Today is Not Tomorrow

When I met Angie, she was living with roommates. There were 3 women, 4 giant dogs, 3 cats, and a lot of random overnight guests all staying in a 3-bedroom/1 bath house just north of Denver. I lived alone in a cheap 1-bedroom apartment south of the city; an apartment that didn’t even allow pets, but had the most awesome resident appreciation dinners every month…and a pool. I didn’t own a car at the time but I made my way around with just a scooter, a red Raleigh bicycle, and a bus pass. And when I say “made my way around”, there was nowhere that I didn’t go back then. I went camping, visited all sorts of parks, shopped thrift stores in Colorado Springs, drank tea at Celestial Seasonings (the tour is free by the way), and solo-hiked in Taos, NM.

Meanwhile, Angie was living a pretty frugal life herself. For our first date, she used a gift card. When I was finally invited to her house, she proudly showed me the plastic bins under her bed full of deodorant, shampoo, and other items that she’d scored for pennies by “extreme couponing”. She drove an Xterra that she had paid cash for, worked part-time at a casino to pay her $300/month rent, and put money into savings every week. For fun, she took long walks by herself.

One of our first hikes together at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, CO.

I wish I could say that I knew from the moment we met that she was the one, but it took me a little while. You see, along with all the good things we were each doing in our lives came a bit of baggage. I had trust issues and financial issues. Being with someone most of your adult life who turns out to be a criminal can do that. Angie was struggling to find her place in the world and spent most every weekend drinking and playing video games in a house full of 30-year-old children. When we met, I had just filed bankruptcy and she was facing misdemeanor charges for public intoxication.

Last month, we celebrated our 9th anniversary as a couple. A decade ago, if you had told me I’d be here today, I would have laughed in your face. I may not have known where I was going but I knew for sure that I didn’t want another long-term relationship, especially one that had problems from the get-go. If either of us had looked just on the surface of what we saw in each other in those days, I can say with absolute certainty that we would not be here today. Financial and legal problems are not fun topics to deal with and sometimes it’s easy to think, in the moment, that those types of things are what define a person for life.

Trust me. They are not.

Thankfully, we looked past each other’s shortcomings. In that box of couponed items, I saw a person who shared the same values as me – even if they weren’t being exhibited for anyone else to see. In me, she saw a person she could trust with her true self. And together, we learned that we had more in common that just poor judgement 🙂 Among other things, we were both thrifty, both aspiring minimalists, both raised in Southern homes (so we knew each other’s heritage and culture), both loved the outdoors, and both craved adventure – though our first cross-county adventure was a bit of a disaster. Let’s just say, we almost left Caesar in Amarillo, TX.

We’ve come a long way over the past decade. Neither of us has had a drink of anything stronger than kefir water since sometime around July 2014. There was no real conversation around it. One day we just noticed that a bottle of fruit wine we had purchased at a winery had been sitting in the fridge for months without either of us having any interest in opening it. When my niece asks how we quit drinking, I often wish we had a better story – one that might inspire others – but we don’t. We just lost interest, likely because we found so many other things to be interested in, and we never drank again.

Change comes into our lives whether we ask for it or not. Sometimes it is for the better (sometimes not) and we feel it’s impact immediately. Sometimes it takes a while to realize things are different. As I look back on our life, I see so many ways that we have changed – and grown – to become the people we are today and I am so very thankful that we weathered those first storms. I’m so very thankful that neither of us let what was happening in any one given moment cause us to abandon our dreams, our goals, and our life together.

I’ve been thinking a lot about our journey this week, mostly because I see so many people who are struggling with fear and uncertainty right now. The normal lives we were living just weeks ago are in a state of disruption. We see others around us panicking (or not, as the case may be) and we don’t know which side of the fence we need to be on. We are scared of what may happen but also scared that being scared makes us look weak. We’re afraid to watch the news and afraid not to. We’re afraid not to go on with our normal routines and afraid that if we do, we might catch this virus and/or give it to our families.

Even without the uncertainty of COVID-19, life can be hard.

My grandpa Willie was a man of great wisdom. Among the many things he taught me was the power of these four little words – today is not tomorrow. The things that seem all consuming today are likely not to matter tomorrow or in the many tomorrows that will inevitably pass as our life progresses.

Today, we are being asked to stay home. Today, the way we are accustomed to working, shopping, and socializing has changed. Today, some of the things that bring us comfort and happiness are not available. Today, we may feel powerless, afraid, uncertain, or even bored. But today is not tomorrow.

Soon this pandemic will pass and in a decade, it too will be a distant memory that we look back on and say, if you’d told me then that we’d be here today, I wouldn’t have believed you. And where is here exactly? I hope that here is a world where people feel closer to one another because in absence, we’ve realized the value of community. I hope that here is a world where we live and thrive on less resources than we once thought possible. I hope that here is a world where we remember that collective strength and compassion for our fellow man are what kept us safe today.

The Last Rant You’ll Ever Read Here

If you’re wondering why there was no blog post last week, we took a few days off to relax in the Smoky Mountains. Although short, it was just what we needed. You see, the past couple of weeks have been a real struggle. I’ve questioned just about everything in my life – from quitting my job last September to writing this blog. I wouldn’t call it depression so much as I would call it frustration. The job-free life I had imagined was far from what we were living, and I wasn’t sure what to do about it.

I thought being free from a 9-5 job was going to be life-changing. I admit, I had very high hopes for all the extra time I was going to have – like spending it cooking, gardening, and traveling. Moreover, I thought having some extra me-time hours would help me better balance my role as a caregiver – something I have long felt I need to learn to do. But none of that actually happened. Other people/obligations/situations claimed that time instead.

