So this post should be taken in with the understanding that I am 41 years old. I’m part of the generation that witnessed the beginning of the web, and that remembers a time without it. I am, as they say, an Xennial. Trapped between worlds.

I was there in the BBS days. I was there for Hamster Dance. I witnessed the rampant overuse of the gif. I have seen it all, some through the green monochrome monitor of an Apple IIE.

So I’m not new here. But also, I’m not quite a digital native, either.

There are too many bad websites out there. Even some really professional corporate websites are bad. And I’m here to tell you what I, a middle-aged grad student (clearly everyone’s target market), am looking for in a website.

Don’t Fear White Space.

It’s not just okay that every inch of your website isn’t taken up by widgets and feeds, it’s a good thing.

Personally, I’m an inveterate consumer of content. I have a wicked news habit I just can’t kick and I’m subscribed to more than a hundred podcasts. The stack of books I’m reading dominates the top of my bookshelf (and my personal reading log). So I’ve got a lot rattling around in my head at any given moment.

Extras, like a feed letting me know that someone just bought one of your products popping up in the corner, distract me from your content.

Company name has been edited out because they’re a company I actually really like.

Your use of white space directs the eye to what you want consumers to see. What you want them to interact with. I get that a feed like this functions as social proof, but I think there’s a way to do it that’s less distracting.

You want the design of the site to direct me to what you want me to see, and using white space (and plenty of it) does that. It forces the eye toward your content (or your CTA, or your buy button, or what have you). That doesn’t mean that it has to be all white space; you want a sidebar with other content? Great! I love content, I want to see what else you have to offer me. If it’s intriguing I might stay a while. But keep it simple, and use negative space to direct me around your site.

White space between paragraphs is necessary too. Break up any walls of text. Reading on a screen is already difficult, don’t make it harder than it already is, or you’ll lose me.

Use Animation Sparingly.

I know this stuff can look really slick, right? Finally, a website that moves! Dynamic elements, pieces of text that scroll over the background, reactive menus and other navigation elements! You have ultimate freedom to make the website you want!

Stop.

Too much animation distracts me from the elements of the website that really matter to you or your business (your content, your CTA, what-have-you). It can make pages frustrating to navigate and impair website performance.

And there are people who suffer from motion sensitivity that may not be able to use your website at all with too much animation. Remember, accessibility is important on the web, too.

Use Clear Fonts.

I was looking at copywriting portfolios online today, and I stumbled across one (that I won’t link to, I’m not here to start problems) that used a script type font for headings.

Why?

Folks, I know you think the script is pretty. I know you think it’s on-brand for you, especially if you’re a writer. But it’s difficult to read, and I’m probably going to pass on it and move to a website that’s easier to read. There is a wide, wide world of online content out there, and I’m not working for yours particularly unless you give me a damn good reason.

There is no excuse for making your website harder to read.

Using script fonts sparingly, such as in a logo or a header can look really classy and great, but don’t use them in the headings or body of the website content, or if you do, make sure they’re bold and clear enough to be read easily.

Pop-Ups – It’s Complicated.

Look, I’ve read a dozen articles about how well pop-ups work. I really honestly have. I have read most of them in a state of consternation.

I’m prepared to admit that in some circumstances, and in some contexts, they work on me too. I would be either a fool or a liar if I didn’t. But they’re also one of the fastest ways to get me to leave your website.

If I’m reading an article or blog post and your pop-up comes in the middle of my enjoyment of said content, I might close it and keep reading, but I’m less likely to visit your website in the future. It’s analogous to sitting in a park reading a book and then having some guy come up to you and try to sell you something. It’s distracting and disruptive and unpleasant.

It’s important to understand that as an unemployed grad student with no money, I am of course everyone’s target market.

Seriously, though, the least disruptive pop-ups are the ones that appear after I’ve reached the bottom of the page, and honestly to me that makes the most sense in terms of a customer’s sales journey.

And for God’s sake, keep it to one pop-up, please.

Use Contrast for Readability.

Maybe it’s my age, but I often struggle with readability on websites. I don’t know if you remember, but a few years ago it was really in to have medium grey text on a white background and it was nearly unreadable. It became so prevalent that I would close a browser tab out of spite whenever I encountered it.

Believe it or not, people are still doing it.

Look, it doesn’t matter how slick and well-designed your website looks if I can’t read it.

This is an accessibility issue too, there are people who are vision impaired who simply cannot wade through paragraphs of low-contrast text. And it’s both impolite and unwise to ask them to try.

In Conclusion.

There you go, my gripe post about websites. I feel like a lot of this ties into readability and site performance, which are two things that every blogger or web designer should concern themselves with. I don’t think they’re too much to ask.

I’ve been offered an opportunity, and I’ve decided that if I can accept it, I should.

As a part of my MBA program, I have the chance to take a course on competing in a global environment at the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics. This is a very highly regarded school in China.

Of course, taking advantage of this opportunity isn’t free. While Western Washington University will cover accommodations and meals, I still have to pay for tuition, airfare, and visa and other expenses.

Before I break down my situation, let me tell you a little about myself:

I lost my last permanent, full time job in 2010, at the beginning of the “recovery” from the Great Recession. After that I exhausted my unemployment and my paltry “retirement” savings, leaving me completely broke. I worked part time and temporary jobs, and in fact, I haven’t had a full time permanent position since then.

Desperate, I filled out a FAFSA and found out that yes, funds were available for me to go back to school. This was a revelation to me; my parents said they were setting aside money throughout my childhood to invest and save for my college career, and yet somehow that money evaporated when I was an adult.

So I went back to school. I had no idea at that time that my passion would be in business.

I graduated with my degree in business administration in December of 2018, and made the decision at that time to pursue my MBA.

And that brings us to today. I still have no savings, and am still scraping by month to month.

But the opportunity to take a course at a prestigious foreign university is too huge to pass up if I can make it happen.

It will look great on my resume.

