Category Archives: work

Two Pubs: Wilkes Magazine & interviewed in Keystone Edge

Posted these two on my writing blog as separate posts, but figured I’d post them here as well:

I am super excited to share this publishing credit! I contributed an article to the Summer 2010 Wilkes magazine on the various ways social media is being used across the Wilkes University campus. From PR students using these newer mediums for their real-world clients to nature podcasts, students, professors and staff are going social. Read the store online here by downloading a PDF.

Wilkes Magazine Summer 2010 Going Social Donna Talarico

A few weeks ago at work I received a call from freelance writer Sara Hodon. She was working on a piece on technology companies for Keystone Edge, an online publication dedicated to the new economy of Pennsylvania. Sara’s piece was about Internet marketing. Her article is very comprehensive and includes quotes from me, as well as some other PA-based tech firms. Additionally, photographer Aimee Dilger took some fantastic photos around Solid Cactus.

This article, “Search No More: PA Companies Lead Online Marketing Revolution” is a true testament to the work we do at Solid Cactus as well as to the success of online marketing.

Solid Cactus Donna Talarico Keystone Edge Article

Screen shot of the Keystone Edge site, where we were the "cover" story.

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Don’t Leave 2009 Behind! Do it Again in 2010!

Ah, New Year’s Eve.

I woke up this morning from a dream about work. It happens a lot, really. But in this one, my dream guy was our company co-founder, Scott Sanfilippo. He announced over the office loud speaker we could leave at noon, but first we all had to write a year-end “Best of” blog post. I texted my friend immediately to tell her about this dream. She texted back, asking if I was going into work because the roads were bad from an unexpected morning snow fall. Wow, I thought. Maybe my leaving at noon dream will come true.

As I remained in bed, hitting snooze two or three more times (or, 18-27 minutes), I thought about what I would write about if I had to, by noon, write about the Best of 2009. Then I realized something.

If something was the Best of 2009, why would I not want to also carry that into 2010 instead of making resolutions for all new things? This morning, I wrote a blog post on my company’s blog with this same title, but geared more toward the eCommerce business owner. I encouraged people to take an inventory of what worked well for their business in 2009 and continue to keep those practices up in the New Year.

All day, though, I thought how I could apply this hybrid resolution into my own New Year.

I did a lot of things right in 2009. I started a lot of great, new things that I must continue in 2010. Things like this:

  • Starting to attend more local creative and arts-oriented events, where I also met a lot of new, inspiring people, many of whom I can now call friends
  • Started my MFA in creative writing, which is just about finished
  • Started journaling and always keeping a Moleskine with me to jot down story ideas or ideas for dialogue that come from personal experiences and random observations
  • I started a new medication for a sleeping disorder I have
  • I reunited with some family members I have not seen in over a decade
  • I have attempted to get back in touch with other relatives that I don’t see often by sending hand-written cards that express I missed them (this was not successful; however, there’s still this year…)
  • Started doing speaking engagements on social media and writing/public relations – and was hired to teach this Spring at Wilkes
  • Started a few new blogs – www.social-media-for-writers.com and another one related to the sleep disorder I have and both have received some nice response from the people they serve
  • I can’t believe I am even sharing this in this blog, but I’ll end this bulleted list with one other thing I started — and, it’s still new, so I don’t want to jinx myself — but, I finally let someone in after almost two years of not dating and it’s pretty awesome so far. But, I don’t think I would have achieved all I did this year had I not been alone.

So, with all of those things, both personal and professional, public and private, I don’t feel I should focus on starting a bunch of new things in 2010, and rather, really hone in on this stuff that has a good start. There’s a great quote, I think from Wil Rogers, that goes like this: Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.

I’ve been on the right track for so long, but I was in great danger of getting run over. It was as if I was that damsel in distress in the silent films, the one that’s tied to the tracks, in fact. It’s time to be my own heroine and get going. I made some great progress and have some great ideas — now I must focus on the doing. What I’ve started in the later part of 2009 needs to continue stronger into 2010.

However, there are some things that I want to achieve this year:

  • Find an agent for my memoir.
  • Start an after-work routine so that I don’t just go home and slump over the computer. This may be the gym, but it’s not a resolution to lose weight or get in shape. It’s more of a solution to my problem of being in a slump at home. Going to a gym or going for a walk or going to a Zumba class will energize me and clear my mind and get me in the mindset to be creative when I get home.
  • Focus on getting closer with my family.
  • Instead of work on ten ideas at once, I want to choose one new book project and start a new manuscript — and get serious about it. I need to be done with my writing ADD.
  • Clean out my storage shed and get my clutter down to an amount that will fit in my apartment. That will also require some cool new organzation of my closets and basement. But, I will feel so great to finally get rid of junk. This may need to wait for Spring because the flea markets and yard sales don’t go over too well in PA in the winter and there’s too much stuff to toss; I want to sell it.
  • Start writing short pieces to submit to literary or consumer magazines.
  • Try to land more teaching or speaking engagements.
  • Cut down on drinking and going to bars. This will help accomplish what I just said because it will be better use of my time, both at night and the next morning.

