I'm So Tired


There are a lot of things that I love about freelance work. I love the creativity, having the freedom to make my own schedule, and being able to choose the projects I want to work on. It can be challenging to stay disciplined. For example, I very much enjoy a good old fashioned eight hours of beauty sleep. And if I don’t have a morning shoot or an upcoming deadline, it can be hard to resist the temptation of the snooze button. This would be all fine and good if I wasn’t someone who suffers from a specific type of sleep-in-anxiety - wherein waking up late makes me feel a sort of panic that I’ve already wasted valuable time.

Waking up early, on the other hand, offers a sense of accomplishment and serenity. And I find no greater pleasure than watching the sky slowly shift from blackness to inky blue to the warm light of dawn. My interest in a month of mornings was to develop a habit that I could depend on to help me start each day feeling great. So how did it go?

6 am every morning was the idea. I would say my success rate has been somewhere around 60%. As in, I’ve managed to drag my ass out of bed slightly more often than not. Despite pretty much everyone’s advice, I haven’t been going to bed any earlier. It has been a struggle, and I have succumbed often to the alluring warmth of bed. The rest of the time, I have been very tired.

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The mornings that I succeeded in maintaining consciousness have been great! I’ve been trying on a variety of morning routines. For example, last week I woke up and went for a sunrise paddle on town lake. A few mornings I woke up and cooked a huge, hearty breakfast. I’ve tried journalling, yoga, getting sucked into social media for well over an hour (not recommended), rock climbing, meditation, wandering around the yard like a crazy person, gratitude list-ing, getting straight to work, and going back to sleep.


The early-morning climbs and kayaking were easily the most blissful mornings. Journaling has been the most helpful in providing perspective and clarity in my thoughts and goals. Reading is nice but it often puts me to sleep. Early morning meditation put me to sleep every time.  My social media morning was by far the worst. One productivity hack that I re-discovered this month has been writing down a list of Most Important Things the night before, so that in the morning I have clear marching orders. My MIT list today was to post this blog (it seems I’m still working through my blogging allergies). Let me know if you guys have any morning routines that work for you!

The Real Value of Money


“As soon as we become aware of money, we develop beliefs about it-- beliefs we cling to, sometimes for the rest of our lives, often at the cost of our souls.”

― George Kinder, The Seven Stages of Money Maturity


I grew up in a family that didn’t really talk about money. My grandfather was a brilliant and successful computer engineer, inventor and entrepreneur, and I grew up in a big house surrounded by the fruits of his success.  When the cloud of angst-smog settled across my consciousness around age fourteen, I developed a violent opposition to wealth (and what I perceived as a uniquely American tradition of hoarding it) along with the standard list of isms: consumerism, corporatism, racism, sexism, et al.  Of course, it’s not like I had a job or any real concept of the value of a dollar, nor did the hypocrisy of railing against wealth while attending a private school really register on my adolescent brainscape. My fledgling punk rock ideology became centered around the evils of wealth inequality, corporate destruction of the natural world, and “selling out.” Because of course, as the mythos goes, every great artist is eventually presented with a choice: stay true to the art or trade in one’s values for money, status, and power. You cannot have both. Poverty is the mark of artistic integrity.

Uh… what? Perhaps it will come as no surprise to you, dear reader, that I developed some limiting beliefs about money along the way. How can you expect to find financial success if you perceive capital as a threat to morality?  What if, and this is a little crazy I know, but what if money is not virtue’s true enemy after all? I spent the month trying to swap out my limiting beliefs with better ones - to consider money more as a useful tool than a necessary evil. One of these new beliefs is that money can only be “wasted” when spent on things that are not in alignment with your values, or on things that don’t lastingly improve your quality of life.

I also spent the month performing countless cost-benefit analyses on every purchase. Some of the small financial decisions I made this month included:

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  • Deciding to open up our studio space to two more artists in order to halve our rent

  • Driving less, which resulted in saving a whole tank of gas over the month

  • Drinking less and cheaper alcohol (Bota Boxes for the win)

  • Re-evaluating insurance policies

    • Honestly, after playing around with the policy options, I determined that I’m already paying the least amount possible for enough coverage to feel comfortable. So these didn’t change much.

  • Offloading all unnecessary subscriptions - smell ya later Audible and Sworkit

  • Wrestling with a gym membership and ultimately keeping it

    • I’m keeping my Austin Bouldering Project membership because I am happier and healthier when I go to the gym regularly, and rock climbing and yoga really do bring me joy. The values test helped with this one; health and fitness is something that I value a lot and felt willing to prioritize.

  • Spending $50 to see Built to Spill play Antone’s and $300 on a plane ticket to Costa Rica in March.

    • Wrestled with these a lot, so don’t think these were frivolous purchases. But I deeply love Built to Spill and a week of adventure and surfing in Costa Rica fits squarely in line with what I value, so I’m cool with it.

Even better, I started diverting all incoming paychecks into two high-interest savings accounts (via Ally.com, the coolest bank in the world), one as a fledgling emergency fund and the other which will eventually, unfortunately, go to the tax-man. Just doing this with every paycheck resulted in almost $500 in my emergency fund after the first month!  I found that once the money had been thus diverted, it was out of sight and out of mind. Hopefully I can keep saving at that clip, and not be seduced by its siren song.

Financial discipline was one of several gnawing dissatisfactions that I hope to conquer this year. My next experiment will be a month of mornings, where I try to wake up ridiculously early every day and carve out time for the things that are important to me: spending time outdoors, meditation, exercise, and most importantly, planning some personal creative projects. Followed by a month of making those projects a reality in March!  It’s about time I commit to the type of creative work I’m most inspired by and dive in headfirst. Stay tuned!

