What I Learned About Blogging

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

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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.

 

 

 

What I Learned About “Manhood”

I had originally thought to entitle this blog posting “What I Learned About Women,” but I don’t know that you can “learn” a whole gender, any more than you can learn all members of a racial or religious group.

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Truth be known, what I want to write about has very little to do with women anyway.

Last week a relative of mine needed to change two shower curtains in her big, multi-story house, and if she’d needed that help prior to my going to California, I probably would have crouched down really low and hoped she wouldn’t see me.  If she did and asked me to help, I would likely have hemmed and hawed, or worse thrown a fit and complained throughout the entire activity.  The tougher the going got the more I would hope she’d see how much I was struggling and tell me to get going, and in most cases where I’d been in that situation, that’d lead to her either sending me away in anger or disgust, thus letting my immature ass off the hook.  Why?

Because for most of my life, I think I’ve been a little boy.

I feel that’s started to shift in recent years though.  When I first got to California, my first friend was this girl I had the biggest crush on, and who was kind of into me as well, I later learned.  So although I didn’t add much to her life at that time, I was a diversion she gladly tolerated.  You see, she’d recently moved back to California after ending a long-term and serious relationship, and I think that to some extent, I gave her hope that there was something better out there for her.  Unfortunately it wasn’t me though, because I was too much, I later learned, like the relationship she got out of, as I’ve found many young men in relationships all-too-often are.

As my friend used to describe it to me, what she was looking for was something along the lines of what her parents had.  According to my friend, the reason why her mother chose her father was because her mother “never had to know the process whenever they wanted to do something.”  That is to say, when my friend and her ex wanted to go somewhere for instance, he’d tell her about how hard it was going to be, and even ask her to make some calls to do some research into logistically what all they needed to do it.  Instead of being some fun, spontaneous little thing, it would become a hassle for my friend, and all of the fun of doing that activity was drained out of it.  Put another way, she wanted the guy who, when asked, would just change the damn shower curtain, not make a big deal about how hard it was going to be for him to do it.

Last week I talked about the actress Krista Allen, who has a podcast I really like called “I’m Fine,” where she reads and discusses self-help books.  The thing Allen’s podcast and her history have taught me about her is that to me she’s a lot like this same relative of mine in that she keeps trying to “save” men, only to be disappointed when they gladly accept the help but never step up the plate to save themselves or anybody else, least of all her.  I feel that this has been my relative’s relationship pattern too, and I believe that it’s part of both my friction with her in the past and the failure of my own relationships.  It seems to me that women are naturally more empathetic than men, so when put into a situation where somebody they care about needs help, many women’s natural inclination is to jump in and do it.  Because it comes so naturally to these women, I feel they naturally expect that these men will do the same for them.  When these men get comfortable with getting helped however, they don’t give reciprocal care, and I feel that it completely grinds these self-sacrificing women down, both emotionally and physically.  As my old life coach Nina Rubin advised me, if I see my relative or any other woman doing dishes for example, I will succeed more in winning her over if I just jump in and start helping – not asking if she needs the help and definitely not letting her just do the work.  Sure enough, I found that when I tried to help my relative with the shower curtains instead of complaining, she appreciated it, we got along better, and she even did something for me in return, without my even asking.  When I expect my relative to do for me or excessively ask her for help, it creates conflict, and likewise Allen has stated that she believes her past relationships have failed because she ultimately just became the helper or the enabler, never the one who was helped.  When I pull my weight however, it keeps my relative happy, and makes her life function that much better too.

What I’ve come to believe is that being a man is doint one’s part in creating a harmonious unit, be it a family, a relationship, a team, a business or anything else.  At the end of the day, I believe that because everybody benefits from the success of every unit they’re part of, it’s implied that everybody should strive to make that unit successful.  The thing is, I feel like most women sort of know this intuitively, so when they’re a part of something, they jump in and make it go without even thinking about it.  Though many men do this as well, I find that many boys do not, and when a woman finds herself in a relationship of any kind where she is, in essence, mothering an unappreciative and dependent boy, it wears on her, eating away at her peace of mind.  To me, you can’t call yourself a “man” if you’re not doing your part to help everybody else in your unit, especially its often overworked women.  To my amazement, success often isn’t even a factor in evaluating a man’s worth to most women – a man’s attempt, without being asked and without complaint – seems to reflect maturity I think, and we men can often be appreciated just for that.

