So if you're new to the blog, you might not know that I'm going through some pretty major life changes, including getting divorced and temporarily living at home with my parents to save up money to buy my own place (renting with pets is tough, and frankly, I've been ready to own a home for a while). Since I don't want to live at my parent's house for much longer, I'm working really hard to save up the last $10,000 or so I need for my down payment.
The biggest thing I've done to reach this goal is set up a strict budget, which has mostly involved fiddling with an excel spreadsheet for the last few months until I finally came up with some realistic numbers. This has required being really honest with myself about my expenses, including looking ahead to future costs and factoring that into my savings. I've found that opening multiple savings accounts for specific purposes has been really helpful to ensure I never need to dip into my down payment money. For example, I have separate accounts for pet meds and vet bills, car maintenance, reoccurring software and website costs, medical savings for upcoming copayments and deductibles, etc., and I contribute a small amount of money into each one of these accounts every month so that when I do need to pay for any of these items, I already have the money set aside to do so.
On top of that, I've started using another cool app called Daily Budget. Basically, you input your fixed expenses and your savings goals, and then it calculates how much remaining money you have to spend per day for the rest of the month. Every purchase you make outside of those fixed expenses gets entered into the app. If you over-spend one day, then you'll have less for the remaining days. If you don't spend any money one day, then you'll have more later. It's not a groundbreaking idea, but it is helpful to have a little app that instantly does those calculations for you so there's never any question about whether you're over-spending. I guess it helps me feel more accountable and aware of where my money is going. Because it's not like I'm saving 100% of my money. Living with my parents, I think it's pretty important I get out of the house at least once a week and hang out with people my own age. That means spending a little bit on gas, parking, public transportation, drinks, what have you, but using the Daily Budget app makes sure I never over do it.
If anyone's interested in a more detailed post on how I do my budget, particularly as a freelancer, let me know. I'd be happy to share some tricks I've learned.
To get me in this savings mindset, I've also been listening to the Dave Ramsey podcast. He's not 100% my cup of tea, I don't really care for his attitude at times or his political opinions, but I generally agree with his money principles. Basically, pay off your loans and then stay out of debt however you can (excepting a mortgage) by living within your means and keeping a strict budget. Again, it's not groundbreaking, but it works, and I find it's kind of helpful to have a virtual "cheerleader" for my savings and budgeting plans. I think his books are pretty good resources as well if you're looking for some money guidance.
So I'm feeling like I have a much better handle on where my money is going, and now I need to focus on increasing my salary. Getting divorced and having my household income suddenly cut in half has been quite a blow, and I need to make up for some of that loss. Increasing my hours with my university appointment has helped, but I need to take it a step further. I have ideas about teaching an online class and finishing my science writing book to sell on Amazon (and I have a pretty large Facebook group for marketing), but it's so hard to find the time to create new things when I feel like I'm always just barely keeping up with the freelance editing. Add to that my social life, which despite being fairly marginal takes up a disproportionate amount of time because of all the commuting I have to do to the city just to be around people my own age. Sometimes, it feels like I'll never have the time to work on these extra sources of revenue, but I guess if increasing your income were easy, everyone would be doing it.
My ultimate goal with all of this is to get back my independence so I can focus on the things that are important to me, like writing and other creative pursuits. I guess I think of this as the responsible road to life as an artist. Maybe you can relate.
How are your finances these days? Any savings goals or budgeting tips you'd care to share?
I'm just going to be honest with you, I'm only writing this review in hopes of saving you $15. And before you question my motives, I also want to point out that I am a massive (massive!) Star Wars fan, and I think Carrie Fisher is actually a pretty good writer. But this book is clearly a money grab and you don't need to buy it.
The Princess Diarist received a brief whirlwind of publicity last year when it was published, primarily because in it Fisher (aka Princess Leia) revealed that she and Harrison Ford had a secret affair while making the first Star Wars movie. And if that information alone is enough for you to enjoy a book, then by all means, go ahead and read it. But for anyone else who was hoping for a little more, something that you know a personal diary might actually reveal, I'm afraid you're out of luck.
