work/life balance


Boris, the butt-monster

I’m exhausted by all the striving I see online.

—Patti Digh, in fear.less (which you really should read)

* * * * *

I have been having a spot of difficulty lately with my writing.

By “writing,” I mean “posting anything to outward-facing places like email or the Internet,” and by “a spot,” I mean “fucktons.”

Privately, I have written a great deal over these past several weeks—as much as (if not more than) I ever write. Pretty much every day, I write at least three pages, longhand, in a spiral notebook. Most days, I also sit down to one or another of my now TWO computers—whichever feels luckiest—and write quite a bit more in various text editors and/or word-processing programs.

Even more than writing, I have been reading lately: magazines, of course—no shortage of these had piled up during my little birthday project. And the Google Wave with Dave™ (aka the Greatest Blog in the World Written Just for Me).

But mostly, I have been reading books. Delicious, delightful, glorious books. I have three books going in the bedroom, three as part of my morning crank-up routine, one for the bathroom, and a few more on the Kindle, as I’ve been on the lam from my L.A. life these past several weeks, and carrying even one’s most beloved books becomes burdensome when it must be done on the back of an psychically exhausted, physically out-of-shape, middle-aged body. (Restoration work is underway here as well, but it will be some time before I am in, you’ll excuse my political incorrectness, Sherpa-shape.)

If my math is correct (and Lord knows, it frequently isn’t), I have read four times as many books in the three months since 50-for-50 ended as I did during the two months the project ran full-steam.1 Putting aside the unnatural competitiveness that would have me exceed last year’s final book total or feel a failure regardless of what other accomplishments I’d accrued, this much reading-of-books speaks to a deep need for filling the well back up in a particular way. Rest is great, but rest-plus-reading really does the trick.

Besides, one can only sit in a hot tub watching Midsomer Murders for so many hours per day. Although I have also astonished myself these past few months by how many “so many” can be. Also, how many episodes of Midsomer Murders exist.

* * * * *

For future reference, here’s a list of things not to do (in no particular order) when you are already feeling pretty darned bad about yourself:

  • Hold your breath
  • Sit with your legs crossed
  • Lift your shoulders up until they are just below your ears
  • Keep them there
  • Quit exercising
  • Eat a pound of dairy products
  • Refuse to leave the house, except to purchase more dairy products
  • Go on Twitter or Tumblr
  • Read any blogs except this, this, this, or possibly this
  • Wear your tight pants
  • Refuse to turn on the heat in your apartment because while you live in Southern California, you grew up in the Midwest where they have REAL winters, and besides, you are horrible and don’t deserve heat
  • Execute any items from the backlog of your to-do list
  • Look at your to-do list
  • Look at reminders of previous accomplishments
  • Wait to post something to blog until it is Significant

* * * * *

For a time in my early 20s, I lived in New York City—two years in what is probably still an unfashionable part of then-barely-fashionable Park Slope, and then, to reduce the possibility that I might lose my shit on the “F” train and do harm to myself or others in a sweaty fit of claustrophobia-induced rage, a final year in Midtown Manhattan. (Never underestimate the change of attitude to be gained by getting to work as one’s ancestors did, by rolling out of bed and walking a brisk 12 blocks to Madison and 41st. Also, corn muffins!)

I was conflicted from the moment my college roommate dropped me off at my new, temp-to-perm apartment. New York was awesome in both the yo, bra!  and traditional senses of the word: there were those rare days where everything clicked and it was like riding one big, long, beautiful, lazy wave in my own private music video; mostly, there were long stretches where New York's indifferent magnificence and seismic power kept my shoulders stooped and my sense of self in some kind of check. Ultimately, though, you either make your peace with the energy of New York, accepting that it is always-on and that you, spindly human creature, must lower your sights, or you leave. (Or, I guess, you harden parts of yourself and/or die, but these seemed unacceptable options to a headstrong young American lady of 25 years.)

I left—ostensibly, for a boy, but really, so I would not fry my delicate circuits—and moved back (back!, most awesome-in-the-old-way of all words next to "forward") to Chicago. For my first year there, friends would have to all but snatch a handful of coat to slow me down as we walked. Even when we weren't walking with much of a destination in mind. I received a new nickname—“the White Tornado”—which, I’m not proud to admit, I secretly adored. I ground my teeth and smoked my face off and moved to probably the only apartment in Chicago without an actual kitchen you could cook meals in, subsisting almost entirely on takeout, black coffee, and the bitter rinds of dwindling dreams; I lived, in other words, like I was still in New York, only with colder winters and much more closet space. I hated my job but refused to leave, I loved my boyfriend but refused to make time for the relationship, I hated myself but refused to consider doing even the tiniest thing differently. Magical change! That’s what I wanted!

Eventually, I found a new job, my boyfriend wised up and dumped me, and I got into therapy—not quite in that order, but close—and things did change, mostly because (hel-lo!) I changed them. Astonishing, right? To find one is not, in fact, locked in a dungeon in 17th-Century London, but that one has agency. Of course, humans being what they are and me being an especially human sort of human, my upwards trajectory from there was not without its backsliding and dips. But I never did slip back to that nadir of despair I felt before I walked into my first-shrink-slash-astrologer’s office and took the red pill. Can’t un-ring a bell, I guess.

