Thursday, 27 September 2012

Gimme Some Credit...

Hello Friends.

Comedian Louis C.K. has this show called Louie, which opens with a cover of that song "Brother Louie." The one that goes, "Louie Louie Louie Lou-eeee! Louie Louie Louie Lou-ayyye! Louie Louie Louie Lou-eeee! Louie, baby, you're gonna cry." This past Sunday at the Emmy Awards, the show and its star took home some hardware for their second season. I was glad as that season was really good, but there's been something bugging me about the third season which wraps up this week. Since the departure of the character Pamela at the close of the season two, Louie has seen a string of really crazy ladies. Over the course of a dozen episodes, three women offer to blow him, Melissa Leo cracks his head against the windshield of her car, Parker Posey takes him on a deranged all-night date after getting kicked out of a bar, Chloe Sevigny attempts to reunite him with Posey and is so excited at the idea that she masturbates openly in a coffee shop, Maria Bamford gives him crabs, Nancy Shayne has her vagina removed, and Sarah Silverman contemplates "cutting her tits off." Maybe this isn't misogyny exactly, speaks more to Louie's bad luck or the strange people he encounters, but it isn't as if the male characters on the show are alternately oversexed or castrated.

That's a long digression to explain that, in gathering this evidence, I had a strong article to pitch. Louie earns amazing accolades from columnists and critics. The auteur style of of production (he writes, directs and edits every episode himself) and his strange vignette-style episodes make his the cool show to watch. Despite scouring the internet for other articles about his treatment of women this year, I found nothing. I thought, perhaps, that my fresh perspective might stimulate discussion, or at least readers, on a entertainment/culture website. I picked because it's a site I visit often, I like their columnists generally, and they accept unsolicited submissions for article ideas, and they often pay. I pitched the piece on a Thursday, citing the above examples and using something like, "Louie's Girl Trouble" as my working title. I received no response from anyone at Salon and still haven't, but the following Wednesday they published this article.

I can't prove that they stole my idea, but doesn't it seem like it? It's very possible that someone else watching the same season of television I did would arrive at the same conclusions, but it's a pretty big coincidence that Salon would get pitched the same idea and not think to at least write a two line response to me like, "Oh thanks, but someone's contacted us with a similar concept." I hate the idea that some editor took my idea, considered it, then promptly outsourced it to a better writer. If my grapes are especially sour, it's because one, this article has been reblogged from several sources (including my blog, I guess) and two, I swear this has happened before.

Dream: Credit where it's due.

Goal: Achievable, I hope. Can any writers speak to whether this is common practice? It's curious how a lot of these websites work. Huffington Post, for instance, has enormous readership and accepts unsolicited submissions. They don't pay a dime, but one supposes the exposure an article could potentially get would be a fair trade. But the way they accept submissions seems intentionally slick. To pitch to them, you log into their site, click a link, and write your idea in a box and click send. At no time do you get the email address of the editor you're allegedly sending to, nor do you have the option to email it back to yourself. Your idea, once it's sent, is zapped into the ether of the internet and unless you're particularly computer savvy, there's no record of what you wrote them. Ostensibly, they could steal your idea and you'd have no way to prove they did.

Plan: Rise up, move on.

I have no plans beyond this blog to confront the folks at Salon. I have no leg to stand on, after all, nothing to prove that the writer of the published article didn't come to the same conclusions I did and simply get there first, or have stronger prose. Besides, there's nothing they can do to course-correct. Publish my article after hers? Why?

