My cell phone is dying. I started looking at new cellphones after two of its buttons fell off at the family reunion in July, but never committed to a new one. Starting last weekend, I can’t hear anything unless the phone is on speaker. Not exactly convenient when my boss is calling.

But then I think about an essay by Sarah Gilbert I read in CNF’s sustainability issue. Yes, an essay is keeping me from buying a new cell phone. Oh, the power of the written word. Cell phones are not the point of the essay, but they are mentioned briefly, and the coltan that goes into them.

I’d never heard of coltan before, but it is a metallic ore, used for the production of tantalum capacitors, which sounds like a weapon in Star Wars, but is actually used in almost all electronic devices like computers and cell phones. Mining of coltan is linked to violent conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as human rights abuses like child labor and slavery.“It’s possible that two children died so that you could have that mobile phone,” said Jean-Bertin, a 34-year-old Congolese activist in one of the articles I’ve been perusing while writing this. Someone probably died for my cell phone, someone else bought guns with the proceeds. In the essay, Gilbert asks, “how many cell phones have I owned in my life?”

I can count four, maybe five. Two or three laptops. An ipod. A GPS. All with coltan, not that coltan is the only blood mineral, just the one I’ve heard about.

So as long as my dying cell phone with its missing buttons still sends texts and makes calls, even if only on speaker phone, I want to use it. If I’m patient, maybe I can delay the inevitable purchase of another product built on the suffering and death of human beings. Delay it, but not refuse it. In spite of what I now know, I’ll still be buying a cell phone.

The title of Sarah GIlbert’s essay is “Trapped” because we all are.

…besides not coming up with clever titles.

Work is nuts. Sometimes in a crazy-stressed-out-can’t-sleep-at-night-anxious way, sometimes just in a holy-shit-how-is-it-already-three-o’clock way, but pretty consistently in a nuts way. Like, one day this week I ate breakfast between 11 am and 3 pm. I got out my breakfast at 11, and by 3, I ate it. This is not unusual. It’s that busy.

To cope, I’ve hunkered down into my habits. I’m pretty proud of this (we’ll see how proud I am next week) because it means I’m finally learning that crazy-stress means I need more of the fundamental stuff, even though there’s less time. So I focus each day on two things: my exercise and creating order.

I’m doing Booty Quake’s off-skates derby strength program right now, which is hugely tough (my legs have been shaking for the last three days). It isn’t wildly time-intensive, but it is one more thing to do each day. Today was a running and short strength session.

I’ve also adopted UnFuck Your Habitat’s evening routine and daily chores. The evening routine actually takes care of my eating too (one of Gretchen Rubin’s fundamental habits) because it forces me to prep my lunch at night, not in the morning. Also breakfast, so at least it is ready to go, even if I don’t get around to eating it until 3. Most of the stuff that UFYH recommends, like making the bed or cleaning the cat litter, are already things I do, but it helps me remember that these things really do matter when I’ve written it down as a “have to do.” And it helps. The apartment isn’t perfect, but it is presentable.

Sleep is the hardest thing to come by. Between work and the heat, I’ve been waking up each night, and I’m up a little later than usual most nights too. So far it hasn’t killed me yet, but we’ll see how this weekend goes.

It isn’t on Gretchen Rubin’s fundamental list, but writing is on mine. I’m still getting in my morning pages, and a poem if I can swing it in the a.m. But other than that, nothing. On the one hand, I feel guilty about this, but on the other hand, well on the other hand, I’m doing the best I can.

Money wise? Better hope nothing is due before I can get to the bank on Saturday. The savings account is wildly healthy, the checking account is making me nervous. I could easily transfer some funds over, but I always worry about “remembering” to transfer them back, so I’ll just keep an eye on things in the meantime. It isn’t like I have time to shop.

Remember when I said that August was the month of big purchases? Well it has carried over into September as well. 

To start, I foolishly signed up for a membership with The Clinton Foundation’s 2030 Initiative, their young people program, basically. Cost of membership? $230 annually (which is $10 cheaper than paying monthly). Yikes. It was a total impulse purchase too. There was an event in LA that I wanted to attend, but as it turns out I can’t, so the next one is possibly in November. It seems very unlikely that I’ll get my money’s worth on this membership, so the only consolation is that I love the Clinton Foundation, and it is 100% tax deductible. So. 