What has eluded me, however—and rather astonishingly, when you consider how many times the Universe has been called upon to serve up the lesson in yet another shape—is how to slow the fuck down. How to grab the back of my own coat, if you will, and ratchet things back to a sprint. Every time I find myself here—Wile E. Colleen, blinking in midair, breaking the fourth wall to share with an unseen audience a woeful acknowledgment of my dumbass-ness in chasing a Road Runner (who will never, ever be caught) to the wrong side of the cliff—I wonder if there will ever come a day when I don’t find myself picking my broken self up and putting myself back together, just to repeat the sequence in the next reel.

* * * * *

They say, whoever “they” are, that you should never apologize for not updating your blog, the implication being that to do so is either presumptuous or tedious (or both). But even putting aside my very genuine feelings of sorrow over letting my public-facing work languish (and my worry that you will no longer love me, really love me), I am sorry: I’m sorry I caused some people to worry (and thank you for your emails, dear worriers); I’m sorry I requested attention by showing up regularly, only to throw it over when I couldn’t. With great privilege comes great responsibility, and don’t think for a minute I do not understand what an enormous privilege it is to have anyone’s attention for any amount of time in this day and age, much less for the amount of time these long-winded and mineral-dense essay-lets require.2

What I must give up, though I fear it will be neither simple nor easy, is being sorry that I cannot do it all. That I cannot fight New York and win, that I will never be always-on. How can I be? There are 8 million people in New York and just the one here at communicatrix HQ.

This goes double for the Internet, where everyone—no, really, everyone—is trying so hard all the time, and where, at least once per day, someone somewhere is posting the results of some extraordinary accomplishment. Both of these things are deadly to individual human beings: the striving for attention is, as Patti Digh says, exhausting; and comparison, as those smarty-pants Sufis know, is from the Devil (although the saying comes to me via that great and gentle Virgo, Mark Silver).

* * * * *

Repeat after me: “I will receive no awards for the things that mean the most to me.” Rewards? Certainly, and plenty of ’em, although if you are like me, Speedy Gonzales, it can take a while to recognize them as such.3 All I can say, from my privileged vantage point of 50, is “be patient” (and, though it should go without saying, “stay awake”). I am rewarded for going to bed at a reasonable hour with a rested mind capable of a productive day. I am rewarded for exercising some restraint around cheese with, among other things, comfortably-fitting pants. I am rewarded for the time actually spent exercising with a more cheerful outlook. And so on.

Awards add a frisson of awesome, both big and bra, and have their place. The ritual around them is nice, as is the occasional bit of formality, and coming together for a shared moment. But that is what they are, these outward-facing, peak experiences—frissons, blips on a long, and (let's face it) often dull radar trail of a life. A sane mind and a peaceful heart in a healthy body is pretty much the trifecta. For as much as I like my big-and-bra awesomes, I live for those bits of peace I’m able to string together in longer and longer increments. Hallelujah for getting older, I guess.

And so I will sign off by paraphrasing a few more words from my wonderful friend, Patti Digh4: while I was busy doing one thing, and a thing I very much loved doing, I did not realize how much I had gotten away from doing another thing, and a thing I very much love, for all that. Without recognizing it, I let things fall a bit out of balance a bit too long; I have been taking, and will continue to take, steps to bring myself back to balance. (And oh, holy cow, do I ever hope that my own returning to balance allows for a site redesign sometime in the coming year. We are overdue!)

I am back, albeit as a slightly different "I." I shall proceed with the moving-forward in an awesome-in-both-ways way. Big and scary (most of the time)! Big and super-fun (some of the time, or I'm ditching it entirely)! The newsletter will be back on Wednesday; the posting will resume with more regularity here. Those of you awaiting writing in the form of various perks from the big shindig will not, I am hopeful, have to be a-waiting forever. I will continue to do more of this talking stuff, and I will resume shaping the book version of the talked-about stuff.

And if you see me barreling ahead of you, for the love of all that's holy, grab the back of my coat, remind me of this post, and gently but firmly suggest slowing my pace.

I may growl at first, but not loudly, and certainly not for long.

xxx c

1Five books finished from 7/15 - 9/13 vs. twenty from 9/21 - 12/12. That’s four times, right? Or did I lose even that tiny, already-withered part of my brain, too?

2I am also sorry that I cannot always be there to engage with you, and to talk to you about your Thing, whatever that Thing may be, on Twitter or Tumblr or what-have-you. I am even sorrier that I cannot always support you in your Thing as vocally or renumeratively as I might like. At some point, I will give up this crazy notion of a quid pro quo world and really, truly make my peace with the excellent twin notions of from-each-to-each and Paying It Forward; for now, I mostly feel guilty and failure-ish. But if it is your Thing and you love it, you must do it anyway, and hate me as you like. Because each of us must work as hard as we can—although only as hard as we can—to get our Thing out of us and into the world. However, I am also pretty sure we should be very judicious about how many Things we throw our weight behind, or put out there. (Cf. Patti Digh in that excellent fear.less piece, which you really should read.)

