Truth, transparency, and when to keep your trap shut

a street in an old section of Palm Springs

I can hardly believe I'm saying this, but I just got back from a Fabulous Palm Springs Weekend.

Sunshine. Reading. Lounging poolside with cocktails. There was a lanai involved, and a great deal of very delicious food. (Lesson learned: when choosing one's friends, it doesn't hurt to include "excellent cook" along with "kind," "fun," "goofy," and "generous" in the list of desired traits.) With the exception of a brief side trip to view a beautifully restored property in a sea of mid-Century splendor (seriously, it was like you'd died and floated to Wexler heaven on a Tiki cloud by SHAG), I spent my time shuttling between an overstuffed sofa on the aforementioned lanai and my little linoleum-tiled monk's cell, with occasional dips in the pool to cool off. (You have heard of these pool toys called "noodles"? They are the best pool toys ever. You kids. You got all the good stuff.)

Anyway, our time was mainly spent on the light and fluffy, as is appropriate for a bachelorette weekend. But as Sunday wound down, I found myself in the pool with the bride-to-be and her oldest friend, talking poetry. Which is weird, because (a), poetry?; and (b), me, discussing it?

I was sharing with them my ongoing ambivalence and wonder over the weird turn this site took a year or so ago when, fried to a crisp, with a deadline looming and no strength to wrassle one of my wordy damned essays to the ground, I wrote a "poem." I'd written a few of these "poems" before, but in an even jokier, joshier way, as part of an odd meme from the Mesozoic Age of blogging someone somewhere dubbed "Poetry Thursday," and that I cribbed from my blogging friend Neil Kramer. But the next week, and the week after that, and the weeks after that, I found myself again turning to this new-to-me condensed form, "short writing," I thought of it as being, but "poetry" I called it. In quotes. Always in quotes.

I was sharing with the bride-to-be and her friend all my fears around writing these things I was calling poems (but only in quotes!), how I felt like a fraud, how strange it felt to have people responding to them at all, much less in a way that indicated they were resonating with them. I was not a poet; I had barely studied it in school, and had dabbled even less. In other words (oh, pun! oh, punny-pun-pun!), I was wildly unqualified to write real poetry. So I didn't: I just tried to tell the truth, only shorter. Sometimes it worked better than others, but it always worked on that level, as the truth-only-shorter. There is time to get better at poetry, and to learn other things about how to make it better, and to deepen my practice. If I'd waited until I was good at it, I'd be waiting a long time, and we wouldn't have gotten to enjoy some of my weirder forays into the land of verse. It all works out, this imperfectly working at stuff, when you approach it with a sense of humor and honesty and a certain (but not too much of a) sense of earnestness.

What does not work, at least for me, is letting it all hang out, maybe ever, but at least not until I have made some sense of it. I have a long-brewing post I've been hacking away at about the right time to release a post into the world. It varies, depending on the subject matter and parties involved and a whole lot of other things, but the three rules I have for putting something out there (or not) are that:

  1. the something cannot compromise the privacy or safety of myself or another party
  2. the something must have been rolled around in my head long enough to make some sense of it
  3. the something must carry with it some kind of appeal to someone outside the borders of me

These are the rules that have me using nicknames and obscuring details. These rules are why I can sometimes be detailing things almost as they happen, like a self-dev color commentator, and other times not talking about things for five and ten or more years after the fact. I'm not telling anyone else that they should adhere to these rules or rules like them: they're just what work for me, to maintain the solitude and distance I need to do the work I want to do.

I'd like to think I'm not lying here, even by omission, but I suppose that we're always lying a little bit, here and there, showing our good side or even cherrypicking parts of our bad sides to put on display. One really astute complaint I heard recently about Facebook is how people use it as a big, electronic megaphone from which to bellow LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL NO REALLY IT IS NO REALLY LOOK AT IT LOOK AT IT while they madly flip levers from behind the curtain. No one is the Great and Powerful Oz, and most of us are as naked as that famous emporer, if you look hard enough. (Especially with x-ray specs.)

The truth is, I'm dealing with some heavy, heavy stuff right now on a couple of fronts, and it wears on me. Less when I'm rested and taking care of myself, but even then, it will peep through the cracks now and then; even, say, on a Fabulous Palm Springs Weekend. But after almost 50 years of living, I know I don't need to give vent to every little thing right there, or here, for that matter. There is time-and-place appropriateness, just as there is age-appropriateness. And I know to take breaks: to do my Nei Kung, to read quietly, to slip off to the bathroom and take a quick shower. The bride-to-be is understanding of me, as well: there's a reason I scored the tiny, hipster monk's cell.

Poetry, in quotes for the moment, but hopefully, not forever, is part of how I tell my truth right now, as are essays, newsletters, columns, Facebook updates, Tumblr posts, tweets, email and, lately, goofy little videos. Are the poems less truthful for dealing with menopause and envy rather than heartbreak? Will they be more truthful when I write about heartbreak one or two or twenty years from now, if, you know, there is still electricity and the Internet and we are not living in caves, and if (big "if") I can make some larger sense of it?

When our mother died, and again when our father did, my sisters and I gathered and wept, as you might expect. But more often than you might expect if you've yet to live through these kinds of losses, hard up against the tears was laughter, sly and delicious or hearty and cathartic. It is shocking sometimes, even as you're living through it, how often laughter and tears seem to bleed into one another. Or maybe not. As we learned in Method acting class, core truth is emotion, period, and most of the time, all of it is there together, swirling around in a big, messy pool of human goo.

So we cry until we laugh, or laugh until we cry. We write "poetry", in quotes at first, and eventually, maybe on its own. We tuck things away in our pockets to look at later, when we have the strength. And we share what we can of what we know.


