10 things on a Monday

Post format blatantly copied from one of my favorite Mormon family blogs, the aptly named Dripping with Passion.

un
Always eat what gets soggiest fastest first. I don’t know. I just woke up one day years ago with this sentence repeating in my mind. It has a nice sound to it. But also, it’s true. If you leave it for later then it gets… soggier than the other stuff that you did eat first! Okay.

deux
It will fit better if you lose weight. This wasn’t always true, but now that oversized things are an acceptable fashion concept (think of robe jackets, boyfriend jeans, loose shirts and hoodies), it’s true now. I remind myself of this whenever I decide I can’t live without some piece that looks awkward on me.

trois
I find things worth buying if and only if I haven’t picked up a basket/cart at the entrance.

quatre
(Corollary to 3) I find things worth photographing mainly when I don’t have anything to take pictures with.

cinq
A good reason I have found to reject solipsism is that I couldn’t possibly make up so many other people that cause a low level of annoyance everywhere I go. There’s at least one other mind that is out there trolling the hell out of me. Or, alas, all of these thoroughly objectionable others actually exist.

six
I recently discovered the following quote:

Imagination is the real and eternal world of which this vegetable universe is but a faint shadow.

— William Blake

The phrase “vegetable universe” made me laugh, but it’s probably unfair to vegetables. You know, the theme that they’re ineffectual, etc. Sort of related to (5), this view is similar to Kant’s objection to the ontological argument for the existence of God. Are real things really greater than imaginary things? My argument against isn’t fancy at all. I don’t bother to imagine the petty annoyances of everyday existence that would mar the perfection of an utterly perfect being.

sept
Exciting things pile up on top of each other. Most of the time my schedule is so empty that tumbleweeds roll through. Then, once in a while, I’ll get invited to 3 things I really want to do … all on the same evening. Not any special date, either. Just a random Friday in October.

huit
I may have agreed to cook for 20 people over a long weekend. Not from my own kitchen. This is giving me anxiety. I’ve never done this before, besides my failed audition to be a cook during co-op job assignment week. Wish me luck and send me recipes that little engineer hipsters would like.

neuf
I am that person who makes eye contact with your dog and breaks out in a manic smile. (And maybe produces some small excited squeak). I don’t care about babies and children, but dogs? Especially large dogs? Yes, please! I hope dog owners don’t find it too disturbing. My boyfriend said that I should stop because people think I want to eat their dogs. I guess this means I make the same face for “You are adorable, let me pet you!” and “You look delicious, let me devour you!”

dix
I have a teenaged half-sister who I’ve never met. But we’re friends on Facebook. She posted the following quote on her wall:

Love is so short, forgetting is so long.

— Pablo Neruda

I don’t know whether to be proud or to shake her and say “No, child. Don’t be like me.”

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The emperor’s naked

Or, “This is why I’m cheap.”

There are many factors that go into the price of a consumer product. The only one I willingly spend more on is marginal cost of production. That is, how much it costs to make one more unit of the item. This factor includes things like cost of materials, labor, electricity to run the factory, etc. In most cases (i.e., besides in the case of inefficiently produced goods), marginal cost of production is directly correlated with quality.

Wine is a good example of this. Did you know that even wine experts can’t tell expensive from cheap wine? Or that people report wine tasting better just because they’re told it’s expensive? They aren’t lying: the increased pleasure shows in their brain scans. Here’s the solution to the wine problem: have your friends bring you cheap wine and tell you it’s expensive. Do the same for your friends.

Here’s another great example:

3431_a2_eames_hang-it-all_coatrack

The MSRP on this designer (Eames Hang-it-all) coat rack is $199. But on Amazon, you can find one that looks similar for about $35. It’s even lower on Alibaba. We can assume the marginal cost of production is less than $30. Why does the original cost 6x as much? If there is really a noticeable quality difference, that would be fine, but for me, that would justify a price difference of 2x at most. Is it that the designer gets a royalty? Again, that would be fine, if most of the markup went into the designer’s pocket. However, I don’t think that happens. So why the price difference?

Here are things I won’t pay extra for: advertising, exclusivity, gimmicks, company bloat. I especially won’t pay for what I’m guessing is the most common reason things are overpriced for what they are: no reason at all. Simply to line the pockets of whoever is selling the overpriced things.

I wish the price tag of each item included MCP (marginal cost of production), so we could all be informed consumers and know what percent of our purchase price is pure bullshit.

What’s in my purse

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I remember reading articles in magazines where famous women would empty out their purses for magazines and talk about the contents. They probably got paid to pimp certain brands and products. I understand that I’m not famous and no one cares what’s in my purse, but I thought it’d be fun to write a post about it anyway.

