Sunday, July 23, 2017

7/24/17—Spending Time With Spirit

I may not see dead people, but I've seen a few mediums this summer.

Only one of my experiences was a personal reading. It really wasn't all that fabulous. She hit on a couple of really interesting things, but about half of what she said didn't resonate. This was really disappointing, because I've been looking for a really good medium, preferably one with talents in criminal investigations. Regular readers know my father was murdered and, while I know who murdered him, I still have questions. 

The other two experiences were those mass types of performances where the medium is in a room with 1000-2500 people (depending on the medium) and reads just a handful in front of an audience. The first was Monica The Medium, a young girl with amazing talent. The second was just the other night with Theresa Caputo, the Long Island Medium. 

First, let me dish. Both have amazing talent, and while not all of my friends agree, Monica was more talented. To be fair, her crowd was maybe less than or around 1000 people, so it was more "intimate". But Monica seemed to hone in on the messages and who the message was for better than Theresa. She just seemed more accurate to me. And Theresa tended to speak more about her symbols, as in "Did your deceased husband used to leave the toilet seat up? Because I'm seeing a bear hugging a poodle, which is my symbol for someone who leaves the toilet seat up!" Monica skipped that "inside baseball" type of message-giving for the most part, and just seemed to go straight to the point. 

That said, Theresa Caputo is FAR more fun and entertaining in person than she is on TV. For one thing, she curses like a sailor, calling some of the skeptics in the audience "motherfuckers" (in jest) and leaving many conservative DC ladies clutching their pearls over the salty language. (In contrast, Monica, although she said a curse word or two herself, was far more refined and low key.) Theresa is a little manic, which actually helps serves to keep you engaged while she's doing all her thinking and symbol vetting. And instead of standing on stage, she did all her work down among the audience, two cameras in tow while her reading was multicast across multiple screens in the 2500 seat, sold-out-for-two-nights auditorium. Both mediums read people further back into the audience than you'd expect, with Theresa even reading someone in the balcony. In fact, Theresa read at least as many people outside the VIP seats as in (and those VIP seats cost upwards of $500!!!) And, not for nothing, her dress and shoes were FABULOUS.

But also, something interesting happened after Theresa that didn't happen after Monica. Maybe it was due to Theresa, maybe it was a function of the room's high energy, and maybe it was just circumstance. First, we almost got in an accident on the way home, but my car stopped maybe a foot from the car in front of me, from a good speed (not highway, but local driving) and in quite a short distance. And the braking was so smooth that it didn't even jostle us. In retrospect, the whole non-incident was unnaturally safe and smooth. As I was driving home, I mentioned that I often call on my deceased cousin, Mike Sadler, who died in a car crash. 

And that is interesting, because I bought a football jersey (my cousin was a well-known college football player at the time of his death) with his name on it a year ago, and just happened to put it on for the first time to wear between the shower and my Theresa Caputo clothes. I put it back on when I got home, then the next day I get an email reminding me the anniversary of his death is coming up. So a cousin whom I met once when he was a boy and who died tragically at a young age last year, has been coming up repeatedly right around the time of his death anniversary. 

But that's kind of an aside. Because when I got home, my three puppybabies were waiting for me at the door and I was just unusually overwhelmed by their love and my gratitude for the love we share. In a profound way, I felt how they love me regardless of how fat I am or how much of a bitch I am or how many days I've been without a shower. There is no failing they don't love me despite. In fact, they don't even see failings. They just see that their perfect mommy who gives perfect snuggles is back with the pack. That's all that matters. That and the water and kibble and treats. That's all that matters.

I'm a loner by nature, and have come to a point in my life that I no longer expose myself to those who undervalue or disrespect me, family or not. I've come a long way in defeating my habit of ingratiating myself to those who treat me with disdain in hopes that they will come to like me. I'm largely cured of that shizzle. But when you clear those people out, and you live and work alone, and tend to isolate yourself on top of that, it would be natural to get lonely. 

Yet, I rarely manage to feel lonely. I do something involving others once or twice a week, but otherwise I have very little human interaction and that suits me. So it hit me how blessed I am to have such a loving home life, despite my hermit ways. And that homelife is consistently "safe" and stable because, with no other humans present, there is a complete lack of tension and drama in my home...unless I cause it. Really, I've got all the good feels in my life with a bare bones minimum of the bad. And a lot of that is because of my dogs. Humans tend to focus on our complaints in life or take things for granted or seek newer or better—all without truly basking in the amazing things we already have. And I felt compelled to really feel the beauty of what I have created in my life when I got home.

Then the next morning, when I got my coffee and sat on the deck to commune with nature to start the day, I became overwhelmed by the connection with all things past and present. Like I just felt so much a part of the human world, the spirit world, the natural world and whatever other worlds there may be, all at once. It just washed over me, but even though momentary, it had a ring of definiteness and truth to me and I felt "the ancestors" around me. (This morning, I felt it less, but just as I was thinking that to myself, a cardinal flew by and that is my symbol for spirit.) Something that may or may not be connected to all of this is, when I came back inside after that first morning, I learned my sister's father-in-law had just died. He was a colorful, all around pleasant guy, so it was sad for me.  But I wondered if maybe his passing (and the anniversary of my cousin's passing) made that connection just that much stronger.

