Where Did “All That” Money Go?

Right now, I am having a panic attack about money.

The experience is nothing new. I have a panic attack about money at least once a week–that is, whenever we don’t have any.

How does this happen? Payday was just last Friday, less than a week ago. And yet, we’re broke. In fact, we’re about $400 in the hole. More, much more, if I count the money we owe various places that I just ignore because there’s no way of paying it after meeting our immediate needs, and thinking about it sends me right over the edge.

I’m having a panic attack because in the culture in which we live, in the United States in particular, but perhaps elsewhere as well, cash on hand is equivalent to personal worth and personal success. As much as I repeat to myself that this reasoning is flawed and my inherent worth is not contingent upon worldly riches, there’s always the niggling voice at the back of my head telling me I have no right to complain because other people have it so much worse, that I have no right to live because I’m incapable of providing for my basic needs and those of my family. I’m not a Christian, but I was raised Presbyterian, and Presbyterian doctrine includes the Calvinist notion of predestination. No one talks about it much, but it’s always there, behind everything. You’re damned or saved at birth, nothing can change it, and worldly success or failure is a sign of which direction you’re headed. Success means God loves you. Failure means God hates you. The end. There’s nothing you can do to change it.

My husband is a high school English teacher in a charter program for kids at risk. I am on disability for mental health reasons (this alone, the fact that I have claimed disability for an illness no one can see, is problematic for me. It doesn’t matter that the United States government agrees that working at a regular job is impossible for me and would cause further damage to my health. I can’t help but feel that if only I tried harder, if only I got over myself, if only I stopped being so lazy, I could do the things that need doing). This is the story of where our money goes.

Michael and Kele’s Payday Adventure

Michael gets paid on the 22nd of the month. In August, this falls on a Friday–fortunate, because we inevitably have many errands to do on the one day of the month when we’re assured of having some cash in hand, completing all these errands involves travel, and we only have the one car (a ’97 Ford Escort, in case anyone cares). Also, Michael’s school is on a four-day schedule, so on Fridays he’s free to DO the errands we need to do. When payday falls during the working week, it’s a whole different set of complications actually getting access to the money.

In our household, I’m the one who looks after finances. I’m not crazy about the role, but I’m capable. We’ve tried working with a more equitable system, but Michael is really bad with money and organization and keeping track of dates, like dates when bills are due. So it’s just better if I handle all that. The downside for me is, I constantly have a running tally in my head of what’s in our bank account and what’s out, and what’s owed on what date, and what needs to go where. What can be put off for another month, what needs to be paid now, what utilities are about to get shut off, what’s the last possible moment I can wait before I have to take care of this, that, or the other thing. I did this even during the five years I was otherwise incapacitated with depression and spent every waking moment staring at the walls. It’s extremely stressful, especially when there simply isn’t enough money to go around. Which there never is. I don’t mind being responsible for our finances, not really. But when there isn’t anything to work with, it gets rough.

Anyway, this particular payday we have about $100 in the bank to start. That may sound like a good thing, except it’s not. The reason we have this money is that the cheque I sent to the phone company to keep our service from being turned off bounced; when it came through, we were $10 short. So the bank returned the cheque and charged us an additional $30 for the honour. I also had to spend about $100 on medications that weren’t covered by my disability insurance, but that cheque hasn’t gone through yet.

Sidebar: I hate insufficient funds fees. I suppose, if I’m charitable, I can believe that banks have some kind of cost when there isn’t enough money in an account to cover a cheque, but to me is seems like charging a person who hasn’t got any money MORE money is counter-intuitive and unnecessarily punitive. I saw a meme somewhere to the effect that banks make $30M a year from poor people by charging them fees for being poor.

Another sidebar: I could have let the phone company hang, I guess. We never use our land line. But if I hadn’t paid, we would have lost our Internet service, and the Internet is one of my main mental health lifelines.But poor people don’t deserve DSL connections. What in the world am I thinking by wasting that money?

