TLC, Like It Or Not, You Had A Responsibility

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There’s a well-known phenomenon out there. It’s called “social proof.” It’s been used in psychology, marketing, and as a defense in criminal trials.

Simply stated, it means that people tend to assume that the people around them are more knowledgeable than they are. These people need not have any credibility at all. They can be complete failures at life, but because they speak in an authoritative tone, in a public arena, others will assume they are subject matter experts.

Let me tell you a first-hand story about social proof and how it works.

Awhile back, I was at a party with a guy who clearly had a drinking problem. Well before the party, he’d gotten into a drunken fight with his girlfriend, stole her car, plowed it into an underpass and then spent the next two days holed up in a bar.

It was practically the real life story that inspired the Bartender song.

Anyone would reconsider their drinking after that. Any normal person would look at an incident like that and say “hey, you know what? It’s time to cut out the drinking. It’s clearly ruining my life.”

For a while, this guy (we’ll call him Steve) did. Then, one night, we all went to a housewarming party at my friend Carlie’s house. Steve wasn’t drinking. Then, Carlie got involved.

“Why aren’t you drinking, Steve?”

Steve sheepishly looked down. “I stopped. Turns out, I’m a complete asshole when I’m drinking.”

“Come on!” Carlie did not like to drink alone. “You’ll be fine. Just have one.”

Steve might have said no, but social proof took over. “Ok. I guess one wouldn’t hurt.”

Four hours later, as I was trying to peel a half-naked, sobbing Steve off of me, it occurred to me that Carlie was hardly an expert. She wasn’t a rehab counselor or doctor. She wasn’t a social worker and she sure as shit wasn’t a psychic, otherwise she would have predicted Steve’s impending alcohol poisoning…and the fact that he would need a new pair of pants.

She had no authority whatsoever to tell Steve drinking ‘just one’ would be fine. We both simply fell for social proof. For some reason, when Carlie said “it’s ok” I assumed it would be and so did Steve.

She was wrong.

I bring this up because of the Duggar scandal. For anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock, Josh Duggar is one of those weird, uber religious people from 19 Kids and Counting and it was recently revealed that Josh had molested several young girls as a teenager.

Look, I’m not going to jump on the bandwagon and call Josh a pedophile. I don’t know what happened and the court records don’t to exist to prove it. He could have been a teenager who made a mistake. He could be a sexual predator. The world may never know.

What I know is this. Josh has been held up as an authority, especially an authority on the well-being of children. He chose to put himself in that position, knowing that in the past, he had not acted in the best interest of children. He chose to hide his past, with a simple ‘god forgave me and I got counseling’ without making impressionable viewers aware that he might not be as squeaky clean as he previously indicated. He might not be an authority on his chosen platform.

For me, that’s where the problems come in. Even smart people get sucked in by social proof. If you’re in a public position, making statements to the masses, people are going to believe you.

They’re going to use your mistakes as an excuse to justify their own.

I’m glad 19 Kids and Counting got cancelled. Not just because I hate the way they treat women like breed stock and instill mass panic about homosexuality. No, I’m glad they got cancelled because of social proof.

How many pedophiles are out there right now, using Josh Duggar’s excuses as their own? How many feel, maybe not justified, but ok with what they’ve done because someone in a position of authority did it too? How many will feel ok about it, because if a massive corporate enterprise can know something like this, and still get behind someone who perpetrated it, it must be ok? It must be normal.

It’s where social proof becomes incredibly dangerous.

TLC should have known about this and they should have done something about it well before it became public knowledge. It was incredibly irresponsible to give any family with a skeleton in their past like this a platform on national television.

Even if you’re peddling reality trash (and you know you are, TLC) you have a responsibility to the people that watch your shows. And no, not all of them are idiots. You don’t have to be an idiot to be taken in by social proof.

I’m a smart girl, but that night with Steve, even I somehow attributed authority to Carlie that she hadn’t earned. For some reason, because she said it would be ok, I believed her. I justified my decision to be ok with Steve drinking because of her telling me it would be ok.

