Hold Your Breath
When I used to take pictures with a real camera – not my camera phone – I would hold my breath for one moment to be sure that the image was not shaky. Or if the light was low, I’d hold for a little longer. I still try to stop time when I snap a pic.
Hang on to the Moment
My children think I take too many pictures. I can’t help it – I don’t want to forget the moment. But my son tells me that because I take a picture, I no longer remember the event. I, in effect, outsource my memory to my camera. I can’t help it; I want to hang on to the moment of transition, like my son’s high school graduation or college drop off. Life is so fleeting.
Hold the People Close
Sometimes I take a picture because I know I am not going to see the person for a while. And I want to hold them close to me by holding on to their image. Like the way people used to have portraits painted or wore lockets around their necks.
Yesterday my cousin Abby Nierman, who just started college in NYC, came over for Sunday dinner. She snapped a few pictures of me and Charlotte. (Chris was grocery shopping and Cate was in the throes of homework.) It took all of 20 minutes. She did such an awesome job. We felt relaxed and close. We love the pictures she took. We never had to hold our breath. We hung on to the moment and each other.
Visit Abby’s Facebook page. She’s majoring in entrepreneurship and is starting a small biz in portrait photography.
I am retreating, heading out to Shelter Island for the night.
This week — of ER hospital visits, the launch of a big editing project, my teaching, encouraging my Number One Son to prepare his college applications, helping one of my girls’ with a birthday dinner party – has wiped me out. None of these experiences individually has the potential to floor me. But combined, I feel depleted.
I need a minute to unwind with a magazine or a walk or a good long conversation with a friend. (Or even the discovery of a cozy quiet corner to go back to work on my big project.)
When my kids were little, my friend K.P. told me that every year she tried to get away for a retreat – I think she mentioned Kirpalu. But the expense!
When I was on salary as a staff writer, biz trips served as a retreat in a way. I could focus solely on work. I didn’t have to cook meals or clean up.
I don’t really travel for work anymore, living the freelance life. So I’ve joined the lovely St. Paul and St. Andrew community for a day apart.
Here are some pics from Quinipet on Shelter Island.
I noticed I called myself a Communications Consultant and I thought Multimedia Journalist sounded better. And Blogger sounded better than Writer. Consultant was better than Freelancer.
Also, I was Co-Founder and Co-Owner of Boot Camp for Writers, but, in a way, that sounded like I owned a health club so I changed it to Creative Director.
And then, I saw that I hadn’t really done justice to my teaching. Yes, I’m an Afterschool and Substitute teacher. (Today I had so much fun teaching science and digital music!). Should I name the fabulous schools where I work? And what about my recent work art handling at the art gallery? Do I mention that? How about my videography work at Columbia University? Too part time? Is it all just too confusing?
I confused myself. I don’t know if we find out who we are by looking at what we do.
So I decided to resolve this by staring at Facebook and taking an online quiz, over at 16Personalities. I did the Myers Briggs test years ago, when I was splitting up from my exhusband, in 1991? And I was an ENFP then, and I’m still an ENFP.
They tend to see life as a big, complex puzzle where everything is connected – but unlike Analysts, who tend to see that puzzle as a series of systemic machinations, ENFPs see it through a prism of emotion, compassion and mysticism, and are always looking for a deeper meaning.
ENFPs are fiercely independent, and much more than stability and security, they crave creativity and freedom.
… Few personality types are as creative and charismatic as ENFPs. Known for their idealism and enthusiasm, ENFPs are good at dealing with unexpected challenges and brightening the lives of those around them.
Awww, that was really fun. It did explain me — even my weaknesses — too many jobs and talents! (I was a little worried when I noticed that Robin Williams was an ENFP too.)
I wonder if I can put ENFP on my business card. Nah, that’s just silly.
I may not know who I am by what I do. But I do know how to have fun.
Here’s a fountain near my house. It has nothing to do with this post.
It was 9 am and I was a little behind schedule. I had gotten up early to finish and submit two freelance stories, one a day late. Got them in. Then I hopped on my bike to rush to my art handling job. Wait. First. I had to stop at the private school where I’ve been substitute teaching to get my paycheck on track.
