The Water Bottle and the Cell Phone

I really want to have something thoughtful and worthwhile to say about Orlando.  I don’t.  Instead, have a funny story where the only thing that gets hurt is my pride. There’s a funny animal picture at the end, for no reason at all.

Several weeks ago I committed one of the minor tragedies of our modern era: I dropped my cell phone into a sink of water.  I did this not five minutes before I needed to be out the door to meet a client.  Woops.  I was very cool about it, though.  I turned off the phone, yanked the SIM card, shoved the phone in a bag of rice, then popped the SIM into my old cell phone and set it to charge.  I always completely ignore my phone when I’m having a sit down meeting with a client anyway, so this was annoying but not a real problem.

Let’s pause here for some back story about that “old phone.”  The old phone is, in fact, identical to the new phone except in one critical way: its screen is cracked so badly it actively loses shards of glass as you use it.  I dropped it while I was visiting friends in December and that was pretty much the end of that.  It was the phone I got two weeks before I left Wisconsin to move to Seattle.  It was the last phone I intended to get until design trends shift back to a “smaller is better” paradigm.  It was also old enough that it cost just as much to have the screen repaired as it did to buy a new copy of the same phone off eBay.  About six hours after “my phone extruded shards of glass onto my face while I was talking on it,” became a thing I could truthfully say, I went ahead and ordered a new copy of the old phone.  Which I’d been using quite contentedly until I dropped it in the sink.

Generally you leave a phone that got wet to dry for about 24 hours.  The sink incident happened on a Thursday afternoon.  Halfway through Friday I decided that I’d go ahead and be really paranoid: I’d leave the new phone to dry until Sunday night.  I was doing an open house on Saturday, but Sunday was (theoretically) a day off so it didn’t matter that the phone I was using had a few quirky flaws, like sharing jagged stabby bits with the unwary user. Nothing could possibly go wrong with this plan.

On Saturday, armed with my open house supplies which included, among other things, a cookie sheet tucked under my arm, I realized what was happening.  As my finger dragged across the crumbling, textured surface of my old phone, deftly dodging glass splinters, I recognized my true motivation in putting off switching back: I’m emotionally invested in the old phone.  It rode with me all the way out to the west coast and was there for me as I set up my business from scratch again and then faithfully took a train with me all the way back to visit people, only to be cruelly and clumsily dropped onto the chilly concrete of a garage floor, then discarded for the damage it suffered.  That phone was supposed to be my constant companion for an entire product design fad and I callously set it aside just because it couldn’t hold up to my negligent care.  And yet, there it was, ready to step up and rescue me when my clumsy disregard for my electronic companions struck out at its replacement.  Did my old phone chide me for my behavior?  No.  It spent four hours installing updates and randomly crashing, but then it went to work as if I’d been as faithful to it as it was to me.

Reader, I am such a heel.  I realized this, acknowledged it, then patted the phone and in deference to its tireless work (and my desire to avoid glass splinters) turned my attention to my book.I got off the bus.  I retrieved my bike from the rack on the front of the bus.  I reached into my pocket for my phone, my cherished, devoted, faithful little phone.  The little phone which was, right that moment, faithfully sitting right where I put it, on the bus seat.  The bus was already pulling away.I stashed the cookie sheet in my bike’s basket and started searching through every pocket in my bag.  Things I pulled out of my bag while looking for my phone:

  1. A box of business cards
  2. A stack of folders with information about the condo I was holding open
  3. A stack of information about similar listings
  4. A stack of fliers about low-income grants and loans for first time buyers, also fliers about buyer discounts available from some home insurance companies.
  5. A 32 oz.  water bottle I stole from Dr. Unicorn roughly ten minutes after we moved in together, full of iced tea.
  6. A hexagonal black plate
  7. An oven mitt
  8. A spatula
  9. The crushing realization that I didn’t actually put the cookie dough in my bag and I’ve carried a cookie sheet this far for absolutely no reason
  10. The rest of the list doesn’t matter, I’ve made my point

My phone was nowhere in there.  Because of course it wasn’t.  It was on the bus seat.  Where I put it.  Moments after admitting that I’m sentimentally attached to it.

I very calmly put everything back in my bag.  Then I took my cookie sheet wielding, bicycle pushing, business casual self to the first stranger foolish enough to make eye contact with me.  Let’s call him Arjun.  His name wasn’t Arjun, but he didn’t consent to appear as a bit character in this story, so I don’t think he’ll mind that I changed his name.

“Excuse me,” I say, as if it’s not part of the greater Seattle area norms that strangers only try to talk to you when they’re asking you to sign a petition or for money.  “I’ve just left my phone on the bus that pulled away.  Could you help me?”

Arjun very clearly wanted to be nice to me.  He was also clearly scared by the very calm, slightly manic, but mostly calm over-dressed lady with the huge bike.  I chose to focus on his desire to be helpful and pretend I was not at all scary.

“I need to look at a map to figure out how to get to the place I’m supposed to go.  Could I do that?” I asked.

