps (for me it was).

A morbid curiosity of what life would be like outside high walls.

The right teachers come along, awaken you, assist with the deconstruction?

Yes.

How much of yourself does it take to turn massive fortresses to stone and then grind them to dust?

How many times must you crush who you were to form a greater self that awakens in the present?

How much of yourself will you lose in the process?

Are you up for the job?

stooge pile

Every chip is a strand of DNA, attached to a part of who you were. And the rubble keeps piling up. Unsettling grit underfoot. The foundation is no longer smooth; the road is covered in rough-busted remnants.

You are troubled by the feel of gravel underneath.

And ahead.

An unsteady path wobbles your resolve.

But you must not stop.

Because to look back is to choke on the dust of vulnerability. Of failure.

It’s a fucking wonder there’s energy left for anything else you know – like working, or checking your e-mail.

As you.

Cut off the oxygen, sever rotted death lines, birth new life threads, and ultimately – a healthier way of being emerges.

A cleaner intake. An enlightened outtake.

Dying along the way is the ticket to a stimulating ride. Sucks.

But that’s the way it is.

Unfortunately, not many are up for the toll it takes on the body, or the weight of the job on the mind. Too immature or self-centered – they’re missing the emotional quota to get smashed by their own stones, pained by the gravel they don’t have enough guts to stumble over, too.

They’re too full of hubris, cowardice to breathe in the dust and puke it up.

breathing

Also, I admit – it’s difficult.

I was thinking:

Where does it say that everybody you encounter needs to tackle this fucking monster wall to get to the deep of you? You crush anyone who goes near it yet you seek someone to crack the code, find the weak spot? Confusing and exhausting.

What forms this barrier to entry?

How high does it go?

Who created this rule?

My grandmother, when something was beyond her comprehension (or outside her little Brooklyn neighborhood), would say to me:

“It’s sky-less.”

What seals this wall beast?

What makes up the mortar?

bloody wall

Oh, I don’t know. It’s a different blend for everyone. I think it’s rejection, disappointment, misguided conclusion, overthinking. Projection. Abandonment. Fetishes of sorts.

Blast-furnace in another quarter of trash from the past you thought was long dead, and watch how you lose control over the entire project.

And you’re gonna need a bigger bulldozer.

To smash your creation. Eye-opening, earth-shattering heavy lifting to get deep underneath this structure, uproot and topple it.

When the dust settles (and for me it took roughly two years), you’ll be thankful for the project. As the wall comes down, second chances emerge.

Relish each tragedy, every revelation; appreciate the loves won and lost. Your choice and challenge is to either forge the masonry or knock out a stone, look through the hole and observe the beauty beyond the barrier.

Consider these ten ways to grind your way to a better life.

Random Thoughts:

1). Tear down walls, erect sails. Create a structure that’s light and captures the air of your passions and creativity. Sure, even an ill wind may throw you off course a bit, however, unlike a wall, a sail will not allow you to stagnate. It won’t close you in. A great challenge is to navigate your course and learn when to expand or contract your sails.

2). Replace heavy bricks. Replace impenetrable bricks of sorrow and regret with a willingness to be open and pliable. Anything that will allow you to see farther than you have before and feed your resiliency is worth the possible risk of hurt. Living within the boundaries of the past to guide present actions will suffocate your rebuilt childlike quality of promise.

3).Take out assholes. Then work diligently to discover and value teachers who will fill mind holes. As walls are razed, it provides openings, even through the dust, for mentors to enter space once occupied by fear and denial. Once your teachers begin to invade, dangerous structures become less menacing. They weaken and crumble at a faster pace than you can accomplish alone.

4). Take risks of the heart and say “fuck it” often. Now that walls are falling, your heart is out there. No protection. Exposing a vulnerable self to others is throwing yourself in front of an emotional bullet; a pure act of love. Consider the act a peace offering to those in your world and ones you seek in your space. It’s not going to feel warm and fuzzy at first.

To evolve in an age of soullessness will never feel right, initially. What ostensibly makes you at ease will always take great courage.

If you make an error in judgment (and you will), consider how resilient your heart truly is. I have learned that the heart is a bottomless well of love and commitment.

5). The words you use mean everything. At one time, I would invite words that formed at the foot of the wall and bled into the foundation. Defeatist sentences that only served the wall and never served me. I’ve noticed the word “why” weakens my spirit. It promotes a victim behavior. “How” is empowering. Ask yourself better questions with positive words and see how your thoughts take you down roads no longer confined by false boundaries.

6). Take a wrecking ball to conventional thoughts about money. Saving all your money in company retirement plans instead of brokerage accounts limits tax flexibility when you need the money the most. It’s financial industry dogma. Why must you purchase a house? How is it the American Dream? Is it truly an investment or merely a place to live?

7). Create and maintain accountability statements. I will be credit-card debt free by January 2015. I will learn a (specific skill) by December 2014. My internal walls are slated too fall today. Right now. Be accountable to the moment you’re in. What it means. How you got here.

