More on rebuilding credit, the third toughest job

Two things come first:
1.Taking care of myself and my relationships, and
2. Finding responsible doctors.

That seems to be ok for now. So, among other business-y things, I’m working on rebuilding my credit rating.

I didn’t mention in a prior post that there are 2 aspects to building credit:
– Addressing negative credit
– Building positive credit

Here’s the progress I’m making. These links and resources are for the US. (I’m sorry for my overseas friends who need this info — if you like, I’ll link to yours and you can link to mine, if you are able to research your country’s policies.)

Negative credit

If a debt is less than 7 years old and it was always yours to pay, it still is. There’s no getting around that. However, it’s worth doing a sanity check on those debts, because, for one thing, they might be more than 7 years old but still showing up, and for another, they might not be yours to pay.

Start with a reality check

I went over everything twice, once to let the white flashing lights and internal screaming happen in private,

comic colored picture of ambulance screaming along

and again later when I’d calmed down to see what was really there.

If you owe it, you might pay less

There were a few smaller debts that were definitely mine, definitely in date, and still owed. I called those companies, to make sure the amount and address I had were correct, and paid them off as soon as I could. One creditor had just sent it to collections, which means they had to take a few cents on the dollar, and they’re a small company. I offered to pay it straight to them and she almost cried. (I now have a friend in Maine..)

I find that business people are super nice when they find out you want to pay them, after thinking they’d lost that money forever! They made it as easy as possible. If I’d had debts in 4 digits instead of about $100 each, I believe I could have negotiated for a discount and payment plan by talking directly to the company. I never spoke to a collection agency; I might have found a good one, who knows, and settled cheaply.

If you don’t owe it, point them to who does

I sic’ed a hospital and ambulance company onto Medicare for medical bills that should have been directed to them anyway. They were 4-digit debts, so it was a relief to discharge them; however, more to the point, they were not my debts to pay.

I’m happy to pay my bills when I can, but it’s silly to pay things I don’t owe. I had to check things against the impenetrable Medicare and Medicaid language, but I haven’t heard from those creditors again, so I was right — my health insurance had to pay for that ambulance ride and the emergency care.

If it’s over 7 years, you probably don’t owe it

The biggest bill is out of date. Imagine how my head spun when I realized that! it turns out I have one major debt still on my credit report, but it’s from 8 years ago. Since they’re only allowed to stay on the report for 7 years, I wanted credible guidance for wiping that off my report.

How to handle creditor errors

Most online pages tell you to report to one of the Big Three agencies and trust them to take care of it. I found out the hard way that the Big Three are not the definitive players in the financial world; they’re only 3 out of (possibly) a dozen or more. Furthermore, the Big Three don’t have an obligation to report the change to other credit agencies.

Here’s what you really need to do:

1. Make 2 (or more) copies of your documentation of the error.
One copy is for the company that made the error: in my case, the bank that forgot to take off the bad debt after 7 years. Extras are for any disputes you want to file with the credit reporting agencies (Equifax, etc.) Happily for those of us with limited attention, the company that made the mistake is responsible for making the correction with every single reporting agency it reported your problem to.
This documentation can be the credit report you got from CreditKarma or your mortgage application, or it can be from whatever documentation you have that shows the very last payment you made, or the very last time you told them that you’d pay, whichever comes later. That date is when the clock started ticking.
(This is why it’s vital NEVER to make promises to financial institutions. Either pay, or don’t pay, but don’t tell them ahead of time. Your word binds you as much as paying money does. Tell them as little as possible. My formula is, “I understand that you want to be paid. I would, too. I can’t do that right now, but I will let you know when I figure out what to do.” This is honest and clear, and totally avoids any suggestion that I owe them or will pay them.)

Despite anything they say, it’s not about your honor, it’s about their profits. Your survival does not matter to them; getting paid does. Remember that. It’s all about money for them, because that’s the way the laws are written that govern them.

2. Mark up your copies, either in a colorful ink or by taping notes to them, whatever works for you. Be specific about the most important problem; in my case, this would mean circling the dates of the last payment in red ink, adding the note, “This is over 7 years old.”

3. Write a professional, brief, factual letter to the company that made the mistake.
Here’s a good template from the FTC itself:

https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0384-sample-letter-disputing-errors-your-credit-report

Under “Enclosures”, I might include a printout of the following page, in addition to my documentation of the error: http://www.consumerfinance.gov/askcfpb/323/how-long-does-negative-information-remain-on-my-credit-report.html

4. [optional] Go to the website of each credit reporting company that told you about this problem. Follow their instructions for filing a dispute about a record, and submit your marked-up copies however they ask you to do so. (You might need to scan them in.)

