Yeah. Perspective.

I’m 28. I’ll be 29 in a month and 6 days. And the first time I took a psychology class at the college level, I was a gawky fourteen-year-old, and the only reason I was in a college class at 14 was because my father was a professor at the school at the time.

It was an intro-psych class. College level. College material. I did pretty well, considering I was a high-school freshman and in an intro-psych class that dealt in both cognitive and abnormal psych. In other words, I diagnosed myself with depression – a family gift, passed down from generation to generation - at fourteen.

If I were anyone else, with any other life experience, then maybe I could laugh at this now and think, this is why teenagers shouldn’t read the DSM. However, I had to claw my way out of that quagmire, and nearly everything that I learned in that textbook over the three months I was in that class – and the others I’ve taken since – became the staircase I needed to get out of the hole.

It split perspective in an interesting way, too, but for that, keep reading.

What I may not have mentioned in prior entries on the topic is that depression often manifests physically, because if the person doesn’t have a psychological outlet, it flows over into physical well-being and turns into lack thereof.

No two people experience the physical hallmarks of depression the same way. There’s no real way of knowing. If mental hallmarks are difficult to spot, physical are twice so. You just cannot tell. And moreover, you just cannot put an end to it if you happen to be the one who has to deal with it. This is why whenever I catch someone saying to anyone, “well, they can just not be depressed”, I want to beat them with something blunt.

The best way I can think to describe depression is to have a constant, heavy, tightly-buttoned, self-closing coat on you. Imagine it. Imagine that it has a mind of its own and the only thing it does is drape itself across your shoulders and button you up in its merciless grip. Imagine it weighing you down to where you know that if you reach up to open one button, it’s going to take an immeasurable effort, and no matter how hard you try to reach the first button, your arms are so weighed down that it’s a Herculean effort to even shift while wearing it. It’s tight; you know you can have it loose or off, and that it won’t interfere with you unbuttoning it, but since you can’t loosen it, then you have to walk around and deal with the way it constrains everything that you do. And it doesn’t go away: you can’t take off the coat and put it back on as you feel like it; once it’s on, you either fight to remove it for a prolonged period, or you take the other route. You have to wear it everywhere.

But when you do manage to unbutton it, take it off, let it fall with a dull clunk on the floor, your body never quite recovers from it. It will always remember the heaviness, the tightness, the discomfort, and the weakness that it felt when trying to remove it. And the coat is there, still, on the floor, reminding you that any minute, it can be on you again. You can wake up wearing it again and never know how the hell it got back onto you again.

Because I’m a scholar at the core, and because I studied the science of psychology in many and multiple iterations for what’s now half my life, I have a very curious dual perspective of depression. I have the experience of someone who had studied it, and someone who had gone through it. And, if my physical symptoms are to judge, is still getting through the aftershocks of it.

My own physical symptoms of depression are particular to the lifestyle that I find myself in. I’m a lot more tired mentally than I’ve ever been physically as of late, and this is something that I can neither help nor mitigate; this is the nature of my line of work. But what it lent itself to is the fatigue; the consuming physical and mental fatigue that makes me want to crawl under the covers and want to stay there for a week – which I’d never allow myself to do because it’s completely contrary to my otherwise very active nature. While no, I’m not at my ideal health, the aches and pains I’ve developed lately are not due to any physical ailments. The back pain is no injury, and I am not prone to headaches, and especially not migraines, on an ordinary day. I know too well the mindset I was in when I first started having those headaches. I expect some joint pain, yes, but it’s localized mostly to the knees – not the shoulders, which feel as though there’s a small boulder on each.

And it discombobulates me a fair bit, because I didn’t notice anything creep up on me on the mental side. I enjoy things the way I always enjoy them, I am in my regular mood – hey, for me, being cantankerous and sarcastic is 100% normal – and I certainly do not feel as though anything is particularly, you know, off. I don’t feel sad, hopeless, or anything even remotely resembling the mental black hole I was in before. But I feel the physical symptoms a lot more than usual. And lately, I just don’t have the spoons to keep going past a certain point.

If you want to know what I mean by “don’t have the spoons”, read The Spoon Theory. It’s a really great read about chronic conditions, and living with them, and depression is no different.

Funny thing is, I’m still treating myself as my own case study. On one hand, I crawl into bed wishing that the alarm wouldn’t have to go off (and knowing full well that it’s not like I have that much of a choice), and on another, I will wake up at that alarm clock, take a deep breath, and commit my dreams or lack thereof, aches and pains, any mood change or any foreboding-type of gut feeling to memory or to a journal. That’s the scholar’s perspective, and yes, in a way, it does help. By detaching from the condition itself, by treating it as though it were someone, anyone else, I’m actually doing two things: one is that I’m doing a lot better at steering clear of the worst of the quagmire, and two is that I’m seeing just how human I am. I’m not SuperWoman, even though my ex-boss and a few of my friends will say to contrary. I’m good – oh, I’m very good at what I do – but I am not the best (which is okay), and I certainly do not have the energy for everything (which is also okay).

It also makes me feel like I’m on the outside of myself looking in, and what I’m seeing right now is someone who really needs to get some sleep. Not just a nice night, but spend a couple of days just drifting in and out of snooze mode. And yes, it’s in part because I work in a high-stress environment at peak deadline. But the other part is that there was once a big heavy coat on my shoulders, and my body remembers the weight of carrying it and shifting and bracing up to bear it again.

I won over it before. I will win again. Otherwise, I’m just not me. It may take a heating pad or two, though.

K.G.

The United States of America, Inc., and the news roundup

Whew. It has been a little while since I’ve done a round-up of all the craziness that’s in the political world, but the current SCOTUS decision was just the incentive I needed.

I refer to the decision that effectively opened the financial floodgates in terms of campaign donations. McCutcheon v. FEC. Full text in the link.

