Categories
Life

So I’m a homeowner now

I have the keys to my new home now. I never thought this would happen.

Owning a home is part of the American dream. You get a good-paying job. You get married. You have a kid or two. You buy a house and work for forty years until retiring into the sunset.

The problem is the American dream no longer exists.

I finished college and entered the adult world in 2009, right in the middle of a once-in-a-lifetime recession with no job, no job prospects, and no idea what the job prospects would be.

It took almost ten years post-graduation to have a consistent annual income over $30,000 per year. And for the first couple of years when I did, it was all through self-employment, so I was taxed as the employer and the employee. When my income finally exceeded that amount consistently, I stayed put. I didn’t let go of my freelance work. I accepted every freelance position available on top of my regular job.

So how am I holding the keys now?

Luck and privilege.

I grew up in a working class family in the rural South and was the first in the family to attend college. Despite the lack of higher education in my family, I got all A’s in school with little effort, so my whole family expected that I would continue getting straight A’s and go to college. I’m kind of white and straight and able-bodied if you squint (or ignore my name).

I finished college with about $30,000 in student loans, slightly over the national average at the time. When you consider that I went to a small private college, that amount of debt isn’t awful. Well, it wouldn’t be awful if I hadn’t graduated into the worst recession since the Great Depression. Numbers vary, but entering the workforce in a recession nerfs your lifetime earnings by about 9%. When you don’t know what you want to do (like 2009 Sushi) and you don’t have a support network of college-educated folks with the types of jobs you thought you could have who can show you how to get those jobs, you flounder. Or at least that’s what I did, back in my small town where working an office job where you got to sit all day was for rich people only, searching for anything that would pay me for the next year and even getting turned down for minimum wage jobs.

I moved out on a dream and a contracting job paying a whole fifteen dollars an hour, far more than I thought I’d ever make. It was enough, but not for long since an emergency or self-employment taxes could wipe me out. It took years to hold down a job earning a living wage for over a year at a time because most of those jobs were contract roles that ended when the company closed or when my contract role’s project ended, all made worse by the fact that I had no idea what I wanted to do as a career and therefore I was throwing job applications into the abyss for anything that sounded remotely relevant.

I spent most of my early career writing anything I could get my hands on; blog content, social media updates, and marketing spiels were my specialty. Despite my writing roots, I sucked at writing these things. There’s a big difference between writing for your no-fucks-given audience and writing for a specific brand trying to sell and promote a product or service.

It wasn’t until someone took a chance on me for a freelance technical writing role that I really found my niche. And with that, I broke into the field after one last non-writing job and knew I had found my career calling.

The pandemic meant job cuts and my eventual layoff, which turned out to be the best worst thing to happen in my career. Sure, I had lost my job. But if I hadn’t gotten laid off during the pandemic, about a year into the new job, I would have stayed there for awhile, maybe for years, with almost no raises. Whatever the case, I was finally able to pay off my old tax debt and student loans (only ten years later) and create a solid emergency fund right before pandemic shit got real.

But the increased pandemic unemployment payouts plus my freelance work plus not going anywhere meant I was still saving a little money during this time. And now that I had a few years of experience in my field and impressive achievements on my resume, I could go anywhere… and make more money.

It didn’t take long; I started a new role contracting for a big company through one of those placement agencies, which came with a 25% raise. I kept doing my freelance work over the next year since a social life wasn’t happening anytime soon.

With that, the savings started to grow.

2021 arrived and brought an attempted coup, my first pandemic birthday, vaccines, and then misery at the not-so-new job. My contract got renewed. No one on my product’s team had any idea where the product was going or what they needed my work for, or when. Heck, I was still using Microsoft Word, actively sending my career backwards in a field where docs as code is an essential skill.

So I started job searching, complete with a spreadsheet to track what I’ve applied to and see just how many interviews I was getting. As an unfortunate expert job searcher by this point, I had a gut feeling that my job response rate would be low, but gut feelings don’t do crap without data.

Three months later, I started a new amazing job as a direct hire with an intro interview rate of 33% (plus a few I turned down on the spot). Oh, and another raise.

At this point I was financially comfortable, debt-free, and finally feeling good about life. My emergency fund was quickly growing into something closer to a down payment fund even after saving for retirement. Now what? I was lucky to rent in the same home for over ten years, sharing the rent with a roommate for most of that time. When my then-roommate mentioned wanting to moving out of state, I started looking at the cost of homeownership. Despite the real estate boom, a modest condo in a nice part of town was within my budget.

So I went for it. Even though I was approved for the top end of my budget, no one pressured me into buying more home than I could afford, and I like to think I had realistic expectations through the whole process. I looked at six homes this spring and got accepted on my first offer without waiving anything outlandish, the one where I was standing in the home and told my agent “I want to put an offer on this”. That offer got accepted.

