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The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist (tm)

July 1998, No. 1 Sec 1

Dear Readers,

Here is your free Stress Doc Newsletter. Twice a month I include original or favorite essays and articles from my various online and offline writings, including my weekly Humor From the Edge and AOL/Online Psych <A HREF="aol://4344:972.doc.1264535.556723207">The Stress Doc @ Online Psych </A> columns.

Setbacks. Lost dreams. This issue examines the phenomenon of rejection and rejuvenation, whether in a career path or, as I recently encountered, with a publishing house. (And if anyone has leads on literary agents, book editors or houses, I'm all eyes.) Check out articles on this book debacle and an inspiring piece on Creative "R & R" - Retreat & Return.

Also, scroll past the essays to find information on my speaking and training schedule, the library of articles on my award-winning website - www.stressdoc.com <A HREF="www.stressdoc.com">STRESSDOC HOMEPAGE</A> - and any fastbreaking developments.

Please forward this letter to interested friends, colleagues and family members, or send along their email addresses. (Also, if you don't wish to receive the newsletter, email me - stressdoc@aol.com .) If you'd like free subscriptions to Humor From the Edge (email me) and/or to "The Death and Dying" Newsletter, click here, <A HREF="http://www.death-dying.com/">Welcome To Death & Dying...Where Life Surroun...</A> (See, this newsletter will make you die laughing ;-)

A Hell of a Proposition

By Mark Gorkin, the Stress Doc@aol.com

Sometimes nothing fails like success. Okay, I'm feeling a bit cynical and disappointed. Nine months ago, my website was featured as a USA Today Online "Hot Site." (See www.stressdoc.com.) One of the visitors was a book editor for Andrews McMeel Publishing. She thought my Humor From the Edge "psychohumor" essays would make a popular book. Andrews McMeel puts out a variety of titles but, perhaps, the house is best known for their illustrated cartoon books: Dilbert, Doonesbury and, formerly, Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side. Definitely heady company. My fantasy glands were working overtime.

I began a book proposal, the concept loosely based on, The Art of Practicing Safe Stress . I now fondly call the project, "the proposal process from hell." I threw myself into the literary lions' den. Came up with an introduction, chapter outlines and a sample chapter, a marketing section (including my own online audience), a comparative analysis with other books - why mine was uncommon - and testimonials regarding my writing. A standard proposal.

Writing and Fighting

The battle quickly commenced. The editor wanted my outline to be very concise and, at the same time, to capture the book's humorous tone. It's true, no less an authority on conciseness than Shakespeare, observed: "Brevity is the soul of wit." I'm sorry, sometimes you need a few words to set up a punchline. So we spent a few months grappling over the length of the chapter summaries. Eventually, we both gave a little.

Then, my sample chapter needed to be tightened and simplified. While Ms. Editor had some valid points, I started wondering if my mind and output were being held hostage to the dumbing down of America. Wasn't there a place for a book that was neither abstractly academic nor obviously basic and banal? My objective was thoughtful pop psychology (okay, so it's an oxymoron): to impart ideas and images with humor, wit and imagination. This book would capture through clear concepts, memorable stories, top ten lists, and strategic case examples the language, the framework and the skills of a "multi-media psychohumorist" . And the visionary message was illustrated by the terminology, such as: "online psychohumorist," "Practice Safe Stress," "Shrink Rap," emancipation procrastination, "The Bjorn Bored Syndrome," "romantasy," "cyberotica," "The Four Faces of Anger" and "Are You a Blameaholic?," "Laughing in the Face of Layoffs," "Confronting Your Intimate FOE: Fear of Exposure," "egoals," "The Path of ProZen: Prozac and Zen" and "Tea for Two: The Narcissist's Version":

You for me and me for me Oh how nurturing you will be Forget "to be or not to be" Just simply think of ME, ME, ME!

In my pessimistic moments I began to wonder if we were trapped in the Editor- Author Power Tango: I had my doubts about her ability to leadand no doubt, I was not a very good follower!