Carlie was on some kind of strange pedestal that I created for her. Without realizing it, when we allow people to become reality television stars, we put them on a pedestal too. The Jersey Shore people made it ok to be drunk all the time. The Bachelor made it ok to date 20 chicks at once. Honey BooBoo and Duck Dynasty made it ok to be redneck idiots.

And now 19 Kids and Counting makes it ok to fondle underage girls…as long as you claim Jesus forgives you. Well done, TLC.

I don’t expect my reality stars to be above reproach, but I do expect my TV channels to be responsible. I’m trusting you. I’m expecting you to be better than me because I think you’re in a position of authority. If other people trust you, I should trust you too. You’re on a pedestal.

And when you fall off that pedestal, it’s not how the landing affects you that matters. It’s how many dominoes are going down with you along the way.

The Mystery Bruise

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I have a bruise on my ass. It’s not a little one. It’s one of those scary “Tupac black” bruises that leaves pasty white people like me wondering if we have leukemia. It’s large and black, and in the shape of Texas.

I have no idea where it came from. Did I mess with Texas? I’ve heard that you just ‘don’t mess with Texas.’ I’d never do that.

…it’s not nice to pick on retards.

(Sorry Alejandro, I just couldn’t let that joke go unsaid. If it makes you feel any better, you’re the least Texan Texan I know.)

Anywho, this mystery has been bothering me all day. Here’s the thing. I’m a bit flakier in real life than I come off online. Like flaky in the “I nearly put wart remover in my eye because I thought it was eye drops” kind of way. Like flaky in the “I found my cell phone in the freezer this morning” kind of way.

So I am no stranger to mystery bruises. I get them all the time. The minor ones I just brush off as general clumsiness, but the major ones always leave me wondering.

Because the major ones always have a story.

The worst one I can remember happened several years ago. It was the day after Saint Patrick’s Day when I woke up with a pain in my foot. It wasn’t a little pain. It was a broiling, bleeding, blistered “holy shit do I have foot cancer?” pain.

And I had no idea how it happened.  Try as I might, my drunken, hazy memory would not release the story of this horrible injury. So I simply assumed that it was far too traumatic to remember. Then, I made up my own story.

A bus filled with puppies and orphans was careening towards a cliff. I was the only one around and the only one who could save the day. With only courage and determination as my fortitude I ran towards that damned bus. Using my MacGyver-like skills, I quickly created a system of pullies and ropes (that just happened to be laying around) and lassoed the bus, keeping all of the puppies and orphans from plummeting to their certain deaths.

While this was happening, the rope caught on my foot and I got rope burn.

Satisfied with my story, I went on about my day. I had to wear flip flops, but at least all those puppies and orphans were safe.

Then my friend Mike called.

“How’s your foot?”

I gave a long suffering sigh, having fully convinced myself of my foot martyr status. “It’s ok. I’m just glad no one was hurt.”

“Why would anyone get hurt? I still can’t believe you did that.”

My illusions were about to be destroyed. “What did I do?”

“You said you were so drunk you couldn’t feel your legs. Then, you bet me $5 that I could put my cigarette out on your foot without you screaming.”

“Why the fuck would you agree to that?” I was outraged.

“That’s exactly what you screamed at me when I did it!”

Illusions destroyed, my serious injury that I got while being a selfless angel became a simple drunken bet that I’d lost. I lose a lot of drunken bets.

I imagine my last words will be “Hold my beer. I bet I can do this.”

So I’m not sure I really want to know where this bruise came from. In fact, I know I don’t, because I already know how I got it.

See, there was this busload of puppies and orphans, careening towards a cliff….

Essa Buys a New Phone

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It was an early Friday morning when I received an ominous text message from T-Mobile.

Dear valued customer;

Please note that the outrageously out of date phone that you’re currently using will no longer be supported by our network as of June 6, 2015. Honestly, we’re seriously surprised we even had to send this message. We figured that pure embarrassment would have caused you to replace that brick of a phone you’ve been carrying. Jesus, you must look like Zach Morris from Saved by the Bell…

zach morris giant cellphone

Please come in and replace your phone ASAP. As a precaution, we’ve also sent this message to your Aol.com email account…and dispatched a time machine to 1993, where you’ve apparently been living for the past 20 years.

