Black Woman Blogging

One black woman's views on race, gender, politics, family, life and the world.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Underwater Pimpin'

Although we love our home, BMNB and I are among the millions of Americans who owe more on our home than what it's worth. We are officially underwater. We saw it coming when we bought our home in 2008. We had no illusions whatsoever that the housing market would rebound starting in 2008. That's why we sat across the kitchen table from each other before we bought our home and said, "We better really like this house, because we're going to be stuck with it."

Come to find out, BMNB still loves the house. Being stuck? Not so much. BMNB likes to have options. So since we knew we had to make our annual pilgrimage to our tax guy to hear yet again how much we owed the government -- federal and two states -- BMNB figured, why not ask him whether it would be worth it to just cobble together the difference between what we owe and what the house is worth, jet, and start over in a cheaper house.

First, let me say that we adore our tax guy. He's a gun lovin' southern Republican who doesn't believe in letting us give up any money to the government we don't have to. I call him our "tax shark." To be frank, we tend to owe on taxes because it's our fault, not his. He tells us year after year we make too much money and need to start something on the side to get more write offs. We're slow learners. Plus, I think Republicans take a special joy in making sure you don't pay more taxes than you have to. We give him that challenge every year.

When BMNB asked Tax Shark about making up the difference on our mortgage, his first response was, "Don't you dare give that money to the bank! You put that money in your new house and rent out your old house, but don't you dare give that money to the bank."

I love the way that man thinks.

We're not the only ones who are underwater, and the question for those of us who are underwater becomes, do you get out of your house before the difference between what you owe and what the house is worth becomes so insurmountable that you're stuck? Tax Shark gave us another perspective: Underwater pimpin'.

When it comes to money and investments, I think of myself as a pimp. Yes, indeed, I do. My money and investments need to be out on the track, making me money, so to speak. If they don't, I get rid of them, to wit: RIMM, Leucadia National Corp. and Helmerich and Payne, stocks I sold in my 401(K) to buy Google, Apple, Baidu and Berkshire-Hathaway B instead. I'm much happier, and I've more than made up the losses on those, well, hos that weren't bringing in money.

So how do you pimp an underwater house? You either modify the loan or refi it (you can get FHA streamline refis even if you're underwater, I'm told) to the point that the new mortgage is somewhere near competitive with rents for similar houses in the same neighborhood, save up the difference between your old mortgage payment and your new mortgage payment, buy a new house (preferably with an FHA loan with just 3.5% down) and rent out the old house. You no longer care that you're underwater for your old house because you're not paying for it -- your tenant is. And, assuming rents rise over time, you might even make a tidy profit. Trying to pay off a house that will never, ever be worth what you paid for it? Now, that's just sneaker pimpin'. But getting someone else to pay off your overpriced mortgage? That's underwater pimpin'.

Now, underwater pimpin' assumes a lot. It assumes that you can refi or modify your loan. It assumes that you can get your new mortgage payment down to a level that's nearly competitive with nearby rents. And it assumes that the nearby rents won't plummet. Now, if you get into your new house and can't rent your old house out for enough to cover the mortgage, I can't, as an officer of the court, tell you to walk away from your old house. I know there are many out there who believe a contract is a moral document and that you have a moral obligation to pay what you owe under one. You can imagine how little I think of that opinion after having been unilaterally furloughed for two years and having that little arrangement blessed by the courts.

It's just an option. And BMNB likes options.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

What Do You Want? No, Really.

I have a question for you, gentle readers: What do you want?

No, really. What do you want?

I'm asking because, if you don't stop and ask yourselves this question from time to time, you run a huge risk that you won't get it.

Whether it's a buff bod, a published book, more time with your kids, whatever -- if you don't ask yourselves the question, you might not get it, whatever it is.

I had to stop and ask myself that question recently, and ask BMNB the same question for that matter. Despite having come back from a lovely vacation and vowing to focus on my goals and the goals for our little family, I'd fallen back into the same pattern as before, constantly going to meetings after work and making myself available to do whatever people asked of me. And most of this effort on my part, although laudable, had absolutely nothing to do with what I or BMNB wanted. My actions and my intentions were worlds apart.

It really hit me when others who had come to rely on me were making their work bend to their personal priorities, while I had done the opposite. And when I did finally ask BMNB what he wanted, he replied simply, "I want you home." We discussed even further the fact that we hadn't achieved the goals we had for ourselves as a married couple and aspiring parents.

