On not falling for Postcard Living

woman on beach in a gauzy windblown dress There's a moment in The Jerk that's definitely not the funniest from that excellent Steve Martin film, but that's stuck with me the longest.

Navin Johnson, the lovable, Candide-like fool played by Martin, sits across from his beloved Marie in what is for him the scenario of his dreams: through a combination of optimism, hard work and being in the right place at the right time enough times in a row, he has recreated down to the tiny bamboo umbrella a cheesy print ad showing a mustachioed man in robe and ascot, self-actualized and potent via the rum drink in his hand. It's an ad that has driven and haunted him since he first saw it, so much so that he carried it with him like a treasure map, projecting himself into that ad, using it to propel him forward toward his dreams of fulfillment.

Shortly thereafter, of course, everything goes to hell in a handbasket, and in the process Navin learns the meaning of true happiness: love, friendship, and hootenannies on the front porch with your family of awesome musicians. (For the record, not far off from my ideal.)

There are better moments and there are funnier moments, but that moment wormed its way under my skin over 30 years ago and stayed there. Because I walk around with a collection of folded-up, idealized images of life tucked into my back pocket at all times.

* * *

I dislike ads. Or I guess I should say, I distrust them.

I distrust them because I have watched stylists fuss over too much Jell-O and too many English muffins. I distrust them because my father assured me that all shampoo was the same even as he sat there on the fold-out couch of his Divorced Dad Apartment, plotting the treasure maps that told America differently. I distrust them because I saw what the real mothers of the children whose Fake TV Mom I played looked like, and they all looked 10 years older than my child-free self, even when they were 10 years younger. I distrust them because at the height of my own adhole glory, I knew exactly how hard I could push up against a parity claim so the FTC wouldn't push back, and how to bedazzle it so the public filled in the gaps for me.

This is not to say that I was impervious to their charms. Quite the contrary, ads could make me laugh and cry and feel as much, maybe more than they could your average non-ad-dynasty, non-copywriting, non-acting schmuck who hadn't stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the man behind the curtain at the craft service table.

This, more than anything, may be why I distrust them so.

* * *

Do you get depressed looking at Facebook sometimes? I do. And there's officially and scientifically a reason for this: we're looking at a curated stream of happy moments and pretty pictures, for the most part, which makes us feel worse about our own sad sack state of affairs.1 I get so depressed looking at Facebook sometimes that I have to stop looking at Facebook sometimes. There's a fairly direct correlation between my enjoyment of Facebook and my health, for instance: much like my sex drive, I know when I'm getting worse because the desire falls away, and I know when I'm getting better because it returns.

In other words, I'm no better than anyone else; I, too, tend to share the good and crawl away into the radio silence of my cave for the bad. Which is odd in one way, because I certainly have no problem talking about flailing here, and I've never had an issue with showing how ridiculous I look. Even then, though, I'm conscious of the curation, of the action of choosing the most hilariously unflattering shot, or phrasing the pain in a particular way. And I know that people who don't blog have a hard time believing this but trust me: no one who is blogging is sharing everything. Even the oversharers. It's impossible, for a variety of reasons, starting with time and ending with the observation of a thought changing the thought. (Although some people really do push the envelope, bless 'em.)

We see what we see, and that's all we see. We don't see the Photoshopping, unless it's obvious. We don't see the restrictive foundation garments, the crying quietly into pillows or glasses of Chardonnay, the cranky, low-blood-sugar moments with loved ones, the sad lapses when too much traffic intersects with too little sleep, the worry and self-doubt in the wee, non-posting hours of the morning. Most of life is mundane and most of life is work, and most of Facebook is not. Which, you know, is probably a good thing both for Facebook and us. But the imbalance is a little, a LOT more in Facebook's favor than it is ours, is all I'm sayin'.

* * *

My last art director used to have a phrase for those pretty, impractical things that ended up crowding out the utilitarian inhabitants of her closets: running-on-the-beach dresses. This was back in the early '90s, the apex of the J.Petermann/J.Crew/Victoria's Secret era, and a big, big time for gauzy, billowy, running-on-the-beach dresses. Because the early '90s were, of course, the true 1980s, one of the most bullshit-laden decades I've lived through. I mean, any era that serves up Pretty Woman, a hooker twist on the Pygmalion story, as a feel-good romp with shopping montages is one sick fucking era.

This is what we see, though, on Facebook and Twitter and the rest of it: rack after rack of carefully selected, highly styled, running-on-the-beach dresses. And we think, "Damn! How are these ladies prancing about on these beaches all day long in these dresses? When does the work happen? How do the dishes get done? Is there sleep on Planet Awesome, or do they power through with pixie dust? Loser! Loser! Loser!

I am here to tell you that there is no such thing as postcard living: that outside of the beautiful framed shot, there is every manner of squalid something-or-other. That what is within that postcard frame is only a version of the truth, from a moment in time.

It takes me four to six hours to write a blog post like this, this! a little nothing of a blog post! I am thin largely because I have a debilitating chronic illness that interferes with digestion and absorption. If I am full of energy and warmth when we meet at an event or a conference, it is because I am genuinely happy to see you, but it is also because I have spent days resting up before (and will likely follow it up with days more on the other end).

* * *

More than any other type of email, I get email that says "I had no idea anyone else felt that way."

For now, for always, for that day I finally hang up my spurs and buy my own billowy dress to hang in my own seaside shack, everyone feels that way. Everyone feels good/bad/ugly/hopeless/mighty/sad/small/indifferent.

And it always takes longer than you think it will (except when it doesn't).

And there is always a backstory (even if its a boring one).

And an ad is rarely the truth.

And the truth is always the only way out of wherever you are...

xxx c

1I do have several friends who provide a valuable service as Debbie Downers, posting about their ill moods, misfortunes, and Armaggedon. I pause here to thank you. Bring on those horsemen!

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

Poetry Thursday: Slow death by bullshit happiness

old clip-art dude holding sign: Dead inside. You? You think to yourself: "I can do this!" or "This will be good for me!" or even "It doesn't matter."

And so you smile when someone asks how things are going, broadly, you smile, with most of your teeth, and you flick aside what's left of your heart, and you stick out your hand and say, "Grrrreat!" or "Couldn't be better!" or, when life is particularly bleak, "Things are looking up!"

And you recite from memory a menu, several pre-selected items from columns "A" and "B", of all the marvelous wins and fabulous opportunities and other stale pellets of extruded terror formed into appetizing, life-like shapes, tarted up with brio and garnished with a wilted sprig of false humility until you question whether you can even remember what it felt like to really, truly feel anything.

What happens, I wonder, when you just fucking say, "Damn, I'm tired. Business sucks, traffic was awful, my husband left me, my hard drive crashed, the dog has cancer, and the Emperor's ass is a flat, pale, pockmarked bucket of sad the sight of which is going to take years to wipe from my memory banks. What's new in YOUR world?"

Whether everything is awful right now or everything is perfect right now everything IS right now.

And I can't think of a single thing that doesn't get a little bit better served up fresh and truthfully, with humor, with tenderness, with the judiciously-chosen expletive, dependent on company.

Besides, what's the alternative, slow death by bullshit happiness?

The end is coming, either way.

And I'm guessing, just guessing, mind you, that if you let at least some of it hang out, the two of you might even toast to the ironies of life, and the way a bump in the road can turn two complete strangers into fellow travelers.

xxx c

Truth, transparency, and when to keep your trap shut

a street in an old section of Palm Springs

I can hardly believe I'm saying this, but I just got back from a Fabulous Palm Springs Weekend.

