----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ The Fabulous Adventures of Astera: Writer/Actress for Hire: May 2006

The Fabulous Adventures of Astera: Writer/Actress for Hire

Meet Astera (aka: me), a star in her own mind. Our plucky little heroine has embarked on not one but two difficult, low-paying career paths: writing and acting. Witness the menial jobs! The unreasonable demands! The quirky friends and family! And the glimmer of success just ahead! Through it all, Astera maintains her core beliefs: 1) She is destined to be fabulous 2) Everything is more fun with a cocktail.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Good Things

I haven't written lately because I have been under enormous amounts of stress. But now a load has been lifted, and I am in much better spirits.

Here's what happened: All the stressful events in my life conspired and apparently decided that it would be fun if they all took place over a two-week period. And boy, was it fun!

It all started right before Mother's Day. My state real estate exam was looming threateningly on the horizon, and I was woefully underprepared. I had also contracted to give a copy editing seminar to the editorial staff at a group of trade magazines, and I had several writing and copy editing assignments coming due, as well. To top it all off, my mother-in-law, Mrs. Blacklabel, was coming into town.

Now, visiting with Mrs. Blacklabel is not a stressful event in and of itself. We have a great time. But I was possessed with the need to dust and polish every surface of our home and get rid of clutter and hide my giant stack of unread magazines and in general make it look like we live a perfect, glossy existence. I also had to buy fresh flowers and lay in libations and snacks for cocktail hour. Plus, Mrs. Blacklabel was actually staying with my parents, because we don't have any room for guests except on our couch, so my mom, too, was freaking out with the cleaning and the preparing. Mrs. Blacklabel always says, "You don't have to do anything special for me. I'm family!" And that's all well and good. But still, I wanted things to look nice for her. (And I'm not a slob--I do clean and polish at other times, too. It's just on a more sporadic basis.)

Anyway, once she got into town, we had lots of fun. Everyone got together for some Mother's Day wine tasting, which was way more fun than eating an overpriced brunch in some stuffy restaurant. It wasn't very crowded, either...maybe not that many children drink with their parents. After the wine tasting, Mr. Pink and I prepared a fabulous meal.

On Monday, Greg had to work and I had a meeting, so I left Mrs. Blacklabel in my mother's care for the morning. Then we hung out that afternoon and surprised Mr. Pink at work, and we all went to dinner. On Tuesday, we had beauty treatments and lunch and shopping, and I had my real estate class in the evening, so Mr. Pink prepared dinner for the two of them. And in between all this activity, I had to snatch a few hours to prepare for my copy editing seminar and study for class.

Mrs. Blacklabel had to leave on Tuesday evening, and then the stress levels really ramped up. I gave my seminar, which was quite well-received. Then I picked up a bunch of copy editing work that was due Friday. I also had a conference call for an upcoming assignment, and some other projects that were due. And my real estate license exam was on Monday, and I had scarcely started to study.

When I did begin to study, I was horrified to realize that there was A LOT I did not know. I am usually such an excellent student. I got about a 50 percent on my first practice test, and I needed at least a 70 percent to pass the test. So I created my own cramming weekend. I stayed indoors and took practice test after practice test until I was scoring in the high 80s.

Finally, the day of the test arrived and I went in and did my best, but I came out feeling very shaky about my results. And the worst part was, everyone knew I had taken the test on Monday, and they all asked how I did. I had to tell them that I wasn't confident, and then they thought I was just being modest!

But the stress didn't end there. I also had my final exam to prepare for in my real estate class, several project deadlines, two meetings, and just a bunch of stuff to take care of. Finally, yesterday afternoon, I got everyhing done. But the exam results still hadn't been posted, even though I'd been checking obsessively several times a day. I had resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn't know until Tuesday, and I had almost resigned myself to the fact that I probably didn't pass. "Just relax and try to enjoy the long weekend," Mr. Pink said. But that didn't stop me from checking the Web site one more time this morning. And I passed! I'm so relieved.

Moving into real estate is going to be a big change for me, but I am still going to be writing (and acting, should the opportunity ever arise). So wish me luck in my new career!

PS--Congratulations to my brother Esquire, who got a callback interview with an establishment he very much wants to work for. He's got a 1-in-3 shot...let's hope he's the big winner!

Thursday, May 11, 2006


I found a dead turkey under my porch today.

I wish that were a set-up for a really funny joke, but it's not. It's the truth. Last night, Mr. Pink and I noticed a wild turkey hanging out near our back gate. This wasn't so unusual: our condo backs up to open space, and we frequently see wild turkeys, deer and other assorted wildlife. But this turkey didn't seem to be going away. It would flap its wings, but it couldn't manage to propel itself over the 2-foot wall the separated it from the open hillside.

