I’m responding to posts out of order, as I find time to respond, and as complete responses come to me, so although today is December 7, this is my response for the December 6 prompt, which is:

From author Gretchen Ruben, Make. What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it?

As a nearly compulsive knitter, (I think of knitting as productive fidgeting, and have needles and yarn in my hands whenever they’re not busy with something else.) I am in the process of making something almost all the time, though I’ll admit that I often go for months between finishing my knitting projects. Right now, whenever I watch TV, often when I converse with my roommate or on the phone, and sometimes when I read, I’m making a pair of lacy, cabled socks from a tough, royal purple, wool and nylon blend. When my hands yearn for something simpler, I’m also working on an English/Irish-style flat driving cap, of my own design, knitted from tweedy green wool.

I’d like to sew more—especially to make my own fresh, fuzzy, flannel pajamas before December 28, when I’ll head off for January in Massachusetts, which promises to be the coldest winter I’ve yet experienced—but sewing is harder to fit into my life. Sewing requires space, laying things out, leaving them out, making dedicated time. It can’t be stuffed into a bag and carried on an airplane or bus, like knitting can. It can’t be stuffed into the nooks and crannies of my schedule, like knitting can. Thus, I’ll probably settle for store-bought pajamas, not quite exactly as I want them, not quite mine, but fuzzy and warm enough for January.

Still, I make plenty. I make things all the time—we all do, even (especially!) people who are convinced they aren’t creative. I made a salad last night. I made a cup of milky coffee, just as I like it, this morning. Yesterday, I made lots of web copy for my clients, and I’ll make more today. This weekend, I’d work with a group of actors to make a show to entertain a party. We all make things all the time—what else could we do with our lives?

Once again, I’m writing at bedtime—my bedtime, which is past the time when the day officially ends. December 2 is just coming to a close for me. December 3 will start after one sleep.

December 2′s prompt comes from Leo Babuta: Writing. What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing—and can you eliminate it?

My answer is easy to identify and difficult to conquer: Cringing in fear. Most people call it procrastination, and Barbara Sher, one of my favorite authors, calls it resistance, but I know that it’s fear, pure and simple. I’m afraid to write what I most want to write. the more I want it, the more I fear—fear that it can’t possibly be as good on the page or on the screen as it is in my head, and even greater fear that it will be exactly that good, and people will hate me for seeming better than them, or for saying something so strongly.

When I get scared, I do anything I can to avoid writing. The worst offenders are the tasks that accomplish very little, like driving aimlessly, reading every entry on Failbook.com or FML, watching mindless TV. Sometimes I do great, useful things while I’m trying not to write, like going for a run, practicing my guitar, designing a new knitted hat, or calling an old friend, but knowing that I’m doing it for the sake of running away, rather than running towards the good things, steals some of the joy out of the task. And in any case, I become increasingly guilty and stressed out because I haven’t written. If it’s professional work I’m trying not to write, I will get it done by the deadline, but with more stress and less devoted time than I wish I’d had. If it’s personal writing, it often doesn’t get done at all.

Can I eliminate this? Probably not entirely. If I knew how to simply get rid of the fear, I would have done so years ago, and saved a lot of wasted time. So far, the procrastination activities are what I need to do to calm the fear enough to allow myself to write. I will work on finding the best, most efficient ways to get past the fear. I will try to streamline the process. This is my project for the coming year, and probably for the rest of my life.

In an effort to re-start my personal blog, and to focus my mind for the coming year, I’ve joined the #Reverb10 project, in which bloggers write on a prompt for every day of December. I’m posting right before I go to bed at the end of my December 1, even though it’s past midnight and the calendar says December 2. I plan to write every night this month before bed—maybe earlier sometimes, but #Reverb10 is likely to be my bedtime musing most nights.

December first’s #Reverb 10 prompt is: One Word. Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you?

2010: Testing

This was a year of trying things out. In 2010, I’d come to see that my plan of living from house sit to house sit, rent-free, living on very low income, had become more a form of hiding than a way of exploring what life had to offer. The fully nomadic, low-money-usage life may have had things to teach me, but it had outlived its purpose. It was time to try something new.

On the other hand, I knew I still didn’t want a conventional life. Near the end of 2009, I turned down a full-time ad-agency proofreading job (at the height of the recession!) because it didn’t offer to teach me anything I needed to learn—but also because, I realized, I really couldn’t imagine working a standard, 9 to 5, office job ever again. I wanted to expand my career(s) and be part of the economy, rather than avoiding needing or using money.

To that end, I spent 2010 trying things out. I found wonderful mentors in two of my major writing clients, and now I’ve learned corporate ghost blogging, taking my freelance writing career in an entirely new, constantly educational, far more lucrative direction.

I tried living in one place, sharing a cabin in Evergreen (a gorgeous small town in Colorado’s foothills) with the boyfriend I met in the second half of 2009. From that, I learned that Evergreen was too far from the hustle and bustle of Denver city life for my taste, and my romantic relationship worked better when we lived in separate homes.

