BARTERING – THE COUNTRY WAY – Marilyn Armstrong

Bartering may be “old style” in the U.S., but I think that’s just in cities. Because in the country, a lot of bartering still goes on. The countryside … where the cows outnumber people and only the horses look fat and happy.

July - Farm Stand

“I’ll write your brochure if you’ll frame a couple of pictures.” Done!

“I’ll clean your kennel if you’ll groom my Scottie.” Done!

But then there are the old-fashioned people. “I’ll plow your driveway because you are a member of our church, even though you never show up. How about I dig you out — and you come to church this Sunday?” A bargain is a bargain. He didn’t require we come every Sunday, right?

The steeple of the now-abandoned UU church in Uxbridge. Built in the mid-1800s, it’s getting pretty shabby. Might be earlier, but I’m not sure.

“Sweetie, I’ll buy your prom dress and all the trimmings. All I want from you are a couple of hours to take some nice pictures of you all dressed up and ready to go.” Done and done! Until she decides to not go to the prom at all (long story).

“God? Hello up there? If you make my cancer go away, I’ll attend church every week. Forever!” Unfortunately, God didn’t say anything. Fortunately, cancer was remitted by surgery.

When you negotiate with The Big Guy Up There, you’ve got to hope he’s listening. Faith is the coin of exchange. You believe, he delivers. Or not.

Personally, I think one, loud, direct, incontrovertible Word from The Big Guy would go a long way to turning this nasty old world of ours into a better place, especially if accompanied by a major smiting. The “blind faith” thing is getting a bit old.

AMBITION AND THE LACK THEREOF – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Ambition

I was never ambitious enough for the current world. I worked hard and well, but I never sought to be a boss. Every time the idea popped into my brain, that little niggling idea that “bosses get paid better” (which isn’t necessarily true in every profession, by the way), I shuddered.

Really BIG bosses get paid very well. CEOs of major corporations, for example. But most of the places for which I worked were little, tiny companies. The bosses got paid better than the workers, but generally, the company was built on the owners’ own money and enterprise with maybe a little investment from elsewhere. They didn’t get rich and they worked terribly hard. They earned their money.

Once, for six months — which was as long as I could stand it — I was the manager for a group of writers at a small (and ultimately bankrupt) corporation. The frustration of telling other writers what to do and not being able to do it myself drove me nuts.

Truth? I valued my personal life more than my work, except where they intersected. I didn’t like management and didn’t want to be anyone’s boss. Most bosses aren’t good at it anyway. The really good ones spend all their time solving other people’s problems.

So I worked. I got paid pretty well but never made that jump to the next level. My ambition pushed me to do the best work I could, but not to make the most money I could.

In today’s world, that’s called “being a loser.”

Is it?

ADULTERY IS A SIN – Marilyn Armstrong

The first time I heard the word “adultery,” I assumed it meant the sin of growing up. I’m not sure I was entirely wrong. I thought when you got to adulthood, you got your freedom. You didn’t have to take orders from parents, teachers, and every grownup in the world.

It turns out that bosses were less fun than teachers, and everything was ultimately about money. Working for it. Saving it. Using it well. Building a career that would support the life you wanted. Having enough so your family could have a house and nice things.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

I rebelled against it, the whole concept … and went off to do my own thing, dragging my son with me. I took a sharp right turn into unexplored territory. And it did indeed give me a great deal of satisfaction, not to mention many experiences that were beyond price. But I still had to work and money was still the bottom line.

Money is the issue unless you have so much you never have to worry about it — an experience I’ve never had. Money doesn’t buy happiness, but having enough will buy physical comfort, peace of mind, and a good chunk of freedom to do as one pleases.

Night in Boston

When I was little, I remember hearing my parents talking in soft voices at night behind their closed door. I wondered what exciting things they were discussing. Would I ever have such adult conversations in my life?

Indeed, I had many of those conversations. Because they were talking about money.

How to earn it, how to spend it. What they needed. What they might be able to afford for themselves, for us. That’s the basic issue of adulthood in this world. Maybe it has always been this way.

The freedom I was looking for definitely is part of reaching grownup-ness … but so are a heap of responsibilities I never considered. Having to work when it isn’t fun and not what you want to do plus the worry and insecurity. Also, the lack of awards for doing a great job. And the daily fear of getting fired. And finally, getting fired.