3That’s two Warner Bros. cartoon references in one post. What do I win?

4Words which (I swear to you) I found only at the tail end of writing this piece. Is there something in the water, or is this a ladies-turning-50 thing, or what?

A quiet, simple life with dollops of insanity

me, by mike monteiro A few months ago, I had occasion to take an unusual and particularly interesting inventory of my life.

I say "unusual" because as a chronic self-dev-junkie-(slash)-overthinker, my default setting is "taking inventory." Taking Inventory is a sort of state of being, an always-on operation that provides a constant, low-level background hum.1 (Which, given this hearing loss I seem to have sustained from a particularly fabulous but surprisingly loud record-release party last fall, is actually a boon.)

I say "particularly interesting" because while any reasonably thoughtful inventory can yield some pretty wowser data, the circumstances surrounding this one changed both the way I approached the inventory and, I'm guessing, the quality of the results.

In this case, I had a really limited window to get very, very clear on my priorities, with probably no further at-bats. So the thing had to be vast and done fast, and the stakes were much higher than usual. This created an uncharacteristic mix of thoroughness and detachment in my execution, and a startling clarity in the results: quietude and simplicity are more important to me than, well, a lot.

They are more important than money, for sure. This is non-news, I've walked away from a lucrative position (with benefits! and opportunity for advancement!) because while I very much liked the stuff, I did not like the nonsense demanded as payment. Even more insanely, perhaps, I walked away from a consultancy I'd just started developing because it felt overly complex and "noisy." I get that there are very few true "mailcart guy" jobs, but I'm still prepared to scale back even more and take a dumb-ass day job that supports a simple life rather than push through noise and complexity for money. Comfort isn't comforting if you're using it as chaos management.

What the inventory made clear (and which is still hard to wrap my head around) is that quietude and simplicity are more important than being liked, or in some cases, loved.2 I have always had a deeply-felt need to please and to serve. I still do, but I've finally ceded my physical limits: there is neither enough time nor enough me to go around; what's more, I have some faulty factory-installed parts that shut down operations if I don't handle them gingerly.

* * *

So why the hell would someone who likes to keep it quiet and simple go to something like SXSWi, a now-22,000-person-strong (by some estimates) clusterfuck in a town barely able to accommodate half that, an "educational" conference whose programming is legendarily spotty (and getting worse), and whose noise and activity levels drain the lifeblood of even normal, hardy extraverts with youth on their side?

At first, back in 2006, I went out of curiosity and a need to be game. My then-boyfriend wanted to go, and I have learned that leaping has its rewards. So I leapt, and it was good, except for the burning out, which was bad. I learned about what makes a good (and a bad) talk. I learned actual stuff about podcasting and design. I saw movies, which was reason enough to go.3 I was really grateful I went, and grateful to him for encouraging (i.e., pushing) me to go.

When I leapt again in 2008, it was because I'd met a bunch of people online and wanted to meet them in real life, and while I was still uncomfortable with the practice, I recognized that the only way to it is through it. 2009 and 2010 became more and more about connecting with my now-friends, while slowly expanding my circle.

This year, quite frankly, I went because I had gone before. I went because I was afraid if I didn't, I might be missing something. While that's true, I actually would have missed a number of terrific chance encounters and planned meetups, going "just because" is no longer adequate as a sole reason to do something.4 And the drawbacks inherent in a massive, out-of-town conference, where it's impossible to get true downtime, where the panels are so many and so spread apart it's literally impossible to get to some of them on time, where the crowds are so thick and the control of them so absent a small person feels unsafe, mean this was probably my last South-by. It would take extraordinary circumstances to get me back, and a lot of ingenuity in the personal engineering of it. I like my insanity as much as the next guy, but I can only like it in micro-doses.

* * *

I had a short spasm of semi-coherent debriefing in the Wave with my friend Dave. I vented my frustration, my feelings of overwhelm, my nostalgic longing for the Good Old Days when it was a "tiny" conference of less than 10,000 people. He reminded me that even then, way back in 2006, there was an old guard complaining about how SXSWi had tipped, how it had been taken over by non-makers, how it had been "ruined" by this next wave of people discovering the web as a publishing tool, a means of connection. And he was right. And I am right. And SXSWi is right (if a conference can be right): it is a living thing, there to serve the people of the web in the time that they are using it. I greatly enjoyed my five visits, and I'm fine with handing it over to whomever is moving into this ever-changing, always amazing space.

May you enjoy your glorious new thing, and may I find my new dollops of insanity easily and joyfully, and may we all leave the world a better place in our own particular way.

xxx c

1What I mean by this is that I am constantly analyzing where I'm at and examining ways in which I might be resisting not moving further. Kind of like relentless self-development. There are obvious actions like being part of a growth-directed mastermind group, psychotherapy, and reading a great deal of self-development books and other materials on how other people tackle change. There are less-obvious actions like simply turning my attention (constantly, consistently) to whatever thing I've identified that I want to change, noticing envy, for instance, and going through a sort of on-site inspection/analysis/implementation process. If you have questions about this, please do ask them in the comments, or, if they're super-private (and I totally get how they might be) feel free to email me.

