Monthly Archives: July 2006

Taking on Debt, and other Stressful Life Events

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I didn’t anticipate that buying real estate would be so stressful. I guess it makes sense that something involving putting yourself into this much debt would be, but it’s isn’t even so much that. Everyone warned me that after all the paperwork was signed I would feel pangs of regret and that was normal, but that wasn’t so much the problem either.

Mostly it was just all the little steps involved that I didn’t entirely anticipate, but probably should have. I’ve never bought anything serious before (computers obviously don’t count as “serious”). I didn’t realize how many people needed to know this much about me.

The first part that surprised me (but probably shouldn’t have) was that the mortgage company wanted to know every detail about my financial history. I don’t mean running a credit check or knowing how much money I intend to put down, or even requesting pay stubs or anything like that. I didn’t realize they would want to have record of every transaction I made on all of my accounts for the last three months. My mortgage company now knows the depths of my relationship with Shopper’s Drug Mart. My parents donated a sum of money to my house-buying endeavours, which appeared in my saving accounts as a bank-to-bank transfer. Everyone wants to know where that money came from; everyone. I had to get my father to sign a waiver that indicated I would never have to pay it back. The teller at the bank wanted to know how I got it; she said that “funny things” happen these days and they have to ask questions when a largeish sum of money appears and someone tries to take it out the next day. It wasn’t the next day. It was a month later, and I have been a loyal customer of this particular financial institution for the last 30 years. My mother is a former employee of this particular financial institution. No one trusts anyone when it comes to money.

Before all that was just finding out if I qualified. I’d actually done the calling around a couple of months earlier, so I knew that I did, but it was still stressful, sitting on the phone, listening as they punched in the numbers. “Let’s just see how the ratios look.” Pause. Pause. Pause. I know the ratios look okay. But suddenly it’s like being back in junior high and waiting to see if the cool kid is going to pick you for their soccer baseball team. Come on, is it a yes? Is it? I know it’s got to be a yes, I’m a good kicker! Come on! Pick me! “Oh, the ratios are fine, sure, you qualify.” Great! Now suddenly I feel sort of dirty.

Do you know how many times I’ve had to declare that I’m single? I figured it would be remarked upon, a single woman buying real estate. So I can’t say I was entirely surprised about it, but, man. Did I ever have to clarify it a lot. And the house inspector told me that maybe my townhouse would be “lucky” and now I would “find a man”. Sadly there’s no keyboard smiley that entirely captures my reaction to that statement.

My brother-in-law is telling everyone that I’m a grown up now, which I mostly agree with, except when I’m calling all the experts; there’s always a surly woman on the other end of the phone who has zero patience for the fact that I don’t know what I’m doing and expects me to know all the lingo.

There’s a whole language to buying real estate that makes no sense until you’ve had to participate in it. You need a status certificate as part of the process of buying a condo. You need to decide between a variable and a fixed-rate mortgage; is it portable? Is it assumable? (Why do I suddenly feel undereducated?) You discover the land transfer tax what What It Means to You. You work out what “title” means, why you have to have it insured, and why a “title search” is not nessarily just something you do in a library catalogue (and that it isn’t nearly as cheap). You find out that a “lien” isn’t just a posture you assume when feeling jaunty. Dual agency: boon or bust? I Aluminum, or copper wire?

But in the end, it appears that I did all the right things, and closing is just around the corner. Here’s to luck.

Industrialia at Kipling

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The view from the Go train at Kipling.

This view always appalled/intrigued me. It’s a mass of power lines, so unashamedly industrial, just there alongside the train. At Dixie it’s just piles of tractor trailor cargo units, piled on top of each other. I should have taken a picture of those too, but I guess I figured all those strange looks I got for taking this picture was probably enough for one day. I took this with my cell phone, which gives it that sort of otherworldly watercolour sort of look.

Digital Natives vs. Digital Immigrants

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From the Times Online: The next step in brain evolution. Let me summarize: young people, who have lived with the internet all their lives, are digital natives. If you’re over 30 and didn’t grow up with text messaging, MSN, and Google, you’re a digital immigrant.

