Where I Got Published Today (and While I Was Away): Haven Life, Lifehacker

Haven Life: What 3 Morehouse College graduates plan to do now that they’re free of student debt

What is it like when your student debt disappears? How does this kind of opportunity reshape your future? I had the privilege of interviewing Steven Anderson II, Juan Clark and Josef Sorrells about their Morehouse experience, how they felt when Robert Smith announced his gift and how this incredible act of generosity will change their lives.

Lifehacker: If You Want to Build New Habits, Build Fewer Habits

Turns out that adding all these new and exciting habits made it harder for me to stick to my core habits, simply because there are only so many habits you can tick off before it’s time to complete the “go to bed at the same time every day” habit.

So I stopped, culled, and reprioritized.

Lifehacker: Carry Your Trip Insurance Info When You Travel

One of the main reasons I got an airline credit card was because it came with multiple forms of travel insurance.

(That, and the free checked bags.)

However, when I found myself stuck in Chicago overnight thanks to flight delays and missed connections, I realized that I didn’t really know the details of my travel insurance plan.

Back From Vacation (and Thoughts on Disney World)

Hi, everyone! I am glad to be back, and even gladder that I scheduled a few “recuperation days” after my travel; I was supposed to get back to Cedar Rapids on Monday evening, but thanks to flight delays didn’t end up getting back until Tuesday afternoon, which meant I had two days in a row of not-enough-sleep and too-much-airport (plus jet lag).

It took me until Thursday to feel well-rested again, at which point I spent half the day cleaning out my inboxes and processing all of the work-related stuff that had arrived or accumulated during my absence.

That meant I was ready to start officially working again on Friday — which is to say, today.

But enough about all of that. HOW WAS THE TRIP, NICOLE?

Here are a few photographs to sum it up:

The requisite Disney PhotoPass “glamour shot.” I actually got a bunch of PhotoPass pictures at various locations but only paid for this one; the other photographers didn’t pose me first and the photos didn’t look as polished.
I tried a character breakfast this time around, after being way too nervous to approach characters on previous Disney adventures. The characters play to type, which means that Mary Poppins gave me a lecture and Pooh gave me a hug.
The food was… not as great as all those Instagrammers made it out to be. It was fine, but nothing I’d call “outstanding.” (Think Applebees, or a college cafeteria.) It photographs extremely well, though.

Since I am all about transparency — though I understand that making this kind of statement is a total “your privilege is showing” move — I’ll tell you that I like Disneyland a lot more than Walt Disney World.

That is, I came back from this vacation thinking “well, I don’t ever need to go back here again.”

This isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy myself. I did! There were a handful of truly magical moments, nearly all of which took place around 7 a.m. before the parks got both incredibly crowded and incredibly hot.

But it was a completely different experience than my previous Disneyland trips, and I wasn’t expecting that.

I thought it would be, like, visiting this place I loved, only now it’s larger and has more stuff to do.

It was more like this place is so big that we can’t do everything and we’ve spent so much money that we won’t be able to come back for a while and it’s so hot and the lines are so long and everything is a disappointing compromise and I didn’t want our vacation to be this way.

And this, by the way, wasn’t even what I was thinking. It’s what half the people around me were saying out loud, as we moved slowly through the crowded streets or inched forward in the standby lines.

I was thinking this place is fascinating and people are fascinating and I probably shouldn’t be listening to their conversations so closely but I don’t care and it is so hot I am sweating in places that I didn’t know had sweat glands.

I love the whole Disney immersive crafted experience thing, which is one of the reasons I’ve been to Disneyland multiple times as an adult and am still planning on visiting every Disney park in the world.

But when you enter Disneyland, the courtyards are open, spacious, inviting you to explore. There’s just enough to do that you can do everything in two days, with enough time for an afternoon nap.

When you enter the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, you get shunted down a path, with fewer open spaces. There’s so much to do that you’ll never do it all; thanks to the crowds and the FastPass system, you have to make choices about what you’ll give up before you even arrive.

And, honestly, I loved that part of Disney World — the big exciting spreadsheetable project, making plans about what to do and where to eat and how much to spend, but that’s because I assumed it would stop feeling like a project after I got there.

It doesn’t.

Now I’ll tell you about some of the magical moments.

The resort was outstanding. Port Orleans Riverside was beautiful, the nature trails were beautifully relaxing, and I saw magnolia trees for the first time.

Like many other people, I was completely blown away by Animal Kingdom’s Pandora section and the entire Flight of Passage experience, which included a 90-minute queue. There was so much to look at, with so much detail, that I never felt bored or impatient. Nor was I tempted to play with my phone (that was one of the best parts of the trip, by the way; staying off my phone).

My favorite part, however, was Extra Magic Hour at Hollywood Studios. I went in ready to rope drop Tower of Terror, since I wanted to get over my fear of falling 13 stories as quickly as possible, but the ride was shut down for the entire day. Slinky Dog Dash was also shut down that morning, which meant the lines for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith and Toy Story Midway Mania were well over an hour long. (Only the big headliner rides are open during Extra Magic Hour, and the Disney sites claim that if you’re quick enough, you can do all of them. This was never the case in reality.)

