Writing From the Right Side of the Stall

Mucking stalls. Freelance writing. How do they differ? I discuss.

Archive for the month “October, 2012”

A Pox on Positivity

Nothing more irritating than a horoscope that keeps cheerily insisting your ship is going to come in, while you’re busy watching it get smashed into kindling on the rocks.

It’s been one of those weeks, piled on one of those years, piled on one of those lives, and my self-esteem is … well, subterranean, at the moment.

Repeat mantra:  You’re a damn good writer, a good person, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, two wrongs don’t make a right, ceci n’est pas un pipe …

Ahem.

Between deals gone south, creditors leaving surly messages on my voice mail, no cheques in the mail, the continuing indifference of various potential employers to my resume and clips, the self-destructing transmission in my truck, and two days of persistent drizzle (which apparently is now leading up to a hurricane … in Ontario) … well, it’s a wonder it’s taken me this long to post another rant.

And frankly, one of the things that’s been irritating the snot right outta me recently is the suggestion, by a former high-school acquaintance on Facebook, that he didn’t want to be subjected to my “negativity”.

First of all, no-one’s subjected to anything on Facebook.  Don’t like your FB pal’s political views or the way she floods your feed with photos of zombie kittehs?  Click and buh-bye, friend.

Secondly, I’m increasingly vexed by the notion that negativity is somehow like second-hand smoke, that it’s going to ooze into your pores and blacken your lungs and make you smell all icky and eventually give you emphysema.

Frankly, it’s Jesus-wants-you-for-a-sunbeam positivity that I find annoying.  Skittles from heaven and unicorns that shoot rainbows out of their asses?  Saints preserve me, if you’ll pardon the phrase.  It’s especially grating when this form of positivity is practiced with relentless glee, flying in the face of reality, with the intent that to wish good things to rain down from the cosmos is to somehow force the cosmos to cough up same.

I’m sorry, but “thinking positive” does not alter squat.  It isn’t going to attract the blessings of the gods, keep the shit from hitting the proverbial fan, bestow upon you that well-deserved lottery win, or prevent you from catching a cold from one of the pathogen-ridden 30,000 people at the Royal Winter Fair.  It’s just not, and it’s completely pointless and delusional to believe that it will.

It’s the same sort of mindset that has turned “faith” — the irrational belief in something despite all reasonable evidence to the contrary (or the absence of any evidence whatsoever) — into a virtue.  How is that virtuous and not just, well, stupid?

Now I completely agree that no-one likes a whinger, and I do (with varying degrees of success) try not to whinge and moan.  One mantra to which I do subscribe is, “Any morning you wake up and you’re not in Darfur, is a good day.”  I get that things could be infinitely worse, really I do.

But that isn’t going to stop me from pointing out hypocrisies, battling — mostly through humour — the evil humanity wages on behalf of their various imaginary friends in the sky, or commenting on tragedies and misfortunes where I feel I have something to say.  I’m not a troll, but I will admit to being a shit-disturber. And I’m not gonna apologize for any of it, either.

(Required reading:  Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Bright-Sided:  How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America”.  She shoots holes in this whole plague of positivity much better than I can. And Norman Vincent Peale can bite me.)

In fact, a study from the local University of Waterloo, published in Psychological Science and cited in Discover magazine noted, “Repeating positive things about yourself only seems to work for people who already feel good about themselves, and only to a small and trivial extent.  For people who need it the most, positive thinking certainly has a lot of power, but it can be of a detrimental kind.”

So there.

It’s possible my complete abhorrence of “positive thinking” bullshit stems from having been dragged to a couple of multi-level-marketing booster meetings by a former boyfriend who got sucked in and utterly brainwashed.  I imagine I’m not alone in having become allergic to the toxic language the asshat speakers at these things use to manipulate their audience.  What made the ex so gullible, and me, not so much?  Sometimes I think it was purely because I was raised a cynic, by a couple of academics who taught me to question everything.

If that’s the case, I am infinitely grateful and I refuse to apologize for it even more.  I may be scraping by in both career and life, but at least it’s not because I’m funneling all my worldly wealth straight into the pockets of a Machiavellian upline, all the while clinging to the absurd belief that my efforts will pay off big time, someday.

