Friday, March 27, 2009

No Make-Up in a Vintage Dress and No Time to Be Depressed

From the very beginning, we promised each other we would be at the top of our “game” and live every second "in the moment."

“We don’t have time to be depressed about our situation," we agreed.

And we don’t. I’m clear that we certainly have all the room in the world to be sad, depressed, angry, disenfranchised, lost, ashamed, moody as all hell, immobile, deer in headlights, walking zombies… and a whole slew of other messy emotions. Of course we would feel that way. OF course we would want to give up, because SCREW YOU, WORLD! Of course it freakin’ sucks. Of course we’re tired and it’s not fair and we have every right to be pissed off and bitter.

The other morning I woke up feeling some of these things. I felt like over the prior week I had taken an emotional turn towards the negative. I was angry at the world. At Obama for not helping us, at our situation…. Tired. Frustrated. And I didn’t want to get up another Monday morning and head into to my temp job for five straight days of filing.

Then, exhausted by my own attitude, I thought: “I could just be happy.” I’ve had friends lose their spouses at a very young age, others pass away long before their time, friends lose both their parents… so for me to use this financial hardship to justify being small, petty and at the effect of my life is just not a possibility. Yes, things can always be worse. They can always be better… who are you going to be about it today? On Monday, I chose happy.

Here's how:

I get out of bed, remind myself that I really love life and turn on The Big Chill soundtrack. This cheers me up. I crank it up loud. Bob is in the other room checking his e-mail or something. I can tell he’s in a mood. Like I was. And it occurs to me that my sudden change in attitude-- my cheerfulness might actually annoy him. But I soldier on. I begin to sing with the music and dance. I do a little saucy dance for him in my bra and panties to cheer him up. He just looks at me as though he’s thinking:

Turn the f------- music down and leave me alone!

I don’t let it stop me. I try to get him to dance. This is not happening.

SO I go back to the bedroom and try not to let his negativity piss me off (I’m happy, you should be too!) After all, I was like him a few minutes ago. I know how irritating it is when you’re in a funk and someone says in a nauseatingly cheerful voice: “Just look outside at the beautiful day!” You suddenly want to shoot that person in the face. Or at least tell them to go look outside if it really is so beautiful.

I sing in the shower. I move my body. How great is The Big Chill soundtrack, right?! I mean, does this work for anyone else? Because it is really working for me. I’m feeling good. I’m feeling like I can face anything. I’m feeling alive. And... happy.

Bob drives me to work (we’re down to one car) and I’m being as cheerful as possible and trying really hard not to be annoyed by his funk. He, likewise, is trying hard not to be annoyed by my happy-go-luckiness. We kiss goodbye. And I go face my day with open arms. I’m good.

I keep this up all day. It’s in my body now-- my positivity.

When Bob and Pablo pick me up from work at the end of the day we decide to take a detour. Instead of getting on the freeway, we drive north through downtown on Main Street. From the bowels of the Garment District, through the fringes of Skid Row and the new Tribecca-esque edge of the Art District, past Olvera Street where they’re filming something… a commercial, perhaps, past the California Endowment Building (I love that building) and the old post office into Chinatown and north on Alameda to the new park.

This park is amazing. This is where the public art installation- the corn field- used to be (“Not a Cornfield”). Yes, there was an actual cornfield here. Now it’s a meticulously maintained 32-acre park with several walking trails, desert grasses, a field of wildflowers and open stretches of grass between Chinatown and Lincoln Heights. Sandwiched between the 110 Freeway and the warehouse district- a place I would not want to stroll through at night. It is, we’re told by the signs, the site of the original Los Angeles train depot and hotel and is named the Los Angeles State Historic Park.

I take Pablo’s leash and break out into a run. We run from the beginning of the park to the wildflower meadow. I’m wearing my work clothes- a dress, tights and flats and I’m running. Pablo’s loving this and so am I.

We stop and wait for Bob, take in the scenery. The Metrolink train, Dodger’s Stadium way up the hill just west of the park; To the south- Chinatown and then the skyline of Downtown L.A.; to the east, old warehouses- some dilapidated, some restored; and north- a bridge. I don’t know what bridge, but it looks like quintessential L.A. The bridge, the hills- Palm Trees.

Bob catches up with us and we walk the path through the wildflower meadow (that happens to be fully in bloom) and encounter a woman in a vintage gold lame dress posing in a very Postmodern, I’m-not-posing sort of way for a camera. A photo shoot for a portfolio? A headshot? Facebook profile picture? She’s no make-up in a gold lame dress. She’s blooming wildflowers and dilapidated warehouses.

It occurs to me, this is how I feel. I am a dichotomy. Nature and city. Old and new. No make up in a vintage dress. Barefoot walking through a field of tall desert grasses-- the rough edges of the city in the near distance. Everything quiet. Breath held. Time suspended.

Right here, right now I’m happy. I have everything. I have my fascination, my curiosity, my need to always know what is around the next corner and my ability to enjoy it when it comes.

NOT A CORNFIELD - Official Site
LOS ANGELES STATE HISTORIC PARK- California State Parks

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Quest for My Organic Self... or What Color is My Hair?

I am embarking on an experiement. A quest, actually. To discover my natural hair color. What color is it? Dirty blonde? Ash? Gray? I have no idea. Well, I have an idea. I've seen the roots. The "grow-out."

I've been enhancing my hair with chemicals regularly since college. At that time I was blonde and highlights were my thing. Five and a half years ago I decided the blonde was too hard to keep up so I went completely the other way... a sort of reddish brown. The last time I dyed my hair, I dyed it dark brown (almost black.) And it's growing out. More gray hair than I care to admit is appearing on my head. I blame foreclosure. But that's not what this post is about.

It's about letting go. It's about turning a bad thing into a good thing. I can't afford to be paying my stylist $100 to dye my hair so what do I do? Well, obviously I could just dye it myself. I've done it before. That, of course, was my first thought. But, then I realized that there is yet another opportunity here and I'm going to embrace it. I said that I would approach this entire experience of foreclosure/financial hardship as an opportunity-laden treasure (well, that may not be exactly the way I put it, but the intention remains the same.)

Yes, this is an opportunity. To let go. To confront all of my "looking good" issues. To see myself au nautural after years of being chemically enhanced (so dramatic, I know.) It's an opportunity to let my hair rest. I'm letting it go. Through all kinds of crazy striped color weird and potentially extremely ugly awkwardness.

