Catherine Gracey

Living Life, One Misadventure At A Time.

Christmas in November

I was at the local shopping centre during the weekend when my happy mood was disturbed by a sudden blare of trombones. I looked up, aghast, as a marching band picked up the Christmas carol and led an absurdly long procession through the building.

The procession was a strange one. There was the marching band, followed by Santa, which I understood. Then there was a long line of other people whose purpose I couldn’t fathom. Two large dogs were in the mix, there to promote pet photos with Santa.

As everyone walked past with ridiculous fake smiles and stilted waves that would have made Her Majesty proud, I couldn’t help glaring.

There are so many things that I took issue with that I could probably write a book about it. For the sake of brevity, I’ll keep the list short.

  1. It is NOVEMBER. Christmas is in DECEMBER. Why are we celebrating an event two months before it happens? The decorations have been up for weeks.
  2. Christmas is a religious festival. I’m not Christian, so I haven’t read all of the bible, but I can’t recall the part where God wanted me to get a photo of my dog with Santa. If you are familiar with this passage, please tell me which verse to read.
  3. It is NOVEMBER. Small children notice the decorations and get excited by them. To walk into a shopping centre in October and expose children to Christmas this early is an unnecessary cruelty to both children and parents. Delayed gratification is hard enough at 20; 2 is an unreasonable ask.
  4. Christmas is a religious festival. Again, I’m not that well versed in the bible, but I can’t recall the part where God wanted me to buy a lot of rubbish just because it’s on sale for people who I would otherwise never give a gift to. I can, however, recall a part where man was supposed to be a steward of the world, and crass consumerism doesn’t fit my image of good stewardship.
  5. It is NOVEMBER. I could take responsibility for my distaste and avoid going near any Christmas stuff. I get this. On the other hand, my kitchen isn’t very large, so I would run out of food by the end of the week. Plus, the gym that I go to is at the same shopping centre, and they won’t let me defer on the grounds that I find the decorations in horribly bad taste. I know this; I’ve checked.
  6. Christmas is a religious festival. There are several people who would probably be delighted if I was able to get into the “Christmas spirit”. It pains me to acknowledge that when they use this term, they don’t mean it as feeling appreciation for Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross to provide the faithful with salvation. That is the important gift here, not the latest model iPhone.
  7. It is NOVEMBER. That means there are two months of strangers talking to small children about what a mythical person is going to give them as a gift for being good. Am I the only one who was told to be wary of strangers who give gifts in exchange for compliance? And now society expects children to listen to two months of this?
  8. Christmas is a religious festival. I am not Christian. I’ve never gone around insisting that my religious festivities be used to spur consumer spending, and I’d be offended if someone else did. Why are Christians so tolerant of their salvation being bastardised in such a blatant fashion?
  9. Oh, and did I mention? It is NOVEMBER.

I’m all for getting together, having a good time, and celebrating what is important. By all means, decorate your environment so that it pleases the eye. Just cut the manipulation, and be honest about what you’re doing. Marketing departments, this means you.

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Beware The Sales Pitch

Occasionally I enjoy commenting on random things I find on the internet. One of my recent forays was in response to a message posted by Robert Kiyosaki on his Facebook page. I can’t remember the original message, but it was advice that listening to the pitch of a sales person is not always the best financial strategy. My comment was that listening to pitches can be a great strategy, provided you do the opposite of what is recommended.

Suddenly I had three friend requests. In an adventurous mood that day, I figured sure, why not, and accepted them.

My new found friends were all fans of Kiyosaki’s, and had sent a request because they liked what I said. Okay, one guy sent the invite with the comment “I used to think the same way you do but now I’ve seen the light”. He was immediately banished as a blatant spammer, because telling me I need to see the light isn’t a great way to start a friendship, however loosely we might define it.

Of the other people who added me, one has made no further attempt at communication, which is fine. The other sent me a few private messages, which I responded to as openly as possible. He asked what I do, and I gave him the detailed and honest answer because I wanted to see how he would respond.