Week 1: An Eye Opening Experience


The evening of January 1st, I made my first comprehensive budget and I’ve been updating and refining it all week. I stayed up late several evenings this week, face illuminated by the pale blue glow of my laptop screen, typing expenses into a Google spreadsheet in the dark and muttering angrily under my breath. I’m in deep you guys.

One week in and this has already been an eye-opening experience. Creating and sticking to a budget has been very helpful in providing me with a bird’s eye view from whence my money comes and all of the wonderful and sometimes silly places to which it goes. Here is a lesson that I apparently must continue to re-learn forever: avoidance doesn’t work, it mostly just makes the thing avoided scarier.  Having avoided taking control of my finances for so long, I find myself on a steep learning curve. Here’s what I’ve gleaned so far:

  1. The good news is that the parts of my life where I expected to find frivolous spending - eating out and my unfortunate predisposition for nice beer - really weren’t all that bad. I can do better, but it wasn’t terrible.

  2. Unfortunately, so much of everything else is in fact a mess. I pay monthly subscriptions for things I don’t use. The big ticket items in my life - where I live, renting a studio space for work, all the various insurances, travel, etc. - are all very expensive. For example, Melody and I live in the very lovely and very central Cherrywood neighborhood in a nice little house with a big backyard. Consequently, we pay through the nose each month on rent.  The last four months I’ve also rented a photo studio on Sixth Street with my good friend Lawrence, which is another several hundred dollars. And just about every month I spend whatever money is left on a plane ticket to somewhere fun or some piece of camera gear (e.g., buying a $1000 drone because I had exactly $1000 and really, really wanted one.)

I re-read Benjamin Franklin’s essay The Art of Wealth this week. It is thoroughly puritanical in ideology, but nonetheless packed with nuggets of wisdom. It opens with a scene where a wise old man offers counsel to a group of townspeople complaining that their taxes are too high:

“If those laid on by the government were the only ones we had to pay, we might more easily discharge them; but we have many others… We are taxed twice as much by our idleness, three times as much by our pride, and four times as much by our folly, and from these taxes the commissioners cannot ease or deliver us by allowing an abatement.”

Throwin’ shade like it’s 1759. And the gems abound, like this one, “Sloth, like rust, consumes faster than labor wears, while the used key is always bright.” And, “If you would be wealthy, think of saving as well as of getting: the Indies have not made Spain rich, because her outgoes are greater than her incomes.” And, “beware of little expenses; a small leak will sink a great ship.”

Like Spain, I fear my outgoes always end up being about the same as my income. Which, if I recall correctly, didn’t turn out so great for Spain. So, next up I intend to ruminate on Ben’s wisdom regarding the many merits of industry, frugality, and prudence. Industry, in that I could work more billable hours each month and maybe even someday overcome my distaste for self promotion and my primordial fear of advertising my services. The rent is simply too damn high not to.

Sloth, like rust, consumes faster than labor wears, while the used key is always bright.

- Benjamin Franklin

With regards to prudence and frugality, I may just have to give up some of this stuff that I love. Our landlord is putting our house on the market next month and we will have to move in the coming months when it sells. Until then, we negotiated a substantial decrease on our monthly rent and, I suppose, now have an opportunity to find a place with lower rent.  Meanwhile I have three weeks left to plug up the rest of the holes in the hull.

Introducing: the 12 Experiments

When I first met my friend Sarah Natsumi Moore back in 2016, she was in the middle of a yearlong project called the 12 Experiments.  Each month she chose a new experiment and spent the month trying it on for size; when we met I think she was in the middle of “A Month of Waking Up at 5 am” and it wasn’t going so well. I admired the project and Sarah’s gumption for turning her life into a series of experiments and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

Show me the money

Show me the money

With the new year rolling around and the usual million and one things I want to do but never seem to get around to, I decided to do my own 12 experiments. That very same week, Sarah posted on facebook that she was rebooting the experiments for 2019, only this time, she was inviting friends and strangers alike to join in. I am not one to ask questions of aligning stars such as these, and I threw my name in the hat. Fast forward a few weeks, today is January 1st and I am starting my first experiment, A Month of Money a.k.a. Ballin on a Budget: 2019 Edition.

I’ve spent many years carefully honing and refining a tried-and-true approach toward personal finance. Thomas’ 7 Step Program For Financial Success is as follows:

Step 1. Imagine that your bank statement is a take-out box way in the back of the fridge. You don’t know what’s in there but it’s probably gross.  See how long you can pretend it doesn’t exist.

Step 2. Toward the end of each month, check to see if you have enough money to cover next month’s rent. If not, panic.

Step 3. Try not to spend any money, ever, on anything.  

Step 4. Splurge! You’ve earned it.

Step 5. Berate yourself for splurging.

Step 6.  Bi-annually, call your bank and threaten to close your accounts unless your recent overdraft fees are waived.

Step 7.  Endlessly brainstorm schemes to make more money.  Consider selling your plasma.

For this experiment, I’m going to make the bold decision to table my 7 steps for the month of January and try out some new strategies.  I think first I’ll dust off that old Mint.com account and come up with a budget (woof), and then wrap my head around saving up a 6-month emergency fund (yeesh).   And just when I think I can’t have any more fun, I’m going to attempt to stick to that budget and see how much money I can save. Stay tuned!