The Lovecats

“You know what?” I told Kris last night as we were getting ready for bed. “I finally have an idea for a long foldedspace post. Like in the olden days.”

“Ha!” she said. She didn’t believe me.

“It’s a story from when we were boys,” I said. “But there are a lot of different threads to tie together. It’s going to take some time.”

This isn’t that post. This post ties together threads of a different sort: YouTube, LOLcats, the music of my youth. Here, my friends, is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. Some of you will laugh (Will K.?), some of you will cry. But most of you will just scratch your heads in bewilderment:

So funny it hurts!

I suppose some context would help many of you. “The Lovecats” is a 25-year-old song from The Cure. It’s a song I loved when I was in high school and college (and even today). And, of course, LOLcats are those (mostly) funny captioned cat photos. This video combines the two.

[Via Gina Trapani, of all people.]

Genius and the Creative Muse

Over the past couple of years, author Elizabeth Gilbert has been something of a joke in our house. We read her book The Last American Man for book group, and neither Kris nor I were impressed. It was certainly well-written, but the subject was lame, and we felt as if Gilbert were writing a love letter rather than a biography.

We’ve had friends read Gilbert’s subsequent memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, and their reactions have mostly been ambivalent, as if they couldn’t understand the hype.

So, Kris and I are unimpressed.

Yesterday, however, Andy pointed to Gilbert’s talk at this year’s TED conference. (The TED talks are amazing. They’re like little nuggets of brainfood.) Her subject? Creative genius.

My opinion of Gilbert has changed. After viewing her presentation, I have new-found respect for her and her process. What she describes is similar to what I experience. I’m not saying that I’m a genius, but what glimpses of genius I may have often seem to come from somewhere outside myself. (I think of it as possessing a muse, but maybe that’s because I don’t really understand the word.)

Gilbert tells the story of a poet who, as a young woman, would feel poems coming at her from across the landscape. She would run to the house to grab pencil and a paper before the poem would pass her by. I experience something similar. I am not joking.

When people ask me where I get my ideas, I tell them the best ones come from mowing the lawn. It’s true. For some reason I cannot fathom, when I am mowing the lawn (or doing other yardwork), I come up with the most brilliant ideas. For a long time, I would lose these ideas. I wouldn’t remember them by the time I was finished with my work. Frustrated, I developed a system. Now I keep a pencil and a pad of paper near the door. If I’m working outside and the muse comes to me, I stop what I’m doing, and I go to my pad of paper to write it down. I capture these bits of genius.

Gilbert’s talk is brilliant — at least to me, as a writer. It captures some bit of writerliness, and for that I am grateful.

(On a sidenote: Kris and I watched Almost Famous the other night. I knew the plot going in, so I expected the film to be “about” rock bands. Sure, that’s a main theme. But I was impressed that this is one of the best films I’ve ever seen about what it’s like to be a writer. Capote? That’s a film about a writer, not about writing. Almost Famous is about writing, and I love it for that.)

Branded! Feedback on the GRS Logo?

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been working with a real-life graphic designer to develop a logo (and eventually a new layout) for Get Rich Slowly. She provided me with a sheet of possible logos based on my vision for the site. Many were great, but I loved none more than this, which I think was only an afterthought on her part:

Something about the tortoise just grabbed me. He’s so damn cute! I told my designer that I wanted my site to be serious and classy (and classic), but also whimsical. I want it to have a sense of humor. I think this captures that very well. Plus I can’t help but think of the different ways the tortoise (who needs a name) could be used around the site. It’s branding!

I suggested that it might be fun to see a variation with the tortoise standing on top of the site name:

I like this version best of the two, but it’s less practical. For the web — and for print — the wide aspect-ratio is necessary. Still, I think the tortoise on top represents success. I may end up using this variation in certain circumstances (coffee mugs?).

This morning, my designer sent me variations of both logos, but with a spot of color. Kris likes the green better than the black. What do you think?