Sunshine. Reading. Lounging poolside with cocktails. There was a lanai involved, and a great deal of very delicious food. (Lesson learned: when choosing one's friends, it doesn't hurt to include "excellent cook" along with "kind," "fun," "goofy," and "generous" in the list of desired traits.) With the exception of a brief side trip to view a beautifully restored property in a sea of mid-Century splendor (seriously, it was like you'd died and floated to Wexler heaven on a Tiki cloud by SHAG), I spent my time shuttling between an overstuffed sofa on the aforementioned lanai and my little linoleum-tiled monk's cell, with occasional dips in the pool to cool off. (You have heard of these pool toys called "noodles"? They are the best pool toys ever. You kids. You got all the good stuff.)

Anyway, our time was mainly spent on the light and fluffy, as is appropriate for a bachelorette weekend. But as Sunday wound down, I found myself in the pool with the bride-to-be and her oldest friend, talking poetry. Which is weird, because (a), poetry?; and (b), me, discussing it?

I was sharing with them my ongoing ambivalence and wonder over the weird turn this site took a year or so ago when, fried to a crisp, with a deadline looming and no strength to wrassle one of my wordy damned essays to the ground, I wrote a "poem." I'd written a few of these "poems" before, but in an even jokier, joshier way, as part of an odd meme from the Mesozoic Age of blogging someone somewhere dubbed "Poetry Thursday," and that I cribbed from my blogging friend Neil Kramer. But the next week, and the week after that, and the weeks after that, I found myself again turning to this new-to-me condensed form, "short writing," I thought of it as being, but "poetry" I called it. In quotes. Always in quotes.

I was sharing with the bride-to-be and her friend all my fears around writing these things I was calling poems (but only in quotes!), how I felt like a fraud, how strange it felt to have people responding to them at all, much less in a way that indicated they were resonating with them. I was not a poet; I had barely studied it in school, and had dabbled even less. In other words (oh, pun! oh, punny-pun-pun!), I was wildly unqualified to write real poetry. So I didn't: I just tried to tell the truth, only shorter. Sometimes it worked better than others, but it always worked on that level, as the truth-only-shorter. There is time to get better at poetry, and to learn other things about how to make it better, and to deepen my practice. If I'd waited until I was good at it, I'd be waiting a long time, and we wouldn't have gotten to enjoy some of my weirder forays into the land of verse. It all works out, this imperfectly working at stuff, when you approach it with a sense of humor and honesty and a certain (but not too much of a) sense of earnestness.

What does not work, at least for me, is letting it all hang out, maybe ever, but at least not until I have made some sense of it. I have a long-brewing post I've been hacking away at about the right time to release a post into the world. It varies, depending on the subject matter and parties involved and a whole lot of other things, but the three rules I have for putting something out there (or not) are that:

  1. the something cannot compromise the privacy or safety of myself or another party
  2. the something must have been rolled around in my head long enough to make some sense of it
  3. the something must carry with it some kind of appeal to someone outside the borders of me

These are the rules that have me using nicknames and obscuring details. These rules are why I can sometimes be detailing things almost as they happen, like a self-dev color commentator, and other times not talking about things for five and ten or more years after the fact. I'm not telling anyone else that they should adhere to these rules or rules like them: they're just what work for me, to maintain the solitude and distance I need to do the work I want to do.

I'd like to think I'm not lying here, even by omission, but I suppose that we're always lying a little bit, here and there, showing our good side or even cherrypicking parts of our bad sides to put on display. One really astute complaint I heard recently about Facebook is how people use it as a big, electronic megaphone from which to bellow LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL NO REALLY IT IS NO REALLY LOOK AT IT LOOK AT IT while they madly flip levers from behind the curtain. No one is the Great and Powerful Oz, and most of us are as naked as that famous emporer, if you look hard enough. (Especially with x-ray specs.)

The truth is, I'm dealing with some heavy, heavy stuff right now on a couple of fronts, and it wears on me. Less when I'm rested and taking care of myself, but even then, it will peep through the cracks now and then; even, say, on a Fabulous Palm Springs Weekend. But after almost 50 years of living, I know I don't need to give vent to every little thing right there, or here, for that matter. There is time-and-place appropriateness, just as there is age-appropriateness. And I know to take breaks: to do my Nei Kung, to read quietly, to slip off to the bathroom and take a quick shower. The bride-to-be is understanding of me, as well: there's a reason I scored the tiny, hipster monk's cell.

Poetry, in quotes for the moment, but hopefully, not forever, is part of how I tell my truth right now, as are essays, newsletters, columns, Facebook updates, Tumblr posts, tweets, email and, lately, goofy little videos. Are the poems less truthful for dealing with menopause and envy rather than heartbreak? Will they be more truthful when I write about heartbreak one or two or twenty years from now, if, you know, there is still electricity and the Internet and we are not living in caves, and if (big "if") I can make some larger sense of it?

When our mother died, and again when our father did, my sisters and I gathered and wept, as you might expect. But more often than you might expect if you've yet to live through these kinds of losses, hard up against the tears was laughter, sly and delicious or hearty and cathartic. It is shocking sometimes, even as you're living through it, how often laughter and tears seem to bleed into one another. Or maybe not. As we learned in Method acting class, core truth is emotion, period, and most of the time, all of it is there together, swirling around in a big, messy pool of human goo.

So we cry until we laugh, or laugh until we cry. We write "poetry", in quotes at first, and eventually, maybe on its own. We tuck things away in our pockets to look at later, when we have the strength. And we share what we can of what we know.


Photo of a house in Palm Springs, CA, although not of the house where we stayed.

Funhouse mirror

warped mirrors reflecting a warped image

I have a friend whom I guess the kids would characterize as a kind of frenemy: thrown together by circumstance, stuck together of necessity, we are close in some ways but wary in others, always doing this delicate dance of extending ourselves while keeping an eye on the exits, or using our powers of incision while endeavoring not to cut each other  too deeply.

Like most cases where I have a strong and somewhat negative reaction to someone, I suspect it is because we are more alike than either of us cares to admit: there are plenty of flat-out buzzkills I couldn't care less about because I feel no common ground; their shit isn't my shit, ergo I have no personal investment, because hey, when you get right down to it, it's all about us.

I had been having the hardest time putting my finger on it, though. We are unaligned in so many ways it's ridiculous, from our personal style (girly-chic vs. whatever mine is) to our modes of expression (sailor-colorful vs. whatever hers is).

On the other hand, on paper, we have quite a bit in common: love of the arts, wide range of creative expression, a fairly sharp mind. I'll even grant her a sense of humor, although of a much, much different variety.

As for our shared "challenges," after some painful reflection I've noted that we're both neurotic, controlling and highly insecure. I mean, I get all that, it's outrageously, neon-sign-obvious to me, although I question whether the similarity is even a blip on the edges of her consciousness. So you could say it's blazingly obvious, too, why she would push my buttons: seeing my most loathed behaviors come to whiny, annoying life in her would of course set me off, right? Who'd want to be like her, I mean, me, right?

Only that wasn't quite it. Trust me, I've noted my own, shameful behaviors in far more dark and/or lost souls than this woman, who really is more annoying than anything else, and really only annoying to me, not anyone else. This is my thing; I'm sticking my Dymo label on it.

Finally, while I was playing around in the Google Wave with Daveâ„¢, he held up the mirror that allowed me to see it clearly for the first time: she is me, inside out. She is fine with our flaws, while I'm still afraid or ashamed to truly hold them in my hands and own them in my heart. Or she seems that way, maybe she has no idea, and maybe that is her own path, coming in her way to that realization.

