Writing From the Right Side of the Stall

Carefully curated musings (um, okay, rants) about the writing life, horses, bitterness and crushing career disappointment. Fun, right?

Archive for the category “making a living”

Cone of Shame

cubicleSo much to tell you, gentle readers.  So little time and energy available to do so.  So, short version.  Possibly to be expanded on at some future (relatively soon) date.  

I’m employed.

I know, right?  Like, real employment.  The kind with a T4 (that’s the standard tax form reporting your yearly income, non-Canuck visitors).  Can’t remember the last time I had a T4.

After eight years (ish … if I’m honest, it was probably more) of marginal employment of various kinds, strangely and suddenly I’m in demand.  A bit, anyway.

What I’m doing is teaching, at the college level.  I’ve been given the title of professor (which no doubt my father the Ph.D. finds insulting, but just go with it, Dad, cuz tenure isn’t a thing anymore).  It’s a two-year diploma program run under the auspices of the great and terrible machine that is the University of Guelph.  Though it’s actually in tiny Clinton, which teeters on the edge of the Ontario map somewhere near the Lake Huron shore.  We’re a subset of the subset of Ridgetown College (the old Ontario Agricultural College, down relatively close to my ancestral stomping grounds of Essex County), which is itself a subset of the University.  Not at all confusing.  Nuh-uh.

Anyway, it’s weird and wonderful to realize that I know when I’m going to get paid.  Andflabbergasted-cat-270x300 also to realize that, as a result of that, I can for the first time in years indulge myself in one or two tiny things that I’ve been putting off buying pretty much forever.  Nothing big — just stuff like a pot of Clinique moisturizer for my increasingly crinkly face.  A new external hard drive (two terrabytes and it’s smaller than my phone … whoa).  A couple of CDs that have been on my Amazon wish list (it’s a live link, feel free to indulge me) since Stephen Harper was in office.  A second Kiva loan, and a donation to a friend who did the Toronto Walk to Conquer CancerGawd it feels decadent.  But given that it’s still gonna be six or seven decades (conservatively) before I dig myself out financially, I am not exactly getting unhinged.   It’s just nice to have slightly less complex knots coiling in my digestive tract whenever I click on my bank balance.  

So this post isn’t really about that.  Instead, it’s about the other job opportunity that came up almost at the same time that I was interviewing for the U of Guelph gig.

The posting was for a gubbermint job — federal, thankfully, rather than provincial.  (Given that Ontario has inexplicably elected a noxious, tantruming Trump wannabe as Premier, ain’t nobody feeling terribly secure in provincial positions these days.)  A small equine research farm affiliated with the Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency was looking for a ‘farm operations manager’.  Could I look after 12 retired Standardbreds who occasionally have to give a blood or a urine sample, and could I do it for $30-$35 an hour?  Why, yes, I believe I could manage that, especially given my fabulous experience as a Test Inspector (I Stare At Dicks).  The job didn’t even require competence in French (unusual for any government position).  I mean, sign me the fuck up, right?

Now, I rarely expect to actually get called in for interviews anymore.  Suffice to say I have learned to keep my expectations subterranean.  But of course no sooner had I accepted the Guelph position, than I got contacted about the farm manager position, too.

Except that the invitation to interview read rather more like a summons to a parole hearing.  I mean, I expect federal communications to be a smidge on the officious side, but fuck me.  I thought at first I must be misinterpreting it, but I sent a copy to a couple of friends and they both thought the tone was a bit NQR too.  So, not just me then.

Here it is, verbatim:

Selection process number: AGR18J-016947-000353

Position title:                          Farm Operations Manager
Group, sub-group and level: GL-MAN-10

 

Dear Karen Briggs:

I am pleased to inform you that your application has been assessed and that you are invited to an interview on:

        Date:                  July xx, 2018
        Interview time:    TBA upon confirmation

        Location:            Jerseyville, Ontario 
        Language of Assessment:  English

*It is your responsibility to confirm your availability.  You must reply to this email by July xx, 2018 to confirm participation.  All travel expenses will be your responsibility.

 The interview is designed to assess the following merit criteria: 

  • Ability to supervise
  • Concern for safety
  • Initiative
  • Interactive communication
  • Planning and organizing
  • Problem solving
  • Team Leadership
  • Written communication/Attention to detail

Knowledge of administrative procedures and human resources practices related to the operation of a horse farm.

Knowledge of the general operation and maintenance of farm equipment

Knowledge of the mandate of the Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency’s Equine Drug Control Program.

Please bring the following information: 

1.         Names and telephone numbers of 3 references, indicating what type of reference, i.e. Previous Supervisors, Co-workers, Clients or others) as reference checks will be part of the assessment process. 
2.         The original of the Personnel Screening, Consent and Authorization Form completed (Level required: Reliability Status) (form attached).
3.         Proof of Education and Certification.
4.         Proof of Canadian citizenship.
5.         Your valid Driver’s Licence.

6.  Others (First Aid Certification, if applicable).

hitlerFailure to attend without advance notification and sufficient justification will constitute withdrawal from this appointment process.   Acceptable reasons include:

– Medical reasons with doctor’s certificate; 
– Death in the immediate family;
– Confirmation of pre-approved travel plans;
– Religious reasons.

Should you require accommodation during the assessment, you are strongly encouraged to contact Joyce Adam atJxxx.xxxx@agr.gc.ca (preferred) or by phone at 613-xxx-xxxx as soon as possible.

Should any situations arise on July xx affecting your ability to attend the interview, please inform Cxxxxx.Cxxxxx@canada.ca or phone 905-xxx-xxxx.

Joyce Adam

Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency / Government of Canada
Agence canadienne du pari mutuel / Gouvernement du Canada

I was a bit put off, frankly.  Where were the warm fuzzies?  But I figured maybe that was just the sort of passive-aggressive language that multiple layers of bureaucracy generate, so I decided not to take it personally.  It was probably spit out by an automatic interview-invite-generator bot.  Not having had a death in the family, I went to the interview, basically for shits and giggles since I hadn’t officially started my job with the U of Guelph yet, and because I figured I shouldn’t cut off my nose to spite my face.  

