The missing step in writing

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_V0luOs1aYk&w=475&h=297] [A video that has exactly ZERO to do with this post!]

This post is #37 in a series of 50 dedicated to the art and life of writing, in support of the 50 for 50 Project to benefit WriteGirl. If you like it, or if you think it could have been improved by a better writing education for its author, please give generously. And pass it on.

My struggles with that mythical circus balancing act known as the Brothers Work-Life are legendary and ongoing. And experts agree that in my case, the smart money is generally on Work.

Still, I make inroads. At a recent meetup of my master mind group, I was praised not just for taking the time out of this nonstop fundraiser-fest to do some exercise, but for exhibiting the knowledge that doing so was a significant achievement. Because while the first step to lasting change is noting where you are, and close behind it is setting an intention, then moving towards it, one frequently overlooked step is acknowledgment.

Or, they are also steps which stand there, unmoving.

There are two ways this has to do with writing. First, please remember that this delicious brain of yours that hooks the words together cannot keep doing its work without rest, without play, without a little care and feeding of its housing.

Second, at some point in your work, pause. Not just to rest the brain and the body that are working so hard for you, but to complete a cycle of work. This practice is baked into my favorite values-centered goal-setting system, Your Best Year Yet, the very first step to setting next year's goals is reviewing the previous year's accomplishments. And disappointments, but whatever. Other systems use a variation of this forward/backward technique, and I finally get why:

Completing cycles of work equals better work.

Live and learn.

xxx c

It's just Monday

It was 1.1.11.

The first day of a new decade, all shiny, all ones, all the promise of a big, brave, beautiful new year stretched out before us.

It was the reboot, the fresh start, the alpha to 12/31/10's omega. It was hope, objectified. It was intention, projected.

Or, you know, it was what we called it the week before:



One of the reasons I decided, finally, to opt out of the Race for the New Year in December of 2009 was because of the pressure. So much pressure to get it right, to start out right, to not screw up this fresh chance to not screw up. Instead, I decided to roll with December in January.

It turned out to be one of the smarter moves I've made, but not for the reason I thought. Yes, there was less stress, not compounding a searching moral inventory with the demands of a holiday. My god, have you experienced a holiday recently? By which I mean "have you endured one?" BAH. And humbug.

I haven't really even celebrated the holidays since my split with the Youngster back in '02, and I find them off-the-charts stressful by osmosis. The world gone mad, right up in my airspace. And my left-turn lane. And everywhere else on the roads, in the stores, at the bank, and the etcetera.

No, the big "win" I got from pushing everything off for a month, and then five, six, seven weeks before locking down the program for the upcoming 52, was realizing that I could do it. That I was the boss of me, not some calendar established by a powerful pointy-hat-wearing patriarch four and a half centuries ago. To catch a plane, to make a meeting, to honor a birthday in a timely fashion, yes, I will adhere to the almighty calendar; to determine my present and future well-being? No way, Pope José.


I quit smoking on a Thursday in September over 20 years ago.* I started this blog on a Monday in November over six years ago.

I have done everything that changed my life for the better on a day.

On the other hand, I have done plenty of things that went absolutely nowhere on a day. You never know what will come of a day, and what will not. Sometimes you stick a flag in a hill and things work out; sometimes, not. But most of the time, it is the picking, not the day.

What I know now is that today is as good a day as any to start something. And that no day is a good day to stop without intent. Opt in or opt out, but opt. Pick a hill. Start pushing. It's as good a day as any.


Then again, sometimes the thing picks you.

My ex-boyfriend told me that one day a voice in his head told him, "Get a dog." And he did, and the dog was Arnie, and it was good.

And yesterday, on my morning walk, a perfect one-word theme for the year floated by: SHIP.**  I have never picked a one-word theme for the year, although reading about it has piqued my interest. Many years ago, I would have sweated and fretted my way to a one-word theme, with the probable result of it not fitting, not working. Finally, I am learning a thing or two about ease. And about how other people's "instructions" are of far, far less use to you (or me) than their stories. No two paths are the same. No two interesting ones, anyway.


So. It's just Monday. What are you up to today?

xxx c

*Thursday, September 17, 1987. This is one reason why I will never, ever throw out my journals, they are my outboard brain.

**Seth has been talking about this for months, for years; I've been resolving to do it for almost as long, at least since I talked it over with him at this time last year. Oh, the plans I had for 2010! The resolve! The three books on the docket! Of course, I still have them. Only on a much longer, far more sensible docket. Although there's still the outside possibility that I could get three books in some ship-able state by the third week of February. But I wouldn't take that bet.

Photo by Evil Erin via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license. And yeah, "Bench Monday" is a thing..

Video Vednesday: Annual Goals, Daily

Don't worry. There's no way I'm titling an entire series with a corny pun.

I'm not even sure I'll make this a series. But I did decide to finally, FINALLY, do a little videoblog thingamabobby.

Because it's important to try stuff. Because some people (apparently) like video. Because for once, I had something to write about that seemed to lend itself to video.

Well, kinda-sorta. Enough to give it a go. So here goes!


If you're not into video, I basically describe my new morning habit, cribbed from Penelope Trunk, of writing down my annual goals (almost) first thing every morning, then writing down my daily goals underneath. With checkboxes next to them. Because little things are important. [BONUS LINK: one more from Penelope Trunk on goal-setting/achieving, complete with rationales for why the individual "tricks" work.]

If you are into video, I would love to know why. No, really, I really would. Because I don't mind doing it so much as it's just not my default mode. And feel free to let me know if you like audio, and why. And maybe even what. I have a much better idea of why people might like audio (in the car, on an iPod, while cleaning or doing repetitive/dull tasks, etc), but I'm sure there is a lot of stuff I haven't thought of.

Thanks, and enjoy, if that's your thing. Or, you know. Just tune in tomorrow, lots more writing from this gal...


Hungry, angry, lonely, tired

puppy crashed out on floor

Most acronyms make me cringe a little, but from the first time I heard it, I loved the 12-step acronym used to help keep adherents, well, adhering: H.A.L.T.

Hungry. Angry. Lonely. Tired. As in, when you're struck by an urge to use (or drink, or use, or what-have-you that you shouldn't), STOP (or, you know, HALT!) and see if maybe you aren't one of those four things.1 I am not sure if the next step in the protocol is to do what one can to edge one's way out of whatever state one is in, or to call one's sponsor, or both. Or neither. The main thing one is supposed to do is a not-doing; however you accomplish that I'm guessing is fine and dandy, provided you're not breaking any laws or hearts in the process.

I'm not in the Program, but that doesn't mean I can't fall into some bad, bad habits when my level of awareness dips, or my basic needs are left unmet. Food was and is the easiest fix; between the abundance of good-for-you snacks readily available when I'm being good and the abundance of horrible-but-delicious fast foods available when I'm not, it's almost impossible to get hungry anymore. Anger is less of an issue than an effect when hungry or tired kicks in; loneliness is even less of an issue, as it's almost impossible for me to get enough time alone anymore, and rare that I feel lonely when I do.

Tiredness is my thing. Tiredness is probably every workaholic's thing, because there is always, always, always more one can be doing, and almost never anyone to order you to sleep. Not that you'd obey, anyway.

This past trip to Austin got me thinking deeply about the need for rest. When else do you dream of water but when you're in the desert? Even with the Nei Kung to bolster me (I was worlds better off this year, all things being equal, thanks to Nei Kung), I could feel myself slipping further and further into the Dark Place as I got more and more tired. Or rather, I was keenly aware of the additional effort it took to keep myself up, to stay buoyant and lively, to prevent my brain from racing to the judge-y, lowest-common-denominator, knee-jerk awfulness it will when I am tired.

For a while, I even toyed with the idea of changing Goal #1 for the year, to get back on SCD 100%, to "Get 8 hours of sleep per night." When I am deeply rested, not only am I at my gracious, nimble-thinking best: I actually like doing all the other good-for-you stuff like eating well, exercising and giving traffic nimrods the benefit of the doubt. (Believe me, in L.A., where 3/4ths of the population drives like crap and the other 1/4 is loaded for bear, it's a highly salubrious act.)

Then it occurred to me that I can fold that goal rather neatly into the SCD goal, thereby gaining two bangs for my buck. In addition to helping me create a strong foundation for resisting tempting treats like, oh, everything, increasing my nightly sleep load from six hours to seven hours to eight hours is a much cleaner metric than "avoid bread more often" or "try not to hit the drive-thru window for 99¢ tacos at Jack in the Box."

More on this as I sort it out, but for this week, my goal is "lights out by 11pm." For now, anyway. If you've successfully adjusted your own sleeping/waking hours to include more of the former, I would love to hear how you did it, and what the payoff has been.

Oh, and for the record, this entry was set to post automatically just after midnight, a full hour after Me-of-the-Future (who will be known as Me-of-the-Past by the time you read this) went to sleep...


1Or some combination, I suppose. These four things, they mix and match very well.)

UPDATE: Just read a great piece by publisher Michael Hyatt about the sources of work creep (as it cuts into sleep/rest time).

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

Anatomy of a breakthrough, Part 2

helium-filled balloons caught in trolley wires

This is the second installment of a two-part post about a recent writerly performance (or perform-y writingness). You can read the first installment here.

At some point in your travels, when you've traveled long enough, you're able to recognize what maybe you couldn't in the moment as turning points.

That night in the Westwood movie house some 25 years ago, eating contraband falafel, watching some movie I've long since forgotten, that was one of those events. That morning on a Santa Monica stage was another. Certainly, the afternoon in a West Hollywood hospital bed was another, and one that actually announced itself as such at the time.

It will be time's call whether my experience last Thursday evening proves a turning point or not. In the moment, though, or here and there during the series of moments that made up last Thursday evening, I noted a number of things that were for me, as I hinted earlier, extraordinary.

Me, talking to people

I don't know when I crossed over from faking it till I made it to actually making it, but somewhere, somehow over the past four or five years, my introverted self hit critical mass with playing extrovert.

If I was a betting woman, I'd put money on my two-year stint with Toastmasters; then again, something in me wanted to speak more than something else feared walking into a roomful of strangers, so there were probably a number of factors operating to get me over the hump and into a once-weekly meetup with a never-ending stream of new people: years of having to sell overpriced commercial productions to underwhelmed business school graduates with nothing more than charm, pantomime and a few key frames of marker art had to have helped. Moving from a class of 40 girls I'd known since I was six years old to a brand new public high school, with boys, and during the ugliest years of my life, that probably helped build up some callouses, too.