My path is to carry this with me, this uncomfortable burden of truth, until I can toss it about so lightly, I can toss it, period. And, no guarantee, of course, but maybe once I do, I will have a hand free to extend in true friendship...


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

The Road, Part 2: Noble truth number 2


I have said it before and I will reiterate for clarity (and possible trolls): I am no buddhist. I am not even, like The Sweet BF, one of the half-assed variety. But the more I read of it (which is still precious little, okay, trolls?) and the more of life I see and experience, the more I think old Gautama might have been onto something.

Take one of the (four, four, count 'em, four!) foundational principles of Buddhism, Noble Truth the Second: "Suffering is Attachment," which, for those of you who are even less familiar than I with the Truths, follows hard on the heels of "Life is Suffering."

Then think back on the loss of a beloved grandparent, or a romantic relationship that ended, or a job you were asked to leave before you were ready.

Or, to travel even further into the land of mundane minutae, that feeling you get after a bad cold call, or an audition that went less than spectacularly, or leaving a date that went south or a party that failed to meet your expectations.

What's that word I snuck in there? Why, "expectations," of course. Because in all of those smaller circumstances, you likely had some kind of expectation that things would go differently: that the call would land you a huge piece of business; the audition, a job; the date, a partner; the party, a rockin' good time, and perhaps a brief vacation from other feeling you were currently, wait for it, attached to.

It's a little harder to see what is attach-y about loving a person or even a position eminently worthy of love. And by "attach-y," I mean "wrong," right?

Not exactly.

Attachment isn't wrong; it just is. I'm guessing if the fat man were around today and you marched up to him and said, "Listen, Bub: my gramma rocked the universe and there is nothing wrong with my missing her and I intend to go on missing her and that's that," he'd shrug and say the Buddhist word for whatever. It's not his job to tell you what you're doing right or wrong, but to get his own shit straight enough that he can show you compassion, which took even his Bub-ness a mighty long time of wandering and wondering and trying-and-failing, if the stories are to be believed. (Oh, and what I love about Buddhism? They don't care if you believe the stories, either! Rawk!)

The BF and I listened to a lot of my favorite Joe Frank episodes on our recent trip, which meant we listened to a lot of Jack Kornfield's charming and wonderful lectures, as well. Really, if you like this blog and are interested in dipping your toes in the Buddhist waters, you could do a lot worse than the recorded lectures of Jack Kornfield (here are some you can hear for free!) and the lively books of "zen punk monk" Brad Warner (and he'd be fine if you bought them through those Amazon links or got 'em from the library, and so would I!). They are wonderfully soothing and stimulating at the same time, these shows, and they helped me find a bit of peace in the middle of my discomfort: an incipient Crohn's flare which I thought had mutated to garden-variety constipation but finally reared its ugly head as an incipient Crohn's flare WITH constipation. Which, for those of you who have never had the pleasure, feels like what I imagine the ninth month of pregnancy feels like, stupendous belly, aliens kicking around inside, waves of occasional blinding pain and nausea (sooo much fun in a car in the middle of the Mojave Desert!) and no matter what, that goddamned baby will not come out.

I've been in flares before and learned from them, and not learned from them. I've learned what I can get away with and what I can't, and then I've gone ahead and done all the stupid things (bread! M&Ms! coffee!) that put me there in the first place.

Today, though, as I was skimming through the Facebook, I stumbled on a heart-rending video from a dear friend who was alternately beating herself up and feeling awful about herself because she did something many of us do all the time and most of us do at least some of the time: overcommit. This beautiful lady with her gigantic, beautiful heart, who gives and gives and gives was suffering, and in the course of her piece, she wisely pegged her sad, sad feelings as those of powerlessness and smallness.

I crack myself with how slow I am to learn things, and with how I learn things, period.

Because I can do this again and again, overcommit, and feel dreadful about the consequences, and not even come CLOSE to identifying the root of my suffering as feelings of powerlessness and sorrow because, let's be honest, I am not 1/10th the nice of this great-hearted person, and learn nothing. And yet I saw her suffering and something clicked for me: I am attached to feeling well.

I am attached to the idea that I will always have limitless youth and energy and power to draw upon for getting done the outrageous list of things I must do. Under that, I am attached to the idea that I am in control, and that I have the ability to call my own shots as I see fit. And of course, under all that, I am highly, highly attached to the idea that I have limitless time. Which is sort of a laugh because the last time I looked, I was turning 10 and in four months, I'll turn 48.

What would happen if I let go of the idea that I must always be happy? Or well? Or successful or rich or right on down the line to the smallest of the small: if I let go of the idea that a favorite wool sweater would always be there for me, so that when it accidentally took a spin through the washer and dryer, I did nothing more than chuckle as I pulled out my new, doll-sized pullover?

What would happen if I never got another parking space or that Magic E-Mail or taste of McDonald's fries? Well, if it were the latter of the three, I might be more firmly on the road to some kind of wellness, since there ain't no kind of fries on my diet. But really, I think I might have some peace, which might free up some room, which might mean a bit more compassion and a bit less angst.

I would never, ever in a million years suggest that it's silly or wrong to feel lousy because you've overcommitted. I hope I always feel lousy when I do, because it's no fun for anyone.

But I hope even more that I can learn to examine the lousy and pull apart the feelings and actions that got me to it, so that (a) I don't have to feel lousy and (b) I can be more useful to people who are feeling that way.

What I hope the most right now, though, is that my friend, who is grace herself, finds some of the peace she has inadvertently given me.

Which may be the beginnings of compassion. Which, though it clearly shows my attachment to the feeling, would be awfully nice, I think...


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

For Kevin, on the occasion of his 50th birthday

It seems impossible that my cohort is turning 50, and yet, there it is.

I'm sliding into it myself, just three years and change to go. Truth be told, I can't wait: my 40s were so much better than my 30s, which were so much better than my 20s, which were so much better than my teens, I figure my 50s are going to rock the house.

Or, at the very least, that I'll get another decade or two of yum before I hit the point of diminishing returns.

On the other hand, it's a good thing I've some time. Half a century is a significant achievement, and calls for a marker of equal significance. I received one such tribute about a week ago, from my friend and former art director, Kevin Houlihan. He assembled 50 of the people he'd met along the way, from the godmother who held him at his baptism to a friend he met in a bar about a year ago, and asked us each to write a little something for a book he wanted to assemble about the people he'd met along the way.

Here's the beauty part, though: instead of asking us to write about him, he asked us to write about ourselves. His point? That, as his wise and no-nonsense New Hampshire-bred father used to say, "You can tell a man by the company he keeps." So Kevin sent each participant a series of questions designed to help us unearth what it was about us that had helped him learn about himself.

The result? A breathtaking compendium of musings, stories and yes, a little haranguing, that is universally appealing because of the specificity of approach. I'm forever parroting every English teacher I've ever had about the key to great writing lying in the detail of the personal truth one lays out there; maybe instead of yakking, I could just direct people to this book.

Unfortunately, it's a private publishing of 50, one for each participant. There has been a groundswell of support for a more public release, but until that happens, you'll just have to content yourself with one of my entries and imagine the rest. The question to me was what, if anything, did the various & sundry creative outlets for my expression have in common, and how did I continue to nurture my creativity.

It's a wonderful question for anyone to ask of themselves, or of their loved ones; it's a glorious question to be asked...

xxx c


I have called my life many things in an attempt to get across the idea of what it's been like to live it, to express the heart of my journey. One of my fave-raves, coined several years ago upon quitting my Hateful Advertising Career, was that I was “Living My Life Backwards”: going from a hyper-responsible, overachieving, 401K-building, condo-and-cat-owning twentysomething to a foolhardy, largely unemployed, dream-chasing thirtysomething. (And then a sex-crazed, metaphorically-old-purple-wearing-lady fortysomething.)

