Am I a Writer?

I write an awful lot, but unfortunately it’s all redundant non-fiction bullshit about life and admittedly rather benign. If you were to read any of my attempted academic content you would might have a good guffaw over my inability to successfully support a thesis. My college teachers, much like my high school teachers and middle school teachers before them, were vehemently confused over the nonsense I turned in for reports, which would often be rewarded a C at best, and the long musings which poured out of me in opinion essays, which most often received the highest mark, always punctuated with a +.

There is a musicality to language which I adore. I wouldn’t say I’m a great writer – my vocabulary is limited and often used incorrectly – and any content of mine that has been published in print has been thoroughly edited. But of all the things in the world one can do – if I’m inspired, writing comes the most naturally. I wish I could turn my little writing hobby into an actual career. Well, I have turned my little writing hobby into a career – and unfortunately that career required other talents which I do not have – playing well with others, maneuvering my way through corporate politics, maintaining relentless, unbridled enthusiasm for some product which, based on my experience, I will likely long outlive.

I’m angry at myself for not being able to write anything worthwhile. Even a memoir would be impossible – my life is yawn-inducing with the exception of a few non-memoir-length moments of my youth that shall be reserved for a never-to-be-printed appendix. I haven’t done anything special enough to merit a memoir – and the only illness I suffered through as a child put me in the hospital for a week and then I was fine. My own neurosis aren’t tragic enough to be considered art, they’re just cumbersome.

It seems, if I’m going to be a writer – a novelist, a screenwriter, a short story creator, a playwright - well, I need an imagination. You know those people – who you grew up with, who were just constantly inventing stories and ideas? Yea, I wasn’t one of those people. There was a story about a magical peacock I wrote in third grade, I think that might have been my last dose of sheer inspiration to date.

The challenge is I’m not much of a reader either. I’ve tried to get into fiction and I always return to reading the news. I watch a ridiculous amount of television so perhaps that is my calling, but attempting to generate believable dialogue when I barely interact with humans proved futile in my few attempts.

Maybe I just need to do a shit load of drugs.

Who am I kidding? Getting high leaves me sitting indian style on the floor noshing on a bag of avocados. That’s not quite the right writing nudge.

It’s just all those people out there who have managed to write – who love to write – who just fucking write, I am so envious of them. For their wild imaginations. For being able to close their eyes and envision whole new worlds, new people that never existed in real life – you know, the way they speak, move, and their own fears, hopes and dreams.

I have ideas, of course, but they don’t go anywhere. They’re not plots, they’re themes, concepts, visions of future worlds in which my story might live. I haven’t yet imagined one believable character, and I’m too terrified about pissing of people anyone I know to borrow them for inspiration.

So maybe I’m not a writer. Or, maybe I could be one. Some novelists do start out in their 30s. But how to even get started? I should have written that damn 50 Shades of Grey book. I’ve dabbled in erotica, but my erotica has been much less mainstream, even compared to that. And 90% of it was written before I so much had been to second base. So that’s out of the running.

I would love to write strong female characters for film – because they’re sorely needed. But I’m not sure where to begin. I have this one idea for a romcom – it’s actually a cute idea, one that could be quite mainstream, or indie if the jokes are a bit wittier – I’d like to start with that. Still, I just waste away my little free time writing about how I can’t write here versus actually being productive and churning out a few pages a night.

A few days ago I had an interview for a certificate program I’m considering applying to, and they asked me what is one accomplishment I am most proud of over the last 10 years. I had to stop and think because I’m really not proud of ANYTHING I’ve done over the last 10 years. I managed to talk about a few work projects and then the first show I directed, which was now seven years ago. The only thing I will ever feel proud of is my creative work – my completed creative work. Nothing else – I don’t care about my title or how much money I make or save – feels remotely rewarding.

It might be the outcome of narcissistic parenting, but maybe it’s my truth, and I ought to listen to it.

My hope was that my stock from my prior company would be worth enough to free me up to lead a creative life, but instead that turned into a loss. I’ve saved aggressively but it’s not enough. If I were to hit $1M in my 30s I’d be perfectly satisfied working part-time to break even on a monthly basis and allow my savings to compound while I pursue whatever art I find myself actually getting good at. But that $1M is so far off. Even if I were to keep my current job for the years to come, or one like it that pays as well, assuming an average of $50k savings per year, that will take me another 13 or so years.