So basically, in the space of about 12 hours, I had numerous spirit-based and spiritual experiences following Theresa Caputo. She didn't say it might happen to people, but I remember Monica saying it's not uncommon to at least have dreams or visitations, the latter of which is what I would consider the cousin story to be. But I guess I'm surprised and grateful, because I feel there was a healing in me, as gratitude and spiritual connection are both healing acts. Certainly now, two days later, I'm still seeing life from a higher plane in that regard. 

And that's the real gift of this. It had been a while since my mind felt unfettered and just at peace for a couple of days. I'm sure I've been unconsciously self-critical of my life in the past few days, because it just seems to be part of my DNA...haha. But I haven't caught myself in the act. Even when I slept 12 hours straight this weekend and woke up with the day nearly gone, I acknowledged that I needed the rest, and have been needing all the rest I've been getting for a while now. WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME?!?!? 

So the real gift is acceptance of who and where I am, right here and now. I don't have to obsess on everything wrong, because I am where I'm supposed to be. And I'm conscious of that. Not only that, but I'm also conscious of the fact that all of this is just thought—thought I can access whenever I want. And even if the magic spell breaks and I go back to my self-criticism and misery, as I very well may, knowing all of this, at least for now, is not just a medium. It's HUGE. :D

Saturday, July 15, 2017

7/16/17—Musings On My Day Job

This ad began the multi-ad campaign discussed in this post.
It focuses on corporate learning trends. Click to see larger.
All these years of blogging and I have never once talked about the thing I do most during my waking hours—writing ads. 

Not just ads, of course. Brochures, emails, white papers, websites, TV spots—anything an organization uses to communicate with prospective or existing customers in an official kind of way. This kind of thing gives me a good deal of insight into my clients. I know their sensitivities and weaknesses as well as their strengths. I know their corporate "personality" and preferences and level of risk taking. I know their business strategies, and am certainly exposed to "confidential" information before even their employees know about it. 

Which is why I've never really talked about it until now. The way I see it, if I don't talk about it at all, then I'll never say anything stupid. While I'm a composed and careful writer, I'm a mess when it comes to opening my mouth.  And, while I may not always sign contracts to this end, all my client contact is confidential as far as I'm concerned. Most of my clients don't even have any idea who else I work for.

I'm not just an advertising copywriter, I do it as a freelancer or consultant. The first 10 years of my career were spent working in ad agencies and in-house organizations. The contacts I made at that point in my life have led, in one way or another, to most of the clients I have today. I quit working for others 21 years ago and have been working out of my home and managing clients myself ever since. Today, most of my clients are in the education field, travel and tourism, business to business, high tech and real estate. Over the years, I have learned a little about pretty much every kind of business there is. This would come in really handy in social situations if I didn't avoid them like the plague.

There are many ways to freelance. Some people work out of their homes. Some go to offices of their own or their clients' to work. Some do both. I just work at home. There might be a handful of meetings I have to go to during the year, but I haven't even met half the people I work for, and I've been doing work for the bulk of my clients for over a decade, if not longer. It's a strange thing, but it suits me well.

While I'm not entirely a textbook case of everything you need to be to be self-employed, I'm naturally suited to it...or have learned to cope. I love to work alone—I need very little human interaction overall in life, bordering on antisocial. I'm disciplined enough to get up every morning and go to work, rather than watch TV or goof off. I keep good records. I'm very responsive. I'm reliable. I don't need supervision. And, not for nothing, I'm not a control freak. Especially if you're a writer, you have to get used to handing your words off to someone who does whatever with them and you may not ever see the result. More importantly than all that, I'm pretty good at managing the demons in my head when it comes to the "feast or famine" aspect of the job. I am NOT always busy. I'm either inundated or work is dripping in too slowly to support me. Trust me, living that way can be a total mind f___. That and the working alone aspect is probably what takes most would-be freelancers down.

While I may not frequently be involved in what happens to my work after I hand it off, that's not to say I don't get feedback. I get way more feedback than I ever did when I worked for others. All my clients are really good at thanking me and telling me they appreciate me. And when something in particular resonates with their client or within their organization, they forward me the kudos. I mean, sometimes it feels like an embarrassment of riches in that regard. It remains the most pleasant surprise I've had doing this. When you're an employee, you rarely ever hear "thank you" because they see you as a transaction in that way. And you'd think that when people pay you way more each hour to work for them, it would be worse. But it's just the opposite. They value you more.

This is another ad in the same series, focusing
on adaptive learning. This gentleman lost his
leg in a friendly fire incident in the military.
Rather than let it defeat him, he adapted
Crossfit to his needs and went on to win a
Paralympic medal for bobsledding.
Click to see larger.
So anyway, I recently asked the marketing director at GP Strategies® if I could "out them" on my blog and use our working relationship as an example of how things go. And they said yes. GP Strategies is a performance improvement company that works with Global 1000 companies to optimize their people, processes and technology. To translate that into layman's terms, training is a large part of their business, but they do way more than that in the corporate learning space. They also have an engineering arm to their company, but this post is already going to be too long without me getting into that...haha.

My relationship with the company pre-dates most of the people I work with there. The current marketing director inherited me from the previous marketing director, whom I met elsewhere on a freelance job 20 years ago. Certainly the new lady could have fired me and moved on to another person, but she gave me a chance. Now, on any given day, I might hear from any one of six marketing people in that organization needing help with a trade show display, flyer, blog article, email blast or whatever else. There is nothing I haven't written for this company. Many years back I rewrote their entire website (which has since been redone/rewritten/reengineered again by an outside web development company.) I helped rebrand their company a few years back, requiring some really meaningful phone interviews with people who work there, a process I thoroughly enjoyed. (Notice the difference in the logo and company name between the Able ads and the Outsource ads. They also got a new tagline, though they don't use it in this year's ads.) And, I help them come up with new advertising campaigns each year or two. 

