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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

4 Things Everyone Gets Wrong About Smart People


People have actually asked me what it was like to be smart before. Like... smart enough to have actually been labeled "gifted" when you were young, to have had people compare you to Einstein, and the whole shebang. "Is it totally awesome? I bet it's rad to understand everything. I bet you never feel insecure or worry about whether or not you're good enough at things. Do you just walk around thinking amazing smart thoughts all day long?"

It actually kind of baffles me that that's actually how smart people are seen. It also really amuses me, because that hasn't really been my personal experience as a smart or "gifted" person by any stretch of the imagination. That said, I'm reminded of this personal essay I wrote once about what the experience of growing up under the gifted label was really like, as I don't see my particular point of view represented very often. 

I no longer have a copy of it, as I discontinued the website it was hosted on years ago, so people can consider this a replacement resource -- my take on the most common things people get wrong about those that are labeled "smart" by society at large for one reason or another.

1. Smart people walk around feeling like they're smart.

Have you ever noticed how genuinely stupid or ignorant people don't seem to be aware of it? They really do think of themselves as being just like everyone else and it's not because they're too stupid to know any better either. It's because everyone is pretty much their own control sample as far as what "average" or "normal" is until life somehow teaches them otherwise. It's no different for smart people. Until someone or something really shows us otherwise, we don't think we're smart. We think we're average.

The problem there though is that the "actually-average" a smart person deals with on a daily basis probably seems insufferably stupid. Seriously, that's been my reality. It isn't: "Wow, I'm so smart. This is awesome." It's more like: "God damn, why is this world so full of idiots? This is horrible." You're constantly frustrated because people can't keep up with you and you get tired of having to dumb yourself down all the time. It makes it hard to form bonds with other people, up to and including your immediate family, because you don't feel like it's OK to actually be yourself. And you're positive that things are that way not because you're smart, but because everybody else is stupid.

2. Being smart means you're good at every subject in school.

Most people don't seem to actually realize how intelligence actually works, including a disturbing number of the teachers and parents out there. Sure, some so-called smart people are lucky enough to be exceptionally good at English and philosophy, as well as math and science, but many aren't. It's because those are two very, very different types of intelligence you're talking about there.

I was first labeled "smart" because I showed a very high proficiency in English from the time I was really young. I was capable of reading and comprehending books that were well beyond the expected reading level for someone my age almost from the time I first learned to read. I'm a whiz with words, and language, and written expression and I always have been. I am also really good at creative subjects like art or music. What I am not good at is math, physics, or anything else along those lines.

My teachers were sure that I was just being a little asshole when I insisted that I couldn't grasp a lot of the concepts involved in math or physical science. Because obviously every smart person with thus-and-so IQ is automatically as good at math and science as they are English and creative writing (or vice versa). In actuality, there are many, many different ways a person can be intelligent. 

The Gardner model is the closest thing I've seen to a theory that actually explains how intelligence really works, but that wasn't anything like how educators approached things back when I was in school. No idea if things are any different now. I would hope so, but I don't have much faith that it is.

3. Smart people are destined for success.

A lot of people think of intelligence as some kind of golden ticket that's going to open the world right up for anyone that happens to have it. In actuality, intelligence is more like a tool you have at your disposal -- just like money or connections. You certainly can use it to get ahead in life, but it's not necessarily going to guarantee you a great job or an easy life the way people think it will. Honestly, some of the smartest people I've ever met in my life were in their 50's and working at the mall at the point where we crossed paths. It wasn't because they weren't trying to find ways to apply their intelligence either.

Being smart isn't enough all by itself. No one's going to come looking for you so that they can throw money and job offers at you just because you're smart. You still have to be willing and able to seek out, recognize, and pursue relevant opportunities. When it comes to certain fields, you have to somehow manage to pay for and obtain adequate schooling and whatnot, which is difficult to impossible if you don't have anyone willing to help you. Most importantly of all, the world has to actually value the particular way in which you're smart enough to want to pay you a living wage for it.

Yes, I'm apparently very smart, but I'm not really successful. Some of that has to do with the fact that I'm really not all that ambitious, but a lot of it doesn't. As I mentioned, I'm not rocket scientist smart or Einstein smart. (Einstein and I ironically share a birthday, but that's about it.) I'm best at art, and reading, and creative writing. Society doesn't place a particularly high value on the things that I'm good at, so I just barely get by. The starving artist stereotype exists for a reason. People love consuming other people's creative work, but they don't love paying very much for it. 