I cannot quite put the caliber of the disaster that this decision is into words. Bear with me, might get rambly.

We have seen the Republican craziness in the months leading up to the President’s re-election. We’ve seen the gerrymandered districts. We’ve seen the candidates’ crazy caliber go off the charts. We’ve seen ridiculous budget proposals that would leave millions below the poverty line and/or starving, just to patchwork-save a quick buck, completely disregarding the fact that putting benefits and the social safety net on the chopping block now will result in a far wider strain on that same safety net in as little as four years. And most of all, we’ve seen an absolutely frightening amount of big money get poured into right-wing politics, most of it courtesy of Charles and David Koch, whose family has been trying to buy the US Government since the days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I kid you not about that last, look up the details.

Citizens United v. FEC opened the big-money floodgates, and McCutcheon just removed the last remnants of the dam. If you hadn’t gotten sick of the media constantly shoving lies and out-of-context quotes in smear campaigns down your throats, you probably will after the effects of this decision will begin to show in full. Right now, expect to decide the next candidate – from both sides – by how much money is spent by their backers.

And we, of course, know that four of the justices have been bought and paid for by corporate sponsors already. Yes, I’m looking at you, Antonin Scalia. Alito and Roberts were our gifts from George W. Bush. I spat some nails when those two got confirmed and I’m once again seeing why. And you know my standing opinion on Clarence Thomas.

Really. This is a disaster on a mass scale, if you consider that a large majority of the actual people at the voting polls don’t really have the money to contribute to campaigns – and they do so anyway, which is why grassroots efforts pay off - and they also are kept too tired and too busy to think and pay attention adequately to what’s around them. Remember the disillusionment in Ted Cruz after the government shutdown of Oct. 1st? While there certainly weren’t enough people to call for his resignation – not yet, anyway – I wasn’t wholly surprised by the fact that the disillusionment was even there. People don’t see when they’re being scammed until the scam reaches them personally, and people started to see the scam that Ted Cruz was selling – but why weren’t they able to before? Because it was everywhere around them. They didn’t need to think about it right up until they had to. Problem is, money buys media, and the media right now is little more than a propaganda machine. There’s a very good reason I chucked my television three weeks ago, and not just because it’s a CRT clunker that was taking up more space than it’s ever been worth.

If you disagree with me on the media statement, think on this: the other day was the last day to sign up for the ACA, without an extension. The lines circled blocks. Where was a single media report on this? Nowhere.  If the media was truly liberal, those photos would’ve been plastered nationwide, but instead we got a carefully-orchestrated blackout, even though the ACA has met and surpassed its sign-up goal. But no – instead we still get bullshit-riddled reports about the “dangers” of the ACA, and people who, to this day, cannot understand that ACA and Obamacare are one and the same, and I cannot tell you that this blatant ignorance is accidental.

What’s going to happen is basically three things:

1. We’re going to see an overwhelming number of ads, largely coming from the teabaggers and the right, and they will be everywhere.

2. Political campaigning will become the next new big business venture, and we’re going to see people make a shitton of money in political advertising alone.

3. The people’s voice, votes, and opinions will cease to matter as we know it.

Because really, few people can outspend the Koch brothers, and someone making 40K per year no longer can never possibly rank up to someone making 40 billion a year or more.

The Supreme Court has basically just handed this country and its political reins over to whoever holds the most cash, which is what every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower has specifically warned against. Hell, even Tom Jefferson has warned against it, and he was one of the people thanks to whom this country even exists.

The ignorance of history here is absolutely staggering. Yes, the French Revolution was over two hundred years ago, if memory serves my dates right, but the causes of it were largely similar. Just because it’s another century doesn’t mean the dynamics changed at all, and history has always been a great teacher, especially its ugliest parts. The tensions in this country are already skyrocketing to a fever pitch, and I will be very surprised if we’re not going to see a major backlash to this sooner rather than later.

Now, for some more news:

Rick Scott’s voter purge ruled illegal. Yes, thank you, appeals court, because pretty much everyone with a brain cell knew that this was illegal. But while you’re at it, what are you going to do about the fact that his wife is a medical lab CEO and that “drug test the welfare recipients” stunt that caught next to no welfare fraud lined her pockets?

Yet another explosion at a gas plant, and people still think that regulations are a terrible horrible thing. Honestly, it’s things like these explosions, coal waste spills, chemical spills that will likely displace a lot of West Virginians, that highlight that government regulations are an absolute necessity to protect bystanders from a corporation’s thirst to pad their bottom line. This is not the first time such a thing happened, by a long shot, and we’re seeing firsthand what happens when there isn’t enough oversight. The EPA has been gutted by the very same people who right now are collecting a tidy profit regardless of whose water they just poisoned or how many people now have to move because, again, they have no clean drinking water whatsoever.

There’s talk about Jeb Bush for 2016. Yes, another Bush. I’ll wait for you to un-embed your heads from your desks.

And yes, there’s Christiegate. Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, who was very well aware of everything happening in Fort Lee, definitely and very likely the same guy who authorized the closings of the GW Bridge for no more than his own political petty bullshit, basically had his lawyers publicly declare that there was nothing to see and Mr. Christie was fully innocent. But we all know that thing about foxes and henhouses. And we also know that Christie withheld Sandy aid for politicking bullshit as well. Ask the mayors of Hoboken, Weehawken, and yes, Fort Lee. But guess what! The lawyers who “cleared” him are getting subpoenaed!

The more this unfolds, the more I get gleeful. I love nothing more than watch people get their just desserts, and Chris Christie has been an absolutely epic douchebag on more than one occasion. But a fake – proven fake – traffic study to cover up the fact that he was basically engaging in political bullying? Give me a damn break. He’s getting what he deserves, and once he’s out of office, whether it’s by means of an orange jumpsuit, expulsion by vote or expiration of term, his political career is forever over.

