neatly stacked eggshells Once upon a time there was a man who would, from time to time, play a friendly game of tennis with his much-younger wife.

The wife was naturally athletic, highly competitive, and devoted hours to practice and instruction; the man was riddled with infirmities, profoundly disinterested in sports, and played as seldom as the bounds of his conscience and her nagging would allow.

Yet he regularly wiped the court with her.

After each fresh loss, she'd complain (with no small bitterness) that he was hitting the ball all wrong, that he hacked away at it with same lack of form and style and basic respect for the game exhibited by his droopy, borderline-impermissible outfits. Forget fair—how was it even possible that he won with such maddening regularity?

To which he’d inevitably reply that he simply did the easiest thing for himself, which was to put the ball in the most difficult place for her.

* * * * *

Do you wish for things to be perfect? I do. Or did. There was a time when I owned (no lie) two crystal decanters (one for bourbon, one for scotch) and ironed my cloth napkins by hand. As a small girl, I used to drive my mother crazy by depositing into the laundry hamper t-shirts that I’d tried on and decided not to wear; tried-on jersey knits, I argued, get stretched out in the trying-on, and thus needed to be washed and dried again to be properly considered “clean.”

These days, unless company is imminent I rarely notice dirt smaller than my forearm, and we will not discuss how many days in a row I will wear a pair of yoga pants or how, say, I eat most of my meals. (Okay, we will: as quickly as possible, usually in front of some kind of screen.) But the longing for perfection dies hard. While I’m no longer squeamish about a sticky kitchen floor or a little black mold on the tub caulking (at least, not in my own bathroom), I still lose days to reorganizing the files on my hard drive. I am sure there is a right way to name my files, and that someone else knows what it is, and that if I listen to just one more podcast about workflow, the secrets of a clean, orderly hard drive will be revealed to me, and life (by which, of course, I mean my work) will finally be perfect.

And by “finally be perfect,” I mean, of course, that I will feel safe and loved, welcomed warmly by the legions of happy, well-adjusted, together people with clean, orderly hard drives as I step through the secret Willy Wonka door at the back of the wardrobe that was there all along, had I just chosen to see it.

* * * * *

Speaking of hard drives, I have spent the past two weeks wrestling with mine. Actually, because of the way hard drives work (or don’t), we’ve apparently been wrestling for more like two months; only as the slowdowns and hangs and crashes begin to outweigh the up time did I figure out what was what.1

While I defy you to pick a good time for your hard drive to melt down, this really was an exceptionally bad one. Coming off of my massive birthday project (fulfillment of which has only just begun), I’d immediately dived into a little speaking tour for my fine photography clients, while simultaneously prepping a brand new talk deconstructing the project. When it became clear I’d reached the point of no return in Laptop Land, I took a cold, hard look at my calendar: it was Friday afternoon; my first scheduled delivery of the presentation was on Tuesday evening. If everything went perfectly, I would be able to hit things hard on Sunday, and still have three solid days to work on my slides.

First of all, never use the terms “perfectly” and “computers” in the same sentence; you’re asking for trouble. Secondly, things went so not-perfectly that come Sunday, I’d been reduced to a tangled knot of gassy intestines surrounded by an alarming number of index cards. By Monday night, I straight-up gave in and bought a new laptop. Which is awesome in many ways, starting with the one where I live on a planet where that’s possible and ending with a brand-new Macbook Air in my shoulder bag, but bad as an indicator of how smoothly things were going overall. Because brother, I am cheap, and I wasn’t planning on Computer #2 for another six months.

Anyway, my brand-new Air and I hunkered down on Tuesday and put together what was so far from a perfect presentation as to be laughable, but a presentation it was. At the appointed hour, I trundled everything over to the little Meetup group that was kind enough to be my guinea pig, took a deep breath, did the disclaimer dance of a lifetime, and let ‘er rip.

Roughly two hours and a million-billion excellent questions (and answers) later, we were done, and I was finished. But in the most wonderful, wonderful way—used up, like you’re supposed to be. It had been slow in places and too fast in other places and bumpy in lots of places, but it worked: we got the information from one place (me) to another (them), with excellent feedback in the opposite direction. Because somewhere in there, I’ve managed to play enough tennis that I can put the ball in the right places when I need to. Only in this case, nobody lost, and everybody won, and a pretty good time was had by all.

So much for perfect.

* * * * *

Seven years ago today, I hit “publish” on the first of, at this counting, 1,375 posts on communicatrix-dot-com. Ever since that first day, I’ve harbored visions of turning this blog into something spectacular—fast-loading, with loads of features and a terrific, user-friendly design and REAL categories and an actual search function that works. The perfect, perfect place I see glimpses of in my dreams. Someday, when I have the money, when I have the time, when I have the energy.

In my lucid moments, I realize that these things are all excellent, they are not the point. What matters is getting the thoughts from here to there; what matters is that I have a place to take what I’ve lived and learned and spin it into some kind of yarn that someone else might find useful. A little knotty in places, but useful, nonetheless.

Were we living in a perfect world, this post would have flowed like water—from my brain, through my fingers, out to you. And it would have done so yesterday, on a non-travel day, ready to go up at the stroke of midnight.

As it is, I have my friend Dyana to thank for getting it up in time, period. You see, I’d forgotten that today was my blogiversary until I got her email congratulating me on it this morning. Shamed, I decided to forgo my usual travel-day ritual—freaking out about getting to the airport on time, followed by lots of reading on my Kindle—and write instead.

It is neither the best nor the worst thing I have ever written; it lies pretty squarely in the middle.

But here it is, just over the net, just inside the line. Right where it's supposed to be.

xxx c

1A major shout-out here to the fine folk at ShirtPocket, makers of the must-have backup utility, SuperDuper, both for the free troubleshooting and for making a product that has more than once saved my bacon.


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

On becoming a reliable conduit

close shot of wood shavings Once upon a time in a dingy Hollywood studio far, far away, I took my very first acting class.1

I was there because it had been suggested to me by my improv teacher that while my writing was passable, my ability to convey actual human emotion onstage was somewhere between "painful to behold" and "chair", and that if I wanted a chance at surviving the increasingly brutal cuts up the ladder, I should hie my civilian ass to an acting school now.

I wanted that chance, all right, and a whole lot more. Things I wouldn't admit out loud: to be rich, for example, and famous, and the envy of anyone I'd ever envied. But also things I couldn't articulate yet because it would be years until I understood them: to tell the Truth, to serve with meaning, to live. I'd wanted all of these things, the ignoble and the good, so very much and for so very long that when I stepped up to work on my very first exercise in this new acting class, I was like a human funnel for raw, super-concentrated desire. It was, by all accounts afterward, electrically exciting to watch.

The next week, I got up in class to do the same exercise again and I sucked. Hard.

