Transition For Writers On Whidbey

The Whidbey Island Writers Association is probably going to close. The ‘probably’ is in there because miracles happen, but saving the name and the organization will take tens of thousands of dollars soon. I checked my Powerball ticket. I’m not WIWA’s financial saviour. There are plenty of ironies around a writers association closing partly from miscommunications. The story is deep, rich, and filled with passions; but, I’ll leave that material for others to delve into and cover elsewhere. I’m more interested in the future than the past, and am drawn to the parallels that must apply to other small towns as they go through transitions. I have my black tea martini beside me; let’s see how the story unfolds.

I give credit to the Whidbey Island Writers Association (hereafter called WIWA because why use 34 characters more than once when 4 will do – especially for retweets). Thanks to WIWA my writing improved from the simple action of attending a well-run writers group every other week for a few years. Writers groups span the range from unfailingly supportive (Congratulations! You wrote something, anything!) to rigorously exacting (how else can prize winners improve other than to have every mistake highlighted?). I was glad to drop into a group that sat in the middle. My favorite bit of feedback was; “That was so beautiful we missed the point.” Positive and constructive in one line; which was an impressive bit of extemporaneous verbal wordsmithing. Now I write so much, and get paid for much of it, that I don’t have time to attend the writers group. (Check Amazon Walking Thinking Drinking Across Scotlandand Curbed Seattle for some of my books and articles.)

WIWA and other writers associations are known for writers groups, conference, classes, seminars, workshops, publications, and general support. Each community requires a unique mix. Whidbey Island’s writing community is so strong that people move here because of it. It was strong enough that it actually inspired and created the first Master of Fine Arts program for literary arts that was accredited without being associated with another college or university. An impressive feat. (I put a sentence fragment in here to make sure my editing friends had something to chew on, as if my writing style isn’t already a rich vein to tap.) Saying you’re a writer to someone else on Whidbey is as welcoming as saying you’re well-paid professional at a party in Seattle – welcoming, but without the expectation of wealth.

Small towns have long memories. Missteps that are quickly put in the past in the dynamic world of urban America tend to linger because the people persist and remember in small towns. Artists are passionate people. The emotions persist as well. The closure of the MFA program (called the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts, aka NILA) and the subsequent closure of WIWA generated understandably strong emotions. For some, the news wasn’t new. They knew or suspected for months. It’s hard to hide for long in a small town. For others, the news of the meeting was the first sign of anything amiss, when it is effectively too late. It’s easy to concentrate on nothing else than your writing when you’re a writer. What? Donald Trump gave up his TV show and is running for President? And is winning? Fiction writers rarely are brave enough to write such narratives. Reality doesn’t have that constraint. But I digress.

Tuesday, April 26th (yesterday as I write this) included a meeting held at 3:30PM so WIWA members could learn about the transition. Understandably, not everyone could attend in the middle of a work day. Writers tend to have day jobs that have nothing to do with writing, and fit the writing in as they can. I was lucky and interested enough that I finished my gigs for the day and settled into the lowest and comfiest seat in the far back corner and hoped to listen instead of talk. I learn more when my mouth is closed. There was that one comment that slipped, but that simply proved that I was human. The people impressed me. There was obvious contention and friction, but people acted as adults by revealing their emotions but not letting them interfere with the meeting.

The overly-simplistic version is that a writers association can be recreated, but it has to start as an idea. Nothing except inspiration can be brought forward. No money. No name. No contacts lists. No assets. No offices.

One moment that made me sit up was when the topic of the new name of the writers association was mentioned. Whatever follows legally can’t use the old name unless it pays for the old debts (evidently), so it was suggested that we use the name I came up with for a Facebook group that was created on a whim one afternoon a few years ago: Whidbey Authors. I never considered that possibility. Okay. Writers questioned the distinctions between Author versus Writer. I didn’t engage because I was recovering from someone suggesting that something I did could help. Happy to help. Surprise!

For a number of reasons, I’ve found myself fielding several threads of messages since the meeting. While I take it as an honor that I’m included, I also suspect that messages are directed to me because I’ve been a WIWA member for a long time, have written extensively in a variety of forms, have never been on the board of WIWA or NILA and therefore have little history there, enjoy communicating, and was able to attend the meeting. Who was it that really said most of life is showing up?

If I followed all of the advice and direction I’ve received within the last 24 hours I’d have to give up all of my other jobs and devote my life to whatever WIWA becomes. My bills suggest otherwise. I’m willing to act as a communications conduit – to a point.

So far, the news is good. People who were dedicated to WIWA are dedicated to creating something new. There’s interest in reviving the conference, publishing anthologies of local works, sustaining writers groups, and providing lists of resources for finding editors and such. There’s also interest in launching initiatives that may be old, revived, or new – many of which involve being more public, more social, more digital, and emphasizing local. Coworks WIWAcoworksand drinking with your tribe come to mind. One crowd understands listserves, and has never heard of meetups. And, of course, the other crowd expects meetups and hasn’t heard of listserves. I sit in the middle, knowing of both, using neither but just because I have other options.

As much fun as it is to dream of what else the writing community can do, the trickier part is the procedural, financial, and legal part. An official non-profit with 501(c)(3) status can be generated readily, as long as there’s a name, board, and bylaws agreed to be enough people. Non-profits don’t have to become tax-deductible entities, which is simpler, but it makes it harder to raise funds. Some groups on the island don’t even have official structure, but are completely ad hoc creating events by almost accidental group consent and also rarely collecting money.

Money makes things complicated and is the root of when NILA and WIWA are going through this transition. (See, this blog is about finance, after all.)

As I write this, I know of a few threads of energy aimed at recreating a writers association on Whidbey. Some are in stealth mode. Others are more public. For those who seek a somewhat public forum, I’ve opened up the Whidbey Authors Facebook group as an online venue. We could probably do something similar on LinkedIn or Google+, but that may take too much training to be inclusive.

Amidst the chaos of energy, my inclination is to listen. I write this post as more of a prompt than as a detailed plan. Pattie Beaven has already posted about what she wants. I look forward to others doing the same. If they don’t already have a blog (come on, writers are the best people for blogging, get busy) I’m willing to host some guest posts, and maybe spin off a separate blog if necessary.

To anyone who is not on Whidbey who has read this far, thanks. There’s a message and a lesson that isn’t tied to the island. Small towns are necessarily aware and mutually charitable; otherwise, they don’t survive. I’ve been watching the transitions throughout South Whidbey and wonder how the various non-profits will shift or survive. Good ideas tend to persist. It isn’t guaranteed (how did we build the pyramids?) but watching the energy flow has been encouraging. It may not be controllable, but it is inevitable – and I trust it. That’s true for WIWA, and also for greater issues like our society, government, economy, and civilization.

