Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My (Non) Plan for 2011

All right. In all accuracy what I am about to describe is in fact a plan. So much for my cutesy, eye catching title. But it could be considered a non-plan in more ways than one.

2010 was about a plan. I joined Twitter, and launched this blog in an effort to not only describe the nature of a square peg trying to live in the round holes of a materialistic, productivity-obsessed society, but also to join together with others who felt the same way. I wanted to connect with other people who wanted to get ahead, but found themselves to be Too XYZ. Though that has occurred to a small degree, and I have in fact connected with several great people as a result of my social media endeavors, I have not, (as I have written about before) formed a coalition of such souls. 2010 brought about many things for me, among them allies of varying stripes. For which I am grateful. But the establishment of a network of almost total like minds did not happen as I had planned or hoped.
I had decent exposure, through Twitter, Brazen Careerist, and other such places. I could always have more, as I have seen blogs younger than mine get lucky enough to take off like wildfire. But overall I have a network of well wishers. Yet what 2010 taught me was that I couldn't take people who are Too XYZ, and network with them in the manner that more conventional people do so. In other words, I had thought I could achieve my unique definition of success, using my own unique methods, by simply applying the social media rules and art form to people of like-mind. I have come to theorize, however that being an unconventional person, with unconventional methods and yes, unconventional weaknesses means that attaining even my own unconventional idea of success is nearly impossible when applying conventional tactics.

I know what many are thinking. There are all kind of gurus, super-bloggers, location independent freelance billionaires with passive incomes in the tens of thousands a month who got there by being exactly that; unconventional. Maybe. But as I have spent the last year looking into social media, and its alleged heroes, I have realized that for most of those types there is actually a common, and dare I say conventional thread. That common thread is their manner of marketing.

Leaving the rat race. Traveling the world. Living a dream. Saying "up yours" to the status quo. Creative visualization. LinkedIn. Blogs. Subscribing. Commenting. Linking. Tweeting. Re-Tweeting. TEDs. Podcasts. Conventions. Give-Aways. E-books. Asking "How can I help you today?" On and on and on. After awhile is all starts to sound the same to me. And maybe it is all the same, since in the end it all comes down to one (and I mean one) thing. Constantly selling.

Now, some people will flat out tell you that is it. Always be selling. Yourself and what you do. Sell, sell, sell. How? (See the above paragraph.) They make no bones about it. That's fine, for them. I actually respect them a bit more for just coming out and saying it.

But then there are those who disguise their riches, their new "free" lifestyle, their fame, their influence, in terms of how much they loved life. How much they faced fear. Made themselves uncomfortable. Went out there and "just did it!" And they encourage us all to do the same thing, because there is no such thing as luck, and anybody anywhere can do what they did.

To me that is buying the house based on how lovely the weather was that day. What all of these gurus, (some of them very well intentioned I will admit) are actual selling is....salesmanship itself. They only think it is their desire, their vision of their future, and their passion that they are selling. But really, look carefully at almost all of their stories, and you will find, in the end, that they learned how to sell, or hired, or got mentored by, or subscribed to the blog of, or was introduced by an acquaintance to someone who taught them how to sell the shit out of themselves and what they "offer" the world. In some cases it is clear that selling was far more responsible for their success than quality of their product...

Then others see the lives these people live, and how passionate, and eager to help, and lovely they are, and we start to think that it is those things that got them where they are. Those things may have kept them where they are. But in the end, selling got them there.

And you know what? I hate selling shit. I tried it as a career and it sucked every bit as much as I thought it would. I have tried to sell myself at networking events and you know what? It sucked just as much as I predicted it would. Good, talented people get ahead by selling. As do really lousy bastards. But to quote a line from one of my favorite films of all time, Primary Colors:

"I don't care. I'm not comparing the players. I don't like the game."

And I don't. This game of selling is for the birds. Actually I have a caveat; this game of selling as currently defined by most people is for the birds. This version of marketing yourself and your wares that people insist you need to master in order to get anywhere as a freelancer. The version of marketing yourself and your wares that even the most open minded, generous, and status quo hating individuals in social media will beat you over the head with, and insist is necessary, only to turn on you when you determine you cannot do it. A version of marketing yourself and your wares that has at some point transformed into a nebulous altar at which 90% of the ironically self proclaimed non-conformists gather and before which they all genuflect whilst immersed in the ecstasy of the game changing wonders of Social-Media marketing and networking.

Yeah. For the birds.

