The Billfold

Five Women

In honor of Women’s History Month.


After doing the quintessential work of babysitting and accompanying choir soloists at auditions, Cheryl is my first real boss at my first real job—obnoxious state taxes, name tag, and all. The first weeks I am deferential and easily spooked by weekend rushes, realizing that I will always be battling to show up on time in the mornings.

Cheryl runs a tight bagel shop ship, but moves languidly and makes everyone who walks in feel like a regular, even though we all figure out who we're supposed to be comping, quick. Even though she might yell at me in the mornings when I can't [...]


Crazy (About That) Train (Thing Your Artsy Friends Keep Yapping About)

Amtrak's new residency application, which will grant a lucky 24 writers a free train trip of 2-5 days duration in which to focus on their projects, has caused a stir in the literary world. One source tells me that nearly 7,000 proposals have swamped the train line; even if the number is half that, however, the chances of being given a ticket to ride (.6%) are slimmer than getting into Harvard (6.3%).

To laypeople, this perhaps sounds crazy. Who competes for the opportunity to take a long-distance train [...]


Making Paper in a Paperless World: An Interview With Pulp and Deckle

In 2012, Jenn Woodward and Gary A. Hanson started a papermaking studio. Based out of Portland, Ore., Pulp and Deckle manufactures paper and gives workshops and classes about the process. Recently, I had an opportunity to chat with Jenn about her studio.

In a paperless world, you’re making paper. What was the impetus to start such a business? A lot if it came from living here in Portland. There’s a vibrant small business culture, and there’s such an emphasis on "green." The types of papermaking we're doing (recycled paper, plant-based paper) is a slow, sustainable art form.

For me, a major part of the appeal is having a connection [...]


What Do You Do With a Ph.D. in Literature?

I'm a doctor.

People sometimes ask how I managed to complete a doctoral degree in literature, despite knowing that I wouldn’t be pursuing an academic career or using it for anything.

My response usually goes something like this (it doesn’t, but let’s pretend it does):

I picture myself, an 89-year-old woman, sitting in a wheelchair and staring out over a field of wheat. I reflect back on my life, what I have achieved, what happened, who I loved, who I had been, and who I had become. I think back on that glorious period of life when I thought I’d become a scholar, a thinker, and a teacher. [...]


The Seasonal Employee

You're the program director for a sailing school, but the position is only full-time during the summer months. When did you first start to work coordinating summer sailing programs?

I grew up learning to sail in a junior program on Cape Cod. It is very common for the students in this program to move into junior instructor positions when they become old enough—and skilled enough—to work. I did this, and eventually became a senior instructor during the summers between college and finally the seasonal program director just after college.

In 2008, a position (still seasonal) opened at a neighboring sailing program, which I applied for and was offered. After three [...]


Grateful For The Opportunity

I took my first job like many people do, fresh out of college and sick of working in a coffee shop, fetishizing the trappings of a 9-to-5 lifestyle, the desk, business cards, the quiet self-satisfaction that comes with having a cubicle and health insurance. Mostly, I was scared, and grateful that someone wanted to hire a 23-year-old with no relevant experience to do a job that was salaried and not hourly.

Work is work—we do it to pay the bills, we do it because we are grateful for the opportunity. Getting out of bed, putting on a coat and shoehorning yourself into a crowded subway train makes you [...]


What It's Like To Be Wanted

Maggie is currently debating between three four job offers, plus a promotion from her current company. We chatted about her situation and what it's like to be a baddass woman with money and jobs being thrown at you.

Tell me about your career!

I'm 24, turning 25 this year and I graduated from Brown with a degree in neuroscience that I occasionally utilize knowledge pertaining to my degree. I'm in the healthcare industry as an analyst so I'm doing things for health plans and pharma companies. I previously did research at a hospital.

Why are you looking to leave your current job? There was an HR nightmare with someone [...]


A Surefire Tax Process For Freelancers

A year and a half ago, I wrote about my surefire tax estimation system for freelancers for the Billfold, in the hopes that a system that has worked for me would help the many Billfold readers who live partly or entirely on freelance income avoid quarterly or annual financial panic when it came to dealing with their taxes. "This system is incredibly useful!" some said. "This system is insanely complex, how can you expect anyone to actually do this," said many others. "Please help me," said an unsettling number of emails I've received.

With Q1 2014 estimated tax payments due in a mere four weeks or so, I [...]


Figuring Out a Career While Being Married to an Academic

Brooke is 27 and lives in a major city in the Southeastern region of the U.S.

Mike: Brooke, what do you do for a living?

Brooke: I'm a low level administrator at a major university. My department title is "office administrator," but according to the university I'm an Administrative Assistant. I make about $32,000 a year.

Mike: Does your job have benefits?

Brooke: It does! I actually really love our health insurance plan because it works well for what I need it for, which I know is unusual and I'm really thankful for it. We also get paid time off, but they just cut that down by seven days [...]


The Cost Of Mental Health Care For A Semi-Insured 23-Year-Old

In retrospect, I can see that depression first struck me when I was 14: Suddenly, laying in bed doing nothing seemed vastly more appealing than doing any of the things I had loved for years—dance, skiing, even school. My high school Livejournal is filled with my confusion about my unpredictable moods, but I assumed that all teenagers were moody and that everyone felt the same as I did. It wasn’t until I got to college that I realized something might actually be wrong, and it took until I was 20 to get diagnosed as bipolar and put on medication.

I’ve been in various forms of treatment for years now: [...]