Finally, here’s the proposed business card. It would be two-sided. The first side would contain the logo and the contact information. The second side would contain a handful of provocative questions and the URL.

There you go. My first steps toward “branding”. I’d love to hear some feedback. Do you prefer the stacked version or the wide version? Black or green? (Or some combination?) Love it? Hate it? Ambivalent? I’m unlikely to change things substantially at this point because I like the tortoise motif a lot, but I’d love to hear constructive criticism on what works and what doesn’t.

“What next?” The third stage of personal finance

I earned more money in 2008 than I’ve ever made in my life. Get Rich Slowly isn’t just a personal success — it’s a financial success, as well. Combine this income with an ongoing campaign of frugality — my spending last year was the lowest it’s been since I started tracking it — and my financial position is rosy. My plan to get rich slowly is succeeding.

Financial Security

Yet despite my increased wealth, I am not happy. I love what I do — I love writing every day and interacting with readers — but I do too much of it. I spend about 60 hours each week working on this site. I’m neglecting other parts of my life.

I’ve reached a place of financial security. My income is good. I save and invest. I don’t spend frivolously. Now I find myself in the enviable position of having to decide: Should I decrease my workload, or should I use some of my income to invest in the things that make me happy?

Eight years ago, before I started Get Rich Slowly and while I was still deep in debt, I wrote on my personal blog that my goal was “to live a pastoral lifestyle”. What I meant was that I wanted to live simply, with few obligations. I wanted to work from home, to bike on errands, to squash my obsession with Stuff. I wanted to read Dickens and Proust, to spend time with my friends, to enjoy life with Kris.

This is still my ideal.

The entire reason I paid off my debt, increased savings, quit my job, and built a business was so that I could live this pastoral lifestyle. But I’m not living it. In fact, I’m working harder than I ever have before.

I love this job. It’s a joy and a privilege to do what I do. But I wonder: Am I burning myself out? Am I sacrificing time for money? Maybe there’s some middle ground. Or maybe it’s time to move to a new stage of personal finance.

The Stages of Money

Last month, I had an interesting conversation with three GRS readers: John, Tyler, and Victoria. Via comments and e-mail, we discussed an important question: “What next?” Each of us, in our own way, has mastered the basics of money management. We’re ready to move from personal-finance goals to the next step. Tyler suggested that we’re at the “third stage” of financial maturity.

  • The first stage of personal finance involves learning the basics: understanding compound interest, reducing debt, beginning to save.
  • The second stage is putting the basics into practice: choosing to live frugally, saving in earnest, and pursuing financial goals.
  • The third stage — the “what next?” stage — comes after we’ve mastered the fundamentals. It’s at this point that we begin to ask “why?” Why are we continuing to save? All of our debts are paid, so what’s the point? (There certainly is a point, but what is it?)

The four of us exchanged e-mail about what this third stage looks like, what it means to us. For example, Victoria wrote:

I, too, am beyond the first stages of personal finance. I’m focusing on self-education in entrepreneurship and philanthropy this year. I believe that every individual should have a progressive plan for when they move beyond debt, have maxed out their retirement plans, have all they need and have prioritized wants. “What next?” is a question that should be planned for.

John noted that once the basics become habit, there’s a change in mindset that needs to occur. Just as we had to shift our thinking in order to reduce our debt and to establish the habit of saving, so too must we learn that there are different types of spending:

What we’re doing now is investing. Maybe I’m investing in myself, maybe in other people, or maybe in causes or ideas that I want to help grow, but it is an investment. I am taking value that I have worked hard to build and develop and I am investing it in someone or something else. It’s not wasteful spending — I am expecting a return, not necessarily monetary, but for something positive to come out of it. Spending is more of a gut reaction. You buy something to feel better or to make up for something you are lacking. When you are investing, it is a conscious act done with a purpose. There is thought behind it.

Most of the financial information on the internet — and in magazines and books — is directed toward those in the first two stages. There’s a reason for this. The fundamentals are essential. But there’s more to smart personal finance than just practicing the basics. Where’s the information for those who are ready for the third stage? Are subsequent steps entirely self-directed? Is this where a financial planner comes in? And how many stages are there?