I slowly tested my acting skills in new directions, too. The start of 2010 found me in Chicago auditioning for MFA acting programs . . . to no avail. I learned that my lack of formal theater education, and probably my age, make it extremely unlikely that I’ll ever be accepted into such a program. I’ll have to find other ways to take my acting to a higher level. Back home in Denver, I experimented: I acted in my first scripted stage show in three years. I became a regular in children’s murder mystery shows. (Yes, there are such things. Don’t worry—we murder fictional adults and let the kids solve the cases. No children are murdered.) Most amazingly, I learned how to help train police officers by playing realistic characters in crisis—mentally ill people, the developmentally disabled, and people who were very angry or severely traumatized.

I spent the 2010 trying new things in all kinds of directions, still not sure what was the right path to focus on.

2011 Direction

On New Year’s Day, 2011, I’ll already be at Shakespeare & Company, a Shakespeare festival theater company in the Berkshires, working my ass of in their month-long intensive training program for professional actors. I’ve known for three years now that this is what I most want to do with my acting career: perform live, on stage, in the classical and other brilliant plays done by Shakespeare festivals. Giving up on MFAs, I’ve chosen the most direct route I can find: the highly-respected, Shakespeare-specific training of Shakespeare & Company’s 40-year-old Month-Long Intensive program. I still don’t know exactly where my acting will go when I finish this “acting boot camp” and return to my regular life, but I’m confident that what I learn in the Berkshires will help me map my course.

Corporate blogging will continue to be my bread and butter from February on. I’ve already arranged with my best client to pre-write the blogs that will go live while I’m at business further as soon as I’m back home. I also plan to start writing fiction again—once my favorite art form, but one I’ve neglected since college. I haven’t felt I had the concentration to write my own stories these past . . . too many years. It’s time to find my focus again.

As for my home, when I finish my actor training, I will still have a home to come back to. I’ve been renting a room in the house of an old friend from high school, and I love it here. I’ve actually unpacked and set up furniture. I have a home base to help me focus on my next direction . . . or directions.

 

And my love life? That’s the one area of my life I don’t think I have the power, or good reason, to try to direct.

This news story breaks my heart. At about 7:20 am on April 18, 31-year-old Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax saw a man threatening a woman with a knife on a city street in Queens, New York City. Tale-Yax stepped in. His reward? He was stabbed. The woman he saved ran off, as did the attacker.  As Tale-Yax lay on the sidewalk in a pool of his own blood, a security camera from a nearby business filmed people walking over and around him. Of the few who gave him a second look, one man snapped a cell-phone photo, then left. Another shook Tale-Yax, got no response, and walked away. When emergency workers finally arrived, Tale-Yax had been lying on the street in full view of morning traffic for an hour and 20 minutes. He was dead when EMTs got to him.

After telling the story, the AOL news article goes into theories on how this could have happened. This may be an example of the bystander effect: the psychological theory that, the more people are around, the less likely any one of them is to help, as we each tend to assume that someone else will take care of it. Another theory proposed is that people today, especially those in big cities, are too stressed and preoccupied to really look at each other. Yet another suggests that in a large city, where people get used to the homeless sleeping on the sidewalk, passersby may not have realized that Yale-Tax was doing anything other than taking a nap.

While that last one is hard to swallow for those of us from smaller cities and suburbs, when I lived in San Francisco last summer, I did see people napping in the middle of busy sidewalks, at all times of day. I was amazed, and I stopped to look them over, timidly checking to see if they were still breathing, but I’m a bumpkin from Colorado. A veteran city-dweller would be used to sidewalk nappers, and it would have taken a closer look for someone to have seen the pool of blood under Yale-Tax’s unmoving body. Still, how can we explain the man who shook him, lifted his shoulder (clearly exposing the pool of blood), then walked away without doing a thing to help? How can we explain the man who found him interesting enough to photograph, but not enough to call 911 for?

I’m reminded of Neil Gaiman’s TV series (and later novel and comic), Neverwhere, in which businessman Richard Mayhew stops to help a tattered-looking young woman who is lying injured on a London sidewalk. This simple act plunges him into her world, called in the book “London Below”: a world of magic, communicative birds and rats, angels, vampire-like life-suckers, and extremely eccentric people. It reads like a fantasy novel, but at a few points, Gaiman makes it clear that this is really the world of the homeless and mentally ill. Read on this level, it’s a touching and disturbing commentary on how we treat our homeless. In Neverwhere, people from “London Above” are literally unable to see those from “London Below” . . . unless, like Richard, they are heading towards madness, themselves. In the real world, we actively choose not to see the homeless—and the news story notes that Yale-Tax was homeless when he was killed. Whether it’s due to the bystander effect, the Neverwhere effect, or some other aspect of human nature, there are too many examples of the basic human tendency to ignore fellow human beings when they most need our help.

There is some hope to the story of Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax, though. Not everyone ignored strangers in need. The whole story started when Yale-Tax, a young man down on his luck and low on society’s totem pole, stepped in to help a woman who was being robbed. And someone, eventually, called an ambulance for Tale-Yax.

I want to be the rare person in these stories: the one who notices a person in need and does something to help. Every time I see a story like this, I want it to remind me to try to be the one who doesn’t follow the crowd. I want to be the one who sees other people. I want to be the one who helps. I’m afraid I’ll forget, become complacent, and stop seeing other people, as so many of us do. Then again, there will always be more stories like this to remind me.

