Monthly Archives: March 2013

Sometimes uninspired

Botanical gardens

I am a person who likes to keep multiple projects juggling at once, on the belief that it means that when I get bored or stuck on the one, I can switch to something else, while my subconscious percolates on the project that is tripping me up.

Every so often, it backfires though. I look around at a whole room of things “in progress” and wonder what I am doing here, and feel unsure of where to start, and paralyzed.

This afternoon has been one of those days.

Finding Other Small Fish

This post was inspired by Ellie Di, who if you don’t know and worship already, you’re missing out on something fabulous.

At the end of February, I was feeling very discouraged about the internet. I had been reading too many of the comments, not having good human connections, and even my sacred internet safe space (y’all know who you are) had gotten more and more quiet and less fun to interact with.

My husband has a motto: “If you’re feeling unloved, it’s a sign that you need to be more demonstrative in your own affection.” So, after a month of hiding out, and after who-knows-how-long puttering around waiting for others to entertain me online, I decided to make a point of spending more time on twitter interacting, instead of just lurking or whining.

As luck would have it, that very same day Ellie Di tweeted, wanting to know if twitter was dead, and why was nobody commenting anymore. Various ideas were thrown out. A lot of them were about the proportion of promotional tweets. Some of it was backlash against too much branding, or feeling like the good community that used to exist on twitter had gotten buried in just too many voices talking at once.

I’ve been thinking about that conversation ever since. (I am excellent at stewing.) The conclusion I have come to, after many days of pondering, is that part of the problem is trying to find other people to talk to. Everyone follows the same few celebrities, and we tweet at them almost incessantly. Whole twitter accounts are formed just to shout at Lady Gaga, hoping that maybe one day you’ll catch her at the right moment for her to send you 140 characters in return.

Maybe you follow a couple of “minor celebrities” as well, people with only a couple of thousand followers, people who have time to interact with most people who message them. But they still don’t have time to follow-back, to do anything other than respond when they are tweeted to, or to start the conversation.

Which leaves a whole lot of people, like me, who can respond to anything, but can’t start a conversation themselves. People who I know are interesting. People who I would love to interact with. But how do you find them? We’ve gotten past the days when strangers made new life-long friends after a couple of “that lunch looks tasty” tweets. Now it’s a bit strange to get new followers out of the blue. The first question is “what are they selling? what are they trying to promote?” And that seems rather backwards.

So since I’ve been back, I’ve been searching for new faces. Looking at the other people who respond to Ellie Di, and following them. Following people who tweet at Chuck Wendig or Olga Nunes. Paying careful attention to the people with a mere hundred or two followers. Trying to make friends. Trying to reach out.

If we wait for the celebrities to support us, we will wait forever for our turn in line. If we can find each other, and say hello, we will all stand that much stronger. We’re only as lonely as we make ourselves out to be.

Thanks to the Mentors

This morning I read a very moving post by S. Jae-Jones about writing/creative mentors that got me thinking about the important people who have mentored me. I write this with some trepidation after Amanda Palmer’s somewhat crushing recent encounter with a former mentor who recently went on to trash her in the comments of her TED talk. Things change, people change, and you can’t always trust that the respect and gratitude felt as a mentee is returned by the poor soul that put up with your artistic flounderings.

And boy, was I floundering when these fine people put up with me. (Often, I feel like I am still floundering now, even as I am slowly becoming the mentor to other writers!)

My very first writing mentor was David Blixt. I was only 11 or 12 years old at the time, and boy was I awkward. At writing. At everything. At talking with adults. But my mother signed me up for a community writing class for children, and I must have taken that class, 2-3 times a year, for about four years. When I first signed up for David’s class, I didn’t know fiction meant you were allowed to make up stories. I think I spent four or five weeks doing Writing Down the Bones exercises that just involved “I don’t know anything about this”.

Finally, it clicked, though. And life has never been the same since.

David introduced me to Jonathan Carroll stories, quoting from memory the beginning of Sleeping In Flame about regret, a story opening that will always be in my top three story openings. (The other two are the beginning to Conversations in Sicily and If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler… but more on that latter one in a bit!) It was my first introduction to “urban fantasy”– the idea that something could be set in the real world, and yet be fantastical as well was entirely new to me, and I plowed through all of Carroll’s stories in a couple of months, and never really recovered.

He also put up with the worst of my surrealist/dadaist middle-school nonsense as I wrote stories about drunk pineapples, and created a 30+ page “never ending sentence” full of non sequitur run-ons. These things were not his fault. What was his fault was his encouragement to keep going, and his persistence in getting me “butt on chair” to do the writing, when, like most 14-year-olds, I was bouncing all over the room and wanting to chat up a storm instead.