I know that I’m partly to blame for this. Boundaries have never been my strong suit. So trust me when I tell you this – I feel so much guilt even writing this post. I love my family to the moon and back but sometimes being the designated caregiver is so time consuming and stressful that it makes me want to curl up on the couch and binge watch I Faked My Own Death – while taking a lot of notes. I want to shove my Kindle and a few clothes in a backpack, toss Angie and Caesar in the car, and drive off into the sunset. I want to hide in a closet until a sibling I never knew existed knocks on the door to tell me that they are on their way to the pharmacy to pick up Mom’s medication so I can take a nap. And on a really bad day, I want to shut my computer for good, stop deluding myself into thinking my life is my own, and move all my family into the same house so I can dutifully care for the ones who need me. Because truthfully, that’s why I left my job in the first place!

They say expressing oneself is good for the soul. If that’s so, why do I feel like crap for typing that last paragraph?? In fact, I feel like I should hit delete right now because what if my family does read this? What if the wrong folks think I’m talking about them? Or better yet, what if the right folks know I’m talking about them? Sadly, this isn’t a Hallmark movie or an episode of This is Us. The truth isn’t going to suddenly wake people up and make them start expecting more from themselves and less from me. This is real life and people get hurt and angry when you tell them that you love them but you just can’t help them, at least not right now.

My family thinks that I quit my job because I was frustrated with my employer. They are baffled by the fact that I haven’t found another job yet – and by job, I mean a career-path that will take me to retirement. They say things like, “I’d rather just write you a check than have you out there doing something like that” and by “like that” I mean putting up a seed display at our local co-op. They ask me questions like, “when are you going to be over this phase?” as if I didn’t spend 3 years of my life thoughtfully planning out and practicing for the day I would leave my job for good. But they don’t know that…because the last time I tried talking about living on 50% of our income with anyone outside this blog, it caused too much yelling and a good bit of foaming at the mouth.

It was at that point that I came to truly understand that the people closest too us are not always the closest ones to us. Being part of a family does not mean that everyone in it shares the same beliefs, values, and ideas. And sometimes, when your beliefs, values, and ideas are drastically different than theirs, your best bet is to just shut up and avoid the drama. Neither of you is going to change the other’s opinion. Right now, I like to believe we’re doing something avant garde, trying to create our version of the good life from scratch. My family thinks I’m floundering and as such, they think they need to help me fill my time (at least until it prompts me to get back on track.)

So that’s where I’ve been these past few weeks/months/years. Despite the fact that I try to focus on happy things in this blog, life isn’t always happy. We have bad days, frustrating days, and full-box-of-Kleenex days just like everyone else. A lot of times I try to put a positive spin on caring for an aging parent, but the truth is; folks, it’s not easy! Especially when that parent is in a mean mood (her words, not mine) and wants to berate you for not making  Kool-Aid the right way.

Getting away for a few days didn’t dramatically alter any of this. It did, however, give me a chance to rest and reset and that led me to reconsider a few things. Yes, I’m going to spin this now. Don’t shake your head, you knew it was coming…

My family can be needy, yes, but I had to ask myself if they were actually being more needy than normal, and the answer was no. In fact, in some respects, the needs have been less. And the drama? Well, that’s pretty standard too. Is it right? No. But my family has been challenging me at every turn since I was 6 years old and told my mom I was going to be a writer when I grew up (not a nurse). In short, the real change here has been me.

My stress is caused in large part because I think deep down I want someone in my family to understand what we’re doing, to support it, and to maybe even brag about it to their friends. I want that level of encouragement because it will help keep me motivated. And I really could use some motivation sometimes! I also think I’m stressed because in some respects that are right, and that is a super hard pill to swallow!

Being job-free has been harder than I expected. I didn’t think things would just fall in my lap because I quit, but I figured, with a little effort, I’d be able to make enough money to afford this simple life we were trying to live. Some weeks are better than others, and so are some of the gigs we’ve accepted to help facilitate this journey. But sometimes I feel like I’m spending all my time chasing down the next gig and other times, I feel overwhelmed doing all the gigs I’ve scheduled. All this chasing/working leaves little time for anything else – like all those things I hoped to be doing instead – and it makes those otherwise normal family obligations seem so overwhelming.

While propped up on a big fluffy bed in our hotel in Pigeon Forge, watching Property Brothers and scrolling through Facebook, I came across a post from one of the companies that I often accept gigs from. It wasn’t anything profound, just a simple post about a job opportunity, but it sparked the kindling in my brain and I suddenly saw a way out of the frustration. It was an avenue of work that I had not really considered (get your mind out of the gutter!) but it was right up my alley, so I applied. Now, as of this post, I have yet to hear from that job but…a quick Google search revealed about a dozen other companies hiring for the same type job and to me that was all the inspiration that I needed.

These past five months have taught me something I never knew about myself. I need some structure in my life to make the good parts function properly. I’m not able to fully retire right now so some work is still necessary, but creating that work by stringing together different gigs is not…well, working for us. So, I’ve decided to try to find one steady freelance gig (or part-time job) that I can do from home and put away when I’m done. I know this sounds similar to the job I just left but I assure you, it’s not. I’m not looking to be in charge of anything this time. I’m not looking for a growth opportunity, benefits, or anything like that. I’m simply seeking a task-based job (think editing, proofreading, etc.) in a field I’m familiar with, that I can spend a few hours a day on, and I believe I’ve found several good ones to apply to. I’ll definitely keep you posted on the progress.

So there’s my rant…

You will (most likely) never read another one like it. Not because it’s not okay to express yourself – it is definitely more than okay – but because I hope to have a lot of other, more interesting, topics to discuss going forward.