LIFE UPDATES

Ah, it’s good to be free. School is over. Weeks of freedom are ahead, for some. For me, I will be going to USC for a Publishing Workshop with the LARB (The Los Angeles Review of Books) for a whole month, starting next week, which is—in its own way—a sort of freedom. But, that does mean dubious things for my free time. I will be busy ALL day with the workshop, pretty much from sun up till past dinner, with speakers and so on.

Now, you may wonder why exactly I am bringing this up. I mean…cool, that’s my life right? Well, the main reason I am bringing it up is because I am uncertain how much free time I will have to work on this blog. To be as consistent as possible, I have been doing one entry per day, every day of the week, for over a year now. That’s quite a bit of time, and I have loved doing so—it has helped me grow as a writer and as a person. But at this workshop I will be doing just that—growing and developing. Which means that I will already be doing what I wanted to do with this blog.

Of course, I don’t PLAN to be going away. If I can find the time, I will be writing daily still. But I might miss a couple days. And I don’t want anyone who reads my work daily to be worried. Normally I can plan out exactly when I will have time to write a post ahead of time to do so (see last year’s vacation posts), but this year I was caught up with graduation and other things, and couldn’t prewrite a month of posts. Plus, that’s less fun.

Anyways, I figured I could take today, my slow day, to post an update about the future, and update you on my life. I went to Las Vegas last weekend for a short vacation, which was super fun (no I didn’t go to EDC, but I certainly dealt with the traffic on the way home). We went to the Peppermill twice, which was incredible, and had Brazilian…BBQ? All you can eat food. It was amazing. I ate WAY too much. I also finished in the top 350 of a 4000-person tournament I played in, which was a fun experience, albeit not how I would have adored.

Well, that was my week. Let me know how you are spending your first few weeks of summer in the comments below!

——

 

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THE FLOWERS OF SUCCESS

Hello everyone,

 

First of all, for those of you who liked The Discovery of the Skyfish, I wanted to let you know that He will be returning next Monday. I have a few ideas I wanted to run with to put those poems together, but today is for some goal setting and schedule building. It’s been nearly a year since I began writing for this blog (in fact, we are just 23 days away from the anniversary, if I have counted right), which is strictly awesome, and I will talk about that more at a later date.

However, I realized that I, as a blogger, have only sort of kept to some of the ideas I have shared throughout my blogging experience this past year. Specifically, I wanted to discuss the schedule of this blog. Over the past year, I have been carefully tracking the data that WordPress keeps for me, and recognized that Fridays are my most popular days. Whether this is because I cemented love poetry pretty much exclusively for Fridays or not is up for debate, but what I realized is that I am not making this something I can track easily. I write somewhat randomly, which is great (I mean, in the sense that I can claim I am channeling “the Muse”), but it also leaves myself and others uncertain about what the next day entails. Do you have the vaguest idea of what I write about on Mondays? I don’t. Is Tuesday going to be something you want to read? Who knows?

One of the major inspirations for me, as a consistent, five day per week blogger, was YouTube. YouTube, you ask? But aren’t they, like, the enemy of written work? Well, yes and no. The visual medium, and the ease of access to it, has pacified many people, which may be why reading is less “popular” today than fifty years ago. Who knows? What YouTube (or rather, many famous YouTubers) did do right, however, was realize people like consistency. Take a look at the vast majority of popular channels. Consistent views, everyday, because they upload new, interesting content every day. Similarly, if any of you are aware of Twitch, the popular streaming service, then you probably have a knowledge of popular streamers. Those who are the most popular stream daily (excluding a few, who are typically members of the community in other ways).

So what does all this have to do with my writing? Well, everything and nothing really. Any expressive medium is a device that is unique to each individual in the same way that all petals are unique to a flower. Both are used to present ones self to a variety of pollinators. While on the surface they may all appear the same, the slightest detail is enough to distinguish between two different individuals. Video and literary art are simply two different species of flower—one with blue petals, one with red. Both still need water to grow. Put less artfully, I’ve taken the success of posting consistently on YouTube, and applied it to my own work. With this in mind, I’ve decided to solidify my schedule a bit more, in order to make it easier for you, the reader, to have an idea of what to expect. Here it is:

 

Monday – Poem/Short Story

Tuesday – “Serious” Topic Discussion

Wednesday – Poem/Short Story

Thursday – Short story

Friday – Love Poem

 

Look at that. Even in my scheduling I have some room for randomness. I have put serious in quotes, because it’s not really supposed to just be “serious” stuff. It could be the terror of the political spectrum, it could be the puppies I saw down the street the other day. Until next time!

