Monday, November 26, 2018

Signal Overload

A serene and unrelated photo from my recent trip to Kyoto.

Way back in the day, several blogs ago and when I was in college, a close offline friend that I shared my blog with commented that she found it "surprising". Specifically, she was startled that I had so much to say when I came across so quiet in person. 

I didn't quite know what to make of that. I'm a proud introvert, and am on the shy (even antisocial) side of that spectrum by nature, but I also don't think of myself as quiet. Among other things, I'm a rather loud, even somewhat "fierce" public speaker, including in mock trial-like settings. Some have even said I come across condescending or "mean" (though I believe that last comment to have been influenced by sexist implicit bias because my performance was, at worst, equal in tone and fervor to a male colleague's during that same session). I also feel like it should be obvious that I have tons to say, and a nearly inexhaustible energy to say it, to analyze and dissect just about any topic, even rather small ones, from every conceivable angle. Just look at everything I've written here! Heck, I recently wrote more than 2000 words about items I'm already sure I shouldn't buy. And then there's my prolific Disqus commenting history. (Which doesn't even factor in the many discussions I participate in on the many wonderful blogs I follow that don't use Disqus.)

Not only do I enjoy all this "talking" (by which I mean, internet-based writing) related to my blog, I also have a voracious hunger for internet-based conversations elsewhere about the topics I'm interested in. Over the years here, I often link to discussions on Reddit or on much larger blogs like Corporette or internet publications like Refinery29. I'm generally following along with various discussions in all those places on an almost daily basis, concurrently with the writing and commenting I do as a blogger. Privately, I like to think of all this as a talent of a sort, that I can be thinking about and writing about so many topics in my limited free time. In actuality of course, I know that's silly of me. Having this kind of internet habit definitely does not make me special! Among other things, although I'm not an avid participant on, say, Twitter or Instagram, I understand enough to know that many people happily use them for a dizzying amount of substantive discourse every single day (for example, with the recent #ethicalfashionrepresentationmatters discussions on Instagram), even if I largely lack the know-how or will to jump into the fray on those platforms myself.

So I've been trucking along with all these habits of mine for years now, throughout all the time I've blogged here, without too much of a break, except for a hectic few months here and there, including when I studied for the bar. And I've never been tired of any of it. I was even a little proud of my inexhaustible energy for internet-based discussions. I talk about some of the topics I write about here with offline friends sometimes, of course, but not that often. I can be a bit "too much" about it all and can quickly exceed other people's interest in the topics I want to chatter on about at length. Most recently, offline friends were slightly perplexed by my determination to discuss Tara Westover's Educated (affiliate link) with them before any of them had even read it. I did at least convince my sister to read it, and she devoured it even more quickly than I did, so I consider that a win!

Except, all of a sudden, I've started getting kind of... tired. Spoiler alert (being presumptuous for a moment and assuming that people would miss me): I'm totally not going anywhere! I'll still be blogging, and I'm still eager to follow along with everyone else's blog and chime in to discussions everywhere. I just think the frequency of my writing here and my blog commenting elsewhere might drop for a while, until I'm back in the mood. And I think I need to spend less time reading certain anonymous internet discussions out there if I know they're not a great influence on me, or a good use of my time, namely things like Refinery29 Money Diaries comments sections and certain types of discussions on Twitter or Reddit. Yes, I did just sign up for Twitter again, but I'll be careful about who I follow.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Things I Liked Lately: Holiday Season 2018

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone who's celebrating! This post is inspired by Sophie's monthly updates. Lately, my writing style has shifted towards longer and more introspective posts because that's what I enjoy writing right now, but I've also collected some smaller, quicker thoughts that I also wanted to share. So here are five things I liked (and one I disliked) recently.

Oh, and I just joined Twitter again despite being somewhat intimidated by it. (It can be scary sometimes!) We'll see if I'm able to learn how to use it effectively this time around, unlike the last time I joined way back in 2008 or 2009. At the very least, I can use it to follow certain journalists who do a lot of good commentary on legal issues. I'd already been going to their pages daily, sometimes multiple times a day when the news cycle is particularly lively, so really, I should have made an account sooner!

1. // Way back in the day, someone here recommended Muji passport cases as being particularly well-designed and functional. I ended up buying one not long after, though it was not until my recent trip to Taiwan and Japan that I finally got a chance to use it.

