So, yeah. I’m moving to Los Angeles right now to start the next chapter of my life. It should be interesting adjusting to a new culture. I’m terrified, but I feel like a change is exactly what I need in order to find myself again. I have to pack in a short space of time and still haven’t found a permanent place to live. But I have found a few batshit crazy trainwreck people trying to sublet.
I haven’t updated this blog in a bit because on a 1 to 10 scale of “How are you doing today?” I am at a -50.
My friends getting sick and dying, I’m working ridiculous hours to pay my bills plus unpaid work on my cons. (No, I don’t get any $ from the cons.) My health is falling apart for over 7 months now which will explain to you why I haven’t posted all that much.
The reason that I start blogging things here and they fizzle out is because I have to keep stopping to focus on the life and con work because both of those things directly and indirectly affect my ability to pay my bills.
I love writing to you. I love sharing my life. I also love helping people feel better and to be better in their lives. But all of my online work I’ve done for free. I actually have paid to do it for free since 2003. That isn’t sustainable. I also realize that I’ve never asked for it before, either.
You have to either enjoy something (and have the free time to devote to it) or get paid fairly in order to do something. I no longer have any free time.
I’m sorry for those of you emailing me asking me for advice or help with your lives or your creative businesses. I can’t help for free like I used to anymore.
I’ll be back soon with a new format here – one that likely will be supported by a Patreon or something. I need to solve the problem, “How can I do the awesome stuff people enjoy from me and earn a living wage for it?”
Hey, if you have any suggestions, email me from the top nav bar. This blog has always been for you so your feedback and support is going to dictate what happens next. :)
“Should I let my kid go to art / music school or should I force them to study something else?”
I get asked this question probably once a week – minimum.
Some background for those of you just joining us: I do a lot of shit. During the day I am a VP level Project / Product Manager responsible for a long list of art and technology things that you probably use. For example, if you’ve ever used an iPhone, you’ve used something I’ve designed and deployed.
Then I do my third shift, which is seriously studying to be a musician.
I’ve worked professionally in the arts, marketing, finance, mobile telecom, and pharma – all at blisteringly high levels because I don’t know any other way to work. I also professionally wrote and drew a comic for 10 years and worked in animation. One of the big things that I do is I ensure that my events have programs within them that elevate the arts and encourage kids and adults to pursue their Thing.
It’s my Why.
If I didn’t feel strongly about this I’d be using my second shift time to sleep or eat or something. I would probably have bought a house by now.
At my core, I am a performance artist and musician. Always have been.
For example, this is the most “me” that’s ever been captured in a photo. The only thing missing is my guitar:
This is an important element so that you understand what I am going to write next.
Parents come to me for advice when their kids want to study art or music. Some are terrified. Others want me to tell their kid it’s a bad idea. I don’t have a BFA. I have a BA. I didn’t go to art or music school.
I will not tell your kid that it’s a bad idea to study the arts. Sorry. I’ll give your kid real advice that’s based in the actual world. They should be studying both. Why?
Today’s CREATIVE climate is one such that all of us creatives have to be everything. For my comic, I wrote, drew, evangelized sponsors, created social media campaigns, handled my finances, did outreach, and pretty much everything else myself. Same for my events. If you are doing a creative project, you will have to be every department in your own company. Period.
We are all octopi.
We have to be in order to succeed. If you want to be an artist or musician and you suck at Marketing there’s a pretty high chance you are going to fail and not even know why. I am not the best at anything. I’m just really good at some things and Beast Mode Level in Marketing.
You can be the best and still no one will care if you don’t know how to market and manage yourself. Success is still not guaranteed and MONEY is required to make money. So make sure you can do something else to generate funding. Kickstarter and Patreon are a tiny fraction of the guaranteed money I can pull down from a consulting gig. Because I was good at other things, I’m able to support myself and wisely invest in my education and projects such that I can do what I want.
Today’s BUSINESS climate is equally competitive. Why do you think I went from being so broke I couldn’t afford shampoo to where I am today? It’s because I did creative projects after work which gave me the expertise and training that NO COMPANY will give you today. I am VP level and in that entire journey I have never had a company try to nurture my skills. I did that myself because I knew that if I just sat in a cubicle I’d be like that guy in Office Space whining about his red stapler for the rest of my life.
