Jan 22, 2018

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Quit social media for 30 days

On the evening of December 21st, I was re-reading Cal Newport’s book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, which is an interesting book that is all about working on cognitively demanding tasks in a focused way. One of the things he talks about is dramatically cutting down on social media, and to be able to estimate which social media sites you actually want to keep, take off social media altogether for 30 days. So I removed all the apps from my phone and blocked access to the sites on my computer, certain that was all I was going to need.

On the first day, within the first hour of waking up, I broke the ban not once but twice! A friend tagged me on Facebook and I clicked the link out of habit on my work computer which didn’t yet have a blocker set up. And then my phone popped up a notice from Instagram which I had failed to delete. Then when I went to fill up my water bottle, and my phone came out of its pocket virtually on its own, I realized just how habitual social media had become for me. Then I spent the rest of the day noticing things that I really wanted to Instagram and share with the world! There was a random office chair on my commute home. Right there in the middle of the street! Taunting me with its existence! And then come the Twitter jokes about those feelings when…

By day three, Facebook started sending me my notifications by email. Every day. Thankfully, most of the end of the year went by in a haze of trying to get all the things done and most of January has gone by with me being sick and spending that time chilling with John Oliver and Knitting. It was great. I didn’t get a lot of stuff done during this time, but it’s been wonderful detaching myself from all the things I thought I needed.

Cute dreamer boy playing with a cardboard airplane. Childhood. Fantasy, imagination. Retro style.

The most interesting thing is, I thought I would miss Facebook the most and that’s the one I’m actually considering giving up altogether. I’d been having issues with my browser crashing which all just basically went away during my hiatus. I didn’t notice this until I came back and within five minutes of opening Facebook, I got my first crash in weeks. I think Facebook might be reacting badly to my adblocker or something because I don’t see many other people having this problem. Facebook is the place where I keep up with a lot of friends but, honestly, I’m not loving what they’re doing with the timeline and the notifications. I’m also not wild about the fact that they’ve started to put up notifications about my friend’s Instagram activity. Facebook, for me, has gotten to the point where I’m getting way too many pointless notifications and I can’t seem to control which of them I actually want to receive without hours on end of configuration. And who the fuck has time for that? So I’m going to be paring down my activity on Facebook a lot, leaving groups and all that jazz. It’s still the only place I find many of my friends, so I’m not going to cut the cord completely. But it’s become more about cat vacuuming than actual engagement.

Instagram was about what I’d expected. I’ve gotten into the habit of sharing knitting and lovely things I see every day on Instagram and that turned out to be a lot more addicting than I thought. But the real surprise was Twitter. I haven’t been using Twitter all that much lately, but that’s the one that I missed most. Whenever I came across an interesting article, I thought about sharing it. I thought about sharing short snippets of my days. And then were the links that people on slack sent around. The puppies mobbing a cameraman, the octopuses, oh the octopuses. Twitter is going to stick around for at least a while longer.

In the end, I cannot recommend this experiment highly enough for anyone who is able to do it, meaning anyone whose income isn’t directly related to their presence on any particular social media. It’s really helped me be more deliberate about how I spend my time and that’s always a good thing, given just how limited my time is, and how much I want to get done during the hours that I have left. And very little of it involves endlessly scrolling through Facebook.

So, dear reader, which social media do you think you’d miss most?

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Jan 2, 2018

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I Need A Budget

I’ve never been good with money, mostly because for so long I never had any. Then I got my first IT job and my first credit card and promptly had less than nothing, despite the fact that I was making more than I ever dreamed I might just some five years earlier. These days I make almost twice as much and yet, somehow, it feels like I can never get ahead. Enter budgeting.

Some three or four years ago I was constantly anxious about my money. I kept putting money into my savings but then something unexpected came that wiped me out. I loathed every time I had to go to my savings account or ask my partner to bail me by paying bills that I was supposed to handle. I was in desperate need of a budget. So, my partner researched budgeting software and got me an application called YNAB, short for You Need a Budget. Turns out, it was much more than what I was looking for.

