Professional Blog Advice May Not Work for Artists

Artists bloggingI'm going to use a lot of generalizations here, so if that is your only comment at the end, save it. 

After a profoundly enjoyable evening with a local writer's group, I walked away with a newfound sense of appreciation for artists. I am an artist, though you couldn't tell by my daily production. Duty calls for marketing messages that compel readers to act. But at my center, I am a poet and creative writer. 

And while the tips from Copyblogger, Problogger and dozens of blogging, branding, and marketing experts are invaluable for corporate blogs, the same principles are stifling and unnatural for many strictly creative types. I call all creative types "artists", because anything creative can be art: words, paint, dance, sculpture, song, design, etc. 

I've spent the lion's share of this site's existence on marketing principles recommended by the experts. The danger there is missing the forest for the trees. CultureFeast will be two years old in November. Prior to this, the only writing I showed anyone outside the office was poetry, prose, or journal entries that I felt were worth sharing. 

You have to be careful not to suffocate your art with marketing. It happens all the time. You have something worth sharing, but in order to get the public's attention, you have to walk a fine line balancing marketing and artistic sincerity. 

My advice: read the tips and study effective marketing strategies, but realize that they must not overtake the art. Balance. It's not a fun word. It's not a sexy word. Balance is not a popular concept, because it's one of those responsibilities people don't want to take the time to mess with.

Be true to your art. Look for ways to hone your craft that can make it more successful without losing power. Whether you post words, photos, or video, there are sure-fire ways to improve your presentation without sacrificing content. There are also plenty of opportunities to focus on results rather than the message.

There are enough self-improvement gurus already. Guard your art with your life! If you don't, you'll discover that the purpose of your art has declined from the pleasure of creation to that of recognition. Recognition is wonderful, but it's fickle and fleeting. The first and foremost active ingredient in successful artistry is quality product. Preserve quality at all cost.  

TED: Ideas Worth Spreading

TED.comThanks to StumbleUpon, the most enjoyable social media/bookmarking site thus far (and the official choice of ADHD users everywhere), I was introduced to TED.com last month. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. TED began in 1984, bringing together the best and brightest from those three industries and thought groups. Since the '80s, TED has evolved into an annual invitation only conference where the most influential and/or innovative thinkers present the talk of their lives (limited to 18 minutes). TED.com makes the best of these talks available for free online.  

Once a year, 50 speakers share with more than 1,000 visitors in Monterey, California. Topics cover business, science, the arts, music, and global issues. The best TEDTalks are provided online via streaming video at TED.com.

Granted, the majority of speakers appear to be atheistic proponents of evolution. This is somewhat disappointing, though not entirely surprising. Past speakers have included the likes of Billy Graham, so it's fair to say that the organization is open to most ideas as long as they are presented in the proper fashion.

The recorded TEDTalks are worth watching. Some are more mentally stimulating than others (check out the talks on memes and, surprisingly, Tony Robbins). 137 presentations are currently available online. Additional talks will be released on an ongoing basis. 

TEDGlobal is a conference held every other year at various locations worldwide. The basic format is the same, but these conferences tend to focus more on development.

The TEDPrize is an annual prize awarded to three individuals who receive $100K and the granting of "One Wish to Change the World". The winners unveil their wishes at the annual conference, and the TED community comes together, pooling their resources, to grant each wish. Visit TED.com to learn more about past wishes granted. 

For those of you accustomed to the collegiate Pew / Paideia society or other philosophical and sociological communities, these talks will resonate along the lines of cultural examination of what is, what has been, and what could be.  

The only question remaining is, how does one get invited to TED? Send me an invitation. I'm in. 

So You Think You Can Dance – August 2nd

No big surprise vote offs this week. Sara and Dominic were voted off. Though Dominic was a little obsessive about Cat Deeley, the guy could dance hip hop style with the best. Unfortunately, his height, dance technique, and overall stage presence were not up to Top Four standards. 

Sara was the beat girl who actually adapted much better than expected to most other styles of dance. It is her adaptability and lack of pretension which make it most difficult to see her go. The obvious truth is that she wasn't quite good enough in the solo department to make it much further.

And then there were six. Danny, Neil, Pasha, Sabra, Lauren, and Lacey. Skill-wise, Pasha is the obvious weak link for the men. Lauren, despite her winning attitude, is the weak link for the women. Expect them to be voted off next week.

