Riding Bitch

The daily musings of a writer.


The Alchemist and Your Personal Legend

I’m currently re-reading (for the third time) THE ALCHEMIST by Paulo Coelho.

my tattered copy of The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

my tattered copy of The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

If you’re unfamiliar with it, here’s a brief explanation. It’s basically a fable, i.e. a short story with supernatural elements that conveys a moral.

The main character is a young shepherd boy from Spain who goes on a quest to find a treasure and, along the way, encounters mentors, friends and enemies, as well as many obstacles and setbacks, some quite dangerous. He also falls in love and has to overcome his own self-doubts and fears. All of these elements are part of the larger journey of his life, symbolically representing how we can get easily distracted or discouraged from what our heart truly desires. The moral of the story is that each person has a Personal Legend (the thing they were put on this Earth to do), and a person’s only obligation in life is to pursue that Personal Legend.

A friend gave me this book many years ago as I was about to travel abroad for a film festival. I read it again shortly after Kaz died. I’m reading it again now because I’m feeling many of the emotions the shepherd feels in the story. But I believe my “personal legend” is to be a story-teller and the upcoming journey to the east coast is part of that evolution. Writing is the foundation of my soul, the base from which all else springs.

Below are some favorite quotes from The Alchemist. You could spend hours meditating on each one, but as you read through them, think about your own personal legend. Do you know what it is? Are you pursuing it? 

“People learn, early in their lives, what is their reason for being.”

“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

“There is a force that wants you to realize your Personal Legend.”

“Every search begins with beginners luck and ends with the victor’s being severely tested.”

“Everything in life is an omen… There is a universal language, understood by everybody, but already forgotten.”

“Don’t forget that everything you deal with is only one thing and nothing else. And don’t forget the language of omens. And, above all, don’t forget to follow your Personal Legend through to its conclusion.”

“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.”

“People are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of.”

“The closer one gets to realizing his Personal Legend, the more that Personal Legend becomes his true reason for being.”

“I don’t live in either my past or my future. I’m interested only in the present. If you can concentrate always on the present, you’ll be a happy man. Life will be a party for you, a grand festival, because life is the moment we’re living now.”

“When each day is the same as the next, it’s because people fail to recognize the good things that happen in their lives every day that the sun rises.”

“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”

“When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”

“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams.”

“There is only one way to learn. It’s through action. Everything you need to know you have learned through your journey.”

“Making a decision was only the beginning of things. When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he first made the decision.”

“What is the world’s greatest lie?” the little boy asks.
The old man replies, “It’s this: that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That’s the world’s greatest lie.”

“The simple things are also the most extraordinary things, and only the wise can see them.”

“Courage is the quality most essential to understanding the Language of the World.”

“Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.”

“The secret is here in the present. If you pay attention to the present, you can improve upon it. And, if you improve on the present, what comes later will also be better.”

“Naturally, (your heart) is afraid that, in pursuing your dream, you might lose everything you’ve won.”

“You will never be able to escape from your heart. So, it’s better to listen to what it has to say. That way, you’ll never have to fear an unanticipated blow.”

“When something evolves, everything around that thing evolves as well.”


20 Reasons to Love Your Day Job

On the heels of my last post about not complaining, here is a fresh perspective on why you should love your day job, from the obvious to the not so obvious. (Okay, so “love” might be too strong a word.)

1. Regular Pay Check – Even if it’s not enough to live on, it’s probably more than unemployment pays.

2. Benefits – Along with #1, this is the reason most of us stay: paid sick days, paid vacation days, healthcare, 401K, etc.

3. Paid Jury Duty – Technically, part of #2 but I feel like it’s such a perk it deserves recognition. I recently got a jury summons and asked HR how many days (if any) would be covered. My company pays TEN days of Jury Duty. Granted, if I get chosen and the trial lasts for months, this will only cover two weeks, but that’s better than nothing!

4. Taxes – Sounds odd, but (if taxes are necessary) I actually appreciate that one third of my paycheck is taken out for me. Left to my own devices, I’m not sure I’d have the willpower to put that much aside.

5. Free Air Conditioning and Heat – I live in Los Angeles and it’s freakin’ hot here (this morning 87 degrees Farenheit at 8:30am).  Better to sit in the cool air conditioning at work and not rack up my own electric bill.

6. Free Food – Someone’s always leaving something in the kitchen or conference room. Last week some execs left the conference room early and we assistants descended on the sandwich trays like a pack of hyenas. This morning there was a banana on the kitchen table (snagged it!). The other day there was an entire bag of Clementines (delicious!).  I try to ignore the cakes, pretzels, caramel-covered popcorn, chocolates, bagels and other treats people leave.