Quality vs. Quantity

That’s it. I am not making unrealistic goals. I am not putting numbers out there. I am making more of an effort to improve the quality of my life, and that is just measured by smiles, feeling good about myself, and not feeling stressed.

That’s a bit of my outlook for the New Year. It’s not about wiping out 2009 and starting over. It’s about keeping up with what you are doing right all along and making tweaks here and there.

Happy New Year, everyone.


I Love Uncontrollable Fits of Laughter, Even at Inappropriate Times

Ever laugh so much you cry?

I sure as heck hope you answered, “Yes. Often.” If there’s any trait I like in a friend or boyfriend, it’s the ability to laugh. I think that’s why I’ve assembled such a great group of people I associate with because the ones to which I’m most close, we have these uncontrollable fits of laughter. And you know what? Sometimes they are at nothing. Sometimes, you “just had to be there.” But those moments are so memorable. I can tolerate boring people, but if you can’t laugh, chances are we won’t get along too well.

And the past seven days, it’s been a Thursday tradition of sorts. Today and last Thursday, I laughed until I cried until my belly hurt as if I actually did something with my abs.

NAME SOMETHING THAT WOULD CAUSE A MAN TO LOSE HIS MANHOOD

This is an insanely fun game.

Last Thursday was the first time since I’ve been in my new place that I actually had a group of people over. It was for a laid back board game night. It was great. I picked up two cases of beer, some cheese, some crackers, some tortilla chips, some cookies, some soda, made a killer nacho dip and laid out the spread. My friends brought over mango sangria, a hot spinach dip, salsa, and an amazing banana cake.

Then, the games began. We chose Loaded Questions: The Adult Version, which was my secret Santa gift from one of my Wilkes creative writing friends at our April retreat (yes, I just said Secret Santa in April – I told you. I have fun friends). As if the game wasn’t hilarious to begin with, one question spawned the best laughing fit I’d had in months. If you aren’t familiar with Loaded Questions, basically, one question is asked and players write down answers. Then, whichever player’s turn it is, must guess who wrote what. On this particular turn, it was my turn to read the answers for someone to guess. I forget who was guessing, but that part doesn’t matter. The question is: Name something that might cause a man to lose is manhood.

J.S. (female) hands me her sheet and says, ” I am not sure if I spelled that right.”

I look at it and see she crossed out a bit of the word and rewrote it, but I knew what she meant. “It’s all cool. No worries. I gotcha. Doesn’t matter how ya spell it.”

I assemble the entries from the other players- there were 7 of us total. I read through them, and get to J.S’s.

“Va… Uh, vast…. uh…”

Shit, I think to myself. I know this freakin’ word. Why can’t I say it?

“Vast economy!” I say.

I realized immediately I messed that up.

“Vast economy?” laughed J.S.

Everyone started to laugh so hard that no one said anything to each other for a good two or three minutes. Seven adults. Crying. Laughing. Gasping for air. It was so freaking comical.

Of course, I was trying to say “vasectomy” but the Yeungling Lager must have messed with my pronunciation. So glad I mispronounced it. It made for an incredible, uncontrollable fit of laughter with friends. Of course, the rest of the time, R.S. and K.K. especially worked “vast economy” into regular conversation. K.K. is in sales, so he was like, “Tomorrow’s gonna be a big change at work. My number will soar because it’s a vast economy.” R.S., who is a newspaper reporter chimed, “I better call the business editor! Cover story! The recession is over! It’s a VAST ECONOMY.”

I was showering the next morning and starting to laugh. I started to laugh so hard, I had to prop my naked self up agains the wall and take a deep breath, “Oh, God! Vast economy, hahahahhaa.” I was hoping my neighbors didn’t hear. That Friday night, J.S. and another friend, K.S.,  who was at board game night, but had to leave before Vast Economy, went to the movies and J.S. and I were laughing even more as we told our other friend. Ah, here’s hoping 2010 does bring us a vast economy… what that even means.

I’M SORRY. WE DON’T COVER MEDICAL EXPENSES RELATED TO BLIMPS

To bring us to the next uncontrollable fit of laughter, we go to a company-wide benefits meeting this morning, which happens to include K.S. who missed out on Vast Economy. A woman from an insurance company is going over some voluntary benefit plans we could enroll in. One of them was accident insurance. I was paying attention, but also reading ahead.

I started to read some of the fine print, such as things that aren’t covered, accidents related to: skydiving, bungee jumping, race car driving, war… I am amused. I push my copy of the pamphlet over to K.S. and point.

She scans it and points to one of the sentences and giggled: Falling out of an aircraft.... (like a blimp or balloon).

I jot down on my notebook: “What if I am pushed?”

She reads it and immediately covers her mouth and starts to laugh, which makes me laugh. We are both in an important meeting trying so hard to contain the laughter. We’re not laughing out loud, but we’re crying. Our bodies are moving like we’re laughing. She’s crying and just looking at her is making me laugh.

I fell out of an aircraft once as seen here.

