This Back Cover Copy for Wuthering Heights Is the WORST

What’s the worst back cover copy you’ve ever seen?

I nominate this description on the back of Wuthering Heights of a book that is definitely not Wuthering Heights:

53711534_10111251757938713_8409356742193840128_n

Wuthering Heights…the haunting story of Heathcliff, who came to the brooding mansion on the Yorkshire moors as an orphan – and Cathy, the daughter of the wealthy family that took him in. The gypsy waif and the bright-eyed beauty were from different worlds, yet were drawn together from the moment they met. The cruel twist of fate that parted them resulted in tragedy for two generations. But even death could not break the bond between them, for their love was stronger.

First published in 1847, Wuthering Heights is a classic of English literature, and one of the most unforgettable romances of all time.

*removes glasses*

*rubs bridge of nose*

LET’S UNPACK THIS A LITTLE, SHALL WE

Astraus Gym

1. Wuthering Heights…the haunting story of Heathcliff, who came to the brooding mansion on the Yorkshire moors as an orphan

I don’t love how this implies Heathcliff just showed up one day. He didn’t. He was picked up on the streets of Liverpool by the then-master of Wuthering Heights (whom I’ll call “Mr. Earnshaw” for clarity here), who brought him home because Mr. Earnshaw didn’t feel right about just leaving a child out on the street where clearly nobody wanted him.

Also, a point of pedantry: Wuthering Heights is not a mansion. 

I can completely understand how someone who grew up reading The Secret Garden (“that other book set on the moors”) could get confused here. Misselthwaite Manor, the setting of The Secret Garden, is a mansion; it’s said to have “over a hundred rooms,” and Mary spends at least one entire chapter doing nothing but wandering through them.

Wuthering Heights, however, is much smaller, and we know this because it’s described in painful detail. It consists of a back kitchen area with sleeping quarters for the servants and a buttery; a large “house” that includes a sitting/dining area and the main fireplace; at least one smaller room off the “house” that gets converted into a sitting room/parlor; about 3-4 bedrooms upstairs; and an unspecified but apparently vast number of staircases and landings.

It’s a large house, particularly since it was built in 1500. But it’s not a mansion. In fact, the other house in which the action of the novel takes place, Thrushcross Grange, is larger than Wuthering Heights – and this shouldn’t be that hard to miss, because it’s an actual plot point.

3. – and Cathy, the daughter of the wealthy family that took him in.

Readers are going to end up confused as heck here, because Heathcliff is literally the only person to call Catherine Earnshaw “Cathy” once she’s past the age of six. Everyone else calls her Catherine.

This Catherine has a daughter about halfway through the novel, also called Catherine, whom everybody calls “Cathy,” and who eventually marries Heathcliff’s son.

So if you ever had the weird impression Heathcliff has the hots for his daughter in law, he doesn’t.

4. The gypsy waif and the bright-eyed beauty were from different worlds,

…Were they, though?

One can certainly make the argument that one of the novel’s main themes is that outsiders are bad, because just look at what this one (Heathcliff) did to upset the tranquility of the Earnshaws and the Lintons. But.

But. Much of Heathcliff’s plotting arises from the fact that, until Mr. Earnshaw’s death, he’s treated exactly the same way that Earnshaw’s own children, Catherine and Hindley, are treated. He’s raised with them, and he’s never given to believe or understand that he’s in any way inferior to them…until Mr. Earnshaw dies and Hindley (now an adult and several years older than Catherine and Heathcliff) starts treating Heathcliff like the unpaid hired help.

It’s this treatment that makes Heathcliff swear revenge on Hindley and the Lintons, leave to seek his fortune for three years, and then return bent on the slow destruction of everyone except Catherine.

Tl;dr it’s a lot more complicated than this “Uptown Girl” take would have you believe.

5. yet were drawn together from the moment they met.

Sure, except that the night Mr. Earnshaw brings Heathcliff home:

Hindley and Cathy contented themselves with looking and listening till peace was restored: then, both began searching their father’s pockets for the presents he had promised them.  The former was a boy of fourteen, but when he drew out what had been a fiddle, crushed to morsels in the great-coat, he blubbered aloud; and Cathy, when she learned the master had lost her whip in attending on the stranger, showed her humour by grinning and spitting at the stupid little thing; earning for her pains a sound blow from her father, to teach her cleaner manners.  They entirely refused to have it in bed with them, or even in their room; and I had no more sense, so I put it on the landing of the stairs, hoping it might be gone on the morrow.  By chance, or else attracted by hearing his voice, it crept to Mr. Earnshaw’s door, and there he found it on quitting his chamber.  Inquiries were made as to how it got there; I was obliged to confess, and in recompense for my cowardice and inhumanity was sent out of the house.

This was Heathcliff’s first introduction to the family.

It takes “a few days” for Heathcliff and Catherine to strike up a friendship; for “the moment they met,” at least, Catherine refuses to be in the same room with him.

6. The cruel twist of fate that parted them resulted in tragedy for two generations.

nevermind_nathan_fillion.gif

 

There are multiple candidates for “the cruel twist of fate that parted them.” Let’s examine them one by one, shall we? [SPOILERS]

  • Heathcliff leaves. Somewhere around the age of 15, Heathcliff leaves Wuthering Heights without so much as a goodbye. He’s gone for three years, and we’re left to assume that whatever he did during that time, it made him pretty rich, because he comes back with enough cash to fund Hindley’s gambling habit against a mortgage on all of Hindley’s property.
  • Catherine marries Edgar Linton. Which she undertakes to do in the three years Heathcliff is gone. You know, Heathcliff, the guy who never said where he was going or how long he’d be away. Edgar is, by the way, literally the only marriageable man Catherine knows once Heathcliff leaves.
  • Edgar Linton banishes Heathcliff from his house. Not surprisingly, Catherine is pretty thrilled when Heathcliff returns, and she wants him to visit her at Thrushcross Grange all the time. While there, however, Heathcliff repeatedly threatens to kill Edgar, mocks Edgar to Catherine’s face, and elopes with Edgar’s sister Isabella in order to get his hands on Edgar’s money. It’s “a cruel twist of fate” indeed when Edgar grows a spine and decides, hey, I’d rather not have this guy in my house.
  • Catherine dies. Catherine dies in childbirth around 1790 or 1791. It’s a pretty normal thing to die of in 1790 or 1791. And to make it even more normal, Catherine dies in childbirth after a long illness, which is caused by her locking herself in her room and refusing to eat for a week, while also leaving the window open in January, because it’s so meeeean that Edgar won’t let Heathcliff abuse him in Edgar’s own house.

