personal growth

What taking care of yourself looks like in real time

gustave flaubert quote about work and creativity I'm sure I'm not alone in this, but when I was a girl, I had a brilliant notion: what if I could have all of the sicknesses of my lifetime at once, rather than having them parceled out here and there, when they were least expected and seldom welcome?

Or, because I quickly figured out my genius solution would probably kill you (after a few mind-blowing days of unspeakable agony), what if we could at least choose when we'd have them, rescheduling broken bones and burst appendixes from rare or inconvenient times (holidays, big presentations, nice weather in Chicago) to dull stretches where nothing is going on, anyway?

Like most things that seem like a great idea until you see them played out on an episode of Twilight Zone, I eventually figured out the flaw in Plan B as well: there is never, ever a time when it's good to be sick; there are only times when it's less awful than other times.

* * * * *

Staying healthy has both hard and "soft" costs attached to it, just like getting sick does. But because we don't notice health nearly as much as we do the lack thereof, it's hard to get people to pay upfront. Nothing new here. And of course, this refusal to deal with something until it's in tatters or on fire, demanding our attention, is not limited to our physical well-being. How many people do you know who have harnessed the Magic of Compound Interest by maintaining a fully-funded 401-K from the time they entered the workforce? Or, closer still to home, who have never run out of toilet paper? I mean, really, toilet paper! If there's one thing that's easier to make sure you have handy, I don't know what it is. And yet,

Well, let's leave this train of thought while the disembarking is good, shall we?

* * * * *

It is very, very easy for me to tell myself I will pay myself Thursday for a hamburger today, and gladly. To stay up late working or, even more stupidly, watching Jackie Brown for the 57th time. It is easy to say I should go to a particular event, that one of my promises to myself was to keep my promises, and that breaking them will cause me as much or more stress as keeping them. It is easy to not exercise, to drive rather than walk, to eat poorly rather than well. It is as easy to say "yes" as it is hard to say "no", and the consequences of a flippant choice are so far down the road that surely, we reason, a conveniently-timed meteor or other bit of TBD pixie dust will save us between now and then.

For me it is easiest of all to work, and to work poorly, honoring neither the time it takes to do work well, nor the extracurricular effort that goes into maintaining the infrastructure upon which the work relies. Forget what's theoretically possible; being ill these past five months has forced me to examine what is honestly possible, and desirable, and tenable.

While I've (mercifully) always been a woman of narrow interests, this go-round of illness has forced me to narrow them to a point I would not have believed possible.1 These days, I work and I take care of myself, and that's about it. Sometimes I marvel at all of the purely social activities I hear other people talking about (on Twitter and Facebook, since I rarely go out). To me a weekend is just a calmer, quieter couple of days where the phone stops ringing, the emails at least slow down, and I feel less of a pang shutting down operations to get some rest. And I'm fine with that, there will be other times with a different mix of activities, just like there were before.2

For writers, at least, good work, like contentment, comes from boring, well-ordered lives.3 The more mental and physical clutter I removed from my life, the more room was left to do my work.

But the clearing also makes more obvious the crufty tangles that are left. Money murkiness. Patchy systems. Sludgy workflows.

So part of taking care of myself has been crazy stuff you'd think had nothing to do with taking care of yourself, all of it having to do with imposing structure. For example, my return to the uniform: establishing one look and investing in multiples to reduce stress around dressing and traveling. Dividing my week into sectors for reading, writing, and talking. I can't speak for the BDSM crowd, but in my little pedestrian, decidedly non-kinky way, I've found constraints very freeing, so much so that I continue to implement new systems as I tweak the old ones, testing for friction all the time.

The biggest recent shift in my self-care has been a rededication to GTD. Although really, what I'm doing has a whole lot less to do with any particular system for organizing one's stuff and a whole lot more with slowing things down to get clear. Which is, I think, what the best systems are: clearly thought out. Eight years after discovering David Allen's book, I'm finally getting that the crux of the system is the questioning: What's the next action? Where does this go? What does "done" look like? And that the questions themselves must be asked every single time, slowly and painstakingly before swiftly and organically. Organization doesn't come from occasional actions any more than health comes from popping an occasional vitamin. Truly taking care of myself means living in truth all of the time, not just when it is convenient.

I don't know yet what "well" looks like. It may end up not looking at all like robust good health I've been dreaming of since my Crohn's onset, health that lets me spend my energy as cavalierly as I did in my 20s and 30s.

But as I finally (knock wood, throw salt over shoulder, stab a leprechaun) pull out of this flare, I have a better idea of what putting "well" first looks like for me. It is as predictable as a uniform and as strictly run as the Catholic elementary school I wore mine to for eight years. It trades the highs of coffee for the gentle buzz of tea. It favors dollars placed toward proper food and time invested in preparing it. It goes to bed early. It enjoys fellow travelers. It dislikes drama. It spends a surprising amount of time in the bathtub and on foot.

It's my boring-ass new life, and it is awesome.

xxx c

1When I was in recovery from my Crohn's onset, back in 2002-03, my illness was so profoundly far-reaching that convalescence was the sole item on the menu. This particular almost-flare is more like having a flu that's constantly teetering between a plain old cold and walking pneumonia that'll put you down for months, or descend quickly into some unknowable, unnamable worse. Gray areas are the hardest to navigate on your own, health-wise. At least, they are for workaholics.

2Okay, I don't solely work and rest. Over the past several months, I've lunched and dined with friends two handfuls of times, seen at least one movie in an actual movie theater, attended a party for at last a half-hour, and been to hear live music, a comedy show and a play. The play, which is running through May 29, I highly recommend (and I recommend very few plays). If you live in Los Angeles and like your theater well-done and funny, it's a must-go.

3 This gets into semantic jockeying, but for our purposes, that other contentment-plus stuff I find comes more from peak experiences. That poor, poor word "happiness" has been so batted about that I wonder what it means anymore. I tend to think my friend Gretchen, who for my money is the smartest, most accessible writer on the topic of happiness today, really writes about contentment. But it's not her fault the filthy hordes came in and mucked up a perfectly good word.

What it takes to hew to you (Part 2)

leaf growing through a board fence This piece builds on this one, which you may or may not want to read as well.

Once upon a time, when I was very much like I am today, only with a lot more income and a lot less happiness, I found myself shopping in a store that sold nothing but sexy ladies' underwear.

Now, if you know me in even the most passing of ways, you know this is a very unusual thing, and if you've known me in the Biblical sense, you're probably re-reading the above sentence to make sure it says what you think it said. For I am no more a lady of lingerie than I am a lady of pedicures, blender drinks or fancy jewelry. Not that I judge! To each her own, and more power to her. But I buy my panties plain, on the cheap and under duress. Any top/bottom color coordination happens strictly by accident, luck of the drawer, if you will, and most of it looks better off than on. Which, to my mind, anyway, is the main point of underwear vis-à-vis your vis-à-vis-type situations.

True to form, I was there at this sexy lingerie store under duress as well. My boss at the time, a chic and lovely woman whom I'm sure had no end of matching drawers in her own drawers, had extracted from me a promise: that while I was in Los Angeles on my next production gig, I would go to this particular lingerie store and buy myself some high-end undergarment of the completely superfluous variety. It had to be expensive, in other words, and it had to be sexy.

Half of the store was dripping with lace and the rest of it vibrated with the various colors of the rainbow. Promises or no promises, there were some depths to which I would not stoop, which pretty much left Sheer, Black and Clingy. I found some one-piece something or other that looked okay, sexy, even, I guess, given the right lighting and enough liquor. It cost $75 (I still remember!), it itched (the better, I supposed, for wishing oneself out of it) and served no actual, foundational purpose.

I tried it on at least fifty times, and wore it exactly three. Each time I felt not only stupid for having wasted $75 on a shitty piece of nylon but whatever the opposite of sexy is. And itchy. Off it went to Goodwill.

I am sure it made a terrific addition to some girl's Slutty Olympic Swimmer costume that Halloween.

* * * * *

I was having coffee with The Chief Atheist while back, one of those occasional treats I look forward to with a genuine pleasure I would not have believed possible ten years ago when we were fresh out of the marriage. He is a sincere, smart and forthright fellow; also, he is hilarious. And for my part, I am fairly pleasant to be around now that I'm not a miserable wannabe stewing in her own hot soup of envy and denial.

At some point during the conversation, we were talking about the shapes our day-to-day lives had taken now that we were no longer together, and now that I was (finally) living alone. His, as always, is filled with lots of laughter and activity, always well-populated with friends, colleagues, or loved ones. Mine, by contrast, is filled mostly with quiet and work, punctuated by spikes of peopled activity, and dotted lightly with extremely low-key relaxation amongst one or two close friends. Excepting perhaps the financial freedom to have it all more so, neither one of us could be happier with the way things had turned out.

We had just about wrapped up the topic when he paused, smiled just a bit and said, "I never really got it while we were together, but I finally realized it recently: you weren't kidding; you really did need more time alone than most people."

He's right, I really do.

* * * * *

The good news about the Internet is that it makes it really easy to get ideas; the bad news is that it makes it really easy to think you should be applying them to yourself, now!