The actual interview was also a little strange, though not as off-putting as the language of my engraved invitation.  There were two real women who asked me questions, and mercifully refrained from trotting out those cliché HR phrases (“Where do you see yourself in five years?  What do you consider your greatest flaw?  Tell us about a poster_Show_CFA_2018.jpgsituation where your boss royally fucked you over and how you handled that?”), for which I was grateful.  I got the nickel tour of the farm — which incidentally is very clandestine, tucked away in a suburb the other side of Hamilton with no signs or indications of any kind that it is a government facility — and then I went back into the city and took myself to see Come From Away (since I was dressed for an interview and all).  Go see it.  It’s good.

They’d told me they weren’t going to make any decisions till mid-October, which I figured was par for the course for the Feds.  No worries.  I had a curriculum to pull out of my ass together and really didn’t give it much more thought.  Until I got the following in my inbox today:

18-AGR-ON-EA-CM-35 (GL-MAN-10) Farm Operations Manager

Inbox x

Harris, Lisa (AAFC/AAC) <xxx.xxxx@canada.ca>

6:06 PM (3 hours ago)
to karen@kxxxxxx.ca, Ryckenboer

Subject

Selection process number:                18-AGR-ON-EA-CM-35
Position title:                                      Farm Operations Manager
Group, sub-group and level:             GL-MAN-10

Dear Ms. Briggs,

Following your interview, we regret to inform you that your application will not be given further consideration as you do not meet the following requirement:

  • Ability to Supervise
  • Attention to Detail
  • Interactive Communication
  • Written Communication
  • Planning and Organizing
  • Problem Solving
  • Team Leadership

Should you require additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me at carol.ryckenboerbarsalou@canada.ca

Yours sincerely,

 

Carol Ryckenboer Barsalou 

Staffing Operations

Corporate Management Branch
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada / Government of Canada
E-mail Address / Tel: 204-259-5564 / TTY: 613-773-2600

Opérations de dotation

Direction générale de la gestion intégrée
Agriculture et Agroalimentaire Canada / Gouvernement du Canada
Adresse de courriel / Tél. : 204-259-5564 / ATS : 613-773-2600

[Message clipped]  amount of stupidity

Well, I could have gotten insulted.  My squeeze certainly was — incensed, actually — when I read it out loud to him.  But honestly, I’m pretty committed to my new teaching responsibilities (read:  I am treading water as fast and creatively as I can), so Ag Canada and the CPMA are not breaking my wee fragile heart here.  I suspect, actually, that someone fired this form letter off without remembering to further personalize it beyond my name at the top, and that they didn’t actually intend to malign basically every job skill I’ve got.  

But I did figure it merited some sort of response.  And since I enjoy a nice bit of fuckery, when aimed towards those who deserve it, this is what I sent:

9:37 PM (0 minutes ago)
to lisa.harris, carol.ryckenboerbarsalou 

Dear Ms. Ryckenboer Barsalou (and, presumably, Ms. Harris),

Thank you for your correspondence.  That is QUITE a list of personal failings, and I appreciate you bringing them to my attention.  I’m particularly embarrassed by my inadequate written communication skills:  six published books and some 5000 published magazine and newspaper articles are, really, too humiliating a total to mention on a curriculum vitae, and obviously indicate that the demands of the position would have had me floundering.  Please accept my gratitude for the narrow escape.

All is not lost, however.  I recently accepted a position as a college professor with the University of Guelph’s diploma program in Equine Care and Management, where I’m confident my multiple deficiencies in communication and leadership will go largely unnoticed.

All the best to your successful candidate.  

Cordially,

Karen Briggs.

 

buttercupI can pretty much guarantee you I will never be considered for another government job.

 

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I Stare At Dicks

Yup.  That’s my new job.anime stare

I do a lot of staring at dicks these days.  Not so much vulvas, because those are covered by tails as a rule until such time as a mare decides to lift said appendage and squat.

I stare at the dicks of geldings and colts, and the general nether regions of fillies and mares, because I am now a Test Inspector (if there were truth in advertising, I’d be more honestly designated a Pee Catcher) at Woodbine racetrack.  And you do need to catch the pee, every time.

Equine body language is something you need to be familiar with, if you’re going to work in the Test Barn.  In particular the very specific body language which says, “I’m about to pee”, but also the body language which might telegraph that you’re about to get kicked or savaged by a horse for whom urinating is the last thing on his mind.  (That has actually happened very rarely thus far, because I am working with Standardbreds, who for the most part are nice horses to work with, and the handlers generally warn me if that’s not the case.  I hear the risk factor with the Thoroughbreds is higher.)

penisesSo, yeah, the staring part is something of a necessity.  It’s not perving, though of course with a topic like this I am going to take every opportunity to insert (sorry) tasteless and juvenile JPGs throughout the text … honestly, I kind of have to, because the Test Barn is a security area, so I can’t actually take pictures of what goes on there.  Or consume beverages.  Or bring in my purse.  I start every shift by taking a breathalyzer test, because the results of the drug testing are quite serious and all of the interested parties would like all the Test Inspectors to be Not Shitfaced, Thanks Very Much.

But let’s back up a bit, and explain the OCD approach to urine.  All three varieties of horse racing (Thoroughbred, Standardbred, Quarter Horse) in Ontario are very tightly controlled when it comes to substance abuse.  It’s never really a level playing field because there are always some chemists out there who stay one step ahead of the folks developing tests for every new noxious brew that someone comes up with to enhance a racehorse’s performance … but the regulations are strict enough, and the penalties for a positive test serious enough, that it discourages the majority of players from trying (or at least that’s the hope).  It’s not just a matter of making wagering fair for the bettors; it’s also a matter of health and welfare for the horses.  The illegal performance-enhancing stuff has the potential to take its toll on the equine athletes who aren’t given a vote as to whether to be under its influence. 