Speaking of appreciation, I also feel like many women feel unappreciated for doing so much, though how a successful man expresses that appreciation differs based on the relationship.  In a familial relationship, I feel that expressing thanks to one’s mother, sister, aunt, etc. goes a long way, particularly if it’s done in the form of taking an action, not just or even primarily words.  I feel this is so not because they are women mind you, but because as women, their contributions have historically been overlooked, while men’s achievements have historically and routinely been celebrated.

In a Romantic relationship by contrast, I believe that showing physical or Romantic affection as a form of appreciation is welcomed, assuming the level of attraction in the relationship is mutual.  California made me into a pseudo-feminist, and as a result, I am big on the idea of consent.  I think that when men get physical with women who don’t want it, or at that moment are not feeling the same level of attraction, these men are ignoring a lack of consent.  I have found that we as men have to be careful.  When the Romantic relationship is working however, I feel that physical affection along with verbal compliments and Romantic gestures are what make the unit – in this case, the couple – work.  To me, part of being a man is being able to engage in this kind of mutually beneficial relationship where both sides express an appreciation that’s desired and in my opinion necessary to maintain the unit.

Long story short, to me “manhood” is all about doing what’s necessary for your unit when required to and expressing appreciation, however is appropriate, to the members of that unit.  To me it’s not about muscles, beating people up, defending honor, watching football, being handy around the house, unemotional, or any of that crap.  Just as film critic Roger Ebert‘s definition of a hero is “ordinary people who are faced with a need and rise to the occasion, a man is an adult who anticipates, and always rises to the occasion before he’s asked.

(…and with a penis, or course.  face-with-stuck-out-tongue-and-winking-eye

 

What I Learned About Judging a Book By Its Cover

If you’d told me a week ago that I’d dedicate a whole blog posting to the actress Krista Allen, I’d’ve told you that you were crazy…

I’ll confess: I first learned of Krista Allen from a softcore adult film role she did early in her career.

Just as she isn’t perfect neither am I, and that’s kind of why I like her.  In the past week or so, her podcast has become a favorite of mine, one in which she reviews – or more appropriately, discusses and analyzes – a different self-help book every week, as reading self-help books is kind of her hobby.  As it turns out, Krista Allen and I have three very big things in common: 1) we both dabbled in adult entertainment, 2) we both moved around a lot as children, and 3) we both have struggled with low self-esteem.  This is why Krista Allen reads so many self-help books, and in listening to her discuss them on her podcast, she’s reminded me of a key lesson I learned in my first relationship that I’d like to write about today: that I believe people are enriched by dealing with people who are different from them.

My first serious girlfriend and I were more different than we were alike.  She honestly had more in common with Krista Allen than she did with me.  She came from poverty; my father was an engineer and my mother was a doctor.  She was a pretty and popular girl in high school; I was the king of the geeks.  Most importantly, while we both shared a love of film, my ex wasn’t a nerd about it.  She didn’t know or care what a director was before she met me, and would get annoyed by the trivial “fun facts,” as she called them, that I would often share with her.  While I am so willing to share every detail about myself that I had to force myself to be anonymous in this blog, my ex didn’t even like having our curtains open because others could then peer in and see how we lived.  Yet despite our differences, I probably learned more about life, both directly from and just by being with her than I ever did in my decades of school and growing up in seven different places before I finally moved out and was on my own.  While I don’t miss her personally, I miss the astounding number of things I learned from being with her, and that’s kind of what I get from Krista Allen’s podcast too.

