Saturday, January 21, 2012

Product Lines

Kim Adams Francis posted in her blog, The Classic Quill, that many freelancers and entrepreneurs fail to identify and define their actual product. For freelance writers, says Francis, this means defining whether you are selling articles, an e-book or yourself. My experiences as a jewelry, metalwork and spray paint art vendor taught me the importance of multiple product lines, but applying that knowledge to the writing world has been hit-or-miss.

For example, when I started this blog, I intended to showcase fellow artists, poets, musicians and writers, along with businesses in Tempe and Phoenix, Arizona; Asheville, North Carolina; Portland and Lewiston, Maine; Atlanta and Athens, Georgia; and all over Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. I stuck to my intentions for the first month, but my focus has strayed this month in the effort to participate in the Ultimate Blog Challenge. That has to stop soon, because the focus on a given quantity of posts reduces quality. Instead, my remaining posts for the month will focus on writing effective press releases, because the market is wide open right now.

1. Effective press releases must answer as many questions as possible about the event, whether it is a product launch, grand opening or performance. Include the sponsor and any performers, the location where the event will take place, the time and duration of the event, and why attendance matters.

2. Include the name of the event and the date, time and location in the introduction, and the name of the organizer or contact person in the second paragraph.

3. Quote the headliner and anyone who has attended similar prior events if you have enough time before your deadline. Use quotes that you know will provoke a response without going overboard, but do not censor yourself so much that your copy lacks a voice.

4. Repeat the date, time and location in the final paragraph, along with a strong call to action. Avoid such phrases as "Be there or be square." Instead, tell your readers what they will be missing, whether it's gritty street poetry, new art media or the opportunity to be the first to visit a new night spot.

5. Read the comments readers leave, both before and after the event. Respond to any questions you receive prior to the event as soon as you see them, to ensure that readers have all the information they need. Modify your press release to include any information prompted by reader questions. Forward the comments your receive after the event to the organizer and headliner, so that they can incorporate that feedback into their next event.

Friday, January 20, 2012


If you have ever caught yourself feeling slightly angry and dismissive about things you don't have, you might be suffering from invidia. No, that is not a misspelling of a brand name for popular computer components. The term describes a specific form of envy, although it encompasses far more than the English word does. Invidia comes mixed with anger, and with a belief that others somehow lied, stole or cheated their way to success.

Any time you lack basic necessities, invidia may rear its ugly head, which makes it especially difficult to combat. That anger and resentment manifest in your voice and demeanor. Rather than helping you get your basic needs met, that resentment causes others to rear back and blame you for your lack of resources. As difficult as it may be to be happy for others when they receive an award, earn a position, snag available work hours or find a bargain that you desperately needed, the only way to combat invidia is to congratulate that person on his good fortune.

For those who have the basics and a little more, however, there is a flip side to invidia that should never be ignored. While it does not have its own term, this reverse form of invidia motivates people to trumpet their success to someone they know lacks basic needs. The successful one knows the other person lacks key resources, but just can't resist twisting the knife. This need to dog the other person in order to enjoy one's own success baffles me.

I enjoy hearing about the things that go right for others. I am on my own path, which will eventually lead to the things I want from life. Right now, a few of those things are lacking, but that is temporary. So until my own goals come to fruition, I am very happy to hear that things are working out for others. It keeps me motivated when I am tempted to give up.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Ultimate Blog Challenge Post 13: Visit from a Grackle

 Today's post is the transcript from my YouTube video, "Ultimate Blog Challenge Day Twelve: Totem Animals" Enjoy!

Hi! Jack V. Sage here. This is post 12 of the Ultimate Blog Challenge, and yes, once again I have skipped some posts. I will eventually go back, maybe, and fill those in.

I wanted to talk today about totem animals. Those of you who have been following me know that I have taken a job as a waver for Liberty Tax. That means putting on a turquoise velour toga and cavorting around and waving at people. Basically, I have a great big red foam hand and I just sit there all day going "Hoo, hoo hoo, la, la, la" and getting everyone's attention. The idea, of course, is to point toward Liberty Tax so that they'll go in there and get their taxes done, and so that they'll associate getting their taxes done with fun and enjoyment rather than with pulling teeth and things like that.

