The writer's motto

digital rendering of the author's motto This post is #15 in a series of 50 dedicated to the art and life of writing, in support of the 50 for 50 Project to benefit WriteGirl. If you like it, or if you think it could have been improved by a better writing education for its author, please give generously. And pass it on.

Joy is all well and good in its way, but there are plenty of days when life is just a piece of shit.

The client rejects your proposal. The hard drive crashes. The post you worked on for days languishes unnoticed.

The check bounces, the sentences won't come together, the dog rips out the neighbor's flower bed. The letter comes back unopened. The mammogram comes back with a shadow. The migraine comes back, period.

Or, you know, the bottom drops out of the economy. Again.

Here's the deal, as I see it: we are here to live our damned lives until we are not, with no idea of when "not" is coming. The bus that is 20 minutes late to get you to a job interview could be fifty years early for the cyclist who swerves to avoid hitting a pedestrian and ends up suddenly ending. So it is incumbent upon us to really and truly LIVE those damned days, every last one of them, even the shit ones.

This can be a tough slog. Some days, resignation is all I can muster. But most days, I choose also to laugh at something, even if I'm the only thing handy. I choose to let things be messy and imperfect. (HIGHLY reluctantly, but whatever.) I choose to surround myself with things that comfort and soothe and amuse and bolster.

You have to have a calendar; why not have one by an amazing artist, or three, for that matter, so that whenever you look up to find a date, you're reminded of the beauty in the world?

You have to have walls; why not have art hanging there that inspires you?

You have to have a motto, well, actually, you don't. But if you were casting about for a good one, and you had a slightly black and perverse sense of humor, you could do worse than "Push the cocksucking boulder up the motherfucking hill." It's catchy. It works in march-like, 2/4 time. It has swears.

Which is why, when I approached the legendary Bee Franck to ask whether she would kindly contribute a desktop wallpaper to the 50-for-50 Project to benefit WriteGirl, I suggested she illustrate this sturdy and useful motto. And I guess it must have resonated with her, because immediately, she offered not only to do that, but:

  1. to create a cross-stitch pattern for the crafters (see illustration at the top of this post)
  2. to stitch one up herself with her own two hands
  3. to donate it, framed and shipped, to the cause!
Bee finished it this weekend and now one lucky bidder can be the owner of this magnificent work of inspirational art:

framed original cross-stitch by bee franck

So. Let's recap. Need some personal bolstering in a world falling to pieces? You can...

(And of course, you can sing along with the song anytime you want for FREE!)

Remember, as bad as the world you're dealing with is right now, the one we're handing off to the next generation is probably going to be worse. Just sayin'! WriteGirl is helping turn amazing high school girls into the strong, confident, awesome women leaders we're all going to need tomorrow. Give what you can to help them and we'll all be better off for it.


xxx c

Video Vednesday: 52 books! 52 books! (and a hack)


I did it!

Earlier this week, I finished reading my 52nd book for the year. As I confess in the video above, as well as on the goal-tracking page itself, I started several of these books before 2010, some well before, which is one of the reasons I decided to take on this reading thing as a goal. Tired of unfinished business, I was. It's inevitable when Overly-Busy Syndrome collides with Eyes-Bigger-Than-Stomach Disease; there are too many things you want to read, and always new ones, and never enough time. (Now, when I put down a book unfinished, I do it consciously, this book is not for me, and I'm not going to read any more of it. Next!)

The video is especially blathery considering I am sharing the world's simplest how-to. I seem to be constitutionally incapable of creating an improvised video shorter than 2 minutes. On the other hand, I'm so damned excited about finishing 52 books in less than a year, something I'm sure I haven't done since my 20s, or maybe even college, that I'm giving myself a pass. This ONCE. Then, back to it.

Here's the trick, written-out-style, for my fellow non-video types:

At some point before I start my daily reading (40pp!), I decide on a natural stopping point around 40pp out, sometimes a little shorter, sometimes a little longer, depending on the book and my mood. Then I place a sticky note on that page, sticking up about 1/4", so that I know when it's time to stop.

I find this helps me let go of page count (as much as a nutcase obsessive type can) and focus on the book itself. Before, when I used other methods, I got all caught up in my underwear: if I used my right index finger, it got uncomfortable; if I used a second bookmark, it tended to lift the last few pages before my stopping point, which took me out of reading; and if I used my brain, well, we won't go there. Very ugly.

Hopefully, this little hack will be of use to you. If not, well, you can just congratulate me on (finally) doing the right thing again. Woo-hoo, indeed!


