Note: I started writing this KIS.list before the earthquake in Haiti and, at this point, it seems that nothing meaningful can be said that does not consider or refer to the struggles the survivors are facing right now. I send out my usual missive with the note that—though this post is not about Haiti—I am, as so many of us are, full of consternation, shock and concern. It is often confusing to know who and how to be in the face of such deep and bottomless horror. I am speechless.
The end of a year elicits self reflection: Where am I? How am I feeling? What did I achieve this year?
Moving into 2010, I find myself in action—out from under the rock of paralysis and fear. I feel, unexpectedly, like I am living an adventure. And everyone knows how exciting adventures are. The surprising thing about this adventure is that I haven’t left home, I haven’t gone to some foreign country. I didn’t get a letter in the mail delivering an inheritance or an offer for a perfect job. I simply started doing.
There are a lot of different ideas about what it means to be an adult. Being a hard-core grown-up is generally agreed to be about responsibilities—bills, obligations, livelihood. But I’m looking at it from another angle—grown-ups are also those who take responsibility for their own fun.
My goals in this adventurous year are the same as the goals in my dark, unfulfilled years. I want—and have always wanted—to get my creative voice out there. In the past, I deeply and profoundly believed critical acclaim and commercial success should naturally flow from the merit of the work. I wanted someone to find and instantly fall in love with my work, and then magically market it until something fabulous and money-making happened to it.
While I was in the dark, unfulfilled years, I was only conscious of what I was NOT doing, what I was NOT ABLE to do, and what was NOT happening for me. In retrospect, I can see clearly that waiting for someone else to deliver my work to its proper place in the world was NOT adventurous. It was torturous and boring, and it made me quite bitter. Sometimes we get caught validating our beliefs about something without questioning whether or not that belief is working for us. My conviction that good work should float to the top of the pile did not reward me with satisfaction. It gave me nothing but monotonous dissatisfaction.
After far too many months of stasis and stagnation, I got an internal newsflash: I was going nowhere. And I could keep going nowhere or I could change. The fact is, I cannot change the broad strokes of my life if my day-to-day life is filled with inactivity. I can hold on to my belief that recognition and achievement will find me or I can relinquish that belief and find a more gratifying principle to guide my life.
Marketing and artistry are uncomfortable bedfellows, especially for the artist. However, sitting around waiting for magic to happen has become a worse alternative. I would rather try to market myself and fail, than grow old having never honored my creative products. I can create new art until the cows come home, but if career growth is what I’m after, I have to bring my work out into the fresh air.
I decided to adopt a lifestyle of small ongoing actions that would bring my work to the public sphere. I’d set small goals focused on how to best utilize my time. I wouldn’t make crazy marketing plans, and I’d limit my view to the next few weeks. It wouldn’t be about chasing success, it would be about creating a life of action. That which did not come to fruition (i.e., my novel) would be set aside. That which bore fruit, would be expanded. I looked around at the work I had completed and neglected, I analyzed the time I had and didn’t use, and I decided to be proactive within reason.
About six months after shifting my beliefs and game plan, I finally have some action and activity happening with my creative work. I’ve exhibited my paintings; my book is selling three to five copies a month in six bookstores; and I’m building a web page for one of my projects. Whereas all of this would have sounded torturous to me two to six years ago, I’ve realized something that I’d never considered: Marketing myself—distributing the fruits of my labor—can be an invigorating adventure. The thing I have so long avoided doing is actually giving me more energy and engagement with my creative self. Each success gives me a thrill that keeps me pushing myself further and further on this marketing mission.
I’m not suggesting it has been easy—but it hasn’t been hard, boring, or tiresome. I’ve had to stare down emotional blocks, fears, and self-imposed limitations on what I can and can’t do. I’ve had to talk myself into cold selling my book at bookstores, or into running to the art store on my lunch hour to get hardware to hang my work, and then dragging my daughter with me to put the strings on my paintings after work. So, yes, it’s been work—but it’s been rewarding work and it’s made me realize that each of us hold the keys to our quality of life.
Satisfaction and gratification make a life worth living. The older we get, the more we tend to sit back and expect our lives to deliver satisfaction (and then we complain when that satisfaction is not forthcoming) and we forget the thrill of rushing headlong into life making our own games and adventures. But what if you started creating your own adventures again? What if you decided you’d do something for fun, just because the idea skittered across your mind? What would that bring to you? Joy? Laughter? Satisfaction?
