Good enough, Day 5: A poem


You know that thing where, completely by accident,
you run into an old friend you haven't seen for seven years
at a place neither of you would expect because
how the hell would they know Terry and Rich?, 
they moved away SEVEN years ago—
at least two before Terry and Rich even got to L.A.,
much less met each other
and you're both so excited you shriek
and hug each other
and maybe even cry a little
and then, embarrassed,
motion to your respective, politely bored companions that
you haven't seen this person for SEVEN YEARS
and exclaim over how great it is to see them (because really, it is)
and how each of you looks exactly like you did fifteen years ago (because, well—ballpark)
and then, before you realize what you have unleashed,
you ask them what they've been up to
and they catch their breath and say, "Omigod...!" because of the enormity of it,
but then, in a steady stream, release things like "MFA"
and "...Seattle, for Greg's residency"
and the names of two things you're pretty sure are children
and one you really hope is an animal
but honestly, you're having trouble concentrating
because you already know what comes next.

And when it does, as it always does,
you think about the various men who have come and gone
and the one husband who was gone but came back as a friend
and the several careers you've tried on
like costumes sewn for someone else—beautiful,
but tight around the shoulders—
and even the one time you wound up in the emergency room
and thought you saw Jesus but it was only dehydration and a trick of the light

And you consider telling them all of this
but you are bored of it already
and why get into what's really going on,
or even the simple, crazy story of how it was all set in motion
on that early Thursday evening when you walked out of a Ross Dress for Less
and the sun hit the palm trees in a particular way
and how, for one nanosecond, maybe two,
you finally knew that someday, you could feel all right
even if you didn't know how just yet.

No one talks about the long climb
back to okay
at a cocktail party,
even one with dear, old friends.

So instead, you say, nothing! nothing at all!
and you both laugh
and ask how the other knows Terry and Rich
and you all friend each other on Facebook—
right there, on your phones, like the Jetsons!—
and promise to meet for coffee
which you just might do in another 40 years
when the witnesses are gone.

The skinny on, plus all previous 21-Day Salutes™.

Good enough, Day 4: Rickety sit


Sometimes, the enormity of the wrongness of things holds me in place like a pile of x-ray blankets. Other times, it triggers a feverish hyperactivity—anxious, spinny, sound-and-fury-signifying-nothing stuff. Both states feed on themselves. I can spend hours either way. Days. Weeks. Spare me your stories of single, lit candles banishing darkness; in times like these, the ability even to curse is a holy gift.

Still, I am learning tools—simple, time-tested tools I've known about for ages. Perhaps what took me so long to pick them up was that they are counterintuitive: when I am jangly, moving works (especially extremely long walks); when I am locked, the solution is to be even more still. I have a certain part of the couch where I usually do this, and an ancient word to focus on, but that is about it as far as the formalities go. I sit in whatever silly clothes I'm wearing, legs crossed, lower back supported, and let the word float up somewhere just behind my forehead. 20 minutes in the morning, 20 more in the evening. For a year now, no less.

When I open my eyes 20 minutes later, on rare occasions I am actually buoyant. (This tends to happen when I'm able to sit in the company of other sitters.) Equally rarely, 20 minutes doesn't seem to make a dent.

Most of the time, though, when I'm done with my sit, things are a bit better. Not horrible, not wonderful, but better.

What's taken me the longest to get is that any one of these three afters is not why I sit. I sit to sit, and that's it.

And that is more than good enough for me.


The skinny on, plus all previous 21-Day Salutes™.

Good enough, Day 3: My friend, the bamboo


I saw this sign today on my morning walk. I've passed it dozens of times without even taking it in, and a few without stopping, even though I had. But today I stopped and really saw it. First, I admit, because I was annoyed (yet another piece of crap badvertising leveraging essential human truths for commerce), but then because it genuinely interested me: What if we really did this? What if we walked around, allowing ourselves to be amazed by children, everywhere we went? Not because they had done something special, but because they can't not see everything as special.