To the rest of us interested in building a new organization, formal or not, I look forward to hearing the full breadth of the ideas, new approaches, and then narrowing down to what we can afford, accomplish, and sustain.

A couple of disclosures that I would normally break out separately, but don’t want to de-emphasize: 1) I teach classes and workshops for WIWA, the last of which is a workshop about Social Media for Writers on April 27th; and 2) once or twice upon a time I was interviewed for various management positions within WIWA which never resulted in a paid position. I admit to wondering if things would’ve been different for NILA, WIWA, and myself if things had worked out otherwise. That, however, is the classic retrospective trap, and also not the path to the future, whatever that may be.

Thanks to everyone for their efforts. Now, what comes next?

One more disclosure: to anyone who is proficient enough with Twitter, I live tweeted the meeting. Follow the hashtags #WIWAmeet &#WIWAnews for my notes. If that concept doesn’t make sense, well, hey; do you know I teach classes in that?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Digging On Earth Day

I swung a pulaski today. Not familiar with the tool? Take a mattock, which is like a very heavy hoe, add an axe head and you get a very heavy hunk of steel that’s great for digging out roots. Professionals know them for firefighting where I suspect the ax is more important. Today, on Earth Day, I was part of a work crew that tore into blackberry bushes on land trust property. The berries may be great, but the plant is invasive and we were there to help the native species. Why volunteer when I could be home making money? There are more ways to be paid than with cash.

Don’t worry. I’m not going to get too altruistic here. I continue to work seven days a week with a day off every couple of months. My finances are improving – as long as I either ignore health insurance or income tax. Despite that, I decided that I’ll try to find at least some time for volunteering. I don’t do as much as I did when I was retired; but then, I went a bit overboard back then because I ended up volunteering about 32 hours a week for a while. If you can’t tell, I like helping – which is why I swung a pulaski for the morning.

Cue the inspirational music. Chant the slogans. Conduct the rituals. It is Earth Day, 2016. I’m old enough to remember the first one, and was young enough that I wasn’t allowed out of school to help. It would be possible to write this post as if today’s efforts were some grand plan and celebration, but it was simpler than that.

I’m one of two Site Stewards for Hammons Preserve, one of Whidbey Camano Land Trust’s properties. Hammons was donated to the Land Trust by Al Hammons, a farmer who owned a singular piece of land on South Whidbey about a mile and a half from my house. His goal was to provide a place where people could, “rest their souls awhile.” Gifting a few acres is never a good enough description. What had been a remote farm eventually became one of the few remaining properties that included acreage and an incredible view of Cultus Bay, Puget Sound, and the Olympics. Left to developers it would’ve been either one very large mansion, or a neighborhood of luxury homes. Left to developers it also would’ve meant that the natural environment that is Cultus Bay would only be visible to private landowners or people driving by. The bay has no easy access to the shore. The only way to touch the water is to own waterfront, or be in a neighborhood like mine that borders it. Thanks to Al, instead of celebrities the land has raptors, instead of pavement it has meadows, instead of being closed it is open (from dawn to dusk). Thank you, Mr. Alvin Hammons.
Cultus Bay from Hammon's Preserve
The creation of something valuable is worth celebrating. The maintenance of it can be far messier. Old farmland is fertile. Lots of things want to grow there. Originally, it was all tall forest. We could let it revert to trees, which would bring the land full circle; but there’s an awareness of the rarity and value of public or protected lands. Without the daily tending of a farmer, blackberries, scotch broom, english ivy, holly, and thistles march in and set roots. We’re taking two approaches to the battle. Uphill and away from the view and the wetlands, we’ve planted hundreds of trees – many of which are now twelve feet tall. Forests become relatively low maintenance. The meadow, the stream, and the wetlands are nicely situated for providing the view; but they are also the combat zone where we pull out the invaders. Hence, the pulaski, loppers, shovels, weed wrenches, rakes, and the occasional pick.

Be careful what you wish for; you may get it. As Site Steward, I assign myself some solitary work parties. After days of staring at computer screens and trying to decipher the internet, it is nice to tackle something tangible. When in doubt, pull out blackberries. So far I’ve been surprised to find other plants growing under the thorny canopy: lilacs, crocus, lilies, crocosmia, tulips, and even a walnut tree. The tree was far taller than the bushes, but the blackberries were so thick it was hard to look up and see what was growing there. After a couple of hours of whacking weeds with big tools, I took a break. Naturally, my thoughts drifted to my finances. If I had more money, I’d have fewer worries, or at least different ones. I know I’m not alone with the train of thought. About twenty years ago I realized that what I wanted was a small house on a big lot with a nice view. For a few seconds I wondered if I’d ever get that, which conjured images of winning the lottery jackpot; and then I realized I had it, just not in a way I expected. The land wasn’t mine, but I was partly responsible for it. The farmhouse was gone, but the remaining tool shed is larger than the tiny houses I find so appealing. The view is down a long slope, uninterrupted, and could never be blocked. I asked for one thing, and the universe provided it – somewhat.

One way to preserve such a place is to spend a lot of money and tend it myself, or hire someone else to tend it. That is temporary. Eventually, any individual will have to relinquish control through age or a shift in interest. Al understood that. Placing the land in trust is more sustainable. Complain about corporations if you want, but non-profits are frequently corporations for a good reason: sustainability. There’s a continuity to an organization that can survive generations. It isn’t guaranteed, but the structure provides the possibility that something valuable will last more than a generation. Two things are required: someone to get the idea going, and many others who maintain and sustain it. I’m glad to be part of its longevity.

There is a lot to do in the world. Simplistically, money cures all ills; but realistically, people do all the work. We progress in stages: ignorance, awareness, advocacy, action. There are so many things to do in the world that no one can be aware of every issue; ignorance is inevitable. Each person becomes aware of something, whether by choice or necessity. A news item from today reported that after people spent some time unemployed they were much more likely to help others. They passed from awareness to action, and I suspect a fair number of them spent some time saying and advocating, ‘Hey, someone should do something.’ And they did.

Spending a morning killing blackberries postponed hours of work, which I managed to catch up by working a little later on a Friday. What I gained, however, was something I couldn’t afford otherwise. Frugal folk will appreciate the value. I’m glad so many others volunteer in so many similar ways. To those who volunteered on Earth Day (and really any day); thank you, all. You’ve helped preserve our small home in this enormous universe. I think it has a marvelous view.

November Sunset

PS For more views of Cultus Bay, check out my twelve month photo essay of the area. There’s a lot more color than a glance would suggest.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bizarro Reaction To GigPeak News

If this keeps up I’m going to think I’m in Bizarro World, where everything is backwards. Just like with MicroVision’s announcement of a 140% increase in revenues leading to a 40% drop in the stock (MVIS); GigOptix, now renamed GigPeak for some reason, announced a 25% rise in revenues, and then GIG dropped 7%. This is after it recovered from the previous bit of good news when the revenues were up 23% and the stock went down 25%. Maybe if they lost money the stock would go up? Welcome to the bizarre world of investing in small companies.

