My old online Photoshop portfolio recently gave up the ghost. More specifically, the folks at Carbonmade made their free service a subscription service. Good for them–make that money! But I’m not interested in paying for storage, particularly when I already pay both Dropbox and Google for additional storage. Sure, Carbonmade would give me all sorts of bells and whistles to zhuzh things up, but the point of a portfolio is my work, not the bells and whistles.
As I began picking at that particular thread, the entire EverythingAndrew.com experience began to unravel. I started this particular blog/website five years ago. That’s an eternity in online time. And aside from fixing the occasional broken link and setting up a private page for Gearbox when I was was trying to get a job, I haven’t done much to it. Basically, I’d log on every now and then and post a poem or essay.
So here we are. I’ve saved all the pages as drafts, save one: writer. It needs updating, but it’s not too far off. Everything else needs a major overhaul, and in some cases, possible deletion! I mean, sure… I can make mediocre Photoshop magic, but am I really selling those services anymore? I’m proud of the work I’ve done, but I may be a little too old for an online refrigerator decorated with my art.
Time to refresh, but that’s going to take some rethinking. And so, the ironic gif at the head of this dispatch. It may be quite a while until the refresh actually happens.
It was on a Christmas Eve, not so very long ago, that two lost souls found each other. One, a mythic man, larger than life, dressed in red, the other a simple ass.
In the mountains of Spain, a powerful winter storm kicked up, suddenly and without warning. Santa Claus, not one to fly willy nilly into whiteout conditions, landed his sleigh. According to the weather elves back at the North Pole, the storm would soon pass. He was running a little ahead of schedule, so he had the time to spare.
Bitterly cold, Santa poured himself a cup of hot apple cider from a spigot installed on the dashboard of his sleigh. Ordinarily he would have hot chocolate, but he had just completed his run in Germany, where thick cream accompanied the delicious cookies. He needed a break from dairy.
As he checked over the reindeer’s rigging, he heard a sad braying on the wind. Santa turned, and through the driving snow could just make out a small brown figure, shivering in the distance. Santa approached this figure with great strides, and soon towered over a pathetic little ass.
“Whoa ho ho,” he exclaimed. “This ass is freezing!” He scooped up the little fellow in one arm, and offered it a sip from his hot apple cider.
The ass sipped a little at first, but was soon greedily drinking up all he could.
“Slow down there, little guy!” said Santa. Santa held the ass up and looked him over. “You are a cute ass!” he exclaimed. Looking around, there was no sign of civilization. “Who would abandon an ass like you?” Santa cuddled the ass in his burly arms, and turned back to his sleigh.
“Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen! Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen! We have company!” Santa made a little bed for the ass next to him. The ass settled into a big fluffy blanket. “This ass is exhausted! Let’s finish our rounds so we can take him home!”
And so Santa flew off into the night, delivering toys to little boys and girls, while his ass waited for him in the sleigh.
Mrs. Claus wasn’t too crazy about Santa bringing home a strange ass.
“Santa! Why would you bring your dirty ass in here!”
“Aw… he’s just a little ass, after all. And he’s freezing still! Here, put your hand on my ass!”
Mrs. Claus gave Santa a look, but did as requested. “My! Your ass is cold! Let’s get it close to the fire!”
They kept watch on the shivering little ass all night. No matter how hot the fire, how thick the blankets, nothing seemed to warm up Santa’s ass.
Suddenly, Santa had a brilliant idea. Remembering how the ass responded to hot apple cider, he fetched a piping hot bowl for the ass. The ass came to life, and started slurping up the delicious drink.
Santa laughed, cheeks aglow. “That ass can’t get enough! I’m going to name him Cinnamon!”
And so he did. Months passed, and Santa’s little ass grew larger and larger. It must have been the hot apple cider, because while he grew he also changed colors! No longer was he small and brown. Santa’s ass was big and red!
Another Christmas came around, and to everyone’s dismay, the reindeer had all come down with a reindeer-specific strain of coronavirus. They were in no shape to pull Santa’s sleigh. At wit’s end, afraid he’d have to cancel Christmas, Santa suddenly had a brilliant thought.
“Cinnamon!” You see, asses are known for their ability to pull great weight. And an ass as big as Santa’s could surely pull his sleigh!
“Okay, Cinnamon,” said Santa. “I need you to do me a huge favor tonight. You see, all the good little boys and girls of the world are counting on me to deliver presents. Do you think you could pull Santa’s sleigh?”
