The Shape of the Stone (On Following Your Passion)

The Shape of the Stone (On Following Your Passion)

So, there I was this morning. Woke up at a reasonable hour while the sun was still low in the sky and the house was still quiet. I shoved a bowl of cereal in my face while I had a hard enough time digesting what has been happening for the past few days. I shut off my Twitter feed, had a stretch, drank my coffee and got back to my first draft.

Ideally, I like to get a jump on my projects in the mornings. I’m not a morning person, but I do like getting stuff done earlier in the day. Some mornings go smooth. Still, there are other mornings that feel more like a inflatable pool raft. They take a little while, and a lot of effort to get up to where it should be to be sea-worthy. And when they do, when all the things are set in a row and organized and neat, everything is fine. Those mornings go swimmingly as I lounge on my giant, imaginary ducky floaty.

Then some prick comes around and lets all the air out.

For the most part, I feel that, after many years of fumbling about and finding a place for myself in this world, I am lucky enough to have found a calling. Notice I didn’t say the calling or my calling, and I’ll get to that in a minute.

In my sophomore year of high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. And I know that for some people that’s normal, and they don’t concern themselves with this until much later in life. But for me, it was kind of a big deal. Like, wake up in the middle of the night big deal. Fortunately, a teacher recognized an ability in me that I didn’t notice about myself, and so he encouraged me to get involved in Theater and Speech Club. Thus began a pursuit of a passion. I must have been doing something right. I went to state championships, regional championships. I came in 2nd in a region of 6 states participating in competitions that forced me to do the thing that would make most people wet their pants. Public speaking, performing, learning to take control of an area no wider than your shoulders. Looking people in the eye and selling a character. Second. In a region of 6 states. Not bad for a shy kid. </dadbrag>

I call it a passion for lack of a
better term. It was more like my “A-ha” moment where I was taken by the hand by thisg60077833g6 gorgeous hunk of a Norwegian comic book character into this surreal melodrama that involved European race car dri… sorry, that’s not right. Scratch that. What I meant was my “a-ha” moment where I finally knew, or at least had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t kid myself. I knew I had to work for it. Just like everything else. But at least I knew what I was doing. I had a direction. It was enough. This pursuit got me through college, but it was finally dealt a Quivering Palm Death Touch when I made the mistake of moving to New York while still a little green. Real life set in quick. The passion faded.

Since that time, I’ve been through several jobs. Most of them were dead end. All of them had nothing to do with what I went to school for. I didn’t pursue my passion at the time because it wasn’t financially possible to do so. I had day jobs to do while I pursued the one thing I worked very hard for. But it wasn’t before too long where my Plan B suddenly turned into my Plan A, and any hope of getting back to my passion withered like a vase full of neglected orchids. I was no longer in pursuit of my passion. I was in pursuit of a paycheck.

And I think, therein lies the problem I have with the “Don’t Follow Your Passion” movement. It’s a mentality of “Give up on your dreams because they’re unrealistic and instead, do something you’re good at.” Well, what if your passion is the thing you’re good at? What if my passion is something I worked at and practiced on a regular basis? Do I give up on something I worked hard for to find an unrelated job that pays the bills, or do I follow my passion and face ruination because in the long run, it’s too hard because there are too many people wanting the same thing? Should I have even bothered in the first place? Am I a “loser” for following my dreams, or am I a “loser” for finding a McJob in an exchange for something that’s meaningful? Some might say the answer is to marry both of these choices together to find happiness, but I suspect those people are usually close to retirement, or financially solvent and at the end of the day, could give a pimpled rat’s ass about you and your stupid little passions. Sometimes, you can’t have it both ways. Sometimes, life gets in the way.

Sometimes, you get lost.

And there’s nothing you can do about it.

Didn’t you want to be a chef at one point?
Too much stress and it enabled my alcoholic tendencies.

How about an IT guy?
Good work if you’re willing to jump through some really REALLY expensive hoops to get to what, in the end, was going overseas anyway.

Accountant?
Did you go to school for it?
…mmmNo?
Have you ever kept a ledger?
Is that the same thing as balancing a checkbook?
Can you define ‘mortgage’?
Dude, I’ve rented my whole life. And, why is it spelled like that anyway?
Then, yeah no. It’s probably not a good idea.

It’s conceivable to regard writing, or any other piece of wonderfulness that lights a fire under your ass, and gets you out of bed in the morning as “just a hobby” as more of a realistic term. Especially, if one were to concern themselves with other goals that are more tangible to them; promotion at their day job, running their own business, raising a family in the suburbs. And it’s easy to step back and look at the sharp decline in readership for the past couple of years and mourn our semi-literate society as they blindly walk out into oncoming traffic to catch another goddamn Pokémon and say, “Whelp, nobody’s reading anymore. Guess I should give up altogether. Oh look! A new season of Big Brother is on! Let me slip into my Faded Glory pajamas and throw a bag of Dollar Store popcorn in the microwave while NOT thinking about killing myself. Giving up this way is so much better!”