Having to talk about money and getting paid makes me uncomfortable.
Like with my freelance jobs — I worry that I accept too little. And then I worry that I charge too much. Whaaaa! Whatever I do, I want them to like me. I live to be liked!
When I got to the school, I dashed up the stairs, two at a time. Then, I slowed down. Wait. What’s this? Yup. A ton of cool signage in the stairwell about the Day of the Girl. (This is a United Nations movement on October 11, which aims to educate and end child marriage, stop sexualized media images of girls, and celebrate girls as athletes, students, artists! Check their link to find out about more.)
Seeing these signs made me drop my insecurity. I felt empowered. it’s important I’m paid well and fairly. I want to be a good model for the girls.
Girl power!I started a Pinterest Board, Girls Can Be Anything, with images of girls doing fun girl stuff — climbing trees, playing superheroes, making art. I hate when the only option for a girl is princess. I prefer president. Girls can aspire to that. They can be anything.
In fact one of my daughters ran for student council today. I don’t even care if she wins. I’m just proud of her for writing a speech, delivering it, and throwing her hat in the ring.
On my bike ride from the school to the art job, the chain came off my bike. But I put it back on and kept riding. Got my hands dirty. But yup, girls can fix their bikes too. Girls can do anything.
I haven’t blogged in a couple of weeks. And I’ve put Facebook on the back burner.
I’ve been rethinking my confessional writing. It’s a relief and a release to write honestly about my life – writing helps me with my struggles and shows me that I’ve got resilience. Besides, as I’ve said, the more honest I get, the more readers I get.
But I do wonder if I have gotten what I needed from blogging and personal essay writing. And what is that? Money? Attention?
I have written about:
my struggles with marriage to a chronically ill spouse;
my desire to not spoil my kids in an age of helicopter parents;
my business lift-off and sometimes my business failures;
my beautiful New York City places;
my advice for writers, bloggers, creatives.
But life’s gotten busy.
For this one week, I’m deliciously alone.
My family’s been blown to the winds. My son is in Botswana. My daughters are at camp in Vermont. My husband and his brother, who also has Parkinson’s (my husband diagnosed 12 years ago and his brother a couple years before that, I believe) are traveling together — on a fishing trip to Canada.
As for work, I’ve had a wonderful client for whom I’m cranking out the work — blogging for them and totally pleased to put in a bit more time now and then.
I’ve had a crazy art handling job. This job would make an excellent sitcom – the curator and fellow art handlers are so funny and fun. Art handling means that I’m the grunt who puts up and takes down art for two art galleries — the treasure room and the lobby of my former office building. So, ya, pretty much lately, the people I used to sit in conference rooms with are the ones who occasionally walk past me as I’m working with the maintenance staff. Of course many stop and chat. And then I’ll feel guilty for not doing the art handling, and instead, schmoozing on the job. (Well what job does not benefit from schmoozing?)
I’ve also really been trying to put in an hour and a half a day (or three pomodoros (25 minute work blocks)) on a sexy, short novel. More about this at a later date. And for this stick-to-it-iveness on the languishing novel, I thank my coworking chum, Patty Golsteijn, over at Minimal Switch
In any case, for this one week, my immediate family is unreachable. And I’ve toyed with the idea of giving up my smart phone entirely. (Or maybe just checking in on it a little bit.)
I want to embrace my solitude;
Become more spiritual;
Finish my novel;
Ride my bike;
Reassess my social media habit.
I want my social media to work for me. And I’m not sure how to recofigure my writing for the web, my websites.
In the meantime, let’s face it, I also just want to have fun. (Thanks, Cyndi Lauper!)
When Kelly and I started boot camp for writers almost two years ago (wow!), Felicity Fields, web developer and marketing guru, told us to watch this Start with Why, Ted Talk by Simon Sinek.
Sinek’s point was that you need to frame your business so that the why, or purpose, is clear to your customers. The purpose of Apple is not just to offer great computers, but to challenge the status quo. People dig that.