– Cassady

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DON’T LET THEM SERVE ME FIRST

“…and please, dear God, don’t let them serve me first” exclaimed Peter. Ann and Peter had been on the road for nearly three hours, on their way out to visit Ann’s parents in Minnesota. It was a frosty day, and nearly everything was covered in a layer of white snow.

“What? Why? Pete they’re going to love you,” said Ann.

“Well I hope they love me but what happens if I do something weird?”

“You’re not going to do anything THAT weird,” Ann rolled her eyes, “just do what we normally do back at home.” Ann was driving the car with her gaze on the empty road before her. It had been a quiet drive for the most part. There had been no traffic—in fact, had they not been in the heart of a city, one would have thought the roads to be completely abandoned.

“I can’t do what we do normally back home because normally back home I wear boxers to dinner,” Peter said, as he tried to contain a giggle behind his anxiousness.

“Ok, come on,” Ann chided, “you’re not a baby you know how to act appropriately at a table for dinner.”

“But what if your parents decide to say Grace?”

“They’re not going to decide to say Grace, they haven’t practiced any fo—“

“But what if they do this time!” Pete interrupted, “What if this time they decide they want to and I’d already started eating? I’d look like a savage idiot.”

“What do you care what you look like? Aren’t you always talking about how you’re the best businessman at meetings because you don’t care what people think about you?”

“Well, yeah, I mean, yes, you know, but it’s different,” Peter stuttered. He took a deep breath, then continued more fluently, “I care more about our relationship than some business meeting.” Ann looked at him with a playful sarcasm.

“Aw. Aren’t you sweet. But that’s all this is. My parents just want to see what you’re bringing to the table. And the bedroom.” A devilish grin crossed Ann’s face.

“The bedroom?” Peter’s eyes bulged, “what have they set up cameras? That’s a little creepy.”

“No you fuckin’ idiot!” Ann slapped Peter’s thigh jokingly, “like how you look. I know and you know that looks aren’t a huge deal or anything, but my parents care about the success of more than just their daughter. They also care about the family as a whole. If you were some feeble, cowardly guy, they’d want to give input.”

“Ok that’s fair, but I still don’t want to be served first.”

“Fine.” Ann paused, “you’re such a baby.” She reached over and pinched Peter’s cheek, then said in a babying voice “who’s my little baby? Hm? Petey’s my little baby.” Peter pried her fingers off his cheek and tossed her hand back at the steering wheel. He turned to pout at the window while Ann laughed. After that, they sat in silence for a little while.

“How much farther is it?” asked Peter.

“We’re actually just around the corner,” said Ann, “now I don’t want you making a bad first impression. So stand up straight, open the door for me, and carry the bags in.”

“Fine.” Peter slumped his shoulders. They turned a corner and drove up to see a couple standing out on the sidewalk.

“Look! There they are!” Ann pointed. She looked over at Peter with a glare, “Pete sit up. This is going to be a good time. Ok? Try to enjoy yourself. They gave us the guest room down the hall and everything so that we can enjoy ourselves. They realize we’ve been dating for a while.” Pete sat up and put a smile on his face.

“Yeah but they’ll love you no matter what,” he muttered to himself. The car came to a stop, and Pete smiled to Ann’s parents through the window, then hopped out of the car to get Ann’s door.

——

 

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GIVING CRITICISM

Hello everyone,

It’s been a little while since I took the time to be a “normal” blog and give those little updates on life that have literally no impact on the world whatsoever (don’t worry, more creative work will be back tomorrow). Which is why I am not going to talk about how I finished all my graduate school applications recently, how stressful it’s been, etc, etc, etc (wait but that’s what you just did Cassady…). Instead, I wanted to talk about something that has not happened to me before. Someone who had been reading my blog asked me for advice. Now, obviously I am a busy person—we all are. But I took the time to check out a bit of their work and give them constructive criticism. Which I like to think I am decent at giving, and I know a lot of people who are not very good at it. So I wanted to discuss it.