Take EPO (erythropoietin), for example — a drug also rather famously abused by long-distance cyclists in the 1990s (oh, Lance, where have all our heroes gone?) —  which forces the body to massively increase its output of lancered blood cells.  That can have a short-term performance-enhancing effect, but it also turns the blood to sludge, which can have lethal consequences, especially for horses on the diuretic Lasix (furosemide).  It can also backfire into severe anemia since the immune system starts to recognize and destroy EPO-laden blood.  EPO is difficult to detect, and a test for its presence in horses wasn’t developed till around 2004, by which point several sudden deaths were suspected, but never proven, to have been caused by it. Once the test became available, EPO more or less disappeared from the backstretch.  (Though let’s not kid ourselves, it was probably just replaced by something newer and even tougher to detect.)

So the nuts and bolts of the drug testing program at Woodbine are this:  at the conclusion of every race, the winner, and one other horse chosen more-or-less at random by the paddock judges, are sent to the Test Barn, which occupies the far end of the Standardbred paddock to which all the horses ship in each afternoon prior to the start of the evening race card.  There, the horse’s handlers are informed of their rights by friendly people like me.  (There’s a little speech we have to recite.)  If the horse has had Lasix administered before the race (that’s another tightly controlled program, and every horse on Lasix has to be so declared in the racing program so it’s transparent to the bettors), then the vet tech on duty does a three-tube blood draw minutes after the race, in order to verify that the amount of the diuretic in the horse’s system is commensurate with the amount that was officially administered (otherwise, some people would be tempted to top up, to the detriment of the horse).   I act as a witness/helper for the blood draw, recording the horse’s freezemark tattoo from the right side of the neck, putting coded stickers on the blood vials, getting signatures from everyone, and packaging up the total sample to send off to a central lab for testing.

Then the handlers are allowed to finish stripping off harness, bathe their horses, give them water, and walk them cool if they choose.  They can’t leave the Test Barn, however, without providing a sample.  So at some point after horses and handlers go walkies, they enter a stall, under my supervision, and then we let the staring commence.  Along with whistling.  Most racehorses are trained to associate a continuous, repetitive whistle from their handlers horse to peewith camping out to pee (or at least that’s what we hope as we’re standing there looking expectant with our cups and sticks). 

The whistling’s kind of annoying, frankly, and I think the horses largely just roll their eyes at it, but it’s part of the drill.

Some horses oblige almost immediately when they’re provided with bedding in which to take a leak (most horses dislike peeing on a hard surface like the wash rack, because they tend to splash their legs).  Some have to have a roll in the bedding first.  Some fidget and paw.  Some walk in circles.  Some lick the walls.  Some eat the bedding.  Some fall asleep.  The routines vary quite a lot.  But the gist is that they have an hour, from the time they check in, to produce enough urine to fill my little cup half-way.  If that doesn’t happen, then the vet tech gets called back in and another blood draw is done.  These horses are used to being pincushions, so the blood draw isn’t that big a deal, but it does mean that the handler has by that point been stuck with my charming company for a solid hour and would probably like very much either to a) get back to whatever other horses she has to handle that night, or b) load up and go home already.  So peeing is always the preference.  

Catching the pee is, in itself, something of an art form.  A surprising number of horses are shy, and will shut down if you make a big move towards them. So you have to sort of sidle up against their flank and sneak-attack them rather than brandish your stick like a scimitar aimed at their tender bits.  Mares have a talent for flourishing their tails in exactly the right way to totally obscure your view of the pee-stream, while reacting very badly to your touching their tails to get them out of the way.  (Mares, of course, are divas and easily insulted.) The other night I had a gelding who had ‘run down’ on his hind ankles and was basically hamburger.  He clearly thought that squatting was gonna be a bad idea, so he did everything in his power to avoid Assuming The Position while trying valiantly to relieve himself. 

We’re not supposed to editorialize as to the condition or soundness of the horses we’re sampling, but I admit, sometimes it’s hard to keep one’s mouth shut (especially when the handler is royally pissed off at the trainer about it and is looking for someone with whom to commiserate).  One of the more common things we can sorta make the handlers aware of, though, is when we get a urine sample that’s very dark:  that usually means the horse has ‘tied up’ to some degree.  

To cut down on the mystery a bit, each horse hasA veterinarian takes a urine sample during the demonstration of a doping test for horses in a stable in Riesenbeck, Germany, 09 January 2013. The German National Anti-Soping Agency (NADA) and the German Olympic Committee for Equestrian Sport (DOKR) demons a card on file in a big, old-school desktop filing cabinet, describing in intricate hieroglyphics his or her past performance in the pee department.  I’m still learning to decipher the codes from the other Test Inspectors, so sometimes they’re not much help … but they do at least give you an idea of whether the horse is a superstar who’ll whizz up a storm for you within two minutes, or whether it’s gonna be a long fucking night, and whether he prefers shavings or straw, being held or being let loose, Bach or Bartok.  We pull the cards as soon as we hear from the paddock judges which horses are going to be sent our way, and add new apocryphal notations afterwards. 

So once I’ve got a sample, it’s a matter of labeling it, sealing it up (the cups are persnickety and tend to leak so you have to put the lids on just so, and I still struggle with dribbles), stripping off your nitrile gloves, getting a bunch more signatures, and filing the horse’s card.  Everything gets triple-checked, and then checked again at the end of the night before the samples are tucked into their coolers to be overnighted to the lab, and one lucky TI each night has to stay after school to do that.  I suspect that newbies get that duty disproportionately often, based on current evidence, but fair enough, I guess.

So, you know, as jobs go, I’ve done worse.  It’s less hard on the body than shoveling shit, and the evening hours suit my screwed-up circadian rhythms.  I’m still fucking up little details here and there, but as it gets to be more routine my comfort zone is improving.  And it might just tide me over, financially, this winter as my teaching gigs start to dry up (either because my students have no indoor arena, have an indoor but are wimping out anyway, or are buggering off to warmer climes for the duration).  Gawd knows the writing biz isn’t showing any signs of rebounding.  So here I am, pee-catching a couple nights a week.  And it’s okay.