And if you're interested in how Star Wars was actually made, the first third of the book does provide a few interesting insights from Fisher's perspective, but not nearly enough. For instance, she does explain how she got the part, how she was asked (and failed) to lose weight for it, and boy does she bang on about that hair. But there's not much beyond that. Personally, I would have loved to know what it was like to film the garbage compactor scene, stuff like that, but she never really mentions any that specific from Star Wars.
The diaries themselves don't even appear until about one third of the way through the book, which I found confusing given the way the book was marketed as a diary. But frankly, that had to have been a very conscious decision because these journal entries really weren't worth publishing. I mean, if you like reading pages and pages of vague teenage angst, by all means go ahead. But I found them to be incredibly underwhelming. Mostly they repeated ad nauseam about how little she meant to Ford and how powerless she felt to end things with him. (Because he's Harrison Ford I guess? If nothing else, this book was a good lesson in why it is not ok for a person to mistreat you even if they are ridiculously good-looking.)
Also, when this book came out, both she and the media really glossed over some issues of consent between her and Ford, which is frankly inexcusable. I first heard about this book on NPR's Fresh Air, and as far as I remember, not once did Terry Gross ask Fisher about the night in question. Not ok, Terry.
The final third of the book takes a big leap into the present day, which Fisher spends complaining about her fans. Those comic book conventions you go to in hopes of getting her autograph? She calls them "lap dances," and freely admits she only does them for the money and could not care less about the fans. Actually, that's a nice way of putting it. It's not that she doesn't care about her fans, it's that she has open contempt for them.
I mean, I can kind of see where she's coming from. Yes, it would get obnoxious to have everyone compare your present day appearance to how you looked forty years ago, but did we really need to hear her mocking fans for 30 pages? And if she felt trapped into signing autographs for money, maybe she should have tried spending a little less instead of blaming people for enjoying her performance? It all left a bitter taste in my mouth, and it seemed so completely unconnected to the previous two-thirds of the book that I had to wonder whether this wasn't some massive meta-commentary. Like she was laughing at us, the readers, for buying into her lap dance of a book.
Or maybe, and this would be much worse, this writing is a serious reflection of her self-acknowledged bipolar disorder, in which case I don't feel comfortable having funded such a gross exploitation of her mental health issues. This book really does feel like it was barely edited. I guess why bother, the publisher knew it would sell regardless.
Anyway, I bought and read The Princess Diarist for a book club I just joined, and I was happy to learn that everyone else shared my opinion. We all had been looking forward to this book, and then were really disappointed upon reading it. We felt like we'd been tricked by marketing once again (see Ready Player One and The Martian). Is this phenomena unique to science fiction fans? It seems to keep happening to me. Maybe it's happening in every genre these days. Basically you can sell a lot of crappy books as long as you market them right. The reader might feel cheated at the end, but what do publishers care, they've already got their $15.
July 1 marks my one year anniversary of freelance editing! 12 months of self-employment and not once did I need to dip into savings! I made money, covered my expenses, and even put some away. I'm calling this a major win, A+! Starting my own business was the best decision I ever made, if only because I was able to prove to myself that I could do it. That's a very empowering feeling.
I didn't become a millionaire, but I'm ok with that, because the whole point of starting my editing business was to work from home and have more flexibility for writing and working on my own projects. So how'd I do on that front?
I'd give myself a B-. I definitely wrote more and I even started publishing short stories on Amazon, which have sold reasonably well. But I didn't finish the novel I started last July (nor did I manage to finish it for NaNoWriMo 2016). The first draft is probably two thirds done, yet it's just sitting on my hard drive. I know exactly what I want to do with it, I have all the scenes planned, I just haven't been able to get focused enough to execute.
And that lack of "focus" stems more from the fact that I'm utterly exhausted from reading and editing all day long. This was something I hadn't anticipated. When you read and write for a living, it makes it hard to do it for fun.
So what's the solution? Maybe treat fiction writing like it's a real job and not some side-project or hobby. I know I also need to write in the morning, which has always been my preferred habit, rather than waiting until the end of the day after I've already tired myself out with editing jobs.
The other thing I need help with is staying mentally organized. Each time I take a writing break, and this one with my novel has lasted several months now, I pretty much forget where I've left off, what plot has been established, which characters know what, etc., and figuring that all out again sounds daunting. The answer is to simply read what I've already written all the way through, but we're talking about some 30,000 words here. That's a lot! And I'm already reading and editing ~5000 words of technical writing a day for my ESL clients. It adds up.
