creative process

The danger of 10% evil

tiny metal gargoyle figurine Many years ago, I was in the world's worst acting class.

Its badness was made possible by its goodness. Much like a relationship where you're slowly gaslighted into madness until a gigantic Acme mallet (or Joseph Cotten) shows up to snap you out of it, about 90% of what went down was fine, excellent, even.

Which is precisely why the remaining 10% was so dangerous: plenty of inert matter to make the poison go down smoothly.

* * * * *

Do you think about money often? I think about it quite a bit, just before I shove the thoughts from my head in a holy panic.

My lifelong attitude toward money mimics my childhood attitude toward adulthood: Lots of power; too much scary. RUN! The thing is, of course, you really can't avoid either. Or at some point, you just realize that avoiding them is more exhausting than giving in. And when you do finally settle into one or the other (or both) a bit, when you start handling your money with respect or learning to delay gratification in favor of prudence and responsibility, you see that it's not really dollars or years that you're scared of; they're just dollars and years.

You're scared of that part of you that you think is incompetent. Or vain. Or maybe flat-out evil, you devil, you.

You're scared that the small, not-so-good part of you will override the big, pretty-okay part of you and ruin everything. That you will be left alone, reviled and ridiculed for the incompetent/vain/flat-out-evil devil you are. That you will die.

It doesn't matter that it won't, you won't, and you probably won't for a long, long time. That 10% of you puts on a really convincing show.

* * * * *

One thing I learned in that horrible-wonderful acting class was that a well-drawn character wants something more than anything else, and over the course of a well-played scene, will use every trick in her personal playbook to get it. (We call the wants "intentions" and the tricks used to get it "tactics." Now you can impress your actor friends with your inside knowledge.)

Here's the conundrum, the strongest want is nothing without an equally strong obstacle in the way of that want: Al Pacino thwarting Robert DeNiro in Heat; the survivors racing against the water in The Poseidon Adventure; Ray Milland battling himself in The Lost Weekend. It can exist without or within, but if you take away the immovable object, the unstoppable force whizzes frictionless through nothingness, fizzling out somewhere far, far past our interest in watching it. The tension between the two is what fuels the creativity of the characters and heightens the suspense.

More tension, better show.

No tension, no show.

* * * * *

I'm working on a huge (HUGE) project for my upcoming birthday this September. It's the kind of project that could be astonishing and life-changing and crazy, crazy fun if it comes together, not just for me, but potentially for a lot of other people, you included. And if it falls apart, of course, it is one of those things that will make me, and only me, look stupid. The flavor of fail I am more afraid of than anything.

Here's the hilarious (and predictable) part: as the deadline for each part of the project has approached, I've balked. You're coming off of a five-month Crohn's flare. You need to focus on your business. You'll have to call in every favor you have and rack up debt in the favor bank, to boot. The scale is ridiculous. The time frame is insane. You're insane, even if you pull it off, there's no assurance it will make any kind of difference.

All of these things are true. Mean to say, but no less true for it.

But what is also true is that so far, all the drama has come from me, myself and I playing out a three-person scene; the universe has been an extraordinarily compliant scene partner.

So it's 90% good that I'm 10% evil. Otherwise this sucker might never get liftoff.

* * * * *

I don't know how you discern between regular shadow and the toxic kind in the moment. These sorts of calculations almost always benefit from some time and/or distance. Seth wrote an excellent book about knowing when to stop (and when to plow through) that I should probably re-read. Byron Katie came up with those four questions that do a pretty good job of rooting out untruths.

If you put a gun to my head, I'd say the danger of 10% evil crosses over from frisson to "Warning, Will Robinson!" when you feel yourself starting to disappear. The point of danger, this kind of danger, is to make you stronger. There were people in that horrible acting class who were well served by it. I was one of them for a while, and then I wasn't, and then I left.

