Thank You For Sending Me An Angel

Urban Angel

I’ve been needlessly secretive about the new job I started this week, and I’m not sure just why. Perhaps it’s because I’m still pinching myself. The past few weeks have seemed pretty dreamlike, with a wonderful ten-day vacation in Spain also contributing to my giddiness. Here’s what has happened.

Despite the best intentions of all parties, it was clear that my 3-days-a-week gig at indie film distributor KinoSmith was not going to turn into a full-time salaried position with benefits and vacation. So a few months ago, I began yet another round of job searching, applying for just about everything with the words web, content, writer, or editor in the job description. I was encouraged that there seemed to be more of these positions showing up in my daily career alert emails, but I wasn’t getting as many interviews as I would have liked.

Then, in early October, many weeks after I’d applied, and during a particularly quiet spell, I received an email from Anthony Lucic at St. Michael’s Hospital inviting me to an interview for the position of Website Managing Editor. It had been so long that the original posting had disappeared from the web and I actually had no idea what the job description was anymore. Nevertheless, I was excited for several reasons. First, this was a position in the nonprofit sector, at one of Canada’s leading hospitals, and I could easily get excited about working in the healthcare field. Second, the position seemed interesting and challenging: writing and editing, but also a strong strategic component, where I’d be involved in planning the direction of both the public-facing site and the hospital’s intranet. Anthony was actually the incumbent in the position and had been on a secondment to another part of the hospital for several months, so he knew exactly what they were looking for. He interviewed me by phone at first, then invited me in for a more formal panel interview the next week. Finally, the week after, I was invited back for a second (third?) interview where I met the person I’d be reporting to, the hospital’s Director of Public Relations.

All this was happening with our long-planned trip to Spain just days away. In fact, the very afternoon we were leaving, I received a phone call from Anthony just half an hour before our taxi arrived, offering me the position. It made our vacation that much more enjoyable knowing I’d be coming back to start an exciting new job. Technically, it’s a contract position, and if Anthony’s secondment isn’t renewed, he’ll likely be returning to the position next fall, but I’m not worrying about that just yet. I’m looking forward to some new challenges related to managing a large corporate website. I’m hoping that the burgeoning field of content strategy will hold many new insights for me, and I’m bemused to be wrestling with both an unwieldy corporate CMS and the tortured prose of professionals and academics again.

P.S. The title of the post and the image both reference the iconic “Urban Angel” statue that has come to represent St. Michael’s Hospital. You can read more about it here. “Thank You For Sending Me An Angel” is a very fine song by Talking Heads from their second album (and my favourite), More Songs About Buildings and Food (1978).

Come Talk to Me

Won’t you please talk to me
If you’d just talk to me
Unblock this misery
If you’d only talk to me

— Peter Gabriel, “Come Talk to Me”

Last night, I went to a party. Each year around this time, Lee Dale and Jay Goldman organize a get-together just before South by Southwest, ostensibly for Torontonians heading down. Cheekily-titled Canadian Livers in Training (CanLIT), it’s a boozy, loud, and utterly wonderful time. And that’s coming from someone who’s a bit of a party wallflower. I didn’t have any deep conversations last night. I might have spoken to ten people in a room of about 150. But what it reinforced for me is that life is about connection with other people. I would argue that work should be, too.

Last Conversation Piece, by Juan Munoz

This might sound strange coming from someone who has worked and lived online for the past decade or longer, but I think that as wonderful as computers and mobile devices and the web can be, they have contributed to much more isolation in the workplace. I’ve spent the past few years miserable in high-paying and some might consider cushy jobs writing and building “communities” on the web. Miserable because in the workplace, my day and the days of everyone I worked with consisted of long stretches alone staring at a screen and not actually talking to each other.