Anyway, yesterday while I was busy waving, this great-tailed grackle - Quiscalus mexicanus - which is one of the birds of the Sonoran desert - it's in the raven family, the Ictidae? Icteridae? I can't remember. I'll have to look that up. But anyway, it's in the oriole/raven category of birds. The males are black with purple heads, and the females are a kind of dark brown with a cream underbelly. Well, it's not really cream, it's more of a light tan underbelly. Anyway, the females are usually really, really easily scared. They are the last to land and the first to take off, when you see a group of grackles. So yesterday, when this female grackle did everything it could to get my attention and was only a foot away from me most of the time and dancing circles around me, I realized that this was a visitation from a totem animal.

My usual totem is the swallowtail - the zebra swallowtail butterfly - which is a beautiful yellow and black butterfly that is very common in Ohio and North Carolina. I have some really awesome photos of a group of thirty or forty swallowtails that had landed on the ground when we were camping in Asheville, North Carolina. They had landed in a little group to sip water and it was really, really fun to watch them.

I looked up the meaning of a visitation from a grackle. Grackles refer to repressed or suppressed emotion, clogging your energy channel with too many different emotions: too much conflict, too much anxiety, too much fear. And I discovered that you need to think about what's going on and figure out what exactly it is that you need to do to change things.

One of the changes that I made is that I no longer write for content mills unless I really, really like the topic. I also plan to get another job. Right now I have the Liberty waving job and I have a job doing phone surveys. I also plan to get my food service handler's card, because I want to be doing jobs where I am making that personal connection with people in the real world.

I think we become really detached. We form really wonderful friendships online, and yet our day to day, face to face friendships tend to suffer as a result.

I want to make sure that what I'm doing brings people joy. And that's why I love my Liberty waving job. Because I love that moment when people's faces go from "Oh my God, I'm traveling along, I have to get to work." to "Ha! Oh my God, that's so funny!" I like that moment, I really like that moment, that connection. I mean, today, these guys in a moving van - there were six or seven of them - were beeping and waving and doing as much to get my attention as I was doing to get theirs. And it was just fun, being part of that moment of "Yes, you exist, I exist, we know each other." That's a great moment.

I want to do things in the real world. I don't want to just have friends online, and that's nothing against my online friends. I have marvelous online friends: Jordan in Mississippi, Trystan in Maine, Michael, and Aubrey and Jordan in Phoenix, and Chrissy, who I haven't seen since June or July. I did see her face to face at the coffee shop, but it's been awhile. Hunter, thank goodness. Hunter and Andrew came to Christmas dinner. That was really awesome. But I want to do more of that. I want more face to face, more direct contact, more time spent with people in the real world.

Think things over. My question for you today - and I hope that you'll comment below - is, "What emotions are you stuffing? What things do you need to do to make a change in your life?" And I'm not just talking about the kind of change where "Oh my God, my life sucks! and blah, blah, blah blah, blah." I'm talking about when you have a life that's fairly good, but it could be better. It could be better. So I want people to think about what you need to do today, and what real-world thing can you do right now - right after you turn off this video - that will make a change in your life.

Post your comments below. Make video responses - because that's really fun. I'd love to watch them. Join the Ultimate Blog Challenge, and come visit my blog - that's - and also look up my stuff on - that's under MegSmith. It's an old identity. And have a look at some of my articles, particularly the article "What's Your Totem Animal?" Google "What's Your Totem Animal?" You'll find it on Socyberty. Let me know what you think of it. And if you have a totem, tell me what your totem animal is and why. Post a photo if you can, and make a video response.

And have a great day! "Ha, ha, ha, ha." That's the Liberty wave by the way. OK. Bye-bye!

