Personal Stories

DWYL, Year 2: Starting in the Red

The 8th floor of a huge, high-ceiling building just north of Houston Street in Manhattan is a good place to work. My little chunk of it, a sizable room, comes with air conditioning, comfy chairs, a sofa, a whiteboard, a large mirror, an Apple device charging station, a yoga mat, several industrial-chic lamps, a coat hook, two windows that are each taller than I am, three unobtrusive plants, a magazine rack, and a conference table that can seat six. Ordinarily, the space costs $30/hr but it’s free to me from 1:00 to 3:00 PM via Breather, the room-for-rent service.

A psychiatrist I once saw operated in this very building. I dubbed him Dr. Worthless because I am uncharitable that way, especially after a break up. He tried to get me on a strong psychoactive medication and I resisted because my mother had been prescribed that very medication and reacted badly to it. He kept forgetting that I had said no, or kept pushing it on me anyway, and finally I lost my temper. “What, do they pay you or something?” I asked him.

“Yes,” he replied, without blinking.

He also told me I wouldn’t need the pills he did give me because the placebo effect of my carrying them around will suffice to keep my anxiety attacks at bay. The poets sing of placebos: Oh, a good placebo, who can find it? Its worth is above rubies. What would the copay be on an effective placebo? I’d pay rubies, sure.

Month 1 of DWYL: Year 2, is almost over. Year 2 is going to be even more scary interesting than Year 1 was, because Ben, my life partner and co-parent, has joined me in the quest of tying personal satisfaction to professional fulfillment. He has traded one FT, well-paying if soul-sucking job for a combination of two PT jobs, one of which is in what he thinks is his chosen field. I am still freelance. No benefits, no stability. This is, patently, crazy. 

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How It Feels to Pay Off $70,000 in Debt

By the time I finished my master’s degree in 2011, that “nonissue” undergrad loan had grown to $20,000, and I had $50,000 of brand-new debt to pile on top of it. This felt like a real, burdensome amount of money that I owed now. My first bill informed me that I was saddled with minimum monthly payments of roughly $700 for the next 10 years, with an astoundingly high portion going to interest.

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I Have a Savings Account for the First Time in My Adult Life

I am bad at saving money, though I really shouldn’t be. I have been in enough situations in my life where a savings account with anything in it would have been a great help, and while I consider myself excellent at budgeting (or at least having a very clear idea of how much is in my checking account at all times), I generally subscribe to the school of thought made popular by 2 Chainz: It’s mine, I spend it.

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The Cost of Throwing a Pony Party for Your Seven-Year-Old Daughter Who’s Really Into Horses

So as my daughter’s seventh birthday approached, it was clear we had to do a horse theme, which presented a conundrum: There are riding rings and stables around the area that will host birthday parties, and even a few pony purveyors who will bring one to your house for kids to ride. These options are, of course, rather expensive. I just have a really hard time dropping serious cash on little kid’s birthday parties, and by “have a really hard time” I actually mean “don’t have the funds to do so.”

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1 Source Of Income: Good. 12 Sources: Better!

I paid two months of COBRA premiums with my winnings from Cash Cab, since I no longer had a job and was able to do things like be on a game show at two in the afternoon on a Monday.

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Yes, I Do In Fact Owe My Entire Career to Browsing Reddit

I don’t foreshadow casually, so when I dropped “I actually owe my freelance career to Reddit and will tell you that story someday” in the tags this morning, well… you knew this was coming.

Back when I was trying to make a go of the touring musician thing, I realized that I was running out of money very, very quickly. (I was making surprising amounts of money as a musician, but touring was expensive so I wasn’t actually making a profit.)

At that point, I could have walked myself down to the nearest temp agency and done my usual trick of “I can type one billion words a minute at a Six Sigma error rate, please hire me.” The problem was that I was in the middle of working on Giant Robot Album and I had shows booked all over the country.

So I had to figure out something else.

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Everyone’s Born in the Summer Damn Them So What Do You Do?

Perhaps you’ve noticed by now that fully everyone you’ve ever met in your entire life was born between June and September. Oh, sure, there’s an odd Aries at your office, or a poor sap you know from the gym whose birthday gets drowned out by Christmas, but for the most part, summer birthdays. They are a plague and a menace. Worst of all, they sometimes require presents.

Option 1: Experiences over things! When you give the gift of an experience, you get not merely the experience itself — the trip to the water park, the theater, the spa — but the memories of said experience, which endure, unbreakable, gathering neither dust nor mold, forever, til death do you part, or Alzheimer’s.

Option 2: Things over experiences! When you give the gift of something the individual truly wants and has not yet managed to wrangle for themselves — like, say, a vintage 70′s Swiss wrist-watch that you lovingly picked out for them from a old-school midtown jewelry store, encouraged by an Indian salesman named Moses — you demonstrate that you have listened to them when they have expressed their preferences in the past. You have put in attention and time as well as money. Whenever they look at their wrist they will swell with affection for you.

Option 3: Things that include experiences! Like, say, the Star Wars (TM) LEGO set that, when built, becomes a nearly life-sized R2-D2, for your 30-year-old son to remind him he is still a kid at heart. The thing is great; the experience of building the thing is even greater; and the having of the thing, ideally in your new office in Vegas, that you have the memory of building, is greatest of all.

Winner: My mom, for buying my little brother the R2-D2, which he put together in a grand total of two days. Well played, Mother.

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How a Chronically Ill Person Does Money

When I was 13, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract, and from that point on nearly all of my major life choices have been made with it in mind, including picking a college major that would result in a job with health insurance.

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Stress-nesting During a Season of Turmoil

It was a bad week on the heels of a bad month. If you are reading this in real time I hardly have to tell you about it, but in case you aren’t: Gaza, Ukraine, Ebola, Michael Brown, Robin Williams, Ferguson, Ferguson, Ferguson—what am I missing? Probably a lot. Anyway, there was all of this, and then suddenly the lamp situation in my dining room became untenable.

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The Cost of Climbing

I have been known to joke (repeatedly, like a dad who’s come across his favorite pun) that when you cross the border into California you are issued your choice of the following: hiking boots, a surfboard, or climbing shoes. When I moved to California two years ago I picked the third option and never looked back. It’s gotten expensive.

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