That Place Where Life and Writing Intersects

There are some moments that are so genuinely still that you can hear the molecules of the universe dance through the ether. In these tiny spaces between atoms, there’s just the most fleeting glance of that place where all the points in our lives intersect like long lines trailing off into the inky black. 

It’s a place where all things are possible, many things are probable and the infinite isn’t all that overwhelming. It’s a place of peace and chaos. It’s the end and the beginning and all the stuff in the middle. The loves, the hurts, the wins, the losses, the missed opportunities.

For us, it’s where writing and real life intersect. It’s like looking into the abyss, except something a lot more specific than the general universe looks back. 

Overlapping Realities

For writers, life happens in two places: one is in our heads, where, let’s face it, most of us have a pretty rich internal existence. It’s a blessing and it’s a curse. It’s a great place to escape to when things are too much, but it can be incredibly tempting to just stay there forever. The other place, of course, is in actual real life. And by real life, on this Earthly plane, I also mean social media, because, frankly, that’s pretty damn real if you make it real.

Our work, by its very nature, overlaps those two worlds. We dream it and then we make it, it doesn’t matter if we’re novelists or lowly copywriters. We breathe life into worlds every day. Your world might be a planet with six moons and two stars, but my world where my client’s product makes bedtime an easier job for parents is just as much a fantasy. If I can’t see it before it exists, I can’t tell you the story of how your load will be lighter.

And this is where things get dodgy for us, I think.

It can get weird trying to sort out what’s work and what’s life and what parts are both. Compartmentalization is the most valuable tool in a writer’s arsenal, I don’t care what anybody tells you. And maybe it’s easier for fiction writers or people who don’t need to believe what they’re telling the world to weave those words into gold without walking the wire.

But for me, and maybe for you, reality checks are vital. Sometimes I feel like I’m kind of living in a world that’s between all things, but the truth is that the fantasy is just that — it’s the fantasy. That can never be forgotten or we’ll be lost forever in the depths of our own minds.

The Intersection and The Greater World

Having recently left a relationship that was only surviving because I was clinging to shreds of fantasy, I can tell you that the intersection isn’t the best place to hang out. It stifles you. It keeps you from being all you might be since you’re putting all your energy into world-building a scenario that a big part of you knows isn’t real.

Escapism isn’t the solution, kids. You have to face your stuff. Your demons, your reality, even your choices at the polls on this Super Tuesday. Hit that shit headlong and believe me, life will be so much better.

The tools we use to give people hopes and dreams and desires are the same ones that will sink us if we’re not careful. Someone has to pilot the ship, it can’t be left to the wind and the waves. Currents are deceptively treacherous because they feel like they’re taking us in a direction that’s best because the resistance is so low.

Trust me, I get tired of fighting, but there are too many things in this life worth fighting for, we have to battle on. Even if that battle is against ourselves and our urge to just… not.

Take Control of Your Ship

Wherever you are today, you can grab that rudder and start wrestling reality back from your layers of fantasy. You can dig yourself out of your creative mind and pop back up into the world like a determined gopher. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been down there, the light is so close, you just have to reach for it.

Start by owning it. Own that you’re dealing with your heavy shit by world-building. Then reach out to a professional. Read some books. Learn all you can about your situation from as many angles as you can. It’s a fucked up world, and we won’t always be perfect at being humans, but I think the trying is what really matters here.

Once you’ve owned it, studied it, understood it, sift it like a bag of Skittles, sorting out the bits that you need or want from the ones that are sending you deeper into that fantasy world (that includes the banana-flavored bits, gross). Don’t let your inner writerly world be the same place that you go to deal with life stresses. Do that outside your head. 

Tell your neighbor that if their dog poops on your lawn one more time, you’ll start flinging it at their house. 

Correct the cashier that insists your coupons are expired when they clearly aren’t. 

Tell people you love them. 

Accept that they won’t always love you back. 

Sing at the top of your lungs to an empty room. 

Sing at the top of your lungs to a crowded room.

Do that thing you thought would be impossible, just to see if it is.

You don’t have to live in a fantasy for your life to be the one you deserve. You can get that on the exterior of your skull. Really. I promise. Whatever your dreams are, you deserve a chance to pursue them. 

Explode back into real life, my friends. I promise, I promise it’s so worth it.

5 Ways to Walk Off Negativity and Criticism

It’s funny, the longer I spend on the Internet, the more I forget what a truly terrible place it can be. This goes doubly when you’re working for clients that don’t realize how difficult it is to intuit their intent from a few pointed words. Most of the time, these clients are corporate or working on behalf of corporations.

For example, I have done a great deal of work for a particular window manufacturer that I won’t name (but there’s a cartoon Martian that has the same “goes by”). When those suggestions and edits come down the pipe, it feels like a ballistic bean bag to the heart. Every time. Even though I know this is the way they do things.

This is probably why so many freelancers avoid corporate clients like the fucking plague.

Rub Some Dirt In That Wound

As painful as it can be, those edits are semi-solicited comments. They’re included in your content package. You told them to bring you comments, in not so many words.

I mean, you still pray to God and Dog and whoever else ya got that you don’t hemorrhage during the process, but you persist because you like having a roof over your head and whatnot.

You do the thing because that’s your job and you are the adult in the room.

But it’s not kind, it’s often not fair and frequently very confusing. When six people are editing your work at the same time, they will end up contradicting themselves. Then your head explodes.