Cinnamon lifted his chin and looked out across the starry sky. He knew that out there were hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions of children counting on Santa. This was the moment for Santa’s ass to shine. Cinnamon looked Santa in the eye, and solemnly nodded his head.
“I’m going to put some magic reindeer flying powder in your hot apple cider. This is going to make it so you can fly.” Cinnamon drank deep, and instantly felt the magical charge shoot through him. “Let’s go make some children happy!”
And so Cinnamon pulled Santa’s sleigh that night, taking hot apple cider breaks to stay warm against the frigid cold. When they pulled back into the North Pole, all the elves were waiting to cheer. Even the reindeer, sick though they were, came out to beat their hooves on the ground in salute. Mrs. Claus held out Cinnamon’s favorite blanket. She was definitely going to pamper that ass tonight!
Santa scratched Cinnamon’s ears and gave him a kiss on the nose.
“You did a great job tonight. I’m so happy I found you last year! I may have rescued you, but you’ve returned the favor tonight!” For the first time Cinnamon could remember, he felt warm. Not because of blankets or hot apple cider, but because of a job well done.
I enjoy watching YouTube channels devoted to old, defunct theme park attractions. Channels like Defunctland, Yesterworld, and others offer highly entertaining and informative deep dives into one of my most favorite topics: ephemera. Maybe it’s a lingering side effect of working in live theater, but I have a fondness for things that just aren’t built to last.
Sure, a place like Disneyland seems timeless and in a constant state of renewal, but I first visited the part in 2001, when it was desperately in need of some TLC. I’ve seen how quickly the timeless can crumble when neglected.
Last night, I watched a video that has stayed with me all day. Offhand Disney’s “Liminal Spaces at the Disney Parks”:
A transitional space that is neither here nor there.
It reminds me of growing up in “flyover country,” mostly in rural Arkansas and Louisiana, looking up at the night sky and picking out the distant blinking lights of a passenger plane. Thinking about the people inside the plane, who left one destination city bound for another. That was a very liminal time in my life.
When my wife and I moved to Los Angeles, I felt that I had finally arrived. In fact, I had passed from one liminal space to another. I don’t think I really appreciated it at the time–I was too busy trying to make that transition to notice where I was–but I can reflect on just how magical it was.
There’s a buzz in Los Angeles. It’s a liminal space for so many people; hundreds of thousands of other people simultaneously transitioning. Actively working on it. It’s energizing.
In reading about liminal space today, I ran across this meditation by a Franciscan friar, Father Richard Rohr:
“There alone is our old world left behind, while we are not yet sure of the new existence. That’s a good space where genuine newness can begin. Get there often and stay as long as you can by whatever means possible.”
Much like Zeno’s arrow I think we sometimes forget that we are constantly in a state of motion. Constantly in a liminal space. We have an illusion of being at rest, but we are nevertheless firing forward into the unknown, towards some distant target that will mark the end of our flight.
It reminds me of something I wrote in my journal, not long after moving from Los Angeles to our new home in Dallas. “Life is a series of interlocking interludes. Rolling French scenes that meander through time. We make our entrances and our exits, as does everyone. You can’t replay the past or perform your future roles before their time. All you have is now. Don’t squander that and you’ll do fine.”
More from Fr. Rohr:
“Cheap religion teaches us how to live contentedly in a sick world, just as poor therapy teaches us how to accommodate ourselves to a sometimes small world based on power, prestige, and possessions. A good therapist and a good minister will always open up larger vistas for you, which are by definition risky, instead of just ‘rearranging the deck chairs’ on a sinking Titanic.”
Lately I’ve been missing the old me. The “cocksure and arrogant” me who dreamed big and boldly chased down those dreams. The me who is capable of commanding an audience, inspiring others, and creating marvels. Not because I desire power, prestige, or possessions. Not at all. Because I miss the way it makes me feel. I miss dancing at the edge of risk, creating ephemeral experiences that nevertheless echo forward into the lives of others.
Much like Disneyland, circa 2001, I feel like I’m slowing falling apart. Yeah, I’m getting older. I was 26 years old when I first set foot on Hollywood Blvd. I’m 46 now. But it’s more than just routine body stuff, more than just sleep apnea, anxiety issues, occasional aches and pains.
I don’t know what I’m doing anymore. I guess I never really knew what I was doing, but when I was in my 20s and 30s at least I didn’t know that I didn’t know.
