What I Learned About Pro Wrestling

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When I was a kid, I was into pro wrestling. But this blog posting isn’t really about that.

Instead, it’s about a temporary assignment I completed last week. When I got to this assignment I had no idea how much I would be making, so I was disappointed when talking to others on the job revealed that it was much lower than what I’m used to. Worse, trying to talk to other also reminded me that as much as I pride myself on my ability to make friends, you can’t win over everybody. Some people there just didn’t want to talk. Others were downright hostile. And still others were boorish know-it-alls that frankly, I didn’t want to talk to. There was a brief training that I did poorly on, confirming my reoccurring fear that I am just no good at “common sense” tasks and that my best days are my behind me. When I ended up spending more on lunch than I’d be making in an hour because I wrongfully assumed cheaper food would be available, I was upset. And when I was unable to perform the basic function of the job because none of the people we were serving seemed to want anything to do with me, I felt even worse. To me, I had absolutely hit rock bottom. I was done.

And there were six more days to go.

Though the job part of the job didn’t get any better the next day, I overheard a conversation between two people about pro wrestling. It was an interesting coincidence (I am going to call it that for now, but spoiler alert, I’m writing someday a blog posting about what I think so-called “coincidences” really are), because just days before, I watched John Oliver’s very moving video about what becomes of pro wrestlers and how badly they’re mistreated. As I said, I’d been a big fan of wrestling in my younger days, though as with all of the other “male power fantasy” genres I was into, I’d long since outgrew it. Still, I like poking my head in every now and then and seeing what’s going on in that world, so my ears perked up when this conversation began. It was started by a self-proclaimed wrestling geek who runs a website where he sells wrestling memorabilia. He’s self-employed, and just supplements his income with temporary assignments when business is slow. As a result, when he talked, I could barely get a word in as he went on and on about wrestling trivia and dismissed all of my viewpoints on the subject. To be honest, when I learned he was ex-military and I checked out his skinhead haircut, I really didn’t like the guy much, and assumed that would be the end of it.

But I was intrigued.

As I said, I’ve checked in on pro wrestling off and on over the years, and besides John Oliver’s video, I recently watched one of ESPN’s “30 For 30” documentaries about “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, a pro wrestler who typically branded himself the best there is, but actually had the longevity and titles to make a case for it. His daughter, as it turns out, recently became a champion in the WWE, and I was moved near to tears at his pride in knowing that he was able to pass something on to his child, despite the hard life that wrestlers lead. Being always on the road and subjected to tremendous punishment doesn’t leave much room for parenting, as Jake “The Snake” Roberts knows, having lost any relationship with his own daughter (as chronicled in the documentary Beyond the Mat (Barry W. Blaustein, 1999). In my experience however, wrestling can teach you a surprising amount about the media business in general, as I learned from former wrestling promoter Eric Bischoff’s 2006 autobiography Controversy Creates Cash.  It was in that book that I first learned about the creation of the “N.W.O., a wrestling crew that I never even considered had any relevance to me beyond being a ’90s rip-off of Ric Flair’s famous “Four Horsemen” group. As with most other things about those first few days at that temp assignment though, I learned very quickly that I was really wrong about that.

So the temp assignment continued, and though we hadn’t gotten off to a great start, I was determined to show this wrestling jerk that I wasn’t just a jobber. I really knew a thing or two about wrestling, having collected Pro Wrestling Illustrated magazine for two good solid years back in 1988-89 or so. I knew all about the indy promotions of the time, the AWAs, the Mid-Souths, and the various promotions that made up the NWA (READ: not the same as the NWO you see pictured above or “the world’s most dangerous group”). More than that, I had checked in long afterward too, when the ECW was in its heyday, and even after, when Rob Black created the XPW and I was introduced to Sabu and Rob Van Dam before he was actually anybody, and the Lightning Kid long before he bulked up and became X-Pac. I even remembered DDP back when he was just managing, and not yet wrestling! I’d seen Wrestling With Shadows (Paul Jay, 1998)! Again, as with role playing games or heavy metal or superhero comics, I never fully let any of my male power fantasies go – while I may not be up on things anymore, I’m never a complete n00b either. Worse, my ego doesn’t let me allow people to think of me that way. While I can laugh off people questioning my intelligence because of the sheer absurdity of it, and I can get used to the idea that not everybody is going to like me, if you think I don’t know anything about an area of pop culture I was once into, them’s fightin’ words. I got back into the squared circle with the King of the Ring, and I was sure I could get him to submit.

And then… I learned something.