He was very excited about what I do, because he saw himself as being someone in a position to help me. Apparently this help doesn’t consist of trawling through market listings or editing my late night writings. Bummer. But this help did consist of a video that was part of a 90 day blitz organised by entrepreneurs who were going to revolutionise their lives and achieve total financial freedom.

Uh huh.

I’ll spare you the agony of watching the video, and give you the summary:

Oh, hi! I’m a pretty girl with glossy hair. I was a flake in college, and I couldn’t settle on anything long enough to learn much about it, but I’m going to cover that up by saying I had lots of majors, because I don’t understand that a major is something you dedicate yourself to. Tee hee! Eventually I decided to study film and become an actress. But, get this, it was totally unfair! Even though someone was paying me to live a dream, I had to be on stage, like, every day. I also had a lot of jobs, where people would pay me ridiculous amounts of money, but I was so unhappy because I had to work for it. And inflation is scary, because in a few years petrol is going to be OMFG expensive, and even though salaries tend to inflate proportionately to the cost of living, I didn’t study anything long enough to understand that, and I’m going to insult your intelligence by assuming you didn’t either. And did you know that, like, it only costs 3 cents to manufacture a bottle of water? But they charge you heaps more because of marketing? I’ve never heard about transportation and logistics, it’s all about marketing. But there is a better way to live your life, and it means that you do what I tell you to do because Robert Kiyosaki and Donald Trump wrote a book, and this product that I’m trying to sell is, like, the shiznik! My product is great because you don’t need all that hassle of learning stuff, because learning is hard.

If you would like to know what the final third of the video is about, you will have to watch it yourself because this is where I turned off. It was that or break my laptop, and I really like my laptop.

Getting rich and living “the life” is the dream. I get it. Who wouldn’t want to have the freedom to follow their passions and the security of knowing that they can do it without jeopardising their family in the process?

The thing is, the people that we hold up as examples are passionate about what they do. Robert Kiyosaki doesn’t deal with property because it’s a sound investment, he deals with it because he is passionate about it. He works incredibly hard at what he does, and is constantly educating himself about everything that is relevant to it. For him, property is a sound investment because of his passion to learn, explore and develop new skills.

If you have ever read one of Kiyosaki’s books, you will quickly see that he didn’t get to where he is overnight. He got there through years of hard work, punishing mistakes, and a determination to succeed that is genuinely inspiring.

But…and here is my issue…if Kiyosaki can’t get there overnight, what on earth makes the woman in this video think that she can?

Hard work is not the evil thing that the get-rich-quick industry is trying to sell to you. Pointless work, futile work, work that wastes your life and provides no benefit to anyone are the negative things. But work that leaves you so excited about tomorrow that you have difficulty sleeping tonight? This is not an evil thing. Exhausting, perhaps, but not evil. Work where you can go to bed and have no regrets about the way you live your life? This is not an evil thing. Work where you can start the day knowing that by the end of it you will have made a difference? This is not an evil thing.

Not everyone bases their definition of wealth on a dollar amount. Many people base it on what they are able to do with their lives. I know from my own experience that implementing a lot of Kiyosaki’s strategies have enabled me to live an easier life financially, and a much more challenging life mentally and emotionally. I have been able to use what he has taught me to embrace my own passions, to follow my path, and to find a richness that money simply can’t buy.

It is disappointing to know that the sales people Kiyosaki spoke about in his original message are using that message to sell what he advised against. There is no replacement for knowledge, courage, or determination. Kiyosaki would be the first to tell you that, and probably has if you scroll down far enough through his motivational messages.

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Sexy And It Knew It

In the tourist guide for Berlin is the statement that the city would rather be poor and sexy than rich and impotent. When I read that I had to laugh, because it is so true of the Berlin that I remember from a few years ago.

