This is the first in (what I hope will become) a series of video blogs about this year’s revitalization of TheWrit.org. In this five minute video, I give a brief overview of the tumultuous history of the site and its vision to be a resource for emerging writers.
(Sidenote: This is my first ever video production project. My biggest complaint is the quality of the audio, and I think I need to go buy an external microphone. Other tips welcome.)
If this is the first time you’ve heard the sad news, I’m very sorry to break it to you. Heath Ledger died.
But if you’re under the age of 35 and are friends with people who connect with each other on the Internet, I’m guessing you knew within five hours of it happening. And when you did, you might have felt a surge of responsibility to let other people know about this handsome young actor’s unexpected death, because wow, that’s crazy, and since Heath Ledger isn’t usually in the spotlight, maybe your friends didn’t hear about it as fast as you did.
And then you probably sat back and watched the rest of the world notice it, too. Maybe you got text messages about it. It probably showed up in your RSS feed reader multiple times. Maybe you went out to get coffee, and ran into a friend at Starbucks, and the first thing out of their mouth was, “Dude, did you hear Heath Ledger died?” Conversations you overheard on the street turned into games of speculation: Closet drug addict. Being famous is a huge amount of pressure. Did a woman break his heart?
I was shaken out of the stupor when a friend of mine stepped up and called bullshit:
Seems like everyone I’ve spoken with, since ~2 pm this afternoon, has felt compelled to mention – within a couple minutes of saying hello – that Heath Ledger is dead. Likewise for the blogsphere, Twitter tweets, SMS flurries, email one-liners, … etc. I don’t want to seem crass or unsympathetic, and I actually fear coming across as such… But… WTF? … Why this buzz around Ledger among the twentysomethings passing through my day? No one seemed to notice that the bizarre chess genius Bobby Fischer is dead, for instance…
NPR’s On the Media took a stab at the question on Sunday, from a press perspective. Noting that with the advent of social media, the rumor mills turn faster than the printing presses these days, the public demand for immediate information is fierce when its interest is piqued. The Associated Press recently started writing pre-emptive obituaries for notoriously self-destructive celebrities like Britney Spears and Amy Winehouse, just so they’d be prepared for the widespread information feeding frenzy if the news of sudden death ever broke.
But Heath Ledger? Heath Ledger wasn’t on their radar for an early death. Heath Ledger caught the press completely off-guard, and so the breaking news was handled by the masses.
And as one of the masses, I raise my glass. We’ll remember you, Heath.
The following things are entertaining the pants off me right now…
- The “Code Monkey” song by Jonathan Coulton – It’s hillarious, it makes me spontaneously headbang and play air guitar, and it’s so true. download the MP3
- OmNomNomNom.com – If you’re not saying ‘Om Nom Nom Nom’ out loud at the same time as looking at these pictures then you’re doing it wrong.
- The Puppy – When was the last time you cleaned your monitor?
Now where did I put those pants…?
Here’s my quote mashup of the interview, for those who don’t have five minutes to watch:”What’s a fundamentalist? A fundamentalist is a person who considers whether a fact is acceptable to their faith before they explore it. As opposed to a curious person, who explores first and then considers whether or not they want to accept the ramifications.”
“What we’re seeing is that fundamentalism has nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with an outlook, regardless of what your religion is.”
“These are the people who still have a 12 flashing on their VCR. They are fearful, they are stuck, they’re not interested.”
“What we’re seeing is about a 5 or 10 or 15-year period where people start finding their voice, and they start realizing that the safest thing they can do feels risky, and the riskiest thing they can do is play it safe.”
“These people are the curious. Curious is the key word. It has nothing to do with income, nothing to do with education. It has to do with a desire to understand, a desire to try, a desire to push whatever envelope you’re interested in. Here’s the reason these people count: not because there’s a lot of them, but because these are the ones who talk to the people who are in stupor. They’re the ones who talk to the masses in the middle, who are stuck. The masses in the middle have brainwashed themselves into thinking it’s safe to do nothing.”
My family sells bridges. Real ones. The kind you drive your car over. This is where I come from.
My dad was an engineer. When he and my mother first got married, he was working at a company that manufactured bridge parts. Several issues with authority later, he struck out to start his own small bridge sales firm (“small” meaning the kind that goes over the sort of river you would swim in). When a town’s bridge needed replacement, my dad showed up to evaluate the situation, give them a quote, oversee the transaction, and take a commission. The company was called Dopp & Dopp Associates.