Having studied overseas, especially at Shanghai University, is going to look wonderful on my resume. It will open doors for me, someone who has spent ten years living in poverty, in terms of getting a good job and beginning to save for actual retirement. It will indicate my dedication to learning about my work and an ability to work well with those who are different from myself.

It will be a valuable educational experience.

I am passionate about the study of business in a way I never thought I would be. If you had told a younger me that in middle age, I would be furiously studying business and loving it, she would never have believed you. I’m fascinated with how business is part of the fabric of society and indeed of human nature. This is an opportunity to study how business impacts foreign economies, and the world economy. This will give me a more well-rounded view of my place in the world and the ways in which I can improve it.

It’s a chance to conquer fear.

I’m not embarrassed to say that I’m terrified to go. The idea of traveling to a foreign country on my own, going through customs and immigration on my own, navigating a foreign city on my own, is frightening to me. But my (former) therapist always told me that it was important to confront these anxieties in ways that are safe and constructive. This would be made more safe because I am traveling with classmates and our instructor, and thus less likely to become hopelessly lost in a city where I don’t speak the language.

My class needs enough people for the trip to go forward.

If we don’t have enough people committed to go, the trip may be cancelled, or the cost of it inflated until other classmates of mine can no longer afford it. It’s not a large cohort, only twenty people, so every one of us counts. If I get to go, not only does it benefit me, but it also benefits my classmates, who are people with the potential to get into business and change things for the better.

But I don’t have the money.

I presented this problem to my friends, and they suggested that I try to crowdfund it. I started that process and raised around $300 from my nearest and dearest, and I’ve started putting away my meager freelance income as well.

I’ve decided that if I can scrape together the $1000 deposit before the November 15th deadline, I will commit to going. This doesn’t cover the airfare, the cost of the visa, nor clothing expenses, etc. The reason I have to raise tuition costs for the course is that my partial tuition waiver from my work as a research assistant for the university doesn’t cover this course.

I’m almost halfway there.

After I get the deposit covered, I’ll start worrying about airfare and visa costs, and some wardrobe pieces so that I don’t look like a begpacker while I’m there.

I know you don’t know me well, dear reader, but if you have a few dollars to spare, every little bit helps. In terms of funding, I’m not using GoFundMe, I’m simply using my PayPal link. You can donate here.

I know it’s a lot to ask for people who may not know me, but I have to try. I have to try to make this happen.

If you’re not willing or able to donate, sharing this post with people would also help.

Thank you for reading.

Are you exhausted by blog posts about bullet journaling yet? How about Instagram posts, or YouTube videos?

Well buckle up, because I got something to say about bullet journals.

Full disclosure, I maintain a bullet journal (I will never use “BuJo” unironically because it sounds like a code for blowjobs to me) and have done so off and on for years now.

If you’ve stumbled upon this post and are wondering what a bullet journal is, it is, in short, a combination planner and journal maintained in a blank notebook. It is fully customizable, and was inspired by a system created by Ryder Carroll, featured in the video below:

Ryder says that his inspiration for creating the bullet journal system was to manage his life as a person with ADHD. As a result, it’s very useful for organizing and planning, replacing dozens of scraps of paper and post-it notes that might otherwise take over one’s desk, purse, pocket, or wallet.

A huge following sprang up surrounding the bullet journal system, and it evolved, taking on a life of its own that far outstripped Ryder’s original system.

Now, I’m not here to tell anyone what’s right or wrong, and even Ryder says there’s no wrong way to bullet journal; that’s the beauty of the system. It can be whatever the user needs it to be. It is infinitely customizable, adjustable, and modifiable. I mean, it’s a blank notebook, right?

The system that Ryder initially envisioned was a series of notes each day that could be migrated; ideas, additions to standing lists, things like that would go to what he called Collections. Tasks and appointments and events would be migrated to the days that they were to be attended or accomplished. So each day was a running list, and each day could be closed out when the items were migrated. Very helpful for ADHD and anxiety sufferers.

If you look up bullet journal or BuJo on Instagram or YouTube today, you will find people creating complicated, intricate spreads with hand lettering and artwork, trackers and systems, that really bear little resemblance to Ryder’s original system.

Initially I became enthralled with this content and put a lot of effort into creating Instagrammable spreads in my journals. I worked hard on it, particularly putting a couple of hours in at the beginning of each month to “set up” the journal. I was excited about this new project.

But after a several months of this, a problem raised its head. I wasn’t using the journal. My intricate spreads were blank, abandoned. This was for a few reasons.

It was too complicated.

The system I had pieced together was too unwieldy for me to whip out the journal and note something down. My “dailies” became nothing more than to do lists, and I tried to flip to the collections pages to make notes because the space pre-allocated for daily entries in my complicated system was not sufficient for little notes, ideas, etc. As a result, I would lose things. The ideas I was sure I would remember until I had a chance to sit down and page through the book flew out of my head before I got to my bus stop.

It was too stressful.

The pressure of creating new, fresh spreads that I could post soon shut me down completely. The worry that I would ruin something I’d spent hours creating kept me from using the spreads I had created. Then, with the trackers, they existed as a reminder of things I had failed to do, a record of my personal shame.

I started looking for answers.

Of course, I started looking within the online bullet journal community. I tried all kinds of keywords, minimalist, simple, etc. Even the “minimalist” bullet journal content was too complicated for what I needed.

Just as a note, the bullet journal community online has become intensely gendered. On the feminine side are intricate, artistic, complicated spreads. On the masculine side are bearded online media bros who celebrate the bullet journal as the ultimate tool for productivity and rationality and structure, all the while sneering at “female” bullet journal spreads. I’ve been trying hard to find content in this space that breaks out of this binary and have been frustrated at basically every turn.

So I went back to Ryder’s original system. I made a couple of tweaks, such as including monthly calendars (they help me know which dates fall on what days of the week for future planning), and I included a habit tracker, not for compliance, but for tracking mental health. And I started using the journal as Ryder originally intended; a list of notes and ideas, rather than as a fancy to do list. I also developed some personal rules for bullet journal maintenance.

