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Talkin’ at Me

“Everybody’s talkin’ at me / I don’t hear a word they’re sayin’ / Only the echoes of my mind.”

It’s been a tumultuous few months, especially coming off a year of backbreaking product development with an ambitious client.  And since the unanticipated breakup with said client, it’s the echoes that haunt. You know the ones: the fear, the doubt, the uncertainty in yourself. Everyone had something to say about it, some attempted to rubberneck through the carnage, few stuck by my side, one confessed his sin.  I believed in this client – and still do, despite the dreary news leaking from every corner of the organization. I believed in myself – and still do, despite the extended break and faltered confidence.  I’ve ignored all advice, all well-wishes, all good intentions over the past several months for one solid reason:

It’s not enough.  This one’s on me.

It’s the affirmation of a lifetime.

I wrote my mission statement (or manifesto, depending on your point of view) in a clear moment several years ago, and I still turn back to it when I need the inspiration to stand up and fight another day.  I know I’m good. strong. capable. smart. savvy. inspirational. accomplished. And combined with my ambition, there is nothing I can’t accomplish.

Here it is:

I want to create your future exactly how you want it — even if you don’t know yet how it looks, feels, acts, or belongs.

it’s said the best ideas come from the depths of necessity. we, as individuals, communities, citizens, humans, are deep in the chasm of necessity for new, radical, revolutionary ideas to change the ways things have been done.

our future relies on those who refuse to bow down to the pressure of no.

our future relies on those who refuse to conform to “good enough.”

and it’s a future not for tinkerers or idealists — it’s not enough to want something done.

it’s only enough to do it yourself. in a collective of others working toward a similar goal across disparate entities, boundaries and borders.

it’s time to lead the charge into a more prosperous future.

so let’s get started.

It’s Friday.

Good Things ComeNot that it makes a difference in my world, the day of the week.  It’s something I find both extraordinary and expected.

And it’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times, this working for yourself.  I’m the one who sets the rules, the expectations, the hours, the results.

But from the outside-in, the unnerving aspect of any self-declared venture is this: the isolation is warm, cozy, and self-affirming.  The longer I work in my tree-top office, crunching the investment and cash-flow numbers, crafting business summaries and plans, perfecting presentations, chatting with a number of targeted partners, something strange happens.  Shaky confidence turns to insecure arrogance.  Good judgment shifts under megalomaniacal pressure.  Cravings for feedback deepen, yet the conditions to share lessen and the rules to listen grow in number and rigidity.  Inspiring people morphs to pushing people, lest they forget.

And this is all explained in a singular delusional phrase: I know I’m right.

Not believe.  Not feel.  I know.  True, hard, indisputable fact tangled in my brain, incessantly driving me to the next sunrise.

Is this passion?  The depth of joy and pain, the moments of surprise and frustration, is all one-sided.  it may better be described as insanity.  Pygmalion scorned all other women, all those fallible corporate gigs that provide steady benefits, comforts, and security – and fell hopelessly in love with his own sculpted creation.  Isn’t this the story of every bootstrapping entrepreneur?

Pygmalion’s myth ends happily – Aphrodite grants the stony figure warm-blooded life more than a decade after it’s inception, affirming it’s beauty (and resemblance to herself).  Another parallel to the entrepreneur, though this one with the infusion of cold hard cash following affirmation of its potential.  We’ve happily celebrated this delusion for multiple millennia, and to date, it shows little sign of decline.

This only affirms my own arrogance, of course.  A dangerous thing, but an essential component to push this big idea of mine to its full potential.

Maybe it will make it. Maybe it won’t.  But somehow, some way, I’ll inspire someone to affirm it’s beauty, it’s intelligence, and it’s power – and grant it life.

Lessons in Multitasking

Busy, busy, busy winter.

  • 2013 is off to a fabulous start – I’ve transitioned into a consulting role with a super-neat startup in the Boston area to work on pushing the company to scale with an influx of multi-sided users.  It’s been a whirlwind and with quick, significant progress  – I’ve finally found the women’s restroom no less than eight weeks into the game.  There’s incredible potential for the technology they’ve developed, and we’re going to take this thing far & wide.  The visionary & strategic aspects of my role are incredible, and it’s caused a deep realization that hey maybe this is what I should have been doing — not the process-oriented roles I’ve filled in the past.
  • Timing is good too – a smart friend recently left his comfortable job for greener pastures in the world of marketing convergence.  What is this magical term I speak of?  It’s the first time anyone has linked together all marketing activities directly to business activities and directly to consumer activities. It’s a closed-loop system. Our tool is super easy to use and – best of all – doesn’t require the coffers of the Catholic Church to implement & maintain.  I’m proud of it, excited about it, and ready to introduce much much more in the coming weeks.
  • I’ve been writing, albeit slowly, working on an old/new project.  You remember Notes from the Field, right?  It’s undergoing a reboot and when I finish the intense outline, it’s hitting the publisher circuit.  (Another one you’ll be hearing much more about in the coming months.  I’ve dedicated nearly all my flying time to writing – except Superbowl Sunday and when I get jammed next to someone who insists on invading my space, brain, and consciousness with their nosy inquiries.)
  • Commercial and residential real estate is also on my radar, though I seem to spend more time kicking the tires than finding what I want. Essentially, I want to build out some decent commissary kitchens for up & coming chefs, home bakers, and those who want to break into the catering, food truck, and other food-types of business.  It needs to include a small cafe and a market (ideally), but finding the right-sized warehouse space that I can purchase & get up to code hasn’t been an easy task.  From the residential side – it’s time to put down some roots, if only so I have somewhere to come home to on the weekends.  I just don’t know where (yet).
  • And, of course, this past Saturday  marked the beginning of the soccer season!  Pictures & stories forthcoming — though I’m excited to coach another season with the girls. (They’re now 7 1/2 years old.  It’s our eighth season and going strong.)

