<EditorsNote> This post was originally published in 2017. I wasn’t diagnosed as having autism and synesthesia until this year … which explains how I ended up having what I (now know as being) “an autistic meltdown. </EditorsNote>
It’s funny, on a quasi-daily basis someone will ask me either personally or professionally “are you crazy,” and I laugh to myself thinking, nope – I ACTUALLY have the papers to prove it!
I’ve always had an ability to see things before other people (via processing, and making sense of information faster than the average person), which is great as an adult, but as a child, and into my early 20s, it made life rather, uh, interesting …
I spent a total of 12 years living with (what doctors call) “clinical depression.” 9 of which were spent on (what I refer to as) a “suicidal spectrum.” I wasn’t the Hollywood stereotypical emo-type who wore black and worshipped the devil. Quite the opposite, I had loving parents who gave everything to their children, a solid job, and great friends. At the end of the day though, I knew something was missing; I had all of this pain inside of my body that I didn’t know what to do with. I used to fantasize about the process of driving my car into a tree, or over a bridge. I tried ODing on pills, but was left only with a scar on my nose and the throbbing sensation of my organs the next day.
I didn’t want my life to end, I wanted my pain to end.
Doctors, therapy, nothing worked.
I won’t go into the dramatics of why I was depressed, or hospitalized. If you are curious you can read this post, this one, and here’s the one on the hospitalization (I spent 48 instead of 72 because I talked my way out of it). This post was so difficult because I’m not that person anymore.
It was shortly after I started Talk Nerdy that I thought about the logistics of killing myself. Not the fantasy behind it, and the planning it all out … but the day AFTER my funeral. The week after. The year after. When you’re dead, you’re dead! So why not take that bottom line, and create a new one of my own. Labels disintegrate when you die (daughter, sister, co-worker, friend), so why not start NOW with living life based upon my OWN expectations. I thought I “knew” myself, but what did that even mean?
In February of 2010, I was selected as 1/2 of Team LA for the second chapter of the Ford Fiesta Movement. I had a car, gas card, and competed in a series of missions for Ford while promoting the Fiesta across all of our social media platforms.
During that time, I was also managing the ORM (online reputation management) for Bertram Van Munster aka the guy on the right …
I would meet with Bert every few weeks at this long picnic table he had in the main area of his production company. I won’t go into what we discussed out of privacy reasons, but I remember sitting writing his wiki page and online bio, digesting all of the details of his life. (They’ve since changed it but you can read his wiki page here.)
Among his many credits (all of this is from memory), he changed the branding for National Geographic from scientists inside a lab to being out in the field. He also created the “cinéma vérité” style of filming (for the small screen) when he produced the TV show Cops. (For us normal people, that’s the follow along style that makes you feel like you’re in the field and not objectively viewing via a stationary point.)
He had recently done a show with Oprah, and oh yeah the whole Amazing Race thing – they had a couple of seasons. THE MAN IS PERSONAL FRIENDS WITH … I COULDN’T EVEN TELL YOU HOW MANY FORMER PRESIDENTS!
I didn’t want to be him, I wanted to learn how to live like him. Bert is a pioneer, and what do pioneers do? They explore.
In May of that year I gave up everything that I owned (out of necessity), choosing to live in the Ford Fiesta. The ONLY THING that I wanted to do was blog, and I could see SO CLEARLY that the time was RIGHT NOW. I had no idea how to write a business plan, raise capital, or even be logistical enough to know how to run the damn thing. All I knew was that I had the vision and I had the heart; social media was QUICKLY changing the way we all received our information, and I wanted more than anything to be a part of it.
I used location based social media (Foursquare) to check in places, all while inviting people to stop by under the hashtag #nerdsunite. I didn’t tell anyone at first that I was living in the car, I instead branded it under the guise of being on the “Unapologetically Awesome Spring/ Summer 2010 Tour.” After all, rockstars go on tour, so it made perfect sense to me.
