We Can Only Do What We Can Do

I went to visit an old friend the other night, to let her off the hook.  She’d volunteered to help me as a hands-on business adviser to get my nonprofit off the ground a few years ago and found it impossible, partly because I sometimes resisted the strong opinions of this overbooked, talented, business woman and entrepreneur.  I went to release her from a promise it was impossible for her, or anyone in her position, to keep.  

I also was intent on telling her, though it’s taken me years to realize this seemingly simple thing:  people can only do what they can do and it’s ridiculous and self-defeating to be deflated or disappointed when they cannot do what they cannot do.  It’s also Einstein’s definition of insanity to continue in this loop: if someone shows repeatedly that they can’t do a particular thing, expecting them to be able to do it the next time, and getting pissed off again when they don’t, is the definition of insanity, or at least a foolproof recipe for it.

I visited to let her off the hook gently and resume our old, warm, comfortable friendship without the iceberg of my life’s biggest and best idea looming coldly in the way.  I went to tell her I recognize she had the best of intentions to help and express my appreciation for her willingness to help. Explain that I understand– seeing my plans through her framework of business success it’s hard to see my efforts to date as anything but the objective failures of someone unwilling to listen to even the best advice.  Until I can find colleagues I can inspire about my actual idea, and who become as excited as I am about the workings of the autonomous factory for creative play, I will never be able to move things forward very far or at more than a snail’s pace.

“Do you realize how hard you are to work with?”, she asked me with a smile, as determined to help, in spite of my attempts to reframe things, as I am to sell a philosophical system when all anyone can ever sell is a product the market will buy.  Her view is that my product cannot be so specific, it has to have the widest possible generic appeal so I can cold call hundreds of schools, marketing to them in familiar terms they are comfortable with, using professionally prepared targeted mailings and sample videos on enclosed thumb drives, and not putting them off with a radical approach, my sketchy, too candid, rambling, semi-depressing, too long sales rap and a maddeningly specific idea for exactly what I want to do and the specific places where I am willing to do it.

She had a legal pad out now, made two columns.  We were starting at the beginning, asset column, liability column.  Although I’d come to socialize, and protested that, she was determined to help, even after I told her I realize it’s absurd to rely on friends who don’t share the vision I am struggling to turn into a product for sale, a vision I am still struggling to pithily package.  I let her help me, sure, why not?  

She listed my assets: program and skills to run it, law degree, $8,000 donated dollars in the corporate war chest.  Then a light bulb went on over her head and she got excited.  My rent stabilized apartment!  I am sitting on a ‘cash cow’, if only I’d take the bold steps of violating the law and risking eviction, this was a tremendous resource as an illegal air B & B!  Hire a cleaning company, put everything in storage, have the landlord do all repairs, plaster and paint, have the floors done, buy furniture at Ikea.  I could then, from the proceeds of renting my illegal hotel suite, fund the salary for a professional partner, although, of course, I’d have to factor in bribing the superintendent of the building and use a fake name under which to solicit and accept the money, cash only, probably get a burner phone under a fake name, too.  

I expressed reservations, typical of my fearful, risk-averse nature, first of which was the constant presence of the shady superintendent who sees all comings and goings and would certainly notice people with suitcases walking up two flights, back down with suitcases, different people with new suitcases coming and going. 

“Do you do favors for the super?”  she asked.  A creative entrepreneur must be fearless and resourceful, her body language said to me.

“What, like help him take out the garbage?”  I said.

“No, I mean are you friendly to him, give him tips, take care of him, you know, do you have a good relationship with him?” 

“I guess so, we exchange wisecracks when we pass each other, I’ve made him laugh a couple of times, he’s sometimes funny,” I said, “but I don’t trust him.  Even if he was getting a cut of every guest’s cash payment, I wouldn’t trust him.  Especially then, I suppose.  Can you trust someone you have to bribe, someone who would take a bribe?”  We put the cash cow to the side, I told her I’d think about it.

