A quiet, simple life with dollops of insanity

me, by mike monteiro A few months ago, I had occasion to take an unusual and particularly interesting inventory of my life.

I say "unusual" because as a chronic self-dev-junkie-(slash)-overthinker, my default setting is "taking inventory." Taking Inventory is a sort of state of being, an always-on operation that provides a constant, low-level background hum.1 (Which, given this hearing loss I seem to have sustained from a particularly fabulous but surprisingly loud record-release party last fall, is actually a boon.)

I say "particularly interesting" because while any reasonably thoughtful inventory can yield some pretty wowser data, the circumstances surrounding this one changed both the way I approached the inventory and, I'm guessing, the quality of the results.

In this case, I had a really limited window to get very, very clear on my priorities, with probably no further at-bats. So the thing had to be vast and done fast, and the stakes were much higher than usual. This created an uncharacteristic mix of thoroughness and detachment in my execution, and a startling clarity in the results: quietude and simplicity are more important to me than, well, a lot.

They are more important than money, for sure. This is non-news, I've walked away from a lucrative position (with benefits! and opportunity for advancement!) because while I very much liked the stuff, I did not like the nonsense demanded as payment. Even more insanely, perhaps, I walked away from a consultancy I'd just started developing because it felt overly complex and "noisy." I get that there are very few true "mailcart guy" jobs, but I'm still prepared to scale back even more and take a dumb-ass day job that supports a simple life rather than push through noise and complexity for money. Comfort isn't comforting if you're using it as chaos management.

What the inventory made clear (and which is still hard to wrap my head around) is that quietude and simplicity are more important than being liked, or in some cases, loved.2 I have always had a deeply-felt need to please and to serve. I still do, but I've finally ceded my physical limits: there is neither enough time nor enough me to go around; what's more, I have some faulty factory-installed parts that shut down operations if I don't handle them gingerly.

* * *

So why the hell would someone who likes to keep it quiet and simple go to something like SXSWi, a now-22,000-person-strong (by some estimates) clusterfuck in a town barely able to accommodate half that, an "educational" conference whose programming is legendarily spotty (and getting worse), and whose noise and activity levels drain the lifeblood of even normal, hardy extraverts with youth on their side?

At first, back in 2006, I went out of curiosity and a need to be game. My then-boyfriend wanted to go, and I have learned that leaping has its rewards. So I leapt, and it was good, except for the burning out, which was bad. I learned about what makes a good (and a bad) talk. I learned actual stuff about podcasting and design. I saw movies, which was reason enough to go.3 I was really grateful I went, and grateful to him for encouraging (i.e., pushing) me to go.

When I leapt again in 2008, it was because I'd met a bunch of people online and wanted to meet them in real life, and while I was still uncomfortable with the practice, I recognized that the only way to it is through it. 2009 and 2010 became more and more about connecting with my now-friends, while slowly expanding my circle.

This year, quite frankly, I went because I had gone before. I went because I was afraid if I didn't, I might be missing something. While that's true, I actually would have missed a number of terrific chance encounters and planned meetups, going "just because" is no longer adequate as a sole reason to do something.4 And the drawbacks inherent in a massive, out-of-town conference, where it's impossible to get true downtime, where the panels are so many and so spread apart it's literally impossible to get to some of them on time, where the crowds are so thick and the control of them so absent a small person feels unsafe, mean this was probably my last South-by. It would take extraordinary circumstances to get me back, and a lot of ingenuity in the personal engineering of it. I like my insanity as much as the next guy, but I can only like it in micro-doses.

* * *

I had a short spasm of semi-coherent debriefing in the Wave with my friend Dave. I vented my frustration, my feelings of overwhelm, my nostalgic longing for the Good Old Days when it was a "tiny" conference of less than 10,000 people. He reminded me that even then, way back in 2006, there was an old guard complaining about how SXSWi had tipped, how it had been taken over by non-makers, how it had been "ruined" by this next wave of people discovering the web as a publishing tool, a means of connection. And he was right. And I am right. And SXSWi is right (if a conference can be right): it is a living thing, there to serve the people of the web in the time that they are using it. I greatly enjoyed my five visits, and I'm fine with handing it over to whomever is moving into this ever-changing, always amazing space.

May you enjoy your glorious new thing, and may I find my new dollops of insanity easily and joyfully, and may we all leave the world a better place in our own particular way.

xxx c

1What I mean by this is that I am constantly analyzing where I'm at and examining ways in which I might be resisting not moving further. Kind of like relentless self-development. There are obvious actions like being part of a growth-directed mastermind group, psychotherapy, and reading a great deal of self-development books and other materials on how other people tackle change. There are less-obvious actions like simply turning my attention (constantly, consistently) to whatever thing I've identified that I want to change, noticing envy, for instance, and going through a sort of on-site inspection/analysis/implementation process. If you have questions about this, please do ask them in the comments, or, if they're super-private (and I totally get how they might be) feel free to email me.

2The "loved" part I still don't have a handle on. I'd like to believe there's a way to be me and be in a primary relationship, if only for the seemingly contraindicated reason that primary relationships are the world's greatest self-development labs. Also, division of labor is a great time-saver. Also, footrubs!

3Although strangely enough I preferred the tech-y stuff and the meeting people. Mostly, I treated the movies, once we were inside, and over the stress of the lines and the "will this Gold Badge actually get us in and decent seats?", as a way to be quiet and shore up needed energy for more mixing it up.

4I did also go because it's still a cost-efficient way to see a number of people at once. The problem is that there's a cap on the number, say, 30, and that's on the outside. Over four days, given my capacity, I have the ability to have meaningful meetups with about 30 people. Hugs in the hallway are awesome, and it's always nice to make a quick connection to someone in real life which you can then continue later, online and off. But meals, drinks and hangouts? You're talking 30, maybe 40. 50 if you don't need the insane amount of disco-nappage that I do these days.

UPDATE 4/7/11: Many writers have posted pieces, chiefly grumpy, about how SXSW has finally jumped the shark. Or that maybe it did last year. Or two years ago. Or 10. My favorite take on the hoo-ha is one written by my pal John Gruber. (And it should be noted that John and I "met" via Twitter, then met a few years ago at...SXSWi! After it had jumped the shark and everything, according to the old hands.) John's take is, as per usually with John's writing, straightforward, thoughtful, and succinct. You should probably read it, if you're interested in that kind of stuff.

But for sheer charm, you should treat yourself to my friend Alissa Walker's SXSW writeup. Because no one touches Alissa Walker for sheer charm. Especially with photodocumentation!

Photo of yours truly in a rare SXSW moment of relative quiet by Mike Monteiro, used under a Creative Commons license.

Lessons from 2010: Maximal joy, minimal hoo-ha

still life with note: "find the thing you love to do and do the shit out of it" I have been thinking a lot about love and friction, only not in the way your mind maybe-perhaps just jumped to, if you are like me and we are both, like, 12.

I have been thinking about love in terms of what I love, and whom I love, and how those two things intersect. For example, I love figuring stuff out, reading and taking in and mulling over and hashing out and finally, getting some semblance of a clue. I can do all of these things on my own; I must do quite a bit of it on my own. Maybe the ratio changes as one gets older and, presumably, wiser, but for now, I'd reckon I spend three to four times as much time taking in and hashing out and so forth as I do actually gaining semblances of clues, much less putting them out there.

But while the part that I'm actually sharing with others, the "talking" here, in posts, and in the comments, and in social media, as well as the talking-for-real one-on-one, in groups, during talks, takes up perhaps a smaller amount of time, it delivers a disproportionately large part of the thrill. Which makes sense: We are social beings! We like being around each other! Wherever two or three are gathered! And so on.

So the answer to love seems pretty straightforward: figure out what it is you really and truly love, and move toward it. Do more of it, be around more of the people who facilitate it for you. Relentlessly hew to your love, and ignore that other stuff, or just deal and dispense with it as quickly as possible.1

Friction is more complex. More obviously complex, anyway.

For our purposes here, "friction" is what stops you, or slows you, what creates drag. And the tricky thing is that you don't want to get rid of it entirely, because some of the friction is good for you, and arguably necessary: who learns from easy? You may like easy; I certainly do.

Trickiest of all is that friction can be fun, in the right amounts (cf. that thing our 12-year-old minds immediately went to). The right amount of push-back in a conversation is thrilling, even (or especially) when it borders on maddening. Worthy opponent, and all that. Ditto solo problem-solving and, jeez, is it just me, or is all of this tinged with innuendo today? Well, you get my point. (Point? Really? Argh!)

In the wrong amounts, of course, friction is dreadful, even deadly. Too much friction will grind you to a nub. For me, advertising shifted from the good, learning friction to the bad, grinding kind. So did acting. So did, I'm ashamed to say, more than one long-term relationship.

Most pertinently to me, so did the confluence of friction-filled endeavors that led to my Crohn's onset. First, because since my collapse in September of 2002, I can no longer count on Powering Though Shit as a modus operandi.2 Second, because that sucker crept up on me, and while I was, or thought I was, moving toward love. I wasn't in advertising; I was acting, and in a great play! I wasn't in an unfulfilling marriage; I was in a wildly passionate relationship!

Yeah, I know. Nothing like a good, clear view from the outside. Or hindsight.

What about the present, though? Because like it or not, that's where we're all doomed to live, no matter how much we look back wistfully or project ourselves into the future.

