Rules To Live & Die By: Life, Money & Otherwise.

Aside

I appreciate rules.

Rules derived from the heart and mind have saved me.

Rules, forged from experience, can safeguard precious resources – financial and otherwise.

They will protect you from losing your pants.

just got naked

Naked rules are best.

Pure, simple, raw.

Here are mine.

What are yours?

 

Random Thoughts:

Part I: Life Rules.

my life my rules

 

If a woman can’t listen to the Eagles’song Lyin’ Eyes without wincing, or quickly changes the station, run.

Beware of people who carry a stash of ’emergency’ condoms (indeed run, but feel free to have sex first).

You can’t wipe your ass enough (especially men – we’re the worst). When you believe it’s all clear in the deep, take another swipe. Just to be safe.

Never trust a person who rarely uses turn signals.

Be cautious of those who judge based on past mistakes when they’ve made the same ones or worse.

Don’t step back without looking (there’s a dog there, especially in the kitchen).

Never let open wine go to waste. Never. (Did I say never?).

Distrustful people are black pitch through the soul. Avoid them.

Be wary of those who can’t maintain close long-term relationships of any kind.

When I ignore rules I create, bad things happen.

Misjudgments remain with me. I see injury in the mirror every day. I lose a spark that will most likely, never return. Perhaps it’s part of a natural process, like aging.

Living without a personal guide book can hurt you.

Along with Clarity’s Chief Market Strategist Lance Roberts, we’ve created rules to help you protect and understand the key drivers of your wealth.

Remember – For every beginning there is an end. Investments have a shelf life. Eventually you’ll need to liquidate them to fulfill a financial goal, create a paycheck in retirement, gift to loved ones. Whatever. Money is to be spent, enjoyed.

Not hoarded.

And yes, you can indeed sell investments to protect capital.

Huh? What?

Sell: The scariest 4-letter word on Wall Street.  Just the mention of it and you’re branded a loon. Leprotic, running amok and licking the neighborhood children.

Part II: Investment Rules:

Cut losers short. Let winners run. Underperforming positions are reduced or removed from portfolios on rallies.

Set financial life benchmarks and take action. Every position purchased has a sell target. Investments without goals are arbitrary, which increases portfolio risk.

Emotional biases are not part of the investment management process.

Follow the trend. 80% of portfolio performance is determined by the underlying trend.

And the current trend is south. 

SP500-MarketUpdate-011516-2.png

When markets break their long-term bullish trend supports combined with important long-term sell signals and a sharp decline in momentum, it has historically denoted the start of a “bear market trend.” The red highlight denotes the start of the bear market. The yellow highlight shows the ensuing bear market completion.

Never let a profit turn into a “loss.”

Investment discipline is successful if consistently followed.

Losses are part of the investment process. Losing positions are regularly culled to reduce portfolio risk and free up capital for better investment selections. However, you can’t completely avoid losses. Sorry. If that’s the case you’re better off in certificates of deposit. You can minimize but not eliminate. You play, you pay.

Math-Of-Loss-122115.png

As fiduciaries of OTHER PEOPLE’S money, the biggest concern is not how much money we make during market advances, but rather how much we keep from losing during market declines.

While this seems counter-intuitive, in reality it is where long-term gains are generated. As William Lippman, CEO of Investment Management at Franklin Templeton quipped:

“Better to preserve capital on the downside rather than outperform on the upside”

A strict discipline of portfolio risk management will NOT eliminate all losses in portfolios. However, it will minimize the capital destruction to a level that can be dealt with logically, rather than emotionally.

This isn’t market timing, people. That doesn’t work. ‘All-or-none’ is a losing strategy. Never go all cash. From a management standpoint, this is a bad idea. Trying to “time the market” is impossible over the long-term and leads to very poor emotionally based decision making.

The objective is to reduce portfolio risk to manageable levels to preserve capital over time. We can do that by increasing and reducing our exposure to equity-related risk by paying attention to the price trends of the market.Odds of success greatly improve when the fundamentals are confirmed by the technical indicators (see? Another rule).

Don’t add to a losing position. This is called “averaging down” and rarely is it effective. How many investors are caught in the energy sector value trap? Or treated master limited partnerships ‘safe’ as fixed instruments?

The slide has been ugly and getting uglier.

XLE-011516

Don’t be a hero. Buying energy or “averaging down” at this juncture will most likely be hazardous to your wealth.