As the wrestling champion broke me down with fact after fact about the ins and outs of the business, he mentioned something that struck a chord and had me on the ropes. He said that Eric Bischoff had gotten the WCW to be competitive by letting its wrestlers do what they wanted to do. That threw me, because an editorial tantrum written by a comic book writer (not remembering who at the moment) said that it was Vince McMahon letting Steve Austin (who I refer to as “The Artist Formerly Known as ‘Stunning’,” because again, I know wrestling history like that) create his own character that led to “The Attitude Era,” as the late ’90s and early 2000s are often referred to in wrestling circles. I was wrong though – Eric Bischoff had started all that, which led to the creation of the N.W.O, a group of has-been wrestlers who got new life after taking control of their own personas. More than that, they made the WCW competitive, actually beating Vince McMahon’s WWE until he bought it out rather than try to compete with it any longer. As Eric Bischoff said in his book, had the merger with Time Warner not ruined Ted Turner‘s media empire, it might still be beating and even supplanting the WWE today. And it was all done with wrestlers perceived as washed up, or put another way, who had hit rock bottom. Who were done.

Sound like someone you know?

As I said at the outset, this blog posting is not about pro wrestling. As with all things that happen in my life, it’s about me. I made an attempt to change careers after a major change in my health nearly a decade ago, and I failed at it. I wasn’t able to make the transition. I did it in the first place though because people had been telling me for years that I was overqualified for what I was doing, and too talented to let that go to waste. I failed, and thought that I was washed up. I forgot my own life rule of, “there is no failure in failing, only in not trying again,” moved back in with my family, and was reduced to trying to get back into the career I left behind. During that period however, a friend of mine from Middle School referred me for a writing job, and I absolutely loved it – to this day, I see it as the best job I’ve ever had. It was fun, it paid really well, gave me freedom (as I was working from home), and best of all, I was good at it. I only lost it because my employer realized that they could get an intern to do it for free, and since I was making $25 an hour and setting my own besides, there was obviously no way I could compete with that. They liked me though, and agreed to serve as a reference as I searched for future writing jobs. Though I haven’t found one yet exactly (I’ve done some transcription, which at least draws from my typing skills), I know I could. Better still, I met a group called Independent Writers of Chicago at a Meetup, who teach writers how to find writing jobs if you join their organization. You just have to be able to pay their very reasonable writing dues. Not impossible if you live with family, temp often, and have your health care covered by the Affordable Care Act. I’ve always said that my only real talents were writing, public speaking, and making friends. Now imagine if I was able to do all of the above on my own terms, like the wrestling nerd does? I think it might start a New World Order for me, no?

Suffice it to say, the wrestling site holder and I ultimately ended the week on the path to becoming friends. Hey, wrestlers turn from hero to heel on a regular basis, so why can’t we? He runs and markets his own business, and if that’s the direction I’m ultimately heading in, he’ll be a good guy to know. If I could get to the point of making my own income and calling my own shots, I wouldn’t have to worry about whether I could do a job to a boss’s specifications. I wouldn’t have to do demeaning temp work, and I might even be able to recreate a personal life like the relationship we saw in The Wrestler (Darren Aranofsky, 2008). I always liked that movie, because it’s about two has-beens getting a second chance at love. If a washed up writer like me can get a second chance, why not? The wrestling heel who turned out to be my hero showed me that as long as you do you, a championship is always possible. You just have to reserve self-judgement, trust yourself and trust your ability to get you that chance. Fight on!

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What I Learned About Twitter Trolling

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I first accessed what would later become the internet back around 1991, when I was a teenager. And I’m ashamed to admit, I was a bit of a Twitter troll.

Of course, there was no Twitter back then because again, we didn’t really have an internet. Instead we had more of a closed network of computers attached to modems that one could access via their landline phone line. In spite of the expense and impracticality of all this, there were people in those days who set up what were called Bulletin Board Systems or “BBSes,” where people could use their dial-up modems to connect with others. Because my father had tried to set up his own business, we happened to have a new desktop computer that came with a modem – 2400 baud, which wasn’t impressive even back then, but much more than the average person had. (These were the days of landline telephone communication, after all.) So once the sun went down and nobody in the house was planning to use the phone, I would go to these BBSes and start “talking” (everything was typed then) through my computer. And as is unfortunately the case with most public conversations, I would fight a lot too. Worst of all, I was good at it, and I loved it.

Having lost a parent just a few years before BBSes became popular, I was a very angry teen. I had also just read The Autobiography of Malcolm X, my favorite book of all time. Malcolm taught me two valuable life lessons I still pass on to others: 1) That a person can change, and 2) never let yourself be defined by what others think of you. And I was more than happy to tell anybody who would listen all about it.

