quarterlife in review; also known as the end of an era

I’ve turned 25, and there’s a lot on my mind. I keep thinking of the uncertainty of the future – my job ends August 31st, I’m struggling with debt, I keep hitting a wall in my dancing… While I wouldn’t say I’m in the middle of a Quarterlife Crisis, I would say that I am feeling a certain undefinable pressure and uncertainty related to my age and a sense of lacking in accomplishments.

But – I have, in fact, accomplished a great deal over the last few years. When I look back at my blog and my New Year’s Goals of the last few years, that feeling is reinforced. And some of those accomplishments are pretty awesome.

I moved to California

After a year or so of daydreaming, I moved across the country. I was initially hesitant to do so because I wanted to have security – but instead, I moved my life 3,000 miles from my parents (give or take) without any sustainable plan. Well, that’s not true – I planned to attend Graduate School, but I found out I wasn’t accepted about a month after moving.

But I plan on staying. And I’m re-evaluating my goals. While I don’t have a plan set in stone at the moment – heck, I don’t know what I’m doing after August 31st, when my employment ends – I’m pretty confident that I’m in the right place and my life is moving in the right direction.

I eat like a grown-up

I grew up exceedingly picky (in spite of how hard my parents tried to expand my horizons). I wouldn’t eat anything which wasn’t bland and recognizable. I ate Mac & Cheese (from the box) upwards of five nights a week. I didn’t believe in commonly loved foods such as hamburgers, sandwiches, steak, chocolate, or wheat bread; most fruits and vegetables were also banned from my plate.

It was obviously detrimental to my physical health, but it was also incredibly embarrassing to explain to friends every time we went out.

Over the last few years, I’ve been working slowly but surely towards being less picky – and since I’ve moved to California, I feel like I’ve made progress in leaps and bounds. Some foods might never make it onto my “approved” list (hamburgers – ugh)…but I can go to a dinner party without being afraid. And when I go to the grocery store, there’s more fresh food in my basket than pre-packaged.

I still have a long way to go before I’m eating a healthy and wide variety of foods every day – but I haven’t made Mac & Cheese for two weeks.

Other Awesome Accomplishments

Those are the two most obvious things I’m proud of at the moment – but there are other things.

  • I love running, which I’ve only learned over the last two years. I’m not running much right now (it’s hard to find the motivation when the temperature hovers around 100°), but the fact that I exercise at all is an improvement over the last 25 years.
  • I can do 25 or so push-ups at the moment. I’ve needed to re-start the 100 Push Up challenge now that I’ve settled in to California…but I’m still proud of the improvements I’ve made.
  • I’m maintaining a Lindy Blog with some regularity, though this blog has fallen off the radar a bit (more on that below). And it’s a blog I really love, where I feel I’ve been able to contribute a great amount to my favorite community of dancers.
  • I’m learning awesome things, like how to make maps through GIS, and how to create websites and code programs (check out Codecademy!). And honestly, I’m doing these things because I’m interested in learning, and that’s always fun.
  • I’ve made significant progress in my financial situation. While I still struggle on a daily basis with not succumbing to the depression of what feels like an overwhelming amount of debt, I definitely have a plan.
  • I’ve learned – and taught – some pretty awesome dance choreographies, including but not limited to the Big Apple, the Tranky Doo, and the Al and Leon Shim Sham. Next on the list? The Dean Collins Shim Sham and the Hat Trick versions of the Al & Leon Shim Sham and the Tranky Doo.

So, that’s a lot of good things. They’re things worth recognizing, because they’re accomplishments for which I should be proud.

Current Inspiration

I am really inspired by this article about Joss Whedon and his personal philosophy for success.

While it’s certainly not a set formula for success, I think there’s some quality advice in there. In a sense, it’s all about setting goals, being specific about how to get those things done, and never limiting how much you think you are capable of doing. I also think that success is made more possible with quality friendships – especially if those friends can give you some tough love.

I am finding a lot of excitement and motivation in learning new skills, reading, and getting things done. There are some hurdles I have to jump – like how easy it is to spend more hours than necessary with Netflix – but I have plans.

Speaking of Plans – I have them

I’m trying a new approach: I’m creating a “25 while 25 list.” While this list is similar to “New Year’s Goals,” it will also help me redefine my goals, which have changed significantly since the New Year. Some of these goals are meant to be fun and exciting – because life is more fulfilling when we do awesome things. Some of them will be serious – because life is also more fulfilling when we feel proud of our “grown-up” accomplishments.