Markets are “bullish” or “bearish.” Remain neutral or long in bull markets. In bear markets be neutral and increase cash.

When markets or portfolio positions are trading at extreme deviations from long term trends, do the opposite of “the herd.”

If you haven’t trimmed positions yet –Wait for an opportune time. Most likely, a  market bounce is coming. Trim your weakest holdings into strength especially if your gut is in turmoil or you’re 5 years or closer to retirement.

A goal of portfolio management is to achieve a 70% success rate. No process is perfect. Consistency wins the long game.

Manage risk and volatility, not returns. Also, manage emotions. Humans are not wired to invest. Knee-jerk reactions, overconfidence, seeing trends that don’t exist will only destroy portfolio returns.

Never discount the importance of financial planning. The investment process is an element of a financial plan. An important one. However, it’s not the full story. It’s the sexiest chapter, I know.

There’s more to consider.

So we created.

Part III: Clarity’s Financial Planning Rules.

Take a holistic approach. Proper planning integrates all assets, liabilities and sources of income for a complete perspective.

Money is fungible. For planning to be effective, remove the mental boundaries around the dollars you earn and save so they may be allocated to their highest and best use.

Don’t discount Social Security strategies. Take steps to maximize earned benefits. Coordinate Social Security withdrawals with those of other accounts to minimize the impact of taxes.

Healthcare costs including Medicare, and senior housing options must be included in the planning process.

Successful plans are grounded in financial self-awareness which includes prioritizing needs and wants.

Conversations with loved ones and friends about aspects of your financial plan are important. Make sure your estate, gifting and future housing intentions are clearly communicated.

Don’t Get Fooled By Averages. The financial markets do not return 8% a year. A realistic financial plan includes variability in returns, including losses, over time.

Accountability Matters. A financial plan not followed is not a financial plan at all. Long term financial goals need to be broken down into monthly objectives and you and your adviser are accountable in meeting those objectives. (It is easier to consider a savings goal of $500/month versus $6000/yr.) Mental trickery works. Milestones broken down to millstones will convince your brain to take action. Move forward.

Rules.

Boundaries.

They work.

Follow them.

Survive.

With less wear on your face.

Less dark circles under the eyes.

You’ll preserve joy in your heart.

Stamina.

Will be yours.

And you’ll live to play another day.

For a glossy (fancy) copy of our investment and planning rules email me at RichardRosso@myclarityfinancial.com.

Charts by Lance Roberts. Sign up for his weekly market/economic newsletter at http://www.realinvestmentadvice.com.

10 Resolutions in ’16: Simple Steps to Your Financial Best.

Most likely money is at the top of your resolution list – Whether it’s to increase savings, pay down debts, find a new job, purchase a house or auto, financial aspirations abound in January.

Resolutions start strong. Unfortunately, as the novelty of a new year fades, so does motivation to stick to a list.

happy new year vintage

What if I told you that financial goals don’t need to be onerous to make an impact to your bottom line.

Millstones, as I call them, lead to milestones. You’ll be empowered, less frustrated if you keep your financial improvement list simple.

Here are ten ideas to consider for 2016.

Finally ditch the brick and mortar bank. An unusual event occurred after the Federal Reserve raised short-term interest rates by a quarter-point after seven years of holding steadfast to a zero interest rate policy. Several banks were quick to increase lending rates to creditworthy customers but kept deposit rates unchanged.

Historically, deposit rates on savings accounts, certificates of deposit, and money markets tend to correlate with changes in federal funds rates. Not this time. Savers lose again. In 2016 take a stand. Transfer your emergency cash or savings to a virtual bank. Online banks are FDIC-insured and with less overhead costs, offer attractive yields compared to a bank with physical bank locations. Several offer ATM fee rebates, too. Check out Nerdwallet’s list of top high-yield online savings accounts.

Keep an eye out for yet another refinancing opportunity. I know – Most financial ‘pundits’ are claiming higher interest rates in 2016. I see a sluggish economy ahead. Since mortgage rates are driven by demand and moves in the ten-year Treasury rate, don’t be surprised if 2016 provides another chance to refinance your home mortgage. A decision to refinance should be based on additional monthly savings and how long it will take to breakeven after closing costs. An easy-to-use refinancing calculator is available at www.zillow.com.

Initiate a balance transfer. According to Nerdwallet, the average American household carries $15,355 in credit card debt. Be proactive in 2016 and move your high-interest debt to a balance transfer credit card. If your household credit card balances are $5,000 or greater, consider reducing retirement contributions to the company match and direct additional cash to paying off credit card debt.