Yep, this year is shaping up to be a game-changer.  Let’s make it happen together though — tell me what you’re up to!

High Failure Rates

Hugh MacLeod: High Failure Rate
This is on my refrigerator — one of those regular reminders to wear the clothes, not let the clothes wear me.

I never forget what I’m wearing.  Suit or otherwise.  The dreamers may see things in a gauzy light, the creatives may strive for beauty, but the inventors build something useful not only to themselves, but for an entire contingent of people.

And that’s where things have changed over the years.  No longer do we have to invent for the mass audience, but to solve a particular problem, addressing a need or desire.  We want the perception that something is specifically for you, even if you are hundreds or millions wide (though as a good friend we’d never tell you that).

I am a suit, even if I hesitate to admit it at times.  I’m as comfortable in the suit as a t-shirt and jeans or wrapped within a white lab coat or draped in a soccer jersey and bloody cleats or as dressed up like a Viking at Halloween.  Perhaps each of these styles has its own alter-ego, each of them with a separate view, voice, and perception.  Yet the ability to conceptualize an idea, articulate a theory, rigorously work to disprove myself — the scientist within me — and develop something novel is what I live for.  Others describe this as passion, but the only emotion tied to it is simply that I must follow this process.

And as for the failure of suits, my own have carried me far in this world thus far. Perhaps as a sign of respect in an otherwise insubordinate persona, committed not only to what’s best for me, but what’s best for the company, and what’s best for the world.  A tall order, but one well worth it.

And to the triumphant return…

Welcome back to the reconcepted, restrategized, redesigned, rewritten, relaunched, and reanalyzed home of Anne Hollander.

I’ve got to say – it’s a year for “re”s.  A year for the grabbing hold of the memory of past energy & enthusiasm, the grip on goals & achievement, but this time distilled and presented in a much clearer, more vehement format.  Not an evolution or version 2.0, but second generation stoically committed to its causes and effects in the idea of affecting change.

Poetry aside,

I’m excited to be back in action.

And without further redo, the metrics & goals for 2012:

(1) Twelve project pitches this year, completely and entirely based on the ‘next big thing’ projects you see here.  Sharing is caring.  There are no shortage of options to pitch and/or present, but the higher goal is to develop teams to bang against the idea, get on board & commit resources however large or small, and amplify what it is we’re working on.  In other words: validators, joiners, cheerleaders.  Which will you be this year?

(2) Twelve new ideas this year, completely and entirely separate from the projects you see here.  Say what you will about envy and jealousy, a healthy dose of each is enough to light a fire under our (collective) ass.  Knowing what everyone else is working on and where they’re going is imperative to ensuring success.  As I’ve heard all my life, I’ve got to make the attempt to fit in, even when others that don’t – and the life of my projects should follow the same admonishment.  Do you have a project you want to share?  I’d love to hear more about it.

(3) Between engaging friends, participating with family, exercising, working the 9-5, working the 5-9, and sleeping, I get to choose three.  I want each day to be slightly different, but my commitment to each day very firm – and my personal acceptance of this daily balance to be paramount.

Just three important goals this year.  Here’s to a new you – and accomplishing something together this year.

Cue the Music!

I’m moving!  Buh-bye, Dallas!

Okay, okay, I’ll be back on a regular basis through the duration of the fall soccer season, but only for short weekends.  My actual hard move date is still a bit fluid (looking at about 30 days-ish, but only 12 before I start work), but this will be the first move where I’ll have (1) someone else pack my belongings, (2) someone else load and unload the truck, and (3) and someone else to drive and deal with the near constant headaches of moving.

And I have just under two weeks to pull it all together and make everything work.  Who wants to help me pre-pack?

In other news, after nearly twenty years of chemically-induced hair colors, I’m finally back to my natural color (which I didn’t think possible — thank you to my long-time stylist and his meticulous records!).  No highlights or lowlights, no glossing or emulsions.  And, oddly, I feel more like my quirky self than ever before in my adult life.

And this — this is a very good thing.

New Addition to the Family!

Wise man with a secret(Shhhhhh – keep it on the DL, but…

I’m proud to announce

Charm School Marketing is one signature away from a new partnership venture, as part of a larger digital braintrust – and some seriously brilliant, strategic, and kick-ass human beings who can take Charm School clients to the next level.

Needless to say, I’m honored and thrilled and starry-eyed with the possibilities.)

In related news, I’ve got three major proposals in the works, including one regarding digital & interactive textbooks, one mobile app for the legal world, and one to create the first completely free bachelor’s education — complete with full university experience (ahem, also known as “Project Next Facebook”).  These ventures are in various proto-development and pitch stage, but by July 1st, all of them will be in the hands of venture capital groups.  I’ve also been working in new business development down in the Deep Ellum area to fit within a true community vision and push the area into a sustainable neighborhood and creative haven.

It’s gonna be a good summer.  Come September, I’ll be knee-deep in exactly what I want to do: rocking this world.

One of These Things is Just Like the Other

Storytime!