Format for letter to clear up errors in your credit record

If you have trouble with all the square brackets in the FTC’s link above, here’s a simpler version, based on my issue (you’d change it to reflect yours.) It looks funky here, but I just tried copy-pasting it into Word and it looks perfect:

My Name
My Billing Address
My City, State, Zip Code

Date

Complaint Department
My Old Bank's Name
Street Address
City, State, Zip Code



Dear Sir or Madam:

I am writing to dispute the following information in my file. I have circled the items I dispute on the attached copy of the report I received.

This ____ is inaccurate because _____. I am requesting that the item be removed to correct the information.

Enclosed are copies of ____, ____, and ____ supporting my position. Please reinvestigate this matter and delete the disputed item from my credit reports as soon as possible.


Sincerely,
 my illegible scrawl
Isy Isington


Enclosures:
    Credit report with old date
    Copy of FTC or CFPB page stating 7-yr limit
    Whatever else would help make the point

 Sources of info: the good, the bad, and the pretty-but-useless

I found this info at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an outstanding information and assistance site whose job it is to make sure we don’t get too screwed by the financial industry: http://www.consumerfinance.gov/askcfpb/search/?selected_facets=category_exact:credit-reporting&selected_facets=category_exact:disputing-errors-credit-report

The financial industry’s job is to make money, not to be fair or to take care of the needs of non-financially-savvy people. The laws are written that way: their job is to make money, and devil take the hindmost.

The CFPB exists to give consumers a better chance of survival in this top-weighted economy.

Another excellent site for unarguable information is the consumer pages of the Federal Trade Commission:
https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/topics/money-credit

After wading through dozens of pages on consumer debt and credit advice, the best, clearest, most useful information turned out to be at the CFPB and the FTC. I strongly suggest going right to those pages to find answers to your questions.

Also, the CFPB has ways of helping you if you think you’re getting screwed in spite of following the right steps. Look for the helpful links on the page you’re looking at, in the text or over on the right. Don’t make yourself crazy; make an honest effort within your limits, then go to the CFPB site, explain your situation, and ask for help (if necessary, use the term, “as part of an ADA accommodation for my disability, which affects abilities required to do this” — that’s a magic phrase that means you don’t have to jump through as many hoops as a healthy person in order to get help.)

A note on credit reporting that you won’t find on most sites

I found out that there’s a wrinkle to credit reportage in the US that explains why the “Big Three” (Experian, Equifax, etc.) are such a small part of the information yielded in in-depth credit inquiries, like mortgage applications or some brokerage accounts. They’re called credit bureaus. They are an added layer between creditors and reporting agencies: they collect info from the creditors, and pass it to the reporting agencies. You’ve never heard of most of them, unless you’re in the industry.

This is why the info from the Big Three is only the tip of the iceberg. Very annoying. I’m going to mull this, and maybe ask the CFPB about it.

What’s a Statute of Limitations on debt?

Each state has a statute of limitations on debt that’s usually less than the 7 years that a debt can stay on your record. The difference between a statute of limitations and how long it can stay on your record is this: a statute of limitations simply defines how long they have to file a lawsuit against you. They usually have to file a lawsuit within 2-4 years, but they can keep that black mark on your record for at least 7 years.

When I was a young adult, lawsuits were rarely filed for consumer debt. It wasn’t profitable enough, and besides, preying on consumers was considered bad business practice in the long term. Bankers blamed themselves for judging poorly; they didn’t see non-rich people as legitimate prey.

Since then, in the wake of the irrationally predacious financial practices that trashed the US economy from the middle out, suing and criminalizing debtors has become a big business. Please see the comment below from Sage for more on this topic; she has grabbed a couple of links for further info on this.

NEVER IGNORE A SUBPOENA. Ignore anything else you want, but if you ignore a subpoena from a court, you’re turned into a criminal automatically and can be arrested on sight.

Remember, it’s not about you, it’s about money. It’s all about money.

If I got subpoena’d (again), I’d call the court and sweetly but firmly request ADA accommodation regarding time and place, so I’d be physically able to attend. Then I’d show up in court, bank statements and disability “award” letter in hand demonstrating my financial straits, explain that I’d love to settle for, say, 20-30 cents on the dollar (which is the most they can expect, and more than nothing!) and set up a payment plan, but the creditor wouldn’t work with me.

