I’ve been thinking a lot lately about giving up. No, not in the “good-bye cruel world “ sense, but in the moving on kind of way. Against how the writer’s world says, “Never give up” on your writing, no matter how many rejection letters you get. About this attitude of sticking with it no matter how much of your life you are possibly wasting. We don’t live in a Peter Gabrial/Kate Bush video, after all.
Well, I’ve been developing different ideas about giving up and it’s not advice anyone else will give you.
I think giving up is a healthy thing to do, especially when your endeavour brings no success. After pumping out a fresh blog post, it’s depressing when no one reads it, much less commenting, liking, or sharing your hard work. For years. And worse, Google ignores it and it never appears on the first page of Search Results no matter how you optimized the hell out of it.
And, about the many times I’ve quit something and moved on. In my professional life I give my endeavours at least 5 years before rethinking the direction I’ve taken. Some things have lasted longer, but I still quit and moved on. It’s just too depressing to keep trying to keep aiming for success in something that is going nowhere.
What’s that you say? Shouldn’t I be engaging in creative pursuits just for the love of doing it? Yeah, that’s for amateurs. It’s not for those who seek recognition, repeat work, or a passable income. Lacking all that, I think it’s a waste of your life time to work unsuccessfully. In my own case, as a 63 year-old with cancer, I don’t know how much time I have left so I sure as hell don’t want to keep knocking my head against any walls. I just want to be happy and enjoy some satisfaction in what I do.
And doing things just for myself doesn’t cut it. An art therapist once told me that creative works are not complete until they are seen, and I believe that. I don’t want to wait until I’m dead for my daughter to go through my closet or computer and publish something I wrote. I’d be proud, looking on as a ghost, but I don’t want to be like the guy who wrote Rent, who died just before the show opened. I want to be alive to hear how much my work sucks, or doesn’t suck.
Having cancer really makes you review your life to learn what worked and what was an abject failure. As someone who is more creative than talented, I often look back at what I’ve done and abandoned, looking for patterns. Here’s a (not so) brief recap.
The Photography Years
I got my first Instamatic at about age 10, but I really caught the shutterbug in high school. Needing more serious equipment, I lifted my dad’s old Konica with the sliding focus. He used that camera a lot up until his 3rd child came along, but probably not in the previous 20 years. Later, I bought a Minolta 201 SLR and used that for my photography classes. In college I bought a Mamiya 2 1/4 camera to work on my photo major. I continued studying photography at the San Francisco Academy of Art, but dropped out of the program after a year and a half after learning very little. I lived with my first husband/business partner and produced my daughter who became our best little model. (She actually worked as a model and got tear sheets from JC Penney and Emporium ads – in the days of paper newspapers – until the market for blonde, blue-eyed kids dried up.) In the 1980s, Keith and I developed a pretty successful wedding photography business and when he got into video, when VHS was the standard, he would shoot right alongside me. That was nice until I realized that our wedding couples were more into the video than the stills. And, I just got tired of the wedding industry.
After we separated, I went into business with a new boyfriend, Tony, who was a commercial photographer. We rented a shared studio South of Market near China Basin in a state-owned building that was eventually demolished to make way for the new Giants stadium. I worked as his assistant, but he did not enjoy being my assistant on gigs I got, which was annoying. I’d bought a second-hand Hasselblad which was such a pleasure to work with. For all the Polaroids we shot, we should have owned stock in the company! So much film was shot, we practically went broke supporting our local labs.
Then, came the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989 and San Francisco basically shut down. The country went into recession and suddenly New York photographers were moving to the west coast by the bus load it seemed, increasing the competition. We were late paying rent, we were maxed out on my credit cards, and fell into debt. Clearly, this photography business was failing.
This was just before digital photography became a reality and we were just a few years from shooting film-free. So close! Ultimately, we broke up over personal and professional differences and Tony moved to the Philippines. I sold him my Hasselblad and he later got angry that I cashed the check he wrote from our joint bank account!
Let’s Go Digital
I was toast at that point. Commercial shoots – with all the lighting and polaroid shooting and bending and lifting – was the hardest work I’ve ever done. Just exhausting! I used to sit in my bedroom working on an old Mac SE that a client traded for his unpaid invoice and dreamed of a having job sitting down at a desk. No more heavy lifting. No more setting up and breaking down. At 35, I felt too old for that kind of labor.
This was a time when “desktop publishing” was a thing, especially niche newsletters. I started playing with the program, PageMaker, and found that I loved laying out digital pages. Aside from a brief course on Illustrator, I mostly taught myself how to use these programs. Again, this was before the Internet and video tutorials, so I had to rely on the Help portal in the program. By 1992, I was hooked on computers.