I'll be honest. I'm a little afraid. I'm afraid I'll look ugly. That people will point and stare. That I'll have way more gray than I can possibly handle. That I'll look old, haggard and unkempt.

So why am I doing this? To embrace my fear. To strip me down to my organic self. To save money. To make a small personal sacrifice for the benefit of our household. To just see. See what? I don't know... what I really look like, what comes up for me. I'm just gonna see.

I have asked Bob to make an equally challenging sacrifice. He's thinking on that today.

Anyone out there want to join us?

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Cliff and Countrywide's Rope

As I wrote in my post on Thursday "Freedom's Just Another Word for Nothin' Left to Lose..." we went all the way to the Office of the President at Countrywide to request a loan modification to be able to stay in the house, only to be offered something we can't afford. This was a very frustrating moment for us, to put it mildly. Bob was extremely demoralized. I suggested that he put his thoughts down on paper... that it might help. And he did. What he wrote really captured the experience for me. This is how I've felt many times throughout the last seven months. Here's what he wrote:

The Cliff
I’ve fallen 50 feet off a 500 foot cliff. I am holding onto a rock with my fingernails dug in, legs dangling, waving in the air with nothing between me and a 450 drop to death. I’m looking up to the ledge from where I once stood. Dirt and rocks falling from above, pelting me in the face and eyes. Someone is standing there. On the ledge. Looking down at me. “Here, I’ll throw you a rope.”

I become excited! Maybe I will get out of this. This person is going to help me! I nervously laugh. I am going to be ok now. The constriction in my chest begins to release. I can breathe a little.

He begin to lower the rope. It’s getting closer. Closer, closer. Almost here. I can see the frayed edges at the bottom. It transforms from this smooth distant object to a knotted and twisted preserver of life. So close now. Then it. Without warning. It stops.

“Wha… What happened?”

The rope is 45 feet in length. Just long enough for me to see the end- to give me a false sense of hope, but not close enough to reach.

I plead, “Can you please lower the rope further?” and then begin to panic a little. The grip that once was crushing my chest comes back quickly. It’s very hard to breathe. I feel weakness envelope my body. A sense of futility sets in.

“Sorry, that’s the best I can do,” says the person. Just staring down at me.

My mind begins to wander. Maybe I can jump for it. I’ll surely not get to that rope. But for some reason, some sick psychological reason, I want to try and grasp for it. Anything’s better than waiting. Helpless. Doing nothing. It’s maddening. It’s killing me.

Back at the top of the cliff, he has more rope. He could lower the rope easily another 10-20 feet. He has at least 500 feet of rope coiled up behind him. But he doesn’t. He won’t. Why?

He wants to see me try to grasp for it. That perverted desire to see the moment I let go of the rock, and reach as far as I can. Arms stretched. For something that can’t be gotten. My eyes widen in terror. It’s that moment. That singular moment where everything’s frozen in time. The exact moment right before I fall. Not falling yet. Completely suspended it time. Forever burned into his memory, to treasure.

Time resumes. Very slowly. It creeps along. As I start to fall. Down. While the man with the rope just watches. He tried to help. Really. He did. At least that’s what he’ll tell people. The people that weren’t there. They weren’t there to see him let me fall to my death. When he could have helped.

That’s what this "deal" from Countrywide feels like. If we accept this, it feels like I will fall. Like I will fall down. And I will die. And Countrywide will just watch.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

How to Build Community... in L.A.


Last night while walking Alice and Pablo (Pablo is our Pug dog, Alice is our friend's dog we've been watching) to the Silverlake Wine store (the wine was for us, not the dogs) we passed this framed poster that a neighbor had hung on a tree. I snapped a photo with my camera phone because it speaks to what we've experienced while living here in L.A. and especially what resonates with us in our present circumstances.

L.A. is a city of neighborhoods and is widely stereotyped as being a "selfish" city. We're so spread out here, so (as the stereotype goes) disconnected. However, living in Silver Lake for the last five and a half years, we've felt anything but disconnected. We've always felt part of a community being here. Community has always been something that is important to me and it doesn't just happen. Which is why I like this poster and what it says. Building Community takes interaction and being proactive. The rewards of being part of community far outweigh the effort.

I have to say that having a dog helps. I don't know how much I would just go out for walks without Pablo. It is one of the ways we've connected with so many people- being outside, walking the dog. Talking to the neighbors. Getting to know each other. This is what makes the prospect of moving so much harder. Not only do we love our house, we love our community. But we know that no matter where we go we can always create a community through the simple ways mentioned on this folksy little poster.

These are some of the ways we Build Community in Silver Lake:

WE...
-Go for walks around the Silver Lake Reservoir
-Take Pablo to the dog park and interact with other dog owners
-Frequent local coffee shops, restaurants, boutiques
-Take walks around the neighborhood and stop to talk to the neighbors
-Attend the annual block party... yes, our street has a block party. Last year was the first but it was so successful it is to be an annual event
-Invite the neighbors over
-Go to wine tastings at the local wine store
-Frequent the local Farmer's Market
-Help a lost dog get back home- there's one dog in our neighborhood that tends to get out of her yard quite a bit. I've brought her home many times.
-Take care of a neighbor's dog (we haven't done this, but our next door neighbor has watched Pablo a few times)
-Band together to get the street fixed
-Bob dials 311 (the LAPD non-emergency line) at the sight of any suspicious activity

Our local wine store: Silverlake Wine
Favorite boutique in walking distance from our house: Clover
Favorite place for a beer in walking distance: The Red Lion Tavern
Favorite local taco truck: The Taco Zone on Alvarado just N. of Sunset
Bob's favorite burger in walking distance: Rick's Drive in and Out

Thursday, March 19, 2009

"Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose"...

Janis Joplin is speaking to me this morning. I woke up, completely wrecked from the last few days of battle. The battle is of course our fight to save our house from extinction. I'm being dramatic, yes. Extinction from our lives. To save it for ourselves. That's the battle we've been fighting and we're finally waving the white flag of surrender.

It's like this... we finally got it. An answer to our question: Will Countrywide modify our loan enough for us to afford to stay?