My cousin recently told me a little story about sitting home bored and looking for something to “do.” Then she realized she was downgrading something she had been dying for: free time. She got out some magazines and made a vision board: images of what she wants to attract in her life. In the process she made some realizations about herself and got tickled with the result. She hung it by her desk and now it inspires her every time she passes by it. With no money and no major commitment of energy, she turned up her quality life and opened some doors toward a better relationship with herself.
My cousin’s story is a perfect small-scale illustration of the value of adventure. Without losing weight, or starting a new romance, or moving into a larger place, you can tap into reservoirs of excitement, discovery, and pleasure. I realize what was missing in those dark days when I wanted a marketer to “get me out there” was a sense of adventure. The journey was something I suffered rather than cherished. I wanted the gold, without finding, deciphering, and following the treasure map. I wanted the glory without the hunt. In coveting the gold at the end of the rainbow, I had completely overlooked the rainbow. The mistake in looking for your glory is that you don’t know how and/or when it’s going to come; and you don’t know what it’s going to look like when it gets there. You don’t leave space for happenstance, you don’t leave space for discovery of other talents and passions in your life. You don’t leave space for you. If it’s all about getting that thing you want (or believe you deserve), everything that proceeds obtaining what you want is devalued or rushed past. And if you never get what you’ve always wanted, then you’ve wasted your life, rushing past the good parts because you never took the time to realize how good it is to witness, participate in and play with your own unfolding.
Playing with the journey makes me delight in the steps. I accept that I can’t know exactly where I’m headed. I can choose a general direction and then flow with the opportunities my efforts create. Embracing the journey as an exploration rather than a burden makes all the difference in the world. Marketing becomes an exploration of cause and effect, not a test I must pass lest my future fall into shambles. Welcoming the adventure makes life an experiment in the funnest sense of the word: If I try this, then what will happen? Okay, what if I try this, with a dash of that, then what? The path to “there” is never clear and never straight, so it may as well be fun.
Be well. Be love(d).
Kiini Ibura Salaam
FYI: One of my stories, “Debris,” has been podcasted on PodCastle. Take a listen at: http://podcastle.org/2010/01/28/podcastle-minature-46-debris/
SELF PROMOTION LOG
I’m working on my Single Woman’s Manifesto website, so I only went to one bookstore this month. But on the way to delivering more books to Bluestockings, I popped into Georgia Beauty Store and Salon, and they took five books. So, two more stores are selling the book. I’m consistently selling two to five a month at each location.
At the last bookstore I went to, the agent asked me “How do we sell this?” And, due to what I’ve learned about how it’s sold at other bookstores, I was able to answer. I didn’t take the question as a challenge, I just shared what I knew about how to sell it. It made me realize I have marketing knowledge about my product. (I’m thoroughly tickled by this development.) And I know if it doesn’t sell at a bookstore it’s probably because it’s not at eye-level.
Case in point, St. Marks Bookshop is a well-known independent bookstore here in NYC. They took Single Woman’s Manifesto on consignment, as they do any book that comes into their store. They have a store policy: accept everything, try it out for three months and return it if it doesn’t sell. Don’t call us, we’ll call you, is their policy. I probably should have followed up and discussed optimal positioning with them. The book is too small and too slim to sell spine-out on a bookshelf. I recently received a postcard from them saying they sold zero and for me to pick them up. I now know, however, it’s not necessarily a failure of my book, but an illustration of how important placement is for the book. It’s an impulse buy: small-format, relatively inexpensive, fun, conversation piece.
I’m going to pick up my books from St. Marks Bookshop, and I’m moving them from the “Bookstore acceptances” list to the “Bookstore rejections” list. The two lists are now tied, four and four.
Single Woman’s Manifesto
Bookstore acceptances: 4
Brownstone Books (www.brownstonebooks.com/)
Georgia Beauty (www.georgiany.com)
McNally Robinson/Jackson (www.mcnallyjackson.com)
Note: Through no effort of my own, the book is also in the exittheapple store in Baltimore, MD (they are the lovely publishers of the book), and at The Source Booksellers in Detroit, MI.
Bookstore rejections: 4
For both the MOJO series exhibition in November and The Single Woman’s Manifesto bookstore event in December, I sent out press releases. While compiling a list of press organizations for MOJO exhibition, I learned that press releases should actually go out just after solidifying the venue and date, and BEFORE preparing for the actual event. Newspapers and magazines need lead-in time to print your announcement. So I gave more lead-in time for the bookstore event. But I never knew whether or not it made it onto anyone’s listing. Well, I just recently discovered that TimeOut New York online did list the event! It is so exciting to see my marketing labor result in an actual listing. The adventure continues!