4. Smart people are liked and treated well by everyone.

For all I know, there are people out there that get their asses kissed by everyone they know because they're smart. That certainly isn't true in my reality though. Yeah, there are people that want to be my friend because I'm smart or talented, but it's mostly because they figure I'll be useful to them someday. Beyond that, being smart has caused more problems than it's solved when it comes to my social life.

To begin with, there's the point I touched on above -- the one about how it's hard for a smart person to connect with average people. The average person winds up feeling jealous and resentful because they don't grasp certain things as quickly as their gifted friend. The smart person winds up feeling like they can't really be themselves because they constantly have to worry about stepping on the other person's toes and "making them feel stupid". 

There's also the fact that when you're smart, parents and authority figures can have expectations of you that are way too high for comfort. For instance, most people assume that I must be the apple of my parents' eyes because of my intelligence and some of my ideas. In actuality, while I'm sure they love me in their own way, they're also deeply disappointed because I didn't grow up to be a rocket scientist, or a CEO, or a surgeon. They got stuck with the free spirited, broke, independent artist that no parent really wants to raise instead.

........

I'm hardly trying to give people the impression that it sucks to be smart. While it's true that I didn't like being considered gifted or being held to higher expectations than other people when I was younger, I've come to really appreciate my mind as an adult. While it kind of made it harder to assimilate into traditional workplace environments, being smart has definitely come in handy as far as running my own business goes. I have uniquely sharp approaches to what I do that not just anyone could bring to the table, so it's actually been possible to make a modest living as a freelance writer. I'm well aware of how difficult that is to do.

I've also learned that I can channel my intelligence into qualities that do help me make friends and connect with people. I'm witty and insightful. I'm good at making people laugh and at exposing them to insights they ultimately appreciate and find interesting. I've been told by many friends that they love how visiting my blogs or my Facebook page actually teaches them something every once in a while, because I love information and am always posting about little tidbits I found interesting.

There's definitely a downside though and a lot of it has to do with having to deal with other people's misconceptions about who you are and what you're all about. Like anything else in life, I suppose.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

On the Impossible Dream of Ikigai

This little graphic found its way into my Facebook feed this morning and I think it perfectly describes what most of us would call our life's purpose. I'm still trying to discover my potential source of ikigai. I'm also increasingly skeptical of the notion that I even have one. Finding things that I'm good at has never been the problem, as I've always had multiple talents. Finding people that appreciate those talents and see a way they could put them to work in exchange for money has likewise not been much of a problem. 

My problem is and always has been finding a way to earn a living that I actually enjoy for its own sake -- something I would theoretically still love to do even if I weren't being paid to do it. Most of the things I like to do instantly cease to be enjoyable once I successfully translate them into a way to earn a living. I've always coped by minimizing the amount of time, effort, and energy I actually have to spend on work, but it would be far better to earn a living doing something that doesn't fill me with dread in the first place.

Sometimes I think it's less that I hate to work and more that I hate being part of a team. Bosses/clients and I can never agree on what my role should be. I always want to do simple, creative, mentally rewarding tasks I enjoy and that don't make me want to slit my wrists at the end of the day. They always want me to do the tough, challenging tasks that everyone else is apparently too incompetent to do. Those two things are never the same task. Never. 

I think I need the professional equivalent of my relationship. A situation where the space to be filled is already Cat-shaped -- where the qualities they're looking for are exactly the same qualities that I'm actually looking to contribute to their company. None of this "I know we hired you to do A, but we think we're going to start having you do B and C instead" nonsense. I'm tired of being the person that gets stuck with all the tasks no one else wants or is equipped to perform. It reminds me of my childhood and not in a good way. 

I want some ikigai, dammit. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

On BlogHer's Writing Lab, Writing Prompts, and Connecting with Fellow Writers

So I'm doing a thing over on my main/personal blog, The Curious Cat. (Or I suppose I should say I'm trying a thing before I go jinxing myself as I do.) To be more specific, I've decided to participate in BlogHer's ongoing writing lab. There are daily prompts each weekday, as well as a Facebook community to join if you feel like sharing what you write or checking out posts from other participants.

