Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Déjà Vu All Over Again

Recurring dreams are strange.  I imagine they are the result of unresolved issues or traumatic experiences.  I have a few.  I see how they might relate to current struggles or past events.  Like most, I don't remember the precise circumstances of the dreams once I awake.  This is more true now that I'm older.  Usually, I can recall what happened just before my eyes snapped open.  I might remember some of the other players, but not always.  I don't dream often of the people I spend the most time with in waking life, so I rarely see my wife and children while asleep.  This is probably because we're very supportive of one another and don't leave personal issues unresolved.

I dream of the people I miss.  My brothers, my parents, my grandparents, close friends.  They recur.  Certain settings reappear.  I dream often of the Greek restaurant where I worked while in my 20's.  I left that place unexpectedly and can see why it shows up.  I also miss the Greeks.  I know people believe you can't die in your dreams, but I was shot to death outside the Greek restaurant once.  I walked to my pickup truck after work and a stranger pulled up on a motorcycle, leveled his firearm at my forehead, and blew me away.  The last thing I remember was collapsing to the pavement.  I saw blood pooling around my eyes as I lay on the concrete.  I never see myself from outside my body.  I dream in color.  My blood was red.

Tornadoes appear frequently in my dreams but not as often as they used to.  This is probably a recurring image for most.  Our world is turbulent.  What better metaphor than a destructive cyclone?  Our brains know what they're doing even when we don't.  This could also be inspired by my love of the movie The Wizard of Oz and my hope for happiness somewhere over the rainbow.

I chase the Devil in my dreams.  He's exactly what you would expect:  pointy black beard, scarlet skin, bent horns, shiny pitchfork.  He only lets me catch a glimpse of his face and then runs from me.  I call for him, challenge him, but he never steps up.  That's what's so frustrating.  I'd rather him kick the fuck out of me, skin me alive, burn me at the stake.  Instead, he's a coward.  I guess I shouldn't expect more.  I can't stand the pretentious or those who act tough.

I'm most scared in my dreams when I can't get the bathroom lights to turn on.  This is the closest I come to having a nightmare.  It's so fucking weird.  But I panic.  Start sweating.  Call for help.  Flick the switch multiple times.  Nothing happens.  I don't get hurt.  Don't sense any near and present danger.  I just stand there in the dark looking at myself in the mirror.  And I'm frightened.

I have two recurring dreams that are somewhat similar.  Both have to do with roads.  In one, I'm stuck in the middle of a busy street, trying to crawl across traffic, but I can't make it to either side.  I never get hit by the passing cars.  I just reach out for the people I see standing on the sidewalks but never make it to safety.  The closer I get to curbside, the slower I move and the heavier I feel.  Even as I'm dragging myself along, digging my fingers, I know I'll never make it.  I also drive on roads that don't take me where I want to go.  Again, there's no fear, no apparent danger.  I might even be enjoying myself with friends or family.  But we'll drive (usually on city highways) and never reach our destination.  We always know where we are and where we're going but can't figure out why we're lost (or why the drive won't end).  I believe I'm reaching for the past in the first and seeking a future in the second.  But here I am in both.  Stuck in the present.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Why I Avoid Barbed Wire

I took the Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale and scored a 14.  That puts me in the upper-range of the mild category.  That's what I would've guessed.  I'm neurotic and have plenty of quirks but don't allow anything to impede my quality of life.  I've mentioned a few rituals before.  I avoid the number 13, take steps to make sure doors are locked, wash my hands excessively.  Nothing serious.  I don't rationalize my behaviors.  I enjoy the irrational.  That's why I write horror stories.  A recent Goodreads review criticized Crow Creek for being too far-fetched.  I completely agree.  That's what I was going for.  The implausible entertains me.  If I wanted realism, I'd write instruction manuals.

I have a few phobias.  They're hilarious.  They're part of my OCD.  Most are common.  You've probably guessed by the reference to hand-washing that I'm a germophobe.  I think the clinical term is mysophobia.  Either way, I'm not sure the diagnosis is accurate.  The fear is of being sick, not of the germs themselves.  Whatever that's called.  I'm not sure when the phobia started.  Probably as I became more aware of my own mortality.  When did that happen?  13 years-old?  Yes, I met death in 1982.  She's not pretty.  She lives in a tiny gray box.  But I've never been a sickly person.  Maybe I have hand-washing to thank for that.  Not sure.  If only they made a hand lotion that didn't leave you feeling so greasy.  I wash my hands, use hand lotion, and then use Germ-X to dry the lotion.  Seems like an extra step.  I know there are products that combine lotion and Germ-X, but they don't keep my hands from bleeding.  Either way, this phobia should explain why I avoid human contact.

I dread thunderstorms.  The lightning, that is.  I find thunder soothing because the sound lets me know that I didn't get hit.  I remember watching a storm outside my bedroom window when I was a child growing up in Brooklyn.  The rain poured in gray sheets.  Lightning cracked.  I saw the bolt hit the pavement.  I don't think I ever recovered.  The sheer power frightens me.  I've seen lightning strike three or four times on subsequent occasions.  It even hit in our yard once and killed the root systems of most of our trees.  I wonder what it's like to be struck.  Or at least I wish I could get hit once and get it over with.  Is that why some people play the lottery?  When my wife and I started dating, she discovered me cowering in a windowless hallway during a violent storm.  She still married me.

