broadsideblog

The dragonfly’s visit — and what it meant

In behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, journalism, life, Media, Money, work on August 30, 2013 at 12:02 am

By Caitlin Kelly

The other day, a dragonfly got trapped in our small dining room, where I work on my laptop. He buzzed and banged against the window but couldn’t get out. I opened the balcony door but he didn’t budge.

photo(19)

It was not a great day.

After feeling triumphant over winning a Big Women’s Magazine as a new client and getting nice feedback on my work, I received their all-rights contract, the now-normal land-grab that means they own everything in a story.

Given that most of my stories only earn between $1,000 and $2,000 apiece, that’s a lot of territory to claim for very little money. There are a few ways to make good money in freelance journalism:

1) earn $5,000+ per story on every story, (tough to do)

2) re-sell your material, in various iterations, to as many places for as much money as often as you can.

3) crank out a ton of copy asfastasyoupossiblycan.

An all-rights contract, in my view, is restraint of trade and a PITA way to limit my income. The serious cash  comes from better-paid media — re-use by television or film options or rights and/or books; I earned $5,000 from CBS’ television option for a possible sitcom derived from “Malled”, my book about retail.

With little stomach for the email argument with my editor, (and their legal department) that followed, I requested a different contract, knowing that many publishers have them, but will only offer one if pushed to do so.

They agreed, noting the exception. (Which means more such arguments probably lie ahead.)

It is wearying, every day, year after year, to defend the value of your ideas, trying to win the highest possible market valuation for them.

Publishers are increasingly greedy and their legal departments strong-armed. Many editors won’t fight for you, but simply drop you for someone who never fights back in order to protect their intellectual property.

The publisher for “Malled” has also passed on my new book proposal, which was disappointing.

The whole week felt like one long, exhausting argument with the world, over money, over revisions, over what to do next, over how to do it better — or whether I should even be doing it at all.

My lovely husband came home to find me in tears, an extremely rare occurrence in our 13 years together.

He looked up this website, which explains the significance and symbolism of the dragonfly:

To the Japanese, it symbolizes summer and autumn, admired and respected all over, so much so that the Samurai use it as a symbol of power, agility and best of all, victory.

In China, people associate the dragonfly with prosperity, harmony and as a good luck charm. Amongst Native Americans, it is a sign of happiness, speed and purity

And then there’s this:

Maturity and a Depth of character The dragonfly, in almost every part of the world symbolizes change and change in the perspective of self realization; and the kind of change that has its source in mental and emotional maturity and the understanding of the deeper meaning of life.

  • Power and Poise
    The dragonfly’s agile flight and its ability to move in all six directions exude a sense of power and poise – something that comes only with age and maturity.
    The dragonfly can move at an amazing 45 miles an hour,  hover like a helicopter fly backwards like a hummingbird, fly straight up, down and on either side. The awe inspiring aspect is how the dragonfly accomplishes its objectives with utmost simplicity, effectiveness…with 20 times as much power in each of its wing strokes when compared to the other insects.
  • Defeat of Self Created Illusions
    The dragonfly exhibits iridescence both on its wings as well as on its body…the end of one’s self created illusions and a clear vision into the realities of life…self discovery and removal of inhibitions.
  • Focus on living ‘IN’ the moment The dragonfly normally lives most of its life as a nymph or an immature. It flies only for a fraction of its life and usually not more than a few months. By living in the moment you are aware of who you are, where you are, what you are doing, what you want, what you don’t and make informed choices on a moment-to-moment basis.

Gently, using a newspaper and a strainer, he captured the dragonfly and safely released him on the balcony.

photo(20)

Message delivered.

  1. Now I know why my dad wanted dragonfly designs for the dining room furniture! I had no idea dragonflies represented so much.
    And “Malled” has a sitcom option? Cool! If they are looking for writers, I can help. I do more than horror. I also occasionally do some comedy.

  2. Our ancestors would have been dead at our ages. I take this to mean that the next part of our lives is as good as a second life, but in this one we get the benefit of some wisdom before we begin. :)

    • If we can make it alive to 65, we’ll generally make it to 80 or beyond. My goal (!) is to stay as healthy as possible in the next few years and pray I am one of those. My Dad is crazy healthy at 84…

  3. I read your blog on a regular basis. You are insightful and poignant. My apologies on your gruesome week. I wanted to ask your opinion on something as it concerns professionalism. I develop content for a law website/law review/analysis. It is a web-based startup. I have phantom shares in this, but no income from it yet. I am committed to giving about 8 hours a week which I have dutifully done up to this point. The thing is, the work is mind-numbing and I wan to slit my wrists rather than do this anymore. Law is very dry. If I quit I lose the shares. That being said I have no motivation to continue. I don’t want to “screw anyone over” but this writing is plain miserable. I am not a quitter, but I want to do the right thing. Amy advice is appreciated.