My suspicion is that the clearer one gets about love, what love means to one, what one cares about more than one's own small human self, the simpler it becomes to discern that line where useful friction shifts into fruitless grinding.

My other suspicion is that for those of us who are good at kidding ourselves about what love is, who are good at "keeping things vague," as my old Method acting teacher used to say, the very most useful tool of all is the truth. Relentless truth. Gentle truth. Simple truth. The truth at the core of the Method: "Where am I right now?"

  • I am at a party, late at night, having fun.

The first two items are facts; the last is a state of being, or an assumption based on the first two items. Provided we're playing what we'd call in the Method class a "simple" scene, drama or comedy with a clear who/what/where, as opposed to the kind where there's a lot of dramaturgy required before you can make heads or tails of it, we start with these tangibles. And we challenge the assumptions.

  • I am at a party, late at night. It is loud, and I am unable to hear the person next to me without him shouting and me straining to listen. I was up early this morning and up late the night before. I am tired. My attention is straying elsewhere, mostly to thoughts of quiet and sleep.

So I am not in a party, late at night, having fun. Maybe I was having fun. Maybe I am supposed to be having fun. But now, at best, I am having "fun".

This may sound ridiculously obvious: You're at a party and you're tired and not having fun? Leave, dumbass! Who's keeping you there? And who needs an exercise for this?

Well, maybe you do not. In certain situations, more and more of them, thankfully, I do not. More and more I am awake and attuned to my real feelings, and more and more I am inclined to act on them. Still, I have blind spots, both unavoidable, the ones I don't know about yet, and willful, the ones I'm still, for whatever reason, unwilling to give up. I power through, I blip over, I look away out of fear or politeness (which one could argue is a form of fear).

One big truth at the end of last year was that the way I was working was not working. After a year of both musing and actual, physical testing, I think it comes down to this: I had stopped being truthful about what it was I loved, i.e., the thing I care about more than my own, small human self, and stopped being careful about managing friction, i.e. the physical realities that made it possible to pursue it. Now I don't have to just guess whether MORE ROOM makes for a happier, healthier, more productive and loving Colleen; I know it.

I know I need a certain number of hours of sleep per night and the right kind of food and enough exercise.

I know I need a ridiculous amount (to some) of time spent alone, and in a quiet, nurturing environment.

I know that doing the shit out of something is fine, but that it may involve equal parts pursuing the something and lounging on the bed or in the bath, reading, and not just reading books that will obviously move me toward my goals, but engrossing novels, vivid memoirs, enchanting graphic novels.

I know that it is as important for me to take an hour to walk as it is three to write. It is as important for me to take three hours to shop for real food and prepare it as it is to work on my PowerPoint deck.

Those 16 non-working hours in a day aren't for squeezing more stuff into; they're not even for making the eight working hours work better, although you can use them for that, which I confess is largely why I started turning my attention to them. They're for living. Living! Who knew?

My (slightly) older but infinitely wiser friends Hiro and my First-Shrink-Slash-Astrologer both advocate more being, less doing. In my heart, I know they are right; I also know that to tell a doer to Just Stop Doing It is like telling snow not to fall or water not to move downstream. For the time being, then, for 2011 and beyond, I will continue to look at different kinds of doing. Switching doings. Working, yes, working, on further reducing drag.

Finding ways to discern and describe what it is I love in real terms. Finding ways to reduce drag on my movements toward them.

With joy! Towards love! And as much as possible, out in the open, where it might be seen and made use of. But working.

For now the "being" will have to take the form of "being okay with that."

xxx c

1It may take a while to discover exactly what it is that you love, but there are tools for that: The Artist's Way is a good start for those who self-identify as creative; plenty of tools and exercises for excavating your truest, purest self, for me, the part that is still 10, before my dreams started bumping up against the world's expectations. Until I was 10, I was an artist, I didn't have to think about whether I was, or what it meant, or whether I was a good one, or whether (and this is a big one) it was practical or not. I just was.

2This does not mean I have not tried; oh, me, how I've tried! Each time, a little less successfully. I tire astonishingly quickly now compared to the rate I did during my 20s and 30s, or even my mid-40s, and my bounce-back rate gets slower and slower.

New passport photo, or "How to go about actually crossing stuff off your list"


I'm accommodationally bifurcated these days, dividing my time between My Country House (aka The BF's spacious and bucolic Actual House with Lawn, Patio & Dog) and my bachelorette pad (aka Rent Control Central, "Colleen's Stubborn Handhold on Freedom," or, during certain parts of summer, "The E-Z-Bake Oven"), so I can't tell you how long ago my previous passport expired.

So let me just repeat: my previous passport expired.

In my 36 years of international travel, this has never happened. Never ever ever ever never. Not. Ever. And I'm horrifically embarrassed about it having happened this time, one or possibly even two years ago, extenuating circumstances* or not. Because in my family, no matter what, you had a passport at the ready, even if you had zero intention of traveling for the foreseeable future.**

The truth is this: every time I looked in the mirror over the past two years, I recoiled a little. I may joke about being a ladygeezer or (not) going gray or fettering certain protrusions that were heretofore unfettered, but a part of me always hurt a little bit. I'm not crazy about my eyes starting to get that tired look or my hair thinning or the weight that now gently encases my middle, and so far, I've been dealing with them all by compartmentalizing and ignoring or leading with a joke: the latter in public, the former in private.

I'm not fishing for compliments (although hey, I won't reject sincere ones if you're compelled). This is not about anyone saying, "Hey, you look great!" or even "Hey, you look great for your age!" It's me, dealing with mortality (which we all must) and advancing invisibility (which most of us must, although women, even character actresses, deal with it first).

I'd think about getting my passport photo taken, the first step in crossing "Renew (expired) passport" off my list, and then I'd think, "Well, I'll just wait until..."

Until my hair was freshly colored.

Until my hair was having a good day.

Until I'd figured out an outfit, and bought some makeup, and had had enough sleep.

Until, that is, monkeys flew out of my ass. In formation. Typing Shakespeare.

I'm almost 48. My hair will never be the hair of a 28-year-old, or even a 38-year-old, again. I haven't worn makeup (well, excepting a little eyebrow powder, for definition!) since I quit acting, three years ago. I try to be interested enough about clothes to shop for them, but I'd rather write. I try to think about parting with Big Bucks for the clothes I would love, but I would rather blow the money on hardware and books. I will have fewer and fewer Good Hair Days until I am rich enough to hire a stylist and patient enough to let him do my hair everyday.

In other words, this is me now; this is who I am, inside and out. It's not just okay, it's the truth.

I promised you my big secret for actually crossing stuff off your list, and here it is:

Get down with where you are right now. Get down with the thing that needs to happen next.

I want to go to Vancouver to see my friend, Danielle, and maybe do a workshop. I want to go to Spain some summer while my friend, Jared, is doing his month abroad. I want to drink wine with Valeria in her native Italy, and visit my grammar school friend who lives in the countryside while I'm there. I don't necessarily want to be my delightful friend, Chris Guillebeau (he's filling that job rather handily), but I would find it great fun to schedule a trip sometime to coincide with one he was making. I want to stay with my high school friend, Betsy, at her palatial estate in France (oh, BOY, do I want that) and visit my friend, Michael, in Germany, and travel with my friend, Andrew, and his wife, Alex, to his native Ireland (which, if it's as full of awesome Irish folk as their dinner parties are, may be my final resting place as I expire from happiness.)

Mostly, I want to be able to say "yes" when someone invites me to come and speak or teach or otherwise share what I know when they ask. This, finally, was the truth that was more important than the silly fibs I was wasting away my days with.

Life is so short and filled with so many things to do.

And so I go, go, go about doing them...


Photo of Colleen Wainwright by Lily at the Mailbox Shoppe via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license. (For more silly fun, click on the picture.)

*Circumstances including, but not limited to falling ill with a major chronic intestinal disorder, starting a new business, traveling extensively continentally for tradeshows/conferences/etc., massive economic collapse and, this one is the hardest, embarrassment of being ambassador to a country whose leadership and choice of same deeply shamed me for eight years.

**Possibly a Jewish thing, possibly an aspirational-cosmopolitan-type thing. Not sure. Maybe both.

Book review: Life is a Verb


As further proof that the most inspiring and joyous of art is often born of the most dire and dour of experiences, I give you Patti Digh and the magnificent, powerful, astonishing collection of stories she has written on her blog, 37 Days, and compiled as a book, Life Is a Verb: 37 Days to Wake Up, Be Mindful and Live Intentionally.

The project began when Digh's beloved stepfather was diagnosed with lung cancer, and died a mere 37 days from diagnosis. She devoted herself to him in that slim slice of time, then devoted her time from that moment on to answering, both in words and actions, what she would do were she herself given a mere 37 days to live. The mother of two young daughters, her own answer was both simple and profound: share what she would want her daughters to know, about herself and about what she'd learned it took to lead a happy and loving life.

The result is sublime. No, "sublime" is overused and inadequate: the result is an astonishing, rich, gorgeous collection of beautifully written essays that simultaneously make me want to keep reading (faster! faster!) and throw down the book and have at it myself. They're livable lessons that don't feel preachy, complex ideas rendered wondrously clear.

And delight. This is a book chock-full of delight, serendipity and joy. It is a book you want to eat, almost, and a movement you want to be a part of. Passionate readers from all over started sending Digh artwork and stories of their own, and much of the art contained in the book was created by fans and friends of the 37 Days blog. (You can check out the Flickr pool to see samples.)