I understand it, and I get frustrated by it a lot. I’ve felt it. But you know what else has taken a hit these days? Theater attendance. Not a lot of people are watching movies at the theater that much anymore. Is Hollywood packing it in and only making movies for the one or two people who kinda sorta pay attention maybe? No. They seem content to crank out the same meaningless, poorly written, completely forgettable crap they have been for as long as anyone can remember, because that’s what people want according to some algorithm or something. We are slogged with mediocrity, and we don’t care. They’re still making it. People will eventually watch it. Just because a movie is obviously not “Oscar™ Worthy”, doesn’t mean people aren’t going to watch it and be entertained. Just because a book isn’t on the New York Times Bestseller List, doesn’t mean people aren’t going to read it.

And, here’s the thing: If the movie wasn’t directed by Spielberg, does it mean no one is going to see it? Is he the “exception to the rule”? Have I dodged a bullet because I didn’t follow through hard enough on my passion for acting to instead embrace the world of the cubicle? Personally, I’m not so sure.

I too hear the voices of dogged practicality. The ones that barely contain their disdain at the mere utterance of what I do, have done and want to do. The ones that sound exactly like disapproving parents who mourn the day that their child dropped out of Law School. “So, you know I was talking with Moira the other day,” (Note: For some reason, the Disapproving Parent voice in my head sounds a lot like a Jewish mother from Staten Island. To the best of my knowledge, none of my relatives are Jewish…or from Staten Island, for that matter.) “You remember Moira? She used to be part of our book club until, ya know, the accident? Anyway, we’re talking the other day and she told me her bubby graduated from Harvard. Pre-Law. Isn’t that wonderful? I thought it was wonderful. I just thought it was nice, seeing her being so proud of her successful lawyer son. Yeah. Good times.”

The ones that are so quick to equate creativity with poverty. “Oh, you’re a writer. Wow, that’s neat. What do you do for your day job?” You know, those ones. Don’t think that the side glances and hushed conversations haven’t gone unnoticed. I know I’m in the minority. I know that what I have done and what I am doing is fiercely competitive in nature. But you know what else is fiercely competitive? Being a lawyer.

As recently as 2012, Law Schools were stuffed to the rafters with cute, little lawyerlings all ready to hatch and fly after speeding ambulances. That is, until word got out that the world is overflowing with them (Shakespeare saw this coming). The internet, with its vast wisdom and convenience, just made the roles of internships and paralegals obsolete, because legal documents were easier to get online and print out, rather than consulting a law firm. And those that were lucky enough to find employment on the other side of Law School were too focused in hanging their shingle in a specialized arena, rather than work for something that might benefit them in the long run (i.e. show business law as opposed to trial law). Basically, there were too many new lawyers and not enough law firms. There were too many people pursuing the same thing, and not enough things (jobs, opportunities) to go around. The market became saturated.

…sound familiar yet?

Financial Assistants, Pediatricians, Personal Bankers. Hell, even trying to be a food server at the local Chili’s is competitive. It’s going to be the same no matter where you go, or what you want to do. Competition should be a given. So with that in mind, why do writers, actors, singers, scientists and athletes get dismissed so readily when it comes to pursuing their own goals? Why do people who have a passion to follow their dreams in the financial industry get a pass? Is it inconceivable to presume that there aren’t people out there who dream of being a hedge fund manager, but have to be satisfied with being just another investment banker? Why aren’t they considered idealistic, starry-eyed losers like the rest of us?

These are the thoughts that have been brewing and bubbling in the back of my head for a while now. It’s always out there, but it has been taking center stage lately has young people transition out of school to the real world. Maybe it was just me, and maybe it bothered me so much that I started seeking it out like some sad drunk with a chip on his shoulder and a newly minted ex-girlfriend when he grabs the biggest, meanest, baldest guy in the biker bar, grabs him by the front of his densely patched leather vest, looks him square in the eye and whispers, “You are such a pussy.”

Well, maybe not quite like that, but the displaced rage is the same, and the result of following through with it might leave me just as damaged. I’ve been known to punch above my weight. Never turns out well.

There seems to be a lot of people who will tell you that “Following your Passion” is pretty bad advice. I can see what they’re saying, and I have a pretty good idea who they are saying it to. It’s a reality check for those people who…ooohh…pffff…I dunno…want to play video games as a career. You might be good at it, and it does sound like fun, but seriously building a future around playing the Madden franchise, might be looked at as a little risky when looking to get a mortgage.

See? There’s that word again!
Drop it.

What they say when they say “don’t follow your passion” is something along the lines of, “Look. It’s good that you have a passion and that you are driven to do something great and change the world. But the reality is that more than likely, what you want to do isn’t going to be the best fit for you. So a better option would be to do something along the same lines of what your passion is. You will still have your passion, and you’ll have a more fulfilling life.” Which is all they have to say! If they would have led off with that, then it wouldn’t be so bad. I wouldn’t have to write this long ass post, and I can get back to my first draft.