7. Lifetime Supply of Girl Scout Cookies – If that’s your thing.

8. Free Condiments – Salt, pepper, sugar, fake sugar, oil & vinegar, ketchup, mustard, relish. Let’s not forget the free toothpicks.

9. Free Tea, Coffee and Filtered Water – Free water, people! Bring your jugs to work.

10. Free Stationary – Do you know how much paper costs? Me neither.

11. Free Office Supplies, Fax Machine, Scanner & Copier – The less said about this the better.

12. Free Toilet Paper – Okay, I’ll stop with the free stuff (but it does add up).

13.  Mailing Address That Isn’t Your Home – Definitely has its advantages.

14. Phone Number That Isn’t Your Home or Cell Phone – Also has its advantages, especially if you have caller ID.

 15. Free Internet Access – Not that you should be on the internet at work, but just in case you need to do some research… you know, for your boss.

16. Structure to Your Day – Let’s be honest, if you didn’t have a day job, would you get out of bed at the same hour, take a shower and dress up every day? Actually, I do know a journalist who wears a suit when he works from home, but that’s because he might have to rush out for an interview. Personally, I find the structure helpful. Sometimes it feels like cattle punching in, but at least I know where I need to be and when.

17. Personal Interaction – In this digital era, it’s nice to actually see real people every day. Plus, in my experience our co-workers are often super supportive of our creative pursuits. When one of us actually breaks free, everyone celebrates.

18. Holiday Party – The one day a year when we’re allowed to drink and dance at work. Yay! (More of these would be nice.)

19. Time Away From Spouses, Homes, Children & Pets – We all love our families and homes, but isn’t it nice to get away from them for several hours? I know I get a lot more done when I’m not with my dog, next to a refrigerator, couch, bed or television. In an ideal world (when I no longer need a day job), I would still work in an office away from home.

20. Motivation – Having a day job might be feel soul-sucking, but that just gives you even more reason to pursue whatever does fulfill your soul. If your job makes you angry, use that to motivate yourself the hell out of there!

And as a bonus:

21. A Day Job Provides Stability So That You Can Take Risks – You might be stressed at work, but you’d be even more stressed if you were unable to pay your bills. As this Forbes.com article says, the best time to look for a new job or opportunity is when you have a job :  “… You can take your time and if a great opportunity comes up you can take it if you want or you can wait for the next one.” You’re in control.

Do you have a day job? 

What are some other aspects that you appreciate?




How To Lose “The Coat of Desperation”

It’s been two weeks since my last post. Life, class, writing, friends in town, sick puppy, and other general distractions have kept me away, but everything is good. In fact, I’ve learned some things these past few weeks from a variety of sources, beginning with director/producer Ava DuVernay‘s incredibly generous, wisdom-filled keynote address to the 2013 Film Independent Forum on Sunday, October 27 (watch full clip here).

Ava DuVernay

Ava DuVernay

If you haven’t heard of Ava DuVernay, don’t worry. You will soon. She has already made several feature films, including I Will Follow which Roger Ebert described as “one of the best films I’ve seen about coming to terms with the death of loved one;” and Middle of Nowhere, for which she won the Best Director Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, the first African-American woman to do so. She recently directed an episode of ABC’s Scandal, and is slated to direct the upcoming Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. biopic Selma.

She also has a distribution company called African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement (AFFRM), whose mission is to empower Black independent filmmakers with collaborative, simultaneous, theatrical distribution in multiple markets. [I admit, I have not seen Ms. DuVernay’s films yet (I fell behind in a lot of movie/TV watching the past few years). But they are now at the top of my Netflix queue, and I will be following everything she does from hereon.]

If it sounds like I’m gushing, I am! And I’m not the only one who felt a shot of adrenaline watching this talk. Like the best words of wisdom, Ms. DuVernay’s advice on October 27 was geared towards a specific crowd (filmmakers), but also universally applicable.

She begins by encouraging the audience to live Tweet her speech. “It’s important to share what happens in rooms like these, beyond rooms like these.” She commends the audience for being there, saying it’s good to channel inquisitive energy into events, workshops, seminars and other “rooms with like-minded people.” She reminds us why Los Angeles is such a great place to be. “There’s so much you can get your hands on.”

She then cheekily explains what she’s wearing and why.  Her “directing uniform” consists of glasses, layering a thermal shirt with a hipster t-shirt (“embrace your nerd-dom”), a jacket, a hat (“don’t touch my hair”), and most importantly comfortable shoes (“these shoes are from Rite-Aid”).  In this uniform she is who she feels she should be. She also feels like this because she took off something three years ago that was preventing her from reaching her full potential.

