Contextualizing money

I'm bad with money.  And I don't want to think too hard about that, because it makes me feel sad and overwhelmed.  So I'm going to talk about food instead for a little bit, then circle back.

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This is a Ze Frank video, about cholesterol.  It's called Cholesterol.  In it, Ze talks about the impulse that persuades him to make bad food decisions, and has put him in a state of health that reduces his projected lifespan substantially.  He describes a voice inside his head, that decides what's going to happen ("He'll tell you not to have the sandwich.  And we've already established, that's happening." [emphasis mine]) even though it directly contradicts the advice on healthy eating he literally just got, in the building he was walking out of at that moment.

I used to have a problem with healthy eating.  I mean, I still do.  I ate an entire Ben & Jerry's ice cream today.  But I've got my problem in control to a level where I'm pretty healthy -- two years ago, my weight fluctuated between 240 and 260 pounds.  I'm 5'9", so that's not healthy.  And if you're thinking, "The BMI is total crap, it's possible to be healthy at that weight!" -- you're right.  But I'm not a weight lifter.  None of that extra weight was muscle.  I wasn't healthy.

But my mental block about dieting was so massive that I could barely even begin to do anything about my health.  The only times I ever lost any was when I got dumped, and I'd drop twenty or thirty pounds because I wasn't eating because I was sad.  Or, when I was working every day around the holiday season, and barely eating enough to keep myself from passing out at work, where I was standing up for eight hour shifts every day.

And I didn't decide to eat healthy.  That never happened.  What I decided was to switch my lifestyle around food.  I took up Weekday Vegetarianism. ([TED talk] [Vlogbrothers video])  That worked, for several reasons:

(1.) Meat is bad for you, and eating substantially less of it significantly improved the quality of my diet.

(2.) There are several reasons for doing Weeekday Veg, so it was easy for me to avoid annoying self-justification arguments about whether I should make that decision, both with myself, and with people whom I didn't want involved in my dietary choices.

(3.) It created a concrete, easy to follow commitment that allowed me to limit my consumption without thinking too hard about why I was doing it.

(4.) I was doing it for myself, on my own terms, so I didn't feel like I was doing it just because people expected it of me.

My weight dropped at a healthy, steady rate of about 2 pounds a week, until I leveled out at 195, which is where I've been for, so far, all of this year.  I'm still not skinny.  I'm not the embodiment of any ideal of beauty in Western culture.  But I'm not unhealthy, in the way I was before, and I feel ethically better about my eating decisions than I did before.

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Now, I said earlier in this post that I had a whole Ben & Jerry's ice cream.  Which is fine.  I do that sometimes, and I'm not worried about it, because it's not my whole diet and it's not every day.  Reasonably frequent bowls of ice cream have still been better for my health than reasonably frequent burgers, chicken and steak.[1. Especially considering that I didn't skip the ice cream when I was still eating meat every day.]

But I bought that ice cream.  And if you've been following my blog, you know I'm in quite a lot of debt.  But I had some money, so I ended up spending it.

I hate having money.  It makes me feel uncomfortable, unsafe and guilty.  Having money, and relying on money, always implies that I risk losing that money, or losing access to money.  I hate having bills, too, for the same reason.  I hate that money is a thing, though I recognize and acknowledge its utility.

I hate money like I love steak, and I don't know any easy way to control my spending.  If I could, I'd just give all my money away to charity, but while that solves the problem of having it, it doesn't solve any of the problems of not having it.  I haven't yet figured out any way that better spending can be a lifestyle choice, the way Weekday Veg is.  People's advice for lifestyle changes with money generally seem to be, "Be better with money."  It's not that easy, and that approach has never worked for me, with anything.

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Sometimes, I hear people talk about a "Welfare state," like it's some sort of evil system that only people who want to lay around all day and not do anything would want.  But when I think about my money problems, I tend to find myself fantasizing about exactly that kind of system.  I would happily work a full-time job, doing whatever the government decided I was needed for, as long as I didn't have to end up with money as a consequence.  I want a place to sleep, food to eat, the freedom to do and say what I want in my free time, to possibly earn enough admiration in an artistic field to shift into doing what I want to do for my living, and access to the resources like libraries and workshops in which I can do and say those things I want to.

don't want to have to be an accountant.  I don't want my success in the world to be contingent, not just upon my talents and dedication within whatever field in which I might excel, but also my talent at keeping track of finances and spotting good deals and financing plans.