Arjun handed me his phone.  This is how I learned his name, which, recall, I changed.  I pulled out one of the folders with the information for the place I was supposed to hold open, then looked up directions to the address I wanted.  Then I stared at the map.  I stared at the map really hard.  Addresses around here defy logic and order and I haven’t yet met a map program that didn’t suffer as a consequence.  Normally, upon finding an error, I sigh, prod the address input a bit, then keep going.  But I can’t do that.  Arjun is going to be rather upset if I get onto my bike and ride away with his phone, and unless I do that, I need to know exactly how to get all the way to my destination without further help.  It’s really important that I don’t screw this up.  It was a little after noon when I got off the bus.  The open house is supposed to start at 1pm.  I would rather die than call the listing agent to tell him I can’t do this after all.  Also, I can’t, because his number is in my phone and I carefully eradicate all signs of the listing agent from the material I bring to an open house; the point is to have people contact me.

I spent a whole second and a half wondering how much of a head start I’d get just from Arjun being surprised if I got on my bike and ran off with his phone.  It was uphill to my destination, though, so he probably could have outrun me.  My bike is ergonomic for somebody with bad joints and prone to biking in fancy dress slacks and moderately dressy shoes but it is not fast.  Also, morality and golden rules and not biting the hand that was nice to you and all that.  Also also, it would have been wrong to betray my poor damaged phone so quickly by literally running off with the first modern behemoth I could get my hands on.

The “ethics” routines in my brain are sometimes complicated.

I returned Arjun’s phone, climbed onto my bike, and set off to my destination.  I arrived there some unknown quantity of time later; I only wear a watch when I’m teaching so my phone was my only time keeping device.  I have no idea how much time I have to get there and finish setup before 1pm.  Hey, at least I don’t need to worry about getting the cookies baked. *sigh*  It’s okay, though, because the oven doesn’t work, so I couldn’t have baked the cookies even if I had remembered the dough.

I did my usual setup.  Information on the counter, thermos in the fridge, signs out at nearby intersections and leading to the building.  Then, because the unit had absolutely no furniture in it (insert grumbling about listing agents too cheap to do even basic staging in one of the most expensive markets in the country) I sat on the steps, book in hand, and waited.  About the time I guessed it was one, I set the clock on the microwave (which, unlike the stove, was working).  The first person who showed up to the open house met a cheerful, relaxed me who could only answer questions if she had the information stored in her brain or on her printouts, but I’d prepared pretty thoroughly so the need to look up information was small.  Also, very smoothly, I asked them the time and then corrected the clock on the microwave so I would know when it was time to pack up and go home.

Do you know what happens when you respectfully don’t make your phone work while you ride the bus, then don’t have it on hand when you are at the open house, and the listing agent you’re hosting for is the kind of cheap skate who doesn’t stage and takes ugly pictures?  Nobody comes to your open house.  And you finish reading your book.  And you have nothing else to do.

On the one hand, this feels like appropriate cosmic justice for being the kind of feckless person who rewards a phone’s faithful filling in by abandoning it on the 520 bus to Everette.  Not to be all dramatic or anything, but a little boredom is the least of what a wretch such as yourself deserves for the reckless disregard for your own property you’ve been displaying lately.

On the other hand, I’m really bad at not having anything to do.

When 4pm rolled around, or a time close enough to it for the hastily set microwave to release me, I packed away my fliers and business cards.  I put away the signs.  I locked up the unit, stowed my pointless cookie sheet in my bicycle basket, and set off to catch my bus home.

Only when I reached the transit center, thinking fondly of how kind it was of Arjun to let me look at the map on his phone and how happy I am that I didn’t rob him, do I realize what I didn’t pack away.  See item 5 in the list above.

A 32 oz.  water bottle I stole from Dr. Unicorn roughly ten minutes after we moved in together, full of iced tea.

It was no longer full of iced tea.  It was full of water.  Also, it was in the fridge of the condo where I’d had my open house.  Also, my bus was, right now, arriving.

You’ve seen how attached I was to a phone that would literally cut your finger open if you weren’t paying attention while you used it.  Imagine how attached I am to a bottle I brazenly pilfered from a beloved roommate.  Reader, my crisis in that moment was painful and real.  But I was aware that I was going off the deep end with regard to sentimental attachment to physical objects.  I put my bike on the bus.  Then I put myself on the bus.  Then I rode home, head hung low, desperate for reading material.  (“I could listen to a podcast!” I’d think to myself.  Then realize that this would require me to have my phone.)

For reference, I lost that same water bottle for a few hours at WorldCon last summer.  People seemed puzzled by my alarm when I realized it was gone. This is strange to me.  I stole it. From somebody I live with. That’s a serious category of theft, imparting significant value to the object. They might want it back, and then instead of saying, “No, it’s mine now, I licked it an everything,” I’d have to say, “Sorry, I’m a careless flake.”