I started having flashbacks to my self-defeating doctoral studies experience. Years earlier, I had been determined to pursue a highly creative dissertation topic that, frankly, was off the academic wall. Those conservative minds weren't stifling this budding talent. Okay, so I was egoal-driven: underlying feelings of inadequacy and a drive to prove my uncommon worthiness - once and for all - were masters of my ill-fated designs. The goal of an achievable doctoral dissertation was a fading memory obscured by a ballooning ego. Not surprisingly, one can bang against an academic wall, even with a hard head, only for so long. And I eventually knocked myself out of the doctoral program. Now, many hours of therapy later, I refer to those days of marching to my inner drummer, "When academic flashdancing whirled to a burnout tango."

And with this book proposal I didn't want a repeat self-defeating performance. So I accommodated and edited up to the point of compromising my integrity and basic vision for the book. I'd sacrifice a few trees; I wouldn't raze the forest!

Reaching and Breaching Consensus

And to the editor's credit, she also loosened her mind and her grip on the axe. We seemed to be approaching the functional definition of consensus: everybody loses a little. Actually, each party gives some ground so that the common purpose and path is thereby enriched. Ideally, the new perspective - reflecting the tensions and unpredictable revisions, relations and resolutions of the give and take - that is, the new whole would be greater than the sum of its parts or struggling individual partners.

Despite some sense of hope, an inner voice preached caution. In fact, for what followed I should have taken to heart my brother's aphormation: "I don't have any expectationsand I'm still usually disappointed." (For the record, "aphormation" is my word invention; no competitiveness in this family). You see, my Assistant Editor was fairly low on the Andrews McMeel organizational chart. So before submitting the book proposal to the almighty Acquisitions Committee, she wanted to share our work with several of the senior editors. You guessed it. The editors punctured our balloon. More specifically, they believed it wouldn't fly as a traditional book at the house and, instead, proposed we submit a collection of essays concept. These senior staffers thought that as an intellectual property I was worth backing. I just had to redo the basic structure, simplify the message and create brief, stand alone pieces. GRRRR!!

So six months into this process, I'm still doing major rework on this damn proposal. Two more months transpire before my editor and I are again dancing on the same page. She submits it; the waiting game resumes. And finally, the verdictThumbs down! My editor's boss, the Managing Editor, gave the proposal the green light. But other Acquisition Committee players believed the timing wasn't right. The house, at present, doesn't have a Publicity Director and mine is a "publicity-driven" book.

I suspect an example of a non-publicity-driven book is one by a colleague, who also submitted a proposal months ago to Andrews McMeel. That proposal was accepted in a week. The concept: websites for cats, that is, the different types of sites cats would build. I concede...you can't get more cool, clever and contemporary than that. ;-)

My editor tried to look at the bright side: "At least you have a solid book proposal." Yeah, thanks," I reluctantly replied. I promised to list her in the acknowledgements section of any future book. She laughed at that one.

And then the final straws. One was when a freelance writer calls wanting to use many of my concepts for her story on procrastination for the popular national magazine, Fitness. And the last was when an author of several psychology books asked to quote this recent passage from my newsletter: "Summer is a time for exploring sensual and spiritual paths beyond the everyday; it's when "a time for waste is not a waste of time." (For a free subscription, just email stresdoc@aol.com.) Hey, somebody in the publishing world wake up!

In Conclusion

So this lament is my way of asking for assistance. I have a bouncing baby book proposal that needs to be adopted by a publishing house. Does anyone in cyberspace know a house, book editor or literary agent that might resonate with the wit and wisdom of an "Online Psychohumorist." And I'll certainly be able to help market the book through: 1) my numerous speaking and workshop engagements and 2) my writings which are regularly featured in a number of online publications, including Humor From the Edge, America Online's major mental health forum, "Online Psych," Financial Services Journal Online and Mental Health Net, the internet's largest clearinghouse for mental health information. My writings also periodically appear in such national offline publications as Treatment Today and Paradigm Magazine.

