Divisible by ten…

Every year I’m surprised at the end of May when I find myself inexplicably even more irritable than usual. Like salmon returning up river to die, the run up to June comes on without me consciously taking notice of it. Or rather not taking note of it until I sit down and ask myself why I’m dramatically more agitated that normal.

Yes, friends, you guessed it. It’s birthday time again. You see, the fare that accompanies the traditional American birthday is just a little bit of personal hell as far as I’m concerned. A room full of people, dumb hats, forced polite chatter – it sounds perfectly awful. It’s more tolerable when I’m not at the center of it, but I’d just as soon the day slide astern with as little fuss as possible.

It does explain why I’ve largely been feeling “off” this last week or so. Once you’re past 21 – or maybe 25 if you’re really excited about being able to rent a car – the whole exercise of birthday celebrating takes on a decidedly “so what” flavor. Maybe that flavor is even worse this year because it’s one of the big ones divisible by ten.

I take more than a little comfort in knowing it will be past soon and once that happens my mood will improve dramatically if I can go out on a limb and use past performance to predict future results.

By 35…

I’d never really thought of MarketWatch as a leading newsmaker, but after their social media post noting that “By 35, you should have twice your salary saved, according to retirement experts.” They’ve experienced their 15 minutes and then some.

The thing is, if you’re contemplating what it takes to achieve a “normal” retirement at the “normal” age in the “normal” way, their post isn’t broadly off the mark. Their point, beyond being something that seems to beggar belief to millennials, is that if you ever want to retire in the traditional sense of the word, you need to plan for it… and more importantly you need to save for it. Only you know for sure what right number – 2x, 10x, or 50x your annual salary invested – is going to meet your needs at any given time along your glide path.

“But,” you say, “Everything is so expensive. I have loans, and bills, and kids, and a master’s degree in advanced basketweaving. I can’t save anything.”

That’s fine. In many cases those expenses came along with decisions you made. That means you placed a premium on those other options rather than building a stable platform for retirement. It means you’re going to have to work past the traditional retirement age or contemplate a significant lifestyle change in order to realign you financial priorities. In some cases, especially for those who decide the whole long-range planning things is just too hard, you may have to accept that there’s a good chance you’re going to die in harness.

I got my first “grown up” job at 22. Making about $30K a year, paying rent, a car note, household bills, buying groceries, and all the other expenses that come along with being a grown ass man. It sucked. Money was always short, but before I saw a nickel of it in my checking account $25 of every check that first year went into my retirement account. Let me be clear on this – to me, back then, $50 was a shit ton of money to “do without” from month to month. There were a lot of things I could have spent that cash on to make life a little more civilized and comfortable that first year. The thing is, even at 22, when I still believed I was on my way to a long and fulfilling teaching career, I knew I didn’t want to still be touching America’s youth when I was in my 70s.

Here’s the kicker: Life isn’t easy. It’s full of hard decision, medical emergencies, and events that don’t work out quite as you had planned. Take it from a guy who changed careers, lived through five regional or cross country moves in 18 years to follow better opportunities, and then took a bath on a house he bought at the height of the real estate bubble. I know this shit isn’t easy.

There are precisely 300 million websites out there that can help you develop the mindset and skills that make retirement a thing that’s possible. But it means you’re going to have to do more hard work and educate yourself on the topics and the tools available. If you’re sitting around waiting for someone to do it for you while shitposting on Twitter, well, I guess you’re right – retirement is definitely never going to happen.

Unfilled with asshattery…

Well, it’s been nice pretending that I have all the time in the world to dink around the yard, troll every junk shop in three counties, and put my feet up to read whatever happened to strike my fancy. However, due to the completely unreasonable need to generate income in order to continue to provide food, shelter, and medical care for myself and my four-legged dependents, time is about to return to its usual status as my most precious commodity. Maybe that means I appreciate it more, but it’s a theory I’d be perfectly happy to put to the test as early as practicable.

I’ll be back at it tomorrow, making the devil’s bargain of time for money. I know I needed the down time, but I’m equally sure that whatever restive effects I’ve earned will be reduced to near zero sometime before the clock strikes noon tomorrow. It’s about as unavoidable as the rising sun. At least that first roll of the eyes won’t arrive as a shock. I know it’s coming.

Until then, I’ll make the most of the peace and quiet and enjoy one last afternoon unfilled with total asshattery. If there’s anything that long stretches of free time teaches me it’s that I can’t value those highly enough.