Several years back, a business partner (who is, in my estimation, one of the best chefs I’ve come across) and I created a restaurant concept.  It’s called Melted, featuring gourmet grilled sandwiches, cane sugar colas, and a damn fine beer list.  The design is retro-cool-grunge with recycled decor, local art & music, less than twenty seats, and an obvious sense of quirky ownership – me, a writer who loves typewriters (and all associated manual typography) and him, a brilliant chef with a showy & shadowy history, and both of us with the singular desire to become a local darling.

The relationship crumbled, but Melted still made it.  Just in a different name, location, and with a different partner (his current GF).  It’s now Commonwealth Sandwich Bar, located in Columbus, Ohio.  The food reviews are positive.  Just a landing page of a website for now (can’t scope out the menu!), but several of the reviews mention an awfully similar sandwich selection and menu:

* From Columbus Alive – “The cleverness extends to Commonwealth’s attention-commanding, mostly sandwich menu. This kinda witty little document is instantly appealing in its clean and retro/mod form (simple black and white, implementing old-timey filigree and typewriter font without succumbing to hokeyness) and scratch-made content (house-cured bacon, house-made pickles, house-roasted chicken, house-made sauces and so on).  [This review goes on to mention the Sweet & Savory, “a jammy caramelized fig compote gave it the sweet component and crazy tender, succulent chicken brought the savory. These came wrapped in the warm embrace of melted swiss cheese…” as well as the handcut french fries.]

* From The Lantern – “…the Spiced Chicken sandwich, made with roast chicken, house-cured bacon, cheddar cheese, shaved red onions, port wine barbecue sauce and pickled jalapeños.” – and “Elvis Lives, features spicy coconut-spiked peanut butter, sweet cream cheese and bananas. This is the Young Elvis version, but you can just as easily try the Old Elvis, which adds house-cured bacon.”

Compare & contrast.  Here’s our original Melted menu:

Melted - Sandwich Menu

Two things will kill me if they come to be true: if the sandwiches are served wrapped in butcher paper (and/or if butcher paper is on the tables) ; if the menu is plastered on old classic rock record covers.  That’s just too much of me.

All things said, I’m happy for him (and I guess by association for her?).  Their current menu is a bit more bacon/pork-oriented than cheese-oriented — I think that’s a little odd given Michael Symon’s professed fanaticism for all things pork — but it’s good to see that he’s back in the kitchen, that he’s running his own ship, and that he’s happy.

[And to Chef Erik Till, who I’m sure visits and browses occasionally – nice job.  May it be everything we worked for it could be.]

Twenty-Four Hours

It was a self-fulfilling prophecy: the more I listen to (read: dance to) Katy B’s “Louder,” the more it seeps into my day-to-day life.  The more it seeps into life, the more the underlying philosophy guides the days, weeks, and months.  Where I’ve previously described the angst of the ‘quarter-life crisis,’ it’s not the memories of my youth that I mourn, but quite the opposite: that instead it was wasted.

Listen for yourself:

(It doesn’t help that I looked like that at 16.)

It was a handful of weeks ago that I was driving to work, thinking to myself “is this what being grown-up is?”  The constant nagging feeling that I don’t really have any answers to the same questions that plagued me years ago, just a a few glimmers of insight.  I feel exactly as I did at 16, but with a few additional responsibilities and a whole lot more freedom.  I still drown out my thoughts with loud music; I still drive fast; I still escape situations where I’m awkwardly uncomfortable; I still coach (and play) soccer; I still adore the same things I did then (though the list has expanded some over the years).  And while I appreciate the present tense moments, I’ve never given in or been seduced by them, at least long-term (momentary weakness: yes; reckless addictions and compulsions: no.)  Which leads to an quirky question: did I miss out on an undefinable something called youth?  And worse yet: is that why I still feel 16?

I think this is a good thing, albeit odd.  Going through photos of friends, a handful of them have grown up – they’re married, some with kids, they have houses and mortgages, and have piled on the responsibility and sacrificed (some) freedom.  And they’re happy, happier than our parents were.  Yet it’s not about the rite of passage-style events anymore – it’s all about whether they’re still in touch, moving and shaking in some way.  It’s been made much easier to move toward and from the edge, in constant, dynamic flux with the use of social technologies.  ‘The man,’ as previous generations have declared, will get you, bogeyman-style, when you lose your cultural edge. Now, there’s no excuse.

My millennial generation has grown up in a period of unraveling and fragmentation in the cultural sphere, yet we’ve always been cared for and protected through this instability.  It’s said that we were the generation who elected Obama; it’s said that we can’t function alone, but only in teams.  We’re coming of age, not necessarily into adulthood, but into a larger role as we become the dominant power in this sphere. And given our predilection for optimism and energy, we’ll be the generation to redefine, fight, and expand our cultural power.

Certainly I’m part of that.

I’ve been working on a couple proposals for two serious – and high-minded – projects that can and will change the face of education, utilizing technology and the social space.  These projects address the continued fragmentation of education and the crisis of insurmountable debt (and the uneven impact to show for it).  I’ll be the first to say that my undergraduate education gave me the skills and abilities I needed – and the network to back it up.  My graduate education gave me the clout and discipline of responsibility.  I use none of my degrees in their narrow fields; it was never my intention to do so as none of them are vocational-level degrees.  I want to share this freedom with the world; I want the world to have the same opportunities I do and to be able to take these opportunities at any point in life.  Friedman and his disciples call this principle “flattening” – I call this necessity for a world soon (if not already) in the midst of cultural crisis.  Education isn’t a magic bullet, yet it is a stepping stone in the right direction.  The ability to think, to read, to write, to create, to analyze – these skills are priceless as the foundations of any existence.  A government is only as effective as its citizens; a culture only as pervasive as its citizens; an economic system is only as strong as its citizens.

