The Astounding Way I Earn a Living These Days…and more

America is awash in stuff, things, shit, and treasure… It’s fucking astounding. It blows my mind. Always has. Probably always will. This country has such an amazing glut of material goods that it struggles with what to do with them – but at the same time – the citizens here are constantly buying shit, stuff, … Continue reading “The Astounding Way I Earn a Living These Days…and more”

America is awash in stuff, things, shit, and treasure…

It’s fucking astounding. It blows my mind. Always has. Probably always will. This country has such an amazing glut of material goods that it struggles with what to do with them – but at the same time – the citizens here are constantly buying shit, stuff, new things…to replace perfectly good old things…

My friend owns a second hand shop down the street from me – every time I step in her shop I realize that my high minded ideals and cultured aesthetic have fucked me again – she is selling the shit out of stuff I wouldn’t have thought would sell- Seriously…get this…I can buy a fine set of hand made, Danish, mid century modern end tables by a known designer and maker and price them at $50 each – and I’ll get a dozen people that come in and look at them and then tell me “Oh, I can’t pay that, I want to resell them” – pickers and dealers coming into an ANTIQUE SHOP – they need meat on the bone.

…oh yeah baby, I’ve made the big mistake – Cater to the classes and dine with the masses and meanwhile she is Catering to the masses and dining with the classes – Yeah, I’m an idiot. I have a store filled with things I appreciate after visiting the greatest museums in the world, traveling to 50 countries and 49 states, and studying art, history, and culture – in a town where most people have at best a 12th grade education and might have visited a couple of cities nearby..or maybe had a trip to California a few years ago….meanwhile my friend is selling them the same things their neighbors bought and they admired…for a fraction of the cost –

I earn a living doing this- we pay our bills and the people that appreciate this stuff find me – which is cool – but meanwhile she is employing two people, making more money, and has the opportunity to buy far more new inventory than I do (let alone expand)- so, the moral of the story is – don’t focus on what you like, focus on what people need – the Warren Buffet investment strategy – it works and my friend is proof of that –

I’m not complaining, mind you – like I said – I earn a living buying and selling really cool things, beautiful art, and interesting things – but the question I should have asked at the beginning was “Do I want to deal in cool interesting things or make money?” The answer, I thought was both, but what I didn’t realize was that I’d much rather make money selling crapola than scrape by selling art…it’s time to do some evaluation and figure out how to reshape my business…

A 99 Day Break from Facebook

UPDATE: Just a few days in and I already find that I have extra time on my hands. It’s amazing how when I have a spare moment on the computer or in the shop or at home, my mind says “Check out Facebook” and then when I don’t I realize – “Hey, I don’t need to be on the computer and can step away to do something else” – it’s amazing how much of my precious time I was killing with FB.

Yesterday, I saw an interesting proposal online – it suggested that Facebook might be contributing to general unease and unhappiness in the world.  I was already feeling a bit nauseated by Facebook in light of the recent behavioural experimentation the Facebook scientists have been conducting on users without their knowledge.

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If you haven’t heard of it already, Facebook manipulated what stories showed up in the streams of users and then monitored what effect that had on the posting behaviour of those users.  They then, rather naively, published the results which showed that by manipulating what stories users saw, they could manipulate what kind of stories users posted.

So, the chances are that you have already been manipulated by Facebook. And that’s only the study they are telling us about…It was in that context that I saw a Danish group suggesting that a lengthy break from Facebook might make people happier – in general. And they created a website and campaign to encourage people to give it a shot. 99daysoffreedom.com

Upon hearing about it, my first reaction was – “Whoa, that’s three months, I don’t think I could do that – I use Facebook all the time.” and then, those words hit me…What exactly do I use Facebook for? I use it to see what my friends are posting, to try to post things that my friends might ‘like’ and as a sort of ego extension. I use it to try to increase my readership and once in a while I use it to buy or sell something.  The real question is Do I need it? The answer is very clearly “No”. I’ve lived most of my life without it and actually, I was happier with my use of my time during most of that time.  In fact, Facebook has more or less become a defacto boredom time killer and I don’t need to kill time…it’s my most valuable assett. I have so much stuff I want to do and haven’t been doing because I don’t have the time – but suddenly – if I’m not spending my time scrolling through platitudes pasted on nice pictures – or looking at other people’s vacation photos – I’ve got some time.

I mean, you want proof? I’m writing this. I’m not writing it on Facebook, I’m writing it on my blog which I’ve been sorely neglecting lately. You might be reading it on Facebook though because my blog automatically posts on Facebook without me logging in at all. I’m not logged into Facebook, I’m not checking to see if people ‘like’ me or what I post and I’m not being pithy, smarmy, or snarky.  It already feels good.