I've been trying to get more motivated when it comes to my personal blogging in particular and I've always done really well with prompts. Having other people to share with has also been a great motivator, as I remember very well from my early days on LiveJournal.

As I've touched on in some of my more recent posts here though, I've been frustrated by an ongoing lack of creative friends I can actually relate to. Far too many members of my fiction writing crowd on Facebook are especially bad. If they're not churning out amateur fan fiction by the mile, they're on this whole self-publishing bandwagon, which I legitimately hate with the fire of a thousand suns. 


........

Self-publishing would be one thing if the people I'm thinking of were any good at what they do or if they were humble creative types just looking to get their stuff out there without the hassle of going through gatekeepers. This doesn't seem to be the case with the great majority of them though. They're pumping out terribly written books that are barely long enough to qualify as novellas, self-publishing on Amazon, and then morphing into insufferable narcissists. A lot of them also develop this staggering sense of entitlement, thinking their friends somehow owe them sales, free services, or free press in support of their projects.

It's more than I can stomach -- people littering the world with positively awful writing and then having the nut sack to compare themselves to masters like Stephen King or Anne Rice. Obviously people can do whatever they want and I'm not the boss of them, but truth be told, I have very little respect these days for most people that self-publish. They seem to be doing it not as a way to preserve their unique way of telling a story, but as an excuse to call themselves "published authors" without truly earning the right to do so. Most of them aren't even editing their material properly, nor do they seem to care about the quality of the characters or the plotlines. It's all very painful to watch. Like... I want to die from secondhand embarrassment when I watch some of these people brag about themselves.

And it feels like a huge slap in the face to those of us that take more pride in our work than that. I would never, ever expect someone to pay me actual money for written material that didn't adhere to the highest possible standards. That's how I feel about the work I do for my clients and it's absolutely how I feel about any fiction I'd even dream of expecting people to pay for.

........

The whole hate-on for how pompous a lot of these self-publishing enthusiasts can be is honestly a big part of why I feel like I've outgrown events like NaNoWriMo. I still love the idea of just writing for the hell of it and of challenging myself to complete a certain amount of fiction over the course of a single month. What I don't love is the fact that fiction writing in that kind of environment attracts so many of the hacks out there that it takes the fun out of the whole community dynamic I used to like so much. I just want to write for the fun of it with other people that have some sense of humility about what they're doing. I don't want to listen to a bunch of narcissists brag about talent they don't have or put up with people that are only there to try to make sales or get their next book cover designed for free.

That said, I had my reservations about joining another writing group or participating in another writing related event. I'm glad I did though, because I'd forgotten about the way bloggers approach writing, as compared to those that primarily consider themselves to be "independent novelists". Bloggers tend to be interesting, low-key folks that are doing what they're doing for the fun of it, as opposed to because they think it will make them rich or famous one day. They appreciate the rhythm of everyday life, as well as the little things that make life worth living. Most of all, they love expressing all of that in writing. 

So far I've responded to both prompts for December with my own posts to my personal blog. And people actually read them and went to the effort to talk to me about what I wrote. They didn't just do the thing where they post links to their own things, but don't even bother to look at anyone else's. I liked that. It was nice for a change. It also really helped me feel encouraged when it comes to even bothering to post my own things or make new attempts to connect with other writers. I guess at the end of the day, bloggers are my people. They've always been my people.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Shutting Old Doors

So this morning, I finally figured out how to schedule a Facebook "like" page for deletion. The page in question was that damned Shannon Hilson public page I made to promote my art (and possibly my future creative writing) years and years ago.

I am sincerely tired of it existing. I certainly have no intentions of ever going back to it to post anything, so... no point in it being there. All it does is sit there and attract more of the kooks and whiny, needy, immature individuals that made me lose interest in making more fantasy art years ago.

I'd honestly forgotten it existed at all until recently. For some reason, I've been getting notifications for a bunch of new likes and views despite the fact that it hasn't been updated since... like... 2011. When I went to the page itself to check out what was going on, I saw that there were posts on the wall from people saying they're such big fans and similar things. People were still apparently adding it, sharing it, drooling over all the artwork, and firing questions at me as to when I'm going to make more. You'd think I would have been happy, or flattered, or something, but in actuality? I was really kind of... annoyed.