That’s not horrible – at 44 I could retire and maybe by then I’d actually have something to write about. But I know I can’t mentally maintain work like this for long. I’m falling apart. I see the schizophrenics wandering all day on the streets of San Francisco, babbling to themselves, screaming at the world, and I think to myself — how far away am I from that, really? I often want to just grab a shredded blanket, wrap myself in it, and wander the streets screaming, maybe even sobbing – I think I’d fit in more with them than the people I work with who are far more civil and far less insane.

 

 

Leadership lessons they don’t teach in college…

Being a great leader, no matter if you’re a politician running for office or a manager moving up the corporate ladder, requires one skill that no one will teach you in school. It is a particular art form which there is no course for, even in an MBA curriculum. That skill, the most important of all, is the art of lying.

It’s a matter of semantics, you can say, as the ability to hide the truth or fib or changing the subject is one of the most vital character traits of a leader. It is why many great leaders are sociopaths – lacking empathy helps in business, especially if you have the rare ability to convince others you care. Needless to say, I don’t do this well. As an INFP and enneagram 4 and Johnny Appleseed’s third cousin once removed, I’m partial to full-on truth. Luckily so far I haven’t been faced with anything challenging to keep under wraps. But I’ve seen leaders who I know, and even respect, flawlessly execute weeks without hinting at what is discussed behind closed doors.

Maybe college should offer a course on lying – lessons in leadership: the lost, but secretly never actually lost art of perfidy.

Except colleges already know that the best leaders already intimately know how smile and handshake their way through any looming storm. The less you feel, the better you can lead. Pick your poison regarding your favorite leadership style and you’ll find charisma synonymous with the ability to smooth any cracked surface. It’s a talent which you’re either born with or beaten into you in some way. Most leaders are men because most men are taught to not have emotions from day one. Women are typically expected to be openly emotional and thus, for some, when we enter the workforce the culture of deceit can shock our systems and leave us riding on empty.

Is it possible to be a leader and never tell a lie?

Only if you refuse to accept its definition.

Definition of LIE

intransitive verb
1
:  to make an untrue statement with intent to deceive 
2
:  to create a false or misleading impression

Leaders are liars and liars are leaders. It is quite simple. But not all of us, men or women, are cut out to live a life of caring more about cashflow than people. And in capitalism we create this vicious cycle, this pyramid scheme from top down, with everyone clawing to get up and few ever making it to the tippy-top point where all you can do is lie – to others and yourself – in order to handle any remnants of feelings you once had for the sanctity of human life. It is up to us to perform the roles in the machine that cannot yet be performed by robots, but to think much like a robot, to make all decisions on communication and action based on a clearly calculated call on risk.

Maybe I’m just ravenously dissatisfied with our world today, a sentiment fueled by my marathon Mad Men watching and a general acknowledgement that no matter what firm you’re in, no matter what era, it is a dog eat dog world, and in this world I’m more or less a pescatarian.

More Thoughts on Ambition, Depression, and An Otherwise Ambivalent Life

When I was a child, I was remarkably judgmental. My parents raised me as such. For them, having grown up in households with parents who were not college educated, who were bluecollar workers or clergy, who lived only slightly above the lifestyle afforded by poverty, I understood their hatred of all things they worked so hard to escape. Although my town was quite diverse, as a child I always felt better than many of my peers. My parents created and reinforced this notion. I never felt better in the sense of actually liking myself or better in that I was able to make and maintain friendships, but I was told time and again that there is a large faction of others in the town, and while I was allowed to be friends with those people they were not like us.

To be clear, this was not a racial issue, as my parents looked down upon people of all ethnicities – though, of course others “like us” – Jewish families, typically got a pass. It was horrible, and yet at the time it made sense –  was our shared values of education and working hard to achieve goals, with a general disrespect for cultures that, by stereotype and outcome, didn’t have the same type of lifestyle. It wasn’t their fault, or at least it certainly wasn’t the fault of the children, and yet there was still this sense of sameness and otherness that pervaded our view of our town. It is how I, despite being miserably depressed and empty as a child, was able to find some solace in going shopping with my mother and purchasing hundreds of dollars in Nordstrom Brass Plum shirts and pants and skirts and dresses. It is how I managed to push myself harder to get where I am today, because deep down I was terrified of becoming one of “them.” I could never truly envision myself a starving artist or struggling parent. It wasn’t in the vernacular of my limited foresight. It was the only truth I knew, which now I know to be no more truth than any other dream or goal.