Similarly, I can't fight the folks at a storytelling website I have to be vague about as they could still pay me for future contributions. Every week they put out a call looking for stories concerning a particular theme. The examples I use here are changed to save my ass in case they read this, but trust that the coincidences were the same level of plausibility. So one week, they asked something like, "Do you have a funny story about seeing someone out of context? Like running into a teacher outside of school?" And I sent them a story about bonding with a teacher outside of school after we both got caught in a rainstorm together. They rejected the story but the following week sent out a call asking, "Have you ever been caught in the rain with someone? What did you learn?" It seemed really weird to me that they rejected my idea but seemed to steal the concept. Undaunted, I wrote, "Wow, what a coincidence! I'd like to pitch this story about being caught in the rain with my French teacher one more time!" but because I knew they had rejected the story earlier, I sent along a second story about being caught in the rain during a roadtrip with a friend. They rejected those, but the following week sent out another mass email saying, "This week, we want stories about roadtrips!" Again, these examples are fake, but the eerie coincidences are the same. And like Salon, I can't accuse them of anything because I can't prove that anything actually happened.

I'm not alone here, and there are terrible examples of this kind of behaviour in writing and many other industries. Dr. Jon knows of a PhD student whose supervisor began taking credit for his thesis, submitting it to journals and conferences all over the world as his own work. I know of an actress who set up an audition for what she thought was an indie drama. The audition turned out to be in a deserted office building on a Saturday and when she arrived she was given a flimsy bra to "change into real quick" for an on-camera test. My friend bolted and took a few other girls with her, but there are far worse stories where that theme is concerned. Another friend told jokes at a stand-up night featuring a more prominent comedian. Two months later he saw that comedian doing his jokes on television.

Plagiarism seems to be a fact of life, in one form or another (don't steal this, Wente), but I guess the onus is on the originator to protect his or her own work. Naivete only serves you well in the bedroom. For me, it boils down to being assertive and simply demanding fair and equitable treatment for my work, which is something the women's movement, for example, fights for every day. Their cause deserves more help than my own, but maybe don't ask Brother Louie, or you're gonna cry.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Start Up...

Hello Friends.

Without going into cry-baby histrionics about it, I am still jobless. I'm not as discouraged as perhaps I should be, though, because there are quite a few "ideal" positions that I'm still in the running for: other copywriting gigs, interesting editorial work, vague entry-level positions at various media companies, and a few freelance writing opportunities. I'm hopeful about all of them, but slyly practising my sweater-folding, just in case.

What impresses me about all the businesses to which I've applied is that they were clearly at one point just an idea in someone's head. Somebody took the initiative to buy the storefront, manufacture or bring-in the product/perfect the service, open their concept to consumers, and turn a profit. Amazing! While some clearly fare better than others (RIP Blockbuster--if it's any consolation, you limped to the finish line under a terrible business model), all business, big or small, keeps its creators employed, invested, and passionate for a time. I could use investment and passion, and most certainly employment.

Dream: Start a small business.

Goal: Achievable. Monica Lewinsky started her own line of handbags, and I get to the dry-cleaners even less than she does. The only business I couldn't get off the ground would be some kind of contemporary reference depot as I just made a Lewinsky crack-em-up (though I suppose I could start a Leno-joke app). Terrible.

Plan: Develop one of the follow business ideas for the marketplace:

A cupcake store. My friend Lindsay and I have both moved here at the same time and figure, if other pursuits don't work out, we'll go the drunken Real Housewife route and open a cupcake store. Those places are everywhere! It's like we've suddenly become third-graders on Valentine's Day, or a lonely fatty out to "celebrate ME!" Either way, these oversugared gobs of goo are cash cows. I'ma get milkin'!

I'm going to start a chain similar to Hooters, but one that caters to female/gay male clientele and call it Danglies. Danglies will feature men in small, tight shorts serving you food and drinks. What's the deal with Hooters anyway? Because of the concept, are men just allowed to openly stare at their waitresses breasts? That's disgusting, but if that expressly disallowed, if a customer could get kicked out for leering, what's the deal with Hooters anyway?