The always-on, always-up nature of the Internet is great when you're feeling low and need to get you some hot baby penguin action. It's not so great when you're feeling unmoored and adrift, in an in-between phase, unsure of what the next shore will look like, much less how to get there. This accounts for a lot of the business bipolar disorder you see on the web: constant overhauling of business models, flip-flopping of pricing, re-branding of websites, and of course, rampant copycatting of UI elements, visual identity and even language.

I'm not talking about evolution or emulation. Things can and should change, and we all learn by adopting and mimicking the styles of those we admire, all of us, even the geniuses (and if you don't believe me, go rent the Scorsese documentary on Dylan. It'll blow your mind.)

But if you're doing things because you see other people doing them, beware. If you're using things because so-and-so is, beware.1 Not only do you have no idea of why they've chosen do x, y, or z, you can't even be sure it's working for them. Or that it will for much longer. To borrow Seth Godin's astute summing-up of the futility of emulation in this era of constant and rapid-fire change, "if you're looking for a've totally missed the point." He was talking about business models, but it works for positioning, for identity, for personal trajectory as well. Today's opportunity lies in uniqueness and novelty, in innovation and personal touch, and the quickest way to quash that is to lose the thread of yourself in the tangle of other people's business.

Does this mean you should not surround yourself with people you admire? Read good things? Take in with an eye toward what works, what draws you in and delights you? Of course not. If anything, I would do more of it, and more broadly. As with food, so with brain food: the healthiest diets seem to be the most varied (provided you're not just varying which drive-thru window you pull up to).

A good exercise for making sure you're hewing to you is to be able to point to any element of your life and say why you chose it and why you love it. A sofa. A fragrance. A logo. An entrée. A cellphone. A lover. A project. A pair of jeans. A business partnership. A morning spent on Facebook. An evening spent with American Idol.

Even a blog post.

I wrote this one because I get challenged a lot for my business and marketing decisions, or the lack thereof.2 I can point to much of what looks crazy to the outside world and tell you why I do it my way. But there's a distressing amount that I cannot explain with anything better than I don't want to be like them. Or I hate that thing, over there. Or just I don't wanna! You can't make me!

Which, for a person who not only is into the whole self-actualization thing but who also hires herself out to help people sort out what's working and what's not, is not only hypocritical, but more than a little nutty.

On the other hand, who among us isn't a work in progress?

* * * * *

Are you a philistine for not personally sweating each individual detail of your life? Hell, no. Neither am I, and I'll wager I have a helluva lot more free time to muse about these things than you.

Could you benefit by thoughtful ongoing review of particular elements of your life, your work, your outward face, your inner workings? I cannot see how you couldn't. The unexamined life, and all that.

If you don't know who you are, start there. If you've got a pretty good handle on that, pick one aspect of your life (or your business, or your marketing) and start doing an inventory to see if things jibe.

Is this me or is this something I'm defaulting to? Is this something I want, or something I think someone else wants of me? Is this an outdated me, and am I okay with changing it?

It is not a speedy process; when you rush it, you end up with things like a $5000 website you hate in three months and want to completely change. Or a $75 onesie for whores.

Do not look to the left or the right. Look at yourself.

Chances are, that's what that other guy you admire so much did...

xxx c

1And of course, if you're using things you dislike because you think you should, or you think it will get you there faster, just stop right now.

2A lack of a decision is always a decision. Think of it as passive-aggression against yourself, and see if that doesn't move you to get off the dime and do something about something.

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

Trixercising, "video is hard" and Tuesday, deconstructed

I've been a bit wobbly, finding my land legs again.

Or maybe my regular-usual legs are my sea legs. Maybe I'm usually adrift, out voyaging in an inward fashion, and the concrete trips here and there, the actual vagabonding, are my trips ashore, where I land hard, and, finding the land hard, can hardly walk.

Either way, it has been an interesting process this past week or so, getting back into the groove I'd just begun to establish before I hit the road.

We discussed grooves today in my now-Tuesday morning writing group: what are habits and rituals and patterns? And what does it mean if you make having no habits/rituals/patterns your habit/ritual/pattern? Is that even possible, or do we just not have our radar tuned in properly to pick up on them? Does it take a major happening, or maybe a series of minor ones, plus one to tip us, to make us see them well enough to consider changing them?

Not all rituals are bad, of course. Most aren't, or at least, not until they've outlived their usefulness in our lives. If you had to think through every process you've learned since you started learning things, just driving to the 7-11 for a Big Gulp would be an odyssey of epic proportions. (I know; it was a joke, see?)

The reason I take classes and seek out accountability partners and hire professionals to help me untangle my brain and redirect my chi and see my stuff clearly enough to decide what should stay and what should go is because I can't see it all by myself. Not all at once. Not when it matters. And I'm someone who sees a fair amount. What I could not see about Monday's post, though, is what my colleagues pointed out in Tuesday's workshop: that I'd left some things hanging, that I'd missed some opportunities. I mean, I knew these things; I know I'm missing opportunities and dropping threads of ideas all over the place. These are not polished essays I write, but blog posts. For the most part, I write them in one shot, straight through, with very little editing. The true miracle is when one works.

I would like to write a whole post about trixercise, because I think that this idea of true discovery coming from these three things, a cordoning off, a distancing, and a mindful attention throughout the process, might be a big and a useful enough idea to warrant deeper and more thoughtful explanation. Just not today. Because I write this at the end of a day where I'd thought I'd be posting a breezy instructional video, not wrassling for three hours with firmware upgrades, bad light and goddamn .AVI files.

In the meantime, I will settle for a wrap-up of discoveries from the day:

  1. Your writing needs to be done first, or you're done for.
  2. You can make a dent in your gnarliest issue if you chip away at it for a half-hour per day.
  3. Just because pain is dormant doesn't mean it's over.
  4. Knowing there is a little chopped liver left in the fridge is a great comfort.
  5. Setting yourself a hard in and hard out may be the self-employed's greatest self-gift.

May we both continue to uncover many wonderful things moving forward...


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

Boxing yourself off for a while

an open wooden box of clutter

There's a clutter-reducing trick many people advocate for dealing with the really stubborn, clingy stuff.

You take a box, fill it with the Questionable Clutter, and mark it with a date. Then, over the next weeks or months, if you find yourself truly in need of one of the items, you go back to the box, retrieve it for use, and find a permanent place for it among other like items, kitchen gadgets, the coat closet, what-have-you.

Some versions of the trick have you seal up the box, noting only D-day; some others have you additionally remove it to some hard-to-reach place, like an attic or basement.

The variations matter far less than the act itself: of bringing your attention to something, of cordoning it off and creating distance from it without recklessly, mindlessly tossing it. Because the real lesson in the trick, the exercise, let's call it, is not whether you need this particular hand-juicer or that particular argyle sweater vest: it's to bring your attention to something to create meaning and lasting change. It's to transform yourself through a timed examination of your relationship to objects. And so each of the components of the trick is necessary for the trixercize to work: the cordoning, the distance, and the mindful attention.

This is what sabbaticals are for, I am finally realizing, or at least, what this particular one has been for me. I remove myself from my way of being, set a span of time in which to observe what's needed and what can go, and throughout, do my best to bring my mindful attention to it. How do I feel, not working with clients? Not marketing myself constantly? Or, and much, much more on this to come, marketing myself completely differently? Un-marketing myself.

This is also why, over the course of this sabbatical, I've found it very useful not only to travel a great deal more in general, but to take a couple of extended trips away from Los Angeles, specifically. I was in Ojai for most of August and then, after a two-week turn at home, off to Ojai and the PacNW for a month in September and October. Somewhere in the middle, I felt an insanely strong pull to call it all off, to just stay in L.A. and start working on the various ideas that had begun brewing during my long, daily walks in Ojai. I'd committed to a few things in Portland, though, and am trying to get better about following through on my commitments, so I didn't. And I'm glad I didn't, because the extra four weeks and 2,000 miles of driving distance back and forth from that giant, marked box that is my life here in Los Angeles helped me to see much, much more clearly what I have use for and what can go.

I love my apartment, for example. This surprised me, how much I missed my incredibly modest and even slightly dingy rent-controlled slice of paradise here in an undisclosed sector of Los Angeles. I missed my things a bit, after all, pretty much only the stuff I really love is left. But I missed using those things more: sleeping in my own bed, cooking in my own kitchen, working at my own table, with my own rig set up just as I like it.

I'd go so far as to say that I could dispense with Los Angeles as a location and just have my stuff wherever, but for now, I realized I'd also really miss the incredible light we have here, that for now, I really depend on it. It was far more difficult to stay buoyant in Portland, where, paradoxically (if I'm using that correctly), they were enjoying the sunniest time they've had so far this year. Kill me now.

I realize this is an incredible luxury, being able to take this much time off and away in one chunk. I have definitely relied on the kindness of fine and amazing facilitators to make this happen; I'm blessed with dear and interesting and incredibly generous friends who also happen to jetset it up enough to require housesitting services. Not to mention the staggeringly long list of people who have offered up their spare bedrooms and couches for those in-between times. I'm also in the highly unusual position of having sufficient funds, via savings, investments and dumb luck, to deliberately take time off from pursuing paying work (although sadly, there are a whole lot of people these days with more time off than they'd anticipated having, paying-work-wise.)

