Scrapbook Diaries: TVs and Hippies

FullSizeRenderScrapbook Diaries is a series I started to share some more personal thoughts by annotating pages from a scrapbook that I kept in college.

If you can’t read the writing, it says:

“I eat twigs and berries
and I’m kind of furry.
I may not always smell so good.
But when you call me a stinky hippie,
Aww shit, it really hurts the team.” –Bull

I’m sure you can read the bottom part.

I’m posting this particular scrapbook page because I’m enjoying the endearing poem written by a guy I met who was just trying to be himself and fit in, juxtaposed against a very harsh and judgmental sticker urging TV viewers to read more.

I grew up in a family where an overworked parent was more interested in television, it seemed, than in interacting with her children, which I think is where my TV rage stemmed from. I still don’t watch a lot of it but I get plenty of screen time and no longer begrudge people their shows… just find the contrast between these two on one page and my apparent lack of awareness about it somewhat amusing.

 

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Small Claims Court, Technical Questions, & Creepiness: Yael Writes’ Weekly Wrap

10329203_484081391725892_2009436025575136953_n

Where has the time gone? Week three of the Freelance Success/WordCount Blogathon is now coming to a close.

Blogathon Posts From This Past Week

I also wrote this for WIRED:

 

Coming Up This Week

I keep putting off the posts about online courses for writers, apps/tools of the trade, herbalism and science, and some security stuff for writers, so those are still in the running, along with more music to write by, perhaps, and maybe another page from the scrapbook diary…

 

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What Is Processed Food, Anyway?

4698597608_06411e33da_zI decided to stop eating processed food for a month, which is a great way to get really philosophical about what the definition of a process is. Does pulling a food from the ground, chopping it up, and cooking it count as a process? What about drying or rehydrating it? What about additives and chemicals? Are quote unquote natural ones more harmful than artificial ones? Some foods like coffee take extensive processing to get to their final form. You pick the beans and husk the shell and dry the beans and rehusk the shell and roast and brew… still, I’d argue that coffee is healthier than, say, juicing fresh fruit if you’re looking at your blood sugar level.

Some people say processed foods come in a box or a jar, and yet it’s possible to get unprocessed foods in a box or a jar, like the whole vegetables boxed up at Trader Joe’s. I’ve made my own pickles before which certainly come in a jar, and anyone who’s done their own canning would hardly think canned veggies are less nutritious; they’re just preserved, is all.

Instead of arguing about what a process is, I think it makes more sense to determine the reason you’re going on this weird diet, and make decisions accordingly. Let’s explore.

Reason #1: Weight loss

I almost don’t think it even matters which diet you go on for weight loss. Any kind of dietary restriction means you’ll likely be getting fewer calories, and boom. Pounds lost. It is a bit easier if you’re eating nutrient-dense food that makes you full than trying to subsist on nothing but a large popcorn at the movie theater a day, for example. And elevated blood sugar can stymie weight loss levels. Still, being super strict about trace amounts of additives with weight loss being the ultimate goal seems a little silly.

Reason #2: Learning to deal with your shit

If you’re prone to eating emotionally and give up those things you crave for any length of time, you’ll either be miserable or learn some new (and ideally healthier) strategies to help you change the way you feel. Or maybe you’ll do both. Still, giving up sugar or meat or grains or whatnot is likely to lead to the need for new coping mechanisms. Some people find they were eating to indulge, and look for other ways to indulge. Some people eat crap food when they’re feeling self-destructive, and you can even find healthier ways to deal with that. If you’re trying to eat clean to work on emotional eating, probably sticking to whichever rules you created and avoiding those foods you crave when emotionally triggered is probably more important than the minutiae of the rules themselves.

Reason #3: Purity

Some people think giving up certain foods will help them get rid of distractions and focus more on spiritual matters or whatnot. I’m not sure this is true for everyone, because I know a lot of people who are vegans but treat people like dirt, but whatever floats your boat. I don’t think I’m in a position to tell people what to eat to feel pure, so I’ll leave that to the seekers.

