Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Envy: Spoiling the Enjoyment of Others' Pleasure Since 1500BC

I just got back from visiting friends who have moved into a beautiful new home. It's gorgeous and has many features I've always wanted in a home. It's also well above any price range I'm likely to afford in my lifetime, unless things change radically very soon. I'm thrilled for them, but I'll admit I also felt some envy.

I WANT, so much, to have something so nice. We wanted to move to a bigger place years ago but financially we can't swing it. Even before we both lost our jobs, we weren't ready, quite yet, to do it. If we had stayed employed with our last jobs, we might have been ready to move in the next few months, but it's been a year since my husband lost his position and 9 months since I lost mine, and neither of us seem any closer to finding a new one, so we're definitely not at that point now.

Envy. It's a horrible emotion. I found myself comparing their lives with ours, thinking about what I would do with such a house (it really is quite lovely) and wishing I had the sort of money they have. It was harder to feel happy for them, sometimes, because of the negative feelings I had about myself.

I know it is silly. My friends have worked hard for their success and I am thrilled to see them getting settled in a place that brings them so much joy. We are also happy to have them as friends and we've done a lot of cool stuff because of our friendship with them, which is a nice bonus. They are also very generous and they understand our current financial situation without ever making us feel bad about it, so it's not like they are rubbing our noses in the disparity of our wealth. We're currently dirt poor; they are doing quite well. We are still friends.

Still, I could feel a small part of me resenting their home, wishing it was mine, and then having to be trampled into submission by the rest of my mind which knew this was the wrong way to feel. I guess there is part of me that is like a little kid who sees something she wants and has trouble with the idea that it is out of reach. Part of me cried out, "Mine!" and was unhappy about it not being true. I guess this is something I'll have to work on, to be a better person.

Envy does nobody any good. It doesn't help me in any way, and if I let it fester, it could ruin my ability to be a good friend. I've recognized it in myself and now I'm trying to rid myself of it.

My friends' home is beautiful and I hope they are happy in it. I look forward to visiting it again and seeing how they decorate it and entertain in it. They are an important part of my lives and I am lucky to have them.

Monday, December 27, 2010

December: Monthly Update

Another month has come around. Every year I feel like time is moving more swiftly and this year has been no exception. The past month has been particularly fast forwarding, with all the holiday season plans and projects. I can't believe how soon my 42nd birthday is from today. I really need to get moving on my projects if I want to feel satisfied with myself when my birthday rolls around.

Here's my status so far:

Cleaning/Organizing: some success and some setbacks. The front of the house looks pretty good (had company over) but I sacrificed a clean office for it as I moved a lot of half-finished stuff in there to make the rest of the house look nice. I now need to pull that stuff back out.

Half-Finished Projects: Still have too many projects to do and a lot of stuff started that I haven't finished.

Jobs: No interviews in over two months for me, and only phone interviews from my husband in just as long. No job prospects on the horizon. I have a few things to apply for, my portfolio to finish, and some references to gather for one job application. Otherwise, we need to work on projects which could bring in money.

41 Things list: No progress at all. I need to print out that list and plan some of them for January. I'd love to have most of them finished before my birthday, like the plan called for but which looks harder to do. I think I have only 1/4 of them done.

My Plan for January:

No resolutions for me--not anymore than what I already resolved for this year-long project. I will continue to work on my goals for this year before I turn 42--to organize myself, get better about completing projects (including my novel), and to find out what I really want to do with my life (like a job, etc). I wanted to explore my life and figure out how to make myself happier and more successful. That's what I'll continue to work on in January.

It's been quite a 2010. I lost my job and turned 41 in the same week. I ran a large event with national publicity (and lost money on that event) while completing several interesting personal projects. I wrote in a blog on a regular basis (something I've never kept up with before--but struggle to come up with content and have few readers--hi there reader, speak up if you are joining in on my quest). I cleaned, organized, and found myself disorganized again, several times this year, and discovered that I have a really hard time with procrastination and completing projects, even ones I claim I really want to do. I wrote on my novel but haven't managed to complete the first draft even with a good start at NaNoWriMo. It's been a complex year.

I hope that I can make 2011 a better year. I know it is up to me.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Garland of Cards: Keeping in Touch at the Holidays

I have an archway in my home which I decorate with Christmas cards each December. We string a ribbon across the arch, pinned up in the middle, and hand the cards on the string as they arrive. So far there are 18 cards dangling above me as I walk by, and a small stack of photos and letters on the shelf to the right.

They are beautiful and cheering as a decoration but they mean so much more than that.

For some of these cards are the only time I am in contact with family members.

It's odd. Many of us probably have people we only contact once a year. I barely know some of this family anymore. My parents still go to visit these relatives in the summer but I've not seen them since I was a teenager. My memories of them are vague, but I know that they are family. Each year a card comes filled with a long letter detailing their year. I read it and feel connected. I send them a similar card and we are all fine with our annual tradition.