Catherine’s argument is literally “if you really loved me, you’d let my bff threaten to kill you and also elope with your sister to steal your fortune.”

7. But even death could not break the bond between them, for their love was stronger.

Huge if true. But…is it true?

The idea that Heathcliff and Catherine end up together after death is one of the least developed concepts in the entire novel, and it represents perhaps the one major weakness in Emily Bronte’s storytelling.

Throughout the story, it’s hinted that Catherine and Heathcliff are two souls in one body, and that upon death they’ll be reunited not only into one couple, but into a single soul. But the only indication that this actually happens is a vignette in the last few pages of the book:

I was going to the Grange one evening—a dark evening, threatening thunder—and, just at the turn of the Heights, I encountered a little boy with a sheep and two lambs before him; he was crying terribly; and I supposed the lambs were skittish, and would not be guided.

‘What is the matter, my little man?’ I asked.

‘There’s Heathcliff and a woman yonder, under t’ nab,’ he blubbered, ‘un’ I darnut pass ’em.’

I saw nothing; but neither the sheep nor he would go on so I bid him take the road lower down.  He probably raised the phantoms from thinking, as he traversed the moors alone, on the nonsense he had heard his parents and companions repeat.

When asked whether actual ghosts inhabit the neighborhood, however, Nelly (the narrator of this story) says:

‘No, Mr. Lockwood,’ said Nelly, shaking her head.  ‘I believe the dead are at peace: but it is not right to speak of them with levity.’

The novel ends with this meditation at Heathcliff’s and Catherine’s graves:

I lingered round them, under that benign sky: watched the moths fluttering among the heath and harebells, listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass, and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.

I think it’s possible to argue the question “So do Catherine and Heathcliff end up together after death?” in a number of ways. The fact that Lockwood (the narrator above) is such a deeply unreliable narrator, who has come to the entire tale of Wuthering Heights through hearsay from another deeply unreliable narrator, makes it possible to interpret this ending either as indicating the dead are in fact at peace, or that the dead are in fact not – and the text supports either argument.

But the fact that this is such a deeply complex argument, central to the entire story, makes me sideeye this back cover copy realllllly hard.

8. First published in 1847, Wuthering Heights is a classic of English literature, and one of the most unforgettable romances of all time.

…I’ll give you everything except that last clause.

It is unforgettable. I’ve read it multiple times in my life, and each time, I find something that makes me go “holy shit, this book is way worse than I thought!” I love it for that reason.

I cannot, however, classify it as a romance – not even a Gothic one. Heathcliff and Catherine’s story is one of obsession, intense shortsightedness (on Catherine’s part) and monomaniacal revenge (on Heathcliff’s). Heathcliff returns to Wuthering Heights bent on the sole purpose of destroying the Earnshaws and the Lintons – one can infer that he thinks he’ll get Catherine back by doing this, but Heathcliff never indicates that’s actually his intent.

The only romance in this book appears in the final chapter, and we only see it after Heathcliff is dead. That’s 400 pages to get us one single scene that might be classified as a love story.

This back cover copy reads like someone slept through most of a terrible movie version of Wuthering Heights, then tossed something together on a deadline. I’ve read student essays that evinced a better understanding of this book, yet still demonstrated the student hadn’t read it.

Therefore, I give this back cover copy the ignominious honor of being the worst back cover copy I have ever read. Ever. I award it no points, and may it be buried at a crossroads without ceremony.

Advertisements

Work Addiction is a Thing and It F***ing Sucks

Within the last month, I’ve told-all about my struggle with work addiction on Quora not once, but twice. Each time, I had no intention of spilling quite that hard, but I did.

It’s worth talking about.

reat one today!

Despite its etymological relationship to “alcoholic,” the word “workaholic” has almost pride-inducing connotations. An absurdly large number of us are proud to be workaholics. We put it on our resumes. We encourage it in our children. We cite it as the source of our success.

And we absolutely do not see the connection between this behavior and the mass burnout of an entire working generation.

This is why, when talking about my own struggles with overwork, I generally prefer the term “work addiction” to “workaholism.” I don’t want anyone thinking that my lifelong battle is in any way commendable or worth emulating.

Because it’s nearly killed me. Twice.

Workaholism: It’s Not a Party

The first time was in my late 20s, when I was trying to hold down a grueling law firm job with absolutely zero support in any area of my life. Less than zero support: the two people who were nominally “on my side” were incredibly high-maintenance emotional relationships. When the bottom finally did fall out of my life, their only concern was that I might no longer be there for them.

I did three separate stays in the hospital in 2009, ranging from three to seven days apiece.

I quit the law firm job, but I did not quit working. Oh no. I started freelancing.

Freelancing: The Work Addict’s Meth

The big problem with freelancing is that the ability to work anywhere at anytime quickly turns into the obsession that one should be working everywhere all the time. It sounds like paradise for the work-addicted, but it’s incredibly dangerous.

And being able to work everywhere all the time was, somehow…still not enough.

I went to graduate school. I took a teaching assistantship in addition to being a full-time grad student. I started a winterguard program at a school that was an hour’s drive from my house. I joined a fledgling small press.

At age 33, I was in the hospital again.

“How would you describe your problem?” the doctors asked me.

“My problem is that I have four jobs and I need to only have three jobs,” I said.

…The look the doctors gave one another was my first inkling that maybe, just maybe, I had a problem.

WTF Happened?

Billions of people work every day, but not everyone develops an addiction.

There aren’t good worldwide numbers for work addiction, but it appears to range near 10 percent of the working population in most Western nations. One study from Spain found that about 12 percent of the population met the criteria for work addiction. About half of USians consider themselves “workaholics.”

Not all “workaholics” are necessarily work-addicted. Dr. Mark Griffiths has argued that a behavior shouldn’t be characterized as an addiction until it meets six specific criteria:

  • salience (it’s the most important thing in your life),
  • mood modification (it produces a “buzz,” “high” or allays negative feelings like anxiety),
  • tolerance (you need to do more and more of the thing to get the same mood-modifying effects),
  • withdrawal (not doing the thing produces severe negative symptoms),
  • conflict (doing the thing causes problems with personal relationships, gets in the way of other beneficial life activities, or causes intrapersonal concerns)
  • relapse (left to your own devices, there’s a substantial chance you will do the thing again).

I’ve been 6 for 6 basically since I started middle school.