So here we are 99 days without logging into Facebook begins…if you want to see where it ends…you can see my countdown here..

And if you want to contact me – it won’t work to contact me on facebook. Try emailing me, commenting on this blog, calling me, or even sending me a letter.

 

http://99daysoffreedom.com/vago-damitio

Matter and Matters

Sometimes (actually most of the time) it’s far too easy to get caught up in this world of matter. This world of financial responsibilities, bills, wars, rumours of wars, and again financial matters – most especially money. Money, money, money, money, money, money, money.

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It’s what makes this ridiculous world go around. Right?

Nope.  Dead wrong. All the money can disappear and the world will keep spinning. All the bills can go unpaid and the world will keep spinning. All the credit can be ruined, all the bank accounts emptied, and all the money sucked up by a giant rainbow eating typhoon and still this old world will go on round and round.

What keeps the world spinning? Gravity. Strong force. Electromagnetic influences we don’t understand. Maybe even love if you are a poet or a certain kind of mystic, but money has abso-fucking-lutely nothing to do with the world going round.

Money has been making my head spin lately – it’s been affecting the way I see the world, it’s been affecting my moods, and almost certainly as a result – it’s been affecting my health and my relationships.  And – money has been quite effectively eluding me as I do everything I can to get my hands around it.  Money does seem to work like that – the more you need it, the more elusive it becomes.

Changes to Google algorhythms finally seemed to have cut off my ability to make money on a regular basis with my travel websites. Google banning me from the adsense program (and despite my inquiries – they won’t tell me what it was I did) closed another door.

Ebay has been a good source of income to my family – but recently I’ve been hit by scammers and frivolous returns – Ebay makes money from buyers, not sellers – so the whole system is set up to protect those who transfer their cash to ebay – which has created many great opportunities for scammers to buy things and then file frivolous claims. They get their money back, they keep the items, and they file insurance claims on damage – Ebay looks on as sellers get ripped off. There are so many sellers that I am sure those of us getting ripped off are considered acceptable collatoral damage.

I thought that getting a space in an antique mall would be a good way to move away from Ebay – and I found an antique mall that seemed to be moving in a great direction – but as soon as we got in the owner started going in self destructive directions by alienating  vendors and making other reputation ruining moves – soon we were just one of a handful of vendors hanging on in a huge emptying space. For the four months we were there, we paid $1000+ in rent and commissions while earning only about $650 and losing about $1800 in inventory – do the math and you can quickly see that it wasn’t working.  We bartered for another space in a different mall and have had about the same results.

Tables at the flea market in Eugene were another angle that I hit – with more success than in the antique mall – but the markets are infrequent and the crowds are very hit or miss. Tomorrow is the last market until autumn – we’ll go back, but we’ll miss the one tomorrow because tomorrow is also Father’s Day and here in Reedsport, the last day of the Annual Chainsaw Carving Contest – which is important for us – see below.

The best solution seemed to be opening a little shop of our own. For less than the cost of the antique mall space – I was able to rent a small shop in Reedsport right on Highway 101. Reedsport Antiques is now open.  We’re not making money hand over fist – in fact – for the hours I’m putting in, I’m definitely earning less than I’ve ever earned – but – in the first two weeks, we’ve earned enough to almost cover the rent – which is better than we did in any antique malls.  To cover the added expense of opening and running a shop I hoped that the last flea market, an estate sale we helped run in California, listing a large number of valuable items on Ebay for bargain prices, and shop sales would help – as I wrote above – all of them failed and when you count on money or need money from a source – that’s about the time that money runs away from you screaming.  It’s frustrating.

And of course, it doesn ‘t matter. It’s hard to keep that in mind. It’s hard to remember that. My $43k in student loans are deferred and growing through negative amortization. If I don’t pay them – the world won’t end. Our shop and all my hours are almost paying for the shop – but food and rent and insurance premiums need to get paid for from somewhere – and if they don’t – well, it won’t be the end of the world either.

Money matters…in this world of matter. We need it and the more we need it, the more it runs from us. That’s why the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. There is a very real and very not understood law of cause and effect with money – which could very well be the reason we are put here, the challenge we are given to overcome, or could be nothing at all.  All of this could just be a dark comedy we created for ourselves and which is going to play itself out while the world keeps spinning and then be forgotten while the world keeps spinning as we disappear from the universe and return to the nothing we came from.

Money doesn’t matter.  I figured that out at one point. It’s time to figure that out again.