The judge can order them to work with you, and it’s perfectly reasonable to look for a settlement that’s much less than half of what you originally owed.

I’m White and know the lingo, so I have two huge advantages in court. Nevertheless, it’s best not to ignore a subpoena, because doing so automatically criminalizes you. It’s not fair — in fact, it’s blitheringly crazy — but that’s the way the laws are written now.

Positive credit

To build positive credit, you find reportable debts to take on, keep within limits, and pay them off on time every time. There is no workaround to that.

Signature loans

If you don’t have much negative credit, you might be able to take on a signature loan from your bank. Stick the loan in a savings account and set up automatic payments from that account. Never touch it. It’s not yours. It belongs to your future. Consider it Monopoly money, which isn’t legal outside the parameters of the game.

Credit cards for the rest of us

If you entered your illness (or other hardship) with the usual rank of car payments and consumer debts, this may not be an option.

There are a few credit card companies who provide ways for you to have a credit card, usually by putting a certain amount of money in a savings account with them. With some cards, the better your record with them, the sooner they bump up your limits beyond what’s on the card. It’s best not to spend up when that happens, but instead, to let the higher limit ride and stay on target with your payments. The higher limit will work in your favor credit-wise, even if you never use it.

Needless to say, it’s essential to avoid debts you can’t service. Don’t spend more than you do now. Pay that sucker, exactly as the card company tells you to. Every. Single. Month. Without fail. That’s how you rebuild credit.

I’ll use my card for things I buy anyway, and pay it off every month out of my budget for food, gas, clothes, and exactly what (and how much) I’d buy anyway. It’s the same money, it just has to go through an extra step on the backend. More payments to automate, but I can do that.

I aim to wind up with 3 credit cards — one for groceries, one for gas, one for “other”, which will provide an illuminating reality check on my budget’s validity — and pay them off every month. More automation; I can do that. I’ll need 3 cards in order to build up a sufficient positive history as quickly as possible.

Gotcha!

This section was added March 2018, regarding a lesson I learned the hard way, so you don’t have to…

“Good credit card utilization” is one way of generating positive credit. That phrase is in quotes… why? Because the meaning of it has changed.

When I was earning enough to get a credit card based on my income (when buggy whips were the turbo-charge of the day), this meant spending cards up and paying them off religiously. At the time, people who ran high debt on their cards and then paid them off every month were the ones doing it right.

I didn’t remember any current advice to the contrary…

So, I was approaching mortgage-application time (my goal), and had one of those jumpy bursts of misguided energy — “Maybe I don’t have enough positive credit! Quick, spend up and pay off!” I put all my expenses on my card. Predictably, in the helter of distraction and the skelter of all the other things I’m juggling, I was 3 days late on that payment.

Next thing I know, my glowing golden credit score dropped more than 100 points!

I dug into that. It wasn’t the slight tardiness. (I’ve automated minimum payments so I’ll never be late again. Should have done that in the first place!)

Credit Karma told me, “Oh, by the way… you want to spend your credit cards only up to 30% of the balance. Otherwise lenders assume you’re irresponsible and overuse credit.

It’s no longer just about paying off. It’s about using less than a third of the debt you’re supposedly able to carry.

Who knew?
Who knew?

Yup, you’re right: Finance is a very weird business. It has rules rather than logic — although my finance relatives insist it has its own logic. (Speaking as an American who has kept an eye on financial events for the past 30 years, all I can do is smile politely. Logic? Is that what it’s called? Heheh… Okay!)

I would have rather learned that “30% rule” when I was doing the original research on this article. But hey, better late than never, right?*

When you use credit cards to develop positive credit, be sure to charge no more than $30 out of every $100 of credit to your account.

So, a $500 credit limit means you only spend $150 of that credit before paying it down. $300 means only spend $90 — seriously. $700 means $210 in usable credit, before you have to pay it down or suffer the consequences.
Keep your balance below that 30% mark.

This is key to protecting your score while developing positive credit with credit cards.

*“Better late than never” may not be right after all. The party currently in charge of the US government chose to gut federal HUD (Housing Development) funding. Therefore, waiting for this blip to age out may destroy my chance to get any low-income home-buying support… not to mention rental support or any housing support at all.

That’s not just about me. A significant rise in homelessness — and all the dimensions of costs that go with that — is a great thing for a great country, right?

Or not… I grew up in a country where homelessness was rife. It was a third-world country and didn’t have our resources. We have no excuse.