Most budgeting is simple; this is how much you make in a given month, this is how much you have to pay in bills, this is how much you should put into your savings, this is how you should invest. YNAB is some of that, too, but it’s also more than that. It starts with figuring out what’s most important to you in the big picture. I want to be a full-time writer someday and to make sure I won’t tear my hair out because of money, I want to have a full year’s expenses in the bank before that happens. I want to get rid of my mortgage and buy an apartment for my mom to live in so that she can have more financial security and do more fun things. And I want to travel. Any one of these alone would require a huge commitment in any budget. One of the things I like about YNAB is that it makes me make actual choices about what I want my money to do for me most right now.

After that, you “just” follow the four rules:

  1. Give every dollar a job Basically, every money that comes in is working toward a specific purpose. Whether it’s rent or a personal satellite, every money has a job. It also doesn’t matter as such where the moneys are located, whether it’s a bank account or inside your mattress, as long as it has a job. Although there are a thousand reasons why you shouldn’t have your money in your mattress. And you only ever budget the money you already have available. This seems like a no-brainer at first, but it took me embarrassingly long to understand. For example, one of my priorities is paying for a tattoo sleeve from the supremely talented Linda Räihä at L&R Tattoo and Art Alliance. So a portion of every budget is going toward paying for it.
  2. Embrace your true expenses There are some things that you have to do; you have to pay for your electricity and groceries to be able to keep going. Most likely you’re also paying for internet and whatever else. Maybe you ´don’t know how much these are going to be but you know it’s more than zero. For example, I get an electricity bill once every a quarter. That’s a long enough timeframe that I’m never entirely sure how much it will be. But I know it’s going to be more than a certain amount. So I budget enough every month that by the end of the quarter I have at least that much on my account, ready to go.
  3. Roll with the punches Sometimes, a high priority bill comes and it’s more than what you’ve budgeted for and you just have to deal with it. I’ve been stuck in this place for a long, long time. I get paid on the 25th of each month, so by the time I get paid, the money is more or less already gone, especially since a lot of my bigger bills also fall due on the 25th. Look how that happened. More on that in a bit. But the beautiful thing about YNAB is that there should always be lower priority categories. And if not,
    it might be time to see if there’s a way to cut back.
  4. Age your money This is the thing that I’m working on right now. Like I said, by the time I get paid, most of the money is already gone. YNAB assumes a first in – first out mentality about the moneys in your budget. The age of your money is the time it takes from when money enters the budget to when it’s used to pay for something in the budget. The age of my money right now is 20 days, which is a little terrifying, considering that I get paid every 30 days. I’m planning to run lean for the first quarter, only paying the absolute necessities, which means that I’ve stopped my subscriptions for a whole heap of services. No more HBO until April. I’ll miss John Oliver terribly. Anyway. The idea is, that by the end of March, my money will be a lot closer to 60 days old, from where I can then get back to my regularly scheduled saving goals with some reasonable spending included.

Those are the basics and the rest is essentially implementation. I’m really excited about this system right now, because Jesse Mecham – the guy who built the system – just came out with the YNAB book and the system finally clicked home for me. I realized that if I did a lean January and more or less drained my savings account, I could get a full month ahead in my expenses. My January pay will actually be funding all of my February expenses as well as part of March expenses, which means that by the end of March, I should be able to start funding May expenses. Doing that made me feel like a weight had been lifted, even if I am fairly secure in general. It feels like I’m making actual headway in my long-term goals and dreams, which is basically turning me into a new convert preaching the good word of YNAB to all who will hear it.

The YNAB software is available as a cloud-based software, but the system is the thing and if you like or don’t have the $45 to put in an annual subscription, you can totally do the thing in Excel. That’s how Mecham started out. They have a great Youtube library full of free resources, but I still recommend at least getting the book, which is a surprisingly fun read and explains the system in great detail. Mecham is such a nerd that it’s also a really enjoyable read. I am especially fond of this book because as previously mentioned, it made the whole system really click for me and it completely changed the way I look at my money. I honestly never thought I would be excited about budgeting.