Get Personal

The past four days at my new job as a waver for Liberty Tax, I noticed that people crave attention and personal connections. When I wave, I make an effort to look each driver and each passenger in the eye, then make sure that they see that I see them. I use exaggerated movements, waving my hands in the air Kermit-style, opening my eyes extra-wide and grinning, pointing with both hands while flapping my wrists downward like I'm a rap star in a concert, anything to let the people going by know that I am connecting with each one of them and that I want each of them to have as much fun as I am having.

The response is immediate. People go from scowling, looking bored or looking sad to grinning and waving back. Some even honk when my back is turned to their part of the traffic while I wave at traffic going the other way, just to make sure that I wave at them.

Finding that personal connection is a lot harder online. Many writers fear offending someone, so they remove anything that could be misconstrued or that might reflect badly with people from a particular mindset, but I think that is a huge mistake. When I read someone's stuff, I want to see that person, not a marshmallow version designed to avoid offense.

That does not mean that I want to see someone doing nothing but cussing, complaining and slinging their latest arrows into whatever target their righteous indignation has created today, though. One-trick ponies, demagogues and complainers suck the beauty out of life. We each have ups and downs, but posting every single down without ever acknowledging how wonderful it is to be alive gets old really fast.

Let me see you when I read your blog, your Facebook posts, Twitter feeds, Stumbles and Diggs, and I will let you see me.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Ultimate Blog Challenge Day Nine: It's Time to Be a Jester

Today's post is the transcript from my YouTube video, "It's Time to Be a Jester."


Hi! Jack Sage here. This is the ninth post of the Ultimate Blog Challenge, and yes, I am aware that if you are following me here on Tempe you will notice that the last post here is actually post five and today's post there on YouTube is post nine, which means I'm missing six, seven and eight. So those will be coming soon. I have not yet chosen topics for those posts, but the one that I'm doing right now is based on Chris Hughes' challenge at the beginning of the year to help yourself find your core identity. That was passed on to me by fellow Hardcore Freelancer Lee Rowley.

In the list of questions that Chris provided, one of them was "What will you do for fulfillment?" What I am going to be doing, starting tomorrow, is I get to get paid to cavort around in a green toga and make people laugh, and hopefully make them stop and get their taxes done at Liberty Tax, but the point of it all is, I get paid to cavort around in a green toga.

Now some people might think, "Oh, wow, that's really lame." But what's bad about making people laugh? Okay? What's bad about being that person, that as everybody is intently driving to work and worried about getting there on time, and they're cussing at the people next to them because they won't let them get over, what's bad about being the person that makes them laugh, okay? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. And that is what I consider fulfillment right now.

Also, my partner and I have discussed this at length and we both are intending to get food service handling cards. Here in Arizona you have to have a food service handling card, whether it's for restaurant work or it's for hostessing. Even for something as simple as being a hotel desk clerk, anything where you might handle food, you have to have a food handler's card. And that even includes nonprofit jobs -- which is one of the things that I'm going after -- where you might have to, at any moment, either accept donations and handle them, or you might be called upon to suddenly take over and run the kitchen for the day. So I've decided that's one of the things I'm going to do.

And again, there's a lot of people that might look down on those ideas as "Okay, that's fine and dandy, but I'm an educated person." Well, I'm an educated person, too. I have a degree. However, when it comes down to it, I have never been afraid to jump in and take jobs that other people wouldn't even consider. But as I said, one of the things right now that's motivating me is, life is too short to take that seriously, and this year Jack is going to indulge the jester side, and I am going to do things that are fun, that are funny, that make people laugh, that make people's day.