For those of you who like this sort of thing, there are also exercises to help you dive in yourself, both immediate, actionable stuff and longer-term project-type exercises. For me, the stories, wonderful, wonderful stories, are more than enough, all by themselves.


Image ©2008 Paula Bogdan, via Flickr.

Before you fall-down-go-boom, make room


A lot of good stuff has been happening lately.

Stuff that's coming out of my involvement with a weekly accountability group, and a few interesting classes, and a lot of work. Oh, yes, a LOT of work.

For those of us with two settings ("full bore" and "off"), even with the best of intentions and calendaring and firewalling time off, a lot of work can creep up on you. Mostly, like the boiling frog, you don't even realize how close you are to a fine fricassee until someone or something flips the lever into the "off" position. And if you're going fast when it happens (which, given the two speeds, is pretty much a given), momentum is suddenly and very much not your friend.

This weekend, the lever was flipped in the car, which is very much where I do NOT like things to happen suddenly. And yet, there we were, The BF and me, both tired, me cranky (how does he never get cranky?), circling for parking. I was already irritated that we were circling for parking because it was hot (not my fault) and I was tired (totally my fault) and I don't especially like driving, so any extra of it I have to do when I'm already tired and hot makes me even crankier.

Still, I'm not a complete dumbass; I know that when it's like that, I need to move slowly. So I swallowed the irritation and chugged along, finally espying a spot near our destination. A spot not quite big enough to pull into, so I slowed down even further, put my right turn signal on, and moved ahead of the spot, as we were taught to do in Driver's Ed lo, so many years ago, and which they have apparently stopped teaching, along with PAYING ATTENTION, because the car behind me, instead of slowing down and/or moving to the passing lane, pulled up hard on my ass. Which meant that I had to wait it out or give it up, and guess what Miss Crankypants was not going to do?

I could go on and tell you about the near pile-up because of even more people who hadn't taken Driver's Ed, or the honking, or the yelling at me to move, but the salient issue (beyond my being overly tired, with no room left in which to act like a compassionate human being, just enough to scream "MINE! MINE!") is that when The BF made a gentle suggestion that, right or wrong, we abandon this course of inaction, I screamed, screamed, like a crazed, frothy-mouthed caricature of Anger Management personified, "Do you wanna drive?!"

To which, after a pause, he replied, "Yes. Yes, I do, actually."

To my credit, just about the only credit I'm going to give myself as far as grace points in this particular situation, I didn't fire back: I paused, took it in, and pulled over to let him drive. Because even in my crazed, frothy-mouthed condition, I could tell (thank JEEBUS and my 20 million years of talk therapy) that I was toast.

It is painful to recall the mix of anger and shame I felt in that moment, and for the rest of the day, but both were mightily and handily eclipsed by the feeling of terror. Because I finally had a crystal-clear, if very ugly picture of the way things might go if I didn't change course right now and forevermore. This was an epiphany of a much different and more dreadful sort than the blissful, Elizabeth Gilbert-esque, dancing angels and white light one I had in my hospital bed many years ago, but it was no less of a peek behind the curtain and to this one, I gratefully say, "No, thank you."

No, thank you, I do not want to hurt the people closest to me. Or anyone, if I can help it. Kind of runs counter to the mission statement around these parts.

No, thank you, I do not want to hurt myself. Better that I do that, I think, if it's a choice, but when I go down, it's a burden on even more people. I've seen it; I know. So no. No, thank you.

I'm still a little shaky from the whole affair, which I think is good. I think that's the point, if there's one to be drawn from this. This way is not sustainable. So. There will probably be some more changes to the changes I was already planning to make.

Also? I will fuck up. Oh, I will most surely fuck up. It's a given. So I'm asking for help and grace both to make the changes I need to and to see me through the almost inevitable fuckups. I'm not asking you, in particular; you've got your own row to hoe, farmer.

But I will toss out there, ever so gently, that if you are at all like me, if you see any of yourself in this, please slow down. Please make some room. Wiggle your toes to remind yourself you have a real, physical body that can get hurt and can, even inadvertently, hurt others. Take a breath to maybe stop yourself from getting to the place where you might.

Sit. Close your eyes. Hug the dog. Go look at a sneezing baby panda or a laughing baby. Eff the coffee or the booze or the impulse to work even harder or whatever your check-out drug of choice is.

I will. I am, right now.

No foolin'...


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

Fame, the bitch-goddess

It is a big deal, being famous.

Most folks who self-identify as actors work quietly, whether they want to or not. All but the a fraction of the top 1% will toil away in obscurity, only a handful of those will end up recognizable to anyone for any length of time, and fewer yet of these will have a fame that lasts beyond the 15 minutes of critical media mass they get.

Who the hell cares?

Well, for starters, the thousands of actors living in L.A.

Wait, what am I saying? There are probably tens of thousands living in L.A., and that's just counting the openly declared. Secretly, they probably number in the hundreds of thousands, and if you widen your net to stretch past the state line, mostly likely millions. Scratch a Mitty, find a McConaughey, or at least, that would seem to be the deepest hope of the denizens of reality television.

I know a bit about fame because I've seen it up close & personal. I have worked with famous people, and for famous people. I have known many regular people who became famous. (It doesn't work the other way, you know, once famous, always once-famous.)

Even more pertinently (and potently), I come from a long line of people who wanted to, but never quite became, famous. A grandfather who wanted fame so desperately, he kept his young son (who also wanted it, at least for a while) from becoming famous. A mother who once traveled 2,000 miles across the country to sit in a Beverly Hills hotel lobby on Oscar night, so convinced was she that an upcoming lead role in a major motion picture was meant for her.

And the apple (that would be yours truly) did not fall far from the tree either way you slice it: I wanted fame; fame, as it turned out, did not have much use for me.

There are many embarrassing admissions one might make on the road to the Truth, but one of the most excruciating has got to be this taste for fame. It is profoundly uncool: a state seething with need, and we all know how wildly attractive a feature is need*. For most of us, the desire to gaze diminishes in direct proportion to the subject's need to be gazed at: the faster you chase me, the harder I run. The exceptions, those few who wanted fame so badly they could taste it, and were actually rewarded with it? Most are wildly, profoundly gifted, which is compelling. At a distance, anyway, and in the kind of dosage that celebrity requires of its celebrants.

I thought I was done with this need for fame once I set acting aside. As if. Those of you familiar with the treating of symptoms vs. the addressing of root causes are having a hearty chuckle now, no doubt.

It followed me, this back-clinging monkey, into the blogosphere, helpfully hitting the "refresh" button when we'd visit Sitemeter. How many people clicked on my site today? How about now? How about now?

Today, despite my best efforts to CHILL, ALREADY, I feel it seeping into the groundwater of my new playground, Twitter**. What started out as a fantastic way to stay or even get connected (not to mention an Exercise in Writing Short) and morphed into a dangerous, if entertaining, diversion now seems to be devolving into a three-ring circus of smartmouthing, spambots and webcockery. I hold out hope, but it grows fainter as the weeks pass.

Did I say "pass"? I meant "fly by." Because that's what's been happening to my weeks, along with the months and years they turn into. And the weeks are made up of days, which are made of minutes and even seconds, precious, precious seconds, that are chewed up by the hundred-thousand in pursuit of stuff which in and of itself, is ultimately meaningless. Don't believe me? Ask yourself the question I just heard Jack Kornfield ask in my earbuds during my morning walk today: "Which parts of your life make you the happiest? I'll bet they're pretty simple."

I gave it some very quick thought and confirmed: dog hugs. Falling asleep when you're tired. Ice cream. The first hit of coffee in the morning. Sex, especially with someone you love. Hell, most anything with someone you love. Does it need to be a beach on Hawaii, or can it just be some of the time you'd have carved out getting there?

That's the thing of it: most of fame is about getting there, and upon arrival, turns out to be like Gertrude Stein's characterization of Oakland (there's no "there" there). And its intangibility is matched only by its evanescence. Ask anyone who's tried to sell it, or reclaim it, or even hang onto it.

On the other hand, if fame is a by-product of something you'd be doing anyway, much of its fraught-ness disappears. It might even be seen as kind of a pesky nuisance, albeit with a few bitchin' perks.

I'm thinking a lot about this because I'm moving away from something I knew would never get me any acclaim (graphic design) to something that not only might, but must in some measure if it's going to support me in my old age (writing). Fortunately, it doesn't have to support me; there's a long and fine tradition of writers toiling away in relative obscurity, supporting themselves with day jobs. Wallace Stevens, for one. Bukowski, for another. When I start to think it would be easier if I could just be famous NOW, dammit, I think of them, and think again.

Maybe it wouldn't be easier.

Maybe it would just be different.

That said, I'd be lying if I told you I'd lost my taste for fame. I still see myself sitting on Oprah's couch, my latest book between us. (From this blog to her ears...please.) I see myself answering calls to have my essays in publications, instead of having to make them. And I know that with the right level of fame, that dream I have of me, a laptop and an ocean view materializes on a much more spectacular part of coastline, and that when the sun sets or a chill comes on, I can continue to enjoy it from the comfort and privacy of a much more spectacular abode.

I will write, though, no matter what. Should I never have any more readers than I have right now. Should I somehow piss off the lot of you and have only imaginary readers.