So until I went to college and we had the beginnings of the actual world wide web version of the internet that we all know today, I used to go onto the BBSes at night and tell everybody about how badly I felt about the world and my place in it. I may not be Black, but as Malcolm pointed out, America has always been good at marginalizing us people of color, and I viewed it as my intellectual duty to make sure everybody knew about it. I would go past the online games that the BBSes had, briefly check my first ever email account, and then verbally throw down with any and everybody in “The Melting Pot,” a racial discussion forum in the most popular BBS in my area. Since people of color have traditionally been digitally divided against the rest of society, I knew that it would be me against the world, a world that had always made me feel like an outsider and “less than,” despite the fact that I had every other outsider as my friend. I knew that I was probably among the only users actively listening to Hip Hop (this was the early ’90s, remember), collecting comic books, and who had that special blend of intelligence and nothing to lose to take down all comers. It didn’t matter what they threw at me, I always had an answer, always made people look stupid, and always came back for more. And again, I loved that I was really good at it.

And then I grew up.

Look, this blog posting is not about how cool the BBSes were or how good it makes you feel to successfully “flame” (what we called “trolling” back then) somebody. Nor is it about condemning those angry people who do – Hell, I was a teenager who also lost my health along with my parent just two years prior to my BBS heyday so I knew why I was doing it. I also knew that if any of the objects of my ire had caught me, they probably would have strung me up. I was your typical troll – angry at the whole world for things that life and fate had done to me and my family, and just looking for a way to get it all out. To me, warring with racists was a victimless crime, so it didn’t matter how childish and mean-spirited it was. I was mad, and the world was going to pay for it. I will own that. But I’m sharing this with you all because the world is full of people like I was, and we hear from them all the time, on Twitter and YouTube and Facebook and everywhere else. I happen to like Twitter though, so I figure I could do a little bit of repentance by sharing some tips on what to do if you’re ever on the receiving end of that anger. Here’s how I’ve learned it’s best to deal with Twitter trolls and twitter trolling, if you really want to:

1 – Take a deep breath and don’t react. One of the things I don’t like about Twitter is that whenever somebody likes a posting you’re mentioned in, Twitter will notify you about it. This can create the sense that everybody is against you or that everybody hates or thinks you a fool if you let it. People can like whatever they want to like, so you have to remember that it has no bearing on you. Better, if you can calm yourself with some breathing exercises, it will curtail your urge  to fire back in anger. That often leads to typos or incoherent thought, so taking time before replying can keep you out of trouble. It will also keep you from feeling ganged up on, which is why I also think you should…

2 – Uncheck anybody you’re not responding to directly. You’ll notice I never said anything about Facebook because unless you really know how to use it, Facebook is built for people to gang up on you. Somebody posts something, and everybody else can jump in under what they posted and make their ignorant comments publicly, so others can jump in too. Twitter? Twitter allows you to uncheck anybody you’re not responding to and break up the gang. Just as in real life, you never want to take on a mob, and by singling out its members, they flee and lose their power. I got attacked by a bunch of Twitter trolls whose members literally kept demanding that I stop unchecking other members of their group when I responded to their tweets. You want to know what happened in that conversation? They ran, scattering like the vermin they were when they realized I was going to pick them off one at a time. Haven’t heard from them since.

3 – Don’t respond to comments that are just insults or snark. When Twitter first invented the “mute” button, I really didn’t understand what the point was. They could still read what I tweeted, but I couldn’t hear them respond – what was the point of that? Older and wiser, I now get it – there’s no reason to respond to everything anybody sends at you. For people you actually want to debate, uncheck and discuss. People who are just slinging mud by calling you names are just looking to pick fights which are ultimately pointless. They don’t know you and you don’t know them. Take your ego out of it, and let those who don’t have the words to deal with you just exit your consciousness. Conserve your energy for those who you might be able to reach or deserve it.

Bottom line, the internet can be an ugly place, in no small part because it can make you feel alone or unpopular, like you’re out of step with the rest of society. The thing is, you’re not – as many people as there are on the internet who disagree with you is probably how many people there are who agree. Keep the jerks who want to mix it up  from getting under your skin and you’ll slay them every time. Engage in live tweets about your favorite shows and live TV events, and you’ll realize how much in the majority you really are and makes Twitter more fun too. The virtual world is a reflection of only a part of the real one – treat it that way, and keep your focus firmly on the parts that matter and I think you can enjoy social media for the communications tool that it is. Good luck!

What I (Haven’t) Learned About “Fun Fiction”

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I really miss writing fan fiction.

When I was a kid, I absolutely loved… I was going to say comics, but let’s keep it real – I loved all of the “male power fantasy” genres. I loved comics, but I also loved action movies. Pro wrestling. Both heavy metal and gangsta rap music at various points. Video and role-playing games. First run syndicated adventure TV shows and the network kind. If it was the kind of thing your typical teenage boy was into, I would be all about it because no matter how complex or intellectual or “deep” I think I am, I am at heart your typical red blooded straight American male. I may be beta more than alpha, I may have gotten into sports later in life than most (if you can call my teenage years “later”), but at the end of the day, I loved cars and pretty girls and violence just like every other straight kid my age.

