Where I Got Published Today: Lifehacker

How to See Beyond the ‘Money FOG’

If you let fear, obligation, or guilt control your decisions about money, you’re stuck in the Money FOG.

What does that mean? Essentially, instead of making thoughtful financial choices that help you achieve your long-term goals, you make more impulsive financial choices based on these three negative emotions.

When to Splurge on Your Kids

When are your children’s activities worth the money they cost? What about that big family vacation you’re planning—is it something your kids will remember fondly, or will they only remember it as a waste of money?

May Financial Update

First of May, first of May, financial updating starts today…

(Or continues, really. I’ve been doing this for years.)

My current net worth is $107,801.44, which is $5,054.69 higher than my April net worth of $102,746.75.

This is nearly entirely due to investment growth—I got a 4.3% return this month—which, even though I knew this kind of thing would start to happen once my net worth passed the six-figure mark, still feels really weird.

I received $9,300 in freelance checks last month plus $43.20 in publishing royalties, and I anticipate breaking $10K in freelance checks in May. June, however, will probably be a low earnings month, since I am taking a two-week vacation (five days at Walt Disney World, five days at a family event, a couple days at the end to rest from all the travel) and won’t be writing or earning money during that time.

This also feels a little weird—it’ll be the longest chunk of time I’ve taken off work ever, I think. I’ve done a week away from work in the past, but I don’t think I’ve taken two weeks off, even back in my employee days.

But I did set myself the goal of taking a two-week vacation in 2019, and now I get to see what happens.

In terms of spending: like many people who discovered their tax burden was lower than anticipated, I took that extra money and let it blow a hole straight through my pocket. I bought $63.13 worth of plants. I got myself a $15.99 gym bag that I didn’t even need (my old one was still functional, I just wanted one that had a pouch for a water bottle). I spent an unbelievable $126.62 on dining out—and before you start laughing, remember that I typically spend $25 per month on restaurants and snacks, and okay, you can laugh now.

Yes, I live a very frugal life, and yes, I’m steadily increasing my monthly freelance earnings, and yes, I’m investing a lot of those earnings—and so this is what my finances are starting to look like.

It’s weird.

I’m very happy with it, but I’m not used to it yet. ❤️

Where I Got Published Today: Lifehacker

Research Mortgage Lenders the Way You Research Restaurants

I don’t know about you, but before I choose a restaurant, I like to look at a lot of photos and reviews.

Even if someone else chose the restaurant—even if they say it’s their favorite restaurant and I’m going to love it—I still like to check the menu online and then look for food photos on Yelp or Facebook, to give myself the best chance of ordering something I’ll enjoy.

Find Out Your Real Hourly Wage With This Calculator

Khe Hy, at RadReads, has put together a spreadsheet to help us calculate what we’re actually earning. You input your income, the number of hours you spend at work, your commute time, the amount of work you do on the weekends, and how much time it takes you to unwind from work every day—plus a bunch of other figures such as your effective tax rate and the amount of money you spend on work-related stuff, from clothing to happy hours.

Book Review: Philip Pullman’s Daemon Voices

I have deliberately avoided reading Philip Pullman’s The Book of Dust because I don’t want there to be any more stories about Lyra and her family and the world of His Dark Materials. The trilogy told all the story it needed to, with an ending I found both unbearable (it was one of the rare stories that made me cry, at the end) and satisfying.

It’s this idea of satisfaction—and its good friend, structure—that Pullman addresses in his non-fiction essay collection Daemon Voices: On Stories and Storytelling.

Stories, as Pullman reminds us, are rituals. They come with expectations, and part of your job as a teller of stories is to understand how to create, manage, and manipulate those expectations.

This means understanding story structure, and how we’ve been telling stories since the earliest oral narratives were transcribed into books.

It also means understanding theme and language and context, in the sense that some stories have certain aspects that naturally belong to them—that are already part of the story, before you begin to write it—and if you try to fit in too many pieces where they don’t belong, or leave other pieces out, your readers become unsatisfied.

Here’s how he compares two different types of fantasy narratives, for example:

“Jack and the Beanstalk” is a republican story because the magic grows out of the most common and everyday thing—a handful of beans—and the beanstalk grows right outside the kitchen window. The Lord of the Rings is not a republican story, because there is no point at which it connects with our life. Middle Earth is a place that never existed in a past that never was, and there’s no way we could ever get there.