Ok, so not the exact text from T-Mobile. I took some artistic license. The message was the same.

Replace your phone, you dated bitch.

Here’s the thing. I’m cool with computers. I recently got a new laptop and I had no problem naming the specs I wanted when I hunted it down.

But I suck with mobile. I mean, why would I need to be good at it? As previously stated, I’m a crazy recluse who rarely leaves the house. So I don’t pay a lot of attention to my phone and I’m certainly not an iPhone kind of girl. Those things cost like $600!

Do you people realize how much weed that could buy?

So of course, it was with great trepidation that I headed down to my local cell phone store to get myself a new texting machine.

I arrived at the store and was immediately overwhelmed with how trendy everything was. There was some 23-year-old emo chick behind the counter, with gauged ears and a disinterested look on her face, talking to an equally trendy looking dread-locked man holding a phone with enough apps on it to take down the International Space Station.

So I sat there with my sad little phone, in my sensible flats with my normal sized piercings, and I waited and eavesdropped.

“Ok, Mr. Danger, I’ve added your sym card to your new Nokia 89000 4G LTE Wi-Fi Capable Planet Crusher Sat Nav, ESPN B-52 Phone. It looks like all 8,000 of your contacts have transferred successfully. Have a nice day.”

8000 contacts? Who the hell has 8000 contacts? I immediately felt angry and inadequate at the same time. I don’t have 8000 contacts. I’m not even sure I’ve met 8000 people in my whole life.

I checked my phone and felt even worse. 34 contacts. And four of those contacts were duplicates for the pizza place that I tried to add after one too many beers.

Finally, it was my turn. Gauged ear girl turned to look at me. “How can I help you?”

I thrust my phone at her, holding it with two fingers, as though it was covered in Ebola. “I need to replace this.”

She gave me a confused look. “Have you been out of the country?” She studied the phone as though looking at a strange artifact from the past, like one of those steam powered dildos from the 1800s. “I don’t think this company makes these anymore. Hell, I don’t even think they make phones anymore. They mainly supply prisons with metal detectors now.”

“Um, yeah, I’ve been busy…” I left it at that, hoping she’d assume I was some kind of super spy who’d been on a mission in Yemen and didn’t have access to technology made after 2001.

“Ok, so what are you looking for?”

I had figured that was evident. “A phone.”

“Yes.” She drew her answer out very slow, like she was talking to a mentally unbalanced person. “But what do you need to do with it?”

“Fruit Ninja.” That answer was immediate. My phone time is literally spent 1% on texts, 2% on phone calls and 97% on Fruit Ninja.

We decided on a Samsung Galaxy for two reasons. One, it was free and two, I broke 1000 on Fruit Ninja when she let me try it out.

Sold.

I went home pretty happy with my purchase. Granted, I’m not 100% sure on how to use everything. I might have downloaded every video ever uploaded to YouTube when trying to upload my photos to my computer, and I’m almost sure I accidentally texted everyone I know a photo of a cartoon dog pooping.

But Fruit Ninja seems to be working. In the end, that’s all that really matters. I also managed to take a selfie! Check it out.

Ridiculous Selfie 001

Five Easy Ways to Fail As a Writer

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Hey everyone, back again from a short hiatus. It’s been a busy winter and I’m working on something new, so posts will be few and far between, but they’ll happen.

The other night, I was perusing a writer’s forum and I saw a phrase I hate. In syntax it was “I don’t care if anyone reads what I write, as long as I get to write.”

I hate that phrase. I hate that phrase because it removes all ambition from the artistic process. It’s an attempt by a failed writer to prove that they’re artistically above other writers who have had commercial success.

Look, you can be one of those assholes who pretends they never want to make money off their writing, and live in relative poverty until they’re discovered 100 years after they die, but I’m not that kind of chick. I’m a writer first, but I’m also a businesswoman, and if there was no payoff in this for me, I’d do what most middle aged hot blondes do and go sell real estate.

To me a serious writer isn’t a person who hides behind their art. They’re a person who’s willing to make a few sacrifices to satisfy the masses. As writers we are, above all, entertainers.