After Tony left, I cracked an idea to move to Sonoma County. Every year Tara and I summered at my family’s farm in Michigan and those times made me crave the countryside, with its clean air and quiet surroundings. By then, I had read Jack Herer’s seminal book, the Emperor Wears No Clothes, about industrial hemp. My research showed there was a nascent hemp industry growing and I wanted to be part of it. I tried making hemp pot holders (get it?) but soon realized that manufacturing was not for me. I wanted to write about the business. I wanted to be the publisher of HempWorld-The International Hemp Journal, the first and only publication of its kind in the world.
Once we moved into a little house on Pride Road in Forestville, I began making contacts in the local hemp business and working on mockups of a publication. But first, I had to find a job to support the $400 rent I paid for half the little house we rented. Wine Spectator had been one of our photography clients back in San Francisco and I felt I had accumulated enough wine knowledge to fool a winery into hiring me to pour in a tasting room.
My first job was at Davis-Bynum on Westside Road and driving through the redwoods and vineyards I had to pinch myself at the luck of it being my commute. Once I got my wine legs I absolutely loved the job. I loved meeting people from around the world and I learned a ton about wine. Until they laid me off because one of the old men who worked there wanted my hours so he could get his car fixed. Is that a lame excuse for a layoff or what? I became convinced that Bynum the younger wanted me gone because he got tired of me asking for the return of my book proposal Tony and I worked on about microbreweries, which I loaned him in the hopes of doing wine photography for them. He later surmised it was thrown out when he moved. So that was my first wine job, but not my last.
Meanwhile at home I was putting the finishing touches on HempWorld and stupidly launched it in December, 1993. At Christmastime who wants to hear about hemp? But soon, the newsletter gained traction with the help of the newly formed Hemp Industries Association, whose administrator Candy Penn lived in nearby Occidental and referred any and all new hempsters (what we called ourselves) to me to subscribe and possibly get a write-up.
I realize now that my mistake was in treating the newsletter more like an art project than a business. I was picky about who I wrote about and did not make enough room for ads. And I did not make the story subjects buy an ads to support the articles. Later, when the newsletter became a proper magazine I refused to use glossy paper, which I hated, even though it would have cut down on my shipping costs. And I refused to incorporate HempWorld, which put off the German publishers who wanted to partner with me. I didn’t trust anyone anyway. Always the loner, me.
Then there was the Dutch guy from Santa Barbara who trademarked the name HempWorld behind my back. He wanted to buy the magazine, with me as the publisher. After a weekend with him in Santa Barbara, I realized I couldn’t work with him. Hardly anyone in the industry liked him. We went to court to sue him about the trademark and managed to get $25K settlement, and he would own the name. I don’t know what happened with that, but today hempworld.com is “is parked free, courtesy of GoDaddy.com.”
Long story short, HempWorld lasted five years and came to a crashing end when a deal to buy HempWorld fell through. We didn’t even publish the last issue because that would have put us in fire engine red territory and I couldn’t deal with more debt. So, I wrote glowing letters of recommendations for my two staffers and closed the door on HempWorld as well as the annual, then bi-annual, Hemp Pages Directory, which turned out to be a flop. To use the millennial parlance, I failed spectacularly.
I used to work day and night on HempWorld and Hemp Pages, so when it wound up, I finally began to relax. One day, my tenant from next door walked in, saw me laying on my couch reading the Handmaids Tale, and said, “Wow, I’ve never seen you looking so relaxed!” And she was right. I was suddenly de-activated. Living in a paused mode. Waiting for the next big thing. It was a great feeling.
Freelance Writing and Web Design and More Wine
I thought that bringing HempWorld on line would save it. Oh, to have been just 5 years later, I could have designed the site in WordPress. In 1999, HTML was the standard and this thing called Cold Fusion came along that made headers and footers more easily uniform. I worked with all that in basic coding software, and then my friend gave me a copy of DreamWeaver, a new page builder, and I managed to learn it! Other more experienced designers, including my friend, admitted to being flummoxed by the software, but somehow newbie me managed to work with it. The site was short lived after I basically sold the rights to hemp world.com to Santa Barbara guy.
Meanwhile I began pitching stories to magazines and newspapers and was able to get stories into publications like Sonoma County’s left-wing weekly, The Bohemian, Marin County’s Pacific Sun, and editorials in Santa Rosa Press Democrat.
Then in 2000, I was referred by a friend to Buyside Magazine, where I got a salary job as an editor. Stock market? What did I know about the stock market? Not much, but I managed to learn a lot. I also learned how to interview people properly and how to edit interviews for print. And, I was able to take my first stab at blogging (don’t ask me about the platform) and was able to master the 300-word post. I was laid off a year later, which actually made me happy after spending 2 hours per day commuting to the City of Sonoma. They kept me on as a contributing editor for a couple more years, the worst time being after September 11 when a bunch of my contacts were killed.
