Stop! Sucking!

Stop! Sucking! Day 21: You-be-do-be-you

In case any of you were wondering, the main reason for my trip to Chicago was to attend this event.

Well, in case any of you were an IRS auditor from the future, anyway.

But here's the reason I really made this trip: to see my people. My people whom I've known a lifetime, or half a lifetime, or a third of a lifetime. And my people whom I mostly or only know from our time together online, I came to see you, too.

It's lonely out there, and tough, and these are strange times to be a human being on the planet. In fact, it's so crazy out there right now, with so many people running around like characters out of a Lewis Carroll story, that it becomes all the more important to hunker down with one's homies and get the truth via that mirror:

Yes, you're okay.

Yes, you're sane (or at least, crazy in the good way).

Yes, it's kinda wild out there now.

Everyone knows how hard it is to get tone right over the internet. And the phone helps, but really, it's a measure of last resort, and a far, far better tool once you already have some grounding in reality with the person. I'm here to do the bonding in person, because that's what people who live in the third dimension do: they see, touch, hear and, depending on how close they are or how the spirit is moving them, taste and smell each other.

I can't begin to describe how difficult my life has been these past several months without A PLAN. Because (a), historically, I've operated under one; and (b) when I've done, I've done well. Even if I hated what I was doing, I at least knew why I was doing it (money, ambition, fame) and what to do. Now, I'm down to a mission statement, and one of your spazzier ones at that: "To be a joyful conduit of truth, beauty and love."

Some business plan, huh?

I had a new (internet) friend write me recently to ask if maybe I was work-impaired. I guess I am, but not in the way (I think) he meant. I've got all the work I can handle right now, being me and figuring out how I make myself useful to the universe. It's work I chose, and that meant I had to stop some other kinds of work, i.e., the paying kind, to do it. If my father was here, he'd tell me I was crazy like my mother, and then ask if I needed money.

For the record, I'm not and, for now, I don't. I am trusting that if I work hard at what I know I can do, write stuff down, illuminate darkish corners, make people laugh a little, the rest will work itself out.

It is a leap of faith, the stopping. But the alternative, to go and go and go, and be stopped by whatever rock drops on my head in 10 or 20 or, if I'm lucky, another 47 years, is no longer an option.

I gotta be me. Nonstop, 24/7/365.

And now, off I go to meet a few new old friends...

xxx c

Image by emdot via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Stop! Sucking! Day 20: Stop and read

If I can get myself to do it, and the book will cooperate by being good, reading will stop me cold.

So far this trip, I've blazed through Steve Martin's outstanding Born Standing Up, hit half each of John Jantsch's Duct Tape Marketing and Beth Lisick's Helping Me Help Myself (both pretty good, in their wildly different categories), and spent a glorious afternoon browsing the quirky selection at the excellent Quimby's. (I bought a couple of items to read on the way home, too, in case I don't get an interesting seatmate this time around.)

If I can get myself to do it, I may give myself the gift of an afternoon with a book, and only a book, once before this trip is up.

It's hard to do for some of us, because unless it's assigned reading for a credit-bearing course, it feels so...optional. And if I'm not already exceptional in the ways I feel like I should be, how can I engage in the purely optional?

Of course, stopping is not optional. It's the other half of going.

Just because something is easier to forget, doesn't make it okay to forget it.

So...what's on your stopping list?

xxx c

Image by dhammza via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Stop! Sucking! Day 19: Stop and buy a damned hat

I'm no garden-variety L.A. idjit.

Born and raised in Chicago, she of the fickle weather, I learned the value of layers early on. And, when traveling between October and July, of bringing an umbrella. But a hat?

Who the hell brings a hat four days before May? Even to Chicago? Especially when one has an especially large head that looks profoundly ridiculous in hats?

It was in the high 40s today, and that was the high. So I walked and I walked and I stopped in every damned store that was a likely bet, looking for something other than a sun bonnet. Something that would keep the heat in my head.

When I finally found one, in a running store, of all places, for $32, I was a mile from my destination. $32. For a hat that matches nothing I'm wearing on this trip, and that upon my return to Los Angeles will most likely linger in my "winter" shoebox until I give up and hand it off to my friend, Lily, who looks good in all hats, damn her.

$32. To look ugly until the the weather turns.

I snapped the purple "no complaining!" wristband my friend (and frequent commentributrix) Mary Ellen gave me at lunch once against my wrist. And smiled. And thought of my wonderful chats with Mary Ellen and Heidi, and the wonderful soup that I would heat up in my wonderful midweek bachelorette crash pad, on loan courtesy of my wonderful friend, The Overly Talented Account Guy. And then I gave them my credit card, snipped the tags from my brand new $32 hat, and set off for the last leg of my day's journey at least partly dry and vastly warmer.

Stop complaining. Buy the damned hat. You'll catch a cold if you don't, anyway, and then where will you be?

Stop. Before something else does the stopping for you.

xxx c

(I wrote this last night, the 28th, and hit "save" instead of "publish." Did I mention somewhere the importance of getting enough rest? Yeah.)

Image by benncapon via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Stop! Sucking! Day 18: Change of venue

I feel like I've come back to life in the past 48 hours, and not just because I'm finally well-rested for the first time in four days.

There is something about removing myself from the confines of my usual life, and the particularly tiny, triangulated footprint of computer/refrigerator/bathroom, that gets my juices flowing. I need structure, yes, and probably even more self-discipline, but I also need to get better at overcoming inertia (aka the tractor pull of my computer workstation), even when the inertia is productive.

I came pretty far to jog myself from a cranky daydream, but I've felt similar resuscitation taking a spin up to Ojai (especially when I can include a visit with my friend, Jodi) or even a walk around the block. I'm not sure what kind of reminder I can set in place to use when I sink back into productive torpor in L.A., maybe the 1-2 combination of a hypnosis tape and the discipline to use it.

For now, I'm content at the restorative qualities my little trip is having on me.

Besides, I'm sure some of you friendlies will have some great hacks for jogging oneself out of torpor...right, friendlies?

xxx c Image by emmiegrn via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Stop! Sucking! Day 17: Stop making it all about you

As sort of an other-shoe-dropping, sister-post kind of thing, I'm using my space and time today to point out some people doing some significant things.

Because (hangs head, kicks dirt with shoe) I'm ashamed to say that I've been thinking a wee bit too much about ME and how I can take ME to the next level and why aren't more people paying attention to/digging on ME and a whole lot of other annoying, self-involved tripe. And, I mean, all this while people are eating dirt and women on other continents (and possibly areas of this one) are having parts of their lady-areas hacked off and a million other human indignities that one could call "real problems."

