Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Little Kindness

Other day I was running my usual route and a woman pulled her car out of a business park driveway and blocked my path. The instant she saw me approaching she pulled her car back, allowing me room to continue running on the sidewalk instead of into the street to get around her. I smiled. Waved thanks as I passed in front of her car. She smiled and waved back. Felt nice, made the rest of my run less jarring, lighter somehow. Simple really, but oh, what a simple little kindness can do...

Most every day someone does something kind; lets us into their lane on the highway; opens a door, holds an elevator; Likes our update or post; simple acts of kindness that personify our potential for goodness. And while this may seem small on the surface, the residual effects of these displays of caring builds trust, connects us to each other, and gives us hope in our humanity.

We hear about the bad all the time. We hear about the good, too, but on the large scale, like doctors going to Nepal after the quake, or philanthropic superstars and their latest cause. But it's really the little acts of kindness that unite us, everyday simple actions that show we care for one another and the world we inhabit that builds a solid foundation for our race to thrive.

What simple act of caring did you give or receive today?

Share a little kindness and exchange a little hope...

Friday, April 24, 2015

Cutting the Cord with Teens

WATCH OUT for the teen years, my friends with kids told me when mine were young. Your adorable children will turn into...and they'd paint this horrific picture of my beautiful kids morphing into monsters.

I didn't believe em. After all, I'd donated more of my time and energy to my kids than my career since they'd arrived on the scene. No Latchkey kids, unlike we were raised, my DH and I agreed. Between the female artist, and the male software developer, reason dictated he would be the primary bread-winner. My creative career would have to shift to the background of my full-time job as mom.

Beyond taking care of our kids physical needs, I've spent the last 16 yrs working so very hard at keeping our communication open, honest, constant. I've probed and prodded and insisted my kids talk to me. Everyday. And not just chatter, but tell me something real—who they hung with, what they learned, how they feel. And for quite some time, and maybe even still today, my teens would likely say that I'm their best friend.

I've been anticipating a separation to occur between us, excited for the teen years to come, for both of us. My beautiful kids are turning into kind people, for which I'm both grateful and proud. They're growing up, moving on to their lives. It's time for me to step back, let them take care of themselves more and more. For 16 years I've been deferring my muse, entrenched in being a mom and caretaker first. I'm ready, eager to go back to directing my life.

My teens, on the other hand, aren't so thrilled to move on—cut the cord. Prickly and passionate like most teens, they're searching for themselves, separate from family, yet are still unable to be truly independent. They're brains are mature enough now to understand our competitive, often harsh world they've felt little impact from during their formative years. Seeing what it takes to make it on their own today, a good percentage of their psyche wants to stay a kid, continue being taken care of. Safe at home. I get it, though have not lived this. My home was neither satisfying, nor a safe emotional space.

I'm glad to provide an environment my kids are happy to be in. And I'm lucky, to be sure, that even in their teen years, beyond loving them, I really like both of them. But sometimes I wonder if the environment we're providing is a little too secure. Staying a kid only works with a mom, or benefactor. Growing up is about taking care of yourself. As their taxi, their therapist, their teacher, their bank, their cook, their conscience, my kids have it made here. Regardless that they are now mature enough to converse more articulately than most adults I've met, the difference between their words and actions is the Grand frigging Canyon. And while I'm ready for them to take the reins and guide their own lives, they aren't even on the horse.

Parents of teen assured me my kids would become rude, distant, aggressive—angling to put in place a separation between us. And while some of this is going on, it's minimal at best, comparatively speaking from what I've witnessed. What parents who made it through the teen years didn't tell me is that I would be the one looking to cut the cord.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Virtual Friendships

4,605 Facebook, 'friends,' as of today. Over 1,000 Twitter 'followers,' and another 1,000 'connections' on other networks. Out of my 6,000+ 'friends,' I know less than 10 personally—who I've actually met in person, and only a handful of them are family, or the classic definition of 'friends.'