8). Find a force. What can you do to turbocharge a positive process? I’ve used anger, fear, passion, revenge, love, faith, hope, hopelessness, laughter, teachers, students, clients, wonderful friends in the media and those creating art for award-winning television fiction/drama. Suck whatever energies you can to propel you forward until you’re a self-sustaining accomplishment machine. I’ve learned that good people are willing to help. To ask for help is a wonderful force. It’s strength, not t weakness to seek guidance. Provide as much gratitude in return.

9). Build protection. Wait a minute. You just advised me to break down walls. OK. One exception: Build layers around your passions. Do it so others can’t discourage you. Protect your resolve with all you’ve got. I’ve observed how many people and organizations bust out the big artillery to focus solely on the destruction of your dreams. They thrive and multiply on failure. I have learned to tune the destroyers out so well, I laugh at their silliness. So will you. I can’t wait to see the smile on your face.

10). Relish what’s in store for you. Can you imagine what’s ahead without debilitating speed bumps and barriers to stop you? The influential people you will touch, and who will touch you. The elevation of mind and spirit. The long-dead exhilaration that comes from resurrecting your true self. The stronger bonds of love and friendship. Like you have never imagined.

A castaway of dead souls.

More “fuck you” in blank faces.

You’re taking “auto” out of “pilot” now.

Fully engaged in the present.

Take the wheel now, squeeze hard.

Feel white-knuckle excitement.

Plow pedal-down fast through what’s held you back. Beat you down.

Watch the dust dance as you create a path of your own.

Observe how the losers choke on it.

And laugh, laugh, laugh.

Dedicated to Amy Bishop.

I Called her Daisy: A Love & Money Story.

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I was only with her for six hours but I had a name for her; I called her Daisy. I wanted her around longer. Naming her was a reach for hope. Hope she would make it.

To some thoughtless prick, Daisy was a living thing to be thrown away-destined to die on a busy Texas street. She hugged a dirty curb as best she could, her head too heavy to hold up from oncoming traffic. It was only a matter of time before Daisy’s frail dark frame would melt into a dark roadway and she would be killed by unsuspecting or uncaring drivers.

It was around 8:40pm. I drove a path from the gym I rarely take. I’m also seldom at the gym at deep night hours. I’m not overly religious but truly believe I was to come across Daisy for a reason. As I passed her up, she was literally sitting in a puddle of dirty water, barely able to move.

For a very brief second I too thought of driving on; I wanted to see my daughter and it was late. I played out in my head what was to happen next: It was inevitable this thin, weak puppy was going to be road kill. I was praying just one of the cars passing quickly would stop. Nobody did. As I looked in my rearview mirror I could see this poor thin animal attempt to stand. As she attempted to walk I could see the limp.

It was too much for me, I pulled over to get her.

I approached slowly; I didn’t want to scare her into traffic. As I methodically moved closer she got up and I stopped-talking to her gently with each step. Thankfully, she veered the opposite way toward a wooded area and not into the road. As she dragged herself and cowered behind a makeshift billboard in high brush, I was taken aback by her thin appearance.

She was tall, but looked half the size of a normal border-collie/lab mix (the vet educated me). She was not much more than skin, bones and big expressive eyes which followed me (and remained with me for hours after). I knew it was a she from the frayed pink and rhinestone collar around a thin neck.  Once I felt she was safe, I retrieved a bottled water from my car.

Thirst was the only thing ferocious about this pathetic soul.

I carry a few huge bath towels in my trunk. I got them, scooped the puppy up in my arms and rushed her to a local emergency clinic. There was a two-hour wait to see a vet-I was willing to stay as long as necessary. Once we were in to see the doctor, I felt optimistic; in the waiting room Daisy got up a bit, wagged her tail, appeared curious about her new surroundings and me especially.

A little movement tired her quickly, though yet she never took her dark eyes off me. The receptionist called her eyes “soulful,” and there was something especially sad about them. In a very short period of time I was hooked. In love.

In my head I was thinking about how much this was going to cost (the talkative front desk person at the emergency clinic reminded me consistently they were not “good Samaritans,” and treatment was not free). Exactly what I was willing to pay to get this girl healed up and the strategy to find this abandoned sweetie a good home was somewhat calculated.  My heart was a different story. Already, I added the cost of a new dog house and development of a cordoned-off place in my backyard.

The ongoing lessons about puppy diseases, especially canine parvovirus, began to dampen my hopes a bit. When it was suggested I could spend $300 I didn’t flinch and approved a test for the virus and an X-ray on a swollen left paw. By then I knew Daisy was approximately seven months old and had a whole life still ahead of her. Obviously, her future was taking a turn for the better. At least in my heart it did.

A couple of more hours passed. By that time, Daisy was asleep soundly on a cold exam table. I covered her so her shivering would cease and stroked her head incessantly. I spoke gently in her closest ear and she’d awaken to stare at me a bit and then put her head back down. By this time I knew there was no way I could part with her and would do what I could to make her well again. She deserved that.

After the parvovirus test came back positive, I was told it would cost $1,200 to take care of her for the night. My financial bandwidth expanded. Ok. Sold. Another hour passed. My firm belief was the investment in this girl was worth it; after all we would be together a long time.