So if workaholism is “doing a lot of work,” work addiction is “I can’t not do the work.”

One of the things that landed me in the hospital the second time, in fact, was that I couldn’t decide which of the four jobs I should quit. It wasn’t just that they all had pros and cons; it was that even thinking about thinking about which to quit caused me so much angst that I simply shut down.

“I should think about quitting one of these jobs,” I’d say to myself.

*BLUE SCREEN OF DEATH*, my brain would reply.

Work addiction occurs when work-centric behavior becomes compulsive. Work begins to feel necessary for survival. Not in the “I need money to eat” way, but in the “if I’m not focused on this project then the tigers will eat me and I will cease to exist forever” way.

Often, work addiction is driven by an underlying issue (or several) that work becomes a means to avoid. It’s more common, for example, in people who are carrying unresolved trauma, either from a single source (like a car accident) or a series of accumulated sources (childhood abuse or bullying, relationship abuse). Work addiction can be the manifestation of a condition like obsessive-compulsive disorder or mania as well.

In my case, work is a way to avoid dealing with a lifetime of abuse, with chronic pain, and with several other things I just plain don’t want to look at. If given the chance, I will literally work myself to death rather than face those demons.

I tried. Twice. Before age 33.

Good Job Not Dying?

Lol, thanks.

Work addiction differs from certain other types of addictions, like alcohol or gambling, because we typically need to work in order to survive. Humans can thrive without ever taking a sip of booze or placing a bet, but we don’t do as well without working. Work is a common, typical, necessary and even healthy human behavior…usually.

So the challenge for me wasn’t to go “cold turkey” from work. It was to figure out how to contextualize work in a way that would also allow me to survive.

For me, that looked like:

Setting boundaries around work time.

“Work time” is now 8 am to 12 am, four days a week. (The 8-12 am slot on Wednesdays is housecleaning time.) I get 16 hours a week to get all my paying work done. That’s it.

As a freelancer, this was an option for me, but it also required me to radically rethink the types of projects and clients I accepted. With only 16 hours a week to do the work and a minimum gross income requirement around $40,000 per year, I can’t take things that pay a penny or two per word. I have to aim higher; I have to brand myself better.

Having to limit my work time forced me to reconceptualize my work content, which in turn changed my approach to work. It’s now a puzzle I only get to solve at certain times of the week. It’s recharged the joy I once found in working and sharply reduced the tolerance load.

Therapy and self-awareness.

I had started therapy about two years before the second hospitalization in 2015. During and after that hospital stay, however, I renewed my commitment to working on the terror of not-working and the reasons behind it.

My reasons are complex and long-lasting. They were baked in during my formative years, so I don’t have a “before” to serve as a benchmark. But digging through them has made work and not-work easier, and it’s helped reduce my risk of relapse over time.

I do lapse. I haven’t wound up all the way back in the work addiction hole, but I do catch myself perseverating over tasks from time to time. While my recent KonMari adventure has been enormously productive both for the organization of my household and for my psyche, there were phases that started to feel very much like my work addiction had. It’s the reason I’ve had to finish the process over time (and why the final blog post in the series has yet to be written).

Doing nothing.

During the second hospitalization, much of my work with my psychologist centered around “doing nothing.” We talked about the life-threatening terror that phrase struck in me. We talked about my absolute aversion to the concept and my intense self-loathing at imagining myself doing nothing.

And then I got ordered to do it.

I made a list of activities that, in my mind, constituted the dreaded “doing nothing.” They were amazingly innocuous.

Reading novels. Taking a walk for the sake of walking (not to run an errand). Playing video games. Scrolling through Facebook. Watching Netflix.

They were, in essence, the kind of things that other people look at and say, “If that’s your definition of doing nothing, then I’m the laziest slug on the planet!”

You’re not, of course; it’s that my sense of what counted as “things I have a right to be doing and still be breathing air and eating food” is pretty damn inside-out.

I was required to schedule two hours a day to “do nothing.” Those two hours had to be at a time I’d normally be awake, and they had to be spent doing something on my list of activities that constituted “doing nothing.”

…At first, I fudged this more than a little. I spent that time reading manuscripts (hey, it’s fiction, right?) or told myself that going for a walk would also count as my exercise time, so it was therefore “productive.” But as a rule, I did a pretty good job of avoiding paid work during this daily two-hour time slot.

Doing nothing has gotten easier since I started. It’s still not easy; it probably never will be. But I appreciate it more now that I see the profound effect it’s had on the quality of my work at other times of the day.

Tl;dr Work addiction is a thing. It sucks. It requires some long-term management and confrontation of some pretty terrible demons. But that effort is surprisingly non-fatal.

 

 

 

10 Rules for Having Way Too Much Fun in Skyrim

Knowing how much I love Fallout 4, my best friend got me Skyrim for Christmas. Since Skyrim supports specific character builds much more closely than Fallout 4 does, I decided before I began on my basic character bio: “Mercenary sneak thief with trust issues.”

At her request, I texted her while I installed and started playing Skyrim. My running commentary on my activities eventually resulted in this exchange:

 

Me: The guy at Pelagia Farm was displeased that I let myself in, so I killed his chickens.

Her: Lol
Her: You should be doing Let’s Play vids
Her: Seriously your style is uniquely sadistic

Me: I’m tempted. I have a very consistent moral code.

After the fifth or sixth time my husband declared my Skyrim character “terrible” while laughing uproariously, I decided the world needed to know more about my uniquely sadistic videogame-based moral code.  Here’s how to have more fun than anyone should be allowed to as a Skyrim character.

of kindness (1)

 

#1: Never buy anything you can loot or steal.

Skyrim makes this harder than Fallout 4 did by preventing you from selling items that you acquired by stealing. So it’s going to be tough to, say, steal from the Jarl in order to raise the funds for the house in Whiterun. (I found this out the hard way.)

That said, there’s plenty you can steal for your own benefit, like food and potions. And you can always sell what you loot from bandits and other, um, instances of corpse.

#2: Seek power, not money.

Fun fact: Once you become a Thane of Whiterun, nothing you take from the Jarl’s house counts as stealing anymore.

Use your power wisely.

#3: Always tell people what they want to hear. 

As someone with trust issues, I grew up telling people what they wanted to hear. The consequences often sucked, but at least it was safe.

In Skyrim, the most common consequence of telling people what they want to hear is that you end up agreeing to do some quest that you don’t care about and that distracts you from whatever it was you were doing instead of the main quest line. But that’s okay, because when in doubt….

