New Chapters

I posted this update over at Homeless Tales, Matt’s site, and wanted to repost here to fill everybody in on what’s been going on with the two of us (to make up for my somewhat vague update a couple of posts ago).

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I will start out with Matt’s joyous news – Wednesday, October 28th, at 9:25 AM Scotland time (2:25 AM PST), Matt’s daughter was born via Cesarean section. Her name is Kelsey, after his grandmother, she weighed just about 6 lbs. even, has bright blue eyes, and undetermined (but darkish-seeming) hair. She’s absolutely gorgeous. I don’t think Matt wants to post photos/video of her online, understandably, but if you’re interested in seeing her, perhaps he can e-mail you privately. That’s his call, though, and she pretty much looks like… a baby.

(Since you’ve likely guessed by now that I wasn’t the one giving birth, I should probably head off any negative knee-jerk reactions at the pass, so: No, there was no infidelity involved; yes, there was protection being used; and no, there is no ill will on the part of any parties involved).

Matt and I found out about Kelsey’s impending arrival a couple of months into our relationship. For a girl who decided at about age 9 that she never wanted to have kids (I mean, look at the role model I had to go on!), it was something of a shock for me and a lot to take in, and Matt graciously gave me the option of backing out. But I love him so much, and I know I’ll love his daughter, so I stuck around, obviously. Now I’m nervously prepping for the responsibilities that come with being a stepmom, and eventually a full-time mother, since we will likely have children ourselves one day.

Life-altering event #2 came the day after Kelsey’s birth, when I received an offer for a book deal (thanks to my brilliant agent, Chris Schelling, who also represents the famed Augusten Burroughs)! Chris is clearly the most awesome evil genius ever; the preparing of the contract and such details takes a few weeks, but upon signing, I receive a decent advance. It won’t buy us a house or anything, but it will rent us an apartment and should also clear up my debts, opening the way for us to get a home loan, we hope! There’s also talk about potentially turning the story into movie-ness, which is kind of mind-blowing to me, so I’m just kind of trying to study up on the various options one day at a time and make sure Matt is involved in all decisions, since it’s his story, too!

So where do we go from here? Well, for now, I’m still in the trailer, waiting on contracts and such to be ironed out. But upon receipt of the advance, we are likely going to look into relocating to upstate NY – towards the small, tree-covered town where we’d like to settle permanently, when we have the means – and yet within a couple hours’ drive of the city, for when book promotions and such things start, which I get the feeling might be largely NYC-centric.

Matt and I would also like to get married, although we still need to bat around immigration red tape, and now with Kelsey thrown into the mix, options are further narrowed down, so that’s just one big wait-and-see game. I imagine once Matt flies back to CA, there will be lots of running around and spazzing out like decapitated chickens, trying to get things planned and settled. I’ve entered that phase already, truth be told, but not much I can do about it for several more weeks, so I’m probably just stressing myself unduly.

In case you can’t tell, I never in a million years imagined something like this would happen to us, and I’m sort of floored and flabbergasted and quasi-in-denial. I don’t feel like an author or the subject of a movie, or anything grand like that, which kind of makes me feel a little like a fraud. I’m still very much “just plain me”. I keep wondering whether they’ve just got the wrong person and haven’t realized it yet. Or I keep coming up with “what-if” scenarios and future disasters like “what if it all falls through and they change their mind before the contract is eked out?!?!?!” Which is unlikely, I know, but still, what can I say? I’m panicky and uncertain right now. A large portion of my life I’ve been told that I’m untalented, uninteresting, a disappointment to my family and to God, and ugly to boot; it’s still so hard for me to imagine or accept people being interested in me, much less enough to ask me to write an entire book about myself.

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I can’t say it enough; I am so grateful to my readers, friends, and the Street Voices and Twitter communities for having my back for so long.  Things are finally really looking up and there’s no way that I would have gotten to this point without the online support network that I’ve been lucky enough to find, as well as the utter kindness and generosity of E. Jean Carroll, ELLE magazine, and the most fantabulous Chris Schelling.  Thank you all, guys.

So, I’ve Moved (Obviously)

Well, if you’re here, obviously you’ve noticed – I have moved to www.girlsguidetohomelessness.com – a kind stranger basically bought me a domain and is building me my own website!!! How crazy is that?!?!?!

It’s a work in progress, so I have to play with it and do some tweaking, but thanks to Adam Warner (previously mentioned kind stranger), it already looks about ten bajillion times better than the blogspot! Adam’s super awesome – he saw the Invisible People video interview and did all of this out of the kindness of his heart, so please (shameless plug) visit his sites and return the love:

http://wpmodder.com
http://adamwwarner.com

At some point soon I’ll just redirect my blogspot to point to the new site, but for now, it’s manual.