We were never rich, but my mother dreamed of great wealth and my father wasted away his life eating himself fat and working long hours to provide for our family so we could maintain our illusion of happiness in the shape of comparative success. My mother would frequently go on and on about how she wished she had married someone richer, not once considering returning to work herself. That was somewhat normal of a train of thought at the time. My father, meanwhile, earned a rather high salary for his middle management consulting role, and we lived a very comfortable life. My father liked to purchase “nice” things, although I didn’t always agree with his taste. My mother, for the most part, liked to purchase whatever QVC or the Clinique woman happened to be selling her. And I grew up with this painful sense of privilege compiled by the guilt of knowing none of it was deserved. Through each year, that guilt grew stronger. When my mother made an off-putting comment about a friend at school whose parents rented instead of owned, I cringed inside, knowing that criticism was completely unjust, especially against a child who had no choice to whom she was brought into this world.

I do believe that so much of your ambition is tied to how your parents wired you for reward. My reward came from meeting and surpassing expectations of this illusion of our stability and relative superiority. If I wasn’t to be a math genius, I was to be a great painter. I had to be something better than the others. I had to be special to matter to my parents at all. They certainly didn’t appreciate when that special came with a fragmented mind and a hyperactive, mess-creating child who longed so desperately for the attention and approval of others, unless, of course, this need for approval resulted in something they could brag about.

As an adult now, having been through enough sociology classes and life to know that everything that I thought was real as a child is a complete clusterfuck of a post-war generation and immigrant family mentality tossed down through the ages, I want out of this. Out of trying so hard to prove something to someone when no one is even listening anymore. Sure, my mother still shares every thing I post on Facebook as if I had won the freaking Olympics, with pride acceptable for a 12 year old daughter, perhaps, but not a 31 year old. And in my little puddle of psyche so empty and ambivalent I kick myself together trying to find the shape of a person who has some motivation, some drive, some reason to exist beyond merely existing or earning a paycheck. And I can’t find it. I can’t find anything that tastes real anymore, except the incredible and overwhelming love which my alter-ego of a boyfriend – warm, quiet, sensitive, needing no attention or approval – bequeaths to me in ample supply.

But one cannot live on love alone. And I often think if I didn’t have this love right now, I would be so fragile, I’d have nothing to keep me going. Thank god for his kind heart, his deep compassion for all the people of the world and all that is unjust and cruel. I am happy to have a safe place to go, wrapped in his arms, far from the judgmental warfare of my suburban family home.

I don’t want to just set out to help others when I’m not ready for it yet. One can easily do more harm than good. If I fuck up in business it’s terrible for sure but, at least in the communications side of things, a fuck up here or there never killed anyone. But to dedicate my life to helping others, I don’t want to do it for selfish reasons, because that won’t go over well. I need to find something deep within me, something so true, which I can become passionately obsessed with, something which can become my intention for life. It could be motherhood. It could be psychology. It could be design. It could be writing should I ever muster up a plot, realistic dialogue and the tenacity to draft more than eight pages. For someone who writes so much as I do it should be easy, but my stunted empathy has made it quite impossible to dream up others. I’m still trapped deep within myself, this little, weak, shell of a human being who attempts to claw out of her flesh to find her guiding light.

Ambition, Or Lack There Of, Or Partial

In business, there are the hunters, and then there is everyone else. The ambitious play life as a game, moving one piece at a time and never fully being satisfied. The rare few have a greater mission, some intention for greater good or art, but most just enjoy the game itself, and, of course, winning.

My current mass media obsession is Mad Men, the television show, which I’m woefully behind on – all the way back on season three. The lag is due to the fact that I only watch television these days with my boyfriend, outside of the occasional reality trash, and he can’t stand the show. At first, I didn’t understand why he didn’t like Mad Men – it’s well acted, it has a long, drawn out storyline, and plenty of television connoisseurs adore it. But then, as I let myself drift through the slow-moving episodes, it hit me why he can’t stand the show, and why my own engagement has lagged: the show is entirely about ambition, cut-throat, self-absorbed, occasionally sociopathic American ambition. The 1960s were much like present day, although a New York’s advertising agency could be easily replaced by a technology startup. Or maybe any business which blends creatives and sales. It is, at least up until season three, a story of ambition and the American Dream.