#4: Never do a quest without payment.

I’m not talking about the payments that are built into several quests in the game, although you should always choose the speech option to demand payment when it’s offered and you should always take someone’s money when they try to give it to you.

Those payments are important, sure. But think of them as payment for the work itself. How is this NPC going to pay you for your annoyance at having accepted this quest in the first place?

With their personal goods, that’s how.

By now, it should be obvious that you need to invest the bulk of your perk points in the Sneak, Pickpocket and Speech trees. If you decide to do a quest for someone, take their stuff as payment for your goodwill.

#5: If you see a lock or a pocket, pick it.

Skills in Skyrim level up through use, so the best way to become a master mercenary sneak thief is to sneakily thieve every chance you get. This means picking every lock you find and picking pockets on the regular.

Also, don’t be afraid to sneak around wherever you go. Your Sneak skill increases whenever you manage to not be seen by some NPC who should otherwise see you. Since Skyrim lacks any version of the VATS function in Fallout 4, you won’t always know when there’s someone around to see you – so sneak past them anyway.

Just….

#6: Don’t get caught.

As a mercenary sneak thief with trust issues, getting caught stealing or pickpocketing is an affront to your very nature.

You can and will escape from jail, but having to go in the first place is a waste of your time and an insult to your dignity. Avoid it.

Speaking of skills (and dignity)….

#7: Don’t be afraid to bash.

I started this playthrough intending to stick to my trusty bow and arrows. It made sense to me that a sneak thief with trust issues would avoid getting too close to a target.

The downside, of course, is that shooting things at close range is hard, and a lot of predatory animals are really good at introducing themselves by taking a bite out of your digital metal-clad butt. And while Skyrim does allow you to punch things with your bow hand, bow-as-melee-weapon is next to useless.

Solution: Get yourself some hand weapons.

Do dump some perk points into archery, unless you’re totally avoiding bows on this playthrough, But please, don’t eschew two-handed weapons or shield bashing till you’ve tried it. Few things are more satisfying to a mercenary soul than bashing someone with your shield hard enough to knock them directly onto your companion’s blade.

Oh, and the animations for two-handed sword kills are brutally good fun.

Once you’ve chosen a weapon, you’ll need to use it within your own strict moral code. To start:

#8: If someone tries to kill you, kill them.

Honestly, if you’re not already doing this, then please return to beating the pants off of teenagers on Twitch at competitive Tetris. No, seriously, those videos are hilarious and we need more of them.

You can’t always avoid people or animals who are trying to murder you in Skyrim. Your choices, in these situations, are typically to try to murder them back or to flee. Always kill your attacker if you can. Loot the corpse, then sell your stuff to further boost your Speech skill.

For every NPC who tries to kill you, there’s at least one that won’t. Don’t try to kill them. However….

#9: If someone is rude to you, make them poorer.

“Get out of my house!” said the man at Pelagia Farm, when I picked his lock to sneak into his house in the wee hours of the morning.

“Squawk!” said his chickens, as I gifted them each an arrow.

There’s no need to murder people who are merely rude to you. But there’s no need to stand for that rudeness, either.

Someday, I’ll do a Skyrim playthrough in which I attempt to kill every single NPC I meet. (I have already done this in Fallout 4, with mildly satisfying results.) For now, however, my character’s code of ethics calls for not killing the merely-rude.

Just settle the score, and if you can’t….

#10: Get weird.

No matter how hard you try, there will be times in Skyrim where you just can’t adhere to the rules above. For instance, I ended up having to run away from a vampire master in Shriekwind early in the game because I encountered him before I was strong enough to defeat him.

When this happens, you will have Feelings. Your strong code of ethics (such as it is) has been violated. How can you restore a sense of order and justice to your digital world?

Simple: Get weird.

Steal a horse and barrel-race around the Standing Stones. Shoot a nobleman in the head and loot everything except his coin purse and hat. Stuff a wolf carcass full of cheese and leave it on the trail. The weirder, the better.

Getting weird is one of my holdout habits from Fallout 4, which I’ve played for so many hours that I now get bored if I don’t get weird. On my last playthrough, I took a fire extinguisher named Sally everywhere I went, propping her up on the couch in the Third Rail from time to time so Sally could enjoy the music.

With even more random stuff in its world, Skyrim offers even more opportunities to get truly bizarre. So embrace them. It’s a great way to immanentize the eschaton, yo.

 

 

My First Year as a Freelancer Was a Decade Ago and OMFG: A Retrospective

I started freelancing in late 2009, when the recession was eating everyone’s lunch and then scolding them about missing their lunch.

“There’s no such thing as lunch, you slacking moocher,” the recession said. “If you want lunch, maybe you should create some jobs in the lunch industry, you mooching slacker.”

2009: The year everyone understood Atlas Shrugged, even if they didn’t read Atlas Shrugged.

Here’s what life is like in my world, ten years later.

My First Ten Years as a Freelancer_ A Retrospective

Do The Hustle

Ten years ago, freelancer platforms like Upwork and Fiverr were only just getting started. Most people avoided them, because they were inconsistent as heck: The pay was in the fraction of a cent, the available clients were utter shit, and living at the mercy of a digital Limbo competition was no way to survive.

(They haven’t changed, by the way. It’s just that a lot of people no longer avoid them.)

Content mill platforms, however, were a gold mine.

At least, some of them were. AOL’s SEED took nine months to pay me $30. Associated Content never gave me a single lead.

On the other hand, despite the terrible attitudes of its editors and its brutal ratings system, I made half my first year’s freelance income from Demand Studios. Demand paid up to 10 cents a word; if you were really good at writing quickly and meeting their style demands without thinking too much about the drivel you produced, you could make $200 in an hour or two, easily. Which is what I did.

(I never did more than a couple hours of DS work at a time, because the drivel truly was mind-numbing. Check out The Worst of eHow for some stellar examples of total crap Demand Studios produced, or read the forum archives at Demand Studios Sucks for just how badly the site treated its writers.)

Content mills weren’t my only source of income; I picked up several law firm blog clients right out of the gate, and I hung on to several of them until the bottom fell out of mass-produced law firm blogging. In 2009, I was making about 15 cents a word for 300-word, SEO’d posts on generic topics; by 2017, the same content paid about 3 cents a word.

Using Keywords to Keyword Your Keywords While Keywording for Keywords

I started writing before Google Panda launched, and holy hell did it change this industry.

