Sunday, June 9, 2013
I lost my cell phone in September.
I somehow managed to lose my cell phone after having it in my car, and before leaving my house again. I know I had it in the car, I did not leave the car between when I had it and when I got home, except to go into my house. It did not turn up in my car. It did not turn up in my house. I took that as a sign from God that I should no longer have a cell phone. I’ve missed it maybe twice since then. (Though I have a trip coming up that might be complicated so I guess we’ll have to see how that turns out.)
One of the things that people say a lot when talking about new technology — usually in a breathless, incredulous voice — is, “How did we ever live without this??”
The answer is that when you didn’t have that technology, you wouldn’t have tried to do a lot of the things you try to do now. You wouldn’t go to a concert with 20,000 people with vague plans to meet up with friends at some point during the day. You just wouldn’t. You would set up specific plans, with multiple levels — I’ll meet you at one o’clock at the west entrance. If I’m not there, then we’ll meet at two-thirty at the concession stand where we usually get popcorn. And if that doesn’t work, I’ll just see you at the bar afterwards.
You would agree to something and then all parties would attempt to do that thing. And it would work out, usually. And if it didn’t, no problem, because you wouldn’t have made everything dependent on this thing that had all kinds of uncontrollable variables and might not work the way it was supposed to.
You would just do something else, it would be fine.
Also people had different kinds of infrastructure that were replaced by later technologies.
In the memoir of her life that my Aunt Blanche wrote, she talked about how her family and their close friends who lived next store, before the advent of telephones, would hang a dish towel out the window if they had something to tell the other person.
You’ve got mail.
Prior to the advent of ubiquitous communication, you would also sometimes end up with unexpected free space.
I remember one of the last trips I took without a cell phone, when someone needed to change plans at the last minute because they were under the weather. I didn’t get the message because I’d already left the place I was staying by the time they called, so I showed up at their house at the appointed time. Then I felt bad that they were sick and there I was anyway.
I had plans later that afternoon, but no phone to set up something else in this newly opened gap. So I went to a park down the street and sat in the grass for a few hours and napped and read a book until it was time to go meet my other friend who I was getting together with in the afternoon. It was lovely.
And it made me think about the tradeoffs with continuous communication devices.
Having a way to receive information continuously is great, you can make plans at the last minute and change things around if you need to. You always know what’s going on. You can be maximally productive, if something opens up, quick, you can set up something else. No wasted time, no wasted space.
But what does it mean to waste time?
I sat in the grass and read a book and watched the bikers and joggers go past, and looked at the water in the Potomac River. I remember so much about that day, because it was so beautiful, and such a vacation from my usual trips where I have things packed together, trying to get together with two or three or four different groups of people every day, moving from one thing to the next to the next.
Having no cell phone makes it hard to coordinate a lot of different things in a single day, especially if anything changes. But is that bad?
The immediate cause of this line of thinking was because I took Friday off from checking messages entirely, and thus missed the message that told me I didn’t have to be at work on Saturday at seven-thirty after all, I didn’t have to be there until nine o’clock. So I went to work an hour and a half early.
Oh well. I sat and read the New Yorker for an extra hour and a half. Poor me.
And this made me think about a time when I lived in DC, when I played soccer, and the pre-season tournament we were playing in was moved from a field out near Manassas to a field near Fort Belvoir. These fields were both a pain in the keister to get to, and they were nowhere near each other. The field change came the morning of the tournament.
This was in 1994 or 1995, when a few people I knew had pagers, but no one had a mobile phone. If you needed to talk to someone you called them at home or at work.
We were able to get in touch with everyone except one person who was taking a class in the morning and then going to the games straight from there. She was planning on missing the first game but would be there for the rest of the afternoon.
She lived with her parents and she worked like eighty hours a week, so she wasn’t the easiest person to get in touch with in the first place. She only played with our team occasionally but she was really, really, really good. She was also a really great person. I did not want her to drive out to Manassas and find herself at an empty soccer field, with no indication of what had happened. I knew she would never play with us again if that happened, and I would feel really terrible about the wasted time and gas and everything. I just did not want that to happen.
I had to figure something out.
I talked to the person who knew her, who had called and found out she was at a class. I said where is the class? She said, “It’s at Georgetown.”
My brother went to Georgetown for undergrad, and I had taken a continuing education class there, so I knew the basic layout and I knew that there wasn’t a lot of parking there, there was really only one main lot.
