Tuesday, June 5, 2018

I have revised my opinion on why Millennials are so obsessed with travel

Millennials' passion for travel is well documented. Research will tell you that to them, "experiences matter more than things." But I always had a tiny, terrifying suspicion Instagram Culture had convinced a whole generation it's more rewarding to photograph life than live it.

I've recently discarded that theory, too. (Or last least downgraded it to Interesting But Unprovable Cocktail Conversation Fodder.) My new theory is Millennials are obsessed with travel because technology makes it easy as hell.

Don't want to figure out exchange rates? No worries, your credit card now works worldwide. Ditto your cash card, which means no more hunting for safe spots to buy local currency.

Google Translate makes it easy to get around without knowing a single word of the local language. (No more spending your pre-trip months memorizing a list of key phrases like, "Where's the bathroom?")

And you can junk your transit schedules and your maps. Just type in the monument you're searching for and Google will provide real-time directions. Unless you're Gen X or older you have no conception of how seismic this change is. I can't emphasize it enough. I have vivid memories of standing on street corners with paper maps unfolded wide, spinning in a circle looking for something, anything that might give me any clue where the hell I was. I remember the stress of having to keep one hand on my wallet and one hand on my backpack while I craned my neck up at a spinning list of bus departures written in a foreign language. All those worries are just... not worries anymore.

No wonder every Millennial I know spends their vacations overseas. Travel is awesome and beautiful and educational. And these days, it's as simple as ordering pizza.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

"This is the story of every band..."

My first interaction with Virtue wasn't necessarily positive. I couldn't get past the fact that the owner of the coolest voice in rock insisted on ironically auto-tuning every other word. "For fuck's sake, Julian, why won't you sing?" I thought and that was it. I moved on.

A few days later I read an album review in Stereogum. Actually, it's not much of a review. It's more of a long-read meditation on what it's like to get older. I'm going to try to sum it up, and I'm going to fail, but here it goes:

When you're young, you form a band. Eventually that band becomes a trap you can't get out of without ruining everyone else in the band. So if you're any type of non-sociopathic human, you don't leave. You just kind of coast for the next few... holy shit... decades.

The band in question is, of course, The Strokes. But what I couldn't get over was how Nelson wasn't just writing about The Strokes or Julian or even The Voidz. He was writing about every band, every business, every partnership everyone has ever been in. Hell, some of the paragraphs could've been about a marriage.

I went back and listened to Virtue again. It was like I was listening to a whole new album. Then I read the article again. (And at 11,000-ish words, that's a commitment.) Then I listened to the album. Then I watched some Voidz videos and tried to teach myself a few of the riffs. Then I read the article and listened to the album and that's basically been how I have been spending all my free time recently.

It's probably a stretch to say that Virtue means as much to me now as Arena did in 1984. But it's pretty important.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Yes, you really do need to work so much

[Ed. - I know the terms "white collar," "creative class," "professional class" and "knowledge worker" aren't necessarily interchangeable. But for the purposes of this article they all mean the same thing, which is basically "people who make money without doing manual labor."]

I've read a bunch of articles like The New Yorker's "You Really Don't Need to Work So Much" that walk the same whine-path. The general logic-flow goes:
"Technology was supposed to make the effete, entitled existence of the professional class easier. But we're all working 80 hours a week. What gives? Must be dat 'Murican work ethic!"
Every time I see one of these articles, I feel like I owe my grandparents an apology. But let's set aside my liberal guilt. The real problem with this this article, and others like it, it that they miss the actual relationship between technology and productivity.

First, we're overworking not despite labor-saving devices, but because of them. The means of production are so cheap, worker hours are the only thing left a business can bill its clients. So we have to work a lot of them to stay profitable.

Second, white collar workers work more than blue collar workers because they physically can. After eight hours plowing a field, a farmer collapses. But you can keep lawyers at their desks for 36 hours before their heads hit the keyboard. Or so I hear.

Third, these articles ignore the subjective nature of white collar work. Corn either grows or it doesn't. But who can prove what shade of blue best complements tangerine? The modern workplace exists in a constant state of decision anxiety. We're able to produce a literally infinite amount of options. And there's no way a creative worker can claim hardship, because each iteration, by itself, only takes a moment to execute.

Fourth and worst, articles like "You Really Don't Need to Work So Much" assume we still live in a world where output, accountability and decision making are valued. They're not. The buzzwords of the modern workplace are "collaboration" and "feedback." And democracy moves at a glacial pace.

I'll never forget the day I stood on a commercial set and watched my client use her phone to snap a photo of the first of a dozen set-ups we were scheduled to shoot. "What are you doing?" I asked.

"Just sending this back to the marketing team to see if anyone has any feedback before we start."

"Your entire marketing team?"

