A little stock-taking.

So, the one work thing that I’ve been a little anxious about is the short story for June. I’ve checked every other item on the patron goody list for the month, and while I was pushing back writing it for a few different reasons, every time I looked at the calendar and saw how many (or few) days were left in the month, I got a little nervous.

I’ve always known that I can write a short story in a single day, but it kind of has to be the right day. That is, I can’t sit down every day and do it, however much I’d like to. But when I have an idea? I have a pronounced tendency to kick out the first draft in a day, whether it’s 2,000 words or 12,000. In fact, I can’t think of a single story in the short story format that’s not part of something bigger where the major act of writing took me more than a day, and where I ever finished the story. I have stories I finished in a day, and I’ve got half-finished drafts.

Anyway, all of this is to say that I wound up writing June’s short story today. It needs what I call the “action/description pass”, as many of my stories do, which is both a general editing/polish pass and me going through and adding more visual descriptions and incidental physical business. I’ll probably post the story for my patrons tomorrow. As I teased on Twitter, it’s a story about two women trying to have a conversation in public, and one of them makes bees.

I’ve made the decision that my MU updates are going to go on Tuesday and Friday rather than Tuesday and Thursday. T-Th appeals to my sense of symmetry, but it means I have most of the week between updates on one end, and a day between them on the other. Tuesday and Friday makes the gap between when I have to have a story finished and posted and when I have to do the same for the next one a lot more even. I’ll probably make this change official next week.

STATUS: Thursday, June 23rd

The Daily Report

Yesterday during a conversation with Jack, I mentioned that I have been having a terrible week on multiple fronts. I was sick, I was exhausted, we were broke and low on supplies, I was stressed… and I still feel pretty good about what I’ve accomplished. I’ve still hit the most important marks for the week.

One thing about the nature of this business is that it’s always experimental. You can’t be afraid to try new things. New things aren’t always going to work, and when they do work, it won’t always be right away. It can be hard to spot the difference between “not working” and “hasn’t worked yet”, but I don’t think my online writing class notion is going to catch fire in its current form. I’m sure I have something of value to sell, but I’m not sure how to package and market it. It’s something I’ll have to think on.

The ideal response when you recognize that an idea has gone nowhere is to move on and try something else. It’s not a failure in any greater sense. All the money it didn’t make me is not money that I had but lost. I’m not sure what the next big experiment will be, but it’ll be something.

In the meantime, I’ve got my slow but steady build on both my Patreons.

Financial Status

Well, we’re now in the last week of the month. I don’t get paid at midnight of July 1st on the dot or anything like that, but I do feel more secure with the month almost over.

The State of the Me

A little tired, but pretty good.

Plans For Today

Well, I’ve got a chapter draft of Tales of MU that I want to go over before posting. I’m mostly going to be kicking around writing stuff for the rest of the day.

The Internet Is Not Your Global Village

 

Imagine you’re walking down the street of a small town where you’ve lived all your life, and you see someone whom you see almost every day, and you notice that their shoe lace is untied, or their fly is down, or their shirt is misbuttoned, or they have made some other small, easily corrected mishap that might lead to embarrassment or even an accident.

What is the kindest thing to do in this situation?

I think we all know the answer: you gently, discretely call their attention to the matter, so that it may be corrected.

Some among us might choose to do so with a bit of what we would think of as good-natured ribbing. How this is received is going to depend on how well we know the person and how good we are at judging situations and moods. But even if you’re kind of a boisterous jerk about it, a little “Hey, buddy, XYZ!” on the streets of a small town or in the halls of a school or at the office water cooler is not exactly amiss.

Imagine for a moment that someone snaps a selfie that reveals a similar mishap and posts it to social media. Are the rules the same? The situation isn’t. You’re not seeing the person in real time, but a moment of time now past, a snapshot of a situation. A word to the wise might save the recipient some embarrassment by allowing them to remove the picture and replace it with something a little more composed, if they’re so inclined, but whereas in real space you would have the chance to drop this word before anyone else can see or say anything, the timing is trickier online.

Chances are by the time you’ve seen something, so have many other people, and by the time you’ve said something, so have many other people. No matter how kind and gentle your words are, they are liable to arrive with a flood of other words, some similarly kind and gentle and some decidedly not.

Oftentimes when we interact with people online, we expect them to respond to us as if it were an encounter in what we might call a village setting: neighborly acquaintances passing each other exchanging a few words. Sometimes, often even, when things are going fine for people on both end, that’s even what it feels like.