It's this manner in which we sell things, and ourselves, from which I am clearly unable to launch my life and my work. And reading the top 25 books on current marketing trends, subscribing to Seth Godin and 100 other blogs, stopping in on every web chat by every guru on this side of the equator (all of which have been emphatically suggested to me) is not going to change any of that. When it comes to traditional marketing (and social media does have its own traditions) I'm not worth a damn. Period.

And so 2011 is going to be about going at it my own way. And by my own way, I actually mean my own way. Not living life in my own way only to try to market it in a conventional way, but to proceed with my daily life, communications, research, passions, and yes, even marketing in my own way. If the gurus cannot cure themselves of their traditional social media marketing fetishes and help all of us, then I will do it myself.

And yes, I will be doing it. I never said that marketing and getting the word out in some form are wrong for me. I see their value. What I am saying is that it has be done at my own pace, using my own methods, and paying little attention to how it was done by "Cindy Happypants: Blogger Extraordinaire", who changed the world while writing about selling donuts and living a dream. (Though I would date such a woman if she existed...)

In 2011, it may come down to me living with my family again for a while. If so, I'll do it. It may mean less time networking, and more time alone, perfecting me. Fine. It will mean most of my day will be spent writing. Not selling my writing, or pitching my writing, or talking about writing. But the actual process of writing. Like doors closed, curtain drawn, I do this because this is all I know how to do, writing.

My novel at first, and then blogging, and then whatever time is left can be spent seeing if there are any magazines out there that want my stuff. And if I find them the days will be spent reading them, not making calls the schmooze the editor. And when I finally do decide I may have a piece worth pitching, I will pitch it. This may happen 10 times next year. Maybe more, or maybe even less. I won't be forcing it.

It will mean that I will be reading scripts, looking for acting projects and memorizing speeches. It will not mean saving up and moving to New York to make it on Broadway, because I don't want to be on Broadway. I want to be a better actor, and that means acting, and studying same. Not paying someone to tell me how to do it, but doing it my own way. It's not a hobby. It's what I do.

I won't be trying to learn to cook more things very often. I won't be attempting to tackle home economics or Apartment Management 101. I'll be going to bed when I am tired, and getting up when I am no longer so. I'll be writing in the passive voice, and not all of my protagonists will be different by the end of my book. I'll pass up the chance to  attend the local business card exchange and instead opt for an audition at a local community play house. And if I get in to the play, I'll blog about it on my acting blog that nobody reads, which brings in no money, and for which I have done all the marketing I know how to do, and for which I still have almost no readers.

I'll retweet things I like, and not because I want to get on the good side of someone else who isn't following me anyway. I will leave comments on friends' blogs just because they are friends and deserve to have their stuff read, whether they have "social proof" or not. I won't bother commenting on sites who require me to prove my expertise in something before taking me seriously and I will not prove my expertise through anything but the work that I do. Content shall be king in 2011. Judge my abilities by that, and not be a work history, or to hell with you.

And it won't matter what I know or who I know because I will be too busy being better than I was in 2010. And when it comes time to start knowing more people, I only want to know people who know how to behave in public, treat everyone with respect, and have the decency to return a message. Because nobody out there is important enough for me to sit around and wait weeks just for the chance of kissing their ass. I don't care how many pings their blog gets, whatever the hell they are.

And if I starve? Folks, half the time I am close to starving anyway. At least I'll starve while doing my damnedest to be productive in my own way, and not starve while trying to tweak a resume so that it can be summarily ignored by the 30 trillionth hiring manager who just doesn't have the time to understand that my "employment gaps" are due to misfortune and things beyond my control, and not because I'm not worth anything. If someone has no time to read what I write as a writer, and instead wants a flashy resume and some name dropping, they don't want me. Nor do I want them.

And just maybe, in so doing, I will get to the point where I do what I want, just like Cindy Happypants: Blogger Extraordinaire. The only difference being I'll get to be whatever I want first, as opposed to playing a half-assed game in order to have the privilege of doing so. Then I will have a product that will sell itself. (With a little bit of luck, which unlike most, I am not afraid to admit is a big part of our lives.)

And if anyone wants to join me...well...I'm still not Too XYZ for a little bit of company, and a little bit of help. And I am willing to give any help I can to anyone who wants it. But I'm not a guru, thank god.

Happy New Year.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Yes, Virginia, There Was a Writer

Due to it being the most reprinted newspaper editorial in the history of the English language (verified), most people, regardless of their faith, are familiar with this piece, known now to history as "Yes, Virginia. There is a Santa Claus."