Walking around Berlin this week, I can sense a change in the city. It is subtle, small, and hard to identify, but it has been bothering me. I am undoubtedly seeing a different part of Berlin than I saw several years ago, but vague comments from friends that Berlin had changed over recent years kept me working away at this mental puzzle. Had Berlin really changed, or had I?

As I was stepping out of the U-Bahn, overwhelmed by advertisements desperately pushing the sexy claims, I suddenly hit on the problem. Yes, I have changed, but so has Berlin.

The Berlin that I remember and immediately fell in love with was not a place that advertised. It was a place that was gritty, real, and plagued with issues that it seemed to be ignoring because it was too busy doing its own thing. The Berlin that I am seeing now is so self conscious that any residual irreverent attitude has been difficult to track down.

Sexy doesn’t need to advertise. Sexy knows you know, and it knows that you know that it knows, and that is already too much analysis because sexy has probably lost interest by now and wandered off to do its own thing. Sexy doesn’t need to advertise because it doesn’t care – that’s what makes it sexy in the first place.

Think about the people in your life, and picture them at their sexiest. Are they standing there posing in contrived outfits and working it for the camera, or are they so filled with life that you find yourself wishing you could share a tiny bit of whatever they’ve got? I know that when I think of the sexiest moments of my loves ones, I always remember those times when they were absorbed in something that gave them passion, positive energy, and a sense of fun. That might be in front of the camera for some, but they are a small minority.

I have two more days here before I go home, and I hope that I will be able to find that gritty, real Berlin, hidden underneath the wealthy impotence of the people who have jumped on the bandwagon in the hopes that it will make them sexy too.

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Thanks, DHL

While touring Germany, one of my stories was published in an anthology by Ink Monkey Press called You Don’t Say. After carefully evaluating my options, I decided to get a few copies sent to my final known address in Germany. The shipping speed would have given me nearly a week with the books before I continued with my journey. I figured even if they were a day or two late, it wouldn’t be a problem.

Delivery day rolled around. The books did not. I went online to look at the parcel tracking, and my books appeared to be sitting in the USA. My sense of geography can sometimes be a bit delusional, but I am fairly sure that there are a few countries and an ocean between the USA and Germany. In other words, it isn’t the next town over.

Not terribly pleased about this, I contacted the manufacturer, only to be assured that my delivery had probably been delayed by customs or the local post office. I was told that parcels cannot be tracked through the global tracking system once they leave the USA. Clearly I have been overseas too long, because I must have misremembered ‘global’ as meaning ‘everywhere on earth’.

I started to become a bit obsessive about the DHL website. Three days after the books were supposed to arrive, they finally left the USA and were flown into Germany. Then they sat there, relaxing. I was not quite as chilled, especially once I found out how much it would cost me to get the books shipped to Australia after I left.

My books finally arrived in Jena on Saturday. I left Jena on Friday.

I’m irritated by this at so many levels. There is the inconvenience of being given a delivery date and then not having it met. There is the inconvenience of needing to organise additional shipping, not to mention the additional cost. But, most importantly, there is the inconvenience to my career.

I could have sold every single one of those books while I was in Germany if they had been with me. There were more requests from people to purchase a signed copy than I had ordered, so I would have run out of stock. I can assure you, having no stock because you sold it all is a much better problem to have than not having stock because it didn’t arrive and losing every single one of those sales as a result.

Even if these books now arrive in Australia without any further shipping problems, the potential profit that I could have made from them has vanished. If I keep or give away a single copy, I will make a loss. And is this the worst part for me? Not by a long shot.

I write because I love to do it, and I love it because I can communicate something to other people. One of the key components to communication is having someone to communicate with. A writer needs a readership, or she isn’t taking the process very seriously. This was a chance to build a readership, to show people the quality of my work, to keep their attention while I had it. And, thanks to the expedited shipping process that I paid a decent amount of money for, this particular opportunity is now gone.