That’s not what it is, though.

I’ve used the example of a minor wardrobe malfunction up above, but this really has to do with any kind of interaction where one follows the mores and codes of face-to-face interactions. People who give unsolicited advice to strangers or near-strangers on the internet are an example. People who think that any opinion voiced on social media is an invitation to debate (or a promise to defend said opinion against all comers) are an example.

Not everybody who does these sorts of things has actual good intentions, but the ones with good intentions aren’t necessarily that much easier to bear, not when they’re multiplied over time and space.

When you’re dealing with people who are actually your neighbors or colleagues, you have a much better idea what their situation is then the little snapshot or snippet you got online. You can see if they’re on their way somewhere or settling in for a chat. You can see if someone else is already there ahead of you, talking to them about whatever. And not only do you know them, but they know you. Offline, there’s something much more like a 1:1 correspondence between “I know you” and “you know me” than there is online.

The fact is, the internet is not a “village” situation. The people you see on it are not your neighbors. I say this and know that there are people I know online whom I know better and feel closer to than my actual physical neighbors. The point of this post is not to say “ONLINE ISN’T REAL!” or to disparage online friendships, relationships, and communities.

But to be blunt: the internet itself isn’t a community or a relationship. Being on Twitter or Tumblr isn’t like going to the same high school with everyone else on here.

Now, I don’t have a detailed set of guidelines or proposed social mores for interacting with people online to go with this observation. I can tell you this: the ones we use for offline interactions don’t work, and any proposed rule needs to take into account the vast differences between online interactions and offline ones.

So let’s take a quick stab at formulating some.

Existence Is Never Invitation

Only the jerkiest creeps and the creepiest jerks ever say, in so many words, “You wouldn’t be [place] doing/saying [thing] if you didn’t want attention,” and this is extra true when the place in question is a notional space as big as Twitter or Facebook or the internet in general.

Many people who are less jerky and creepy, though, still cleave to the logic of “If something is in front of me, it must be For A Reason.” So if someone posts about a problem and it crosses their sight, they feel asked for solutions (or, in some cases, they feel personally attacked by the implication that the problem exists). If someone posts a picture, they feel the need to say or do something about it. If someone shares an experience, they feel the need to relate it to themselves. If someone shares an opinion, they feel the need to pick a side an start fighting. If someone discloses a trauma, they feel the need to comment upon it like it’s an interesting phenomenon.

Now, a lot of the times, some (not all) of these kinds of responses would be just fine, expected and accepted, if they were responding to something someone said to them personally at a cocktail party or whatever. But they’re not. They’re seeing something and responding to it as if someone had said it personally to them, in some reasonably intimate social setting.

The truth is that if people are looking for something when they put something out there, they’re generally pretty good about saying. People with a question will ask it. People seeking advice will invite it. The difference between a “So this happened.” post and a “I’m at my wit’s end, what to do?” post is that the latter will say, “I’m at my wit’s end, what to do?”

You Having Something To Say Is Not The Same As Me Having Something To Hear

If you and I are having a conversation and what I say sparks some kind of personal connection with you, then by all means, you take that tangent and you run with it. I mean, there are nuances and shades… if I’m talking about the time my true love got caught in a bear trap along with a bear who mauled them to death while a swarm of bees enraged by the bear stealing honey stung them both, further aggravating the bear, and you say, “Yeah, speaking of pain, that reminds me of the time I got a paper cut. Hurt like anything, it did!”… well, I think most people would say that’s a bit boorish.

But if we’re just talking, and I mention a frustration and you’re like, “I know what that’s like, [similar experience]”… that’s a conversation.

The line between “here is a related thing to show that I can relate” and “I just minimized what happened to you and now I’m making it about me” can be hard to navigate when it’s two people who know each other conversing face-to-face. When you’re talking to a near stranger on the internet, though? The line is practically dotted. You might think you know exactly what another person is going through, but again, you’re looking at a snapshot.

To use two personal examples: I’ve blogged about both my sleep issues (chronic insomnia) and my difficulty getting to a grocery store (I don’t drive, for reasons linked to disability), and had people give me advice based on assumptions about what I was talking about (sleep apnea, and anxiety linked to sensory issues specific to grocery stores).

This isn’t to say that if something you read online reminds you of an experience, you should keep your experiences to yourself! Chances are excellent that the very same place you read or saw a link to the other person’s thoughts is also a platform where you can share yours. Before you involve the person whose words sparked your own thoughts, ask yourself if there’s actually a reason to.