I'm a die-hard recluse. Holed up in my home office, I communicate with clients and vendors mostly online. I started social networking to market my novels. My publisher insisted I open a Twitter account to grow my fan base and extend my reach. I did, but made a magnificent, half-hearted attempt. I didn't follow-back, or engage in dialog, or join groups on LinkedIn or FB except to post my blogspots and reviews of my books. And while my FB page swelled with connections, it really was just a numbers game to me, collecting 'friends' to extend my reach.

Thing about social networking is, if you want it to work—help writer's get read [find a job, or just be heard...] you actually have to BE social. Hmm...not easy for a hermit like me, so I avoided partaking in SNing beyond the periphery for the last decade.

Over these years I met a few reviewers, even readers who've messaged me directly, and for some unknown reason we connected on a deeper than virtual level. These people have crossed the line from surreal acquaintance, to an intimate view into each other's lives. They have helped me face my fear, rejection, bad reviews. They've been my therapist through hard times in my personal life, my guidance counselor, my teacher, my preacher to whom I confess my sins. You know who are, and I'm so humbly grateful for your continual support.

10 years into SNing, few reviewers and readers is an accurate depiction of my reach. So, last summer I contacted an author SNing her novel, titled the same as one of mine, through FB. Her sales...were where I wanted to mine to be, so I messaged her asking how she'd managed to achieve this. I'd contacted other authors before, but none had ever gotten back to me, so I was happily surprised when she messaged me back with an offer to share her publishing path. In fact, she called me from England, spent over an hour on the phone describing her journey, and then sent me emails with people to contact, groups to join, private hashtags to use to get retweeted. Beyond that, she helped me set up giveaways to increase my Amazon ranking, twice, and was my social media advocate on the days my promotions ran by tweeting and updating and getting her 'friends' to do the same. Again, you know who you are, and if we were face to face, I'd be bowing, then give you a heart-felt hug. Thank you (a thousand times [isn't enough]).

Upon her recommendation, I recently joined a private group of authors, who have extended their knowledge and encouragement again and again. This is the first social network I've ever interacted with consistently, and it is beyond rewarding. It's fun to be a part of, instead of on the outside looking in. They bolster me when I go black—assure me that I'm a talented writer, and with exposure I'll get known. Whether that's true or not, having people who believe in me, especially in times when I don't, has saved me from myself. Thank you, ladies!!

Another surprising discovery— there is a ramp up in readership the more I interact online. But as it turns out, this is not the greatest benefit of SNing to me anymore. The more I invite these virtual people into my life, the more real they become—with similar fears, hopes, and dreams as mine. Around the block or the other side of the world, in cyberspace distance is meaningless, and I now realize there are actual people on the other side of the wire.

Until recently, I never considered, or even imagined the folks I hookup with through social media were my 'friends.' I've taught my kids that real friendship is a bond between people who truly care about each other. Not just in words, but actionsTo those I've met social networking who have impacted my life with their acts of kindness, this blog is a shout out of thanks! Though we've never met, probably will never meet, I'm glad to know you, and consider you among my real friends.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The REAL World of Publishing

A while back I sent an essay to LIVES—stories about daily lives of unknowns like me, in what used to be the last page in the NY Times Magazine (before they went with their horrible new format for additional ad space). A few days later I got an email back from the editor of the column accepting my essay. Or so I thought, until I read it all. That's when I noticed it wasn't addressed to me. It was to a literary agent. The email I mistakenly received was chatty, congratulating the agent for landing the new author. “Happy to run the piece before her book releases,” the email said. It ended with, “Always nice to hear from you, and I'll update you when we schedule the essay for LIVES.”

This is the real world of publishing. I was under the delusion that LIVES was written by unknowns, about unknowns, not back door deals worked out with New York lit agents to promote their authors.

My first novel, REVERB, I published through an indie publisher. It did not go well. I blogged about it: The Problem with Indie-Publishers, in an attempt to warn other authors off of ending up in the same mess I did. Apparently, according to agents, authors aren't allowed to share their experiences if they are bad:

I always Google. Always. Usually at the query stage. I’m looking for how that person presents him- or herself online. Are sites updated? Are they sloppy or professional? Are they complaining about agents and publishing? (That’s a red flag.)”

