Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Stephen King and Hearts in Atlantis

You can be talking with serious people and watch their eyes change when they find you read Stephen King. I refuse to back down. Yep, I read Stephen King. I think he is a brilliant author, some books better than others, but when I am reading, sometimes I can feel my blood move faster through my veins as I wait for a life-threatening situation to resolve itself.

I can trust Stephen King. He taps into who we really are. I can also trust that most of the good guys will still be standing at the end, and most of the bad guys will meet a truly horrible and well-deserved death. I can trust that when bad things happen to good people, other good people will gather round, band together and the gestalt of all that willingness to help one another will prevail against the darkness.

The scariest book I ever read by Stephen King didn’t have any monsters, per se. It didn’t have the Walking Man, or any Wolves of Calla or any great evil, other than the evil that lurks in the human heart. The scariest book I have ever read by Stephen King was Hearts in Atlantis.

Hearts in Atlantis wasn’t even a novel, it was several shorter stories combined in one book. But the title story, Hearts in Atlantis, was about addiction. Not just any old addiction, either, but an addiction I had experienced.

It was my sophomore year in university. I had sailed through the trauma of freshman year with grace, great grades, I felt very confident. That summer, back home, I had taken bridge lessons, and holy smokes – I loved the game. It all made sense to me, and I loved figuring the probabilities and the possibilities, who had what card, how I could finesse that card, how I could WIN. I loved winning.

During the summer after my freshman year, I played a lot of bridge. So it was no wonder, when I got back to school, that I discovered a whole world of bridge players. Early in the morning, before my first class, I would head for the student union and pick up a coffee – and often a game.

The problem was, if I had a particularly good hand, the little devil on my shoulder would whisper “if you skip your class, you can win this hand!” and the bigger problem was – I would listen. I could afford to skip a class here and there, I did the homework. But through the year, I spent more and more time playing bridge and less and less time in the library. At the end of my sophomore year, my grade point average had fallen one full point.

That got my attention. I really wanted academic success. I spent my junior and senior years desperately working to get my grade point average back up to an acceptable level. Once the GPA falls, however, it only inches back up incrementally. It took almost straight A’s to undo the damage I had done to myself the year of bridge playing.

After graduation, I fell back into bridge playing on the duplicate level. But after a while, I noticed that while I travelled from place to place, it was the same smoke-filled room in every new city where we ended up, surrounded by a vampire-like culture that slept a lot of the day and only came alive at night. I also noticed that most of the conversations were about “the one that got away” – how such and such a hand might have been played best. Yawn. Yawn. Yawn. So one day, I just walked away, and never looked back.

Like all addictions, from time to time I hear bridge calling. From time to time I will enter a friendly game – party bridge, but it is no longer irresistable, no longer so seductive, so attractive. Thank God. Reading Stephen King brings back the terror of addiction.

February 18, 2007 Posted by | Books, Family Issues, Fiction, Friends & Friendship, Living Conditions, Random Musings, Shopping, Social Issues, Spiritual | 3 Comments

Personal Debt and Blogging

Came across this article this morning in the New York Times. Overcoming debt is not unlike overcoming other addictions – and getting support online can help. Interesting article with international application.

Debtors Search for Discipline via Blogs
When a woman who calls herself Tricia discovered last week that she owed $22,302 on her credit cards, she could not wait to spread the news. Tricia, 29, does not talk to her family or friends about her finances, and says she is ashamed of her personal debt.

Theo Rigby for The New York Times.

Leigh Ann Fraley, a financial educator, writes a blog about how she overcame $19,947 in credit card debt. “I teach people how to get out of debt for a living,” she said, “but I couldn’t do it myself until I started the blog.”

The King and Queen of Debt Tell All
Yet from the laundry room of her home in northern Michigan, Tricia does something that would have been unthinkable — and impossible — a generation ago: she goes online and posts intimate details of her financial life, including her net worth (now negative $38,691), the balance and finance charges on her credit cards, and the amount of debt she has paid down since starting a blog about her debt last year ($15,312).

Her journal, bloggingawaydebt .com, is one of dozens that have sprung up in recent years taking advantage of Internet anonymity to reveal to strangers fiscal intimacies the authors might not tell their closest friends.

Like other debt bloggers, Tricia believes the exposure gives her the discipline to reduce her debt. “I think about this blog every time I’m in the store and something that I don’t need catches my eye,” she told readers last week. “Look what you all have done to me!”

A decade after the Internet became a public stage for revelations from the bedroom, it is now peering into the really private stuff: personal finance.

The blogs open a homey and sometimes shockingly candid window on the day-to-day finances of American households in a time of rising debt, failing mortgages and financial uncertainty. In 2006, the average American household carried about $7,200 in revolving debt (mostly on credit cards) and $21,000 in total debt.