It took a while to sink in. Prior to Panda, the number-one goal of most content was to stuff in sufficient keywords for the search engines to see it. Back in the day, search engine algorithms couldn’t account for factors like the length of a piece, how long people spent actually reading it, its connection to other highly-regarded information, and so on.

Pre-Panda, search engines pretty much only looked for one thing: How many times a certain word or phrase was repeated. Repetition was the engine’s number-one determiner of “relevance.”

As anyone familiar with the Kardashians knows, “relevance” is not equivalent to “quality.”

Panda and its later additions changed that. Google got smarter at determining how humans’ actual Internet behaviors function as indicators of quality, and it started rearranging search engine results accordingly.

Panda and its successors didn’t eliminate content mills, but they did knock the legs out from under content mills. Suddenly, everyone who had come up in this business by dashing off 300-word articles that repeated a specific keyword once every 100 words started seeing their pay rates drop precipitously, from 6 to 10 cents a word in the early 2010s to a penny per word or less today. If you can find one of these gigs for three cents a word, laugh all the way to the bank.

I Can Lead You WITH MY MIND

I haven’t done 300-word keyword-stuffed nonsense content for years. I can’t afford to. Times have changed, and I’ve changed with them.

Today, I’m still making ten to twenty cents a word, and I’m still writing only about eight to 12 hours a week. I’m even writing for law firms. But my business model has moved from quantity to quality.

In 2010, I might have dashed off eight or ten nearly-identical articles for eHow or LegalZoom and called it a day. Today, I spend that same 2-3 hours writing one piece for a SaaS company or a law firm.

I do my research. I cite legitimate sources. I use tools like BuzzSumo to help me determine what parts of industry conversations are not currently being had, and then I have that conversation.

What I do today more closely resembles “thought leadership” than the content mill races of the past. It’s more work. It requires more thought. I’m not convinced that writing for content mills taught me a single thing about how to do the job I have now.

But wow is this more interesting than that was.

Advice (This Is What You Came For, Right?)

I do think it’s harder to make a living as a freelance writer straight out of the gate than it was ten years ago. Back then, you could make decent money with no knowledge of any topic, as long as you could cannibalize anything else you found online and stuff it with the keywords your client demanded.

Today, making a living at this job requires more thought. Getting the types of clients who don’t pay a fraction of a cent does, too. In 2009 all I had to have was a fluent grasp of English and a pulse; today, I have to be able to articulate my specific skill set and explain how it intersects with a client’s industry-specific knowledge and marketing needs.

The advice I’d give new writers today, then, is this:

  • Don’t even bother with content mills or freelancer platforms. Seriously. Skip ’em. The pay isn’t worth the access to clients, and you’ll waste time grinding out mindless works that you could more profitably spend creating a writer website, articulating your value proposition, and finding clients who pay market rates.
  • Craigslist and LinkedIn are your friends. Yes, it takes longer to find jobs you’re equipped to do this way (although sites like Freelance Writing Gigs make it easier by aggregating jobs from Craigslist and similar sources). It’s also where you’re going to find clients who will pay anything like a liveable wage. All my best clients have come from one or the other.
  • Have a second area of expertise. I cannot stress this enough. Your biggest selling point for clients will be that you understand their industry and you can write. While companies are increasingly tolerant of hiring employees with the latter and training them in the former, those who hire freelancers don’t want to train you at all. If they did, they’d be looking for an employee, not a contractor. Know something other than writing, and look for jobs in that topic/industry.
  • Don’t quit your day job. This wasn’t an option in 2009, when so many people (myself included) turned to freelancing because we couldn’t get a day job to begin with. But if you have one, don’t quit it until you can live off 50 percent or less of your freelance income.

As for the industry itself, I think we’ve hit a plateau when it comes to the pace of change in writing demands. Search engine results are much more attuned to what humans find relevant than they were in the past, and what humans find relevant is content that addresses old topics in new ways, with excellent citations, and in sufficient depth to teach the reader something worth knowing. I don’t see that changing anytime soon, so I also don’t see an upheaval like Panda happening again anytime soon.

The next big wave of pressure on freelance writers is most likely going to come from our own current clients. The STEAM revolution is waking up companies and schools alike to the fact that a tech education isn’t enough: Our next generation of coders, scientists and engineers needs to be able to communicate effectively with a wide range of audiences, as well.

As students who got a more rounded education in communication and the humanities start to fill jobs in the STEM sectors, many of us who are making a living as these companies’ communicators are going to feel the pressure from their internal hires. We’ll need to reinvent ourselves again. I have no idea how, but I’ll be there for the ride.


This blog brought to you by my ego and the support of many wonderful people. For the price of a cup of coffee, you can be one of them. Donate here.

Let’s Talk KonMari #5: ‘My Battery Is Low and It’s Getting Dark’

(Part 5 of a series on KonMari’ing my house. A why-to manual, not a how-to. The rest of the series is here: ClothingBooksPapers, Komono, Storage & Cleaning.)

The recent death of the Mars rover Opportunity seems like a particularly fortuitous time to talk about our attachment to material objects.

konmari5NET

How and Why We Love Things

Humans develop emotional attachments to material objects. We start young; according to Christian Jarrett, humans as young as two understand the concept of “mine.” Three to six year olds already connect with “my” stuffed animal in a way that they do not with an exact copy of that stuffed animal – and they even express horror at the thought that they might receive the copy rather than the original.

I’ll Love You Forever

This early attachment to things travels with us throughout our lives, as well. For instance, as a young child, my high school boyfriend had a doll called Marvin. He loved Marvin. Marvin was his constant companion, and after a few years, Marvin started showing the wear and tear you’d expect a soft toy to suffer from accompanying a young boy on his every adventure.

So my boyfriend’s mom sent Marvin to the doctor, promising “he’ll be home for Christmas.” On Christmas morning, Marvin reappeared under the tree, shiny and clean.

It wasn’t until my boyfriend was seventeen that his mother revealed the twist: the Marvin who reappeared on Christmas day wasn’t the original Marvin. He was a new Marvin, gifted from a family friend whose own toddler had been terrified of the toy.

My boyfriend’s mother was proud of having pulled this switcharoo, but my boyfriend was crushed. For days. And he hadn’t played with Marvin for about fifteen years at that point. In fact, I’m not sure Marvin was even in the house anymore.

Why My Marvin?

Some of this is the result of the “endowment effect,” in which we place more value on things we perceive as “ours.” But that value is multifaceted, and it doesn’t merely have to do with financial value. It’s also value created by the perception that the object is an extension of the self.

