Insurgent: The Angst Arises

While I live by bread and meat alone, I sometimes do get out to the movies.  Sometimes this is a better way to spend evenings than others.

As a whole, Insurgent, the newest installment of the Divergent serial, made me feel like a baby bird being force-fed undigested platitudes.  As one of the newest in a fad of Young Adult dystopian action-fantasies, it didn’t not impress me as much as The Hunger Games or one of the earliest incarnations of this genre, Battle Royale (Batoru Rowaiaru).  It mashed the “adolescence is hard” button with such fervor, it turned what seems like a really neat world-setting into a paste of indifference and pablum.

Insurgent steps in mere days after the tumultuous upset of Divergent, with our hero, Tris (Shailene Woodley), and her posse running from the evil remnants of a fracturing caste-based society led by maniacal Mengele-wannabe, Jeanine (Kate Winslet).  There are other characters, including an underutilized Naomi Watts, but they are largely forgettable.  At a whirlwind pace, Tris must gather her wits, solidify her new base, and decide how she will react to being the sudden fulcrum upon which her society tilts.  She’s forced to either reject or embrace her role as She-Ra, the leader of the new rebel alliance, or as just be another ‘divergent’ cast-off to be hammered down for the good of society.  Rapidly switching between Four’s, (Theo James) her boyfriend, “hit it with a hammer” mentality and her brother, Caleb (Ansel Elgort), and his odd cowardice-tinged-loyalty to the system, Tris is skinned, stretched, and left in the sun to dry.  She also cries a lot and is horribly moody.

Woodley offers a serviceable performance as an embattled young woman looking for her place in the world; the polls are still open whether she’ll sputter out as an actress or leverage this role as Jennifer Lawrence has managed, but she has undoubted potential.  That being said, all of these kinds of movies pivot on singling out and exploring (¿exploiting?) the terrible burdens and passions of adolescence.  The first movie set the scene for our heroine, highlighted her strength and uniqueness, and now the second movie must show her struggle to find peace and with these changes.  I get it – I wore a trenchcoat and skulked the edges of concerts too.  But, ¿must we do so with such an oddly empty hand?

Through many of the scenes where Tris is coming to grips with her birth into this world of violence, I can’t help but roll my eyes at how the movie demands we “feel her pain”.  In one of the pinnacle moments, she’s injected with a truth-serum (a trope that just won’t die) and must stand dead-center in a room filled with onlookers and babble her poor heart out.  We’re forced to watch from a twisting series of angles and close-ups as she reveals a deep-seated guilt from the first movie.  And.  And, nothing.  There’s no resolution, no closure, not even an inkling that the confession was meaningful.  We could have explored ideas of PTSD, or the nature of truth vs Truth, or even allowed Tris some self-revelation.  But, no.  The audience intones “The truth shall set you free!” (spoiler-alert: guess what happens later) and we get back to blowing things up with CGI.  The mere invocation of the lone teenager standing before her peers and admitting her faults is enough – the creators can say “Oh yeah, teens will get that” and they move on.  Any kind of exploration or, [gasp], reflection is passed over.

The entire movie is rife with this kind of veiled glossing of ideas.  We’re given a light brush of deep tides only to be rushed onto the next action sequence.  Even the violence itself is superficial.  People are gunned down by the score, yet the only blood we see is a broken nose (miraculously healed by the next scene) and a light scratch across Four’s forehead to prove he was ‘in the mix’.  I came out of the movie being largely indifferent to their struggles and, mostly, wanted to slap them all.  Even Tris’ big revelation and dynamic shift at the climax feels hollow – she flips an emotional switch and suddenly all is right with the world.  Must be nice.

That being said, I’ll probably read the books.  Part of this comes from my pathological need to read any book made into a movie (so I can say, “the book was better” with authority) but mostly because some of the ideas writer Veronica Roth seems to be exploring are intriguing.  Caste-based societies, assimilation vs evolutionary culture, rebels and their role in progressing morays – plus, it’s based in a post-apocalyptic Chicago and I wanna see what happened to Wrigleyville (and here you thought things couldn’t get worse for the Cubs).


oDesk Profile Part Deux: Where ya From; Where ya Goin’

Last week, I walked through the opening steps of building a brand-spankin’ new oDesk profile.  Most of it was simple enough gunk (name, rank, serial number), but it got tricky at the Overview and Title.  Perhaps the core of the profile, these two seemingly innocuous elements are the tightly wound core of the overall success knuckle-ball.  The key here was concision and simplicity: clients don’t want to wade through your murky mind nor unravel your Tetrised experience.  Just pitch it straight down the center (and other sportsball references).