Based on the increasing flow of serious patients, I was getting piecemeal information from three different sources and it felt like forever. It was now four hours later and with each bit of data I was riding an emotional high, then a low. I was on a high on the last round of discussion, until the vet came in again. Low blow time.

“Have you decided what you would like to do?” the vet asked me.

“I’m willing to pay to get her well, you said $1,200 right?” I blurted out. In my mind, the money was spent. I already mentally accounted for it and documented it in my I Phone budget app to make it official. I visualized a sliding scale and figured I was in the mid-range of what I would be willing to spend. It shamed me a bit since I was monetizing a life.

“Well, that’s only for overnight.” She continued as I began to feel a pit growing in my stomach. “In the morning she would need to go to another vet office for daily treatment. At night she would need to be transported back here to complete 24-hour care.”

I wasn’t told this crucial additional bit of information originally. As I mentioned, data received was scattered and piecemeal. After that bombshell I was left alone again as the sole, overworked doc on duty needed to exit for another emergency walk in.

By this time I’m stroking Daisy’s head and ear so hard, I’m afraid I’m going to pull the skin away from her skull. I’m thinking odds, probabilities and fiscal bandwidth. Then I suddenly felt like I was cheating on my current pup Princess. The figure $5 thousand popped into my mind too-no idea why. Would I spend this sum on Daisy who I barely knew but felt responsible for?

What if it was Princess in her place? What was Princess’ life worth?

What if Princess got sick soon and I already spent a fortune on Daisy?

I was stress-testing my fiscal parameters. And would Princess bite Daisy after all this? What were the odds Daisy would get well even after days, possibly weeks of intense treatment of 24-hour intravenous and monitoring? The vet was very cryptic to say the least. I needed more information to make a decision. And I was frustrated. I’m usually the one who is responsible and is consulted to resolve situations. Now, I just felt queasy and my brain was reeling. I realized the one who is customarily consulted did not like the unfamiliar role of one who required consulting.

Another hour passed. It was almost as if they timed a visit like clockwork every hour. I was beginning to think I could set a clock by the emergency crew.

This time a stocky vet technician entered. She was refreshingly straightforward, in my face and I was appreciative. “Rich, overall, this treatment will run $5 – $8 thousand by the time you’re done and there’s no assurance she will get better. The virus is pretty far advanced and the odds are not good.” She fell silent after that.

My dreams of a dog house and run in my new roomy backyard began to fade. The awkward introduction of Princess to Daisy also seemed to be more of a wish than a future reality.

“What would you do?” It just came out deadpan, without thought. I didn’t want it to, but it did; I did not want to hear the answer and I could feel my face tighten to a wince after the question left my lips. I rarely feel truly helpless-I can count the times on one hand. This night I moved on to the other hand.

“I would consider euthanasia. It might be for the best. It’s what I would do.”

Well, this was a horrible turn. But wait-Daisy appeared to be getting better from the time I picked her up out of the dirt; she was more responsive to me, her gums were pink (supposedly a good sign). How can it be the odds were so poor? The technician was sure they were and she had seen many of these cases. During this time, the poor puppy was sleeping deeply but I can tell her breathing was labored.

It was a decision I didn’t want to make. I make decisions all the time about lots of client dollars I treat as my own, but this was truly a dilemma for me and I was now up against the wall.

Next hour the vet returned, this round she had a bit more time for me. It was almost like the tech had prepped her. We reviewed the details again.

After six hours of tests, dialogue and anguish I made the decision to do what I thought was humane for Daisy. The vet and tech shed tears and thanked me for not leaving this poor girl on the side of the road. Supposedly, a parvovirus death is very painful. I didn’t want her to suffer, I wanted Daisy to have peace however, I wanted her to have that peace with me for years to come. I hated the decision and hated the fact that I took that road from the gym-at least at the time. I asked for a few more minutes with this gentle puppy who trusted me to take care of her and here I was soon to be responsible for ending her short life.

I whispered in her ear that I loved her (I truly did), I said goodbye full of tears and as I moved closer to her face full of fleas she licked me lightly on the cheek….

Of course I documented my experience on Facebook along with pictures. I also kept my daughter Haley abreast of all developments and I’m glad she wasn’t there with me. Facebookl friends were surprisingly sympathetic and caring and it was appreciated. The next day my good friend Stephanie (an ardent animal lover) and I exchanged commentary about the experience through instant messaging. I will spare all the colorful expletives about Daisy’s former allegedly irresponsible owners.

Steph: “What are you doing today?”

Rich: “Don’t know yet. Work being done on house. Just writing.”

Steph: “What you did for that poor girl is why we save. So we can help innocent animals in a pinch.”

Rich: “I was hoping she would be ok. I would have built a space for her in the yard. She was only 7 months old.”

Steph: “Of course you would have kept her.”

I rolled right over Stephanie’s comment; perhaps I was too full of grief to consider it or respond to what I thought later was such a prolific statement: What you did for that poor girl is why we save. So we can help innocent animals in a pinch.”