The fact that we tend to anthropomorphize our things adds to our sense of value, relationship and identity. The manufacturers of the Roomba, for instance, report that when their Roomba breaks down, many owners request that the company fix the device and send it back. They don’t want a new Roomba – they want their Roomba.

Seeing objects as a type of person means that we can extend our emotional bubble to include them even when they aren’t perceived as “ours.” As Dan Broadbent notes, one of the things that made it so easy to cry for Opportunity was that NASA anthropomorphizes spacecraft for us. We can follow craft like Curiosity on Twitter like they’re real people – and many of us have since the moment these spacecraft started tweeting.

“Why didn’t NASA try to revive Opportunity?” was a refrain I saw online several times after the news that the rover had gone dark. The answer, of course, is that they did. They tried for eight months and 1,000 unanswered wake-up messages. And when they accepted that Opportunity wasn’t ever going to answer again, they said goodbye by playing her a love song.

And thousands of us cried, because even though she’s a 400-pound hunk of steel and tech on another planet, we think of Opportunity as a being, not a tool.

If a Mars rover provokes emotions that intense, imagine trying to discard long-held personal items in your own home.

The Cull and What I Learned From It

Marie Kondo recommends leaving the “sentimental items” category for last, on the theory that once we start sorting these items, we’ll be sufficiently sensitive to joy to make it easier to go through them.

Specifically, I think, we get more sensitive to the difference between an object that sparks joy here and now, in the present, as a thing that exists in our lives, and an object that evokes memories that spark joy but that doesn’t itself, in the present, spark joy.

Discerning the difference is essential to discarding objects, and it reaches its peak in dealing with sentimental objects.

I, for instance, have always found myself particularly susceptible to the endowment effect. For me, every object becomes sentimental if I’ve owned it long enough. Objects I don’t even own become sentimental if I see them as part of my daily life long enough. “Long enough” has a life of its own; it can be anywhere from several years to a matter of minutes, depending on how intensely the objects sparked joy when I first encountered it. (I’ve developed an endowment-effect attachment to items I found in stores before I even reached the register.)

On top of that, I’ve also spent large parts of my life using objects not only to mediate my identity, but to reshape it – and, by doing so, to reshape my personal history.

When the Past Sucks

Some people deal with shitty pasts by getting rid of everything that reminds them of those times. I dealt with mine by constantly trying to rearrange its artifacts.

I’ve been obsessed with photo albums and scrapbooking since I was a child. I regularly kept boxes upon boxes of photos, ticket stubs, report cards, newspaper clippings, stickers, candy wrappers, flyers, greeting cards, luggage tags, you name it. And I have spent hundreds of hours of my life arranging and rearranging these things in scrapbooks, pulling them out, starting over, never satisfied with what I had created and never able to keep up with the pile of things intended to go into those books.

Until I KonMari’ed that pile, however, I didn’t understand why I scrapbooked so intensely. I’ve never been interested in “scrapbooking” the popular hobby: I don’t ever volunteer to do scrapbooks for groups or teams I’m part of, I’m not interested in seeing other people’s scrapbooks, and and scrapbooking supply stores just make me feel tired.

My relationship to my scrapbooks was a deeply private obsession. It was a way to reorganize my past, to give myself the non-abusive childhood I have always so desperately wanted to have. If I could rearrange all these old little bits of paper just right, I would retroactively become the person that my survival had depended on my pretending to be.

This obsession got particularly bad when it came to photographs. I hoarded old photographs like a dragon hoards gold. I spent hours looking at them, trying to rewrite my own memories, trying to convince myself that I saw happiness in those photos and that that Kodak moment was what had really taken place.

…This kind of constant mental editing is exhausting, not to mention an Olympian feat of self-gaslighting.

When I threw those photos out, however, I cried. I cried because I had had to give up one of the most enduring projects of my life: my attempt to rewrite history, and thus to re-form myself, based on nothing more than sheer will.

50881502_382485452561525_3880260681420767232_n

(Pictured: Two once-full photo albums and a box of photos.)

For the Record….

…I can’t tell you whether going through your sentimental objects will provoke a similar reaction. Mine comes from a nightmarish childhood; it’s the unearthing of a lot of outdated ways of attempting to salvage some part of myself in the face of a world that did its level best to turn me into someone else.

Mine is also another step on a years-long journey through therapy. These aren’t realizations I could have had a year ago, and I’ve been working on my closet full of demons a lot longer than that. We have the realizations about ourselves that we’re ready to have.

Post-tidying, my sentimental stuff is under much better control. I still have a scrapbook of sorts:

52093978_2176589335888939_410713506174730240_n

It’s organized chronologically, and it’s a combination of various awards, childhood artwork, letters from loved ones that were particularly meaningful, and so on. It also contains the photos that aren’t going on our walls.

I also sorted through my box of non-flat childhood keepsake items:

50770299_278736519471103_2980422285099270144_n

This one was particularly interesting because I had managed to stuff that box with items that I kept not because they sparked joy, but because the anxiety associated with getting rid of them was so high I couldn’t mediate it. And the anxiety items – all of them – were things family members had given me as a way of keeping me attached to our shared heritage of generational toxicity.

In Spark Joy, Kondo says that if you’re having trouble saying goodbye to an object even though you know it doesn’t spark joy, try tossing a few handfuls of salt into the bag to settle the spirits.

I’m not a practitioner of Shinto by any means, and I’m not even particularly religious, but whipping a few handfuls of kosher salt into the trash bags in this photo worked. I was able to carry them to the bin with a sense of peace I haven’t experienced…well, ever.

I don’t know if it settles any other kind of spirit, but it sure settled mine.

I also added a feature to my writing space of which I am particularly proud:

51212033_244868833100165_3832221772862717952_n

Stuffed animals are perhaps the biggest victory of my childhood. My mother was constantly deciding by fiat when I had “outgrown” them and trying to dispose of them accordingly, and I was constantly rescuing them and buying new ones. That Popple is the result of the only fight of my childhood that I won.

For years, as an adult, I stored my stuffed animals in a plastic bin in the basement, believing that the person I was supposed to be wasn’t supposed to have them but too in love with them to simply throw them out.

On Kondo’s advice, they now live on this shelf, which is right next to my desk. I can look up and see them there, cheering me on, whenever I’m writing.

(The mother who fought me about owning stuffed animals, by the way, is the same woman who rescued her beloved stuffed animal Tigger from the trash on a half-dozen occasions when her own mother tried to unilaterally dispose of him. I think this is what they mean when they say you can either learn from the mistakes of the past or repeat them.)