Photo of a house in Palm Springs, CA, although not of the house where we stayed.

Connecting to and communicating with passion (my talk at TEDxTacoma)


Apparently, the only thing that terrifies me more than giving a talk at TEDxTacoma about passion-based communicating is watching myself give a talk about it.

Still, I felt is was important to put on my Big-Girl Pants and watch it. The whole thing, slightly less than 18 minutes, because I got a little nervous and forgot some stuff.

My objective (as possible) critique? Not as horrible as I'd thought it would be, even good in places! I think the main points come across, and I think there's valuable information in there for anyone starting out on the road to putting out the word about what moves them. I forget sometimes, but it really is confounding, having all that energy and no funnel to put it through; the discipline of acting has a lot of valuable information for building your funnel and practicing the use of it.

Also? MY MOUTH WAS SO DRY. I'd forgotten until I watched this again, but I was sort of freaking out on stage because I could feel my mouth drying, drying, drying up. That's what all that weird, old-people-tongue-moving stuff is about: trying to keep my lips from sticking to my teeth. I know: disgusting. But there it is. A technical reality of speaking, especially early in the morning after you have had not enough water and too much caffeine. Gonna have to work on that.

Finally, the sound is iffy in places. I'm talking into a headset mic, but the audio seems to be coming from the ambient me, not the mic'ed me. And we're in a chapel, so it gets a little boom-y and I come off (much to my embarrassment) a little preachy. Maybe that's a function of the chapel's acoustics, but I think there's a bit of me to blame, too, in that. So. You know. Working on that, too.

It's a process, right?


Video of me speaking at TEDxTacoma shot by my new pal, and dead ringer for Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, only the goofy, fun version, Kyle Sleeper, one of the fine students of the amazing Michelle Jones at Puget Sound University University of Puget Sound who helped get this shindig birthed. You can watch all the videos of the talks from TEDxTacoma on YouTube, including my fave "talk" of the day, the performance of the a capella group, Garden Level. Love them boyses who raise their voices, yes, I do!

Thanks, Michelle! Thanks, Kyle and all you crazy kidz! Thanks, UPS! Thanks, TEDxTacoma!

Priming the idea pump (A character checklist shamelessly lifted from acting)

thinking hard There are lots of tools the great actor has in her toolbox, but most of them really only gain utility with time. Script analysis, the ability to quickly access one's emotions, physical flexibility, vocal projection, even memorizing lots and lots of text is a skill that can take years to learn.

But there is one tool that is pretty easy to use right out of the box: the character checklist. Exactly what it sounds like, the character checklist is a list of questions that, when answered thoughtfully, provide a wealth of information for the actor to draw from.

Writers stand to gain much from the character checklist as well. For the fiction writer, it's a terrific way to sketch out a full picture of the character in your mind before writing, or even (oh yes) when you find yourself stuck. Let's face it: most characters in fiction draw heavily on slices of the writer's self; it's nice to have a few other things to flesh them out into full-fledged bona fides themselves.

But another great use for the character checklist is to jump-start your own non-fiction writing. Bloggers have embraced the meme in a big way; it's everyone's favorite crutch when the well runs dry.

And pre-Web 2.0, the form was equally popular. From the emails that circulate with lists of likes, dislikes and quirky questions to fill in and forward on to the venerable Proust Questionnaire, people are endlessly fascinated with...themselves, yes, but other people, too. My favorite features in glossy magazines are usually the ones where the same five, 10 or 20 questions are asked of different people.

There are probably as many of these character checklists circulating among acting classes as there are memes proliferating across the blogosphere. I dug this one out of my old actor files, and it's as good a place as any to start:

The Character Checklist from Colleen's Old Acting Files (provenance unknown)

  1. Name
  2. Age
  3. Occupation
  4. Hobbies
  5. Marital Status
  6. Favorite Color
  7. Favorite Restaurant
  8. Favorite Song
  9. Favorite Movie
  10. Favorite TV Show
  11. Pet
  12. Bad Habit
  13. What I Like About Myself
  14. Who I Look Up To
  15. What Makes Me Laugh
  16. What Makes Me Sad
  17. How Do I Relax
  18. What Word/Phrase Do I Use Most Often
  19. Favorite Room In Home
  20. Goals
  21. Embarrassing Moment
  22. Favorite Article Of Clothing
  23. Pet Peeve
  24. People Close To Me
  25. One Word To Describe Me
  26. Favorite Holiday
  27. What Is Important To Me
  28. What I Can't Do Without

The trick to making lists like these useful to your writing (and there's always a trick) is using them thoughtfully and strategically, not just indulging in them as diversions (although that can be fun sometimes, too). Figure out the task you're wanting to accomplish and then pick up your tool. Not all of the items will be useful for every piece of writing you're sitting down to work on, but a surprising number will be, if you let mind wander to new and interesting places.

For example, let's say you've got a blog edumacating people about widgets and you are plumb out of widget stuff to write about. You could...

  • Talk about how people shorten the life of their widgets with bad widget habits. (#12)
  • Describe your favorite widget use, and why. (#28)
  • Relate a horror story about a customer being widget-less in a widget-necessary situation. (#21)
  • Interview a few people in the widget chain of supply. (#24)
  • Link to your favorite widget scene in a movie on YouTube. (#9)

There's no set way to put yourself in a frame of mind to see questions differently so that you can answer them differently, but one great trick is to imagine yourself sitting down with someone who knows nothing about widgets, or who thinks they know everything about widgets, and then look at those questions as though you're being interviewed for a show or podcast or magazine that goes out to that target.

In other words, an actor!

xxx c

P.S. If you give this a whirl, I'd love to hear how it works for you: communicatrix [at] gmail [dot] com.