GIG is an odd stock. The company’s name continues to change. Even the trading symbol was changed several years ago. It is a paradox of a quietly dynamic, little conglomerate. They’re quiet because their technology is so esoteric that the only people who care are the hardware geeks that make sure the internet runs. They’re dynamic because they have some of the most advanced technology is the industry. They’re little because their market cap is only about $125M. They’re a conglomerate because they continue to grow as much through mergers and acquisitions as from sales. Welcome to a name change that coincides with another acquisition, the increase in revenues, increased profit margins, and increased free cash flow. So, what’s the problem?

I don’t know what the problem is; but, I suspect complexity doesn’t help.

Investing is difficult enough for the big financial firms. Take two companies of similar complexity. Each is a conglomerate. One is worth $100M. One is worth $100B. If you’re a major investor trying to find places to put significant amounts of cash, you’re going to do your due diligence  and your homework. While a small company can bring a big percentage return, the amount you can invest is necessarily smaller – unless you want to buy most of the company and deal with the SEC and FTC. A large company has a tougher time growing much larger, but you can invest a million dollars and hardly anyone will notice.

Investing is difficult enough for individual investors. One reason I buy stock in small companies is because they are inherently simpler. My portfolio can be described in overly-simplified terms. AMSC is selling wind turbine technology and superconducting products. Asterias is trying to regrow severed nerves. GERN is trying to conquer cancers and auto-immune ailments by managing the body’s telomerase. MVIS is enabling pico-projectors that can be as ubiquitous as phone cameras. Real Goods Solar is trying (and struggling) to make money in the solar energy field. And. GIG is my investment in high-speed internet services, a service that billions are becoming to depend upon.

And then, GigOptix, oops, GigPeak goes out and buys another company.

Evidently, GIG’s strategy (my apology as I use the stock symbol instead of the company name, but maybe the stock symbol will last longer than the name) – as I was saying, GIG’s strategy seems to be working. They’re making more money. Their advanced technologies make it more difficult to understand their competitive advantage – unless you’re an internet hardware geek. Their finances make it more difficult to understand their true financial situation. Are they dynamic in the midst of controlled chaos, or are they creating a regulatory smoke screen?

I typically wouldn’t buy such a confusing company; but, I found myself owning shares from a spinoff, an IPO, and optimism. For a dozen years I’ve watched their strategy, product line, and finances grow; and yet, it would take a quadrupling of the stock to get me back to profitability. Which I believe is possible. In the last two years they’ve grown revenues 40%. Evidently, that is accelerating. Take away the costs of mergers and acquisitions, and they are becoming a profitable company with a competitive advantage in a growing and vital market. That sounds like a good investment. It quite possibly is.

I continue to believe in the central tenet of my book, Dream Invest Live coverDream. Invest. Live. In today’s America, one of the best ways to live a life of your dreams is to invest if you can. Spend less than you make, which is increasingly more difficult for many. Invest the rest, which involves picking from fewer investment options than before. Low interest rates discourage using savings accounts, cds, and bonds. Real estate is coming back, famously in some places like Seattle, but I suspect few see it as liquid as they did before. Commodities and currencies are as difficult and fickle as ever. Investing in stocks is one of the few options remaining, and there it becomes an issue of trying to avoid competing with the major finance houses and their resources. That leads me back to investing in small companies and buying lottery tickets. Arguments can be made for entrepreneurship, which I am a fan of, but the failure rate is uncomfortably high. (But being an entrepreneur is also amazingly rewarding if you manage to not fall prey to the risks. Check Alan Beckley’s guest posts and his blog.)

GIG announced earnings after the market closed Monday. I didn’t pay attention until Tuesday morning because I have given up trying to predict the short term bizzaro response within the market. The news was good, at least for me. The response was bad, at least for my portfolio. The long term looks encouraging, and maybe after GIG settles down while continuing to significantly grow, then maybe the bizarro nature of the market will flip the other way. Nothing will probably change that until the next quarterly report, so I’ll concentrate on the real world reality of living the life I have. It’s time to hit the deck and enjoy the view.

DSC_6439

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Day Off

Even within my Rule of 7, there comes a time for a day off. Here it is. I’ll be back soon.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Tricky Taxes Trips And Traps

Thanks, Elizabeth. It was time to file my taxes, and some fluky results in TurboTax were nicely resolved by Elizabeth from their help desk. Thanks to all my friends I called while fighting off anxiety attacks as I struggled through the process. Thanks as well for the offers of loans and such. My apologies to everyone else whose work was postponed, and my apologies to not making it to dance practice. As much as I enjoy dancing, taxes, even with impressive support, drain me emotionally and financially. I suspect I’m not the only one.

My tax history has been playing out in this blog for the last few years. It heightens the experience I’ve had going from Middle Class to Millionaire to Muddling By. Once a year I am reminded of how much less I paid in taxes were when I was rich, and how I have fewer options as I have less money to spend. The more I had, the more ways I could offset shifts in assets to income. Holding stocks for years has its benefits. I’ve lived frugally for years, by choice; and now I live even more frugally by necessity. The less I spend, the fewer deductions I have available, and the taxes don’t budge. Income and wealth inequality are built into our tax code.

General statements about taxes and their impact on people’s lives are so common and so important that they are part of the political debate. I’m fascinated by this election episode of the dismal comedy that is the 2016 US Presidential race, but the grand philosophies aren’t being resolved there, so I’ll skip them here. Instead, I decided to write about specifics, to chronicle the process of filling out my taxes, to chronicle the logical hurdles, and the emotional and physical costs. If this isn’t helpful to anyone else, I understand. Sometimes, though, it is nice to know that there’s someone else who’s gone through the same emotional and financial swings. Maybe TurboTax can use this as a test of their software. Whatever. It helps me remember what it’s like to dive into the anxieties and fears inherent in the mystery of calculating that final number.

My first step was to wait for the last bill from the IRS from last year’s payment schedule. I didn’t have enough to pay them then, so I took them up on their option to spread the payments out over a year. Paying that last bill was a nice closure to that episode, and a reminder that I hoped this year would be better and easier because of what I’ve learned and done.

If you want to skip the details, scroll to the bottom for a conclusion. I understand.


Chronology
Friday morning, April 8th, make the last payment to the IRS for the 2014 that I couldn’t pay on time in 2015.

Friday day, get back to work on work, the source of the income, and the cause of the taxes.

Friday evening, find the folder with lots of 1099s in it. Call that enough, because it is Friday night.

Saturday, April 9th, work like always because since my Triple Whammy I’ve been following my Rule of 7, and working seven days a week (with a day off every two months or so.)