And I have the heroic impulse (and 16 year-old indefatigable, youthful optimism) to take on the challenge.

My voice is getting louder.

Trading in the Suits

Yep – for a pair of jeans, t-shirt, and tennis shoes.  It’s time to get dirty.

Actually, it’s time to get charming – I’m taking my nascent business, Charm School Marketing, into the big leagues, past the word of mouth referrals (which I love) and the one-off freelance and contract jobs (which I tolerate), toward a future of long-term relationships based on smarts & strategy, evaluation & analytics.  And, of course, toward the bigger business goals with the Deep Ellum community revitalization.

I’m thrilled.

So stay tuned for more updates.  Today, I’m in Austin, meeting with strategic partners & clients.  Tomorrow, back to Dallas to smash the champagne against the boat, then put my nose to the grindstone.

Sleeplessness

Sleeplessness due primarily to self-righteous anger.

A smarter friend once said depression is anger turned inward.  Is this state of mind (and full body assault) then depression turned outward?  That final snap triggered to the unreasonable, irrational, illogical catharsis?

For years I’ve attempted to chronicle exactly this situation (with fictional twist) and even now I’m thwarted.  I’m living it, I’m experiencing it, I’m watching so closely yet this is the point where writing gets hard.  I don’t know what to say or what to write and as I try typing out these words, the ones you’re reading right here, the anger recedes from the overboil to a bare simmer.

And its in these unobserved moments I find that little bit of hope and optimism amid the swirling ugliness released.  That I can do this.  That I can make this work.  That it will all be okay.  That I will survive and thrive, and that one day I’ll look back on this and think “yep, that was the right move” – or think “yikes, screwed that one up” — but still I fight regardless of the regrets or affirmations.

So while I may have hit extreme burnout, and while this anger causes trouble and underconsidered or ill-advised action, tomorrow will be different.  Starting tomorrow, it’s all mine.

A Funny Thing Happened Today at Cartier

Or at least it will be funny when the new watch I ordered comes in and is fitted to my left wrist and highly satisfying to take a hammer to the one I’m currently wearing because god help me if I’m ever that mortified again.

And in the same vein,

I love that I’m independent.  I love that I have the ability and fortitude to rectify this and any other situation.  That no matter what I can take care of myself – and do so without pretense or fabrication.  I love that I can spend Saturday running errands, then indulging in a little bit of retail therapy without buying things as a salve for a deeper emotional issue.  I love that I can come home late Saturday afternoon, strip to my skin, and throw myself a mini-spa hour (and a half) – and I love that I can then order a pizza with pepperoni, sausage, canadian bacon, meatballs, prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, ricotta, sun dried tomatoes and spinach — with extra garlic.  I love that it’s Saturday and I can stay home, curl up with a book – or I can go out and have a glass of wine alone – or I can wander the aisles at Whole Foods and come home with a odd mish-mash of really good food.  That I live by myself in an apartment I really love (even if I don’t love the management company) and that I can provide fully for myself and my family and those I love unconditionally.

Maybe it’s just been awhile since I’ve been in a good mood.

Maybe it’s just that I’m settling into a good groove and I’m optimistic about what’s coming next.

Maybe I’ve let go of the hidden worry and fear that I won’t be loved again – because I will.

And I’ll even tell you why: because there was a moment yesterday afternoon when I (finally) saw how important it is to love myself, if only because I’ve made others suffer because I haven’t.  I’m not the enemy of myself, though I’ve sure as hell waged a damn good twenty-something year battle of self v. self.

Cliff’s Notes version: I’m the problem.

And because I’m the problem, I’m the only person who can change it or fix it or do something about it, whether it’s straight up abatement or temporary injunction or imperfect compromise.

Which brings me to a related issue:

I’m a creative person who likes – no, needs – to be immersed in collaborative work.  Simply, I need to work with smart, creative people.  Who are not like me — who are more than me.  More visionary.  More creative.  Smarter.  Faster.  More more more to combat the collective weaknesses (my own included) and enhance the collective strengths (my own included) and achieve the common goal.  This isn’t a lofty abstract desire; this is a need.

The problem with collaboration is that it requires true commitment.  Discipline.  Passion.  Attention.  Even habit.  And the emotional, personal connection with collaboration is crucial – you gotta be a believer or it all falls apart.  You take make anyone play on a team, but if a single member’s heart isn’t in it, the whole collaborative process is a sham, a ruse, a shell of false idolatry.  Add in an inability to effectively communicate (ahem, honestly and openly), add in a layer of politics, and add in a disaffected attitude, and welcome to disaster.

Also known as my personal hell.  The wide-eyed promise of collaboration for an amazingly awesome goal torn apart because the discipline, attention, and passion of one single team member rings hollow.  To see the house this team has built is a case study for the gods – yet this house will be bulldozed because we didn’t choose the perfect wallpaper in the living room and there’s a leaky faucet in the bathroom, that…it destroys me.  It disrupts the collaborative process – that discipline, that habit, that passion – and for what?  Something trivial.

Maybe it should be seen from another perspective – that I allow the destruction of this one house to distract me from the neighborhood of houses previously constructed.  That I’m the disruption on the team rather than the guy sitting in the ‘dozer.