Voting info

To find your current legislators, go to https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials

To check current voting regulations or register to vote, go to https://www.usa.gov/register-to-vote

To find out whether, where, and how to vote, here’s a nonpartisan website put together by all the states: http://nass.org/can-i-vote

When you go to the polls, reflect: the future your vote affects will ultimately be your own.

 

If you don’t have a copy of your Social Security card

I applied for a credit card from Open Sky, which has an excellent program for building positive credit without being charged an arm and a leg. https://www.openskycc.com/

They didn’t tell me up front that I needed a copy of my Social Security card. That was one of many things that didn’t make it out of California alive, so I have to replace it.

Some states allow you to apply for a replacement card online: https://www.ssa.gov/ssnumber/

Mine doesn’t. So, I have to download this form from the Social Security Administration,

https://www.ssa.gov/forms/ss-5.pdf

fill it out for a replacement copy (not an original copy), send them my passport (the original, not a copy — gulp), and trust them to get that and the card back to me via snail mail.

For a change, there’s no fee.

It’s an interesting leap of faith. After being so stunningly betrayed, almost to being killed off, by the SSA (which, in Oakland, lost, delayed, destroyed, and poisoned my Disability app for years; I documented their illegal shenanigans, and was granted instant SSDI when I moved East and submitted my records) and the post office (where, in Alameda County, they stole my mail regularly, especially anything from the government and insurance company), it’s definitely an interesting leap of faith to trust these organizations with my most valuable documents and this aspect of my future. I’m hoping that East continues to be East for me, and West remains out West.

Alternative, more realistic credit reporting is in reach!

Another new piece of info I learned is that there is a legitimate, useful credit reporting agency that’s consumer-driven, rather than financial-corp driven. Major lenders, including lenders who work with those of us who are not rich, have signed on to receive their credit reports.

https://www.prbc.com/

This agency is called PRBC, which stands for Pay Rent, Build Credit. You plug in your monthly payments, including phone bills, utility bills, dental bills or court fines on a payment plan, rent, and so forth; any recurring payments — and all of that goes to building your credit history.

These things are normally ignored, oddly enough; only consumer-debt-based payments and tax problems — the most prejudicial and the least useful of the normal person’s financial activity, if you think bout it — are normally included in credit scoring, and somehow this is considered normal and appropriate.

Surgeon wielding instruments like dinnerware
“This won’t hurt a biiiiit…”

Those of us who’ve always paid rent and phone and kept the electricity on, even when we lost everything else, can really benefit from this. I wish I could backdate it 7 years, as that record would do me a lot of good in the mortgage market.

I ALWAYS paid rent. I did without food to pay rent. I let the phone go to pay rent — and I still feel an aching stab of gratitude to the 3 friends who took turns keeping my phone connected, most notably the last one, who stuck around longest and was there when I finally got paid.

I’d have loved to put THAT on my credit report. It would do a lot of good against the debt-based credit I couldn’t maintain when I couldn’t work and had not yet gotten the barely-adequate disability payments that put me back on track for ongoing survival.

If you’ve had to trash your consumer debt in order to survive, but you’re still finding ways to keep a roof over your head and utility bills paid, it may be worth the fairly small effort of signing up with PRBC.

Downside: putting up with more junk mail.
Upside: having your real-life level of responsibility documented in your favor.

I still mull the real value of having credit if you can live on a cash basis and don’t ever want to make payments on a car or mortgage, and you live in an area where getting rental housing doesn’t involve credit checks. As long as you stay in those stringent parameters, there’s no need for credit.

However, I really want to get a bit of property so I can have whatever pets I like. I really want to have the option of replacing my good and sturdy, well-adapted vehicle in the fullness of time, without being obliged to pay the full price up front. We shall see.

For me, it opens up options, and after 15 years of having fewer and fewer options all the time, I’ve rather enjoyed the opening-up of recent times. I’m motivated to generate even more options.

So, I’ve signed up for PRBC and today I’m off to the post office to send off my form and passport (gulp) to get a copy of my SS card so I can apply for an Open Sky credit card and start building positive credit. I hope I can keep it together and on track this weekend to write that letter to my old bank, and get that in the mail next week, to address the biggest stain on my negative credit.

I might be slow on these tasks (this represents 5 months of pixilated — and pixelated — brain-work)…

Pixelated image of Rodin's sculpture of the Thinker, with a blue pixie perched on his arm
Pixilated (pixie, or pictsie) and pixelated (pixel-y) thinking.

… but, by gum, I intend to get there in the end.