She took off her coat of desperation

What is the coat of desperation? 

It’s the aura that surrounds you when you approach people you admire with questions like, ‘Can you help me?’ ‘Can you read my script?’ ‘Can I take you to coffee?’ ‘Can I pick your brain?’

It’s when you come from a place of ‘what can you do for me?’ instead of a place of empowerment. Taking off this coat is the only way to actually achieve your dreams and goals. But how do you do it? 

Ms. DuVernay’s advice is simple:

Stop asking people for things! Instead, tell them what you’re doing.

Yearning and Non-Action = Depressing and Stagnate (repellant)

Yearning and Action = Passion and Movement (magnet)

Stop spending time thinking about what you don’t have and focus on what you do have.

Ask yourself ‘what can I do?’ And ‘Who wants to come along for the ride?’ People want to be on a moving train. Be on the ‘yo, I’m making films’ train.

Do the work and rise above the chatter.

You don’t need to go to film school as long as you educate yourself. Watch director’s commentaries, attend workshops, read books, and make your own films.

Apply to labs, grants, seminars, etc. but don’t wait to be accepted to move forward (Ms. DuVernay never won a lab or grant and she applied to them all).

You should be thinking about what happens after the film is made, before you make it.

Failure can teach you who you are.

Best quote:  “I have more mentors now since I stopped asking for them. A mentor is someone who cares for you – and you can’t go up to someone and ask them to care for you.”

Best goal:  “I want to be old and making films like Clint Eastwood. I want to be like Werner Herzog and have so many films I can’t remember all their names.”

Sounds good to me!

Can you relate to the Coat of Desperation? To taking it off?!


Being Okay With Being Disliked

Do you care if people like you? Or do you care if certain people like you?

Not that long ago, I used to want everyone to like me and (surprise) be insecure about it. If someone didn’t respond to an email, call me back, or accept an invitation to hang out, I used to wonder, What did I do? Does this person not like me anymore? Did they ever?

Over the years, several so-called friends (all female) ended our friendship because they perceived me as doing something wrong, or their feelings were hurt by something I did or said. One woman got mad at me because I had lunch with her ex-boyfriend after he broke up with her. He was a screenwriter and we were discussing one of my scripts at the lunch, but my friend thought I was trying to “move in on her territory.” Nothing I could say or do would appease her. She simply didn’t want to be friends with “someone who would do that.”

On the other hand, I’ve had some friends since childhood, girls with whom I’ve had terrible rows and not talked to for periods of time. Some of my closest friends are the ones I’ve fought with the most, like my friend T, the producer. She once hired me, a relatively new friend to her at the time, as a director on a project. We had such heated arguments that our friendship almost didn’t make it. Now, years later, I consider her family and there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for her.

In the digital age, the word “like” has taken on even more significance. People “like” your blog posts, “like” you on Facebook, “favorite” or “re-tweet” your tweets, and so on.

If you’re an artist, as much as you try to be true to yourself and ignore bad reviews, it’s hard not to wonder if people will like your work, if not wish for it.

If you’re a writer of non-fiction, or even fiction, the reality is you might be disliked by the people you’ve written about, or the people who “inspired you.” Philip Roth, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Burroughs, Stephen King, and countless others, all based stories and characters on their own lives and experiences. Did everyone in their lives like this? Doubtful.

I sometimes think about this with my own work. Some of the people who stood by me during Kaz’s illness and after his death might not like what they read in my memoir. Should I change things to try and avoid falling out of their favor? Scary as the prospect might be, I don’t think so.

My relationships with people are important. But the fact is, if someone decides to stop being friends with me because of something I write (or say, or some perceived offense), then perhaps they weren’t my real friend to begin with. They might have thought they loved me, but in reality they loved an image of who they thought I was, not who I really am.

I want to be a good friend and a good person, make my family and friends proud. Most of all, make Kaz proud. But I no longer care (as much) if people like me personally. I no longer take people’s reactions, or lack thereof, as personally as I used to. It’s not that I’m oblivious, or made of stone. I’m the first to admit I have a healthy ego. The difference is I no longer judge myself by how others perceive me. I try my best to love myself no matter what.

Can you relate?


Finding Freedom Within Order

Creative folks want need to be creative in order to function, much like an athlete needs routine exercise. We need to work in our office or studios, without interruptions, without noise (unless that’s your thing), without worries. We need physical and mental solitude, freedom, and space, within which our imagination can soar and the divine spirit of creativity can flow.