2The "loved" part I still don't have a handle on. I'd like to believe there's a way to be me and be in a primary relationship, if only for the seemingly contraindicated reason that primary relationships are the world's greatest self-development labs. Also, division of labor is a great time-saver. Also, footrubs!

3Although strangely enough I preferred the tech-y stuff and the meeting people. Mostly, I treated the movies, once we were inside, and over the stress of the lines and the "will this Gold Badge actually get us in and decent seats?", as a way to be quiet and shore up needed energy for more mixing it up.

4I did also go because it's still a cost-efficient way to see a number of people at once. The problem is that there's a cap on the number, say, 30, and that's on the outside. Over four days, given my capacity, I have the ability to have meaningful meetups with about 30 people. Hugs in the hallway are awesome, and it's always nice to make a quick connection to someone in real life which you can then continue later, online and off. But meals, drinks and hangouts? You're talking 30, maybe 40. 50 if you don't need the insane amount of disco-nappage that I do these days.

UPDATE 4/7/11: Many writers have posted pieces, chiefly grumpy, about how SXSW has finally jumped the shark. Or that maybe it did last year. Or two years ago. Or 10. My favorite take on the hoo-ha is one written by my pal John Gruber. (And it should be noted that John and I "met" via Twitter, then met a few years ago at...SXSWi! After it had jumped the shark and everything, according to the old hands.) John's take is, as per usually with John's writing, straightforward, thoughtful, and succinct. You should probably read it, if you're interested in that kind of stuff.

But for sheer charm, you should treat yourself to my friend Alissa Walker's SXSW writeup. Because no one touches Alissa Walker for sheer charm. Especially with photodocumentation!

Photo of yours truly in a rare SXSW moment of relative quiet by Mike Monteiro, used under a Creative Commons license.

Lessons from 2010: Maximal joy, minimal hoo-ha

still life with note: "find the thing you love to do and do the shit out of it" I have been thinking a lot about love and friction, only not in the way your mind maybe-perhaps just jumped to, if you are like me and we are both, like, 12.

I have been thinking about love in terms of what I love, and whom I love, and how those two things intersect. For example, I love figuring stuff out, reading and taking in and mulling over and hashing out and finally, getting some semblance of a clue. I can do all of these things on my own; I must do quite a bit of it on my own. Maybe the ratio changes as one gets older and, presumably, wiser, but for now, I'd reckon I spend three to four times as much time taking in and hashing out and so forth as I do actually gaining semblances of clues, much less putting them out there.

But while the part that I'm actually sharing with others, the "talking" here, in posts, and in the comments, and in social media, as well as the talking-for-real one-on-one, in groups, during talks, takes up perhaps a smaller amount of time, it delivers a disproportionately large part of the thrill. Which makes sense: We are social beings! We like being around each other! Wherever two or three are gathered! And so on.

So the answer to love seems pretty straightforward: figure out what it is you really and truly love, and move toward it. Do more of it, be around more of the people who facilitate it for you. Relentlessly hew to your love, and ignore that other stuff, or just deal and dispense with it as quickly as possible.1

Friction is more complex. More obviously complex, anyway.

For our purposes here, "friction" is what stops you, or slows you, what creates drag. And the tricky thing is that you don't want to get rid of it entirely, because some of the friction is good for you, and arguably necessary: who learns from easy? You may like easy; I certainly do.

Trickiest of all is that friction can be fun, in the right amounts (cf. that thing our 12-year-old minds immediately went to). The right amount of push-back in a conversation is thrilling, even (or especially) when it borders on maddening. Worthy opponent, and all that. Ditto solo problem-solving and, jeez, is it just me, or is all of this tinged with innuendo today? Well, you get my point. (Point? Really? Argh!)

In the wrong amounts, of course, friction is dreadful, even deadly. Too much friction will grind you to a nub. For me, advertising shifted from the good, learning friction to the bad, grinding kind. So did acting. So did, I'm ashamed to say, more than one long-term relationship.

Most pertinently to me, so did the confluence of friction-filled endeavors that led to my Crohn's onset. First, because since my collapse in September of 2002, I can no longer count on Powering Though Shit as a modus operandi.2 Second, because that sucker crept up on me, and while I was, or thought I was, moving toward love. I wasn't in advertising; I was acting, and in a great play! I wasn't in an unfulfilling marriage; I was in a wildly passionate relationship!

Yeah, I know. Nothing like a good, clear view from the outside. Or hindsight.

What about the present, though? Because like it or not, that's where we're all doomed to live, no matter how much we look back wistfully or project ourselves into the future.

My suspicion is that the clearer one gets about love, what love means to one, what one cares about more than one's own small human self, the simpler it becomes to discern that line where useful friction shifts into fruitless grinding.

My other suspicion is that for those of us who are good at kidding ourselves about what love is, who are good at "keeping things vague," as my old Method acting teacher used to say, the very most useful tool of all is the truth. Relentless truth. Gentle truth. Simple truth. The truth at the core of the Method: "Where am I right now?"

