Sunday, May 26, 2013

My "Thing"

It's almost here. The "One Channel" design rolls out on YouTube in about ten days or so. Every time I visit my channel, a little notification pops up to remind me. I've compared this memo to that creepy phone call the characters receive in The Ring letting them know they're about to die. Needless to say, I'm not super pleased.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Fingerprinting In Wonderland

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I went to the police station to get fingerprinted yesterday. Fingerprints are required to get my FBI background check, which I need in order to start applying for ESL teaching jobs in South Korea. After a small fiasco at the station with obtaining the fingerprinting card, I was finally pointed in the direction of the fingerprinting specialist.

White poster boards with "Fingerprinting" scrawled across them and adhered haphazardly to the walls with too much tape were dotted along the way. The narrow path led me between tightly packed cubicles and around blind, curving hallways that reminded me a bit of Alice's journey down the rabbit hole, except with a lot more guns along the way (which I imagine would have made that book a lot shorter and bloodier). The signs ended at a small, white room with two elderly men who asked me to sit down and wait to be fingerprinted.

I'd sort of hoped a younger officer resembling Ryan Gosling would be waiting for me. I'd imagined him standing behind me and taking my hands in his (soft but rugged) hands and sensually brushing them against his pad of ink (as sensually as one can brush hands against ink pads) and somehow we'd end up making out etc. etc. etc. and at the end there'd be an inky handprint sliding down the wall like in the steamy car scene in Titanic.

Reality was a bit different. If I had to compare the two men in the room to any other persons(?), it would be Tweedledee and Tweedledum (as they appear in the original Alice illustrations). I don't say this in a derogatory, weight-related way. It's a common body shape for a lot of older men around here. As they age, their bodies get rounder and rounder and their limbs shrink and begin to recess into their bodies which sometimes causes their newly little legs to dangle from chairs in a cute sort of way--in the sense that Humpty Dumpty perched upon a wall might be cute. Their voices, however, were more like that of Wilford Brimley in all those diabetes commercials. If I hadn't grown up here (and didn't have an accent, myself), I probably wouldn't have understood what they were saying to me. 

Tweedledee attempted to make conversation as he took my hand and began to (non-sensually) smash my fingers against the ink pad.

"What're ya gettin' these for?" he asked. I'd left the employer information blank on my fingerprinting card.

"I'm applying to teach in Korea," I replied. The eyes of the Tweedles became almost as large as their midsections.

"North or South?" Tweedledum asked, his voice going up a little too much at the end of the question.

"South." I laughed. "I don't think I'm allowed in North."

"Why would you wanna do that? Why not go to, ya know, Switzerland?" Before I had a chance to question Switzerland, Tweedledum piped up again.

"You know, that guy over there," he said, lowering his voice, "I think there's something really wrong with him in the head. He's a lunatic." I understood he was speaking of Kim Jong-un.

"Yeah--" I began, but Tweedledee cut in again.

"Asia is certainly not a place I would choose to go."

Perhaps if it had been a Ryan Gosling look-alike trying to convince me to stay instead of Tweedledee, I might have considered it (but I still would've gone anyway because Joseph Birdsong does not bow to the desires of men, no matter how attractive they are [As if I could get a man to beg me to stay anywhere. They're usually shooing me away]). However, at this point my fingerprints were done and I was directed to the bathroom to wash my hands while the prints "cooked," as Tweedledum referred to the drying process.

When I went back to retrieve my prints, a younger officer walked in and I heard Tweedledum whisper to her as I was leaving, "That boy's thinking about going to Korea!" The woman laughed.

I laughed, too, as I walked to my car. I think it says a bit about how the older generation here thinks about some things. I guess I could've explained to the Tweedles how South Korea is a First World country (although the "Worlds" idea is a little outdated) and more progressive than us in more than a few ways. I could've mentioned that lumping all Asian countries into the same category is sort of like saying all Pop-Tart flavors taste the same just because they're all Pop-Tarts (which is clearly not the case because frosted strawberry is the best). I could've described how South Korea has a lower crime rate than most western countries and much more restrictive gun control laws. And I probably could've suggested that we may have as many (if not more) missiles pointed at us as South Korea has pointed at it. (That's assuming those missiles even exist. I hear North Korea also claims to have unicorns. But also, granted, there probably aren't any missiles at all pointed at Arkansas.) However, I didn't have time and it wasn't the right place and it didn't really matter and I didn't really feel like arguing with someone who has such easy access to a gun. (Plus, I have a feeling causing a riot in a police station would show up on an FBI background check.)

