Tag Archives: creativity

Two Years and the Big So What

21 Jan

Imsorrywhat–has it really been 2 YEARS since I blogged on this site? ExCOOSE me?

I knew it had been a long time, but I honestly had no idea two full years had gone by. What the eff was I doing? Let’s see…well, I spent weeks, months, and apparently years blowing my momentum…I made whiney excuses (“now that I do cartoons, posts take so much TIME”)…I ran out of ideas that anyone might care about reading…I beat myself up about it…I had ideas but then had actual paying work to do…and then I became so ashamed that so much time had passed that I just couldn’t bring myself to ever show my blogface here again. But then–the worst of all things happened: it all just simply stopped registering. Sure, I got busy with my business at NinjaDog (60 cases under my belt and counting), and with my various writing and editing gigs I’ve been lucky enough to hold onto over the last two years, but this blog that once brought me so much joy just wasn’t even on my radar. Wasn’t. Even. On. My radar.

Radar

So here I am again suddenly, not even sure of what to write or how to make it entertaining and useful. I’m feeling around in the abyss, trying to find a handhold, a foot notch, anything that will help me create friction so I can get moving. I need something to stand on, to hang onto. Something that’s worth something. Something, that after reading it, doesn’t prompt a big collective belchy sigh of a SO WHAT.

They say it’s all part of “the process;” that this is the pre-determined, angst-ridden path of a writer. I get that. And obviously, in many ways, I revel in it. But what’s extra cruel–what I haven’t been able to wrap my head around–is why I can’t write now? It seemed like before I left my job in 2010 to pursue this, I teemed with ideas and artful ways to express them. I’d spend many a work (and after-work) hour, composing emails that were more meaningful and crafted than anything I can seem to come up with now.

I mean, it’s 7:30 pm on a Monday, and I’m sitting at Bagel Nosh in Santa Monica, California. I’m here for Writers Blok–a group I joined last fall. We meet up weekly to write, and then talk and share a little. I feel like an imposter.

I’m a regular at Bagel Nosh during daylight, carb-eating hours, and when I saw the poster on their wall advertising this group, I took it as a sign (well, yeah–um, duh). I thought it would be exactly what I needed to become a real writer–you know, one with motivation and ideas and beautiful prose spewing out of her fingertips like some kind of Pulitzer-winning Electric Grandmother. Although I was terrified, I packed up my laptop with the llama in a taxi cover, and went. I had pretty much decided that the group would either be comprised of a few old crusty guys who still handwrite 100,000 word novels or a roomful of screenwriters who’d use the time to tell us all about the spec they’d written and ask who we know that could get it bought.

I found I was only partly right.

There were a few older (and younger) people working their notepads. They were not crusty and were way more productive than me.

There were some screenwriters, comics, and industry folk about, but they were all really nice and even generous with their support of all genres.

nice people

And since then, I’ve come pretty much every week, except for the break we had for the holidays, and maybe one or two sessions when I was on a case.

I’ve loved getting to know everyone who comes back, week after week. I love hearing their latest installments or about their progress. I get happy when new people join in and find the comfort I’ve found here. I get sad when people like Rod, the former Marine Staff Seargent who writes fairy tales, have to leave for a move across the country or because they got a job like Drake that has them working nights.

The facilitator, Paul, has us circle up near the end of each session to go around and talk about what we’ve done and what we want to do for next time. And he also has this cool little ritual of bringing a book he likes, and then giving it away to one of us. Sometimes, the book’s subject itself is relevant to a certain person. Sometimes, he gives it to someone as a way to reward, motivate, or encourage. And sometimes, he gives the book to someone just because. But always he gives it to someone who hasn’t read it yet. When Paul names the recipient, there’s always a little smile that breaks out on the recipient’s face, and we all clap. I wonder how many have come back or felt renewed or inspired because of that simple gesture. The first time I came, he also gave away a t-shirt that has his e-magazine’s logo on it, and I was the lucky recipient. It’s an XL, so it’s way too big for me, but it’s got the coolest owl on it. I took it as a good omen, and it certainly made me come back!

shirt

Now that Writers Blok is in its third “season” (I didn’t know about the first one), Paul has made Writers Blok shirts, which are sweet. He trotted them out last week, and I didn’t have any cash on me. This week, I don’t have any cash, period (no, really–I paid my five dollar entry in change tonight). So that will have to wait until next week.

I was texting with a friend earlier today about what I was doing tonight, and I told her how stuck I’ve been feeling, how I’m fighting to find whatever is here…and I said that even though I’m fighting to write (fwrighting?), I’m still going to go because going is better than not going. She agreed.

I don’t always look forward to coming here. There are nights when I have to talk myself into it. And on nights like tonight, I also have to literally shake my couch cushions down for enough scratch to get in, but once I get here, I’m always grateful and I’m always comfortable.

dog hair and cheetos

Now, Bagel Nosh itself is comfort, regardless of who or what they put in it, so it’s already got a leg up. It’s this family-owned, independent deli in the heart of breakfast-loving Santa Monica. Aside from the fact that it’s one of the best places for an actually affordable, fresh breakfast in this town, it’s like eating in your childhood neighbor’s home. The counter is alive with long-time employees that take your order on an order pad, the prices and calculations all memorized as they jot it on a sheet you take to the register at the end. The seating areas are big without being cold–they’ve got carpeting beneath the tables, chairs, and red vinyl booths. It gets packed on the weekends, but somehow, you can always find a seat. The red lamps hang down from the ceiling, and a glass partition etched with their name and logo separates the ordering from the eating. There are huge picture windows along the front and east side, which makes the giant TV in the corner that’s always on during business hours seem diminutive and subtle, and the mirrored wall along the back is classic.

I know this is starting to sound like a Yelp review, but bear with me–I’m almost to my point. Writing (or being unable to do so) can sometimes be downright painful. It can be terrifying. Lonely. Depressing. But a place like Bagel Nosh, filled with people like these, makes all that go away. Now, the Nosh is closed every day by 3 pm, so that means that by the time we get there, we have the place to ourselves, thanks to the fact that owner Randi is part of our group. I love being there at night. It’s quiet and cozy, the hum of creativity thick and pervasive.