So, to the shock and chagrin of others, I let them know that BMNB and I come first and I was letting go of my involvement in certain things, things for which I could see no definite end in sight. Things that, although laudable, would continue to devour my time and put BMNB and I farther away from our personal goals.

The responses to my quasi-"Declaration of Independence" ranged from disappointment to shock ("You can't do this."). I asked myself the question whether, twenty years from now, my continuing as I was would make me happy in my personal life. The answer was "no." When I asked myself whether taking myself offline, so to speak, to pursue the goals that I and BMNB have for ourselves individually and a couple would make me happy twenty years from now, the answer was a resounding "yes." I disappointed some people, but I made the most important person in my life happy -- BMNB. And myself, too.

But I'd been here before. When I was in my late twenties and early thirties, I was involved in a host of organizations, always going to meetings, always taking leadership positions. I slowly noticed a dramatic drop in participation by my cohorts. Why? They were busy starting their lives -- getting married, having children, buying homes. Although I'm proud of the things I accomplished, they don't take the place of a husband, a home, and children. I didn't think I wanted those things at the time, but if I had known that I was going to be as happy married as I am now, I would have married and started a family a long time ago.

And, to be truthful, I chafed at the idea of someone telling me that I couldn't stop doing something, something that I was doing as a volunteer. People will tell you this when you constantly offer your services and are good at what you're doing with or for them. They can't imagine that you wouldn't continue doing what you're doing because, well, you're good at it. Don't confuse being good at something with being happy doing it. Don't let the accolades for doing something that isn't in line with your goals blind you to achieving your goals.

Plus, I have this thing about being independent and free. The easiest way to get me to resist is to tell me that I have to do something. I know for certain that, if I was black in a previous life, I was an unrecalcitrant field slave who was probably hung for good measure. I don't take orders well.

So, if I can impart any wisdom from my experience, this is it:

1) If you don't stop and ask yourself what you want out of life, you run the risk of not getting it.

2) Although you're not responsible for your partner's happiness, you are responsible for not getting in the way of your partner's happiness. If you don't know what your partner wants, how will you know if you're in the way of him or her getting it?

3) You can't sleep with a wall plaque. Well, you can, but it won't do much for you. Accolades won't cook your dinner, warm your cold feet at night, or give you an excuse to curl up under a blanket and read Goodnight, Moon over and over again. Don't let them keep you from pursuing your personal goals.

One of my favorite cheesy movie lines is from the movie "Mr. Mom," in which Michael Keaton's character says to his wife Teri Garr something she'd said to him earlier: It's easy to forget what's important, so don't.

So don't. I'm trying not to.

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Lord Have Mercy On Japan

Quakes. Tsunami. Nuclear reactor explosion and meltdown. A tide of 1,000 bodies washing ashore. I'm afraid to ask if it could get any worse for Japan because it just might.

I'll admit that when I first heard of the earthquakes in Japan, I didn't take them seriously. Much of the advances in earthquake-resistant structural engineering come from Japan. If any nation could withstand severe earthquakes, it's Japan, I thought to myself.

But these earthquakes, coupled with a tsunami that moved at the speed of a jet airplane and nuclear reactor explosions and meltdown? This is too much for any nation to take, let alone Japan.

Ask the Lord to have mercy on Japan. This is just too much to bear.

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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Feels Good

It's taking a lot of time but, slowly and surely, my book based on this blog is coming to fruition. At this point, I'm really enjoying the journey of working on a dream. My dream.

I've wanted to write a book for a long time. I'm enjoying just the glimmer of the possibility that this book might open the door to other opportunities. I'm enjoying the fact that I never started this blog with the intention of making money from it, nor did I intend to write a book based on it. I'd been struggling with a novel for years until it dawned on me: You've got a boatload of material right at your fingertips. Use it.

I have you, my dear readers, to thank for encouraging me. You made me believe I had a gift. You don't know how empowering that is, and I am truly grateful.

It's been fun seeing which blog entries I deem worthy of making the cut -- "The Big Pimpin' Awards," "Hotter Than Fish Grease," and "Got Sou-Sou?" -- while reluctantly letting go of others that don't robustly express who I am. But at the end of the day, each and every one of them is mine. I own my work. It's a small but significant step toward owning myself outright, so to speak, because if you have to work for someone else, you really don't own yourself. Or your work, for that matter.