Use smartphone applications to save on purchases and track spending. Make technology your financial partner in 2016. Use the Mint app to track financial activity, Shopkick to browse products and find deals at major retailers. Download Ibotta, an Android and IPhone app that allows users to unlock rebates to earn cash on purchases.  

Buy off-season. Maintain an ‘off-kilter’ sense of finance. Purchase holiday décor and greeting cards after the respective season. Think Christmas cards in January. Shop for real estate during winter, summer items in the fall, and so on. Thepeacefulmom.com has thoroughly researched and lists by month the best times to buy everything.

Do a better job protecting your identity. Avoid public Wi-Fi to access secure information or shop, password protect your electronic devices and check your credit card statements monthly for suspicious activity. Place a freeze on your credit files with the three major credit bureaus. Before applying for credit a freeze can be removed easily using a password or PIN. There may fees to initiate security freezes. However, costs are nominal ($5-$10) and worth it to protect against identity theft. The Federal Trade Commission offers a FAQ  page to make it easier to understand how credit freezes work.

Check your credit report. Every January make it a habit to check your credit report for free at www.annualcreditreport.com. Examine your report closely for discrepancies and rectify promptly with the credit reporting agencies. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau outlines common credit report errors to identify.

Curb your impulses. Make 2016 the year of the wait. Before a purchase of greater than $50, delay for 7 days. If you still want the item or service after the wait period, move forward. Holding off will reduce impulse spending and allow you to think before spending. Seven days has been an effective time frame from my experiences with people I counsel. If super-ambitious, wait 14 days. If you can’t wait days, at least give the decision 24 hours.

Purchase a shredder. Simple identify theft solutions remain effective. Shredding documents should be an ongoing exercise. Shredders are inexpensive. Invest in a micro-cut shredder for maximum security protection. I’m shocked by the number of times I’m told that shredding seems unnecessary. Throwing intact personal documents, bills, statements in the trash is asking for trouble.

Develop a money principle. Dig deep. Early in the year is a great opportunity to develop or fine-tune a money philosophy. Keep your thoughts short. Make them passionate. Consider how money fits positively in your life and what you can do to reach goals, control spending, reduce debts or earn a higher income this year.

Financial resolutions are strongest when simple. Consider these 10 small steps to financial enrichment and live a fiscally healthy new year.

 

 

The Shuffle: How To Make The Best Out Of Those Gift Cards.

 

A version of this writing appeared on Nerdwallet.com, Money.com & NASDAQ.com.

Every year a staggering $1 billion in gift card balances remain unused according to www.cardhub.com.

No wonder retailers love them. They rack up the sales.

Consumers get shortchanged by their own actions!

This year it’s time to be smarter and maximize the use of gift cards.

Here’s how:

Spend the entire balance at once. Consumers want their gift cards to last as longer as possible. We have a strong tendency to ‘hoard’ balances until we forget the card, lose track of the balance or the card expires.

Unlike having a saving or spending discipline, this is your time to SPLURGE.

splurge

Spend the entire balance at once. At a single location. Make a list of what you plan to purchase and go for it.

Go over the line. Here I am a money guy advising you to spend! Don’t attempt to be too cute and come in at or under the limit of the gift card. Remember your goal is to spend every dollar and not add to the $6 billion in unused balances. Set a boundary. I recommend 10-15 dollars above the limit to assure you’ve fully exhausted the balance.

Employ a smartphone partner. Through the free RAISE app you can sell your gift card balance (for a discount). Also, before you shop a favorite retailer check RAISE first to see if discounted gifts cards are available.

For example, I had a client find a $100 gift card to Home Depot for $65.

What a deal! Use gift cards year round to shop.

Request or send eGift Cards. Trash the plastic! EGift cards are electronic gift cards delivered through e-mail, text, social media or mobile applications. Most digital gift cards can be used in stores.

They’re easy to send, receive, and most important your balances can be tracked real time which means you’re more likely to spend your balances in full.

Check out www.giftcards.com, a comprehensive hub of information on how EGift cards work, how to personalize them, how to redeem and which ones top-ranked.

Set your own gift card expiration date. Forget the expiration date mandated by the issuer (yes, gift cards may have expiration dates). Set your own. I suggest no longer than one month from the date the gift card was received otherwise the odds of a balance going unused forever increases greatly.