And continued to suck, over and over, week after week. Well, that's not completely true: occasionally, something...magical happened, and I did not suck. On certain of these rare occasions (and, significantly, when I was either exhausted, well-coached, or both), I could move emotion as well as the most skilled members of the class. The difference was that, unlike them, I had zero control over this ability; it would either be there or it wouldn't. The experience was not unlike showing up every week for a bus that might take you on a champagne-and-donut-filled ride to Disneyland, or that might drive you to the wrong side of town, strip you down to your underwear, dump you by the side of the road and make you find your way home. At night. In December.

Finally, after about a year, I became reliably good at the exercises. Never brilliant, like that first day, not once, ever again, but good enough that people didn't shrink from being assigned me as a scene partner. One of them even suggested it might be time to move to another class, a more advanced class at a different studio.

I checked it out, enrolled, and promptly reverted to sucking. Immediately, this time, without even the whispery hope of a first, great at-bat to see me through the humiliating 18-month slog to the next plateau.

* * * * *

Here is the mission statement I came up years ago, sometime after my bloody epiphany but before I started dating things so I could place them later:2

To be a joyful conduit of truth, beauty and love.

I've since been taken to task by my more focused friends (i.e., all of them) for establishing an overarching goal of the mushier variety, my goal does not stand up well to the heat and pressure of daily life, nor does it offer many clues as to what "done" looks like. (If you spy any, let 'er rip.) It's even difficult to hold opportunities and projects up against a "goal" like that to see if they're a good match. Or rather, too many things end up being a good match, and I miss out on the kind of focused intent required to build empires.

Then again, I'm coming around to the idea that empires are a lot like boats, vacation homes, and fancy cameras: it's nicer to have friends who have them than to deal with the upkeep yourself.

* * * * *

There is a wonderful novel I read last fall that haunts me still. It's called All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost, and if the horrible title doesn't put you off of reading it, maybe this will: it's about the life trajectories of two students of a masters program in poetry. (I know, right?)

Maybe after I've read it a few more times, I will be able to write a real review that does it justice. For now, the salient point is this: the author uses these two intertwining stories, one of a graduate who achieves early acclaim and concomitant financial rewards, the other of his friend who does neither, to paint as fine a picture as I've ever seen about choices, consequences, and the day-to-day costs of "success" (deliberately left in quotes). This is a chief gift of art, its ability to bypass logic and pierce the heart of the viewer, or reader, with truth through the use of meticulously crafted obliqueness. Great art may be the ultimate in teaching a man to fish: when someone connects the dots themselves, the resulting pattern truly belongs to them.

Communicating on this level, like any kind of deliberate transfer of emotion, requires off-the-charts levels of mastery. In order to do it well and consistently, provisions must be made. By the artist. At what sometimes look like extraordinary costs.

Don't kid yourself, though: there's a cost to everything. It's only the currency that varies, and the payment plan.

xxx c

P.S. Looking for links to old posts I could not find did turn up this and this (from 2008!) on the rather annoyingly sloggy slog this kind of work can be. Then again, I also found this (from 2005!) and this, which provide some actual, concrete steps one can take to ease the pain of conduit-refinery. The blog giveth, and the blog taketh away.

1I'd actually taken some acting classes as a kid, and even one in college. But this was the first one I'd taken where I wasn't, you'll pardon the pun, just playing around. I really and truly wanted to be an actor. Stakes change the game.

2I worry sometimes that this portends a future for myself fluttering with yellow sticky notes placed on everything, like that man who mistook his wife for a beret or just a garden-variety Alhzeimer's victim. Given how much I fear winding up with a faulty mind in an unbroken body, you'd think I'd be better about floating it in warm baths of alcohol, caffeine and sugar. Let us just say that my capacity for tricking myself has grown right alongside my other abilities.

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

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.

Taking my own medicine

the author kissing a fave client on the cheek It has been happening for some time now, probably since I shuttered my design business, definitely since I quit acting, but the polite and puzzled apologies that "I don't know exactly what it is that you do" have escalated to a point where I can no longer shrug, laugh or otherwise play them off.

"I write and I talk" is true, but coy. It's good for keeping myself clear on my priorities, but is far from useful to anyone else.

"I do marketing consulting for solopreneurs and very small businesses" is true, but leaves out a lot. Like me, for instance. I mean, please, do I look like a marketing consultant? (For that matter, do I write like a marketing consultant?) By which I really mean, "Do I do anything that looks like a descriptor you'd find in a drop-down list titled 'Employment', wedged between 'Manufacturing' and 'Media'?" I do not. At least, I hope not.

My attempts at self-description have been many, but ultimately disappointing.

First, because not being able to succinctly describe what it is that I do is embarrassing, to say the least, a whole lot of "physician, heal thyself" going on there.

Also, it's ungracious. It's confusing, which wastes everyone's time, ungracious! (Worse, it makes some people feel stupid, like they're missing something, and that's beyond ungracious, it's so mean as to be unacceptable.)

Finally, it makes me a lot less money. Because as any graduate of Marketing 101 knows, given you can deliver the goods (the "All Things Being Equal" Rule), to be easily categorized is to be easily recalled, recommended and other good things that begin with "r". Like "rich," which seems like it would be delightful, if only for the possibilities it promises regarding the equitable (i.e., by me) redistribution of wealth. Although to be able to fill up the car without feeling faint, visit the doctor as necessary, and at least occasionally buy the good tea wouldn't hurt, either.

* * * * *

What has sustained me throughout my feeble, murky swipes at self-promotion has been this: the great reward of doing at least some of what I love every day; and the equally great (and incredibly humbling) reward of being appreciated for it. Getting hired despite my laughable inadequacies around making myself hirable is the most tangible, not to mention remarkable, form of appreciation, but the support of readers throughout these six-plus years I've been slinging hash on the interwebs has been no less important.*

If you take nothing else from this post, that would be a good thing to take: You must in some small way always provide your own source of joy through some kind of work, whether it's things or ideas or self-improvement or self-understanding. And if you do it with all your might, chances are good the universe will throw a bone your way.

* * * * *

Here's how I have talked about myself that might serve as a starting point for wrestling this bear to the ground:

  • I help creative people sell themselves effectively in the postmodern marketplace. (on Biznik)
  • I provide creatively-minded people with the tools, ideas and practices they need to share their awesomeness with the world. (on my current "hire me" page)
  • I help entrepreneurs get clear on their core truth and assist them in finding the best ways possible for putting it out there. (on LinkedIn)
  • Better living through content strategy.** (on Facebook)

Each falls short in its own, special way. The LinkedIn one falls so far short that if it were a person, he would have cracked its chin open on the curb and been rushed to urgent care for stitches.

But they are the truth, if a little lackluster and faint of voice. They can't touch my mission statement*** for awesomeness and other things that get me up in the morning, but they are a place to begin.