It wasn't easy. Tuesday I spent a solid 4 hours on the phone trying for that answer. It began with a 45 minute call to Countrywide that went absolutely nowhere except madness. Bob threw up his arms in surrender. I, however, was energized by this woman's complete lack of understanding or help in any way. We called to find out where we stood in terms of qualifying for Obama's Affordability Plan. She told us it could be 3 days or 3 months before they can give us an answer to that question as they are still waiting on the "green light" from the government. Hmmmm.... that doesn't seem right. Really? This plan went into effect on March 4th, didn't it? The issue is this, we have two 'short sale' offers on the table at the moment (finally) and we need to know- do we submit them or wait for approval? What is our best plan of action? Someone please help us!

I hang up with Countrywide and call the Department of Treasury. A woman named Betty answers. "Hi, I say while smiling to make sure she hears that smile in my voice. My husband and I own a home in California that is currently 'in foreclosure' status and--" there was suddenly a ringing in my ear. Strange. I was apparently being transferred. A recording tells me I am now connected to 995-HOPE. I press 1 for English. I get a man who asked in a very droopy depressing voice if I would like debt counseling. “How did you hear about 955-HOPE,” he asks as though he’s just swallowed half a bottle of Valium. “Uh, well…” I start, “I didn’t actually hear about you. I was just sent here. Without a word.” “Huh,” he says, “Okay.” He then tells me what they’re all about and how they offer debt counseling services. I tell him that I don't need counseling I need help in dealing with Countrywide. I needed to understand why they keep saying that they are waiting on information from the Federal Government. He tells me, “You know you’re the third person I’ve spoken to today who has had the same exact complaint about Countrywide.” I’m not surprised. “For some reason a lot of lenders were in the dark and didn’t have people trained to have people on the program on March 4th, I guess.” Huh. “Huh. I don’t know.” “I don’t know either.” “Well…” he says. And I say, “Okay, then. I guess I’ll just keep trying.” “Thank you for calling 995-HOPE,” he says in his Droopy Dog voice. I am fortunately able to appreciate the irony in the moment. I continue on.

I call my Congresswoman: Diane Watson. A woman answered on the first ring. I tell her that I had e-mailed the Congresswoman on March 10th and hadn’t gotten a response so I am now calling. She puts me on hold. On hold now. Waiting. Bob’s in the other room lying down. I just happen to be the one w/ the enthusiasm now. I’m determined to reach someone today. This is my mission. He’s exhausted, depressed by the runaround. I know that feeling. Other days it’s me lying in the other room while he’s on the phone w/ our lender and creditors. I tell my mom this later and she says: "It's great that on any given day one of you is in the 'take charge' position while the other is in the fetal position." This makes me laugh.

I'm still waiting. It’s now 1PM. Just got the brilliant idea to put the phone on speaker so I wouldn’t have to hold it up to my ear while I wait. Quiet. No hold music. She’s back! Asking for my name again. Now address. Trying to make my voice sound very friendly. She sounds tired. Like I’m putting her out by calling. She notes our address then asks about the e-mail I said I sent. I gave her the gist of the message. Our situation. What we’re trying to do… stay in our house, avoid foreclosure, etc. I hang up at 1:15 with new information- an e-mail and fax for Diane Watson's Chief of Staff. Hallelujah. An actual person.

As I am doing this I realize that it all might be pointless. Should we just go forward with the short sale and forget about fighting to stay in the house? Would it be better to just move on? Maybe. I don’t know. I truly do not know. I just don’t want the house to be sold out from under us without warning. The one thing that is consistent w/ Countrywide is that every time we talk to them they remind us that while there isn’t a sale date on the house, they could assign one at any moment.


I’m calling Arnold’s office now. Yes, the Governator. I press 1 for English. To leave a comment, press 1, to invite the Governor to an event, press 2, to get information about Maria Shriver, press 3 (seriously?), then more options that don't apply to me and finally to talk to a representative, press 6. Please hold during the silence. I’m on hold. Still holding. It’s been 3 minutes. Arg, I just remembered about the speakerphone. Why do I keep forgetting? It’s not until my neck starts cramping that I remember that trick. Ah, a person. Telling me that e-mails take 30 days to respond to. Telling me to contact Senator Feinstein in regards to anything related to the Federal Government. She recommends I contact the Department of Corporations which is part of the State of California and is concentrating on home loan modifications specifically related to Countrywide. Sounds perfect.

It's now 1:50 and I'm calling the Department of Corporations- they are transferring me to the Financial Services division. It only took me 2 minutes on hold to remember the speakerphone function this time. I’m learning. My neck and shoulders thank me. This woman is telling me to call the Department of Real Estate. I told her that the Governor’s office said that they were working w/ loan mods and specifically w/ Countrywide and she puts me on hold. She wants to “find out” and call me back. I’m not sure what she needs to find out. Who I need to speak with? Where to transfer me? I’m an air hockey puck today. She returns to tell me that she'll call me back. It’s now 1:57.

I hang up and eat a cupcake. Red Velvet.

The phone rings. It's the woman from the Department of Corporations calling to say that her contact at Countrywide will be calling me. Hmmmm.... I'm not holding my breath (I don't say that... I say thank you!!)

Phone rings again. BLOCKED call. I answer. “Hi, I’m calling from the Office of the President at Countrywide because the Governor’s Office asked me to.” NO WAY!!!!!!! I can’t believe it worked!!!!! Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god. She is a real, rational, knowledgeable person. She tells me that Countrywide hasn't had enough time to develop the guidelines as to how they will train implement the Obama plan. She calls it that: "The Obama Plan." And this is why they can't give us any answers. However, she understands the urgency of our situation given that we have two offers on the table and need to make a decision... so she hooks us up with a negotiator who will assess our finances and submit us for consideration for a loan modification. We have to fax:

1. Two recent bank statements
2. A budget sheet
3. The Letter of Hardship

When I ask if they can stall our foreclosure in the meantime, she says that they “can’t change the code now” But that it would be extremely unlikely to have a sale date set at this point. Extremely unlikely. She speaks from experience. She and her husband have a loan w/ Countrywide that was in foreclosure. They’re trying to do a workout. This doesn't bode well for us. She and her husband both work for Countrywide and they're "trying" to do a workout? Oh boy. She tells us that it’s not like once a sale date is set they can’t postpone it. She will have our negotiator call us tomorrow given that we have an offer we need to respond to before it expires. This way we’ll have a better idea of our chances for a foreclosure. This is amazing. It’s truly fantastic. It’s the first time we’re getting actual answers. Someone actually responding to our case.

