for the love of good: if everything is awesome, nothing is awesome

For better or worse (I argue the latter), we’re smitten with sharing naught but the supposed awesome of every moment of our lives. Social media and digital news feeds are a barrage of best day / spouse / thing EVER proclamations. Despite my want to believe in the positive and great, I’m suspect of any projected image wherein each day is the best, every dinner the most amazing, and all wines are awesome.

The lens through which I view life is one of optimistic realism. On the balance of probabilities, I accept that a “best” of something will occasionally cross my path while a “good” representation is most likely to be the encounter – with “not so good” also an option. Popular expectation of how much fantastic we’ll experience is severely out of whack. Subsequently, we have assigned a new and lower value to good. Nothing stands out from a crowd if the average is set at awesome. When did good lose its charm?

our language

In October 2014 I visited the Clare region of Nova Scotia, where my Acadian family speaks a localized French as our first language. Listening to my relatives chatter in Acadian-ese is both confusing and comforting; the cadence of their speech carries as much emotional expression as their word choice and, in some cases, more – such as when an English word is spoken with the Acadian accent. Adjectives are appropriated and change with emphasis, while nouns gain and lose syllables at random. Hello changes to ‘ello and ‘allo!, eventually becoming ‘ah-lo?! when popping one’s head into a neighbour’s house for an unannounced visit.

in awe of the atlantic: cause of countless shipwrecks with as many stories, and steps from my father’s childhood home

Among the many interesting discoveries in translating Acadian to English is a word used by my uncle with regularity: satisfied. From discussing his recent furnace replacement to sharing a favourite dining spot in Yarmouth, my uncle referred to being satisfied rather than stating he was happy (or happy with something). I’m paraphrasing, but a typical conversation involving his satisfaction would go like this:

Me: Did you like the clam chowder?

Uncle Anselme: I usually don’t order clam chowder, because I’m particular about clam chowder. But this was nice. I’m satisfied.

or this…

Me: How is your new furnace working?

Uncle Anselme: It’s more efficient than the last one and less noisy. I’d say I’m satisfied with my choice. 

We’ve come to accept happy as a new standard of moderate descriptor for satisfaction or acceptance, displacing where once we would have used good. My circle of friends, in casual discourse, would likely have said their clam chowder was good or that they were happy with their new furnace. Can a furnace make you happy? On a cold night, yes. In the quest for life happiness a furnace might rank slightly lower – that you are satisfied with its performance is a more appropriate statement. Chalk up a win for Acadian translation.

I became accustomed to my uncle’s satisfaction, and upon return to my home life I noticed its absence here. It was also more difficult to ignore the epic, awesome, and best that surrounded me.

the decline of our level of diction

Through the wonder of smartphones we have the world in our pockets – but instead of being inspired by this access to so much, we’re becoming lazy. Satisfied has been relegated to use in surveys, and not much else. Each year more words are accepted into the Oxford English Dictionary, yet we use fewer to describe our experiences and feelings. These best of / most awesome / epic days and events do us a disservice: not only do these descriptors set the bar unattainably high for daily living, we’re less likley to be curious about individual experiences because we anticipate those particular words will convey a larger picture – an understood, unspoken description. It’s a falsehood, and we erode our cultural wealth each time we make these simple statements.

Where packaged individualism is the new socially acceptable collective norm, we strive to show how individually normal we are by sharing our every awesome moment / meal / experience. Discovering the latest hot whatchamacallit can help your voice burn brightly in the new media spotlight; however, like a flare, its shine is short-lived. In this light, the new craft brewery making an epic IPA will briefly attract more attention than the new craft brewery making good beer. Is an IPA epic? Beowulf is epic. Homer is epic. An IPA is refreshing, citrus-y, and satisfying. Can a wine be awesome? A lightning storm is awesome. A volcano is awesome. A wine can be surprising, balanced, complex. I am satisfied with how it tastes.

for the love of good

I aspire to write well and have folks who read my writing think ‘that was good’. This is the benchmark I’ve assigned: good. It lives somewhere between a B- and B+, where a C is average and an A is exceptional. At times I’ll write something that resonates with a group of people, and occasionally a sentence is structured so beautifully I want to frame it. Those are rare exceptions, as are awesome and epic. I’m more concerned with whether someone will find their own level of enjoyment in something I’ve written about – like the aforementioned craft brewery’s IPA – than I am with the length of time the spotlight will be on what I’ve written.

I’ve fallen into the awesome/epic/best trap on more occasions that I care to admit: in bite-sized statements meant for snacking, rather than multi-courses intended for a little more digestion (such as this). We snack on information more frequently than we digest stories. Platforms like Twitter and Facebook support these habits. I am not immune, although I do try to remind myself of the need for digestion.

When in the shadow of awesome, good can’t seem to catch a break. But I love good. We tend to poke and prod a little further when we stumble upon good; we’re more curious about good’s context, and the associated package defies an easy dismissal. Good is layered. Good is sexy. Good isn’t competing for your attention, because it doesn’t have to.

In a world where everything is awesome, nothing is. Let’s try for good, so we can be in awe more often.

~ Jeannette

in awe of art and the artist who lived this life: the reconstructed home of Maud Lewis, celebrated folk artist who lived outside of Digby NS
in awe of the artist who lived this life: reconstructed home of Maud Lewis, celebrated folk artist who lived outside of Digby

last week, i quit – then someone said 3 little words

This weekend I quit my own freelance writing gig. Like everyone else who gets frustrated with their job, I didn’t mean it – and honestly, I don’t really think I can quit from myself. Tired of the daily grind and feeling like I was undervalued, I did what any good employee would do: I went to Twitter and typed Today, I kind of give up.