I said, “Find out what kind of car she’s driving.” So Tegan called Michelle’s dad back and got a detailed description of the car.
I drove to the parking lot where I thought it might be and drove around looking for the car. I found the car. I put a note on the windshield — “MICHELLE, Today’s games have been moved from Linton Hall to FORT BELVOIR!! See you there!!!” I drew a map of where the fields were.
I went to the games.
Michelle managed to find us after the first game. I saw her, I said, “You made it!” She was like who put the note on my car, was that you? I said it was. She said, “Oh my gosh, that was amazing!”
And it’s true. It was. But it wasn’t that hard, I just had to think of it in the first place.
So my point is, if you want to make something happen, you can make it happen, and there are a million options for making something work. If the most obvious choice (just call them on the phone!) isn’t going to work, think of something else.
Hang a dish towel out the window.
I’m pretty sure I’m the only person who considered driving around a parking lot at Georgetown looking for someone’s car to be a viable option, but I was right, it was, and it worked. Michelle got the message, she made it to the games, she played with my team for two more years, and we all lived happily ever after.
Humans are a creative species. That’s what your brain is for.
Figure it out.
Thursday, May 23, 2013
I’ve been reading personal finance books lately. I am aiming for a comprehensive review with a compare-and-contrast and which kind of advice is good for which kind of person post. Hopefully my vision will not exceed my capacity, and I’ll actually be able to get that done.
In the meantime, all of this reading is making me think of two things.
One is the joke, “There are two kinds of people in the world—people who divide the world into two kinds of people and people who don’t.”
I feel like there are two schools of thought when it comes to managing finances (clearly I am the kind of person who divides the world into two kinds of people), and it’s interesting for me to read different books and think about them objectively and see which paradigm they fit into.
The other is the quote attributed to Henry Ford: “If you think you can do something, or if you think you can’t, you are right.”
In my opinion, the biggest problems people have with finances come from within themselves—thinking they need to do this or that thing, or they can’t make a particular change because … name your reason. Everyone always has a million reasons why this thing that might work fine for other people would not work for me, it just wouldn’t.
But the truth is, if it’s important, and you want to make it work, you will figure out a way to make it work.
So that’s the thought for the day.
If you think you can do something, or if you think you can’t, you are right.
Sunday, May 12, 2013
I worked at a Scrap Exchange event a couple of weeks ago and little girl wanted to make a flower. I showed her a few different ways to make different kinds of flowers, and then I started working on this one.
I like it, and I brought it home with me (and even salvaged it from the van after I left it there when we got back.)
It has a little bit of a Charlie Brown Christmas Tree element to it—I can’t decide if it’s simply sad and pathetic, or if the reason I like it is because it is somewhat sad and pathetic. And this is not a good picture of it either. (I’m having trouble with pictures lately because the place I usually take my pictures is messy messy while I deal with things in other rooms, so I’m taking pictures that aren’t that good and just deciding that they are good enough. Hopefully this problem will resolve itself soon and I’ll eventually be able to put up a picture I actually like.) It actually looks a little better in real life.
But I thought I’d put the flower up for Mother’s Day. I hope all you mothers out there had a good day. And I hope that some of you at least got real flowers instead of a not-very-good picture of Charlie Brown Christmas tree flower. Since it seems like that’s the best I can do at the moment.
Sunday, May 5, 2013
After I started telecommuting (in 1998), it seemed like I’d have a lot more free time in my life, but I didn’t. (I didn’t think about this in advance, but many things actually take more time when you’re working from home. You can’t just stop and pick something up on your way home from work, or rearrange your schedule to leave a little earlier and go to the gym in the morning. When you work from home, everything you do outside of the house is its own thing to be figured out. It’s different, and it was hard.)
I was frustrated that I didn’t have more time and started reading organizing books, because it seemed like the problem was that I wasn’t organized enough, that I needed better time-management skills. I read a whole bunch of organizing books that were not at all useful before I finally read one that was.
The book is called It’s Hard to Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys: The Seven-Step Path to Becoming Truly Organized by Marilyn Paul and the main reason I liked it is because instead of giving specific strategies (only touch a piece of paper once! get rid of clothes you haven’t worn in a year!), it helps you figure out why you want to be organized and what is getting in the way of it, so that you can come up with your own strategies that will help you address the things you actually care about.
