The good news is the apple kicks your ass

an apple on the grass

Pulling out of a flare is a tricky business.

You get better on a very slow upward trajectory, with occasional "two-steps-back" days from eating too volatile a mix of ordinary ingredients (oh, BOY, do canned tuna and hard-boiled eggs not mix) or too "advanced" of an item. Yesterday, after weeks of not tasting an uncooked vegetable or piece of fruit, I broke down and got jiggy with half an apple. Look out, world! I'm eating an entire HALF of a raw apple!

A half-hour later, I was soaking in a hot Epsom bath to ease the cramps shooting across my lower back.

What's really odd about this particular flare is that while I wouldn't say I'm overjoyed to be dealing with it, neither is it bothering me as much as the past few have. For whatever reasons, age? wisdom? resignation?, I've adopted an attitude that much more closely matches that of my initial recovery, back in the fall of 2002. Or maybe it's just that this time, I'm back to me being able to rest on my own in my sweet little apartment, all tidy and peaceful and filled with the comforts and treasures that soothe me. While I no longer have the huge financial cushion I did (not to mention the assumed easy earning power of a robust economy once I was well enough to rejoin the living), I have enough, thanks. (And I'm probably even more deeply grateful to have it.)

Work is another thing, and an exceedingly interesting one. I haven't not been working; I've just been working very carefully, chipping away at things here and there in the background. Pulling things off the home page of the site. Tweaking things quietly, in the background. Writing, writing, writing. There is more time for this because I am not getting out much right now, but I'm still capping things at a reasonable (for me) 7 or 8pm and climbing into my salty tub. On top of a, shall we say, leisurely-paced day. The work comes more slowly when I'm impaired, but I am able to pay closer attention to the way it comes as well as the words themselves, if that makes any sense.

For instance, I notice myself getting upset over getting stuck in certain places (a "way" thing) and I notice myself (over)using the same words or construction (a "word" thing). Slowing down to see this has created room for me to relax and let some other solution bubble up, getting up and moving to my analog desk, or grabbing a stack of index cards to do my version of my friend Daphne Gray-Grant's excellent advice to mind-map pre-writing. (If you sign up for her newsletter, you'll get a copy of her mind mapping instructions. It's plenty to get started, and the newsletter is consistently useful if you do any sort of regular writing, or just want to understand how writing works.)

Slowing down is just outstanding for noticing things, period. Those of us who operate in overdrive probably do so at least partially to blow past certain parts of the scenery we find a little unattractive. My personal adopt-a-highway program has made great progress along certain stretches of road, but when I slow down, I'm embarrassed to see the junk I've allowed to accumulate near certain scary underpasses and dark tunnels.

I feel a little guilty bringing up the feeling poorly. I find myself impelled to do so, though, because I'm not good enough at saying "no" sans explanation; I almost always feel like "no" is not enough, that "no" needs some accompanying excuse. (And I know that's not true, I'm just saying that so far, that's how I've operated.) Inevitably, it brings up expressions of sympathy, because people are kind and empathetic and such.

I am coming around to the idea, though, that illness isn't necessarily a bad thing. It is just a thing, like tallness or shortness, bigness or smallness, oldness or youngness, singleness or marriedness. There are times when it is better to be tall than short, and being very short, I can enumerate them with alacrity. On the other hand, "tall" is a distinct disadvantage in the context of "commercial aircraft." I have been single and married and everything in between and guess what: so far, I prefer single. Try traveling back in time and telling 25-year-old me that, though. You couldn't: she was too busy doing actuarial calculations to avoid ending up chairless when the music stopped. (Hint to 25-year-olds: the music always starts up again, there are all kinds of nice chairs nowhere near the ring, and you may not be the sitting type.)

Do I very much look forward to having a great deal of energy again? I do! Even more, I look forward to using it wisely, so that it comes in a steady, sustainable flow, not pedal-to-the-metal bursts followed by a blowout. I look forward to it so much so that I am moving hyper-slowly now. It is not exactly pleasant, all this noticing, but it is one of the most fascinating shows in town...


P.S. One of the crazy little things I did was to put up an FAQ, something long, long on my to-do list. More on that later, but man, do I ever see how a well-done FAQ might significantly reduce drag on the average one-woman operation. Talk about enhancing sustainability!

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

Book review: My Misspent Youth

author Meghan Daum & her book, My Misspent Youth

I came to Meghan Daum's writing backwards, or sideways, or at least, highly out of order, my fault, entirely.