But harsh reality is better than sugary platitudes, and the advice still knocks your teeth in like some bald biker who just had his masculinity challenged. What it sounds like is, “Congratulations on dumping a hundred grand on an education that’s not gonna get you anywhere, dumbass. Good luck trying to figure out the rest of your life, because we have no idea, and it’s not our job to figure it out for you. We just like to knock the stars out of your eyes so you’ll be compliant enough to take anything that comes your way. We want you to be just as frustrated as we are, because this is reality, loser.”

I dunno. Maybe I’m giving these people too much credit. Maybe I’m missing the point. Maybe I should try and turn the other cheek when it comes to some nameless d-bag who leaves a comment on my post and tells me in so many words that I should just give up because nobody is reading anyway and following your passion is stupid.

The thing I hate most about this way of thinking, other than being defeatist, mentally damaging, and unhelpful, is that I think it presumes WAY too much about other people. It presumes that the person who has dreams of becoming something someday, is still a child. Even though this “child” as a College Degree in, or relating to, that thing they wanted to be when they were an actual child. It presumes that every person who follows their passion has not worked for it, will not work for it, and is expecting to be dropped right into the thing they want to do completely ignorant and unprepared. It presumes that we, the ones who do follow a passion, are stupid.

And what about that word I keep repeating? No, not mortgage, the other one. Passion. Perhaps it’s the word itself that people have a hard time with. Passion: That Purple-Prosed, Bodice-Ripping bastard that pollutes the shelves in airport bookshops and local supermarkets. Passion: the very presence of the word makes you want to lock up your daughters.

The dictionary definition of passion is essentially “to have strong emotions about something”. I think that most people think that something refers to one thing, and it should. But we forget that a passion can be easily replaced. Especially after life changing events: I had a passion for smoking and junk food, now I have a passion for smoothies and yoga (not really, just sayin’). I had a passion for chasing girls around the mall, now I have a passion for chasing my children around the house. I had a passion for acting, now I have a passion for writing. People change. Plans change. Passions change. You still have that passion that lights a fire under your ass in the morning, but it’s fuel doesn’t come from anything external. It comes from inside, Grasshopper. Now, go fetch some water and when you return, see if you can take the pebble out of my hand.

In my lifetime, I have accumulated many callings, and I feel lucky to have experienced all of them. If it weren’t for that fire, if it weren’t for passion making things interesting, I would be a lump of couch potato salad wasting away watching The Simpsons every night. Which is something I don’t want to be. Potato salad is very hard to get out of a couch.

Another thing that chafes my thighs is when most people say “don’t follow your passion”, they don’t follow it up with anything actionable. There are no alternatives to doing your do. Just the cautionary, knee-jerk, face slap that can easily be housed inside a fortune cookie.

“Don’t follow your passion.”
Why?
“Because it’s bad.”
How?
“So bad, you have no idea. Believe me.”
…Wait a minute, you’re Donald Trump, aren’t you! How did you get in here?

Saying “don’t follow your passion” is like giving a death of a thousand cuts where the words don’t kill you right away, but rather they take their time and root and fester in your mind, until you wake up one morning and notice the fire is gone, and you look in the bathroom mirror, and you notice you resemble a human husk made of toenails, cobwebs and failure. Uninspired, drained of will, and waiting for your last breath to leave your body. Say, “be flexible.” Say, “see the world.” Say, “keep an open mind, you never know what might fall in.” Not following your passion sounds an awful lot like “just give up.”

I don’t feel like giving up.

Not anymore.

My calling, if that’s what I’m calling it, isn’t even mine. I didn’t make it or give birth to it, I just scraped off the masking tape name tag of someone else it belonged to, and added my own. And as I hold it in my hand, I can feel the warmth of every hand that loved and nurtured it in their own way, and that gives me hope. What I do now is barely a shadow of what I once did, and that’s okay. In my experience, the world needs more storytellers and less lawyers. I’m happy with what I do now. In the future, who knows?

Whatever it is…

…just let me be happy doing it.

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Hanging Out My Shingle

Hanging Out My Shingle

I have this recurring dream where I show up for work in a Lebowski-esque, ratty ass bathrobe, and equally ratty ass boxer shorts. The job is located in a glass and steel fortress that is mostly inhabited by inflated 3 piece suits. Nobody acknowledges me, nobody cares. I’m there to give a presentation for something, and I get frustrated halfway through it because no one can seem to take me seriously. And then everyone is naked. Then there’s a bagel.

Actually, none of that’s true.big-lebowski-still-hr-6

I made that up.

I’m a storyteller, it’s what I do.