Even if I can come up with nothing to write on a given night, I come here to sit amongst my people. To offer myself to the writing universe. To put in the time. To practice. To be in this space.

And guess what?

Apparently, it can work.

I’m up to 1444 original words–all thought of and written tonight–in the past hour. That’s more than I’ve even been able to access in quite some time.  Although none of this means anything to anyone but me, I’m grateful for it. It may not be the most substantive, but there is some friction–even if it’s just a tiny pinky toe’s worth.

A lot more people here are a lot more honest than I thought they’d be. They talk about shitty first drafts and getting mired down, and missing goals. They’re gentle but enthusiastic with themselves and each other. They also accomplish goals, set new ones, and try stuff out, so I know that when it’s my turn in the circle, I’ll be able to be proud of what I’ve done tonight. And the people here will understand and their nods will be genuinely supportive and congratulatory.

Annnnnd now is about the time that I start coming back to face the big, belching, obnoxious SO WHAT. Now that he can see this is coming to an end, he’s come to the table to slap me and poke me and crumple my shit up because…well, so what? There is nothing here that matters or makes the world better.

But you know what? I don’t really care. I’m going to throw my hot coffee in his face and push him down…and let the llama in the taxi spit on him…and so what?

<Post>

llama so what

5 Crazy Things I Do That Are Normal In the Dog World

26 Mar

Working from home means I get to spend a lot of time with my dogs, which is one of the things I looked forward to most when I started…and so far, I haven’t been disappointed.  Granted, they often require more attention than I’d prefer: someone always needs to go out, or get refereed, or sit on my lap, or fart in my face.  It never fails that I’ll get them all fed, peed out, tucked in for a nap and be tiptoeing back to my computer when one of them  pops her eye open and it’s all over.  Makes me wonder how parents of kids–you know, the human kind–ever manage to stay sane, let alone prevent a household from being condemned and get a hot dinner on the table.

But still, ten times out of ten, my dogs win.  No matter what deadline looms or how much housework glares, I will always take a hand (sometimes both) off the keyboard to lay it on a belly or scratch behind a ear.  I’ll shove over on the couch so someone can breathe hot doggie breath on my cheek.  Why?  I love them.  And one day they will be gone.  One day, I’ll wish for their noses jabbing at my elbow, and they won’t be there.  So while they’re here, they win.  That–or maybe I’m lazy.  Or easily distracted.

Whatever the case, I’m around them pretty much 24/7, and that has exacerbated my pre-disposed crazy dog lady tendencies.  I know I do things that are weird to people who don’t have dogs.  The only people they aren’t weird to are other dog people.  As a way of auditing how in touch with reality I still am, I’ve started a list called “Crazy Things I Do That Are Normal Because I Have Dogs,” and figure that as long as I can still come up with things to add to the list, I’m not totally bonkers.

I’ve got ten on the list and have illustrated only five, but man, I gotta stop for now.  I have tons of other (aka “paying client”) work that I need to get done before they all wake up again.

5 CRAZY THINGS I DO THAT ARE NORMAL IN THE DOG WORLD

Shower with the door open:when you have dogs, you shower with the door open
Carry on conversations with poo in my hand:
i talk to people with poo in my hand


Make up nicknames and songs to go with them…and then perform for the dogs:

yes, i sing to my dogs.  don't you?

Stretch out on the dog bed to watch TV:

the dog bed is way better than the couch

Have my superpower in the form of baby gates:
superpower activate--form of...baby gate!

Sarah Leaps Letterpress (?)

3 Mar

As I’ve been trying to find my voice as a writer, one thing I’ve noticed that I like and can do reasonably well is short form, like taglines and stuff.  It makes sense, if I look back on myself through the years.  In high school and college, I was a notorious quote collector.  In my years with ALC, I learned about marketing and discovered my love for it. I suppose it was only a matter of time before I came up with little bite-sized nuggets of my own.  Plus–let’s face it–who wants to read a whole blog?  We’re all much too busy setting our DVRs and trying to figure out Google’s new privacy policy.

So to help us all out, I started boiling the lessons I’ve learned down to one or two-liners (okay, sometimes a third line sneaks in).

Then, I used my rudimentary designs skills to make some of them pretty (hint: black backgrounds always looks classy), like so:
Doing it is hard

Now, I’m doing some market research to see if maybe these bad boys are sellable.  I’m thinking 6″x6″, on letterpress.  They’re not cards.  They’re not posters.  They’re just little squares of stuff.  If you want to see these things go to market, weigh in on the Sarah Leaps Letterpress Facebook page.  No hard feelings if you don’t; paying rent is overrated anyway.  But should there be enough interest, I might figure out how to bring these to market.  I’m not sure how I’ll do that, seeing as how I have absolutely zero cash to front on this, but whatever.  Either way, this little list is alive, so I’ll add more as the journey continues.  But for now, here’s the launch of “What I’ve Learned So Far (in three lines or less).”

Yourself

  • Doing it will be hard.  Not doing it might be harder.
  • It’s going to fight you.  Fight it back.
  • If you need a break, take one.
  • Read whatever inspires you – every day.
  • Learn things for free.
  • You’ll be terrified in ways you weren’t ready for.  It’ll be okay.
  • Guilt, shame, doubt, and creative drought will be lobbed at you.  Have a mental racket ready and just keep swinging.
  • Step away from the computer and get off your phone.  Stop consuming media long enough every day so your brain can produce its own.  I promise the emails and social media updates will be there when you get back.
  • Do your homework.  It’s possible you’ll find a shortcut, but it’s more likely you’ll just need to work. Incredibly. hard.
  • At some point, your goals will probably feel crazy, unattainable, and maybe even detrimental to your own financial (or mental) well-being.  It’s totally normal.
  • Don’t pad your resume or make up qualifications.  What you’ve accomplished has been enough to get you this far–no need to lie about it.
  • Be willing to explore all opportunities–keep the ones you want, and walk away from the ones that aren’t for you.
  • Enjoy the freedom of being able to work anytime, but don’t work all the time.
  • Have a few different projects going on at the same time.  That way, if one thing isn’t working at the moment, you can work on something else.
  • Have a good handshake.
  • Put visual pep talks, notes, and reminders out for yourself to see every day.
  • Dogs generally make everything better.