To facilitate this new phase in my life, I am leaving this blog behind. I love it – I’ve grown a lot and accomplished a lot, and a good portion of that growth has been motivated by and documented through this blog. However, I also feel like there’s a lot of baggage: much like my life, this blog suffered from a lack of focus over the past two years. It’s time to buckle down and do the things I want in my life.

Feel free to follow my new blog, One Thousand Adventures (’cause I plan on having them all). This might be the end of an era – but you know what they say about endings and beginnings. Without one, we couldn’t have the other.

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the ugly side of the money mustache: a personal financial analysis, part II

Welcome to Part II of my personal financial analysis, Mr. Money Mustache style. For Part I, please read here!

This time, we look at the sad truth of being an unabashed consumer in my young twenties, as well as the scary reality of being a post-college student in today’s often over-priced advanced educational system.

Debt

Dear Mr. Money Moustache, I am in a State of Emergency. As a young adult, I received less-than-stellar advice on credit cards. Meaning I opened one, and as a young adult, I didn’t quite realize the implications of swiping that card on a regular basis. I’ve closed three credit cards, leaving only my SkyMiles card open, to which I charge certain purchases & immediately pay off (I moved across country and I miss my mom – SkyMiles are helpful). Regardless, I am having trouble making a dent in my debt. In the entire last year, I’ve only paid off a little under $3,000 of my total debt – a measly 5.4% of my total.

Student Loans

At the moment, I spend around $90 a month on student loans. This small amount will in no way pay off the $25k in debt I personally accumulated in a reasonable time frame – and when that is done, I also hope to address the student loan debt my parents accumulated for me.

The challenge I face at the moment is that even if I put all my extra money towards my Student Loans, I am currently capitalizing more interest than I am paying off, causing my loan debt to increase. Part of this is because part of my resources are paying off debt elsewhere, and I will be able to do much more good when I’ve addressed those issues – but right now, it feels like I’m falling into an abyss of doom.

Credit Card Debt

Like I said, I realize that I am in a state of emergency. Last year, I closed two credit cards by absorbing that debt into a small personal loan at a low interest rate.

As such, I am working hard to eliminate what miscellaneous debt I currently own, totaling about $3,500 – down from about $5,000 a year ago. I am trying to eliminate this debt first so that I can focus on Student Loans.

The Clown Car

All right, Mr. Money Moustache: I believe you. Getting rid of my car would be financially beneficial. Granted, it is currently out of the realm of possibility for me, at least in the near future: due to the dangerous nature of roads in the small, windy mountain town in which I live, owning a car was actually listed as a job requirement.

However, even though I plan to move to a bike-friendly city by the end of the year (and I am a huge fan of biking and walking to reduce living costs), I am not ready to give up my car. I like my car – love her, in fact. Her name is Gabby, she gets $37 miles to the gallon, and she’s almost as reliable as my mother.

Still, I could probably be more intelligent about this investment. Gabby costs a hefty $360 a month, plus gas and miscellaneous upkeep expenses. The debt repayment alone amounts to $4,320 a year.

However, I’m not sure how what my best option is – if I sell Gabby now, I would sell her at a loss and still owe money. As such, I don’t think it’s fiscally intelligent to make the switch right now? Though I’m always open to learning more! If I invest in a used car, that’s a significant chunk of cash I could save, even assuming the increase gas costs and the fact that I would still have a (significantly smaller) car payment. I could easily pay off the car more quickly and soon be investing that money in my student loans.

Right now, I’m not sure I’m ready to sell Gabby and scale back. But it’s an option I am (reluctantly) considering.

***

I feel like I’m drowning in debt. I realize if I could eliminate it from my life, I would be more than comfortable, with somewhere around an extra $500 a month going into my savings account, amounting to $6,000 a year. Considering my current lifestyle, I could save for four years and have a full year’s expenses in the bank – and that’s assuming my pay stays the same and I keep spending at my current rate, both of which I am actively working to change.

the constant struggle: a personal financial analysis, part one

I am currently sitting in Starbucks, reading Mr. Money Mustache and feeling guilty of my avid and unabated consumerist habits. If you haven’t seen MMM before, go ahead and take a minute to explore – it will change how you look at your spending habits.