I must say, that recommendation was right on the money! I love my new Muji passport case and found it super-functional. It's the exact right size, and has a good number of internal pockets and credit card slots, enough to store my passport, hotel room key, boarding pass, train tickets, and foreign currency in an organized and easy to find way. It may not be as pretty as the Cuyana Classic Passport Case I was thinking about last year, but the Muji one is definitely more affordable. It's also likely to be more practical because it zips up and has more pockets.

Please note that this post contains affiliate links that could result in a commission, typically a few cents, for me if you click. Thank you for your support!

2. // For the first time in around two and a half months, J.Crew is finally running a sale (possibly expiring tonight, according to their website, though they've indicated in emails that it'll last through Black Friday) that allows for a significant discount on that Juliette Collarless Sweater Blazer I'm so fond of (40% to be precise, the same discount as when I ordered it the first time in early September). I'd ordered both burgundy and gray, and decided to keep just the gray, only to find that I couldn't get over wanting the burgundy one too. I'm a little embarrassed that I've been tracking J.Crew's sales so closely, enough that I'm certain this is the first time since I got back from my trip that a better than 15% discount was available on this specific item. Often, the Juliette sweater blazer was excluded entirely from whatever promotion they were running.

3.  // I'd been looking on and off for a new jewelry storage solution for a few months (it's what I was actually looking for at Muji when I ended up at the Deciem store near Bryant Park). I'd gotten really tired of having my jewelry stored all over, some in their original boxes on my dresser, some tucked away into separate pouches in one corner of one of my dresser drawers. I wanted to store everything I owned in one box, or as close to it as possible. I was open to trying either a set of stackable acrylic drawers with velour inserts (something like this, now that Muji stores here no longer seems to stock velour drawer inserts), or a more traditional fabric-covered or wood jewelry box (Pottery Barn makes fancy ones, but that was outside of my price range). I was very particular about wanting it to have a close to ideal configuration of compartments for my collection. I have very few earrings or rings, and nothing else that's particularly small. Most options I looked at devoted too much space to compartments for rings and earrings. I also needed several larger-than-average compartments for the things I kept from my statement necklace days.

I finally picked out this stackable tray-style jewelry box on Amazon because, although I didn't think it would be perfect, it was the most suitable one I'd seen, with most of the trays devoted to larger compartments. As I suspected, the box isn't quite big enough for all my jewelry. Those statement necklaces I'm still keeping tend to be bulky, including that secondhand J.Crew crystal snowflake necklace that was one of the first purchases I tracked here, such that even some of the largest jewelry boxes I looked at wouldn't generally have enough large compartments for all of them. Each of the trays is only about 1.25 inches deep inside when the lid or one of the other trays is stacked on top, which isn't enough space for at least one important piece, a statement-making Kate Spade starfish cocktail ring that was a long-ago gift from a close friend. Still, I'm satisfied that it's as close as I was going to get to an ideal jewelry box for my needs, particularly if, er, I make good on my tentative plans to buy a second one, take two of the trays with larger compartments, and find someone to give away the other two trays and lid to.

4. // If left entirely to my own devices, I'd barely do any Christmas shopping at all. When it comes to gift-giving, my family observes the unconventional and unsentimental practice of letting the recipient choose and even order their own gifts, with the giver to reimburse them, and we're perfectly happy that way. K's family, on the other hand, prefers doing Christmas gifts the more traditional way, and I also join in on the fun. Alas, my success at picking out gifts is quite mixed. In general, I only seem to have two settings when it comes to picking gifts for people, either its perfect and thoughtful and I notice them putting it to good use throughout the subsequent months (maybe 40% of the time, at best), or it goes over like a lead balloon (the other 60% of the time) and I realize belatedly that, darn, whatever I picked was an odd choice.

One of the best gifts I've ever picked out for K is this Bloomingdales brand men's cashmere half-zip sweater with a suede accent at the zipper. He wears it to work, he wears it on the weekend, it's pretty much the only sweater he needs from late fall through early spring. (This does have the unfortunate side effect of pushing a previous Christmas gift, a similar J.Crew sweater, almost completely out of his wardrobe rotation.) He likes that it's a thin, non-bulky sweater. Apparently that works better for layering over his dress shirts than a thicker, heavier sweater would (like me, he also works at a business casual firm, so he doesn't typically wear jackets to the office).