  • I am at a party, late at night, having fun.

The first two items are facts; the last is a state of being, or an assumption based on the first two items. Provided we're playing what we'd call in the Method class a "simple" scene, drama or comedy with a clear who/what/where, as opposed to the kind where there's a lot of dramaturgy required before you can make heads or tails of it, we start with these tangibles. And we challenge the assumptions.

  • I am at a party, late at night. It is loud, and I am unable to hear the person next to me without him shouting and me straining to listen. I was up early this morning and up late the night before. I am tired. My attention is straying elsewhere, mostly to thoughts of quiet and sleep.

So I am not in a party, late at night, having fun. Maybe I was having fun. Maybe I am supposed to be having fun. But now, at best, I am having "fun".

This may sound ridiculously obvious: You're at a party and you're tired and not having fun? Leave, dumbass! Who's keeping you there? And who needs an exercise for this?

Well, maybe you do not. In certain situations, more and more of them, thankfully, I do not. More and more I am awake and attuned to my real feelings, and more and more I am inclined to act on them. Still, I have blind spots, both unavoidable, the ones I don't know about yet, and willful, the ones I'm still, for whatever reason, unwilling to give up. I power through, I blip over, I look away out of fear or politeness (which one could argue is a form of fear).

One big truth at the end of last year was that the way I was working was not working. After a year of both musing and actual, physical testing, I think it comes down to this: I had stopped being truthful about what it was I loved, i.e., the thing I care about more than my own, small human self, and stopped being careful about managing friction, i.e. the physical realities that made it possible to pursue it. Now I don't have to just guess whether MORE ROOM makes for a happier, healthier, more productive and loving Colleen; I know it.

I know I need a certain number of hours of sleep per night and the right kind of food and enough exercise.

I know I need a ridiculous amount (to some) of time spent alone, and in a quiet, nurturing environment.

I know that doing the shit out of something is fine, but that it may involve equal parts pursuing the something and lounging on the bed or in the bath, reading, and not just reading books that will obviously move me toward my goals, but engrossing novels, vivid memoirs, enchanting graphic novels.

I know that it is as important for me to take an hour to walk as it is three to write. It is as important for me to take three hours to shop for real food and prepare it as it is to work on my PowerPoint deck.

Those 16 non-working hours in a day aren't for squeezing more stuff into; they're not even for making the eight working hours work better, although you can use them for that, which I confess is largely why I started turning my attention to them. They're for living. Living! Who knew?

My (slightly) older but infinitely wiser friends Hiro and my First-Shrink-Slash-Astrologer both advocate more being, less doing. In my heart, I know they are right; I also know that to tell a doer to Just Stop Doing It is like telling snow not to fall or water not to move downstream. For the time being, then, for 2011 and beyond, I will continue to look at different kinds of doing. Switching doings. Working, yes, working, on further reducing drag.

Finding ways to discern and describe what it is I love in real terms. Finding ways to reduce drag on my movements toward them.

With joy! Towards love! And as much as possible, out in the open, where it might be seen and made use of. But working.

For now the "being" will have to take the form of "being okay with that."

xxx c

1It may take a while to discover exactly what it is that you love, but there are tools for that: The Artist's Way is a good start for those who self-identify as creative; plenty of tools and exercises for excavating your truest, purest self, for me, the part that is still 10, before my dreams started bumping up against the world's expectations. Until I was 10, I was an artist, I didn't have to think about whether I was, or what it meant, or whether I was a good one, or whether (and this is a big one) it was practical or not. I just was.

2This does not mean I have not tried; oh, me, how I've tried! Each time, a little less successfully. I tire astonishingly quickly now compared to the rate I did during my 20s and 30s, or even my mid-40s, and my bounce-back rate gets slower and slower.

Clearing my (psychic) clutter, Day 13: Calendar clutter


And on the Seventh Day, the Lord said, "Clear that damn clutter off your calendar."

And so I did.

And in its place, the Lord spitballed an idea for an uncharacteristically short, ultra-meta post.

And it was good.


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

Working toward siesta

siesta_masternet82 If each week got its own word, last week's would be "painful."

Painful overcrowding. Painful frustration with not being able to get enough done. Painful sense of shame over both of these.

Worse, even as I built this week on my calendar over the past month or so, I knew it was going to be painful, because I could see the over-scheduling and overcrowding and lack of room developing before my eyes. And while I couldn't anticipate the exact nature of the failures, which balls would be dropped, which plates would come crashing to the ground, I have been at this long enough that I knew I was making trouble for myself.

The key culprit was the addition of a two-day conference a few weeks ago. I'd already built up a hefty week of commitments when I decided that it would be fun to go to this one. Several people whose work I follow and whom I'd like to meet at some point were scheduled to be there, along with a few other people I already know and jump at the chance to see whenever they pass through town. Sure, it was two full days away from work, but really, what could go wrong?

