Error Resolved?

Rumor has it that several of you (Lisa and Will, for example) have been encountering an error when attempting to access foldedspace recently. I just upgraded to the latest version of WordPress, which may have resolved the issue (or it may not have). If you were getting an error, but now are not, could you please let me know?

Memorial Service for Paul

This is just a quick note: a memorial service for Paul Carlile will be held Thursday, January 29th at 6:30pm at Ascension Catholic Church in southeast Portland. If you knew Paul, you are welcome to attend. (Hell, even if you didn’t know Paul, you are welcome to attend.) Trust me: the irony of the situation is not lost on me. Paul and I were both atheists. He committed suicide. The memorial service is in a Catholic church. But you know what? That’s cool. This is for his family, not for Paul. He surrendered any choice in the matter…

20-Year Anniversary

Kris and I have been together for 20 years now! Though sometimes we bicker (as all couples do), mostly this has been a wonderful experience. I am overjoyed to be spending my life with a partner I love, trust, and respect.

I had promised Paul and Amy Jo that I would share the “application” I completed to become Kris’ boyfriend 20 years ago, but she’s asked me not to share it. I did find it, and it’s fun to read, but I’ll respect her wishes. I will, however, reveal that her number one concern at the time was that I wasn’t serious enough, that I was just too glib. Twenty years later, that’s still her top concern (well, that and cleanliness). Kris often says: “I’d laugh more if you weren’t so funny all the time.”

To celebrate our anniversary, we spent a day together on an extended date.

“You need new shoes,” Kris told me recently. “Especially if you’re going to be doing public speaking, you need a new pair of dress shoes. Quality, not something cheap.”

I am not a shopper. As has been established here and elsewhere, I buy most of my clothes at Costco, supplemented by an occasional trip to Goodwill. “I don’t know where to go to buy new shoes,” I said. “Nordstrom?”

“No,” she said. “Nordstrom is too expensive. Why don’t you call Chris Flick? He has nice shoes.” Chris Flick has nice shoes? How the hell does she know this stuff? I couldn’t tell you which of our friends wore what kind of footwear — nice or not! Shoes just aren’t on my radar.

I called Chris Flick. “This is kind of an awkward question,” I said, “but where do you get your shoes?” Chris laughed, but he didn’t hesitate. He told me that the best place to buy good shoes at great prices was Nordstrom Rack, Nordstrom’s outlet store.

Kris and I drove downtown to buy shoes at Nordstrom Rack. It was overwhelming. Their were aisles and aisles of shoes, most of which looked the same to me. “What kind of shoes do you want?” Kris asked. I didn’t have a good response. The shoes I want are my Timberland boots that I wear around all the time. (These boots are actually the root of the shoe dilemma — it’s my insistence that I can wear these for all occasions that led us to the point of shoe shopping.)

So Kris picked out several shoes for me to try on. We discussed color and fit and comfort. My eyes grew big at the prices. ($60 for a pair of shoes?!??! I’m accustomed to spending $20!) I was taken aback when Kris suggested we buy two or three pairs of shoes. “We’re not going to solve all of your shoe issues with one pair of shoes,” she said.

In the end, we bought four pairs of shoes. I can hardly believe it.

After shoe-shopping, we continued our 20th anniversary extravaganza by spending too much on popcorn and a movie. (Good grief, but I’ve become a skinflint in my old age!) We walked up to the Fox Tower 10 to catch a showing of Slumdog Millionaire. Slumdog Millionaire is about a young man from Mumbai whose own life provides him with the knowledge necessary to answer the questions on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

There is much to love about this film — the music, the actors (especially the children), the style — but I felt parts of the story were, well, formulaic. And if you know even the barest outline of the plot going in, then the climax is telegraphed from the very beginning of the film. Foreshadowing is too subtle a word for how clumsily this is handled.

Still, it was good. Best Picture good? Meh…

For dinner, we headed down to Dan & Louis Oyster Bar. The food was okay, but the atmosphere was ruined by the man urinating on the front steps as we entered the restaurant. (It’s located on the edge of a sketchy part of town.) I was bold and ordered the crab. I love crab meat, but I’ve never ordered a whole crab before, and I was lost. I was also messy, splattering butter all over myself. Kris just shook her head.