5. // I often get inspired to hunt down extremely specific items (like the Coach Rogue, similar, earlier this year, instead of the Mansur Gavriel tote I had been thinking about) after catching a glimpse, sometimes just from the corner of my eye, of that item being worn by a stylish stranger. (I also did the same thing with the discontinued Cuyana Tall Tote this year.) This time, my sudden obsession is with a genre of item, not something I can identify as being from a particular brand.

I saw someone wearing a perfect, intentionally oversized coat with slightly dropped shoulders in a lovely hunter green shade. I'm really going to try not to shop for one, because now is so not the right time for me to buy coats, but it was beautiful. It's also a fairly difficult type of item to find: I scoured the online selections at Nordstrom and Bloomingdales and only found two current options that were remotely close to the coat I saw: one from Halogen at Nordstrom and one from, er, Kendall and Kylie Jenner's brand at Bloomingdales.

6.  // I'm devastated that Starbucks discontinued the Holiday Spice Flat White this year. It was a tasty, not overly sweet drink (I think all the holiday spice flavor came from spices mixed in to the ground coffee beans for the espresso), and I was extremely fond of it. Ah well, there's one small upside. I'm far less likely to make too many weekday trips to coffee shops this holiday season! 

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Child of the Recession: On Financial Fear

via - I moved away from the Bay Area long before Apple started building their new office complex, but my elementary school was quite near their old headquarters.

For an inordinate amount of time after I start each new job, I'm regularly plunged into a simmering state of abject terror, filled by the mostly irrational fear that I could, at any moment, be summarily fired* without having spent enough time in the job to adequately or reasonably explain, in future job interviews, why it lasted such a short time, leaving room for only one possible inference, that my performance (and thus my suitability to be an attorney) had been horribly defective in some way. I didn't initially feel this way when I started my first ever job, the only time I was actually in biglaw, but well, I learned from that experience, and I learned real fast.** 

By describing it this way, I may be overstating how much time and total headspace this line of thinking actually took up, but this was also the best way I could think of to accurately describe the intensity of the feeling when it did hit, and to indicate that the feeling reared its head often, even if it was only for extremely brief, fleeting moments most of the time.

It wasn't until recently that those feelings dissipated as to my current job, a few weeks after I crossed the one-year mark. Finally, I had some time and mental space to reflect on where the fear comes from. Fittingly, financial fear and anxiety are themes that some of my favorite money bloggers have discussed recently. For some of them, it sounds as if the source of their fear or anxiety, or how it manifests, may be similar to mine.

My own deep-set financial fear or anxiety is, I think, the product of being a true "child of the recession". And it wasn't just the 2008 crash, either. I also grew up the child of a Silicon Valley tech industry employee, surrounded mostly by other children of the tech industry. Throughout our childhoods, through the dot-com bubble and its bursting and other boom times or slow times, what little information trickled down to me, mostly through overhearing gossip shared between parents and family friends, was only enough for me to half understand what was happening. It was enough, though, to make life seem like a constant cycle of feast or famine, with some peoples' parents getting sudden stock options-related windfalls and other peoples' parents caught (sometimes more than once in just a few short years) by layoffs that always seemed to come as a surprise***.

Then, when I was in college, came the 2008 crash, which hit a year or two before I graduated. I wasn't old enough to have built any real financial foundation for myself yet. (I could certainly have been more responsible with my money as a student, but, trust me, I did not have realistic opportunities to make enough income as a college student to make a significant and lasting difference to my future after graduation.) The result was that I (and most others my age, I'm sure) felt like this terrifying thing had happened, except that I had never had a real opportunity to prepare for it, or to protect myself from it. It also came at the exact right time that my job hunt, and the first few years of just about any career I chose, would almost certainly be greatly affected by it.

I remember senior year of college being this awful time suffused with extreme anxiety and stress, not just for me, but for all of my classmates, enough that I believed deeply that there was such a thing as a "quarter life crisis" and that we might all have been in the throes of it right then. There was so much fear and, because of the crash, we all seemed to be acutely aware that desirable job opportunities were in short supply, and that we were all in direct competition for them.

I feel like a certain shared madness set in for myself, and all my close friends, one that didn't lift until at least a year after graduation. For that first year or two in our jobs, or in graduate school, we all had those typical growing pains that come from entering adult life and taking on the full range of adult responsibilities for the first time, but they were amplified tenfold by the anxiety brought about by the recession. Every little sign that things weren't going swimmingly (and we each encountered a good number of such signs, we're all only human, and learning the new norms of the workplace, or of any given graduate school, was hard work) inspired an outsized amount of angst and worry.