Of course, not everyone from this older generation has this same mindset. I just found the whole thing a curious reminder of a different time of different wars and different sorts of propaganda. Of less access to global communication and of differently filtered information. Of sock hops and rock 'n' roll and soda fountains with five-cent pop. And it made me wonder what sorts of ideas are being drilled into in my mind right now and how someone born in twenty or thirty years might grow up and compare me to some abnormally round character from a book and describe my convictions as outdated and how that might make me feel. And I worry that perhaps that's just how things go and then I vow to keep an open mind to this rapidly evolving world.

I thought back on the experience as I mailed my prints this morning. I wondered if someone in South Korea was getting fingerprinted to live here (or elsewhere) and realizing (again) something similar--something about how different people and thoughts and things can exist right outside your door and how maybe Wonderland is always a lot closer than we think.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

I Didn't Eat A Donut Once

I think this happens to us all. Someone will say something to us--something snarky and sharp that always cuts just right. In the moment, we sit there, stunned, mouth hanging, eyes hollow. We might stutter or spit a reply, but it's always crap. Just crap. For days, weeks, months, maybe years, the situation follows us around like an unresolved spirit, stuck to the walls of our mind like dried-up oatmeal to the sides of a bowl that just hangs there, unwashable. Then it happens. The perfect reply finally comes to us, and we practice it everywhere like it's our only line in a play and the whole show depends on this recitation. We spew it at the mirror while brushing our teeth. We mumble it in the car on the way to work. We whisper it into our pillow before bed. And all for nothing. The spirit never responds--just follows.

One of these things happened to me a few months ago. I was in a meeting at school and, of course, someone brought donuts. I knew it was going to happen the moment I saw them. I have public eating-induced anxiety. I don't really know how to explain the feeling and I don't especially want to explore it too deeply here. Sometimes I'm anxious when I eat in public and sometimes I'm not. It depends on the situation, people present, lighting, weather, temperature, what I'm wearing, what song I just listened to, how many people are facing me, how long someone holds my gaze, and all sorts of other things that I realize sound ridiculous. My breathing will become sparse. I'll get hot. The world sort of tilts and sways and the walls seem a lot closer and I'll close my eyes and with every ounce of self-control try not to start gasping for air. Luckily, I'm now typically able to recognize when it might happen and usually tuck away the food for later.

On that day, the thought of scarfing down a flaky, crumby, glazed donut in front of fifteen or so of my peers already had my stomach in knots, and I knew the anxiety would come full force if I actually tried to consume one. I'd much rather eat alone at home, where I can stuff my face to my stomach's content at 2 a.m. while basking in the light of my computer screen. (Wow, I really am Gollum.) But this entry is not about that problem.

The box was passed around the table and finally made its way to my end. I drew a breath, mumbled a no thanks, and hoped that would be the end of it. It wasn't.

"I think you can afford to eat a donut." It was the outspoken girl in the group. There's always one. A guy or girl who knows it all, says it all, and is easily forgiven for doing so, hiding under a guise of worthless phrases like, "I'm just speaking my mind," or, "Just saying what we're all thinking." Ah yes, I forgot you were hired to verbalize all of my thoughts.

Everyone turned to me as the outspoken one narrowed her eyes and flitted them down my broomstick handle neck, from toothpick arm to toothpick arm, halting at my twiggy torso.* Her implications were obvious.

What I said:

[with nervous voice] "Ahh, no. It's just that...I've been sick..?"

[Everyone continues to stare as Outspoken Girl narrows eyes more and more until they disappear completely and are never seen again, which is exactly what I wish would happen to me]

What I should have said:

[with sarcastic confidence] "Of course! I completely forgot--skinny people are required to eat whenever we are presented with food. Because we're skinny! Yes, the logic is flawless. I believe they even passed a law about it recently. Thank you for reminding me. Consuming this donut will not only make me an acceptable weight(??) but also keep me out of legal trouble."