I've had one blog entry published by an e-zine, and I've been approached to grant permission to reprint some of my blog entries. I recently declined to grant a royalty-free license to my blog for a profit-making entity because if anyone is going to profit off of me, it's me. More than anything, I'm enjoying the prospect of freeing myself financially, even a little bit, while doing something that I absolutely love.

I, in turn, want to encourage all of you who read my blog to devote some time on a regular basis to whatever your dream is, even if it's just using a coffee break at work or a few stolen hours on the weekend. It feels so good to know that I'm serving my own purpose and fulfilling my own needs and not just the needs of my employer. You just might feel the same.

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Saturday, March 5, 2011

On The Wings of the Tuskegee Airmen

My husband and I aren't always good about celebrating Black History Month. This year I wanted to make sure we did at least one thing to celebrate it and not let the month go unnoticed. A young male relative, whom I'll call Trevor, mentioned to us that they didn't do anything for Black History Month in his elementary school. I figured we'd kill two birds with one stone and at least find one Black History Month event to attend together. Mind you, this is no small feat since kids these days have "schedules" -- Tae Kwon Do, skating parties, guitar lessons, etc. Trevor has more of a social life than BMNB and I combined! Luckily, it worked out.

The Aerospace Museum at what was formerly McClellan Air Force Base in North Highlands, California, north of Sacramento, had an exhibit on the Tuskegee Airmen. It wasn't big, but it was thoughtful, filled with blown-up newspaper clippings about them, one of their actual flight suits, and one of the planes they trained on. Trevor, who reads four grade levels above his grade, had no problem reading the newspaper clippings, but the reality of it was this: The Tuskegee Airmen were so remote in time to him that they were, well, unimpressive.

When you consider that Barack Obama was elected when Trevor was 7, and Trevor will turn 10 this year, for almost a third of his life, he's known an African American president. Trevor flies, and it's not usual for him to see a black pilot. To him, the Tuskegee Airmen were pretty much just a group of black guys who flew in World War II.

And that is the beauty of their accomplishment: Because of their excellence and the barriers they overcame, the Tuskegee Airmen made black pilots normal. So normal that Trevor doesn't think there's anything unusual about black pilots.

After reading the newspaper clippings and giving the flight suit and training plane some obligatory attention, Trevor turned to us and said, "Can I go look at the planes?" The Aerospace Museum is in a former hanger, and out on the tarmac they've got all kinds of retired military aircraft, many of which are open for people to climb in. Trevor had me and BMNB climbing in and out of planes, all of us wondering aloud what kind of planes they were and what kinds of missions they flew. Trevor even sat in the cockpit of one of the planes like he owned it.

The museum also has a flight simulator for kids aged 12 and up. Because Trevor is 9, they let him play with a flight simulator video game. Being the smart and somewhat cocky kid he is, he kept telling us and the docent, who was a retired pilot, "I know how to do this! I play video games all the time!" And to my surprise and the surprise of the docent, he was actually quite good at it. Extremely good. So good that the docent said, "You know, he's a natural at this. He ought to be a pilot. A Navy pilot, " he said with a wink. I didn't get it.

When we left, I asked BMBN, "Why a Navy pilot?' BMNB, who, if he could come back for another life would come back as a fighter jet pilot, explained with all the patience of a kindergarten teacher, "Navy pilots have to land on a patch that, from the air, looks about the size of a postage stamp and is moving at about 90 miles per hour. You'd better be cocky if you're going to be a Navy pilot because if you don't think you can land that thing, you better not be flying it."

Oh. I see.

I don't know if Trevor is going to be a pilot, Navy or otherwise, but he has no doubt that he could. Even more, he has no doubt that he would be good at it.

I am certain that before others believed in the ability of the Tuskegee Airmen, they had to believe in themselves. They probably had to be a little cocky, even if they only expressed it among themselves. They made it possible for black pilots to be the norm such that there are little black boys who can't even imagine that black pilots were even a big deal a long time ago. Little black boys who don't see anything wrong with being cocky about their flying potential.

Should Trevor grow up to become a pilot, he will do so because he will be flying on the wings of the Tuskegee Airmen. And no matter how cocky he might become, I won't let him forget it.

Thank you to the Tuskegee Airmen for their sacrifice for our country, and thank you to the Aerospace Museum.

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