Money & Resources

  • The money doesn’t always come.  Be ready for some very lean times.  Think now about what you could cut if you had to.
  • Never pass up an invitation for free food, drinks, or rides…or free anything, really.
  • Money isn’t the only way you can pay someone.
  • You don’t need to pay for PR, business cards, or meeting space.
  • It’s okay to give people a deal, but never sell yourself short.
  • Don’t be afraid to charge what you’re worth.
  • If people really want what you’re selling, they’ll find a way to pay.
  • When times are tough, cut your pay.  Don’t cut your employees’.
  • Take stock of every skill you have–even the seemingly irrelevant ones–then price them out.  You never know what you’ll need to do to keep you afloat.
  • Sometimes, you’ll only take a gig for the paycheck.  Perfectly acceptable.
  • Find ways to make money while you’re sleeping.

Working with others

  • When you find someone who believes in your vision and does something better than you, find a way to bring them onto the team.
  • When you need it and it’s offered, accept help.  And ask for it if it’s not.
  • If they really want to talk to you, people will leave a message.
  • Your parents will probably worry about you, so don’t tell them everything – like how you haven’t eaten a real meal in 3 days.
  • When you find people who are who or where you want to be, spend as much time as you can with them.
  • Always thank people for their help–and if it can be publicly, even better.
  • Share what you learn–it’ll help others and be a reminder to yourself of how far you’ve come.
  • Call bullies out when they’re being mean to you, but keep your response focused and professional.  Never fire back–especially if you’re not face-to-face.
  • Find ways to collaborate with people you like, even if the connection isn’t apparent at first.

So there you have it.  Another little effort to help others (and myself).  If you like what you see, visit that Facebook page (you can feel free to comment here, too, but the Facebook page is really where I’ll be measuring interest).


As Long As You’ve Got Cereal, You’re Still in the Game

19 Feb

It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged.  I’ve struggled to compose this “re-entry” post nearly as long.  The easiest way to explain my extended absence is that I just fell into the hole.

It’s part of leaping.

Sometimes, leaping works–the net appears or you have enough trajectory to propel yourself across the canyon on your own–and you think you’re pretty hot stuff.  You’re like, “hey look at me!  I took a huge risk and it paid off!  I’m so self-actualized and gutsy!”

sometimes, leaping works
And then, sometimes–the whole thing goes to hell.  You lose momentum and start plummeting…and that dang net suddenly disappears just when you need it the most, and you plunge into a sinkhole.  At first, you’re like, “whoops, ha ha–clumsy me!  I’ll just find my way outta here…let’s see…I’ll be going now.  Peace out!”  But you can’t.  Every door shrinks away, every window melts before you, and every ladder disintegrates.  It’s then that you start to grasp the situation at hand, but of course, it’s too late.  “Oh shit,” you think, as the light of your hopes, dreams, and fighting spirit gets swallowed up by the darkness.

And that’s what happened to me.

I guess it started in September and it is now February and I’m still stuck.  Not all of me…I mean, I at least pushed my head and hands through long enough to type something.  How lucky this laptop was within reach!

zombie stole a laptop
I really wanted to blog during that time, but I couldn’t do it.  The whole reason I have this blog is so people can see the reality of taking risks, of trying to do your own thing.  It’s not all book deals and puppies.  It is really, really sucky and terrifying sometimes.  And that’s important for any dream-chaser, leaper, entrepreneur, artist, “do-it-my-own-way”-er to hear so they may fortify thyselves!

What started it is that I basically ran out of my cushion money and the glut of well-paying gigs dried up.  The advance from our book is long gone and we probably have another 5 years before we see the pennies roll in through royalties.  At first, it was okay because Bark kept me/us afloat, and I launched a new business, NinjaDog Concepts, to fill in the gap as well.  But tried as I did, it wasn’t enough.  And it still isn’t, truth be told.

Here’s a glimpse at the state of affairs:

  • I’m making probably somewhere around $12k for the year right now.  Did you know that the average author makes just $9k, according to the Author’s Guild bulletin I just read?  So I guess I have that going for me.
  • Between my writing gigs (mostly magazine articles and greeting cards right now) and NinjaDog work, I’m able to cobble together enough for my share of rent every month.  But nothing more…so my expenses like car insurance, phone bill, and food come out of money we make through Bark.  And I can’t even address my credit cards.  I’m not sure when the last time I made a payment on those was.
  • One of my car tires blew in October when I was on a lost dog case.  It wasn’t even dramatic–I pulled away from the curb, and there it crumpled, withered from age and mileage.  The car limped home with the donut (thanks to my brother, who talked us through changing a spare over the phone), and I parked it in my driveway, where it sat until just last weekend, when a friend bought me new tires.  I didn’t have any extra money to get them, so we had been operating as a one-car family.Man, am I tire-d
  • I’ve learned how to do what I call “consume strategically,” which is basically a fancy way of saying “how to eat on no money.” I do things like make the same batch of coffee last for days, accept invitations to places and events that feature free sustenance, and asked for grocery gift cards for the holidays.  We save our “eating out” dollars for business meetings or someone’s celebration.  You’d think with this light eating, I could get rid of my muffintop.  But, no such luck.  Ah, the cruel irony of it all.

Muffintops are mean because they're ugly

So all of this stuff’s gotten me down, man.  I feel like a loser because I can’t make enough money to pay bills, let alone get a haircut.  I feel like a criminal 3 times a day when I send the creditors’ calls to voicemail.  I feel like an idiot because I can’t figure out how to put all of this together in a funny, yet poignant book proposal that resonates with the masses and sends a contract my way.  I feel like a failure because I started off strong and now I’ve totally blown my lead.

