Confessions of a Laid-off Lawyer

Just Your Average Joe Blogging Away His Debt—In One Year or Less

Laid-off “Livingston” Lawyer

with 9 comments

Total Black: $6.71
Total Red: $245,625.09

On the drive home this afternoon, I stopped to grab a bite to eat at a local restaurant.  In between swatting mosquitoes and shooing flies I opened a copy of Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach and started to reread it.  I know I’ve read it before, but I really couldn’t recall the precise point of the book.  Just the overall gist—some bird who goes against the grain.  Got me thinking about my own situation and debt in general.  

In prior posts I’ve wondered about our struggles with debt: about debt’s emotional and physical tolls in Debt, By Any Other Name for instance, or Debt Most Physical, or even in Defeat the Debt.  And I’ve noted our overall loneliness in Never Been Further Apart, perhaps in spite of our debt, and then perhaps because of our debt in An Emotional Enema.  So I’ve touched on debt’s physical and emotional and social tolls on us.  But I don’t think I’ve talked about the larger question.  I glossed over it back in When I Grow Up but I’ve not really discussed it since.

Funny: as I write, a commercial came on advertising a reverse mortgage for older people who might want to purchase a new RV or give gifts to their grandchildren.  That’s right, cash in your largest asset to buy an RV and leave your property to the bank once you die.

Not to be too stereotypical—but of all places to be living . . . on an island in the Caribbean.  That’s one place where I might be well served by picking up a few of the local laid-back philosophies, that “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” motto.  I’ve said in past posts that worrying accomplishes nothing.  No one leaves a session of worrying feeling better for having wasted all that energy.  So why then do we do it?  And, more importantly, why do we care so much about our credit scores and our debt-to-credit ratios?  About our credit limits and incomes?

When you step outside the rat race—soar above the squawking seagulls squabbling over a piece of food—you’re left wondering.  I’m no conspiracy theorist, but it’s curious to ponder why our entire economy is based on consumerism.  If people buy unnecessary items—disposable goods—then the economy is improving and we’re on track to a recovery.  But if “consumer confidence” is down, we’re slipping deeper into the Great Recession.

But why do we charge up our credit cards to buy clothes or flat-screen TVs, or CDs, DVDs, books, and so on.  Why do we worry so much about our debts?  Why do we beat ourselves up over our balances?  Who out there is asking these larger questions?

It’s a separate discussion to speak of people who are struggling to make ends meet and are also struggling with their debt.  Although it may appear that way, I wouldn’t include myself in that category.  For the most part, I have had enough to eat each day.  But I’ve bought into the “American” way of life just like the next person: gotta climb that ladder, make more money, buy more things, acquire more fame and fortune.  If I could waive a magic wand or extract genii from his bottle, I’d probably opt for studying philosophy at some monastery in the mountains.  Not out of desire to extract myself from society, but to invite solitude and quiet.

That’s certainly one way to opt out of the rat race.  Is there another way?  Or is it already too late for us in the West.

I think this seagull needs to soar a bit higher still.

9 Responses

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  1. Well I DO believe in conspiracy theories. If you think about it its a great way to keep the masses occupied and docile, get them needing money to buy stuff so off to work they go and repeat the cycle.

    Take the latest economic crisis, the financial meltdown, the bank crisis whatever you want to call it, the system did not collapse did it? The powers that be were determined to hold onto capatilism tightly, look at the effort that was made to save the banks. Time and time again we heard world leaders say it was necessary to inject capital into the banks, the alternative would have been economic failure. But what would the alternative have been? Anarchy? People using means of bartering other than money. Why go to work when money is useless?

    Its not too late late in the west, difficult yes, but not impossible. For a long time I wanted to live under the radar, away from the tax man, away from society and the spin presented by the media on how we all should be living. I think maybe it is too late for a large societal shift, but not for the individual. I’m tired of running on the wheel for the fat cats.