When I say luck and privilege, I mean it. Anything could have gone wrong. Offer after offer could have been rejected. Financing could have fallen through even though I was a perfect candidate on paper. The inspection could have revealed major issues and I could have backed out then. I could have lost my job halfway through the process.

But here I am now, sitting in a home where I can paint the walls, put as many holes in the walls as I want, and make a bookshelf door if I damn well please. (Yes, I’ve looked into this.)

And that makes me feel filthy fucking rich.

Categories
Reviews

What I’m reading, Q1 2022

I keep telling myself I’ll write these posts more regularly, and then I go nine months in between writing these posts and as a result each review is short and non-substantial and I barely remember what I read. But since I wrote the last review post three months ago and I did read a few standout books in the meantime, let’s get started.

Fiction

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin: I’ve been putting this off because I haven’t had the mental energy to read a chonker of a series for a long time. True to form for many epic fantasies, this one was slow to start, but once it got going it got GOING. That twist at the end was 100% worth sticking it out for and now I want to know what happens next.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke: I read this for my book club and went into the book knowing nothing beyond what the book jacket told me. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I would like this book since I read Susanna Clarke’s other book years ago and didn’t like it, but these two books were different enough that I went into this one judgment-free. (This book being shorter certainly helped its case.) Oh man. I loved this book so much.

I’m not going to talk about the book itself here because you should go in knowing nothing as well. In fact, knowing nothing is part of the experience as you’re confused as hell through the first fifty or so pages, getting swept up into the world and questioning everything about the experience.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab: What happens if you live forever but no one knows who you are… until someone does? That’s what happens in this book when a young woman makes a deal with the devil in the 1700s and then lives for the next 300 years, completely forgotten. Until she isn’t. This book deals with depression, the presentation of women over time, and queer representation, but most importantly it shows what it means to be remembered. Even though people couldn’t remember her, they could still be inspired by her to create art, like they saw her in a dream. It’s an interesting concept that left me wanting more, especially about Henry. The primary unrealistic part: how are this many young people living in contemporary New York City without roommates?!

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler: Are we sure this book was written in the nineties? Because holy crap a lot of this stuff is happening now or could happen very soon. The only thing that has me convinced that Butler isn’t some kind of time traveling genius is the lack of smartphones and internet in this book. See, I’m a sucker for a good dystopian book, but this book doesn’t cover the dystopia itself. Rather, it covers the collapse of society as it happens. Debt slavery and company towns are a thing. People live in neighborhoods and protect their little communities from outsiders. Every town border is wary of outsiders. People are afraid to leave their little neighborhood because you might not survive (and indeed, many people don’t). There’s mass inequality and inflation, as evidence by a thousand dollars buying food for a couple of weeks. A new president is removing government programs and creating jobs but slashing labor rights and making America great again (except not). Hmm, where have we heard this before? I would not be surprised if we were living in this society within my lifetime.

What I really like about this book is the emphasis on community in order to survive. That’s not something you see a lot of in survivalist communities, but communities are what will ultimately save us. Yes, Lauren and her neighborhood friends had to decide who to trust when they started meeting others trying to survive, but when they did, they gained so many benefits and resources from having a bigger group. That’s a lesson for us to learn: we won’t survive on our own, but if we band together, we just might.

Nonfiction

I listened to all these books.

Sisters in Hate: American Women on the Front Lines of White Nationalism by Seyward Darby: The typical image of right-wing nationalists is stupid white dudes carrying Confederate flags and yelling slurs. But surely there are women in this movement, right? Yep. That’s where this book comes in. Part of me was skeptical because I didn’t want to read a book glorifying the women and their harmful roles, but this book strikes the balance of telling the women’s stories while not glorifying them. The book follows three women in their journey to (and in one case from) white nationalism. Darby doesn’t have to work any dramatics to make the women look unintelligent and with few critical thinking skills; this becomes clear when you start hearing about how the women get sucked into that mindset. Hearing the women’s stories and their role is interesting; they can infiltrate women-filled spaces as lifestyle influencers (think food, parenting, that sort of thing) in other social media spaces and get other women to join this way, yet once more women do join they face so much misogyny. I should say this book is hard to read at times. There are slurs and hate terms sprinkled throughout, along with explanations of what these women believe. But this book is important at showing that women are just as important in sucking others into the cult.

