NaBlogWriMo 2: A Stabbing Pain in the Pocketbook

I woke up this morning rested and ready, on fire to get up and get to writing. Then, I made a mistake. I should have turned on the iPad and got to work. Instead, I opened up my banking software to make sure my monthly Social Security payment had posted overnight.

What I discovered was that, before my deposit cleared, a yearly fee I had forgotten about had posted: membership dues for the local gym we haven’t been attending (though that is another article in and of itself.) So, instead of starting the month with a fresh set of capital to work with, I was now already $70+ in the hole for the month, thanks to the aforementioned fees and that lovely, lovely overdraft penalty my bank charges.

And, just like that, my entire day was upended.

I Am Become Debt, The Destroyer Of Worlds

Seriously, is there anything in this world that creates as much internal stress as money, and money related problems?

And, the maddening thing is, we treat money like the digestive process: everyone requires it, but no one ever wants to talk about it, and you’d better be sure you wash your hands afterward.

Money issues are an epidemic in this country. Student debt is crippling households across the nation. Less than half of us have enough savings to survive a 3-month crisis. A person making minimum wage has to have multiple sources of income in order to survive.

And yet, how do we react to our financial woes? With embarrassment. We do our best to hide the problems from one another. There is a deeply ingrained shame response to admitting that things are tough for us, despite the fact that things are tough all over.

We are so embarrassed by our “illness” that we refuse to seek treatment for it. And if you think that is a flawed analogy, try having Epilepsy, or Depression, or any of the other “ugly” diseases out there. There are plenty of examples of folks that would rather just not admit to being sick, instead of seeking treatment.

Living  In The Shadow Of The Golden Towers

We keep hearing in the news how fabulously the economy is doing, right? GNP is growing, unemployment is slow, things are supposedly beautiful in Trump’s America.

So, if that is the case, why do the great majority of us admit that financial concerns are our #1 worry and creator of stress?

Simple: we are living on a flawed bell curve. The top 1% of our country is outearning all the rest of us combined. And their economic status is making the rest of us look like we should be doing better than we are.

I am certainly not anti-capitalist in any way. But an economic system that continues to be slanted toward providing resources and advantages to those that require them least is troubling.

And Lor and I are among the lucky ones: those with a “safety net” of concerned family members who are willing to give us a hand if things go really pear-shaped. Thanks to our family, we will never be in the position where we have to worry about having nowhere to live if things get worse. Many of us living in the bottom 10% are not afforded that luxury. If things go seriously wrong, they get to sleep in their cars, or at the homeless shelter.

If there is room that night at the shelter, that is.

The Ragged Edge Of The American Dream

So, how many of us, do you think, are living in poverty: the bottom 10% of earners in this country, measured by yearly income?

It should be 10%, right? But, according to the data from 2017, it is actually closer to 12.3%. 1 in 8 American households are living in poverty.

It gets worse. If you are a minority, you are much more likely to be living in poverty. And heaven help you if you are a single mother: 50% (half!) of children living in a female-headed household are at or below the poverty line.

Those that are most damaged by poverty are also the most restricted by society in America.

Which is really unfair: being poor is a demanding, full-time, job.

I, for example, have to meticulously document every medical visit, every prescription filled, log every seizure. Why? Because, every three years or so, I have to re-prove to the Federal Government that there is still no cure for Epilepsy. If I don’t, my SSDI stops, and so do my ever-so-important Medicare benefits. You know, those benefits that keep me from having to spend thousands of dollars each month on medications, medical visits, and surgical procedures.

Living in the bottom 10% is no picnic. It is a daily grind of finding gig work, engaging lenders with predatory practices (I can literally SHOW you loan documents featuring a 75% APR), and deciding which bill gets paid and which gets put off for a month.

We are constantly treated like criminals, just for being poor. It is the same self-sustaining logic that states that minorities are more likely to commit crimes than whites. No one bothers to mention the fact that minorities are not afforded the same advantages as Caucasians, and therefore are more in need of resources from outside the traditional economic system.

The same is true for poor people. A typical middle-class family may scratch their heads at the poor benighted person at the bottom of the economic scale, risking their safety and their freedom while robbing a convenience store for a measly $50.

We don’t do things like take out stupid loans and rob corner stores because we are mentally deficient. We do it because that $50 is quite literally the difference between keeping our heads above water and drowning, Right this minute, I am faced with the question of how to make up a $70 hole in my budget. That hole isn’t coming out of the “leisure activity” section of my budget. It literally is a question of “which bill won’t I pay this month?”