My bullet journal rules.

I want to preface this by saying that I’m not telling anyone else what to do. If you find planner peace with complicated spreads, do it. These rules are for me

1. No Rulers.

A lot of people use rulers or straight-edges to set up. Hell, even Ryder does in the video above. But I really need perfection to not be a part of this process at all, so forgoing rulers helps me understand that this is a messy, spur of the moment process, and that perfection is not the goal. This helps with the anxiety I feel about using the journal.

2. No Boxes.

The heart of these complicated systems are boxes. Boxes for your days, boxes for your weeks, boxes for notes, boxes for to do lists. Boxes ended up constraining my use of the journal, editing what was important enough to include and what wasn’t, resulting again in my losing information.

Okay, I still use some boxes, for tracking things that only require a checkmark or something, but for daily pages, no boxes. I don’t care if a day takes up two pages. In fact, I would be pretty delighted if one did, because it probably means I did a lot of brain work that day.

3. Migrate at the End of the Day.

Everything goes on the daily list of notes. Everything. At the end of the day, appointments and tasks get marked off or migrated to collections, etc. That closes out my day. Nothing left un-dealt-with to keep me up at night. Everything has a plan or a place as appropriate. And it prevents me putting off writing something down until I can flip through to the right place, resulting in better capture of information.

4. No White Out.

I’m a creative worker, as a writer, and messiness is important to that process. Failure is a part of creativity, and allowing those mistakes to remain on the page allows me, perhaps counter-intuitively, to accept that. I may scribble them out and write the correction next to them, but no white out, no hiding mistakes. Only acceptance of my flawed self.

The result of following these rules is a messy, minimally decorated (I knew I would need to be able to work in my journal with just what I could carry in my purse), and honest reflection of my life, and looking back through it has made me feel good, helped me remember things, and encouraged me to consume media (books, movies, YouTube videos, articles) that I had noted down and then promptly forgot. I’ve captured more ideas, whether good or bad, than I had before. It has been a success.

And I couldn’t be happier.

“There is no innovation and creativity without failure. Period.”

-Brene Brown

I am what my therapist would call “risk averse.” It’s one of the top priorities in my personal life, becoming inured to my fear of failure. Even small failures (dinner is too salty, I dropped something down the bathroom sink drain, etc.) can throw my entire day into chaos. But the thing is, I’ve been trained to be this way. And I think a lot of us have.

Volumes have been written about the value of failure, but the authors of these pieces never seem to be the type that have to worry about not making rent because they were canned for a failure at work.

In fact, as the personal development and productivity gurus of modern work culture tell us we must fail to learn and grow, American work culture remains intensely punitive toward failure. The end result of this is that development through failure is a privilege reserved for those who are financially comfortable enough to afford it.

I cannot count the number of jobs I’ve held where I’ve lived in terror that a single mistake would result in my dismissal. Jobs that are highly specialized but low skill are particularly bad about this, because management has limited the amount of training that they need to do to hire a new employee, so workers are all interchangeable and replaceable. Low skill jobs are always in demand, so this results in situations in which management maintains records of work failures for the express purpose of being able to dismiss an employee at will. Even if you’re not subject to this kind of dismissal, it results in a culture of fear and perfectionism.

At the same time, we’re told that employers want creative workers, innovation, and people who think outside the box. The fact is, the way we handle work cultures for most employees (this means not those on Google or Amazon campuses) actively discourages creativity and innovation.

This is often (but not always) a result of firm size; the bigger a firm gets, and the more levels of hierarchy between top management and front line employees, the more layers of people to worry about failure, and the more punitively those people will behave toward those who report to them. Top management has little influence on culture at the bottom of the organizational structure, because there are too many layers of hierarchy between them and the front line employees, and the culture moving down the hierarchy changes; like a game of telephone.

The result is that creativity (and, necessarily, failure) remain a privilege for those who are the least vulnerable. Which seems really backwards to me, because it’s the employees that are the newest to an organization that are most capable of thinking outside the box, because they have the ability to view the structures and processes from the outside, being less entrenched in them. And while, yes, some new employees enter into upper management, most of them take entry-level positions. Positions that are the most vulnerable in the event of failure.

And here’s the thing; as much as our employers would like us to be perfect, failure is inevitable. It’s not if; it’s when. And work culture denies us that humanity.

This was a problem for me at my most recent job. I was working as a temporary mail clerk, and every time I made a mistake I sank into a morass of anxiety, terrified I would lose my job. This reaction was due to the way work cultures at prior jobs had impacted me; job after job in which I knew that a single mistake could easily result in termination. Grace was never a guarantee. As a result, I attempted to hide or outright lie about mistakes I’d made that I couldn’t fix on my own.

Fortunately my direct supervisor at that job wasn’t as interested in the mistake as she was in my fixing it and learning from it, and by the time I left that position she regarded me as one of the most competent to hold it. She offered grace, and the opportunity to learn and grow. And honestly, those mistakes were the things that helped me learn the most about the position, to the point that when I was training my replacement, I knew exactly what mistakes to let my trainee make, and which ones to intervene in, because the mistakes would give me an opportunity to train her further.

Certainly, if someone is not performing acceptably at their job, it’s time for intervention. Sadly, for many of these positions, it is cheaper in terms of resources (time, money, effort, reputation) to simply dismiss an employee and hire another one than to regard an error as a training opportunity.

As much as many companies claim to value their front line employees, they certainly don’t act like they do.

These kinds of dismissals carry even more risk, because a termination on one’s record can reduce the chances of them occupying future positions.

If we really cared about having capable, skilled workers in these positions, we would approach failure with a bit of grace, because failure is not just inevitable; it is how we learn, it is how we grow, and it is how we progress. Not just as people, but as organizations and as societies.

I started writing here again for a couple of reasons. One, I was paying for the domain and I knew the site would look dusty and abandoned with no new content on it. Two, I had started posting some kind of ridiculously long content on Facebook, which is really not the venue for that. Three, I was writing extensively in Word files that would then end up saved on my laptop and forgotten.

