money

My Credit Score

After posting about my debts, I looked into my FICO credit score. My Citi card account used to always display my FICO score when I signed in, but I noticed it doesn’t anymore. I contacted them, and they said it stopped because my score changed, but would begin posting again in 1-2 billing cycles. Hm.

I created a Mint account (just sharing; this post is not sponsored in any way) to begin better budgeting, and was pleased to find that they will give you your credit score for free. Mine is only 642! I felt shame as soon as I saw it. When I used to see it every month via my Citi card, it would usually fluctuate from 680 to 710.

Mint tells you why you have the credit score that you do, which I think is really awesome. Citi didn’t break it down into the same level of detail. Here are the 6 factors affecting credit scores, and where I stand on each:

  1. On-time payments: EXCELLENT, 100%. I might be deeply in debt, but I always make at least the minimum payments on time. I guess that’s one thing I have going for me.
  2. Credit usage: POOR, 99%. Both of my credit cards are near their limit. Thankfully, this situation will change soon. I’m curious to see how it affects my credit score in the coming months.
  3. Average age of credit: POOR, 1.9 years. I took out a loan a few months ago, which really threw off the average on this. Also, I was forced to re-consolidate my student loans a little over a year ago because one company bought another. That threw off my average age of credit too, which feels unfair, but oh well. It’s comforting to know that this factor will only improve over time, and I don’t even have to do anything except not take out new lines of credit.
  4. Total accounts: POOR, 4. Hmm…I didn’t know total accounts factored into your credit score, and I really didn’t know that 4 accounts was considered “poor” because it’s not enough. I hope not to take out any more lines of credit in the next 2-3 years, so my credit score will have to improve because of the other factors, not this one.
  5. Credit inquiries: EXCELLENT, 0. This makes sense because I haven’t been trying to take out any more lines of credit. I don’t plan to in the near future either, so this one should remain the same.
  6. Derogatory marks: EXCELLENT, 0. My bills don’t go to collections because I pay them.

It’s pretty cool that Mint offers credit scores for free. I will be checking mine every three months. Of course, my purpose in lowering my debt is just to lower my debt, but an improved credit score will be a nice side effect.

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money, personal growth

Radical Financial Transparency

Confession: I’ve been in debt nearly 20 years. I went into debt the week of my 18th birthday, and next year I turn 38.

I have spent more of my life in debt than not in debt.

My net worth has never been positive.

Yikes. I’m not going to get into why or how this happened now (essay coming soon, I hope). Instead, I want to focus on how I’m going to deal with it. I’m motivated to pay it off quickly. But first, why am I posting about this, making personal information that I feel ashamed of public?

  1. To get rid of shame and change our culture of silence around money. For years, I’ve used credit instead of saying, “I can’t afford to go out to eat with you this month,” “I can’t afford to exchange Christmas gifts this year,” “I can’t afford to make a donation,” etc. because I didn’t want to feel the shame that would’ve come with saying those things. Also, looking back over my career, I can clearly see specific instances in which I was underpaid. If I and others had talked openly about salary, I would’ve recognized a need to negotiate a higher salary or move to a job that paid better. Moving forward, I want to be as open about money as possible, for the benefit of me and the people around me.
  2. To hold myself accountable. I plan on posting a “debt update” every three months, on January 1st, April 1st, July 1st, and October 1st. I am extremely internally motivated to pay down my debt, but I’ve also been motivated in the past, and failed. My hope is that regularly posting about my debt will add another layer of motivation. I will likely also post about various financial and savings strategies I come across and try out. Please feel welcome to comment about your own experiences.

Okay, so, what am I going to do about this debt? Essentially, follow the Dave Ramsey snowball technique. I made the above table with his debt payoff method in mind, which is why my debts are listed from smallest to largest. Basically, the technique is to pay the minimum payment on all debts except for the smallest debt, then pay as much as possible each month toward that debt until it’s gone. Once it’s gone, you then add the amount you were paying that creditor toward the new smallest debt, and the snowball of debt payoff grows.

The Ramsey technique is simple and straight-forward. I heard of it at least ten years ago, and used it for a short while in my 20s. I remember it being helpful, and I don’t know why I stopped using it. This time, I’m going to stick with it. I’ve already started–the debt to my parents used to be $1,800.

I will make one modification, however–I won’t pay in the exact order of smallest to largest debt amounts. Once I pay off my Spirit credit card, I will jump to my Citi credit card. The interest is so high, and the shame I feel over credit debt is so high that it’s worth it for me to pay off my credit cards before moving on to loans or the IRS. Plus, the IRS figure will jump down each year when my tax refund is applied, so I don’t feel concerned about being trapped with that debt in perpetuity. The Citi loan will be paid off mid-2020 if I pay the minimum payment only, so I don’t feel too concerned about that one, either. It’s the credit debt that doesn’t have accountability and a payoff system built in.