Then, for purposes of marketing, she stressed the importance of camouflaging the radical nature of my student-run workshop.  “Nobody is going to send their kids to something advertised as run by kids.  I wouldn’t send my kids to anything that was ‘student run’,” she said emphatically.  “No parent wants their kids in a program the kids run.  We know our kids, especially at seven, can’t run a program, and they’re not really running your workshop, really.  You run it.  They want to know, before they hire you, before they send their kids to you, that the adult is in charge.  Run it however you want when you actually do it, if it works, which you tell me it does, fantastic, but if you think ‘student-run’ is a selling point, think again.”

This very point had been debated heatedly, and most annoyingly, at what I decided was the final board meeting with the people I had at that meeting.  Much easier to contribute criticism and strong opinion than to help imaginatively fine tune a vision you don’t share or understand, a vision, frankly, that hasn’t even been articulated professionally.  

I listened carefully to her point, trying to keep neutral body language and a receptive expression on my face.  I told her I understood she had a very strong opinion on this matter, and assured her I would give it more thought.

I felt very mature after saying this and we moved on to her next points, a few more about the cash cow I was sitting on and the nature of the marketing materials I’d have to produce, ones specifically not accenting my unique approach of putting the children’s playful motivation on the front end of the learning equation, whatever the hell that was supposed to mean.  

I’d find out the following day that there is at least one other worldwide movement dedicated to the same principles my program is, the same principles also expressed by Sugata Mitra.  It’s called the Reggio Emilia approach [1], and proceeds precisely as my workshop does.  It’s a child-centered educational movement that lets the interests and excitement of the students, carefully listened to by adult facilitators, drive the learning of that group of children.

“Yes,” I can hear my friend say, “but they are a 70 year-old movement, while you…. do you think you are easy to work with?”

As I’d shown earlier, when I’d tried to point out that, being a one person organization, much of my effectiveness depends on my ability to transcend my moods, alone, at each discouraging turn.  My idea, which has succeeded wildly in practice, is in danger of extinction unless I can recruit and retain at least one other creative person who shares my vision, I tell her.   

“We can either discuss your moods or discuss business.  If you want to discuss your moods, I’ll put this away,” she said, giving the legal pad a quick wave.  

“Business,” I said with a smile.   She smiled too.

 

[1]

At the heart of this system is the powerful image of the child. Reggio educators do not see children as empty vessels that require filling with facts. Rather they see children as full of potential, competent and capable of building their own theories.

Children have the right to be … active participants in the organization of their identities, abilities, and autonomy.. .  “better citizens of the world”… (this system) also credits children, and each individual child, with an extraordinary wealth of inborn abilities and potential, strength and creativity.  Irreversible suffering and impoverishment of the child is caused when this fact is not acknowledged [my emphasis– ed].

Each day and every moment, we, the teachers, follow the directions of the children and adapt ourselves, always observing, documenting, listening and interpreting their goals, theories and strategies so we can gain insight into their thinking, always ready to make changes and support the children in their discoveries.

“Tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I’ll understand.” Chinese Proverb

source

 

Getting On With It, Somehow

The bed is warm, the room is cold.  There is no particular thing to be done outside the bed on any given day, except everything undone that has been that way for months or years.   It is a luxury and a sentence, staying under the covers where it’s warm since I am not running late, no matter what the clock says.  

Think, man, while you stay warm, there must be something you haven’t thought of that you can do out there.  The dream you’ve worked on for the last few years, and proved again and again is hearty enough to walk in the world, bring happiness and engagement to everyone it touches… well, if you don’t figure something out soon you’ll have to nail it into its tiny coffin.

When three queries are unanswered, and then five, when pitches fall silently into silence, your best shot at a short promo is deemed “almost good enough” by the people with the most media savvy, when the City and State agencies designed to help small businesses have no concrete help to give, don’t even return calls and emails, when the friend of a friend at a large nonprofit declines to forward your pitch to her educational director, as she promised, when the mentor you spoke to once shies away, overwhelmed by the immensity of the challenges your stalled, perfectly working program faces, you start to get a certain picture of your chances.   It is possible that a real winner would not be deterred by the cumulative weight of this, I suppose.  