Allen has shared that she’s from Texas, the red state I call “California’s evil twin.”  It’s big, it’s rich, it has a huge undocumented population but it’s not friendly to them like California is, which I attribute to people like Krista Allen and her family: poor Caucasians, the Trump supporter stereotype.  Like me, Krista Allen was essentially raised by a single parent, but in that “country” way that I have typically find repellent.  She’s not super educated, and growing up these attractive redneck-type women never gave me the time of day.  Yet when I listen to her podcast I realize she’s sweet!  And funny!  And easygoing!  Open-minded!  And honest, like I said.  Like my ex, she strikes me as generally a pleasant person to be around, and although that relationship went south for me, I believe that had more to do with our youth and inexperience than any personal defect on my ex’s part.  Unlike my ex, Allen is inquisitive and interested in learning, but again, I’d never know any of that from looking at her or if I judged her by the roles she’s played.  Krista Allen strikes me as a person who’s made the best of what life has given her, both in terms of her appearance and her background, keeping her from being a cynic.  She stumbled into entertainment after a disastrous ending to her first marriage, and “Forrest Gumped” her way into a career as a working actress, one that got her on “Friends” and “Frasier,” and in movies like Liar Liar (Tom Shadyac, 1997) and Anger Management (Peter Segal, 2003).  Were they great, major roles?  Not usually.  Were they bimbo roles?  At first, yes.   But does she still work to this day, and without having to go back to doing nudity?  Absolutely yes, and as most actresses in Hollywood will tell you, “bimbo” or otherwise, that is not easy to do.  Regardless of her work not being my cup of tea, I have found that meeting and knowing people like her allows me to be more open-minded myself, and look at the world from new and unfamiliar perspectives.  That has made me better at making friends, coming up with new ideas, and surviving in a world so different from mine.

I also like Krista Allen because I feel that she’s a survivor and not a quitter.  Again, her career is indirectly the result of a failed marriage, and I’ve never heard her hold her success up as proof that she’s exceptional or better than anybody else.  Like me she’s very candid about her failures, and that authenticity is something I value in everybody.  In fact, I personally believe that an inability to be authentic is the reason so many human relationships fail and conflicts develop.  Moreover, despite her failed relationships, Krista Allen continues to get into them – she doesn’t become cynical and give up on the idea of love and companionship despite thus far failing to really achieve either.  As I’ve said in the past, like me she rolls with it and keeps going, and though this hasn’t brought her ultimate success in relationships as yet, I believe it’s why she’s continues to succeed professionally, thus buying herself time and money to ultimately achieve her goals.  I admire all of these qualities, and I believe that they are a big part of what draws people to her.  Many of her podcasts are co-hosted by her friends, and many women have taught me that women are generally a lot meaner to other women than they are to men, a sad reality that Allen herself has shared.  I think the fact that she has so many friends of both genders is why she succeeds, and speaks highly of her character.

Bottom line, if you’d told me a week ago that I’d dedicate a whole blog posting to my fandom of Krista Allen, I’d’ve told you that you were crazy.  I’m a film geek with a minor in cinema studies!  I consider myself an intellectual, and I’ve only had one girlfriend (who I didn’t usually get along with) that looked anywhere near as pretty as her!  What could I possibly get from engaging with a person like that?

They say you should never judge a book by its cover, and Krista Allen’s podcast proved that to me.  And besides, it saves me a lot of money on books…

 

 

 

What I Learned About the Weather

Am I really a sour person, or is it the weather? Or am I feeling sick or hungry? It really could be anything.

If I had to pick one reason why I miss California so much, it would unquestionably be the weather.

When I was younger, I took everything at face value.  I assumed that if people were angry at me, it was just because of something I did or said; if I made a mistake, it was because I was a loser who couldn’t make good decisions, and if I felt bad, it was because of some personal character defect.  Since then I’ve come to realize that like everything else, even how we feel is never Black and white like that.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not absolving myself or suggesting that anybody else absolve themselves of their serious mistakes either.   I think that not only is nobody perfect, but oftentimes people legitimately do wrong, sometimes intentionally and sometimes by accident.  Either way though, I believe that whenever we do things that harm ourselves or others we should both endeavor not to repeat them and at the same time really examine our mistakes or our feelings to get at the heart of why we did what we did or feel the way that we felt.  For me, that often means realizing that I’m greatly affected by my diet, the moods of others, and most often, just the weather.

Though I’ve never been formally diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder, I’ve always been aware of how much more poorly I feel in cloudy or cold weather than on sunny days, so much so that I can be in a total depression, then suddenly feel better when the sun comes out from behind the clouds, only to feel bad again as the clouds keep moving, all within a matter of minutes.  In California I felt good most of the time because the sun was usually out, even though one could argue from moment to moment that my situation was objectively worse than it was on a given more overcast day.  In cloudy weather I feel tired, scared, and lonely, but I’ve learned to identify this quickly so that it doesn’t affect what I do next.  Because my track record for behaving well in weather I didn’t like has been embarrassing at best, and downright harmful to me at its worst.