Later in the day, on a very different walk, I saw my neighbor's little girl looking at bamboo. Not special bamboo, because there is no such thing. This was just random bamboo someone stuck in the ground and let grow, because it's a weed, it will grow anywhere. And this little girl was looking at it not only like she had never seen bamboo like this before, but like she had never seen anything before. There was just her, and the world's most interesting thing, which happened to be a completely ordinary, absolutely fascinating stalk of bamboo.

Her father said they were spending the afternoon walking around, meeting the plants in the neighborhood. And I thought, Of course you are. You're meeting them, and I don't think I've even seen half of them yet.

So you see, that really is some bullshit tagline: it doesn't even have to be your child for it to work.


xxx c

The skinny on, plus all previous 21-Day Salutes™.

Good enough, Day 2: The Freezer-Burn Smoothie


It has been more than a good-enough summer here in Los Angeles; it has been nothing short of spectacular. Warm (but not overly so!) days, sandwiched by mornings chilly enough for long walks and evenings cool enough—with the assistance of cross-ventilation and some strategically-placed fans—for the winter comforter. (L.A. "winter", anyway.) But, oh! There is a give-and-take to all spectacular things, is there not? In this particular case, what has given is smoothies, a mainstay of my summer-in-L.A. diet for a good 10 years, or whenever I bought my crappy old blender. I have a somewhat inefficient internal temperature regulation system, you see. I don't shed heat well, except in winter—yes, even L.A. "winter"— when it bleeds from my extremities like Jesus on the cross. Smoothies were introduced as a corrective—a means of bringing down my core temperature a half-degree or so when the temperature here in the E-Z-Bake Oven climbed over 85ºF—and they work. (This could, of course, be purely psychological, but I resist looking up the science involved, because you try living in this joint without air-conditioning or hope in the middle of a monthlong heat wave.)

Here's the thing, though: if the temperatures do rise and catch you unprepared, you are hosed, smoothie-wise. The (sorry) smooth preparation of smoothies requires, among other items, a ready supply of frozen bananas. And because of my fabulous-yet-persnickety diet, my smoothie-bananas have to be black when they go into the freezer, which requires even more foresight. So the surprisingly clement temperatures gifted us by the roller-coaster ride that is global warming, coupled with my apparent inability to remember to check weekly forecasts for the errant day from hell, did not just throw me off my smoothie game—they took me out entirely.

But oh, the gifts a challenge comes bearing under its own, sweaty wing. In my desperation, staring into the minuscule, apartment-sized freezer for the 75th time, hoping bananas would miraculously appear, I spied a stash of diced avocado (stuck in there during a stretch of exasperated thrift, no doubt). I had enjoyed avocado smoothies elsewhere over the past year, in Ojai (deadly hot) and Portland (you'd be surprised, and they are TOTALLY unprepared for that shit). Yes, these were professionally blended in budget-killers I will never save enough Amazon points for, but hey, I could give it a try. The worst that would happen was my own blender dying, which would suck eggs, but something-something zombie apocalypse anyway, right?

I am DELIGHTED to report that this desperation introduced the most delicious smoothie variation I have found since I learned to replace OJ with apple juice. My avocado/coconut milk/strawberry smoothie went down like (insert sexist, circa-1956 locker-room joke here), and did a bang-up job of cooling me down.

The Good-Enough Freezer-Burn Smoothie

  • 4 ice cubes
  • 1 good handful frozen, diced, ripe avocado
  • 1 good handful frozen, sliced strawberries
  • 1 cup coconut milk*
  • 1/4 cup apple juice (if you like it sweet, like I do; otherwise, add more coconut milk)
  • 1-2 tablespoons honey (again, for sweet-toothed folks)
  • 1/2 cup yogurt (optional)

Pulverize ice cubes in blender. (It should scare the cat.) Add the rest of the ingredients and blend together until smooth. If you have an old-timey blender like mine, keep an ear out for the motor sticking, and stop/hand-stir, and/or add more liquid.