Random Thoughts:

1). Saving is so much more than something you do for future goals like retirement or education. It’s about having choice and occasionally it’s about the right now. Guess I always knew it; I’ve been preaching this money stuff for years. But sometimes you can lose sight of the obvious until a series of words and actions conjoin to re-spark your perspective. Money is part of life and sometimes it allows you to make a decision out of love. Some thoughts:

2). Occasionally saving money is to make a choice for today, not tomorrow. Would I even had the ability to help Daisy if I was overburdened with debt and didn’t have a strong saving discipline? Probably not. I would have possessed little if any financial flexibility to save this precious girl if her odds of recovery were good. Saving today can help you today, perhaps on your way home from the gym or grocery store.

3). Why you save reflects your passions and beliefs about money: Perhaps you save to give to a specific charity, or to help an animal or take your family on a special trip every year. It’s not the money, it’s what it adds to the fabric of your life and the good you do with it based on strong feelings and beliefs. Eventually some of the money is spent on a form of enrichment. Or at least, I HOPE SO.

4). Your household budget should be on the tip of your fingers, or as close to you as your smart phone. I was able to assess my budget and financial situation quickly. I was under enough stress already with the decision to help a dying animal. I don’t want to fly blind financially. Sit down alone or with a professional to understand the daily dynamics of your finances.

5). Saving is a gift to yourself. Even though I abhorred the decision I was required to make about Daisy’s life, I realized after my head cleared a bit, the money empowered me to save her from a prospective horrible death she certainly didn’t deserve. What if I wasn’t financially prepared? I would have needed to call animal control perhaps and I would have never been able to sit well with that decision, at all.  I’m grateful to have crossed this puppy’s path; it was money well spent to give Daisy peace.

Years ago, a country music singer/mentor told me: “You name the things you love.” I realized for me to say I called her Daisy was blatantly incorrect.

I named her Daisy because for six hours, I loved her-because she needed me to. I still do. I will always. Are you saving for what and who you love for tomorrow and most important, today?

Think about it before a decision is thrown in the road on your way home.

I know she rests in peace. Love and money was able to provide a few more hours of comfort.

And I would do it again.

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10 Life Lessons from a Grandma – Today is Everyday.

Lord knows nana Nellie wasn’t a looker.

At 40 she looked 70. She was always old.

Nana was the “custodian.” at my Brooklyn, New York public school.

Custodian: Fancy word for janitor.

It embarrassed me how she cleaned toilets.

I would look to avoid her in the halls.

As I get older, I realize the impression she made on me. 

Grandma’s life lessons.

Random Thoughts:

1). Screw Stereotypes – Nana loved people for who they were, not their appearances. She would provide food to families at the school who were having difficult financial times and hold fundraisers for the less fortunate. And she was one of the less fortunate.

2). Be Nurturing to Children – Nellie would dress as Santa every year, walk down  school halls and hand out pounds of candy to the kids. They loved her. I was so embarrassed. Odd. Imagine someone dressed as Santa delivering candy at a public school today? That is grounds for dismissal or perhaps – arrest.

3). Be Proud of Who You Are – Nana was nana. She dressed like crap but had a heart of gold. She would wear this hideous battleship gray and white school uniform that made her appear more matronly than she really was. I rarely saw her dress stylishly. And people could care less. Neither did she.

4). Make a Killer BLT – Nana was a good cook but her BLTs were something to die for. I know her secret to a mind-blowing BLT sandwich and will take it to the grave.

5). Smile & Say Hello – Nellie’s bedroom window faced a busy street. One of her favorite pastimes was to sit there and watch the people go by. She always would call out a hearty hello and smile. Even when people didn’t return the courtesy.

6). Save, Save, Save – Grandma was a Depression baby. Nothing went to waste. She wasn’t a hoarder, but found a use for everything. My grandfather abhorred how she would have him pull over because she would notice a salvageable treasure in a neighbor’s garbage, out by the curb. One year she found the coolest red wooden Santa’s sleigh complete with ornate wooden carved reindeer. We dragged it ten blocks to her house.

7). Forgive Your Kids – My dad was always out with some hot girl two decades younger than him. He would tell grandma he was coming by and not show. Or he would cancel on her for a hot date. She would shake her head and say “that’s my Benny!” smile and move on. She told me once – “you can’t control what others do. Only what you do.”

8). Encourage - Grandma was always telling me I could do what I want. I was smart enough. I could attend college. She had owned multiple businesses in the 1950s – A laundromat, a delicatessen. It was rare then for a woman to take the bull by the horns. I think unfortunately, grandpa killed her spirit so she relented a bit and gave up the businesses.

9). Be a Good Friend – Nellie was loyal and loved her friends. And she had many.  She was there to listen, support, engage.

10. Today is Everyday - I believe this was nana’s shot at philosophy. She wasn’t educated, yet she was wise. This life lesson is still the most challenging for me – If I talked about my future or I was frustrated by my situation Nellie would advise me to make the best of it, learn from the experience.

Then give me a hug.

And a BLT.

On occasion, a hug, a sandwich (made with love) and a memory is all you need.

To get by.

To make it through the school of life.

BLT

Gatsby’s Greatest Mistake – Avoid Death Through Eternal Hope.

