Coffee heat rising

The Wages of Longevity

So Monday I’m over at Costco with my friends whom I enjoy driving to various shopping junkets. We’re checking out and chatting with the cashier, who remarks that it’s his fortieth anniversary on the job at Costco!

Wow! Can you imagine? Working as a Costco cashier for forty years! That means he would have started in 1979. He must have started back when it was Price Club, because the first Costco didn’t open until 1983. Price Club opened in 1976, in San Diego.

We know people who work for Costco love working there. Several of them have remarked to that effect to me — in fact, when I happened to say that I’d been laid off, shortly after GDU shut down our shop, one employee recommended that I apply at Costco.

I wonder how a senior cashier’s pay compares with a teacher’s in Arizona?

Hmmm… Costco cashier salaries range from $14 to $25 an hour. That’s $29,120 to $52,000. On the high end, that’s about what I was earning in a 12-month administrative job at GDU, after 15 years in the saddle. When I was teaching there, I made about $45,000 a year.

But believe me: no one at GDU will tell you they love their job. Morale in that place hovers in the sub-basement.

On the other hand, I was able to work at home a lot. Telecommuting was not much of a problem in the particular position I had. This isn’t true of all the jobs there, but faculty positions usually require you to show up only to meet classes, confer with students, and sit through faculty meetings. As a practical matter, most people are generally “around,” and many classes meet at inconvenient hours (such as 7:40 in the morning or 7 to 10 p.m. at night). But…it’s interesting that with a Ph.D., 15 years of teaching and administrative experience, and 15 years of journalism experience, you earn about what a senior cashier at Costco makes.

Yea verily: the median salary for K-12 teachers in Arizona is $47,980; average base pay in Phoenix is $38,441. And believe me, that is not for just 9 months of work: you spend your summers preparing for the next year and whiling away your time in unpaid seminars, conferences, or teacher improvement courses. Or in second jobs, to keep the wolf from the door.

Think of that: At Costco, a cashier earns more than a teacher. With one helluva lot less aggravation.

To REALLY retire or not to REALLY retire?

That is the question.

It’s not so much that I’m all that sick of this self-employment stuff. It’s that the older I get, the lazier I get. And the less I feel like working at ALL. Barf.

Just now The Copyeditor’s Desk, a registered Arizona freaking S-corp, has about $2,000 in outstanding receivables. Among these receivables is one due from a university in Texas that paid through the monumentally faceless Oracle Corporation, which a few days ago sent me a notice saying the check was in the SNAILMAIL. And — get this! — reminding me to be sure it clears their banking institution (or whatever a monumentally faceless corporation engages these days) before trying to use it.

Uh huh. Days have gone by, as you might expect. No sign of this highly unstable and perhaps rubbery check in the mailbox.

Then we have the Chinese clients.

Not that I don’t love the Chinese clients. I do. They’re wonderful and interesting and great to work for. It’s getting paid by universities in China…therein lies the problem. Other countries, you understand — more advanced than the U.S. — no longer transact business with paper checks. They want to transmit payments electronically.

That would be fine if I were using a major international bank to hold my vast empire’s wealth. But I dislike major international banks, because, still living in the mid-twentieth century as I do, I persist unreasonably in expecting (of all things!) some customer service. And I deeply resent being dinged for fees to keep my money in their bank, where it is not in their bank but in investments turning a profit for said bank. Consequently, I use a credit union.

Most credit unions are too small to have a SWIFT number. This means that a Chinese client (usually a major university) has to send an international money transfer, but it has to be done indirectly. That is, they can’t just send the money direct to the credit union. They have to use an international bank, such as Bank of China or hateful Wells Fargo, as an intermediary: they send the money to the giant faceless international bank, and the GFIB sends it to my credit union, extracting a substantial gouge in the process.

This is time consuming, to say nothing of noxious.

No, they will not use PayPal. They are rightfully suspicious of PayPal. As am I. It can be done, but they don’t want to do it and so will tell you that their university will not allow them to do it. Could they pay by Visa? Probably. I haven’t looked into it, because I’m not sure who to ask. Plus I would have to pay to get into a system to make credit-card transactions. Blech.

