Neverland

Penelope Peters did not want to grow up. She wore pigtails even as she entered college, an all-girls establishment. After she graduated she sailed to a faraway island where she took care of the Lost Girls.

One day, the evil Madam Hook kidnapped some of the girls and took them to her place of business, the House of the Plunging Sons, where she put the girls to work. Alas, Ms. Peters knew the nature of this demeaning work and enlisted the aid of her helpers, the Angels of Artemis. Armed with harps outfitted with arrows, the Angels raided the house and pulled the Lost Girls right out from under their yucky jobs.

The media of the day splashed the names of the yucky clients across their technology-appropriate-for-the-era outlets. Alas, In a “boys-will-be-boys” moment of hand slapping, the past and future history of these events would be repeated.

Ms. Peters and her Lost Girls were safe for only a short while until the prequels and sequels found Madam Hook reprising her evil ways in a Neverland where children grow up far too quickly.

 

Adolescence. Again.

“. . . I’m the bear standing in the woods with a bullseye on his chest . . .”

My late sixties present me with the most ridiculous angst I’ve felt since I was sixteen. I am no longer a child of forty, and I am not an adult of eighty. Thus, I am an “adolescent” again. Why does it come up now? It dawned on me (after my 50th—there, I said it—high school reunion, for God’s sake) that at this age, we are older, but we are fighting oldness. Gray hair is dyed, colored, and maybe highlighted; straightened and softened to disguise the crinkly, wiry, dry mass that passes for hair. Why don’t I have the soft, pretty kind like my mom did? Dunno. I’m sure it’s because my hair, an enemy of over six decades, does this because it has its own devious mind. My hair knows exactly what irks me.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI have a target on my forehead. I feel like I’m the bear standing in the woods with a bullseye on his chest if you’ve ever seen that cartoon. It’s the target for anti-aging marketers to spot me from 10,000 feet. They don’t need for me to wear the target, though. It’s written in the sneaky wrinkles around my eyes and mouth, and the other ill-mannered houseguests with stupid sunglasses that appeared on my neck and cheeks one day when I wasn’t paying attention. They didn’t have the courtesy to leave.

So, it’s not just the cosmetics products folks; it’s also the dermatologists and estheticians that swear their methods for finding the fountain of youth surpass the others’. For all the Botox treatments, eyelifts, ear-lifts (yes, they have those), and nose jobs, there are face creams and treatments to use between or instead of the unnerving, daunting “cures.” (I would share my chemical peel photos with you, but you’d probably run screaming for the Halloween bar. Yes, I had one. Why? Because I’m still in my adolescence, of course, experimenting as adolescents do.)

Since we’re talking, I thought I might share more nice perspectives to cheer you up. You may be happily getting Botox, chemical peels, and other fine facial procedures to try to fool the calendar, but I’m going to burst your bubble. Are you sitting down? Here goes: There are some telltale signs of advancing age that cannot be removed. As one of my “good” friends said, “You just have to look at someone’s hands to see if they’re old.” Thanks. Thanks so much. I needed that. I have tried to hold my hands above my elbows during pictures to keep from having those lovely blue veins pop out on the back of my hands. Sometimes, though, this is not a good strategy. As in when you’re playing the piano. Or maybe you’re doing a cooking demonstration or giving a knitting lesson. (People still knit. By hand. They do.)

More perspectives: (Spoiler alert.) Hanging, crinkly skin. Yes. Even though we go to the gym, do our due-diligence with weights, on machines, and at endless classes, we are stuck with crinkly skin that hangs off our healthy, osteoporosis-free skeletons if we’re lucky. Yes, we put on lotion. Yes, we tone and stretch. We are limber from yoga. Our lungs are aerobically healthy. Our butts are holding their own underneath. However, the skin that keeps the rest of us in has an un-ironed look about it.

So, when you’re a teenager, you’re dealing with zits, braces, and big ears. The difference is that as a teenager, the zits eventually disappear, the braces come off, and somewhere along the way you grow into your ears. As I age, my wrinkles will not disappear. In fact, they will multiply. Like rabbits. My teeth will get thinner. And my ears AND nose, longer. My hands? More gnarly. (Great word, right?)

What? Get over myself. This is a first world problem, you say? Well, yes, but it’s real to me. Adolescence. Again. Merde! I didn’t like my teen years when I was experiencing them, and I thought I was done. I’m back in them again. And I’d like to think I’m above it all! “I got this,” I say to my face in the mirror, the unrelenting mirror. “Mirror, mirror on the wall. Who is that ancient person in the shawl?” The mirror is no help. No help at all. Her best advice is to turn off the lights. Would that all rooms were dark!

I look around me at the people with gray hair. I compare. Oh, that’s dumb. At least I’m not that old, I say to myself. But my next thought is: I will be there soon. I saw a young woman today. OMG. “I used to look like that,” I say. Well, that’s nonsense. I NEVER looked like THAT. Who am I kidding? She was model beautiful. Why do I make this comparison? This thing called aging —even healthy aging, where I’m dancing flamenco and walking miles and doing yoga —is taking too much of my mental energy. It robs me of creativity. It stifles my serenity.