My revised Top Four are: Danny, Neil, Sabra, and Lacey. And while Lacey gets all the girls in the audience charged up, she really doesn't have the individual dancing talent to win it all. She's a couples dancer, and it showed this week when she had to dance solo for the first time to stay in the competition. Sabra is the more talented solo dancer, but neither are strong enough to compete with the two remaining boys.

Danny is obviously the superior dancer here. He has the talent and the training to do anything. Danny's #1 challenge is expressing emotion. Neil is much more natural at expressing emotion and he is comfortable with himself. That helps him a lot. He is very athletic and acrobatic, but his form will ultimately lose to Danny's.

Kameron and Jaimie Are Voted Off

I am astonished. The results are in, and the two dancers leaving us this week on So You Think You Can Dance are Kameron and Jaimie. The voters were not consistent in this vote. Jaimie is obviously among the top 2 female dancers remaining. Only Lacey can compete with her style and ability. Sadly, votes are not always based on ability.

Jaimie's one downfall has been a lack of stage presence – more specifically, she lacked depth of expressed emotion. She always emoting the same expression. So I can't say anything except I am sad to see her go. She deserved to stay several rounds later. At the same time, I was relieved that the other girl with the fewest votes stayed (Lauren), although she does not possess the same skill level as Jaimie. Lauren has the stage presence Jaimie lacks. Put them together and they are the total package. 

This is exactly why Lacey will be the last girl standing. She has the skill and the stage presence. She has enough attitude for two dancers (often a little too far to the skanky side). The girl I believe most deserving of disqualification was Sara, who until Wednesday's performance had not proved to be more than a mid-level dancer.

On to the boys. My top 2, Danny and Neil are safe as they should be. They have the greatest technical abilities of the remaining guys. I expected to see Pasha and Dominic in the bottom four, based on the combination of skill and attitude. Pasha is one of the remaining dancers who is obviously limited without the benefit of a partner (I completely sympathize – I can't play one-on-one basketball to save my life although I'm not bad on a team).  Dominic has the heart but lacks the size and skill to be America's top choice.

Surprisingly, Pasha was voted safe and Kameron was on the chopping block. Since Sara was voted to stay, I assumed that image was more important than skill, but not so. Kameron is one of the top 3 best looking guys left with a cool hair style, but it wasn't enough. America didn't find him worthy, so he's done.

Prediction for next week:

Assuming the world doesn't turn upside down, I vote Pasha and Dominic into the bottom 4. Of the girls, Sara is definitely in the bottom, and either Lauren or Sabre is the other. Of the remaining girls, Lacey is the only lock. Sabre might make it to the Final Four, though her tiny size makes a victory next to impossible. She's also too nice of a person with not enough skank in her to combat the overwhelming skankiness of Lacey. I'm not completely against Lacey because her brother was awesome last year, but she definitely will not win the most sincere award.

My elimination picks for next week are Dominic and Sara. I love Lauren's attitude, but she might be there instead.  

What Does Your Car Say About You?

My wife started this chain of thought in motion for me several years ago when we discussed our first car purchase as a married couple. We were fairly certain at the time that we wanted a Honda Accord, though a Toyota Camry or older Lexus were fair game as well. 

Then came the color debate. I was all about silver or black. I think silver is classy. Black is obviously classic. But my wife hates silver cars. She's all about earth tones, so she was more into the champagne / beige look. But it was her explanation for her preferences that planted this little thoughtlet into the deep recesses of my brain.  

Heather-ology goes a little something like this: Your car, your home, and your fashion are all means of self-expression. Not only are they opportunities to express one's self, they should be thematic. Example: earth-toned house is complemented by earth-toned car. Which means, no silver car for Daniel. 

That conversation two years ago somehow transformed to a daily curiosity on my part. What does it mean to see a businessman driving down the streets of Las Colinas in a Jeep Wrangler? What about a suit in a pickup truck? Do different types of people actually drive cars that express their personalities?

What kind of person drives a Cadillac? Or the mystery of all mysteries… what freakish type of person drives a Pontiac? Are these real people? Do they realize they're paying someone to rob them blind?

What about Honda and Toyota owners? Are they merely the most practical people on earth, or do they actually possess some dimension of style? And while we're discussing Toyota, are Scion owners the coolest people on the planet?

