The Idiot’s Slow Crawl Out of Debt

It was all downhill from here

It was all downhill from here

Look at that idiot.

There I am, barely accustomed to my post-pubescent body. (I thought I was chunky then. I was the worst–look at that beauty! Anyway.) Glowing with consumeristic joy over the acquisition of both my first cellular phone that wasn’t drilled into the frame of an automobile and my first credit card. The ink was barely dry on my first private student loan and the federal loans that allowed me to pay the University of Rhode Island for my first year of college.

I’d worked babysitting jobs and a horrendous retail job and hadn’t lived away from home for more than a week in my life. Money had no long-term use for me; it was all about having enough to gas up my crappy car (easy enough in the halcyon days of a gallon of gas costing less than a gallon of bottled water) and some left over to buy a CD at Newbury Comics, and maybe some late-night diner breakfast at Bickford’s.

Fast forward about 15 years and the long-term consequences of my financial choices have become abundantly clear. I pay about $500 a month in student loans. (Sadly, a song compared to what some of today’s graduates have to face for their bachelor’s degree.) Over the years, I’ve been rent-poor. I’ve had to leave unsafe apartments or was asked to leave by roommates to make room for someone else. I worked a series of rewarding but low-paying jobs and tried to keep up with friends whose salaries were considerably higher than my own. I’ve had the unexpected stints of unemployment and little savings to cover it. It was manageable when I had one relatively low-limit credit card. But then I got a second in a foolish attempt to transfer a balance for a lower interest rate. Then my freelance gigs dried up during the recession. One day, I woke up and I had more than $10,000 in credit card debt.

That idiot’s chickens came home to roost.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Finance, Life

A Hypothetical Retail Controversy

Let’s examine a hypothetical situation, shall we?

For the purposes of our story, let’s imagine a retailer. It has a storied history of selling overpriced, mass-produced clothing for young adults. Because it is not known for being inexpensive, it must ruthlessly maintain an image of being cooler than all the other fast-fashion retailers. This consists of partnerships with artists and designers looking to make a quick buck by slumming, and oftentimes generating outrage by selling clothing that is offensive as it attempts to remain edgy.

The hypothetical interior of a hypothetical store

Sometimes, this means appropriating the name of a minority group to sell panties. Other times, it means selling products that are at best dunderheaded appropriations of clothing items from other cultures or an unfortunate arrangement and placement of “patchwork and geometric patterns.” At worst, the retailer steals ideas and designs from the independent artists who are arguably cooler than this hypothetical retail behemoth. In each case, the retailer apologizes for its poor taste after dozens of shocked media outlets call for comment.

So when this hypothetical retail store elects to sell an article of clothing that is, at best, a very inappropriate placement of “holes… from natural wear and fray” on a shirt referencing the location of a massacre on peaceful protesters 44 years prior, who would be surprised? Why would we breathlessly scorn this retailer for its poor choice of color and complete lack of respect for American history, spilling barrels of ink to in the rush to be the first to condemn this theoretical idiocy?

I’d like to think, in this entirely hypothetical situation, we’d raise our collective eyebrow. Instead of rushing to tweet our outrage, we’d explain to our kids why a blood red sweatshirt with the name of that particular location is a reminder of a hideous event in American history that should not be repeated—especially as we, as a nation, continue to grapple with how to handle peaceful protest without resorting to violence against our own citizens. We’d see this naked grab for headlines and outrage for what it is; an attempt to appear ballsy and antiestablishment for kids who are too young to know that actual rebels don’t buy pre-distressed shirts at the mall.

Good thing this is all hypothetical.

Leave a comment

Filed under Media, Pop culture

Writers Need Ideas from Hollywood?

As I was skimming the Boston Globe on Wednesday morning on my way into work, a headline caught my attention. “For inspiration, writers turn to Hollywood.”

…’Scuse you?

The hardcover comes first. Then the movie. Then the paperback emblazoned with the words “Now a major motion picture!” Everyone knows that. But the usual order is being upended this week, as not one, but two of Boston’s best-selling writers [...] are publishing novels that were inspired by Hollywood, not the other way around.