When I think too much about money, I get wrapped up in that daydream, and anger at the unfairness that the system in which we live artificially enhances the success of people who are good at money over people who are good at anything else, like engineers and teachers and medical workers.[1. Until they're making enough to hire someone good at money.]  And that anger makes it difficult for me to accept the world I do live in, and makes it difficult for me to explore solutions to my financial problems that don't rely on the civilization I live in being fundamentally different.

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So, that's it.  That's my money problem, wrapped up in a neat little psychological, socialist-idealist bow.  I'm hoping that having this out of my system and up on the internet will free up the mental space necessary to work with the capitalist environment I've got [1. Which has loads of advantages, don't get me wrong, and I do see the practical and theoretical problems with my socialist fantasy too -- I'm talking about my fantasy here, not making a serious Utopian proposal.  Please don't jump down my throat about being a commie pinko fascist.] instead of getting angry, daydreaming, and stress-spending fifty bucks on scratch tickets and booze.

So yeah

Do you ever realize that it's one of those nights where it's 5 minutes to midnight, and you haven't blogged yet? I do, sometimes.  Right now is a good example.

Andsobut I jumped onto my blog and started typing, when I realized that I'm faced with an ethical dilemma -- I haven't set the blog's clock forward yet.  It still thinks it's almost 11, not almost midnight.  So, what do I do?  Do I take my time with it, knowing I've got an extra fudging hour?  Or do I rush a post to keep to the spirit of my comittments?

After all, I mean, the bet ended yesterday.  (I lost.  Didn't lose the weight.  But he lost too, so I don't have to pay!  Yet.  We'll see how the next round goes.)  So it's not like there's anything to lose if I don't post.

But I just don't want to see that little black number staring at me on the calendar, every time I scroll back to March.  Because I want to keep this up.  It's important to me.  It makes me feel better about myself and my life and makes me feel motivated to keep trying because hey at least I haven't fucked this up.

But the clock is ticking down and I don't know what to do and oh god I haven't stopped typing since I typed the title "Oh yeah" I mean I've only backspaced to correct spelling errors and the third paragraph starts with the word "Andsobut" and oh god oh god oh god I forget where I was going with this

I'm going to hit publish and fix the clock and tty tomorrow have a good night DFTBA

Minecraft!

Hi, I'm Tom.  I run a Minecraft server, as of about three hours ago, and I have no idea what I'm doing. Here are some problems I've run into so far:

  • You can't place or destroy blocks near the spawn
  • Apparently, one of my players is stuck in Creative mode
  • Oh god I have no clue what I'm doing

So, I guess what I'm doing lately is setting up my life to force me to learn a whole bunch of new skills.  Understanding computers in the form of Minecraft server running, foreign policy trying to figure out how I feel about Kony 2012, and an in-depth study of YouTube.

I really don't know what to say, apart from I don't know what I'm doing.  I don't know what I'm doing.  I don't know what I'm doing.

I'm going to go work on Chapter 5 of The Book.

SLEEP

Sleep is really important.   I know that, because I haven't had any for about 24 hours, and it's seriously affecting my ability to think coherently.  But I promised you a Srs Bsns blog post, so today's will be about sleep. I think sleep is serious business for two major reasons:

1.  It's important for health.

Mental stability, physical health, weight control and healthy social lives all rely heavily on a healthy, consistent sleep schedule.  Of course, deficiencies in any of these areas can contribute to disrupting your sleep cycles, so, especially for depressed people like me, sleep disturbances are often part of a vicious cycle (a phrase which I hate but grudgingly use because it is, annoyingly, the best phrase for the meaning it conveys).

2.  It's effing interesting.

Sleep is, as of my most recent reading on the subject, some time around 2005, very poorly understood.  I mean, we do know a lot.  But we don't know anywhere near as much about sleep as we do about most other bodily functions, and I think that has a lot to do with the fact that there are very few sleep-related phenomena not related to the brain.

So, there's sleep paralysis.  That's when your whole body from the neck down stops working, because otherwise you'd be flailing around in your dreams and in real life.

Dreams are really pretty cool.  Some people think they're kind of magic, which they're not, but they are, (according to me, and without any scientific consensus I'm aware of although I am pretty sure this is still a fairly open topic,) useful gateways into learning about your own thought process.