Unsigned at the time of its publication in The Sun in 1897, it was of course written in response to a letter received from eight year old Virginia O'Hanlon Douglas. Though over time there has been some amount of scholarly doubt as to whether or not an eight year old actually penned the letter bearing her name (appearing as "Virginia O'Hanlon" in the paper), the woman to whom the letter has been attributed lived a life that was rather well documented. Her Wikipedia page, as well as other more legitimate sources cover her life in plentiful, if not meticulous detail. Virginia herself received fan mail for the rest of her life, to which she graciously responded. She indicated near the end of her life that the attention she received as a result of her famous letter had effected her life in a positive way.

Several movies, animated specials, and other works have been created, telling the story of Virginia and her letter. She has become a rather integral part of the Christmas zeitgeist. At least in the United States.

Coming in a distant second to Virginia in this story, in regards to eventual fame, scholarly investigation, dramatic presentation in various media, and inspiration to generations of Christmas lovers? One Francis Pharcellus Church. Who was he? Nobody special. Just the man who actually wrote the editorial itself.

I don't want to go on and on about that. But I did think it worthy of mention that the author of the words which move so many of us that love Christmas, and the work of whom sparked the most popular editorial of all time seem almost to be an after thought.

"Oh yeah," folklore personified seems to say. "He took care of that whole writing part of the Virginia story."

Folks, nothing against Virginia, but in the end Mr. Church was the story. Mr. Church is the story.

Yet his section of the link I provided is basically just his picture. His Wikipedia entry merely mentions he wrote the piece, where he went to school, that he died childless and where his body is buried. It's barely longer than the piece for which he is (not so) famous.

Now I am not beating up anybody over this. Virginia deserved some attention and admiration. However I do confess it has over the years annoyed me a bit that though it is Mr. Church's work that instantly captured that hearts of millions, it continues to be Virginia's story.

So, that being said, allow me, on this Christmas Eve of all days, to talk a little bit about what this work of Francis Pharcellus Church says about him, and about writing.

Set aside how famous it is. Really think about the piece. The prose is eloquent but concise. Touching on a multifaceted and deep spiritual truth in a manner that is accessible to an eight year old without boring an adult reader. It both confirms the truth about "Santa Claus", without blowing the mystique of Santa Claus. It upholds the magical in a child's Christmas experience without telling one single lie or half truth. On top of it all its magnificent diction makes it perfect for easy recitation or performance.

In other words, it is a brilliant piece of writing that accomplished its mission. And far, far more.

There is much we will never know about the circumstances of Mr. Church composing this editorial. We cannot know what exactly Mr. Church was thinking when he wrote the piece. We probably have no way of knowing if it was assigned to him as opposed to being a request he made to write it. And certainly his muse, like those of all us writers, will  remain a mystery. Certainly more of a mystery than what Virginia went on to do with the rest of her life.

Still I think we can make a few assumptions safely. It is safe to say that this was more than a staff writer cutting his pay check. There is a superior quality of soul within the words. I find it hard to believe he didn't believe each and every one of them as he wrote it.

Safe, also, is the assumption that Church had no idea of the impact he was about to have on an entire nation's holiday experience over the next hundred-plus years and counting. Anybody who sits down to pen something with that as a goal needs to be locked up someplace.

He did know, as we know, one thing. He was a writer. It was his job to write, and to do so well. To live up to the standard's expected of him by his employer and by himself. Pursuant to that, he sat down (as so many of us have before and since) with a goal, a resource, his experience, his talent, and his words. And he penned something. Something to which he could not (or would not) attach his name originally. And as a result of his gift for words, he changed not only Virginia's life, but millions of others. Perhaps even Christmas itself to some degree. And all of that would be true whether or not the "Virginia" letter was really written by an eight year old.

This is why I write. This is why I seek out places and opportunities to make use of this talent I apparently have to assemble words in such a way as to effect, inspire, change, entertain, inform, provoke, and perhaps on occasion save other people. It is why I chose to be a starving freelancer for now. (Unless some perfect staff writing position should show up.) It is why I do my damnedest to write even though I know that nobody is reading. Why, despite a hiatus here and there I muster up within myself time after time that exhausting, that perplexing, that frustrating, that miraculous and inexplicable component within my spirit that accounts for me being a writer. This stuff isn't easy, folks. But it can be worth it, when you get it right. Even more worth it when the right people read at the right time what a writer composes. Just as they did for Francis Pharcellus Church. Just as they still do 113 years after he submitted it to the paper.

Was that ubiquitous yet beloved editorial a fluke? Did Church merely get lucky, and strike a cord or two, or a million? Maybe. But I think not. He was, as history tells us a "veteran" journalist, which means he had been writing large amounts of copy for at least quite a few years. That experience may have sharpened him and his words over time in just the right way to make his tapping into the consciousness of a whole culture more likely than it otherwise would have been. But that isn't being lucky. That's showing up. We get rewarded for showing up.