Of course, corporate clients aren’t the only people in the world dropping buckets into the Ocean of Negativity that is the virtual world. Sometimes it’s smaller clients — or worse — your social network.

I Get By With a Little Help…

Last night, a thing happened in the Tubes that shook me up more than it should have. And I did eventually walk it off, but it took me by such surprise that it took the breath out of me for a minute.

I posted to my social network something kind of personal about how this calendar I bought in — who knows, let’s say the 90s — profoundly affected my outlook on life and whatnot. It was called “Nuns Having Fun.” Literally, this is a calendar series full of nuns having fun. What could be less objectionable?

Apparently we can’t have nice things because it wasn’t long before someone came along to shit on my parade. Because there are bad people in the world and a few of them happen to be nuns, we can’t secretly spy on the joy of those nuns that aren’t doing bad things and enjoy it.

This was the lesson. Or, so it tried to be. Several of my very clever friends came in with sarcasm and sharp wit and potentially ruled the day. If anything that happens online can be considered to be real.

Face That Ish Head On

I realized in that moment that the two things, the edits we endure as writers and the slings and arrows chucked at us by online moral purists aren’t really all that different.

Edit-By-Committee means to weed out all the imperfections in short editing rounds by involving every person who might be remotely attached to a project; Online Moral Purity seeks to weed out all the problems of society by raising awareness, even if that means shitting on everything you love.

Now, as to what to do about it.

Face that ish head on. Here, have five ways to do that:

  • Remember that you’re in control. Even when you aren’t in control of the situation, you’re in control of how you respond to it. You can cry, you can freak the fuck out, you can punch a pillow (not a person), but do it in the goddamn closet. You rule the day, keep a handle on yourself.
  • Bitch loudly to your friends. Get that poison out of your system, but not where there’s anyone in your professional network to see. Tell your friends, who almost certainly don’t understand what it is that you’re upset about, that your client is squirrely. Just saying it outloud can give you some perspective.
  • Sleep on it. Seriously. This makes all the difference for me. When I have a good night’s sleep after an edit, I wake up with an improved outlook. I can see those comments in their very best light, as awful as they may have felt the day before. Sleep. It’s really awesome.
  • Address the offense. Hey, that’s a perfectly valid point about your stupid windows, you dumb window making people. Or, hey, boot makers, guess what? Women work construction, too, so don’t be telling me that only a man can review your dumb work boots. Because you’re all dumb. (but be more eloquent)
  • Get down to business. Look, you’re a pro or you at least want to be one. There’s absolutely no reason to act like anything but. Don’t let them see you sweat, just clean up the mess of comments in your working document and move the fuck on. They’re paying for it, so if they want something changed, just do it. Let them kill your darlings. You can make more.

Social media and clients can both be full of malaria and alligators, much like Florida, but you don’t have to spend your life bogged down in the fucking swamp. Remember that you are amazing and that the swamp is also a great place for orchids, which really makes some of the malaria pretty tolerable.

The Internet: The Final Frontier (Now With More Tubes!)

My lunch. #TexasIsTacos

The Internet.  It’s like the final frontier, but for pictures of cats, other people’s lunches and memes.  Or, at least it used to be.  I feel like all this Russian stuff has really cost us our innocence, we the free people of the web.  I find myself sending pictures of cats to random friends, just to avoid all the angry news and “news” on social media.  I miss that golden era of oversharing.

It was inevitable that the Internet would grow up.  It had to.  All things, even Tubes, grow and change.  Otherwise they stagnate and die.  As much as it pained me to see how we found our collective online maturity, I think it will ultimately give us something much better.

Some Internet-Themed Ramblings

I didn’t really feel like writing about writing today, so instead I’m writing about the place we go to do the writing thing.  I mean, who uses a non-cloud-based word processor these days?  MONSTERS?!  I never could remember to save regularly on local WPs, the Cloud is my best freaking friend.

“Oh, you did the thing, but the power went out before your glorious lede was saved?  I gotcha, pal.”

So Cloud.  Much Wow.

I’ve been an Internet denizen since 1994, when we first got a text-based dial-up version of the Internet in my hometown.  We did it with money from a big grant, though being many years ago, my memory sort of doesn’t remember the circumstances.  But we had Internet.  For the first time.

And the really neat thing about the Internet and my hometown and 1994 is that a community that was, in many ways, completely isolated from the bulk of the world, suddenly was exposed to new ideas and different people and experiences it would never have had otherwise.

For me, the Internet meant freedom of thought.  A chance to be more.

For my home in the Ozarks, it meant a cultural upset.  It meant thoughts that might disrupt our way of life spread rapidly.  It meant that we would largely assimilate into modern American culture.  So, it was good and bad.

But, from those humble text-based beginnings sprang this amazing tool that everyone uses to connect to friends, family, ideas and experiences.  It’s just normal now.  Having a computer in your pocket is what you do.  Having a best friend or significant other thousands of miles away is no big deal.

My Predicts for the Future Internet

Having spent all of my formative years engaging with the Internet from devices that ran the gamut from desktop computers to Pocket PCs (sort of like an early smartphone, but without calling capabilities) to Blackberries and Smartphones, I feel like I’m a good authority on where this thing has been and where it’s headed.  This year has been rough for all of us, but I think we’re about to see a turnaround.  So, without further hesitation, my predictions for the Internet’s near future:

Social media will revert to photos of cheese and cats.  Hey, I love me some food porn and cat pictures.  I think we all do, deep down.  Social media was fun for a long time because of those deeply personal things we’d share, even when we didn’t think it was all that impressive.  When we give bits of ourselves freely to our friends, it’s an incredible gift that makes a huge impact.