And then there were three years of hard-core business networking as I worked furiously to build up my tiny design and consulting brand. I didn't turn out to be much of a designer (the jury's still out on the consulting), but boyoboyoboy, did I log some hours walking up to complete strangers and saying "Hi!"

I am still exhausted after too much time with groups of people, and still require borderline-antisocial amounts of private time, period, but not only can I get out and about by myself, I actually do enjoy it, once the fear has passed.

Me, telling a plain, old story-story

You will laugh (I hope), but I never thought much of myself as a writer. I wanted to be good enough to think of myself as a writer; I hoped that if I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote (and wrote and, well, you get the idea), I'd eventually become good enough at it to win the jobs that would allow me to say, out loud, "I'm a writer" when the inevitable question arose as to my vocation. Now I'm starting to see that in the same way as it goes for actors, the first step is tilling and fertilizing adequate headspace so that one can self-identify as such, after which work, and several dozen-to-hundreds of cycles of submission/rejection, the pro stuff just falls into place eventually.

Again, you will laugh (I hope), but I had ideas of stories in my head that I couldn't get out. Probably because I thought of them as "pieces" and separate from me. Anytime I wrote something, even as I wrote it, I'd compare it to that ideal (unwritten, of course) in my head, and of course, I found it wanting, and of course, I either stopped dead or somehow sabotaged myself.

The exceptions were humdrum things like letters, journal entries, proposals, evaluations. You know, non-arty writing. And doing vast quantities of non-arty writing is probably what helped me log enough hours to see some results. At a certain point if you do anything enough times with enough focused attention, you get better at it; it's almost impossible not to. I didn't get good enough at short stories or poetry or plays because I never worked through the horrible stage, but between all the pedestrian writing I did as a civilian and the insane quantities of time I spent on the blerg, here, I became good enough to tell a story with a beginning, middle and end.

Oh, and once you give up the idea that you will ever be an artiste or that a soapbox is a reasonable place from which to deliver your two cents and just roll with being a Smurf, it gets a lot easier to tell stories that work.

Me, asking for stuff

I'm really at the beginning of this asking-for-stuff trajectory. My modus operandi up until now has been to drop more and increasingly larger hints, working ever harder to be content with even less as I simultaneously hope for a miracle. For me, even acknowledging there's such a thing as an ask and that it can not only save time and sanity but actual relationships is a huge gain.

And really, I will probably always prefer being asked to having to ask. I accept that it's my wiring, like "introvert" and/or my years of training as an ACoA rearing one or the other (or both) of their wearisome heads.

But when my new friend Bill and his wife started talking about the Moth, I drew them out, asking questions and advice, accepting such help and guidance as was offered. While I will not be the one battering down the gates anytime soon, I am becoming bold enough to raise my hand to request a day pass.


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

Anatomy of a breakthrough


I had an extraordinary experience last Thursday night, and enough time to process it since that I feel like it warrants some dissection here on the digital word slab (which may be my new pet name for communicatrix-dot-com) this morning.

The backstory of the event

A few weeks ago, via Facebook, my friend Brenda Varda invited me to read something at the 2.0, spoken-word gathering  of her project for writers and writing, w o r d s p a c e. (And yes, it's spelled out with the spaces, get it? Word space.)

The invitation asked for my best "extreme" 5 - 10 minutes of current material; there would be snacks and drinks, the public would be invited, and the list of other invitees was made public, so we could get a handle on the shape "extreme" might take, or at least what the rest of the lineup might be like. She later followed up with a request for a short bio and our putting the word (no pun intended) out to our own networks. Specifically, we were asked to bring one to three people: she wanted a full house, but Son of Semele's space (okay, this time I'm punning a little bit on purpose), the venue, was on the small side.

We were given the theme of "breaking the wordspace" to either write around or choose our material from; we were told that accompanying music was a possibility (among other things I am envious of her for, like her amazing hair and killer mid-Century modern house in the hills of Silver Lake, Brenda is an accomplished composer and musician).

Where I was coming from

One of my goals this year is "Do three Ignite-type presentations." That's my shorthand for:

  1. Planned (thought out, plotted carefully, well-rehearsed)
  2. Important (to me, personally, and in the scheme of things)
  3. Fun (because life is too fucking short)

Last fall's experience presenting at Ignite: Portland was huge for me. Not just because I presented to the biggest honkin' crowd I had yet, 600 fine and enthusiastic people, bless every last loudly appreciative one of 'em, but because for the first time since I started thinking about speaking as a means of sharing information, I was talking about something I deeply cared about. Don't get me wrong: I'm happy to share what I know about branding and marketing, and grateful for the opportunities it gives me to practice skills while relaying information that's useful to people. To say it's where my heart lies, though, would itself be a lie.

So I've been casting about for ways of moving closer toward my goal of being, essentially, a motivational speaker, if not an outright preacher without a church. There: I've said it. I've pantsed myself. It's out, it's done, I'm exposed, we can move on.

Okay, perhaps a little more on that stink-bomb I just dropped...

The formula for my future

If you've hung around at all, you know that I'm a big one for condensed shorthands, not as a means of skipping steps, but as a way of staying focused. I have problems with focus, or perhaps, I have a central challenge of remaining focused when I've been blessed with a interests like water contained in a brain like mesh. So I come up with formulas to help me stay on track: The Formula for articulating your brand in terms of your end user; the formula for Right Use of social media (which, as I always point out when deliver it in a talk, also works beautifully for marketing and life in general).

I still can't articulate what it is that I want to be when I grow up clearly and succinctly in childlike terms, but if I can't have the laser-like focus that "ballerina," "fireman," or even "C-Suite creative executive in a new media company" might give me, I can come closer with a direction and a formula:

  • Direction: I want to write and talk.
  • Formula: 70 - 90% writing, 30 - 10% talking.

Note that the direction doesn't specify the type of writing, and that I've used "talk" rather than "speak." That's intentional: I'm thinking of "talking" as incorporating more than just speaking, which (to me) means a stage, possibly a mic, and definitely a crowd. "Talking" may mean audio and video performance of some kind; it may even mean teaching of some kind, although it would have to be a very special set of circumstances for me to go that route, since (good) teaching requires a level of interaction that would send me and my poor little introverted self running for the hills where our cave of privacy is dug into.

What happened in and around w o r d s p a c e

The above provides both the context for my decision to participate and a jumping-off place for the nutty amount of sturm und drang, synapse-firing, syntheses and lessons that came out of the experience.

But in the grand tradition of jumping-off places, I'm going to hold the rest of it until later. Because the scale of my goals in certain areas this year requires that I learn to exercise some restraint in others. Tune in Wednesday for Part 2, and in the meantime, enjoy the clip, above...


Video shot by my good friend, former client and fellow Cornell alum, Larry Greenfield. Sorry for the overexposure; one of these days, I'll learn to find my light.

10 in 2010: Chunking out goals

chopped carrots and a cleaver

As one of my 10 goals in 2010+ is "Get back on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet 100%," I probably should have spent Fat Tuesday whooping it up with all of the sugar, rice, wheat, chocolate, potatoes and etcetera (lots and lots of "etcetera" on the SCD) I won't be able to eat anymore.

Instead, I holed up in a favorite coffee shop with a green tea and, while I waited for my friend from Portland to show up for our visit, I set about breaking out this monstrous, slippery to-do into smaller, hopefully more manageable tasks.

Some goals lend themselves to chunks. As I've mentioned before, my breakthrough moment with "Read a book a week" came when Julien Smith shared his own chunking solution: read 40pp per day. It's obvious in hindsight, but when you're panicking at the thought of how to do something you've never done before (or haven't done since your early 20s), looking at books as roughly 280pp units and then doing some quick division ain't the first solution you try applying.

My new Nei Kung practice shakes out the same way: "Practice Nei Kung every morning" has a built-in chunking mechanism; it's expressed as a chunk. (The morning part I'm facilitating by tying it to a morning routine, which is another pro-tip Julien puts forth in his excellent post. I swear, I'll keep linking to it, so you might as well go read it now.)

Compared to reading and Nei Kung, "Get on SCD 100%" is a slippery mollusk. While being on "100%" is both a clear metric and in keeping with SCD tenets*, it doesn't help me "be" on SCD day to day. I like to-dos; to-dos make for a regular and orderly life.

So I sat down and brainstormed a number of activities I can do to help support my transition back to and then my staying on the SCD. They include:

  • expunge cupboards of all SCD "illegals"
  • cull non-SCD-legal and/or non-"keeper" recipes from recipe binder
  • create running grocery list
  • check running grocery list
  • make SCD-legal baked goods in bulk (e.g. almond-flour cookies, breads, etc.)
  • make SCD-legal freezer-portion foods in bulk (e.g. stews, chilis, pizza sauce, etc.)
  • search new recipes for SCD-legalization possibilities
  • shop farmers' market

Some of the items are daily things I can check off, and very small. Just because you've committed to a big annual goal doesn't mean every ding-dong day has to involve pushing a c*cksucking boulder up a motherf*cking hill. Some days, you just want to look at your running list and check the fridge, freezer or pantry for supplies. Other days you might only have the gumption to spend five minutes surfing epicurious for Paleo recipes you can convert, or even email a chef-y friend for suggestions on how to fabricate legal substitutes for some craved food.**

And there's no law that says you can't find to-dos that kill two goals with one stone. I'm also looking to make more plans with friends this year; who says one of them can't be "Go with so-and-so to farmers' market on Sunday"? Not me. I wouldn't say that.

One final note: to get myself started with the list, I asked myself a couple of "how and why" questions: how does the diet work for me, and why do I want to be on it?

When I initially got on, the answers were clear and obvious: to not die; to get out and stay out of the hospital. As I've moved further away from peril (praise the sweet baby jesus), it's become more difficult to come up with pressing reasons. To get off of meds? Yeah, a worthy goal; these immunosuppressants are hell on your liver, long-term. For me, the reasons are now tied to other things, like having the energy to really apply myself to my other big goals. I do NOT want another repeat of last December, when I viewed my previous year's list of goals and saw six or seven out of ten unaccomplished.