* * * * *

I will eventually, as the Brits say, get this sorted. In the meantime, I'm going to do something radical (for me): not worry about it. Nope. I'm going to go about fixing things, here and there, tweakity-tweak, again, just as I advise certain clients to do. This is an iterative process, getting clear on who we are. And, given the current and projected future rate of change, will probably continue to be so. Over the past week, I've added:

  • clearer "contact me" info (because really, I was kind of a jackass about making people hunt it down)
  • social sharing buttons on each post (because really, "ditto" for making it harder for people to share my work)
  • dedicated "consulting" and "speaking" buttons in the top navigation (because what? I want to make it HARDER for people to hire me?)

It's scary, and it's fun. And it's good for me, because this is the kind of stuff I help other people do, and the more I understand exactly where, how and why it's scary, and come up with ways of handling it so it's fun, simple and sustainable, the better off we'll all be.

xxx c

P.S. If you're reading this in email, I'd love for you to click through and take a look at that top navigation. And if something looks hinky to you, or is in any way confusing, to let me know in the comments or privately, via email.

P.P.S. If it isn't obvious, this is one of the most excruciatingly painful posts I've ever written. I wasn't kidding about that embarrassment factor, above. On the other hand, for some of us, excruciating pain is the only thing that will move us off the dime. So here's hoping!

*It is one of the chief reasons I encourage writers to blog, the other being a weird kind of accountability it creates. And this doesn't even get into that other "hot" reason, the author platform.

**I didn't realize that this was a "thing" until about a year ago, when my friends at Mule Design assigned it to me in a bio for that year's BattleDecks. The Mules are nothing if not articulate, and I find much to emulate in the way they move through the world. They've been particularly astute over the last several months about intentionally raising their profile, executing each move with style and grace, and, in a way that deeply satisfies me, reinforcing the truth of The Three Behaviors. Which is good, because they're all over my presentation. Anyway, since discovering this magical thing of "content strategy," I've been devouring books and other, uh, content on the topic. As it turns out, much of what I do could be summed up fairly well as being content strategy. Expect more on this topic, including a series of book reviews, in the coming months.

***"To be a joyful conduit of truth, beauty and love." Everyone should have a mission statement, just not one of those icky, '80s-corporate, b.s.-style ones.

Photo of me and my beloved client, Susan Carr, Education Director supreme of the ASMP, at SB3 Chicago, by my other beloved client, Judy Herrmann, who introduced us. This is how it works, people!

Family, friends, health, work: Pick three

sign in cubicle: Good. Fast. Cheap. Pick two.

There's an old saying the creatives in my old ad agency liked to lob at the suits when they started fire-breathing stuff like budgets and time and quality:

Fast. Cheap. Good. Pick any two.

Actually, we were rarely this articulate or polite under pressure, usually, we used a lot more words, rapid-fire and sotto voce, most of them of the NSFW variety.1

It's a cheap truism, obviously crafted by someone who was paid a lot of money or given much time to come up with it, but it makes it no less truthful. That whole having-it-all thing? Bullshit bullshit bullshit. A bill of goods you've been sold by a similarly well-paid, overworked team of mad men, most of whom have the fat lifestyle or lousy home lives to back it up.

Which brings us to the updated project-triangle illustration for the modern age of self-actualization, the Four Burners Theory as (apparently) laid out by David Sedaris, and expounded upon by my young friend Chris Guillebeau. In the interests of symmetry, a model worth aspiring to, I lay it out thusly:

Family. Friends. Health. Work. Pick any three.

The metaphor of burners is a great one, provided the four you envision sit on a cooktop of the ancient variety (like me!) where there is limited gas to go around (unlike me!), and it is impossible to go great guns on all four at once. If you've been privileged enough to grow up cooking on Wolf ranges, think crappy, old plumbing, where a neighbor's flush means your scalding-hot blast of shower. (Or, in the case of Gloomy Manor, any water running anywhere in the house means the trickle of shower water you're under reducing itself to spittle.)

The idea is not that you can't have all four, even at once: it's that you can't have an exceptional level of all four at once. You cannot put in the time required to raise children properly and nurture outstanding friendships of depth and be an elite athlete and win the Nobel prize in chemistry. Because to be outstanding at any one thing requires an outstanding level of focus on that thing. Ipso facto, right?

Since you are a smartypants, your brain is racing to find exceptions to this rule. Lance Armstrong, maybe. (Although, you know, that's an awful lot of primary relationships, not to mention single-parent offspring, to qualify for categories #1 and 2.) As Ben Casnocha notes, Tim O'Reilly seems to be living the dream, but I'd wager O'Reilly himself would say that he's not all-in with any one of the four categories.

My own bias has always been towards a singular focus on work; it's how I was raised, and I suspect that to a degree, it's also how I'm wired. My Crohn's epiphany brought an end to that, though. In one fell swoop (and several subsequent months of recovery), I realized that while elite athletic performance was as meaningless to me as it had ever been, a baseline level of health and happiness was not. The former requires a certain amount of time and attention in the form of rest and, because of my annoyingly high-maintenance diet, food preparation. The latter? Well, sleep pulls double-duty, I refuse to be miserable at my own hand, and an average of eight hours daily is required to keep the Mean Reds and blues at bay.

The happiness part of the equation is far, far trickier, because family, friends and work each factor into that level of buoyancy I strive to maintain. I'm guessing they do for most of us; we feel better when we're being useful, and that requires both meaningful work and a level of reasonable engagement with other human beings. Historically, I've let the first two slide. Most of the serious relationships I've had ended largely because I just can't handle the demands of a primary relationship.2 Hell, I can't always handle the demands of friendship. So I have a few close friends who, for whatever reason, put up with my bullshit, and many more casual friendships which are less time-intensive and which I can thus maintain without a lot of stress and drama.

This means I forfeit most of the benefits of family, and for now, I've made my uneasy peace with it. I really, really, really want to hit these next ten years hard, work-wise. If it means I end up pushing a shopping cart or a ward of the state in my old age, well, there's no one to blame but me and my choices. I also accept that there's no guarantee my work will be of a quality that justifies these choices. Frankly, that's even scarier to me than ending up alone, which is probably an indication that I have a long way to go before I can join the ranks of the mentally healthy, but there you go: it's the truth, and that's as good a place as any to start from.

If I have a point here (other than my seeming one, which is to depress the hell out of you), it is this: you are the sum of your choices, and there is no gobbling up your cake and still having it whole on the counter, pristine in its lovely glass cake stand, there for you to enjoy tomorrow. And a non-choice is a choice, too, so there's no weaseling out of it. Your life will get eaten up from under you, even if you don't do the eating. (Pro tip: deep-six the TV.) I have been extraordinarily lucky in that the IDIOTIC amount of time I spent doing something I hated, writing ads, turned out to be of some utility later on. Really though, the sooner you can get yourself out of something you're done with, or release something you have no use for, the better off you are. Trust me on this.3

In other words, let us not miss out on the most obvious and helpful part of the whole equation: pick. Choose. Decide. Spend time in thoughtful deliberation, weighing the pros and cons of your choices and actions and possible outcomes and then BE a verb.