To them, I'm an extension of their in-house team. They do not have an advertising agency. I can't say for sure, but I imagine this arrangement is just as effective and far more affordable for them. Most companies can't manage to pull that off well, but this client does. The same is true about my higher education clients. (BTW, I also freelance for advertising agencies...about half my work comes from ad agencies and design firms.) Not to brown nose, but the key to a successful in-house effort is having a highly competent marketing director with good ideas and good people management skills.  Anyone can manage an outside advertising agency. But few can manage an in-house team that puts out agency-quality work.

This is a third ad in the series, focusing on
technology solutions. There are more ads to come
in this series, I just haven't been asked to
write them yet. Click to see larger.
Different companies work with me differently. When it comes to an ad campaign, GP says "here's the message we want to get across, now come up with a bunch of ways to do that." Some years the campaign focuses on just one particular area of specialization in their company, or a "vertical" approach (see the Outsourcing ads below). This year, the input was to go "horizontal", meaning a more general discussion of workplace performance as a whole across the campaign, including the business results the company delivers (see the Able ads above). Unless you work in the corporate learning industry, you will never see one of these ads. They run only in trade publications targeted to other businesses. This type of advertising is called business to business or B2B because it's one business marketing to another business, instead of marketing consumers (which would be B2C, like my travel and tourism clients). 

So the client writes up a document/brief telling me what they are looking for, what to include and maybe even imparts their internal ideas for me to consider and expand upon. Even though they give me their thoughts, they fully expect me to think beyond what they provide. And then they might have a wish list item they want to include. For example, this year the marketing director wanted to incorporate her Crossfit gym owner who has a really compelling and relevant story to tell about adaptive learning, which is a current industry trend. So whatever I came up with had to be able to incorporate him in one ad, but the campaign had to be bigger than him alone. 

In exchange for his story and image, GP Strategies helped support his Paralympic quest as a bobsledder, enabling him to travel to competitions and such. It was a really smart idea, considering that corporate social responsibility is huge these days, so supporting things of merit or giving a percentage of your profits to a cause is a plus in the eyes of your customers. So it was a win-win for everyone and gave us a really powerful ad, if you ask me. 

So my client tells me what they want, then a few weeks later (or whenever they want) I come back with multiple ideas. A lot of things get done last minute in this industry, but this client and, actually, many other clients of mine, plan ahead. We started this effort months before the first ad was scheduled to run. 

This year I went way beyond what was anticipated and gave them eight "well developed" concepts, including ideas for images to use with the headlines. In this case, "well developed" meant that they got content for a full ad in that campaign, along with an image idea and either headlines for future ads or an explanation of how the concept would play out. (I don't do the art, but share any images I have in my brain, which they either use or don't.) Each campaign might have anywhere from three to six ads in it, all of which use the same headline/art structure and idea. In addition the eight well developed concepts, they also got six marginally developed concepts, consisting of a brief explanation of how the idea would play out.

That's way more ideas than usual, but I like to work until I'm fully satisfied a) I've got something I can be proud of and b) I've given fair attention to the ideas they came up with. I should note that, while most clients ask me to stick within a budget (usually because they have a budget to stick to themselves), this company rarely ever does. They just want a good product. So if I spend more time than usual, they don't worry. I do enough work for them, including things that take less time than anticipated, that everything evens out over the course of a year. And they trust me. So I usually won't quit until I feel I have "THE answer". But my "THE answer" and my client's "THE answer" isn't always the same. So one idea is not enough. Besides, it's rare that "THE answer" is the first one I think of anyway.

Usually I'll just present my ideas over the phone, but this time I drove up to their offices outside of Baltimore (an hour away) primarily to surprise other attendees who have worked with me for over a decade and have never met me. As I was talking them through all the many concepts, it was clear to everyone in the room which one was the winner. It's "Able" the idea I'm using to illustrate the top half of this post.

This is a previous year's campaign. All the ads
were about outsourcing. More on that below.
As an aside, B2B advertising in general is pretty conservative and few companies ever want to break out of the norm. In fact, you'll be told by many to "do something like XYZ competitor does, because we like their ads." Which is just stupid thinking. I could write a whole other blog on that alone. But GP Strategies, even though they are conservative like many other publicly traded B2B companies, always does something with a color, image, headline or otherwise that looks like nothing else in the industry. Which is as it should be in marketing. I'm so blessed that all my clients are smart cookies when it comes to this.

If you have ever looked through a trade publication, even having a cohesive concept is "wacky" and "out there" in some industries. I do a lot of work in higher education and, up until maybe 10 or 15 years ago, having a "brand" was a totally foreign thought. Here's an ad that changed all that in higher ed, and I just happened to write it (including the idea of making the turtle roar and  many other fearsome things he does in subsequent ads). The TV spots were backed by an extensive print campaign of turtles bursting through walls and doing other badass things (their school's mascot is a turtle/terrapin). And, all these years later, "Fear the Turtle" and the idea that they are a force to be reckoned with academically is still their "brand". Even though the average consumer is used to seeing creative/fun/funny ads, the creativity of this ad literally shook the entire industry because they had never seen an institute of higher education play by the same rules as a consumer products company so successfully. 

