Monthly Archives: February 2011

Angry Birds, I Can’t Quit You

Angry Birds, I can’t quit you.  Ever since my evil assistant Trevor introduced us a week and a half ago, you have confounded me, enticed me and made me addicted to your charms.  Angry Birds, I can’t quit you.

Yes, Angry Birds, the pointless and insipid iPhone app game.  Thanks to Angry Birds, I’ve become the Charlie Sheen of my own couch.  Playing the game no matter what else is going on around me.  In a week and a half, my family has left me, my bank accounts are empty and I wander around my house, robe open  in my underwear, staring at my iPhone screen, drooling and muttering insults at the stupid little red bird who can’t blow anything up and bounces off everything without inflicting any damage!  On the plus side, I received an encouraging email from Lindsay Lohan in which she offered to be my sponsor, provided I show the tiniest bit of evidence that I want to recover. I have hit bottom and started to dig.

Ah, Angry Birds, my current diversion. I’ve had millions of them.  They’ve ranged from incessant practicing of musical instruments to sitting for too long in front of the tube, watching CSI Boise and following the ever fascinating online  updates of Charlie and Lindsey as they circle the drain.

I’m talking about the things that keep us from doing the work we need to be doing. Of course, doing the things we like are easy.  We gravitate towards these things and tend to do them first.  When we’re done with them, we look for any reason we can to keep from doing the things that provide foundation to the dreams we are trying to build. Sound familiar?

I can’t remember where, but I heard something recently about productivity.  When asked about his long successful career, an older entrepreneur said “whenever I find myself in a lull at work, I ask myself this question: is this the most productive thing I could be doing right now.  I ask this question constantly throughout my day.”

Not as easy for a freelancer of course.  When you’re not working and trying to GET work, you also have the rhythm of home to deal with.  When you’re sitting in the car waiting to pick up the kids from school, no, it’s probably not the most productive work thing you could be doing.  But, if you’re waiting with an iPhone in your hand playing FREAKIN ANGRY BIRDS, stop and send an email to a business contact.  If you’re sitting at your computer, resist the urge to do the online NY Times crossword puzzle and do some technical research your craft or find some useful ways to network.

It’s great that we live in a time when there is so much right at our fingertips. Information is everywhere and it’s all fighting for our attention.  Leisure is everywhere and it’s all fighting for our attention.  I’m not saying never relax.  You have to let your mind have some downtime.  But, be disciplined and reserve time to work  on your career.  During that work time keep asking yourself: is this the most productive thing I could be doing right now?

That said, it’s been an hour since I wrote that last line.  I had to go to the bathroom, then my neighbor down the road called and said my dogs were loose. I retrieved them, fixed the gate that they compromised, (those damn dogs have more escapes than the cast of Hogan’s Heros) considered taking a shower and finally decided to finish writing instead. So, yes I get it.  Being at home trying to work is distracting.  At least I haven’t picked up my iPhone and succumbed to the calling of ANGRY BIRDS.

I suggest you might try this:  Tape to your computer the question: ‘is this the most productive thing I could be doing right now?’  I mean, what could it hurt?  At the very least you might develop a new working habit. As for me, if I can finish this blog post before either Charlie or Lindsey get in trouble again it will be a miracle.  Bill Maher said it best the other night, and I have to paraphrase because I couldn’t find it on You Tube yet, though I did look at 20 other things: “Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan, you know you’re a mess when a train wreck stops to look at you!  ba dum dum.

Go try to be productive. As for me, I’ve got level 2 to get past and I better not see that friggin little red bird again.

Don’t Panic!!

I have three dogs, Sophie, Dusty and Rambo.  Now this isn’t some stupid blog post created to show pictures of my stupid pets.  Though I will show pictures of my stupid pets in a few paragraphs.  Let me start again.  I have three dogs, Sophie, Dusty and Rambo.  They never panic.  They bark furiously from the windows at the Fed-x man, landscapers, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the dogs next door, but they never panic.

I’ve watched them a lot.  They react to stimuli sure, and they get very excited. But nearest I can tell, when they get used to a situation, they calm right down, forget about it and go about the business of sniffing each others butt’s and trying to drag off the counters things which may or may not be food.  Not once have I seen them brood or worry about a situation.


If i’m a little late with dinner, they sit at attention, expectantly waiting.  They don’t become consumed with thoughts of never eating again. They just wait.  If I sleep in and don’t hear them scratching to go out, they may take care of business in the house, but they don’t worry that they’ll never see the backyard again.

Perhaps, it’s the size of their brain.  Let’s face it, not big. Not prone to reason, just fight or flight.  I believe it’s the reasoning mind that panics.  A dog will just run. Humans too will run in certain situations, but are more likely to stand there, staring at the danger and thinking ahead to all the various possibilities of how it will ruin their life ten or twenty years down the road.


When it comes to my dogs and panic, The Jehovah’s Witnesses are a little different of course.  In those cases I actually let the dogs out.  They are in full flight. It’s interesting watching one Witness trying to run while pushing the other Witness’s wheelchair (there’s always one in a wheelchair) down my long gravel driveway, the wheels digging in, the dogs getting closer, the panic rising.  The attendant Witness suddenly turning the chair around and using his friend as a human shield against the on coming pack of canine killing machines.  Of course they don’t realize that with my dogs, the only goal they have is to bury their noses well into the crotch of a Jehovah’s Witness to get a whiff of God.

Weighing in at 6 lbs - Rambo

I’m kidding about all that of course, I would never sick my dogs on anyone (or would I?)  I’m just trying to make a point here.  If you don’t get that job or couple of jobs, if you are out of work for a month, don’t panic.