Makes two 1 1/4-cup servings, or one big-ass serving.

*I made this the lazy-man's way. It's a little gritty, made with an old-timey blender, but you don't notice the grit in a smoothie.

Good enough!


Image by me, and definitely good enough—just!

Good enough: A 21-Day Salute™


The sidebar to the right was supposed to be cleaned up before I started writing here again. There was also supposed to be a new logo on the tippy-top and faster-loading lines of code underneath. And if you looked at it all on your smartphone, it was supposed to fit perfectly. That word will get you into trouble every time—"perfectly." Ditto the ones "supposed to."

Speaking of words, this particular collection of them was supposed to be coming together earlier and far more elegantly than it did. It was supposed to be longer, then shorter, then longer still, then verse, of all things. It was supposed to explain everything quite clearly, yet remain vaguely mysterious and faintly oblique. It was definitely supposed to have fewer adverbs.

Also, the shadow on the accompanying photo wasn't supposed to be there, and I was supposed to either go back and snap another picture or—don't laugh—learn Photoshop well enough to remove it by the time this went up.

And I wonder why I wander away from writing.

So here: a second fresh start, just like the first one, only completely different.

Because while I am still a ways from being a tree—from feeling I am good enough simply by virtue of being—I can finally see it from here.

And that is worth a Salute.

xxx c

The skinny on, plus all previous 21-Day Salutes™.

51 Things I Learned in 2012


This year has been longest I can recall in the decades since they started flying by. It has challenged me in ways I could not have predicted even twelve months ago, when I foolishly thought I'd mapped the full landscape of challenges. Much of what I've experienced I have not been able to share, partly owing to a lack of adequate processing, partly due to exhaustion, and partly, I'm afraid, because of Facebook. It is perilously easy to let social media drive, and to content oneself with lobbing the occasional comment (or cold French fry) from the backseat.

Which is why this year almost became the one in which I did not do a List. How could I, when so many of my lessons have been private? And why bother, when, for the rest of it, I can just direct you to My 20 Biggest Moments (as chosen by Al Gore Ithym)? Sure, it's lazy, ill-managed, and trite, but have you seen Congress lately?

Then it occurred to me: what better way to exercise my new-found and very-hard-won habit of doing things imperfectly than sharing a smaller, less hilarious list? If people unsubscribe in droves, well, less pressure moving forward, amirite?

So here, for the first time ever, a list of the 51 things I learned over the past year. Slightly more than half, far short of "perfection", and a fine symmetry with years lived.

May 2013 be the year of your dreams, whatever those may be.