Blahblahblah creative license, blahblahblah creative analogy…

Nope, I can say with a degree of certainty that I have never had the “show up to school naked” dream. Mine were more surreal and terrifying, but I digress.

Still though…

I can also state with a degree of certainty that I have never doodled my name in a notebook to see how it would look like on a book cover or a marquee. I have devoted pages to practicing my signature to where it could almost be mistaken for a doctor’s chicken scratch. But, blowing up my name to where it takes up the entire page? Not so much.

It’s a low self esteem thing, I guess. Maybe I had bigger things on my mind.

It’s not that I don’t like my name, I’m just not used to seeing it…you know…big. I was raised in the quasi-puritanical Northeast where things are rather modest and subdued. “Making your name big like that?” my inner Mainer would huff disapprovingly. “Well, now you’re just showing off.”

Welp too bad, Person in my Head! If I’m to brand myself as a flesh and blood writer, and not some anonymous hack, it’s time for me to put my Big Boy Pants on, suck it up, and face the world as a person…and a brand… who’s branding himself…as a person…SEO…

…I’m still working it out…

As of this post, my presence on WordPress will no longer be regarded as “The Writers Bloc”. That identity will still be present over at Blogger, where it will hopefully live up to its namesake. From here on in, this here site will be affiliated with my name.

As I’ve previously mentioned, this is the first step in my shuffling around of office furniture to make better sense of my surroundings. If all goes well, maybe within the year I’ll be buying domains, and make myself legit. Also, as much as I hate doing it, I gag might get a Facebook page.

That’s in the future.

Right now, the new site is: aapayson.wordpress.com

…still cringe a little looking at it.

Maybe it’s because I never thought I’d be here.

I’ll get used to it. Maybe even take a little pride in it.

If I’m going to do this, it’s time to lose the ratty ass bathrobe, and put on a uniform.

Dude!

Motivation Monday: Halloween Edition

Maybe it’s the time of the year.

Maybe it’s because I haven’t posted anything in over a week and I needed to stretch out and do something before I lose more followers.

Maybe it’s because I re-opened my t-shirt shop with a couple of new designs, and one of them was a design that I’ve been preparing for a couple of months, but it wasn’t completely finished until I found a technique that woke it up a little bit and I’m probably going to reapply this technique on future designs.

Like it? Buy it here.

Maybe it’s because I could stop saying to myself, “It’s only a matter of time before they reboot this” when I recently heard the news that they are finally remaking The Crow. My only hope is that they will be closer to the source material this time. Nothing against the movie, I had the movie adaptation on video. Watched it so much that the tape broke.

Maybe it’s all these things that prompted me to make today’s post, but since it the season for all things horrifying (Ebola hysteria notwithstanding), I thought this quote was particularly motivational.

“The Crow” was an independent comic produced in the late 80s. It’s a dark series involving darker characters and even darker story line that was inspired by truly unfortunate and even darker, real events. I’ll spare any spoilers for the one or two of you who haven’t read it yet. I will say that the antagonist of the story isn’t the most virtuous of souls. He is, however, one of the most tortured. Vengeance does that to a guy…especially for a guy that just came back from the dead to kill the people that killed him and his fiancé…

Anyway, today’s motivation quote appears at the end of the book, as the hero returns to the afterlife reunited with his beloved. This quote has always stuck with me. First, in a paint-my-fingernails-black-and-listen-to-The-Cure-while-I-lock-myself-in-my-room kind of way. But later, especially in these days of striking out on my own, I’ve reinterpreted it as a way of saying, “it ain’t over, till it’s over”.

Nothing is over until you say it is. Nothing. Not your life, your love, your wisdom, your empathy. Nothing. Yes they may come with bullets and crude weapons, they may come with a “cease and desist”, they may come and liquidate your entire department while promising you that if another position opens up, you’ll be the first in line and then 8 months later, advertise for that position in the want ads and “forget” to CALL YOU AND OFFER IT TO SOMEONE ELSE. ARE YA HAPPY, YA BASTARDS?!!!

….sorry….

While you still draw breath, you still have a chance. Poker players refer to this as “a chip and a chair“; so long as you have those two things, you still have a shot at the jackpot. It ain’t over till it’s over. Don’t give up. You still have a shot and so long as you are still walking and talking, you have a chance. You’re not dead yet.

It’s only death if you accept it…

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Whatever I Want Wednesdays: Where Is Fancy Bred? (Caution: Rant in Progress)

Okay, to be honest… I thought it was “bread”. I always thought that Benvolio was looking for a specific baker that made this particular loaf of Pumpernickel. Which was rather odd because he was gambling for his life at the moment. Maybe picking the right casket made him…hungry…what was I talking about?

Anyway, this quote:

“…Where is fancy bred? In the heart, or in the head?”

-William Shakespeare (Merchant of Venice)
Forget for a moment that this quote is more noted for being in a certain movie, this question basically asks: “How should we love? Passionately, or wisely?” Implying, of course, that never the twain shall meet. As with many things attributed to the bard, this quote could easily be applied as a life lesson for many things other than amorous crushes. Would it be too far removed to ask, “How should we live?”

