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I Am (trying to be) A Writer …

4032 3024 Austin Barrow

I Am (trying to be) A Writer

After leaving a significant position with a lot of eyeballs in the community always looking to see what was coming next, it’s a little awkward to run into folks around town sometimes. For instance, I love it when people ask me what I do now. “I’m writing.” There is typically a second or two pause before, “Oh, good for you.”

If I’m sincere, I’m just trying to figure it out. I write daily. Some of it appears in the forum you are currently consuming, but most of it goes unseen. Many of my words get eaten up in the editing process, which I have learned most recently is the primary job of a writer. That, and always knowing the difference between “your” and “you’re.”

However, through that education by fire, I have added a fire hose. Firmly placing my lips over the spigot, I turned on the flow. My amazon reading list which I began building about two years ago is now nearly empty. There are a TON of books on writing, and I’ve become a voracious consumer.

Starting next week, I am going to add a section to the site where I will fuse my notes and thoughts on several of these works. A recent interview inspired me of Derek Sivers. He began posting his notes from his reading material on his site and has a thorough database over the past decade. I thought to myself, I always read with a pen. I should do this! Unfortunately, I also then realized that I reduced my book collection to about one-third of its size in the past year. Alas, we shall make do.

Also, I’m super excited to announce that tomorrow will be the relaunch of the podcast Creatively. I’ve got many episodes in the coming weeks that explore a wide array of the creative arena. Musicians, filmmakers, writers, and even a priest! After the initial launch, I had to take a break to evaluate the show’s setup, premise, and schedule, but now it’s back in force!

Episodes will be released twice a month on Thursdays. There may occasionally be an episode snuck in for something special, but you can count on two shows a month. If you haven’t yet, please subscribe to make sure you get up to the second updates on all forthcoming shows. Also, I would, of course, thoroughly appreciate a review! If you’re looking for a taste immediately, I suggest a conversation with one of my best friends, and insanely creative writer Qui Nguyen. Qui is a native of El Dorado, AR., my hometown, and is one of the top produced playwrights in the country, as well as a much sought after screenwriter.

So next time we bump into each other, and we discuss “work,” please excuse me if I get a bit too wordy. My editing program works a whole lot better when I’m sitting at my desk.

Lisa Vickery 2005 in the painted desert

I Missed My Mom’s Birthday … Oh Boy!

2048 1536 Austin Barrow

I Missed My Mom's Birthday ... Oh Boy!

Ok, I’ll admit it, I’m a momma’s boy. I love my mother, and I’ve been known to get a bit sappy about it, like writing a whole article :). However, I won’t bury the lead here because I think it’s important to admit that this is as much as an apology as it is a love letter to my mom. See, I messed up … big time. A couple of days ago was my mother’s birthday, and I didn’t call her. I know, I know, but perhaps this will make up for it a little bit.

I was raised primarily by women. Between my mother and two grandmothers, I’m confident I spent more time with women than men through my budding years as a growing boy. This is by no means unique, as a child of divorce, and skyrocketing divorce rates in the late seventies and eighties, I’m pretty sure my upbringing will have a familiar tone.

Now, the words of Tyler Durden from Chuck Palahniuk’s book and David Fincher’s film Fight Club might be echoing in your ears, “We’re a generation of men raised by women.” Although we may have different points in bringing up this idea. I’m not attempting to highlight the negative, just as I’m not an imaginary person living in the mind of a broken man (I know SPOILERS). Perhaps we men are all a little better off because of our estrogen filled upbringing.

The first memory I can conjure of my mother is from somewhere around the age of two or three. It’s super foggy, but I think I remember it primarily because I got in trouble. I had learned a new word, and I knew that it had been labeled a bad word. I didn’t know what made it a bad word, because it was just a word. So, the only way to figure it out was to toss it out into the world and see what happened.

There was a narrow space between our refrigerator and the wall where I knew I could squeeze in between. I was preparing for the worst by barricading my rear end into a corner, that way it couldn’t be reached should this experiment go badly. Yes, I was spanked, and those of us who were are better off for it … just ask my kids … in another twenty years.

I waited for the house to quiet down. I believe it was early in the afternoon because the light coming into the kitchen window was bright. The kitchen would glow in late afternoons shining off of all that Formica and linoleum. Mom was always an avid (i.e., compulsive) cleaner and still is to this day.

I ran my tongue around in my mouth and then swallowed. I wanted to make sure my use of the word was precise for mom to understand, as she was the only one at home. I placed both hands behind my back, just in case she could reach through the walls, took a deep breath, and screamed, “SHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIT!” with all the effort my small body could produce.

At first, there was nothing but silence. Then I heard footsteps coming, searching. Oh man, this was a bad idea. I immediately regretted what I had done. This was a bad word. I didn’t know why, but I knew for sure that I was going to be in trouble. I don’t know how long it took her to find me, but she did.