I was also cautious of what Ford and other brands might think, so I carefully kept my cards close to my chest. Morning, noon, and night I sat in coffee shops (mostly Cafe Solar in Hollywood because they had free water and a ton of extra outlets), and pitched anyone and everyone asking if I could teach them how to use and/or set up their social media accounts in exchange for food, clothing, or shelter (dependent upon what type of brand I was pitching).
These were not the healthiest years of my life, but I did get to eat a LOT of pizza …
I wouldn’t just make a video, I also sat down with each company and explained what everything meant and where all of this was going. They were happy that they finally had help understanding what this “new world” looked like online, and I was happy because with each adventure and each day I, quite frankly, survived.
<tangent> In the early days of social media, there was an understanding of value but not an understanding of how to quantify it. I had a peer charge a company $12K just to set up a Twitter account. One part of me now wants to high five him, but the other part knows how douchey that was, and I couldn’t be that person. If I liked your product, I’d reach out asking if I could barter knowledge in exchange, but I specifically never allowed myself to be “bought.” </tangent>
By discovering what I absolutely LOVED to do, I began experiencing serendipitous luck on a frequent basis. Like the time I was sitting in an airport and Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top sat down next to me …
I got to show Billy how to use Twitter for the first time, and I still remember him saying “get out of here” when I told him I was communicating with his fans in real time. Bonus perk of living out of a car and or backpack – you have everything you need on you at all times. I had the equipment to capture this story, which was opportunity meeting preparation.
In July of 2010, I emailed Bert’s assistant and asked for a meeting only this time about social media. He was surprised to hear from me (as I had completed my initial assignment but then instead of asking for a contract extension, I ghosted). I also chose to leave out the part that my phone had been shut off (I used skype over wifi to make calls, and answered everything else via email until I negotiated a phone sponsorship).
We met a few days later, and I started downloading all of the information I had been processing. We then quickly moved from the picnic table to inside his office (with the door shut). I told him he could produce the equivalent of a TV show using social media. I explained that content and storytelling runs across all platforms. You have Ustream (at the time) when you want to livestream, you can use a Flipcam to capture recorded video (I still have mine from AOL and still works wonderfully), and then you can use Twitter to send out quick messages, and Foursquare to say where you are. Out of ALL of the people in the world I KNEW he could do something with this information.
I didn’t need to be a part of whatever he did with it, it was never about that. I just wanted someone to hear me, and not think I was “crazy.”
He told me I wasn’t crazy at all, and the fact that I even wondered that meant that I was definitely thinking differently- which was a very good thing. I appreciated those words in that exact moment, but instead of wearing it as a badge of honor, I still kept my head down and used it as motivation to keep going. I was no where near where I wanted to be, wherever that was.
In May of 2011, I had met enough people, and had a popular enough blog that I was able to live very modestly off of it, and move outside of cars and couches, into an actual apartment. Again, I never needed much, plus, every experience that I had I turned into a story. Want to know what it’s like taking public transportation for 600 days? I got you boo.
A couple hundred blog posts later (in total Talk Nerdy had 7,450 blog posts, and at its peak 75 contributors), I unfortunately got everything that I had wanted.
For years I thought it would be cool to figure out how to get something to organically trend on Twitter. The rate card (at the time) was $250K, and being someone that optimizes systems on the reg, I really really really wanted to figure out how to do it without paying the hefty price tag.
My office was corporate sponsored by io/LA (now WeWork Hollywood) and in exchange for space, I helped out with digital promotion (specifically for events); one such event was the #Tech4Obama fundraiser.
Within a few hours we not only organically trended on Twitter …
but my account wound up being el-top-dog-arino …
You’d think that the MOMENT you ACTUALLY accomplish EXACTLY what you wanted would be the BEST MOMENT OF YOUR LIFE, right?
Well, if you do, you sir or ma’am are …
When I got everything that I wanted, I discovered how hollow and superficial it was. I had been working so much that I had no real friends to share this with (let alone the fact that most of my friends still had no idea what I was talking about). My initial goal was to find and connect with likeminded people. Here’s an opportunity to celebrate (in my eyes) a HUGE GOAL, and I had no one. Well, I did have Ryu and Ken, as I took the bus over to the Surly Goat (where I played Street Fighter), but even then the game was out of order.