In the end, it was a fun day. Kris and I rarely do dates anymore. We should do them more often. Just not to buy shoes, and not to spend a small fortune on a movie, and not to eat crab. I think that cheap pizza and a discount theater are more our style!

Update: Yikes! A few hours later, there was a deadly shooting just around the corner from the restaurant. As most of you know, I’m not one who believes in the supernatural, but as we were walking to the restaurant last night, I had a terrible foreboding at this spot. I’m not kidding. But it was about bodily harm to me, not others. Just coincidence, I know, but still freaky.

Picking Up the Pieces

We held a memorial service for Paul in Eugene yesterday. It was awesome. It was awesome to see so many people gather to celebrate his life. It was awesome to hear their memories of Paul. It was awesome to spend time with other people he had touched.

I know that it’s trite to say, but Paul had an impact on so many people. We all know that he could be a pain in the ass, but this pain-in-the-assness was completely outweighed by the degree to which he improved our lives.

I’m having a hard time writing this morning. I’m a wreck. I’m bawling. Mostly I don’t do that. I handle death as a stoic. Monday was bad, though, and today is off to a rocky start. It’s as if I’ve walled off the grief for a week, put it behind a dam, and now it wants to break out.

Anyhow, I was awed by the gathering last night, and grateful to see so many people. When we sat down, I focused on talking with the people near me, so I didn’t realize how many people were in the room until I walked up front to make my remarks. When I turned around, I was stunned. “Wow,” I said, and I meant it. (I wish I had the presence of mind to pause, to pull out my cell phone, and to take a photo. I want to remember that moment forever.)

There will be another memorial service in Portland next Thursday the 29th at 6:30 pm at Ascension Catholic Church, a fact that would make Paul groan, I’m sure. But this isn’t for Paul — it’s for his family. And it’s for you. If you knew Paul and would like to make your remembrances, you are invited to attend. (If you have questions, contact me or Tom Stewart.)

Oddly, last night was also a fantastic time to meet and become re-acquainted with some of Paul’s other friends. I met Rob for the first time. I got to know Tia and Mariah a little (I went to school with them, but never really knew them). Tom and I had a chance to talk more about our long friendship with Paul. I saw Holly M. for the first time since college, and saw Melissa, too. I didn’t get to bed until after one, but I barely noticed the passing of the previous twelve hours.

I can hardly believe how modest my goals are for today, my first day back working since last Thursday. I have a 10:30 interview with Grist. I need to write a short bio of myself for a book I’m contributing to. And I want to make a mix CD that reminds me of Paul. Three little things. That’s it. Yet I still don’t know if I’ll get them all done.

One thing’s for damn sure: once I’m finished with my upcoming presentations (in mid-February), I’m going to focus on the essentials: writing and friendships. All of this other stuff is just a distraction.

Bad

One of Paul’s many virtues was that he pushed my comfort zone. Sometimes this was problematic, but mostly it was a good thing. In high school, I was very much a “play by the rules” kind of guy. (Mostly, I still am.) Paul sometimes liked to break the rules.

I did not skip a single class period up until my senior year, for example. But then Paul induced me to skip twice. On the first time, we joined a few other kids to watch music videos at somebody’s house. (Details are very hazy in my old-man brain: Tami and Kim J. perhaps? Amy F.? I’m not sure. All I remember is INXS.)

The second time, I remember clearly.

On the 09 March 1987, U2 released The Joshua Tree. When Paul and I entered high school, we were unfamiliar with the band. I heard them during the first week of my freshman year. I’m not sure if I introduced them to Paul, but I believe it’s likely. In any event, by the end of our senior year, he and I were both hooked on them. We owned all their LPs and many of their rare singles.

So when the new album came out, it only seemed natural to skip school to buy it. After lunch, we hopped into my dirty old Datsun 310gx and drove to Tower Records. We each bought a copy of the LP, and I picked up my first “cassingle” — “With or Without You” on cassette tape. We were back to school before the final bell.

I’ve always treasured the memory of that day. It seems to typify the Paul and J.D. relationship.

Here are two songs from my favorite U2 album, The Unforgettable Fire. Both have been in my mind lately. First up, the best U2 song ever: “Bad”. This is the amazing Live Aid performance that I’ve shared here before: “If I could, through myself, set your spirit free, I’d lead your heart away, see you break, break away, into the night and through the day.”

