Media Blackout: The Wrap-Up

My self-imposed Media Blackout is officially over. Overall, I'm really pleased with the results. Productivity went way up, and while I don't think this is all due to the Blackout, it was a factor. Some stats:

Important news stories I missed out on:

None that I can find. I knew about the new trillion $ spending package, because Mark told me. They do know there are numbers lower than a trillion, right?

Pissy little news stories I missed out on:
  • Octomom fires her kids' nurses
  • Yet more dishing about singer Rihanna and what she should do about her relationship with abuser Chris Brown (my vote: tune out the media completely and just take care of herself)

Times I cheated:

Several. Most of these were fairly innocent slips: Mark likes to watch Mad Money; I like to sit with Mark. I can't follow most of what Jim Cramer says anyway.

The worst offense was probably the first night, after I spent several hours on the web dealing with various government forms (it turns out my marriage license IS my marriage certificate). After that I really felt like I needed to float in the billowy warmth of the interwebs. So I loaded up the Freakonomics blog and just scanned through the post titles. I did not inhale!

Times I greeted Mark at the door with an irate comment about what Congress had been up to that day:


Changes to Productivity:

Substantial, and all for the better. I'm not sure this can be attributed solely to the Blackout; I also acquired a lovely new car, which enabled me to get out the the library more often. And I got back to blocking out my schedule in a serious fashion, which also helped.

But the Blackout was a boon to my work life, I think. It increased productivity at least somewhat, especially in the morning, when I often spend a good bit of time surfing the web. And increased productivity leads to increased momentum, which creates mroe productivity... you get the picture. It was a good thing.

Changes to Mood:

Also substantial, and for the better. Part of that is attributable to... let's hear it again... increased productivity!

But I honestly believe that lowering my news quotient was good for my soul. I was spending an unpleasant amount of time angry, and that's just no good. This week was a great break from all that. It reminded me of the kind of person I want to be: Someone who values other people, whether or not they agree with me; someone who looks for the best in others and not the worst.

Going Forward:

I want to take something of this week with me, but I don't necessarily want to tune out entirely. So here's the plan. Some of my websties will become dailies: major news sites, friends' blogs, and Murderati are a few. I'll look at these once a day, after work. Everything else will become a weekly: I'll check them out on Friday and ignore them the rest of the week. And I think I'll do a regular Blackout: say, every three months.

I hope this will let me keep my hand in without getting totally absorbed in the big media machine. If nothing else, it should give me more time for writing!

A Loaf of Bread Cost What?

Ever wondered how much your house would have cost in 1880? 1900? 1930? Now you can find out, with this handy dandy Inflation Calculator.

I only wish I had found this resource a year ago. I've been limping along by assuming the dollar was worth about ten times its current value in 1928; turns out I wasn't far off. But now that I'm in revision, it's nice to know I've got some real numbers to work with.

News Free Week

My day begins in a fairly predictable way. Get up, feed the cats. Check e-mail. Check Facebook. Then dive into a few of my favorite news sites and spend the next hour there. Check back a few times during the day in case something interesting has happened. All in all, I probably spend at least a couple hours a day on news.

I started doing this during the run up to the election. It was interesting, and also a convenient form of procrastination that felt reasonably meaningful and useful. But I have to face a simple fact:

It's made me a less happy person.

It turns out I don't like knowing quite this much about what's going on in the world. A lot of what I read makes me angry, or apprehensive, or both. I don't mean to suggest that a tuned out life is a better life... but maybe, just maybe, I could give it a whirl.

So I'm taking a week-long break from the news. No CNN. No FoxNews. No news on TV. I'll also take the opportunity to cleanse my life of a lot of the other websites I waste time on everyday. No Cakewrecks. No Murderati. No Twitter. I'll continue to read actual friends' blogs, because there aren't that many of them and it really shouldn't take more than an hour a week. Also, 'cause I just can't go cold turkey.

I'm looking forward to this experiment. The ideal results would be an improved mood and increased production on my book. But frankly, I'd take either.

Well In-Formed

When I was five I had my first surgery, to correct a bad case of lazy eye. In the waiting room beforehand, I badgered my mom constantly: "Could I die? People die in surgery, right? Is there any chance -- I mean any chance -- I could die?"