Or worse yet – pretty much every job I’ve had had laid off all of us every 6 months to 2 years. If you are a cubicle jockey, that is just as tough in today’s world. How will you stand out? I stand out because of everything you see on my bio page, and ALL of that was because of the arts. I get raises where others don’t because of my creative capabilities.
The biggest mistake you can do as a parent is to squash your kid’s desires.
Childhood is supposed to be about experimentation. That’s when you have the TIME to DO IT. I work in a field that has literally nothing to do with my BA from Rutgers University. I could have majored in Butt Science and I’d still be where I am because of who I am and the natural drive that I have.
Them: “That’s a strange Butt Science Degree you have there, young lady.”
Me: “But I can manage any project and make you $$$ unlike anyone else. Google what I did on the internet.”
Them: “Hot, damn! Here’s a cash money!”
Today people judge you by what you can do and have done – not by what is written on a piece of paper. I don’t even posses a Project Management certification (PMP) and I make more money than many of the people I know who have that. Why?
Track record of exceeding expectations.
I was at vacation in Disney World one year at the same time a PMP Conference was there. That was a moment of clarity for me when I realized that I basically bypassed that due to achievement and was going to the Magic Kingdom while they were stuck in some dry meetings for the day.
But back on the main topic –
Do you think I have the time in my 30s now to study music seriously? Not really. I give up sleep and a social life to do it because I need to do it or I’ll slowly die. There’s been a hole directly in my chest since I was 5 years old when I first heard Van Halen and Iron Maiden that told me I should be playing music but with no money or support I was stuck sitting in my room hoping that I could afford a guitar when I got older.
Today I am making up for lost time and I am at a terrible disadvantage because I wasn’t given the freedom to experiment as much as I needed as a kid. I didn’t let go of the anger about this until I was 28.
The hole is still there. It’s still trying to kill me unless I play music. This is who I am. People trying to direct me into other careers meant well, but ultimately caused a pretty severe disservice to my development.
My advice is to always nurture interests, no matter how impractical they may seem. In my experience, those things tend to propel whatever you end up doing forward because the default position in life is to be a sack of flesh eating a Lean Cuisine in a cubicle that’s dripping water from the ceiling while Judy in Accounting is explaining the color of her baby’s poop to you.
Anything different won’t be necessarily accepted. I’ve never been a woman who “fit in”. The key is – if you leverage it properly you’ll out perform and out earn everyone else and it’s all because of the arts.
We dismiss the impact of the arts and we are jackasses for doing so:
America’s dismissal of the arts in general has created a lot of boring people who can’t think their way out of a paper bag. It’s basically a slave class of workers that companies use as flesh cogs in a disposable and replaceable machine. There is no longevity at any company anymore. My longest corporate gig was 2 years before yet another merger had us all on unemployment due to no fault of our own.
Let your kids experiment. Let them be themselves. You can’t stamp it out no matter how hard you try. My devotion to music is a perfect example of that. Experimentation is the key to finding out who you really are. I worked in animation for Disney and found that it wasn’t my dream just like I worked in comics and discovered the same. The key thing is that I got to try it and got it out of my system so that I knew what WAS my dream and could focus on that. I should have been able to figure this out when I was 20, but I didn’t have the exposure to it that I needed to make that decision.
Sorry, but it’s highly unlikely that anyone knows what they are doing at age 18. Technology changes so fast now that it’s kinda impossible. My job didn’t even exist when I was in college.
Tell your kids to study the arts, but also make sure the school they go to prepares them to market themselves such that they can manage things and support themselves no matter what happens in the future. Failing that, make sure that they can study the arts on their own time because nobody needs a diploma to play music or draw things. They just need enough of whatever it is that they need (usually exposure to concepts, support, and industry knowledge) to prepare them for the future.
The biggest stupidity I’ve ever seen is how America separates the arts from academics. Rutgers University actually prevented me from taking creative classes since I was enrolled in their main school. Some creative schools really fail at preparing their students for the real world octopi approach and produce proficient creatives that have no idea how to get and hold down a job.
You can and should do both because both of these things are critical to survival in today’s real world. Discouraging someone from pursuing an interest is about as stupid as trying to hold your coffee cup with your buttcrack.
It never works and just causes inflammation that results in lost sleep and a lower quality of life in their 30s when they finally have the money to buy a guitar and a few lessons.
I’ve known Nicole probably forever by now? If you’ve attended Intervention, you most likely have met her. She’s got a super awesome book coming out that I want to tell you all about!