But the good news is that I’m still here.  And Kim is too.  And so are our dogs (they’re the only ones whose food and care we don’t compromise).   The other good news is that things ARE happening.  I have definitely had my share of little triumphs over these past months, and they are:

  • I was accepted into the pool of verse writers for Avanti Press.  Now THAT’S a fun job!
  • I’ve had not only my first magazine article published, but my second and third ones published…and I have more in the hopper.  So far, they’re all dog-oriented, and I really don’t want to pigeon-hole myself, but it’s where the opportunities are for now, so I’m gladly taking them.
  • Kim and I have seen an increase in commercial gigs through Bark, which is super exciting.  Our passion is obviously our private clients, but our commercial clients help us make a really big dent in our bills.  Plus, we’ve been lucky to get really good ones so far, like the cover of Cat Daddy, Jackson Galaxy’s new book, due out in May.
  • I’ve been brought on as a resource for a non-profit consulting agency that I worked with in my previous life.  This actually is a good tip, so listen up.  On a particularly scary day when I wasn’t sure if I was going to make rent (which happens periodically), I got an email from a former coworker that made reference to said consulting agency and it reminded me that I had not contacted them to let them know of my freelancing availability.  Wouldn’t you know it that right after I sent them an email with my resume, I got a response that was all, “Wow, what perfect timing–we could really use some extra hands!”  So I got steady gigs with them for a few months at the end of the year, right when all nonprofits beef up their end-of-year giving campaigns.  I haven’t gotten anything lately from them, but I’m grateful to be in their pool.  And I discovered I have a new skill that I’m actually really good at: Quality Assurance.  They give me the websites, apps, or whatever they’ve built, and I go through them and read everything, click every link, and put the whole functionality to the test.  Then I tell them everything that’s wrong.  It’s super intense but super fun.  The point here is: use every contact you have from anywhere.  Tell people what you’re doing, what you’re looking for, and how you can help them.  You just never know when they might be looking for what you’ve got.
  • I also worked a lot of hours for my friend Beth, who has the floral design business.  Her busy holiday season meant lots of prepping and delivering that she was gracious enough to let me do.  That helped me close the gap on my January rent.
  • I launched my own writing website: http://www.sarahsypniewski.com
  • And finally, a couple of our media bits have hit recently.  The local news did a spot on how I use technology in my operations at NinjaDog Concepts, a little show called Career Day included Bark in one of their episodes, and I was a guest on Marketplace Money to talk about how people make decisions when spending money on their pet’s health care.

So yeah…there have been really great things that have happened, and those things are my reassurance, my cheerleaders, my motivation.  They say, “you may not have gotten where you want to get yet, but you will.  You’re headed in the right direction, so quit your cryin’ and get back in there, slugger.”

Also, it’s super important to remember when trying to forge your own path: it’s work, man.  All of these things are really awesome…and often, when they happen, people respond with, “wow, you’re famous now,” or “you’ve finally made it!”

No.  We are not and have not.  Despite these wonderful, great successes that Kim and I experience, we are still hustlers.  We are still struggling to make ends meet.  We are not even close to where we need to be, let alone where we’d like to be.

So we keep working.  And working.  And working.

And that’s why this sinkhole terrifies me so much.  Living a leaper’s life takes a ton of motivation, tireless work, and a gut of steel.  And in that sinkhole, I don’t feel anything like that.  I feel totally defeated.  But more than that, I lose so much ground when I’m in that sinkhole.

Look–we all go through times of self-pity, depression, anxiety, or paralysis.  I went through it during my previous life as well.  But the difference there was, I still got paid.  I still made a living, even if I felt a little blue or if I called in sick or something.  If I call in sick or have a down day now, it impacts everything.

So the pressure is on.

It’s always on.

The ironic thing, of course, is one of the big reasons I left my career back in 2010 was because of the constant pressure I was under there.  This is similar, but different.  And even though I’m still dealing with constant stress, I’m glad I’m here.  I still wouldn’t trade it or go back.  Despite the constant threat of the sinkhole, I am actually quite content.

I guess the point of this post is to let you know that the sinkhole will probably find you too, and I just hope this might help you to be ready.  Be prepared for some really, really hard times.  There’s an amazing quote by Ira Glass that sums it up.  My sister was the first to bring it to my attention quite a few months ago, and I’ve seen it several times since.  I think it’s right on the er–money.

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

Honestly, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to keep fighting.  I’m not sure how much more I have left in me.  I may not be meant to be a writer.  I can’t figure it out.  I can’t find my place yet.  I can’t make a living, which definitely makes me miserable on a certain level.  But on the other hand, I still have this voice that eggs me on: “your place is out there.  Somewhere.  Keep going!”  That’s all well and good, but while I keep going, is it too much to ask for some cereal in the cupboard?  After all, that’s good for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

It's good enough for Seinfeld

It's good enough for Seinfeld

Watch Out, Our Book WILL Sign You

16 Nov

I have all sorts of catching up to do…I don’t know where the last two months have gone.  Actually, I do know: I’ve been waylaid in my own artisty angst.  But that’s another post for another time.  Right now, I have to be a good self-promoter and drop this commercial into your inboxes.

That’s right!  Today’s post is all about my

VERY FIRST BOOK SIGNING!!!  BOOYAH!

Yes, it’s true…the book’s been out for almost a month now, and it’s time for our first event!  If you’re in L.A., you should totes come–and bring your dog!

What: Dog Photography For Dummies Book Signing & Mutt Mingle

When: Tuesday, 11/29 6 – 8 pm

Where: Pussy & Pooch Pethouse and Pawbar, 564 S. Main Street, 90013

RSVP HERE

It’ll be a great event, complete with all of the fun and fancy details Pussy & Pooch events are known for, like gourmet human and doggie treats, custom adult beverages, and lots of doggie socializing for all of L.A.’s most metropolitan mutts.  Kim and I will be on hand to sign our books (you can buy a copy there if you don’t have one), raffle off a bunch of awesome swag, talk about how to use dog photography to help shelter animals, and more.

Obviously, this is a book about dog photography…and it would make a great gift for dog lovers everywhere.  It also is good for small business owners who want to launch or better their biz.  We devote a whole chapter to how we set Bark up and how we’ve become one of LA’s premeire pet photogs in 2 short years (we’ve been on the front page of the Wall Street Journal twice, on TMZ, and more).  Our methods can be applied to any small biz looking to make a splash.

But more than anything, Kim and my biggest wish for the book is that it helps rescuers and advocates everywhere save dogs’ lives.  We have woven a rescue message throughout the book and devote a whole chapter to how to use photography to make a difference in the lives of rescue dogs.