Even if we shy away from the area of "real problems," isn't it still better to focus on what other cool stuff there is going on than to bemoan some imaginary, non-existent thing you think should be happening to you? Not that I don't want good stuff to happen to me, and not even that I don't think I deserve it or whatever The Secret-y thing you want to believe. Thing is, if I stop for one second to think about it, I realize instantly that I have an overabundance of blessings, that my (non-specific, agnostic-type) prayers have been answered over and over again, and that I've had so much help from so many hands, both seen and unseen, it borders on the embarrassing.

So you know, I pimp everywhere. I am kind of obsessed with pointing out good stuff. But I mostly do it in places like StumbleUpon or Clipmarks or del.icio.us. Or I forward it to my pal, Michael Blowhard, who has a much bigger audience and gets the word out far more effectively than I ever could.

But I've been wined and dined and guest-bedroomed by my wonderful peeps here in Chicago for a day now, and I'm filled with the spirit of giving and sharing. So...

Meet the FOCs (Friends of Colleen) and someday FOCs!!!

  • Grant McCracken writes one of the best blogs I know. A terrific mix of marketing, cultural anthropology and inventive thinking, there's always something great to be found there, and every great thing is truly different from every other one. Check out his greatest hits if you don't believe me.
  • Speaking of faves, my go-to blog for years now has been 2Blowhards. In fact, while I have changed feed readers many times, I have never, ever moved 2BH out of my "always read" folder. Even though they're (gasp!) conservatives!!!
  • People ask me all the time why the hell I'm on Twitter. I may talk a big game about the importance of social media and staying on top of the game, but the reality is that I love watching the wit of these three guys unfold in real time. Finally, they've gotten together and put on a show: You Look Nice Today!, A Journal of Emotional Hygiene. It takes a while to orient yourself to it, these guys are like an order of magnitude smarter than most smart, funny people working today. But just like watching Shakespeare, after a few minutes, you'll acclimate to the rhythm. And laugh your ass off.
  • One real-life friend has finally gone online with a public record of one of the more fascinating projects it's been my pleasure to track. Nick Offerman, a wildly funny and gifted performer, is also a master woodworker craftsman-type. And so, finding himself in NYC for a time (sweet boy is there providing moral support as his wife works on a little play), he decided to use it wisely and...build a canoe from scratch! I care as much about woodworking and canoes as I do football and trigonometry (not much), but I'm always thrilled to see a new installment in my inbox. Finally, the rest of the world can share that thrill.
  • Finally, because I'm getting a little tired of people who say that feminists aren't funny (haha) or that the patriarchy is dead (I wish), I give you Twisty Faster. Her writing has been somewhat more sporadic the past several months, but the archives are rich with radical feminist goodness.

For those of you who might never sign up for one otherwise, I also include Cool Finds of the Month in my free newsletter, communicatrix | focuses. And yeah, newsletters are kinda dorky and sucky, for the most part. Maybe mine is, too, just by virtue of being one. I mean, hey, it is a marketing tool. But for me, it is also an opportunity to write on one topic (best practices of great communicators) in a very specific way, i.e., without swears. If I'm lying, may my motherf*cking tongue fall out of my c*cksucking mouth.

See? Along with gratitude, insights and there will always be foul language here on communicatrix-dot-com.

Some things will never stop...

xxx c

Stop! Sucking! Day 16: Stop thinking it's all about you

You know I get panicky, PANICKY, I tell you, at the thought of going back on a promise to you.

A promise like "I'm going to write 21 posts in a row, and put one up every day, and ain't nothin'...nothin' gonna stop me."

Well, fine. But something actually did. A trip I'd had planned for a while. To Chicago. Which I actually extended since, for the first time in a few years, I'm going when the weather is reasonable-ish. Besides, I'm usually there such a short time I have to cram everyone into a few gatherings. And while it's fun to get your worlds colliding, and it's great to have a party, I miss the one-on-one time I used to get with many of my old, Chi-town peeps.

So this post you're reading? It was written (gasp) on Thursday. Because I had a hunch that between travel and plans and Where's WiFi?, I might not squeak one out on Friday.

I worried so much about what you'd think of me for doing this. And then I realized: you probably won't. Probably wouldn't have even if I didn't post at all.

Because it's not all about me. And it never was.

Funny, how you find these things out...

xxx c

Image by mass distraction via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Stop! Sucking! Day 15: Good enough for guv'ment work

I like to do things up right. And by right, I mean "meticulously."

There are times when meticulous is good: brain surgery leaps to mind, along with piloting aircraft, dentistry, riding a bicycle in L.A. and certain kinds of baking. Careful readers will note that none of these, or anything much like them, are among my duties, and it will be a cold day in hell before I put my ass on a bike in this town.

So most of the things I do, while they should be done well and even better than just "well" as time and energy permits, do not have to be done meticulously. Like, for example, a last-minute design job for a friend that I'm squeezing in before I leave town as a favor, and that will likely be discarded when we do the real job upon my return.

Like that.

The BF has learned to work quickly and well, spending as much time in TV as he has. They just don't have the time or budgets to do things meticulously; as a service provider, you're forced to get down with the concept of "good enough." At one point, I'd expressed some interest in doing more work for television-land; The BF gently pointed out that my price per hour would probably be better at Starbucks. If the UPM didn't kill me first.

Today, I stopped at good enough on a job. And I'm stopping at good enough on this post.

What can you put aside as "done" today?

xxx c

Image by levistone via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license. You'll notice that I even stopped short of finding a "perfect" picture: after five minutes of looking, I realized the irony of passing on this one for a post like this because it was a few pixels shy of my usual stringent requirements.

Stop! Sucking! Day 14: Stop...and look back

I've saved all my old journals.

I've also saved my old emails, versions of résumés (both "regular" and acting-flavored), college papers, old-skool correspondence and of course, every post on this blog.

My cocktail-party-joke reason is that I want to make life easier for my biographers. Similarly, I have been known to tell people to "save that letter" or original, limited silkscreen print, because someday, it will be worth a fortune.

Truthfully, I save things for me. There's a little bit of hoarder in me, born of loss. Alcoholic mom, lots of moves, lots of precious losses. That's why stuff like this is so precious to me. I used to groan at my grandparents' obsessive saving of everything, but now? I'm grateful.

Still, if it all went up in smoke...or down in flood, or disappeared into the space-time continuum, it would be okay. Really, they're just visual aids for the real exercise: looking back.