Check The Situation

This one is pretty simple, and it comes down to the internet not being the same as a hallway or small-town street: before you rush to tell someone that their conversational zipper is down, check the notes/comments on the post, check the person’s mentions. Take thirty seconds to see if you’re really the first person to notice someone made a gaffe.

Another angle you can take on this: before you say something, ask yourself the likelihood that someone else looking at the same situation would have the same response. Imagine how obnoxious it would be to hear what you’re about to say that many times. Then see if you still feel the need to say it.

Respect Boundaries

Also simple. The hard part is not being defensive about it. Oftentimes when someone asserts or emphasizes a boundary with others, the kneejerk response is something like “SO I GUESS I’M NOT ALLOWED TO ASK QUESTIONS/GIVE ADVICE/GIVE A COMPLIMENT/DEBATE A PROPOSITION ANYMORE”.

But your right to do something does not require others to entertain you, and while some people are so entitled that they do feel they should be able to corner strangers and make these kinds of demands of them, I think most people who do so online are doing so not because they honestly believe they’re entitled to someone else’s time but because they have mistaken the internet for a small town and the semi-random collection of people they see on it for their close friends and neighbors.

The bottom line: the internet is not a global village. While it enables communities, it is not a community, and when you interact with random people you see on it as if you were all part of a single tight-knit community or a face-to-face social situation, you ignore the actual nature of the internet and risk stepping on toes, or worse.

STATUS: Wednesday, June 22nd

The Daily Report

Well, yesterday I lost time due to grocery shopping, weather, and exertion in the heat. I think we had a fairly cool May and early June here, but we’re starting to get into the part of the year where I have to be real strategic about what I do in a day, physically, especially when it’s outside. It happens every year, but there are months and months of time between it where that’s not normal. It was a good day in the sense that our food supplies and finances became that much more secure, but not a terribly fruitful day, writing-wise.

Just over a week is left in June. Where did it go? I have accomplished so much this month, and I’m writing this sentence because my kneejerk reaction is to feel like I’ve done nothing. Two chapters of Tales of MU every week. A new story project started. New poems. Blog posts. Ten of thousands of words of fiction.

Financial Status:

Hovering a bit above where I was during my anxiety-ridden previous week(s). I am personally back to having basically no money to spend, but with a little more of a safety margin. As a household, the fact that we were able to buy groceries this week on magical internet money means that the money we were going to use—the money that the bank was holding in the other account—can now chill out until next week.

The State of the Me

A little wiped physically. I had a monster of a bad dream last night/this morning, involving a roller coaster ride, a high-stakes bet, and a seat restraint that wouldn’t latch/ratchet.

Plans For Today

A little disjointed. I have two pieces of writing I need to get done, but things are a little out of whack.

 

 

On Boundaries, Personal and Experiential

Someone who read my status post yesterday decided to let us know (by means of messaging Jack through social media, which by the way is a totally not creepy way to respond to something I wrote, as well as something that doesn’t happen way too often) that if I didn’t want to go out grocery shopping myself and couldn’t send my card along with him, then we should just have our groceries delivered, an option that exists in this far-flung year of 2016.

The problems of grocery shopping when I don’t drive is quickly becoming my new insomnia, in terms of how many people are quick to chime in with the same completely useless and unasked for advice. If you have a grocery delivery service you like, then I’m happy for you, but take it from me: the odds that anyone you meet on the internet who has difficulties getting to the grocery store has not thought to check for online shopping options are vanishingly low.

Grocery delivery services are regionally limited and often prohibitively expensive. Outside of something like a personal concierge service, there is nothing in our area.

If you happen to learn that a grocery delivery service that is dirt cheap and not reliant on an uber-exploitative and uber-dangerous company like Uber has just opened or expanded into an area that specifically includes western Maryland and I haven’t said anything about it? Sure, let me know!

But if you’re the next person to tell me that Grocery Delivery Services Exist or that Some Grocery Stores Deliver Now on a day when I happen to have developed intercontinental psychokinetic powers, then I am very sorry for what happens next, and I will be happy to return the favor by recommending a good carpet cleaning service to your bereaved next of kin.

What I’m saying here is don’t.

Just don’t.

Edit

Someone actually just replied to this post on Twitter to give me advice based on what they imagined my issue with getting to the grocery store was. They were wrong, but their response to having it pointed out what they were doing was to insist they weren’t “giving advice”, just “sharing solutions”, and to defend their right to “have a personal response” to what I wrote. Note that the medium they chose for “solution sharing” was a medium that meant I was the primary, if not only, audience for their solutions.