So come on out and join the fun on 11/29!  We would absolutely LOVE to see you.  And if you can’t make it, that’s okay; our book will still find you.
He's got a Sharpie...and he'll getcha

He's got a Sharpie...and he'll getcha

Freshly Obsessed–er, PRESSED

17 Aug

Yesterday started out unremarkably, except that I woke up feeling better than I had in awhile, (dumb summer colds).  I flashed a peace sign to the heavens in gratitude.   Word.  I had a major deadline for a possible gig, and I had set aside the whole day to work on it.  Having a clear head and nose would help immensely.  This was a great omen, I decided, as I performed my morning ritual of weeding through my email and Facebook happenings that posted overnight.  Then I put the coffee on and wrangled the little dogs for our daily morning walk.  Pretty standard.

We came back from our trot having had no incidents, which was another delightful treat.  A pack of three Chihuahua mixes might not SOUND like any trouble, but let me tell ya–they will cut you.  Rather–they want you to think they will cut you.  This equates to them barking at anything that dares move into our path, hurling themselves wildly into the air until the leashes remind them that they’re attached, and pretty much making a fool of me twice daily.  I’m usually good and grumpy by the time I arrive home, dragging the tiny snarling beasts behind me.  I can only be angry at myself, really.  And that just makes it worse.
Tiny snarling beasts on a leash
That did not happen yesterday.  We had a deliciously (and most unusually) quiet walk.  It was peaceful and grey under the marine layer.  We meandered at a lovely pace and got back before we saw another soul.  It was delightfully well-adjusted and normal.  I finished up the morning routine by doling out breakfast all around (including to our Pittie, who has her own walks with Kim) while Kim left for work.  I cleaned up the bowls and then flipped open my laptop again to get the day started.

The tab holding my inbox showed 35 unread messages.

“What?”  I failed to compute.  I had just emptied it twenty minutes before.  Must be a weird Gmail glitch.  Google’s up to something again, I assumed.  But when I actually opened the window, it was no Gmail glitch .  Those were real emails in my mailbox.  And more than that, every single email was from WordPress.

I scrolled up and down, scanning the subject lines and wondering what the heck was going on.   Strangers.  All of them.  And they were all liking or subscribing or commenting.  Why?  What was it?  Was this a very elaborate prank of some sort?  Did WordPress screw something up in the programming and these people really wanted to subscribe to the “Cats in Drag Who Knit” blog?  And then it hit me.  So help me, it blindsided me like a freight train full of discount shoppers bound for Thanksgiving eve at the mall.

I had heard about this fabled moment.  I’d read on others’ blogs about how, on the day they became Freshly Pressed, they found out because they were inundated with new readers and comments.  So many they couldn’t keep up.

Was this happening to me?

How was this possible?

But what other explanation was there?

I literally watched my inbox go up by the second, and by then, I was shaking and clicking madly at my Mac to find the WordPress homepage.  I was so out of sorts that I suddenly couldn’t figure out how to get to Freshly Pressed or sign out so I could find the homepage.  I’m always signed into my dashboard, and for the life of me, I could not find my way off of it.

“COME ON, COME ON!  FRESHLY PRESSED, WHERE ARE YOU??  <CLICK>  NO, I DON’T WANT TO GET SUPPORT!  <CLICK CLICK>  ACK!  NO, I DON’T WANT TO DO A NEW POST!  PLEASE, I JUST NEED TO GET TO FRESHLY PRESSED BUT I CAN’T GET OFF MY DASHBOARD!”

My fingers weren’t working (probably because my brain was crawling out of my head as it tried to comprehend what I thought might possibly but probably wasn’t true).   <CLICK CLICK…CLACK THACK SLAM CLAM>

“PLEASE WORK, PLEEEAASSSE!!”

PLEASE help me get off my dashboard

I was sure I was going to pass out before I got an answer to this mystery that seemed hell bent on not revealing itself quite yet.

And then, suddenly, everything got quiet…and if I had been in a movie, that would’ve been the part where the camera went in for a tight shot right on the screen, cuz THERE IT WAS.  Right hand column, in the middle.  The only cartoon on the page.  Oh wow.  Wow, wow, wow.

Bask in the Freshly Pressed glow
Phone.

“Where’s my phone?!”  I ran around the house like a crazy person trying to find it and when I finally did (right next me on the chair–of course!), I dialed Kim with trembling hands.

She answered like she always does: “Hey”

I think I said something like, “I’MFRESHLYONBLOGWORDPRESS!  FRONT PAGE!  FRESHLY PRESSED!

Kim had no idea what the heck I was trying to say, but my addled brain somehow managed to navigate her to the WordPress site nonetheless.  Once she was there, we tried figuring out how this had happened, but I was totally useless, so I hung up, took a screenshot and did what any self-respecting blogger would do: I hit Facebook up for a little shameless celebration.

Then I called Sir Coachalot, my mommy, and a handful of other advocates and supporters.  I never got any better at my opening lines; I pretty much verbally assaulted every single one of them with a combination of broken English and pig Latin (sorry guys).  Between sentences, I’d cast my wild eyes upon the skyrocketing emails –50, 100, 120–and hit counts (I got up and over 1,000 around 10:30 am) and wonder how much more of it she could take!  Meanwhile, my dogs kept it all in perspective.  As I was losing my mind over how cool this all was, there they were, snoring away on the couch.  Yep, just another day.  And this is why I love them.
Do you mind keeping your joy to yourself?  I'm sleeping...thanks.
Once I was done with calls, I set to work trying to meet my deadline.  You know, the one that existed before all of this craziness?  The one I had to hit?  The one that presented a great opportunity, the one I had blocked out all day for, the one that was almost done, but that I just needed a solid final 5 or 6 hours on?  Yeah, that one.

It was pretty clear pretty quickly that I was going to have to fight against myself all day to pull it together.  I had to push a little meeting with my pal about doggie training off…and even though that created a little more mental and time space, it wasn’t going to be enough.  I couldn’t stop looking at my inbox, dashboard, and Facebook page.  I’d just sit there in front of my laptop with adrenaline buzzing through my veins, eyes bugging out of my head, leg shaking with a mutated form of RLS, clicking refresh and jumping between windows.  It was insane.  I still hadn’t had a chance to actually have that coffee I made, thank God, or I’d’ve really been in trouble.

Something just ain't rightAlthough my compromise was that I’d read the comments via my email notifications only, but would not respond (instead of going onto my blog, where I was sure to be lost forever), it was still impossible to focus with my Gmail window open.  Every time the inbox number would go up, I’d have to click on it.  I’d just have to.