I’m a big fan of both writer/director Kevin Smith and Southwest Airlines, so I was sad to hear about the online battle that’s been raging between them since last Saturday. Because I love them both so, I’ve made it a point to dig deeper and find out as much of the whole story as I can, and knowing more makes the story that much sadder: It’s clear that this whole mess could have easily been avoided.

If you haven’t heard yet, here’s a summary of the basic story as reported by the Los Angeles Times: Last Saturday, Smith was escorted off a Southwest flight because, Southwest employees told him, the captain had determined that his size posed a “safety risk” to other passengers. Smith politely left the plane when he was asked to, but he didn’t buy their explanation, and was particularly peeved because he saw this as a sign of systematic mistreatment of larger passengers. He shared his displeasure with his Twitter readership—which, unfortunately for Southwest, amounts to over 1.6 million people.

To my disappointment, neither the news reports, nor Smith’s Twitter feed, nor even the vague apologetic post written on Southwest’s blog by their representative, Linda Rutherford, makes clear what, exactly, happened. My fan-girl brain was spinning with questions: Was Smith posing a safety risk, or pushing another passenger out of his or her seat space? Was he violating an FAA regulation or posted Southwest policy? Who decided to eject him from the plane, and what reason did they give? And why was a Hollywood star flying on a discount airline that has only cramped, economy-class seats?

I wanted to know more because, as I’ve said, I’m a fan of both Kevin Smith and Southwest Airlines. I love Smith’s work: his smart, sometimes satirical, but often just goofy comedy. I think Dogma, in particular, is brilliant, and Smith himself is a great storyteller. On the other hand, I’ve flown Southwest for five of the six flights I’ve taken this year. I love that they’re cheap (because so am I), but I’ve also found their attitude towards passengers to be fun, courteous, and friendly. On my last trip, a baggage checking agent went far out of her way to help me avoid a $50 overweight baggage fee, even though the problem was entirely my fault. I have always thought highly of both parties in this argument, and I’d like to continue to do so. So I wanted to know: What really happened?

Because Southwest is being very careful about what they say, (They are in the middle of a PR nightmare, after all.) the best source I could find for the full story was Smith’s own podcast, Smodcast. As soon as he arrived home on Saturday, Smith recorded the hour-and-a-half-long episode #106, entitled “Go Fuck Yourself, Southwest Airlines,” in which he discusses the incident with his wife, journalist Jennifer Schwalbach Smith. Yes, it’s clearly just one side of a heated argument, but Southwest has not questioned Smith’s version of the events that went down, and some bloggers have praised Smith for his honestly. The podcast answered all of my questions:

Smith was flying Southwest because it’s a very convenient way to get from the Bay Area, where he had business, to Burbank, an airport that he loves and that is near his home. He has flown Southwest often, many times a week in some cases, because loved their corporate attitude and friendly service—until last Saturday, that is. He usually buys two seats for himself because a) he’s rolling in dough and can afford to, b) he jokes, “I just don’t like people!” so he avoids being crammed up against strangers, and c) as he puts it, “I’m fat! I know I’m fat!” and while he proudly and repeatedly insists that he has always been able to fit in an airline seat with the armrests down and buckle his seatbelt without an extender, he is more comfortable with more space. On Saturday evening, though, Smith was in a hurry because he’d been away from home for days and he missed his beautiful wife (He put it a bit more graphically in his podcast.) and so he asked to switch to an earlier flight. The early flight had only one seat left.

Rather than assigning seats, Southwest lets passengers pick their own. Smith chose a seat in the center of a row, between (as he tells it) two adorable, tiny ladies who were very polite and gave no complaints about having him between them. He was about to fasten his seat belt when a flight attendant told him that the captain had asked her to remove him due to “safety concerns.” It took him a moment to figure out that she was talking about his size. He pulled down the armrests to show that he could fit between them, and asked the other passengers in his row if they were uncomfortable. Both said they were fine. The flight attendant still insisted on escorting him from the plane.

Smith went calmly and politely, not wanting to cause a stir and get arrested by Homeland Security, but once back inside the airport, he began arguing (in a calm voice, he insists) with the gate agent, demanding to know on what grounds he was ejected, and who made the decision. The captain could not have made the call, he argued, as the captain could not possibly have seen him. (Rutherford’s post on Southwest’s blog later admitted that it was not the captain who made the call.) After getting the same unsatisfying reply over and over, Smith then spent the two-plus hours he had to wait for his next flight telling his 1.6 million Twitter followers exactly what he thought of Southwest Airlines. As the enormity of Southwest’s PR problem became clear, a manager walked over to Smith where he sat by the gate, apologized profusely, and offered him a voucher for $100 in credit to be used when (if!) he flys Southwest again. Smith accepted the voucher, but assured the manager that this was far from making things right.

That’s where most of the news coverage ends, but I think the best part of the story—and the most damning for Southwest—is what happened on that later flight. This flight was not crowded, so Smith used the two seats he had originally paid for, taking a window seat towards the front of the plane and setting his voucher as a placeholder in the middle seat. A pleasant young lady sat down in the aisle seat, and Smith noticed that she was about his size, perhaps a bit larger. A few minutes later, a Southwest customer service agent escorted her off the plane while Smith watched, thinking to himself, “Are you kidding me? Not again!”

