Not Networking - La Famiglia
As you might have guessed from the title of this post, I’m Italian. Family is a natural with me. Lots and lots of family. I can remember get togethers in Ohio where I was raised that involved dozens of men, women and children that I only recognized by faces in photos. When I was introduced to them it was always cousin, uncle, aunt or paisano which basically meant “friend of the family.” No matter the appellation, they were all “family” and I knew I was expected to be courteous, supportive and involved in their lives. We went to their parties when people were born, had a birthday or milestone like 1st Communion; we attended their funerals when they passed away.
When I started teaching, I never wanted my writing classes to be just classes - the students and I would form a “community” I posited. I started an email list to communicate with the students and they between themselves that still is used between students who are now in the far-flung regions of the world. And new students are added to that community each semester and contribute to the sense of sharing. I try to hold parties, social events (like going bowling or to a movie,) and contests that help to create and sustain that sense of community.
This is all to say that what I’ve been doing since beginning of my life and what I’ve always carried forward is “networking.”
But it’s not networking; it’s more than that. At some level, it’s really family.
The men and women that I met as a student myself in writing classes back in the Jurassic era are still friends of mine today. We talk on a semi-regular basis - about as much as I do to my cousins and aunts and uncles, actually. Some have been to my home and my family’s homes and others have become true members of my family - paisanos. We wouldn’t think of not inviting them to a family function.
I can’t not want to adopt people - it’s in my DNA. My house growing up was as chaotic as a train station. Everyone in the neighborhood came to our kitchen to have milk and cookies. Even today, go to any of my sister’s houses at any given time and there’s someone who I don’t know eating something, or having coffee and cake. It’s what we do. And networking, for me, is like that.
I meet a lot of people in my roles as teacher, professional writer, martial artist, and president of the Orange County Screenwriters Association. Some of the people I’ve met through OCSWA are already fast friends. Point is, networking isn’t just about shaking hands and dropping cards. To me, it’s about forming relationships but more - maintaining those relationships and carrying them forward into all aspects of your life where approriate.
I think many believe that if they show up to an event, shove a card in someone’s hand and smile nicely that’s all they have to do. If networking is relationships that can become family then you really need to do so much more. You have to curry those relationships, remind people of who you are - ask them how you can help them. Like family. Sure, you may only see someone during an industry event but if you want a relationship that means something with that person you should make a point of talking to him or her at least for a few minutes every time you see them. Remind them who you are. How you’re unique. Romance them a bit in other words. These are the relationships that will fuel your future - the people you can reach to when you’re ready to ask for help to kick-start your career.
In reading this, I recognize that some of it can sound very cynical and self-serving. But life is filled with accommodations. We couldn’t exist without relationships. The very core of our early existence required that our ancestors formed mutually-beneficial bonds to survive. Relationships, networking, community - family - is necessary and welcome.
It’s how we survive and grow...
On this day of our first MeetUp (but not our first event) I am excited by the prospect of meeting you all and seeing some of you again. I specifically started the Orange County Screenwriters Association (with board members chosen from my "family" of screenwriters) to form a network of people who can help each other. I didn’t realize it directly at the time but what I was doing was creating a virtual kitchen where everyone can come and have something to eat and a cup of coffee; spend some moments laughing and talking about the world and our parts in it; commiserate with each other.
Hopefully tonight will make an impact on all our lives. The people we meet will contribute to enriching our lives even more than it has been all these years. For me specifically it will be by allowing me to continue to live and work in this wonderful family of filmmakers by creating new opportunities.
Who knows - maybe soon we’ll become such good friends, we’ll all be calling each other paisano - family.