This week, we’re going to finish out the Profile by talking about Employment History, Education, Pay Rate, and, the newest oDesk modification Membership and Connects (as of Feb 2015).

A Brief (veryvery brief) History of Your Time: oDesk Experience, Employment

After you’ve finished the Overview and Title, oDesk profile will ask you to rate your “Experience Level” into three general Categories:Entry Level; Intermediate: Expert.

ODesk screen cap: Experience Level

oDesk doesn’t give a lot of guidance on the differential between these categories, so go with your gut in regards to your field.  I stuck to Intermediate as this isn’t my first rodeo, but I can’t quite say “Professional Editor” yet with a straight face.  I suspect this scale is used as some kind of filter by the oDesk engine to screen applicants for clients, so don’t be too stingy about your background.

Employment History

Right out of the gate: I don’t like the employment history setup with oDesk – there are some bizarre choices.  The wizard breaks it down into discrete elements:

  • Company: A simple text box with some auto-text functions, which is nice. Some of my employers weren’t listed, but the box allows free-write.  “This Field is Required” error if you leave it blank.
  • Location: These sections are broken into “City” and “Country”.  There are auto-text functions to both, but only the City is free-write – if your Country isn’t in the database it gives you an “invalid country” message.  It’s a strange line to draw in the sand, but, again, it’s likely a filter for clients to find applicants.  Both are required fields.
  • Title: Another simple text box with some auto-text functions.  Another, you guessed it, required field.
  • Role:  This is the first mind-boggler of a field.  It’s a dropdown with options: Intern; Individual Contributor; Lead; Manager; Executive; Owner.  The wizard doesn’t offer any differential to these options leaving me to ponder a number of questions, ¿what’s the difference between a Lead and Manager?  If I’m the head of my own department, but don’t have any direct reports, ¿am I an Executive or a Manager?  Can an Intern get paid?  It’s a question which might shift drastically between industries and doesn’t seem all that meaingful.  Very Odd.
  • Period: Starting Month and Year to concluding Month and Year for the position.  Simple– except month is a required field for both.  I’ve got no idea what month I started a job back in ’03 – I can barely remember my sister’s birthday.  I arbitrarily chose January/December start/end months just for uniformity, so I hope no one checks references.
  • Description: The “meat” of any good CV or resume – and oDesk limits it to 1,000 characters.  With Spaces.  ¿How do I summarize five years as a manger in 1,000 characters? I understand the need for brevity, but ¡come on!  This fields begs to be either super-jargon or meaningless platitude.  I chose some specific accomplishments, but will likely change them as I start looking for jobs.  Also of note, this field will be truncated to the first ~200 characters when clients first view your profile, ie they’ll need to click “see more” to view the entire field.  Choose your first accomplishment carefully.  Oddly enough, it NOT a required field.

    ¡Beware the Orange Box of DOOOM!
    ¡Beware the Orange Box of DOOOM!


The Final Section of the oDesk profile-blendotron.  It asks for School; Dates Attended; Degree; Area of Study; and Description.  Only School and Dates Attended are required, but the wizard will plotz if you try to choose a Degree it doesn’t have listed in its auto-text function.  Which means I had to list my expected Master’s Of Technical Writing from Chatham University (MPW) as a Master’s of Arts (MA).  Harumph.

The Final Touches: Pay Rate, Connects

Pay Rate

Seems fairly straight forward but the wizard is uniquely unhelpful.  There is a single box, “Your Rate” in USD.  Enter whatever value you see fit and the screen updates to show the 10% oDesk takes off the top and your new net total.  There is NOTHING on this page to help you choose a rate besides a glib tool-tip, “This is the amount that will appear on your profile”.  Well, thanks.  For the first-time user, this is a complete stab in the dark.  I suspect oDesk is specifically allowing the market to decide the rates, which is no help for those of us strangled by the Unseen Hand.  This is another case of: learn the segment and adjust as necessary.

Membership Plans and Connects

The most recent oDesk addition to further monetize their market.  I spoke with a trainer who said it was a way to weed out applicants who spammed clients with their bids, but I’m skeptical.  Though the process is still new, Connects are “bid-tickets” necessary to apply for a job:

“Applying to jobs

If you’re invited to apply or are being rehired, you won’t need to use any Connects. All other applications require anywhere from 1 to 5 Connects, depending on factors such as the size and type of job. Initially, most jobs will require about 2 Connects.

If a job is cancelled without hiring (by the client or oDesk), the Connects used on that application will be returned for you to reuse. Returned Connects are subject to the usual rollover restrictions, maximums, and billing cycle timing.”

(oDesk FAQ: How Do Connects Work?)