But I don't think you should wish away evil any more than you should wish away time. Instead, wish for the alertness to stay on your toes. Wish for help from the muse finding creative ways to slay your dragons. Wish for courage. Wish for vision.

Then get that show on the road.

xxx c

Image by downhilldom1984 via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Making allowances for the way you work

photo of Colleen Wainwright Yesterday morning, I finished reading Unbroken, the true-life story of Louis Zampirini's triumphant, plague-filled journey from punk kid to Olympic runner to WWII Air Force bombadier to POW to haunted veteran to redeemed hero. It's an amazing story.

As I tore through it on my Kindle, the only way for the spindly-limbed gal to fly when it comes to oversized books, I kept thinking three things:

  1. Damn, this is an amazing story!
  2. Would I have what it takes to make it through this?
  3. How in the wide, wide world of sports did Laura Hillenbrand write this with CFS?

The joke answer, of course, is "very, very slowly." It would take a wildly robust writer a long time to research and write a compelling and historically-accurate 400-page book about a series of events in a time when everyone's last sneeze was not recorded for posterity*; it took Hillenbrand 10 years.

* * * * *

I didn't pick up Unbroken because Laura Hillenbrand has a chronic illness and I have a chronic illness and hey, why not be inspired by a writer whose chronic illness is a thousand times worse than mine to get off my lazy, relatively well ass and write, dammit; I picked it up, well, downloaded it to my electronic reading device, because I'd heard people rave over and over about what a gripping tale, what an immersive experience it was. Hard-core lefties, Republicans, old folk, youngsters, literati. Enough of a spread to render the thumbs-up agnostic.**

I picked it up because I had a long plane ride ahead of me and, thanks to tailwinds, a longer one back, and I fly in the back of the bus, where postage-stamp-sized trays jutting out into what could only laughably be called "room" preclude any sort of real work, much less 15" laptop-opening. It's a situation that calls for books one would describe as "gripping" and reading experiences one would call "immersive."

I picked it up because, after a rough three weeks patching myself up from a foolhardy near-crash outside of San Francisco, I knew I'd be spending more time alone in my hotel room resting when I wasn't strictly needed in order to spend the energy my job called for when I was.

* * * * *

Toward the end of my talk, I got a question that comes up so frequently, I may end up adding it to the presentation proper: How do you do all of this?

You see, I've just spent 50 jam-packed minutes going over Right Behavior online in our fast-paced-and-rapidly-changing modern media landscape (and indicating that much of it is now expected, if not required, in real life). All the ins and outs of tweeting and Facebooking and policy-creation and email-sig-shortening that you need to know so you don't fall behind, or worse, come off like a thankless jackass online. Understandably, this is overwhelming to people at the beginning of the learning curve. Just the idea of doing it is overwhelming, never mind the actual learning and doing.

I get this; I do. And while I answer for myself, because really, that's all one can do, I am really giving the answer for everyone, everywhere, regardless of the condition of their health or the state of their business or the vigorous and very real demands on their life: you make accommodations for what is important to you. My work is important to me, so I don't do or have a bunch of things normal people have. Lately, I've realized that my health is important to me, so I'm learning to accommodate that, too. Slowly. And, if I'm honest, as much because I'm terrified at the thought of not being able to work as I am not being able, period.***

It may help to remember that while I'm relatively facile at this whole being-online thing, I have my own c*cksucking boulders to push up my own motherf*cking hills. For example, I have always just been lucky enough with money and modest enough in my desires that I didn't have to learn anything about it to get by in relative comfort. Now the economy is squeezing me along with everyone else, AND I'm (almost) 50, AND I want a couple of bigger things that are simply not going to be possible without winning the lottery or changing my rhythm. And I don't play the lottery.

* * * * *

Everyone has their basket. The older I get, the more I think that most choices boil down to love or fear, and most of the pain in the world is caused by choosing the latter. It is much, much easier to do the scaredy-cat thing and peer into the tippy-tops of other people's baskets and become covetous or enraged or pitying or what have you. It is much harder to look at yours, get down with what's in it, and get to work. However you work. Whatever your "work" is.

