Adapt, Improvise, Overcome
Yes… Those were the words spoken by that venerable actor, Clint Eastwood — playing the role of Marine Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Highway — to his untrained, undisciplined platoon of Marines in the movie, “Heartbreak Ridge.” The message was clear to the actors in the movie, as it is in real life to anyone who has served in the military — such as myself. I embraced that saying after leaving the military, carrying it forward into my civilian life. This past year, however, I found myself putting my belief of that saying to the test.
I was used to doing in-person readings of my stories and had been for many years. All of a sudden, 2020 comes long and turns all of that on its head. No more would I be able to do my readings in a bookstore, college classroom, library, or any other such setting. No more would I be able to be there and look into the eyes and faces of the audience to gauge their interest — or lack thereof. Nope, those venues were now relegated to the ‘forbidden zone.’
Most people tend to resist change. It’s human nature; it’s part of our DNA. Forget about moving into the future. I’m the kind of person that has to be dragged kicking and screaming into the present. Case in point: I had an iPhone 4, made about a hundred years ago. It was the right size and did everything I needed it to do, even though it had a screen the size of a postage stamp and about as much memory. My wife and grown children constantly chided me about not upgrading. Finally, the phone ran out of memory — it just died peacefully in its sleep one night.
With the moral support of my wife, I went to my cell carrier’s phone store to get a new phone, although I was secretly hoping they could bring my other phone back from the dead. That was not to be. The salesperson listened and knew I didn’t need to buy the latest phone for my limited use. He suggested I go online and buy either a new or refurbished iPhone 7 Plus. In addition, he added — with tongue firmly implanted in cheek — that it would be a great transition phone for me to jump off into the 21st century. Besides, my first home cost less than some of these newer phones! I took his advice and now I’m a happier camper. I must admit it took some getting use to, but eventually I adapted.
My point is that I knew I had to adapt, improvise, and overcome if I wanted to still do readings. I like ‘the old normal’ but, for the time being — like my old phone — it’s history. So, how did I transition? I got a mentor. (Funny, I seem to recall doing a blog on that very subject). That mentor happened to be my publicist. She’s an extremely creative — and patient — twenty-something with a degree in marketing who does this sort of thing for a living with major businesses. A.J. is a techno wiz-kid who designed, built, and updates, my website and other social media platforms. All of this is second nature to her. She insisted that I move to a Zoom platform to do my readings.
Zoom? Was she kidding? I freaked out and said, “I’ve seen people on TV doing Zoom when, all of a sudden, their screen goes blank. I mean, what if that happened to me in the middle of a reading?” She calmed me by stating that TV was a bit more complicated and that the audiences I would be reading to — like college students, libraries, book clubs, and the like — have already adjusted to a Zoom venue and were comfortable with it. Besides, she stated, “Technical difficulties are rare but, if they do occur, I’ll be there with you to handle them. Okay?” Turns out she was correct. Thankfully, all of my virtual readings have come off without a hitch. As an aside, she arranged for me to do a reading on a local TV station with the interviewer conducting his interview of me via Zoom, while I was in the studio. You can view all of the other Zoom interviews I have completed throughout 2020 on my website, ldzaneauthor.com, here.
As fate would have it, I was introduced to a person who has great connections with veteran outreach programs. This led me to do Zoom readings for veterans who participate in these programs. As a veteran, I get great satisfaction in giving back my time and energy to these men and women who have served and are now in need of the services which are provided. I will also be doing a podcast series for veterans interested in writing. A benefactor of this one particular group happens to own several diners. My connection convinced the owner that having me doing Zoom readings would be a novel way to attract new patrons, while retaining his existing customer base. The experiment should prove successful for both the owner of the diners and me, as I will have the opportunity to sell more of my newly-published anthology, It’s Always My Fault & Other Shorts Stories.
I don’t believe any of the veteran/diner ventures would have been possible without me embracing technology. Why? Because the veterans’ group and the diners are located south of Dallas, Texas — not exactly within commuting distance of my home in southeastern Pennsylvania. Would I prefer to do readings — where possible — in person? Yes. But Zoom readings are better than not doing them at all.
If 2020 has taught us nothing else, it’s that we will have to adapt, improvise, and overcome in ’21 to be successful.
Wishing you the best in your writing adventure.