I tell you all this to illustrate that there are many different worlds in advertising beyond the slick, sophisticated consumer advertising you're used to. In B2B you have to keep shareholders happy, you don't want to risk offending customers, and there's usually a concern your competition might find something in your advertising to mock you about. So many tend to play things safe or just marginally risky, unless they're a maverick underling trying to get noticed. I'm not saying that's the way it should be necessarily, but I am saying it's the way it is in most B2B industries. It's not the free-for-all you're used to as a consumer.

This is a second ad (out of three) in the
outsourcing campaign. Outsourcing is when
you hire another company to take over
something you do. In this case, GP might
manage part of your learning organization
for you, like administrative functions that
keep you from focusing on the big picture.
An example might be manning a help desk
for you or keeping track of what courses
your employees have and haven't taken yet.
So back to the concepts. After the presentation and once we knew what we wanted, I went back home to develop and refine the idea even further. In fact, I don't remember, but I probably refined more than one idea. The marketing director knew what she wanted, but had to lay the groundwork for the acceptance of the concept (including the sponsorship of the Paralympic athlete for the one ad) in the organization. Then, once we were good internally, she told me what she wanted the first couple of ads to say and I wrote them in many forms—as print ads, as memes and as online banner ads. Then I sent them back to her and their in-house designers designed and finalized everything. 

I have won many awards over the years, including a One Show certificate, a rare honor coveted by every advertising creative in the world. But my particular talent lies mainly in the strategy (psychologically and business-wise) behind the idea. To that end, I'll point out a few ways in which this campaign is devilishly smart:
  • Each headline in the series consists of one word, partially crossed out. That treatment says, "we take you from unable to able", which is the crux of performance improvement. Each ad then focuses on different ways we take you from unable to able. For the audience, it's an incredibly quick "get" and, in its simplicity, is pretty smart. How often does one word say so much? And that smartness and efficiency says a lot about the company doing the advertising.
  • "Fashionable" transformed into "able", in particular, says "we know all the trends, because we're experts in this stuff. But not all trends are worthy of pursuing. Not all will make you more able. It depends on who you are, what works for your culture and if the trend has legs (which means it's not a passing fad.) We can help you sort all that out." It also points toward a key differentiator for the company—they do custom work. These are not one-size-fits-all solutions, like many of their competitors. So all of that, while not explicitly spelled out, is nonetheless connoted in the 11 words of the headline and subhead, which is about as much as most people will read, according to research. 
  • If you are inclined to read on, more details are spelled out in the ensuing 50 word copy block, along with mentions of the trends the reader is most curious about pursuing. The "tone of voice" of that content is knowledgeable, competent, approachable and clever, which means the company is all those things, too. At least as much information in any written piece is conveyed in the way the words are put together, as in the actual words themselves. In advertising, your goal is to connect with the reader in the most profound way possible, even if they're just skimming the ad. The attitude, tone and personality behind the words and picture do a lot of that heavy lifting. Finally, we don't link people to the main website, but to a cache of informative learning trends articles and webinars that demonstrate the company's thought leadership. We offer value, not just a home page. 
  • If you're flipping through one of the magazines this ad runs in, you'll see a lot of photos of people sitting around conference tables, or of globes (to represent the company's global presence), or of two people shaking hands to show what a great business relationship they have. So a woman dressed in a superhero costume or a man with an artificial leg or even just a laptop (though images of people are generally more effective than images of things) is going to catch your attention. There's color and interest in all of these ads that stands out from the sea of gray and black suits and corporate settings. Also, the ads are "white", which is an industry term to mean they're not overly cluttered...there's a lot of blank space in the ads. White space (even if it's actually green or red) is a powerful force in advertising for the same reason a clean desk is more inviting than a cluttered or overly fanciful one. All of that, however, is the doing of the art director and not me. :D
The point of all of this is that, when the average person looks at an ad, it looks easy. In fact, many might think, "I could do better." But the fact is that an awful lot of thought goes into this stuff. It's not effective by chance. Every single element is there for a business reason. And it often accomplishes a million tiny things in a small amount of space. When I watch American Ninja Warriors, it looks easy and I think, "I could complete that obstacle." But the reason it looks easy is because of the skill of the athlete, the effort of their trainers, the people that build the obstacles they train on, etc. The same is true of marketing. If I'm successful, it's because I've been set up for success by a marketing director (not to mention art director) who is a brilliant strategist, recognizes good work and stays out of my way...haha. 

As a freelancer, I get to engineer those relationships, in that I won't keep working for someone who isn't competent and doesn't properly value or understand the skills I bring to the table. Of course, I have to rise to their level in how I work, too. There are plenty of smart, competent people out there that want nothing to do with me...haha. But there are also some I won't do business with for any variety of reasons. That is one of the best perks of being self employed. You don't have to put up with jerks, abusers or incompetent co-workers. Unless you allow it for financial reasons. But I have walked away from my biggest client on a few occasions in my career and have never regretted it. Someone better always appears to take their place. To the regular readers of this blog, unerring (or only occasional erring of) faith and trust in the universe are paramount to my survival. As such, this job is inextricably interlaced with my spiritual beliefs.

As I wind down this epic post, I want to say something else. Advertising has a really bad rap in the world. Yes, advertising is structured to elicit a desired response. In that way it is "manipulative." But it is not dishonest. Or even unethical. Not by a long shot. Everyone reading these words has used charm, for example, to get what they want over the years. "You attract more flies with honey" is something you may even say. We all know how to deal effectively with the people in our lives and adjust our messages and presentation accordingly. Advertising is no different. 