I am thinking of the lady up front doing her job (and well by the way – she and our corporate HR people are very dynamic and nice and make benefits not painful to listen to) and hoping she’s not thinking we’re laughing at her. This proceeds to make me laugh even more, because now my comment wasn’t the only funny thing. The situation is also terribly funny.

Finally, I just can’t hold it. I let out a burst. Just a little one, but something came out.

“Bless you,” says another co-worker. Thank god he thought I sneezed. But, that he thought I sneezed made me laugh even more.

She and I could not even look at each other for fear that we’d not make it. We finally regained composure, signed up for dental coverage, a flexible spending account, and filled out a questionnaire on what information we wanted about those extras. Then, we laughed when we were finally out of the meeting.

What makes you laugh? Share your story….


Working 24 Hours Straight at Solid Cactus – Programming Marathon

So, for those of you who know me, you know that I love my job. So much so that I am sticking around for the Solid Cactus Programming Marathon, or Program-a-thon as it’s been called, too. To get our client sites ready for Cyber Monday – the kick-off of the online shopping season, we held a promotion last week – anyone who signed on for a redesign or features by a deadline would be a part of this programming marathon.

I am writing this post as of 12:30 a.m. – made it more than half way through. There’s a few programmers and me left. A bunch of other staff stayed late as well. My role is just to be here to give away things and make food runs, and be the team cheerleader. So – figued I would share this pretty cool event with people beyond the Solid Cactus and eCommerce realm on my own blog.

Here are a few places you can go to read about the progress we’re making (or have made, depending on when you’re stumbling across this post:

Solid Cactus Blog – read posts about the marathon, see some video updates from our co-founder Scott Sanfilippo, and see a video of a coffee run gone wrong.

Follow @cactus_donna, @solidcactus, and @scottsanfilippo on Twitter, as well as the #scprogramathon hashtag.


On Cover of October Happenings Magazine for Wilkes: The Back to School Issue

The October 2009 cover of Happenings Magazine. Cover photo by Rob Lettieri

The October 2009 cover of Happenings Magazine. Cover photo by Rob Lettieri

Some cool news. Happenings Magazine of PA each year does a Back to School issue, featuring college students on the cover. This year, the focus of the story was on alumni of the local colleges in Eastern PA for the cover story, “Brain Gain.” I was selected by Wilkes to be featured. Before Labor Day eight other local alums participated in a fun photo shoot at Miller’s Orchard in Clarks Summit.

There were alums from Wilkes University, King’s College (which happened to be Scott Carey, one of my colleagues at Solid Cactus), Misericordia University, Penn State Wilkes-Barre, Johnson College, Career Technology Center of Scranton, Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (not a local school perse, but student did all rotations locally), East Stroudsburg University, and University of Scranton. The University of Scranton student is kind of a double-feature because she’s also part of the first class at Commonwealth Medical College, which is another cool highlight.

The photo shoot was a lot of fun. So many bright minds in varied career paths from medical to technical to creative. The nine of us posed all over the farm: on tractors, in corn fields, in the mud with pigs (I’m serious!), in kiddie rides, on a hayride, and more. Did I mention we got to take a hayride? The folks from happenings, Erika and Lisa, were a lot of fun and the photographer they hired, Rob Lettieri was also extremely cool. The folks from Miller’s Orchard were also very accommodating for Erika and Lisa, from driving the tractor to helping us find locations to take pictures.

I told the photographer that this was perfect for me since I'm corny. Then, I told my "Why don't you tell secrets on a farm joke." Oh, an I made sure Malachai was not in the corn first.... Photo by Rob Lettieri

I told the photographer that this setting was perfect for me since I'm corny. Then, I told my "Why don't you tell secrets on a farm joke." Oh, an I made sure Isaac and 'he who walks behind the rows' was not in the corn first.... Photo by Rob Lettieri

The magazine looks great. Happenings has always been a very visually appealing publication. The cover story, Brain Gain: Meet Talented Grads Staying in NEPA, had a small profile on each featured student as well as side bar stories on careers in the area, profiles on each school featured, financial aid, cheap and free things college students (and anyone) in NEPA can do, and more. Great issue. Happenings also did a profile on Miller’s Orchard in Clarks Summit, which is getting ready for its busy season. Miller’s Orchard has a great store. I left with pumpkin spice instant cappuccino mix, homemade apple sauce, homemade apple butter, and all-natural peanut butter. The two apple products were made at Miller’s, from Miller’s apples.

To read the full issues, pick one up locally. They are all over and there is so much in this issue about all the fall happenings. If you aren’t local or can’t wait to read it after I’ve raved about the issue, you can read it online here. The website I will admit is a little hard to navigate, so click on the read online banner, but you can also follow the linked text I have here. You need a program to read PDFs and will view sections at a time. The Back to School cover story is all pretty much within the first PDF.