Bad luck has played its part, the early death by cancer of one of the few people who really got the potential of the program, overpaid for it,  put it in three schools.   Our fees for the sessions at the last school, months after her death, never paid, her business went under, angry parents also ripped off when they brought their kids for the first day of summer camp and found the program gone.  No current workshop to sustain my spirits, the program’s viability.

Making a convincing, winning pitch, closing deals like a successful salesman in Glengarry Glen Ross, seems to be the only way this thing can be sustained.  Read a good book on the subject by a guy who set up a consulting agency to help people get it right the first time.  He teaches them to speak well, to the point, convincingly, and close the deal.  They do indeed have a discounted rate for non-profits, I learned yesterday when I finally called them at a friend’s urging.  One four hour session, the recommended dose, special price for not for profits:  $3,000.  

“What’s your budget?” the breezy receptionist asks when I seem to balk at the number.  “Maybe we can work with you.”  She later recommended that perhaps the budget two hour session would be helpful, only $1,500 at the discounted rate, and probably more than half as valuable as the full session.

There must be some kind of way out of here, as the song goes.  Working on a soundtrack the other night I pictured the five way headphone splitter, four kids and I sitting around the laptop with garageband open.   I’m getting them started.  Listening to the beat with a bass track open, I’d show them how to lay down a simple bass line, let one of the kids play it.  Add a piano track, pick one note in that key (we’d use A minor, the white keys), lay it in on or off the beat in a spare pattern over the bass, see how music is starting to suggest itself?  The next kid adds a touch, the fourth kid adds a drum, kid number one adds a sound effect.  Showing them the importance of really listening to the other parts, playing sparely and leaving space in the mix for other things to be heard.   There are many music making apps that let you create music tracks intuitively, no knowledge of music necessary, but showing them how to lay parts against each other, using actual notes, seems the better way to go.  A kid or two will discover she is a musician and begin to pursue it.  

I am day dreaming again, clearly, to keep from screaming at the frustration of the situation I have gently placed myself in by not knowing the first thing about business and marketing, and knowing much too much about fucking creativity for its own sake.  Meantime, it’s cold in here, I have to get into the shower and into a shirt and pants.

 

Short Bark

Explaining the perplexing standstill my life and work have seemingly come to, I described in great detail the workings and potential of the student-run animation workshop.  My friend grasped it in unfolding steps as I laid it out to him and said “wow, the kids must love it.”  

“They do,” I said.  

“Well, then you need to take your strength and inspiration from them now, until you figure out the next move,” he said.  

“True, but I haven’t had a workshop with kids since May,” I said.  

“Oh…” he said, the syllable expressing perfectly the enormity of what I’m up against at the moment.

Business Consultation

I had a friend whose father, a salesman and ad copy writer, alternately chipper and dour, died about ten years ago at the age of ninety.  His name was Al and for the last few years of his life he was pretty much dour.  File that away.

I went to a three pm meeting with a business consultant named David at the New York City Small Business Administration.  This was the first step, according to the website, in setting up a relationship with NYC Small Business Solutions.  The purpose of my visit, as I wrote in my on-line appointment confirmation, was to get help prioritizing the many tasks ahead of me: marketing, recruiting, fundraising, negotiating city government contracts, among other things, and to find out exactly what services were offered.  The website said there was help available, expert advice in all these areas, a pool of pre-screened recruits, meeting rooms there in which we could interview candidates.   A host of classes and business solutions to every challenge faced by every kind of small business and start-up were touted by the website.

At 3:20 David came out, greeted me, we shook hands and I followed him back to his desk at the other end of a large office in the financial district.  He had me fill out the form nobody had handed me during my 25 minute wait, was sheepish after I did, told me he had no idea if anybody even read these.  I didn’t stop to think that this form was close to what I had already filled out on-line.  I noticed his computer screen was blank, with a box in the middle for him to log-in.  

He read all the information I’d written on the form, confirmed that he was reading everything correctly.  He’d read it back fine.   If I’d left then, I would have been slightly ahead of the game.  But determination turned out to be my undoing.  He liked the idea of my program, though he had no inclination to watch the 30 second pitch I had cued up for him on my iPad.