    July 1, 2010 at 10:27

  2. That’s very true. But I just don’t know why we care so much about possessions and statuses and class. Certainly human beings differentiate. We’re hardwired to do it: big vs. small; hostile vs. friendly; known vs. unknown. We’re constantly comparing incoming data with our internal banks. Then for some reason we take that comparison processing to another level: rich vs poor, black vs. white—and attach value to it. More like me = good. Less like me = bad. Add in financial aspects, and we then strive to be more like the rich and less like the poor. Almost no one “aspires” to be more like the poor, to downgrade homes to small shacks . . . well, except for a few, and then the media picks up on it immediately, like in this October 2008 CNN article: “Downsizing to 100 Square Feet of Bliss.”

    I don’t know why the Joneses ever moved in, nor why we keep measuring ourselves by them. And why the system nearly mandates it.

    Interesting too that no one but you commented on this post. I think other similar topics have gone untouched.

    Laid-off Lawyer

    July 1, 2010 at 12:05

  3. Well again I think that media spin has a lot to do with why we choose bigger posessions/status etc. We are hardwired (brain washed?) to believe that a bigger house is best, a higher paid job is best, an expensive car is best etc. We are too busy doing what everyone else is doing.

    When did it start? Post 1940s after the war. I blame the TV and media, there are more programs about MTV cribs and the bling lifestyle as opposed to people downsizing/downshifting living in the smallest place possible with the smallest amount of resources so that they do not have to work the grind. Again this fits in with mainstream capatilist contort.

    My other theorey is that humans want something to strive for, people need to be told what to do and what to believe and they need to be kept busy. They do not want to left to their own devices.If they were content with a small house, a cheap car there would be little to strive for.

    I look at the people around me and the women all want to be WAGS and the mean all drive ridicouls SUV vehicles with stupid oversize watches and knitted caps who all aspire to being david beckham. Where is the individuality?

    I dont have the answers just more questions. Why are we told to believe that we must have a house to live in? Because the system wants you to take 25 – 30 years to pay it off. But Why? Who knows. Personally I am thinking about living on a boat.

    Ahh this turned into a bit of a rant anyway, apologies for any spelling mistakes 🙂


    July 1, 2010 at 12:33

  4. Rant away! I was just touching on some of this with Officemate—though the specifics of that conversation were different. But I mentioned above that I could see myself in that monastery, examining those questions. It’s something I’ve been enraptured with. Sadly, I think some if it is human nature.

    I recall reading Descartes’ Discourse on Method in graduate school and coming across the passage where he wrote: “and the circumstance that in dress itself the fashion which pleased us ten years ago, and which may again, perhaps, be received into favor before ten years have gone, appears to us at this moment extravagant and ridiculous.” (Not the best translation but you get the point.) Here’s Descartes in the 1600s writing about fashion trends. How something from ten years ago may come back around ten years later, but right now it’s outdated. Think about bell-bottoms, for example, or 80s clothes. Miniskirts. We think that the “recycling” of clothing styles is inherently contemporary. But it’s not. So perhaps keeping up with the Joneses and running the rat race has always been.

    I’d like to hope not; but I’m not so sure.

    But I do think you’re on to something when you reference something to strive for and just generally when you write about people wanting to be distracted. Another book I read—I want to say, of all books, The Celestine Prophesy by James Redfield—talked about modern society keeping us distracted from these larger questions because, if we did start to question the current structure, we may in fact stop buying things: no more new homes, no more CDs, no more designer clothes. And that is a threat to our “entire democracy.” Really? I didn’t know it was that fragile.

    Yeah, I’ve wondered about much of this for years now. But it’s been a minute since I thought about it. Time to resume my searching.

    Laid-off Lawyer

    July 1, 2010 at 13:32

  5. Speaking of bigger houses, fancier cars, iPhones…

    My wife and I had a 4BR home in the suburbs and we decided to downsize to a 1BR condo in the city. We both have excellent credit, and we had enough cash to purchase the condo outright if we wanted to (even before selling the house).

    The bank, after taking our application fees, refused to give us the loan for the condo as our principal residence (even though we were moving in at closing and leaving our 4BR vacant while on the market) because they said, “people your age don’t move to a smaller, less expensive place…our underwriters will not approve this unless you pay a higher rate and treat it as a vacation home!”