She nodded like I was a child.

The set was littered with designers and stylists, key grips and sound technicians. The director looked over at me, waiting for me to nod my head. "What are we supposed to do in the meantime?" I asked my client, watching all our weekends disappear before my eyes.

"Well," she said turning her eyes back to her phone, "I have a bunch of emails to get through."

Sunday, March 11, 2018

I have always been fascinated by this observation

When you look at the top-selling music acts of the modern era, the North American ones are almost always solo artists, while the others are almost always groups. In the top 22, there are only five exceptions - mostly American rockers like Metallica, the Eagles, Van Halen and Aerosmith.

  1. The Beatles - English - Group
  2. Garth Brooks - American - Solo
  3. Elvis Presley - American -Solo
  4. Led Zeppelin - English - Group
  5. The Eagles - American - Group
  6. Billy Joel - American - Solo
  7. Michael Jackson - American - Solo
  8. Elton John - English - Solo
  9. Pink Floyd - English - Group
  10. AC/DC - Australian - Group
  11. George Strait - American - Solo
  12. Barbara Streisand - American - Solo
  13. The Rolling Stones - English - Group
  14. Aerosmith - American - Group
  15. Bruce Springstein - American - Solo
  16. Madonna - American - Solo
  17. Mariah Carey - American - Solo
  18. Metallica - American - Group
  19. Whitney Houston - American - Solo
  20. Van Halen - American - Group
  21. U2 - Irish - Group
  22. Celine Dion - Canadian - Solo
The trend gets tricky to track at 23, because Fleetwood Mac was a supergroup compiled from an English blues band and an American folk duo. And in the age of streaming, it's impossible to figure out where a modern star like Rihanna might fit in. But I feel like we have a large enough sample size to make for some interesting dinner party conversation.

It might be as simple as this. If you grow up watching The Beatles, you start looking for bandmates. If you grow up watching Elvis, you think you're supposed to make it on your own.

Or it might be more complex. There might be long running cultural trends at play. America's fascination with celebrity and rugged individualism, for instance. I don't know the answer. But it's fun to think about. 

Saturday, February 3, 2018

You can thank me by kicking ass

Recently, I've gotten to connect a few job seekers with people I know are hiring. And they always express gratitude, which is nice. But here's how they could really thank me.

Follow up on the lead promptly. Research the company, so you know what clients they have. Research whoever's interviewing you, and show interest in the work they've done. Nail your interview. Show up on time, book or resume in hand. Be positive, be competent, be smart. If you get the job, work your butt off. No dropped balls, no missed deadlines.

When someone refers you, they're laying their credibility on the line. Maybe even risking a professional relationship. If you look good, they look good. And that's the best thanks of all.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Buried by charlatans

I enter Writer's Digest's Self Published Book Awards every year. Even though I have yet to bring home the top prize, the judges' critiques of Sever, Regret Things and Sin Walks Into The Desert have all been worthwhile - tough but fair, complete and useful, insightful and marketable.

This year, I sent The Baby Monitor: A Novella of Family Horrors to the competition. I believe in this little book. You can unwrap layers of meaning and metaphor from every page. And its characters and foreshadowing are much deeper than in anything else I've attempted.

I had high hopes. But Tuesday I got an email informing me I didn't win and delivering the judge's critique.

It was glowing.

Beyond glowing. It was a rave review, including perfect scores in the categories for Structure, Grammar, Plot, Character and Voice. The judge went through line by line calling out favorite moments:
"You have particular flair for repetition, a musical bent to your prose... The buildup of empathy throughout the story is powerful... I don’t just admire your use of metaphor, I admire the pace of them – just enough, like spice in a well-seasoned dish. The sheer propulsion of this climactic scene is priceless. An excellent book."
Writer's Digest is a legendary publication with serious cred. I know from experience their judges aren't nice to every book they receive, so it should be validating to get such a positive critique.

But accolades like these make me want to shoot myself.

Because The Baby Monitor has sold fewer than 60 copies despite hundreds of dollars worth of advertising, raves from Indie Reader, the support of my email list, and an audiobook available on all the major podcast platforms and my personal YouTube channel. Plus I've given away hundreds of copies and gifted 40 more with only four Amazon reviews to show for it.

Meanwhile, you know who I hear is making money in publishing? Plagiarists who buy ebooks, swap out a few adjectives, and republish them as their own work. Clickfarms that boost authors' page count for a price. And frauds who steal outlines and outsource their content to ghostwriters in the Philippines.

Amazon has given writers a way to publish fiction that never would've seen daylight a few years ago. An 18,000-word novella like mine would be dead in my desk drawer. So I guess I should be grateful. But right now I'm just frustrated. I've been buried by charlatans.

What's the answer? In moments of doubt, I watch this video and am reminded.