[Outspoken Girl crawls into a corner and turns into a toad as room bursts into applause and I'm crowned King of Donuts]

And this is what has been sticking around in my mind for the past couple months. One of these days, someone is going to catch me practicing this ridiculous speech in some department store mirror or while I'm pumping gas and I'll have to calmly explain how I didn't eat a donut once and it's been haunting me ever since. Undoubtably, they'll narrow their eyes, flit them up and down once or twice and the whole cycle will begin again.

*I don't want to explain my weight in this entry. I've already said everything I want to say about it in this video.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Where I'm At With The Book

Two blog posts in one day?? I must have a lot of time on my hands. Yes, I do. (I'm also taking a break from those job applications I talked about in the last entry.)

I don't talk much about the book I've been writing because it's a long-term goal, and the light at the end of the tunnel is still pretty far off. However, I started this blog partially to document my journey, and I figure it's time to let you know where I currently stand in the publishing process. I realize a lot of my audience is not familiar with this process (and I understand as I wasn't either), so I'm going to do my best to explain it. Indeed, it's a rather elusive and mysterious process in the first place and all this is coming from someone not yet involved (and also someone who sucks at explaining things), so I hope you'll forgive me if anything is too hazy.

First, I'd like to address self-publishing. Several people have asked why I'm not doing this. I've weighed the pros and cons and decided it's not for me at this point in time. I think some people believe the creation of a book is as simple as writing it and sending it to the presses. For both better and worse, that's just not the case (even with self-publishers), and that's definitely not how it's happened for any of the books that have actually made it to your bookshelves.

In short: Right now, I want the credibility and backing of a publisher and the expert support and help of both an agent and an editor.

This entry isn't about self-publishing. It's about my journey. For an in-depth view of the (sometimes frowned-upon) self-publishing industry, there are many articles out there available via Google that discuss in-depth the pros and cons I mentioned earlier.

So let me explain where I'm at.

I spent my last semester at university writing a query letter and book proposal. They query is usually a short, one-page letter designed to hook an agent and make them want more info about your project. It contains a synopsis of your book and brief biography of yourself. Generally, you send this letter to agents (preferably ones that work with the genre you're writing in) and, if they think you might be a fit for them, they request your proposal.

The proposal is much longer than the query. It provides a more in-depth overview of the book (including word count and approximate time it will take you to finish the book), a lengthier biography (which is really a place to showcase all the platforming you've done), the market for your book (and an analysis of it), promotion you have done and will do, competing titles (and how your book is different), two or three sample chapters, and sometimes a few other things (tables of contents, chapter analyses) depending on what sort of book or proposal you're writing.

My book is a nonfiction collection of personal essays/memoir, and it generally isn't required you have a nonfiction book completed to get a book deal. Fiction books, on the other hand, usually have to be completed before the proposal (unless you're Stephen King, probably). And, all this being said, there is no one correct way to write a proposal. It just depends on what genre you're writing in and what sort of proposal examples you happen to be looking at. Luckily, I was able to work with a professor with publishing experience who really helped me hammer mine out.

I've sent out my first batch of query letters. I've received three rejections while two others agents have requested the full proposal. People say you should expect to get one request for the proposal for every 10-20 agents you query, so I'm pleased with how it's going so far. 

Of course, whenever I mention a rejection, I'm reminded that JK Rowling or some other author got x-amount of rejections before getting picked up. And that's a great little reminder that I'm in good company, but you don't have to worry about me. The professor I worked with this past semester thoroughly prepared me for the process, and I anticipate more rejections in the future. As Betsy Lerner says in The Forest for the Trees (which I recommend if you're interested in this process), "Do not spend more time with rejection letters than the time it takes to read them and file them away.” Although I will admit one rejection I received, addressed "Dear Bob," was a tad bit stabbing (so feel free to continue with the encouraging tweets!).