Mr. Pink tried to scare it away by making turkey noises, and then he tried to lure it away with a pretzel, but nothing worked. "Well, don't worry about it," he said. "Turkeys are stupid. They're so stupid, they'll drown in the rain, because they just keep their beaks open." I don't know if this is true or not, but if it is true, it's an enormous comedown for the bird that Benjamin Franklin once proposed as our national mascot.

I considered calling animal control that night, because to me, the bird seemed sick. But ultimately, we decided to wait and see if it was there in the morning. And at first glance, it seemed that the wayward turkey had rejoined its flock. But then Mr. Pink noticed some feathers sticking out from underneath our porch.

It was time to call animal control. I explained the situation and described where the turkey was located. "What is the turkey doing? What is its status?" the officer asked me. I went outside to take a closer look. "Oh. It's dead." At least, I was pretty sure it was. I mean, birds don't normally lay down, do they? Happily, animal control would come and take the turkey away. Unhappily, it would cost $40 to have it removed. "We only remove animals from public spaces for no cost," I was told. "Oh, well, this is considered a common area," I said. "At least, that's what the homeowners' association says." After having gone through the battle royale with the HOA over our satellite dishes, I was well aware that they considered all property not actually within our condo walls or in our private backyard to be a common area.

"Well, I would get in touch with them, then. Maybe they'll pay for it," the officer said. In the meantime, I had to report the bird death to the West Nile hotline. But they were only interested in deaths of raptors and crows. Then I called the property management company (Eugene Burger) that the HOA contracts with. When I told the receptionist about the problem, she thought it was HI-larious. "Get out the roasting pan!" she said. But when I explained that I wanted them to pay the $40 fee, it was no longer a funny situation. She checked with the woman assigned to our property (Trudy Morrison), and came back and told me that it wasn't an association problem so we'd have to deal with it on our own. Interesting. When you want to put up a satellite dish, the HOA is all up in your business, but when you've got dead and possibly disease-ridden poultry, they want no part of it. I guess they define "common areas" on a case-by-case basis to suit their needs. And if they can't even get rid of a dead bird, why do we pay them nearly $300 a month in fees? I feel like I'm being scammed. Eugene Burger, you are possibly the worst property management company in California!

Anyway, I had animal control come out and I paid the $40, and now the poor turkey can rest in peace. But we'll never know why the turkey died. I asked if they were planning to do any tests to find out the cause of death, and the officer just laughed. That's all well and good, but I could have had the very first documented North American case of avian flu, and no one will ever know.

Oh, well. At least I didn't have to touch the dead bird.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Fabulous Week

**NOTE: Okay, I am still having terrible Internet difficulties, and Earthlink does not seem to care about solving them. But for now, I have a connection, so let's hope it lasts until I can finish this post!**

So what made the last week of April so fabulous? Well, there were several good things that happened. First of all, I attended my talent agency's 20th anniversary party, which turned out to be a surprisingly good time. I was a little intimidated at first, because I thought it would be full of gorgeous, swanky people who were all super-successful and would look down on me for being such a neophyte. But the part was full of "real" people ("real" people is the buzzword in commercial casting right now, and has been for a while, I guess), and they were all quite friendly. It was funny...it was a party full of actors, and still, predictably, the bartender was an actor. Also, some local casting directors were there, so it was good for me to be out and be seen. And, I ran into a friend of a friend, which was a fun coincidence.

The next morning, I attended a staff meeting at a real estate agency where I have been recruited to work. I really enjoyed meeting the staff and learning about how the agency is run. It's the product of a woman who has been in business for herself for many years, and she is now expanding, which makes for intriguing opportunities. It got me excited about making the career move into real estate. As I see it, I'll have higher earning power, but I'll still be able to keep several of my freelance writing clients on the side. It will be tough to work on commission only, but my parents are selling their home this summer, so I should have one nice listing all ready to go once I get my license. I take the test May 22.

On Thursday, I assisted two friends with the gala grand opening of their beauty salon, and I must say it was a smashing success. First of all, the space is beautiful. It's full of crystal chandeliers and Art Deco touches, which really make it stand out. Secondly, we had delicious food (some of which I made with my own two hands, thank you very much), and finally there was champagne for everyone. That's a winning combination! Many, many people came by, and I hope that will translate into increased clientele for the salon. If you're ever in Petaluma and need a haircut, a facial, or a wax, stop by Rouge on Kentucky Street. You will not be disappointed.