Therefore, since I know that in the moment those BIG goals aren't necessarily enough to keep me on the straight and narrow, I needed to look at some tactical stuff, too: what daily to-dos can I put in place to remove friction? To make it easy to say "no" to Mr. Delicious French fry, or at least, easier?

For me, it's about not letting myself get hungry and not letting myself feel deprived. So some of my to-dos can become:

  • prep travel bags of snacks for on-the-go
  • think up more games to keep myself motivated
  • look at pictures of bloody transverse colon pre-SCD

Kidding on that last one, sort of. Truthfully, "Watch Ignite video" would make a really great to-do for a given day, since it is both a graphic reminder of what I went through to get here (and what I never want to go back to, ever), and a motivator to stay on track with one of my other goals, which is to do more speeches that I feel really make a difference.***

But that is another goal story for another day...


*At least initially, being on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet calls what our beloved Elaine called "fanatical adherence": the smallest cheat nulls the effect, since what you're striving for is a removal of all opportunistic, "bad" bacteria in the gut, and the slightest trace of something juicy will keep the bastards alive. Once you're on and symptom-free for two years, you can consider an indulgence here and there. Although as I seem to be an abstainer rather than a moderator when it comes to things like French fries or Italian bread with a gnarly crust and chewy tooth, I'm just off of it, period.

**I've been dreaming of those greasy sesame sticks you buy by the pound at Trader Joe's, and my friend Wayne said, "Oh, I love figuring out stuff like that." So there you go. Make someone else's day into the bargain.

***And who said you can't kill two goals with one story? Not me. Never me!

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

10 in 2010: Ch'i, inside and out

close shot of hands of people doing tai chi

So far, and 48+ years is pretty far, I've not been able to sit still long enough to meditate.

I've read about, listened to and met actual benefactors of its benefits, but if you sit me down for more than five minutes at a time without something to do (besides the not-doing of meditation), I start itching all over.

I get that I'm not alone in this; I also get that one of the points to having a practice is practicing, which eventually leads to getting better at it. But I can't, or won't let myself, get over that hump.

Similarly, while I'm equally aware of the benefits of regular, old physical exercise, I've had real problems creating a routine around it. My genius plan of renting a mailbox a little over a mile from my apartment worked for a while, until it didn't. (Did you know you can also drive your car both ways in about half the time? I know!) Besides, while walking clears the mind and even provides a bit of cardio work, provided you do it briskly enough, it doesn't do a whole lot in the way of enhancing flexibility or building strength.

Enter Nei Kung, an internal form of qigong, which itself is a type of slow and precise moving meditation that gets the chi, or energy, flowing. According to my instructor, Jim Borrelli, Nei Kung is way more obscure, at least, compared to other kinds of qigong, and was developed to give martial artists extra reservoirs of strength to use in fighting. I'm disinclined to fight, but who wouldn't want extra strength, especially when it came bundled with better energy, focus, flexibility, and peace of mind come. The obscure part, on the other hand, was obvious: you see qigong or tai chi being practiced on grassy mountaintops in every other montage commercial promoting wellness or yogurt, but who the hell has heard of Nei Kung?

I have now, obviously, and have been doing it regularly, almost every day, which is unheard of for me, for nine weeks now. I know this because every week, I cut a big, fat check for the privilege of one-on-one training, which, unless you're in New York City and can score some kind of class situation with Master C.K. Chu (who taught my teacher, who is one of the smallest handful of people Chu has so deputized), or maybe if you're plugged into some arcane Chinese martial arts circuit, it ain't gonna happen. Believe me, I'm frugal enough to self-identify as outright cheap, and there's no way I'd pay for this if it wasn't necessary. Or worth it.

So far, it is, and that's been true since Day One. My Internet friend, Alan, had a similar experience with Nei Kung: maybe we both have Nei Kung-friendly bodies*; maybe we were both martial artists in a former, Chinese life. Whatever the cause, each of us seems to have taken to it like a duck to water, and for my part, I can tell you it's a relief: after beating myself up over not liking running, cycling, weight training or yoga, to do something I'm good at that makes me feel good is an extraordinary gift, especially 48+ years into the game. (Which reminds me, hate all games, too.)

My commitment is to practice Nei Kung for 25 minutes every morning, session dates excepted (I get a mammoth dose of it then). For the winter, I've shifted my practice to sit between reading and breakfast, since the half-hour or so of reading gives the heater a chance to kick in. Exceptions will most likely be made to accommodate travel and the insane bloody heat that seizes the E-Z-Bake Ovenâ„¢ around August.

As far as the outside chi goes, Item #4 is to feng shui the place bagua by bagua, starting with the Skills & Knowledge sector. As author Karen Rauch Carter (wisely) says in her book and my feng shui bible, no matter what you're looking for, money, health, success, you'll have a hell of an easier time of it if you buff out the gray matter.

But more on that later...


*Mine is compact and slight, with short legs and a long torso; I can't speak for Alan's.

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

10 in 2010: Reading 52 books!

room filled with books As I close out my goal-setting for the coming 12 or so months*, I thought I'd post a few of the more universally-relevant (i.e., non-private) ones to the blog for the hell of it.

The first one is the easiest (and thus far, most enjoyable): READ 52 BOOKS.

As I noted in an earlier post about goal-setting in general, I lifted the idea (with permission! and encouragement, even!) from Julien Smith, co-author (with Chris Brogan) of the wonderfully-written Trust Agents, the book I most often recommend to people looking to wrap their brains around the whole social media thing. Julien has written several times about his attempts to read more in general, and to read a book a week, specifically. In 2009, he figured out a key secret, read 40pp per day, and broke through to complete his goal for the first time.

Five weeks and change into 2010, I'm pleased to report that it's working out quite well. I'm 12 books into the goal, with another well underway. I wanted to front-load as much as I could, as I had the time now, you know, bank a few books, but really, the "52" is just a metric: my goal is to READ MORE BOOKS and READ BOOKS MORE OFTEN. So really, I'm hoping to read many, many more books than those 52; I'm just honoring my theme for 2010 ("MORE ROOM") by doing a little front-loading. It's not like I'm gonna stop once I hit that 52nd book.

I went back and forth on whether or not I should share my list of books read. Not that there are any especially compromising choices: mostly, it was about maintaining a level of privacy for myself and a measure of respect for authors in general. As you'll see from the running list I decided to make public, there are several books I've chosen not to review, and I don't want anyone getting the wrong idea about this. My decision to review is based on a whole slew of factors that have nothing to do with merit, among them available time, alignment with my personal goals for this site and my "brand" (such as it is), and perceived value to the people who read here regularly.

For the same reason, I've decided not to keep a running list of books I'm currently reading or that are under consideration. I'd love to read everything that catches my eye, and to finish everything I pick up, but one is impossible and the other, I've finally decided, is folly. Every book is not for me just like every person or food or sport is for me. (Actually, almost no sports are for me, but that's another story for another day.) And even though we're all grownups, I know I'd probably be hurt if, pardon me, when I write my first book and learn of that first friend or acquaintance or utter stranger didn't finish it. Ouch. But there it is. So this is my sad little fix for it.

Finally, some books require more integration and/or implementation before I can speak to their utility in a way that's illuminating.** For example, I could review Nonviolent Communication favorably right now in terms of the value and insight I got from a first reading of it, but that first reading made it abundantly clear that the real value of a book like that is the reward from implementing the system outlined within, and I can hardly do that until I've done that. It's also why I'm very comfortable reviewing really old (but useful!) books like Simple Abundance, Move Your Stuff, Change Your Life or The Little Book of Moods. (Look for other utterly non-newsworthy reviews on The Artist's Way and Your Best Year Yet in this space!)

That said, I do welcome any suggestions based on favorites I've already enjoyed. If you look at the list of books I've reviewed, period, you should get a pretty good idea: there's not a one under 3-stars, and 95% are 4-star and up. So feel free to be my human algorithm!

Just don't berate me if I don't choose, or choose to finish, your suggestion...

xxx c

*I'd intended a January 1 start date, like most of the rest of the goal-setting world. This got pushed to February 1, then Groundhog Day (the 2nd), and now we're looking at February 15th as a final-final start date. But a few goals are underway, and the "Read 52 Books" launched on January 1st, because I was hot-to-trot for it.

**This is not to say that timely reviews of all kinds of "how-to" books can't be immensely valuable, just that I'm not the person to write them. I'm very grateful for those early adopters with mad skills in a particular area and writing skills to match who get in there and do the important work of early reviewing.

Image by Photos8 via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Too much, too little, and loving what is (A story about goals)

google mindmap on ginormous whiteboard

After numerous setbacks, some regular-usuals that I now know to plan for (hello, holidays!), some spontaneous combustibles that required urgent but unscheduled attention, I wrapped up my goal planning for 2010.

Yes, five weeks or roughly 10% of the way into the year I'm supposed to be living, I'm done planning for it.*

It is an easy, easy slide into self-loathing, just taking in that last sentence. It feels like a sentence, when I start to take it in fully: this is your life, loser, and no one to blame but yourself for it. Little Miss Overachiever. Little Miss Fancypants, with your ridiculous notions of time and how many things you can fill it with, or, if you want to dip into that bucket o' truth you claim such fondness for, how much shit you can cram into it.

So, you see how I talk to myself when you're not around?** Not nice. Not even helpful. But this is the voice that runs through my head most of the time, or one of them, and it is this voice, or rather, what this voice is doing to me, that I'm choosing to address this year.

Because two very interesting and highly unusual things happened this year during the penultimate phase of goal-planning. They're embarrassing enough that I'd ordinarily leave them out, but illuminating enough, at least, I hope they are, that they're staying in.

For those of you unfamiliar with the values-centered goal-planning system outlined in Jinny Ditzler's Your Best Year Yet, it starts with an inventory and ends with a map, with a whole lot of excavation, grading and other survey-ish/cartographic folderol in between. The inventory is a look back at the previous year's happenings, divided into accomplishments and disappointments, the better to get a handle on what's working (so you can feel good about yourself!) and what's not, so you can beat yourself with a cudgel crafted from your own sodden, misshapen failures. Kidding! Only, well, there's a reason Ditzler has you list your accomplishments first. It can be mighty dispiriting to look at that list of disappointments. She is fairly adamant that accomplishments be viewed with pride and the disappointments taken as learning, but right there, that's suspect to self-loathers: wherefore such inequities of discernment? That's just bad science, lady!