The quick answer is "just about everything": traffic, last-minute client emergencies, too-high temperatures, too few clean socks. (Seriously, how many outfits have been a major fail and days an uncomfortable wash for lack of a little clean laundry?) I detailed the business-type version of the agony and subsequent ecstasy over at my marketing blog, but here, where I can let my hair down a bit more, I'll confess: Day One was far, far worse than I could begin to describe (because while I'll talk about anything here, I stay away from something like World's Worst Case of PMS over there).

On the other hand, Day Two was far, far better than the scope of a marketing blog allows for describing. Because here's what lies on the other side of hell, in virtually every circle I've rounded to date, that too few people talk about: heaven. Fucking glorious, in excelsis Deo-style heaven. It's release after tension, explosion after accumulation, fabulous belch after McDonald's Extra Value Meal #9. I felt freer and happier than I had in some time, because after having it shoved in my face so that I could not look away, I finally realized that I have a problem and the problem is me.

Hi. I'm Colleen, and I'm a workaholic.

I work (almost) all the time. Ask The BF, or my poor ex-husband, The Chief Atheist, or any other partner I've been with. Ask the Jans, Chicago or L.A. varieties. Ask my family, ask my nosy across-the-courtyard neighbor, ask anyone I've ever worked for, "Slacker or workhorse?" and I can almost guarantee that you'll get served up the latter.

Note, please, that for a long time, this was a badge of honor: that I, Colleen Wainwright, could work longer and harder than anyone around me. That I would be Last Man Standing. That all y'all could eff off and go grab a slacker Coke because I WIN THE PRIZE.

Now I know not only that is this all about wiring (Virgo!) and some really messed-up conditioning (love dangled as carrot for a job well done), but that it's kind of a stinky prize. The prize, she is stinky! And not in the good way, like Arnie. I learned this after I got knocked upside the head with the Crohn's seven years ago, but UH-OH, I forgot. I learned this again when I got knocked upside the head again earlier this year, but UH-OH, I am a dumbass and forgot again. Work-life balance, in my case, means that I now work at home so I can wear comfy clothes and spare myself the kind of hateful commute I found myself in last week. It also means that I have moved my work closer to my life's work, which is certainly awesome but can also be used as a smokescreen. Because baby, I don't care what your life's work is: if you don't take time to cook yourself good food, eat it with delightful people and otherwise recharge your batteries, your life's work will be cut as short as your life. Period.


The first step, according to Bill & Co., is admitting I have a problem I'm powerless over. Which I do, and I don't. I'm not an atheist, exactly, but I'm also not a God person, exactly. My neat sidestepping around this one is that I do see myself as some kind of vessel for something, the collective unconscious, the Big Soup, what have you. And the job I have identified for myself-as-vessel (or, in my specific case, Joyful Conduit of Truth, Beauty and Love) is first and foremost to keep the vessel in good working order. That kind of covers all the bases, the learning and getting better/stronger/faster parts, and the rest UP, dillmeister parts. I've been making steady progress on Part A, but have acted retardidated, as my friend, Justin, likes to say, about Part B. You are witnesses. Thank you for listening. Coffee and (SCD-legal) doughnuts in the back, although you'll have to step outside to smoke.

My plan for dealing with the rest of this B.S.? Many-pronged, with redundancies. Lots of experimentation, because really, I have no idea what will work at all, much less best. Here are some things I've already put in play:

  1. Daily Walk (a few months) So far, I'm only doing this in the morning when I stay at My Country Home. It's good for the dog and good for me and good for the environment, since 5 days out of 7, we're usually walking to the neighborhood TJ's to pick up groceries on foot. Love this, it works like gangbusters and keeps me established as Arnie's favorite human. (What? I told you I was competitive!) Recently, I added hills and carrying lumpy objects, per Mark Sisson's RX. (Good site, by the way!)
  2. Implementing systems (several weeks) Since reading Sam Carpenter's Work the System and having the lights go on, I've taken very seriously the notion that systems are what help make for sanity, and that I need to get my shit into systems now. Paradoxically, this is a little more work up front: I'll stop in the midst of something I'm doing to note an idea for systems, or to iron out a small bit of one if I can. Eventually, like anything else, it'll become second nature (thanks, Merlin, for the Dreyfus model, my new-favorite term). Oh, and full disclosure: I dug on Sam so much that we wound up chatting a lot, and then he wound up hiring me. But trust me, I ain't selling you nothin', here: he's giving away the book for free on his site.
  3. Breaking for meals (several weeks) The heat wave we've been, er, enjoying, has screwed this up a bit, but I've taken to taking my morning and sometimes noon meals outside on the patio, with an actual book. It's part of the reason for the increased number of book reviews on this site, as well as some sanity.
  4. Consolidating my shit (years, but hard-core over past few weeks) I'm taking time each day to weed through stuff. I'm also putting my money where my mouth is, signed up for a terrific jumpstart teleclass from Charlie Gilkey and Jen Hoffman called the Work Party, and I'm going to a de-cluttering workshop next week where I actually have to bring a bag of clutter to go through. Public humiliation is a big motivator for me. I also finally upgraded my 4-year-old laptop, and am committing to making my brand-new MacBook Pro my main machine. This will mean clearing out my old machines and selling or donating them (or at least two of them), which I will do methodically and non-crazily (see #2).
  5. Retreat! Retreat! (coming up) I'm committing to spending the time on this year's trip to the PacNW on me. That means input, help, reflection and, god help us, recreation.