xxx c

  1. Just when you start to doubt it, the internet reminds you of how hard it rocks.
  2. And by "the internet", I mean "the people on the internet".
  3. And the internet.
  4. "Humbling" does not equal "humiliating".
  5. Traveling for work is the most exhausting perk you'll ever love.
  6. I should have been reading The Sun 20 years ago.
  7. You of the Past will always overestimate the willingness of You of the Future.
  8. There are worse afflictions than terminal earnestness.
  9. No. More. Scarves.
  10. Falling behind has its compensations.
  11. That Joni Mitchell song about taxis and parking lots also applies to gumlines.
  12. And savings accounts.
  13. But, oddly enough, not to hair.
  14. Instagr—wait, I mean Flickr.
  15. The most expedient way to learn about yourself is to have smart people ask you questions.
  16. Shaving your head dramatically reduces your dating opportunities.
  17. But sharply increases photo ops.
  18. A little lighting makes a big difference.
  19. God will wait until you're good and ready.
  20. Or maybe just ready.
  21. Fuck manicures.
  22. New Orleans is a thousand times better than I ever imagined.
  23. Except for Bourbon Street, which is a hundred-million-billion times worse.
  24. Hormones are nature's way of saying "That'll be $80 a month, please."
  25. New York never misses you.
  26. Eventually, you stop caring.
  27. The universal cure for what ails you is a Dole Whip in the Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Room.
  28. Giving blood feels as restorative as getting blood.
  29. Nothing beats hanging out with old friends.
  30. But stumbling across their new books runs a close second.
  31. A bad video can be too long at a minute.
  32. A great play can be too short at eight hours.
  33. Victory tastes even sweeter when it's Sugar's.
  34. I love playing an asshole.
  35. But I make a much funnier loser.
  36. Gelson's has the best air-conditioning.
  37. Also, the best egg salad.
  38. And, unfortunately, the loudest televisions.
  39. TEDx is the new "done".
  40. A Breville tea kettle will change your life.
  41. Not to mention strip the paint off of your kitchen cabinets.
  42. It's only foreign until you do it once.
  43. Receiving accolades is surprisingly less fun than doing the things that earn them.
  44. A professional knife sharpening is worth its weight in Band-Aids.
  45. Sometimes the best thing you can do is almost nothing at all.
  46. Or at least, what looks like nothing to the outside world.
  47. Besides, I wasn't not blogging; I was helping you maintain your information diet.
  48. Beginnings are always lovely.
  49. Cancer still sucks.
  50. Things change.
  51. But when they don't change fast enough—which is almost always—this helps.

See you next year!









Photo of me and shave artist supreme, Brandon Massengale, by some other person at Bolt Barbers, West Hollywood.

Getting down with where you're at


I was supposed to be married now. I was supposed to live in some sort of expensive housing with my husband—that we owned outright, if you'd have asked my more optimistic and/or financially prudent forbears. In Chicago, most likely. Or the suburbs, for the schools. (I was supposed to get over my Thing about the suburbs, too, I guess.)

I was supposed to have produced a couple of grandchildren for the mother and father who were most certainly supposed to be around to enjoy them, albeit less energetically than they'd have liked.

I was supposed to shop and eat and bank and recreate in a world that looked a lot like the 1960s or maybe the 1980s (but definitely not the 1970s), only with more jet packs and fewer multigazillionaires and a lot fewer angry, confused white people.

I was supposed to be—well, not writing TV commercials anymore, surely, but overseeing the people who oversaw the people who wrote TV commercials that were supposed to run on the many high-paying, widely-viewed network shows that featured exactly zero housewives, unless they came bundled with scripted jokes and a laugh track.

I was supposed to have excellent benefits, including dental and a generous retirement package, for doing this, along with six weeks' annual vacation, a seat on a few local and national boards, a shit-ton of frequent-flyer miles (redeemable at any time, with no blackout dates), a vacation home, one or two books, and a pristine set of intestines.

When I look at the long, long list of things that were supposed to happen but that did not, it is perhaps less of a shock that this post tumbled out late, light, and lonely, no weeks (nor months) of posts shoring it up on the one side.

This, you see, is exactly where I am supposed to be, 51 years and pocket change into my life, and eight years into this amazing odyssey that someone, somewhere, regretfully decided to name "blogging": in my little apartment, noting a remarkable thing after a remarkable day that included nothing that any one of my wonderful, wonderful, well-meaning family would have called "remarkable".

I am exactly where I am supposed to be, which is fine with where I am.

I would say that I wish I'd been here eight years ago—or 38 years ago—but that's not true, either: I was exactly where I was supposed to be then, too; I just didn't know it.

More soon. Although what either of those actually look like, remains to be seen.



A friend in deed


Ten years ago next month—close enough to my birthday to call it the world's worst present—I was diagnosed with an acute onset of Crohn's disease. Thanks to great care, a little luck, and the world's most amazing diet, I was able to avoid both surgery and aggressive, costly immunosuppressive therapy; still, my 11-day stay at the "Sheraton Cedars Sinai" alone cost upwards of $40,000. In 2004. I don't want to think about what my birthday colonoscopy would cost today. (Actually, I don't want to think about colonoscopies at all. Ever again. Especially birthday ones.)