Yes, I can make new opportunities, but they might not be with this group of people. I could complain bitterly about how angry I am, how the company should compensate me, and blah blah blah. But honestly? It just makes me sad. There are some amazing people out there that I don’t get to share this book with now, and that is the part that matters most.

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Launching Catherine Asks 11 Questions

If I met my fate tomorrow, and someone needed to write my eulogy, I can think of a few traits they might list about me: great metabolism, unhealthy obsession with shoes, dry sense of humour. Front and centre I can think of one trait that not many would cite: born networker.

I’m always impressed by people who can put themselves out there and make new contacts. I’m dazzled by people who need to buy new business cards because they have run out and not because their details have changed.

And then I feel a bit depressed about them.

There is a common line in the modern world: “I am looking for networking opportunities”. Really? Because I’m looking to get through the event without vomiting on someone’s shoes or hiding in the bathroom until someone asks if I’m ok. Sure, I’m interested, but what I frequently consider a healthy terror gets in the way.

I decided this week during a sugar-fuelled surge of confidence that I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and start getting in touch with more of the people that I apparently should be trying to network with.

This is the problem with internet access, being a hard worker (another point for the eulogy) and having too much sugar (most likely the reason for the eulogy); I can come up with an idea, create the website, create the structure, and advertise it to 500+ people before the “what am I doing?!” realisation kicks in.

Yesterday my new blog launched within a few days of the idea. It is an interview site, with 11 set questions. My idea was to see how the answers vary between industry, career positioning, nationality, etc. The questions were chosen because they are interesting to me, and things I would not often dare to ask a stranger.

Ignoring the issue of interview participants who have spent longer complaining about the questions than answering them, I have one very early and obvious issue to resolve: my lack of participants. In order to feature people on my blog, we have to know about each other. There is the possibility of talking to friends of friends, but this is a finite resource.

If my new blog is to survive, I need to get out there and talk to people. My early results have been mixed, but they have provided me with one point of clarity: other artists are just as nervous about networking as I am. Not helpful, but very reassuring. At least now I come armed with a conversation starter. Hopefully at the end of this I will also have a few contacts who might be interested in hearing that eulogy when it needs to be written.

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My Little Online World

Less than two months ago I was convinced by several friends that I needed to face the fear, be brave, all that great stuff, and finally create my online marketing presence. It was a get off the couch and out of the house phase. People who know me would probably be astonished to hear that this is something I find very difficult, but the people who know me very well would immediately appreciate the main problems with this plan:

  1. It requires talking to new people. New people are strangers. Talk to strangers? By myself? Are you mad? I’m still not over the first grade classes about stranger danger.
  2. It requires convincing myself that I am not the most boring person other people have ever met.
  3. It requires exposing myself to rejection from others. Why would I bother doing this, when I am so utterly fabulous at rejecting myself?

I know exactly where all of my fears have come from, but it doesn’t particularly help me to work past them. Fears are logical when they’re in your own head. They whisper things to you that you can’t ignore. Unfortunately marketing is not the same area as a Stone Age bear that wants to eat me (although, to be fair, there are some marketing areas where I’d rather take on the bear – I understand what the bear wants).

My foray into this brave new world of putting myself out there started simply enough. I updated my LinkedIn page, created a Facebook page and Twitter feed, and wrote my website. Business cards were made, along with other random marketing things that looked fun and were free from VistaPrint. Each additional point came with the high of adrenaline born from terror, but I did it. Go team me.

Then I realised I had no content to market. This was somewhat depressing. After years of being told by a lot of people, even begged by some, to resume publishing my work I had no publishing credits that I could still locate. My past publications were on websites that no longer exist or print media that I no longer have a copy of. The new pieces that had been accepted for publication were not yet released.

I spent a few days feeling miserable about it all, and then came to Germany for my two month trip. While here one of those publications was released. Suddenly I was able to create my Amazon author page. There was a front cover to place on the main page of my website. A few more pieces were accepted for publication.

