The first year that my wife and I were together, we made — between us — less than ten thousand dollars. We had no health insurance, her asthma put her into the hospital several times, and we were scraping along with dead-end part-time jobs. Things were pretty bleak back then. We had to rent some pretty crappy apartments in some of the crappier areas, and after getting fired numerous times, we even had to do an emergency move in the span of a single weekend — one town to the next, when we were flat broke. No friends or family to help us. We were all by ourselves. It was rough. I am still amazed we got through it, because as those of you who are married no doubt know, that first year is often tough in all kinds of ways, even if finances and other matters are going smoothly.
Last weekend, as my wife and I approached our 18th anniversary, we opened our backyard swimming pool for the first time since buying our first house here in northern Utah. It’s not a huge pool. It’s a rather plain kidney-shaped private pool, like so many in the U.S. But by our standards, it’s an almost obscene luxury! For three years it’s been dormant, the cover slowly shredding and the original heater, filtration system, and pump having long since been carted away to the dump. We had to put roughly $10,000 into the thing, and we got both a top of the line cover and top of the line equipment. Because we’re at the point in our lives where we figure, if you have to spend that much money on something, why not make it the best stuff money can buy?
When the midnight swim was over, we walked into the house and lounged in front of the living room fireplace. Late September isn’t too early to burn a few logs at night, not when you’re in the north of Utah. And as we sat there enjoying the warmth and the flame, I thought to myself, we’ve certainly come a long damned way.
All it took was work.
I sometimes think this is lost on Americans in the 21st century. Between the new kids who think they’re entitled to everything — because nobody every taught them work ethic or told them “no” in our era of Self-Esteemism — and the younger Boomers who live hand-to-mouth in their McMansions as part of the Debt Economy, it seems like nobody is willing to work hard or make sane financial choices or wait for anything anymore. Everybody wants everything now now now now and they want it BIG and FLASHY and if they don’t get it, it’s time for a crisis.
My wife and I know a bit about the Debt Economy. We learned a few years ago to carve up our plastic and live within our means. It was hard. We learned to do without big and flashy. But it can be done. And as recent events have proven, for those who work hard and know how to plan their finances, even luxuries — like swimming pools — are still attainable. You just have to know how to bide your time, put in the effort, make a plan, don’t let the setbacks stop you, and be ready for the hard knocks when they happen.
Which is why I have never, ever, ever understood the “glass half empty” mindset that many Americans seem to harbor — that America is somehow this charade of a country, with promises aplenty, and never any delivery on those promises. Hey, nobody ever promised it would be easy! My Dad certainly never did. And his Dad didn’t either. I came from a family tradition and a cultural religious tradition of effort. No effort = no dividends. Obstacles? Part of the plan. Dig under them, slide around them, jump over them, or dynamite them out of your way. People being jerks or hampering you? Also part of life. Work around it. Ignore them, if you can. Move forward on your own steam. Don’t wait for someone else to do your heavy lifting for you, because God helps those who help themselves, etc.
That’s been true of almost everything I’ve ever accomplished. The pool in the backyard? Home ownership? Not possible 18 years ago. Hell, not possible even 3 years ago. I had to bust my butt. And so did my wife. But we’re reaping the rewards now, and it’s satisfying to enjoy what we have, and know we eaaaaaarned it, as John Houseman used to famously say.
It was true in every job I ever had. It’s been true in my rise to Warrant Officer in the Army Reserve. It’s true about fixing up an old home, never renovated by the previous ownership. And it’s true in writing too. Rare is the writer who just leaps into success on the first try. Almost all of us who are selling and publishing professionally, had to eaaaaaarn it with lots of rejections and lots of frustration and waiting. In my case, as I’ve noted before, it was approx. 17 years and 870,000 unpublished words of ‘waiting’ before I got in with Writers of the Future.
Now? Now it’s not so hard. Oh, plenty of rejection and plenty of obstacles left. But I can sell. And I can have confidence in my craft, enough so that sitting down to a fresh story these days doesn’t feel like the agonizing exercise in indecision and doubt it used to be, even two years ago. I’ve gotten enough market validation — those checks are so nice! — that I can move forward with at least a base-line confidence in my ability; and an eventual positive outcome.
But it took work. Lots and lots and lots and lots of work. And the results, so far, have been worth it. After so many years, oh yes, worth it indeed. I’m an Analog recidivist! Analog Science Fiction & Fact is the oldest — and perhaps most respected — major short-form Science Fiction market in the world. I’ve got major book publishers back East asking to see my novel manuscript. In the next five years, if I keep busting my ass, I foresee some nice things happening for me in the publishing world. But it won’t happen if I slack off or start being entitled about what I think should be coming to me. The effort never stops.
But the fruits — when they come — are mighty sweet.
Hey, it’s rather hot out today. Which means when I get home after the commute, I think it’ll be a good evening for a swim.