It’s a self-help book with all of the requisite self-help elements (worksheets, exercises, personal testimonials, etc.), but I have a small weakness for the self-help genre, so that doesn’t bother me. But it might be a problem for some people. So if you look at it and think it’s silly, don’t hold it against me.
One of the things I realized after reading the book was that there were a lot of things in my life I wasn’t getting done because I didn’t really give a * about them. So that was nice to figure out. I just stopped worrying about those things. It was very liberating.
However eventually I’ve realized that a number of things I don’t really care about actually need to get done, so it’s not helping me so much anymore.
So now I’m focusing on some of the parts I skipped over the first time I read it, specifically the part about visioning.
The idea of visioning — imagining what you’re trying to create — feels totally hokey to me and makes me think of Stuart Smalley: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.” But I have to say that one idea really struck a chord:
Imagining a different future makes you believe that it is possible. It is very difficult to make something happen if you can’t even think about it.
It’s hard to argue with that.
So I decided that the first step in getting done some of the things I need to get done — especially the things I don’t really give a * about — is to imagine them being done.
I’m as of yet unable to imagine my back porch with a door on it, or my backyard as anything but a poison-ivy infested wasteland (the visioning thing is actually much harder than you might expect), but I’m almost to the point where I can see a house with all of the walls properly painted.
It’s a start.
Sunday, November 25, 2012
Well, the fortune got the first part right at least.
I am trying very hard to wrest control of my life back from the forces of chaos that seized it months ago.
Through sheer stroke of luck, I ended up with a completely unscheduled week this week, and immediately became committed to keeping it that way, to not scheduling anything, just keeping it open. I was very excited about this prospect, but then with the week at hand, started to worry about the best way to spend it. Catch up on my work? Work on the house? See if I remember how to use a cookbook?
So many options!
I was having trouble figuring out what to do, and worrying that I would squander this precious resource. Ultimately, I decided I needed to think about it as an Unweek.
Let me explain.
In the tech world, there is something called an Unconference.
An unconference is basically a conference with no set agenda for sessions. So instead of having everything mapped out, this “expert” talking about this topic at eleven o’clock in the Tulip Room, you get a bunch of people together and the first session is people pitching topics. You can make a pitch for something you want to present, or you can make a pitch for something you want to learn about. All of the potential topics get written on post-it notes and then things get combined and written on a whiteboard and assigned to times and rooms and off everyone goes.
I’ve been to two unconferences and I’m now completely sold on the idea.
The person who has run the unconferences I’ve been to is our local tech guru/social media superstar Ruby Sinreich (who, in 2007, got a flat tire on her way to a presentation she was scheduled to give and used Twitter to get a ride to the meeting — I tried to tell that story for more than a year before I was able to tell it without first having to explain what Twitter was and why anyone would use it). Ruby has given the intro to the unconferences I’ve been to and explained how it works. She says there are two rules for an unconference:
Rule #1: Whoever is here is the right group of people to be here.
Rule #2: If a session isn’t working for you — if you are not learning from it or contributing to it — it is your duty as an unconference participant to leave and go to a different session.
So I decided that I need to apply those rules to this week.
Whatever I think of to do is what I’m supposed to be doing. And if what I decide to do turns out to be not so good, I need to go do something else.
So that’s what I’m doing.
In other news…
(1) I am working on an Eating Down the Fridge project to close out the year. I got a new refrigerator in August, and the freezer is completely different from my old refrigerator, and smaller, and I can’t find anything anymore because the previous system I had doesn’t work with the new setup so I end up putting everything I take out anywhere it fits just so I can just close the door and get on with my life.
I’m working on getting rid of everything in my freezer (and also my pantry, just for good measure) and starting over with a blank slate and maybe figure out a new system that I can keep track of.
(2) I have grand plans for a series of “how to shop” posts that will outline my strategy for shopping and eating for approximately $100 a month. I have been hoping to get to this for a long time, and in October had a conversation with someone I’m friendly with who said she really wants to see it, she really needs it, she needs help. So I promised her I would get to it and put it up and let her know when it was done. And I will. Soon.
In the meantime, those of you who are interested and have not yet read it can check out the links to the Hundred a Month project linked in the sidebar. That’s not exactly a how-to, but it does outline a month of shopping and eating for approximately $100 a month that I wrote about in 2010. And some of the posts are kind of funny.