Not a bad quip, you know us copywriters, always with the handy quip, but somehow too…pithy. As Einstein said, Everything as simple as possible and no simpler, please. (As an aside, that's where a lot of advertising and marketing goes off the rails: oversimplification. That, and too many objectives. But let's not go down that bad path, shall we?)

I wish I had a pithy answer for my life's work now, for what motivates me, for what the thread is. But I don't. I have a long and boring story, which I'll summarize here:

Many years ago, when The Groundlings Sunday Company pulled over and dumped my baby-actor soul by the side of the road to fend for itself, I thought I needed a theater company to call home. And so it was that I found myself standing on a stage in a tiny, back-alley theater in Santa Monica in front of an insane French woman (sorry, redundant), “auditioning” to be a paying member of her highly experimental theater company.

She let me perform my wildly inappropriate monologue, but it was clear that what she wanted to do was get to the Q&A.

“What would you do,” she called out from the dark, “eef I asked you to take off your pants, take off your shirt, take off your shoes and stand zere nakeed on ze stage?”

“Uh…ask you why?”

There was a long pause. Then, whether to out me as a poseur or to see if maybe, possibly she could salvage this ten minutes and put an extra $35/month in the theater's coffers I don't know, but she threw out another one:

“Why,” she called out again, “do you want to be an actress?”

No one had asked me this; I had not even asked myself about the why. Why does one throw away everything with no promise of a something down the road? Why does a sane, smart girl with a career and a title and a condo and a cat toss it all out the window for what younger and more talented people will tell you is one of the world's worst career options?

I stood in on that dusty stage, lit from above, threw head back and my arms open wide and let whatever it was inside me that had been responsible for my irrational decision do the talking: “To tell The Truth!!!”

It was right, that Voice. (It always is, you know.) My whole life until then had been a quest to funnel The Truth as it is writ large somewhere in the cosmos into words and pictures that made sense down here. So I did it for awhile in advertising. And then in acting. And then in design. And now, with words, both on the blog and aloud, wherever someone will let me.

If I get off track, it gets me back on. If I need inspiration, I go back to the well.

The Truth.

I mean, come on, can that ever get old?

Making things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this post? Even better than that...

xxx c

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

Fat pants, booze and the boy from New Jersey

fat pants The BF and I must be happy, because we are fat. Fat and happy, fat and happy, go together like a pee and nappy.

Only like most things, it's not as simple as that.

He is fat because he has been working 16 - 20 hour days on a hamster wheel of stress, pushing pixels for the Man, eating whatever carb-y thing he can grab in between worsening his carpel tunnel. He is fat because the writers and the actors and the directors are going to do big battle with the producers next spring, and there are too many dependents in his trust for whom the words "strike" mean nothing, but who require food, clothing and health insurance, nonetheless.

I, on the other hand, am fat because I quit acting. I am fat because where I once ran my thespianic ass all over the 25-square-mile playing field that is Actors' Los Angeles, I, too, now park it in front of a keyboard for the bulk of the day.

But he is also fat because of the Lexapro, or whichever of those SSRI dolls he's on to officially correct what he used to self-medicate. Whereas I am fat because, here it comes, I have been self-medicating. One, two, sometimes three glasses of hooch per evening. The creep has been slow but steady, a match reverse of my dip into the Valley of Monotony. And it's time to stop before I have to Stop.

Last night, I dreamed I went to an AA meeting. Because it was a dream, it was probably unlike any AA meeting in existence (I've never actually been to one): there were a lot of forms to fill out for newcomers, and once I made it into the meeting (already in session), it looked more like I imagine a Cuban refugee camp might, with little clusters of people building shacks, playing card games, cooking over open fire.

It was an interesting dream to have last night, because of the day I'd had before it: work, rain, reading...and abstinence. Apparently, the perfect storm for creating self-awareness. A day just as long, filled with just as much work and solitude, but devoid of alcohol or the desire for it. Here's what I'd sussed out as of this morning:

  • The work was engaging. I got my hands a little grubby with code, but went slowly and broke nothing. Knocked a big item off my to-do list, and felt pride of accomplishment on a lot of levels.
  • The rain gave me permission to stay inside and do it. One of the dastardly things about this relentlessly "perfect" place is the tyranny of perpetual sunshine. I've never liked the outside so all-fired much, but there it is, 24/7, postcard-perfect and in my face. No wonder Bukowski drank. L.A. should go fuck itself, sometimes.
  • As much of a powerhouse as I think I am, the truth is, I amn't. I need rest and reading and quiet and solitude. I need space for puttering and play. The BF was two hours late to a rendezvous, we had promised to help celebrate a very important birthday, and as I'd passed them with a spectacularly engrossing read, I was sanguine. Well, for me, anyway. So QED.

And then, because I can't possibly be expected to get it all myself, I was visited this morning by the Archangel Ira Glass, who sang a song of a 19-year-old saint from Elizabethtown, New Jersey. Since I gave up TV about a year ago, there are some gaps in my cultural knowledge. Everyone and his brother has seen the Nike basketball commercials starring freestyle sensation Luis Da Silva and heard his amazing story. (If you haven't, here's an extended version on YouTube. And here's Luis all by his fantastic self.)

Just like that, the other piece of the puzzle turned up under the sofa: find that passion. Find it find it find it, and then keep a holy shrine to it in my heart, and on a screen saver and a bright-yellow rubber bracelet and any other talisman-reminders I need. When I'm plugged in, the rest falls into place. Good days, bad days revert back to plain old time, which I'm spending doing the thing I'm Here to Do (plus some attendant side tasks and the daily chores that keep me from being a callous monster.)

It seems pretty simple in the cold, clear light of day: find the thing I love, work hard, take breaks, get a refreshing night's sleep, wake up happy, do it again. Abstinence takes care of itself when I take care of me. Fat pants and booze are the symptoms, not the root issue.

Thank you, Ira and Luis, for reminding me.

Thank you, Sofka, Leslie, Pema, Jack, Julia and Jiddu, for telling me in the first, and second, and third, and-and-and, place.

Thank you, dear reader, for keeping me honest...

xxx c

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

Can you lead an authentic life with fake hair?

pink hair I make no secret of my age. (46, and if you haven't wished me a "happy" yet, feel free to!)

I'm up front about my struggles to get organized, to get happy, to get my bowels in working order.

So why, oh, why am I having such a problem letting my hair go gray?

A little backstory: unlike many of the women on my mother's side, while I had a few stray grays pop up as early as my 20s, I didn't need to start actively coloring to cover them until my late 30s. And I was earning a nice living via acting at that point (with good health insurance...sigh...), so it made sense to make sure my hair matched my face, which for some reason insisted on looking 5 - 10 years younger than the rat's nest on top of it.

But if I'm honest, and dammit, if I'm not, there's little point to anything anymore, I wanted to look chronologically younger for me, too. In the late 90s, I'd just left my marriage of 8 1/2 years for a man 12 years younger than I, who looked 5 - 7 years younger than he really was. And who was also, shall we say, empirically good looking. It was frustrating enough for me and my fragile self-esteem to flit about with The Youngster in public; add to that the subtle and ongoing pressure from him to "look my best" (what is it with these empirically good looking people?) and you have a perfect storm for public deceit.