Pablo Picasso, Photo credit: Edward Quinn

Pablo Picasso, Photo credit: Edward Quinn

However, unless we’re Picasso or some other mega-successful artist who can hire nannies, maids, bookkeepers, gardeners, dog walkers, and so on, we have to take care of all these and other responsibilities ourselves. We might even have to work a day job until we make a living from our creative pursuits. Many of us find ourselves spending all of our time just trying to survive and manage our households, less time on our art, and very far away from “solitude, freedom, and space.” If we’re not willing to abandon our families, pets, jobs, or creative passions, what can we do?

One of my favorite quotes, originally sent to me by my sister (who got it from another person) several years ago: “Be regular and orderly in your life so you may be violent and original in your work.” What does it mean to be regular and orderly? Let’s break it down step by step.

Before doing anything else, you must get organized. Get a filing cabinet, some folders, paper clips, stickies, stapler, tabs, whatever you need to sort and order all the paperwork of life. If you work in a large office, you could always “borrow” some of the smaller stuff (just don’t walk out with a filing cabinet or shredder). Once you have your supplies, go through all your papers and

Throw shit out. You might think you need a hard copy of every bank statement and bill, but in this digital age you absolutely do not. Almost everything can be found online, which means you should throw out (or shred) the hard copy, including any random piles of articles, recipes or directions you printed out months ago. You can find it online.

Create piles. Whatever paperwork you keep, put in piles: automobile, children, medical, pet, mortgage, legal records, etc, etc. You might end up with six piles. You might end up with twenty. If you end up with 100 piles, something is terribly wrong. Remember, you should only be keeping what cannot be found online.

File the piles. Put the piles into folders, label the folders, store the folders in filing cabinet, put filing cabinet aside. Congratulations. You just created a lot more space and peace of mind.

Create a budget and schedule of expenses. This could be as easy as looking at your monthly bank statement and seeing how much money goes where/when. Make a list and consider programming your online calendar (or your phone) with reminders of when certain bills are coming up. Your expenses shouldn’t be a mystery and bills should never come as a surprise. You don’t want to think about money (or the lack of it) any more than necessary.

Create a personal schedule. It doesn’t have to be militaristic, but plan out your average day from beginning to end, even if you never refer to it again, just to see how you’re using your time. See if you can “schedule” some creative time into your day or week, then inform your family, “On this day(s), from this hour to that hour, I am not to be disturbed.” Post your schedule where everyone can see it, and stick to it. If necessary, lock your door to keep intruders out. If your intruders are too young to be left completely alone, then schedule your creative time for when they’re asleep, doing their homework, or not at home.

Create a long-term schedule. This could be a month, six months, one year, five years, or all of the above, but doing this will help you determine how to prioritize your projects and manage your time. Are you working towards a show, application or publication deadline? Where do you see yourself in three years creatively? What do you need to do to make that happen? Work backwards and set your deadlines. If you have no specific goals for now, that’s okay too. Sometimes we simply need time and space to think.

Create your work. Once you’ve organized your papers, taken care of all the mundane “life” stuff, informed your household of your schedule, locked your door and taken a moment to soak in the reality that you are FREE to create now… do your happy dance, set your spirit free, let your imagination go wild, be bold, and take risks. This is YOUR time.

Happy creating!

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Digital Media Marketing – an interview with Melissa Watson Coetzee

Today’s post expands on the topic of Digital Media Marketing. Our guest is Melissa Watson Coetzee, an American woman who studied Communications Curation and Criticism of Art and Design at Central Saint Martins in London, where she lived for 5 years before moving back to America. Now she is the President of the West Coast Chapter of her Alumni Association in LA, works with a theater publishing company as their Digital Media Editor/Curator and organizes events, conferences and festivals.

Let’s start with the basics. How would you describe Digital Media Marketing to someone who just walked out of the woods and had no idea what it is?

If I had to describe Digital Media Marketing in its simplest form I would say it is marketing done in a digital format – which means the option to market your business and connect with your target demographic all without the use of print. It’s about saving the trees really. You can be cost effective and go green all at the same time.

How does DMM relate to blogging?  What’s the relationship between the two?

A blog represents different things to different people and organizations. For some people it’s their creative outlet, they have no intention in making money with it. They just use it as a form of expression. In some situations the blog is the hub of their online community. In this instance all of their social platforms will point back to their blog because that is their main platform. For some people a blog is incorporated as an element of a website as a way to increase SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and communicate with their audience. It all depends on how you want to approach it and what your desired outcome is. Everyone has different reasons for putting themselves out there.