The bitch goddess exists in my line of sight, but I lay garlands at her feet no more. Well, maybe just a token daisy every now and then, to keep a hand in.

For the most part, I'd rather spend the time writing, in there here and now. For you, I hope. For me, I must...

xxx c

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

*And it only gets worse with age. What can be amusing or even charming in the young (those crazy young people with their hubris!) is cringeworthy in the old (back away from the Speedo, Eurotrash grandpappy.)

**For you non-nerds, Twitter is a 140-character-per-post, social media messaging service that is as addictive as it is wonderful. More onTwitter later, I think. I've been promising various people an article on it for weeks now.


UPDATE: Dreamhost is, once again, experiencing wonkiness. Sorry for the lost comments earlier; I've reconstituted what I could, and did me PLENTY OF SWEARING while I did it. (Not at you; I love you guys!)

UPDATE (07/16/08): Bonus extra fantastic link on the inanity of chasing fame, which is probably not anything you want to get caught with, anyway. By Brad Warner, aka the Zen Punk Monk (oh, he'd kill me for reducing him to a catchy handle, but come on, it's so great!)

Don't save "happy"

As with many who self-identify as Survivors of Well-Intentioned-But-Ultimately-Fucked-Up Parenting, the confounding mix of messages I received in my formative years served to demagnetize my self-esteem compass for decades to come.

"We expect a lot from you" really meant You will not be good: you will be excellent. Or else."

"You can do it!" was mainly true, most of the time. Unfortunately, the critical phrase, "...and without any help, or it doesn't count", was left unspoken but did its damage anyway.

What has been the hardest thing to reconcile, however, is the idea that I should take pride in my accomplishments, but not too much.

W as the kids say TF?!

Not being able to discern between appropriate rejoicing and vile showboating has the same effect as not knowing which fork to use: you end up giving a wide berth to a lot of invitations, just to be on the safe side.

Safe may be safe, but it's hardly fuel for growth. With the possible exception of Emily Dickinson, no one ever changed the world by making it smaller (and one could argue that even though her physical world was profoundly limited, that chick was 100% down with the Truth.)

Safe is also not very joy-making. I'm not a happiness addict, well, okay, I am, but I'm 12-stepping my way out, and besides, "happiness", or really, "pleasure", as it's come to mean, has relatively little to with living in a joyous state, which I'm going to come right out and call "ability to live in the moment and thrive because of it." Safe is about keeping things as they are, and any boob will tell you that it's impossible to reside permanently in a state of pleasure. The ice cream melts. The orgasm passes. Crafting the buzz is theoretically possible, but even if you spend the time to become a Jedi knight of the bong, aren't you eventually going to have to do something else with your life, if only to replenish your stash?

The Youngster, who in many ways was wise beyond his years, had a great saying: "Don't save happy." It is one of the World Champeen Sayings precisely because of its obliqueness-to-brevity ratio.

Don't hold back on a compliment. Don't be stingy with a loving impulse.

Pointless to hold on to a snowflake, or a gallon of whipped cream, they won't keep.

And those gift cards? If you're living in most other states besides California, land where the consumer reigns supreme, they expire, dude; use them.

I think the application of this rule works beautifully both for people with no self-esteem issues and for those of us who feel like tooting our own horns means forever branding ourselves as That Asshole. Slow and judicious application is the trick to digging your way out.

For example (WARNING: HORN-TOOTING ALERT!!), last year I was approached by a representative from a fairly large publishing house about writing a book.

(Hang on, gotta wait for my heart rate to go back down.) (Okay...)

The odds of this actually culminating in my being hired and paid actual cash money to write this book are long, and the steps along the path to getting there are many. Still, one cannot deny that it is a fantabulous thing just to be asked, and on the basis of nothing more than a bunch of blog posts. If a friend told me that, I would think it was hot stuff.

So that's what I did: told a (few) friends.

And when I got the word back from my contact that she liked the chapters? Again, I told a few friends.

And when I heard that it had cleared the next hurdle of my contact's boss, the editor? Friends got told.

It was not, shall we say, easy. My heart raced and my face flushed every time I said it out loud.

But to not say it out loud, at least to some one, is no longer acceptable. It's something I need, for now, if for no other reason than it is, for whatever reason, difficult out of all proportion.

There is another reason, though: if I hold back and play it safe, how can I be of any use to you, who might need a nudge to break through your own personal roadblock? If I can't deal in the Truth, how can I expect to anyone else to give it to me straight?

If I don't move forward, if you don't, if each one of us doesn't, how will the world?

The truth is, something will always be hard. When a thing gets easy, if you're living your life out loud, you move on to the next thing. You climb a bigger mountain or tackle a bigger equation or break a tougher record. Cynicism prevents me from dragging out that confounded Marianne-Williamson-not-Nelson-Mandela quote one more time, but it's true, cheese factor and all.

Being small doesn't serve. It just takes up less room on an airplane seat.

xxx c

Image by Mike_fj40 via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Why following your bliss might not feel blissful

Some things are simple. Some things are easy. (And, it should go without saying to anyone living in the early part of the 21st Century, some things are neither.)

There are even rare times, those Kojak-parking, traffic-lights-synchronized, buy-a-lotto-ticket days when you're really, really cooking with gas, that things are both simple and easy.

But the quickest route to heartache is confusing simple with easy. Because in the context of goals, they couldn't be more different.

A (good) goal can be expressed in terms that are fairly simple: get married; lose 10 pounds; balance checkbook. Rarely, however, is that simple goal an easy one to accomplish. How do you go about finding someone you'd even want to marry, much less create a relationship that leads to marriage? If 10 pounds is so easy to lose, why are people constantly having to lose the same 10?

And don't get me starting on the #%@^ checkbook.

I've found myself running up against this simple-is-not-easy maxim repeatedly lately, and to an extent that is pretty deeply humiliating. In fact, the sheer act of writing this piece is pretty deeply humiliating: what ordinarily flows easily is resisting with a stubbornness and tenacity the likes of which I've not experienced since I had to create bullshit "science" copy for a P.O.S. hand lotion. "Micro-particles absorbed quickly and easily, leaving no smooth, hydrated skin with no greasy film" my ass.

What's triply frustrating (because it's hot as a troll's nasal cavity today, and that's two) is that this is the first time in my life where not-easy is proving really...well, hard.

Working my way up the adhole chain in my 20s? Not particularly easy, there were long hours and mountains of shit to shovel, but nothing like this.

Becoming a working actor? Or dumping that to hang out my own shingle?

Leaving my marriage? Getting over the Crohn's?

Hard, hard, hard & hard, to be sure.

At least, that's what I thought, until I ran up against this.

And what, pray tell, is this "this" of which I speak?


It gets exponentially more difficult when you know what the goal is philosophically ("To be a joyful conduit of truth, beauty and love") and even particularly (to help people find their Truth by sharing my own journey through writing and speaking) but there are no paths laid out. Or the paths take the shape of sweeping, Yoda-esque maxims ("the change, be"). This is a fucking poet's life, for chrissakes; who signed me up for this?!

I did, of course, with each choice I made along the way. Start choosing truth and there's no going back to the other. Take the red pill, and taking the blue pill is no longer an option. Some days I'm fine with it; most of the days, however, are really, really not-easy lately.

Friends help. Tribe members, especially a good mix of old and new. Those who've known you a while help show you that the excruciatingly incremental growth you've been experiencing is actually mildly impressive; those who are new to you accept the You you've grown into, and make Future You seem achievable.

Routines help. I've instituted a daily walk in the morning for a week now. For a non-morning person, this not only constitutes a huge achievement, but creates some (healthy) shape to my day.

Speaking of achievements, I can't overstate the importance of folding relatively easy, short-term projects into the mix. Getting a sinkful of dishes or the kitchen floor washed . Burning through a to-do list or a time-delimited assignment. Saving up for something. Planning even a small party.

Writing a blog post.

I'm profoundly grateful for the small, hardy group of fellow travelers that have assembled here at communicatrix. The feedback I get in the comments and via email helps keep me going, both because it feeds me and keeps me on my toes. There is always something new to think about or puzzle out or grapple with.

I am glad we're walking the goddamned path together. Even, or especially, when things get a little hard...

xxx c

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

Lean into the fear

This is dark days, my friends.

Not an hour goes by where some cold chill of a fear doesn't pass over my heart and threaten to bring me down. This election. This war. This economy, and what it's doing to people. The never-ending, always-on stream of bad news and...well, what it's not doing to people.

I read a good book over my 10 days away in Chicago by a crazy young hardcore punk zen monk. It gave me odd comfort, along with some perspective. Perspective, because things have always been crazy: they were crazy when Gautama Buddha set out on his quest; they're crazy now.

Comfort, because one really persuasive answer, while not exactly easy, seems pretty straightforward: accept responsibility.

For yourself.

For the things under your control, that help shape the world, your anger, your fear, your not-niceness. Your living-in-smallness. (Oh, and by "you"? I totally mean "me." So we're clear.)

While a Twitter-friend assures me we're not technically in a recession, the fact is almost beside the point: our fears, my fears, are telling us we are. And, as another new nerd-friend says, the answer lies in addressing the fears head on, and with grace and compassion. Be here now. Love thy neighbor...actively. Ground yourself in the truth of you.