And I'm going to be part of the magic. That includes when we finally manage to get back on a show lot and we're there first thing in the morning before the crowd gets there, and we're pouring funnel cakes as fast as we can so that when people come in, they have that magical, mystical piece of fry-bread covered with powdered sugar that you wouldn't pay for even if you wanted to at home, but suddenly it becomes ambrosial wonderfulness when you're at the festival or flea market. So when it comes to fulfillment, that's where my head's at this year. It's time to be a jester. It's time to have some fun. It's time to make other people laugh, and it's time to make sure that people don't take themselves so god-damned seriously. So that's the message of the day. Goodbye!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Ultimate Blog Challenge Day Five: National Bird Day

In honor of National Bird Day, I pointed my webcam out the picture window I look through while I write. The mesquite screening the window provides cover to cactus wrens, broad-billed hummingbirds, white-winged doves, thrashers and Gila woodpeckers, along with grackles and the occasional overfed suburban pigeon. In front of the mesquite you can see the Cereus peruvianus that the hummingbirds love so much, and off to the left and right of the cactus stand the date palms that keep the white-winged doves and the thrashers as round as tennis balls. 

The birds stayed out of camera range the first time, but I'll keep trying. I did not stage the way the branches cross. The star you see is how those branches grew naturally. If you don't have a picture window, you can create one by installing three to four standard, double-hung windows side-by-side for about the same cost as an exotic bird, its supplies, and a cage or aviary. By watching the birds native to your area instead of buying a parrot, lovebird or finch, you can help prevent the extirpation - which means regional extinction - of native birds.

The Arizona Bird Committee lists four bird species as extirpated - or regionally extinct - that used to breed in this state: the Northern masked bobwhite quail, the California condor, the Aplomado falcon and the thick-billed parrot. Watching native birds provides far more entertainment than any caged bird ever could, so help fight regional extirpation by setting up your own observation station. Plant native shrubs, small trees and a variety of flowers, then sit back and enjoy the view.

Ultimate Blog Challenge Day 4: January Special Days

For those who love quirky holidays and quaint community celebrations, January is ripe with promise. So far, those who weren't celebrating "Oh My God, I Can't Believe I Drank That Many (Insert Alcoholic Beverage Name Here)" Day on January 2nd, celebrated Run It up the Flagpole and See if It Salutes Day instead.

Everyone who was too busy celebrating Festival of Sleep Day on January 3rd missed Fruitcake Toss Day and Humiliation Day. On January 4th, the US Census Bureau estimated that 7,004,110,246 people may have celebrated Trivia Day worldwide.

If you keep or sell caged birds, today's celebration is aimed directly at you. Bird activists created National Bird Day to draw attention to the plight of all birds in captivity. While they have not yet succeeded in convincing Congress to declare the holiday, which is a requirement for genuine "National" status, National Bird Day has a great plenty of credibility in the birding world. Of the world's 9,800 bird species, 1,176 face extinction in this century, including 110 species of parrot, according to Born Free USA. While suburban creep destroyed habitat and toxic spills created untold damage to delicate coastal ecosystems, the caged bird market devastated breeding populations of popular birds, such as the green avadavat, or Amandava formosa, a finch native to India. Amandava formosa's habitat lies in southern Rajasthan to central Uttar Pradesh, southern Bihar and West Bengal (historically), south to southern Maharashtra and northern Andhra Pradesh, according to BirdLife International.

Instead of keeping caged birds, set up an observation station in a picture window or outside a patio door. Plant native shrubs, grasses and trees to create a natural blind, then sit back and enjoy the show your feathered friends provide. In my next post, for Ultimate Blog Challenge Day 5, I'll post video footage of my station, hidden by a screen of mesquite shrubs and facing a 16-foot tall, nearly 20-foot wide Cereus peruvianus, also known as the Peruvian apple cactus.

Cereus pervianus in bloom, September 29, 2011 by Jack V. Sage

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Ultimate Blog Challenge Day Three

Sunrise over Smiley's Flea Market, August 2010, photo by Jack V. Sage
On the perfect average day, I'd wake up at 4:30 in the morning, while the air still hold's last night's chill, and the morning dew still hovers, coating every flat surface with its frosty breath. I'd slip out of our vardo as quietly as I could, despite the fact that the flashlight men are already making their rounds.