Needless to say, when I was out with a client and, consequently, had a car, I shamelessly tromped right back into that unit and rescued my water bottle from its seclusion in the fridge of a moderately well renovated and poorly marketed condo. The client didn’t care, but I petted that water bottle for the rest of the evening.  It’s a good water bottle.  A reliable water bottle.  I’ll strive to never abandon it like that again.

I got a brand new SIM card to put in the sufficiently dry new phone and completed my weekend none the worse for wear.  Even happier, when I called the Community Transit customer service people to check their lost and found, somebody had actually turned in my phone.  Apparently the market for selling stolen phones that hemorrhage glass at the unsuspecting user is small enough for happy endings.  The old phone lives on my desk once more, where I periodically stroke its screen and assure it, “Yes, I am still weird enough that deep down, I like you more than the other phone.  I’ll never recycle you.  You are a good phone.”

And I have learned an important lesson: Sometimes we’re idiots to the things we love.  They are things, and incapable of punishing you for your abuse.

Did I do that learning a moral thing correctly?  I can never tell.

And now, the real reason you’ve scrolled down so far, the promised picture of an animal.parrot-phone

Too on the nose?  Okay, fine.  Here’s something subtler.  Colorful Parrot Desktop Background

Advertisements

On Marketing: Don’t.

I run across a lot of people, in my day job and in the writing community, who are stressing about how to best go about marketing.  And I run into a whole lot of other people who are doing it atrociously.  So for everybody looking for the secret to stellar marketing and networking, here it is: Don’t do it.

Don’t hand your business card to everybody you meet.  I know you’ve heard lots of people tell you to do the opposite thing.  They’re wrong.

Don’t talk about your own work on a panel at a convention or conference that isn’t about your own work.

Don’t force a conversation to go somewhere that’ll give you an opening to talk about your product.  Don’t listen to a conversation waiting for the opening where you’ll get to jump in with the thing you want to talk about.

Don’t introduce yourself to a person entirely because you’re hoping to use them for something later.

And for the love of all that is interesting and worthwhile in human interaction, take Dale Carnegie’s ABC (Always Be Closing) and toss it out the window post-haste.

If you do these things everything, including your career, whatever it is, will be better.

You have that?  Read it again.  Understood?  Better read it one more time, just in case.

That’s the 101 lesson.  Because on this topic, unlearning all the bad things everybody has been teaching for decades is actually really, really important.  In fact, go read it again.  Trust me, it’s important.

Alright.  Here’s the 201.

In professional environments, and this includes social environments where you’re marketing or networking, there are two kinds of spaces.  There are “storefronts” and “everywhere else.”  The storefront is where the customer has come to you (or asked you to come to them) and consented to you trying to sell them something.  It’s your listing appointment, or your buyer interview, or your warm body behind the dealer’s table or your website or any number of other places where the potential of a transaction is salient to all involved parties.  At the storefront, and only at the storefront, you may proceed to qualify, pitch, and close your customer.  I have opinions about how you should do that, but this is not that topic.

When you’re in the storefront, go ahead and hand people your business card.  Talk about yourself.  Talk about your product.  Everything you just read five times before getting here?  That’s not about this space.  That’s about the other space, i.e. “everywhere else.”

Your goal, your single, solitary, only goal, when interacting with people in “everywhere else,” is to get them to, happily, intentionally, seek you in a storefront.  Get them to go, “Would you talk to my nephew?  He’s thinking about buying a house.”  Or track you down in the dealer’s room, or look up your website, or whatever.

How do you do that?  You forget your product, your industry, your career, all of it, and you sell you.  You’re a good listener, an interesting conversation partner on whatever the conversation is, you’re friendly, you have a reputation for being helpful.  You show up.  You’re present when you do.  You’re a complete person with a full range of interests and you’re willing to share a part of that with people.

I don’t mean that you have to be a singing, dancing, volunteer machine who invites everybody into every aspect of their personal lives.  In fact, don’t do that unless you actually are a singing, dancing, volunteer machine in which case decorum and restraint are still awesome things you should hang onto.

What I mean is that when you’re at the grocery store and chatting with the check out clerk, ask them about their day, their job, the neighborhood, the weather.  Do not say, “Hi, I’m Anaea Lay and I sell real estate,” or, “I see there’s a magazine rack nearby.  Have you read my book?”  Rules of polite conversation mean it’s very likely they’re going to reciprocate by asking you about you.  Then you get to say, “Oh, me?  I’m in real estate,” or, “I write novels.”  Are they interested?  They’ll probably say so.  If not, ask them something else.

Here’s a secret about people; they tend to be curious.  And then tend to be responsive to genuine friendliness.  Note the use of “genuine.”  That means being friendly within the local conventions of politeness and approachability.  In Seattle that means that public, open weeping in tea shops is common enough that I have my favorites ranked by how often it happens, but you do not ever talk to somebody on the bus or street corner.  The check out clerk at the grocery store?  Might not want to talk.  Don’t make them.  They will remember you if you force them into conversation.  You will never get them to your storefront.