Content is my business, so why would I put in that work waste it?

Writing is important when you’re a writer. It keeps your hand in, it allows you to grow in your craft. No writing, no growth.

The more I interacted with the website, the more signs of age were visible on it. The twitter widget with no posts. Content so ancient that it embarrassed me. Outdated information, like the podcast that no longer exists. Remnants of an era in which I apparently did not believe that blog posts needed pictures.

I did feel a terrible urge to delete all that old content, but I didn’t go through with it.

I stared at the now empty social media widgets.

The more I looked at the site, the more stale it felt.

Plus, the purpose of the site is a little different now than it was a few years ago. I’m not just writing fiction now, and I have an interest in copywriting/content marketing that I can explore and exhibit. The content I directed toward readers would be different than that I would direct toward potential clients and employers.

So I embarked on a website redesign.

I’m not going to tell you the redesign is complete (it isn’t), and I don’t know if it will ever be complete, or if I will continue tweaking it until I’m old and grey.

I struggled a lot with this. There’s a lot of conflicting advice. “Keep personal and professional content separate,” some people say. “You need a touch of your personality; people want to know who you are,” others say. “You are your brand,” still others say.

In the end, I decided this is going to be, whether I want it to or not, a mix of personal and professional content. As a writer, I am painfully aware of the fact that while I’m a very good writer, I am not now nor will I ever be the best in the world. I can’t just sell writing. In fiction, we say that we are selling our voice; that all the stories have already been written, but nobody’s written it the way you can.

I removed all outdated content (except old blog posts), and removed empty social widgets in favor of icons I found less tacky. I realized that if I’m going to link to my social accounts, I needed content there as well.

This is when things started to spiral outward.

When I stopped updating  this website, I also stopped bothering with social media with the exception of my private Facebook account. It’s been years since I tweeted or instagrammed. I had already been chastised for the lack of new content on my LinkedIn by our career advisor in the MBA program. My Facebook account was the only thing I felt motivated to update, because it was the most rewarding; populated with people I already knew, full of local and international news, and it talked back to me. I got replies and delicious likes, and so many pieces have already been written about how addicting feedback can be.

Other social media accounts were never like that to me. Twitter was like tossing messages in bottles into a vast sea. LinkedIn just wasn’t, you know, fun. It was scary, like being at an office party and worrying that you’ll say the wrong thing to the wrong people. Instagram, well, most of what one sees of Instagram involves models and “influencers” and restaurant plates. And though I take photos, I had no interest in that sort of thing, and I would never fool myself into thinking that the photos I take are good.

Social marketing advice in the writer space tells us to pick the platform that we work on best and stick with that, but I wasn’t even updating my “professional” Facebook page. Facebook limits visibility of professional pages so thoroughly that even my friends didn’t get to see posts to my page, and without feedback (and precious likes), my interest in it faded.

And so I started to ask myself, what can I commit to? Can I commit to a tweet a day? A photo a day? A LinkedIn post a week? What can I do? And I started to build myself a list of internet chores.

Most of these are words, and it’s good for me to write words. It’s practice. It’s growth. It’s my job. Instagram, well, it’s good for anyone who publishes on the web to have a repository of images to choose from, and ones you’ve taken yourself are even better, because you won’t see that same free stock photo on someone else’s thumbnail.

And it occurred to me how strange it is to set up a list of social chores. I’m not going to become Instagram famous. I’m not going to amass a huge Twitter following. But if someone googles me (and they will), these old accounts will come up. With old content. That may no longer reflect who I am and what I think and believe.

And I think to myself, is this a chore that other people do? Or do they stick with a social media platform that they’re most comfortable in? Am I the weird one? And, will it start to feel more natural to maintain these other platforms the more I do it? How thoroughly do I curate? Is poor content better than no content? Will I need a piece of social media management software to handle my own stuff?

The really strange thing about social media is that it turns everyone into a marketer, whether they like it or not, whether they know it or not. We all curate. We all do, We may not realize we’re doing it, but we do. We all are trying to decide with each post what parts of us we want to advertise and which are best kept private.

And in a way, I think that’s what I find kind of exhausting about it. Decision after decision after decision, not knowing what any of the stakes are.

I was listening to the Business of Digital podcast recently, and their most recent episode was about mixing business and politics. The message was, don’t do it. The reason seemed to be that you’ll alienate half your customers by introducing politics into your marketing messaging.

Needless to say, I disagree.

In fact, I was really surprised to hear this from a marketing podcast.

The hosts framed the Nike ad featuring Colin Kaepernick as a gambit that the company was large enough to weather, but they’re wrong. The Kaepernick ad was a calculated strategy. Nike saw an opportunity to reach their target audience, and they took it. Surprisingly enough, Nike’s target market isn’t middle-aged white republicans. And those were the people we saw throwing away or destroying their Nike products on social media.

And that reaction was a really valuable part of the marketing strategy. It turned a huge corporate entity deeply embedded in the status quo into an enemy of the status quo in the minds of consumers. It’s a type of hostile marketing, and it wasn’t a mistake. It worked.

Gillette razors released an ad campaign tackling toxic masculinity. There was an overwhelming negative reaction online, largely from men who felt that the company was attacking masculinity as a whole. Pictures circulated on Twitter of men throwing their Gillette products in the trash. And while some news sites attributed financial losses to this ad, Ace Metrics, a marketing analytics firm, paints a different picture. They reported that only 8% of viewers reported that they were less or much less likely to purchase the brand, compared against 65% of viewers reporting that they were more or much more likely to purchase the brand.

This was also a calculated strategy. Gillette, an old brand, is faced with the challenge of winning younger consumers in the face of competition from companies like Dollar Shave Club and Harry’s. Metrics reported by AdWeek show that the conversation generated by the ad was largely favorable with younger people and with women, groups that Gillette had failed to reach previously. Additionally, whether the conversation generated by the ad was positive or negative, it brought life back to an old brand and struck a chord that reverberated with the current zeitgeist.