So. What is it you want your money to do for you?

PS. Just in case you, dear reader, should feel like it, here’s my referral link for the cloud-based YNAB. With a referral, we both get a free month of YNAB. It’s a win-win situation in my book!

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Dec 30, 2017

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2017 Year in Review

The road goes ever on and on

2017 has been an odd year. At large it seems like the world is a trash fire; nazis marching the streets at home and abroad and people wringing their hands about the various ways people are mean to the literal nazis. Loved friends having a hard time whether it’s because of divorce or otherwise ending relationships, losing healthcare or a career, facing financial hardships just in general.

And in the meanwhile, personally, I’ve had a very good year. I’ve gotten to know some amazing people, after years of applying, I finally got in to the Clarion Writer’s Workshop, friends came to spend time in Helsinki, I did some well-received panels at Worldcon, I got a lot of lovely knitting done, read a whole heap of lovely books, took part in a productivity workshop for creatives and all in all had a good time. I sold nothing but that’s okay because I have high hopes that selling will start happening next year.

This year in numbers:

  • 40 000 words 1n a first draft of a new novel
  • 160 books read
  • 15 rejections garnered
  • 12 shawls knitted
  • 6 weeks spent abroad
  • 5 short stories written
  • 4 Bullet Journals used up
  • 3 museums visited
  • 2 short stories edited
  • 1 new tattoo

Here’s to a better 2018.

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Dec 19, 2017

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Knitterly Pursuits

Over this year I have been knitting furiously. As such, that does not distinguish this year from any other. What is different is that I’ve been knitting shawls. So many shawls. Almost only shawls. This is because sometime around the last New Year’s I somehow got the idea that taking part in the 12 Shawls in 2017 challenge over on Ravelry. I’ve finished 9 shawls all told and unfortunately, I have 6 more heading toward the finish line that are unlikely to make it all the way there. One more, maybe two are in the cards still for this year, others will need to wait.

Next year, I’m thinking that I’ve had enough shawls for now. The cupboard is overflowing and several have gone to friends and family, so it’s time to turn my eyes elsewhere. And oh hey, look. I’m in need of sweaters and cardigans. And since my Work In Progress pile is getting kind of ridiculous, I’m also turning my hands back to the sweater projects that I’ve abandoned over the years. At least for some of the time. The goal is to finish 12 sweaters in 2018, regardless of when they were started. It’s time my startitis took a back seat from actually finishing stuff.

That said, I love all these knitting challenges. I’m always knitting anyway so it gives me such joy to get stuff off the needles. And I’ve made no secret of the fact that gamification works really well for me in all areas so why not knitting, too. And with my self-imposed yarn-diet almost over, I’m really looking forward to being able to plan projects around what I want rather than the yarns in my stash. All in all, it’s been a good year for knitting and I’m looking forward to a wonderful 2018.

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Dec 6, 2017

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Finland centennial

Aerial view of Helsinki capital of Finland

Today marks 100 years of Finnish independence. I’ve been baking pretty much non-stop since I woke up this morning but I thought I’d take a moment to acknowledge the occasion. It’s no secret that I love this country even if it sometimes also infuriates me. Medium happily put together a list of 100 things that make Finland a kick-ass country.

For my part, I love the food. Karelian pies, rye bread, reindeer. I love that wherever you go, you can get at least fair coffee. I love that we, at least for now, have an assumption that everyone should be equal, even if we sometimes need to be reminded of that. I love the language even if my own usage of it is pathetic. I adore the mythology where it’s just assumed that everyone does magic because that’s what Finns do. I love that the mythology more or less explicitly recognizes the differences in people like the fact that there are people for whom a length of silk cloth is a bigger draw than sex. I love that enduring is so codified in our society that it is considered one of our primary virtues while recognizing that that codification probably contributes to the high number of suicides. And I love the fact that we’re so far up north that we get such long summer days, even if does mean that we get endless winter nights in return. I so many words, I love Finland.

