Saturday, September 02, 2017

Short Stories

When he was little, I would read bedtime stories to Oliver. It was board books. Olivier Dunrea's sweet Gossie and Friends books. We're Going on a Bear Hunt. There was one called Sometimes I Like to Curl Up in a Ball that I loved reading to him.

He got older, and graduated to longer books. Picture books. When You Give a Mouse a Cookie, stories like that. Or Winnie the Pooh stories. Anything by Mo Willems.

A couple of years ago, we made the transition to Harry Potter. We'd read eight to ten pages every night. We started at the first one and read all the way through the final one, which we finished last year.

That was fun. Because I don't read a lot of the books he reads. He loves Christopher Paolini's Inheritance Cycle, but I haven't read those. I read one or two of the Percy Jackson books, but that was it. This way, I got to read what he was reading.

While we were reading Harry Potter, I was discovering them along with him. I was learning the plot twists with him. The horror of Delores Umbridge, the dark secrets of Severus Snape, the nobility of characters like Luna Lovegood and Neville Longbottom. I got to share that experience with him.

After we ran out of Harry Potter books, we've been trying to find something else to fit the gap. He loves Randall Munroe's What If? book, as well as the accompanying blog, so we read out of that sometimes. They're not stories exactly, but he loves the different scenarios.

Lately, I've been introducing him to short stories.

I started with Neil Gaiman's short stories. I have two of his collections - Trigger Warning and Smoke & Mirrors. I've been reading the stories that I knew were safe for him. Some of them were right on the edge of comfortable for a 12-year-old. (I hesitated for a while before I read him "When We Went to See the End of the World by Dawnie Morningside, Age 11 1/4." There's a scene of the girl's father striking his mother, and that worried me. He wasn't bothered by it.)

I branched out from there. I found Kelly Link stories and Aimee Bender stories. I read him "The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse" by Susanna Clarke. I went digging for old stories that I remembered, stories like "Repent Harlequin! Cried the Ticktockman" by Harlan Ellison.

Fireside Fiction has been a revelation - they have an incredible deep catalog of great fantasy and science fiction stories. I need to kick some money into their Patreon.

Yesterday I went searching for James Thurber's fables. We used to have a book - The Thurber Carnival - that had several of those stories, and I loved the wicked little things. He loved them too.

There are some classic stories that he's just not ready for. "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson? Forget it. I read him "The Monkey's Paw" the other day and he almost couldn't get to sleep, he was so spooked.

Every time I introduce him to a new story that he loved, it's a victory. Opening his mind to magical realism, weird fiction, is a joy. I'm constantly digging for new stories, new sources. This is one of those things that I dreamed about as a parent - introducing him to the stories and the writers that made me fall in love with fiction.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Catching Up

I saw someone online say that she had finally achieved something that she never thought was going to be possible.

She signed up for automatic bill pay for her utilities.

That's it. Go ahead and look at that for a minute. I'm guessing you had a couple of responses:

Either -

  • You said, "Oh, sure, everybody should do that, it's so convenient." (As in, this is not a big deal.)
  • Or you said, "Oh my god, that's amazing."

My response was the second one. Because signing up for automatic bill pay presumes that when a bill comes in, you are CERTAIN that you will have enough money in your account to pay it.

I'm in my late forties and I don't even know if I have ever been in that position in my life.

I settled my divorce late last year. I'm digging out from some debt from that. I've got bills that I've been trying to pay down for years. I'm paying off student loans from 1992. Debt is something that I have carried with me for years and years and years. Forever. Since college.

The idea that someday, I will be in a position that I can pay a bill as soon as it comes in is like a fantasy. Autopay? That's wild. A wild crazy fantasy.

Except maybe I can actually do that now. Here's what happened. I got a new job last year. My pay jumped significantly. Suddenly, I've got some discretionary income instead of constantly chasing bills from one month to another.

I actually have money left over after I pay my bills. This is wild.

And I'll admit that I bought some furniture and bought some frivolous things. (Yeah, like book cases are wild crazy extravagances. But anyway.) We went out for dinner a few times.

But my real fantasy was, hey, maybe I can finally get caught up on my bills!

It felt briefly like things were crashing down this month. I'm just getting on top of overdue utility bills, and it feels like I'm dealing with a serious cash crunch right now. It's scary, every time this happens, because I panic about whether some major bill is going to come up that I won't be able to cover. Like, the rent. Or the electricity.

So what you do, when you don't have enough money to pay the bills, is you pay a little at a time and you hope someday you're going to have enough money to catch up. Like, if I just pay the past due now, someday I can be in a position to pay the light bill before it becomes past due. You have this illusion that someday, something good will happen and suddenly, you'll be caught up. (Sometimes, this is people fantasizing about winning the lottery. it's about that realistic.)

But now, I'm now making enough money that I can see that happening. I can get caught up. It's actually within the realm of possibility.

So this month was the month that I was going to get on top of everything. And then I got hit with a $1000 car repair bill.

So fine. Dammit. I have no credit cards available for emergencies (when you live paycheck to paycheck, your credit cards are always maxed out.) So I used the $1000 I was going to use to pay down the bills this month, and pay for my car instead.

So next month, I'll get caught up.

It all gets overwhelming so easily, especially when my anxiety kicks in. So I'm trying to take it all in steps.

This month, I got caught up on the light bill.
Next month, I get caught up on the utility bill.
The month after that, I start paying those collection notices. (I don't pay them off. I just start payments.)

Getting out of debt is a process. I'm not there yet. Nobody goes from "deep in debt" to "completely caught up" overnight. Sometimes I have to remember that. I'm going to have occasional times when the bills all hit at once and I panic. But I think those times are going to become much more rare.

And maybe, sometime by the fall, I will be completely on top of my regular bills. And I can take one bill - the cable bill, maybe - and put it on autopay.

I'm getting caught up. It doesn't feel like that sometimes, but I am getting caught up.