Do not be like me and let life live you for too many years. A few, fine. No harm done. Everyone needs a break, and there is some value in playing at Candide a bit, here and there, for the adventure of it.

But do not lose sight of the almighty power you have built into you. Yes, be, but also, do.

Pick one to hit out of the park or pick a life that lets you gracefully enjoy a bit from the sampler plate of all four.

Pick, though. Pick today, and then pick again tomorrow...


UPDATE: Here's a link to the Sedaris essay referencing the four burners The lady who told him about it (she'd heard of it in a management seminar) said the stove could be electric or gas. I think for the analogy to really work, energy-wise, it needs to be gas and old, per my description, above. But hey, what the flock do I know?

1If we could talk at all, that is. Sometimes, we were so apoplectic at the unreasonable demands, all we could do was fume and point to the graphical representation we'd clipped from wherever, probably an ad, while we kept working.

2There were other reasons, but I fully accept that I suck at giving my beloveds the attention they deserve. And until I figure this shit out, I'm off the market.

3Or, hey, just read the archives.

Poetry Thursday: Road to nowhere

gigantic "oscar" statue wrapped in plastic

I have never won
one of those coveted
golden bodies
I envisioned myself holding
back in my girlish days.

But I know this lady
who has held several.

And as far
as I know,
she does not sit down
and polish them
but gets up
and gets up
and gets up
and does the next thing
after the thing
that came before it.

For most,
the first thing
is to want a thing.

The next,
to allow yourself
to want it,
followed by
taking actual steps
toward living it.

And after that,
way, way after that,
most likely,
you discover that there is no "there",
just the way
that you are going.

I know

I will hold the want
I have in my heart
as I walk
toward the vision
my heart is holding.

But mostly
I will walk
and I will walk
and I will walk,
only briefly
to say "hello"
and wish my fellow travelers
safe journey
on the way.


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

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


A lot of good stuff has been happening lately.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will. I am, right now.

No foolin'...


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

¡Olé! to you, fellow artist

For those of you who do most of your creating off-stage, you may not have experienced the ¡olé! moment. That's my new-favorite term for the magical thing that happens when you get in the zone and out of the way and the work just flows through you. The term comes to me via the astonishing Elizabeth Gilbert in her very moving (and funny, and smart as hell) TED talk, below. As Derek Sivers says in his own post pointing to it, Gilbert's words speak to pretty much any writer or musician; I'll go one better and say that if there is any pursuit you've spent a lot of time getting your body tuned up for, you'll dig it:


The ¡olé! moment happens rarely onstage, but when it does, there's a kind of thrum inside and outside of you, a strange inner/outer vibrational shift where you're very aware of what's happening and you also feel like it's something happening to you, or possibly through you. It's pretty sensational, and I'm pretty sure it only happens when a confluence of circumstances are in place:

  1. You, prepared
  2. You, letting go
  3. Some kind of Mysterious Hoodoo Shit happening elsewhere

It's probably happened to me 30-odd times in my entire performing career, and that includes auditions and scenes in class as well as performances. I don't know if that number is on the low, high or average side, but I do know that when It Happened, it was as much something acting me as me doing the acting. No matter how many times It Happens, though, I can tell you this: It can't Happen enough; the feeling is so amazing, and the level at which you're able to transmit that creative energy is so crazy-high, if you could bottle it, you'd be a bajillionaire, even in a down market.

Especially in a down market.

There are some things that I believe up one's chances for the magic happening. As you might guess, most of the actionable stuff happens in areas #1 and #2. One of the reasons I hammer hammer hammer away at my actors in my monthly columns to Always Be Creating is that it really helps with both of those things: you become both better prepared, because constant application of effort to a certain practice makes you more skilled and confident, the 10,000 hours rule, and you are better able to let go because sheer volume of work means that any individual instance becomes proportionally less important, thereby enabling you to be way more relaxed than you might otherwise be.

It's one reason I decided to post daily to the blog. Yes, a part of me is hoping that replicating the Monday-through-Friday nature of the old-time daily column will somehow trigger the Magical Woowoo Hoodoo into manifesting a modern-day Royko gig for the communicatrix, but another far, far more realistic part of me knows that there's no way I can't get better at this if I'm doing it more often.

As Gilbert says in her talk, there is huge relief in making the shift to thinking you have access to genius rather than that you have to be a genius. My job as access point is to stay in shape and show up daily.

The rest of it? Is up to the genius.

¡Olé! to that...

xxx c


In case you have ever wondered what I sound like when speaking in public, I finally have a speaking page up which contains an embed of a decidedly non-TED talk. At least I know now what I'm tuning this old carcass up for.

Stop! Sucking! Day 6: Tools for stopping...and restarting

I had a nice kind of cheering, Stop-This-Stupid-Crap win today.

I was gearing up for a "duty connection": extending myself to someone whom I really didn't want to meet, much less extend myself to. Not necessarily a bad person, but almost certainly, from the context in which she presented herself, Not My Tribe.

And lo, as I was hitting "command-n" to create the email, I felt the vomitous pit of dread blurbling in my stomach, thought about actually meeting this person and how that would feel, realized that I was in no way obligated to reach out. . . and didn't. Which, if you've been following along, is a major win.

It wasn't always this easy, though, realizing I had choices, understanding what they were. I operated on my factory default settings for a looooooong time. Saying "yes" when I meant "maybe" or even "no." Doing what I had always done because hey, it had gotten me as far as this in one piece. Not realizing that trying something else and perhaps failing at it was 10x better than not trying something else at all.

This is something I get now. Really. I may not get it 100% of the time, or as fast as I'd like (will I ever get anything as fast as I'd like, I wonder?) but I do get it. I've left careers that weren't fulfilling, relationships that weren't working, habits that were insalubrious. And sometimes, because I'm not where I'd like to be, or where I know I can be eventually, if I keep working on it, I forget that I may have useful advice for people who are currently encountering a particular bear I've already wrassled.

It happened in the comments section today. (I love the comments section. It's my favorite part of my blog, because it's not only a source of rich inspiration, community and connection, but it's the one place where I don't have to write everything.) Earl Kabong (not his real name, unless he's really managed to fly under the Googledar) posted a really touching and interesting comment about the nature of his current stuckage.

Earl, you see, is a writer, and a good one, it seems: not only does he get paid to write, many people's dreams, his pay comes exclusively from writing, something I'm pretty sure is my dream right now, or damned close to it. Moreover, he's been a paid writer his whole working life. Which means, of course, that he's smart enough to know that it can sound like 15 kinds of ungrateful to say he really doesn't dig it, but that he doesn't know what else he would do.

I get it. I do.

Back when I was an advertising copywriter, I regularly met with people who would have eaten a limb to do what I did. I was pretty good at it and worked pretty hard at it, but the truth is, I had my job because I had the native skills and the connections. In equal measure. My blessing, my curse.

