Stress and Delight – the hopes and fears of starting a new contract

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Hello all,

This week has been a good one for me, freelance-wise. Due to an impressive portfolio and a glowing review I managed to land a social media contract with a local HVAC company. I was (and still am) ecstatic about the new opportunity, but I am also absolutely terrified.

See, this is the problem faced by many freelance writers…

I know nothing about the HVAC industry. I know that when I turn on my air conditioning unit my home gets colder and that when the furnace kicks in things heat up. The intricacies of the industry are still a mystery. Needless to say my last few days have been crammed with large amounts of research. I will tell you now it is a lot to take in.

I am not complaining. One of my old professors once told me that the great thing about journalism is that you get to become an authoritative voice in something new every day. It is one of the things that drew me to journalism in the first place – no two days are ever the same. Picking up this contract is no different. Yes, I will be writing about heating and cooling systems regularly but there is no way I will be able to learn everything about an industry that has been around since the industrial revolution in such a short time. I will have to learn continually, do my research and keep up with developments in the trade. I am fortunate (and odd) enough to enjoy research so that is not a big issue for me.

I started by looking at trade magazines to give me an impression of the business, but since I am helping manage the social media aspect of the company I have been using a lot of social media to learn more. I have to figure out what will be effective and what won’t, media-wise. Always learn from those who came before!

The three main resources I have been using are:

Twitter – If your contract holder is using twitter, this is one of the best places to start. Search for similar companies, equipment companies and other groups that hold stock in the industry. See what is being tweeted about, what is being retweeted and what kind of hashtags are being used regularly. Figuring out the best way to tailor your tweets will give you an automatic leg-up.

Blogs – These are a fount of information. They make great links (especially if they’re by notable names or companies that your contract holder is associated with) and can teach you more about your contract holder’s industry. Even competitor’s blogs can give you useful information – just make sure you aren’t linking competitors when you are tweeting or adding Facebook posts.

Pinterest – I was actually floored by how much this site helped me. I typed HVAC into the search bar expecting nothing more than a few infographics to pop up in the results. I was so wrong! I was greeted with links to infographics, blogs, energy companies – you name it, it was there. I am still sifting through the information and probably will be for a long time.

There is endless information out there. This contract is a great opportunity for me and damned if I am going to let something as trivial as lack of knowledge slow me down!

Don’t let it slow you down, either.

AI

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In the age of spin doctors – the art of PR in the Jian Ghomeshi scandal

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Strike first, strike fast and strike the heart.

This seems to be the tactic taken by the Ghomeshi PR team regarding allegations of abuse against the former Q host.

I have been watching this situation unfold since the get-go and anticipated the wild path this story has taken. From the moment I saw the CBC bulletin show up on my Twitter feed I knew we were in for a wild ride; Ghomeshi’s public statement on his Facebook page created a solid groundwork and the court of public opinion took off running.

See, this scandal meets the trifecta: a loveable public figure, wild allegations and sex; moreover, a largely taboo sexual practice.

After my knee-jerk reaction of “how could they fire him for something that has yet to be proven?” I started to think about everything I had read; not just the statement by Ghomeshi but all of the articles that had popped up near-simultaneously on the internet. I reread a few of the articles wondering what was pulling at the back of my mind, making me want to investigate further – then it hit me – The recurring mention of a public relations firm.

After taking a cursory look into the company (Navigator), I found out that their specialty is crisis management and “image recovery.” The to following text was taken from their website:

Issues Management, Crisis Response and Reputation Recovery

Corporations and individuals sometimes find themselves on the wrong side of public opinion. We quickly pull together the right team to manage issues before they escalate into major crises. But when disaster strikes, our clients depend on our custom-built communications plans to minimize reputational damage. We formulate crisp messaging, handle media inquiries and provide media training. Once the crisis has passed, we develop strategies to quickly rebuild and recover.

Activation and Persuasion Campaigns

We help clients deliver on stakeholders’ expectations through participatory, transparent campaigns that track shifting opinion, drive engagement and change behaviour. A variety of qualitative and quantitative research approaches support the development of appropriate hypotheses and nuanced strategies to create a critical mass of public support.