(Note that the best way to navigate through that project is to use the calendar in the sidebar. If you start with the post linked in this paragraph, you’ll be on January 7, 2010, and you can click the blue numbers in the calendar to get to the next post.)
(3) I went to the library the other day looking for a Dave Ramsey book, because he gets referenced a lot but I’ve never read anything of his, but unfortunately everything was already out. But I noted that his book was published by Thomas Nelson, which is a Christian publisher, and that reminded me of America’s Cheapest Family, by Steve and Annette Economides, who also have some Christian publishing link (though I can’t remember what that is right now, if it was their original publisher or their agent or exactly what the link was, I just remember noting it when I was researching them earlier in the year) and that reminded me that I started writing a review of their books that I never finished and posted.
So that will be coming soon, since it’s actually mostly written. I just need to review and make sure everything I wrote makes sense and isn’t likely to offend anyone and then put up.
And that’s what’s going on here.
Hope everyone has a good week. Or unweek, as the case may be.
Friday, October 26, 2012
I do this monthly tech meetup thing and one of the sessions a year or so ago was by a very smart person who works on mobile learning in developing countries, she uses cell phones as handheld computers and builds learning programs around them. It is a very cool concept and was an interesting presentation, and I always like to hear smart people talk, but it wasn’t particularly relevant to anything I do, with one key exception: in her presentation she talked about Google Voice and how you can use it to send text messages from your computer.
This was a total eureka! moment for me as I had been trying to figure out how to send and receive text messages without having to deal with a cell phone. This information completely solved my problem.
So I’ve been using Google Voice, and in general I find Google disturbingly Big Brother-esque, but I’ve been digging Google Voice.
One of its features is that it transcribes voicemail messages for you and sends them to your email. This is a nice idea, and serves the useful function of letting you know that you have a voicemail, but sometimes the accuracy of the transcription leaves something to be desired.
As a case in point, a few weeks ago I was trying to make plans with a friend and didn’t have a phone with me (I think my cell phone might have felt neglected and run away, I have no idea where it is right now) so was relying on Google Voice to try to figure out whether or not we were getting together and what the options were.
Tonight I was deleting things from Google Voice and ran across the voicemail that my friend left during the exchange of texts and was like wow that is some kind of transcription:
But that’s tools, just. Done, call me 590 over to go. I want to go to bed. But. Hello, My name is somewhere or. If we go out anyway. I don’t know if you know that the message and I’ll text you and waiting for you to call me, but you can call me now.
What does that even say? I think the only accurate sentence in there is “I want to go to bed.”
But I just love “Hello, My name is somewhere.” And “call me 590 over to go” sounds good too, that’s an action sentence if ever there was one.
I think someone needs to collect these and make a poem, like the George Bush Make the Pie Higher one. Or maybe we can develop new phrases, like CB-speak, breaker breaker 19, this here’s the rubber duck.
Call me 590 over to go.
Hope all is well with everyone out there, and I’ll try to write something more practical soon. This was just too good not to share.
Thursday, September 27, 2012
So today I came across an article in Monday’s Chronicle, Duke’s student newspaper, about a local co-op bakery in Durham. It caught my eye because the picture shows someone putting out products at the “Green Flea market” on Saturday. Which of course is my new favorite place. (And which I continue to think of as the Green Market, because that’s what it was called initially, I think it’s a much more interesting name without the “flea.”)
I happened to be at the “Green Flea market” on Saturday and bought the following:
1 watermelon (seedless)
1 red pepper
2 large mangoes
approx 1.5 lbs of globe grapes
The watermelon and peaches were $3 each, all of the rest was $10.50. Total spent $16.50.
Ann made friends with the security guard while she was waiting for me to finish up and he and I discussed the merits of the taco place on the front side of the building versus the taco place in the back. I haven’t had the ones in front so I was talking about how much I like the ones in back. Lee, the security guard, said he won’t eat those because they’re cooked in pork fat, he needs to watch stuff like that. He said that someone like me who weighs, what, 110 pounds, can eat those kinds of things.
As we walked away, I said to Ann, “Hey, I don’t need to lose weight — I look like I weigh 110 pounds!” She said, “Yeah, you just need to make bigger friends. Problem solved!”
I also noted the fact that the food stand inside the building is called “La Casa de los Hot Dogs.” Seriously, La Casa de los Hot Dogs.