The problem I think interpreting dreams has is that they could only realistically reinforce the narratives you already build your life around.  You might, maybe, have a dream that subverts your expectations within that narrative.  But you don't dream in terms of the stories other people tell themselves about their own lives.  So while dreaming can be useful, especially if you're conscious of the meta-analysis, for understanding yourself, it's a terrible tool for understanding other people.  Your dreams do not impart secret wisdom about your boy/girlfriend's fidelity.  Only your own insecurity.

Anyway, I yawned three times in that paragraph, so I'm going to go and have some sleep. TTY Tomorrow!  <3 (I feel like this is the blogging equivalent of drunk-texting.)

I think I've been unfair in my judgment of vanity plates

For a very long time, I've found most vanity plates deeply unsettling.  The ones that referred directly to the car itself seemed fine, but plates that made a claim about one's identity -- approximations of phrases like "Daddy's girl" or "Three kids, one male two female" came off to me as incredibly reductionist, and, well, creepy. In retrospect, though, I think I haven't been giving some of those plate types the proper benefit of the doubt.  When a license plate is obviously a name for the car, I've been comfortable dismissing it as a description of the car, not its driver.  I didn't assume that the driver was trying to encapsulate their whole selves in a single word, especially not where that word was a description of one's station within one's family.

But family dynamics make a lot of impact in decisions about buying a car.  A license plate that reads something like "Soccer mom" doesn't necessarily mean that its owner considers that the most fundamental truth about herself.  It only really suggests that she felt it was important information about the car.

In the past, I've separated license plates into two categories in my mind: the ones that obviously represented merely an aspect of the person, and the ones that tried to capture the whole.  But there's really no way I could genuinely make that distinction -- on reflection, I think the categories I was really extrapolating were: the plates that imply qualities I like or am neutral towards, and the plates that imply qualities I dislike.  I was needlessly vilifying swaths of people based on my own subconscious and semiconscious biases.

These sort of things are important when you're an otherwise irritable driver, you know.  Anything that makes the trip more stressful makes me more likely to drive like an asshole, and I hate letting myself have excuses to do that.

My sleep schedule melted

In the day and a half following New Years, for reasons I don't intend to publish, I ended up going to bed around 10am on Monday.  It's Tuesday now, so I'm not utterly doomed.  I hope to be able to pull it back to normal within the next couple days. The thing is, I don't really know how to do that.

Generally, when I need to fix my sleep schedule, I just stay up all night the night before something important, like the first day of school, then show up anyway.  Sure, I pass out as soon as I get home, but it's fine because in a couple days I'm back to normal and I don't really have to try.

But there's nothing  I can do, this time, to serve that function.  I don't have a regular schedule looming in my future, I just want to be able to be awake at noon -- and if I've learned anything from the last two sleep-periods, it's that trying to stay up past ten or eleven am right now is painful, difficult, and ultimately futile.

I'm going to try to put it back together as hastily as possible -- I haven't taken any caffeine today, so hopefully I'll be able to just pass out again in a few hours, after I get today's writing done.

Alas, it seems this week will be less productive than I hoped.

The internet, and how my brain apparently works

The Atlantic printed posted an article last Thursday about a potentially better version of the internet. This version of the internet would function by providing users access to pieces of data or content directly,  rather than connecting them to the server upon which that data or content is hosted.  If I understand correctly (and it's very possible I don't) it would mean that if a nearby computer or server had that piece of information in its recent memory, your computer would get it from there, rather than going all the way to the source, saving time and helping people distribute content. And the first thing I started thinking about, when I learned about this cool new technology, was all the ways it could possibly go wrong.

I wondered if it would reinforce filter bubbles.  I worried that it might result in an inability to retain a standard of what the original data should have looked like, instead providing  some people corrupted or altered versions of it, and making it impossible for them to access the original work.

Of course, this says nothing about the technology itself.  I don't know anything like enough about the current internet, never mind this new technology, to have any clue whether those are legitimate worries.  It might not even be possible for the possibly-new internet to have those effects.

All this worrying did was offer me a distressing insight into my  own mind, and a helpful reminder that I'm just as capable of the-sky-is-falling style fear of the new as everyone else.

[EDIT: I just want to point out that I feel stupid for using the phrase "just as capable."  I wrote a comic once about how much I hate that phrase construction, and I suck for using it anyway.]