So as with my teens, I know that eventually, the between-ness will pass. I can achieve the next stage and relax into it—gracefully, happily, peacefully. That makes sense. If we fight the force of nature, we tend to carry an aura of angry (I hear it’s a mustard color), which by itself can make us look older and feel worse. (Who wants to look like mustard?)

I suggest that you read Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal. It’s an homage to living well even as it describes the terminal nature of our lives. We are lucky if we get to experience old age before we die. Dr. Gawande says it better, page 141. “The battle of being mortal is the battle to maintain the integrity of one’s life—to avoid becoming so diminished or dissipated or subjugated that who you are becomes disconnected from who you were or who you want to be.” I’m going to embrace the idea of maintaining my integrity by defining “a good day” in my terms and attempting to attain that. Every day. I will not worry about adolescence. Terrible twos. Teens. Twenties. Middle age. They’re stages, each with their challenges. This aging thing is just another stage. Maintaining my integrity is the goal. That’s all.

Published!

GMSTTW COVERThis is my book. I wrote it because I had to put my self out. Be out. These are pieces of me (they’re always called pieces, whether a piece of music, art, or writing) that assure me I was here. I never thought of that before, but it’s true. Creatives leave these little breadcrumbs like Hansel and Gretel.  Do they (we) then have a way to find our way back to ourselves? Does an architect leave a piece? No. They leave big things. Whole things like buildings and subdivisions. Are those pieces? Maybe. Engineers leave bridges, waterways, and aqueducts and dams and things. Doesn’t matter. They see edifices in their minds and build them. Creatives see music and art, and we write it, paint, or draw it. Then, we share it. Sometimes we perform it.

I could say my kids “prove” I was here. Or that I have photos that say, “I was here.” But I’m not sure of that. Some of the photos were taken when I was too little to remember. Was I really there?

My family should be pleased to know I was here. Hah. And they may see themselves immortalized in these pages, too. While many of the stories are pure fiction, some are versions of events that happened with the names of the characters changed. I wonder if they will recognize themselves.

That’s it. The book is available from Outskirts Press, on Amazon, and also on Barnes & Noble.

Now on to the next creation. I do hope some other (not family!) people will read this book and like it. Themes, lessons, and laughter titter through the pages, yes. But mostly I’m glad I wrote it. And published it. Just. For. Me. In. The. Wind.

 

WRITING Is Not Easy

We are inundated with content all day long. We are buried in promotions. Suffocating from inbound. Struggling to create outbound. So because writing is all around us, it seems that it is an easy thing to do. But it’s not. WRITING is not easy. Good writing is really, really hard.

  • People write emails all day long. They’re writing. Right? No. It’s not WRITING. On the other hand…
  • Writing is not surgery. Good writing isn’t either. But writing is important. (Examples: The U.S. Constitution, The Bible, The Koran, etc.). And it may save lives as in well-written checklists like those in Atul Gawande’s Checklist Manifesto or an instruction manual for electrical wiring.

Writing may save lives.

  • You need a license to practice surgery. And while you do not need one to write, you do need a license to drive a car and to be officially married.
  • Did you think about the fact that you do not need a license to have a child?

Having a license sets people apart. It denotes a level of proficiency. Yet, even after obtaining a license, people practice what they have learned to become good at it. Doctors, dentists, and lawyers have “practices.” Professional musicians practice. Dancers, actors and other people who are not licensed practice long hours to attain the level for which they can be paid… as a professional. Writers do, too.

People struggle to write well. Professional writers struggle more. Tennis players strive to play well. Professional tennis players strive harder and longer. Professional golfers and painters (or anyone who needs the Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hours of practice to be really good) do not have licenses but compete to be deemed the best at what they do. Writers that write for 10,000 hours do not always get their books published by one of the big publishing houses. That also takes luck. (And luck is also a Malcolm Gladwell Outlier ingredient for success.)

Good writing is not easy. We can try to write more because we think more is better. However, practicing long hours is only helpful if it’s correct practice. Because so many people write all day long, they may think they will become better at it. Yes. Better.  But to be a really good writer, people can take a class. Buy a book on writing. Enter contests, and seek legitimate publishing venues. Or they can hire a professional writer to write with them.

Bottom line:  Really good writing is extremely hard to do. There is no license to be a writer. Masters and Doctorate degrees—yes. Otherwise, the proof is in the publishing. In clarity and voice and tone. However, the real proof: the pleasure of reading good writing of any kind.

Results

You’ve hired a writer.  Defining Your ProjectCongratulations! I’m thrilled. You’re excited because your work is done. But wait.  We have to talk about that.

As I view the content landscape, I am convinced that people hire content writers  expecting magic—as in seeing instant results and an immediate increase in business. It would be lovely, a writer’s wish, a company’s dream-come-true if it worked like that.

It doesn’t.

Ongoing Content

How often do you look at automobile advertisements or the independent reliability reports, or fuel efficiency readings? Only when you’re looking for a car. But the auto companies advertise and provide content all the time. The do not look for an immediate increase in sales after they have put up one ad, one blog, one Consumer Reports review. They are in it for the long haul.