Google will get better at filtering out the trash.  If you’ve been in the digital marketing world for any amount of time, you’ve heard of things like search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine results page (SERP).  Google has all kinds of algorithms that determine just where your site (or any site) will appear in the SERPs.  The problem there for a bit was that unreliable news sources were getting ranked because of a combination of user shares and clicks on social media and some sneaky sneaker gaming the system.  Google has to step up and become a bit of a parental figure to help quash any future issues like this.  I believe it can and that it will.

Teenagers will grow up and rejoin Facebook.  When I wear my marketing hat, I see lots of articles written by hand-wringers saying that teenagers are jumping ship from Facebook.  Of course they are, they’re rebelling.  In this new and crazy digital world, even leaving your parents’ social network might be some kind of rite of passage.  Give the kids the room to be all SnapChatty or whatever they’re into these days.  Ultimately, they’re going to reappear on the social networks where their family is because that’s what you do now.  Their jumping ship today doesn’t mean anything.  Worry when Millennials and Boomers start leaving in droves.

Echo chambers will stop echoing.  It was scary for everyone that Donald Trump was elected president (I mean, besides the Russians).  So much so that many people began to break away from their social circles to immerse themselves in private groups that were basically echo chambers.  These were very polarizing, causing so many people to turn on people who were once friends and allies.  But slowly, the echo chambers started to eat their own because they weren’t using the language perfectly or they weren’t able to maintain all aspects of their lives in an extreme way.  I think, I really feel, that we’ll see these echo chambers start to break down for the most part (there will always be some around) and more people re-establish their old connections.

MOAR advertising opportunities.  Last, but far from least, I see more ads in our future.  Lots of kinds of ads, stuff we’ve not even conceived yet.  Banner ads, social media ads, Google ads, YouTube ads, ads about ads, we’ll have them all!  But with so many ads comes a high level of annoyance.  That, I believe is where we’re going to be really putting in the effort next.  We know digital ads work, but we have to find ways to deliver them that are better.  Honestly, we need both better ads and a more pleasing way to push them to shoppers.  With a little effort, ad modules will get better and more discreet.  Less annoying ads make the whole industry happier.

Well, that’s all I have for now.  I may come back later and do Internet predictions number two, but only if it’s a rainy day and I feel more like napping than doing real work.

Who said that?

Go away.  I’m done with your stupid face.

 

Reconnecting Your Social Networks in a Post-Russia World

It doesn’t take long looking through memories on Facebook to realize how rapidly social media fractured for Americans over the 2016 Presidential election.  Even now, there are huge divides keeping us apart and it’s more than what we can blame on algorithm shifts and a natural cycling of “internet friends” and fans.

Since the incredibly surprising turn of that election cycle and the subsequent fingering of Russian interference in our election process, Americans seem to have pushed deeper into their safety bubbles and forgotten how to build bridges and find commonalities.  As business owners and professional communicators, it’s up to us to help turn social media around or else we’ll all be sunk.  It begins with reconnecting our social networks and remembering how it was to talk to our people without worrying that we’d offend that one perpetually offended person, I think.

Axiom # 1: You Can’t Please Everyone

A friend recently reminded me of something I thought I knew too well.  You can’t please everyone all the time.  You’ll always be on the outs with someone.  And that’s ok.  He gave me permission to piss people off, which, as it turns out, I needed.  And that’s what I once preached in this blog, at least to some extent.

The fact is that you can’t please everyone.  And for as fractured as social media has become, you certainly can’t please all the people who subscribe to you all the time.  This is why we segment professional marketing work into manageable groups and have friends who are interested in whatever weirdness we have to say, not simply to increase our numbers.  You can’t please everyone and there’s no fucking point in trying.  You’ll just wear yourself out, make yourself feel like a failure and ignore the data that says otherwise.

It’s ok if you lose 10 percent of your readership because you said something a bit risky.  It’s ok that you had an opinion that lost a small percentage of your market.  In fact, it’s probably good that you do because there are always some lurkers that aren’t doing you any good.  And that goes for both personal and professional social media.  Some people exist to make you feel like you must walk on eggshells, and that’s just wrong.

Fly that fucking freak flag.  Fly it high.  Your people will find you.

Axiom #2: You Need to Please Some People

I’m not here to make a moral argument, though there’s plenty here to make.  I’m going to leave that to you and your people to figure out.  But, from a pure marketing standpoint, you have to remember that item #1 up there isn’t for every post.  You can’t sit around all day, every day, rattling a saber and claiming that Martians are coming to seize your car illegally and retain a broader audience.  You might find lots of people who have experienced Buick abductions themselves, but when that happens, that becomes your new audience.  That’s what happened as a result of your giving no fucks.

Actions have effects.  This is a universal truth.  So, while having an outlier thread now and again is a low risk way to increase engagement, having lots of outlier threads make them become the norm.  This will result in a significant shift in your audience base.  Ultimately, whatever you do on social media comes back around, provided you keep at it.  So, if you have an audience-focused Facebook feed, for example, you need to keep your audience in mind.  If you’re just out there to be out there, give it Hell and good luck with the results.