“You have to have a pitch,” he agreed, as I noticed the palsy in both of his hands, the way his lip also twitched.  “You need to be able to give your pitch and be ready to give it over and over again,” he said.  “Very rarely will anyone respond the first time.  When you run an ad in the paper, usually you’ll get no responses until about the sixth time it appears,” he said, speaking from experience.   He’d been in sales, he told me.  

I told him that sales was a talent, and he agreed.   I admitted that sales was my weak suit, a talent I unfortunately did not possess, and he nodded sadly and knowingly. I told him a bit more about the program, talked up how it worked exactly as designed, and delivered all kinds of good things to students, but that I needed an excellent sales person.  Eventually he suggested I needed to hire a salesman, an excellent one, but I’d have to pay him well, or perhaps offer a 10% commission on each sale.  A commission was a good way to get a salesman off his ass, he said, make sure he was out there working, and it also allows you to pay him a bit less, since he’ll make it up in commissions, which don’t really come out of your pocket, since you wouldn’t have the sale without his work anyway.

He logged on to his computer walked me through the website, showed me the listing of classes I could sign up for, for free.   Building my own website, there was a course for that, I should probably sign up for that, every business should have a website these days.  He was impressed that I already had a website.  I told him the problem was getting eyeballs to look at the website, and he nodded solemnly, agreed there is an art and a whole world of specialized skills involved in a successful social media campaign.  I told him about the money I’d thrown away on a kid who claimed to be a social media expert, but was not.   He nodded sadly and knowingly.   I restated my dilemma for him and asked him about the pool of pre-screened recruits, and he called across the office “Gina, we help people get employees, don’t we?”  Gina told him they did, and my hunch, based on what the website had stated, was confirmed.

He then expressed his confusion as to why I’d chosen to form a non-profit. His manner indicated that I’d more than likely made a fatal mistake.  I explained that I’d formed an educational business for a public good and believed the tax deductible status would make it easier to raise money from donors and get grants from outfits devoted to the nonprofit sector.  I suggested, as I looked at his sad, knowing expression, that the jury was still out as to how good a decision I’d made.

Soon after that it dawned on me what had happened.  They had somehow reanimated Al, my friend’s mostly dour former salesman dad, who had died a decade or more ago.  They reanimated him, cleaned him up, put him in a shirt and tie and called him David.   “David” sat across from me, smiling uncomfortably, as anyone would smile having been dead for more than ten years and suddenly shoved behind a help desk at a city agency.  I thanked him warmly for his time, shook his hand heartily and headed out into the cold, grey drizzle.  

For a moment, realizing how close I was to the East River, I thought of dashing over there and throwing myself and the company iPad in.  I decided against it, got something to eat, came home, wrote this, and now I’m going to put my elegant cadaver rebozo back on and see who I can get to chat with me at this shindig coming up in a couple of days.

 

 

Welcome to our virtual world

Some kind of spambots, which are now ubiquitous, diverse and ingeniously specialized, land on my website from time to time and leave me comments, designed to get me to click on links they send me.   Posing as appreciative comments about my writing, the kind of comment most people are tickled to receive, they’re sent to generate hits on the sites they are promoting.   Many of the rare “likes” I get for these posts lead me back to enterprising web entrepreneurs who describe how wonderful it is to write from Bali, Copenhagen, Goa, Prague, Florence as they make excellent money working when and where they want, writing for the internet.  

All you need to do is create a blahg, a squeeze page, I think they call it, with affiliate links, backlinks, sidewinder links, they write using a jargon alien to me, but apparently very simple to master.  They will teach you everything you need to know.  Master this surprisingly simple craft and you can sit on a beach, or hotel room or in a cafe, anywhere in the world, and spend a few hours a day writing and watching substantial amounts of money flow into your electronic bank account.  A few changes of underwear, your laptop and international chargers and power cords and you’re on your way.  You will also find yourself losing weight, flab turning to muscle, meeting cool people, having tons more sex, laughing more, eating better, sleeping better, waking refreshed to have breathtaking adventures every day. 