Well, I'm not acting anymore. And dye, in addition to being not inexpensive, is toxic and time-consuming. What could I do with those extra two hours per month? Those extra 1000 or so cancer-free years days of my life? Or, while we're at it, the extra 750 bucks a year? (A steal in L.A., but still.)

I find myself obsessing over gray hair. It seems to be a trend, or a meme, the ladies lettin' it go, perhaps kicked off by Meryl Streep in the otherwise forgettable Devil Wears Prada. Someone wrote a book about it. There's a Yahoo! group devoted to it, a graying Botticelli's Venus as their icon. (I joined.) There's that idiotic Dove campaign.

I think it comes down to this: vanity.

Not vanity about looking my age, but about looking good for my age. Or maybe just looking good, period. I quit wearing makeup long ago, and I've let myself get woefully squishy around the middle; strictly from a design/style perspective, hair dye saves my beauty bacon. It's the lazy gal's way to look good (at least, until your face and skin tone stop coordinating well with dark hair. I am going to look like a raggedy-ass schlub growing out my gray if I don't work a little harder to look good in other departments, like clothes and fitness.

Maybe that's the thing: put "Pilates body" on the to-do list. Make it a big goal for...say...2010, and get crackin'. Then, once I'm leading the yoga class, shave my damned globey-head bald and wear all black or something.

It's an option I've discussed with my patient, generous colorist. He's amazing, really, basically helping me figure out how and when to fire him.

There are no easy answers to this. I would like to think I'm "there", but clearly, it ain't so. Whether I like it or not, going gray is a political statement in a patriarchal society where a woman's currency is tied to her looks and reproductive status. As is toeing the party line with a box of dye.

I do not like the lies I am telling, and yet, here I am.

Now, where's the way out, I wonder...

xxx c

UPDATE 9/19: I wrote another blog post about aging (and lying about aging) here that may help illuminate some of this thinking.

Image by s.o.f.t. via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Happy birthday to me

we three Birthdays are as good a time as any for starting a fresh page. And this year, mine came in with a full moon and a Jewish new year.

If that's not a message from the Universe to do a little soul-searching, I don't know what is.

Well, my appraisal goes thusly:

Over the past 12 months, I've written 5 posts on design, 12 columns about acting, 82 posts on marketing and god knows how much crap on this blog.

I've launched a monthly newsletter, been VP of Membership and President of my Toastmasters club, written 10 speeches and traveled to Portland to drink tequila with my fellow bloggers.

I'm actually too frightened to add up how many hours I've worked for money, but I've sent out 68 invoices. And some of them were for (gulp) multiple jobs.

I was hypnotized 30 days in a row and wrote about it. I've been to Disneyland twice and the ocean once. I watched my friend Mark's business take off. I watched my friend, Uma, make magic happen from the depths of coma. And then I saw magic happen to her when she awoke.

I consulted with my ex-husband on how to be a good wedding officiant and accompanied my ex-boyfriend and his girlfriend to their bible study class.

I said goodbye to some people I will miss, and reconnected with some others I thought I'd lost forever.

I got really sick. I got a muffin top. I quit acting (not necessarily in that order).

I watched time speed up. Again.

From my vantage point of 46 years (hey! I'm an Elder!), I'm pretty sure there will always be more stuff to do than hours in which to do it. There will always be promises made that aren't kept, roads not taken and wondered about, other roads taken and rued. With luck and paying attention, there will be less and less of all this as the years pass. At least, that's how it seems to be trending.

Love the minute you are in right now. Love that pimple on your face (or your butt), love the horrible meal you just made yourself, love the crappy air and the noisy traffic and the terrible drivers. Love your boyfriend and your mail carrier and your crabby uncle and your impossible friend from high school. Love your p.o.s. car. Love your too-small house and your too-big bills. Love your love handles.

Love the piece of shit blog post you wrote just now. it all.

Because it goes fast.

Super-dee-duper fast.

xxx c

Photo of my sister, Liz, my sister, Cathy, and me taken by our Aunt Patti last Thanksgiving.

9/13/06 9/13/05

When I snap my fingers, you will feel no fear

ugly dolls This is a follow-up post about the Hypnotherapy Project, which I collaborated on in July and August of 2007 with Los Angeles-based hypnotherapist Greg Beckett. You can read more about this experiment, what motivated it and what we hoped to accomplish here; you can read all of the entries in chronological order here.

I have had a couple of follow-up meetings with Greg, debriefings of a sort. We did some tweaking, he tried out a few new tools he picked up at a recent convention (topline: they're way cool, and Greg is slowly but surely turning into an unstoppable force.) Both times, he tiptoed around the issue of me following up, mainly, what was happening with me and why I wasn't.

I could blame it on the heat, you can blame a lot on 96ºF weather, especially when it's happening in your apartment*.

I could blame it on a busy work schedule, or the necessity of attending to various items that were somewhat neglected as I devoted up to four hours per day, 30 days in a row, to plumbing the depths of my psyche.

I could even blame it on mental exhaustion and it would be true: you plumb the depths of your psyche and expose it to the world 30 days in a row and see how sprightly you feel.

But the truth is, another big reason I haven't written any follow-up analysis of my 30-day hypnosis experiment because I was afraid.

Afraid that my analysis would be wrong, how can I know what really happened to me, and how it's affecting me now?

Afraid that my writing would be inadequate, how could analysis of something after the fact be as compelling as writing made raw and present by exposed nerves and immersion?

Afraid: isn't that why I agreed to try the experiment in the first place, to deal with my fear?

Well, no. No, it wasn't. I got into it to see what would happen. What I found out was, big surprise, there was a lot of fear under there, gumming up the works. We put names and faces and events to the fear, but hoo boy, was it startling to run up against so much of it.

Did I think that it was all going to evaporate once the 30 days were up? Once I could put names and faces and events to it? Apparently, a part of me did just that, and was astonished when, oh! there it is, it popped up again here, when the phone rang, or there, when I opened my checkbook register.

The bad news: the fear does not just evaporate when you turn the lights on.

The good news: it is easier to look at it in the light than imagine it in the dark.

Some examples:

  • While I still feel a bit of resistance come Thursday, when Toastmasters rolls around, it is nothing like the paralyzing fear I had (even if I was good at hiding it) when I first took over as President back in June.
  • I've had the money my father left me sitting in a low-interest holding account since he died three years ago this fall. I mean crap interest, personal savings account-level interest. It's my last tie to him and I guess I was afraid to let it go, a not-uncommon thing after a loved one dies, apparently. This week, I wrote a check for the whole shebang and closed it out. The writing was a little shaky on the check, and I felt a little sick and nervous walking to the bank, but I did it.
  • I've started keeping a daily calendar where I actually slot out everything that must be done that day so I can see how much I've committed, and over-committed to.
  • As a result of the above, I am actually taking on less. At least, I think so.
  • Heaps of books, clothes and other goods have been making their way out of my life, I've made considerable inroads on the mountains of paper to be entered into various accounting programs.
  • For those of you into the woo, I had a pretty amazing thumbs-up from the Universe about 10 days ago. I'm not quite ready to talk about it now, but it went a long way towards validating the public writing work I've been doing over the past three years.

How much of the change is directly attributable to the hypnotherapy, vs. the regular therapy or even the super-regular process of living with my eyes and ears open? It's impossible to quantify, of course. There's no double-blind protocol when you are working on you, no matter how many of your sub-personalities have signed on for the test. But I assure you that great change has been set in motion.