And to wrap up this dose of ridiculous things in national politics, Mississippi takes example from Arizona, in all the wrong ways, in a bid to legalize discrimination.

*facepalm* *headdesk*

Don’t those fucking idiots learn?

Arizona’s bill of a similar nature passed both the House and the Senate, to meet its death on Jan Brewer’s desk by means of a veto, and that veto may well be the smartest thing that Brewer has done for her state. However, I said it on my FB page then and I will say it now: the only thing that has forced her into this veto was a massive nationwide outcry against it. Had this bill not garnered the attention that it has garnered, then she would’ve been happy to sign it into law. The senators and house reps of the AZ legislature had reneged on the bill after letting it pass only after they realized the widespread economic impact that this decision would have on their state. Like it as not, but those gay people they want to discriminate against have this thing called money, and money is the one thing that the Arizona state economy needs very badly, especially considering that they’ve been on the short list of states refusing federal funds for no reason other than political bullshit.

I also said back then that Arizona was only the first state to attempt this bill, and there will be others.

And I’m right.

If you only knew what I wouldn’t give to be wrong about shit like this. I’m not psychic, but I know history, economics, and politics well enough that I predict most of this shit on point. And considering the trend of the above, I would give a lot to just once, just once be surprised in a good way. Kentucky going blue and expanding Medicaid maybe? Georgia finally going pro-choice on a grand scale? Something, anything to give me hope that the legislative bodies in the South and the Midwest of the US are capable of logical reasoning and empathy past the “I got mine, fuck the rest of you” mentality.

Well, I also want the Bible Belt to demonstrate some semblance of common sense in general, but considering that South Carolina has been debating how to credit God on an official state fossil proposal….no, I’m not kidding…I think I will need to invest in a cushion, because all the headdesk moments may end up either cracking my desk or giving me a lulu of a bruise.

But suffice it to say that this is not a good day politically. The country has been handed over to the highest bidder, idiots across the country are still attempting to legalize discrimination, and they’re still trying to insert religion where it doesn’t belong in clear violation of the separation of church and state – and conveniently forgetting that federal law will always supersede state law. (Supremacy clause, look it up).

Yeah.

K.G.

Behind the Gilded Shell

It’s very rare that I share anything from the NY Post, which I have absolutely zero respect for, but their article on L’Wren Scott’s suicide was very on-target.

I live in NYC. I see these people every day. I see the businessmen with the sharp suits, the perfectly gelled hair, the manicures, the briefcases. I see the women fashionably dressed, with the right artistic touch, the perfect carat of jewelry, a genuine Prada purse that costs more than all my traveling combined, and all of them have one thing in common: their eyes. The eyes that say that they really want to be anywhere but where they are. They can hide it, they can talk a good game, but I’ve been talking the talk myself for a few years too. I know when people really don’t want to be where they are.

The creative world, especially the higher end of it, is built on impressions, but those impressions cost money. And if you don’t have – actually have the money to back up your impressions, then you’re basically stuck putting on a very elaborate charade that is bound to catch up with you eventually. And if you want to make a living in the high-end creative world, that is to say in fashion, acting of the Hollywood caliber, even in music, then your image has to become a part of your product. That image does not, by any means, come cheap, and again…it’s just the image. It’s not at all, in the least.

What L’Wren Scott’s life had turned out to be is, unfortunately, no different than the lives of many, many people in this city. Most of the creative folks I meet have either been in this gilded scene or are trying to get there. It’s an expensive endeavor, and keeping up appearances and the inflow of money do not always reconcile. This is why I have always told a fellow writer friend of mine: you absolutely have to have a job, because no matter how much you write, you have to find a way to sustain yourself. Because otherwise, the real life of paying your bills and the life you have in your social circle, especially if said circle consists of people that you want to see you as this successful, glamorous, wealthy individual, will diverge very quickly.

What no one will tell you is that while social scenes can and often do fade with time, the reality of the everyday sticks around. Rent still needs to be paid. You can’t put a trip to the Maldives on a credit card and not expect that bill to stop racking up interest and disappear. Your garbage needs to be taken out. And eventually, when it comes to choosing between the publishers’ soiree at Chic Restaurant and paying Con Edison….Con Ed will always win.

But the pressure to put on the show for others’ benefit is outrageous. I have often written that people who are most in the public eye are the people who need to get away from it the quickest, and the last person to whom this applied was Philip Seymour Hoffman. Yes, people knew that he was struggling with addiction, but did anyone ever ask why? Well, this is why: he had to keep putting on a show off the set too. He had pressure on him to go places, see people, laugh it up whether or not he wanted to do any of the above, schmooze with people he may’ve detested… You get the idea. The public eye is a pressure cooker. Philip S. Hoffman may’ve not even known how much money was in his account, but he knew that he had to buy a round to every single Hollywood person at The Hot Party, or else he would’ve been wrung out to dry and kiss a good role farewell. Or so he – and everyone else around him – believed.

Same for Amy Winehouse. She was struggling, she should never have been performing, but they shoved her onto the stage anyway…with the same result.

And L’Wren Scott, a designer of quite a bit of talent, was caught in the pressure cooker that is NY’s fashion scene, where everyone is expected to carry on as though they have no budget constraints, even though the jobs in fashion and publishing don’t pay anywhere near enough to sustain such a lifestyle, never mind sustaining the outrageous cost of living in NYC.

It doesn’t surprise me one bit that it was discovered that she was deep in debt. But it greatly dismays me that the creative world puts such pressure on people working in it. It’s like expecting them to stop being human beings, with very human struggles and human budgets, and instead dressing them up like dolls and parading them out on display.

Michal Baisden posted this on his Facebook page a long while ago, and I cannot help but agree. “People spend money they don’t have to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.” Whether or not Baisden had composed this quote I do not know, but it sums up the conundrum of the creative world in a nutshell. All we, the observers, see are the show people put on, and then later down the line, the end results of what happens when the show becomes too much work to maintain.