The "12 Years A Slave" Oscar Bump

The Academy Awards are a meaningless popularity contest decided by out-of-touch old white men in suits with the help of an occasional white lady. But if your movie wins one, an Oscar can help make a significant difference in how posterity treats it and, more immediately, in how much money it makes. 12 Years a Slave, which raked in a very respectful $140,000,000 worldwide before it won Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay, is beginning to enjoy its Oscar bump–or perhaps, bumps:

12 Years will make a major expansion in U.S. theaters — Fox Searchlight will be playing the movie [...]


Chatting With A Professional Actor

Whenever I order a beer, I wonder what that bartender would rather be doing, if her eyeshadow is actually leftover from a dress rehearsal for some off-off-Broadway play that might get a dozen audience members on a good night. I spoke with Katharine Heller, a former bartender and current actor/comedian/writer/podcast host, about this transition from behind the bar to in front of the crowd. As she does in her podcast Tell the Bartender, she entertained me with stories about her comedy punk band Bitch Chicks on the Rag and filing the nails of cats with stagefright, all in the name of acting. We talked about how she pays [...]


Some Hustles in Alphabetical Order (1992-2002)

This article is an exclusive excerpt from Scratch, a new digital magazine about writing, money, and the economics of publishing. If you’re a writer who also needs to make a living, you should get Scratch.

ATMs couldn’t read yet.

Banking at night from the seat of a raggedy mountain bike, as a 16-year-old living on my own, I taught myself how to game the system. I leaned over my handlebars in the green light of the ATM screen, fed an empty envelope into the hole in the wall, pressed “cash back,” and waited. Every time, to my surprise, the machine ate the empty envelope and regurgitated a [...]


What It's Like To Work As A Junior Banker In The Post-Crisis Era

Kevin Roose moved to New York immediately after the financial crisis and watched as young people like him took jobs on Wall Street. Who were these people flooding to these jobs so soon after the worst recession since the Great Depression? Roose had previously written a book about a semester he spent undercover at Liberty University, one of the largest Evangelical Christian schools in the world, and it struck him that Wall Street was its own religion: it has a subculture with clearly defined rules, and charismatic leaders who tell you how to act and what to wear.

Initially, Roose thought about going undercover as a banker, but [...]


Changing Careers Without Quitting Your Job

I met Emily Reese when we worked together at Kickstarter. At the time, Emily, 24 and newly out of grad school, was working on the support team and struggling to find what she was great at and excited about doing. Fast forward to a few months ago, when I heard that Emily moved to the product team and was hired as a full-time engineer. WHAT. Luckily, Emily agreed to talk to me about how she managed to teach herself programming on nights and weekends and then change her career without leaving the company.

Okay so first off, we know that now you are working on the product team as an [...]


Bike Messenger: The Best Dead-End Job I Ever Had

You probably have an idea of what a bike messenger’s job is like, either based on the many media depictions of the job, from "Quicksilver" to "Premium Rush," or on the fact that in many cities, messengers do seem perennially hurried to the point of madness. Your impression is not wrong, because most messengers work for messenger companies doing piecework—they are paid by the job—so they have an incentive to do as many jobs as possible. That was not my job.

In the late '90s, I worked in what New York bike messengers of the time somewhat sneeringly referred to as "private service." That means that I was attached [...]


Talking To 'New Yorker' Cartoonist Tom Toro

I met Tom in English class during my sophomore year of high school, and we became acquaintances and occasional friends. Mostly, I had a crush on him. After high school, I moved out of the Bay Area and to the East Coast, where I received sporadic updates on high school friends from my good friend Julia. She mentioned something about Tom drawing for the New Yorker, a piece of information I filed away until I saw this cartoon posted on Facebook. I recognized the signature, got his email from Julia, and had a nice email chat with him about cartooning, the pursuit of creativity and our generation’s inflated [...]


How a Freelance Writer Makes a Living

January 2014 stats: Total earnings: $3,300.91 Completed pieces (all types): 150 Essays published: 3 Novellas rejected: 1

I've been a full-time freelance writer for just over a year. I track everything. I post my freelance income to my Tumblr every week, and am always taking notes on who's hiring and who's paying.

In January, for example, I got one new client and two new sub-client relationships that pay through an existing client. I got each of these new jobs the old-fashioned way: by having a current client recommend me. These are the jobs that aren't advertised. This brings my number of current client relationships up to six.


Taxes Disliked

Vanessa hates tax season.

LOGAN: We're approaching a very painful time of year for you.

VANESSA: I don't like to talk about it.

Ha, I know. But you said that you would, with me, just this once.

To help people.

Right, to help people. Because it's important that people not know they're alone, in their fear of taxes.

It's not a fear, it's more like a natural reaction to one of the most terrible things invented by man. And I hate that word, please don't say it.


Yes. That word.

Describe the feeling that you get when I say "taxes."

Revulsion. Terror. Rage. My stomach drops, my heart [...]


Show Enjoyed

Logan: Mike, on a scale of 1 to 10, how obsessed are you with TRUE DETECTIVE?

Mike: Hah, well I started watching it because of you—literally, you gave me access to your HBO GO account—and you've brought it up so much around these parts, that I wanted to get an understanding of why you were so obsessed with it. It's a really good show! The camera work is really good! The storyline is really compelling!

Logan: Mike that wasn't a rating. WHAT IS YOUR RATING?

Mike: Hah, okay, hmm. Eight? Nine. I'd say nine. I'd hate to say 10, only because when something is a 10, it really [...]