I thought about all this stuff over and over these past several days. It was hard not to. Between the overwhelming generosity of all my friends, old and new, who lent me their homes and spare bedrooms, who took time out to meet with me, who bought me meals and drinks, who showered me with love, and the long, long walks I took all over my beautiful native city, one thing got hammered home time and time again: enjoy this moment, right now. This soft bed, this slice of pizza, this drizzle of rain, this "L" train that showed up at exactly the right time, this hug, this laugh.

I have a mission statement that I've had for a while, which I mentioned recently, "To be a joyful conduit of truth, beauty and love." But it is also nice to have a platform: some slightly more actionable ideals to root your ass in the here and now, and the way you'd like the next here-and-now to be. When I was Chief Nerd of my Nerdmasters club, my platform was thusly:

  1. Have fun.
  2. Leave things better than we found them.
  3. Start and end the meetings on time.

I chose them because, for whatever reasons, we'd let these things slide during the administrations before mine, and...well, it kind of chapped my hide. But the exercise of addressing these things week after week, of plotting a path that would make the platform real, both helped me realize it and why things slip away to begin with: because we are focused on other things. My presidency was far from perfect, but dammit, we had fun, that room and the people in it were better off when we left each Thursday night, and we got to the bar in time to get the drinking underway at a reasonable hour. Plus we learned what needed to happen next time. What still needed to be worked on.

What projects lay before us.

For the next few months, I'm committing to my own platform. I want to honor (and, god willin' and the creek don't rise) wrap up my previous commitments. I want to revisit my Best Year Yet plan I so earnestly began in January. I have new projects, including one promise I made with a lovely lady in Chicago, that I intend to see through.

And beyond that, I am going to adopt and adapt my Nerdmasters platform from last year as my personal platform for the rest of this one:

  1. I will have fun.
  2. I will leave things, myself, my people, my projects, better than I found them.
  3. And I will start and end my days on time. (Uh...after this one.)

I have some other ideas for how to tell Mr. Fear to take a hike which I'll share as time goes on and I actually start putting them into practice. In the meantime, I'd love to hear what's going on with you: what are you doing to grab your life by the horns, and what can the rest of us learn from it?

xxx c

Image by tcd123usa via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Stop! Sucking!: A 21-Day Saluteâ„¢'s the deal: I suck.

No, really, I do. I suck, and at lots of stuff: Getting regular exercise. Returning phone calls. Housekeeping (and I have the 4" dreadlock of hair extricated from between the center prong of my rolling desk chair and the filthy carpet to prove it.)

But forget about the stuff that will put me in an early grave with a friendless funeral. I also suck at many of Your More Important Things in Life. Stuff like patience. Focus. Generosity. General abundance thinking. (Because spending a year and a half of your life hungry, cold and only allowed to use three sheets of toilet paper, for #2, can really firm up a scarcity mindset.)

And yeah, yeah: I know that I'm not the only one. No offense, but that is SO not the point.

Nor am I better or (nor?) worse than anyone. Again, completely irrelevant. Except, of course, that it's one of the things I'd like to stop sucking so much at. I want to be cool with being me, rather than comparing myself to all of you lovely people (or the losers sitting next to you, for that matter.)

I also have some presence of mind left with which to note that I'm not a hopeless case. I don't need to check myself into a program or call my emo sponsor or take off on a vision quest. Which is good, because until they allow for overnight motel accommodations, including nightly hot shower, vision quests are off the table.

No, in my time of need, I turn!

Yes, you, dear Internet friends. You and the patented, communicatrix 21-Day Saluteâ„¢, a one-two punch guaranteed to shake me out of my funk, knock out the cobwebs and get my head screwed back on straight. One part accountability, one part discipline, one part observation, my salutes keep me honest while (hopefully) keeping you entertained. In other words, just because I'm working on my shit doesn't mean the swearing has to stop.

Here's what does have to stop: me.

For 21 days, I'm going to apply my attention to stopping in bad, uncomfortable, sad, angry, pushy, greedy, icky moments to, ever so briefly, for the most part, ask why. But that's not all. I'm also going to just STOP! randomly and check in to see what's the happ.

Like just now, f'rinstance, I stopped and asked myself what was going on.

Tightness. Legs crossed tight, jaw tensed up, butt perched at end of incredibly expensive, ergonomically-designed, rolling desk chair like it was a $5 stool.

And why?

Too much coffee. Anxiety over whether I can stick to a 21-day saluteâ„¢ when I'm leaving town in 16. Creeping Loser-itis over not getting enough work done.

I could go on, but that's not the point of today's entry. Today's entry is about STARTING to STOP. Committing to stopping, to observing (hopefully without too much judging), to doing things slightly differently.

Kind of a Method-meditation mashup for everyday life.

And maybe at the end of it, I'll have a bigger project to work on. Maybe I'll have some clarity on a few things. Maybe I'll just learn that I'm really, really bad at stopping... noting... readjusting. Since I just found myself in the exact same clenched, tensed, ready to launch myself into the blue yonder, I'm gonna say... "yes" on bad.

No matter! The stopping starts now!

Aaaaaand now!

And again, now!

(I thank you in advance for bearing with me on this.)

xxx c

For those of you who are new to communicatrix and the 21-Day Saluteâ„¢, there's a writeup here, along with descriptions of each of the salutes I've done since the blog launched. Excelsior!

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

What change looks like

LED trails Life has been a little tumultuous lately, largely of my own devising.

For example, earlier this year I quit, or at least, quit long enough to take a big-girl step back.

I started saying "no", a lot. And started saying "yes" to things that didn't always make sense. On the surface. To "normal" people. I'm making mistakes right and left and being both punished (depending on how you define "punished") and rewarded (ditto) right and left. It has been, to put it mildly, a confusing time.

Frequently, in the back of my head, I hear my sister relaying a snippet from our father when she expressed the need to take a vacation: From what? he said.

Because she didn't have a Job-job, like him. Because she wasn't pulling down massive dollars-per-year, like him. Because the ethos in our family has always been As long as there's more to be done, you will do it until there is no more "you" left.

Some things don't make sense while you're in the thick of them. And getting distance is a luxury that's rarely supported. I've worked hard to surround myself with hard-working people who also appreciate the value of real leisure, the ROI on hanging with friends, the importance of enjoying every moment, or, at the very least, as many as possible.

I'm still not very good at it; I'm new at it. It feels really, really weird to be in flow with my actual life, different...harder...different than being In The Moment as an actor, although that was good training.

One note at this juncture: Dad didn't mean to be mean when he asked that question that cut through my sister like a hot knife through butter; he was doing what he knew to be right, by rote. Holy shit, is that a tough one to remember, to fully accept. But there it is. He did the best he could with the thinking he'd done. At some point, I think he'd decided he'd done enough thinking. (There's a whole book in that alone. Someday, I hope to be a good enough writer to write it.)

Here's what I've learned: it takes more will, more strength, more doubling back and rethinking and re-plotting to effect meaningful, personal change than you can possibly imagine going in. Perhaps some people are better wired for it; perhaps there's something to this whole reincarnation thing and some of those among us have a bit of a leg up, personal-evolution-wise. No one here is gonna know until it doesn't matter anymore.

By definition, most of our personal growth is self-generated. But there's no shame in asking for help. Just today, I asked it out loud, again: Why can't I get anything done? Why am I stuck? What the $%@(^! is wrong with me?

And my friend, who is 10-odd years down the road, didn't bat an eye. Talked about it like I was showing her a mysterious carpet stain I needed help identifying the right cleaner for, or a piece of writing that was a little ganky and needed some tweaking.

"A lot of times," she said, "I find I resist things the hardest when it's becoming most obvious that they're really going to happen."

It was as if she opened a mysterious steam valve I didn't know existed, or tapped some chi point an acupuncturist might, or just plain old threw a light on in a slightly darkened corner of a room. All was well again, for a while, and the conundrum put back into perspective: as some Thing in my care to observe, and process, and deal with.

As I learned long, long ago in advertising, watching my friends' hotshit careers suddenly go down in flames with sudden downturns in the economy, there is no real safety; it's just an illusion. Just like there is no stasis: just periods where change is so incremental as to seem non-existent.

I am change and you are change and this, right now, is change.

This. Right now.

Learning to drift and steer simultaneously, that's both the trick and the lesson...

xxx c

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

And now what will you be?

old mirror I've been thinking a lot about aging lately.

Part of it is closing in on the halfway mark to my birthday. (It's September the 13th, in case you want to mark your calendar now).

But a lot of it is all these metaphoric Post-It Notes that have been popping up on the metaphoric mirrors of my life lately.

Delightful reminders like the sponge cake around my middle (which, on the bright side, has qualified me as a blood donor for the first time ever, free OJ & cookies!!).

Or the ten minutes I spent in my Toastmasters meeting a couple of weeks back trying desperately to pull the word "malapropism" from my ganky-ass RAM after hearing "exacerbate" get swapped out for "exasperate" for the third time.

Or the fact that my college roommate has a son who is going to be a third-generation legacy when he enters year.

And a lot of clothes that I swear to you were perfectly fine even six months ago?


There's a window of about 20 years where you look like a total tool if you wear ironic tees, and I seem to have been defenestrated in my sleep. Which concerns me, because I will not be 70 for another 23 years, and SXSW is next week. What am I supposed to do, go to the UX panels naked? My sponge cake will show!

It is weird, having this age thing happen seemingly overnight. I realize that everyone has this moment in front of the mirror (except the lucky few who have a portrait stashed in the closet, let me know how that plays out for you). I just got to put mine off for an unreasonably long time.