I just consumed it differently.

Not too differently mind you, because while not every kid my age isn’t into comics like I was (more on this shortly), they’re usually into something. Like I said, some kids get into sports and actually go on to play (real or fantasy) or coach. Some draw. Some build things with their hands. Whatever it is, every kid has something, and for me, it just happened to be comic books more than anything else. How we express our fandom may different though, and since writing was one of the things I was good at, I wrote. I liked writing new stories about the comic book characters I loved. And I miss it.

Now to be clear, I did it a LOT. Like once comics surpassed pro wrestling (which I basically just grew out of) as my primary entertainment whenever I had free time, I wrote pages and pages of fan fiction on reams and reams of paper. It began purely by accident. For some reason, it seems that not only did I like to write in terms of thinking of stories and putting them down on paper, I liked the act of writing period. At one point, I got Michael L. Fleischer’s Encyclopedia of Comic Book Heroes and enlisted my sister’s aid in writing down all of the characters, summarizing them, and putting them into categories. Why? I don’t know. I also used to make little index cards for every comic book in my collection too, and put them into file boxes. Why? I don’t know. But after doing stuff like this for a while,  I started playing role playing games with my friends and using my favorite comic book characters too. Me being me however, I would do it up. I would pretend like what we were verbally playing was going into fictional comic book titles based on those characters. Since RPG adventures are typically called “quests” for example, I imagined we were creating a comic book called Beetlequest, which ostensibly all of our quests with the Blue Beetle would go into. From there, I started making “checklists,” like Marvel Comics used to do to advertise all of their titles, that often had a one or two sentence summary of what would happen in that comic. I started writing those, only not just for the quests we were doing, but for imaginary titles using secondary characters that I would spin-off from the quests. Why? Again, I don’t know. But the more I did that, the longer the summaries got. And before you knew it, I was writing fan fiction with all of my favorite comic book characters.

And I loved it.

Now you may be thinking that this is the height of nerd activity, and while I wouldn’t argue against that, keep in mind that I believe doing this is what eventually broke me into comics. Once I started doing this I started getting letters published in comics on a regular basis, and by the time I was in college I had sold my first (and to date only, *sigh*) comic book story, that was published. The letter writing skill may have helped with that, and it helped me even more when I started freelance writing other stuff on a semi-regular basis, making actual (meaning significant amounts of) money. So while it may have illustrated why I didn’t lose my virginity until I was into my later twenties, it also gave me the ability to get my passion and talent to pay off.

And I really miss that.

Now is it the money I miss? Well, not exactly. What I really miss is something I’ve decided to call “fun fiction.” See, when I was writing all that fan fiction for all of my favorite comic book characters, I didn’t get blocked or have days where I wasn’t in the mood to write. I didn’t self-criticize or revise or worry about anything. Whatever I felt I just wrote, each idea feeding on the other, until I would come up with stuff that was ugly, but still halfway decent. It has been my belief for some time now that if I combined fun writing with my newfound ability to outline and revise, I could get back into writing the way I really want to, and perhaps do something I really enjoy, and I think should be doing. But I can’t seem to get it back, and for the life of me, I don’t know why.

I mean, when you think about it, it’s not logical. I could write about anything! I still watch the same kinds of shows. I could write fan fiction for those. Or if that didn’t appeal to me, I could do it for the same comic book characters I did in the olden days. I could do it for Star Trek, like everybody else does(I was late to that party too). James Bond. I could turn myself and all of my friends into characters and fan fiction out action adventure movies or TV shows. Or comics. Or whatever the Hell else I wanted to! But for some reason, while I can fantasize myself to sleep the way I always have, ever since I was a child, I can’t seem to just fire up the computer or pick up pen and paper and just write for the fun of it. And I don’t really know why.

I know all of these blog postings thus far have come to some logical point or conclusion but sorry kids, I don’t have one for this, as that’s kind of what this is about. The messy way this blog posting looks (with the exception of the fact that I’m still going to reread and revise it because as I said, that’s just how I roll these days) is exactly what I wish I could do, but not about life in general. I want to tell stories. With characters. And using my imagination. Then take the best ones, polish them up, and do something with them. We live in an era where I could save all that stuff (the original fan fiction was written on like discarded pieces of paper I just grabbed and started writing on, that’s long since been lost and likely deteriorated), fix it up, make it shiny, and let the world see the real me, in all of my nerdly, witty, fun glory.

I just don’t know how to anymore.

