Which Came First: the Anxiety Disorder or the Blog?

06.26.13

mental illness

Bloggers are weird. Well, weird bloggers are good bloggers I suspect. Sometimes I like to tell myself that people read this site  because I’m just like everyone else. Only I know I’m not just like everyone else because three hours ago I was sitting on a Southwest Airlines flight saving two seats and a guy with those bubbly gross Invisalign teeth whispered, “Fuck You” to me because I wouldn’t give up the good seats so I just smiled and tapped my teeth. I can sniff out vanity and attack it with the speed of a rattlesnake striking an exposed ankle.

I’d like to think I’m just like everyone else but I’m not sure the world could handle 7 billion Invisialign mocking seat savers. My flaws make me readable but not necessarily likable. I’m not trying to fix them (my flaws). Another flaw I have is an inability to make changes until I’m good and ready.

The weirdness of bloggers is clearly what makes them irresistible, readable, interesting and engaging. Readers think they want to know about someone who is living a life like their own, but they don’t. They want to read about what life could be, they want something to aspire to and if pinterest is proof of anything it’s proof that we all want to indulge fantasies of our most beautiful lives while we browse the net. We enjoy looking inside upper middle class homes on the days that the help has been there. If readers aren’t in the mood to reach for the stars it’s always fun to watch someone take the journey of a lifetime. Perhaps a single mother or an adoptive one. Perhaps the mother of a child with a disability or someone fighting the system.

We enjoy watching strong women wage war. Blogs are fun when readers know there will be a victor and so often women (especially mothers) just know that things will work out even if she has to beat a dying horse for years on end. Readers enjoy watching bloggers conquer illnesses both physical and mental. Blogs get popular when there’s a villain. Cancer, depression and autoimmune diseases make great villains. They’re indisputably bad and readers are able to celebrate victories with some regularity.

I’ve made my living online for the past 14 years. I’ve spent fourteen years with my office consisting of a corner of the house, a computer, a mass of cell phones and for five of those years an awful lot of inventory (including some irresistible couture). In those fourteen years I learned how to not let my work take over my life, I learned how to do business with friends and stay friendly, I learned how to walk away from business in the interest of maintaining friendships and I learned how to walk away from my work at the end of a work day (which should not be confused for the end of the day). I have learned to be outside more. I learned that what I do is not who I am even when the work is deeply personal, even when for all intents and purposes my job has been to share a journal with the world.

I’ve learned none of these lessons with grace or humility. That would be too easy. Every lesson I’ve learned has come with some level of failure, pain and personal expense. I learned how to walk away from my office when my house felt like a prison. I learned that the right number of work hours for my family was less than what I’d been working. I learned to delegate. I learned to hire people and I learned to tell my own stories and no one else’s if I wanted to have friends.

I learned that I absolutely needed to stop talking about myself because I’m not that interesting. I learned to ask questions of others and I learned that I’m not particularly special unless I’m giving. I learned that spending all of our days and nights thinking of how to write about ourselves and our experiences make us mentally unstable.

These lessons came like vaccines. I got a little shot of poison and it stung. Sometimes the sting was enough to make me to make me cry and more often that not it was in public so a small dose of shame came with it. I’m not a quick study and, like most vaccines, there were frequent small shots that came at me rapid fire until I had learned the necessary lesson.

A few years ago I started feeling lonely and a bit depressed. When I’d socialize I was anxious and having trouble connecting with the people around me. I felt like I had nothing to discuss and that everything worth talking about lived on my website. I was blogging every day (as I should be now) and actively participating in social media. I was doing my job and I’d like to think I was pretty good at it. I was very good at talking about myself. I was good at attacking complicated subjects and writing sentences that began with I or me (and yes, I do see the irony in this sentence and even in this post).

My job didn’t make me very good at my life so I had to make an effort to get out and and participate in my life a little bit more. I’m not sure that this is unique to bloggers or if perhaps it’s something that happens to more traditional writers and artists as well. I theorize that too much introspection, too much navel gazing is unhealthy and unproductive. The web may reward bloggers who become shut ins with either real or imagined anxiety disorders, depression, agorophobia, weight gain or other problems. Communities build and there are discussions about treatments and bravery and overcoming fear/anxiety/feelings. The world at large does not reward these neuroses. The world gets small and a small world is a very sad world. The world also notes that these disorders are often the luxury of pampered women who don’t have to leave the house to dig ditches to support their families. The world notices that hotel maids, dishwashers at roadside diners and seamstresses are all but free of these social fears.

I would never be so cruel as to suggest that a blogger could find a perfect balance. I don’t believe that a perfect balance exists for anyone, in any career. I do see an alarming trend in parenting and lifestyle bloggers. I see shut ins feeling sad and anxious and I know this sounds pollyanna of me but in most cases we’ve brought it on ourselves and it’s nothing a little sunshine won’t fix.

 Photo Credit Jennifer Mathis via creative commons. 

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03.23.13

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So Your Publisher Emailed Me Today

11.8.12

 

This morning I got an email from a PR team at one of the publishing houses here in the US. It was an ordinary pitch email that I didn’t delete only because I recognized the author’s name and thought it was strange that she didn’t email me directly. The pitch was a very standard one, talked about the book, why she wrote the book and all the accolades she’s received online. It’s the pitch most bloggers would send out when their book is published but it’s weird.