Truth to tell, because I don’t want to work much, I don’t get paid much. By the hour, my clients pay many times more than colleges and universities pay for adjunct teaching. However, because the minimum-wage teaching gigs are more or less steady work, after all is said and done a couple of classes a semester put as much as or more into my checking account than the editorial work.

This leaves us with the obvious question: Why am I bothering with this?

Plus…frankly, I suspect I get less and less competent the older I get. My agèd secretary, who was a complete dunderhead, used to drive me freaking nuts because she could not figure out the digitized office procedures we had to accomplish tasks that we once did, much faster and much easier, by analog processes. Those analog processes had gone away at the Great Desert University (as in the larger world), and so she had no choice but to try to use the digital upgrades. And what a mess that woman could make when she did try.

Welp. This pot can no longer call that kettle black. I’ve found that I do not want to keep climbing an endless Mt. Everest of a fucking learning curve. I’m sick of trying to figure all this shit out, I’m sick of having it not work no matter how hard you try to make it work, I’m sick of the FUCKING TIME SUCK involved — spending hours to do something that should take ten minutes, every time you turn around.

Today — ah ha! Here it is: the immediate cause of this rant — I went online to pay the corporate and the personal AMEX bills.

The credit union’s bill-pay function, as we’ve found in the past, is problematic: It makes it appear that you’re paying electronically, but behind the scenes sometimes the CU is actually sending a paper check, meaning it takes up to ten days from the pay date for the creditor to receive its money. There’s no rhyme nor reason to this check-paying quirk, and the underlings cannot tell you why they do this and which creditors are likely to be paid by check.

As part of its ongoing learning curve, the CU recently instituted a shortcut to its bill-paying service. Instead of having to proactively click on “Bill Pay,” next to your list of accounts you now see a pane  labeled “Make a Payment.” We are told you can tell — after you’ve jumped through the hoops to schedule and make a payment (which in this new protocol requires more clicks than before) — how payment will be made: look for an icon next to the amount scheduled to pay. Lightning bolt means e-payment; envelope means snail-mail. But…those icons are not visible on the customer’s end. The CSR is unaware of that.

Farting around with this today took SO FUCKING LONG it would have been easier, faster, and infinitely less aggravating simply to have written checks, stuffed them in envelopes, choked up a half-buck apiece (!!!!!!!) in postage, and driven them over to the post office. (No. You can’t put them in your mailbox and flag them for the mailindividual to pick up. That would be insensate. They would be stolen long before the mailperson arrives, which these days is usually sometime after 5:00 p.m.). Half my morning was wasted with the simple chore of trying to pay the goddamn credit-card bills.

Well. Admittedly: I did have to transfer $2,800 from savings to checking to cover the homeowner’s and car insurance. But that took all of about 30 seconds.

So the point here is that this kind of electronic futzing to get simple clerical chores done is

a) endlessly annoying;
b) endlessly time-consuming;
c) endlessly unproductive; and
d) not something on which I wish to spend the limited amount of time left to me on this earth.

I don’t want to learn it. And once learned, I don’t want to do it.

And it is entirely possible that because of my age, I can’t learn it. The issue may very well be more than don’t want to.

Lately it has become painfully evident that I’m no longer competent to do even the chores that I’m (supposedly) good at. Long after editing and proofreading a document, long after sending it off to the client, I will happen to revisit something and discover…holy shit! Glaring errors interposed by me in the form of typos and passages that the computer has dorked up without my noticing it. Obvious inconsistencies or errors on the part of the client that I have inexplicably missed — despite proofreading, despite proofing again behind the computer’s “dictation” function that reads it aloud.

It should be impossible for me to miss these things. But…it is not.

Many of these errors have gotten past me and gone back to the client. That is a freaking menace.