The nostalgia part of looking back is fun, in an escapist way. There's no denying that escapism plays at least some role in the looking-back process. In the same way I'm obsessed with certain movies or TV shows, I'm obsessed with deconstructing certain photos: what were my mom and dad thinking when this was taken? Did my mom think of me as me here, or as a blob of genes that looked like her and her new husband? Or even, "Was I ever really this happy?"

And, as my friend, Peleg, and I were discussing this morning, saving old stuff can make you feel immensely better about where you are now. Because it's easy to forget, in the day-to-day, month-to-month, even year-to-year seeming monotony of incremental change that yes, one has made significant progress, even if it can't be measured in yacht-footage or bank-account zeros.

I've started doing some consulting work, and Peleg suggested, actually, insisted that I get a digital recorder and start taping my sessions. Because there is so much information flying so fast, it's important for the person on the receiving end to be able to go back, listen again, and catch the things she's missed. And to see how far she's come.

I figure it's pretty important for the people on the receiving end of the coaching, too...

xxx c

Image by useful_fiction via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Stop! Sucking! Day 13: Stop and take it in

We are an always-on, go-get-'em kind of people these days. Most of us, anyway.

Especially those of us stateside, who lack the perspective that thousands of years of history gives one. We're a restless bunch, we Yanks: kind of sharklike in that always-moving-forward kinda way.

Sometimes, it's good to move forward. As the panel of wildly (at least, by my terms) successful entrepreneurs on the panel at the alumni event I attended tonight largely agreed, in many cases there's no such thing as moving fast enough.

That's true. It's as ridiculous to say "never go at breakneck speed" as it is to have "whoa, Nelly" as your default mode. For the 4000th time since I first noticed it, I'll repeat: everything in moderation, moderation inclusive. I'm glad I did myself damage on a scale that would prohibit my run for the presidency, and not just because I think it's one of the crappiest jobs around. I like that I lived the Debauched Life, however briefly my delicate constitution allowed for it. What's the old saw? Better to ask forgiveness than permission? That in our advanced years, we mostly regret the sins of omission, not commission?

The older I get, the more experiences I have under my belt, the more I realize that the real value, the true skill or gift, lies in a state of relaxed readiness. A lack of attachment to outcome. A goal or a vision that can remain intact even as the game plan shifts. Improvising.

Tonight, I went out to meet a bunch of new people, and ended up speaking mostly to one good friend (you know who you are.) It was heaven, and not just because we were doing it in beautiful surroundings with great snacks and two of my favorite red wines (hello, Cambria Pinot! hello, La Crema!)

It was heaven because it fed my soul. New acquaintances are wonderful, and I hope to meet many more of you in the extremely-not-too-distant future. But old friends are touchstones: important reminders of where we've been, how we've grown and what's involved in getting from one end to the other.

Almost incidentally, as I was walking out of the incredibly posh venue, I realized that the last time I'd been there was with my father, probably five years ago, when he was still alive and while he was still traveling. It's a place that for so many reasons I'd been dreading a return to, and when I did? Nothing but silk.

From one planner (just ask The BF) to maybe a bunch of others (there's a reason you're here, right?), keep your plan. Just keep it loosely.

There is beauty in full-steam-ahead. There is beauty in floating adrift.

There is peace in knowing when to do what...

xxx c

UPDATE: My friend, Evelyn Rodriguez, points to a great story about attachment (and the importance of discarding it) involving Krishnamurti.

Image by Ryan Yam via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Stop! Sucking! Day 12: Or REALLY suck

There are strange gaps on my indulg-o-meter.

I will think nothing of dropping 30 bucks on a subscription to Salon, a publication I can read at no cost to me whatsoever, save the annoyance of a little progressive-cause ad clutter, yet I doubt I have paid full price for a book since 1995.

I squeeze the last bit out of the toothpaste, the dish soap, the computers (the pbook is coming up on 3 years old; the G5, almost 4), but it is rare I will deny myself an item from the grocery store. The expensive grocery store.

My own mother, who learned from her own mother how to squeeze a dime from a nickel, once got up in my grill about not being able to let go of my old clothes. And one of her daughters (that would be my sister), expressed deep concern upon loading me into the car to head out to my SXSWi adventure, an adventure that cost me upwards of 2 large, all told, upon viewing the back of my Gap-by-way-of-thrift-store shirt. It had holes, she said. I'll be wearing a sweater, I replied.

Even I was shocked when I took it off in Austin and finally saw the extent of the shredding. But did I pitch it? No, it would make perfectly good rags! When I'm done wearing it around the house as a work shirt.

So it is big, big news when I spend almost $400 on a vacuum cleaner. This vacuum cleaner. I got it with a coupon ($60 off!), paid zero sales tax, and only $2.95 for shipping. That's still $382.94...for a vacuum cleaner!

But here's the thing: I have been wanting a good vacuum cleaner for years. Roughly ten years, or half of the time that I've owned the last vacuum cleaner, which never worked all that well to begin with. And I've wanted a Dyson for roughly three years, or about all of the time that The BF has had his. His second. Because the wife took the first one (and the good trash can, and the kickass couch) to the new home. She's no dummy, The BF's Wife. I vacuum for fun at The BF's, because goddammit, that vacuum makes it fun.

Vacuuming. Fun. You heard me.

Today, I got the call from my mailbox people that the vacuum was here. I was as giddy as a schoolgirl, as excited as Navin Johnson when the new phone book was there. I dropped everything and fetched that puppy home. And vacuumed all the easy stuff that my old vacuum had such a rough time of. The grubby baseboards. The skeevy strip where my file cabs meet the carpet. The ceiling fans. Oh! the ceiling fans!

And then I put my new baby in a place of honor in the living room. He is not going into the closet for the foreseeable future. He makes my heart sing, does he.

Stop being an asshole. Stop cheaping out. Or, if you're a spendthrift, charging your children's future into the poorhouse, maybe stop that. I'm not you; I don't which voodoo you do and/or don't do all that well.

We all have our weird, inbred habits. Mine, for some reason, is denying myself the tools that might make my life not only easier and cleaner, but safer.

Well, okay, maybe not safer. But far, far more enjoyable.

Provided I'm not being overly greedy? That I'm keeping a lid on it? That I'm living a relatively modest existence, helping out where I can, not getting all Marie Antoinette on people's asses?

Stopping is okay by me.

xxx c

Image by Saima via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Stop! Sucking! Day 11: (Not) keeping it to yourself

Most times, I don't really want to do x, where "x" = shower, work, walk, f*ck, sleep, cook and yes, write.

Really.

Relentlessly optimistic, workaholic, always-on me: most of the time, I'd just rather. . .not.

Because. . . ?