So anyway, I’m completely enamored with the Green Market so of course I have to read the article in the Chronicle about Bread Uprising (which I was not familiar with before this article) and it says:
At the Green Flea Market, Bread Uprising was offering focaccia, cinnamon rolls and a variety of different bread loaves to market patrons while distributing brochures that explain the premise and goals of the co-op bakery.
The article also quotes from the vision statement of the organization:
We understand that people’s access to food is limited by oppression in all forms, including the exploitative and dehumanizing relationships structured by the capitalist system, the global dominance of a destructive and profit-driven industrial food system, sexism, racism, heterosexism, transphobia and classism.
And I don’t know what it was, but that whole thing just struck me as so funny — a bunch of communist bread bakers setting up shop at the Green Market, talking about heterosexism and transphobia and selling (or giving away, I think it’s a pay-what-you-can model) foccacia and granola to the patrons there.
Talk about worlds colliding.
I’m just sorry I didn’t know that was happening, I would definitely have looked for it.
Sunday, September 16, 2012
I’ve been thinking about personal finance lately, and personal finance blogs, and budgets, and spending, and things like that.
I’ve had something of an obsession with a particular personal finance blog for a number of years. The funny thing is that it wasn’t about the advice or the personal finance angle of it at all, it was the human interest element, it was like a little soap opera for me. It felt weirdly voyeuristic, but at the same time it’s not like there was anything sneaky about it, it was posted there for all to see. That’s the funny thing about blogs.
I tried a few times to break myself of the habit but I would always fall back into it. Especially when I would be stuck working on something I didn’t really want to work on. I would have to sit at my computer until the part of my brain that knew I had to start working convinced the part of my brain that didn’t want to work that it was time to start. I couldn’t go do something more productive, because then the part of my brain that didn’t want to work would win — “but you should just do this, the work will still be there tomorrow and you can take care of it then!”
So I would check the blog and then get sucked into the comments. It was like the description in the F. Scott Fitzgerald story, “it had come to be an important punctuation mark in the long sentence of a day on the road.” Eventually I would manage to tear myself away and start my work.
One of the reasons my obsession dragged on for so long was because I read a post on the blogger’s personal site in 2009 or 2010 that talked about his 20th anniversary with his wife and when I read it, it seemed to me that they were not going to stay married for all that much longer. (If you’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, you’ll know what I’m talking about — thin slicing and intuition and all of those things that Gladwell discusses in such an interesting way. One of the reasons I found the blog so compelling is because there were a lot of details on it and also on the author’s personal site, and it was interesting to me to read them both and then make guesses about what I thought might happen in the future. Then all I had to do to find out if I was right was to keep reading. Like a little parlor game, Test Your Intuition. Fun!)
So I had to keep checking to see if I was right, to see if they split up. And they did, in November of last year, which meant that in theory I could stop reading. But it hasn’t been so easy.
[Reading voyeuristic blogs] meant a lot to her sometimes. She worked very hard and it had some ability to rest and relax her psychologically.
But I’ve been making progress lately and I think I might be done.
Of course now I’ve started looking for something else to read when I’m supposed to be working but am not quite ready to work yet and a number of people in the comments section of previous blog obsession blog named Mr. Money Mustache as the PF blog they now follow.
I checked it out and despite the fact that I am generally in agreement with everything he says and he is quite a good writer and seems like an interesting person and fine upstanding citizen, I am not a fan. Why do I want to read about a person who is completely satisfied with his life and spends every post talking about all the great things he does, and that you should be doing too if you want your life to be as great as his? Where’s the drama in that?
I had been talking with a friend recently about personal finance blogs and she expressed frustration with the fact that they all seem to be written by and for people who make a lot of money. Their suggestions are all along the lines of “drink fewer lattes” and “cut back on trips” and “eat out less.” She’s like okay I don’t drink lattes at all and I don’t take trips and I don’t eat out and I don’t have any money. This is not helpful.
I was talking to her about Mr. Money Mustache. I said I wasn’t a fan. I said I feel like it’s written for people who make $50,000+ but could live just as well on $25,000. She was like that’s what I’m talking about! What do you do if you make less than $25,000 to start with? Where are the blogs for those people?
And I don’t have an answer for that. Does anyone know of any useful personal finance blogs for people at the low end of the income scale?
I told her she should skip the blogs and read The Tightwad Gazette. Though it’s quite old at this point, I know that a lot of the tips are not necessarily going to be relevant, but it seems like the general concepts and the overall strategies — which is what I thought was most valuable about the book — still would be useful.