It made extricating myself rather difficult. Because sure, I could quit, that's the easy part. The hard part was dealing with all the rest of it. How do I pay my nut? What do I do that's more fulfilling? How do I tell my father? What do I tell my father, and anyone else who asks?

And the biggest thing of all: how will I introduce myself at cocktail parties until I'm happily established in some TBD life pursuit? For me, it boiled down to two issues: money and identity. And the latter was much, much harder to deal with than the former. Poor, I could handle. Shiftless loser with no direction? Not so much.

So here are some things I've learned about the Full Stop/Reboot, along with some resources I found useful in making my transition:

1. Realize you're in it for the long haul

This is a process, not a to-do item. I was unbelievably arrogant at the start of my switch, thinking I could just tackle this like any other project. It is a project, and that's a good way to look at it. But it's a long-term project, which means approaching it differently than the time-delimited ones I'd been used to up until then. Establish a desire. Muse. Reflect. Seek counsel. Research. Lather/rinse/repeat as often as necessary before moving on to action. Even if you're loaded. Especially you're loaded. But if not...

2. Get your financial ducks in a row

One thing that shocked me years later was going through tax receipts for the last full year I worked before I decided to make the change. I was appalled, physically sick, at the amount of money I'd spent on nothing. Dinners out. Trips. Stuff. And that's what it is when you're not fulfilled: things you're stuffing down a hole to try to fill it.

Figure out what you're spending and where. Figure out how much you can cut your expenses and still "pass" as a normal person in your socioeconomic station. Do it and sock the rest away. Figure out where your holes are and plug them. For me, it was learning how to cook. (That was a rough two years, and I will be forever grateful to the Chief Atheist for eating my mistakes.) Start learning that money is freedom, money is choices, and save accordingly.

And remember, unless you are part of an incredibly slender (and ever-decreasing) slice of the population, you were once happy with far less. Even if you were born to that top 5%, there was a time where you were as happy or happier playing with the box as you were the toy it encased. So we're clear.

3. Consume and explore

Some possible good books to read: Po Bronson's What Should I Do with My Life? and Julia Cameron's Artist's Way. Yes, even if you don't want to do something artsy. It's just a good internal excavation process.

I also heard of a good-sounding new book via Pam Slim (Escape From Cubicle Nation) called How'd You Score that Gig?. The author did a pretty hefty amount of intake interviews and research on personality types, and came up with not only stories of interesting jobs, but the types of people who'd do well in them and the actionable steps to take to acquire those jobs.

Observe. Start carrying a notebook, like you're a reporter. When you feel a tug, at anything, however small, write it down. Hate something? Write it down. Feel a stirring of joy? Write it down. You're looking for clues, and they come up everywhere.

4. Engage professional help

I would not be where I am were it not for my first shrink/astrologer and my current therapist (who has no nickname, but who should probably be called "The Saint").

If you can find the right person, your "predicament" (in quotes b/c really, it's just a stage you're in) might be well addressed by the application of adroit personal coaching. It's great for the goal-oriented, and brother, you've got a goal.

Friends are good, but in my case, the friends I had then weren't equipped to help me make the transition. (Of course, the friends I have now are brilliant with it. What can I say, my life is an O. Henry story.) You may have a rogue uncle or old, old grammar school friend who's living authentically and knows you and can both call you on your shit and do it in a nice way.

If not, pay someone. This does not mean you're weak; it means you're brave.

5. Give yourself time and patience and love

Please note: I was very bad at #5. Still struggling with it, although I'm getting better.

These big shifts? They don't happen on your timetable. They require thought, digestion, exploration, more thought. They need room to breathe, your epiphanies. (Or room so you can notice them.)

Wander in bookstores with hours to spare. Walk on the beach. Take up yoga or meditation. Volunteer for a meaningful yet mindless and repetitive task. Knit. Whatever.

Create space for the new thing to make itself known. Yeah, it's all woowoo and shit. You're a reader of this blog, aren't you? You were expecting maybe science?

The bottom line? Just because you can't imagine it right now doesn't mean there isn't something out there for you that you're equally as good, if not better, at, and that you will actually love.

I swear, this is true.

I was a pretty good copywriter. I was an okay actor. I made a decent living at both. I'm not where I need to be financially yet with The Communicatrix and may never be, but I've found the thing(s) I'm good at, that the world needs, and that I love to do. If, for some reason, the money does not follow in the numbers I need it to, I'm confident I can deal with it, either by reducing my standard of living or going back to a Stupid Day Job or both. But I will never again know that profound unhappiness that comes with feeling utterly adrift, mainly unfulfilled, and thinking that choice lies outside of me.

It doesn't. Not in this part of the world, anyway, not yet. Maybe never. Maybe nowhere.

The one thing I do know about stopping the suck? Not knowing how to restart is not an excuse. The world needs you to find your passion and realize it as much as you do. Maybe more.

What one thing can you do today to start?

xxx c

Image by Kruggg6 via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

The Burger King® method* of Getting Things (Really) Done

moleskine pda supplies I spent yesterday getting coached into organization by one phenomenal couple of personal productivity experts.

It was everything I'd hoped for. And nothing I expected. (Or, shall I say, feared.)

What I feared, and you can see this coming, if you've thought it through, is that I didn't clean up enough for the cleaning lady. Or balance my checkbook properly for the bookkeeper. Or any other of a number of analogies that basically boil down to Oh, god...please don't let my complete inability to do things the Right Way reveal the Hopeless Failure of a Human Being that I truly am.

I was expecting a protracted walk-through of my lame computer file structure, my equally lame physical files, my overflowing in-basket, my scores of lists and calendars and other Helpful Toolsâ„¢ creating redundancy and general chaos. Instead, we started with a surprisingly quotidian question:

"What's a typical 'Colleen' day?"

And so I spun it out for them: the getting-up and getting tea. The booting-up-of-computer and making-of-bed. That first, fantastic blast of email & Twitter goodness: all the missives and blog comments and howdy-dos from my friends, real and virtual, that have popped up between bedtime and now, thanks to auto-mailers and insomniacs and my location on the West Coast. Eggs and coffee. And then...well, then a day that could be anything. All writing or a mix of writing and talking and design. A lot of, as I told everyone I met at SXSW, farting around on the Internet. A 2.3-mile walk around the Silver Lake reservoir at some point. Consistent inconsistency, from somewhere around 7am to somewhere around 10pm, seven days a week, 350-odd days a year.

They listened and smiled and nodded. Non-judgmentally. With genuine courtesy and curiosity.

Emboldened, I mentioned the soundtrack of "shoulds" that accompanied my tasks like a non-stop iTunes playlist. I should be doing something else. I should be doing this better. I should do this now, but let me deal with it later.

After taking in the entire sweep of me and my neuroses, we got to work. Which, as it turned out, meant getting all my stuff in front of me, where I could see it in one place. And learning a few simple ways to process new stuff so that as it came in, I could put it in a place where I could find it later.