These guys are good. They have helped former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney (re: the Airbus Affair) and former TTC commissioner Adam Giambrone (re: 2010 sex scandal). It is heavily speculated that they helped navigate Maple Leaf through the Listeriosis outbreak of 2008. they have been contracted by Bell Media, Rogers and Labatt just to name a few. They work hard and they get results.

I revisited the 1,500+ word statement by Ghomeshi and realized what I was actually reading – I was reading a carefully crafted, painstakingly precise work of art made to victimize the man, demonize the women, create context and take advantage of lack-of knowledge.

I am not saying that what Ghomeshi wrote was true or false. What I am saying is that he put his story in the hands of professional spin doctors and watched the world shake their fists in rage at the CBC while patting him on the back and telling him it would be alright.

First, Ghomeshi got ahead of the media curve by presenting the “facts.” The intent was simple: make sure everyone hears your side of the truth before anyone else can get a word in edgewise. People are likely to believe what they hear first, especially when it comes from the accused and deals with facts that most people would try to keep very private. I believe that’s why Ghomeshi went into as much detail as he did regarding his personal kink. He crafted the statement to make it sound as if a jilted ex was out for revenge instead of anything he may have done wrong.

This idea leads into my second point; the demonization of the women implicated in this scandal. There has been a lot of talk in the media over the past few years about rape culture and victim blaming (for more information visit slutwalktoronto.com). There are hundreds of reasons that women choose not to press charges but that does not mean their allegations are any less true. Ghomeshi has already proven through his $55 million lawsuit that he is more than willing to use the legal system to his advantage. This further intimidates these women into anonymity, making it harder for us to side with them. On one side of the fence we have a friendly and recognizable face and on the other we have seven masks (plus one courageous actress) screaming assault. Who are you more likely to believe? By keeping these women hiding in the shadows Ghomeshi is helping to further the idea that these women are just trying to ruin him. People like to believe that others will automatically press charges if something illegal happened – no charges equals no real wrongdoing in many facets of the pubic eye.

Context is also a huge thing. He made his kink relatable by pulling in pop culture references, calling it “Fifty Shades of Grey light.” Many people bought and read (and enjoyed) that book and by using this analogy he was able to use the story to his advantage. The message in this statement was, very simply, “You liked the book, right? You didn’t think it was bad what Mr. Grey was doing? I am doing less than that, so clearly I can’t be that bad!” And we bought it, hook, line and sinker. He created a scenario in which we might find these things alright or even a bit titillating. He played on our own sexual curiousity.

That leads me into my final observation – the blatant play on the general populous’s lack of knowledge regarding BDSM practices. Many people will take what he says on face value as they have no context (minus Fifty Shades) regarding this sexual kink. Most wouldn’t do any research past the end of Ghomeshi’s statement and would not understand that what these women are alleging goes well beyond anything that would be considered light BDSM and into some practices that are considered highly dangerous and improper by people in the scene (ex. the alleged aggressive choking and hard face hitting). If you are interested in reading some more about BDSM in regards to this case, I suggest PhD student Andrea Zanin’s post, Poor Persecuted Pervert (NSFW!!!). Ghomeshi is relying on the fact that we will be uncomfortable enough with the taboo issue that we will not look further than his post.

I don’t know whether Ghomeshi is innocent or guilty. I don’t know what is fact and what is fiction. I don’t know if we will ever find out the truth.

I do know that his strike fast and hide tactic (since his statement Ghomeshi has kept complete social media silence) was carefully planned, plotted and executed to gain mass support before the other side had a chance to speak. We were duped by a bit of PR genius designed to keep the speculations flying and allow Ghomeshi to slip out of sight until the dust starts to settle.

AI

Writing – openening the emotional spigot

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It happens every time I start writing a large amount regardless of age, experience or time with pen in hand.

What am I talking about?

The emotions that come with writing, of course!

Any creative mind can tell you that art in every form is a sort of emotional endeavour. The emotions bubble to the surface and sometimes have the unfortunate tendency to boil over.

