The Stars (in the sky)

I believe in astrology. I know plenty of people don’t. So feel free to bypass this post if you are one of them. But if you can be convinced to believe, perhaps this will be interesting.

First I should say I’m an Aquarius. That means I’m socially conscious and passionate, if not somewhat stubborn. I support causes and groups of people. But that doesn’t necessarily mean I like all individuals.  I’ve got a big heart, and I also have a lot of smarts.  So don’t try to fool me with your Republicanisms.  I’m also told I fall into the quirky category, preferring to do my own thing.  As Prince said ” when they tell me to walk a straight line, I put on crooked shoes.”   And they say I can be aloof at times, which, for some reason, doesn’t bother me.  I fit the Aquarius profile pretty well.

I don’t read every horoscope.  I think some astrologers are the real deal and others are simply aiming to fill the page of a magazine.  The only general public (versus personal and in-person) astrologer I follow is Susan Miller.  She writes a monthly horoscope. And almost every month I take something away from what she’s forecasted – from when not to spend money to the best days to rearrange furniture in my apartment. I trust Susan.

But something special has happened in May 2010. With the exception of the romance section, the entire Aquarius forecast is aimed directly at me.  Instead of casually reading it, this month I carefully studied it.

I’d just like to breakdown some parts of the forecast to prove its legitimacy to you:

  • You ended last month on a high note. The full moon of April 28 was to light your house of professional honors, achievement, and fame, so it could have been a very exciting and gratifying time when you see results for all the hard work you’ve done.

I finally received a decision from the University of Amsterdam on April 26th. I guess that preceded the full moon by a couple of days. But I don’t think the good news really registered or took effect until the 28th. So I’m assuming this is the exciting and gratifying time to which she’s referring. I definitely ended last month on a high note.

  • Your home or other property has been on your mind lately as well, but you seem to be unsure if you should go ahead with a plan or not. You seem to be weighing your options.

Can we go back to the housing question for a second? I’m still weighing a few options. But unfortunately, student housing has been ruled out. Unless I’m able to find a loophole or they’re willing to make an exception, the student rooms don’t allow pets. And my cat is coming with me.  So yeah, my future home has been on my mind quite a bit for the past month.

  • Mercury is the planet of communication and thinking [and it is in retrograde]…You are an analytical, objective thinker by nature, which explains why you often find these Mercury retrograde periods so frustrating. These phases force you to slow down, and your intuition confirms this to be the right [thing] to do, but it doesn’t mean you like having to wait! Ha, ha, the genius of Aquarius is your proclivity for doing precisely the opposite of what anyone tells you to do, but this time I need you to listen to me!

This little tidbit means a whole helluva lot. She’s telling me to take a step back and relax before finalizing anything or shouting what I have planned from the rooftops.  I can’t tell you how many times since April 26th I’ve been tempted to tell my job to shove it because I’m leaving.  But with seven months left to maintain some sort of income, I need to avoid burning bridges before I cross them. So even when folks try to trap me into telling them more than they need to know (i.e. “we’re gonna need 6 to 12 months notice from you before you’re allowed to leave…ha ha.”), I need to keep my mouth shut.  I’m continually reminding myself of Susan’s advice, and then to actually take the advice.  Believe me when I tell you, this is much harder than it should be.

  • You will have two weeks in which to begin your project…This does not mean you need to finish your plan, sale, or any other action in two weeks – of course not! It may take six months or more to see a conclusion to your endeavor, but what matters in astrology is when you begin, i.e., when you give birth to your endeavor. The changes you make in that two-week period have the power to change the course of your life for a year or longer, even forever.

I would argue that I’ve been planning for far longer than a two-week period. But since being admitted to the University, planning has certainly become an entirely new project now that it’s based in reality. But other than that, isn’t this crazy?  Or am I just a little crazy?

A Savings Plan

Beginning in June, I am putting an aggressive savings plan into action. I’m hoping that between now and December I’ll be able to save $10,000. Assuming rent and tuition will be paid through some other means (hopefully a combination of scholarships and loans), I can use what I save for general spending and traveling. I also plan to find some type of part-time employment while I’m there. So that income can also be added to the general living fund. I’m thinking of this $10K as a useful starting point.

