It is common for me to spend hours reviewing the past year and hours more planning the upcoming one. As you may recall from the year of blogging review a few weeks back, I wasn’t in a reflective mood then. Turns out I’m still not.
In some sense, I feel more content to take things as they come. It also feels a little like avoidance. Something to monitor.
Anyways, on today’s walk I spent a few minutes considering high level aims for 2020.*
1. 2.5x My Monthly Average Income From Writing
This might seem like a lot (and 250% growth in anything probably is), but when you’re starting from small-small numbers like I am, this isn’t much of a stretch.
(Think the difference of going from $5 to $10 vs. $200,000 to $400,000.)
Plus, I need to be able to make more money or seriously reconsider the plausibility of this career path.
A rough timeline from the past year for perspective:
Begin pitching stories to publications in January.
About a month later, start pitching to pubs that would pay actual-real-dollars (as opposed to, uhh “portfolio building” or gift cards).
Around July, begin having consistent work from several clients (a retailer, an app, an outdoors blog) with a smattering of one-off pieces from other sources.
In September, start making a (somewhat) regular income that could (somewhat) comfortably cover expenses in a country like, say, Mexico.
Let’s call it 8-9 months to make a barebones income.
Is the time to completion reasonable?:
Well, if it took 8 months to start making consistent revenue, maybe I can double the figure in another 8 months. Using the law of “everything takes longer than you expect,” let’s 2x it to 1.5 years.
(Obviously, this a super rough estimate).
Here are a few extra variables to consider:
So far, better paying gigs have a longer lifecycle (from pitch to final submission to pay). Let’s say they require 1.5-3x more time overall, which is about commensurate with the increase in pay. This seems silly now that I think about it. (Partly, I only have a small set of examples to work with which is skewing my understanding. I imagine at a certain level the increase in pay outstrips the increase in work required).
Per week, I manage ~20-25 hours of “productive” work. This figure primarily consists of actions that lead towards money-making (i.e., research, pitching, writing, etc.). Additional time is spent on maintenance things like email or social media management.
I have a little more capacity, but quickly encroach upon diminishing returns.
To rephrase: 25 hours = barebones income.
There isn’t a lot of wiggle room to increase working/billable hours because it becomes time/money inefficient. But, something to explore further.
Ultimately, in order to 2.5x my income, the easiest pathway is to obtain better paying jobs.
Maybe it’s reasonable that I’ll 2x my income by the end of the year, and it’s better to consider 2.5x a stretch goal.
Some additional notes and questions:
I need to spend more time pitching. Especially to publications that pay in the $1-$2/ word range.
I’m going to pitch more journalistic pieces. This is a genre that is enjoyable, interesting, and better paying (I think).
I will likely try to get a PT gig to help even out the volatility in monthly revenue.
To keep writing a weekly blog post or not?
Try to monetize the blog?
Is this career viable? What is my quit point?
2. Climb V9 Outdoors
This was the easiest target to decide on.
2019 was the first year that I climbed consistently, each month without fail. I started pursuing the sport more seriously in 2018, but there were several large gaps where I didn’t do any climbing.
I’ve found that progress requires consistency. In 2019, I was able to go from sending V2/V3 (outdoors) in one session to sending V6 in one-to-three sessions. My only V7 send went down in two sessions.
By the end of the year, if I specifically train for a V9 project that fits my style (and on top of general training) I think it’s reasonable to get a send. Additionally, I’ve only just started to hangboard, which already has, and should continue to have, dramatic returns (before tapering out as the year advances).
The progression will follow something like:
Climb 20 V6s
If I work a handful of projects per month, this seems reasonable over the course of a year.
Some additional notes and questions:
Increase time spent climbing outdoors. Aim for 2-3 days per week on real rock.
Refine my health and nutrition. For example, I’d like test dry fasting for 48 hours, return to intermittent fasting consistently, track energy levels and recovery.
Develop specific project training/periodization regimens in order to target weaknesses or increase strengths required for particular projects.
Experiment with losing weight to see how it affects my ability to climb hard.
The night air was crisp with a faint crackling like someone was ripping a head of lettuce behind a closed kitchen door. I often walk these streets morning, afternoon, and night because I need a breather from screen time. Plus I’m still in winter mode since I left Boston and it feels like a necessity to savor the sun and warm days.