In this case Pullman uses “republican” to mean “of the Republic of Heaven,” as in “No story in which there’s an absolute gulf between our world and the story-world can depict the Republic of Heaven, because the republic can be nowhere but here.” (I should note that, despite Pullman’s atheism, at least half of these essays tie back to religion and Christianity.)

There is a particularly interesting essay in which Pullman writes about his struggle over whether to make His Dark Materials what he calls “obvious”—to reveal that several of the main characters are actually related, for example, or to have a character behave heroically when needed. Would it not be “cleverer,” or more realistic, to have his main characters be strangers to each other? To have someone falter at the crucial moment?

But he decided to embrace the obvious. The told-before. The expected and eagerly anticipated.

We shouldn’t be afraid of the obvious, because stories are about life, and life is full of obvious things like food and sleep and love and courage which you don’t stop needing just because you’re a good reader.

That said, I’ll end this by telling you about two novels I read recently.

The first novel, which shall remain unnamed, played its hand too early. At a certain point it became obvious how the woman seeking revenge would get what she wanted, and that she wouldn’t have any change of heart or anything, and I flipped to the last chapter to confirm I was right and then decided I wasn’t interested in reading any more.

The second novel, The Time Traveler’s Wife, was similarly predictable, in the sense that you know many plot points in advance simply because the main character is a time traveler. But I found it absolutely riveting. I didn’t know how the characters would feel when these plot points happened, or what they would say to each other, or how an event glimpsed by a jump into the future would play out when the characters reached it in the present.

I wanted to know what happened next, even though I already knew it, because I was interested in how it would affect these unique and sympathetic people—and how their story would affect me.

That’s been a part of storytelling at least since Aristotle gave it a name, after all. ❤️

Where I Got Published Today: Lifehacker

Here Is TurboTax’s Actual Link to File for Free

If you’re looking for TurboTax’s free file option, you probably won’t find it by visiting TurboTax.Intuit.com.

Instead, you’ll want to visit TurboTax.Intuit.com/TaxFreedom.

Don’t Go Into Debt for Your Kid’s Extracurriculars

A new survey suggests that over half of Americans have gone into debt for their kids’ extracurriculars—and that might not be such a good idea.

According to CompareCards.com, 62% of American parents have picked up debt in order to let their children practice soccer or ballet. Nine percent of those parents owe more than $5,000, and nearly a third owe more than $3,000.

On Storytelling and Tension

We’re in the final week of rehearsal for the Brahms Requiem, and I was going to use this blog post to share the lyrics to the piece and make an observation about how Brahms crafts a narrative arc that takes us from “I am mourning a loved one who has died” to “This mourning reminds me that I am anxious about my own death” to “I have accepted death by accepting God’s love.”

Of course, this particular narrative arc requires a little bit of interpretation on the listener’s part—I mean, Brahms doesn’t come out and say any of this in his lyrics, he just drops in quotes like this:

Lord, teach me
That I must have an end,
And my life has a purpose,
and I must accept this.

Translation © 2010 Ahmed E. Ismail

And then he lets us put the piece together (literally).

So I was all ready to write about what I thought Brahms meant to do with this piece and how it fit in with the Hero’s Journey, and then I had a conversation with our conductor.

Basically I babbled out a bunch of thoughts about whether Brahms was a character in his own piece, and whether Brahms-the-character was discovering that death had no sting or communicating something he had already discovered, and whether we, as a choir, should treat it as a revelation we’re just now learning or a statement meant to comfort others.

“Treat it like a release of tension,” the conductor said.

And my immediate thought was of course, that’s exactly what it is, I should have realized it myself.

Not just because it’s difficult, if not impossible, to do something like “sing the Requiem as if you were Brahms discovering its message in real time” in a way that effectively communicates that to an audience. (You could always write a note at the beginning of the program telling everyone how to interpret your interpretation, or put up some projections of an actor playing Brahms as he walks back and forth and worries—but if you have to explain it in a matter extraneous to the text, you’re failing at your job of performing the text.)

Nor because everyone in the audience is going to come up with their own interpretation of the piece, the same way I created my interpretation of Brahms’ narrative arc. (In other words: if you’re listening to the music, you’ll understand that it is about coming to terms with death. Any additional thoughts or emotions you experience while listening are your own.)

It’s because of this: when I attended Maggie Stiefvater’s Portraits and Dreams writing seminar, she explained that storytelling, at its core, was about tension and release. A good story has the right amount of both, and puts them in the right places.