In those five months between flat-on-my-back and back-on-my-feet, I learned what love was. I learned it from the hospital staff, whose dedication to my recovery went far, far beyond what their wages warranted. (Kind orderly with the miserable task of collecting my bloody poop every day, I'm looking at you.) I learned it from theater pals who brought DVDs by the bagful, and stayed to share funny stories in the merciless heat of my sweaty apartment. I learned it from my friend, Greg, who grocery shopped for me with the patience of Job, and from my ex-boyfriend, who put aside his grudges and neuroses to take out my garbage and do my laundry—once, with my sister, who did everything, and too readily, and any time I asked, and as many times when I couldn't.

And because for me, money is inextricably bound up with matters of the heart, I learned love once again from my perpetually generous father, whose first response upon hearing of my predicament (after "OH MY GOD ARE YOU ALL RIGHT I'M GETTING ON A PLANE RIGHT NOW!!!") was "Tell me what you need; I'll write you a check."

Unbelievably, and for the first time in a long, long time, I did not need money. At all. My relationship may have tanked, but I'd had good year financially—my best since quitting advertising, a decade before. I was single, debt-free, and swimming in glorious, liquid cash.

Money can't buy you love, but it can buy you health insurance and five months to get your shit together. Literally, in my case!

* * * * *

Last year, I had an extraordinary birthday. It was the birthday of a lifetime—a celebration for the ages! With the help of over a thousand friends—some I'd met, many more that I made—I raised over $100,000 for a group of women and girls whose dedication to meaningful change still takes my breath away.

One of those friends was Patti Digh, a writer whose work I'd long admired, but whom I'd met scant months before, and certainly had no business expecting anything of. Of course, if I'd paid attention to the life she'd led and the causes she'd championed and the all-in, full-out way she'd done both, I'd have known that when Patti signed on to help, Patti helped.

She contributed an interview—one of my favorites of the 50—but she didn't stop there. She gave money; she gave more money. She summoned her legions of fans, and they, in turn, gave money, and shared with their friends. Privately, she sent me wigs in the mail—Marge Simpson hair, Fat-Elvis hair, Marilyn hair, rainbow-'fro hair, bright-pink poodle hair. "Life is a verb," says Patti, and she means it. I don't think I've met anyone who lives the ever-loving shit out of their life like Patti Digh does. I surely don't.

* * * * *

Today is Patti's birthday. As far as I'm concerned, every birthday she has is extraordinary because that's the kind of life she lives every ding-dong day.

This birthday stands out for a different reason, though: two weeks ago, Patti's husband John—a man so wise and funny and generous, his nickname is "Mr. Brilliant"—was diagnosed with renal cancer. Which is, of course, a way crappier birthday present than almost losing your colon and having a camera shoved up your ass.

But it gets worse: the Digh/Ptak household has no health insurance. They did have, for years, but, well, the vagaries of self-employment and caring for two children in a bad economy can force some pretty tough decisions on a family. So here we are: two of the most wonderful people in the world, kicked upside the head by circumstance.

Are they more wonderful than anyone else who needs help? Well, being truly wonderful people, Patti and John would argue that they are not. And I cede the point. The older and poorer I get, the more compassion I have for all people. Everyone deserves decent care, and clean water to drink, and not to have to worry about getting raped on the way to the well to fetch it. Everyone.

Right now, though, is not about everyone. It's about two friends who mean a lot to me, who have done a lot for me and for the world, and who now need help. (Patti and John have not asked for this help; their friends, who are also wonderful, just figured it out and jumped on it.) To paraphrase my friend John Gruber from a year ago, it would be really nice to see a little bump in dollars from people who read this blog. Especially since there's a matching donation of $25,000 set to kick in when we roll over to $50K—I mean, lordy be, the symmetry!