Fr. Rohr says, “If we don’t encounter liminal space in our lives, we start idealizing normalcy.” I think it can work the other way, too. You can start idealizing normalcy so much that you shut yourself off to liminal space. The liminal is all around us. The only constant in the cosmos is change, and we are very much a part of the cosmos.
I need to open up to larger vistas. I need to figure out how.
“Why did you ruin your rope?!” The IT guy who sat in the cubicle behind me at the day job was aghast.
I had been fiddling with a length of “ordinary rope, like you would find in any magic shop” all day, drilling the (hopefully) subtle move that made the trick work. It was 2016, and I was trying something new as co-host of the upcoming Nearly Naked Nutcracker in Dallas. I was going to do a magic trick onstage.
The conceit was simple: Drosselmeyer the Great is a not-so-great magician who enlists a sassy Showgirl to help his magical assistant Clara find her purpose as a burlesque dancer. In the end, Drosselmeyer compensates the Showgirl by filling in as her dance partner in the final act of the show. (We altered the premise slightly for 2017.)
I wanted to tackle a few “cheesy” tricks, including the well-worn cut and restored rope trick. (I say “cheesy” with nothing but respect. If you’ve caught my shtick as Mr. Snapper, you know that I love a little cheese. Further, I know how much effort goes into something as “cheesy” as the cut and restored rope trick.) I asked my magician friends for advice. One of them–I think Funny Eddie–recommended I check out Aldo Colombini. I consumed his Gagbuster video, and used a couple of his blow-offs in the show. But I digress …
I don’t have great hands. So I took to carrying a length of magician’s rope around with me, practicing the move over and over until I could do it without thinking. And so it happened that I was practicing the move at the day job, when one of the MBAs I worked with asked me what the deal was with the rope. A few other coworkers gathered around, and when I snipped the rope in two, they all flinched. The IT guy voiced his alarm.
A terribly simple trick, some confident patter, and I sold it. I finished the trick, and they were suitably impressed. Other coworkers drifted to my cubicle, having heard about the trick, asking to see it. It was like a drug.
It absolutely killed at Nearly Naked Nutcracker, and I brought it back to the show this year, along with another chestnut: the disappearing and reappearing hankie. I’ve been thinking about both tricks, their simplicity, and something occurred to me this morning. The hankie doesn’t do the trick. The scissors don’t do the trick. The thing that you think is doing the trick is not doing the trick.
The hankie thing amazes me. There’s no hiding how it’s done. There are only so many places that hankie can disappear to, and the most likely suspect is sticking out, literally, like a sore thumb. Like a Silly Putty-colored sore thumb. The audience doesn’t seem to notice. (Or they don’t care. Honestly, I don’t know which would be more mind-blowing.)
In magic, as in other artistic pursuits, you have the actual work that creates an effect, and you have the apparent work. All the attention is on the apparent work, which makes the result simply mystifying. “How’d you do that?”
This is true of writing. There are many apparent things doing the work: word choice, ideas, your premise. The actual thing doing the work is structure. Little things like putting the joke phrase at the end of a punchline so you don’t step on your laugh. Huge things like building up expectations that you can knock over at the climax. People think that knock over, that twist is the magic trick, but what actually does the work is everything that comes before it.
“Why did you ruin your rope!?”
I had to suppress a smile as I thought to myself, “Gotcha.”
Note: This article was originally published on LinkedIn.
Audience engagement is an art, not a science. You certainly can measure audience engagement — click-through, session duration, social sharing, or something as basic as a headcount. But there is no reliable recipe for generating audience engagement. It’s like trying to write a hit song.
For twenty some odd years, I’ve concerned myself with audience engagement in live theater. As a performer, a playwright, a director, a designer, even a critic, I have spent sleepless nights wrestling with it. It took me years to work up the courage to put an intermission in my plays. I was that concerned with running the risk of losing people.
I’m not going to tell you I have all the answers, but I do have a better than average idea of how to accomplish this. So here we go:
The Feedback Loop
Actors have an uncanny “third eye” that monitors the audience. You can tell when you’re losing an audience. You hear more shuffling around, coughing; the silhouettes you can make out in the dark are slumped over. Actors can make micro-adjustments moment to moment to recapture the audience’s lagging attention.
In content marketing, the feedback loop is (thankfully) far more defined. Monitor your audience. Become an analytics nut. See what works, what doesn’t, and adjust. Constantly adjust.