And L’Wren Scott could not keep putting on the show. Reality has never gone away and it caught up to her with a vengeance. The gilt had eroded to reveal the coarse, heavy, gray lead beneath. What’s my favorite saying for these situations? If you make like an ostrich, all it means is that someone can come by and give you a kick in the arse.

No matter how many parties you go to, you still have rent  to pay. No matter how many trips you take, you’ll still need to pay your electric bill. Your cell phone can have a $100 case on it, but the $200 bill for usage still needs paying. It adds up, and it adds up to where you have to choose whether or not you want to go take that jaunt to a week-long party in LA or maybe it’s a good idea to see how much is in your bank account to last you to your next payday.

This is where you have to see whether or not the show is even remotely sustainable anymore.

This is actually why I love jazz as much as I do. It’s real. It’s raw. And once the performer off the stage, you see very well that they’re every bit as regular a human being as the rest of us. They have other pursuits. They have families, or pets, or parents, or significant others they take care of. They’re not perfect. They talk about paying bills and working, and maybe giving away a CD or a song or two. They’re absolutely, refreshingly human. They don’t need to pretend that all is right and perfect and gilded in their worlds because their world and ours are all but identical. Just that theirs has a lot more music in it.

And the same goes for the fans. about 95% of them are just astoundingly real, no matter what their walks of life are, and I love it when I meet them. I meet them everywhere: in line at the Note, behind a cash register, checking in for a flight…you name it. Real, raw individuals who love music and love life. They don’t have to pretend everything is glitzier and more glamorous than it actually is, because they know life can’t glitter all the time.

There are, of course, exceptions. And in my experience, the people who try to show themselves as more “chic”, more “wealthy” (regardless of actual wealth), or somehow “classier” than the people next to them are the ones who are putting on the biggest charade of all. This is the thing, folks, and I know I may sound like a fortune cookie when I say this, but it won’t make it less true: your true colors will show eventually no matter what charade you put on, so you might as well be real from the get-go. You can have the big house, the hot car, the designer outfits, the fancy gadgets, the perfectly coiffed hair, pay your restaurant tab with crisp hundreds, but none of this will hide who you really are for long. And it’s worse if you’re trying to show yourself off as more chic/wealthy/classy than the person next to you. It never works. The harder you try to portray yourself as “better”, the more you show that you’re the opposite.

More than once, at several shows, I sat next to people who would try anything to assert some sort of superiority over me. Men are not exempt from this, but I get it far worse from the women. Yes, I know I’m the youngest person in the house, yes, I’m aware I don’t wear designer clothes and don’t carry a $500 purse, and yes, I’m 100% aware I’m not taken seriously because of my age, and yes, I’m aware that they think I’m a groupie if I’m seen talking to the artists – again, because I’m young and female. Do I give a shit about any of the above? No. But when someone – who nearly always happens to be female – tries to assert herself as “superior” for whatever reason, whether it be her “status” with the artist, real or perceived, or the fact that she sees me as a “plain little nobody”, is just plain ridiculous. Laughable, even. We’re not in high school, first of all, and secondly, we’re in the same space for only a handful of hours. You may not ever see me again. So why pull the “I’m better than you” routine? What, exactly, is the point of trying to make yourself feel superior over a complete stranger?

Besides, jazz is not the scene where flaunting wealth or looks gets you anywhere. In this world, you get further by simply being a real human being.

Personally, I don’t give a shit for appearances. Nothing I put on ever costs more than $40 (excepting maybe boots and my winter coat), I wear things until they’re so faded and shrunken in the wash that they are no longer fit for being worn, I walk around in sweats, cargos, glasses, I wear makeup next to never – because none of that matters. My photography, my writing, how well I am able to hustle, my bookkeeping, how quickly I can get my work done and out the door – those are the important things. I can put on a cocktail dress or a suit just as easily as I can throw on my favorite sweatshirt. But if I had to choose between the two, the sweatshirt wins. Always. Comfort over show, every time.

And yes, having a job helps too, because like it as not, the hustle always works better with some backing behind it.

But most of all, what is important is to keep an eye on reality not fading in the glitz. It’s easy, so easy, way too easy to get caught up in things. L’Wren Scott spent her entire adult life caught up in this world – at the cost of her reality, and ultimately her life. But fashion is a world of outward appearances, shallows, and illusions in and of itself. A stroke of a brush can transform someone’s age, but no amount of makeup and foundation can erase long-term trouble, whether the trouble is in the wallet or in the soul.

It’s something that we, from all walks of life, in all creative scenes, can stand to remember.

In Memoriam, L’Wren Scott.

K.G.

The Results

So I spoke to my mortgage broker, finally, and it’s as I thought: alone, I qualify for very little. But he gave me very good advice on how to spruce up my tax returns, and how to make myself look as a better candidate for a mortgage perspective.

The house plans are still on. The “how I’ll get there” plans are going to likely change, but right now, I’m learning the importance of keeping my options open. There’s a lot to be done here, there’s a lot of work to do. But the good news is, the broker told me, “Keep doing what you’re doing; you have a great and responsible plan.”

That was encouraging. I’ll be honest, I don’t feel quite so responsible when it comes to my finances, because I have a very pervasive – obviously!!! – traveling habit that does tend to eat into my finances, more often than not. But then again, I’m looking at where I am in my student loans, where I am as far as debt payoff, and I realize: I am doing miles better than I think. Even if it means depriving myself of a few things, I more often than not get to my goals. I finally opened my first IRA, which I’m pretty confident I won’t be able to fund fully within the calendar year, but is still a hell of a lot better than having no IRA at all. I may qualify soon for my company’s 401K plan. Also not much, but also very good. And these are all pretty fantastic benchmarks, because not for nothing, but how many people in their twenties are in the position of contributing something to their IRAs?

