new year

Get your motor runnin', Day 21: Endings are also beginnings

recycle_whiteafrican

In case you hadn't noticed, stuff is falling apart all around you.

In case you hadn't noticed, it always has been.

Someone is always losing a job or hitting a wall or falling out of love. Someone else, somewhere else, is making something new out of what didn't seem to exist before, an idea or a song or a business or a soccer ball (see above!) or, god bless 'em (and thanks for doing it so I don't have to) a person.

I had a good, long talk with an interesting fellow I met at a networking event tonight. We met at this networking event because I arranged the event which he also came to and we wound up sitting next to each other.

But we also met because I quit my job some 16-odd years ago and drove across the country with a man who is now married to someone else, to write for a show that no longer exists, produced by an amazing crew of people who have scattered to the ends of the earth. Or at least the edges of a few continents.

We met because I got kicked out of the Groundlings, had my heart broken several times, had my insides blow up. In fact, if pressed, I would say that most of the goodness in my life today exists because my life as a Healthy Person ended just over six years ago.

Or, if you want to get mundane and granular about it, we met because each of us ended a conversation with someone else.

Stuff is always ending, all the time, all around us, whether we like it or not. And unless the stuff is us having our heads banged into a wall, we usually don't. And it has to be some egregious banging. Because just a little banging, even that can become preferably to the idea of something else, something that might be worse banging. No, we'll take this particular banging against this particular wall. It's fine. It's not even stucco.

Fear, fear, gimme a beer. How do I steer? Is help near?

We talked of fear, this fellow and I, and about how it stops people from doing what they're meant to do next. (It's key, that "next." Because you're always doing something, right? And you can waste a lot of time staying in something when you should be moving on to what's next.) He wondered if there was something particular that kept people from doing the next thing, and really, most of the time, the only thing particular about it is the flavor of fear: fear of loss of identity, fear of loss of prestige, fear of failure and thus becoming a non-person (this is a BIG one for artists), fear of destitution. You get the idea. If you were playing along, you either recognized one of these or another popped up. Feel free to share it in the comments.

Because I'm here to tell you, you are free. That thing you want is gettable. Maybe not in the exact way you're picturing it right now, but trust me, no matter how excellent a picturer you are, you cannot begin to imagine the multifarious ways the universe can imagine things. The universe will put your shit to shame.

Just go do the one thing. You know. The one thing that would move you one step closer. And then the next day, do one more thing. At some point, tell some people what you're doing, slowly, carefully, because you want to make as sure as possible you're going to get help, not hindrance.

Stuff is ending all around you. Your ability to recall things and your ability to eat whatever you want with impunity and your 40s, if you're me. Something else if you're you.

Let it end, and open your arms to embrace the magnificent next thing. You must do it for yourself. You must do it for the world.

The new year is not so new anymore. This 21-Day Saluteâ„¢ is over, too. And that's a good thing.

Because without it ending, you'd never get to see what's next...

xxx
c

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

Get your motor runnin', Day 20: Worst job in the world

barack_marcn

Today was a very, very hard day for stuff getting done. Between watching the inauguration (before, during and after which I cried at least 15 times) and a brutal teeth cleaning (floss early, floss often, young people) I was pretty much a spent rag of a wreck by 3pm.

So while our amazing new President and his amazing wife flit around D.C., graciously giving yet more of themselves to the jubilant and adoring crowds, I will probably knock off early (where "early" is "before 7pm"), head to my friend, Dea's, to pick up my candles, and hang with my boyzzz, The BF and Arno J., for a little corny (sorry, Fionnuala!) beeb costume drama before passing out.

This means that tomorrow will be that much harder, because some of the stuff that should have gotten done today won't get got done until tomorrow.

But there are two reasons that this not only doesn't bother me, but thrills me to my core.

The first is that whatever I'm doing and however hard I work at it and no matter how much it means to me and/or the world, this man, this amazing new President of ours, is working harder at something that's exponentially, geometrically, incomprehensibly harder. And, if past performance is any indicator of future returns, I suspect there will be a minimum of fuss and a maximum of grace about it. And if he can do it with what's on his plate, by gum, I can do it with what's on mine, and then some.

The second is that this man, this amazing new President of ours, is our president. At one point, around the same point that I was, he was just another American kid whose mom wanted him to make something of himself. Only instead of having some piffling gender odds stacked against him, he was an American kid from a single-parent household who was half-black, which, in this country, meant he was black, period, and which, as he pointed out in his glorious inaugural address, means a whole lot to all of us:

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed - why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

Yeah, it's kind of corny. But it's 100% fantastic. If you work at something, bit by bit and day by day, you can make it happen. Not always. But it's possible. And he's going to try it again.

If this man is willing to do that with what I think must be the most horrible job in the world, I can damned sure do it with mine.

Who's with me?

xxx
c

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

Get your motor runnin', Day 19: The point of service

maximusdogcimus_mikelens

I've tricked The BF into watching yet another corny BBC costume drama with me. (Heh heh heh.)

This time, it's the 2005 version of Charles Dickens' Bleak House, featuring the endearingly odd Gillian Anderson (who most famously played Scully of American television's The X Files, and who has one of acting's craziest head-to-body size ratios I've ever seen), a lot of really talented British actors like Charles Dance and Pauline Collins ("No, honestly, C.D....") and strange "ch-chunk"-y sound effects and jarring transitional cuts that remind me a little too much of Law & Order, in a bad way. Oh, well; nothing's perfect.

While I'm not entirely certain what it is about the BBC treatments that rings my bell, I suspect it boils down to two things. First, they actually tell the damned story. Second, they pick really, really good stories to tell. There's a reason Dickens and Shakespeare and a few other windy writers are still read, and it's not just because their works are in public domain. They were outstanding chroniclers of the human condition, which hasn't changed much in several hundred years. Circumstances, yes. People, no. And it is both illuminating and a huge, huge relief to have a name put to certain types, and to see them exposed for what they truly are.

Take one of the minor characters of Bleak House, for example. Mrs. Pardiggle. She's a preposterously silly woman who is devoted to her many charitable causes...at the expense of her family and to the detriment of those she purports to serve. Her children (rightly) despise her and we're not too all-fired nuts about her, either. Which is, I'm pretty sure, exactly the reaction that Dickens, who was so good at pointing out injustice, even (or especially) where popular opinion was ignorant of or blind to it, was going for. No dummy, that Dickens.

Unfortunately, I think many of us grow up with a dreadful, burdensome, yucky notion of service. It's supposed to hurt, serving is, or we're not doing it right. I think that's...well, wrong. Service may feel uncomfortable (especially in the beginning), and there's going to be some effort about it if you're doing something useful and meaningful, but the idea that it has to be unpleasant or you're not doing it right is a big pile of crappity-crap.

Service is about paying it forward, yes, and sharing our gifts of time or expertise or what have you, but ultimately, it's about helping two parties: the one on the receiving end and yourself. If it's not even, it may be patronage, it may be charity, and it may or may not be helpful, but it's not service, which is made up (in my opinion) of equal parts humility and free exchange. As in, you humble yourself to someone else so that they may prove your teacher, and your service to them is the medium of exchange.

My first inkling of what real service was like came when I volunteered to record books for the blind via an organization now known as Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic. I had visions of myself wowing the vision-impaired crowds with my über-compelling narration skillz; the reality was more me learning how little I actually knew about pronunciation and the English language, and fumbling through computer textbooks when I was even allowed to do the recording part. In other words, it was something I thought I'd be good at it, I ended up not being not very good at, and yet I stuck with it because I figured hey, it's supposed to make me unhappy: it's service!

I continued on in this fashion, volunteering for things I was neither particularly adept at nor interested in, because I felt I should. And service continued to make me very, very unhappy, and God was in her heaven, and all was right with the world.

And then, lo, a breakthrough! I had joined a professional organization for both networking and educational purposes, and was being subtly pressured to volunteer. Which I did, on a project that I could see from the get-go was being very poorly managed, whose poor management would most likely cause me a great deal of head- and heartache. At one point, I was groaning about it to a new friend who was a longtime member of this group, and she passed on the greatest bit of advice I've ever heard regarding service:

"I've done it both ways; now, I only volunteer for the stuff I really want to do."

