Today begins my second week of self-employment. It’s some of the hardest work I’ve ever done, I think. I was up every day at 5:30 or 6 AM last week and pretty much hard at it until 6 or 7 in the evening. There has been a lot to get done and a lot of loose ends to tie up that never could get done when I was working the day job – or perhaps just “being at the day job and sometimes working.”
Beth said she read somewhere that work-at-home types shouldn’t try the “go to work in your pajamas” business; rather, one should get fully dressed down to and including lacing up your shoes. So I’ve taken that to heart. My shoes are laced and, if you notice in today’s Monday Morning Cup of Coffee, I’m even wearing a clean shirt.
I’ve got a bunch of work to do, but that doesn’t make me different from any other freelancer. I’ve seen how hard Will Kimbrough works for over twenty years now. Brad Talbot, Brad Jones, Grimey, Jessica Kimbrough – all are people I’ve seen bust their asses to keep above water and self-employed at the same time. Day in, day out.
I’m not a networker, though, so that is a stone in my pathway I’ll have to reckon with. It’s the reason I just did a blog called “I Need Your Help.” To me, that saws through a bunch of bullcrap and lays it on the line for as many people at once as I can get the message to. But it doesn’t escape my notice that I’m the only person who does such a thing! And there’s probably a good reason for that.
I’m a graduate of a somewhat prestigious professional organization I won’t name. I sent the same blog to all the members of my class that I posted on the web. At the top I said what everybody does when they send a mass email – I apologized for the mass email. Why do people do that? What’s so bad about a mass email when you have a mass topic? When I’m talking to an audience I don’t apologize for talking to them all at once, so why do we apologize for talking digitally all at once? Oh well, there must be a reason and I’m just tone-deaf to it.
Anyway, my point, and I do have one… On facebook my “I Need Your Help” blog/note was shared 36 times and the response was pandemic. How did my email go with this class I was part of? Dick. One person wrote back a two-word reply, “Good luck.”, and that was it.
Clearly I violated some protocol. I’m wondering if I should feel embarrassed. I don’t, but I’m wondering if I should. I plead insanity. Partly because anyone who pursues a career as a songwriter is fundamentally choosing an insane path, partly because people have been calling me crazy since eighth grade, so I must be crazy, even though I have never once in my life done anything just because it was crazy. Mind you, I’ve done some crazy shit, but even shaving my head felt like a good idea at the time. All my escapades have. Up to and including the mass e-mail I’m talking about.
Networking. They have books in the self-help section on how to do it. I don’t really need a lesson in it; I know the drill. You call somebody up and you shoot the shit while never actually saying that you’re only talking to this person because you want to get something out of them. It all strikes me as terribly disingenuous. And if I’m a poor networker, I’m even worse at small talk. I abhor small talk. Beth yells at me because at parties I always tend to trap someone in a corner into a deep conversation. I can’t help it. It’s the only conversation I can have and keep focused with eye contact and a smile and all that Dale Carnegie stuff. If I’m going to have a conversation, I want to care about it, and I want to genuinely care about the health and well-being of the person I’m talking to. Otherwise, my feeble attempts at small talk end with my brain going to Mars and me starting to nod and smile when I have no clue what the other person is prattling on about.
Another sticking point with me is taking people to lunch. I can see where this is very important. Commensality is a crucial lynchpin in how people bond and build trust with one another; i.e. you don’t eat with just anybody. To break bread with one another means “gabba gabba we accept you one of us!” But here’s my problem there: I hate eating with ANYBODY! When I eat, I want to watch television or read the paper. I can do it without those things and be polite if it’s a banquet or a family occasion, but how am I supposed to masticate and digest food and small talk to somebody at the same time? You can either eat or you can talk. You can’t do both at once, and I find that if I try to eat and talk in rapid succession to one another I wind up spitting bits of corn in somebody’s face or I put my elbows on the table without thinking about it, or double dip my tortilla chip, or any number of little things like that to make people say “hmmm… he is not one of us. We must shun him in the future.” Throw in the fact that all during this “business lunch” I’m having trouble digesting anything because I’m so nervous about screwing up. I stress for emphasis: I have never once done anything just to be crazy, but I keep doing crazy shit and I’m nervously certain I’m committing one faux pas after another, having no clue about when I’m doing it and when I’m not.
I’ve made a cottage industry out of being an open book. If I’m happy, I say it. If I’m depressed, I sing it. If I need my friends’ help with something, I blog about it. I do have my boundaries: I don’t discuss health problems, I don’t discuss sex, and I’m careful to leave my wife and sons’ lives alone, even though Nathan will once in a while pop up in the Monday Morning Cup of Coffee. Beth is a very private person, very much the yin to my yang in every respect, and I do my best to leave her out of it when I’m yammering on about my innermost needs, fears and wants.
At this point I should point out that absolutely NO ONE has busted my chops about any of this blogging business. All the response I’ve gotten has been 100% supportive, positive and greatly appreciated. No one has even hinted that I’m committing any sort of impropriety. Maybe it’s because people who know me the longest have long since thrown up their hands and accepted that I’ll never get a clue. Maybe it’s because I’m lucky to know a lot of great people.
There are only a handful of people I’ve met in my entire life whom I actually dislike. One is a smarmy Music Row guy who insulted the shit out of me after the last bis-quits gig in 1994. I was smoking a joint on Grimey’s balconey with Jonathan Bright and this guy came outside. “Hey —–, how are ya?” “Fine, how are you?” “Oh, I’m just absorbing the fact that my band is no more and the road ahead is uncertain.” And he said, “Yeah, that’s why I’m here. I’m in publishing now. Where’s Will?” And you know what the most pathetic part is? I just said “He’s in the kitchen.” No “F*ck you and the horse you rode in on!” No “kiss my skinny white ass!” Nothing. I have a lot of stress saved up over the years because I have never realized in time when it’s my turn to say “F*ck you Charlie.” I always realize I’ve been insulted just a hair too late to do anything about it. It’s given me ulcers before.
Anyway, that guy and a couple of others are the only people I really dislike. Other than that, I usually find something in everybody that’s worth celebrating. And that’s what I want to talk about when I’m with that person: what’s great about them, not me. I want to care about what they have to say because of who they are, not because I want something from them.