No matter how broke I’m living now, no matter how little it seems I have insofar as cash-on-hand, I am doing really, really well in ensuring my financial future.

And that? Is good news.

Kat G

A Letter to your Future Self

A little cheesy, I’m sure, but I glimpsed this on my FB feed and something about this made me smile. I’ve written a letter to my past self before s part of a challenge for a good cause, but this…this is a little different as far as where the perspective is.

Right now I’m looking at my 29th birthday. I had no idea this much time passed since I started writing this blog at just after 24. I had no idea that it was possible to grow as much in five years. Heal. Love. Learn. Everything. It’s been a journey. And it’s still a reminder that yes, there’s plenty more work for me to do and plenty more places to travel to, and shoot, etc. It’s also a reminder to think about what else you want in your life.

Well…here goes.

–Dear Future Self,

You opened this envelope and you likely smiled, thinking about how old-fashioned or sentimental putting pen to paper is. But that’s who you are. Look around your apartment now, look around where you live. All the things have a classic, simplistic feel to it. You hadn’t changed in that part of you, and nor will your letter style. In fact, I bet that you’d gladly do a pen and paper letter again if you knew who’d like it.

You likely know plenty of those folks too.

I hope you still listen to jazz music. Especially contemporary jazz. Or smooth jazz. Or whatever it’s called. You know what it is, it went right to your soul those years ago and launched everything you ever dreamed of. Do you still listen to Black Diamond by The Rippingtons when you’re walking over the Brooklyn Bridge? Or while driving? Do you still wake up to Spyro Gyra’s Morning Dance when you’re on vacation? Do you still write The Index Series while listening to Four80East?

I hope you do. I hope that life sustained your creative streak, not extinguished it. What’s your current camera? Computer? You love your technology. Do you build furniture still? Work out? Swim? I hope you keep yourself active; yours isn’t a spirit that’s meant to sit still. Same goes for your body.

Keep active. You have the strength of three people – better make it ten to be sure. But if you still have that bum knee, the plus side is you might yet be called Bionic Woman.

Keep your mind active too. You like puzzles, numbers, and chess.

Stick with accounting. You are good at it.

Stick with your friends. They need you. You need you too. Even at your weakest moments, you are the strongest of rocks, not just for them – for yourself too.

And if you have a husband again, then I hope that he’s the one you need. I hope he challenges you, and delivers his best when you challenge him in return. I hope he makes you feel like someone soaked your nerves in jet fuel and threw in a match. I hope you give him a run for the money. I hope you both know each other – really know each other – down to every predictable small habit, but can keep an element of surprise to yourselves. You need a challenge, a fiery challenge as tough and multifaceted as yourself. And I don’t know whether to wish the poor sap luck or cheer him on, but I hope that apart from being what you want, he is also what you, above all, need.

Stick with jazz. It’s more than just music. Its sound was a love affair with your ears at fifteen, it was a business by twenty-eight, and if ever are you in doubt, remember: it all started with a show. Music has been there for you before. It will always, without fail, be there when you need it.

Travel. Travel like you used to when you were 24; board the plane with excitement, leave your stress behind in the terminal, and keep seeing new things. If you already crossed off your destination list, I know you have another one you’re working on. Keep working on it. Keep going the way you always had.  Tunnel vision is an art form. So is gumption.

Trust your judgment and your instinct. They will never mislead you.

I hope that, right now reading this, you know that you reached your goals, set new ones, and kept reaching higher. It’s not the achievement, it’s the determination that counts the most, and few beings in this world have as much gumption as yourself.

And never forget that red wine, usually, cures all ills.

Love,

2014′s K.G.

“If you care about writing, stop doing it!”…say what!?

That was the message in this article, and it just went on and pissed me right the hell off.

So, let’s get this straight. Lady has never read the Harry Potter series, yet she “knows” they’re not worthwhile, and carries the attitude that JK Rowling should stop writing – why? So that other authors “have a chance”? Because waaaah, it’s so hard to earn success on your own?

Two words to the author of that article: bite me.

I say that as a self-published author multiple times over who had to endure five years of JK Rowling comparisons because I work in YA fantasy/sci-fi.

Here’s some truth, folks. Authors are successful by merit of sales and merit of product. I personally happen to have loved the Harry Potter series and read the books well before seeing any of the movies. And yes, JK Rowling is enjoying financial and personal success for life as a result. But again: she earned it. She earned her accolades. She got the first book off the ground and got the sales traction that warranted enough notice for the first movie to come about. She did that doing the exact same thing that writers throughout the world do every. single. day.

And not one of the authors who got to the stage of even a midlist owe another author a spot. Same applies to music. We will help each other out, no question. We’ll edit each other’s work, just the same as my music folks will co-produce, co-compose, guest-star on each other’s recordings, etc. But there is no one who owes anyone a spot they hadn’t earned.

And if it’s “too hard” for someone to compete against JK Rowling, or “too hard” to even become an author in the first place, then they have no business even trying.

Harsh, but I’ll stand by this sentiment and you’ll never hear me apologize for it.

I’ve started self-publishing my series before it caught on as a massively viable option, and if I had a dollar for everyone who thought that they’re paying me a compliment by saying I’m the next JK Rowling, I’d buy two houses, not just one. It’s not a compliment: it’s setting a standard of competition, regardless of the author’s desires and outlooks. Here’s the thing, folks: I don’t compete. I see no benefit in measuring my achievements against someone else’s. I went into publishing The Index Series being well aware that I will likely never reach the same level of accolades and accomplishments as the Harry Potter series – I may hope for it, but I knew well that it wouldn’t happen. I learned about the ins and outs of authorship and publishing the old-school way: trial and error. Did I make money off my books? Yes. A lot? No. And the same could be said for a lot of self-pubs out there.

