Grounded

Standard

My employer announced early this month that all business travel was canceled for March, and then yesterday HR announced that the travel restriction would be extended through April.

The first announcement was a little surprising, but the second — given the chaos of the last week and the president’s not-so-reassuring Oval Office address on Wednesday that resulted in a strict ban on Schengen travelers to the US — was widely anticipated.

I’d been traveling so much the past year, mostly for business with a couple of personal trips thrown in there for good measure, including one to Asia in December, that it’s a little jarring to suddenly find myself with a long, long stretch of being homebound ahead of me. I’d just come back from a trip to Singapore when our first internal travel ban was announced, and I’m not going to lie: I was relieved that the ban only came down after I’d already returned. I love Singapore and especially loved the chance to go there on my employer’s dime, evangelizing WordPress.com and establishing friendships and relationships that I hope will result in some exciting opportunities for us. When the current pandemic dies down, that is. Did I mention that I absolutely adore my job?

Still, now that I’ve had some time to re-establish a regular routine at home, there’s something to be said for being unexpectedly grounded for an indefinite period of time. There’s no running commentary in the back of my mind, keeping track of what travel size toiletries I need to stock up on before my next trip, checking the American Airlines seating charts to see if I can move myself to a better positioned seat, opening up LinkedIn to see if there is someone else with whom I should connect at my next destination, scanning my local library’s Kindle collection for new titles to add to my device.

I can walk my pups.

I can make doctor’s appointments…and not have to reschedule them.

I can run without having to make the mental calculations of where and when I can run next week, plotting out tentative running routes in unknown cities, translating km to mi and wondering how much I can trust local reviews on popular running routes. (Pro-tip: running in Manila’s Luneta Park is only fun on Saturday mornings if you enjoy dodging and weaving hundreds of kids, dogs, vendors, cleaning crews, and other runners.The upside? A kiosk selling cold bottled water for less than 50 cents every few feet.)

I can let the dry cleaning pile up.

I can bake bread and pastries and cookies and know that I can actually eat some of them before giving them away. (And who am I kidding — given that the world is going to hell, there’s a lot of stress baking going on in my house right now.)

My latest baking experiment: forgetting to incorporate M&Ms into a traditional sugar cookie recipe, and to make up for it I just studded the outside with them. Still yummy. M&Ms can only ever improve a recipe.

I can — and this is what I’m really excited about — plan my new garden for spring, knowing that I’ll actually be here to work on the soil, plant the seedlings, and watch them grow, at least the first few weeks.

My office is starting to look less like I just moved in, and more like a warm and inviting place in which I’d like to hang around all day.

I can get used to this.

For now. My job requires establishing and cementing relationships with potential partners, and it’s hard to do that over even frequent Zoom hangouts and phone calls. Great connections happen over coffee, over meals, over cocktails, over handshakes and laughs and new jokes said in voices without the echo of VoIP. There’s a magic and psychic energy in personal connections that is almost impossible to replicate over video conference, no matter how advanced the technology.

I need to get back on the road and in the air.

But for now, though, I relish the peace and stillness of being home. To everything there is a season.

Art Matters, So It Shouldn’t Be Free

Standard

In a previous life, I worked as a wind energy developer. It meant lots of long trips to exotic places where people are usually not (at least, not in great or even middling abundance): places like Sweetwater, TX; Minot, North Dakota; Ozona, TX; and Santa Rosa, NM. Don’t get me wrong — these are all lovely places with very kind, welcoming communities. But wherever there is plenty of wind to support industry-scale wind projects, there is typically not much in terms of population.

Anyway, I remember vividly one day trip I took to some North Texas county (I can’t remember which one anymore, but it was a very rural, remote area with a lot of trees and, as we soon figured out, not as much wind as we’d hoped) one spring day. The company I worked for had sent over a young intern named Adam from Irish HQ, so as an educational experience and for some company I took him with me.

During the long, two-hour drive to the meeting, we somehow got to chatting about artists (musicians in particular), creativity, and the bubbling tension between the need for these artists to make a living and the demand of their fans for free content. This was a post-Napster, pre-Spotify world, when Pandora was just starting to find its audience and YouTube was exploding with illegal uploads of both official and “unofficial,” fan-made music videos.

Adam believed that artists should make their work freely available on the Internet and suffered not an ounce of guilt from downloading copyrighted content without paying for it. He genuinely believed that because his generation (he was about 19, and this was the mid-2000s) had grown up accustomed to paying little or nothing for music, movies and books because of their wide availability on bootleg sites, they shouldn’t be expected to suddenly pony up for access to them. Sure, he was happy to pay a few hundred dollars for an iPod, but for the music and other content he would actually play on it and without which the iPod would just be an outrageously priced paperweight? Nada. When I asked him how in the world he expected these artists to survive and continue to create without compensation, he said, “They can get a full-time job and create in their spare time.”