Saturday evening, listen to responsible voices and decide to at least begin working on taxes – with a large glass of red wine.

20:00
Rummage through the crowd of TurboTax emails to find the latest offer, and see if I can find my old account info. Ah, remember to check last year’s notes.
Oh wait, TurboTax teases with an email that may do that, assuming I remember my password.
Success on the second try.
Whew. Logistical hurdles cleared. Emotions relieved.
Pick a software package.
Trying the Self-Employed Bundle that they recommend for the same price.

20:05
Start filling out Personal info, which is copied from last year, so that helps.

20:09
Business Income
TurboTax starts with income, which ratchets up the scary part of the tax story. Over in the corner is an estimate of taxes which climbs while income is entered, and retreats when deductions are entered.
Decide to grab tax info from Schwab online, even though they gave me paper copies at my request, and I’m only dealing with Business, not Personal stuff. Just trying to get everything arranged.

20:17
Welcome to the Gig Economy, where W-2s are rumors and myths, and the world is defined by 1099s and unreported income.
Watch the taxes due as the income is entered, breathe, remember to breathe.
Oh, Amazon, you pesky mega-corporation, changing tax IDs and such.
Hey, that doesn’t look too bad.
Oops. Missing the biggest 1099.
So, there’s a bit of anxiety. I hope I can get the data in time, and I hope it doesn’t increase my taxes too much.

20:41
Begin the mind-numbing task of reconciling my Business bookkeeping to what is reported in state taxes to the terms used by the IRS.
Cue Star Trek – Next Generation to provide a ready distraction that can be ignored most of the time. I’ve seen them all. Some people put on background music, I put on old TV shows. Ah, the Federation, where there were no taxes.

21:02
Done with the Business section, except for the biggest 1099.
Come back to it later, I hope. If not, do I file for an extension, or go with an estimate? Decide later.

21:23
Start and finish the Personal Income section relatively effortlessly. It is good to have good software; keeping mind that the software only has to be easier that filling out the taxes with paper and pencil and ink and calculators. It’s a low bar TurboTax easily clears.

21:25
Decide to Save & Sign Out because it is almost nine-thirty on a Saturday night.

Sunday, April 10th
Another day, another day of work.

20:07
Once more unto the breach – while waiting for a 1099.
Filling out Personal deductions means a long list of things that don’t apply in the life of a single person. So, make it easier by filling it out while talking with a friend on the phone.
The conversation was so good that TurboTax logged me out while waiting for me to get back to work.
Finish the call.
Log back in.
The software found federal itemized deductions of about an extra $200. Okay, I’ll accept that, even if I don’t completely understand it. If I tried to totally understand every bit of my income taxes I’d hurt my brain, take months, and marvel at tax accountants that somehow keep up. Or, use the software and trust the programmers.
The deductions don’t add up to much because I don’t, and can’t, spend much.

21:12
Drumroll. Fill out the heatlhcare portion that deals with ACA, Obamacare, insurance provided through an exchange, whatever you want to call it. I call it my monthly bill for which I receive no benefit.
Wow! Instead of paying a few thousand, the interim estimate is that I’ll get a $2,677 refund. That was unexpected. Finally, some good news – again, even if I don’t understand it.
Apparently, entering the data sent by the state, and coupling it to my self-employment makes an enormous difference.
Ah, but waiting for that extra 1099. That may swing it back towards zero.
It’s good to end on an optimistic note, and is an encouragement to looking forward to finishing and filing.

Monday, April 11th
Evidently, just before midnight the right number came through.
The good news for my income was that it was a big number. The unsurprising news is that it would probably dramatically reduce my refund, and maybe I’ll have to pay a few hundred. That’s doable.
But, get to work. It’s Monday.

9:42
I got ahead on work, and found a fifteen minute slot where I might be able to update the filing with the new 1099 number and resolve the uncertainty and possibly alleviate the anxiety. Take a break, log in, jump into the process again.
Rats, I can’t figure out how to update a 1099. The program keeps sending me back into a loop that doesn’t let me edit the incomes.
Ah, I’ll try retreating and walking through lots of steps. Success. The data is in.
What? Now I owe over $5000?
Anxieties spike. I begin to shake. Quickly call an old friend who has helped me through a divorce and a possible foreclosure (averted, thankfully). Tell him to just listen. Don’t try to fix. I just needed to vent.
Hit Review and be ready to call TurboTax – after I find a break in my work schedule.
Dive right into a 10:00 meeting with an apology for my mood.

12:31 PM
Postpone or cancel everything else on the schedule for the rest of the day.
Start over. Maybe inserting that 1099 after I filled everything else out caused a software error. Hey, I’ve written programs. Errors happen.
Clear my return so far and start again.
Self-employed bundle, again.
Filling out Personal Info, again.
Swallowing away anxieties.

12:34 PM
Filling out Business, again; and wondering what I did right or wrong.
After all of the 1099s and income is reported, I owe, whoa, almost $6,000. Logically, I know that figure will decrease as I enter deductions. Emotionally, anxieties spike. Physically, I am simultaneously tightening up and trembling. This can’t be healthy. What are the costs of filing out taxes? Does one induced heart attack counter the country’s gain from that (and probably several more) individual(s)?
It is the Self-Employment Tax that causes the problem. As I understand it, businesses like consulting and writing, jobs like those in the Gig Economy, effectively pay taxes based on revenue, not income, because of the high profit margins. If I make $1,000 and it didn’t cost me much to operate from my laptop and kitchen table, then I pay $150. Taxes must be paid. But, ouch.
Done with Business – and hoping that magical health insurance and mortgage interest create enough deductions.

12:56 PM
Now getting Personal, again.
Add in the pension. That swings things higher by another 10%. Evidently, they haven’t been taking out as much as I expected.
Considering the Panama Papers, all of these mentions of foreign banks emphasize a lifestyle and financial options that enable another world.
Call another friend to abate anxiety. Talking helps. Listening helps, too.

13:15
Begin Deductions, again.
An estimated payment from last year brings it down a bit over a grand to over $5,000.
Evidently, I qualify for itemized deductions. I don’t think I spent enough in the previous year to qualify.
Now, we get into the confusing details of being self-employed and having health insurance from a marketplace. Last night, this swung the numbers from paying to a refund. Today…
only down to about $4,000.
What did I miss? How did it go from a several thousand dollar refund last night to an even greater tax bill today?
Sit back. Sigh. $4,000. That’s more than my bank account. Maybe I can scrounge enough to pay it, but then there won’t be enough for things like the mortgage and my healthcare premium.
Out comes the credit card, which I recognized was an option. (Cue the groans, lamentations, critiques, and offers of help from many friends. I hear you. Read more below.)
Fill out the credit card information.
Pay for the service.
Prepare to file – and get an error message. Something isn’t right with the form, and I can’t decipher their message. Help!
Hello, help. My problem is so specific that none of the FAQs, forums, or Help Me files are going to help.