Because I don't like feeling like I'm obligated. I don't like feeling like anyone is the boss of me. I don't feel like I get enough "off" time so I rebel during my "on" time, which ends up being "most of the time."

And then there's that weird hangover from growing up the only child around many bright and interesting adults: I do NOT want to go to bed when I know I will be missing out on the best part of the party.

Over the past 12 or 13 hours, I did a lot of stuff I didn't want to do. Getting up, for one. (No earplugs + Snore-a-palooza + craaaaazy dreams = Poor Night's Sleep.) Walking the dog. Making breakfast, doing a bunch of Stupid Monkey Work I've been dreading, doing a last-minute job I didn't get until 7pm. (And for those of you reading in the far-off future, this is 7pm on a Sunday.) All fairly innocuous to outright delightful things. Whine, whine, whine.

I didn't actually whine, of course. (Well, okay, maybe a little, about the 7pm gig. Which I really shouldn't have done, because it was a nice chunk of change and helped out The BF, to boot. Hey, no one's perfect. And I did apologize. . .possibly. . .)

I used to whine a lot, which I actually considered a vast improvement over my previous modus operandi, aka "suck it up, bitch." There are times, of course, when we all must suck it up, but those times should not be all the time. Something will give, and it won't be the backrub fairy handing out free massages. It will be your heart or your colon or some other relatively important part of your functional anatomy.

And speaking of massages, just to prove my point, I will never forget the time when, after working on me for half an hour, a visiting shiatsu practitioner at the agency I was freelancing for told me in a gentle but very firm voice that something was going to go massively wrong if I did not seek some kind of ongoing professional help when I returned to Los Angeles. And I hadn't told her about my mom dying of cancer and my grandmother in and out of the hospital and my failing marriage: all she knew about were the ridiculous hours all of us high-wage slaves were pulling at the ad factory and the iron-like muscles in my scrawny neck.

So venting, my friends, is a good thing. Even better is to check in pre-vent, when the "ick" feeling sets in. As in, "Ick, I don't want to (your task here)".

Go to your mother-in-law's. Review the presentation one more time. Brush your teeth. To acknowledge out loud, and by "out loud," I mean quietly and to yourself, that there is some Thing you should do that you don't particularly want to.

Seriously. Just the act of giving it some attention can be unbelievably helpful. It is oddly comforting to (briefly) commiserate with yourself, both to acknowledge that you're undertaking something less than pleasant and to start to get an idea of how much stuff you're doing that you're resisting. For me, when I find myself saying it a lot, I actually begin to give credence to the idea that maybe it might be a good idea to get to sleep earlier, or to say "no" to the next thing that comes down the pike, or just to carry a spare pair of clean earplugs. As I said to a friend this weekend, when you're in a place that feels helpless, it's important to figure out where you can start to exert some control. And the place that starts is with voicing it. Getting it out there.

It's nowhere you want to live. But it can be an exceptionally refreshing place to visit.

xxx c

Image by walsh via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Stop! Sucking! Day 10: You can't suck when you're on someone else

One of the central truths of acting is that if you are on yourself, you will suck.

This does not mean you shouldn't know your lines and your blocking and your "motivation" (urg); in fact, you must must must take care of your bidness before you can be available to your partner in the scene.

What it does mean is that when you're in the scene, if you're thinking about what you look like or where you're supposed to go next or how you sound or how many laughs you're getting, you're off. You're sucking. Because your job up there on that stage, in front of that camera, is to play the scene. And the scene can only be played if you're following the emotional thread.

And the only way that happens is if you're in the moment and on your partner. Trying to get something from them: a gift, a reaction, a confession. Present and aware, moment to moment, of the exchange that's happening between you.

I was reminded of this a week or so ago in, of all places, a Toastmasters meeting. I was discussing the finer points of an evaluation I'd given the speaker I'd been assigned to, and one of the issues I'd pointed out was the fiddling-with-her-hands thing. It's a common gesture of nerves, like saying "um" a lot (fear of having empty space) or staying in your notes and not making eye contact with your audience (fear, period).

She asked me what she was supposed to do with those two damned hands that always seem to be in the way.

"Nothing," I replied.

"But if you're doing nothing, doesn't that look stupid?

"You're not doing nothing. You're up there, telling a story to the people. You're up there, relaying information in the hope you'll make their lives better, that you'll help change the world. Once you're really doing that, your hands will take care of themselves."

I was reminded of it again today. As I drove to my panel discussion for WriteGirl (an amazing organization that is doing profound, world-changing work), I caught myself thinking about what I was going to say. How I was going to describe myself and my work.

And I stopped myself (although I kept my vehicle moving at a fast clip, because I was late.) My job was not to talk about me; my job was to share whatever information would help those girls. Once I got that in my head, it didn't matter what I said about myself; it only mattered in that it would help drive home a point about the nature of writing, or the necessity of a writing practice, or that a writer's path is often more circuitous than straight.

I said everything I needed to say, and, I think, kept the dig-me stuff to a minimum.

I also gave my card out to a number of these excellent young ladies, and I hope that they'll let me know in the comments or in an email if I was helpful. I tried to be; that was my goal. That was my writer/speaker's intention.

If you can't stop for yourself, maybe you can stop for the world. Or for the person across the bed or the table or the desk, who really needs you to be there, now. We are each other's saviors, each of us.

I thank you for stopping me.

xxx c

Image by paulcalypse via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Stop! Sucking! Day 9: Put the puppy on the mat

Training progress My heart feels tender today.

I think it feels tender because I am stretching it so much. I'm trying not to stretch too hard, not to pull anything or throw anything out or scare myself into retreating too far, but stretch, I must, and with stretching inevitably comes repercussions.

Change is hard. Change sucks, as one lone Googler fighting the good fight (and landing on my blog, gawd help her) will tell you. At least, it does from time to time. I don't remember it, but I'm told that the most physical kinds of change, specifically that growth spurt that happens around 13 or 14 years of age, really sucks. As in, causes physical pain. Since I never grew much, topping out at a whopping 5'2", I can't speak to that.

But the rest? Oh, yes.

So, this from my shrink, or what I've pieced together from many years of going: we are presented with difficult situations. We are born into a family of drunks or abusers. We are born into places and times where we can't get the love or support we need. These people and circumstances cause us pain, so we adapt to them as best we can with our limited resources. Works for survival in the moment, creates worlds of pain down the line.

If we're lucky, we find people to help guide us of out those tunnels we burrowed down, and even to take a cold, hard look at them, to stare them down at high noon, and see them for the rat traps they truly are. To claim them as ours, recognizing why we chose them, why we continued to choose them and call them "safe", rather than limiting.