Amazingly, there was no talk of best practices or Holy Grails or Right Ways of Doing Things. There was just me, and my process, and some gentle guidance towards self-discovery of the best way to support it.

On my own, I realized I was carrying around a paper calendar because I thought I should, because I had seen someone else's paper calendar working for him. Like gangbusters. So I had tried several times to implement this paper calendar system: to map out my day to the 10-minute pod the night or the week before, and sit down each morning and follow it word for word.

It worked, a couple of times. And it felt great, having a whole day full of getting all these things done.

It also felt like a nun standing over my shoulder, guilting me into being a good girl. Or a noose around my neck, loosely tied, perhaps, and pretty...the Hermes scarf of nooses. But a noose, still.

I do not do well, you see, with being told what to do: I do well with suggestions, and the breezier, the better. I like the feeling, illusion or not, that I'm choosing my actions moment to moment.

No doubt this tendency to suspect the walls are always closing in is why marriage felt more like a straight jacket than a security blanket. I remember distinctly proposing to my then-husband that we privately and quietly divorce, but continue to maintain the outside appearance of being married. That way, we'd catch no flak from pesky outsiders, and we would have a profound and glorious shared secret: we would be choosing to stay together every single day; we would co-create our relationship as we went along.

No wonder that scheduling thing didn't work out too well. Or the marriage, for that matter.

At some point toward the end of our day together, Jason and Jodi explained the faulty reasoning behind so many well-intentioned attempts to get organized: if I perform these this binder...sort according to this system, I will be free.

Instead, the way to look at it is more like this:

I am free.

I can employ my freedom in service of my unique goals and gifts. By getting very clear on what those goals are, whether by assiduous self-observation or third-party assessment or giving myself the space to let them bubble to the surface, or any combination. By any means that works for me.

I can also employ my freedom to unearth my natural working style. And then, again, to find the services and methods and structure to support it.

Like anything else, it takes a little more work and finesse to find your own way in the world. It's like the difference between couture and off-the-rack. Or styling things from the ground up vs. Garanimals. It takes a little work to find the unique sculpture locked in every slab of marble. But it's there. And, to paraphrase old Martha Graham in her famous confab with old Agnes de Mille, if you don't find it, you will seriously harsh on the planet's mellow.

I wish, oh, how I wish, that there was one answer in one book, and that all I had to do was find that book. Instead, the maps to your map are in the books. Look at that person's journey, and see what you can find in her struggles or his mishaps or their lightbulb moments that makes you tingly. The truth comes at us sideways, usually, and when we least expect it. Our job, I increasingly believe, is to prime ourselves for reception...and reflection...and synthesis.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with getting yourself a nice, new Moleskine notebook or a sexy MP3 recorder, if they'll make the journey sweeter. I'm down with the gadgetry.

But for me, for now, the road to enlightenment is paved with some calendars output from iCal shoved into a plain, old artist's sketchbook with a Uniball Micro shoved down the spiral.

Wave as you pass by on your way...

xxx c

*For those of you who have never subjected yourself to the media matrix, "Have It Your Wayâ„¢" is the trademarked tagline of the Burger King corporation, and a cornerstone of their operations, marketing and positioning. Because, as anyone who's ever tried to order a Filet-O-Fishâ„¢ with extra® tartar© sauce and No Cheeseâ„¢ has discovered, having it your way is not the way of certain other major quick-service establishments.

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

There's also a wealth of wonderful shots (for inspirational/idea-unsticking purposes) with the simple Flickr search of "moleskine" in the attribution/non-commercial/as-is section of Creative Commons licensing; one favorite is this one by Mike Rohde, which has a staggering comments section.

Sometimes searching is the work

search I gave myself a rather extraordinary gift this year: no new clients for the first three months, to be reviewed and possibly renewed come April 1st.

This is extraordinary (meaning absolutely not the usual thing) for a few reasons:

  1. I am obsessed with the idea of achievement
  2. I have resident fear of living out my days eating cat food out of my shopping cart/home
  3. I was raised by a workaholic who died rich (see Reason #1) and an alcoholic who died poor (see Reason #2)

Excepting the five months I was out of commission because of the Crohn's onset, some brief cipherin' sez I have not taken more than two weeks of complete non-work since I was 17. That's 30 years ago, for those of you just joining us. And unless I'm missing something, I can count those two-week hiatuses on two hands with fingers left over.

30 years.

No wonder I got sick. No wonder I fell apart at 41. No wonder my relationships were fraught with difficulty; can you imagine the kind of person who'd tolerate that in a mate?

Of course, there's an advantage to being obsessed with achievement, the kind backed up with action, anyway: you, um, tend to achieve stuff. Unfortunately, without time off for digesting, for rest, for replenishing, for the all the things that give one a little higher-up perspective, it's easy to lose one's way (and by "one", I mean me). You know, this is not my beautiful house; this is not my beautiful wife. Or simply, "Rosebud."

One gift among many given me by my ex-husband, The Chief Atheist of the West Coast, was the philosophy "Life is a series of techniques." It amused me and then annoyed me and finally, amuses me because it is true. However, while pithy as hell (he's a witty dude, the Chief Atheist) I have grown to believe that for clarity and usefulness, the line should be slightly amended to read thusly:

The living of life is a series of techniques

Or even more pedantically:

The successful living of life demands the acquisition of a series of techniques

Yeah, yeah, I sucked all the poetry out of it. But not everyone will have the benefit of hearing the line delivered personally by the Chief Atheist, and too many of those pithy lines get mucked up in the Big Game of Telephone. How many lives have been irretrievably fucked up by the perversion of the line, "The love of money is the root of all evil"? A lot. (Of course, those who have been attacked in their sleep by hordes of shiv-wielding Euros will probably disagree with me.)

Two of my big problems are "Eyes Bigger Than Stomach" Syndrome and its kissing cousin, "Shiny Object Syndrome" (which I believe was coined by a way-brilliant art director partner, Sherry Scharschmidt, back when you could actually make a living writing TV commercials.) Knowing my weaknesses, I've come up with some workarounds to help: a marketing coach who's kind of a hard-ass; a social media guru who's very gentle but insistent; a projects list to shame me into saying "no" or at least "maybe" when yet another irresistible opportunity pops up in my RSS feed of life. Oh, yeah, and a shrink. Sorry...make that two shrinks.

What do all these governors have in common? They give me ground-level guidance, sure, but they also provide a higher-up perspective. They are not mired in the me of me, and so can give me some reasonably objective input regarding where I'm on track and where I'm going off the rails.

This is great. Nay, this is fantastic: asking for help is a miraculous thing. Now the time has come to start giving myself some of that perspective. To stop working so that I can examine at where my Work is taking me.

I'm building in some granular hacks: one hour of enforced reading per day. A minimum of one meal or coffee with a friend per week. Five walks per week, to be sliced up however (a dog is your best partner in this exercise, pun intended.) This all falls under the rubric of this post's sister essay, "Sometimes Joy Is the Work," which, if you check the date on that link, is something I've been working on a long, long time.

