The day after my…

The day after my birthday. Mess everywhere from the small party last night. A half-eaten cake going stale. Wrapping paper remnants. Cards to file away ('cause I'm compulsive that way). At least an hour or two of cleaning. It was lovely.

Thank you all for the delightful e-mails (and phone calls from those who know my number :-). I don't remember the last time I had so many people wishing me a happy birthday (my students sang to me :-). Clearly making a fuss about it generates results... :-)

I do want to talk about serious stuff, but first, a note for Karen, who is obsessing about bridal shower etiquette:

Dear Karen,

Wear whatever the hell you want -- you will automatically be the most appropriately dressed lady there because you are not only already married, but also pregnant. This is traditionally the 1950's ideal, so you could show up in a sack and you would still be envied. If you do still want to dress appropriately, a gently flowered dress would be appropriate. Think tea party and you're pretty close. I would probably wear one, with hiking boots. I'd probably do that even if we weren't going hiking afterwards. Gifts for bridal showers are typically little items for the bride, ultra-feminine. Soaps. Lingerie. Stuff to make her pretty for her man. I'd probably give her a book of erotica, or maybe even a sex toy from Good Vibes, but I like shocking staid gatherings. Would depend a lot on how well I knew her.

This has been a Miss Manners Moment.

Really what I want to talk about is economics. Some of you who read other journals may know that there's a big discussion going on about this right now; see Lucy's loss of innocence entry and forum and Xeney's forum , and the new ChickClick ad on Squishy. A lot of people are getting pretty het up about Pamie putting up a banner on Squishy, and Xeney putting a little PayPal Donate button on Bad Hair Day. And I don't personally find either of those at all troublesome...but I'm hesitant about doing the same here. If I were flush, I just wouldn't go there...but the thing is, I'm not, and I'm about to be a lot less so. Which means I probably ought to think about this, which means I need your advice. So please, take a moment to follow me through my thoughts on the subject, and you may want to read some of the links above (especially Lucy's, oh, and Columbine's recent economics article too) before going on. They're all really pretty interesting (except for one or two really annoying flamers on Xeney's forum).

So when I started this page (and I'm going to talk about my whole set of pages here, not just the journal), I did it for fun, and to do something for my readers, and for convenience. It started with just the stories; I was tired of posting and reposting them to every time someone asked, and it seemed easier to put them up on a web page. Then I added some poems. Then I added some other poems I liked. Then I added a bio. And it grew and grew and grew, and it's been up for over five years now, free to the public. I'd like to keep it that way.

It has never had banners. In retrospect, I probably could have made a significant chunk of change if I'd put up banners from the beginning. And I certainly could have used that money at various points. It didn't seem worth the effort, to be honest, and I don't think I really understood just how much money I could have made, back in the days when people were being really optimistic about banners. I just knew I really didn't like the way they looked, sprawled across the top of a screen, often blinking.

Some of you will have noticed banners on CS recently, in the last few months. Sprawling and blinking. Some of the staff don't mind them so much; frankly, I hate 'em. But we've desperately needed the money they bring in to pay our authors, and I'm willing to compromise my artistic integrity a little bit so some starving authors get paid for their stories. We're considering other approaches there, and we'll probably soon be flat out asking for donations; we *are* a non-profit, after all, so there's definitely some justification, along the lines of, "If you like this stuff and want to see it survive, chip in some money -- no one will be making a profit." According to our survey, a lot of the CS readers will contribute, so I'm hopeful that we can get on a more sound financial footing, and maybe eventually get rid of those nasty banners.

Sorry, tangent. To come back to this site -- I mostly do it for the love of it. I like, no -- I love teaching. And most of the resources on this site function as teaching tools. I also hate wasted effort, and I have a drive for efficiency -- so just because I banged my head against HTML for weeks is no reason anyone else should have to, so why don't I just type up something explaining it more clearly, and maybe save someone a little effort? Like that. I've done that kind of thing for five years really just 'cause I wanted to. And there's no doubt that having the stories up here has also paid off in publicity, which has led to things like getting to do Aqua Erotica. So I get a lot of satisfaction from these pages in one way or another -- more than enough to justify the time/money I put into them (not to mention the sheer pleasure of getting to talk to you guys :-). I haven't really worried about it up till now.