Pepsi attempted to capitalize on this climate by releasing an ad featuring Kendall Jenner, which failed miserably. The ad depicts Jenner as a model in the middle of a photo shoot joining a diverse group of protesters carrying signs with mealy mouthed, non-controversial slogans like “Peace” and “Join the Conversation,” and in the end saves the day by offering the police a Pepsi, at which point the crowd erupts into cheers. I guess you could say that the message of this ad is one of unity, urging the BLM and other racial justice movements to reconcile with police, even though police forces across the U.S. are notably hostile toward these movements. This trivialized a movement dedicated to preserving the lives and dignity of racial minorities in this country. Not a good way to approach this demographic.

Green marketing is without a doubt political, and it has been so successful that it spawned frauds engaging in green-washing; the practice of marketing a product as green when it really isn’t. A majority of consumers report that they’re willing to spend more on a product that they perceive as socially or environmentally responsible, according to Nielsen. This is particularly prominent among Millennials and Gen Z, but Boomers show a bare majority as well.

Green marketing doesn’t just work on consumers. Investors are increasingly searching for green investing opportunities, to the point that new financial instruments were created to capitalize on and fuel the demand for green and socially responsible investing.

And this is happening on a smaller scale as well. A small company called NerdyKeppie specializes in selling quality queerwear, and if they left their politics out of business they wouldn’t have anything to sell. Their business is by nature political, in part because they’re selling identity, and identity is by nature political.

Your engagement with politics may be more subtle, such as it is with digital marketing firm Intellitonic. The founders of the company got involved with non-profits local to Bellingham, WA where the company does business. These non-profits support sustainability, help for homeless youth, and community support for the arts. These may sound non-controversial, but here in Bellingham, they are political stances. This involvement embeds the company as part of the community.

On the other side of things, there’s an example of a “local” company that completely failed to take into account the politics of a new market. When Melvin Brewing moved to Bellingham, they didn’t consider how their bad boy image would play, and they got an education in social media disasters as a result.

So, we’ve looked at some large and small companies succeeding in using politics in their marketing, so let’s look at why.

The fact of the matter is, all identity is political, regardless of whether the people possessing that identity know it or will admit it. Especially now, with high rates of political polarization. We’re seeing a large amount of that polarization occurring between age groups, with older generations trending conservative and younger generations more liberal.

Older brands must reach younger customers in order to remain relevant, and brand and identity have been intrinsically linked for a long time. That link has only grown during the internet age, as identities that one is born into become less and less important. Younger generations, less tied to ideas of tradition, construct their identities themselves, and one of the ways they do that is through brands.

The right content is not the only ingredient necessary for doing this well. You must also deliver that content in a way that resonates and in a way that’s credible. This is one of the reasons the Pepsi Kendall Jenner ad failed; it failed to deliver a clear message, instead delivering a message of “unity” instead of taking a stand. Progressives viewed the ad as pandering and not credible, even though it was directed toward the political left.

Clearly not all brands need to approach politics this way. Tide detergent doesn’t need to focus on the political needs of its target market, although makers of detergents and other cleaners often benefit from green marketing. But Nike and Gillette market to facets of identity that are inherently political (age, race, gender). And in these cases, the political needs of your market cannot be ignored.

You might think to yourself, well, Allison is a huge proponent of digital technology as a means of democratizing the publishing industry, so she must love digital versions of text books for her classes, right?

Wrong. I still buy them, because let’s face it, they save you money and they do take up a lot less space. But I absolutely despise digital versions of college text books. Let me tell you why.

They’re Not Ebooks.

We’re not talking about mobi files or epub files, or even pdf files that you can download and put on your Kindle (or e-reader of choice). They’re locked down, so that you have to read them on a computer or tablet screen, and you can only read them while you have internet access. This means that I can’t take my textbooks camping, or read them on a car or bus ride. It also means I have to read them on a lit screen, and that’s kind of a hassle because I find lit screens really hard to read on. This is why I love my Kindle Paperwhite; I can dim the screen as needed to make reading easier on my eyes. I can get the angle of the screen right for reading, reducing the impact of ambient lighting and other sources of glare. I can carry the Kindle around with me easily, hell, I can even vacuum with it in hand.

But no. No text books on your Kindle.

I do read on my laptop. I read article length pieces, typically 2,000 words or less. Reading on a computer screen for these short lengths of time isn’t a strain. Reading three chapters of college text books, on the other hand, is a much more time and labor intensive activity.

You Don’t Get to Keep Them.

You can’t keep these text books that you paid a hundred dollars for. Typically your access to the books expires at the end of the term or shortly after, which means you can’t use them for reference later in school or indeed in your professional career. You can’t download them and store them on your computer, so in essence you’re paying a hundred dollars (or more) to rent a digital text that is difficult to read.

It is a better value to rent a physical copy of the text book from Amazon than to purchase these “e-texts” because it costs a lot less and hey, you don’t get to keep it anyway. But this is often not an option because the digital text books come with a set of homework usually required by the class you’re taking. That means…

You Don’t Actually Get a Choice.

When these books come with homework sets in an online “class,” you’re forced to buy the e-text. You’re not forced to use it, because get this, you can pay extra to get a physical text book sent to you.

I actually had one class over summer quarter that made a purchase of online course materials optional, which was great because it meant that students who could afford to make that extra purchase were graded differently than those who couldn’t. That sounds completely fair, right?

So even when you do get a choice as to whether to buy or not, it’s not a real choice.

They’re a Bad Deal All Around.

They’re not a good deal for the consumer at all, for all the reasons mentioned above and more. I’m not going to get into why they get away with stuff like this, because that’s a topic that deserves its own blog post and requires a lot more research than I’ve done for this spur-of-the-moment complaint blog. Also there are likely people out there who have written on the subject better than I can.

But I will say this: if text book publishers had to compete in a market that was open and fair, things wouldn’t work this way.

Okay, I’m going to get back to doing my homework.