2013 – My year in Review – Damn this one was tough… Check out my Life GPA for 2013

2013 has been a year to remember – that’s for sure. The year has been filled in equal parts with success and failure and along with the highs that came when I achieved my goals – there has also, inevitably, been some disappointment – but then, that’s what happens when you set the bar high. First, I’d like to let you know what my goals were when I sat down on my 41st birthday last year – December 27, 2012.

At the time, my wife, daughter and I were still living in Morocco. The most recent update from Google had crippled my income by sending advertisers scurrying away from anything that might be considered selling a link – my income had dropped from a 2012 high of more than $7000 per month to just less than $500 in December. I’m not sure why, but December is always incredibly difficult for what seem like outside influences – at least up until my birthday and then things usually turn around.

So there we were wondering if my wife’s immigrant visa would ever be approved, trying to survive a particularly cold winter in Sefrou, and figuring out how to be good parents and spouses. I had nearly $45k in student loans ahead of me and the expensive prospect of moving my family to the USA. With that in mind – these were the goals I made for myself:

In 2013 I will re-edit and rewrite every one of my twelve books so that they are the best I can make them.
In 2013 I will publish my books various other eBook platforms.
In 2013 I will create great cover art for my published books and those I haven’t published yet.
In 2013 we will move my family to the USA, find a house, and establish ourselves.
In 2013 I will jump start the stalled IAPOTJ (International Association of Professional Online Travel Journalists)
In 2013 I will launch the MVA App and found the movement of MVA (Micro Victory Army)
In 2013 I will plant a garden and take a permaculture design course.
In 2013 I will revise and republish The Hu Factor, write the sequel to the Hu Factor, complete Blue Eyed Bastards and edit The Keys to the Riad,, and I will finish book 1 of The Invented God. I will sign deals with agent and publishers.
In 2013 I will pay off at least $15,000 of my loans.
In 2013 I will earn at least $100,000.
In 2013 I will stop reacting and instead respond to problems with focus and improve my level of fitness.
In 2013 I will improve my metrics and earnings on all of my websites.

Look. It’s a lot. Each one of those goals had at least five micro-goals that in themselves were probably big enough to be a single annual goal. I expect a lot of myself and I almost never let myself take the easy way out. Here’s how I did….

I re-edited and re-published ten of my twelve completed books. I assigned and purchased ISBN numbers for them, published every one of them in print and multiple ebook formats, and redesigned my personal website to showcase them (that’s this site, by the way).  I didn’t end up re-editing The Hu Factor, writing the sequel to it (The Hu Man), completing The Invented God, editing The Keys to the Riad, or re-writing and publishing Blue Eyed Bastards – those four books also still do not have great cover art. Despite those failures – I still consider the first three goals to be a huge success. Overall grade on goals #1-#3 – B-, B+, B- Average of a B.

Moving on – I did get my wife’s immigrant visa approved, I moved my family half way around the world, and I managed to get us into a house of our own. I even planted a small garden. I did not, however, land a great job or take a permaculture course. Still – I consider this goal a success. A- overall for the garden and move to the USA.

In terms of the IAPOTJ and the MVA – these were back burner projects in 2013 and I didn’t give them much attention at all. Still, both organizations grew and developed memberships – I feel like the energy that I did give them early on gave them the momentum to carry on. I hope to pursue both in 2014. Overall grade C-.

I did not sign a deal with either agents or publishers. I didn’t pay more than $1000 on my loans though I did refinance and defer them again. I didn’t even come close to earning $100k in 2013. As of now – it looks like I’ll be lucky if I cleared $30k.  The related goal of improving metrics and earnings simply did not happen – in fact, I was barely able to keep things at the same dismal level as in 2012. Finally, I was better at responding with focus (mostly) but my fitness suffered and is probably the worst it has ever been. The US diet and the stress of trying to make ends meet and working on the computer or the phone all day took a toll on my fitness. I’m not going to give myself an F for these factors since there were micro goals that I did achieve – I figured out how to sustain my family with eBay, I created a successful eBay store, and I’ve managed to pay all of our bills and expenses. Still, the best I can give myself on these is a D.

Now – the extra credit. I had some successes that I hadn’t planned.

I earned my insurance license in the state of Oregon and took a job selling life insurance.