Please follow the link below for the rest of my thoughts on financial fear and the steps I take to try and mitigate it, some of them more useful than others. You'll also find the rather lengthy "footnotes" of this post, which may be helpful background information to the rest of this post. (In writing said "footnotes", I also got the chance to ramble about topics I've long wanted to write dedicated posts about, but haven't  quite gotten around to yet.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Japan and Taiwan Trip 2018: Instances of Slightly Unexpected Spending

Photo via K, whose phone takes better photos than mine! I think this was at Tofukuji Temple.

At some points during our recent trip to Taiwan and Japan, I was starting to feel like we hadn't done a very good job of planning. It was a slightly more eventful, less smooth trip than we're used to, and that was a shock to me, as I pride myself on being somewhat well-traveled and pretty good at packing and preparing for my trips. Some of the complications were, of course, due to weather, and that was entirely outside our control. The biggest unexpected expense of our trip was, unsurprisingly, needing to book extra time at our hotel in Kyoto at the last minute when our trip was delayed by Typhoon Trami. There was no real helping that one, and the price was also a little higher than when we booked our original stay around two or three weeks ahead. (It was ~$250/night, as opposed to the ~$206/night we were originally charged.)

By separating out all my thoughts about the more troublesome details of our trip into their own post like this, I may run the risk of sounding like a huge complainer. That's definitely not my intention! I absolutely loved my trip, and already have a rather long list of ideas for a next trip to Japan someday,  which will hopefully not be too many years from now, though it'll likely be a while. I think I'm just not accustomed to needing to plan a big trip in such a hurry. We confirmed our travel dates and booked plane tickets and hotels within a month of our departure date, and I found that stressful. I'm definitely the type of traveler who strongly prefers to have tons of time to research all the options, and I wasn't used to such last-minute travel.

Also via K's phone, from our trip Fushimi Inari, where my shoulders definitely got tired of carrying my tote bag.

Plus, to my consternation, I found that I may now be someone who needs to, or at least strongly prefers to, carry a backpack if I plan to tote around much more than just my wallet, phone, Kindle, and passport for a full day of touring on foot. All I really added to those bare-minimum daily essentials was a water bottle, light jacket, small portable power bank, pocket wifi, a small folding umbrella on rainy days, and some of the small souvenirs we purchased throughout the day, but ack, things started feeling rather heavy, and my shoulders a bit achey, towards the end of each long day of walking! (If I ever get a professional backpack that's a bit smaller and sleeker than my gigantic North Face from law school, I'll probably be bringing it along on future vacations.) I wasn't fully prepared for how much walking we did pretty much every single day of our time in Japan, and carrying all my things in a tote bag probably added to how tired I got each evening.

Before I get started with my fussing, here is one more generally applicable and potentially money-saving tip (most of the other small issues that arose for us were idiosyncratic). Although many sources make it sound like a Japan Rail ("JR") Pass is something almost every international tourist buys for just about any trip to Japan, that might not actually be the case. For itineraries like ours, involving rather long stays in a small number of cities, with only a few not-too-far day trips to surrounding areas, a JR Pass might well be significantly more expensive than just buying separate train tickets for each leg of the trip. (I dabbled with an online JR Pass calculator and was able to quickly verify that we definitely did not need JR Passes.)

Oh and I must sing the praises of luggage forwarding services, though it's not, by definition, a money-saving choice. It cost us ~$15/large suitcase to send our luggage from our hotel in Tokyo to the one in Kyoto, which I found to be totally worth the price. It does require a bit of advance planning to factor in the time it takes for delivery (~36 hours for us), or if you're staying in an AirBnb, as you may need to do some research into drop-off and/or pick-up locations. I'll admit, I'm probably unusually wimpy about dragging suitcases around a crowded subway or train station or trying to find space for them on trains. Regardless, I found luggage forwarding to be indispensable for our shinkansen trip from Tokyo to Kyoto, and I think most other people would agree it's helpful and worth it unless they packed very light. (Keep in mind that Tokyo Station is unusually large and extremely busy, enough that it was overwhelming and a bit stressful to someone accustomed to traveling through the likes of Time Square, Penn Station, and Grand Central in NYC during rush hours. Also, they schedule the trains so tightly and efficiently in Japan that, even in Kyoto or Osaka, train platforms were sometimes so crowded as to also have the potential to be a bit overwhelming if I had a heavy and unwieldy suitcase with me.)

Please follow the link below to read about the things I wasn't always good about planning ahead for!