    • Thanks!

      Ouch. I feel your pain and admire your spirit of being an ethical person even when miserable!

      A few questions immediately come to mind, (and thanks for asking). Happy to email privately on this, rather than do this convo publicly:

      1) why did you initially agree to do it?

      a) potential $$$ down the road; b) need the writing credits and/or experience; c) they are friends or relatives of yours; d) you really had no idea what you were taking on and how boring it would be…?

      2) What are the potential pro’s and con’s of quitting?

      If you are going to sever (and leave people angry and high and dry) a bunch of potentially useful business relationships (or friendships, but this is business)…what is the worst that can happen? You are not being paid as it is, so why work pro bono for a profit-making entity? UNLESS you want to do pro bono work (many of us do, and do some) but it’s still SO boring you want out, NOW.

      It sounds like (?) no $$$$$ would make it sufficiently interesting to hang in. I’d try my best to find a competent replacement for yourself asap and offer them to this website. That way you have done the honorable thing by trying to help (not screw them over) but have also freed yourself for better/paying opportunities.

      What do you think?

  4. Mindfulness- living in the moment.
    I remember your being a survivor (you commented on my post regarding my father), so I feel as if I could be in your skin for a few seconds … feeling the chaos, disregard, frustration and more. I really think you nailed it when you came back to the reason you write. The process itself allows you to dart over here, hover over in a different area…. The process of writing makes you aware there is a dragonfly in the room. You already have won something priceless. :)

  5. Thank you for your reply. I have no issues doing this in a public forum. I can only imagine someone may be in a similar position. I did this originally because I thought I would like the content, developing the content and there is some potential for renumeration down the road as the founder, she wishes to sell it in a year or two when it is more developed. I have a lot of shares and potential I stand to lose. I know there is no right answer here. I have given five months of my time and have developed some decent content.

    • This is really tough as there is yet no specific dollar value to the work you have put in…I hear you on the “lost potential” but if you are that unhappy producing the content, surely (?) it’s just not worth it to you? Can you possibly strike some sort of agreement with her (put a $ value on your hours/skill – $5,000, whatever) put it in writing and call it a day?

      While I appreciate your optimism, I know I’d be reluctant (I doubt I would do it at all) to invest a lot of my unpaid time in a speculative venture. I need cashflow now and, while that may hurt me long-term, it is what it is and I budget the bulk of my time accordingly. I have several potentially lucrative ventures (not writing) back-burnered as a result right now.

      I think we all struggle with the problem of “sunk costs” — time and energy already invested in something we discover just isn’t working out as we’d hoped or planned.

      I hope this is helpful…No one likes to walk away leaving money on the table!

  6. ‘Power, agility and victory’ sounds like a pretty good sign! Your husband is a smart man.

    ‘Living in the moment’ resonates with me as this is how I am currently living my life.

  7. (Some of the info below my note is the same as yours.) I picked up a definitely dead dragonfly from the pavement and held it in my hand. I was sad because it was so beautiful. My granddaughter took a picture of it. Actually crying, I started to walk over to the grass to lay it down and it sprang to life. It flew away and came back to flutter and sit on my shoulder. Then it sat in my hand long enough for her to catch another picture. It flew circles around me and watched us until we went into the building. I’m so glad you had a visit from a dragonfly.

