A Dalhousie story – Don’t write something you wouldn’t want your grandmother to read

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Like many newsies and feminists alike,  I have been following the story surrounding the Dentistry school at Dalhousie University in Halifax. Amidst a time of Canadian sex scandals and rape culture awareness these men chose to be sexist, misogynistic and downright rude regarding their female colleagues. From a personal standpoint, I find  their choices to be awful and am glad to see that these men have been suspended. Their wild lack of professionalism should earn them nothing less.

That being said, this post is not about the punishments awarded to these men.

I plan to discuss the fact that this group of people chose to use social media as a place to share these thoughts.

When I was a teenager, I was told, quite emphatically, never to put into writing something you wouldn’t want your grandmother to read. I cannot remember who gave me this piece of advice, but I owe them a lot of thanks. As social media has expanded it is much easier for unwanted text comments to gain public scrutiny. As I have both of my grandmothers as Facebook friends, my mother following my Facebook, Twitter as well as all the other social media accounts I manage and many other family members able to access everything I say and do online, I tend to choose my words wisely. I try not to swear too much, substituting “effing” for more crass wording and generally keeping my profile clean of overwhelming smut.

These men ignored this protocol so spectacularly it makes my head spin. What these men did can be loosely classified as “hate speech” as defined by Random House Dictionary (speech that attacks, threatens, or insults a person or group on the basis of national origin, ethnicity, color, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability). moreover, now they have left written proof. As we all know, Facebook owns everything we put on their site and almost nothing is ever truly deleted. These awful statements made about their once and future colleagues can and will come back to haunt them.

I have always loved the old tattoo adage, think before you ink. the same principle applies to writing. We have all made off-colour jokes in our time – most of us are smart enough not to put it in writing.

AI

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Traveling with cats

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2014-12-28 14.46.36So my husband and I have two darling cats and every year they make the grand trip 2.5 hours to my parents house for Christmas. The old girl has done this two times before but the kitten is new to the trip. We are currently about 1/3 of the way there and have already learned some important life lessons.

– Bringing two cats does not make it easier. The cats will not keep each other company. They do not comfort one another. At all.
– Covering the cat carrier only makes the young one more agitated. Agitated cats yowl  continually.
– If there is a place you do not want your cat,  it will gravitate there like debris caught in the pull of a black hole.
– You can’t drown out the cats by turning up the music. They take this as a challenge.
– Eventually,  if your cat will give up. Don’t expect this to be calming for you or the cat. The cat may go completely limp and you may have to take a moment to make sure your feline hasn’t shaken this mortal coil.
– A cat, when stressed,  sheds a lot. If the older one isn’t bald by the time we reach our destination it will be a miracle.

I am sure there is still much to learn from the fur babies currently having a staring contest in the back seat. The elder isn’t in a carrier and seems to be mocking the younger in her tiny plastic prison.

I shall continue to watch how this little social hierarchy works out. Merry Christmas and Happy holidays.

AI

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

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

Back to writing – creepy is in the context

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So, those that follows this blog have no doubt noticed a few months of inactivity. Simply put, some personal issues paired with some of the worst writer’s block I have ever suffered manage to make posting rather challenging. I am trying to write again. I won’t lie, I am toying with some ideas that I think, if executed properly, could be great…

… but that means writing again.

This is just something I splatted out onto the page earlier this evening. It is first draft; given a cursory glance for glaring typographical errors and nothing more. I would really, REALLY appreciate comments.

 


Creepy is in the context

                Today I went to the local bookstore to browse and maybe pick up some new reading material. One thing to know about me: I am an obsessive hoarder of books. Honestly, it is a disease. The look, feel and smell of a book are simply unparalleled in my eyes. Any bibliophile will tell you there is no substitute. I do own an E-reader, but a little electronic gadget will never stop me from adding to my ever-expanding book collection.

                That said, bookstores are my holy land and every trip is a pilgrimage. I step through the doors and show my reverence – not through anything as overt as crossing myself or anointing myself at the fount– but by breathing in. The scent coming from the rows on rows of books is enough for me.

                I immediately took to traversing the store, visiting my favourite sections and pulling random texts off the shelves when suddenly, nature called. I made my way to the rest room to do what needed to be done. While taking my pit stop, I started to indulge in the available scriptures; the writing on the wall, if you will.

                For those that have not frequented women’s restrooms in the past, the graffiti can range anywhere from a scribbled “Kaylee +Josh 4ever” that has obviously been scratched out with a Sharpie after forever just seemed a bit too long to platitudes about life, the universe and womanhood. As I said before, bookstores are my Mecca and it is interesting to get some insight into my fellow biblio-worshippers through their own writing.

                The wall in this bookstore lavatory is scribbled with a lot of female empowerment, concepts of love and relationships à la Jane Austen, rebuttals scratched down in feminist outrage and similar anonymous musings. Essentially, what you would expect in any women’s bathroom stall. I was having fun reading through my street-lit session when my eyes glanced across one little statement etched into the grout between two tiles. It was very innocuous in its intent but inside a toilet stall, it was downright creepy.

                 “You are never alone.”