Aside from photos of a deconstructed brunch at hipster joints and blurry pics of the previous night’s wine tasting that may or may not have gotten out of hand, there’s not much social media action on a Saturday morning. I figured my little tweet would go out on a puff of wind and drift away.

Then someone sent this:

We haven’t met but I love your work. Can I help?

After toiling in what often seems to be relative obscurity, I felt an immediate lift upon learning that someone a) knows I do this writing thing, b) has allegedly read some of my work, and c) seems to like what they’ve read. But what really meant the world was the Can I help? part. Those three little words punch well above their weight.

We bolster ourselves and each other because we need the mutual support to keep going. Numerous times I’ve reminded friends that they’re brilliant, talented, good enough, <insert daily affirmation here>.

Yes, you can help. Thank you. On Sunday I broke through writer’s block and wrote 2,700 words in 11 hours. I met deadline and made a client happy.

It’s amazing how easy it is to get help once I’ve made myself vulnerable enough to admit that I need it. It’s something we should do more often – on both sides.

Thanks, Leslie. You rock. And I didn’t quit – yet. But I’ll tell you when I’m ready to again.

~ Jeannette

Tinhorn tree in bloom 03

dear diary: my secret writing life

of course I write in a cute little cabin on a lake…

We’ve been conditioned to think writers live one of several prescripted lives: that of a misunderstood recluse, a charmingly offbeat guy/gal, a hipster-eyeglassed academic, or denim-and-flannel clad individual who squirrels him/herself away in a rustic cabin by a pine-trimmed lake. Pigeon, meet hole.

Mine is unlike any of the lives above, as I suspect is the case for most of my peers. I’d love to be at that cabin but I’d miss out on observing the people that make for inspired content – like Grizzly Brian and the chest scar he’s eager to show off (yes, the scar is from a grizzly bear).

I do a fair amount of writing about wine, food, and the Okanagan. Subsequently, I have access to privileges I otherwise wouldn’t – such as wine tastings, dinners, and travel. These are exceptions rather than the norm, and despite their shiny exterior they can be hard work. (okay, sometimes it’s just plain fun)

The idea of folks flitting about in berets and eating baguettes in pursuit of uncovering excellence in wine/food is, well, absurd. Someone has to pay for it, and often it’s the writer herself – in one way or another.

With social media channels like Facebook and Twitter feeding us a non-stop highlight reel, we could easily think everyone but us is living a most awesome life. This is untrue. Behind “best day ever!” posts and photos of idyllic locales, many writers (like me) toil in a world heavily populated by barter and trade; we augment our freebies and do-it-for-the-exposure gigs with less interesting but better paying gigs.

I can’t pay my mortgage with a bottle of wine, whether it’s a pre-release or back vintage – but I’d be drinking anyway, so I keep them on and find a few folks who can pay by the word.

For all of you who have ever said “you’re SO lucky!” when I show up with my media pass or have to bail on your backyard barbecue because of another something-launch, I’d like to share some of my writer-life secrets. I’m sure other writers have a few of their own.

  1. There is no free ride. We might get free admission to an event, but there’s often a cost you don’t consider: like transportation, companion fare (I like to take my fella with me when I can), feeding yourself, or a place to rest your head. And it takes time to write – that two hour event might be free, but while everyone else has gone home my job is just beginning.
  2. Strings are attached. When a writer is invited to a place/event, it’s often because there’s something expected in return. Most often what’s expected is an article or story pitch to one of the writer’s regular channels. Sometimes, there’s pressure for a favourable review – that can be incredibly awkward to navigate, and makes me feel icky.
  3. Online content is undervalued. Digital content is battle weary, fighting for equality in pay and credibility – but it’s one of the most popular channels for writers. We expect it to deliver the same punch as printed matter and in a more timely fashion, but we’re not willing to pay for it or give it the cred it’s due. My writing process is the same for online or print publication, but one pays better (or pays at all).
  4. I don’t have many friends. Rather, I have oodles of them – they want to gain my favour (or the favour of those I’m friends with) in the hopes that I can further the success of an event/product/whatever. The friends I have I am fiercly protective of. I’m friendly with many, but friends with few.
  5. It’s really, really hard work. We’re not constructing widgets, but we contribute value: opportunities for social commentary, a view into the fabric of our communities, and documentation of the human condition. It’s exhausting, exhilarating, and the reason we wake up in the morning.

The toil is worth the trouble, and despite this somewhat negative list I continue to write – because I’m compelled to. At present the perks and ‘freedom’ of a freelance writer life are a trade-off for the financial stability of a career with health benefits and a pension plan. Perhaps I’ll see a time when the paid gigs outweigh the value-added ones. That would be nice.

The writers I know do it because they can’t imagine doing anything else. Like me, they’ve tried other vocations but were drawn to this – perhaps intially because of those images we’ve come to associate with the writing life, but ultimately because there’s something very alluring about language. Sure, there’s a thrill in seeing our by-line and knowing that someone’s reading our words. But it’s more than that.

I endure these challenges in exchange for that inconsistent paycheque (and the occasional bottle of wine) because writing something well can be a magical experience, and I think we need all the magic we can get.

~ Jeannette