Monday, February 25, 2013

A Wake-up Call

"The Dormouse is asleep again," said the Hatter, and he poured a little hot tea upon its nose.

The Dormouse shook its head impatiently, and said, without opening its eyes, "Of course, of course; just what I was going to remark myself."

Today is Monday, February 25, 2013.  The quote above reminded me of some of the wake-up calls I've had in my life.   The most recent one occurred last summer, when I realized that I needed to find a way to reduce my living expenses, pronto. 

I was preparing to open an online discussion group on Yahoo late last May, and had just created the group site.  I decided to add to my existing Yahoo profile the email address that I got with my new cable Internet account when I moved to Brandon.  Normally, this takes about 30 seconds to accomplish, but try as I might, nothing happened.   

In the normal course of events, you add the new address, then have Yahoo send an email to the new account.  From your new account, you open the email from Yahoo and click on a link, and your new email address is then registered.  I never got the email.

I went back to Yahoo several times, and it always said that the new address was unverified.  I requested that they send an email a number of times, and I even took a screen shot of the message from Yahoo that said they had sent the email.  I asked Yahoo for help with this, and of course they told me that it must be my ISP's fault.  I called Alliance, my cable company, and asked them if they were blocking Yahoo.  They said no.  

Normally, this sort of snafu seems meaningless, even though it is frustrating, but I was aware on some level that there was more to it.  Around the same time, I became aware that my bank had "lent" me the maximum allowed in my "checking reserve" account, and they wanted to be paid back.  I realized that I had zilch in my account, and that I needed to figure out where the money was going. 

I know I should have been more aware of what was happening, but I wasn't, mainly because I was still recuperating from double pulmonary embolisms, and I had also had surgery on one of my legs to fix the varicose veins, hopefully to avoid another problem with embolisms or worse.  When I am not feeling well, the last thing on my mind is my finances.  I am a master at letting things slide when I don't want to deal with them.  With the bank on my tail, I knew it was time to tackle the problem head-on.  I knew I could take some money out of the account set up for my "early retirement incentive," in order to get out of trouble with the bank, but that it would not be a long-term solution.

They key was understanding the wake-up call that I'd been given.  It was easy to miss, because it was one of those little frustrations in life that Internet users have learned to tolerate.  My spiritual training has taught me that when we experience problems in life that seem unsolvable by normal means, it is often the case that we are being given a message that something has to change.  I kept getting the message, that Yahoo could not verify my email address.  What did that mean?  "We cannot verify your address."  After going into contemplation and asking for help from my spiritual guide, I realized that the whole situation with the email address was a metaphor for what was going on in my life at that time.  It was my physical address that could not be "verified."  Sure enough, when I did the math, it became clear that my rent was eating up too much of my income each month.  The only way I was going to be able to get out of trouble, long-term, was to move to a place where the rent was much less.

By the time I had this realization, it was already early June.  The question was: How fast could I move? 

My first action was to email my landlord to ask if he would let me out of my lease a bit early.  Fortunately, he is a very nice man, and his answer was that he had some people who were waiting to get into an apartment, and if I would keep my place ready to show, he could show my place to two or three different prospective renters within a few days.  Perfect.  I would keep my place spotless and save the packing for later. 

After an exhaustive search on the Internet, it was clear that only one place in Brandon fit my budget.  It was a place that I'd refused to look at earlier, knowing that it only offered one-bedroom apartments, and I had held out for more space.

At the time, I was living in a place that was billed as "one bedroom plus den," and the dimensions were huge.  I used the den (so called because it did not have a door and because there was no closet in the room) as my office.  I had a little private laundry room in my apartment, and enjoyed underground parking with enough space in my assigned stall for a storage shelf.  There was a garbage chute on my floor, which made it unnecessary to drag my garbage very far.  The apartment was a corner place, giving me eastern and southern exposure, and the view was spectacular from third floor. 

The place that I applied to is half the size (but also half the rent).  It does not have a den area, and the living room area is too small for all my furniture and bookshelves. There is no covered parking available, and I am back to lugging my laundry down the hall to a shared laundry room.  I also have to lug my garbage all the way outside to a bin across the parking lot.  The storage area is a joke - it's already completely full of other people's stuff.  The only saving grace is a little pantry, which I heartily wish I could actually use as a pantry, but which I now use as a storage area for things that I need but don't use every day, such as cleaning supplies, my vacuum cleaner, holiday decorations, and so forth.  The other saving grace is that electricity is included in the rent.  That alone is a huge savings.

Fortunately, they did have an opening, but there was a catch.  I had to do a whole bunch of government-issued paperwork in order to "qualify" for this place, since it is rent-controlled.  Really, I wish people who complain about people taking advantage of low-income housing knew how much paperwork was involved, how carefully the applications are screened, and how hard it is to get into one of these places.  The apartment was one that had been empty for over a year, and although you could tell it had been cleaned, it still smelled like smoke.  I found out later that the last tenant was a heavy smoker.  Duh...  I got the apartment manager to agree that if my application went through, I could move in as soon as the 25th of June.

The apartment people wanted to know about all my bank accounts, even the ones that were closed, for the previous five years.  My account back in MN was one of the closed ones, and they had gone through a name-change just before I moved to SD. I made the mistake of giving them the older name for the bank, and then had to have them verify that, yes indeed, Teacher Federal Credit Union had undergone a name change and was now called Trustone Financial.   The application was about twenty-five pages, so as you can imagine, there were a lot of other rather intrusive questions.

With the application process underway, my next action was to secure the services of a moving company.  Naturally, every moving company in the area was booked for the very end of June and the beginning of July.  I would have to move in a few days early or a few days late.  I called a place that had been highly recommended, and got them to agree to move me in on June 25th, a Monday. 