There were so many fun pictures available so they created a page on the site that shows the behind the scenes pictures, too. Check these out…

On a side note, I was surprised that only nine colleges/post-secondary schools sent alums. (NOTE: My previous employer, Allied Medical Technical Institute didn’t send anyone from either of their two campuses. When I worked there, I tried so hard to push the value of PR and later, social media. But I was never in a position to make it happen and my ideas were pretty much laughed at… Guess they still didn’t learn the value because this issue is a great example of schools beaming with pride for their alumni.)

Screen shot of my bio... please read the rest of the magazine at the link provided. (c) Happenings Magazine

Screen shot of my bio... please read the rest of the magazine at the link provided. (c) Happenings Magazine


What is the big deal about Facebook pages & pictures when it comes to employment? Really. What’s the big deal?

All opinions here represent me and me alone.

I hope this blog post sparks a debate. I do. I love creating conversation. I know you have an opinion on this, so please share. Onto business…

I hate seeing people I care about fear for their jobs.

What do employers think people do in their spare time? And since when is having a social life wrong?

I remember being a kid, hanging out at the adult table and seeing my family members and their adult friends drinking beer. I knew it was adult stuff. I wasn’t influenced negatively.

Me with a prop in the Sam Adams museum. This was an educational experience (history, industry, chemistry, agriculture, marketing, etc), as well as taste-testing. So, is a line crossed here, I mean, if I was a teacher?

Me with a prop in the Sam Adams museum. This was an educational experience (history, industry, chemistry, agriculture, marketing, etc), as well as taste-testing. So, is a line crossed here, I mean, if I was a teacher?

When there is educational measures about the dangers of drunk driving and alcoholism in place (which there is, just like for drug abuse and unprotected sex) children know (or should know) that underage drinking is wrong. And let me tell you something. Underage drinking has been going on for a tad longer than the Internet. Am I wrong? Heck, many adults still don’t pay attention to the laws and dangers involved in drunk driving and alcohol abuse.

So why, then, are our school districts so adamant about teachers not having Facebook pages? I have many friends who are teachers, guidance counselors, coaches and general college employees. For the most part they all have very active social lives and most live in constant fear that a picture of them with a drink in hand will show up online one day. I am pretty careful about what I post online out of total respect, but it still blows my mind that higher ups in education are so against this. First of all, profiles can be set to private. If students are going to look for Ms. Talarico, they aren’t going to find her. They will see she has a profile, but that’s about it. Think of it this way. Someone may know where I live, but they don’t know what is inside. If I let someone in my house, only then will they see the pictures on my wall and be able to peruse through decades worth of photo albums in my office.

What is the point of shielding children from seeing an adult doing something perfectly legal? For real! Like I said above, some of my earliest memories are adults with alcohol,  mostly because I grew up the child of entertainers. So we know that underage drinking is wrong. That also means that drinking after 21 is legal. Why, then, do we also hide that legal people are drinking? Why aren’t children asking, “Then Mommy, who DOES drink?” Think about it. Why are school districts so afraid? The argument, “It’s not professional” is completely lame. I want a better explanation. If someone can provide a better explanation, maybe I can be swayed. But simply, “It’s just not professional” is, in my book, an argument with no substance.

Well, this debate is coming from the girl who had the best Halloween costumer EVER at age nine.

Well, this debate is coming from the girl who had the best Halloween costumer EVER at age nine.

Besides, I never thought my teachers were perfect. Why must we paint them that way? I knew that most of the adults around me drank at family functions- whether a holiday, a picnic, a family reunion, a birthday or some other event. Some of those people were educators. So if the teachers I know drink, doesn’t that mean that other teachers may drink? Of course it does. They are humans just like anyone else, and while many adults abstain from alcohol, others don’t– regardless of what their day job is. They are of legal age and can drink a beer just like they can smoke a cigarette. And people are going to know about it whether they have a Facebook page or not.

I am not saying that these pictures should be rampantly widespread, but I can’t understand the harm if someone sees a picture of their teacher with a Miller Lite in their hand. I do not think that it would discount their teaching abilities in any way, shape, or form. I think the pros of having a Facebook page way outweigh the negative. And besides, like I said before, profiles can be private, and let’s not forget that we control everything about our pages. You don’t have to put pictures up. You can prevent others from tagging you in pictures. You don’t have to fill in any information if you don’t want to.

I would not lose respect for my teacher if I saw him or her drink. In fact, when you get into graduate school, it’s pretty darn common to have a brew with your professor. I understand that in grad school you are a grown up, but I am just trying to illustrate that professional people do partake occasionally in an adult beverage, together or alone.

What about on New Year’s Eve where a toast is customary? What about on a wedding day, where a toast is customary? Do you take those pictures out of a wedding album when you show your students your big day? What if you are a parent, but also a teacher? What if you are friends with a teacher and your children play together? Do you not have wine together when they are over for fear that the other kid will say, “I was at Kimmie’s house and her mommy- Ms. Talarico- had a beer.” It’s not a picture, but it’s the same effect. One kid saw it, and word can spread. What happens if a teacher is seen by a student at the grocery store buying a six pack? What happens if a student lives on your block and they are walking the dog past your porch while you and buddies are having a beer? Isn’t that the same thing as seeing a picture? Which again– you can hide a picture online and you don’t even HAVE to post a picture online. But you can’t hide in real life. And why should you, anyway?