And my poor mom, finally at her wit's end, admitted that yes, there was the very slimmest of chances.

From that moment forward, the soundtrack inside my head was a steady dirge of farewells. Goodbye, mother. Goodbye, father. Goodbye, florescent ceiling fixtures. I hardly knew ye.

And so on and so forth until I woke up after surgery and discovered that (a) I wasn't dead, (b) I had no interest in the ice cream I had been promised, and (c) there was a frickin' NEEDLE in my ARM!

Fast forward to today, when I found myself at East Emory Hospital. Not for anything special, just a routine test my doctor wanted me to have. After I cooled my heels for twenty minutes or so in the waiting room, a receptionist asked me over to a desk.

"Do you have a living will?" she asked.

"Uh, no."

"I need you to initial here, here, here, and sign here."

I looked over the form she pushed across the desk, which basically stated that even though this was a routine procedure, I could die due to allergic reaction, infection, bleeding, equipment failure, supervillain attack, or maybe for no reason at all.

Not being quite the drama queen I was when I was five, I initialed, initialed, initialed, and signed with aplomb. But I had to wonder: at what point to informed consent forms become... uninformative?

Once again, I'll repeat that this was a routine test. No scalpels were involved. My biggest worry was whether I'd get done early enough to snag myself a Bacon, Egg, & Cheese McGriddle, not whether Mark had enough insurance to pay off my casket. Yet here I was, staring down a big long disclaimer list that said I could die.

If you're handed a big long disclaimer list that says you could die every time you walk into a hospital, don't you just start to consider them par for the course? Don't you stop reading them, and instead start judging the seriousness of your visit by other cues, like how solicitous the nurses are, or how many other people seem to be there for the same thing?

Don't the forms, at this point, just protect the hospital from lawsuit instead of actually protecting the patient from unanticipated risk?

And is there any way this system could be better?

I gotta think that the answer to the last question is "Yes." How to get there, I don't really know, but I suppose it starts with personal responsibility -- both for the medical professionals, and for the patient. Any way you slice it, I'm pretty sure of three things:

  1. No one in that waiting room expected me to actually read that form.
  2. A warning constantly repeated ceases to warn.
  3. Every year, lawyers make our lives a little bit worse.

Nuts and Bolts

Ok, gang, it's official: I are a corporation.

Setting up a corporation for yourself sounds fraught with complication, in the I-don't-even-want-to-deal-with-it-let's-just-forget-this-whole-thing kind of way. But once I started looking into it, it was really remarkably easy.

  • Step One: I searched for, and found, a good URL.
This is harder than it sounds. Every single word in the English language is already taken, and a lot of combinations, too. And you must, must, must have a domain that ends in .com. No good if your domeain is .net, .biz, or .mobi. (.mobi?) No one will ever remember it.

One good way to find a URL is to use a resource a friend turned me onto: You can put in a big ol' list of words, and it will tell you which combos are available. I myself landed on

Cost: $10

  • Step Two: I reserved a name with the Georgia Secretary of State.
Georgia lets you do this with an online form. They make you add Inc., Incorporated, LLC, or some such suffix, so I am officially Simple Mystery, Inc.

Cost: $25.

  • Step Three: I filed the corporation.
Another online form let me do this in about fifteen minutes. They didn't want anything special, just the company's address, my name, and the names of the company's CEO, CFO, and secretary (hint: they all start with a J).

I also had to declare the number of shares the company was authorized to issue. Mark said 10 million was a typical number, so that's what I put down. Georgia doesn't keep records of who the shares belong to; only the corporation does. So at some point I will need to just type up a letter issuing the shares to myself and stick it in the file.

Cost: $100

  • Step Four: I filed my annual registration.
Just another form saying yes, the company I just incorporated still exists, and yes, it is still in the same location. I will have to file this form once a year between January and March.

Cost: $30

  • Step Five: I published my intent to incorporate.
I live in Dekalb county, which means my legal organ is the Champion Newspaper. I paid them to publish the company's name, address, and registered agent (me) once a day for two weeks.