GENIUS.

Of course, my first thought was, "Well, who's gonna do all that stuff I don't want to do?" The answer, of course, is all those people who don't want to do the thing you want to do.

Note that I'm not saying one should only do what one is already good at, although that's a fine place to start (and it's always nice to put those talents to good use). Service is also lovely because it allows us to grow our skills and outlook, to become finer leaders or programmers or chefs. Or painters.

And sometimes, to be fair, you need to do a little excavating around that "stuff you really want" part. If you're a voiceover actor and your neighborhood coalition needs people to pitch in to clean and repair the dog park, there may not be a role that utilizes your VO skillz, but the part of you that's a dog owner may say, "Well, I really want a safe, clean place for my beloved Sparky, who has enriched my life in so many ways, to run free," and suck it up and swing a paintbrush. Like that.

But most of the time, there's no need to make yourself (or the people near and dear to you) miserable by volunteering for crap you hate. Love comes from love, and stuff done from a sense of obligation and not gratitude has the stench of duty all over it.

Pun fully intended...

xxx
c

Some notes on Bleak House and service:

You may want to just pick up a cheap copy of Bleak House, as it's quite long although it should be readily available at your public library. You can also read the full text for free, online, via the excellent Project Gutenberg, or listen to downloadable or online MP3s of for free via LibriVox and Internet Archive.

And if you are an actor or voiceover person or just someone who likes reading stories aloud, you may want to look into volunteering for LibriVox, a group that gets individual volunteers to record works in the public domain from the comfort of their own home computers, and upload them to the Internet for all to use. Amazing and miraculous, that!

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

Get your motor runnin', Day 18: Hating the thing you love

lovehate__abhi_ This week was a banner week for crossed signals and nutty communication. A topsy-turvy week, if you will.

This morning, for example, The BF and I arose just before the crack of dawn, thanks to a call from his son, who lives several states away and is not really old enough to appreciate the time-zone thing. The good news is that even though it was godawful early for a Sunday, (a) I've been rising earlier and earlier anyway, owing to the twin curses of advancing age and young dog; and (b), it was just a general howdy-do call, no big thang. The bad news is that a roughly-wakened, middle-aged heart does not know the difference between an emergency and a mistake, and, especially when it's housed in a worrywart carcass, is inclined to assume the former, and put hard miles on itself, regardless.

I also managed to upset some poor horseperson in Nebraska whose photo I used to illustrate yesterday's post. I thought my Trigger/trigger play on words was hilarious and the photo, perfection; s/he thought I was the devil incarnate and a villainous thief. The whole matter took less than a half-hour to sort out, but still, half-hours don't come cheap these days, and justice is one of my weak spots.

This is on top of a scrap heap of double-booking, overbooking and forgetting I'd booked entirely. I mean, the week itself wasn't bad, but my management of it really was befouled from stem to stern.

And, in the midst of this, I am endeavoring to maintain my commitment to my art, my craft, my love of turning the vague into the concrete. Which is to say: some writing, some more writing, and a wee bit (10 minutes per day, to be exact) of gee-tar playin'. Not too much to ask, right?

It shouldn't be, for these are the things I love, the writing, the gee-tar playing. (Well, the music-making. The gee-tar playing, or the learning of the gee-tar, to be precise, is something I must endure, for now, until such time as I actually do not 100% suck at it. So you see.) And yet, this week, these past few days, I have been feeling love far less than I have obligation. Or outright annoyance. How can I love these things and hate them at the same time?

Well, it's not the same time. Or, more precisely, sometimes it's the same time.

I came across a fine item today about art and pushing through the rough times with it by a fine writer/artist/person named Jen Lee. I'm pretty sure I found her via Dave Pollard, and fairly certain I left a comment on her fine item, but as this is the end of the week of farkakte communication, who knows if it's true and if the comment actually made it through. Jen Lee wrote about her takeaway from Stephen King's wonderful book on writing (aptly titled, On Writing) and Anne Lamott's equally, if not more wonderful book on writing, Bird by Bird, and the big cheese-daddy takeaway, which I left in my comment, which may or may not still exist, is this:

We're all of us nuts, and scared, and a mess; we all of us hate the hell out of the thing we love some days.

It's true, you know. Even the thing you love more than anything will flip you the bird some days, or wrassle with you on other days, or, on particularly bad days, take a powder entirely.

It's okay.

Because the thing you love will always come back to you, and you will love each other just as you always did, if not more.

You write well...or don't. You act well...or don't. The muse visits...or doesn't.

Show up every day, and the occasional day off doesn't matter so much. This, from someone 40-some-odd years into one love, and a mere 18 (of conscious, applied effort) into loving another...

xxx c

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

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

guitarreflection_ctd_2005

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...

xxx
c

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

Get your motor runnin', Day 16: Do do that doo-doo you don't do so well

cannonball_winestem

I realize that while I chronicle my overall personal struggles, confusion and very occasional triumphs here, that not everyone here reads or even gives a toss about my business-y, marketing-y or other non-core communicatrix-y stuff. (Although I could argue that as I am the communicatrix, pretty much anything I work on is de facto communicatrix-y, I will not, it is Friday, and I am far too tired and have far too much yet to do to waste energy on silly arguing.)

So, hey: if you HATE marketing or HATE business or HATE marketing-your-business stuff, go read some other stuff. Like all the crazy crap I've been posting to my Tumblr blog, or to my StumbleUpon blog, or...well, anything else on this page.

If you're still here, here's the deal. I hate marketing, too. And business. And marketing my business.

Well, not all of it. But a lot of it. I have weird issues around money and commerce, since grubbing over the former destroyed two whole sets of family for me and the latter pretty much robbed me of a father, an active, present one, anyway, for my entire life. (Although commerce was responsible for many fine hamburgers poolside at the Four Seasons, along with the occasional treat from the minibar during a Judge Judy/Law & Order marathon, and a whole lotta frequent-flier-mile-purchased airline tickets, so I won't totally crap on commerce. I'll just say that it has its place, and I've never felt that comfortable sidling up next to it.)

As many of you who have things like bills and mortgages and suchlike know already, it takes a certain amount of money (and, by extension usually, commerce) to fuel these mundanities. I won't lie to you: I've been outrageously fortunate in the money department. Outside of a rocky start ($15K didn't get you through an entire year in NYC even when the year was 1983), I've never really wanted for the stuff. Yeah, I learned to live modestly; there's a great story around that involving a yacht and a well-timed trip to the Executive Creative Director's office at my last real job. But I've also been lucky. Like, really, really lucky. As in, able-to-make-a-living-acting lucky, for almost 10 years, which involves these fantastic things called residuals that magically appear in the mail, and great health insurance, and a hobby that earns you pin money on the side. Lucky.

I could never really lean into my luck, though, and count on it. Thar be fools, and I ain't no fool: I'm a Virgo. Virgos squirrel things away and worry and figure out ways to, as my friend, Dyana, puts it, squeeze a dollar out of a nickel. Virgos clip coupons from their perches atop big heaping piles of cash because, well, you just never know when a pirate will skateboard in, distract you with shadow puppetry and steal your perch out from under you. (Don't laugh, it could happen.)

So I always worked on other stuff, even when I didn't know what the hell I was working on. I kept up my subcontracting and my design gigs and even (sssshhhh!) my copywriting, for a few select folkies. (They're grandfathered in, so don't ask. No new copywriting clients, period.)

And as far as bringing in business, well, I worked the things that worked for me: Email. Friend network. Referrals. Later, an actual website and posting to Flickr and of course some blogging and other newfangled types of (ack!) marketing that might spread my reach a bit. With ENORMOUS provocation from the mighty Ilise Benun, I even dipped my toe into the cold and unfriendly waters of real-life networking, which turned out to be...well, if not exactly delightful and restorative, certainly manageable and occasionally, fun.

I tried to remember the fun when I committed to this week's project. I tried sooooooo hard. And I still put off making (ack! eek! ook! uk!) cold calls until the last possible minute (almost) of the work week. That's right: the Virgo said she was gonna call FIVE people FIVE about these here acting workshops all the Angeleno actors raved about, and the Virgo was not going to back down. Mostly because she'd committed to it out loud in at least two places (and via audio). I mean, let's be honest.