To people who don’t get that, here are five easy ways to fail at being a writer

1. Keep having ideas without writing books.

Ideas are easy. It’s the writing that’s hard. Setting the scene, creating the atmosphere and writing realistic dialog are all learned skills that are not easy. That million dollar idea you have, that you think no one has thought of? It’s probably already written down, along with 500 others in my scrap file. The problem is, I’ll write it first, because I actually write the books to go with the ideas

2. Hang out in writers forums all the time talking about the book you’re writing.

Writing forums are for two things; kissing your own ass or kissing someone else’s. There are only two personality types in writer’s forums. The blowhards who claim to have made it and the newbs who treat their words like gospel. Both are equally useless to your career. Write your book and ignore the third party opinions. They’re always wrong anyway

3. Staunchly refuse to reconsider your genre

Sad fact people, but certain genres just don’t sell. Poetry, children’s books, and memoirs all have one thing in common. No one wants to read them. Look, everyone thinks their life story is worth a book, but the fact is, unless you’re a former spy, a victim of sex trafficking, or undergoing a sex change, no one wants to hear your life story. The genres that sell are educational nonfiction and fiction with a sexual or mystery angle. That’s it. Deal with it. Even Shakespeare got that.

4. Don’t accept your limitations

So English isn’t your first language and you want to write a book in it anyway? Go ahead. No one will comment on your grammar or spelling. Just kidding. EVERYONE will destroy you for not using appropriate grammar and spelling. You want to sell, write a book in your native language and get a fan following there, then move on to foreign markets. You don’t see me writing books in Spanish, do you? It’s not just because the only things I know how to say in Spanish are learned from telenovas.

I.e. “El abby no es tuyo. Son tus hermanos, Ricardo” (The baby isn’t yours. It’s your brothers, Ricardo.)

It’s because I don’t live in the country, don’t understand their slang and customs, and it would be presumptive of me to try to sell to that market. I’m successful because I accept my limitations. A sure fire way to fail is refusing to accept yours.

5. Refuse to treat this like a business.

All artists have to work to sell their art. All of them. There are no exceptions. You’re not going to get discovered in a closet. Either be willing to stand behind your work, or write all your shit down in a journal. After all, if you don’t care if anyone reads your work, why publish it? Stop flooding an over-saturated market with your words if you don’t care if anyone ever reads them.

Look people, I know I come across as arrogant, but I actually get a livable paycheck from my writing. I’m all in. I’m willing to sacrifice to satisfy the market. So you can bitch to me about your low sales numbers, and talk about how it’s all about the writing for you. I don’t care. To me, it’s all about the now. So go ahead and get famous after you’re dead. I’ll take my fame while I’m still around to enjoy it.

Because only one of us is the real writer here. It’s the girl who files as ‘writer’ on her tax returns. The rest of you are just hobbyists.

Blog Hiatus

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I have a lot of projects going on, plus I need to concentrate on my other pen name for a bit. Too many things on my plate, and one has to go, at least for awhile. So for now…

gone-drinking-tin-sign

Hope to see you here when I return.

The Ghost In The House

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Take a look through my archives and note how many of my posts talk about how heavily I drink. If you will, you might start to assume that I’m an alcoholic. I’m not. Not even remotely, but the symptoms are all there.

After all, 15% of the population now self-identifies as alcoholics. Might as well be trendy and hip, especially if your doctor is willing to tell you need to be part of a 12-step program.

Here are some questions on the standard alcoholic quiz.

  1. Have you ever decided to stop drinking for a week or so, but only lasted for a couple of days?
  2. Do you wish people would mind their own business about your drinking– stop telling you what to do?
  3. Have you ever switched from one kind of drink to another in the hope that this would keep you from getting drunk?
  4. Do you envy people who can drink without getting into trouble

Did you answer two of those as yes? Congrats. Welcome to the hip and trendy world of alcoholism, where you can talk about yourself and your “addiction” all day in order to get some of that attention you so desperately crave. Hell, maybe you can meet a hot dude in your AA meeting…and then hook up for drinks afterward. Because that’s all it is. It’s a club filled with platitudes and it means nothing.

Unless you actually meet an alcoholic.