One of my good friends is a person who doesn’t know how to give criticism. He will  say things like “that’s bad” or “I don’t like how this looks at all.” And that’s fine if a person is secure with their work, but let’s be honest, how many of us really feel completely secure with our work? Especially when we are just starting off? Probably not that many of us. I know that I, personally, was exceptionally afraid to show people any of my writing when I first began doing it, and even before that, I was afraid to write because I felt like I myself would be doing a bad job. If someone had criticized me like my friend does right away, there’s a good chance I would not have gone forward with my writing.

Certainly, this is “my fault.” No individual should stop someone from achieving his or her dreams. But that’s not reality. Humans value other opinions—it’s the reason we ask people for advice on relationship, even if they have a terrible track record in them. It’s true that the only way to improve is to get criticism, but when we criticize it can be done in a better way. One way I like to do this is through a “compliment sandwich.” Going back to my original scenario, this blogger asked me to take a look at their work in the comments of one of my posts. That takes some guts, but they sounded rather shy about it. So I took a look, and I found a few things. First of all, they had a great basis for their work. Their concepts were really personal and relatable, which is a solid bedrock for writing. That said, they looked like they had rushed through their writing. Which we all do. I do it. Professionals do it. It’s not a big deal. That’s why people hire editors. But it did take away from their overall message, and they need to correct it to make their work as good as they envision it to be. So I pointed out the positives, then the negatives, to reinforce that they were doing good work but that it needed improvement, and then finished up with a reminder of those positives. Not excessively-if that is done, then the person isn’t going to take the criticism seriously. But this does allow for a friendly way to express the needed improvement. If someone, especially a stranger (or an acquaintance that isn’t very close), asks for advice, it means they value the opinion of the person they are asking, and to shoot them down will only cause self-doubt. It makes the matter more personal than it really is.

What do you think? This approach can vary in impact depending on the context of the discussion. Check out this article for some areas where this technique doesn’t work. Do you have any techniques you use to give constructive criticism? Let me know!

——

 

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OUT OF TIME?

I have been wanting to talk about time for quite a while. We have taken time to be a quantifiable idea—I mean you can look at the phone in your pocket and check it pretty much whenever. Or right now, in the corner of your computer screen. You can definitively say, “oh hey, it’s 3:00. Cassady has posted another piece of writing for me to read!” People love to say things like “Time waits for no man,” and “it was only a matter of time before __________ happened.” And that’s fine. I mean, I wear a watch, I budget my time. I live on a schedule for my day-to-day life. And that’s fine. In many ways, by monitoring my time, I have a greater ability to do the stuff I want to do in my life. I wouldn’t be writing this blog if I didn’t schedule my life (whoa so meta right?).

But time is something we take super seriously, and it shouldn’t be that way. Time is just a measurement of distance, speed, decay and human perception. Really, think about it. How do you know the length of a day? It’s one rotation of the Earth. That’s the distance it takes for one point on Earth to reach its starting point at a set speed. How do we know how long a year is? It’s one revolution of the Earth around the Sun. How do we know how old a fossil is? We check where it was buried, use science to deduce how long ago the rocks it was buried with formed, and estimate from there. Time isn’t that serious. It needs to sound serious so people will make it matter, but it isn’t that serious. Time is a human construct.

All these measurements don’t happen if people don’t exist. We’ve chosen to measure sunrise and sunset as the period in which we can do things. But think about it, out in space, how do you know when a day is over? Without a watch, you don’t. Now, sure, your body might be able to signal to you that you are tired due to thousands of years of evolutionary development. That’s a circadian rhythm. Though theoretically, if a human were devoid of Earthly experiences they may never have formed one. In which case, where does time exist in space? Well, it doesn’t really, because time is a human idea.

