Tuesday, March 8, 2016
My mom likes to give me something I want for Christmas so she asks me to send her ideas. Sometimes I do and she’s happy, but sometimes I don’t have any ideas. This year I didn’t have any ideas so she wasn’t very happy with me and she gave me a check. She said, “You didn’t tell me anything you want so this is what you get.” My grandmother used to send a check, too, for my birthday and Christmas.
Because I am a crazy data tracker, it’s not hard for me to keep track of what I’ve spent my gift money on and how much I have left.
With the money my grandmother would send, I would use it to go out to lunch when I wanted a treat. I would think about it like it was my grandmother taking me out to lunch, and I’d write her a note and tell her that I’d spent it that way. She liked that.
With the money I got from my parents this year I took my friend Ann out for an end-of-year lunch at Pizzeria Toro. I’ve eaten there with my parents a few times and we’ve had very good meals. I thought my dad especially might like that I spent some of my gift money on that.
Shortly after the Pizzeria Toro meal, a few days or a few weeks — who’s to say, it’s all blurring together these days — I was thinking about how I could have bought something with that money, but instead I spent it on lunch. Call it buyer’s remorse on pizza. (Though the meal was excellent, and I don’t actually regret it — just a passing thought.)
This made me think about Experiences vs. Things and their relative values.
There is a great bias today toward Experiences — there is a moderately pervasive idea that Experiences are valuable and life affirming, while Things are just a bunch of crap that you’re going to have to get rid of someday and that weigh you down. Marie Kondo and all that.
I think that previous generations would be baffled by this idea — that going out to lunch would be considered better than buying something special that you could have and keep and use for a long period of time.
Back in the day, going out to lunch with gift money might more likely be thought of as “squandering.” Like playing the ponies — at the end of the day, you’ve got nothing to show for it. But today, going to lunch (or playing the ponies) is an Experience, and all to the good.
One blog I read and like wrote a post a few years ago about marginal utility and the idea that people value Experiences over Things today because most people have an abundance of material goods but limited free time. This increases the relative value of experiences and decreases the relative value of things.
And I think this is true, but I think other factors are at work as well.
For instance people in any given social circle don’t necessarily live near each other or visit each other’s houses regularly, and many interactions are conducted online. Having a nice car or a Persian rug might go unnoticed unless you posted pictures, which might look like you were trying to show off, and, depending on your social circle, might look crass.
But of course it’s perfectly natural for you to post pictures of your vacation, or Instagram your Pizzeria Toro crispy pigs’ ears.
[Side note: I read a book a year or two ago by a foodie economist about how to find the best cheap food, and one of his pieces of advice is that if something on the menu sounds bad, you should order it. Because if it sounds bad, the only reason it would be on the menu is because it tastes good. Case in point, if you are at Toro, order the crispy pig’s ears. They are good.]
This also made me think of one of the studies that Juliet Schor describes in her book The Overspent American. She talks a lot in the book about conspicuous consumption and status symbols. And this seems obvious now that I’m writing it out, but she makes the case that status symbols are things that other people see. She describes an interesting study about cosmetics that women use in public (lipstick) vs. cosmetics that women use privately (cleanser), and notes that only lipstick fit the pattern of status object purchasing.
So I really feel that a lot of the Experiences vs. Things dichotomy is driven by status objects and what can be advertised to your social group to show how successful you are.
Experiences say, “I am an interesting person who is expanding my horizons. I have the time and the money to explore the world. Don’t you wish you were me.”
Things say, “I am a shallow materialist.”
My experiences at the moment involve trying to answer many multiple choice questions like:
For the next two years, a lease is estimated to have an operating net cash inflow of $7,500 per annum, before adjusting for $5,000 per annum tax basis lease amortization and a 40% tax rate. The present value of an ordinary annuity of $1 per year at 10% for two years is 1.74. What is the leases’s after-tax present value using a 10% discount factor?
No one is jealous of me. So I will turn to Things.
With the money I didn’t spend at Toro, I’m buying a new wall clock. Because the one I had broke like four years ago and I still — STILL — look on that wall to see what time it is. But alas I have no clock there.