We had a ghost when I was a kid. It wandered the halls of our house at night, bumping, and swearing and banging into things. All of the bottles of mouthwash in our house were empty. The ghost did it at night. There would be random holes in the walls and I’d wake up and my mom was crying. The ghost put the holes in the walls and the ghost made my mother cry.

I hated that ghost, but I was only five years old. Who the hell was I to stand up against a ghost?

The years went on. The ghost did things he didn’t remember. Sometimes, the ghost was happy. It would make us French toast in the morning or sausages and French fries at night. But no matter how temporarily nice that ghost might be, I was always afraid of it. Always.

Sometimes, I would wander down into the garage. When I was feeling particularly brave, I’d take a peek at the ghost. He didn’t look like a ghost. He was just a handsome, green-eyed man, drinking an 18 pack of cheap beer while he stared at the wall.

But he still scared the shit out of me. His eyes were so empty and it was clear he’d stopped caring about anything a long time before I got there. He was going through the motions of life.

The end of our ghost came on a night in early spring. I can’t remember the date. I just remember the ghost came raging. The ghost came screaming. He was angry, looking to pick a fight, and my tough as nails mother finally had enough. I remember her picking me up, carrying me out of the house while the neighbors looked on, telling the ghost “If you want them, you’ll have to go through me”.

We went away for a bit. We left the ghost in our old house all alone. I guess that made the ghost rethink his life choices, because the ghost went to rehab.

When I went to rehab to visit him, he wasn’t a ghost anymore. He was my father again. He was a quiet, serious man, who could still throw out a snappy one-liner and could help you with just about any math problem. He could do the mortgage interest in his head and rewire a house in 15 minutes. He’d watch stupid movies with me late at night, crack one-liners as we watched them, and laugh at mine.

But what he’d done to himself, to his family and to my mother, had damaged him. He would never be who he was again. As much as I loved him, I knew he’d never really be my dad anymore.   My mom knew he’d never be the boy she met.

It was a bit like meeting someone after they woke up from a coma. The world has changed, but you’re pretty sure they haven’t. But you have, and all you can do is try to make them fit into your life again.

It doesn’t always work.

My dad was a real alcoholic. He’s not one of your trendy, new age ones doing this for attention. For the first eight years of my life, my father was a ghost. He barely existed, but for the alcohol fueling him. He wasn’t there. He wasn’t my dad.

He was just the scary ghost that lived in my house.  He lost his family over it. My dad spent most of the important years in my life being drunk, then he spent the rest recovering from being drunk. He never got the chance to know me.

That’s a damn shame, because I think he really would have liked me.

That’s what real alcoholism is. It’a disease that takes away your body and turns you into someone else. The booze takes over and you become a ghost of your former self. You do things you regret, because you don’t think you’re really there. To an alcoholic, life is an abstract concept and the feelings of others don’t matter.

It changes you.

It’s not a trend. It’s not something you sign in on because all your friends are doing it or you had one regretful night at spring break. There are no numbers that show you’re an alcoholic. There is no appropriate number of drinks.

There’s only this. Has drinking changed you? Has it turned you into someone you don’t want to be? Do you not even remember who you used to be anymore? Has it gotten to the point where your kids won’t care when you die?

Then, you have a problem. It’s not about how many boxes you check off in some predefined test. It’s not about the number of drinks you have in a day.

It’s about your life and how you feel about it. If you’re showing up to be trendy, to talk about your new drinking problem like it’s an episode of the Kardashian’s, back the fuck away. Stop faking addiction in an effort to be interesting.

Because you’re not addicted to booze. You’re addicted to attention. I only wish there was an attention whores anonymous.

I’m not an alcoholic. Not saying that out of denial, or attention seeking, I’m just saying what I know to be true. I’m not and I’m pretty sure most of these people going to AA aren’t either. They’re feigning it because they’re trendy attention seeking whores.

My dad was an alcoholic. He let booze take over his life. He had a compulsion to drink. When he finally stopped, it was too late to take back everything he’d done.

Alcoholism isn’t a trend. It’s a disease. It’s a disease you never recover from and the people around you…they never recover from it either. So stop treating it like a fucking slap bracelet. It’s not a fad.

It’s life. And sometimes, life really, really sucks.