Is there a way to do this when one is encumbered by responsibilities? Families, mortgages, debt, local obligations? I think there must be. Not for as long, maybe, and not so dramatic a separation. But I've managed to maneuver myself through other massive transitions, other gigantic lettings-go, by doing it more incrementally. Julia Cameron's tools, the Artist's Date and Morning Pages, are both good for this, as are walks of any length beyond your car to the mall entrance. Walks by water are my main thing, but I'll take a good, long walk anywhere, city streets included, over nothing. In fact, I have been drumming up ways of incorporating more massively long walks into my daily life, like my ingenius friend, Havi, has done.

Maybe the simplest way is this: to set a goal of looking, and some objects or practices to look at, and an end date for the looking. When that date rolls around, you must take some sort of action: a letting-go, a deliberate decision to keep (and an attendant resting time/place for the thing) or, if neither of those are possible, some ideas for concrete help making one of those two things happen.

Something to think about.


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

Book review: My Misspent Youth

author Meghan Daum & her book, My Misspent Youth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Photo of Meghan Daum by Laura Kleinhenz.

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

Reframing your ducks

signed keith haring poster

I have a signed Keith Haring poster from the New York Book Fair that's been with me for 25 years now.

It's moved with me from Brooklyn to Manhattan to Chicago, where I finally had it framed and hung it proudly on the wall of my first bona-fide "grownup" apartment (i.e., all mine, with furniture I purchased myself); it's moved with me since to three other places and one additional city, Los Angeles.

Somewhere along the way, I fell out of love with it, but I hung onto it because it was valuable, literally, perhaps, but more personally, because I could remember the moment of signing, me, nervous and sweaty on one side of the table, Keith Haring, weary and sweaty on the other. (New York summers are the opposite of dry and temperate.)

He asked me who to make it out to, and in a fit of stupid reaching to be different, I said, "C-A-W", my initials. Because more than anything in that moment, I wanted Keith Haring to think I was interesting and unusual. I'm sure that's exactly what he thought, right after "Christ on a bike, they come out in the heat."

Anyway, there it all is, in one framed, signed poster: me in my lost, twentysomething yearning, and New York City, and the closest I ever got to Keith Haring (other than the dance floor of Area a couple of times, where everyone served as background for everyone else's ongoing New York music video.) It's not serving to do anything but remind me of what a sad little tool I was, both for my pathetic stabs at cool and for selecting an orangey-red frame that matches nothing I've ever had nor will have in my home. Yet even though I am committed to letting go of what's not working for me, I can't give this the heave-ho. The idea of selling it hurts my heart; the idea of giving it to Goodwill is unthinkable. It needs its Next Right Home, but it's not fit to go out into the world yet. Its Next Right Home's owner would (rightfully) look at it and politely decline. It is '80s in the worst of ways, bright, loathed, neglected.

It occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, the thing was not empirically awful. That it could be saved by, perhaps even made lovable by, reframing. I scouted readymade frames, Aaron Brothers coupon in hand (does anyone shop at Aaron Brothers or Bed, Bath & Beyond without one anymore?) but came up short. Which is how, a few fiscally painful exchanges later, I wound up with my same old poster looking completely awesome on my bedroom wall in its new, plain, wildly overpriced, custom black frame.

Getting rid of new stuff, stuff that you haven't had for a while, or that hasn't been in your family for a while, getting charged with multiple hits of emotional energy, isn't too hard. Even the expensive new stuff is relatively easy to let go of, once you get over that first hump.

Getting rid of old stuff is much, much harder. For starters, you're invested in it seven ways to Sunday; it becomes so much a part of you, it's hard to see how it could serve you differently, or serve someone else better completely.

I recently unearthed a mamaluke of an old habit, not remembering, that is going to be an unholy bitch to wrangle. My shrink and I spent the better part of this month's session unpacking it, and I just know I'm going to be a long time at turning this one around. The reframing began with me being introduced to the idea that when you come from a fucked-up home, you tend to do a lot of dissociating, and that leads to a lot of not-remembering. For a long time, it either didn't matter (I could look things up, or ask) or the problem wasn't that bad. But with perimenopause, things have declined precipitously, I forget names almost instantly after they're made known, and random nouns are getting harder to grab as my rickety head-RAM spins fruitlessly. Plus, I want to live a good life, and that means addressing my demons, even the stinky, hoary ones I paved over or figured out a way to work around a long time ago.

At some point, I will let go of most everything. And at some point further down the road, I will let go of the rest of it, as we all will when the clock counts down to zero.

For now, I let go of what I can as I can, and reframe the rest, so it can continue to serve. And it warrants remembering that one can enlist a little help with the reframing, as well as help with the outright tossing. None of us got here on our own; sometimes, we can all use a little help getting to the next place...


Chasing vs. going after

kids chasing a soccer ball

I didn't submit a talk show idea to Oprah. (You can thank me in the comments.)

I didn't submit a panel idea to South by Southwest. I didn't submit myself as a speaker for the international women's conference a friend urged me to.

I haven't entered a contest or sweepstakes in I-don't-know-how long, haven't asked to be included in a gathering I knew would be fun but that I hadn't been invited to, and the last guy I liked who asked for my number had to pry it out of me.

I'm not sure exactly when it happened, but at some point over the last year or so I went from being someone who chased after things to someone who went after her own thing. And yes, there is a difference.

Take Yaddo, for example. It's an artists' community in New York State that houses writers and poets and, well, artists in retreat, providing them with a beautiful, distraction-free setting in which to focus on a piece of work. One applies, and one is either accepted or not. I have decided to apply, because I really, really like the idea of me in a beautiful, distraction-free setting, finishing one of the three books I started writing this year1. Or take Jennifer, although you can't, because her delightful husband already has her, heart and soul, who introduced me to the idea of Yaddo, and that it was a perfectly reasonable thing for me to apply to. (She wrote most of her book in residence there.) I met Jennifer because I wrote a review of her excellent memoir, and got to know her because, after a bit of correspondence, I asked if she might want to start up a little writers' group here in L.A., and she said "Yes."

See, it's not like I don't go after things. I'm going after Yaddo; I went after Jennifer (in, you know, the friendliest and most well-meaning of ways). And if Yaddo turns me down, I may go after a slot again, later on, if I really want it. What I'm realizing is that in the past, there were too many times when I chased stuff because I thought that catching it would get me something or somewhere. That it would mean I had made it, maybe, where "it" is the cool kids' club or a USDA-prime stamp on my ass or some other shortcut to the other side of some mythical, self-imagined velvet rope.

Much like Gertrude Stein's genius summing-up of the perils of grabbing at the evanescent, however, on the few occasions when I managed to chase down my trophy and nab it, I came up empty. The thing I had desired wasn't there, and the desire I had going in just vanished without a trace.

If pressed to define the difference I see between chasing a thing and going after a thing, I'd say this: a chase ends up being about the chase, and less about the fox at the end of it; going after something is putting one foot in front of the other and moving towards what you want. Deliberately, thoughtfully making choices, and perhaps delaying gratification elsewhere, so that you can get to the Next Right Place you need to be. Although I guess you could just as easily go after a refrigerator or a dream house or even a fox, if you had decided that what you really wanted was a teeny, tiny stole. But you would want that refrigerator or that house or that tiny stole because you really wanted it, you'd really thought it through, and figured out how it would make your life that much better, and it was worth losing that much life to go after it, and not just because you wanted to fill an empty place in your soul with a high-end icebox or rub your neighbor's nose in your teeny, tiny fox stole.

Is submitting a talk show idea to Oprah always chasing? No. Absolutely not. I'm sure there were lots of people who were motivated as much by the idea of making a submission video as they were winning the golden ticket. When I entered a similar kind of contest a few years back, a huge part of the "why" for me was that I came up with an idea for a video I thought would be hilarious and great fun to assemble, not because I particularly lusted after the idea of being chosen from on high (no pun intended) by the great gods of the cut-rate airline to travel in their metal tubes and document what I found along the way. I mean, it would have been fine, but the winning, I was ambivalent about; the making of the video I had to go after.

But I spent a lot of years as an actor, watching a lot of actors chase after stuff that wasn't there. As I said in a recent interview, you need to be about the acting, and the day-to-day work of being about the acting; if you're going after gold statuettes and the love of a million random strangers in the dark, you're going to come up with nothing even if you get your wish.

So yes, chasing vs. going after is a little like the old destination vs. journey standoff. And it's also about living for other people vs. living for yourself, living the life you really, truly want, every possible minute that you can. It's probably also a bit about all that good sovereignty stuff that Hiro Boga talks about.

The easiest way for me to think about it, though, is wanting what you want enough to do something about it, but really wanting what you want.

As the song says, more I cannot wish you...


1Yes, three. And you heard it here third, I already let the cat out of the bag with Havi's Kitchen Table people and Pace & Kyeli's World-Changing Writing Workshop. There will be more on these three massive mothers as I move forward, including how you can participate in one of them, but in the meantime, if you want to get on a notification list, sign up here, and leave a note in the comments field to that effect.

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

My narrow, narrow bands of interest and utility

For most of my life, I thought I envied people who were on a mission: the ones who were seized by the desire to paint or to build stuff or to cure malaria.

