Sunday, August 20, 2017

8/21/17—Sharing My Thoughts As A Southerner And A Liberal

I saw him as I walked into the drug store. He was a tall man, covered in sweat, hunched over his cart. Probably in his 60s, with an unkempt beard. Dressed in ratty shorts and a tank. I immediately thought a number of things. 

  1. He probably was doing yard work to get that sweaty. But why run to the drug store like that?
  2. He will probably judge the fat girl going on a candy run (I'd had a bad day and needed chocolate.)
  3. He looks like a racist/white nationalist. 
I live in a very sophisticated area of the country. Just outside of Washington, what we would call the "close-in" suburbs. I live in a working class neighborhood tucked between the rich people and the poor people. So while it's an area where you can't buy a lean-to shack for less than $400K, it's nonetheless diverse. And, not for nothing, DC or not, I live in Virginia. Which was a Confederate state. And there are a lot of people round these parts that are proud of that history. 

So at a glance, I thought I had this guy figured out. As I stood in line behind him, candy in hand, another register opened up. So I got his attention and let him know he was first in line for the new register. That's when he said to me, "no, you go first. I'm not in a hurry." So I went first. My total was $4.10, and I was paying with a $5. He gave the clerk 10 cents so I wouldn't have to manage all that change. 

Turns out, I was the one who harshly judged. Turns out I was wrong. I was the hater. This man was a kind man. As I walked out, I saw him kidding with the ethnic checker. He was apparently a regular. I kinda felt like crap. I saw what I was becoming in this difficult time in America.

I have been having a really hard time with all of this stuff going on. I can't even express how repulsed I am by white nationalists. I'm just as repulsed by our president. I was shocked at the pictures of clean cut young men with baseball bats and sticks attacking people. Racists are not just old men. It's a cancer in our culture that never seems to go away. 

But I am struggling with the monuments and history that seem inextricably intertwined with racism. See, in a country as large as the US, one state was host to 60% of the battles of the Civil War—Virginia. My state is rich in so much history. George Washington literally slept a couple of miles from my house (I live on land he once owned.) The homes of signers of the Declaration of Independence and framers of the Bill of Rights are all over the place. And so are Civil War battlefields—all of which are in Confederate territory and most of which hosted wins for the Confederacy. Tourism at those battlefields is big in this state. Those battlefields are sacred ground. 

Stonewall Jackson got his nickname at Manassas Battlefield—a battlefield named by the South (the North called it Bull Run. The South named their battles after nearby towns and the North named them after nearby landmarks and waterways. So the Battle of Manassas and the Battle of Bull Run are the same battle. The Battle of Antietam is also known as the Battle of Sharpsburg. Most of the battles have two names. And some of the battlefields still bear the Southern names, presumably because the South won there.) Behind Mount Vernon and the big Air and Space Museum, Manassas Battlefield is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Northern VA.

In fact, the first Battle of Manassas/Bull Run (there were two major battles fought there, a year apart) was one of the key battles in the war. The Confederates won that one. In fact, they won a lot of battles in Virginia and the South. It wasn't until they were able to press north into Maryland and Pennsylvania that the North gained a foothold and was able to eventually defeat the South. 

See, nobody expected the South to last two days in the war. In fact, the elite from DC packed picnic lunches and rode out to Manassas in their finery to sit upon a hill and watch the Federal Army make short work of the Rebels. That was the assumption...the war would be over as quickly as it started. But that's not what happened. General Jackson stood "like a stone wall" against the onslaught from the North and he pulled out a win. The war wouldn't end for another four years. 

And those tourists who came to see the battle? They ran, screaming for their lives, in the chaos that ensued as the North retreated. 

I'm not going to make any excuses for the impetus behind the Confederates. They wanted to keep their slaves and were willing to secede from the US and then attack us for that right. But there is a part of the Civil War story in the south that nobody ever articulates. It's that part that had the fortitude and savvy to hold their own against a more qualified army for four years. NOBODY expected them to last that long. And it wiped out a large percentage of the male population in the region. But they didn't give up. 

