Going About Finding Your People

I promised I’d tell you how to find your people in the last blog, but when I did that, I had no idea what a monumental task it would be to put that into actual words. Then a friend of mine made a post on Facebook about loneliness (it was a helpful post for people feeling lonely, she’s a good egg). And although this blog is meant to be for your personal development, over time it’s also come to be very useful for people in their personal lives, too, so it kind of got me thinking.

Marketing yourself to the wrong people IS a lot like hanging out with people who don’t get you, which can be a source of loneliness. The constant miscommunication and disappointment that you’re having to explain your core essence to someone is the same whether personal or professional. 

Even though we, as creatives, have a job that requires we learn to handle A LOT of rejection, it still stings. It still can generate professional setbacks if there are too many losses in a row. This is why it’s SO much easier to just find your people than to try to force yourself to be someone that you’re not. After all, this world is built on niches upon niches, there is absolutely someone who gets you out there, and almost certainly enough of those people to allow you to make a living. 

After all, NO ONE is *that* special. Not really. We’re all just meaty bags of pulp at the end of the day. 

Identifying Your Segment, Sector, Humans, or Fleshy Bags of Wonder

Before you can find the people who will hold on to you and understand the unique talents you possess, you’re gonna have to do some real soul-searching and, frankly, be painfully honest with yourself. I’m sorry, but this is the only way.

I’ve met a lot of young writers who really want to be a certain sort of writer: clever, sarcastic, witty, sardonic, intense, intellectual, the list is long, but who were really something entirely different. And there’s no sinnin’ in learning how to write like someone else, or to get better at networking with some kind of self-help reading, or to generally improve your skill base. 

But there’s a difference between doing this and trying to overwrite who you are at your very core. It’s that heart that makes you you, and, as far as I’ve ever seen, that bit doesn’t really change a lot once you’re a fully mature person. This is where the honesty thing comes in, because you need to recognize who that is, what it is that makes your heart beat, and harness the fuck outta it.

Maybe you want to be a clever writer, but you’re really an analytical one. You know what? That’s ok, there are so many places you are amazingly useful and people who WANT a naturally analytical writer will fall all over themselves to find one who will embrace that. There are also places where your cheek is way too fucking much and you’ll get kicked to the curb for being sassy. I am both a highly analytical thinker and have a bad case of the sassypants, so I speak from experience here.

But you know who I want to be? Or who I used to want to be, before I realized that I could only be who I am anyway? I wanted to be one of those writers who sound so, so smart. They pull in quotes from philosophers I’ve never even heard of, they speak four languages fluently, they are all that is intellect and class. That’s who I used to want to be. That’s the round hole I used to try to pound myself into.

You know who I am? I’m a walking dad joke wrapped in rural folksisms. I’m a person with a great deal of practical knowledge, not nearly enough formal education, and no fear. I’m a force of nature, just like you, but I would have never realized this until I really took a long look at myself.

So, step one is to really understand who you are and what your skill set looks like. Because, as I’ve said so many times in the past, as writers, we’re not in competition with one another. The client will hire the best fit for what their brain eyeballs see. They hire the person who they think is the right person, there’s really not even a contest. 

It’s like dating, really. Just because you go on a bunch of dates doesn’t mean those people are competing with one another. What you’re really doing is sizing them up to see if any of them are the right person to help build the future in your mind. Honestly, this whole blog came about because I was thinking about how much dating was just like sending out job inquiries. Every potential match is different and there’s a certain amount of self-understanding that’s required to figure out which ones are the best for your overall well-being.

Where Do Your People Live?

The biggest trick to finding your people is to figure out where they live. That mainly means in professional circles, so please don’t go knocking on doors asking around. There are personalities that exist in all realms, of course, but some tend to attract certain types, and the real trick is to find where your type hangs out. 

This is kind of like an intro to audience segmentation, honestly. To find your people ask yourself this simple question: Who do you connect with easily? Women aged 25-40 with college educations? Blue collar men in the trades under age 50? Be specific and honest. The more specific you can get, the closer you’re going to get to their homes.

Social media is a great place to fish for people, but you can’t exactly do that when you’re looking for writing work. Clients tend to frown on you stalking them.

What you have to do, instead, is set out a lot of bait and see who comes swimming up. That bait needs to be all you, as you are, and nothing less. I’ve hired a lot of writers over the years and I can tell you, I rarely hire the ones that sound like carbon copies of one another. I hire the ones that have teeth and voice and have zero shits to give.

Your Opinion in a Relationship Matters, Too

So, this is where I’m gonna go into the actual actionable stuff. Like ya do. See, the whole point of casting the bait and reelin’ them in is so you can actually talk to these people and get a feel for what they’re about. In your professional life, social life, actual life, doesn’t even matter. It’s the same trick.

You may not be yet ready to walk up to every new person and treat them like you’ve known them all your life, but you can get a bead on them and whether or not a relationship with them will end up making you happier or more miserable, whether you’ll feel like a member of a team or increasingly isolated.

These are my top tips for feeling out strangers (not feeling up strangers, that’s against the law):

1. Be honest about who you are. In a job interview, you should obviously be a bit more formal than you would in your life life, but it’s still important to be honest about who you are, what your needs are, and how you believe those can be met. For example, when I meet with a potential client for the first time, I get the money talk out of the way right away. If they won’t pay me what I deserve, there’s no reason to waste anyone’s time. We’re not going to be compatible if they don’t value my work at the same level I do.