Funny or not, I get almost no direct comments on this blahg but several every week on the blahg for the upstart nonprofit I am trying to start up.  The spambots for some reason home in on that mission driven nonprofit site rather than this gratuitous one.  Many of their comments are in laughably machine-translated non-English advertising some very weird and specific products involving commercial concrete removal, aluminum, real-estate, diet pills.  But I’ve had variations on this one a few times now, usually in response to posts of pictures or videos that have virtually no written content on them:

Comment:

I read a lot of interesting content here.

(Actual interesting content on this one was:  

If he doesn’t start long jumping right away, click on him.   

This neat leap was animated on 3-10-14  by a ten year-old at the Ella Baker School in NYC, using the amazing reference photos of Eadweard Muybridge taken in the 1880s.)

Probably you  spend a lot of time writing, i know how to save you a lot of time, there is an online tool that creates high quality, google friendly posts in minutes, just search in google  – k2seotips unlimited content

Think of the hours I could save!   I could use those hours to learn about and master affiliate marketing and try my program, untroubled by any funding concerns, two or three weeks at a time, in Africa, Asia, Iceland, spend the hours every day learning languages, mastering new musical instruments, collaborating with local musicians on every continent, working on my six pack abs.  While high quality google friendly content is generated for me to maximize my audience and lead to my almost instant success in anything I try.  What an increasingly wonderful world it is!

Perhaps my favorite recent comment is one I saw on the site of a business woman who occasionally has a spambot send me a message letting me know that she thought my thoughtful post was awesome and that I should check out what she’s up to.   Clue number one on her site is her description of how the free site had been taken down once because she had violated the terms of use by promoting her businesses on the site, and that she had figured out a beautiful workaround she was generously sharing for others who wish to use the free platform for free, and powerful, advertising.

A commenter on that post referred to her, perhaps not entirely unfairly, as a “cunt”.  The next commenter took that first one to task for saying something so harsh about someone who was trying to do something good.   The first commenter wrote back, not without a certain hard humor.  Other commenters joined, but after a while it was only the first guy, the one who’d called the scheming businesswoman a “cunt”, who was answering everybody.  

Since high quality google friendly content (the post you’re reading now, actually) was being generated for me by robots of my own, I had the leisure to read the entire string of comments, and eventually came to a wonderful exchange that made the entire exercise worth more than I can say.  I share it here:

A man who identified himself as a pastor wrote to the woman who’d thought his post was awesome and had invited him to visit her site.  The pastor thanked her humbly and profusely for her appreciation of his writing.  It was a wonderful thing, he said, to have one’s poetry and philosophy appreciated and she was clearly a bright and discerning woman and also, in his humble opinion, the creator and keeper of a very interesting and rewarding site that he would be visiting again soon.  And a fine writer herself, if he might say so.

The next comment was from the clever trollish commenter who was the only one answering anything directed to the site.  It is perhaps the best comment on this whole blogging business I’ve seen:

Look, “Pastor”. I’m the only one reading these comments and responding. There is no blogger here anymore. She set up an automated system that goes around and clicks LIKE on people’s wordpress posts. And, let me guess – that is how you found this blog. I’m sorry to disappoint you, but no actual people read or like your posts.

 

 

 

Vacation

I am on vacation, I finally decided the other day, and I am glad to be at rest.  Unpaid vacation, true, but my work is also largely unpaid, so that’s no big deal.  And though I had an offer today from a spamming stranger to visit a site where I can have ‘content’ generated for this blahg automatically, I will continue to do it the old-fashioned way, tapping letter by letter until the words come out on their spindly legs to go through their opinionated paces.   We don’t often stop to think of the miracle of this — 26 symbols, spelling out words that convey enough, properly arranged, to give us information, insight, make us laugh, cry, get mad.   “Mad”, there’s a good bit of meaning in three letters.  

I try to avoid getting mad, though, of course, it can be a challenge sometimes.  I think of that famous photo of Lee Harvey Oswald, snapped just as hulking, tortoise backed Jack Ruby lunges forward and pumps a few bullets into Oswald’s guts.  Oswald, face and body language, is the picture of physical agony, as the larger of the two cops escorting him is up on his toes, face a mask of shock, completely taken aback.   I mention Oswald’s face in the context of explaining why it is so important that I take a vacation right now.  Even writing this out may be considered counter-vactionary, and make me eligible for a trip to the gulag of self-flagellation, but I’ve started, and it won’t take long to finish.