13:49
Click on their offer to talk to someone. Find out that the wait time for help is 65 minutes. Don’t expect a call until 14:54, but don’t go anywhere either because they could call at any time.
Went to the bathroom. TurboTax signs me out.

14:44
Ten minutes early, they call back. Good.
For the next twenty minutes, Elizabeth does a marvelous job of unraveling the issue (through some very nice screen-share tech). The cause wasn’t obvious. The fix was something I never would’ve found on my own. Thank you, Elizabeth.
For the next twenty minutes, Elizabeth dives into my health insurance issue, trying to find the mysterious several thousand dollar swing – and finds nothing to fix. Except…
For the last ten minutes, Elizabeth points out business deductions that I haven’t taken, partly because I run a very frugal business, partly because some of the deductions are more trouble than they are worth. The benefits of the deductions are quantifiable, but they have costs, too.
She moves on to the next person to help. I return to finishing the filing.

15:34
As I pay with my credit card, I scribble notes about various ways I can pay it off. I’ll worry those essential details, later.
One surprise, somehow I am now paying $4.99/month to Quickbooks? How’d that happen? I’ll check into that, later.
TurboTax mentions checking my situation for benefit programs. I sign up, and hope it isn’t just an opportunity to collect spam.
Traumatized by the process. Postponing the rest of the day’s activities – except, maybe, for writing
16:32
Go for a walk.


Conclusion

As I said, taxes must be paid. Otherwise, we don’t have a country. The great debate about the most equitable tax system continues even as the Legislature continues to worry more about an indefinite number of tax breaks. The increasing complexity may eventually implode, but dysfunctional bureaucracies can have great longevity. Think North Korea. I don’t expect any great change in the system, though I hear someone wants a political revolution. I don’t expect to affect any great change, myself; though writers never know where their writings will go. Maybe this post will help make a difference.

I finish the process feeling held hostage to Quickbooks, the IRS, and my credit card; even as I know taxes are a necessity.

Just as with my truck, and with the septic system, money has about when it is needed. It is sweet and touching how many friends have offered me loans. For many of them it is because they don’t want the credit card companies to benefit from my situation. I’ve declined all of their offers for two reasons: 1) if for some reason I couldn’t afford to pay off the debt, I’d rather have the credit card company deal with the risk, and 2) one of the consequences of my father’s death is the prospect of an inheritance that I understand to be about the size of my tax bill. Within the next few months, a check should arrive that pays off the tax part of the credit card bill.

And, of course, I am an optimist – despite, as one friend put it today; “Oh no! You can’t get a break lately!” But I have. I have friends, and hope, and trust that my efforts will eventually (hopefully soon) be compensated.

In the meantime, I have a house, a truck, a full pantry, health, and community. I am bummed that I missed the Monday dance practice, though. Oh well, maybe tomorrow.

PS Did you really read this far? Congratulations, that’s over 2,400 words. I’m impressed. Thanks for being there. – T

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Surprising Coworks Support

Sometimes the most substantial support for a community project comes from outside the community. A philanthropist, who declines the term, has been tracking our efforts to create a coworks on Whidbey. Our Kickstarter campaign generated great emotional support and attracted several enthusiastic donors, but we didn’t manage to hit the required goal, which meant no funds were transferred (except for yet a different donor who gifted me money as a personal emergency arose.) Enough of those details. The idea is valuable enough that we now have a $3,000 challenge grant from someone who would never directly benefit from the space, but who thinks it is worth it. The challenge is real. Can this seed sprout enough committed interest to make a coworks happen?

The chain of posts that lead to this post are probably best started with the most recent one, Coworks Conundrum. Work your way back through as much as you want. It may ruin the suspense, but it will probably save you time.

Since the Kickstarter campaign finished, we’ve been brainstorming other ways to create a coworks. I was lucky enough to get a tour of one of the massive and massively impressive coworks in Seattle, Impact Hub. They can accommodate hundreds, which makes for a nice revenue base. We might work up to a few dozen, and will probably have to start with less than that. I’ve also contacted some of the other large organizations like WeWork. On the island, our stand in, at least for writers, has been the Wednesday Coworks for Writers, hosted by the Whidbey Island Writers Association. It has also been a weekly forum on what to do next. There has also been interest from community-minded local entrepreneurs who provided advice. We’ve also talked about different revenue models, service offerings, and locations. The original location was Langley, WA, an internationally known tourist destination. The coworks could benefit from the higher profit margin day and week visitors, but internationally known tourist destinations also have high rents and utilities. Can a location closer to the ferry make it easy enough for mainlanders and clients to use the space? Hello, Clinton, WA. Can a location that is less touristy but well-situated for locals and local businesses work better? Hello, Freeland. Hello, Bayview. Coupeville and Oak Harbor, go for it, but I need a space I can drive to in less than a half hour. Options, plenty of options.

Building businesses in small towns is different than building businesses in cities. Cities have the benefit of numbers. Seattle has about 620,000 people within the city limits. The region has over 4,200,000. The south half of Whidbey Island has fewer than 20,000 in the winter and maybe over 40,000 in the tourist season. Here, relationships and individual needs are heightened. Here, the benefits are amplified. Improve the financial lives of a few hundred people in Seattle and maybe it will make a quick news sidebar. Improve the financial lives of two dozen people in a small town and the local economy can feel the impact and it will be headline news (on either Wednesday or Saturday, the two days the paper is printed.)

As one advocate pointed out, the issue may be as simple as my honesty. I’ve been a millionaire, have a resume that some couldn’t believe until they met me, but evidently some judge me on my recent perfect storm of bad luck. Regardless of the progressive attitudes of Washington State and Whidbey Island in particular, people are measured by their wealth; especially, when money is part of the conversation. I’m not the only person involved, but evidently I am the one most comfortable speaking in public, listening to a wide range of advice, and conducting at least a moderate amount of research. One consequence: I have a broader understanding of the commercial rental property market of most people who aren’t real estate agents. It’s been suggested that maybe I should try yet another career switch. As Seattle’s hot market spills past its borders, that may be a good idea. Tom Trimbath, Real Estate Agent – smile! (Probably have to get a haircut and wear long pants all the time.)

I would like to present a detailed plan for a revised coworks model. We’re not there, yet. I didn’t want to let the conversation fade to quiet, either; especially considering the surprising and impressive support that continues despite any public display of progress.