I’ve been reading MMM for about six months now, and while I intellectually agree with much of what he writes, I have found trouble implementing the practices myself. Logically, I understand that I am the source of this financial trouble, and that it is within my power to fix. However, it’s difficult to determine how much my financial circumstance is a result of my youth and the jobs I have held – to be improved by garnering better employment as I gain experience – versus admitting how much I am trying to justify my poor spending and financial habits.

I am working on an in-depth personal analysis of my finances, trying to look at everything how MMM might. This is going to be a bit uncomfortable, but so many good things require a bit of discomfort to achieve something better. This will be a three-part series, starting with my income.

Current Base Income

I am partly hesitant to believe the Mustachian lifestyle will help, because I have a hard time believing I could find any realistic success on my current income. However, looking objectively at the situation, I see that the Money Mustache family lives off $25k a year, which just so happens to be what I’ve earned each the last two years – and there are three of them, and only one of me.

Moreover, any savings is good savings. While I can’t put 50% of a $40k job away to achieve early retirement in the short period of time that MMM advertises, I am currently putting away 15-20% of my earnings each month. If I could eliminate my debt (see the next post), the savings would increase. Every dollar I save is a dollar closer to financial independence.

Supplemental Income

I am looking at ways to supplement my income. I recently opened an Etsy Store, and while I doubt it will have much success in the near future, I’m working on additional things to sell so that I can make some extra cash. I’m not sure how to make my store more visible, so any and all suggestions are welcome. Feel free to “like” my Etsy Store and items so that they become more visible in searches!

I also start teaching dance lessons next month in a local studio for $5 a person. With any luck, I will be teaching private lessons soon, which can be quite lucrative (about $40/hr). There is also talk of having a workshop dedicated to Leading, Following, and Connection, as a few people have commented on my ability to follow, regardless of never having learned more than the basics of dances such as Waltz or Rumba.

Solution: Looking to Improve Future Income

I am currently investing a very reasonable $180 in a course in GIS, a booming field in which I’m quite interested. This is not the last course I’ll need to invest in, but I am optimistic that the experience and networking opportunities provided will yield a high return on the investment in my personal education. I know that if I can improve my resume, I can get the GIS and Spatial Analysis job I want.

However, I’m worried the benefits of this course will not come soon enough. I hope to move to the Bay Area at the end of the summer, which will come with increased base cost of living, starting with rent prices (the most I’ve ever paid for rent is $500, including utilities). If I’m not working in GIS, it means I’ll probably be finding temporary employment. Instead of working two jobs and somewhere around 60 hours a week, I’ll need to make a minimum of $15 an hour, and preferably at least $19 so that paying off debt and increasing my savings is possible.

I’ve hesitantly signed up with a free temp placement agency in hopes of finding new jobs more easily possible, and I’m open to any recommendations from those who have had success (or terrible failure!) with temp agencies.

***

Next time, in an effort for personal financial openness and analysis (and eventual improvement): an examination of my personal debt.

the mutability of plans

The funny thing about blogging is that it’s easier to do when it’s a habit. When it’s a habit, I look at all these things which occur on a daily basis and consider them potentially interesting as blog topics; when I fall off the wagon, though, I stop seeing all the same things as remotely worth blogging about – whether or not that’s necessarily true.

Regardless, there are important updates about Graduate School. The good news? I was technically accepted to Davis. The bad news? I wasn’t actually accepted.

So here’s the deal: to be accepted to Davis, you have to be accepted by the school AND sponsored by a Professor. Unfortunately, the Professor I want to work with is short on funding for next year – as such, while I made it through the first round of acceptances, I did not make it through the second. Honestly, this is a good thing, because I would have been sorely disappointed to go work on anything less than the perfect program – and I haven’t been even close to excited about any other program.

I have recently had a couple conversations with this professor, and as of this moment, I plan on reapplying in the fall (though I might apply through a different department).

However, I haven’t just put my life on hold for the next year. Grad School might not have worked out as I’d hoped, but I refuse to just sit around and wait until it does. Currently, I am signed up for a 5 week Quick Start Course in GIS which meets for three hours every Tuesday starting in June. This course is offered through the City College of San Francisco, and is the first among a series of courses to further education in GIS. There are five or six suggested courses which offer extensive training in different aspects of GIS; all courses are affordable and targeted at working professionals, and the program takes between 6 months and 1 year to complete on average. Most importantly, these courses are super affordable (the first is only $180).