I am embarked on a ridiculously difficult mission.  It turns out that creating an innovative educational workshop that functions pretty much as designed, and delights and engages the participants everywhere it operates, was the easy part.  The hard part is learning to be a salesman, manager, marketing expert, CEO, successful social entrepreneur.   The first year was a heady upwards climb, I was constantly thrilled seeing how well the flying machine operated.  During that year I was a cheerful and enthusiastic salesman whenever I had the chance, which admittedly, was not often.  I found myself at the end of that first year amazed that it had only been a year, it seemed like the fullest, most satisfying year of my life had played out slowly and tastily.  One workshop had become three, kindergarten kids proved themselves capable of participating creatively, it was working and everything would work out.  Woken from  a sound sleep I could have chirped cheerfully about the prospects, as I did to the millionaire media mogul who could have been so helpful at the promised second meeting that was never arranged.

The second year was a downward spiral of hard luck and trouble, although the workshop worked as well as ever and I even refined it a good deal.  We went from three sites to zero, got ripped off for ten weeks of work, and found ourselves increasingly frustrated and discouraged.  Eventually my resting face took on the look of Oswald’s in that famous photograph whenever I contemplated my chances, which was often.  It was just as I finally became Oswald, another famous loner, that a couple of old friends leaped into action, arranging interviews, in the dead of summer, with people at two possible sites for the workshop.

The first interview was a very long shot, on a hot and humid day that turned into a monsoon, talking to an entrepreneurial genius who, although doing great things for the poor community where she grew up (and now owns several houses in) is widely disliked there for her brash, brusque, superior style and for, because of her great success and her drive since her ambitious girlhood, being something of an overbearing know-it-all.   She tried to convince me to remake my workshop as something that could be done in a street fair, in an outdoor booth, complete with professionally made banners and a rented tent, to enhance her grand opening (for which she’d received a $100,000 grant)– and to do it for free.  I considered it a successful meeting, though I wound up understanding why this pretty, fit, supremely focused social entrepreneur is widely disliked in her neighborhood.  It was a success because at the end of the ten rounds of nodding and listening to her I was standing and my face wasn’t a bloody mess.   I didn’t look in a mirror, but surely my expression was similar to Oswald’s as  I made my way from the meeting, though I remember feeling relief.

The second interview, a month later, was at a much more promising place, a nonprofit that brings Healing Arts into the lives of people who need it, the aged, the mentally disabled, children.  Most of their funding, it turns out, is for old people in nursing homes and the mentally ill, but they have a school component and currently operate in a number of schools. I was introduced to one of the directors of this 43 year-old nonprofit by an old friend, a member of the board of my nonprofit startup.  She described me in the email as “totally mission driven” and “magical” and she predicted to both of us that our meeting and instant connection would be “magical” too.  My old friend and board member instructed me to call her for details, and I did, but she wasn’t interested in the answer to her question about how things are going.  She cut me off and told me I’d love her friend and that it was a great opportunity.  I remember thinking, after she rang off, that it was too bad she hadn’t thought of this magical connection in the two and a half years we’ve been talking about the difficulty of finding such opportunities.  Timing is, as they sometimes say, everything. 

I understand the need to be alert, positive, interactive, to listen well, to say less rather than more, at a pitch meeting.  I understand that without confidence, optimism and great belief in the value of the product or service you are selling, it is impossible to close the deal.  This must also be reflected in your poised body language and intelligently listening facial expression– a cheerful interest, but not laid on so thick as to look fake.  I was alert, listened well, was interactive, had the sense the discussion had gone fine, though nothing concrete is so far in the works, it is on me to close some kind of deal, if there is to be one.  The door was definitely left open, I’m fairly sure.