I feel sooooo bad for not updating for a few days, I’m still figuring out this WordPress thing, and it took me a while to edit the imported posts, because they seemed to have random and arbitrary wonkiness that took some experimenting and tweaking to fix. Now I’ve pretty much got that handled, but my sidebar seems to have randomly gone all wonky, so that will take some more playing. Work has been pretty all-consuming during the day, as well. Plus, I’ve kind of got a couple of secret side projects going on. Please bear with me! I’m really trying hard to get back to daily updates!!!!!

Fezzik is doing well, I keep calling into the kennel to check on him and he is (of course) loved and adored by all. This makes me happy, at least. I miss having him around to hug and cuddle with, and I also miss the protective aspect. Now, every time I enter my trailer late at night, I am super paranoid about opening the door. What if someone broke in and is lying in wait? I always hold my keys in a fist, pointy ends poking out through my knuckles, just in case.

Still working on the house. That’s one of my major side projects, although not the most all-consuming, by far, haha. That one I’m keeping under wraps for the time being. But it makes me super happy and I can’t wait until the day it’s safe to talk about it. Ha, mysterious enough for you? I hope so.

Mental Health

It’s a heartache. Bonnie Tyler told me so.

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So, I’ve had to scale back on a lot of expenses since this ordeal began, and I’m sure I’ll find a lot more that I have to cut back on. Yet, I’ve kept my therapist. Only in California, right?

Therapy always made me really nervous. I looked askance at the idea for many years, due to a bad childhood experience. My parents had dubbed me a “problem child” and dragged me to a shrink at the age of 9, when I suddenly dropped from an A+ GATE student to a D below-average. She seemed nice and asked me some questions. I wasn’t completely sure why I was there, but I answered them. She asked my parents some questions. I ate the cookies she gave me. To sum up her opinion rather succinctly, she thought my parents were a bit crazy, and had more of a hand in my decline than they were letting on. They dragged me out of there and that night I was screamed at and beaten for “answering the questions wrong”.

Since then, I was leery of this psychiatry thing. Certainly, if I ever went back, someone would blame me again for something.

I was a relatively good kid/teenager. I got excellent grades through high school, never even experimented with a single drug, didn’t drink until I turned 21 and then only socially, never been drunk, never snuck out or partied… you get the picture. But a few months ago, it became clear that several issues in my past were coming out of the woodwork and affecting my day-to-day life, and even my sleeping habits. The fact that I had just lost my job to layoffs didn’t help matters, and I started spiraling downwards into depression. A friend who recently got her human services degree referred me to a local mental health hotline (211 Orange County) that could set me up with a therapist on a sliding scale. I decided I’d go once, so I could prove to myself that therapy was as I remembered it.

I was set up with the most fantastic counselor. She is an incredibly wise woman, and I realized that there was someone out there who would listen to me unconditionally. I could pour out all of my “crazy” to this woman, and she didn’t find it crazy at all. The fact that my life sounded like a twisted soap opera didn’t seem to faze her. She believed me! Finally, after years of hearing that I was a deviant and a lost cause, that I was impossible to love, someone found me intelligent and capable; saw good qualities in me that even I didn’t know were there. I am not perfect, and I still have plenty of flaws, to be sure, but when we discuss them it is always calmly and rationally, and she gently guides me towards new ideas/perspectives/conclusions without blaming, or being harsh and judgmental.

Now, more than ever, I need this kind of support. It is so easy to fall into depression just in regular, everyday life, especially with the current state of the world. When you are homeless, it is about twelve jillion times worse. You can find yourself dwelling on how you got here, how it might have been different, will you ever get out of this… The hours seem long and you can lose all concept of time and days of the week, because there’s nothing to measure them by but this stretching, lonely ennui. I’ve been homeless for about a week, and I already know this. I can only imagine it gets worse the longer and more hopeless your situation seems. After therapy, I feel lighter, like I’ve just unloaded all the worry and fear that I was carrying around with me. Life always seems easier to face after I leave that office. No matter how tight for money I get, I will always set aside that small amount for my weekly therapist visit – I wish that I had caved and gone to therapy years ago. I wasted a lot of time that could have been put towards becoming a better version of myself.