In Querétaro, the streets are laid out in quadrants like graph paper. Downtown is cinched in by a belt, perhaps reminiscent of the edges of Lake Texcoco. The cobbled stones of the calles through the Centro Historico are neatly arranged like the raised beds that once supported a floating city in brackish waters.
The pavers are old with uneven tops. People with precarious standing wobble as they walk them. The stones were laid sometime between the 1500s and today. I don’t know when exactly because I haven’t fact checked. But I do know that sound carries well down the narrow alleys.
Materially, the belt around the center is comprised of main avenues. These high-throughput traffic zones emanate noise which creeps inward like it was a valley and the sputtering engines, horns, and mechanical grumbling was a raging fog. Which isn’t so far off. The exhaust, after all, is thick and clogs the nostrils. Perhaps noise is viscous too, draining in to fill the reservoir.
Hmm. If sounds move in waves, is there a tide?
Tenochtitlan was built atop of Lake Texcoco on stilts. The Aztecs raised platforms to raise life, all of which was eventually left for dead. The lake later became a basin, the city dried out and was buried under what is now Mexico City. History ripples too.
It’s this march of time and the lines of life that are interesting.
The Mesoamerican Venice had canals that ran between the plots like streets between homes. Did they have sidewalks for smaller, fleeter passerbys?
Speaking of which, don’t you think the term “sidewalk” is an odd word? Maybe it was shortened from “onthesideoftheroadwalkway.” In which case, good call. Still, “walkway” makes more sense, as does “driveway” as it applies to the area cars motor on. But these are modern terms compared to “road” and “street,” and it seems common words have longevity. Yet, following that thread backwards, why don’t we drive on “horsewalks” or “treadfoots?”
In any case, we were talking about lines. Structurally, the canals of Tenochtitlan or the streets of Querétaro are like words, no?
They are created, defined and hard to change. Their form carries onwards in a continuous line. That is, until the society is toppled, or enough time passes for common usage to evolve the meaning, or the landscape to (f)alter. Then the line takes a new course.
Thus Tenochtitlan is now Mexico City.
Graves are often laid out in plots with narrow walkways as well. Is there a form for the burial grounds of dead words?
I woke up this morning and realized that I’ve been blogging on a weekly basis for over a year.
When the notion struck, and after my first Nescafe, I started to think about lessons learned (as one does). Very quickly, I distracted myself with other things because a reflection piece was not of interest to me today.
But I have a streak to keep in tact. It’s Thursday after all.
Read on for lessons learned. (Scroll down for a while if you’re eager for the takeaways).
First: A long-winded intro that circles back to the theme eventually. Per usual.
The idea of pursuing writing or of becoming “a writer” has been brewing for several years.
Last February, I began to put pen to paper while in Budapest. This was the second leg of my Eastern European Trip, Pt. 1 (Act 2): The Prelude, and I had determined that a month in Hungary’s capital city would be the perfect place for a “writing” sojourn. The vision in my head was myopically poetic.
I imagined frantic notebook scrawling in cafes during the morning and long soaks in thermal baths in the evening. There would be walks in between and plenty of goulash sampled on my traipsing through the city (or whatever it is they ate in Hungary). I also kind of hoped I’d become an alcoholic, because that seems to be a thing good writers have in common.
The script didn’t go as theoretically conceived (for one, the beer wasn’t very good there). But, I did write (poems and essays mostly), and more importantly, I began to believe it was possible.
Life progressed and the idea of giving a go at “writing” niggled it’s way irreparably into the depths of my brain. Like a parasite that couldn’t be satiated.
(Which is probably necessary because writers don’t make a whole lot–outside of the power-law-few anyways–and you likely need to be slightly delusional / intrinsically motivated to pursue such a fool’s errand. But hey, at least I’m not a poet.)
Come November (2018), I committed to posting at least one article per week on this blog.
There were several reasons for this:
The main aim was simple: To write more.
I needed to start somewhere, and you only get better at writing through the act of writing.
It was a schedule that I could stick to, and I wanted to prove to myself that I could be dedicated to a craft.
So I began, and the weekly streak is alive. Onto the lessons learned.