Interestingly enough, in the five years I've been doing Best Year Yet, I've never once had a problem coming up with staggeringly long lists of accomplishments that even the meanest stranger would affirm as such, while my list of disappointments has been proportionately far smaller. Of course, they're big honkers, those disappointments, stuff like "only completed 4 out of 10 goals from last year"; worse, they tend to recur. This may not be a big deal when you're 20 or even 30, but when you're staring 50 in the droopy, gray-haired sac, you start to worry. Time is, as they say, at a premium. How much more of it can you count on? How much more can you waste on an outright-destructive or even "benign" insalubrious habit? Is there even such a thing after 45? (I'm really asking: is there?)

My own goal-planning process ground to a depressing halt in December not only because the year had worn me down and the holidays weren't going to let up, but because when I finished up my list of disappointments, I noted that 11 of them, that's 11 out of 18, were recurring. And big ones, too, like "didn't write book...again," where "again" meant "for the third year in a row." After completing those two lists, I went on to answer the next couple of questions, but really, I knew I was fucked. The only way around this problem was through it, and that was going to require a lot more time than the week I had set aside. And resources, too, in the form of outside help.

Which brings us to the penultimate session I mentioned about 40 minutes ago in this piece.

Up until this year, I've mostly done my BYY plan alone. I ran last year's by my business coach, but only the final plan, and only the business-related aspects of it***. While it makes me cringe with shame now, I realize that I was doing a lot of obfuscating and tap dancing, more plainly called "hiding" when one is not given to obfuscating and tap dancing. If I was going to change my pattern, someone else was going to have to be given root access to the plan, to help keep me honest about what was going on. One of my friends from Success Team (my weekly mastermind-like group) agreed that it might be helpful from an unsticking perspective to collaborate, so we scheduled a work session for this past weekend.

I was prepared for almost anything. A lot of stuff bubbles up during the BYY excavation and mapping process, and for me, that inevitably brings a lot of crying and pain, especially around the Dreaded Chapter Four, where you look at your limiting paradigms. (Trust me, unless you're Jesus, you've got at least one.)

What I was not prepared for was bursting into tears when I looked at my list of accomplishments, which is just what I did when it was my time to go over them. I'd thought, "Oh, I'll just read the topline from this embarrassingly long list to save us time." Instead, something told me to read it in its entirety, all 47 items, and when I the last one, I collapsed in a heap of sobs: all of this stuff I'd accomplished, and still I felt like shit? What would it take? What would ever be enough? If accomplishing all of these 47 remarkable things, and my friend assured me that individually, many were remarkable, but taken together, they were REMARKABLE, if doing all that did not fill the black hole inside me and make me feel loved or safe or worthwhile, what would?

The answer, that nothing would, that no external thing would ever be enough, stared back at me, plain as you like. Hence, sobbing. A lot of it. Fortunately, I have loving and patient friends. Who somehow, when I am feeling like it's anything but possible, can assure me in a way that I actually can hear and almost believe, that I am enough: that I might be lovable just because of who I am, and not because of any list of things I do.

It seems so simple, but trust me, it can take a long time to "get", even if you know it. Even if you've paid your shrink thousands of dollars and wept your way through boxes of her Kleenex to learn the same thing. Learning is not necessarily "getting"; if you're lucky, I think, you "get" it with enough time before you die to know some kind of peace. I felt one huge shift like this in the past 10 years, when I had my hospital bed epiphany. I had a second one this past weekend, looking at that long list and bursting into tears. I have a little more peace, but I'd also like to get a little more of this music out of me before I die, you know?

The other Very Interesting and Unusual Thing that happened revolved around money and happiness. It also involved a goodly amount of sobbing, and is involved (and possibly significant) enough to cover in depth another day.

For now, know this: next year when I sit down to do my Best Year Yet plan, I expect the list of accomplishments will be far shorter, while the list of disappointments will likely be about the same length as it's been in previous years, only with a much, much higher percentage of new things I'm disappointed about.

And that, my friends, is an accomplishment in and of itself...


*Hopefully. Because I finished the wrapping-up yesterday, late in the day, and am feeling rickety about it. Plus, you know, shit happens, Q.E.D.

**Obviously, you're very much around, as you're reading this. What I mean, which you probably already gathered, is this is the dim chatter that forms one layer of my soundtrack. This is the stuff that goes on that I generally don't write, or if I do, that I erase before publishing.

***Your Best Year Yet is a whole-life planning system, based on the idea that achieving balance is largely responsible for achieving happiness, and possibly for achieving goals themselves, at least in the "life well-lived" sense. Also, it's worth noting here that even my coach said my plan was probably overly ambitious. I made changes to it based on her feedback and those changes did work: the four out of ten goals were largely accomplished because of those tweaks.

Yo! Disclosure! Links to the books in the post above are Amazon affiliate links. This means if you click on them and buy something, I receive an affiliate commission. Which I hope you do: 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.

Image by jurvetson via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license. For maximum enjoyment, view in original, huge size.

December in January: Adding good habits

guy brushing teeth

Just before the end of the past year, I decided to forgo my usual habit of cramming my annual planning into the most riotously busy time of the year. Hence, “December in January,” where I spend the first month of the chronological new year planning my own, to begin in February.

My Nei Kung instructor and I have been talking a lot about the process of change, one of my favorite topics.

And to be clear, when I say "favorite," I mean something I spend a great deal of time thinking about, not necessarily something that I enjoy engaging in. I hear the change junkies talk about how all-fire fantastic it is, and remain skeptical, unless by "fantastic," they mean "other worldly and outsize," in which case I'm in 100% agreement.


I was late to the idea that the most efficient way of eliminating a bad habit is by replacing it with a good one, or at the very least tying it to a positive, values-based motivator. Why? I'm an idiot! Okay, I'm not an idiot, or at least, not completely. But my tendency toward impatience made me move sometimes rather more quickly than I might have prudently, and to act like an idiot. That test in the eighth grade that's 479 questions long, and whose first command, read all the way through to the end of the test before starting to answer the individual questions, is critical to the successful completion of the test? I failed that test. Leap first, look later. I'm the world's best im-patient.

Reading and working through Your Best Year Yet several years ago helped start the shift. It's so dense and chewy, you can't skip steps, so I didn't. It took me a full week-ish to slog through it, but by the end, I had a much better handle on myself, and my first taste of what life felt like when you took time to actually look at it.*

Working through the Great Hypnotherapy Project with my friend, Greg, gave me my next taste of swapping out bad for good as methodology rather than just brutalizing the bad out of yourself. The type of hypno that Greg practices involves coming up with lots of positive replacements for the habit you want to let go; before we did the session to help get me back on my Crohn's diet, we spent a long time going over the requirements of the diet, what was allowed and of that, what I liked best, and where I was getting stuck. While I was listening to the tape regularly, I felt almost no cravings for the stuff that was disallowed.

Jim, my Nei Kung instructor, who is also a licensed therapeutic hypnotherapist, confirmed that the replacement of "bad" with "good" is a straighter route than just dumping the bad. Trying to stop something is much, much harder than replacing it with something else. I think it has something to do with, to paraphrase Marshall Rosenberg in his a-ma-zing book, Nonviolent Communication**, us bucking at having choices removed, even when it's in our best interest and it's us doing the removing.

So I'm looking at framing all of my goals as additive (per Greg and Jim), as well as awesome (per Naomi, who oughta know because boy, is she ever!) Full and final list (fingers and toes crossed) next week, in time for Groundhog's Day, but here's what we've got so far:

  • Read 52 books. No-brainer additive thing. If you were watching a lot of TV and wanted to stop (as I did, a few years ago), you might want to look at this as an additive replacement. I hope to read many more than 52 books, but this is a start.
  • Practice Nei Kung 30 minutes daily. Additive thing to replace "stop being someone who is a brain without a body." Kidding, but not far off. Nei Kung is gentle but fairly easy for me to do, as I apparently am both built and wired for it. FINALLY. Because that running thing totally didn't work out, plus who knows when I'll have good enough health insurance again to replace my knees.
  • Feng shui my place. Additive thing to replace "declutter," which I love and has helped me, but which is starting to feel a little brutal, especially as we get down to the bone. Okay, closer to it. OKAY, through the first layer of the epidermis. It's a teensy cheat, since part of feng shui-ing means removing clutter, but it's way more fun to make it a game with all the doodads of feng shui. Plus, you know, built-in feature for the blog!
  • Eat SCD-compliant six days per week. Additive thing to replace "Get off Crohn's meds," plus my way of easing myself into something good for me by leaving myself some wiggle room. I don't get to go off the meds until I've been back on SCD sans flares for a minimum of one year, possibly two. But I'm not going to worry about that now.

I have a few other ideas I'm still working on, some of which will probably remain private, but others that I may be able to share once I survey the full schmear. "Music" is still floating around, and I'd like to do something that has me caring for my friendships a little more consistently than I have in the past. Never know when you'll need those darned things.

I'm still looking for additive ways to switch up some of my more destructive habits, especially procrastination and web surfery. I have a feeling that the way-in is connecting more deeply to the things I do want to do, which is going to mean yet more of this messy and painful opening-up-and-letting-go stuff.

I am, however, very open to suggestions right now...


*Other than the five months I spent recovering from my Crohn's onset, but that was less a choice than something thrust upon me.

**In a year of outstanding books, this is the current front-runner. I cannot thank Havi Brooks enough for tipping me over into finally reading it. (THANK YOU, HAVI.) Look for a review soon, but feel free to buy it immediately. If you have to talk to anyone, yourself included, it will make the experience better and might just save your bacon. Oh, and I've already read/loved the How to Talk So Kids Will Listen book (thank you, my shrink), so I'm guessing that third one on the page is killer, too.

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

December in January: Using constraints to free yourself

houdini graphic stenciled on public structure Just before the end of the past year, I decided to forgo my usual habit of cramming my annual planning into the most riotously busy time of the year. Hence, "December in January," where I spend the first month of the chronological new year planning my own, to begin in February.

