We need to take more risks. It sounds like a cliché, but it’s the plain truth. As the social media microscope is trained on us without reprieve, having space to take risks is increasingly rare and while we’re busy being safe we neglect opportunities – however brief – to step where it’s not expected of us; someone is always watching and a video of a misstep can go viral before we know it. So, it’s easier to be busy being safe.
Safe is absolute garbage. It’s an illusion we afford ourselves from a place of inert reluctance, lulling us into complacency while assuring us it’s okay to be there because everyone else is. Through the constant bombardment of a hyper-realized ‘normalcy’ created through social media platforms (i.e. Best Day Ever! posts), safe is the mainstream we feed ourselves when some small part of us wants to rage against the machine.
We’re discouraged from taking risks by using scary labels. What was once considered a midlife crisis might now be generational disengagement and part of the social culture, painted for us too large to find a way around or through but small enough for us to take away a measure of guilt for being part of the problem. The message is that it’s better to be safe than speak out for fear of saying the wrong thing and bearing the brunt of commentary backlash. Everyone knows that what happens on the internet lives forever.
This autumn I took a risk and launched Longhand, a digital platform on which to write about things I love and in a manner that best fits my voice. Longhand is not monetized, won’t be a place for harsh criticism, and will be as transparent as I can make it. Do I risk coming across as a cheerleader? Sure. I can’t put mind to that if I want to focus on what’s important to me: growing a platform that supports those who are trying to put their best foot forward. This is who I am.
Where does that leave this site? Well, it’s changing. There will be more opinion-editorial here, and also (I hope – again, taking a risk) critical content on writing and the industry/industries I’m affiliated with. Complacency does us a disservice. Even the smallest step moves us forward.
I like being safe. I have a mortgage to pay and would like, one day, to take a vacation somewhere warm where I can lie on a beach with a cocktail in hand. I also have a responsibility to the larger narrative in which risk plays a part, and I need to take those steps – even the smallest of steps – to help us move forward. So despite a craving for safety, I’ll push myself to take those risks. That beach might have to wait a little while longer.
Meanwhile, keep an eye on Longhand. There’s risk there, too, only it has better camouflage.
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?
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.
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.
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, thenew craft brewery makingan epic IPA will briefly attract more attention than the new craft brewerymaking 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.
Disclosure. It’s a vital component to building trust with an audience (that’s you) and not being a jerk-ass writer (potentially me). In an effort to not be a jerk-ass, I’ll disclose my biases and motivation(s) for writing this post.
I love the CBC. As a contract columnist, the CBC asks me to disclose any connection to, freebie from, or incentive by a winery. I like that.
I dislike advertorials. As a freelance writer I’m asked to pen all sorts of things – I (now) decline these. It’s a hard stand to take when the mortgage is due, but it’s where I planted my feet.
I don’t like to ask for free stuff. The result is that I’m invited to WAY fewer events/places/etc, but it means that when I write about something it’s because I genuinely want to.
Readers should have the straight goods. A writer/blogger/whatever that’s invited on a media trip (and is comped anything) should disclose it in her/his writing. Period.
Feel free to agree or disagree – but now you know where I stand before I get into the thick of things. This could be a messy one, so hang on.
I wanted to take a short trip with my fella; somewhere close by so we could maximize our Friday-to-Sunday time schedule. The goal: a weekend away, possibly playing double-duty as writing inspiration, and absolutely involving wine.
We were looking to stretch our dollars and a close acquaintance had once said “come stay with us if you’re ever in Chelan”. I contacted our new friend Katy and arranged an overnighter. Not wanting to outstay our welcome, I sought additional accommodation for a second night – but high season in a tourist destination meant spending significant coin. Damn. So I got in touch with the visitor’s centre and asked if any local accommodators could offer a discounted rate for “media”.
I rarely play the media card; I’d rather stay under the radar. But when it came to the only real away-time I’d have with my honey for the season, I caved. The nice people at Lake Chelan found a hotel willing to discount a one-night stay. While this was going on, I pitched a little something for online publication to legitimize the whole thing. My editor said yes, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
After dodging what I felt was a fraud-bullet, a writer colleague told me to get off my high-moral horse: I was providing a return benefit to the area – it wasn’t a handout – and other writers do this all the time. Ugh. Or as I’d tweet: #lesigh. I disclosed the freebies in the article where appropriate and when it didn’t sound like an infomercial.
What concerns me about I-give-you-something-and-you-give-us-something relationships between writers and those offering is a lack of disclosure on the part of the writer. It’s our responsibility to give it up. I disclose perks or gratis anything, yet I find it challenging to stay balanced on the narrow bridge between advertorial-ick and a glowing response to a well-hosted good time.
Do I feel my article stayed on course? Well, I didn’t omit the negative because I was given a few perks – we had a poor breakfast experience at a location I won’t name because if you know anything about me you know I don’t play that way. I felt encouraged to write positively about the area because we had a great visit.
Any good article or prose should leave the reader asking questions – if not about the content, then about what motivated the writer to tell that story. In an earlier post I mention how travel can often be on the dime of the writer seeking the experience, so I don’t begrudge anyone a complimentary anything. I’d love to take a sponsored trip and see how much that inner voice nags at me while I write. I’ll tell you all about it.
Meanwhile, I ask that the audience (that’s you) read with a critical eye – and I hope my fellow writers write nakedly. Perhaps not literally, because that could get weird.