Do you think artists need to promote themselves in addition to their work?

If in your practice, whatever that may be, you want to make money, then you need a business plan, and in that business plan there should be a strategic outreach and marketing plan. Part of that marketing plan should be social media promotion. With social media you really have the opportunity to show the “human” side of your business; to show the person behind the work, creating the opportunity for  people to feel they are supporting a person not just a business entity.

What do you think makes a good blog?

A good blog is one that has a purpose and commits to that purpose. It acknowledges its readership, is loyal to them, and updates consistently.

I like that you can learn about anything anytime online. If you have a topic in mind there is probably a blog about it. Now you have to take the information with a grain of salt because it is not vetted through an editor of fact checker (depending on the blog). The point being is that through digital media people who would not meet in their day to day lives are able to connect and communicate with other likeminded individuals. This has created opportunities for an open source platform where people connect from across the globe on a topic and all contribute their own ingenuity and perspective towards its development.

Have you ever blogged for others? If so, how was that experience different than blogging for yourself?

When you ghost blog you have to be very clear on the tone of the blog and who you are communicating to. Just like when writing for a newspaper or magazine there needs to be very clear style guidelines. My website (www.CreativelyInformed.com) has had many incarnations over the years but the name has always stayed the same. It is important when you are a freelancer to have a web presence. I might feel as though I didn’t quite exist or be taken seriously if I didn’t know how to manage a website. It would be like being an expert mechanic and not driving in your day to day life. You really have to know your craft if you want to be taken seriously, and demonstrate that you are on top of the ever evolving game.

What do you do now and how does DMM factor in?

When I moved to Los Angeles after college, I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do but I knew I needed a job and quick. I had previous experience in web development and a background in marketing so I made a presentation of how social media can and does affect small businesses and started pitching to various companies. Eventually, I landed a job at FootLights Publishing Inc. and the rest, as they say, is history.

At the moment, I work with lamart.com and digital media is my preferred marketing platform. It’s more cost effective than print and in this economy trying to get money for marketing is like getting blood from a stone. People don’t have the money to spend they once did and so they have to be strategic about where they spend the little money they do have. With digital media marketing you get the instant gratification you are looking for, it is easy to monitor and track your ads, and you can build and audience quickly and relatively inexpensively.

Where do you see yourself in the next 5-10 years?

I wish I had the answer to that — oh wait, no I don’t. I don’t think life is meant to be all planned out.  I am excited about the next step in my life, but life moves so fast I am doing my best to live in the moment. The next 5 -10 years will come quickly enough and take care of themselves. I do want to focus my professional development on community engagement digitally as well as in the “real” world. I am very interested in different cultures and how they interact, but in the end we are all very much the same.

This is why I created the Global Photo Project at www.creativelyinformed.com. This photo project tracks the festivals and community gatherings around the globe. It started as a one year project but has moved onto something I will do as an annual exhibition.

This project is not about photography but is more about documenting days in our lives that mean the most to us and it just happens that many of those days are the days in which we engage with our communities, whatever those may be. I would really like to see digital media tear down cultural and logistical barriers but that is in the grand scheme things. Social Media really leveled the playing field for people to be more independent and support their own independent businesses and reach their target audiences in a way they could not do before.

Where do you see DMM in the next 5-10 years?

That is up for the people to decide. It is here now, and is not going anywhere. Platforms will come and go but we all live online now so there is no avoiding it. My hope is that digital media functions as a platform for social consciousness, as a way for us to see the world as a whole and not be so separated. I love the concept of open source development and I hope through having the capacity to connect digitally that we can connect more openly and inter-culturally. It is fitting that this is posted today Dec 21 2012 because this really is the dawning of a new age.

You recently got married. Did you incorporate social media into your wedding?  

I actually did my best to keep my wedding off of social media. The only images of my wedding on Facebook were placed there by the photographer (who is a friend of mine). I in no way wanted my wedding to be added marketing/advertising for the vendors. Some things are private family affairs in my book. Other people feel differently and live their lives open on the web and I say more power to them, it just was not my path.

Last thoughts/advice for the readers?

There is still a thing such as privacy. If you don’t want anybody to know about it, then don’t put it online. Even if you think you have optimized your permissions, or have kept it anonymous. Your digital footprint lasts forever so make it a footprint you want everyone (even your mother) to see.

Thank you for being the first interview on Riding Bitch Blog.

Thank you for inviting me! I’m excited to see how your journey and blog develops.


If you have any questions for Melissa, feel free to leave them below.