I traveled to Spain, visited Dubai, and introduced my wife and daughter to San Francisco, Portland, Bellingham, Seattle, Sacramento, Redding, and the Oregon Coast. We visited the Redwoods, camped in the San Juans, and I got to introduce my family to my friends and family.  I had some amazing cultural experiences before leaving Morocco and Spain, and I bought a jeep and a BMW, albeit older ones. I learned how to buy and repair watches, discovered how to buy and sell gold, and discovered the hidden gold of antiques and estate sales. Add to that the fact that my wife and daughter have wanted for nothing during this year, both have great electronic gadgets, and we have somehow filled our house and garage with cool things and I deserve an additional A to average things out.

Now it’s time to average things out (I am doing this as I write). B, A-, C-, D, A. Using the age-old averaging for GPA – 2.7 for 2013 out of a possible 4.0 – that feels about right except I’m going to give myself a bonus .05 for the happy singing of my wife and daughter coming from the next room as I write this. So- I’m raising my grade to an overall B- average for 2013.

So that’s me for 2013. Next week I’ll start working on my goals for 2014. At the end of this month, I’ll revisit my predictions for 2013 and throw out some new ones for 2014.

 

 

 

 

Junk in the Trunk

Life is never as simple as it should be.  Life in Reedsport is very nice. We’ve had a steady stream of guests since we moved in – which is a very nice change – to be able to host friends and catch up on old times in our own home.  The junking has been fairly dismal in coastal Oregon – there are several reasons for that, but the biggest seems to be that there are a huge number of retirees supplementing their income by doing what I do, people here are generally savvy to looking up items on ebay before pricing them at garage sales, and at least where we are – these are people who have already downsized and moved here from somewhere else. Also, there just aren’t as many people here – so there aren’t as many estate sales – i.e. there aren’t as many children of deceased parents trying to get rid of as much junk as they can in the shortest possible time so they can go home.

Here’s an example of the difficulty – books – in Sacramento, it was fairly easy to buy a big box of books for $5 or less and then to take it to a bookstore and pull $25-$30 out of it. At the bookstore, you could find books for ten cents to a dollar and sometimes even pull out a first edition that could be resold on eBay for $100. Not so, here. The books tend to be priced $1 and up at the sales. The local bookstore no longer buys books. When I asked about old books and first editions, the owner told me he combs through and pulls them all but won’t sell them. A closed loop.

So, that’s the junking here – still, as I mentioned before – I’ve got a huge amount of very sellable stuff – the hard part is selling it. I’ve used ebay for a long time but never on the scale I am using it now – I’m learning a lot.  First of all – just because an item has sold for a price doesn’t mean that it will sell for that price again – there might have been one person looking for that glass net float who was willing to pay that price – but they already have one. In general, everything I list has sold before for higher prices than I’ve listed it – but at the moment, I’m selling about 15% of what I list and usually at 50% or less of what it sold for before. I’m not sure if that is because there are so many thousands of new listings every second or if people just aren’t buying as much as before.

Baseball cards are a great example. I’ve listed hundreds of baseball cards at less than 50% of book value – I haven’t sold a single one. It’s a great time to buy baseball cards, but there is no guarantee you will ever be able to sell them. Books have also become much harder to sell on ebay – perhaps it’s because everyone goes to Amazon for books – but since I tend to focus on funky, collectible books – I really want the auction format – but, hey, it’s not working.

What am I selling? Most of my sales are of old models of airplanes and 35mm camera equipment and vintage shaving gear along with the random chotskies or dishes. The camera gear is sold mostly to people in other countries. Ebay is fairly saturated and as you drive up and down Highway 101 you see a couple of types of businesses over and over – junk/antique shops, low end restaurants, and low end motels.

I haven’t given up, but I am a bit discouraged. At the end of the day – this is working – I can support us with it – but it’s not as much fun as it used to be. Perhaps a part of all that is that Hanane’s job has become a bit of a pain in my ass – initially, we had agreed that a part time job was a great idea for her to earn a little extra – after we were settled in – but her job came up and she jumped at it.  Almost immediately, her boss began to move her to full time – and – while she is willing to help with expenses – it’s my work that pays the bills – but now I find myself as a full time baby-always-with-me Dad who loves it but still has to be able to do my work of web development, finding new junk by digging through boxes at sales, and listing, packaging, selling, and shipping items. I can do it – but I feel a bit as if every responsibility has been dumped on me and there is no one offering any support. I pay the bills, I do the shopping, I earn our living, I take care of our daughter, I do my work, I do everything – including help my wife navigate her new working life – and now she has been promoted to Assistant Manager which probably means I have even less hours to enjoy being on the Oregon coast with my family and no time at all for myself – I’m with the baby all day trying to do my work and my wife gets home and doesn’t feel like it’s her job to take responsibility and give me a break – same goes for her days off.  And – she still feels it’s my responsibility to pay for everything. One would think that on her days off, I would be free to work or take some me time – but that’s not really the case – now those are family days or her rest days.  I’m proud of her for working so hard – but I’m beginning to feel a bit like a heel. If she were paying the rent, for groceries, the utility bills, gas, or giving me spending money – I would be quite happy to be a full time Dad – but that’s not how it goes. There will have to be some readjustment at some point.