I wish I’d known this back when my illness was at its most active.

It’s crazy to me how my views have changed since they’ve cut back my medication.  Indeed I’ve spent much of my life calling myself a loser because of the big mistakes that have cost me jobs and friends in the past, only to realize now that without the influence of hard prescription drugs, I have so much more control over my moods and impulses, and would likely have handled things better if I wasn’t on them then.  I’m not nearly as quick to anger, and my moods can stay in one gear for longer, rather than the slightest inconvenience setting me off or as an ex put it, “you’ve stubbed your toe and now you’re mad at the whole world.”

I have learned that this is true of other aspects of diet too.  My mother noticed early on that my father can’t think or do anything when he’s hungry, and while I don’t drink coffee, I really am bouncing off walls when I have too much sugar.  When people would say things like this to me when I was growing up, I always assumed that was just what people said, but now that I’m conscious of how differently I feel when I’m not on my old meds, or not hungry or tired or anything, I realize how true it is.   If your personality is who you truly “are,” I think “you are what you eat” is an understatement!  Having this new level of awareness has allowed me to account for the things that affect my mood and control the corresponding behavior.  I find that all of this awareness even allows me to control how I deal with others too.

As I said, the narcissist in me has the tendency to assume that if somebody snaps at me, it’s because they either don’t like me personally, or something I did or said was wrong.  While I acknowledge that sometimes that’s true, I think it’s harmful to automatically assume that’s so.  If I’m having a discussion with somebody about something and they snap in response to something I say on the topic, that’s one thing.  Based on what I learned about my father though, if I’m seeing him for the first time in a given day and he’s grouchy with me, what did I do to deserve that?  Unless he gives me a specific reason he’s angry that can be traced back to something I did, doesn’t it make more sense to find out when last he ate?  By that same token, when we all interact with others, I think it helps to think about when, where, and how we came into the interaction if we get an odd response.  If we cut someone off by mistake and they honk, I feel that’s expected, if rude.  If the person just lays on the horn to get me out of their way , am I really the cause of their anger, or are they just a jerk?  But if it’s somebody whose wife is in labor or something, are they really a jerk at that point?

I think there are even more obvious examples too, because somebody can be tired from having fought with another person while being  hungry or sick or having just gotten some bad news.  There is a whole range of human actions and emotions that can combine with each other, and while we have little control over the emotions of others, I’m a firm believer in the idea that we can control how we react to them.  If the weather is lousy, I know that I can’t overly equate my negative feelings with myself or how I feel my life is going because I’m predisposed to view everything poorly in poor weather, and anybody who treats me poorly in that weather may be similarly affected too.  If somebody’s treating me badly, is it because I’ve really done something wrong or is it that I never even met them so what could I have done?  Am I really a sour person, or am I feeling sick or hungry?  It really could be anything.

Bottom line, I’ve come to realize that sometimes it just is the weather.  Knowing what the weather does to me helps me cope with it, and analyzing myself and others in context helps me cope with the world too.  For me that’s growth, a growth I might’ve been able to make without California, but then again, it could be any number of other things about California too…!

sad girl looking out the window

 

What I Learned About Accepting It

This week was the one year anniversary of Donald Trump’s election, so NPR affiliate KCRW in Los Angeles did a call-in retrospective of the spectrum of reactions people had to the election and to Trump’s Presidency thus far.  Most of the callers recounted their feelings of shock, sadness, disappointment and so on, but I just rolled my eyes, remembering that I feared he could actually win all throughout the campaign season.  How did I know?  For me it wasn’t hard to tell if you knew the state of the country as I see it.  Heck, I was reminded of that when I joined a live tweet for last weekend’s episode of AMC’s “The Walking Dead:

Though The Walking Dead is on its surface a show about killing zombies, I’m a fan because to me it’s really about human nature, and what people do in situations that are bleak.  The best episodes to me are about character, and the show is so popular that doing its broadcast, fans get on Twitter and “tweet” out their reactions to each episode in real time.  This season the show features what I see as a  moral dilemma, as the survivors of the zombie apocalypse find themselves at war with another group of extremely savage and violent survivors.  As the main characters fight their battles, they find themselves struggling with whether it’s better to kill those who have or tried to kill them in the past, or to show mercy.  I believe that mercy means realizing that when put into a desperate situation, people will do desperate things to survive but are ultimately still people, and thus possible to rehabilitate.  I feel that our civilization itself argues for this, and I see it in our criminal justice system: I think we as a society believe that it’s better to give people a chance than it is to take revenge, hence “innocent until proven guilty,” hence states in the US without a death penalty, hence even our prison industrial complex, unfortunately.  I thought the Walking Dead’s fans were like me, but through the live tweet I realized that to the vast majority of them, it’s just an eye for an eye, kill or be killed, if you kill my dog I will slay your cat, and I believe that kind of thinking is what gave us Donald Trump too.  That’s why I felt the election would go as it did.

If there is one thing I see and hear consistently in all of Trump’s speeches and his supporters words it’s anger.  I feel that many of his supporters are barely-educated lowbrows whose only answer to everything is to hit somebody, like a child might.  To me they seem to value machismo a lot too, which is what I gathered from the bulk of the tweets of the Walking Dead’s fans also. Growing up all over this country has led me to believe that there are a lot of these people like this, so when they encounter a storyline in which there is a clear “bad guy” on the Walking Dead, they understand only one kind of reaction as valid:  Hit him.  Kill him.  So while I’d always believed that because Walking Dead has earned a decent amount of critical acclaim its audience was more sophisticated, the live tweet forced me to  accept the obvious: The Walking Dead is a popular show about killing zombies, so its audience would naturally reflect popular opinion, the same opinions that got us Trump.

In my life I’ve gotten tons of advice that later turned out not to work as intended: be honest.  Be yourself.  Do well in school.  Dreams do come true.  In every case, I had to adjust what I was taught to fit reality as I knew it.  While this has allowed me to survive and even thrive, at the end of the day, I feel that the world is a certain way, and while you can re-frame it to cope, when the rubber meets the road, it is what it is.  We are the culture of the quarterback and the prom queen.  Cheaters prosper all the time.  Bad things happen to good people on a regular basis, and as my therapist taught me, what is “good” anyway?  Most importantly, our culture, the same culture that loves the Walking Dead but doesn’t understand higher forms of morality, voted for and elected the guy that reflected their sensibilities.  Regardless of whether we like it, that’s reality too, and I believe that the sooner we accept that, the sooner we can deal.

I realize how cynical that sounds, but I honestly believe it’s realism, not cynicism.  In the French philosopher Voltaire’s 18th century satire Candide, he muses that in the final analysis, we as individuals have the greatest amount of control over our immediate sphere – our family, our house, our neighborhood; perhaps our town.  I always took that to mean that we do the best we can with anything above and beyond ourselves, but we ultimately are most directly responsible for our own experience of life.  In Candide, awful things happen to the main characters constantly, but they adjust and keep going because that’s really the most that they can possibly do.  This is how I live my life too.  If I can influence somebody who might vote for Trump I do, but I recognize that I might not be able to.  At the same time, Trump moves people so much more than I possibly could, so I feel that I have to prepare to live in the world that I get, regardless of whether it’s going my way.  I feel that what helps me to do that best is to recognize and accept the fundamental truth that we live in a country full of people that love and support Trump, but that not everybody did. and they won the election.  Though The Walking Dead’s live tweet suggests there are a lot of them, the goal of those of us who aren’t should be to come together, “find our tribe” as others have put it, and work toward making the best life – in our immediate sphere – that we possibly can. I feel that at the end of the day, it won’t matter what those who disagree with us are doing.  They can kill all of the innocent people they want, we will stop them if we have to, and not do the same because we believe that’s what’s best for us.  As long as we acknowledge that they exist but decide and live by what’s right for us, I believe that we truly can all get along.  Denying what’s so however, or abdicating our ability to make things better for ourselves seems to me to be just a recipe for misery and conflict, and I refuse to live that way.  Even in a world full of people who would elect Donald Trump.

Donald.Trump As Negan

 

What I Learned About Screenwriting

The classical Hollywood narrative is a clearly defined character with clearly defined goals and objectives, in a film in which everything one sees on screen is about him or her (far more often him than her) achieving or being confounded in achieving those goals and objectives.

