Questions and Credit

I think the fear of asking things is a horrible horrible thing. The most clear cut example is in school when kids are afraid to ask questions, worried of slowing the class progress. Professors and teachers address this repeatedly, even with the horrid quote “There is no such thing as a stupid question.” I’m guilty of it to a certain degree I suppose, but I’ve gotten quite better in recent times.

But this fear of asking questions is so deeply threaded in our society that the idea of haggling is almost taboo. You don’t go into stores planning to haggle except for local shops. This is such a sad thing. Sure you can’t negotiate a Snickers bar for $0.25 but you can most definitely haggle for that $2500 stereo.

Today’s lesson though is a bit of a victory for me. It has to do with the ever-evil credit card companies. I only have one credit card, and it’s one I’ve had now for almost two years I think. It’s an American Express Student card and since I originally got it with the $600 limit on it, they’ve since let me rise up to $3000 in credit. Something I took advantage of when I was out of school, off of financial support and living outside my means.

Now I’m struggling to pay it back. Though I realize my debt is measley compared to much of the US, and indeed it’s small compared against most people my age, I’m determined to make the right financial choices.

Sure I eat out a lot and spend fairly freely, but I always have enough to make $200 on my credit card (which I no longer use.) Well last week I come across a fantastic down to earth article about personal finance. If you haven’t read this article you all should: Become Wealthy by Clayton Cramer.

And he points out the evils of credit card debt. So I sat down and figured out how much my credit card was costing me and was shocked to discover that my AmEx had ballooned to just over 30% APR. I had missed some payments when I was in tougher times but I hadn’t kept a close eye on the interest rates. So they were saying my minimum payment was $85 and I was spending $75 on it just in terms of interest. Sweet Jezus! I nearly wet my pants when I read that.

Paying $200 a month meant 17 months before it was paid off (I used some online calculator, CNN Money’s credit card calculator is excellent.) So my $2600 was going to end up costing me $3400, on top of whatever I’ve already paid to them. Ugh.

This morning I decided to ask them what I could do. I knew they would change APRs for people struggling to make payments, but would they do the same for someone able to pay up and over their minimum payment? I called them and spoke to a chirpy gal named Lisa and after phrasing my question she asked to put me on hold while looking over my account.

About two minutes later she came back and told me they had changed my APR to 16%!!! Nearly halving my interest rate. So now still at $200 a month it will only cost me ~$2900 to pay off my credit card. Still not ideal but oh so much better than it was earlier.

Five minutes of my time saved me $500 in interest. Eat that Geico.

Now to just get a job where I make more money. Anyone out there want to hire me as their blogging liasion? Hey, it never hurts to ask. 😉

The Big Show

Well the show has come and gone and it went well. Very well. Monday was a blur. I took a test in the morning, sat impatiently through class then went to the theatre to do some work. We had had a fairly busy weekend and so I needed to stock concessions for the show. After about an hour the unthinkable happened, I dropped a bottle of Pepsi.

The world slowed to a crawl, I watched the bottle fall, and fall, and fall. It fell perfectly such that the neck slammed into the ledge of the cooler, cracking the plastic cap and it spewed Pepsi all over me. I grabbed it and muffled the spray in my hands, throwing it into the nearest trash can and listened to it hiss as I glowered in the now Pepsi soaked clothes.

Thank God I was aware that the universe would try to mess up the day, and so I literally had worn a completely different outfit than I planned for the show that night. So I had, in my car, a change of shirt, pants, socks, etc…

Once I was changed and toweled off I left the theatre and met my family for a pre-show dinner. We went to TGI Fridays and relaxed for a while, caught up with my Aunt and cousin and just generally laughed.

We all got to the theatre early, the show was at 8pm, I had to be there by 7pm, and my family got there early to guarantee that they got good seats. It was then that I really began to get pumped. The green room was abuzz with the energy and excitement and we were all eager to get the show going.