Artists have always, always struggled for respect and an adequate income for their work. Distributing content without artist compensation is a longtime tradition — it’s why copyright law was invented in the first place. But with technology making it so incredibly easy to distribute any creative work on a mass, global scale, it’s become even harder for artists to control their work and earn a living wage from it. If even musicians with vast financial resources and the power and influence of corporate money behind them can’t make money solely from their creative output but must hustle to make themselves into a “brand”, is there much hope for the “independent artist” who would rather spend their time and energies actually making art and not shilling t-shirts and plastic wrist bands out of cramped apartments?

I could never convince Adam that artists deserve to be paid every single time their music is downloaded, their film is viewed, and their book is sold. But while the conversation happened nearly a decade ago, it stuck in my head and comes out periodically whenever I read articles like this one, which calls for basically an overhaul of society and more expansive public investment in artists and their art.

Despite what I just wrote above about the importance of compensating artists for their work, I’m of two minds about the idea of devoting public funds to support artists. The Depression-era programs put to work thousands of writers, photographers, filmmakers, and visual artists left an astounding legacy of documents, films, and artwork that serve as a rich repository of content about a particularly critical time in American history.

On the other hand, the content, while voluminous, wasn’t exactly created solely for the sake of art. As this article carefully points out, “Nothing was published that was not first approved by Washington and the entire process required that the author remain anonymous.” Government money is rarely offered without strings, even today, and while I consider myself fairly liberal, I hesitate to endorse any arts program or idea that relies so heavily on government largesse. Socialist art has rarely produced anything of lasting cultural value and more often than not serves as a propaganda tool. The artist should only ever be beholden to their creative impulse, never to an outside agency with its own agenda.

Still, I also don’t think that we can expect the “masses” (who my former political science prof often referred to as “asses”) to suddenly have a change of heart and refuse to download anything without ponying up a royalty to the artist. One program I find appealing is Ireland’s Artists Tax Exemption. Rather than requiring artists to submit exhaustive applications and compete with their peers for a limited amount of earmarked funds — a process ripe with bias and the stifling of free speech and creativity — the program offers a simple blanket benefit to all artists who make money from their work. It’s not a perfect program: the government is still the final arbiter of what it considers “of cultural merit” and thus eligible for tax exemption. But it does strike me as an easier and more liberal means of supporting artists by removing or at least minimizing the burden of supporting oneself through one’s art. Like everyone else in society, the artist must still organize her paperwork and receipts to prepare for filing the appropriate returns, but at least she’s not enduring the soul-sucking business of filling out reams of grant applications, writing one more goddamn essay about why her work should be funded, and gathering reference letters and budget forecasts.

I’ve not spoken to Adam since I left the company in 2006, but I wonder what he thinks now, a decade later and 10 years older, about the state of the music industry. Folks wanting unlimited free music have never had it better — I listen to Spotify all day long and have never paid for it. But as a writer who works hard for every word and every page, I’m terrified of what the future holds for creatives who want and deserve to be paid for doing what they love and doing it well.

Art Matters, So It Shouldn't Be Free

Standard

In a previous life, I worked as a wind energy developer. It meant lots of long trips to exotic places where people are usually not (at least, not in great or even middling abundance): places like Sweetwater, TX; Minot, North Dakota; Ozona, TX; and Santa Rosa, NM. Don’t get me wrong — these are all lovely places with very kind, welcoming communities. But wherever there is plenty of wind to support industry-scale wind projects, there is typically not much in terms of population.

Anyway, I remember vividly one day trip I took to some North Texas county (I can’t remember which one anymore, but it was a very rural, remote area with a lot of trees and, as we soon figured out, not as much wind as we’d hoped) one spring day. The company I worked for had sent over a young intern named Adam from Irish HQ, so as an educational experience and for some company I took him with me.

During the long, two-hour drive to the meeting, we somehow got to chatting about artists (musicians in particular), creativity, and the bubbling tension between the need for these artists to make a living and the demand of their fans for free content. This was a post-Napster, pre-Spotify world, when Pandora was just starting to find its audience and YouTube was exploding with illegal uploads of both official and “unofficial,” fan-made music videos.

Adam believed that artists should make their work freely available on the Internet and suffered not an ounce of guilt from downloading copyrighted content without paying for it. He genuinely believed that because his generation (he was about 19, and this was the mid-2000s) had grown up accustomed to paying little or nothing for music, movies and books because of their wide availability on bootleg sites, they shouldn’t be expected to suddenly pony up for access to them. Sure, he was happy to pay a few hundred dollars for an iPod, but for the music and other content he would actually play on it and without which the iPod would just be an outrageously priced paperweight? Nada. When I asked him how in the world he expected these artists to survive and continue to create without compensation, he said, “They can get a full-time job and create in their spare time.”

