Go take a leap

IT'S PEANUT BUTTER JELLY TIME, B*TCHES

image: Junebug Photography

This Wednesday was my one-year anniversary of being a full-time freelance writer.

I’m still not entirely sure what that means. I’d love to craft a beautifully worded treatise on the joys and foibles of the past twelve months, but there’s no way to encapsulate it in a blog post. This little girl with misaligned socks is a pretty solid representation of what it feels like most of the time, which is why I chose her to accompany this week’s installment… but to write some sort of summary would be damn near impossible.  I really wish I’d written something that first day about taking the leap so I could look back on it now and laugh at what a dolt I was.  I think I was too busy to jot down any thoughts, though. Not too busy with clients (yet), mind you… just too busy freaking out, looking in nooks and crannies for rent money.  Too busy trying to find my footing.  Too busy wondering if I’d ever drink fancy coffee again.

Instead of blathering, I’d rather share a few of the notions, words and people that have inspired me from the start.  If I’ve done the math right (and I’m not proud of this, but that’s a big ‘if’), I’ve written more than 1,300 blog posts and articles totaling something like 396,000 words this past year, and that was just the dry run.  So today, I’m taking the day off to celebrate the fact that I’m able to pay the bills and feed the dog (at least this month, if not next) by doing what I love. I’ll let these pictures do the talking while I take a tiny break and figure out what’s next.  After I finish this here fancy coffee in my hand.

image sources: author's archive and Pinterest (click for origins)

image sources: author’s archive and Pinterest (click for origins)

For those of you who’ve made the leap yourselves, I salute you.  For those thinking about doing something scary that’s been tugging at you from the inside, I say, “Do it.”  If it’s how you truly want to spend your life, and if you’re willing to pay your dues, it will be worth the wait, the fear and the struggle.  The coolest part: when you get to your first benchmark, you’ll realize you never once looked back.  Because why would you?  That shit back there was awful.  This stuff right here is great, even when it isn’t.

Happy Friday, folks, and happy 2012. Thank you for coming here.  Thank you for believing in my work, whether you’ve checked out my portfolio or just enjoy reading these public diary entries.  I hope they make you smile, give you an idea every once in a while, or at least provide the distraction you’re looking for.

Most of all, thank you for your kindness, encouragement and time.  I appreciate it more than you know.

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Living in the margin

illustration via Drawing Saudade

My friend Saudi is a gifted artist, loyal friend and first rate human being. She’s lived on several continents, has a love of all things Disney and pulls no punches when speaking her mind. She’s a tough cookie, but a kind one. She’s used to playing the role, I think, of defender.

Saudi’s not only my friend; I was, strangely enough, her boss for a brief time, and I distinctly remember the fact that she always had a protective sensibility about her — a mama cub energy of sorts — always sticking up for the little guy. She was the good-hearted troublemaker in the back of the meeting who never actually made any trouble — really, she was productive, thoughtful and in many ways had a glue-like quality that helped hold the team together with humor in times of stress. She’d occasionally grumble just loudly enough to hold the title of “rebel,” and I think she took pride in that. There’s really no messing with Saudi, even though she’s a generous soul; she just has a tough exterior. So, needless to say, the image of someone marginalizing her and sending her home in tears isn’t only odd to me; it’s wholly unacceptable.

That’s an image I had to try to picture, though, when I read something she wrote this week. She shared a link to an editorial in a Canadian newspaper in which the writer at first appeared to give a somewhat balanced, if not particularly well-researched, accounting of the fact that fewer Canadian women are having babies than ever before. Balance flew out the window, however, in the latter portion of the article as it spun off its own rails with asinine conclusions — and then, of course, there’s the headline: Trend of couples not having children just plain selfish.

“I thought this was an Onion article,” Saudi began, and then went on to explain how much crap she gets for not having children with her husband. “I get, at the very least, one serious talking to from a stranger every other week, more if I happen to meet new people and have to exchange small talk with them. I try and ignore it and not let it bother me, but after a while it starts getting to me and I end up going home and crying, feeling terrible about myself.”