But I would never, not in my lifetime dream of asking even Stephenie Meyer, whose writing I find repellant, to “step aside” so that I could have a shot. Hell no. Never. I’d scrape up the funds to pay someone to market my books for me, but to ask someone to let me have a spot for no merit whatsoever but it’s “too hard”? I’d never show my face in public for shame. I’d pay an editor, I’d hire a marketing specialist, and I’d actually attempt to prove by merit that my books can be as popular as Harry Potter, or Twilight (shudder). Yeah, I’ll take whatever help I’ll pay for, take whatever help that’s offered to me, but to request that someone else step aside is unthinkable. It’s an attitude of entitlement, which I do not tolerate in anyone, and myself least of all.

You want to be as successful as JK Rowling? Then write better than her. Or at least write stuff that will sell as well as the Harry Potter series, or better. But take the entitlement and stick it where the sun doesn’t shine.

No love,

K.G.

 

Homebuying Adventures: The Pre-Q.

Prequalification for a mortgage. Necessary first step regardless of whether or not you ever use said mortgage, and nothing could be more important if you’re setting out to buy a home…of any sort.

Well, that’s the threshold that I’m about to cross, having sent off my materials for the prequalification stage of things. And I’m a little terrified, and a whole lot of anxious, because this makes the entire process very, very, very real. Yeah… I’m staring right down the barrel of homeownership and it’s more than a little scary. There’s a lot of financial outlay on the line here, and a mortgage ties you up for 30 years minimum. More or less depending on your finances and refi situations.

So, what goes into a prequalification packet? I can tell you this from both sides, having put together the documents for some of my first job’s tax clients, and now having to do so myself as a potential buyer. To prequalify for a mortgage, you need:

1. Tax returns

2. Paystubs or W-2s and a constant, consistent history of employment

3. ID

4. Bank statements

5. Credit score.

Yes, it’s personal as hell, but think about what a potential lender wants to know. The lender wands to know your spending habits – bank statement – which will tell them just how good you are with the money you earn, how far it goes, etc. W-2s – are you employed? Are you making the income that will back this mortgage? Tax returns: are you paying taxes and are you on time with them? In other words, they want to assess you as a risk factor. What sort of a risk is the lender taking with their money, shelling it for you to have the house, and will they get to see that money returned?

Now I do worry for my own prequalification result. Why? The student loans. The credit cards I’m not worried about; I am diligently working on those and, for once, have my spending under control (and that, trust me, is an accomplishment). But the student loans are a very major impediment; I have one loan with a steady payoff target looming close in sights, but there’s another sitting in deferment. But – if I have one loan to worry about rather than two, then I don’t foresee an issue in my budget in pulling a mortgage as well.

The problem is, of course, will a lender see it that way?

Fortunately, I have a mortgage broker whom I’m working with, and he is fantastic in answering the questions that I have.

The one thing I cannot tell you folks enough, especially if you’re my age and only now climbing out from under the loan quagmire is this: until you ask you will never actually know. Do I know if I can pull a mortgage within a couple years on my own? No. I don’t. I think I might, but I am an accountant, not a mortgage broker. I can stretch a small budget to where Nadia Comaneci would be impressed, but would a lender see it that way? I do not know. But what a mortgage broker can also do is put together a plan.

That counts for a lot.

Find a mortgage guy, folks. Even if you’re not buying a house right this minute, if you at least put enough together to get an idea for how much you qualify for, that’s one big piece f the jigsaw puzzle in place right there. Down payments, interest percentages – that’s all a whole other gamble. But first, find out what your financial picture looks like from the mortgage perspective.

I await my own results with trepidation, I must confess, but it will go a long way in me getting my own place.

K.G.

Why buy? On thinking ahead and living

This is something that both my mother and my peers have been asking me, and while my mother sees why homeownership is a necessary thing, that may not hold to be the case for folks my age. And I’m not that old.

This may hold especially true for New Yorkers, or anyone who is living in a big city trying to make it, but for the sake of ease, I’ll continue this narrative in the vein of New York, if only out of my personal experience for one, and for two, I’m sure that the multitudes of creative types who are under 35 can relate to me, especially if they’re stuck in the same situation as myself.

You’ve heard me rail about the quagmire of student loans, and you’ve seen me occasionally lose direction because of that. I will be honest, as little as three years ago, I never thought that there was a light at the end of that particular debt tunnel. I’ve been lucky to land a career-track job right out of college, even if it had nothing to do with my field, and I’ve been lucky to begin making enough to get by. These are key words: enough to get by. Not many people are that lucky. As I’ve said millions of times, no one tells you when you get into college that a starting salary of 30K is an average, if not a welcome thing, and that while you’re in college trying to gain experience for the job you want, the job you have will barely pay enough to cover your bills (read: under 30K). And this is a standard routine of the American workforce; we just have to adapt to it and find a way to live.

To live. Not to just survive, but to live.

Granted, I don’t have ambitions of marriage and kids, but what I am about to say here is a tenet of more mathematics than life ambition, and especially in a city like NYC, where cost of living is abhorrently expensive, and applies across the board.

Ready?

Here it is: you need to think long and hard about where your money is going, and renting is, ultimately, a waste of good money. 

I know that I’ve just elicited gasps from my fellow New Yorkers, but let’s think about it a little. In a city that laughs in the face of the financial guideline that rent should be only 1/3 of your monthly pay, your money is being depleted faster than you think. I’m sure that you’ve gone more than once living on boxed meals or ramen noodles because of unexpected expenses, less pay, whatever the cause. This is the other reason why people my age live with their parents well into their thirties: apart from the fact that student loans will eat rent, so will, well, rent itself. It’s just math: if you’re working at 30K per year on your first job, your net income is maybe $1,600 per month. A studio in, say, Sheepshead Bay will run you about $1,000. Add $112 to that every month for a MetroCard. About $125 for the monthly phone/cable/net package. If you’re paying student loans, it’s unlikely that you’ll have less than 75K to pay off, and monthly payment for that, if extended, ballparks out at….$300, if the lender’s willing to set it. So for food, clothing, etc. you will have per month… *crunches numbers* $63.