And here are the things I'm working toward (because hey, workaholic overachievers have to have a goal, even when the goal is relaxing!):

  1. Streamlining focus I like too many things. I have the curse of being semi-okay at a lot of them. It's my blessing and my curse, moving me forward but never quite the kind of ground I'd like to cover. Everything I've ever read about success says that a key ingredient is focusing. For whatever reason (impending death?), I'm finally taking this seriously.
  2. Taking Sunday off It's shameful, my utter lack of disregard for the usefulness of time off. I haven't managed a full day off for a long time (road trips don't count!), but I'm getting closer. Is it embarrassing to be "getting closer" to doing something normal? Yes. Yes, it is. Remember? Public humiliation is a strong motivator for me.
  3. Hiring an assistant I'm a ways off from this. I don't make the kind of income yet to justify this. Hopefully, clear-cutting commitments and focusing like a laser beam will help here, but I'm open to windfalls, a personal Medici or other solution. Have your girl call my, oops. Never mind.
  4. Moving The BF and I have been working toward me moving in. Having one household, not two, should seriously reduce my stress levels. Plus, I think a change of venue is good. I've been in my current place for 10, count 'em, 10 years, and the building has changed vastly over that time, mainly for the worse, I'm sorry to say.
  5. A daily "spiritual" practice In quotes because, as noted already, I'm not a god lady. I don't really even want to call it a contemplative practice, because then my mind immediately leaps to yoga and meditation, and I'm not or a yoga lady or a zazen lady. Not that I couldn't be, it just doesn't draw me closer to where I know I need to go now, which is less work and more groundedness. I really like the Remembrance, which I learned from Mark Silver; I also like what I've read and experimented with thus far re: chanting, which I discovered via Adam Kayce.
  6. More music! I started off the year with such good intentions. Music makes me happier. It both relaxes me and stimulates a different part of my brain. Plus then I get to make more crazy shit. Which is always good, right?

I do realize that there's a certain irony in an 1,800-word blog post devoted to the subject of conquering overwork. Trust me, I've dealt with this, too, from within the friendly confines of a system, with an eye toward keeping that precious, precious Sunday free. Although I will say that even with my Sunday Experiment, I reserve the right to write everyday, whether that brands me a workaholic or not. There's a wonderful story about Charlie Chaplin and some contemporaries frolicking at the beach, South of France, or somewhere delicious like that, and at one point during the day, he took his leave to go back to his room to work, because he felt that that's what writers did. And I do, too.

But we're experimenting, here, so I'm playing with different things. I hope you will indulge me, and perhaps encourage me, and maybe even play along, if you feel like it.

As always with these kinds of entries, any thoughtful suggestions, resources, inspiration or just plain old sharing is welcome. Have you dealt with this? How?

For the love of all that's holy and the few hairs left on my head, how?

xxx c

Image by masternet82 via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Poetry Thursday: Enough room


You either give yourself enough room
or you give yourself enough rope.

Your choice
every day
even when it doesn't seem that way.

You choose
the new project
or the space to let the old ones breathe.

You choose
crowded or airy
light or heavy
even or wobbly
caff, half-caff or decaf.

You you you
no matter how much you want
it to be
them them them.

God hands you a can of paint
for to spruce up a wall
or a chair
or a hall
or a door

Is it Her fault
you use it
to paint yourself into a corner

No matter.

There is rest there, too,
where vectors collide.
And much time
to ponder
the thrills of a full plate
as you multitask
and learn
precisely how much fun it is
watching paint dry...


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

Heat sink


Several miles to the north and east of me, the hills are literally on fire, outing my complaint about high temperatures and no air conditioning for the pansy-lightweight-whinerfest that it truly is.

And yet.

There are realities to every season, turn turn turn. And one of the realities of Southern California from late August to late October is that it can be unbearably hot for large chunks of the day over great swaths of time. Add to that some big commitments I've just wrapped up, a few that are ongoing and some mamalukes, as The Chief Atheist used to call them, coming up, then subtract the number of sweat glands it would take to bring me up to the normal cooling powers of your average sweaty bear, and it's no wonder I'm feeling a wee bit weak right now.

I'm not exactly Spanish yet in my commitment to the siesta, but I'm almost overly proud to say that yesterday, when the heat and smoke were at their worst, I had enough good sense left in me somewhere to retire to the one air-conditioned room in the house and lie down. And I'm not a napper, there's this horrible, residual-only-child thing in me that always feels like the real fun happens as soon as I leave the room, but once I got horizontal with a little snoozy reading material, my body took over and just conked me on the head. I awoke three hours later not exactly perky, but far, far less cranky than I'd been for the bulk of the day as I hauled my overheated carcass from here to there on even the abbreviated schedule I'd planned for it.

So here is my pithy thought for the day: there will always be a party going on as soon as you step out for a breather. You will always be missing something groovy and awesome. You will think wistfully of the good times you might have had as these groovy and awesome parties are recounted for you later on.