But there's really no other answer than to dive back in. I can't stand an unfinished project, and even if there are other genres I'd prefer to be working in at the moment (my short stories are especially off genre for me and I'm sick of writing them), I still feel like this novel is something I need to finish because it has potential (in my opinion). I can't throw away a half-way decent try just because I'm a little tired. I only need to manage my time better.
Got any tips for that? Maybe having a writing partner would help keep me accountable. I'm pretty good at meeting internal and external expectations (I fall somewhere between an Upholder and Obliger on the four tendencies scale), but I always make external expectations a bigger priority. This is how I'm able to meet my clients' deadlines, but it also means that I'm only very productive in my writing when I have virtually no external expectations (and when does that ever happen).
So for this next year of freelancing, my goal is to make writing a bigger priority. Paying the bills is great, but the whole point is to achieve my creative goals: publish good books that make people happy.
So does anyone want to partner up? It could be as easy as a weekly email checking in with each other about how we did on our writing, or really anything if you have a different goal in mind. Send me an email (email@example.com) if you have any interest. I would love to do it.
p.s. Please don't judge my editing skills based on this blog post or others. I'm writing this at 10 pm, which is not my finest hour of the day.
Do you watch Bojack Horseman? It's my favorite show on Netflix right now, and yes, that means I'm very late to the party, seeing as it's already done 3 seasons. But, rumor has it season 4 will be coming out in August 2017, so if you're not up to speed on this show, you have plenty of time to get caught up (and catch up you should.)
I get why it's a hard sell. It's a cartoon. It's about a rude, drug-fueled out-of work actor who just happens to be a horse named Bojack Horseman. When the show first came out a few years ago, I read the early reviews and heard that description, and while I was mildly interested (mostly because I'm a cartoon fan), I wasn't interested enough to watch. Sounded like just another show about an entitled male character. But since deciding to get divorced a few months ago, I finally had the time and inclination to see it (nothing like heartbreak to get you in the mood for Netflix).
What first drew me in was the surprising depth to the Bojack Horseman character. The show's fundamental question through each season is whether someone who is truly broken (by their parents, by their success, by their failures, by their losses) can ever be redeemed. Is Bojack beyond fixing? By outward appearances, his out-of-control drinking, drug-taking, spending, womanizing, anger, and cynicism would suggest so, but there's clearly something deeper and wholly sincere to him that makes Bojack if not likeable, at least someone you can feel compassion for.
And this depth of character isn't just limited to him; just about everyone on the show gets a similar treatment. Even the most apparently superficial character, Mr. Peanutbutter (a professional rival of Bojack's). is more complex than he seems. At first you think he's just there for a laugh, but then his story takes an interesting spin about marriage. I mean, how many TV shows feature a marriage on the rocks that slowly recovers? None, right? So you wouldn't expect a cartoon to be the one that does it. Yet it does and it works.
The second thing that drew me into the show was its bizarre universe. Animals and people live and work together, and it's not remotely commented on. For example, Bojack is a horse, his agent is a cat, his roommate is a twenty-something-year-old man, his rival is a Labrador Retriever, and his ghostwriter is a Vietnamese American woman. The show feels no need to explain this, which is great (no fucking origin stories here). All of the animal characters make for some fun visual puns and jokes, which probably only works because the character design is so top-notch (actually, it was an interview with the artist, Lisa Hanawalt, on the Imaginary Worlds podcast that got me interested in giving Bojack Horseman a shot).
And then like The Simpsons before it, part of the appeal of Bojack Horseman is that this universe is totally self-contained and self-consistent. There must be a cast of a hundred recognizable characters. Small details that happen in one episode will reappear again in later seasons For example, after Bojack steals the letter "D" from the Hollywood sign in L.A., the characters simply start referring to the area as "Hollywoo," and they unironically do this for the rest of the series. Another example is how "sexy" characters are almost always marine mammals, like orcas and dolphins. What the hell is that all about? I don't know, but the consistency of the absurdity makes it funny.