I realize that logically, there must be as many people who excel at true blue-sky thinking as there are people who can only function within very narrow constraints, although I imagine it's terrifying to run across either.*

Like most people who enjoy thinking of themselves as Very Special Snowflakes, I really fall in the vast, lumpen middle: yes, I'm creative (so are you, whether you like it or not) and no, I don't do too well when that creativity is not applied to certain tasks.

On the other hand, I flourish within constraints! There are few things I enjoy more than figuring out how to maximize in a box**, whether it's moving furniture and doodads around a living space to get my feng shui'd (thank you, Karen Rauch Carter) or bending Robert's Rules of Order right up to the breaking point (a.k.a., how a nutjob-wacko-freak learned to love Toastmasters.) Rules and processes can be very soothing to the scrambled, easily stimulated brain; for the afflicted, the quickest route to making one's world a little bigger is often to make it a little smaller.

The catch, of course, is getting the mix of free-swim to drills just right, or in the ballpark. I tend towards all or nothing thinking, which is most likely rooted in some early training (and which doubtless saved my ass on more than one occasion), but which, as an adult with true autonomy, is now more of an artifact than a useful modus operandi. To paraphrase a former acting teacher , if the choices are "all" and "nothing," the answer will most often be "nothing."***

I've written a lot about the structures I've adopted to wrangle my chaos into some kind of order so I won't go over them again here, other than to say they range from simple things like calendaring writing time to multiple sources of accountability (because I yam a slippery devil!) to simply throwing out tons of crap. As I move forward, I'm looking to employ more strategies like these to free up mental and physical energy for what's feeling more and more like an intense period of creative work around the corner. Here's what I'm looking at doing:

1. Creating more structure for the blog.

When I first started blogging, I wrote about whatever struck my fancy, and mimicked whomever I was enamored of. Go back and enjoy the schizo qualities of communicatrix, circa late 2004: it will make you feel oh-so-much better about your own chances for success! I can't tell you the relief I feel these days knowing that Poetry Thursday is right around the corner, or that I have a Referral Friday feature to fall back on. I may never lock myself into a rigid floorplan, but like Gretchen, Havi, Chris and any number of friends who do this regularly, I finally see the value in some kind of publishing "schedule." They're just smarter, since they saw it way before I did (even though they all started blogging after I did, which doesn't make me feel any better about my stubborn face, but there it is.)

2. Pirahnimals.

This is the term Dave Seah, my partner in the Google Wave with Dave™ project, came up with when I said I was considering an adult version of Garanimals to help streamline my wardrobe. For years, I've resisted uniforms of any kind, probably because of the eight years (1967 - 1975!) that I chafed in one. My favorite dressing style has been "costumes," by which I mean dressing for the day's physical and/or emotional needs, not "gardener" or "slutty nurse." It was fun for a long, long time because it fed my needs for change and expression, and also my love of rag-picking (i.e., thrift/sale shopping). These days I have plenty of room to express myself via writing and speaking and performing and no end of material, I want to allocate more resources toward the creation of art than the fabrication of frame. Frames are important, L.A. Eyeworks built an iconic ad campaign around this simple, brilliant idea a couple of decades ago, and I'm expending a goodly portion of thought about suitable ones for my needs. More on that as I have it.

3. Streamlining "external" communication.

There are only so many hours in a day, and I'm finally accepting that I need to spend a certain number of them on stuff like eating, sleeping and relaxing if I want to have the life I say I want to have. I've already dramatically pulled back on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, I rarely talk on the phone and I try to restrict commenting on other blogs to conversations where I can really add value or situations where it's appropriate to show appreciation. (There should always be time to be nice, but I'm going to have to learn to be pithier about it.) I'm hoping that creating some structure around the types of things I write about here on the blog will allow me to continue writing here as often as I do (and maintain the newsletter and actors' column), but I'm (reluctantly) open to the idea that I may need to cut back if I want to write books, too. And yes, I want to write books, and yes, one of them is a collection of poetry. God help us all.

Other things I'm thinking about are:

  • Creating a budget (something I've never done in my lifetime!). This is about dragging monsters into the light, to get a good look at them. Hard to start, usually not as awful as I think it's going to be once I see it.
  • Moving to an even smaller/cheaper place to conserve money (and energy, it takes a long time to clean a 1BR apartment in a filthy town like L.A.).
  • Taking a "real" job. This is the weirdest of all: I haven't had a job-job since I quit my Stupid Day Job (which was really a great job, and thank you, Uncle Dennis!) back in 1999. I have a lot of pride mixed up in this decision, so it's hard to see it clearly right now. The more time I spend away from consulting, the happier I am: it's exhausting work, as I performed it, and not sustainable, and definitely not compatible with my desire to write even more (writing is exhausting, too, but in a very different way). I have no idea if I'm even employable any more, or what for; I'm in the musing stages about this right now.

I'm still in a very open place about all of these things right now, weighing ideas, possibilities and (nice, informed, positively-phrased) suggestions. My multiple nodes of collaboration have also shown me how much stuff there is to me that I can't see: you are in a position to hold a (kind, helpful, positively-angled) mirror up to me, or pluck a stray hair from my jacket, that I cannot.

I'm specifically curious (yes, again) as to why you read the blog, assuming you read it with any regularity. I threw this question out a couple of years ago and received so many generous, helpful answers it was deeply moving. In the interest of giving something back as I did then, I'll donate a dollar to the relief efforts going on in Haiti for each reply (up to $500.), via comments or email, that offers some thought, feedback, illumination or idea to move me forward on any of the six areas above.

These could be anything from exercises for "writing shorter" (without adding more work) to great hacks for streamlining process to the best post you read in 2009 about x. It might be better if you shared stuff that's really helped you rather than guessing at what might help me; experiences related honestly and kindly (and with humor, if one can muster it) are my preferred method of learning. I love biography; I consider "self-help" a necessary evil when there's not a readily available biography illuminating the topic. But hey, as long as you comment with good intentions, I say "yay!" and Haiti gets another of my rapidly dwindling pool of dollars.

Thank you for providing this tremendous outlet for growth and change, for helping me feel less greedy about it by allowing me to kick in some (more) dough for a worthy cause, and for helping me take it to the next level.

Whatever the hell that is...

xxx c

*For me, spending time with fully unbridled creative thinkers is exhilarating and exhausting; doing the same with people who have nothing but rules is, well, okay, usually just exhausting, but kind of fascinating, too, like observing an alien species.

**The Chief Atheist has a great phrase for this exercise as applied to excursions which he calls "going to the Museum": anytime you have to go somewhere you might otherwise find tedious, off-putting or overwhelming, go as an anthropologist collecting data. Guaranteed to turn even the most moribund gathering into a series of excellent adventures, and helps keep you from jumping out of your skin during the occasional stumble down rabbit holes into alien worlds.

***Eight years later, I note there's no small irony in my having left his tutelage after being presented with exactly those two choices.

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

December in January: A goal is something you want to hit

a soccer goal net

Just before the end of the past year, I decided to forgo my usual habit of cramming my annual planning into the most riotously busy time of the year. Hence, “December in January,” where I spend the first month of the chronological new year planning my own, to begin in February.

My friend, Naomi, wrote a post about making unstupid goals whose central thesis has been ringing in my head for the week since I read it:

A goal is something you want to hit.

I'm paraphrasing, as is my wont, but I think it's a fair translation of Naomi's philosophy and so let's work with my version, and do some of that unpacking we spoke of yesterday:

  1. A goal is something YOU want to hit. It's about the thing you want, not that your mother, the IRS, or your cardiologist wants for you.
  2. A goal is something you WANT to hit. It's not something you feel obligated to do; you want it, and in the way that makes your heart beat faster with joy and anticipation and promise.

As Naomi admits, there are also things you should do to keep a roof over your kid's head and yourself out of the emergency room. I'll add that there are things you might seriously want to think about doing because you will end up alone and despised without them. These are not goals, they're responsibilities. They fall under the rubric of being a grownup, and to be a grownup, you put on your Big-Girl Pants and TCB.

Jinny Ditzler, author of my beloved and cursed Your Best Year Yet, agrees that goals should be motivating. As she says, when you're done with the process, the long and often arduous process, of corralling your data and drawing your goals from it, you should look down at that list of 10 things and want to do cartwheels. (I'm paraphrasing again, of course, but I think Jinny would approve.) You should be so fired up about these things that you can't wait to get started. Doesn't mean they won't be every bit as hard to accomplish as the responsibilities are sometimes to bear (or the #@$!( process itself is to get through), but they should be challenging in the good way.

I'd say I didn't know how I missed that these last two years that I've been carving out my goals, but I do: I ignored the obvious. I'm really good at ignoring the obvious, as it turns out; I can do it for two years (and change) and still look like a high-functioning, can-do dynamo of...something-or-other. Like anyone else, I get invested in outcome, attached to comfort and all of a sudden, another two years have gone by and I'm still in the same place.

I am still not 100% sure what My Best Groundhog Year Yet is going to look like exactly. I have a lot of time in airports and on planes and in hotel rooms over the next couple of weeks to think about it. There's a really good chance that certain things on my dining room table are going to make it onto the final list, though, because I am really excited about them.

I'm excited about reading 52 books. I am loving reading, period, I'd forgotten how much I missed an uninterrupted half-hour or hour daily to read. And while some days I get anxious before picking up my book, thinking about all the things I have to do, and how late I just slept in, and how I could really use that half-hour or hour to do some of them, thus far I've been able to gently (for the most part) set that anxiety to the side and just read. (It helps that I'm reading really good books so far!)

I'm excited about continuing to study Nei Kung. It's only been six weeks so far, but already, I'm so much better at it than any other physical activity I've tried. I wanted to be a runner and a bicyclist and a yogini, but I'm just not built for them. Apparently, I'm built like a Chinese martial arts enthusiast. Go figger.

I'm (still) excited about writing on my blog. So you can either rejoice or curse, but I'm not going anywhere. I may change the way I approach the blog, most likely, I will have to, if I want to write anything else, but write, I will.

Other things are more up in the air right now. I have several project ideas starting to shape up; they'll have to finish baking before I can decide which ones I want to roll with. I also have several concepts I've been mulling over, trying to suss out what their corresponding real-world actions are. Is the answer to "piano?" really "piano!" or is is some other manifestation of "music." I tried and abandoned the 10-minutes-of-guitar-per-day experiment just two months into '09; while part of me wants to JUST TRY IT AGAIN, another part of me feels that I'm really responding to the cheesy symmetry of 10 in '10. Once an adhole, always an adhole.