The article, at first blush, made me laugh — not an audible guffaw, but more a quiet series of eye rolls. I think my favorite parts were these three little nuggets of gold:

“Indeed, there are more finite calculations involved: Career demands. Timing. Not having a partner, or not having the right partner. Flaky fears about overburdening our already overburdened planet, personal choice and a bunch of other hooey that serve to hide the fact that happy couples that choose not to have kids are, at root, well, let’s see: selfish.

In Canada, a new normal could be on the rise, a great divide where, standing on one side will be the old guard — the haggard, the proud, the poor-looking schleps with their baby strollers and shrieking brats — while on the other will be childless twosomes, sipping their lattes and skipping off to a 10:15 a.m. appointment with their personal trainer.

What will it mean, for us, as a nation? What could be lost? And what will become of those trim, fit and fat-free-yogurt loving folks when decrepitude inevitably creeps in; when they age, as we all inevitably do, and the children they chose not to have aren’t around to look after them?”

Now, maybe this guy’s the Andy Rooney of Canada… a lovable old grump who likes to grouse and moan. Maybe he’s contradicting himself on purpose. Maybe there’s an intended wink in there somewhere (personal choice equals “hooey?”), and maybe it’s just lost on me. But after I let his words roll off my shoulders, I remembered they were still sitting squarely on top of Saudi’s.

I grapple a bit with my own questions about parenting… about creating life… about leaving something good behind. But as far as geriatric care goes, I’ve got news for this guy: if Canada’s treatment of its parents and grandparents on the whole is even half as abysmal as some of the atrocities we commit stateside, he needs to find another argument.

That job where I worked with Saudi?  It was at the Florida Department of Elder Affairs, and you don’t even want to know how many hundreds… thousands… of seniors we came into contact with who hadn’t heard from their children in months or years, regardless of the fact that their health was declining, that they were being subjected to all sorts of maltreatment in the long-term care facilities in which they’d been placed, and that all they really wanted was just to connect with the people they loved who seemed to have once loved them. But we won’t go too far into that.  It’s been said that we can tell a lot about a society by the way it treats its elders. In that regard, we have a long way to go — grandkids or no grandkids.

Parenting is far from easy.  I’ve never tried it myself, but I can tell from a mile away that it isn’t something to be taken lightly, and as a result, I have a ton of respect for those who enter into it and take it seriously. As for me, I very well may spring out of bed someday and exclaim, “NOW! Now’s the time when we do some kid-raising!” and then again, I very well might not. The verdict’s still out on that one. Even still, I wholeheartedly squeal at every birth announcement I get in the mail, every sonogram that pops up in my newsfeed, and every tweet sent from a hospital room that “mommy and baby are doing just fine.”  Because life is beautiful. Babies are awesome. And I’m as much of a sucker for the pure, clean slate of possibility each one holds as anyone else is. I don’t disagree with the act of having children; there’s not one molecule inside me that looks down on it at all.

My friends’ kids are some of the most engrossing, engaging, entertaining people I’ve ever met, and they can’t even spell their own names yet. There’s something to be said for that, and I can say with honesty that I take great joy in seeing my friends’ contentment over raising their families. But there’s also something to be said for those of us who are as yet undecided on the topic for ourselves, and certainly for those who’ve made the choice to contribute to the world in other big, bold, courageous ways instead. In the end, there’s more than one way to leave a legacy.

So, to the people out there with quips, sideways glances, raised eyebrows and opinions about friends and strangers alike who don’t have bambinos of their own, here’s a revolutionary idea: let’s try to coexist. You inspire us with stories of your families’ shenanigans and we’ll regale you with tales of our travels. We’ll write books and illustrate children’s stories while you teach tomorrow’s leaders how to read them. It doesn’t have to be either/or. There’s really no need for an air of competition. For anyone on either path to say one is better than the other isn’t only ignorant; it’s… yep, you knew this was coming: selfish.