I’ve forgotten what my American Dream is – or, quite frankly, I can’t make out if I ever had one. In Mad Men one thing surely that led to its success is that most everyone can relate to someone in the series - perhaps even more than one person. Peggy, the character who worked her way up from secretary to first female copywriter in the agency, who is awkward and an outsider, despite being successful for her gender and age at the time, is the one I can most relate to, in some ways. But her drive far surpasses my own. Maybe if I were a full-time creative I’d be equally ambitious. Maybe if I were born at another time, when writing copy for an ad meant coming up with the best content to fit in a 11×14 print, I could have found some other American Dream to pursue. Today, all I know is I feel entirely lost and ambition-less. I hate myself for it, for lacking that fighting instinct, for wanting to feel something, I don’t know, magical – that poof, here I am, I’ve made it, I’ve found where I’m meant to be. And the jarring, jagged edge of the reality that I’m no where near it, if it actually exists.

Maybe it’s just my millennial tendencies, my Achilles heal, the need to be credited for my work while ensuring that work is uniquely my own. I grew up at a time, in a community, where life was comfortable. Unlike my parents who grew up just on the cusp of poverty, I had everything, and thus sought to be different, to be – not a doctor or lawyer – but something – someone – outstanding and different. But ambition itself never painted itself clearly enough. I spent my life running blind towards a target I could not see or imagine.

I can’t say I’ve wasted my life because my bank account would disagree – but is this it? I should be grateful and thrilled to have the opportunity to thrive, I should shut up and keep my head down and fight to move up the corporate ladder because – that is what I should do. That is what young women in 2015 who were born without a trust fund do. We work and often our careers far outshine those of our significant others. Somehow we procreate and manage to keep a job that pays the bills of increasingly expensive households. We trap ourselves to never be free again, to be tied to the responsibilities of an overpriced life, or we settle for a life that is less comfortable than the one which we grew up in. Or we find a rich husband, perhaps, and likely watch our own Mad Men scenario play out and our marriages fall apart.

Perhaps this is all impossibly dramatic, but I can’t help but constantly returning to this fact that I feel so empty and lost. I have this great job, I am making more than I could have dreamed of 10 years ago, and I continue to save towards my lofty annual networth goals. Yet the only happiness I find in life is waking up cuddled up in my boyfriend’s arms. I imagine us together in some small town, far away from this expensive region, far away from our few friends, and even far away from family, and still there I’d have him, and our walks together and our crazy jokes and my horrible and likely offensive accents and his which are spot on, especially his british, scottish and slightly gay german.

But we do still need money. Of course we do. Life isn’t cheap, even if it can be cheaper. We’ve locked ourselves into another year of our rent, now $2400 a month for our 850 square foot one bedroom, cementing another year of who knows what life will bring, but at least I know where it will bring it. I foresee a summer floating in the pool, unemployed, not by choice, attempting yet again to figure out what it is in this entire world that might fulfill me, or how to shut my needy, whiny, self-absorbed self up long enough to grow up.

While my boyfriend was never ambitious, and doesn’t have an inkling of ambition in his blood, I believe I once was ambitious. I can still relate to the characters on Mad Men, I can taste the excitement of the opportunities ambition paired with a little bit of luck and the right timing can bring. I wonder how different I am from my peers – are they truly happy or they just doing what they fell into, just getting by. I struggle to find motivation purely for pay, which is ridiculous, but I know for me I’d be happier if I had a job which somehow intrinsically motivated me – and perhaps I ought to cool off the aggressive savings for a while. Ambition is useless if it doesn’t fulfill any of one’s needs beyond the basics of survival.