Cost: $40

  • Step Six: I applied for an EIN from the IRS.
An EIN, or Employer Identification Number, is necessary in order to file the corporation's federal taxes. Plus do other neat stuff like hire employees and get bank accounts. Once again, this was made easy with an online form, although said form is only available during certain times. Strange. But we are dealing with the federal government now.

Like the others, this form took just about fifteen minutes to fill out. The only minor hiccup was that it would accept no special characters in the name of the business, which means that Georgia thinks I'm operating as "Simple Mystery, Inc." and the IRS thinks I'm operating as "Simple Mystery Inc". This doesn't seem like the sort of thing that could possibly cause any confusion, but as I said, we are dealing with the feds. So, I am moderately concerned.

Cost: Free

  • Step Seven: I elected to have my company taxed as an S Corp.
I did this by filing IRS form 2553 and shipping it off the the good people at the Internal Revenue Service. Of all the forms, this was the most confusing, but only mildly so. It just wasn't entirely clear whether I was supposed to choose the calendar year as my tax year, or a fiscal year beginning on the date of my incorporation. I chose the calendar year because it seemed simpler.

This form needed to be filed within two months and fifteen days of the day I incorporated. Oddly enough, the long deadline makes it the easiest step to forget; most of the Georgia stuff needed to happen in one fell swoop.

Cost: Free

  • Total Cost of Incorporation: $205

So there, in a nutshell, you have the beginnings of my journey into the wonderful world of incorporated business. It was fairly easy, and reasonably cheap. I've got no guarantee of making that money back through tax incentives, but it's possible. And either way, owning my own company is a thrilling feeling. It's like I'm a grown up or something.

Pineapple Stir Fry

I've been meaning to post this recipe for a couple of weeks now, ever since my friend Becky asked for it. It's my go-to stir fry: easy, flexible, and (I think) delish. The critical elements are the pineapple, soy sauce, and cornstarch; everything else can be adjusted to suit your family's taste.

  • 1 pepper
  • 1 onion
  • 1 box mushrooms
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 20 oz. cans pineapple chunks
  • 2-4 3.5 oz. packages of crab (depends on taste)
  • 1 heaping spoonful constarch
  • soy sauce to taste (I use a lot)
  • family size pack saffron rice
  1. Make rice and set aside.
  2. Chop vegetables into large chunks, season liberally with soy sauce, and saute. You want to start with the harder veggies, like carrots, and give them a bit of a head start. Cook until the onions are translucent.
  3. Drain pineapple and reserve juice.
  4. Mix heaping spoonful of cornstarch into juice.
  5. Add pineapple chunks and juice mixture. Season with more soy sauce. Cook until liquid reduces into a sauce.
  6. Stir in crab and serve over saffron rice. Ta-da!
This recipe serves about 4-5 adults, and is ready in about 20 minutes.

The Truth About Working at Home

For many people, especially creative types, working at home is the holy grail. No stress! Flexible hours! Comfy p.j.'s!

And it is, indeed, fantastic. But lest the picture seem overly rosy, I offer you a few sobering facts:

1. You will find yourself wearing the same shirt for two or three days in a row.

It may not even be your own. Last week I spent a couple of days tooling around in a gray t-shirt that perpetually resides in the bottom of Mark's sportswear drawer because the long sleeves make him hot. Why did we buy that stupid thing?

2. You will eat more than you intend to.

The food hits you with a one-two punch: Opportunity (it's all right there) and Motive (preparing, consuming, and cleaning up food is an excellent form of procrastination).

3. You will become your family's primary errand-runner.

It's not that your spouse doesn't respect your work; it's just that you are the person who can most easily take time away from it. So if the cat needs to go to the vet, nine times out of ten, it's on you.

4. You will miss the benefits of a tyrannical boss.

My friend Jon has an idea for a business: writers would pay him to set their deadlines, review their work, and occasionally call them up and say "I'm really very disappointed. I don't know if we can keep you on."

I'm not sure how effective this would be, but I know that the lack of negative incentives sometimes bites me in the butt. I am altogether too understanding of my own failures. Funny how when I was working in the Real World they just... never... happened.

All these things aside, working at home is great. I would trade it for exactly nothing. I feel blessed beyond measure to have a husband who believes in me enough to support me while I turn out my first book.

But apparently I need some more t-shirts of my own.