Update: Christmas Credit Scores

I didn’t say this because I was too embarrassed, but I had an initial credit rating in the 530-550 range (or, as one banker put it, “Very little credit, and no positive credit”, which is a terrible thing to hear.) I think I now have the best credit score of my life, a handy thing to have in hard times:

Two credit reporting agency scores, represented in two dials: Transunion 758, Experian 748
TransUnion on the left, Equifax on the right.

 

Shows PRBC credit score on a colorful slider, 710 out of 850
This score includes errors I found and disputed just today. It included info under names I’ve never used or been billed by. Nope, that’s not me!

Regarding the second image (710), it’s worth noting that the key to a solid and sustainable credit score is accuracy. I intend to resolve every error so that the credit I’m looking at is really mine, because I only control my actions and can only monitor my activities.

Once others get into the mix, even if they temporarily elevate my score, that won’t hold up to the kind of inquiry made in significant searches, like mortgages — or like the incredibly invasive and expensive financial inquiries made by Massachusetts Medicare, called MassHealth.

…Because going over thousands of poor peoples’ finances with a nit-comb, making sure they’re not able to generate any savings, prepare at all for uncertain futures, or give back to charities they’ve used, is such a great way to encourage good financial practices and a terrific use of tight taxpayer dollars… sigh.

Can’t they see the forest? Nope; too many trees in the way! They’re too busy dealing with that to look up and notice what they’re, um, actually doing…

Mad Masked Ma$sHealth Money Martinet
Mad Masked Ma$sHealth Money Martinet, hacking away and making sure that the very poor darn well stay very poor!
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The Bean Dip Response, companion to the Spoon Theory

Those of us with crazy-bad illnesses appreciate the stroke of genius from Christine Miserandino, who originated the Spoon Theory to explain what it takes to get through the day.

For the most part, though, we shouldn’t have to explain much. Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone could get that memo?

To that end, here is a great article by family therapist and parent counselor Joanne Ketch on parenting boundaries, using the Bean Dip Response: http://www.joanneketch.com/ParentingChoiceBoundaries.en.html

With her permission and kind support, I’ve revised her article to reflect the realities of the chronically or severely ill. Please feel free to print out/pass on, with credit to her embedded as it is in this text.

Here’s my version…

Health Management Choices – Boundaries

A long time ago, as a developing patient educator, I found many chronic patients uncomfortable and frustrated with unsolicited advice – or inadvertently soliciting advice and then feeling uncomfortable with the discussion that followed.

Eventually, I read this great article on boundaries that eventually become known as “The Bean Dip Response”, “Pass the Bean Dip”, or even used as a verb: “bean dip” someone.

I rewrote the article from the perspective of a chronically ill, alternative-using or drug-disabled patient (one who can’t use common meds for the condition because of uselessness or devastating side-effects) – but the principles are transferrable to any constellation of health management choices.

The Bean Dip Response is best used when you don’t need to defend or don’t wish to engage with a person over a health management choice. If you are discussing issues with a person and you welcome their feedback, the Bean Dip Response is not needed.

I’ve found that chronic patients may confuse boundaries while trying to convince someone of the rightness of their choices. The best thing is to assert your boundary, rather than defend your choice. Your choice needs no defense.

Health management choices should be on a “need to know” basis. Most people don’t “need to know”. Since medical information is highly confidential, it’s NOT incumbent on you to explain yourself to those who don’t need to know. Those who need to know are essentially you, your doctors/providers, and your designated decision-maker for when you can’t make your own decisions.

If anyone else asks, "How are you sleeping?"
Answer: Great! Thanks for asking! Want some bean dip?

"Are you sure you should get picked up every time your legs flare?"
Answer: “Yes! Thank you! Want some bean dip?"

"When do you plan to wean off those meds?"
Answer: "When it's time. Thanks! Want some bean dip?"

"You should use my aunt's hairdresser's physiotherapist's product. It cleared up her [symptom du jour] in two weeks."
Answer: "That's great! I'm happy for her. Want some bean dip?"

Now, with some people you will need to set firm boundaries. The offer of bean dip won’t be sufficient to redirect them [I can’t imagine why not. -ed.] They either don’t respond to gentle redirection or they have emotion tied to the issue and a desire to “go there” more deeply. You may be able to anticipate this – if it’s a pattern of intrusion, for example, which you’ve seen in other circumstances.

In such a case, a stronger “Bean Dip” response may be needed. In these cases, the redirect will need to be backed up with action (like hanging up, leaving the room, or even unfriending them).