You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters by Kate Murphy: I’ll be honest. I’m one of those people waiting to talk in loud group conversations because most of the time I miss my chance to talk by a split second and some louder person has started talking about something totally different that completely defeats what I’m going to say. It’s why I appear quiet sometimes; I keep trying to talk at the wrong time. Let’s face it. We live in a world where we’re expected to talk. Talk about ourselves online. Lead the conversation. But who’s listening to us? This book interviews people whose jobs involve a lot of listening: therapists, bartenders, focus group moderators, and even CIA agents. This book doesn’t teach you how to listen, unfortunately. Instead, it shows the value in listening along with some sobering statistics, like how half of Americans don’t have meaningful social interactions on a daily basis. The flipside of this is that listening can make you a better friend and person. You come up with more meaningful things to talk about and continue the conversation when you’re listening, or you can read into the conversation and realize that it’s over. These are things you don’t notice when you’re just waiting for your chance to talk.

Work Won’t Love You Back: How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted, and Alone by Sarah Jaffe: “Love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life.” I used to believe that, back when I thought being a bestselling novelist was easy. The reality is much different, especially for people doing what they love in low-paying professions. It turns out that in many professions where we do what we love, we keep taking on more because well, we love it. This opens the path for the people in charge of us to exploit us because after all, we love our work… until we don’t. This book is a brutal look at the dark side of doing what you love: after all, work won’t love you back. You don’t get paid in love. You get paid in working extra hours for little pay, delivering on tight deadlines, or going to work in the middle of an emergency. All because you need to survive. This book makes me grateful that I like my job but don’t have to live it as my lifestyle.

How to Be Perfect: The Correct Answer to Every Moral Question by Michael Schur: Let’s be honest, I’m a big fan of The Good Place, which is why I picked up this book. Plus, parts of the book are narrated by the show’s amazing cast, so what’s not to love there? Hell, I have half a blog post sitting in my drafts about why being a good person is really hard, inspired by the show. In fact, Schur talks about the topic of moral exhaustion in great detail, how everything seems to have some moral issue attached to it and how we can’t get away from it. Or worse, we could like something before discovering its problematic nature or creators and then what? Schur introduces real philosophical concepts like utilitarianism, contractualism, virtue ethics, and ubuntu without making it feel like a Philosophy 101 class (which I took in college). Pick this up if you want to deal with relevant philosophy problems with some humor attached. My one downside is that the book doesn’t end with “Pobody’s nerfect.”

x + y: A Mathematician’s Manifesto for Rethinking Gender by Eugenia Cheng: I didn’t love this book but I want to talk about it anyway, especially since I read it recently and the concepts are still fresh to me. Math and gender issues? Sign me the fuck up. To be honest, this book was disappointing. Cheng breaks down the traits that are stereotypically seen as masculine or feminine and suggests new terms for those traits that are not tied to gender. Ingressive behaviors are the ones that center yourself. That One Guy who spends two minutes telling his life story before asking a question at a convention is being ingressive. Congressive behaviors center collaboration and teamwork, making sure everyone is on the same page. I appreciate the distinction, but I couldn’t shake off the feeling that Cheng was equating ingressive to bad and congressive to good. There are plenty of times when exhibiting ingressive behaviors is a good thing: when negotiating salary and benefits for a new job or a promotion, when people are attacking the existence of you and your friends. There are also times when congressive behavior is a bad thing; getting everyone on the same page doesn’t magically make stuff happen when their fundamental assumptions and goals are different. (Look at the Senate right now… cough) All that said, I do agree with the bigger points of separating character traits from gender, and to Cheng’s credit, she is inclusive toward nonbinary and trans folks; in fact, that’s the point of this separation to start with. (3/5)

Categories
Reviews

What I’m Reading, (Most of) 2021 Edition

It’s been awhile since I’ve written one of these, hasn’t it? Almost a year, in fact.

While I did read some good books over the past nine-ish months, most of them were fine. Here are the standouts.

Categories
Life

Farewell 2020… I mean 2021

Here we are again. 2021 was… a year to say the least. It started with joy at Georgia doing the right thing in the Senate runoffs and feeling like my vote mattered, along with the possibility of getting a vaccine in the near future and putting an end to this hellscape. It ended with a Senate that can’t do a damn thing, a new and potentially more concerning variant, and wondering how much longer I can put living life on hold.

Categories
Uncategorized

NaNoWriMo 2021: The Virtual World Tour, Part Two

Since NaNoWriMo remained all-virtual this year, there was only one thing for a Sushi to do: Continue the virtual world tour. I kept the same rules as last year’s tour with one twist: No repeat visits. And yes, this includes last year’s visits.

This twist eliminated almost a hundred regions, but hundreds of regions remained to visit. I set out on the tour, hoping to visit at least eighty more. With four non-weekend days away from work throughout the month, comparable to last year, this felt like an achievable goal.

Most of the logistics are the same as last year. Here’s where I talked about last year’s virtual world tour.

Let’s get to it.