I never met a man with such hope. I doubt I ever will again.” Nick Carraway.

Mr. Jay Gatsby clearly didn’t thrive on this plane. He was bigger than life, above earth, to many who knew him. Knew of  him. Men, women, actors, senators, commissioners, vagabonds, freaks, all ages, all shapes, the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful, the pimple-faced kid who delivered the freshest produce every mid and end of week who stuck around a bit too long to catch a glimpse of mystery.

Clearly, everyone was aware of Gatsby, or at the least, the image of the man formed over years of discipline, sacrifice, study, focus. Amazing, blinding focus. The thousands who entered the masterful iron gates of his 40,000 square-foot mansion on weekends, who took advantage of the endless flow of hospitality, each one, had a story.  To Nick, Gatsby seemed like a soul ready to dance on the edge of tragedy.  Stripped of protective barrier, Gatsby was a mere boy playing adult games. There was a story which circulated, cut deep through the heat of party goers and the lights. So much light. It blinded Nick.

“I heard he even killed a man.”

Gatsby never belonged in the present.  His closest friend, if Gatsby held a real friendship, observed the inner distraction, perhaps a bordering on obsession.

Nick was convinced: Something outside this world was eating Gatsby alive.  At least that’s what he believed.

Looking down, Nick observed Gatsby’s rich leather shoes. Always polished.  He laughed. It was his way of knowing Gatsby existed in the physical realm. One day Nick would imagine, he’d look down and Gatsby’s feet would be hovering about a foot off blue lawn, like a spirit ready to speed off to another planet. A Godly mission perhaps?

Nick wondered:  Where did Gatsby’s heart rest?  Standing majestic, always dressed for perfection, looking into him, Nick would observe, feel the distance, beyond the deep blue of Gatsby’s eyes. Who was Jay Gatsby anyway?

A spy? A killer? A hero? Did he even remember?

Nick asked himself repeatedly – “Who owns and chains Jay Gatsby’s soul?”

Nick noticed how Gatsby would uncomfortably shift to and from the current.  He was much like the white water which ebbed and flowed along a lush, personal beach.

Nick was fascinated. There existed a beautiful sadness, a breathless longing, a waiting in a smile that caught itself before completion.  There was true genius here. An honesty, a passion locked deep. He knew things you didn’t. You didn’t want to know.

Depending on the conversation, Nick could release the child-like innocence who was Gatsby. Gatsby before all the trappings. The hungry one. The one who felt.

gatsby

Behind wispy delicate beauty purchased from wealth, lived a man awaiting release. Or redemption. A better life. Completion. Forgiveness, perhaps. Nick would write feverishly in his journal – “Heartbroken. Distracted. Innocent.  Mysterious spirit. Dangerous.”

“Yet hopeful. Always amazingly hopeful.”

Immersed in overly decadent trappings of the richest mahogany and purple-blue carpet which felt like crushed velvet under foot, Gatsby was a polished, preserved shell draped in the finest light linens and deep silk vests designed solely to fit his swimmer’s body, snug. From the calloused fingers of artist-immigrant tailors at Herbinger’s of New York City.

Stuck rich between youth and maturity, estrangement and engagement.  Waiting for a bridge to be built between past and future – One vital piece remained untethered for the polished yet raw of Jay Gatsby.

“Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men.”

Every reserved step, each over-the-top party, the plethora of salt breeze which swirled over Long Island Sound direct through his open balcony door, sought to embrace him. It felt best not to touch. The salt-air felt thick, solid – yet it played teasingly gentle with billowed drapes. Silk flown in directly from Singapore, woven by hand, wrapped Gatsby in the future of a dream not yet realized. He raised a manicured finger. Lowered his head. Sandy hair once coiffed, now tussled by wind. Breathing in and out.

Pointed forward. Eyes closed. The pain of her. Her absence radiated from deep his chest.

Traveled on emerald bright.

A salvation: His salvation.

Where the woman, a human light, who held his soul captive like a seirene, for half a decade now.

Danced gleefully behind the green light. Where she lived.

Little did Daisy know when she spun on the dock like a little girl, with the green light as beacon, Gatsby felt her. He felt nothing deep except her presence.

The lights from his mansion across the water,most of the time launched in Technicolor, was designed to capture an elusive star. The music, the crowds, the fireworks. All for her attention. A tactic designed to push a love, Daisy, back to where they started. It was five years. To Gatsby, it was yesterday. Everything stopped unless Daisy was part of the equation.

Thought across the water, he would focus on the only shine that mattered to him. The green. The calm. The pure of color messaged him. It was code to his soul not yet released. His heart to join past and present rode on a wave of robust hope.

He created an elaborate stage – a world of players he observed but never touched.  Except for Nick. There was a difference about him. He reminded Gatsby of a brother he left a life ago.

And for all Gatsby appeared to his those he played to, his foundation, his emotional as well as financial footing was shaky. Perhaps we love this timeless story because perfection is born from imperfection.

However, you can never run from who you truly are. As well as you dress, as elegant as you speak, there’s something tragic about all of us. Gatsby couldn’t touch the imperfect. It was a realization how truly flawed he was.