Sleep disjointed…

For most of my adult life I’ve had a somewhat conflicted relationship with sleep. I recognize and accept it as a biological necessity, but I’m not in love with the idea of spending up to a third of each day lying prone when there are likely other, more interesting things to do.

Occasionally, my ambivalence towards sleep catches up with me. Usually it’s on a Sunday afternoon when I’m not otherwise engaged and find myself going chin down. On rare occasions like last night, I’ll nod off before ever making it to bed. That’s not an especially pervasive problem as usually I’m only down for 10 or 15 minutes.

Last night was something different, though. I suspect the last two weeks has really started catching up with me. I went down hard at 8:15 and spent the next two and a half hours drooling on myself in the living room. This was apparently just enough shut eye to completely ruin the chance of getting an actual night’s sleep. Laying abed wide awake isn’t really my style, so I read, did some internet things, watched a surprisingly interesting documentary about the Boeing 747, and then finally “went to bed” a little after 3am.

Thanks to my surprisingly persistent internal alarm clock, I was still up by 5:30 this morning. Thus is the way I begin my designated “down time.” I can only hope this isn’t setting the tone for how the rest of these next few days are going to run.

Shelving crisis…

Some people mount animal heads on their wall as trophies. Other people fill their walls with art as artifacts of their travels. Me? Well, I tend to acquire books at a prodigious rate. I seem to be acquiring them now at a far faster rate than I can actually read them, which leads me to my current troubles.

While the books I’ve read are happily filed and displayed on shelves in nearly every room, the growing “to read” stack has become something more like a “pile.” When doing most of your shopping at Goodwill or flea markets or used books shops, the time to buy is when you have it in your hand for $.50 or $1. The troublesome part, at the moment, is just what to do with this excess before allocating them “trophy” status on the display shelves.

The only logical thing to do, of course, is go out and find some inexpensive shelving that I can install in one of the spare bedrooms to serve as my own in-house book shop. Yes, I realize the far more reasonable option would to be get over my completely ridiculous desire to physically own the books I read and start drawing reading material from the local public library… but that doesn’t feel like something that’s actually going to happen. So, really using some of my newly found time off this week to rig some shelves and un-cluster the home library feels like something I can reasonably expect to accomplish without adding undue stress.

In recovery…

This is the first time in about a month that my laptop hasn’t followed me home. It’s the first time I’ve even attempted to restore the hard earned balance between the quiet, peaceful, sustaining world of the homestead and world across the river that would happily eat up all the free and easy moments if given half a chance.

Already in just these few minutes I’m feeling less submerged in the deep water – far happier for being now surrounded by my animals, my books, and no hint of a self-inflicted crisis with which to be dealt. I won’t pretend that this is anything approaching a controlled environment, but the common problems are swiftly put right and order, such as it is, reigns. Those problems that rightly dwell on the other side of the river, are less apt to be corrected no matter the time and resources brought to bear against them.

No one knows better than I that control is an illusion. Even if it is a fiction, it’s a happy fiction, and one that I’m pleased to let have its way here inside my own four walls. I’m in a slow recovery from the week and months that were. I feel better now than I did ten short hours ago, so that’s something – a good sign perhaps. Throw in a few days of real down time and I might have a fighting chance of really feeling like myself again. A boy can dare to dream.

Towards the sound of the gun…

My first professional job after college was as a history teacher at Great Mills High School. I spent two and a half years walking those halls. A decade and a half has passed since I last set foot in the building, though I have kept in touch with a few of my former colleagues and more than a few of the students who I know count as friends.

It’s a hard day for Great Mills and those students, teachers, and staff past and present. It’s a hard day for the community. It’s a hard day.

Even in the midst of a hard day, though, the story of Deputy Blaine Gaskill, the school’s resource officer, has come to the fore. His is the story of heroism that came unbidden and unwanted. You see, he was the man charged with standing between his community and danger. When faced with uncertainty and chaos, Deputy Gaskill ran towards the sound of the gun. He ran towards the danger, engaged it, and ended it.

Blaine Gaskill is a hero. His actions reflect great credit upon him, the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Department, and the good people of St. Mary’s County.

It’s the kind of debt that can never be repaid. I don’t know if the teachers and staff at Great Mills still gather at the Brass Rail or maybe the Green Door from time to time, but if they do, there’s a man who should never buy his own beer again. That might at least be the very beginning of a start on a downpayment.