    Symbolisms of the Dragonfly
    Maturity and a Depth of Character
    The dragonfly, in almost every part of the world symbolizes change and change in the perspective of self-realization; and the kind of change that has its source in mental and emotional maturity and the understanding of the deeper meaning of life.
    The traditional association of Dragonflies with water also gives rise to this meaning to this amazing insect. The Dragonfly’s scurrying flight across water represents an act of going beyond what’s on the surface and looking into the deeper implications and aspects of life.
    Power and Poise
    The dragonfly’s agile flight and its ability to move in all six directions exude a sense of power and poise – something that comes only with age and maturity.
    The dragonfly can move at an amazing 45 miles an hour, hover like a helicopter fly backwards like a hummingbird, fly straight up, down and on either side. What is mind blowing is the fact that it can do this while flapping its wings a mere 30 times a minute while mosquitoes and houseflies need to flap their wings 600 and 1000 times a minute respectively.
    The awe inspiring aspect is how the dragonfly accomplishes its objectives with utmost simplicity, effectiveness and well, if you look at proportions, with 20 times as much power in each of its wing strokes when compared to the other insects. The best part is that the dragonfly does it with elegance and grace that can be compared to a veteran ballet dancer. If this is not a brazen, lazy, overkill in terms of display of raw power, what is?
    Defeat of Self-Created Illusions
    The dragonfly exhibits iridescence both on its wings as well as on its body. Iridescence is the property of an object to show itself in different colors depending on the angle and polarization of light falling on it.
    This property is seen and believed as the end of one’s self-created illusions and a clear vision into the realities of life. The magical property of iridescence is also associated with the discovery of one’s own abilities by unmasking the real self and removing the doubts one casts on his/her own sense of identity. This again indirectly means self-discovery and removal of inhibitions.
    Focus on living ‘IN’ the moment
    The dragonfly normally lives most of its life as a nymph or an immature. It flies only for a fraction of its life and usually not more than a few months. This adult dragonfly does it all in these few months and leaves nothing to be desired. This style of life symbolizes and exemplifies the virtue of living IN the moment and living life to the fullest. By living in the moment you are aware of who you are, where you are, what you are doing, what you want, what you don’t and make informed choices on a moment-to-moment basis.
    This ability lets you live your life without regrets like the great dragonfly.
    The Opening of One’s Eyes
    The eyes of the dragonfly are one of the most amazing and awe inspiring sights. Given almost 80% of the insect’s brain power is dedicated to its sight and the fact that it can see in all 360 degrees around it, it symbolizes the uninhibited vision of the mind and the ability to see beyond the limitations of the human self. It also in a manner of speaking symbolizes a man/woman’s rising from materialism to be able to see beyond the mundane into the vastness that is really our Universe, and our own minds.
    One very striking aspect comes to mind. Change. In many regions and as a norm of this day, the dragonfly is considered to be an agent of change and presumably symbolic of a sense of self-realization. Self-realization from how the dragonfly uses its power to control its movements and so elegantly. And change and evolution is all about the dragonfly’s ability to fly and the way it can be comfortable on water, land as well as the air.

    Symbolisms of the Dragonfly
    Maturity and a Depth of character
    The dragonfly, in almost every part of the world symbolizes change and change in the perspective of self-realization; and the kind of change that has its source in mental and emotional maturity and the understanding of the deeper meaning of life.
    The traditional association of Dragonflies with water also gives rise to this meaning to this amazing insect. The Dragonfly’s scurrying flight across water represents an act of going beyond what’s on the surface and looking into the deeper implications and aspects of life.
    Power and Poise
    The dragonfly’s agile flight and its ability to move in all six directions exude a sense of power and poise – something that comes only with age and maturity.
    The dragonfly can move at an amazing 45 miles an hour, hover like a helicopter fly backwards like a hummingbird, fly straight up, down and on either side. What is mind blowing is the fact that it can do this while flapping its wings a mere 30 times a minute while mosquitoes and houseflies need to flap their wings 600 and 1000 times a minute respectively.

    The awe inspiring aspect is how the dragonfly accomplishes its objectives with utmost simplicity, effectiveness and well, if you look at proportions, with 20 times as much power in each of its wing strokes when compared to the other insects. The best part is that the dragonfly does it with elegance and grace that can be compared to a veteran ballet dancer. If this is not a brazen, lazy, overkill in terms of display of raw power, what is?
    Defeat of Self-Created Illusions
    The dragonfly exhibits iridescence both on its wings as well as on its body. Iridescence is the property of an object to show itself in different colors depending on the angle and polarization of light falling on it.

    This property is seen and believed as the end of one’s self-created illusions and a clear vision into the realities of life. The magical property of iridescence is also associated with the discovery of one’s own abilities by unmasking the real self and removing the doubts one casts on his/her own sense of identity. This again indirectly means self-discovery and removal of inhibitions.
    Focus on living ‘IN’ the moment
    The dragonfly normally lives most of its life as a nymph or an immature. It flies only for a fraction of its life and usually not more than a few months. This adult dragonfly does it all in these few months and leaves nothing to be desired. This style of life symbolizes and exemplifies the virtue of living IN the moment and living life to the fullest. By living in the moment you are aware of who you are, where you are, what you are doing, what you want, what you don’t and make informed choices on a moment-to-moment basis.