But that's what's required: complete honesty looking inward, and complete love looking outward. Honesty and love. No more, no less. Not very sexy, but there it is.

I'd be surprised if anyone gets all the way there, ever, before the lights go out. I have a looooong way to go, which is why I'm spending more time in hot baths liberally sprinkled with Epsom salts than I am at the discothéque. (Well, and also because I don't think there are such things as discothéques anymore.)

Give yourself the room you need to live the life you want. That's what all this stuff about decluttering and streamlining and goal-setting is really about. Room to do what's right, and what feeds you, and what saves the world. Once you have enough room, see about what you can do to provide someone else with some before you get yourself more. (Because really, beyond a certain point, how much room do you need?)

We all know what's best for ourselves. And we can all start making sure it happens right now.

xxx c

*Actually, another thing I kept wondering while I read was how these men in the Japanese prison camps managed to keep diaries at all, much less preserve them for 60 years. Their ingenuity and stubborn determination made me ashamed of my dithering over writing software programs and WordPress glitches.

**Speaking of agnosticism, I almost certainly wouldn't have picked it up if I'd known there was an actual religious redemption in the story. In the context of Zampirini's life, though, it not only makes sense, you're happy when it happens. I'm wary enough of organized religion to say my own, little "hosanna" when one of the good guys turns up.

***I know, I know, it's messed UP. I'm not saying this is a good way to be, or that it's a place I want to stay. I'm just being brutally honest about where I am. Because in my experience, skipping that first step really makes the whole thing go farkakte.

Photo © Addison Geary Photography.

Book review: Ignore Everybody


There are three people and/or things directly to blame for me starting a blog way, way back on November 1, 2004:

  1. a severe onset of Crohn's disease, which served both to jar things loose and make me unafear'd (or less afear'd) of looking like a jackass;
  2. my friend, Debbie, who is so discreet her web footprint is almost invisible, and so modest she's probably already mortified at being called out here (hi, Deb!);
  3. Hugh MacLeod, insanely great writer and generous creative mind who also draws cartoons on the backs of business cards

I was introduced to the goodness that was Hugh back in 2003 by a smart but annoying troubadour during my 18-month tenure as the Whore of Babylon. Hugh's blog was by far The Troubadour's biggest gift to me; I was instantly hooked both by the mad and intricate drawings that came from Hugh's Rapidograph and the buckets of cold, clear water he splashed over the screen with his keyboard. The Hughtrain, his manifesto on marketing, remains one of my favorite WAKE THE FUCK UP, PEOPLE! screeds on the nexus of old tenets and new tools. His blog posts were a refreshing mix of smart, funny and flat-out curmudgeonly. And the cartoons, well, they made me laugh. Hard. And think, at the same time. And slightly after that, wish I could draw well (I'm still trying, as you can see by the little illos on my monthly newsletter). And yes, hate him. Just a little.

But it was his "How to Be Creative" series that hooked me hard and eventually turned me into the drooling fangirl obsessively linking linking linking to Hugh's shit. "How to Be Creative" was as comprehensive in his way as Twyla's is in hers. There's theory embedded in there, and stories, and even how-tos, if you're not a lazy slob.

Ignore Everybody (And 39 Other Keys to Creativity) is the book that (finally) sprung from that amazing series of posts. It's inspiring and infuriating, and it's both of those things because it's true as hell. Hugh has lived his way through these 40 rules and has the experiences and the output (and doubtless the battle scars) to show for it.

The book itself is an example of Rules #1 ("Ignore Everybody") and #16 ("The most important thing a creative person can learn professionally is where to draw the red line that separates what you are willing to do from what you are not.") As he says himself in a story illustrating Rule #5 ("If your business plan depends on suddenly being 'discovered' by some big shot, your plan will probably fail"*), Hugh was offered a deal years before to turn his series into a book, but turned it down because ultimately, he couldn't stomach the terms. This book, he says, is exactly the book he wanted to make, with exactly the cartoons to illustrate it.