I literally closed everything down once around 11:30 to try to finish out my project, only to open it all back up 5 seconds later.  I felt like I was simultaneously operating outside of myself and from way too far inside it.  I began panicking.  I imagined what I would say to the project editor: “Oh, I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to pass on this awesome opportunity because I am no longer in control of my motor skills and my soul is possessed by Freshly Pressed.”  Awesome.  No–not awesome.  Horrible.

It was a constant battle between wanting to read and respond to comments and buckling down and just getting my project done (this is where those chippers have a distinct advantage).  Finally, at 1:30, I had no choice.  On Facebook, I declared myself “going offline,” and did.  Okay, maybe I cheated once…okay, fine…twice.  But it was just for a second.  Get off my back, okay?  I don’t have a problem!

Finally, at 5:30, I was done with business and man, was I exhausted!  I felt like I had just sprinted into a brick wall, and wasn’t sure how I’d make it through the rest of the night.  I logged back in to an inbox that had grown to over 300.  I knew I wanted to respond to every comment before bedtime…plus, I still had a blog-mitment to keep.  And I wanted to call my sister back, who had called sometime in the 4:30 range: “HELLO? “

“Hey Sarah!  Congratu-“

“HIONADEADLINECANTALKRIGHTNOWCANICALLYOUBACK <click>.”

Kim came home, presented me with a new succulent as a prize for my special day (“look at it whenever you need to feel Freshly Pressed”), and I realized I was STARVING.  I hadn’t eaten anything all day, and the adrenaline was still pumping.  I was wired and needed to chill.  I ate something, talked to my sister, and had a shower.  By then, it was about 9:00 pm and I was ready to knock out a blog entry (which I did in record time–30 minutes) and then…after a whole day of waiting…I got to sit with all of the amazing comments YOU wrote.

It was really overwhelming to read them.

I started this blog for one reason (well, besides making fun of myself, that is)–to help others.  I have no idea what I’m doing here, but if anyone can learn something, get inspired, or just forget their worries for a moment because of something I write (or draw) here, then huzzah!  I’m not just taking up space after all.

I laughed whenever I saw you guys laugh and smiled when I saw all the knowing nods…I felt happy and lucky and still in shock as I stayed up until almost 1 responding to everyone.

From the time it went up yesterday to the time the baton was passed around 9 am today (24 hours), I had gotten 5,957 hits and gained 90 subscribers.  My hits took the expected hit when the guard changed–since then, I’ve gotten just 167 hits and 5 more subscribers.  I say “just,” but really, that’s still amazing for me.  Before being FP’d, I had 30 subscribers total and my average hit count on a publishing day was 60-70, so the numbers I saw today are great!

I’m not delusional.  I may be a compulsive refresher, but I’m not delusional.  I know the drill.  This was a special treat.  I got one day to float around in a creamy, dreamy haze of validation.  Tomorrow will show my real hand.  I’m sure I’ll dip back into my lower registers, and that’s just fine with me.  And while we’re on the subject of keeping it real, I’ll also let you know that:

  • I have gotten a total of zero job offers from that post
  • I am still hustling–in fact, I had an interview with a freelancing agency today
  • No one’s throwing book or movie deals at me

I’m still wondering where my next moola’s going to come from (not sure about the weather in your area, but I don’t see a forecast for raining money here in SoCal), still walking my dogs everyday, and still surfing the net more than I should be.  I’m still just trying to find my way.  By all accounts, everything has returned to the way it was and yesterday was nothing more than a big ol’ thumbs up from the universe.  And you know what?  That’s plenty for this hustler, baby.

Love plant or weapon

I’m Going to New York…on 9/11

13 Aug

Well, I have some news to share.

I’ve been invited to New York to participate as a guest speaker in the Working Dog Recognition Ceremony to honor the dogs who gave their skills, talents, and–in some cases–lives to the efforts of 9/11.

Ten years ago, I was a member of a now-defunct AmeriCorps program called the National Rapid Response Corps (NRRC).   We were placed with American Red Cross Service Centers across the country and our main duties included teaching First Aid, CPR, and disaster preparedness techniques to people, as well as responding to the human needs that come about as a result of disasters.

About a month into our program, 9/11 happened.  We were fresh out of training.  I think we were in the middle of a local fire response operation or something, but other than that, we had no in-the-field experience.  Nonetheless, we were all deployed in different waves to respond to a disaster of a magnitude that was impossible to grasp at the time.  It was probably best that way.

My deployment call came right around the end of September/beginning of October, and it was literally while my fellow Chicagoan and new LA roomie, Deidre, was driving out here (I had arrived in LA before her since my program started in August and she needed a bit more time to finish things up in IL before embarking).  I was excited that I was going to be of service to people in a time of great need, but I was also pretty freaked out that I had not only just left the only place I had known for 22 years, but that I wouldn’t even get to see the only semblance of home I had before taking off for NYC.

Nonetheless, I joined my corps on a red eye and landed in a world for which none of us were prepared.  How could we have been?  It was a world of never-ending lines, miles of “missing” posters that desperately hoped for the best, and inconsolable emptiness.  Most of us were assigned to Pier 94, which had been set up as the Family Assistance Center.  All of the social service agencies were on site to provide case management, referrals, and direct aid to those who had lost jobs, loved ones, and their own sanity.  For six weeks, my corps and I were case managers pulling twelve-plus-hour shifts for the people whose livelihood was crushed under the wreckage of the World Trade Center.

I could write pages and pages about what that experience was like at the time and how it’s stayed with me over the past decade…but that’s for another time.  The purpose of this post is to tell you that though the work I did there was not as difficult as it could have been, it was still very tough.  I was not assigned to Ground Zero, like so many were.  But it was difficult for me, even still.  It was very hard to be amongst that tremendous loss, be the one who was supposed to have all of the answers and remedies, but to feel like no matter what I could do help, it was not enough.  Even though I had lost nothing, I was struggling to help those who had.  And if not for the work of the dogs, I would not have been able to pull it together.  Therapy Dogs International (TDI), among others, were onsite every day with their dogs…and every day, they saved people–including me.  Their steady presence…their silent guarding of our hearts…the nobility of each of them…it was my (and many others’) salvation.