In the same vein, I also make sure they understand that I’m not a churn and burn content flipper, I don’t do fast content, I do good content, and the things I generate for them will make them money for years to come. That’s who I am. I’m slow sometimes, but I am always methodical. I am all about doing the job right. If they’re not for that, then it’s probably not going to be a good match because we simply don’t have the same values when it comes to work. 

I have ethical lines in the sand I won’t cross. For example, I won’t overuse the fear button just for a sale; I’m more of a hopey-changey type. I’ll sell hope all fucking day long, man. But fear, that’s not me, even if that’s what the client thinks they need. I’ll walk before I support that shit, because I know who I am now.

2. Have some personality. Along with being honest about who you are in a professional way, you should be honest about how you work. What’s it like to be around you? Are you a miserable prat that no one likes? Well, maybe keep that under your hat… but if you’re someone like me who is super casual with everyone, well, you definitely need to get that out. Don’t lead with fart jokes, but don’t give the impression that you’ve got a stick up your ass, either, because that’s who that client will expect to meet time after time. 

3. Interview the interviewer. Because of my background in journalism and sales, it’s second nature to me to ask a lot of questions and to size people up. This is admittedly not a skill that comes easily to a lot of people, but anyone can learn how to do it with some practice. A job interview, just like a first date, should go both ways. They ask you questions, you ask them questions, you have a proper conversation. If you get little red flags popping up all over the place, maybe you decide this one is best left alone, or, at very least, to be watched very carefully for signs of going toxic.

4. Allow yourself to say no. I’ll be apologizing for this forever, I’m afraid, because I used to say that writers should always say yes and never say no. Admittedly, the environment was a lot different back then, but that was still really miserable advice to offer. You should absolutely tell people no when you mean no. No, I won’t do this. No, this price isn’t gonna work. No, I have zero experience writing about cooking waffles for ducks. It’s ok to say no. It’s not a dirty word. It’s a limit on how many of your resources you’re willing or able to spend.

If the client isn’t giving you answers you like, say no. Maybe there’s a way you can work together differently, maybe there’s not, but you won’t know until you say no and offer a compromise. No, I don’t do DropBox. How do you feel about Google Drive? No, WordPerfect isn’t an appropriate word processor for the 2020s. I can send you anything that’s MS Word compatible. No, I won’t take any goddamn paper money, get that shit out of my face. 

I’ve learned that how people respond to “no” says a whole lot more about them than how they respond to “yes.” With yes, they know they’re getting what they want and it’s all good. With no, well, it’s anybody’s guess. Maybe they’ll get what they want eventually, maybe not, but they won’t get their EXACT way, and there are some intolerable assholes who will out themselves quickly when you drop the N-word. No, I mean…

This is only really a basic primer on finding your people. What I know about this subject could fill a book, so if you have any specific questions, please don’t hesitate to ask here in the comments or via my FaceBook account, Waterworth Writes.

You Don’t Need Everyone to Love You

I used to give horrible advice when it came to clients.  I really did, it’s not a lie, and I will totally own that.  I used to say that you (as a writer) should be a chameleon, and as a chameleon, you should be able to be a lot of different things to a lot of different people.  And while I still maintain that it’s an important strategy as you’re establishing your business and trying to keep food on the table, it’s not a recipe for longer term happiness.

And, if I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that happiness is really important.  Like so much more important than I ever imagined.  You can make happiness from nothing, but it’s a lot easier if you just find the people who help feed that happiness.  This is a lesson I’ve taken from COVID and I want to pass it to you.

This goes for your personal life, your professional life, your recreational life… it goes for everything.  If you’re surrounded by a lot of miserable cunts who couldn’t care less if you live or die, well, it’s hard to generate your own little island of joy.  If you find yourself around people who are pretty pleasant and who kinda like, you know, get you, the whole process is a whole lot easier.

And that’s why I’ve come today to correct myself.  Because you don’t need everybody to love you.  You just need the right people to love you.  This is meant to be for your writing life, but it also can be applied to your generally squishy people life.

We’re Not For Everyone

I have long known that I wasn’t for everybody.  I knew I could be intense, I could get lost in my own head, I had a variety of interests that make most people’s eyes glaze over.  I knew all of this about myself, but I also knew it was just kinda how it was.  This is just who I am.

And while all of that stuff was true, there was a falsehood in there.  One I wholly believed and it crippled me.  I thought I was among a small minority of people who were this potentially unbearable.  I thought I was rare and gifted in my level of general inability to be loved by others when I let it all hang out.

I was so, so stupidly wrong.  I suffer terribly from Imposter Syndrome and I’ve written about it many times over the years (you can find blogs about it here, here, and here).  It ebbs and flows, but this year has been a real fucking winner in that battle (that’s sarcasm).  I think that’s where I got the idea that I was an insufferable taint of a human…

The truth is that NONE of us are for everyone.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a writer, an accountant, a fucking trust fund hippie… doesn’t matter.  You’re not for everyone.  And that’s ok.  It takes a lot of different types to make the world turn, and you can’t be everything for everybody.  It’s just not possible.  

Get some healthy expectations will you? GOSH!

… But We ARE Glorious Among Our Own

I’ve been a digital writer for most of a decade now and I’ve learned one ineffable truth.  There’s only one person like you in the whole goddamn world and you’re super fucking glorious to someone.  