And then there’s this, which is doubly-apt since today is MLK day. I’ve been singing it to myself all morning: “Sleep, sleep tonight, and may your dreams be realized. If the thundercloud passes rain, so let it rain, let it rain, rain on me.”

I’ve held back the tears until now, but watching these videos…so cathartic.

There’s a memorial service for Paul in Eugene this Wednesday afternoon. If you’re interested in attending, please let me or Tom know. Paul’s parents are trying to pull something together for Portland this Saturday, too. I’ll post when I know more information.

Hurt

At 3:09 pm last Friday, Paul Carlile texted me. “I’m in PDX,” he wrote. “Are you available before 7.”

“Sorry. No,” I replied at 5:14. I had plans. I was taking pizza to Andrew Cronk and the kids, and then driving to the airport to pick up Kris.

Had I known then what I know now, I would have changed my plans completely. I would have let the Cronks go hungry. I would have left Kris standing at the curb.

Susan, Paul’s long-time girlfriend, just called. Though they’d recently broken up, they were still close. “J.D., this is Susan,” she said, and my brain had to whir — Susan who? “I’m sorry to have to tell you this,” she said, and then I realized it was Susan S., of course, who else? “But Paul killed himself last night.

What?” I said. Was she joking? Through her tears, Susan told me what she knew. Paul had been depressed for a long time. A mutual friend had spent the weekend with him, trying to help him come to grips. When she left, she thought Paul was on stable ground. He wasn’t.

I feel hollow. I didn’t see Paul often anymore — just a few times each year — but he was an important piece of me, a piece that is now lost. I have several paragraphs of memories typed here in my text editor, but I’m not in the mood to share them. It’s as if I want to keep them to myself, to hoard them.

Suffice it to say that I would not be who I am today without Paul. I cannot believe he’s gone.

Here’s a song Paul introduced me to:

It seems painfully appropriate for this occasion.

Update: More memories of Paul.

Ask the readers: How much money would it take for you to compromise your principles?

An Allegory

There was once a man who became a vegetarian. Because he believed that all living creatures have souls, he swore he would never again consume animal flesh. For three years, he ate only vegetable matter. People offered him money to eat meat, but he steadfastly refused.”Will you try a turkey sandwich for $2?” a woman asked one day. “No,” he said.

“Will you try this hot dog for $20?” a little boy once asked at the county fair. “No,” he said.

“Will you try a piece of steak for $200?” asked his mother-in-law at her 70th birthday party. “No,” he said.

“Will you try a piece of ham for $2,000?” asked his wife on Christmas Day. The man considered it for a moment, but then he shouted, “No. I am a vegetarian. I will not eat meat!”

One day a crafty gentleman appeared to him. “Will you try a piece of bacon?” the gentleman asked. “All you have to do is tell me what you think of it — and then tell your friends. If you do this little thing, I will give you $20,000.”

What did the man do?

Have you ever wondered how much money it would take for you to compromise your principles? I’ve thought about it, but I’ve never really been tested.

Today I was tested.

A major U.S. company offered to purchase advertising on this site. That’s not unusual. What’s unusual was the money involved and the method they wished to employ. They were offering to pay an enormous sum in order for me to provide “advertorials” — to promote their product under the guise of a series of blog posts.

Though Get Rich Slowly generates revenue through traditional advertising and through affiliate sales, I’ve always refused to provide paid posts. Maybe I’m performing mental gymnastics, but for myself, there’s a difference between earning money when I recommend a product of my own accord, and earning money by posting an article for which I’ve been asked to be a shill.

I’ve spent the last two days laboring over this decision. I’ve talked with friends and family. I’ve talked with colleagues. I’ve sought sage advice from every corner. And I’ve considered a variety of creative solutions:

  • Have another blogger write about the product, and split the money with him.
  • Write about the product and then offer all of the income to you, the readers, via some sort of contest. (I really liked this idea.)
  • Write about the product and donate all of the income to charity.

I cannot deny that I’ve been sorely tempted by this proposal.

In the end, however, a problem still remained: by accepting the offer, I would be allowing an advertiser to direct my editorial content. And if I did this once, then what about the next time? Where would I draw the line? Would there even be a line? All of the solutions left me feeling a little bit dirty, and I didn’t like it. The only way I could feel clean was to decline.

