Conversation, Walks, and Collaborative Projects

FraidyCat is a freelance writer who works on the blog FraidyCat Finance with her partner, Mr. Blue Sky. 

Every day since mid-March, my partner and I have taken a walk, sometimes two. Our neighborhood is pretty well-laid-out for it, and very few other people walk so we didn’t worry too much about virus spread in that way. We’ve practically worn a rut through the cracked sidewalks and backwoods trails behind the nearby park.

Before COVID-19, our conversations often revolved around work, what he was doing and what I was doing, and household management: when would groceries be bought, who was coming to visit this week, what needed to be cleaned. We also talked about other things, podcasts we enjoyed and such, but it was never enough, him being pretty concise and quiet, to fill seven-to-ten 45-minute walks a week. 

At some point, I came up with the idea for a blog. This isn’t unusual, since ideas for things pop up all the time. But this one had a kernel of utility for me: it’d be a blog about us, specifically about how my partner was willing to dive into aspects of personal finance, and how I was always dragging my feet and deeply risk-averse. 

He’s not a writer, but he does like talking about what he’s learned lately about dollar-cost averaging or donor-advised funds and anything else financially interesting. I pitched him, a freelance writer at my heart, on the idea of me writing a blog that was based on our conversations.

At first, he was unsure, but I reassured him that he wouldn’t have to do 50 percent of the writing. What he’d have to do, though, was research with me: rather than just idly scrolling through the internet feeds on our phones, we’d need to follow our curiosity on personal finance topics more deliberately. He’d report back to me about what he found.

I was not all that interested in launching the blog — I’ve always struggled with committing to projects — but we spent the first two months of the pandemic chatting about what the blog would be like. I would draft up a post and he’d read it when he had the time, and when we were walking, I’d interview him more officially about decisions like why and how we bought our house and why he invests for retirement the way he does.

It was really fun. I didn’t see it going anywhere — nothing in our experience is unique in the wide, wide world of personal finance blogging — but just pretending we were going to launch the site made me look forward to our walks more. It felt like we were getting deeper into our own decision-making process, the household management talks we’d always had, but also coming up with new ideas, feeling more invigorated. It was nice to have something new to think of amidst a lot of sad, difficult news that 2020 brought.

I sometimes wonder what holds couples and very close friends together long-term. Is it inertia, proximity, or actual shared interests? My partner and I don’t have a lot of overlapping interests other than personal finance, so when our social circles and outside-the-home activities shrank, it made sense to drum up some serious shared-project energy.

I don’t know if this is the kind of project that I would have made enough headway on in a non-2020 year to actually launch the site, but in November, I decided to go ahead and launch, since that would push me out of a slump I’d been in about the project and hopefully get me excited again. It worked. In addition to the fun of talking to my partner to brainstorm, I was now able to comment and connect to other bloggers. It was a well-timed infusion of excitement, when the weather was turning nasty and I wasn’t likely to be walking as much.

As the walking aspect faded, since we’re indoors more, I still keep an eye on the weather and try to get us out for a quick stroll somewhere any time the temperature breaks 50 degrees at the warmest part of the day. But we’re in a rhythm as well: talking about personal finance as a subject of study and consideration has become part of our lexicon as we clean the kitchen and cook meals and wrap presents. 

As a writer, I tend to find the process of creation pretty lonely; only one or two times in my life have I felt truly in sync with a collaborator in creative harmony and productivity. With this project, however, the lack of expectations for the final product and the overarching goal of mostly just entertaining ourselves on walks and in the daily spaces of conversation has really worked.

I have high hopes that, after only a few years of marriage, we have more projects left in us. I hope that creative collaboration can be a part of romantic love but also of friendship love, and family love in my life. Certainly, people who don’t live in my household might not share the same schedule as me, so they might not be as immersed as we happened to be this year, but I hold out hope for other low-stakes, creativity-focused projects in the future.

The conversations themselves, it turns out, are the most useful output of our efforts; the blog itself is fine but I can’t spend a whole ton of time writing, promoting, or optimizing it, given my other work. What’s most engaging is the habit we built that takes things we already did (write and read) and turned it into prompts for connection (the chats, on walks and at home). I think creativity at its best often works this way: the more questions we ask, the more questions we generate. It’s a beautiful cycle to be in with someone you spend so much time with.