Reason #4: Pinning down food sensitivities

Cutting out a bunch of food and then slowly reintroducing it can sometimes help people with food sensitivities pinpoint them more specifically. I was just about to write that being allergic to preservatives is probably unlikely, but then I remembered that  but I’m personally allergic to the preservatives in contact lens solution (you know, in my eyes) and have to use Unisol, so I guess anything is possible.

Reason #5: Health?

I put a big question mark next to that because some unprocessed foods are far from healthy. Like if you don’t consider juicing a process and are drinking apple juice and praising yourself for not eating sugar, you’re probably doing it wrong. I mean, avoiding empty calories can certainly be effective for health, but it’s also possible to seek out substitutes that aren’t really that much healthier. Something to watch out for. It’s also worth noting that different people respond to food in different ways depending on a wide range of issues…

So What Is A Process?

Um…I still don’t know, exactly, but hopefully this has given you some food for thought and a way to try to figure out what to eat based on what you’re trying to do. As for me? I decided to stick to meat, veggies, nuts and seeds, and a little fruit, but decided canned and frozen foods and herbal teas were a-okay. Also, I ate s’mores while camping because s’mores are delicious.

Lead photo by Cam Evans

 

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But I’m A Creep….

I can’t count on both hands the number of conversations I’ve had with people about creepy creepers and all of the creepy things that they do…. but as I was driving to New Mexico the other day, I started thinking about all of the things I do that are creepy. Maybe they’re not objectively creepy, but reasonable human beings would probably perceive then as creepy…. or maybe I’m just lying to myself. I know I’m not the only one who worries about this, but I thought I’d put it all out there, because that is what I do. So, I’m Yael, and here are the creepy (or ideally, just quirky and weird) things that I do.

1.  I send people anonymous gifts.

The gifts are normal. I swear. But sometimes I’ll see a book or CD or something I want someone to have, but it would be weird if they knew I sent it. I don’t want them to think they have to send me something or that I have weird ulterior motives, so I’ll go to great lengths to send it anonymously. It’s becoming harder and harder since Amazon and Ebay totally sell me out, but at  least I can secretly and anonymously send people Reddit Gold. (Yes, that was probably me.)

2. I send people weird things non-anonymously, too.

I’m not as bad as my friend Billy, who once mailed me a doll he mutilated which he said was an art project when I told him we had to talk. However, I do have a tendency to send people strange things. Like, sometimes I use this comic book app to send people pictures of themselves as drawings, or I use Poetweet to create sonnets, indrisos, and rondels comprised of people’s tweets and then send it to them. I also sent someone a Unicorns Are Jerks coloring book to expose the cold, hard, sparkly truth, and I don’t know if he had the same reaction as I did when Billy sent me that deformed Cabbage Patch kid. I never know if people like what I send or are just too polite to complain about it. I also send people poems I’ve read that I think they’ll like, but nobody ever responds. So yeah. Probably creepy.

3. I’ve probably stalked researched you online.

Stalking is the new research, isn’t it? But sometimes I’ve taken this to extremes, looking at YouTube videos from 2007 or the 10th page of Google or those public Facebook pics from people who I don’t send a friend request to because we’re not actually friends. Whenever I find a new tool, I usually look up a dozen or so people I know on it. My “research” excuse is probably bullshit because I probably don’t need to know about an MMA fighter’s traffic tickets to interview them about an upcoming fight… (But I was trying to paint a picture! Yeah, no.) If you know me, I’ve probably looked you up on Crystal to figure out how to better word an email. I’ve also probably read your out-of-print book, if you have one, or even your ex-girlfriend’s book. I may have read your dissertation. I try to keep this on the DL because people would probably be totally weirded out if you knew how much I knew about them, but probably keeping it secret is even creepier. On very rare occasions, people have told me all sorts of things because they thought I’d know anyway, and they were wrong. So even writing about my, uh, research problem is probably creepy.

Oh, and it gets worse. In the past, I’ve used ToutApp and other tools to tell me when people were clicking on links I sent them or opening emails I sent. I’ve stopped doing this now because I write about privacy and people would kill me, and because it made several of my friends uncomfortable, but I think I still have the creepy gene that compels me to do this.