Then there's German engineering. Is the Mercedes the new soccer mom brand? What types prefer BMW? Back to the Japanese, can you really take anyone seriously who drives a Mitsubishi?

Then there are the less interesting questions: What's the difference between a Ford and a Chevy owner? Are Lincoln drivers the only classy people who own American?

The questions get much more specific as I go. For example, what's the difference between a Jeep Wrangler owner and a Nissan Xterra owner? Is one more rugged than the other? What about Hummers versus Land Rovers? Does anyone seriously like Land Rovers, or do they just want the status symbol?

What does your car say about you? Does it say wealthy, practical, adrenaline junkie, slut, outdoor fanatic, sophisticated, boring, ignorant, poor, artistic, hi-tech, gullible, or intelligent?

Gen Y Sets New Standards for Career Ambitions

Penelope Trunk wrote a blog post referencing a report written by Stan Smith. She quotes Smith concerning Gen X and Gen Y: "The real revolution is a decrease in career ambition in favor of family time, less travel, and less personal pressure."

While Baby Boomers still set the standard for most corporations, that reality is already changing and will soon change completely. One of the most frustrating realities is the "Reality is set by the majority" principle. If 198 out of 200 people in a company believe that working overtime to meet a deadline is more important than family time, then that is the truth at that company. The remaining two people who believe that family time should never be compromised under any circumstances fit into the irresponsible /not-a-team-player category because they do not share the overarching value of the company.

Put those same two people with 198 similar people, and their beliefs are suddenly the moral majority. Those previous overtime workers? They are suddenly workaholics, a despised and unhealthy minority who constantly work as they avoid home life like the plague.

So corporate values are set and enforced by the majority. This is why it excites me to be "officially" part of Generation Y. I will accept that label more so now than ever because of the attitude Gen Y brings to the workplace. We are the product of workaholic parents. Our parents never lived the "good life" because they got themselves into so much debt that they never found a way out. We, like our parents before us, are reactionary. We might produce workaholic children (who knows?), but we are determined to balance the life our parents couldn't.

Which is why the quote above is so important. Decreased ambition in favor of family time. Less personal pressure. In a phrase: Quality of life. That is our pursuit. We may or may not know how to actually attain said higher quality of life, but we are dead set on pursuing it.

Which really only begs the question: what is it that you see as the answer for Quality of Life? Is it life on an island? In the mountains? Urban loft? Small town community? Farm life? Ministry? Culture? Vacations? Writing at your own pace? 

We all have different paths, but the same goal. What path are you on? 

Generation Gaps: Lost in the Middle of X and Y

Penelope Trunk's latest blog post about Generation Y led me back to the morbid, unanswerable question each one of us must face and someday answer: Where do I belong? What categories do I fit into? How do I classify myself? Am I a Generation Xer? Or do I belong to the despised Generation Y?

Wikipedia entries on the subject are clear as mud. According to the brilliant editors of Wikipedia, I could belong to four or five different generations, depending on which "expert" you ask. I feel too old to be a Y, and too young to be an X. 

What's left? I need a fraction to express my sense of misplacement and lack of belonging… Or I'll just start my own generation. I'll show them! Take that! Put that in your Twitter! 

Christian Social Media Sites: Good Idea or Bad?

GodTube video site

I will acknowledge the truth that parents need a place for their children to learn, to engage, and to socialize that will not scar them or taint their innocence. I wouldn’t want my kids listening to what I listen to or watching many of the films I watch. Since I am a P.I.T. (Parent in Training), my opinion might not be the most valid… but it is popular.

It all started when I left MySpace the first time in January 2006. I was sick and tired of the half-naked chicks everywhere via True ads. After some brief research, I found MyPraize, a Christian MySpace alternative. MyPraize is censored like there’s no tomorrow. It’s like youth camp and KLTY (boring Christian radio station) mixed together. Sorry, not interested. I set up an account, browsed around for 20 minutes, and then left (never to return).

My encounter with GodTube today was just the straw that broke this camel’s back. Seriously? GodTube? Why is it that Christians are always mimicking secular ideas? Christian musicians make music that imitates the sounds of secular artists. Christian television is seriously sub par. And now we get a whole new wave of sub-parness injected into web culture.

