Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Beware the "unsub"

If you have watched any American crime dramas or movies involving a police or "federal agency" investigation you will be familiar with the term "unsub" - the unknown subject.

In my line of work - almost as gripping and usually as suspenseful as criminal investigations and manhunts -writing, blogging, spreading the good news about ways to enhance your sense of wellbeing and meet your potential - there are a range of Unsubs to deal with.

The first is the Unknown Subject in the coaching session. A client comes to me. We engage about the topic of concern to the client and we agree to explore it in more depth and work towards the client's stated goals and outcomes. Some way into the session there appears another issue or concern. Sometimes, the client see this issue as it arrives and plonks itself down in our midst, craving attention and preventing any further discussion until it is addressed, head on. It may be the Real Issue, it may be just a Big Distraction. But usually we give it lots of attention and treat it like a grown up, take it seriously. Address it head on.

But sometimes the issue is not so open and amenable to our focus. Sometimes the issue creeps into the room and lurks around in the shadows and dust balls in the corners and under the side tables. Sometimes it is a murky form hovering in the corridor beyond, a presence more felt than seen.

This is the Unknown Subject. I can usually tell when it is around. The client can too, if they are honest. But knowing it is there is not really the challenge. The Unsub in this case is elusive and evades our attention. We need to be wily and patient and generous with this timid interloper. Ironically, its timidity is inversely proportional to its importance. Addressing this Unsub can be key to unlocking blockages, shifting perspectives and galvanising energy.  This Unsub is powerful and potentially vindictive. We have to outsmart it in many ways, while all the time appearing non-threatening and responsive.

There are other types of Unsub. In my new novel (still in draft) which charts a year in the life of the main protagonist as she confronts a loss of all that she had held dear while embarking on a journey towards that which will sustain and nourish her long into her future, (don't worry - it is hilarious) there are myriad Unsubs. Some of these do not need to become known or identified. They are but niggles, distractions from the real drama and journey; the friend at yoga who collapses, the unsightly blemish on the chin, the flirtatious builder. But some are more central to the characters' progress and development. They cannot be avoided; nor can they be openly exposed. Their impact can be immense though. They can derail the story, becoming unhelpful subplots, annoying red herrings. As in real life some of them will become obstacles if left to their own devices. 

Since I am in control of the whole thing - I have ultimate power over these Unsubs. It is a wonderful feeling - to play puppeteer and ring master and supreme being. Sometimes. But mostly, I wait it out; ever watchful to see what the characters are up to, how they want to resolve their conflicts and how they wish to deal with the Unsubs. The challenge and opportunity for me is to give the Unsubs meaning for the reader.

There are, in real life, all manner of Unsubs as well. My personal favourites are so familiar, indeed so common, as to be truly passe. They barely deserve the moniker of "unknown". It would perhaps be better to call them "unspoken subjects" or "subtext". Sometimes they are our friends, keeping us company in a room full of strangers or warm on a cold night alone in those endless moments before dawn. But too often their main purpose is not one of support or comfort. Too often they smirk and cajole. Or they lie by our sides on their saggy old sunloungers, lazy little sunbathing good-for-nothings, interpreting our lives, souring our interactions. And when they hang around like teenagers at the mall, idle, looking for trouble, in small groups where their combinations and permutations are clearly a recipe for disaster, well, what did we think was going to happen...

You must know them too. Good old "childhood baggage", "fear of the unknown" and "expectations". And that is before we get to the real humdingers like "years of neglect", "spiritual poverty" and "narcissistic personality disorder". They get in the way of true meetings of minds and honest and authentic relationships. Instead of embracing opportunities to connect and engage, these saboteurs hold us back and malign our best endeavours to live a full and rich life.

Perhaps I overstate things. Perhaps they help us too. Those inner voices that warn us to run away, avoid getting sucked in to a labyrinth of negativity and self loathing. But then those voices are our friends. They have out best interests at heart, surely.

Anyway, this may all have gone off track - again.

The final category of Unsub to consider is the "Unsubscribe". You may be familiar with this one. It is the epitome of passive aggressive. And the suspense and mystery is there aplenty!

One wakes, makes some tea, attends to one's ablutions and children and then, stealing a moment before the school run, one checks one's emails and website activity. One has a sneaky look at who has opened that new message about the new venture/book/offer/what have you, and there right before your eyes is proof positive that you really do not strike a chord. 

Because there on the screen is the big fat bold black number telling you that so-and-so has unsubscribed to your oh-so-annoying email announcing your new book/what have you. Mmm, you think, gazing into the middle distance. Some people are very important. Their in-boxes are stuffed full of incredibly vital matters. Somehow, the Unsub, like in all the best whodunnits, is never the person you think it will be, though. Not the executives or partners or high-powered entrepreneurs. Not the weird loner who no-one really knows. No, it is a different character altogether. Which makes sense. In the whodunnits the Unsub is the pretty, vacuous cheerleader that no one took seriously, or the studious old guy who was too eager to help the cops solve the crime. (I can say this here because, let's face it - would you read my rantings if you did not want to? All those who don't get me, follow me or like me should not be here to start with!)

So the Unsub can be irksome. And so too can the diminution of the already paltry fan base on those networking sites that encourage us to "fan" each other. All of a sudden, instead of three fans one has one (oneself). I know how Jason Donovan feels. 

What does one do with that knowledge? How does one improve one's message, presence or style? And the risks? Another set of imponderables...

The fact is that one is better off not knowing who likes one or follows one, no? One is best to get a kick out of the intrinsic pleasure and value of having an idea and writing something vaguely amusing or distracting about it. And if one person enjoyed it or paused to consider it, then one's efforts were worthwhile.

After all, there may be some Unsub in the Unsub. 

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