I appreciated their incredible work so much that when my assignment was up, I had to do something to show my gratitude before I left to come back to LA.  I couldn’t think of anything that I could do or give to all of them, except to scrawl out a little poem on a piece of scratch paper.  It was a simple thing; just a little something from my heart so that the dogs and handlers would know that what they did made a difference.

My favorite 9/11 TDI dog, Wusel

This is Wusel, and he was my biggest savior of all

Apparently, it hit a nerve because TDI’s CEO, Ursula Kempe, ended up getting in touch with me afterwards to invite me to read it at a luncheon in New Jersey that summer to honor the dogs, some guy published it in his book, and it’s made the rounds all over the Internet.  It’s not flashy or complex; it’s just a page of gratitude.  It’s just genuine.  And I guess that’s why people like it.

So now, fast-forward ten years.  I get an email and then a call from Ursula, and it all comes flooding back.  The sadness.  The comfort.  The tragedy.  The community.  We talk and email back and forth.  And then, she invites me to not only write something for TDI’s 9/11 tenth anniversary commemorative newsletter*, but she invites me to read my poem at their ceremony.

I am honored and humbled that she wants to include me and my poem, and though I still feel like it’s just this rinky-dink little rhyme, I am so, so grateful that I have been able to–in some small way–pay back the gifts the dogs and their handlers gave me so long ago.  That was my only hope for it.  It is for them.

So…off I will go to New York.  I am nervous to fly on that weekend, but it’s the least I can do to honor the 9/11 dogs.  Most of them are now gone, but their legacy remains.  Even though I don’t feel like I deserve to be taking up space and time on such an important stage, I will do it.  For Wusel and all of the dogs.

*the newsletter is not yet published, but I will post it when it is.  In the meantime, consider supporting your local TDI chapter with donations or a poem of your own!

An Experiment in Terror

12 Aug

Okay, so I just got off the phone with my fabulous coach, Andrew.  He’s been coaching me on all sorts of stuff; not just my writing, although today, that’s what we talked about.  He had asked me what I wanted to work on during our session today, and I told him I really wanted to build up some momentum around my writing because I just don’t really feel like I’ve been doing any lately.  I told him I wanted to get into a rhythm and practice…you know, like all good writers do.

“And what would that look like to you–‘getting into a rhythm and practicing’?” he asked in his coachly way.

“Oh, I dunno…like, writing every day…about…whatever.  I wouldn’t care if it was even just five minutes, but I want to make it a goal to write every day so I can get into the habit and just shake the cobwebs out.  I mean, I just don’t feel like writing is a big enough part of my life.”

“Mmhmmm, mhhhmmm.”

(he’s very supportive and always actively listens).

“Well, you have a blog, right?”

I didn’t see it coming.  I should have.  I don’t know why I didn’t.  I was probably too busy trying to come up with things to write about for 5 whole days in a row, so when he said, “what if you posted a blog entry every day next week,” I was literally shocked–it was as if he had slapped me across the face.  If he were sitting in front of me, I would’ve punched him in the gut in response.  But (lucky for him) this was a phone consult, so instead, he heard silence.  And then,

“Well, that’s truly terrifying.  But also, it’s a little invigorating and exciting.”

I meant the first part–obvi.  The second part was mostly true, but in the same way an Ironman might be “invigorating and exciting.”

Usually, my posts take me two or more days to write, so cranking out one a day would be an achievement in and of itself, I told Mr. Coachy Coach.  Whenever I write one, I’m very focused on making sure my posts have something of value in them, are funny and smart, and stay true to my “brand…” all while not overburdening people’s inboxes.

In order to keep a one-a-day pace, I’d have to let go of all of it.  I’d have to risk posting petty, clichéd entries.  I’d have to risk getting boo’d offstage, looking like a fool, and radio silence from my “audience.”  I’d have to stop thinking about writing and just write.

The more we talked, the more terrified I became.

“That’s how you know this is something important!” Andrew assured me.

So we talked through it a little more and finally, I gave him my word that I’d accept this little challenge of his and see what happens.  After all, the worst thing that could happen is that someone scrawls hate messages all over the comments section (so what, I’ll delete them or beat them at their own game with my witty and cutting retort)…and then starts an Internet-wide campaign about how horrible of a writer I am (Facebook isn’t THAT big)…and then next ….oh, you know, like I’ll never have a hope of making it.  Meh.  No big deal.

So here it goes.  My experiment in terror.  I apologize in advance for whatever comes of this.  If you have to unsubscribe, I’ll understand (my goal is to have at least one remaining subscriber by the end of this).

It’s just a little exercise.  It’s been too long since I’ve leapt, so I figure I’m overdue anyway.  I’m getting a little soft around the middle.  With any luck, by this time next week, my keyboard will have a killer six-pack and you won’t think I totally suck.

Do the Freelance Hustle!

29 Jun

*This post was named Freshly Pressed on August 16, 2011*

One of my friends asked me on Sunday night, “so what do you have planned for the week?”  Good question.  Since the book is wrapping up and I have no other projects at the moment (a clear break in my 3 -tiered system protocol), I’m currently doing the Freelance Hustle.  It’s really easy to learn. Here, I’ll teach you:

1. Become cognizant of the fact that you don’t have anything in the hopper and you only have two more advance checks coming.  Plan to search for jobs in between Facebooking if you can fit it in.  Feel good about your goal-setting and carry on about your day.

Ya gotta have goals

2.  Avoid eye contact (and all interaction) with your bank account–if you ignore it, you can’t tell how small it is.

If you ignore it, it doesn't exist.

3. Blog.  After all, you’re just 3 forwards away from being discovered and scouring the Internet for freelance gigs will be irrelevant, anyway.

Whenever you have stuff do, it's best to blog.

4. Allow your ever-diligent conscience to remind you that you’re about to be poor in about 2.5 seconds if you don’t start finding projects that pay right now, missy, and your blog isn’t one of them.  And then jack that conscience upside the head with a bottle of Malibu.  Yeah, that’s what 1.75 liters of pure coconut rum feels like, son. You like that?

Curse you, delicious vacation in a bottle!