It was only very recently, maybe as recently as last week, or the week before (time has been playing tricks on me this month), that I realized what what I was really wishing for was to have some kind of defining passion that easily translated into a verbal business card at a cocktail party. I hated being in advertising for most of the years I was in advertising; I didn't even particularly enjoy telling people it's what I did. But man, did I not begin to appreciate how easy it was to tell it.

All of the things I'm passionate about, talking to people about of stuff, telling stories, figuring stuff out, are squishy and weird. The closest I've ever come to a defining thread that connects them all is "creating order out of chaos"; a former colleague once said I excelled at "coming up with creative ideas," which, once I got over the metal-on-metal grind of a well-intended but gratingly redundant descriptor, I decided was not half-bad as summaries went. Ideas, I has them. Maybe I could be the Lucy Van Pelt of idea vendors: a nickel a shot; a buck, perhaps, given inflation. But no, because I'm even less tolerant than Lucy.

As I close in on six months (!) of self-imposed sabbatical, I'm both predictably alarmed and oddly nonchalant about my inability to define what it is I do in a way that is pithy and truthful. What I have been answering of late in reply is either "Nothing!" or "I'm on self-imposed sabbatical!" I will also occasionally just lie and say, "Marketing consultant," if I don't feel like engaging at all. It's a lie, but a relatively harmless one, as lies go.

To my creative intimates, the fellow strugglers in writing workshop, or elsewhere behind the scenes, I share the only thing I know for sure: that I want to write, and that I am doggedly pursuing it, placing structures where they need to be to support it, addressing what obstacles I can see that might be getting in the way of it. (I'm also actually writing, and not just what you see here. But I'm not quite ready to talk about what.)

One thing I'm considering is slashing my expenses to the bone and taking another Stupid Day Job. There are all kinds of issues with that, too, of course. I may be romanticizing it, for starters. Also, absent the singular focus a definable driving passion provides, I may outright hate it: when I had my last Stupid Day Job, I was pursuing acting rather ferociously. What happens when you just want to live your life, figure out some shit and write a little? Does a Stupid Day Job even work under those circumstances? Can anyone even get a Stupid Day Job in this economy?

And who do I think I am, anyway, wanting to live a life and figure stuff out and maybe write, freakin' Thoreau?

Ah, well. I have no reason to believe this, but somehow I suspect I will look back on this time when I am old, if I am fortunate enough to grow old, and in the same way I now smile at youthful me for wasting time cataloguing minor imperfections of flesh and character, I will shake my ancient head at my foolish former self for not appreciating the goodness, the greatness of even these sometimes baffling days.

Every day is a gift, even the ones that don't come wrapped in pretty paper with a bow on it. Even the ones you want to send back to the store. My bands of interest and utility are slender enough not to have crossed in any obvious places, but that they haven't is no reason to wish for this day to be over any sooner, or any other.

Hello, ridiculous day of this tedious month of my difficult year.

Hello, and welcome. Let us see what we can do to each other, shall we?


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

Mastering the art of surrender

kid lying down, his bare feet in the foreground

While searching for a particular Merlin sound bite on scaring yourself into stuff that I wanted to grab for my most recent newsletter1, I stumbled on this transcription of a different equally wonderful interview that Colin Marshall did with him.

There is such incredibly rich goodness in it, great, smart things we all know about how important it is to hoe your own row and be clear on what it is you want, but that we forget (again) until we're reminded by someone whose cleverness is tinged with just the right amount of earnestness (or is it the other way around?). But the thing that got to me today was the part about how this quest is, at times (and for great long stretches of time), a lonely and expensive slog:

People who are like, "I wanted to be a doctor since I was five" or, "I always wanted to be a lawyer." I have a lot of friends who became lawyers and hated it. There's no reason to think that your own career in the arts or personal publishing is any different. Make sure it's what you want to do. Make sure that you really have a lot to say about something, and that you have a giant amount of tolerance for, first of all, making no money , for it actually costing money for a while. If you want to do this stuff right, you're going to have to hire lawyers and stuff. And it's costly. It seems free because you can get a free blogger account, but ask anybody who's trying to make this scale, and it takes dough.2 [italics mine]

I have no mouths to feed and incredibly low overhead (for Los Angeles, anyway). Between my own nervous squirreling away during the fat times and smart investments and even smarter not-investments and a bit of a legacy from my dad's passing and, yes, the occasional gig I take even though I'm technically not for hire these days, I am good. Nay, better than good, I am in the most luxurious position I could be without being kept by someone or having what my friend Peter calls "Mailbox Money," that stuff that makes working actors do a whoopee jig every time it shows up. And still, I am terrified about money most of the time.

Lately, I've run into an unusual number of people who are on the prowl for their Next Big Thing. I smiled knowingly at one person who's currently suffering through Year One and had a moment of internal nervous recognition upon hearing another bemoan his rounding up on Year Three.

How long can it take to find your Next Big Thing? As long as it takes. Or whatever the answer is to that other one about one hand clapping.

What has been helping me through the crazy of late are the eminently sensible words of my first-shrink-slash-astrologer spoke to me recently: "Master the art of surrender."

It is a message she's served up to me many times over the years, in and outside of readings. Because I have a very particular, one might even say "controlling", idea of how things should go and what I need. And who's to say it's all true? Am I such a genius that at 22, I foresaw future happiness in a life without children, without corporate prestige, without a primary relationship, and in a city every elder I ever respected had nothing but scorn for? No. Not even close. I didn't even know I liked dogs for another 25 years, that's how much I knew.

This, or something better. Hold a good thought, definitely have goals and intentions, but stay open to the awesome. Master the art of surrender. Live in the goddamn moment for a change, and for the best kind of change.

Because really, what do you know? And when did you know it for sure?

So I work on my tolerance for chaos and ambiguity. I see myself getting mad, but I sit in it a little less each time, and frankly, that I'm even noticing I'm angry is a gargantuan improvement. I have good days and I have bad days. But these days, even the bad days I'm starting to recognize as good days, because they are DAYS, baby.

They are DAYS...


1Subscribing is strictly optional, but if you like it here, you might want to subscribe to stuff I write about there. It's a little more polished and a little more obviously useful. You can see for yourself by visiting the archives. Which, I'll apologize for up front, are loading insanely slowly. The only downside of my move to Thesis.

2And then, when you thought it couldn't get any worse, there is this:

It takes a lot of patience and it takes a lot of self-awareness to be open to the fact that you may become popular about something that you didn't want to become popular about. At a certain point, you don't get to pick that anymore.

Christ on a bike. What is the one thing more terrifying than working at something you're making virtually no money at? The prospect of all that work paying off in a way you don't even want. Finding that either you've propped the ladder up the wrong wall or someone moved it to another one while you were climbing. Yeesh!

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

The power of tiny pieces

close shot of someone drawing fine pen & ink detail

When I was very, very sick, my body served as its own governor.

I could not push myself further than I should, because I'd be overcome by a sleepiness that would stop me in my tracks. There were times before I learned this that I literally had to lie down right where I stood to rest a bit and gain enough strength to get myself into bed. And this, in an apartment with less than 800 square feet of livable space.

Now that my body is stronger, my mind has gone back to playing tricks on it. Do this thing instead of that other, it will say. We can get to that ugly bit later. Depending on the bigness or ugliness of the thing my mind senses it's up against, I can end up squeezing myself into timeframes that are ridiculously taxing, both because they are so condensed and because they were mostly avoidable.

Last Thursday, for example, I'd committed to performing a new story at the Porchlight series: eight minutes, memorized. But an eight-minute story is a long story, and memorizing it takes even longer. I knew I should have gotten started writing it weeks ago, but I didn't. And didn't, and didn't. The "why" is simple: fear. Nothing more, nothing less. I had plenty of time; I frittered away large chunks of it on nonsense and worry, worry and nonsense.

Most of the worry was about not being good enough. That's old hat, and not particularly interesting. The nonsense, however, is where the gold lies.

In the nonsense, there were the following gems:

  • You have an outline; the story will write itself. NONSENSE. Nothing writes itself. Nothing. Not one thing. An outline may or may not speed up the process, and is certainly a fine thing to have. But in terms of story, it represents nothing more nor less than some thought devoted to the story, which might translate to some work completed.
  • You've memorized longer stuff before, 8 minutes will take no time! NONSENSE. It takes as long to memorize something as it takes. There's no mathematical formula, and no guarantees. The only guarantee, in fact, is that a poorly-written piece will take longer to memorize than a well-written one.
  • You can quit! NONSENSE. I mean, of course I can opt out. People do; people did that night. It always happens. But I know I am not just telling these stories as a lark. I'm writing and telling them as training for telling bigger stories, i.e., going pro. And pros don't flake. Not if they want to be hired more than once.

I ended up writing and memorizing the entire story on Thursday, the day of the gig. The entire day of the gig, which is a luxury I have now, on sabbatical, that I will not always have. And I was still a nervous wreck, because I didn't have the story in my bones, so I wasn't much able to enjoy the experience, either.