How did it go? Well, I'll save the full story in all its horror and glory for the biggity-big blog post on Monday. But the gritty details don't really matter, not here, anyway.

What matters is that I'm here. I made five cold calls and I'm here. I picked up the phone and did something the very idea of which is so horrifying to me, I'd never actually done it. And then I did it FOUR. MORE. TIMES.

People, people...

If this man can land a kaput plane in the river, saving the lives of every passenger on board...

If this man can volunteer for the toughest job in the country at one of the lowest points in its history...

If I can make FIVE COLD CALLS...

...you can do it. Whatever "it" is. Whether it's sucking up your pride to do something you don't think you should have to do, or taking a risk you were never supposed to have to take, or shouldering a burden you never thought you'd have to take on, you can do it. You do one little piece of it, then do a big honkin' piece of it. Or just eat the whole damned problem in one bite. Whatever. Your call.

Times have never been crazier, but times have always been this crazy for someone.

If you need a little more inspiration, go read this post of Tim Ferris's. Even if you have no idea who he is. Even if you do and think he's a jerk. Maybe he is, who knows? I'm a jerk. Everyone's a jerk. This post? You should read. And watch. Trust me.

You do it, that horrid thing you don't want to do, that you know you should do. And I'll do that horrid thing I don't want to do, etc.

And afterward, we'll all have a cold beverage and laugh a little and have some fun, hopefully, before we go out and do it again.

This is what we do, my friends.

We go to work...

xxx
c

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

Get your motor runnin', Day 15: Good enough

clearingthegate_cmacubbin

There's a little lunch-y shop in The BF's neighborhood that we patronize from time to time, for a sandwich or a salad, or sometimes just an espresso drink.

The chef-proprietor is quite gifted in the kitchen: he's Cordon Bleu-trained and no slacker with post-graduate education, as evidenced by the interesting new dishes and combinations he's always dreaming up. And the shop is nice, with a pretty patio and a good location.

Here's the thing, though: he's in Los Angeles, where those kinds of things are cost-of-entry. Unlike opening a place in the middle of nowhere, or even in a small somewhere, like a college town or a non-ritzy resort town, those are the things required to have even a shot at survival. Which they were doing, Matt and his lovely wife, Jacquie. Surviving.

But things were tight. And times are tight. So they put their heads together and came up with an idea to open for dinner. Not exactly earth-shattering in the novelty department, right? Only here's the thing: they're only open for dinners on Fridays and Saturdays. And the menu is prix fixe. And the prix it's fixed at is twenty bucks a head.

It gets better.

Matt & Jacquie only accept a certain number of reservations for each evening. Probably because of space limitations in the kitchen, which also limits the types of ingredients Matt can use, as he only has certain cooking equipment available to him, but what it does (which is they way they sell it) is let them what comes linger as long as they like. No bum's rush; hang on the pretty patio as long as you like. With your wine, which you've bought yourself from a nearby wine shop, which has selected a number of possible pairings at various price points because Matt and Jacquie, smart, SMART, I tell you, approached this wine shop with the idea. Because a liquor license is not an easy thing to obtain, but why should that be a liability? Make it a plus, and don't even charge corkage.

There's a point to all of this, I swear. And it's this. (I think.)

I've always wished I was a little more so. A little prettier. A little taller. Definitely a little smarter. (Okay, a lot smarter. And prettier, and taller.) I figured that if I was, it would have made the difference, to my love life, my popularity, my career success. Sometimes I'd even find myself using my lack of whatever as an excuse to not try so hard. Because really, what was the point? What, really, could I do? So much of this was out of my average-looking, below-average-height-percentile, IQ-deficient hands.

Then, last night, I got the shock of my life. It's taken me a while to write this, because I was searching (unsuccessfully) for stats to back it up, but here it is: the last bit doesn't matter. That's what Malcolm Gladwell says, anyway, and I suppose he did a fair amount of research for his most recent book about success and how it's achieved, and by whom. Last night, he brought up some crazy-ass research that basically said that once you made it into the 95th-percentile club, it was all pretty much the same. That any IQ points over 120 were irrelevant to success, or at least, no guarantor of it. 120 is the benchmark, the ticket to the game, but everything after that, while, as he said, "it's fun to have", doesn't really figure ins. After that, it's the hours of intentional practice/rehearsal/learning, plus timing and environment and luck: in other words, one factor within your control and a whole lot that's not.

He even went so far as to say that neither IQ nor test scores (again, above a certain benchmark) should figure into college admissions procedure: have your pool of applicants with a baseline of intelligence, the old SAT benchmark would be around 1250, and leave the rest to fate. Which, of course, will never happen, because what would happen to the Harvard brand if there was no appreciable difference between it and, say, Tufts?

I can't buy it completely. Not without seeing actual research, not without reading a lot more about it. But even thinking about it that way is pretty freeing...and pretty terrifying. If those 20 or 30 or 40 IQ points aren't making the difference, maybe I can. Or maybe I can't, which is the terrifying part.

Here's what is true: I have the option of doing everything that's within my control to advance my position, or not. Maybe Gladwell is wrong and those 10 or 20 or 30 IQ points would make the difference; maybe my efforts are sweet, but for naught. Maybe, in other words, I'm fucked. Maybe you are, too. Maybe you're not pretty enough or tall enough or smart enough. Maybe the economy isn't good enough. Maybe maybe maybe.

The way I look at it after hearing about Good Enough last night is this: Matt and Jacquie have a place that's good enough. The location and the menu and the pricing and the food. They're as good as a lot of really good places like them. So they use their juice to think up ways they can be different, where different equals better. (And I'm pretty sure they're also just constantly looking to be better, period.) They're going at it from a Seth-Godin, purple-cow perspective. Which, in the absence of hard evidence as to what makes for success, makes as much sense as anything and more than most things.

I'm good enough. Maybe someone else who's good enough also got some lucky combo platter of timing and location and even connections or context on her side, and she's whooping it up with the career I long for right now. Maybe I'll never get my version of that career. But damned if I can't keep figuring out ways to be better, or different-better, or more focused and deliberate about putting in my 10,000 hours (the 10,000-hour rule being something Gladwell also talks about in the new book). I mean, I'm here anyway: might as well work at something.

If nothing else, it's something to write about.

xxx
c

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

Get your motor runnin', Day 14: Blink of an eye, Blanche

youngold_bobboo_77

For those of you who've never had the pleasure of living in seasonless paradise (or hell, depending on your outlook), time passes crazy fast with no external markers of the obvious variety.

And, for those of you who are still stuck in your 20s, time accelerates (or seems to) with each passing decade, something you can't begin to understand until you've got more years of driving under your belt, or voting, or (legally) drinking, than not.

Without getting all Cat's-in-the-Cradle on you, it's kind of important to have not only a plan and a whole lot of carpe diem fueling it, but it's especially so when you're staring down the back half of your life from the sun-baked flats of Los Angeles. Despite my type-A tendencies, I managed to fritter away big, honking swaths of my life on crap activities for the first 10 or so years after graduating from college. That wouldn't be so bad, we've all of us got to fritter  a little bit, but I've got introvert genes and fear-of-God-and-the-Non-Standard-Job programming, so I was perhaps a little overly slow in embracing change.

One of the things that becomes unavoidable as you age is the introduction of common tragedy to one's life: illness, sadness, death. Both my parents and all of my grandparents died in rapid succession over the course of 10 years, from my early 30s to my early 40s. Friends have begun succumbing to illnesses, cancer, hypertension and the like; my own bitch-slap of a Crohn's onset shook me up but good seven-odd years ago.

Still, it's easy to forget. It's another sunny day here in seasonless paradise, and the hours fly by, filled as they are with obligations, chores, and the occasional fire that needs putting out. First the hours, then the days, then 40 years later all of a sudden you're wrapped in a Snuggie watching the weather channel with the volume turned up way too loud, marking time by meals and medication. I forget, and I spent five months climbing the walls with frustration during my Crohn's recovery: I was so happy the first day I could drive myself to the post office and back I actually cried (right before falling asleep for three hours from exhaustion).