I never had kids, for one. I live in the land of No Seasons with Which to Mark One's Death March to Invisibility. Hell, I live in L.A. and I'm not hot or rich, I've been invisible since I got here, 16 years ago.

And mostly, I don't mind being old any more than I mind being invisible (although I'd quite like to be rich, as I've heard it affords one a great deal of freedom.) Like my pal, precocious codger Jim Garner, I kind of enjoy being an elder, or, in codger-speak, an old coot. I have always rounded up, claiming the next birthday's age shortly after the new calendar year begins. It makes things incredibly confusing on my actual birthday, as I am bad at math and my parents, bad at planning. I mean, would it have been that hard to meet a year earlier and have me in 1960?

No, I don't exactly mind the idea of being old, I am just not crazy about the getting there.

I would like to skip ahead to the part where I have a full head of snowy white hair like Mom. To the part where I've already done 20 years of yoga and am this lithe, inspiring, elder-model type who takes a lover 15 years her junior. And maybe female. You know, just because.

Basically, to the part where the young part of me is long gone rather than slipping away by degrees, and the old me is this fabulous, rock-'em-sock-'em me unimaginable to me now, much less actualizable.

I am not young anymore, except to old people. I am not old yet, except to young people. Just like being born into this crazy non-Boomer, not-quite-Gen-X cohort, I cannot quite parse myself yet, and I gotta tell you, it's a little irksome. Like that deep, phantom itch I get in the library that won't disappear no matter how hard I rub my shoulderblades across a corner of the stacks.

On the other hand, this is a perfect frame of mind in which to sail into the aforementioned SXSW: not quite sure, a little on the wobbly side, with lots of cracks for old stuff to leak out of and new stuff to sneak into. Last time I went, I was wobbly because it was new to me and I was new to the internets and on top of everything else, as it turned out, I was sliding into a Crohn's flare. This time, it will just be wacky, wobbly me, seeing a few familiar faces, meeting a few People Behind the Handles, sucking down some of that SCD-legal Tito's, having my head cracked open.

As long as I remember my vitamins, I think it should be fine.

Provided I can get my hands on a few plain t-shirts...

xxx c

Image by master of felix via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

And life begins when you start giving

yin yang I had an interesting chat today with my colorist (and good friend), Marc. Really, I have interesting conversations with most folks these days, since I discovered that the art of conversating (as the kids say) lies in the asking of questions and the hearing of answers rather than the spouting off of commentary. (Fancy that!)

Today's conversation was interesting because it revolved around kabbalah, about which I know little save it's an esoteric offshoot of Judaism that has something to do with red string and expensive bottled water (thank you, Madonna.) But Marc studied it (if that's the term) for many years, and he was able to shed a surprising amount of light on what I confess has always been (to me) a dense, deep and impenetrably mysterious practice. After all, it is very old and complex and we only had about an hour, as I'm a single-process kinda gal.

The topline of kabbalah, however, is really easy to get, and lovely, to boot: the more we learn to give, the more will come back to us. It's about "giving" as world view, which of course carries all kinds of other nice things along with it, like cultivating trust and fellowship, learning to communicate by finding common ground, and practicing abundance rather than scarcity thinking.

It got me to thinking about where to start. Because really, that's what I would've loved to have known 20-odd years ago, when I was flailing around in a sea of my own misery: where the hell do I start? Just tell me where to point my damned guns, already! And, while I now think that "observing" is probably the absolute best place to start, the very critical first step of many, and a mode to stay close to always, I think giving is a really good practice to have in your head even while you're in observation mode.

Part of what makes me think this is my many years of experience as a corporate tool. There was very little uncalculated giving in that world, and precious little happiness, too. Coincidence? Perhaps. Held up against the world of strings-free giving I've been blessed to live in these past five years, though, I think the causality is obvious: the nature of life is change, and we're happiest when we let ourselves go with the flow of that. It takes awesome fearlessness or, as in my case, having nothing left to lose. When you weigh 90 lbs (45 of which is your enormous head), and your intestines are in tatters and you're so weak that you can't walk to the end of the bed without support, you learn to accept help, to accept giving, with the very clear understanding that you certainly cannot pay in kind now, and may well never be able to pay it back later. Get down with that, and you've got one big, honkin' secret of life under your belt.

I'm not advocating sap-hood. I can only give to the extent I'm able and willing. Ironically, before I understood this, I used to give too much, receive too little. Now I finally understand you've got to let go to receive as much as you do to give.

To take this down to a practical level, Marc charges what I think is an incredibly reasonable price for his services, and I pay him. He gives me what I see as a deal, and I accept it. Occasionally, I get a bug up my ass and give him a bunch extra, just because. And he accepts that. I suspect that if I showed up one month and had no money, he'd give me coverage for free. He's that kind of guy, is Marc. And I'd do my best to receive it, graciously.

If you're not so good with the money yet, and I get it, I do, I have issues myself, start small. With compliments. Give one. Maybe give five. And be on the lookout for ones you get, and see how you are about receiving them. I used to answer every compliment about clothing with a rundown on how much I paid for it at the Goodwill. Still do, but at least I (usually) say "thank you" first.

Remember this year's motto: "help is everywhere." And the corollary, which I may not have shared yet, " ask for it, dumbass."

It is. You should. We are.

xxx c

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

Balance is also a #@$!)* journey

everybody frieze! I was tired most of today, am still, in fact.

Am (stupidly, short-sightedly) drinking coffee in a (stupid, short-sighted) attempt to work through it, as I'd feel like too much of a schmo bailing on any of the commitments I have in the next 24 hours.

Why is this feeling so familiar, I wondered briefly as Trader Joe's Bay Blend and the moka pot prepared to bail my ass out once again? Because it's My Thing, for one, my overachieving, approval-needing, lack-of-entitlement-ing thing. But also because the nature of balance is...imbalance.

Okay, bear with me here. You have a scale, one of those jobbies like Miz Justice is holding, above. You put something on one side and then, to balance it out, you put something of equal weight on the other side.

But for however long it takes you to put that other thing on, even if it's a split-second, things are, all together now, out of balance! Out of whack! Off-kilter! Completely fakakta!

With planning and practice, of course, the lag time between farkakte and perfect balance gets shorter. You learn to keep the pile of feathers right next to the pile of cotton or drywall screws or JELL-O. You learn, in fact, that if you are balancing drywall screws and feathers, you will need far more feathers in ready supply than you will should you be balancing cotton and feathers. But the first time you try to balance feathers and JELL-O? Dude, you are looking at a serious mess. So, you know, try to roll with it. (And have the equivalent of paper towels at the ready, if possible.)

Even when your repertoire of items to balance becomes both vast and deep, though, you can't keep the scales balanced perfectly all the time. Why?

Because of air.

Yes, stupid air is messing with your scales. A good, honkin' breeze or a sudden draft when someone comes in the door and you have a window open will mess you up. Heck, even just floaty, floaty air will throw your scales off balance: it may be imperceptible, but it's happening. Unless you're in a vacuum. And you know how Nature feels about that.

This week, I had a surprise overabundance of good times dropped in my lap. I don't know about you, but I have already passed up enough good times for three lifetimes, and I'm over that crap. So I went a little crazy, hanging with my peeps, talking my cords dry, generally raising a ruckus.

And, rather than let down anyone who was depending on me, I did the work, too. Smart? Maybe not. Balanced? In the short run, definitely not. I'm here, fingers crossed (well, when they're not wrapped around my coffee mug), hoping that the stretch I get to include on this particular balance sheet extends through Monday. I have payment in full for the piper: Friday post-COB to Tuesday morning, I've stripped down to the bone. Excepting a hair coloring appt. (hardly rough duty), I could spend the whole three dancing nude around my living room and not dismay anyone except Eileen, my across-the-way neighbor. (She's a proper lady, is Eileen.)

Here's to me...and you...and (thank you, Miranda July) everyone we know not beating themselves up over imbalance, optical illusion that she is. The reality of imbalance is more like us: constantly changing, messy, equal parts wabi and sabi.

And compelling. Because hey, when you look at that frieze above, what's more interesting: the stone lady and her sword, or that endlessly shifting scale?

Yeah. Thought so...

xxx c

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

Play Misty for Me...RIGHT THIS @#%$! MINUTE!!!!

misty There is something about this time of year that, even if she really, really likes winter holidays and cooler weather, can bring an up dude down.

And that's where I am, down. Or down-ish. Not so far down as I was pre-Arnie, certainly, but hey...getting up from down is a process. (So is learning that "up" is not better than "down," but that is a post for the Half-Assed Buddhist to tackle, and thus far, he has refused to take up the blogging cause.)

To cope with it all, in the grand tradition of Mom's side of the family, I self-medicate. Unlike several of them who are no longer with us because of it, I try not to turn exclusively to my pal, Dr. Al Key Hall, for solutions. Instead, I mix it up: a little sugar, a little caffeine, a lot of long/hot showers, some escapist reading and, my all-time favorite, the cheesy movie. When the skies or my mood darkens too early or often, I watch movies, lots and lots of movies, most of them familiar to me already, and of a decidedly unchallenging nature, thematically.