But considering I haven’t had much luck putting together savings for the past few years (I dipped into it once – and I’ve been dipping ever since), creating a solid savings will not be easy for me. My casual approach to money is typically supported by statements like “I deserve to treat myself” and “I’m living for today.” They’re really just justifications for irresponsible and unnecessary spending. So the first step in my savings plan will be to cut out the unnecessary spending.

As a compromise, I’ll set aside a certain amount each month for treats. I’ll need to establish some rules for the “treat fund.” For example, no treat for myself unless I have reached my savings goals for a given two-week period. This will allow for up to two treats per month. If I don’t reach a goal in a two-week period, the treat money goes into the general savings. If I have met my goal, but the treat fund isn’t big enough for the treat I want for myself, I will allow the treat fund to add up. A treat can range from a cupcake to a new pair of jeans. I’m kind of treating myself like a first grader. But I’ve got to meet myself where I am.

In addition to saving, I need to generate some additional income. From where? I’m not sure. If you know of anything, or have any ideas, let me know. Whatever it is, I’m hoping it can make me an extra $400-$500 a month. And ideally it won’t require much energy. Just because I’m trying to come up with a chunk of money, doesn’t mean I’m not still pretty tired most of the time.

In addition to saving and generating additional income, I will sell some of my stuff that I don’t plan to want or need once my long-term residence is established. The stuff I need will come with me to Amsterdam. The stuff I want will go into storage. The stuff I can live without will be for sale. Honestly, I’m not sure what stuff that will be. I’ve moved so many times it seems like I should be fully downsized by now. But I know that’s not the case. Once I take a moment to assess the situation, I should have a decent list of things that can add some money to the savings account.

In addition to saving, generating additional income, and selling myself…I mean my stuff, I’m just going to try being frugal for awhile. I’ve never been the extravagant spending type. But I know I can do better. I’ll be cutting coupons, buying generic brands, reducing Netflix to one movie at a time, and taking my lunch to work. I’ll need to be hyper aware of every dollar I’m spending every day. This won’t be easy for me. Holding myself accountable will be the most important part. To support the cause, I set up a Bank of America Portfolio to set goals and track my spending in all categories. It’s the new Facebook, people.

Saving, generating, selling, and trimming. This is what I’ve come up with so far. Hopefully it will eventually add up to an Amsterdam living fund. I figured I may as well track my progress here. So I’ll be updating my Savings (& Loans) page every couple of weeks with what I’ve been able to save so far.

Listen, I’m super insecure about money. So I hope you’re not judging me right now.

There’s History…and then there’s My Story

We already know I was the angry black girl in high school. I was an Africana Studies major in college. In law school I focused primarily on public interest and civil rights law. I care and am quite passionate about all things related to black people. The ultimate goal of this whole journey is to provide young black Americans with an opportunity to learn about their ancestry and the struggles of our people in order to garner more self respect and esteem. But only now, as I have been digging into the stories of my ancestors, has the history that influences all of us begun to truly resonate and affect me so deeply.

Although I didn’t realize I was doing it, I had somehow placed the middle passage, hundreds of years of slavery, reconstruction, black codes, jim crow…all of it into some type of academic bubble. And now with names, and even some faces, to associate with the words in the history books, I feel the pains of our brutal past that much more intensely. My great great grandmother survived this. And my great grandfather accomplished that in spite of this.

No matter how much reading, how many papers, and how many opinions I may have established, the story develops an entirely new tone when there’s blood involved. Kind of like when you watch a tragic story on the news. You learn about a child who has lost both of her parents in a fire. Wow. That’s really sad. I can’t imagine what she must be going through. But then imagine finding out it’s a member of your family suffering. It’s no longer just a regretful shame that you wish wasn’t so. It’s now gut wrenching and worthy of tears – a much more personal pain.