It seems strange, as I write it, to have family one knows only through an annual card exchange. My "real" family is much smaller--those I actually communicate with on a regular basis. There are my parents and one grandma, with an occasional communication with an aunt. Only my parents are local and we see each other at least once a month (or more) and speak several times a week by phone. We'll be spending Christmas eve and day together.

We're a small family, with an extended family out of state (the ones I get the cards from, mostly). I look forward to the annual card exchange. It makes me feel in touch with my family and friends. As the ribbon fills up, it is a colorful reminder of the people connected to me.

Connections are important, but I think over the next year I need to work on making it be more than just a Christmas card which connects me to my family.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Handmade Gifts

This week I am finishing up a number of small handmade gifts. Since we are unemployed and our families have basically insisted that they don't want us buying them ANY gifts this year, I didn't want to be without gifts this Christmas season and have made a few things.

This year I am doing cookies and ornaments. I just finished sewing my second ornament for my parents.

It is kind of fun and reminds me of previous years where I used to learn a new craft every year in order to make a good gift.

I have learned how to mosaic tile, make glass paperweights, make "shrinky-dink" ornaments, paint custom welcome mats, paint glass candle holders, illustrated cookbooks, and crochet. I've been considering stained glass work, someday. This year it is felt animals for the tree.

I had given up doing crafts a few years ago because the time pressure of my dissertation combined with running out of crafts to try made it seem too hard.

This year I am photoshopping some photos, baking cookies, sewing some ornaments, and transfering some family cassette tapes to cd (audio letters from the 70s, recently rediscovered in a cupboard).

It is always hard to figure out what to do for gifts, especially with spending little to no money (I have maybe $6 in felt invested so far). It also take a lot of time. But it does show you were thinking about the person, and I guess that is what counts.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Holiday Baking and Adult Responsibilities

Is there anything more delicious than holiday goodies? This time of year, it is so nice to be have a hot eggnog or hot buttered rum, some christmas cookies, and wrap some presents.

I think the best part about these treats is that, in addition to their great taste, they are also a tradition--something I yearn for every year. I'm a big person for traditions. I love the repetition, each year, of certain actions or objects--the first ornament on the tree, the coolies, the carols. Perhaps because we moved so often when I was a child and I never felt like I had a solid home or roots, I always yearn for solid childhood traditions.

Of course, as an adult, I find that these traditions come with a price--not just the cost of groceries but of time--the hours it can take to make all the goodies. When I was little, I was not aware of all the work but as the years pass, I find out the work can be time consuming.

It's one of the interesting things about becoming an adult. As a child, you can't wait to grow up and do whatever you want. As an adult, you realized that you have so many more responsibilities along with that long awaited freedom.

So with holiday baking, I find that being an adult is more work, but I also find that I can still get the enjoyment out of a holiday tradition.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas "Brag" Letter: Why I Like It

Every year my family prepares a one-sheet letter which is sent to their Christmas card list along with a greeting card. It has long been a tradition. When I established my own home, I started my own letter to tell people what had been up in my life. I like these letters. They are a good way for me to have a record of what has been going on in my life over the years and to keep distant family apprised of my doings.

Every year I hear complaints about such letters in the media. There are comic strips that complain about how they are phony and filled with false bragging. People complain that they are pretentious or boring. I don't see it that way at all.

This year I've already received 4 of these letters from friends, some I see fairly often, some I correspond with by email a few times a year. Either way, it is nice to get caught up on what they are doing. I see nothing wrong with annual updates to make sure people know what is happening. I think most people appreciate it.

As long as it is truthful, I don't see the harm. If you get one of these letters, you don't have to read it, after all. Although if you don't care enough about these people to make sure you know what they have been up to, why are you exchanging Christmas cards?

My letter this year will, as always, be truthful. We are unemployed. We volunteer. We ran a big event. Our cat has a terminal illness. We are keeping busy with projects and have done some fun stuff. The good, bad, and ugly will be there for people to see. My friends and family can read it or not, but I like writing these letters and I like receiving other people's letters, so I'm not going to apologize for the much maligned Christmas letter. It serves a purpose and I'm keeping it.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Avoidance Mentality

I've noticed that I can be very good at avoiding work I don't want to do. It doesn't matter that what I am avoiding might only take a few minutes and that I've been needlessly delaying for hours, making myself unhappy over something that could be over and done with, but I can still find a way to delay doing the work.

I'm not the only one. My husband is excellent about delaying things he finds embarrassing or uncomfortable. In our old house we had a large desk in our office which we didn't actually use. We mostly stored things in it. I discovered that my husband would stash things he didn't want to deal with under the desk, where he could find them later but wouldn't have to see them until then.

I took to calling avoidance putting things "under the big desk" and I'm afraid that I am pretty good at it.

