The idea of the “self made man” is a common one in American culture. It’s the idea of someone (a man, typically) becoming successful simply through their own grit and hard work and natural ability. Though the phrase seems to be less common now than it was in my youth, you’ll still hear it, mostly from older folks or from those on the political right. The idea persists in the culture, however, and that’s a problem.

Because the self made man is a myth, and it always has been.

Where Does this Idea Come From?

This idea has been around since the early days of the United States. The phrase was coined in a speech by US Senator Henry Clay in 1832, but there are those who regard Benjamin Franklin as the first self made man. At that time, the concept of the self made man was a man who divested himself of possessions so that he may then go on to build his own fortune; in the 1950s, the success of the self made man was considered to be strictly success in business.

As the term has been used over and over again, it lost the divestiture meaning, and came to encapsulate anyone who had come up in business, the assumption being that the success this person (again, a man) enjoyed was the fruit of their own hard work, grit, and natural talents. These days there are those who would apply the self made man label even to those such as Donald J Trump, who has little experience at all with divestiture of wealth.

When the phrase was used by Clay in his speech in the Senate, it was in reference to leaders of manufacturing industry regarding tariffs that were being debated at the time, and this is a subject matter that causes people to invoke the self made man quite often: taxes. The idea that it is immoral to take money from those who have worked hard to earn it on their own, with no outside help, is used to inveigh against wealth taxes, business taxes, high marginal rates, and even estate taxes (the irony is palpable) here in the United States.

Frederick Douglass, a former slave turned abolitionist, said in one of his lectures that there were…

no such men as self-made men. That term implies an individual independence of the past and present which can never exist … Our best and most valued acquisitions have been obtained either from our contemporaries or from those who have preceded us in the field of thought and discovery. We have all either begged, borrowed or stolen. We have reaped where others have sown, and that which others have strown, we have gathered.

Frederick Douglass

Success Comes From Community and Society.

The flaws with this view of success, particularly success in business, should be obvious immediately: nobody runs a wildly successful business on their own.

Even if you started the business on your own, with no business loans, no small business grants, no material inheritance at all from one’s family (even I got enough of my parents’ estate to buy a Playstation), business simply does not work that way. Especially in the context of post industrialization manufacturing business, while you may have worked to get the money to buy the plant and the equipment, your business requires the labor of employees.

This is vital. We often think about how much employees need their jobs (and we do) but we neglect how vital employees are to the businesses they work for. Tesla could not function without employees, and nor could Kellogg’s or GE. If they could, they would.

We’re nearing a point now in which business without labor may become a possibility, but even then we will have relied on the work and advancement of generations of scientists and engineers to make that possible. Scientific advancement in the fields of automation and artificial intelligence doesn’t just fall from trees.

In addition, all business require the support of society to succeed. This ranges from simple access to markets (markets are made of people, something we often also overlook; no business succeeds without customers) to basic infrastructure, from roads and utilities that are provided or regulated by society collectively, to high speed data connections, cloud storage, and other necessities of modern business.

Land and Labor.

So if we assume that, of the four factors of production, Capital and Entrepreneurship are both taken care of by our self made man alone (they weren’t, but let’s assume), Land and Labor are still unaccounted for. Land includes natural resources that become raw materials that finished goods are manufactured from.

Where do land and labor come from?

Here, in the US, they’re stolen.

Every business, every factory, every office in the United States stands on stolen land. Every natural resource we extract is extracted from stolen land. Resources once regarded as common pool resources, some non-excludable, are made excludable and captured for the pursuit of profit.

But even if that weren’t the case, even if we didn’t steal this entire country and engage in a (continuing) campaign of genocide against its original inhabitants, one could reasonably say that it’s impossible to extract an industrially significant quantity of a resource from a given parcel of land without it impacting neighboring parcels. One could say that the industrial processes necessary for industrial scale production cannot help but pollute land, air, and water that impact those on neighboring parcels. The land, at the risk of sounding a bit new-agey, is all connected; by plants, animals, water, and air. You cannot plunder land, even land you own, without impacting those around you, the society in which you operate.

But what about Labor?

Okay, it may be fair to have a conversation about whether or not labor is stolen in the current day (although it certainly isn’t traded on an open and fair market), but this nation from its very beginnings was built on stolen labor. And the early mercantile and agricultural success enjoyed by the fledgling US may never have been possible without it.