For a month of food. I won’t get into what kind of food you’ll end up getting for a month for $63 and stay on budget. Another rant for another time.

Also note that I didn’t list medical expenses or health insurance in there. With the ACA, insurance companies calculate your premium based on your monthly gross income, not net income less living expenses. So if you’re getting a cheapo insurance policy – since a lot of starter jobs come with a no-insurance-available clause – then you add on another $150-$200 onto your list of expenses. Guess what: you’re now in debt.

This is why NYC is not a sustainable city in and of itself; it drives out the very people who seek to thrive in it by the simple fact that its living is completely unaffordable and impractical for the number of college grads that it produces year in and year out. I won’t get into the over-inflated house prices in the city. But bear with me.

Suppose for a second that the same person, who’s making 30K per year, even with loan payments, were to look at a buying 50K co-op studio in upstate NY, no money down. Yes, that price is legit; I’ve checked the markets, it’s likely a short-sale price, but work with the scenario. No money down is also sometimes possible. But again, hypothetical here.

You will have a monthly mortgage of about $400, which covers property taxes and insurance too. Maintenance fees depend on the building, but a 50K studio on short sale would’ve likely brought 75K at market value, and if the building’s main amenity is the laundromat in the basement, then let’s ballpark about $350 maintenance expenses. $175 for a monthly rail ticket as a ballpark. And again: $1,600 net income. Same $125 for phone/net/cable TV.  Your flex, which was only $63 for the month, becomes…$250.  Which opens up possibilities.

Difference? Yes. Major. Not just in the additional flexible income, but also because you have an asset to your name that you can, if need be, re-sell and have some income from it: the studio itself. With rent, what exactly do you get for your money? Not a damned thing.

The thing about commutes is, while they’re annoying in their length and sometimes cost, there is a huge tradeoff in cost of living overall. Believe me when I say, my mom and I could have taken a 2BR in Upper Manhattan or Queens. Our commute time will be sliced to a fraction, but costwise, it would not have been anywhere near effective. MetroCard cost within the city for unlimited monthly use does not change and the distance does not play a factor in it. But instead, we’re out more money due to the rent increase.

What do we own as a result of twenty years of renting? Not a damn thing. And I don’t joke when I say that for the money we paid out in rent so far, the house would’ve long been paid off. 

That stick in my craw. Granted, when we got to NYC, we had little more than the clothes on our backs and what eight homemade duffels could stuff. So we couldn’t really own much of anything at the time, but that was also when $80,000 could’ve bought us a 3BR house with no problem. Now Brooklyn realtors will laugh when you ask for that price for that size.

However, it’s the current day and time, and I’m finding myself becoming my mother in the regard of starting a life. My mother was in her forties back then, granted, but twenty years ago, she was making what I am making now, and she was making the decisions on how to live and sustain us all. She did what was feasible and best for the circumstances, but she was also planning on how to make the most of what she was making.

The thing is this: if you’re renting in NYC, you won’t be able to sustain yourself that way forever. Even as your salary grows, your rents will hike up too, and at the end of ten years of working, you will find yourself not too far off from where you began, if not at the same place exactly. If you want more out of your life, and more out of the money that you make, think long-term. And this does, for some people, equate to buying your own place as opposed to renting. To me, at the very least, it’s part and parcel of it. Because I know that even if half my money monthly goes towards the mortgage and maintenance of a home, I also know that in 30 years, the mortgage disappears, or if I decide to sell it, I can turn a profit by selling a former short-sale property at market cost.

Or I can keep it and sublet it, and still turn a profit from the income net of the maintenance fee.

Think about this: even if you are not going to live in the same apartment the entire time, you can make a profit off selling it, as opposed to taking an additional financial hit off the broker’s fee and security deposit.

This message is to my fellow college grads, the starving artists whom I have shared the survival struggle with and still share it: think long-term for what you want to achieve and know that for it, money and saving money are a requirement. Start setting aside money for retirement; it’s been 7 years since the year of my college graduation, and I’m watching my mother approach her retirement with apprehension as to whether or not she’ll be able to afford living on her scant pension and on whatever Social Security she will get. I have an IRA set up, which I’m also prepared to gut out to make a down payment on a place (consult your tax professional, because first-time homebuying might be the one time you can take your IRA distribution before your retirement without getting hit by tax penalties). Even something as little as $50 a month put into a retirement account pools up to a significant sum over 5 years and, as a bonus, contributing to a traditional IRA is tax-deductible (as opposed to a Roth). But either way, you have to sit down and, as scary as it may be – and it is scary, make no mistake! – start planning for your future. If you’re making little money, at least set aside however little you can. Even if it’s a “for emergencies only” savings account as opposed to an IRA, investment, etc., some money set aside is better than flat-out none.

This is where I’m very glad for my accounting job. I never took a class outside of that one stint in the spring of last year, and I am glad more than anything for the fact that I’m in this field. Why? It gave me a very much needed hands-on education in how money and taxes work. The real-estate license, while not bringing me the income that I had hoped for, has given me an insight into the benefits and drawbacks of owning a property.

And I tell you this, peers of mine: this is an important thing to know. Sooner or later you will be faced with a sheaf of closing documents, and it would really help if you knew exactly what was in them and how it impacts your life. Same for a tax return: know what’s in yours and know how it works. Both will benefit you a lot.

K.G.

House vs. Apartment?

Considering my price range and affordability, I have to ask whether or not an apartment would be better than a house as a starting point.

So let’s think about the pros and cons of each:

House

Pros:

- No immediate neighbors on top or next to you, unless you’re buying an attached property

- Backyard – plant a garden, hell yes.