Problem is, the guy sitting in the ‘dozer doesn’t know how to operate heavy equipment…and probably doesn’t realize what’s going on or what he’s about to do.  Yet another sign something is in rotten in Denmark, another indication of poor communication and inadequate leadership.

And here we come to another rampant weakness of mine: reason and precision.  Always tell me why.  If only because it’s the only thing that will convince me that at minimum you understand what it is you’re doing and see the scope of things as something slightly larger (at minimum) than yourself.  Or you don’t, but are still okay with things not being larger than yourself.

And another weakness: trust.  I’ll trust you until you give me reason not to.  You can earn trust back after that point, but not without a considerable amount of effort and energy, at least to partially compensate for the time, effort, energy I expended in cleaning up the mess I trusted you not to make.  (An honest “I’m sorry” typically does the trick.)

Despite the weaknesses, I don’t know what to do about the breakdown of collaboration.  Smear a layer of frustration and disappointment on as well; it brings out the troubling flavor from the overmasticated texture.  Some say go to the mattresses; others say mercy; still others wonder if there’s a trusted resource able to do anything.  I fear the die has been cast and only now are the implications of betting everything peaking through the veil of a hasty, backed-in-a-corner decision.

A Question Answered

On a fairly regular basis, I’m asked about the nature of ideas.  More specifically: where do your ideas come from?

Typically I laugh and make a snide-to-snarky comment and lop-sided grin about the birth of ideas akin to the birth of babies – one more titillating, one more compelling than the other.

But seriously.  Like babies and boyfriends, they come when you least expect them.

I’ve killed weeks and months at a time in a reverie and daydream, just drifting out in the doldrums.

And I’ve murdered weeks and months at a time drowning in anxious-yet-mundane tasks guaranteed to kill the spirit and livelihood of creativity.

I’ve slaughtered time reading, observing, hearing, watching others’ great (and not-so-great) works, studying their miscues and brilliance.

Time was never really the difference to my great surprise.  No matter how I spend my time, the rate or quality of creativity doesn’t change.

And then, while talking, I launch into a monologue proudly proclaiming that it’s different for everyone.  That everyone has their ‘ah-ha’ moment no matter what they’re in the middle or beginning or ending or purgatory of.

And then I pause,

And say,

But for me,

it’s the welling up of an emotion deep inside me, to the point that if I don’t stop myself, I’ll scream or cry or demons will burst from my abdomen or angels sing from my head and I think I don’t/can’t take another breath – it’s that moment right there I look for because

then,

right then,

if I step out of the catharsis, lean back in my chair, close my eyes for a long, slow blink,

that’s when it happens.

It’s simply that ability to purely reflect on what you know and what’s going on around you- all together instantly and without any self-interest other than to get to just one more breath — and shazam, there it is.

it’s then I approach a theory, perhaps as selfish validation:

Nabokov described inspiration as two parts (though he didn’t assign ratios) – the first half as rapture:

“a combined sensation of having the whole universe entering you and of yourself wholly dissolving in the universe surrounding you.  It is the prison wall of ego suddenly melting away and the non-eogo rushing in from the outside to save the prisoner – who is already dancing in the open.”

The moment where time ceases to exist.  Where there’s no conscious purpose in existence.  The idea.  The moment lightening strikes shock through the air.

The second half he describes as the recapture – the conscious work of construction.  The idea in practice.  The thunder following the lightening.  As you blurt it aloud and start to reflect on what it is you’re saying and continue in a babbling way trying your damnest to position the idea, put boundaries – it’s always with sparkling eyes and increased tempo (in a gentlemanly fashion – others I’ve known fancy more toward crazy eyes and irregular tremor through the body).

The issue, I pointedly say, is finding your ratio – balancing the lightening and the thunder to fit you.  I’ve seen too many taken down by rush for one direction or another, whether by drugs or alcohol, by gluttony or avarice, by talent or lack thereof.  All in the hopes of finding something they thought they needed, even though it was there all the time.

In all, I believe, the storm will come.  No matter the singing or dancing, the lollygagging or grind.  Just be open to more than rain.

The Game

I’ve had my mind on the piano for the last few months, mostly thinking about sitting down and playing again.  I wasn’t ever a virtuoso by any stretch; the recording below has me fat-fingering a Rachmaninoff piece (and enhanced applause at the end – I was in front of maybe 10-15 people at the time it was recorded back around the time electricity was invented) and I never gave it the dedication needed to hit decency.  Though it is evidence that yes, I can play more than Chopsticks or Heart & Soul.

Prelude in G minor

It’s the spectrum of dedication, passion, and obsession that I’ve pondered in the few quiet moments, often when driving or when sitting and waiting for the next thing to happen.  I fully recognize I’m a mediocre fiction writer; I’m not particularly creative or inventive, but have just enough ability and talent to squeeze by.  And (to some extent) I’m okay with this – I recognize I won’t write the ‘great American novel’ or anything of the sort.  I likely won’t ever sign a book deal as forcing myself into a commitment day after day isn’t my idea of security.  It’s my idea of prison.

To some extent I feel fraudulent – as though I’m giving up – when instead it’s that I’m shifting my focus.

[To what, you ask.]

To which I reply “A career.”