Remember, boundaries are not about forcing another person to comply. You cannot “do” that. Boundaries are about what YOU will do or not do. You are the person you own. You don’t own them and they don’t own you.

Practice kind but firm responses: "I know you love me and want to help. I am so glad. My health choices have been researched and made. I won't discuss it again.”

Don’t confuse setting boundaries with trying to convince someone of the rightness of your choices. It’s a common (and understandable) desire to present the same information that led you to your choices. The problem with that in dealing with a person who has boundary issues is that engaging with content invites discussion. (Also, different people’s minds work in different ways, so your train of thought may make no sense at all to them. Wasted effort all around.)

Chronic patients often struggle with this.

The boundary is that no one else has an inherent right to tell you how to take care of yourself.

You set boundaries by doing the above: acknowledging what they said and redirecting.

Where the chronically ill may invite problems is by citing authors, studies and sites to “defend” themselves. Each time you do so, you create more time for discussion and rebuttal and send the message that your decisions are up for debate.

Don’t defend your choices beyond generalities, and then only once or twice. “My doctor is in support of my choices. Want some bean dip?” Or maybe, “Well, this is my decision. Want some bean dip?”

If necessary, look them in the eye and say simply, “I want us to have a good relationship. I want to enjoy my time with you. I’ll take care of me, so that we both can make the most of our time together. Let’s not discuss this anymore. If you bring it up again, I will have to ask you to leave.”

Finally, an important corollary to the “Bean Dip Response” is reciprocity. Once again, the content of your choices should not dictate the interaction.

You may be totally, and correctly, convinced that you should be able to determine your own activity, medication, and supplementation regime; never be left to “cry it out”; and should be allowed to follow your own weaning path, if any.

But, if you post those opinions on Facebook (or communicate them in other ways), you invite (and therefore solicit) feedback and advice. Post accordingly and respond to comments with that in mind. You need to give the “other side” the same respect that you expect to receive.

Credit for original: Joanne Ketch, MA, LPC, LMFTa, LCDC
http://www.joanneketch.com/ParentingChoiceBoundaries.en.html

For those of us who are chronically ill, there are people we DO need to explain ourselves to. However, these are mostly highly educated people with specialist training, and that makes it a short list indeed.

Our loved ones may believe they want to understand, but, as my mother finally admitted, “I don’t think I really do want to understand what you’re going through. I couldn’t stand to know how much pain you’re in and how rotten you feel all the time. It would drive me crazy, knowing that.”

But, hoo boy, does she ever respect my boundaries! That’s worth the world. It makes everything open and clear between us, and our current relationship reflects that.

When someone confesses their limits to me, I take it as a gift. They have told me how to protect our relationship and how to move forward with it. I appreciate that. With that subject opened, we can move on to discuss how, or if, they can connect with me in a way that works for us both. This is priceless information. I’m glad my mother had the courage to open that can of worms, because then it got very manageable very quickly.

For an ever-changing kaleidescope of visual delight, check out my Mom’s photography from all around the world at http://jldtifft.com/

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Isy’s principles of blogging 101

Quite a few people I know are going into blogging. Most of them are CRPSers, all of them are clever and interesting, and I think that is terrific. I couldn’t find a Blogging 101 that wasn’t oriented towards cashcow blogs, so I figured I’d better write one.

Each writer who writes as themselves is unique, and the more of us who write truly about CRPS (or whatever we struggle with), the more others will begin to understand what’s really at stake when we talk about managing and even curing it.

The more, the merrier!
The more, the merrier!

First, let’s knock off some assumptions…

What it isn’t

– A blog post is normally not a chapter in a book, or a news article, or a short story — unless it is. If you’re posting any of the above, it means you’re writing a particular sub-category of blog, which is a good thing to be clear about. (Generallly, a blog is a place to work out ideas which subsueqently turn into books or articles, we’re writing for.)

– It’s not a journal. Generally, it’s creepy people who want to read other people’s journals; most of the rest of us are uncomfortable with that feeling.

– With that in mind, writing a journal entry before writing a blog post can really help deliver a punchy, powerful blog post.

Then let’s talk about the almost unlimited potential…

What it can be or do

– A great place to work out ideas that later go into books, articles, and so on, with more focus and a better understanding of the audience. The interaction and feedback you get on each nugget of thought is a great way to learn how to tune your writing and make your ideas clearer.

– Pre-marketing. When people love your blog, they’re liable to be interested in any work that comes out of it: books, articles, even speaking tours or movies.

– Wonderful way to connect with people in your target group, the group of people you want to explain things to or share things with.