I've actually been working on phasing out friendships with people that won't let that image of me as a fantasy artist go for a while now. Now I'm ready to kind of slam the door shut behind me. That isn't me anymore and I'm getting sick of people that insist on acting like it is. I can still certainly appreciate some of that art for what it is, but I look at it now and it just seems really childish. Honestly speaking, so do the great majority of the people that were and still are into it. I'm a lot more interested in reality these days and I know that if I ever do take up art or designing again, my newer creations will reflect that change.

That also reminded me that I really need to update some of the standalone pages attached to this blog.  I unpublished them for now until I have a chance to update some of the information so that it's relevant to my life and goals as they stand today. I'm no longer really interested in trying to turn this blog (or any of my others either) into a resource or a professional showcase for any of my independent creative work. I'm definitely not interested in keeping pages up that even kind of discuss or link to all the fantasy art I've been trying to discourage people's interest in.

I like that these blogs have kind of settled into something a lot like my LiveJournal used to be when I first started blogging. I didn't have any agendas at all back then -- professional or otherwise. I didn't have much of an audience or care about having one. It was mostly just me and my writing. People could check out what I was posting if they wanted to, but I wasn't really doing it to be interactive. Honestly, even Facebook is a little social for me these days. I've been enjoying having a couple of places to go for once where I can post some thoughts and not instantly be bombarded by a bunch of contradictory opinions and stupid memes for a change.

Monday, September 28, 2015

On Changing Perspectives


I've been reading a lot lately, which is good. Becoming a professional copywriter has changed a lot about my life and a lot of the changes have been great. (Seriously, who would complain about being able to eat steak for dinner a little more often.) Others? Not so much. Somewhere along the way, running my copywriting business cost me the voracious reading habit I'd nurtured since I was a kid and that made me a sad panda.

As you know, I've been consciously trying to get back in that habit and I think I've finally reached a point where I have. It occurred to me over the weekend that reading time no longer starts with my being bored and going "I guess I should probably be reading" the way it did for a while. Reading is back to being something I instinctively do a little bit of nearly every time I have the chance. I've been catching myself reading little bits of chapters or articles all the time -- during slow parts of movies or shows, for a few minutes if there's something cooking on the stove that doesn't need my immediate attention, and in between activities. 

That's how I know it's officially become a habit again, so I'm happy. I'm actually ahead on this year's Goodreads challenge, instead of abysmally behind as usual. I always set my challenge to add up to about a book a week, so I'm really excited about the probability of finishing for a change. Reading more has meant that I've had an abundance of ideas for my own projects again as well, so also good. (Now if only I could turn art or writing back into a habit as well. A challenge for another time, perhaps.)

........

I'm not sure where it's been coming from lately, but I've been feeling a bit depressed about the fact that I don't really have any peers to relate to when it comes to serious writing. Oh, I know a lot of people that claim to be writers, but the great majority of them are total hacks. Some are in their damn 30's and still writing nothing but fan fiction. Others are writing their own stuff, but it's absolute drivel that they're either self-publishing or giving away for free. None of them are making any money or attracting any real opportunities, but that's not the depressing part. The depressing part is that they don't care. Posturing on social media and getting the occasional booty pat from their friends or their mommy seems to be enough. That confuses me.

I don't know; I guess I'm just different. I can't imagine wanting to pour so much energy into producing content for other people's consumption, but not actually caring whether or not it's making me any money or helping me to build some kind of future for myself. Maybe the difference is that most of these people can all afford not to care. If their spouse doesn't support them financially, then their parents do or they draw government assistance. They don't have to worry about whether or not there's a market for what they're doing. Me? I really don't have anyone providing for me at this point in my life, so if I don't earn money, I don't eat. Period. 

This whole business of being disgusted with the great majority of my writer friends has helped me see copywriting in a new light though. I've noticed that lately I don't catch myself feeling like I'm not as good as other writers because I'm not a novelist, or a poet, or some shit. I have more moments where I actually feel proud of what I do (in a manner of speaking, anyway). 

