The Substance of Our Souls

I’ve spent much of the past month moving the last of my belongings out of Kris’s garage, storage shed, and house. It’s amazing how much Stuff I still has there, even after nearly two years of moving, and even after several years of purging before that. Now, though, all I own is here with me in the condo…or in the storage unit that Kim and I have rented across the river.

While much of the work to move my Stuff was tedious (and overwhelming), some of it was fun. For instance, I’ve spent several hours sorting through boxes of papers and notebooks, skimming my old essays and classwork from high school and college. (Why was I keeping these things?)

In the process, I stumbled upon some unexpected gems.

Here, for example, is an epiphany I wrote in my Astronomy class notebook during my junior year of college.

J.D.’s major spiritual transformation/revelation of 29 Sept 1989

Maybe things don’t need to have a beginning and an end. Maybe such constructs are just our attempts to impose what we can know and comprehend onto what we observe, which may be incomprehensible and unknowable.

Perhaps everything is cyclical — the universe just goes on and on. We do, though our intellect does not. Where did we come from? We came from a sperm and an egg, which grew and flourished as cells were transferred from food to us. We grew from food, which grew from something else.

When we die, we will not pass away. Our remains will be absorbed into the ground to feed the Earth, and our minds will pass away. But our remains will serve to replenish life elsewhere and our cells will become part of other living beings — an endless cycle.

The body belongs to nature and to the endless cycle of life.

So, where do our minds go when we die? What happens to that energy? How and why do we think? Our physical self is part of a never-ending cycle, but what about our mental self? Is our mental energy just a by-product of the physical nature of our beings and doomed to non-existence when we die? Or is it possible that our mental energy is absorbed into some sort of “psychic ground” to be born again in other lives?

Crazy stuff. There I am, at the age of twenty, trying to find an argument for reincarnation and the rebirth of souls. There’s nothing in my past that would have led me to that, and it’s an idea I discarded almost immediately. It’s only recently — since I’ve been dating Kim, who believes strongly in past and future lives — that I’ve begun thinking about these ideas once more.

I like the twist my youthful meditation brings to the subject. Instead of suggesting that our souls might be reborn whole from one life to the next (which seems to be the traditional view of reincarnation), I’m suggesting that our “psychic energy” might break down to become food for other souls, just as our bodies will break down to become food for other bodies.

In a way, this does happen, even leaving aside reincarnation.

Also while sorting my Stuff, I happened upon the eulogy I wrote for my friend Paul a few years ago. Here’s how I ended it:

Paul is gone now — but he’s not. I’m reminded of him every day in countless little ways. First thing in the morning, when I get out of bed and walk downstairs, I have to shuffle sideways like a crab. My bum knee hurts. That’s Paul. When my knee hurts, I think of Paul, every single time. It’s as if a piece of him is in me. When I hear U2, I think of him. When I get on my bike, I think of him. And every time I meet and talk with one of you, I will think of him, too.

So, maybe our mental energy doesn’t return to some sort of “psychic ground” when we die — maybe it’s a process that happens our entire lives. Maybe we’re constantly feeding people with the substance of our souls, so that pieces of who we are will linger long after we’re gone.

A Series of Fortunate Events

Last Tuesday, I was cleaning the apartment when I noticed that my A/C was producing severe condensation once again. I knocked on the neighbors’ door. “Have have had problems with your A/C unit?” I asked.

“No,” said Jan. “Ours works fine.”

“Would you like a glass of wine?” asked Sheila, his wife.

I held up the half-finished beer in my hand. “Not yet,” I said. She laughed. “Well, at least sit and talk with us while we drink our wine.” And so I did.

Jan and Sheila are both seventy, and for the six months I’ve lived in this building, they’ve been asking me to drink wine with them. The timing never worked until now.

I joined Jan and Sheila at 4:30 in the afternoon. For four hours, we chatted about travel, motorcycles, and more. Sheila drank sangria. Jan drank beer. I took a little of both. When Kim arrived home from work, Sheila made us a lovely dinner with a tomato-basil salad, fried cheese, and corn on the cob.