Eventually I’m hoping to bridge the deepest gaps in my family history and identify which of my ancestors actually crossed the Atlantic to suffer enslavement in Florida, Georgia, and wherever else they may have landed. If Alex Haley could do it, there’s no reason I can’t (well, actually there are a ton of reasons – but I may as well try to beat the odds). I’ve gotten to the point of my family tree, from the beginning of the 19th century, where everyone was enslaved for the duration of their lives. Born and died during a time when they were valued less than an automobile, and in many cases viewed as disposable. They, needless to say, were human beings, although they were never treated as such. But there was a time – a person…people who were born free. Born free as Africans, forced from their homes and families, enslaved and subjected to inhumane treatment for the rest of their lives, with the knowledge that many descendant generations to come would suffer the same fate. I know more than I care to know about that fate. But I want to know their names. I want to know anything about them. I want to identify with them. I want to pay tribute to them by removing them from an academic bubble about slavery and truly knowing their stories. It may sound crazy, but I want to feel that pain.

As I head back to school to study the sociology of migrant people, I potentially will gain even more of a cold, academic perspective of what it means to be far removed from one’s homeland. I’m sure I’ll analyze how individuals tend to hold onto anything that’s familiar in order to maintain a clear identity and value what/who is truly their own. But I’m interested to know if others have a similar experience or reaction when learning about personal family history. Is it uncommon to reevaluate or relearn history after you locate your place in it? It means so much more to know who of your own was there – and all of us have people who lived through every stage of it – good and bad.

A Student’s Decisions – Where to Live

I received my first message yesterday addressing me as a student. The admissions office sent some very basic information about tuition and housing. The tuition fees didn’t provide any new information. I already knew all of it. Oh, except that fees for the Spring semester are more expensive than the Fall semester. And since I start in the Spring semester…no fair.

The housing stuff was interesting. First of all, do I even want to entertain the idea of student housing? I’m a grown-up. And I’ve been living like a grown-up for ten years. Living by myself (with the exception of a couple of brief stints while I was in transition to Oakland) in some nice apartments has spoiled me tremendously. I don’t know if I can downgrade to the lifestyle of a student living in student housing…no offense to the students out there. A while ago I took a look at some of the rooms/buildings the University offers students. They weren’t awful. And I think some of them were intended for adult students. While most have something shared, like a bathroom or a kitchen, some boasted of completely private facilities. Spoiling me with my own bathroom AND my own kitchen? But even these relatively fancy accommodations looked like dorm rooms. Twin, metal beds, stark white walls, tiny refrigerators, and small, lonely windows. No thank you. Seriously, no thank you.

I’m the type to value my home space more than most. It’s important for me to be able to come home to a space that’s comfortable, well-decorated, good-smelling, and effectively represents me. A place that’s a cross between a hospital room and a jail cell has never been my preferred aesthetic. But living in a place that is stylish and roomy could cost me far too much money. I’m not sure it would be worth it for such a short period of time while I’m back in school. But then again, I wouldn’t want to feel badly about where I live the entire time I’m in Amsterdam – that would put a damper on everything.

And if I live in the student housing, I won’t have any space for guests. I’ll barely have space for myself. I think people will still come to visit (you’ll still visit, right?). But as a host, if folks still have to pay for a hotel, I’m not offering much more than a free tour . In my dream world, my guests will have their own room, and I’ll welcome them to stay for as long as they wish (since they won’t be getting in my way) without question. In student housing world, I’ll be asking them to leave their bags in the hall and lift their left leg every time I need to open the front door. That’s not sustainable, and certainly not sexy. And I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned before, but I’m single…I can’t possibly be single and so unsexy.

So what should I do? Live in student housing and embrace the student lifestyle in its entirety? Find a sexy apartment through some other means and spend money I don’t have? Another idea is to stay in student housing for a semester, until I can find my own way with private housing for the following year. Or how about find a decently priced, moderately sexy apartment on craigslist and never even bother with their student housing silliness? Or maybe look for a nice apartment with a roommate? Could I possibly live with a roommate? Probably not. But I’m keeping all possibilities on the table at this point, and making no final decisions.

The Next Challenge

Now that the hard part has been accomplished (getting into school and having a reason to leave the country), I need to figure out the fun stuff. Well, wait. Not quite. There’s one more gigantic hurdle that I need to get over before I can think about finding an apartment, registering for classes, and meeting new friends – MONEY.