4. I hold onto my phone will showing you pictures and take my laptop to the potty.

Not only will I bore you to tears with photos you probably don’t even want to see, I’ll also make you feel like a criminal by holding onto my phone while doing so. I’ve also had a lot of strange looks and questions about why I’ll leave my wallet and such out on a table but take my phone and laptop to the bathroom with me. I guess you could call it being security conscious, but I figure if someone steals my wallet, it affects nobody but me. I mean, you don’t know what else is on my laptop or cell phone, or what it’s been on..

5. Oops, I called your cell…

Yesterday I called someone’s cell phone number rather than his work number. I would’ve been creeped out. I don’t even know how I got his non-work number on my phone, but there it is. He said it was okay but it was super creepy and I felt bad. Anyway, this is one of the creepy things that I accidentally do. Then I apologize for it profusely which is even more awkward and creepy. I’ve also been known to call what I thought was a work number at some weird hour hoping to leave a voicemail message before I forgot and gotten a real person. Oops.

6. I am super awkward.

When I’m not making jokes that people don’t understand or find funny, I’m taking things that aren’t literal way too literally. When there aren’t awkward silences, I’m rambling way too much. I’ve been known to stumble over my words, splain basic information to experts by mistake while trying to make conversation, and so forth. Good thing I can make a living writing from the confines of a secret, soundproof closet. I’ll lock myself in.

7. Remember that thing you said in 2009?

Sometimes I bring things up from ages ago. I remember tiny details people have forgotten about, much to their dismay. I mean, who does that? SO creepy.

8. I put 2+2 together. Oops.

One time I asked a housemate where she was hiking, since I noticed her filling up a water bottle and she only did that right before going on a hike, and it really freaked her out. I am often completely oblivious about things that should be obvious and figure out the hard ones, in my quest to fulfill the archetype of the absent-minded professor. (Are those guys creepy, or what?)

9. I try to interpret all those offhand things you say.

I am happily married, and my incredibly patient husband will always humor me and explain the minutiae to me of why he selected one word over another and why it may not mean what I think it means. This doesn’t stop me from obsessing over random things other people say, trying to figure out the hidden meaning. I’ll go to great lengths to try to determine the specific meaning of slang from other countries, ask people in similar professions if there’s another way to interpret something someone said, and so forth. I don’t do this all the time or with everyone, but some glitch in my brain makes me susceptible to this, and my close friends get to hear all about it. At least they accept me for who I am…

10. I really want to be OMGBFFs with people who don’t like me.

I took a StrengthsFinder test once and it told me that my biggest strength was WOO, which stands for winning others over. I personally think it’s my biggest character defect. I have this running list of people I think are really cool that I sense don’t like me. Maybe I think they’re cool because they don’t like me. Maybe we just don’t resonate, but I still want to be friends with them anyway simply because I can’t. One time a tech writer whose book I read blocked me on Twitter (long story), so I stalked him on LinkedIn, sent him a typo that I found, and tried to convince him that we should be friends (or at least to unblock me). One time I was at a Brazilian jiu-jitsu class and my teammate was talking smack (I thought playfully) and I gave it right back and he said we shouldn’t train together anymore (I swear I was joking). I spent the next few months trying to win him back over and finally asked him to train again and promised not to talk. We’re cool now, but I still have about three people on my list right now. I have no idea why I do this, but there it is.

I was hoping that by writing this, I’d make quirky but well-meaning people feel less creepy themselves, or even worry a little less about my own quirks. I’m not sure it worked, but…feel free to share some things on your list with me, either publicly or privately. Some of my best friends can be creeps, I swear it.

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How To Take A Client To Small Claims Court

14135683605_a5650500d5_zTurning in work and not getting paid for it is a pretty depressing part of freelancing. If you’re owed a substantial sum and have a bit of spare time, it’s often useful to pursue payment rather than just giving up. About three years ago, I wrote a long post about taking a client to small claims court and winning, but I wanted to put together a nuts and bolts how-to piece for those of you who don’t want to read about the details of my experience. Here it is.

(Disclaimer: each state small claims court system is different, and this is just based on my experience in Minnesota. However, there will likely be similarities.)