The purpose of advertising is not usually to sell you an idea, product or service anyway. It's rare to buy anything off an ad alone. Our goal is to intrigue you enough to get you to visit a website, drive to a store or call a number where you can get more input upon which to make your decision. If we didn't tell you Geico is cheaper than most other auto insurance, you'd be paying too much. If we didn't tell you Scrubbing Bubbles does all the work for you, you'd be needlessly scouring grout. And if you didn't know a Big Mac had two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions and a sesame seed bun, you'd probably be afraid to order one, and you certainly wouldn't know where to find one. It's called "the second oldest profession in the world" because what's the point of a hooker if you don't know the service even exists...haha. With the exception of e-commerce sites, our job is awareness, not sales.

Only once in my entire 30 year career have I ever been asked to do anything that felt slimy. It was just after 9/11 and a client wanted us to "prey on peoples' fears" to sell an emergency preparedness kit. Me and my creative partner refused to do it and we told our account executive as much. It was his job to tell the client our agency wouldn't take that tack. We ended up doing the ad, but we did not prey on fear. 

In the vast multitude of cases, I have found that clients exercise an abundance of caution when it comes to things like that. Nobody wants anything that even smacks of braggadocio, much less questionable ethics. GP Strategies has a number of accomplishments that they could tout, but they don't like to brag. This year they won more industry awards than ever before and they finally did an ad reflecting that forthrightly, instead of downplaying it. That is more often the case than not in my experience. And while I have infinite skill to make to make something look better than it is while still being entirely honest, most clients prefer to forego puffery. Overall, companies are vastly more likely to be overly cautious than to do anything that could be construed as misleading in any way. 

It was a huge disappointment to my father that I chose to work in this industry. He didn't support my career choice. He saw advertising as evil. But in any well regulated industry (the FTC and FCC both regulate parts of the industry) outliers are rare. And compared to the scandals you see in the financial sector, ethics violations and misleading claims are extremely rare in the mainstream advertising industry. The worst you could say about us is that we are really good at working within the rules. But even then, professionals tend to stay well clear of the line. 

It's clear from the length of this post that I have a lot to say. I could write a book on freelancing or on copywriting. The same is true of anyone who has been doing it as long as I have. But the older you get in this industry, the rarer you become. It's a very hard industry to work in. People can be quite aggressive. I was just never good at doing the things you need to do to rise up in the corporate structure as a woman and as a writer. I'm not politically inclined. 

But here's the thing...if you're in your 50s or 60s and you're still creating in this industry (as opposed to managing, such as a creative director), it can only be for one reason—you love it that much. I'm insecure about so much of my life, but you can't tell me I'm a bad writer and expect me to believe it. When you're in a career that lends itself to subjective criticism, you have to believe in yourself. And even when you have that confidence, this industry can be crushing if you don't love doing it. 

When I was in college, one of my professors was Philip Ward Burton, a man who literally wrote the book on advertising copywriting. Here is a story about him. He was a tough old bird who was an industry legend. He was also deaf as a door knob, so if you raised your hand, he would run up the aisles of the lecture hall and lean in to hear your question. It was endearing because he was so cute and spry. 

On the first day of his copywriting class he told us that none of us would earn an A. If you were good enough to earn an A, you had no business learning copywriting. In his mind, you should already be paid to do it. To get a B, that meant it would just take a little work before you could do it professionally. To get a C, you were doing pretty good work for college. By the next class, about a third of the people had dropped out. By the end of the semester, only about half of us remained. 

His grading system was the single most important lesson I learned in the industry. Only the people who really want it make it as a creative in this industry. If you can't take a C on an assignment...if you're worried about maintaining your perfect image/grade point average...then you won't survive in this business. You have to be impervious to gut kicks and body slams. You have to be completely unafraid of coming up with the worst idea in the world (because that's how you get to the good ones.) And you have to produce. Every. Single. Day. For every two or three artists in an advertising agency, there's only one copywriter. It's a hard job to get in an industry that's hard to survive. And I'm proud to say I have been one for 30 years.

I got a B in his class that semester, and even got an A on one project. (OK, it was an A-.) While I may never talk about it, it's not just a job I do to keep me busy between blog posts...haha. I have never shared this part of my life with you before. You know all about my dogs, my shortcomings, my neuroses, my childhood, my illnesses, my spiritual beliefs, my struggles and my other 30-year venture as a tarot reader, but you don't know about this. And now you do. 

If you're still reading, thank you. This was a long one. I would NEVER be allowed to write something this long and meandering in my day job. Shorter is better in that gig. But you guys put up with my long, winding stories pretty much every week, so hopefully you were able to maintain your stamina. I will never understand why you keep coming back for more, but I'm grateful you do.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

7/10/17—Remembering Who I Am. Again.

You'd think, because I've been reading tarot cards for 30 years, that if I ever had an issue I needed input on, I'd just pick up my cards. But oddly, it rarely occurs to me until someone says, "why don't you ask your tarot cards?"

Anyway, the other night I was on the edge of an anxiety attack over life and FINALLY remembered to give myself a reading. I got the Monstarot deck by Joanna Nelson and Trish Sullivan a couple of months ago and, even though it's preciously adorable, I thought it would give me a serious, but gentle, reading. And it did. It also reminded me of something that I had forgotten. In fact, I broke down and cried. Messages from tarot can do that. 