The Waiting Room. This is a small, hot, noisy room. We keep a smelly old man and bratty children on permanent retainer and they are a constant presence. We have magazines but they are at least seven years old and randomly ripped apart. There's also a rude receptionist and a really rude person playing a doctor. Doctor agitatedly runs through the list of symptoms you've given the receptionist, which is whatever ailments you have that would bring you to an actual doctor's office. Doctor says loudly, "Okay, so he/she has a sore throat! Earache! Headache! Tell them I'll be ready in forty-five minutes and those symptoms better be pretty severe!" Have you even been to a real doctor's office waiting room, like I have described, and your symptoms suddenly disappear? That happens to me nearly every time I go to a clinic. The Waiting Room reinforces everything that's fucking terrible about going to your doctor's office and makes you rethink whether or not your sore throat is really so terrible. Plus, there's no actual doctor and you can leave whenever you want. This might take a few years to get off the ground.

Starring You. Are you the product of theatre-education with slim to nil acting credits in the last few years? I know I am! Don't you hate how, though you have made peace with your decision to act as a hobby and pursue other work as a profession, your former contemporaries from theatre school are doing really, really well? Now you can keep your envy in check and make them jealous for a change with a visit to Starring You. We have cutting edge film and editing equipment and will work with you to cut you into a really impressive movie trailer. Everyone knows the best part of a movie is the trailer, and Starring You will place you into a small indie drama featuring Allison Janney, Mark Ruffalo, Christina Ricci, and You. Or a slapstick comedy with Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, Rainn Wilson, Sarah Silverman and...who's that? Oh my god, You! Phillip Seymour Hoffman and George Clooney can only take part in this political game of cat and mouse with a little help from You. Joaquin Phoenix and Christian Bale will descend deep into gritty streetlife thanks to You. You see where this is going. Of course, no movie will actually be made, but by the time you post this trailer to your Facebook wall with the modest message, "Sooo much fun filming this! Amy, you are a GENIUS!" everyone will be all, "What? Huh? We severely underestimated your talents, You!" and you'll get offered legit parts in legit theatre and film, and everyone will forget about Garden of Sad, Fart School, President Danger, or Street Dumbs (the indie, comedy, political thriller, gritty drama, respectively).

Kleenex Klothes. Why be embarrassed about your runny nose, frequent sneezing, or disgusting baby, when you can just give 'er right on your own clothes? Kleenex Klothes sells disposable but stylish garments for the busy mom, cold sufferer, or chronic bleeder in your life. Just sneeze and toss!

Just Good Movies. I worked for many years in the two top video rental chains in Canada, both of which no longer exist. They claimed there was no longer a market for video rental, but the indie stores that do survive tell a much different story. Without giving away marketing strategy explicitly (although what can they do? Sue me? They don't exist anymore) both of these chains would acquire mass quantities of the newest high-grossing new release and get rid of older stock indiscriminately to make room for it. Orders would come down monthly to cut the "library" (movies older than one year) by dramatic amounts. One week I wrote a list down of our inventory. We had 42 copies of the sequel to Transformers in stock. We didn't have The Wizard of Oz, Citizen Kane, Casablanca, any Robert Altman movies, Jaws, The Graduate, Network, Working Girl, My Left Foot, A Few Good Men, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, King of Comedy, Casino, Raging Bull, Do the Right Thing, The Killing Fields, The Conversation, Planes, Trains and Automobiles. People looking to rent the latest movie might get it. People looking to rent a good movie never could. I'm going to open a video store with classic films, foreign films, LGBT titles, cult movies, and nothing with Katherine Heigl. You can find any of the latest releases on Netflix, iTunes, there's even a box at most grocery stores. Anything else, you come to Just Good Movies. I swear I'd make a killing.

Finally, I'd open Naps and Craps. A two-story completely soundproofed building equally divided into clean bedrooms and bathrooms where you could take a nap or option number two for as long as you needed, undisturbed, in complete and total silence. No kids or partners allowed. There'd be a two for one special on Sunday afternoons and holidays but get there early because there are lines around the block.