Things get more expensive, and I get poorer. To take it step by step:

Things get more expensive: So I'm with Pair right now, which is pretty darn cheap, but they do charge extra when I go over my storage capacity or my bandwith. Bandwith isn't a problem yet on this site, and may not be for quite a while. Storage capacity is. I'm already over the limit, and that's been with me severely limiting visuals and audio files. If I didn't have those limits, there'd be several more files of me reading things, for example. (Oh, for those interested, that last interview had me read "A Jewel of a Woman" -- check out their archive). This isn't a huge's not killing me to not have them here. This has always been primarily a text-based site, and I have no desire to change that. But it is a little annoying. And then there have been other recent expenses like getting a domain name (making it easier for people to find me) and a cable modem (making it much less painful for me to update the site whenever I feel like it) that I think are well worth it, but have definitely upped my costs. So. Things get more expensive.

I get poorer. I've never made a lot of money. I felt pretty rich this year, making about $30K...but there were a lot of expenses in moving out here. I'm terrible with money, though getting better. But the fact remains that I have a pile of credit card debt and a pile of student loans. And if I were staying an adjunct, I'd actually pay off the credit card debt by the end of the year and make a good dig into the student loans -- but I'm not. I'm on grad student pay now, which is $10K for the year. That is going to make life very tight.

It's all my own choice, of course. And I've budgeted carefully, and even with rent, textbooks, food, utilities, debt payments, possible gas and car insurance, and internet expenses, I should just barely make it. Probably by cleaning out my savings and expecting at least a little extra from writing. And then next summer I can build up a buffer again, and then do that again in the school year. Etc. and so on. And when I finish, I should be fine; academic jobs should start at $35K or more. So it's really just a temporary poverty. And I'm never going to get into real trouble, 'cause I have enough kind friends that I have a pretty hefty potential for loans should I need them.

But I really hate debt. That's what it comes down to. I'm already way more in debt than I'm comfortable being, and I don't like the idea of getting more into debt. It stresses me out. I don't sleep well. So while I *can* do the next four years, with care (and generous things like friends who buy plane tickets for me to come visit and make sure that I'm not paying for phone calls :-), I just hate the idea of taking out more student loans to make it easier. I'm probably going to do that, if they approve me. I've applied. It definitely makes financial sense, given the lower interest rate, to at least take out enough to pay off the credit cards. So that part's not even going more into debt, really -- it's almost like less. But I'm also bone-weary of living on a financial edge; there was only one year in Philly where I was debt free and just living, and gods, it felt so good.

I'm worried that this is going to come across as a pity-me posting, and it's not meant to. It's all my own doing -- either because I managed money badly or because there were times when I lived beyond my means or because I didn't temp every moment I possibly could or because I decided that some pleasure was worth the eventual price or because I was making a long-term investment (like grad school). And really, I'm fine. I eat well. I rent movies. I don't stint myself on anything really important (well, I didn't go to the doctor for years because I couldn't afford it, but I have insurance now). But the whole thing together has made the question of what I do with my pages more acute. And Pamie and Xeney together have brought the question up to the forefront for me. And Pamie's banners are much milder than most; I don't find them particularly jarring at all. And Xeney's button is quite small and discreet. And I know that there are probably some story readers out there who wouldn't mind clicking a button and donating a buck when they finish reading one of my stories, so I'm thinking of putting a donate button after each story. What do you think of that?

I don't know about putting one on the journal. How much is a journal entry worth? 25 cents? 10 cents? 1 cent? I could just put it on the index page, but I suspect most of you don't go there. I could put it there and leave the amount open, so you can donate what you wish, when you wish. I DON'T WANT DONATIONS FROM ANYONE FOR WHOM IT WOULD BE A HARDSHIP! (This means you, Shmuel. :-) I'm not even sure donate is the right word, though it's better than buy. I'm not a charity case; I'm just not that poor. I'll be okay whether anyone donates or not. But at the same time, if you've enjoyed the last five years of this journal (or some portion thereof), and if you've enjoyed the rest of my pages, I wouldn't mind giving people an opportunity to show that appreciation tangibly. I'm sure there are at least a few of you out there who make enough money that you buy CD's at $15 a pop without thinking about it. My home page gets over a thousand hits a day...if they all gave me $15 once a year, I could pay off all my debt pretty darn quick.

Ugh. I just don't know. Big mess. I don't want anyone to feel obligated at all. I do this for joy, for fun, because it's good for me. I'll keep doing it for that, regardless. But I admit there's part of me that feels like a dork for not putting up those banners five years ago, that's whispering "You could have been debt-free, except for those damned artistic principles"... I need to know what you guys think. Whether it'd make you feel weird. Whether it would upset you. Some of Xeney's readers are clearly upset -- but they're hers, not mine. I can't go by their response. I need to know your opinion.

Tell me?