This is someone who I’ve met. Why wouldn’t she email me? Why wouldn’t the email start with The Author asked me to reach out to you because …. [insert sloppy kissing up here]. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

I hate to belabor bad pitching because my personal belief is that bloggers are much more atrocious at execution than publicists could ever be at blogging. This isn’t even bad pitching, this is just “off”.

When Marsha Collier’s books come out the publisher sends them but there’s always a handwritten note inside. In fact, Marsha’s the one who sends the email asking for my address, not her publisher. I understand that most people can’t work the way Marsha does. I know I can’t keep up with her.

There’s something missing. Other bloggers are the closest thing I have to co-workers so an impersonal pitch from an almost-coworker sends a message. The message is, “You aren’t someone I’d ever help back.”

 

 

Photo Credit Lolly Knit on Flickr via creative commons. 

Bloggers: Learn from Me

03.29.11

How does the saying go? Screw me over once, shame on you. Screw me over twice shame on me?

This year, this tiny little calendar year of just 90 or so days has seen me screwed over twice already. On two separate occasions I’ve entered into work agreements with large brands who have agreed to a predetermined amount of money. One brand had four figures on the table, another had five. Both brands had pre-production meetings with me, both brands asked me to mark off days in my calendar, both brands had conference calls with me where they asked for input, and then both brands pulled the plug.

Neither production company had the courtesy to let me know either in writing or via telephone.

Both brands used outside agencies. Neither agency will ever get a response from me again. One agency is small, the other is not so small. In both instances the agency is the one who was the most underhanded. I will not name them, but if I win the lottery I’ll hire a skywriter.

Here’s the sequence of events; and bloggers I’m hopeful you’ll learn from me, because I really should have learned this before responding to the second request.

I get a phone call or email saying that an agency would like to pitch me as part of a package. They ask for my thoughts on it, and I gave a brief summary of ways I could be involved in the project. Both times the agencies thought I was a good match, a few emails went back and forth about the pricing, and in both instances the agencies agreed in writing on a price for the project.

Here is where I want to caution all of you.

In both instances the agencies had a series of phone calls with me. In both instances the agencies asked me to mark certain days off my calendar. In both instances the agencies understood the parameters of my work, in one case it was that I’d work for a certain number of hours, in another case it was that I’d work on a shoot and they’d hire child actors.

In both cases they used my ideas, I blocked off my time, and then when I called or emailed to reconfirm with my contact I was told that they’d pulled the plug, “Didn’t they tell you?” In both cases I’d reconfigured my schedule to make it work for them. In both cases I got paid not a penny. In once instance they wanted my kids to be part of the video in the 11th hour and in another instance they wanted to double the work time.

Apparently they think I’m either broke or stupid.

Bloggers. I caution you, this is a predatory world full of second third rate TV producers who are out to screw anyone they can in order to get their creative work done free. I will never take a phone call that lasts more than seven minutes without a contract in place, and I’ve actually taken the extreme move of hiring a talent manager. I’m done with it, because agencies give me a headache and steal my ideas.

What I offer to you is this advice. Do nothing without a contract and get half the money up front. If they can’t offer you a deposit, don’t give them ideas.

And I realize that y’all probably won’t listen to this because even I am bad at taking my own advice, but I’m cautioning you, everyone is jumping on the social media bandwagon, and they’re snakes.

 

 

Bloggers Are Not Journalists

01.17.10

I know a few bloggers who fancy themselves citizen journalists. It takes a lot of work to be a journalist. I often stop bleeds for my children, administer medication and homespun remedies, but still I am not a citizen medic. I’m just a Mom.

Bloggers have immense value as we offer commentary, opinion and enlightenment. What we don’t offer is balanced reporting, and we certainly don’t adhere to journalistic standards. I am not saying that bloggers don’t have value, or that bloggers don’t break stories, but even the best bloggers with the best of intentions are more akin to columnists than to reporters.

Blogs, like many newspapers, begin because the founder has an agenda. Agendas are not necessarily bad things. The agenda may be World Peace. The agenda certainly could be Get Free Things or Promote Myself. There are any number of reasons one may start a blog, inevitably they evolve or die. Like everyone else, my blog started in one place, and grew to another. I don’t know where I’m headed, but I know this is not journalism.

There are plenty of journalists who have blogs. The slow death of the daily newspaper has sent an incredible number of talented writers online. Almost without exception journalistic standards online are not being met. When is the last time you got a phone call from a fact checker? Before an assertion is made are there three independent sources to verify? There are two sides to every story, and quite often a third, fourth and fifth, does your story show those? If not, it’s a nice story, but it’s OP/ED, it’s not journalism.

Do not get me wrong, I love bloggers. I’m a blogger, I read you. I want to emulate you.

I’m just putting the call out for bloggers to please self identify as bloggers. Because when we call ourselves journalists, it’s like we’re the crappiest journalists you ever saw.

The Society of Professional Journalists has their ethics code posted online. It’s a good starting point.