I never gave too much credence to any so-called “Self-Help Gurus”, or “Life Coaches”. Perhaps it was the jaded nature of my generation that casts a wary eye to these individuals. Our childhood dominated by experiencing the Vietnam War on a nightly basis, the ripple effect left by Watergate, and the seeds of the Cold War being planted and cultivated may have also formed our mindset. I remember being herded into our high school gymnasium on a yearly basis to be screamed at wowed by these “Motivational Speakers”with their big hair, loud Cosby Sweaters and go-get ’em attitude telling us to be MOTIVATED!!….apparently for the sake of being….MOTIVATED because your typical high school teacher had no idea how teach it themselves and had to get someone else to do it. Someone else that was hired by…I don’t know…let’s say Texas school text book publishers. Someone who thought that getting some dude in his forties would be the perfect candidate to communicate with the kids, because they’re cool and rad too! THEY know how to reach the kids! THEY know what they want…because we tell them to like what they want…Look! He’s singing along with a Foreigner song! He MUST be one of us! He’s so relatable! I mean, forget that its a band made up of old dudes and the only people listening to them are your crazy uncle who blares it from his 8-track in his customized van, forget that a kids in the 80s (the cooler kids) are more inclined to listen to Van Halen than to a band that came out 10 years before we got old enough to appreciate it!….I wish MTV would hurry up and get here…but YEAH! He’s rockin’ out and telling us to be good little subservients! And he’s got concert lighting and smoke machines! I wish he were MY friend.

If the iPad was invented thirty years earlier, I guarantee you every face would be pointed towards the floor as every student Tweeted about how much of a poser this guy was. We didn’t have that back then. All we could do was give him the blank stare and fidget in our seat and wait for the lunch bell. For some, the result of having to sit through this painful ordeal had a positive effect and made (somewhat) of an impact that lasted a day or so. For the rest of us, we regarded it is bullshit window dressing designed to waste time before some of us went to vocational school. The people in the office buildings would say that their efforts paid off. The kids that it was directed it had a different opinion.

The 80s kids never listened to this, because we failed to see the point in it. We failed to see the point in it, because we felt we were being talked down to, and dressing it up in loud clothing and putting a cocaine induced smile on its face wasn’t making it any better. For all our trappings and our ambivalence, we failed to see the point in it, because your message still wasn’t reaching us, and we’re not that stupid.

But, no matter. We leapfrogged from the days of Leo Buscaglia and Deepak Chopra, and graduated to Tony

Robbins and motivational posters when we entered adulthood. Soon, the backlash happened. We figured out that we could buy our own platitudes for encouragement. We figured if we were at the point of needing help, and were motivated enough to go to the bookstore to by motivational poster or a self-help book by some New York Times Bestseller…then we are pretty much motivated to do…well…anything.

Soon, the Motivational Speaker craze gave way to a different animal. Soon, the Cosby Sweaters were replaced by slick, 80s throwbacks with their supposedly expensive suits, sitting on their Lamborghini that’s parked outside of their palatial mansion and telling the late night television viewing audience that they have the secret to success as bikini-clad models drape over their arms. These men have claimed to make it big in real estate and flipping houses, or knowing the right algorithms of the stock market, or some other far-fetched scheme, and they could give their knowledge to you…that’s right…YOU! All you have to do is sacrifice your entire weekend, write out a check for $1500 while you let this guy scream at you to buy his book while you fidget in your seat at the convention center while you check the clock and patiently wait for the time when you can go to the bathroom.

Where is fancy bred?

We are not that stupid. We failed to see the point of it because what you were selling has fallen on deaf ears and empty wallets…

 

Can you personally build a better business system than McDonald’s?

No, Mr. Kiyosaki, I can’t. But, I suppose you could distill the essence of attaining an MBA into one weekend retreat? Oh…also, thanks a bunch  for trying to make me regret not getting accepted into Harvard where I may have had a chance to build a better business system were my proclivities drawn to such a direction. Not all of us are so lucky. Not all of us are successful. Not all of us can afford to buy and sell real estate to flip for a profit. If we could afford it, then we wouldn’t plunk down hard earned cash to listen to you drone on for days.

I don’t mean to pick on the guy, but I don’t get the people who try to hammer his point home either. As if I needed any help in understanding a principle.

Well, that’s just it. Isn’t it? We have to redefine what “quality” means. When it comes to McDonald’s churning out a quality product, McDonald’s is way down on that list. Consumer Reports had them practically at the bottom. But since the individual experience doesn’t matter, and we’re talking a macro level model, then yes, you’ve got me that McDonald’s metrics on cranking out the same “quality” food on a consistent basis. I mean, they employ such winning tactics as that whole “Pink Slurry” thing as well as exploiting their workers to maximize profits, I think the question should not be “can I build a better system”, but rather should be, “can I build a better system that I can in good conscious live with myself after implementing?”