3:00. A few more thoughts, in response to some of your mail, to clarify things:

Some of you have been suggesting the CD instead. Unfortunately, the CD not only costs a chunk of money to create, but based on my best estimates is unlikely to make more than a hundred or so in profit, assuming I charge you something reasonable, like $15. It just doesn't have a big enough audience to be cost effective, so I won't be doing it for the profit, though I will be doing it if I can afford to, for love. :-) Stay tuned on that.

I may try doing t-shirts...but I'm not sure what to put on them. I can do t-shirts and mugs for no initial investment through Cafe Press, at about a dollar of profit per item bought. But what would you want on such an item? Would really be a big seller for a mug? Might be kinda fun doing an "Esthely Blue" t-shirt, or a "Jinsong" mug...hmm...with the first paragraphs of the story? Kinda cute idea. Wish I had some graphical skills, though...

But even assuming I could come up with a decent design, I dunno...would it help that you were getting a mug for your money? Even knowing that Cafe Press gets $9 of the $10 for it? Opinions, please?

But any schemes like the above really aren't going to bring in much, realistically speaking. Maybe a bit, and it'd be fun in any case. Those aren't the difficult questions. I'm thinking more about whether I should give people the option of paying for what they're already reading on site...

I think the problem here may be the word 'donate' for me. I'm not a charity or a literary nonprofit (like CS and SH) -- donations aren't appropriate. But if people read a story and want to show some fiscal appreciation (like shareware), then I'm probably okay with that. I'm less clear on the journal...I suspect I won't be putting anything on individual journal pages. Maybe on the top page -- "If you've enjoyed the journal and would like to throw some money my way, feel free" and leave the amount up to the reader. Maybe not, though. Still thinking.

3:15. Heh. I made a store. Fifteen minutes -- pretty painless. Of course, there's nothing in it. What would you guys like to see? And ideas? Any artsy people willing to give me a hand with it? I can only have one of each type of item up at a time -- so one t-shirt, one small mug, one large mug, one mousepad. I could do a different logo for each item, or one across the board. What do you think is my most characteristic story? Poem? Etc? (Hmm...I might be able to fit an entire poem on the back of a t-shirt...)

This won't make me much money, but it's definitely fun. :-) 5:45. Just realized from an e-mail I got that I should make clear that the Cafe Press store is just a place for me to experiment for now. Don't buy anything, please. I was just curious how much effort it would be to get text up there (a bit of a pain), and what it would look like. My feeling at the moment is that it's awfully plain without any graphics, and I'm just not competent to do graphics. So I might do a gift or two for a friend, but am unlikely to spend a lot of time on making it really viable, unless some fabulous artist comes along.

10:00 p.m. I know -- five updates in one day is a bit much. Apologies to those of you on the notify list. But I wanted to let y'all know that I'll be out of town the next few days; I fly to Chicago tomorrow afternoon to celebrate my birthday with Kevin and Roshani and Tom and whomever else we can collect in Chicago. I'll be back by Sunday night (I have to teach Monday), and will probably be checking mail and updating in the interim. But I'm not sure; I may just take a few days off. I'm thinking of actually leaving my computer here. (!)

Please keep those comments coming in; they're fascinating. I'll respond to as many as I have time before I go. My inclination at the moment is to leave the journal and most of the site entirely alone, and only put a donate (appreciate?) button after each story. I got a few other good suggestions -- someone recommended a P.O. Box, so I can get cards, little presents, etc. -- that would be lovely. I know right now you have to write to me first and get my address, and that's a bit of a hassle. So I'll look into that when I get back -- I tried to get one in Oakland, but the neighborhood post office had a three month waiting list and somehow I never got around to it. Since I'll be here for a few solid years, it's probably worthwhile.

Shmuel also suggested doing a two-tiered system for the CD's: a very simple generic version with minimal external stuff for the students and other not-rich folks among you ($15, or as cheap as I can afford to make it), and a deluxe version with a fancy design, autographed, in a limited edition with a higher price tag ($30?). Not that the fancy version would actually be worth double, but it would be a way for people to subsidize my work a bit and still feel like they were getting something for it. I'm thinking about that possibility.

I really do feel nostalgic about the old days of the net -- I don't believe information wants to be free, particularly, but I do think it's awfully nice that so many people just share things. I like contributing to that. The fiction/poetry is my career (and I suppose longer essays too), but the rest of this, I do for myself and for fun and for the world in general. I'm not in desperate need, so I don't think I'm going to change that.

Still thinking, but the thoughts are clearer now. :-) Thanks.

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