You never really know what’s going to catch fire.
This goes for what you like to write about, and for what gets page views. If I’m being honest, I was banging my head against a wall for a longtime trying to figure out what I wanted to write.
I actually enjoy creating poetry, but that wasn’t going to further the cause of becoming a writer. My early essays and observational travel pieces felt a bit flat to me then, and read that way to me now. Upon reflection, I know that it’s because they lacked a certain essence or deep-rooted interest for me (poet alert!: He said, “essence”).
For whatever the hell reason, climbing has been the muse that’s really launched things in a new direction: It’s personally intriguing to me, I see plenty of potential to tell different kinds of stories, and I actually get paid to write about it.
The takeaway here is: You need to start writing, try a bunch of shit, and hope to God you come across something that tickles your pickle.
As for page views…
Give the people what they want. (Sort of).
No one really cares about my broken heart.
So I’ve been told on a few occasions. But they love climbing related shit. Like The Coolest Climbing Festivals in Europe that has been far and away the most popular post, and continues to brings in consistent organic traffic each month.
Additionally, distribution matters a lot more than the content.
Every post that’s brought in high volumes of traffic (note: It’s all small-small numbers) has been shared by others through social media.
This is because the readership on the blog is somewhat contained (mostly friends and family–thanks for reading!–and people who subscribe). The only way for articles to spread to the wider world is when I beta spray and post them around, or other people do.
For people to share, it has to be of value to them. Things like informational pieces, destination guides, how to’s, etc. lend themselves more to spraying.
Growing the readership and “creating a brand” haven’t been the priority so far as I just wanted to focus on “writing” and “finding my voice.” I’m not sure if I’ll try to do more with this blog, I kind of like the liberty to talk about whatever.
It’s fun. It’s creative. It makes people more likely to talk to you.
By far the coolest part of this is that people are open to chatting with you.
It’s like getting a license to reach out to whomever and ask all sorts of questions you would normally be too modest to ask of your friends.
As a result, you get to help share stories about people who aren’t typically covered. Oftentimes these folk are inspiring, relatable, kind… and doing really cool shit!
Through this process I’ve flexed my journalism muscles (which I’ve found I quite like), experimented with markety-type content, bared my heart (take that, haters!), and played with a variety of other forms of writing.
It’s changed my life.
Not to be dramatic about it…
If you had asked me last year if I thought I would be able to make a living through writing in 2019, my answer would be emphatically, “No way, dude!” Quickly followed by, “But like, that’d be really cool!”
And now here I am in Queretaro, Mexico getting paid to put words into 1’s and 0’s across the interwebs.
A lot can happen in a year, apparently. Such as it is.
To be clear, it wasn’t the blog all on its own. Rather, it’s been the process of writing, learning that this is something I can do, and then going out and doing it (plus some luck). Still, the blog has played an important role.
There you have it, some begrudging lessons learned from this past year.
“Onwards and upwards!,” as one of my former bosses liked to say.
A little worse for the wear and with a smashing headache, I made it to the apartment in el centro de Queretaro. It’s been nearly 21 hours since I started traveling. I need a cervesa.
So far my Spanish is enough to navigate, and to ask silly things like, “what’s the name of that mountain with the snow on top?”. I spent much of the time on the plane(s) thinking through sentences that would be useful, and which are probably grammatically incorrect. And which most certainly contributed to my headache.
It was a different game when I had to say things out loud. Mumbling and timidity are not for the language learner. Like many con-games, I found speaking with poise more effective than quietly whispering in the wind.
Why am I here anyways?
Over the past few years I’ve been returning to the question: “Is this all there is?”
It started with a crisis of confidence when I left startups in 2015 and I’ve been trying to figure out what the hell this is all about ever since.
It has little to do with startups themselves and a lot to do with a search for truth and meaning. In short, I bought the bullshit of silicon valley entrepreneurship and realized I was living according to a value system I adopted, but which learned I didn’t agree with.
It was a bit of blind faith; I let a tool shape the user, willingly at first, then sightlessly, and that’s the issue.
After the fallout, I started to wonder, “what else have I been following without much thought?”
This brings us today: I’m in Mexico for the foreseeable future to write and climb.
Basically, I don’t have many answers from these past few years. But I do have more clarity.