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

This post gets a lot of traffic from StumbleUpon. Go figure. Anyway, if you clicked looking to find posts about acting, there are a ton of them here, two years' worth of columns written for a major casting service's newsletter here in L.A. And if you're looking for more tips on writing and how to make it more awesome and less awful, check out the back issues of my non-sucky (I swear!) newsletter. Back to you, Chet!

No, really, what's your story? (A solicition or an opportunity...or both)

whisper I've been working on a super-secret web project for an interesting, celebrity client who is using her high profile in the real world for, as I like to say, the powers of Good and not Evil, something I always try to support here at communicatrix-dot-com.

Hell, that's kind of my modus operandi for life in general.

Anyway, eventually, everyone and his brother will be able to participate just by going to a good, old-fashioned URL. But for launch, we want to have some coolio stuff ready to go. I told my client that I have the most interesting, fearless readers in the world, and hey, counting the readers of readers, that's probably close to true, so I'd put the word out here.

We're still working out the copyright issue, because ultimately, there may be enough cool stories to warrant a compilation in book form, which she'd like to be able to do. But for now, let's say that there will be a rider there where you can opt-in if you'd like to be included in the book, and opt-out if, for some reason, you wouldn't. Either way, everyone retains copyright of his or her material, meaning you're free to do whatever the hell else you want with it.

In other words, she ain't looking to get rich off us chumps; she's doing fine in that department. She's just really, really into stories.

And that's what the site is about: everyone's stories. Because as someone who's walked longtime amongst the rich and famous (and the starving artists and regular people before then), she knows that "famous" does not necessarily mean "has better story."

So here are the topics she's looking for essays on now:

  1. "Most inexplicable fling or crush" (you know, that one you're, like, WHAT THE HELL?!?! after it passes)
  2. "New passions or obsessions, however fleeting" (she mentioned a new and strange love of watching Sunday golf on TV, even though she hates golf and has no desire to learn to play)
  3. "Regrets" (big, little, whatever)
  4. "Most memorable high school dance" (could be prom...although not for me...)
  5. "In what ways are you a weenie" (uh...yeah. 500 words probably isn't enough for me)
  6. UPDATE: "Favorite space you've ever lived in, and why"

Each story should be on ONE of the topics (i.e., don't combine your crush with your prom story, or at least not as though people will get that there is more than one topic; each story should stand alone).

Also, if you want to play, they should be:

  • around 500 words, max
  • personal (i.e., about your experience)
  • p0rn-free (or really, really hilarious)

Other than that, she's wide open. Site should go live June 1, god willin' and the creek don't rise. If you're totally freaked by sending your precious words to me like this, I can give you more details, but you'll be sworn to secrecy and if you blab, you will be SO uninvited to my birthday party.

E-MAIL STORIES TO ME, PLEASE, AT communicatrix-at-gmail-dot-com

Let's say by...May 18. (Don't want to drive the developer batty, esp. since he's The BF.)

Don't worry if you're a great writer, a medium writer, or not-a writer. Although I believe there's no such thing: we're all storytellers somehow, and if you don't believe me, you don't listen to StoryCorps enough.

Or read this blog enough, for that matter...

xxx c

Image by grana (aka. crazypuccia) via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

She who will not be ignored

book I'm all for blogs, clearly.

But there is, when all is said and done, something about a book. You can bring a book on a train! You can read it in bed or on the couch or in the tub. You can love it up and pass it along. And while I'm delighted when people find my online presence, and even more delighted when they pass it along, it's just not the same. I can't, you know, sign it with a Sharpie or anything.

Besides, this is not some short-time romance. As a girl, I'd always imagined the books I'd write someday as my offspring. I could see them in my mind's eye far more clearly than I could some bucket of DNA with a pink or blue bib around its neck. So despite all the very smart things my pal, Michael Blowhard, has to say about the folly of book writing, I'm down with it. Or up for it. Or whatever it is the kids aren't saying these days.

I have no delusions about the wild fame or fortune that will be mine when I corral the genius that is communicatrix into a 6"x9" stack of dead tree guts. It's a foregone conclusion that I'll be self-publishing, via Lulu, perhaps, or, if I'm feeling particularly daring, ordering up a stack to keep in my garage. Which, since I don't have a real garage, would be my living room.

I spent my weekend among a small sample of the millions who believe they have a book, or two, or seven, in them. Sitting amongst them, I'm even more certain: both of the pointlessness of my writing a book and the absolute necessity of it...

xxx c

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

Think fast, talk slow: An Introduction to Table Topics

speak, cross-stitch When it comes to a Toastmasters meeting, the hands-down favorite event is usually our extemporaneous speech feature, "Table Topics."

One person takes on the task of coming up with a slew of questions which she then springs on a series of unsuspecting (but, for the most part, secretly hopeful) victims, who are given a short window of time (1 minute minimum, 2 minutes maximum), to answer their particular question. It can be great fun, especially if the Table Topics Master (or "Mistress", as I insist upon being called, "Madame Table Topics Master" being more ridiculousness than I can stomach) chooses a good theme.

It's my favorite role at a meeting, so much so that I don't let myself volunteer for it anymore. I figure that I should spend my time learning new skills and getting better at things I suck at, and letting other people discover how much fun it is to be Table Topics Mistress. On my first at-bat, I chose the theme "True or False...and WHY!?!?", comprised of a series of classic quotations from my files with the framing question. Another time I ran with an international theme of sorts, giving each player a proverb from a different country and letting them speak on the topic (pro or con is a pretty typical Table Topics gambit).