"Got any gold," they chant in their whiskey and cigarette voices, "got any fishing lures? Got any guns?" I answer no, like always. I don't deal in antiques, breakables or anything I can't afford to ditch to the thunder and rain gods, or sacrifice to the breakdown gnomes.

I flip my tarps if it's dry enough, or place just enough cheap plastic household crap I bought yesterday for $5 a box on the table to satisfy the flea market owner that I really do intend to do business. As the sun rises and dries away the dew, I add old tools and scrap metal to one table and any of our jewelry that is not made from black steel to the other.

Hand-hammered black-steel scimitar kilt pin, FaerieWynd 2010
I jump back into the vardo to get warm, while we share coffee and watch the sun rise. We don't do business this early. Women don't feel pretty till after 10 AM, and men are still too tired from last night's work to buy knives or large hand tools. This early, they just want to look, or they want to shoot the breeze about the things they wish they had time to do, or used to do but can't any more for one reason or another.

The plastic household crap goes under the table, tossed into the mystical $5 box that people can't resist picking through, even when they have to bend down and block traffic to do it. Things I could never sell on top of the table at any price become treasures, garnering anywhere from a quarter to $5. I've bought boxes of crap off fellow vendors for as little as $5 and sold as much as $80 worth of stuff or more from them by the end of the day, with just a little TLC and a few batteries as my cost of doing business.

Late Afternoon, Smiley's Flea Market, August 2010 Photo by Jack V Sage
But the plastic crap is just what we use to get people to stop: dinosaurs, toy cars, stuff you can buy your kids for fifty cents. Then Momma spies the $2 and $5 earring boxes. Next thing you know, we have the day's $25 table fees in hand for the price of a pack of head pins and two strings of Chinese turquoise cabochons.

I lied about the breakables, though. I will put them on the table if I got them in a package deal, but I get them right back off the table ASAP unless they are special enough to use as display pieces. Like the maneki neko "luck cat" we hauled through 7 states, whose place of honor was at the center of the show table, surrounded by rose bodice daggers and Kingman Mine turquoise stud earrings, or the hand-painted wooden serving trays I used to display our $5 earrings through six shows in five different states.

Kingman Mine turquoise stud earrings, FaerieWynd 2010

A pair of orc scimitars forged from leaf springs graced the show table for three weeks running, kept shiny by daily rubbings with a green kitchen scrubbie and olive oil and wiped clean with paper towels from the flea market's ladies' rest room. We had an assortment of throwing daggers and some hand-woven chokers with glass seed beads, filigree-wrapped stopper bottle pendants and mini-scimitar annular brooches.

Filigree Memory Bottles, FaerieWynd 2010
The spray paint art is the last thing I add to the table, once the dew has completely disappeared. I anchor it all with rose daggers, throwing knives and large pendants to keep the Carolina winds from whisking it away. Our crowd, the "dangerous, dirty, tattooed, uncivilized kind of people" meander into the flea market and we start selling.

"Emerald City" in progress, July 2010

Once the sun is up, it's on. I greet people in three languages, and nod and smile at the ones whose languages I don't know. Everyone gets a hello, Buenos Dias or Bonjour. One of these days I'll learn to say it in Farsi, Mandarin, Vietnamese and Korean as well. Why? Because it makes people smile, and people who are smiling buy things from the people who make them smile. They come back and buy more things the next time they see you, especially if you make them feel remembered. It costs nothing but a second, and the willingness to think like the person on the other side of the show table.

Sometime around two or three in the afternoon, if it hasn't rained, the crowd thins and vendors on each side start packing. The antique dealers leave first, followed by the housewives selling off their children's outgrown clothes. Then the baseball card and comic book men pack it in, followed by the packaged goods vendors and the truck garden folks. Only the diehards like us, selling tools, better-quality jewelry, new work clothes or car parts stay for the last few hours of the day. Finally, only the indoor marketers are still around, and the afternoon wind whips our Goretex off the table and flips our stock on the ground, even with clamps and blocks holding things in place. We pack it in and spend the rest of the day making new stock for tomorrow.