On the opposite end of the planning spectrum, there's the newsletter I've been editing for BLANKSPACES, a co-working space here in Los Angeles. In the five months since I took over responsibility for the project, this is the first one that's gone smoothly, actually enjoyably. Why? Because I worked on it incrementally, rather than waiting for the last minute. I broke down the process into a kind of system, worked that system, and came out the other end with a product delivered on time, in good shape and without anguish. (I can't wait to tell my friend (and client, and mentor), Sam.)

I've read 25 books out of the 52 I'd planned for the year, just by reading 40pp per day. From an investment of 15 minutes or so a day, my apartment has gone from a depressing, cluttered and filthy wreck to something that looks like it might be ready to move out of on less than a year's notice. My half-hour of daily Nei Kung practice has wrought changes in my body that continue to astonish me. Why I persisted in thinking that stories (or blog posts) would magically write themselves even when, especially when I was exhausted from working crazy-sporadically rather than slow-and-steadily is beyond me.

The solution is not. Seek the smallest move forward. If there's a hard out, put it in the calendar on the far end and the Smallest Move Forward on the near one. Stick the other small moves in between. Arrive at destination rested, refreshed, and excited about the next challenge ahead.



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

What can you do during the not-doing?

There's nothing like exiting your comfort zone for discovering more aspects of your character you're either ashamed of or annoyed by.

Last week's startling revelation and accompanying, out-loud mea culpa regarding my self-loathing seems to have unlocked some secret chamber of my darkest heart, from which has tumbled (or, in some cases, oozed) all kinds of earthly delights: My bottomless well of impatience! My race to judgment! My predilection for check-out assistants #1, 2 & 3 (Internet, TV-on-Internet and booze, respectively)!

There are a hundred, thousand ways I choose to brutalize myself. What's fascinating is when I choose to stop brutalizing myself with them, either one at a time or in one giant cudgel of Acme©-sized weight and volume, and just look at them: Well, now, those are certainly a lot of things. Yes, they are!

This is a new practice for me, what I've taken to calling the not-doing. I'm a fix-it kinda gal, so when leaks spring, I like to grab my toolbox and go go go, or, better yet, head to the Home Depot and find me some newer, shinier tools.*

Even talking about the not-doing is difficult. I guess by nature, the not-doing would prefer that you, you know, not do. Sit. Maybe observe. But mostly, sit. It is, after all, not-doing, and it would like its season, too, turn turn turn.

But since there is no point to writing (for me) unless I'm going to be at least one of the three big things I'm always squawking about (useful, supportive and/or entertaining, if you don't feel like clicking any of those links), and since writing is one of the things I not only allow myself during the not-doing but that the not-doing actually demands, I'm moved to share what I've observed and understood well enough thus far to be able to somewhat illuminate; if it doesn't work for you, so be it, it will serve as a record for myself once I've moved on to a different part of this endless motherf*cking journey I'm on.

Not-doing will not come naturally if you are a do-er.

Sorry for that brief message from Captain Obvious, but the whole discussion needs to be grounded in this, if only to prevent any wonderful souls who are good with the not-doing or who have extensive experience in the not-doing to urge well-intentioned-but-not-useful-right-now help upon us. If do-ers could meditate, we would be not-doers, or at least, we would have a passport to not-doing, where we could visit other not-doers and have not-tea and not-cakes as we shared not-stories about all the not-doing we were doing. Er, not-doing. You get it, right?

There are myriad wonderful modalities for do-ers, and even for advanced not-doers. Meditation, for example, I hear is excellent. It makes me itch. I've personally had good luck with shiatsu, some yoga (until the Yoga People namastéd me right out of the studio), the relaxation exercise used in Method acting, hot baths, walking, naps, hypnotherapy and, lately, Nei Kung. Reading helps, too.

Here's the thing about not-doing: you're always doing something. Always! Surprise: not-doing is a zen koan, and the zen joke is on you! Even meditation is doing something until you're doing it to the point where you're just being.

So what is not-doing for do-ers?

It is not racing to a thing, frantic. (No spiritual Home Depot for you, Little Miss Do-er!)

It is sitting there, in your damned mess, and saying, "Hey! Look! Mess! How unbelievably awful/uncomfortable/unusual/(your-reaction-here) it is to sit in it and DO NOTHING."

Then and only then do you do something. Which generally looks like going about your day, truth be told.

But the first doing of the not-doing for doers is, apparently, observation. A doing, to be sure, but not one we're used to.

My not-doing involves a lot of writing and cleaning.

This may seem confusing at first: how can not-doing involve writing? Isn't writing a big, fat Doing?

It is; this is. This kind of writing: writing to illuminate outwardly, is a big-time Fatty McFat Fat Doing. It is the one Doing I'm allowing myself during this planned three-month (so far) hiatus, other than a very, very minute amount of teaching.**

Rest assured that for every long-ass essay or article you read here***, there are thousands upon thousands of words being spewed, vomited, hurled or otherwise shed, either privately, in various .txt files and notebooks, or semi-privately, via communications with trusted friends and paid associates. Some weeks, I think Dave Seah and I may crash Google's servers all by ourselves with our "little" Wave experiment.

The cleaning I do because, like walking, it is a rote activity that occupies my body without overtaxing it, gets me off my ass and away from the keyboard and, like a lot of mindless, repetitive physical activity, helps free up thoughts.

Also, unlike walking, you can do it in bad weather and at night, plus it offers the amazing side benefit of de-crud-ifying the house.

My not-doing works better with themes.

Your mileage may seriously vary here, but I am one of those people who likes naming things. Or rather, it's one of those childhood Habits of Awesomeness I found myself picking up again when I hit my 40s. I find that naming things makes me care for them more, which I guess makes me kind of a label whore. Oh, well. All I know is that when I remind myself to call my car "Betty," I drive more carefully, which is exactly why I named a 2,000 lb. hunk of metal and fiberglass after my beloved paternal grandmother.

My friend Pam Slim has a wonderful tool she uses called her High Council of Jedi Knights, a panel of people you select as a kind of inspirational/motivational backboard to bounce things off of. (I finally created one this year as part of my Best Year Yet goal-setting process, although I've dubbed it my High Council of Goal-Crushing Awesomeness because it's my panel and because, you'll remember, I like naming things.)

Somehow, my lab partner and friend Dave Seah and I got into the naming thing with our Google Wave Experiment, too. We've set themes for each week based on what we'd like to focus on; you can see the list so far at this excellent post Dave wrote about what the Experiment has taught him about continuity, something he was interested in focusing on with the project.

Not-doing ain't as bad as it's cracked up to be, not-doers!

Like getting over those first three days of not-smoking or that first horrible decade post-breakup, it not only gets easier the more you give into not-doing, it actually becomes rather enjoyable. The best thing I can liken itself to is conducting a comprehensive, in-depth study on yourself, where you're student, teacher and lab rat.

The second-best thing I can liken it to is taking a vacation, which is a loaded thing for me: I've never really been big on vacations as most people seem to define them, either full of recreation or full of nothing. I have come to enjoy and appreciate the idea of vacation as change, removing oneself from one's routine, and that's more of the approach I'm looking at this not-doing as. I am usually a do-er; for now, I am mostly a not-doer. It feels strange and awkward. It feels tense, sometimes, and relaxing or invigorating at others. In the way that some people use travel, changing their context to see themselves more clearly, I am using not-travel. I am seeing and experiencing and learning new things by changing my context.

Is it always enjoyable? Of course not! Neither is travel. But I am starting to sense a shift of some kind.

I'm not willing to name it just yet, but that, too, will come with time. And maybe a little more regular not-doing...


*Nowhere is the desire to manage from the outside in stronger or more laughable than my endless attempts to Improve Productivity: with the money and time-as-money I've blown on shareware, books and blog-scouring, we could provide water to at least one small desert nation, freeing up massive amounts of well-meaning but let's face it, pretty annoying bandwidth on the social media circuit.

**Hey, you cheat by stealing an occasional Oreoâ„¢ or drag off a cigarette, I'll cheat by stealing an occasional chance to talk about stuff I love with people who want to learn about it.)

***Or via my newsletter, which, according to open and click-through rates, not to mention actual feedback, has been kinda kicking some ass lately. My mess is your gain! You should, therefore, consider subscribing, if you have not yet.

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

Raincoats, running-on-the-beach dresses and what you really want


My mother had a saying she used to toss out when she wanted me to (not) do something, a line that alerted me to the existence of passive-aggressiveness some 20-odd years before we formally met:

"They're your feet."

Served up with a shrug in the most detached of tones, that line always-but-always got me to put down the Shoe of the Moment (blue Dexters with the white topstitching excepted. And yeah, I regretted those blue shoes pretty much from two months after I got 'em until I finally, mercifully outgrew them.)

Did her words sting? Do I wish that one of the 87 zillion good-to-genius books out there on communication today had existed back then, and that she would have read it with an intent to learn? Duh. Mom would have killed on Twitter, but being her daughter was often an arduous and spirit-crushing job.

Still, in her crisp, acid, Mom-koan way, she was, I believe, trying to impart this truth: live in the moment, but abandon context at your own peril. Yes, God protects fools and little children, but if you make a steady diet of Doritos, put QVC on speed-dial, or otherwise continue to stick your finger in the light sockets of life, eventually He'll hand you over to the Karma Department. And trust me: there is no reasoning with those guys.