The young lady did return to her seat before the plane took off, but she was noticeably upset and fighting back tears. At this point, Smith says, his previous anger at Southwest seemed petty and small. Now he was far angrier because, among so many other things, Kevin Smith is a little girl’s dad. “I just kept thinking of our daughter,” Smith told his wife on the podcast. “If that were my daughter, I would have punched somebody’s lights out!”

Late in the flight, the young lady introduced herself as Natali, and told Smith what had happened to her. He later invited her to tell her full story on Smodcast episode #107, “Thinnicism,” posted today. Natali tells listeners that she flies all the time, on Southwest and on other airlines. Although she was always nervous about her size and careful to pick a seat where she’d be most comfortable and least likely to scrunch anyone else, her size had not been a problem up until that flight.

On the flight from Oakland to Burbank, however, a flight attendant pulled her aside and told her she must sit in the aisle seat of Smith’s row. Then a customer service agent boarded the plane to tell Natali that there was a problem and she would have to step off. Back inside the airport, the agent told her that she had to buy a second seat—something she had never done before because she, like Smith, had always been able to fit in one seat with the armrests down and a non-extended seatbelt fastened. Natali pointed out to the agent that the seat next to her was already empty, but the was told that it belonged to Mr. Smith, and it would be unfair to him if she used it.

Natali continued the debate until she was finally allowed to get back on the plane, now very upset and very much aware of the dirty looks she was getting from some passengers. She has since left phone and internet messages for Southwest, with no response from them. “Believe me, you’ll hear from them now!” Smith declared. The pair went on to speculate that maybe Southwest was putting on a show for Smith, trying to prove that they treated all large people equally.

If it was a staged show, I’d have to say that it backfired completely, adding paternal rage to Smith’s personal indignation, and showing that Smith’s ejection was not an isolated case of poor judgment, but rather a sign of a systemic problem. After reading through Southwest’s web site, Smith says he’s found no clear guidelines about when a passenger’s size is or isn’t a problem. Fitting between armrests is a suggested test, but this was not used in Smith’s case or Natali’s: Both of them did fit between armrests. The site also suggests that the captain can decide, based on his or her judgment, but Southwest’s blog post admits that the captain did not actually make the call in Smith’s case, and the captain wasn’t even mentioned in Natali’s case. As of now, there is no way for a passenger to know what will or won’t be a problem, and the rules can change from flight to flight. In fact, Natali was on a connecting flight, having just made the much longer trip from Des Moines to Oakland in one seat with no problems. Smith concludes that, when flying Southwest, “If you’re over 200 pounds, I would think twice, because they could grab you at any time.”

This nightmare—for larger airline passengers and for Southwest—could have been avoided if Southwest had set solid, clear policies, shared them with their customers, and stuck to them. Of course airline employees have an obligation to look out for safety, and to provide an entire seat to every passenger who pays for one, and it’s true some people just don’t fit in one seat (many people, actually, since the CDC estimates that 67% percent of American adults are overweight and airplane seats are designed to stuff as many customers into a plane as possible). But these should not be subjective judgment calls. A person is either overflowing into someone else’s seat, or he’s not. A person is either getting in the way of safe flying procedures (buckling seatbelts, keeping the aisle clear, etc.), or she’s not. Airlines can tell us clearly what size bags fit as carry-ons. Why can’t they tell us what size bodies fit in their seats?

I’m not suggesting that they set boxes by the gate with signs that say, “If your butt doesn’t fit in this box, you’ll need to check it as baggage,” or that airline employees should measure passengers’ waists as they board the plane. Instead, airlines could simply set clear, common-sense rules, enforce them to the letter on every flight, and post them on their web sites and ticket envelopes so that passengers could plan accordingly. For example, if the web site said, “Our seats are 17 inches wide. If your body does not fit in a space this size, you’ll need to buy a second seat. If you do fit in this space, but would be uncomfortable in it, please consider buying a second seat. If you cannot sit in one seat with the armrests down, you will be asked to purchase another seat or to leave the plane.”

Of course this won’t make everyone happy, and some passengers will still be humiliated and inconvenienced by being removed from planes when they simply can’t fit and can’t afford a second seat. Still, clear, objective policies would go a long way towards decreasing the embarrassment for everyone concerned. Passengers would know exactly what to expect, and airline staff be able to explain—in a completely factual, non-euphemistic, non-insulting way—the rare occasions when they really must take someone off the plane. Most importantly, no more Kevin Smiths and Natalis would be humiliated when there really isn’t a problem, and nobody would have to live in fear of being suddenly singled out because some hidden, unnamed person arbitrarily decides that they are (as so many headlines have called Smith) “too fat to fly.”

There are drawbacks to freelancing (financial ups and downs, feast-or-famine schedules, condescending credit card companies), but there are many rewards, as well. Perhaps the greatest of those is being able to choose every project I take on, and sometimes being paid to do things I would love to do whether or not money was involved.