This might work for some among us. It’s not surprising that tech jobs are often filled by people with some form of social dysfunction, but I think I’m arguing that our workplaces reinforce and in some cases may even help create that dysfunction. I’ve certainly learned that personally, I need a job where I can spend a significant amount of my day interacting in real space with human beings, preferably smart people. It seems a gross injustice that most of the people who are comfortable around others, those with so-called “people skills” are often channeled into sales and marketing positions, forcing them to use their gifts in the service of selling more crap, while so many other people in the organization look at these folks with a mixture of envy and resentment.

Last Conversation Piece, by Juan Munoz

I’m not saying that we should spend our work day holding hands and singing folk songs. Nor am I arguing for more useless meetings. But to me, all of the talk about “corporate culture” is meaningless if we all work alone.

To bring it back to South by Southwest, each year for the past ten years, I’ve been spending a pretty large amount of money and often taking vacation time to make the trek to Austin. Though there are literally hundreds of panels and presentations, I learn more in the hallways between sessions, or over lunch or dinner or drinks with all the smart people I meet there. Humans are social creatures, even the introverts. Somehow, our workplaces have crushed that out of us in a misguided quest for efficiency. I would argue that we’re much more efficient when we’re interacting with each other. Now, how can we make that happen? See that comment box below? Come talk to me…

Thanks to Flickr user cliff1066™ for making his images available under a Creative Commons license. The sculpture is called Last Conversation Piece, and it’s by Spanish sculptor Juan Munoz (1953-2001). It’s in the Hirshorn Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC.

Working for Kinosmith

(cross-posted from Toronto Screen Shots)

After a few brief weeks of unemployment, I began working again at the beginning of October. It’s just a few days a week for now, but it’s likely to grow into a full-time position before long. I’m working for a small but mighty distributor called Kinosmith. I’d been aware of them for a while, but didn’t realize that the company was only founded in early 2007. Or that up until now, it’s been essentially a one-man operation. Robin Smith has worked in the Canadian film industry for more than 20 years, for companies such as Capri Releasing, Seville Pictures, Lions Gate, Alliance Atlantis, and the Toronto International Film Festival, and he seems to know everyone. But he made it clear upon meeting me this summer that he needed some help. Although my main areas of responsibility will eventually be the web site and social media initiatives, for the past few weeks, I’ve been doing a lot of administrative work. It’s been a great way to begin to understand the business, and I look forward to absorbing some of Robin’s expertise as we continue to work together. I consider myself extremely lucky to have been in the right place at the right time.

I had been emailing back and forth for the past few months with another industry veteran, Oliver Groom, proprietor of Project X Distribution, a specialized DVD label that puts out the work of British filmmaker Peter Watkins as well as a few others. We finally decided to meet in person for a drink and since Oliver and Robin had recently partnered up for their DVD releases, Robin came along too. All three of us got along well from that first meeting and after another get-together and a few emails, Robin asked me to come and help him out. He recently moved his home office to Oliver’s house and so even though I work for Robin, I see Oliver a lot as well.

If I haven’t been writing here as often as usual, it’s not because I’ve been watching fewer films. On the contrary, I’m also helping out by watching screeners submitted to Kinosmith as well as catching up on the films we’re releasing now. Robin has built up a very impressive catalogue of films in just over two years, and lots of filmmakers want to work with him, so things are very busy. It does bring up a bit of an ethical dilemma for me. I don’t intend to refrain from reviewing films that happen to be distributed by Kinosmith, but I want to be completely transparent about my relationship to the distributor. Do you think it will be enough to put a standard disclosure notice at the beginning of any blog entry that deals with a Kinosmith title? I promise not to give any film preferential treatment, but I don’t want to ignore them, either, especially if I’m ever somehow involved in the decision to acquire the film for Kinosmith.

In any case, I’m very excited to be indulging my passion for film and learning more about the business side of things. It’s a great opportunity and I’m very thankful to Robin and Oliver for taking me under their wing.