When I got to California, I thought I was pretty hot stuff.  I had successfully networked a job that got me a credit on a TV show fresh out of Grad school – my very first job in Southern California!  Prior to that, I’d been published and won tons of writing awards.  I sold a comic book script, and even got published while I was working in Hollywood, something my bosses at the time got a real kick out of.  It felt like I could do no wrong.

When my inner demons from my past caught up to me, I fell hard.  I’m not ready to talk about that yet though.

Instead, I’m going to use this blog entry to talk about something specific I learned while I was there: how to write a screenplay.  Or well… I’m going to skip the specifics about how to write because I figure most people know whether they’re actually good writers.  If you don’t know the basics about writing, period, this blog entry isn’t for you.

If, however, you believe you’re a decent writer and want to try your hand at screenwriting, here’s what I learned about that over my seventeen years in California; hope you find it helpful —

1 – Writer’s block is the fear of writing badly.  I learned this from my first boss in Hollywood, an Emmy-award winning producer and professional television writer.  He felt that most people don’t write or get stuck because they’re afraid they’ll do it wrong.  Once he taught me this, getting started was never a problem again, because I committed to the idea that the first draft of anything I wrote would stink.  I write everything (including this blog) to this day this way – a first draft that’s little more than stream of consciousness; the actual writing occurring in the revising stage.

2 – Just because you’re a good writer (or film geek) doesn’t necessarily mean you will be a good screenwriter.  When I first went out to California, I assumed that because I’m a film geek with a minor in Cinema Studies who graduated with high distinction in English and has forgotten more films and TV shows than most people have ever seen, I would intuitively know how to write a film.  What I discovered is that while I know the parts of a film when I see them and have a general sense of what goes where, generating a film whole cloth from zero is not easy.  I discovered that writing a screenplay of 80-120 pages (the rule of thumb in screenwriting is that a page is approximately a minute of screen time) was far more than I’d ever written of anything, having won awards for writing essays or short stories.  A screenplay is inherently a huge piece of writing, with many moving parts, almost a novel in miniature.  But not really that either, because…

3 – A screenplay must follow the classical Hollywood narrative.  In this respect I had a slight advantage because I knew what that was, but from my experience in California I found that the average person, no matter how talented or brilliant, really wasn’t familiar with it despite watching movies with it their whole lives.  I myself didn’t know until my Cinema Studies professor in college taught me that the classical Hollywood narrative is a clearly defined character with clearly defined goals and objectives, in a film in which everything one sees on screen is about him or her (far more often him than her)  achieving or being confounded in achieving those goals and objectives.  From what a screenwriter friend told me, screenwriting books commonly refer to this as “through line,”  yet most new screenwriters I’ve found think of great scenes, characters, and even worlds, but take those and just start writing.  What I think they need to figure out first is who their protagonist is, what s/he wants, and then start telling their story, which hopefully will lead to those great scenes or take place in those great worlds.  Without the classical Hollywood narrative, I find that screenplays turn out aimless, boring, and often confusing too.

4 – In screenwriting, you get your scenes and your dialogue, and that’s it.  It took me forever to learn this point, which I find odd because I am a published comic book writer.  Nonetheless and going back to point #2, what I found in California is that many screenwriters, myself included, write screenplays like we would write novels or essays, where we explain in parenthetical what characters are thinking or in long action lines why they’re doing what they’re doing.  As a friend pointed out to me though, “how do you shoot that?”

What his question made clear to me was that a screenplay really is just a road map for a director more than anything else.  It instructs them in what to shoot, not necessarily why.  The why needs to come from what the characters do or what they say.  Parentheticals are there to help actors do that, but even then I think they’re best used sparingly, not as a way to direct the film on paper.  Comic book scripts are similar: I learned that a good comic book writer just tells the artist what to draw a picture of in each panel.  For years people would tell me “show, don’t tell,” but I never got what that meant.  Now I understand that it means you write what the director should be showing the audience in the action lines, and tell the actors what to say in the dialogue.  That means no long bricks of text either in action or parenthetical.  Just a sparse description of what the director needs to shoot and how an actor delivers his / her line.