When a southerner celebrates Lee and Jackson and their Civil War history, sure, some of them are celebrating racism. But most of them are celebrating the never-give-up spirit of the south. I get that it's hard for most people to separate. It's hard for me to even articulate. But it's not all about racism. A lot of it is about pride in standing up to a force greater than them and holding their own. The spirit is very American. The racism, however, is not something we condone.

Please understand, I'm not defending the part about racism. I'm defending the parts of those southerners that weren't about racism...the courage, the sacrifice and, hey, I'll bet even Ulysses S. Grant would agree, Lee was a genius as a leader. Southerners who celebrate the war aren't necessarily celebrating racism. They're celebrating the spirit and moxie of the South. 

So, put that aside for now. I get that many of these statues were erected to intimidate black people. I know there are plenty of racists no matter where you go in the country. For example, there is absolutely no logical reason for a Confederate statue to be in Baltimore. None. The Confederates didn't win a single battle north of DC. They were not welcome there at any time. Ever. 

And before I say the next thing, I'm going to state this: If it makes African Americans feel uncomfortable, I defer to their needs, because theirs are more important than mine in regard to this. But I struggle with whether or not the statues should go. And I'm not alone. By a slim margin, even blacks in this country agree they should stay (44% keep vs. 40% remove). If you split it out by Dems and Republicans, Dems want them gone by a slim margin (44% keep vs 47% remove.) But Americans, in general, agree they should stay. I can't find the Washington Post article I'm quoting, but I found an email I sent to a friend with the numbers in it. 

I used to vacation at an old plantation in the Virginia countryside. The same family had lived in the house for 300 years. And during the war, one of them was a Confederate Colonel. There were black ladies who made the breakfast in the morning and kept the rooms clean at the B&B. Those ladies were descendants of the slaves that worked in that house. They could work anywhere...plenty of B&Bs in the countryside. But they chose this place because they considered it THEIR home. They were raised and lived on the land given to them after the war for reparations, just down the dirt road. They undoubtedly shared the same bloodlines. They loved the family that once kept their ancestors as slaves and the family loved them back. Was it difficult and complicated? Yep. Was it anything but respectful? No.

This blew my mind. You won't find this many places—where both families have that same longevity in a single location. It was a very interesting social study. One of the ladies was so old (80s-90s) that they were keeping her in money in her old age. The family suggested giving generous tips to her. The females in her family knew little other than working in that kitchen. She talks about being raised on that kitchen floor as a toddler. I will probably never understand it. It is an incredibly complicated dynamic that most of us will never understand. It doesn't apply to the larger population of whites and blacks. But it is an interesting study in a part of the VA countryside that hasn't changed much in 150 years. 

What this is all getting at is that I am 100% against racism. But as a Virginian (and someone who writes about the Civil War professionally on a regular basis), I might see the Civil War a little differently than many people. And I get why reenactors reenact. And I get why a person can look at those statues and not see racism. And I get why the south is proud of their heritage and doesn't consider their pride racism. There is a whole other thing that they identify with regarding the war. 

One more Civil War story. When Lincoln was assembling his army, he approached Robert. E. Lee to lead it. Lee was an American hero at the time and, truly the best we had. Yes, he had slaves, as did many in the north and south at the time. It was commonplace. The "Lee" name is huge in Virginia. They came here in 1639—more than 200 years before the Civil War. They were a founding family of Virginia and of this country. They fought in the Revolution. They are inextricably intertwined with Virginia and United States history. Lee was on board to lead the Union...until Virginia seceded. Then he had to choose between his country and the state that his family basically founded. His decision had NOTHING to do with slavery. 