Yes, if you pay for your groceries and walk away without successfully starting a conversation, you have failed in getting them to your storefront.  What you’ve also done is preserve them as a future contact you can try again another time.  Maybe they’ll be more chatty next week.  Or maybe they’re shy and once you’re more familiar they’ll be more willing.  Or maybe they’ll never ever give you the time of day, but if you keep hard selling they’ll warn their co-workers about you and now nobody at the grocery store is going to your store front.  Also, now everybody at the grocery store thinks you’re a dick.  You don’t want that.  I’m friendly with the folk at my grocery store.  They’ve asked me to please do them the favor of taking peppers without paying for them.

Be the guy the grocery store wants stealing peppers from them.

When on my way to a party I didn’t want to go to (remember: show up) I once commented to a companion that it would be successful if I handed out one business card.  “That’s easy,” they said, imagining I could throw a card at the first person I saw and then flee.

“Nope,” I replied.  “I never even pull out my business cards unless somebody asks me for one.”

I have different business cards for the different careers.  I keep a few of each on me.  You’d be surprised how often an event meant for one career becomes an opportunity for a different one.

It’s not that you aren’t ever selling anything in the space that is “everywhere else.”  It’s that what you’re selling is you.  It doesn’t matter whether the person you’re talking to right that moment immediately requests a trip to a store front.  If you think it does, you’re committing the crime of being the desperate salesman.  It’s a fatal crime.  Play the long game.  The person you’re talking to is a full person who knows lots of people and even if they aren’t a viable prospect for you, they could be a source of viable prospects.  You have to be worth it to them, though.

Pushy sales people might be quick results, but they’re burning their long tail.  Modern sales environments require customer satisfaction, personal referrals, and repeat business.  The best thing you can do for your third transaction out with a client is make sure they were happy and deliberate when they wound up in your storefront.  You can repair some of the damage once they’re there, but there’s only so much you can do with that space and time; don’t constrain your opportunities by wasting it on fixing something that wouldn’t have broken if you had more patience.

As a final note, I highly recommend that you study pick-up artistry.  Then test everything you’re thinking of doing against their techniques.  If it’s something a pickup artist would nod sagely about and approve of, skip it.  The premise of pickup artistry is that you don’t want repeat business.  Consequently, their manuals are great catalogs of techniques designed to avoid it.

Minutes from the Anaea Lay Semi-annual Business Meeting

I told people I was going to have a business review meeting where I wore all my different hats and gave performance reviews.  And I mentioned how none of my hats were very happy with my other hats.  There was a request for the minutes.  Here they are.

In Attendance:

Anaea Lay, Business Manager (Real Estate)

Anaea Lay, Realtor

Anaea Lay, Chief Executive Officer

Anaea Lay, Hobby Keeper

ALB: We’ve already completed over 16% more transactions this year over all of last year, with a total revenue so far this year equal to last year’s total gross.  Hiring of additional staff has increased operating expenses but projected increased revenue should more than cover that.  Additionally, we’re trimming marketing expenses that no longer perform sufficiently.

ALCEO: Excellent.  Are there any major revisions to the projections developed at the December meeting?

ALB: No.  At our current rate we’d exceed projections through the end of the year, but we’re expecting a taper in the market beginning in late June and, of course, there will be an extreme taper in October due to the structural overhaul in the business.

ALHK: You’ll all appreciate me more then, won’t you?

ALCEO: Let’s move on to the next item on the agenda – Performance Reviews.

ALR: Good.  I have complaints.

ALCEO: Shut-up.  You’re in trouble.

ALR: I’m in trouble?  It’s not even June yet and I’ve already done more work this year than I did last year. I’m tired. I’m cranky. If things don’t shape up around here, I’m coming after you for running an abusive work environment.

ALB: You have nothing to complain about.  We’ve made significant investments in your hardware and work environment which were not in the budget projections from last year.

ALR: Whose fault is that?  It’s not like we didn’t know a ten inch netbook wouldn’t be reliable forever.

ALB: And you’ve been slack in your basic duties.

ALR: (Pause for stunned, infuriated silence) I’ve been slack?  Were you listening to yourself when you were talking earlier?  I’ve been performing like a champ. I’m a fucking nerdy real estate god. I’m converting leads, closing deals, and satisfying customers phenomenally well, with cat jokes and references to Cthulhu the whole way.

ALB: You haven’t had an open house since March.

ALR: I’ve been busy on Sundays.

ALB: Open houses are a cornerstone of our client prospecting strategy.  Moreover, you like doing them.  You just haven’t.  Since March. We’re in the middle of peak open house season, and you’re not doing them.

ALR: Are you shitting me?  I haven’t been doing them because I’ve been out with clients.  Multiple clients.  Am I the only one who remembers three-client Sunday? Probably, since IT WAS EASTER.  Two of them wrote offers.

ALB: If we don’t prospect for new clients, we’re depending on chance and Zillow for new clients.  We do not have enough clients in play to meet our optimistic projections, so prospecting is essential if we’re going to survive the infrastructure transition.  And open houses are only part of it.  You’ve dropped your Craigslist postings, too.

