Gratitude Sunday: Opening Imagination; or, Proactive Thinking

Gratitude * Sunday

Quote of the Week – “The reason we have poverty is that we have no imagination. There are a great many people accumulating what they think is vast wealth, but it’s only money… they don’t know how to enjoy it, because they have no imagination.” Alan Watts

Sunday Haiku
Breeze chills warm spring air;
constant sprinkles feed blossoms.
Color explosion!

Sunday Musings
I’m not an economics major. I’ve learned money the hard way, by not having any. Being low-income is more expensive than being middle class, because you rarely have the money when the best sales take place, and being low-income often limits your choices. I’m political by default because I need to understand how elected representatives seem so disconnected from their constituents and use of our tax investments (our money) is one of the elements of politics. I may have only vision and voice left to me but I also still have the ability to think and generate ideas. Science fiction books and films have taught us if you can think of it, you might be able to make it happen.

In America we have the myth that if you work hard you can become wealthy, or at least financially secure. One must only pull up one’s bootstraps with every failure and keep on keeping on and eventually success will be at your door. Except we know this isn’t true for everybody. When we begin thinking proactively to define what we want as the United States of America, rather than reactively, we might begin to relieve poverty in America.

I’ll give one simple comparison. Yes, I know it’s not good to compare oneself with others, but that’s what capitalism is about. I’m not saying it’s good.

I have one sister and one brother who have been able to earn enough. They bought homes, and provided for their families. They provided well. Music lessons and instruments; sports participation, equipment, and game attendance; proms with nice suits and gowns; youth groups like Boy Scouts and church with camping equipment and event participation money; swimming lessons and suits; college educations, tuition, books, and living expenses; health care, when and as needed, like sports or summer camp physicals; family vacations away from home to experience places beyond one’s own home; movies and dinners out for special occasions or the rare treat; individual hobbies and the money it takes to support a hobby; new clothing as wanted instead of when needed. Still, they watch their expenses, and fret about their security.

I’m not sibling bashing. To their credit, they are frugal, DIY people. Sister is a master shopper and finds most of her family’s clothing at Goodwill and thrift stores, including formal wear. She and her hubbers have done 90% of the remodeling and maintenance on their house. She has an artist’s eye and a decorator’s sense, and her home could grace the pages of House Beautiful. Much of what she decorates with she has created herself.

Brother has invested some of his money in woodworking equipment he can use after retirement, and he has re-done all the floors and molding in his fixer house on the lake to the point you can’t tell it was ever a fixer. He stores the equipment in what his family lovingly calls the Garage Mahal, because it’s so nice and clean you could live in there.

What they’ve done with what they have is admirable and I do admire them. They’ve had their struggles and challenges in life just like everyone. They are decent, honest, hardworking, accountable American workers.

How did they do it? Sister has a husband who is able to work full time, who went back to school, and was able to work his way up in his chosen career. Sister also worked full-time while birthing and raising her children. Both were able to work their way into administrative level jobs. Every minute was full and busy, but they had to have a combined income, two working adults earning administrative level incomes, and a committed marriage to do so, and every non-working minute was spent raising their children. It hasn’t been easy breezy.

Brother was able to secure a career military job. What they sacrificed by moving often according to the needs of the military they gained in income, which enabled his wife to be home with the children and gave her the luxury of donating some of her time to the church. Not that she ever had much time on her hands as she did much of the military moving and the household refurbishing herself; her children are healthy, highly educated, and her home is also House Beautiful quality, and we know what kind of time that takes. Essentially she earned half his salary doing the physical labor of taking care of him, their family, and their home. He was able to retire with pension while in his late 40s and went on to another high paying job. So, pension plus salary (and again that committed marriage) equals enough. And their church benefits from their freely donated labor. Life hasn’t been easy breezy for them as well.

Nobody shares financial information these days. I don’t know if it’s considered bad taste, or jealous making or what, but I think that’s a societal fail. Honesty and transparency in most money things makes everybody better off. For the last 40 years there has been a concentrated effort to not teach personal finance in schools, and capitalist marketing encourages poor workers to regard all earned income as spent income. The wealthy know that some earned income needs to be saved and employed in creating its own income. My mom encouraged us to start retirement funds, so I’m sure both these siblings are still building retirement cushions as both are still working.

Youngest brother and I are different stories. Neither of us ever had the income to provide more than the basics for our families. After an early divorce, he encouraged one daughter to earn a college degree, and one to buy her own home, and his boy still lives with his mom. Brother recently semi-retired because of health issues resulting from the physical and noise effects from his place of work. The road through a disability claim is rocky and full of pitfalls with no guarantees despite working and paying Medicare and Social Security payments for 40 years of your working life. Mom passed the family home to him when she died so he’d always have a place to live. His small savings won’t last more than two or three years; it’s relatively easy to keep expenses down being a single man who isn’t as able as he used to be, but he’s going to need to keep his house up and we know how much that will cost now he can’t do as much on his own.