Second Class Citizen, or, Why I Wasn’t at the Royal Winter Fair This Year

citizenSo there’s this big indoor horse show in Toronto every November (for the past 95 years, anyway).  I haven’t been covering it for the past 95 years, obviously, but every year from somewhere around 1989 or 1990, I’ve been there with my media accreditation, providing coverage of the Royal Winter Fair for one (or more) magazine or newspaper or website or another.

That’s a long time to feel like a second class citizen, but every year, this giant, hulking dinosaur that is the culmination of the horse show season manages to find a way to do that to the media faithful which, frankly, bust their asses to drive ticket sales to this monolith.

I think I’ve mentioned before that we swamp-dwelling freelancers don’t expect an avalanche of perks when we attend an event. We’re sure as hell not in it for the swag, and our expectations are exceedingly modest.  I can’t speak for everyone, but in recent years I’ve been attending events like this with the knowledge that I’m more than likely going to lose money on the whole deal, what with assignments having become as common as unicorns farting rainbows, and pay rates plummeting to the level of “exposure” or “we’ll pay you if your article gets shared more than 10000 times”.

We expect — in the case of the Royal Winter Fair, anyway — that we will drive insane distances, several nights in a row, in Toronto rush-hour traffic (second only to Los Angeles on the list of hellish rush-hour scenarios in North America, we’re ever so proud to say), fight tooth and nail for a parking spot, brutalize our feet hiking across kilometres of concrete, get our shins bashed by entitled breeders with double-wide strollers the size of a ’53 Buick Skylark, endure endless line-ups for overpriced food, be harassed by security every time we try to access or leave our designated media seating to line up for the washrooms, and file our stories well past midnight in a room yonks away from the show ring which doesn’t really have any work stations set up to accommodate us (and that’s if some bright spark hasn’t locked the frigging place up while we were getting our quotes in the after-class press conference).

But we at least hope to come away with something worth writing about, and a modicum of respect and appreciation for what we do.

Unfortunately, of all the horse shows I have covered over the past few decades — and there have been a few — I can recall none which treats the media with such utter contempt as does the Royal.  Overall, the show has gotten progressively meaner, cheaper, and less and less welcoming to the public over the past 20-odd years, enough so that most of us who’ve been around that long can wax nostalgic about the good old days, when there used to be comfy couches and (gasp) coffee and snacks in the media centre, when there were tables in the media seating at the show so we could write without having to hunch over laptops on our laps, when there was a media coordinator assigned to assist us in lining up interviews, not obstruct us and treat us as if we were constantly trying to rip off the show.

Of course, those were also the days when there used to be a hella good party going on at the end of most of the show evenings, sometimes with a live band, or at least a pretty good DJ — and since this was the pre-internet age, we generally didn’t have to file on the same night, so we had the luxury of staying for a drink and a dance.  I have partied with some pretty Big Name Riders at the Royal.  A friend of mine once hit Nick Skelton in the eye with a champagne cork.  And I even (ahem) did the Walk of Shame across the lobby of the Harbour Castle Westin early one morning, feeling like a total cliche, after an encounter with a yummy French showjumper.  There, the secret’s out.  (It was many, many years ago, folks …)

Once upon a time, the Royal used to kick off with a media breakfast, wherein we penniless scribes would gather for omelets and mimosas and a little preview of what to expect from the fair that year.  It was all very pleasant and civilized.  These days we can’t even get a cup of coffee … not that I drink the stuff, but sheesh.  (Full disclosure:  I think there might have been a few bottles of water in the media centre, hidden under a table, at one point — be still, my heart.  Not that I was offered any.) 

One of my perpetual pet peeves over the years has been the total lack of regard for the media’s struggles with parking.  There’s an underground parking garage at the Exhibition grounds, which for the duration of the fair has a large designated VIP area which is typically three-quarters empty.  Yet the Powers That Be on the RWF board can’t find it in their parsimonious hearts to offer up half a dozen lousy parking spaces for the media??  I have brought this up on a number of occasions, and have been told every time that it was out of the question.  Instead we fork out $17 (last I was there — it’s probably more now) each night for the privilege of going round and round the outer reaches of the garage, sucking in carbon monoxide and searching in vain for a safe place to leave the truck.  More than once I have ended up missing the class I was supposed to cover.  

ain't nobodyLast year, my fed-up-ness all came to a head.  The previous media coordinator for the horse show, a lovely woman who is a friend of mine and did all she could to accommodate my needs, within the constraints (shackles?) applied by the fair board, was let go under somewhat mysterious circumstances, possibly to do with an excess of honesty … and replaced with a woman who has her own public relations agency and clearly was more interested in advancing her own agenda than the show’s.  We’ve known each other for a couple of decades, at least, and she’s well aware that I freelance for many different outlets.  Yet she re-structured the media accreditation procedures so that, in essence, you had to re-apply for it every evening of the show, with no guarantee that it would be granted, nor that anyone would actually be available to hand it to you when you arrived.  (I spent well over an hour and a half chasing people around the trade fair outside the horse show coliseum on the first night I attended last year, in order to finally secure my pass 40 minutes after the class I was there to cover had concluded.  Fanfuckingtastic.)   In addition to just being a giant pain in the ass, this has the effect of making it very difficult to promise an editor you’re going to be able to deliver anything.

In addition to that, she sent me an email, three days after the show began, to inform me that she had ‘checked’ and that I actually didn’t work for the Chronicle of the Horse, the magazine for which I was writing last year, and that as a result my accreditation had been summarily revoked.

I stared at this email for a while, I admit, before I fired off an indignant reply that said, “Um, you do understand what a FREELANCER does?”  Of course I don’t work for the fucking Chronicle.  I never have.  Frankly, I was absolutely furious:  my entire raison d’etre last year was to find stories the Chronicle thought were worth publishing, and instead of facilitating that, they were playing insulting head games with an established journalist who had been helping get bums in seats for literally decades.  Are. You.  Fucking.  Kidding me??