I call my mom later and tell her the whole story and she says: “Imagine how hard it would be for all those people out there who don’t speak English very well or don’t understand the process or know what questions to ask.” Thinking about that almost makes me cry. I know we are in a great place. We both have jobs. We are resourceful. We can conjure up possibilities out of thin air. We have college educations. I have my masters. We’re savvy. And yet it’s still taken us seven months to get any actual cooperation with Countrywide.

My dad had suggested we call the Governor’s office. And I did. Because, why not? I had nothing to lose. I spoke, probably, to an intern. She gave me the right number to call. The Department of Corporations. I spoke to a woman. My new hero. I said something (I have no idea what) that had her listen. She took the time to call her contact at Countrywide in the Office of the President with the request to have them call us then made a second call to me to let me know she had done this. She went out of her way. She didn’t have to. She got the Office of the President to call me. And here we are. We will soon actually know the best plan of action. There is a possibility that our negotiator will tell us we have too much overall debt for them to modify our loan enough for us to afford it. But at least we’ll finally know. That they tried everything. That the Short Sale IS the best route. And we can submit the offer knowing that we’re taking the best plan of action. We can let the house go knowing we did everything. That the Governor’s office was on our side (well…) and we can walk away with power. Into the unknown. The next adventure. With seven months of knowledge and new found moxie on our side.

That was Tuesday.

Wednesday, we did hear from our negotiator. They did review our case and approve us for a plan. Not a modification. Nothing that would actually help us. We could pay $3058 (that we can't afford) for three months to stop the foreclosure and then after 3 months they would reassess our case. This would buy them time to get the Obama Plan into effect. But there's no guarantee. In three months we could still be denied assistance. And by then we'd lose the offers. So saying we could afford the $3058 a month (which we can't) we'd be living each day in the unknown and neither or us can stomach that anymore. We've lived seven months in the unknown. It's time to start owning our future.

So that leads us to today. Signing the Counter offer. Moving forward in negotiations. Letting go.

"Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose." When I was in my twenties, this meant something totally different to me. It meant if you have nothing, if you don't have love, you have nothing worth living for. Now, it clearly means when you have nothing, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. That's the interpretation I'm embracing in this moment. That is what speaks to me.

A couple of months ago when Bob and I were having one of our reflective conversations while walking Pablo (the Pug) he said to me: "If you think about it, losing everything is the perfect opportunity to live the life of your dreams." That is the most empowering context for our lives right now. Recalling that is what got me out of bed this morning. I was reminded that this truly is an opportunity. To let go and live the life of our dreams. We are not our possessions, we are only who we say we are in any given moment. Truthfully, I waiver between "overwhelmed" and "free." But I know I can be either in any given moment.

As I initial page after page on the counter-offer, and confront the reality of our situation head-on, I am free.

-Governor Schwarzenegger's Office
-Department of Corporations
-United States Department of Treasury
-Me & Bobby McGee (written by Kris Kristofferson & Fred Foster)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

You May as Well be Poor in Europe...

In the Fall of 2007 when Bob was still making the big bucks, we won six nights at two five-star luxury hotels in Europe at a silent auction for charity. We were the only bidders. It was a deal, it was for charity and it would make an amazing second honeymoon. The hotels were- Badrutt’s Palace in St. Moritz, Switzerland and Chateau Grand Barrail in St. Emilion, France.

Fast forward eleven months to us both being unemployed and near penniless. But we still had these two hotel stays, enough frequent flier miles to get us to Europe and a lot of time. We talked about it, do we let them expire, or do we go? It seemed crazy. The euro was so much stronger than the dollar at the time. Almost double. We were running out of money fast. But we thought about it and figured that we would have to find a way to eat here just as we would if we were there. I talked to my mom about it and she said: “If you’re poor anyway, you may as well be poor in Europe” and her logic agreed with us. We would eat in markets, not restaurants. We’d walk and take public transportation. We'd only visit free attractions. No pricey museums. We'd interact with locals. We’d live like backpackers and stay in hostels in between the prepaid luxury hotel stays. How hard could it be?

We booked a flight and scheduled the hotel stays for September. If we got jobs in the meantime, we would just let our new employers know that this trip was scheduled. We figured the house would sell itself while we were away. We even anticipated having to figure out the signing of documents while we were abroad. We thought for sure we’d at least come back to an offer. Perhaps even a bidding war over our wonderful house that was being sold for a song. It all fit logically. We’d be crazy to let this trip expire. And even though money would undoubtedly be tight while we were there, we’d find a way to make it work.

When we left, we still didn’t have jobs. Bob did have a possibility, though. He had interviewed with a very large and reputable non-profit foundation that seemed very interested in him. We both thought he had it in the bag. So there was at least that. The carrot dangling before us. We thought, “Fine, we’ll go… let the 'universe' to its work and come home to multiple job offers as well as offers on the house.” We counted on that. And so we moved forward with our plan. We sold my cruiser bike, saxophone and guitar and Bob’s old iPod just before we left to have money for food. We boarded our non-stop flight from LAX to Dublin on Aer Lingus full of nervous anticipation. I ordered a glass of wine. They charged me 5 euro. And so it began. The magical disappearance of money.

I remember going to the first hotel in Paris- this wasn’t one of the prepaid hotels- and thinking we were totally and completely insane. That we should turn around and fly back to California immediately. We were out of our minds to be here. Not to mention we didn’t ‘deserve’ to be here. Visions of us stealing rolls off of other people’s cafĂ© tables in order to stave off hunger flashed before my eyes. I was convinced: we would hit bottom here. In Europe. Buried alive under the weight of the all powerful and gloating Euro: “Look how strong I am you stupid American dollar. I will crush you!” And in French it sounded even worse. A beautiful accent painted on a horrible reality. What the eff were we doing here?! How stupid could we be?!

Two days later- after 48 hours of "trying to enjoy Paris" and "live in the moment" while suppressing a massive anxiety attack- we were on a train headed to St. Moritz. To the Alps. To prepaid luxury. To a complimentary fully stocked mini bar. To a room with a view of the most beautiful mountains in the world (at least that I’ve had the privilege of seeing) and a stunning alpine lake. To a king sized bed. To plush bath robes and slippers. To breakfast buffets and free internet access. To Swiss chocolate on our pillows every night. To endless hiking trails through Heidi country. To a once in a lifetime opportunity. To the reason we were here.