So, we have a little money, which is good, because we have no gas in the car, and to deal with Michael’s paycheque, we have to drive 30 miles to Delta. We go up to the Stop & Save on the Corner and spend $10 on gas. Then we stop at the diner in Hotchkiss and get breakfast, because we had no food in the house and we’re starving, and we figure it’s okay to spring $25 for bacon and eggs. Because it’s payday.

All through breakfast, while we’re discussing our plan for the day, I hear my father’s voice in the back of my head: “Why do you think you deserve to sit down at a restaurant and be waited on when you keep having to ask hardworking people to bail you out of your financial troubles?” I try to tell him everyone needs treats from time to time and $25 isn’t going to make a difference to our finances one way or the other, but he’s very loud.

After breakfast, we drive up to Garnet Mesa to pick up Michael’s paycheque from the school office and then into Delta to cash it. The reason we have to do this: Michael doesn’t have a bank account. Michael doesn’t have a bank account because our previous bank charged off a credit card balance we ran up paying for my medication before I qualified for disability (at one time I was on medications costing in excess of $1200/month), and there’s some Federal regulation that you can’t open a bank account if you owe a bank money. Our new bank account is in my name only. But we can’t have Michael’s paycheque direct-deposited, or even have him sign it over to me for deposit, because the current bank is afraid if my name isn’t on the cheque Michael will one day make a fuss about “his” money ending up in “my” account. Despite the fact that we’ve been married twenty years.

Michael’s net pay this month is $1571.00. For anyone who still thinks teachers make loads of money, this is how it works. His salary is actually $19K a year, for ten months, four days a week, seven hours a day, trying to teach the most difficult students in Delta county the rudiments of the English language. A lot of the time, his teaching does not look like teaching. It looks like counseling, because the kids with which he works have problems ranging from poverty and homelessness to substance abuse. Their school is the one safe place in their lives and their teachers are the only trustworthy adults they know. Michael does not get any benefits. Contrary to popular belief, teachers do not get 2-3 months “paid vacation.” His yearly salary is spread out over twelve months, only ten of which he’s paid for. This month he got an additional $150 for a week of mandatory “training”–a euphemism for a bunch of meetings that had very little bearing on what his job actually does. At least they paid him for sitting through them.

We cash the cheque and walk up the block to the crafts store, where we spend $30 on beads and a book of knitting patterns. Then we walk around the block to our insurance agent’s office and pay them $71.00 to keep our car insurance up to date. After that, we run up to City Market and fill up the gas tank, a thing we only get to do on paydays. Because we earn “fuel points” for shopping at City Market, the tank of gas costs just over $30.

While we’re there, I notice that our car registration expired in April. Great. I’ve been waiting for the notice with the mail-in renew form since January, and we never got it. Okay, good thing I noticed. We can stop and take care of it at the County Annex in Hotchkiss on our way home.

We’re now at $1440, if anyone was keeping track. I definitely am.

Our next stop is the health food store on Rogers Mesa for vitamins, face cream, and a deodorant rock. I also get a pound of peaches and a couple cookies, because breakfast is wearing off. These five items cost $85.00. Again, I hear my father’s voice. My father was one of those people who would drive 30 miles to get a double coupon deal and fill the closet with boxes of crackers he got on sale. He says, “Why do you need to waste that money at a health food store when you could get vitamins and face cream at the normal grocery for twenty bucks?” Well, Dad, I’ll tell you: I’m allergic to every face cream the grocery store sells, and the more expensive vitamins work better. They’re a mediation for me, and medications don’t come cheap. I also don’t think spending $20 every six months on a nice face cream is out of line. I value my skin. But maybe people in my financial position don’t have any right to vanity, either.

The bank envelope now holds $1355.

Next stop, the County Annex to renew our car registration. This is where we find out that 1. The County isn’t responsible for sending out the renewal notices. The State does that, and sometimes they forget, and they’re phasing our renewal notices anyway, so we’re just going to have to keep track and 2. There’s a $25 fee for every month you’re late on renewing your car registration. So, instead of the $75 we’d have paid if I’d done this on time, we have to spend $150 to bring our car into compliance with the law. I don’t like it, but it has to be done.

Our bank envelope now contains $1205, and I’m beginning to get short of breath.