I am curious to hear how other people handle the Exciting Goal vs. Big-Girl-Pants Obligation divide. Which is in each column for you, and how many of each? And how are you carving them up? Part of the reason the 52 books/year jumped to the head of the line was because of Julien's genius-simple 40pp/day rule. Are there others of these I'm missing?

Whaddya got for me?


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

December in January: Backwards to go forwards

retro sign reading "stressed is desserts spelled backwards" Just before the end of the past year, I decided to forgo my usual habit of cramming my annual planning into the most riotously busy time of the year. Hence, December in January, where I spend the first month of the chronological new year planning my own, to begin in February.

Of all the things I've learned about creating meaningful goals, ones that I'm passionate about and that will prove the most useful to me in achieving life goals, by far the most important has been the year-in-review exercise.

Reading Jinny Ditzler's excellent book on values-centered goal planning, Your Best Year Yet, finally turned me around on the benefits of looking backwards to go forward. It seems so obvious in hindsight (ha!) that to plan for the future without surveying the past is at best wasteful and at worst, downright foolhardy: how can I know where I'm going if I don't know where I am, and why would I give up any intelligence that helped get me here?

I'll tell you why, it hurts like crazy. Or does for me, anyway. I'm sure there are reasonable and balanced souls out there who could look objectively and even kindly on their successes and failures of the past 12 months, but for a competitive, perfectionist workaholic, it's a day-long (minimum) exercise in high-level masochism. All the inevitable broken promises, brought on by overambition, hubris and a plain, old faulty lens. Autistic people can't parse social situations properly; I can't see time. Cannot cannot cannot, no matter how hard I try. And remember, I'm a perfectionist Virgo, so not only is there trying, there is assisted trying, paid and free, as well as all kinds of experiments in different ways of trying. Oh, the trying! It's a trial, I tell you.

The trying, the effortful, effortful trying, was a huge factor in my settling on EASE as a watchword or modus operandi. Or rather, the realization that I work my ass off for and at pretty much everything made it an obvious choice to say "yes" to once it bubbled up to the surface.

But whence the bubbling, right? Because that's what you're here for and really, as Dan put it in his scarily incisive comment of last week, this is what I've chosen to do here for the past few years, sort of unofficially, as well as what I did with intention from the outset with the Great Year-Long Experiment in Marketing, a.k.a. The Virgo Guide: to carefully and honestly look at the process, and as best I can, to set up metrics so I can see how well things work and where I'm really spending my time.

As best as I can tell, these are the activities that laid the groundwork for making the radical (for me) shift of "December in January" (i.e., choosing to delay my 12-month planning by one month), and the three-month sabbatical from for-hire work in the new year (to be reviewed and renegotiated at the end of March):

  1. Decluttering. I've been on this path for a while now, but my big Clearing my (psychic) clutter push in the fall of 2009 really shifted things, with a huge leap when I encountered the work of Brooks Palmer. His book and workshop were a huge influence on me, and our ongoing calls have been a great assist, too. (More on that in a moment.)
  2. Nei Kung. I'd stumbled on James Borrelli's site a long time ago, and was intrigued by the idea of a practice even more internal than t'ai chi or qigong (which my old acupuncturist, to her credit, kept gently pushing me towards). I've been doing Nei Kung practice daily for the past five weeks and the shifts, while not always happy, have already been surprisingly significant. Whether it's the Nei Kung, all the emotional groundwork done before, committing to a daily physical practice or some combination (most likely, I'm guessing), it's a definite keeper. Big major shoutout to fellow blogger and Nei Kung enthusiast Alan Furth, who gave me the final nudge to try it. Because it ain't cheap and I usually am.
  3. Daily walks. I've been doing these since The BF first adopted Arnie, roughly two years ago. I can now recognize the sluggishness I get when I miss a day or two. I remember a similar thing happening when I first started walking during my convalescence from the Crohn's onset in 2002. Again, part of it is the physical, part is probably just the regularity of it.
  4. Monthly shrinkage. Ongoing since 2001. I went weekly for a few years (oh, the good insurance days!), took a break for a bit, and came back for monthly tuneup/checkins. Again, not cheap, but the value of having a sane person to check in with when the compass you shipped with is a wonky one can't be calculated.
  5. Success Team, EstroFest, Google Wave with Dave and assorted other collaborative ventures. If you don't have ongoing accountability and support, get it. No one does this alone, no one. It's good to have friends, too, with their kind, Kleenex-upholstered shoulders (and even as touchstones), but committed, ongoing peer support makes it happen.
  6. Money. I've made less and less money each year since I quit acting. (I know, hilarious, right?) Which makes me even happier that I had a fat nest egg to start with. I had a goodly windfall of the bittersweet kind (father dying), but I also had a considerable amount put aside of my own. I have been a squirreler-of-funds since I had nickel #2 to rub together with nickel #1, and have invested in all kinds of crazy people-fueled ventures as well as an IRA and stocks just so I know there's always something growing, somewhere. (I'm not in a position to invest now, obviously, so don't bother asking.) Having this cushion gives me the freedom to follow my path. I cannot emphasize that enough!

The above are what I'd characterize as the "positives" that fueled this decision. There were also some negatives, and they're important, too:

  1. Overcommitting in 2009. My default solution to any problem is to throw more me at it. Unfortunately, there's less me to go around as I get older (even as there's more me in certain places), so I'm having to reexamine my methodology. I was extremely burned out by the beginning of December; I could not get enough rest, it felt like. Plus I had such a crowded schedule from a combination of saying "yes" to things, wanting to try things and my natural tendency towards workaholism that there was never any time to step back and reflect. Nothing like being on a hamster wheel of your own creation. I know, I know, they're ALL of our own creation. Still. Not like I had two kids and a spouse and a boss and a mortgage. A self-employed single person in a rent-controlled apartment? Please.
  2. Dissatisfaction with consulting business model. I love aspects of consulting, but the wear and tear on me is phenomenal. In addition, I know I did a bad job both of managing expectations and establishing boundaries. I had no way of knowing how much I'd suck at certain aspects of this until I tried it (nor of how much I'd enjoy others), so I'm glad I did. If/when I pick it up again, my way of doing it will be very, very different: more clearly defined, better managed and most likely, more expensive. (I'm open to any interesting ideas about this, by the way.)
  3. Unsatisfied yearnings. While I did enjoy running the Biznik meetups, doing the consulting work, co-hosting Presentation Camp, etc., I found the greatest satisfaction in writing, meeting people I really clicked with and spending time with them (most of whom I found via writing and reading) and the little bit of reading I did. I also loved doing so much speaking, but the exhilaration I felt doing the Ignite presentation vs. the business-related presentations. I'm not sure what that means yet in terms of what to do moving forward, but it bears further examination.
  4. Ill health. Fortunately, I had only one major health issue this year, back in the spring, when I pushed myself too hard and strayed too far off my diet. And even more fortunately, I was able to pull myself back without resorting to steroids, as I've usually done. Still, this scared the crap out of me, both literally and figuratively. (Ah, Crohn's! What a delight you are, my little barometer!) I really want to get off of the meds I'm on, and that can't happen until I've implemented much better self-care habits.

There were other indicators that I was drifting into the red zone: alcohol usage creep; laziness/anxiety-fueled poor eating habits; increased nail and cuticle biting; poor sleep; off-the-charts web surfing and viewing of comfort films. I know way too much about the habits of a certain fameball and the people who watch her, and if my copy of Play Misty for Me was an LP, it would be worn smooth. Thank whomever I gave up cable, at least.

Modesty prohibits me making an exhaustive list of what I'd consider to be my successes of the past year, but I did list them, and if I may be immodest for just the one minute, I produced a crapload of work last year, and made many, many breakthroughs. I'm most pleased with the quantity, and quality, of the writing I committed to; that it was the one goal I actually followed through on is rather telling. I fell one post short of my goal of 260, and did not miss a month of my acting column or newsletter, nor a week of posting at the Virgo Guide.

You'd think I'd look at all this and come up with the simple answer to just write my ass off, and to hell with the rest. Alas, the sum total of money I made from writing last year wouldn't keep me in expenses for more than a month. My savings, while ample enough for now, can't fund this experiment indefinitely, so I'll have to figure out how to make money writing, or to make money doing something else with a low mental load so I can reserve strength for writing. The ideal scenario workwise seems to be Gladwellian: a 90/10 or 95/5 ratio of writing to speaking, and always on what interests me. I don't need nearly the cash our boy Malcolm makes, but I need that ratio.

Is it realistic? Not in year one, and maybe never. At least I have a picture in my head of what the best future looks like, and a start with some role models...

xxx c

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

December in January: Goal-setting around the web

painting of someone's home computer network

Just before the end of the past year, I decided to forgo my usual habit of cramming my annual planning into the most riotously busy time of the year. Hence, “December in January,” where I spend the first month of the chronological new year planning my own, to begin in February.

I'm deeply enmeshed in unpacking Dan Owen's staggeringly thought-provoking comment of a few days ago; more on that soon, possibly as soon as Monday. But for now, while the rest of the Internet has moved on and is attacking 2010 with glorious gusto, I thought it might be nice to share some of the best posts, ideas and resources I've collected for woodwork-squeaks-and-out-come-us-freaks types who said "Hell!" to all that, and are enjoying December in January. Or hey, if you're like that, you can always bookmark it for consumption later this year!

One-Word Annual Theme stuff

Christine Kane, whom I saw perform at SOBCon 2008 (and whom I can personally vouch for being the real deal), has been doing one-word themes for years now. So she's really well qualified to help other people with the process, and has done so most generously via a terrific downloadable PDF that walks you through a possible process for DIY-ing it. She suggests that you may want to get some help in the form of collaborators or support, and I heartily endorse that, too. But if you're a stubborn cuss, you can go it alone.

Jared Goralnick has been a friend for a couple of years now (we met at SOBCon 2008, as well, come to think of it, that really was a bang-up event!). While he's roughly 20 years my junior, he is waaay far ahead of me at setting and keeping and tracking goals, and he's got a post from 1999, before I was ON the damn web!, to prove it. Here is Jared's post on his theme for 2010; you can access previous years through it. Even better (to my mind) is his thoughtful review of 2009, which gives a peek into the "why" of the 2010 word.