Artists have always, always struggled for respect and an adequate income for their work. Distributing content without artist compensation is a longtime tradition — it’s why copyright law was invented in the first place. But with technology making it so incredibly easy to distribute any creative work on a mass, global scale, it’s become even harder for artists to control their work and earn a living wage from it. If even musicians with vast financial resources and the power and influence of corporate money behind them can’t make money solely from their creative output but must hustle to make themselves into a “brand”, is there much hope for the “independent artist” who would rather spend their time and energies actually making art and not shilling t-shirts and plastic wrist bands out of cramped apartments?

I could never convince Adam that artists deserve to be paid every single time their music is downloaded, their film is viewed, and their book is sold. But while the conversation happened nearly a decade ago, it stuck in my head and comes out periodically whenever I read articles like this one, which calls for basically an overhaul of society and more expansive public investment in artists and their art.

Despite what I just wrote above about the importance of compensating artists for their work, I’m of two minds about the idea of devoting public funds to support artists. The Depression-era programs put to work thousands of writers, photographers, filmmakers, and visual artists left an astounding legacy of documents, films, and artwork that serve as a rich repository of content about a particularly critical time in American history.

On the other hand, the content, while voluminous, wasn’t exactly created solely for the sake of art. As this article carefully points out, “Nothing was published that was not first approved by Washington and the entire process required that the author remain anonymous.” Government money is rarely offered without strings, even today, and while I consider myself fairly liberal, I hesitate to endorse any arts program or idea that relies so heavily on government largesse. Socialist art has rarely produced anything of lasting cultural value and more often than not serves as a propaganda tool. The artist should only ever be beholden to their creative impulse, never to an outside agency with its own agenda.

Still, I also don’t think that we can expect the “masses” (who my former political science prof often referred to as “asses”) to suddenly have a change of heart and refuse to download anything without ponying up a royalty to the artist. One program I find appealing is Ireland’s Artists Tax Exemption. Rather than requiring artists to submit exhaustive applications and compete with their peers for a limited amount of earmarked funds — a process ripe with bias and the stifling of free speech and creativity — the program offers a simple blanket benefit to all artists who make money from their work. It’s not a perfect program: the government is still the final arbiter of what it considers “of cultural merit” and thus eligible for tax exemption. But it does strike me as an easier and more liberal means of supporting artists by removing or at least minimizing the burden of supporting oneself through one’s art. Like everyone else in society, the artist must still organize her paperwork and receipts to prepare for filing the appropriate returns, but at least she’s not enduring the soul-sucking business of filling out reams of grant applications, writing one more goddamn essay about why her work should be funded, and gathering reference letters and budget forecasts.

I’ve not spoken to Adam since I left the company in 2006, but I wonder what he thinks now, a decade later and 10 years older, about the state of the music industry. Folks wanting unlimited free music have never had it better — I listen to Spotify all day long and have never paid for it. But as a writer who works hard for every word and every page, I’m terrified of what the future holds for creatives who want and deserve to be paid for doing what they love and doing it well.

And now for something completely different

Standard

Change is good. Good change is even better.

Change is good. Good change is even better.

If you read my previous post — written waaaaay back in October 2013 — you may have caught a hint of the dissatisfaction I was feeling in my life. My writing was beyond neglected. My life had become a roller coaster of activity, crammed with errands, endless to-do lists, money woes, sleepless nights, and this gnawing feeling that I’d lost my way. Somehow, in the previous four years, I’d launched a business, taken on an investor, adopted four dogs, fostered countless more, wrote a book, hired and fired employees, gained a few very unwanted pounds, landed in the ER, and oh, wrote very, very little of that novel that I began in 2006.

In other words, I’d lost my way.

If you read my short bio the left sidebar, you’ll know that things have changed. And if you used to read my blog back when it was hosted at Blogger, you’ll see that I’ve moved, too.

I’m now working at my dream job as Happiness Engineer at Automattic, helping WordPress.com users publish and share their thoughts with the world, and am winding down my marketing agency. I only recently started the job, and already I’m in love. If it’s at all possible to be madly in love with a job, this must be how it feels.

I’ll still write about books, films, writing, travel, and yes, the occasional posts about my family, but I’ll also be diving into the fascinating worlds of open source computing and publishing and the way the world has changed to allow the most ordinary folks in the most ordinary places to have their voices heard. It’s going to be a wild ride, too, but this time, it’ll be both fun and fulfilling.

Photo by emdot on Flickr.