Healthy lifestyle · Survival

Remembering the Fifth of November

Remember remember the 5th of NovemberThe Fifth of November.

It’s a significant date in my life.

“Remember, remember, the Fifth of November” is familiar thanks to V for Vendetta, in which a masked revolutionary works to bring down a corrupt British government of the future. The date was chosen to evoke memories of the 1605 Gunpowder Plot when Guy Fawkes and others attempted to blow up Parliament and assassinate the King of England. Although Fawkes today is a subject of ridicule, and his failed plot is commemorated annually with bonfires throughout England, his goal was to end what many saw was an oppressive regime, and to restore the rights of Catholics to live openly, without persecution, in a Protestant country.

While I don’t claim to be fighting to save a country (at least, not yet!), the Fifth of November also signifies independence and freedom in my own life.

You see, a year ago on this date I signed a lease for a new apartment. It was a declaration of independence, a step towards a new life, a giant leap beyond the point of no return.

A year ago today I lived in what I called the house of chaos, a place that I had once loved but had become oppressive. My friends worried about me, recognizing the stress that was beating me down, and I  wanted something to change. Every day I fantasized, schemed, planned, brainstormed, looking for any way out, any solution to the problem. I was a prisoner of that life with an iron chain bolted around my leg, and escape seemed hopeless.

In 1999 my boyfriend and I bought the land and put in the house in Webberville, 20 miles outside of Austin. We had dreams of making it a place to live out our lives… but things change, and our relationship didn’t work out. For five years, nearly half of our time there, we lived as roommates and exes, and while it was mostly cordial and friendly, it wasn’t ideal. After we broke up he lost interest in improving or maintaining the property and instead chose to spend most of his time elsewhere, and as juniper trees died, they remained where they stood, matchsticks waiting for a spark. The water heater died, and flooded his closet… the water stood and caused mold to grow. Ragweed and poison ivy got their claws in the land beyond where I gardened faithfully, and try as I might, I was unable to hold it back. And inside, especially with cats and dogs, the house was a wreck. I don’t blame him for what happened, but the reality was that alone, it was more than I could manage.

garden caterpillerLiving there had its moments – it was beautiful out in the country, quiet, with a sky flooded with stars, and I had a giant garden, a pond with flowers and frogs, and a wonderful flock of chickens and turkeys… but it just wasn’t enough to outweigh all the challenges.

Most of my evenings and weekends were spent cooped up in the guest bedroom that took turns serving as an office, living room and dining room. I started a freelance WordPress website business, and did my best to work on projects with only dial-up internet (there was no cable or high speed internet available). It all might have been easier had I not been drowning in debt, but the sad truth was that 100% of my paycheck went to the mortgage, bills and credit cards. Like so many people, I had been forced over the last couple of years to use my credit cards for groceries basic living expenses, but then Citibank turned on me. Even though I was a 20+ year customer with perfect payment history, once Citibank received their unconscionable government handout, they immediately raised my interest rate not once but twice within a year.

So on November 5th, 2010, unless I used my credit cards I couldn’t buy groceries, buy things for the house, or pay for pet expenses, or do anything with friends. And by November, my limits had been maxed out, and my minimum payments were more and more out of my reach.  It was a precarious situation that became untenable the day my ex threatened foreclosure, which would have left me in the same financial position, but also homeless.

That’s when I decided I had had enough. I wasn’t going to let the situation destroy my life any longer. There had to be options.

On November 2nd I started looking for an apartment that would allow me to keep cats and my large dog, and by November 5th I signed a lease.

my dog SaoirseAnd the whirlwind of my life for the next month began in earnest. I began the ridiculous process of filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which was drastic but was the only solution that would get me out of the house. I moved all of my belongings over 20 miles by packing my car each night after work, unloading the next night at the new place, and then dragging myself to pack and load another carload for the next day, and then renting a truck after Thanksgiving and enlisting a couple friends to help me move the large items. I tracked down inexpensive or free furnishings for my new apartment (since I had almost no furniture) and dealt with utilities, locksmiths and other trappings of a new move. And as all the rest of this was happening, I was forced to put my sweet old dog Saoirse to sleep , because her legs had become too weak for her to be able to walk, I had to give away a dozen or so chickens I adored, and I had to find homes for two 10-year-old cats I had raised from kittens, and leave two others behind.

And just as things seemed to be coming together, a long-distance relationship with a man I had loved for over twenty years ended, because he suddenly decided that he didn’t want anything more to do with me.

Taken all together, it was a massive rupture of my old life, a complete and utter break. For the first time in 23 years I would be living alone,  independent of anyone else, without the safety net of credit cards, and without the emotional support of someone I had trusted and counted on to keep me going.

It was difficult. There were times I didn’t think I’d make it through. I developed dermographia, which is a form of hives where you can write words on your arms by lightly scratching your skin, and it raises up in a welts the shape of those letters. I had perpetual headaches from the dust. And I felt like I was the biggest failure on the planet, for having lost so much and seeming having nothing to show for it.

But I got through the month of December somehow… there were tears, there were moments when I felt like giving up, but I guess I didn’t know how to give up, so I kept going.

As 2011 rolled around, I called it the “Year of the Reboot.”

Jackie with fire from a bow drillAnd looking back at where I was a year ago, and where I am today… it turns out that it wasn’t just a reboot, it was a complete overhaul of my operating system. As I’ve tried to document here on Surviving the Modern World, I’ve done a lot to turn things around, and I’m not even sure sometimes how it happened. I’ve been able to get more involved in the local WordPress and blogger community, and accepted a leadership role in WordPress Austin. My freelance business, Getting Dirty Designs, keeps growing each month, to the point where I actually have money to spare – a concept wholly new to me as an adult. Some of my extra income has been put towards The Human Path classes, in which I’ve developed countless new skills and tested myself in ways I never could have imagined… and made some fantastic friends. My health is significantly better, having lost 50 pounds, and I now run for enjoyment. And along the way, I’ve become much more self-sufficient in my lifestyle, not wanting to ever be in a position where I have to depend on others or hopefully, on our urban infrastructure, to survive.

Georgia in camoBut having recognized the importance of being independent and self-sufficient, I don’t think I could have made it this far had it not been for old friends who stuck by me (or came back into my life), as well as a host of fantastic new friends, all of whom constantly inspire and delight me. One new friend in particular opened my eyes and helped me see that life is a great adventure.
He pushes me constantly to learn and try new things, and when I stumble, he urges me to pick myself up and just “fail better” the next time.

There are still a few bugs – in particular, I still have moments of emotional weakness, for which I’m encouraged to “grow a tougher skin” – but I’m on my way.

A year ago, I never could have imagined where I’d be now. And I wouldn’t be, had I not lit my own powder keg and started my personal revolution.

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