PROFESSIONAL JOBS, TOO

It’s not just education. Studies show that employers are starting to pay attention to Facebook profiles. And, as this chart I pasted here from eMarketer shows, sometimes people aren’t hired because of a picture containing alcohol.

chartHRpicsI’ve worked in many industries, including the beverage industry where I promoted Bud Light and if I wasn’t seen with beer, there would be a problem. In general, when people come in from out of town for job interviews or people from a corporate office come for visits to an office, it’s likely that people will go out to dinner and have drinks. When people are at conventions or entertaining clients, people are drinking. “Can I buy you a drink?” is just common, professional courtesy in many situations. Company parties and picnics often have bars. Now getting out of control would be an issue, but I’m not talking about that– that’s completely different.

Why then, are some people so infuriated by pictures of others with alcohol? I don’t blame people for being afraid that they would lose a job, or lose the chance at an opportunity.

It’s that fear I have a problem with. Why is that fear there? Why is society painting a picture that it’s wrong to be social?

Personally? I have placed pictures of me at happy hours and other social occasions online. Why? Because it shows that I am a real person who likes to have fun. I am serious in my work and serious in my schooling and because I work so hard, I deserve to have fun. While in the past the majority of my pictures online seem to be at parties and such, some may assume that going out is all I do. However, it’s obviously not true. In fact, I have thousands of pictures on my computer and frankly I only post ones that I find entertaining so, oftentimes, that ends up being goofy pictures in social situations. I mean, how many pictures of the Gettysburg battle fields or fall foliage do people want to see on Facebook.

But more importantly, I am not hiding who I am. I am not afraid of who I am. If I were to ever look for employment again and someone were to judge my employability based on a photo of me at a Sam Adams tour posing with a picture of Brick Red Ale, then that’s their loss. Seriously. Why would we judge someone on a picture or two? Behind that picture is a woman with varied career experience, a solid GPA in all my college, countless publications, and more. I think that’s pretty lame for employers to base decisions solely on that. Fortunately I work in a field where we praise social media and all that it can do. But I am still smart about it. I am pretty liberal in what I share online, but I also know where to draw the line.

Finally, this is an out-there analogy, but think about celebrities. While my personal view is that parents (sometimes), teachers, and coaches should be the main role models for children, children seem to want to be like the actors and musicians and singers they see on TV. The covers of all those trashy tabloids are littered with pictures of celebs looking completely trashed. And guess what. They still get movie roles and record deals. They are still adored by millions. Granted when there is addiction involved, work and respect may be lost, but in general a party picture doesn’t hurt them one bit.

Had to show one more angle of this creative costume that won me Most Original, thanks to my clever, handy mom. Today, would this costume be child abuse? What have we become? Come on, really.

Had to show one more angle of this creative costume that won me Most Original, thanks to my clever, handy mom. Today, would this costume be child abuse? What have we become? Come on, really.

I can’t say that I would want to ever work for an organization that governed what I did outside of work. I don’t think I’d ever want to work for the government, or in general, for a conservative company. Blah. Ugh. No disrespect to anyone that does. The money and benefits are wonderful, but I just hold so true to being an individual that I know I would not do well in that type of environment, and it’s better for me to know that beforehand.

I hope that after reading this people aren’t assuming I am some alcoholic. I’m clearly not. I just can’t see the harm in being in a picture holding a beer. I simply can’t. Maybe I am too liberal. Maybe growing up in the entertainment industry and later working in media has made my tolerance for things like this higher. But I am glad I fall to this side of the fence. Things are much happier over here.

UPDATE: March 21, 2012

Three years after I wrote this post an Associated Press article appeared on Yahoo! Finance called “Job seekers getting asked for Facebook passwords”. This infuriated me and I wanted to write a response to it. Then I remembered that I covered this topic here, at Daily Dose o’ Donna (which sadly is not active any longer), three years ago. My opinions on this matter of Facebook being used as a hiring decision have not changed; in fact, I’ve only gotten more passionate about my feelings.

At the time of this post I worked for an eCommerce developer. Today, I work in higher education in a similar capacity — social media, web content and the like. I have started to be more careful and deliberate about what I put online because my career took me to a new industry–I’ve even went back and removed some things (and please don’t call me a hypocrite–I’m not!). Despite my tighter rein, I am still showing the real me and I am still having fun; that’s no secret. I feel that the benefits of social media outweigh the negatives and, further, that the negatives are completely controllable by the individual. Common sense, people. Common sense.

Here’s a screen shot of a Facebook post I made today. I forgot that when I read a Yahoo! News story that it appears on my Facebook timeline, so a debate started on my page. See that? Now people know what I am reading. If I choose to not let people know what I am reading I can simply turn it off. In fact, I”ll go do that right now.

facebook screen shot discussuing employers and hiring using facebook

What do you think of all this? It’s still an issue after all these years. Read the comments from three years ago and then share your own. Have your views changed over time? Let me know!