Earlier today I read an essay from the creator of Mad Men who didn’t manage to get his first job in television until he was 30. He received his masters in film from the prestigious USC, but couldn’t get his foot in the door. He eventually obtained a gig for $600 to help make a television pilot funnier, which he did well enough to get offered another job. Even then his script idea for Mad Men was turned down by virtually every television studio. But a few people believed in him enough to give him more work, and eventually AMC took a risk on the project. The point of the essay, which is a collection of stories from “mentors” that I must read, is that few who are successful are willing to share how hard it is to get where they are. Artists are especially ashamed of the “brushstrokes,” so to speak. But it takes time and a heck of a lot of grit to make it.

It’s not the fear of failure that is holding me back. It’s the fear of not living up to my own expectations of myself – as a creator. When you’re not the best shaped cog for a machine it doesn’t hurt quite as much in comparison to building a machine that is missing half of the parts.

Weight and Finances, Keeping Both on Track

As I head towards what will likely be my actual marriage year (2017), I’m fully aware that both poofy white dresses and slim, sleek white dresses accentuate one’s curves – for better or worse. I’m on a mission to actually lose weight and keep it off this time. Yes, I know I’ve said that virtually every year since 1983. Ok, maybe not 1983 because when I was a baby I did not say that. But you get the point.

The last time I was at a healthy weight I was extremely depressed and quite frankly not eating enough calories paired with riding a bike 5 miles a day in hilly terrain to commute to and from work. I didn’t notice the pounds just melting away over a three month period, but melt they did. Somehow my then-typically 155b body slimmed down to 120lbs. I wasn’t toned or anything so I still felt heavy, and to put this into context for those of you who understand women’s clothing my 120lbs was an adult size 8, not like a 2. I’m rather petite, so 120lbs – next time with some muscle and a little less fat – is my ultimate goal for W-day.

Unfortunately, since 2006 and my massive weight loss, I put all the weight back on and then some in the form of further depression and my binge eating habit. It was easy to not eat a lot when I was feeling anti-social and had no car, and no place to really hide my food, living with roommates and not wanting to leave the house other than to go to work and come home. Then I got a car and started to drive to and from work, a work with a vending machine and a crappy cafeteria which I ate at for lunch, often eating unhealthy food. I’d drive to taco bell for a treat and have two tacos and a pepsi. Needless to say, my body is very sensitive to caloric intake and I blew up like a blimp just as fast as I lost the weight.

When I stepped on the scale at a recent doctor’s visit and weighed 180lbs, I knew something I had to change. I only saw that number once before and that was two years ago, when I started to get my act together, and got down to 155lbs, only to drop back into a depression and eat myself back up to 180. It’s really frustrating, because it takes so long to lose weight and it seems it’s so easy to just pack it all back on and then some. And every year one gets older metabolism can slow so that makes weight loss even harder.

I also want to lose weight because I know if/when I have kids, I want to be able to have the energy to run around with them. I definitely can feel myself – my body – getting older. I’m not treating it right. I have to hyper focus on my health as I have on my finances throughout these last 10 years. Perhaps my 20s were really my financial fitness years, my 30s will be my personal fitness ones.

What’s most challenging for me is that I’ve never been the athletic type, but I love to move. I have so much energy in me and sitting at my desk all day just numbs me. I’d love to go to an adult dance class but my social anxiety typically keeps me from it. Or I’m just too busy traveling and it’s a waste of money. I know, excuses, excuses. Mostly I just am too caught up in my depression to get myself to do much of anything. At least I’ve been walking some to and from work – I try to get in 1 to 4 miles of walking a day during the week, and now that it’s spring a longer hike on the weekends with the beau. I also have a gym membership through work which is awesome and I really need to use it more. I just spend so much time commuting that my energy is shot by the time I even think about going to the gym.

I know more than anything being healthy takes long-term dedication. Being healthy is different from being in top shape, and before one can even consider becoming fitness-model worthy, she must spend a heck of a lot of time just getting to basic health. So that’s my first goal. I want to lose 1lb a week and not get off track this time. According to my scale, which I think is too low, I’m at 173lbs now. I’ll be tracking there as by the end of May I want to be at 167lbs. I still can’t believe how I got myself to 155 two years ago and completely messed up the downward trend, but it is what it is. At least my boyfriend hasn’t proposed to me yet. I think he will on our nine year anniversary, which is next month. So that gives me some time to get myself presentable for a wedding. One he officially proposes to me, and once I’m down about 20lbs back to 155, I may splurge on the personal trainer to help with the last 30.