Even in my own creative work, I come across weird stuff: chunks of copy moved…but moved to the wrong place and left there unnoticed. Inconsistencies. Typos. Wackshit stuff that would never have escaped attention even five years ago, to say nothing of ten or fifteen.

Week or two ago, I volunteered to do receptionist work for the church. They have a whole crew who staff the front desk during the weekdays. I should be competent at that: my first full-time real-world job was working as receptionist at a law firm. And I loved it. Best job I’ve ever had, except for the editorial job at Arizona Highways.

After sitting at an experienced person’s elbow for two shifts — six hours, all told — it occurred to me that I cannot remember how to operate the very simple phone. It is like a real switchboard and it is not like a real switchboard. It’s enough not — and staff’s wishes and nonwishes are complex enough — that it’s going to be difficult or maybe even impossible for me to learn how to do it.

Then we have the fact that I’m no longer a cute young girl. Back in the day when I had an acceptable face, no gray hair, and 34-23-36 measurements, my cuteness over-rode the strangeness of my personality. The god’s truth is, one reason I’m not good at marketing books (besides the fundamental laziness) is that I do not do well with people. I annoy them and offend them and do not know how or why.

This has been true since I was a little girl. In grade school, I had no friends. The kids simply hated me. By second grade (no kindergarten in those days), I’d alienated them all — well, except for one little girl who was as weird as I was. She was taken back to the States in the third or fourth grade. Some years later — after we also had come back to the States — I walked into an empty classroom where two girls were fooling with something in a closet. With their backs turned to me, they didn’t see me come in. And they were both going on about how much they hated me. I didn’t even know who they were! Couldn’t have told you their names to save my own life.

My guess is that today I would be “diagnosed” with a mild case of Asperger’s. I don’t get along with people because I don’t read their expressions well, I don’t pick up on their tone of voice well, and little verbal hints they drop often fly right past me.

Which, I suppose, explains why the more I get to know people, the better I like my dog…

These things were overlooked when I was a sexy young woman married (or about to be married) to a prominent lawyer. Today: not so much.

At any rate, I suspect that it’s best if I’m not around other human beings, for their happiness and for mine.

So that leaves, as a money-making gig, adjunct teaching. Online.

I loathe adjunct teaching. I’m not all that fond of teaching when I’m paid a respectable salary. But the sub-minimum wage that adjuncts earn is just plain insulting. After a semester of that stuff, you’re left with the same question: Why am I doing this?

Yeah. Why AM I doing this???

Swimmin’ in the Rain!

Yeah, I know: bucking for a Darwin Award. 🙂

But there’s no lightning or thunder, so why not live dangerously? And swimming in the rain is living! How extraordinarily lovely.

We’re being visited by the outer fringes of Hurricane Newton, which crossed Baja with some dire consequences and then hit the mainland. It’s faded to “tropical storm” now: heavy, pregnant gray clouds drifting close to the earth and drizzling rain. We’re told Tucson is supposed to get a fair amount of heavy rain and Nogales is already getting pounded, but supposedly not much will happen this far north. We shall see.

Meanwhile, it’s really nice now, humid but fairly cool. I may go back in the pool if no sign of electrical activity develops.

One of the Chinese academics resurfaced yesterday with another rush job. What they don’t realize is that they’re a day off of our time. So when Our Man at Nanjing says he needs a paper on the 8th, it’s already his 7th here. 😀 Anyway, his subject matter isn’t very arcane — business management is the College of Education of the MBA world — and I’m getting so used to editing Chinglish that it’s really no more difficult than reading freshman comp. And a hell of a lot more remunerative!

So I sent off his paper last night and now have returned to the current would-be novelist’s magnum opus.

That scribbler requires a lot of coaching. I’m not so much editing, with this one, as teaching the finer points of creative writing.

It dawned on me, in the course of working on his MS, that what I’m really doing with The Copyeditor’s Desk is engaging the same skills I used in teaching, probably in a way that’s more cost-effective for me. Instead of reading 30 papers of the same ilk, I’m reading one. And I’m getting paid by the page, not by the semester. In theory, then, if I got the same number of clients as I have students over a 16-week period, I’d earn about the same amount as adjunct teaching.