- More space

- Less restrictions on what you can do with the property (ideal for handyman types)

Cons:

- Higher property taxes

- Bigger maintenance expenses (boiler goes bad, termite damage, roof replacement…the cost can be outrageous)

- HOA issues (if applicable)

- Price (Really? 200K+ fora 2br split-level? Are you out of your mind, NJ?)

- More repair/insurance issues in case of major natural event (flooding, snowstorms, hurricanes)

- Building. Believe you me, I know that if I do not build quickly, it will become a complete and total drag. I want to enjoy the renovation projects if I have any, not have them become a headache in their mere existence.

Apartment

Pros:

- Comparable/less in price (and in the area where I’m looking, it’s pretty damn cheap to buy a co-op)

- Much less repairs/renovations

- Less maintenance (flat fee usually handles it)

- Utilities often included

- Less property taxes

- I grew up in apartments all my life and know how to handle most apartment-related matters.

Cons:

- Neighbors

- Co-op board apps/condo association fees

- I grew up in apartments all my life, and am just a little tired of apartments.

This is the thing: when I began looking at houses, I thought that finally, I will get out of living in apartments all my damn life! But truth be told, in thinking so, I have cut off a massive chunk of my own market. There’s nothing wrong with living in apartments, if I choose one with the right price, area, and square-footage.

Now. So far I’ve been browsing short-sales in NJ far as houses are concerned. I’ve seen some gems in there, some houses that need updating, need some new drywall in some places, etc. However: again, my finances are limited. My student loans may well be dealt with partially by the time I’m ready to close on the place, but I would like to get as much for my money as I reasonably can.

Which means that I need to come back to the drawing board for the search. Yes, I can still be a handywoman in an apartment. But it’s so much less hassles than a house. As a starting point, a co-op 1BR may well be a good place to start.

What I also need to think about is the location. NJ property taxes are higher than NY right now. So I need to really consider the possibilities. I get a credit if I work in NY but live in NJ, but that credit may not be worthwhile if the overall rates are higher. That creates A Problem. Should I continue to look in NJ? Possibly, if there’s a good bargain to be found; NJ has a lot more bang per square-footage than NY. But I also need to think about the areas in upstate NY. I can buy a house in Newark, but the crime rate gives me pause to worry. For the same money, I can get an apartment in New Rochelle, which I’m familiar with, with my mom having worked there for quite some time. In both cases, a car is required. But the value for the money is drastically different.

So what’s it gonna be?

Not sure yet. But I think that apartments need to figure into my new dwelling decision.

K.G.

My Next Biggest Endeavor

Well, you know I have big ideas. So far, they had ended up panning out, to whatever degree that may be. I got my books written, and they’re doing reasonably okay, for the lackluster advertising – which is 100% My Own Fault. I became a pretty decent photographer, now with magazine credits to my name. I said I’d see the world and I would.

But right now, in light of the fact that my mother is about to retire in a couple of years (which will fly, if the past few are any indication), and because I have to really think about how I will survive in a city that’s pricing out anyone who’s under a certain income range, I have decided to take a couple of Very Deep Breaths and plunge myself into a new endeavor. I may have touched on it before, more or less speculatively, but right now I’m getting ready to make it A Real Thing either before Mom retires or shortly after..

I’m going to buy a house.

Yeah. It’s a huge thing. It’s a very huge thing, considering that 1. student loans are in the picture, and 2. for all my realtoring earlier, I know next to nothing about homebuying. This I will partly blame my brokerage on; I know the laws concerning the homebuying side, but I have never gone through the process – obviously – and the bulk of my real estate experience had focused on renting, not purchasing. And of course…I do not know how equipped I am to deal with the financial rigmarole of it all, especially considering that, for obvious reasons, I will not be living in NYC itself. Within the area, yes; I know very well that because my job is currently pretty damn awesome, then I should keep it. But I cannot live in NYC and that is a sad thing.

You know what this city means to me. I mean, can I really, honestly have any home but NYC? Truly, I’m kidding myself if I think to contrary. However, I think that living somewhere in New Jersey or in the Putnam Country/Westchester area of NY would be far friendlier to my finances, and far quieter in regards to everyday life. I have all the excitement at my fingertips in the realm of music and traveling, but I want to come home and know that no one can take it away from me. That this is something my own, that I can work on it and make it better, and maybe, eventually, bring someone else in who will take as much pride in having this thing as my very own as myself. Whether Mom will live at the house with me, I’m not yet sure. She talked about retiring to somewhere cheap and warm, so who knows if she’ll even stay in the Northeast… I’d like to have her with me, but a huge part of me feels that this is going to be my journey first. If she joins me, also great.

So, in part because I’m of the newer generation, and because I think that it is something that people need to know how to do, I have decided to blog my journey to homeownership.

So far, what have I determined?

I determined that I will likely not be able to afford much. That’s just how it is, and I’m aware of it. But I also determined that I would like something that needs some updating and/or work. I like to build. I love to build, actually, and all the furniture I have right now, including the bedframe I’m sleeping on for the third year, is all put together by my own hands. Instructions for IKEA never bothered me; I figured out how to build stuff up on my own when I was about twelve. So I wonder: just what and how much can I do if I had my own house to fix it in?

So that is for sure: I want something that’s Not New. Something that’s been around. Outdated appliances? OK. Bathroom needs a new faucet? OK. Floors need to get a spruce-up? Bring it. Basement needs to get cleaned up and finished up? Sure. Transform a laundry station into a Laundry Station? Make a walk-in closet? Build the book drawer stairs I keep seeing on Facebook? Sure. If the foundation is sound, the wiring is up to code, gas is working, boiler is sound, and the roof doesn’t leak – I can do the rest.

The rest becomes a matter of working with people who can get me the house that I want, for the least possible amount of money, with the least possible hassle. This will take a while, I know. This will be painful, likely financially too. But… It will pay off. I know it will. I will make it so.

That and…I know that when my  friends come through town, I would like to offer them a homecooked meal and a crashpad. :)

K.G.