Contextual past and eventual becoming

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“I am writing for the person I used to be. Perhaps the person I once left behind persists, standing there, still and grim, in some attic of time – on a bend, on a crossroads – and in some mysterious way she is able to read the lines I am setting out here, without seeing them.” –A General Theory of Oblivion, José Eduardo Agualusa

In If on a winter’s night a traveler, Italo Calvino hints gently at context, and by envisioning parallel, fictional realities, we may be ripping some gem from its intended context and stuffing it into another to serve another purpose, to enhance another context. These are not even close to his words, and in fact, in my own paraphrasing I have moved his original words (in translation no less) quite far from their origin and intended context to justify my own. It is the intent, perhaps, that a reader should interpret and ‘steal’ concepts (I know that in one of the multitudes of books I have read this week, there was a passage somewhere about stealing and refashioning good ideas – but I don’t know if I saved the quote. A shame).

But this is my pattern. I read aggressively, voraciously, feverishly highlighting meaningful passages (stopping briefly to wonder if I might highlight different passages and quotes if I were in another frame of mind, or context). And later I find some application – or context – for those passages that meant most to me in some way.

Behavior eventually shows its hand and establishes a pattern if you wait long enough. I can change these patterns to change behaviors, but the underlying drive comes out the same. I shifted from television addiction to a reading addiction, which I would argue is the better of the two addictions. But both are addictive and almost compulsive behaviors. To compensate, I seek and find some balance, and my constant underlying drive is not just the search for balance but the search for change. And for me, change is always about the future and ensuring some otherness or difference from the now and the past. It is not about dragging vestiges of the past with me into new scenery; it is likewise not about erasing that past or its experience. It does not mean cast off the you who was, but does mean give careful consideration to the you who will be.

“This is what I mean when I say I would like to swim against the stream of time: I would like to erase the consequences of certain events and restore an initial condition. But every moment of my life brings with it an accumulation of new facts, and each of these new facts brings with it its consequences; so the more I seek to return to the zero moment from which I set out, the further I move away from it: though all my actions are bent on erasing the consequences of previous actions and though I manage to achieve appreciable results in this erasure, enough to open my heart to hopes of immediate relief, I must, however, bear in mind that my every move to erase previous events provokes a rain of new events, which complicate the situation worse than before and which I will then, in their turn, have to try to erase. Therefore I must calculate carefully every move so as to achieve the maximum of erasure with the minimum of recomplication.” If on a winter’s night a traveler, Italo Calvino

While many recognize and complain about their patterns, they do nothing to alter them. Change, after all, is what we most avoid. Because of this aversion to change, at least some kinds of change, the complaints are idle and the angst projected about them contrived. But we all have our blind spots, especially when it comes to other, unpredictable, people.

“…but at that moment it was as if an undigested bit of the past had come back up his throat.” –The Solitude of Prime Numbers, Paolo Giordano

Yes, people. Unpredictable people who jump around in the timeline of our lives. Almost dead within our archives, yet somehow we live on, almost as living, breathing people in the daily existences, of which we are (almost) no longer a part. I can control my books or tv viewing or the lengths of walks in the rain (though I cannot yet control the rain). I can control how much I sleep and how deeply involved I become in my mad dreams (how I love these). But people… and how much the past wears on and continues to affect (and infect) people.

Someone told me recently that “the past is a foreign country”, which sounds, not unlike my allusions and references to Calvino, like something lifted from a literary source (with which I am not familiar). This is poetic, but Calvino himself manages to describe the pernicious nature of the past with a far more apt simile:

“The past is like a tapeworm, constantly growing, which I carry curled up inside me”.

The past, and the people who populate it, has a voracious appetite and will eat away at one from the inside, if one lets it.

The interesting part is that the phantoms, those living in the past as though it were yesterday: they are often the most honest ones. Maybe not about how the past was (they can in fact be quite blind and/or deluded), but they aren’t hiding their intentions or papering over their defects. And the people laboring along in the firm belief that they are living in the present and looking toward the future? The veneer of calm does not hide the high-strung individual underneath, paddling away from reminders of the past like poor swimmers with no instinct for floating – there is no actual serenity in those who so desperately seek it. Maybe, like Daniel Hall writes in “Love Letter Burning”: “The past will shed some light/but never keep us warm”.

“I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget.”Slouching Toward Bethlehem, Joan Didion

Content is all I have ever been about – but it’s misunderstood

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If you read marketing industry blogs or publications at all, you will have been gagged to the point of choking on the idea that “content is king”. This little phrase, apparently coined by Bill Gates circa 1996, has been bandied about to the point of near meaninglessness and debated to an almost unfathomable degree.

For people who are not content or digital marketers – what do these terms mean and why do you need to care? I am finding that as straightforward as the term “content” is – or should be – it’s actually sort of misunderstood. A lot like the oft-thrown-about term “digital”. What does “digital marketing” really consist of?

Content is not the king. (You know very well that Elvis still is, and always will be, the king.)

Content is drop-dead important. But without context, relevance and a plan, content can be fairly meaningless. Just a fountain of uselessness that does not achieve anything. You are not going to get anywhere without good content that supports whatever your mission is. Content drives everything and even though it’s front and center, it is also kind of a behind-the-scenes engine – you get followers, shares, attention, discussion – by creating content that is worth talking about. Relevant. Not spun BS. Not repetitive garbage. Hopefully not jargon-filled nonsense. Everywhere you look, you are advised to “create content worth spreading” – and for all purposes, this is true. Get content right and your job is easier.

In much of my freelance work, I have wanted to yell at my clients: “Stop chasing trends and buzzwords and focus on the real meat on the bone – and the bone itself.” Good content is almost all that is going to get you the right (target) audience or traffic – and of course you need to drive traffic from somewhere. But content plays the most important role in that as well. You can’t really have an effective SEO strategy without focusing on content. (Search algorithms are actively taking quality and freshness into account.) You can’t effectively distribute content if you have not really got something worthwhile to put out there.

As far as content goes, I am well aware that this blog post is generic and serves mostly to air my own frustration about how much mileage this topic gets without people gaining any deeper understanding of how they need to focus on content development and content marketing. I almost feel like there are a lot of people in business who read a lot of articles about this elusive “content” and spout a lot of stuff about how content needs to be – but they are not really content creators themselves and therefore have no hands-on understanding of how it fits into and supports their goals.

To calm the nerves, then, a song from ages ago. “Sheffield Park” – The Mekons