If you’re a creative of any kind, just keep this in mind when times get rough.
I broke up with my first boyfriend on the Fourth of July.
It had been one of those nights that was so idyllic, so strangely perfect, that I now realize it was what teenagers did before smart phones.
On this patriotic eve, we had met a bunch of couples at the local movie theater and convinced an employee-friend to hand over the remaining popcorn for the night. He loaded it into an industrial sized garbage bag and opened a trap door to the roof of the theater. The group of us sat there wrapped in fleece blankets, watching the fireworks and chowing on popped corn. When they were done, we gawked at the stars and chatted about punk rock.
While the other couples were cuddly and sweet that night, my boyfriend was keeping his distance. He kept wandering off to the edge of the roof to talk on his Nokia and kept complaining about being too hot. Clearly, a ploy to stay as far away from me and my T-Rex blanket as possible. And while the scene might have seemed perfect, I knew in my gut he was going to break up with me that night.
As we drove back to my dad’s house, I started weighing the last 6 months of our relationship in my head. There were some sincerely sweet moments. We had taken to listening to a Roswell Radio station at 2 AM and constantly tried to one up the other with obscure conspiracy theory non-fiction. Whether or not I wanted it to be over, he wasn’t in it any more. Deep down, I didn’t want to be with someone who didn’t want to be with me.
By the time we finally sat down on the flannel couch in my dad’s living room, I blurted it out:
“You want to break up. Don’t worry. It’s fine.”
He stared at me completely dumbfounded. After all, I was 17 years old and he was 21. He had been forced only two months earlier to attend my high school prom. I was reversing the roles and breaking it up before he could break my heart. In my memory, he cried, but I honestly don’t remember.
It was easy for my friends to see that I had fallen hard for this guy who looked a lot like Kurt Cobain and had a band named after an antiquated optical device. It’s why I was so deeply embarrassed when he wanted to break up with me. Instead of facing that shame, I took it into my own hands and decided it needed to end another way.
Not even ten minutes later, our friends arrived at the house to play foosball and I couldn’t even pretend like nothing happened to save us all the weirdness. Instead, I announced the break up and told everyone that we were fine and we could still play table soccer. For some reason, he stayed. I can only now imagine how awkward it must have been for all of them, but no one said anything. They just took my lead.
My pride was important to me. My pride is still important to me.
I am still that girl. The girl who seeks the off-beat people at the party, finds joy in the obscure and who feels at home in any movie theater on earth. And I’m still embarrassed when things don’t go my way. The routine repeats itself regularly. Instead of admitting the party or the job or the relationship didn’t work out - I obsessively concoct a narrative that shows I’m not a quitter. I’ve got it under control.
I am honestly starting to wonder why I don’t just allow myself to feel bad when disappointing things happen.
This week, I found out that the documentary short I threw so much of my heart into last year didn’t get into SXSW. A few months ago, that same short didn’t get accepted into Sundance. I will probably find out in the coming weeks and months that it didn’t get into several other festivals too. Maybe I’m not well known enough. Maybe it wasn’t the right fit for their programmers. But the real issue is much simpler: Maybe it’s not good enough. Maybe I’m not good enough.
It really doesn’t matter either way, because whether or not those statements are true, it doesn’t change the fact that I feel utterly gutted.
When it comes to dating, rejection means I go on being me. Sure, I’m no longer so and so’s significant other, but everyone I know still sees me. I am still Liz. But when it comes to creative pursuits, rejection feels like someone wiped down a carnival mirror and showed me the true reflection.
Suddenly, the eyes in my reflection are saying: You aren’t a filmmaker. You are a hack and a clown masquerading as a storyteller. Put the shoes away. You are embarrassing yourself.
I have told exactly three people that our film didn’t get into the festival, so if you are part of the team and this is the first time you are reading this, I am sorry. This is the digital equivalent of us meeting in my dad’s kitchen and acting like it’s no big deal. Except there’s no foosball after this.
In a way, the only thing left for me to do now is the do the thing I did on July 5th a decade ago. Write about it. Listen to Rocky Votolato. Cry a little when no one is watching.