I didn't know about Ali Edwards until I stumbled across her this year, but she's another old hand at this one-word thing. Her post on 2010's word is here; she did an interesting series of posts on how she compiles a book for each year, the last of which has lots of pictures of the finished project. I'm not a big mind-mapper or scrapper, but I do enjoy reading about other people's more tactile/visual processes, and think there's always value in discovering new methodologies, even if I don't implement them. (I need to break myself of this habit though, as regards recipe-clipping. Ugh.)

It's a little more than one word, two more, to be exact, but I always love reading about Chris Brogan's theme words for the year. He's another guy I've watched skyrocket to success over the few years I've known him, and I've known him well enough to know the methodicalness behind his mad success. In other words, it's a 1,000 little steps you don't see for every one you do. Here's Chris's post for 2010; it includes great info about how to go about the process of determination yourself, and provides links to his previous years.

Alt-goal-setting stuff

I discovered and met artist-teacher Lisa Sonora Beam in the space of several weeks late last year. It was one of those off-to-the-races relationships, facilitated by Lisa's maintaining a brief residency just over the pass. Lisa does a lot of very strategic work with collage and definitely speaks in fluent "artist." She's writing a terrific 4-part series on how to plan your year AND make your own cool planner, which should be right up your alley if you're a visual-artistic type. (Read: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4) If you're a creative business owner, you might also be interested in her book, The Creative Entrepreneur, which is the most unorthodox methodology for coming up with a business plan I've ever seen. (Which is a good thing!)

I found Lisa Sonora Beam's posts via an excellent year-end round-up by Alexia Petrakos. In it are resources from my other friends Pam Slim & Charlie Gilkey, Chris Brogan and Chris Guillebeau which I would have linked to separately, but Alexia thoughtfully did my curation for me. Yay, Alexia! Also, she stuck my 2009 "100 Things" posts there. Again, yay, Alexia!

Miscellaneous goal-type stuff

Julien Smith has been such a big influence on my reading list since I discovered him; his repeated, deliberate attempts to read a book a week are truly inspirational. So I confess, when I saw this helpful post about how he actually managed to read a book a week in 2009 (after years of trying), I jumped ahead and committed to it (reserving the right to dump it in February if it doesn't align with my final goals). So far, I'm on track, and love it. Simple but effective methodology, and actually reading these books regularly and intentionally is already having a positive effect.

I skip most "Best of" lists, as they're kind of junk-food posts, for the most part. But Rex Sorgatz's outstanding 30 best blogs of 2009 post is thoughtfully curated and very instructional for those of us who have a blog figuring greatly into our goals. In short? I would very much like to make a year-end list of such quality at some point, so it's worth it to me to pay attention to what makes the cut with the kind of reader who would write something this wise.

What else?

I've written other posts about goal-setting that link to other resources about goal-setting in that recursive way things tend to go on the Internet. The December and January columns I write for Casting Network's monthly newsletter tend to dig into reviewing and planning; there are also strategic resources for unsticking yourself throughout (actors being a necessarily self-involved lot, they tend to need a lot of regular jarring and unsticking).


Here are two posts I found from publisher Michael Hyatt: one on the looking-backwards process (a great, much SHORTER, possibly more fun version than Jinny Ditzler's for the impatient); one on setting S.M.A.R.T. goals (i.e., Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-Bound) to make sure they have the best chance of sticking. (via Rachelle Gardner)

I'd love to know of any resources I missed, and I'm sure other people would, as well. What are your favorites? All-time and of late? Please share them with fellow travelers in the comments!


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

December in January: More room

Just before the end of the past year, I decided to forgo my usual habit of cramming my annual planning into the most riotously busy time of the year. Hence, "December in January," where I spend the first month of the chronological new year planning my own, to begin in February.

Several weeks ago, I happened to see a post to Twitter from a sometime/longtime web acquaintance, Dave Seah:

(In case you're reading from a mobile device or something else that can't parse the screenshot of Dave's tweet, it reads: "This week, I will try to practice 'do not hurry. do not wait.'")

I had no idea what it meant. Okay, I had some small idea of what it meant. It was about not being rushed into things, but taking time to handle them in a sane and rational fashion. It was about procrastination, or the not-doing of it.

But further unpacked, it was about a lot of other things: the over-and-over-again nature of changing our most deeply ingrained habits. And having patience with oneself during the process. And needing both the accountability and support of one's fellow travelers to reach this mythical new land of Doing Things Differently.

I didn't take the time to unpack it in the moment, for which I'm now very grateful. The small, still voice inside me screamed, "DM him right now and say you're in." And so I did, not knowing what "in" was, nor even really knowing Dave that well. I'd known of and read and vaguely admired him for years, but hadn't thought to start following him on Twitter until Pam Slim stuck us in the same post about her current web obsessions. We communicated here and there via @-reply, but only sporadically, not enough to allow for friend traction.*

"In" did not reveal itself for another month or so, when, mulling over how I might familiarize myself Google Wave to prepare for an upcoming conference I'm speaking at, I thought that a two-person collaboration with a fellow nerd might teach me a thing or two. Dave was game, bless his heart, and we were off to the races.

We talked about Dave's tweet, and what it meant. (It meant mostly what I thought it had.) We talked about how we might use Wave, and how to use Wave (it's not especially intuitive). We talked about goals and blogging; we talked about things we were afraid of and things we were no longer as afraid of.

Basically, we talked, we're still talking, and let the agenda unfold as it needed to. And it turns out that while this is not an especially comfortable place for me to live in that it feels unnatural, it's an exceptionally comfortable place for me to live in that it feels roomy. Luxurious, even, so much space and freedom in which to play.

This, I now realize, is what I was after when I began decluttering in earnest last fall, or even when I began searching for the articulation of my purpose back in 2007: MORE ROOM. It has roots in my bloody epiphany of 2002, my out-of-body experience on a shitty Santa Monica stage years before that, my move(s) from one place to another (only to find myself repeatedly back in my own, miserable backyard), my childhood fits of inchoate longing. O, holy night, aren't we all looking for that one thing, or at least that one clearly-marked road to it, that is the fullest expression of our being?

Of course, MORE ROOM is not the ultimate thing I'm looking for. But it is the thing I've repeatedly denied myself, that I've skipped over and brushed aside because who has time for such foolishness, nor need of it when one is willing to work like an ox, to push like a mofo, to break like the wind? And MORE ROOM is the next thing I need to find my way back to the thing, or to the path that will take me there.**

MORE ROOM, then, will most likely be my theme for 2010. Not particularly sexy***, but wildly extravagant (for me), which is a kind of sexy (to me): as I said in the original December in January post, I'm taking off a minimum of three months to make more room for myself, which means a further erosion of savings. I prefer to look at it as an investment in my future, a self-directed Ph.D. program of sorts, complete with lots of writing and reading and late-night coffees off-campus to hash over the meaning of meaning. I have no dependents and a relatively small overhead, so I can afford to be especially luxurious with my time, but I suspect anyone can create some room for herself if she really wants it. There was a time when the only time I could grab for myself was a quarter-hour in the morning with my spiral notebook, and grab I did: on the closed lid of a toilet seat, before my husband awoke. We do what we must.

What must you do this year? What are you planning to give yourself, and in which direction will you walk?

Whether you're plotting out your own December in January or are the blissfully organized, fully-mapped-out mistress of time management I hope someday to be, I would love to hear about your themes and hopes and plans for these coming months...


Image by srp6685 via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

*Interestingly enough, I've met up in person and developed nice friendships with both Jonathan Fields and Peter Shankman, the other two people in the post, as well as Pam herself. Quite a thing when done right, the Internet.

**I can hear someone, somewhere, arguing that MORE ROOM or the giving of it to myself IS the path; I hear you and appreciate it, but this is my cocksucking boulder and my motherfucking hill, and I get to name both the signposts and the obstacles.

***And who said everything had to be sexy, anyway? The Louvre isn't sexy, it's magnificent, as is the feeling one has walking through the Louvre, looking at all those objets that represent all that human thought and all those man-hours. I'll take magnificent or luxurious or even comfortable over sexy any day of the week. Sexy is good as a spice, but lousy as base nutrition.

Wherein I turn in the direction of the music

I've had a semi-ironic appointment with myself on the calendar for a few months now, called "Colleen's Happy Holiday Break."

In case it's not obvious, I'm ambivalent at best when it comes to the season. I do look forward to certain treats, the annual viewing of The Third Man, the delivery of the pears. But on top of the regular-usual seasonal depression, this year and last have been a little brutal when it comes to my backwards/forwards review and goal-planning for one simple reason: I have no idea what I'm doing next.

Or maybe I do, and am avoiding it. I know, for example, that I need to continue letting go of the things I acquired during the accumulative years, all the shit I was buying and trying as I looked outside of myself for my style and my wants and my definition*. I know I need to really and truly (and literally) close the books on my moribund graphic design business, something I'd already be fighting because of my perennial money issues but that's exponentially (haha) more difficult because it means I really and truly need to commit to the next thing.

What I don't know yet is what the next thing looks like, because there's no track for it. There was a school track, an advertising track, an acting track. Even graphic design was a sort of track: I knew what the jobs looked like, I knew either how to go get them or could enlist help in figuring it out. I'm good at tracks! Maybe most of us are. Given a clear target, figuring out where to point one's guns is pretty simple; without a target, one tends to spend most of one's time bivouacked on the fields of WTF, smoking unfiltered cigarettes and trying to hold the freakouts at bay.**

I have cordoned off these two weeks for search purposes, keeping them relatively free of commitments. The few non-holiday-related ones are my lifelines, the accountability meetups (I'm up to three regularly scheduled ones, plus a one-off). The interior renovations began in earnest yesterday, as I began prep on my annual 100 Things list.*** A tradition that began as a silly exercise has turned into a silly exercise that has me dumping the contents of every memory container in the digital house all over the desktop and sifting through it. Cathartic! And horrifying!

I'm not alone in this, thank gawd. Backwards/forwards values-based planning is all the rage now, and there are wonderful, detailed posts from all sorts of smart folks who are organized enough to have this plan underway, if not already completed. I'm also weighing the possibility of chucking my old program and just rolling with a Happiness Project in 2010. Hey, who couldn't use more happiness, right?