The food was great, but the conversation was better. My favorite thread of discussion revolved around the role of luck and good fortune. I told them I’d recently written about accepting responsibility for your life and the things that happen to you, which led quite naturally to a discussion of Portland’s booming homelessness problem.

“Do you think the homeless are responsible for their situation?” Sheila asked. We talked it out, deciding that some homeless folks are responsible for their plight — and others aren’t. (Somebody mentioned the following quote, which I like: “It may not be your fault, but it’s your problem.”)

Jan and Sheila also talked about their friend, who’d just undergone open heart surgery that day. We talked about other people we know who have had bad breaks or fallen on hard times. At one point, I tried to draw a comparison between a couple of situations. Jan stopped me.

“You can’t compare misfortunes,” Jan said, an insight I believe is profound. You can’t compare misfortunes. Bad luck is bad luck. It sucks, no matter what the situation is. (Jan’s comment reminded me of the opening line to Anna Karenina: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”)

A while later, Jan was talking about the twists and turns his life has taken. He’s a curious man, and always has been. He’s willing to try new things and to talk to new people. As a result, good things happen to him. This reminded me of one of my favorite books, Luck is No Accident [my review], which encourages readers to open themselves to “happenstance” by embracing life head on.

“Most of my life has been this way,” Jan told me. “It’s a series of fortunate events.” I liked that statement too. I feel like my own life has been a series of fortunate events over the past few years. And the more I share, the more open I am, the luckier I get.

I think I should drink wine with Jan and Sheila more often.

The prodigal son returns: J.D. Roth is back at Get Rich Slowly

Note: As of last Thursday, J.D. is once again writing here at GRS. His non-financial writing can still be found at More Than Money.

Hey, everybody. It’s J.D. here. I founded this site, and I wrote and edited the content for many years. Last autumn, I retired from writing here. Today, I’m unretiring — just like a professional athlete.

My role at Get Rich Slowly won’t be nearly as extensive as it once was. Ellen will still serve as editor, for instance, and I’ll have no hand in the day-to-day operation of the site. Instead, I’ll contribute stories about personal finance a few times per month. And, if things go according to plan, I may actually provide a couple of updates per week in which I link to other great personal-finance info around the web. (That used to be a key feature of this site, but it’s fallen by the wayside.)

Today, though, I want to give an update on what I’ve been doing for the past year.

Background Info

First, for those who don’t know, I founded Get Rich Slowly in 2006. I was deep in debt and trying to learn how to manage my money. I hoped that by sharing my journey, it’d keep me motivated and help others who were in similar trouble.

The site succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. I dug myself out of debt using tried-and-true techniques. Then, as my income from this blog increased, I quit my day job working for the family box factory. I also published Your Money: The Missing Manual, a book about smart money management. Eventually, I sold Get Rich Slowly, though I stuck around as editor for three more years.

Last year, I decided I’d had enough. I felt like I’d written all I could about personal finance, and I’d come to dread the daily grind of producing a blog. (It takes a lot of work to produce a blog like Get Rich Slowly.) So, I retired.

Since then, I’ve been reading and writing, the same as always, but with less focus than in the past. (I’ll explain why in a moment.) I’ve been able to use my new site, More Than Money, to explore a variety of topics, and my pieces about money have mainly gone to Entrepreneur magazine and to the Time website.

Outside work, I’ve continued to pursue Crossfit. Plus, I’ve been dating the same woman for 15 months. Kim and I have had a tons of adventures in our year together, and we’ve worked hard to build a strong, mutually supportive relationship. It’s been a hell of a lot of fun.

Just another Christmas Eve dogsled ride with Kimmie
Over Christmas, Kim and I went dogsledding…

Recently, I’ve felt the urge to write about personal finance again. It’s in my blood. For example:

  • I hear Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” on the radio and want to use that as a basis to write about frugality.
  • I talk with my childhood friends about how our financial fortunes have changed in the past 20 years.
  • I see dumb money advice on television and want to warn people to beware.
  • I watch how smart Kim is with money and want to share some of her secrets.

In short, I have more to say about money than I thought I did, so I’m going to write for Get Rich Slowly again. Before I get started, I should update you on a few major changes in my life.