(I may have mentioned my loathing of MLMs before.)

So back to the high-school acquaintance who accused me of ruining his day, or something.  I already knew that our perspectives were vastly different.  Once upon a time, though, we were on the Reach For The Top team together, and I don’t have to tell you what THAT means.

Uh, I do?  Okay, well … remember Trivial Pursuit?  Before it was a board game, it was on local television, and high schools sent teams of hopeless nerds to compete with each other to get points answering the questions.   There was a moderator, and buzzers, and stuff.  And orange pancake makeup.  (Trivia that is probably now a Reach For The Top question:  Alex Trebek was one of the early quizmasters for the show.)

Making the Reach For The Top team generally meant that you were an especially irretrievable hopeless nerd, which I was, so that was fine.  It wasn’t going to do any further damage to my adolescent image.  And it certainly made my father proud.  In fact, I suspect that was the last time he was ever proud of me.  He sat in the audience during our matches, just beaming his head off.  And I was, if I may say so, the most photogenic of the four nerds on our team, but only by virtue of my being the only female and the others being (shudder) teenage boys.

The afore-mentioned acquaintance, however, broke the mold by also being a football jock, who, presumably, got laid a fair bit.  Good on him.  The cheerleaders were clearly willing to overlook the whole Reach team thing.   After high school, off he went into the military, and became a career gun-toting officer, whose perspective on the world is just a smidge to the right of mine.  To each his own, yadda yadda.

It’s interesting that, after he accused me of being “negative” on Facebook, I went back and scanned through the postings on my personal page and discovered that what he’d written was the most negative thing on there.  Sure, I had shared some snippets that were critical of organized religion, or in support of science and rational thought, as I often do.  I’m less and less inclined to observe traditional taboos in that regard; after all these centuries, it’s a topic which needs to be discussed openly and honestly, in my humble opinion.  So I suppose that High School Buddy’s definition of “negative” must include “doesn’t agree with me”.

But really, on the whole, I had been having a fairly upbeat month.

In any event, he became my first official flounce from Facebook.

I’m kind of looking at it as a badge of honour.  And I’m probably not going to wake up in Darfur tomorrow morning, so there’s that, too.

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Methinks She Doth Kvetch Too Much

For those who consider me a whiner … me with my petty and ceaseless kvetching about no longer being able to scratch out a living as a freelance writer … I bring you a link:

The Worst Writing Job Ever

A quick calculation based on the pay rate for this unparalleled opportunity reveals that a 500 word article generated with the requisite superlative research skills and demonstrating “excellent grammar and an engaging voice” will yield a handsome 4.5 cents as recompense.

I need to go have a little lie down.  

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Mistress of None

I read another one of those well-meaning blogs full of advice for writers tonight.

I know, I know … it’s one of those trainwreck things.  Can’t look away.

It asked me (all earnest-like) to re-examine why I started freelancing in the first place.  The object, I guess, being to see whether I’m cranking out magazine minutiae because I desire to make a living (apparently, a bad impulse) or whether I have a “true passion” for the creation of purple prose.  (In a word, eccccch.)

So I’ll confess, at the risk of being poked with soft cushions (“She must be made of harder stuff!”), the shameful truth here.  I started freelancing ….

…because I’d sent out 150 resumes over a three-month period and gotten no responses whatsoever. There it is.  That was the reason, some 17 years ago.  And it’s still pretty much the reason.  I’m getting rather weary of being told I’m supposed to feel a higher calling.  It’s something that plays to my strengths, and yes, I enjoy it, for the most part.  But seriously, the nobility of the craft stuff is a little disingenuous, given that the general public lumps journalists in with ambulance-chasing lawyers as some particularly odious mutant variety of slime mold.

Also, given that the pay scale is somewhere well below ditch-digger and deep-fry-station jockey.

That’s been the main problem (and chief source of my kvetching here) lo these past few years.  Where once I could make a marginal living as a freelance writer, now I seem to be working four times as hard for a quarter of the pay.  The assignments are fewer and farther between, with magazines either going tits-up in a snowbank, or bringing all their content creation in-house as a cost-cutting technique (finding out your editors can’t write?  Priceless).