But my favorite Table Topics session was the simplest, hearkening back to those old, fourth-grade discussions at sleepovers or on the playground. You know, the "would you rather be blind or deaf?" type of grammar-school-philosophy arguments.

In case you want to play along at home, I'd thought I'd include the batch of questions I wound up using that night. Yes, every one of these puppies has been road-tested by an Actual Toastmaster, who came up with a 1–2 minute speech on the spot.

If you had to choose, would you rather... a little overweight and not be able to lose it or extremely underweight and not be able to gain it?

...go without dessert forever or go without fruit forever? the President of the United States or the Vice President of the United States?

...get an extra hour of sleep per night or an extra 20 hours' pay per week? an identical twin or a fraternal twin?

...go to the most exciting show in the world or stay home and read the greatest book in the world? (NOTE: You're getting ONE chance to do either, i.e., you can't say "I'll go to the show tonight and read the book tomorrow," as our beloved Miss Ida did.)

...wear really comfortable shoes that made you feel dumpy or really beautiful shoes that made you feel uncomfortable?

...own the house of your dreams or be able to buy someone really deserving theirs?

...have a perfect memory or be able to truly forget the worst things in your life?

...have your dream color in a color you hate or an ordinary car in a color you love?

...have mild colds the rest of your life, or one month when you had all your colds at once?

(HINT: for you non-Nerdmasters, these also make fantastic blog post ideas ...)

xxx c

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

Nerd Love, Day 7: I {heart} Edward Tufte

tufte books When normal people play hooky, they go to the movies or the beach or Vegas.

When nerds take the day off, they go to see this guy, and come home 8 hours later, drunk with possibility, clutching a set of books so beautiful in both thought and execution, you get a little dizzy just opening one up.

I took a ton of notes, which I'll share with the class at a later date, but the topline is this:

Edward Tufte really is "the Leonardo da Vinci of information" (New York Times quote, not mine), and seeing him in person really is worth every penny of the not inconsiderable sum it costs to do so.

You get all of his books, he's up to four, which are impossibly priced at the low, low figure of $40 apiece. I say "low, low" because from the little I know about book production, there's no way you could print these conventionally for that price. (Tufte has his own publishing company, Graphics Press.) They are exquisitely produced works of art so full of wonderful information it will take me months, nay, years to absorb it all. And if you go to the lecture, he uses them as the support material! Makes those crappy PowerPoint leave-behinds looks pretty lame. Which is, of course, the entire point.

Edward Tufte is not as anti-PowerPoint as even he says he is.

The essay that put Tufte on the map with the hoi polloi (he'd been rockstar-popular with the geniuses for far longer) was, predictably enough, the one where he tells everyone's favorite meeting crutch where to get off.

He hates PowerPoint, to be sure, but he was careful to qualify his hatred:

  1. ET says that PowerPoint does not ensure sloppy thinking, it just makes it more likely
  2. ET reserves the bulk of his wrath for those who misapply PowerPoint in "serious" presentations, people who are cutting off feet to fit bodies in beds, either unintentionally (well-meaning scientists who abandon their language of notation and explanation to fit PowerPoint's low-resolution, limited character set world) or intentionally (evil people obfuscating or outright fudging data with visual double-speak, and he hates those people no matter what medium they're using towards their nefarious ends)

If you wanna do a PowerPoint about kitties, I don't think ET is gonna have a problem with it. PowerPoint as infotainment is relatively benign. So my work as a presentation designer is not moral compromise, provided NASA or the Federal Reserve don't engage my services. As if.

Watching Edward Tufte is an exercise in head-exploding newness and, simultaneously, a joyous feeling of coming home.

My brain is still reeling from playing catch-up with some of the finer technical points, but the rest of my body is still vibrating with the shock of recognition. Over and over in my notes, I have little asides with stars and underscores where I realized his points were essentially the credos I've been living with for the past 10 years or so: "Tell the Truth" and "Form Follow Function" and, less pithily, "Figure Out How to Say It So People Will Get It, Asshole."

It's the content, stupid.

'Nuff said.

Now, back to the business of delivering information in an elegant, useful fashion...

xxx c

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the work of Edward Tufte, here are some good places to start:

  • Edward Tufte's website (link)
  • Salon review of Tufte's book, Visual Explanations (link)
  • Jason Carr's notes on a Tufte speech several years ago (link)
  • A brief post by a software engineer on Tufte's relevance in new media (link)
  • Wikipedia entry (link)

Image by unertlkm via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license

Why I love craigslist (and The BF)

ugly rug So about three years ago I bought this couch: Big. Red. Room-dominating. Expensive as hell. (What can I say? I was going through a phase about shedding my infernal cheapness. And fuckery. So you see.)

Anyway, it was/is a magnificent couch in its way, but it had no business being in my smallish, mid-century apartment. And as my lifestyle changed, acting replaced by design and its attendant computer sprawl, random fuckery replaced by The BF, it actually became sort of a nuisance as well as an anachronism.

After an unsuccessful attempt to dump the behemoth on my sister's boyfriend (not literally, he's nice!), I turned to the master of fuckery, er, craigslist, The BF.

In the two years I've known him, The BF has successfully converted a staggering array of used, half-used and unused items to cold, hard cash via eBay and craigslist. Within ten days, he had moved The Behemoth to his place (no mean feat, given the crazy number of stairs involved), put it on wheels (don't ask), and sold it for cash money (from the buyer) and a Taylor's steak dinner (from me).

Part of The BF's high success rate with selling is patience. Selling used goods, like undertaking large-scale home improvement projects or raising children, requires a tolerance for tedium I lack in spades. Not only is The BF not afraid of tearing down an interior wall or making babies or selling used crap, he does it all with panache. Such photos! Such an exquisite sense for pricing! And mainly, such a gift with item descriptions.