At the time, he lived high upon a hill overlooking DC. He called his estate Arlington. When he chose to fight for his state, his land was immediately claimed by the Union...a valuable spot for defending the Federal capital (and, in fact, there is a narrow swath of Virginia that was never part of the Confederacy as it was immediately taken by the north to protect the capital. My house is maybe a half mile into the Confederacy. To say being a Virginian was complicated on the line between North and South is an understatement.) The animus at that point against Lee was such that Lincoln's administration turned Lee's magnificent estate into a cemetery so he'd never want to return. To this day, Arlington National Cemetery is where our nation's heroes (including my father and mother) are buried.

For the most part, the Civil War was about slavery. The South didn't like the country telling them they couldn't have slaves, so under threat of not having that "freedom", they rebelled. It was about slavery. And it was about principle. And it was, ironically, about their freedom. And they lost. But the closer you look at the dynamics in place, there was so much more going on beneath the surface. The rebels didn't wake up in their tents every morning saying "I'm gonna go kill me some Yankees so I can all have the slaves I want." They were fighting for their rights and for their ill-conceived honor. And while the atrocities of slavery are well documented, there is a piece of that story that we will never understand...the piece that keeps those ladies serving the same family 150 years later.

So, for me, those statues don't represent slavery. Lee and Jackson might have been on the wrong side of history, but they can't be dismissed as just traitors. Their genius, unfortunately, is why the war lasted four years. They were brilliant tacticians, both of whom had loyally fought for our nation before. They were fighting for what they thought were their freedoms. And yes, that was all effed up. But they are not one-dimensional men who are so easy to brush off. 

We've turned this whole statue thing into being just about race. But in the south, it's about way more. It's about our history and heritage (you literally can't go anywhere in VA and be more than 10 miles from a other state was as ravaged as ours and no other state had as many "brothers fighting brothers"), the strength of our people, and the spirit of our region. Completely aside from race, there is a lot that the south connects to in that history. 

To borrow a cliche, this matter isn't so black and white. What I support is for communities to decide what they feel comfortable with. Charlottesville decided as a community to remove their statue. I commend them. If Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy, were to remove theirs, I'd be sad. Nowhere else are those statues more appropriate to the history of the town. But if they choose to remove them, that is their thing. 

It's important to know that the South—the Confederate States of America—went to war with the USA. It's also important to know that we reunited. The men who fought for the south didn't hate their country. They hated laws they felt restricted, ironically, their freedoms. At the time, our country wasn't even 100 years old. We were still working out who we were and wanted to be. It is one of the many shameful times in our history. The ancestors of men on both sides of the Civil War slaughtered the American Indians to steal their land and murdered their own countrymen in the Revolutionary War. There is no purity lost on our forefathers, nor on our path to becoming the US. While I disagree with the false equivalency Trump drew, Washington was as much a traitor to his country (England) as Lee was to ours. The only difference is that Washington won. Which made it OK. Because now we exist as an independent nation. But make no mistake, we are nonetheless a nation founded by questionable morals, unmistakable greed, and senseless violence. 

If you are going to love this country, love it with eyes wide open. We may stand for some honorable things. But we did not get here in honorable ways. Having a lack of regard for those not like us and turning traitor on our own countrymen are, unfortunately, written into the American DNA. All of that happened before the Civil War. There is no South or North and no racist or angel about it. We wouldn't be here today if we weren't EXTREME assholes.

We can't fairly judge the Civil War from the context of 2017 and 150 years of progress under our belts. And we can't disown it. It's ours forever. It is American history. It is the history of ALL of us. It is as much who we are as our goal in WWII was. And while nobody wants a statue of Hitler, there are places statues of Lee and Jackson and Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, are appropriate. None of them was Hitler. Both may have been racists, but that's where the similarities end. And are any of our forefathers different when they wiped out all the indigenous people of our country? Like it or not...we are many great things, but we are also everything we hate. We can't claim only half of who we are. And if your family, like many Americans, had no part in our wars, your family nonetheless chose a country with our history to settle in. (For the record, I am first generation on my mother's side and my father's side did not own slaves. That doesn't give me a pass, either.)