It also occurred to me that she should read How to Cook a Wolf, because it’s so much better than any blog out there and it really gets to the heart of things, when the wolf is at the door.
The other thing I would say is that maybe there aren’t any blogs out there with answers because there aren’t easy answers. Though at the same time, what you need to do is very basic — you need to figure out exactly how much you make and exactly how much you spend. If you spend more than you make, you need to either spend less or make more.
This is not rocket science.
But obviously, the hard part is not in identifying the problem but in executing a solution.
Telling people to get a job where they make more money is perfectly sound advice, but it’s easier said than done. Sometimes it takes a while to find a different job, or to find a second job, or to get a raise. These things do not happen overnight.
If you’ve cut discretionary expenses to the bone and still don’t have enough, you need to make more difficult changes.
The biggest expense for most people is housing. Can you reduce your housing costs? Can you get a roommate? Can you move to a cheaper place? Finding somewhere that comes with utilities included can make a huge difference when you’re living on the edge. Otherwise you also need to cut your utility use as much as you can — turn off lights, learn to live with cold water, stop using air conditioning in the summer and bundle up and see how low you can tolerate the thermostat in the winter. Not fun, but a crisis is a crisis, and being less than comfortable will not kill you.
Transportation is also a big expense. And you should actually think about housing and transportation costs together, because often cheaper housing comes with more expensive transportation. So look at those two things combined to get the real cost of living in a particular location.
Of course the biggest expense with transportation is owing a car. If you’re looking for a new job, try to find something that you can get to without driving. If things are really tight, you should think about whether you can get by without a car at all. This is easier in some locations than others but in general, it requires you to (a) live in a community with good public transportation, (b) be really committed to biking, including in the dark and in all kinds of weather, and/or (c) have friends you can bum rides from and/or borrow their car occasionally. Whether this is workable for you depends entirely on where you live (and who your friends are); for many locations it’s a nonstarter. But if you can get rid of your car, you can save a lot of money, and it’s one less thing to worry about.
So housing and transportation are the two biggest things you need to deal with. They are fixed costs that determine what you have available to spend on everything else. If your housing and transportation costs are too high and you are not in a position lower them (you can’t get out of your lease and you can’t sublet, and life would not be worth living if you had to deal with a roommate on a day-to-day basis), then your choice is to find additional sources of income or go rock bottom with discretionary spending — all meals cooked at home spending as little as possible on groceries (less than $25 a week ), no internet, no phone, no air conditioning, no purchases of clothing, and nothing at all spent on entertainment. (As noted, the latte budget had been eliminated in previous rounds of belt-tightening.)
This can be very difficult to sustain unless you see it as a temporary condition, that there is hope that things will be better in the foreseeable future. For instance people in school — grad students or mid-life returning students or people changing careers — are often able to live without very basic things because they know they only need to do this for a short time until they are qualified for a job and will make more money.
People can do all kinds of things for a limited period of time that they would not be able to do forever.
I went through this with my first job, which I took knowing that the economics would be challenging because I had very high fixed expenses relative to my income. I sublet a room in a house that had utilities included and I talked the person I was subletting from into letting me share her phone instead of having to get my own put in (pre-cell phone era), which I totally would not have been able to afford. And I did okay for the most part, though I remember one weekend where I literally could not spend any money, not even for a phone call. I needed the gas in my car to get to work the next week so I couldn’t even drive anywhere. I went to the library on Friday and got books and went home after work and that’s what I did all weekend, I read. And I love reading, but I remember clearly the strangeness of that weekend, when an idea of something to do would pop into my head and then I would realize I couldn’t do it because I couldn’t drive there. It was like being under house arrest or something.
But I wasn’t planning on living like that forever, I knew I would make more money eventually, or I would get a different job, or I would move somewhere cheaper. I was just trying to get through it in the short term until that happened.
So I think the most important thing is your mindset. You need to look at this as a problem you are solving, that this is the first step, and that things will get better. This is not how you have to live for the rest of your life, this is how you have to live right now, until you are making more money or your debt is paid off or you can move to a cheaper place or whatever it is that is causing your finances to be out of whack at the present moment.
And you need to read How to Cook a Wolf and channel M.F.K. Fisher in the kitchen, and stop reading personal finance blogs that annoy you, and that will help. I promise.