 

What I Learned About Letting it Marinate

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I’ve had an itch to get back to writing regularly, and these last few blog postings have been an attempt to do that, only better than I ever have before.

Not just writing blogs mind you, but writing, period. The weekend before last I went to a baby shower for an old friend of mine, and while I was there I fell into my old strength of being able to strike up conversations with strangers and get them to connect with me. This was particularly easy, because we weren’t exactly strangers – being at the same baby shower, we either knew the mother or the father in some way, so that was a way to begin every conversation. In doing so, one of the guests revealed that she had a friend who worked at a designer mattress company and of course, my last paid writing gig was blogging for one of their rivals. Converting this one should be cake…

…assuming I time it just right. (Or “write,” in this case. Sorry, couldn’t resist. Onward…)

I haven’t approached them yet, not because I don’t think I can do it, but because these past few weeks have also taught me the value of waiting, or “letting it marinate,” as the iconic rapper Nas once put it. When I was younger I was quick to pull the trigger on anything – writing, emailing; conversations I wasn’t a part of  – no thought, just action. Worse, I would jump into any verbal battle, online or otherwise, at the drop of a hat. Fueled by my pure combination of steroids (to treat my chronic illness) and emotion, I would throw down whenever I felt challenged, which was most of the time for me as a youngster. I knew that I had intelligence, writing ability, a good memory, and the logical acumen that made me such a good student. I thought I was pretty badass, and I reveled in it like like a pig in slop.

What I didn’t have however, was the wisdom to step back and think about what I was doing. As a result, even when what I wrote was on point or “correct” as far as my reasoning went, it would also often be too long (still working on that one), riddled with spelling and grammar errors, and more often than not either put the object of my ire on the defensive or hurt the feelings of my friends when I disagreed with them. That latter situation was particularly bad, because I was also a Black & white thinker. So when friends would express disapproval with the way I came at them, I would assume they must now hate me and withdraw. Not a healthy way to be.

So what’s different about me now? Well as I mentioned before, these past few weeks I haven’t just fired off the first blog idea I’ve thought of, though I’ve had plenty. I may have pre-written whatever was on my mind, but I would put it aside when I ran out of words, and come back to it later. I never used to do that before. Ernest Hemingway once said that the only kind of writing is rewriting, which I confess I didn’t fully embrace either until I was in my thirties. I find rewriting particularly useful these days, because I’m now aware that my writing ability can run hot and cold. The blog entry from two weeks ago for example came together after I wrote a first draft that was so terrible that I just put it away after writing it. I really wasn’t “feeling it” that day, I just had an idea and rambled about it. When I picked it up again later though, I was in a better mood, started cleaning it up, and came up with something that proved to me that I was a writer once again.

More than that, I’ve realized that the nice thing about waiting is that it works outside of writing too. If you’ve ever had the phenomenon of wracking your brain about a problem, given up, and then suddenly realized the answer later, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you’ve ever had a fight with somebody, cooled down and then apologized you know it too. I know I have. I’ve had seemingly impossible problems whose solutions just “came to me” after I rested or exercised or ate. I’ve had no ideas at all only to stumble into many over time, or ideas that I thought were money until I took immediate action on them and then realized their flaws minutes after wading in. I’ve been wrong in the past, only to realize mistakes, make adjustments, and been right later. It’s clear to me that whoever said “time heals all wounds” was more prophetic than s/he knew.

So as much as I want to write the way I used to, I’m slowing my roll a bit and letting it come to me. I make it a point to write a little every week but I prefer drafting to publishing now, and I don’t push it. I reread, I revise, and a lot of times I just rewrite. Life may be short but my writing never has been, and that always seems to have worked for me. So why rush it?

 

What I Learned About Not Saying Anything At All

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So anybody that knows me well knows that I love Twitter. I love tweeting live; I love commenting on everything I watch or hear, and I love when my comments are “hearted” or retweeted. False modesty aside, I feel like I’ve always been good at making insightful observations and well-timed jokes. When I was an honor student growing up, people always knew me for having the most thought-provoking observations or the well played zinger. I’ve also been fairly good at making logical arguments and on Twitter, you can take apart people’s poorly thought-out assertions pretty easily, presenting them with facts that disprove or pointing out holes in the reasons behind stated beliefs. It gets me retweeted, followed; “hearted” – all that stuff people believe you should aspire for if you’re doing Twitter at all.

You know what I’m really proud of though? Knowing when not to say anything.

As I often point out to people, the way I am on Twitter and the way I am in real life are not different at all. Indeed, I use a fake name for my most honest Twitter account because my candor has gotten me in big trouble in real life more times than I can count. My old life coach Nina Rubin used to praise my candor while at the same time urging me to save it for people like her or close friends rather than the world at large. When you have low self-esteem and view every interaction with the world as a chance to prove your worth it’s tough to stop seeking that validation, but I’m getting much better at it, and I now get why in my case, it’s usually the best way to go too.