Now, you’re a smart person. You read through all this and said to yourself “yeah, duh. But I still have to get to work on time, or else I’d get fired.” And that’s great. I have two jobs and am a full time student. I know what you mean. But since human life is fleeting, I’d like for you to take this idea into consideration when you are reflecting on your own life. Is the time you have really worth sitting through traffic to get to your dead end job, everyday, for the rest of your life? Is it not reasonable to take the week off to see something you’ve never seen before? You’re not just a number, you’re a person. People are special. We have the ability to think for ourselves. You could get up and walk out of this room, right now and—wait come back! What I mean to say is that you can make choices for yourself that change the course of your life. Certainly, you should think of the ramifications, but don’t be so focused on “this will take me a week to do and I don’t have that kind of time, so it’s not worth doing.” Instead, start thinking about things as “I want (or don’t want) to do this. So I’m going to do it, and if it takes a year or a week, then so be it.”

——

 

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HOW TO FIND INSPIRATION

Hello everyone,

 

I decided to take a break from writing creative stuff today to talk a little bit about inspiration today. If you are a regular WordPress blogger, you probably have had moments where you struggle for inspiration. I didn’t know this, but there’s a cool blog where people respond to one word in a whole blog post, or other ideas. That’s a pretty smart concept. It gets people to interact with their blog and it promote writing. If you need inspiration and are either desperate or lazy, I would suggest trying this out. It’s really good for a one-time fix, especially if you are in a pinch.

However, not everything about this kind of blog is good for you, the writer, or by extension the people who are struggling with ideas in the rest of their lives. Think about it. If you, along with a quadrillion billion million (like my number choice?) other people are all responding to the same prompt, how original can you be? I mean, certainly, your writing may be completely different and exceptional, and that’s wonderful. Yet you are not being truly original. The best a person in this situation can do is defamiliarize something. To defamiliarize means to make a familiar concept different. For example, instead of a plain old rock, the object is a coarse, rough, solid stone that is jagged on one side and opaque on the other. See the difference? Ok, good. This isn’t to say that defamiliarization is a bad thing—I mean, Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales is made up almost exclusively of stories that he had changed slightly, or told from a different perspective, and it’s one of the biggest pieces of literature ever. Seriously. You can be very successful doing this. But if you’re looking for inspiration, that’s probably because you want to make something that feels original, right?

That being said, this isn’t really “original” ideas. It’s original work, but it’s not something that is going to make you stand out. Think about how many famous authors there are throughout history. Pretty short list, ain’t it? At least, compared to the total number of people that have ever existed in the course of human history. Here’s the difference between Chaucer and an average blogger using this kind of blog as daily inspiration—the blogger is part of a mass, Chaucer was not. No matter how good your writing is, if you write the same thing as 100 other people, you have to beat out 99 other people. Which I’m not saying is impossible, but the higher that number is, the more people you have to beat. I mean, to make this relatable, I have to actively try to beat out other bloggers every day I post. I have to do something that makes me stand out. I have no illusion that I fail regularly on that, even if I check all the marks off and write something perfect. Hence why I wrote In the Dirt. However, most of my work is closer to original, even if it pulls from and alludes to other works, because it is unique. I try to start my work with an idea. A book I’ve referenced before, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, explains this idea really well, and I highly recommend you check it out. I’ll try my best to explain it quickly.

The best way to find inspiration is to look at an idea in a way that nobody has looked at it before. Zone in on one concept, or even a concrete object, so closely that you can have an original idea. Look at whatever is in front of you. Let’s say it’s a wall. Ok, well look at the top left corner of that wall. What’s there? A brick? Ok. Describe the wall, starting from that brick, and go across, one by one. Because that’s how you find inspiration. Brick by brick.

BURNING THE CANVAS

“Make your mind a blank slate,” the monk told us. We were sitting in the wooden temple, performing our daily meditation cycle. It was around 6:30 in the morning, though the bells had yet to chime. I focused on my heartbeat, calming myself. The goal of enlightenment was a difficult process. I had been told to make my mind a blank slate, in a few moments, the monk would instruct us further.

“Now, make your mind empty,” said the monk with a quiet yet firm tone. It was at this point that most disciples struggled. How, in fact, does one create nothing? I was sitting with my legs crossed in the lotus position. My hands were at my knees, palms facedown so that my fingers slumped down, fully relaxed. Every disciple was given the choice of meditative positions, right down to the direction they faced, to further calm their mind. The idea was to become one with the world. In history, but one monk had become fully at peace in this way, but he became unable to speak after his awakening, and in truth he departed from most human communication in general.