And I will do my best to document it as it happens. Maybe not fearlessly, but openly, honestly and with the great hope in my heart that any step one of us takes moves us all forward a little bit.

xxx c

*As documented by a thermometer purchased 10 days ago to prove to myself I was neither exaggerating nor going mad. And that's with shades drawn, and windows blacked out with foam core and beach towels, and three fans blowing the sad stream of cool air generated by the portable A/C directly on my mainly-naked person. But hey, it's a dry heat.

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

Hypn07, Day 20: Yackity yak

girl talk This covers day 20 of 30 for the Hypnotherapy Project, which I'm collaborating on with Los Angeles-based hypnotherapist Greg Beckett. You can read more about this experiment, what motivated it and what we hope to accomplish here.

Sometimes I come to Greg's and talk.

And talk and talk and talk.

A lot of this "figuring things out as you go" stuff is debriefing. Or, as I like to call it, "talking."

So on Wednesday, Greg and I talked for an hour and a half about the project, stuff we were learning, stuff that was happening in real life that might affect the direction for the project, which would (in turn) affect the learning.

And at some point, he'd had enough, which I grokked partly because he stood up, grabbed the headphones and said, "You're going to listen to a tape today."

And partly because I said, "If I'm going to listen to a tape, can't I listen to it at home?"

Done and done.

Sometimes things work out and you get the talk you need and the time you want.

And an amazingly sound night's sleep, to boot...

xxx c Image by late_blOOmer* via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

What's your Learning Edge? (The hypnotherapy project)

little readers This is essentially the first post about a 30-day experiment I called "the Great Hypnotherapy Project, which I collaborated on in July and August of 2007 with Los Angeles-based hypnotherapist Greg Beckett. You can read more about this experiment, what motivated it and what we hoped to accomplish here; you can read all of the entries in chronological order here.

While I don't take naturally to change, I've grown to love it so much that I've learned a lot of hacks to help facilitate it.

One of them is the very public 21-Day Saluteâ„¢, as practiced here on communicatrix-dot-com. Building on the notion originally put forth by Dr. Maxwell Maltz that it takes 21 days to change a habit, I did my first three-week stint to Cheer the Hell Up, but I now use my little wind sprints to get myself back in the habit of blogging when I've fallen off the wagon.

Another one of the things is, NO DUH!!!!, enlisting help. Pretty simple from the outside, but when you're born and raised in The Stiff Upper Lip Club, easier said than done. I've gone from flying solo to having:

  1. a shrink
  2. a business coach
  3. a designer's support group
  4. a Toastmasters club, and...
  5. a women's manifestation circle.

(Don't freak out on me: most of the appointments are monthly or even bi-monthly; the only ones that happen weekly are Toastmasters and my coaching appointment.)

So when my good friend, Greg, offered me the chance to combine the two, I leaped (leapt?) at it.

Greg Beckett is an amazing hypnotherapist. He's actually an amazing person, in general, but he has a true gift with hypnotherapy. And flan, of all things. Seriously. He has to hypnotize me to not eat the flan.

Which is what he's going to do, at least to start with. I'm the very excited guinea pig for Greg's 30-Day Experiment: 30 consecutive days of hypnotherapy with the same client, to see what happens. We figure 21 days to change a habit and a little extra for good measure (and a round number).

Initially, we're going to use the sessions to get me back on SCD 100%, at least, that's one of the things we'll work on. Having done a little experimentation with Greg's hypnotherapy before, I know that all this stuff, these blocks, these ways of avoidance, these willful fits of procrastination, is interconnected. Hell, you don't need to have done hypnotherapy to know that.

All of this dovetails beautifully with a group project Adam Kayce (aka Monk at Work) initiated recently: What's Your Learning Edge? His thought is that growth is contingent on continuous learning, and it's up to each of us to continually re-ignite that passion for learning by going deeper, by finding the "edge" that leads us in. To participate, all you need do is one of two things (from Adam):

  1. If you're not currently pushing the envelope of your intellectual horizons… or if you're feeling a staleness in your life that you wouldn't mind giving the ol' heave-ho to… then I invite you to pick something that you've always been curious about, and dive into it with all the passion of a two-year-old on a playground.
  2. Write a post about your “learning edge” and what you're into these days. Feel free to mention any books you're reading, classes you're taking, people you're learning from or collaborating with, etc. Tell us about the gems you're picking up, the fun you're having, etc., especially if they're shifting the way you look at what you do.

So that's my Learning Edge, 30 days of me and a big, swinging, gold watch, getting sleeeeeepy...sleeeeeeeeepy.... (Just kidding, it's a silver watch.)

I'll be covering what happens on the project here. Greg and I have also discussed doing some kind of podcast. (Hey, we're both former hams; might as well use what you know to share what you're learning.) We were supposed to start yesterday, but I've been derailed by some nasty summer flu/cold thing, so Monday is D-day.

Meanwhile, I will invite, not tag, but invite, Bonnie Gillespie, Jason Womack, Chris Glass, Evelyn Rodriguez and Jeremy "Be Careful What You Wish For" Cherfas to share with the group.

I mean, it's not like you're not out there learnin' it up, anyway...

xxx c

Image by XI*Erica Simone*XI via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

When radio silence speaks volumes

drying underwear A lot of what I do here on communicatrix-dot-com, or try to do, anyway, is externalize my process. Not because I'm a narcissist, but because I learn best from other people who externalize their own processes, so it's kind of natural to do the same.

But the other reason I externalize publicly is to do my part to stop Nasty Crap in its tracks.

Nasty Crap is the stuff that kills slowly. It's the cancer that chokes off love and hope and joy; it's the fallout of fear. It looks like many things, sexism, racism, rectitude, and shapeshifts like a motherfucker. Nasty Crap thrives on darkness and complicity, proliferating freely via its carriers (the Unaware, the Willfully Ignorant and the Truly Evil), crippling the future and leaving profound collateral damage in its wake. Pretty much anything can be turned into a tool of Nasty Crap, alcohol, money, God, sex, provided it's accompanied by by an awesome and towering willingness to ignore the Truth.

And of course, the more I turn it around in my head or bat it about in therapy, the more I see it really all boils down to (drumroll, please)...fear. (As if you didn't know.)

A couple of things have gotten me thinking about this recently.

First, for the first time in my life, I'm fat. Not FAT-fat, like my slack-jawed countrymen prowling the Midwestern airport food courts this weekend. Still, I'm definitely working a serious muffin top. I could blame inertia and butter, but I know the real culprit is fear. Living out loud is hard (i.e., engenders fear); buffers are deadening and fattening. So there's that.

Second, for some reason or another, I let the fear through recently. I'd been playing with it for a while, rolling it around on my tongue, bouncing it off of walls, but really dispassionately, like a scientist or a sociopath. When I actually sat with it, I had a Grand Mal meltdown that scared not only me, but The BF, as some of it had to do with my primary relationship, which much of that super-dee-dooper personal Fear stuff does. For me, anyway, Fear of Abandonment and all.

Here's where it gets tricky RE: the blog. To be honest, truly honest and transparent, the way I need to be if this is going to work, I have to express it. But to be responsible, I need to release it in a way that is useful and that will not harm others. As I was reminded on a very smart mailing list I subscribe to, one should never say anything on the interwebs "that you wouldn't want your mother, boss, children, spouse or the police to read about." To that excellent list I would add, "or that might hurt an innocent party, without a really, really good countervailing reason." You know, like stopping Hitler or something.

So this radio silence has been about me and my fear of moving forward, as has the muffin top and bad habit creep. I will not shed all my buffers all at once, I'm sure, but I'm back in the battle, or the saddle, again, fighting the good fight, airing my dirty laundry, mixing my metaphors.

I'll keep you posted on the muffin top...