  1. Phone. Okay, not really my phone. But how to take pictures of your phone with your phone? I haven’t gotten to that level of ninja yet. iPhone 6s, if you’re curious. I don’t like that the 7 has a nub camera that sticks out. Or that I have to drill my own headphone jack.
  2. Wallet. It’s not big enough for all the cards I want with me so that leads us to…
  3. Wallet addition. This holds my slightly-less-commonly used cards.
  4. Shopping sac. Yeah, the black rectangle with reindeer and trees. It’s from Monoprix and self-declares as the best shopping sac in the world.
  5. Floss. Worst feeling ever: something stuck between your teeth that you keep trying to dislodge with your tongue. But it won’t budge.
  6. Keys. The boat keychain lets me hang my keys near the door.
  7. Chapstick. Actually, I haven’t needed this in a while. Maybe I should remove it. I’m told this chapstick makes me look like I’ve been feasting on fatty pork. Attractive!
  8. Pen. I can only remember to do things if I write them on my hand. I don’t have the habit of checking notes or productivity apps, but my hand is pretty much always in plain view. Otherwise I have bigger problems.
  9. Comb. I shed like a Persian cat in summer. If I combed my hair inside the apartment my boyfriend would probably evict me.

Before you ask, I don’t have any makeup in my purse because I don’t know anything about it. I sometimes participate in studies where they pay me to apply makeup to my face and report back if I develop a rash, so I’ve decided I only wear makeup if I’m getting paid to do so. Plus, makeup doesn’t make me look cute. It makes me look like Donald Trump.

Poor person fantasies

Someday, I’d like to read an essay by a rich person called “rich person fantasies” because I’d love to know what they fantasize about.

As for me, I’m poor. You might argue with me and point to a starving African orphan, but that’s no fun, is it? I’m poor by my own definition, we’ll leave it at that. For your amusement, these are the things I fantasize about, in no particular order:

A kitchen so large that even if I wanted to put every dish, pot, pan, cake pan, vegetable and spatula on a counter, I’d still have plenty of counter space left over to do gymnastics. A kitchen so large that I could have 25 people in it and none of them would have to touch to get by each other.

I’d have a washer and dryer inside my own house. The kind that dumps the washed clothes straight into the dryer and dries them.

Everything I own would work. The refrigerator roof wouldn’t be dripping water, the hall lights wouldn’t only turn on if the switches at both ends of the hall are in a particular configuration. The car wouldn’t make noises or smoke. My internet would be fast enough that videos don’t pause themselves and require a refresh to play again. I could stream NPR and not have to constantly press play twice to get the stream to restart.

I wouldn’t hear anything I don’t want to hear. No one’s leaf blowers, no arguments with gay lovers, no babies, no loud Indian phone conversations. Certainly not vacuuming from another house.

I would never smell anything I don’t want to smell. No one around me would sleep in their own urine. No one would ever smoke.

When I buy food, I won’t look at the prices. It won’t matter.

These are my fantasies. These things are what keep me feeling poor.

Chamber music

Tonight I attended a performance of UCSF’s Chamber Music Society. The video is of my favorite of the pieces they played (played by not-them).

It’s transcribed from an organ piece. But I was destined to like this piece. It’s Handel. It’s a passacaglia. It’s on strings.

I was also at the SF Symphony this past weekend. The contrast between the two experiences makes me think I prefer chamber music. I don’t care for the dramatics of having dozens of musicians anyway. It isn’t the temperamental clashing that makes me feel like I have a soul. It’s the melody. The more… how shall I put this .. amabile, the better.

At this event, there were hardly any old people, as compared to the demographic of the SF Symphony’s audience. That means, no coughing or dying tainted the playing. No one was dressed especially nicely. No one had a much fancier seat than anyone else. No one was there to “see and be seen”. There were no crowds. The room wasn’t even half full, and it wasn’t even as large as the biggest lecture halls I’ve had class in. Everyone was there for the music.

It was also more personal: the musicians introduced themselves and gave brief introductions to their chosen pieces. They chose what they played for us, so even that tells us a bit about them as people. All of them were either affiliated with UCSF medical school or had jobs in unrelated sectors (like software engineering): all of the musicians were hobbyists playing for the fun of it. I got to sit close enough to see their faces. Ah, I hope for a summer full of such concerts! Let me know if you are aware of any in San Francisco, won’t you?

Oh, and for anyone who’s curious, here’s the original Handel organ passacaglia:

A life worth living

Believe me, I am not an expert on this. What I realised about  year ago while working for a startup was that somehow, despite earning more money than I ever had in my life, being able to buy just about anything I wanted and having plenty of opportunities to socialize with my quirky, crazy-brilliant friends, I didn’t really think my life was worth living.