Then, we're presented with options, more or less, depending on our current resources and circumstances. We pick up a few new tools and habits to help us hack our way out of the not-so-great underbrush we've wandered deep into. And from time to time, the sun shines on us, and we see how there might be a time when we can live in a place that's clear and open, with running streams and rolling meadows alive with gentle, furry friends grazing contentedly upon daisies and clover.

But the wide open spaces feel weird, feel unsafe and foreign, no matter how beautiful. It's unknown territory, and we've learned not to trust the unknown, so we keep edging back into the thick of things, into the tangle of dense, wild growth that makes us sneeze and itch and feel not-so-great, but that is familiar.

For the past five years, I've been working assiduously on my sense of entitlement. Not on reducing it, but on cultivating it. Because not thinking you should have anything is as unhelpful as thinking you should have everything. (Well, except to the users and takers. For them, we're chum, you and I: a constant source of nutrition and energy.)

So my job, for the past five years, has been to ask for things. And, when I feel myself wanting to give away the store, to stop. To reflect.

It probably seems like an idiotic problem to a lot of you. Hell, it seems like a pretty stupid problem to me. Especially given how difficult it is to root out.

In the past two days, I've had two people try to give me money to hire me. I've had one person ask me to speak on a panel at an event for an organization I greatly admire. I've had several people approach me for (free) advice.

In the past, I would have brushed aside the first, blown off the second and given away the farm to the third. Somehow, through sheer force of will (and, okay, the specter of potential public humiliation for caving), I accepted (one of) the first, actually embraced the second, and dispensed judiciously to the third. All while the sirens were screaming in my ears, but still. I did it.

The way I was able to do it was by stopping when that urge to GO!!!! FULL SPEED AHEAD!!!! kicked in. And brother, that is stone hard. Boy howdy.

What's especially galling is how I seem to have to keep doing it. Over and over again. For what feels like forever. (I refer you to the seemingly endless slog I described a while back. And the backsliding I described even further back.)

Change is teh suck.

It is also inevitable. It will happen, whether you want it to or not. Me? I've been exposed to too many examples of people not getting down with that, and the captivity they create for themselves, to give in to torpor just yet. I'm going down fighting; I'm just trying to make the fighting more like training.

Like, as my old pal Jack Kornfield says, putting the puppy on the mat. Putting the puppy on the mat.

Putting the puppy on the mat...

xxx c

Photo by gabesâ„¢ via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Stop! Sucking! Day 8: While you're at it, stop pushing

Last night, when we left our heroine, she was bailing on certain responsibilities to indulge in a little face time with Arnie and his owner.

Tonight, our heroine is bailing on plans to head eastward to visit same because. . . well, because a client/friend needed to sort something out tonight. Things happen. Plans shift. Best not to be married to absolutes. (Best not to be married at all, in my opinion, but I realize this is not the popular view. YMMV.)

It was kind of a day of changing plans. I had a couple of marks I had to hit (coaching call and shrinkage), but the rest was your general-usual, work-expands-to-fill-the-time-allotted day.

So I ended up with: a mileage record I've long been meaning to buy (hello, 2009 taxes!); a rockin' new pair of Sauconys (I require a roomy toe-box and a tight-fitting heel); my mail (uh...I'm kind of bad with...well, you know...); a new ring (to commemorate a shrinkage breakthrough); a shitload of new information (amazing how much shopkeepers know); and a couple of new acquaintances (amazing what can happen if you stop to conversate with the shopkeepers).

I also got in two long walks, my usual crapload of internet activity and, gasp, healthy eating. (This is where a Virgo nature comes in handy.)

And now, I will stop this. I could go on and draw comparisons and connect dots and get all lofty on your asses, but you know what? I think you get it.

Besides, the sheets aren't going to get put on the bed by themselves.

Full stop.

xxx c

Image by cache52 via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Stop! Sucking! Day 7: Just...stop it

It's 7:55 as I write this.

I got some work done today; not enough. (Never, or rarely, enough.)

Anxiety kept stalking me like the then-state-of-the-art creeping VFX death that passed over the Jews in The Ten Commandments. I guess I have the lamb's blood on my door; things got chilly and a little dark, but I'm still here.

At one point during the day, I told The BF I absolutely was staying here tonight. Absolutely. I have my 8am coaching call tomorrow morning, a shrink appointment just after, and that Never Ending Tower of Work to attack blindfolded and barefoot with my blunt & rusty pickaxe.

And then, slightly later in the day, something snapped. I called him back: on the landline, and then the cell. Had he made other plans yet? (He had not, if you don't count taking the trash cans to the curb.) Would he like for me to come over still? (He would; we could watch TV-on-DVD in bed, he said.)

Or we could talk. Or we could just hang out.

I would be over at 8, I said.

It's 8:02 now, and it will be more like 8:20 by the time I pack it up. But pack, I will, so I'll keep it short. (Like you don't have enough other stuff of mine to read?)

Do me a favor, okay? Whatever you're doing right now, just stop. For a second. And ask yourself if it's the thing you want-with-a-capital-"W" to be doing, or just something you said you'd do. Promised you'd do. Are doing to avoid something else more meaningful you could be doing.

I know it's silly of me to even suggest that you, spending this time at your computer or staring at your iPhone or your crackberry, might not be making the best, most you-ful use of your time. And hell, maybe reading this post, and whatever you're going to do just after, are the exact perfect things you should be doing.

I'm just checking. We've got to stop and look out for each other, you and I...

xxx c

Image by Hot Tuna via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Stop! Sucking! Day 6: Tools for stopping...and restarting

I had a nice kind of cheering, Stop-This-Stupid-Crap win today.

I was gearing up for a "duty connection": extending myself to someone whom I really didn't want to meet, much less extend myself to. Not necessarily a bad person, but almost certainly, from the context in which she presented herself, Not My Tribe.

And lo, as I was hitting "command-n" to create the email, I felt the vomitous pit of dread blurbling in my stomach, thought about actually meeting this person and how that would feel, realized that I was in no way obligated to reach out. . . and didn't. Which, if you've been following along, is a major win.

It wasn't always this easy, though, realizing I had choices, understanding what they were. I operated on my factory default settings for a looooooong time. Saying "yes" when I meant "maybe" or even "no." Doing what I had always done because hey, it had gotten me as far as this in one piece. Not realizing that trying something else and perhaps failing at it was 10x better than not trying something else at all.