Note: I am not condemning bloggers who might choose to accept this offer and others like it. We each have our own personal codes of conduct. Some people are vegetarians, and others aren’t. This isn’t about whether paid posts are always right or wrong. This is about what is right and wrong for me, for my own conscience. It’s about the general relationship between money and personal values.

Instead, I submitted a proposal that says, “Hey. Get Rich Slowly is one of the biggest personal finance blogs on the internet. It’s good to advertise here. Give me the money and I will take down every other ad for a month. You can have all of the ad space.” Again, maybe I’m performing mental gymnastics, but this doesn’t make me feel dirty. I’ve accepted paid advertising on this site since day one. The only thing different about this would be the order of magnitude.

But it’s unlikely that the advertiser will accept my counter-proposal. It’s not what they’re after.

Posting an advertorial isn’t illegal or immoral; it’s just against my personal principles, and conflicts with my vision for this site. But if I had been offered a million dollars, I’m fairly certain we wouldn’t be having this conversation. My principles would have vanished. I would have eaten the bacon — and then I would have told you all how great it tasted.

Have you faced a similar dilemma in your own life? Have your principles ever been challenged by money? What did you do? Were you happy with your decision?

Sarah Vowell and the Nerd Voice

I don’t know much about Sarah Vowell. To me, she’s the female David Sedaris on This American Life. She’s a funny writer with a funny voice.

But then Craig went and picked Vowell’s new book The Wordy Shipmates for our February book group discussion. Although I should be reading January’s book (the tedious Main Street by Sinclair Lewis), I’m actually further along in Vowell’s. (This is mostly, however, because I have Vowell’s book in audio form, which lets me listen to it as I drive hither and yon.)

It turns out that Sarah Vowell is a self-professed history nerd. She seems to be particularly obsessed with American history. She reads about it. She talks about it. She spends her vacations visiting historical sites. The Wordy Shipmates is her book about the Puritans coming to North America in the early 17th century. It’s educational, insightful — and hilarious.

As always when I find an author I like, I did some research on Vowell and her other books. Many reviewers seem to think that her best work is an essay called “The Nerd Voice” from The Partly Cloudy Patriot. So I bought the book.

“The Nerd Voice” is a prolonged meditation on the 2000 U.S. presidential election. It contrasts Al Gore and George W. Bush. The former, says Vowell, is a profoundly intelligent man — a nerd. The latter isn’t just dumb, but actively dislikes intelligence — he’s a jock. She doesn’t seem to hate Bush (the book was written in early 2001, however), but she does like Gore. After all, like Vowell, he is a nerd.

Vowell writes that Gore lacks one important characteristic that allows nerds to be accepted by society at large: the capability to be self-deprecating. She equates this with the ability to use the stereotypical “nerd voice” to make fun of oneself, to practice “preemptive mockery”. By mocking yourself before others can, you become a less threatening nerd.

Anyhow, all of this is set up. What I really want to share are the last two pages of Vowell’s essay. (And really, it’s the last paragraph I want to highlight, because I read that and say, “Amen!” But to get to the last paragraph, I need the three paragraphs before…)

While the preemptive mockery software is automatically included in most nerd brains under the age of forty, it still needs to be installed in Gore. Self-deprecation is not standard baby boomer operating procedure — they were the most aggressive self-aggrandizing generation of the twentieth century and aren’t particularly good at making fun of themselves.

Any politician tricky enough to get elected to the House, not to mention the vice presidency, must necessarily have the kind of postmodern mind which thinks simultaneously about both what he is saying and the way he is saying it. As a national Democrat, Gore has had to frame his arguments about, say, energy policy, remembering that his support base includes both the United Auto Workers and the members of the Sierra Club. So he already has the cerebral capability required to give a proper name-heavy speech about the China conundrum followed by an icebreaking wisecrack about not going to the prom. It’s silly, demeaning, and time-consuming, for sure, but for a nerd, what part of driving a tank or pulling on cowboy boots is not?

Any person who wants any job, who knows he would be good at the job, knows he has to fake his way through the dumb job interview before he’s actually allowed to roll up his sleeves. I asked [my friend] Doug what he thought would have happened in the campaign if, instead of donning khakis and cowboy boots and French-kissing his wife on TV, Gore had been truer to himself and said what he thought and knew and believed using the nerd voice. Doug didn’t hesitate: “Oh my God, he’d be president for life.”