We warmed up in the theatre and then moved back into the green room, then watched in shock and eagerness as the theatre filled with friends, family, and passerby. We literally filled the theatre with over 200 people. It was to be expected with a cast of 14 players, but still, to see it is amazingly cool.

Finally the time came and the theatre went dark, John did the introductions and my team ran out on stage to thunderous applause. My family and friends had gotten great seats, center stage two and three rows back (my personal favorite seats in the house.) Dad was hooting and hollering as loud as I’ve ever seen him.

Common sense would say that coming on stage, for the first time, in front of 200 people, would be terrifying or exhilarating or something at least. The fact though is that I fell into my normal routines, sure I had a little more adrenaline, and I knew the audience was there, but I also knew that whether I was funny or not – I would be okay. And therein I found peace.

The show went by extremely fast, almost 2 hours long but for me it was done in a flash. I won’t recount the scenes I did, to retell them would only be academic and would lose all the humor in them.

After the show, we went out to the lobby and the people came by. Family and friends told me how great I was. Strangers congratulated and shook my hand. I smiled. I thanked them. But I was a zombie. Simply put, I was high. I stood next to myself, watched as someone shook my hand or hugged me, I watched as I hugged them or shook their hand back. It was an out of body experience. An amazing out of body experience.

After the show, the real wait began. The show is part of our graduation evaluation for the class, and as such our teacher gives us all individual reviews. With fourteen people, it is obviously going to take a while. We began around 10pm, and at first Dr. D was moving along at a good pace, 10 minutes a person, but by about 11:30 we had slowed down a fair bit. I was the last to go, I had to lock up the theatre on my way out. When I finally finished with him, we left the theatre at 1:45am. Almost four hours after the show ended.

By the time I left, my mood had dimmed. Not because of my review, in fact the review lifted my spirits, but because I ended up missing any post show celebration. People had left Fridays (where we were supposed to congregate) around 1am. I don’t blame Dr. D, it was unavoidable, I just wish that I had been able to get out and celebrate.

But the fun didn’t end there. Since then, I’ve enjoyed a minor taste of stardom. The next night at a normal show for the theatre I got a few compliments and pats on the back from people who saw the show. And then last night I went to the opening night for the new local show at Universal Studios, the Blue Man Group has opened a permanent venue down here. K had tickets to the show which had a reception/party afterwards and I got a huge boost to my ego because two people at the reception afterwards recognized me and told me how much they enjoyed my show. Wow. Talk about being blown away.

So the show went well. Life is good right now. Now to just keep on making the funny.

Remembering

Yesterday I was hit with an intense but short lived blast of stage fright. Today I was hit by something I already knew. It was something that has flashed through my head dozens of times, but today it took center stage. The show on Monday is going to miss a very important person in the audience.

Mom.

Yes, I know she’ll be there in spirit. But as good as that makes me feel, I still wish I could look into the audience, past the stage lights, and see her there grinning and waving to me. I wish it with all my heart, with all my being.

There was no greater joy than to be on the field playing Football in high school and to look up in the stands and see mom there waving at me. She and I talked about it during my freshman year and that I couldn’t wave back to her, the coaches wanted our heads in the game, so I told her that I would grab my face mask and “adjust” it as my way to wave back to her.

And so every game I played, sometime during the first quarter I would look into the stands and find the parents, then mom would see me looking and wave eagerly, and I would grin up behind the face mask, gripping the plastic coated bars and shift them visibly. And there we would share a moment, a bond between us.

God I miss her. She would be so excited about Monday. I can imagine her telling her friends, she’d be eager and excited to see it, to see what I could do. That was her joy, seeing her children accomplish things. Man, this is rough.

The show will go well on Monday, I’ll push these thoughts out and I’ll perform like I would if she were there, but until that point I’m embracing my memories of her and working through the emotions that come with it.