The next time I hear anyone give someone a hard time about not having children — whatever the reason, whatever the argument — they just might get a stern, old-fashioned talking to, in much the same manner my mother would have given it. If I sound overly protective of those of us without little ones of our own, well… perhaps that’s my maternal instinct talking.

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Everything, all the time

Writing prompt: If an ATM could be custom created for you, what would it spew out instead of money?

I’ve just sat in a bit of a stupor for a solid ten minutes, doing absolutely nothing but stare at the wall in front of me, struggling to come up with a salient answer to this question.  There has to be one.  It should be simple.  Everyone should have a knee-jerk response to this, yes?

Life is just...

image: la ciliegina sulla torta

Right?

Part of me thinks this prompt was originally generated before the Internet was invented, or at least became widely used, or at the very least, turned into this crazy-ass 2.0 hyper-social version of its former self.  We have access to anything, everything, everywhere, all the time.  Our phones put the world at our fingertips for $80 a month.  We hop in the car before we have any idea how to get where we’re going, and boop!  A swipe and two clicks and we’ve got point-by-point directions, a GPS guardian angel correcting us when we overshoot a turn, and Big Brother telling us what restaurants and gas stations and petting zoos are on our route in case we get hungry, run low on fuel or just really, really need to hug a sloth on the way to wherever we’re going.

I suppose a favorite food would make for a perfect pat response, but Sprinkles Cupcakes just launched a 24-hour fresh cupcake machine in L.A., for example, and it just seems sort of excessive.  Cute, sure, but excessive all the same.  I’ve been talking a lot lately about how all my issues are first-world problems.  Missing old friends.  Anxiety over freelancing.  Out-of-whack circadian rhythms.  The fact that I secretly (not anymore, I guess) wonder if the constant proximity of my laptop is causing some secret illness that will lie dormant for a dozen years and then up and strike me dead in the street (and if it does, please rock the f*ck OUT at my service and have yourselves a good time.  Dance.  Sing — or rap — bad karaoke.  Drink mexican martinis.  Do it right.)  The fifteen godforsaken pounds I’ve gained over the past two years and the not-so-mysteriously related fact that I magically can’t find time (coughbullshitcough) to work out even though I’m completely in charge of my own schedule.  Waaaaaa.  First-world problems, when you and I both know there are real ones out there that need solving, and badly.  For me to wish for something like, say, a bacon ATM would give you free license to punch me in the face.

Time would be great.  More time.  That’s one thing we truly have zero control over, and in the balance, I suppose, is our ability to use what time we have as wisely as we can.  As far as I’m concerned, life is horribly short, even at its most glorious lengths.  People in my family have said their farewells as late in the game as age 90 and so painfully early that I don’t dare repeat the details, yet in every single case, we feel like we’ve been robbed.  We let things get in the way — work, errands, laziness, randomness —  and before we know it, it’s too late.  I, for one, could do a much better job of staying in touch with the people I care about and doing the things I swear are important to me.  I’ve been talking a good game for a good long while about wanting to volunteer my time to a cause that’s close to me, and I’ve dipped a toe in here and there, but I haven’t committed yet.  Maybe by writing it here in black and white, I’ll hold myself accountable.  But yes… an ATM that spewed out an extra hour or so every time I typed in my PIN would be magnificent.  And maybe, if I didn’t use it wisely, it could somehow debit me two as punishment.

Ooh, now there’s a concept.  Use it or lose it, double or nothing.  Maybe we should all live that way to begin with.  Maybe I should start right now.

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But enough about me

this kickass photo was taken by Elizabeth Davis

Photo by Elizabeth Davis Photography

Albert Einstein once said, “The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.”

Really, Al?  