Here, for example, is his most recent listing:

Ugly Rug Cheap! 5x8 Pottery Barn Rug All wool - $20

That's right, you can have this incredibly ugly rug for only twenty bucks! It's all wool, I don't even want to think about how much we paid for it originally, but it can be yours for only $20 if you call before I take it down to Goodwill or Out of the Closet.

It's 5x8, check out the picture of the label, it really is a pottery barn carpet and was decent at one time. It does have some stains which may or may not come out - I don't want to find out. Personally, I've never liked this rug but my wife thought it was OK for the back room, but that's another story. Now we have another rug and you can have this one for your project room, or garage, or whatever.

From my own experience, I know what a treasure trove of fascinating characters craigslist can be. (I found mine via the fuckery pages, but whatever.) And you don't have to go to Rants & Raves or Best Of to find them: they'll come to you, if you say the magic words. Which The BF knows by heart, it would seem. Hence, the following exchange, reprinted exactly as it transpired (email addresses and CL legalese redacted):

From: To: Sent: Sun, 3 Dec 2006 7:03 PM Subject: Ugly Rug Cheap! 5x8 Pottery Barn Rug All wool - $20

you are funny


On Dec 3, 2006, at 7:09 PM, wrote:

too bad I can't make a living at it.


-----Original Message----- From: To: Sent: Sun, 3 Dec 2006 7:17 PM Subject: Re: Ugly Rug Cheap! 5x8 Pottery Barn Rug All wool - $20

have you tried organizing it in that way and going for it?


On Dec 3, 2006, at 10:00 PM, wrote:

are you my subconscious? why are you e-mailing me instead of appearing as the virgin mary like you usually do?


-----Original Message----- From: To: Sent: Sun, 3 Dec:51 PM Subject: Re: Ugly Rug Cheap! 5x8 Pottery Barn Rug All wool - $20

I am a virtual virgin reaching to you at Christmas I am the ghost of christmas 40 years from now when you didn't go for your dreams BECAUSE YOU THOUGHT IT WAS TOO LATE OR SOME OTHER FRIGGING EXCUSE BECAUSE YOU ARE SCARED



On Dec 4, 2006, at 12:44 AM, wrote:

so I guess this means you don't want my rug?


-----Original Message----- From: To: Sent: Mon, 4 Dec 2006 8:24 AM Subject: Re: Ugly Rug Cheap! 5x8 Pottery Barn Rug All wool - $20

never did was taken in by the truthful/meaness of the word 'ugly' had to read it


On Dec 4, 2006, at 9:43 AM, wrote:

Thanks for writing! I'm not being sarcastic. At least I don't think I'm being sarcastic. It's hard to tell.

You are right, of course - it's very common to not do something out of fear, and easy to make excuses. At the end of the day, however, the only regrets I have are those of omission, not commission. I've never said "gee, i wish I hadn't done that" but I've often said "gee, I wish I had done this when I had the chance".

You're sure you don't want the rug?


-----Original Message----- From: To: Sent: Mon, 4 Dec 2006 9:52 AM Subject: Re: Ugly Rug Cheap! 5x8 Pottery Barn Rug All wool - $20

give the rug to a poor person- some woman out of a shelter with kids who's living with blankets on the floor- someone who can't even afford to buy something at goodwill at the end of the day i do say "I wish I hadn't done that" so lucky for you I have made some supremely bad choices that i now pay for dearly- the humor I see in your paragraph was the kind that the writers on Everybody Loves Raymond' used over and over again- after all- the whole show was a one trick pony- the stupid no nothing husband and the brilliant wife- alot of humor is that- your one observation about the rug and the room and the wife were enough for a two part sitcom you know that it's the work either you do it or you don't either you want it or you don't nobody who makes it is weak

When I think of leaving L.A. these days, it's only for a place that has a reasonably active craigslist. I mean, where else can you sell your shit, have a philosophical discussion and be insulted all in the same email exchange?

xxx c

P.S. The rug is still for sale.

Cleaning My Damned Apartment, Day 20: I can see and hear clearly now

spring cleaning two After being out of town and just plain out of commission, today found me both home and feeling over my cold enough to catch up with my beloved Lily.

I made a decision awhile ago to stop multitasking during real phone conversations, since it's not possible for me to have a quality talk with split focus. But I find I get mad spilkes when I have to sit and focus with no visual stimulus or physical activity. I'm okay if I'm hanging out with a friend and we're 'just' talking, I'm okay driving a car and listening to the radio, but I cannot JUST sit and talk on the phone or JUST sit and listen to music. (Oddly, I can just sit and watch a movie or even TV, but I feel sick if I JUST watch TV. That might be JUST conditioning, though, Ole Golly and my mom felt pretty much the same way about the idiot box.)

Anyway, I'd been Getting To Empty in preparation for my trip tomorrow, but that required mental energy, which I wanted to have fully focused on Lily. I stopped as soon as I got on the phone, but sitting still was starting to make me panicky. Not good.

Then, while I was up getting a drink of water, I absentmindedly picked up a sponge and started cleaning the window screen in the kitchen. Instantly, I felt my focus return, laser-like, to our conversation. So I got out the all-purpose cleaner and wiped down the vertical blinds. And then the glass cleaner and cleaned all the slats so they could go back into the jalousie windows for fall.

And lo, an hour and a half later, not only were Lily and I massively caught up on events large and small over the past month, my whole apartment looked amazing.

Everybody wins.