I suppose there are as many ways to stay aware of time passing as there are people to dream them up, but a new one I've started is keeping the obituaries nearby. Not all of them, and not as they come in. Just the "Farewell" page from the end-of-year issue of THE WEEK, with everyone on it but poor Eartha Kitt, who missed the cutoff date for publication. It's good for me to look up from my computer and see Paul Newman and Studs Terkel and Alexandr Solzhenitsyn looking back at me, asking me what the hell I've done with my day. It's even good to see some of the sadder entries, David Foster Wallace and Tim Russert, who died too soon (and, in Wallace's case, too, too horribly). Because you never know, and because you can never be too grateful for the good minutes you're given.

I realize that even teeing up the discussion this way puts me in old-man-hitchin'-up-my-pants territory. But so be it.

I am my own old man, and that old man's job is to make sure I'm doing mine...

xxx
c

Image by bobboo_77 via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Get your motor runnin', Day 13: The parts you hate about the things you love

songoftheearth_scillystuff

There's a vision you have on the outside of the thing you want.

That vision features you, well-lit and peaceful, in the perfect clothing, with perfect teeth and perfect health, enjoying your perfect Perfection as you achieve that thing before a perfectly adoring audience.

The clothing varies, depending on the pursuit of the visionary, and whether or not the Peak Vision involves a red carpet and a televised awards ceremony; the audience may or may not be directly visible, depending on the thing (but always, if we are honest, an adoring public is involved, preferably one chastened by their own shortsightedness in recognizing such genius so late in the game).

In other words, details may change from person to person, dream to dream, but one thing remains constant: on the outside, you see the finished product, not the hours and days and weeks and years of tedium, of toil, of pushing the c@#ksucking boulder up the motherf%@king hill, and especially not the particularly craptacular scenes of you loosing your footing and having the c@#ksucking boulder roll back down the motherf%@king hill, over your goddam toes.

For me, there is a lot of tedium around anything that requires me to leave my comfortable home, including fun things. It was not always thus; when I lived the luxurious life of a working actor (don't laugh, it WAS luxurious!), I looked forward to leaving the house. Reveled in it! And when I was in the last stages of recuperation from my Crohn's onset, well, I was like the proverbial B-movie publicity whore: I would get dolled up to go to the opening of a door.

Now that I am working on a new thing, however, one that demands ferocious quantities of brain juice, with a lot of tedious but necessary grunt work thrown in for good measure, going out is the last thing on my mind. Sorry, second-to-last thing: sex is probably last. Good thing The BF is up to his very own eyeballs in boulder-pushing these days.

I go, I go. And usually, after the excruciating effort of overcoming inertia has passed, it ends up being tolerable, or even pleasurable. Today, for instance, I hauled my middle-aged carcass out of bed and drove it to one of Jeff Pulver's legendary breakfasts, at one of my favorite delis (Nate'n'Al's) in one of my least favorite neighborhoods (Beverly Hills) to meet a bunch of other Internet nerds, one of whom rather oddly and stubbornly refused to self-identify as such. No matter. The rest of the gang turned out to be fun and interesting; a few, I suspect, may go on the short list of Fine & Excellent Acquaintances Worth a Trip to Visit in Person. (And breakfast itself, it goes without saying, was superb. I mean, come on, Nate'n' fucking Al's, for chrissakes!)

The rest of the day was pleasant enough, if not clips-reel-worthy: a trip to the post office, a visit from a new acquaintance, some work, some emails. Mundane. Unexceptional.

Except...

Except if you unpack those simple, humble events, some rather more noteworthy things bubble up to the surface. Gently, most of them, because really, what kind of big thing is it to mail a small gift to a book editor in New York City? Not much, until you think that a year and a half ago, you didn't know any book editors in New York City, much less one who'd become friend and champion enough that you felt a small gift upon the occasion of a new and better job would be an appropriate gesture.

Nothing unusual, either, about a visit from a new acquaintance, except that this person happens to be a fellow traveler whom you met randomly at a friend's holiday party, someone who gave up a monied career for the life of an itinerant guitar player (and not at 20, and not at 30), and that he's coming over to try on the tuxedo which belonged to your beloved paternal grandfather, which tuxedo you've been carting from place to place since his death over 10 years ago, never quite able to put it in the pile for the consignment shop or Goodwill, and of course, it fits perfectly, which is a strange and wonderful sort of omen, in a way.

The work is just monkey work you've done a million times now, but you do it so easily and it makes the person on the other end so grateful, you almost forget that you are completely self-taught in it, that you didn't know how to open Photoshop or Illustrator 10 years ago, much less do anything with them, and now they are part of the odd but sturdy net that holds you up to do the rest of it.

And email? You get email everyday. But one of them this day is an invitation to sit on a panel of experts, the rest of whom actually look like experts, and talk about this crazy thing you love, that again, you were just Wasting Time on 10 years ago, the Internet.

There is a saying one of my old acting teachers used to use that confounded me for years: "the root of the thing is never the thing itself." Which, in acting terms, means that two people arguing about a misplaced sock aren't really arguing about a misplaced sock.

I like to look at this saying another way, though, and in a more forwardly direction. And that is that the thing you think you are going after is not the thing you're really after. After all, after that thing, there is always another Thing. Ask Meryl Streep. Ask Warren Buffett. Hell, ask any of your Internet-famous types, for that matter. What you are going after is the going and the doing, and guess what, cowboy? That includes all that crap you hate. The overcoming inertia. The hours of tedium. That's what they mean by it being about the journey; it's about living every second of that journey, tedious and hateful parts included, full out and 100% there. Huzzah!

I realize that sometimes, it sounds like I hate what I'm doing, or am tired of what I'm doing, or am frustrated by the Doing not getting me to the Thing fast enough, whatever the Thing of the moment is. And in those moments, that is the absolute truth. Which sucks, but there it is.

And then (glory be) in the next moment, all is right again. Tedious, perhaps. Fun sometimes. Occasionally? It even matches the vision.

But I will tell you this. I had a vision more in my heart than my head some 20 years ago, long before I thought moving to L.A. was in my future, and an eternity away from any clue about what a life here might look like. That's the best I can describe it: a vision in my heart, walking around Westwood on my own during a production trip, and smelling L.A. air in January. It's a unique smell, the mix of Santa Ana wind and dry heat and whatever nearby brush is blooming. It smells like possibility to me and always has.

And today, walking around, time collapsed in on itself as I smelled that smell again. In that moment, I remembered that whatever else happens in the next moment, I am living the part of my life that I dreamed of, and I love it every bit as much as I felt in my heart I would.

I was not wearing anything special. My eyes and teeth and health are all a bit dodgier than they were when I had the vision. Believe me, there was no audience, adoring or otherwise, anywhere in sight.

Best. Moment. Ever.

Until the next one...

xxx
c

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

Get your motor runnin', Day 12: Accountability and the motor

gohillary

12 days into this c#@ksucker and I'm finding as many things derailed as on-track.

As always, there are multiple reasons behind the disconnect between intention and fruition. First, there is the reality that for whatever reason, most of us overestimate what we can get done in a day, and I'm no miraculous exception to that rule. Quite the contrary: I've been tracking my time religiously for over two years now, and while I have a very good idea of how long it takes to craft three versions of a bullet slide template for a PowerPoint presentation, and an extremely good idea of how long it takes to write a 1,000-word column for actors about how to practice sound business principles, try applying this data to configuring a reasonably productive day and my math goes to hell in a bullet-train-powered handbasket.

Second, while I have been very good about setting up accountability for some things, the daily guitar practice, doing my marketing tasks and even writing in this blog (hel-lo, salutes!), I've been less good about other stuff.

Exercise is problematic for me, for example, on days that I don't stay at My Country House (a.k.a. The BF's) because without my four-legged conscience, I'm just as apt to blow off the walk as do it.