Why Buy The Cow? – Tips for Getting Clips

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It genuinely amazes me how many people email me asking for free writing, simply for exposure. Look people, if I wanted exposure, I’d travel down to New Orleans and show my tits to a stranger.

Earn those beads

Weirdly, they aren’t quite so accepting of it when it’s not Mardi Gras. Instead of beads, you just get a summons for public nudity. Such bullshit.

I don’t write for free. When I’m working for a client, I charge industry average based on my experience. That starts at 10 cents per word and works its way up to 25 cents per word, depending on the complexity of the article. While those prices might seem high, I can personally guarantee that people will pay them if you’re good enough.

I’m not just good enough. I’m fucking great.

But I wasn’t always this good. Once upon a time, I worked for content mill fees. The first client I got to pay me 2 cents per word, I rejoiced like a fool. Two cents per word!!! I only had to write 50 articles a week to live! So I wrote until my fingers bled and I was thrilled at the fact that I could live on my writing. After all, I was getting exposure! I had clips!

Anyone who has ever tried to break into freelancing before, you probably know how precious clips are. To get clients, you need to show you have published articles on websites. That’s probably why so many people are willing to write for free to get those clips.

But you all need to stop. You ruin your credibility and cut yourself off at the knees when you work for sites that aren’t known to pay people for their work. “A Huffington Post author applied for this job?” The client will say. “That means they’re good, and they’re willing to work for peanuts!”

Is that the reputation you want?

The big companies that do this, Huffington Post included, piss me the hell off. These people are raking in billions of dollars in content views and affiliate sales every year, while the people the write that content get nothing.

Oh, not nothing. I forgot…they get exposure. But did you know you can get exposure without lining someone else’s pockets? Here are some tips on how to do it.

#1 – Start your own website and post your writing samples. You all might notice that I have a page on this site called “Essa’s Writing Samples”. There, I link to a bunch of internal pages I created, covering a large variety of topics. These articles came about when I got scammed on a job. To prevent the scammer from using my original work, I posted it all first. In short, I made lemons of lemonade.

Now, when I’m applying for a new job, regardless of subject, I always have a link to something relevant. I own all the rights, so I can resell the articles if I want. As I’ve always said, never give up your rights in exchange for nothing. That’s just stupid. If someone wants the rights to post your work, they should offer something more than exposure. You can get that yourself by creating your own writing sample page.

#2 – Don’t underestimate your blog, but don’t turn it into a marketing page either. I’ve never really seen Essa on Everything as a moneymaker. That’s why I don’t try very hard to stay professional and PC in my articles. On Essa on Everything, I write for the fun of it. I let myself go and the passion shows through in my writing. It isn’t exactly PG-13. I don’t try to make it that way.

But this blog had gotten me more clients than any completed application. From my “Passion of the Christ” article, I got a movie reviewing job that has lasted at least two years and has led to other work. From my article where I wrote an algorithm to keep myself from drunkenly purchasing things on Amazon, I got a job writing tech articles with a high-profile software company and I sold the algorithm. I never expected to make money on either of these articles. I just wrote what I was passionate about and people responded. I didn’t turn my page into an advertising page. If I had, I would have concentrated on staying PG and none of it would have worked out the way it did.

#3 – Write a book. KDP makes it so anyone can publish a book these days, but not a lot of people realize that. One of my biggest selling points in ghostwriting is how many books I’ve published, their status as bestsellers and how many good reviews they’ve gotten. While you might not hit bestseller status on Amazon with a book, it is a good way to show you understand ghostwriting.

People, you do not need to work for free. Breaking into freelancing is hard, but if you’re willing to work hard and pay your dues, you’ll find your niche. When I started, I expected to be writing dating tips and product reviews for a penny a word. Over the years, I’ve learned that my niche areas are sex and tech, for a much higher amount. They’re very different, but they both pay high and despite what people may think, clients are willing to pay a premium price for premium content.

Google has changed. Their algorithm now rewards page rank based on article quality, and not quantity. That means those keyword stuffers working for peanuts will soon be out of business. So stop working for free. If you think you’re good enough to write for a living, then expect people to pay for it. If you don’t want to get paid for you work, might I suggest working for a non-profit instead?