In the meantime, I plan on calling my credit cards and trying to negotiate lower interest rates. Creating this table was an eye-opening exercise! Those credit cards must’ve had promotional interest rates when I opened them because these interest rate numbers were a shock. I might not be a money whiz, but I know not to open a card with 24.99% interest.

Dave Ramsey strongly recommends bringing in extra income during this process and taking drastic measures to cut costs. Much of my money has gone to medical bills, and there are more medical tests awaiting me. I know that is one area where I could easily cut costs. I feel like the results of these upcoming tests will likely be negative, but I don’t know that I should skip the tests to save money, just in case they do find something. Also, I’d love to bring in extra income, but I wouldn’t want to take on a “regular” part-time job because of the fluctuations in my current workload (grading changes from week to week) and fluctuations in my health and energy levels. Also, I’m trying to build a career and don’t want to sacrifice my writing and submitting time in pursuit of money. I will have to think creatively about how to cut costs and bring in additional income without sacrificing my health or career.

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visuals

I made a career timeline infographic

JSummer Career TimelineI regularly encourage my students to use Canva to create images for various assignments. Today I was playing around with it, thinking of things I could show them, and I found a template for a “career timeline.”

I’d never really seen or thought of anything like this, but I decided to make my own. I changed the fonts and design to mimic that of this website.

I don’t know that a career timeline is a terribly useful thing to have, but I like how it looks, and it is an easy-to-read breakdown of my background. I usually feel like my past experience is all over the place, but this makes it seem a bit more coherent.

I’m adding it to the home page of this site, and will share it in future courses I teach. Do any of you use Canva? If so, what for? I’ve become a big fan.

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writing

Did you know I write an email newsletter?

Well, sort of. I don’t know if I’d call it a “newsletter.” I used to call it a “weekly email,” but then writing every week became too difficult, so it’s an “occasional email.”

But, I wanted you, dear blog readers, to know that I’m sort of blogging in this email form, so you may sign up if you’re interested. It’s the email list for Chronically Lit, but the emails themselves are in a casual, conversational style that I usually use when blogging, and although Chronically Lit focuses on chronic illness, most of these emails would appeal to a more general audience.

Today I wrote about gratitude and I thought hey, that’d be a good blog post, too! But instead of blogging the whole thing, I’d rather encourage you to read the email I sent today and sign up for future emails.

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creative nonfiction, writing

New short essay up on Brevity blog

Brevity is known as the go-to site for flash creative non-fiction. I haven’t been published there (yet!), but they also have a blog that’s pretty awesome, and I’m happy to announce my writing was published on it a few days ago.

My post is titled, “#ShareYourRejection: I Received 330 Writing Rejections in One Year, and I’m So Happy About It,” and I’d be honored if you read it. I found out the Brevity blog has 45,000 email subscribers, so this is probably my most widely-read piece of writing so far.

I don’t think I’ll consider myself a “successful” writer until I have a book published, but I’ve made a lot of progress in my writing career in recent years, and I wrote this post to help encourage people who are interested in a similar path. It still feels surreal to call myself a “writer” or to talk about my “writing career” at all–I’ve spent more years of life viewing a writing career as a pipe dream unavailable to me in any real sense than I have pursuing it in earnest.

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lit mags, updates, writing

Introducing Chronically Lit

chronically lit jay summer

Today is the official launch of a major project I founded and have been working on for hours a day–Chronically Lit. You can support the project by following it on twitter or instagram, and by signing up for the weekly email list (I’ll be sending out the first email today).

I’ve been doing so much writing for the site, I think I’ll just let it speak for itself rather than explain here. Consider checking out the following:

  • In an “In Conversation,” I and the site’s other editor, Annalise, discuss our vision for the site
  • For the past three weeks, I’ve written “Link Roundups” on Friday, which are collections of links related to chronic illness in literature and culture
  • Today, my first “official” piece of writing went live, the first part of a multi-part book review of Sonya Huber’s Pain Woman Takes Your Keys and Other Essays from a Nervous System

I’ve also been working with several writers on essay edits, and those essays will go live over the next two weeks. Exciting stuff!

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fear, lit mags, personal growth, weirderary, writing

Goodbye, weirderary

Yesterday, I wrote a goodbye post for weirderary, the online literary magazine I began with friends and classmates back in 2015. (I’ve blogged about it a few times before.)