My current go-to drug of choice is a great, old Clint Eastwood flick, Play Misty for Me. It has everything I love: the Central Coast of California (comfort location); a 1970s setting (comfort decade); an absorbing but not overly complex story structure (gently-engaged-but-not-overtaxed brain); enough dialogue to serve as company (comfort movies play in the background, usually); and a connection to my childhood (Dad loved Clint and worked with him later in life, so I feel like Clint is kind of the good, Hollywood version of my dad.)

I never really understood why people owned movies until I stopped watching television. Now, I get it: for the company. For the comfort. For the little respite, that brief trip in the Wayback Machine that takes you away from it all in a way Calgon can't. It's not just about watching Clint narrowly escape the clutches of the mad (but ultimately, sad) Evelyn Draper for the 20 or 30th time (Jessica Walter in a tentpole performance, the movie would sink without her); it's about going back to a time that felt safer, or at least less complicated. It's about having a Dad and not being the elder yourself. It's about a world that was less crowded, less noisy, less dangerous and at the same time more exotic, or at least, one that seemed that way from my 10-year-old vantage point.

That's really what it is, of course. It's about being 10 again, and everything being 10 meant: safety. Security. Years and years before I had to worry about what I was going to be and how I'd take care of myself when I was alone and it was dark.

Yes, at the risk of being completely morbid on the threshold of this happy holiday season, my love for this nutty old film is about being farther from death, so far as to have zero acquaintance with it. And what's even crazier than that is the whole reason I appreciate holidays and loved ones and the combination of the two is that I have a far keener appreciation for their being here at all. Once you've lost, you can't help but treasure what's left all the more.

I will, of course, listen to a few carols over these next several weeks. (How can you not? Isn't it mandatory at this point? Take off your shoes and overcoat, empty your pockets, and listen to goddam Christmas carols.) I'll even partake in some Parties and gifting and whatnot. In moderation, Christmastime can be quite pleasant.

But you'll excuse me if, at some point in the middle of the festivities, I slip off by myself to my home and, well, a neat single-malt and Clint in the DVD drive. A girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.

And this girl needs a quick trip up the coast in an old Jaguar with a jazz radio deejay.

xxx c

UPDATE (11/29/08): For more on this suspense masterpiece, I direct you to the site of one Joe Valdez, who writes a film blog that is hands-down my new-favorite obsession/timesuck.

"Thank you, sir! May I have another!?"™, Day 10: It is always about money

This is Day 10 of a 21-day effort to see the good in what might, at first, look like an irredeemable drag. Its name comes from a classic bit of dialogue uttered by actor Kevin Bacon in a classic film of my generation, Animal House. money rose

My late father was in the habit of mocking my late mother's side of the family for what he saw as their massively fucked up views on money and blithe disregard for facing up to the truth of just about everything, their mortality included.

It was not without some irony, therefore, that my sister and I viewed the colossal disarray in which he'd left his own affairs. And as for his relationship with the truth...well, let's just say it was rockier than we'd been led to believe.

Of course, we should have been prepared for this: there are few people who get excited at the prospect of their inevitable demise, and we'd been blindsided once by the bizarre structure our maternal grandmother had left in place. But this was our dad: the sensible parent, the one who didn't drink. If he had put a bit of a gloss on some...shall we say...interesting life choices, well, hell, we were a family of storytellers and ad people, for crying out loud! We spun for a living.

When there is a dispute about shekels left behind, the warring parties always declaim, "It's not about the money." But of course it is: the money is what's there representing the promises made (and broken). And since money means different things to different people, bequests represent love, security, freedom, fear and probably a host of other things. As with fetishes, there's one for everything you can name, and entire online communities for many things you can't.

For me, the difference between the airtight provisions that had supposedly been made and the jerry-rigged structure my sister and I ultimately discovered was devastating. Yes, because of the money, we're talking a lot of money, here, but also because of the years and years of haranguing about our supposedly subpar handling of our lives. My sister and I chose some pretty non-traditional paths, and while we weren't what I'd call irresponsible, we also were not living the suburban-American dream, socking away millions from our jobs at Shearson Lehman.

Dad was the responsible one. The one who supported his aging parents for the last 20 or so years of their lives while never, ever rubbing his father's pride in it. The one who paid for our mother's funeral, even though they had openly despised one another for most of their lives. The one who always always always asked if we needed money, and, though we always replied in the negative, quite often sent some anyway. The one who told us we'd be taken care of, and the precise sum that translated into, despite our protests that the whole discussion was silly and morbid.

So the blow was hard to take. And it was followed by another, far worse one which there's no reason to go into, the story is so old and clichéd and obvious, it's laughable. A story that happens to rich people and crazy fourth wives of famous singers, not middle-class girls from Chicago. The details hardly matter. Suffice it to say that it involved lawyers and family members taking sides and the besmirching of our good names. No one wins in a game like that, except the lawyers.

And yet, almost four years after the fact, I am grateful for this happening. My blood sister and I are closer than ever, having walked through the fire together. The family and friends who stood by us, I have an even greater appreciation for. More than anything, though, I am thankful for being introduced to who I am at my core, and for discovering the striking similarity it bears to the me that walks around from day to day in more mundane settings.

It is a good thing to sleep well at night...

xxx c

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

Making things

ceramic butterfly I was going to sit down and talk about how hard the past week draining.

And it was, in its way. For whatever reason, there was an abundance of drama over the past eight days, the missed deadlines, botched communication and general farkakte-ness that seems to accompany Mercury going retrograde. (I wonder, could things have been this messed up before I knew about such silly nonsense?)

There was also a paucity of rest. Social engagements out the wazoo, back-to-back, every day but one. Not light-hearted ones: thinking ones. Emotionally draining ones. Ones that required attention, a lot of driving, or both.

Like my ex-husband's wedding reception, where I was the surprise guest to a raft of folk who hadn't seen me since I lost them in the divorce eight years ago (let it never be said that my ex doesn't have a wicked sense of humor...or his new bride, for that matter). Like dinner with the one friend of my dad's who stood by my sister and me in the ugly, ugly aftermath of his death. Most devastatingly, like the memorial service for a brilliant 26-year-old artist who was stolen from the world too soon. It took three beers, The BF and a Harold Lloyd flick to talk me down from that last night.

I want to run and hide when it gets like this. I want to live in a place where it rains a lot and gets dark early, where I can bundle myself up in a scruffy, fluffy sweater and read books on the sofa with a bottomless mug of peppermint tea. Instead, I live in an overbuilt parking lot with fires breaking out at each end, wearing boxers against the heat and earplugs against the noise. And I have no upholstered furniture. Still.

Fret not, however, for in the midst of all this mishigoss, I am, bizarrely enough, happier than ever. There is work work work and feeling like you do not make a difference, and there is the other kind; right now, and for some time, I feel like I've been living the other kind. It's exhausting, but wonderful. Not particularly lucrative, even, but wonderful. I never felt this way after a day of wrangling copy. Never. Not once. And I did that for 10 years and a lot of money.

Still, this schedule is a brutal one to maintain, and something has to give. It's kind of been my health, which has to stop, and it's definitely been my "optional" writing, which also has to stop.

It's the optional-type writing, you see, that's made all this possible. I'm starting to get it now. So it really isn't optional at all for the life I want to live.

People: create. Make things. Think things and write them down, or tell them, or draw them. Note things and mull them over (or not) and pass them along (for sure.) When I get bone-tired like this, I can feel the pull to buy. It's odd; I feel it. Possibly other people feel the pull to watch TV (I used to feel that, although I'd never give it my full attention) or to play games. Consuming isn't inherently evil, but it leaves you more empty than full.

Tonight I made a (SCD-legal) pizza and this post. It was all I could muster after a long day of pushing pixels. But that pizza tasted better than anything I could get delivered.

And this post? Even better than that...

xxx c

Image by Sidereal--who is rapidly becoming a communicatrix staple, it seems--via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

The Stone Soup House

paradise For you busy types, here's the topline: the communicatrix is well rested, the happy couple is well (and legally) married and (surprise, surprise) I did not get half as much done as I thought I would on my merry jaunt up the coast.

For the rest of you, settle in. Because that last bit was the source of a lot of deep thinking over the past several days.

I thought about it as I gazed out the window at the view of all views, not doing the Important Writing I was sure the solitude would facilitate. I thought about it as I walked the six happy, hilly miles to get my cup of espresso from the village every day. And I thought about it quite a bit on the long and tedious drive home this afternoon.

One of the excellent civic truisms I learned from my ex-husband, Chief Atheist of the West Coast and World-Class Urban Driver from way back was "If you're passed on the right, you're wrong." Clearly, 95% of the people on the 101 S never had the Chief for their traffic school instructor. Between the uptick in asshats and the population boom overall, what used to be a beautiful drive is now little more than a colossal pain in the ass, at least for sadly long stretches.

Get mad at the people for being in the way. Get mad at me for not being perfect. Expect things to be different without really changing. How ridiculous I can be! How amazing it is that anyone at all listens to a thing I say! How fortunate it is that I have my monthly shrink appointment in two days to sort out some of this mess!

Of course, the heavy lifting of shrinkage is done outside of the 50-minute hour. You get assignments and perspective for those 50 minutes, but you do the work on your own. Or you'd better, unless you like wasting time and annoying the pig. And I have done a bunch of mine this week, even if it wasn't the Important Writing kind.