Sometimes I sit down to write here, thinking I will come up with something brilliant. World-changing. Poetic and practical and beautiful. And I write, and nothing I put down lives up to that expectation. So I stop. I delete it. I spiral into a storm of self-doubt.

There’s this expectation that as a creator, everything one does must be brilliant. Anything less calls one’s entire identity into question, and one thinks: am I really an artist/writer/musician/etc? Should I just stop? Is this a delusion? An overblown hobby that I will never be that good at?

We live with this idea that in order to do something, we must be the best at it. We must always produce something brilliant, and anything that doesn’t measure up to that must be abandoned, hidden away from view. This hiding away only perpetuates the idea that those who are good at their art produce only brilliance. And this increases the shame we feel when we fail to meet that expectation.

This idea is poison.

I would like to hand this over to the brilliant Fred Rogers:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PPJLyHZFWRc

There’s a part of this clip that’s desperately important. It’s where Mr. Rogers says:

“Do you like to draw with crayons? I do. But I’m not very good at it. But it doesn’t matter, it’s just the fun of doing it that’s important.”

This is such a simple yet important lesson, and it’s one that I wish I had internalized as a child. The unfortunate fact of my childhood is that once I displayed creative tendencies, my parents reacted by “fostering” those abilities. What that meant was a combination of pushing me to higher and higher levels of skill while at the same time preparing me for crushing disappointment.

They enrolled me as a second grader in an art class full of middle schoolers, in which I had to perform or be mocked. My instructors showed my initial attempts to the rest of the class and made fun of them; of the proportions and the chunky shading and the inability to draw from life. I stubbornly produced drawing after drawing until my “peers” approved of what I had done. I entered the final product into a contest at a local arts and crafts fair and won the blue ribbon in my age group.

I had learned to draw well, and I had learned to persevere. But I had also learned that the value of creativity was in virtuosity only, and that’s a lesson I carried forward into adulthood.

It is a lie.

Creation is a part of human nature. We are driven to create, always have been, and in all likelihood always will. And this drive itself has value. But as artwork became heavily commoditized, we lost sight of that love of creation and came to see artwork as a container for value only. And this meant that only creations that met the specifications of genius as agreed upon by those that controlled wealth had any value at all.

It didn’t used to be this way.

We used to create art on the handles of spoons and the lintels of our homes and on any number of everyday objects. We did this not for the purpose of capturing value or earning accolades, but because it brought joy and beauty into our worlds.

This is something I thought a lot about while I was in Bhutan. The Bhutanese decorate not just their temples and monasteries, but their homes, too. You can see paintings on the walls of the four auspicious animals as well as the famous phalluses. If you look closely at the work, it’s not always skilled (though sometimes it is). Virtuosity is not a requirement.

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Bhutanese Phallus Painting

The work follows certain traditions, and you will see the same motifs repeated from monastery to monastery, from stupa to stupa.

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Detail Painting From a Bhutanese Stupa

This is a fulfillment of the human drive to create. It’s also a reason why I do not rail against religion, like some of the “new atheist” crowd. But that’s for a later post.

The point is that these motifs weren’t painted because someone thought others thought they would be technically “good,” they are painted out of a kind of devotion and a drive for creation. This is something we once called “folk art,” which is different from what is now sold online as folk art. Decoration of practical, everyday items for the purpose of beautification.

Nothing you ever make is going to be perfect. Make it anyway. As you progress in your art, what you’ve done in the past may seem embarrassingly bad, and that’s okay. It only means that you’ve grown in your craft. Approach your creative work as a devotional to the human spirit. Offer it up because it is what you have to offer, and it is uniquely yours, and that matters.

And whatever you do, keep creating. The world needs it.

This is one of those posts a lot of people seem to make on their blogs, and I don’t really expect anyone to read it or care, but it seems like the sort of thing I should have in my archived posts, I guess. For those of you who are interested, I thought I’d detail how my day goes when I’m not in classes.

There may be a Day in the Life post for when I’m in classes later. I’m not sure. We’ll see how I feel about this format.

My life, I think, is not particularly interesting, but I go through it every day, so what do I know?

6:30 – Wake Up.

This sometimes happens at 7:00 instead. I’ve gotten lazy about wake-up time during the break.

I get up. I have a cigarette and check the weather by standing out on the back deck while I smoke. I feed the cat, and deliver his insulin injection. I take the dog out to go potty. I get dressed in whatever seems comfortable, pack up my laptop, charger, water bottle, and a light breakfast. I load up my keychain pill canister with my morning pills. Then I grab my backpack and go catch the bus downtown.

8:30 – Office Time Begins.

I reach downtown and head to a local coffee shop that offers refills and free wifi. I sit down, pull out my bullet journal, review appointments and errands for the day and use them to build my to-do list. All analog at this point, haven’t even opened my laptop. Sometimes I do this while I’m waiting for a table with an outlet to open up. I eat my light breakfast and swallow my pills with my first cup of coffee.

I read at least two articles about management or marketing or SEO, usually from LinkedIn or my marketing list on Twitter. I note down the website, the author, and the title of the article, along with any interesting takeaways or concepts that require further research. Hopefully I find something worth posting to LinkedIn. On Wednesdays I share a post from this very blog.

I think of something writerly and engaging to post to my Author page on Facebook. I tweet something. I check these items off of my to-do list.

9:30 – Second Cup of Coffee.

Self-doubt begins to creep in. I open my journal and turn to my list of potential blog post topics and pick one or two. I write a blog post or two, and check my scheduled posts to make sure I don’t have a gap coming up.

I look for free stock photos for the new blog posts and upload them to Canva. I forgive myself for not being a designer. I upload the photo(s).

I schedule the blog posts. I sit back in my chair and check social media feeds. This is a compulsion; there is no reason to do it other than that I need a break from the constant focus of writing.

Check to see if there’s anything interesting nearby on Pokemon Go.

I check my email. I consider declaring email bankruptcy and starting over. I realize that there are all kinds of images and marked up book covers in that morass accessible only by the gmail search function. Immediately give up.