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

Hunker down and love up what you got

grandparents I can tell things are going awry when I want new things

better faster prettier sexier cleaner newer older things that will make the problem (whatever the problem) go away

they don't, of course (as if you didn't know)

all the new things do is make it harder to find what you were looking for under the other things,

the original things

the pain-in-the-ass busted-up broke-down not-working FUBAR horsepokey assmonkey facacta things

because the thing is you do not learn from a thing you thoughtlessly discard or haphazardly shove aside or even lazily disregard

you learn from the things you measure carefully you turn around in your head and your hand feeling their heft and weight and oily accumulation of dirt before deciding whether to keep or scrap or somehow alter

the learning comes from the considering

so when you hit a wall and you NEED NEED NEED a new thing to get you out of an old corner

hunker down and love up what you got

and you'll get it all back in spades, my friend, in spades...

xxx c

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

Cleaning My Damned Apartment, Day 21: The sprint that winded me

have a seat You would think it would be easier to clean your damned apartment than to adjust your mood. Yet this second of my 21-day salutes was way, way harder, and not just because I'm a slob.

Making the first meditation about something as obvious as focusing on the happy made the process of writing about it much more straightforward. I either had an obvious blessing conk me on the head or I was tasked with taking something, anything, and finding the good in it. Either way, a relatively easy writing process.

To write about cleaning? Harder. Much, much harder. I know that there are people who make a nice living writing about cleaning (more so, probably, than the people who actually clean), but I wasn't interested in "just" writing about cleaning. (Although I was happy to give people a few pointers...Neil.)

This whole here blog thing is about process. Specifically, about taking the parts of my process that I can share and doing so, in the hope that some lucky soul will either enjoy the telling of it or learn from my foibles and foible not themselves. Both, if we're lucky.

It's my process, too, of course. But what I was doing wasn't so easy to clarify until yesterday, on Day 20 of this maddening cleaning thing, when I was on the phone with Lily and she casually brought up how she was enjoying the blog lately because I seemed to have found a way "to externalize my process."

Which just goes to show you: wisdom is like the perfect stiletto heel, you'll never find it when you're out there looking. You just have to sit back, relax and trust that eventually, when the time is right, it'll find its way to you...

xxx c

Photo by Esther17 via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Money is a map

money I have a strange relationship with money.

On the one hand, I've been fortunate enough never to run completely dry of it. My dad made enough money to pay the full boat on college, and even modestly subsidize me in my first New York, advertising job. (As they used to say about starting out at Y&R, "It's a nice place to work if your parents can afford to send you.")

On the other hand, I'm pretty sure that part of the reason I've never been flat broke or in debt is that I am terrified of both. Literally. I have one waking nightmare, and that is the fear of being bonked over the head accidentally-on-purpose, forgetting who I am, losing touch with all friends and family (who for some reason, have all stopped looking for me) and ending up pushing a shopping cart through the streets of New York City (and yes, it's always New York, even after I moved to Chicago and L.A.).

So I'm not exactly a cheap bastard, I like stuff too much, and I enjoy being generous with friends and family, but I definitely have weird frugal streaks. For example, last year The BF got three things for his birthday:

  1. a cashmere sweater
  2. two months of guitar/piano lessons with my favorite teacher
  3. and dinner out at a nice restaurant

If you're doing the math, you can see that this wasn't exactly cheap. But...

  1. I got the sweater with a Bloomie's gift card earned with accrued points on my Yahoo! VISA
  2. the lessons were an excellent value and by spending cash money using a friend's service, I keep the money in the family
  3. I, well, I got hosed on this one, but The BF is worth I put it on my Yahoo! VISA, thereby earning points towards new underpants from Bloomie's, which I desperately need

Now, someone who was bona-fide frugal, say, my ex-husband, who is UBER-frugal (and I say that with nothing but admiration, trust me), would call 'bullshit', pointing out what, on the surface, are frugal anomalies:

  1. I have digital cable (in the bedroom AND on my computer)
  2. I regularly blow spectacular amounts of money on whatever the hell strikes my fancy at Trader Joe's
  3. I not only enjoy dining at Houston's, home of the laughably overpriced hamburger, but often drive 10 miles for the privilege

And Bona-Fide Frugal Person would be right, because fancy burgers and the ability to watch Judge Judy reruns in two rooms at once aren't exactly up there with air and shelter when it comes to basic needs.

But I finally settled on the idea that real frugality (for me, anyway) was having an awareness about money and what it can do, mindful spending, if you will, as opposed to mindless penny pinching. Like every other component of my life, the clearer and more honest I get about who I am and what I want, the better choices I find myself making and the happier I am both with my relationship to the thing itself and my life, period.

Do I like that I think it's reasonable to pay $90/month for television when there are people starving in Darfur or, for that matter, four blocks south of me? Good lord, no, I'm a constant and egregious source of humiliation to myself every hour of every day. I am a person more willing to blow $90, NINETY DOLLARS, PEOPLE!!!, on vile entertainment even after admitting that I have a recurring waking fear of pushing a goddamn shopping cart. Forget selfish and greedy; I'm a flat-out moron.

The thing is, I know Whereas I used to pretend I wasn't a moron, the same way I used to pretend I was happy (I wasn't) or had my shit together (I didn't) or was fearless (hahahahaha!), I maintain a heightened sense of awareness about my ridiculous attachment to television and, as long as I'm not being reckless with money (e.g., not giving away an acceptable-to-me amount, not having enough to take care of basic needs, not being able to offer food or shelter to a friend in need), the hell with me and my little TV addiction. Let it ride.

It's a far more honest, "clean" way to work, and ultimately, I think it will get me to where I want to be (free from stupid cable) than hammering on myself (dumping stupid cable before I am ready).

In fact, I trust that as I move towards a real understanding and acceptance of who I am, three things will happen regarding me and money:

  1. I may have more of it, but I will "need" less
  2. I may have less of it, but I will fear less
  3. Regardless of how much or little I have, I will have more room in my life for joy and goodness

Ultimately, I want from my money what I want from every other aspect of my life: happiness. But it's not the money that will do it; it's my relationship to the money. If I approach it with fear (or avoid dealing with it at all), like most relationships, things aren't going to go so well. If, on the other hand, I approach it with respect, awareness and care, I'm pretty sure it will flourish.

And so, my friends, will I...

xxx c

Photo by Amin Tabrizi via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license

The Age Thing, or "It Only Hurts When I Lie"

your body is a battleground After my recent stumping for the sisterhood, this is going to sound like a reversalist smackdown, but a story in this Sunday's LA Times (I know, I know, but I like the ritual of fresh comics in bed) set me off. Big time. And I tried to ignore it, really, I did, but here I am, a day later, still cheesed off.

It was more than a story: the Times devoted their entire Sunday magazine to the issue of aging and its attendant hoo-hah in modern society, how we try to stop it, how we try to look like we're stopping it, how we succeed (or fail) at both. Not a lot of insight or exploration into why we chase the dragon, but hey, this is L.A., it's the Times, and that's probably a given, right? Because it's better to be young, dumbass!

Is it really, though? Maybe for hot chicks, briefly, anyway. After that, it's my understanding that things get a hell of a lot worse, and faster, and geometrically so. Farther to fall and frequently, less to fall back on. And I understand about the age bias permeating all aspects of Hollywood culture: there are male TV director friends of mine and hotshot screenwriter friends of mine that lie about their age as much as women.

But it is worse for women, by an order of magnitude; it must be, for all women lie about their age, everywhere. I did it myself for several years while trying to get into bars, albeit the other way around. I routinely do it commercially, by passing for a full decade younger than I am chronologically: as long as they want to hire me to play a 35-year-old mom, (neither of which I am, by the way) I'll play one on TV.