                I said before, the bookstore is my sanctuary, my holy place. I am a book devotee and this is my place of worship…

                 … but I seriously hope that the god of books isn’t interested in what I do in the loo.

iPod inspiration #2 – Greed

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“And there’s a crooked line I don’t want to take the time to straighten,
Cause when you do you realize it’s the whole damn world that’s bent.” – Patrick Stump, Greed

Time for iPod inspiration number two!

But first, a confession; I love Fall out Boy. I always have and when I found out they were (had) released a new album (Save Rock and Roll), I was rearing to own it. On the same note, when I found out that Patrick Stump had released a solo album (Soul Punk) I checked it out. Once I got used to the fact that it did NOT sound like Fall out Boy in the least (minus the obvious correlation between the lead singer’s voice) I started really getting into the sound. It’s currently one of my favourite walking albums.

But to the point, why have I chosen this quotation? Well, I work in service when I’m not writing and some of the fodder you get from the presented situations… well, you just can’t make them up. Call me jaded, but the world is a brilliantly twisted place and I like to watch it burn … it’s great for writing. In all seriousness, some of my best short stories have come from my experiences with the public; from snotty customers to the sad man who sat at his slot machine for three days straight, the world is full of things to write about if you open your eyes.

Even if you’re not in the trade of writing fiction, taking these situations and using them as an exercise in descriptive writing can do wonders for any potential paid work that could come your way. It’s easy enough to say “That man hasn’t moved from his chair in a while,” but think of how much more effective it would be to say:

My third shift in as many days and he’s still here; tiny in the over-sized chair, the clothes haven’t changed but the smell has. People will start complaining soon, but he seems oblivious. As long as his right hand can reach out and wrap around that lever, he still has hope – hope that the next pull will be the lucky one – hope that he will prove the deniers wrong – hope that he can be validated again. Lights and buzzers for the man beside him while he is greeted by mocking silence. Again.

I worked in an OLG slots and racetrack for many summers while I was at school and saw some wonderful and horrible things – and I learned a lot about the human condition. I learned how real psychological addiction can be. I learned about lying (“No honey, I’m just leaving the doctor’s office now” – said while walking off the gaming floor). and I learned how to both be compassionate and harden myself against the constant onslaught of humanity that you saw on the gaming floor. I was verbally abused and sexually harassed, but I also met some truly wonderful people. I saw the mundane and the strange…

… but let me tell you, Mr. Stump is right. The world is bent.

So write little vignettes about the oddities. Writing a description never harmed a writer’s style whereas not writing is always a detriment.

AI

How to create something great – one idea

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“Good artists copy. Great artists steal.” Steve Jobs, 1996

So what do I mean?

Obviously you cannot truly steal someone’s creative work; beyond being unethical it is also highly illegal. People are getting sued for millions of dollars for creative infringement (and as a young freelancer/ writer, you can ill afford that kind of bill). But there are aspects of another person’s writing that you can borrow for your own – the trick is finding the parts that are worth utilizing.

My suggestion: Read. I know it sounds so simple and even a little cliched, but it’s true. To become a great writer, you must read great writers… and I do not use the term must in a light sense. if you don’t explore what makes other writing great, you will never be able to figure out a way to make your copy shine.

What kind of writing should you read? Everything. Any book someone hands you. Every well-written article. Every effective manual.

I know this is a big order to fill, but trust me, your writing will not suffer; it will only get better.

Case and point – when I started freelancing, I was hired by a company to write copy for a variety of different how-to videos to go along with a new cell phone launch. It was not an easy task, especially since my background was in print – not video – and in either scholarly or journalistic writing – not purely instructional. It really felt like a tall order to fill. I was new, inexperienced and in a position that could make or break my freelancing opportunities with this company. In short, I was terrified.

So what did I do?

I went home with the style guide for the company. I watched all of the previous how-to videos for this company. I watched the how-to videos for other companies that had received high ratings on Youtube to figure out what made them effective. I watched a few crappy ones to see where they fell short… and then I wrote. There is no question that these pieces were not high literature, but it was writing. By stealing the best from the best I was able to write effective copy and garner repeat business.

So back to the point – steal style, concepts and rhetorical devices. Read great literature. Read bad literature. Read fiction, non-fiction, magazines, fantasy, science, pre-teen novels… anything you can get your hands on. It will make a difference.

One thing I also suggest is to read writing that you dislike as well. Having completed a degree in English Literature I had multiple opportunities to read authors and books that I truly despised (don’t shoot me, but much of that disliked literature was Charles Dickens). I learned what I didn’t like about that literature (again, my biggest teacher was Dickens… and it’s a long, long list) but also that even these writings that I loathed so much still had many positive aspects. For example, my biggest issue with Dickens was how he brought about change in his books – he usually relied on some form of “miracle,” be that a mysterious benefactor or a ghost (or three); I hated his narrative on the working class and his general hopelessness for that group of people barring some spectacular change of circumstance… BUT I did admire his attention to detail and his truly bizarre sense of humour in the naming of his characters.

There is always something to be learned from writers – good or bad, enjoyed or despised; it’s utilizing the information presented and using it in your own work… without getting sued, of course.

AI