Friday, December 12, 2014

Freelancing Profitably

The past few weeks have been all about freelancing. I was fortunate to find a lovely client with whom I have developed a good working relationship.

We tried one project on a trial basis, just finished our third collaboration, and are about to embark on our fourth shortly.

The client expressed some frustration at what I considered relatively easy projects.

Surely enough, while one project went without a hitch, we encountered some surprising hurdles in parts of the first and third project. She did her part. I did mine. However, it was the last part we had no control over that was sinking us (handled by a vendor that shall remain nameless here).

At any rate, the jobs were done and we finished all three projects on schedule. Getting paid is always a sweet moment to relish...

It was not without a few frustrations, mind you.

She sent me an e-mail and thanked me for doing the job she was paying me to do. She added that she was grateful I not only stuck with it but that I did not “bail out” like some previous freelancers. I noted the plural. I was horrified.

The economy, while improving in some sectors, is not so stable that you can find jobs at every turn. The competition, even for freelance jobs that pay a pittance, is stiff! Some might say it is stifling. Furthermore, when you freelance online your client base is international. When you screw up, you literally screw up globally!

I do not understand why anyone would take a job and not see it through. I do not understand abandoning your client because things may suddenly not be as cookie-cutter as you envisioned it starting out.

When a project runs into a problem, find a solution! If that doesn’t work, tell the client what you did and what you’ll do next to fix it.

It is true that your options may be limited in some situations, but you have to try! Nobody is suggesting you work for free, just that you earn what you are being paid for: finish the job!

Bailing out on a project is unprofessional and unethical. It is deplorable customer service. It’s also tacky!

Frankly, I was offended that anyone would have so little regard towards their own responsibilities.  

On the other hand, I appreciate that their lack of business sense landed me a great client!

As for the technical difficulties we encountered, I now know exactly how to handle the problem when (and if) it arises again. I have learned a couple new tricks. It also means that I have focused on the next self-guided skill-enriching activities. More importantly, her words and the experience itself have helped solidify my own work ethic.

A freelancer is nothing without clients. “Bailing out” on your client will start the avalanche of your career crumbling into nothingness. And if you allow this to happen because you couldn’t handle a little heat in the kitchen, you deserve to lose your reputation and your business.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Definition of Insanity

There is a quote that has been repeated countless times in every sitcom for the last 20 years, and attributed on the Internet to Albert Einstein:

The same Internet tells us that Benjamin Franklin said these words...
The Internet also assures us that it was the wit and sage, Mark Twain, who uttered this line first. For the record, Oscar Wilde didn't say it either.

I just saw another use of the line in the ad for a sitcom this week. It made me laugh, because the line is ridiculous.

First, the actual quote is: Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results. Step Two in Twelve-Step Programs such as Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous, it marks the point when Fellows come to believe that "a power greater than [themselves] could restore [them] to sanity."

Second, I am not a mental health professional, but for all the maladies that can affect the human mind, I am certain those words do not appear anywhere within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Seriously, I’d bet you anything!
-Mark Twain

Third, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of a perfectly sensible job search.

This is especially true of freelancing where your part-time job in the effort to find work is submitting dozens of proposals, over and over, in the hopes you can edge out dozens of others doing the same and competing for the same projects.

It is also true of looking for permanent, full time work. Sure, you customize your cover letter and tweak your resume for each job you apply for, but generally, you just do it over and over and over, and keep doing it until you hit the target.

It’s called perseverance and it is a virtue not a sign of weakness (which is the stigma of 'insanity'). More importantly, the patience required to complete a journey to reach a goal is not always going to come with instant gratification. Sometimes it takes what feels like an eternity to some to get the reward we seek.

I think the quote we must rely on is that nothing worthwhile ever comes easy. Believing otherwise is defeatist and I ain’t no quitter, baby!

So I toil and plug away, and know that this is just part of paying your dues before success is finally mine. Hope and patience and perseverance... 

Clarity is the definition of sanity.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Be A Virtual Tourist

There is an article – which will not be linked here because I do not buy its basic premise nor many of the points made in it – that claims that “new experiences are the reason we live.” I find that arrogant for many reasons.

Some might believe that we live to learn (in whatever form life affords us) and in the process of learning we are, we become.

I’ve known many who believe with their very souls that we live to serve others. I am sure we’ve all met at least one person who believes the reason we live is to serve God.

To each her own, I say!