The funny thing is no matter how hard I attempt to strain that memory, fill in the gaps, I don’t remember how I was punished, or if I was punished at all. What I do remember is my mother’s face. She was stern, perhaps disappointed, but in my memories eye, all I can see is her pretty, long, straight, red hair. It was backlit by the sun from the kitchen window. She was beautiful, although perhaps a little upset.

We spent a lot of time together over the years between that moment and the day I left for college at eighteen. She drove me to my dorm and helped me unload my things from our small Toyota pickup truck. I was full of excitement and anticipation, but she knew that an era had passed. She tried really hard, but she ended up putting on her sunglasses to hide the tears before she left. You know I read somewhere that you spend more than eighty percent of the time you will ever spend with your parents between birth and the age of eighteen. I think of this often when my kids ask me to read a book, play a video game, or go out to eat. Whatever else I was planning on doing seems a little less significant.

I still hold a clear memory of that moment on my first day of college. She’s standing in my dorm room door frame, red hair glowing in the fluorescent lights. It’s shorter now. She’s got dark sunglasses on, and she’s trembling a little bit. She had already left once, and I noticed the tears coming then. Now she had returned having intended to give me some walking around money before she left. That was when I knew that an era had passed. Seeing your mom cry is never easy and is guaranteed to make me turn on the waterworks. My roommate and I were old friends, thank goodness. Would have been odd to meet a new guy with dewy eyes.

Mom’s my rock. She always told me to follow my passions and has been supportive of every crazy path I have taken in this life. She’s a strong lady full of love and a fiery spirit … I mentioned the red hair, right?

Happy belated birthday to a sweet lady … with an imperfect son.

A Creative Soap Box

600 300 Austin Barrow

A Creative Soap Box

Whenever you ask an artist to do something for free, there is a cost. All too often we undervalue the contribution of people who work creatively, especially if the person providing services doesn’t do so as a full-time gig. If you are a part-time or hobbyist creative that happened upon this article, I hope I can provide you with a helpful little tool to say no. By the way, no is my favorite word.

However, if you are not a creative, but someone in the hiring business, then don’t leave yet, because I think you and I have a couple of things to discuss so that you can have a better outcome on your projects and maintain a good relationship with those friends you lean on more often than you would like.

So, first of all, is it okay to ask people to help you out for free? Of course, it is, but rest assured that they will be asking the same of you (artist take note!). I know what your thinking, no problem! I’d love to help out in your next art project thingy. But here’s the rub. I don’t want your help with the art project. You’re an accountant. I need you to do my taxes for free. Or, maybe you’re an attorney, marketing executive, or own a grocery store. I need legal advice, free marketing, or some freakin’ food because do you know how many people ask me to work for free? When you think of the ask in those terms, does it change the initial question? Are you comfortable in giving away your work for someone else’s financial gain?

Secondly, it’s generally a big no-no to ask people to provide free services for a commercial endeavor. Again, going back to the scenario’s above, you wouldn’t think about asking your local television station to provide you with air time for free without some sort of return of goods or services. Always, and I mean always offer something in exchange when you are making money off of other peoples work.

Lastly, you are not doing anyone a favor by asking them to work for free. I hear this quite a bit. Well, think of the experience you will gain if you participate. It will be something for your portfolio! No, it won’t. I already have a portfolio of work, and that is why you are asking for help. Favors never come in the form of free labor when the other party is profiting.

Okay, high horse set aside, there are appropriate times to ask for unpaid help, and that is for a cause. If you are working toward something greater than yourself, raising money for a nonprofit or attempting to call attention to an unmet need, then, by all means, ask. However, that’s volunteering, and you have to be okay with a no. There is no difference in asking people for free labor than asking them for money. In fact, I might argue you are asking for more than money. You are requesting an artist’s most valuable and well-guarded asset … their time.

So, for you artists out there that deal with these kinds of asks, I have a little something I’d like to share. This is the typical response that I have worked on perfecting over the years. It used to be much more high spirited and perhaps a little bit snarky, but I’ve made attempts to soften it over the years. Feel free to copy and adapt for your own use, and good luck out there!

First of all, thank you so much for thinking of me for your project. I’ve worked very hard to get better at my craft, and I appreciate the recognition in the ask. However, I am not going to be able to help you this time. I understand that funds are tight, but unfortunately, I carefully guard my time and my commitments to make sure I can deliver the absolute best for anyone that hires me for my services. Should you receive additional funding in support of paying for these services, I would love to reconsider. Until then, good luck on your project and I hope you will keep me in mind for the next one.

Keep it simple, concise, and personable. There’s no need to explain further because most people will understand, and if you are worried about burning bridges or upsetting a potential client (we artist tend to be people-pleasers) don’t. If they are not paying, they are not your client, and if this polite no upsets them, you likely don’t want them as a client anyway.