My safety net is a small neighborhood cafe and bakery, the type of place I find myself aching over each and everyday.  It’s evolved through the grandiose visions (known then as Cauldron) and the quirky hole-in-the-wall existence (known then as Baked).  Some girls grow up dreaming of their wedding; I’ve seen this dream through twenty-something years.  But similar to fiction writing, I can’t do just that.  Never have I ever just done one thing; I lack the ability to accept only what I have in front of me and not think/dream/work toward something bigger and brighter, a characteristic known simply as ambition.

And what a waste of ambition to throw away on sweet and savory baked goods, day in and day out.  (Never mind the hundred other skills, abilities, and desires I’ve cultivated over the years.  If I never practice law, I’ll be a happy camper.  If I never own my own business, I’ll consider this life a waste.)  Paired with a larger vision and a plethora of things to accomplish – and the right team – I can give all myself to a project.  All the dedication, all the passion, all the obsession simmering below the surface.

Contrast this with my current situation: I’m working for a company who’s singular goal is to bring educational opportunities those those who couldn’t afford it, couldn’t make time for it, couldn’t achieve it, not because they weren’t smart enough or capable enough, but simply because life got in the way.  I’ve never worked for anyone or any type of organization with not only a crystalline goal but a crystalline goal I very strongly (and very deeply) believe in.  I’m thrilled to go to work almost every morning because it’s my job to help convince a person that yes, they can/should/will do this.  I find myself slipping into obsession, not out of dedication, but out of passion for this goal – I am inspired by those I work for.  I find myself uniquely frustrated by those who can’t or don’t hold this goal as close as I do; to many others it’s just a job, the same job that can be accomplished anywhere else.  And I’ve finally dug out of that mindset – after years of careers that dried up passion and dedication, jobs that shattered closely held ideals and left syrupy residues of nasty ethical compromises, I’ve found my swansong.

But am I ready for where it could take me?  Am I ready to put aside the small-town dream of a bakery, the mid-town dream of owning and managing commercial real estate?  The American dream of owning my own business and putting my ideas to work be damned for someone else’s great idea?

A few days ago, I saw my ending with this company.  It’s a political suicide, not shrouded in loyalty or pride, but in self-respect.  The metaphor I’ve used to describe it to others: imagine you’re twenty pages into a book and you already know exactly how it ends.  It doesn’t matter how long the book is, it doesn’t matter how the plot twists or turns – the ultimate destination has already been cast, the pieces are moving, and now I’m playing the game.

The question isn’t why I’m playing – that answer should be pretty obvious.  The question is who am i: the ‘go get shit done’ piece or the pawn who ‘gets capped quick’?  Do I play the game with agility or finesse?  Who is working against me, seeking nothing other than to trap me?  It appears that no matter my passion, my dedication, or my obsession my fate is written.  For some, this bleak post-modern outlook is persuasive.  It justifies the conspicuous spending and paranoid hoarding of resources.  It allows the ego to take on mythical qualities.  It reduces us to a caste despite the ravenous clawing for power in each interaction.

It’s an one-sided outlook of the game.  A philosophy I don’t subscribe to.

But it does give me pause to consider whether what I believe – no matter a fleeting state of passion or perpetual state of dedication – is true.  And whether knowing the ending should influence my decision(s) in the game.

In Praise of Quitting Your Job

This is my constant struggle, but said much much more eloquently.  Original by Ben Pieratt, available here; shamelessly reposted by me; comments in blue are mine.

Update: just as a little bit of background, I’m back in the interview process for a few different positions, one of which I’d kill (or seriously maim) to have.  To be perfectly frank, I believe it would be perfect for me, especially considering this post below.  Too often I’ve worked with those who weren’t inspired nor inspiring.  This position, company, and people I’d work closely with would radically change that experience – already I’m inspired and thinking and the job isn’t mine (yet).  Regardless of what happens concerning the job, it’s affirming to know that I can still be inspired by those I work with AND that I’m appreciated for my skills, talents, and abilities, and especially for my creative, problem-solving mind.

Now back to your regular programming:

In Praise of Quitting Your Job

(Alternate title: The New Work Ethic)

I wrote this email to a friend a few weeks ago, and then the topic came up again last night with an old buddy who was frustrated with his work. He seemed to appreciate what I had to say, so I figured it might be worth sharing:

– – –

Thinking about your comment at the end our call. Thought I’d put some words down. Apologies in advance for the presumption.

The reason I’m so supportive of you quitting your job is that I’m intensely empathetic to your situation and I believe that you’re doing everyone a disservice by sticking around.

I’ve worked for a handful of companies over the course of the last 6 years. I started all of them with a fair amount of enthusiasm, but within 5 months of each I dipped into a depression. By 7 months the work was having a tangible effect on my mood and outlook, and by nine months, I’ve quit almost every job I’ve held. The longest was 12 months at [Redacted], and that was only because I wanted my options to vest. I handed them my resignation on my 366th day.

I always feel like a waste of space in these situations. Part of the depression stems from being so useless. Why do I hate this job so much? What is wrong with me that I’m so entitled? People the world over have jobs they don’t like, why am I unable to stick this out?

I could wax on this for a while (and I did, but then deleted all the paragraphs), but I think it comes down to the fact that, for some people, work is personal. Personal in the same way that singing or playing the piano or painting is personal.

Totally agreed on this point, and I beat myself up about this (and how I shouldn’t take it personally) each and every day. Every. single. day.

As a creative person, you’ve been given the ability to build things from nothing by way of hard work over long periods of time. Creation is a deeply personal and rewarding activity, which means that your Work should also be deeply personal and rewarding. If it’s not, then something is amiss.