Having gone through a heady back-and-forth myself with a big NYC agent earlier this year, this cheered me greatly. Yeah, I was probably a dumbass (or a hard-head) in most people's books for not making some changes that would move me closer to my dream of being a Writer Who Speaks.

In my book, though, it would have been in wild violation of Rules #27 ("Write from the heart") and #26 ("You have to find your own shtick.") When something is going to chip away at your soul just enough to bother you, there really isn't another choice.

To answer that question (cheap) people repeatedly bring up when it comes to books derived from blogs, yes, a great deal of what you'll find in Ignore Everybody is easily found on Hugh's blog. Frankly, if you're that hard up, I'm guessing Hugh would be cool with you reading the material online for free and just missing out on the tweaks and finessing that make this a book-book. But if you're really enmeshed in the struggle to be creative, don't you want an ally at your side, your literal, actual side, while you whack your way through the marshy swamps that lie between you and your cherished prize?

I did. I do. No one is getting my copy. Not until Oprah drives by in that long, sleek limo, rolls down the window and beckons me in...


*Or, as I call it, the Limo Analogy.

Card design ©2008 Colleen Wainwright; Card redesign ©2008 HughMacLeod.

Limits vs. tolerance: knowing the former and cultivating the latter


I'm perpetually about five steps behind the smart kids like Merlin and Julien, so I'm just now reading Twyla Tharp's absolutely outstanding, OUTSTANDING, I tell you, book, The Creative Habit.* (Julien, if you're reading this, you were 100% right, and I owe you a beer. Or something.)

Since Merlin first started talking about the book some time ago, I've noticed a term creep into his writing more often: tolerance.** As in, tolerance for ambiguity when it comes to approaching the making of stuff, and tolerance for sucking during the process of making it.

Possibly in turn, or possibly because it's part of the zeitgeist I'm soaking in, I've noticed the term floating up into my own consciousness a lot lately. I've worked steadily at cultivating my own tolerance for ambiguity and for sucking, as well; I lump them together as tolerance for "mess," which I've built up a much, much higher tolerance for both physically and psychically.

Interestingly, my tolerance for clutter has decreased as my tolerance for mess has increased. On the surface, you might see them as the same, but I see them as quite distinct:

Mess is the inevitable by-product of creation, the few eggs you're going to have to break to make an omelet (or the few thousand you're going to have to break to make one expertly). Mess is the artist's studio during work hours, or the writer's office halfway through a book, or any creative person's brain at the beginning of a huge, and always scary, undertaking.

Clutter is the crap that gets in the way of creation, the weeds and distractions that keep you from the business at hand. It can can be thoughts that no longer serve as well as tools that are broken or outdated. It's the fat and the noise and the junk that stands between you and your goal: if you're an actor or a dancer, it might be literal body fat; if you're a singer or a speaker, it could be a weak diaphragm or shit habits that are destroying your pipes. It is almost always TV, for everyone, but it can also be any number of bad consumptive habits, from too many beers after "work"-work (getting in the way of your artistic work) to excessive reliance on gossip rags, chick lit or internet forums.

For some of us, clutter is simply too many things we've said "yes" to that we don't really want to do, or that aren't moving us forward in significant ways. I have become much closer to my little friends, No Fucking Way and Not a Snowball's Chance in Hell, although I have to constantly remind them to use their indoor voice and smile politely when out and about in the world. My new-favorite dish is the "no" sandwich: slipping a big, bad slice of Wild Horses Couldn't Drag Me There between two pretty slices of "Oh, aren't you sweet to ask!" or "That Sounds Like So Much Fun" or "I Reeeeeeeally Wish I Could." The point ain't to stomp on someone else's delicate mess with your big clodhoppers, but to recognize what works for them may not for you, and vice versa.

