----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ The Fabulous Adventures of Astera: Writer/Actress for Hire: June 2007

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.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

An Expensive Day

I am now nearly $800 poorer than I was this morning. And it's all thanks to my real estate career.

I had an appointment to join the Pacific West Association of Realtors this morning, so that I could gain access to the multiple listing service and start working with clients for Avalar, my new employer. I had to join PWAOR as a member, and I had to pay the MLS fees, and I had to lease a lockbox key. I also bought a mortgage calculator and a book. That was about $485 right there. I was just lucky that I had already paid my national and state Realtor dues for the year.

But the real fun started when I got home and tried to access the Tempo MLS system. I was able to register my security token and sign on with no problems. I was even able to enter search criteria. I couldn't actually run the search, though. So, I called up customer service. Here's how that went:

Ring. Ring.

"We are experiencing higher than normal call volume. Your call is important to us. Please hold, and your call will be answered in the order it was received. [Musical interlude]. We are experiencing higher than normal call volume. Your call is important to us. Please hold, and your call will be answered in the order it was received. [Musical interlude]. We are experiencing..." Ring. Ring.

Service Tech: "Hi, can I get your user name please."

Me: "Yeah, it's blah-blah-blah."

Service Tech: "How can I help you today?"

Me: "I can't search on the MLS. I'm using a Mac. Is there some sort of trick to it?"

Service Tech: "Yeah, you could call it that. If you have a newer Mac with an Intel chip, you need to buy Parallels Desktop and access the MLS through Windows."

Me: "Wait, doesn't that cost money?"

Service Tech: "Yeah."

Me: "And that's my only option?"

Service Tech: "Pretty much."

Me: "Well, when are you going to make the system Mac compatible? Lots of people use Macs."

Service Tech: "We've talked about it, but I've been here for five years, and nothing's happened."

Me: "Great. Thanks for your help."

So I go online and search Apple.com for Parallels Desktop. It costs $79.99, which doesn't seem so bad. But then I read the requirements. Yes, I have an Intel chip. Yes, I have enough memory. Wait. No, I do not have a Windows installation disk! I call the MLS support line again, and I have to hold again. Finally...

Service Tech: "Hi, can I get your user name?"

Me: "Blah-blah-blah."

Service Tech: "How can I help you today?"

Me: "Well, I just called, and I found out that since I'm on a Mac, I have to get Parallels Desktop to run the MLS. But does that mean I also have to buy Windows?"

Service Tech: "That would be correct, yes."

Me: "So, since I have a Mac, I have to pay like $500 to access the MLS?"

Service Tech: "I guess so."

Me: "I can't believe this! Do you get a lot of complaints about this?"

Service Tech: "No, not really, because we publish a book with all of our system requirements."

Me: "Well, I just moved down here from Northern California, and the MLS up there had a free workaround for Mac users. Don't you have anything like that?"

Service Tech: "No."

Me: "Great." [click].

Off I went, in search of both Windows AND Parallels Desktop. I was able to buy Windows at the Staples near me, but of course, I had to make a special trip to the special Apple Store to get Parallels Desktop. And now, $280 and much aggravation later, I can run both PC and Mac programs on my Mac computer. (At least it wasn't quite the $500 that I thought it would be.) Oh, the excitement! Best of all, dropping all that cash was only part of the aggravation I experienced today. But the rest of it is just too irritating to go into.

I know I can write all these expenses off on my taxes, but what I really need is some income now. Yeah, you've got to spend money to make money. I just wish I didn't have to spend so much all at once.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A Realtor Once More

This weekend, Mr. Pink and I stopped to look at some open houses. Yes, we are the couple Realtors hate most: "looky-loos" who can't afford to buy what they're selling. Even worse for the Realtors, I am an agent, so I have no interest in getting on their contact lists so they can let me know about upcoming properties.

