Friday Open Thread

Today I’m thinking about how I’ll be at Walt Disney World in TWO WEEKS—like, I’m thinking about a bunch of other stuff too, such as NEXT BOOK and the jazz concert I’ll be singing in this evening and the work I’m prepping for my freelance clients and the last episode of Game of Thrones, but in the back of my mind there’s this little voice that’s just going disney disney disney vacation vacation vacation over and over.

On that note, you really need to read Abigail Disney’s thoughts on Disney and capitalism if you haven’t already. Here’s an excerpt, courtesy of Vox:

Disney, after its merger with Fox, will be the largest media entity the world has ever known.

All the company lacks to lead, ironically enough, is the imagination to do so.

I want to make it clear that I have raised all of these issues with Bob Iger in the past, quietly and politely and behind the scenes with decorum and deference. I was quickly and condescendingly brushed aside. A public position is the only choice I have left to try to influence this.

What could Disney do? It could raise the salary of its lowest paid workers to a living wage. There are plenty of economists who would be only too happy to help them figure out what that living wage is.

And when you cry out that they can’t make a profit while paying a living wage, keep in mind that right now the company has never been more profitable, and is paying record compensation out to management. I hope you’ll forgive me if that claim gets a cynical groan from me. This is merely a question of priorities.

It’s an incredible essay, and one that makes me wish Abigail Disney (granddaughter of Roy Disney, great-niece of Walt) could take on leadership of the Disney company and brand.

Discuss—or discuss anything you like. The thread is open. ❤️

Where I Got Published Today: Lifehacker

Make More Money as a Freelancer by Turning Down Work

In short: if a client offers you a gig and you’re not sure you have time to fit it into your freelance schedule, don’t take on the extra work and run yourself ragged. Tell the client you’d like to work with them but you’re currently fully booked, and see how they respond. 

Try Making Small Tweaks Before Big Life Changes

If you’re not happy with your life, is it better to make a small tweak or a big change?

The answer, of course, depends on what you’re hoping to achieve—and how much risk you’re willing to take to get there.

I Love the Exist App (and I Super-Love What It Taught Me About Priorities)

So you probably remember that I have this thing I call the “Daily Spreadsheet,” in which I track everything I want to prioritize on a binary level (did it happen, did it not happen).

Did I sleep more than 7.5 hours, or did I not?

Did I do something musical today, or did I not?

Did I draft NEXT BOOK today, or did I not?

Did I connect with another person today, or did I not?

Well. I recently learned about this app called Exist, which pulls data from a bunch of other apps (Fitbit, RescueTime, Apple Health, Dark Sky, etc. etc. etc.) to present a unified theory of Who You Are and How You Work.

You can probably guess that I love this app. It pulled in the last 30 days of data from all my other apps and instantly showed me correlations between sleep and exercise and heart rate and everything else—and sure, some of the correlations were fairly obvious, e.g. “the less you sleep, the more you eat,” but some were unexpected.

I didn’t realize, for example, how increased carbohydrate intake had a negative impact on literally everything else.

Of course, days in which I eat enough carbs to affect sleep, heart rate, exercise level, etc. are generally days when I eat at restaurants, buy cookies at the library, and/or visit the candy shop across from my apartment. Which means that these aren’t just carbs, they’re refined carbs. Added sugars. High fructose corn syrup.

I wanted to make sure my carb assumption was correct, so I added “added sugars” and “restaurants and snacks” to Exist’s custom tags section—that is, the part of the app where you can make binary choices about things that did or didn’t happen that day.

I started setting up a lot of binary choices.

Instead of “did I do music today,” I created tags for “piano” and “singing” and “Chorale” and “rehearsal” and “performance.” (Maybe Exist will tell me that my heart rate is higher on performance days!)

Instead of “did I connect with another person,” I set up tags for “Mom,” “Dad,” and so on. (Maybe Exist will tell me that spending time with a certain person lowers my heart rate!)

You get the idea.

Two things happened, almost immediately:

I had more tags than I was able to keep track of, making the correlation element less trustworthy. I would wake up the next morning and think “I forgot to track that I took a melatonin pill yesterday,” or I’d review the data and notice that I forgot to track the Steam game I played three days ago. If I can’t keep my tags straight, I can’t trust Exist to provide me with accurate correlations.