When the TGV (French High-Speed Train) pulled away from the Gare du Nord that morning, it was still dark. We both fell asleep almost immediately. I woke up to muted light and morning fog across the French countryside. This was a good train. We glided. We didn’t rock or click. Or sway nauseatingly. But glide. Smoothly. Peacefully. Bob continued to sleep soundly by my side. It hit me. I hadn’t been on a train in Europe in 12 years. Bob had never been on a train in Europe. This was his first. We were really here. I was on a train gliding across the French countryside with my husband. I let that sink in. There was truly nowhere else in that very moment I would rather be. I found my breath. A deep and satisfying inhale. Finally. I let it out, opened my journal and this is what I wrote:

Being on this train has been the most peaceful I’ve felt this trip thus far. Something about being carried… cradled. It’s comforting. I’m just along for the ride, not navigating or driving. Money has been a major stressor- or the lack thereof, rather. Major. Bob and I have some serious creating to do. Major miracle working. I know we can. I know we’re capable of it. Being here- abroad… so far away from home has had almost the opposite effect I anticipated. I expected to feel carefree, but it’s actually brought our reality into sharper focus. We’re swinging from branch to branch and the next branch is there…. I can see it… we just haven’t been able to swing ourselves far enough to grab a hold. This causes a feeling of doom. What if we don’t grab it? What if we fall? How will we ever climb back up? That is what causes my anxiety. It buries itself in my chest and esophagus- it presses on me making sure I feel the severity- the desperate need to grab that branch. Launch myself. Fly. And that’s what there is to do. Let go. And fly.

-The hotel in St. Moritz: Badrutt's Palace
-The hotel in St. Emilion: Chateau Grand Barrail
-The WONDERFUL charity that benefited from our European Vacation: Corazon de Vida


The View from our Badrutt's Palace room in St. Moritz:



Dinner in St. Moritz consisted of cheese, ham, bread, plums and a 2 euro bottle of wine we bought at the local market:



Breakfast in St. Emilion consisted of the French equivalent of Frosted Flakes, an orange and a bit of chocolate that we bought at the tiny and only market located 5 kilometers from the hotel (we couldn't afford to rent bikes or take cabs which meant that we walked at least 10 kilometers a day in St. Emilion) and complimentary coffee from the room:

Monday, March 16, 2009

Life Without TV

We love TV. Like, a lot. Sometimes too much. Over the years we’ve talked about cutting back on our TV diet. We’ve fought about it from time to time. To the constant presence of television in the background. Hopes of romantic evenings spent with candlelight and good music, killed by TV. The constant hum. The third entity in our marriage. At times it's felt that way, at least. A convenient distraction.

How easy it is to just turn it on and get lost in the comforting formula of a "Law & Order" episode or to just forget all about our impending foreclosure and laugh so easily at a “30 Rock.” TV is easy. And it’s always there. I have a love/hate relationship with TV. I hate how much I love it. I justified my television habit by the idea that I needed to watch as much as possible in order to be able to write a “spec” to land a TV writing job to finally make some money.

TV has been our mutual guilty pleasure. We know that it gets in the way of our productivity. We know it's 'bad' for us to watch so much. To disconnect so easily. To zone out and just escape. We are very much aware that it has interfered with our commitments. Such as reading more. Writing more. Meditating every once in a while. Just sitting out by the fire pit and talking. Playing Scrabble. Perhaps. Why not. Going to a museum. Taking in a movie. Playing with the dogs. Exercise. Exercise. Exercise. And of course, ahem, sex. Yes, we let TV get in the way. More times than we really want to admit. Even to ourselves.

We talked about moving the TV to downstairs so that it wouldn’t dominate our living space. We've agreed to have at least one day a week without TV. But we never followed through with any of these ideas. Change is hard. You don't change unless you are forced to change. As we are now.

TV (satellite) costs money. And we are cutting costs. So finally… we cut the TV. Like a smoker who can’t afford cigarettes anymore, we gave it up. Have we been digging through ashtrays to find partially smoked butts? Heck yeah. They’re called Hulu, Netflix and You Tube.

The signal vanished two weeks ago just after finishing an episode of "Big Love." The episode ended and the screen went black. There was a message that said "signal not available" or something to that effect. We turned the satellite off and tried regular TV. But since we don't have an antenna, there was nothing. Not even public access. Just silence. We took a moment. An inhale. Breath held. I checked to see if we could access any of the saved shows we had on the DVR. Nothing happened when I pressed “List.” They were gone. It was all gone. It was the end. I put the remote down. We turned and looked at each other and said, “What do we do now?”

I told a friend this story and he said, “You better be careful. You’re gonna get pregnant.” I laughed and said, “Well, now maybe I finally WILL get pregnant.” And he said, “Perfect time to get pregnant… when you’re deep in debt.” And I said, “Is there ever a perfect time…” and it went on from there and perhaps that’s a topic for another post. (I am baby crazy!) This is about what shows up in the space of no TV.

At first, the machinery was still there. I’d come home from work and go to turn it on before remembering that it wasn’t an option. Oh. Okay. Well, how about a walk then? And we walk. We walk and talk and connect. It’s nice. We listen to music. I won’t lie and say we don’t miss it. Because we do. And it isn’t completely out of our lives. Like I said, we still have a lifeline to our habit thanks to Hulu, Netflix, Youtube and a handy little adaptor that hooks my laptop up to our TV.

So we have that. But it’s still not like it was before. For one thing, there are a lot of shows we can’t watch… the main one for me being “American Idol.” Letting go of Idol has opened up a lot of time and headspace. The truth is, I don’t want to care so much about these people I’ve never met and what songs they choose to sing. I just don’t. It occupies too much headspace. Valuable headspace. The other thing is that actually choosing to hook up Hulu takes many more steps than simply turning on the TV. It’s more of an active choice.

The other night we chose not to hook up the Hulu. I didn't want to "do" anything. And the pull to watch whatever was 'on' wasn't there. So I wandered into the guest room and just collapsed on the bed. I never lie on that bed. It's very comfortable, actually. As I lay there I looked up and noticed that I had a perfect view of the full moon out the window. I called Bob in. He curled up next to me and we just watched the moon together. It was gorgeous. "Look how BRIGHT it is!" We exclaimed like we'd never seen a full moon before. Then the clouds would cover it and we'd say, "Ohhhh... it's not bright anymore." Then the clouds would move along and it would glow so bright and we were again exclaiming, "Seriously, look how BRIGHT it is!" We were completely entranced by something that happens every night. Something we'd seen so many times before, but somehow felt new. We were like two teenagers in love under an open sky watching cloud formations holding hands for the first time. It felt good to be fascinated by something so simple. So natural. So calming. So quiet.

