Monday, December 17, 2018

It's never been about the Money

Since Hoss has been posting a lot of his autobiographical stuff and I'm in a real weird spot (geographically and mentally), I figured I'd write a little piece about my own pile of shit. As with the piece that will be published on my travel blog on Christmas, this is going to be a lot of me complaining and generally being grumpy.

Trying to come up with a title for this piece, one of my thoughts was "Sweet & Sour". I don't know if that's still a good title, but it might work for splitting this into two sections. My grumbling and griping followed by a bit more perspective. It's a good exercise for me to do more often, as I'm still a human reacting to what's around me rather than thinking about the arc of my life. Beware, dear reader - every sentence I type under "SOUR" needs an asterisk - I'll try to broadly address my own logical faults in the "SWEET" section.


Let's set this post in its proper context: I'm being mistreated by a host in Kuala Lumpur. I feel like someone working for Donald Trump. My host latches on to her own beliefs about things and repeats short phrases about these "truths" throughout the day - truths that usually include calling me a liar, wasteful, lazy, and ungrateful. Usually I'd own being lazy, but lazy in this case means wanting to have time to myself on my vacation.

Why am I still here? Because I value not causing trouble. I know there's a door waiting to open for me soon enough and it's a matter of sticking things out. Instead of burning a bridge I'd rather just keep my head down, escape, and learn from the experience. I'm highly amused that, halfway through writing this, my host mentioned some proverb that went something like: "evil people who mend their ways are more valuable than gold" - I suppose I already believe that.

When I was pondering this situation a couple nights ago, I thought of a parallel in Philadelphia. In my house - that I paid for out of my own money with my own work - my father called me "fat, lazy, and whiny" because I didn't want to move my furniture around to suit his taste. Instead of pressing the issue further, we moved the furniture, severely damaging one of my walls in the process.

This was years ago. I don't think my dad has realized that he hasn't been back to my house since then. Whenever the phrase "I haven't seen you in a while" comes up I either make a trip to Youngstown or I'm busy on the available travel dates.

As trains of thoughts do, this pushed on to money. I have never asked my parents for money (alright, I'm sure I did when I was a kid - you get the idea though). I've done my best to be self-sufficient, so much so that when I was told they could no longer pay off my student loans (as had been promised), I just took that on myself. My summer jobs during college were used to finance spending money during the school year. When I was unemployed after graduating, I took odd jobs until something came through. I had $500 in my savings account when moving to Philadelphia. My first month's rent was $450. Thankfully payday was only two weeks away.

I've always been good at managing my money. A little wasteful sometimes, a little reckless at others, but this has always been made up for by bigger savings. I've had small thefts (an ex-housemate owes me hundreds of dollars, a bank owes me almost the same), I've had bad investments (stocks I bet on cost me a least a couple thousand), and I've given out no-interest loans that have left me a little short (though, so far they've always been paid back). Plus, of course, my lifestyle choices (I do love eating at restaurants and drinking beer). That being said, those are made up for by savings or earnings - I've earned enough on the stock market to cancel out the thefts and the bad bets and I know that if I'm going to live the lifestyle I do, I should find cheap restaurants and cheap beer!

That is all to say: it's never been about the money. I've always been able to make some, find some, or not lose so much that it impacted my life. My goal, always, has been to maximize the happiness in my life and the lives of those around me. Which is why I quit two great jobs (one when I bought my house, the other when I left to travel the world) - more time to myself to pursue my dreams. Which is why my host constantly telling me that (1) I should be more grateful to her because she's providing me with such a great house and meals (she's not, but that's for the other post) and (2) that if I do more work for her she'll reward me with an expensive dinner is the equivalent of her spitting in my face. If I wanted to work harder for a nice house and nice meals, I would have stayed in Philadelphia (plus the beer's cheaper there).

It's frustrating being a pushover. Whether it's my parents, this host, or people who have actually stolen from me, I tend to roll over and find a way to let them win the small things. Yes, I'll write this snotty post, but my bigger picture is to live a happy, contented life.


How did I get here? How did I end up in Kuala Lumpur, twelve hours time difference and twenty four hours of flight time away from where I grew up, writing two snotty blog posts mere months into a journey around the world? It's easy: I'm a very lucky, privileged person.

And let me underscore that first word. I'm very lucky.

