The delicate thing that is a mood


It's been four days since I split from the ever-lovin', everlasting sunshine of Southern California to the decidedly cloudier, grayer skies of Portland, and on this fourth day, which Nature chose to fill with uncharacteristic amounts of bright and cheery sunlight, I find my mood has shifted dramatically for the better.


I harbor these dreams, you see, of me, living elsewhere. Somewhere with a chill to it, and some weather. Somewhere I can wear one of my 14 light-to-medium-heavy jackets (accessorized with one of 25 complementary scarves and 10 or so pairs of leather gloves) every ding-dong day. Non-bikini, non-shorts, non-sunblock-wearing weather, where it is crisp all day, punctuated by an extra chill morning and night. Where politically incorrect fires can burn wastefully, beautifully in brick fireplaces, allowing more politically incorrect wastage of heat up the chimney than they emit from the hearth. Where soup and chili and roasty meats (again with the political incorrectness!) are perpetually on the menu, and the principal fruits and veggies are apple and winter, respectively.

Now I'm wondering whether I'm built for unrelieved gray or not.

When the one thought that punctuates the fog that wraps itself around you is "Damn, I feel low," and it only squeaks through at around 3 or 4pm, when the bulk of the sad, sad day is trailing forlornly behind you, you might want to have another think about this relo thing. Yes, I feel instantly at home here in Portland, weirdly, eerily at home, almost in a deja-vu kinda way. Maybe, however, that is less of an awesome thing than once I thought. Maybe it's better for me to be a somewhat uncomfortable stranger in a strange and sunny land than it is right at home in a place where my happiness baseline seems to float a good 15 inches in a downwardly direction. Maybe I am so unbelievably mundane that my naturally sunny disposition is not, in fact, natural at all, but like most folks', a byproduct of extra light during the day.

I get the whole as-much-coffee-as-humanly-possible thing in a way that I did not last year, up in Seattle. And I think it is because last September and October while I was there, Seattle was uncharacteristically sunny. The misty rain and gray I found so noteworthy was, you'll forgive the expression, a drop in the bucket compared to the usual fall weather. Dour skies call for more coffee, they just do.

Oh, well. Time and circumstances will tell. The BF and I have also toyed with the idea of relocating to a different yet equally grim climate, in a place far less fabulous in other regards than the naturally glorious and culturally significant PacNW. Part of getting away, much like peeling away and paring down, is making it easier to see what's really there, like it or not.

"Liking" is almost beside the point...


How doing one thing differently saved my bacon

Anyone who's read my newsletter, spent more than 10 minutes in semi-meaningful conversation with me or seen the shame that is my bookshelves knows I have a predilection for the self-help aisle.

I fought it for years, in no small part because I saw my mother devour book after best-selling book even as her alcohol intake crept slowly but steadily upward. Reading is no substitute for action. Buying and piling in artfully arranged stacks around the house, even less so. And while I'm a pretty productive motherfucker when all is said and done, I've got undeniable hard-wiring for procrastination on both sides of my genetic divide.

Dad was a frighteningly efficient accomplishment machine, but anyone who knows about "-aholic" tendencies knows that's just the flip side of the same coin. He "did" out of fear; mom "didn't". And they both avoided the root issue until the days they died.

I, on the other hand, have made it my singular mission in life to act, and to act well. There's nothing else for me to leave behind to make the world a better place, no genetic material I've given a better start to, no big pile of money to fund a groovy foundation. It's just whatever ripples I can send out there now, and whatever additional ripples people whom I've (hopefully) helped or a book that I've (hopefully) written can send out later.

So when I get stuck, when there's not only no forward motion, but no indication of what that forward motion should be, I get a little panicky. I don't think, "Oh, good...a nice rest!" or "Great! Things are just marinating upstairs!"; I start sliding into the dark place on a greased chute with no handrails.

In times like these, I grab onto those books like a lifeline and use them to start hauling myself back up. The best ones (and you do know to only read the best ones, right?) offer some kind of clearly defined, actionable steps, and when you're in a place where you can't see clearly, a well-lit staircase with an "EXIT" sign at the top is your friend. It doesn't matter which set you get on: it will get you out.

Sometimes, though, there is no time. Sometimes you find yourself in hella mess and the clock is ticking and there's just no damned time for a whole book, much less careful digestion and implementation of its contents. That's when you need this prescription-strength remedy:

Do One Thing Differently.

Yes, it's a self-help book, too. I've never read it, though. I've only heard of it, and then fondled it briefly in my shrink's office while waiting for her to come in and start our session:

"It looks like you could get everything you need from this book just by reading the title."

"You can," she said.

I'd thought about this exchange many, many times since we first had it, maybe six months ago. (Maybe a year, my memory ain't what it used to be.) I've thought about it a lot because I've been dealing with my own existential crisis for the past eight or nine months. I actually capped off the year by doing one thing very differently: admitting out loud that things were broken, and that I was taking some time off to evaluate them, four months off, to be precise.

The gods love it when we make plans, don't they? It's like Season 4 of LOST to them, or, more likely, some really good, trainwreck-y reality TV. I'm guessing they've had me on TiVo and are praying I get renewed for another 13 episodes. My Finnish dark night of the soul has been appointment viewing up on Mt. Olympus.

It was getting old down here, though. So I've been One-Thing-Differently like mad, from my kitchen to my alarm-clock setting to my hairstyle. Desperate times call for desperate measures! A few of the myriad thangs I changed up include:

  • enlisting the help of an accountability partner, a badass, take-no-prisoners type whose list of accomplishments makes me look like a piker
  • replying over and over to generalist queries into my state of health and well-being with a frank admittance of my perilous suckitude (counts as once because the first 15 times were an out-of-body experience I gained nothing practical from)
  • admitting I had fucked up
  • walking three miles each morning, whether I wanted to or not
  • billing for work done (feel free to laugh at me, the gods aren't the only ones who know how ridiculous I am)

On Thursday night, I finally had a breakthrough of the major sort. Something popped, and it feels like I'm finally on track again. Thank god. Gods. Whatever. That's an eight-month experience I don't want to repeat anytime soon.

But from the other side, I feel it my duty to say that the One Thing thing works. It really does. Those One Things got me through a lot of rough patches and gave me the hope and the oomph to hit it for one more day.

And cumulatively? Holy crap, do they add up! Try it. Try folding in a few one things, and see if there's not some kind of major, quantifiable effect at the end of six months. A kitchen you're not afraid of entering. A scale you're not afraid of stepping on. It works, folks: it really, really works.

The biggest irony in all this is that now I feel like I've got to read the book. Just to see if I did it "right" and if next time, I couldn't do it better.

You, however, have no need of it. Just do it, like the ad said. One thing. Differently.

And if you've got some sweet, sweet self-helpage you know about and don't leave it in the comments? You're no friend of mine, Klein.

xxx c

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