Daisy Buchanan was smart enough to accept her station. Her willingness to party, her vacuous nature, was truly who she was. Gatsby tried to acquire her. He created an inner image of her. An image he could control. And wanted so badly to believe. Who he loved wasn’t Daisy. It was his wish to save her, perhaps possess her. A projection. A feeling lost he needed returned.

“I KNOW. I’ve been everywhere and seen everything and done everything…Sophisticated – God, I’m sophisticated.”

Writer’s note: Daisy was a pompous twit. But she knew it. Admit when you’re a pompous twit, people will hold a greater respect for you. 

Everything Gatsby built, everything Gatsby sought, everything he had become, born of incredible focus. (Was. For. One. Person. And. It. Wasn’t. Him.)

Ostensibly it killed him. Death after going so deep, was the only answer. It was the only conclusion F. Scott could have come to. Gatsby was so mired in his dream, so far gone, only death could release.

So what can we learn from this classic?

Random Thoughts:

1). Gatsby’s parties and trappings were a horrible return on investment. If the elaborate wealth was bankrolled by Prohibition then what would happen when it all ended? And Prohibition did indeed, end. Gatsby surely spent more than he took in.Only a matter of time before Daisy being as spoiled as she was, would depart. As soon as the cash ran dry. I have no doubt Gatsby as a fighter,  would have found another way to build a fortune. To recover. Unfortunately, his true focus for it would have long exited. And possession should never be every reason to acquire wealth, especially when it comes to the acquisition of a heart, love. A feeling. Gatsby loved how he felt around Daisy. He was willing to pay anything for that feeling. He was paying with his life and she really wasn’t concerned. If Gatsby was able to spend more time in the present, he probably would have figured this Prohibition thing was going to conclude. He held enough contacts to uncover this information and ostensibly work to protect his wealth.

2). Gatsby suffered from abhorrent emotional and cognitive biases. First, he lived in the past. Only the past. I’m sure hindsight bias troubled him. I’m sure he obsessed over past investment mistakes because in hindsight, he knew they were going to fail or do well. He needed to control so much of his projection, his journey, his capture of a love that died a long time ago, he could have never admitted he was wrong. As Nick wisely told Gatsby: “You can’t bring back the past.” Can’t repeat the past?…Why of course you can, old sport!”

“He wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy. His life had been confused and disordered since then, but if he could once return to a certain starting place and go over it all slowly, he could find out what that thing was.”

Writer’s note: His love for Daisy was the love he lost for himself.”

Gatsby was inflicted by regret aversion. He held on to lots of “losers,” much longer than he should have. All his party goers, the people he provided a “respectable front” for business dealings, DAISY (biggest loser as it cost him his life). Don’t hold on to losing investments thinking the’ll recover. Forget holding on to feelings, or hope that someone you loved will return. A bullet in the chest and a float in the pool are the results. 

“They are a rotten crowd,” I shouted across the lawn. “You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.”
I’ve always been glad I said that. It was the only compliment I ever gave him, because I disapproved of him from beginning to end. First he nodded politely, and then his face broke into that radiant and understanding smile, as if we’d been in ecstatic cahoots on that fact all the time.”

3). Find and then appreciate your Nick Carraways. The true alliances, the objective financial partners who will provide truth even when it hurts, those who make up your inner circle. The ones who listen, care, the ones who truly feel your pain. So much it changes them. And you. Those who embrace who you are now. Learn to love the Nick inside you, too. For some odd reason, Nick was Gatsby’s true salvation; he just couldn’t make the pieces fit. Your human outliers, the ones who think outside the box, but are pure of heart are worth more than any Gatsby-like fortune. Write down who those people are. Call them. Write. Tell them now what they mean to you. Cherish. Thank them for sharing the brutal, beautiful truth. These people provide clarity.

“Everyone suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.”

4). Understand Gatsby was dead before he hit the water. The bullet was merely  release. A method to move on. Forced by the hand of another. We, on occasion, are moved forward by the force of another. Harsh realization from a past love, an illness that sets you back, a business failure (which is not a defeat), depression, an inner disappointment. Let’s face it. Daisy wasn’t going to return to Gatsby and for him, it meant all he built was false, mere illusion. It was time for him to deal with the demons. And they were powerful. He made them so. Death was a good way for Gatsby.Majestic. Full of story. Bigger than life. It’s not yours. Remember the bullet that caused you to move forward, bleed, then drown. Time to emerge. Remember what you’re made of. Some dreams are not fucking healthy. They hold you captive. Daisy wasn’t going to call. She was long gone. Years back. She knew how to work the Great Gatsby.

Gatsby Daisy

“He must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream. He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass. A new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about…like that ashen, fantastic figure gliding toward him through the amorphous trees.”

5). Know when your light goes from green to red. To much hope will blind. The blinking beacon, your overwhelming focus, will trick you. The light you seek should always be green. The light inside you should be red. Somewhere between is where reason should  flicker. You’ll then know when to change the path to the green light. Or perhaps you’re focused on the wrong dock. The wrong light. There’s more than one green light out there. Find them all. Know when to change the bulbs, change the focus, move to other docks.