I mean, I think you’re an asshole, but what does my opinion mean?  Nothing.

There are niches upon niches upon niches of people in this world.  Social media and digital marketing has driven this point home to me harder than you could possibly imagine.  So what if the biker gangs of the world don’t want to hang with you?  You’re more of a ship in a bottle type.  Fuck ‘em.

This goes doubly when it comes to being a working writer.  There are going to be clients who really don’t like you.  I mean, some will absolutely loathe your very existence and be kind of salty that you get to use up oxygen.  I’ve had those clients and they’re impossible to please because what they want is something that I cannot ever be.  What they want is someone else, even though I’m alarmingly sexy, disarmingly talented, and remarkably fond of curse words and bad jokes.

You can’t be everything to everyone.  I may have already said that, but I still mean it.  I mean, we’re about 750 words into this thing, I have no idea what I was writing ten minutes ago…

Anyhoo.  My point, if I have one, is that I was fucking wrong, you deserved better, and I failed you.  So, let that freak flag fly, my friend.  Be who you are.  There’s no other motherfucker on his planet who is just like you.

Tips for Flying That Freak Flag

As per the usual format, I’m gonna give you some kind of advice that you can actually use.  I’m good for more than useless platitudes.  

Generally.  

Letting your freak flag fly is a delicate balance.  You don’t want to be a walking cartoon, but you do want to let potential clients (and humans) know that you’re not a blank slate.  Try this stuff:

1. When you write (or otherwise communicate), do it freely.  Take a big, deep breath, and reach down to your gut stuff.  Speak from your metaphorical diaphragm, let whatever’s rattling around in your brain bubble up, so long as it makes sense in the context you find yourself in. 

For example, I may have a piece to write about making paint choices, since I still do home improvement content.  

I once got an AI-generated Facebook status (from one of those many weird tools on the Internet) that said my status should be “In the Maldives, the water matches my hair.”  I think about that a lot.  Probably a lot more than is reasonable or sane.  

Anyway.  I got this message from the AI-bot and I think about it a lot, like I said.  

If I were to have a piece on this year’s colors of the year (I might have that slated for today) and one of them is aqua, AND there was a photo of me with the article, I might talk about this very story.  I might say, “This year’s color of the year from Sherman-Williams is an aqua called ‘Potatoes By Starlight.’”  And then I might mention the time I got a message from an AI-bot about my hair matching the water in the Maldives.

I’ve not been to the Maldives to confirm this prophecy, but I have no doubt it’s accurate.  In fact, there are days that’s the only thing I am pretty sure is true…

See how all that just kind of rolled out as a story?  Well, that’s what communicating freely is about.  Weave a little bit of yourself into everything.  It doesn’t always come naturally, so I recommend practicing a lot.

2. Use the Words You Use.  As writers, we’re sticklers about language.  In fact, I think sometimes we’re far too stickler-ly about it.  There’s no functional difference between a lot of words, like “often” and “regularly,” for example.  Those words are basically the same, but they sound a lot different, and they give off different smells.  

If you mean “regularly,” but you think the proper thing to do would be to use the word “often” to avoid the dreaded “-ly” ending, you’re trying way too hard.  Use the words you use.  Your words have power, even if you don’t like it.  Your diction has meaning, purpose, and a place where it fits.  It’s easier to find the fit than to force yourself to write in a way that is against your own nature.  

As long as it’s the proper dialect for your project, use the word that you use naturally.  Stop trying so damn hard to impress people who probably don’t give any shits about which way you go.

3. Remember It’s Ok to Have a Personality.  You are who you are, and that’s actually pretty cool.  There’s not another writer in the world just like you.  In fact, I get more work because I’m voicey than because of anything else in my credentials.  People love that they read me and hear ME when they do it.  They know these words were shart from my own word hands and not from some potentially generic person that might not even be alive.

Inject your interests, your thoughts, your own expressions, anything you can squeeze into the requirements for your work.  Trust me, you’ll come out so much better and your readership will eat it up.

Give your words life.  Give your conversations life.  This is the way.  

In Summary…

You’re never going to be everybody’s Cup O’ Noodles.  Some people are on low sodium diets, or they’re allergic to wheat, or they just really can’t stand that artificial chicken flavor.  It’s ok.  You’re SOMEONE’S Cup O’ Noodles, and what I’ve found in all these years is that it’s a LOT easier to find those people who jive with you rather than trying to stuff yourself into a mold where you’ll never really fit.  

So go find your people, be they clients, coworkers, friends, or lovers.  Find your people.  You will never regret it.  (We’ll talk about how to do that next week)

Day 257: So, Umm… We’re Still Doing This?

I’m writing this BEFORE Day 257 (it’s Wednesday, November 18, if you’re curious), so presumably, things are going to be more or less the same by the time it publishes. But, for the sake of … whatever… let’s assume all things have proceeded as you’d expect a week prior.

So, it’s Day 257 (for you, anyway) and there’s still a pandemic on. It’s still dodgy out there. Things are still uncertain, scary, awful, trying, stressful, exhausting, among other descriptors. The good news is that vaccine trials are starting to report in and they look pretty hopeful. The bad news is that Thanksgiving is coming up in the USA and it’s going to make everything a lot worse.

Oh, I know this is a blog about writing and the writing life, but let’s face it, we’re all living this life right now. This COVID life. And, what happens with that is affecting us in ways big and small, so we might as well just fucking talk about it and get it out front.