An Ounce of Prevention…

You can’t always avoid deadbeat clients, but getting contracts in writing can be really really helpful if things ever end up in court. (However, I did win my case with just a verbal contract, so it’s not impossible.) Even with a contract, you may consider asking for partial or full payment upfront if it makes sense for the type of work you do. Last but not least, don’t be afraid to walk away from a client if there are red flags. I personally will turn down work from a client if they spend too much time badmouthing the last writer they had. I’ll also literally get up and walk out of a meeting if the client is rude to their sysadmin or tech support person. The deadbeat client I beat in court was screaming about new bugs every few minutes in our five-hour planning meeting that should’ve taken an hour max. It probably shouldn’t have taken me that long to realize that if someone is super nice to me but a raging asshat to their tech guy, he’s probably not a nice person or one worth trying to work for.

The ‘Pay Or Die’ Letter

Often sending a certified letter to a deadbeat client letting them know that you’ll be taking further action if necessary will trigger payment. I like Kelly James-Enger’s template. The important part is to set a firm deadline of when you will take payment to collections and to follow through.

Mediation?

Some organizations, such as the National Writers Union and ASJA, will sometimes negotiate with a client on your behalf if you are a member. This is often ineffective, as all they do is send strongly worded letters and sometimes threaten to out clients publicly, but if you are already a member, it might be worth it. Paying for membership for this service, on the other hand, may not be.

Small Claims vs. Collections

If you have a contract and the client doesn’t dispute the fact that they owe you money, you can try to go to collections instead of small claims court. Or, you may need to send a client to collections at some point after a judgement is rendered. I like CashIn Usa, which is affordable even for small sums… but of course they do keep a percentage of payment received.

Going to Court

You should be able to find a local small claims court website in your area with instructions on what to do. Typically you just have to fill out a claim and pay a small fee, which may get added to the claim, and then the court takes it from there. Just make sure they amount you are seeking is below the maximum allowed amount you can go to small claims court for.

Settling out of Court

Once a court date is set, some clients will settle outside of court. It may be worth considering if you’re comfortable with the amount offered, depending on the circumstances. Of course, some debtors never make an offer.

Gathering Evidence

First you’ll want to gather evidence for each claim you intend to make. This could include contracts, copies of work completed, emails and texts about meetings, correspondence about the actual dispute, invoices, past due notices, and so forth. Often you need to make copies for the judge and for the deadbeat client as well as one for yourself.

Practice

Write your case out, summarize it on an index card, and practice it a few times in front of a friend. It helps. Judges also really value clear, logical thinking so try not to jump into tangents about peripherally related issues or getting too emotional. Just the facts, ma’am.

Quantum Meruit

Look this up–it means that your client owes you the amount due for work performed, when he or she cancels the project before it is completed. See if there are any local laws referencing this that you can refer to during your case. It’s not absolutely necessary, but can sometimes help.

Subpoenaing Witnesses

Look up the fee for these, if relevant–it sometimes includes a witness fee, a fee per person, and travel expenses, as well as filling out an affidavit and signing it before a notary. Keep this in mind when calculating cost and time to determine whether you want to go to court. You don’t want to spend more than you are trying to gain.

Just Chill

I brought my now-husband with me to court, which helped me relax a bit. I also felt like trying to get the money owed to me was worthwhile in and of itself, even if I had lost. This helped, but the process was still nerve-wracking, especially because I felt like an imposter wearing my pearls and suit. Sometimes seeing the debtor will make you feel a bit frazzled, too. This is when your index card with the points you want to make will come in handy. Just be aware that you may not get the results that very day, and even if you win, there’s a small chance that your client may want to appeal to district court. For the most part, this is more trouble (and money) than it’s worth.

Collecting

You don’t always get your money right away after winning in court. There is a process you most go through. Typically you need to get the judgement transcribed to the district court, which puts a lien on the client’s property. After that, you can try to obtain bank accounts or other information to help aid in collection. If you can’t access it, you can often file an Order for Disclosure, requiring the debtor to disclose his assets. There is a small fee associated with this (I paid $5 per mailing and had it sent to both a business and a home address). In Minnesota, if the form is not received back within a certain time period, you can fill out an Affidavit in Support of an Order to Show Cause. This would require the debtor to appear in court to fill out the form (or explain why he couldn’t fill it out). There is another fee for the County Sheriff to serve the order. If this doesn’t work, you can ask the judge to issue an order for a Writ of Attachment, a warrant for the debtor’s arrest for civil contempt of court. It costs another $55 and again, there is no guarantee that it will work if the debtor isn’t arrested or detained for another reason. In that case, they’ll have to fill out the form before being released.