I get a little panicky about how much time I have left to get the music out of me every year about now. And yeah, I realize that worry is a form of clutter, too. Still, addressing what's standing between me and what I've decided I want becomes more and more important as I creep inevitably toward what I hope is a natural and long-off death, but which I recognize could be lying just steps away, up on the fire escape, Acme anvil in hand, waiting for me to turn the corner.

So I say "no", or at least, "let me sleep on it", to more things, that I may say "yes" to the right things. Creating limits, so there's a safe space to cultivate tolerance...


Image by "T" altered art via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

*I'll be reviewing it next week, but feel free to buy it now, even without the review. Because the first 100 pages are better than most of the pages of about 2,000,000 books put together. It's just the best book I've read for working creatives ever. Juicy, full of ideas and inspiration and exercises. Funny. Well-written. No fat. Blowing-my-mind good.

**You can read the central post about it, which also links to a really nice talk he gave at this year's MaxFunCon on dealing with The Resistor during the creative process.

How to keep failing


Back when I was a young pup Shilling for the Man, I wrote a lot of ads for a certain mass-market sports beverage.

As in, a lot of ads.

Because while those of you who haven't had the pleasure of working in the salt mines of advertising might not know it, the ratio of ads-come-up-with to ads-actually-produced is crazy high. Or low. You get my point: creatives, as they are affectionately known, dream up and sketch out far, far more ideas that get shit-canned than make it to the airwaves.

As a result of this crazy ratio, and a particularly trying mix of difficult personalities (which was out of my control) and quarter-life crisis (which, to be fair and in retrospect, was probably largely out of my control as well), I started to experience burnout. The well ran dry of ideas (how many ways can you sell spiked water, anyway?) and I started to feel myself turn into a hack, applying what had been successful in previous go-rounds to the supposedly new challenges before us (which, come on: spiked water? there are no new challenges). I turned to a formula, such as it was, and my copy became sort of a caricature of its former self.

It scared me enough to start the wheels in motion for my escape. There were other contributing factors, egregious politics, rampant greed, physical burnout, but I could see I'd need some sort of major cranial overhaul to keep going in my chosen career, and while I don't think there's anything wrong with advertising per se, I never could get 100% down with the amount of resources it consumed for the value it produced. At least the typing monkeys were working towards a second Hamlet.

Success is terrifying. I mean, it's great for about 20 minutes out of the 2 million it took to get there, the peak experience of a big sale or shiny statuette or the equivalent is a serious head rush. But then there's that blank page the next day, and the mandate to fill it with something equally awesome or even more so. Death, death. But that's exactly what happens to creative after creative, artist after artist, blogger after blogger once they hit something like their stride. Reach a peak, or even a plateau of competence, and the pressure is enormous to stay there. Worst of all, you can even stay there for some time, convinced that you're evolving, that you're building on a solid foundation of hard-won knowledge instead of lolling about on your dusty, crackling laurels.

A while ago, I bookmarked a wonderful piece on this subject by fine artist Robert Genn (whose semi-weekly newsletter, The Painter's Keys, is one of my favorite regular reads). It's titled "Sterility," after Pablo Picasso's take on the eternally interesting (if confounding) topic. Sterility, Picasso said*, is the result of copying oneself, an infraction he considered far worse than copying others, because engenders artistic death.

The opposite of sterility is fertility, and Genn's argument (and Picasso's, by extension) is that fertility is a learned state, or at least, that learning and action can help keep one in a state of artistic productivity or fertility. This resonates deeply with my own experience, which I liken to having to throw myself off a goddamn cliff just as soon as I've caught my breath from climbing up there. It's terrifying, it's exhilarating, it's teh suxors, as some geeky kids somewhere said at some time. Flinging myself into the gaping maw of who-the-hell-knows what, again and again and again.

To you, reading this now, it may not seem so. You may see (or hear, however it works) some kind of voice or through-line. One post is enough like the other so as not to seem schizophrenic, but different enough (and either good enough or trainwreck-ish enough) that you're moved to read more than one.