Stage Fright

Stage fright can be mortifying. Some freeze up while others respond by accelerating and trying to finish in as little time as possible. For me, it’s exhilarating. It’s bottled fear and it’s something I chug. — Wait. That sounds a lot more cocky than I meant for it too. Let me try again.


I face my fears. Whatever they may be. I face them and know I can survive just about anything. I still avoid horror flicks but that’s a topic for another time. Fears come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and the one that I got hit with today was stage fright. But not the normal stage fright. Not the public speaking stage fright. It’s the “I’m doing a show I’ve never done before” stage fright. Oh sure I’ve done it in my head, in front of the mirror or in the car, but that’s a little different.

It’s my grad show from SAK University and it’ll be a theater filled with friends, family, and people who(m) I’ve never met. Up to today I’ve been totally fine with the idea, but while I was stocking concessions (about ten minutes ago) I was suddenly gripped by this urge to get up and run away as fast as possible and not perform in the show.

I must be insane!

I’m crazy, this is crazy, I can’t do it.

What the @$!$*@& was I thinking?

And about three minutes later, after slowing my heart beat and regulating my breathing I calmed down and began facing the fear. The truth is that stage fright is fear of several things.

It’s fear of rejection – “What if I’m not funny?”

It’s fear of what others will think – “What will they think of my performance?”

It’s fear of messing up.

For public speaking I can overcome all three of these with preparation and a deeply embedded faith in my own ability as a public speaker. But for Improv, the preparation is a little different. We hear all the time “How can you practice improv?” It’s a lot like practicing a sport, you work with others, hone your skills and find what messes you up. You’re not preparing a scripted show, but you’re building skills and honing your talents.

What I have to remember is that on stage, I’m free. First off I’m doing something very few of the people coming to the show do or would do. I’ve overcome the stage fright and I’m on the stage, so that’s a win for me. The second part is that while I’m on stage, I can be anyone. On top of that, it isn’t going to be just me on stage. There are thirteen other people in my class, three of which who will be on my team, and I can rely on them to help me if I get into trouble. So I have to remind myself that I’m not alone up there.

Trust, that’s a big part of improv. I’m almost ashamed that I had to remind myself about it, but I did. The fact though is that I have the trust in my teammates.

I’ve prepared for this for years, dreamt of it even. I won’t say I’m as ready as I possibly can be, because there is always something more to learn in Improv – but I feel pretty confidant that I can avoid being a horrible flop.

The butterflies are still there, but they’re no longer scary, now they’re exhilarating for me and they’re a reminder that I’m only a few days away from taking a big step for myself. A Big step. BIG. But then, I’m a big guy, so I should be fine.

My mourning

The mind is an amazingly complex network. So many thoughts, memories, fathomings and ideas all interconnected. Tightly woven into a web such that it could probably hold water. And for a point of that net to be irreparably scarred by the loss of a loved one causes a chain reaction, your whole mind becomes affected.

My mourning has been extremely private. And to many, probably mostly unseeable. I am a strong man, emotionally I come to terms with the situation I am faced and I accept it as reality. I remember when I was a child and I lost my friend George. At that age I went through all the phases of mourning. I rejected it as reality. I got angry. I tried to reason with God. I went through all the phases and entered a deep depression. It was only when a family from church invited me to go with them to Disney one day that I came out of it.

I won’t relive the details of the day of George’s passing, but I do vividly recall the parents calling me and my younger sister into their room, sitting us down and telling us that George had died. I can’t begin to comprehend how difficult and how painful that was for them to do. I mean, who thinks that one day they’ll tell their 10 year old son that his best friend died? It’s an unthinkable event and to consider it seems unthinkable.

I believe that from that young experience with the mourning process I came to a deeper understanding of it. And that had a profound influence on me and a deep hand on influencing how I handled my mother’s passing.