This is something I get now. Really. I may not get it 100% of the time, or as fast as I'd like (will I ever get anything as fast as I'd like, I wonder?) but I do get it. I've left careers that weren't fulfilling, relationships that weren't working, habits that were insalubrious. And sometimes, because I'm not where I'd like to be, or where I know I can be eventually, if I keep working on it, I forget that I may have useful advice for people who are currently encountering a particular bear I've already wrassled.

It happened in the comments section today. (I love the comments section. It's my favorite part of my blog, because it's not only a source of rich inspiration, community and connection, but it's the one place where I don't have to write everything.) Earl Kabong (not his real name, unless he's really managed to fly under the Googledar) posted a really touching and interesting comment about the nature of his current stuckage.

Earl, you see, is a writer, and a good one, it seems: not only does he get paid to write, many people's dreams, his pay comes exclusively from writing, something I'm pretty sure is my dream right now, or damned close to it. Moreover, he's been a paid writer his whole working life. Which means, of course, that he's smart enough to know that it can sound like 15 kinds of ungrateful to say he really doesn't dig it, but that he doesn't know what else he would do.

I get it. I do.

Back when I was an advertising copywriter, I regularly met with people who would have eaten a limb to do what I did. I was pretty good at it and worked pretty hard at it, but the truth is, I had my job because I had the native skills and the connections. In equal measure. My blessing, my curse.

It made extricating myself rather difficult. Because sure, I could quit, that's the easy part. The hard part was dealing with all the rest of it. How do I pay my nut? What do I do that's more fulfilling? How do I tell my father? What do I tell my father, and anyone else who asks?

And the biggest thing of all: how will I introduce myself at cocktail parties until I'm happily established in some TBD life pursuit? For me, it boiled down to two issues: money and identity. And the latter was much, much harder to deal with than the former. Poor, I could handle. Shiftless loser with no direction? Not so much.

So here are some things I've learned about the Full Stop/Reboot, along with some resources I found useful in making my transition:

1. Realize you're in it for the long haul

This is a process, not a to-do item. I was unbelievably arrogant at the start of my switch, thinking I could just tackle this like any other project. It is a project, and that's a good way to look at it. But it's a long-term project, which means approaching it differently than the time-delimited ones I'd been used to up until then. Establish a desire. Muse. Reflect. Seek counsel. Research. Lather/rinse/repeat as often as necessary before moving on to action. Even if you're loaded. Especially you're loaded. But if not...

2. Get your financial ducks in a row

One thing that shocked me years later was going through tax receipts for the last full year I worked before I decided to make the change. I was appalled, physically sick, at the amount of money I'd spent on nothing. Dinners out. Trips. Stuff. And that's what it is when you're not fulfilled: things you're stuffing down a hole to try to fill it.

Figure out what you're spending and where. Figure out how much you can cut your expenses and still "pass" as a normal person in your socioeconomic station. Do it and sock the rest away. Figure out where your holes are and plug them. For me, it was learning how to cook. (That was a rough two years, and I will be forever grateful to the Chief Atheist for eating my mistakes.) Start learning that money is freedom, money is choices, and save accordingly.

And remember, unless you are part of an incredibly slender (and ever-decreasing) slice of the population, you were once happy with far less. Even if you were born to that top 5%, there was a time where you were as happy or happier playing with the box as you were the toy it encased. So we're clear.

3. Consume and explore

Some possible good books to read: Po Bronson's What Should I Do with My Life? and Julia Cameron's Artist's Way. Yes, even if you don't want to do something artsy. It's just a good internal excavation process.

I also heard of a good-sounding new book via Pam Slim (Escape From Cubicle Nation) called How'd You Score that Gig?. The author did a pretty hefty amount of intake interviews and research on personality types, and came up with not only stories of interesting jobs, but the types of people who'd do well in them and the actionable steps to take to acquire those jobs.

Observe. Start carrying a notebook, like you're a reporter. When you feel a tug, at anything, however small, write it down. Hate something? Write it down. Feel a stirring of joy? Write it down. You're looking for clues, and they come up everywhere.

4. Engage professional help

I would not be where I am were it not for my first shrink/astrologer and my current therapist (who has no nickname, but who should probably be called "The Saint").

If you can find the right person, your "predicament" (in quotes b/c really, it's just a stage you're in) might be well addressed by the application of adroit personal coaching. It's great for the goal-oriented, and brother, you've got a goal.

Friends are good, but in my case, the friends I had then weren't equipped to help me make the transition. (Of course, the friends I have now are brilliant with it. What can I say, my life is an O. Henry story.) You may have a rogue uncle or old, old grammar school friend who's living authentically and knows you and can both call you on your shit and do it in a nice way.

If not, pay someone. This does not mean you're weak; it means you're brave.

5. Give yourself time and patience and love

Please note: I was very bad at #5. Still struggling with it, although I'm getting better.

These big shifts? They don't happen on your timetable. They require thought, digestion, exploration, more thought. They need room to breathe, your epiphanies. (Or room so you can notice them.)

Wander in bookstores with hours to spare. Walk on the beach. Take up yoga or meditation. Volunteer for a meaningful yet mindless and repetitive task. Knit. Whatever.

Create space for the new thing to make itself known. Yeah, it's all woowoo and shit. You're a reader of this blog, aren't you? You were expecting maybe science?

The bottom line? Just because you can't imagine it right now doesn't mean there isn't something out there for you that you're equally as good, if not better, at, and that you will actually love.

I swear, this is true.

I was a pretty good copywriter. I was an okay actor. I made a decent living at both. I'm not where I need to be financially yet with The Communicatrix and may never be, but I've found the thing(s) I'm good at, that the world needs, and that I love to do. If, for some reason, the money does not follow in the numbers I need it to, I'm confident I can deal with it, either by reducing my standard of living or going back to a Stupid Day Job or both. But I will never again know that profound unhappiness that comes with feeling utterly adrift, mainly unfulfilled, and thinking that choice lies outside of me.

It doesn't. Not in this part of the world, anyway, not yet. Maybe never. Maybe nowhere.

The one thing I do know about stopping the suck? Not knowing how to restart is not an excuse. The world needs you to find your passion and realize it as much as you do. Maybe more.

What one thing can you do today to start?

xxx c

Image by Kruggg6 via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Stop! Sucking! Day 5: Changing "must" thinking

While I was born into relative privilege, my family's situation was not so plush that not working was ever an option.

Even if it had been financially, it would not have been an option practically. I was raised to be...well, if not a steamroller, at the very least an ox. (Hey! It's my Chinese zodiac sign!)

Sometimes we stop because we've been going a million miles an hour and run slam into a brick wall (cf the rather dramatic onset of my Crohn's disease...or your flu, for that matter.) Sometimes we stop because we run out of time. There are a lot of ways other things can stop us, whether or not we had a silent hand in the engineering of them.