Second, I bought a bike yesterday (Bike thieves: if you are reading my blog, I hate you). It’s a beauty and I’m looking forward to biking to work hopefully for the first time on Friday (if I can get a helmet before then). Cost of the bike: $350. (Add a $43 bike lock, and it’s $393). I’m a big believer in bikes (though I wish I was a bigger rider of bikes), mostly because this seemed pretty true when I was biking to work at the GS. The bike is an investment. It’s just kind of a big one, and maybe a risky one (“what if I’m too lazy to ride to work?”). Expect updates. 

Third, I finally paid for my bridesmaid dress for H’s wedding because she asked for it. So there’s $128 that I owed and have now paid. Technically, I’d already saved the money for this dress, so actually transferring the money to H shouldn’t sting, but it does. 

Total for the first nine days of the month: a lovely $751, not including little things that don’t merit a whole blog post on their own, like the snacks I had to have at work yesterday (chips + chocolate), or the gas I purchased, or the groceries. 

The Clinton 2030 membership was a total impulse buy. The bicycle was half an impulse buy. I spent a day or so searching, and I asked a trusted friend for a recommendation, and then I bought what she recommended. Not much soul searching, definitely no budget searching. And I can’t have any more of these impulse purchases this month, which brings me to my new game. 

For the rest of the month, every purchase requires a 48 hour wait time. Every purchase. Grocery lists are to be made in advance. Gas is to be anticipated. “Hmm, quarter of a tank? Will probably need to purchase gas within 2-3 days, make a note.” There is nothing that really can’t wait two days (knock on wood… prove me wrong, September, I dare you). 

Here’s my current anticipated purchases list so far:
-dinner tomorrow for the GS group I volunteer with (to be reimbursed)
-rent on Friday
-health Insurance toward the end of the month
-birth control pills around the same time

There will be gas. There will be groceries. There will be derby. But how much and when remains to be seen. Not in the next two days, at least. 


August was the month of $200+ expenses.
$213 for Hillary Kitten’s vet appointment
$243 for plane tickets to H’s wedding
$349 to give a mattress to my sister as a moving/early birthday/early Christmas/maybe next year’s birthday? present

There were some $100+ expenses too.
$125 for new glasses
$107 in DMV registration fees

It stressed me out, especially toward the middle of the month because I had this great new “save $1,000 a month” goal and I was definitely not going to achieve it. To be honest, I thought my expenses might outpace my income, and I’ve been on a pretty good streak. Plus, I was/am just stressed about life in general so big money costs (even ones I planned for like plane tickets) made me feel worse.

What’s funny to me now, looking back on the month as a whole (and at my trends overall) is that high ($100+ is when costs start to feel high to me) ongoing expenses don’t stress me out. Consistently paying $100-$200 in gas doesn’t fit with what I want for my life. Grocery bills around $300 (not this month, but in several months past) is ridiculous for a single person. When my spending is out of line, my life is usually misaligned too. 

On my August goals:

  • Groceries: according to my records I spent around $180 on groceries. No $150, but better than the $300 months.
  • I worked out consistently, probably close to 5 days a week, but as stress levels increased, tracking decreased, so I
    can’t really say for sure. Gretchen Rubin’s questions definitely helped.
  • I wrote poems consistently for one week out of the month. The rest of the time… not so much. Writing is usually the first thing to go and the last thing I do.
  • Save $417: check! I did not save $1,000 this month, but I could have come fairly close. I transferred the $417 into my savings account today, and I’ll probably try to write a bigger check for my car with some of the rest.
  • I stayed pretty thorough with my monthly tabulation, and it helped! My final tally was only off by $0.91 which is the lowest it has possibly ever been.

September goal: survive? It is possibly just survive. We’re trying to keep expectations low around here.

Yesterday I was reading Gretchen Rubin’s amazing website, and came across a post she wrote on fundamental habits–the habits that make other habits easier to form. The four habits she named are:

  • getting enough sleep
  • getting some exercise
  • creating external order
  • managing eating and drinking

They seem outrageously obvious, right? In fact, as Rubin points out, the fundamental habits are often the ones that people are trying to build anyway. They’re tied together. It’s easier to exercise when I’ve had enough sleep, eaten well, am hydrated and my apartment isn’t a disaster zone. But it’s also easier to sleep when I’ve gotten some exercise and washed the dishes. 