I know that I value independence (of spirit, mind, inquiry) and that I care about the essence of a thing. The pursuit of writing is about having freedom of location and choosing how I make money. In the spirit of journalism, it’s also about presenting truth. Climbing is a simple, if contrived, unadulterated act that is aesthetically pleasing, and physically enjoyable. I like it a lot.
Another observation I’ve come across is that you’re probably better off pursuing things that fill you up and get you excited about the world, than not. Hence, even if climbing is nonsensical at face value, so are most things in this world when deconstructed. Or, you might as well enjoy it.
Everything hasn’t been roses and glory, though. Admittedly, I’ve become much more inward (solipsistic, trending towards selfishness) and isolated. This isn’t the right path either.
We’ll see where the ledger balances out. Viva la Mexico!
Feature photo of La Peña de Bernal. Source: pixabay
Early European settlers were some of the first slave traders of the New World, and Native Americans were part and parcel to this. Relations among Natives and settlers were strained, as one can imagine, but Pilgrims and Wampanoags did hold a feast in 1621. This was facilitated in part by Squanto, a Christian-convert, escaped slave (captured by who, would you guess?), English speaker, and a member of the Wampanoag tribe.
Allegedly, the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony declared “A Day Of Thanksgiving” the next day, as a celebration over the “savages.”
As the years have passed, Thanksgiving, the narrative as a holiday of celebration, has been shaped to become what we know today.
The implication of a shifting story is profound. It’s easy to reframe events to give it a better spin, to ignore certain details; to anesthetize it. And the farther we get from the original events, the less important the truth may seem, given the emotional and time distance. After all, we are driven by emotions, and the modern incarnation feels good.
You may say, “What’s so bad? Why can’t we separate the past from today’s holiday? Evolution of a holiday seems normal. I like being in company with family and friends. I like celebrating with loved ones.”
As a standalone event, I’d agree. Thanksgiving in today’s practice is a nice festivity, and is a way to promote certain values that a lot of us can get behind, that of thanks, humility, togetherness.
But, we are part of a longer narrative, and today is an extension of what has already occurred. Events don’t happen in isolation, so we can’t ignore what preceded it. To ignore the past is to be disconnected from reality. Today’s actions will continue into the future.
Put another way, the essence of a thing becomes manipulated if we let it. Like a day of thanks that disregards its bloody beginnings. Or how Christmas has become about spending money.
In the end, the original intent is lost and we celebrate in bad faith, if we choose to disregard the past.
In this interview series we talk with people who spend their time traveling and climbing, while still holding down a steady income. From nurses to coders, writers to outdoor guides, we want to show that you don’t have to go full dirtbag to live the itinerant life. Because contributing to your 401k while seeing the world doesn’t sound so bad.
Name: Erik Howes
Job: Seasonal labor + creative work
Erik and I met at a get together at Thee Off-Width, a V4-5 boulder problem in Cape Ann. When I arrived at the parking lot there sat an old trolley which extended from parking lot edge nearly to the road. It looked like the cable cars of ‘Frisco, all nostalgic chic with an aura of party bus. If that was the case, I cautioned, this night might get a little weird. At the boulder there was a throng of people bedecked in various stages of costuming. Erik was dangling from the roof, his wild hair Doc Brown splayed (he was wearing a wig) as he grunted through the crack. We chatted briefly, and I left that night thinking, “I bet he has an interesting story to tell.”
1) How do you describe what you do to others?
Unless you are hiring me for money, I don’t have any intent to ‘do’ anything for other people.
But if you are hiring me; then I will do whatever you want! Hah.
I suppose there are some people I do more for. A few months ago I gave a big presentation in front of an entire middle school, sharing the message of “writing your own story.” Their view of me will be much different than that of a climbing partner and that of a coworker.
2) What are some of the jobs you’ve done as you’ve traveled and climbed?
The jobs I have worked on the road can be divided into two different categories: “skilled seasonal” and “unskilled short term.”
The jobs that require skill pay well and usually last 3-6 months (i.e., Scuba diving or any of the working trades, such as carpentry, masonry and bartending.)
