Thursday, December 04, 2008

Where Scores Don't Matter

Want to know where the mission field is? Look out your window.

All I have to go on is what happens in my own city ... as egocentric as that may sound. Wherever you live, similar opportunities certainly exist. My advice is: Seize them. First, visit http://www.handsonbirmingham.org/ to learn how our city and surrounding communities extend a helping hand. (And not just during December.) HOB serves as a clearinghouse for a long list of volunteer service agencies. Few parameters exist because volunteers are always needed, but age requirements may be in place for some activities and with some agencies.

This is the same organization that sends out alerts for volunteer needs during all states of emergency. Most recently, Hurricane Gustav sounded the alarm, and HOB was filling e-mail inboxes faster than you could say "storm's a comin'."

When Gustav hit Labor Day weekend and evacuees were being transported by buses into Birmingham, I was not the first to say, "Let's go." It was my son. He stood over me as I responded to the e-mail. We spent that overcast Monday, searching for diapers, distributing water bottles, serving lunch and unloading trucks. Then there was the small issue of causing a near-uprising when my son changed the channel on the big-screen TV in the convention center from Tyra. He was pelted with shouts of "Hey!" and "Turn it back!" (It wasn't entirely his fault. An evacuee asked if he could find some sort of news program that would tell whether New Orleans had flooded. It seemed a reasonable request.)

I tell you this not to point out any good in him or in me, but to point out how you don't have to wait to be asked.

You may be saying, "But, Amy, you idiot, we're not in a state of emergency." Sure, you may not be, but thousands of others may be. Go help them. Salvation Army needs help filling bags of toys and assisting clients by loading their cars. YWCA facilities need volunteers to help parents "shop" for presents and to entertain the children for a few minutes while their parents are tending to a little Christmas business. Mental health facilities are asking for assistance in serving holiday meals to developmentally disabled adults. Gosh, you have all SORTS of things to choose from. Choose your interest, fill a need.

It's so much easier to help out in these situations when someone asks. But don't wait to be asked. Don't wait for the next natural disaster. And don't stop after December.

Now, let me step down from this soapbox for just a minute ... OK. There. In other business, we turn our thoughts to football. Auburn football, to be more specific. No matter how you feel about a coach's record -- whether for 10 years or one season or even one in-state rivalry -- have some depth about you and look beyond the stats. Tommy Tuberville may no longer be Auburn's head coach, but he has left a remarkable legacy.

Tuberville's first order of business when he arrived in Auburn 10 years ago was to hire a team chaplain. That decision and its subsequent hire led to a 90 percent team participation at the voluntary Friday night chapel gatherings, regular Bible studies attended by coaches and players, and more. Tuberville began this practice at Ole Miss, carried it over to Auburn by hiring Chette Williams, and inspired schools across the SEC to follow suit.

He managed team discipline with a swift hand and handled the occasional raw deal with dignity. His cool demeanor and trademark smirk, even during bad calls and poor outcomes, made us proud.

I'll leave the rest of the analysis and commentary to the sports writers and sports radio folks, but I feel qualified enough to say that this is a sad day. No anger, just disappointment.

If there's a tie-in with the first portion of this post, it's this: Tuberville found his mission field and worked it well. It just happened to have a scoreboard. But the most important things he did for college football and for Auburn? Even if they tried, nobody could keep score.

Tuberville strolls through the pre-game Tigerwalk. (photo by Jason McCary; I lifted it off Flickr; my Tigerwalk photos show only the top of Tuberville's head and are out of focus because they're taken by a kid who is sitting on his/her father's shoulders, or they're taken by me and result in a colorful shot of other people's heads and elbows; so, thanks, Jason McCary, whoever you are!)

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Let's Talk Economics. Because It's So Much Fun.

Forgive me while I talk shop for a few minutes ...

A fellow freelance writer e-mailed me this week to say, "Hey, did you see this???" She had received notice about a publication (one among many) that is temporarily cutting its freelance rates. Others have cut assignments and contracts. In the worst scenarios, some are ceasing publication altogether.

My response to her e-mail:

Sure am glad I'm not a freelance writer dependent on advertising receipts that keep these publications profitable. Oh, wait. I am.

When the economy suffers, companies tend to cut advertising, marketing and PR dollars first. And if you're a company that advertises in magazines, you might find yourself reconsidering whether those dollars are well spent. (Hint: THEY ARE. That money keeps publications in business, and when magazines prosper, more assignments and contracts are offered, translating to a trickle-down effect to nice people like me, and I, in turn, share that money with the people I live with, and they go on to pump some of that money back into the economy, perhaps in your place of business, and there you have what we call a win/win.)

If you sat through even the most basic of marketing classes, you would know that in tough times (and in theory), advertising, marketing and PR strategies should really be cranked up a notch. When advertising dollars dwindle, so do page counts. And when page counts diminish, so does editorial. And when editorial is decreased, well, then, freelance writers have a problem. The gigs become more sporadic. Or poorly compensated. Or both.

The rate cut practice really isn't all THAT bad, when you look at it from a glass-half-full perspective. Hey, a contract is a contract. A paycheck is a paycheck. But if you look at it from a salaried person's perspective, this is the financial equivalent of walking into your office or cubicle one day and having your boss tell you, "You know, we're going to slice your paycheck by, maybe, a third. By the way, how are the wife and kids?" But still, it's better than walking into your office or cubicle and having your boss hand you a cardboard box and show you the door. Right?

And that's really the coolest thing about being a freelance writer. You're technically always unemployed, so the threat of being fired or kicked out of the corner office doesn't really exist. Instead, you see each month as the end of a job (or jobs) and the beginning of the next month as a job search. Like a politician who is always running for office (because they're ALWAYS running for office), freelancers are always looking for work. We are a hungry crowd. And hungry isn't a bad place to be, if you're willing to act like a gnat buzzing around editors' heads, nagging them for work.

Maybe I should write an article on "The Care and Feeding of a Freelance Writer." In fact, just know that I will. Consider today, Dec. 3, 2008, the copyright date on that little piece of proprietary thought. HANDS. OFF.

"So, Amy, what is your point?" you may be asking.

My point is, I'm certain Adam Smith and Milton Friedman themselves would agree with my very viable economic theory: "This economy sucks eggs." And that somebody had jolly well do something about it. Like buy some advertising. Save some jobs. Save an industry. Save our dignity.

A footnote: We watched the Best G-Rated Movie of 2008, Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, 153 times over Thanksgiving weekend. When Kit learns that she can earn a penny per word for her articles, one of my kids asked me, "Hey, do you earn more than a penny per word?"

"For the moment, I do."