Also? There are only so many hours in a day, and you only get to be awake for so many of them at your peak energy. Choose wisely. Then stay well hydrated during them, especially during your hotter times of the year.

Also-also? My old shiatsu bodywork instructor used to carry around a teeny-tiny pocket calendar. Think those ones the banks used to give out for free, then cut in half. We're talking microscopic.

After each session, when we'd set our appointment for the following week, we'd each whip out our respective scheduling devices: her teeny-tiny one (and, like, a golf pencil), my ginormous, Filofax-clone-of-the-moment (because, ever restless and in search of the Perfect Solution, I would change it up periodically). I had a slot for each fifteen-minute segment of my apparently very important days in one incarnation.

Anyway. One week, I couldn't take it anymore. "How," I asked, "can you possibly cram all the stuff you need to do into that teeny-tiny calendar entry?"

She looked at it, then up at me, and shrugged. "I can only do three things in a day; this means I can only schedule three things in a day."

Now, this was a gal who did shiatsu and was a working actor; she could have more going on in an afternoon than a suburban mother of five did in a week. But there were only three things she would schedule; the rest, well, they happened. Or not. That was free time, during which she worked on any (or many) of her other myriad projects.

Three things today: a little meeting, a little shrinkage, a little accountability action. And yes, a lot of driving in between (not such a hardship when it's the only other place you can enjoy a/c), plus...whatever.

And three things tomorrow, regardless of how finely I can carve up my calendar. And maybe three things daily until this heat breaks. Might as well make something pretty out of this mess, right?

Stay cool. Stay rested. Stay hydrated.

And if it fits your mood (and/or your calendar), let me know how you're carving up your day during this hot, hot end of August...


Image by Joe Lanman 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.

The other side of balance


I had my ladies over this past weekend; I'd like to have my ladies over every weekend, they're so fun and smart and grounding, not to mention they fawn over the dog and bring delicious treats. For me. Well, and the dog.

One of the very grounding things these ladies do is provide context: we've been meeting semi-regularly for five or so years now, and have known each other longer than that, so we all know quite a bit about each others' strengths and challenges and accomplishments and, while we speak of them kindly and with reverance, our inevitable abject failures. We're omelet-makers, are we, and that entails the breaking of many eggs, and the eating of many mistakes along the way.

The other grounding thing my group provides is this spectacular set of lenses and mirrors. The mirrors are kind of obvious, I guess, we all have people around us who reflect back to us our lunacy and brilliance, our predilections and finer affinities. These gals do that unstintingly, but kindly; they're like really clean, really fine-quality glass mirrors set in beautiful frames. They're not skinny mirrors but they're not fun-house mirrors, either. They simply reflect the truth, with gentle grace and beauty. Which is awesome, let me tell you: I lived a long time in the fun house, and that shit will mess you up.

The lenses are another thing altogether. We have significant areas of overlap, we're all women, we're all actors and artists, we're all very forthright, and enough differences to make life interesting and ourselves particularly useful to each other. The oldest of us is in her 50s, the youngest in her 30s, and the rest of us are born within 14 months of one another. We all make art, but of different types; we've all collaborated together on different things, design projects, theater projects, writing projects, video projects. We've got a mom, a seamstress, a graphic designer, a professional journalist, two speakers of French, an opera composer, a couple of singers, a drummer, two piano players, a guitarist (and a half), and FIVE, count 'em, FIVE kickass cooks between us.

We also have writers. We're all writers, of differing sorts of things: blogs, plays, columns, stories, poetry, songs, operas, essays, screenplays, articles and yes, journals. (Although interestingly, I don't think any of us are journaling at present.) And we've each been writing for differing amounts of time, but for a long time.

So when I threw out that the schedule and goals I'd set for myself in late December had me writing 3, 4, and sometimes 5 or 6 hours per day, on top of all the other crap I'm doing, I got a very interesting response.

"That's a lot. A real lot."

I'm paraphrasing, but you get the picture. I got the picture. Finally. Finally, it started to sink in that while all that writing is great, and while it's definitely something I love and want to be doing ALL the time, it's a lot, a real lot, on top of the consulting and speaking (and marketing of such) that I'm doing. And that's not even getting into the other things I'd been working on, like turning myself from a half-assed guitarist to a full-assed one, or getting in shape, or, you know, being a reasonably non-shitty girlfriend to one of the planet's finer human beings.

It hit me hard today, as a lot of things have been hitting me hard, since I don't have a lot of buffer lately. You can't be balanced without room to do it, ergo removing stuff from the total load is probably the first step towards balance. (Not to mention focus, but I don't even know what to do with that right now.)

There were two big messages the universe sent me via SXSW:

  1. If you put it out there, it will come back to you in ways you never dreamed of
  2. Without stamina, there ain't much you can do about #1

This is not me with a plan: this is me finally starting to get a clue that the plan has to be one that works in the third dimension. I don't know how yet, but I look forward to the universe throwing a few lesson plans my way very soon.

And by "universe" I mean "everything, including you." So fire at will, and make it the good stuff...


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