David and I parted ways when I went to high school, but I found him again today on twitter. I also found my second mentor on twitter, the fabulous Dean Bakopoulos. Dean signed up to teach a class on writing at my high school, and looking to replace the hole of no longer having David’s class, I quickly enrolled.

(It’s not particularly relevant to this story, but it was in Dean’s class where I fell in love with my husband. Dean brought out the best in both of us as writers, and while I will already admit that I had a crush, it was really the stories my husband wrote in that class that turned things serious!)

Dean introduced me to Italo Calvino, and particularly to If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler. He took the undirected surrealism I had brought with me from middle school and channeled it into flash fiction pieces that had punch and structure. We read Chuck Rosenthal‘s “The Nicest Kid in the Universe” and debated the role of the narrator’s mother at the end of the piece.

Most importantly, Dean got me asking the question “What’s at stake?” A refrain that I heard for years afterwards, in every writing class I ever took, Dean’s introduction to the idea helped me turn odd into meaningful, and gave me the needed philosophy to understand and analyze any stories I ran across.

Dean, I’m sorry that every time you said the phrase “what’s at stake” I wanted to turn it into a joke about what was “in the steak”. I was 15. I didn’t mean it.

He also had us read Billy Aronson‘s play Little Red Riding Hood. Wickedly funny stuff. It instilled in me a love of word-play that has gone right into my poetry, and has never left me alone ever since. Eyelid melon Friday, if I do say so myself.

There have been others, too, of course. Geeta Kothari taught me most of what I know about revision. Everything I don’t know about revision isn’t her fault– she tried, she really did. And Jeffrey Steiger taught me something indescribable about living the written word– the narrative difference that is equivalent to painting from a photograph versus painting from life.

I wish I had had more time to work with Shelley Jackson while I was living in New York. She was the “mentor that got away”– I was too shy, too intimidated by her talent to request more of her attention. I wish I had had the nerve. What I did learn from her sticks with me in every story I write. She made ideas exciting again, at a time when I was otherwise pretty burned out.

So thank you to the mentors, the giants I’ve stood on. I’m not sure what there is to see yet, but it’s thanks to you that I have a view.

No FOMO Here

Okay, maybe a bit of Fear-Of-Missing-Out is inevitable during SXSW madness. But I’ve been plenty busy already, even without a badge. And the week is only looking to get busier.

Last Wednesday I went to an Uncollege meetup at El Chilito. I will admit to going primarily because my Bureau of Angst Management collaborator was one of the organizers. I hadn’t really looked into the whole uncollege philosophy, and while there is definite overlaps between it and the questions I am interested in, it is not, in itself, a thing that I have particularly strong feelings about one way or another.

However, it was really good meetup, with fabulous conversations and lots of interesting ideas being floated. Since it was a small group that turned out, we really got a chance to all partake in one central conversation, and had several minds turning over questions important to each of us. Jo Welch had some fabulous ideas about the importance of education facilitators as opposed to traditional teachers/instruction. And Lisa Betts-LaCroix hipped us to David Blake‘s Degreed project, which we all agreed was brilliant and well-needed. We ended the night when it got too cold to be at an outdoor taco shop any longer, but it was hard to separate, as we were all still in an intense discussion as to the ideal size learning community. What size opens doors and opportunities as opposed to being too large to be useful?  I’ve seen similar discussions in the social marketing world about the size of one’s network, and it was interesting to see it debated in terms of education and knowledge resources.

Thursday night, I went to the BASHH for the first time in over a year, and remembered why it was one of my favorite regular events in Austin. So many cool and interesting people, and just a grand opportunity to go and talk to strangers. My best chance-encounter of the evening was with Cameron Paxton of Raise Your Vis. We had a good conversation about his ideal clients, which then turned into a FABULOUS conversation about what SEO is, and how awful it is when people Do It Wrong, and how that ruins it (and by “it” I mean EVERYTHING– the whole internet) for everyone, those who would buy and those who would sell online alike.

Fact about Cameron: he wants to move to Estonia. When he achieves this mission, he will probably blog about it here. You know you want to know about Estonia. I know I do.

Also had a good conversation with a teacher from Leander about fancy cars, funny license plates, and those Redbox rickshaws that are popping up all over town for SXSW visitors needing a ride. I think every time I’ve seen one so far this week, I have been with people who have commented on it. They’re definitely getting noticed. I think people are sad, though, that it’s not actually a service to deliver movies to your door like pizza.