My goals weren’t in line with my execution which left me feeling EXTREMELY frustrated.
WHAT THE FUCK WAS I DOING ALL OF THIS FOR?? WHO WAS I DOING IT FOR?? WHY AM I SO UNHAPPY … STILL!!!
HOW DID I GET HERE … AGAIN???
I wrote about it extensively (& don’t forget about this post too), but it wasn’t until April of 2013, when I met someone I didn’t want to blog about. (First for privacy reasons, then for true intimacy.)
Two months later I ghosted Los Angeles (my home of almost 10 years), the blog, social media, and even changed my phone number. (When I commit to something I commit to it – I never question.)
I thought if EVERYTHING I did for the blog lead me to this exact person, (I was hired for a digital marketing campaign for his “bachelor search” and cost myself the job) I was totally cool with it. I struggled initially, because I had a project based on the intellectual property of Talk Nerdy over at MTV, but luckily, life pulled me where I belonged when the project fell through.
Without the blog, or any media related activities, I began feeling a loss of identity. I built everything around my personality, but had no idea where that ended and I began; it never occurred to me that I was validating myself based upon all the analytics and likes I received. I threw a pity party for myself for about .25 seconds and then went back to exploring. After all, this was unchartered territory …
I learned how to free dive, cook (well, I was in charge of the salad), drive a boat, paddle board, fish, and paint (or attempt to). I got active in the community, and held things that I never thought I would ever hold …
In 2.5 years I was in two great relationships but knew I needed more. If I had been 10 years older, and “accomplished” I’d be totally fine staying on the island. At 30 though, I knew I needed to still fulfill my career goals, I just wasn’t quite sure what that was anymore.
Fortunately, life had yet another plan, and Talk Nerdy (which was optioned in 2013 by Jerry Bruckheimer), actually sold to CBS as a put pilot.
I traveled all around the country having all of these life experiences, and wound up right back in the place I called “home.” (If this isn’t a page out of the Alchemist, I don’t know what is.)
When I got back to LA I was petrified that I would end up going back to “Talk Nerdy Jen,” but I quickly realized that that wasn’t possible. I had discovered what personal fulfillment felt like, and instead of constantly wanting new-ness, I went right back to the very first friends I ever had …
… and learned in the process so much more about myself. To function as a human being, I need my home to feel safe (or to have a home), Buster (my dog) to be healthy, and I need to exercise (I spin 6 days a week). If I don’t have my home, dog, and spin classes – I am a grumpy, angry human being.
With one missing, I should be wrapped in caution tape.
With two missing, the alarm goes off with a “warning warning” whoop.
With three missing, I shouldn’t be allowed to leave the house.
(An additional layer is reserved for my family and close friends, but I can’t be anything to them unless I have those three things in check for myself. Same with work, and anything related.)
Think of it in terms of children, remember when you were younger and your favorite person turned on your favorite TV show, wrapped you in your FAAVVOORRIITTEE blanket, and you decided to throw a tantrum spouting out irrationalities that clearly just meant you need a nap?
Same thing. I can’t be anything to anyone else unless I hold myself accountable for the things that work for me. It took a WHOLE lot of experiences to come to that conclusion, and that was something that risperdal, seroquel, lithium, ambien, xanax, klonpin and doctors could never prescribe.
I didn’t need medicine, I needed to develop coping skills, and with that came the knowledge that things don’t bother me the same way (stressors or people) when I’m taking care of myself.
What do I “want to do” or “where I will be in 10 years?” As you can see, I have absolutely no idea, but I am completely okay with the post starting with “this post was so difficult because I’m not that person anymore.”
I will never admit to knowing what I am doing, but I’m doing it, and there’s nothing crazy about that.
Thanks life, so happy to have met you … finally.