Most importantly, I must remember now what a dear friend told me then: Sometimes the things that feel like the end are actually the start.
I really wanted to fall in love. I tried to make the relationship work. But I’m afraid we’re going to have to break up.
Like every great relationship, it started with a mutual friend. Arthur Doyle had great taste in people, so I immediately trusted him. At first, I was surprised by how many things we had in common. Initially, we shared a willingness to test gender boundaries, a mutual appreciation for the truth and a commitment to friendship. But slowly, things started falling apart.
Will you forgive me if I let the dating analogy go from here? Thanks.
CBS’s Elementary had so much going for it when the show premiered in late 2012. Doyle’s Holmes frequently fooled around with hallucinogenics, so their take on Holmes as a recovering addict seemed like a sensible extension. Reinventing Watson as a woman drew a lot of skepticism before the show aired, but Lucy Liu quickly wowed and shushed critics. The producers also did a commendable job of restraining themselves and only slowly brought extended characters into the storylines. To date, we still don’t know the who, what or why of Moriarty, but we are getting more details by the episode on Irene Adler. This approach has kept me locked in despite my biggest complaint about the show: the writing.
When you get down to it, the story-lines for Elementary are basically CSI: Sherlock Holmes in New York. I would say CSI: Baker Street, but with the move to NYC, you lose even that cache.
Here’s how an Elementary script basically breaks down:
INT. HOLMES LIBRARY - DAY
HOLMES IS READING IN THE LIBRARY. WATSON IS MAKING A SMOOTHIE IN THE KITCHEN.
Are you leaving me yet, Watson?
WATSON: (FROM KITCHEN)
Oh, Holmes, I’ve told you we still have more work to do. You haven’t opened up to me enough.
WATSON OFFERS HOLMES A SHAKE, BUT HE IGNORES HER BECAUSE CAPTAIN GREGSON IS CALLING.
Hello, Gregson. There’s been a murder. Ok. See you there.
CUT TO: EXT. MURDER SCENE - DAY
GREGSON GREETS HOLMES AND WATSON WITH A BRIEFING IN HIS HAND.
We have a murder on our hands. Pretty straight forward, except for this belt, which is identical to a belt retrieved at a murder scene yesterday.
That’s because it is the same. This isn’t just any old murder, Gregson.
This formula can be applied to all of the season 1 episodes so far and it’s truly disappointing. Despite this, (or perhaps due to this) Elementary is one of the most watched new shows of the year. I sincerely hope audiences are watching not because they wanted another CSI remake, but rather because they see potential here.
I assure you this isn’t bitter grapes over BBC vs. CBS, either. Elementary isn’t Sherlock and that’s for the best. CBS has tried to create a modern day Holmes that isn’t derivative of the British Series, while bringing an American perspective to it. I appreciate the idea. They were smart to see the success of the British series and wonder how to make that concept work in the US of A. However, the fact that they have basically shunned all the original stories in favor of crime stories is a real shame. Utilizing the genius of Doyle allows you to adapt his mysteries or pull the best nuggets from canon, while still acknowledging that forensics and the brilliance of modern science would have made Holmes more powerful than ever.
EDIT: A reader has written pointing out that the show is a basic crime procedural and a good one at that. I agree, it’s a procedural and they’re working that format to the best of their ability. The problem with the format is you always know who did it the second the guest cast appears on screen, which seems entirely un-Sherlockian. Just look around: who is the most famous person here? As a viewer who is trying desperately to be a fan of the show, I wish they would push that mold a bit if they are going to stick with it.
For me, it became clear that the show was jumping the shark last week. SPOILER ALERT. I was truly disappointed to see Holmes depicted as a simple-minded, violent person. While he knows how to handle a weapon and he certainly has a good understanding of anatomy, the Holmes I know would never choose physical revenge over the promise of justice. In virtually every story my mind can recall, violence was always used as a means to bring about justice, not a form of it.
Despite all this, there is still plenty of room to make this series really shine. Lucy Liu and Jonny Lee Miller have great chemistry and bring a natural warmth to their roles. In fact, they are the best part.