These are not the first thoughts I have given to the question of money. The worry has actually been looming in the back of my mind since I first had the idea to move to the Netherlands. Although I would never let worries about money stand in the way of pursuing something worthwhile, the statement “I’ll figure the money thing out” can only take me so far. I’m now at the point when I need to figure it out. I’m just thankful I have a bit more time than I expected to pull a few grand out of thin air.

A few grand. I just need someone to give me $100,000 and I’ll be more comfortable with my situation. People talk about wanting millions and millions to be happy. I really would be happy with $150,000. I don’t need to buy a beautiful house in the Oakland Hills (yet), drive a fancy car, or have a flashy wardrobe. All I need is $200,000 to pay off my loans, buy a few basics, pay for more school, and live comfortably in Amsterdam for a year and a half. So right, $500,000 and I should be straight.

Anyone have any ideas where I can find that? Anyone?

Getting What You Want

Is something in the air? Left and right I’m hearing reports of good news from the people I care about most. (I’m sure the people I don’t care about are also celebrating some good news…but I don’t care about them.) It seems like everyone is getting what they want and have been asking for. Babies, engagements, jobs, home purchases, school acceptances, opportunities to move close and far…quite a range to suit a range of people.

I have somehow managed to surround myself with incredible people…really incredible people doing incredible things. But sometimes even the most incredible people get stuck. I have found myself stuck on many occasions – and that’s right, I’m classifying myself as incredible, just like my friends. I’ve been in jobs I hate, I spent three years in law school, which introduced me to my first bouts of depression, and I have been in relationships that made me feel less than incredible, which, if you were paying attention earlier, you would know is less than what I actually am. In each of those situations, I have focused only on what’s directly in front of me. “Please get me out of this awful job.” Or, “I’m begging for a class to address something I actually give an *ish about.” Sometimes it’s “get me out of this city.” Or my favorite, “please let this be the last year that I’m single.” I have had a tendency to focus on what needs changing and dwell on that misery until it’s changed. And now, more than ever, I’m realizing you get what you ask for – good and bad. I’m not making any statements of spiritual belief at this time. No matter who or what is being asked, there’s definitely someone or something listening.

Let’s start with the bad. When I first moved to Oakland in 2004, I had no money and no job. I had been hustling in Philadelphia for over a year, paying rent, feeding and entertaining myself with money from tutoring and privately teaching the children of the M.O.V.E.  Organization. Surprisingly enough, with minimal bills to pay, that didn’t work too badly. But in Oakland I had to give up my slightly lucrative hustle for what I hoped would be a slightly lucrative job. But when I got there (and while I was planning my move), jobs weren’t falling from the sky. So I started to seek anything that would pay the bills and rent…anything. A job that had some relevance to a future career (whatever that would be) would be a bonus. And sure enough, that’s what I ended up with, a job that only paid the bills and not much more, had a slight relevance to a future career, and was a living hell (shout out to my fellow MTA survivors). I never asked for a job that was hell on earth, but I also never asked for a job I believed in or a job I loved. I only hoped for the basics – or what I thought of as the basics at that time. Since then, I have only found and accepted jobs with organizations that seem to be a professional fit, personally satisfying, and provide an enjoyable work environment. I’m gradually getting better at being more specific with my requests.

And then the good. Well, the best example I can think of is Amsterdam. Last year I stopped looking for a boy or eternal happiness in NY. It had become clear to me that those hopes were a wrap. So I put my focus on moving. I began to respond to the “have you met any guys recently?” question with something like, “I’m not looking. My energy is on finding something in Amsterdam.”  And although I sometimes struggled with the lack opportunities in Amsterdam, and the silly feeling of claiming a city to which I have absolutely no ties, I forced myself to call Amsterdam by name.  The uncertainty of it made me really uncomfortable.  But sure enough – I’m getting what I asked for.

The trick might not be in how frequently you ask for what you want, or even how badly you want it. I’m beginning to think it’s more about having a clear understanding of what it is you want, and recognizing it when it arrives. And more importantly, adjusting accordingly when you realize the original ask was somewhat misguided.  And maybe most importantly, not being afraid to ask for what you want, no matter how unlikely it seems.

I’m looking at this post as simply a reminder to myself.  I have a feeling this clarity may last no longer than a fleeting moment.