If you’re homeless and feel the need for counseling, there are free/cheap programs and resources available to you. If you’re in the Orange County area, you can dial 2-1-1 and be connected to the hotline I mentioned above. A national directory of mental health resources and services can be found here and here. Need resources outside of the U.S.? Google “mental health” and the name of your country/province. If one particular therapist doesn’t work for you, you don’t like their approach, whatever, you can ask for another until you find someone you click with. Compatibility is key, just as it would be in any other relationship based on trust and confidentiality. I would recommend that everyone try it at least once anyway, but particularly if you are in this kind of life-changing circumstance. Your mental health is so important, and is just another resource that you should do everything possible to protect. It’s your mind that will go the furthest in transitioning you out of homelessness. Take care of it. You are not as alone as you think.

Job Searching and the Almighty Dollar

It’s raining today. God, I love the rain. You don’t see it much in Orange County.

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Quick note: Please check out Homeless Tales, the brainchild of Matt Barnes from the UK. I spent several hours last night browsing through the stories that compile his Street Voices Project, and I was fascinated by the work of the various contributers. Matt and his writers are doing their utmost to raise awareness of this social issue, and to put faces to the various homeless out there, no matter their circumstances. I have a huge amount of respect for their work and send out my kudos to them. If you haven’t already been, please check out Homeless Tales!

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Once your most basic needs (shelter, food, and water) have been met, your mind will naturally turn to money – the most important long-term solution to get you out of this.

I mentioned before, I’m not a fan of panhandling. Many homeless people out there are mentally ill/addicts and feel this is their only recourse. I am not judging those individuals. They are humans as well and deserving of compassion and assistance – medical and rehabilitory assistance in addition to food and shelter. However, I have always worked and I am fully capable of continuing to work. I will not panhandle or beg for money. There are many less fortunate homeless people who do not have the advantages I have, who cannot/do not know how to care for themselves, and who need those contributions more than I do. If you are homeless and reading this blog, that means you have figured out how to access a computer – so chances are pretty high that you are self-reliant and have at least some rudimentary skills that qualify you to find yourself money without panhandling.

First of all, sell any assets that you will not need or that do not have irreplaceable sentimental value (i.e., your grandmother’s wedding ring). If you have a laptop and phone and vehicle, obviously those are things that will come in useful to you. Items like furniture, decor, TV, stereo, etc. are not necessary and can be easily replaced once you are back on your feet. Only you can decide what you are willing to give up, but you will find that material belongings count for very little when you need to buy food and gasoline, or come up with enough money to put down a rental deposit so you can get off of the street. I have built up a collection of fine vintage clothing for several years – guess what’s happening to that? I’m eBaying it off, piece by piece.

As an immediate/temporary solution, you may be able to apply for Unemployment Insurance (UI), State Disability Insurance (SDI), Social Security Disability, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), State Supplementary Payments (SSP) or welfare/food stamps. This guy I mentioned in a previous post has listed the various ins and outs of applying for these programs, including various rules and loopholes. There’s nothing I can say here on those topics that he hasn’t already, so visit his site and review your available options.

If you are not disabled in any way and are physically and mentally capable of working – find a job. Yes, the economy is in the toilet right now. Salaries have been slashed by about 20% on average. But there are jobs out there, even if competition is stiff for some of the higher-paying ones. If you are educated and formerly held a prestigious position – get over it. You may not be able to find something comparable to your last job right now. You may need to wait for the economy to right itself. Do not be too proud to take a lower-paying or less glamorous job in the interim. I did very well for myself in my former life and got every single job I ever interviewed for, but guess what? Right now I’m homeless, and although I have sent out hundreds of applications, the fish aren’t biting. This means that I need to be willing to take anything that comes along (unless it pays less than my UI, in which case I would be shooting myself in the foot – you can’t file for UI and work at the same time).

If you can find under-the-table work here and there, that is awesome. You are paid in cash and there is no record going to the IRS, so they can’t tax you. This means that you can collect some supplemental income and still file for UI, if that is applicable to your situation. Many small business owners will pay under-the-table.

Search on Craigslist.org, Monster.com, CareerBuilder.com, and any other job board you can find. If you have a professional-looking photo of yourself in business attire, attach it to every cover letter you e-mail out. Try to stand out from the sea of nameless, faceless applicants. Distinguish yourself. When hiring managers can put a face to the name, they are more likely to think of you as a person, and remember you when it comes down to weeding through the candidates and deciding who to bring in for interviews.