On the positive side – spending so much time with my daughter is a total delight and I’m so honored and proud to see her development and growth. I know that I am largely responsible for who she is becoming. I don’t want to turn that over to strangers in daycare or preschool until she reaches the point that she can talk with us.

This is the most writing I’ve been able to do in weeks but now the baby has woke up. In the meantime – I’ve got junk in the trunk.

Reedsport Life

I’ve moved my family from North Africa to Turkey back to North Africa to California and now to Reedsport, Oregon. From here, I’m not planning on moving my family again. Sure, life in the USA isn’t as great as it once was, the days of children having more opportunity than their parents have never existed for me, but I hope they will exist for my daughter.

We have a nice life here. I’ve rented us a pretty house with a pretty yard, a nice garage, plenty of space in a nice neighborhood. Somehow, we’ve filled our little house up with nice things that make us comfortable and happy. We have everything we need – luckily, neither Hanane nor I need to have a lot of friends around all the time. She is happy to talk to her family and friends on Skype when she isn’t working and I’m happy to have the chance to hang out with Sophia, cruise around exploring the area, and once in a while to have an interesting conversation at a shop or a garage sale.

It’s nice that we have friends that will come visit and it’s nice that we live in a beautiful place where people will want to come visit. I am staggered by the beauty of this place. Equally amazing is the fact that this is a dying town – there are 4000 people in Reedsport and most of t hem are senior citizens who live in RVs and come for the good weather and leave with the bad. There are a dozen mediocre restaurants and dozens of empty shops and storefronts both in the old downtown and in the new. This town lived on timber and mills and those days are gone. There is no industry here.

But there should be – I’ve been all over the world and there are few places that have floored me the way this area has. Twenty miles south is Coos Bay and North Bend with cute little downtown shops, a nice bay, and many of the same problems we face here, but with a more diverse population. Twenty miles north is Florence where the snowbirds have built RV colonies   like Florentine Estates where every house has an RV barn. Both are good sized towns with healthy tourist industries. In  between are Reedsport, Gardiner, and Winchester Bay and forty miles of the most scenic lakes and forest of the Oregon coast along with the Smith River, the Umpqua River, the Siuslaw River and streams and ponds beyond mention. Tahkenitch Lake, Ten-Mile Lake, Siltcoos Lake, Woahink Lake, Clear Lake, Eel Lake, Saunders Lake, Beal Lake, Snag Lake, Spirit Lake, Horsefall Lake, Bluebill Lake, Three mile lake, Elbow Lake – and just in case you forgot – Unger Bay, Winchester Bay, Umpqua Beach, the Oregon Dunes. Yeah, the Oregon dunes – the largest expanse of coastal sand dunes in the North America. Frank Herbert was inspired to write Dune by being here!

This is my backyard! And it’s populated by pensioners and retirees. I am literally in the vacation wonderland of the Pacific Coast – sure – this isn’t a winter sports or surf mecca – but it is a fishing, hunting, motorcycling, hiking, bird watching elk watching, canoeing, kayaking, horse back riding (Dean Creek has two of the largest Elk Herds on the west coast and viewing areas where you can watch them year round). It’s not unusual for me to see elk, seals, salmon, crabs, deer, or countless birds every day.

The down side is that the garage saling here is definitely not as good as in San Francisco or Sacramento – the retirees live in RVs and have mostly already gotten rid of the junk I like to find and sell and in a rural place – people tend to value their junk a bit higher – but, that’s a small price to pay. The truth is I amassed a nice horde in California that it will probably take me a while to sell anyway (check out Vago’s Treasures). And besides, if I’m going to do this for a living – it’s more fun to go on missions to different places for great sales and rare finds anyway.

So, that’s the reason why there is no one here but me, my family, the retirees, and a few people I haven’t met or figured out yet.  No jobs, no industry. But, the schools are good but small without crowded classrooms, the people are friendly, the crime is almost non-existent, and I’m loving it. My goal though – is to become the tourist bureau for Reedsport. Hell, maybe if i succeed at that, I’ll even become the mayor. To start all that out, I’ve bought a couple of domains for Reedsport, Oregon – coming soon.