See here’s the thing: what I have found is that most people you encounter in life already have their minds made up. While the political parties endlessly search for the elusive “swing voter,” those people have become few and far between these days. The majority of the people I encounter both in life and online think they have a “wisdom” that works for them, and if you challenge that wisdom, it brings out their natural defenses. I feel like these days, people want to believe they know something, because everything else in life seems so uncertain. We feel like the world has become more dangerous and that people like us are precious, because the majority of the world is people who are different. I don’t personally believe that’s true at all of course, and I feel like it’s part of the reason we’re in so much trouble – though we can communicate better and faster than we ever could before with people we’ve never even met, we’ve somehow concluded that those people are bad, unless or until we find people who are like us. Once we find those people we cling to them like crazy, and once we form ideas, we cling to them even more strongly.

As I said before, most ideas are pretty easy to take apart, and when I was younger I used to do it all the time, particularly when online communication was new. I loved showing the world that I was clever and witty, like I did in school growing up, always coming up with the keen observation or well-timed joke that didn’t make me less of a nerd, but at least convinced people that I was interesting. And I do still do that online, but nowadays I pick my battles, and more often than not, I don’t say anything at all. When somebody says something I disagree with, but I know it’s not really doing any harm and that there’s no chance my comment will change their mind, I leave it alone. When I tell a story, I stick to the facts as much as I can, but if the minutiae of those facts is making the story too confusing, I omit it. And when somebody talks about something they really like and I don’t, I don’t express my contrary and often negative opinion. It’s just not worth it.

As I said, on Twitter I get “hearted” and retweeted a lot, but that happens most often when I validate somebody else’s positive feeling rather than when I attack someone. Even popular negative views don’t get as many hearts and RTs than positive ones I’ve found and again, if it isn’t going to change anything or worse, will cause that person to knuckle up and defend their views more stridently, I prefer to let it go. I find that fighting with anybody causes stress regardless of whether I think I’m right, online or in person. And I really don’t need the extra stress. Discretion really is the better part of valor I’ve learned, and when I feel the urge to clap back or criticize these days, I don’t. Saying the right thing may make me feel good for a second, but not saying anything and just letting people be takes so much less effort and I think in the long run, makes everybody feel better overall.

 

 

 

What I Learned About My Writing

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Okay it’s time for a confession: I haven’t liked my writing for a while now.

I realize the irony in that, as I believe my only two real talents are my writing and public speaking abilities (and my penchant for make friends, but I don’t know if that’s an actual “talent”). The truth though, is that I’ve been disappointed in my writing ability for some time now, going back well over a decade. But I think it’s time to exorcise that demon now.

My disillusionment with my writing started when I realized that I can be so verbose at times that I lose people. I realize now that most people’s attention span is pretty short, hence the popularity of texts and tweets, I’m guessing. This was the reason I lost a lot of interest in emailing, which was once something I did a lot, and really enjoyed. I used to love emailing so much that I would often send someone an email, but CC others in it, hoping they’d read and be moved to comment by what I said, thus starting a discussion. Instead it put a lot of people off, so over time I stopped doing that.

Later, I began to notice a sameness in my writing style which had basically become a cliche. I’d make a long series of comments about something, then punctuate it with some broad, conclusive statement in one line.

Like this.

And then I’d move on and keep writing about whatever. The problem was that it became common over time. If I did it once, fine. When I would do it over and over again though, to the point that my writing just became a repetitive pattern, I felt that it was more an affectation than a real statement of anything. It felt like I was performing in written form rather than getting my ideas across, and that’s really what matters to me, and I think, should matter to any writer most – the communication of one’s ideas or feelings. Otherwise, what are we really doing here besides just being self-indulgent?

And that’s really what bothered me most of all. I began to feel like I was just writing for writing’s sake, something I’m okay with in a journal on paper that only I am ever likely to read, but not so much online or anywhere else that people tend to read a lot of writing nowadays. I had a brief respite from my self-doubt when I went to paralegal school, and my writing got praised again and won me a scholarship, but that set me up for another writing disappointment later on down the road. I realized later that my writing style, which really came to be when I took a class in high school that set me up to ace the Advanced Placement Exam for English, was great for legal or academic writing (because duh, I was an English major, who graduated with high distinction), but not really great for communicating with anybody else. I learned that lesson when I got hired as a paid professional blogger, and discovered that in some ways, I really wasn’t as good a writer as I thought I was at all.