So what is context in this, uh, context?

Cultivating a sense of your finiteness and puniness, for sure. Remembering what has come before and using that to stay aware of what might come next. Paying attention and methodically exposing yourself to new things. Deepening your understanding of others. Expanding your ability to meaningfully connect with them. All the stuff that makes life worth living, and that makes it an ongoing pain in the ass. (Like you're not going to float a sigh of relief onto that last breath? Come on.)

Part of what has been so painful about this decluttering/excavating phase I'm muddling through is that each thing added to the "donate" pile reminds me of the short-sighted assery I default to without constant vigilance. Impulse buyer, thy name is "communicatrix"! From books to clothes to iPhone apps, I must have it, and now. One can do this on a budget, believe me; they have a door in the drop-off area of Out of the Closet that leads right to the showroom. And if you shop fast enough, you can get out of there before your old stuff hits the floor.

Have I examined this proclivity? Oh, yes. Yes, I have.

Partly, it's a buffer against existential dread, of course. The more more more, like booze or drugs or what-have-you, helps to fill that empty space inside, albeit temporarily. The prescription for that kind of consumption is to still myself and fully feel the feeling, then (usually) to go make or do something. (Or sometimes, hug the dog.)

Partly, it's hope. I will learn piano/Portugese/vegan cookery. Or take more vacations. Or take a vacation. My old art director had a penchant for what she called "running-on-the-beach dresses": floaty, impractical things that whispered "take me to the beach so some handsome, romantic fool* can rip me off and make wild, passionate love to you in the surf."

What helps now when I reach for something with this intent is context, from a recall/projection standpoint. What have I committed to already? How do I feel about how full my schedule is? How will I feel if I add this to-do to my list?**

Finally, and this is the one that's new to me, it's holes in the fabric of my self-knowledge. In the absence of a clear plan and well-defined goals, it's very easy to make grabby, stupid decisions. And to have those, one has to really know oneself. I know parts of me, but not the whole of me; in middle-age, I am finally seeing facets to myself I never saw before.

My hatred of dressy raincoats, for example: a loathing so deep, my wallet is better off choosing umbrellas and dampness. I have lost count of the number of dressy raincoats I've bought and not worn in my life, yet still, I persist. Because everyone has to have a dressy raincoat, right? Even people who live in deserts need them. For Traveling.

Which is why, in the midst of decluttering and holiday partying and end-of-year-ing I committed to a bit of an excavation/illumination process with two friends and our respective copies of another friend's book. Initially, I questioned the value I'd derive from it; I'm disdainful of style in general except for what I've already found suits me, more interested in getting on with things as the years pile up and time available runs down. Now, several hours into the process, I'm a convert, and a humbled and contrite one as well. Yes, it is effortful to pull all of these things out into the light and look at them, but there have been enough surprises and revelations thus far that I'm now certain I'll come out of this being able to do more with less, and possibly with an added note of grace.

They are my feet, you see, and they carry me on my path. Attention paid to one cannot help but illuminate the other...


*Possibly your current honey; probably not. The further out the fantasy, the greater the chance that you're out of touch with more than just your need for a break from work.

**Or, in the case of running-on-the-beach dresses, both a schedule check and a loop back around to existential-dread land.

Images by lewing via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Burrowing time


When your head is down and you're doing the work, and you must, if work is to get done, allot great swaths of head-down time, you will start to think you're going nuts.

I'm not talking abut the hard-work times when you throw yourself into something to make it: the writing of the five-minute, 20-slide Ignite presentation, or the mad throwing of paint onto the canvas, or the endless and endlessly exhausting (but invigorating) hammering out of physical details during the mounting of a play (mount that sucka!) or what have you.

I'm talking about the in-between, unplugged, unmoored time Between Big Goals, where things are stewing and churning and sorting themselves out. The wandering in the desert years.

These are the times that try Type-A souls. The time between "clicks," or getting It, or synthesis, for you Hegelian types. The mooshy, squooshy, ambiguous times where your only answer to "What's new?" is "I dunno...not much...", delivered with a rictus of a smile and a fervent wish for either the floor to open up beneath you or the Star Trek transporter to kick in and for the love of all that's holy, get you the h-e-double-hockey-sticks outta there.

This is the part where four-year-old you is tempted to dig through the soft soil to reassure yourself the seed is, indeed, sprouting roots, or the seven-year-old you is tempted to pick at the scab or the 16-to-33-year-old you (assuming you're female) is tempted to ask where this relationship is going, anyway.

It's going. It's stitching itself together. It's growing and happening and doing all the stuff it's supposed to, so leave it be and do something else. There are these things called books, and there is this practice I've heard tell of called "reading for pleasure" and this other practice of sleeping in between regular sleep times called napping and...well, lots of stuff. A unicorn, too, I think.

Sometimes you work-work, and sometimes there is burrowing. I will not lie to you, I am one of those who forgets, every damned time, about the burrowing, and fills time that could be spent "reading" or "napping" or "riding" my "unicorn" with worrying and gnashing of teeth and endless reorganization of files.

Please. Do as I say, not as I do: let your sub- and unconscious selves do their heavy lifting when it's their turn.

And yes, this message comes at you from someone who is, I believe, coming out of burrowing and is being written by what I believe is a thin slant of light from the other side of what I can only characterize as the world's longest, blackest tunnel.

Stay with me. Better yet, stay with you.

Stay the course...


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

Shedding what no longer serves


I am deep into purge mode these days. And I'm not alone in this.

Not that we're ever alone, with almost 7 billion souls on the marble, chances are good that whatever you're going through, you've got some fellow travelers somewhere. But suddenly, or perhaps it's a creeping sort of suddenness, I see people all around me letting go of their shit. Moving on from relationships and jobs and systems that just aren't working for them anymore. I have no idea if this is A Thing or another manifestation of Yellow Volkswagen Syndrome or both. I'm almost certain that, like my friend and fellow Virgo, Adam, it has something to do with marking the passage of another year the way some of nerdlier types mark it: the end of the summer, the beginning of the new school year.

I love the idea of filling my life up with learning, which is why I've always gotten a little schoolgirl-giddy for back-to-school time. New books! New clothes! New gadgets! All wonderful things, especially in a simpler, less stuff-filled time, the 1960s, when everything had a higher acquisition cost: it took you longer to find the stuff you wanted and it was more expensive to buy when you finally found it. Even the rented stuff, like library books (remember card catalogues?) and flat-out free stuff (remember life B.C.L.?) And at six, or even 16, that cost was insanely high: no wonder I clung to every new bit of input so ferociously; who knew when tiny, carless, broke me would get another shot?

Stuff is abundant now. Forget how easy (and cheap) it is to get almost anything you might have a passing thought about wanting: these days, physical stuff seems to breed in stacks and piles. It's as though they embed crap-sprouting seeds in all that cheap crap from China we started glutting ourselves on a few decades ago.

Yet the oldsters among us, those raised by and around Depression-era survivors, without whiz-bang search and delivery tools like the Internet, are still operating in scarcity mode.

Save the rubber bands, the recipe clippings, the Shirts to Clean the Car In.

Save the orphaned Tupperware and gym socks, the never-quite-comfortable shoes, the stop-gap Fat Pants.

Save it save it save it lest you find yourself, what? Unable to wash the Toyota for want of a selection of 25 shirts in which to do it?

With each previous purge, I've filled up the empty space with new stuff. Nothing wrong with that, provided it keeps moving through: the Catch-and-Release Planâ„¢ for books; the assimilate, not accumulate method of information consumption. But too often, it's been just tiny, greedy, scaredy-cat me, stockpiling crap against some kind of dreadful winter sans stores, power and people. When really, if it came to that, who'd want to stick around anyway?

This purge feels different. It feels both urgently needed and centrally right in a way that it never did before, as though I am on the brink of getting somewhere big, but can't fit through the tiny passageway with all this stuff clinging to me. So I am shedding it in a way that works for me: quickly, then slowly. Or slowly, then quickly. Stuffing great heaping loads of things into opaque blue bags, the better not to be be eyeballed again before they're sealed and trotted off to Goodwill. Finding good homes for a few cherished treasures that no longer serve. Asking hard questions not only about each and every item that touches my hands, but that floats past my eyeline: does this serve? When it inevitably no longer does, will I be able to let it go with relative ease?

Some things that have helped me to get here, I think:

  • Removing myself from my mess. The trip to the Pacific Northwest last year was central to this shift, even if the high-intensity purging didn't start happening until recently. I see huge value in the occasional long-ish retreat from everyday life, now that I've done one. Others, like my friend Chris Guillebeau, remove themselves more regularly, via travel. (More on retreats soon, as I've another one coming up.) Note: I see both retreats and travel as very distinct from vacationing or holiday. They're vacations/holidays because they're a break from routine, but that's about it. This is not pina-coladas-by-the-pool stuff.
  • Getting serious clarity on some short and long-term desires. Nothing fires one up to actually get shit done like white-hot desire for a specific thing, or even a white-hot dose of truth. I do not know what exact shape my next living situation will take, but I'm almost certain it means moving somewhere that pets are allowed and quietude is in greater abundance. (Do they let people live in the library with a small pet?) Reducing my possessions to what really serves right now clears the way for further reductions as the goal gets even clearer.
  • Support, support, support. Almost two years ago, at the start of 2008, I decided to shift my goddamn paradigm to one of "Help is everywhere." And since then, it has been. Help has turned up in the form of accountability partners, coaches, mastermind groups, teachers, classes, products and, yes, books. Help is so much everywhere that I've now started to trust there will be a net when I leap, or a hand extended when I need a leg up. The unexpected bonus in all this? That I have become a trusted source of support in various ways for all kinds of people I never imagined might find my help useful. This makes getting up in the morning a delight. Well, most mornings. And it's been the handful of magic beans that started my new business. Huzzah!