A blog called “Poorer Than You” ( describes the financial doings of a 20-year-old film-school dropout. (Typical post: “Yesterday we ate lunch at Subway for a total of $8.00, and went grocery shopping … with a list! And didn’t buy anything that wasn’t on it!”) On, Leigh Ann Fraley, 37, provides daily accounts of her escape from $19,947 in credit card debt.

“I teach people how to get out of debt for a living, but I couldn’t do it myself until I started the blog,” said Ms. Fraley, who conducts seminars in personal finance for a bank in Northern California. “I started to write everything down, like, ‘I saved 20 cents today by parking at a meter that still had time on it.’ I tell things I wouldn’t tell my family.” When she got out of debt in December, she said, “The blog was the first people I told.”

A Boston couple who call themselves the King and Queen of Debt started their his-and-hers blog, “We’re in Debt” (, last March as a way to talk to each other about their debt. They owed $34,155.70 on their credit cards at the time, and an additional $120,000, mostly in student loans.

“My wife and I have good communication skills in every avenue of life except finances,” said the King of Debt, insisting on anonymity because, he said, “We don’t want our parents to find out and kill us.”

Starting the blog, he said, “was a way to communicate.”

Tricia started her blog after reading the online account of another woman,, who said she had paid off her credit card debt of $19,794.23 in a little more than a year.

Like other bloggers interviewed for this article, Tricia said she and her husband had arrived at their debt gradually, not by big financial crises but by regularly spending more money than they made, using credit that was offered freely by credit card companies.

“It was nothing over the top,” said a Georgia blogger who calls himself N.C.N., for No Credit Needed, describing how his credit card balance reached $11,510.22.

“Just pretty much what everyone I know does and continues to do,” N.C.N. said. “Every month I’d say, ‘We’re going to pay off this credit card completely.’ Then I’d say, ‘O.K., just this month we’ll let it slide.’ Then you wake up and you have $5,000 on your credit card.” He says on his blogs ( and that he has no debt now and no credit cards. Like other blogs, his sites run advertisements for debt-reduction services, and N.C.N. says he makes a small profit.

Tricia said her credit problems began in her freshman year at Michigan Technological University, when she opened a Visa account in return for the campus signup premium, a large candy bar. Since then, she said, she has rarely made more than minimum payments. As credit card companies offered her more cards and deeper credit lines, she said she kept her balance close to the maximum, eventually topping $37,000. Even as her credit card debt surpassed her annual income, she assumed that someday she would make more money and pay it off.

She said she never discussed her debt with family or friends. “You don’t want them to know,” she said. “Our parents hope for the best for us, and it’s hard to let them know we’re struggling. And with friends, you don’t want them to think less of you. And when you go out with friends you don’t want to say, ‘Oh, I can’t do that, I don’t have the money.’ ”

Keeping the blog, she said, has made her conscious of her spending. Though most of her readers are strangers, she worries about letting them down.

“I know that if I use my credit card, I’ll have to go on there and say I used it. I’ll have to fess up. I’ve been wanting one of those L.C.D. TVs for quite a while now, but every time I see them, I think about having to come on the blog and say I bought it. Because we don’t need it, we have a TV, but it’s still a temptation that’s there. And I’m sure if I wasn’t blogging we’d already have it.”

For the engaged couple who say they are behind a blog called “Make Love, Not Debt” (; net worth: negative $70,787.94), the feedback from readers has not always been gentle. “People have very strong feelings about debt,” said the blog’s female half, who calls herself Her. “People were appalled by my spending, like buying a $500 pair of shoes.”

“Just having the amount of debt we have is offensive to a lot of people,” said Him, the blog’s other half. “People will levy personal attacks for mistakes we acknowledge. We don’t think that’s quite necessary.”

When they discussed wanting a $25,000 wedding, one reader scolded them: “Grow up, a wedding isn’t about how much debt you put yourself or your parents into. If you are worried about that, in my opinion, you are not ready for marriage.”

Tricia said the comments she had gotten had been overwhelmingly supportive. But she acknowledges that the fear of censure can be useful as well.

“I feel embarrassed about it,” she said of her debt. “I try not to, though. I try to put a spin on it when I start to get too down. I think to myself if we didn’t get in this mess and get out of it, we would’ve just kept going the way we were. But now we have health insurance, we’re saving for retirement. We could’ve just been living on the edge, but not underneath.”

February 18, 2007 Posted by | Blogging, Communication, Cross Cultural, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Living Conditions, News, Social Issues, Tools | Leave a comment

Q8 Cafe in Texas

Little Diamond, leaving El Paso, TX, posts a photo of the Q8 Cafe in El Paso.

February 18, 2007 Posted by | Blogging, Cross Cultural, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Lumix, Photos | 13 Comments