Moving on, the Memorial Bridge in DC spans the Potomac between Arlington National Cemetery (Lee's home) and the Lincoln Memorial. No mere coincidence, it was built there specifically to bridge our represent the peaceful reunification of Americans after war tore us apart. That's the real headline about the Civil War, one that rarely gets mentioned amidst all the stuff about race. The South accepted their lot and moved forward as Americans. And yes, some of them spawned generations of haters. Their forefathers probably fought out of hate. But not everybody did. Hate can only last you so long when the earth is littered with the decaying bodies of people you considered friends. 

We have never lost as many men in our history as a country as we did in the Civil War. One one day alone at Antietam Battlefield, between dawn and dusk, 22,000 men ended up dead, injured or missing. One day in a war that lasted four years. The war might have been about slavery, but it held much more meaning for the men fighting it. It had to have. These guys wore uniforms made from wool and fought both battles of Manassas in the sweltering heat of a VA summer (the South winning both battles.) They went without food while marching great distances. Nearly 2/3 died of hunger and disease, not of injury. These guys may have had some wrong-minded ideals, but they put down their lives for those ideals and lost everything in the process and then came back home to the US and paid their dues responsibly, most giving land to their now free slaves as laws dictated. 

I struggle with the statue thing. I can't see the Civil War in simplistic straightforward terms. My heart aches that white nationalists exist and I will never defend them. What we continue to do to blacks in this country is wrong. Do not misunderstand me. But I can't hate Robert E Lee and Stonewall Jackson. I can't condone the removal or denigration of statues of them WHERE APPROPRIATE. And I can't put them in the same bucket as Nazis, though both groups had racist agendas. Unfortunately, my state is so riddled with tributes to these men that it's ridiculous. There are far more roads and schools and statues to these men than there are to Grant or Sherman, who were their equals in the Union. And that is just wrong. But I live in the south. And there is far more to this period of history here than meets the eye.

So going back to the start of this post, I think it's important we don't judge too quickly. And that we don't judge without proper understanding...without seeing these men who fought in that war as three-dimensional people who were propelled by thoughts other than racism in many cases. After all, seeing others as less than 3-dimensional humans is how hate takes hold. And we need to watch that, while we're hating the haters, we don't we don't turn into haters ourselves. Just because one side is wrong, it doesn't make us automatically right, regardless of how we approach it. 

Hate vs. hate will not heal this country. Yes, we should resist and protest. But we should also understand and not be so quick to judge. Some of the people you want to hate are haters. And some that we label as racists, frankly, just can't articulate what they stand for in regard to that war and those statues. Our job in all of this is to not lose our integrity as we rail against what's lacking in theirs. We don't have to like or approve of what people believe or feel. But if we are Americans and believe our country's founding ideals, we have to honor their right to things we wouldn't choose for ourselves.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

8/14/17—Clearing the Fields

A dozen or so years ago, I drove past a farmer's field that was smoking from a recent fire. I had never seen this before, so I thought something tragic had happened. But then a few miles down the road, I saw another burned out field. And another.

This was the first time I realized that farmers occasionally burn fields to kill all the old growth and weeds. Then, I suppose, they turn the soil and plant something new. It's like a clean slate. A field that used to grow soybeans can now grow corn. 

The same concept is used by nature. Forest fires, for example, are actually necessary to keeping the forest healthy. Too much vegetation can prevent seeds from germinating, stopping the growth of new trees—and thus endangering the generational growth cycle. Also, the denser the forest, the hotter it burns and the more destructive the fire becomes. So occasional fires in the forest are mother nature's form of self-care and even damage control.

Sometimes in my life, I have felt like there were fires burning all around me. Usually when that happens it feels like my life is falling apart and I have no idea how to put the pieces all back together again. But that's just it. Sometimes the pieces have to be destroyed so they can no longer be put back together quite same way again.

In the thick of things, we can't always see the wisdom of that. We just see everything falling apart and worry we'll never recover. But then when all the smoke clears, the path we seek to recovery—and even triumph—becomes visible. And as we take steps down that path, we can look back and see everything from a new perspective. We can see why it all had to be.