Thanksgiving is Doomed

I sat through a press conference an hour or so ago put on by my local health department. They were begging people to cancel Thanksgiving plans, to please mask, to please stay home if they’re sick. They were pleading, because although my city did reasonably well up until school reopened however it could, we’re failing hard now.

The no shits given attitude that has permeated the rural counties around us is starting to penetrate our walled city on a hill. (We aren’t really walled, but we are on a hill. That other bit was hyperbole. I know you’ve never been here, most people have never even heard of Springfield, Missouri.)

Those of us who are holding out and who have dwelt in the city on the hill for years generally have a bit of a different outlook than our relatives who live out in the wild of the rural counties. Not all of us, in either direction, but it’s pretty safe to say the city is far more liberal leaning than the counties. And those of us in the city are having to have hard conversations about this with our rural family.

Because masking and not, you know, spreading the plague about, has become such a political issue, it’s turning into a very us versus them situation, when it should really just be an us versus the fucking virus situation. Unfortunately, we’ve reached a crossroads because family meals are one of the few ways we still have to hold to our traditions, for we are a simple people with simple ways.

And there’s nothing wrong with simplicity. It’s lovely in its way. I came back from the bigger world because of the beauty of it. But just this once, we can’t be simple creatures. We have to be more than that.

How You Can Save Lives

Look, I don’t give two fucks if you don’t like the tea I’m spilling here, but if you’re a regular follower of this blog (and if you still are after how poorly I’ve been doing at updating this year, God bless you), I owe it to you to tell you the truth. I’m always devoted to it, you know this about me.

Staying home this year will save lives. Maybe not yours, maybe not your cousins’, but someone’s life. Because even if your family dodges a bullet, your having a normal holiday just encourages everyone else to do the same. And some of those people will not be so lucky. Some of those people will die gasping for their last breath while drowning in their own lungs.

Can you imagine what your friend’s grandmother would feel in her last moments? Or how terrified your pastor’s uncle will be when he’s isolated and alone in a COVID ward? Can you feel the deep loss that some families are going to experience because their dinner became a super spreader event?

If you’ve not given it any thought, now is the time. Now is your time to be bigger than politics or power grabs. Now is your moment to take a stand and save the people around you from themselves.

I believe in you. Do the right thing and stay home. Have a video call with your family. There’s room for a laptop at your dinner table. You can still share a meal without sharing a disease.

Day 221: Things Are Still Dodgy

Welcome to Day 221 (give or take), things are still pretty dodgy here in the ol’ US of A, if we’re being totally honest with ourselves. We’ve got a full blown pandemic on, people are denying there’s a full blown pandemic on, which is simply amplifying said pandemic, and work for anybody in the business services sector is super touch and go.

Sure, the actual work is there. But the getting paid for said work? We’re on a day by day basis now, I think. Too many small businesses are going under too quickly, the rest are hiding in their bunkers with their cash or investing in advertising with a great deal of hope that they’ll be able to pay the bill when it comes.

It leaves us, the writers of the world, in a weird place. Do we finally cave to that lucrative career at 7-11? Do we trade in our keyboard for a bar code scanner and a good pair of shoes to join the growing army of people working to ensure shipments are going where they need to go?

Is Waterworth Writing?

Waterworth is writing.

I’ve spent weeks, even months, turning over the current economic trends and looking for any kind of insight into how to proceed. I’ve closed my digital marketing business (at least for now) and am working on building up my writing work to keep us in tea bags and beans. Not together.

It was a hard decision. Being niched in so deeply that all you do is make words is a blessing and a curse. In one hand, you know exactly what every day looks like, but on the other hand, you know exactly what every day looks like. It’s an endless sea of characters and spaces.

And that’s fine for some people. Some people need that. For me, it’s difficult to get started when I know that’s the sum of it. Me, the keyboard, the pounding, the music in my head. That’s it. It drones on and I sit here working in a void, hoping someone will be able to pay in these unprecedented times.

I hope, I write, I hope, I write. But some days hope is hard to come by, which makes the words hard to come by. Some days I just scream in my head for hours because the horror of life is too much. Some days I have to escape to the woods because the orders pour in all at once and I am no longer able to really deal with the pressure.

How Do We Move Forward?

It’s the other question I’ve been asking myself for months. How do we move through this and to the other side? Of course, that assumes there *IS* another side. I’m beginning to doubt this.

If this is life now, if pandemic world is the only world, what’s to become of us? What happens to the writers and creatives of the world who need a bit of hope to keep moving? Those of you who thrive on darkness should be sitting pretty right now. It takes both kinds to make the world go ’round.

I try to include an actionable element in these blogs, and for today, it’s about moving forward. How do we move forward? I’m not entirely sure because this is all so new and uncharted, but I think it goes something like this:

  1. Remember that we offer a valuable skill that most people don’t possess. We communicate like champs, that’s what we’ve done for years, or decades, or since time immemorial. Before we can convince anyone else to believe in us, we have to believe in ourselves and what we have to offer.
  2. Keep swimming. The currents are rough and there’s no telling where we’re headed, but we have to keep swimming. If you’ve never seen Finding Nemo, I mean, it’s just about motion. Sometimes motion is a waste of energy, but sinking to the bottom and getting stuck in the mud never gets anyone anywhere.
  3. Know that every step is a step. On the same theme as keeping up the swimming, it’s important to remember that every step is a step forward. You don’t have to swim the English Channel to be swimming. Send out a few inquiry letters today. Rebuild your resume. Look over your samples. Every step is a step.
  4. Remind your fellow writers they can do it. I know it sounds counter productive, but for me, at least, having someone else to cheer on helps me feed my inner cheerleader. I think to myself, “well, if I believe Amanda can do this, how hard is it for me to believe I can, too?” And so it reinforces my belief in our profession entirely.
  5. Treat job hunting like a job. When the real estate market collapsed in 2007, I chose to bow out rather than to keep lead-chasing. I’m not doing that this time, even though our industry is threatened by so much uncertainty. I’m sticking this one out. And every day, I send out packages, I do something to make people remember I exist. Engage your social media, make a lot of noise (don’t be annoying, though, no one likes that), be seen. You know how to do it. We just have to be seen by more people than ever before.

I don’t have all the answers, guys. I’m not sure I even have some of them. But I do know that we can’t just sit around waiting for things to happen. I mean, I tried that and can confirm that it’s not horribly effective.

It can be really hard getting moving when there’s so much weight on you. But you’ll see. One word turns into three, three into ten, ten into a paragraph, then before you know it, you’re rolling again. The getting started is so hard, though. I know it is.

One word in front of the others, guys. And don’t forget to share your leads with one another. None of us have the same skill set and that means we’re not really in competition with one another. That potential client who passed on you will still pass on you if you tell your friend about the job. You either fit or you don’t, and it’s never anything personal.

Support your people. Support our people. We’re in dark days, indeed, but together we can work through it and not lose ourselves.

Love you guys. We can do this.

It’s Been 200 Days… What’s Normal Anymore?

So, it’s been 200 days now since I initially went into coronavirus-related isolation.

Two hundred days.

Where have they gone? I wish I knew.

This year has been such an incredible waste of my professional life that I can’t begin to explain it. But in a way, it was a reawakening of my personal life. See, even though it’s been rocky with work and having the mental fortitude to do my job, these two hundred days have given me a new perspective.

Even though we work in a highly competitive, production based field, we deserve a few things. Breaks, sick days, time away from the computer. I’ve realized these things actually make my life more complete and my writing a lot less lopsided. It’s good stuff.

It’s Time for a Plan

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m about to hit my busiest time of the year, because not only am I servicing existing clients, I’m working up new marketing to try to entice bigger, better ones. I’m doing two jobs, basically, so I can keep going with the one I have.

I’m not complaining, it is what it is, but this is the busy season. We’ve walked into it. That means more wrist strain, more chair marks imprinted into our ample backsides, more sitting in front of blank pages and despairing.

This year, I’m going to try to make a better plan: less, but more. More time spent doing what I want. Less time spent worrying about what clients think. I’m going to bang the keys, deliver the deliverables, and let the worry go. It’s not good for anything, anyway.

I’m safe in my house, I can stop in the middle of my day to buy groceries (it’s not as busy at the market then), I can go for a walk with my dogs. I can escape, but I must not escape by staring and worrying. It’s time to push some life into those empty holes.

I don’t know what you’ve learned this year, or what changes you may have in mind for futures near and far, but I’d like to hear about them.

Our writing community has become a very different thing with so many parents having to help their kids with school while working from home (and the whole rest of the world discovering remote work!) and it’s going to be different for a long time to come. We might as well strategize together.

The Corona Chronicles: It’s Day 163

I’ve been meaning to update this blog. I have. But it was just a week ago that I wrote the last entry… wasn’t it?

As it turns out, it’s been 154 days.

154 days. I’ve never bothered to count that many days, I’ve never had a reason to. Sure, we count months and weeks and years, everybody does that, but DAYS. Who counts them? Who bothers?

It’s just a day, it’s almost nothing.

It’s just a day, it’s sometimes everything.

There have been 154 since I last put fingers to keys for you, my once adoring and attentive audience. Maybe I can give you a reason to be that again.

It’s just a day, it’s the day we begin again.

Ebbs and Flows

This year has been really fucking weird. I’m pretty sure no one on the planet, literally, would disagree with me. It’s been creating strange tides in my part of the industry, both because work seems to be a bit up and down and because I am absolutely a bit up and down.

At first, I was a lot more down than up. Things were very confusing. I wasn’t sure if I should move forward, step back or tread water. I wasn’t sure if I should quit entirely and give up forever. I wasn’t sure about much.

But as the days passed and the dead piled so deep the numbers no longer had any meaning, I stopped being so numb. I started being able to sleep again, even though I should have been in even more dire straights. I started to live again, among so much death.

And today, 154 days later, I’m adding something else to my day: you.

How’s It Going?

So how are things going for you? I am not at all confident that I can guess what the future will hold. I am not at all confident that anybody can. Things are bad, there’s no doubt.

But, I’m starting to get faint glimmers that things will get better.

There’s a lot we can’t control right now, more than most of us probably want to admit, really. But there’s a lot that we can control. And those are the things that it’s going to be critical to focus on for the remainder of this year.

School is starting and everyone is holding their breath. Colleges are already closing again because disease is spreading like a wildfire. It’s disheartening, there’s no doubt about it.

It also stands as a huge illustration of how success and failure really work.

Successes and Failures: Coronavirus Edition

Some days we go mad with anger and resentfulness because something awful has happened. Some days we zoom with enthusiasm because something wonderful seems to be just around the bend.