Once I (hopefullyyyyy) get an agent, she or he will help me refine the proposal further and then shop it around to publishers. Then I'll begin writing and corresponding with an editor and then a copyeditor will groan and begin slicing up the manuscript with a red pen and then the publisher will work their magic for a while longer and make everything perfect. Sprinkle in some various panic attacks and crying fits on the floor while rubbing ice cream all over my body, and you've got yourself a book. That's the abbreviated plan, at least.

That's where I'm at. I don't claim to be an expert to any of this process. I'm sure there are many, many things coming that I won't expect or know how to deal with. While I've read quite a few books about the process and studied it to the best of my ability, all this is being written by someone who's still on the outside looking in. I'll be keeping you updated on what I learn and how things are going.

Job Scavenging

Well, I graduated. People tell me the next step is to get a job. So I'm job scavenging. I'm choosing "scavenging" over "hunting" because it sounds much more desperate and lonely--which is exactly what it's like. (It also makes it sound a little Tomb Raider-y.)

Every time I sit down to send out applications, I get this horrible feeling inside. It's like a little Christina Aguilera has burrowed deep inside my guts and she's performing songs from Lotus. No, she's belting them. And doing that hand thing with every riff and run. (You know exactly what I'm talking about.) And Cee Lo Green is there, too, for a duet. It hurts so much.

I shouldn't be feeling this way. I've got all the things they tell you to have--the great resume, cover letter, experience. I've had more than enough preparatory classes, mock interviews, even successful real interviews.

I think my experience this time is a little clouded by my previous post-graduation failures. When I graduated with my Visual Merch degree back in 2010, the job scene was bleak. Granted, I was probably way less qualified for things back then and, arguably, that degree is a fucking joke. I did get a few interviews and even a job offer, but compared to how many applications I sent out, that number was low. But I guess that's how it goes.

This whole on-the-verge-of-something-new thing isn't helping either. (Watch this for reference.) I'm hoping to move for the job thing, I'm waiting to hear from some people who have the book proposal, and (wait for it) I think I have a crush on a boy(????) for the first time in a while. Transitional periods always make me want to simultaneously run a marathon and lie facedown on the floor.

We can probably all agree I just need to take a deep breath and feed that little Xtina in my stomach some ice cream or Taco Bell or something. Or maybe some alcohol. Probably that. I've only been done with school about a week. I've got summer plans to look forward to (VidCon!) and should be enjoying all this time I have that I can spend Skyping with my friends and trolling the 'net. Yes, I think I'll have a Brinty Bomber.

(I didn't walk at graduation this time around, so here's a pic of when I graduated in Philly back in 2010 with my friends, Molly, Alex, and Caitlyn.)

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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

I'm Not A Jellyfish

I spend a lot of time trying to avoid misunderstandings. I repeat dates and times back to people to make sure I've got them right. If I think a text message is being interpreted wrong, I call the person (usually to their annoyance) to sort things out. If a movie plot is based around a misunderstanding, I have to leave the theatre. If an episode of a show ends with a misunderstanding and a "To Be Continued…" I spend all my time until the next episode worrying about the characters. (This is also why I don't watch many TV shows.)

Why all this? Misunderstandings lead to awkward situations, and if my life gets any more awkward, I think I might just explode. I consider it a personal accomplishment if I don't end up on the floor twitching by the end of the day.

I thought I've been doing a good job avoiding misunderstandings in my videos, but a few comments here and there have lead me believe that there are, in fact, some misunderstandings going on. Is this the viewer's fault? Nah, these things just happen. Do these misunderstandings matter in the long run? Nah, not really. But that doesn't keep me from lying awake at night stressing over the fact that somewhere, someone out there has the wrong idea about me and that just makes my skin crawl. (I realize I'm crazy.)

To clear the air (and my mind), I decided to sort out a few of these minor misunderstandings in this post, followed by (what I consider to be) a somewhat larger misunderstanding that nearly sent me into cardiac arrest.

The minor misunderstandings I can typically deal with quite well. Some even give me a chuckle. Based on a few comments over the past few months, some people seem to think I'm no longer "disneykid1" on YouTube. Hilarious, right? I'm cacklin' for sure. I can assure you this username is as inescapable as the masked dude in the Scream movies (and I'll probably end up like those victims, too).