But, just for a moment, consider that all the consistency in the world isn’t going to do you much good where you’re churning out crap. Saying that, “McDonald’s customers aren’t really expecting that much” is saying something to the effect of: “…where the common customer had a choice from the dollar menu or consuming a shovel full of dirt with cheese on it, the customer will almost always pick the dollar menu…” It’s like they considered the shovel full of dirt. Does anyone else see this? Implying that McDonald’s is the only kid on the block is also pretty ludicrous. Sure, the field is a little smaller as of late as Burger King flies the coop to Canada, but they’re on the same level of crap slinging as its rival is. If an American institution pulling up stakes to head north to avoid paying taxes like a draft dodger trying to avoid the Vietnam War isn’t enough to get you to stop patronizing these places, maybe waking up one day and realizing that much closer to diabetes every time you eat there will? Maybe? No? Oh…okay….Oh LOOK! The McRib is back!!!

“Take a number? Yeah, sure. No problem.”

The Big Two of McDonald’s and Burger King aren’t the only kids on the block. Quality may not enter in the equation now. You may not see it now. But what about the long term? If these guys are placing at the bottom of the list as far as customer satisfaction goes, pretty soon that little nugget of infomation will catch up to them. 5 Guys, In-and-Out, Fatburger, White Castle, all consistently crank out an infinitely better product, and their business isn’t hurting either. Are they using the same model as McDonald’s? Their product is more expensive, and yet there’s a line out the door at my local 5 Guys and nobody seems to mind, myself included. The lines are quick at any one of the dozens of Mickey-D’s in my town, and I see red every time I order a burger that has been obviously been microwaved. Is that a better business system? Is that something I should try and emulate?

I guess what’s really getting to me is that people still confuse quality over quantity. Success isn’t necessarily a numbers game. Yes, there is about 10 McDonald’s and Burger “Great White North” Kings to every one 5Guys, but that doesn’t mean that those restaurants are any better. It just means that people don’t know any better. And don’t give me that whole, “well, it’s cheaper” argument. That’s another discussion for another time. Cheaper doesn’t mean better either, it just means people can’t afford to take a chance on anything else, and we suffer for it.

Personally, I could care less. I can’t stomach fast food anymore, but that’s not the point. What’s really getting to me is that most people will always go for the dollar menu and not be bothered to take a chance on anything of sustenance, like cooking something for themselves that doesn’t involve a microwave, or reading a blog that doesn’t have a list on it.

Where is fancy bred?

It will always be the heart. But I’m trying really hard to feel it from the head.

 

WDYDWYD Part 1

Photo courtesy of Kyle Harmon

I’ve never been to Burning Man. It was one of these phenomenon that arrived a little too late in my life for me to truly appreciate. Were I a younger man with literally thousands of dollars, weeks of time, and an abundance of unused brain cells at my disposal, I would make that yearly pilgrimage to the middle of the desert not giving a flying cuss as to my motivations for doing so. Sure, I would have gone. But, I’m not that younger man anymore. The older man is failing to see the appeal in it.

I didn’t have Burning Man when I was growing up. We had The Grateful Dead when Uncle Jerry was still alive. Back then, it was different. Back then, it was all about freedom and love…and…music and…expressing yourself…and…oh, never mind.

Honestly, the much-hyped festival has hardly crossed my mind in years. That is, until recently when I was reminded of one the movement’s rallying cries: WDYDWYD? I’m sure there are one or two of you out there that are nodding in recognition, but the rest of you are all like, “Does he know he printed a typo… in all caps?” Stick with me, explanations in the form of long winded posts are coming.

~***~

Got knocked down again last week.

Strange feeling, this. This feeling that all of your progress gets swept from underneath you. Perhaps it’s some psychic payback from some botched employment from years ago. Perhaps it’s the universe letting me know that this is how it’s going to be when I strike out on my own. I’m hoping that all the bad stuff is getting out of the way early so the rest of my endeavor would provide smoother sailing.

Here’s to hoping.

I took some time off. Partially because I needed to regroup. I needed to regroup because I spent a lot of time on some t-shirt designs that I thought were at least slightly unique, only to be told that all my hours of planning and constructing and publishing that I needed a note from a live author and a dead author in order to continue using a concept; I wrote a Stephen King quote in Quenya. Granted, I should have researched further to find out that the quote I used was in The Shawshank Redemption, but it didn’t matter because the quote was written in a fictional language. It didn’t matter because at the end of the day, nobody cares!

Nobody cares.

You can read this? Man, you’re good!