For one thing, it seems that I have a tendency to begin sentences with connective words, like “and” or “but.” While that might make my writing more conversational, what I learned in my blogging position was that this isn’t the kind of writing they like in that world. Professional bloggers have to sound like perfect professional writers to the layperson, even though they’re not. Though the language has to be emotive, it also can’t contain things that amateur writers do – sentences beginning with connective words or sentence fragments. Regardless of whatever emotional impact my pieces might create, it had to look like it was grammatically perfect, and not emotive at all. On the other hand, it also couldn’t be wordy, like actual academic or legal writing. My use of long sentences is great for writing college essays and made me an A student who won a scholarship for legal writing. In the world of marketing however, I learned that the target audience is often people who do not have a college education. Words and sentences have to be simple, yet sound sophisticated, and my writing often seemed to fall into one category or the other, when it needed to be both.

I did learn how to do it of course, and that blogging job was one of the favorites I’ve ever had. But the combination of that feedback and my prior experience of people not liking my wordy emails really made me doubt myself completely. And when I myself noticed how often I would use the dramatic standalone sentence technique, I really began to believe that I wasn’t as good a writer as I’d always assumed myself to be.

But so what?

Last Thursday I was laid up in the hospital after having the latest iteration of my ongoing health issues publicly. It happened at work, and has put my budding new career into a bit of doubt. I felt awful, scared, and alone, though the latter emotion I dealt with by gaining a newfound appreciation for the cell phone. As is always the case when I have time to kill, I decided to spend it writing. Even though I was strapped to a bunch of wires to monitor my vitals and in an awkward position in the exam room, I maneuvered my way to my bag, and found whatever piece of paper and writing material I could use. You see, I still carry pen and paper around with me wherever I go, and I rarely throw pieces of paper away – I will recycle where and when I can, but generally speaking, I only do that when the paper is impossible to write on any further. No matter how I feel about my writing at any given moment, what it does for me or what it doesn’t, I’m always going to write when I need to. I write when I’m bored. I write when I’m happy. I write when I’m scared. I write when I’m lonely and when I meet someone I like, I write about them. No matter what happens to me in life, good, bad, or indifferent, I ultimately find myself writing about it. To paraphrase a now tarnished man, we’ve been together for such a long time, my writing and me. I realize it’s not a question of how good or bad a writer I am anymore, it’s just who I am. Like it or not, I will always write. I may not write as much as I should, but as the blogging position taught me, who’s to say how and when I “should” write anyway? I can adjust if it will get me in trouble to write a certain way, or if I get paid based on how I write (Hell, what is screenwriting after all, anyway?). But for me, the writing never stops. Fragment, legible, long, short, it doesn’t matter. I am a writer. That’s just who I am.

It sure would be nice to get paid for it more, though. Oh well, something to write about in the future.

 

What I Learned About Blogging

What I learned most about blogging is that I may not have been entirely qualified to do it.

Perhaps I’m being too simplistic. While it is true that I’ve enjoyed doing this blog so far, my ultimate goal when I started was to find a way to make this blog “pay” for me to write it, either in money or in audience appreciation. On that basis, I’ve succeeded: I recently got hired to write a blog for a company. Exciting, right? I finally get a chance to prove that my writing skills are good enough for somebody to pay for them. Or to be clear, I get to prove I can still do that, and on a regular basis, because I’ve been paid for my writing several times in the past, hence my desire for a blog that helped me do that again. This blog didn’t get me the gig though. Networking did, and now that I am getting paid to write a blog, I’ve discovered that I may have been going about this all wrong from the beginning.

Here’s what I’ve learned about the world of paid blogging, or blogging with a purpose:

1 – You have to know what your purpose is.  I find that if you’re blogging for a company, you have to know what product or service you’re selling for them. If you’re blogging for yourself, you have to have a “personal brand,” meaning some identity for yourself and your blog, so that your target audience is clearly identifiable. With a company it’s easy – if you sell widgets, your target audience is people who are looking to buy widgets, or people who have a problem that widgets can solve. With a personal blog like mine though, it’s more difficult to find that target unless your blog has a clearly defined purpose.

Suppose this blog was all about California tourism. My target would be obvious: people looking to visit California. Or if my purpose was how to relocate to California, my target would be people looking to move there. If it was the tourists, I would talk about all the cool stuff in California – Hollywood; the beaches, the attractions like Disneyland or Universal Studios. Writing it would be easy, as it would be if it was people looking to move there: I’d talk about moving companies, affordable places to live, California laws to be aware of, etc. My blog thus far however hasn’t really been about California at all, it’s about me. And this is why I think a personal brand is so important.