ALHK: About the transition, I have pertinent information.

AL CEO, B, and R: Shut-up.

ALR: You know, I’m not the only one you have on staff.  Maybe you should work on those delegating skills you claim you have and give that “additional staff,” something to do.

ALB: I suppose that’s a fair suggestion.

ALR: And while you’re at it, maybe some time off, ever.  I’m a little burned on this 24/7 thing.  We’re not really in start-up mode anymore, so I think it’s time we stopped treating me like slave labor.

ALB: You are constantly asking for time off.  You are one constant stream of, “Oooh, I’m going to take Wednesday afternoon off.  Hey, I’m taking Friday off to read.  Yeah, Sunday’s getting spent cooking and doing yard work!”

ALR: Do any of those things actually happen?

ALB: …

ALCEO: I think what B is trying to say is that you whine a lot.  We’re tired of hearing you whine.

ALR: I’m not whining.  I want more than a day off a month.

ALCEO: It says here you took a whole week off in April.

ALB: You did.  We had to hire staff to cover that.

ALR: That was a week away, not off.  I navigated a bunk appraisal, mentored the new staff, and taught a buyer’s agent how the financing and appraisal contingencies work on the paperwork that got updated four years ago.

ALB: She’s whining again.

ALHK: Can I speak now?  I really think you guys should let me speak.

ALB: What do you even do?

ALHK: I take care of all the things we do that aren’t day job things but involve money.  Remember, you gave me a mandate that all hobbies had to start paying for themselves or get axed.

ALCEO: Oh yeah.  How’s that going?

ALHK: Pretty well, actually.  We’re officially getting paid to read. This is supplementing the vice-fund when writing income doesn’t keep up with our non-grocery food and beverage consumption.

ALB: Still no chance of kicking the bubble tea habit?

AL CEO, HK, R: NO

ALB: Just asking…jeez

ALHK: Also, the voice acting has started to pay.

ALB: Speaking of hardware investment, we just spent significantly more in recording equipment than we’ve seen in voice acting income.

ALHK: The difference can come out of the vice-fund.  It has a surplus.  And the equipment upgrade will make it easier to get more paid work.  In fact, we’ve had a few feelers coming in that indicate the voice work might be able to contribute to the expenses of the impending infrastructure overhaul.

ALB: Say what?

ALHK: It’s nothing solid, but we might get a thing over the summer which would cover a significant portion of the expenses associated with that.

ALCEO: That’s fantastic!  Why didn’t you say something earlier?

ALHK: Excuse me?

ALR: They’re fucks, aren’t they?

ALCEO: You’re the one in charge of making money off strangers, and the one with the filthy mouth?  I don’t think we did this personality division optimally.

ALR: I went into the office three times this week. You’d have a filthy fucking mouth, too.

ALCEO: Are there any agenda items left?

ALB: No.

ALR: Yes there are.  We haven’t actually fixed my time off problem.

ALB: Yes we did.  We’re relocating your problematic performance areas to the new staff’s job duties and you’ll quit whining.

ALR: The only thing that actually changes is that I stop asking for things to improve.

ALB: So?  If you wanted to escape sadistic management, self-employment was not the way to go.  Have you met you?

ALR: We’re blaming the victim now?

ALCEO: That is a thing we do.

ALHK: I think she should get more time off, too.  I’m kinda suffocating on just her dregs over here.  I get that I’m just the vice-fund, but let’s face it, we’re made of vices.  I’m important.  Also, wear her out enough and she’ll start solving problems with homicide, and that’s really expensive.

ALB: True.  We don’t have enough flexibility in our budget, even if we meet the optimistic projections, to afford homicide.

ALCEO: It’s three-to-one now?

Nods from all the hats

ALCEO: Fine.  You can flag three days a week for potential days off.  Schedule showings accordingly.  Real estate work that takes less than an hour does not invalidate its status as a day off, though.  Aim for one day, or three half days, off per week.  Fair?

ALR: Behavior like this is why we’re afraid of labor uprisings.

ALHK: Oh come on.  You wouldn’t know what to do with yourself if you regularly had a proper weekend.

ALR: I could learn.

Glares from all hats.

ALR: I’ll take it.  It just isn’t fair. (Muttering) My boss sucks.

ALCEO: Okay then.  This meeting is adjourned.  We’ll reconvene in late August to plan the structural overhaul.

In Lieu of a WisCon Con Report

WisCon was great, as usual, but also rather exhausting since I failed to take the weekend off – I just got my work done super early, before con things.  Rather than write up a vague and incoherent retelling of things you either were there for and probably remember better, or weren’t there for and probably don’t really care about, I’ll share an anecdote to illustrate how awesome, yet exhausting, WisCon was.

My first post-con client appointment was at 4pm Monday, so I pretty much went straight from post-con lunch to the appointment.  I was even marginally prepared for it, with almost fully half of the printed material I would normally have brought!  Fortunately, these clients have reached the, “Oh god, our car is filling up with our Realtor’s over-preparedness,” stage, so they took this as a blessing rather than a sign that I hadn’t organized my day well enough to drop into the office before meeting them.