We move forward, we move backward. It may feel like we’re getting nowhere, but we’re inching ever onward. We’re learning, we’re growing, we’re striving for more. It’s all anyone can do, really, in the greater scheme of things.

And by anyone, I mean, a random person on the street… there are probably a few people who actually can do more, but we won’t talk about them here.

I’m Moving Forward, Too

A lot has happened in my life during the pandemic, too. I lost Annie, my wild and weird hound mix. I gained a new Favorite I never expected. And, I’ve made a major decision in my life: to return, at least in some small way, to local news.

It took me a long time to decide to do that. First, because I’ve been out of it for a while, but secondly because of how wildly unpredictable it can be. But it was my first love and it’s a part of me I can’t leave in the past.

So, keep your eyeballs glued here. I’ll be telling the stories from behind the stories that you may find completely delightful. Or not. I’m not your mom.

Check me out in the Lawrence County Record and the Greene County Commonwealth from time to time. Why not take out a digital subscription for just $28 a year? Keep a pal in a job, yo.

Notes from Quarantine, Day 7: Silver Linings

The news, I know.  I know, the news.  

It’s growing grimmer by the day and for good reason, the situation is growing more serious and many are still not taking it very seriously.  There are plenty of people who are defying suggestions to stay home, sunning their perineum as a way to protect them from CV-19, and buying up all the supplies.  There are people who are still denying that there even *IS* a problem, which is, naturally, making the problem we actually have a lot worse.

Both coasts now have cases numbering in the thousands.  Every state, even the ones failing to report properly or test adequately, are reporting sick people.  They’re enacting all kinds of draconian rules to try to enforce social distancing so our healthcare workers stand a remote chance to fight this thing on our behalf.

It’s funny, for all the people who get absolutely pissed off when anyone says anything against our military, there are plenty who are happy to take our medical front line down.  I’m just saying, they’re the heroes today. We don’t need G. I. Joe, we need doctors and nurses. And they need us.

It’s Not All Doom and Gloom

As I typed this header, I got an announcement that the governor of Arkansas was having a press conference about the COVID-19 situation there.  I’m about an hour from the state line, so my local news is covering both state responses.  

It’s alarming.  So alarming.

And it’s overwhelming.  There’s so much news coming at us so fast, there’s so much happening that we don’t have the tools to deal with.

There’s every reason for you to be paralyzed with fear.

But, because my state is near the tail end of this thing, I know we’ve all had our chances to deal with the shock of the situation we’re in by now.  It’s not easy, but it’s time that we start to work through the fear. It’s not all doom and gloom, not today, not tomorrow, not ever.  

Humans may be fragile, but humanity is resilient.  We will carry on if we pull together, and one of the easiest ways to do that is to remember the good things.

Today, I charge you with finding some positives in your day.  Remind your friends that things might be scary, but there are still Oreos.  There are still cat memes on the internet. There are still idiots like me riding the keyboard so you can stay both informed and distracted.

Oh, and call your mom.

Notes from Quarantine, Day 6: It’s OK to Not Be OK

I know a lot of you are just now starting your quarantines.  I’m not better at this than you are, I’ve just been at it longer.  All that hopey changey stuff is my way of trying to make the best out of a really awful situation.

But today, I wanted to address the other side of that coin.  This is a terrifying time. And it’s OK to not be OK.

You know what I mean, right?  I mean you’re going to fall to pieces sometimes.  You’re going to feel like nothing will ever be good again.  You may despair. You may become paralyzed with fear. You may binge your way through all your emergency supplies (don’t do that!).

The news is getting increasingly worse, as the news does in times like these.  If you’ve ever lived through a serious natural disaster on the local level, try to think through how that went.  It got real bad for a while, but ultimately, it was OK. In the end, it was OK.

Different doesn’t mean it’s not OK.

Maybe Not Today, Satan

We will have to face all the dirty reality that’s coming in at about 300 miles an hour right now.  We’ll all have to figure out how we’re going to move forward. But we don’t have to do it all at once.  We can do a bit here and a bit there, it’s a technique I’ve used in the past to write some seriously heavy content.  

It’s a way to keep from becoming so mentally heavy that you can’t move.  You touch it just a little bit, every day, until you manage to face it wholly.  It’s a bit like a mental vaccination, but obviously no needles are involved.

So, maybe today isn’t the day you build your zombie survival battle plan.  Maybe today is the day you just pick out some movies and veg on the couch like it was an extra Saturday.  Maybe today is the day you rearrange your office so you have a better view of the back lawn.

Things will get dark.  But today isn’t a dark day, necessarily.

Things will be hard.  But today we still have plenty.

Things will be terrifying.  But today we still have hope that our fellow humans will do what’s best for everyone.

That hope is a life raft.  That hope might be everything for someone.  

Check on your friends, your family, your neighbors.  Tell people you love them. Make memories that aren’t traumatic, even in these times.

I love you guys.  Hold on. It’s going to get better.

Notes From Quarantine, Day 5: Are You Ready?

OMG NOT LIKE THAT! STOP TOUCHING!

It would seem I’m not the only one going into lockdown. This is both a relief and a great sense of anxiety for me. It was bad enough when I was worried that I would get very sick and not recover, but to see the mandatory closing of basically everything around me is becoming very frightening. There’s no reason to pretend it’s anything short of horrifying and I won’t.