"I’m not usually looking for something that may have been swept under the rug, but occasionally I do see something that makes me think, Okay, this is a pass.”

My novel REVERB was accepted by Bookbub last October. I did a free giveaway through Amazon. I got 26,000 free downloads, which, even for Bookbub was very high for their Literary section (their recommendation, and the only section they would list my novel). I was hoping that with the large response I'd do very well on the back end, after the promo, with sales. I never made back the $140 I spent with them to run my ad for REVERB. After the promotion, I was told by other Bookbub authors that their Literary section is a dud, and few make any money there.

Bookbub had an open forum discussion about their company, policies, how to get in with them, as so many authors are clamoring to be on their lists. EVERY post was laudatory. And I'm not just talking about, “You're great!” Authors posted how Bookbub turned their part-time writing into a career, launched them to stardom. I posted my experience with them on this forum, asking if it's typical not to make back your investment with them. The post was taken off the forum. When I posted it again, I got a note from the admin saying that my comments were “inappropriate,” and she would take down any post I put up regarding my experience with Bookbub. Now I get why ALL the posts were so positive.

You can guarantee, Bookbub won't accept me again. Neither will Laurie Abkemeier and Stephany Evens, or any other agent who is using the philosophy that writers should shut up and write fiction, not reality, ever, unless, of course, it's happy, sunny, successful. And I'd like to tell you I don't care, but that would be a lie. I WANT to be a famous author, just like most of you reading this. And I want the help of an agent or publisher to rep me to achieve the greatest reach. What author doesn't?

Thing is, I NEED to be a advocate for writers! Being one, I truly appreciate author's experiences, both good and bad, their insights, their failures to avoid, their successes to model. And while I realize the cost of confession is steep, it's better than being an automaton, protecting myself by towing the party line of the corrupt, rather ugly publishing industry.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Why Startups Fail

Launching a startup? You can now get a logo for $5! (Check out the pic for this blogspot.) Thing is, your new corporate identity is done in India, or China, and they have a ton of templates and just pop your company name in, and wham, bam, thank you underpaid foreign workers who can afford to live on $10-50 a day!

But really, you're starting a company, or trying to make it grow on a shoestring, even a gold-plated, VC backed one, and the global workforce isn't your problem. And you're right. It's not, regardless of the hundreds of whining designers commenting on the FB ad above. Your problem is effectively launching your startup, intimately understanding your product, it's potential target markets, your competition, then constructing marketing material that brands you in the marketplace, and engages your targets to ACT.

And you can't get that paying $5 for a template corporate identity.

So, let's drill down to the truth. Nike's swish logo alone did not make their company known. And buying a $5 logo will not make your venture fail. What is likely to make your company fail is the Aim, Fire, Ready marketing approach most startups use, which includes going for the cheapest marketing solutions instead of investing the TIME and money it takes to implement the proven success of the traditional Ready, Aim, Fire, marketing method.

GET READY: Actualize your ideas into viable products/services. Find target market/s. Assess competition. Define differentiators for effective positioning. Establish profit models. Plan B/C/D— future horizontal and vertical targets and markets.

'Internet Marketing' firms getting $20 per promo will not help you get ready to realize the greatest possible ROI.

TAKE AIM: Create company I.D., branding standards, websites, on and offline marketing material with visual and copy content that engages your target audience and motivates them to ACT.

$5 logos generally don't consider how the icon will transfer across all media. Nor do $5 logos help the company intimately understand its product/service, target markets, competition and potential future markets to help brand your startup to stand out among the hordes.

FIRE: Use companies new marketing tools and materials to implement a strategic launch, with consistent branding across all media to tightly targeted markets.

And you won't be able to purchase the above for a few hundred dollars collectively. To launch a product or service or company effectively takes TIME. It's a Creative Directors job to intimately understand, or sometimes help define the companies offering/s, and what makes them different, then translate that knowledge into effective marketing, way beyond the identity they create. They provide multimedia branding, competitive positioning, visual and content marketing to motivate your target market to buy, or buy into your message/brand.