I focused my mind. I could picture the blank slate before me—an empty canvas, endless, with no sides or edges. I could feel my heartbeat slow from a normal speed. Thump. Pause. Thump. And so on. Then, I attempted to remove the canvas from my mind, until nothing was left. At first, I tried to condense the canvas, to put it inside a box equally infinite, and make the box disappear. But how could I possibly erase something that was infinite? After that, I tried to eat away at the canvas from the middle, like a fire as it burned from the center of a paper to all edges. In my mind, I could almost feel the heat, as the sparks became a flame, and the flame became a wall of fire, and finally the wall of fire erupted from all ends of my mind. I held my breath, to snuff the oxygen out and force the flame to go out. I could feel my heart rate quicken, straining against the lack of sustenance. But the fire had spread to far. How could I compete with a flame the burns infinitely?

I recreated the canvas in my mind again, each time attempting to remove it in new ways. Each time, failing. By the time the bells struck 7:30, I had become drenched in sweat, despite remaining motionless the whole time. My mind had become a battleground against the forces of itself. By the time the clock struck 8:00, I was grateful our meditation session was at an end. I exhaled deeply, and opened my eyes. When they had closed, the sun was still below the horizon, yet now it had brightened the whole day. The monk crossed the floor of the temple to me, and put a hand on my shoulder.

“You are making good process, Seigfried.”

“I don’t feel like I am making progress,” I lamented. It was exhasperating.

“Why do you struggle?” The monk’s question seemed rhetorical, but I knew he expected an answer.

“I struggle because when my mind is a blank slate, it, like my imagination, is infinite.” The monk made a small smile, revealing no teeth, but clearly happy with my answer.

“If your mind is infinite, perhaps you should seek not to remove infinity, but to alter it.”

“I have altered it!” I gasped, “I burned the canvas away and then tried to snuff out the fire, but how does one snuff out infinity?” I turned away from the monk angry. The monk nodded to me, but I could sense his smile had disappeared. He walked away to leave me alone in my own thoughts.

PROBLEMS WITHOUT SOLUTIONS

Hello everyone,

 

Ok, I decided to take a break from creative writings today, which I’ve been on a bit of a roll with. The other day, I had a class where we had a guest speaker named Dr. Jawaharlal come to talk about the social aspects of Engineering (the class is closer to liberal arts than “pure science”), and he brought up some issues that I have already talked about at length, but he got me thinking more deeply about Nature and Nurture. Now, I’ve always been pretty far on the side of Nurture as being the key aspect in development of thought, and for the most part Dr. Jawaharlal agreed with that. He used the term “social background,” which I think is quite fitting in many ways.

That being said, he was talking about how a person’s background is the main reason they do not succeed in certain areas. For example, at a young age girls are told—directly or indirectly—that they are not supposed to be good at math. Even unintentionally, people are pigeonholed to think they cannot or should not do something. Take genetics, I’m sure someone has heard the phrase “I don’t know where she/he get’s that from. It’s not from me, and it’s not from his/her mother/father.” Isn’t that somehow negative? Well, Dr. Jawaharlal went a little further, and said that this is creating an expectation within someone that they should not be able to do this, and therefore they are less likely to choose a path that takes that. Through the trends of this, less women are pushed into STEM areas (STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). Now this is a pretty smart engineer—he’s currently working on biomimicry, which is creating technology that is based off processes in nature so as to reduce waste produced by modern technology.

That aside, his idea of a social background got me thinking that nurture is more than just our environment around us, but also ourselves. Think about it, if you tell yourself “I can do this” a thousand times per day, won’t you eventually succeed? What if you told yourself every day for 10 years “I can’t ride a bike.” When you get on that bike, do you think you will be able to do it? Would you even get on the bike? So apply the same logic to math. And sure, it is easy to write this off by saying “well, that’s their personal error. They should be able to drone out the voices of others and be more positive.” But that’s hard to do in reality.

I know there is a term for this; it is called internalization, which means you take something to heart from outside. The psychology idea is a self-fulfilling prophecy (sort of). Yet neither of these ideas have an answer for how to fix it. At least, that’s not what is taught in classes. Problems without solutions. The answer is simple in reality—don’t put people down like this. Think before you speak. That doesn’t just mean figure out what you are saying, but also figure out how they will impact the people around you. There’s a huge difference between “you suck at that” and “you could do better at that.”