But I am also acutely aware that a lot of you don’t know what you need now that you’re stuck at home for no telling how long. You may have no idea how to navigate this landscape that is suddenly thrust upon you, so this week, we’re going to focus on getting you started in the right direction.

You Need Food

Presumably, you’ve got some groceries stocked now. If it’s any indication from the many, many photos on social media, you’ve got ALL the groceries. But do you know what to do with them? Can you actually cook? There’s no shame in living in a place where it’s cheaper to get take-out than to make dinner after a long day at work. But it has put you at a serious disadvantage today.

Start easy. Eggs are hard to mess up unless you burn them. No matter what’s in the pan, start with low heat and creep upward, unless you’re boiling water, then might as well just kick it to high to start with. Look up easy recipes for the things you’ve got on hand. Make simple staples and mix and match them in different ways. For example, cook up your rice and your beans, but not together. Then later, you might do up some taco meat and suddenly you have different meal combos.

Think ahead and combine foods that make sense. I know the grocery store may be difficult pickings right now, but nutrition is still important. You need all kinds of foods to keep going, but you may be forced to learn how to make new combinations because that’s what you have. Chicken and oranges can be a meal. Chicken and bananas, not so much.

You Need Calm

This is going to sound like hippie talk, but it’s well-documented that stress can weaken your immune system. And this is nothing if it’s not stressful. So today, I want you to find a way to find calm. Download some guided meditations, ask your watch for a breathing exercise (mine does this, yours may not), see what Alexa has for you. Controlled breathing is a great way to reduce stress, but so is taking a walk outdoors (this is very important: do not touch anyone or get near them), so is petting a dog. 

Find a way to relax and make it a part of your Apocalypse Day Schedule. I know your kids are home with you and that can be another source of stress, but they’re also stressed, so if you can find something you can all do together, so much the better. Lowering stress in your household will help you all get through your quarantine without bloodshed.

Engage Mentally

It’s easy to scroll social media looking for news, I know because I’m doing it constantly. It’s also the worst possible thing you could be doing for your morale right now. 

Stop counting your dead.

The reality is harsh, so touch it lightly. Check the newspaper or the local news stations for updates, but don’t do it on the hour. Try to limit yourself to a few times a day. The rest of the time, engage yourself mentally in anything else.

Write a journal, read a book, build a Rube Goldberg machine. We may do that last thing at some point. I love those things. Puzzles, trivia, anything to get your mind back to a place of relative stability. You have to have time away from this.

Be Cautious

If you must go out, go out with caution. Drive carefully, don’t let the wasteland distract you. It will. You’ll wonder where everyone is and may even be alarmed at the lack of traffic. I know because this is exactly what happened to me in 2007, during an ice storm that brought my city to its knees for two full weeks. I cried every time I had to go out.

But unlike that ice storm, we have all our utilities, we have all we need, we just have to remember that we’re experiencing unprecedented levels of infection with a nasty virus that we can’t fight.

So, FFS, don’t touch anything you don’t have to. Wash your hands. Carry hand sanitizer if you have any. Carry mace so no one takes your hand sanitizer. Stay away from people (three to six feet is the current recommendation, that’s just a bit more than one or two arm lengths, depending on your arms). Avoid places where humans are bunched up if you can. Don’t eat in, carry out, and even then do so with extreme caution.

Be Considerate

Lastly, remember that we’re in this together. You can’t shield yourself from a community-wide pathogen without also shielding your brother and your sister and your neighbors. The community is infected and it’s spreading fast. Protect yourself by protecting everybody else. 

Don’t take all the TP. If your neighbor can’t find any, start a drive: ask the other neighbors to each donate a roll until they can find some. The madness should be over soon enough, but until then we need each other to survive and thrive. 

Check on your friends and family. If they are struggling to find something you have in bulk, share. 

It really is this simple, believe it or not. All we need to do is support each other and our chances of making it as a group increase dramatically. 

If your elderly neighbor has to hunt and hunt for supplies that you have in abundance and they get sick while out, that’s a high resource utilization hospital bed that’s suddenly full. In other words, if all the high risk people are sick and you break your arm, you’d better just look to YouTube for answers because there aren’t enough medical professionals to go around.

On the flip side, if you insist on continuing to mingle in the community and spreading your germs around, you might be just fine, but your friendly neighborhood doctor will have to choose who gets the last ventilator. Your friendly neighborhood doctor is going to mentally fracture because he’s going to be forced to let a patient die. He will know this will be the outcome from the moment they walk in the door.

And if you’ve ever complained about MD burnout, you’d better really prepare for what that’s going to look like in the wake of a pandemic where people have been left to die in medical facilities. We’re going to see a lot of people abandoning medicine for their own mental health.

Consider the mass graves we may be forced to deal with as millions of people die (how else do you expect we’ll deal with all the bodies?). It’s not worth going to that concert. We are not emotionally prepared for tossing all our parents in the same hole and filling it with a bulldozer. As a student of history, I can promise you that you have no idea how that will impact the national on a deep psychological level.

Reach Out (But Don’t Touch Anyone!)

Last thing. 

Reach out. Right now we’re all suffering the same stress and the same worries and the same everything. If you run into someone still in hot denial, don’t let them drag you down or convince you that you’re nuts. Much of Europe isn’t closed just for funsies.

Talk to your friends. Hell, talk to your enemies. Talk to everyone. We’re all in this sinking rowboat together, we might as well give each other some semblance of comfort and compassion. Remember that they need to talk, too, though, so give them their opportunity.