And now some basic guidelines…

What a good blog usually is or does do

– Each post has one or two main points. A post is a limited space, oriented towards people with not a lot of time — either because of work, attention span, or memory issues. Keep each post to the point.

– Short posts get read more. Kinda sad, but true.

– The above is a good reminder to keep the writing “tight”, that is, no needless words, no needless sentences, and no needless paragraphs. (Another reason why journaling is so helpful — we can get the need to gnaw on an idea out of our systems, so we can step back and deliver it more tightly and strongly in less space.)

– Be particular about which posts get long, and keep them engaging to someone outside one’s own head. Extended metaphors or an underlying plot can keep people reading.

– Serious stuff matters. Humor keeps people reading. The two often go together really well, or at least can take turns gracefully.

– Keywords/categories/tags (the terminology depends on the blog host) are important. They help people find your blog online, so choose terms that people are likely to search for.

And finally…

Further tips and suggestions from my experience

– As I have to remind myself now and then — my readers are people outside of my head, not in here with me 🙂 This helps me explain and unpack when my first impulse is to be telegraphic; it also keeps me from belaboring a point that’s bothering me more than it would bother someone else.

– I get a lot out of watching the director commentaries on good/entertaining films, especially if there are director commentaries on the deleted scenes and outtakes. Hearing how they chose to eliminate much-loved or super-cool scenes in service to the overall piece, is like a mini-workshop on creative structure and knowing what your priorities are. Most notably, the concept of eliminating “repeated beats” is key to keeping my blog posts solid. I’ve deleted some great lines, but they aren’t missed. It took awhile to realize that, if they won’t be missed, they aren’t needed.

And now for a practical note…

Choosing a setup for blogging on

If you have access to a server and a web geek, read no further. You’re set. Just do what they advise and ask for any help you need.

If you’re totally new to all this, it’s not crazy to go to http://blogger.com, set up a Google account if you don’t already have one, and go through their step-by-step process for setting up and customizing your blog. The upside is, they really protect you from spam and thin out the hacking issues. The downside is, once you’re hacked, you’re hacked. They don’t seem to have a way of letting you build in extra protections.

If you have some geek skills and can get access to a server or hosting service, you might prefer http://WordPress.com to build your blog site with. It’s highly customizable and you can choose from plenty of forms of protection, which you can alter, tune, and change as you like. Downside: the spam is horrific. Upside: You can always upgrade your hacking protection.

There are a growing number of options, but I’m describing what I know and have worked with myself. Hope it’s helpful.

Happy blogging 🙂

Link list

Predatory mis-links are so common now, I aim to be more diligent about providing lists of the links I actually use in my blogs. That’s not a bad tip, actually, and it was first suggested by one of my readers 🙂

  1. Writing Like Yourself, by yours truly
  2. Blogger.com
  3. WordPress
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Something like rest

I thought I would get laundry done today, but I’m still too shaky. I got a good walk in, and finally set up voicemail on my “dummy” phone.

I’m trying to think outside the box with the shattered remnants of my brain. My next doctor appointment is in February, and I expect to be in an intensive 2-month program for March and April. I do need a reasonable place to land, although there’s no knowing if I’ll get a permanent home here.

A package arrived for me up north, forwarded from my mailing address in Massachusetts: a present, several cards, and one or two letters. J, with controlled pain, asked where he should send it all. At this affirmation of distance, I broke down in tears. Once I could speak, I asked him to hold it until I got back. He said, “I like that.”

This forced separation is for the birds, but I’m certain he is fine without me, and that I can’t go back yet.

We went to a great deal of trouble to find a nice place to be, and it was far better than we dared to hope for. My feelings at being driven from it are beyond words.

All right, so it’s a little idealized here…

His brother made it into town last night… but then J’s car broke down at the airport, and he was improperly ticketed… Fortunately, he has AAA Plus and got towed most of the way home for free, and could afford the rest of the trip to the shop. The kindly, dog-loving, competent woman tow truck driver got the car safely stashed and took them all safely home afterwards. How cool is that?

Tow truck drivers can be really cool.

He’s enjoying the visit, though it’s bittersweet. He says it might be for the last time; this brother does not take care of himself, and his next trip will be to go stay with his daughter in another state, where he can get checked out by a whole stable of medicos.

Mortality sucks.

I’ve noticed, though, that J’s voice is stronger and brighter and deeper (a delicious combination!) so I think it’s doing him a ton of good to have someone around who reminds him of being the capable older brother. He was in the upper third of a brood of 9, and it seems he had a real gift for getting things done and making everyone like it… As long as there was an element of mischief involved.