This particular bit of rhetoric really gets to me, and I’ll tell you why. It’s a broad-swath excuse, apparently designed to make those over 30 feel safer about their own current knowledge base. As long as new communication technologies are something your brain is or is not hardwired to comprehend based on your experiences while a preteen/teenager, the rest of us, who don’t understand this new-fangled email thing (or whatever it is people don’t want to understand) can relax and not feel behind the times or missing out. We’re just different, that’s all. This line of reasoning has the added effect of underscoring that which we feel is already true; each generation is a radically new product, and history is based on a set of processes built upon the last that lead to greater and greater progress. Standing on the shoulders of giants, and all that. We can happily let the kids do their internet stuff, knowing that our own smug little land of postal service and telephones is the giant they’re standing on.

Because we all stop learning at age 20, right? And there should be no more pressure to learn after that. Is that really the world we want to live in? That’s like asking us to stop reading after age 20. All the greatest books have already been written by then anyway, right?

I object strenuously to the suggestion that those 20 and under are somehow more “digitally native” than those of us who came to the internet/computers later in life. The difference is not in this early experience; the difference is in whether or not you’re prepared to let something new change your life. It’s about a willingness to learn and an openness to new ideas. The only relationship between that willingness and age is that we expect people under 20 to be open to learning That’s not a “new generation” or strange new brain chemistry. That’s a decision we’re making about how we want to live our lives, and where (and when) we opt to limit ourselves.

From the article:

Emily Feld is a native of a new planet. While the 20-year-old university student may appear to live in London, she actually spends much of her time in another galaxy — out there, in the digital universe of websites, e-mails, text messages and mobile phone calls. The behaviour of Feld and her generation, say experts, is being shaped by digital technology as never before, taking her boldly where no generation has gone before. It may even be the next step in evolution, transforming brains and the way we think.

As long as it’s chemical, it means we don’t need to feel threatened by this personally. It’s not a choice, doesn’t this sound familiar? It’s biology. Further:

“First thing every morning I wake up, check my mobile for messages, have a cup of tea and then check my e-mails,” says Feld. “I may have a look at Facebook.com, a website connecting university students, to see if someone has written anything on my ‘wall’. I’m connected to about 80 people on that. It’s really addictive. I’ll then browse around the internet, and if a news article on Yahoo catches my eye, I’ll read it. And I may upload my iTunes page to see if any of my subscribed podcasts have come in.

“upload” is most defnitely the wrong word to use here. I presume she’s thinking “load” the podcast category inside itunes, or perhaps “download” the latest podcasts through itunes (which doesn’t use the term “download” at all, but rather the more logical “get”), and perhaps she wants to sync her ipod so that the newly downloaded podcasts are transferred to her ipod. But she’s not “uploading” anything.

Sure, Emily listens to podcasts, but is she a digital native? Does she speak the language, know how stuff works, can she easily move between one digital landscape and another? With that language, I’m going to have to say no. Using something doesn’t mean you understand how it works, and it doesn’t mean you can take that use to the next level and apply the knowledge gained from the use to another circumstance.

That’s what makes Emily a “digital native”, one who has never known a world without instant communication. Her mother, Christine, on the other hand, is a “digital immigrant”, still coming to terms with a culture ruled by the ring of a mobile and the zip of e-mails.

Okay, so that’s Emily, age 20. Enter Rochelle, age 31 (32 in a couple of weeks, might I add). Unlike Emily, I didn’t touch my first computer until I was 17. I stumbled on the internet when I was 20 and figured it was a toy. I’d say, according to this article, I would be a “digital immigrant”, a person who grew up without the internet, without cell phones, without text messaging and emails and IM.

First thing in the morning when I wake up, I open up my computer, which is constantly connected to the internet because I bought myself a wireless router. I check my personal email, which collects any new comments on my blog, and then I let my widgets check my gmail, which collects comments from my various other journals (at livejournal, Vox, etc. I check my livejournal friends page, leave a few comments, engage in a few conversations about this and that. I see new pictures posted by an American friend of mine who is currently on a cruise to Alaska, I see what’s new with my friend in the Peace Corps in Jamaica. I check my RSS reader to read my friends’ blogs. I check to see if my friend with the very hot new job in San Francisco has broken any new bones lately. I take the pulse of the blogs by those around the world who share my profession. I say hello via IM to my friend in Australia, who is just settling down for the night. We complain about the weather (always the direct opposite from each other). I wave hello to my friends in the UK. I have my breakfast with my buddy Jason, who is sitting down to his own breakfast in his condo in downtown Toronto with his lovely wife. We trade links we think are interesting and complain about the ones we think are wrong-headed.