But someday soon I will. And I will be able to look at it every day. And when I look at it I will think about I got it as a Christmas present from my parents. And that will make my mom happy too.
Experiences are good. Things are good. You just have to buy the right Things.
Monday, January 25, 2016
When I lived in Northern Virginia, I played soccer on a bunch of teams — at least two different co-ed teams and then a few different iterations of a women’s team, and lots of different tournament teams. It’s sort of a cult thing around there. Once you start playing with one team, you just keep getting sucked in.
The problem with being even a little bit organized is that you invariably get stuck being in charge of things. After a few years of playing on the main women’s team I played with, I ended up being made the organizer. Despite my protestations. And then we won our division and got moved up into the top division. So then I had to organize a much better team, which was significantly more challenging.
The season we moved up, the people in charge of the league decided to have a one-day pre-season tournament to get everyone ready to play. I was still trying to pull my team together, so this was a bit of a hurdle, but it seemed like we had everything together and we were pretty much ready. But then at the eleventh hour, the fields changed — instead of being out at the Linton Hall fields in Manassas, the games were moved to the Fort Belvoir fields in Alexandria.
Linton Hall and Fort Belvoir are nowhere near each other.
This was spring 1995. Some people in 1995 had cell phones, but normal people in 1995 did not have cell phones.
We did a phone tree (remember those?) to get the word to everyone, and it worked well. We managed to get in touch with all but one person — Michelle Verrier was the only person we couldn’t reach.
Michelle Verrier worked crazy hours and lived at her parents’ house. She had told us she couldn’t make the early game because she was taking a class, but she said she’d be there for the 2pm game. Her plan was to head straight for Linton Hall as soon as she got out of class.
Which was fine, except that now no one would be at Linton Hall when she got there.
When we tried to call her in the morning, she’d already left for class. Tegan, who was helping me with phone calls and had talked to Michelle’s dad, was like “Oh, too bad. Well at least we got everyone else. We did what we could.”
Michelle Verrier happened to be a really good player. And a really nice person. I’d only played with her a few times, but she was someone I definitely wanted to play on my team. On all of my teams in fact. The more teams I could play on with Michelle Verrier, the better.
But everyone else who ran a soccer team felt this same way. Michelle played with like 5 or 6 teams, but she wouldn’t commit to any of them, because her work schedule was so crazy. She would just play when she could.
I knew that if Michelle Verrier got out of class and hauled her butt out to Linton Hall, and when she got there all she found was a bunch of empty soccer fields, I would never see her at one of my games again.
This is what was running through my head when Tegan told me she hadn’t been able to get in touch with Michelle.
I told Tegan I needed more information.
I said, “Where is the class?” And I don’t know if she knew that, or if she had to call Michelle’s house again, but we found out that the class was at Georgetown. And my brother had gone to Georgetown, so I knew that area fairly well, and I knew that (at that time) there was only one main parking lot.
I said, “Find out what kind of car she has.”
So I got a description of the car — make, model, color, distinguishing bumper stickers (and it turned out it had a baby seat! it was her sister’s car, that would make it easier) — and headed to the Georgetown University parking lot.
I found the car.
I wrote a big note on a piece of paper:
MICHELLE — GAMES HAVE BEEN MOVED!!!
TO FORT BELVOIR!
SEE YOU 2PM
I put it under her windshield wiper and hoped for the best.
Now we had done what we could.
I went to the fields. We played the first game. We were sitting around waiting for the second game and I saw a player walking in our direction. It was Michelle!
I was so happy! I said, “You found us!!”
She said, “Oh my gosh, that was SO WEIRD to get to my car and have a note to me on it. How did you do that???”
And she played with us that season, and for the next two years, and after a year she told her other teams she couldn’t play with them anymore and just played with my team.
And I remember this as being one of the crowning achievements of my pre-cell phone days — getting a message to someone I barely knew by leaving a note on her car.
I was reminded of this story on Saturday, when I got a call from one of the people I work with, who was supposed to be going to a conference on Sunday. She said our other co-worker who was supposed to go with her was sick, and she herself wasn’t able to get out of her neighborhood because of the snow, so she thought we would have to cancel the trip to the conference, since neither of them could go.
And I was like, no. We paid for it, it’s important to be there, and there is just not enough snow to cancel this trip.