For example, I often do small projects for Sounds True, the spiritual and self-help publisher where I’ve once had the privilege of working full-time. Lately, I’ve been transcribing installments of Sounds True’s weekly podcast, Insights from the Edge, for posting on their web site. In these podcasts, Sounds True Founder and CEO Tami Simon interviews great thinkers who’ve created audio programs (lectures and lessons on CD or downloadable mp3) for Sounds True. Three weeks ago, I was particularly excited to find that Tami had interviewed Vicki Robin, who, with the late Joe Dominguez, co-authored Your Money or Your Life. I was being paid to listen to one of the great heroes whose ideas had informed much of my adult life! Check out the interview here.

Tami’s interview celebrates the release of the updated, 10th anniversary edition of the Your Money or Your Life. I remember when the book first came out, when I was a 20-something, deep in college studies and deep in anxiety, wondering if I would ever figure out how to handle my own finances, live free of family support, and take care of myself. I read the book, began tracking my expenses, and have never looked at a job offer or a price tag in the same way since. It’s not an exaggeration to say that this book changed my life, or more accurately, that it did a great deal to shape my adult life.

Vicki Robin and her coauthor, the late Joe Dominguez, taught me to see money as something I (or someone, such as my parents, who have given me many generous gifts over my lifetime) traded hours of my (or my loved one’s) precious, limited life to gain. They also taught me that credit is a form of indentured servitude—a harsh way to put it, but it is signing up to work for many hours, often hundreds or thousands of hours, to pay off a debt—not free money. And best of all, they taught me that true financial independence—defined not as having mountains of money, but as being wholly in control of one’s own financial life—is possible. Creative lifestyles can be fun and freeing, the “American dream” is not a dream for one, and a sustainable world for all is possible.

I was delighted to trade my life energy for money when it came with a chance to listen to Vicki Robin expanding on the ideas from this life-changing book. The interview is a nice introduction to the Your Money or Your Life philosophy, and an interesting listen (or read, if you prefer—just go to the podcast page and click “Read the Transcript” to see my handiwork). I encourage you to check it out.

What's in your wallet?Since I returned home after a fantastic (and fantastically expensive) summer of theater studies in San Francisco, only to find that my old Chevy Metro was dying and needed to be replaced, I’ve been running a balance on my credit card—a used-car-sized whopper of a balance—and I hate that!

My conservative Protestant parents (my father a Certified Public Accountant) raised me to avoid debt at all costs, and for the most part, that lesson has served me well. Yes, this may be why I so actively avoid signing onto a mortgage or even a lease (which is, after all, a form of debt: a lease is a financial obligation, a set amount of money one has to pay), why, at 35, I’m just starting to consider applying to graduate school (Student loans? Aaargh!), and why the 10-year-old VW Golf I’ve just bought is the most luxurious car I’ve ever owned.

On the other hand, in an age when thousands of people have mortgaged “the most house they can afford” and carried enormous balances on their credit cards, only to find themselves forced into bankruptcy when the economy nosedived and took their jobs with it, I have lived with very little financial worry and very few interest payments—especially for a woman who hasn’t held a “permanent” job for over five years. I have no student loans, no car payments, no mortgage, no rent to pay (and when I do pay rent, it’s a short-term arrangement that I can change if my finances change), and until recently, I’ve had no credit card balances to keep up with. My finances were in the moment, conscious, flexible, and easy to keep track of.

I want to live like that again as soon as possible. I’ve been looking for creative ways to pay off my balance fast, and with as little interest paid as possible. This credit card already has a 9% interest rate, so transferring the balance to another card would only help if the new card offered a heck of a deal—and I last week, I found one that did. The offer was a 3% charge for balance transfers, and 0% interest on that balance for up to 10 months. The math worked out: I knew it would take me more than four months to pay off my balance, so the one-time 3% transfer fee would be less than I’d pay if I left the balance on my old card at 9% per year. I decided to apply for the new card. What did I have to lose?

$12,000 in credit and some of my pride, as it turned out. I filled out the new credit card application online, explaining my financial and work situation: Employer: Self. Years Employed There: Five. Annual Income: (a number far less than a person with rent, mortgage, student loan, or car payments could live on, but a comfortable number for me, thank you very much). Then I hit the “Send” button and waited. “Ah, well,” I thought. “If it doesn’t go through or doesn’t get approved, I’m no worse off. It’s an experiment. I’ll see what happens.”

The next morning, I found a message on my phone from an organization called Credit Card Services, calling on behalf of the bank to ask a few questions about my application. When I called back, a perky-voiced representative asked questions I’d already answered online. “Where do you work?”

“I’m self-employed,” I said.

“In what industry?”

“I’m a freelance copyeditor and writer.” It seemed simpler to stick to the most businesslike of my businesses, rather than trying to explain how I also make a good chunk of my living pretending to murder people at dinner parties, playing tag while dressed as Batgirl, and feeding other people’s cats.

“Do you have any regular clients?”

I thought about what, exactly, she might mean by that. “I have several clients who come back to me again and again, but I work with everyone on a project-by-project basis.”