I do agree that one of the things that bring quality to our lives is learning, and new experiences. Of course, access and affordability are serious factors to consider.

One of the most memorable experiences in my life involved traveling. If I had a little cash to spare, I’d take a trip. That day will come after I start working again.  

I miss traveling.

Years ago, you could buy travel books and magazines, or watch PBS National Geographic specials. Later, videos and even travel programming popped up.

These days, the Internet can supplement the desire to roam the earth for those who cannot afford it or be accommodated, or if they are agoraphobic.

I used to do theme weekends – I’d cook a country’s cuisine, play its music, watch a movie or see an episode of a travel show.

Fountain at Square St. Louis, Montreal

Every once in a while, I go to Google maps and I visit some of my favorite cities, some I have been to and others I wish to visit someday. All this is made easier with the Internet (before the technology, it would’ve taken hours of research, kids! And, like, actually going out to get stuff.)

There are sites that offer an immersive virtual visit to places far and wide. Is it anything near as exciting as the real thing? Of course not! But you can learn new things. You can aspire to be there in the future and plan accordingly. The experience is designed simply to expand your horizons within the limits of the technology.

I see the technology as a dream aid – it can populate the imagery that you dream about or it can fuel your passion and your bucket list.

Below are some sites that you might find worth exploring… Feel free to leave other links in the comments, if you wish to share your favorites.

A spectacular virtual experience that covers over 400 miles of 360° of trails at four national parks (some even include ambient sounds and allow you to take and save snapshots of the vistas): Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains, Sequoia, and Yellowstone. This site makes use of street view technology and puts you there. You can explore on your own or watch videos of the mapped trails. I can’t wait for virtual tech to become readily available (are you listening Oculus Rift folks? Hurry up already!) 

Grand Canyon at Sunset

Sequoia National Park at Night

Offers 3D virtual tours with 360° aerial panoramas from across the globe, including the Golden Ring of Russia, icebergs in Greenland, Teotihuacan in Mexico, the Taj Mahal in India, the holy places of Jerusalem in Israel, the Valley of Geysers in Kamchatka, the ancient city of Petra in Jordan, and even a rocket launch!

Aerial view of Paris

Gotta give props to my home state for a new site that lets you explore the Finger Lakes, the Adirondacks, Thousand Islands, the beautiful Hudson Valley, and some spectacular views of Niagara Falls among others.

Stony Brook State Park

You need not stick to the outdoors. You may take virtual tours of colleges, churches, museums, caves! Links for more follow, but I want to finish by saying that you can be happy where you are physically and still find ways to experience new things that do not require running and wandering, uprooting your life every fifteen minutes or living like a nomad. No matter what that article that shall remain unspoken here! 
You can chase your passion, but know that you make your own happiness; you cannot run to or from it. It is within.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Coloring Books for Grown-Ups

Not too long ago, I came into the room and from behind some non-descript news desk an anchor was informing the viewers that, “coloring books for adults are apparently a thing.” There was some smirking and snark, and then they went to commercial.

I glanced over to the old barrister bookcases with the sliding glass doors, and spied a couple of my own coloring books and smiled: Alphonse Mucha posters, Art Nouveau flowers, Celtic knots, stained glass designs, Zeigfeld Follies, and Native American totem poles.

“I’m a trend setter!” I told myself.

Apparently, last month The Huffington Post site from Spain carried an article about the fact that in European markets, coloring books for adults are now best sellers. You can read the article (in English) here.

It essentially explains how these are used as relaxation tools (though they tend to regard it as a marketing ploy), even though Carl Jüng used it in therapy almost 100 years ago. He had his patients create individual mandalas (which he considered to be part of the collective unconscious).

These articles simply followed the trend from France where a publisher has printed coloring books for adults and marketed them for women with the words “art therapy” or “anti-stress” and their sales went up over 200%. For the moment, it seems, they are selling like the proverbial hot cake. Or perhaps like the proverbial anti-depressant, another best seller in France…
“I realised that colouring makes my headaches go away. I concentrate, my breathing slows down and I move into a deep calm,” said Cynthia Riviere, who manages a Facebook group of coloring book fans.
But this is not news for all of us.

To me the biggest question is whether to use crayons or colored pencils. You may use markers but only if the book is printed on a heavy stock – almost poster stock – so that the colors do not bleed through.

The very first time I experienced true fear and stress, I was about 6 and an accident put me in the hospital for weeks. The anxiety in the house with the adults was stifling – details of which no one was going to discuss with a child, but I did notice.