It’s worth noting that Henry Clay himself, who stood in defense of the self made men of manufacturing, was a slave owner. As was Benjamin Franklin.

So when you take advantage of US markets, of an economic system predicated on cheap (or stolen) labor, you’re benefiting from the legacy of slavery, even if you don’t currently own slaves yourself.

I’m not making a moral judgement on this. I’m just acknowledging this as fact. There’s no way that a business benefiting from our system does not in some way benefit from our past use of slavery.

Capital and Entrepreneurship.

The two remaining factors of production are capital and entrepreneurship. Capital refers to the machinery, tools, buildings, and other equipment needed to produce goods. Entrepreneurship is the spark that most people associate with the self made man; the grit, the willingness to work hard, and the intelligence that makes the self made man successful.

Capital does not spring fully formed from the hands of the entrepreneur. Though the self made man, without any material inheritance from his family, may have worked sufficiently to acquire the capital needed, there were employees that manufactured or built the capital. Inventors who created the machines. A society that has gone before that left fertile ground for the creation of this capital in its wake.

Surely entrepreneurship is the domain of the self made man, and his alone. Surely he is responsible for his intelligence and work.

Not so fast. Even with a lack of material inheritance from his family, the self made man benefits from the education he received throughout his life. He benefits from the cultural education that he received from his social standing (early examples of self made men were born to landed gentry almost exclusively, and were white, ensuring that they understood how to move in the world of moneyed whites. This persists today. I am a beneficiary of such cultural privilege). They benefit from not having to scrape a living from the unforgiving land with their crooked fingers, the benefit of which is the ability to think of things grander than one’s next meal.

These days, even those who have been educated only in private schools benefit from curriculum developed by the broader society (often in public schooling systems) and we all benefit from public schools as they produce workers of a sufficient education level to perform the work needed in our companies and factories. Public education also mitigates a wide range of societal ills, making a society that is more stable and more able to direct energy toward consumerism. A society that produces both workers and customers.

The Blindness of the Self Made Man.

I am floored whenever I hear someone talk about self made men in this day and age. The sheer blindness of it, to not be able to look behind you and see the hundreds (or thousands, or millions) of people who participated along the way. Schoolteachers and road builders, laborers and mentors.

It is a blindness that doesn’t see the connection that every business has to the land, to the communities that live on that land, to those that historically lived on that land. To the communities in which they do business, to the workers in those communities and to the customers that are the eventual end users where the chain of production terminates.

All of us are connected. All of us come from a place and a people, and we all carry the benefits and disadvantages that those origins provide.

This profound blindness impacts all of us, wherever we live, wherever we work.

Why it Matters.

Understanding where your business comes from and where it’s going confers a long term advantage. Understanding the community where your business comes from and in which it operates currently is incredibly valuable. But it matters on a much smaller scale than that.

Understanding the webs of, for lack of a better term, value, that connect us all gives one a unique view of the market, of strategy, and of marketing. It lets you see strengths and weaknesses that the blind self made man simply cannot see.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned throughout my life is that, without significant material inheritance, what little success I’ve achieved has depended heavily on a complex web of relationships, without which I would be nothing at all.

Understanding that allows for further success, and gives you opportunities to help others succeed.

I was moving the donation money into my savings account, and guess what? The total in my China fund once the transfer goes through is $1,005!

This means a few things:

First and probably most important, the deposit for the trip (which is the tuition for the course) is taken care of. I’m fully registered for the trip, and can pay the deposit!

Second, I’m ready to start working toward airfare and visa costs!

Hitting this milestone means a lot to me, and it’s vital to recognize that I couldn’t have done it without the kind people willing to give me extra work, and the generosity of my amazing friends and family. This isn’t something I did, it’s something y’all did.

More important news: the grant from the school to help with the trip has increased from $800 each to $1,000, which means to reach my original funding goal I only have to raise another $500!

If you’re interested in helping out, you can donate here. Well wishes and enthusiasm also accepted!

I’m an MBA student with career goals. I’ve known for most of my life that I wanted to figure out a way to make a living writing, and while I usually envisioned making that money from my fiction, I’ve since discovered that I also love writing on the internet. This dovetails nicely with my course of study: business, and specifically marketing.