Despite my highly competitive nature, that really is my favorite thing...

xxx c

Photo by webschepper via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

(Blue) List Wednesday: How to Swear Like The Communicatrix!

spiderman isn't happy It occurs to me that over the years, I have honed my swear vocabulary to a few tried and true favorites and a few (I think) completely made up swears. In the interest of sharing, or, more appropriately, in the interest of sharing to get you to share, I'm spilling them here, along with a brief provenance, where necessary.

Assmünch (n) (ass-moonch') Coined during the run of a play where all 36 of us were speaking with a different accent. Originally conceived in an act of extreme passive-aggressive frustration with a genial buffoon, it has with time mellowed to describe sort of a...genial buffoon. But, you know, with more affection. A-holio. (n) Fairly self-explanatory. I think it has a bit more playful flair than your garden variety "a-hole". Definitely a nod in here to the great Mike Judge and Cornholio. A-hole-a, rock-and-roll-a. (expression of frustration, usually uttered in car after a particularly egregious moving violation by a fellow driver) Written in iambic pentameter, it's important to chant this in the same rhythm of the line "Got a condo made of stone-a" from Steve Martin's comedy classic, "King Tut", preferably whilst turkey-bobbing one's head, to mimic the look of someone singing along with one's favorite song on the radio. Motherfuck. (extreme exclamation of dismay) Useful after dropping a large bowl of something sticky on a freshly-washed kitchen floor, or inadvertently deleting the contents of one's hard drive. Move your kiester, meester. (see "a-hole-a..." above) Not to be used for extreme driving infractions, this is more the verbal equivalent of foot-tapping or finger-drumming. Crap on a cracker! (mild exclamation of dismay) Sort of the swear equivalent of "well, I'll be!" Fuckmeister. 1. (n) an egregious a-holio; 2. (exclamation) a more extreme version of Shit on a shingle. (Note: when used to describe the former, accent is on the first syllable; for the latter, the second.) Fuck my potatoes. (exclamation of mild-to-medium dismay; see "shit on a shingle") Honestly, I have no idea how I came up with this one. But it has come to be my favorite swear, by far. I use it at least once a day. Fuck you, assfuck. (expression of extreme umbrage) To be used exclusively in the car, with the windows rolled up, at a safe distance from object of umbrage. Safety first, people.

So, you know, in case James Lipton never gets around to it: what's your favorite swear?

xxx c

UPDATE: Thanks to Erik for this ancient (but still excellent) link to celebrity swears.

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Photo by d_m_b via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

The dreaded dread

lips anguish My name is Colleen, and I am a procrastinator.

(Hello, Colleen!)

It has been four years since I balanced my checkbook. I recently renamed my backlog of unread New Yorkers "The End Table". My closets and drawers and to-do lists have cruft so crufty, they've developed their own cruft.

I know that I have to let go and let David, but it's hard sometimes, I won't lie. I leave just a couple of messages in "in", you know, where I can see them. I might make myself the occasional daily checklist of errands and such, not trusting my collection and retrieval system. I have drunk the Kool-Aid, but I sort of fake-drank it and went "mmmm" and kind of spit it out when no one was looking.

You see, I like closing my eyes and covering my ears and going "lalalalalala, I can't hear you!" It makes me livelier in public. It is oddly comforting in private, even though I know it is bad for me and makes it also hard to watch Project Runway and answer the telephone.

But you can live in denial a long time, my friends. A long time, indeed. Hell, usually if I could just wait long enough before turning around that phone call or replying to that email, the problem would pack up its tent and go away. Of course, clients like for you to return calls inquiring after your availability or that project you said you'd finish two weeks ago, but really, how much income do you need? Not much, if you don't ever balance your checkbook.

Yesterday, though, I hit rock bottom. I'd been holding off on telling my writing partner that, for a variety of reasons, I just didn't want to work on our two person show, #1 & #2, anymore. I mean, how could I tell her? I might as well stab her through the heart and tell her I hated her and she was un-invited to my birthday party. Because this would kill her. Or our friendship. Or both.

She had gotten back from her holidays four days ago, though, and I'd had one stay of execution already when she begged off of a meeting, claiming exhaustion. I'd put off our get-together until the end of yesterday, a long day filled with its own bouts of foot-dragging and humiliation and potential disappointments. A good callback fueled me with the fire, I guess, along with that Airborne I've been popping like Tic-Tacs since everyone in L.A. has the plague right now. And I must have been filled with the spirit of David because once I was in the door, I only had a half a grapefruit, some cheese, and 15 natural segues before I blurted it out:

Speaking of wondering what projects you want to focus on for the rest of the year, I don't think I want to work on the show right now.

L.A. Jan stopped cooing at her cat, Mister, for the briefest of moments and said,

Yeah, me neither.

I think today might be a good day to start at the bottom of the list.

Who's with me?

xxx c

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Engagement chicken

Sundays have always been tricky for me, a love/hate, digging-the-Now-whilst-dreading-the-Future kind of proposition. Even as all my days become like all my other days (the curse of the freelancer), on Sunday, I still want a little something extra in the way of comfort: an extra half-hour in that toasty bed divot, a higher ratio of silence to noise in the house, a little more lazy-ass crossword-wrangling and a little less hard-ass monkey-working. Sunday is a good TV night and I think that's no accident: people want to shore up the goodness to brace themselves for the onslaught of stormy Monday.

Me, I see no better way to do it than with an ovenful of roast chicken. It's relatively inexpensive and easy to make, makes the whole house smell fantastic (unless you're a vegetarian, in which case I imagine it makes the whole house smell like death warmed over) and, unless you are a complete pig-monster, gifts you with delicious leftovers for the next couple of days.