Next time around the wheel, I’ll try to do better. I give myself a solid B minus on this round. Which might be an overly generous assessment.

INGENUITY: ARGUING FINANCE WHEN MONEY IS GONE – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Ingenuity

Today or maybe tomorrow if I have the energy, I have to try to explain to UMass that if Blue Cross says I don’t owe money, I don’t owe the money. That is the theory and supposedly, that’s the legal way it works. If I know this is the law, I’m pretty sure so does UMass.

They are not allowed to “charge the balance” to us. When you are on Medicare, all that “leftover money” is a write-off. I know it makes hospitals unhappy, but that is how it works.

This will be an amazing trick of ingenuity and I’m not sure I have the strength of character to do it today.

In fact, I’m sure I don’t.

Tomorrow.

I’m too tired now.

BLOGGING DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE – Marilyn Armstrong

WordPress’s new “algorithm” has made a lot of bloggers unhappy. I’m sure they regret our unhappiness, but I think what is really making them unhappy is that other companies — like Google and Facebook — are raking in fortunes — and they aren’t. It’s not that they aren’t profitable, but in this world, merely profitable is not enough. I’d like to say that Trump is at fault, but I think he is the product of greed, not greed itself.

They want it all. Big money. Bigger money. Now.

We aren’t the money machine they want and we can’t be. It isn’t that they don’t appreciate our writing. It’s that we are not bringing in business and their bottom line isn’t big enough.

They made an ugly mistake with the new algorithm. I am guessing it was supposed to show off “new posts” but instead, effectively “disappeared” older sites and thousands of posts.

Originally, it seemed like it was just me and some other “big” sites with a lot of followers, but it’s going around and hitting all kinds of sites. The only thing we have found that fixes it is to rename the site. This is unfair and annoying, but it works.  I am seeing posts from people whose sites have been missing so long, I thought they were closed.

A lot of people don’t check to see how they are doing in the search engine. I never did. I don’t like the Reader, but they have centralized their engine into it, so at some point, if you want to find other blogs  — and they want to find you — that’s where  you have to go. At this point, it is the central “finder” for 23 million blogs around the world. It doesn’t work well and they are always fixing it.

It never gets fixed because as soon as they get it settled down, they decide to take another whack at it.

WordPress has gone from two or three million sites when I joined to 23 million now and it includes every connected country on the planet. WordPress has grown too big. too fast. They are understaffed. Worse, WordPress believes — because their marketing people told them so (watch out for those people) told them they can attract young, chic, bloggers who are looking for a home.

The problem? There are no such people. That audience doesn’t exist.

Bloggers are readers. Most bloggers are past 40 and more or less settled. Blogging is time-consuming and requires dedication. Most kids aren’t readers. Sure, some are, but not nearly as many as there were back when we were younger. We didn’t have telephones, so we read books. And newspapers. And magazines. I even read the back of the cereal boxes in a pinch.

WordPress’s attempt to attract kids is doomed. Wrong audience. Youngsters look for short, snappy products like Twitter and Instagram. They want stuff that works on their phones and doesn’t take hours of thinking to produce.

For us, there aren’t many choices remaining.

GeoCities became Yahoo and they closed their blogging sites. There were a bunch of smaller ones. All but TypePad are gone and I really haven’t figured out what Medium is trying to do. I am not sure Medium knows what they are about, either.

All the others — aside from Blogger on Google — are expensive. If you’re in business, the expense is not outrageous, but if you just want to write and post lovely photographs or poetry or your art, $25 per month is a big chunk of change. Paid services (few though there are) have better customer service and technical staff, but they lack “reach.”

I hoped someone else would jump in and build something, but it hasn’t happened. Maybe blogging isn’t profitable enough. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon — they make money. WordPress? Not so much. WordPress was not supposed to be a sales platform, but that’s what they want to be today.

Blogging is something else. We aren’t selling stuff. In fact, most of us pay to NOT have advertisements on our sites. Few of us “monetize,” even though they have been trying to convince us to do that for a few years.

What’s will happen? Blogger with Google at its back, will hang in there because their platform is a small piece of a much larger enterprise.