Thus far I have shown up to write far more often than I have been rewarded for same. And I get weary of it. Sometimes I even step away for weeks at a time. But the knowledge that showing up can lead to that one moment, article, sentence, speech or novel that changes everything eventually brings me back to the bottom of that hill, ready to push that bolder ever upward. I wonder if Francis Pharcellus Church ever felt that way.

As I mentioned, we know Church died having had no children. But did he? If children be extensions of ourselves and our love, while also taking on a life of their own as time goes on, I say perhaps the man did have at least one child. That child was an unsigned editorial in the September 21, 1897 edition of the New York Sun. And look at how many children, of all ages, it has touched in the decades since.

All because there was once a writer who showed up.

Friday, December 17, 2010

"Waiting for the Smiths"

You know that old expression, "Keeping Up with the Joneses"? Meaning the incessant need to have just a little bit more than those around you, and doing whatever it takes to obtain same, in order to save face? (In other words, a materialistic crock of shit life philosophy.) For the sake of the expression, "Jones" being a common enough name to stand for just about anybody with whom you see yourself (or your family) in competition.

It probably won't surprise you to learn that I have never given a damn what the Joneses think. Nor have I tried to keep up with them. Even if I had all the resources in the world I wouldn't go out of my way to use them to make sure Mr. Jones didn't get too far ahead of me.

So I have not very often been guilty of that one.

But I must plead guilty to another concept. One that isn't quite the opposite of "Keeping of with the Joneses", but similar enough in method that I have dubbed it, "Waiting for the Smiths".

In this case, "The Smiths" are the term I use to stand in for any group of friends, or potential group of friends.

I believe that everyone is entitled to a certain demographic of friends. Not only entitled. We require certain types of people to be in our life in order to obtain any degree of fulfillment and contentment. All of us need at least some good friends that share our spiritual views. Our politics. Our own set of social graces and norms. Nobody wants to, nor should they, spend their whole life around people in whom the do not feel comfortable in confiding due to large differences in core beliefs and perceptions.

Yet in accepting that truth, I ask two questions:

1) How many potential friends are going to posses all such qualities in similar quantities to our own?

2) Can people with sometimes daunting variance in fundamental beliefs still provide each other with significant spiritual and emotional support?

My answer to the first question is not zero. But without doubts, the number is quite small over a lifetime. For most people, I dare say three or four at most, one of whom is almost certainly a spouse or future spouse.

The second question I answer with, "perhaps".

However not too many years ago I would have answered that question with, "no". I was convinced, (and to be honest part of me still feels this way) that a person in trouble or despair can never open up to, be honest with or supported by anyone with whom they didn't share very specific characteristics. Such people are fine for recreation. Or conversation. Some beer here and there. But no real connection at the deepest part of our humanity can truly occur.

In some circumstances, I am right. It can't be done, and it is foolish to think so. But I realize now that maybe it is foolish to wait until the ideal friends show up in our lives before we are open about our deepest selves. Honest. Vulnerable. If we wait for a group of people that make us feel 100% comfortable with sharing everything all of the time without any bit of fear or awkwardness, we may wait a very long time. A long during during which we have kept certain parts of ourselves hidden. And that may lead to more unhappiness.

This, my readers, if what I have dubbed "Waiting for the Smiths". The Smiths being, of course, those people with whom we have instant rapport, congruence at the deepest parts of all factions of our soul, and the ability to have fun to boot. As I said, there is a "Smith" out there for just about everyone. But maybe we shouldn't wait for them to show up before we open up.

Another way to "Wait for the Smiths" is to hope that friends we already have, people who are lacking in some quality we require, will some day other obtaining that quality, or worse than that, people whom we think we can change into possessing that quality so we can make use of it in our relationship with them.

Don't misunderstand me. We must still exercise discretion. Every single friend of ours does not need to know everything. Some of them shouldn't know everything because indeed we all have certain friends that we want to remain in the "have fun only" category. And that is fine. In fact, it's great. We all need those. But before you conclude that you have nobody to confide in, nobody with whom you can share your difficulties or worries, or fears, nobody that can keep you company when you need it, make sure you survey those friends you have, without holding them up to the "Smith Metric". They won't be able to do everything for you, but maybe they can do enough that day. If you give the right friends the chance.

And who knows...perhaps people that you feel quite dissimilar to would in the end wind up being one of "The Smiths" some day.

Are you "Waiting for the Smiths" in your life?