Creating weirderary was fun, and I’m glad we did it. First-hand experience is an excellent teacher, and I learned so much reading the thousands (yes, thousands!) of submissions we received, editing those we selected, conducting interviews, and writing book reviews. I’m grateful I gained that experience and also proud of myself for pushing forward and starting a lit mag in the first place–something I’d wanted to do since high school but hadn’t, for various reasons, but mostly fear.

After us three weirderary editors graduated from the MFA program we were in and began seeing each other much less often, I could feel the energy and excitement around weirderary fizzling. Instead of the thrilling endeavor it felt like before, it became, to me at least, unpaid labor. A pile of tasks. And they weren’t horrible tasks, sometimes they felt rewarding, but when I looked at my overarching career, I knew they weren’t the best tasks I could do with my limited free time in order to move the direction I want to move.

When I was trying to decide if I should let weirderary go or not, I tried to envision the future best case scenario. It involved a lot of work on my end, with a disproportionately small reward. It also involved missed opportunities.

Being an independent lit mag editor is a labor of love, and I now understand why so many small lit mags don’t have staying power. I’m writing about all of this openly here because I think the burnout and at times even resentment editors can feel are things people don’t often talk about with transparency. (Hmm, should I write an essay about that?) I loved weirderary when we began it, and I love it still, now, but I think if I’d stuck with it another year or two, that love would’ve soured.

Thanks to anyone who read it. Stay tuned…I’ll soon announce my newest endeavors.

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creative nonfiction, fibromyalgia, health, ibs, migraine, pots, writing

New publication in MTV Fit

New publication: Staying Fit with Chronic Illness Required Me to Redefine “Exercise”

A friend shared a link to a (secret?) Google doc containing a compilation of tweets from editors looking for pitches. When I saw an editor at MTV Fit (a fitness vertical on MTV’s UK site) was looking for health- and fitness-related essays, I spontaneously pitched her one on exercising with chronic illness in that moment. She said yes!

This was exciting for me. I’ve only pitched a couple of times (that’s how I had the Marie Claire article published), and because my background is in creative writing, not journalism, I still feel like I’m sort of faking it when I send a pitch.

I’ve been submitting to lit mags for a while now and I feel like I have the hang of submitting. It’s relatively easy and mostly repetitive. You submit whatever you’ve written, in full, along with a short cover letter that is more or less copied and pasted aside from a personalized sentence or two.

Pitching, however, is a whole different ball game. The cover letter isn’t a formality–it’s the entire thing. Lit mag editors often purposely avoid reading cover letters accompanying submissions until after they’ve made a decision. Mainstream editors reading pitches generally make their decision based on the cover letter–the pitch–alone.

Lately I’ve been writing more personal essay than fiction, so I see a lot of pitching in my future.

 

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art, Florida

My art is on display!

Last week, I hung my art up in Kaleisia Tea Lounge in Tampa, where it will stay for two months.  If you live in the area, please check it out. If you like it, consider buying some. I priced it super low because I’m hoping to sell it all. I’m hoping that was wise and doesn’t instead give people the feeling that it’s low value. I’m new to all of this.

jay vera summer art

Kaleisia has delicious food. I’ve been mostly vegan for over year, and Kaleisia is one of my favorite local spots for vegan meals (they have non-vegan food, too). I almost always get “Vegan set B,” which contains all of the items on the tray pictured below as well as a tea. It’s too much to eat in one sitting, so I either take the veggie straws home or just sit in Kaleisia doing work and spread my meal out over a few hours.

kaleisia food

I’m trying to practice enjoying my accomplishments more, so I plan on visiting Kaleisia often while my art is up, looking at my own art on the wall and feeling warm feelings about it each time. It’s so easy to rush past accomplishments and focus instead on what’s next, what else I want that I don’t have, what other benchmarks I’m trying to reach.

A year ago, the idea of my art hanging in a local restaurant was nearly unthinkable. I didn’t even feel comfortable calling myself an artist and although I consistently shared my art on instagram, I was forcing myself to do so and felt a pang of fear and self-consciousness each time.

Even now, I can feel the striving part of my mind wanting to dismiss my art in a restaurant as unimportant. That part of me wants to say a restaurant isn’t enough for me to feel good about–I need to make money, or publish a book of art, or have my art hang in a gallery, instead.

While all of those are lovely aspirations that I hope are realized one day, I’m telling that part of my mind–the part that says whatever I have now isn’t enough–to kindly fuck off. My art is in a local restaurant and that is not only enough, that is damn exciting. That art is meaningful to me and didn’t come out easy, and now it’s hanging in a place that I love.

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