Honest Thoughts from a Creative Slacker: Opening My Idea Box with the World (AKA My State of the Union Address)

I’m a creative person. But, I have a flaw that many creative people have. My flaw is thinking of ideas, getting excited about them, jotting them down, and then immediately getting another idea to focus on, and so the circle begins again.

OPENING THE BOX

As you can see, I was always kinda corny from the tagline of my box. Uh, actually... that I gave my box a tagline scares me.

As you can see, I was always kinda corny from the tagline of my box. Uh, actually... that I gave my box a tagline scares me.

The other day, I came across my “Idea Box.” It’s an old Mudd shoebox filled with shreds of my “light bulb moments.”

I was cleaning out a massive cabinet filled with way too many things I no longer need and the things I do need and want, were a scattered disarray. I was making good time with my office cleaning so I grabbed a fresh Sam Adams and took a trip down memory lane.

The contents of this box are incredibly varied. There are many types of paper: loose leaf. spiral. yellow legal pad. steno pad. There are ripped-off placemats. Napkins. Business cards. Smaller notebooks. Envelopes. Really– anything that could be a writing surface.

There are ideas in this box on Froggy 101 letterhead that still have (717) as the zip code of Northeast PA. I didn’t write down those ideas on that notepad when it was an old notepad. I wrote down those ideas when it was new, before (570) existed. Yeah. Wow.

Inside this idea box are many ideas:

  • Greeting cards (one that actually got published by Oatmeal Studios in 2000… I guess I never took the original idea out of the box!)
  • T-shirt sayings – many of these!
  • Movie title or book title ideas. I’ve always been clever with names. Often, I think of a title and a very loose premise. But from the vast array of ideas here, it’s obvious evidence of my above-mentioned flaw. I have more ideas than time and sometimes know-how.
  • Side note to above: One of those movie title ideas I had was Swing Vote. Yep, jotted down I am guessing at some point during my fierce Young Democrats days, inspired by an election night party (which was about a year of awesome times– just got busy).  I can’t even remember what my original plot idea was, but the title is what I jotted down. And, it was a title of another movie this year! Too funny. Guess at least the idea had a ring to it!
  • Lines I Never Said. Sometimes I think of something cruel to say. Or funny. Or just inappropriate for the particular place I am at or the people I am with. However, I think to myself, “Well, I can’t *really* say that. But, it’d be really funny if I was writing a book one day about a guy who has this girlfriend, and then I can make him use this line…” Basically, all the things I thought were well-crafted witty responses that I never uttered out loud for one reason or another. I want to work them into dialogue of characters who *can* say them somehow someday.
  • Lines I Said that More People Should Hear. I say some interesting things. I like wordplay. Sometimes I say something that I think is funny and then no one laughs and I am sure I’ve failed, but just as I think that, the people laugh. Yeah. Sometimes what I say takes a second to get. At any rate, there are some funny lines I’ve said that have generated laughter. Many I lost… fizzled into the air at barrooms and office spaces. But I managed to collect a few gems, and some are in this box. Now, I make a more valiant effort to keep a better log, now that I use a moleskine. (One example– Donna to Doug, Halloween 1999 at Hops & Barleys: “I wanted to dress up as you for Halloween, but Party City was out of asshole suits.”)
  • Scribbles of Inventions. I am not the best artist. I think that’s why I am so hesitant to share ideas that require construction. But, I did scribble down ideas I had for nifty little gag gifts and gadgets.
  • Songs. I found four songs. I have no musical talent, so maybe they are just called poems. But, I was at country radio at the time so I was all into country songs, story songs to be more specific. One song/poem I wrote in 1999 is called “Riding Shotgun” about a girl who is one of the guys (yeah, my life story but the rest of the song isn’t) but the guy finally asks her to sit up front. The song is about that summer. Fast forward to last year, Taylor Swift releases a song, not called that, but “riding shotgun” that’s part of the chorus. Again, at least I had a catchy idea. That someone else had a similar idea and it took off makes me happy that at least my ideas COULD go somewhere.
  • Restaurant Ideas. I have four ideas for theme restaurants. One, I even bought decor for on eBay because I was so certain I’d create a business plan one day and wanted to sack up some goodies just incase. But now I think I will write stories around the ideas since I have no resources to actually become a restaurateur and plus I hate cleaning.
  • Random Thoughts. A lot of times I just had thoughts that I knew I wanted to remember. Ponders about my life. Questions about the world around me. I jotted these ideas down with intentions of writing an article about them or in the case of thoughts about me, an essay.
  • Letters. I found a letter to someone I broke up with explaining why I really broke up with him (I made an excuse that I liked someone else which was a terrible lie, but thought it made more sense than saying I wanted time alone). Obviously, he never got the letter and I forgot that I wrote it. But feelings in that letter, dated in 2001, still hold true today. Eight years later, I still feel the same way I felt in that letter– that I needed and wanted more. And it needed to start from within. I think rereading this letter shows me how far I HAVEN’T come creatively since then. Didn’t connect that dot until I am writing this blog post this very second, but there is so much I still want and need to do and I think that’s why I am still happily single.