What is Content Marketing, Anyway?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines content marketing thusly:

Content Marketing

noun

a type of marketing that involves the creation and sharing of online material (such as videos, blogs, and social media posts) that does not explicitly promote a brand but is intended to stimulate interest in its products or services.

This is also known as “inbound marketing,” because it brings prospects “in” instead of the marketer “reaching out” with ads.

A huge amount of the content you read online, whether you realize it or not, can be considered content marketing. Some of it is explicitly so, with sponsored blog or social media posts (this is called “native marketing.” Most platforms require a sponsored tag for this sort of content).

One of the core realizations I had in my undergrad studies is that social media turns everyone into a marketer. Your friends on Facebook or Snapchat or what-have-you curate their lives in order to better support their personal brand, whether they know they are or not. We all do it. Social media would be a bleak place if we didn’t.

Content Makes the Web Better.

Okay, you might contend that corporate blog posts or commercially sponsored content make the web worse, but I would push back on that. Companies are out there creating all kinds of content, from gif spattered listicles to in-depth travelogues, and people are reading it.

But aside from that, let’s consider the alternative to corporate content: more advertisements. Companies are not going to stop advertising on the web, nor would I want them to (I’m in favor of an ad supported internet). Given the options, I would rather see companies producing well thought out blog posts, insightful articles, and hilarious tweets (tell me you don’t follow Arby’s on Twitter).

So why not allow those who have the time and the budget to create the content we admittedly crave?

People like it. We know because it works.

Creating High Quality Content Makes me Feel Good.

I suppose there’s a conversation to be had about whether or not this blog, or any of my social media channels, are high quality content, but I think they are, or I wouldn’t keep doing this. And writing it makes me feel good. Knowing that the five of you might read this blog post and learn something interesting or see things in a different way makes me feel good.

Also? I just love writing. I started my college career as a student of the visual arts, but found along the way that writing is really where my heart lies. Sure, my first love is fiction and that will probably always be true, but this makes me happy too.

Writing content on the web holds the possibility that I might help someone, even if it’s just helping someone feel less alone, or helping someone make a choice or decision of some kind. Even if I never hear from this person. This all goes back to my feelings on art, but that’s a subject for a different blog post.

It’s a Way to Reach Out to People I Would Otherwise Never Reach.

Let’s face it, my sphere of influence all told is pretty small, but it’s even more limited in analog space. I have maybe a hundred people I know who like and/or respect me, and might ask me for advice or hang out with me on a Sunday afternoon. It’s pretty well limited to Northwest Washington State, adding a geographical boundary to that sphere of influence.

But on the web, I can reach people around the world. I don’t, but I can. The kernel of possibility is there. And that makes my world feel both excitingly and terrifyingly large. That, in turn, makes the world feel less lonely and fractured.

You could say that any kind of writing on the web can cause that feeling, but I maintain that this blog is content marketing, as are my social media channels, and thus all of the tools I have for connecting with people around the world.

Content Influences Culture.

One of the incredible things the web has done, whether for good or for ill, is to give us all a much more direct hand in the shape of the culture we live in. Suddenly we’re all connected; discussions can be had, divisions explored (and exploited), consensus can be reached (or not), all of this between people whose reach was previously limited by geography. I think that’s incredible.

Not just that, this cultural influence extends beyond the web. Social media influencers become artists and models, blogs become books and books become best sellers. YouTube stars become organization gurus, and bloggers become journalists.

As much as some of us rail against the corporate influence on the web (again, I’m in favor of an ad supported internet), the web has flattened the media landscape, giving the humblest of us an opportunity to influence culture.

Do some marketers use this superpower for evil? Sure. But some make the choice to influence the culture in positive ways, and those are the moments of confluence that I live for.

Is There A Dark Side? Sure.

One of my instructors in my undergrad days sat the class down for a stern talk. “Marketing,” he said, “is a tool. And that tool can be used for good or for evil.”

Are there people out there marketing hateful ideas? Absolutely, particularly now. Are there corporations socially and environmentally green washing their brands while pursuing oppressive and degrading business practices? There sure are. But there are also companies out there doing good with their marketing budgets.

The web, and content marketing, lend greater reach and power to small businesses for less money than more traditional marketing channels, and those small businesses are more likely to do good with those smaller budgets than are large corporations, with shareholders to keep happy.

And I think, all told, content marketing on the web does more good than harm. And that’s what I’m most interested in in the end; facilitating the need to do good.

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.

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.