Wherever I end up, though, I start here: me, (metaphorically) naked, my stuff spread out before me under a good, strong light.

Words of wisdom and encouragement (and even commiseration) most welcome...


*Don't get me wrong, that decade of 38-to-48 was wildly important, and I regret very little of it. But to keep scouring the world outside for answers would be like a 14-year-old still playing dress-up from the tatty cast-offs in mom's trunk.

**Okay. No one is dying on these battlefields anytime soon. Bad analogy, perhaps. But likening my mental state to one of the characters from Interiors is too embarrassing even for me, not to mention hopelessly obscure.

***If you've never had the pleasure and enjoy list-y stuff, they're 95% evergreen: 2008 (Part 1 & Part 2) will link you to all the rest. Or let Google do the work for you.

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

Egg, meet face (or, "What the hell happened to my November and where the hell we're going in 2009")

This is the part where I look like an asshole.

That novel? Didn't happen. Not over Thanksgiving, not in 30 days, not not not. I don't see it happening in the near future, either, and not because it's hard to see what's coming down the pike through all this egg on my face.

I had a long talk about the novel during my last Seattle trip with my Hillbilly-Jewish Cousin. We talked about fear (did I have any around writing this book) and love (did I love the idea of writing this book).

Fear? No.

I'm not afraid of writing a book, and I'm certainly not afraid about being upfront with the gnarly details of living with Crohn's disease. I love the idea of a book that potentially adds to the greater good (and is hilarious) rather than a book (even if it is hilarious) that adds to the coffers of me and some publishing house and, down the road, if we're lucky, and the stars align, a movie studio.

Not that I have anything against money! (More, much, much more, on that later this month.) Money is awesome! It lets you do stuff. It gives you choices. At its best, it's magical, time-shifted energy: an ingenious, asynchronous exchange of me for you. And you know what? After many years of misanthropy and almost as many of self-loathing, I really like both of us: we're awesome, just like money! In fact, we are money, as the man said when he was still young, slim and unafflicted by the burden of too much energy-as-money and no good way to channel it into something meaningful.

But love? Ah. Love is a different story.

I have love in my heart for this fictional girl and her story, and for all real girls still in the process of writing their own real stories. Last week, I spent some more time with a group of women who totally get that: Keren Taylor and the amazing volunteers and mentors at WriteGirl, who work with girls from at-risk situations and turn them into fire-breathing powerhouses of take-no-prisoners fabulosity.

Well, actually, they use writing as a way to help the girls strengthen their voices and understand what it's like to feel empowered, as well as doing tangible stuff like getting them into print and into college. If you're looking for a great place to dump some of your extra time or money, you could do a lot worse than forking it over to Keren and WriteGirl. More on that and other great places to rid yourself of that pesky extra money (Vince Vaughan, are you listening?) later this month, as well.

What the hell was I doing, then, in this month off from writing publicly? A whole lot of thinking. And hashing out. And bouncing stuff off of various trusted resources. I laid out my fears and hopes and baby dreams, my ideas and tentative to-do list, my wildly burdensome sackful of unfulfilled obligations and bad karmic debts.

Here's what I found: I am only interested in what I am interested in. And I cannot be interested in spending one second of the 40-some-odd years I have left (if I'm lucky) doing something that compromises my own voice.

I get that for as many champions as I had at the publishing house for those first few sample chapters filled with poop and laughs, I had an equal amount of detractors, and I get why: it was filled with at least as much poop as it was laughs, and that is starkly terrifying for some people. The truth, and certainly my truth (which, in fairness to me, is what I'd been asked to share), but no less terrifying for being so.

It is scary to sign on for the truth; it can be imprudent. Risk is always, um, risky. That's why it's called "risk," right? Risk can seem especially risky in uncertain economic times. Unfortunately, there is no real living without risk. No growth, no change and certainly, no love.

So for now, I am going to be That Asshole who is not following up on the incredibly unusual, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to float a novel out there at the request of an Actual Publisher. I have a plan, though, for a lot of other cool, growth-oriented, change-promoting, fabulosity-increasing stuff. A BIG plan, which will start to unfold in posts on this very site over the course of December and through the next year.

  • I'm going to start sharing more excellent resources here, like I do in my beloved (by me and a growing number of readers) newsletters.
  • I'm going to lighten the fuck up a little, like I used to do, because sweet baby jesus on a bouncing kangaroo, if ever we needed more lightness, we need it now.
  • I'm going to post more plain, old useful tutorials here, about communications tools and how to feel the opposite of useless and maybe even ways of attracting a little more plain, old-fashioned love into your life. Because the more of us who are making meaningful contact and changing the world with our unique gifts and yes, goddammit, getting laid, the better off we're going to be.

I'm also going to be dramatically shifting the direction of my work-for-hire life. And making it public, and maybe even soliciting your help in getting the word out. Because (say it with me) MONEY IS AWESOME! and while my now almost-year-long almost-sabbatical has been awesome in its own way, it's time to get down with the facts that: (a) I can't do everything for free forever; and (b) if I can support myself in a modest way that also allows for the flexibility of a great deal more travel, I can get out there in the real world like I did in October and November, and meet more of you in person, Southwest be damned!

In the meantime, since you're a loyal reader of the blog (or one of the few lost souls who has found his way here looking for something of an entirely different nature, and so you know, that last link is 100% not safe for work), I'm going to share with you a work-in-progress preview of my formal "Hire Colleen!" page:

Colleen's Super-Secret, Hire-the-Communicatrix Page

I will still be available for design work in 2009, but only for a select few projects and only after we've gone through an initial consulting thingamajiggy. I'm a fair-to-middling designer, good, even, when inspired. Thing is, I've been inspired less and less to use my design skills and more and more to do what I truly love: to help provide marketing focus to overwhelmed, go-getting, world-changing rockstars, particularly by showing you how to manage the increasingly complex (but brilliantly cheap and flexible) social media space.

Again, as with so much of this, more on that later. But really, for the first time in well over a year, I'm really clear on what I want to be doing, and thus really, REALLY excited about doing it.

With a vengeance.

With bells on.

With all the excitement and fervor and, let's face it, sense of urgency that starting a major phase of work life at age 47 entails.

I thank you for the amazing support I've received so far. I hope to take it less for granted moving forward, and to do more stuff that is more fun and more useful for you and the rest of the world (a.k.a. those people who don't know about us yet).

Finally, if you have any thoughts, ideas or questions, tutorials you'd like me to write, issues you'd like me to address, please do leave them in the comments, or if they're of a very personal nature, you can email them to me via the gmail.

I cannot WAIT for all of this to start. And fortunately, I don't have to. Because it just did...


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

What I'm giving myself for my fourth anniversary

Mary Ellen called it in the comments of the last post: I have my life set up, like it or not, around accountability.

I make appointments and agreements out loud and publicly to keep myself on track and actually producing, rather than just musing about it. It's why I started this blog four years ago today, to externalize my process, in the hope of getting clear on my own inner workings. And to (hopefully) be helpful by sharing some of this knowledge I gained so, so late in the goddamned game. (No prodigy, I.)

I also did it to become a better writer, by which I mean a writer who is particularly good at it in her own, particular way, and also a writer who actually writes. Because a writer who doesn't write is just another schmuck who ought to go do something of actual utility, like raising responsible citizens who engage in critical thinking, or scrubbing toilets at a 99-seat theater, or raising money for starving people in ravaged parts of the world.

I'm kind of stuck being a writer, or a communicator, or the communicatrix, rather, because I'm not that all-fire great at being anything else. I'm a decent designer and an okay actress, but the amount of energy I need to expend to do those things at any level of excellence makes them a lousy ROI for me and, I'm feeling more and more, the world. We've all of us got to figure out what we're the very, very best at, and what we're here to do to make the world a better place, and just do the hell out of that thing. Did I wish I was a genius designer? Oh, yes. Did I hope to change the world from a slightly raised proscenium? Damned straight.

Alas, those were not to be my platforms. They were great training grounds for picking up necessary skills, but they're not the Big Show.

This is the big show. This, this. For better or for worse, externalizing my process. And, with a little continued good fortune in the right direction, helping other people to discover and disseminate their own fabulosity*.

So in the same way that I use Arno J. to help me in my practice of morning reflection, my shrink to help me in my practice of emotional honesty and my marketing coach to help me in my practice of business, I have decided to engage a little external help to kickstart my writing practice. That's right, those of you who clicked that last link: I've joined the ranks of the NaNoWriMo-heads, and am going to slam out a shitty first draft of a novel I was asked to write over a year ago.

Asked to write. By a major publishing house. On a theme wildly dear to my heart. Over a year ago.

Sometimes, I have to pause to reflect on how truly asinine I can be. Because really, it's spectacular, albeit in a horrifying way.

I actually turned in sample chapters at the beginning of this year, which were, to my surprise and delight, much beloved by the editorial team. But the people who would actually have had to sell the book? Let's just say I got a big "yes" on the voice, and a not-so-much on the execution.

I've put it off long enough. Now I either do it or dump it off the "to-do" list for the foreseeable future, and move on. And, as Marketing Coach sez, that's asinine. No one gets asked to write a novel. No one who's never written a proven one, anyway.

So I will sign off for now, as I have a great deal of writing to do. I will not sign off for a month, though if I write less of substance here, perhaps you will be understanding and forgiving.

I will, of course, continue observing my current writing obligations, including the monthly newsletter (next issue out this Wednesday, subscribe here) and the monthly acting column.

Wish me luck. Stay in touch. Keep on living your life out loud.

xxx c

Image of a geranium, the fourth-anniversary flower, by Swami Stream via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

*That's also very much writing-related, but also involves moving increasingly into speaking and consulting. Which I'm doing, but which is not the particular focus of this piece. If you're interested in either of those things:

  • me, coming to speak to your group about how to use marketing and social media to get your message to the Peoples or...
  • me, working with you in a consulting-type fashion, to help you sort out what message you're trying to put out to the world and how to make sure it's elegant, accessible, "you" and focused like a motherfucking laser beam...

...you should email me. Seriously. All these crazy skillz I picked up during my travels through advertising, performing and graphic-designing are proving extraordinarily useful at helping people sort out their shit in a non-painful, actually-fun sort of way.