Full disclosure: I’m a woman with a bachelors in creative writing who’s never had a fiction piece published anywhere. Nor am I knocking the need for fiction or creative nonfiction writers to hustle. It’s hard out there for a writer and these fine wordsmiths want the finer things in life, like shelter and food.

But are you people nuts?!

A perfunctory search brings up dozens of results of mainstream media and bloggers ruminating on the dearth of ideas coming out of Hollywood in recent years. Even successful movies, like the very fun Lego Movie, have already had some part of their creative universe decided for them. For the love of all that’s good and right, someone bought the right to make a Peeps movie. Yes, a movie about the worst Easter candy is coming to a theater near you.

Getting ideas from the people who paid money to make movies about pink marshmallows should be a last resort for writers. What happened to watching people on the subway or at a restaurant and imagining their lives? Why not read Reddit or a community newspaper or whatever source you like looking for real-life stories from which you can draw inspiration, as local boy Andre Dubus III did for monster hit novel (and movie!) The House of Sand and Fog?

I’m all for film adaptations of books. (I can’t wait debate the merits of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild versus the Reese Witherspoon film adaptation.) But I believe that authors can dive deeper into the internal universe of the human experience. Let the filmmakers have all the Peeps they want. Writers should be developing their own ideas and optioning the rights later.

Leave a comment

Filed under Writing

Back to School

Perhaps I’m the biggest nerd out there, but I loved going back to school.

Remember it? Your parents, who made a habit of rejecting most of your requests, set aside money to take you shopping for new stuff. At the bare minimum, you were getting a new pair of shoes, a pair of jeans, some killer flannel shirts, and some underwear. Maybe you could sneak in that Tori Amos t-shirt you coveted when they weren’t looking. I don’t know your life. I can only speak from my experience.

And the school supplies! It starts with the choice of lunchbox in elementary school, then evolved into Trapper Keepers and various binders with which to hold notebooks and other necessities. Fresh pencils and pens were the greatest, until you lost them or someone permanently “borrowed” them after the first week. All the brown bag book covers had yet to be doodled on. The future was limitless.

It was also great to come back and see how people had changed over the summer. This was especially great once puberty started and you’d legitimately not recognize some classmates because they’d sprouted peach fuzz and a new nose sometime between June and September.

Watching Facebook explode with pictures of smiling children heading back onto the school bus, it’s hard not to wish adulthood had the same built-in timeline for renewal. We attempt it with New Year’s resolutions. When we start new jobs, we often feel like kids waiting for the yellow chariot to pull up to our driveway, taking us and our Miss Piggy lunchbox off into the great unknown. We shop the end of season sales year-round to try to keep our wardrobes fresh. But it’s hard not to wish for that one big annual transition to make us reevaluate and grow.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Summer 2014

Don't leave, Summer, you're the best.

Don’t leave, Summer, you’re the best.

Despite the fact that it’s currently 80-something degrees outside and both air conditioners in the apartment have been blasting all day, summer is unofficially over now that the sun has set on Labor Day. The summer of 2014 went by in an all-too-fast blur, much of it rife with horrifying news from around the globe. However, there were some shining moments to remember as we head into the final stretch of the year. Let’s think about those, shall we?

Summer came at all. After a brutally cold and snowy winter, the entire region awaited warm weather and lazy summer days with anxiety. Would it rain all season long? (Nope.) Would it be hot? (Not really.) Everything would be all right, if we could just make it to those warmer months. (Correct.)

There was no “Song of the Summer.” Say what you will about the relatively recent trend of dubbing one pop anthem the inescapable hit of windows-down season, but there really wasn’t one this year. Sure, Iggy Azelea’s “Fancy” was an early leader, but it burned out fast. I’m just sad “All About that Bass” didn’t start seeing regular airplay until the waning days of August. (However, that means music industry marketing folks are having emergency meetings to sharpen the knives for summer 2015. Prepare for an onslaught of universally appealing pop!)

Road trips. New England is the most beautiful place to be in the summer. Everyone is outside, sweating and baring their skin to the suddenly fierce sun. It’s best to take advantage of several long summer weekends around the region. This summer, I visited Martha’s Vineyard, Newport, Ogunquit, York, Jamestown RI, Portsmouth NH, Scituate MA, and Lake Winnipesaukee. Can’t wait to see where fall’s road trips take me.