But there's also the big, scary, new experiment I mentioned up front: no new clients for 90 days. And "no" to some projects from current clients. I think this will help give me the time and space I need to understand my own big picture, or at least, the next five years of it.

This is my work, too: making sure I'm doing the right work. And that means a lot of not doing work-work: money-work, easily-explained-to-the-outside-world work.

For the record, if you run into me at a coffee shop or a meetup or SXSW this year, I may still say, "Oh, I'm a graphic designer." It is scary to divulge too much at once, and tiring, for introverts.

But you will know what's really going on under the hood.

Keep a good thought for me...

xxx c

The creeping, creeping bar

high jump It is Sunday.

Late in the week, late in the day. For lady-reasons I won't get into, I've dramatically reduced my caffeine intake of late so it seems even later. And then there was that falafel for lunch, that pizza and beer for dinner. They didn't do much to perk me up and put me in a writin' mood.

There was also that vacation last week. Holy crap, that vacation. Which was great and wonderful and inspiring and realigning and all that good stuff, but did nothing for my work ethic. If anything, it drop-kicked it into the toilet and flushed twice (the cafeteria's a long way away, as the saying goes.)

But let's put food and rest and chemical imbalance out of the way, shall we? Because we know, or I do, and you will shortly, that none of these things are to blame for my reduced output of late, either here or elsewhere.

It's success, pure and simple.

For whatever reason, I've had a good run lately here on el bloggito. Not that anything's felt particularly good while I'm writing it, to the contrary, I've trembled the last few times I hit the "publish" button because I've wondered whether it was too: too angsty, too revealing, too showy, too plain, too revealing, too remote. And yet I've been getting some of the best feedback I've ever gotten, or gotten in a row. So what do you do for an encore when the medium demands one Two days? Week? Two weeks?

It's this damned competitive streak in me, is what it is. Even when there's no one to compete against, I compete against myself. A good speech or meeting or job can't just be enjoyed for what it is, not when it's really and truly good. Instead, it becomes the new yardstick by which all subsequent things will be judged. Especially the next one. A few times this past month, I have literally said a little prayer of thanksgiving that I did not meet with huge success in my youth, in Hollywood, in wherever. Few people have the head for it, and I'm not one of them. My head is so damned big naturally, it threatens to take over all the screen real estate available, at least vertically (moon-faced, I'm not.)

Of course, the flip side of big ego is no ego. All good or no good. There is precious little enjoyment of the "all" when you are intimate with the "no". "No" always lurks quietly in the background, ready to take you out with one swift, silent swoop of the baseball bat. And the higher the bar gets, the better you do, the worse the fear.

Some people, as I understand it, do not live with this. Good for you! Seriously, I would wish this on no one. It's mine to deal with, and the dealing with has gotten easier overall as time has worn on.

Still, there's that next job. That next speech. That next blog post. It shouldn't matter, it doesn't matter, really, not a whit, but there it is.

So it was with a heavy heart that Guilt and I made our usual way to the library on Friday. Another week, another seven days without those three chapters written. (That speech. That @#&* blog post.) We wandered to the new arrivals section and there were a few slim volumes of interest: that book Nora Ephron wrote about her neck, another from Walter Mosley about writing, period. We grabbed the first for schadenfreude and the second for instructions.

And the very first instruction?

The first thing you have to know about writing is that it is something you must do every day, every morning or every night, whatever time it is that you have.

Nothing new here, folks. The man is right. "There's no time to wait for inspiration." This sitting around fretting is as much a waste of good time as watching television. And we know how I feel about that.

This post may not be my best. Nor the next. Nor, sadly, the next 50. I may never, ever write a story as compelling as those I've already written. It's a risk I will have to take, every time I sit down to write again. I may suck, you may disappear, the best may all be behind us.

That does not relieve me, or you, for that matter, of putting pen to paper, metaphoric or otherwise, every morning of every day, just the same.

It is the doing. It is the trying. It is the showing up.

If we stop creating, we cease to exist. Or we just exist. And what's the fun of that? I'd much rather be here than have been here, no matter what levels of perfection are involved.

Well, okay. That's pretty much a total lie. But I'm going to keep showing up, all the same.

Hope you will, too...

xxx c

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

On sunsets, cerebral overload and the restorative qualities of a steady Law & Order drip

me at the ranch Skip vacations at your own peril.

On my way up to mine, I cried no less than five times. I think. Frankly, I was so disgusted with myself, I kind of lost count.

I also spent a good portion of the trip doing 75 - 80mph, having to pee but refusing to stop because I was in a hurry to get to vacation, and worrying about the kettle I was sure I'd left on to burn down my entire apartment complex.

Oh, and there was a lovely phone fight with The BF. Because nothing says "relax and kick back" like some hating on the one you care about most.

When you are a workaholic, meaning, when you "love" your work so much you become addicted to it, it is as hard to let go of the feelings you wrap around yourself to keep it together as it is for some people to knuckle down and get to it, period. Neither is better than the other; like the man said, everything in moderation, moderation inclusive. (Of course, workaholics and our dopplegangers, would they be slackaholics?, latch onto that last bit as our saving grace/"out" clause.)

Fortunately, even assholes like me can have their rough bits worn off by long walks on the rocky coastline and a fine quality sunset cheered on with beer and a burrito. The sweet-funky, '70s love shack I rented comes complete with everything I need to readjust my attitude: wraparound view, high-speed internet and yes, cable TV. PLUS a hideous old recliner from which to watch it.

I have work to do these next few days, work I truly love, elective work I've been itching to get at. And get at it I will, tomorrow morning, with a strong cup of black tea to inspire me (and a killer view of surf crashing on the rocks if that doesn't work.)

But for now, it is me, my Archie Bunker chair and an evening of Sam Waterston et al stretched out before me.

I am so happy in my little self-love shack by the sea I could cry.

Tears of joy, of course...

xxx c

No, really, what's your story? (A solicition or an opportunity...or both)

whisper I've been working on a super-secret web project for an interesting, celebrity client who is using her high profile in the real world for, as I like to say, the powers of Good and not Evil, something I always try to support here at communicatrix-dot-com.

Hell, that's kind of my modus operandi for life in general.

Anyway, eventually, everyone and his brother will be able to participate just by going to a good, old-fashioned URL. But for launch, we want to have some coolio stuff ready to go. I told my client that I have the most interesting, fearless readers in the world, and hey, counting the readers of readers, that's probably close to true, so I'd put the word out here.

We're still working out the copyright issue, because ultimately, there may be enough cool stories to warrant a compilation in book form, which she'd like to be able to do. But for now, let's say that there will be a rider there where you can opt-in if you'd like to be included in the book, and opt-out if, for some reason, you wouldn't. Either way, everyone retains copyright of his or her material, meaning you're free to do whatever the hell else you want with it.