And it was a great showing.  They like the neighborhood.  They like the yard.  They like the house.  They’re in a part of town I know as well as if I lived there.  This is because I live there.  I’m positively overflowing with tips about easiest bike routes to the library, or the Southwest commuter trail, or out to Verona.  And restaurant recommendations.  And directions to the parks with the best swing sets.  I am made of Realtor competence and know how, and it’s awesome because these clients want to buy this house, and oh god we’ve been here forever and they’re looking at bedrooms just one more time.

Interesting fact about houses built in the sixties in my part of town: they have laundry shoots.  Not the big drop your toddler down them laundry shoots you’d think of, but narrow ones that are great for not letting dirty dish rags drip their way down the steps to the washing machine, and which your cat, no matter how hard she tries, cannot fit into.  When I have clients shopping this neighborhood, the laundry shoot becomes a running gag after about the second house.

“Where,” one half of my very thorough clients asks, “Does it come out?”

I’m in hyper-competent Realtor mode, so even though I have a sense of, given where we are in the house, where the outlet ought to be in the basement, I decide to go confirm it and have the answer for super certain.  I go to the basement.  I stare at the ceiling.  I look all over the basement.  The whole basement.  Even the parts that don’t possibly line up even a little bit with the laundry shoot.  The outlet ought to be somewhere more or less near the furnace, but I don’t see anything.  I bet the piping to the furnace is obscuring it.  So I decide to do the obvious, logical thing.

I go upstairs.  I open the laundry shoot.  I consider my resources.  Cell phone, sunglasses, Magic Key* (my nickname for the thingie that lets me into houses), wallet.  The only thing on that list unlikely to be broken by a drop that far is my wallet which I am sensibly reluctant to risk losing.  So I expand my search parameters.  Shirt.  Pants. Shoes.  Bingo, shoes!  Shoes are sturdy, and I can go barefoot without offending social mores or professional standards.  I drop a shoe down the laundry shoot.

The shoe does not hit the basement floor.

The laundry shoot does not have an outlet.

“Oh, that was a bad idea,” I say.

“What?” asks the observant half of my thorough clients.

So now I have to explain that in my quest to ensure I have full and complete, accurate information about everything they want to know, I have performed science, badly, and now my shoe is trapped somewhere in the null space between the upstairs entrance to the laundry shoot and the ceiling of the basement.  And now that I’m thinking a little more intelligently, I’m using the flashlight built into my magic key to look in the laundry shoot and see how far out of reach my shoe is.  Had I done this earlier, I’d have still learned that the laundry shoot has no outlet, and I’d still have both my shoes.  I took this opportunity to remind my clients that we’re only a week into the 30 days before they can unilaterally cancel our agency relationship.

There was a lot of giggling.  There was a deployment of smart phones with flashlight apps peering into ceiling rafters answered by plaintive cries of, “I can see light coming in from somewhere, but where?”  There was an sad little voice composing an awkward email in the back of my head. “Dear Listing agent: I am a moron and have left my shoe trapped in your clients’ lovely home.  It’s a nice shoe, but will bear up under its isolation from its companion well.  My buyers would like to buy this house.  Please don’t hold my unabashed idiocy against them.  They’re very nice people, really.”

In the end, I removed a ceiling tile from the (very nice) half bath and was met with a shoe crashing into my face.  Never has a Realtor been happier to have a shoe smash her face.  Truly.

That is how tired I was after WisCon.  And WisCon was worth it.   That is all you need to know.

The Virtue of Trick Questions

My maternal grandparents are sales people.  Literally.  The story of how they met and got together is an epic about travelling magazine salesmen, complete with loved-and-lost-and-found-again elements, nefarious sales managers, and buying a top of the line car with coupons they’d been trading for while on the road.  As I get older, I get more and more details, and it becomes more and more obvious how very much I’m cut from the same mold.  I’m sales-people, too.  I’ve already got enough hind-sight to look back and things and go, “Yeah, that there should have been a clue.  This is just how my brain works.”

I’m also very much a writer, but that’s not something I had to figure out.  It just was.  I have never at  any point seriously contemplated making my living off writing – I enjoy it far too much to turn it into work – but the fact that my brain is wired like a writer’s has always been something I’ve known.

What’s fascinating is looking at how the two things feed and reinforce each other.  I go about being a particular kind of sales person because it’s what appeals to my sense of narrative, to my expectations about how the series of anecdotes that collect together to form the story of my life ought to go.  And I approach writing in a certain way because it’s how my brain assesses the world.  I’m sensitive to a certain kind of problem, and prone to a particular tack for solutions.  Which details are salient to me, which questions are important, how the consequences of a thing play out, my instincts for them are all completely warped by my sales brain.

