Soap Suds

I was washing a plate by hand in the sink. With suds covering my fingers, I peered out the window and noticed the familiar view. But it wasn’t a recent view. I was back at the first house I ever lived in. I recognized the sink and the surroundings. We were back — our excursion to Florida must’ve failed and we returned to Massachusetts. Does that mean my dad is still alive? It feels like he is.

Tears started welling in my eyes. I felt so sad. Being back means my balcony’s gone. I love my balcony. It’s where I’ve sat everyday for the past few months since we’ve been here, gazing across the treetops and marveling at the clouds and their many shapes. It’s where I contemplate life and practice presence. I can even see my little boy’s school from there, oftentimes hearing the clamor of recess.

Sensing my own sadness, my mind made an ocean-view appear out of another window — and I was comforted. I could see the gentle white-topped waves rolling into the warm tan sand. I suppose the ocean would be an acceptable swap for clouds and treetops. Yet my logical mind kicked in and said “Hey! That’s where the backyard usually is. There’s no ocean, it’s merely a mirage!” I was sad again.

I woke up. My eyes opened to the very balcony I missed in my dream — and I was comforted. I feel very much at home here, much more than that first house in my dream, a house I lived-in for nearly three decades — yet it never felt like a home. I don’t know where we’ll be in August of next year. In my mind I see myself here, living the quaint and cozy suburban life.

Who knew that’s what I wanted? But the thought of having lost it made me nearly cry in my dream. I suppose it solidifies how much I care about where I am right now. I’m not scared of losing it, I’d just be disappointed if I did. Then I rebuked my wallet. I sternly declared: “How dare you not provide the ample funds I require! My family and guests deserve better!”. My finishing move was a flying-elbow, the double-bill-fold flew open and landed face down on the floor. I guess I won.

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Mentor Series: Michelle

The world looks a lot different to a four-year old, and that’s where our story begins, through her tiny eyes. Fairies, angels, mermaids, roving spirits, and demonic creatures running amok — these are not mere mental musings, but absolute reality. “Michelle! Be careful you don’t disturb the fairies! They’re very vindictive if you cross them.” The ways of the world were explained to her by elderly grandparents, people of the earth, folks that tended the land on an island in the Pacific Rim.

It was at this age when she traveled in a giant metal bird to America — New York City no less. Horns honking, people shouting, her ears were overwhelmed. The air itself, now chilled, hurt her little hands. And her neck couldn’t bend back enough to see the tops of the towers that created the concrete valley she now found herself within. Everything about this dense city, couldn’t be further from where she started: a tiny seaside village halfway around the globe.

So the world to her, IS magic — there’s just no other explanation for it. The gritty city didn’t strip her of magic, it only reinforced it. Though oftentimes, it’s a mischievous magic. This little girl was torn from her home to live with a mom and dad she barely knew. The coldness of her surroundings seeped from her tiny hands into her tiny heart. Dark-magic is very real — and flip-flops, when struck across a small body, are very painful. Thus was life in the age of Ragnarok.

But such a pure spirit cannot by squashed. Light triumphs over darkness. And by the light of the full-moon, she came into my life. A fella that knew no magic, knew no sense of soul or spirit, a guy steeped in the bounds of a fixed well-defined reality. “Michelle, when are you going to put that nonsense behind you and step into the real world!”. But all she saw was a confused young man that denied what was right in front of his face. And so we lived as if in a Venn diagram, overlapping only occasionally in our beliefs.

Perhaps it was the stark contrast of belief that pulled us together, the Yin and Yang, magic and the material. Well long-story short: she won. After decades of trying to make my logical science-based philosophy-of-life work, I gave up. It was unsustainable, I was an anxious wreck. Yet there she was, happily strolling through life without struggling for survival. When she asked, life simply gave her what she wanted. Oh. Therefore, I adopted her outlook and life has been better ever since.

That’s the story of my mentor Michelle. A subtle teacher that never attempted to teach. But through her cheerful way and magical manner, I came to see a better world whose light was meant to warm, not burn.

Making Connections

So the next obvious question is: as a content-creator, how do you create connections?

If you wanted to make friends, what would you do? Would you wall yourself off? Wear the same smelly clothes everyday? Show hostility towards everyone and everything? OR, would you put the best, most inviting version of yourself out there for all the world to see? Likely the second option, right?

Next: If I tell you some facts and figures, you wouldn’t care — and even if you did, you’d soon forget. But what really sticks, are stories. You need to weave narratives into the minds of your audience. If you analyze the content we consume, it’s mostly filler, simple stuff that takes up time — so it’s not the actual material that matters so much as the way it’s wrapped.