In today’s world, the most anyone is able to do is just catch a quick glance at what you’re wearing, like it, dislike it, acknowledge it, and move on before they get accused of staring at someone’s chest. I honestly don’t think that people will stop someone on the street who is wearing my shirt and say, “HEEEEEYYYY!….Hold on a minute!…is that a Stephen King quote?” For a while, I was thinking that it might have been better if I left a few things out of the description of the product. Maybe I shouldn’t have name-dropped and played dumb, “Uhhh, I made this. I don’t know what it is…anybody want it?

The rules stipulate that I can’t use a quote for monetary gain if the author is still alive and the only quotes I could use are the ones in the public domain, or if the author has been dead for at least 70 years. If the author is still alive, you need to ask permission. Fine. I made a mistake. I don’t think I should have been censored for it, though. I didn’t see what the problem was and I told this company so, which also turned out to be final correspondence as I yanked all my designs from the site and shut down my store.You could say I threw a tantrum. I did. I’ll admit it. I picked up my football and went home. Not because I felt I was unjustly scrutinized…well…not entirely, anyway. I did this because several other designers on several other websites (including the one I just left) are doing and have been doing the exact same thing, but on a grander, perhaps more professional scale, and no one bats an eyelid. I contribute my ideas, and I’m told that I’m breaking the law. How can other people do it with impunity, and I get crushed?

All of a sudden, I’m back at my grade/middle/high schools where I’m getting beat up because the color of my skin was a threat. All of a sudden, I’m making a point about the First Amendment and expression at a previous job, only to be
told I was being ridiculous. All of a sudden, I’m told by the woman that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with that the business plan that we both came up with was a bad idea and it’s all my fault that it didn’t work, and that was the reason she was leaving me.

All of a sudden, I’m left with nothing but great ideas and good intentions of which no one cares. Just like always.

I took some time off.

“Chewie, is that you?”

I’m a freshly minted father. I’m an old father with a fresh coat of paint. For the passed few days, I’ve been sitting in front of my screen trying unsuccessfully to type with one hand while I cradle a baby and a bottle with the other. I found it more important to look into my boy’s eyes and to kiss his chubby cheeks and to have little conversations about whatever’s on his little baby mind then to scream into a vacuum and ultimately get nothing done anyway. Of course, these days, he takes a lot of naps and when he does look at me, he looks at me with this little disappointed look. I know, in the grand scheme of things, he’s just moments old and he is still working on focusing on things that are a few inches in front of him. But I can’t help but think I see my own reflection when I look at him, and it chills my bones; this disappointment feedback.

I haven’t posted anything in days, and I hadn’t planned on it either. I needed a break, and that involves doing a whole bunch of nothing. Take the time to breathe. Get my bearings straight. Clear my head. Start fresh when I’m ready. Before I took my sabbatical, I engaged with fellow Google plussers by inquiring if anyone knew of a place where I wouldn’t be scrutinized on a daily basis and conduct my business peacefully. One of the answers came back in the form of a question. +Deborah Chezem asked:

I wanted to respond. I really, really did. I had every intention of going through my back-story one more time and probably give her all the links to my posts that pretty much say the same thing over and over again. I could have gone that route, but a memory from back in my Facebook days came back and painted the question in a different color. What are my needs? Why am I doing this? To put this another way…

Why Do You Do What You Do?

Am I doing this for the right reasons? Are my intentions correct? Is there such a thing in regards to this?

More on this later…

On Getting Knocked Down Seven Times.

“I  fall down seven times, I get up eight.” In Quenya
  1. I’m still unemployed.

Outside of some random, nameless employer actually taking the time out of their busy schedule last week to point out in great detail how stupendously under-qualified I am, I would have the opinion that no one is hiring at all, and every employer is posting want ads to fill some sort of quota.

     2. Establishing entrepreneurship when you don’t even have a mission statement…sucks.

I have learned that you just can’t start a business solely on the premise of making a buck. I know this because every other post on my Google+ page tells me so. In order to succeed, one must have a plan. I had a plan

…at least, I thought I had one…

~***~
So, I opened my store. It was something I was planning on doing for a while, all I need was more product to sell and I could officially open. That was my goal. Upon finding more time on my hands earlier this year, I decided to devote some time into doing so, and it was good. Honest work, applying new found skills to something that I like doing. For me. Not anyone else. For me.

A few weeks passed, and there was no time to rest on my laurels. I need more designs.

But what?

What other idea did I have for sale? It took about 5 seconds for me to stumble onto my eureka moment. “I know,” I thought. “I’ll finish up those projects I meant to finish last year!”

The project in question is this…

(Wow…sorry, looking at this now, I’m just taking note of where I was a few months ago to where I am now. Which is to say I’m still nowhere near pro… Give me a minute… I just have to shake my head a little longer.)