I'm not an entrepreneur, but I am a consumer. As my bank account dwindles to zero, my every purchase is made judiciously, but I'd patronize every store listed here. Maybe the only thing impeding me from starting my own business or even landing the jobs I apply for to which I feel I'm perfectly suited is confidence and courage. Maybe I'd have all the opportunities I wanted if I could just grow a better pair of danglies. I don't know what insecurities or shortcomings are stopping me now, but I'm not about to open the floor to discussion. That's no business of yours.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Some Body to Love...

Hello Friends.

I love swimmin'. Having Dr. Jon work at the nearby university means that I, as his partner, get this little card that gives me access to the two (2!) pools on campus for swimmin'. Having no job and cool trunks with blue flowers on them means I go swimmin' nearly every day and while I'm no Phelps, I love paddling along in the slow lane and pretending I live underwater (always a mermaid, never a mer, amirite ladies?). Considering how much I love undersea adventure, it's appalling to me that I once put my 12 year old foot down and refused a school trip to the pool.

Oh the mishegoss of the elementary school swimming trip! Let's take a bunch of preteens steeped in self-consciousness and make them wear not a lot of clothes for a few hours. When I heard the trip was scheduled, I got nervous and crampy and told my mother I absolutely would not be attending this wet excuse for an excursion. Unimpressed, she asked me why I thought I could simply opt-out of this activity. "You know," I whined, exasperated. "Because of my chest! Everyone's gonna make fun of me."

I was born with this thing called Pectus excavatum, otherwise known as funnel chest. Google image the term at your own risk (you're gonna see some bewb), and if you do, know that mine is not as severe as a lot of the examples. Basically, if I'm lying down topless (you've done a great job--hey-o!) you could place an orange, or a softball, or a bath poof, or a reasonable portion of raisins, or a ramekin of gravy, in a kind of vacancy between my pectoral muscles. It's my understanding that this is fairly common among white men (that, and our tendency to earn higher salaries for doing the same job), one in four-hundred or something are born with it.

I couldn't tell you what got into my dumb sixth-grader head before that field trip because I don't recall ever being teased about my chest by anyone. And I'm not being rose-coloured glasses about it, I honestly don't think anybody ever, ever made fun of me for it. I remember people saying to me, "What's with your chest?" And me saying, "It just goes like that, I guess." And them saying, "Oh." That was it, I was never mocked about it, at least not to my (longish) face. Anyway, Mom said I could skip the trip "if I really wanted to", but she "didn't think [I] cared so much about what people think." She reminded me how much I loved swimmin'. How, if I chose not to swim, I'd still have to go to the pool, but be that guy on the sidelines, fully clothed, watching everyone else have fun. How I'd likely look back on this experience and be disappointed in myself. She won me over with that last bit, so I went on the trip, splashed around with my classmates, not one of whom noticed or cared about Pectus excavatum. Of course she was right, my 12 year old self had a great time, and now I don't spend a minute thinking about how my chest looks when I have my shirt off. My 29 year old self worries about my gut when I have my shirt off.

Dream: Enough with this stupid body shit.

Goal: Achievable? I really hope so. I'm a smart man who's healthy and happy, who doesn't judge other people for their weird bodies so what's my issue here? I'll bet this affects more than one in four-hundred.

Plan: Put things into perspective.

Not to generalize with wild abandon, but did you hear about the spoiled, vain girl who gets Botox injections every six weeks? Or the juicehead guy that caps his workouts with a visit to the tanning booth? The thing about those people, whether you see them on television or know them personally, it's not like that single procedure (be it Botox, tanning, highlights, facials, etc) takes them from drab to fab. Dr. Jon and I watch this show called Princess where young women spend their parents' money recklessly on clothes and shoes and a lot of them get Botox injections. Like young women! And I'm not sure what good it does when they're so otherwise unappealing. It's not as if someone is saying, "You know, I really don't like how Laura has wracked up $50 000 in consumer debt and a selfish brat, but damn if she doesn't have the smoothest forehead. I'm going to marry her for that sleek terrain." My point is, you can pretty up the package all you want, nobody wants to hang out with the human equivalent of a dumpster fire.

