I hope everyone reading this enjoyed your Thanksgiving meal yesterday, traditional or non-. I’m still feeling a bit bloated. And if you didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, well, I hope it was still a great day for you. Maybe you at least had a day off.
But now, as I have on past Black Fridays, I’d like to take a moment or three to discuss some personal history and make an offer to a few of you who might need it.
When I chose to become a full time writer almost a decade ago, I knew it meant some changes for me. I’d been working in the film industry for most of my adult life, and even as a non-union worker I was getting solid, decent wages, which let me live comfortably. Not fantastic, but I was on the lower side of middle class. The decision to write full time would mean a notable pay cut, and I accepted that I would be living tight for a while.
It only took a year and a half for the usual unavoidable expenses to pile up. Car repairs, a very sick cat, prices went up on a lot of things, and on top of all that I got a 20% pay cut at the magazine I was writing for at the time. In the space of about a year I went from “living tight” to “way under the poverty line.” And it doesn’t take a lot of math to see the poverty line in this country is much, much lower than it should be. My bank accounts were constantly empty (sometimes overdrawn when things didn’t process in the right order—which meant fees), my credit cards were maxed out (which was a trigger to the credit card company to raise all my interest rates), and I spent too much time figuring out how each 20%-lower freelancer check could be spread across three or four bills.
My girlfriend and I went through three solid years like that, always stressed, always sick with despair, always waiting for the unavoidable, inevitable expense that’d mean the end. We just had nothing left. We didn’t even turn the heat on for the last two winters. There are folks who like to howl about “handouts,” “entitlements,” or “nanny states,” but at the end of the day most poor people are in a very bad place, looking for help, and they’re just trying desperately to survive with a small degree of dignity.
Big shock, the holiday season is miserable for poor people. It’s just more anxiety. I hated the holidays. We could’t afford to give out candy so no Halloween. Thanksgiving was a few cans from the 99 Cent Store. And Christmas was just awful. We usually couldn’t even afford cards, let alone presents. Nothing for my girlfriend or my mom and dad, nothing for my brother, sister in law, niece or nephew. Nothing for my friends. Being poor at the holidays is like when you forget to get anything for that one person at the office party and you kind of squirm for an hour or so. Except you feel like that for every hour of every day for the whole season.
Now, these days I’m in a better position, and I owe a huge part of that to all of you. And if I can help some of you avoid feeling that low and miserable this holiday season… well, I’d like to do it.
If you’re in that same kind of bad financial place right now, where you can’t afford to give gifts to your family or friends, shoot me a note at PeterClines101@yahoo.com. I’ve got a dozen or so random books saved away that I’ll autograph to whoever you want and mail out to you. I’ll even throw in wrapping paper if you need it. It’s not much, but it’ll be a present you can give someone so you don’t need to feel low. You can request a specific book, but I can’t promise anything. I’ll send them out for as long as the books last.
Again, this is only for those of you who need some help and can’t afford to buy gifts for others. The people who are pulling unemployment, cutting back on everything, and feeling like crap because they can’t afford gifts for family or friends. It’s not so you can recommend someone who’d like a free book.
I’m also doing this on the honor system, so if you’re only trying to save yourself some shopping money or score an autographed book, I won’t be able to stop you. Just know that you’re a horrible person and you’re taking a potential bright moment away from someone who could use a boost this holiday season. And you’ll probably burn in the pits of hell before Krampus feeds you to a squale.