I've been rolling around the idea of getting fit in my brain, realizing I have to connect it to something, trying to remember what on earth it was that got me to blow all that money on a personal trainer some 5-odd years ago, when I was (not coincidentally) in the best shape of my life. I vaguely remember the decision to commit being preceded by a kind of defeated disgust over my persistent weakness post-Crohn's onset; the focal point of the disgust became my stick arms, which (again, not coincidentally) turned into mighty guns over the course of four months with Forrest Gump (my Southern-savant exercise bitchmaster).

Today, thankfully, there is no dreadful disease breathing down my neck. If I'm motivated by anything it's a fear that the last two pairs of pants I have that fit won't, and I can't bear the idea of buying new ones. Good news, I suppose, given where I've been, and compelling in a small way, but not enough to self-motivate.

I won't bore you with the grisly details of my myriad plans and the hacks I've been putting in place to make them realities. Not, anyway, until they're proven, and thus useful to someone else.

For now, know that I'm building in check-ups, meet-ups, phone calls and deadlines like mad in an effort to deadline myself into getting these things done. I make everything from trips to Encino to impulse calls from the grocery store in service of this new goddess of accountability.

And you? Well, perhaps you are the decisive sort who can, once decided, just do. I get that; I've done that.

But when the goals are big and multiple, when the path not so clear, when time is of the essence? I say call in reinforcements: running date; writing group; playreading circle. Be shameless. Be humble and shameless.

Whatever it takes. This is a big year for all of us, and most of us need help somewhere. I'm sorting out where I need mine, and will be, I'm guessing, straight on through the end of 2009.

No shame in that. The only shame is in giving up when you haven't yet called for help.

Who can you help? Who can help you?

When, finally, will you ask?

xxx
c

Image by joe m 500 via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Get your motor runnin', Day 11: Momentum is everything

momentum

That thing about bodies in motion vs bodies at rest (or is it vice versa) is never truer than when you're in the middle of a big push while the days are their shortest and darkest.

Let me put this another way: if I had my druthers, I'd never leave the house. Possibly my bed, if the wifi was just a little more powerful.

Lately though, I've had compelling reasons to leave the house. Most of them have to do with promises of one kind or another, and what makes them compelling is either fear of humiliation (in the case of having sworn out loud to pursue a goal, like the first Virgo project) or fear of destroying the last, tattered remnants of what used to be a pretty good name. What can I say? You move to Los Angeles, they hand you your Flake Card along with your driver's license and a big bag of medicinal marijuana. (Kidding, kidding. It's a SMALL bag.)

Even these, sometimes, are not enough. So I've been playing with various things to motivate my ass out the door.

Tonight, for example, I had committed to attending a reading series put on at a Hollywood club by a friend of a friend, a reading series I would very much like to be asked to participate in one of these months. It's Sunday, the day I least like to go out on of all days (with the possible exception of Monday through Thursday. And I have to leave my house not to go see The BF, not to go snuggle with Arno J., but to drive to Hollywood, where it's so persistently grubby that, even cleaned up and dotted with expensive eateries and hipster clothes stores, there's a stretch of every street that looks like Rape & Murder Central. And that's not even getting into its reputation as one of the most hateful parts of town to park in.

So what I did was tell myself every five feet that I didn't have to go. That I could just turn around and go home if. If traffic was too bad. If I decided I was too tired. If I couldn't find a place to park on a piece of street that didn't look like Rape & Murder Central.

It was amazing what that wee bit of freedom did for my outlook. Knowing I could bail at any time, I kept deciding to push forward, because after all, this wasn't so bad. It wasn't so late. The traffic wasn't that hideous. The line wasn't that long.

And so on, until I found myself at the Hotel Café, wine in one hand, club soda in the other, watching one of the funniest, most compelling storytellers it's been my pleasure to see in, well, hell,  probably since the last time I saw my friend, John Fleck, do a set. This fellow won the Moth Grand Slam with the story he told, and I can see why. (There's an MP3 of the Slam in NYC here; it features both Josh Cereghino and Jim O'Grady, the contestant he was up against in the finals, with Josh's story in the second half.) I was having a grand time. (And truthfully, by the time I found the killer parking spot, pull-in, on a stretch of the Strip so lit up, you could perform surgery, I was already in a decent mood. Hearing Josh's story was just inspirational icing on the motivational cake of me getting my lazy ass out of the house successfully.)

Who knows if it'll work for you? I'm half-crazy, on my mother's and father's side, and have a fierce aversion to feeling fenced in. I'm also ridiculously loyal, ask anyone who's been able to string me along, but man, I need to know that door is wide open and available for me to walk through at all times.

Maybe it's options for you, too. Maybe it's jellybeans. Maybe it's just bragging rights. But if you hate hate hate doing certain things that are good for you to do, it might behoove you to spend a little quality time considering enticements.

Just enough to get you going...

xxx
c

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

Get your motor runnin', Day 10: The power of 10

guitarherobaby

10 days into the new year, I can't tell you if I'll accomplish everything I've set out to do in 2009. I can't even promise I'll finish out the month with my goals intact.

But I can tell you this, and with some astonishment on my part: in 10 days, I just realized, I have probably played my guitar more than I did all of last year.

It's probably a no-brainer for a lot of people, but for those of us with perfectionism issues, this 10-minutes-per-day thing is positively magical. I release myself of any enormous expectations: how much, after all, can I be expected to do in 10 minutes? How much better can I get? How fast can my fingers reasonably be expected to move? How thick can my callouses grow?

In 10 minutes? Not a helluva lot. In 100 minutes? You'd be amazed.

I'm amazed, anyway, and that's what matters. I find myself resisting the notion of sitting down to do the practicing far less. Some days I actually look forward to it. But even if I'm just checking it off a list some days, just going through the motions, I'm putting in time doing something that makes me better at it as I put in time. And, as Leo says, I get in the habit.

Something tells me that the other real bigness to this idea is that habits breed habits, and accomplishments spur on additional efforts. I'm sticking to my Best Year Yet goals, but I'm going to look hard at how I can implement a 10-minute-per-day habit each month for each one.

I will not be doing my rendition of "Dueling Banjos" for you, or anyone else, anytime soon. At 10 minutes per day, it may take me 10 years to get through the first 10 bars.

But the power that I get from the doing of this every day will, I have a feeling, seep into everything else I do.

Which reminds me: time to do the next thing...

xxx
c

Image by yellowblade67 via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Get your motor runnin', Day 9: First gear also works

snail

I won't lie: I'm not used to this kind of pace.

It's been a while since I've been this prolific. If ever. And I've never been this old while trying to be this prolific, that's for sure. Hard-won skills are worth something, but sometimes nothing beats the sheer boundless energy of youth.

I have to remind myself that moving slowly is okay, too. Some days, today, for instance, might be more for catching up with emails and reading and other digital housekeeping. Even though as a freelance type I set my own hours, the rest of the world has demands during the week and some inevitably seep through.

I also have to remind myself that this is the end of the very first work week of the new year. Not that I think any part of this year will be about coasting, but I do hope to build up some work callouses, as it were. And better habits. I've already seen that I must needs reserve certain hours of the day for certain heavy-lifting tasks, and push the rest off until later.

But all the scheduling, good habits and discipline in the world aren't going to change the fundamental truth of the next few weeks: I've got a lot on my plate, possibly more than I can reasonably do in the time allotted. Or do well, anyway.

It's too late for now, but for 2010 (now there's a scary round number for you) I would like to propose we not attempt to front-load all of our networking in the first four weeks of the year. There are 48 more of the buggers, after all, just waiting for us to get together, mix it up and DO stuff.

In the meantime, I will make the humble suggestion that we each put aside one or two days to move a little more slowly than the others. For me, this means no phone calls, no meetings and at least a short evening constitutional. For you, this may mean no serious writing, no errands, no cooking. I'm guessing each of us feels pressure slightly differently. And yes, many of us have always-on obligations; after spending some quality time with The BF's progeny, I'm always reminded of the miracle that is getting ANYTHING done while simultaneously raising children. So you know, I will never, ever judge the cleanliness of a house with young children in it again. (At least, until a rat runs over my foot or something. There are limits.)