Secondly, that physical thing you're really worried about? Nobody else notices/gives a shit. I knew this incredibly handsome man in university that we'll call Dave. Dave and I didn't have classes together every semester, so we often wouldn't see each other for weeks, even months at a time. Anyway, Handsome Dave approached me excitedly one day and did a kind of twirl around and said, "Notice anything different?" I didn't, he looked as good as ever. He twirled and asked again and I shook my head, honestly flummoxed. And he said, "My birthmark! It's gone!" Apparently Dave was born with one of those wine-stain type birthmarks on the back and side of his neck. I had never, ever noticed this, and I'd snuck my share of glances at Handsome Dave. He seemed really irritated. "Come on! You remember! Ugh, it was the ugliest thing. And now it's gone!" I was happy for him, I guess, but I couldn't help but wonder if it was something only Dave noticed or cared about. If the cosmetic alteration made a difference to anyone but him.

Finally, I would never put anybody else's body through the same judgemental scrutiny I give my own. I think about my big tummy, fleshy thighs, patchy back skin, and how much worry they cause me on certain slow news days, and yet I don't think about the same traits in anyone I know, even though they must have them too! I'm not explaining myself well. If I really think about it, I'm certain there are people I know with the same tummy, thighs, skin as me, even Pectus excavatum, and yet I've never noticed those traits in them. Never judged them for something so arbitrary. So why am I subject to my own special scrutiny? I guess it comes down to reverse narcissism, which is ostensibly narcissism anyway. Either way, most of us come upon our reflections in a pool and are mesmerized by our beauty or our perceived flaws. Well I'm through with that, at least until the next slow news day. I'm gonna use my pools for swimmin'.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Put Me In, Coach...

Hello Friends.

Applying for jobs online is deceptively easy, and I think that ease gives the applicant a sense of entitlement he does not deserve. I've lived here in my new digs for a little while now and have applied for many, many online jobs. The process has become easier and faster, and I therefore have lead myself to believe that it's only a matter of time before a lucrative contract pings into my inbox. Weeks of no responses from any potential employer (not a one) is teaching me that perhaps that's not the case, and has me exploring other, less desirable options. An anecdote:

A few days ago, I pitched this blog as a column of sorts to a website. I wrote a lengthy, but informative email explaining the tongue-in-cheek Dream, Goal, Plan format, and sent a long a few entries as samples, as well as repeatedly including the web address. After that was sent into cyberspace, I gathered up my stack of boring resumes (the ones that, instead of saying "Writer, Researcher, Funny Guy" say, "Cashier, cashier, clerk, key-holder, cashier") and headed out to drop resumes off door to door to all the businesses within walking distance. There's nothing quite so demoralizing as dropping off a resume to a place you'd never want to shop in, much less work at, but your options are dwindling and so you have to just do it.

I went into a clothing store that specializes in expensive athletic wear (I shouldn't say which one but it's not Lululemon, it's actually Roots). Anyway, so the bored clerk engaged me in small talk and said, "Do you own a lot of [athletic store] clothes?" And I said something vague about liking their brand but not having any of their "exciting new line" yet and the clerk said, "Well, you should know if we hire you, that we want all of our employees exclusively in our brand." This is not a cheap brand, I should mention (think of an Eddie Bauer-type store, because Roots is what I'm referencing and they're close) and so I jokingly said, "It sounds like you have to spend a lot of money to work here!" and the clerk was not amused and said, "We don't see it that way." It was then that I should have grabbed my resume out of his hands and sped off on a motorcycle, but instead I smiled thinly (meaning I looked really thin) and left to continue to ply other merchants with evidence of my "work experience."