P.S. The book I'm holding up is Influence, Robert Cialdini's classic work on persuasion, which I'll be reviewing soon. As I mention in the video, I'd picked it up at a book sale right before I heard Jonathan Fields talk about it on his segment of the World-Changing Writing Workshop. It's every bit as much of a must-read as Jonathan said, and it's fascinating and FUN to read, as well. So there you go. Stay tuned!

Show me yer rig! (Gmail filters edition)

See it bigger on Vimeo.

Joining its brethren, the screencasts on Google Reader and gCal, is a little (too long of a) video on one specific thing I really like about gmail, its filters.

Pretty much every email program has filters of some kind built in, but I like how easy gmail makes it to set them up, especially once you start making use of keyboard shortcuts (and a cheat sheet can help with that).

The specific hack I added is a top-level (i.e., above-the-fold) label named, reasonably enough, "add to filter." (I mistakenly call the label a filter in the screencast, but it's definitely a label. You create labels, which you can use to help you with filtering.) When bacn-y email shows up in my inbox and I don't have time to deal with it right then, I grab it and move it to the "add to filter" label. I then clean that out once or twice a month, creating filters for stuff I want to funnel somewhere, or sometimes just unsubscribing to something on the spot. I definitely suffer from eyes-bigger-than-stomach syndrome when it comes to bacn.

You don't even have to watch the video if video ain't your thing. My main point here is to draw attention to the advantage of taking time to do one small thing (automate your email sorting) if it helps free up time and headspace to do big things (work, nap, etc.).

Although if there was enough interest, I could do an additional, longer video or post about gmail workflow, with screen captures on the taxonomy I'm using with labels, which has helped me tame the beast. But maybe not. Email is a really personal thing. Plus, isn't everyone sick of talking about it? And haven't most of you given up on email for anything useful or fun and just gone to Twitter and Facebook?

I know I get enough dang "emails" in Facebook.

As usual, comments, criticisms and observations welcome, especially those that will help me improve. And questions? Of course!


Show me yer rig! (Evernote + Instapaper edition)

[vimeo 12774516 w=475 h=297]

Haven't done one of these how-to screencasts in a while, and this one is reeeeeeally simple, so it's very possible you've thought of it long ago and have been using it for ages and are all, "Gee, Colleen, it must be hard, getting old and losing all that processing power."

However, I stumbled upon this solution for simplifying clipping stuff to Evernote, my fave catch-all/squirreling-away tool. If you're already slick with the mouse, this will likely be more hassle than it's worth, but if you're like me and are not so good with the mouse/trackpad when it comes to highlighting content, you will LURVE it, I swear.

Some notes! Because there are always notes after wrassling with video:

  • It is not a 2-minute video; it's a 2:42-minute video. I recorded this thing no less than SEVEN times trying to get it under 2:00; like a postmodern Blaise Pascal, I just didn't have the time to make the thing any shorter.
  • My numeric dyslexia has spread to independent clauses. At about 1:20 in, I say "I want to save the URL and clip the page, just in case." What I meant was to flip those things: you have to clip the page if you want the content to appear in Evernote; you do not have to have the URL, but I like to keep it, just in case. There's a nifty little arrow button next to the URLs in every Evernote note that will take you straight to the full page in a jiffy. Sweet!
  • Shareaholic really deserves its own shoutout. It's a fantastic social sharing tool for Chrome, Firefox, Safari, etc. browsers that lets you easily clip things to Evernote, as well as share content in an insane number of places. Literally, you'd go insane doing that much sharing. Fortunately, it's customizable: mine has links to gmail, Twitter, Facebook, delicious, Evernote and Tumblr, which is already borderline insane. You can also choose your fave flavor of link-shortening service (I use, mostly), so you can get shortened, trackable links for all the stuff you're sharing, if you're into that sort of thing.
  • Ignore what I said about emailing, you can totally leave a comment, and I would love that. I have comment moderation turned on now, so depending on how diligent I'm being with my other work, it may take some time for it to appear, but unless you're being a sh*thead in your comment, it will appear. (And yeah, I do need a clear commenting policy. It's on the list!)

If you hate watching video, here's the tip, in a nutshell: rather than highlighting text and content you want to clip to Evernote, use the Instapaper Text bookmarklet to convert it to clean text before clipping. That's it!

As always, and especially while I'm on the steep, upward curve of this video-learning thing, comments as to what was and wasn't helpful, distracting, fun, evil-ish, are particularly welcome.