The phone will ring. You’ll attempt to exit the pool, complete the illusion.

And that may be the worst possible outcome.

Gatsby died with hope, from eternal hope.

Create life through hope. It’s healthy in doses.

Realize when hope is not enough.

Run faster, stretch your mind, move past your comfort zone, stretch your arms.

Know when hope creates illusion, self denial.

Because then you’re in the pool.

And going under.

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter- tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…And one fine morning-”

The Lives you Sever to Save your Own (and Others).

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“Are you done yet?”

I was kneeling. Looking up. At a shell. A skull with eyes. At ninety-seven pounds, mostly bones. Slumped in an ornate, chipped wooden chair I still own and stare at today. He still commands it. Owns it.  I can’t sit in it. After all these years. The chair frightens me.

dark chair

When he spoke, I remembered happily. I recalled the power. His presence. His flair. How strong he was. Even after cancer took 70 pounds away. Like a thief. Draining him. He was in a three-piece suit four sizes too big. We couldn’t alter clothes fast enough to keep up with the weight loss.

Yes,” he said. along with a tear. His. “I’m done.”

Water rolled down his face. Landed on our joined hands. I put my head in his lap. He stroked it. I told him I loved him. I didn’t want him to go. How can I convince him to stay. To change his mind. I would do anything. Anything. Wasn’t my love enough to keep him here?

Told me “it’s no big deal. You’ll be fine. You’ll see.”

Huh? I wasn’t going to be “fine.” I couldn’t “see.”  It was tough to ask the question and receive the answers I knew I was going to hear. But it was nothing less than I expected. I then understood how I needed to be strong. To help him move forward. Because I knew he wasn’t “done.” He had more to do in this life. It was a time. A snapshot of sweet surrender and acceptance. Still. Quiet. Like God was taking a photo of a moment for me. There was nothing else we could do. And surrender and acceptance are on occasion, not easy. Sometimes surrender and acceptance rips your heart out.

Through life you’ll need to sever lifelines to those who hold power over you. Those you love more than anything. Yet, they’re not there. Or here. And you can’t move forward. And last night I had a dream about dad. What he said to me that day in 1993.

His one last thought. Because he always had the last thought.  One lesson I’ll never forget.

He said: “Sometimes love isn’t enough.”

I literally carried him down the stairs. He let me. I know that was tough for him. Tough on his pride. But he let me. Because he knew I needed to. He spent years being the strong one. Carrying me. I rested him on the couch. The vigil began. He wanted to die at home. I made sure nobody would dissuade me from the mission. I held his hand as he slipped into a coma.

On a frigid, gray February day before he spent 48 hours dying on a couch, dad severed his lifeline to save me. Made me feel ok about his inevitable exit. At least he tried. He even worked a full day at the office before coming home and slumping in that damn chair. The death chair. Like it was no big deal. Close some car deals. Drive home. Die.

“I don’t want you to be done.”

But sometimes love isn’t enough. And you always want love to be enough.

Random Thoughts:

1). Some lifelines get severed carelessly. Why must they? What the hell stands in the way of happiness? There are people we should engage as friends, lovers, mentors, yet sometimes love isn’t enough. Respect isn’t enough. Something unspoken hangs like a deep cancer you can’t cut out so you decide to cut off. It’s easier – but is it the right move? Do you sit in the chair and say “I’m done?”

2). Some threads need to be severed so both parties can survive, move forward. And it’ll rip your heart out because you know the sever feels wrong. You lose a part of yourself when it comes to this cut. This one is gonna hurt. It’s going to take time to heal. But sometimes, love isn’t enough and it needs to be done.

3). On occasion the attempt to sever causes reflection. Do you really want this person out of your life? Is there an illness, an internal hemorrhage that can be healed? Is there some feeling other than love which blossoms health and unity? Or do you allow release? Do you move a person you love to another plane?

4). Be prepared to sacrifice yourself, go out on a limb, be cold. For resolution, or severing you’ll need to “prep” the area. Not easy. What is the catalyst that gets you to this point? It’s different for everyone. Dad knew when it was time. After all, it was going to be fine. No big deal, right? At least that’s what he said when I know it tore his soul to say what he did to me. He appeared strong, almost defiant, flippant? Just so I would have the balls to move forward. An ultimate sacrifice. Sometimes love is enough?

5). Don’t sit in the death chair. Until you’re ready. And you may never be ready. Surrender isn’t easy. Acceptance is worse. Understanding you have too much debt, or you suck at saving, or you can’t handle investing in stocks, or you got duped by a financial professional promising unrealistic returns, is a good first step. Accept and improve.

It was 1am. Dad woke out of his coma. Briefly. He moaned. The whites of his eyes turned blood red. He spoke to me one last time. He said – “you’re going to be great.”

I whispered in his ear. I had all these memories I need to share.

“Remember when my green Schwinn with the banana seat was stolen two hours after you  bought it for me? You came home and bought me another one.”

He grimaced. Maybe he smiled. Then he was gone.

He stopped breathing. I could still see the movement in his chest. It was his heart.

