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?

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.

The crazy lady cops to the crazy

crazy frog (puppet) on a tiny dirt bike

Dan Owen loves it when I write about my workaholism.

So this is going to be a banner week for Dan, something I'm happy to give him, for all he gives back via his thoughtful comments, and who knows? Maybe, just maybe, if I can chip away at some scaly mass getting in the way of me and a foothold, maybe it will be a banner week for me, too. Because for as trenchant as my workaholism is, and for as much as many 12-steppers would insist that obviously, I'm getting something out of it or I wouldn't be doing it, I insist, INSIST, I tell you!, that there is a way out of this to a happier me. To someone who, it is true, enjoys work with perhaps more fervor than many, and still to the exclusion of many things, but not to the point of obsession.

There is always, usually, a way out of here. It's more likely that there may not be one way out of here, if you're talking tactics, but the central way is most certainly some shift in thought. For example, my way of feeling, my approach to the kind of work I was interested in doing too much of, changed in pretty much an instant, during my hospital-bed epiphany (which I spoke about at last year's Ignite). But while there have been other shifts in realization that took longer, my transition from being okay with applying my stupid workaholic engine to writing ads for The Man to not being okay with it, for example, the shift to new work itself, or a new way of being, or a new set of habits, has always taken a while. Rome wasn't re-engineered in a day.

Both Dan and Piper bring up one critical component of this re-engineering: checking the yardstick by which I'm measuring accomplishment. Fair enough. I'd say I'm aware of the disconnect between my idea of reasonable and that of someone who is, well, reasonable. This year, I had my annual goals list vetted by a compassionate but critically-thinking friend; last year, I had my then-coach do the honors (who herself has a touch of the workaholism, and who declared my original plan unrealistic). This year's list required less retooling for reality than last year's, and so far, I'm also much more on track than I was last year, both of which items I'm calling progress.

I believe the real progress lies in two things: first, my willingness to openly cop to this as something that's not working and that I want to change, then trying stuff that stands a reasonable chance of working. While I've been copping openly here on the blog for years now, there are years and years (and years, decades!) before then where I not only denied it, if you brought it up to me, I'd have told you that was insane. My father was a workaholic; I knew what workaholism looked like.1

Second, I am objectively happier. Sure, there are many contributing factors, including the epiphany, but there are some key differences that point to my being able to back off this work b.s. now and then and have fun: for starters, a group of women friends, which I never had before, and not only choosing to be with them, but initiating many of the get-togethers. My old modus operandi was just to glom onto whatever friends my S.O. of the moment had, letting him initiate the scheduling. Now I cultivate relationships, and enjoy the tending of them, maybe not to the extent an extrovert would, but I'm not an extrovert! The flip side of this is that I also grab "me" time whenever the hell I feel like it, something I never felt entitled to do before. So, progress!

Ongoing visualization of a five-pound bag and the amount of shit that will fit remains a challenge, though. Piper's method for handling this is intriguing, but feels effortful to me. I've timed things, how long it takes to write a post, a newsletter, to clean the kitchen, to run to the post office, to no avail. The times are too variable. Slightly better has been to play with time allotments for things, as several commenters suggested. This has been marginally more helpful, but man, I have a capacity for denial even with this: I'll completely overlook the physical drain something that's emotionally exhausting will take, and end up with stupid-long lists.

What it boils down to is something that I really hate to look at, but is exactly what Dan seems to suggest is inevitable: what do I really want to do? Because that, I'll manage to get done. I take care of what I have to, eating and sleeping, keeping body and soul together, and what I "have to", this blog, mostly, and connecting with people I'm interested in about the topics I'm interested in. Like most smokers, I quit smoking when I wanted to, and not a moment sooner. I went on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet when the choice was between that or hard-core meds with deleterious long-term effects, not months before, when I was just uncomfortable.

These books I say I want to write? When I really want to, by this logic, I will write them. I'll quit writing so much here, and start writing more there. Maybe my refusal to let go of this idea of me writing a collection of essays on one theme is just another form of clutter. I've been cautiously, cautiously watching Hoarders lately, as they put up new episodes, and it's a little scary, seeing the outward manifestation of interior chaos and clinging. I recognize myself on that OCD spectrum, and fully cop to both my blessing/curse of seeing potential in goddamn everything and my reluctance to call chapters closed. Part of why I've been stripping away, stripping away, stripping away mercilessly (albeit slowly) at my physical and digital clutter issue is that I recognize this inability to make decisions about stuff-stuff is adversely affecting my ability to make decisions about life-stuff: there's a side of me that's still seven, and that wants to live in four different cities (at once!), with five different men, or none, as a ballerina/shrink/college professor/Mike Royko/hobo. Okay, that's an exaggeration: I never wanted to be a ballerina.

It's crazy-making, the ability to see potential in things. It leads to lives full of crap and devoid of a central thing, okay, maybe two, that really matter(s).2 I know more about this than I wish I did right now, I've been on both ends of this problem. Maybe I'm delusional, thinking that my continued pursuit of a solution to the problem is anything more than a workaholic cat chasing its own tail. Maybe I should cut my losses, find the lowest-common-denominator workaround to the problem, workaholics anonymous, which does exist, and sign myself up.3

One final thought (for now) on this mishegoss: while I'm happy to have read 52 books in less than 52 weeks, and while I almost certainly would have been a bit disappointed had I made it to the end of 52 weeks without having read 52 books, I really am happiest that I've managed to build reading back into my life. Really and truly. I am happy to be reading books again, because I enjoy it. I am happy to be reading them still, though I've more than fulfilled my "obligation" to myself, and I expect to continue enjoying reading far, far beyond these 52 books and however many weeks.

