Poem: Promised Land

Please do not decide for me
The reasons that I struggle
Do not look once and then declare
The roles that I may juggle.

Do not walk down a path with me
Or think that I will follow
The road that I must lead is mine
Just like the words I swallow.

Do not think that when I look up
I only see the sky
When in fact I feel the breath
Of all those who pass by.

Do not believe my blood breeds hate
My ancestry fuels wars
Those are not the eyes through which I see -
Perhaps, my friend, they're yours.



There Is No Muse

*Cross-posted on the Social Capital Conference blog.

You know what they call a freelance writer who waits for inspiration to hit before they put words down on paper?


The truth about writing for a living is that, in order to make a living, you actually have to write: on demand, on a schedule, whether you feel like it or not. Being a freelance writer is not a romantic, or noble, or often, even a very creative profession. But it is a job, and like most other jobs, you gain success when you can handle its demands with professional acumen regardless of any outside influences, including the desire – or lack thereof – to do the job in the first place.

Inspiration is great when it arrives ahead of a fast-approaching deadline, but writing for a living is often like creating a cauldron full of stone soup – sometimes you start out with nothing, but if you do your job right, you could end up with something substantial.

I spent a year as an op-ed columnist for TheLoop.ca, and in that time, learned the true art of stone-soup writing. Tasked often with writing about subject matter I had just been introduced to yet had to spin into something worthy of a reader’s attention on a very short timeline, the only muse I could possibly rely on was a strong cup of coffee and the hope that runny noses had cleared in time to send both of my kids to school for the day. Sure, I had practiced this kind of writing during my previous decade as a creative copywriter at a record company, but the pressure to write compelling, shareable and SEO-attuned pieces is huge these days. Not only did I have to write engaging and intelligent articles – on demand, about new and sometimes odd subjects – but I had to ensure that each piece met the performance expectations of my editor as well. In my previous life, I may have been required to write great liner notes, but I wasn’t responsible for guaranteeing their consumption. Writing professionally online comes with layers of expectations, and you really can’t blame a muse for not wanting the gig.

So you’re on your own.

In the end, the only way to write is to get to it – hands on keyboard, seat in chair. And the thing to remember is, hey, you’re good at this, right? It’s your job, yes, but it’s also your gift. As a professional writer, you can turn words into ideas, ideas into compelling, totally shareable and CEO-compliant articles, even when you don’t feel like it. The other thing to remember is that, like the cauldron of soup that began with one measly stone, words beget words, ideas beget ideas, until the page is full and the deadline is met.

And hey, that stone soup can often turn out to be pretty darn tasty.

 #socapOttawa is happening on July 26, and I'll be presenting a session called Beyond the Blog: Tips for Transitioning to Professional Writing Online, as well as a roundtable on creating great content even when you don't feel like it. Get your tickets! 



Low self-esteem equals big business when it comes to vanity sizing

In her 1991 classic, The Beauty Myth, author Naomi Wolf warns, "a cultural fixation on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty but an obsession about female obedience."

Without resorting to too many food imagery clich├ęs, popular culture's spoon-feeding of weight insecurity to women hasn't changed much since Wolf's book, despite the nearly 25 years we've had to pull our heads out of the sand, understand that we're being manipulated, and put a stop to it.

The Beauty Myth may have struck a powerful chord in 1991 because it came out in tandem with -- and partly, in response to -- the heroin-chic, waif-as-ideal image of women monopolizing fashion spreads and dictating clothing trends. The waifs -- and the entire grunge scene it sat on the periphery of -- were a response to the previous generation of big -- big, Amazonian models with big '80s hair and the sense of big '80s indulgence and big '80s consumption. And of course the culture, fashion and attitude of the '80s was a response to the political and fashion crimes of the '70s.

But we never really had a backlash to the cultural ideology of the '90s. Yes, that's simplifying the case, as we've had some huge financial, environmental, political, and social shifts since the turn of the century, but where is the post-feminist dogma when it comes to fashion? The models have remained skeletally-thin, we fetishize pregnant celebrities, but fetishize their rapid post-pregnancy weight loss even more, and the fashion and beauty industry practically flaunt business models stating the sad, undisputed fact that the more insecure a woman is, the more money she will spend.

Which is why Abercrombie & Fitch had to be publicly shamed into offering clothing larger than a size 12, and why J-Crew doesn't think it's a problem to reduce it's smallest women's clothing size to 000.

It's a problem.

Claiming that they are just trying to accommodate their tiniest adult clientele -- who are mostly Asian, they say, and don't even get me started on the generalization of an entire culture as too diminutive for regular sizing -- the triple zero is just the next installment of a natural descent in waist sizes. Down to twenty-three inches, in this case. 

J-Crew doesn't want us to think that this is vanity sizing. But if it's not, and if it's not a dangerous new goal for women and girls with eating disorders, then it's still a huge misrepresentation of the average woman's size, and still a method to pathologize healthy body shapes. Here's why -- if a 000 could also be represented by XXXS or 23", then using J-Crew's own sizing, and assuming a variation of approximately 2" per size, moving up the chart, an XXL -- the largest size you can order at J-Crew -- would be a size 20, or a woman with a 37" waist.

A woman with a 37" waist may be at risk for a myriad of health issues (or she may not be), but there's no guarantee that all those 23" waisters are any healthier. But that's not at all the issue, if we listen to J-Crew. The issue is accommodation, and they want to accommodate their teeniest, tiniest customers. I wonder just how many of those customers there are. I'd love to see some sales data in the near future.

And I wonder how many women with a waist size greater than 37" wouldn't mind the choice of shopping at J-Crew? 

But like Abercrombie and a host of other retailers whose sizing changes rapidly and arbitrarily, this is not about keeping women happy at their true, current size. It is about manufacturing an unreal landscape where small is now four sizes bigger than smallest and who knows how much more we will be told we should shrink if we want to look good in J-Crew's clothes.

I hear the groans coming from the tiny women, the Asian women, the women like the commenter on Jezebel who states that at a natural, culturally-determined 5'0" and 100 lbs, the triple naught will be perfect for her, fuck-you-haters-very-much. And I bet it will fit her perfectly, and why should we get upset with a customer for wearing the correct size? We shouldn't of course, but consider this: in 2002 I got married. I weighed 98 lbs at my wedding, and I stand 5'1" tall. I bought a gorgeous brown column dress at Jacob (RIP) to take on my honeymoon. It fit me perfectly, and it was a size 2. Size 2 is teeny tiny, but it's a good three sizes larger than the smallest size J-Crew now makes. The size that the woman pretty much exactly the same size that I was in 2002, now wears.

I'm going to hazard a guess that the women not shaking their heads at this ridiculousness are the women that will be proudly fitting into -- and to J-Crew's delight, buying -- a size triple zero. 

Women have not gotten smaller, but women's sizes sure as hell have, keeping pace only with our plummeting self-esteem and our complete refusal to acknowledge that we're being played. Hard.

Naomi Wolf knew this in 1991. We know it now, but we ignore it. HBC recently came under fire for putting a t-shirt on the shelves touting a pro-ana mantra made famous by the original waif herself, Kate Moss.
Source: Twitter/Samantha Cambridge 

The shirt disappeared quickly because we're not supposed to admit that girls feel that way. J-Crew announces a new small four sizes smaller than small and we won't admit that we have just discovered a heady new goal for the chronically insecure. A new goal that even Kate Moss would no longer be able to reach.