One of my most precious memory of this time was that my Mom bought me these oversized coloring books (one was Puss in Boots, another was The Three Musketeers). I could literally lie on top of it and get lost in the opened book, coloring for hours into a state of pure grace. 

The effect is the same as it was when you were a child. It is escapist and immersive and it allows you to focus on the task directly at hand, clear your mind and relax.

Coloring activates both cerebral hemispheres, according to the Spanish psycologist, Gloria Martínez Ayala
"The action involves both logic, by which we color forms, and creativity, when mixing and matching colors. This incorporates . . . vision and fine motor skills [coordination necessary to make small, precise movements]. The relaxation it provides lowers the activity of the amygdala -- which controls emotion and is affected by stress."  

Some people write in journals, others doodle. It may require a slightly different level of creativity and focus, but the effect is virtually the same. Coloring is perfect for those folks that do not consider themselves particularly “artistic” but still need to de-stress. It’s just a less passive form of meditation, I suppose. It gets you “in the zone” and the rest is sweet, sweet relaxation.

Resources: click on any of the links below to find coloring pages for your enjoyment. Click on any of the images within this post (which include titles from my own collection) for affiliate links to purchase and help me earn a little cash. These are great stocking-stuffers, from the silly to the sublime and I recommend it as a good mental health non-med alternative.

For those of you interested in trying without buying (I love that phrase), I offer a little PDF gift: Sample Coloring Pages.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Exit Stage Left, Uncle Geoffrey.

Scrolling through my timeline on Facebook, a particularly well-read friend had a link to a story that made me very sad. The headline from the BBC was clear and succinct: Bond villain Geoffrey Holder dies.

I was sad because I’ll never see him again. I was sad because I could have tried to see him but did not. That's on me. I have no excuse.

Mostly I was sad because it made me think of Grandma and the fact that she probably would be devastated by the news, except that in her mind he is younger and sprier that he has been in 50 years. Even if they tell her, she is unlikely to retain the information. 

This, of course, is both blessing and source of more sadness and regrets.

The last time I saw him and had him all to myself for a tiny bit was right before my grandmother’s retirement party. We were tucked away in a back room (out of sight), and we were given a lunch of fried fish with collard greens.

The next time I saw him, I was working at Disney, we did not speak but the story still makes me smile. And perhaps some day I’ll tell Aunt Carmen and make her laugh… I repost it in its entirety (from Jun 4, 2007).

It was June 4th and the year was 1999. I was working at Disney Publishing then. It was lunchtime and I’d gone out to pick up some grub.

(It should be noted that my paternal grandmother came to the United States as part of a dance troupe out of Trinidad and grew up with the star of our memory.) I was in line to pay for my chicken salad platter at Au Bon Pain when I heard the voice, that distinctive bass and that delightful accent – he even did the laugh. Then I spotted him: Geoffrey Holder!

But then how hard is it to spot a 6’6” bald black man towering over everything and everyone? Instinctively I called out, “Uncle Geoffrey!” But he did not hear me over the bustle of the lunch crowd. He walked out of the door and into Fifth Avenue.

There is a picture somewhere of me when I was about 3 or 4 months old and I looked like a tiny loaf of barely baked bread, contently looking up at the giant holding me. A study in contrasts and adoration.

I paid for my food and ran out to try to catch up with him, knowing I had the considerable disadvantage of tiny legs that barely reach his thighs. Luckily he is 6’6” – so how hard would it be to spot him in a crowd, right?

It was nice to see him but I was mortified and slightly embarrassed that I lost one of the biggest brothers in New York! When I told my grandmother the story she responded, “Oh, he probably had a meeting at Disney, I think they’re thinking of doing a book…”

Yep! I lost him inside my own building.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Pinterest as a Writing Tool

One of the things I used to love about Michael Crichton – aside from the exciting content of his books – was the back matter where he spoke of his research and the inspiration for each novel. The back matter for Jurassic Park alone looks like the reading list for a Master’s degree in paleontology!

It was a geek dream to read his bibliographic list.

As a writer, there are three exciting highpoints in the process: 1. conceiving of a killer story idea, 2. doing research, and 3. the creative surge that comes with writing. (Alternatively, designing the cover and making your first sale are serious highs of note.)

The Internet makes research so much easier than the Dark Ages prior to the late 20th century. Pinterest adds a whole new dimension to not only the writing experience (in terms of inspiration and research), but in terms of maintaining a virtual relationship with your readers.