I am wired to cling, I think. But I no longer fear it, because I know it.

Add to that my deep understanding that help truly is everywhere, and it becomes much easier to shed what no longer serves. What you cling to tends to cling right back. I cling now to the moment, and to my bigger truths, and to my growing belief that the glorious, chewy center of the entire bleeding universe is love love love.

Let go of my old books, and there is room for new ones.

Let go of my old way of thinking about myself as a writer, and there is room for poetry.

Let go of my old career, and a new one springs up in its place. (A little slowly, that fucker, but whatever.)

What I ask for now is support, in a very specific way: what are you letting go of, and (if you're so inclined) how? And, if it's started to happen yet, what do you find it being replaced by? Are you scared? Are you exhilarated? Are you both, or neither, maybe some other thing I've not even thought of, because I'm still clinging to my way of looking at shedding?

We are in this together, more than we know. We will explode with awesomeness once we get down with this, more than we can possibly imagine...


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

Bonus links!

Leaps of faith and the pushes that make them


I spent some quality time with my EstroFest ladies this weekend, something that seems gets harder to do the more I need it.

There was wine and food (and food, and food) and laughter and even a little homegrown Ouija-board action*. Mainly, though, the central theme of this particular EstroFest was growth as a result of being pushed into it.

Our hostess, you see, was hosting her first Estro in her new home, which is a house, which is quite a bit larger and nicer than her old home. It is also almost twice as costly, since it is a house, and the old place was a rent-controlled apartment in a sketchy part of town, and as such, is a place she literally could not imagine living in a year ago. This new place has beautiful hardwood floors and major appliances and crown molding. It has two bedrooms and a separate dining room off the kitchen. It has a substantial backyard with both tomato plants and a grapefruit tree. (And her landlord, who lives in the guest house out back, but still: tomatoes and grapefruit!)

It is, for her (and to me), a palace.

More importantly, though, it is safe. And peaceful. A place where she feels safe and peaceful for the first time in more than a year, when a neighbor situation went from tolerably icky to borderline dangerous. The details are hers to relate, and she's pretty much put them behind her; the salient point here is that for over a year, as things got worse and worse for her in that old place, she was unable to pull the trigger on moving to a new one. Because of the rent control, housing in L.A. is expensive even with the high vacancy rate, but mostly, because of a story she told herself. After all, she is earning the same amount of money that she was 12 months ago, and, because she's cut back on her hours, less than she was 18 months ago. The difference is her perspective, which shifted at some point, and which, because of it, has now shifted forever. Literally, she can't go back (well, not for the same price, they've jacked up the rent) but metaphorically, she cannot be the same person she was who could not make the decision to leave an untenable situation. Bell's been rung, and there's no unringing it.

And yet she'd be the first person to tell you that she's just a regular Joe (so to speak). She boldly went where she had never gone before not because she's an adventuress, but because things had Gotten to a Point, and then, as she put it, a triggering event did the rest. Of course, she's too modest to talk about all the work she did while the external forces were doing their hoodoo on her: I was there; her other ladies were there. She's done the work. A lot of it, and specifically, and not without the pain that attends growth and change.

Now, though, she is in a palace with an actual washer and dryer and an actual washing machine and, best of all, actual peace and quiet. Safety. A sweet, sweet plateau where she can rest and relish and redecorate. (Why do plateaus get such a bad rap, anyway? Resting, relishing and redecorating are all great things we don't get to do nearly enough of, I say, and they're all but impossible to accomplish while you're pushing c*cksucking boulders up motherf*cking hills.) Where we can visit her, and there is enough room (and tomatoes!) for sleepovers if we get a little too jiggy with the old Ouija board. So what if a push got her there? So what if a thousand pushes did?

Well, okay. It is nice to move along on your own steam. But it doesn't always work that way, and when it doesn't, it shouldn't take away from your accomplishment. You did the work. You made the move. The rest was assistance you asked for that maybe showed up in a form you weren't expecting. (What? You thought that all help was sunshine, roses and a well-muscled friend with a pickup truck?)

Make no mistake: a huge part of what motivates me to make changes now is the hope of making more leaps with less "help" from the universe. No more severe onsets of chronic illnesses, please, or illnesses of any kind. I'm sure there are enough in my basket awaiting future unearthing anyway.

However you get there, though, on your own steam or via a big, fat push off the side of the cliff, take time on the other side to sit in the change. Download, unpack, debrief: what have you. But also yes, have your ladies over. Yes, bust out a nice bottle of vino and toss a few steaks on the grill. Hang your pictures on the wall and admire for a moment how lovely they look up there. Relish the small but significant pleasures your vast quantity of work and your gargantuan leap have won you.

In the words of my dear friend, newly established on the other side of a gaping void, now fully cognizant that there will, soon enough, be other c*cksucking boulders on different motherf*cking hills, "Emptied my dishwasher this morning and just did a load of laundry, it doesn't get any better than this!"


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

*This is another, way more woo-woo post for another day, but if my ladies are to believed (and they've never given me reason to not believe them, but still, this shit is weird, baby), nobody but my dear old Gram spelled out "No" and then "N-O" for me in answer to my query. Also, even if you lean toward the skeptical side, promise me that if you pull out the board just for yuks, you'll do a little invocation first inviting only the nice ghosts to drop by and deliver their two cents. Just in case. For me, okay? Also, I had no idea you could roll your own Ouija board, but I'm here to tell you, you need nothing more than an unfolded Trader Joe's bag and a Sharpie. Plus an upturned rocks glass or somesuch. So you know.

Doing the hard stuff


I have a confession to make that some of you who are constantly chastising me about working too hard (*cough* ANGIE *cough*) may find difficult to believe: I am, at heart, a lazy sumbitch.

As I can hear the chorus of disbelieving protests rising up from behind (or is that in front of?) computer screens everywhere, let me add that I have confirmation on this from the most vaunted of sources and a new favorite obsession (what? you didn't think lazy people could be obsessed?), the Enneagram. (Yeah, it feels woo-woo and squishy, but hey, I've got "virgo" in my tagline, and only there semi-ironically, after all.)

According to the Enneagram, or to various books and websites which explain it, I am a three, or a "three", or a "3", a.k.a. "the Achiever" or "the Succeeder," depending on which source you're referring to; for convenience's sake, from here on in let's go with "Achiever" and dispense with the quotation marks, as all the finger-motoring to the "shift" key gets tedious and Achievers have no time for tedium, as we are very busy with our achieving and/or succeeding. (Here is a fairly typical and good description of threes, if you can call the peculiar clutch of personality traits that define attention whores "good." Sorry. Quotation marks.)

The deal with Achievers, as you know if you've clicked through and might surmise even if you haven't, is that we work really, really hard...except when we don't, and we curl up into small, apathetic balls of non-activity and go on week-long benders of The Tudors. Everyone on the Enneagram wheel defaults to some evil or lame behavior when confronted with some kind of adverse circumstances; for threes, the behavior is laziness and the trigger is stress. Which, as you might guess, kind of comes along with the territory of pushing for achievement, especially when the thought of not getting it means the removal of love. Good times!

Because it wouldn't be a complete system without an equally strong shift in the opposite direction, if we push through the hard stuff and confront our fears, we blossom into the kind of thoughtful, fun, spotlight-sharing, "Goooooo, team!" types who, of COURSE, naturally attract the love and attention that motivates all of our baser behavior. And there are specific prescriptives for getting to this glorious place, all of which have to do with letting go, serving the greater good and not operating all by our lonesome. Which, again you might guess, is hard for us dig-me, loner, spotlight-hogging types.

I've committed myself to this personal growth stuff, though, and once you do, you're basically all-in. What's more, the Universe starts cooperating in weird ways you kind of wish it wouldn't, like when it makes you blurt out loud on the Twitter that you'll help mount a big unconference and then again when it makes you blurt out loud on a conference call that you will head up sponsorship opportunities, which means not only getting in touch with strangers, but asking them for money. Which you don't get, but which will disappear into sandwiches, swag and sodas, which in turn will disappear with the attendees.

Many hard things have been done this year by me, but none so hard for me as helping in the way I did with PresentationCamp LA. I confess, I got into it (I thought) for purely selfish reasons: raising my visibility as a speaker, getting another chance to speak, and meeting Cliff Atkinson. Out of the three, I accomplished exactly one, meeting Cliff, because frankly, between the running around and the stressing myself out about whether I'd do a decent job at my new and horrible job WHICH I SIGNED UP FOR, I was too fried to actually present anything. Worse, even after I thought I'd made my peace with this at 5pm on the Friday before Saturday's 8:15am call (Cliff and I met early to pick up more snacks), I flipped myself out even further and decided to put together a presentation on how to be funny. Because boy, nothing says "hilarious" like an exhausted speaker presenting material she put together in six hours and rehearsed exactly once.