Axiom #3: There’s Not One Right Way to Social Media

The most important part, I think, is that there’s no right way to social media.  Obviously, you don’t want to be that guy who is always pissing people off, but then again, maybe that’s your schtick.  You don’t want to be that guy who is always advocating for the extreme, unless you do.  For most of you, it’s going to be a good bet to try to act as a uniter, even if that means having to unhitch from some of your horses for the greater good.

What I mean is that while social media becomes increasingly fragmented in the personal spaces, brands and public figures need to be trying to focus their efforts on themes that are uniting for their overall social media presentation.  Beyond that, it’s up to you how to go about it.  There’s no right way.  The only wrong way, as I see it, is to add to the issue of fragmentation.

So corral them doggies, share some #NotEntirelyUnpopular posts, add something new to the landscape.  I think by now, we can all agree that 24/7 politics are exhausting and there’s hardly energy enough for them any longer (this is not to say that there’s not room for larger messages woven into overarching brand stories).  There’s really only selective call for politics in a brand space, anyway, but again, my opinion on this.  If your brand is all about selling white bedsheets to Klan members, obviously, you’re not *my* market.

I know this seems like a mess of a blog.  But the point is that although you can’t please everyone, you have to please someone and if you’re a brand, you should consider the bigger picture.  As social media continues to fragment, you don’t want to be the business with just one guy as an audience.  You (and I) need to be doing the things it takes to reunite those audiences, even if only as brand advocates.  I think it’ll do a world of good to remind people that just because their politics are slightly different, they all use the same brand of toilet paper.

Common ground is the key to life and to refocusing our social media efforts.  It’s up to you to decide what that means before it’s too late for your brand image.

 

Digital Media and the Erosion of Journalism

There’s no good way for me to introduce this piece, so I’m basically just going to scream at you.  I mean, there’s no point in lying.  This isn’t a fist-wagglin’, get off my lawn sort of curmudgeon discourse, it’s actually a pretty serious thing.  So pay attention, ok?  Keep hands and feet inside the vehicle at all times.

I realize that being a young Journo from a family that included a Journo from a Golden Age of Journalism gave me a bit of a skewed perspective on what journalists should and should not do.  But, OMGYOUGUYSES, the news has gone crazy and also a bit stupid.

Let me explain.

Journalistic Practices Circa the Pre-Digital Age

There was a time, so long ago now, when news stories were a means of driving subscriptions and thus, advertisers, to a paper-format publication.  It might be a weekly news magazine, or a daily newspaper, but the general public considered these the sources of Truth and Intelligent Commentary.  Of course, there were fringe publications, but they weren’t where the majority of people got their news.  Back then, sensational headlines were frowned upon.  Instead you were encouraged to craft headlines that were interesting and informative, so the reader could decide for themselves if they wanted to read on.

For example, my student paper covered a really serious tornado in our town, as well as the community’s response.  Our headline?  “Damn the Tornadoes — Full Speed Ahead!”  That was the most sensational headline I was ever involved with pre-Internet.  Today, you have too many “news” outlets (and some truly legit ones) that essentially trick people into clicking in order to fluff up their numbers for the purpose of extracting more money from their advertisers.

Another thing Journalists used to do, funnily enough, was their own research.  *pauses to launch hysterically*  I use a news aggregator to get a view of the day’s events, as well as the general chatter in a number of industries, and I gotta say, I am so genuinely disappointed in what claims to be original reporting.  One site will break a story and the rest rush to issue THE SAME STORY BASED ON THAT FIRST STORY’S INFORMATION.  I don’t have the words for how frustrating I find this practice.

What happened to like, I dunno, calling sources, looking shit up yourself, fact-checking and so forth?  A breaking story these days is rarely accurate or complete, even when it comes to local news.  Everyone’s in such a Goddamn hurry to get the news out, they don’t bother to wonder if they’re writing good news.  Much of what we get today isn’t much more than the Internet Age equivalent of the older folks in the neighborhood gossiping and speculating on what’s going on down the block with that ambulance.

To compound this problem, we as an audience have gotten really fucking stupid.

Let me type that again, because it felt so good.  You, the reader, are a bloody idiot.

Three times just seems like an insult to your intelligence, but then again….

We allow these once prestigious news outlets to continue with sloppy reporting and too-hurried news stories that require considerable backpedaling or further explanation in order to correct.  We reward BobsNewsSite.com (not a real site) for reporting that leaves more questions than answers by clicking on his fucking Click Bait headline.   We have created this dumbing down of the industry as a whole, and now we’re freaking out because “fake news.”

I’ve seen these fake news sites.  Most have some tiny bit of truth to them, but they’re not staffed by old school journalists who actually care about content quality.  They purposefully take things out of context, they get readers worked up, and all for increased ad spend.  These guys, as much as anyone, are feeding the increasing factionalization of America.

But you’re doing it, too.  I am not letting you off the hook here.  You keep feeding the fucking fake news and the sloppy news and the fucking wrong news and struggling outlets hire kids right out of school to break the biggest stories… it’s a terrible cycle that has to stop.  But WE can stop this.  We can find a way to bridge these gaps.

1. Fact Check Everything.  Don’t be lazy.  If you’re going to post to Facebook, make sure what you’re reading is actually right.  Even highly prestigious publications like the Washington Post or New York Times have been known to rush a story to social media before it was fully formed.

