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. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Are You Becoming Marginal?

I’m sitting in my car waiting for the light to change watching an old woman cross the street. She’s hunched over and it looks like her slow pace pains her. Her short, poofed platinum hair reflects the sunlight and does not move with her motion. She scares me.

Old scares me.

The light changes and I move on but the image of old woman sticks. That’s my future, though I’m not so sure I want it, but the alternative sucks.

I’m scared of getting older. I’m scared of not.

I’ve counted on my looks, my female prowess, my youth to manipulate my world for the last 35 years. I feel all three slipping away. I’m becoming invisible. At the store, or the gym no one looks anymore. I watch, hoping for a quick glance, searching for someone, anyone to be checking me out. I’m in the best shape of my life and still I don’t get noticed. It’s demoralizing not being able to turn heads.

The power of young and female was never lost on me. And I didn’t waste it. I was aware I possessed it by 13 and used it. I talked my way out of speeding tickets, and talked my way into everything from high security military bases, to the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Free passes and taxi rides were common with a quick flirt. And it was win/win for both of us. The men were always flattered.

Men are no longer empowered by my attention. The guys at the gym don’t even notice me looking. They stare at themselves in the mirror as they lift weights and their eyes wander to the young and hot hoping for an exchange. Not with me anymore. It’ll never be me again.

Age creeps in like thick fog and shrouds me. I feel the weight of it on my body, in my muscles and bones. I’m losing my vision, my memory, that edge. Running five miles a day at 25 is athletic. At 50, it’s an achievement.

I’m cresting the wave of old age and it’s fundamentally ungrounding. I spent much of my youth mocking it. Now I’ll be on the other side- patronized, or worse- ignored. We can all pretend that we take the old seriously, but other than the health care industry, or at election time, most of us don’t see age as wisdom.

There is no turning back. To counter the fear of the inevitable I tell myself all kinds of crap. Retirement gives you more time to do what you want (except that really only applies to people with money able to retire while still in good health). With age comes experience and knowledge (except I am now more certain than every that I don’t know virtually anything).

I pull up next to the mailbox drop slot at the post office. There’s a rusted dumpster on the side of the building and there’s an old lady digging through it. Her clothes are loose and dirty. Her gray hair is tied back but looks brittle, and sticks out all over the place. She’s holding a big brown plastic trash bag and is putting things from the dumpster into the half-full bag. I drive away but I can’t shake the image. ‘There by the grace of god…’

As I pull into the first stall of our three car garage I feel privileged, and safe. Time slows when I get in the house. Pictures on the walls and countertops never age. Echo’s of laughter and tears of family having moved on still resonate in the halls. Money may keep me from rifling in garbage for food, but it can’t alter the laws of physics or save my self-image. Statistically, I’ve lived well over half my life and am heading headlong towards the exit door. Whatever I accomplish from here on will be that much harder to garner recognition and support for with each passing year. The older I am the shorter my shelf life. Society distances itself from age, immerses itself in youth and beauty to detach itself from death.

I am becoming marginal.

Friday, January 2, 2015

How To Start a Startup

Haven't got a clue how to start a startup? Find out from YouTube, MeetUp, and a ton of classes from Cal Berkeley to Stanford, online and/or on campus. Or follow the directions, in order, below:

1. Productize your idea—Take it from your head to the whiteboard:
a. Define products/services features & benefit that fulfill the need/s of projected target market/s.
b. Identify and analyze competition; redefine product/service in response to competition.
c. Establish immediate and long term growth goals.
d. Determine projected income models on release and over time.

2. Brand company—Create a face and voice for your startup:
a. Develop a strong corporate identity to brand startup [or any new product], as dynamic on a Twitter feed as on ads, packaging, website/s, or the side of a building; And tagline that embodies company/product message and 'voice.'
b. Produce PR and marketing tools to corporate identity standards: websites, social media and PR campaigns, corporate and direct communications, mobile marketing and more directly targeting startups and/or product's market/s.

3. Launch marketing campaign/s—from website/s and online presence with social media strategies, to full advertising campaigns with consistent branding across all media.

Marketing isn't rocket science.

Marketing is SELLING.

Selling what? (It's always the same.):

Marketing is selling FEATURES & BENEFITS.

Selling features & benefits to who?