While she was living in Manhattan, getting published in The New Yorker, I was going off the deep end in Los Angeles, and had let my subscription lapse. By the time she'd moved to Los Angeles and landed her gig as a columnist for the L.A. Times, I was obsessed with moving to hicksville, and (again), had let my subscription lapse. (Well, the weekday one, anyway.)

Finally, this spring, I spied an interview with Daum and another writer in a publication I still subscribe to, the excellent and ever-lively New York magazine. Said piece was clearly part of a P.R. push to accompany the birthing of her latest book; in a stroke of something-or-other, someone had gotten the idea to have Daum and another lady author interviewed together by a third lady author. Oh, the lady authors!

I am leery of stunts in general, as they bring up the phantom stench of all the sleazy things I've done in the name of advertising, and this particular stunt was, well, stunty. But the oddest thing happened. Quietly, gracefully, in the midst of this flack-driven circus act, Daum somehow managed to rise above it all and assert her brilliance, using nothing more than her extraordinary gift with words and her non-crazy perspective.

This piqued my interest, onto the to-read list she went.

Her second book, a novel, turned up first. It is smart and funny, with some sharp characterizations and surprising plot twists. Then her most recent book popped into view, literally, on the same shelf my now-friend Brooks' did. It's a quite-nice memoir on the longing for roots and the inevitable discovery that there's no goddamn "there" there, something I not only relate to, but could write a book on myself.

Finally, on a recent Bart's run, My Misspent Youth appeared before me. It is Daum's first book, a collection of essays from her salad days as a young writer and editor living in New York, and it blew my doors off. All of a sudden, or rather, bit by bit, with strings of long-dormant nerve cells lighting up like Christmas lights, the references to Joan Didion made sense. The superficial similarity, yes, the stories are New York-centric, involving dreams of living the life of a Manhattanite as much as her subsequent (and slightly more grim) reality.

The real Didion-like comparison goes much, much deeper, though. Because, like Didion's for a certain kind of (crazy) person, Daum's is the kind of writing you find by accident that makes you believe in Divine intervention. There you are, living your stupid life, a little despondent and starting to lose it because really, really there is no one out there but you thinking these crazy thoughts, who is disturbed by things other people seem to find completely normal, when suddenly, there is this gift from an angel, these batches of words that whisper, "No, no, you're fine, and see? Here's the curtain, and there's the funny little man madly pulling levers behind it." This is writing that's startling and clear and still deeply, deeply human. There is horror nestled in there, but it's always flanked by humor, as it's supposed to be. There is no coyness, no winking, no pandering; there is no muddiness, no equivocating, no pedantry. There is just sharp, clear insight and humanity channeled onto every page. AND HUMOR. Did I mention humor?

It's extraordinary. And for those of us who feel a little crazy most of the time, it might be very comforting, as well.

If you are not a little crazy, you might not get the big deal. You might be shocked, even offended, by a few of the pieces. Trust me, if you want to be a writer, those are the ones you should read twice. (Ira Glass very rightly kept a copy of Daum's essay "Variations on Grief" handy for years, to hand out to people inquiring as to who the strong, new voices were these days.) The truth is not comfortable, but it is the truth, and if you can open your heart to it, amazing things start to happen.

So, yes, enjoy the memoir. Read the novel on the beach during what's left of this summer. But me, I'd start with My Misspent Youth, and carve out the time to read it properly, slowly. It is a wonder of a book.


Photo of Meghan Daum by Laura Kleinhenz.

Disclosure! Links to the book(s) in the above post are Amazon affiliate links. This means if you click on them and buy something, I receive an affiliate commission. Which I hope you do: while small, it helps keep me in books to review. More on this disclosure stuff at publisher Michael Hyatt's excellent blog, from whence I lifted (and smooshed around a little) this boilerplate text.

On sluts, storytelling, and the dirty, dirty truth

the smell of the crowd, the roar of the greasepaint

Several things struck me as interesting about my brief turn on stage this past weekend.

First, I'd forgotten how much I love hanging out with actors, as an actor. For the past few years, I've been spending more and more time around actors in other capacities, graphic designer, bartender, butt-in-the-seat support. Most actors are fun and this particular crew is especially fun, since they run to the smart and funny without taking themselves too seriously. They're a generous bunch; while they may grapple individually with the usual neuroses that dog the profession, they are also wonderfully supportive, unlike the dig-me types that cluster at rocket-launching pads like Second City and Groundlings. (And don't get me started on the twisted awfulness that plagues stand-up comedy; five years of trailing The Chief Atheist on the circuit cured me of wanting more comics in my life.)