2. Learn to Identify ClickBait.  If there’s a headline, any headline, that implies there’s gonna be a shocking reveal once you click, FFS, STOP YOURSELF.  Even clicking is feeding these parasites, don’t click! If you can’t trust your own judgement, install a tool like BS Detector, which will help you figure out which is which.  I actually use this tool because there are so fucking many things on social media that I need to debunk on a regular basis and it makes my life easier.

3. Support Your Media Outlets.  Hey, did you know you can subscribe to digital media?  Yep, you sure can.  If you read the local paper daily online, why not support them with a subscription?  Digital TIME Magazine reader?  Check out that subscription thingy.  Maybe it’s not always necessary, but it’s right.  Stand up for real news with your dollar.

I could literally write a book about how low the bar has fallen for reporting in this day and age, including but not limited to fake news sites, but I have other stuff to do today.  And although I despise news outlets with obvious biases, they’re far less disgusting than those that abandon the truth entirely.  I don’t recommend you support those guys, either — after all, Journos are supposed to be neutral observers — but at least some of them still bother to do news.

Be a better person.  Do news right.  Don’t feed misinformation and paranoia in these confusing times.  Fact-check.  This is my moral imperative to you.  Hold news outlets accountable for shit reporting by refusing to feed them.  Reward responsible journalism with subscriptions and clicks.

Commentary: Google’s New Policy on Email Scanning

Friday’s post on Google’s own blog is causing a pretty significant stir in my circles right now.  Largely, I think it’s because no one really realized that their emails were being read by The Googler. For me, it’s something else… it’s speculation on why this is happening.  What’s coming?  WHAT IS THE GOOGLE HIDING?!?

I know a lot of you have waited a long time for Google to eventually reveal that it was actually behind the last year’s hyjinx all along and is now plotting world domination.  I know you believe this is going to happen, or at least that Amazon is going to undermine all retail, ever.  As with most things in life, it’s none as sinister as you reckon.  The truth is always somewhere between the two extremes in any argument, you just have to find it.

Back to Google’s Email Scanning

Because Google directly impacts what we do, it’s important that we stay on top of what it’s up to — but it’s equally important that we understand what we’re reading.  This is akin to how we use statistics or study data or anything like that, it’s one thing to read it and another to actually understand it.  The understanding is the thing, is my point.

Google has stated that it has never scanned its G Suite emails, only mining free email accounts for information.  When many people read this, the first thing they do is cry, because they’ve emailed some pretty personal/sexy/intimate thoughts using the service.  The thing those folks need to realize is that what Google IS STILL DOING (many headlines made it read like it was stopping Friday, but it’s not stopping until October — that’s another rant for another day) is simply scanning for keywords it can use to feed you ads.  I mean, this is nothing.  It’s a non-thing.

What IS interesting is that they’re stopping.  At least, to me.  Google has spent many years developing some pretty crazy advanced computer systems that can not only make reasonable assumptions and predictions, but learn from data that they’re fed.  Their machine learning is on the cutting edge of everything, Google’s machines are smarter than people in many respects, which is both exciting and frightening.

This not-headline is what the news should be, in my opinion.  If they’re not scanning emails any longer to feed us personalized advertisements, how are they going to do it?  Ad personalization isn’t going anywhere, so what we should be asking is “what’s next?” for Google advertising.

More Speculations on the Google Machine Future

Because Google is predicted to make $72.69 billion this year in ad revenues, I have a hard time believing that it would make a move that would damage that income stream.  More likely, one of two things is happening right now: Google has realized that scanning emails is a fruitless place to hunt up information that enables accurate predictions or (and this is what I think) it has found a much better way to sort this.

After all, keyword-based predictive algorithms are incredibly resource intensive, so if I were a Google, I’d be looking for a faster, easier way to achieve the same level of accuracy.  And hey, it turns out the minds at Google have actually thought a lot about this stuff, as evidenced by papers like “Ad Click Prediction: A View from the Trenches,” published in 2013 and the on-going craziness happening at the Research at Google site.

The thing, the real thing here in this story, I think — I believe with all my brainy bits — is that we’re entering a new stage in the maturation of artificial intelligence and machine learning.  Facebook, Amazon and other internet giants will certainly wonder what Google has built instead of focusing on the minutiae of unscanned email.  Although Google is a not terribly awful overlord, it’s still in it for the money.  Dropping the email scanning is not one of those things that it did just to make people happy.  It simply found a better way to keep you checking your email so you’ll see ads that might convince you to buy a thing.

Mark my words — MARK THEM! — the real story isn’t what Google posted, it’s what it held back.  There’s more to this story, and I have a funny feeling it’s about to get pretty fucking awesome up in here.  Even as my once-noble profession, journalism, is threatened by machine learning, I’m thrilled as fuck to welcome our smart machine conquerors.

Do you think they’d like a muffin basket?

Sloth is the Number One Killer of Blog Traffic

HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!  I hope you can appreciate the hilarity of the situation I’m handing to you this morning.  If not, get out. *serious face*

I’m not probably really writing a useful blog here, but hey, we can have some chuckles at the sheer enormity that is life and how incredibly tiny your blog is in the grand scheme of things.  Your blog is completely meaningless, really, even if it’s generating revenue for your company.  I hope that’s a freeing thought.  It had to be for me.