The more tags I added, the less any one tag became a priority. With my Daily Spreadsheet, I was motivated to do something musical every day so I could turn the “music” cell green instead of red. Same with reading a book every day, completing my shutdown ritual every day, and so on. I gave myself a handful of priorities and, because of that, was able to prioritize them.

But Exist didn’t show me a handful of priorities. It gave me a huge list of tags and asked me to identify which ones I’d done that day. Without that narrow set of items that I’d decided were the most important, and the constant visual reminder that THESE WERE MY FIVE MOST IMPORTANT NON-WORK TASKS, MUSIC-READING-CONNECTION-EXERCISE-REST, I… stopped prioritizing those tasks.

Unbelievable, right? Is my motivation to read an actual non-internet book weak enough that I will spend all evening on the internet if I don’t have a spreadsheet with a cell I want to turn green?

Turns out… maybe?

I want to keep using Exist, because I love it (and because it’s teaching me a lot about myself). But I think I’ll have to do some serious tag culling first.

Also, I am pretty sure I need to update my thesis that building the life you want means setting boundaries and priorities.

Now it’s “building the life you want means setting boundaries and priorities and avoiding refined carbs.” ❤️

Where I Got Published Today: Bankrate, Lifehacker

Bankrate: American Airlines and Hyatt Hotels team up for crossover rewards-earning partnership

Good news for American Airlines and Hyatt Hotels loyalty program members: You’ll soon be able to earn World of Hyatt points as a passenger and American Airlines AAdvantage miles as a guest.

Lifehacker: How I Increased My Net Worth by $27,000 in Six Months

I read Financial Freedom three times, cover-to-cover. I did all the exercises and plugged my numbers into Sabatier’s online calculators. I realized that with my current expenses, I could “retire” and live off my investments as soon as those investments hit $750,000—which, at the time, the calculators predicted would take twelve years to achieve.

Of course, I’m not really planning to retire in my late 40s. I’m both a writer and a novelist; we tend to keep working until our final hours. But I’m also realistic. I’ve been a freelancer for seven years, but I can’t guarantee my web writing career will last another seven; even if there’s still the same demand for articles and content, I may start getting passed over for fresher faces with a better grasp of pop/youth culture.

Lifehacker: Change Your Loyalty Program Passwords Now

Hackers don’t just target high-value travel rewards, either. The NYT reports that one man had 9,700 Buffalo Wild Wings points stolen. According to BWW’s Blazin’ Rewards site, that’s enough for nine free lunches (not counting tax and tip) and one free order of street tacos.


I’m at a very strange point in NEXT BOOK.

I had an outline before I started, with some gaps at certain points where I knew that I’d have to get the characters from A to B eventually but didn’t know how they’d get there.

I’m in one of those gaps at the moment, and the way I’m solving it is by, like, literally writing down what the characters do and how they feel about it.

Which is, pretty much, the essence of storytelling.

But it’s not all of what makes a good story.

Here’s what I mean:

So I’ve already told you that this book is a portal fantasy, and because of that it should come as no surprise that my main character goes through the portal. Like, that’s barely even a spoiler.

It might be a bit of a spoiler to say that she goes back into her own world and then has to make the decision of whether to return to the portal world (and for how long, and how often, and whether it should be a permanent transition, etc.).

I know the choice this character makes, but I left myself a gap in “figuring out how she gets there.”

Which means I’ve started writing scenes like this:

The buses began running again on Saturday morning, so Ellen was able to get to the assisted living center without booking a Lyft and leaving a digital trail. Getting to the Banner House would be more difficult; they ended up setting up a new account under Grandma Trudy’s name, Ellen trying to be patient as her grandmother tapped her credit card number into her tablet, hoping nobody she knew would see her. She thought about running down the hall, bursting into Millicent Banner Hayward’s room, saying “guess where we’re going!” She still had to talk to Millicent at some point. Maybe. Once she figured out what to say.

This feels like 70 percent of a story. It tells you what’s going on, it tells you why it’s going on, and it tells you what Ellen is thinking and feeling.

But there’s something missing. Too much logistics, maybe. Not enough sensory detail. The obvious fact that neither Ellen nor I know whether she’ll end up talking to Millicent Banner Hayward (or whether Millicent will end up being a character in the story long-term; she might not actually have a role to play beyond “being the person who did the SPOILER SPOILER thing, fifty years ago”).