So while everyone else was waiting in line, I went in the other direction and began exploring the park. Like, “get up close, read the fine print on the MuppetVision 3D signage” exploring. I looked up, to see the jokes and references Disney placed at the tops of the buildings; I spent time examining structures that I might otherwise rush by. There was something magical or unexpected or humorous everywhere I looked, until Extra Magic Hour was over and the park got too crowded to stand still and look carefully at anything anymore.

That’s one of the reasons why I like going to Disney alone. If I’d gone with a group of people, we’d probably have queued for Midway Mania instead.

That said, the next time I go to Disneyland — and I will go back to Disneyland, though I’m somewhat ambivalent about returning to Disney World — I’d like to go with family or friends.

I’ve experienced the magic for myself. Now it’s time to share it. ❤️

NEXT WEEK: how much I spent, plus some of those spreadsheets y’all asked for.

Where I Got Published Today: Lifehacker

Don’t Let the Online Retirement Calculators Scare You Away From Investing

I think I’ve told this story before, but I started my first full-time office job eager to save money. I was going to live below my means! I was going to build my emergency fund! I was going to contribute to my retirement accounts and get the company match!

Then I started doing the math.

Even if I saved 20 percent of my pretax income for retirement—which seemed like a phenomenal amount—it would take me five years of working to save up one year’s worth of income.

Pre-Vacation Update

I’m going on vacation TOMORROW, y’all.

Six days at Walt Disney World, six days in Portland, Oregon to celebrate my grandfather’s 90th birthday, and three days of post-travel recovery (resting, restocking groceries, getting over any crud I might catch along the way) at home.

I gave myself the three extra days first because I subscribe to Kelly Conaboy’s It Should Be Vacation + One Or Two Days theory — “after you return from vacation you should have a mandatory one- or two-day period to readjust before you go back to normal life” — and second because I told myself that the one thing I was going to do in 2019 was take two consecutive weeks off.*

(I have not done this in forever. My last vacation was four days long.)

I will not be posting on vacation, so here are some updates before I leave:

  • I went through and blocked out the rest of NEXT BOOK’s plot using the technique I showed you last week, which means I know where I’m going with the draft and all I have to do is use Jami Attenberg’s 1000 Words of Summer (write 1000 words every day between June 17 and July 1) as motivation to finish it up.
  • I also gave NEXT BOOK a title: A COINCIDENCE OF DOORS. I am fighting very hard against the impulse to make the cover look like a door that you open to read the book, because that is not the Trend For Covers These Days and I know I need to put a Dreaming Woman on the front. (I wonder how much it would cost to do one of those covers where it looks like a door with a cutout keyhole that you can see through and then when you open the door you can see the full-color illustration of what’s behind the keyhole. This is also not On Trend, but it would be super-cool.)
  • I’m also fighting very hard against the whole “what if I was able to get this book self-published this year” thing. I want this book to be THE BEST IT CAN BE, not THE FASTEST IT CAN BE. (I’m also thinking about how much money I’m willing to put towards “the best,” but that’s a discussion for another day.)
  • I’ll owe you a financial update while I’m on vacation, so here’s the gist: May was my highest-earning month EVER. I brought in $13,311 in freelancing income and $14.51 in publishing revenue. I also got a $1,337.74 tax refund I wasn’t expecting because it turns out I did my taxes wrong (long story, can tell you when I get back if you want, good to know the IRS keeps an eye out for your mistakes). Current net worth is $116,293.34.
  • However, this vacation is going to cost me roughly $4,500 in unearned freelance income (which is to say that if I weren’t going on vacation and were able to complete my usual schedule of work, I’d earn $4,500 over the next two weeks). This is in addition to the $2,200 budgeted for the Disney trip and the $1,100 budgeted for the family trip. Soooooooooo…. actually, I’m fine with this. Paid time off is great, but I’d rather be a freelancer any day of the week. (Including the vacation days.)

See you all in June! ❤️

*Yes, I did realize that Thursday to Thursday to Thursday is actually two weeks and one day. Bonus!

On Community Service and What Makes a Community

I spent most of Memorial Day at our local cemetery, accompanying a choir at a Memorial Day service and then attending a post-service luncheon.

This was the kind of thing I used to do in high school—which was one of the reasons why I volunteered to do it—but I found the experience much more rewarding as an adult.

I think it’s because this time I actually feel like I’m part of the community.

I was trying to put it together, afterwards—like, I did all kinds of volunteering and community service stuff as a teenager, but it was easy to feel disconnected from those experiences first because I was doing them for external reasons (college applications, my parents said I had to) and second because I was not viewed by the community as a peer.

I was a part of the community—I literally grew up there—but I was also just a kid, and was treated as such.