Second, I was reminded of how much work acting is, at least, the worthwhile kind. Like most things, one's acting generally improves in direct proportion to the amount of time one spends doing it. Sure, some start out better than others; I believe there is a gift for acting just like there is a gift for thinking mathematically or running long distances or just about any skill you can name. But even the great get greater by doing more of it. I was not one of the greats. When I was acting regularly, taking classes, doing four plays a year, I always had to work twice as hard as anyone else on stage to be half as good. It was fine; I accepted it. But after my Crohn's onset, I had to seriously rejigger my energy expenditures column. After running the numbers, it became clear that my ROI on acting couldn't touch my payoff on writing, designing, and other types of creative output.

This is not to say that this weekend's show was a failure; to the contrary, it was a rousing success and a good time was had by all, myself included. But playing an adenoidal tart in platform heels and a wig for five minutes on stage once a week is about all I'm up for anymore. That, and commercials. Both THE STRIP and the :30 spot require short bursts of focus for discrete periods of time.

Also, both are fun. Jesus, when I look back on it, so much of acting was the opposite of fun. It was just work, and difficult work, and not fun work. I hated most of my classes. I hated rehearsing. Most of all, I hate hate hated having to go to the dark, tender spots where the scary things are stored, the places great actors go to naturally. I understood why it was necessary, and wasn't willing to be the kind of actor who skipped this excavation of truth, however painful it was to unearth it. But I wasn't one of the ones who loved it or lived for it.

They do exist, you know. It's a lollapalooza, that realization. When I heard L.A. Jan talk about sitting around her apartment, doing acting exercises for fun, I had a revelation similar to one I'd had at age eight during a particular Sunday mass at Holy Name Cathedral: these other people actually believe in this!

Me? I still believe in telling the truth. I'm fairly sure that's what getting into acting was all about: a means for me to connect to my truth in a way I'd been unable to before. I've been writing since I could hold a pen, but the stories always lacked something: truth, mostly, but also ease. Some of the ease comes with that doing-more-of-it thing, but the larger part, for me, anyway, comes from being grounded in truth.

Now that I've learned what living in the truth feels like, it's getting easier to let go of some of the things that got me here. My insane drive, for example, has ebbed considerably. Ditto my need for praise, love from strangers, and a constant need to be surrounded by drama and action. While I still rail against the time I must, it seems, spend being ill, I've come to enjoy the quiet spaces at least as much as the noisy, active ones. And I recognize that a large part of tiger taming is just tiger aging: we mellow, most of us, with time, trading the gift of urgency for the gift of perspective. Sweet, sweet perspective. Take a look at your high school diary if you don't believe me.

I still love performing (sometimes, and in short bursts). Reading Jonathan Rauch's essay on introversion was a breakthrough moment for me much like that day in church or that moment with L.A. Jan: of course I like getting up in front of large groups of people and holding them in thrall with my words; it's just that I need a really long nap in a quiet place with no people afterwards.

So my future as a truth-teller will likely hold some combination of performance and writing, reflection and spouting off. But it will also, I hope, include brief stretches of me playing a cartoon whore four feet from beer-swilling patrons. THE STRIP may not be about connecting people with their higher truth, but nothing beats it for connecting them with their inner good times. And who couldn't use more fun in their lives?

I mean, hell, even earnest artists have to let their fake hair down every once in awhile...


On the other side of fear, there's a small ink drawing

ink sketch of phoneA year, no, probably closer to two years ago, I was at The Art Store (no, seriously, it's called "The Art Store") buying sumpin' or other, when I saw the sign on the locked glass case: "Koh-i-noor, 50% off." Now, if art stores (like computer stores and office supply stores) are to me as hardware stores are to most guys and jewelry stores are to most girls, the Rapidograph case is like where they keep the specialty-use Mikita saws or the anything if you're at Tiffany & Co. I could buy one of everything at the art store (or The Art Store) whether I needed one or not, but Rapidographs...well, shit, son, you need y'self at least five of those. For your different liiiine widths and whatnot...

To my credit, I did not slap down the Visa then and there; I actually left the store and thought about it for a week. (After making sure the sale would still be on, of course.) Then I came back, paid the man, and trotted off with my shiny new box of SEVEN, count 'em, SEVEN Rapidographs like the panting dog that I am. Upon reaching home, I immediately propped them up on a shelf to admire them in their pretty new case...and never touched them again.