What do we do now that we got rid of TV? We oooh and aaaah at the moon.

Friday, March 13, 2009

A Guy's Guy

Introducing my other half. Take it away, Bob...

Am I a guy's guy? I don't know that really means. I know I'm a guy. A guy that has friends over to watch the Bears on Sundays during football season. A guy who works hard, takes pride in his work and provides value to his company and clients. A guy who loves and takes care of his family by being the major breadwinner. If that’s a guy’s guy, then I guess I am.

I’m also a guy who is in the midst of losing everything he’s worked for his entire life. Everything that’s defined me and my success up to this point is vanishing right in front of my eyes. Like a candle being blown out by a strong swift breeze. Now you see it, now you don’t.

Growing up in a trailer park in the Midwest in my younger years had me yearn for more. There was nothing wrong with where I lived. We had a simple existence. I just saw that it was possible to have anything in life you just had to go out and get it. It was clear that nothing would just be handed to me. And it seemed that there were so many different and exciting things “out there”. Why not go out and see what I can accomplish? What I can do? What I can make of myself? Find out what things I love, what things I don’t? I wanted to go out, develop my character and be a well-rounded human being. I wanted to be able to sitting in my rocking chair 70, 80 years down the road, look back at life and say, “It was worth going for it all.”

As a kid, I saw people around me that seemed to be stuck in life. Stuck for good. There was anger, depression, and sadness. And I did not want that. That seemed to be the worst possible existence one could have-- living in America, the land of opportunity, and being stuck. It seemed impossible. Yet, it was right there.

So I went to college, moved to the big city, got a tech job, married an amazing woman, and started making some good money. Living-wise, I progressed from trailer to apartment, from apartment to condo and condo to house.

My plan seemed to be going really well. Until about two years ago.

I began to feel stuck. Stuck for good. Just like those people I saw in my hometown as a kid. I felt complacent. Numb. It affected everything- my marriage, my work, my life. I had everything I thought I would ever want, but I wasn’t happy. I remember thinking: “I can’t live the remaining 60-70 years of my life like this. What the hell am I going to do?” And I also thought, “What happened? It’s not supposed to be like this!”

Together, my wife and I started therapy. We knew we had to do something. Anything was better than pretending that things were working. I really believe that would have driven me to an early grave.

Did I want to be put under possible scrutiny of a third party? No. Did I want to find out that I could be the entire reason my life wasn’t working? Of course not. I definitely didn’t want someone telling me that I failed, there’s no way to fix it, I was completely broken and incapable of being fixed. That I was a complete failure of a human being.

It’s been said that courage is being afraid, and acting in the face of the fear. I was terrified. Of what my life was then, what kind of human being I was, as well as what I was going to find out about myself. I acted. Some call that courage. I felt more like a coward. I would have to give the title of courage to my wife. She was the one that suggested counseling. I owe it to her. Even if she decided at some point she was going to leave me, I wanted her to be able to leave and move on and have a better life. I didn’t want my shortcomings and mistakes to impede her future.

Fast forward to a year later. We had worked through some really deep-seeded issues. Both of us. As individuals, as well as partners. And we came out the other side happier than ever. Our lives seemed magical again. The spark had returned and I was happier than ever…

Then my contract was terminated… early. And suddenly. My client was moving in a different direction. No job. No Money. How will we keep the house? How will we keep anything? I can’t go backwards!

As a guy, a guy who has based his entire identity on striving for and pursuing money, a nice car and a great house, how do I keep my dignity? My self respect? My pride?

Over the last few months, it’s been quite a ride. I’ve secured a job – at 40% of what I was previously making. I’ve had to let go of many possessions, many frills. The latest casualty is satellite TV. It’s been a challenge to say the least.

I have my dignity, self respect and pride. Probably more so than ever. I’ve realized that it wasn’t the things I own, or what I do for a living that defines me. Whether I live in a trailer, or a mansion doesn’t matter. It’s how I act in the face of uncertainty, in the face of tough times. And having my wife as my teammate makes all the difference. When we first met on the AIDS Ride more than ten years ago, we were very clear that as long as we were together, we could accomplish anything. And that makes all the difference. The ‘together’ part.

Anyone can be happy when things are going great. How are you going to act when the chips are down? When there’s nothing left? That’s the true test of your nature. One’s character.

It’s the fourth quarter, less than a minute, you’re on your one yard line. You’re down by 6. You’ve got to drive the whole length of the field to win. Are you going to just quit the game? Walk off the field? Abandon your teammates? Or are you going to play your heart out, and go for it all. Go for broke. That’s what this guy’s gonna do.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Between a Marriage and a House

In my last post I wrote about the facts and how we are not allowing this foreclosure to define us. It's not easy to explain exactly how we're able to do that, but here's another attempt. How are we able to be in foreclosure and still happier than we've ever been?

Perspective. It's all about perspective. Point of view, outlook, framing. When you're faced with losing everything, things drop like a thud in the pit of your stomach into... perspective. So here it is. The answer. Here we go. The single most powerful reason we've been able to keep this whole mess in perspective is because a year and a half ago we came very close to losing something much more valuable than a house: our marriage.

The second half of 2007 was the most terrifying time in my life. Much more so than now. We were coming up on our five year wedding anniversary when out of the blue everything came crashing down. Our marriage and everything we'd built together was suddenly filled with cracks and holes. Like a shin bone that had endured pounding on pavement for far too long... that suddenly cracks. Shin splints untreated turn into stress fractures. Our marriage was like that. Though we'd only been married for just under five years, we'd been together for nine. Far too many aches and pains had gone ignored.

I will never forget the day it began. I'll never forget the moment our marriage disappeared from beneath my feet and I was left without a place to stand. I'll never forget what it felt like to look into my husband's eyes and feel like I might actually lose my home. Our marriage was my home.

We had a lot to figure out. A world between us to understand. So much to forgive. We reached out immediately to our families and began couples counseling. We didn't start this marriage alone- it began before one hundred and twenty five of our closest friends and family- and we wouldn't let it end alone. We were determined to not let it end at all. And we knew we needed support.

What we discovered in turning to our friends and families was unconditional love and support. They had faith in us. They were on our side. They believed we had all the love and commitment required to carry us through the darkest time I never expected to experience. Other people went through this, not us. But there we were. Going through it. But not alone.