The fact is, I simply merged my Google+ account with my YouTube account and now appear as "Joseph Birdsong" in the comments. My URL is still youtube.com/disneykid1, and I will always be "disneykid1," whether I like it or not. Can you really blame me for distancing myself from the username a tiny bit? I'm twenty-five now, and it makes me feel like a creep. Let this be a lesson to all you little nuggets with usernames like "babyprincess69xo." Before you know it, you've got a few hits and a few subscribers and people are calling you "babyprincess69xo" until you're six feet under in a fucking box. I mean, "disneykid1" will always have a special place in my heart. (Can you feel the warm fuzzies?)

In another video, I made a comment about drinking that somehow lead several people to believe I'd stopped drinking completely, when I was actually just apologizing for not having been drinking in a few previous vids. I'd like to stress that people were getting feisty with me for not drinking. It seems my viewers are a bunch of enablers who thrive on witnessing my downward spiral into alcoholism--which is totally fine with me, I should add. Seriously, as if I would stop drinking.

Exhibit A:

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Exhibit B:

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Like I said, these minor miscommunications haven't really bothered me, but this final misunderstanding is so complicatedly layered and mind-boggling, it initially caused me to writhe on the floor for several hours, foaming at the mouth and screeching prayers to Hilary Duff. Thank God I had my Life Alert pendant or I might still be down there. (Note: I don't have a Life Alert pendant.)

I recently did a "Draw My Life" video in which I describe my life as a jellyfish.

"Wait, Joseph," you say. "You're not a jellyfish."

Right! Gold star for you. You're one of the clever ones. Perhaps it was wrong of me to assume that other people would realize this as well.

To the credit of the viewers, I don't think any of them actually thought I'm a jellyfish, but several people seem to believe they have uncovered hidden metaphors within the video when absolutely no metaphors exist at all.

I'm not entirely sure why these people have chosen to suddenly start taking me seriously with this particular video when I don't exactly have a track record of being serious. Previously, I've posted videos with my Furby, which I claim to be my daughter. I went on a ghost hunt with a Louis Tomlinson doll. I even did an entire segment about being obsessed with "Fergalicious." And, in the video in question--let me repeat this again--I claim to be a fucking jellyfish.

A misinterpretation here and there is nothing to get your tentacles in a twist over, but a few people took their metaphors a little too far. Let me post a comment:

"So, you were touched by a jellyfish, which turned you into a jellyfish. Obviously the "jellyfish" aspect is the fact that you are gay. Which is not a very good message. You were touched by a gay man who turned you gay. :C That's awful, Joe. Just awful."

This comment is not even posed as a question. Instead, it is being presented to me as a indisputable truth about my life, and is based on a video in which I, once again, claim to be a fucking jellyfish. The use of "obviously" especially pisses me off. The only thing "obvious" here is that the commenter is an assumptive idiot. There. I said it. It's out there and now we have to live with it.

Not only has Mr. Commenter conjured up this elaborate metaphor from a video listed in the "comedy" section of YouTube, but he's graciously decided to fill in some pretty graphic details about my life as well. Wow! How sweet. It's like I didn't even have to live my life, myself. Thank goodness this stranger is here to create my past for me. He even lets let me know I'm an awful person (or jellyfish) and that my message is awful as well (all of this, again, being based off his personal analysis). This probably wouldn't upset me so much if I didn't try extremely hard to always say and do the right things in videos because I'm overly aware of my audience. Can I just reiterate this entire misinterpretation is stemming from a video in which I claim to be a fucking jellyfish? Is there some sort of Oscar or Emmy for the most ridiculous misinterpretation of anything, ever? Because you, Mr. Commenter, deserve that award, and so much more that I don't think I can legally say on the Internet.

You want to know the truth? I was literally stung by a jellyfish when I was eight years old. No, the jellyfish wasn't gay (that I'm aware of) nor was it a male human. Furthermore, this event did not "turn" me gay. I'm pretty sure I flew out of the womb riding a unicorn on a rainbow while a Madonna song played in the background. There are no hidden metaphors in this video. I should probably be flattered people think I'm deep enough to create something like that, but I'm not. I was simply trying to give people a break from all the other mega-serious "Draw My Life" videos that have made me want to roll in front of a train. My bad.