This is real progress, the sort that I can’t talk myself into ignoring. I’m finally doing the things that I have always wanted to do. It feels exciting, liberating, and comforting. Now I just need to stay off the couch and out of the house long enough for the fear to fade into acceptance.

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Matthew Farmer: The Girl From Out Of Town

This week my friend, Matthew Farmer, published his first novel, The Girl From Out Of Town. The first store it was launched through was Smashwords, and it is in the process of being distributed through other retailers. It has certainly been an exciting time for Matt, and it has also been exciting to watch the process.

Matt has a unique ability to bring the Smashwords website down. He announces a release date, and then Smashwords just dies.  His teaser for the book – launched February 14 – coincided with such a catastrophic website meltdown that it was delayed for two days. It was unfortunate, but did provide him with some interesting dialogue about the delayed work that probably gained more interest than it lost.

His second release date, this time for the full novel, was scheduled for Sunday. This time he was slightly more careful in his release date advertising but, when everything was finalised and ready to go days before the planned date, he got cocky. He said something to friends and family, and somehow the internet gremlins heard about this. They made their way to the Smashwords website, and lay in wait.

Sunday came, and the gremlins struck. Every few hours he tried to upload the novel, and every time he would get through the process only to watch his file die halfway through the upload. His browser mocked him with unfairly taunting error messages. I mocked him with messages that it must be him and his ability to kill Smashwords.

Monday came, and I decided to be helpful. It was still giving him problems but, unlike the previous website meltdown, there was nothing on the Smashwords site to say they were aware of issues. I offered to upload the novel for him. After a few more hours of trying, he agreed to give it a go.

Unlike Matt, Smashwords apparently likes me.

It was fascinating to work through the process where I can be relaxed about the outcome. There were more decisions to be made than I had anticipated, and completing the form has given me a lot to think about with my own works in progress. There were marketing decisions, such as the percentage of the novel that can be freely read before purchase is required. There are financial decisions, such as the royalty breakdown for various sales channels. There were design considerations to make a single file compatible for conversion to multiple formats.

My internet connection had no difficulty with the upload process, so it really must be Matt. He was a lot happier to be teased about this when his novel went live. It was rewarding to watch his expression on Skype as I worked through each section of the upload, and hilarious to take sneaky print screen photos of his expression when we reached critical stages of the process. Then there is the personal satisfaction of seeing a novel that I helped to edit be completed. I’m looking forward to reading the final version.

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Techno Dino Says “Raar?”

It was brought to my attention by a friend last night that, if he is going to put an acknowledgement to me in his upcoming novel, it will be easier for people to find me if I have a website. A real website, which people can actually visit.

Oh yeah. That.

I registered the domain names back in March, and it is now the end of June. For an activation window, this is actually better than some of my credit cards, so I don’t think I’m doing too badly. Happily I can just ring the bank to activate a credit card. No such luck with the website.

After staring blankly at the plans offered by the company I registered the domain names with, I decided to purchase the cheapest one. As far as I could tell the only difference between them was the storage capacity on offer. The last time I wrote a website was probably in 1998, so the potential to use 25gb of storage feels mind boggling. I can’t imagine what I would do with 200gb capacity. Since my laptop only has 13gb of free space with which to write the website, the question was rather academic anyway.

With the monetary hurdle out of the way, I created my fancy new professional email address. Because, really, I wanted another email address about as much as I wanted to be bludgeoned to death by a pack of angry wild bulls wielding golf clubs. Joy of joys, one of those dreams has now come true for me. Perhaps the bulls will arrive before the spam emails do, and I won’t have to read them.

Or perhaps not.

With the email account out of the way, I got to work on having some content for my new website. I finished creating my Facebook and Google+ pages. Photos were taken for profile pictures, and naturally the ones where I looked somewhat reasonable were the ones where the flash did not work. More photos were taken, and it quickly became apparent that this is not a game for after 10pm.