Once your personal expiration date has been reached, sell your balance at www.cardcash.com. Recently, I reached a personal expiration with a $50 Kohl’s gift card. I sold it for $41.

Just follow three steps to get an offer, submit your gift card information, receive money once the order is confirmed and the card’s balance is verified. Quick and easy.

Over $138 billion is spent annually on gift cards. Sales are expected to grow at least 6% annually through 2017 according to the latest CardHub statistics on the gift card market.

So, a gift card balance should never go to waste again.

Not on your watch, anyway.

on watch

5 Ways To Be Pet-Savvy & Money Smart This Holiday.

A version of this writing appears in MarketWatch’s Retirement Weekly.

puppy antlersThe stockings full of toys and treats, new collars, novelty costumes, sweaters, holiday photographs and personalized tree decorations.

The list can take a bite out of your holiday budget.

This year I polled 500 pet owners and discovered they’ll spend a record average $125 on their wet-nosed companions this holiday season. An increase of 13% over 2014. According to the American Pet Product Association, Americans spend in excess of $5 billion dollars annually on holiday gifts for pets.

I’m guilty of overspending. It’s not only my fur family that gets spoiled. Animals awaiting good homes in shelters benefit from my generosity, too.

It’s easy to get carried away as spending on our pets generates feelings of well-being.

I discovered ways to be in greater control and exercise money smarts this season and yet still fulfill my need to pamper and delight.

Here are some money-savvy ways to collar your pet spending for the holidays.

Random Thoughts:

Upgrade food and treats to reduce long-term pet care expenses. Don’t skimp on the quality of food and treats to save money. Here’s why – Pet healthcare costs are increasing at a rapid rate. For those I counsel, roughly 11 percent a year.

Nutrition-dense, high-quality foods may keep your pet healthier for a longer period and help you minimize large medical bills later. Think of it as part of a preventative health regimen for your four-legged brethren.

Chemically-processed food is disruptive to pet health.  According to the International Boarding & Pet Services Association, better food provides an overall boost in the immune system and improved health over the long term with less stress on a pet’s organs. The cost of higher quality food over the life of a pet will be offset by lower veterinary bills and reduced risk of health issues that are a result of improper nutrition. Meat or meat meal should be the primary ingredients with minimal grains.

There are several ways to save on the cost of quality pet food and treats. The simplest way is to receive e-mail updates directly from the manufacturer. For example, www.merrickpetcare.com is a high-quality provider. They provide special offers and product updates for consumers who join their mailing list.

Shop online at www.petfooddirect.com for sale items on name brands and save at least 15% when you establish auto-ship on many high-quality varieties of food and treats.

Investigate pet insurance options as you shop for holiday deals. Years ago, I was against medical insurance for pets. Policies were expensive, choices were limited and not enough medical conditions were covered to justify the premiums.

My opinion has changed.

As healthcare expenses have skyrocketed, pet parents have become vulnerable to financial risks that come with major illnesses and emergencies, some that add up to thousands of dollars. Without insurance, an increasing number of people have had to make heartbreaking decisions when up against the potential financial impact of cost-prohibitive medical treatments that could have prolonged the lives of their pets.

The pet insurance industry has grown 13% every year since 2009. Most likely a result of the Great Recession as American families have limited ability to take on large pet-related health costs. It’s best today to mitigate risk through the use of insurance.

Search for a policy using www.petinsurancereview.com. The site has a helpful ‘compare pet insurance features’ grid which outlines reimbursement amounts (after deductibles), payout caps, deductible amounts, monthly costs, limits and items not covered.

Keep in mind – it costs more to insure dogs, pre-existing conditions will generally not be covered (so best to obtain coverage while your pet is healthy), you will pay a deductible and the most policies do not cover preventative maintenance like vaccines, heartworm prevention and annual checkups. The ones that do are not worth the higher premiums.

Monitor what you spend on holiday novelties and outfits. The cost of holiday-themed toys and cute outfits can dramatically eat into your budget. It’s not uncommon for pet parents to splurge on holiday-inspired garb without a second thought to price. Pet retailers will sell out of most of their inventory weeks or months ahead of the holiday. They rarely need to place the merchandise on sale which shows how passionate we are about dressing up our pets for the holidays.

Your best bet to save big bucks on holiday dress-up and goodies is to search deals online and purchase items post-holiday or off-season. I discovered the best clearance deals at www.doggieclothesline.com, www.baxterboo.com and www.petmountain.com.