Throughout my life, I've experience a number of these fires. Some of them were even tragic. But they have all blessed my life with some sort of insight, wisdom or calling that brought me to a better place. And by calling, I mean some sort of change I had to adjust to and work with...some sort of loss within myself I had to fill or bridge with a new way of being. It might have been a new state of mind or new behavior I had to adopt to make forward motion possible. All I know is that there has never been a fire in my life that hasn't led to a more capable, evolved and wiser me.

Sometimes fires happen to you and you're compelled into change. And sometimes you set them yourself, clearing what no longer serves to make space for new growth and a more evolved life. Either way, the fire tempers us and makes us stronger, as it does with steel. And what once looked like the end of the world, ultimately gives way to a beautiful, new beginning.

Adapted from a post originally written on 5/4/12.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

8/6/17—Detaching From Trust

This is NOT my PT Cruiser. Mine was too dirty for a photo shoot and most
of the shots I found online sucked. So imagine this with a roof.
Like many of you here, I was manifestation before manifestation was cool.

It started for me with Deepak Chopra's The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, a book written more than a decade before The Secret. In fact, I think of The Secret as a longer, inferior version of The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success. Chopra's book, along with Gary Zukav's Seat of the Soul, are the two most influential books (and probably the only two I've read cover to cover) informing my spiritual journey. Both are "hard" to read, in that a lot can go over your head if you're not actively paying to attention and thinking things through. Indeed, Zukav actually wrote a "dummies" version of his book because it was so dense. But those two books really resonated with me early on, and the Chopra book is one I've opened over and over during the past 20 years.

But just because I know something inside out doesn't mean I always practice it perfectly. And thus was the case when my car's check engine light went on over a month ago.

In Virginia, our cars have two inspections they have to go through—a yearly safety inspection and an emissions test you can either do yearly or every two years. I have my safety inspection every July. And almost every July, my check engine light comes on. It always happens on the first really hot day of the year. Most of the time it happens because the gas cap isn't on tight enough. If the gas cap isn't on right, it screws with the effectiveness of your emissions control system.

Many times, I just fill up my tank, make sure my cap is on tight and, after a handful of trips out and about, the light goes off. My car guy says you have to go at least 70 miles before it will go off. So I tightened the cap and drove a couple weeks (since I don't commute, I don't put a lot of miles on my car). But the light didn't go off. By this time, I'm getting worried...thinking of it a few times a day. If the light doesn't go off, that means it is not a loose gas cap and could cost upwards of $600 to fix. And I just don't have that to throw away right now.

So I decide that, because my car is 13 years old, maybe it's time for a new gas cap. So I order one online. And I wait. And I worry. Then it comes and I install it. And I wait. And I drive. And I worry. And now nearly a month has passed of going into into stress mode daily. I try to keep it at bay with a gut check. And I pull cards. And everything tells me everything is going to be OK. But still I worry. Then July 31 rolls around.

It was a stressful day. I had to find a way to put a good 50+ miles on the car, then when I'm out on the road, a client schedules a phone conference with me that starts in an hour. So I immediately go home before the 50 miles are up to take the call. Then when the call is over, I debate...should I just go and fail the inspection, which puts a two-week clock on fixing the car? Or should I evade the police as long as possible...haha?

Ultimately, I decide to just go and fail inspection. But then something happened. See, I once asked my inspection guy if they would ever inspect a car with a check engine light on and he said no. But either I didn't ask the question right or he misunderstood, because they actually don't care if your light is on during a safety inspection. They only care when you're testing emissions, which I don't need to do for another year. So, long story short, my car passed inspection. And all my worrying was for naught. In fact, all my worrying from many Julys past was for naught. 