Thanks for your time, ideas and energy. And, of coursePractice Safe Stress!

Creative "R & R" for Rebuilding Your Career Path

By Mark Gorkin, the Stress Doc@aol.com

The Metro-Washington area these last five years has certainly grappled with new political and economic realities. Individuals and organizations have experienced such stressors as budget reductions, loss of personnel and colleagues, uncertainty about the viability of your mission, and a general feeling that outside forces are determining one's sense of control and fate. If it's not been downsizing or rightsizing, it has been downright frightsizing!

Currently, as a contractor, I'm providing training and individual counseling in overcoming stress, managing anger, loss and change while transforming burnout into a creative career-life path for displaced federal employees. The Metropolitan Area Re-employment Project falls under the aegis of the Fairfax County Government Center.

Once helping folks grieve past their shock and disorientation, I'm especially preaching to those individuals who no longer feel a sense of loyalty to big organizational father, mother or brother; to folks who no longer will place all their financial security eggs in one bureaucratic basket. And, perhaps most critical, I'm hoping to inspire the fearful, hurt, bored, confused and angry. There really is opportunity to rechannel and reposition your work and life experience, along with your hard-earned knowledge and skills.

In today's rapidly changing technological climate, there is a career path for an individual with passion and a dream even, or especially, at mid-life/mid- career. Whether it's integrating previous professional expertise with new computer training or by using the internet to promote your products and services, change can truly be a stepping stone not a stumbling block. But we need to "Confront the Intimate FOE: Fear of Exposure." For some it's a helpless doubt and shame, for others it's exhaustion and guilt or cynicism and apathy. And for mewell, let me tell you of a fairly recent tale of rejection and how loss and defeat can be a catalyst for my version of "R & R": "Retreat and Return."

Bringing Back the Future

Basically, I was let go after two years as a part-time organizational development/team building consultant for a major federal government agency. The agency went through a reorganization. As luck would have it, just a few weeks before the changeover, I encountered the as yet undesignated but soon to be chief in two problem-solving, sectional team meetings. Alas, I had to set some limits on this future leader's excessive controlling, talking and process suffocating ways. Stress Doc...won't you ever learn: Discretion is the better part of self-preservation!

So you know who was considered superfluous once our fairly inexperienced Napoleon Blownapart became the reorganized department head. (Ironically, I had received feedback from several employees that these had been their most open, honest and productive sectional meetings.)

Picasso's Injunction

Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction. Pablo Picasso

While home, with the holidays hovering in the background, missing some comrades and worrying about my cash flow, a mix of wounded pride and frustration was bubbling inside. Having extra time, I could no longer avoid the "reality" right in front of my face: there was uncharted territory waiting to be explored if I would confront the unknown and the possibility of rejection.

I had been on AOL for over a year, but did little with it other than read some email and respond to personal ads. I knew, like myself, AOL was an underutilized resource. And predictably, whenever slow times would hit, the gnawing belief that I should be writing would surface. So, at the turn of the year, the coalescing of issues and timing, pain and passion finally thrust me into cyberspace exploration.

On the Edge

Mousing around a writer's bulletin board, I came upon a solicitation that caught my eye: an electronic humor newsletter was looking for writers. I emailed with some humorous psychology articles. And, to my surprise, instead of a black hole venture, customary runaround or proforma rejection letter (typical of offline operations), I received a personal response. The newsletter's editor, SV Honey, liked my style and message; she promised to forward my material to the publisher, the Jokemeistr.

Now Rick was a bit cautious as my pieces were quite different than the kind of explicit jokes, "top ten" lists or computer humor that, at the time, were the usual fare of Humor From the Edge (HFTE). At first, he challenged me to condense my pieces to 100 words. (Later, the editor confided that the Jokemeistr didn't think I'd be up to it.) And initially, the skepticism was well founded. "What! You can't restrict a psychologically deep, creative writer like this." Well, I put a lid on my ego. Wrote several short "psychohumor" stories. And, by early February, reader feedback came pouring in.