Tis’ the season to avoid big veterinary bills. We have a tendency to overindulge during the holidays. Sweets (especially chocolate), turkey bones, adult holiday beverages and fatty, spicy leftovers may sound good, but they can cause health issues (some dangerous) for pets and unforeseen expenses for us. Seasonal plants and decorations accidently ingested can cause health issues, too.

Holiday safety tips are available at www.aspca.org. Just type in the word ‘holiday’ in the search box adjacent to the donation link.

And speaking of donations:

Consider a charitable gift to a pet-friendly organization. Whether it’s the ASPCA, a local animal shelter, or an organization that spay-neuters homeless dogs and cats like SNAP in Houston, a 501(c)(3) non-profit agency may make you eligible for a tax deduction.

Charitable contributions are deductible if you itemize. Generally, contributions can be deducted up to 50% of adjusted gross income for qualified public charities. Consult IRS publication 506, your tax advisor or ask a representative for the organization you wish to benefit.

Pets are family. Unfortunately, they’re also becoming luxuries for some households as costs to keep them healthy and happy continue to trend higher than the general rate of inflation.

A money-smart attitude will keep you out of the financial dog house year round.

cat holiday

Spend Your Way To Happiness: Five Ways To Do It.

Random Thoughts of a Money Muse

I read 75 books a year.

Thank god for Kindle where I can highlight and store notes.

Don’t hate me.

It’s an illness. The thirst is quenched temporarily and it drowns me too.

I’m a slave to words. They own me.

Like good food or great conversation.

Sharing sparks with others; absorbing energy from people smarter and passionate than me.

I can’t get enough of the moments.

I’m nourished and starved at the same time.

book crazy

Associate professors Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Noonan who wrote the book “Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending,” outline research which shows how money can do a better job of buying happiness – if you spend it right.

This book sticks with me.

Can you get a bigger bang for your happiness buck?

print your own

I think so.

How?

Random Thoughts:

1). Buy experiences. Research shows that spending on experiences edges out purchasing stuff as experiences…

View original post 529 more words

Doors you Open. Doors you Close – Four Ways to Know the Dangers.

Random Thoughts of a Money Muse

At 4:45am. Every day. Even Sundays. She smelled like cherries. Sourced from somewhere. Her hair. Her skin. Her moving silhouette near a window, a small lamp reflecting on a sheer, white nightgown. I can see from the doorway. I can feel her spirit.

Not real cherries. Well, they were from nature. Once. Before the sulfur dioxide and calcium chloride polluted them. Transformed them into a syrupy, cherry-like Frankenstein concoction called Maraschino. That was the scent I detected. It hung heavy in the hall. In the mornings. Every morning. Seventh floor of a majestic, tall apartment complex.Ocean Parkway. Brooklyn. 1975.

Maraschino Sexy

I exited the elevator below her. Always. Floor 6. Nerves. Excitement. Fright. Anticipation – Mrs. Antolini’s donut breakfast. Strategically tucked. In a corner. Where the welcome mat joined the bottom of the front door. A brown paper bag. Inside a glazed beauty – carefully (lovingly) wrapped in wax paper. Precious…

View original post 961 more words

Why You Must Embrace The Darkness In The Window.

Featured

He walks the parameter. His gait is firm, deliberate. Boots firm along the detritus that rises away from where earth meets rolled steel.

Dry underneath.

No blood mud.

At night the Georgia sky acts as a boundless amplifier.

The vocals of the dead embrace the clear. They strangle and replace the sounds of nature and absorb into the black pitch of forest decay.

Guttural moans shower from the pine tops in bloodletting cascades.

The steel girders around the complex of Alexandria might as well be toothpick. The walls, tissue.

He stops. He doesn’t believe in the wall. Yet thankful it’s there. For now it stakes a boundary between the then and now.

Life and death stagger along the same carpet of forest pine needles.

Quiet. Then a rising. The world is ripping itself apart in harmonized human, once human voices. A death train on the tracks. Only in brief moments does the drone of cicadas and crickets provide white noise to drown out the necropolis in the darkness.

The anguish of rotted cords are like a smooth-running turbine oiled in coagulation. It replaces the warm sounds of autumn with an off-tuned death prattle. 

He’s slipping. He knows. He hears the good. Listens to the evil.

Sooner or later the mind cannot separate fact from fiction. The barricade between them is a membrane pulled like taffy between sanity and insanity.