Here's the thing, though: I never actually lie. Two examples. First, when some bonehead in the casting room asks me if I have kids, because you know, as an actor, it is necessary to actually have the condition to play like you do, I say "no." Not "no, but I loooooove them!" Not "no, but my boyfriend does and I looooove them!" Just "no". I mean, you're hiring me to play a mom for thirty seconds; do you really think I'm such a fucking idiot that, during a big, important take, I'll forget how to pass a kid a bowl of Cheerios or something?

Second, in actor-land, there's a little checkbox on the sign-in sheet that says "40+". I check it, and have been for almost five years now. Yes, yes, I wavered in the beginning. After all, I didn't look 40; why should I check 40?

I knew why, which is why I didn't want to check it at first: because it's a lie. Which is exactly why I do check it now. Because if lie, I buy into everything that goes into that lie: that aging is a liability instead of a point of fact; that women have a shelf life with accompanying expiration date; and that a woman becomes somehow less-than instead of greater-than with time.

Which brings me back to why I'm so cheesed off. Now, despite what those commercial auditioners might think, I'm really not an asshole. I have some understanding of the world we live in and the necessity of learning to get along in it. I understand that sometimes, sharing certain truths, like your age or your sexual orientation or your political affiliation, if you're liberal and trying to live in Indiana, might be unadvisable. Sadly, the truth is still an unaffordable luxury for many people in this great country of ourn.

But for the love of all that's holy, when you are trying to pass, do it quietly, and for your own reasons, don't scream it from the rooftops, and definitely don't do it in the context of a magazine story about aging. Irony aside, it's just fucking rude. Insulting, even. And stupid, let's not forget stupid. Do you really think all those kids you were in the third and fourth and fifth grade with are dead now? Or that it's that hard to locate a copy of your birth certificate online?

Bottom line: if you want to stay in the closet, fine. It's your business, frankly. Me, I think the air and light is much finer on the outside, but I don't know how comfortably your closet is furnished or how inclement the weather where your closet is located.

And really, what are you doing save staving off the inevitable? Isn't it better to plant the flag in the ground now and have people say, No! How old? Damn, you look good, girl!

For the record, you do look good, girl, and not for manmade reasons. You've got it going on, and in more ways than one. There's one way, though, that I've got you beat: I'm almost 45, and you're not. You're afraid to say it and I'm not. Well, sometimes I am, but I do, anyway. For the greater good, but mostly, for my own sanity. Let's face it: I have no audience; I could 'out' you right now and only 75 people would know. And most of them wouldn't care. Your secret stays safe regardless of whether I choose to spill it.

But that's exactly why you should spill it yourself, because you doing it would make the difference. It's kind of like during the SAG commercial strike: no one cared if the rank & file turned down the shit jobs; it's when the high-profile members of the community stood up and told the producers where they could stick it that things turned around. You can use your powers for good, or you can use them to serve The Man.

Here: we'll even go first. In the comments. Come on, everyone, I'll go first:

Forty-five. 45. XLV!!!

Who's with me?

xxx c


Photo by Esther G via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Cheering the Hell Up, Day 15: Sticking a Fork in It

hopeful flower Things you never thought you'd be saying:

The terms of the settlement prevent me from discussing specifics of the case, but the hell is finally over.

Things you have longed to say:

The hell is finally over. Let the grieving begin...

xxx c

Photo by douglucymills via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

On sluts, storytelling, and the dirty, dirty truth

the smell of the crowd, the roar of the greasepaint

Several things struck me as interesting about my brief turn on stage this past weekend.

First, I'd forgotten how much I love hanging out with actors, as an actor. For the past few years, I've been spending more and more time around actors in other capacities, graphic designer, bartender, butt-in-the-seat support. Most actors are fun and this particular crew is especially fun, since they run to the smart and funny without taking themselves too seriously. They're a generous bunch; while they may grapple individually with the usual neuroses that dog the profession, they are also wonderfully supportive, unlike the dig-me types that cluster at rocket-launching pads like Second City and Groundlings. (And don't get me started on the twisted awfulness that plagues stand-up comedy; five years of trailing The Chief Atheist on the circuit cured me of wanting more comics in my life.)

Second, I was reminded of how much work acting is, at least, the worthwhile kind. Like most things, one's acting generally improves in direct proportion to the amount of time one spends doing it. Sure, some start out better than others; I believe there is a gift for acting just like there is a gift for thinking mathematically or running long distances or just about any skill you can name. But even the great get greater by doing more of it. I was not one of the greats. When I was acting regularly, taking classes, doing four plays a year, I always had to work twice as hard as anyone else on stage to be half as good. It was fine; I accepted it. But after my Crohn's onset, I had to seriously rejigger my energy expenditures column. After running the numbers, it became clear that my ROI on acting couldn't touch my payoff on writing, designing, and other types of creative output.

This is not to say that this weekend's show was a failure; to the contrary, it was a rousing success and a good time was had by all, myself included. But playing an adenoidal tart in platform heels and a wig for five minutes on stage once a week is about all I'm up for anymore. That, and commercials. Both THE STRIP and the :30 spot require short bursts of focus for discrete periods of time.

Also, both are fun. Jesus, when I look back on it, so much of acting was the opposite of fun. It was just work, and difficult work, and not fun work. I hated most of my classes. I hated rehearsing. Most of all, I hate hate hated having to go to the dark, tender spots where the scary things are stored, the places great actors go to naturally. I understood why it was necessary, and wasn't willing to be the kind of actor who skipped this excavation of truth, however painful it was to unearth it. But I wasn't one of the ones who loved it or lived for it.

They do exist, you know. It's a lollapalooza, that realization. When I heard L.A. Jan talk about sitting around her apartment, doing acting exercises for fun, I had a revelation similar to one I'd had at age eight during a particular Sunday mass at Holy Name Cathedral: these other people actually believe in this!

Me? I still believe in telling the truth. I'm fairly sure that's what getting into acting was all about: a means for me to connect to my truth in a way I'd been unable to before. I've been writing since I could hold a pen, but the stories always lacked something: truth, mostly, but also ease. Some of the ease comes with that doing-more-of-it thing, but the larger part, for me, anyway, comes from being grounded in truth.

Now that I've learned what living in the truth feels like, it's getting easier to let go of some of the things that got me here. My insane drive, for example, has ebbed considerably. Ditto my need for praise, love from strangers, and a constant need to be surrounded by drama and action. While I still rail against the time I must, it seems, spend being ill, I've come to enjoy the quiet spaces at least as much as the noisy, active ones. And I recognize that a large part of tiger taming is just tiger aging: we mellow, most of us, with time, trading the gift of urgency for the gift of perspective. Sweet, sweet perspective. Take a look at your high school diary if you don't believe me.

I still love performing (sometimes, and in short bursts). Reading Jonathan Rauch's essay on introversion was a breakthrough moment for me much like that day in church or that moment with L.A. Jan: of course I like getting up in front of large groups of people and holding them in thrall with my words; it's just that I need a really long nap in a quiet place with no people afterwards.

So my future as a truth-teller will likely hold some combination of performance and writing, reflection and spouting off. But it will also, I hope, include brief stretches of me playing a cartoon whore four feet from beer-swilling patrons. THE STRIP may not be about connecting people with their higher truth, but nothing beats it for connecting them with their inner good times. And who couldn't use more fun in their lives?

I mean, hell, even earnest artists have to let their fake hair down every once in awhile...