But that's neither here nor there. The point is that we saw a really nice home that we both liked a lot. Three bedrooms, two baths, nice upgrades, big lot, although the house was a little on the small side. Also, it only had a one-car garage. It was really cute, though. The price? $795,000, which apparently is cheap for a single-family home in Dana Point. That's still way, way out of our ballpark.

So, after much discussion, I realized that I need to find a highly lucrative job. Mr. Pink mentioned the "l-word"--law school. And while I know that I would enjoy the law school learning experience, I don't know that I really want to be a lawyer. It would be an expensive three years just to figure that out. Plus, Mr. Pink has a job that he loves, and I don't think he wants to uproot himself to live wherever it is that I might be admitted to law school--probably UC Davis, since they accepted me the last time I toyed with this idea.

No, I don't think that law school is the answer at this point. The problem is that I don't have anything that I love to do that people are going to compensate me well for doing. I do enjoy writing and editing, but I'm being offered 2 cents a word or $30,000 a year to do that stuff, and that is not going to help us buy a house. So, it's back to real estate. And not a $20 an hour assistant position to enrich some broker, either. No, I've got to go at it full force and make the big bucks.

To that end, I have joined Avalar Real Estate. It's an established franchise in Northern California, but it's just starting up down here in Southern California. The good thing about it is that I am going to start off in their rental program, where leads are fed to me and I try to match renters up with available apartments. Then I might be able to move into the REO world. Avalar has a good marketing program (although the current SoCal Web site is atrocious), and the company also offers revenue sharing plans, plus generous commission splits. Also, there's no charge for training, unlike at First Team, where I was being asked to pay $300 for basic training, even though I had already worked as a Realtor. But there's always a catch, isn't there? In this case, it's that the Avalar office is in Corona. Also, not a lot of people down here know about the Avalar name. But I'm really interested in the rental program as a way to make some immediate money before going back on a commission-only basis.

We'll see how it works out. But between this and the tutoring job, I've got to start bringing in some money soon, right?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Update: Kids Are Dumber Than I Thought

I posted about my experiences with the kids' book editing test on another site, and I got some good feedback from a woman with an almost 5-year-old daughter. Seems I forgot an important point: Most kids can't read AT ALL until they are at least 5 years old. Oops.

Well, I learned a valuable lesson. Kids' publishing is not my forte. And it's probably good that I don't have kids yet. My expectations of their abilities would be way off.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Kids Are Dumber Than I Thought

A few weeks back, I applied for an editing position with a local children's book publisher. They publish "how to draw" books for kids, where there's a little story with illustrations, and then the kid is supposed to draw something that was in the illustration, like a birthday cake. I was asked to do an editing test, and I thought I did a pretty good job of fixing errors and rewriting some of the sentences.

Apparently, I was wrong. My writing skills target the wrong demographic-adults, not kids. I don't know anything about how to write for kids, as evidenced by an email that I got today from the publisher. It said that I didn't make the cut because I did not make the language "age-appropriate" and "easy to understand." Now, I thought the sample text they gave me was pretty silly to begin with, but it turns out that 4-year-olds cannot comprehend words like "gigantic" and "especially." At least, that is what I am assuming, because those were the hardest words in the whole book. I don't have kids, and I don't know anyone with kids who are reading yet, so it has become obvious that I have no idea what kids are capable of understanding. I'm sure that when I do have kids, I'll learn in a hurry.

It's probably all for the best, though. I just accepted a job as a broker's marketing assistant, so I will continue to learn about the real estate market, and I'll also get to do some copywriting (aimed at adults). I am also going to be working as an SAT tutor, smacking some proper grammar into high-school students' heads. So for the most part, things are working out.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Paris Hilton Mania!

I don't really want to feed into the whole media circus/bizarro world surrounding Paris Hilton's incarceration, but I would like to share some thoughts. Even if Paris Hilton suddenly was diagnosed with cancer or another dire illness, that alone should not excuse her from her jail time. There are plenty of examples of people who are at death's door who remain incarcerated, so the fact that a spoiled heiress might have some bad dreams or a "nervous breakdown" in jail does not mean she should be released after just three days.