A $3,000 challenge grant is effectively $6,000 in startup funds. An optimist would say go for it. That’s enough for a month or two of operations (assuming there aren’t any costs like furniture); and if we build it they will come. A pessimist looks at the low success rate of any new business or venture, and says get as much as a year’s operating funds before signing any lease or making any commitment. My estimate is that about six months of operating expenses would work out to about $18,000 ($3,000 per month for six months, no salaries). Those are Langley numbers. Clinton, Bayview, and Freeland are probably lower, but not as low as $6,000.

As a pragmatist, I keep in mind the reality that this may not be the time, I may not be the person, or our models may not be the right ones; in which case the prudent thing to do is to thank generous people, but not take any funds. That is an option.

During one of the larger power outages, the local telephone company (Whidbey Telecom), opened their high-tech conference room and filled it with about six dozen people who would normally work from home. Give people the right environment, facilities, and reason, and they’ll use the service. The other advantage of coworks that is more powerful than great bandwidth is the community that develops. People working beside other people invariably find work to spread around, fertile ground for new ideas, support on bad days, and someone to celebrate with on good days. That amplification is missing. Uni-working is working and can pay the bills, but coworking benefits greatly because of the co-. In small towns, co- is vital because small towns are defined by community.

Of course you can tell that I’m a fan. I’ve witnessed the benefits, and then watched them fade when a previous coworks closed. I also don’t care if I am the one to implement it, but I want to be able to participate. If someone else can make it happen, great! That’s less work for me. If someone else wants to add it as a service to their business, cool. (I’ll just hope it meets my needs, too.) And of course, if the community wants to build something that helps the community, that’s the best way for it to happen. At least one person thinks the idea is worth at least $3,000. How much more valuable is it to people who actually live here?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Panama Papers Impact

The Panama Papers join the bookshelf of exposes like the Pentagon Papers. If you haven’t already heard about it, you will. (Here’s a synopsis from my other blog, PretendingNotToPanic.com) This is big, and yet, this financial news may not effect most people’s personal finances. And yet, the Pentagon Papers changed American government. So did the Watergate reporting. Abu Ghraib and Edward Snowden continue to create repercussions. In the short term, the revelations about tax havens is a news story but not a change in lifestyle for most. In the long term, the specifics of the process of hiding wealth may begin a fundamental change in our economic system. I think long term and am fascinated by the implications of technology, so I admit to being interested in the impacts that are only now hitting the news.

The Panama Papers revealed nothing new, but revealed specifics only imagined, previously. There’s no surprise that tax havens have allowed the wealthy to accumulate wealthScreenshot 2016-01-18 at 08.31.28 in ways only available to them. Whether it is just or not, the wealthy paying for expensive ways to hide wealth is simply assumed by most. The eleven million documents released to journalists take that assumption and change it from an abstraction to reality. Specific people are identified, and their actions can be questioned. Tax havens are legal, but the way they are used can cross the line – and it looks like that line has been crossed several times. About a dozen heads of nations have already been identified. Conflicts of interest are apparent. Scandals can affect the careers of people whose reputations are based on the opposite of their actions. In some cases, those conflicts of interest may do more than ruin careers; they may put people in jail. As the news hit, I’m sure there was a dramatic increase in messages and calls between the tax haven wealthy and their advisors.

Tax havens hide wealth and accumulated income legally, at least from the tax havens’ perspective. The people using them may be under restrictions placed on them by their positions, which means they may have broken the law. While legal from one perspective, and illegal from another, the greater impact may be the loss of tax revenue to the wealthy person’s country. A billion dollars protected from home nation taxation means a billion dollars not available for basic services. At some point, the abstraction of lower tax revenues means less money available for health care which means people have died. Grim, but true. And also why the impact of the news may be more than just a story for people to complain about.

Hidden wealth is nothing new. Waiters can hide tips. Consultants can decide to not disclose gifts. Royalty can move gold to other countries in case they are deposed. Until recently, those actions were physical. Now, especially as transactions have become electronic, those actions are traceable (though they may be encrypted.) Encryption creates the illusion of security the way a locked door protects the contents of a car; but as the recent iPhone incident proved, there’s always a way to get past the protection. Sometimes that is sophisticated. Sometimes it is the equivalent of a rock smashing a window. In the case of almost all of the recent exposes, security was defeated by someone on the inside deciding that some secrets shouldn’t be secret.

This period of tax havens may have been a temporary aberration. Prior to technology, the logistics were difficult. Within a few years, computers may be able to crack any code. The Panama Papers proved that any system is vulnerable to one person who thinks a change must be made.

The Panama Papers are the biggest leak. At roughly 2.6TB, they are more than ten times are voluminous as the previous record holder, which was more than ten times the previous record. As large as that is, it also can fit on a device smaller than a phone. This probably won’t be the last leak.
Screen shot 2016-04-04 at 7.29.44 PM
The data came from one company. There are many more. The news from one company has already implicated a dozen world leaders. The other tax haven files undoubtedly include more. I’d be surprised if each firm isn’t reviewing their security measures, each questionable client isn’t reviewing their exposure and options, and in each firm and within the staff of each person someone isn’t considering whether this is the time to leak their information.

The rest of us, however, watch the news, possibly cheer the scandal, and continue with our daily routine of trying to make enough money to support our lifestyles. Our tax havens may be Mason jars buried out back.

I suspect the impact won’t be that abstract. When the elephants (the 1% of the 1%) dance, the mice (the 99.99%) must scurry; but some of the elephants are discovering that the ground contains pits and traps that they may not escape. The mice may get a chance to relax while some of the elephants decide to gingerly exit the dance floor.

With the security being compromised by one individual, the entire process of wealth accumulation and tax avoidance has been revealed. The risk to reward ratio has shifted with one news story. Some will entrench in denial. Some will shift to alternative strategies. Some will see the risk as too great and will live according to the rules as they were supposed to. Most haven’t broken any laws and will continue the practices because they’ve done nothing illegal. But, if there are any doubts, there will naturally be some who start paying higher taxes.

One of the safer alternatives will be to invest within their countries, in their public financial markets, and abandon practices that encouraged corruption. The Panama Papers may have, with one press release, done more to encourage local investing and fight corruption than any governmental initiative.

This first release of data was mostly about people outside the US. That’s a comfort for Americans. It wouldn’t be a surprise that another leak could be the opposite, something that involved more Americans. That could be an interesting revelation, especially in an election year. That would have a dramatic impact.

(Thanks to a free press and The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists for their work uncovering, verifying, and analyzing the information. Their main page for the Panama Papers.)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Missing MVIS Catalysts

Surely, MicroVision and MVIS would finally get some good news in March. Or not. Provide four opportunities for positive surprises and at least one of them will succeed. Yes? Evidently, no. Oh yeah, and then there was the one big negative. That didn’t help either. Luck happens, both good and bad. I’ve experienced that. MicroVision and its catalysts continue to experience it. Is good luck the only thing that is missing?