You guys don’t know this, but i’ve been fighting a really difficult battle with my own brain for months now, years, maybe…. then I fell into a tiger trap after that last blog and I couldn’t climb out.  Finally, a heroic elephant dangled his long trunk into the hole and helped me up.  It was just in time, as it turned out.  And I tip my hat to that elegant elephant, with his dazzling monocle.

I’ve had to back burner so many of my personal projects for a long, long time now, as it became harder to think and it was slower to think and it was just impossible TO THINK about anything other than making it through the day to the next one.  That’s not a way to live, I can tell you, but sometimes you can only soldier on.  You can only keep walking in a straight line, even in the darkness.

So I marched.  And I marched.  And I might have had a moment of light to write about marching, but I had no idea what was keeping the lights out or how much further it would be.  And I know I’m vaguebooking, but I don’t care right now.  I can’t tell you for sure what was the culprit, but a drug called amantadine restored my functioning like magic.  Like magic, motherfuckers.

I’m not going to waste too much time on this today, because I don’t know how to explain this until the doctor gives me the words, but know that you’ve been on my mind, as has that book about the farm and that other series about that fella and the stuff.  I feel change.  I feel it stronger than I’ve ever felt it.  I’m trying hard to not get ahead of myself, but here we are.  Blogging about nothing for no reason and without as much as an editorial calendar to guide me.

It’s panties to the wind, pals.

Falling Apart and Coming Together

I know I promised I was back and this was back and it was BACK, but as you’ve seen, I’m not as on the ball as I had hoped to be.  I know other writers who have struggled with this sort of thing after a massive life change, be that having a baby or being diagnosed with a serious illness or just moving far, far away from home for the first time.  These massive shake-ups are the times when our lives truly, truly far apart.

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but when I was in school and taking creative writing courses, the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory was usually an early handout.  This inventory was perfected by various mental health experts to help better classify and determine just how stressed a person was.  Some of my professors disagreed with certain items and moved them around, but for the most part this was the currency of fiction.

Characters in assignments were to have a score of 100 or 125 or 150 to really teach how fiction works.  It makes a better story if there’s conflict, the entire world reasons.  No one wants to read a story about a lovely picnic or a starry sky or a vast canyon.  I mean, I do, but I’m not people, apparently.

The Bit About Falling Apart

Today, I sit at a 198.  That’s plenty, if you ask me.  This is why I’m falling apart.  Client work is still moving along, I think it’s even getting a bit better, but personal projects, hopes, dreams, goals, all of that stuff is getting dusty on the shelf.  This is the bit where I fall apart.  I’m not depressed, I’m not in danger, I’m just… I’m so stressed I can’t function properly.  And there’s naught to do for it except watch the big hand rotate around.

Until then, I’m trying to learn how to love my new home of Ft. Worth, Texas.  I’m eating more tortillas than should be legal, I’m holding private tres leche cake judging contests between the various supermarkets, I’m exploring new and unusual vegetables and fruits.  It’s not home, it won’t be, but it can be a home.  I just keep chipping away at it.

The funny thing, I think, the funniest thing to me, anyway, is that in the midst of all this abundance, I am overwhelmed.  You’d think that having sixteen different supermarket chains and twenty different healthcare systems and a zillion entertainment options and a sea of houses would simply thrill someone from a place that exists with only a tiny fraction of all of this.  You’d think it would be a cornucopia.  In ways, it is, certainly.  I can visit merchants I had only ever seen online before, for example, but it’s too much.  My brain can’t take it.  I am constantly functioning with a status of “overwhelmed.”

… that’s the falling apart.  That’s why I’m struggling.  It’s like when you first got onto the Internet and there was simply more to see and do and read than you could have ever imagined.  It was more collective thought (and porn) than anyone ever dreamed possible, but it was too much.  You didn’t sleep, you consumed until you fatigued.

I think that’s where I am now.  I’m pining for the fjords, but there’s nothing for it.  This is what falling apart looks like today.  It’s me missing fickle spring in Southwest Missouri, where it goes from 10 degrees to 70 in a matter of days.  It’s the smell of sweet clover and cow manure wafting through my memories.  It’s everything I knew disappearing into shadows.

… But Then There’s the Coming Together

As much as I miss my home and I fear it’ll fade into nothing the longer I’m here, no one can wallow in the past for long.  There’s a bit in all of us that wants to survive, to live, to thrive.  There’s that little glimmer of hope and curiosity and fucking overcoming life’s shit that keeps us moving on.  I promise you, I have this, too.

I know because when I look over my neighbor’s fences and see the red-orange sunset that seems to spread forever I take comfort.  I know because the wicked wind that comes across the prairie has stopped screaming and is now simply singing a low song.  I know because tacos from a truck are far better than anything from a fancy restaurant.

As each box is unpacked, each picture hung on the wall, each day ticks down, I feel a little bit more like I am finding myself again.  For those of you who grew up in these sorts of knots of confusion and noise that they call cities, I don’t mean any offense.  It’s not a wrong way to live, but it is a very different way than what I knew.  Even Springfield, the third biggest city in Missouri and probably the biggest city in the Ozarks, isn’t anything like this.  Even the smallest suburbs here are more city than Springfield ever hoped it could become.

It takes time.  Just like the first time I saw the Internet, the first time I’m forced to have to exist inside a network of cement and asphalt and trains and cars and noise and lights will eventually become my new normal.  If it’s normal to have friends inside a computer, it can be normal to have a railway lullaby.  Anything can become normal if we find a way to accept it that doesn’t clash with our inner self.  That’s the coming together.