The pay scales are in tatters, with editors apologetically offering fractions of what they used to pay.

And, of course, waiting for your cheque is pretty much like awaiting the Second Coming.  Any minute now.

So given that the Real Job prospects are slimmer than ever — I am STILL reeling in disbelief that I couldn’t even get an interview from the Ontario Equestrian Federation for a communications coordinator position, so really, what’s the point?? — I have recently had to explore various other income opportunities.

Since spandex and I have something of a conflicted relationship, and my ability to hold my breath underwater is average, at best, I have not availed myself of the mermaid opportunity (see above).  Though I am finding myself in oh-so-flattering breeches (the most expensive pants you can look like hell in) rather more often lately.  I figured I had better make some attempt to resurrect my comatose coaching career.

Yup, I’m an Equine Canada certified coach.  (To be fair, it was called the Canadian Equestrian Federation back when I first gained my little frame-able certificate back in the mid-1980s.  I have no idea where the certificate went.  Maybe my mother has it.  I was the first person from the Windsor, Ontario area to gain CEF coaching certification. Woot, me.)  It’s been hard to concentrate much on coaching the past few years when a) I’ve had to move around a fair bit and rebuild my clientele from scratch each time, b) I’ve gotten rather disenchanted with the all-too-frequent revisions of the national coaching program, which seem to benefit no-one except those collecting the multiplying fees, and c) I’ve also gotten rather disenchanted with standing in a meat-locker-temperature indoor arena in February, getting coated with a quarter-inch of filthy airborne footing while my fingers and toes linger dangerously close to necessitating amputation.

But it’s an additional, if erratic, income source, when I can scare up clients and when the weather cooperates and their horses aren’t lame.  And like freelance writing, it comes with a fair bit of scheduling freedom, and I can cherrypick the clients.

A recent internet ad has yielded a trio of new students, which is a good start, even if winter is hurtling towards all of us intent on putting the kibosh on much of the riding activity.  It has at least meant that I can purchase a couple of bags of feed and shavings.

Also, I used the power of the Interwebz to hang out my shingle as a critter-sitter.  I’ve resisted this one for a while precisely because a good friend of mine is quite successful at it; she’s actually making more babysitting beasties and watering plants, than she was at her former corporate drone job.  I have not wanted to step on her toes, but finally figured if I focused on environs that would be awkwardly distant for her, I could in good conscience give it a go.  One gig thus far, briefly mentioned in my previous post:  I took care of two exceedingly geriatric dogs, aged 13 and 15, for a 10-day stretch, in their owner’s home.  Apart from the difficulties of coaxing them to eat, and the ever-present peril that one or both of the little furbabies might wake up dead in the absence of their habitual humans, it was simple enough, and it came with better TV than I have at home, so … win/win.  Would like to do more of that.

I actually got quite a bit of writing done while I was there, too, though I’m not sure I was really providing all that much companionship while I was at it, since it wasn’t crystal clear that these mostly-deaf, mostly-blind canines had really registered I was not their usual caretaker.

And I’m continuing to muck stalls other than my own, though I did decide that one of my two jobs had to go; it was a combo of too early and too anal.  I’m back to weekends only, apart from right now.  I’m pinch-hitting for eight days while the regular barn manager is cavorting in Cuba, and bloody ‘ell, is it making me feel almost 50.  

Another thing making me feel freakishly close to collecting my Sears Club Senior’s discount card:  being offered riding gigs that force me to contemplate my own mortality.  Never used to do that.  Used to throw a leg over any unruly critter I was paid to ride, but … a recent offer to field-hunt a five-year-old off-the-track Thoroughbred gave me pause, and so did a request to school a four-year-old dressage prospect who is 17:3 hands and “has a bit of a naughty buck in him”.  That is a looooong way to the ground for someone like me who don’t bounce so good anymore.  It’s a demoralizing reality that I have to be more selective than ballsy these days.

But I do need the money, because my truck has chosen this juncture to come up with a diseased transmission.  Maybe I should reconsider the mermaid thing.

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