 

*Once again, I do not own this image. It is from the University of Surrey website.

WRITING GOOD PROSE

Hello everyone,
Monday has arrived and my mind is percolating with things to talk about. Mostly because in class we are jumping around the book The Basic Kafka, which are works by a man named Kafka, many published after his death. I am intrigued because Kafka writes pretty short stories to get across important messages. And by pretty short, I don’t just mean 10 page stories, he’ll write a quick 300 word tale about a guy and his interaction with a police officer, and you can find so much meaning in it.

So today I wanted to talk about writing, because I realize most people on here have blogs of their own that they write for creatively. Now, I’m not the greatest at executing prose myself, but I am very good at identifying the trends of good writing. I’ve talked a bit about writing poetry, now let’s talk about writing good prose. For those lost a little bit because I don’t talk about this stuff much, prose is what you find in a regular book. Think “A Game of Thrones.” Which, in fact, is a great starting point.

A Game of Thrones is a simple story made great by complex characters. What does this tell us? Well, that characters are important. Archetypes do not exist clearly, everything is “real.” This means, good characters have flaws in addition to accomplishments, not all of which are character flaws. Some can be physical attributes. Good stories have several of these characters, because it makes things unpredictable, but not in a way that makes the reader feel like they were played.

The other notable aspect of good prose is meaning and parallelism to that meaning. To continue my Game of Thrones example, the character Ned Stark begins the story as a heroic authority figure, executing a criminal despite the criminal just doing what he felt was best. This is juxtaposed at the end of the story (spoilers!) when Ned Stark is executed. This creates a “full circle” sort of feeling in the reader, where the fall from grace is completed. This can take non-circular forms, but many good novels have them.

And then there is meaning. Meaning can be done in many words or in few words. Kafka does it in few words typically, where he creates a scenario people can identify with, then intercepts the scenario with a character made to represent something. Like a policeman scoffing at a lost citizen asking for directions. Try something like this in your writing, and you may find more success. Does that sound doable? Let me know what you think!

MOVING AND MONEY

Hello everyone,

 

Let’s talk about our almighty ruler today. The dollar. Today’s writing was inspired by a friend’s post on Facebook. He asked how much more a job would have to pay to justify moving states for work. Which is quite a loaded question, and I gave him a short answer since I have no doubt that a long form answer probably won’t be something that he will read. I also used watered down examples because I think exact numbers might be harder for him to grasp conceptually—I know they would be for me. I’ll also be doing this in examples today. Let’s get into it!

So lets say that at your current job you make $20,000 (moving forward I’ll refer to numbers like this as “20K”), and living expenses in that location cost 15K. The job you would be moving to pays the same, however the living expenses of the area are only 10K. That’s 5K more in your wallet per year. Which is nothing to scoff over. Moving costs, what, maybe 5K? So your first year is a little tight, but as you settle in, things have a significant up tick.

Let’s take another example. Let say your job has a significant increase in pay from your current job. 50K, instead of 20K. Living expenses in that area are 25K. I think you can figure out for yourself that this is significantly better net pay than either of the other jobs. That said, what if this new job also requires more hours out of you? That average American works roughly 45 hours per week, to my understanding. If your old job only made you work 35 hours a week, and this new one requires 50 hours, you suddenly have lost a lot of free time to explore life.

This accounts for one of the more difficult aspects of moving, because it is not easily quantifiable. What if you’re really close to your family, but this move will leave you across the country from them? What if you absolutely hate your family but your dad owns the business that is offering you this new job? What if your partner has a good job at home, and would have to find a new one or leave you? Suddenly it’s not so simple. And I don’t have an answer for you. But I do know that, at the end of the day, while money can’t buy happiness, it can produce more avenues to happiness. If you can live without seeing your family constantly, but want to still have access to them, maybe that new job is good. Enough extra money means you could fly back for a weekend to visit them every once in a while.

Of course, there are so many factors to moving that it’s hard to say for sure. But if it is for a job, factor in more than just an increase in pay, because you could end up with a real problem on your hands if your living expenses are too high when compared to how much you are making. At least, that’s my two cents on the issue. What do you think? Am I totally wrong? Are there factors I missed? Let me know!