Eventually they backed down — and at the close of the press conference for the big World Cup class that night, one of the Royal’s minions slunk up to me and asked, semi-apologetically, “We all okay?”  Well, that’s a big honking NO, honey.  We are not.

And here’s the rub:  I didn’t actually find anything last year, in the end, that the Chronicle wanted to publish … because the Royal has become massively irrelevant.  Where once they wanted reports on at least all the major showjumping classes (two Grands Prix, the now-defunct Nations’ Cup and Puissance classes, the Canadian showjumping championship, and various and sundry Table As and Table Cs), the dressage night (once a World Cup qualifier, now nothing more than an invitational demo night for local riders), and the indoor eventing, the interest on the part of American editors has shriveled down to a request for a short (600 words, max) report on just the Wednesday night Grand Prix (which McLain Ward tends to win with frightening frequency) in 2015, and nothing whatsoever on the final night Big Ben Grand Prix or anything else.  In 2016, I was told that the ‘timing wasn’t right’ (the Chronicle is a weekly) but that they would like me to attend and see what sort of feature stories might come out of the fair.  Okay, it was enough of an excuse for me to show up on a couple of nights.

But the thing is:  there really wasn’t much with which to titillate my editor.  I sent her three ideas, and was told: meh, meh, and ‘interesting but we just did something similar to that’.  And that has been more or less the response of all of the other editors, whether Canadian, American, or European, with whom I’ve been in contact over the past couple of years:  the Royal is irrelevant.  

And no wonder, given the choices the fair board continues to make.  For instance, here’s one of the big features of the fair this year:  Goat Yoga.  

FFS.  Really?

Last year, it was bunny jumping.  As in, little courses of verticals and oxers that children (mostly unsuccessfully) tried to persuade their pet rabbits to hop over.  Christ on a cracker.

If there’s something good happening at the Royal, you can pretty much guarantee that the fair board will squash it in favour of something monumentally stupid.  It’s a pattern I’ve observed for over 20 years.  The ‘fair’ portion of the show — you know, the agricultural part, the “once a year, country comes to the city” part, where you give prizes for sheafs of wheat, homemade preserves, butter tarts, and the fanciest Red Island Rock

butter turkey

This is a turkey sculpted from butter.  Pretty much says it all about the Royal.

hen?  Now relegated to a forlorn, far-off corner somewhere near Scarborough, and consisting basically of two misshapen giant pumpkins and an extra-long corn stalk.  The butter sculptures done every year by students from the Ontario College of Art and Design?  Tucked away in a temperature-controlled trailer somewhere beyond the cattle barn where few fear to tread.  They don’t display prize-winning sides of beef or lamb anymore, either — city peeps be squeamish about that sort of thing.  But hey, you can get six fake pashmina scarves for $45 in the trade fair, not to mention an idiotic wooden walking stick with a Psalm burnt into it, (ideal for whacking your fellow pedestrians in the shins) from some insipid, ever-present gang of proselytizing pseudo-Christians.  

Oh, and apple dumplings and potato rosti, which I do legitimately miss.

On the whole, the show is a shadow of its former self.  So much so that the ‘mink and manure’ set doesn’t much bother with the formal wear that used to be de rigueur for the evening classes.  (I think I was one of the only members of the media left who made some effort to observe the ‘black tie’ requirement for the press in the evenings — mostly because it’s a novelty for me to be able to break out the girl clothes and the sparkly heels.  My feet always regretted it acutely, but I do like swishing around in taffeta every now and again.  The few journos from the Toronto dailies who still show up tend to settle for scruffy cords and pilled sweaters.)  

royal people

Royal people.  One of the little joys was always watching for the fashion gaffes … of which there were many.

 

Most telling, however, is the fact that this year, the Royal Winter Fair was scheduled at the same time as the National Horse Show in the US (once held in New York, but moved a few years ago to Lexington, Kentucky).  Back in the day, there was an end-of-season indoor circuit, starting with the International show in Washington, DC, then the National, and culminating with the Royal — and all three had Nations’ Cup classes, which made it attractive for European showjumping teams to fly over and do the three shows.  In 2017, the Royal is such an anachronism that even the American riders (never mind Europeans) don’t care about it enough to schedule around it.  That has to have a serious impact on entries, and not only in the jumper divisions.

The end result is that none of my former markets have any interest in coverage of the

Something about these lumpy pumpkins is stressing this kid out to the point where he/she is undressing ...

Something about these lumpy pumpkins is so profoundly disturbing that children are disrobing.  I don’t profess to understand it.

Royal Winter Fair anymore.  And that makes my attendance there not worth my while, given that (contrary to the belief of the fair’s Powers That Be, which continue to insist I am ripping them off by my mere presence) I stopped having fun at the fair about 15 years ago.  Apart from bargain turn-out halters from the trade fair (which I can now get just as easily on-line, without coughing up $50 in gas, $17 in parking and $27.50 for admission, if I were to pay admission without a press pass), there’s little incentive … and to be treated as dismissively and insultingly as I was last year was the icing on the sagging cake.  

So no thanks to the Royal.  It can circle the drain without me.

 

 

 

 

 

You’re Doing It Wrong

Just for a change … a little rant.

The writing biz has sucked sufficiently lately that I have had to return to giving riding lessons in order to pay my internet bill.  That’s not really what the rant’s about.  I enjoy coaching for the most part, though it’s making it virtually impossible to keep office hours anymore.

The substance of the rant is that, like parenthood, horse ownership ought to have an entrance exam.  With a 75% flunk rate.

People get into horses for all kinds of reasons.  I get that.  I was a horse-crazy kid once myself.  Read all the Black Stallion novels, fantasized about taming a wild Chincoteague pony, imagined I’d be a Triple Crown-winning jockey.  Every cliche in the book.