Victoria and Tyler and John wrote a lot more; I wish I had room to share it all. (I’ll be publishing a guest-post from John on this subject during the next month.) Suffice it to say that our conversation — and recent events — have forced me to think about what money actually means to me.

What Next?

The death of my friend Sparky caused a seismic shift in my value system. I’m seeing fault lines I never knew existed. I still believe in the importance of smart personal finance, and I’m as passionate as ever about getting rich slowly. But I’m ready to explore new aspects of this philosophy.

Over the next few months, I hope to begin learning — and sharing — about other stages of personal finance. I’m going to start adding new flavors to the mix. I’m still going to write mostly about the fundamentals — debt reduction and frugality are important — but I want to write more about the Big Picture. I’ll spend time exploring the nature of social capital. I’ll try to discover the answer to the question “What next? What’s the next step after you’ve built a solid foundation?” I’m going to write about those times it makes sense to spend — or to invest — for things that make you happy.

Last summer, one GRS reader submitted a guest article about how his friend had bought a new boat. This friend had wanted the boat for a long time, and he could afford it. He knew it would make him happy. So he bought it.

I didn’t publish the story. I was worried that it would send the wrong message. I believed it might encourage reckless spending. In retrospect, I was wrong.

The boat story is about that “what next?” step I’m seeking. It’s about the third stage of money maturity. It’s an example of what is possible if we learn smart personal finance. It’s an example of the reason we work hard and practice frugality in the first place. It’s an example of the goal.

I’m not going to publish the boat story yet — I’ll save it until after Memorial Day so that it makes sense — but I’m going to publish stories like it. I see now that money is not the goal. The goal is to live a life in which we can do and have the things we want — by making conscious choices. Money is a tool for reaching that goal.

I’m going to have fun learning about the third stage of personal finance — and beyond. As always, I hope you’ll join me on the journey.

The Year of Maintenance

Have I mentioned that Kris and I own a big, old house? We do. And for the past couple of years, I have done a piss-poor job of maintaining the thing. (Kris has upheld her end of the deal for the most part, but I’ve been absorbed with other things.)

The recent snow and ice pulled the gutters away from the side of the house in spots, which means the rain (which has been in mercifully short supply lately) just pours off the side of the house, and probably curls back onto (and under?) the siding. This problem snapped me out of my stupor, and I realized that hey! if I don’t take care of the house, it’ll fall apart. Yikes.

Over the weekend, we took a tour of Rosings Park — indoors and out. We made a long list of projects that need attention. Some are easy. We prune the grapes and the blackberries every year, right? Some are time-consuming but won’t cost much: cleaning the shop, finishing the horseshoe pits. But others will take both time and money, and they’re the things I’m most worried about. The gutters are but one example.

The southeast corner of the house — where we had an exahust vent installed for the furnace — is a nightmare. Paint is peeling away in large chunks. In some spots, it’s just bare wood against the outside world.

Kris and I have agreed that this year is the Year of Maintenance at Rosings Park. It’s going to be costly, but it needs to be done. As our home inspector wrote when we bought the house:

The national statistic on the Cash Value of Home Maintenance states, for every $1 that is spent on maintenance, up to $100 of repairs are avoided. In my experience as a professional home inspector, I have looked at hundreds of homes in all age ranges, and I have seen thousands of dollars of damage to homes that could have been avoided by spending $5 to $10 and just a few minutes of work.

It’s time for us to spend a few bucks and do a few minutes of work! (Though we’ve kind of progressed to a middle stage where it’s going to take a little longer and cost a little more.)

Anybody have experience/suggestions/recommendations for house painters?

Saturday Morning

On the way to book group last month, Kris and I stopped to pick up pastries at Marsee Bakery in Westmoreland. I found the following scene amusing:

Bakery Men

Five old men, all seated at the back of the store, each with a newspaper. (And you can see Kris reflected in the mirror…)