Like with writing, integrating in a new place can be as simple as understanding yourself and the context in which you’re placed.  The falling apart and the coming together… it’s all a little bit you and a little bit me.

A Writer’s Curse: Stumbling in the Darkness

So.  I’ve been away a long, long time and I feel like I owe you an explanation.  More than that, I feel like I owe  you some advice on what I’ve just come out of because I know from working with other writers that this isn’t an uncommon problem.  Things in my personal bubble got shaken violently back in the before times and I cracked under the pressure.  I was suffering from severe depression and anxiety due to the situation which is still near and dear enough to me that I can’t really touch it yet.

But today I’m back and I want to help you.  I live to help you, believe it or not.

I know, I was surprised, too.

A Long History of Writers and Depression

I’m not actually going to review this case by case, but there’s a weird sort of a romanticism of the tie between mental illness and creativity.  I don’t have any useful studies or stats on this, but I’ve noticed that most of the writers and artists I know personally suffer from some mighty unworldly demons.  Some suffer needlessly, others suffer gladly and the rest put the kibosh on that shit however they can.  This is why writers turn to drugs, drinking, even chain smoking and other unhealthy, obsessive behaviors.

This level of self-loathing is not normal.  But we live it every day and it tricks us into thinking it is.  We’re not super human, we’re just human.  There’s nothing about mental illness that makes you more creative than the next guy — so stop fantasizing about it, for fuck’s sake.

I had a poetry professor way back in the day who once told us that he admired people who were depressed because they obviously had so much to draw from.  So much what?  So much exhaustion and mental fatigue and sheer self-hatred?  He clearly had never suffered from a mental illness to say something so fucking heartless.  His wife had just killed herself by hanging, so I mean, I gave the guy a pass… but that ugly thought has stuck with me even though I’ve lost so many beautiful and lovely memories.

I was in a very dark place recently.  I was groping for anything in the nothing and although I was functioning, I wasn’t thriving and I couldn’t see beyond the moment I was in.  I was showering once a week and  neglecting my friends and connections and crying at the drop of a hat and it was just. not. right.  I’ve seen so many writers go through the same thing and I never really knew what to tell them — how to help them — because I hadn’t lived it.

But now I have and now I can.  I can see it so clearly because I just got pulled out of the fire.  Don’t get me crying again, but I had some very dear ones who never gave up on me.  And that’s the trick, I think.  When you’re groping in the darkness, finding a hand, any hand, that will pull on you until you can see even a slit of light is the biggest gift.  It feels like they’re nosing in, like they’re too much in it all, and maybe that’s because of how isolating the darkness is.  It’s a thankless job, but they do it gladly because they’ve been there, or just maybe because they love you.

I know you can’t feel it or understand it right now, but you are loved.  So, so much.  Someone out there is ready to throw themselves in front of a bullet for you or to endure you endless emotional jabs just to drag you to salvation.  They’re a little like tugboats that way.  Squishy meaty tugboats.

If You’re Stumbling in the Darkness

Writers, there’s no shame in suffering.  There’s no reason to hide.  Take a chance, scream it out — yell, “I’m fucking hurting!” or “I can’t feel any fucking thing!” or even “I don’t know what’s wrong, but I’m not myself!”  Someone will hear you if you yell it loud enough.  Like a man being chewed on by squids, you have to shout at the top of your lungs.  If you’re afraid to tell your friends and family, call a doctor.  Doctors are like firemen, they’re there to help you, even if you don’t believe it in the moment.

A lot of family practice Docs will set you up with a therapist and some anti-depressants or anti-anxiety meds.  It can take a few weeks to adjust, but I promise they won’t change you forever.  Your creative spark will be there when you recover and it’ll be just as bright as it ever was.  Even brighter, because your focus will be back where it belongs.  You’ll find yourself in a new personal Golden Age.

It might not be right away, it might even take a long time, but your personal flotation devices will be there to lift you up.  Your network, your family, your friends, your doctor, your therapist, your pharmacist, your fucking internet forum buddies.  All those guys, they’re so incredible — and they don’t mind if you lean on them.  I promise.  And if they do, come find me on Facebook and I’ll introduce you to my incredible family of digital folks.

My friends — because you’re all my dearest dears –you’re never alone in this great big world.  You’ve always got someone worried about you, someone who cares about you, so let them hold you up when you can’t keep going.  They want to help.

I love you all and I hope you’re having a good day.  If you’re struggling and need a friendly voice right now, please call 1-800-273-8255.  That’s the suicide prevention hotline.  They’re pretty A-OK.

PS.  Sorry for the lack of “fucks” in this blog.  I’ll do better next go.

 

This Internet Life: How Are You Influencing Your Audience?

I’ve been an internet person for six years now, for better and for worse, and I often ask myself one simple question: “How am I influencing my audience?”  Are they getting something positive from my social media interaction?  Is my influence something they cherish and find important?  Am I the kind of person people SHOULD be influenced by?  (The answer to that last question is definitely “NO.”)  Think With Google actually did a short piece on the influence of YouTube stars versus traditional celebs back in July and although I just saw it, I think it’s worth the time to reflect a bit.

Do You Think About the Content You’re Putting Out On the Web?