I am easily horrified

I don't know how many of my reader(s?) are familiar with the Slender Man mythos. Quick primer: it's a sort of online family of horror stories, told in different media in a number of loosely interconnected narratives.  Most of the works acknowledge as canon at least some of the other series.  And they all feature some version of the Slender Man, a tall, thin entity, ambiguously faceless, who kills/abducts/drives insane his victims, targeted on the basis of whether they know he exists. I shouldn't read Slender Man stories.  They always leave me terrified for weeks.  But I definitely shouldn't have been reading them tonight.

It's snowing here, a lot, and we were pretty sure the power was going to go out.  So, about an hour ago, I was in the middle of an article exploring whether the symbol (x), used to ward him off, works, or whether it attracts him, or whether drawing it is part of the compulsions associated with his beginning to warp your mind.

Then the power went out, and the house was plunged into darkness.

The generator is on now, so I'll be fine for power, but I won't sleep easily tonight.

I've made a new bet

I find that there are a handful of good ways to keep oneself to one's commitments.  I've got a few going right now:

  1. I’m updating this blog every day through the month of September.
  2. I’m tweeting every day (@txwatson) through the month of September, now twice.
  3. I’m updating my comic, Bathetic, three times a week. and, now,
  4. I’m working on a book, every day, until the damn thing is finished.

In the past, there are three ways I've kept myself to keep up with the commitments I've made.

Personal vows:  Making arbitrary commitments is easy enough when I vow to do it, like I'm doing with abstention from alcohol this month. This works mostly because I like having the ability in place, and if I ever fail to keep a vow, it degrades my ability to persuade myself to do things in the future.

Public accountability:  I find it much harder to give up on a goal if there's someone holding me accountable for it.  This works better for some things than others -- it's a great way to get my homework done, but it was pointedly unhelpful when I became a weekday vegetarian, because most of my peer group and family wanted me to quit.  (I shall blog about that in future.)

Money:  I made some new commitments tonight, and I put over five hundred dollars on my ability to keep them.

I can't afford to lose five hundred dollars.  I'll be keeping these commitments.

They are:

By March 12, 2012, I will:

Have lost 25 lbs. Have a GPA of at least 3.5 Finish my novel and submit it to an agent Blog every day (3 strikes allowed)

The person I bet against also made commitments, and will have to pay if I make it and they don't.  If we both make it, we throw a party for ourselves, celebrating our continued success.  If we both lose, we make new, harsher commitments, and the amount of the wager is doubled.

Wish me luck.

Minecraft continues to eat my soul

I've played Minecraft for a total of about seven hours today.  I'm rationalizing it by reminding myself that i might otherwise be wasting this time on TV or browsing the internet, or I rationalize it as part of my social life -- I'm playing on a server with a handful of my friends. But the time suck of Minecraft feels much more visceral than losing time browsing the internet or watching TV.  I feel like hours are being extracted from my life.

I shall have to quit soon.  For now, I'm going to enjoy it.  If I'm still wasting time on this in a week, I'm begging all my readers:  Intervene.

I didn't need a soul, anyway

I'm at a friend's house tonight, engaging in grossly irresponsible, addictive behavior. I've signed up for minecraft.

I have a history of video game addiction (as well as every other sort of addiction) so this is really probably a terrible idea.  On the other hand, I've been feeling a bit socially anemic lately, and the friend in question keeps a server running with a shared space.

Hopefully, I'll be able to keep it under control, continue to get the rest of my work done, and just use the game in reasonable amounts when I have the time to spare.

If I don't, please intervene.

Why was I not warned?

Those of you who follow me on Twitter (that is, none of you -- I'm pretty sure no one actually reads this blog) know that I had some car troubles yesterday.  On the way to school, I started to feel a slight sort of bumping, off to the right side of my car.  Then it started to get worse.  Then it continued to get worse.  I pulled off to the side of the road when it started to feel like I was driving a train. I got out and checked, and the front passenger-side tire had become significantly less tire-like around the bottom part.  It looked a bit more like a sheet, actually.

As it turns out, eventually, when tires wear down enough, they reach a sort of steel mesh state, shortly after which, they explode.  This appears to be what happened to my right-front tire, and my left-front tire has a similar degree of exposure.

It seems obvious to me that it's clearly someone else's fault that I had no idea how to take care of my tires.  Not mine at all.  Obviously.