These courses aren’t perfect. They won’t give me a Masters or a Certificate of Proficiency, but they will give me a working portfolio, ample experience, and networking opportunities. Combined with my Bachelor’s of Science in Environmental Studies & Creative Writing, I am hoping that this is all I might need to land one of those elusive “real-life” jobs that I’ve been searching for the past two years.

At this point in time, I still plan to apply for a Masters Program in the fall, to start in the fall of 2014. But that’s so far away – and this series of courses I’ve started will only take a year to complete. I could be in the job market by this time next summer, rather than in three years. Earning my Masters is still on the table, but I’m learning that sometimes, plans don’t have to be followed in the order they were made…

home sweet california home

As of today, I am officially a California Resident:

  • I have a California driver’s License
  • I am registered to vote
  • My car is registered
  • I have a PO Box in Vallecito, CA
  • And finally, I paid an obscene amount of money to the Great State for the above.

Considering the fact that all of this was accomplished before 11am, I feel pretty accomplished. Also, I feel poor (and here I was, lounging on the cushion of money I didn’t have to use in the move out here – ha!).

So, what’s next?

Well, I need to fix up the Castle. At least, that’s what I’m calling the double-wide trailer I now call home. Here is a short list of the things which need to be done:

  • Kill all the spiders. And then kill the spiders which invade the territory of the spiders I killed. And so forth. I do a sweep about once a week.
  • Dust, vacuum, scrub, and sweep everything. Priorities are the kitchen, my bedroom, my bathroom, and the living room.
  • Fix the electricity. Currently, it doesn’t service the main part of my bedroom, any of the second bedroom, the second bathroom, or the living room.
  • Weed the surroundings of the cabin, and mow the back yard for the Kramers.
  • Fix the hole in the wall under the dining room window. And by “hole in the wall,” I mean the massive hole where a raccoon escaped when he got stuck in the house.
  • Take all the miscellaneous belongings from past residents and sort them into three piles: Keep for Personal Use, Send to the Dumpster (or Goodwill, in some cases), and Kramer Keepsakes to be stored.

For a brief window into the world of the Castle, a few pictures of the closet which I cleaned out this past weekend.

Before and After pictures. See if you can find the following items: 1 monitor from when monitors weighed about 50lbs; a fax machine from when everyone had a fax machine; one lamp with four lampshades.

Not pictured: one half-used barrel of roofing tar; and finally, one massive box of used Christmas wrapping paper which hasn’t been touched since the mid-90s (all folded neatly and waiting to be reused), millions of spiders, loads of dust, and mouse droppings.

But hey. Look at that view.

Prettiest. Place. Ever.

a portrait of mountains (and such) as you move across the United States

You would think that, having grown up in the mountains, I would know what a mountain looks like. But one thing this journey has taught me is that mountains, while they are all recognizable for being the same land formation, have more forms and shapes and constructs than should be described by a single word.

The mountains in my hometown are small and rounded, and they are closely grouped together. The foothills of the Appalachians are almost more reminiscent of tight-knit, smoothed-over hills than mountains, though they do rise out of the ground with a certain sense of majesty that you might expect from a mountain. Still, the valleys have never quite felt like a “valley” to me – more like a dip in the landscape than a basin to collect the rain and the roads and the people. But those are the mountains I grew up with.

As you travel through New Mexico, the closest thing to a mountain is a plateau – short hills with the top sheared off like a man aiming for that vintage flat-top look. On the other hand, there is a more distinct sense of what a valley is – a deep and long depression in the land, cut through by a distant river. The sides of the plateaus are composed of a hundred thousand colors, all yellows and reds and blues and purples and whites.

The air in the plateaus has a strange quality which many of us wouldn’t recognize at first: it is clean. There is no smog, of course, because the cities are few and far between. But there is also no humidity or fog, and thus little moisture to thicken the air. Because of the clear air, the colors are deep and rich, especially at sunset, and the details pop out in vivid clarity, even at great distances. I understand why so many artists, especially painters, move to this incredible state. Taking National Geographic-worthy photos is all too easy in New Mexico.

As you get further west into Arizona and even California, the mountains change again. It’s as if a heavy piece of cloth has been draped over a series of incongruous objects, so that the folds of the cloth swoop down and into the ground, leaving the driver to navigate his or her way through the valleys, in-between the unknown objects. I keep waiting for a magician to pull up the cloth and yell, “surprise! It’s actually a ceramic donkey!”