Here’s an example: I spent a lot of time in high school figuring out where I was going to go to college.  A whole lot of time.  I got serious about the search in sophomore year, and did a tour of nearly a dozen colleges the summer after.  (This was also, conveniently, a tour of hitting all my relatives flung across the coastal Southern states.)  This was great, because it meant that when I figured out that my initial assumptions about what a college I wanted to go to looked like were HORRIBLY WRONG, I had plenty of time to start over and try again.  But it also meant I got really, really good at the college interview process.

Before the Great Southern College Tour, I read up on what one should do when touring colleges and having admissions interviews.  One bit of advice was always that you should have questions specific to the school to ask.  For most of the schools I didn’t really have any specific questions – they were sorta all the same on paper and I lacked all kinds of information for establishing a baseline that I’d need to think of questions.  So instead I came up with one question I’d ask every school.  And then, in my College Spreadsheet of Doom, which I’d developed with a detailed scoring rubric (I was considering about 130 schools at one point), I had a column for recording how colleges did on that question.  It was pass or fail, and worth more points than any single other criteria other than the “Fuzzy gut instinct” column.  One college passed (University of Chicago).  One got partial credit (Queens in NC).  The rest were dismal failures.

This was the question: What do you think of Charles Dickens?

This was a malicious trick question.  “I like him,” is the wrong answer.  “I don’t like him,” equally wrong.  Responding to the question as if I care at all about Charles Dickens is the wrong answer.  The right answer was to use that as an opportunity to talk about English Professor X, or required course Y, or Program Z, or, really, in any way tie the question into an opportunity to talk about something that person liked about the school.  The wording of the question is about a verbose British hack with inconsistent quality that should have prepared us for the way Stephen Moffat likes to abuse us, but what it’s really asking is, “Tell me what’s awesome about you and why.”

You can’t, of course, just ask them that question.  They think they’ve answered it already with their brochures and their prepared spiel.  But that’s marketing.  It’s bunk.   I didn’t care about their marketing.  I wanted them to sell me their school.  I wanted to know, not just that they loved it, but that they loved it for reasons that would appeal to me, too.  I needed to know that the school had enough sincere advocates on hand to train the ones who were good at it into being their recruiters.  In short, I wanted a look at how the sausage of their sales department was made.  It’s the question you ask the customer to get the answer you really need, instead of the one you ask to have them regurgitate what they think they want.

But it’s also a question that delves into the narrative of the school.  Every school has story it tells about itself, and identify for what it thinks it is or aspires to be.  The marketing brochure is the “As you know, Bob,” exposition.  The malicious trick question is the natural point you look for to demonstrate your world-building and character development.  Give your customers the opportunity to accidentally tell you what you need to know.  Give your characters the opportunity to show the reader who they are and how the world they live in works.

Whichever brain you’re using, sales or writing, always look for opportunities to ask trick questions.  And really listen to your answers, and what the answers tell you.

A Bit of Market Research

Dear readers, I’ve got a business conundrum from my Realtor life, and I’d really appreciate some input to see if maybe I can get away with my crazy.  My conundrum, in a nut shell, is this: I really want to be a corporate sponsor for Worldbuilders, but this late in the year, there’s not nearly enough money left in my marketing budget to support even the bottom tier.  A sane, reasonable person would just shrug and, now that this is a thing, do their 2013 marketing plan accordingly.  I’m frequently reasonable, but rarely sane, and marketing to the nerdcore audience that are Rothfuss fans, not to mention the mental images I get of Pat being happy when people support this, is made of so much win I’m having trouble letting it go.  The first line of my business plan, after all, is “Do whatever the hell looks like fun and see what happens.”

I’m one of those obsessive plan-ahead budgeters, so I do actually have enough money for the bottom tier sitting around.  Problem is, it’s earmarked for early 2013 marketing, some of which has a much higher projected return than what I suspect I’d actually get out of this corporate sponsorship (i.e. slightly maniacal joy).  Business-Anaea has issued a resounding “No” to the idea of poaching from next year’s budget for this scheme.

“But,” counters hedonist-Anaea – “The threshold for breaking even isn’t all that high.”  Which is true.  If four people take a referral* from me for transactions conforming to national averages, I’ll recoup the costs of the sponsorship.  That’s not leaving anything after for me to nurse my bubble tea and fiction addictions, but I can chalk that up to the nature of charity and keep business-Anaea happy.  The problem is, I don’t expect four referrals, let alone four that actually make it all the way through to a conclusion.

Maybe, just maybe, hedonist-Anaea is smarter than business-Anaea, so I want to check.  Would you, dear reader, be likely to contact a Realtor advertising through something like Worldbuilders?  Would you be likely to grab friends/family/acquaintances looking at buying or selling a house and pointing them toward somebody you found that way?  Do you even pay any attention to the people who do sponsorships for these sorts of things?  Feel free to send your friends/whatnot along to play guinea pig for me, too.  Business-Anaea likes data 🙂

I’m definitely putting it into my 2013 budget either way.  I’m just looking for a reason to be irresponsible and throw in for 2012, too.