Next time: Storage and Cleaning.

 

Best Valentine’s Therapy: Predictive Text Advice For Your Special Day

In January, I asked Botnik to provide the median New Year’s resolutions by uploading twenty of the top articles for “new year’s resolutions” and allowing the system to generate predictive-text advice.

That advice was so classically helpful, I figured we could all use the same help deciding how to spoil our loved ones this Valentine’s Day.

I uploaded the text of the top 20 Google search results for “best valentine’s day ideas” to Botnik. Here’s what it recommends.

Untitled

Best Valentine’s Therapy

“Here’s what you can enjoy with your cheesy selves” this Valentine’s Day, says Botnik.

Sing at your favorite people.

Whoever your favorite people are, find them and sing at them.

“Singing classic music can really take a moment to the opera,” says Botnik. “Don’t romantic for all night, or you could probably order dessert.”

Volunteer the weekend to spend time thinking of flowers.

Volunteering is a great way to spread the love, and what’s more traditional on Valentine’s Day than flowers? If springing for a bouquet of roses is outside your budget, consider changing up your approach this year by volunteering to think of flowers instead of actually buying them.

When you volunteer, Botnik recommends couples “get stuck dancing together. Forever is definitely around the corner, but only with beer samples.”

Recreate a local nonprofit but with chocolate.

As part of your Valentine’s volunteering, consider recreating a local nonprofit in the most romantic and popular of all Valentine’s Day foods: chocolate!

“Chocolate tasting adventures are guaranteed to make Valentine’s exciting,” says Botnik. “Nonprofts everywhere tend to get stuck without cliches.”

Have affordable sex.

Sex is a great way to increase your intimacy on the most romantic holiday of the year, but blowing your budget on one night of fun will leave you feeling strung out the rest of the year.

Instead, says Botnik, “save on pricey service fees with some blissful thing. Planned outings are sure to make up for your significant confusion.”

Find tickets for two at your local waterkeeper.

Most people associate trips to the local waterkeeper with Arbor Day festivities. Surprisingly, Valentine’s Day is a great time to switch up your routine and buy tickets from this beloved hometown institution.

“Your waterkeeper will fall for your partner every year, so you can enjoy some dueling without their personality introducing fees,” says Botnik. “Don’t forget to try the salsa.”

Give some homemade spaghetti to a deluxe man.

If you’re short on cash, love to cook, or both, don’t overlook the romantic value of a home-cooked meal. However, it’s important to share that meal with the right person. Only a deluxe man (or woman) deserves your work on this special day.

“A deluxe man, with creative wine and tapas, skewers online copies of your ex,” says Botnik.

Challenge yourselves to celebrate your strong plans.

Your plans with your loved one, whatever they may be, are strong – so strong, in fact, that it can be tough to tame them. Remember that it’s important to celebrate your strong plans, even as you’re attempting to rope them into submission on the old prairie.

If you’re concerned that your plans are too strong, says Botnik, “tarot cards are likely to celebrate your chemistry.”

Show your first love that they are meant to eat your entree.

Remember that first person on whom you had a total crush? This Valentine’s Day, enjoy a “blast from the past” by finding this person and showing them that they are totally meant to eat your entree.

Naturally, some people are hesitant to call up their first love. But Botnik says not to worry: “Your first love letters definitely deserve plenty of time to think. Cook your inner wishlist and reminisce about ghosts.”

Reread ideas for couples while watching crappy movies alone.

Expecting to be alone this Valentine’s Day? You don’t have to spend the day in a fulfilling activity or relationship with yourself. Instead, reread lists of ideas that only work for couples on February 14, while you watch the worst movies you can find.

“Bad treats are meant for singles to eat,” says Botnik. “I like your favorite people when they adore neither of these.”

Visit your spouse at another burlesque show.

If staying at home just isn’t for you, take matters into your own hands this Valentine’s Day by surprising your spouse at whatever burlesque show they decided to attend instead of spending the night with you.

“Sexy prizes for couples are always ready,” says Botnik, cautioning that not all couples will benefit from this risky idea: “You have to start with creative holiday cake.”

Let’s Talk KonMari #4: Small Potatoes

(Part 4 of a series on KonMari’ing my house. A why-to manual, not a how-to. The rest of the series is here: ClothingBooks, Papers, Sentimental Objects, Storage and Cleaning.)

After clothing, books and papers, Marie Kondo recommends tackling the “komono” (小物).

The name means “little things” and repeatedly gets translated as “miscellany” for KonMari purposes, but the category itself is huge. It’s pretty much every item in your house that isn’t clothing, books or paperwork and that exists there for practical (as opposed to sentimental) reasons.

For this reason, komono is often the category people get stuck on the most, as in this Reddit thread. That’s if they don’t throw out the KonMari method altogether on the theory that “everything else” shouldn’t be a damn tidying category in the first place.

konmari4NET

A Big Pile of Small Potatoes

I’ve never had the honor of being invited into a Japanese home, so I can’t begin to speak for how they’re organized or what they contain. In the US, however, komono is by far the largest category in the house.

It’s even larger when the house’s residents aren’t fashionistas or bookworms. A Scholastic study estimated that 61 percent of low-income US families have zero books in the house. Zero.

Scholastic, of course, is concerned about the effect of a bookless home on children’s early language and literacy development. In the KonMari context, it’s more likely to inflate the amount of komono to be sorted through. Books take up space, and they occupy our time. A house with no books is likely to have something else in that space that takes up its occupants’ time.

Does Your Spatula Spark Joy?

Komono is overwhelmingly stuff we keep for practical purposes. It’s not personally chosen as an expression of identity (clothes), as a means to shape our identity (books), because we have adult obligations to others (papers), or because we have feelings (sentimental objects). It’s there to do the heavy lifting of keeping us alive.

As such, it poses two challenges that most of the other KonMari categories do not. First, it’s hard to imagine a lot of these things sparking joy. Second, because we view them as workhorses, we don’t see the ways in which these objects mediate our identities, particularly our class identities.

“Praise it to the Hilt”

Some of the earliest KonMari-related jokes I saw on social media had to do with tossing out our washing machines or vacuum cleaners because they don’t “spark joy.” It’s tough to see a roll of paper towels warming our hearts, especially when we think about it in the abstract.

In Spark Joy, Kondo writes, “If you come across komono that don’t particularly spark joy, try praising them to the hilt.”