Whew, I'm getting a bit jittery just thinking about this again. Is it just me? Am I nuts for thinking this metaphor is such a complete stretch and that this guy is bonkers for taking me so seriously? Am I crazy for getting a little upset that a stranger has conjured up an entirely false story about my life, presented it to me as fact, and then proceeded to tell me I'm an awful person based on all these assumptions? I mean, I definitely think I'm crazy, but not for these reasons.

Or maybe the guy was joking and I just spent way too much time and energy writing about this and the joke is now on me. The shame and public embarrassment would be too much and I'd surely have to return to the ocean and spend the rest of my days bobbing along mindlessly with the waves.

I just hope writing this has finally gotten it out of my system. It's 2 a.m. as I'm drafting this, and I would really like to lie in bed and get some sleep without twitching my tentacles too much from thinking about how somewhere, some guy is fuming over some assumption he made about me that lead him to believe I'm an awful person and the whole thing is based on a video in which I claim to be a fucking jellyfish. This is precisely the type of movie plot I'd have to leave the theatre for.

Wait, did I say "my tentacles"? I meant hands. Or arms. Heh..yeah, I'm not a jellyfish. Right?

Monday, May 6, 2013

Writing, Again

I think it's time I have a dedicated writing blog again. If you're really into reading lists, I'm about to explore this further. So go take a pee break, get some chips, sit back, and prepare yourself for the most exciting roller coaster-of-a-blog-entry you'll ever read. It's gonna be great, I promise. There's cake at the end! Nah, there's no cake. But there is a photo of me with animated cat ears. Am I lying? Maybe. You just scrolled down to check, didn't you? I'm so hurt you didn't trust me. To make it up to me, you can read the whole blog entry.

1. First, I think it's a little ridiculous for a hopeful writer not to have a writing blog. How can I be part of a community I don't participate in?

2. It's time--and I have time. It's been a little weird not having a dedicated writing outlet for the past two years because otherwise I've had a blog in some form since my emo days in junior high.

I think perhaps all the writing I was doing in school was satisfying my communication needs. I think I was also just really fucking exhausted creatively. Being a full-time student, part-time writing tutor, and penning three video scripts each week has really made me want to roll in front of a bus more than a few times. The video scripts are still haunting me, but now I've graduated and, man, I really miss being assigned essays. I'll let you guess how many friends I made in school. (The answer is zero.)

3. My brain needs a dedicated space for writing. Over these past two years, I've tried posting blog entries to either my personal site or my tumblr, but they just never really seemed to fit in with the rest of the content there. Luckily, the Internet allows me to have as many blogs as I want. The whole system is practically begging for the creation of another shitty blog. Well, here it is!

4. I want to keep my brain in shape. Now would not be a good time to get lazy with my writing.

5. I'd like a place to respond to things outside of videos. What "things"? "Things" could be anything, I guess. Comments, questions, bananas, cats, octopi. Octopuses? Someone always yells at me regardless of which one I use. I bet you fifty dollars someone will tweet me a lecture regarding octopus plurals after reading this. I bet you fifty more dollars I won't give you the money when it doesn't happen. What was I talking about?

6. It feels like an interesting time to begin documenting this journey. I just graduated school about a week ago for the...third time? (Is anybody counting?) I'm looking to move. (Fingers crossed.) And I'm just beginning to shop around the proposal I've written for my book--something I've been working on in private for a while, but which I now feel ready to talk about.

Though many of my old blogs have seemingly disappeared, I privately maintain all the entries. One of my favorite things to do is dive into old entries and see where I was at different times in my life. Usually I end up shaking my head and wishing I could build a time machine so I could go back and kick my own ass. But it's still interesting, and I feel like this is a time that needs preserving.

So here we go again. I've got a nice, clean, white blogspace that the left side of my brain is very much enjoying, but that the right side can't wait to destroy. No promises the writing will be good or without error. No promises whatsoever, actually. Just that this is where I'll be writing.

I'll leave you with a little nugget from an old blog entry from December 2007. It's a graphic my friend, Molly, made for me and I think it sums up my past self pretty damn well. Plus, it satisfies my promise to you for a photo of me with cat ears.

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