Monday, January 2, 2012

2012 Ultimate Blog Challenge Day Two

As I explained in the previous post, I accepted both the 2012 Ultimate Blog Challenge and the "My Perfect Average Day" challenge. Question 1 from the "My Perfect Average Day" challenge is "Where Would I Live?"

In the past three years, I've lived in a treehouse, two different vardos, an efficiency apartment over a metal artist's shop and our current place, a house in Tempe, Arizona that we share with a photographer/bouncer/blacksmith and an artist/hotel desk clerk. Each had its benefits and drawbacks, but of them all, I'd prefer to have wheels under my house again.

Van camping is not for everyone. Everything from how to organize everything to how to keep the van and yourself clean requires planning. You have to strip down to the essentials if you don't want 90 percent of your fuel used to haul stuff you didn't know that you don't need, and many people just can't let go of that pile of stuff they think they have to have.

After running two different vans back and forth between Pittsburgh, PA, the AEP campgrounds in Monroe County, Ohio, flea markets in Rogers, Ohio, Asheville, North Carolina and Athens, Georgia, we learned that the fewer things we carried besides show stock, the better. Rebar tie makes fine curtain rods, saddle blankets make great curtains and those two-burner propane camp stoves will heat the average van for $2 worth of propane just fine. A standard $5 tarp, 6 feet square, provides more insulation from the cold than any blanket or sleeping bag we could find, and it really is a good idea to insulate your van walls and put up some paneling.

For the next van, I definitely want a box truck if I can find one. If it's already modified into a camper, so much the better. If not, I want the sleeping platform right behind the driver's and passenger seats and the camp kitchen in the rear. I want a swing-down prep table on each back door, with rear power jacks and an inverter. A coffee pot is a must-have, because I've been to one too many shows where some idjit didn't realize that coffee should be on sale by 4AM, not after 9AM.

We'll have built-in shelves with 4-inch rails, no more than 6 inches wide, so that things don't slide when you come to a stop. I'll paint the interior in shades of purple from dark plum to lilac, and lay the carpet, if any, in pieces small enough to pull out and wash when needed rather than in a single piece.

The basic floor plan, depending on the type of van we find, will look a lot like this, except I'll put the toilet and vanity on the driver's side wall, not the passenger's side:

Graphic Copyright 2009 by Gypsy Wilburn

2012 Ultimate Blog Challenge

Michele Scism and Michelle Schaeffer, authors of "7 Ways to Get Your Blog in Motion," created the 2012 Ultimate Blog Challenge to kickstart the year and help participants create a habit of posting at least once a day. According to Scism and Shaeffer, the challenge will help participants increase their blog readership and foster community. Since a couple dozen of my fellow writers have all taken the challenge, and since their effort to strengthen the writing community fits the intent Tempe Tempest, I decided to participate as well.

I accepted a second challenge from another fellow writer, to complete a personal profile called "My Average Perfect Day." Completing the challenge is supposed to help you identify what you want from life, making it easier to motivate yourself. The questions, along with a couple of my own that I added, provide exactly 31 topics. Save the questions to a Wordpad file and share the answers on your own site.

Questions for the "My Average Perfect Day" Challenge:

Where would I live?

What would my house look like?

What time would I wake up?

What would I see first thing in the morning?

What would I do in the morning?

What would I think about first thing in the morning?

What would I say in the morning?

Who would I say it to?

What would I have for breakfast?

What would I think about during breakfast?

What would I do for the first half of my day?

What would I have for lunch?

Where would I have lunch?

Who would I eat with?

What would my friends be like?

What would we talk about during lunch?

Deeper questions…

What would I do for personal fulfillment?

What would I do for my community?

What life purpose will I strive toward?

What would my business be?

What time would I start work?

What would I actually “DO” at work?

What are my clients like?

What is my relationship like?

What would I do for family time?

Where would I go?

How would I get there?

What would I do at night?

Who would I do it with?

What are my thoughts as I go to sleep?

How do I want to be remembered?

Final thoughts...