Until yesterday, that is. I did under duress what I would not let myself do out of mere desire. Because while discussing a particular design job I'm working on right now, I threw out an idea that required drawing. By me. Now. (Idiot...idiot...)

For someone who grew up with a pen in her hand, I'm not a very good draw-er. I guess the problem was that I was using it to write at least as much as to draw. Because for every time I'd long to be Hilary Knight, I'd want just as fervently, or more so, to be Kay Thompson. R. Crumb, Edward Gorey, Aubrey Beardsley; Dorothy Parker, Charles Bukowski, Joan Didion. So many twisted, miserable lifestyles; so little time.

Ultimately, I decided I was a better writer than I was an artist. And since I couldn't be a great artist, I would go with my strong suit and let the drawing go entirely.

It's a shame, this idea I've held so long: that we can only do One Thing. That creativity can't express itself through multiple, if imperfect, outlets. That I must be truly great at something to earn the right to spend time working, or even playing, at it. I've probably missed out on a lot over the years because of it. But lately I've been finding that I enjoy dabbling, a little cooking, a little sewing, a little guitar-pickin', a little blogging. I'm finally loosening my iron grip on perfectionism as a way of life, and wouldn't you know, life's getting to be more fun. Messier, scarier, and even dirtier (all this fun leaves little time for scrubbing grout with a toothbrush), but a lot more fun.

So I must pause, briefly, to thank those brave, multitalented souls who came before me for putting themselves out there, for exploring their truths via their eclectic, complex selves, so fearlessly and inspiringly. Evelyn Rodriguez, a.k.a. The Zen Mistress of Business, who is a constant reminder that binary thinking is not not nearly as activating (not too mention fun) as a crazy cocktail of influences. Hugh MacLeod, who's crackerjack marketing-smart AND a draw-er of some of the funniest, filthiest cartoons ever AND doesn't see a disconnect with being both. My new bud, Michael Nobbs, who introduced me to peops like Trevor Romain and Danny Gregory, all of whom made it possible for me to believe that great art and great writing weren't mutually exclusive, that they could reside happily within the same sentient being, that one might actually inform and enrich the other.

You guys make it a little less scary to post this picture. And the idea of picking up a sketchbook at The Art Store positively thrilling.

xxx c

Staying true to your Big Truth

PalazzoI didn't know Loretta Palazzo personally back in her L.A. days, but I knew who she was. Most of us on the commercial acting circuit probably did, when your day job is casting director, a lot of Beer Chicks, Gen-Y Geeks and Gap-Casual Moms tend to know your name. Palazzo1But Loretta was memorable even in our world, and not just because she stood out in a sartorial sense. Putting aside her cat's-eye glasses, red-red lipstick and fantabulous retro-cool wardrobe (which, seemingly, held no duplication of outfits), Loretta was Loretta in spades. I have no idea how happy or unhappy she was with her life here, but she seemed centered in herself in a way that 99.99% of the people you meet here in Hollywood do not. And as far as I'm concerned, that puts you ahead of the game no matter where you're parking your carcass.

Palazzo2So I guess I wasn't especially surprised when I cracked open my new-favorite magazine, Budget Living, and saw Loretta's new life far, far from Hollywood splashed across its pages. There's a lot of churn here in The Place That Isn't A Place; most of us who come out here to pursue some Hollywood-y type of activity end up getting out sooner or later, and the high-tailing-it is pretty evenly distributed across the zero - to - medium-high success levels (although if you ever have the misfortune of screening a film with an auditorium full of SAG members, you'd think that every scraggly-ass background freakazoid who never worked was still living here).

Palazzo3Still, I was impressed by the manifestation of the life which Loretta and her now-husband, Matt Maranian (former character actor and co-author of the excellent off-kilter guide, L.A. Bizarro), dreamed up for themselves. It's aesthetically pleasing, yes (frankly, I'm ready to move in if the happy couple will have me) but what really knocks me out is the way their energy crackles off the page, both in the text and the photos. Clearly, these two remarkable people will settle for nothing less than exactly what they want, albeit in a quiet, self-assured way.

Palazzo4Compare that to the lives of not-so-quiet desperation led by so many of the denizens of La-La, and you start to see how radical Loretta and Matt and their bohemian, Vermonter lifestyle really are. They are in clear and firm possession of their own truth, it would appear, and were even before they piled their stuff in a truck and headed East.

Palazzo5I'm sensitive to this, you see; for a proponent of change, I'm often woefully slow to embrace it. It took me ten years to leave a business I knew I loathed after the first six months; similarly, I've overstayed my welcome in too many relationships out of a fear that to do otherwise would be an admission of weakness. Or maybe just out of fear, period.