On the day, my dad asked everyone who was present, family or close friend, whether the believed it was time to take her off life support and I remember a very unusual feeling of calm as I told him that I felt it was time. Something I said in the blog post on my mom’s blog was that we (she and family) had agreed to fight to the end, but not past it. And it was unanimously agreed that we had reached that point. So when the time came, while I was for it, I could not go in to watch it. I couldn’t have handled that.

In the weeks after, I drew strength from the need around me. Those who know me know all to well that I am often driven to be the strength for others. A trait my mother always loved about me and told me so in no uncertain terms. So for the weeks afterward I buried myself in the life around me. I helped anchor my father through this time, I did my best to keep in touch with family, and I threw myself back into work and school before most people ever expected me to return.

You can’t predict the rough days, there’s no forecasting it. Something will happen or some memory will trigger it and suddenly I’ll be in a downward spiral. I’ll miss her. I’ll again realize that I’ll never again hug her, or smile at her, or see her. She won’t be there when I accomplish something. She won’t be there for my wedding. She won’t hold my first child. She won’t share in the joy. Those are the hardest things to accept.

I’ve been reminded numerous times that she never leaves me, she’s always there for me in the ethereal sense. But to be blunt, that isn’t the physical sense. There was no greater peace than hugging my mom. Not backpacking. Not anything.

I have always, in no uncertain terms, noted my status as a ‘mama’s boy’ and I hold to it. While this all has brought me closer to my dad, I still miss my mom. I miss her so much.

Something which was unsettling for a while was the fact that I haven’t cried since mom’s memorial service. I’ve welled up and I’ve gotten emotional, there have been a few days where it has been too much for me and were it not for my friends and family I would have crumbled on those days. But I haven’t shed a tear for her memory. I don’t say this with pride, I wish I could cry for her. It’s something which made me extremely uncomfortable.

The fact that I didn’t randomly cry or didn’t go through the phases of mourning caused me a lot of discomfort. I thought there was something wrong with me. It caused me to wonder stupid things like if I loved her so much, why hadn’t her passing tore me apart? And only in the past few weeks did I realize that it did not tear me apart because she raised me to handle this sort of thing. She raised me to be strong and resilient and to be able to handle just about anything.

I keep things around. I have the program from her memorial service on my wall. I wear the silver necklace that I’ve always mentally attached to her. I drive her car and I keep an angel pin pinned to the ceiling. But even without those things I keep her in me.

Friends assure me that it will become easier with time, and I know they are right, but for now I continue on as I always have. To most I am the same. To the trusted few, they see me at my weakest.

I Feel Naked

It’s amazing. I regularly walk around shirtless and barefoot without a thought. Yet leaving the house without my cell phone leaves me jittery. Normally I come home, plug it into the charger and that’s that. I know where it is and can always find it. Last night though it got left somewhere and I don’t know where it is. I’m sure it is in the house or in my car, but I just couldn’t find it this morning.

The cell phone is such an extension of me that I’m sitting her very consciously aware of its absence. I can’t pull it out to text someone or to check the time or even to pass the time with the wonders of Tetris. Thankfully I have my laptop so I can at least be comforted in that I am not completely out of touch with the world.

Perhaps feeling naked isn’t quite right. Losing my cell phone makes me feel similar to having lost my voice, I feel as if I can’t speak and communicate right now.

It’s an odd feeling. I guess I’m a technology addict.

Update 4:54pm – So it turns out that the phone apparently got left at the gas station last night and fell into the hands of some bums. I called it this morning trying to locate it and got an answer, so I assumed I had misdialed. I got no answer when I called again. My friend K called it to see if it was at her place and got an answer.

From what I can piece together, I left the phone on top of the gas pump. Then as I pulled off a bum half waved at me, I pointedly ignored him and now I wonder if maybe he was trying to tell me I had left my phone on the pump in hopes of getting a few bucks. Oops.

So apparently the taxi driver bought it off the bum for $10. This is a Sprint Katana phone, not top of the line, but worth more than $10 in resale value. I’ve got the driver’s phone number and will call him in a little while in hopes of setting up a time to meet somewhere and get my phone. Updates as I have them.