Tension and release are what provide the emotional journey—and after you’ve experienced that journey, you can sit back and ask yourself whether Brahms meant to write himself as a character in his own Requiem, or what Sean wished for in The Scorpio Races, or whether The Wizard of Oz is really just a giant allegory about the gold standard or whatever.

I feel like a bit of a goober for not having figured that out on my own.

But I’m glad I’m thinking about it now. ❤️

Three Articles About Pop Culture Phenomena

Slate: A Definitive Ranking of the Avengers’ New Hairstyles in Endgame

Avengers: Endgame offers many surprises, but foremost among them is the haircuts. While a couple of these new hairstyles have been spotted in the movie’s trailers by eagle-eyed viewers, Marvel kept most of them under lock and key, rightfully regarding them as one of the film’s biggest twists. What do our heroes’ updated manes reveal—and more importantly, how do they look? Below, we count down the Avengers’ new 2024 ’dos, from worst to best.

As a person who recently made a BIG HAIR CHANGE that just happened to coincide with a big life change, I totally sympathized with this post. (Especially the part where I haven’t really figured out how to style my new hair yet.)

Vox: “Khaleesi” became shorthand for a strong, empowered woman, but Daenerys Targaryen may be Game of Thrones’ final villain.

The showrunners didn’t just decide Dany was good until they needed her to be bad. Her story was always supposed to end this way, but it’s hard to capture a book character’s nuances — and, you know, her budding despotic tendencies — on a show that also has to give screentime to dozens of other characters. Our culture’s rampant Dany identification is the result of flat characterization: If all her choices are framed and marketed as unambiguously feminist and just, the audience will buy it. If the show had played sinister music or put a darker filter over her scenes, would the audience feel the same way about her?

I don’t actually think Dany will be the final villain—but I do think she’ll have to account for her actions.

Longreads: When Did Pop Culture Become Homework?

Creating art to dominate this discursive landscape turns that art into a chore — in other words, cultural homework. This is where people start saying things like, “Do I HAVE to watch Captain Marvel?” and “feeling a lot of pressure to read sally rooney!”and “do i have to listen to the yeehaw album?” This kind of coercion has been known to cause an extreme side effect — reactance, a psychological phenomenon in which a person who feels their freedom being constricted adopts a combative stance, turning a piece of art we might otherwise be neutral about into an object of derision. The Guardian’s Oliver Burkeman called it “cultural cantankerousness” and used another psychological concept, optimal distinctiveness theory, to further explain it. That term describes how people try to balance feeling included and feeling distinct within a social group. Burkeman, however, favored his reactance as a form of self-protective FOMO avoidance. “My irritation at the plaudits heaped on any given book, film or play is a way of reasserting control,” he wrote. “Instead of worrying about whether I should be reading Ferrante, I’m defiantly resolving that I won’t.” (This was written in 2016; if it were written now, I’m sure he would’ve used Rooney).

Fun fact: I tried reading Sally Rooney’s Conversations With Friends, got a few chapters in, and decided I was too old for the book—not because I was older than the protagonist, since I read plenty of novels about people both younger and older than me, but because the questions the characters were trying to answer were questions I had already outgrown.

In other words: not every pop culture phenomena is for everybody, and that’s fine. ❤️

Where I Got Published Today: Lifehacker

Treat Your Financial Fitness Like Your Physical Fitness

What if we started treating our finances the same way we approached our fitness endeavors—by doing what we can, modifying when we need to, and slowly getting stronger?

How to Pay for Your Pet’s Healthcare

Covering the cost of your pet’s healthcare—whether it’s a standard checkup or a more complicated procedure—can be expensive.

Should you take out a pet insurance plan, with deductibles and copays, or create a special savings account to cover your fur baby’s care? What about healthcare credit cards like CareCredit? How are they different from ordinary credit cards—and are they worth it?

Friday Open Thread

Today’s open thread is brought to you by an absolutely gorgeous day that I can’t wait to go outside and enjoy.

I’m also probably going to celebrate Independent Bookstore Day today instead of tomorrow, because it’s supposed to rain all day tomorrow and the temperature is scheduled to drop back down into the 40s.

So… today I buy the books, and tomorrow I read them.*

How about you? What’s on your mind this Friday? ❤️

*JUST KIDDING I am totally going to start reading the books tonight.