The last five years or so have been difficult for me. Just living them has been difficult. I was sick much of the time. Work and my income suffered. I've been pooped on by people I trusted. I have recurring depression. And adjusting to this side of menopause while recovering and rebuilding after illness has been hard. It has been a dark time. A depressing time. A time when I've questioned my will and desire to live.

So the other night, a million worries about the future were swirling in my head and I started having some pretty dark thoughts. So I pulled out the Monstarot to calm the monsters in my head. Basically, I asked the cards to tell me three themes that would be prevalent in my life five years from now. And all of that was positive. So then I wanted to see three years from now. Which wasn't as good, but was OK. So then I wanted to see a year from now. Then six months. Then three months. Then three weeks...haha. 

Anyway, the trend was that the closer we got to the present, the more challenging those three things were. And the further we got away from now, the better they were. So improvement was forthcoming, albeit a little slowly. Then I did a series of one-off questions—you can tell I was in a bad place, because I was being a little obsessive, haha. But then I asked what I needed to know to achieve the best possible outcome over the next five years and ensure as gentle a path as possible. 

I honestly can't remember the cards I chose, but I think it was the two I pictured. But what I got out of the answer was basically, "Hey, don't you remember who you are? You lost a lot of weight (which I've since managed to find again.) Built a business. Quit smoking. Wrote a book and "invented" a product. Survived an abusive relationship and the murder of your father. Bought a house and filled it with dogs. Succeeded and won many awards in a highly competitive, creative industry. Your life has been a long string of manifested thoughts and dreams. More than that, in a world where most women have a partner's support to help achieve their goals, you did it alone. Remember who you are! You are powerful. You are magic!"

Which is a great message to get. But the reason I cried is because I HAD forgotten. And not only that, once I remembered, I realized how long it had been since I remembered. And that made me cry. Because the confidence and faith that had gotten me through all that—the confidence and faith I'd had my entire adult life—had somehow slipped away without me even noticing. I was believing I no longer had it in me. 

I have a bad habit of forgetting the tools I have available to me. I think depression can do that to you. It's not just the tarot I forget, either. I also forget about my awesome One Better Decision plan that I came up with a while back. (I've actually written a number of posts about it and they are all here.) It has just been a couple of days of doing that and I'm already feeling better. And then, of course, I  sometimes forget about about my infinite powers of manifestation. 

The fact is, we all have a lot more available to us than we know at times of difficulty and stress. Two or three days ago, I was defeated, afraid and having dark thoughts. Today I'm much stronger. So if you're in the same spot, just remember who you are and what you've overcome. And try my One Better Decision plan. Our dreams and our special gifts are too important and bring too much joy for us to abandon them along the road of life.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

7/3/17—Floating on the Breath of God

This is a classic post. 

I came across this quote today while poking around in old posts on my blog. It's for all of us with trust issues or who get held up on wanting to know WHY something is happening. 

I'm going to quote someone who's quoting it, because that's the only way I know the quote. Richard Bruxvoort Colligan* quoted St. Hildegard by saying:
"Hildegard of Bingen said a faithful life means 'to be a feather on the breath of God.'
And what does a feather know about wind?
What does a kite have to understand in order to fly?
How much knowledge of meteorology does a sailboat need to feel the strength of full sails?"
This quote is so great because it captures the essences of trust, letting go and surrender all in a single, beautiful snippet. Personally, I usually visualize letting go and surrender as laying, arms stretched, in a river and allowing the river to carry me to where I need to be. 

The river is God or the Universe or whatever higher power you believe in. If you try to swim upstream, you'll waste a lot of energy and not get very far. That's what happens when we try to control situations...when we fight against what "is". We may make some progress in the direction we think we want to go, but eventually we end up where the universe wants us to be. And, from my experience, where the universe wants us to be is generally a much better place than where I think I want to go. And the more I fight against it, the less benefit I receive at the ultimate destination. So letting go is really the smartest way to get there. 

The quote also captures the "why" aspect. "Why is this happening to me? Why is this happening now?" Have you ever noticed the answers to those questions never come until you've reached—and embraced—your final destination? So the whys are just more wasted energy to add to all the swimming against the current we tend to do. 

Finally, though, this is about trust. It's about lifting all the questions up to the universe and allowing the answers to come in their own time. It's about trusting that you're being led to a place that will serve your higher benefit. That doesn't always look like a winning prospect in the beginning, but my experience in life is that we have no way to lose. If you believe everything happens for a reason, then withholding trust is, again, more wasted energy. 

What's key to know here is that things like trust and letting go aren't necessarily talents you're born with. More often, they're skills you develop. So when you say, "I wish I could be more like you and trust in the future," you can. If you work at it as hard as the person you're admiring, that is. Trust and letting go and surrender are all practices. They're things you work on every day in your relationship with your higher power. 

So when you notice yourself letting fear creep in, stop yourself and visualize yourself floating down the river toward a magical light or soaring through the air as a feather on the breath of God. Just absorbing the idea of floating on the breath of God alone will fill you with the faith you need to weather the storm. Over time, the trusting and letting go will become more and more automatic as you begin to see the wisdom in the practice. 

We don't need to know or understand why things are happening the way they're happening. We just have to let ourselves be taken away by the breath of that which has always looked after us, whether you call it God or Allah or Yaweh or the Universe. It has never failed you yet. And if you think it has, then you haven't yet embraced where you've landed. Regardless of whether you like an outcome or not, though, it is what it is. And you can live there in bitterness or gratitude. That's your choice. I choose to let go and trust. 