You can create boards of research for yourself as you write and then release it for the dedicated fans that may wish to use the resources for book clubs or forums/discussion groups or for the geeks that want to learn more about the subjects that inspired the book.

Would writers be brave enough to open their process to complete transparency? Would they create boards that illustrated their journey with a book (from conception to development and finally to print)? That I cannot answer. 

I'm not sure even I am that brave! But that fear tells me I probably should do it.

I wasn’t very impressed with Pinterest when a friend suggested it in 2011. In fact, I signed up after much prodding to look at something and I left the account untouched for a couple of years. I surrendered to it eventually, though I only have a very small presence in the medium (comparatively).

My very first boards were about one of my lifelong obsessions: shoes and boots.

Despite not being the girliest of girls (I never was), I do maintain two other boards on jewelry and the iconic little black dress. Maybe it’s not girly; it may just be an FIT thing.  

I spent time on Pinterest looking at collections of things I like or find interesting: costume prints, hats, Victorian furniture, Edwardian jewelry, wedding cakes, lighthouses, porcelain, maps, illuminated manuscripts, art deco design… This is relaxing inasmuch as it allows me to look at pretty things and empty my head of worries.

This led to my curating a board on fountain pens.

Finally, the last handful of boards was created as companion pieces to my writing efforts:
Amapola Press – links to books and special offers

Food Goddess blog – links to articles written, the cookbooks, and recipes

Bacon! – created in response to a joke and as a love letter to my International Bacon Posse

Coffee – from recipes, to coffee-inspired art to art made directly from coffee

Gastronomy – the most ambitious of my boards, it curates food-related infographics (a visual virtual resource guide that covers anything from recipes, to equipment, to ingredients and cuisines).

I also keep a secret board called CLARITY that serves as a sort of anti-inspirational resource to remind me to trust my instincts even if it’s a slightly nagging thing that registers as a single tiny mosquito doing fly-bys within earshot.

I am not done creating boards, though I suspect that because I want to limit the amount of time I spend online (or rather I wish to optimize it because I recognize that I do spend a lot of time online), I will never have a hundred boards.

The quality of the boards will probably be higher grade if I keep it at a relative low number, but also I want to curate these collections with care. 

Pinterest offers another way to communicate and should not be taken for granted because it is mostly a visual tool. It's what's at the heart of the pins that offers true heft and depth.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Plot Twist

We’ve just entered the fourth quarter and last stretch of the year. It is not a spoiler to say that this has not been the best year of our lives at the Temple.

The year started with such promise! I was finishing a meaningful internship when I got a call from an agency and placed in a fantastic consulting gig. It was the dream job serving a STEM initiative for women in higher education, and I helped create their online community.

Then I took the job in Sunset Park although it was not quite what I needed or even what I really wanted. This was what had to be done to meet my basic needs, and even that was barely possible—practicing creative accounting to stay afloat isn’t easy but it keeps your brain working overtime.

It wasn’t a horror story by any means. My boss was very nice and my office mate was fun. Also, I loved the idea that I could be home in about 20 minutes. I took the bus to and from work. I also learned a couple of things (which I admit I probably will never use again).

The plan was to find a full time, permanent job while engaged there. The three-week hospital stay interrupted the search, the follow through on that campaign, and the momentum I had going.

Now that the gig in Sunset Park has come to an end I again face uncertain times. And by that I simply mean that because I did not reach my original goal of having secured a permanent position during the summer, now I find myself at a disadvantage and playing catch up, so to speak.

No more foggy mornings at the edge of the cemetery...

This is not necessarily a bad thing. It is exciting to stand at the precipice of another adventure. It is also slightly nerve wreaking because time moves a lot faster when you have limited resources. The pressure grows exponentially as you move forward, but the trick is to learn to use it as fuel rather than let it drag you down.

If it were easy, it wouldn’t be interesting, would it? It’s probably better to have that tiny flame under you to jump start your journey. 

Job searching can take a lot of twists and turns, and it can be especially grueling when you don't have a steady back-up plan. Patience and perseverance are essential survival tools.

Ultimately, despite its ups and downs, there have been some great moments this year. More importantly, there are still a few months left to close out 2014, and it would be irresponsible to call it a day already: this may be the best year yet with a plot twist to end all plot twists!

Don't count me or 2014 out yet, we still have some serious fight in us to make this an exceptional year.