Thing is, though.  Because my parents weren’t quite as susceptible to my Misty_of_Chincoteague_coverpre-pubescent persuasive powers as I might have preferred, I did what I could.  I read.  Voraciously.  I absorbed everything I could about the science of riding, the art of horsemanship, the nuts and bolts of stable management and health care.  My opportunities to actually ride were fairly limited, but I did everything I could to prepare myself for the day that I could change that.  Including buying halters and leadshanks and brushes and bell boots and every little semi-affordable do-dad I could collect for my future Phar Lap.  I begged for lessons whenever I could get them, and for years I pedaled my bike over a 3 km route at 6 a.m., delivering the Globe And Mail for tuppence a week, so I could put the money towards summer camp — my only opportunity for concentrated horse exposure every summer.

I get that not everyone makes the perfect choice for their first horse, too.  When I fnally became a horse-owner, at age 16, I was not picky.  That Pokey had four hooves and a pulse was more than enough for me.  Size?  Conformation?  Age?  Training?  Soundness?  Suitability?  Mere quibbles.  He was in my price range.

Fortunately, though he was far less broke than the schoolies which pretty much summed up my prior experience, Pokey proved to have a heart of gold, and we managed to progress together in a two-steps-forward, one-step-back kinda way.  If you asked me today, I’d tell you green horse + green rider = trainwreck … but if you get lucky, sometimes it’s just a single car sliding gently into a ditch (no harm, no foul, call CAA and it’s all better) rather than a scene of mass destruction.  I got lucky.  Dear youre-doing-it-wrong_o_1092729little Poke taught me an enormous number of valuable lessons about horsemanship, and prepared me well for the many, many beasties I would ride later.  In that regard, he did the opposite of what my parents were hoping he’d do, which was dissuade me.

But.

I fail to fathom what it is that possesses some people to get into horses.  It’s like they just wake up one morning and go, “Hey, how about I go play with some plutonium?  Cuz that suddenly seems like a great idea.”

Because, you see, they’ve been having fantasies about just how beautiful and majestic and noble and cuddly plutonium is, since they were in utero, and now that they’re grown-ups they can have some plutonium for their very, very own and no-one can tell them not to.

OMFG.

So without consulting anything resembling, say, a nuclear scientist, or even a Wiki entry, off they go, money merrily burning a hole in their pockets, big red sign on their foreheads saying, “I’m a fucking idiot; please take advantage of me and get me killed,” … and believe you me, there are plutonium merchants out there who see these people coming a nuclear mile away and are more than delighted to oblige.

Think I’m exaggerating with the plutonium analogy?  I bet the horsepeople reading this don’t.  Horses weigh an average of 500 kg.  They are a prey species, and they’re stupid.  (I say that with love.)

This is not like picking out a gerbil at the pet store, folks.  And if you select the wrong one … well, this variety of plutonium has a long, long half-life.

The hook-up:  not always a success.

So … common sense might suggest that before you take the plunge on horse ownership, that you might, um, consult an expert.  Get some lessons.  Figure out what sort of animal might suit your needs, be within your capacity to handle, makes you happy.  Get a clue about some basic safety rules when dealing with a half-tonne juggernaut which tends to freak out first and think later (if at all).  Apply yourself to learning a bit about what you’re getting into.

Or, you know, you could just go out there and drag home the first homicidal quadruped you stumble across with a price tag on its halter.  Cuz how bad could it be, really?

I know a guy for whom owning a horse — multiple horses, now — is all about the bragging rights.  He sold a cottage and bought himself a horse farm, because basically, he could get all those acres for that price?  Not because he had the first fucking clue what to do with a horse farm.  Except, of course, buy some pretty horses to put on it, even though he had no idea what horses required and no intention of ever finding out, and he was only there on the weekends anyway and wanted to entertain his Rosedale buddies when he was.  He manufactured for himself the excuse that his kids were interested in riding — which of course, they are totally not.

Now he can go to the office and off-handedly toss off his vast sum of knowledge of gaited breeds and what the farrier is costing him — getting all the details laughably wrong, of course (here’s a hint:  there is no such thing as “fourteen five hands high”) — and he’s just smugger than shit about being a Horse Owner.

Then there’s the “rescue” scenario.  As in, I am going to rescue an abused, abandoned critter from a lifetime of neglect and restore its broken spirit (you know you’re in trouble the second you hear one of these well-intentioned whackjobs use the word “spirit”) by pouring oceans of unconditional love and treats at it.

So much virtue it makes your teeth hurt, right?

Given the current state of the economy, it’s only getting worse. People are giving horses away right, left, and centre.  It pushes all the right buttons.  Not only are you getting a bargain, but you’re doing a Good Deed.

I may set a new record here for the number of times I use “OMFG” in a single post.

Here’s the thing. Good intentions are sooooo not enough. If your facilities are unsuitable for the animal, if you don’t have the knowledge to care for the animal (and refuse to leave its care in the hands of paid professionals who do know how), if you’re not going to train the animal to be pleasant to be around, you are doing it no favours.  None.

And you’re gonna get yourself hurt.

I say it frequently to my own horses when they’re being asshats, and I preach it to my students all the time:  a well-mannered horse is a horse with good odds of having a long and contented life.

It’s simple economics.  Horses are expensive to keep.  Those who are a joy to be around, generally continue to be fed, handled, and appreciated.  Rude, ill-mannered, fearful, aggressive, or just plain ignorant and untrained horses are not so pleasant to be around.  And once they hurt someone (because see above: 500 kg, prey, stupid), they have started themselves down the road to the slaughter pipeline.  I’m not going to get into a debate in this post as to whether that’s good or bad, btw — that’s a subject for another day.  All I’m saying is, some of the horses who end up in the pen at the Ontario Livestock Exchange (our local “kill auction”, aka OLEX), are there for a reason.

And of course that’s also where the well-intentioned whackjobs tend to pick them up … having absolutely no idea that they have bitten off far, far more than they can chew.

It puzzles me that even people who readily agree that well-trained dogs are better than untrained ones … and who find sharing a supermarket aisle with a squalling, tantrum-throwing brat an appalling affront … never seem to make the correlation with the horse grammar doingitwrongwho just took a chunk out of an arm and then dragged them out of the washrack and across a gravel parking lot on the end of a nylon leadshank.