Note: Many folks want to know how Kris is doing. She seems happier than I’ve seen her in a long time. She’s still gardening and canning and frolicking with cats. She’s been dating the same guy for over a year, and he’s even managed to convince her to go camping! (He’s a mechanic for a Mini Cooper shop, and I plan to take my car to him when it needs work.) Kris and I live five miles apart, and have dinner together about once a month. Kim recently loaned her juicer to Kris in exchange for some spicy pickled carrots. Next weekend, we’ll have a joint garage sale.

ADHD and Me

Last fall, I started seeing a therapist. I didn’t have a goal in mind at first. During the divorce, Kris had asked me to see one, so when a friend told me how useful her psychologist had been, I decided to give it a shot. I wasn’t sure how useful therapy would be for me. In time, though, it became clear that I was wrestling with anxiety issues and a mild case of ADHD.

A few months ago, my counselor decided this “mild case of ADHD” was probably more severe. She suggested I seek medication to help the problem. I was reluctant at first, but after three months of using Vyvanse, I’m a believer. I’m a functional human being again! I’m getting more done every morning than I used to get done in a week. Also, my anxiety has (mostly) vanished. My colleagues have noticed a marked difference, and so has Kim. Best of all, so have I.

I don’t like the idea of medication as a long-term solution, so one of my current projects is to create systems and schedules to keep me on track even when I’m not medicated. I’ve been testing these systems. They work well for a few hours, but by mid-afternoon my mind is a muddle. But I’m confident that with more work and more practice, I’ll need the Vyvanse only occasionally.

Note: My ADHD meds cause one notable side effect: I’m not hungry. When I take the Vyvanse, my appetite goes away. To fight this, I try to eat a big breakfast. But some days — like today — I forget to eat before I start working. When that happens, I can go all day without eating. Then I end up very hungry at night when the medication wears off.

Brace Face
photo (9)

For years, I hemmed and hawed about whether I should get braces. I’ve had some crooked teeth and a wicked crossbite, both of which affected my self-confidence. I could never pull the trigger, though. It seemed silly to get braces simply for the sake of vanity.

Late last year, two things happened. First, my friend Matt (who is just as old as I am) got braces. Second, my dental hygienist girlfriend cleaned my teeth for the first time. “Huh, your teeth really are crooked,” Kim said. “You should see an orthodontist.”

So I did.

In January, I got braces. I’ll have them for at least two years, but I don’t mind. I already feel more confident. I just wish food wasn’t so eager to get stuck on the brackets…

Note: The braces and the therapy are great, but they’re also expensive. I have health insurance, but it’s catastrophic health insurance, and it doesn’t cover stuff like this. If I’d been smart, I would have taken care of these things long ago, back when I was on Kris’s awesome health insurance. (And I don’t know what I’m going to do about my deviated septum.) Another personal-finance lesson learned.

A Place of My Own

Perhaps the biggest news, on both the personal and the financial fronts, is that I bought a condo. I loved my apartment in northeast Portland — it was close to everything! — but there were many disadvantages to it too.

Last summer, I met Andi Blackwell, who is not only a Portland-based real-estate agent but also a long-time GRS reader. (Andi used to have a financial blog of her own.) Andi and I worked together through the fall to figure out what sort of place I was after. As the real-estate market began to simmer again here in Portland, I found a nice condo in the lovely (and walkable) Sellwood neighborhood. After a short bidding war (ugh), I became a homeowner once again.

I’ve been here eight months now, and I love it. Sure, I miss having a yard, but I don’t miss the yard work. Besides, I live just steps from three wonderful parks, have quick access to a 20-mile multi-use trail, and can walk (or bike) to almost everything I need. Living here has been awesome. The only drawback is that they’re building a new bridge nearby, so sometimes (like now) the whole building shakes.

Because banks are tighter with money than they used to be, and because I barely have an income, I couldn’t qualify for a mortgage. I had to pay cash for this place. That’s put a crimp in my budget (and it pains me to not be able to take advantage of today’s low interest rates), which is helping me to rediscover my frugal side.

photo (27)
Kim and Andi exploring a condo in northwest Portland…

Looking Forward

Though I still have a sizable emergency fund, I depleted a huge chunk of my savings to buy this place. (On the plus side, not having a mortgage keeps my monthly costs low.) Plus, my income is lower than it has been in years.