Still, I’ll keep writing. I’ve already told myself that I’m going to have to go back and rework a lot of this later, so that means the part of the story I write today can be as tactical and sparse as it needs to be, as long as I keep putting words on the page every morning. ❤️

Where I Got Published Today: Lifehacker

What to Do When You Hate Your New Job

If you hate your new job, should you quit right away—or should you stick it out?

The answer, of course, is “it depends.” Some workplaces are so toxic that leaving as soon as possible can be a wise move. However, if you need the money, want to avoid looking like a job-hopper, and/or want to make sure you don’t inadvertently jump into a job you hate just as much as your current one, it’s worth taking the time to stick around.

At least for a little while.

Book Review: Seanan McGuire’s Middlegame

Readers often comment that Seanan McGuire’s novels make them feel seen; that they don’t often get to read about protagonists who are asexual or autistic or trans, for example, unless that particular attribute is at the center of the story, i.e. A Book About How This Person Is Different.

But McGuire’s books are rarely about How People Are Different.

Instead, she tells stories about math and science and love and fairies and secret doorways and parallel universes, while subtly and empathetically reminding us that there are many different ways to be human.*

Interestingly—or ironically, if you don’t mind my using the colloquial definition—Middlegame is about a pair of twins, Roger and Dodger, who are not fully human. They don’t know that, of course; not at the beginning of the story, anyway. They definitely don’t know that if they were to meet in person, they could end up activating a force that would allow them to control the world.

The novel should appeal to fans of Good Omens, The Wizard of Oz, the TV series Leverage (which I first learned about through Seanan McGuire’s Twitter and have since watched in full three times), or anyone who likes a good time travel narrative.**

But the reason Middlegame became my very favorite Seanan McGuire book was because—as readers often do—I understood myself a little bit more after seeing the world from Roger and Dodger’s perspectives.

People who grew up as Gifted Children, regardless of whether they were also created by alchemists in order to embody the Doctrine of Ethos, will probably see bits of themselves in these characters as well.

Which isn’t what the book is about, of course. You’d never describe Middlegame as “a story about two former prodigies who have to figure out how to manage their interests, quirks, and obsessions as adults while learning how to form the authentic connections that are often difficult for people who grew up out of sync with their peers.”

I mean, it’s a book about time travel. And magic. And chase scenes.

On that note—the other thing I love love love about Seanan McGuire books is that the magic always makes sense. There are rules to these worlds, and because of that you never spend the story thinking “these showrunners did not stop and ask themselves how dragons create fire and whether they have a limited amount of dragon lighter fluid stored in their glands or whatever, they just decided that any one dragon could generate as much fire as was necessary to the plot, from any height, with perfect aim, without worrying about wind or anything like that.”***

So… go read Middlegame. I’m turning my copy back in to the library today, which means it’ll be available for the next person who wants to check it out. ❤️

*What I especially love about McGuire’s stories is that they rarely include one-dimensional villains. Her antagonists are people too, and readers can understand and sympathize with the choices they make.

**The last three novels I’ve read have all featured characters roughly my age who have to deal with the ethical consequences of time travel. I didn’t plan this. I wonder if it means something.

***Yes, my biggest nitpick about the most recent Game of Thrones episode was that the dragon didn’t have rules.

Where I Got Published Today: Lifehacker

These Are the Only Three Money Apps You Need

How many money apps do you have? Turns out, the perfect number might be three: a budgeting app, an investment tracker, and a credit monitoring service.

At Business Insider, Eric Rosenberg explains that these three apps are “the three most important tools I use to manage my own personal finances whether I’m on my laptop or with mobile apps on the go.”

I also have these three apps, and I agree with Rosenberg—with a budgeting app, an investment tracker, and a credit monitor, you have an excellent understanding of not only where your finances are today, but where they might take you in the future.

Here’s why.

On Following Your Dreams

You know that song I shared in Friday’s Open Thread? One of the handful of songs I wrote all those years ago that I still like?

It came to me in a dream.

Melody, almost in full, and several of the lyrics.

I sang everything I could remember into my phone’s voice recorder as soon as I woke up, and spent the next few days putting the piece together.

The mysterious house at the core of NEXT BOOK was part of a dream, too.

A recurring dream, spent visiting the places in the house that I had grown to love in previous dreams. Attics and basements and secret rooms and staircases that went up and up and up forever.

I hope I end up loving the book as much as I love that song. ❤️