I’m online doing a Google Search, or I’m window shopping on Etsy. I’m shuffling down the aisles at my local Flea Market. I holding back the bile as I shop at Wal-Mart. It doesn’t take too much of a stretch to figure out that our society is based on plagiarism in varying degrees; Every idea is a re-hash of something that had already came before it. The whole Twilight phenomenon, for example. There are sections at my local Barnes & Noble devoted entirely to pouty, insolent, post-pubescent vampires, or some variation on the theme. Good artists borrow, great artists steal, and there’s no avoiding it. Sure, as a creator/author/artist, you could blaze your own trail and with a little luck, your idea might catch on in five years or so. Might. In about five years time, you may be able to reap the rewards or your original idea, but in the meantime, you’ve got bills to pay. Why not cater to the broadest common denominator? Why not sell out just to survive? People do it all the time. It’s not like I’m going to be doing it forever.

Image courtesy of here

I got it in my head last year that I could manufacture a series of t-shirts that was based on the concept…CONCEPT… that every major kingdom in the FICTIONAL land of Westeros, as bloodthirsty and greedy as they may be, they may have had at one time, an institute of higher learning. Far fetched as it may be, it’s still a pretty good concept, and from what I see (and to back up my previous point) I am not the first one to come up with this. If you have a few moments, do a Google Image search on “House Stark” or any other house in this land made constructed by Mr. Martin, and you’ll see what I mean. Yes it’s plagiarism, but it has evolved beyond that. It’s an appreciation of form of art, which in this case is pop culture, by not imitating it, but by embellishing it, relishing it, and perhaps running with a concept. These are my thoughts, my mission statement in my head, as I take the better part of two weeks, gather up all of my notes and tutorials and web pages and sequester myself away in front of my computer to further my skills and perhaps, with any luck, to make some money.

Everything. On the page.

I don’t know which was the more challenging at times, finding and/or constructing the right vectors and designs, or the actual planning. It’s a routine that I was used to a lifetime ago in college, but it’s something I would have never thought I would ever to apply it to a livelihood. Years ago, I was entering the real world where they are more interested in numbers. I know it might be considered the grind to some people, and a fruitless endeavor to most, and I may turn crusty and jaded before too long, but I’m just starting. And even though I have yet to successfully get my name out there or make any money, for the time being, I finally like what I’m doing. I’m happy.

So, after applying my proboscis to a spinning wheel of stone for days, this is what I made.

 
Not bad, right? T-shirt worthy? I first started this thinking in terms of what kind of institution this is in relation to where they were located. For instance, for House Baratheon, instead of focusing on the obvious Stag-with-a-crown logo that every one else does, I instead decided to do research on the kingdom, like what does the population do, what is there main source of revenue, that sort of thing. Full disclosure: I never watched the show, and I’m only 1/10th of the way through the book so I have nothing tangible to work with.I would rather research the subject that I have no idea on rather than make stuff up. I had very little to go by other than the geography. They are a coastal kingdom, that’s pretty much all I’ve found. Coastal town equals fishing town equals maritime culture equals naval academy. Right? Not too far removed and not too far out that one would scratch their head trying to figure it out. I’m looking for originality. I’m looking for my niche in this world of one-offs and subtle borrowing. I am being careful by trying to be original.
Turns out, the company that I’m selling my work through doesn’t see it that way. It turns out that the company I’m submitting my work to, feels that blatant rip offs of intellectual property by an established, albeit independent designer, is more noteworthy than a designer who is just starting out who actually puts thought into his designs. I’m reading this email from the company as I’m putting color to my work so I could expand the line a bit; perhaps adding a bumper sticker or two would do the trick. I’m reading this as I’m taking more notes to remember the hex number of the colors I’m using. I’m reading this, and I whisper to myself, “keep going.”
All at once, I remember all the times that I stood up for something, anything, and…
  • was told to shut up
  • was beat up in a school yard
  • was told I was being immature
  • was informed that I didn’t know what I was talking about
  • was told that my services were no longer needed
  • was ignored and/or ostracized
  • had my life threatened

I remember all those times, and they just pass right over me. It would be right about this time that I would throw a fit, and go sulk for years.

But not this time.
Now is the time for getting up. In the course of writing this blog, I have discovered a handful of websites that would gladly take my business. Just because I’m unable to do what I need to do with them, doesn’t mean I can’t go through someone else. It’s not the end of the world.
I read the bad news email, I finish my project, and I stare it my page full of notes and sketches I remember every single time I was knocked back. Then I think to myself, “You know what? I’m glad they slapped me down. Because I know I’m better than this.” I’m better than all of this. Instead of pandering, I could have been spending all this time making something unique and different and genuine. I don’t need to rely on pop culture to get my point across. Collect what you did, remember why you got into this to begin with, take a deep breath, close your eyes and do the only thing you can do in this situation…
…Turn the page…

 

I used to fear the blank page. Now, I welcome it.

I have to remember, constantly remember, to look for opportunities where I would have seen defeat. As I was writing this, I’ve made another sale over the weekend.

I got knocked down, but I got up again…

…you’re never gonna keep me dowOOOOOHHH NOOOO! LOOK OUT!