11:00 – Third Cup of Coffee.

Starting to feel nauseated from the coffee but got a good amount of caffeine in my system now.

Check to see if that blog post you wrote for a client is live now, and agonize about how to pop it into your online writing portfolio.

Go through old school projects to see if there’s anything left from that era that’s worthwhile. Format some old personal essays for the blog.

Chat with other coffee shop regulars.

Consult your to-do list. Check things off. Add new things. Check for phone calls to be made and appointments to be rescheduled. Make phone calls.

Use the coffee shop restroom without examining the toilet seat. Acknowledge that there is now a stranger’s urine drying slowly on the back of my thigh. Consider what a disgustingly human and poetic image of connection this is. Write it in my bullet journal for a future project.

12:00 – 1:00 – Work is Done. Errands Time.

I run any errands on my to-do list. This takes a minimum of three hours to do by bus because buses bend time. In a bad way.

I’m in the bad part of my caffeine buzz now, starting to feel agitated and a little shaky.

I, of course, skip this part if there are no errands and skip ahead to…

3:00 – 4:00 – Errands Are Complete, Head Home.

Ah, it’s nap time.

4:00 – 5:00 – Housework Time.

I set aside time for housework every day. I don’t always get it done, but setting aside the time makes it more likely that I will.

The housework usually involves the kitchen, dishes, etc. I have technically vacuumed before. Sometimes I do laundry or scrub the toilet.

I feel virtuous and absolved for about fifteen minutes.

5:00 – 6:00 – Dinner.

Usually leftovers. Eaten at my desk, usually while watching YouTube.

5:30 – 6:30 – Self Care Time.

Get personal care stuff under control, like detangling my hair and clipping my nails and taking my evening pills. I tell myself I’ll meditate but usually don’t. Feed the cat, give him his second dose of insulin. Sometimes, I even shower.

7:00 – Video Games.

Sometimes I don’t feel like video games, and in those cases I peruse YouTube for delicious video content. Usually though, I do feel like video games. Hop on Discord voice chat.

9:30 – Nighttime Chores.

I scoop the litter box, brush my teeth, take the dog out to potty, add water to the humidifier and empty water from the dehumidifier (as needed). I give myself one more chance to decide to meditate. I usually tell myself I will do it tomorrow night.

The cat gets another feeding because if I don’t feed him right before bedtime he will wake me up at 4:30 in the morning.

I close out the day in my bullet journal. I am not as good about this as I would like you to think I am, so let’s just say I do it every night. I migrate undone to dos to future dates. I add some to-dids to make myself feel better about my day. I move any blog post ideas, fiction ideas, notes for future therapy sessions, and other errata to their respective pages in the journal. I consult my monthly calendar for any appointments for the next day, and look up bus schedules as needed.

10:00 – Bedtime.

Get in bed. Put on a sleepcast. Kick the wrinkles out of my top sheet. After an hour to ninety minutes, fall asleep.

That’s it.

Now you know what it takes to be an unemployed MBA student on summer break. Do you have what it takes?

The “why business” question was one I was asked a lot during my undergrad, largely by people who had known me for some years.

And it’s true that I’m a bit of an odd figure in the MBA classroom these days. Middle aged, fat, no makeup, jeans and t-shirts. A bandanna tied over unkempt hair. I am very liberal, staunchly in favor of regulating businesses, in favor of taxing businesses and the wealthy. I am an environmentalist. I am a feminist, and I talk about racialized violence and the oppression of the disabled and the poor. I have zero interest in an executive position; in fact becoming an executive sounds boring in the extreme to me.

I am an artist, I am a writer, I am a creative worker. I am angry and sad and I’m a class clown type. I am poor. I am a person with a disability. I am queer, I am an Emma Goldman fan.

One person, a checker at a nearby grocery store, gave me a sidelong glance. “Taking the system down from the inside. I like it.”

He wasn’t far from the truth, honestly. But the idea of “taking the system down” feels a bit far-fetched to me.

I have come to believe that commerce and enterprise are baked into human behavior. Business would continue to exist in some form even if we were to belly-flop into a post-scarcity economic system. And it should! Business is good.

I started my college career as an art student, and promptly dropped out. When I went back to school as an adult, I decided to major in Business Administration because I thought that what was missing from the arts curriculum was business acumen. After all, most people who enter the arts as a profession is at some level going to have to be a business person; there are contracts to manage and rights to manage and taxes to pay. We end up working for ourselves at some point.

Also, I am a novelist with close to zero interest in working with the big five publishers; I was likely going to have to figure this out on my own.

So I went into business. Once immersed in the business curriculum, I fell in love.

I knew I wanted a master’s degree after graduation. I asked my English department advisor (I minored in creative writing) whether I should pursue an MFA, and her response was, “Nah, you already know how to write.”

So I applied to an MBA program.

I questioned whether this was the right course of action, and I still do. Am I too weird to get a reasonable job in this field? Will I have to femme it up just to get by? Will I have to move away from my adopted hometown?

But sometimes we must move as the spirit bids.

I opened my essay on my MBA application with a quote from Andy Warhol:

“Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. During the hippie era people put down the idea of business. They’d say ‘money is bad’ and ‘working is bad’. But making money is art, and working is art – and good business is the best art.”

Andy Warhol’s philosophy of mass producing art lead to a democratization of artwork, allowing any of us to have art in our homes, in our lives. It turned art into something practical and absurd at the same time.

I was accepted into the program.

My view of business is that it’s intrinsic to the human condition. Commerce has been a part of our daily lives for as long as we have record, and there’s evidence to argue that commerce structured our societies even before history’s record begins.

Having a hand in business means having a hand in societal structures, at least as much as being in politics or mass media. The fact of the matter is that if people like me eschew the study and practice of business as “evil” and “inherently corrupt,” we are giving up the chance to have a hand in shaping society. By giving that up, we are necessarily putting that power in the hands of those who do not think like we do. Who do not see business as an opportunity to shape a better society. Who do not consider the shape and well-being of our society at all.