We stop at the Credit Union and deposit $1000. If you’ll remember the beginning of this adventure, $300 of that is already spent on the phone bill and on medications. Another $550 goes to pay our mortgage. When we make the deposit, I find out that the phone company cheque came through a second time before we got the money into my account and bounced again to the tune of another $30. Shit. I was praying that wouldn’t happen. I’ll have to make an Internet payment when we get home.

If you’re keeping track, which I am, we now have $205 in cash out of the original $1571 and $150 available in the bank. Usually at this point we’d go grocery shopping, but I’m so freaked at the sudden depletion of our funds that I can’t cope, so we just head back to Paonia. We stop at the market to pick up something for dinner ($30) and at the Post Office for me to mail some packages ($10), leaving us with just over $150 in hand at the end of payday.

It’s not over. I have to spend $100 on books that I promised people as part of various promotions–giveaways, pre-orders for which I may or may not get paid, a copy for the firm that holds the license to a song a quoted. One for the Library. It’s another place I hear my father’s voice: “What gives you the right to waste time and money at this unprofitable hobby? Can’t you write in your spare time while you do something worthwhile? And how do you imagine you deserve to SPEND anything when you have no guarantee of making anything back?”

Well. At the end of payday, we’re about in the same place we were at the beginning. $50 in the bank, $150 in hand, which will have to go toward food, because we don’t have any. That’s where all the money went.

And my mind is full of the electric bill, and the water bill, both of which have to be paid immediately. Not to mention the $500-odd I owe the local clinic and the extra $500 that got tacked onto the bill for my surgery last January because reasons. The $200 outstanding to the company that provides the oxygen condenser I have to use at night. The $10,000 some collection agency is demanding within 10 days or else they’ll take me to court, again from credit cards we had when we weren’t quite as poor, which we ran up paying for my $1200+/month medication. Michael’s student loans, which I think started out at $10,000 but now have accrued interest up to about $20,000.

I get my disability payment on the 3rd of next month. It’s $384, and it’s already spoken for.

That’s where all the money goes.



Cover Reveal: Hemlock Veils by Jennie Davenport

About a year ago, I had the privilege of reading the manuscript of a brilliant and beautiful re-imagining of the classic fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast, by a wonderful new author, Jennie Davenport. Today I get to share the cover of that book, which will be released November 25th of this year. Congratulations, Jennie! And may this be only the first step in a long and prosperous career!

Hemlock Veils: Coming Nov. 25
Hemlock Veils: Coming Nov. 25


When Elizabeth Ashton escapes her damaging city life and finds herself in the remote town of Hemlock Veils, Oregon, she is smitten by its quaint mystery; but the surrounding forest holds an enchantment she didn’t think existed, and worse, a most terrifying monster. The town claims it vicious and evil, but Elizabeth suspects something is amiss. Even with its enormous, hairy frame, gruesome claws, and knifelike teeth, the monster’s eyes speak to her: wolf-like and ringed with gold, yet holding an awareness that can only be human. That’s when Elizabeth knows she is the only one who can see the struggling soul trapped inside, the soul to which she is moved.

Secretly, Elizabeth befriends the beast at night, discovering there’s more to his story and that the rising of the sun transforms him into a human more complex than his beastly self. Elizabeth eventually learns that his curse is unlike any other and that a single murderous act is all that stands between him and his freedom. Though love is not enough to break his curse, it may be the only means by which the unimaginable can be done: sacrifice a beauty for the beast.

jennie davenport ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Though Jennie Davenport was raised throughout the Midwest, she now lives in the little desert mining town of Bagdad, Arizona, where six guys beg for her constant attention: a husband, three young, blond sons, a German shepherd with a name much mightier than his disposition (Zeus), and a black cat named Mouse. When she isn’t trying to run her home with as little casualties as possible, Jennie loves snuggling with her family, laughing with her friends, delving into brilliant entertainment of any vein, and playing outside. Despite the way being a writer is in her blood, and the wheels of her writerly mind are constantly turning, Jennie likes to think that in another life, she would have been a Broadway star. Or an American Idol finalist.