*If you want to read the Christian sermon this quote came from, follow this link or the link above (you'll find the links on The sermon goes on to help you with a prayer you can say and it references scripture and stuff. It's a good post.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

6/26/17—Turning Toward God

As I mentioned last week, I live right by three different neighborhoods I grew up in. And that kind of familiarity just naturally makes you think of your childhood from time to time.

When I was a kid, I remember we would haunt the neighborhood all day and into the night, playing with friends in front yards, hanging out on street corners, tromping through the woods looking for secret places to smoke, loitering in forbidden places.

I remember one time, in first grade, I intentionally took the wrong bus home so I could ride with a friend. I knew how to get home from her stop, so I thought, "why not?" I was clearly independent and a rule challenger even back then. I knew it was wrong. But I didn't factor in this sharp drop off between the land and the roadway. To this day there is no safe passage on that side of the road, and crossing the busy road was a challenge at my age—and I'd have to do it twice.

So just as I committed to navigating the dangerous, brambled precipice over the road in my dress (little girls wore quite proper dresses in those days, not comfortable clothes like jeans or leggings) my REAL bus driver rolled past, saw me and drove me home. I got in trouble for it, too. I remember my mother being both angry and perplexed.

It wasn't the last time her studious, well behaved daughter would get in trouble, either. I believe a well-timed family move when I was 14 changed my life and put me back on the straight and narrow, because I can honestly see where, if we'd stayed where we stayed, my whole trajectory as a human would have changed. I'd have gotten into drugs and I'd have just gone on a darker path at a time it would have overtaken me. I've done my share of drugs, and probably a little of your share, too. But it was all when I was older and had more of a handle on who I am and who I'm capable of being.

But I digress. I got in trouble for taking the wrong the bus and almost getting killed. Maybe. Who knows? But I primarily got in trouble because the road was dangerous and too busy for a six year old to travel alone. It wasn't as much because the world is dangerous and men prey on little girls so I can NEVER walk alone. Or play in the front yard. Or hang out on street corners. Or loiter in forbidden places.

The world I grew up in is a different world today. Kids can't even play unsupervised in their own front yards anymore. Men who indulge pedophilic urges, while not new, are more common today. And they don't just prey on girls, either. And it's not just that. It's hate crimes and bullies and school shootings, etc. All around, the world is a more dangerous place.

It's all a symptom of something with the power to utterly devastate humankind—it's a symptom of how we've been slowly closing our hearts over time. And now we have to limit our own freedoms to protect against those whose hearts have completely closed. And we have to suspect, not just creeps in cars, but neighbors and other parents—and even family members—because you just. never. know.

Our hearts just close more and more with each passing year or generation and, depending on how open you were to begin with, it's closing some hearts off to the point they just really don't care anymore. It's turning us into something different...something less human.

We are imposing an evolution upon ourselves that will eventually be our undoing. It shows itself in crime, drug abuse, bullying, racism, road rage, you name it. We close ourselves off more and more to certain types of people. We turn ourselves away from opinions that don't support our view. We don't trust those we don't know. We isolate ourselves inside our safe neighborhoods and social circles and workplaces. In short, we are losing trust and faith in god and humanity. And whether the belief came before the reality, or the reality came before the belief, this is where we are.

The rate of this evolution seems to be quickening lately, too. Maybe it's my perspective because I live in the US and everything has gone goofy here in the last year or so. But it seems like everyone and everything is darker and angrier. But then I'm darker and angrier. And frankly, there's a lot to be dark and angry about, regardless of your political leanings. I find it harder to hold on to my faith and trust in my spirituality. And it makes me sad. It helps to stay away from the news, but it's in the air. It's there, even if you don't participate.

I don't think it's too late for us. We may need to bring all this to the surface before we can heal. But it seems to me that something really big is going to have to happen to heal the ones who are the least awake. And that scares me. Like I said, it's a dark time. It's hard to see the light sometimes. But I refuse to accept that this is our fate...that we evolved to have this brilliance and all this ability, only to use it all to secure our self-destruction. But I know my countrymen are angrier than I thought they were and I know I'm angrier than I thought I was, and I don't see an end in sight until we shift focus...until we're ready to turn away from petty human hates and turn toward our spirituality once again.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

6/19/17—Seeing The Vine

There's a really pretty vine with bright orange flowers that grows wild here in Virginia. It's invasive, so you mostly see in less kept areas like the edge of roads or woods, but you'll also see it in peoples' gardens. And apparently it's toxic enough to make a person sick (but nothing near death) from coming into too much skin-to-plant contact with it. It's called Trumpet Vine and, besides looking pretty, hummingbirds dig it.

Not far from my house, there is a stretch of road I drive regularly. And when the trumpet vine is in bloom, I know exactly where to look on each side of the road to see it. It grows in the same spots every year.

Growing up, we moved a lot. The longest we lived somewhere was three years. The shortest was about two months. My father was in the military. It was the thing I hated most as a child. I hated it more than being bullied or feeling alone. In fact, I blamed those things largely on all the moving we did.

As an adult, I've only lived in two homes in the past 25 years. Both of them are in the same DC suburb. And both are also in the town I lived in the most in my childhood—seven years across two different parts of my childhood and in three separate houses, all accessible via the same, short two-lane road I live off today.

So as I was driving down that road this week, knowing just where the trumpet vine grew, all along the stretch in front of the house I lived in when I was four—the house where I lived in the creepy room where strange things happened—I thought about how comfortable and planted I had become.