You could argue that I’m working harder at editorial work because the deadlines are often non-negotiable and the content can be extremely challenging. However, academic work very rarely contains any stupid stuff — or if it does, it goes over my little head — and you do not have to meet classes, put up with rude students, suffer fools gladly, write course syllabi and calendars, deal with pointless bureaucratic rules, hassle with course management platforms, or confront people with psychological problems.

hmmmmmm….

Let us test that. A comp course is capped at 30 students. I earned about $140 for yesterday’s 23-page academic effort, about twice the length of a typical freshman research paper (but of course, containing about 1/1000 of the stupidity…). A student writes one 10 page paper and two or three short papers.

3 x 2.5 = 7.5 pages per student in addition to the 10-page research paper
7.5 + 10 = 17.5 pages per student per semester
17.5 x 30 students = 525 pages per section

A section is 16 weeks long.

525 /16 = 32.81 pages per week

I net $1100/month for teaching 7 sections a year. Per 30-student section, that would average out to $157 per month, prorated over the 12 months that the income has to cover.

If I taught freshman comp to each student on a contract basis, person-to-person, then at $6 a page, I would charge each student $105 for the total number of pages required for the entire course — over 16 weeks (17.5 pages x $6). (Heh…tells you something about why our students can’t write a simple sentence, to say nothing of a literate business document, doesn’t it?)

At my median rate of $6 or $6.50/page, I turn around 23 pages of Chinglish in two days and earn $138 to $149.50 — in one helluva lot less than a week. In 16 weeks, in theory I could read 16 academic papers to the tune of $2,308 to $2,392. And because that money goes into the S-corp, anything that’s spent on business expenses escapes taxation.

The $1100/month adjunct income is what I net if I teach seven sections over an entire year (3 + 3 + 1), a teaching load equivalent to what my full-time load was at GDU (with benefits, an office, and a computer, 3 + 4 + 0 — no summer session). And it assumes I will get seven sections a year: not a given. By way of comparison: in the last year I taught at GDU I grossed about $3750/month and netted about $2625.

When I’m teaching, I’m teaching 120 students a semester, each of whom turns in three or four papers, in page count about the equivalent of one academic paper per kid, over four months. When I’m editing, I read 52 papers over an entire year.

Let’s look at it another way: if 30 students turned in 16 research-length papers (one a week) over the course of a semester, and I charged them what I charge my clients, I would gross $4140 ($6/page x 23 pages x 30 students), or a net of $3312. Multiply that times 3 to see what I would earn from the typical enrollment in three sections/semester: $9,936 net.

As a practical matter, I don’t get a paper a week per client. I get more like one paper per week all told. But even that pays significantly more than teaching.

My name is abroad in China…every time I turn around, a new graduate student or junior faculty member appears at the digital door.

So it’s mighty clear that the enterprise needs to focus on editing and on coaching would-be Famous Writers, not on publishing unsaleable books.

And so, to work…

work work work work work work work work work wor…

Awake at 3:00 a.m. Couldn’t get back to sleep so dragged the laptop into the bedroom (yeah: bad! but the surgical incisions feel a lot better when I recline to work).

Packaged a proposal for the Boob Book, intended for an agent who looks promising and so, I hope, will consider working with me. Started merging the various documents and realized…helle’s belles! No chapter outline!

Dayum. So had to drop everything and write that. Hope it doesn’t look too careless or off-the-cuff. Finally got the whole mound together, attached it to a cover e-mail, and hit “send.”

By then it was light out. Dogs insisted on getting off the bed and racing around and being fed.

Dogs off, dogs fed, back door open for them to go out and the mosquitoes to come in. Back to the bed-desk.

Started grading papers. Only a few remain to be read, but one of my best students is running late. I’d given her some leeway…but of course worry that she may not get the thing in on time. She’ll pass the course anyway, even if she turns in nothing. But…she’s an A+ student and I would like not to send her away with a C. Or worse.