I recently broke months of writer’s block and am living again in the creative head space. This is wonderful in terms of productivity but horrible for my sleep patterns. When creativity hits I have to get up and write. It seems my most productive hours are still between midnight and 2:00 a.m. Worse still, once I have finished my writing I immediately start running it over in my head, figuring out how to evoke the proper tone and emotion from the piece. By the time I get my brain to settle down I am exhausted.

And when I write about emotional events…

When I am creative I open myself up to a lot of energies, both positive and negative. I am extremely empathetic and find that when working on emotionally charged pieces, happy or sad, i tend to strongly mirror those emotions. This week has been a sad one with the passing of W.O. Patrice Vincent and Cpl. Nathan Cirillo in two brutal acts of violence. The country has reeled and I have been crafting a piece about the cultural mosaic that is Canada (moreover how one bad piece does not ruin the entire picture) and have have had to step back again and again as news and pictures flood the media. My heart breaks for these families. As well I have been working on an essay about the impact of being bullied as a teenager. This piece was very cathartic but has also left me very depressed after looking at the plights of my younger self. Both are emotionally charged pieces and both have caused me to lose sleep.

My point is every time I put pen to paper I end up opening my heart a little wider; exposing myself a little bit more. It comes part and parcel with my ability to write. The proof is in the rambling paragraphs you just read; I am writing while mentally working through the first draft of my bullying essay. It is making me feel anxious, frustrated and scattered and that is translating directly into this blog post.

It is not a trait I can turn on and off and it can make life interesting, to say the least.

AI

Cirillo/Vincent article:

https://ca.news.yahoo.com/memorial-held-montreal-soldiers-patrice-vincent-nathan-cirillo-193539769.html

A/N The full bullying essay will be up once it has been subjected to the editing process (also known as the red pen of doom).

A poetic twist… or a twisted poet

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For those who don’t know, my partner in crime is a composer who is constantly looking for inspiration. One of the issues he runs into on a fairly regular basis has to do with lyrics; more specifically, copyright issues. Matt likes to look to poetry for his choral inspiration and regularly falls into the trap of not being able to use a beautiful piece due to copyright law.

This issue has led to Matt haranguing me to write him some poetry to set to music. When I asked him if he had a topic in mind, his answer was “not having to pay royalties” (and before you get mad fellow writers, he was joking. I would get my cut not to mention the ability to call myself a choral lyricist). Well, this is what I came up with – the first two verses were off the cuff and sang at him from the opposite end of the couch – the rest was a in a love note for him the following morning. I would call this a second draft as I have gone through to change some wording and phrasing to better the flow:

(also, my strength is prose)

Roses are red,
Violets are pretty,
Please move me the hell
back into the city!

This town is too boring
This place so mundane,
I fear living out here
Will drive me insane.

I miss all the noise,
All the culture and rabble;
My idea of fun
Isn’t Sunday night Scrabble.

Please let’s just move
To somewhere less quiet
So you don’t have to sit
Through my one-woman riot.

So Please, do remember
It would be a pity
To have me stay here,
And not live in the city.

Check him out at www.matthewdonnellymusic.com

AI

Bits and drabbles, or how to start writing again (Writer’s block)

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Any writer can point you to notebook on notebook of half-baked ideas and aborted plot lines that once showed promise but quickly lost steam. It’s a writer’s badge of honour and source of shame; we have all of these great ideas, but so few see their way to completion. I have countless journals spanning a decade and a half full of partially formed concepts and wild ramblings and I will admit, some of those ideas were downright atrocious. Some, though, have a degree merit and now that I am a few years removed from the initial concept, the ideas actually seem like a wonderful jumping-off point. I will promise that almost, if not all, of these ideas will never go farther than simple writing exercises but they are worth revisiting regardless.

Every writer takes a break between drafts – it helps to look at something with fresh eyes. It’s also why we have that brutally honest friend/ relative/ editor with the angry red pen look over our work. Fresh eyes make all the difference. If we can see something in a completely new light just by working through first and second drafts, why wouldn’t we be able to gain inspiration from ideas that previously ran into dead ends?