If the form is filled out, or if you find the debtor’s assets (bank account, employment, etc.), you can often either put a levy on the bank account or garnish the debtor’s wages. In Minnesota, you need to pay $55 for a Writ of Execution for this. It is served by the Sheriff of the county where the debtor works or bank account is located. Having the papers served is an additional fee, and garnishing wages requires an additional form, a ten-day notice of intent to garnish. That needs to be served via certified mail (an additional fee). The good news is that any collection fees paid to the Court or Sheriff’s Office by the judgement creditor are added to the judgement and owed by the debtor–but again, there is no guarantee they will get paid.

Is It Worth It?

Although the process is time-consuming, it can also be–dare I say it?-kind of fun. In my situation, I was seeking $845 and $75 in court fees. The judge ruled that I would receive $500 and $75 in court fees. I also spent an additional $55 for the transcript of judgement, order of disclosure, and paperwork to file a partial satisfaction of judgement. At that point, I was going to drop the matter because it costs $55 to pursue wage garnishment in Minnesota, and spending $55 to try to get $55 didn’t make sense. However, I got the remaining $55 from the deadbeat client’s company from the new owners after he was ousted as CEO.

Small claims was worth it for me because I actually enjoyed the process and got $500 out of it, and because getting payment from a terrible client was personally satisfying. (I also ended up making a lot of friends with people who’d heard about the case and had their own bad experiences with the guy, so having cool people know  my name at events and get really excited about meeting me was an added bonus.) I can’t say whether it’d be worth it for you, but hopefully understanding the process a little better can help you make a good decision.

Resources

Questions?

Leave ’em in the comments. (They’re moderated, but I’ll approve them as fast as I can.)

Lead image by Tori Rector

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Check Out This Deal For Stock Photos

imgresI don’t usually post ads on here, and perhaps I’d stick to social media if I wasn’t running out of topics on day 17 of the blog challenge. But this is such a good deal that I wanted to pass it on. You can buy 100 stock photos for $39 on AppSumo while supplies last. It’s from Depositphotos‘ Standard License images, and you’ll end up paying 39 cents per image. If you use it as an Editorial image, you’ll need to provide attribution, but headers, graphic designs, social media posts, etc. can be used without attribution.

There are other subscriptions that may make more sense for you if you want to download images all the time, so check those out, too. Or check out the AppSumo deal while it’s still around. (Not an affiliate link.)

 

 

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Asking Technical Questions The Smart Way

185508448_7f247723f5_zWhenever I spend any amount of time playing with sophisticated new software, I usually break things or maybe never quite get them working properly in the first place. Luckily, I can tap into the expertise handful of incredibly patient people who spend a considerable amount of time helping me put them back together again (or get them working in the first place).

When telling a friend that a lot of people are incredibly generous with their time but I secretly wonder if they all hate me, he shared this post explaining how to ask technical questions the smart way. This incredibly thorough post, incidentally, is not all that dissimilar from books like the Hamster Revolution or advice I’ve gotten from friends on what to write in emails to score interviews with busy people.I recommend reading the whole post, but here are some suggestions that stuck out to me…