A similar situation occurred in 2010, we got hit with winter weather the weekend of this same conference. For that one, I was actually scheduled to attend the conference, but the person I was supposed to go with didn’t think it was safe to drive. I thought it would be fine, but I wasn’t going to make someone who didn’t feel safe go with me, so I went by myself.
It was fine.
So when I got the call on Saturday, it seemed like ultimately we might not be able to get there, but I decided before we cancelled, we should at least try to see if we could get something to work.
I hadn’t been out of the house in two days, so a walk over to the building didn’t seem like a bad idea, and I figured I could see how the roads looked, if people were able to drive and things looked icy or clear or what. And if things looked good, I could drive the van back to my house and then leave in the morning. Everything would be fine.
I walked over to the building, picked up the van and drove it home. We left for Charlotte in the morning. Everything was fine.
I feel like people sometimes give up and say they can’t do something before they’ve even tried to see if maybe they can. Because they’ve only thought of one option, the thing they would normally do, and that won’t work. So they think they’re done.
But really, people, you just need to keep thinking. Because maybe something else will work. You just need to think of it.
You just need to make it happen.
Thursday, November 5, 2015
As previously mentioned, I recently read the Marie Kondo book. I am still formulating my final opinion about the entirety of it, but one of her ideas that I can completely get behind is the idea that coins go “into your wallet.”
She commented that many of her clients’ homes, when she would first visit, would have loose change scattered about: in the bottom of bags, dropped on the tops of dressers and end tables, stored in jars.
(Similarly, in The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin refers to a “scum of clutter” that “filmed the surface” of her family’s home; when she sizes up her bedroom, she notes that “CDs, DVDs, cords, chargers, coins, collar stays, business cards and instruction booklets were scattered like confetti.”)
I myself have noted this phenomenon — people leave change everywhere. Including strewn on the floor.
I can understand why someone would put it in a jar, and I can even see how it could end up on a dresser or tabletop, but having it scattered across the floor baffles me. Why? Why would you ever drop change on the floor and not pick it up??
When I lived in Virginia in the mid-90s, my housemate Ted saved his pennies in a jar and when he moved to Utah he said he was leaving them behind for me and our other housemate, Chip. Chip pooh-poohed the pennies so I took possession of them. There were a lot. My bank was near my office, and I commuted to work by bike, so I had to carry them in to the office in my bag on my back. It was heavy.
The teller at my bank told me the way it worked is that I put a deposit slip with my account number in the bag with the pennies and they would run them through the counting machine then credit my account for the total amount. Easy enough. As soon as I handed the bag over to the bank, I promptly forgot about it.
My next month’s bank statement had a mystery deposit for seventeen dollars and some change on it.
I was like what the heck is this? I finally figured out (possibly by contacting the bank) that it was the pennies. I told Chip about the deposit. He said, “Hey! Half of that is mine!”
No go dude.
When my grandmother died and we cleaned out her apartment, we found so much change that I gave up on counting it all and instead separated it by denomination and weighed each pile and divided them into thirds and gave three approximately equal piles (roughly equal by denomination, which totalled a roughly equal cumulative pile) to my three nieces. I told them they could count it up themselves. My estimate was $83.07, and I feel like I was pretty close to the actual total, but I don’t remember what the final count was.
I’m not sure why my grandmother had so much change. She played penny poker with it, so some of it was for that, but there really was a lot.
When I was growing up, my grandmother would save her quarters and put them in a small blue glass candy dish that she kept in the coat closet near the front door. When she had accumulated ten dollars worth, she’d put the quarters in a roll, and when she had two rolls, she’d give one to me and one to my brother.
This is good thing to do with your change — save it as a special treat for your grandchildren.
Scattering your change across your floor and never bothering to pick it up is a not a good thing to do with it.
Nor is not taking it in the first place.
I was at the Green Market a few weeks ago buying a churro. The woman in front of me ordered $4.25 worth of treats and when the vendor tried to hand over her $0.75 change, she refused it. I can only imagine what my faced looked like. I almost stuck out my hand and said, “I’ll take it.” But I bit my tongue and let the vendor keep it.