Dramatic tension is the interplay between an audience’s expectations and the unknown, multiplied by the stakes. A riveting performance, that series you keep tuning into, the page-turner — they all share this same thing. You have certain expectations, based on your knowledge of story, and those expectations are running up against what you just don’t know. When a character or performer’s life is on the line, the tension is drawn even tauter.
What does this mean for you? Consider what your followers expect you to say. How can you cultivate their expectations for your brand, and then defy those expectations with something better than they anticipated?
This could be as simple as deviating from your standard editorial calendar. Disrupting your own pace and rhythm with a surprise flourish, such as an infographic or video content. Building to the release of an eBook by dropping tantalizing teases that only hint at what’s to come.
As for translating the stakes part of the equation, take a risk. Color outside the lines just a bit. Step outside your comfort zone, and it will manifest as an increase in dramatic tension.
Convey, Don’t Display
You’re not in the marketing business, you’re in the storytelling business. We are social animals, and we respond to narrative. A skilled juggler who runs through her tricks may be interesting. A skilled juggler who shapes those tricks into a narrative is engaging.
Spend time on your editorial calendar. Determine your story arc for the year; the theme you want to convey. Every status update, blog post, Instagram pic, etc. should build towards and support that story arc. Unfold the story of your brand, don’t just tell us what you’re about. Metaphor and simile is more effective than the blunt end of a declarative statement. It is the difference between settling into a hot bubble bath, and being blasted by a fire hose.
The Struggle Is Real
Like I said at the outset, this is a subject I have concerned myself with for a long time. My last bit of advice is to spend every moment you can obsessing over audience engagement. Or better yet, hire someone to do that obsessing for you. (I am in the market, by the way.)
The strangest things occur to me first thing in the morning. Here are some of those things.
They say, “Love the sinner; hate the sin.” But what if the sin is their only endearing feature?
Hipsters are like the Reavers on Firefly. In their madness, they do it to themselves.
You know how sometimes you’re like, “I had a weird-ass dream last night”? Wouldn’t it be funny if it was literally a dream where you had a weird ass? For instance, if your crack ran side-to-side.
Arguments over the definition of “professional” are sooo amateur.
Red Bullfighting. Get a couple of people all jacked up on Red Bull and turn them loose.
Christopher Cross should have done a crossover with Kris Kross before Chris Kelly crossed over.
Count Dracula is crate trained.
I try not to hold a grudge, but I remain bitterly disappointed that at no point in the movie Kiss the Girls did Morgan Freeman ask for a list of all sex offenders within the state named “Georgie Porgie.”
“In Soviet Russia, Cat Saves You! A Screenwriting Guide by Yakov Smirnoff”
A bumper sticker for turtles: “If this shell’s a-rockin’, that’s because I’m masturbating.”
Have you hit that level of social anxiety disorder where you look up the identifying markers of the disorder to make sure you’re presenting enough of them so that people realize you suffer from social anxiety disorder and aren’t just being a dick when you up and leave their party? (oh gawd, i hope that’s not just me.)
Internet quiz: “Girding Your Loin Or Loaning Your Girdle? Take Our Quiz To Determine Your Real Gender!”
The worst thing about a heat wave is getting Rob Thomas stuck in your head.
You know, that poop emoji looks awful full of itself.
We should name our footwear like people used to name their swords. Your right flip flop is “Spider Slayer,” your left croc is “Reckoning for Roaches,” etc.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If things are tight right now, just get a dimebag of prevention. That will only put you back four ounces of cure.
After a long day, Farmer Brown is loading his livestock back into the barn for the night. The last one in is his old milk cow. He says to her, “Get on in there, bossy.” The cow stops, indignant. She turns to Farmer Brown and exclaims, “MOOOOOOSOGYNIST!”
Charles Eames: “People ask me all the time, ‘Charles, why the chair?’ To which I reply, ‘Have you seen me? I’m a giant. If I didn’t sit down, I’d fall down.’ And so they ask, ‘Then why are you always photographed standing?’ To which I reply, ‘Shut up.'”
The Escape Club should shoot a PSA warning up-and-coming one hit wonders against tying their one hit to a flip of the calendar. “‘Living in the eighties,’ indeed,” says a steely-eyed Trevor Steele, as some weird arm bird flaps behind him. “Living in the eighties, and headed for obscurity.”
You know how there are international symbols for things like “No Smoking” or “Wheelchair Accessible”? I wonder if there is one for “Do Not Disturb.” It should be a pictograph of a bottle of Jergens and a box of tissues.