This morning I decided to get to work on the actual website. My first mission was to point all of my domain names to the same place. Address number one had placeholder text from my host provider advising that a new website is coming soon. Addresses two, three and four had placeholder text advising that the domain name is parked. I went through, updated the name servers for each, and refreshed the pages. Addresses three and four worked, but not address two. After an hour spent staring at it, I decided to move on and come back to this part later.

I began writing the content for my website. There is probably a stack of web editing software out there, but the stubborn old school part of my soul decided that I could totally code this in html using Notepad. I quickly whipped up a page that might take the award for Most Boring Website 2012, felt a bit embarrassed it and decided that placeholder pages don’t have to be thrilling, they simply have to be there.

My happiness with this phase came to another screeching halt when I tried to upload the new page. Back in 1998, uploading a website was simple; you wrote it, went to the website, hit upload, and it just worked. If you felt particularly lazy you could write the new page inside the website manager. Or maybe it was hopelessly convoluted back then too with time healing the wounds. I just do not recall needing an FTP client to manage my website. Technology has marched on, and I realise all too painfully that I did not keep pace with it.

Learning curve about FTP clients completed, I finally managed to upload the placeholder file and single picture. Victory was mine. Then I loaded the page. Victory was gone.

After another hour spent trying everything I could think of, my novelist friend came up with a workaround that seems to load. My boyfriend came home, suggested that I reset my text to the original to show him how it didn’t work, and then it did. So now it is after 6pm, my “ten minute” job is finished, and I feel utterly entitled to the hot chocolate I promised myself this morning when I finished.

It’s such a pity the coffee shops are now closed.

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Apparently I am a Brand

Over the weekend I went to a workshop about self-promotion and book marketing, run by Tania McCartney at the ACT Writers Centre. She is a vibrant personality, and the workshop was a good way to refocus and remind myself why I am a writer. Sitting in a room full of people who are doing what I want to be doing felt like the right place to be.

During part of the workshop we discussed how much of the personal can be safely shared, and how much should be kept private. It was an interesting change to have this conversation from a professional perspective, rather than the feminist one. I found myself contrasting the idea that “the personal is political” with the question “how much do I want to share?”

This is a question that I have battled with repeatedly throughout my life. It is a very rare occasion that I do something that would humiliate me if other people knew, and if that does happen it is usually because someone has caught me at a moment of weakness and explained how morally bankrupt I am. Shame is usually something I am very quick to get over. I am open to a fault, and unable to philosophically censor myself.

As a writer, my primary objective is communication. As a person, one of my guiding values is integrity. As a professional, I have always chosen transparency. Combined these elements steer me towards writing that tends to convey my personal truth. As an individual within a social group, who may one day be further investigated by public scrutiny, is this a sensible approach to maintain? Probably not.

I typically choose to share my bigger life experiences. It is easier for me to be honest than to make up a cover story. Because these life experiences are so thoroughly discussed as they occur, I have processed and left them behind. My reluctance to hide these significant details means that often new friends have no suspicion that they have happened. Occasionally I am in a position where I need to hide my laughter from people who think my life has been quiet and sheltered; perhaps it has been, but rarely more so than the person making the claim.

Tania made the point that, as writers, we are a brand with our writing as the product. This is something I have been discussing on and off with another writer for the last month. I know that she is entirely correct within the context of the current marketplace. My inner professional feels obliged to take note of this, but mostly I want to ignore it as blah blah blah. It is a cultural concept that I am unable to take very seriously; no matter what might be required by the world around me, I am firstly a person.

The balance between marketing and everything else will always be a grey area for me, and this is why I decided to attend the workshop. Technically this blog could count as marketing, but for me this is a component in my interaction with the world. I feel as if there should be a difference between writing for passion and writing to attract attention for my other writing. For other people this distinction will be clear, but in my world the advertising above the buy it now button is as far as I can consciously push. Perhaps one day publicists and all sorts of interesting professionals will bemoan my ability to open my mouth, but for now I will keep living my life, one inappropriate public statement at a time.

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