At the boarding stable where I kept Pokey, once upon a time, we used to call this No Star No Syndrome … after a fellow boarder who was regularly victimized by her nasty, aggressive mare and whose defense seemed to be tugging feebly at said leadshank and pleading, “No, Star, no!”

I am not saying that horses who’ve been abused, neglected, or otherwise screwed up can’t be rehabbed.  Absolutely they can.  I do it all the time.  So do lots of other people.

Knowledgeable, experienced people.

People who know how to gain a horse’s trust while setting up firm boundaries.  People who know how not to get hurt in the process (not that that is ever guaranteed … but at least when you understand how a horse thinks, what its body language means, what sort of discipline/correction makes sense to a horse, and how to establish yourself as the sympathetic but strict Alpha Mare, you have a fighting chance of coming out unscathed).

What never ceases to amaze me is the capacity of people who’ve been involved with horses for three minutes, to judge the actions of those who’ve been working successfully with them for decades.

Newsflash to the newbies:  there is absolutely nothing new or revolutionary coming out of the mouths of those bullshit-artist ’round pen guys’ you’ve all adopted as gurus.  There’s nothing genius about the idea of training a horse without cruelty.  It’s been done for thousands of years, with patience, good judgement, and a thorough understanding of how horses work (and how they don’t work).  Horses, being herd animals, understand cooperation, and they like to follow the mare in charge.  You start by being that mare.

This does not make you a monster.brenda starr

So when You the Newbie find yourself about to apply a snap judgement based on sweet fuck-all (one of the latest ones I encountered was, “Bits are cruel.  I don’t want to use bits on my horses,” and when I asked on what she’d based that opinion, she replied, “Well, they’re metal and I don’t think they like them,” …), take a moment,  remind yourself that there’s a lot of crap on the internet … then shut your mouth, open your ears, and try to learn from the Alpha Mare.

Haven’t got one?  Get one.  You ain’t it.

(I’m also not saying there aren’t bad professionals out there, people with short tempers and harsh methods.  There are some, no question.  But part of the education process is finding out what is appropriate, and what’s not.)

Don’t:

* assume there’s nothing to it

* think that kisses on the muzzle and handfuls of gummy worms are enough to make your horse’s trust and training issues magically resolve

* try to train a horse without the proper facilities, restraint (a set of cross-ties, people!  Is that so much to ask?), and equipment (and yeah, that might include the ultimate torture instrument, a bit!) because you’ve already dismissed all of those things as harsh, inhumane, and/or unnecessary

* refuse to admit when you’re in way over your head

* resign yourself to living with a horse who is incapable of cooperating for the most routine of procedures, such as having hooves trimmed or getting vaccinated

* further burden the health-care system with the gratuitous and inevitable results of your stubbornness.

This is not a cash grab.  Truth be told, I don’t really want (all that badly) to work with your ill-mannered, misbegotten critter.  I’m getting too old for that shit.  Given my druthers, I’d prefer to spend my days working with my own reasonably well-trained, self-confident, trustworthy, though admittedly quirky horses, than with your piece of work.  But I do take considerable satisfaction in turning bad horses around and making them good ones, and even more in saving clueless newbies from themselves.  (Ideally, of course, by not letting them buy that piece of work in the first place and finding them something actually suited to them.)

The trick is you have to be willing to listen.

(Could shit like the below be part of the problem, btw?)

Just Pay Them, Dammit!

More preaching to the choir (presumably) … Caitlin Kelly’s take on unpaid internships. The title sez it all.

Broadside

By Caitlin Kelly

So, imagine you finally get  a shot at the industry/job/company you’ve been dying to work for forever.

Imagine you have even spent the time, energy and hard work to acquire an MBA.

But, hey, sorry, we would love to have you come work for us, but we just don’t have a budget for interns.

As if.

A court decision made this week, I hope, will strike fear into the greedheads who keep offering work without payment:

A Federal District Court judge in Manhattan ruled on Tuesday that Fox
Searchlight Pictures had violated federal and New York minimum wage laws
by not paying production interns, a case that could upend the long-held
practice of the film industry and other businesses that rely heavily on
unpaid internships.

Should the government get tough to protect unpaid interns, or are internships a win-win?

In the decision, Judge William H. Pauley III…

View original post 504 more words

Professional Development: Welcome to the Dark Side

Somehow I forgot that I was going to regale y’all* with a synopsis of the latest PWAC take-your-writing-on-a-completely-different-tangent seminar.  Last month’s edition focused on public relations writing…. a.k.a. Welcome to the Dark Side.

If you come from a journalistic background, resisting the Dark Side is ingrained. See, while journalism attempts to present all sides of an issue or story without bias, public relations writing is all about putting the most advantageous spin on something.  In other words, anathema to dyed-in-the-wool journos …

But here’s the rub:  the public relations writers of this world are currently making a far more reliable living than those of us who cling irrationally to our principles.  Which has prompted more than a few to examine their, um, moral flexibility.

Truth be told, the two worlds need not be mutually exclusive.  If one can compartmentalize a bit, one can easily crank out magazine articles in journalistic style, and public relations copy as … okay, a well-paid flak.  Different hats, different jobs.

So you burn for all eternity in the ninth circle of hell…. that was probably gonna happen anyway.

And the stupid thing is, in the eyes of Bay Street traders and waste management technicians and day-care workers and teenage lifeguards and producers of reality TV …. public relations pros get a whole lot more respect than the journos do.

So it was with an open mind and a continuing thirst for re-invention that I scribbled down the thoughts of three esteemed PR pros:  Alix Edmiston, Virve Tremblay, and Susan Crossman.  (Here are their bios.)

From Edmiston:  “The future is bright for those who want to embrace change.  PR writing is moving towards digital media and tablet apps, and away from physical products.  And social media is the ultimate game-changer, encouraging companies now to be completely transparent.

“PR writing is about enhancing and/or protecting a company’s image, and often includes crisis management.  A PR person’s skills can make or break an organization in a crisis situation.”

Edmiston said she hates the term “spin”, because PR writers (at least the good ones) function by a code of ethics, just as do journalists.