To repeat what I said above:

Don’t.

Just don’t.

E-book readers, check your emails!

Apparently a lot of folks got a credit in their online book buying accounts (e.g., Amazon) from a price fixing settlement today. It’s all down to a lawsuit involving Apple colluding with publishers to push up the prices of ebooks, but even if you never bought ebooks through Apple (I didn’t), you still might see a payout because it affected the whole industry. Business Insider has the details here: http://www.businessinsider.com/check-your-email-you-might-have-free-ebooks-waiting-for-you-2016-6

My share of the settlement came in the form of a $68 virtual giftcard on my Amazon account, because I buy a lot of books and almost all of them are electronic. Because people bought a bunch of the fun stuff off my wishlist for my birthday and because this magic internet money arrived in my account the day after I was basically praying for a financial miracle, I have elected to be responsible with this money and use it to buy some of the bulk household items on my wishlist (sponges, kitty litter, gallon bags) and some of my pills.

But, you know, don’t feel constrained to follow my example. I was this close to getting Mario Maker with it, and if I had, I’d have zero regrets. The last time I had an ebook price lawsuit settlement credited to me, I turned right around and bought more books.

Today on “If you have enough money to live cheaply”…

…I want to share something I learned recently: there are online restaurant supply companies that will sell to the general public and ship to residential addresses, and you can use them to order bulk less-than-perishable foods (including canned fruits, veggies, meat, and soups, and dry goods like pasta and rice and beans, and condiments, and drink mixes or syrups). We started using Webstaurant Store a while back for certain things. Individual dietary needs means we can’t take advantage of all their offerings, but I’d like to pass on the good word to those who can.

Now when I say bulk, I mean bulk. You might want to get some friends and/or neighbors and/or coworkers together to split an order, and when you’re comparison shopping make sure you’re paying attention to the unit sizes and how they compare to the ones on the grocery store shelves. $15 for something like ten cans of tomatoes might not sound like a good deal… until you realize they’re 6+ pound cans and so you’re getting them for less than a quarter a pound.

Now, that’s before shipping, which is something you’ll want to watch, and it doesn’t do you much good to have 60+ pounds of canned tomatoes if you can’t go through an open 6 pound can before it turns, which is why it’s probably good to coordinate. But if you’re involved in a church or school function, or you’re running a daycare, or you just have a large extended family to feed? Score.

You can get some good deals on staples this way. It can also be a cheap way to get some treats, which is how I discovered it a while back.

You know those flavor syrups that coffee shops use? It’s hard to find them in grocery stores beyond the most obvious everyday flavors like chocolate, vanilla, and hazelnut, and they’re not cheap. We use the sugar-free versions to add a sweet indulgence and variety while controlling blood sugar, but those are even harder to find. You can get them online for around $10 a bottle, or a bit cheaper on Amazon if you aren’t picky about flavors and don’t mind getting bundles of the same one.

But the restaurant supply store has them for around $5 a bottle, before shipping and taxes.

Again, you have to have the money to make this deal work; with shipping, it doesn’t really become worth it until you’re buying more than half a dozen at a time. But if you can either save it and splurge or get a bunch of friends and coworkers to go in with you, can add that decadence to your morning coffee or soda or whatever.

So, again: if you’ve got the shelf space and flexibility in your budget, and you do a little careful comparison shopping and watch the shipping (I suggest keeping your shopping cart open in another tab so you can refresh to see what the shipping is as you add items), you can save yourself some money. Might take some planning and friend-wrangling to make it really worth it, but it can really pay off for you if you can make it work.

STATUS: Tuesday, June 21st

The Daily Report

As I noted yesterday at the end of the day, I still managed to accomplish my major goal for the day despite anxiety and household discussions taking up a lot of the day. I’m feeling much better today, back much closer to the carefully cultivated feeling of utter invincibility that’s needed to crowdfund and create.

We are getting near the end of the month here, so I’m looking towards wrapping up the month’s business. In particular, I have a short story pending, and I need to stake out a day to sit down and write it.

Financial Status

I haven’t yet heard from the rest of the household today on this, but my bank did stop jerking around and cleared some of the recent deposits, so my balance isn’t hovering perilously close to 0 anymore. That’s money for August, earmarked for the con hotel, so it can’t be spent on groceries and in theory nothing should be touching it. Still, breathing more easily now that I’m not one unexpected emergency transaction or arbitrary fee away from an overdraft there.