That voice is more like a side effect of flinging, though. Flinging and exercising, in tandem. You write and you write (or paint and paint, or what have you) and you learn stuff: tricks, tools and such. The rules, if you like. Those are muscles, and they do get stronger. You build up a kind of tolerance for the climbing, and maybe a better sense of how and where to fling yourself. You might even learn a thing or two about how to land without blowing yourself into a Wile E. Coyote puffball of smoky smithereens.

It's the flinging, though, that gives you the voice. Flinging and flinging and flinging. And getting up, either on the next cliff or from that faraway ground, and prepping yourself to fling again. And 48 years into the game I'm here to tell you: the flinging? It does not get easier. It just gets so that you become reasonably sure you will not die (or go broke, or whatever your doomsday scenario is) as a result of the flinging.

Before I scare anyone off of making any kind of art ever again, please remember that little phrase a few hundred words ago about fertility being a learned state. There is stuff you can do to change it up, to challenge yourself and to generally keep up the "private search for 'new'" necessary for fertility. Genn includes a short list for artists of tricks, change your media; mix your media; change your working environment; etc, to be used singly or in combination that is pretty easily adaptable to other fields of artistic endeavor. And once you get the in mindset, you do get better of keeping yourself in the state of flux/growth, or at least, you learn where to look for help.

And then? Back to flinging...


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

*The actual quote, which I liberated from this very spicy bit on Picasso, is this: "One begins to copy oneself, and to copy oneself is more dangerous than to copy others. It leads to sterility."

¡Olé! to you, fellow artist

For those of you who do most of your creating off-stage, you may not have experienced the ¡olé! moment. That's my new-favorite term for the magical thing that happens when you get in the zone and out of the way and the work just flows through you. The term comes to me via the astonishing Elizabeth Gilbert in her very moving (and funny, and smart as hell) TED talk, below. As Derek Sivers says in his own post pointing to it, Gilbert's words speak to pretty much any writer or musician; I'll go one better and say that if there is any pursuit you've spent a lot of time getting your body tuned up for, you'll dig it:


The ¡olé! moment happens rarely onstage, but when it does, there's a kind of thrum inside and outside of you, a strange inner/outer vibrational shift where you're very aware of what's happening and you also feel like it's something happening to you, or possibly through you. It's pretty sensational, and I'm pretty sure it only happens when a confluence of circumstances are in place:

  1. You, prepared
  2. You, letting go
  3. Some kind of Mysterious Hoodoo Shit happening elsewhere

It's probably happened to me 30-odd times in my entire performing career, and that includes auditions and scenes in class as well as performances. I don't know if that number is on the low, high or average side, but I do know that when It Happened, it was as much something acting me as me doing the acting. No matter how many times It Happens, though, I can tell you this: It can't Happen enough; the feeling is so amazing, and the level at which you're able to transmit that creative energy is so crazy-high, if you could bottle it, you'd be a bajillionaire, even in a down market.

Especially in a down market.

There are some things that I believe up one's chances for the magic happening. As you might guess, most of the actionable stuff happens in areas #1 and #2. One of the reasons I hammer hammer hammer away at my actors in my monthly columns to Always Be Creating is that it really helps with both of those things: you become both better prepared, because constant application of effort to a certain practice makes you more skilled and confident, the 10,000 hours rule, and you are better able to let go because sheer volume of work means that any individual instance becomes proportionally less important, thereby enabling you to be way more relaxed than you might otherwise be.

It's one reason I decided to post daily to the blog. Yes, a part of me is hoping that replicating the Monday-through-Friday nature of the old-time daily column will somehow trigger the Magical Woowoo Hoodoo into manifesting a modern-day Royko gig for the communicatrix, but another far, far more realistic part of me knows that there's no way I can't get better at this if I'm doing it more often.