One good thing about PR writing?  The “content beast”, as Edmiston called it, needs constant feeding.  In all sorts of formats, from white papers to 140 character tweets. “I don’t see that diminishing,” she emphasized.  “When you create a community through social media, you then have to keep that community informed, and that content can’t be generated by machine.  It requires good writers.”

As for finding opportunities?  “Look at corporate websites and discern their needs.  Then figure out how you can fill them.”

She added, “You have to take the objectivity hat off and grasp the company message.  It’s not very different from altering your journalistic style to suit different magazine markets.”

Tremblay identified 14 trends for freelancers.  And you KNOW how I love a list.

Based on research from the Communications Executive Council (an organization I didn’t know existed, which represents several hundred international corporations):

1. Budgets are recovering.

2. Budgets have grown in 2012 vs. 2011.

3. The increase, if you will, is increasing.

4. Communicators (of the PR variety, presumably) are feeling optimistic about the future.  (Um, less so in Europe, where things are still pretty grim, career-wise.  See, it could be worse, I could live in Greece.)

5. In a business-to-business setting, corporations tend to have 1.2 communications staff people per 1000 employees.  In B2C (business-to-consumer) settings, it’s 3.8 communications staff per 1000 employees.  Larger revenue companies tend to have larger communications departments.  Hence, the best opportunities are in large, B2C companies.  Start-ups generally don’t have the budget to hire writers (nor understand their usefulness, though maybe that’s me, editorializing).

6. 25% of money spent on communications is devoted to freelancers, 25% for materials and commercial vehicles (like videos, newsletters, and so forth), and 50% of the budget tends to be spent on in-house staff.  That’s a fair bit of freelance opportunity.

7. Vendor budgets are expected to increase in 2013, with an average expected increase of 12%.

8. Responsibilities for communications professionals over the past five years have shifted dramatically towards social media.  SM can account for up to 80% of a communications pro’s time and energy in 2012, vs. 0% in 2007.  The #2 priority?  Analytics (measuring and monitoring the impact of those SM efforts).

9.  (Still with me?)  Communications departments are becoming less integrated.  There’s a trend towards separating marketing budgets from communications budgets.

10.  There’s an increasing focus on corporate social responsibility, as opposed to companies just making charitable donations to worthy causes.  “Giving for a reason” is the emphasis that needs to be played up.

11.  Companies are devoting more and more of their communications budgets to social media and analytics.

12.  It pays to know what the shifting priorities might be in the industry you’re targeting.  For example, in the health/pharma field, Tremblay said community relations is the #1 priority.

13.  There’s an increased emphasis on employee engagement — ie. getting your staff to “live the brand”.  And some of the advice on how to do that, is best delivered by an outside contractor.  IOW, a freelancer.

14.  Improved partnerships are a priority for almost all businesses.  Again, this is a result of social media:  interactions with clients/customers are now two-way instead of one-way.

Now here’s the kicker:  according to Tremblay, PR agencies can charge anywhere from about $100 an hour, at the lower levels, up to $360 an hour for a consultation from an agency CEO.  Gulp.  “That’s a huge opportunity for freelancers, because many companies would rather go with a freelancer than a big agency with big overhead.  You can charge what the market will bear.”

Crossman broke down PR writing into four sectors:  internal communications, consumer communications, government communications, and crisis control.  And she offered five important lessons for would-be PR peeps.  (Be still my heart, another list!)

1. Not every client is a good fit, and that’s okay.  It’s good to play to your strengths.  But sometimes you have to get outside your comfort zone and take a chance.

2. Be the best version of yourself for every job, every time.  Preserve, protect, and enhance your reputation.

3.  PR writing is not journalism.  There are certain conventions you need to understand, so get some training or find a mentor.  That said, journalists are often well-suited to doing PR writing, because they know what makes a story.  The trick is to understand which facts you emphasize in a PR piece.

4. Acquiring your first clients is about marketing yourself.  Network, network, network.  Be prepared for any conversation, any time — you never know where work might come from.

5.  Your on-line reputation will precede you.  Manage your social media footprint very carefully.  (Read:  don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your mother to see.  Question:  does this blog cross that line?)

And most importantly, don’t forget to ask for the business.  Every time someone connects with you, whether it be through LinkedIn, Twitter, or a Fetish Night party, thank him or her, and mention that if he or she ever needs a writer you’d be glad to help.

“There’s plenty of business out there,” Crossman said.  She suggested that $80 an hour is an average freelance rate for PR writing.  “Break it down for the client so they see real value for money, and place parameters on things like revisions to protect yourself.  Send out a confirmation note or contract, and make sure the client has communicated what they want.”

Some recommended resources from the speakers:  International Association of Business Communicators including PIC (for independents); the Canadian Public Relations Society; marketing webinars from HubSpot; articles from Ragan Communications; and Public Relations for Dummies.

* Canadians never say y’all.  Sorry.  Don’t know what I was thinking.

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This is Why Faith is a Bad Thing …

Back in February of this year, I blogged about a PWAC (Professional Writers Association of Canada), Toronto chapter, seminar I’d attended, about journalistic opportunities in “new media“.

Among the speakers was Wilf Dinnick, who presented to a room full of freelancers in various stages of bewilderment, desperation, and angst about the state of their careers, a strong and irrepressibly optimistic case for embracing markets such as OpenFile, which he founded and edited.

In late September, OpenFile ceased publication.  (If you click the above link, you’ll see the most recent stories were posted September 28, at least as of the moment I posted this.)

And guess what?  A whole bunch of freelancers haven’t been paid, and Wilf has stopped communicating with them.

I wonder if it’s too late to apprentice as a ditch-digger or something.

Here are the gory details, including  the open letter written to OpenFile by six Montreal-based contributors who would really like some answers, please:

http://www.thestoryboard.ca/openfile-freelancers-post-open-letter-to-wilf-dinnick/

http://journomel.com/2012/11/12/freelancers-write-open-letter-to-openfile-for-payment-dinnick-responds/

http://reopenfile.tumblr.com/

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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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