“Oh.” She paused for a bit, and then: “You know that legally, you don’t have to declare alimony, social security, or child support payments if you don’t want them to be considered in your ability to pay, but you can declare them if you’d like. Are there any other sources of income you’d like to declare?”

“Nope. What I put on the application is all.” It was now clear to me that I wasn’t getting the new card or the balance transfer deal. I was eager to get off the phone and back to my latest proofreading project.

“You’re sure? There’s nothing else?”

“Nothing else.” I wondered if that email had come in with the sound file I wanted to start transcribing …

“Well,” said the rep, now working to sound cheerful. “I’m afraid, with your income and situation, I won’t be able to approve the new card for you.”

“I understand,” I said politely.

“And I see that you have another card we manage.” She mentioned a card I’d kept for years as an emergency backup plan. Since I’d had a running balance on my favorite card, I’d been using that one for purchases where cards were more convenient than cash, so I zip through gas stations and such, but still pay it off monthly, without adding interest to my other balance. I hadn’t known Credit Card Services managed that bank’s cards, too. “That card has a limit of $12,000. Because of your situation, we’re going to take that down to $500.”

I felt like I’d been slapped. “I’ve had that card for over ten years, and I’ve been in this ‘situation’ for five.”

“Yes,” said the now fully artificially perky rep, “and I’m not saying you’re going to, but you could run up the balance to $12,000, and we’re not sure about your ability to pay. And you have just started using that card for the first time in a long while …”

“Yes,” I sighed. “Last month I put $65 on it: two tanks of gas.”

“So, you see …”

“Ah, yes, I understand.” I thought quickly: What is the point of a card with a $500 balance? This card doesn’t offer reward points or any perks. $500 is not an emergency backup plan. Emergencies, in my book, are massive car repairs, dental work, major medical catastrophes … Anything $500 or under is nothing I can’t handle in cash. Besides, I had two other cards … “Just cancel the card.”

“It’s just a routine … wait, what?”

“Cancel that card. Can you do that for me here, or should I call someone else?”

“Well, yes, I can, but you still can charge $500.”

“I know,” I said, artificially cheerful myself. I didn’t want the poor rep to feel bad about doing her job, and she sounded defensive now. “I just don’t need that card. I have an automatic payment set to pay off the balance on Monday. Can I cancel the card now?”

“I can put in a cancellation order now, and it will go through when the outstanding balance is paid. You really want me to do that?”

“Yes, please.” She asked if there was anything else she could help me with, wished me a nice day, and hung up.

I felt pale, shocked, like I did right after I got my navel pierced. Had I just lost $11,500 for asking a question, just for admitting to the reality of my jobless financial life? And another $500 for a split-second, pouty reaction?

No, I hadn’t, on closer examination. I had lost $12,000 in credit, meaning $12,000 in potential debt. To put it in perspective, I checked the remaining available credit on the two cards I still had—the Mastercard with my car balance on it, and the Visa connected to my checking account. (Any overdrafts just go on the Visa, but it is still an actual credit card that I am free to use anywhere.) The remaining credit on my Mastercard plus the full limit of my unused Visa came to just over $20,000! Even at times when I am paying rent, that’s enough for me to live on for one year. It’s enough to buy my current car five times. It’s enough to start any small business I’ve thought about. It’s more debt than I’d ever want except in the form of a mortgage, student loan, or small business loan. It’s enough to pay for any emergency I can imagine except for major medical or dental catastrophes—and those would offer payment plans of their own. $20,000 is more than enough of a credit-card safety net.

Yes, I felt insulted to have my imaginary money taken away, but Credit Card Services was right. I had, and probably still have, more credit available than I need. Most of us (those who haven’t hit financial catastrophes, who still have credit cards) have more credit available than we need or could easily handle. I’d found the thought of all that imaginary money comforting, but on closer thought, it’s terrifying: Imagine being $32,000 in debt on credit cards alone! Imagine years of interest payments at the usual credit card rates—18% or more. Imagine working just to pay the minimums on a slew of credit cards …

My new reality is more comforting. I can handle emergencies. I’ll have to pay off my car purchase slowly, at 9% interest, but that’s not so bad. I love my little ten-year-old car, and my life is running smoothly. Even if Credit Card Services finds my lifestyle frighteningly odd, I like it, I can afford it, and I’ll be just fine.

I came back from my summer adventures in San Francisco all excited about renewing my commitment to my blog, and then I proceeded to not post for two months. My apologies. I have been busy, and scattered and confused, building up my life again back home in Colorado: finding work, finding more work than I expected and gratefully lapping up every opportunity, reconnecting, bouncing from house sit to house sit and remembering why that made me feel flustered and out of sorts … Mainly, though, I’ve been uncertain about the direction of this blog.