This is a direct way to limit the number of jobs to which you can apply.  60 connects a month, each job requiring ~2+ connects means: you can only apply to ~30 jobs a month.  For me, who is only planning on a few jobs a week, this won’t be a ceiling, but anyone trying to make a living off oDesk might have some serious issues.  oDesk will, of course, sell you more Connects ($1 a piece) or let you buy a membership ($10 a month: Basic and Plus membership) with 70 Connects a month and some contingency for “roll-over Connects”.  We’ll see how this pans out in the long-run, but I suspect this will increase competition something fierce: probably good for clients; pretty bad for applicants.

Which Brings Us to an End

That is the whole kit and kaboodle of the oDesk Profile.  After you choose either Basic or Plus membership, the wizard thanks you for your time and says they will review your profile in about 12 hours – “don’t call us, we’ll call you”.

By intent, the profile is an iterative process, demanding constant tweaking and update.  Like most pseudo-resumes in the digital era, you’ll need to update this with the pace of business, Tokyo time.

P.s. It’s been just over 72 hours and I haven’t heard back from oDesk regarding my profile – so much for the pace of business.

Quick word of revelation: apparently, the company is “oDesk” (small ‘o’) not “ODesk”, which might have been why they’ve taken three days to approve my profile instead of 12 hours.  It’s always good to spell your employer’s name correctly.

The More You Know!

The Short-Sell without Selling Yourself Short: Building an ODesk Profile

Since I only have a slightly smaller chance of winning the lottery than many people (being that I don’t buy tickets), I need to earn money the old fashion way: selling my skills for tuppence.  ¿What better way than free-lance editing for strangers?  Off to the online work-linkage platform ODesk (wikipage).  ¿Why ODesk?  Partially because my fiance already works for them and they haven’t yet stolen her shoes; partially because they’re HQed in California so they’ll have pity on a fellow Bear-Stater (¿right?).  But, mostly because they’ve been successfully managing an online freelance platform for over 10 years, so I figure they know their shniz (or are at least smart enough to get away with it).


Step One: Choose Your Fate

Early steps are easy: First, Last  Name; Email; Country; Handle; Password; and a Captcha ID box.  Then, we get to the fun stuff: choosing your work.  I immediately kicked “Writing and Translation” (there were other options but I was just too excited [squee] to slow down) only slowed by the writer’s most dreaded question: What Type of Writing Do You do?

Oh, how's I Hates it, precious!
Oh, how’s I hates it, precious!

This galling question has plagued writers for millennia and is often followed by the horrifying, “Have you written anything I would have read?”  In this case, I suspect ODesk was simply being polite and I chose not to throw a martini in its face.   After carefully limiting myself to six, I clicked “Save and Continue” – only to find ODesk, an obvious tool of the Squares, only allows four categories.  Grumblingly, I obliged limiting the endless future to a mere four.  As with all profiles, this is a transitory selection which can be updated later from my profile, but still– ¡rude!


Step Two: The Elevator Pitch

Now, I started into the real nuts and bolts of the profile.  Next, ODesk wants to link into your web reputation (¿webutation?) by linking Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, etc. .  I attached my LinkedIn, because I’m pretty sure that’s safe, but left out Twitter and Facebook for pure paranoia’s sake.  Yes, anyone with an ounce of Google-Fu can track me down, but ¿why make it easy for the stalkers?  There were also links to GitHub, StackOverflow, Behance, Dribbble, deviantART, and Google, but I haven’t been to a concert since the late oughts and don’t know about all them new fangled muzaks.

The “Title, Picture, and Overview”, however, them I know and I’ve had their album since vinyl (¿weren’t they just sued by Marvin Gaye?).  ODesk is upfront about the importance of these elements in the profile:

  • Profiles with Pictures are “5 times more likely to be chosen” than those without, and professional, smiling, head-shots are even more attractive.  Show off those pearly whites.
  • A succinct, Descriptive Title is far more likely to attract clients as they needn’t dither around or try to piece-it-altogether.
  • A Direct and limited Overview will explain exactly what you bring to table without wasting a client’s time.  Tasty Tidbit: Only the first 400 characters (including spaces) will be seen on your profile splash-page; anything more and the client will need to click through to your page.

Title: “Strong Writer and Careful Editor.”  I chose something simple and straight-forward out of the gate.  It might not be flashy, but it is certainly to the point. As I feel the field, I’ll shape it toward more of the work I’m interested in.

Overview: “I am a professional writer and editor with over ten years of experience in the corporate, academic, and not-for-profit markets.  My detail-driven and outcome-focused professionalism will assist your organization to increase efficiency, profitability, and reach beyond the norm into the extraordinary.  I am as adept at creating statistically-rich and dense annual reports as one-off white papers.  I’ve  forged stable and progressive solutions at every position I’ve held as I focus on the needs of the client above all else.  My love of exploring new roles and challenges is my dynamic core.  I look forward to working with you.”