Jennie lives for the fall, and not just because of her adoration for the NFL (Go Broncos!). In her perfect world, she would have the springs, summers, and falls of Colorado, and the winters of Arizona—someplace where the climate and weather would allow her to go on a trail run all year round. But even though she prefers the pines and mountains, she is a devoted fan of all nature, from sandy beaches to woodsy cabins, and all are her greatest inspiration. She believes nature is one of the best healing remedies, with a magic all its own.
Jennie’s passion for writing is the way she survives, and is as vital to her sanity as oxygen, caffeine, food, and music. Even before she began writing it, well-told, original, and character-driven romance was always her weak spot. Add the paranormal or magical realism element and she may never make it back to reality.

Find Jennie Davenport on the Internet!




On Suicide Shaming

About twenty-four hours ago, the Internet blew up with the news of actor and comedian Robin Williams’s death from an apparent suicide.

Twenty-three hours and forty-five minutes ago, the shaming started.

I’m going to come right out and say, I haven’t seen a whole heck of a lot of it personally. My Internet connections are fortunately compassionate enough and educated enough not to go there. As well, a good number of them have personal experience of living in the place that leads one to consider suicide as a reasonable alternative to taking one single more breath full of pain. So my awareness of the negative responses comes mostly second-hand, from people talking about posts they’ve seen. When I decided to write this blog I fully intended to look for the sources. When I sat down at my computer, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. If you want to see for yourself, check out the top trend on Twitter. Or read this article for a sample.

I couldn’t bring myself to look, because, as someone who has attempted suicide and survived, I’ve heard it all. To my face. From people who purport to care. From people who purport to work in the mental health fields. And I couldn’t bear hearing it again, and experiencing the helpless anger of being confronted with the unfeeling and thoughtless–even if well-meaning–views of people who do not understand what it’s like, to whom there is no way to explain.

People say you’re selfish. They call you a coward. They blame you for putting the people around you into grief. They ask you why can’t you see how much you’re loved? Why isn’t your life enough? They tell you the pain you feel isn’t real. They tell you to distract yourself, chin up, think of how hard others have it. Think of how the survivors will feel, if you succeed!

I understand survivor grief and survivor guilt. I’ve had friends who have completed suicide. And when this has happened, my first thought isn’t to blame and shame the person for causing me grief because she could no longer live in the dark place. My first reaction is anger: Not at the person, but at the darkness. Severe chronic depression of the sort that leads one to consider removing oneself from life is a battle that never ends against a foe that has no mercy. I am angry at that foe. I think, “Oh fuck. Another one of us didn’t make it.”

I apologize if this essay is more incoherent than usual. I have a hard time keeping my thoughts in order on this subject.

You can’t explain what it’s like to anyone who hasn’t been there. They don’t have the context to understand how hard it is to keep breathing on days when hope ceases to exist. They don’t have the context to get, really get, the horror of looking at a long stretch of endless grey days, when happiness seems like something that other people get and enjoying life seems…inconceivable. At those times all you have is your own will to keep you going. There is no light at the end of the tunnel. There may not even be a tunnel. The idea of a tunnel implies a space through which you are momentarily passing. The grey in you seems to go on forever, infinite in all directions. You can’t imagine it being any other way. Believing there might be something else is, in itself, an act of will. And your will is not infinite. You use it up, and there’s no surcease, no way to recharge it. You’re just so tired. If you had a choice, you’d take it, but there is no choice. Not anymore. You’re done.

People on the outside will read that last paragraph and probably find things they object to. Like, “Well, it only SEEMS to go on forever,” or “there’s ALWAYS a choice.” They don’t have the means to understand the utter exhaustion that comes with the struggle.

And part of the exhaustion is not being able to be real with the people who don’t get it. Knowing all the well-meaning but obtuse things they’ll say when they’ve never been on the same planet you’re on. Having to hear it, and having to bear it.

This is one reason I have always found being an inmate of a psychiatric ward a comfort. No masks. No reason to keep up pretenses. That one burden–and it is a substantial one–is gone for a time. On the locked ward, people don’t play games.