Right now, today, in fact, but really, over the past few months, I've been struggling with stopping one thing (designing) and starting something else (er...TBD.) Part of the difficulty with the D of the TB is that fraud thinking sets in fast when I start considering other options.

In other words, try to imagine myself as a full-time writer, or an author who speaks, or a consultant who does both, and I stop myself cold. There's strong programming in place saying I really have no business stepping outside the family business. Which is advertising. Which, if you hadn't noticed, is well on its way to being defunct, as least as we practiced it when I was in the game. And which, while we're on the subject, I haven't practiced as such in almost 15 years.

On the other hand, I have actually been writing...and speaking...and really, consulting for a good 10 years. Assiduously, for five of those. However, as the Advanced Degree Fairy has not dropped from the sky to anoint me with various Certificates of Excellence in Higher Learning (and is highly unlikely to, that bitch), I continue to feel like a fraud. Even with people coming to me and asking for the help. Even with people offering me money.

Today, I was working on a project and felt myself starting to get angry. I was angry because Quark wasn't working; I was angry because sending files back and forth has, for some reason, become like trying to get secure messages across enemy lines during a firestorm: there's no reliable route and stuff arrives in tatters, if at all. I even thought I was angry because I hated the project or I hated my client, I hated designing, itself. I thought these things only briefly, though, before stopping myself.

I love this project. It's dear to my heart and I'm proud of the work.

I love this client. She's a rare creative visionary, a source of inspiration and encouragement and a dear friend. I'd do much, much more for her.

I even love designing; I just don't love it the way someone who is genius-good at it loves it. I love it like someone whose real genius perhaps lies elsewhere.

Just because I started as a designer-designer doesn't mean I can't morph into an author or consultant or speaker whose world view is influenced by design. I mean, that's my thing, right? I'm the communicatrix!

So when I stopped myself on the downward slide today, I picked up the phone and called a new maybe-client. What we call in the trade a "follow-up call." Or, what I call, "those calls I don't make, right after I don't make the cold calls." Turns out he's a for-sure client. And instead of stopping, he's all fired up about going.

And I? I did not stop him.

Way to go, communicatrix.

xxx c

Image by alber via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Stop! Sucking! Day 4: Summertime, and the stoppin' is easy

If you would like to turn over your suck-stoppingness to the universe, just wait for the mercury to rise. Because if you are anything like me, living in the E-Z-Bake Oven, with a wildly inefficient personal cooling system, to boot, the heat will put the brakes on for you.

I'd been slowing down all day. Even the 90 brief, delicious minutes spent in air-cooled splendor didn't have much stopping power; what I had thought might be an invigorating peek under the tent of a new creative outlet turned out to be more like a time-share condos pitch. (As for Le Pauvre BF, who was under the mistaken impression we'd been invited to a noonday BBQ, I say, "Read your email more closely!")

No, I was a crababble right up until I got to the front of the line at the Rite Aid with my bag of party ice, Heineken tallboy, and reusable bag from my favorite white-people-love-righteous-shopping store, where I met my teacher for today, a lovely checker who looked young enough to be my hillbilly granddaughter.

First, she busted me for having headphones in. I mean, to clarify: she was way too nice to bust me, and I didn't have the iPod on. But I was a tired crankybutt and while I had paused the Very Important Podcast I'd listened to on my walk over, I hadn't actually removed the earbuds themselves. So there was some hilarious serial sneezing happening behind me that I totally missed out on, and while sneezing is usually a weird and/or gross bodily function I'm happy to miss, I also missed a chance to connect with my checker friend because I was too lazy and/or antisocial to pull the damned earbuds from my ears.

But she remained sweet and friendly, asking whether I wanted my cold items in my carry bag. (I did.) And then she asked me if it was a Trader Joe's bag. (It was, those cute, round-bottomed tropical ones they had a while back.)

And then she laid it on me, without even knowing she had:

"My two roommates love Trader Joe's. They ride their bikes there to shop all the time."

Two roommates. Who ride bikes to secure their supplies.

The E-Z-Bake Oven, you see, is all mine. I'd briefly forgotten how unbelievably luxurious and fantastic that was. And a car, I have a car, that I own outright, all by myself.

We chatted a little about how great Trader Joe's was (because it is!) and about how I don't ride a bike in L.A. because: (a), I am kind of a spaz when it comes to clocking stuff like gargantuan hurtling piles of steel around me; and (b), L.A. drivers make tasty roadkill out of spazzes like me. And she smiled and I smiled and I walked out.

And then, the most different and amazing thing of all happened: instead of beating myself up on the walk home, I felt good about the nice exchange I'd had with the nice checker, about carrying my stupid white-people-love-recyclable-bags to the store, and about walking to get my bag of party ice and Heineken tallboy in the first place.

All in the beautiful cool of a freshly set sun, on the sidewalks of one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in Los Angeles.

One-stop shopping, I call it...

xxx c

Image by Neimster via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Stop! Sucking! Day 3: Pressing the reset switch

Before I go forward, let me take the briefest (I hope) of steps backwards.

A few days ago, when my feelings of self-suckery had reached their apex (or nadir, depending on how you look at it), I stumbled on a shaft of enlightenment from my friend, Gretchen Rubin, regarding change and what's necessary to effect it.

She was talking about her own personal bugaboo, taming her sharp tongue. I'm familiar with the implement; had a pocket-sized one of my own for many years, honed to a razor's edge in a household where wit was your only defense, and not much of one against some much, much more skilled wielders. In fact, one of the greatest things my ex-husband, The Chief Atheist, did for me was to make me see that tongue again and again: "that Tone," as he called it, or "the mean voice," in the words of Gretchen's daughter.

Anyway, the entire post is excellent, but it was the title that really grabbed me:

"Resolutions for how to be happy have to be made over and over. Alas."

"Alas," indeed. Part of what is so irksome about change is that it's not finite, but a process, and pretty much one where you not only loop around to see your same-old same-old at another altitude, or even slide back a few feet down a slippery patch, but where you can find yourself teleported back to your original suckitude instantaneously, as if you accidentally stepped into a wormhole that's missing its big, iron, wormhole cover. Thanks, cartoon construction worker gods, for that little prank; thanks a lot.

So while yesterday's Rush Hour Crosstown Driving Meditation did me a world of good yesterday, this morning I woke up right back where I was two days ago, cumulative change be damned.