If I’m a defined person that everybody knows, like a celebrity, the fact that I’m many things – a nerd, a Muslim, a straight man, a writer, a single guy, a picky eater – is fine, because people will read it regardless because they know me and want to know more. If not, I believe I need to pick one of those labels because it makes the blog writing, and thus audience building, easier. I think I would just need to find what interests others who fit whatever label I decide the blog fits, and write about those interests. In my case however, I’m a relatively unknown individual that fits a bunch of different labels like I listed, giving us a blog that’s all over the place. I think writing a blog that’s scattershot like that without any defined personal brand to attract people to it has little to no purpose. It’s just me thinking about stuff, and unless I have that great personal brand, and there are thus a ton of people out there already interested in me and my thoughts, it’s difficult to write a blog about me. My purpose is dubious at best. That’s why I’ve learned that the blog’s purpose needs to be the blogger’s first consideration if s/he wants to monetize it or find an audience.

2 – You have to determine what your target audience is interested in. As I believe I already mentioned, once you know who your target audience is, you have to figure out what they want to read about. What you’re reading now is a product of the training I did for my new blogging job, and what I realized from it is that if you don’t know – not assume, not speculate, know – what your target audience wants to read about, it’s very difficult to build that audience. If you’re selling a product or service, I think not knowing what your audience wants is a big problem: If you’re not writing to your audience’s interests, how and why would they ever encounter you or your product or service? If they’re unaware of what your blog has to do with them, there’s no real reason to find it.

A good professional blogger, I learned, writes to what their target audience is interested in, and a shortcut I learned in determining that is to figure out what others who are into that same thing – oftentimes your competition – are blogging about. As my new employer taught me, if I read the most popular blogs about my product, I will discover what my audience is interested in, and if I can add to that discourse in a new and / or interesting way, I can get more readers for my blog. This is particularly true if those same leading bloggers share things that I wrote. According to my new bosses, getting redistributed by others is what makes something popular – this is what “going viral” is. So if I wanted to build audience for this blog, once I’d determined my purpose or personal brand I’d have to find out what the leading bloggers that cater to that audience write about, and write about the same things, only as good or better. I’d know I’d succeeded if those same leading bloggers started sharing my stuff too.

3 – You have to post regularly. This one I stuck to fairly faithfully in the past with this blog, but have not done so lately. Why? See #1.

As I said, I believe this blog is not very popular because all it’s about is me, and almost nobody knows me beyond those who have met me personally. I have no personal brand,  I’m just a real person, with all of the contradictions and complexities that entails. I can’t point to a target audience because I’m into a lot of different things, hence my blog is too. As a result, it can’t do much for me beyond allowing me to vent and clarify my own thinking for myself.

And I’ve discovered that doing all of these steps is really hard work.

If you haven’t figured it out already, I am writing this as a final blog posting for the foreseeable future, at least in this blog. I have an even more personal, but less well-maintained one that I just use as the mood strikes me. I’ve discovered that ironically, my ending this blog shows that I had already succeeded in fulfilling what I saw as its original purpose long before I began it. My goal in writing this blog really was to validate me, and I did that when my friend who referred me for the new blogging gig became my friend in the first place. He knew the part of my brand that would sell to his company: “A great writer and a reliable guy.” He knew that from personal experience. He knew the target – his company, that just lost their blogger – was looking for somebody to take over their blog. He introduced me; they liked what they saw in my writing (not from this blog no less, from elsewhere), and hired me. Since they know what their competitors blog about (which is what their audience is interested in), they know what to tell me to write, and that’s all I need. My writing won out, as I hoped it would.

So why can’t I do their blog and this one too?

4 – Blogging is hard work. Part of the reason I feel it’s important to have a purpose is because I think doing anything well is hard work. I feel that if you’re good at it, it can be even harder, because (as is the case with me) your perfectionism will kick in and force you to get every part of your blog posting exactly right, which takes effort. Writing well is not quick or easy, so without some tangible “payment” – be it monetary or in the form of some level of self-satisfaction, the whole thing can take a lot out of you. Again, I wanted to prove that I could write well enough to be compensated for my writing on a regular basis. I did that, which is satisfaction enough for me. If I feel the urge to write just to scratch an itch in the future, I can do it as needed, without worrying about adhere to #3. If I want to write for some other purpose, keeping this blog will only take time away from it. It’s run its course.

When I began this blog, I thought it would be a good way to reflect on what I learned in my 17 years in Southern California. What I learned in California more than anything else was to value what I like about myself, and to value myself generally. I had many teachers in California that got me here, and I’m not my perfect me just yet, but I’m good enough to know that I don’t need to keep doing this blog to prove myself. I am a living demonstration of what I learned in California, and if that’s good enough, it will get me back there again, regardless of whether I write about it.

If I do write about it however, you know it’ll be good. Don’t believe me? Just go back and read this blog.