Okay, fine… I suppose he was a tiny bit right, at least to an extent, and I’m sure he said it with a chuckle or at least a wry smile.   We’re a derivative species, finding ourselves inspired by things and then putting our own spin on them to make them feel more customized, and before we know it we’re taking credit for ideas that were never really ours to begin with.  Even the most creative among us found the seeds for our stuff somewhere.  Hell, if we’re being honest, I’m pretty sure I owe every word I type to Judy Blume.*

And look at this!  Here I am, leading off my own writing with somebody else’s words in quotations.  Whenever I think about all the stories in my brain that I want to get down on paper, it occurs to me that every plot has already been written.  Person faces hardship and triumphs/fails/perseveres.  Person meets person, person breaks person’s heart.  Person goes on adventure.  Person lives/dies.  Hilarity/tragedy ensues.  It’s all been told, really… so I suppose what it comes down to is the ability to recount an already-told tale in a fresh and interesting way.  That’s my big challenge in the enormous sea of words out there to which I’m trying to contribute.

I’m scared to death that the things I offer will not only already have been created a thousand times, but that they’ll also have been executed about 10,000 times better than anything I ever could have done.  That’s a paralyzing thought.  Nobody wants to get up on a tightrope in front of the whole wide world with no net underneath them, claiming to be a highwire veteran, do a bunch of fancy flips and then splat.  Splat is only sexy if you’re a celebrity and you show up on a red carpet the next day looking wounded but glamorous.  Splat is only cute if you’re a kid.  I’m neither celebrity nor child, so where my splat is concerned… well, I’d prefer for it not to happen at all.  But even if it does, I have a few places I can look for answers.  Thankfully for me, I’m fortunate enough to know some phenomenal folks with serious talent, to whom and to which I’ve been paying lots of attention.

And here, today, I’m giving away my sources.

First up, there’s Liz Sprayberry.  Oh, she’s married now and has a completely different name… her business is Elizabeth Davis Photography, for goodness’ sake… but when I met her years ago, she was just Liz Sprayberry, who wore flip flops in the dead of winter and had coffee and optimism running through her veins.  She still does.  Even though we don’t catch up as often as we’d like, she’s one of my favorite people in the world.  We used to work together in a grey and oppressive state government office, and in the evenings we’d sometimes go to the only genuinely crunchy coffeehouse in the tiny town in which we lived.  It bumped up against the railroad tracks and played horrible music and always smelled like feet.**  I loved that place, and I loved hanging out there with her and journaling and talking about boys and life and complaining about work.  These days, before I take a photo of anything — my dog, a skyline, a meal I’m about to eat and want to broadcast to a foodie friend — I think, “How would Liz shoot this?”  She’s a tremendous spirit and beautiful person who sees everything in a fascinating and unique way… and if you want to look through her lens, you can.

Then there’s Jessie Preza.  This little phenom was by all accounts my first friend, ever.  We went to preschool together, and my mom was later her kindergarten teacher; we ran in similar circles throughout high school and college and have kept occasional tabs on each other ever since.  I haven’t seen her face in person in probably 15 years, but every once in a while we’ll reconnect with a quick message and marvel at how similar we turned out to be in terms of tastes and pop culture leanings.  She runs a host of wildly successful companies offering her creative services — Poppy Blossom (photography), Nesting Shoppe (custom paper goods) and Nest Design Group (design, of course, and marketing).  The girl apparently doesn’t sleep… which is amazing, since she has two kids, runs three businesses and looks like a million bucks.  Garçon? I’ll have what she’s having.

I could go on for days about the people who inspire me and inform the way I work, and in future posts I probably will, but for now I’ll leave it at these two.  To use one of Jessie’s favorite words, they both left the nest of traditional work life and made it on their own doing gorgeous and creative things without stepping on anyone’s toes, and I’m keeping an eye on how they do it.  Maybe we all should, because damn do they ever glow.

Speaking of leaving the nest, here’s another quote that kind of hits home: “Nothing encourages creativity like the chance to fall flat on one’s face.”  James D. Finlay said that.  In truth, I have no clue who James D. Finlay is or was (sorry, sir… I’m sure you are/were a nice person and all, and I hope you’re living/lived a good long life), but I’m fairly certain he must have been a freelancer.  And I sure as hell hope he had amazing and talented friends.