    This ability lets you live your life without regrets like the great dragonfly.
    The opening of one’s eyes
    The eyes of the dragonfly are one of the most amazing and awe inspiring sights. Given almost 80% of the insect’s brain power is dedicated to its sight and the fact that it can see in all 360 degrees around it, it symbolizes the uninhibited vision of the mind and the ability to see beyond the limitations of the human self. It also in a manner of speaking symbolizes a man/woman’s rising from materialism to be able to see beyond the mundane into the vastness that is really our Universe, and our own minds.
    One very striking aspect comes to mind. Change. In many regions and as a norm of this day, the dragonfly is considered to be an agent of change and presumably symbolic of a sense of self-realization. Self-realization from how the dragonfly uses its power to control its movements and so elegantly. And change and evolution is all about the dragonfly’s ability to fly and the way it can be comfortable on water, land as well as the air.

  8. i’m so sorry about your week. mine was not the best either, but i love this metaphor for living in the moment & self-realization… it resonates with me, especially this week. glad i read this as i wind down {or at least try to}. you have a lovely husband. all my best!

  9. You have a great husband. A friend who is surviving breast cancer has put a dragonfly tattoo on her shoulder, maybe for the same reasons that Jose discovered. Anyway, you met the dragonfly and she is you.

  10. My sympathy for your frustration, Caitlin. Wish I could help in some way but you know the ropes so much more than I do. Sometimes we read the signs, as you read the dragonfly. I have read a couple of books about the publishing world – very tricky and a hard world. I am glad you have a supportive husband; that must help. You are such a worthy person – I hope you take that to heart.

    • Thanks…The publishing world has really changed, hugely, in the past few years and NOT for the better. I still enjoy writing, but it too often feels like an obstacle course littered with barbed wire when all I want to do is RUN!

      It helps that Jose is in it, although there are days we are both so steamed we think…enough already!

  11. The dragonfly is a talisman of a sort for me – I have loved them since I was a child. Now I know why. Thank you Caitlin.

  12. Up here in Canada the dragonfly means only one thing – mosquitoes. They feed on mosquitoes, where dragons fly, mosquitoes quiver.

  13. That’s a beautiful message! Sorry that you have to deal with the contract crap yet again. It really is unethical. This is perhaps off of the topic, but dragonflies are even graceful when mating and whoop and swirl without it affecting their togetherness.

  14. it definitely takes a sign sometimes to get us out of a rut of frustration. I’m glad you were able to see one and that your husband was kind enough to share it with you. That’s love. I hope that you find the power and strength to continue on with your career as challenging as it is and that you also find time to live in the moment and enjoy life! Thanks for sharing!

  15. I find it offensive that someone should try to claim intellectual property rights to another’s work.I can understand a magazine not wanting you to sell the same work to a rival but that could be contracted for. A standard contract allowing a writer to offer their work elsewhere in order to make a living should not just be possible but available all the time without having to ask for it. A little bit of fairness could go a long way.
    That being the straw that broke the camels back last week ( I’ll call you Humpy from now on) is a situation that could so easily have been avoided by any decent employer/buyer of your work ,but then Jose would not have had the opportunity to show you yet again what a superb husband he is and what a wise choice you made. And you would not have had the same opportunity to come along to share the details of the beautiful dragonfly with us.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    • Fair? Fair? Fair?

      Surely, you jest! :-)

      This is bare-knuckled, sharp-elbowed NYC, my dear, and $$$$$$$ rules the day. The ongoing challenge is trying to find a balance between meeting my own needs for respect and income (hah) with enlarging and keeping a good list of clients who want my work. Just yesterday, Jose spoke to an editor for whom I’d really hoped to do some work…and he actually warned us away from the magazine it is so nuts.

      Like that.

  16. Caitlin, this is beautiful. Your husband sounds like a gem for finding this information for you on such a tough day. I know also from being a nature-loving mom, who is often seen w/a big net catching dragonfly larvae underwater, and following them as they hover over ponds as well, that dragonflies also have thousands of lenses that allow them to see all around them. They are so alert; they don’t miss a thing. Why they are so successful. I can see you are so insightful and can see situations from all around you as well. And won’t settle on anything less that what you deserve. Thanks for your enlightening post on the metrics of the industry; I’m new at this and haven’t pursued selling articles yet, but I have heard some metrics from my husband, who is a writer/author as well, but it more of a niche industry. Interesting to compare. Anyway, I just downloaded Malled and look forward to reading it…

    • Thanks!