I’ve been reading some fantastic popular blogs of late, from The Comics Curmudgeon and Medium Large, to RedheadWriting and SEOmoz, to the Tim Ferriss’ blog and I Will Teach You to Be Rich. Each blog has a specific focus, an overall message and reason for being. Does mine? So far, I’ve felt unfocused, writing on whatever happens to spark my mind. I wonder whether I should stretch for a gimmick, find a way to promise my readers that I will make them rich (as soon as I figure out how to make myself so) …

But the fact is that I already have a focus for my blog. I have a very strange life. I don’t have a job. I don’t have a mortgage, and I don’t have a lease. More unusual: I don’t want any of these things. I make money, I sleep in safe and comfortable places, and I feel wealthy. I also feel creative, excited, and grateful about my life overall. While my lifestyle is far from unique—in fact, the “joyfully jobless” (as author Barbara Winter calls freelancers and entrepreneurs) are far more common than Americans tend to think. I expect that people in creative housing situations—house sitters, eternal travelers, and those who live in non-house, non-apartment homes like RVs, cabins, mini-houses, and such—are also far more common than we tend to think. Still, there’s far too little talk about the alternatives to the standard American dream of “get a job, work all day Monday through Friday for 50 years, then retire completely; while you’re at it, buy the biggest house you can mortgage, as soon as you can.” As the business world shifts, that dream is becoming increasingly impossible, and I’ll argue that it was always impractical. There are many other ways to live, and many that are not only safe, responsible, and relatively comfortable, but also fulfilling and joyful. Simply blogging about my own life experiments, and those of others I learn about, I’ll never run out of things to say.

There is another reason, though, why I’ve been unsure about this blog: It’s out there for anyone to see. I have a feeling all of the ideas that make me interesting and readable are the kinds of things any proper American should be keeping secret. We’re constantly being told to watch what we write on the interwebs, lest we be unemployable for life. Dates, too, can Google and judge, as can potential roommates, landlords, creditors, anybody. The more unorthodox opinions I share (meaning everything that differentiates me and makes me worth reading), the more I mark myself as a freak. Will I ruin my future chances by expressing myself too widely? Telling people about my odd lifestyle, how I turn down “good” “permanent” jobs, how I hop from home to home and work project to work project, has already started an argument that nearly lost me one of my best friends, and is obviously starting to worry another (more on him next post).

After careful consideration (two months of it!), though, I realize that any job, any business partners, any date or friend or roommate I’d ever really want to be with had best be willing to accept me as I am. I am a responsible, intelligent, hard working, sane, and happy person. I also happen to like exploring unusual ways of making a life. I’m willing to tell the world about that.

One of my favorite web comics put it better:

XKCD Dreams

Special thanks to the glorious XKCD.com

Home, sweet home

Home, sweet home

I was delighted to find this post, in which two of my favorite bloggers, Ramit Sethi and Tim Ferriss, talk on video about the false starts and failures they’ve had in their business lives. As Ramit points out in his written introduction, perhaps the most interesting idea they bring up is Ramit’s “tripod of stability”: the practice of making sure the big things in one’s life are reliable and secure, so that one can feel comfortable taking risks in business or anywhere else.

That idea speaks to me. I don’t feel comfortable with the life I have now, and I want to go in a more entrepreneurial, varied, and independent direction, especially with my career and financial life. Since I don’t know how to do that, I’ll have to take major risks and learn as I go along (often, I’m sure, by screwing things up). If I could build a base of stability like Ramit’s, maybe I, too, will have the guts to build my own business and create the life I dream of. How am I doing so far?

The three big things Ramit mentions in his post are relationships, car, and where he lives. In the video, he also says he’s conservative about taxes. Well, I’m terrified of running afoul of the IRS, especially as a freelancer, so I’m extra conservative about taxes, too. Let’s see how I’m doing on the other major parts of my life:

Relationships: I actually do feel stable and happy in this area of my life. I get along all right with my family, and they’re doing well right now. I have a small, but solid group of wonderful friends. I feel supported, important, and drama free. I even have a serious romantic relationship in the works, and while it’s too new for me to be sure it’s a reliable, long-term thing, so far it’s bringing me nothing but joy and comfort. The people in my life definitely make me feel safe and supported.

Car: Um, yeah. For everyone who lives outside those cities where public transportation really works (San Francisco, Portland, and Chicago are the ones I’ve visited), having a good, reliable car is key to getting things done. For the past eight years, I’ve had just that, and it was a tremendous comfort. I could get anywhere I wanted (and I mean anywhere! That car took me across town, and to Canada and back.) whenever I wanted to go. I could carry anything. In a pinch, I always had a place to sleep. My car was my home, my rock, my best friend…

And now it’s dying. My car has been diagnosed with a failing front axle, plus a bad case of “Chevy Metros weren’t made to go 190,000 miles! It’s time to give it up!” It’s true. My beloved Metro has served me well, but it’s a discontinued model, which makes parts for repairs increasingly expensive, and it is, ultimately, a tin can that has already had a far more exciting life than anyone expected. My car, so reliable for so long, is no longer a rock of stability in my life. In fact, I drive around every day listening to every little noise, waiting for the front wheels to freeze up completely. It’s time to retire the Metro and get a more reliable ride.

Which is my main order of business for the next week. I’m off to buy a used car. According to Rajit, apparently being Indian requires him to drive a Honda Accord. Tim drives a Volkswagon Golf. I like both cars, but after weeks of internet research (read “procrastination”), I’ve decided on a Honda Civic. They’ve got Honda’s reputation for reliability, but they’re smaller than the Accord, less expensive than Volkswagons, and they get better gas mileage than even my beloved Metro did. Wish me luck in my car hunt.