*I only practice in the greater Madison area of Wisconsin, but that doesn’t stop me from being useful everywhere.  So people in, say, California can ask me to hook them up with a Realtor, and I can make sure they get somebody good, and who’s good for them.  I get a tiny, tiny bit of that transaction.  This is how I justify double-counting cons as a business expense (writing and Real Estate)

Open House Hilarity, or Why I Have Super Powers

Yesterday was a Sunday which meant that, as is common on Sundays, I hosted an Open House.  I did this even though it was over 95 degrees outside and my big, metal, Open House signs are all black.  I did this despite the cloudless sky blasting radiation directly from an unshielded reactor at me.  I did it despite the very real opportunity to just sit at home in the A/C and read.

This is where you offer me a cookie for being a dedicated, hard worker.

I was under the impression that not only was I being particularly diligent in daring the misery that is this particular summer, but I was far more punctual and organized than usual, actually leaving the house when I always mean to as opposed to running back six times for things I’ve forgotten.  This was nice, because it meant I could ponderously contemplate where exactly in the intersections I wanted to put my various signs from the comfort of my air conditioned car, without worrying that I was going to miss people showing up on time or early for the Open House.  This happens.  On my particularly frazzled Sundays, they’ll be the only people who show up at all.

Generally I host from 1-3.  This is a consequence of my arcane deduction that any earlier means I have to set an alarm to make sure I’m up in time to get ready, and any later means I’ll start doing something before hand and potentially get distracted.  Other people check sporting event schedules or whatnot and adjust accordingly.  That’s nice for them; I refuse to let sports dictate my life even in this.

Thankfully, the property I was hosting at wasn’t vacant, so the owners had their A/C running and the place was comfortable when I got there.  I set to, turning on lights, opening doors, making sure I knew all the details of the layout, confirming the total absence of ghosts or dead bodies.  I also did the more mundane things like pre-heating the oven for my batch of “You’ll like me because I fed you,” cookies, putting out a sign-in sheet and info booklets, and hiding my bag of holding Realtor stuff.

The oven beeped to announce it was finished pre-heating right at 1pm.  This is exactly the timing I want on all of my Open Houses, and I rarely manage it, so I was feeling smug.  (My ability to angst over sign visibility is a little absurd.  Or a lot absurd.  I may be absurd.)  I take the oven handle in one hand, preparing to release a blast of 375° into the cute little kitchen, steel myself for the inferno, and…the handle falls off.

And then the door falls apart.

Enter a pair of buyers.

I’m also diligent enough that I don’t cuss in front of strangers while working.  Barely.  I put the cookie sheet back on the stove, throw my hands into the air, then run to the door to say “Hi.”  It’s a first time buyer there with her parents.  They’d like to tour the townhouse on their own then ask me questions after.  That’s great.  I tell them that starting with the basement and checking out the garage would be awesome.  They go as directed and I run back to the kitchen.  Maybe elves have come by and fixed it, or possibly I’m suffering heat stroke and it was a hallucination.

Nope, the oven is still very much, very obviously, falling apart.

Quick investigation reveals that a single screw is responsible for holding both halves of the door and the handle in place, at all one point, and this particular screw has fallen out and become trapped between pieces of the door.  All I have to do is fish it out, push everything together, and screw it back in.

Remember how I was miraculously more organized than usual, and didn’t have to run back to the house for the six things I forgot?  Yeah, that wasn’t because I didn’t forget anything, but because I didn’t remember them at all.  Among the things I did not bring.

1) A plate for the finished cookies.  No biggie, I can use one of the owners.

2) A spatula for transferring the cookies to the plate.  No biggie, my fingers are not so delicate that they can’t handle a hot-potato relocation.

3) An oven mitt.  No biggie I can…er…oh dear.

Did you know that I can fish a 375° screw out of an oven door with my finger nails without audible cussing?  Me either!

The basement and garage were truly fascinating, but let’s face it, you can only stare at a utility room and an empty 2 car garage for so long.  The buyers were upstairs again, and it was time for them to check out the kitchen, complete with busted oven and lamentably unbaked cookies hanging out on the counter.  I got out of their way, fielded questions about the cabinets, and confirmed that yes, all the bedrooms are upstairs.  Would they like to go see the bedrooms?  They would.  No, they don’t want me to come along, they’ll be back in a moment.

Take your merry time.

I actually do keep a screw driver in my bag of holding Realtor stuff.  It doesn’t have a tiny hex head, though, so it was useless.  Cue more fingernail action.  People don’t believe when I say I keep my fingernails long because they’re more useful that way.  Believe me.

Whether the buyers noticed the oven door hanging open, it’s handle dragging on the floor, I’ll never know.  I had the oven fixed by the time they left and well before the next group showed up.  The cookies baked very nicely, and, because this is the fate of Open House cookies, got fed to my roommates and crit group later that night.  (Hey, I need them to like me, too.)

I share this story with you not because everybody seems to get a perverse joy out of watching things go wrong for me, but because there’s an important moral I want you to take away from it.  The moral is this: When you’re planning to sell your house, fix your damn oven!