I’m officially nominating myself for the “Things Can’t Possibly Get Worse…Oh, Wait, They Can” award. Though I expect stiff competition from Greece, Syria and Nepal, I think I have a good chance in the “Oh, the irony” category.
Irony #1: Prez and I have been talking about a move to Vancouver Island for a few years now. Most of our family and some of our friends live there, we love and miss the ocean, and we could rent an entire house in Campbell River for not much more than we are paying for a basement suite in rentally-challenged Nelson. When my sister died, that sealed it. She had been my dad’s main support system and now he was alone. I needed to be close to my dad. I called him with the good news; he was thrilled.
And you know how that story ends. Well, almost.
Let’s talk about money.
My relationship with money is complex. I have always been a hard worker—I found my first real, non-babysitting job at the age of 14 and have worked steadily ever since—but I have never been a good saver. I’m sure there are reasons for this. With enough money and time, I’m sure a psychologist could enlighten me. Whatever the reason, I suck at rainy day preparation.
Over the years I have been various levels of poor and wealthy. There were the starving student days, of course. But even when you and your two roommates are sharing a quarter of a raw cauliflower and rationing the dregs of some cheap white wine for dinner, you can laugh about it. Hey, you’re young, you have years and years ahead to make money and everyone around you is in the same boat.
Time erases the laughter. There is nothing hilarious about calling your alcoholic soon-to-be-officially-ex-husband to beg for $100 so that you can buy enough groceries to make it until payday. And when he taunts and ridicules you and eventually says, “No”? Yeah, that kind of poor is smile-free.
Then there were the days of jetskis and dirtbikes, new trucks, my own condo, months spent at Prez and my’s beach house in Baja, inviting six friends out for dinner and picking up the tab without blinking, last minute trips to Vegas, and so on. Heady times, indeed.
These days I hover a fair distance above “starving student” (no cauliflower, thanks) but far below “Jetskis and Dirtbikes”.
I am still bad at saving.
More than sex, money is an embarrassing topic to discuss publicly. Even as I write this I am cautiously editing myself for Prez’s sake. I’ve had quiet conversations with friends about our mutual struggles but always one-on-one and with the implicit understanding that this information is not to be shared. I can tell you, without naming names, that a lot of us—even those you might least expect—are having a hard time. Debt is rampant and even people with good paying jobs and modest lifestyles are frantically treading water. Many of us are one minor tragedy away from financial ruin and/or bankruptcy. Yet, we stay silent. Why?
There’s a real stigma to being bad with money. In our parent’s day, you got a job, you worked hard, you moved up the ranks, your loyalty was rewarded, you saved, you bought a house, had kids, took two weeks vacation per year, and could expect to have enough money to live comfortably in your retirement. (Especially since you’d likely die within ten to fifteen years). In our parents’ day, though, the cost of living was reasonable and you could expect to work for the same company your entire life and leave with a tidy pension.
Times have changed but our thinking hasn’t. If we’re not doing as well as the past generation, we consider ourselves failures. It doesn’t matter if our parents would have struggled just as mightily in this age of extreme financial uncertainty, there is a pervasive sense that, no matter the size and number of the obstacles, we should be doing better than we are.
Now, I can’t blame all of my money woes on external factors. Have I mentioned I’m a bad saver? I also have a high risk tolerance—great for life as a stunt woman, not great for a middle aged person planning for the future. Add to that: my gypsy tendencies, a leaning toward conflict avoidance, my decision to indie publish, and a host of other character traits and bad decisions that all help to keep me in the red.
I suck at money.
Which brings me back to the irony I spoke of at the beginning of this ramble.
Since attending my first SF/F convention in 2012, (Worldcon, in San Antonio, Texas), I’ve been hooked. Cons are fun, they are a great way to meet other people in the industry, they are the best place to learn about what’s what and who’s who in the business of publishing, and they are where my tribe lives. Cons are also expensive for me. Because Prez and I choose to live off the beaten path, getting to a con usually involves at least a day or more of travel and lots of associated travel fees.
When I learned Worldcon was going to be held in Spokane, Washington in 2015 I was ecstatic. At last, a con close to home! A mere three hour drive would take me there and if I could find a roomie then this would be my most affordable con ever!
Since saying goodbye at the last con, I have been eagerly awaiting the end of August, when I would reconnect with my fellow nerds once more.
Then my sister got sick. Trips to Vancouver, weeks spent with her in the hospital, not working, charges on the ol’ Visa. Then my sister died. Last minute flights to the island, weeks spent planning and preparing her memorial, more charges and expenses. Then the decision to move to the island, which meant even more expenses (a U-Haul trailer will cost us $600!). Then my dad…more last minute flights, more expenses, more time not working. Deeper into the red.
I arrived back home in Nelson on August 7th, exhausted and sad. I looked at the calendar I keep on the wall. Worldcon is highlighted in a once-cheerful shade of red.
Irony #2: This was the closest a big con would be to me and the smallest travel expenses I would ever have…and it couldn’t have happened at a worse time.
I had a decision to make.
Not just a decision about a convention but about how I’m going to live my life from this point forward. Either Prez and I go on as we always have—hitting the road for adventures when the mood strikes and living day-to-day—and accept the stress that comes with debt and financial insecurity as the cost of being nomads, or we choose a different path and fight our way back to black.
“I can’t go,” I told myself.
I want to go. I really, really, really want to go to Worldcon, and it burns me to know how close it is this year, but I need to pay for the costs of my family tragedies. More than that, I need to make myself into a good saver.
Monday morning I will call and cancel my hotel reservation and put my Worldcon membership up for sale. I’ll have a little pity party for myself as I pack for the upcoming move but there will be some pride in there too. Doing the right thing feels good even when it doesn’t feel good.
So, yes, things can always get worse but sometimes they have to get worse before they can get better.