I'll also change out my slightly dyspeptic profile picture
I’ll also change my dyspeptic profile picture

From the ODesk Help pages and how the Profile Page is arranged, these three elements are the first impressions which will make or break you for a second date.  I’ve strung together a solid base from my resume, but will be editing and critiquing it further as I learn more about the industry and which clients I want to entice.

This is only the first few steps in the Profile Process.  Next time, I’ll look at: EducationWork History, the all-important Pay Rate (adroit readers will already have figured out for how little I sell myself), and ODesk’s newest money-making scheme, Membership and Connects.  Hint, a major portion of “Connects” seems designed to disconnect you from your money.

A Lexical Cowboy Searches for His Spurs

I am not a professional writer.  Though I carry a six-barreled thesaurus and can bulls-eye “man vs. nature” at 50 paces, I have never been hired solely for my skill in writing.  Like many English grads, I’ve made a healthy (enough) living writing while being paid, but I’ve never been paid to write.  This is life wandering in a writer’s desert: just enough prosetry to drag my saddle between lonely watering holes, always seeking a lost paradise of flowing verbiage.

Prithee, ¿would’st prefer lycopersicum accompanying thy tubers?
Prithee, ¿would’st prefer lycopersicum accompanying thy tubers?

Of course, It’s a Pretty Tasty Desert

After the obligatory stint in three different burger-joints as chief fry-cook and butt-washer, I hired out my guns to various corporate barons as a data consultant, an office manager, an executive assistant, etc. etc.  A budget specialist here, a service manager there; I pursued a litany of professions which rewarded a quick pen, but basically drudged along as a business packmule.  I’ve made ends meet and even splurged the occasional paycheck (mad skeeball, yo), but this is a bit like being a mechanic who runs a mini-golf course and go-cart track; or a sculptor who slings a tasty Reuben at the corner deli, but secretly molds mashed potatoes to “mean something”.

I suspect I’m not the only bureaudrone (not to denigrate bureaucrats – they’re the hardest working people I know) who laments his salt-mine life.  “Oh woe is me”, we mumble to popcorn drop-ceilings, “I could’a been a writer.”  ¡Shhh! if you’re extra quiet you can hear an angel gently weeping for all the unborn paragraphs of every disenfranchised writer.

Sure, being “The Guy” who knows how to spell indefatigably and can center-mass a comma-splice at a hundred spaces has its benefits.  For one, no one ever questions my overuse of semicolons; they are, after all, the sexiest of all punctuation.  Second, I get acknowledgements in three out of every five publications coming out of the office (acknowledgements are the “forever a bridesmaid” of the publishing world).

“Irregardless” is totally a word, trust me

Unless You’ve got a Window-Seat, The View Never Changes

After a certain level, the ability to write, or not, has little effect on business success.  Being a bureaucrat who can spell without SpellCheck amounts for little.  I know any number of upwardly mobiles who write like the hind-end of a heifer, but have found success, adventures, and profit.  So, being the kind of person who asks rhetorical questions, I blurted ¿what do they have that I don’t?  And, being the kind of person who answers his own rhetorical questions: they enjoy it.  Sure, they like the money, but moreso, they like their business.  They could give two tugs about the paycheck (well, most of ‘em), it was the work that gave them life.

Which bring us here, the trail-head of This Darkened Forest 

¿Why write when you can make more money elsewise so easily?  Or, as my sister puts it, “Why are you bothering?  Just earn an MBA and buy a Beemer.”  Simply put, I enjoy writing and the idea of being paid to write tickles me pink.  Perhaps it’s a shallow motivation, and I could likely dress the premise in frills and a Stetson, but the core is simple: if I’ll be working the rest of my life to live and support my family, ¿why not work at something I truly enjoy?  It reminds me of scene from Bakshi’s American Pop where a budding piano virtuoso remarks on his skill, “This isn’t work; this is play!”  I like the idea of being paid to play.

Psst – let’s ignore how this scene ends.
Psst – let’s ignore how this scene ends.

As such, I embark now on a darkened, perhaps unsavory, trail: write for a living.  I know nothing of this world or even if my steed can weather the pass through the mountains, but onward I ride.  Delightful metaphors aside: I’m going to explore the world of freelancing, editing, and writing for a living.  If you come along, I promise a bevy of esoteric cultural references, puns galore, plenty of bean-jokes (Bob bless Mel Brooks), and maybe we can both learn some few things about where the desert ends.

Man’s Inhumanity to Man