Next, I needed to figure out what to do with my piano.  The piano had been given to me by my mom, and represented a lot of things in my life that I wanted to do but had been too busy to accomplish earlier.  It was an emotional issue for me, but I knew that I would never again have enough room for a piano.  I called the place where Mom had bought it, many years ago.  They were willing to re-sell it, and sent two guys to pick it up.  It took all of five minutes for them to wheel it out of my apartment, bing-bang-boom.   It left a gaping hole in the den and in my life.  Months later, the piano was finally sold to a church. 

The landlord told me that he had found someone to rent my place, so the next thing on the agenda was packing.  I had already thrown a great deal of "stuff" away when I moved to Brandon, so the main thing was to get things packed.  I knew that I would have to get rid of one of my tall bookshelves, the table I was using for my "desk" in the office, and a couple of other chairs that I had acquired in the living room.  I either gave away or sold as many items as possible.

One of the time-consuming jobs that I insisted on doing before moving, rather than later, was to go through my old bank records and shred everything before throwing it away.  Since I couldn't afford to have it all shredded - I couldn't believe the amount  they wanted to charge - I bought instead pair of five-blade scissors.  It took me five days to get everything cut up and bagged.  I developed blisters on my hands and ended up wrecking the scissors.  Fortunately, the scissors were only about seven dollars.  The old checkbooks and bank statements were heavy, and took up a lot of space.  They represented the last of my attachments to my old life in the Twin Cities, and it felt good to get rid of them.

The application process seemed stalled at every turn, and it became clear that the process would go right up to the deadline.  I was told that the "committee" who met to approve applications only met a couple of times a week, and that they were going to meet on the Thursday before my planned moving date.  The manager was not planning to be on duty past about 3 p.m. that day, so if their meeting lasted longer than that, I would have to wait until Monday - my moving date - to hear of their decision.   If their decision was "no," then I would either have to cancel the move - pretty hard to do without advance notice - or find a place to store my things.  The storage idea was at least a possibility, since there is a storage facility in town.  I would have to ask my mom or my sister if I could live with them for a month or two, and I could offer to give either of them money for groceries.  That was Plan B. 

My last action - other than packing - was to secure the services of someone to clean my apartment to the landlord's specifications.  The landlord was able to recommend a cleaner who was familiar with his building and his requirements, and she was available to do the job.  She ended up bringing a crew of three others, and I think they cleaned my apartment in about two hours.  Certainly worth the cost, and I could never have done all that in two hours, even with a lot of help.

That last week before I moved, I was frantic.  I remember talking to my parents, who couldn't understand why I wasn't looking elsewhere for a place to live.  I had done that, but nothing else was available on such short notice.   The deal was that if they rejected my application, I would get the application fee back, but if they determined that the application would have been accepted, then the advance fee would be forfeit.   The application fee was supposed to be applied to my first month's rent.   I reasoned that even if they were planning to reject my application, they could always tell me that it had been accepted, after the fact, if I moved elsewhere.  How would I prove otherwise?  So I waited.  

I remember telling my parents that this was a test, as they shook their heads in disbelief.  It WAS a test. Recall that my initial wake-up call was the information that my email address could not be verified by Yahoo, and my realization that this was a coded message that I would have to move.  This was a test to see if I was capable of trusting my inner information and acting on it responsibly.  In this sense, it was a spiritual test, a test of mastery of my inner resources. 

It was Thursday afternoon, the day the committee was supposed to meet, and I was just about to pick up the phone and call the apartment manager.  She had called me twice that day to ask nit-picking questions related to my application, and I was starting to think that they would, after all, not give approval.  I was sitting in my cluttered apartment, the contents of which had been mostly packed up, feeling depressed.  Boxes were stacked everywhere.  The clutter seemed to mirror the state of my life.  I looked at the clock.  It was 2:30, and the manager had said she would be on duty until three o'clock.  If I called and told them to forget it, I would forfeit the deposit money, but I would at least have time to secure a storage unit before the 25th.  The movers wouldn't care whether they were moving my stuff to another apartment or a storage unit.  What to do? 

This moment was the last part of the test.  I reflected that this was the shortest move I had ever planned and executed.  Most of the time I had planned my moves several months in advance.  This one - if it happened - would be accomplished from conception to execution in less than a month.  My spiritual training has taught me that when I follow an inner nudge responsibly, things tend to flow fairly smoothly.  It's when we fail to accept inner direction from Holy Spirit that we encounter obstructions.  My landlord had let me out of the lease without penalty and had found another renter in record time.  My early retirement incentive money had arrived and bailed me out of trouble with the bank, with some funds left over for moving.  My piano was taken care of, and the moving company and cleaning service had been easy to engage.  I had been able to sell or give away all the furniture that I knew wouldn't fit into the new apartment.  The only thing that was holding up the works was this application process.  Everything else had gone relatively smoothly.  And I did have a Plan B.  (Trust in God, but tie up your camel.)  I would trust the process for at least fifteen more minutes. 

That's when the call came.  My application was approved, and I could move in the following Monday.  I had trusted my inner information.  I had passed the test. 

Internet junkie that I am, I had made arrangements for the cable company to hook up my internet connection the very day I moved, and the techs were able to get that done before I moved anything into the apartment.  Just to prove to myself that I had made the right decision, the first thing I did was try to verify my private email address with Yahoo.  This was accomplished in 30 seconds, without a hitch. 

Will there be other wake-up calls?  Yes.  Will I pass the test?  That remains to be seen.  

Stay tuned.  :-) 

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