The thing is, having a mental illness makes the people around you uncomfortable. They don’t know what to say or who to be. They don’t know who you are. It is, and I’m going to go ahead and say literally here, as if you have come from a different galaxy, one with an inside-out reality non-natives can’t imagine. I think there’s a good amount of xenophobia in the mental health stigma. Particularly since a mental illness can lead you to places people without them don’t like to think about. Self-harm and death, for example.

When you shame a person for mental illness, for attempting or completing suicide, what you’re doing is trying to make yourself comfortable at their expense. When you say, “Think of the people you will hurt,” you’re saying, “THINK OF MY COMFORT!” But most of the people I’ve known who’ve struggled with mental illness have already done that, and it didn’t work. We’ve already thought of you. We’ve already done the volunteer work. We’ve already found new hobbies. We’ve looked at the greeting cards we’ve saved from family and the letters from lovers. It’s not that we don’t know. It’s that none of it helps. And you think… You think, “Who’s the more selfish? Me, for wanting not to have to live in this pain? Or you, for insisting I do to spare you?”

I suppose one could say I’m lucky. Right now, I’m not suicidal. The last time I was, I had someone close to me I could trust enough that I could say, “I need help right now if I’m going to survive.” But I’ve also been down the other road. The one where I couldn’t tell anyone how I felt because their first response would be to ask how I could hurt them so badly as to feel what I did, and demand to know how I could be so selfish as to cause them pain and to berate me for being ungrateful. And no, these are not assumptions. I heard all these things when I tried to speak up, and I didn’t want to hear them any more.

If you want to be a true support to someone in a mental health crisis situation, put your own comfort aside. Listen. And shut the fuck up. We can’t take care of you right now.

I have no more words. I’m going to close with a favorite link of mine from Hyperbole and a Half.

Depression, Part Two


In the Details

A few weeks ago I was re-reading a favorite novel. It happened to be the first novel by an author who is now deservedly well-known, and a lovely first novel it is. Toward the beginning of the book, one of the characters remarks, “It’s coming on Beltane, the spring equinox.” The incident always forces me to stop for a moment, tear my hair a bit, weep quietly into whatever beverage I happen to be drinking, and remind myself that this WAS a first novel, that a lot of people don’t know the difference from Beltane and a hole in the ground, and that most of the author’s research is impeccable, with incredible attention to detail.

Still, it’s a mistake that stands out for me and interrupts the flow of the narrative. And it got me thinking about the mistakes in detail I see in many novels, even those of prominent authors. Mistakes people make because they don’t have personal experience in the things they’re writing about, or because they get attached to a visual detail and they don’t take the time to find out whether what they envision is actually possible. This kind of thing causes me to gnash my teeth, because I have a wide knowledge of all kinds of weird shit and because I DO take the time in my writing to verify picayune stuff. So here’s a post about the errors in detail I see most often and how you can avoid them.

1. Please learn how moon phases work.

Authors love to talk about what the moon looks like. I get it. The moon is a gorgeous heavenly body and there’s a huge amount of symbolism attached to it. You can do a lot with night scenes if you allow the moon to play a part. And I don’t know how many times I’ve read scenes where the full moon rose at two in the morning, or the sickle moon rose at sunset two days after moon dark, or some other patently impossible event involving the moon takes place. I don’t care what world you’re in, or what planet you’re on: those two things are never going to happen unless you intentionally change the laws of physics (and if you do, please make a point of mentioning it). At full, the moon ALWAYS rises at sunset or thereabouts. That’s what makes the moon appear full: the sun’s rays are directly opposite the moon in the sky and thus illuminate the entire face. At moon dark, the sun and the moon are in the same general vicinity in the heavens, and so the sun blocks the moon out. As the moon waxes, it appears to fall behind the sun’s path, a little bit each day–that is, it emerges from the sun’s shadow. So a couple days after moon dark, the moon would be setting around sunset, not rising.