OLD IDEAS MEET NEW IDEAS

A peek inside the box. Tons of scribble and inspiration, some I forget my train of thought at the moment. A lesson now is to write the date, where I was, and fully explain my thoughts so I can remember better later.

A peek inside the box. Tons of scribble and inspiration, some I forget my train of thought at the moment. A lesson now is to write the date, where I was, and fully explain my thoughts so I can remember better later.

The past two years as most readers know, I’ve been working on my MA in creative writing and now the MFA. I feel accomplished that I finished my first book-length manuscript. Looking back, I know I didn’t do the best I could have in my creative life. As my idea box shows, I’ve had ideas for decades. The only thing that is holding me back is time.  I know that with support and discipline I CAN create anything I want and completing the MA taught me that. But what about everything else before and after the program? Since the last idea was put in this specific box, I’ve had troves of new ideas, now in moleskines or random places. I put all the “new” random ones inside this old box and have a stack of my notebooks by the box.

I need to do something with the ideas in this box. The worthwhile ones. What good are they doing in there? Area codes are changing as we speak. What I am waiting for? WHAT?

I need to make some serious changes in my life. Nothing I do is per se wrong, it’s how and when I do it. I need, need, need to get myself a schedule. I see people way busier than I accomplishing a lot more. I am a procrastinator and a time waster and I know it. It’s my other flaw. I am great at thinking of things but horrible at getting them done. My professional career is different- not talking about that. I have always excelled in that and always (hope) I will. It’s the things I do for myself that I can’t manage to carve time for.

I ask myself why I can’t do things as much as I should. Sometimes I answer with, “Because it’ll be our little secret. No one will know if you really nap until 2pm. No one else will know that you wrote a blog post instead of the short story idea you had. No one else knows you are doing all those quizzes on Facebook instead of revising that chapter. They may know what 80s rock song is most like your life, but they don’t know what you were SUPPOSED to be doing instead of that quiz.”

procrastinationI don’t know if I have ADD or something that prevents me from focusing. And who cares. I’ve never talked to my doctor about it,  but probably won’t because I am sure its habitual. Sometimes I do wonder if it’s something greater, but usually I think my lack of focus goes back to me having to many ideas, too many things I want to do, and then not doing anything because I don’t know where to start.

At first, I wanted to focus on a healthy life style – get up early walk (and hope that can turn into running). But now, I think I want to get my creative energy up to a new level. I think once that’s up there and I am happy, the rest of me will change and become more motivated to get the rest of me in shape.

I want my body’s creative energy to match my mental creative energy.

If my hands could go as fast as my brain, I know I’d get more done.

I wake up every day wanting to change my habits.

And every day, I hit snooze until the last moment possible.

I come home from work every day wanting to change my habits.

And every day, I get sidetracked…

..by a magazine, social media (I love it and am the first to admit I do it too much), looking up band bios on the new artist I heard on Pandora which leads to buying stuff on iTunes… and then, I get tired and go to sleep.

And then I wake up… and the cycle begins again.

(gosh.. coming up for air here… didn’t think this post would be so long, but this shows how much really has been on my mind as of late, and this was meant to be a check-list of what I want to do, and it turned into a whole backstory… but that’s okay, writing it out is making it more real…)

THE PLAN FOR CHANGE – and it’s just that, a plan. I am making no great claim that I will be able to accomplish this. But, I welcome help, support, feedback, and ass-kicking from anyone who knows me. Someone once told me (and he was quoting a great motivational speaker) that the key to success is writing down your goals. I take that a step further by sharing these goals. Some may think its too personal to share these goals and self-revelations, but not me. Here’s why:

  • The people that care can read this and know what I am feeling and help.
  • The people I don’t know who may struggle like I do, may be inspired.
  • Being honest and sharing thoughts helps others, it truly does. We’re all human, and it helps to be reminded.
  • Finally, sharing these goals holds me accountable for them.

Lately, thanks to a guy I blogged about the other week that I’ve known for some time, I’ve been attending a lot of local art events at Paper Kite Press. Meeting new people and being exposed to all this creativity has really inspired me again. The creative writing program of course inspired me, too. But this adds to it. This is something, somewhere local where I am seeing all different things that people are creating and sharing- art, music, knowledge, poetry, theater, and more. People have so much to share and it made me realize how little I have to share – of course I have ideas and insight to share, but here I mean “physically share.” Sure, I’ve done A LOT of feature writing and have bins of articles that I am super proud of. But, I am talking the creative stuff, the stuff for me. Short stories, essays, and such.