Moving at a snail's pace is also moving. It will get me there. And as Merlin says in a lovely interview with Leo Babauta, pushing through the exhaustion is not always the wisest move. Sometimes the wisest move is a short walk. Or a short post.

A short post for a long week.

Up and at 'em again tomorrow...

xxx
c

Image by suika*2008 (out) via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Get your motor runnin', Day 8: Give it away, now

xinchao

The official end-of-year decluttering is past and the breath of fresh air that is spring cleaning is yet to come, so most of us, I'm guessing, are in hunkered-down mode now.

I mean, why not? That's the point of all this get-your-motor-runnin', pushing-the-#@$*!)-boulder-up-the-#!&(@%)-hill crap is, right? To do it?

I, for one, am all for doing it, and am, in fact, doing it right now.

But what I've also been doing is hanging onto the "let it go" vibe even now, in January. After letting go of three gigantic cartons of books for a spectacular $80 in credit at my favorite used bookstore in the world, I was left with precisely four: an ancient copy of The Caucasian Chalk Circle, a Bertolt Brecht drama based on two even older plays (and the source of yet another play that yours truly was in some 20-odd years later), heavily underlined and bearing the DYMO-embossed name of yours truly, from an old high school production; an even more ancient copy (my grandfather's) of The Berlin Stories, Christopher Isherwood's masterwork that served as source material for I Am a Camera, and later, Cabaret; a fairly recent copy of Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a favorite of The Youngster, whom I believe is the provenance of this particular tome; and an even more recent copy of Scary Suze Orman's book about women and money. (Yeah, I know, which one of her books isn't about women and money?)

I'd been driving around with them in my trunk since Saturday, which is fine, except if you know me, you know that they could rattle around in my trunk for a thousand Saturdays before I did anything about them. Maybe it was a sign to keep them! Maybe this is the Universe telling me to get back into Theater of the Metaphorical, and balance my checkbook while I'm at it.

As I walked down to my car this morning, I spied a friend across the street, out for a walk with his dog, an old friend from my theater days here in town, who is still very much in the theater, and very fine at the playwriting he does. (God willin' and the creek don't rise, this will be the year that brings him wider fame and fortune, or at least enough to upgrade from dial-up to high-speed. I mean, come on, how much should artists be expected to starve?)

On impulse, I popped open the trunk, grabbed the gigantic carton and ran across the street. After a quick hug (and howdy to the dog), I thrust Jekyll in his face: "Do you need this?" I asked. He took it with a funny smile, saying that in fact, he'd been obsessed with the story lately and wanting to read it.

And the Isherwood? Had he read it? Would he like that? (Oh, how Gramps would have loved knowing it was getting passed along into the hands that were ruled by this slightly twisted, oh-so-talented brain.) Yes. Yes, he would take that, too.

I looked down into the bin at Scary's book and the falling-apart schoolgirl copy of Brecht and snapped the lid shut. Quit while you're ahead.

There are other books of mine wending their way via cheap-ass Media Mail and the USPS to their next owners, as well. Getting rid of things lightens your load, sure, but getting rid of things in a very specific way, thoughtfully, passing them along to the next person who might need them, is almost a selfish act, it makes one feel so good and gets one's motor running so.

My friend and sometime collaboratrix, Dyana Valentine, is doing a 40-before-40 giveaway in the days leading up to her 40th birthday. A fine, creative way to say goodbye to one decade and welcome the next.

If you have been scrupulous in your end-of-year overhaul, and if you have, bully for you, think of what resides within you that you can give away, pass along, share with others. We've got a monster of a mountain to move starting now, and our brilliant, beloved President-Elect has already said that he cannot do it alone. Who's to say what could happen, but I'll bet that a whole army of us thinking about a whole lifetime of know-how we could share with the right person(s) might get some mountains a-movin'.

If nothing else, the trying feels fantastic...

xxx
c

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

Get your motor runnin', Day 7: Letting your freak flag fly

cheesy smile

If you were online in a wanting-to-date capacity roughly four years ago, and you were man enough to be aged 38 to 48 and actually seeking same instead of a 12-year-old, and you lived somewhere within a 10-mile radius around the Undisclosed Location that serves as communicatrix HQ, you might have stumbled upon this:

Loyal, fierce, sunny, slight, myopic & astigmatic, mildly obsessive, eternally optimistic. Adherent of no man's dogma; unapologetic devotee of the Truth. A self-actualized diva-dork with enough of a past to keep things interesting; a student who is eternally ready for the next teacher to appear.

The usual folk: smart, kind, interesting, self-evolved. Anyone who makes my heart beat faster when I have them in my sights, who lingers in my head afterward AND who can make me laugh...hard. People who will introduce me to beautiful new sights and sounds. Fellow travelers who make my heart sing. You know: the good stuff, baby...

The first paragraph was my "About Me"; the second, my "Who I'm Looking For." Yes, this was my online dating bio on the Onion personals, part of the now-defunct Spring Street Networks, which also incorporated the LA Weekly, Nerve and Salon personals, the latter being the entry point of choice (so to speak) of The BF.

You might have emailed me; more often than not (after the beginning, anyway, when all new ladies are chum in the online dating waters), I would have emailed you. For a while, when you put in your search parameters, the photo at the top of this post would have been what you saw, not, even I knew, a typical online dating key photo, which is exactly why I picked it.

Sometimes, you have to put out a hoop to see who will jump through it. Even if doing so flies in the face of all the great advice from all the people who have gotten somewhere before you. Sometimes, without even knowing why, your inner freak tells you it's time to hoist the flag and see who salutes.

What's interesting to me about this bio, this "what I want", this crazy-ass picture, is the thread that they are a part of. They're not about what I want in a date or a mate; they're about what I want, period. They're about who I am, what moves me and what deep, deep down gets me going. Re-read the paragraphs: they are not about walks on the beach or hot sex (not that there's anything wrong with that) or getting partnered up. Take them out of context and they're nothing more and nothing less than ABOUT ME. They're about the thread. They are the thread.

It's a thread that's been running through me as long as there's been a "me" to me, and that thread weaves that freak flag which is mine alone to fly. Not that I flew it all the time; I didn't fly it much at all for months or years at a time. I folded it neatly and stuck it away somewhere, like the memorial flag presented to the military widow. Freaky me was in indefinite suspended animation, so what the hell did I need (or want) to be flying that flag for?

You fly it anyway, though. You do. And by "you," I mean "me." I mean everyone.

We're all us of us big, fat, hairy, circus freaks, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. We're all crazy, five-year-old genius-artists somewhere way down deep, who don't know yet that you have to shut the hell up because GROWNUPS are TALKING, or because WE DON'T DO THAT IN CHURCH, or just BECAUSE I SAID SO, THAT'S WHY.

Kids aren't stuck, and they don't need to get motivated to do their work. Which they excel at, by the way. All kids can draw. All kids can sing and write plays and build castles. All kids can write stuff that makes you laugh and cry at the same time.

All kids run around, until they're stopped, buck-ass nekkid, letting their freak flag fly.

And sometimes, in tiny little steam-valve surprise releases, we do it as grownups, too. They're the moments you respond to in movies, and the things that make you laugh in real life. Comics make a living holding up special mirrors so you can see your freak flag. Writers, the good ones, do the same thing.

So like I said, I had mine safely packed away for many, many years, but every once in a while, I'd pull the drawer open and you'd get a peek. Sometimes, someone would be there to witness, like the proverbial chance pair of ears in the forest when the proverbial tree gets heard: the head shot photographer who took the above photo, or the better half who catches you talking to the rye toast. More often than that, I'm guessing, the drawer-cracked-open moments passed without notice.

Of course, to the rest of the world, I'm sure that most of the time, I still looked like a stone goofball. I worked it, you see, because it was my angle. But the authentic stuff came out so rarely pre-Crohn's-induced epiphany that I totally get why I was "difficult", as one close friend told me later, to be around before.

If you get stuck (and really, who among us doesn't), consider letting your freak out of the closet. Just for a spell. For a few moments, maybe, in 250 words or 3 minutes of stream-of-consciousness writing. In private, you know, at least, at first. Because if the perfect is the enemy of the good, the freak is often, oh, shit...is ALWAYS the engine of it. The freak makes things happen.