That's it. An MBA is just complications on this very simple truth, trust me.

Easy? No. And you can't do it alone. You need a team, but there are tons of qualified people out there looking for work. Put ads on Craigslist, go to MeetUps of entrepreneurs and seedling startups and make or find yourself a team.

Need and idea on what to start up? Answer the following:
● What do you love doing?
● What are you good at? What do you do well?
● What have you found in the process of what you love doing that you need? (i.e. what tool [software, hardward, product or service] will make the process of what you love doing easier, more efficient, more fun...etc.)

Love to cook? Sell baked goods online. Lots of competition in that space. You bet. But no one cooks (fill in this blank) like you, and you can get your delectable anywhere in the US in 24 hrs for any party size, at a really good price (to start).

Are you an exercise junkie? A serious athlete? Give online exercise classes, diet tips; offer a [dating-type] service for partnering with other serious athletes in their area and in their sport/s.

Find differentiators that separate your product/service from everyone else, optimally one that you can defend for a bit, i.e. not easily copied.

Think! Learn. Then make it happen. Act!

Just follow the steps and do them again and again, because all business, startup or not, is done in iterationsin response to customer's desires, changing times, competition...etc. With today's technology, from free e-commerce storefront platforms to social networking's global reach, there's no reason NOT to try and launch a company doing what you enjoy. Like most everything, with startups (or any business at any stage) you've only failed when you quit iterating your product/service and/or marketing to find and fulfill the needs of your target market/s.

Start somethingDon't quitIterate. Getting absorbed in the process of creation provides us an intrinsic sense of value. And who knows, keep at it and you just may establish something great!

*'Needs' can be created desire.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Why Do You Write? II

I've spent my entire life pretending to be someone else. Not just anyone else. I've invented brilliant prodigies, accomplished artists, writers, musicians because they were easier to be than me— nothing.

I grew up at the base of the Hollywood Hills, where most everyone I went to school with was a famous actor or producer's kid, or some rock star's son or daughter. Out of school, they went to work in the Industry—the one that packages arts and artists. I was raised on the notion if I followed my passion it would eventually lead to success, financial success, or at least I'd be able to live, even meagerly, but 11 years into writing to publish and I'm still virtually invisible.

The only thing I've ever loved working at is the fire arts. Drawing, building, designing all engage me, like an entertaining puzzle of my creation and execution. But writing, ah, writing. I've been doing it since I could, putting my thoughts on paper, then on a monitor, making up stories of who I want to be, other than me. More than nothing.

How do you get good at anything?

So, I thought I was becoming a good writer. After all, I just spent the last 50 years doing it. OK, since this is the truth, which is so rare online these days, I think I'm a good writer. I read NYTimes bestsellers and a huge percentage of them suck. No offense to the writers, really. In a way, I'm in awe they ever got a book contract to begin with. I read indie authors, writing for a few years, maybe, who've discovered Amazon, and it's obvious, to me, they could use a lot more practice telling a believable and/or engaging story with characters I feel something, anything for.

Like my writing or hate it, you're going to feel something after each read. Mad, Glad. Happy. Sad, but I write to ignite thinking and feeling. What I don't write is the same detective story over and over, or one more vampire tale that's been told a billion times, or stupid and/or silly women, or their analog— hard-ass bitches, or love at first sight since that's lust. What I don't write is what seems to sell the most.

I write Literary Fiction, to a non-literary world. Publishers and popular writers have warned me not to use the Literary genre label since “It doesn't sell.” On Bookbub, their Literary section has the lowest ROI of any of their book recommendations lists.

I learned to write Lit fiction from reading it. Don Quixote, Crime & Punishment, The Magus— one-off stories that do not have sequels, their writers trying to get the reader thinking, feeling, instead of purchasing their next book. My novel Disconnected has taken 20 years of writing and rewriting to get it right, to communicate the turbulence in L.A. in the early 1990s, and expose the facade of the women's movement yet to be realized. The novel invites women to see where we came from, and to think about where we are, and will be in society by the choices we make today. Disconnected is Historical Literary Fiction, but I've been told I should call it Historical Romance...; }.