5. Check your bank account while you’re on the island and resolve to do something about it the next day…and mean it.  But you better tell someone of your plans–just in case you need some firm, yet loving support.  Lindsay Lohan has a sober companion; you can at least have an “I’m a fan of four walls and a bed” companion.  You’ve just worked too hard not to.  Don’t undo all the progress.

Don't let Lindsay Lohan in.

6.  In the morning, brew up a pot (whatever that means to you), spend hours on craigslist, flexjobs, morningcoffee, HARO, facebook (strictly business), crowdspring and whatever other rabbit hole you can find to explore for leads.  Pour your heart and soul into crafting customized cover letters and resumes that reduce grown men to tears and make grownups out of babies.  I know you want to, but do NOT skip this part.  Always customize–unless, of course, you don’t really care whether you get the job.  In that case, just use your boilerplate for everything.  Oh, and you might as well include a photo of your dog taking a giant dump, too.

Nothin' like takin' a steaming dump on your resume.

7. With a great flourish (and many rounds of editing behind you), submit them.  Grab that bottle of Malibu (it probably rolled under the couch after that incident with your conscience) and take a swig.  You’ve earned it.

Give it a little something extra.

8. Keep your laptop or phone fired up and with you 24 hours a day.  Keep refreshing your inbox.  Also, check your Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts rabidly, because maybe they will contact you there.  As you wait, re-read your brilliant submissions over your sensible meals of PB&J, picturing the manic joy that will unfurl from the hiring manger when she reads your amazing prose, moments before she shows up at your house with bags of money.

You're smart!  Have this money!

9.  Nothing yet?  No response in 48 hours means they’re busy.  No response in 96 means they’re selective.  No response in 168 hours means you might think you just did a whole lotta work for a whole lotta nuthin, brother.  But don’t be sad.  They simply aren’t ready for your genius…but you’ll find someone who is.

You don't need them anyway.

10. And the most important step of all: don’t let this little stumble make you fall.  Recover and just keep dancing.  The key to the Freelance Hustle is to keep moving–no matter what happens.  Keep looking and keep trying.  And be open to new kinds of projects.  Keep easin’ on down the road, because sooner or later, the right audience is going to come along, love your performance, and want to bring you into their company…but you gotta keep hustlin’.  And on that note, it’s time for me to dance on outta here.

Eff em.  Just dance!

Life in the Heart Lane

3 Apr

I try to use this blog as a way to help others who are trying to follow their dreams.  I hope to provide some sort of roadmap (even if it’s only a sketch) so you can go out and pursue the career, endeavors, and life you want!  I try to document what I’m doing and what’s working (and what’s not) in my business and writing.

But a big part of living this life of a freelancer/entrepreneur for me is being available to spend time on the things I love…but that don’t make me any money.  A big part of this life is all about being available to appease my true heart and spirit for charity and service work…and, as you probably know by now, it’s all about the animals!

This weekend, something special happened.  But before I get to that, I have to back up to where it began.

Back in January, my friend and fellow animal rescuer, Sarah Grooters, made it her goal to raise enough money to buy beds for every kennel at the South L.A. Animal Shelter.  That’s 144 beds.  And they aren’t just any beds.  They are elevated, aluminum-framed, vinyl shelter-approved beds.  You see, the reason most shelters don’t provide fabric beds, blankets, or even towels to their animals is because those items are difficult to manage.  The beds get peed on (and worse), the dogs can tear them up and ingest them, and the shelter would need a whole team dedicated just to washing these items and maintaining them.  Sarah worked with shelter staff and volunteers to choose a bed that would work.

And she set her goal.

Kim sits on the board of Lu Parker Project with Sarah.  LPP, along with Shifting Gears Cycling Four Paws, Colors in Bloom, and Bark, of course, took up the challenge.  We decided to use Valentine’s Day as a launching pad and created the Have a Heart, Donate a Bed Campaign.  Thanks to Beth Brown’s procurement of donated flowers, we were able to give people a free bouquet and card for their $65 donation to the campaign.  And more importantly, we were able to buy one bed for the shelter in their name.

Sarah didn’t have any idea this would work as well as it did.  She thought it would take months to reach her goal.

Well, it didn’t take months.  By February 14, we had raised over $14,000–enough to upgrade to the aluminum-framed, large size beds for every kennel.

This weekend, we got to assemble and place them in the shelter…but that’s not the really good part.

The really good part just came a second ago.  Two of the tireless, amazingly committed, young shelter volunteers–Yesenia and Jamie–just let me know that some of the dogs have been sleeping on the beds ALL DAY.  And some of them are even SNORING.

This makes my heart sing.  Some of them can finally rest…after days, weeks, or months (or maybe their whole lives) of not being able to.  It’s an incredible gift to have been able to give–a gift of relief and of comfort.  It’s a tremendous thought to ponder that maybe these dogs will be able to relax, at least for a little while.  That maybe they will be able to take a break from their constant barking, pacing, and gnawing at the bars in anxiety.  That maybe–just maybe–they can climb up off the cold, wet floor and fall into a sleep so deep their bodies and minds might steal not only a moment to refresh and rebuild themselves, but also to dream.  Maybe they’ll be able to run through fields and play fetch with little kids, and hog the bed in some really rich person’s house.

South LA shelter dog enjoys his new bed

This cute little one got right on his new bed and wouldn't leave!

I know this isn’t the end all to total shelter overhaul.  But it’s a step.  And we’re going to keep at it until we DO overhaul it.

And I feel so happy and grateful that I have the time to give to this.

You don’t have to quit your job to be able to help the animals–believe me, they’ll gratefully use even just an hour of your spare time–but it’s a great, important perk to this lifestyle.

They say when you go into business for yourself, you work as much as or more than you do when you work for someone else.  I have found that to be totally true.  Now that I’m in business for myself, I spend a lot of time in the fast lane, busting my butt to do all the work I can get.  But I also have found that I am more willing to give up my billable hours and slide into the other lane (I can’t call it the “slow lane,” cuz anyone who does animal rescue KNOWS that’s not true, so I’ll call it my “heart lane”) to serve my animal friends, even though it comes at a higher financial price.

So when you set out on your path–your glorious, unseen but need-to-be-traveled path–remember to pave it wide so you can take your heart along.

To see more photos of the bed project, click here.

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