Running outside. There’s nothing better than being woken up by the sun and getting a quick jog in before work, feeling the day’s heat slowly beginning to build. Sadly, that only lasted for about a month before the mornings started getting darker. Ugh. (Sorry. Positivity!)

Weddings! My good friend got married this summer at a lovely, low-key ceremony. She’s one of my first very close friends made during post-college life to get hitched, and I’m so happy for her.

Summer of the Shandy. I think I drank what feels like 500 Narragansett Del’s Shandies and Harpoon Big Squeezes. To say nothing of the Narragansett Summers. Fall beers are awesome, but summer beers are finally giving them a run for their money.

So, what was your favorite part of Summer 2014? Let’s reminisce so we can use these thoughts to keep ourselves from giving up entirely when it’s -30º in a few months.

Leave a comment

Filed under Life

Insult to Injury

Although I am generally more active and willing to be outside in the summer months, I often gain weight when it’s warm outside. Every day, I wear the stretchiest, loosest, most breathable clothing I own. While I walk more places, it’s typically to a patio upon which to dine and drink al fresco for hours. By the time cool August nights roll around and I’m donning my jeans, I notice they’re a little more snug than they were in the spring.

Combine this with an increasing number on the scale and a recent vacation during which I ate and drank my way across the port towns of southern New England, I’ve been pushing myself hard to exercise this week. I made my valiant and sweaty return to the gym on Monday, stunned at how much of the strength I’d lost in a mere week away. Tuesday I rested (and ate pizza nachos) but I returned yesterday.

Tonight, I was a little tired, but figured I should push myself to do one more fitness class this week. I’d missed the start of a short class by mere moments, so I waited around for the 45 minute (and more challenging) class to begin. The warmup began with some squats. My muscles were tired, but I felt fine. We did a few downward facing dogs and cobra poses to get loose. Sometime between the slowed-down burpees and the mountain climbers, I felt a stabbing pain in my knee.

Shit.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Fitness, Life

Third Time’s a Charm for My Debit Card?

Soon, I’ll be receiving my third new debit card of 2014.

Yes, that’s right. Numero tres. The second due to my number being used for a fake debit card in another state.

Ever since Bob Dole blew my burgeoning adult mind with the idea that I could one day pay for things out of my checking account without a check, I’ve been a debit card user. In my days of youthful folly, I used my overdraft protection frequently. In my recovery from living beyond my means, my debit card has gotten a significant workout because I know I can’t be trusted to pay a credit card balance in full every month and I try to pay “cash” for everything.

But now I’m reconsidering this move, since I’ve had to replace my card so often. Earlier this year, my bank called me to report a small charge, typically used by data thieves to see if the bank will flag the card. Then because I’d used my card at Target, the bank sent me another card. Yesterday, I got the dreaded voicemail from Santander fraud protection.

It’s a monumental hassle in so many ways that this keeps happening. I pay for myriad bills through my debit card, including things like Birchbox or the New York Times. There are so many things I don’t even know I use the card for until my inbox is filled with notices that an attempted payment has failed. Then there’s the fact that it takes Santander more than a week to mail the new card to me. If I want to get cash outside of banking hours during that time, I have to pay Visa’s exorbitant rates for cash advances on my credit card.

It is absurd to me that banks are dragging their feet to use the type of debit cards that are less easily hacked. These cards are in wide use throughout Europe with largely positive results, but US banks aren’t going to roll out the new cards because the cost of the technology is as much as 10 times the cost of a card with a magnetic stripe.

The customer service rep I spoke to this week was lovely, and helpfully suggested that the cause of my repeated security issues was due to somewhere where I use the card. It’s a herculean task. I buy coffee from a slew of different shops. My lunch spots vary. I had the card to servers regularly. I buy gas every few weeks. I use strange ATMs. How the hell am I supposed to narrow it down? The banking industry encouraged me to conduct my transactions this way. Now it’s my fault their security is subpar?

One of these days, I’ll go through my bank statements to see where I used the card before both times I was compromised, since it’s likely my card is being skimmed. And then I will break the fingers of the punk who’s causing me this hassle. Until then, I guess it’s time to start hiding cash under my mattress.

Leave a comment

Filed under Life