5 – It is easier to edit than to write.  Writing is time-consuming, no matter how fast you type, and I believe that if you think about what you’re going to write as you’re doing it, it gets harder still.  This is one of the reasons why I think most screenwriters use outlines or scene cards – they give you some structure that you can rewrite into your script.  I feel that editing being easier than writing is also what gives many the false sense that they can easily write a screenplay – if you see a film and can think of things that might’ve made it better that’s all well and good, but I think that’s a form of editing, not writing.  I believe that screenwriting, or any kind of writing really – is about taking nothing and making it into something, not just editing what’s already there.  Want to make things easier for yourself?  Remember point #1 and write anything, and then edit it from there.  I find that it’s a lot easier that way.

Had I learned to write screenplays sooner, I might have been able to get further in Hollywood, but realistically, the trick is getting somebody that can do something to help you professionally to actually read your stuff.  Most screenwriters I know say that even getting friends to read your material is hard, let alone somebody with the power to produce it in some way.  Nonetheless screenwriting is a challenge and a skill I find intrinsically rewarding, and my hope is that now that I’m not in California I can get even better at doing it to the point of winning contests and awards once again.  I always regretted that I never did anything with my then-nascent screenwriting ability, and now without the stress of just surviving in California, I hope that I can.  Who knows?  Maybe that will be the skill that ultimately gets me back there.

 

 

What I Learned About Letting It Slide

I believe that we as a society have come to let misogynistic behavior slide, to the point that men don’t even know what the true definition of rape is. And I think that’s asking for trouble.

Of the many stories that have revolted me with respect to super film producer Harvey Weinstein’s long history of sexual harassment, one that bothered me a lot was my favorite NPR show Marketplace’s recounting of how Hollywood talent agencies routinely sent attractive young actresses to meet with Weinstein for years, knowing full well what his reputation was.  The idea that for years my favorite industry in California would treat the young hopefuls arriving in my favorite city trying to be famous (as I did) like lambs ripe for slaughter disgusts me in ways I can’t possibly describe.  One of my favorite things that happened in California though was that I’ve become a bit of a feminist within the last year or two, and in that spirit, anything that harms women always shakes me up.  This one in particular reminds me too much of the way my mother was married off to my boorish oaf of a father in the name of religious and cultural duty.  The talent agents in question were motivated by staying on then well-regarded Weinstein’s good side, so like common pimps, they sent him women and the entertainment industry looked the other way.  Boggles the mind.

Marketplace joins a chorus of people asking how this could happen.  This morning I was reminded of the answer.  Anybody who knows me well knows that I am a huge fan of KTLA in Los Angeles, the news station that had my donor and I on following my kidney transplant so we could help raise money for Lupus LA. When I was earning my paralegal certificate, I became friendly with one of their morning anchors via Twitter, and he even met me when I visited Los Angeles, making me a die-hard KTLA viewer.  KTLA covered the Weinstein story extensively, in no small part I’m sure because it was playing out practically in their back yard.  Yet in spite of all that, KTLA’s notoriously foot-in-mouth weather man Henry DiCarlo decided to drool over Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander’s model fiancee Kate Upton, and as usual, everybody let it slide.

Here’s the thing: do I seriously think Henry DiCarlo is a sleaze and would-be rapist?  No.  What I think however, is that by letting this kind of thing go on, KTLA normalizes “guy talk,” which I believe is a slippery slope to normalizing deviant, and even criminal behavior.  I know he’s not the first, but I’d like to use this entry to explain why I doubt he’ll  be the last at this rate, because I believe we have come to let this kind of misogynistic behavior slide, to the point that men don’t even know what the true definition of rape is.  And I think that’s asking for trouble.

Remember what our President Donald Trump’s explanation for bragging about being able to grab women’s crotches due to his fame was?  He called it “locker room talk.”  I believe that as long as we use “boys will be boys” explanations for what is ultimately abusive behavior, we minimize and start accepting it.  How many times have rapists used “she led me on” as an excuse for having committed the act?  How many times have women internalized and blamed themselves for having been assaulted?  A friend of mine was raped, and told me that afterwards she “never should have said [her attacker] was cute.”  Does calling a man cute warrant violence against her?

