The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist (tm)
July 1998, No. 1 Sec 1
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
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
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 - email@example.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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.) Hey, somebody in the publishing
world wake up!
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
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
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
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
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
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
(c) Mark Gorkin 1998 Shrink Rap Productions