      It is quite shocking to me how much energy writers (who want or need to make a FT living from it) must now expend NOT writing but ceaselessly finding the next gig, (and hoping they are not low pay and insatiable, as too many prove to be upon trial) and coming up with Plans B-Z for alternate sources of income, whether teaching, coaching, or something totally unrelated. I’m meeting with NYU in two weeks to talk about possibly picking up teaching some adult ed. classes there again and also reached out to a local J grad school as well. When it’s not working well enough, something has to change, both me and the things I spend energy on. I also have three other plans, all of which will either work out in the next few months — or not, including the sale of the book proposal.

      Some writers can do very, very well if they have an in-demand specialty and write a lot and/or for high-paying markets only. My mistake is writing too much for the NYT because the pay is too low relative to their needs. But the “platform” it gives me is essential to selling more books…

      Hope you enjoy Malled…thanks for the interest!

  17. A beautiful, tender description. I hope some of your heaviness and strain was relieved by the release of the dragonfly. You captured the moment wonderfully.

  18. it must be so frustrating, and tears are the perfect elixir at times. i love the dragonfly symbolism, i am very taken with symbols, and i am happy that you received the message. bravo to your husband for knowing and understanding you, you are very lucky. gifts from the universe come in all kinds of unexpected packages, we just have to be open to seeing them.

    • I so rarely allow myself to give in or give up, even for a few days. But in doing so, I came up with some interesting new ideas for different (non writing) ways to make money so it was a good impetus.

      I may blog about the two visits from birds, a hawk and an owl, that similarly seemed to bring messages when I needed them most.

      I *am* very lucky to have a husband who cares about my spirit as much as he does. I think he pays more attention to it than I.

      • i am very much the same. i am generally perceived as ‘the strong one’ in most groups, i think because i had to be to get through the challenging times of my life. still, even the strong are very human, with feelings of worry, fear, and sadness. people are surprised when we show our vulnerability, as they are not used to that being our role. i look forward to your stories of symbols you’ve encountered. i had an amazing one last year. my mother died on her 85th birthday last summer (the ultimate full circle), and she was a challenging woman to say the least. still, i felt a sense of loss with her passing, knowing she did the best she could, but sad for what could have been. on my return home that day, after a long day of mixed emotion and busy work, i noticed something my sidewalk leading to my front door. i looked it up and saw that it was a symbol of ‘the passing of someone you loved.’ no one would have believed me, had i not had 3 other family members with me. very powerful.

      • Thanks for sharing this.

        The whole “being the strong one” is a tough one because, as you say, people groove on it and admire it…but it doesn’t mean we want to BE it! My mother doesn’t even acknowledge I exist, which is charming as her only child. It’s all material, but it hurts and sometimes you just have to stop pretending you’re strong when you’re not.

      • i completely agree about the strength issue and i understand, as my mother seemed to hate the role of mother, and was angry and hurtful, so it was a challenge to say the least.

      • Ouch. Someday, over very large martinis, we would have a lot to discuss.

  19. I enjoyed this piece–and appreciate knowing about the symbolism of the dragonfly. May it fly in peace; a perfect ending. And thanks for “liking” my “About page! Hope you come back–I will peruse more of your work very soon!

  20. Dragonflies and writing, two of my favorite subjects. In fact, I’ve been working on a picture book about dragonflies that is part lyrical verse and part science info, and now I think I’ll add in a cultural!
    Striving for fair rights is tough– good for you for not caving in.

    • Your book sounds lovely! I had no idea that dragonflies also carried such symbolism.

      It is tough, esp. when so many of my competitors cave — and I look like a diva, not a canny businesswoman.

  21. For me the dragonfly has always symbolised change and the ability to cope with it, and adapt. Somehow, dragonflies have always popped up at significant moments in my life when change is imminent and it always makes my heart lift a little when I see one, or one flies into my life unexpectedly, because it reminds me that I have the mettle to ride out any storm ahead and come through it stronger. It also reminds me the importance of seizing the moment and taking chances in life. I would definitely take courage from your unexpected, auspicious visitor. I’m pretty sure that you will tough this one out. I hope that next week brings better, brighter things.

  22. I have a dragonfly tattoo on the nape of my neck, and remember doing similar research your husband did before I got it. I’ve always thought dragonflies are so beautiful, love the way they fly, reminds me of childhood days by the lake….Reading the significance of the dragonfly all in one take was reassuring and a great refresher. Thanks.

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