Okay, small point of disagreement: things are not built from nothing.  It comes from something existing (usually many things), but re-ordered or re-expressed or re-done or re-concepted in a new, inventive, innovative, creative way.  Usually these “things” are solutions to problems; the more complex the problem, the more nuanced the solution(s).  Creative folks relish the fact that there isn’t just one way to do something – there are millions.  Don’t believe me?  How many poems, songs, paintings, books, expressions are out there with the singular goal of telling someone that you love them?  I rest my case.

Creation is entirely dependent on ownership.

Ownership not as a percentage of equity, but as a measure of your ability to change things for the better. To build and grow and fail and learn. This is no small thing. Creativity is the manifestation of lateral thinking, and without tangible results, it becomes stunted. We have to see the fruits of our labors, good or bad, or there’s no motivation to proceed, nothing to learn from to inform the next decision. States of approval and decisions-by-committee and constant compromises are third-party interruptions of an internal dialog that needs to come to its own conclusions.

I’d like to state for the record that I’m not anti-committee and approval.  In fact, I need others’ feedback regularly in order to keep the process going.  It’s a struggle to balance out the need for stimulation (creative partners and decision-makers) versus the need for isolation (to actually get something done) however, and I do agree that interruptions in the process are creativity killers, especially when surrounded by morons who either can’t wait for an idea to develop and see a drafted product OR who can’t make a decision or provide feedback.

Your muse can only be treated as the secretary of a subcommittee for so long before she decides to pack up and look for employment elsewhere. If you aren’t able to own the product and be creative, then you aren’t able to do your work, and if you’re not doing your work then you’re negating a very real part of your personality, which is no good for anyone. No good for you and certainly no good for your employer.

I’ve come to terms with my own inherent work issues simply by recognizing that my weaknesses in one context are strengths in another. When I am able to own a project or product, I work hard and I work well, and I like to believe it shows in the results. Not everyone can do this. Not everyone is willing to spend stupid amounts of hours on a project simply because they believe in it. This is worth recognizing.

My strengths: problem-solving.  Give me a challenge, something complex, and let me run with a white board and several marker colors.  Once we’ve got it figured out and approved by necessary parties, I’ll oversee the implementation, but if you don’t give me another problem to solve, I’m gonna get bored.

My weakness: when I believe in something, I pour myself fully and entirely into it.  I’m not a typical 9-to-5 employee; I don’t leave my brain in my desk at work, and when I’m faced with something where the solution we need isn’t clear, I’m probably not gonna be at my desk.  I’ll likely be outside, or running at the gym, or drinking coffee and watching people, or listening to music or driving or drawing – something that requires just enough attention to let my brain focus on what I’m doing physically and not  overanalyze a problem or possible solutions.  Amazingly, my ideas percolate best that way.  And if I have no ideas initially, research research research in the veins of good art is copied, great art is stolen.

My point is simply this. From what little I understand of you and your situation, I feel like I can empathize. I would guess that you’re juggling a handful of self-loathing with a justified sense of entitlement. This is something that I came to peace with after I left my last job, and I get the sense that you’re still struggling with it.

Bingo.

I suspect that eventually our culture will catch up with our evolving understanding of work ethic and the personal nature of work in creative fields. In the meantime there’s going to be a lot of wasted talent pushing too much effort in the wrong directions. It is clear to me and anyone who interacts with you that a misplacement of your energies is at everyone’s loss. I hope that you’re able to recognize this fact and move forward accordingly.

It’s encouraging that not only am I not alone in these feelings, but that this other blogger gets it, publishes it, and makes it less my fault.

~ HUGE thank you to Ben Pierrat!

Cuttin’ It

I really like dance movies, dance scenes, musicals complete with dancing, yadda yadda – and this movie brightened the rainy day:

I’ve often imagined my life story told in dance and music scenes, told with sudden flash mob-style dance routines.  It’s weird and strange and quirky, yes I know.  Problem is – I have no idea how it ends.  Which is probably a good problem to have.

In other news, things have stalled somewhat on Travels with Molly, but that’s attributed to into the deep end of other moneymaking projects.  More than five thousand words written today…on the principles of Texas personal injury law.  Coulda been more; coulda been a contender.  But moving in the forward direction back toward financial independence.

Two Emails

It’s Monday.  This day is associated with a variety of negative connotations, but for today in particular, even Hitchcock couldn’t come up with a day quite like this one.

I’d like to state for the record that I could not survive without email and I’ve maintained a GMail account for the past six or seven years and archive just about everything I’ve ever drafted, sent and received, even the stuff I’m “supposed to” legally destroy.  (I have a common name –> common email handle –> commonly receive emails not intended for me, though most are from the same ten people who can’t get it through their skulls that no, they’re not reaching the person they’re looking for, and no, I’m not interested in the inane forward you’ve just sent me that displays your chronic inability to think for yourself.)

Today’s adventure in reaching the wrong person via email (though, as you’ll see, I’m not convinced I was an unintended recipient) came from an email address I’ve never seen before and from an otherwise anonymous source: no name, no true identifying information, though the headers and IP address indicate Dallas, Texas.  Came straight through to my Inbox, never triggered the Spam filter.  No text in the email, just an embedded YouTube video.  After an eye-blink debate, I clicked the link, not thinking of potential consequences of clicking on things in weird, unrecognized emails.  Something about it just didn’t ring warning bells – just curiosity.