If CBS takes a step back and reassess, they may have time to solve this mystery.
This happened about a week ago:
I have been trying to figure out how to blog about this without it turning into an angry Hulk rant, but it’s not possible, because I am angry. I work hard. I follow the rules. I network. I even work for free when I need to. All because I’d like to start my own business.
And receiving emails like this - and being offered jobs like this - makes me wonder why.
I’ve signed up for all the professional associations. I’ve met with editors. I’ve started working out my future with a financial planner. I’ve reached out to a variety of former colleagues and friends and offered up my services. Some of this has been fruitful. Some of this has been helpful. But this was the fruit of a series of laborious emails and it’s down right infuriating.
It all started with a posting on MediaBistro. They have a message board for freelancers looking for opportunities and posted a generic link to video opportunities. After weeks of effort, I had finally made contact with a senior member of the responsible unnamed media organization who distributes their video content to a wide range of traditional media and aggregate sites. Our conversations were positive and the team there liked my work - so they offered to send some projects my way. I was delighted. Ongoing commitments are the key to making it as a freelancer in the long run. But then I saw what they were offering.
Safe pool exercises for the elderly (video): $35
So I had to ask… “you want me to identify talent, secure a location, develop a script, travel to the location, shoot, edit and deliver - all for $35?”
When I decided I wanted to be a journalist, I knew I was not going to make a lot of money. My parents, my mentor and my professors all warned me. I had no delusions of making six figures or having a second home in my lifetime. I still don’t. But fuck me if I didn’t think I’d make more per hour as a grown, educated, experienced adult than I did on my newspaper route as a 15 year old girl.
There are organizations out there that pay well. I have worked with and for these people and I appreciate them. But they are shrinking in number and size and it’s threatening the livelihood of writers and creators and storytellers like me. And yet, we are ignoring this as if it’s not indicative of a larger trend in this country. As if it’s a separate “industry specific” issue. And so I present you with an alternative view:
Just as outsourcing has devalued the respect and pay we give to skilled craftsman - the Internet, with its free flowing spigot of content, has devalued the work of skilled journalists and storytellers.
If we are not careful, this disease will spread. For a long time, the “educated” classes have assumed they were safe from outsourcing, because someone else couldn’t do what they do. This is the false truth under which journalists operated while the web flourished. And look what has happened. Right now, there is a writer sitting at his computer (which he paid for) looking through postings on a media site for jobs that pay $5 per post. Or $10 if he is lucky. He probably has a four year degree, a mountain of college debt and a tiny apartment. And he is going to eagerly work away at $5 posts all day - hoping he can crank out two to three per hour so he can make enough to pay his bills.
Is this really the business model we want for our industry?
And more importantly: is this the content we need to be producing?
The content business has long been metric focused. 100,000 page views is better than 1,000 page views. But who is looking? What do they do next? How long are they reading?
We have access to this data and for many writers, we know the answer: write SEO friendly content. Except, I have a hard time believing “SEO friendly” content is the best content. If $5 stories are getting 100,000 page views that’s great for the business paying a menial wage to a professional for those clicks. However, they aren’t seeing the bigger picture: people don’t read these stories. If you are a regular user of the Internet you know these are often the stories you land on and then promptly click away from because they were designed for this exact purpose.
The second option is to go the sponsored content route. I am not opposed to this model, but I worry about it. Advertisers shouldn’t have control over content and too often, this is the slippery slope many creators can’t resist.
Why don’t we care about passion and engagement anymore? I have long said I would rather have 100 passionate, consistent readers than 10,000 occasional, uncommitted readers. Why? Because it makes me a better creator and a better steward of your time. I’m not trying to convince or deceive you through some SEO trick, I’m earnestly working through every sentence trying to win your appreciation and respect.
All of this is indicative of a change in our cultural thought about the value of work. Work is no longer done to provide a wage, support an economy or fill a void in the lives of others WHILE making a profit. Instead, the pursuit of profit has completely skewed our perception to the point that we no longer care about the pursuit of truth or poignancy or professionalism. It seems all we are supposed to care about is clicks.