*and Chuck Klosterman, if footnotes or curse words are involved.

**the coffeehouse, not the town.

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A day late, a dollar short & happy as a clam about it

{This is for the phenomenal people in my life who’ve stuck with me through all my crap. I admit there’s been a lot of it, and you deserve a tremendous amount of gratitude from me. This post is a tiny little shaving off the edge of that gratitude.  I hope you know it’s there… because it is, and it’s huge.  It’s the thing that wakes me up every morning and makes me smile even when I’m scared out of my mind.  I don’t so much believe in guardian angels, but I do believe in the tremendous goodness of the people I’m lucky enough to call my friends. And this one’s for you.}

So, it’s official.  I’m “a Writer with a capital W,” as I’ve taken to saying.  The little blue business cards are stacked up on the counter, the columns and clients are starting to emerge, the portfolio’s being plucked at on a daily basis, and I’m having mild anxiety attacks every night as I fall asleep. It’s all egregiously overdue, but better late than never, right?

Isn’t it funny how we let dreams incubate for the absolute longest time but rarely ever do anything about them?  You guys have seen me sit perfectly still for long periods of time, turning things over in my brain and ultimately deciding to put them off until later.  For the entirety of my career, I’ve stood just close enough to the calling I realized when I was five years old and first picked up a pencil, but I never really had the guts to step squarely into the center of it.  That was always too frightening, so I’d perch myself just close enough to draw some energy from its heat and use it to help other people build their brands, get their words straight and “make it happen.”  I’ve been doing PR and marketing and communication and outreach and messaging and brand architecture and all kinds of other fancy terms that really mean little more than “writing on behalf of someone,” and I’ve been doing it for more than a decade.  These days, though, although I’ll still be doing a bit of that stuff to pay the bills (girl’s gotta eat), I’m squeezing my eyes shut tight, gritting my teeth and writing on behalf of myself.  And let me tell you something: it’s scary as hell.

I’m not quite sure what shape this blog will take.  In a way, I’m hesitant to do anything with it at all, and I have a million excuses: I’ve got deadlines to meet.  Rent to pay.  Books to finish.  Clients to reel in and impress.  Too much to do and too little time to do it.  Sadly, for a person whose job it is to come up with original ideas, my excuses couldn’t be more plagiarized.  Each and every one of them jumped the shark for all of us about a year after college, didn’t they?  Everybody has stuff to wrangle.  Everybody has stress.  I think it’s time for me to stop hiding behind all of that nonsense — because that’s what it is: pure nonsense — and just do what I was put here to do.  So every Friday, with all due respect to the other projects I have on my plate, I pledge to sit down, clear away the clutter and write something substantive that has nothing to do with anything except whatever’s in my head.  I hope it won’t be trite.  I hope you guys will stop by from time to time and enjoy whatever it is that I’m babbling about.  And if you ever feel like reaching out and giving me a swift kick in the ass, well hey.  You’re good at that, so c’mon and let me have it.

You guys are in this with me.  The things you say, the troubles you face, the insights you have… they’re all stories worth telling, and whether you realize it or not, you’re all threaded rather tightly into the words I write, even when they seem completely unrelated to you.   Those of you who’ve known me for a long time are well aware that this day has been a long time coming, and you’re probably thinking, “Thank GOD, child.  Let’s get on with it already.”  To you guys, I want to say thank you.  Thank you for listening to me whine.  Thank you for watching me cry, punching me in the arm and telling me it’s going to be okay.  Because these days, it IS okay.  And I’m more grateful for that than I could ever express with any degree of accuracy, even after a zillion revisions.

All right, 2012.  BRING it.  I’ve got the coffee pot on, the laptop charged, and a fire in my brain that’s about to escape right here on this page, and several others too.  Cheers to you guys for riding shotgun with me.  I’m honored to have you here, and I’ll sure as hell try to keep it interesting.

All my heart,

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