As I said, I’m new to feminism, but for those of you still uninitiated, here are some basic rules for guys and others that I’ve learned from mainstream feminists that has served me well thus far:

1 – Never comment on a woman’s appearance unless you have a relationship with her, in which case comment more, and favorably.  This one not only has kept me out or trouble, but has worked surprisingly well in other ways.  I have found that we as men get shaken up, even fearful when we find ourselves sexually attracted to someone, causing us to make conversational flubs, at best making us look stupid, and at worst, creeping the girl out.  I have found however that if I can turn this emotional response into an intellectual one, wracking my brain to find something to talk to the girl in question about that has nothing to do with her appearance, it forces me to listen as well as look.  If she’s wearing a uniform of some kind, I can strike up a conversation about that, or if I like her earrings or some clothing item, I can compliment her on that safely.  If she responds, I have to listen to her response to continue the conversation, and in doing so she might like me back, or I may just realize we have nothing in common or she’s otherwise not worth my time.  Either way, the focus stays on who she is, not what she looks like, and nobody gets hurt.

2 – Sex is only consensual if both parties are actively giving consent.  This is where I feel many people fail in the definition of rape.  If one starts having sex and the other person lets it slide, that’s rape.  If one person changes their mind in the process of intimacy, it’s again rape.  If it’s a quid pro quo situation, where she has sex in exchange for something, that’s rape too.  This means that a “pity screw” (trying to keep it clean here) is also technically rape, as are many scenes in adult films if the girl never actually gives consent.  This also means no implied consent, no “she led me on,” no “she was asking for it – look at the way she’s dressed!”  Women’s appearance does not equal consent.  She has to clearly give it.

3 – She does not know you or the thought process going on in your head.  This I learned from the feminist critic Arthur Chu.  I have found that many socially awkward men pine obsessively about some particular girl, get up the courage to approach her, don’t get the response they want, and then turn into misogynists, because they somehow believe there’s a pattern of injustice and rejection against them.  The thing is, in life people don’t know what’s going on in your head, and the woman who rejects a guy today usually has nothing to do with the other women who’ve failed to accept him in the past.  Treating women according to a process that exists entirely in one’s own head is not only unfair but unrealistic.  If she doesn’t know you, she doesn’t know what you’ve been through, and thus couldn’t even possibly be sympathetic if she normally would, and thus undeserving of your mistreatment.

4 – Violence against women will hurt not just her, but any children a man might have.  I am living proof.  My father’s abuse of my mother left me emotionally stunted, and no matter how hard I try, I often feel like I will never overcome that.  My self-esteem is irrationally low, and my many achievements have thus never made me into the person I feel I should be.  The good news is that it has given me the ability to be self-critical (to a fault, but I’m working on that), something I find that many men lack, and thus can’t deal with all of the above.

5 – “Pick Up” and “Pick Up Artists” don’t have the answers, because they ignore the fact that women have agency.  I will confess, after breaking up with my first serious girlfriend, I tried my hand at being a “Pick Up Artist,” one of those sleazy guys who think they can seduce women, as described in Neil Strauss’s (still) classic semi-autobiographical book The Game.  Pick Up, and its accompanying “Seduction Community” remain popular I think because as one honest pick-up artist put it to me, “guys want sex so badly, but the only thing standing between them and it is the girl.”  As a result, I’ve found that gullible men spend thousands of dollars trying to teach themselves how to say and do all the right things to get women into bed, not realizing that they could do everything exactly as the rules of Pick Up dictate and she could still say no, or do everything incorrectly and still succeed just because the girl likes him.  At best, I believe Pick Up can give men the confidence to talk to more women the way Dumbo‘s “magic feather” convinced him he could fly.  At worst, I fear it could get them close, but in frustration based on #3 (because let’s face it, knowing and using learned and canned techniques is a totally individualistic mental process) turn them into rapists.  As long as women have agency, I have found that there is no “magic bullet” to romance (and if your answer to that is, “that’s just because you failed to get it right,” I’ll add that in my experience, things that require circular justifications – like pyramid schemes – are inherently flawed).  I believe the most Pick Up can do for you is just facilitate your trial-and-error process, and I’ve found that you don’t need a guide to do that.

After Uber’s issues, Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, and now Harvey Weinstein, I think it’s pretty clear that women fed up with being second class citizens in this country are not going to let it slide anymore.  Why should anybody care, besides the obvious?  In the Middle East, people got sick of letting it slide years ago, and gave us the Arab Spring.  For many, that meant a chance to make real and lasting positive change by any means necessary.  For people like Muammar Gaddafi?  Not so much.

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Rules from an actual woman

The psychology of letting it slide