The Biographies of Ordinary People is a story of family, friendship, and art—and the past thirty years.
The Biographies of Ordinary People is the story of the Gruber family: Rosemary and Jack, and their daughters Meredith, Natalie, and Jackie. The two-volume series begins in July 1989, on Rosemary’s thirty-fifth birthday; it ends in November 2016, on Meredith’s thirty-fifth birthday.
Written for fans of Betsy-Tacy, Little Women, or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the story is an episodic, ensemble narrative that takes us into intimately familiar experiences: putting on a play, falling out with a best friend, getting dial-up internet for the first time. Drinking sparkling wine out of a paper cup on December 31, 1999 and wondering what will happen next.
At the heart of the story is Meredith Gruber, the oldest Gruber sister and the one determined to figure out how “ordinary people” should live–because all the biographies she’s ever read are about famous people. She wants to write and act, and her younger sister Jackie wants to sing opera, and the two of them pursue their goals with both ambition and limitations.
He punched me hard directly in the nose and all I could see were red, stars, and my own blood. When you get hit like that with no warning, especially as a beginner like I was, you will freeze up. By the time I regained control over my rational thought I realized that I’d sustained several punches to my face and torso and had robotically defended against them. (Go me?) I was cut, bleeding, and at one point slammed into a mirror with broken edges and elbowed directly in the torso until I fell over in a smear of my own blood. I remember thinking to myself “Gee, they really should have fixed that mirror last month. I’ll have to make a note later and remind the owner.”
I did a poor job at defense because none of this was supposed to happen. I was supposed to be in a safe, controlled space. I was facing off against an assistant instructor whom I not only trusted, but was the first guy I ever had feelings for. This was a true violation of epic proportion.
The rules of this match stated “no head contact”, so I wasn’t even wearing all of my gear. I found this incredibly hilarious as he grabbed my head and laid another several punches directly to my face. I’ve always had a sense of humor, guys. This was like the time that I decided that it was a good idea to pretend I was the Hamburglar at my High School’s Homecoming dance. The experience wasn’t exactly as described.
Anyhow, I knew why this was happening because he was telling me while slowly ripping as much of my body apart as he could in front of an audience. I’d just gotten my orange belt faster than anyone ever had before in my nearly all-male MMA/Police Training school. I needed to slow down and, to use his words, “know my place”.
My sparring partner was frozen in shock, as were the rest of the guys there.
Not a single person helped me.
I eventually was able to get enough distance between me and him to recover enough to return fire. I moved at a 45 degree angle and slammed his chest with an elbow, which is one of my standard “get the fuck out” moves to this day. It stunned him enough that I was able to grapple and deliver a series of way-too-hard-for-a-training-environment elbows and punches directly to his face and neck. Then I bent him over and uppercut the shit out of him for an amount of time that I can’t truly recall. I just kept doing uppercuts to his chest until I couldn’t anymore. He eventually backed off. I went into the locker room and vomited. I cleaned myself up, went home, and got medical attention. I was not going to let anyone see that.
I learned some important lessons that day. The first is that women are sometimes punished for succeeding where they aren’t supposed to. The second is that I was incredibly mistaken in having feelings for this guy. The third is that I would become the first female black belt at this school. The fourth is that I make a sexy Hamburglar.
His hatred gave me such a desire to outclass him even further – which I did. He was fired for this after people reported it to the owner of my school the next day. I feel like someone had to clean the blood up so it couldn’t be kept a secret.
3 months later I had his job. 6 months later I had so few fucks to give that I began on my quest to create accessible self defense training for women and taught 3 classes. 7 months later I taught my first self-defense class specifically for strippers and sex workers.
Bad shit happens, but how you respond to that shit is the most important thing. I nearly gave up that night. I didn’t because the owner of the school backed me and I am a tenacious son of a bitch. It’s important to walk away from toxic situations, but even more important to tease out the positive aspects of every situation so that you can use them as puzzle pieces to make things better.
That’s all we can do, isn’t it? So do that. Every day. You are not what happened to you. You are your response to it. I have always preferred my responses to be ones that piss people off because I’m living well. Anything less is cheap. I cost more than that. You cost more than that and anyone who tells you differently is full of shit.
This is an excerpt from Oni’s upcoming book, Failing Upward. Subscribe to this blog and sign up to her mailing list to learn more and get notifications when new content is released.