Am I anti-Christian? Of course not. I am a Christian. But I find isolation to be every bit as unrealistic as atheism. Why not just post your videos on YouTube? Why not use Facebook or Virb if you want to avoid the advertisements? At least you won’t only be online with Christians. My primary concern is this: beware of the bubble. It is the chief concern of American Christians to create protective bubbles in every sphere of life in which they can be “Christ-like” with each other but not have to encounter any of that nasty sin stuff.

Well, thanks but no thanks. From an adult non-parental viewpoint, I’d rather be relevant to the world than isolated from it. Now, when it comes to my children, I may sing a slightly different tune. Time will tell.

Want to know what kind of Christian resources I actually like? Why not!

BibleMap is a seriously cool site. Just type in the Bible book and chapter, and you will see where the action took place on a map of the Middle East. For all those times when the names and dates hold no significance to you, this helps you get a little more historical / human perspective of what was happening.

BibleGateway is my favorite site for reading the Bible. You get every possible translation for every verse in two dozen languages right at your fingertips, and the search function is easy to use. Search by book, chapter, and verse or by keyword.

EarlyChristianWritings is an excellent resource of writings from the early Church. It’s sorted by date, which helps you to get a sense of the maturity and development of Christian thought over the first two and a half centuries after the birth of Christ.

There are hundreds more tools and sites out there. My general rule of thumb is this: if it’s a useful tool, use it. If it’s for isolating yourself from the rest of the world, don’t waste your time.

7 Realistic Steps to Early Retirement

retirement savings

It’s a question most of us hate to think about because the answer is so depressing. For anyone younger than 55, a million dollars is not enough to retire on unless you are a super whiz when it comes to investing. How will you retire? Have you saved anything? Or are you still doing your best just to get out of credit card debt?

If you haven’t thought much on the subject, now is the time. Read this article on how to make a million dollars first, just to get the ball rolling.

If you’re like me, the more you think about retirement and the ridiculous amount of money you will need, your brain overloads and you start feeling helpless. Then you choose to either obsess about making money or you push the thoughts as far from you as possible. You might even do so with the self-righteous stance of I’m too good of a person to obsess over money. Well, congratulations. You are the world’s most righteous person.

For those of you who are honest with yourselves, you’ll admit that you don’t know how to get to the financial milestone you want to achieve. You could start a business, invest in someone else’s business, save your income, etc.

There is no fool proof way. There is no method without risk. I do, however, have a preference for one method over the rest. While starting a business could be exciting and lucrative, it is also a life-consuming ordeal that puts a heavy strain on many marriages and families.

Here’s one method that can work if you make wise decisions and take good care of your property:

Step 1: Instead of saving $100-$500 per month, pay it towards your mortgage. In fact, do your best to live on one person’s salary and spend the second person’s salary (where applicable) on paying off your mortgage. Pay off your house in 1-5 years.

Step 2: Once the house is paid off, save that same amount you were spending on monthly mortgage payments until you can put at least 20% down on another house.

Step 3: Once you’ve arrived at your goal, purchase another house and move in.

Step 4: While house hunting, put your current house up for rent.

Step 5: Save enough of the rent to pay the property taxes and spend the rest on your new mortgage (as extra payments).

Step 6: Pay off your current mortgage ASAP (probably 2-5 yrs).

Step 7: Begin again at Step #2.

The goal is to live in consecutively nicer houses while still having the means to make double to triple payments on your mortgage each month. Within ten years, you should own somewhere between 3-5 houses, and the number will build faster as you own more houses free and clear.

Granted, at some point you won’t want to move every few months, but you won’t need to. You will need to buy investment properties outright and at some point hire a property management firm (ask me when you get there and I’ll hook you up with a good firm).

While you may or may not become a millionaire (per se), imagine generating income from 5-10 totally paid off rental houses! It’s totally doable. Yes, you will have to repair each house. Yes, you will have to rent each house out. But the risks are significantly lower when you only rent out houses you have paid for! The only monthly expenses you incur are property taxes.

As I mentioned before, if the prospect of managing rental properties scares you, I will direct you to an appropriate property management firm. My point is that this method will actually work. You might not get rich, but you can replace your income within 20 years or less.

*all numbers are subject to investor’s age and ability to make additional mortgage payments