Surprised? 🙂 I’m certainly not. He has the gift of getting others to play. He thinks he’s a lone wolf, but wolves choose their leaders according to who can get everyone to play well together…

There are so many layers of person there, that, even at this distance, and under this strain, he continues to unfold in my eyes. I don’t know what the future holds, but I believe he’s in it somehow.

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A gift to share

I had the pleasure and privilege of speaking with Dr. Adams, who (among other things) teaches clinical at UCSF Medical School. He provided me with a brilliant overview of the recent history of public health.

“Remember [the federally mandated public health targets called] Healthy People 2000 and Healthy People 2010? We missed those goals by miles. We don’t even _have_ a target program now. The next one could just be: Breathe. And I’m not too sure we could even hit that!”

He kept me spellbound for half an hour. I don’t think I got a word in edgeways, but he must have liked the quality of my listening, because he gave me this book off his shelf as a gift:

He said, “Be calm when you read it. Sit down, breathe, and take it easy.” Caveat emptor.

This doctor uses the (numerous!) expensive letters after his name for something besides paying the mortgage … He and his posse sent a copy of this book to President Obama, with a cover letter explaining the devastating consequences of a profit-driven health care system. 

They heard back from a medical advisor: the President put the book in his Presidential Library, but the advisor had to state that the for-profit industries had their influence so well laid in that, if the President breathed a word about single-payor care, it had been made clear to the White House that he would be abandoned by both sides of the aisle.

Abandoned. Completely. For standing up for the American people. The same American people who let those pikers into Capitol Hill in the first place.

You’ve been bought & sold. We all have.  Weren’t you looking? I’m not sure I was. 

The industries speak for us because we haven’t spoken up enough for ourselves. Politicians are nervous, ego-driven creatures desperate for a good image, and we’ve let the moonshiners polish their images — and their apples — while we bitch about the rent. 

The rent matters. Lots. Sadly, signing Internet petitions does not. 

Is it too late?

Well, you’re still breathing, aren’t you? So am I. Emigrated yet? Me neither. Guess it’s not too late, then. 

Be heard, unfiltered. Call. Fax. Write. Put a stamp on it. Letters matter. Phone calls matter. These represent a big hurdle in people’s minds, and politicians know it. They weight them accordingly. 
(http://www.usa.gov/usa/Contact/Elected)

Paper, three sentences, stamp and envelope are not really that hard to do … just slightly strange to think about. Try it & you’ll see what I mean. 
(http://www.usa.gov/usa/Contact/Elected)

If you have expensive letters after your name, this is an excellent way to get more mileage out of them. Your words are weighted more heavily still. 
(http://www.usa.gov/usa/Contact/Elected)

Let your politicians feel insecure about their policies, where they don’t serve you or those you care about. Let them feel watched.  Let them get nervous and worry about their hair; it means they’re procrastinating about changing their minds, even as their minds are changing. 
(http://www.usa.gov/usa/Contact/Elected)

Call. Write. Use stamps. Fax. Be seen. Be heard. Vote. And monitor voting. 

It’s surprisingly little trouble after all. 
http://www.usa.gov/usa/Contact/Elected

To find your reps and congress-critters, choose the category and plug in your zip code here: 
http://www.usa.gov/usa/Contact/Elected

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Campaign cash: Who’s spending where in 2010

Information is a beautiful thing.
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Campaign cash: Who’s spending where in 2010
:08 AM EDT Tuesday, August 24, 2010
The Post offers an interactive table to track campaign spending by interest groups and political parties in the 2010 midterm elections.
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http://link.email.washingtonpost.com/r/E5QODK/JIITMS/2V5ICZ/SALAPD/VAIOB/ID/t
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br> I hope the link works.

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Lovely note to start on

Pisses me off that almost all the studies done on CRPS insist on recruiting subjects (that is, patients) who have only one affected limb!  This specifically precludes a huge proportion of us. Unrealistic & stupid.

Happily (and never was the word less apt), RSDS.org is doing a 20-year study on the natural history of CRPS.  With luck, that might change the general focus to something more realistic. It only takes practice about, oh, 10-15 years to catch up with the data.

Frkn one-affected-limb-only.  Sheesh.  Bloody amateurs.

If I had a massive gift to endow, I’d create scholarships for people with CRPS to get all the support & equipment they need to complete medical school, medically-related advanced degrees, whatever it takes.

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