If you have never had a job, or are super-young and have no previous job experience, search for “entry-level” jobs. These are jobs that require no formal training. Apply at grocery stores, restaurants, retail chains; hell, apply to be the person in the oversized chicken suit outside of Chick-Fil-A! Apply to be the person in the Chuck-E suit at Chuck-E-Cheese. For many of these jobs, you don’t have to apply online – walk right into an establishment and ask to speak to the manager. You may have the front desk person/receptionist/hostess ask you what this is regarding. Don’t tell them up front that it’s regarding applying for a job, they’ll just try to re-route you, or hand you an application to fill out. You want the manager to actually meet you so that you get a chance to make an impression. If they tell you the manager is not available and try to hand you an application to get rid of you, ask to make an appointment to speak to the manager directly. Make sure that every time you visit the establishment, you are clean and well-dressed. Make sure your interview suit/dress is modest, in fashion, and unwrinkled. Do whatever you have to, just find a job and save as much of each paycheck as you can.

At no point during a job search should you tell anyone that you are homeless. It may be tempting to milk your circumstances for sympathy, but DON’T. It will rarely work. The vast majority of society has built-in prejudices against the homeless. If you look like a bum, people will treat you like a bum. If you don’t look like you a bum, are well-dressed/qualified/articulate, but tell people you are homeless, they are still likely to treat you like a bum. Do not appeal to your interviewer in this manner. Never appear desperate. Project confidence and prepare for every interview hours or even days in advance. Find the company’s website and read up on their mission statement, their philosophy, their history, and then drop nuggets of that into your responses to interview questions, so that hiring managers will know you have done your research on the company, will fit in well, and really want to work there.

That is the most important thing in an interview – you may be the most qualified person on the planet, but if you aren’t particularly interested in the job or the company, they will hire someone less qualified who is. This may be a job you are just taking until you can get something better when the economy improves, but they don’t need to know that. As far as an interviewer is concerned, this is your dream job and you will stay here until retirement, OK? You can always change your mind after you get the job and something better comes along. That is not illegal. But you need somet
hing right now, so stretch the truth if you must. Lie a little and say that you see yourself working your way up from a cashier at McDonalds to management at their corporate office. Stress your loyalty to your employer. This doesn’t mean you have to stay there forever. You just need a job right now, do whatever you must to get it.

While job searching, look for other means to come up with extra money. You can sell belongings, as I’ve already noted. Or take a particular talent and start an e-business with it. I run a modest resumé-writing business on the side populated with friends and clients who have no idea that I am homeless. Set yourself up a webpage at Starbucks or the public library, and put your talents to good use. Promote yourself on Craigslist, Twitter, MySpace, or any one of hundreds of online resources. Invest in some cheap flyers and post them on college boards, community boards, Starbucks boards, anywhere you can. Market yourself.

Look into mystery shopping, or marketing companies who will pay you to stand around and promote their products. I did this a couple of years ago for extra cash on the side. I was one of those people who stood behind a table at Costco and handed out free samples on the weekends. You can laugh, but do you know how much I made doing that? $25/hour.

If you are a female in your 20s and you have no moral objection, you may want to look into donating your eggs (a lot of college students do it). You don’t need to be a supermodel astrophysicist to do this (I certainly can’t claim to be one, I’m just a spunky, cute-ish kid with a good head on her shoulders and a fair amount of common sense)! Many prospective parents out there are just looking for a donor who is physically reminiscent of them, and isn’t a carrier for any major diseases or disabilities. I went to check out this opportunity today. I found an agency who is putting me in their database; if I am chosen as a donor, my first-time fee will be $5,500, plus all medical expenses. Keep in mind, if you pursue this option, it pays well for a reason. Sperm donors only get about $75 a pop because their donation process is quick, easy, painless, and pleasurable. For women, you EARN that money. It is a roughly 2-month long process involving self-injected hormones, monitoring appointments, psychological evaluations, and possible side effects. Take all of this into consideration before you make the decision. Personally, I have found that people have the remarkable ability to do things that they never thought they’d be able to do in dire circumstances. I never thought that I’d be able to ransack through a blood-and-brain-splattered suicide scene either, but I ended up having to do just that when my biological father shot himself in January, because my other family members were too queasy to do it, and someone had to. Take a hard look at yourself and decide what you are willing/able to do and where you draw your boundaries, and then stick to them.

There are opportunities to earn money honestly if you search for them. So many people out there are throwing their hands up in the air and blaming the sucky economy for not being able to find work. Don’t be proud. Do what you must. Consider every alternative. You’re homeless and jobless, do you really have anything better to do? Your job is to find a job.

Quickie: Laguna Beach – Homeless Can Sleep There!

City’s Homeless Can Sleep On Beach, For Now

Laguna Beach recently repealed a law prohibiting sleeping on public property, following a civil rights lawsuit alleging that it criminalized homelessness. One more option for you if you’re an OC resident looking for a place to sleep without being harassed by police. As always, be safe and don’t isolate yourself if you can avoid it.