Of course, now that I've turned my attention on Stopping Sucking, I'm able to halt the slide before it gets too far. And I could feel the tug a few minutes into sitting down at the computer. I've developed staggeringly trenchant habits of unawareness and inattention here, I practically go into coma mode when I hear the chime of the G5 starting up. It's like sweet, sweet heroin flowing into my veins or, to use an actual example from my actual life and not a Hubert Selby novel, like when I had the nicotine monkey on my back. Back then, just walking past Chock Full O' Nuts or inserting the key in the ignition could trigger an itch for a smoke.

Unfortunately, while I was fine giving up coffee and even driving for a while (Chicago has a wonderful public transit system), my life now demands that I spend a lot of time in front of a computer. That I quickly reach the point of diminishing returns, productivity-wise, usually means I just have to push myself to work later and longer.

Today, I knew it was time for that thing all workaholics dread: a period of enforced relaxation. Two hours of extracurricular reading or a three-mile walk will usually do the trick, but I was feeling too agitated to read and it was too hot out to walk. So I slipped on some headphones, stretched out on the floor, and put on a guided meditation audio*. I have some experience with this, from last year's Hypnotherapy Project, but I still resist anything like slowing down with all my might.

This particular guided meditation is the first in the series: stillness. Because for anyone needing a guided meditation, stillness is pretty much the first step. And damned if that shit didn't do the trick. 25-odd minutes later (and I do mean odd, what with the birds chirping and my thoughts drifting by them like clouds), I felt calm and refreshed and...not so speed-a-licious.

According to buddhist nun (and great sport) Pema Chodron, speeding up is the preferred Western mode of laziness, just as lounging about on rugs with tea and yakking the day away is the preferred Eastern way. Either way...

Whether we flop or rush, and wherever on the globe we happen to be, the comfort-orientation brand of laziness is characterized by a profound ignoring. We look for oblivion: a life that doesn't hurt, a refuge from difficulty or self-doubt or edginess. We want a break from being ourselves, a break from the life that happens to be ours. So through laziness we look for spaciousness and relief; but finding what we seek is like drinking salt water, because our thirst for comfort and ease is never satisfied.

I am tired of being thirsty. I am ready to feel refreshed. For now.

Tomorrow, I'm sure, will bring its own sucky challenges, its own torpor, its own pull toward the familiar. But there are tools to change tomorrow, just as there are tools to change this very minute.

It starts...with stopping.

xxx c

*Full disclosure: the guided meditation I used was from my friend Adam Kayce's Inner Peace Audio series, and I got my review copy free. If you're interested in checking it out, you can buy your own copy here. I've only listened to the one so far, but I liked it enough to recommend it, and for no other reason than I really do like it: those aren't affiliate links. Besides, if for some crazy reason you're not digging on it, he'll totally give you all your money back. And, I think, some extra. Because...he's nuts? Or because it's really good. I'm guessing the latter.

Image by iamilk via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Stop! Sucking! Day 2: How would the Dalai Lama drive?

There was much stopping today, which means, of course, that there was much starting, restarting, backsliding and general waking slumber.

I'm guessing that much of my slumbering wakefulness--or wakeful slumberingness--is due to the soporific qualities my day-to-day, hour-to-hour life has taken on over the past two to three years. The life of an actor is many things, but dull and repetitive is usually not one of them.

Not that you can't sleepwalk your way through anything (and from what I've seen, certain types of regular theatrical employment can be spectacularly stultifying) but when you're in the thick of the hustle--running from class to audition to rehearsal to gig to audition--even with lots of lather/rinse/repeat, there's just too much randomness to get dull. Not to mention heartache. Way, way more than my life now, which changes hardly at all, heart-wise included, from day-to-day or even hour-to-hour.

Or does it?

Or, should I say, are things changing around me all the time that I'm just not seeing, because I'm making myself see things in a certain way, because it's just...well, so much easier than living every moment.

Easier up to a point, anyway, that point for me being yesterday when something flipped a switch in me and made me go public with one of these #$%^!) salutes. And really, they're not easier, any of those things; it takes a lot of energy to throw up the walls and batten down the hatches day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute. It isn't really less taxing to stick to the same-old, same old; it's just less scary. Which is why, every once in a while, I have to throw myself under a bus.

Today, I stopped and checked in during tea brewing, egg making, email checking and Quark wrassling. Stop and check, stop and check. Probe. Wait a beat. See if something bubbles up, something instructive.

Nothing nothing nothing. (Although just the stopping and checking made me feel a little better. Probably the feeling of control over one's own destiny.)

Finally, I had to go out in the world and meet people. The owner of this place, actually, who is lovely and interesting and one hell of a cook. Angelenos, take notice! But I wasn't thrilled about it, because I wasn't thrilled about any of it. I just felt kind of...oogy, which as any major dude will tell you is no way to go meet up with a relatively new acquaintance to talk bidness.

As I'm tooling across town in hot, late-afternoon traffic, feeling the crankbutt in me gearing up for a big tantrum, a thought flashed through my head: how would the Dalai Lama drive across town in afternoon rush hour?

How, indeed! Well, the Lama would sit up a little straighter, I imagined. And he'd probably slow down...maybe let a few people cut in, even if they didn't technically have the right of way.

He'd be wearing those nice robes, I thought, and would probably have his sandaled feet in relaxed and ready position. And, since he didn't get the chance to drive himself around Los Angeles in a Corolla very often, he might even be...interested. He might look around 3rd Street--which most Angelenos would think looks like a run down P.O.S. stretch of strip-mall-and-cheesy-fast-food nothing and think..."Cool!"

And it was kind of cool, now that I was looking at it like the Dalai Lama. Everything was so different. Every inch of everything was unique. A small girl wearing a wide gold lamé belt. A brick wall with earthquake retrofitting. Run-over fast food cups in the gutter. An old, old woman in a sweater fully half as old as she was, rolling her cart across the intersection. Things that were ugly were suddenly so beautiful just by virtue of their being, it was kind of overwhelming: not unlike being on magic mushrooms, only without the nausea and the timesuck.

I wouldn't say I was happy, exactly, but yes, there was a kind of strange, joyful connectedness. An ache for the specific aliveness of each thing--that simultaneous thrill that so many different things existed and that someday they would all be gone. Maybe horribly. Maybe all at once.

I left the Dalai Lama somewhere around Virgil, and rode the rest of the way as myself. No filters, no hacks. The rest of today has been pretty peachy-magical, and I can assure you that I won no lottery, lost no 8 lbs. in an hour, shed none of the woes I haul around with me from place to place.

Except the idea that I can't, on a dime, shrug off those woes by slipping into a different way of thinking.

The Dalai Lama says "stop"...then go...

xxx c

Image by el Fotopakismo via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.