Make it a (brief) freak holiday. Let the flag fly, just for a bit. Salute the freak in whatever fashion feels good to you.

Then go ahead and (neatly, kindly, gently) fold the flag back up and (slowly, carefully, gently) ease it back into the drawer.

For now. Like the lady said, tomorrow is another day...

xxx
c

This post was inspired by an exhilarating phone call with my new almost-real-life friend, the fine and brave writer and thinker Dave Pollard. Pick up the phone, people. Even if you hate it. Especially if you hate it.


Get your motor runnin', Day 5: Theme Song for 2009!

First day of a new week.

First (business) day of the new year.

First day of the rest of your life. (Okay...sorry. It's a '60s thing. You had to be there.)

I figure this is as good a day as any to put the FIRST EVER video on communicatrix-dot-com. (No, that Southwest Blog-O-Crap Contest thingy doesn't count: that was a still frame linking to a video; this is the video, uh, also linking to the video.)

WARNING: There are VERY naughty words contained herein. Three of them (I think), two of which are used multiple times, and with vigor. Because something about songwriting brings out the filth in me, I guess. Also, this song covers an important subject that demands underlining! But if you're a sensitive motherfucker, you should probably just ignore this and come back tomorrow.

Ready? I give you...

The Boulder: A New Song for a New Year

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ysh7ZxWew-M&w=425&h=344]

Happy new year! Now, let's get to work!

xxx
c

Get your motor runnin', Day 4: Ready, set, sleep...

sleeep

It's D-Day tomorrow, as most people count the new year.

Personally, I come from the Chris Guillebeau School of Time and Goal Management: I like to get a jump on the new year as far as possible in advance of the Actual New Year.

This time around, I kind of astounded myself by how frickety-freak-frack* organized I was about the whole affair. I started my annual Best Year Yet review a full month early, before Thanksgiving, and did. I dug into my contacts weeks ago to start the clean-and-sort process, which is great, because otherwise, I'd be starting off behind with the Virgo Guide project. And I'm under the gun enough as it is, even with the head start.

PLEASE NOTE: I am doing all of this incredibly imperfectly, and plan on continuing in that fashion. Perfection is a sucker's game.

The thing is, I could have started in January of last year and still not have been ready to hit the ground running. There's always more to do, and one thing I learned last year (although I don't think it made either list) is that the old saw about overestimating what you can get done in a day is too, too true. Especially if you suffer from acute Eyes Bigger Than Stomach Syndrome, which I do, and how.

I'm trying to become more aware of what I can get done in a day, so I can reduce the self-flagellation when I inevitably don't. For a while, I tried a system that Mark LeRoy, a smart friend of mine who runs a very successful design business, has been using for years. It involved one of those gigundous Franklin-Covey calendars and scheduling in every fifteen-minute pod of the day. It worked every bit as well as it was supposed to and I hated it even more than I expected I would. I got everything on the list done and felt like I was breathing down my own neck the whole time.

There is something to be said for planning things out and having things captured. Surprises are going to happen anyway; if you're fairly organized to start with, but not too tightly scheduled, there's some wiggle room. And wiggling is fun. Just ask a baby, they're constantly with the wiggling.

So I've done the grownup equivalent of laying out my school clothes and packing my lunch for tomorrow: I made a list. It is a list with one or two fixed givens, as my old acting teacher used to call them, and a few items I hope to accomplish. I put the estimated times next to the hopeful-item checkboxes; we shall see what we shall see.

But the biggest part of my Start the New Year Right plan is to shut down the computer now, at 6:50 Pacific. I have some personal obligations to tend to, then a little light reading, then bed. EARLY bed. For EARLY rising. And dog walking, and bed-making, and the whole day-to-day, wax-on/wax-off that makes things happen.

I'm pretty ding-dang-dong** excited about 2009, aren't you?

xxx
c

*I did a lot of swearing earlier today, and will be doing a lot more tomorrow, so I figured I'd balance it out by getting all Church Lady on you in between.

**Ibid. Or whatever the hell the Latin is for "same as above."

Image by star27 via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Get your motor runnin', Day 3: Enemy of the good

wonky

Anyone who has been (a) paying attention and (b) reading this outside of a feed reader knows that the tagline of this conglomeration of oddities is, and has been from Day One, "A Virgo's Guide to the Universe."

And, in a master stroke of irony, anyone who has not is not a Virgo.

I am asked sometimes what the extent of my belief in the woo-woo is. Not as frequently nor with such pointed annoyance as happened during my years with The Chief Atheist, but still, enough to warrant a policy disclosure. And said disclosure goes something like, "I believe in horoscopes, fortunes and other non-scientifically-based predictors of the future when they portend great things, and woo-woo stuff in general when it provides an interesting framework with which to puzzle out a problem.

The Virgo thing is just such a framework.

As I say in the "about" page of the new marketing project blog thingy, Virgos are "all about the order-from-chaos, the meticulous noting of things: we're, like, the Information Butlers of the world." We're the ones who ask for (and get) bright yellow filing cabinets for our 13th birthdays, which sometimes fall on Friday, the 13th, which doesn't freak us out in the least but which we think is really rather cool and orderly.

We're the ones who don't just create doll villages, but come up with full names, back stories and family trees for the 80-odd (very odd) residents. And type up a town newspaper. With columns. On a typewriter. A manual typewriter.

We're the ones who not only compile to-do lists but add any items we've already done to the lists, so that a complete record is in place.

We're the ones constantly coming up with better systems, when we're not stubbornly clinging to old, outmoded ones, because promise of perfection is constantly just there, one elusive, perfect system/hack/hashtag away.

There is a saying that "the perfect is the enemy of the good." Actually, it is a quote from Voltaire, and thus originally in French ("Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien"), and, it could be argued (and is, quite persuasively, here) that the actual translation is "The best is the enemy of the good." This thin-slicing of hairs is not my point; my point is this:

If you go after perfect, you lose. Because it will never be perfect. And I'm a Virgo, and I know from this shit, because I wrassle that particular bear almost every day. I've gotten into fights over the placement of a preposition in a headline. I've lost tens of thousands of dollars of income fretting over a tenth of an em-space in kerning. That's an imprecise example, but hey, I write this blog the way I do, all at once, very little editing, unlike other bits of writing like my columns and my newsletter, because this blog is about letting go of the perfect to get at more of the good.

Like everything else I talk about here, I bring this up now because I'm working on no less than three projects which will kill me, KILL ME DEAD, if I do not submit to the truth that the perfect is the enemy of the good. That blog project thingy I mentioned earlier. An upcoming (god help me) webinar on pricing that I'm co-presenting with my marketing coach, Ilise. And a new song that has to come out this week, or not at all, because it's got a whole new year's theme thing to it. (Well, okay, it could come out NEXT year, I guess, but that would suck all the more.)

Let us swear an oath, you and I: let us make 2009 the year we stopped letting the perfect be the enemy of the good more of the time than not. Or even, if you like, more of the time than we have before.

Or, hell, why not go for the whole ball of wax, the year we at least introduced the thought into our working vocabularies.

This post? Not perfect.

And I'm not going back to fix anything, save to add a picture.

Your comments? THROW THEM THE HELL OUT THERE. Don't edit! Go crazy! This one time, I will not judge you! Or myself!

And in return, when I put up the half-baked, not-as-perfect-as-I'd-like song, I hope you will be supportive. Because I'm only human, and it's going to be rough, taking the slings and arrows from the Great General YouTube Coliseum Community.

Even if you don't, though, even if you snicker a little at this or at that, when it comes out, I'm hanging tough.

Because friends, this is one advanced-syllabus lesson I'm learning. And at the end of 2009, I want it learned.

Well, as much as I can do, anyway...

xxx
c

P.S. I'm not even CHECKING this in PREVIEW mode. Look at me go!

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

Get your motor runnin', Day 2: Most Beneficent Outcome

surprise_neona_

Someday, I will have to write an entire essay about my first-shrink-(slash)-astrologer.