Maybe it's just me, but I love details like that. It's one of those shows I won't listen to while I'm doing something else. You need to really watch it to catch all the jokes since so much of it is visual-based, making a cartoon the perfect medium for it, since anything can be drawn into the story.
All in all, I think Bojack Horseman is an unusually good TV show. There are a few slow episodes here and there, but the overall arc of each full season is excellent. My personal favorite episode was the one that takes place underwater and is completely silent - a great nod to the old cartoons that didn't have a lick of dialogue. This seems to drive some people crazy (see all the people who didn't like Wall-E), but I love it. Let the pictures tell the story, that's the strength of cartoons.
Guess I've banged on about Bojack for long enough. I'm curious though, are you a fan? Seems like it has a cult following, but I don't know anyone in real life who watches it.
p.s. Alison Brie, who does the voice of Diane the ghostwriter in Bojack Horseman (and was Trudy in Mad Men), has another new show on Netflix, called Glow, which is about a real-life female wrestling league in the 80's. I just started it last night and I was pretty entertained. We'll see where it goes, but if you're on the fence, I think it's worth watching.
It's been almost exactly three months since we separated, and the days of debilitating heart ache may be somewhat behind me. Except for that little blip I experienced immediately after I moved out my things, I've been feeling much better, more hopeful. Occasionally, I'll get a lonely pang, but it passes, and before I know it, I'm thinking about something else besides him. I guess it's true, time heals all wounds. Not that I would declare myself "healed" exactly, just that some of the worst of it may be finally over. (Although I feel like I keep saying that...)
So besides time, what else has helped me get to this point? Honestly? Staying busy.
My editing work has picked up again. I have no idea why it trailed off like it did in April and May, but things seem to be back on track. Maybe it was a seasonal fluctuation? Or maybe it was the universe deciding I needed to take some time off? Who knows. Thankfully I have a part-time appointment working for a professor, so my work and funds didn't totally dry up during that period. And now my base-line salary has actually grown as I've increased my hours with that professor. My freelance workload has also returned to normal (if not a bit on the heavy side). I can't complain. Making more money is certainly better than making less.
I've also realized that I'm ready to start rebuilding my social network. I've licked my wounds, and now it's time to get back out there. Moving away and losing my friends has been one of the harder parts of this divorce. It took me years to find those people in Chapel Hill, and I'm really going to miss them. Now I'm starting over again, but at least it's in a place where I still have a few friends and family. And D.C. is certainly not lacking for thirty-somethings. I just have to find them.
To do that, I've joined (and attended) several Meetups. I've been going to a couple drawing related ones. I also joined two different book clubs, figuring I would try both and see which was the best fit (two men enter, one shall leave....). I also signed up for a studio art class at the Smithsonian, which I am super excited for. It starts in a few weeks. The Smithsonian was one of the biggest things I missed when I moved away from D.C. So now that I'm back, I figured I should take advantage of it again. Their classes are very reasonably priced when you consider all the studio time you get. I'm also now a proud member of the Smithsonian, so I get discounts on different events and lectures they're always running. Maybe I'm a nerd, but museum events and lectures are my idea of heaven. Hopefully I'll meet some like-minded people there, and if not, hey at least I got to do some cool stuff.
And then there's travel. This weekend I'm visiting my best friend in Dallas. We have big plans of drinking in the back yard, going out for brunch, and taking her dogs to the Arboretum. It's exactly the kind of relaxation that I need right now. I'm also going to pick her brain a bit about online dating. I really don't feel up to it at the moment, but I also don't want to close myself off entirely. Maybe she'll have some insights about it.
Then in a few weeks, I'll take the bus up to New York and visit my brother and cousins. I just want to hang out and maybe go to the Met or MoMa. And who knows, maybe I'll be a little crazy and get one of those disgusting looking milkshakes that have a cupcake wedged in them (seriously, so gross...yet so mesmerizing - must try).
Creatively, I've been writing a little bit, and I'm calling that a major win after going through a drought for several months. I just couldn't do it before. And like I said, I've been doing a bit of drawing, which is something I LOVED in high school. I've even taken the piano back up. I'm out of practice, but I'm also having a good time learning some of these Studio Ghibli pieces by Joe Hisaishi.
Finally, pouring my heart out to a counselor every two weeks has been incredibly helpful and cathartic. She's tough on me when I get hard on myself, and that's made a world of difference - just pointing out how negative I can be about myself. Now that I see the pattern, I'm finding it easier to shut down before it spirals out of control.
Other than that I'd say making time for exercise and yoga has made a big difference in how I feel physically. I'm eating mostly healthy foods and taking long walks with the dog. On the advice of my counselor, I've also taken up meditation again (despite my mixed feelings about it). I will say that at this moment, when I feel so emotionally out of whack, it has made a difference.
So yeah, staying busy, making art, and talking to a professional has helped me out a lot. Having the support of my family is another huge difference maker. I know I'm really lucky to have all of these things, so I'm going to make the best of it.
How about you? Any tips for rebuilding post-divorce or breakup? I'd love to hear your comments.
Yay book review! First in a while for me. Guess I must be feeling a little better :)
Too bad though that I didn't much care for The Sirens of Titan. I like Vonnegut a lot. I'd even put Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat's Cradle in my top 10 favorite novels. But unfortunately Sirens of Titan wouldn't even crack my top 100. It's an early novel for Vonnegut and it really shows.
There's a maddening amount of descriptive detail about trivial objects and people who have little or nothing to do with the story and don't add much to the atmosphere either. The characters aren't particularly compelling to begin with and even less so after they have their memories erased and for all intents and purposes become new characters mid-way through the novel (who does that?). The prose isn't terrible, but it's not great either, and while the ending is somewhat clever, it's not clever enough to be such a great punchline to save the story. And frankly, it's an emotionally frigid book, and it's this kind of writing that gives science fiction a bad name.
So it goes.
But that's ok. In fact, it's kind of interesting to read an author's catalog and see how their work changes over time. From that perspective, The Sirens of Titan was a fantastic read because you can see how clearly it functions as a prototype for Slaughterhouse-Five. Both novels feature characters who live in multiple times and places at once. The prismatic Tralfamadorians that appear in Slaughterhouse also show up in a slightly more pathetic form in Sirens. Even some of Vonnegut's interest in how religions are formed and why, which is so central to the plot of Cat's Cradle, appears in Sirens as well, if much more clumsily so.
But as a young novelist, Vonnegut clearly didn't yet have the technical or artistic experience to do these ideas justice - but he didn't dump them either. Basically, Sirens is a practice novel that clearly evolved into Slaughterhouse, which is easily one of the greatest American novels ever written (yes, even if it's science fiction).
And it isn't that a comforting thought? That just because you didn't manage to get your ideas quite right in your first novel, it doesn't mean you can't give them another go in your second?
It sure takes the pressure off anyway.
Sirens of Titan, did you read it? Did you like it? Or did you get the sense of an amateur on his way to greatness?
My ex and I were together for almost 13 years, and during all that time, I almost never dreamed about him. Maybe it was the familiarity of seeing someone almost every single day that caused it. But now that we've split up, and I haven't seen him or even heard his voice in several months (our relationship reduced to a series of logistics-based text messages), I find myself dreaming about him several nights a week.
I suppose it's my unconscious still trying to process what happened, or rather, why it happened. Why are we getting divorced? I'm still struggling with how a loving relationship and friendship soured the way it did. Something changed, and I can't really understand why. I mean, logically I know that we got together when we were very young and that we grew up into people who weren't necessarily the most compatible. But it's like my brain keeps trying to pinpoint the moment or the tipping point when we became too different to really get along or love each other as well as we once did.
So that's where I'm at. I thought I had gotten past a lot of those questions, which were my obsession in the first few weeks of the split, but then I finally moved out all my stuff last weekend, and revisiting the house that had once been our home seems to have reopened a lot of wounds I thought were on their way to healing.
I'm feeling better though, day by day, especially now that I have all my things back and that we've hammered out a lot of the necessary fiscal agreements. Thank god we didn't have much in the way of assets or kids to fight over. It wasn't a totally seamless transition, there were some hard feelings here and there, but I think overall we did really well in being respectful and fair. There are things I wish he had done differently, and I'm sure vice versa, but it's the kind of stuff that won't matter in a year.
That's my new mantra: "Will this matter in a year?"
It's hard to remember to ask myself this when a point of contention comes up (not just with my ex, but with everything), but when I do, the answer is almost always no, and that's helped me avoid getting wound up about stupid stuff. And right now, all I want is to feel calm.
But it's funny, that same mantra applies to the reasons why I'm getting divorced. Would those issues have mattered in a year if we had gone the more comfortable route and stayed together? Yes, absolutely, neither one of us denies it. So unfortunately, that means these issues are worth the pain and hardship of a breakup to resolve, and I can't avoid those feelings no matter how I much I'd like to.
When you broke up with your boyfriend or girlfriend or spouse, did you dream about them a lot?
Anne with an E, Netflix's recent adaptation of the classic Anne of Green Gables story, was going to be a hard sell for me no matter what. My cousin and I used to watch the first video tape of the classic 1985 miniseries over and over at our grandmother's house, desperately wishing we had the second tape to see how Anne's story turned out! We loved her. I don't know why but little girls love to imagine themselves as orphans. Maybe it's the only way children can envision independence at that age. Anne was our perfect heroine.
Eventually I did get to see the end of the series thanks to Blockbuster, and later power-read my way through the novels, sitting on the floor, propped up against my bed, as happy as an any 11-year old could be. All of this is only to say that I'm one of those people who is deeply invested in the Anne of Green Gables story.
So you're probably not surprised to hear that I didn't care for Anne with an E. To be fair, I could barely make it through the first episode. It's such a radical new interpretation of the story, and I don't think it works.
What made Anne appealing in the books and the 1985 series was that she was smart, imaginative, hard-working, and courageous - in spite - of her horrible childhood prior to life at Green Gables. The new series basically says that she is all of those things - because - of her past. Those are two very different characters, and while the latter might be more realistic, that her flights of imagination are coping mechanisms brought on by childhood trauma, it's not particularly pleasant or interesting to watch. It's strident and dark. The Anne of Green Gables story was anything but those things. It was optimistic, fun, and funny.
I don't love this trend in TV nowadays where everyone and everything is unhappy and serious. When I want to hear a story, it's usually because I want to escape those things. There's a place for catharsis, but I don't think it's in children's literature. Maybe that's where the creators at Netflix got things wrong - trying to take a children's story and turn it into adult entertainment. See how wrong that sounds? Who's bright idea was this?
Have you seen Anne with an E yet? If so, what did you think? I should probably push through the series, if only to see if it gets better, but it doesn't according to the New Yorker, so I think I'll save my time and energy for other things. (Like moving this weekend - wish me luck!)
So a weird thing happened to me. After basically ignoring 97% of the apps on my phone for the last five years, and questioning the value of apps in general, I fell in love with two just this past week. They're pretty fantastic, so I thought I'd share:
Forest: With everything I've been going through lately, it's no wonder I'm having problems focusing on my work. For a while I tried the Pomodoro technique, which works, but most often I'd forget all about it and slide back into anxious procrastination. Then I heard about Forest, which uses the same concept, but ties your working periods to a virtual growing plant. You just set the timer for how long you want to focus, the app "plants" a seedling, and if you can stay on task for the entire period without getting distracted on your phone, then the seedling grows into a tree. But if you get distracted, the plant dies...so you try really hard to stay on task. You can collect trees to build a forest and I find that oddly satisfying. Maybe it works for me because I like to garden and I can't stomach the idea of killing a tree! (I wonder if there are similar apps out there for people who would be more motivated by a tamagotchi-style pet.)
Also, the more successful trees you plant, the more points you earn, which you can use to "buy" other kinds of trees and plants to grow in your forest. So there's a gaming element to it, all of which gives me motivation and accountability to stay focused while I'm editing for a client. I also like the fact that I can set timers for myself that remind me to "plant" a tree so I don't forget to use the app. Forest costs $1.99 in the Apple store, but it's honestly one of the better 2 bucks I've ever spent. Last week I was barely able to work for longer than 15 minutes at a time without getting distracted by sad thoughts or logistic questions about my upcoming move. But since I started using Forest, I've been clocking hours of solid work time, which I so badly need to do at this point, if only for the distraction and the money.
I'll admit, I heard about Forest from Cupcakes & Cashmere, which is kind of a hate read for me, but they very occasionally introduce me to something new and useful., For whatever reason, it's almost always technology related, which I guess is just a sign that I tend to lag behind the times.