As Gilbert says in her talk, there is huge relief in making the shift to thinking you have access to genius rather than that you have to be a genius. My job as access point is to stay in shape and show up daily.

The rest of it? Is up to the genius.

¡Olé! to that...

xxx c


In case you have ever wondered what I sound like when speaking in public, I finally have a speaking page up which contains an embed of a decidedly non-TED talk. At least I know now what I'm tuning this old carcass up for.

Closer to Python: My Mike Nichols Day, Part II

As I'm currently in the process of converting a play with music into a musical play, I'm newly fascinated by musical theater, especially the newer forms cropping up today: Avenue Q, Caroline or Change, all of Ken Roht's work, the Ramayana 2K4, which I guess better start calling itself R2K5 so it doesn't sign its checks wrong next year. Normally I have to wait for these things to come to the hinterlands (a.k.a., Los Angeles) or haul my carcass to New York, not an altogether unpleasant proposition, but generally a pricey one. So imagine my delight in learning that Spamalot!, the new Eric Idle musical based on material from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, was having its pre-Broadway run here in Chicago during my stay! For which I had already paid!

It's selling well, which is a good first sign. The Chicago run opened on Tuesday; I bought my ticket on Wednesday for Thursday, which was mostly sold out. Fortunately, the one good single ticket they had was really good: I was third row center at the Shubert, so I pretty much had Tim Curry, David Hyde Pierce and Hank Azaria singing in my lap for 2 1/2 hours (including intermission, so you know, not really).

They were all wonderful, as was much of the show. The supporting cast is staggeringly good; I particularly enjoyed the drag stylings of the very Python-esque Steve Rosen (who has some sort of Crohn's connection I'm anxious to bond over) and all I can say about Sara Ramirez is "you heard it here first, folks", that combination of good, gorgeous and funny comes along slightly less often than Halley's comet.

It's not an unqualified hit...yet. I'm hoping my issues with the show can be fixed in the Chicago run so it plays a good, long time in New York (and the hinterlands). Right now, it's a little draggy in parts, (especially Act One), it feels a bit repetitive and, for as clever as it often is, it's not clever enough. Maybe I've been spoiled by local (i.e., hinterland) geniuses like Ken Roht and Robert Prior, but I'm used to an extraordinarily high level of inventiveness; compared to Peace Squad Goes 99 or R2K4, Spamalot! does a lot of coasting on old material and not enough in the way of chewy surprises inside.

It's not devoid of them; I won't spoil anyone's possible future enjoyment by giving away all the treats, but there are some hilarious little fillips in many of the show's numbers, the kind of unexpected stuff that has you poking the person next to you and saying "look there!" and them poking you back to "no, look there!", which is pretty damned great. And the show as a whole does a great job of sending up musical theater.

But so did Peace Squad, and on a much tighter budget with far less lead time. Hell, I think we did send-ups on musical genres that hadn't been invented yet.

I wanted to give Spamalot! my unqualified love and affection, but at the end of the day (or the show), I just didn't feel like leaping to my feet like everyone else.

Nor did I feel like stopping by to congratulate Mike Nichols, the director of the hullaballoo, who was sitting there unrecognized for most of intermission (god, I love Chicago) along with his gorgeous wife. And I'm a big Mike Nichols fan, overall; I just wasn't feeling the love enough to blow his cover. (After all, what was I gonna say: congratulations...I didn't love your movie, either?)

In no way is this a pan of the show; I have no problem telling people to get their butts in the seats for this one. I only hope that by the time it gets to Broadway, it's as good as it can it should be.

That is, as good as those shows in the hinterlands already are.

xxx c

How to Make a Happy Accident

screencap of the evidence room theater's webiste I remember how I learned of the word "serendipity", a very sexy upperclassman who introduced me to many carnal pleasures, including the famed NYC shop's frozen hot chocolate, but when called upon to provide a definition, I've always drawn a blank. So imagine my surprise when, as I'm looking it up for the, 20th, 30th, 100th?, time,  a mnemonic catchphrase (serendipitously) pops into my head: the happy accident.