Right now I have some work to do. It isn't that it is difficult or that unpleasant, but it isn't exciting and I've delayed it just long enough that I now feel guilty about it. That guilt is not something I like to face, so I delay some more. This, inevitably, leads to more guilt and so I'm in a loop of nonwork which is ridiculous when I examine it but, oh so easy to fall into when I don't examine it.

Examination is probably the key here. Silly excuses and petty delays are harder to keep going in the cold objective light of examination. The problem is that those of us who are good at putting things under the big desk, don't generally like to drag things out into the light of day.

It is for that reason that I keep this blog. To force myself to see what I am doing--sabotaging myself and my progress. I could finish my work and enjoy my internet surfing in peace or I can poke at the internet as guilt festers and more work builds up, making me forced to put in a long day of catch up fueled anxiety.

If you are good at avoiding what you know you should be doing, drag the reasons out into the light of day. They seldom hold up when examined. Then, like me, you can simply do the work--and feel better afterwards, wondering why you put it off in the first place.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Clean House but Cluttered Mind?

I've been working on organizing and cleaning my house for most of this year. My paperwork has been disorganized and I have too many possessions for the room we have--making for crowded rooms and messy areas.

As I've been trying to get Christmas decorations out, I've been cleaning and organizing the house. My kitchen and office are still a bit messy but the main rooms are starting to look pretty nice, which is a big relief.

However, I've also been finding that I don't feel that much more organized. You see, I'm still cluttered in my mind. I don't have clear processes to keep my areas clean. I don't have established habits to put things away immediately instead of "waiting" and "coming back later."

I am behind in my work and have a long to do list. It is not just physical clutter which causes problems in our lives. I'm finding that out. Instead it may be that my physical clutter is a symptom of a larger problem--a need to get my mind more in order, and the processes I use to get my work done.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Like Most Blogs: not in it for the money

There are tons of articles out there touting the ways to make your blog pay--to earn money for writing articles at home in your pajamas. Indeed, "get rich quick" schemes and "work from home" plans are getting increasingly popular and many people believe the internet is the place to go for most of these schemes.

My mother, helpfully, pointed out that people make money on the internet and I should give it a go. Really? People make money on the internet? Why didn't I think of that? Never mind that I've had a personal website for over 10 years, several other websites for 6 or more years and an Amazon Associates account for 8 years which has yet to earn me enough for them to ship a check to me.

The thing is:

1. most of my websites were never intended to make money. Most of the sites, like this blog, were meant for my own personal enjoyment and to share my interests and knowledge with others who wanted to read it. I don't run ads on the sites or otherwise try to monetize them. I did start up a web-based business earlier this year, you might say, and I've been earning between $30-$100 a month on it since April when I started it. I will probably continue it next year and hope to increase the sales (we have a Cafepress store and Lulu store--so essentially we are designing and selling products online). However, that isn't the way I approach most of my web work.

2. Most people don't actually make a living from blogs or websites. My mom made it sound like something I should start up and it would replace my lost wages right away. Most people will never make a living wage off of their blog or website. Sure, some people do. I read Zen Habits back when it first got started (when it was still good) and I know that the writer, Leo, succeeded quite rapidly by web standards (and he isn't the only blogger I've read who has done well for him/herself with book deals, ad income and other income). However, the statistics show that these people are actually quite unusual. To make money with a blog, I'd need to be working almost full-time on promotion. First I'd need a niche market where I could write good content. Then I'd need to write a lot of good content and work very hard to get it out to a large number of people. If I was lucky I could start to build an audience and monetize my blog in various ways. Frankly, it isn't for everyone and few make it.

I know from experience that it is hard to keep up with writing content for a blog. I write on this one three days a week and this is the first time I've started a blog and kept with it on a posting schedule. It helps that I'm anonymous here and that this is essentially a personal blog--about my experiences and my self-improvement--something I obviously know a lot about. Writing about an exterior topic would probably be even harder.

I may not get any money from this blog--I don't expect to, that's for sure, and have never tried to--but I gain so much more. I enjoy the chance to write for an audience (true, it is a small audience but that's okay) and it gives me a chance to clarify my thoughts--allowing me to grow as a person. That's worth more than money to me right now. If I can become the best I can be, hopefully the money will follow the passion for what I decide to do with my life. It's that passion which I am searching for--this blog is about the life I want to have and the struggles I find along the journey. Money isn't the only thing in life.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Christmas Lights: One of My Favorite Things

I generally don't like to drive at night but in December that changes. There is nothing better than driving in residential areas at night at seeing the houses decorated with lights. Sometimes you even seen a tree aglow with lights in the window.

There is something about that bright, festive tradition that always pleases me. Even the poorly done attempts at holiday decorations are a bit heartwarming. Of course, some people go all out and end up with beautiful creations (or sometimes monstrously tacky but overwhelming decor).