Third: Not any boring story will do, it must evoke emotion. Get the audience to feel and they’ll follow you on whatever yarn you unravel. No one really cares about the exact time you entered a building, they want to feel the urgency and apprehension of the moment your sweat-soaked hand touches the almost-menacing door-handle. Think roller-coaster, not museum-tour.

Now, if you can forgive a slight interruption, I was just pausing to think about how much I appreciate you for reading this. Someone recently asked me what I wanted for Christmas this year, and all I could think about was you: an audience of my very own. Yeah it’s corny, I know. But really, it warms my heart to think about your presence as my presents. Number four: appreciate your audience.

Five: You gotta want it. For example, I don’t want to make pie, my heart’s not into it — so if I do make pie and I’m faced with challenges along the way, I’m probably going to cut corners and not care too much about the final product. Whereas I do want to eat pie (apple or even toffee-pecan) — and I’ll easily eat a third or even half in a single sitting. So, is creating connections your focus? Are you terrified or thrilled by the aspect of connecting with your audience?

To sum it up: Welcome people into a well-kept space. Tell them stories that stir their emotions. Appreciate them, they’re not mere stepping-stones to fame and fortune — the connection IS the goal — content-creators are a dime-a-dozen, you need them more than they need you. The audience is your friend, and you have to go out of your way to make this one of the most important relationships in your life — be respectful and sincere.

Connect the Dots

In business, numbers matter — except when they don’t. I’ve watched nearly every episode of Shark Tank (I might’ve missed some from the first season). The investors will often say “numbers matter” and “You gotta know your numbers! Come on!” But in the next segment when another entrepreneur enters the tank, all of a sudden the Sharks change their tune: “Meh, numbers don’t matter, we’ll figure that stuff out as we go.” What’s the difference? If the investors feel a connection to the entrepreneur, they’ll bend and flex just to make the deal — whereas if the investors don’t feel a connection, they’ll come up with whatever excuses they can to turn the deal down.

It’s the same with writing: content is king, except when it isn’t. There’s thousands of things that can be written about and there’s an audience for each and every topic — so what? Well, text-books have plenty of content, yet people aren’t lining up to read them — it’s because they don’t create connections. It’s not the content, but the connection to the audience that counts. Popular writers cultivate long-standing connections with their readers. Readers don’t care about words, or else they’d have just as much fun reading a dictionary — what they crave are connections.

Likewise, I’ve seen hundreds of stand-up comedy sets, and it wasn’t the specific wording or jokes that mattered — it was a feeling of connection. Hearing jokes told by someone you don’t connect with, is like listening to a guy drone on about nonsense. Whereas if you really connect with a comedian, he can talk about anything and you’ll be entertained. If listening to jokes was what we wanted, we could watch an endless stream of comedians — yet we don’t, we pick a few favorites we connect with.

Similarly with videos on the Internet: why would anyone want to watch some random dude play a video-game for hours on end? The answer? They wouldn’t — but viewers DO want to hang out with a virtual-buddy that’s having a fun time. It’s not about the content, but the connection. It’s the same with songs and lyrics, a song is great only when we connect to it, otherwise it’s: “how can anyone listen to this garbage!”.

Therefore, the actual job of content-creators is to create connections — they just happen to use the medium of content (stories, jokes, videos, music, etc.) to do so. So if you sit there trying to create the best content possible but no one consumes it, it’s as if that content doesn’t even exist. You as a creator want and NEED to connect. To be fulfilled, an artist requires recognition, the feeling that some segment of the world understands and appreciates your work. And it all begins with what? Connection.

Wanted: Writer

Today, I declare myself a professional writer. Whew! That wasn’t so hard was it? But what’s it mean? It means I’ve selected a particular path — and the steps I take upon it, will one-by-one take me to a specific end. From a quick analysis, there seems to be three major components to complete along this path.

The first component is content. I can’t be a writer if there’s nothing to write, right? But the reason I chose this path is because I’ve already proven to myself I can generate a constant stream of content that I enjoy writing. Might it need some fit and finish? Sure, but the raw material is there.

The second component is connecting with an audience. I’ve so-far neglected this aspect big-time, so it’ll be my focus for now. My writing has primarily been a personal-diary approach, so I have to transition to a style that’s more inclusive of others. That’s my challenge, and I’m up for it. The third component is generating revenue. But really, an audience makes this part possible, so it’ll remain on the back-burner until step-two comes to fruition.