Tell people you love them. We’re living in unprecedented times. Don’t wait. I love you guys. You’ve been my weirdly loyal fanbase for all these years. Some of you are even actual, factual friends. I love you all (but remember no touching).

Don’t give in to despair, but do acknowledge reality. We need a healthy dose of compassion and concern to keep the wheels moving. You can do this. WE CAN DO THIS.

If we do it together.

Notes From Quarantine, Day 3: Damn the Tornadoes, Full Speed Ahead!

I continue to be shocked by what I’m seeing on social media and from friends who are trying to not have full blown meltdowns.  It’s image after image of stores completely cleared of all kinds of necessities by panicked buyers and opportunists who figure they might as well exploit this thing as not.  There have been numerous articles full of preparation advice, lots of official announcements that begin and end with “wash your dirty hands” and a lot of people who seem to be legitimately confused about what to do now.

This is where I shine.  I’m great in crisis. It might be because I was diagnosed with diabetes when I was 19 (that was almost 21 years ago).  The things I’ve learned in all those years of living with a chronic illness have taught me a few things, I think, and they’re probably things you could stand to know right now.

My First Bit of Advice: Deal With Your Emotions

You may not even realize that you’re feeling panicked, but if you’re hiding inside a fort of 1,000 rolls of toilet paper, it doesn’t take a pro to diagnose your anxiety.  

These are scary times, it’s ok to be scared.  If you’re not a little scared, frankly, you’re not paying attention.  There’s no need for me to rehash the news, you know the numbers in every category grow daily and that America is in no way prepared to care for the number of sick we could end up with.

Just like when I was told I had Type 1 Diabetes and it would change everything for me forever, you’re gonna feel a lot of things.  

You’re going to try to shrug it off, you’ll try to minimize the issue, you may even try to stare this thing in the face by doing something truly stupid (I’ve been there, I’m not at all judging).  

You want life to go back to how it was last week.  I know you do. But it won’t, at least not for now.

So, today, scream, howl, cry, punch a bag, meditate, drink copious amounts of coffee, do whatever you do when the worst comes and you are forced to have to deal.  Do your thing, people. Do it and get it all out. We need to be clear thinkers come Monday morning.

You’re grieving and there’s no right way to do it.  Even if it’s a temporary sort of grief right now, I know plenty of you are already counting your dead.  I did it. I gave into despair. But as someone who has spent their entire adult life facing hard shit on the regular, I also recognized that I was falling into that pit because experience clued me in.  

You may not have that to look back on, and that’s ok, too.  That’s why people like me are here to help people like you.

Accept you’re having whatever emotions you’re having and work through them.  One step at a time, ok? You will be ok if you follow the very good advice of medical experts everywhere.  You will not be ok if you continue to panic and behave irrationally and neither will the people you come into contact with.

My Second Bit of Advice: Buy What You Need

Look, you don’t need to prepare for the zombie apocalypse.  Yes, it’s going to get ugly and things will slow down a lot and we may even face a small recession over the novel coronavirus.  What this isn’t going to do is end humanity as we know it or China would literally be wiped off the map right now. They got it first.  They are not all dead. Granted, they have a very different sort of government that can enforce public health policies in a way those of us in the West cannot, but China’s experience is a strong sign that we, too, can handle this.

BUT, if you keep clearing out the shelves of every market, we’re not going to survive this.  

You may feel pretty safe with your freezer full of goods and your cabinets literally stuffed to the gills with every kind of non-perishables.  But remember that we actually live in communities that are made up of all sorts of other people. If you buy all the goods, you’re only fooling yourself.  Your neighbor may not be in a position to purchase or store as much, which means that when their limited supplies run out, they may not be able to get what they need.

This is where a normal person stops to consider things.  If you just thought, “So what?” you’re literally banned from my presence for life.  Just like that. Be human, you goblin turnip.

Even if you don’t care about your neighbor, have some fucking sense.  If they can’t get what they need, sick or not, they’re going to be hunting for it.  That means they’re going out in public again and again, exposing themselves to risk and increasing the risk for your entire community.  And you’re part of that community, whether you like it or not.  

Bottom line: no goods at the shops means increased risk because of increased touch points.

If you have more than you need, see if that neighbor is ok.  Ask them if they need a roll of your precious toilet paper, if they want to split some of the hand sanitizer you bought in bulk or if they could use one of the 17 turkeys you now have in your freezer.  

Trust me, you’re not going to notice the difference over a prolonged timeline and all of that stuff has a shelf life.  If all your neighbors donated one roll of TP to the old lady on the corner, she’d be in a lot better position than she is right now.  It’s just one roll, dude.

My Third and Last Bit of Advice: Support Each Other

This goes back to the toilet paper generosity.  One of the first things you learn when you’ve been diagnosed with something where you wake up every day knowing you might not have survived is that you only have this one day.

Every day is that one day you get.  

If you’re lucky, you get another and another.  But the time will come when you don’t. You can be a royal prick to everybody you meet or you can support others who are just starting to have that realization, it’s totally up to you.

You get to choose who you are, barring extremes like personality disorders, obviously.  You get to choose if you’re going to be selfish and go down with your hoard or if you’ll lift everybody up by providing moral support, shaving off a little of your stock if need be, and making sure your community has what it needs by not profiteering off of this calamity.  

Who are you going to be today?  The sailor who kept the ship afloat or the selfish shit who helped sink it?