I'll keep the next one short: I loathe flying insects.  I've described bees and wasps as lightning bolts of the bug world.  Spiders don't bother me.  I can run from them.  Or stay out of their webs.  I've been chased by a horse fly.  I screamed and tripped going in the back door.  The beast flew in after me.  I covered my head with a pillow and let my wife kill it; I'm not proud.  This fear probably dates back to when I was a child playing stick ball in the street and a wasp bit my tongue.  Maybe I shouldn't have had my mouth wide open.  Or have been yelling at my big brother.

You might be surprised to learn that I get freaked out walking beside barbed-wire fences.  Or chain-link fences, if sharp metal ends poke through at the top.  I always feel like the tiny barbs are going to pluck out my eyeballs.  There was a ball field in Phoenix that I walked through on my way home from high school.  It had barbed wire fences (or dangerous eye-threatening chain-link fences).  That's probably where the phobia started.  I even get freaked out driving beside them.  And I never drive with my windows down.

I fear being eaten alive.  That's not entirely accurate.  Of being swallowed whole.  Yes, that's better.  I think it's called phagophobia.  I would do fine being killed by a pack of wild dogs or getting torn to pieces by hungry lions.  The idea of going down prostrate in a whale's mouth or being consumed by an anaconda scares the shit out of me.  The fear probably comes from Jaws.  I hate when Captain Quint gets eaten by the shark.  I just hate it.  Fucking great white.

Of course, I have other fears, but things like cancer and car wrecks don't belong on this list.  They're not phobias.  Phobias are unfounded.  Even germophobia - anyone with half a brain knows that exposure helps you build up immunity; that's why we have vaccines for Christ's sake!  Phobias are silly.  Peculiar.  But I need them in my life, like I need a good plate of spaghetti and meatballs several times a week.  They complete me.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Money Matters

I spend a lot of time talking to my college students about managing money.  I don't have much.  I'm a schoolteacher.  But that's OK.  I don't want more than I have.  I'm not greedy.  Just conscientious.

You need to know how much you earn before you can determine how much you can spend.  That's budget-writing at its core.  You must have more money coming in than you have going out.  Plain and simple.  If you aren't making enough money, get an additional job.  I work three or four jobs at any given time.  I'd put on a minimum wage job if I had to.  Couldn't you see me as a Walmart greeter?  "Hey!  Welcome to Walmart!  How the fuck are you?  We got the lowest prices in town, and we only have to bend our employees over once a month to make that happen.  We call that payday." 

Look, I know there are people out there fortunate enough not to have to worry about money, but for the rest of us average-Joes, who probably grew up in blue collar households (my father's a bad-ass trucker), we don't have money to burn and these struggles are real.

My wife and I take a look at our finances at the start of every year.  It's easy because we're on winter break then.  We project our yearly income and then guesstimate our annual expenses.  This second part is a general survey of what we expect will cost us.  Where are we traveling?  Does our home need any improvements?  How much are we hoping to fold into our savings account (never enough)?  Those kinds of questions.  We also plan a very detailed monthly budget.  We list every recurring expense that we can possibly think of (even down to the cost of trimming this ever-thinning hair of mine) and then add some cushion for whatever we can't expect.  We create general groupings for these expenses (groceries, eating out, entertainment, etc.) using envelopes and drop in enough money to last each month.  If the cash runs out, we don't spend anything.  You'll be surprised how far a case of spaghetti bought at Costco will go when there are five weeks in a month.  We also have a Christmas envelope for our 52-week savings plan. That nets us over $1300 for the holidays.

A few other thoughts.  We save for the kids.  They each have a college 529 plan.  We've put away every dollar they've ever gotten as gifts in their own bank accounts, and we make them balance their monthly expenses with income they earn for working around the house.  We only use credit cards for fuel and medicine but never carry a balance.  You'll be surprised how fast your credit score goes up when you pay off your bills on time (we're at 833!).  Make sure your credit cards give you cash back.  I've used Discover since I was a first-year teacher, and my reward month is December (just in time for Christmas).  Another trick is to take 0% interest loans for big-ticket items.  If a bank is willing to give you free money, take it for as long as they'll give it.  This applies when buying a new car, TV, furniture, or anything else you might catch on special at Lowe's Home Improvement.

A final note.  I've grown to resent tax-sheltered/tax-deferred investments as I believe they only work for the rich and benefit the corporate broker.  I hate not having access to the money I've put into my IRA or my 403B.  I don't make enough (and consequently can't put away enough) for those savings to matter when I'm old and retired.  I'd rather pay the taxes up front and invest in mutual funds or stocks that I can cash out whenever I need the money.  But this won't apply to everyone.  That's just me.  I'm a public schoolteacher and will have a solid pension when I retire.  If I don't, I'll work until the day I drop dead.  And that's just fine.  It's how my grandfather went down.  I'm named after him, so it'll be fitting.  Plus, I was born on a Saturday, and Saturday's child works hard for a living.