2. While we’re at it, pay attention to seasonal sunrise and sunset times.

I caught a glitch with this in a novel I was Beta-reading a little while back. The main character was closing a diner around sunset at the winter solstice, after the dinner rush. I pointed out to the author that here in Colorado, sunset at the winter solstice takes place at 4:30 p.m. In her setting, it might have stayed light a bit longer, but still, the dinner rush would hardly have happened yet. If it’s important to you that an activity or event take place at sunset or sunrise, please check to make sure the time you’re thinking of the event taking place actually COULD take place at that time. In northern latitudes, you’re going to have much longer summer days and much shorter winter days than you are at a location nearer the equator. And of course, in the Southern Hemisphere, everything will be reversed from what it is up north. This is a useful website to use to keep track of sunrise and sunset, as well as moonrise, moonset, and moon phases worldwide. It’s the very top link in my folder of Book Research materials.

3. Seasonal Fruit is Seasonal

This one is easy for me, because I live in an agricultural area. For the same reason, it gives me hives when people mess it up, which tends to occur most in Fantasy or Historical Fiction (I’ve also seen it in Romance). I can understand it, because in the first world we aren’t as limited by seasonal availability as we once were. But the fact is, you don’t pick cherries in March most places. Seasonal availability is going to depend a lot on your planting zone, of course. (If you don’t know what this means, look HERE.) If you must work with agricultural information and you don’t come from an agricultural background, check out some gardening websites and catalogues. Where I am, we grow a lot of fruit, and each has its season. Apricots in late May to early June, cherries at the beginning of July, followed by peaches, plums, grapes, pears, and apples. Berries of most kinds ripen in the summer. Nuts in the fall. And so forth. Also, do pay attention to how fruit works. If you have a scene at the local cherry harvest early in your book, the big wedding in chapter twenty CANNOT take place in a shower of cherry blossom. Unless, of course, you’ve gone to a completely different location or one of your characters has the power to make trees blossom out of season. I encourage you to treat all plant life cycles with similar attention. It’s extremely unlikely, for example, that Lily of the Valley would bloom at Hallowe’en, or tea roses in April. And I have yet to get a rosemary bush to survive the winter in zone 5.

4. A stallion? Really?

How many heroes of Fantasy novels ride stallions all over the place? How do they manage it? It does depend on the breed–my vet has a stud who’s a real sweetheart–but in general, stallions don’t make good saddle horses. That’s why you geld colts you’re not going to breed. Stalli0ns have historically been used as war horses, precisely because they tend to be vicious and hard to train and control. And an important thing about stallions is, if he smells a mare in season anywhere in the vicinity, he’s going to have one thing on his mind, and it won’t be his rider’s convenience. So do your character a favor and put him up on a nice gelding or a mare. Also, it’s simply amazing how many people can make the distinction between a stallion and a gelding at a single glance. It is easy with some male domestic animals. Bulls, for example. You can always tell a bull from a steer or a cow. They’re heavier and bulkier, particularly across the shoulders. Horses aren’t so easy.

5. She carries her swords on her back, does she?

This is another trope you see a great deal in Fantasy: the warrior with the sword or swords across his or her back. It looks super-cool. And it’s a wonderful place to carry swords so they don’t get in the way of other activities, like walking. But it is virtually, if not literally, impossible to draw a sword from a back sheath with any alacrity if the sword is any longer than your forearm–about the size of a Roman gladius. Try it sometime. I have. So has my husband. I really, really wanted to give Timber MacDuff a back carry, because IT LOOKS SO COOL! I had to ditch the idea because there would be no way for him to draw a four-foot sword with a three-foot blade from a back sheath without getting cut down as he struggled to get it free. Another thing about swords is, they’re lighter than you might suppose. You may have read about a certain 15-lb Claymore. Can you imagine controlling something of that weight for any length of time with the muscles of your forearms and wrists? Yeah, you wouldn’t last long. An actual early style Claymore weighs 5-6 lbs and is about five feet in length. A classic basket hilt Claymore weighs in at 4 lbs, and a lot of that is the basket. Most one-handed swords are no more than 3 lbs. Learn more about Medieval weaponry and fighting styles at The Association for Renaissance Martial Arts.

Whether you see God or the Devil in the details, attention to them is the mark of a skilled writer. Don’t ignore them or make assumptions because you think no one will notice. I assure you, someone will.

The above are five of my pet peeves. What are yours?