  • Drop the sense of entitlement. Nobody owes you an answer to your questions, even if you have problems and they have the ability to solve them. Don’t act like anybody owes you anything–they don’t. And asking for pointers or resources is preferable to asking for exact answers.
  • Do your homework before asking questions. I think we can all relate to someone asking us a question that they could just find the answer to online or in free resources we offer. It’s frustrating and time-consuming and doesn’t have good prospects for actually helping the person in question, who comes across as lazy. When people feel technically inept, they often forget about this. Before asking for help, try to help yourself by reading the manual, using the Google machine, looking through the archives of the list you want to post to, experimenting, asking skilled friends, or reading the source code (if you can grok it). If you’re going to post on a forum or list, make sure you’ve spent some time researching it and are reasonably sure that it is the correct place to ask.
  • Mention what you’ve done ahead of time and what you’ve learned from it. This is a mistake I’ve made, often saying things like “I spent 30 hours on this” or assuming that it was a given that I’d spent a lot of time trying to fix something before approaching someone for help. Instead of talking about how I’ve been working on trying to fix something forever, I could explain what I read and why it didn’t apply and what I may have gotten out of it. I’ve also made the mistake of trying to diagnose problems, instead of just describing what I tried and what happened to, you know, an expert who would actually be able to diagnose the problem.
  • Write good subject headers. If you’re posting on a mailing list or forum, subject headers are important for getting the help you need. Make sure they’re specific and technical. The post explains that object-deviation subject headers are best, ones where you describe the thing that’s broken, followed by how it is broken. I’m thinking even if your contact with someone isn’t through an email list, having good headers (or asking the initial question in a logical way) would be just as important.
  • Put some thought into your questions, and be sure to ask them in a logical order. I’ve found that throwing out multiple questions, even if well-researched, can be really frustrating for someone who wants to approach a problem in a linear and logical way. (Usually they’ll just say “STOP” and redirect the conversation, but delicate snowflakes like me probably want to avoid this from happening in the first place.)
  • Be crazy specific. Just because you’re asking your questions in a logical way rather than delving into a prolonged monologue about Still Life With Laptop doesn’t mean that you can neglect to include all of the pertinent details, so make sure to describing the symptoms, when they occur, what you researched, what steps you’ve tried and the results, any relevant changes in your computer or software configuration, and how to reproduce the problem, if possible. Describe the symptoms in chronological order.
  • Follow up to let people know (and say thank you) if something works. Jotting off a quick note to people who spent a lot of time helping you with a solution solution means they won’t feel like their work is disappearing into the ether.

Check out the full post here: How To Ask Questions The Smart Way. Also, my comments are working again; feel free to leave yours.

Lead image by Marcus Ramberg

 

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Music To Write By

Last week I waxed poetic about Brian Eno’s Ambient Music for Airports as the perfect soundtrack for high-pressure projects with tight deadlines. This week’s selection is Cyberbully Mom Club, another recommendation from a Twitter friend. It’s comforting, relaxing, gentle, and genuine… Take a listen.

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Monkeys, Music, and Mayhem: Yael Writes’ Weekly Wrap

10329203_484081391725892_2009436025575136953_nWeek two of the Freelance Success/WordCount Blogathon is now in the books, and I’m actually typing this up in advance, hoping that I’ll have time on Sunday to rush to my laptop and throw in the appropriate links before this goes live. (That’s what happens when you schedule posts in advance, just in case.)

Week two was another exercise in the versatility of blog posts, but no food porn or house hunting or advice for freelancers this week.

Blogathon Posts From This Past Week

  • June 11: Monkey Business. An old 2-min. video I took of a capuchin monkey in the wild.

Some stuff I wrote or contributed to:

Beyond PowerPoint: Livening Up Presentations (Dice Insights)

Migrants Gone Missing: Healing and Closure for Families, Thanks to Forensic Science (TakePart)

Security News This Week: The NSA Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop (Neither Will Israel, China, or Britain) (WIRED)

Coming Up This Week

I still want to write about herbalism and science, about online courses/MOOCs for writers, and yet another app/tool roundup, as well as the thoughts about “processed” foods (and what that means), and have been toying around with a piece on when writers are most vulnerable.

I’m open to suggestions, so please feel free to contact me!

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Scrapbook Diaries: How To Use A Phone

Scrapbook Diaries is a series where I attempt to share personal thoughts based on pages of a scrapbook I kept while in college. 

phone

 

It’s always blown my mind  how difficult-to-assemble items come with impossibly dense pictograms, but easy-to-use items apparently require detailed instructions…so we’re stuck trying to put together Ikea furniture based on these weird line drawings, but I sure am glad that 22-year-old me received a thorough briefing on how to make a phone call.

 

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