A well-founded rumor is that WordPress is pressing for more business accounts, fewer bloggers. This bad new “algorithm” was one of many attempts to push that concept through.

That this has been a disaster from which they already are pulling back is temporary. They want money and international reach — like Google has.

Either they will go out of business and start over, or they will make it harder and harder to use them without paying much more. Some people can afford it, but many of us can’t. One way or the other, when the bottom line is money, they aren’t going to quit. They will keep at it until they are bankrupt or they find a way to get richer.

I hope we still have a place to write a few years down the road.

TRICK OR TREAT?

Yesterday was a trick … or today was. One of these two days was definitely a trick and the other a treat.

Yesterday, in the alternate reality in which I lived (or is today the alternate reality?), I spent almost 5 hours trying to get my bank, ye olde Bank of America, to perform a simple transaction. I got transferred, disconnected, connected to the wrong departments, the wrong people, the wrong everything. When I woke up this morning I checked and all of the transactions that I was assured would disappear had not disappeared. All of them had gone through, cleared my account. The money was gone. Zip, zap, finished.

I sighed. Looked at the sky and bemoaned my fate.

Then I called the bank. I got the wrong department of course … but at least I got there in about 3 seconds. The time was so brief I didn’t need to listen to more than a bar or two of the dirge they play while you wait online. The woman who answered the phone (a live woman!) explained I’d gotten the fraud department (again) and since this wasn’t fraud, she needed to connect me to the right guy. Not to worry, she’d go and (are your ready?) “Bring him here so he can help you.”

That’s right. No hold until dial tone. No long wait. No explaining the whole thing again. When he got on the phone, he knew exactly what the problem was and … he fixed it. Just like that.

Whose bank was I talking to? It couldn’t be my bank, could it?

The man I spoke to was sure it was the fault of the church. He had a deep, lovely southern drawl and he explained “Those churches are always out to get you,” which was not a perspective I normally have, but apparently where he came from, banks are fine. It’s churches who are going to empty your pockets.

So all the money is coming back. It’ll take a week, but no problem. Look out for the churches! I did explain that it was a local church and they are a very nice group, but he had a deep and abiding suspicion that all churches are going to clean you out. Who am I to dispute that?

Obviously, I’d altered realities. Where were the obnoxious, unhelpful, aggravating, infuriating people who made my life a misery yesterday? Instead, there were these charming, friendly, helpful folks who couldn’t be more eager to fix my problem. Say what?

Yesterday, it was all trickery.

Today was a treat.

WILL WORK FOR FOOD

There is a rumor, perpetuated by television shows, that bloggers earn a living. By blogging. Someone in Hollywood seriously thinks people like me make money doing this. I am depressed to admit it, but not one cent have I ever made from this site — not counting the occasional free book for review.

I don’t advertise on this site. In fact, I pay WordPress to not put their advertisements here. My dream is not to monetize my site, but be such an incredible writer that the world will shower me with money — just because I’m me. I won’t have to ask, and I will owe nothing to anybody. And I could … pay the bills! Yes!

Money for nothing. It brings tears to my eyes.

Somewhere, some blogger must be making money on his or her site, but I don’t know them. I’ve been around the world, blog-wise. I have yet to see a single blogger bringing in the big bucks. A few people have tried to at least keep even by putting advertisements on their sites, but the amount of money this earns them wouldn’t add up to a good meal in a mediocre restaurant. Moreover, advertising annoys readers. Sites with spammy ads and weird pop-ups make me want to go somewhere else. Since the Internet remains one of the last, free places on earth, that’s what I do. I go elsewhere.

I don’t do this for money. I don’t even do it in the hopes that someday it might make money. I don’t run advertisements, have no connections to any organization who will pay me for anything. I get offers for free applications for an “honest review,” but between the lines I read “positive, glowing review.”

I turn them down. “Money for nothing” is a delightful dream … and that is all it is.

If for some obscure reason, you want to buy me off? You’ll have to do a lot better than any offer I’ve gotten to date. I’m sure everyone has a price, so I probably have one too. No one has come close to meeting whatever my price turns out to be. But — please, feel free to keep trying!

Meanwhile, there will be no succumbing on this blog. Not without one humongous payoff.