And because I'm anticipating the question, no, I haven't made it yet. BECAUSE I SPENT A BAZILLION HOURS TRYING TO GET THIS UNDER 2 MINUTES!

Life is easy; video is hard...


  • Evernote, a Swiss-Army-knife of saving and collecting tools (free; subscribe for extra features)
  • Instapaper, program that strips  and lets you read articles later (free, online and iPhone app; $5 for iPhone app with extra features)
  • Instapaper Text bookmarklet (scroll down to find) Javascript tool that strips visual nuisances from web pages for your reading pleasure; just drag from the page to your browser's toolbar (free!; Mac users, also try Safari Reader, available in Safari 5)
  • Google Chrome Super-fast browser for PC, Mac and Linux.
  • Shareaholic Fantastic social sharing tool for Chrome, Firefox, Safari, etc. browsers.

Video Vednesday: Annual Goals, Daily

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


Bad habits live in the dark

monster figurine toy on macbook pro keyboard

While I have been chugging away at certain goals, book-reading and Nei Kung-doing, especially, I've been lagging embarrassingly behind on others.

One of the most embarrassing failures has been my inability to resume my dedication to the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. For a regimen that not only turned my health around seven years ago but also managed to get me down to a negligible amount of medication, I'm amazingly dismissive of it. I'm not just talking the occasional cheat: there are oceans of Rolos between me and my former healthy self; vast chasms you could fill with Pizza Hut Thin-and-Crispy Veggie-Lovers Supreme. I would think nothing of driving through the Jack-in-the-Box window for their revoltingly delicious, deliciously revolting 2-for-99¢ tacos, of tossing a bag of Jelly Bellies, or M&Ms, or Marshmallow Peeps, in season, into my basket on the way out of Vons or the Rite-Aid.

Literally. I would not think. This has made transgressions surprisingly friction-free, but has gotten me further and further from feeling like it's possible to be on SCD at all.1 And you know, I can't count on there being prednisone and other immunosuppressants after the apocalypse, so it behooves me to get off the junk well in advance and give my poor intestines a chance to sturdy up.

Fortunately, I seem to have stumbled on a solution that costs nothing, is easy to implement and that, thus far, has stopped all fast-food cheats dead in their tracks: the Specter of Wayne.

Wayne is a good friend and an even more exacting external conscience. A fellow ACoA with bigger balls than I, he simply has no tolerance for moral ambiguity. Like the SCD, you either are or are not with Wayne; he won't argue with your choices unless you want him to, but there is no lipsticking of the pig with Wayne. It is broccoli, and he says the hell with it.

Which is how, after he gently brought up a very embarrassing lapse in, uh, judgment I was making over and over again, we ended up with the brilliant fix of me contacting him before succumbing. I could succumb after that, but I had to let him know first. If you are an addict or someone who loves one, you may recognize this as sponsor-like behavior, which it is, with one significant exception: it would not be Wayne's job to talk me out of my indiscretion, just to bear witness to the possibility of it.

Well. The genius of this was immediately evident. I am ruled by shame and fear (yeah, yeah, I know); Wayne is an inflexible arbiter of right and wrong. There was no fucking way I was going to cave if it meant letting Wayne know. The mere idea of it was enough to stop me when I was on the brink. Hence, the Spector of Wayne!

At last week's Success Team, my little weekly gathering of like-minded self-improvers, I reported that the Specter of Wayne had worked so well in curing me of my previous bad habit that I wanted to apply it to another: the getting of me back onto SCD. We would go slowly, just junk/fast-food, for starters, and fuzzy borders, at that. I went to a wine-tasting event on Friday night with the full intention of enjoying whatever delicious illegals they laid out next to the Malbec and sangria. Hell, even the sangria was illegal. But these were fine-quality baked goods and chocolates, not thank-you-drive-through abominations.

Eventually, I will banish even those, of this I am sure. Partly because with each thing I say "no" to, I grow a little stronger and more confident. I live a little more in the light of truth, and believe a little more deeply in the power of focusing on that which is best for me.

But I also retain a healthy respect for the Specter of Wayne. Whatever it takes to get there from here...


1The SCD is a binary proposition: you're either on it 100% or you're not on it. And, in my experience and that of many thousands who have gone before me, one requires fanatical adherence for a while before one can feel safe letting illegals creep in here and there. If ever.

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

No more!

gloved hand held up in "stop" motion

I've been giving little talks for long enough that a part of me insists I should have some kind of system down.

One that not only has me starting earlier and working more methodically, but that provides some sort of framework and steps for proceeding; some kind of handy-dandy, E-Z-1-2-3!â„¢ process for getting talks out of my head and onto paper before they come back out of my  head.