See, I had forgotten Deepak's Law of Detachment. Not forgotten, really, but was ineffective when using it. And it's really one of the key laws...and the hardest to do. Because once you've put an intention out into the universe, you're supposed to detach from it. And trust. And by detachment, that means you don't worry about it (because worry sends out an intention of worry, sending nothing but more worry back your way) and you don't pathologically drive your car in hopes of effecting a result. You just let go and trust.

And once I got my car inspected, another thing happened. An intense exhaustion washed over me. It lasted all that night and all the next day. With the exception of one phone call I had to take the next day, I literally slept the day away. This was as bad, or worse than, my worst days back when I wasn't being treated for asthma. In fact, I hadn't felt that exhausted since I had been diagnosed. Then the next day I was fine. The only explanation I can think of is that the cumulative effects of a month of worry took their toll. All because I couldn't let go and trust.

For the post-menopausal woman, life never lets you get too far along without reminding you you're no longer as young and resilient as you once were. I guess this was one of those times. I believe I've had far more stressful things happen without having that kind of effect, but maybe having this on top of a general stress I've been having all year was too much. But it also reminded me to detach and trust. I do tend to try to control my environment too much. I'm good about trying not to control people, but I do like my life to be predictable and worry free. And when things fall apart, I take too much of that on, physically, psychically and emotionally. So reminder taken.

And if you're wondering about my gut check, I'll say that I think it's always correct. It's more reliable than tarot or a pendulum for me. It takes some practice to see how your gut talks to you, so give it some time and effort. Here you go:
Sit down and relax in a quiet place—no music or distractions. Once you're settled in, breathe deeply in and out a few times. Once you feel centered, quiet and still, then make a declarative statement to yourself quietly as you inhale. For example, "My car will pass inspection." Don't ask a question. Make a statement. Then, as you exhale, monitor your gut. If it feels relaxed and more expansive, you will pass inspection. If there is a slight, barely detectable sniggle in your gut, you'll probably pass, but with a small condition. And if you feel any sort of discomfort or butterflies, whether it comes at the beginning or the end of the exhale, you're probably going to fail inspection. Sometimes I will follow that by stating, "I will fail inspection." Then I'll see how that feels in my gut. That helps for times your first gut check is inconclusive. Or when you're super insecure. 
This is how it works for me and you will need to calibrate how it works for you over time. But it is a worthy tool to cultivate because, while I didn't listen well this time, it has helped me detach and trust more times than I can count. And, like I said, while I can remember times my fear got in the way of it, I can't remember it ever being wrong. 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

7/31/17—Eclipsing Previous Knowledge

This pic comes from a cool site that gives details based on where you live.
If you're an American and haven't heard about THE eclipse coming on August 21st, then you lead a far more sheltered life than me. And that is just not healthy. :D

It's a big deal because this particular one hasn't happened since 1918. And what makes it special for Americans is that the eclipse is just for us—and all of us, including Alaska, Hawaii, the Virgin Islands...all of it, coast to coast.  Sure, Canada can enjoy it, too. But that's because we love them. And a part of Russia can see it, too. But that's because our President loves them. (However, only a small part of Russia can see it, due to sanctions.) Notice also that Mexico gets a crappy eclipse, probably because the new wall is blocking it. #politicalhumor

I had never really thought much about eclipses. I know a solar eclipse is when the moon crosses in front of the sun, blocking it out. And I know a lunar eclipse is when the moon enters into the earth's shadow when sun/earth/moon align. And I know you can't look at an eclipse with your bare eyes or you'll go blind or explode or something. But that was the extent of my knowledge. 

Despite the extremely long length of my post about what I do for a living a couple of weeks ago, I only scratched the surface of how cool my job is. One of the things I left out of that story is about the diverse range of things I get to learn about, from the details of things like call center software to the inner workings of corporate America to the random things you learn about life and the world from interviewing people for profiles, bios and the like. 