Stars explode, planets collide and free lancers sit around sometimes.  It’s merely the natural flow of things.  There is a beauty to working in the arts.  For your vision and to be your own boss is freedom. But, when it’s slow, remember: the lack of work today does not preclude a lack of work tomorrow or next week or next month or next year.

You can fight that “I’m never going to work again” angst by re-focusing your energy in a more positive way.  I’m not going to tell you to go make some calls or send some emails or start a personal development art project.  I say that all the time and by now you know that productivity begets work.  Instead, when the pangs of “I’m finished professionally” set in, I want you to do something simple: TRUST.  Trust that you are not at the sum total of your profession.  Trust that the work will come back around. Trust that your talent is your purpose, and purpose can’t be denied. Trust that just as stars explode and planets collide, freelancers go back to work.

I’m a big fan of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  For both of you who have never heard of this book series, movie, TV series, radio series, it is about a fictional Inter Galactic travel guide.  According to Wikipedia:  “DON’T PANIC (always upper-case) is a phrase written on the cover of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.[27] The novel explains that this was partly because the device “looked insanely complicated” to operate, and partly to keep intergalactic travelers from panicking.[28] It is said that despite its many glaring (and occasionally fatal) inaccuracies, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy itself has outsold the Encyclopedia Galactica because it is slightly cheaper, and because it has the words “Don’t Panic” in large, friendly letters on the cover.[27]

Wikipedia goes on to say that the author of 2001 A Space OdysseyArthur C. Clarke said Douglas Adams‘ use of “don’t panic” was perhaps the best advice that could be given to humanity.”

I have to agree.  See it doesn’t matter whether you are a freelancer, one of my dogs, a Jehovah’s Witness or an intergalactic traveler.  When you panic, you spend a lot of brain power making up imaginary disasters, when in fact you could be using your brain power to be productive and find some solutions.  But, to keep from panicking you have to TRUST.  So, trust me, it will all be fine.  At the very least, I won’t sick my dogs on you.

What’s It Going To Be?

Legend has it that the great Bluesman Robert Johnson made a deal with the Devil at The Crossroads. Up to that point, Johnson had been a musician of average skills, making his living going from Juke Joint to Juke Joint in the deep south.

According to Wikipedia “Around this time, the noted blues musician Son House moved to Robinsonville where his musical partner, Willie Brown, already lived. Late in life, House remembered Johnson as a boy who had followed him around and tried unsuccessfully to copy him. But when House moved to Robinsonville in 1930, Johnson was a young adult, already married and widowed. Johnson then left the Robinsonville area, reappearing after a few months with a miraculous guitar technique.”

The legend says that Johnson met the Devil in the guise of a large black man at the Crossroads. The man took Johnson’s guitar, tuned it, played a song and handed it back in return for the promise of Johnson’s soul. From that time on, Johnson had total mastery of the instrument and the blues.

Oh, wouldn’t that be nice? Not the selling your soul part, but instant mastery or one project that permanently changes your career for the better. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work like that.

I have had many clients who believe that winning an award, getting into a prestigious industry organization or having a film that does well will change everything and it will all become easy from here on out. And they’re right, it does change everything and everything does become easy!! For a few weeks or months anyway. Once the hype begins to die down, the big machine of Hollywood starts to ask it’s tiring and inevitable question again: what else you got? If there is any one reason that Hollywood has a cynical reputation this is it.

It’s a treadmill, there’s just no denying it. You put it all out there, your talent, your sweat, your heart and soul, yet achievement can feel fleeting. That’s the problem, achievement IS fleeting. However, mastery is another story altogether.

Mastery is excellence for the sake of excellence. It has nothing to do with achievement or money. It has to be about craft and passion.  There is a great idiom in motivational thought: money never leads, it follows.  Yes, I know your question is “yeah, and what am I supposed to do until the money follows?  There are bills to pay!”

No easy answers for this one.  If you don’t love your craft with all your soul, it’s time to buy a sausage and peppers cart and start working Central Park.  If you’ve determined that the life of an Artist is worth the pain, struggle and periods of suffering then get as immersed in craft as you can.  Really, it’s the only way. Especially if paying work is alluding you right now.  Trust in the fact that if you keep honing, studying and practicing your craft it will eventually pay off in ways that can be quantified as achievement.

Or, of course you can always sell your soul to the Devil.  Being the helpful person I am, Here’s my four point plan for doing so.  1. Find an intersection where two streets cross. Easy, they are everywhere. In rural areas foot traffic may not be constant so bring a lawn chair. 2. Wait until a large black man comes along. Doesn’t have to be black man, could be white, could be a woman, but very large,  I mean large, like 6’4″,  320 pounds large, don’t skimp here, size is important. 3. Hand him (or her) your instrument, screen play, camera, portfolio, whatever, and politely ask: “are you the Devil?”   4. As you recover in intensive care from the beating you got with whatever it was you handed him (or her), contemplate how less painful it would have been to just commit yourself to craft.

Art isn’t easy, even when you can successfully sell your soul to the Devil.  Robert Johnson only lived a few more years after his meeting at the Crossroads.  He was poisoned by whiskey laced with strychnine.  Though never proved, it was believed the murderer was a  Juke Joint owner who thought Johnson was flirting with his wife .  It took Johnson 3 painful days to die.

What’s it going to be?  Hard work or the fantasy of an easy way to mastery?  You can go with the fantasy and maybe someday long after you’re gone you too can be the subject of an urban myth. Or, maybe the hard work will be worth it. Perhaps art for art’s sake will pan out and sustain you.  You never know.