I worked briefly for a trade magazine that covered the prison industry, and I had an opportunity to write several articles about the United States penal system and prison reform, so I would like to think that I am at least a little more informed than the average citizen. Here's the truth: While researching an in-depth article about how to solve prison overcrowding, I learned that mandatory sentencing guidelines in many states require inmates to serve as much as 80 percent or more of their sentence, so even terminally ill inmates who pose no threat to society are kept behind bars. Admittedly, the jail system is different than the prison system, and jail overcrowding is perhaps an even worse problem than prison overcrowding. Still, as Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael T. Sauer and members of the Sheriff's Department have pointed out, all jails are capable of providing medical care for inmates.

Look at it this way: If a non-violent three-strikes offender who is 75 years old and has cancer, diabetes and dementia remains locked up because of mandatory sentencing guidelines, why should a party girl who flouts the law like Paris get out early?

Some people are saying that the judge is being especially hard on Paris because she is a celebrity. I don't think so. Do you want that heir-head (to borrow a term from Page Six) driving around drunk while texting people on her Sidekick? We all know that a suspended license meant nothing to her. Maybe a little jail time will actually penetrate her bubble of privilege.

And house arrest? Seriously? What kind of punishment is it not to be able to leave your 2,000-square-foot gated mansion? Just think of the fun "jail-theme" parties she could throw there with all her friends, all without violating the terms of her punishment!

Driving drunk is stupid, although I am sure that many of us have done it, and have just been lucky not to cause an accident or get caught. But getting caught driving on a suspended license not once, but twice, is stupider still. And that is (hopefully) all I will ever write about Paris Hilton. I am still galled by that casting assistant's comment that my face reminded him of Paris Hilton. What an insult!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Good Things

Escrow is closed on my first-ever real estate sale, which just happened to be my parents' house. This first-ever deal may also be my last-ever deal. Now that I've relocated full-time to Dana Point, I don't know which career path to take. There were a lot of things that I liked about being a Realtor, but not knowing when I'd get my next paycheck was not one of them. Plus, there are some people who are just inherently good at sales. I am not one of those people.

Handling the sale of my parents' house was made more difficult by my close relationship to my clients. When I gave them advice, I think it was hard for them to listen to me as their professional Realtor, and not as their daughter. And when we had discussions, it was also hard for me at times to interact with them professionally as clients, not as my parents.

But in the end, the deal got done. And although they refused to take my advice to hire people to help them pack up the 18 years' worth of accumulated stuff in the house, garage, garden, and two sheds, we got it done. Don't ask me how...when I arrived a week before escrow was supposed to close, I was worried about the vast amount of stuff that remained unpacked. My worries were not allayed by my parents wishing they had "one more week" to pack. The night before escrow was supposed to close, I just started throwing stuff in boxes. I actually labeled one box as "Misc. crap". We had to extend the close of escrow by four hours, but at least we closed on the day we were supposed to close. And in a few days, I should hold in my hands the biggest check I have ever received in my life. Of course, most of it is already spent. Do you know what happens when you live for several months with no income? You charge everything to your credit cards. And then you have to pay them off.

Now my parents are in their temporary home in Napa, which comes with a whole new set of problems; namely, how to fit all the possessions from their previous 3,700-square-foot abode into their new approximately 2,000-foot-shelter. The 10x15 storage unit that my mom rented does not even begin to make a dent in the the mountain of stuff that needs to be stored. The new house is wall-to-wall boxes, and the front porch and driveway are littered with excess furniture and all the potted plants that had previously dotted our 1.25 acre grounds. It is a sight to behold.

But again, this situation is temporary. Eventually, their dream house/retirement home will be built in the midst of our vineyard, and then all will be right with the world. That day can't come soon enough!