In other words, she ain't looking to get rich off us chumps; she's doing fine in that department. She's just really, really into stories.

And that's what the site is about: everyone's stories. Because as someone who's walked longtime amongst the rich and famous (and the starving artists and regular people before then), she knows that "famous" does not necessarily mean "has better story."

So here are the topics she's looking for essays on now:

  1. "Most inexplicable fling or crush" (you know, that one you're, like, WHAT THE HELL?!?! after it passes)
  2. "New passions or obsessions, however fleeting" (she mentioned a new and strange love of watching Sunday golf on TV, even though she hates golf and has no desire to learn to play)
  3. "Regrets" (big, little, whatever)
  4. "Most memorable high school dance" (could be prom...although not for me...)
  5. "In what ways are you a weenie" (uh...yeah. 500 words probably isn't enough for me)
  6. UPDATE: "Favorite space you've ever lived in, and why"

Each story should be on ONE of the topics (i.e., don't combine your crush with your prom story, or at least not as though people will get that there is more than one topic; each story should stand alone).

Also, if you want to play, they should be:

  • around 500 words, max
  • personal (i.e., about your experience)
  • p0rn-free (or really, really hilarious)

Other than that, she's wide open. Site should go live June 1, god willin' and the creek don't rise. If you're totally freaked by sending your precious words to me like this, I can give you more details, but you'll be sworn to secrecy and if you blab, you will be SO uninvited to my birthday party.

E-MAIL STORIES TO ME, PLEASE, AT communicatrix-at-gmail-dot-com

Let's say by...May 18. (Don't want to drive the developer batty, esp. since he's The BF.)

Don't worry if you're a great writer, a medium writer, or not-a writer. Although I believe there's no such thing: we're all storytellers somehow, and if you don't believe me, you don't listen to StoryCorps enough.

Or read this blog enough, for that matter...

xxx c

Image by grana (aka. crazypuccia) via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

How to avoid writing (almost) entirely but get your curtains (almost) finished

copenhagen curtains 1. Start a new project.

2. Start another new project.

3. What the hell, start a third, while you're at it.

(IMPORTANT: Do not drop any previous projects.)

4. Ignore obligations and accompany friend to see great new show.

5. Become obsessed with getting known universe to see #4.

6. Spend hours on phone attempting to accomplish #5.

7. Watch nonstop television in anticipation of #1.

8. Bust out sewing machine in disgust over procrastination/vain attempt to multitask and justify #7.

9. Break sewing machine.

10. Post to blog about 1–9.

xxx c

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

Cleaning My Damned Apartment, Day 20: I can see and hear clearly now

spring cleaning two After being out of town and just plain out of commission, today found me both home and feeling over my cold enough to catch up with my beloved Lily.

I made a decision awhile ago to stop multitasking during real phone conversations, since it's not possible for me to have a quality talk with split focus. But I find I get mad spilkes when I have to sit and focus with no visual stimulus or physical activity. I'm okay if I'm hanging out with a friend and we're 'just' talking, I'm okay driving a car and listening to the radio, but I cannot JUST sit and talk on the phone or JUST sit and listen to music. (Oddly, I can just sit and watch a movie or even TV, but I feel sick if I JUST watch TV. That might be JUST conditioning, though, Ole Golly and my mom felt pretty much the same way about the idiot box.)

Anyway, I'd been Getting To Empty in preparation for my trip tomorrow, but that required mental energy, which I wanted to have fully focused on Lily. I stopped as soon as I got on the phone, but sitting still was starting to make me panicky. Not good.

Then, while I was up getting a drink of water, I absentmindedly picked up a sponge and started cleaning the window screen in the kitchen. Instantly, I felt my focus return, laser-like, to our conversation. So I got out the all-purpose cleaner and wiped down the vertical blinds. And then the glass cleaner and cleaned all the slats so they could go back into the jalousie windows for fall.

And lo, an hour and a half later, not only were Lily and I massively caught up on events large and small over the past month, my whole apartment looked amazing.

Everybody wins.

Despite my highly competitive nature, that really is my favorite thing...

xxx c

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

Cleaning My Damned Apartment, Day 13: Time to make the doughnuts

thriller There wasn't a lot of time to tackle new cleaning projects yesterday: it was mostly about clearing project-projects off of my desk. Which I did, to the tune of three.

I even unloaded a couple of fresh packs of address labels I'd never gotten around to using on one of my more beloved clients, the fabulous Miz Jones, after we played cut-and-paste with the mock-up of our latest magnum opus: a presentation leave-behind for potential backers of her latest opera, Songs and Dances of Imaginary Lands.

No, yesterday was not about me tackling Mr. Skanky Fridge or me scrubbing out the bathtub (which desperately needs it, I mean, ew!) But as I blasted through my to-do list before heading out to a friend's wedding with The BF, I did note how, just over halfway through this experiment, things are subtly starting to shift for me. Because the one thing I have been adamant about through this process is keeping up with the little things.

Like making my bed, every day.

Like emptying the clean dishes from the drainer, every morning.

Like clearing my desktop, both computer and real world, of detritus, every night.

It's keeping me calmer. It's giving me breathing room and space to create. It's, I swear to you, making me more productive.

I used to hate routine chores. To me, they felt like just another iteration of the hobgoblin of little minds. But I had the quotation wrong: it's foolish consistency that's the hobgoblin. Some habits, kindness, thoughtfulness, mindfulness, are excellent habits that provide a foundation for great things in life.

Now I see these annoying little tasks as kindnesses I lavish upon myself: small gifts of time and attention to make me feel good. And maybe, just maybe, by making my tiny world a little better and myself feel a little more tended to, I send a happier me out to interact with the world. And then (ohboyohboyohboy) maybe I'm actually making the world a little better of a place for everyone else to live in.

So today, I will wash my morning dishes. Brush my teeth. Empty the trash. (I've made the bed already.) And not with a heavy heart, but by choice, because having these things done makes every part of life better.

And then, I'll get back to work, also by choice. On Labor Day.

Because then, on some random Tuesday afternoon or Thursday morning, I can play.

Consistent wisdom sprinkled with inconsistent foolishness, that's the ticket...

xxx c

Photo by X-travaluemeal#2 via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

The cure for spilkes


Now, when I'm happy, I laugh
When I'm sad, I cry
I get my melons in the melon patch
And when I'm itchy I scratch

, from the song "When I'm Itchy, I Scratch"

I always want something; I just don't always know what it is.

Knowing doesn't mean I'll necessarily get it, of course, but the acknowledgment alone can work wonders. I've gotten much faster and don't always need all the steps, but here are all five for when I do:

1. Get very quiet.

2. Close your eyes.

3. Take three deep breaths.

4. Note what surfaces.

5. Acknowledge it.

Of course, sometimes the cure for restlessness is rest.

And with that, the communicatrix is retiring for the evening...


Photo by Susan NYC via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license

Thanks to fellow "itchy" freak Matt Preskenis for coming up with the full lyric