    This even after we showed them that our other house was for sale through a listed realtor!

    I told them to F themselves and went with another lender.



    July 1, 2010 at 14:16

  6. That’s insane. Now the banks get to tell you what size home you have to have? Sounds like the work of PNC Bank.

    Laid-off Lawyer

    July 1, 2010 at 23:24

  7. Do you ever wonder whether you are the only person who thinks of these things? Ever feel like the world has gone mad and you are a minority? I’ve felt like this for a LONG time. People dont want to be seen questioning the present structure for rear of ridicule and social isolation.

    When does it end? Are we really the lost generation? There are no stable jobs for us, so even if we wanted a large house and flashy car etc there isnt sustained work to pay for it. Things are different now, in the 1960’s (apparently) you couldnt help but fall over job, there are no jobs for life anymore. People used to work for the same employer for 40 years, those days have gone. Now you need two full incomes to live in a half decent area. What life is that?

    I’m fed up of being a transient, I’m tired of moving around.


    July 2, 2010 at 10:26

  8. Yes. Yes, I do. But obviously if you feel that way too, then neither of us are alone.

    I touched on this with Officemate a few days ago—at least somewhat. We were talking about the “Ignorance is Bliss” contrasted with “Knowledge is Misery” dichotomy. Namely, why is it that the more you know the more you question and the less content you feel. Specifically, Officemate mentioned not ever being content to work the same job for twenty years. I then said that you can’t, not any longer at least.

    You’re right, Dreamer, that the days of working one job and retiring with the gold watch and a party are long gone. I question whether we even want them back, frankly. Some people gain fulfillment elsewhere, I guess. My father was a janitor. My mother a factory worker. My dad loved his job; my mother hated hers. I can’t imagine doing either, having to mop the same floor or to sit at the same desk for thirty years.

    But you’re also correct that even if you want to, it seems like those days are gone. Something that’s always got me wondering is what the proposed alternative is. I mean, let’s assume CEOs are correct when they conclude that off-shoring and outsourcing work to cheaper markets is better for the consumer and for the company. (And, in theory, it could help to bring up those local economies as well.) Fine. Ok. But what’s the replacement, or alternative, here. You take a factory out of Flint, Michigan—or Birmingham, England—or Dresden, Germany—and you ship it off to China or Mexico or the Philippines. Fine. I’ve agreed to accept the assumption that it’s better for everyone.

    But then what about those people left behind in Flint, or Birmingham, or Dresden? When their factories close down, what’s the replacement? People used to say the tech industry: telemarketing, credit card services, catalogue orders. But nearly all of that has been outsourced too.

    There’s a reason many of us are wondering what the point of it all is. It’s a post-industrialism malaise, I suppose. Redfield, mentioned above, claimed that after the existential crisis of the Protestant Reformation, people fled spiritual and philosophical inquiries because it was too painful to imagine that “God” wasn’t who His representatives said he was. Like a widower, the masses just kept themselves busy with work. And 500 years later, we’re waking up from it and wondering what more there is to life besides working, eating, and dying.

    I don’t know if it’s that simple—and I am certainly paraphrasing Redfield—but certainly the Great Recession has got a lot of us wondering. And if the entire economy can collapse—as you noted in your first comment—and if we can make that happen by saving instead of spending—what will would we install in its place?

    Laid-off Lawyer

    July 2, 2010 at 11:23

  9. In terms of thinking and pondering about things, some people I know have said that they try not to think about things but just try and get on with it. Amazing, I know I’m probably guilty of thinking too much and overthinking but I suppose I’ve got the job to thank for that, you know anaylsis is part of the job isnt it?

    Well what is left? I dont know, like you say we used to make things, manufacturing has gone, customer services is on its way out, what about the people that are left behind? Profit and greed is put before the benefit of the masses. I think a lot of jobs now have been created by food outlets and shops.

    Its all a method of control, look at who benefits, its reallly a small number of the elite rich fat cats that have control. But what would we install in its place? Freedom. A place where people are grateful and content to be free, to be fed and have shelter.

    Ahh lets go and live in cuba:)


    July 4, 2010 at 14:26

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