Two very well written papers arrived. That was cheering. One reasonably well written paper came in from a student who couldn’t write hir way out of a paper bag if hir life depended on it: i.e., said paper was written reasonably well by someone s/he hired. Another couple of papers: painful to read. Make that agonizing.

In-house for The Copyeditor’s Desk: a lengthy introduction for a book under contract and two reviews for our journal client. Tina had already read and formatted the reviews, so all I had to do was read behind her. The introduction…we’d read it before, but she found new stuff; I found new stuff; it got some tidying. AND damned Wyrd has decided to default to Roman numerals for the end-notes.

This is a known issue for Wyrd 2007, 2008, and 2010 for Mac…and apparently — far as I could tell from a relatively quick Web search — one that effing Microsoft has elected to ignore. And it is a gigantic PITA.

Naturally Wyrd crashed (AGAIN) just as I was wrapping up the intro…try to fix ONE character in the effing end-notes and you take the whole goddamn program down.

Little was lost; files I’ve been working on for the past several days (which were open because I don’t want to have to track them down in the intricacies of my file architecture) recovered themselves, and only one edit in the introduction disappeared.

I should be happy that only my time was wasted, hm?

Worked a little on formatting and writing “Our Story So Far” blurbs for the Fire-Rider series.

A prospective writer for Camptown Races Press inquired about our contract.

Ahem. Contract?

So as soon as I shoveled the paying work off the virtual desk, I had to come up with one of those. It actually looks pretty good, IMHO. Fortunately one chapter of my book The Essential Feature covered publishing contracts and was vetted by an intellectual property lawyer.

Now I have about 20 minutes before I’ve got to traipse the car to Costco AGAIN to get the car’s tires changed and be sheared to the tune of $400. I figure it’ll take an hour or two for them to do that, so I’ll take the laptop over there and write p0rn while sitting in their air-conditioned shop.

One never knows these days, does one? Just think of it. That little old lady sitting next to you in the tire shop or the dentist’s office, tapping away on her dainty laptop, just may be writing kink… 😀

 

Happy Fourth of July! And…next?

 Welp, we’ve made it to another Independence Day without self-destructing. That’s something.

What are you doing for the holiday? Moi, I’ve been invited to a party at the home of some friends who live in a mid-town high-rise. Their place overlooks the Phoenix Country Club and the Steele Indian School, which host the two largest fireworks displays in the central part of the city. And from their balcony you also can see the large show at Tempe Town Lakes and several other smaller shindigs.

An old, halfway-long-lost friend who lives in that apartment building shows up at these evenings, so I’m looking forward to seeing her again. It promises to be a nice evening.

But between now and then:

Students have turned in their “extended definition” papers. In the world of people who recycle their high-school English essays, this means they’ve picked some exceptionally sappy and ill-focused topic such as “what is love” — apparently inflicted on them by  teachers following a required curriculum. The results would be painful to read even if they fit the assignment, which by and large they do not. So {sigh} we have to plod through 23 of those.

Then there’ll only be one more assignment — 2500 words of like drivel — and I’ll be DONE. Never to read another brain-banging freshman comp paper again! 😆

I sincerely hope, anyway.

I’ve started a second racy book — spectrophilia, Ouija board! This should be good. And last night while watching a couple of episodes of some TV show streaming through Kodi, poured another several Fire-Rider bookoids into Friedlander’s Word template. Now am up to book 13, leaving only another five to do. As soon as the cover images are delivered, I’ll be ready to post!

Almost: still have to write “Our Story So Far” blurbs for most of them. And get their ISBNs.