The Shame Of Poverty

And, the thing is, there are going to be friends and family members of mine that are going to cringe to read this post.

I will hear things like “I had no idea…”, or “Why didn’t you ask for help?” 

You didn’t know because, like 99% of poor people, I didn’t talk about it. And I didn’t ask for help because I am not stranded on the side of the road. I am poor. It doesn’t get better between this month and next.

Others have asked me why I am not “making a living” as a writer. Ha. Ha ha ha. The vast majority of those who are profiting from freelance writing realize less than $10,000 a year from their work. I am not among that group – since 2016 I am probably over $2,000 in the hole from supporting my writing habit. If not for my Patreon supporters and a thin stream of book sales, I would be forced to just stand in the corner and mumble to myself.

I have had close friends whisper their Horatio Alger dreams for me – why don’t I just get a job and start climbing the ladder, like everyone else? Many have gone so far as to suggest that I am actually lazy.

I am not lazy – I am frightened. Let me explain…

An Experiment in Number-Crunching

I “earn” $18,000 a year from Social Security. I’ve learned to build our life around a whopping $1,400 a month, with over half of that going to housing. But, let’s theorize that I somehow find an employer who is interested in an employee who has seizures, can’t verbally communicate very well, and has no short-term memory to boot.

Let’s also theorize that they are willing to pay me, say, $30,000/year for an entry-level position. Has to be entry-level, remember. I’ve been out of the workforce for nearly two decades at this point.

So, $30,000/year works out to $14.42 an hour. Every 80 hours, I will earn $1,153. Not bad! That’s nearly what I make in a month right now!

Oh, but wait…that’s before taxes. So, let’s reduce that about by 25% to reflect taxes, social security, and the like. OK, we’re now at $865 every two weeks. We’re down to $1,730 a month now. That’s only a little bit above what I bring home right now. Hmm.

Now, let’s not forget that I will no longer have Medicare, so I need to start paying for my own health care. So, there’s another (at least, some pay FAR more) $100 every month gone. $1,630.

Now, I am still sick – I didn’t miraculously get better. I am going to have to keep on paying for my cocktail of meds every month. I will no longer get any Federal assistance with my drugs, and instead, we’ll be paying a co-payment for my meds every month. Let’s say I have to only come up with 10% of my meds. My latest Medicare Prescription summary tells me that I would have been on the hook for $1,694 in meds last month. So, 10% of that is…$169. Every month. $1,630-169 = $1,461.

Congratulations – I’ve now arrived at what I am already making a month by staying a garden variety, disabled poor person.

Oh, but wait – if I go back into the workforce I am now on the hook for the student loans that are currently in deferment thanks to my broken brain. That payment would be…$215 a month. (A LOT lower than many student loan payments I know of.) I am now down to $1,246 a month.

Oh, and by the way…I did mention that I am still sick, right? To the tune of a yearly hospitalization for various maladies? Now, not only would me missing work for procedures and surgeries totally piss off my new boss, but it also would cost me money. LOTS of it. Looking over my latest statement from my most recent hospital visit, I would have been on the hook for….$43,000. I can’t even begin to guess what that would have cost under a traditional insurance plan.

As it is, I was forced to come up with a $350 co-payment. Hence the 75% APR loan I referred to earlier.

And welcome to why those of us who are poor, stay that way.

Wrapping Up

Poverty is one of the great ignored societal ills in our country today. I’ve actually been trying to work in Poverty Advocacy for a while now. It is hard going – people would rather talk about having STDs than talk about being poor. It remains a horrible, societal shame – one of the worst admissions you can make in our success-driven nation.

But our societal expectations are just flat out WRONG. If you take nothing else away from this post, please, just remember this: most of those in poverty around you are not there because they are lazy. They are not there because they are criminals, though many become criminals out of necessity. They are there because we keep them there.

If you are concerned (like I am), there are things you can do. Be sensitive to those who are worse off than you. Get plugged into organizations that work with the poor – whether your church, a food bank, a bookmobile, what have you. Vote intelligently – keep in mind that tax cuts for the top 1% are not going to do nearly as much for the welfare of this country as things like subsidized child care, student loan reform, and regulation of predatory lending practices.