“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
Since starting this biz, tbh, (to be honest), I’ve hardly made any money. Maybe because I’ve been offering free Meet Ups or the cost of the space sinks me or maybe it’s just that I’ve valued building creativity over building capital. They say it takes three years to be profitable in a new business venture. Most of my income’s come from my freelance writing, teaching and videography work since I left my day job,
I still believe in my biz. When I come home from offering a writing weekend or an evening workshop, I think, wow, that was great, this business is much-needed. I have a why.
So here’s your why — join boot camp for wrtiers: be a part of a community; disrupt your life; tell your story; and give your narrative a purpose. Know that you are the hero of your journey, not the victim of your circumstances.
We can talk more about this over coffee on an Adirondack chair in the morning watching the sun rise over Lake Champlain. Or over a glass of wine as the sun sets off of the patio. Come to the beautiful Adirondacks mountains. May 29 to June 1. There are still a few private rooms left in this 10-bedroom manor house.
Full weekend including private room: $530, all meals, lodging and pick up from the Westport, NY Amtrak train station. Register at: Adirondack Writing Weekend.
One of my recent ad hoc jobs has been assisting in the Columbia University graduate business school, coaching on presentation skills and strategic messaging.
I don’t want to give away all of my tips and tricks. But here’s some of what I’ve learned and taught.
Plant your feet to make a point
Make eye contact
Be prepared, but not memorized
Put it in a story form
Show the benefits to your listener
Let me explain what I mean by all of these. I’ll use myself as an example.
Plant your feet and make your point. Don’t wander around. Don’t fidget with a pen either. I need to remember this. I’m a passionate person, and so I like to really emote! That’s fine (see #7). Sure, move out from behind the podium, but move on the pause, and stop when you speak. Plant your feet. You can move as you think. But stop when you talk.
Look ’em in the eyes for several sentences. Six (?) years ago, when Hilary Clinton was
debating Barack Obama, I noticed Hil scanned the crowd as she talked. Her eyes hopped from person to person. Not Barack. No, he spoke several sentences to one person, then moved his gaze to another person. Like #1, don’t wander – not even with your eyes. Fix your gaze on one person. Make sure they get your point and then focus on another person’s eyes.
I sometimes look up when I’m thinking. I do that on the pause. Then, I have to remember to look down and make eye contact when I talk.
Breathe. A breath brings inspiration. Take time to think things through. I tend to talk fast. And so I get breathy and soft-spoken. When I take time to breathe, I’ve got fuller authority. I’m more centered. When you’re making a presentation, take time to inhale. Then, speak on the exhale.
4. Know your stuff. When I’m watching Shark Tank, I can tell that people who have memorized their whole pitch. If they lose their place, they’re lost. They only really need to know the salient points – their numbers, their benefit to the user, their unique factors. They don’t need the verbatim script, they need to speak just the basics.
5. Make a story. Everyone loves a beginning, middle, and end. Put your presentation in a story form — perhaps, a context of overcoming great odds. Or making the story about a heroic journey. You were lost and now you’re found. These story types are so primal and so inspiring. Everyone loves a narrative arc.
6. Show the benefit. I realized people were a bit self involved the first time I had skin cancer. I blogged about it. In conversations, people would ask me, “Does this mole look like yours looked?” People weren’t asking, “How are you feeling? What’s the latest?” No, they were telling me how they were feeling. All people are basically self-interested.
If your presentation is relevant to people, they will be interested. If you can help people learn about themselves or help them make money, then they’ll be into your presentation. I love inspiring people to learn about themselves. It’s why I love coaching writing.
7. Emote. Don’t be afraid to laugh, cry, admit that you don’t know something in your presentation. It’s all part of the human experience. People will remember what you say when you are passionate, but they may not remember your dry facts and figures.
Give yourself away. Go deep and don’t be afraid to be human. Get real.
Yesterday I was at the awesome NYU Entrepreneurial Festival. A highlight for me was Luke Williams’ class on disruptive thinking. Here’s what I got out of it.
In your biz and in your life, chose the scary route. In this picture, look at the dude on the left, “Who is he? I don’t know — just the happiest guy I could find on the internet,” Williams said. “Why is he so happy? He’s complacent. He’s the face of all the companies we know. Doing what he’s always done, making small incremental changes.”