“I understand. The light and dark, the safe and the danger, can no longer be separated. The deep lines between them are gone.”

Rick places his ear against cold metal and listens to hell on the other side. He places his hand against steel. The wall vibrates a low hum against his palm. It speaks to him. He feels what it says.

“Safe is an illusion. No longer be fooled.”

It’s night. Past 11. He can’t sleep. The moon-shine exposes dread in his eyes.

He’s lived on each side of the wall for so long, in his mind and heart. He’s felt safe when he shouldn’t. In the world around him where good and evil co-exist, he believes the blackness is winning. It’s only a matter of time…

He speaks. Softly to no one. 

“I can’t tell the dark from the light anymore.”

Rick at walking dead wall

A character development analysis for the AMC hit drama “The Walking Dead.”

*******************************************

Right around 6pm. In the blue-orange shade of autumn dusk, the terror is restless.

The dark flows. It creeps on spider legs in a pendulum moving across the sky. It waits its turn. Away from low-evening sun’s reflection.

Slivers of black stay small in the shadows of a harvest moon.

shadow moon

Behind rows of single-pane glass, a ground-floor visual to the playground long ignored and overcome by ravenous scrubland. Built with good intentions. To entertain children of a post-war Brooklyn baby boom. Those kids were never to return. Grateful to be gone. I envied the ones who got out.

Good intentions were lost on the youth of the 70s who perceived the location as treacherous as parked cars along Shore Parkway. When the odds of Son of Sam shooting you in the face were just too great to risk the adventure.

A leprous, asphalt square, bordered by shake-chain fencing, littered with weeds (they seemed to live forever) and crushed beer cans. The shriveled after-life of condoms. Squirly, white rubber slip bottoms longed to push you from the earth. Return you closer to…

Spot droplets trapped in bottles of Boone’s Farm’s finest brew. The acidity of alcohol and apple close enough to your nose to water the eyes. Jagged glass longing to take out your eyes.

son of sam

After all, black sky, urban muck and human dredge combined are not for the timid. Best to be inside before nightfall. To keep out the demons, I used roofing nails through shabby wooden window frames to fortify my bedroom from intruders.

A typical (atypical?) 8 year-old boy’s bedroom: G.I. Joe. Nestled in the map room of his official headquarters. Every horror plastic model kit Aurora molded. Seams glued tight, parts painstakingly painted, proudly displayed on a desktop.

aurora monsters

Clear 100-watt GE luminaries (5) drowned the room in electric fire.

GE Bulb

White walls merged to sharp lines. Electric blaze magnified the reflection of gloss lead paint in the corners. Enough to make me squint.

I imagined the wall blades as swords. They were to slay the evil that gamboled among the cracked and pocked foundation beyond the bricks. I know they cavorted on fossilized wood of busted teeter totters. Day-glo orange paint appeared to be nibbled away from the ends of the sees. And the saws. Now, jagged like spears gnawed on by night creatures with sharp teeth.

I fooled myself into believing that I could protect against my fear.

In my mind, they were there. The strangers. Their stares real and imaginary, froze my blood. Through the pane they would enter. Eyes first.

Darkness was how the guilty busted through the membrane of the innocent. Eager to steal everyone and everything you love. Because people got killed in the black. Oh, there was plenty of death in the daylight. I could deal with that. Not afraid.

In the dark things changed. Danger was just more dangerous in the dark.

darkness eyes

The ice tumor block in my femoral told me so.

At 8 years old, my panic rose as weak sun slid below the horizontal dirt line where the feet of bums and other suspicious characters met piles of dog shit along McDonald Avenue.

My insomnia lasted years. I rarely slept.

I walked a quiet hallway most nights until dawn. White socks slid across cheap slat wood to cause less creak. A lingering odor of heavy shellac blasted my nasal passages.

I watched my parents sleep. Not sure how my mother slept through dad’s apnea.

Thinking: “How could they with all the horror about to break loose?”

Hell, I was dreaming “The Purge” before it ever became a movie idea. I should be a fucking billionaire already. Jesus.

The Purge

My transistor AM frequencies remained hot all night. With robotic and manly yet comforting resonance, the overnight voices working the microphones at New York’s “all news all the time” station 1010 WINS, feverishly reported on five boroughs of insidious nocturnal activity. Obviously, the radio aloud in full evening murder alert was stupid. Ironically, I was comforted by the voices. The radio people were the good guys. Go figure.