I admit that I didn’t really give a second thought to most of the content I created in the early days of being a full time Internet denizen.  My years at Demand Media (now StudioD) aren’t years I’m particularly proud of, but they gave me time to learn how to work online and build a meager, but loyal, social media following.  I didn’t think about what I was putting out back then, which I kind of wonder about now… but there are no take backs in this world of digital publishing unless you’re the publisher — and I’m not.  Obviously.

So, since then I’ve tried to be more conscious of what I put out into the world.  And, as it turns out, that’s probably a good thing.  I mean, that is if you assume that social media mavens are ranked anywhere between YouTube stars and regular celebrities in influence.  Google found that 70 percent of teenagers related better to YouTube creators than regular celebs and that 40 percent of Millennials believe their favorite creators understand them better than their friends.

Let me stop there for a moment.  Forty percent of Millennials think that digital media creators understand them better than their friends, people that they have a close and personal relationship with, in theory.  That’s an incredible amount of power for you, as a digital creator, to be holding in your hands.  A dangerous amount of power, I’d argue.  You have the ability to affect change, to introduce some really great ideas, share your culture or be lazy and lob worn out material into the universe.  It’s up to you, really.  That’s the crazy part!

You have more power than traditional celebs, people we once revered and followed around like they were the center of the universe.  I can remember going to the super market and being surrounded by sensational headlines (the click bait of yesteryear) about the personal lives of celebrities young and old.  So and so was having a secret affair with so and so.  Such and such was having that guy’s baby.  *gasp*

Tabloid magazines had incredible influence in their day, too, and a lot of unfounded rumors started right there in the grocery queue.  The power of the media is too often well beyond what any individual member of the media estimates that I think we kind of snowball out of control before we realize.

Being a Responsible Content Creator

Yeah, yeah… I know, you’ve gone over this before, and other people cover this shit and this shit has been done.  Well fuck ya’ll, it’s never been done by me.  And unlike some of those other folks, like the guys at Inc. and Google and wherever else you might consider read-worthy, I’m a different sort of thing.  I’m beholden to no one.  I’m a free fucking agent.

And I still think you’re a bunch of assholes who need to get your acts together.  As it turns out, people share that shit you’re making, often without fact-checking it or even bothering to read beyond your sensational headlines.  Don’t believe me?  Do you believe the Washington Post and Columbia University?  What the researchers involved in this project found was that approximately 60 percent (59, to be exact) share news articles and other types of content without actually consuming it beyond the preview generated on social media.

So, if they’re not reading it, what’s the harm?  Oh, boy, the harm’s big and real.  Without reading your content start to finish, those readers aren’t giving themselves a chance to really flex their bullshit detecting muscles.  “Hmm.  I’m pretty sure water doesn’t cause cancer,”  they’d say to themselves if they read all the way to the end of your article.  But since they don’t, you’ve got the added responsibility of making sure you’re not a lying sack of shit.

Here are some tips for not being a lying sack of shit on accident.  I think you can guess how to not do it on purpose:

1. Fact check, you already know your readers won’t.  Before you state that a reader can heal their insulin-dependent Diabetes with Plexus (I know I’m going to make some enemies here, but you can go right on and fuck yourselves…), maybe you should look into what’s in Plexus and maybe ask a doctor for an opinion.  If the ingredients don’t include insulin and the doctor doesn’t say “Yes!  DO THAT!”  then there’s probably not a good reason to believe that’s gonna work.  More importantly, if you can’t find PRIMARY research with placebos and double-blind studies, then there’s a REALLY good chance the health claim you’re making is going to end up hurting someone.  Cut the shit.  I’m really tired of this offense in particular.

However, this also goes for political stuff — and it’s that time in the cycle in America.  Skew the facts all you want, but you better present them whole.  Oh, Hillary was a member of a cult when she was 19?  Great.  But she ended up converting it to a Fortune 500 peanut butter factory?  Fantastic.  The Donald breeds rare kittens just to skin and turn into toupees?  But he also donates extras to kids with cancer?  Give us the whole story.  Give us the accurate story.  Be honest.  Honesty is good, and you’ll feel good….

2. Tame your fucking headlines.  Do you have any idea how ineffective it is to write a thousand headlines that say “This One Amazing Trick…”,”Weirdest X You’ve Ever Seen!,” “X Things You’d Never Believe About Y!”?  I’m pretty sure everyone knows a fucking Click-bait headline when they see it by now.  No one is asking themselves “what is that one amazing trick?”  No one.  Do you know what headlines DO work?  Headlines that say something.  Let me give you an example.  Inc. just posted an article with a headline that reads: “Apple Unveils iPhone 7 With Improved Camera, Wireless Audio.”  It’s not “X Secrets of the New iPhone 7!”  This is how a headline works.  A good headline tells you something about what’s inside.

3. Add something to the conversation or shut the fuck up.  This is probably the hardest part of being a content creator.  The actual content you’re creating… it can’t simply be a repeat of the other content that’s out there.  You need to create something that’s different.  Something that’s special for your client or your brand.  No one wants to read 40 business blogs with the same advice.  They want to read about tricks and tips that worked for your company, with specifics.  Be detailed, be interesting, but most importantly, be fucking original.  I realize that you’ll repeat some of the same advice, that’s going to happen — but add something to the conversation or don’t bother, even if that thing is just a unique perspective and a heavy spattering of “fucks.”

If you read this far, congratulations — you bothered to listen to someone who’s been where you’re headed.  If you didn’t, well, you’ll never see this, but go eat a turd anyway.