There are serious problems that we as a people need to deal with, the rise of the far right and the infinite patience the police hold for the same, for one. But I’m hopeful. In the last 100 years, Finland has dealt with some huge problems and come out on the other side. Battered and bruised, maybe, but still standing.

Happy birthday to Finland.

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Nov 17, 2017

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Friday Night Movie: Spiderman: Homecoming

I am probably the last person in the world to see Spiderman: Homecoming and so will probably have nothing new to say in terms of a review. Just in case you haven’t seen it, if you like action or superhero movies, you should. It’s a good take on Spiderman (92% on Rotten Tomatoes), with a teenage Spiderman and the troubles that go with that premise. We have an actually age-appropriate Aunt May and all that jazz. Plus, no rehashing of the origin story that we’ve all seen a thousand times by now.

What I’m actually interested in, is the villain; Adrian Toomes aka Vulture. (Spoiler warning). For a superhero movie, the villain’s motivations are built almost intricately. Firstly, it starts with an acknowledgment, not just in an abstract sense, that the large-scale battles that we see in every movie come with consequences. There are cleanup companies and construction companies all over that are getting lots and lots of work out of all this. But then there’s also all of that alien tech that needs to be accounted for. And when some dickhead SHIELD (or similar) agents come to take Adrian’s big break contract away from him, it’s not a huge surprise that he decides to go rogue with the alien tech he’s managed to stash away. Seriously, there was no reason for that agent to taunt the guy whose business he was just party to putting a coup de grace to. He deserved getting punched. And, you know, when you get desperate enough, robbing a bank seems like a reasonable thing to do. But that’s just the thing; he wasn’t really that desperate. He has an expensive, gas-guzzling car that doesn’t make sense for his business, which means that he probably has at least one other car, like a pick-up, a giant house in the suburbs (although the house he lives in does seem out of place with the rest of the houses in that part of the suburbs) and a wife who wears designer clothing for just hanging out around the house. This is not someone who’s hurting for money. Sure, he’s not Tony Stark rich, but he’s still fairly well-off. Sandman Vulture is not.

And that in itself is a kind of sad commentary on the state of his life. And I’m not entirely sure if it’s his morals or if he just really feels so pressured to be the good provider that he never feels like he can reach out to his wife, who’s supposed to be a partner to him that maybe they should scale back on things at least for a while until he can pay off for the investments he’s made into the business to allow for it to grow. I mean, sure, there has to be something a little wonky inside him and the people working for him for the crime spree to happen and for them to decide that selling terrifying weaponry to local drug dealers is a good idea but ultimately he’s not a terrible person. Except for the murders. The murders are obviously bad.

All of this makes Vulture, for me at least, ultimately more of a pathetic figure or poorly thought out than a lot of the other superhero villains. He’s too much of a coward to have a difficult conversation with his wife, so instead, he chooses to risk his life over, and over, and over again. In a way, it’s a neat turn-around on the Spiderman of this movie, who’s hiding his activities from Aunt May not to keep her safe, but because of how afraid he is of how she’ll react to the fact that he’s Spiderman. And then, of course, echoed in Tony Stark who’s too afraid of what Peter will do if given full information of the situation he’s already involved in. I feel like none of this movie would have happened if any of these conversations had taken place and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. And much of that indecision stems from the fact that I don’t know if all of this lack of communication is intentional or not. It could be a commentary on the way modern Western society teaches men that it’s not okay to communicate about any other feelings than anger or lust. Or it could be just a factor of just how steeped in that culture the 8 different men credited for the screenplay are in that culture that they didn’t even realize that was what was happening. And maybe that sort of exploration isn’t even the job of a superhero movie. It sure would be interesting to find out though.

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