Maybe I tweet too much. Within the last month I tweeted about MicroVision’s possible positive prospects for March, but I can’t find the tweet – oh wait, here it is.

 

Four products had possible launch dates:

  • Sharp’s RoBoHoN,
  • Celluon’s PicoBit,
  • Qualper’s smartphone, and
  • Viewsmart’s projector.

Sounds good. Even if they aren’t expected to be mega-sellers, positive news should produce proportionally positive results. RoBoHoN slid out to June. PicoBit and Viewsmart were quiet. Qualper may have launched! but in a language that was hard and confusing to translate.

In the middle of the lack of news came news – of dilution, a technique for finding funds that many shareholders thought was behind the company. If the company was hunting for funds, that suggested that the backlog and order book weren’t enough to pay the bills. The company raised about $7M. The stockholders saw their percentage ownership fall again. The market dropped the share price over 30%. Welcome to the world of a sub-$2 share price and the prospect of yet another reverse split.

Photo on 2016-03-31 at 14.14

One share of MVIS equals…

And yet,

MicroVision has moved from being an investment to a speculation to a guessing game. So little news comes out that they can’t over-promise, but any unexpected bad news is taken as the company under-delivering.

As a fellow shareholder passed along to me, “And a certain small company is doing a lot better than people give it credit for.” They may be right, but we lack evidence to support the claim.

Since my Triple Whammy, I’ve maintained my optimism about my situation by reflecting on a long list of positive possibilities in my life. My Backup Plans haven’t changed much. My investment portfolio may recover. My consulting and artistic business continues to grow. My job prospects continue to improve, as I hear my name being included in unsolicited opportunities – though I haven’t heard the details about who, where, when, what, but I can guess at why. More about that, later. Seattle housing has become such a seller’s market that the median time on the market is rapidly approaching only a week. I don’t want to sell my house, but I might if it hits my Make Me Move price. Being debt-free has its advantages. And, of course, serendipity happens and good news can come in unannounced.

And yet,

The present value of the sum of my positive efforts is 85% of my frugal expenses – and taxes are due. It if wasn’t for the death of my father, I’d be further in debt. Instead, I’ve at least been able to get the truck fixed and the septic system cleaned. Another check is due, and it may take care of the taxes, though probably won’t arrive until after I’ve paid the IRS via credit card. Aside from that temporary influx of cash, my situation hasn’t changed much.

I feel for MicroVision. Lots of potential requiring lots of patience requiring lots of innovative financing.

Bad luck happens. I’ve started collecting success stories. One common thread is usually a casual comment that includes, “and then, luckily…”. Hard work works, but it usually relies on at least one bit of good luck. Good luck can work alone, which is one reason I buy lottery tickets, but that goes beyond investing, speculating, and guessing and heads straight to wishing.

I suspect MicroVision is doing better than we can know, but not so well that they can ignore the reality of improving their cash position. Eventually, these troubled times may be recalled as temporary discomforts that are eventually readily resolved.

In my situation, I’m already witnessing improvements that contrast with my recent difficulties. I no longer wince at the phone ringing, because I no longer get calls from the mortgage collectors. I no longer wonder if the Sheriff’s drive through the neighborhood is part of posting an eviction notice on my door. I no longer worry as much about the truck failing, but I am hoping to get new tires to replace the ones that have been in use since the last Bush presidency. I can now rest in my rest room because I can flush again.

Most of those improvements in my life aren’t apparent to anyone on the outside looking in. That may be true of MicroVision as well. Unfortunately, the objective news and data available suggest delays, cancellations, and inefficiencies. But, that was March. April will be much better. Right?

MVIS_Catalysts_033116

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Flushing Septic Anxieties

Finally, I can tell yet another of the stories that must remain unspoken. Making less than expenses creates chapters of stories that are either too embarrassing or expensive to reveal. Today, I got my septic tanks pumped. That may sound icky or insignificant to you, but it relieves anxieties I’ve held in for years.

If you’re on a sewer system, congratulations. You enjoy one of the most overlooked luxuries of modern life. Flush at will, and almost always without worry. Whatever went in the bowl is soon flowing under the road and out of your thoughts. Which also explains why so much trash ends up in the treatment facilities; but hey, cleaning that stuff up only raises your taxes, so no big deal. Right?

Living outside the city where toilets typically flush to septic tanks and systems, and know that whatever went in the bowl will soon be beneath the yard. Septic tanks and fields can handle organic material, but they have an impossible time with condoms, handkerchiefs, and whatever falls in when a guest uses the commode during a party. Families must have entire Lego collections under the lawn.

I like being dutiful, sometimes to a fault. About the time of my financial upset, my Triple Whammy, was about the time for the septic’s regular inspection and cleaning. The optimist in me suggested waiting until the finances recovered. The company finances were improving, the economy was going to recover, surely I’d soon get either a better job or a resurgent portfolio. Instead, my finances proved the pessimists right; at least temporarily.

Since then my dirty secret (well, one of them) was that I avoided putting solids in my toilet. About that time, a professional checked the system he suggested I should “get it taken care of” within the next year or so. I was told I couldn’t get the tanks pumped until I had the system inspected, and having the system inspected could reveal repairs that might cost over ten thousand dollars. If you know that every flush brings you one inch closer to paying ten thousand dollars, then you begin to wonder how many inches are left? How full were the tanks? Would the system fail? Would I lose my house because a basic necessity was rendered inoperable?

For the last few years I was creative in my bathroom habits. I began to understand people who have been in worse situations for even longer. Shopping trips were directed to stores with public restrooms. A daily walk would be rerouted to include a rest stop, or at least an acceptable porta-potty. One of the unspoken benefits of coworks was at least a nominally functioning lavatory. I became much more aware of signs for “no public restrooms”, and understood why some people frequent the woods.

But, we don’t speak of those things. We have taboos that we must observe, even when they deal with biological necessities that every living human experiences. Feed the hungry – is only the first half of the process.

I am relieved. The roughly two thousand dollar bill was only possible to pay because of small life insurance policy carried by my recently deceased father. That bit of my inheritance went to pumping out a three-tank system, replacing an air pump, and installing a riser. As odd as that may be, spending the money on my septic system is appropriate because my dad was treasurer for his local sewage authority.

The impacts can be easily dismissed. I can flush. So what? What’s the big deal?

I am not officially poor or in poverty, and yet such a simple thing as a fixed or flawed septic system has unexpected implications. The list must be longer for people who are poorer.