And so I ask:
How long before a software program replaces engineers?
Look at the Amanda Palmer tour hub-bub. She initially planned to pay her back-up musicians in “beer and hugs” on her crowd-sourced tour of the United States. She raised a million dollars to do so - so you can imagine why people were a little upset that the musicians who made it possible for her to work weren’t being paid for their contributions. But you know what she did? The right thing. She decided to pay the musicians. They are professionals. They have families. They have bills to pay. And they probably got beer and hugs too.
I want beers and hugs sometimes, but I need to be able to support myself. I want to do this job. But if this continues, who will want to work in media? Who will want to consume it? Will the truth ever get out? Will good stories get told?
I don’t know the answer, but Wired’s Daniel Roth called one media site’s approach the equivalent of “Day laborers waiting in front of Home Depot.” I’m not sure I want to work in an industry that treats me this way.
Yes, there are exceptions. But today, I’m talking about the rule. And after writing about it - I’m no longer angry. I’m sad.
You can buy the featured image from the artist - which would be really nice of you. It’s $12 at Est1986.)
I’m participating in NaNoWriMo for the first time. (National Novel Writing Month for the uninitiated.) Are you?
Actually, there’s a twist.
I’m doing NaMeWriMo. National Memoir Writing Month. (P.S. that’s not a thing. I made it up.)
I have long felt my life has been full of bizarre incidents and lessons worthy of chronicling. And I have been told on more than one occasion I have a weird humor about me. I know there are probably 6 people who care about the happenings of my life, but honestly, I need to write it down. Just in case. And so should you.
Here’s some reasons you should stop reading this and go write:
1. It’s therapy. Truly. I have worked through some of the hardest things in my life by getting it out, thinking it through and piecing it together like a story.
2. It’s perspective. The economy sucks, politics are nasty, food is expensive - but you know what? The feelings and memories we often choose to put on paper are the ones that matter.
3. It’s bonding. I am choosing to do NaNoWriMo with one of my best friends, but I have always had a habit of sharing my writing with my boyfriend, friends and family. There’s something about your emotions in Times New Roman that can share how you really feel.
Your still here? Did you hear what I said at the beginning of this list? “Here’s some reasons you should stop reading this…” remember?
This week has felt disproportionately long. Maybe it’s because my birthday is coming and I wish I could run away from it. I don’t want to get older, but yet, it’s what humans do. And with no time machine in sight, well, yeah. It’s happening.
I’m celebrating the only way I know how: with copious amounts of ice cream. I’ll let you know how that goes, because there’s a DIY coming that makes sense of this caloric binge-fest, but that will have to wait for the weekend.
Until then, here’s the things that have been making me happy.
I’m not sure how else to explain this… so I’ll let the New York Times do it:
Cosmic Supermom Discovered
"Scientists have found a cosmic supermom. It’s a galaxy that gives births to more stars in a day than ours does in a year. Astronomers used NASA’s Chandra X-Ray telescope to spot this distant gigantic galaxy creating about 740 new stars a year. By comparison, our Milky Way galaxy spawns just about one new star each year."
Yeah, that’s exciting. While everyone else is freaking out about the “supermom” - I’m way more excited about the star babies. SO MANY STAR BABIES. I feel like that was a toy of my 80s childhood, but Google is failing me. Anyone else remember something like this?
Get Out of a Writing Rut
I’m notoriously manic about my writing methods. It’s all binge and purge. (Sorry for the gross analogy, but it’s true.) I write in these psychotic whirls of emotional vomit and then I go through these crazy edits that leave me with very little copy. Then, I get irritated with myself and the inevitable distaste for said habit leads me to skip the keyboard altogether. I needed a boost to get back at it. These 30 tips from crazy great authors really did help.
I just wanted to share this picture of my Lord of the Rings LEGO set with you because those damn shorty legs get me every time. SQUEE.
Hey, did you know I was a tech contributor for Apartment Therapy? Gee, hucks, wow. There’s lots of good stuff to read there, including this:
(Picture via NASA’s Chandra)