A number of people liked the novel perspective. Others, especially the younger audience, reacted to me like an unwanted cyber alien, if not a virus in their software. I was contaminating the purity of their newsletter. From my slightly biased perspective, of course, to Rick's credit and editorial integrity, he weathered the cyberstorm. The man even generously allowed a gradual expansion of my word quota. (And his three times/week newsletter, despite my presence, has grown to 14,000 readers and counting.)

From On the Edge to Online Psycho...

Building on my nascent success and growing confidence, I used HFTE as a main space station and launched author inquiries to other corners of cyberspace. And fortunately, I connected with Kelly, the website manager of America On Line's major mental health resource, Online Psych (OLP). Kelly, a former psychotherapist, quickly saw the fit. By April, she and her staff had created a "Stress Doc Home Page" (Keyword: Stress Doc). In fact, OLP helped catalyze my latest job title -- "Online Psychohumorist" (tm). (As always, I let the reader decide whether the emphasis should be on the first or latter part of the word, "psychohumorist.")

Without a doubt, writing for Humor From the Edge, Online Psych and, since the summer, the internet newsletter, Financial Services Journal Online, has a whole new world unfolding. Not only was my confidence, marketability and skill as a writer growing (practice does make damn good), I now was committed to work with my web maven on website design and update. And, as I've previously mentioned, in September, the "Stress Doc's" psychohumor was featured as a USA Today Online "Hot Site."

From Spinning Wheels to a New Revolution

So what's the moral of this tale of redemption and rejuvenation? I think Albert Camus, in his Youthful Writings, captures it best:

"Once we have accepted the fact of loss, we understand that the loved one [or loved position] obstructed a whole corner of the possible pure now as a sky washed by rain."

I had to grieve the demise of the consulting position and return to my heart before reengaging the fray and recovering my passion. This time, however, I was exploring and choosing a new battleground. No loss, no pain, no gain. Or, as I once penned: "Whether the loss is a key person, a desired position or a powerful illusion, each deserves the respect of a mourning. The pit in the stomach, the clenched fist and quivering jaw, the anguished sobs prove catalytic in time. In mystical fashion, like Spring upon Winter, the seeds of dissolution bear fruitful renewal."

Being in Washington, one can't close an "R and R" article without a good acronym:

C...Let constructive discontent smolder and "transform the fire to burning desire" R...Be risk-taking, be brave, get out of your comfort zone; grapple with rejection E...Learn to experiment; put your ego on the side and patiently explore possibilities A...Acknowlege and cultivate ambition; yet know the difference between vision and hallucination; and don't be afraid to ask for support T...Value thrustration, that innovative push-pull among frustration, uncertainty and spontaneity E...Embrace evolution, not just goal attainment; "Retreat and Return" is an ongoing process; remember, many battles are fought and lost before a major undertaking is won!

So, here's to some uncommon "R & R" for blazing your passionate and innovative path. And, of course...especially in this risk-taking mode...Practice Safe Stress!

Mark Gorkin, the "Stress Doc," Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is a national speaker and trainer on stress, communications, team building, creativity and HUMOR. He is the "Online Psychohumorist" for the major AOL mental health resource, Online Psych, and for the internet newsletters Humor From the Edge and Financial Services Journal Online. Mark is also a Contributing Writier for the national publications Treatment Today and Paradigm Magazine. And, the "Doc" is a critical incident specialist for a variety of EAPs. For more info, call (202) 232-8662, check his website - recently featured as a USA Today Online "Hot Site" - at: http://www.stressdoc.com or email Stress Doc@aol.com. Email to receive his free newsletter: "Cybernotes from an Online Psychohumorist."

(c) Mark Gorkin 1998 Shrink Rap Productions