$50 a day labor does not know the methodologies of branding, nor do they care who your target market is.

Another truth: Taking the TIME, and investing the money to launch right, though not guaranteed, will likely help your new product or startup succeed. But time is money, honey. No way around that.

Oh, and the idiom 'You get what you pay for,' is an idiom for a good reason. It, too, is the truth.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

On the Train to Auschwitz

Produce manager at Lucky's told me they sell rotten packages of lettuce because corporate won't let them remove the spoiled greens from the shelf. He said it's the “customers responsibility,” to pick carefully. I pointed out that the lettuce was rotten BEFORE the package expiration date, and even picking the freshest, they were going bad in the bag in a day. He said that's my problem, not his, and to call the corporate office to complain. I did, but I'm a lone voice and will not be heard.

They sell rotten packages of lettuce because no one else complains. You get home with their produce and throw half of it away a day after purchase because it's rotten, then go to the store and buy more. The store doesn't lose, but their consumers pay and pay, because YOU LET THEM get away with selling crap for greatest profit!

Overcharged on your phone bill? Easier just to pay the damn overcharge than spend half your day in Verison's messaging loop while they tell you over and over how important you are to them. We accept corporations lying and stealing from us, and it's seemingly just dandy that we don't hold the employees, executives—even the murderers accountable. (PG&E killed 8 in San Bruno knowing their lines needed replacing, yet paid their executives bonuses instead.) We tolerate our failing education system. Instead of fighting the Teacher's Unions for accountability, we pass measure upon measure giving public schools more tax dollars so they can repeat the same mistakes that lead us to be in 17th in reading, 21st in science, and 26th in math, on par with the Slovak Republic.

We have the technology to demand of each other that each of us uphold even baseline moral standards. And morality is NOT opinion. If it was, I could murder, rob whoever I want, as in MY OPINION it's OK to kill you when you annoy me! It's not OK to commit murder. It's not OK to steal cuz you want higher profits. And regardless of the f#*%ed up Supreme Court's decision that “Corporations are people, too,” PEOPLE, individuals commit crimes against humanity. The produce manager at Lucky's is EQUALLY as culpable selling rotten food as his employer!

A society that sees evil and does nothing, or is willfully ignorant is not sustainable. It's Nazi Germany. Only now the Nazi's are everyone on the planet that is complacent in the face of corruption and injustice.

It ain't the damn $20 overcharge on your cell bill. It's the principle that Verizon is screwing you! Yet most blow the evening viraling cat videos instead of getting on Twitter and Facebook and telling the world that Verizon is overcharging you and then costing you half your day to dispute them! WHY?! Do nothing and they continue to get away with raping us all.

The Internet has given each of us the ability to collectively fight social injustice on a massive scale. And individuals, every one of us, has the ability to stop evil now. Half a million Tweets a day calling out Peter Darbee, the CEO of PG&E during the San Bruno explosion, and continually demanding justice until Mr Darbee was held accountable for his crimes would have stopped him from retiring with a $35 million bonus, and with NO repercussions for murder.

The 1985 French documentary, Shoah, tells the story of the Holocaust through those who lived it, from villagers in Poland who watched their neighbors executed, to an SS officers who worked at concentration camps. There is one scene in the film I found particularly disturbing—A worker at a train station in Germany told the filmmaker he was “Just doing his job,” in knowingly scheduling the transport of thousands to their death every week for years. He, too, was never prosecuted for his crimes against humanity.

Like the train scheduler, the Lucky's produce manager to the CEO of Verizon, each of us is responsible for our actions. So instead of passing along the squirrel playing the piano video, GIVE A DAMN. The few who already do, can't change much without all of YOU. Call out those who commit crimes against humanity online, and stop them, because we can

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Real World of Depression

I imagine when all is black that I write something brilliant that justifies the darkness within.

But when I'm black like this, all I usually produce are rants.