Growing up, all I knew was a transient life. When I turned 27 or so, the transience stopped. I moved only once, because I bought a home. And now I've been here 18 years and know exactly where the trumpet vine grows along the side of the road. And because I live pretty close to the city, not much has changed around here in my lifetime. It was all built out by the time I came along. Nowhere to put new houses.

We even still have the same 5 & 10 I've been shopping for treasures at for 50 years. Not too many of those still around, but this place is usually bustling. I look at the little kids rushing to the toy aisle, the school supplies or the candy bins and can't help but be nostalgic. I don't know how they do it, but they have everything...any little thing you need. So it's all very comfortable and familiar.

When I was young, I used to long for a "home town" and for a sense of permanence. Now I think I have something equal to that. Better, actually, than living in the same place all my life because nobody's been all up in my beeswax all my life, and I also have the benefit of having experienced other places.

But, this week, as I caught myself spotting the trumpet vine on the roadside to my right, then looking to my left to get a look at the vine on the hillock in front of the creepy room house, it didn't feel comfortable the way it had in the past. It felt maybe too comfortable.

I love my home and don't want to leave. But this week I wondered to myself about the life I gratefully ran away from all those many years ago. There were benefits to moving. You got to start again with a clean slate. And it shook things up...added new anticipation and hope, along with the unknowns that brought anxiety. You were forced out of your comfort zone on a regular basis. I could possibly use some of that right now. But, for now, I'm still holding on to comfort.

I know that change is impossible to achieve without leaving your comfort zone. But comfortable is comfortable. Maybe it's an excuse, but it does seem harder to muster the courage to change the older you get. Just thinking of all the energy I had to move from apartment to apartment or to take off in my car and seek adventure when I was younger makes me exhausted. And it also makes me sad, because I felt more alive back then.

To think that I would just grow old and die in the context of all my current life variables is not appealing to me. On one hand I'm comfortable, but on the other I'm not terribly happy or alive. When I was a kid, I longed for the comfort of constancy in my life...constancy I never got, except for being with the same parents and siblings. Now I'm beginning to see that what I longed for for so many years is no longer working. It had a really good run, but now it's starting turn.

Because I tend to move at a snail's pace in life lately anyway, I don't expect a shakeup soon. I've thought of this before and, at one point, was close to pulling the trigger on leaving my big city suburban life behind. Then I descended into years of illness and my energy was focused elsewhere. But today I'm thinking that 10 years from now, that pretty vine will still be growing on the side of the road. And, if I do right by myself, I won't be here to see it.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

6/12/17—Exploring Your Inner Fear

Here's an oldie but goodie post.

Consider for a moment that there are only two things human behavior is made up of—love and fear. And every choice you make is either one or other. If you're not choosing to love, you're choosing fear. And if you're not choosing fear, you're choosing to love. 

Why love and fear? Because love is love. And fear is the absence of love. Love is a divine trust that everything is beautiful and perfect as it is. Fear is an absence of trust that everything is beautiful and perfect as it is. 

Of course there's a spectrum...a little fear and a lot of fear. But whenever you're not
choosing love, you're choosing fear.

That person you hate? It's not really hate. It's fear that what you dislike in that person is also within you...fear of what you'll do with that realization...fear that you are not yet who you wish to be...fear that you are not who you represent yourself to be. 

We all contain the capacity for the full spectrum of dark and light within us. Whenever we see a behavior in a person that we don't like, we say "that is separate from me." But there is nothing in god's universe separate from you. There may be behaviors you don't exhibit or places you don't go, but the capacity is within you. And denying that what you hate in others is not within you fractures you, holds you captive, keeps you separate from god and keeps you from loving and embracing yourself. And the more you deny being that which you hate, the more loudly you become that which you hate. That is the power of fear. 

If you can't see those dark parts that are mirrored back at you from your "enemy" with true understanding and if you can't look upon people you judge with the genuine grace of "there but for the grace of God go I", then you're not just in denial, you're choosing fear. And when you're choosing fear, you're choosing to distrust that everything is perfect as it is, you're choosing to distrust god's plan, you're choosing not to love, and as a result, you're choosing to live in the darkness within you and not in the light. When you live in the darkness within you, you're just a shade or two or three from the unspeakable atrocities you witness on this earth. 

The Westboro Baptist Church? Just a darker shade of fear than the shade you choose when you hate and separate. The KKK? Just a darker shade of fear. Hitler? Just a darker shade of fear. All, by the way, have some love mixed in and you should be able to see that, too. But all began as all babies do, with pure love. I always make allowances for those with the kind of genetic anomalies that cause mental illness. We all have genetic anomalies, though. Ours just resulted in funky ear lobes or a tendency to heart disease instead of mental illness (there but for the grace of god...) But fear is something we learn, not something we're born with. And when we turn toward fear instead of love, we run the risk of traversing into ever deeper shades. 

Beneath most negative emotions is fear. Behind happiness, joy, trust, acceptance and peace is love. Every choice you make that does not embrace the beauty of what "is", is a choice of fear. The traffic jam that makes you feel impatient. The person whose lifestyle you envy. The homeless person you judge. The weather conditions that "ruin" your picnic. Or the obstacle that vexes you. All of that is fear. All of that breeds separation. All of that exhibits a distrust in the your god. 

So as you walk through your week, consider the choices you're making. And when negative emotions well up, trace them back to the fear within and consider what a loving choice would be instead. And if you're reading this on Facebook, consider clicking through to my blog where you'll find more thought-provoking quotes on the topic of love vs. fear. :)