Like Kodak, everyone saw that Kodak’s biz was going down when digital cameras came along, but the CEO of Kodak basically said, “Why stick your hand in an engine that’s running?” If you’re the mechanic, you don’t reinvent the car while you’re supposed to fix it. Right? Williams is smart.
Now look at Janet Leigh. This is how your client or company should look — scared. And ready for change.
Hitchcock killed off his leading lady in the first 30 minutes of Psycho. No one had ever done that. Be like Hitchcock. Be counter-intuitive.
How do you do that? If sodas are supposed to be inexpensive, sweet, and aspirational; make them expensive, sour, and real.
Look for cliches — “widespread beliefs that govern the way people think and do business.” And then disrupt the cliches. Be like Little Mismatched, the company, that sells socks, not in pairs, but in singles or in threes.
Feed your own rebellious instinct — the one that wants change for the sake of change.
I plan to disrupt this endless winter with spring.
Spring starts in five days for me. I’m going to Sarasota, Florida for a few days, back to NYC for a few days, then to a dude ranch in Patagonia, Arizona with the family for almost a week, then just me and Hayden, my 11th grader, go to look to North Carolina (where I’ll offer a writing and art workshop with the fabulous Cindy Sloan.) And Hayden and I will visit a couple of colleges in Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham for a few days.
I have been so slammed with work. Tomorrow and maybe a couple of more days this week, I’ll be subbing middle school English at a nearby prep school. I’m also continuing posts and articles with my fabulous blogging client. I have lovely tutoring jobs. I have an annual report due for a new client. I have to meet with my mentor to get my paperwork signed for my self employment assistance program.
I don’t want to disrupt my busy work life. But I don’t mind disrupting winter to get to spring. And summer.
Off and on, since September 2012, I have been on unemployment. I have also worked as a substitute teacher, after school teacher, tutor, videographer, journalist, copywriter, workshop leader, graphic designer, photographer, and more. I like doing a variety of work.
I have wanted to get my small biz off the ground, providing coaching for writers and creative content for companies. Yet unemployment stipulates that you mustn’t start a new business, only look for an existing job. Otherwise, it’s fraud, my friends.
So, what to do? I just found out this week that I am accepted into the Self Employment Assistance Program, SEAP, which means I have to take 20 hours of entrepreneurship classes and meet with a mentor a few times. I have to fill in a bunch of progress reports. In return, I can receive full unemployment benefits for another four or five months, and keep my earnings from my biz.
I have had an entrepreneurial streak since I started babysitting at 12. Even before that, at 10, I started a nursery school with April Fisher. We set up a blackboard in my basement. But one morning, before our neighborhood kids arrived, April and I messed around, wrestling, and I broke my hand, and any way, our summer school was cancelled.
My next biz? In high school my dad had a newfangled personal computer as big as a pony, whom we fondly referred to as Norty (for NorthStar). I intended to start a label-making company. I did not get past the company-naming part of a small business. I came up with the name, get this, Ready, Willing, and Label. Clever, no? See, I was always good at snappy prose.
In college my best friend and I started a biz, selling earrings on a corner near Tower Records in the Village. We made and sold earrings from pieces of film we swiped off the editing room floor. We never really got that biz off the ground, but again, you can see, great idea.
So, I’ve always loved freelancing and starting companies.
Now, back to unemployment, the last time I reported to the office on Varick Street, I was among about 40 people — the majority of whom were middle-aged white men. I thought why don’t they just group us by our skills or areas of expertise and we could start our own companies? Or at least schmooze?
I became eligible for unemployment over a year ago, when I took the company buyout, offered to all of the 300 or so employees of the global agency of the United Methodist church. I basically knew that jobs in communications would be shuffled and that my position as staff writer for the mission agency was precarious. (After all, why pay tens of thousands for a salary when you could pay a couple hundred per article?)
My particular buyout offer at GBGM came to about eight months pay and the possibility of unemployment. I took it. And it turns out, I’m glad I did.
Because just this week, my dream came true. I’m a legit small business start up. And this time, I won’t mess things up by wrestling with April Fisher before the day starts and breaking my hand and having to cancel the whole damn biz.