  • I now have a better chance to get back into shape. I’ve been working seven days a week, frequently more than ten hours a day. Most of those days I made a choice of using my free time to get in a run or karate workout, or going for a walk or drive to a toilet. Exercise can be postponed. Digestion and the consequences can not. I’ll be able to exercise more. I also won’t have to spend as much on gas or moist towelettes.
  • I can entertain again. It is more than embarrassing to invite someone over and then tell them not to use the bathroom except under certain conditions. That isn’t being a very good host. It would’ve been traumatizing to have the epic backup occur to a guest.
  • I’m one step closer to being able to have a renter or roommate. Many friends have suggested that I rent out one of my bedrooms. I have the room and don’t need the storage, but the most I could make from a renter was a few hundred a month, and that wouldn’t offset a few thousand dollars of repair bills. The benefits weren’t greater than the risk.
  • My emergency preparedness just dramatically improved, within limits. My house’s septic system is fancy, not by choice but by necessity. When the house was built, the restrictions were loose. A few decades later, restrictions required an expanded system, but didn’t provide expanded lands. My house has a Whitewater system, which is a multi-stage arrangement where one of the stages is a tank where air is blown through the effluent to aid aerobic digestion. It blows bubbles to make the bacteria happy. Replacing that pump cost about five hundred. When the power goes out, so does the pump and the bubbles, but at least the other tanks are now emptied and can collect a lot while waiting for the power to flow again.
  • My stress level is being reduced. Stress doesn’t suddenly disappear. Years of worrying aren’t going to immediately be replaced with elation. Besides, we’re talking septic systems here. Elation doesn’t readily apply. But, about once a day, one very vital and undeniable action will change from a source of anxiety (and therefore blood pressure, et al) to an innocuous moment.

My experiences may seem simultaneously icky and insignificant, but being aware of such basics that are common to every human is something that has made me more aware of the range of human experiences. Millions of people are defecating in fields that are beside their water supply. Around Seattle there are dozens of homes for sale, and therefore probably hundreds of occupied (and empty) homes that have five or more bathrooms; homes where flushing is taken for granted. The exact same processes are in place, yet may be one of the most dramatic examples of the range of wealth within our world.

(This is also why I am encouraged by advances in composting toilets, incinerating toilets (really), and the recycling systems developed for space missions.)

The frugal side of me appreciates the value of simple things. Sometimes those things are so simple that we don’t mention them. I will, however, be silly enough to write about something serious and overlooked (while applauding the Gates Foundation’s work). I will also, regardless of conventions and taboos, quietly celebrate a luxury that is a necessity that I can now employ. I won’t go so far as to say enjoy.

No longer a source of fear

No longer a source of fear

I can flush without fear. Ah.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Coworks Conundrum

Here I sit, halfway through a Wednesday afternoon, temporarily the only person in the coworks for writers hosted by the Whidbey Island Writers Association (WIWA). Coworks are successful enough to warrant magnificently innovative and productive spaces in places like Seattle. In a small town, on an island, there’s more reason to have one, and less resources for establishing one. Rather than leave you with the feeling that the earlier attempts were completely abandoned, I decided to produce this update.

Simply said, we’re not there yet. ‘There’ is the creation of a sustainable coworks for professionals. Others have their definitions. Mine is based on the needs of the nomadic workforce that could use a 24 hour a day, seven day a week access to a work space that provides the basics of the modern work environment: access, high-speed internet, power, desks, tables, chairs, white boards or black boards, storage, and the modern version of a phone booth for video calls. Provide a facility like that in a city like Seattle, and hundreds of people sign up. Try to provide a facility like that in an area that has 17,000 people along 17 miles of rural highway, and reaching critical mass takes more effort, or luck. We’re working on it.

Previous coworks worked on the island, though all have effectively been temporary. The more recent attempt at crowdfundingcoworks logos lightning a space generated some wonderful encouragements, but insufficient funds. In the meantime, the seven hour a week coworks for writers persists. Most of the days that the space is open, enough writers drop by to justify the effort. Members get to use the service for free. Non-members are asked to donate $5. Maybe we should set up a tip jar, at least.

The Gig Economy is maturing and becoming better understood. Supporting a lifestyle by combining several gigs can create freedom, the need to maintain several relationships while establishing the basis for the next set of gigs means members of the Gig Economy are becoming serial entrepreneurs by necessity. Freedom is marvelous, but the constant pressure can negate those benefits. The majority of nomadic workers are working three jobs to create one income.

Working outside of corporations means working outside office politics, conventional commutes, and dress codes. Working outside of corporations also means losing the benefit of facilities like rest rooms, printers, parking, rent-free cubicles, computer support, telecommunications, and the social context that is an office. At its minimum, some workers sit outside closed libraries absorbing wi-fi after hours.

Coworks work to enable the nomadic workforce by providing the business infrastructure. They may seem uncommon now, but as businesses retreat from offering long-term contracts and careers, as businesses encourage employees to work from outside the office, and as technology enables mobility, coworks are likely to become more common.

The early adopters have enabled spaces and organizations like Impact Hub, WeWorks, Tech Spaces, etc. Get a tour of their offices and realize how the office environment can be redefined. The folks at the Seattle Impact Hub gave me a tour that was so impressive that it pointed out how impractically high the standards have been set. On the island, a space that accommodated twelve with nice chairs, desks, storage, access, internet, and phone booths would be luxurious. Seattle’s Impact Hub spans several buildings and floors, have presentation rooms, a theater, kitchens, massage rooms, a nap room, an espresso bar (of course), and a wonderful energy. As coworks become more common, there will be a wider range of implementations; but for now, wow.

The two key coworks benefits can exist at almost any size: a functioning office, and a network of engaged people. Those two features are easily the most valuable.

Urbanization is so trendy that the densification of the human race is assumed. Put enough people together and even a small percentage can empower an amazing array of ventures.

Contrarians head the opposite direction. As people move to the city, others are purposely moving to the country. The consequence for small towns is that the people who move there are much more purposeful; much more aware of their motivations, desires, and needs; and demand acceptance of unconventional lifestyles.

One of today’s visitors to the coworks was Pattie Beaven (aka @Earth_Fit and co-founder at earthconservant.com). Read her blog and experience her passion for her topic and their rationale for moving to Whidbey Island. Talk to almost anyone who has moved to a small town while their friends were urbanizing, and get a similarly passionate story.

Those passions mixed together are one of the vital enablers of the other main product of coworks; unexpected opportunities. I help entrepreneurs, creative people, artists, and innovative individuals with their projects. It is fascinating work. I know the energy and ideas already exist to create incredible coworks and marvelous ventures; but it is like having a pantry full of delicious ingredients, but not having a kitchen to cook them in.

We need a kitchen for blending ideas. I think we’ll get there. In the meantime, though, we’ll continue gathering ingredients and recipes while rummaging around for the resources necessary to create and enable sustainable lifestyles for people working within the continually unsettled Gig Economy.

For now, I’ll finish this post, turn off the lights, bring in the sign, and lock the doors (if the building’s artists and non-profits have already left.) I plan to be back next week, as always, hoping to find that critical element that will allow the local economy and nomadic entrepreneurs to grow.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments