Dead electronics and the serious writer

I consider it one of my good qualities that I hang onto my electronics as long as possible. In part, this is because I want to do as little as possible to contribute to an industry that destroys the planet and uses questionable labor practices*. I buy refurbished most of the time. I repair things when I can. I tolerate screen issues that literally make other people gasp in horror and ask if my computer is going to be ok. (It’s not. Oh, it’s not, it’s not, but you are so sweet and innocent, we can pretend that a repair will be possible.)

A laptop with a screenful of aggressive static
My laptop has been in several low-budget horror films.

Anyway, this is normally a good thing. But sometimes it lands me in a situation in which my two vital electronic tools go on the fritz at the same time.

My phone shuts off randomly, many times per day, while still at 90% power, sometimes dying in an endless loop of battery deaths. It’s kind of like this:

I must have died one thousand times. The goth in me will never not love this song, and the copyeditor in me will always question if I want to leave that double negative in the final draft.

My laptop will act completely normal and then lines of static will burst across the screen and defibrillate my eyes. It’s kind of like this:

Yeah, I posted this song like a month ago. It’s still awesome.

Anyway.

Everything breaking at once sucks.

It’s also a strategy.

Or rather, it’s part of a strategy.

I’m keeping my overhead low.

Times are always tough economically for artists and freelancers, so define the sort of lifestyle you want to live, budget for your expenses, and draw the line between what you will and won’t do for money.

And remember: If you want maximum artistic freedom, keep your overhead low. A free creative life is not about living within your means, it’s about living below your means.

“Do what you love!” cry the motivational speakers. But I think anybody who tells people to do what they love no matter what should also have to teach a money management course.

“Do what you love” + low overhead = a good life.

“Do what you love” + “I deserve nice things” = a time bomb.

Austin Kleon, Keep Going

Keep Going came out recently, but this is a strategy I’ve been living for a few years now. It’s intertwined with the fact that I work part-time in large part to make sure I’ll be able to do my writing. These two parts of my Master Plan are so inextricably linked that I had to cut an entire post’s worth of material about what it’s been like to give up the only full-time job I’ve had in my life.

The Alone in a Room With Invisible People podcast aired two episodes on perfectionism, in which they also discussed the concept of making financial trade-offs to gain more time to do what you really want with your life. In this case, writing.

It’s not that I have any more time than you. It’s that I spent my time specifically doing these things. I have made sacrifices in my life to sit down–and I have less money, less security– we have less security, we have more worries because of our sacrifices. In order to help me do what I want, like we did for him. And people don’t understand. They just think, “Oh, you’re lucky.” No.

Rebecca Galardo, the Alone in a Room with Invisible People podcast, Episode 56: Perfectionism–First Draft

In the podcast, Rebecca goes on to talk about having less stuff, and less nice stuff, than other people, and not being able to go out to bars or shopping with friends all the time because of her commitment to writing. We live in a time and place in which it’s possible to live on fairly little money, and end up with way too much stuff (Hi, Dollar Store!), but that’s besides the point.

The point is about making choices. Trade-offs.

In one of my earliest posts, Paper, Flip Phones, and Anvils, I wrote about not making other people justify the things they own:

If someone prefers physical books to ebooks, don’t make them justify it.
If someone doesn’t have a smartphone, don’t make them justify it.
If someone doesn’t have internet access at home, don’t make them justify it.
If someone doesn’t have GPS and, to all appearances doesn’t need it, don’t make them justify it.

It doesn’t matter if they are poor, or old, or technologically illiterate, or made a choice that you don’t understand and don’t give a shit about. Don’t make them justify that they don’t own an item, just like you wouldn’t make them justify not owning designer jeans or not owning a home aquarium or not owning a BMW*.

Kris Bowser, Paper, Flip Phones, and Anvils SELF QUOTES ARE SO CLASSY

I wrote the above quote right around when I came up with my Master Plan. The idea of making trade-offs and not compromising on my dreams and goals was one and the same as my reasoning for not upgrading my phone, my car, and my laptop until I absolutely needed to.

I had a flip phone until December 2016, and I got a ton of shit for being a Luddite (even though I design websites!) because people didn’t understand the nature of the choice. I upgraded only when the smartphone choice became pragmatic as well as shiny, like a unicorn with a sensible rain coat.

We don’t have a microwave either. Same deal. That, too, was a choice.


One night at my old job, when I was training a fellow security guard, he brought in his new computer, an $1100 HP laptop. Awesome graphics card! Fast processor! Huge hard drive! Tons of RAM! Can make paninis and will sing you to sleep while gently stroking your eyelids with delicate little machine hands!

What did he do with this awe-inspiring machine?

He watched Youtube videos and typed Word documents, two things you can do on absolutely any computer.

In other words, he could’ve saved $900 if he’d taken a few minutes to think about what he’d actually use the laptop for. That’s all it comes down to: taking a little time to think.

Who are you? What do you do? Will the new shiny thing help who are you and what you do?

I’m Kris. I write. I go outdoors. I try to take care of my family, even though I’m only about three-quarters of a functional person.

Between the first draft and these final paragraphs, I upgraded my phone. It’s not as important to my writing process, but I don’t want to be left at the mercy of its treacherous battery if I’m out hiking and get some kind of injury.

I find myself examining my new phone’s case and screen protector over and over again to make sure they won’t betray me after I finally spent the money to upgrade.

And the laptop? The laptop is like the terminal cancer patient who is given one month to live, and lasts another ten years. Or, more literally, one year. I’ll replace it as soon as I can’t write on it because writing is what I do.

This is what it means to make trade-offs for for my work.

It’s not about asceticism; it’s about an honest accounting.


*To put it diplomatically, which I probably shouldn’t do.

Self-care is walking away to use the bathroom when you’re in a conversation you can’t escape, even if the other person is still talking.

Save the phrase “It’s just politics” for things like low-blow campaign ads and candidates fighting on Twitter. When you use it in reference to issues that impact other people’s lives, you reveal not only that these things don’t apply to your life, but also that you have a woefully narrow perspective.

Lying about… artist Ellsworth Kelly

When I bought Ellsworth Kelly stamps at the post office, I lied and pretended I knew who he was. The clerk expressed his surprise that they’d put out the Kelly stamps so quickly–he’d died fairly recently.

“Oh, that’s true,” I said.

In college, the teachings of Socrates inspired me to stop pretending I knew things in order to look smarter. Instead, I decided to just ask. I might look ignorant, but it would be better for me in the long term.

Asking is better than looking something up online later; you get a human perspective that’s missing from Wikipedia. Sometimes, also, you realize that other people don’t always know what they’re talking about.

Since I didn’t ask the clerk, I had to look up Ellsworth Kelly myself.

Kelly led a long life, made tons of art, and passed away in 2015. The single awesomest thing I learned about him? He was part of a WWII unit called “The Ghost Army,” which deceived the Germans into thinking there were allied armies where there were none. PBS made a documentary about it–I know the next documentary I’m watching.

The universe “takes care of it”

There is a certain view that if we just sit back and stop worrying, the universe will take care of it. But there’s more than one meaning of “take care of it.” Sometimes, “take care of it” is what the villain says upon learning that the hero, or one of the hero’s plucky associates, is alive and well and making trouble. Turning to Henchman Number One, the villain says, “Take care of it.” And you know that the Henchman off to murder/ ambush/ kidnap/ maim someone.

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Let it not be said that the universe doesn’t look out for us, for surely it does. Sometimes like a benevolent guide, sometimes like a sadistic yet curious mad scientist.

Sometimes, that’s how the universe is too. Here’s a real life example:

Me: So I was thinking that I’d leave for work early and stop to get that computer mouse.

Universe: That’s one idea. But, ooh, how about instead the heat and hot water at your apartment stop working? And you can make a phone call about that.

Me: I hate phone calls.

Universe: Would it be better if a glass shattered on the floor right before you have to make the phone call?

Me: No, not really.

Universe: Ah, well, too late. No big deal, right?

Me: No, I suppose not. The glass broke in large pieces.

Universe: Right! Look at you, taking care of stuff like a champ.

Me: Yeah! I even still have time for lunch.

Universe: You know you have to clear off your car, right?

Me: Fine, no time for lunch. At least I have time to eat in the car.

Universe: No, now there’s blood. You have to take care of this.

Me: Blood? Where the hell is it coming from?

Universe: Your finger.

Me: Fine, I’ll put on a band-aid.

Universe: No, you can’t reach those.

Me: Well, then I’ll awkwardly wrap my finger in a napkin that I can kind of reach.

Universe: There you go. Now you can have lunch.

Me: No, I can’t. My finger is awkwardly wrapped in a napkin.

Universe: If you drive fast, you’ll have time to eat a few bites of sandwich before you walk into the building.

Me: That actually worked. You know, I’m not even in a bad mood. Despite all this.

Universe: Ok, that’s great! Now, how about you meet the person who was hired for that job you asked about all those months ago, but you didn’t follow up on it because you’re a big wimp and now you’re stuck making $10 an hour with the least flexible job in the world?

Me: Hi!

Universe: Good job. Now, how about that bad mood you mentioned earlier?

Me: Yes. I am totally depressed now.