If I sit and think back to those days, I can still summon the physical experience. What it felt like. The nausea, the sadness brimming just behind my eyes ready to transform into salty, burning tears at a moment's notice, the exhaustion, the puffy skin around my eyes, the anxiety pressing on my lungs making a single breath hard to take...

We met on a long distance bike ride for charity. The AIDS Ride from Minneapolis to Chicago. 500 miles. 6 days. Non-stop togetherness up long hills, down steep ones, pedaling through endless stretches of cornfields... pushing ourselves for something much bigger than the two of us. We knew we were made of the strong stuff. We were up for big challenges. I was good climbing, he was good at enduring. Together we got each other through. And in the end we knew we were meant for each other.

The ride has always been a metaphor for our life together. This period was the longest, hottest day of the ride. The day where your knee threatens to blow at any second and your lungs burn. Where everything chafes and all you see is endless road ahead. No rest in sight. No camp. No water. Just pain. And misery. You question: Why did I ever agree to this?! 500 miles?! Am I insane? And then he rides up beside you and says: "We'll ride together." And that's all it takes. The road is still endless, the humidity still suffocating, the butt still numb... but as long as you're together, nothing else matters. You ride together and you remind each other that you're not riding alone. You're riding for all those people that donated to the cause, that couldn't ride themselves, all those people who benefit from the ride... and that helps. That carries you to camp. To rest. To water.

Just as that was true for us in the beginning on that ride that brought us together, so it was true in the darkest moment of our marriage. We were carried through this time by the support and love from our family, friends and community. Three days a week in counseling soon became two... then one... then once every other week. We worked through a lifetime of 'junk.' We discovered so much about each other and ourselves. We were there for ourselves as much as each other. We knew that if we really dug in and were vulnerable and peeled back every single possible layer that we would have the marriage we always wanted. What began as the darkest moment in my life turned into a huge possibility. An opportunity to create the marriage of our dreams.

I do remember very clearly saying to my mom (through tears): "As awful as this is, I have this feeling it could be the best thing for our marriage." And I was right. It was an intensely challenging (such an understatement) time for us, and we're stronger than before having gone through it. Our marriage is the marriage of our dreams. Every day we look at each other knowing what we almost lost and grateful for having had the courage to save it.

A moment that is now etched into my bones happened on one of the 'bad days'. We were at a point where neither of us had the energy to keep fighting. We were just standing there in our house. Nowhere to go. Nothing left to say. I looked around at our newly and beautifully renovated home that took so much of our time, energy and money. I looked out at the wrap around view of the San Gabriel Mountains, looked at Bob and said: "I don't care about any of this. The kitchen, the house, the view.... none of it matters. It can all go away. I'd give it all up as long as I could just have you! Us- together and happy." And I meant it. What does a house matter when you're faced with losing your home? My marriage, as I said, was my home. I've thought about that moment a lot because the irony is just too good to ignore. As though the Universe was listening and said, "Yeah, so you'd give it up? Okay, we'll see." And here we are.

Would I give it up? For my marriage? Hell, yes. A house isn't a home without love. And none of this matters without each other.

The most frequently uttered cliche between us is: "At least we have each other." Never before have those words rung so true.

Just the Facts

At this moment in time, these are the facts:

-WE are "in foreclosure" still without a sale date
-WE have requested qualification from our lender- Countrywide- for Obama's Housing Modification plan and are waiting for approval
-WE are still trying to sell the house and it sits still without any offers
-Between the 2 of us, we are working 3 jobs
-OUR combined income still does not pay our mortgage
-WE don't have the money to stop the foreclosure and keep up with the payments
-UNLESS we win the lottery, there is no way for us to remain in our home as the owners without loan modification.
-IF we don't sell the house soon, the bank will sell it from under us and we will have a foreclosure on our record for 7 years
-WE buy a couple lottery tickets each week

These have been the facts of our lives for half a year with some variations. I was just thinking how it was so much worse when we were still unemployed. That was... hard. Terrifying. Work helps so much. Not only does it pay for food and debt, but it keeps us focused and occupied. Working towards something. Now that we're working, we're sinking much slower. We were sinking in the middle of the Pacific, where now we're sinking in quicksand. And there's a branch within reach. If we could only just grab it. I believe we will. I have no doubt. That branch is ours.

But until we actually grab a hold, either by our own sheer force of will or someone pushing it a little closer, the facts remain. And I have come, over the last six months, to relate to them as such. Just the facts. I was telling a co-worker the other day about our situation. I told her, "We're in foreclosure right now and doing everything in our power to fight it." I said it as though I was saying, "We were married on a cool day in May almost six years ago." Or, "The new peanut butter with flax seeds from Trader Joe's is my new favorite." Another fact in the many that make up our lives. We are in foreclosure, and we are in love. We are deep in debt and we are in our thirties.

This one fact that we are in foreclosure does not define all of who we are. It could if we let it. And in the beginning, when foreclosure was only a dangerous possibility looming on the horizon, we struggled with the failure we felt. Both of us. We felt stupid and ashamed and afraid. The thought that we should have known better haunted us. For a couple of weeks... maybe even months... it was terrifying. Depressing. Lonely. We were stuck in our shame and embarrassment and it was paralyzing.

Now, that dangerous possibility is an actual reality. The facts, you could say, are worse. Our situation, more dire. But we have more freedom and power. Why is that? Somehow we were able to find freedom in the facts. My name is Stephanie and I am a writer. I have a husband, a dog and a house I might soon lose. I really do love the Trader Joe's Valencia Peanut Butter with flax seeds. And I have been called resilient many times in my life. This is yet another opportunity to exercise my incredible resiliency. Which is probably my second best ability. The first is sleeping. Another fact. I'm a wonderful sleeper. Sometimes, when the facts are too heavy to carry, sleep is where I find my solace. And that's okay. Just another fact.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Some Days are Better than Others

Some days are better than others.

Some days you can deal with the very real possibility of being foreclosed on and subsequently evicted from your dream home. You can talk about it calmly with a pragmatic and positive point of view. You can wrap the “silver lining” around you like a warm blanket:

Think how free we’ll feel without a mortgage.
We’re young. We’ll bounce back stronger than ever.
At least we’re not alone.
At least we don’t have kids yet.
At least we’re employed again.
At least we have each other.
And we’re happy.
If we had to lose our house to find happiness than it was worth it, right?