Everything was a dark grey, especially on Sunday night. Worse on Monday morning. Dread filled me. But it was confusing. My income was above the 95th percentile for my age group. I had a boyfriend (a very good person!) I had been dating for a couple of years. Everything looked excellent on paper. Who was I not to be happy? On top of everything, guilt. So many people had it worse than me. What did I even want?

I wanted a life worth living. But I made the mistake of using everyone else’s definition. I never asked myself the question “what do I want” because I assumed that having what everyone else wants for should make me happy too. Wrong.

There is a story I’ve read in passing: a professor presents a container filled with rocks and asks his students if it’s full. “Yes,” they respond. He then pours pebbles in, until the spaces between the rocks are filled too. He asks again. They respond “yes” again. He repeats this twice more, with sand, then water. The point of his demonstration is that if he had done this exercise in any other order, not everything would fit. This story has been used as a metaphor for life: what we put in first should be of primary importance to us.

That was my mistake. The things I spent the most time on were the things I valued the least: my job, Tumblr, playing flash games on Facebook, watching TV shows. The latter 3 made time pass more quickly. But there was nothing I was looking forward to… I was squandering time until my eventual death, I suppose.

I hesitate to tell you my conclusions because I’m sure they won’t be yours. The point is that you have to ask yourself what the rocks are. What are the most important things in your life? It may be counterintuitive, but you probably don’t treat them that way. Suppose you’re a math graduate student (this was once my story) and you have obligations in decreasing importance to you: your research, studying for your quals, your homework, and your teaching obligations. However, the less important something is to you, the more urgent the deadlines are, so you spend time doing those things first and neglect the more important things.

Life is similar! It maybe be extremely important that you paint or write or travel, but none of those things have “urgent” deadlines. So you put them off, sometimes forever. Meanwhile, what gets your attention? That work email to fix a build. Doing the laundry. Once you’ve taken care of all the things you have to do now, you’re too drained to even think about reading Dostoyevsky or practicing Liebestraum on the piano, so you end up playing Candy Crush with the rest of your time.

tl;dr — the first step in having a life worth living is figuring out what is important to you.

North Beach at sunset, before cioppino at Sotto Mare

For me, of course, it’s the Bohemian ideals. Perhaps they’ll each get their own entry one day: Truth, Beauty, Freedom (and above all else) Love.

The sharing economy

In my closet, there is usually a box. In that box, there are more boxes, all nested in one another like Russian dolls, but with their tops open. The smallest box is stuffed with old air pockets, used padded envelopes, tattery tissues paper and druggie-sized ziploc baggies. Why? Why, you may ask. For just one reason:

I am a hoarder.

There. Now you know. The basest fear in a hoarder’s heart is that she will discard something and then need it later. It hurts even more when I can remember having once had the perfect thing and giving it away. The motivation to keep things is this:

I have it now. If I get rid of it and I need it later, I’ll have to find it AND pay for it. How inconvenient!

This mentality, in its extreme cases, leads to the homes you see in A&E’s Hoarders.

What has helped me immensely in the last few weeks is the discovery of the sharing economy with sites like Yerdle.  (No, I don’t work for them. I’m just a rabid fan.) It’s very reassuring that if I give away, say, my old jewelry box, then I one day desperately need another, I can probably find one on Yerdle and “pay” for it with the points I’ve accumulated. It’s also a nice idea that something I like but never use could be very useful right now to someone else. It isn’t pure altruism though. Far from it. Here are some things I’ve managed to get for free (and their retail prices):

Crate and Barrel down queen duvet insert ($259)
Apple 85W MacBook Pro charger ($79)
Farberware roasting rack ($38.88)
Stainless steel compost pail ($22.99)
Fashy warmflasche/hot water bottle ($18.95)

I almost feel bad because the things I’ve given away were largely worthless. Like old clothes, toys and costume jewelry. I’ve always found it funny that those things cost so much at the store, but have so little value on resale. Even a $200 cashmere sweater won’t fetch more than a few bucks at a garage sale. I’m not going to bother with buying things at full retail price anymore when I can avoid it. Clothing, utensils, bakeware, dishes — most household goods, and even some nice furniture can frequently be found for free. Why spend money to make retailers even richer? With all the money saved on these items, I can feel better about splurging when it matters to me. Like on travel or Apple products.

I also attended a Peerswap the other evening. While I did bring a sack full of old clothes to give away, what I came home with (a North Face jacket, a J. Crew blazer and button down, 2 H&M sweaters, etc) was worth a lot more. More importantly, I’m sure I’ll get more use out of my haul than the items I gave away.

I guess that’s part of the point: we have limited storage space, and limited time to use all the things we own. So why not try to give our unused things a better life? I like to imagine the rainbow slinky I know delighting a child again, like it once delighted me.