Our conversation this morning:

Rochelle: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2101-2256968,00.html
Jason: hypsterism
Rochelle: yeah, I think so too
Rochelle: am writing an annoyed post about it
Rochelle: we should write a joint post or something
Rochelle: because
Rochelle: how old are you now?
Jason: 44
Jason: and I started using computers at 27
Rochelle: yeah, they’re suggesting that only 20 year olds are “digital natives”
Rochelle: and I dare any of these kids to be more digital native than you and I
Rochelle: I’m posting about that
Jason: 20 yr olds are digital naives, not natives
Rochelle: EXACTLY
Jason: The digital naives have lost all sense of critical distance
Jason: and are peons to the marketed moment
Rochelle: I think this kind of thinking is an excuse
Rochelle: for people over 30 to not bother with this stuff
Rochelle: because it’s a generational thing
Jason: unable to function outside the user manual
Jason: and the marketing campaign
Rochelle: letting adults off the hook

On the way to work, I may text my friends for the entertainment value. If I’m on the train on the way into Toronto, I definitely text for the entertainment value. Since I don’t want to spend the money to browse the internet from my cell, I text a friend near a computer to google something for me if I need to know something. (For instance: this past weekend I texted Jason to ask him to find out why the trains weren’t moving out of Union station in Toronto; the bus driver wasn’t sure, but I told him it was a freight train derailment, since that’s what Jason found out through Google News.) I was on Toronto island during the final world cup game; I texted a friend in Syracuse to ask her who won (since I know she’s a fan). I got an answer in about a minute and a half.

Being a “digital native” is not about your early experiences. It’s not about an aptitude or a particular brain chemistry. It’s about being willing to explore, to be changed by technology, and a desire to be connected in this way, beyond the physical space we inhabit. It’s a choice; no one has to do it. But we’re not limited because we’re not 20.

Enter Homeowner, stage left

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I’ve been a bit distracted lately. Let me tell you the story.

I’ve been spending a lot of time with the Multiple Listing Service, looking at places available for living in. Why I’ve been doing that is really an open question. I guess mostly just interest. What’s around? How much does it cost? What can I reasonably afford in this, one of the most expensive cities in the country?

And, it’s fun to see how people decorate. Or, shall we say, how people are prepared to live. It’s easy to criticize some one else’s design choices from the other side, of course, particularly when you (like me) watch way too much HGTV. It’s also given me a lot to think about; what exactly am I looking for? How much space do I really need? How much am I prepared to pay for? What’s more important, a great layout, a great price, or a great location?

About a month ago I discovered that there’s a condo building just down the street from me with units up for sale. I was delighted; I already know how to live in this location! A shift of a street to the right wouldn’t be difficult at all! It would be perfectly dreamy! But when I went to look at the place (with my parents in tow), I discovered that it didn’t fit into my vision of my own future. In spite of/because of it’s feasible price, it was just too small. (In fact, it looked like a Comfort Inn room.) I fell into despair.

Seeing a place I could afford and was in the right location that in my gut I absolutely loathed made me think. A lot. What wasn’t there? What was it I was looking for? The conclusion I came to wasn’t the obvious (granite counters, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, etc.). What I wanted was a nook. I wanted a space I could carve into a writing nook. Because that’s what I do in my free time. I wanted to make space for my free time. And that’s what was missing from the Comfort Inn room I looked at. I could fit a living room and a dining area into it. The bedroom was pretty big. Nice balcony. But where do I put my nook?

After a day of hand-stapled-to-forehead, I went back to MLS and started all over again. And that’s when everything changed.

What do you do when you intend to buy something (at some point in the next, oh, year or two), and you see something that you think would be perfect for you, interest rates are going up, and the price is so low it makes you cock your head in surprise? You call the agent, that’s all you can do.

So within a week or so it was all settled; I bought a townhouse.

Two bedrooms, two bathrooms (one an en suite off the master bedroom), two storeys. A laundry room. Ground level, so also a sliding door from the dining area that leads to a patio. At the moment it’s pretty overgrown, but by the time I’m done with it it will be an outdoor dining area, a seating area, and a garden. It’s an end unit, so neighbours only on one side. It’s on a private, quiet courtyard facing away from any streets. A view of greenery from all windows. central A/C and heat, water, and electricity included in the condo fee. And the piece de resistance: a “den”. It’s listed as a den, but it’s really not. It’s actually a 9 by 8 foot space at the top of the stairs, with a window. I laughed a little when I saw it, since that hardly qualifies as a den, but it’s the perfect nook.

What else can I do?

Closing date is August 1.