I'm constantly in search of the Ultimate Roast Chicken Recipe, but trial-and-error has proven the genius of a high initial temp with the chicken cooked breast-side-down to sear the outside and seal in the juices, followed by a reduced tempurature for the remainder of cook time with the chicken in a more seemly, backside-down position. I'm behind the use of a rack (chicken cooked in juices puts the "ew" in "stewed") and agin' the use of the foil tent.

As of last night, I have also joined the ranks of devotees for an adaptation of a Marcella Hazan recipe that's come to be known as "Engagement Chicken," not because I like fruity monikers or am looking for good matrimonial juju, but because it produces the moistest, juiciest, delicious-est roasty-toasty chicken it's been my pleasure to consume outside of a restaurant extraordinary enough to know how to cook the simple things well. And as cooked in a convection oven (thank Jeebus for The BF and his expensive tastes in kitchen accoutrements), it may even match it:

Engagement Chicken

(Adapted from Marcella Hazan's More Classic Italian Cooking)

1 whole chicken (approx. 3 lb.) 2 medium lemons Fresh lemon juice (1/2 cup) Kosher or sea salt Ground black pepper

Place rack in upper third of oven and preheat to 400ºF*. Wash chicken inside and out with cold water, remove the giblets, then let the chicken drain, cavity down, in a colander until it reaches room temp (about 15 minutes). Pat dry with paper towels. Pour lemon juice all over the chicken (inside and outside). Season with salt and pepper. Prick the whole lemons three times with a fork and place deep inside the cavity. (Tip: If lemons are hard, roll on countertop with your palm to get juices flowing.) Place the bird breast-side down on a rack in a roasting pan, lower heat to 350ºF and bake uncovered for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and turn it breast-side up (use wooden spoons!); return it to oven for 35 minutes more. Test for doneness, a meat thermometer inserted in the thigh should read 180ºF, or juices should run clear when chicken is pricked with a fork. Continue baking if necessary. Let chicken cool for a few minutes before carving. Serve with juices.

*If you're using a convection oven, lower temps by 25º. Cooking time will be a little less per lb. than usual.

Supposedly, the wimmens who make this chicken for their mens end up with hardware on their digits faster than you kin say "finger-lickin' good!" Me, I just got a Band-Aidâ„¢ on that finger (casualty of spaghetti squash wrangling the night before), but the rest of 'em I couldn't keep out of the lemony schmaltz at the bottom of the roasting pan. Throw a bunch of carrots and onions (and sweet potatoes, if you're not on the SCD) underneath the rack in yer roasting pan and LORDY, you won't care if you're engaged, divorced or married-up in the seventh circle of hell.


We now return you to your regularly scheduled buzzkill Monday.

xxx c

PHOTO: "Kip", by _sammy_, as uploaded to Flickr

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Recently, I started returning my phone calls. Not that I'd ever subscribed to the local shitiquette of blowing people off by not returning their phone calls; I'm far too Midwestern for that.

But for several months, oh, hell...a couple of years, really, I got into the highly antisocial habit of turning my calls around via email. All of them. (Or damned close to it, my now-deceased father did not have email.)

Initially, my eminently forgivable excuse was a life-threatening lack of energy. I was spending the few calories I could afford making high-fat tubs of yogurt and low-carb hunks of protein in an almost Sisyphean attempt to stay out of the hospital. I neither talked to nor saw much of anyone for a good four months, except when they were trotting by to drop off supplies or help with chores.

But even as my health improved, my aversion to phone contact continued. And I realized that for whatever reason, the phone meant too much contact for me, or too little control, or both. And, since I had bigger fish to fry, I let it go at that (a miracle of sorts right there, not worrying something to death) and figured the answer would come to me or it wouldn't and either way, I'd learn to live with it.

Which I did. L.A. Jan and I even made jokes about it, the bizarre incongruity of someone who kept an Excel spreadsheet to track her online dating activity yet was often loathe to answer calls from her best friend.

Somewhere in those two years, though, things shifted. I think the shift had something to do with my readiness to connect in general, because it was right around the time I got into my first real relationship since DumpFest 2002 that I found myself occasionally brightening when a particular clutch of numbers popped up on the Caller ID screen. And today, about a year later, I'm not only pouncing on the phone when The Boyfriend's name pops up, but marveling upon hanging up with him, with L.A. Jan, with my sister, that 20...30...45 minutes have ticked by while we've been yakking away. Again. Sometimes after I've just seen them. I'm even occasionally (gasp) picking up the phone when clients call. Okay, not every time. But it's a start.

The thing of it is, letting my borders shrink for a bit and letting myself not sweat it was probably instrumental in those same borders expanding again, to maybe beyond their original circumference, later on. And as I continue to wrassle with my mighty, mighty infernal motherfucking lesson of P - A - T - I - E - N - C - E, it might behoove me to remember that sometimes, the quickest way towards two steps forward is one step back, from the phone, or whatever consarned annoyance is bedeviling one at the moment. Like a name one can't remember. Or a riddle that's driving one crazy.

Or a blog one hasn't posted to in four days.

What can I say? It comes. It doesn't come. It comes back.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I've got a few calls to turn around...

xxx c

From the mouths of a**holes

About ten years ago, shortly after I'd decided to give up the uncertain and (for me) unsatisfying waters of advertising for a sensible career in acting, I thought it might be a good idea to take a class or two, since I had no idea of what I was doing. Of course, being hopelessly goal-oriented and a perennial skipper-of-steps (a whole nuther post), instead of taking, say, a good scene study course or a class in text analysis, I elected to take a seminar in cold reading, which, for the uninitiated, is the dubious-but-necessary practice of to picking up "sides" (a chunk of a full script) and giving a decent audition at the drop of a casting director's hat. (Because as a 33-year-old actress who was not particularly good-looking and had zero training and experience, I was for sure going to be highly sought after for many parts in film and television. Uh-huh.)