Praising our material possessions, like thanking them, is a huge sticking point for Westerners who criticize Kondo’s methods – and it’s also why many commenters, like Jessica Roy in the LA Times, have pointed out the racial element of this criticism.

Kondo recommends thanks and praise because the KonMari method embraces animism as a given. The Shinto concept of everything, even individual grains of rice, having a god/soul/divine essence (I really have no idea which, whether or how to translate “kami” here) is a natural underpinning of Kondo’s approach.

It’s also, to most of us in the US, very, very weird.

Shinto isn’t the only world religion to embrace the concept of material objects sharing in the divine essence. A Muslim teaching explains that every inanimate “thing” in the world, down to individual blades of grass or grains of sand, is constantly engaged in praising its Creator. Psalm 150:6 says “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord,” with the definition of “breath” capacious enough to encompass ideas like spirit, soul, or the imprint of Divine creation as well as literal respiration.

For US material culture, however, the idea that individual objects might have personalities, spirits, or some other “being”ness we might recognize or respect is an affront to the ways we perform class success.

Who Is the Master Here?

Class status is frequently measured through performances of commanding and controlling others, and in the middle class, performances of status are most often performed through material objects. This is the driver behind our parents’ “keeping up with the Joneses” and our participation in both acquiring objects and divesting ourselves from them as a form of virtue signaling.

One of the ways to define class status in the US is by examining a person’s relationship to and use of stuff. The middle class embraces stuff both as a way to exercise the command and control that are usually exercised upon them by the capitalist class and as a way to signal their relative “middleness.”

I’ve certainly played this game in the past. In college I owned a knockoff Gucci clutch that I damn well knew was a knockoff, but I still preened when other people didn’t. Personal possessions I don’t even like, such as the bottle of Chanel no. 5 I inherited from my grandmother, have nevertheless held places of reverence among my personal things for years. They’re symbols of Status, of the better (and richer) me I longed to be.

The middle class even uses material things to moralize themselves into a position “above” the poor, kvetching about “poor people” who own iPhones or who drive dependable cars. Using material goods to signify status is a luxury the middle class believes should be reserved for the middle class.

“If I were poor, I would eat lentils,” say middle-classers, conveniently dodging the question “Okay, but if lentils would make you richer, why don’t you eat them now?”

The upper classes don’t need to play this game, and when they do, it is a dead giveaway of a failure to shed middle-class sensibilities despite an increase in material wealth. Donald Trump is the classic example: the poor (or middle-class) person’s conception of how a rich person should live, with gilded apartments, ketchupy steak and excessive golfing.

In fact, there’s only a certain amount of money one can spend on material comforts before all of one’s needs are luxuriously met. When money is invested in material displays beyond this point, it ends up being spent on things that are superfluous by any standard, like a tenth yacht.

This is why minimalism has become a method of signaling higher class status, rather than lower. “Minimalism is a virtue only when it’s a choice, and its telling that its fan base is clusetered in the well-off middle class,” says Stephanie Land in a 2016 NYT Opinion piece. “For people who are not so well off, the idea of opting to have even less is not really an option.”

Thanking the Help

Because the middle class allays its class anxiety (and the middles have more than everyone else combined) via material things, and because that allaying has much to do with exercising the command and control that are otherwise exercised against the middles, the class that constitutes the vast majority of KonMari consumers is also the class least interested in hearing that we are interdependent with our things.

Being middle class is about having “earned” the luxury of commanding our things: of buying things “just because,” of discarding things without a thought, of spending a premium for “designer” or “gourmet” options. Interdependence with things – the state of needing practical objects for practical purposes – is seen as lower-class. You need lentils; you earn steak.

So when Marie Kondo rolls in and suggests that our things might have feelings about how we treat them, we respond with all the indignation of Ebenezer Scrooge recommending that the poor die “and decrease the surplus population.” How dare you suggest that my purse or shoes deserve some consideration for their hard work? They’re here to serve me! That’s what I pay (for) them for!

This is, of course, exactly the attitude of the shareholder class toward the laboring class, and nobody in the latter group likes it when this attitude is directed at them – so we, in turn, take it out on our material possessions.

Kondo’s animism suggests an alternative path, in which we learn to cooperate with the material objects that share our living space rather than to command or control them. It’s a much kinder approach, and it’s also one that smacks of collectivism. Suspicious stuff for the country that claimed materialism won the Cold War.

The Cull and What I Learned From It

One of the weirdest upper-middle virtue-signaling experiences I’ve had in social media groups about KonMari is meeting the subculture of people who are using the method to one-up Sharon from down the block.

It’s the subculture that’s on full display if you search for “KonMari” on Pinterest. In between the infographics about how to go through all your crap are endless photos of perfectly-appointed drawers, kitchens and children’s rooms.

I’ve even encountered people who seem to think “spark joy” is synonymous with “shop like you’re as rich as you think you are.” One story, which I heard secondhand, involved an acquaintance and a friend of hers who stopped by one day while my acquaintance was canning fruit. My acquaintance mentioned proudly that she’d inherited all her canning jars from her mother and grandmother.

The friend’s response to this was scorn: “I threw all mine away and bought new, since I discovered Marie Kondo.”

I’m less interested in the decision to buy new than I am in the scorn itself. Having sorted 90 percent of what we own, I now know that my reaction to someone telling me they’d kept their heirloom canning jars would have been to assume that the heirloom jars made them happy, possibly in a way that new jars never would.

Their happiness isn’t my happiness, but that doesn’t make their happiness any less valid than mine. I suspect that anyone who missed this message also missed the point of the KonMari method.

I also don’t expect that anything that spark joy for me will automatically spark joy for anyone else. For example:

50767766_1287700361371781_8787390181515722752_n

 

Most of these are vintage ornaments from the 1940s or thereabouts. I got them from my stepmother, who got rid of them because all they sparked for her was annoyance.

I love them. My only regret is that they’re showing 80 years’ worth of wear, because if I had my way, I’d keep them in their original state forever. I am thrilled to have these in our Christmas decorations, even though I know there are untold numbers of people who look at them and see nothing but junk.

The ornaments aren’t the only thing in the house that would get me a raised eyebrow from anyone for whom household decor is a means of one-upping the neighbors. But the beauty of having done this process is that I don’t care.

People who walk into my house are going to see me. They’re going to see a space full of stuff that brings me joy. If they love me, it’ll spark joy for them too; if not, they are cordially invited to keep on steppin’.

Next time: Sentimental Objects.