Skyscanner: I'm guessing I'm pretty late to the Skyscanner party as well, but I still think it's a great app to check out if you want to travel as inexpensively as possible. My best friend invited me to spend a weekend with her in Dallas this summer. Sounds like fun! Except, for obvious reasons, I'm trying to be careful with my money right now. To be honest, I don't think I understood how to use this app when I first tried it. I searched for flights to Dallas and it gave me a list that seemed no different from Kayak or any other airline ticket search engine. You fiddle and fiddle with your travel dates to lower the price, but it feels like you're shooting in the dark.
But then I noticed a bottom tab that said "Explore." I clicked on it, then entered the city where I wanted to go, and BOOM - a dozen upcoming flights appeared of various dates and lengths that were by far the cheapest of all the fares. I just filtered the results to show only the weekend flights, and within 15 minutes I had found and booked the best deal that also fit my schedule. The only trade-off is that you can't choose specific days to depart and arrive, but there were plenty of reasonable itineraries to choose from, and it wasn't hard for me to be flexible given the open-style of my friend's invitation. All I had to do was confirm that a time also worked for her and we were good to go.
So now because of Skyscanner, I get to see my friend and have something to look forward to, all without breaking the bank. Can't argue with that! So pro-tip, use the "Explore" feature on Skyscanner,
Have you found any good apps lately that are actually making a difference in your life?
Buy this book and read at least the first four chapters.
I'm seeing a counselor to help me through my divorce and this was the homework she gave me after our first meeting. From what I understand, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David Burns, was one of the first books published on cognitive behavioral therapy that was aimed at lay people. It's very easy to read, but most of all, incredibly helpful.
The point is to teach you how negative thoughts create negative feelings and moods, like depression and anxiety. By learning how to identify various patterns of cognitive distortion (basically, mistaken, illogical thinking) through different exercises and activities, we can retake control of our mood and get back to feeling good again.
It might sound a little hokey from the way I've described it, but the book is most definitely not. When Burns explains cognitive behavioral therapy, the answer seems so obvious and clear: I'm going through a difficult time, my brain is filled with negative thoughts, and those thoughts are making me feel even worse. When I analyze those thoughts using the methods prescribed by Burns, I realized they weren't actually based in reality - they're distortions of reality. And as I realize this, it's easier to shut them down, and my mood has improved accordingly. It's really very cool. It's not a linear improvement, but I can tell I'm on the right track.
One of the coolest takeaways I've learned from this book so far is that the key to self-confidence is getting rid of these negative thoughts. I'm a child of the 90's, so I grew up in a culture of participation trophies and "good job!" at every turn in what I think everyone now agrees was a misguided attempt to boost self-confidence in kids. The idea that self-confidence may in fact be more about silencing that inner-critic instead of creating some kind of false inner-cheerleader was sort of mind-blowing.
So if there's any silver lining to my divorce, it's that it has encouraged me to seek counseling from a professional who has introduced me to cognitive behavioral therapy, and I can already tell these are techniques I'll be able to use for the rest of my life to help me manage my anxiety. At the moment, it's really helping with my situational depression, which is hardly unexpected given the circumstances.
If you're curious about the different kinds of cognitive distortions we all experience to some degree, here's a link that lists the ones that Burns identifies as the most typical. One of the exercises you can do is write down your negative thoughts as you experience them, then identify which cognitive distortions they fit on that list, followed by a more rational response to each distortion (basically, explain to yourself why that negative thought isn't actually true). Study after study has shown that when this type of cognitive behavioral therapy is used in conjunction with medication, it's more effective at treating depression than just medication alone.
I've mostly written this blog post so I can come back to it and easily look up those cognitive distortions as I'm working on these kinds of exercises every day, but maybe you'll find it helpful too if you're struggling with negative feelings of any kind at any point in your life, not just divorce.
Also, I hope readers of this blog understand why I'm writing about divorce right now. It won't be forever, I promise. I hope to get back to discussing reading and writing again soon, but for the moment, I really need to do this in order to focus on getting better and figuring out the new "normal" in my life.
Writing, editing, and doing science when I feel like it. Just a book without a genre.