Woken from a fitful sleep, urged to a hurry up meeting, on an August afternoon at the program’s desperate low tide, with a woman my friend has known, it turns out, for 11 years or more, just as I am kicked in the balls and wearing the Oswald face much of the time, well, it is not hard to understand why I may have resembled that last photo of Lee Harvey Oswald alive more than I liked as I tried to sell my stalled program to this bright, brusque woman.  I read nothing into the abrupt ending of the meeting, she simply stood up, or the turning away, with perfect comic timing, just as I extended my hand to shake her’s.

Once I send off the pitch I promised her, which is virtually ready to go, it’s vacation time for Bonzo.  And not a moment too soon.

What We Should Say Instead

A book I read recently about making a good pitch, saying it right the first time, pointed out that the hardest question a person usually gets during an interview is the one inevitable open-ended question seemingly too simple to prepare for:  tell me about yourself.

The author suggests we prepare well for this question, practice a short, rich answer tailored to advancing the subject at hand.  If it’s a job interview the answer should convince the interviewer that everything in your life has led up to this perfect-for-me job.   If promoting a book, it is the short, crisp background story that will make the reader know why you wrote it and make them want to rush out and get the book.

Yesterday a woman at a nonprofit I hope to work with asked the famous, and obvious, open-ended question: how did you come to this?  Tell me about yourself.

What I said, without a script:

I’ve always drawn and I play music.  I was a teacher years ago.  I practiced law for a while, until, when my mother got gravely ill, I decided I should do something I really love, which is when I began developing this program.  It took me about a year to work out how to do animation in a way that kids could do everything, I invented the animation stand and perfected the program.   We’ve been working with public school kids for about a year and a half.

This answer led to the question of what kind of law I practiced, how contentious the NYC Housing Court is and the woman’s “at least you represented tenants.”  Followed by my self-deprecating remark that landlords’ lawyers wear better suits than tenants’ lawyers and some other off topic banter that advanced nothing, other than the idea that I may be a dilettante, and/or someone having a midlife crisis, and that, naturally, as a lawyer, I had incorporated as a nonprofit.

Clear lesson learned:  work on the short, punchy script for next time that advances why someone should care about what I so deeply care about.   It needs to include how much I enjoy creative play, visual, musical and otherwise; how long it’s bothered me that public school kids don’t get much chance to show their creativity and competence in this age of metrics and teaching to the test.  That creativity is not a luxury, it’s a huge part of learning and a vital part of life.  That being listened to is a rare gift easily given, and sorely needed by children in particular.  Work in how much I love to draw, and play guitar, and collaborate, and how every time I work with children in the animation workshop, the buzzing intersection of so many creative avenues, I feel energized and delighted by their creativity. 

And, note to myself, don’t ever again mention to strangers that instead of a smartphone with GPS I have my dead mother’s once state of the art Motorola Razr.  Why would anyone but a nattering madman mention such a detail?  Note how much better in every way this answer is:  “Do you have a smartphone?”  Answer: “No.”

Duh!

Here’s a big “DUH!” for you, not intuitive, maybe, but once you hear it you’ll make that exaggeratedly stupid face and say “duh!”, if you’re inclined to such things.

If you have a website to promote your business idea, and it contains links to the product you are selling, visitors must not be able to easily see that only a dozen, rather than many thousands, have visited the links.  YouTube, for example, with its counters, is good for promoting an idea if 75,000 people, or better still, 7,500,000 people, have viewed it.  It is the kiss of death if the counter reads 14, or 106.

“Loser…” the visitor can’t help but think, perhaps also “poor bastard.”

The internet is a popularity contest.  High school has nothing on the internet in that regard.  The numbers don’t lie.  If the thing is good but nobody cares, the number reads 6, maybe 28.  If the LOL cat is funny, or the baby animal irresistible, the number quickly reaches 99,000,000.

Like everything else– or like many things, anyway–  there is a way to fix it.  A workaround, like a dozen I’ve already employed in the creation of my gerry-rigged empire.  No need to show potential customers how few people actually watch the amazing and original animation small groups of strangers are creating.   I’ll get on it tomorrow, it should take no more than a few hours to fix.  Plain foolishness is the only reason to let a prospective customer see at a glance that your most popular, most amazing piece of work has been viewed less than 200 times.

Live and learn, baby.

“Duh!”