TAKE YOUR CHANGE PEOPLE.
So the point of this post is to provide a short public service announcement in case anyone out there is confused about the nature of coins given as change for dollar bills.
Change is in fact actual money that you can spend just like dollar bills. It is legal tender. You do not need to take coins to a machine at the supermarket and pay money to turn them into dollar bills. You can start spending them right now, every time you buy something. Carry a little coin purse with you and see if you can make exact change on every purchase.
If you have really a lot, separate out the quarters and start with those. Eventually you will get through it all.
And then try to remember: Coins go into your wallet.
Sunday, October 4, 2015
A few weeks ago I became mildly obsessed with the Marie Kondo thing. I hadn’t read the book, just heard about it, and I start reading things on the internet and watching YouTube videos to try to learn more.
Everyone just loves loves loves this book. And I have not come to my final opinion on it yet. (I did read the book but at the moment I’m having trouble getting past the part where she tells people to throw out all their papers … that will make tax season fun for everyone…) But while I was reading about it on the internet, I started making notes, because some things were getting under my skin.
One comment I had was about the before and after photos/videos that people were posting. My god people, you have so much stuff! Look at all that crap.
In one video, a woman who was posting about cleaning out her linen closet said that in the past when she ran the washer and forgot about the towels and they mildewed, she would THROW THEM AWAY. Because they smelled. She would just buy new ones.
No wonder no one has any money.
But the thing that really got me rolling was a post (which of course I now cannot find, so you will just have to take my word for it) where a guy talked about cleaning out his books.
He said he went through his books and discovered that 20% of them weren’t even his, and no one had ever asked for them back. He said that just goes to show that people have so much stuff they don’t even notice or care when it’s gone.
And I’m like DUDE!!!!
It’s now up to the person who loaned the book to ask for it BACK?
That’s not how it works!!!!
The person who BORROWED the book gives it back when they’re DONE with it. Or if they realize they’re never going to GET to it. Then they give it back and say thanks man, I appreciate you letting me borrow that.
You just kept people’s books and didn’t even know and now it’s THEIR fault for not asking for them back?!?!
Talk about BLAME THE VICTIM!!!
I once loaned a book to a friend, and later saw it on her bookshelf when I was at her house for dinner. Eventually I asked her if I could get it back and she said, “Oh, I gave that back to you.” And I said I didn’t think she had, but she insisted. And short of going to her house and going through her bookshelf and pulling it out and saying, “No, see, here it is right here,” which seemed like not a very friendly thing to do, I didn’t know what to do. I just let it go.
So that one struck a nerve.
Okay rant over.
But here is a short message for any of my friends who may be reading this…
If in your great KonMari purge of 2015, you find anything of mine that no longer sparks joy in you — books you borrowed, letters I wrote you, mix tapes I made you in the 80s — feel free to send them back to me.
I love that shit.
Thursday, September 24, 2015
I was talking to a friend of a friend today, who is one of those people who is very fearful about the future.
She believes strongly that the world is going to hell in a handbasket — that corporations are out to get us, the water is poisoned, nothing good is ever going to happen again.
(In her defense, she’d just come back from western Pennsylvania, where the water is in fact being poisoned, and even if they wanted to, corporations can’t care about anything other than shareholder value. So it’s hard to say that she’s too far off.)
She is worried about the future. She feels like the end is near.
I was in her shop with my friend Ann. I said, “You know, it’s funny. We were just talking about this at lunch.”
Because we were, we’d been talking about this very thing.
I said, “In all of the post-apocalyptic movies and novels, some terrible thing happens and people turn on each other, everything completely falls apart, it’s dog-eat-dog, every man for himself.”
“But in the real world when crisis hits, people come together, they work together and help each other. World War II, the Great Depression, 9/11. All of those brought Americans together.”
Our friend looked at me skeptically. This was not what she wanted to talk about, people coming together to help each other.
But really, we’ve created this world where everything is so easy, we have so much more leisure time than we used to. But what do we do with it? We consume media — we watch tv and movies and play video games.
No one does anything anymore. They watch other people do things.
People are so addicted to passive entertainment that people actually WATCH OTHER PEOPLE PLAY VIDEO GAMES. (I am not making this up. This is a huge thing on YouTube. Ask your nearest 8-year-old about Minecraft and he’ll be happy to show you.)