In the meantime, the internet came through for us and I now have ample money in my PayPal account to get groceries for a house of three adults for a week or two, regardless of what the other bank is or isn’t doing. So that’s good.

I don’t feel good about having to hit the emergency button, but I do feel good about contributing more to the household. Me being able to pick up the groceries a couple of times a month should do a lot to alleviate the stress around here. I don’t like to count my Patreon pledges before they’ve hatched, but so far it looks like splitting my Patreon into “Tales of MU” and “author and all her assorted works”, I will have more than doubled my Patreon earnings, which was my biggest chunk of change each month. If so, then I haven’t quite doubled my income (as that’s not my only stream), but it’s still a significant step forward.

The State of the Me

Doing good? I mean, yesterday I started out feeling full of energy and motivation, my first day really bouncing back from being sick and that got derailed. Today I woke up and the proximate problems of yesterday were already solved, so.

Plans For Today

I’d really like for today to be everything yesterday should have been, but the fact that I’ve got the money in my account means I’ve got to go out on our grocery run today. (Before someone says to just send someone else with my card: You Must Be This Privileged for that to be safe.) That’s not going to take the whole day, but it does eat a bit of it.

Goal statuses.

So, my goal of spending the day writing did not come to fruition due to aforementioned bank hijinks, because I spent a portion of the day in necessary confabs with Jack about meal planning for today and tomorrow, and emergency planning about when we’d be able to go grocery shopping, and sketching out financial contingencies, and in between all of that I was too anxiety-riddled to focus on stories and creativity.

But! My pre-existing goal for today was that I would post a completed draft of tomorrow’s Tales of MU chapter to the MU Patreon so the now 17 people who are pledged to support each chapter could read it a day early. Given everything above, and given my sickness of late last week through the weekend, I was kind of bracing myself for failure… right up until my must-write alarm went off at 4:30 and I sat down and did my thing.

As of 6:30, end of day… mission accomplished. The post is posted. And I have a word count of 2,600 for today, 600 of which is for Thursday’s chapter. I’d hoped to be done with this week’s major writing before this week began, but I’m still ahead of the game.

If you’re a MU reader who wants to see the MU chapters early, you can get in on them by pledging a dollar or more per chapter here: http://www.patreon.com/talesofmu. While my income is increasing across multiple streams of revenue right now, Patreon support for both Tales of MU and my writing generally are the ones that are poised to make the biggest difference to my life in the medium to long term.

So, to sum up: it’s not been a great day, but I still did a thing that was worth doing.

And in fairness, I knew it was going to be a long day as soon as I looked at the calendar this morning.

Bank Shenanigans, Part II

Okay, so, I referenced in my status post for today that my bank is playing games with my deposits, holding them for longer than usual to keep my account balance low in order to fish for overdraft fees. This along with selectively processing debits out of sequence “for your convenience” are among the tricks banks are known to use to pad out their bottom line at your expense.

The protection against this is to maintain sufficient cushion in your account as to never give them the opportunity. It’s nice if you can manage, but a lot of people can’t. Just another example of how it costs more money to be poor than otherwise.

Come to find out that they’ve been doing the same thing to the other major bank account in our household, shared by Jack and Sarah. Sarah got paid on Thursday, and originally we were going to get groceries with that on Friday. The money hadn’t cleared, though, and as of today it still hasn’t.

We’ve been limping along on leftovers and odds and ends, and will be continuing to do so at least through some of the meals tomorrow. This is harder for us to do because we have specialized dietary needs that rule out a lot of the cheapest, bulkiest staples for filling out a meal.

So if you can help, I would appreciate the help. The best way to do so is to leave a tip in my PayPal jar (or http://www.paypal.me/AlexandraErin), or if you’ve been thinking about signing up for my writing class this coming Friday, do so sooner rather than later. Either of those things make money available for me to spend at the grocery store with almost no delay. You can also send money through Square Cash (http://www.cash.me/$AlexandraErin) if PayPal won’t work for you, but that’s likely to be subject to the same delaying tactics.

This is the kind of situation I’ve been talking about when I’ve been describing my financial status as okay but insecure. The growth of my income from things like Patreon and my D&D writing are going to help in the long-term, but none of that is going to come through soon enough to make a difference to our immediate situation. Right now we are skating on thin ice and the ice is getting thinner.