So how does one connect with an audience? By wishing it so. In my extensive analysis of content-creators, this seems to be the underlying mechanism, the common-thread they all share. The formula is easy: by performing a particular act (e.g. writing), I intend to attract an audience. It’s my intention that’s key. Previously, I didn’t want an audience, I wasn’t prepared to handle it — now it’s my wish.

“Come on, is it that easy?” THAT EASY!!? Why you little..!! Do you realize how much preparation I put into NOT being scared of an audience. Psh, “that easy”. And don’t forget I also had to prove to myself that I could create worthwhile content. It took over six years for me to accept it — over 1400 entries within this blog serve as the proof I required. Wishing and truly believing in your wish is not an easy thing to do. But wishes are where dreams begin.

Enemy Within

Mean comments. It’s a situation that affects many content-creators, so let’s talk a bit about insults and being scared of the audience. If I make a video and someone insults my eyes, it wouldn’t register with me. No one has ever mentioned my eyes good or bad, and I’ve never felt self-conscious about them. Whereas if someone says something about my teeth, my discolored, misshapen, misaligned teeth: “Yes I tried braces! That’s where the discoloring came from!!!” Oh he’s right!! My teeth are just terrible!!

Who just insulted me? I just insulted me. If I didn’t have a sore-spot to push on, there’d be no pain to feel. I’m the bully, not some external miscreant — I’M the miscreant attempting to humiliate myself through the comment-section. It’s the same way I use a mirror to humiliate myself, “Look at how ugly you are today! Gross! No one’s going to like your content and the comments will show how untalented you really are!” If I seek to be insulted, I will be insulted.

“Okay, but how about the sheer disrespect of someone trying to insult me!” Well that’s still just a sore-spot, it’s a feeling of unworthiness. From a different perspective, it’s nice that someone thinks about me so much that he needs to connect on a visceral level, he just hasn’t figured out how to express his love appropriately yet. As a content-creator, I’ll interpret the audience’s reaction in whatever way I feel about myself. If I hate myself, the audience will appear to hate me too.

In conclusion, it’s not the guy “out there” I should worry about. It’s my own judgmental self I need to be wary of. What a jerk. And if I can’t get myself in line, how can I expect the external world to fall in line? If I can’t do it, how can I expect others to!? So I must strive to be patient with others and appreciate my audience. Frankly, the audience is a lot less critical of my work than I am, plus they’ve gone out of their way to consume this content and interact in some way. “Thank you commenter, at least you’re a lot nicer to me than I am to myself.”

Creating Connections

As mentioned previously, I’m in the process of turning my writing hobby into a career. Mind you, I don’t need to do this, I want to do this. I’m getting older and want the accoutrements of a career. After six years of writing this blog, I’ve proven my ability to generate a constant stream of content — so I’m all set in that regard. The missing ingredient, the part I’ve been avoiding, is connecting with an audience.

I’ve been writing to an audience of one: me. In essence, this has been a personal diary, entries were succinct and ideas were dense — everything tightly packed and difficult to digest unless you brought a whole lot of understanding to the table. So congratulations if you’re a regular reader — you’re an impressive individual. But from this point forward, I must broaden the appeal of my writing, stop the self-centered approach, and actually think about others while I write.

Hmm… deep breath. Aha, see! Right there! I found a weakness! It’s you. I default to fearing you. I suppose it IS tough to write while considering that people will read what I write or even worse: respond! Luckily, I’m up for the challenge. If that’s what it takes, then that’s what I’ll do. I no longer believe in a dangerous world that’s hell-bent on my destruction, so I no longer believe that every audience is a sadistic horde attempting to tear-down content-creators in order to shatter their self-esteem.

In fact, in my analysis of content-creators, I’ve often seen them lovingly refer to their audience. “This is OUR success, and none of this would be possible without YOU.” There’s a mutual respect, a bond, and a shared goal of lifting each other up. It’s a family of sorts. And sometimes Uncle Steve gets a little tipsy and yells profanities in the comment section, but so what, no big deal — we compose ourselves and move on to bigger and better things.

And that bigger and better thing is THIS. Connection. In a sense, the content doesn’t matter, it’s simply an excuse to connect. “So what are we doing Saturday night guys!? — Movies? A party? Go bowling? Eat at a restaurant? Karaoke?” No matter what it is, it boils down to meeting-up simply to hang out. And that’s what content-creators facilitate whether they’re blogging about food or fashion, whether they’re live-streaming a video-game or vlogging — it’s all an opportunity to connect.