This is what we’ve done with our abundant free time.
And people are bored and unhappy and dissatisfied. They feel unfulfilled because contemporary American life is inherently unfulfilling.
Geez louise people, if that’s not a dystopia, I don’t know what is.
I feel like if all of this went away — Instagram and iPhones and movies and television and Minecraft videos on YouTube — it would be really hard. Really really hard.
For like 3 weeks.
And then everyone would be like okay let’s go play frisbee.
(And yes, I know in an actual apocalypse, with dead bodies everywhere and no running water and such, things would be very chaotic. But people lived for many many many many years without electricity, and I have complete faith in man’s ingenuity, that in the event of true catastrophe, people would figure something out.)
So … bottom line. I am not worried about the apocalypse because I think it might well be an improvement over what we’ve got now.
Thursday, February 26, 2015
I don’t think this picture does justice to how amazing those coneflowers look with four inches of snow piled straight up on top them, like little men with stovepipe hats.
Buses not running, classes cancelled, exam postponed.
Thursday, January 1, 2015
Honey badger doesn’t care.
Ann tells a story about her friend Claudia going to see the performance artist Laurie Anderson speak in New York City. Someone in the audience asked her how she handled comments or criticism about her work, about what people thought about her. And her answer was something along the lines of “Oh I don’t worry about that at all. No one else really cares what you’re doing.”
Her point being that people are more or less self-absorbed, they’re too worried about themselves to worry about what anyone else is doing, so it’s really not worth thinking about.
So that’s really been a guiding princple of ours. Just do what you want to do, don’t worry about what anyone else thinks you should be doing. Who cares about them anyway.
I don’t think I realized when I wrote last year about Julia Child and quoted the Laura Shapiro biography with Julia’s quote from a French Chef episode talking about needing to have what the French call “je m’enfoutisme” that that’s basically what that means. (According to Google Translate, the literal translation of “je m’en foutisme” is “I don’t care attitude”.)
So I’ve been talking about that a lot lately.
In an interesting coincidence, I turned on the radio last week for the first time in ages and the People’s Pharmacy was on and the guest was researcher Brené Brown.
Brené Brown had a TED talk go viral a few years ago and is very popular among a certain segment of the internet, especially the personal growth and development folks. A friend and I had a series of conversations a few years ago about her and her research.
So it was kind of funny that I turn on the radio for the first time in who knows when and here is Brené Brown, and she’s talking about the things she usually talks about, connection and vulnerability and shame.
And I don’t remember the exact context, but she’s giving an example that involves a scenario at work where people are asked to take ownership of a project, and someone might speak up and be excited about it, and others will ridicule that person for caring.
She said this idea of not being willing to care about things is a big problem, people who just don’t care.
So that seems funny to me, I’m going around telling everyone they need to channel Julia Child and have je-m’en-foutisme and Brené Brown is talking about how bad it is to not care.
And that reminds me of another story that Brené Brown tells that made me think of a similar story that I liked better.
Brené Brown tells a story about how her daughter was at a sleepover and decided she didn’t want to spend the night, she called home and asked to be picked up. Brené went and picked her up and told her she was very proud of her for being so brave and calling home and admitting she was scared, for realizing she just wasn’t ready to spend the night at someone’s house.
This made me think of a story I read that Duke basketball’s Coach K told. He said that once when his daughter was young, after Duke had lost badly to UNC, she called home crying and asked him to come get her, kids were taunting her and being cruel. She wanted to come home. He told her he wouldn’t come get her, that that’s not how they did things. He said, “I’ll bring you a Duke sweatshirt.”
I love that story. I’ll bring you a Duke sweatshirt.
So I’m not sure what the point of this is, except that maybe I’m old school, taking Coach K and Julia Child over Brené Brown. I dunno.
And I feel like when I came up with the idea for this post I actually did have I had a point, but now I don’t, so I’ll just leave it at that.
I’m done with school on April 29 and I am hopeful that my brain will recover enough to allow me to start writing again. Right now just getting from one day to the next is the best I can do.
Onward and upward, and happy 2015 to everyone.