When I did volunteer work in Seattle, well… first of all it was hard enough finding volunteer work to do in Seattle, because every organization had more applicants than open spaces. I ended up finding a volunteer gig at a tutoring center, and while that experience itself was fulfilling, it didn’t really integrate me into the community. The kids came from all over Seattle and its suburbs; the tutoring center wasn’t in the same neighborhood as my apartment. It wasn’t the type of activity that helped connect any of us to the rest of the city; it was a room we all met in, a few times a week.

Yesterday I felt like I was an important part of something important—an event that helped people share stories, remember loved ones, and connect with each other. An event that made the community stronger not just because we were gathered in that room, but because we’d see each other again, in other rooms (and grocery stores, and at other events, and so on).

I don’t know if it took me until adulthood to figure out that this is how community works, or if the way childhood vs. adulthood is structured means that young people are always going to feel slightly isolated from their communities. (How exciting was it, as a teenager, to finally find your people online or at summer camp or wherever you ended up finding them?)

Or if it’s just a matter of Cedar Rapids being a better fit for me, as a person, than the rural town I grew up in.

But I really like being part of this community—and I really like being able to serve it. ❤️

Two Stories About Waiting

These pieces harmonize in an interesting way—not the part where the Baffler piece gets nostalgic about My So-Called Life, but the idea that there are certain stages of life that involve a lot of waiting, and that we can still make choices about what we do while we wait.

LitHub: Kate Mulgrew on the Work of Waiting, in Acting and in Life

As I climbed the stairs bearing a tray on which rested a glass of ice, a washcloth, and a can of Ensure, I realized that my father’s imminent death had filled me with a purpose not unlike the two-hour one-woman show I had been performing for more than a year. The process was surprisingly similar: both were physically as well as emotionally challenging, both called on certain unique skills, and both promised a closing. I could address my father’s dying with the same concentration I brought to playing a difficult role, a discipline acquired over many years of practice. Most important, the waiting was ameliorated by the intensity of my daily workload, self-imposed or otherwise.

The Baffler: Girl, Uninterrupted

In the pilot episode of My So-Called Life, Angela spends an evening in the parking lot of a cheesy dance club, waiting for someone named Tino—who, Rayanne vouches, can get them past the ID-checkers at the door. Waiting for Tino, Angela, Rayanne, and Rickie pass the time laughing and gossiping. Hours later, the girls try on each other’s shoes to entertain themselves. Tino never shows. Monday, at school, Rayanne boasts about their amazing night out as the chords of the show’s theme swell. “I’m telling you, we had a time. Didn’t we? Didn’t we have a time?” Angela smiles in return, “We did. We had a time.” The scene closes on Angela’s beaming face, the music cresting. It’s a brilliant dénouement—the teen years are mostly about waiting, and elevating the mundane to high drama.

Where I Got Published Today: Lifehacker

How to Manage Game Day Anxiety

Whether you’re playing a sport, preparing a speech, or getting ready to sing in front of an audience, it’s nearly impossible to control the pre-game jitters.

That’s fine. In fact, it’s expected.

Where to Shop This Memorial Day Weekend

If I were planning a big shopping trip this Memorial Day weekend, I’d be most interested in the Tempur-Sealy Memorial Day Sale, where you can save up to $700 on select mattress sets. I don’t need a new mattress at the moment, but I love my Tempur-Pedic Tempur-Cloud pillow—and if you have a different favorite mattress brand, one that doesn’t include “pressure-relieving material originally developed by NASA to absorb the G-Forces of astronauts traveling to space,” it’s probably offering a few hundred bucks off its mattresses too.

Friday Open Thread

Time to discuss anything you want!

I’ll start off with this: I was at the library the other day, looking for Jennifer Weiner books (since she’s visiting Cedar Rapids in June), and I saw a copy of The Princess Bride in a featured display—so of course I grabbed it.

And of course I’ve read it before, but it was when I was, like, twelve. I remember it included the scariest scene in any book I’d ever read (it involves a spider, and it’s not in the movie) and I have this mental image of me sitting on my bed—which is how I know this took place when I was twelve and not fourteen, because my bed was still next to the window at the time—and literally tossing the school library copy away from me because I did not want to turn the page and keep reading.

And then of course I did.

(And then I was too keyed up to go to sleep, which is what I was supposed to be doing all along.)

Well. It turns out that the scene in question isn’t that scary anymore, at least not from my 37-year-old perspective, and it’s also a lot shorter than I remember it being.

Honestly, I don’t think I’ve been scared by a book in a long time. That might be one of the privileges of youth (also, these days I tend to read fewer books that include full-page illustrations of young girls with spiders crawling out of their faces*).

But it was also kinda fun to throw the book away from me—like, on my bed, I knew it wasn’t going to get damaged or anything—and then decide to steel my nerves and pick it up again. ❤️

*If you don’t recognize what book I’m referencing by that description alone, it’s… not The Princess Bride. But it also includes some horrifying spiders.