The video that went around a few years ago with the synchronized house lights or the homes we've all seen with the yard full of moving dolls--a bit excessive perhaps but for a month out of the year, it seems like it is kind of sweet and exciting.

Our lights are up once again. We are one of about 5 houses in our neighborhood that always put light sup (and take them down in January, thank goodness). We don't do anything spectacular but we have the normal line of lights (2 lines of lights actually, one at the gutter in white and one colored below it) at the roof, lights around the porch and entrance, lights at the big front window and one bush in the front with a lightbulb net. It's pretty but nothing like some people will do.

We'll be doing the small tree today. We don't have room for a large tree like my family does every year but I still want to see my ornaments--most of them are from my husband's and my childhoods--and then new ones we got on trips together since we were married. Every ornament has a story, I guess, and so each one is precious to me.

But what I really love is the twinkle of the lights.

Of course, the fact that we always have to clean house before decorating is good too. The house is looking so much better than it did last week. It's amazing what seem cleaning and some holiday decorating can do for the spirit. I feel positively cheerful, almost as twinkly as the lights that I love.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Cool December Days and the Sunshine Tax

This is one of the times of year when I remember how much I like Southern California. Many areas of the United States have snow and below freezing weather. Today, here, we are in the 60s, with partly cloudy skies. It might go down to the mid-40s at night.

Sure, I've gotten out the blankets and throws, turned on the heater, put on the heating blanket at night--but by many people's standards, this is very pleasant weather indeed.

True, I miss the fall colors (we really don't have seasons here) and I like the snow for visiting (although not living in it long-term). Southern California can get way too hot in the late Summer and early Fall--although not this year, which was fairly mild. I don't like the hot weather, but when we get to this time of year, it is hard not too like our weather.

I was talking to a person the other day (an academic) who said it was hard to get jobs in the area partly because everyone else wants to move here for those jobs. I gave him the line about "sunshine tax" and he had never heard it before. That surprised me. I thought the "sunshine tax" concept was common knowledge.

If you live in SoCal, you pay for the beautiful location and weather with more crowds, more traffic, higher prices, higher property costs, and more competition for jobs. If I wanted to move to Iowa or Michigan or other states where people aren't clamoring to move, maybe I'd have a better chance at finding an academic job and I'd certainly not deal with the high prices and crowds around here. But then I'd have to deal with the location and weather--two things I don't want to do--plus I'd be away from family.

Thanks, I'll pay the sunshine tax to stay here.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Cutting Back on Christmas

My husband and I are unemployed. We're part of the long-term unemployed who are on federal extension of our benefits and now face losing them (my husband as soon as two weeks from now) because Congress is not voting to continue the extensions (and who knows when or if they will).

It's not that we want to be unemployed nor was it our fault that we lost our jobs. The economy is tough and people aren't hiring at the rate they usually are. I'm overqualified for too many jobs (so people tell me) and underqualified for ones I really want (apparently, since I don't get interviews for those).

As you can imagine, I've done no Christmas shopping this year. So far I haven't put the decorations up either. It's hard to feel Christmas-y when people all around you, including yourself, are struggling financially. I know three families with kids who are having trouble affording gifts for the kids. My parents have forbidden me to buy any gifts for the family and they've cut back on buying too because they want to be able to help us financially, if needed (something I've been avoiding all year but may have to fall back on to avoid losing our house).

It's a sad end of a difficult year. We're going to muddle through this month the best we can and keep looking for work but people don't tend to hire around the holidays so who knows how long that will take. I was looking for work even when I had my last job because I wasn't crazy about it and was hoping to find better. Instead I lost the job I hated and continue to look for work with no success. It's disheartening.

In discussions about the unemployment benefit extensions I see a bunch of employed people complaining about the lazy bums who should just go get a job. Really? Don't you think I would? How do you think I got the last job I had (which I hated)? I applied for it and accepted it because I needed the money. I was lucky to get it; it paid well and had benefits. I considered that enough, despite the work I was doing. True, I kept looking (secretly) but I'd do it again in a heartbeat to be bringing in that paycheck again.

We're not lazy. In fact, I still work all day (for free) and hardly rest at all. I'm as busy now as I was when I worked. I apply for jobs, I'm designing an online portfolio of my work, I do volunteer work, and I am working on some projects which I hope might make some money. I'm anything but lazy.

What I am, right now, is depressed. December is one of my favorite months of the year (because I love traditions, not because I'm religious) and this year the whole thing seems forced. We'll pretend things are normal but we're a month away from not being able to cover our bills, thanks to losing unemployment insurance benefits and so we have to cut back on everything (even more than I've been doing already)--and that means a Christmas without presents, feasts, entertaining, or events. Those all take money and money is something we simply don't have.

Santa--can you bring me a job? I've been a good girl.