Though I've used the phrase for years, I'm pretty sure the connection was the result of a literal (happy) accident I had last week that netted me $200. I say "netted" because the dings on my fender were so minor in comparison to the ones the bumper already sported (what can I say? people like my rear end), there's no way I'd ever pay to have them buffed out. Which I told Ari, the kindly and honest Escalade driver who hit me; he insisted I take the $200 anyway.

Now, $200 is no small potatoes for me. I could probably think of ten or fifteen ways that money could be put to excellent use off the top of my head. In fact, I did: bills; groceries; 1/4 of rent; long-overdue cut and color (my sole New Year's resolution is to find a reasonably priced, kick-ass salon on the EAST side).

The funny thing was, nothing I came up with felt right. I enjoy serendipity but I actually place a lot of stock in vibes: when I've listened to them, I've generally done right by myself; when I hear the voice and do it anyway, I generally find myself up the creek without a paddle. As chance (or serendipity) would have it, I'm reading Trust Your Vibes: Secret Tools for Six-Sensory Living, a great book by Chicago-based intuitive Sonia Choquette right now, so I not only got a little reinforcement for going with the inner flow, I actually had concrete instructions:

I believe that the more you practice getting quiet, the quicker you'll sense your vibes. It doesn't matter what approach you use as long as you get quiet. Choose what suits your temperament: My mind becomes quiet when I fold laundry, organize my office, or go to the gym; Patrick paints and gardens; my mom sews; my dad putters on gadgets; my brother Stefan washes his car; one of my neighbors loves to work in the yard, while another walks his dog. All are valid ways to connect with your spirit.

I know she's right, right? I also know that patience and trust are huge parts of the equation, and neither is my strong suit. However, 43 years of living and ten years of copywriting have taught me that the answer rarely comes when you're yelling at it to hurry the hell up, so I let it go and went about my business.

Sure enough, in pretty much the first moment I'd really forgotten about the money, the perfect solution popped into my head: give it to Jen.

You see, about a month ago, I fell in love. In my obsessive quest to find out more about my new love, I stumbled upon an intriguing tidbit that bore remarking upon, so I did. The writer was apparently intrigued enough in turn to check out my site, where she found an entry discussing a particular piece of graphic design she had also admired, along with my 757th apology for the hideous graphic state of the Evidence Room website.

And so she emailed me, offering her services. To code the whole damned thing. For free.

Understand, please, that I started the redesign on that site over two years ago. I knew how butt-ugly it was; so did the rest of the company, who were politely but insistently pushing me to fix the problem NOW, or they'd fix it for me. We'd been burned so many times on the coding end that I was hours away from giving in and letting another designer do his own redesign of the site just to get the damned thing fixed.

But then came the magical, mystical email from Jen, someone I'd never met, someone I didn't know from a hole in the ground, and I paused. "Let it go," I told myself; "Let it go for the night," and I went off to see a play. And when I came home, there was an email in my inbox with a link: Jen had built an entire test site from the Photoshop sketches I'd sent her earlier that day. I didn't just find a web person; I found the web person, someone whose generosity and work ethic were so firmly entwined with her taste and abilities that she was going to do this amazing job for free.

Only she wasn't, of course: she was now going to do it for $200.

It's funny how an amount that seemed so great all of a sudden seemed so small. It's all about a shift in focus: when I relax and let go, a half-empty glass becomes half-full; a so-called tragedy becomes a gift of epic proportions.

You can't chase the happy accident. But if you give yourself time and room and lots of love, you might just find yourself having them a lot more often.

It is my Christmas wish for everyone I meet.

After all, I already got my Christmas present.

xxx c

ADDENDUM: My new buddy and coding goddess, Jen, blogged about the incident from her perspective. Made me all hot in the face and tight in the chest, so it must be good. Thanks, Jen.