  • I spent a day positively convinced I had back-of-the-leg cancer, when really I just had a case of too much exercise for too-atrophied muscles. Because I worry about everything.
  • I spent two nights watching Law & Order marathons. Because I am an addict.
  • I spent five nights freezing my ass off before I finally broke down and turned on the gas furnace. Because a part of me will always be 12, forced to live in my grandparents' drafty barn of a house and afraid afraid afraid to ask for anything.
  • I ate cookies and burritos, beans and bread, chips and corn and god-knows-what in the delicious sauce of the meal my friends Terry and Gus bought me, and paid for it all in many square yards of methane output. Because I am the spawn of the King and Queen of Denial.

That's a lot of thinking for one week, huh? I wish I could give credit to my wonderful brain and ferocious will to change. The truth is, though, it was the house: I was staying in a magical house.

Its location is magical, certainly, poised as it is a mere 10 yards up from and 20 yards away from the mighty Pacific. Few things are as restorative as viewing a fine sunset over sea water and a cold beer.

But I think the house itself must be magic. Compared to the outsized homes of the neighboring "Yankee fuckers"--swathed in decks, crapped up with all manner of aggressively country decor, my house is a pint-sized throwback to another time--a kinder, funkier time, when four swingin' cats might just bake a doob in the glassed-in turret (accessed via the bathtub!) or while away a rainy day playing strip Yahtzee. My house all crazy angles and dark, moldy wood--including the countertops! It's practically decomposing before your eyes, with its long-busted pocket doors, its non-functioning locks, its stop-gap newspaper insulation held in place with brittle masking tape. So what? There was a broken recliner and high-speed internet and a view: I was ready to move in, brother.

And I'm not the only one. My fellow outcasts--the ones without yellow magnet ribbons on our SUVs, the ones who like things a little sexy-grubby-rundown, had all left pieces of themselves there. Books with loving inscriptions to future guests. A closet full of puzzles, games, and 8-track tapes. A pantry full of foods, fancy and plain, with a little extra stock in the fridge.

People leaving stuff instead of stealing the toiletries. I was ashamed of my fleeting thought to abscond with a jar of barely used peanut butter--which I'd bought myself.

Never fear--it was fleeting, and just the lack talking. The weeks and months of people not letting you merge, not saying "please" or "thank you", avoiding "hello" or even eye contact. And I can't blame them: I am them, on my not-so-great days. I left my own contributions to the pot: Mrs. Meyer's Dish Soap, the aforementioned jar of Laura Scudders, a lone Sierra Nevada beer.

I suppose the real topline for this week's adventures is Wherever You Go, There You Are. I had my Dorothy Gale experience and it was all marvelous and trippy and very, very Technicolor in nature, but now I am back in my own backyard, ready (I hope) to deal with the accumulation of rusted out cars and old refrigerators that have been piling up there.

Because I would like to have fewer not-so-great days and more dancing-around-the-house days. More laughing days. More reading, walking, thinking, skipping, lounging days. I got an infusion of good mojo from the residual juju of a thousand happy Stone Soup House inhabitants before me; now it's up to me to get some of that good witches' brew going down here.

xxx c

Photo of paradise courtesy of The BF.

Hypn07, Day 8: A day of parlor trickery (or, "Scott Adams on why we go under")

dilbert This covers day 8 of 30 for the Hypnotherapy Project, which I'm collaborating on with Los Angeles-based hypnotist hypnotherapist Greg Beckett. You can read more about this experiment, what motivated it and what we hope to accomplish here.

While Greg and I spend time each session on the actual hypnosis, most days we speak at least as much about the actual process of hypnotherapy, what my experience is with it and because of it, and why it works or doesn't.

As I've mentioned, the last couple of days we'd decided to "play" a little bit: Greg hypnotized me, and during the hypnosis also gave me permission to forget everything that happened during the session.

This is a critical component of hypnosis: a willing subject, and the understanding that the subject is choosing to do all of what the hypnotist is suggesting. So the "best" subjects are people who are really willing, and the "best" hypnotists are the ones who are really good at suggesting.

I realize that sounds stupidly simplistic, but it's the crux of hypnosis: all you're doing is uncovering what's actually there, whether it's a desire to do something, to change something or to think about something.

In the comments of my last post in the series, Curtis Sawyer pointed me to a fascinating post by Scott Adams, best known as the creator of the comic strip Dilbert, less known as a practitioner of hypnosis (well, less-known by dilettante geeks like myself). In it, he does a better job than I ever will of defining what hypnosis is (and isn't) and what it can (and can't) dol. So just go there. But for the lazy, here's the crux of it:

We talk of people “going under” hypnosis, or “going to sleep.” Both are misleading. A subject under hypnosis is fully aware of his environment. He's awake, for all practical purposes, and can ignore any suggestion that might be objectionable. In the history of hypnosis, there's no reliable record of anyone following a suggestion he thought would be harmful to himself or someone else. The subject doesn't lose control.

So what does happen?

I describe the state of hypnosis as acquiring a power. The subject has all of his regular faculties operating plus he gains some more, if he has no objection to those new powers. For example, a subject under hypnosis would get a little extra power in one or more of these areas:

1. Extra relaxation 2. Extra imagination 3. Extra focus

As Adams points out elsewhere in his post, a small slice of the population seems really able to tap into the superpower thing; they're the ones who end up on stage, barking like dogs and seeing people naked. On the other end, all but a few diehards can benefit from the relaxing effects of hypnosis; I've been listening to my recording at night and it puts me under before it's over, which, if you know me and Monkey Brain, is pretty impressive.

I am willing, even eager, to experience some of the parlor trickery, far-out aspects of hypno, too. So Greg and I tried that on Friday. It was an experiment for both of us, since he really uses hypnosis as a therapeutic goal-setting tool, not for stage purposes.

We tried:

  1. making me cluck like a chicken in the middle of singing the Star Spangled Banner
  2. having me see both of us naked (when, just to be clear, we were not)
  3. having me hear him speak in Spanish (he speaks it, I don't)

Numbers 1 and 2 worked pretty well. Though as I said to Greg, I'm perfectly willing to cluck like a chicken under most any circumstances, I've done far, far more embarrassing things on stage, for free, with less prodding. (No one ever asked me to get naked on stage; interesting, that.) So I knew as I was clucking, that I was clucking. And I didn't want to "help", but I did want to let whatever was going to happen, happen.

The best way I can describe what happened with the clucking is that it floated up on a bubble. I knew I could stop it, but I had a mischievous impulse to cluck, like burping or farting in church on a dare.

Similarly, with seeing us naked, I didn't see us naked, but I found myself giggling as if we were naked, like we had a goofy secret between us no one else knew about.

I wish I could say I heard every word he spoke in English as though it were in incomprehensible-to-me Spanish; all that did happen was it was ridiculously hard to grok what he was saying in English: like my comprehension skills took a nosedive, or the way it's harder to read a complex book when you're tired or tipsy.

So it seems I'm gifted with middling powers as a hypnosis subject. And hey, I'll take it! Just being able to relax, or to turn off the buzzing and focus, or to give my pretty gigantic imagination a chance to strut its stuff, is pretty wonderful.

But like Adams, I'm wildly jealous of the one-in-five "who can give birth without pain, or see an elephant in the room, or eat an onion and think it's an orange, or have multiple orgasms on suggestion. My name for that group is “lucky bastards.” For them, hypnosis can fix a lot of problems."

And quickly.

Lucky bastards...

xxx c Image by Scott Adams and © United Feature Syndicate, Inc. "Borrowed" w/o permission; hopefully, the nice people at Megolopolis, Inc., will let it slide.

The reluctant expert, or "Why teaching is sexy"

willmathsville chalkboard While I'm no expert in the ways of things blogular, I've been doing it long enough, and obsessively enough, let's face it, to have learned a few things along the way.

The same goes for acting (which I was relieved to let go of almost a year ago), writing, design, presenting, cooking and, just because I've pulled 45 summers with my eyes open, for living.

Occasionally, an awareness of this knowledge floats to the surface on its own, in those rare moments when I am both lucid and chatter-free enough to let it. An appropriately sized bubble of gratitude and wonder will float to the surface, pop, and I'm back at my task, persuading or kerning or chopping. A nanosecond's awareness in the moment.

For a true sense of distance, I need a marker or a mirror, either someone I've known in my clumsier days, who helps me mark the distance between then and now, or someone seeing it for the first time.

While the former is great for boosting my ego (the student OUTSHINES THE MASTERRRR!!!), the latter is more deeply satisfying. Seeing the lights go on and the wheels start to turn, watching the world of possibilities unfold before your very eyes is unbelievably exhilarating. Maybe not better than sex or cookies or making someone laugh, but right up there with them.

I can see how it might be addictive, even for those poor souls struggling to do it the old-fashioned way, amidst the inclement conditions much of our public school system offers. Hell, maybe even more so, for the right kind of masochist.

Doing it with willing and capable students? O, bliss.

My introverted nature means I can only offer so much in the way of up-close-and-personal teaching before I need to crawl back into my cave for some serious "me" time. Yes, I'm energized after a few hours of coaching or an evening of nerdmasters, but I'm also noticeably depleted. I've become more careful about scheduling in general, at least, scheduling time with others. I think I'll probably struggle with overwork until I drop from it.

But after years of wondering who in the world could stand to be a teacher, and why, I know the answer to both. We are all of us teachers, connecting each other to the light. And a life without light would be like a life without sex or cookies or making someone laugh: bearable, I suppose, but only just...

xxx c

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