These mountains are odd because they seem to rise out of nothing – the plains are flat, but somehow, there is a mountain in front of you. The valleys feel like a continuation of the flat plateau you’ve been driving since Texas, with a growth of mountains now looming overhead. I drove a hundred miles, and the elevation stayed at 5000 ft (there were signs!), and when it changed, the elevation even dropped – but still, somehow, I was driving through the mountains.

In California, as I drove north, the Mountains snuck up on me; at first, it just seemed like there was a gray haze on the horizon, but suddenly they were distinct shapes, with peaks and valleys and clouds sitting on top.

Still, the terrain was composed of gently rolling hills (I’ve never understood that phrase until now), spotted with the numerous cows and the occasional barn. The colors were so bright and intense and varied that I’m not sure artists will ever be able to fully capture or name the individual colors in those hills. Some fields were the bright yellow-green which happens to photographs when you increase the contrast too high on computers; other fields were almost teal or aqua-blue in color, subtly muted by shadow. And the shadows themselves were a deep blue or purple, standing out starkly against the bright colors of the hills. Finally, the hills were dotted with trees which only grew on the very top of the hill, as if a child who didn’t yet understand perspective had drawn them into existence. It was all surreal.

As I approached the mountains near Angels Camp, they never seemed to get closer, but the rolling hills gradually increased in size, until suddenly the roads were curving around the steep mountainsides. In Angels Camp, the houses are built into the sides of mountains in such a way that reminds me a little of the way hobbits live in the hills in Lord of the Rings – as if the land is supported by the house, and the house is supported by the land, and to take either away would cause the other to collapse.

In Angels Camp, the houses and town are situated between tightly-packed mountains, but the town lacks the feeling of being situated in a valley, similar to the valley-less feel of the mountains of North Georgia. However, it is not to be confused with the tightly-packed mountains of North Georgia, for these California mountains are steep and winding, whereas the southern Appalachians are nearly smooth and rounded. Instead, it is more like the valleys are far below us, and we are perched between the shoulder blades of tightly-packed mountains, in the cracks and crevices between the peaks.

I could write pages and pages on my impressions of the mountains (and hills and plateaus) as they change across the southern stretch of the United States – but I would have as many impressions as there are individual mountains, and I’m honestly not quite sure what the word “mountain” means anymore.

A man-made reservoir a few miles from my new home.

A man-made reservoir a few miles from my new home.

My Home

The view from my new home. The home is a little…down-trodden. But the view makes up for it all!

new beginnings

There’s something strange about new beginnings which feels indefinite – like my mind and emotions have yet to catch up to the fact that my entire life is changing as we speak.

For example, there’s my family. I’ve lived two hours away from home for six and a half years now – and I’ve loved it. I went home as often as I could, and while that number had dwindled over the past few years, I still went home about once a month. I even regularly drove two hours home just to get the oil changed in my car at our local dealership. At the moment, I am having trouble accepting the fact that going home will now require at least a couple weeks planning, a moderate reserve of cash, and at least a day’s travel in both directions.

I haven’t yet accepted that going home will be so rare in the future.

I am also having trouble accepting that I’m not going to be an active member of the Atlanta Dance Scene. While Atlanta will always have a special place in my heart, and I know I will always be able to return, it is difficult to take a step back. There are beginners I want to teach and events I want to help organize. There are a lot of changes happening in the Atlanta scene right now, and I want to be part of those changes, because I want to help make the Atlanta scene the best it could be – but instead, I am leaving it in the (albeit, quite competent) hands of my peers.

It is even difficult to fathom that I am not going to be part of the Southeast or East Coast regional dance scene. There are so many events which I have attended, and my mind still plans on attending those events, even though I know the reality is cost prohibitive.

Right now, I am struggling to refocus my brain towards making connections on the West Coast. I have a new job to work at, new friends to make, and new events to attend. I know it’s all going to be great – amazing – but I also know it’s going to be an odd period of transition, and a potentially difficult one.

I look forward to looking back in six months’ or a year’s time and seeing how my life has developed. What friends will I have? Where will I be working? How will I get involved in the dance scene? Right now, I’m just trying to figure out where I’ll be living in three days’ time.

Can't you see the family resemblance? I mean that we both take dance lessons, of course...

Can’t you see the family resemblance? I mean that we both take dance lessons, of course…