Monday, November 21, 2011

Keeping Up and The Spray Heard (Almost) Round the World


This afternoon on Facebook, somebody posted the original UC-Davis pepper spray photo (not the countless hilarious memes that have come after), and a friend of his actually commented, "Where's that from?"

How is that possible? How is it possible for someone to be so cut off from the news? The incident happened Friday and since that time I saw the infamous YouTube video, along with a half million other people, as well as multiple other angles, photos and analysis.

I read the chancellor's original mealy-mouthed statement defending the police, the resulting outrage, the eyewitness accounts, the calls for her resignation, her later, more conciliatory statement, the widespread publication of the offending officer's name, email address, and phone number, her suspension of two officers, her walk of shame through the silent students, her suspension of the police chief, and numerous articles, blog posts, comments and other bits of analysis.

That's 72 hours worth of happenings. From political blogs to mainstream newspapers to cable and network television, not to mention Facebook and Twitter. And this guy missed all that? Was he in a coma?

Similarly, people are expressing outrage and surprise over the failure of the supercommittee to reach an agreement. I've probably read 30,000 to 50,000 words about the supercommittee over the past couple of months. It was clearly headed for failure. And, in fact, in this case failure meant the Democrats refused to capitulate to the Republicans' demand for a 230:1 ratio of spending cuts to tax increases (that is NOT an exaggeration. That was their final proposal).

Thank god they failed. It was all meaningless anyway. And predestined. Let the Bush tax cuts expire and most of our problems are solved.

Maybe I spend too much time keeping up on all this stuff, but I don't think it's any different than other peoples' obsessive devotion to sports or comic books or whatever it is.

But then I read articles like this: The Steve Martin Method. And though it's a guide to being famous, it's actually about success. One of the lessons:
Martin credits “diligence” for his success. But he’s quick to clarify that he’s not referring to working hard over time. What he really means is staying diligent in his interest in the one field he was trying to master; being able to ignore the urge to start working on other projects at the same time.

It can be hard to ruthlessly whittle down your ambitions to a needle-thin point. But Martin is clear on this point: if you don’t saturate your life in a single quest, you’ll dilute your focus to a point where becoming outstanding becomes out of reach.
Am I too diluted? Corporate communications, acting, book promoting, public speaking, to say nothing of other interests like politics and current events, reading, movies, fitness and nutrition and, um, cats.

To say nothing of the trajectory of my PR career career, spent in the nonprofit world in DC, then politics/government in DC, then state-level government and media relations in Ohio, then agency PR work in Chicago. I don't know. I used to mock the senior-level people at the PR firm who had spent 25 years IN THE SAME FIRM, let alone the same damned field.

Over that time they built a lot of influence. But certainly their expertise must have topped out around year 10 or 15. I couldn't imagine that life. I love that I've done different things. Even within acting: improv then sketch then theater then sketch and play writing, then film, commercial and industrial and print.

A case could be made that all the current events reading is part of my job. I always remember that from the PR firm: it was said that we worked in the one field where it was not only okay but expected to find people reading the newspaper at their desks. And certainly the UC-Davis case, just like Penn State and Netflix and so many other crises, will be endlessly dissected in PR journals over the years.

I have no answer. Just some thinking to do. About focus and moderation.

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