August is Time for New Beginnings

When I was younger, September was the month I loved the most. The leaves were turning different colours and it was time to head back to school. One thing that you could count on as a student was that each fall would being new challenges and new faces. There’s obviously some part of me that still craves that sort of change each year.

It began in August of 2007, when I posted about a career change. After four happy years doing web stuff at a small wine importing agency, I left for what I thought would be greener pastures at a huge professional services company. I craved a bigger fishbowl, I guess, and a bit more coin. As well, I thought that having a job title with “writer” in it meant that I’d be able to write more. But it turned out to be more re-writing than writing, and the office environment left me feeling isolated and bored.

Last August, I moved on to take a “social media” position at Tucows. The field was burgeoning and I felt excited to be stretching myself even further into a marketing role. But when my boss resigned earlier this year, things began to change, for me and for the company. She had created a brand new position for me, and when she left, I wasn’t quite sure where I stood. Worse, I began to realize that not only did I not have a passion for what the company did, I was beginning to lose my passion for the whole “social media” field. I felt a bit dirty, actually. The web culture I’d loved felt like it had been taken over by smooth-talking salespeople, selling their own expertise to a corporate world eager not to be left behind. Even worse, I’d become one of them. My work began to suffer.

I’d never intended to become a marketer, actually. It was different at the wine agency because I actually enjoyed most of the products we sold. But for the past two years, I’ve had a hard time even understanding what my employers did. To me, that meant that even if I was successfully doing my job, that I’d become soulless. Passion is essential to real job success, both for me and for my employers. It was obvious that I was a square peg in a round hole.

Earlier this summer, my new manager called me into a meeting where someone from HR was present. My performance wasn’t up to standard, I was told. I had to agree. Unfortunately, motivation was never discussed. That sort of honesty isn’t really encouraged in most workplaces. Instead, I was advised to pull up my socks or face dismissal. Unfortunately, passion can’t be manufactured out of thin air, and so on Wednesday morning this week, I was called into another meeting. Eerily, I’d been expecting it. On Tuesday night, I began bringing home photos from my desk. It must have seemed strange to my manager and HR how sanguine I was about the whole thing. But in fact, I’d been planning my exit for months.

I’d contemplated trying to “negotiate” my resignation but was afraid that showing my hand would only convince them to fire me. And I didn’t really want to leave with nothing else to go to. So I’ve been having meetings with people over the past few weeks, talking about possible jobs. Some of the work may be contract, but there are a few full-time possibilities on the horizon. Best of all, I’m not afraid.

I also feel confident that my old colleagues at Tucows will carry on just fine without me. I had my doubts that what I was doing warranted a full-time position at all, and they will have no problem picking up the slack. I wish them and the company nothing but success.

Several months ago now, I took some time for myself and went on “career retreat” to Kingston, about three hours east of Toronto. The last time I did that, in 2003, I discovered that my skills and my passions could be combined, even if it meant having to create a job out of thin air and then sell the need for that job to an employer. It led to my most satisfying period of employment yet, and even though I’m not heading back into the world of wine, my retreat reinforced my belief in my core skills and interests.

What all that means is that, somehow, I’m going to be working in the film business. I’m not exactly sure what that will look like, but it’s pretty obvious that film has been one of my dearest passions over the past 20 years, and if anything helps me achieve “flow,” it’s writing about a film I’ve just seen. I’ve got lots to learn, but I’ve gotten to know a lot of smart and generous people over the past few years, and I’m trusting that some of them will come through. A little help and a lot of hustle should get me back on my feet soon.

Onward and upward!

Nortel and Teleworking

My Twitterpal April Dunford talks about Nortel’s teleworking policy in this Youtube video (sorry, can’t seem to embed it on the page). Not only is teleworking good for productivity and the environment, but it also helps them save millions in real estate costs. I’ve long been an advocate of this kind of flexibility in working arrangements, and it’s nice to see one of Canada’s biggest telecommunications companies taking such a progressive stance.