I stopped doing business marketing, my 'real' career, last April. Decided to focus all my creative energy on fine writing, and marketing myself as an author. And while it's true, more people are reading me now than ever before, it's not ramping the way I'd hoped. No shit about 'Don't quit your day job.' That said, I'd rather live poor and write Literature for the few readers who like unique, thinking novels with characters and ideas that linger, than write what is popular merely to sell books. It's my job as an artist to provoke thinking rather than provide more mindless entertainment to our world already mired in it.  

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

We ARE What We DO

In the car with my 10 yr old daughter the other day, she asked me what Ego meant, one of her vocabulary words for the week.

I laughed. Good question, I replied. What do you think it is?

I wouldn't ask if I knew, mom.

Well, use it in a sentence, in context. You've heard the word enough to have an inkling what it means. And an inkling is as close as you're going to get to defining an abstract like Ego.

Her brows narrowed and I could see her pondering in the rear view mirror. 

My ego got hurt when Ms Brown told me I was singing flat this morning. She paused. And she did, mom.

Sorry. We'll get back to that. OK? So Ego is feelings then?

Not exactly. It's more like how we see ourselves. To me, I'm a good singer. You can hurt my feelings by being mean to me. But you hurt my ego when you tell me I'm not how I think I am.

Do you think you were flat this morning in glee?

Well, yeah. When I listened. I guess I'm not such a good singer.

Ah, but you could be, if you practiced singing. And not the perpetual off-key humming you do, but really practiced, daily—sing along with your favorites, or sing the notes when you practice piano. I glimpsed her rolling her eyes at my suggestions in the rear view mirror. Being a good singer doesn't happen inside your head. What is the only way to really get good at anything? (One of my many canonical refrains.)

Practice, mom. She sighed.

I sighed. My beautiful daughter, I think your explanation for Ego is excellent—it's how we see ourselves. Ego is an idea, even an ideal—who we want to be, but it isn't real. We are what we do, my dear (another of my refrains). If you want to be a good singer, you're going to have to practice becoming one.

So you don't think I'm a good singer, she asked woefully.

Were talking about ego, right?

Yeah. And my ego says I am one. So is ego always fake, just pretend inside my head?

You tell me. Do you think our ego ever gives us an accurate depiction—paints a real picture of how we are, who we are, in the real world?

Probably not. She sighed again, deflated. Just cuz you think you're good, or talented, or special doesn't mean you actually are to anyone besides yourself, except if you're famous. 

Really? So, there's a famous chef, recognized for his delicious creations. It's not just his ego talking that's telling him he's a good chef. He decides to create a new dish, and serves it to five friends. And all five hate the meal. The combination of flavors tastes just terrible. So, is the guy delusional that he's a good chef—it's just his ego talking—or is he really good?

My daughter considered my little tale carefully before answering. Well, if he thought of himself as a great chef with everything he made, then his delusion was that he could be good all the time, that everything he created would be a masterpiece.

So then, ego is never an accurate depiction of self?

I guess not. Just like there is no such thing as smart, mom. She quoted another of my canonical refrains. Her bright smile in the rear view mirror lit up my world.

My DH and I NEVER tell our kids they're smart. In fact, when other people do, we smile politely, turn away and snicker. Our kids are consistently at the top of their classes because they work at it. A lot. There is no such thing as smart, we preach. Smart is an abstract, merely an idea, a concept, like democracy, or love, potential, or ego. Smart is as smart does.

It is not how we think, or what we believe, it's ONLY what we DO that defines us. 

We are what we do.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Necessity of Immigration

Two inventions in the last hundred years have altered the course of human history:

The Atom Bomb, and the Internet.

While technology enables us to do many thingsfrom create to destroyit's the internet that connects the world in an instant and has the potential to unite us.

If we do not unify under the moniker The Human Race, humanity will likely parish sooner than later, as we are now capable of manifesting our aggression by annihilating each other, and taking most other life on this very small planet with us into oblivion.

To unify, we need to integrate. To integrate, cultures must emigrate between countries. For people to emigrate, we must allow, even encourage immigration between nations.

Except I don't want to integrate, a BIG part of me says.