The dark I despised hit full steam when Channel 5 WNYW TV shifted over to death mode. Sounded its nightly warning siren – “It’s 10pm: Do you know where your children are?”

Where and who were these kids? Were they dead? Why was a local TV station asking? And EVERY NIGHT? Without fail. Was that necessary? The visual that complimented the ominous query was eerie –

Black & white. Picture an urban park deep in a concrete jungle. Rows of swings. Empty. Still. Except one. Moving. Like a kid just jumped and ran. Or worse – This child was abducted. Fade to black.

How would parents not know where their children were? If you didn’t know by 10pm, oh yeah, they were missing or dead.

And who the hell is swinging at that hour?

The demons required the playground for their evening monkeyshines. So they snatched the children of irresponsible parents, whisked them off to place cordoned from the light, and braised them as the main course of a hellish feast.

I knew it.

As I age, I’ve grown to fear “fear” less. As a matter of fact, I’ve grown exhilarated in battle. Facing the darkness in the window has made me stronger than I’ve ever been. My will, my mind is steeled to fight. To overcome.

You must embrace the darkness in the window. Then you can transform it. Tame it. Control it. No. Better yet. Let it be. You don’t need to control it. Why? Because you can see the light in the dark. It’s at that point, fear retreats or dies.

Rick Grimes is “in-between the shades,” as I describe it for the sixth season of The Walking Dead.

Rick Grimes dark

In our lives, we go through turbulent periods when we exist “between the shades.” It’s a vacuum of growth even though you don’t think so. It’s a time when you’ll fear the darkness because you haven’t embraced it. But you will. Eventually.

Victory arrives for those who can’t tell the difference “between the light and dark anymore.” What appears to be evil may be just the thing that saves you.

Random Thoughts:

Don’t fear the stranger in the window. He’s always there. It’s you. It’s the part of yourself you can’t face but must to move on. Nobody ever broke into our apartment. Never were there eyes in my bedroom glass. I created something that didn’t exist because something inside my light was missing.

The eyes of the non-nondescript stranger haunted me for years. I realize now it was the gatekeepers. Those who created rules, like my parents, I never wanted to follow but thought I must. Well, it was the gatekeeper in myself. In a dark place that taunted me.

It’s 10pm. I wanted to be one of the kids swinging in the dark. 

The demon in the backyard said no.

Once I learned to see the keepers, identify them, I learned how to fight because a corporate intruder came after me with a vengeance. I was pushed into a fight of my life. I emerged victorious.

I now can rummage through the black with comfort and find my diamonds. So can you.

Embrace the black. You’ll fight kicking and screaming as you get pulled into the dark. You’ll torch thousands of lightbulbs to avoid the stranger. Stop thrashing and get pulled in. Just for a bit. You’ll see. In the dark there are shiny lessons. You’re getting stared at through the window. What is it? Who is it? Is it you?

With age comes less fear. Kids fear stuff because they don’t know better. As adults we do too but should know better. The people who embrace the stranger, twill not feel comforted wedged in dark cubicle corners. They’ll show the stranger and his beasts they’re not afraid and fight to understand what lurks in the dark. Friend or foe?

As an adult, every pivotal experience has helped me take a footfall across the jagged bottle, a discarded condom. My fingers have slid gently across formed blades of a forgotten teeter-totter. I walk that backyard in my sleep now. Slow. I’m outside, exposed in the night. I place my hand against poor masonry of an aged urban dwelling. I feel like I belong. The hum. The cold is warm.

I can leave this space anytime I like. With a lesson. I wave to them, the devils. They return the favor. Nod their heads.

Where’s your dark place with money? There’s a black spot on your finances. It prevents you from embracing and building wealth. Not the gatekeepers definition of wealth, either. Yours.

Understanding your perspective about wealth is the first step. The discovery process will push you “in-between the shades.” Like when I closed the white shade in my childhood bedroom.

The thin membrane I believed protected me from the black rot on the other side. My thin wall. It vibrated when touched. I have a definition of money that crosses me emotionally, spiritually. Physically. You’ll need to face what holds you back from generating wealth.

Touch the wall of your soul.

Listen to it resonate.

Know what’s on the other side.

Embrace it to survive. Know your enemies in the dark. And in the light.

They thrive in both.

Now, you’re a force.

More dangerous than you’ve ever been.

In this world.

The world before.

You are more than one.

You are a herd.

You are heard.

the herd