At some point in the day, I let go of that lunatic notion completely and just tried to enjoy myself. And mostly, except for being tired, I did. Because everywhere I looked, I saw people having fun, real, unbridled, full-on, nerdly joy, because of what I, as one small part of a much bigger team, had put together. And baby, it felt great. Not b.s., fleeting-moment great, but deeply connected, awesome great. It was great just seeing it and soaking in it, but oh, no, that wasn't enough for the big, bad Universe, it had to send wave after wave of incredibly nice people up to me afterward to thank me for my part in giving them a great day.

Okay, okay. I get it. It's enough, for now.

One more small thing before I go, though. Because the Universe is such a meticulous motherfucker, it also has taken pains to point out to me various versions of "what if?": what if I don't do the hard stuff? What if I just do more and better of what I've been doing? What if I become outstanding at what I do? Won't that be enough?

And no. No, a thousand times no. Not by half. I've had wave after wave of mirrors put in front of me, showing me slightly different flavors of Me of One Possible Future, and no. No, thanks. I literally recoil from them. Yes, that's judging; I am also using the Remembrance to help me deal with that. I've seen possible ways, and now I know my way. I'm not sure where it leads to, ultimately, but I know that the other is the road to nowhere.

Onward. And excelsior!

And boy, wish me luck. Because like the song says, the going, she is never especially easy...


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

Them thar hills


For better or worse, I live in an area of steep hills, and have done for some time now.

Maybe it was all those years of growing up in the flatlands; maybe 18 years of staring out into nowhere and seeing the end of it from my bedroom window with no obstructions got to me, but I left my hometown for one of the hilliest places in North America, and left it a second time for another. (Okay, okay, it's no San Francisco. But compared to Chicago? Please.)

The dirty little secret of living in a hilly area like Los Angeles is that, with careful planning, much of the hilliness can be avoided (unlike Ithaca, where, well, you're hosed if you want to get anywhere.) You learn to take the gently sloping routes up to Sunset instead of La Cienega; you live in the flats, rather than the hills.

Over here to My Country House (aka The BF's), hills are a little harder to avoid, albeit with even more circuitous routes. While I've been walking Every Goddamned Morning with the dog for some time now, the route is blissfully flat most of the way. There's just one hilly bit slightly over halfway home that kicks my ass, but I can take it slowly, or just go around it: civic planning or good, old Ma Nature made the other side of that stretch of street much more old-lady-friendly.

Since we started folding The BF into our merry band, though, something interesting happened. At first, the something was just that it took longer. Some of us are early risers and others aren't, and while I'd never thought of myself as being in the former camp, having to roust 200 lbs. of sleepy boy out of bed taught me I'm definitely not in the latter.

Once we hit that steep patch, though, something weird happened: Boy Genes kicked in. Boy Genes are that thing that makes boys suddenly race each other on bikes or, as Paula Poundstone famously put it, jump up to smack an awning because it's there. Every day, we'd get to the steep patch and The BF, sleepy and lagging behind most of the way, would kick into high gear as if by magic and start wailing up that hill. Which made Arnie pull hard on the leash (he suffers from Have to Be First disease), so that I'd have to let him go, and the two of them would race up that hill, neck in neck (sort of), and wait it out for lazybones me to make the top, a-huffin' and a-puffin' like I was fixing to blow some pig's house down. Or collapse from an acute myocardial infarction.

You'd think this would get easier, since we were doing it every day. But it didn't. It was just hard and embarrassing every day. Every single goddamned day.

Until today, when it was a little easier.

Over the weekend, you see, we changed it up a little. I had an errand to run on Saturday and we had a party to go to on Sunday and, because we could, and because we knew we should, and (being honest here), on at least one of the days we may or may not have given ourselves a trip to the good coffee place as incentive, we did. Said errands involved walking up the super-steep hill that separates our cool area from the other cool area, so we did. Twice. Including the Mother of All Silver Lake Slopes, the south side of Micheltorena. I swear, it looks like a ski run made of asphalt. And it walks like one, halfway up, as it is kicking your weak ass, you wish you'd taken the chair lift. You do it, though, because you have committed to it, and also because what else are you going to do: walk back down once you're halfway up?

In my sloth of the past four-plus years, or rather, in my choice to push other cocksucking boulders up different motherfucking hills, I'd forgotten both the value and the payback of pushing myself a little beyond my comfort zone. You feel good and you feel better. Because you did something hard and you made it easier to do something hard the next time. Today, it was easier to walk up that little bit of hill. In fact, I was able to walk it as quickly as The BF and the dog, barely breaking a sweat.

I'm no dummy, well, not so much of one that I can't see where this is headed. If I want to stay fit, I will need to keep challenging myself. There is no "done" with this any more than there is with writing or thinking or growing. You can't grow in place; you need hills.

Cocksucking, motherfucking hills.

Coincidentally, I'm returning to the actual, physical hills of my college days this week, the first time I've done so in almost 25 years. Those hills kicked my ass when I showed up in town, a 17-year-old looking to do the next thing. It'll be interesting to interact with them 30 years later, and see how they kick my ass today.

On the other hand, I'm kind of looking forward to seeing how my head and heart do while I'm there. As I recall, they were pretty weak and formless 30 years ago, subject to a lot of random ass-kicking by whatever obstacle was place in their path. Them thar hills? I think I'll do alright on...


Photo © 2009 Vincent Travisano, taken during a visit with his son, who will be Cornell Engineering Class of 2014. Congratulations, Paul, and good luck with your hills!

Falling crockery


One of the hardest things for me to reconcile is the difference, often vast, between the world as I would like it to be and the world as it is.

I'm not talking about hippy-dippy, kumbaya-peace stuff or even fairness stuff: I'm talking about the physical reality of time, and how much stuff you can cram into it. Or can't, as is the case with me. It has always been this way with me, I'm afraid.

Have I told you yet about the time I took on Uncle Tom's Cabin for a book report in the second or third or fourth grade, not realizing how hard, oh, hell, how BORING it was, not to mention long? I don't even remember what page I was on when I finally gave up, 87? 187? All I remember was that I was in my parents' bedroom, and exhausted, and great waves of shame washed over me like dirty, freezing ocean water, and I cried, copiously, until I finally fell asleep.

I don't know what I thought would happen if I gave in to reality and admitted then and there that I was going to fail: I would die, perhaps, or be expelled, or have to stand in a corner with my black watch plaid uniform jumper up over my head while the teacher (rightfully! rightfully!) humiliated me in front of the class. None of which would have been staved off, were they inevitable, had I just given in and gone to bed at a reasonable hour; I'd just have been better rested for my punishment.

Neither do I know what did finally happen to me that next day, but it wasn't expulsion and my jumper stayed firmly about my little chicken legs. What was the end of the world to me was probably a blip in a burp of the day for whichever teacher had me in her class. Miss Puent? Mrs. Mackey? Sister Teshima? (Well, actually, if it was Sister Teshima, that fear of mine would not have been ungrounded, so it's safe to say this didn't go down in the third grade.)

I've been having panicky moments lately. It doesn't matter that they're born of self-created tasks and self-imposed deadlines. I'm falling further and further behind* with no sign of breathing room for catching up. I hate being that tool who doesn't follow through on promises, and I'm dangerously close to it; curse me and my stupid mouth, writing checks my poor, wracked body can't possibly cash.

So today, with the help of my beloved coach, Ilise, I made a hard decision: let go of the consulting push. Not the consulting itself, necessarily, which I really enjoy and which, unless they're all lying to me, the people who have come to me for it have really enjoyed and found useful, inspiring and fun. But the Big Marketing Push to get consulting clients is on permanent hold. No standalone website. Not even a bona fide consulting "hire me" page right now. Just that crazy Super-Secret thing I've been sending people to when they inquire for months now, and whatever people continue to float my way, regardless.

It's a little embarrassing, like having to wear a slightly old and shiny suit in public because you didn't have the time or money to go out shopping for a new one. It's probably also a little bit like admitting you're up to your eyeballs in debt or an alcoholic or that you just got the axe at work (although I guess that these days, there's not as much of a stigma there).

Ultimately, though, it feels right. I love writing. I mean, I love it like I've never loved anything else in my life. I love it even when I hate it. I love it even when I'm doing it kind of badly, like right now. (And that's not fishing, it's just fact.)

I also love going out and telling people about stuff that can help them. Social media and marketing and communicating for now, but who knows what else? Maybe the guitar playing figures in. Maybe performing has something to do with it. I trust that will take shape as I move forward.

It is hard to focus. But I can't keep talking about it and not do it myself. That's foolishness. Worse, it's a lie. Better to break a few promises and come clean than to be a liar-liar-pants-on-fire.

Better to be the best me I can be, doing the stuff I'm best at the best way I know how, than half-ass it as some wannabe Wonder Woman.

I never did look so hot in cuffs...


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

*Which reminds me, gotta get those prizes out!

What change looks like

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This. Right now.

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

xxx c

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