I realized in reading Rubin’s list that these four habits (which I like to think I am usually pretty good at) are my canaries in the coal mine. They tell me when something is out of sync in my life. I started noticing my stress more last week when I realized that I was buying a lot of impulse chocolate to get through the workday. When I don’t have time for a run or to wash the dishes before bed, it’s a sign that my days are too full and something needs to give. I’m a wreck when I haven’t gotten enough sleep, so when I start staying up way later to get things done, that’s when something is very wrong. 

It was so obvious after reading Rubin’s post that these habits are essential not just to be happy but to function at all that I immediately wrote them down as questions to ask myself when I start to feel stressed or out of control. 

My Big Questions

  1. Have I gotten enough sleep? (For me, enough sleep means 8 hours minimum)
  2. Have I gotten some exercise? (Derby? Running? A walk around the block?)
  3. Is my world ordered? (I will always feel more stressed by a messy desk). 
  4. Is my eating and drinking aligned with my values? (Eating a lunch I had time to prepare at home is aligned with my values. Buying an Amy’s frozen meal while I’m at work isn’t. Neither are Sprouts whoopie pies.)

The next step is figuring out what to do when stress has already happened, which is when these habits would be the most helpful, but are also hardest to stop and fix in the moment. I don’t have an answer at this point. I’m hoping that awareness will be enough to help. 

My August goals fell by the wayside the last two weeks. My mom came to town, and then work/life/derbs was stressful afterward, and it showed in my ability to keep up with what is important. Isn’t that always the way it goes? Some little unimportant thing happens and it derails the really important aspects of your life. But anyway, here goes:

  • Groceries: I’m currently at $132.37 for the month, and that includes a couple of coffees, dinners out, and some movie snacks. I don’t think I was originally planning on counting food out (not technically groceries) but whatever. Including only food bought at a grocery store, I am at $93.37, safely under budget for the month with a week to go. Some proper planning on today’s grocery run and I should achieve this goal. 
  • Exercise: Doing fairly well there. Four to five days a week average. 
  • Writing: Hah. Here’s where it goes downhill. None? Zero? Zip? All true. I’ve done none, and it shows, maybe not to anyone else (not even sure if Boyfriend notices) but I can feel myself tense up. I’m a little more on edge, a little less happy, a little less patient. Because I know I’m not doing what I’m “supposed to” be doing (what I want to do too, but it’s the supposed to that kills me) and I don’t know where to find more time. It’s there of course, somewhere, maybe underneath the couch. I’m returning to an old strategy this week. Get up early and write one bad thing before work this week. We’ll see how it goes. Failure seems imminent. 
  • Saving. Miraculously, it seems somehow still conceivable that I could save $417 this month. This has been the month of big spending. Most months, it is a little here and a little there–dinners and coffees and Hillary Kitten treats, the occasional book. This month it has been Hillary Kitten’s vet bill and medication ($232), the gift of a mattress for my sister ($347), new glasses ($125), DMV bills ($107), the ominous threat of new tires, etcetera. Still, it is conceivable that my savings is not completely haywire this month. 

As for that fun goal? Well, fun seems to be mostly a state of mind. I’ve had fun. When my mom was in town, we went to the beach and made dinner and drank wine, and that was fun. I’ve had dinner with friends and that’s been fun. I’ve read a couple of deeply interesting books. I’ve eaten very good meals with good friends. Overall though, I’m not sure that fun = happiness. It seems like happiness has a little bit more to do with what I’m not doing than with what I am. I’m happier when I’m not dealing with people who annoy me. Or working. Or maybe it’s just that unhappiness is easier to remember and its causes are easier to attribute. 

H.K. is a little upset with me. She doesn’t really want me to be her campaign manager anymore. Fortunately for me, her other top candidate, Boyfriend, has expressed zero interest in the position. 

H.K.’s eyes have been a little watery lately, and this weekend I noticed one of her back paw pads looked cracked, so I took her to the vet. Which she throughly enjoyed (or not). Turns out she has an infection, and for the sake of her campaign, we’re going to leave it at that for now (those dogged paparazzi will probably dig it up from one of her interns). So now she receives eye drops every eight hours and a edible medication twice a day, which even though it smells like fish, she completely hates. I would probably fire my campaign manager too, if I was in her paws. 

Grand total for the vet visit, medication and flea preventative (for good measure): $212.13. My father has been known to say “cats are cheap.” That may still be true, but vet bills are not.


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