It was still beating. Fighting to stay. His body moved with the rhythm of it. Because of it.

He was strong that way. He needed to leave me a lasting impression.

I told him his love was enough. It was time for him to go.

Then the world stopped.

But I didn’t.

heart light

He wouldn’t accept it.

A Folded Cardboard Holiday. Four Ways to Stay Alive at Christmas.

I dislike Christmas. Not in a funny, green “Grinchy,” way either.

grumpy christmas

The holiday has clearly lost some of its sparkle for me, especially now, as cherished people I believed would be around for longer than a memory, decided to bail quickly from my inner wonderland. Clean gone. Like the three wise men who get misdirected by Apple Maps to the birthplace of Cee Lo Green instead of the second coming of you-know-who.

The problem with Christmas is it stirs ancient thoughts and the mental bias of anchoring. I dare you to gaze at a tree ornament you’ve unpacked this year, every year over the last ten and not recall “the moment.”  A vivid memory of  how you felt when you received it, who gave it to you, where you bought it. The weather that day you hung it from your fake Christmas tree. The eye color, hair color, smell, of the person who bought the cheap holiday trinket for you; now the damn thing has a life of its own, it possesses a wealth of memories you would sooner forget.

And for most of the year you do. Until..

You resurrect the decoration from the plastic tomb stored in the garage. From a container marked “CHRISTMAS CRAP.” Then you “go back,” or anchor to “the moment,” again and usually it isn’t good. But you can’t throw this plastic memory bank away, so you sullenly hang it from a tree branch this year. Again. Relive the pain.

Stab me with candy cane every year, it’s ok. I can take it. This year after exhuming a memory, I lost track of time and space. It was silly when I realized I had been sitting on the dusty floor of my garage for an hour and a half. Lost in space, lost in time, lost in “the moment.”

santa slay Awww

Even cardboard can push the past into the present. The other day at a friend’s house, a collector of vintage kitsch, a flood of memories washed over me. There in the corner, looking as new as the ancient day it was originally folded out was a Christmas adornment I haven’t seen or remembered in years. Yet, when I noticed it, I went back in time immediately. I went speeding through time, a return to 1972 when I first received my very own cardboard and electric (what a lethal combo)

cardboard fireplaceFireplace!!!!!

It was a lousy Christmas that year. My mother after a binge of booze and pills came home from God-knows-where, focused on the fake Christmas tree I just finished decorating, picked it up from the middle like some form of petite, brunette elf weightlifter and flung it out the third-floor living room window.

I think there were like 6,000,000 lights secured around this thing. In fact, there were so many light sets attached that when the plastic pine cliff diver advanced from the window, one of the light strings got caught on the way down causing the tree to temporarily swing about 10 feet from the ground like some type of evil holiday pendulum.

Then two days later, on December 27, a favorite cousin visited. A savior of sorts. He brought the fireplace along with small, wrapped gifts I never expected. On December 27, I had Christmas revisited thanks to Michael. We unfolded the fireplace, secured the lightbulb behind the fake flame. It might as well had been the real thing. The warmth was the same. A cousin saved my holiday. I never forgot.

Random Thoughts:

1). Tell People you Love them. Now. Today. Even when they don’t feel the same. Even if they walk away. Even if they don’t respond.Today is the day to tell them exactly what they mean to you and you’ll be there for them because your heart and soul can’t change. It won’t change. Don’t compromise.

2). Christmas is not a day, or a holiday, it’s a mindset. The harsh glow of bad memories are ok even if they pierce you like extra-pointed ends of holly. The rotten ones are tough yet you must look behind them and work hard find the lessons that move you forward. Embrace what was and analyze how it made you the person you are today.

3). In times of despair, who will save your holiday? Be open to the signs. Be open to those you’ve been closed to before. You never know the lessons they’ll teach you, the memories they’ll create for you when you unpack the ornaments next Christmas.

4). Now is the time to tie up loose ends. With people. With money. Step back. Sever or foster ties with those who create energy, and cut away the ones who take it away. On occasion, you’ll be the one who’s cut and never truly understand why. There’s a humility, a frailty to being cut. It feels hopeless. Like a Christmas tree cast from upper floors. Then, out of nowhere – hope emerges.

At the end of the year, it’s a good idea to double-check the beneficiaries on your retirement accounts and life insurance policies. It’s also an opportune time to decide how you’re going to increase your contributions to retirement plans or work to pay off credit card debt in the new year.

My middle name is Michael. I demanded my mother have it changed after that Christmas. She obliged out of guilt. It was a way to always keep a special cousin in my heart.

After losing contact with my favorite cousin years ago, I found out last year that Michael died in 2008. Alone. From AIDS. In a motel room in upstate New York. He was dead for a week before they found him.

I wasn’t there. I never knew.

I missed my chance to tell him how much I loved him. How much he saved me that day. I sent a thought to him, as I stared at a friend’s cardboard fireplace. I asked Michael to forgive me. I thanked him for what he did for me.

Don’t miss your chance.

Today’s the day..

Your day to unfold love, gratefulness, blessings.

A day to find your fireplace. Your hearth.

Do it.