There are various teachers of cold reading technique in Los Angeles, hotbed of auditioning activity, but I had the great good fortune of landing at Margie Haber's studio, and, after being vetted and prepped by her excellent associate, I got to study with Margie herself. Who hated me. Hated me. Wait, did I mention she hated me? Because she did.

Okay, she didn't hate me, personally. How could she? She didn't know me from Adam. She hated my acting. Excuse me, my hackting (hack + acting = hackting®). All the other boys and girls seemed to be able to I was acting up a storm, and it was almost unbearable to watch. But we had to watch, since the classes were all taped. That was part of the deal: see your shame; get motivated to fix it.

Many, many years (and classes and rehearsals and bad performances in worse plays) later, I finally "get" a lot of what Margie was trying to teach. Like any other kind of knowledge, good acting technique, and by extension, good acting, is born of many, many days/weeks/months/years of effort. And, frankly, just logging the miles. Getting the lessons off the page and into your bones. And as the lessons worked their way into my acting, they also affected my life. Understanding character made me a much better theatrical writer. Learning to really listen created a heretofore unrealized depth and richness in all my relationships.

And Margie's technique for successfully playing characters different from oneself, as in, with nuance and depth rather than broad strokes and caricature, got me through this last election.

It's gorgeously simple, really, although not at all easy. Let's say a quick skimming of the sides reveals that the character you're being asked to play is a Murdering Vampire Prostitute. You have neither spilt blood (on purpose), sucked blood (with malice aforethought) nor traded sex for goods or services (not going to get into the traditional marriage paradigm here, you know what I mean). How do you relate? By scanning your mental Rolodex® for previous stage-'n'-screen examples (read: stereotypes) of undead bloodthirsty whores? Or, perhaps, by finding the similarities between you and these ladies you were so quick to judge?

A caveat: any examples should either be lifted straight from the script or ever-so-c a r e f u l l y extrapolated. In other words, if the character is yelling in the scene...well, you ask yourself, have I ever yelled? Do I live in a city/smoke/swear/use contractions/scratch where it itches?

Does this person maybe feel passionately about a cause...just like I do? Does this person perhaps feel frustrated and overwhelmed by the situation at hand and scared for the future...just like little old liberal/conservative, pro-choice/pro-life, anti-war, pro-sports, antidisestablishmentarian me?

My own personal bias for years was, you guessed it, against actors. Years of exposure to the Stupid Flaky Self-Absorbed Artist myth was probably mostly to blame, although ten years of screening commercial audition tapes didn't help. I was incapable of putting myself in these poor schlubs' shoes. I was an overworked, underappreciated, universally loathed copywriter and so I ate my sandwich and took calls and all the rest of the careless, insensitive, self-absorbed agency behavior I now hear commercial actors complaining about at auditions. I was wrong (and I'm sorry).

It's funny: if I'd had a little Margie Haber Technique back when I was a copywriter, maybe I wouldn't have had to become an actor. And if actors could see the hideous process by which excellent copy gets beaten into shapeless wads of marketing goo, maybe they'd be kinder. Maybe they'd try harder to make that hack copy sound good.

Maybe if we could all see each other, the world would be a little bit nicer place to play in.

At the very least, the ads would be better.

xxx c

The Communicatrix...Listens?

communication.jpg Like most of you, the communicatrix has an agenda. Don't know what yours are, but mine is to share certain hard-won truths. Well, really, a bunch of petty, not-so-hard-won truths, best thinking-man's hoochie site, kick-ass theater, worst phone ever, and one Big Fat Mama Truth, the Truth, if you will.

I have some tools in my communicatrix arsenal already, relentless enthusiasm, reasonable facility with language, considerable experience my message to others, but I'm still not really conversant. I still can't talk to anyone and have it land.

No, really, that's huge. That's everything, really. Imagine the possibilities: speak to a n y o n e...and have it land. I guess it would be easy if you had a really, really good weapon in your arsenal, like a burning bush or thunderbolts or some other groovy, god-like accessory, but I don't. I don't even have Vocal Amplitude. (Seriously. Tiny ribcage = no vocal amplitude.)

The secret for mere mortals, I think, is listening. Simple, right? Easy?

Really listening requires a detachment from ego I'm generally reluctant to muster. I don't think I'm alone, here, either, based on the number of conversations I've had where I actually catch overtalking happening in mid-sentence. Not the end-of-sentence, I-had-that-idea-too overtalking: full-on, hands-over-ears, I CAN'T HEAR YOU LALALALALALA!!! overtalking.

And this sometimes happens with really good friends who really care about me, not just garden-variety buggers in sales calls and ad agency pitch meetings (ad agencies are notorious hotbeds of overtalking, trust me).

I won't even get into the red vs. blue histrionics that have been flying fast & furious from both sides of late except to say that they're largely a catalyst for me getting off my bony ass and fixing my own nasty little listening problem.

My new-favorite pundit, Evelyn Rodriguez, who's all about the critical importance (and true power) of real communication, has written a couple of great posts recently about what happens when we stop listening and the magic that can happen when we start. She posits a really wise theory on the root of it all:

Being unheard, unappreciated and unlistened to is intimately linked with unwantedness. The isolation is overpowering. We can move away from the separation by remaining open-ended rather than closed meme-attractors ourselves.

Every relationship advice source worth its salt says that if you're looking for something in others, first find that thing in yourself. (Hell, even Dorothy figured out that if you're looking for happiness, check the backyard before you go running off on some poppy-induced, yellow-brick road to nowhere.)

More than anything in the world right now, I want to be heard. So I'm gonna start listening.

Anyone with me?

xxx c