On my wing and prayer I’ve managed to support a disabled husband, who never received Social Security Disability despite repeated applications, and raise a child on one para-professional salary, which ended suddenly, and trying to pay my bills and keep my house since then has eaten up what little retirement savings I had. I earned a bachelor’s degree in my 40s, but I still wasn’t able to break the poverty line in my life; we always just get by. We did Boy Scouts, because of the traditional values in the program, but we always seemed to obtain the gear (often used) after the need. It seemed like I could never catch a break, having to move 20 times in 24 years. One time I sat down and did the math and figured out for all the rents, non-refundable deposits, non-refundable application fees, key fees, pet fees (please don’t begrudge pets, one must have some comfort in one’s life), utility hook-up or change fees, and moving expenses like truck rental, gasoline, extra cleaning expenses, and food for people to help me in those 24 years I could have paid for the house I’m in now twice over. At least I found an owner-carry contract on a home and have avoided moving for the last 20 years. Moving is a HUGE expense for low-income people. I can’t sell my house now to make a profit because of all the work the house needs, and with the way housing expenses are either renting or buying I can’t get as good as what I’ve got. I don’t qualify for a bank loan to effect repairs. It’s just as well. I hate moving. I don’t like the word hate.

For youngest brother and I, though we worked as many hours and at jobs with equal value and risk, our lesser incomes didn’t stretch far enough. We paid our bills, our mortgages, our taxes, we fed our families. We were and are always behind. We have no cushion against financial disaster. There is no retirement savings because the contingency fund keeps eating it up. You fix a gutter, and the car needs something, you fix the car and the washer goes out, you replace the washer and property taxes are due, you pay the taxes and it’s Christmas again. We can’t get ahead for all our running. We were and are decent, honest, hardworking, accountable American workers same as our more successful siblings. So what do we face in retirement? More scraping to keep up and make ends meet.

I don’t resent my siblings who have enough. I’m happy for them and proud of them that they made it all work. It wasn’t just about having enough money, they were clever and careful as well. I resent not being able to provide that for my own family. I worked hard, I was clever and careful. I was even enterprising on occasion, which sadly didn’t go far either.

That’s the problem with comparisons. All four of us own homes. As my mom said about us, all our kids work. Our culture has changed enough that the work they do is sometimes unpaid, and it has no “value” because it doesn’t come with earned income. It is valuable work nonetheless.

If our society and our culture is changing how do we give additional opportunities to those who have less? How do we do that without outrageous amounts of bureaucracy, paperwork, and tax investment expense? How do we do it without stigma to the people who need the help? And who might we be missing out on because they are poor and don’t have the opportunity: The ones who might cure cancer? The ones who might solve climate change? The ones who might design inexpensive, solar powered, non-emission flying cars, or brilliantly re-design urban water systems, or figure out how to feed people in cities fresh food grown on site rather than imported from other countries?

I’m thinking we must change our thinking. We must open our imaginations. We must look forward to what we want and decide how to get there proactively. Instead we are reactively flopping around doing the same old things that for the last 40 years have left Americans stuck with a dysfunctional GOP and the same old stale ideas that don’t work. We’ve even spent money on studies that show what doesn’t work and what does. It’s called history. We learn history so we can plan for the future, not just float along on a tide of dysfunction. Re-thinking gives opportunity to lift up all of us, instead of letting more and more of us slip into the abyss.

For my siblings and I, we are fine. We will be fine. We plan, our plans fail or succeed, we re-group and try again or make the next plan. We are tenacious. We are like 80 percent of decent, honest, hardworking, accountable Americans who would have been much more comfortable and secure if wages had kept up with inflation these last 40 years, yet we are still always scrambling, not necessarily for the newest car or the biggest house, but to just make ends meet.

I’m speaking for us, but I’m also speaking for others who don’t have the wit. Who can’t read enough to fill out an application form or to find out help is out there. Who end up living under bridges because the paperwork and stigma of asking for help are too much to bear. Who are judged because they lived without for so long (often generationally) their brain chemistries have changed and their health issues become extreme and they no longer are capable of rational thought or self control. Who fall through bigger cracks than I’ve been through.

People want to work. We want to care for our families, we want homes and food, and entertainment. We want to pay our bills and have some left over. We’re not all going to choose the same stuff or the same ways to live and that’s the spice about the whole deal: so much to choose from. We want to know we won’t have to worry about our security in our old age as well, whether we retire or not. It’s not too much to ask. We can have that for all of us if we think about what we want and how we can get there. And none of it has to be a them or us choice if we begin by thinking all of us.

Color Watch – colorful attractions in my neighborhoods this week – One of those dimed-sized daisy spattered lawns. Love this lantern style perennial with its muted color, neighbor says it’s a bulb but she couldn’t remember the name. A creamy white patch of sunny yellow-centered narcissus. Pretty peachy pink tulips. My current favorite perennial bulb. I don’t know the name but I love the pale yellow and the splayed open bellish sort of shape.