Let's start with the basics: I'm white. I'm male. I'm American. My father had a good-paying, dependable job and my mother spent the time and energy to raise my brother and me. I went to a great private school for my elementary years and was ahead of my class when I moved to a public junior high. My public high school was small and allowed me an amazing amount of autonomy. Nearly all of my teachers cared about my development and wanted me to improve. Lucky.

And let's not pretend that I'm the first to have this sort of luck:
From my grandfather Verus I learned good morals and the government of my temper. 
From the reputation and remembrance of my father, modesty and a manly character. 
From my mother, piety and beneficence, and abstinence, not only from evil deeds, but even from evil thoughts; and further, simplicity in my way of living, far removed from the habits of the rich. 
From my great-grandfather, not to have frequented public schools, and to have had good teachers at home, and to know that on such things a man should spend liberally. 
From my governor, to be neither of the green nor of the blue party at the games in the Circus, nor a partizan either of the Parmularius or the Scutarius at the gladiators' fights; from him too I learned endurance of labour, and to want little, and to work with my own hands, and not to meddle with other people's affairs, and not to be ready to listen to slander.

At the end of high school, I was accepted into and eventually graduated from of the most famous universities in the US - Notre Dame. An anonymous donor gave me a huge scholarship - I don't know if it's 100% the truth, but there was some story about me being the only one in my class to leave the state that inspired the gift - which meant I didn't need to take out huge loans. Through, amusingly, the fathers of two different girlfriends, I got well-paying summer jobs every summer. Lucky.

As job prospects were dwindling in the 2008 recession, my mother got a call from a friend she had since fourth grade. Out of the blue, the friend mentioned that her assistant was leaving and she wasn't looking forward to all the work needed to find a new (part time) assistant. Guess who was qualified and available? Lucky.

I found a room in a house where the guy didn't ask first / last / deposit as is standard in Philly. That $450 of my $500? Lucky. I could put all the other stuff on credit cards and pay it off after my first paycheck or two. It wasn't my first lucky housing encounter. While in college I was procrastinating on finding off-campus housing - with only a week or so left I called a lady who told me the person who booked with her had just canceled and had I called a day earlier, she wouldn't have had a room for me. The place cost $300/month - $10 a day and she "threw the 31st in for free"!

Nor would that be the last of my housing luck - after a year at the first place, my housemate wanted to buy his own house. I got a studio in a crummy building that was cheap because they were renovating it. It was at the maximum of my budget, but as things have gone for my life, I was alerted to a (part time) job position at a second nonprofit, located inside a building of where I was already working. My commute didn't change - I was just working two extra days and had double the money. Lucky.

Let's keep going on housing. The crummy building was fine for a few years, but really took a turn for the worse. A friend talked to me about wanting to buy a house around the same time and asked me about what my budget would be for a place. To my surprise, a house in the areas I wanted to live was quite reasonable (less, in fact, than what I was paying for the studio apartment). The friend was gracious enough to put me up when my apartment situation became unbearable. He "suspended" my rent and told me to focus on saving my money toward buying a house (which I did in December of 2013). He tore up the check for the "suspended" rent I gave him when I'd saved up a bit after buying the place. Lucky!

I could go on. I should go on. If I were a more diligent person, I would make a list of everyone who has helped me get to where I am. But I hope these tangible examples are enough to show that I have been lucky. Knowing that the five or so people that read this blog are friends, well, I hope I've helped you in some way as well.

This is all to say that I can't be resentful. I can't begrudge my parents for not paying off my student loans - everything they've done has been to give me a good upbringing and education, which led to a job where I could afford to pay them off myself. While I might be a little mad about the outright thefts, I should be grateful I've always been in a position to absorb them. While I'm grumpy about the damage done to my house, well, I just need to remember that at the end of the day it's my house. The damage is a little graffiti on top of an Empire State Building of other people's help.

Which turns back to my current situation. I shouldn't be too pissed about my host stealing my time. I should take it as a lesson and remember that I'm lucky to be here, halfway around the world. I must remember all the family and friends who have helped me in the past, and I must remember to rise each day, grateful to have been as lucky and privileged as I have been.

In other words:
Begin the morning by saying to thyself, I shall meet with the busy-body, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil. But I who have seen the nature of the good that it is beautiful, and of the bad that it is ugly, and the nature of him who does wrong, that it is akin to me, not only of the same blood or seed, but that it participates in the same intelligence and the same portion of the divinity, I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him, For we are made for co-operation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature; and it is acting against one another to be vexed and to turn away.

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