Kim is feeling pinched too. She’s smart with money. She’d been building her savings so she could replace her 15-year-old car. But she got hit with an unexpected tax bill, had extensive (and expensive) shoulder surgery, and then accompanied me on a three-week trip to Europe. Her savings have taken a hit.

So, this summer has been all about frugal dating. We’ve been exploring fun things we can do for cheap. We love happy hour and shuffleboard at the nearby pubs!

Meanwhile, I’m following my own advice and looking for ways to boost my income. Kim helped me sell my comic book collection (about which more later), I’m going to produce an ebook (about conquering fear), and I’ve started the proposal for my second real book — even though the last book project ended up paying me less than minimum wage. (Writing here won’t help. I’m doing this without pay!)

Professionally, I have a couple of unpaid speaking gigs (again on the subject of conquering fear), and helped to produce the third-annual World Domination Summit.

I have a good life, and I know it. I have a nice home, work I enjoy, a supportive girlfriend, and get to spend plenty of time with my friends. This is the happiest I’ve been in my adult life. And now that my ADHD seems to be under control, I can finally be a productive human being again. That means you’ll see a little more of me around here. It feels good to be back…

One Second Everyday

At World Domination Summit this year, one of our attendee stories featured Cesar Kuriyama, who built an app called One Second Everyday. Kuriyama documented a year of his life in a six-minute video, one that included a one-second clip from each day of the year. As the name of his app implies, it helps others create similar videos by automating the process.

For three weeks, I’ve been using One Second Everyday to document my life. It’s fun. I’ve been pretty good about the process, except for a three-day span last week where I didn’t do much besides read, write, and clean house. (For those three missed days, I “cheated” by using extra footage from days where I had fun clips available.)

Here’s my One Second Everyday video for July 11th through July 31st. It does a pretty good job of capturing what I’ve been up to.

Here’s what each second captures:

  • July 11th – Writing October’s Entrepreneur column on tax deductions.
  • July 12th – Mannequin salesman at the antique fair.
  • July 13th – Visiting with the Limbaughs on Kim’s last night at the house.
  • July 14th – Packing Kim’s house and moving her to my condo.
  • July 15th – Talking with Benny Lewis about his travel plans.
  • July 16th – Working with Lisa Briscoe on our poster project.
  • July 17th – Kim’s bad cough keeping us awake in the middle of the night.
  • July 18th – Kim kicking my ass at pool (after beating me at shuffleboard).
  • July 19th – Picking berries with Kris at the house.
  • July 20th – Listening to live music at the Muddy Rudder.
  • July 21st – Romantical.
  • July 22nd – Watching “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. [Cheated.]
  • July 23rd – Smoking on the back porch at Kim’s house. [Cheated.]
  • July 24th – Celebrating a goal at the Timbers match. [Cheated.]
  • July 25th – “Baby Got Back” at the Yukon with Portland money bloggers.
  • July 26th – Sneaking down the steep hill behind the mausoleum.
  • July 27th – Beer and pizza at the Muddy Rudder.
  • July 28th – Buying flowers at the Farmers Market.
  • July 29th – Holding plank position at Crossfit.
  • July 30th – Comparison pricing at Costco.
  • July 31st – At the park with Andrew and Isaiah.

One interesting thing about this project is choosing what to include. Because I want to share my video with the public, I’ve kept it pretty PG (or PG-13). My life is more R-rated than that (as are most people’s lives!).

It’s also interesting that once I started taking short video clips, I stopped taking as many photos. Since I have a couple of ongoing photo projects, this is a bit of a challenge. I need to be sure I’m documenting my life with still images for these projects at the same time I’m capturing moving images for One Second Everyday.

I’m going to do my best to continue this project as long as I can. Can I keep it up for an entire year? I don’t know. It helps, though, that the app sends me periodic reminders throughout the day. These little nudges are enough to make me think, “What am I doing right now? Can I film a few seconds?”

I love this app. It’s fun to use, and it’s fun to see the pattern of my life captured in this way…