Alas, there is no system yet. While I marvel at my friend Cliff Atkinson's excellent "Hollywood screenplay" framework for content creation (which I'm currently re-reading about in his wonderful book, Beyond Bullet Points, for inspiration), using bits and pieces of it as well as Nancy Duarte's and Garr Reynolds' brainstorming techniques from slide:ology and Presentation Zen, respectively, something obstinate in me refuses to budge from my old, familiar pace 'n' blather method. Sorry about that, neighbors; sorrier than you know.

However, one massively helpful thing I have begun doing is admitting that this spazzy and backwards way of working is, for better or worse, currently my default way. Out loud. Or rather, out loud on my calendar. At some point last year, in a fit of pique, no doubt, I added an all-day event to my gCal "work pods" calendar titled "NO MORE!" In caps, so I couldn't miss it. In burnt orange, just in case.

Now, when I have something big coming up, like my very first TEDx talk, up in Tacoma, this Saturday, I stick a bunch of burnt-orange "NO MORE!" jellybeans on the days leading up to it. Instantly, those days are shut off, devoted solely to whatever is already on there or whatever big thing I have coming up. I have even learned to stick the burnt-orange "NO MORE!" jellybeans on the other side of the big event, for recovery time.

Because sometimes, the best way to keep going is knowing when to stop...


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

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

Buying less, renting smarter, Part 1

a flea market

My first shrink-slash-astrologer warned me early on that I'm a floaty type.

Which is to say, I enjoy wandering from thing to thing, but this can leave me very, very ungrounded. I think she even suggested carrying around a piece of hematite as a possible solution, and I dimly recall trying it for a bit: I found an old hunk lying around in one phase of The Great Purge of '09, and dispatched it to Goodwill forthwith.

Anyway, I know that looking at things soothes me and I suspect that having one reason I tend to collect them is that having them around grounds me.

Looking through new-to-me stuff, almost any stuff, from garage sales to flea markets to high-end department stores, is weirdly relaxing and comforting. When I'm browsing the stacks or the back 40 at the Kane County Flea Market or the racks at Bloomie's, a part of my brain that usually won't shut up is finally able to, but I also feel deeply cared for. Whereas other wonderful-to-me activities that also shut off that part of my brain, walking on the beach or doing Nei Kung or hooping, for example, are more stimulating than soothing, and still other experiences, like looking at art, are generally stimulating without being soothing.

Since I like these things or like the way they make me feel, it's really hard not to want to take some home with me. If I feel good in some object's habitat, it follows that I will also feel good around it when it's been removed to mine. And sometimes, I do. But often, I do not. This is where the clutter problem lives for many of us, I'm guessing, trying to replicate feelings. (The other part lies in wanting to hang onto them.)

When I am full-on monk, this problem will either go away or I'll have mad ninja skillz for dealing with it. For now, though, I need to be around stuff sometimes, and I need to have some stuff all the time, in order for my life to work the way I want it to.

The trick, then, for me, is coming up with ways to comfort myself that do not involve the acquisition of stuff I don't need, even cheap stuff. Because in addition to the cost of acquisition, there's a cost to maintain the stuff and to get rid of it, even with second-hand stuff, if you're going to do it responsibly.

The library is a terrific substitution for any browsing because the stuff you get there is the least "sticky", there are penalties for not getting rid of it! But even renting "for free" from the library comes at a cost: how much time am I spending returning stuff, checking due dates on returning stuff, rounding up stuff to return, etc.? So these are the ways I've come up with to minimize library "waste":

Book in advance. (No pun intended!) The Los Angeles Public Library has a searchable online database you can use to find an reserve books, which are then delivered at no cost to the branch of your choice. When I find a book I know I want to read that looks like it's been out for a while, I jump on the site, plug in my member number (which I have saved as a keystroke shortcut in TextExpander), and have it sent to me.

Walk to the library. When you live in L.A., you spend most of your mobile time in a giant backpack called "a car." The combination of picking up reserved books and walking to and from the library to do it has dramatically reduced the amount of books I haul, and is good exercise, head-clearing and better for the environment, as well. I'm really nervous because budget cutbacks have already reduced hours (and salaries, sadly) at my branch, which is older and smaller and likely to be an early candidate for closures. But I'll cross that bridge when they blow it up. Or something.

Limit browsing time. I used to go earlier in the day (a luxury of the self- or unemployed!). Now I go towards the end of the day, an hour or less before closing time. Which is earlier and earlier with every budget cut.