I've written about her in passing, usually when I need to back something up with particularly good wisdom in a particularly pithy way. My first-shrink-(slash)-astrologer, let's call her "Zifka," which is the name I gave her in the Young Adult novel I was supposed to write and, for various reasons, blew off, was full of both wisdom and pith. Which meant, from a practical application standpoint, that she was both able to point out why and how my head was stuck up my ass, and make excellent suggestions for the extraction of it, when (or if) I was sufficiently fed up with my condition to actually do something about it.

Which is to say, she called me on my shit in the best of all possible ways.

Anyway, Zifka and I hooked up again on my big trip to the PacNW this past fall. We'd spoken on the phone, here and there, over the years: sometimes as a "tune-up", for which I happily paid her; sometimes just to shoot the breeze. A lot of breeze accumulates when you really vibe with someone but only get the chance to do it directly every five years or so, and we did us a lot of breeze-shootin' (and fois-gras profiteroles eatin', as she's such a foodie, I'll even eat lamb hearts and other "dare food" when I'm with her). And it's cool, I don't want to be a pig, sniffing around for truffly bits of worldly wisdom when she's not on the clock. Although, you know, I hoped for them, all the same.

So she talked about being a mom, about living in the PacNW, about being an aging dyke mom to a black kid in the PacNW. We talked about heirloom beans, or somesuch, fifty bucks a pound!! (I told you: foodie.) We talked about wine and Chicago (where we're both from) and California (where she used to live, and I still do) and how it sucks that thinning hair dictates cut as you get old. We talked a lot about the then-upcoming elections.

And finally, we talked about my trip to the PacNW and what I was trying to accomplish with it. Which I had problems articulating to the rank and file, but which I knew had little to do with my bullshit cover (writing second draft of submission chapters for aforementioned Young Adult novel) and everything to do with (god help me, I'm a walking Somerset Maugham cliché, 64 years later) finding myself. Ugh.

I knew it was borderline shrink territory, but hey, she's Zifka, Zifka will tell you to GFY in a South Side minute, and make you laugh as you move on to the next subject. But she didn't: she brought up the concept of Most Beneficent Outcome, or MBO, for short. And it's so important a concept, I'm giving it its own header*, so future legions of Internet searchers can benefit from Zifka's wisdom, too, even if Oprah insists on inviting that well-meaning yawner of a self-help dude, Eckhart TOO-lah**.

The "Most Beneficent Outcome" Concept, by Zifka

Instead of focusing on getting a particular thing, put out to the universe that you would like the most beneficent outcome. Point being, the universe is infinitely wiser and more complex than you, and you're probably asking for something in PARTICULAR because you can't imagine a fraction of the infinite possible outcomes.

Taking my Seattle trip as an example, I told a lot of people I was going there to write the book, because it was easier than saying I was going to see what would happen.

But the truth was I knew I was a stuck and needed some help processing info and figuring out how to get to the next level. I hadn't a clue about what I was actually "processing" or what the next level looked like; I didn't come up there thinking "I need to meet a lot of interesting people, dammit!" Or, "Seattle! That'll be just the thing for kickstarting a series of workshops teaching people about how to market themselves and finally putting to good use all those wasted years writing ads and fucking around on Twitter!"

Instead, I did Most Beneficent Outcome (not calling it that) and lo, I got these chances to speak, met a slew of interesting new people, and came away with an Actual Clue as to what the hell I was supposed to be doing with the next few years of my life.

It's really easy to get attached to outcome. Trust me, it's how I operated the first 41 years of my life. I functioned at a pretty high level, considering, but who knows what I might have achieved had worked my ass of AND held an intention, rather than thinking I was making a downpayment on a very particular outcome.

As you move forward with your goals, you may want to think about the brilliant Zifka and the brilliant Most Beneficent Outcome.

Is it scary? Hells, yeah! At first. And always. But really, what worthwhile new thing isn't?

Speaking of new things, if there's a concept floating around out there that's the same thing as MBO, only called something different, could you please bring it to my attention, preferably in the comments? I like knowing the long and noble history of ideas.

Even if they originate with Eckhart TOO-lah...

xxx
c

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

*Adam Kayce! Monk at Work! This is one of those things we need to fix on my blog, right? I should have an h-2  header for internal entry callouts, right? Or am I nuts?

**Okay, he's a really smart, nice guy. Great ideas. But come on, I can't be the only one who drifts off like Ralph Kramden watching the Late Late Late Show when the guy starts talking.

Get your motor runnin': A 21-Day Saluteâ„¢

dobeedyptych-1

The blah-o-sphere is rife with earnest, can-do, decisive (if mildly hungover) good will and wishfulness today, and probably will be until at least tomorrow.

Here's the thing: If you really want to change a habit, you know what's involved. It's no mystery, and you're certainly not going to find the miracle solution in any book, blog post or bag the Wizard has handy.

To change a habit, you...

  • do it in tiny pieces
  • do it for the right (i.e. values-aligned) reasons
  • do it with the aid of external accountability of some kind

Like I said, you doubtless know this already. But if you don't, if you're 12 or have been living under a rock through the Age of Self-Help or are just plain obtuse, please, trust the lady with 747 blog posts, 28 acting columns and a 1500-word monthly newsletter she's been publishing since May of 2007. It's not magic; it's one stupid goddamned motherfucking foot in front of the other. Period.

I have big, big plans for 2009. Crazy-big. I'm going to be a writing, speaking, teaching, consulting, marketing sumbitch over the next 12 months, and that's on top of the design work I'll probably be doing at least through the end of summer to keep the money flowing in sufficient amounts. (And yes, there will be more amusing songs. Yes, soon. No, you won't be able to share this one with your children, either, although thankfully, there's no butter involved like there was in the filthy, filthy previous one.)

Hence, the Salute. I've been doing these little (HA!) 21-Day Salutesâ„¢ since May of 2006, when The BF, generally the most patient and tolerant soul in my immediate sphere, told me I might want to consider cheering the hell up. I thought it over; I decided I did, in fact, want to Cheer the Hell Up, and that part of the reason I hadn't been cheery recently was because I'd plain and simply gotten out of the habit.

There are various schools of thought on how long it takes to change a habit. Their estimates range from 21 to 30 to 90 days, depending on personality type and exactly how bad that heroin habit of yours is, missy. I'm an optimist, also, wildly impatient, so I went with the low number. You could do the same and renegotiate at 21, if you trust yourself to do that.

This particular exercise is to get me in the habit of writing daily. I only committed to 5x/week on the blog, but I know myself: if I don't seed the habit with a kickstart, it's going to be really rough come Monday.

Another little hack I'm using to get a jump on my year-long resolutions is joining Leo Babauta's 10-minutes/30-days Power of Less project. You sign up, commit to whatever it is you're going to do for 10 minutes each day for 30 days. There are some nifty freebie support documents, if you like that sort of thing, and a big, fat forum (probably literally, in parts, given it's the start of a new year) to keep you honest, or at least to offer you the opportunity. I'm using it to stay on track with my 10 minutes per day of guitar playing. God help you all. And my neighbors.

So join me there! I'm "communicatrix", like I am pretty much everywhere these days.

There are also some non-sucky posts I've found that cover looking backward and forward (the only way to goal-set, believe me):

  • Jared Goralnick, overachieving punk that he is, has an excellent one that points to some goodies, too
  • I loved my other new-in-'08 friend Chris Guillebeau's post, too; it's thorough, with a very good how-to plan
  • Not strictly a look back, but a great 2009 thoughtstarter for business blogger types is Mark Hayward's inaugural post on his new blog
  • New-year-hater Seth Godin has a typically interesting take on things, too, of course
  • And just because he's hilarious, a brilliant writer you should all be reading (check out his Amazon MP3 Advent Calendar series if you don't believe me) and, well, also because I love technology doo-dads that actually live up to their promises of making the world a happier, better place, I'm throwing in Andy Ihnatko's "Best of Tech" column from the Sun-Times

Now, SPILL IT, kids! What's your 2009 plan? How are you sticking to it? If you've made it public, say so and put in a link. If you haven't, consider it.

I'm not fool enough to expect everyone to play along with a Saluteâ„¢. But an effort...right?

Happy brand spankin' new 2009, everyone!

xxx
c