I got a few jobs in wineries, but eventually realized, as much as I loved it, this was not the work for me. At the age of 40+ and coming, out of a long period of self-employment, I proved to be a terrible employee. I always had a different way of doing things and would proceed to do things my way until I got fired. Laughably, at my last winery, I had just secured a job at Bottle Barn in Santa Rosa and came to the winery that morning with the intention of quitting. The boss stopped me on the way in, handed me a check and an apology that it was just not working out for me. For the first time in my life I was able to declare, “you can’t fire me, I quit,” which felt so satisfying. Decent of her to let me leave with a case of the Sauv Blanc for 50% discount.
Bottle Barn was my first foray into wine retail and I brought so much to the table. I built their mailing list online, installed invoicing software, built them a website after negotiating the purchase of the domain name, reorganized a lot of merchandise, decorated the walls with winery posters, and more. And they still treated me like a dumb blonde who would fall down drunk if they let me taste wine. Working with these millennials and one big baby boomer, I experience more sexism that any of my previous jobs. I wasn’t looking to quit though, until Bill and I decided to move to Canada about a year later, in 2005. I think it made them happy not to have to fire me for being too assertive and making them look like shlumps.
Quitting the USA
It was not just because of the re-election of George W. Bush, but as it happens, election night 2004 was when we decided to pull the trigger. I was convinced that with Dick Cheney as puppet master, the country was headed for doom. Additionally, Bill’s mom was fighting cancer in Manitoba and we wanted to be closer to his folks. Canada looked better than ever. I had already started scoping out BC’s Lower Mainland soon after September 11, but suddenly I went into overdrive, looking for a teaching job for Bill. Nothing panned out in advance. So we cleaned out the Forestville house, found new renters, packed up the mighty Volvo 850, and drove north. The customs agents were super unfriendly, informing Bill that BC was firing teachers not hiring them, but we persisted and made our way to Vancouver’s West End, where we lived for two years before moving here to Mount Pleasant, which is very pleasant.
Wine Leads to WordPress
Continuing to write and pitch stories to magazines, I started a WordPress blog in 2009. Tasting Room Confidential was all about wine and beer, but it never really took off. Despite my attempts to post better content, optimize keywords and images, and generally improve the site’s performance, it never gained a following. What I gained was a knowledge of WordPress and blogging, so I started teaching people how to blog. By 2012 I was hanging up my shingle for Web Design and Tutorials.
My web designing has lasted longer than the blogging. 2016 features Tasting Room’s last original posting. Afterward, I just republished articles I sold to Edible Vancouver, the last being 2018. Although I still like wine, I just lost my taste and enthusiasm for wine reporting and couldn’t stand to write one more wine description.
I had also started a blog about blogging, on a site called Blogsite Studio, and was devoted to writing weekly technical posts for over five years. Then, it dropped to monthly posts. Then, never. The last post was in 2019 and I haven’t looked back. I just ran out of gas. Blogsite Studio did get some readership, but not enough, and it helped me promote my business, but not enough for me to take time away from web design work to blog more.
As soon as I stopped blogging I felt a weight lifting from my shoulders. The weight of writing and posting blog posts is quite heavy and when I let it all go, I felt like school was out for summer, that I was free to pursue other passions, comfortable in the knowledge that no one would miss me.
Since moving to Vancouver I’ve written two books. Mouthfeel: Confessions of a Wine Slut is my memoir about my time working in wine jobs in Sonoma County. The concept got a lot of editors exited, but in the end they didn’t really like it. I wrote Paper World after Bill and I bought the house in Oliver, BC, where we found a trove of love letters to the former owner of the house. I thought the true story aspect would help it sell to a Canadian publisher, but none were interested. I guess it would have helped if I had been a more published writer and the book was less commercial.
Other things I gave up, even before the pandemic started, included my small weekly WordPress Workshop which I held as a Meetup to help people with their WordPress sites. It was too intimate to expand and didn’t make enough money.
For many years, I also held Meetups for the BC Association of Travel Writers, but I quit that when I quit the organization. I realized how bad travel is for the environment and I didn’t want to encourage anyone to pollute more.
I also used to attend conferences, like WordCamp, where I have spoken several times. Now, I have no desire to speak to a room full of geeks, nor hang out with them. I just don’t care anymore.
The Sum of It
So that is the summary of my life’s work: photographer, writer, publisher, blogger, web designer, tutor, and speaker, most of which I’ve turned by back on, happily. I haven’t sent a story pitch in years and find it a relief to not have headlines buzzing in my head.
Now that I’ve Marie Kondo’ed my life and eliminated everything that does not “spark joy,” while staring down the big “C”, all I want to do is write and get something published before I die so someone can add “author” to my obituary.
To sum up my philosophy of giving up, here are three reasons to leave your pursuit:
- It doesn’t interest you anymore. You just don’t care.
- It’s financially unsuccessful and is actually costing you money.
- It’s driving you crazy to pursue your goal and you are getting too old to be so frustrated all the time.
Thank you for reading to the end, and happy quitting, whatever you do!