Thursday, August 23, 2012
I’m walking down Ninth Street on my way to a lunch meeting at Banh’s. (It’s Wednesday, Vietnamese specials … yum!). Guy sitting outside Bean Traders catches my eye and says, “Hello, young lady.”
Whenever anyone says this to me now I have to figure out if (a) they’re trying to suck up to me because they’re going to hit me up for something, (b) they’re using that term with irony, like orderlies in a nursing home, or (c) the fact that I’m dressed like a 12-year-old boy has momentarily confused them.
I didn’t think I was dressed like a 12-year-old boy since I was on my way to a lunch meeting so I was debating between (a) and (b). I say hello.
He says, “You should keep that gray in your hair, it looks good.”
Okay. So there you have it.
Street guys like the gray hair. And really, I appreciate the compliment, but that one’s hard to know what to do with.
Sunday, February 26, 2012
[Note: This is another post that I wrote last year sometime and then never quite finished. It feels a little weird when I do that because some of the details don't actually match my current life — for instance I'm pretty much done with work stuff at this point, and actually doing a much better job of staying focused and getting through things — but I decided it was worth putting up anyway. For future reference, if nothing else.]
My office when I worked in DC was in the front of our office suite, near the main door and the conference room and the receptionist’s desk. Once a year (or possibly twice? the details of this are fuzzy), we would have a board meeting that involved many people ringing the bell for the front door to be opened and coming in and out of the suite and into and out of the conference room. This event would also require the little worker bees like myself to pretend we were professional, so we’d have to upgrade our wardrobes for the day. This was definitely a hardship for me; it’s difficult for me to work and look professional at the same time.
The meeting coincided with copywriting season, which was hard enough under the best of circumstances, having to try to do it while I was dressed up with people coming and going all day was a real problem.
I remember one time complaining to my housemate Ted about it, I was talking about what a miserable day it was going to be and how I wasn’t going to be able to get anything done, too many people standing in front of my office and talking and ringing the doorbell and walking around and being in my way.
Ted didn’t think it sounded like a big deal, just normal office stuff. He said, “What, are you autistic?”
I said, “Yes, maybe I am.”
I’m pretty sure I’m not autistic, though for a while I was trying to decide if I have Asperger’s syndrome. There are about three things I’m interested in talking about, none of which are of interest to anyone I know, which is one of the signs of Asperger’s. (From Wikipedia: “People with Asperger syndrome often display behavior, interests, and activities that are restricted and repetitive and are sometimes abnormally intense or focused.” Hmmm….) Though the hallmark of the condition is an inability to read social cues and to connect with other people, which is generally not something I have a problem with. So I eventually decided that I probably don’t have Asperger’s.
But I do have a lot of trouble dealing with sensory inputs, and one of the reasons I’ve structured my life the way I have is to make it easier for me to manage that. And despite the significant level of control I have over my life, I’m having trouble right now trying to get done what I need to get done without feeling like I’m always behind.
One of the things I’ve really struggled with for the last year and a half is how to balance the things I have to do with the things I want to do while still keeping my life moving forward. I feel like I haven’t done a very good job with that.
Some things have gotten done, especially work (which was actually important, I’d been in a holding pattern on some things for a while, so it was good to have some of that turn into actual projects that I actually got paid for) but many things are exactly where they were two years ago … or worse, since a bunch of things have broken but very few things have gotten fixed.
In thinking about this, I realized that when the wheels really started to come off the bus was when I started being online all the time, logging into Skype to stay in touch with the people I was working with, and being available all day, every day to take care of problems and make updates.
It’s hard to set limits when you have a constant barrage of requests. It creates a false sense of urgency, and in dealing with those, you never get to the things that aren’t sending you emails or texts or phone calls. (For instance the bathroom tub surround will remain untiled forever unless I make a plan for fixing it; it’s not going to send me a message asking when I’m going to get to it.)
So I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately, and thinking about organization and managing information and setting goals and figuring out how to make things happen.
There’s a Latin phrase that means “do what you’re doing”: age quod agis. After I learned it a few years ago I really tried to stay focused on doing one thing at a time, just concentrating on what I was doing. If I was cooking dinner I was cooking dinner and if I was biking I was biking and if I was cleaning the bathroom I was cleaning the bathroom. And if I was working, I was working. But when I wasn’t working, I wasn’t working.
I seem to have lost that at some point along the way.
So I’ve decided I need to quit trying to multitask and just do what I’m doing. And maybe I’ll manage to get something done.