This week, I got to learn about about eclipses and learned a few things. Like there three types of, partial and annular. The US will experience both total and partial eclipses. I didn't think about eclipses, so I guess I thought an eclipse event was either all total or all partial. An eclipse can be as big as the US and Canada, but only people in a very narrow swath of the path get the totality...the total eclipse...a true 100% coverage of the sun. In the case of this eclipse, that path is roughly 70 miles wide and reaches across the country, coast to coast (it's the darkest color in the pic) and the eclipse moves from west to east. Everyone else gets a partial. Eclipse watchers say people in the 90% zone (the second darkest color) will only experience 1/1000th of the spectacle. That's probably an exaggeration, but being inside the path of totality is a big thing. Where I live, we'll see just 81%. 

So I guess I didn't realize all of that. And I didn't know the air temperature can drop 12 degrees during an eclipse. I also didn't know solar eclipses happen every 18 months..somewhere on earth. There have only been 10 in the US in the past 100 years, many of which were annular. In an annular eclipse, the moon is further from earth and can't totally block out the sun. Instead, it leaves a "ring of fire". The last total eclipse that came near the east coast was 1970 and I remember it clearly. It was a big deal then, too. The next US based total eclipse happens in 2024, but this one reaches in a north/south angle along a path that runs from Maine, through the Midwest and down through Texas. That one is not as special because it will miss Alaska.

My newfound eclipse knowledge comes because one of my clients is a resort-type destination on the SC coast, right in the path of totality. I mean, what better way is there to see the eclipse than from the white sand beaches of the Atlantic? Sure, it only goes on for three hours with the real show only lasting two minutes, but it's worth the trip. It's once-in-a-lifetime...unless you want to travel to the Midwest in 2024 and watch it over a corn field. Or wait until 2045 or 2078 (assuming we're not all dead from old age and/or climate change).

Stuff like this always gets me musing about what ancient man thought about stuff like this. I imagine the first time someone saw it, it was pretty scary. I wonder what they made of it. One of the sites I visited said some guy back in 500 BC determined the earth was round because earth's shadow on the moon during a lunar eclipse was round. (Before him, though, Pythagoras determined the earth was round due to the curves on the waxing and waning moons.) Considering some people on earth still think it's flat, these gentlemen were way ahead of their times.

I'm not sure how I feel about this, but there are places and things I'll ever see because I'm just to lazy and procrastinating. One day when/if I move from Washington, DC, there will be sites I never saw...museums I never visited (though, trust me, I've seen a lot.) And I will probably think to myself, "I should have done that when I had the chance." But it won't be full-on regret, because if I had to do it over again, the circumstances that led me to the choice would still be the same and my choice would be the same. It is the way I am, so why waste time on regret?

This eclipse is the same way. I'm not going to drive 8 hours to SC to get in that path of totality, like my neighbor is thinking of doing. It's tempting because everything about it is cool. For two minutes. After an 8 hour drive. And the 2024 one is even farther away. So I'm consciously choosing 81%. And I do have plans for that day. I'll be watching with friends. We already have our viewing glasses and everything. I can watch the totality on youtube when I get home.

This lifetime is full of things I'll never see, never do and never regret. That doesn't mean I don't think they're magical and awesome. If I were the kind of person with the wanderlust and sense of adventure it takes to show up for things like eclipses or remote waterfalls or daunting mountain peaks, I'd be a different person. Instead, I learn about things and somehow experience them almost as if I were there myself. Indeed, one of my travel clients frequently remarks on how I know their city like I lived there all my life. I've been there in mind (and through a lot of curiosity-driven research,) if not in body. 

While it would be fun to see the world through the eyes of a physical adventurer for five minutes, I'm sure it would also be exhausting. I did some of that when I was younger and, in retrospect, it was. But mostly, in this lifetime, I'm enjoying the journey through the spiritual and mental landscape, and showing up for the totality of my own inner eclipses. Same side of two different coins, I guess. Like the adventurer, I'm sure, I'm happy I won the coin toss.

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 when I feel vulnerable when I'm driving, 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. I don't know why, but since he died, I feel connected to him.

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 to 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 enthusiast, 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.