Then there comes the miserable category of unskilled labor. You name it, I’ve probably done it. The pay is garbage and you are disposable. But, if you need $100 to pick up some groceries or get money for a climbing trip, you can always wash dishes or help move a few boxes in just about any city of the country—no matter the season.
3) How do you learn about these gigs?
I asked for them.
Most of the jobs I have worked weren’t because I saw a ‘help wanted’ sign, it was because I went up to the owner and said: “I work hard and I need money.”
Those two words are something I draw on most of my gear and look at when I need a boost of stoke. Whether that’s on a ski mitten before dropping into a line or on the cuff of my work jacket before I start in on an engine repair.
Most people know Stay Wild from the stickers I make, which started by being hand-drawn on USPS Priority Mail slips that I took from the Post Office.
For awhile I was just handing them out to friends and travelers I met on the road. I still do this, but now I also get them printed professionally and sell them to help fund my adventures.
5) What are your plans or hopes for STAY WILD?
It will grow and transform with me through time. My only hope is it never becomes something that detracts from my personal pursuit of adventure, instead of inspiring it, as it does now.
Being a full time ‘businessman’ isn’t my style. I’ve had to devote a lot of time towards learning how to start a website, what an EIN is and how to manage money… You know, ‘adult’ kind of stuff.
I use Stay Wild as an outlet for my photography, art and a way to tell my life’s story. That will continue to evolve alongside some long term projects I am working on. My artistic pursuits are starting to shift towards making movies and books.
6) What are some of the perks of your lifestyle?
As of right now I am not ‘tied’ to anything. I could walk away from this life at any point. I don’t have any significant bills or locking obligations.
If I wanted to hop on a plane and not come back for two years, I could. That sounds kinda awesome. I just may do that!
I’d say that kind of freedom is a big perk.
“It seems the most rewarding experiences in life feel impossible at first.”
7) Do you see this as a long-term thing?
There are certainly some days I consider folding it all in; going a different direction and finding some sort of comfort in a routine.
It’d be easy to stop. Stopping is always easy.
Following through and building the life I dream of is not easy. But I like difficult things. It seems the most rewarding experiences in life feel impossible at first. Conquering the impossible is fun, and I haven’t stopped yet.
8) What are some of the challenges?
I’ve mastered the art of job hunting. It usually only takes a few days to find a new job.
But I’m typically unemployed for around 4-6 months out of the year.
That’s not to say I am not working; I am hustling side work. But that flux of income makes for a roller-coaster of bank account statements. I’d say I have less than $500 in my bank account for around half the year. That’s pretty stressful.
Not to mention those times when I spill my pee bottle in the van or wake up to a completely frozen food storage. Without having the amenities of a ‘real house’ daily life gets a bit harder.
9) What motivated you to pursue this path?
In 2016, I took my first cross-country road trip to Joshua Tree. It was there that I met a group of wanderers who showed me the lifestyle.
They taught me the ways of the dirtbag: We danced naked under the stars and climbed rocks without ropes.
The spirit of adventure I felt on that road trip has consumed my entire life and I’ve given up countless opportunities in a constant desire to recreate those wild feelings of adventure.
10) I know this is a silly question… what does a “typical” week or month look like?
Do you have a home base you come back to?
There is no typical week in this life I live. Month-to-month, I live entirely different structures.
My home base was my van. That died last year.
I am currently working on developing a new home base: An old trolley that I am restoring into a mobile basecamp.
(Editor’s note: You can read about Squally the Trolley, “a 1994 GMC P3500 chassis with a Big Larry 7.4l gas engine that has a big round tail light that says ‘STOP'” and was used to shuttle people to/from the Cape May-Lewes Ferry in New Jersey.)
I have friends and family who welcome me into their lives: My mom’s driveway and friends’ backyard have served as temporary basecamp over the years. Without them, I would not have had the space to create all that I have!
11) What do you wish you knew when first starting out
Nothing. Being naive to what I was doing, in the beginning, is the only reason I’ve gotten to where I am. Having to ‘figure it out’ from the beginning has given me the ability to achieve all that I have.
12) What is one lesson learned from your journey so far?
In life, we are only given so much ‘time.’
During that time you get to do ‘things.’
Some of those things will give you meaning, and some of those things are done purely to enable you to do that which does give you meaning. Be aware of the difference.