Here’s what I received:

I have to say: it’s catchy.  And I’m a Cee-Lo fan.  And there’s no missing the point in it.  But the question remains – was I the intended recipient on this one and if so, I gotta admit it’s a great way to get me into a Russian countryside full of ancient yet deadly landmines.  So, to you dear reader: respond or not?

The second email is related to the job search.  I’ve been in an email blizzard due to recruiters who “came across your resume” and “believe you’d be a great fit for” their organization.  I understand that for the access and ability to put myself out there, I gotta give up some modicum of privacy in order to find what I’m looking for (much like the first few dates with a new person).  But…first, if you can’t seem to proofread your emails recruiting me, it’s probably not gonna work out.  Second, I’m a writer with marketing experience and a JD degree – how does that qualify me to give financial advice or sell cars?  Not to be snotty, but not only would those occupations cause me to put forks in my eyes, you probably wouldn’t/couldn’t/shouldn’t pay me enough to compel me not to find the nearest spork and threaten to do so.  (Must stop with this imagery, I’m grossing myself out.  Moving on…)

But, as I mentioned before, today was odd.  I got a response back for a freelance writing gig.  I was driving at the time, just saw there was a new email in the chain.  Now, my email to them, sent yesterday, was duller than the knives in my kitchen – basically the quick, simple “here’s the position you’ve advertised, I’m uniquely qualified – just look at my resume, let’s talk why not how’s this week for you.”  No showcasing or showboating, just a ‘please don’t reject me but if you do, it’s okay ’cause I didn’t too much effort on this even though I should and do actually think we’d both get some great work from this’ email.  Needless to say, I was pleased just to see something back.

And when I arrived at my destination (thanks, GPS navigation!), and opened this email response, the spring breeze of pleased approached the nuclear blast of shocked.

The response (identifying information redacted; green color added for effect):

Anne,

I’m going to be honest in a way that is rarely expected when considering someone for a job position (in the sense that tact and professionalism typically impose stipulations to the contrary); your writing is absolutely enthralling. I checked out your blog to get a feel for your writing style and I was blown away. I want to say that you have a way with words but it is certainly more than that. It is painfully evident in your writing that you possess a degree of sincerity and the ability to think and feel in a way that I think most people try to avoid for simplicity sake. When I read your post about your former co workers failing to invite you for lunch or your separation from your boyfriend I felt true empathy for you. That’s no small feat considering that I usually find the typical self-reflective blog post to be disingenuous, pseudo-poetic and trite. Basically what I am getting at is that if your goal was to spill your guts about your personal life so that you could impress a semi-elitist jerk who has no discernable creative writing abilities or technical skills of his own yet he still likes to criticize the work of others, well, then mission accomplished.

In all seriousness, I am very impressed with your writing but it may be too good. What we are looking for is someone that can generate rather banal and repetitive content. Certainly the content is informative and helpful to our clients but it is by no means fun or edgy. The ideal candidate can take what has already been written and regurgitate it in such a way that it stands apart as unique but still delivers the same feel and message. Where I’m ultimately going with this is that if you are interested then I’d like the opportunity to discuss the possibility further. However, I suspect that this is something that you ultimately would not find to be very engaging and there are a ton of other potential writers who write just good enough to achieve what we’re after. On the other hand, maybe you can wear many hats and writing this stuff is second nature to you. Just let me know what your thoughts are. Keep up the good work. The internet needs more writers who actually have something to say.

Here’s hoping you’ve got a good sense of humor…

Come on, say it with me: holy. f#$&*#@. shit.

I don’t get a whole lotta feedback on my writing – I instead get feedback on the fact I’m a writer.  Exchanges typically go like this:

Stranger #1, at some break in conversation: “So, whatd’ya do?”

Me: “I’m a writer.”

Stranger #1: “No shit?  That’s cool.  What’dya write?”

Me: “Mostly fiction…published a book of short stories back in January, working on a novel and a screenplay at this point, though it’s taking a little longer than originally expected…” (I’ve stopped telling folks that I keep a blog or website UNLESS specifically asked or I think it will lead to some type of commissioned work – the advent of web browsers on smartphones usually leads to instant mortification when my blog is read aloud, with alcoholic intonation, at the bar.)

Stranger #1: “Awesome, where can I get your book?  What’s your name again?”

Me: “Really, anywhere – Barnes and Noble, Amazon – here’s my card.”

Stranger #1, who hasn’t read a book in, oh, five years, and shops at B&N or Borders for the latest Maxim: “Sweet – I’ll definitely order it!” Then, to Strangers #2-5: “Hey, this chick is a writer!  We’re all gonna be in a book…”

(end of interaction, typically.  a dirty little secret though: I know they don’t order or purchase the book.  and it’s not just suspicion or playing the odds that a late twenty-something male doesn’t read. I get all sorts of demographic info from the publisher and from retailers.  I’m kinda big in Japan.)

But to get feedback on my writing – even if just from this very source – is exhilarating.  Maybe you missed it though: SOMEONE OUT THERE THINKS I’M GREAT!  I mean, there’s only so long one can listen to her mother (“I think you’re a good writer, you just need to find the right material…now go be a lawyer and don’t bring shame on the family.”) or to friends (“Sure, you can write, but why do that when you can help me with my dreams instead?”) or to critics (“writing is dead.”).  And if we extrapolate this email, for each person who comments and tells me I’m great, there are 25 others thinking the same thing.  Twenty-six people!  We’ve just made my millennium – and renewed the spunky vigor to get back to the Molly project and finish before the close of the year.