Meanwhile, my mother started a sister company called Bridge Pro, where she sold parts to large bridges (“large” meaning the kind that goes over the sort of river you would drown in). She was, of course, the only woman in the industry. Combined, my parents dominated the entire east coast in bridge sales.
Major perks: Both of my parents worked from home while I was growing up, and they let me play on their 40 MB hard drive Macintosh Classics. I was installing software when I was three.
Major downsides: Every time we drove by a bridge we had to stop and look at it. Vacations and business trips had little division between them.
Time went on and my dad was diagnosed with a terminal illness. He passed his business to his brother before he died, and Dopp & Dopp is alive and well today. My mother remarried to the man who builds the bridges, so this means my step-father is the owner of a bridge construction company. Having exhausted her interest in bridge work, my mother finally traded in her galvanized steel sampler packs to become a minister.
I was told all my life that I was going to become an engineer and take over the family business. When I refused, they compromised, and said I would go into marketing and take over the family business. I refused this notion, too.
Recently, it dawned on me that I did go into marketing. And some of the work I do is considered engineering. And all of my vacations are business trips.
But the icing on the cake? I was hanging out with Deb Schultz recently — a fellow social media consultant — and she brilliantly summed exactly what we do:
“We’re connectors. We seek out people who are different from us. We’re bridge people.”
I wrote a few weeks ago about The Writ — my baby project that turned into a teenager and ran away from home. It’s had more than few near-death experiences out there in the big scary world, but it has relentlessly refused to die. At the time of this writing, The Writ has been alive for four and a half year and has 5,783 member accounts. People contribute to its workshop and use it to support each others’ writing every day. I haven’t touched the site in two years.
It hasn’t been without leadership, though. Julián Esteban Torres did an exceptional job of organizing an editorial staff, keeping promises, cranking out journal issues, and trudging through a hacked-together half-broken content management system on a mission to do something beautiful.
He and I have been passing the baton back and forth for the life of The Writ. He organizes people and I organize systems. I think our tandem leadership is the reason The Writ has survived. Both of us have invested our time, energy, and personal money into The Writ to the point of burnout more than once, and neither of us has ever made a dime.
The baton is back at my feet now, and I think I’m ready to pick it up again.
I don’t usually write publicly about my projects while they’re in their early stages; critique can kill a dream. But this one’s been already through the firing range and it ain’t dying anytime soon. Moreover, this isn’t about a website; it’s about a community. The only way I can do it justice is by listening and being transparent.
I want the community to have something more stable to stand on. They are a passionate group and they’ve proven they can take care of themselves if they have the tools to do so. I want to open up a line of communication for group discussion, self-organization, and collaborate planning (I’m still trying to figure out the best way to do this). I want to migrate the site to a stable and widely-used open-source CMS so it has a chance at evolving as technology changes. I want to make the website pretty again. I want to add features that put more control in the hands of each individual user. I want to honor the community’s organic growth over the last four and a half years and let whatever passion has fueled that growth to guide this process.
And I think that if the community also wants these things to happen, these things will happen.
I love Seth Godin’s post today on Workaholics:
A workaholic lives on fear. It’s fear that drives him to show up all the time. The best defense, apparently, is a good attendance record.
A new class of jobs (and workers) is creating a different sort of worker, though. This is the person who works out of passion and curiosity, not fear.
The passionate worker doesn’t show up because she’s afraid of getting in trouble, she shows up because it’s a hobby that pays. The passionate worker is busy blogging on vacation… because posting that thought and seeing the feedback it generates is actually more fun than sitting on the beach for another hour. The passionate worker tweaks a site design after dinner because, hey, it’s a lot more fun than watching TV.
I have been trying for years to explain this to friends and family: why I’d rather build a website than read a book or watch TV.
“What do you for fun?”
I’m not gonna say that I always get it right — the balance between work and self-care — but I will say that it’s an absolute gift to be living in a world where I get paid to do what I already do for fun, and where “going to work” and “doing my hobby” are often the exact same thing.
Some people rely entirely on prayer. I find that prayer yields better results when I augment it with social media. Here was my recent cry to the Universe (made through a friends-only social networking website):
“I need to buy a car right now and I don’t know where to start. I haven’t owned a car in three years! I want something reliable that will run forever and gets good gas mileage. I don’t want to spend a lot and I’ve never bought a car without help before. Um… crap!”
The suggestions started rolling in. Honda Civic. Toyota Corolla. Vehix.com. Cars.com. Carfax.com. Kelly Blue Book. Names of trusted mechanics. Tips on finding the right insurance agency. Info about smog checks and DVM registrations. Reminders that rush hour traffic is sometimes slower than Caltrain. Reminders that I don’t have to do anything without help, ever, if I don’t want to.