I'm proudest, however, that I've been able to stop reading books I didn't want to finish, after 10 pages, 50 pages, even 100 pages. That I didn't for a moment think "OMG I HAVE 100pp INVESTED I CANNOT STOP NOW AIIIYYYIIII!!!1!!" I am reading what I like, because I like it, that is healthy, I think, but it was my crazy-ass, OCD-oriented mindset that got me back to this nice place of being.

That, I think, is not crazy at all. Or maybe it's just crazy in the "good" way.


1I didn't, of course, any more than I knew what Crohn's looked like. My workaholism presented much differently than my father's did, just as my Crohn's presented differently. He was all Joe C-Suite and shallow conversations and diarrhea! I was all starving-artiste and meaningful dialogues and constipation! COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. (Not.)

2Here's how crazy-making it is: when I watch Hoarders, I want to train as a professional organizer who specializes in compulsive hoarding disorders!

3By the way, if anyone has experience with this organization, I'd be very interested to hear about it. And yeah, I get the ano

Image by moffoys via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license. From this "Crazy Frog" Filckr set, which will almost certainly make you laugh, which is good for you whether you're a workaholic or total layabout.

Sticking a fork in it, Mister Rogers-style

exhibit featuring mr rogers' sneakers While I've spent most of what I'm coming to call my "Sabbatical from Sabbatical" holed up alone, I have made occasional runs back into L.A. for various types of interpersonal reinforcements.

A Biznik meetup. Some Nei Kung lessons, to get a particularly complex bonus-extra move down pat, successfully, fingers crossed.

And, of course, for shrinkage. I've taken many hiatuses from shrinkage over the years, but I've found that the monthly tune-up version of ongoing shrinkage really works for me. Maybe if I can get my farkakte compass working 100%, I'll be able to forgo those; maybe finances will force my hand at some point, regardless. But for now, I compile a little GTD-style "@shrink" agenda, slot it full of stuff, then haul my ass in to get the crazy straightened, kind of like a Brazilian blowout for my psyche.

We're running up against a really trenchant issue now, or maybe it's a tangled web of stuff that presents as a trenchant issue: my workaholism. Nothing I haven't discussed here before, but I'm starting to look at it a little differently, a little more tactically. One huge step forward for me was declaring this very sabbatical (although not the Sabbatical from Sabbatical). Granted, I've been declaring it incrementally, two weeks in December became a quarter in early January, and I keep pushing the edges of it outward as much as I can.

Within those borders, though, I've been operating with mixed results. I'm happy with the amount of reading I'm doing now, both for fun and edification. I've gotten much better about spending time with friends (I think, maybe I should check with them.) I'm spending more time with food prep and on exercise, which keeps me from hurling myself at drive-thru windows most of the time (I confess, to you and the Specter of Wayne, to my enduring love of those goddamn Jack-in-the-Box, 2-for-99¢ tacos). I'm getting to bed earlier, so I'm getting more rest.

On the other hand, I seem to be having trouble finding the "off" switch for my days. Part of it is that I have not been good about earmarking an entire one per seven for rest, so I steal time during my weekdays, which pushes work into the weekends, which creates a vicious circle. The other part is that, and I cannot believe that I'm saying this at almost-50, I've never found the "off" switch for each individual day. From the time I called my time my own, I've just worked when work needed to get done. Justified or not (and believe me, most of it is NOT), when you work in advertising, you work, period.1 Once I escaped, I felt like I couldn't stop working, because I didn't have a foothold in anything else yet. This drove my ex-husband, The Chief Atheist, batshit-crazy, probably rightly. During most of our recreational time I was less a companion than I was an angry, grudging millstone. But it got me out of writing ads for money into acting in them for money, and helped me pick up all these mad, 21st-century skillz along the way.

Besides, a lot of the time, I'd goof off here and there during the day, then work away all night. I'd get my 12-hour day in, just at weird times. I can't do that anymore; these days, I feel the air coming out of the balloon at around 6:30 or 7, and there's no second wind forthcoming.

So I'm looking for hacks. Soliciting hacks! Or ideas, solutions, tricks, whatever you want to call them, as long as they've worked for you. They can be front-end hacks, i.e., things that I could do in the earlier part of the day, to ensure that I get my plate cleared off and feel okay stopping at a reasonable hour.

But I'm especially interested in "Mister Rogers" hacks: putting on play clothes at the end of the day to signal it's time to stop working. That kind of thing. They can be treats, I love treats!, but they should not be fatty, as I'm trying to reduce a bit, and they should not be alcohol. I already know how to use that as a shut-off valve.

What does one do to mark the end of the day? WWMRD, What would Mister Rogers do?

Or is that all made-up, PBS, fairy-tale stuff?

xxx c

1This has only gotten worse with time and the splintering media landscape, by the way. At least I could take time off when I was away on location, during production. These poor people now? Ugh.

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

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.

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.

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