I wish it were different. I wish that we privileged knowledge in politicians, that the ones who know things didn’t have to hide it behind brown pants, and that the know-not-enoughs were laughed all the way to the Main border on their first New Hampshire meet and greet. I wish that in order to secure his party’s nomination, a presidential candidate would be required to point at the sky and name all the stars; have the periodic table of the elements memorized; rattle off the kings and queens of Spain; define the significance of the Gatling gun; joke around in Latin; interpret the symbolism in seventeenth-century Dutch painting; explain photosynthesis to a six-year-old; recite Emily Dickenson; bake a perfect popover; build a shortwave radio out of a coconut; and know all the words to Hoagy Carmichael’s “Two Sleepy People”, Johnny Cash’s “Five Feet High and Rising”, and “You Got the Silver” by the Rolling Stones. After all, the United States is the greatest country on earth dealing with the most complicated problems in the history of the world — poverty, pollution, justice, Jerusalem. What we need is a president who is at least twelve kinds of nerd, a nerd messiah to come along every four years, acquire the Secret Service code name Poindexter, install a Revenge of the Nerds screen saver on the Oval Office computer, and one by one decrypt our woes.

Have I mentioned that Obama reads comic books?

Man of Fashion

Writing for Get Rich Slowly provides me with some interesting opportunities. I get a lot of interview requests. Some are better suited for me than others. Here’s one I received yesterday:

I’m a writer and editor at DETAILS and I’m looking for some financial advice

for our Style section. Basically, we’d love to hear your advice on how much

guys should spend on their wardrobe (x% of their salary) based on their

income (under $100K per year, $100K-$200K per year, $300K,  etc.). Our

reader is probably used to splurging on a designer item here and there and

we’d like to hear your advice on budgeting for his closet for 2009.

And here is my reply:

I’m flattered that you would come to me for advice on this. Unfortunately, I am probably the last person in the world qualified to speak on this subject — not because I don’t know how to budget, but because my wardrobe consists of “Costco and thrift stores”. While I’d be pleased to have conversation with you about budgeting, and even about shopping for clothes, my approach is probably not anything like that of your readers. I am not a man of fashion.

My approach to budgeting for clothes? If I find a shirt I like at Costco, I buy it in all five color variations. Once a year, I rummage through the thrift stores for sweaters and pants.

If I’m really feeling daring, I buy something from Filson.

Aren’t I dashing?

Money and Meaning

Just under three years ago, I started a new blog. I’d been writing here at foldedspace for five years, and had great fun interacting with my friends and family (and the small community that had grown up around our interactions). We argued about politics, about religion, about comics, about Truth.

I started my money blog on little more than a whim. I thought I could help other people while also helping myself. Surprisingly, it worked. That site attracted a following, and at the same time it became my livelihood. Last year I made more money than I’ve ever made in my life.

But a funny thing has happened, one which a few of you have had a chance to glimpse. Though I love my work, and though I’m happy to be earning my living from writing, at some point I became a workaholic. J.D. the lazy became J.D. the driven. Was it because my work was producing so much income? Was it because of the praise I received? I don’t know.

As I became more and more engrossed in my work, I began to leave other things behind. I stopped reading. I stopped seeing my friends. I stopped learning Latin and going for walks in the country. I left a part of me behind.

Over the last few months, I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching. I’ve been asking myself what it is I really want. I’ve dug myself out of debt and even set aside a nice nest egg (though taxes are going to reduce that from “nice” to “a little”). I’ve changed my financial habits. I’m not tempted to buy every book or magazine or videogame I see. In fact, they rarely tempt me at all. So, I no longer want money.

I think what I want is meaning. But how do I find that? To some extent, my meaning will continue to be derived from Get Rich Slowly. As I’ve said before, I truly feel as if I’ve found my vocation. I’m helping other people develop a better relationship with money. But that cannot be my only source of meaning.

Tammy, who still visits foldedspace now and then, will tell me that I’ll find meaning through God. That’s one way. But I think it’s possible to find meaning and purpose through other avenues as well. I look around at my friends, and most of them have children, and these children help to provide meaning. That’s another way, but again, it’s not for me.

I’m not sure there’s an easy answer to this question. (In fact, I know there’s not; people have wrestled with it for centuries.) What I do know is that I’m ready to broaden my horizons…