Today, I made a list of things that I want to do in myself to improve my creativity. Some are easy, some take more effort. Some I will start today, some may be good ideas that may take me a while. But, this is what I came up with:

1. Hand-write something each morning or night. I want to journal more. I realized I miss pencils. As silly as that seems, I do really miss writing with a pencil. There’s just something different. The pressure applied to the lead can be a measure of the emotion I put into the writing. Was it hard? Was it light? It’s something beyond the content of the words that shows how I felt when I was writing. Pencil writing looks gritty sometimes, too and I like it. I saw a new book out from I think Chronicle Books about the art of handwriting. I notice my own penmanship getting sloppy. So, handwriting each day will accomplish many things, including helping me get feelings out and de-stress. This may be a way for me to get back into my dream journal, too.

2. Call one person a day for meaningful conversation.

I am told very often by people that I am one of the most social people they know. I love to talk to people. I love to meet new people. I love being part of conversation. But something very bad is happening to me. I love email. I love Twitter. I love Facebook. I love texting. Boy, do I love texting. All have their roles in communication and I encourage the use of all of them. But they are no replacement for talking to someone. Easier said than done. It makes me sad to know that I don’t take calls, for no reason other than– well, damn. There’s not even a way to explain it. Have I become AFRAID of the phone? I talk fine in conversation in person, and frequently converse online. But I will let a call go to voicemail and then text that person. I am ashamed. So, I am committing to talking on the phone more. I would like to reach out to old friends and family members that I hardly speak to. I think calling people and talking in person will be inspiring. It may not directly be related to creativity, but for me, I know hearing voices I don’t hear often will be refreshing. An LOL can never replace a real but of laughter shared between friends. Talking on the phone with people will help me begin to be a more active person again. A better person. A better friend.

3. Listen to some kind of new music each day.

I am already doing this thanks to Pandora. I will just continue this. I do not know if I am different (well, I am), but I am a very visual-thinking person. When I hear a song, I think in movie montage format. I get all sorts of images that go to the beat of a song. A few months ago, I made a mix of songs that reminded me of my childhood and teenage years to help inspire the memoir. When songs would come on, I’d close my eyes and picture me doing something with some friends and then, like magic, a little detail would pop out. Something so small like my friend Dewayne with a Tarheels hat on. I was able to go back and add more detail to my memoir because of almost a hypnotic memory. New music does this, too. I can’t explain it, but it just makes me think of faces, places, even ones I’ve never seen before. Which means that I just created something.

4. Attend one arts-infused event a week.

I have been loving going to Paper Kite. I know there is more in our area that I have not been exposed to yet. I have to also realize it’s okay to do these things alone. In fact, doing them alone may even be better. I think my social-ness sometimes makes my life too fast to keep up with. Spending some quiet time to myself to be inspired and just think will do me good. I want to start paying attention more to the paper for these events and attend them in groups or by myself. Either way, notebook in tow. Phone off.

5. Find a class to take.

I think visually. Yet, I’ve never created anything visual. Maybe I have some untapped talent? I would like to find a class or clinic to take to try something new. Painting, pottery, drawing… something like that. Start with one class, and when its over, find something else. This again will also give me discipline to create something.

6. Find a local writers group.

I have awesome classmates and colleagues from the Wilkes program and we meet as much as we can. But I think I also need to find something regular that is close by. I will start to look out for one, or form one. Some people I know from Wilkes have been trying to start a local group and I should follow up on that.

7. Turn off the Internet. Sometimes.

When I am writing I need to make a better effort to not open the Internet browser. I work in the industry and it’s my job and my passion- I always have loved it. In 1995, my friend Jenn and I were featured in the Pocono Record as teenagers of the future when the Internet was just starting to become an everyday thing (we were selected because we had a column in the school paper called “Nothing But Net” where we reviewed five websites a week). However, my other passion is writing and creating. From reading this, you know I am easily distracted. Having the world in the next tab away is a hard thing for me to refuse. But, I need to keep Word, and only Word open while I work. I need to find that balance. It’s acutally becoming destrucive.

8. Read and write every day. I don’t. I am only partially ashamed to admit that. I know many other writers who get in slumps. My slump has lasted too long. I have two shelves with books that look pretty sitting there, but they aren’t being read. I need to read every day so that I can get through these. I need to write every day as well, hopefully on a story or two so I can have a new, complete work to share and none of this, “I have an idea and write two pages” nonsense. I need to COMPLETE something. But even if the writing for that one day is just that hand-written piece I mentioned above, that’s okay. It’s a start to being more productive.

9. Give back. I mean this in person and virtually. Creativity is good for the individual as an outlet, but it’s much better when its shared. Aside from sharing the creative work, sharing the process also helps. I am pretty active in the social networking realm. I read a lot of writer, agent, and editor blogs. I comment sometimes but mostly absorb knowledge. I am going to start to be more active in those online communities to share things that I have learned along the way, or when someone inspired me on one of those blogs, I am going to comment to them that they helped me. That gratitude goes a long way. I am going to write more book reviews and am going to blog more about the people I meet along the way and what they contributed to be and to the world. Finally, I want to be more active in the local scene. I did my first public reading in April. It’s been four months since. I need to do that more. A lot more.

To sum up this novel-length post:

I want to come up with an action plan so that my professional life, social life, and writing life can live in harmony and implement these changes to produce more work and build a better, more active life surrounded by creativity and inspiration.