Update 11:45pm – In what must have looked like a drug deal to some, I reacquired my cell phone in exchange for $20 through a van’s window in a very short conversation. All is well.

Fighting Fire

Fire is one of those things that society trains us for. Rome fell to it. Chicago. Atlanta. And so many others. Even in today’s world a fire is big news. Wild fires ravage wilderness and fire fighters are revered among our society. We’re so heavily trained by it that we will either react to it immediately or freeze up.

Well last night I proved that I react immediately.

I decided I would go see a show at SAK and just relax, ease back into work. I was getting condolences from people through out the night and at intermission I was standing in the theatre chatting with a co-worker when I happened to look towards the back of the theatre and noticed flickering orange light. The light was coming from where we store drinks, an area of space which is just walled off from the theatre but doesn’t have a ceiling of its own.

It took a moment to register and when I saw the small plume of smoke I immediately realized what it was, fire. I dove into action saying to my friend, in a somewhat calm manner, “fire.” I sprinted around and tore my way into the store room while my friend got the fire extinguisher. He passed it to me and I quickly pulled the locking pin and then extinguished the flame.

We took care of it all and know what happened. No major damage was done. It’s just one of those events which leaves you rushed with adrenaline and shaking as your body calms down.

I’m beginning the move to the new domain. I made a blog post on the old home, I’m still debating how I want to integrate the archives from the old site – if at all.

And also, in terms of fire, I need to figure out how to pay taxes this year. First year I’ve owed them and I need to investigate payment plans and such. Fun fun.

Changing Faces

The month of January is named after the Greek god Janus. Janus is represented as having two faces, one facing forward and one facing backward. He is the god of doors as well as god of beginnings and endings.

I’ve been blogging for nearly nine years now, in various forms and on various sites. I began using an online journal, from there I went to a personal blog on Blogger, then to GreyMatter, then Movable Type, then WordPress. All the time changing homes to various free hosts and domains. Most recently I lived at http://www.ronincyberpunk.com, a domain created while I was in high school and on which I blogged for over five years and created thousands of posts which held over four hundred thousand words of drivel.

The face of blogging as a whole has changed in that time. From a small hobby of a small group of people into a major activity of many people. For me it began as a journal of thoughts and, in some part, as an exhibitionist plea for attention online – a world I was deeply acquainted with. It is rather startling to look back over my writing through the years and follow how my style and tone changed over the years.

My blog moved from being a daily life journal on to an outlet for philosophical musings and still onto a geek realm. Ronincyberpunk was the creation of a high school student looking to be edgy and embracing the anonymous world of online writing. It was a creation from the word “Ronin” which is a romantic vision of a wandering samurai and the word “Cyberpunk” which refers to the Sci-Fi sub-genre. Combining the two created an online persona which would be my banner into adulthood and on to the point where it became a point of embarrassment to share with my friends. Now, we have my still edgy name, but a much less fantastic element.

Well, I might still be just as fantastic.

This blog is going to be a rebirth of my online persona. I’m transferring much of my archives from Ronincyberpunk.com over to this new domain and forwarding all the traffic it received. I’ve yet to decide how exactly I’m going to work the archives in. I might just go through the old blog and move over the best of the best entries, or I might move the entire archive and keep it separated. I just haven’t decided yet.

This blog also comes along at an important time in my life. Even as I write this my mom’s life hangs in the balance. In all truth I should be asleep so I am rested to return to the hospital tomorrow but my mind needs distraction, otherwise I find myself continuing to think about her, worry about her, and grow frustrated at how little I can do. This blog provides me with distraction at a time when I dearly dearly need it.

Life changes. People come and go from our lives, some quickly, others not as quick as we’d like. We change. We grow. We atrophy. We change. We don’t have two faces looking forward and back, but we do look both ways before crossing the street. Hopefully.