Writer’s block hits us all at inopportune times; when we want to write most is the exact moment that our creative minds go out to lunch. Next time this happens, visit some of your old notebooks or some abandoned stories on your hard drive. Take a look at these bits and drabbles and figure out why you thought the original concept deserved expansion. See what went right and what went wrong, then take the idea and write it down on a fresh sheet of paper (or in a new Word document) and see where it takes you. It will get you writing and maybe push you toward your next big idea.

I dealt with writer’s block for about six months this year (check the gap in my posts for an idea of the time frame) and have finally come out the other side. It took a lot of work and a lot of frustration (not to mention self-doubt) but I am here writing and that’s what is important. The stuff I have written recently has not been my best work – far from it, actually – but revisiting my past successes and failures and reviewing some of the things that didn’t work has helped me to get back on the horse, so to speak.

I hope this is helpful to some of my fellow writers. Good luck and never stop carrying your handy-dandy notebooks!

AI

In a coma

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Today while I was driving to pick up a bit of lunch, I was nearly hit by a car that crossed the centre line. Thankfully, some quick manoeuvrings and a very close call later I was still breathing. My adrenaline was pumping, my heart was racing and I felt very “alive.”

This started me thinking: what if I hadn’t actually avoided the accident? In an alternate reality, what if I had been put into a coma due to the accident and the day-to-day that I was living was actually just a dream.

Then I thought, hey, that’s a story!

Then I wondered if this was a normal way to think…

… then I realized that I really didn’t care. I love how my brain creates these bizarre scenarios.

AI

Eww

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Certain words carry a lot of context.

I have said before and will again that the English language, like all  languages, is able to convey so many different thoughts and feelings through a careful selection of words. To say that one is disappointed is very different from frustrated, angry or aggravated. While each word carries a tone of displeasure, the nuances make their meanings wildly different. Similarly, take an emotion like being happy. Saying that someone is happy is different from saying they are joyous, ecstatic or enthralled. Each word is a happy descriptor denoting different ranges within the emotion. Careful word choice has the power to evoke strong and very specific reactions from an audience.

On the same note, one word can mean so much. One word can break down into so many different meanings that are all encompassed in that one utterance. One such word is “Eww.” It’s just a three-letter word, an interjection, but it can carry such force that it is not a word to be taken lightly.

I recently heard a person of my acquaintance mutter this monosyllable under her breath regarding another human being. Initially I was surprised and a little angry at the sentiment, but as I thought about it, I became downright furious.

First off, she was talking about another human being; not garbage, a gross-looking spill or some excrement on the bottom of her shoe – a flesh-and-blood human being – moreover, one that she doesn’t really know. Judged on face value, this person chose to voice her distaste in one of the rudest ways I can imagine.

I am glad the other person did not hear this statement because I DO know the person and he is one of the sweetest, kindest, hardest-working men, not to mention a phenomenal husband and father. She made a knee-jerk reaction based on one instance using a very small but very strongl word.

Let me tell you what the term “Eww” brings to mind for me:

  1. Distaste at something assaulting one of your five senses.
  2. Dismissal of all other traits or –
  3. An encapsulating statement taking into account all aspects of the person, place or thing.
  4. A feeling of disgust and a want to remove the person, place or thing from your immediate area.

Eww, in this context, is all-encompassing and short-sighted. It does not take into account all of the things this man is but dismisses him on one or two traits that this woman found unappealing.

Words have the power to scar. To hear that said about yourself would be emotionally devastating; take it from the veteran of enough schoolyard abuse to be any psychologist’s dream cash-cow. Honestly, if I hadn’t had such support outside those situations, I would be a seriously broken person. I have been called ugly, fat, gross and any other plethora of nasty things. All of those things are summed up in “Eww.”

Awful.

Disliked.

Unwanted.

No one should have to deal with that kind of abusive language anywhere. The word may sound innocuous enough, but it carries some true weight.

Enough weight to make someone question themselves; to hate themselves.

I guess the point I am trying to make is that while a word may seem fairly banal, its impact can leave a lasting impression. Also, that some are two quick to judge with sweeping comments and strong statements that could seriously hurt others.

I look back and wish I had said something to this woman. Maybe next time she would think before passing judgement.

Words can be dangerous.

Carefully chosen words can have a huge impact.

Careless words can carry unexpected consequences.

So in writing, as in speech, choose your words carefully.