And, lastly, do understand that this isn’t a plea for financial help on the part of my household. We’ve gotten through worse than this. More than any handout, the best thing you could do is to become sensitive to poverty – what it is and what it isn’t. The poor around you might not be standing on a street corner holding up a sign saying “Anything Helps.”

They might be standing right next to you, hiding in plain sight.

Talk To You All Again On Monday,

  • Jeremy

NaBlogWriMo

Welcome to November! Home of Fall weather hinting at a really cold upcoming winter, election season, and WAY too much leftover Halloween candy.

Oh, and a little something known as NaNoWriMo. You may have heard of it, if you are a writer. Maybe even if you are in close contact with a writer. (Quick! Wash your hands!)

The Unpronounceable Word

For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo stands for “National Novel Writing Month.” The premise is this: to spend the entire month of November writing an entire 50,000 word novel in 30 days.

Most writers will tell you two things about this concept. First, 50k words is not a terribly big book. Second, spending the entire month doing nothing but writing 1,500+ words a day, every day, is not going to leave you a lot of slack for things like proof reading, editing, etc. In short, on November 30, your novel is going to be crap.

But that isn’t the point, really. The whole idea is to spend the month developing and exercising the discipline required to put 50,000 words, one after another, on paper. If you can go through that process (what we writers call word vomit), you can then expand, proof and edit at your leisure. The idea is to get the work out there in the universe in the first place.

NaNOWriMo

Those of you that follow Misdirected are already aware that I had a nightmare of a time during my last attempt at participating in NaNoWriMo. Not only did I fail to produce one novel, but I actually failed to produce two, having switched boats midstream. (Note to other authors: don’t do this.) I worked so hard and failed so miserably that not only did I not have a finished work to show for it on November 30, but I actually crippled my creative process, resulting in a case of writer’s block that lasted well into 2018.

But, the concept behind NaNoWriMo still really appeals to me – the unrelenting discipline of creating something every single day. So, I’ve decided to put my own spin on the process.

Behold: NaBlogWriMo. National Blog Writing Month.

It may be that there is already a month dedicated specifically to blog writing and creation. Frankly, I don’t care. This is my attempt to play with the big kids in something that proved to be WAY above my weight class last year.

A Return To Our Roots

You may remember those bygone days when this blog, Misdirected, was a little less…focused. I talked about games, about writing, about epilepsy…pretty much whatever was on my mind on any given day.

And that was the thing…I put out content every single day, 5 days a week, for almost two years. It took the onset of bariatric surgery to narrow the focus of Misdirected, along with a resulting reduction in content. Misdirected became weekly, then monthly, then completely irregular. Now it has devolved to “whenever I feel like I have something to say pertaining to my narrow but focused audience.” Which, frankly, isn’t very often.

So, for my participation in the “writing in November” project, I am returning Misdirected to a daily feed for November 2018. Five days a week, throughout the month, our readers will be getting content.

The Chaotic Result

Now, the fact remains that I am not going to have 20+ days worth of bariatric/exercise/lifestyle advice to create blog posts around. So, for this month, Misdirected will be returning to its previous format, where I write about pretty much anything that captures my attention on any given day.

This will undoubtedly drive some of you crazy. I know several thousand of you subscribe specifically for bariatric lifestyle articles. To those of you that this applies to, let me apologize in advance, and warn you that you may want to only check in once a week or so during this month. That way, you can cherry pick those articles which seem like they might be relevant to you.

To everyone else, welcome back to the previous, schizophrenic Misdirected, where I released out to the world my thoughts on just about anything on any given day. I can already tell you that there are going to be posts about media, about politics, about writing, and more items that are not going to have much of anything to do with weight loss and maintenance. Which brings me to my last point…

Our Special Guests

During this month-long revision to Misdirected, I will also be bringing aboard a few guest bloggers. They are all writers whose work I admire, who I think have relevant and exciting things to say, and who I think will enhance your life just by sharing a blog post with you. I encourage you to go check out what they are doing outside of the confines of our little community.

At the end of it all, we won’t have produced a 50,000 word novel. But we will have achieved 20+ articles that I believe will be completely worth your while to spend a little time investigating.

Thanks for your continued support of Misdirected! I appreciate every ounce of help we get here, from our Patreon supporters, to our subscribers, to those who drop in with kind and encouraging words every week. I look forward to spending more time than usual with you all during the month of November, and hope that at the end of this experience we all come away with smiles on our faces.

See You Again Tomorrow,

* Jeremy