So in a way, I guess I see it as my responsibility, especially seeing as so many of my peers have zero interest in the whole thing. We are guilty of allowing the already wealthy and corrupt into positions of incredible power by abdicating our voices in business. Sound like a familiar story? Because we’ve done it in politics, too. By believing the American political system to be inherently evil, we have handed it over to the people most likely to use it for their own ends.

This doesn’t mean I’ll take the business world by storm. I have no interest in running a billion dollar company or becoming a figure on the national stage, even if the national stage would have my weird ass on it at all.

But we can use these skills on the small scale, bettering our own communities, opposing businesses that aren’t in keeping with the well-being of our citizens and fostering programs that leave us all better off.

 

I remember when I was young thinking that freedom was the essence of creativity. Longing for this idea of unconstrained creativity, this state that would allow me to create at my best, free from limitations.

Here’s the thing about that. Unconstrained creativity doesn’t exist.

I play this video game called Ark Survival Evolved. A part of the game is building structures. YouTube experts in the game recommend that those interested in building find the biggest, flattest piece of land they can to start building on. It’s easier to build on flat spaces.

But whenever I’ve taken this advice, I’ve ended up with big boring boxes.

The times when I’ve chosen landscapes that were interesting to me and built into and around these landscapes were times that I ended up with remarkable structures, and they’re the times when I worked on them the most obsessively, driven forward by the process of creation.

They’re not beautiful, by any means. But they’re interesting, and they work, and I enjoy building them.

The reason they’re interesting, and the reason I enjoy them, is that they were created through the process of problem solving.

This is the essence of creativity. Problem solving.

It took me a while to wrap my head around this one. I never considered myself an ace problem solver until the people in my life started pointing out the places where I succeeded in developing creative solutions to problems.

These weren’t big dramatic things. It was figuring out how to get by while poor. Finding ways to cope with deep mental illness. Setting up systems that would allow me to succeed in school and work even when I was struggling. Day to day stuff.

But wait, you might ask, how does this related to literature and the arts? Creativity for creativity’s sake?

I don’t believe that creativity happens for its own sake. I believe that it serves human needs at every stage of production and consumption. But this problem solving is the root of creativity in an artistic sense as well. I don’t sit down at a blank page and just… draw something. I don’t sit down in front of my laptop and just… write something. There’s intent there. There are questions. There are problems to be solved.

How do I communicate to the viewer how impossibly beautiful I find this thing?

How do I create an image of pain?

How do I get the protagonist of this story from where she is to where I need her to be?

How should I structure this piece to be accessible to the widest possible audience?

What is exciting about this to other people?

Who will be looking at this and what do they want?

Which need does this fulfill?

It took me a long time to move beyond the mysticism that cloaks our view of creative work and connect it to problem solving in my own mind, but it was a vital frame change. Without it, I would never have understood the roots of my own drive to create, and I would have continued in fits and starts, probably never completing a novel because I wasn’t answering the vital questions underlying each project.

And I would never have connected creativity to my day-to-day work, treating it as a tool in my toolkit, and I never would have had a chance to achieve what I had the potential to achieve.

This division between the creative and the mundane is invented, and artists and writers who propagate this myth are participating in their own destruction. It is not a sacred calling, and believing it to be such only enslaves us to a monastic existence, prepared to work for free because we’re called to it.

Never doubt that when you’re exercising your creative skills that you’re doing something practical and vital. It is not magic. It is work you do with your brain, and it has value in the real world.

 

 

Hello.

Looks like I haven’t posted here since 2016. I had no idea it had been that long. This blog just kept falling away, pushed to later and later dates on my to-do list.

The last few years have been an adventure.

Let’s see, where to start.

I originally let this blog go because I was overwhelmed with school. I returned to university as an adult student and graduated with my BA in Business Administration (focus in Marketing) in December of 2018, at the age of 40. I did not walk in my graduation ceremony; the idea of waiting around for my turn to walk across a stage didn’t appeal to me.

During my junior year in university I experienced a collapse in my physical and mental health. I let it get to the point where I could barely walk before I took action. The result of habits formed over years of living without medical coverage. Cope if you can. Drink lots of water and see if it goes away. Try drinking less alcohol. Take some ibuprofen. I didn’t seek help for my mental health until paranoid delusions threatened to consume my relationships with my community.

I have since been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and bipolar I disorder (with psychosis) respectively and entered treatment for both. Pills became a permanent part of my life. Morning pills, evening pills, blue pills, white pills.

While the world is designed to encourage me to keep my psych diagnosis a secret, talking about it openly is a way that I can combat stigma against the mentally ill. I have the ability and the resources to do that, so I do, in hopes it will help me and those that don’t have the ability and the resources that I have,

My aged little cat Cassie died at the age of 20. She was blind and deaf and suffering from severe kidney disease. I still miss her.

I have continued to write fiction, when I have time for it. I am also doing some freelance blog writing to put food on the table. I am currently unemployed.

I have enrolled in the MBA program at Western Washington University and have just completed my first quarter of the program. It is challenging, even though a lot of the material is stuff I covered in my undergrad. Having my degree in business gives me a leg up, but not much of one. School consumes most of my life, but I hope it will lead to a fulfilling career later on, and I will no longer need to arrange trips to the food bank.

I have come out as bisexual and non-binary. The pronouns she/her and they/them are both appropriate.

I like my MBA cohort. It’s a diverse group of people with many points of view, and I find them personable and interesting. I am the oldest among the cohort. This is both a positive and a negative thing.

I have missed writing here. I have thought about this blog often during the last few years, thinking that I should get back into that.

Today, I hope, is the day I finally do it.

I’m hoping to maintain a weekly (at least) blogging habit here. It will be personal, professional, pointless, and poignant by turns. This is perhaps not the wisest choice, but I’ve never been lauded for my wisdom. Intelligence, yes. Capability, yes. Wisdom, not so much.

This is a place where I can like and celebrate myself.

I should spend more time here.

I missed you.