On Friday, I had a meeting with the head of the real estate agency where I will eventually be working, and I got some copywriting and copyediting business from her. Plus, I got the chance to know her a little better, and she seems like a great person to work for. Very successful, with lots of integrity. So, I gained a new client for Lucid Ink, which is the new name under which I am doing business. Pretty cool. She also gave me permission to market my copywriting services to other agents in the company, which I did today, and I already have two takers!

Finally, on Sunday, I hosted my first open house. I was working with a licensed agent, and it was great to have people come in and chat with them about their wants and needs. I'm not thrilled about working on weekends, but it's only for a few hours at a time, and I enjoyed showing the home and talking with lots of different people.

So, to sum up: fun parties, new clients, and increased confidence that pursuing a career in real estate will be satisfying (and lucrative!) Not bad for one week.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Earthlink, My Enemy

Perhaps you are wondering where I have been lately. Perhaps not. Either way, I'll tell you. I have been on the phone with Earthlink's technical support, which apparently is in India.

Last week was very busy and quite fabulous (more about that later), but this week has been a battle of wills between me and Earthlink. Last Sunday, my Internet connection went down, but after some fiddling around with the modem and the cables and the new router that I bought last month when my Internet connection went down, I got it working again. But then it went down again, and no amount of resetting the modem or restarting my computer could get it to work. So, I had to make the dreaded call to tech support. Actually, it was three calls, because after waiting on hold for 20 minutes or so, I would be inexplicably cut off. The first time it happened, I hadn't even gotten the chance to talk to a person yet. The next time it happened, I told the technician that I had been cut off previously, so he told me he would take my number and call me back if we got disconnected. But--surprise!--he didn't. So, on the third call, we fiddled around with the modem some more, and then my problem got upgraded to a "trouble ticket," which is very serious. I was transferred to the advanced technical support group, but they closed at midnight Eastern time, which meant I got to repeat the whole process the next day.

When I called to check on my trouble ticket the next day, nothing had been done yet, so I had to call back in four hours. Then, of course, I was on hold again. Finally, someone told me that there was nothing wrong with my line, so it was probably a problem with my modem, but I could have a new modem for just $49.95. That's when I lost it. "Why should I have to pay for a new modem? I didn't do anything to this one. It's a faulty product and I'm not going to pay for another one!"

"Ma'am, how long have you had the modem?" the tech asked.
"For about a year and a half."
"Then how can you say it is faulty? We only warranty them for one year."
Okay, perhaps a year and a half is an eternity in technological time, but I still don't think I should have to pay for a modem when it just stopped working for no reason. And I expressed my feelings very strongly to the tech.
"Well, we can send you a modem for free if you sign a year contract with Earthlink," he said.
The gall! "I'm not going to sign a year contract! I've gotten lousy service from you! Why would I want to sign up for another year of the same?"
"Fine. We can send you a modem, but you will have to pay $19.95 for shipping."
"How long will it take to get here?" I asked.
"About five to seven days."
Not fast enough. "No, I'm not going to do that. I want to cancel my service." So, I got transferred to customer service, where I had to be on hold again, but at least I didn't get cut off this time.

I explained the situation to the customer service rep and told him that the only way for Earthlink to keep my business was to overnight me a new modem for free. I work from home. I need the Internet. I can't go into an office and surf the Internet for free anymore. And I have several assignments pending. So, I was quite distressed. But there was some good news--after much back-and-forth with his supervisor, the rep said he could overnight me a modem, but I would have to pay half the shipping costs--$19.95.

The new modem arrived as promised and I got it all set up and it didn't work. But I didn't have time to make another call to tech support--I had a voiceover audition to get to. And when I came back, the modem was miraculously working--for a while. When I tried to hook it up to the router so that Mr. Pink could use the Internet on his computer, too, all hell broke loose. Earthlink couldn't help me, of course, so I had to call Linksys, where I spent an hour on the phone doing the same thing over and over: "Restart your modem. Now restart your computer. Now select "run" from the start menu, enter "cmd" and type 'ipconfig.' Now type 'ping Now reset the router with a paper clip. Unplug everything from the router. Restart your computer. Plug everything back in." After an hour, literally, nothing had changed, and I had no Internet connection at all.

So, it was back on the phone with Earthlink, where I was assigned a new trouble ticket. No one could solve the problem, so now a technician is coming out in person, but not until May 18. Meanwhile, I have signed up for DSL with Verizon, in hopes that their service will be a little more reliable. That should be turned on by May 11.

Until then, I watch the little green lights on my modem obsessively, and when they all turn solid green, I know it's safe to go online. I can access the Internet sporadically, for a few hours each day. And now I realize that a fast Internet connection has become a necessity to me, like electricity or hot water. How quickly we become dependent!