Last night I went into the downtown madness, but not for anything SXSW related. Instead, I went to see a friend perform in the Maestro show at the Hideout Theatre. Aside from a tragic groin-region injury sustained by one of the players, a fabulous time was had by all. The highlight of the evening was most certainly Jayme Ramsay (of Hideout’s fabulous show Strange Worlds fame) doing a one-woman performance of a human-flesh-loving, mother’s-love-seeking Winnie the Pooh.

And the madness has only just begun…

Everyone’s talking about Amanda

Amanda Palmer’s TED talk hit the internet yesterday. I’m going to link it, even though I know you’ve already seen it.

The twittersphere is exploding, Amanda is retweeting everyone’s blog posts, and a whole lot of really good conversations are taking place about what “art” means, and “trust” means, as well as other important terms like “success” and “money” and “jobs” (and what it means to “get one!”)

Some people have responded to the video by promising to give away more of their art for free. Some have focused on the injunction to not be afraid to ask for help, and trust that it will be provided.

I know that as a result of this TED talk, I took the time to donate to a kickstarter I would usually have passed over, and gave a $3 tip on a “name your price” bandcamp download. I know that I am not the only one with a sudden “generosity of spirit” for my fellow artist.

It has been a beautiful weekend for giving, sharing and communication in the online art world this weekend, and it has been a lot of fun to be a part of it. Thank you to Amanda for inspiring us all, and thank you to everyone who has been inspired.

Can it last? For some, definitely. Amanda was already a success. Her audience sees her, and she sees them, and it doesn’t matter what the guy in the car thinks. But for the rest of us– will we stop to get out of our car more often, and give to those creating around us? And will the smaller names be able to trust that financial support will be there for them to, or will this “weekend of giving” dry up as fast as it began to downpour?

My metaphors are all out of order. Am I still worth supporting despite this?

What I am most in need of these days is encouragement, not cash. I have seen too much of the promotion game, the self-branding, the content marketing.

Whatever your take on it, Amanda’s video is about hope. I hope it lasts. I hope you see me. Here, have a flower. I see you too.

Preparing for SXSW Part 1

I thought I was going to be out of town this year during SXSW. I was going to buy new ice skates, and visit my nephew.

But those plans fell through, and instead I try to last-minute-prep myself for a week of networking, partying, and “selling my personal brand”.

I don’t know if there is a zeitgeist yet for more honesty in one’s “personal branding”. I think I see it in some of Austin Kleon‘s more recent tumblr posts. I hope that it catches on. For myself, I know that I am too old, too bitter, and too lazy to shine myself up into something flawless. The blog obviously hasn’t been updated in nearly a year, I’ve been very reclusive in my personal networking, practically silent on twitter until this week, and still, even now, do not always have a terribly quick or witty answer to the question “So… what do you do?”

What do you do? What do you want to do? Are they the same question? Is it the destination that matters? Or am I already living the dream by working to get where I want to be?

What do I do?

I exist in a state of flux.

In the morning I get up and go to a job that I like, but I worry isn’t someplace I want to stay for a long time. I wonder if I should take some classes to make the job-specific skills I have more transferable to a different company. I wonder if I should try to go into a different field in the same organization, one with more room for advancement. I wonder about the different ways there would be to do that, and which I would find most satisfying.

Sometimes I get past wondering, and look up the qualifications I would need, the skillsets that other companies would want me to have, the cost of community classes, the people who have made this or that shift before me that I message to ask for advice.

Then I wonder why I am bothering, when if I was a real true artist, I would be plotting my escape. Plotting how to live a creative life 24/7. Plotting how to make money being brilliant and original.

When I come home, I have no television, no children, a few too many hours to fill, and a few too many creative demons to take interest in things like a clean house or a healthy dinner. So I putter, a little bit of this, a little of that, and a lack of direction throughout.

But then I get into conversations with friends about what is wrong with the world, what I wished existed but nobody seems to be making, what I would like to offer the world if only I had more time, more energy, more determination, more follow through…

And those good friends, those fabulous friends, they push me to make those things a reality. Tiny steps at a time. A four week outline for a picture book class that I could offer. You know, if I got around to it. A handout of all of the advice that I have learned through hard knocks about filling out online job applications. You know, for the fun of compiling it. A few character sketches for a friend’s new web comic script. Because they were in my head, I just had to share them. A plot outline for a story a friend abandoned and handed to me, a story that really needs to get written because the premise is just that good. I have a hand in every pot, but I don’t know which to stir first.

So… what do you do?

“I think too much.”