Current View – {These are only my opinions about movies and books, but don’t let me stop you from trying these reviewed items yourself; your opinion may differ.} After Life (2018, rated TV – MA), season one, with Ricky Gervais as a man whose beloved wife dies and he no longer sees any point in living. He adopts a rude, offensive attitude to deal with his distress. His dad is dying from Alzheimer’s but he visits every day. His wife left him videos telling him not so lie in bed and dwell, to feed the dog, open the curtains, and everyday life stuff she knows he will try to avoid. Totally dark humor. * Crazy Rich Asians (2018, rated PG – 13) which earned several film awards. There was much controversy about the nationalities of the actors and the places and details of the filming, so I’m going to say from the white privilege perspective (I’m not sure how to say this other than I’m white), I couldn’t tell any of those details and differences anyway. Let me explain that, and I certainly mean no offense to anyone here: I can’t tell the difference between a Chinese person, Japanese, Korean, Malay, or any other of the Asian cultures. (I also can’t tell if you are from California, North Dakota, Georgia, or New York by looking at you, maybe by your speech, but maybe not. I’m aware Asia supports a multitude of languages and regional variations as well.) The title says “Asian”; that covers the entire area, so I don’t care where the actors are from or what their heritage is. It matters to Asians, of course. [In my last employment I took diversity training every chance I could get. One of the trainers was Chinese, and she really helped me understand about the differences of behavior in cultures. I felt comfortable enough with her to ask how to tell the difference, and she replied “you can’t unless you live it.” It’s like not being able to tell what religion a person chooses to believe by their appearance.] The title says “Asian” so I don’t care where it’s filmed, though being the poor traveler I am I was delighted to have it be filmed anywhere Asian rather than on a set in some non-Asian country. So all that said, from my perspective of “white privilege”, I thoroughly enjoyed this classic love story. Boy and girl fall in love, but girl doesn’t know boy is crazy rich. Boy invites girl to meet crazy rich family and neglects to tell her about the crazy rich part, there are some cultural and financial difficulties, but they are resolved with a happy ending as love wins in the end. Love beats difference every time in my book; you love whom you love. The movie wasn’t Hallmark sweet or trite, and I really like happy endings. Especially with crazy rich money (a fantasy of mine). Recommended. Just enjoy the love story and ignore the controversy.

Currently ReadingMr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore (2012, fiction) by Robin Sloan (American author). This novel reads like the Young Adult genre; that’s OK, it’s about the quality of the story not the reading level. A bit of fantasy within a real world setting of a bookstore and Google in the mix as well. Entertaining enough so far. How can you miss with a story about books? * Utopia For Realists: How We Can Build the Ideal World (2017, sociology) by Rutger Bregman (Dutch historian). This has suddenly become a popular item at my local lending library, and I might not finish by due date. I’ve made so many notes so far, it may do me well to find a used copy somewhere. I have so much to learn! The author’s suggestions for resolutions are rather loose and ill-defined, but I’d like to ponder them more and I’d like to see him and others who think progressively develop his ideas which include redefining what we mean by work with the advent of technology and automation; universal basic income with the aforementioned in mind; how we value work and education; how we must make better use of tax investments and require the wealthy to pay their share.

This week I have been grateful for:

  • The son stopped by for a visit, being away for a nanny-type job.
  • The son bringing one of his charges home so I could make baby googly-eyes at him.
  • Knowing when one pulls a back muscle one must continue to move, albeit more slowly, and not go to bed and stop moving. As I did this week. Kept moving that is.
  • The cat surviving a bout of sick from a food change. Dr Mom had to make an executive decision.
  • My private fantasy life of ideas I cannot yet bring to fruition.
  • Patience.
  • Not buying cable TV. Much too tempting to stay up all night watching a screen.
  • A recent store return, though time consuming, was eventually effective.
  • As much of a mess as my Social Security stuff is, it is only what it is, and not worse.
  • Finding another swimsuit in my style and size at a price I was willing to pay. I like to be a suit ahead in case of material blowouts. I’ve tried to find suits that last longer but they don’t make them for my unique shape.
  • My Thanksgiving cactus making a surprise appearance for Easter. I must have given it the proper spring rain.
  • The way the late afternoon spring sun light comes in through my kitchen window, low and shaded behind my neighbor’s tree.
  • Sugar pea pods while waiting for our first local farmers market of the season in a week and a half. Looking forward to asparagus, spring peas, some fresh picked leaf lettuce. Too early for Oregon strawberries yet.
  • Water.

Hoping you have a lovely week.

Namaste. Peace. Blessings.

Floral ribbon border by Laurel Burch

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This entry was posted in abundance, Aging, Careers, Education, Entertainment, Family, GRATITUDE, Grief, Health, History, Nature, Parenting, Photography, Poetry, Politics and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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