“Unfortunately, the troubles with the U.S. education system are much deeper than distribution of funding or curriculum weaknesses, although these are both a byproduct of the cultural issue that Asimov observes. The troubles lie in the cult of ignorance and anti-intellectualism that has been a long-standing part of American society and which has become increasingly evident and powerful in recent years through the propagandizing and proselytizing of groups like the Tea Party and the religious right.”

America’s Cult of Ignorance Is No Match for Asia’s Cult of Intelligence | John W. Traphagan

I’ve long said that while I may gripe about the traffic or the heat or the necessity to have a car to live just about anywhere, the main reason I never want to live in America again is its anti-intellectual culture. This attitude is the opposite of what I’ve experienced in Poland, or anywhere else I’ve traveled and may potentially end up.

This hatred of knowledge seems uniquely American (at least in this century), and is the very antithesis of my raison d’etre. While it doesn’t exist everywhere in the country, and there are obviously pockets of society that value knowledge and innovation above all (I’m looking at you, San Fran), the anti-intellectual influence is expansive enough to influence policy and impact and hinder those who don’t subscribe to it at all. And worst of all, as the article demonstrates, it’s impacting the U.S.’s ability to remain a source of innovation and novel thought.

Honestly, I don’t think the prevailing attitude in the U.S. will change, at least in my lifetime, and I’d rather watch America’s decline from a society that values intellectual pursuits than take on the Sisyphean task of trying to live within it.

“Because the problem is this: when we ignore the existence of awkward girls, of the female nerds, losers, and geeks who are just as befuddled by sex and dating, we further codify the idea of women as sexual objects. The notion that all women can get effortlessly laid, if only they open their legs, reduces the reality of female experience, transforming women from complicated individuals to the vessels for male sexual desire lusted after by Elliot Rodger and his ilk, and further fueling the misogynistic rage that leads men like Rodger to feel justified in their anger and actions.”

Confessions of an Awkward Teen Girl | Nerve.com

This hits home in a painfully awkward way. I was that odd teen girl whose crushes were never returned, who had far more imaginary boyfriends than real ones, who had no idea how to talk to the opposite sex (and who has only gotten marginally better over the years). Somehow, I never went on a shooting spree, though.

I wrote an article on Medium, which is quickly replacing this place as the storage center of my thoughts. Here it is.

For much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the class-bound societies of Western Europe were dominated by a landed and monied elite that owned much of the land and the wealth. The United States had rich and poor, too, but the wealth was still spread around a bit more widely. In 1910, for example, the one per cent in Europe owned about sixty-five per cent of all wealth; in the United States, the figure was forty-five per cent.

In recent decades, the roles have been reversed. The U.S. monied elite has outstripped its counterpart on the other side of the Atlantic, and wealth has become even more concentrated in the United States than it is in Europe. In 2010, the American one per cent owned about a third of all the wealth: the European one per cent owned about a quarter. Citing figures like these, Piketty warns that “the New World may be on the verge of becoming the Old Europe of the twenty-first century’s globalized economy.”

Piketty’s Inequality Story in Six Charts : The New Yorker

It’s funny, but when I state that one of the reasons I prefer living in Europe to the U.S. is because I feel that the “American Dream” is more possible there now, most people (on both sides of the Atlantic) laugh at me. Now I have charts to prove my point!

Freelancing, by the Numbers: 2013

Well, if this post is any indication, 2014 is off to a procrastination-filled start. That’s because in 2012 and 2013, I managed to sum up the previous year within a few days of New Year’s fireworks. This year… not so much.

Luckily, at least I’m writing this before taxes are due (which of course I haven’t begun either), and perhaps this is a sign of some of the success I’ve had lately, if ridiculous amount of work = success as many seem to think. I’m starting to debate that theory, however, and am setting a novel goal for 2014: less work. But before reflecting on that, let’s have the numbers…

Here’s a breakdown of my total expenses for 2013, by category:

image

Not surprisingly, my biggest expense was cost of living, i.e. rent + utilities + phone/internet bills took up a third of my expenditures. The only solution to that would be to live someplace even cheaper (southeast Asia, I’m looking at you…). I’m quite proud that over a fifth of my spending went towards my Roth IRA, which is more of an investment in my future (or so I hope) than spending. Otherwise, nothing surprising other than eating out costing me quite a chunk of change, though not as much as booze. Some would say that indicates a problem, but I will argue that the culprit is the increasing costs of craft beers in Poland.

Anyway, here is my income for 2013, by category:

image

(Notice that sad 0% by book sales, despite my first book ever finally being published this summer. I did, at least, get the second half of my advance this year. Here’s hoping for some royalties in 2014…)

So what happened in 2013? Professionally, I had my slowest summer ever, with much of July-September spent blissfully twiddling my thumbs while waiting for the work to come in, and much of November-December attempting to replenish my savings account after having to live off of it for a couple months.

To illustrate, here’s a breakdown of earnings by month:

image

This isn’t too surprising, as many of my translation and proofreading clients are from universities, which become dead zones come the summer months. However, when you compare income to expenses, 2013 was definitely a roller coaster:

image

Lesson learned: always have a savings account with enough it in to cover at least three months of expenses. I’d heard that advice years ago and luckily took it, or this summer would have been much more stressful.

So that’s my financials, in a nutshell. I came out with net earnings of about PLN 11,600 (about $3,800), though almost all of that went right into my Roth IRA. Comparing that to 2011 (PLN 188.39 net income) and 2012 (PLN 13,500 net income) I did OK, though another goal for 2014 will be an even greater increase in that number, at least above the 2012 level.

Here’s the fun part:

image

Translation? I averaged about two hours of work per day for a total of 770 hours (roughly, as this doesn’t include time spent marketing, billing or making cool excel graphs for blog posts), made enough to support myself and then some, and had a lot more time for the things that actually matter: travel, family and friends.

Short translation: freelancing definitely beats regular employment.

What about goals?

Last year, I listed the following goals:

  • earn 50% income from writing (or at least higher percentage than from proofreading & translations)
  • drink a lot less
  • spend even less on groceries and eating out and reduce all of my expenses to a bare minimum, so that I can spend on the categories that matter: travel, music and my business.

Vague, I know, and I should set better ones this year. Nonetheless, compared to last year I did earn almost half my income from writing (47% compared to 35%), drank a bit less (6% compared to 9%) and spent a total of 9% on eating out and groceries (and only 2% on clothing, yay!), so missions accomplished.

My goals for 2014 are:

  • work smarter - increase average hourly wage while keeping total hours worked about the same
  • reduce food- and booze-related expenses by at least 1%
  • increase vacation-related expenses
  • earn 50% or more income from writing

To sum up…

As far as personally, I travelled to one new continent and one new country in 2013 (low for me, I know), with the former being South America (and Rio de Janeiro to be specific) and the latter being Israel. The five-day trip to Israel was also the first one I’ve ever taken since going freelance where I specifically didn’t work, and didn’t even take my laptop with me. It was refreshing to fully immerse myself in a place and take a proper “vacation”, even though it feels like I’d done that for half the summer in Krakow.

In 2014, I want to experiment more with taking actual vacations where I disconnect for longer periods of time. I already took one trip to the desert of West Texas and it was blissfully Internet-free (and the world didn’t end while I was offline). I’ve already planned trips to Paris and Barcelona this spring and hopefully Sicily this fall, so I’ll have plenty of chances to enjoy this life I’m working so hard for.

Oh, and of course I’ll continue to work wherever I happen to be as well. Just my way of ensuring I keep the “free” in “freelancing”…

image