I can't stand Obama's plan to allow more H-1B work visas because Mark Zuckerburg and Elon Musk are his largest campaign contributors and they want to hire cheap labor out of India, and bring the entire salary base down for all American's in doing so. Indians, Chinese are equally as inept as U.S. workers trying to figure out emerging tech. They, too, must learn on the job. They are cheap labor. It is THE REASON Google, Facebook, Twitter...etc, wants the H-1Bs. And Obama's new Immigration Reform gives these corporations, not start-ups since they aren't anymore, the visas.

Sucks, right. Yup. U.S. salaries will surely rise more slowly with the workforce shifting to foreigners. American citizens will lose out on jobs they are equally qualified for to foreign workers willing to accept less pay. Compact housing developments to accommodate H-1B workers are already springing up everywhere around the Bay—from the high rises in S.F. to the miles of condos that house foreign families—entire Indian and Asian neighborhoods of thousands are being established in the East Bay.

Yet, still, I advocate integration. Immigration.

Obama's screwed up loyalties at the expense of the U.S. workforce does NOT invalidate immigration reform. However corrupted it happens, integration between the cultures of humanity is a MUST. The internet connects us now. We are no longer separate islands but one world, and if we do not live this we all perish. And if still you don't get why, reread the first 5 paragraphs of this blog again.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

On Suicide

I think about suicide constantly. It used to be my out— if life got too...much, I'd leave. Feeling nothing must be better than feeling bad all the time— my rejoinder.

My life hasn't been very hard, not like the kids in Oakland hard. I grew up in a middle-class suburban neighborhood, when it was still safe to walk to elementary school. Never wanted for food, always had a bed, felt safe in the home of my parents. And, however abstracted, I got that they loved me.

What's been so damn hard, always in my way, is...me. Born 2, or 200 yrs too early, I don't seem to fit here. I've been on the outside looking in at this world for as long as I can remember. First hit me when I was around 5 yrs old. My mom would often laud accolades of my father in the store or the car on the way home from school—what a good artist he was, or how “smart,” and “passionate.” But at home, I saw him put his fist through the wood cabinet on inch from her face in a heated argument over politics. I'd seen him make her cower multiple times, listened to him demean her time and again with statements proclaiming her ignorance, or jumping down her throat when she dared disagree with him. The cognitive dissonance between what she said and what I saw put a glass wall between us, instilled mistrust. Perhaps I was delusional, or she was, but either way it took away my ground.

My mother came to the house I was renting when I was 31, and told me she wanted to divorce my dad. Though she never followed through, I know she was unhappy with him. After our divorce discussion, she never again professed her admiration of him, though they were together for another 10+ years before her death. She spewed hateful word about her husband of 49 years on her deathbed practically every time I was with her. What I observed at 5, and forward, gave me the real picture of my parents' relationship, regardless of what my mother said. A glass brick in the wall of my emerging psyche. I've plugged into the difference between what people say and what we do ever since, much to my chagrin.

No, it's not my parents' fault I've spent a lifetime on the outside looking in. They tried to instill in me religion, be a part of the grand delusions the rest of the world apparently slavishly subscribes. But I've never been able to believe in a vengeful, rather ugly solipsist telling me what is right and wrong, acceptable and not, whom I'm supposed to believe in without question, or even speculation. Never been any good at blind faith. Suicide is not a sin. But it is all too often a selfish, morally ambiguous choice.

It's true I think about suicide virtually daily. I hear about Robin Williams, or Aaron Swartz, or Sylvia Plath and cycle on what they felt like right before killing themselves. Black, I imagine. And I live there. All too often. But both Williams and Plath had kids. And Aaron Swatz had thousand of followers who believed in and supported his fight for net-neutrality, me among them. And this is where the morally of killing themselves gets sticky. At least to me.

I brought life into physicality to experience living. And the experience of living—is feeling. The full range—happy, sad, mad, glad...whatever. No matter how hard things feel, no matter how black, if I take my own life I will invalidate the very reason I gave life. To feel. Dead, I will be robbing my children my love, the most intense, fantastic, and cherished of all feelings. And as much as I want to check out sometimes, I can't validate the moral choice of committing suicide, with, or even without kids, since most people have family and friends who love them.

Feelings are dynamic. They change with time. Black morphs to gray, then violet, then sky blue some sunny days. I wish I could go back in time to the moment of choice for the aforementioned suicides, and the 40,000 annually across the U.S. alone, and remind each of the sunny days that will surely come again, especially when embracing and sharing love.