When I returned home, with no clearer prospects, two hours later, a prompt reply from the website awaited me. It was your generic rejection form letter with a personalized note indicating to me that the person who reads the pitches didn't give mine more than a cursory glance and maybe skimmed the part about "Dream, Goal, Plan" but missing the part about it being funny because she wrote, "Sorry James. We're not looking for anything in the vein of life-coaching." That's when, like a drunken Scotsman back home from the pub, it hit me.

Dream: Become a Life Coach.

Goal: Achievable. Though I've never consulted with one personally, I've met a few self-described "Life Coaches" and it seems to me they've got the biggest racket running! Using buzzwords like "self-actualization", "creative-enabling" and "bi-weekly consultation fee", they rake in your money without actually doing anything for you. I could do that! They promise vague things like, "I will help you remember the essence of you are meant to be", but they don't get you the job interview, the house, the partner. They bolster you up to go after those things yourself, I suppose, but it means they don't have to do squat. And I'm sure people who are Life Coaches believe they are providing a valuable service and that they were destined for this "work", but to me it's a bit like aspiring to be a busboy. "I don't want to prepare the delicious meal, and I don't want to eat it myself, but please, God, let me set the table." But they're profiting from this deception and I want in!

Plan: Create my own Life Coaching program using the breadth of my wisdom, knowledge, and experience. Build the foundation of my self-empowerment empire on strong tenets like:

You are the biggest waste of your own time. For instance, stop folding underwear. The old James spent precious minutes of every laundry load, carefully folding a pair of underpants like it was a pocket square. The fact is, my underwear is getting placed in the drawer where it will rest until I literally strap my balls into it. Let's not get precious. By the way, do ladies fold their tiny underwear? Particularly thongs and the like? They would be so small without a person in them, I can't imagine they take up any space. Feel free to call me about this issue, female acquaintances. I know you're dying to tell me. What was I talking about? Oh yeah. Wasted time.

Treat yourself, but treat others in kind. When the cheque comes in a restaurant, don't waste time pretending to look for your wallet in hopes of avoiding payment. Look your friend square in the eye, place your hand firmly on top of the bill and say, "You can't put a price on our friendship, and I hardly think quibbling over who gets what item should impede this wonderful time we're having together. The fact is, I pre-authorized my credit card to be charged while you were absorbed in the menu earlier. I will incur the charges today and I don't want to hear another word about it. Now let's burn off some of this deliciousness, Friend! Race you to the parking lot!" Then run like hell because of course you didn't pre-authorize your credit card, but the confident way you handled the billfold will suggest to the server that you've placed some form of payment there and they're unlikely to stop you at the door. If they figure out your little game and you are stopped at the door, laugh it off! Say, "Ah, you've cottoned on to our little ruse! Clever girl, Amber! You deserve this crisp, one hundred dollar..." then bite down on the blood packs you tucked into your mouth (always bring blood packs for business and casual lunches) then stand perfectly still as blood pours from your mouth. While they rush to call medical personal, resume your run for it.

Find your tribe. Though this endless process of job application should have me sour and grim, I've been anything but thanks to friends old and new. The other night, my friend Steph and I got drunk watched this Dateline about a man who was murdered in cold blood by his own son and the son's friend. The lead detective set up an elaborate sting to catch the son based on his hunch. Keith Morrison, the host of the program, asked the detective, in hindsight, how sure he was that his hunch would pay off. The detective demurred modestly and said, "Oh, about 30 percent sure." And Keith Morrison said, "30 percent! But if this plan were to fail, if you were wrong. If you couldn't prove this man was brutally slain by his own son's hand, you've given yourself a 70 percent chance of being a goat." Of being a goat. We rewound it several times and laughed until we cried. Of being a goat. It's moments like that you can't apply for, that no paycheque is big enough to afford. Of being a goat. Life's a game that requires some amount of strategy, I'm sure, but with plays like that, who needs a coach?