To re-jumpstart the entrepreneurial spirit, I’ve made a list of what I call “foot-draggers”: tasks that need to get done before I can make any headway but that I keep resisting because I know they’re going to be complicated as hell and require some sort of learning curve and I’m just effing learning-curved out. Videlicet:

1. Move Funny and other sites from Jesse’s server to WordPress.com
2. Upgrade WordPress.com service
3. Assign remaining ISBNs to books in progress
4. Buy 100 new ISBNs
5. Buy a month’s subscription to shutterstock. Make a list of general categories for future images and download the maximum allowed.
6. Organize these images on disk and in database by category & book title.
7. Read Friedlander’s template documentation carefully. Figure out how to do the Kindle conversion. Download a Kindle reader app to the laptop so layout can be checked before publication.
8. Learn how to publish epub versions on Barnes & Noble
9. Find the specs for Kindle and Nook covers; relearn how to do this in PowerPoint.
10. Upload diet book to Kindle.
11. Send Slave Labor to Snowfall press for PoD prep
12. Using PowerPoint and stock photo, make Biker Babe cover; create and edit Kindle version. Store to disk.
13. Develop new, more efficient record-keeping to keep track of ISBNs, titles, artwork, and freelances & subcontractors.
14. Develop task flow routine for publication of each book, w/ checklist.

So I figure if I do three of these a day, in less than a week I’ll be up and running.

Which sounds good until you recall that we have 23 student papers sitting on the server right now and another 23 incoming shortly. All told that comes to 58,250 mind-numbing words, the length of a short novel, to be read, commented upon, used as a teaching tool, and assessed. And most of them are high-school papers turned in because the students don’t feel called upon to bother to do the course’s assignments. With just a few exceptions, a total, unutterable waste of the instructor’s time.

But since the instructor’s time is worth less than minimum wage, I suppose no one accounts that as much of a loss…

If I start on the current raft of sea foam today, I won’t get to three of the tasks on the list above today. But if I put it off, it’ll drive me nuts, and whenever I run up against a tight deadline, invariably some student has to make a special case of him/herself and create a major problem. So the only question is, which day would I prefer to have wasted?

Miamifireworks

 

Another Day, Another Dollar

…or a tiny fraction thereof. The dollar, I mean. It’s 8 a.m. and I’ve been working since  5, so I suppose a substantial fraction of the day has come and gone.

Visit to the Cardiodoc later this morning. That meeting, I hope, will put the whole blood pressure question to rest, once and for all. After another entire month of twice-daily bicep-pinching, the average comes to 124/74, not bad for a seventy-year-old broad who drinks a lot, doesn’t exercise enough, grinds her teeth in frustration until her jaws hurt, and most days consumes meat decorated with butter. I would like very much not to have to hear anything more about that!

Yesterday a very nice little discovery came my way: Joel Friedlander, a graphic designer who blogs about self-publishing, has come up with a whole set of Word templates tricked out as book formats for various types of fiction and nonfiction. Once you pour your copy into one of these and tidy it up a bit, you can convert to a PDF that any printer should be able to use to produce the desired trim size.

While, no, Word cannot do really top-flight page layout (largely because its fonts just aren’t up to the job), for most self-publishers’ purposes Page Layout As High Art is not required. Something that’s readable and doesn’t look like it was put together by a sixth-grader will suffice.

These things more than suffice. I’ve been putting Slave Labor into one of them and finding the task moves right along. The styles built into the template work smoothly and provide excellent consistency. It would be good to be able to insert a hard hyphen to force a line break, by way of fixing the occasional loose line (the particular template I’m using won’t allow that), but otherwise I have no serious complaints.

Student papers are starting to come in, so when I get back from the doc’s place I’ll have to kill at least part of the afternoon reading that stuff.

Two of them have plaintively begged to be told the title of the book. Uhm…it’s at the top of the FIRST PAGE of the syllabus. What part of download the syllabus, an instruction emitted three times on the first day of this online course, did they not understand?

They have an open-book quiz on the syllabus that gives them FIVE CHANCES to find the answers. It should be impossible to get less than the full ten points. We have scores of 7.3, 8.5, 8.3…jeez.

Wonder how they’ll do on the quizzes over the book’s chapters (assuming any of them manage to buy the book)? They only get three chances to get the answers right on those things.

This train of thought is making my teeth grind again. Must get up, feed the dog, and fix some breakfast.