Keep a dedicated holding area. I wish I could remember where I got this tip, because implementing it has dramatically reduced my late fees. I have one small shelf devoted to library books on loan; the only other place in my apartment they're allowed to be is on my nightstand.

Manage due dates with a system. Before they moved to a fee model, I used LibraryElf to make sure I didn't rack up ridiculous overdue rates. Now that I'm bringing in less and reading more, I burn through books quickly enough that it's not an issue, but if you have problems getting stuff back on time, either a calendar reminder input into your own calendar as soon as you get home, or a LibraryElf subscription, might not be a bad idea.

That's probably already about as anal as it gets when it comes to a library strategy (although I didn't get into my Windex-ing the covers upon arrival at home, never know where that stuff has been). But if there are other things I'm missing or could benefit from, I'd love to hear them...


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

Get your motor runnin', Day 17: The Trigger Trick


The good news is I practiced today.

The bad news is, I almost didn't practice today.

Not because practicing the guitar for 10 minutes is so awful, or because a horrible misfortune befell me, or because I willfully threw up my hands (instead of wrapping them around the guitar) and said, "I quit!"

I almost broke my 16-day streak (and out-loud promise) of practicing guitar every day for 10 minutes because I blew off my trigger.

For those of you not joining in on Leo Babauta's 30-day New Year's Challenge, the trigger, according to Leo, is the thing you name as the thing you'll do right before you do the thing you're promising to do. Depending upon your particular challenge, the thing could be anything from waking up to parking your ass in your chair at work to shutting down your computer for the day.

Since I chose "practice guitar for 10 minutes daily" and since I work from home 99% of the time, I figured "after breakfast" would be a good trigger. There have been one or two days when I've breakfasted elsewhere, but I've practiced as soon as I walked in the door, before doing anything else, so I figure that counts.

Today, however, I had to work on a presentation that was due fast. Didn't exactly have a hard out, as we say in the trade, but I was up against it enough that figured I'd just push the guitar off until after I emailed the preso off. You know, pick a new trigger...for the day.

So I did my work. Emailed it off. And three hours later, I was merrily barrelling through a raft of non-essential bullshit when I realized, yup, you got it, I'd totally blown off the guitar. And I actually kind of like playing the guitar. Not as much as farting around with non-essential bullshit, obviously; I'm a lot better at farting around than I am guitar at this point, so farting around is more seductive. I just forgot, because I blew off my trigger.

And then I spent an extra five minutes on scales just to remind myself not to do it again.

Triggers, people. Triggers...


Image by ctd_2005 via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

How? No...YES!!!

Wednesday is List Day here at Imagine my consternation, then, when I pulled up this entry from Evelyn Rodriguez's always-stimulating blog this morning in my RSS reader and realized I could not possibly coast on Fave Rave Eric Rohmer Flix or 10 Ways to Ace Yourself Out of a Date with the Communicatrix Through Your Profile Alone, but would have to address the role of risk in effecting change. Unless...

Well, unless I can combine the two. How would it look if I did? What could be gained by compiling a list instead of writing an essay? How might I feel if I were able to do it? What impact might it have on my life as an artist, a blogger, a designer, a friend & companion?

Okay, enough. You get the idea. Or if not, you can go read Evelyn's post about Peter Block's book, The Answer to How is Yes and the leap of faith required in any great venture.

And so, my list. I put these things forth not to toot my own horn, but to tell everyone within shouting distance,"if an a**hole like me can do it, imagine what you smart people can do":


  1. Got copywriting job with worst book in ad history.
  2. Got into Groundlings Sunday Company with no prior experience being funny.
  3. Did not die when world collapsed after being unceremoniously booted from Sunday Company. (NOTE: Seriously, this was worse than any breakup, divorce or death of a loved one I have experienced. Yeah, I'm nuts; I'm an actress, for cryin' out loud.)
  4. Wormed my way into best 99-seat theater company in L.A. with worst resume in L.A. theater history.
  5. Became working actress at 36 (that's 207 in Hollywood Years).
  6. Despite dour prognosis from Son-of-Mengele Colorectal Surgeon, went from Miss Bloody Hamburger Intestines of 2002 to a clean colonoscopy in two years.
  7. Co-wrote & produced play about aforementioned bloody colon that people actually came to see.
  8. Taught myself enough graphic design to pass.
  9. Got invited to blog for honest-to-jesus metblog.
  10. Met blogging idol.

What dream can you say "yes" to right now?

xxx c