Automobile marketers pay attention to the number of people that visit their website: they pay millions of dollars (I worked for such a company) to measure every click on every web page and every minute and second prospects spent on the smallest detail of the brand’s offerings. They analyze the metrics down to the threads on the tires’ lug nuts, so to speak. But they cannot directly correlate sales increases to online behavior. They get close, and they can sometimes indirectly estimate sales upticks based on the analytics.

What they can measure is interest and then try to correlate it to sales. SO CAN YOU!

How to Get Great Results:

Be sure to garner your clients’ and prospects’ interest in your content by:

  • Employing good writers
  • Providing the writer with YOUR company’s content bullets and voice/tone. Very important.
  • Getting your website person* to measure the reaction (analytics) to your content on your web page.
  • Asking your social media person* to analyze the reaction to your Social Media posts. Who responds? What day, time of day, topics, words or word phrases are best? What channel is best? LinkedIn? Facebook? Instagram? Twitter? YouTube? The analytics are offered by the sites themselves, but how you react to them makes a difference. For example, changing the messaging might be necessary if the response is low, but it will not change itself. Someone has to do it.

* If this person is you, make sure you have this on your weekly To Do list. Either that or be willing to pay the writer to do it. Why? Conscientious writers want our words to bring you buzz and business! If they don’t, we will fire ourselves if you don’t fire us first. And then you start all over with another writer. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Bottom Line

Hiring a writer is a great first step. It’s not the last step. It’s important to conduct sessions in which the content — web page, post, product description, etc.— is studied for their results. The goals must be clear: More clicks? New leads? Increased sharing? Closed sales, higher email captures? There’s no shortcut. Stay the course with your writer and make sure to measure our results.

Professional writers want their clients to succeed and grow so we can grow with you!

You Need a Break

Hire a professional. Perhaps a professional writer, even.

Maybe you have too many projects for the writers on your staff. Maybe you’re the writer and the staffTaking a Break from Writingand you’re doing it all. Sometimes it’s just plain hard to come up with a new angle. Your writers and you have been writing about the company for years. It’s difficult to create spanking new content every time.  

“What are we going to write about today?” they plead, their eyes crossed from the sheer weight of the challenge. Perhaps Sisyphus, the mythological Greek king (whose punishment in hell was to push a rock up a mountain only to have it roll back down every time, again and again, and again) had it easier.

Take a break! Make it like the day a landscape architect comes to your home. Budget so you can afford it. The yard will look better, and fewer plants will die if the experts design, choose the correct plants, and set the automatic watering schedule for the best time of day and water requirements for healthy plants.

A “word architect” will likewise design a written project that will look better, will include the correct words for your audience and purpose, and will arrive with placement suggestions to deliver the (marketing) piece to the most effective promotional channels or media outlets.  Your feeling of relief is…priceless!

Find a way. Hire a professional. By hiring a landscape architect, or by indulging in, perhaps, an interior decorator or a writer, you will see that it’s good for the soul to take a break from the angst of Do-It-Yourself. It’s good for your head, too. It’s like taking a little vacation: you come back renewed and refreshed.

A freelance writer will let you take a break, and free your mind for other endeavors.

Exclamation Points!!!

Has anyone noticed besides me? When I first started writing professionally, the rule was “only one exclamation point on a page.” What happened? The little devils sneak into so many places, they’re like ants, crawling through paragraphs carrying their dead and dropping them here and there, I guess. I don’t know. Exclamation pointDefining Your Projects are everywhere. (I had to restrain from an exclamation point on that last sentence because it’s all too easy to fall in the trap, the habit of it.)

The writer F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.” Do not use even one of these marks unless you’re convinced it is justified. Here’s the problem:

If everything is important, nothing is important.

In business writing and journalism, the exclamation point is not appropriate. So…what do you do? Make your writing provocative without the use of the little buggers. Using great verbs helps.

What else? Use exclamation points sparingly, one per page (like they said in the old days) so that when the mark appears, it means something.  Whatever the subject, the single mark on the page will stand out… not shout, but  speak loudly for readers that are paying attention. Even for those that aren’t aware of it consciously, they will sense it.

In writing as in many endeavors, it’s the little things that make a difference. The professional writer knows. We share. People grow. It’s good.

More to the point (pun intended) what does it say about society that we have to make everything astonishing? It says we have too much content and everyone wants theirs to be the best, the newest, the “mostest.” So we rely on this lowly mark, this unassuming line/dot that has suddenly found its way into the limelight, like the people who have recently died (Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, et al) who have become even more famous from a Social Media blitz that elevates these two, albeit already-famous personae, to demigoddesses. Over the top. Trop. Excess. It’s a way of life, and the exclamation point is but a symptom of the malaise. It seems we simply can’t leave things alone to stand on their own two feet. I am contributing content here, but at least I am not going to try to escalate the importance of this rant by inserting an exclamation mark somewhere to prove the point, so to speak. For the record, it seems that more exclamation points would be the next step… as in the title. But when does it stop?????

I’m done now. I think.