Home: And, even more than Ramit does, I really need a reliable car in my life, because without one, I can’t be absolutely sure where I’ll sleep each night. I completely understand wwhen he says having a stable home can help you feel brave and secure, but at this point in my life, I can’t have one. I’ve spent my savings living the dream in San Francisco (except for what I’m about to spend on a car), so until I get some income—let’s face it, a lot of income—flowing in, I can’t afford to rent a home. For now, I’ve told all of my house-sitting clients I’m back in town, and I’m already hopping from house to house (all the while hoping my Metro will keep carrying me and my luggage for a few more days). I have to admit that it’s wearing me out, and I’m frustrated that I can’t find any of my stuff, that I don’t know what all I own (since most of it is in storage), and I spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about where I’ll live next week.

I really do want a stable home. I love the multifaceted, entrepreneurial, exploratory career path I’m on, so wherever I live, I’m sure I’ll still be living a life of adventure. Soon, though, I’d like to stop being so literal about the “nomad” thing. I want to have a home again, to organize my stuff where I can see it and use it, to stop worrying about my most basic needs and start thinking about business ideas, creative projects, and new things to learn.

By Ramit’s standards, I’m in a Catch-22. To have the courage to take risks, I should have a stable home. However, until I’ve taken the rather large risks I’ll need to take to increase my income to the point where I can pay rent every month, I can’t afford a stable home. I suppose I’ll just have to take the risks anyway, reminding myself that it’s perfectly reasonable to be terrified—even my entrepreneurial heroes know it’s scary.

But not too scary. Heck, after next week, if all else fails, I can always sleep in my car.

Marching (flying, dancing) with The Go Game in the 2009 San Francisco Gay Pride Parade

Marching (flying, dancing) with The Go Game in the 2009 San Francisco Gay Pride Parade

I haven’t blogged for three and a half months. I think I had a good reason: I put my entire life on hold to pursue a dream. I told my freelance and pet sitting clients I’d be away, I let my awesome roommate/landlady find a new renter, I put even more of my stuff in storage, loaned my car to my mom, said goodbye to my friends, and headed off to San Francisco for the summer. Why? Following my stated goal of kicking up my acting career, I applied for the 2009 Summer Training Congress, a seven-week professional actor training program through San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater. To my great surprise, I actually got in! I set off for two months in a huge, new city, to spend my days steeped in what I love most: acting. For me, it was a dream come true, and a life so different from my usual Colorado ramblings that it felt like a dream.

Knowing that, with nine-hour days of extremely active training, plus rehearsals, plus getting lost and overwhelmed in the biggest city I’ve ever lived in, I let the Nomad blog slide all summer. Instead, I kept those friends who were interested updated with Facebook and Twitter updates (I could handle 140 characters occasionally, but not a whole essay). As with my trip to Portland, this adventure brought out the paradox of blogging an unusual life: When life is at its most interesting, I’m too busy living to blog about it.

It was an amazing summer. I made wonderful new friends and impressive contacts, learned more about acting and Shakespeare and voice and speech and text and the power of movement to communicate than I ever thought I could cram into my being in two months, fell head over heels for a San Francisco novelist, lived in two fantastic apartments and one awful one, got to know San Francisco’s many neighborhoods, marched as Batgirl in America’s biggest Gay Pride Parade… and I may someday write about some or all of these adventures.

For now, though, I’d like to start processing my challenge of the moment: Having put one’s life on hold, how does one ever get it going again? After a summer of tuition and San Francisco prices, my non-retirement savings are nearly gone (and I’m still not touching my retirement funds, no way, no how!). My freelance and pet sitting clients have learned how to live without me for two months. I’m now sleeping in the storage-stuffed guest bedroom at my mother’s house. My car has been diagnosed with a terminal case of “Chevy Metros weren’t designed to last for more than 188,000 miles. It’s time to let it go.” I haven’t knitted in months (!) and I’ve lost my guitar callouses. I still don’t have a play to act in. Some of my Colorado friends know I’m back in their state, some don’t. My long-distance friends have fallen out of touch while I was overwhelmed with theatre thoughts. For the first time in years, I actually have a steady, fairly awesome love life, but it’s a long-distance one—as my mom likes to sing while giggling at me, “I left my heart in San Francisco.”

Still, life looks good to me, not just because I’m still high from my summer of acting and adventure, but because this life is full of possibilities. In the next few months, I will have to find new work, a new home (or rebuild my house sitting lifestyle), and a new (to me) car. I plan to jump start my art life: land some acting roles; publish more articles, stories, and knitting designs; and finally learn to jam on my guitar. I plan to reconnect with and better appreciate the people I hold dear, and keep in touch with all of the new friends and admired acquaintances I met in San Francisco. Oh, and I plan to convince one adorable novelist that, once he finishes his MFA in San Francisco this fall, what he really wants to do is move to Colorado. Hey, it can all be done, and given my list and my life so far, it’s sure to be an interesting ride.

Intrigued? Welcome back to the blog. I promise to post about updated on my life’s reconstruction, plus some related (or not so) great ideas from the rest of the world, with new posts coming at least once a week, and usually more often. Thanks for reading.

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