This sent me in the right direction for research, and I quickly narrowed down my focus to exactly what I wanted: a 2000-2004 manual transmission 4-door Toyota Corolla with power locks/windows and in a dark color, somewhere local. Excellent. That was easy.
But then I scoured the listings and couldn’t find one. Well, that’s not true — I did find one, but it was at a really sketchy-looking small used car dealership with a disturbingly bad website. The car went crashing off my radar when I saw the dealer’s horrible “About Us” photo. Um, no.
[This photo is a direct lift from the website. I did not reduce its quality for dramatic effect.]
I went back to my social networks to tell them my tale of woe, and they agreed that the man behind the desk was not to be trusted. Peanut gallery quotes included: “where’s his computer? this is well into the 21st century; every work desk should have a computer at it,” and “The picture looks like he’s finalizing plans to take over the world… from his computer-less desk. Haha! ‘You’re right, Skeletor, it will be as easy as taking candy from a baby! Mu-hahahaaaa!’ “
Meanwhile, I was decompressing on Twitter, feeling discouraged about the process and getting a lil’ bit silly in my musings. The twitterpaters cheered me up with hedonistic influence and emotional support. I remembered that I was shopping with an army behind me. They had my back.
And then, something magical happened. A friend who had been watching my prayers sent me a link to My Dream Car, being auctioned on eBay Motors from a dealership just south of San Jose. The “Buy Now” price was exactly my budget and exactly the value on Kelly Blue Book. I tried to brush it off as “too far away,” but then another friend offered to drive me there.
Frantically, I asked the Universe for tips on buying from dealers, and it filled my head with suggestions. Then I researched the vehicle history report on Carfax (completely clean) and looked up everything I could find out about the dealership. 400 people on eBay told me they were wonderful to do business with. That’s social media shopping for ya.
I showed up and walked straight to the car. The receptionist quickly tossed me the keys and let me take it for a test drive. It was just as delicious as I hoped it would be. The saleswoman showed up and asked how I was doing. I said, “I like this car. Can I buy it from you?”
She smiled and said, “Yes.”
I get this question a lot. It’s the “hipper” way of asking, “Why do you have your hair like that?” (which I also get a lot), and the masked way of saying, “Your hair confuses me and makes me uncomfortable. Explain yourself.“
I don’t mind talking about my hair. I do mind having to respond to spoken judgment from strangers. Preferred variations of this conversations starter include, “That haircut looks easy to take care of,” “I bet your head is cold,” or (my personal favorite), “I love your hair!“
The other really common one I get is, “You have a really nicely shaped head. I could never have that haircut because my head is too lumpy and dented.” Don’t laugh–this is serious! I get this more often than any other comment, hands down, even from strangers passing me on the street. Sometimes it’s sounds generous and sometimes it sounds like they’re uncomfortably grasping for something to say. Completely depends on the tone of voice.
But back to “So… what’s up with the haircut?” I’ve accumulated quite a few answers to this question over my last two years of relative baldness, and I’d like to share a few of them with you. Most of these are true:
“It’s a great conversation piece.”
“I don’t like hair.”
“I was really angry one day while giving myself a haircut, and I accidentally cut too close to the scalp — so the only way to even it out was to shave it. I wasn’t working in an office at the time, so I figured it didn’t matter much. But then I got so many compliments on it that I just had to keep it.” [note: this is actually how it all started.]
“The shorter my hair is, the more free I feel.”
[dumb look] “What do you mean?”
“It helps people remember me.”
“I like to spend my time and money on things that matter more to me than my hair.”
“Rubbing it brings me good luck.”
“I look terrible with hair.”
“I got tired of people hitting on me.” [note: the haircut does not actually fix this problem]
“It’s a social experiment. I like to see which kinds of people feel the need to comment on it.”
“Ooh, I love this game! I’m a militant nazi skinhead man-hating lesbian buddhist monk with cancer! Now you tell me about your haircut!”
“It shows people I have nothing to hide.”
“Oh I’m from San Francisco.”
“It changes the assumptions people make about me as a consultant in the tech industry. I’m more likely to be seen as brazen and cutting-edge and less likely to be talked down to as a young woman.”
“Oh, thank you for noticing! I paid $300 to have this done by a famous hairdresser in LA. Do you like it?”
“It’s a great haircut. I’d been listening to men brag about it for years. They were absolutely right.”
“Does it make you uncomfortable?”
“Wigs are a hassle.”
“It’s part of my personal brand.”
“I like it.”