Of course, the universe loves to use the ego-driven as its own, personal punching bags. After a series of blows to the head, heart and guts, I'd like to think I've taken the note, as we say in the trade.

But just to be on the safe side, I'm clipping these fine pages and slipping them into my 3-ring Super-Virgo binder of reminders. And if I ever feel myself forgetting the importance of checking in to see where I really and truly am (not to mention the magnificence of what can happen if I'm brave enough to be true to it) I can flip to those pages for a little reminder.

Palazzo6Of course, sometimes I think it'd be more expedient just to whap my big, fat, stoopit head with the thing. But you know, I'm also working on another little virtue called "patience."

Hopefully, as the saying so wryly goes, I'll hurry up and get some.

xxx c

PHOTOS: Douglas Friedman

MORE ON THE MOVE from Renaissance Matt in this article from

Working 'clean'

In the end, the people who do what they believe in, who have something to believe in... in the end, they last longer.—Hugh MacLeod

Hugh MacLeod posts a little story today about a smart guy who lost his job for the right reason: he stayed true to his beliefs rather than the party line. The details of the story, and of Hugh's post, have to do with marketing and PR and the future of both; that's nominally what Hugh's about, and he's much better at defining his niche and sticking to it than I am (unless you can call "crazy generalist" a niche, in which case I'm on target 100% of the time).

But the nugget, the juice, the moral of the story is universal: in the end, the people who stay in touch with their own truth and make sure what they're doing aligns with that truth... in the end, hell, in the beginning and middle, too, although it may not seem so by traditional markers, they win. Maybe not at a particular job or relationship or pursuit, but in the über-sense: at work, at love, at life.

I talk a lot about how much I hated being in advertising; even more often, I club myself over the head about all those wasted years writing copy and sitting in stoopit meetings. But the truth is, up until my last few months as an employee, I always believed fervently in some aspect of what I was doing. (What can I say? I'm a dazzling mix of optimist and asshole.) And so really, on some level, I was right to stay; there was something still to be gained from the experience. (I am also a dazzling mix of 'slow' and 'learner'.)

To keep myself honest about where things sit on my own appropriateness spectrum for dharmic happiness, I've adopted a mantra that's also a helpful metaphor: work clean.

In the world of contamination control, "working clean" is methodology for keeping product or results pure; in the world of the communicatrix, it's about shining the cold, hard light of truth on anything and everything, then following through with the appropriate action in a timely fashion. (In the world of standup comedy, it's about making the joke safe for Christians and network television, but I'm strictly an agnostic, cable-viewing type.)

Once I'd put the idea of "working clean" in my head, it became harder to ignore the insalubrious and simpler figuring out what to do about it. Not easier, but simpler. (More pain and confusion has resulted from people confusing those two words than any other pair, with the possible exception of "love" and "lust".) Admitting that Being An Actress is no longer fulfilling the way it was 10 years ago has not been easy, but the truth of it is (painfully) clear and defining future actions much, much simpler and even, lord help me, kind of fun. Ending my last two relationships wasn't exactly what I'd characterize as "easy" (or fun, while we're at it), but man oh man, the swiftness and precision with which I was able to do it not only was humane, but downright elegant. You gotta love that.

Especially when you compare it to the exquisite misery I managed to make last for months or even years at a time in my younger, cloudier days. I don't know who I thought I was doing a favor by ignoring the gigantic elephant crapping in the corner, but it wasn't me. And given the volume and potency of elephant crap, it probably wasn't anyone else in the room with me, either.

Of course, this is all a work in progress. Learning where the light switch is (or, in the case of elephant crap, the push-broom and the Lysol) is only half of the equation. And I'd be a big, fat, un-clean-working liar if I said my life was the streamlined, aerodynamic model of zen efficiency I long for it to be. Working clean is a tool, but it's not a magic wand that's changed my life.

It has, however, made me much happier living it, dirt, elephant crap and all.

xxx c

UPDATE: David Parmet, the subject of Hugh's post, found this little entry via gapingvoid and posted a lovely comment below. What a man of grace! And smarts, too!

Anyone reading this who's in a position to help David out, either with leads or a big fat juicy PR/marketing job please do yourself a favor and jump on it. Let us create beautiful blog symmetry: fired for blog, rewarded tenfold by blog.

You can find David via his (non-marketing) blog here, or via email at david - at - parmet - dot - net. Merci!

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.

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