Not this time. But it's not going to be brilliant, either. This post is simply on depression, living with it in a world that wears masks, puts on facades online and in person, because we're not allowed to feel bad, or at least show it. We're allowed to feel frustrated, annoyed, disappointed, in moments, but they better not last too long, or be too intense, like when feeling mad translates into yelling. Even in anger, we're supposed to retain our composure.

I suck at pretending. I can't pull off that I'm OK Buddy, when I'm not. Most of you reading this are much better at wearing faces. Most people are. But depression, that feeling there is something stuck in your throat that you just can't swallow, that with every breath it feels as if you're sighing— trying to shed the weight in your chest— makes putting on a mask particularly difficult because you're spending so much energy just trying to breathe.

Commercials for drugs to combat depression are all over the media. They come with a list like:
Use this product and you could get dizzy, nauseous, stop breathing, feel even more depressed, become suicidal even if you didn't start out that way before the drug, die. Wow. Thanks, but no thanks. I don't really need to take Lexapro to help motivate me to kill myself. I've tried Prozac, a long time ago. I was allergic. It almost killed me. I've tried Xanex, which is by far the most popular drug for depression. All it did was make me sleepy. I'm already tired all the time.

Therapists like to talk, or for me to talk. And talk. And talk. Business 101— you make more money with continuing clients than having to find new ones. I want ACTIONABLE things to do, other than taking drugs or talking to a shrink 3 times a week, making me poorer, which makes me even more depressed.

What is depression, anyway? I mean, we all get depressed occasionally at least, regardless of the masks we wear. Technically, and absurdly simply, it's our chemistry—dopamine, serotonin...etc, not supplying the pleasure centers of our brain adequately. It is commonly accepted that some are born with inadequate levels of these hormones, or there is a problem with the chemicals release in the brain. Manic depression apparently has a genetic 'component,' but this has yet to be proven as hard fact.

Episodes of depression effect most people when events in our life hurt us. The length and severity of the depression for most people is usually consummate with the event itself. Losing a loved one, or loosing the lottery generally solicits dramatically different responses. As it should. But with enough hurts, both large and small, or circumstances that lead to the hurt feelings keep repeating, depression begins to stick, gets thick, like every day wading through molasses. And even not starting out with screwed up chemistry, when sadness clings, our chemistry gets screw up over time.

For those of us suffering from depression, even if we express our hurt feelings and there is resolution—an apology received or new understand achieved, we internalize that pain, and live with it. It resides in us, like a cut or injury that just won't heal. If depression festers long enough it will eventually kill you. It strips us of the single motivating factor that keeps us all alive through dark times...hope.

What makes each of us unique, different from each other is our combination of chemistry. It dictates how we, as individuals, perceive our world. Perhaps depression stems from our chemical differences. Depressed people tend to be emotionally sensitive, and we hang on to slights and hurts. Most others let them roll off—rarely feel slighted, or they let their hurt feelings dissipate, often forget them. And I've spent a lifetime envying these folks.

Whether depression is a chemical imbalance or even uniqueness from birth, or born from environmental causes, or, most likely a combination of both, shutting it down for those who experience it, and those who have to live with people who do is paramount. Over 90% of those who attempt or commit suicide are clinically depressed. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death worldwide, which is a shame, because so often emotionally wired people are the creators, writers, artists, builders of thriving societies. It is believed Abraham Lincoln suffered from Depression.

The only way to help reverse, or at least halt the chemical cascade into darkness is to actualize pleasure. I realize that an effect of depression is finding no joy in anything, but that's not true, and those of you reading this that are living with that weight in your chest with most every breath, KNOW it's not true. A rainbow is still beautiful. A double-rainbow extraordinary. The Pacific cresting at 50ft is still awe striking...etc..; }.

SEEK and FIND JOY, not self-destructive behavior, like shooting H cuz it's fun, as that will increase depression. Do things things that turn you on, make you feel—if not good—at least glad you get to see it, taste it, experience it—without regret later!! ACCOMPLISHING TASKS also lights up your brain's pleasure centers. String enough joy and accomplishment together, even simple things, and, over time, continually reminding your brain why you are choosing to live will reinforce your desire to do so.