Thursday, February 10, 2011

Keeping Up Appearances

Yesterday I had a nice long chat with Lesley, a friend from YLF who I have never met in real life, but who is a kindred spirit. During yoga that morning, I had asked for help -- in my head, that is, not out loud (although heaven knows I need actual help in yoga too). The plea for help went up without any conscious interference from my mind. Just: "Please help me." As usual, help comes from places you least expect. Yesterday, help came in the form of a phone call from Lesley, a strong, smart woman who's currently in LA getting jobs in acting and modeling, seeking to help support her family. Meanwhile, her husband is holding down the fort in AZ with their two young children. In the past few years, Lesley and her husband have been through pretty much what Andy & I are going through with our house. So we talked everything from 70s style to crazy landlords, but the heart of the matter was housing -- sales, short sales, foreclosures.

Lesley filled me in on California and just how ugly it is -- couples foreclosing on homes and simultaneously getting divorced. People seeing their whole lives disintegrating around them, investments intended to pay for their kids' college tuition gone, retirements decimated. Loss and limits and downgrading and downsizing are all around us. Where we live, people have more or less managed to keep up the facade. There are whispers, though. "Did you hear there was a short sale on Highland?" "Did you hear there might be one on Washington?" Gossipy whispers. And I feel for the poor souls as the vultures salivate. But the truth is, many around here are one job loss away from disaster. We are hanging on by our fingernails, hoping to ride it out, whatever it is, this whole complicated mess we're in, and praying that it can't possibly last much longer.

There are people who are being spared the pain, like my friend whose husband landed a job after six months out of work, just when they were facing the reality of selling their house. The job means that he is working out of state most of the time, but they managed to hang on. It made me bitter (thank you, ego). Why did they catch a break when we never could? Why couldn't we get one freakin' break?

But after talking to Lesley, I started to think, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Andy & I are blessed to be in the position of having to sell the home we renovated and meant to raise our kids in. Because we will be free from the burden of keeping up the facade.

When you are passing through the crucible, you can decide to emerge different -- wiser, somehow, with your eyes wide open - or you can pretend nothing happened and go on with your life, until one day you are forced to stare down the same lessons all over again.

As Lesley put it, "I went to the mall to buy a pair of flip flops, and it was packed with people shopping. Shopping and shopping. What are they doing?? Are they all trust fund babies? You're not going to find your kids' college education or your retirement at the bottom of a Nordstrom bag." Amen!

There are lessons to be learned right now. It's in the zeitgeist. We can't control whether Wall Street or the banks learn them. But we can.


  1. Oh Laura what a fabulous post - this really resonated with me - choosing to opt out of "keeping up with the jones'" is really quite liberating and something I feel like I'm constantly aiming for.

    And how wise is Lesley :)

    Good luck to you and Andy selling your home.

  2. Good luck to you. I think it's good of you to look at the positives in downsizing -- there are plenty to be found. My mom keeps encouraging me to buy a bigger house, but really, what for? We love our location and it fits us just fine. I'd rather pay for a hotel room for them when they visit than take on a bigger mortgage.