I'm proud because I really am a professional writer. I don't have to pretend people out there care about what I write. I don't just earn peanuts and pity crumbs from selling D-grade self-published crap to my friends either. I make real money -- the kind of money that puts food on the table, puts clothes on my back, and pays for a new computer when I need one. I have multiple important contracts to maintain. Businesses of all types and sizes count on me to give them a voice. I've been learning all sorts of valuable skills and a lot of them extend well beyond writing itself as well -- like marketing, customer service, and negotiation. I'm realizing that none of that is anything to sneeze at, especially for someone that doesn't see herself as particularly ambitious.

I just wish I knew other writers with the same attitude. Writers that are serious enough about what they're doing to seek out real markets for their stuff and that are actually doing well at it. Writers that can give me some good advice or some pointers once in a while. Not a bunch of losers that are happy living in their daddy's basements, self-publishing cheap, uninspired garbage on Amazon or giving away their stuff for free for the rest of their lives.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

On Creative Goals and Their Ghosts


My focus as far as my creative goals has changed so many times over the years. Except the older I get and the more I change, the more I realize I'm really just circling back around to where I used to be when I was a kid that was just getting started with all of this. I feel like I was very focused on getting my "vision" out there at one point -- telling my stories and living/breathing/crapping art all the time. I wanted to be recognized for what I was doing. I wanted to make a living via my art. I think I hoped setting and reaching those goals would somehow validate the image I wanted to have of myself.

I'm not sure how or why, but somewhere along the way, I really stopped caring. Then I almost began to move in reverse. These days, I sometimes seek to avoid recognition altogether -- very reminiscent of me as a child or teen. In fact, I'm almost scaring myself with how nonchalantly I turn down opportunities to be recognized or celebrated for anything that I'm doing these days.

For instance, not that long ago, I was contacted by a staff member at one of the freelance sites I belong to. The site puts out this little motivational newsletter thing at the start of each new year featuring various "success stories" that have made names for themselves freelancing via their interface. This staff member was inviting me to tell my own story and share the secrets of my success with other freelancers that hope to be where I am one day. I declined the opportunity at the time and I'd honestly forgotten all about it a while ago. I was only reminded when the finished version of this newsletter made its way into my inbox around New Year's.

I'm not sure of all the reasons why I decided not to participate. I do, however, remember thinking: "Uh... what success?" I'm not rich or even well-off because of my writing. I'm not really published in any way that's worth speaking of. I'm definitely not doing the kind of writing I consider myself to be best at. Once upon a time, I was solely a fiction writer, poet, and blogger. That said, the fact that I make my living writing filler web content and advertising copy actually makes me feel like kind of a sell-out. I do it because there's a demand for it and I need the money, not because I enjoy it or consider it to be my calling. I don't and it isn't. 

I wondered what I could possibly have to say that would actually motivate anyone. If I were to tell the truth, I'd have to say that I'm not really happy doing what I'm doing. That my freelance writing was kind of something I wound up doing by accident and that I've seriously considered quitting in favor of making sandwiches or pizzas for a living because it wouldn't require me to work as hard. I'd have to admit that the only reason I didn't just do that is sandwich-making would require me to put on pants and be an active part of society again while freelance copywriting does not. I'd have to tell people that any success I've achieved is really kind of a fluke and that I don't have any real goals as far as my future as a writer beyond: "As long as I still need the money, I'll keep doing it. When I no longer do, I'll stop."

And I will only do the "honest and transparent" thing these days, so making up some inspirational tale and giving people a bullshit motivational speech I don't mean a word of was out of the question. I really didn't want to feel like even more of a sellout. I went through something similar years ago when I was invited to come speak at my old high school on the topic of what it's like to be a successful working artist. I was just thinking: "Not only am I not particularly successful, but I'm the last person that young, impressionable people should be trying to emulate."

All that said, I've been wondering lately. What are my current goals as a creative individual? Do I even have any? I'm not at all sure that I do and maybe that's for the best. Honestly, my better creative moments have come about when I wasn't focused on making money or "getting somewhere" with my efforts at all. I really just kind of want to go back to drawing fan art portraits because they're fun... or writing poetry because it makes me happy. And then possibly not showing any of it to anybody for any reason. If those things do see the light of day, I doubt I'll be trying to sell them. As much as I love money, it really does fuck everything up.