Other days are harder. On those days even the innocent question “What’s happening with the house?” brings tears to your eyes and without warning opens a depository of despair. That pragmatic and calm response usually so easy to convey is nowhere to be summoned. Instead you say: “Nothing. And each day is more depressing than the last.” Once you say it out loud, everything shifts. The day is now different. The day becomes about not crying at work. Every little thing is amplified.

Monday was one of those days for me. It began with our car overheating. The water pump seized up while Bob was driving it to get the door panel fixed for my dad who was flying in that night to buy the car from us. Of all the days. We had to fix it. Dad was on his way. Bob handled it like a champ. I was grateful for his calm demeanor over the phone. (He confessed later that he sat screaming in the car for a few minutes while waiting for the tow.)

My nerves were all haywire to begin with because that night was the staged reading of my play in Hollywood and I always get nervous and anxious about those things. I just kept thinking…

Why couldn’t one thing go our way?
Why did the car have to break down now?
Why haven’t we sold the house yet?
We need to drop the price again.
Why won’t Countrywide just work with us?
What are we going to do?
Where will we go?
We're running out of time!

And the more my thoughts circled around like that the more I wanted to vomit my guts out all over my desk. I wanted to scream. I wanted to lose my shit. I couldn’t get enough air. My anxiety wrapped me up in – not a silver lining- but a straight jacket.

I went home at 3 to prepare for the reading. I still had a few revisions to make on a couple of scenes. I walked into the house, dropped my bags, headed towards the bedroom and threw myself down on the bed. I was freaking out. Bob was there. Thank god. He followed me into the bedroom and asked what he could do. I said, lie on top of me! I wanted to feel his weight. So he did. And for some reason it helped. I felt protected.

Is this helping? He asked.

And I just nodded. Then cried. A sort of wail, actually.

Let it out, said Bob.

My wail turned to laughter and I sounded hysterical…. Laughing, crying, laughing, crying, laughing, crying, crying, crying. My eyes burned. I was getting it out. Letting go. When there was nothing left, Bob and I just looked at each other. He – in his dark, sick and twisted sense of humor- said, (very calmly,) “Okay, time to turn the gas on and go to sleep.” Which made me laugh. And given our situation I could in that moment understand how and why people do that. Don’t worry, Mom. We would never. Never ever. My only point is that I could actually- intellectually and emotionally- get it. There is a dark side to all of this and our secret is that we know that every moment is about a choice. And my reading was only a couple of hours away and I had to write now. I gave Bob a kiss, got up, walked into the other room, drank a Guinness (desperate times sometimes call for Guinness) and wrote a new top to Act 2: Scene 1. In about ten minutes. And then went to my reading.

It was wonderful. Dad was there. So many friends and people I hadn’t seen in ages. We had a full house. It was just what I needed. It helped that it went so well. And that ten-minute revision of Act 2: Scene 1 got one of the biggest laughs of the night.

By midnight, after an emotionally exhausting day, I was climbing into bed for a much-needed rest with Bob, a smile and a warm blanket with a silver lining.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Obama's Housing Plan goes into effect today

Well, we have yet to hear back from President Obama or his staff in response to my letter. Can you believe it? Hopefully it won't matter. Today is March 4th and seeing as we still have yet to sell our house or even get one offer (after dropping the price 4 times) we will be calling Countrywide to see if we, indeed, qualify for the plan.

Here's a little information courtesy of cnnmoney.com:

Obama foreclosure fix open for business
Federal officials release details of $75 billion loan modification and refinancing programs. Borrowers can start contacting loan servicers.
By
Tami Luhby, CNNMoney.com senior writer
Last Updated: March 4, 2009: 11:08 AM ET
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The Obama administration's foreclosure prevention program is open for business.
The multipronged fix calls for companies to help as many 4 million struggling borrowers by modifying loans so monthly housing payments are no more than 31% of monthly gross income. Separately, homeowners who haven't missed a payment can refinance into lower-cost loans even if they have little or no equity. This is expected to help up to 5 million homeowners.
The $75 billion loan modification plan will provide incentives to borrowers and loan servicers and investors to spur mortgage modifications. The government will also subsidize interest rate reductions to get borrowers to affordable monthly payments.
"This plan will help make home ownership more affordable for nine million American families and in doing so, help to stop the damaging impact that declining home prices have on all Americans," said Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan.
Borrowers can now contact their servicers to see whether they are eligible for assistance. Federal officials will promote the program at homeownership events nationwide.
The administration Wednesday released additional eligibility criteria and program guidelines.
The loan modification plan focuses on people who are behind in their payments or are at risk of default.
Federal officials clarified the definition of "at risk" as those: suffering serious hardships, declines in income or increase in expenses; facing an interest rate hike; having high mortgage debt compared to income; owing more than their house is worth, or demonstrating other reasons for being close to default.
To participate in the loan modification plan, borrowers must:
have obtained their mortgage before Jan. 1, 2009;
have a primary mortgage of less than $729,500;
live in the property;
fully document their income by providing tax returns and pay stubs;
sign a statement of financial hardship; and
go for counseling if their total household debt - including auto loans, credit cards and alimony - totals more than 55% of their income.
The modification program will be in effect until the end of 2012, but loans can only be adjusted once.
Officials also unveiled more details on how servicers will modify the loans. First, they must reduce interest rates so that borrowers' total house payments are not more than 38% of their monthly income. The government will then subsidize servicers dollar-for-dollar to lower that ratio to 31% - but the interest rate can't go below 2%.
The new interest rate would then remain in place for five years, after which it will increase by 1 percentage point a year until it reaches either the original rate or the prevailing mortgage rate at the time of the modification, whichever is lower.
If rate reductions aren't enough to get payments to 31% of income, a lender can extend the term up to 40 years, or shift part of the principal to the end of the loan at no interest. Servicers also have the option of reducing the loan's balance.
Servicers will receive $1,000 for each loan modified, as well as additional annual bonuses if borrowers keep up with payments. Investors will receive one-time $1,500 incentive payments for restructuring qualifying loans that are not yet delinquent. Finally, borrowers who keep up with their new payments will receive up to $1,000 a year in principal reduction, for up to five years.
The program also includes a new provision to eliminate borrowers' second mortgages. Investors in those mortgages, who at times have blocked modifications because they don't benefit from the adjustments, will receive incentives to eliminate those claims. Servicers that get second-mortgage holders to participate will receive an additional $250.

First Published: March 4, 2009: 9:22 AM ET



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