If you are inclined to make a donation, a friend has set up a place to do that.

If you'd like to buy a t-shirt, another friend has taken care of that.

If you'd just like to show your support by clicking a button and sharing your own love—well, you get the idea.

You can even join some 500 of us Patti-crazed lunatics in a glorious, 137-day creative odyssey led by Patti herself. Pay what you can, all proceeds go to the cause. The journey begins today. UPDATE: 137 Days has maxed out at 1,000 (!!!) sturdy pioneers, but you can still donate, buy a shirt, join the Team Brilliant page on Facebook for further updates, and do cartwheels on the nearest patch of grass. I'm fairly sure cartwheels done with abandon aid the cause.

Whatever you can do, my friend—or my friend I've yet to meet—I thank you for...


What's up & what's gone down: July 2012


A mostly monthly but certainly occasional round-up of what I've been up to and what's in the hopper. For full credits and details, see this entry.

Colleen of the future (stuff I'll be doing)

For the first time in the three years that I've been doing these updates, I have zero plans. (Well, that I can talk about publicly.)

Zero public talks. Zero hosted meetups. Zero conferences I'm planning on attending, save World Domination Summit next year. And most definitely, zero birthday plans for this year.

At some point, hopefully soon—and I only say "hopefully" because I'm a hopeless Virgo hard-case when it comes to work—I'll have some things to share. Until then, sign up for the newsletter. Stay tuned here. Friend me on Facebook. (Unless you only want to be "friends" so I'll like your whatever or come to your whaddyacallit, because that is "friendly," not friendly. Obviously.)*

Light a candle, say a novena, butter a piece of toast, but only if it makes you happy. I'm fine, I swear! Plenty of cool stuff going on.

In fact...


Okay, now that I think about it, there are two places where I know I'll be in the near future:

  • "Photographers Helping Photographers" :: One of my very favorite people, Jenna Close, is giving what I'm 100% sure will be a kickass workshop for ASMP Los Angeles this Thursday evening, July 26, at Vaney Poyey's studio in Downtown L.A.
  • "Sustainable Business Models" :: This all-day symposium in New York City is free to the public with advance registration. It will also serve as the launch for...
  • The ASMP Guide to New Markets in Photography, the organization's new and important book on surviving as an imagemaker in an attention economy. And yes, yours truly wrote the chapters on branding and marketing, so I will be on hand, Sharpie at the ready, eager to inscribe something personal and awesome (of course!) on your freshly-purchased copy.

But really, this was all put in place eons ago. So much so that it almost cancels out any future-ness about them.

Colleen of the Past (what I have done for you lately)

Colleen of the Present (stuff I do, rain or shine)

  • communicatrix | focuses :: My (usually) monthly newsletter devoted to the ways and means of becoming a better clearer communicator (plus a few special treats I post nowhere else). Free!
  • Act Smart! is my monthly column about marketing for LA Casting. Nominally for actors, there's a ton of good info in there for any creative business person. Browse the archives, here.
  • Internet flotsam :: I am currently rather disenchanted with the Internet and have been busy doing stuff in my Actual, Real Life. (You should see my under-sink cabinet!) But I continue to waste far too much time over on FacebookInstagram, and, ever so often, Twitter and Pinterest.

P.S. Newsletter coming soon. I think....

xxx c

*If, however, you would like to invite me to an actual party or an actual opening or maybe even an actual launch with actual, real, live people, and actual refreshments, by all means, do. And may the gods rain money and ice-cream cakes on your lawn.

Book review: Clutter Busting Your Life


By the time Brooks Palmer's first book fell in my lap, I didn't need anyone to tell me that my problem with clutter wasn't the stuff itself. I knew full well that the crap I couldn't seem to keep myself from accumulating was connected to circuitry gone awry—that I was collecting things to fill emotional holes or wall off feelings or otherwise protect myself from perceived danger. But I did need someone to say it to me differently, in a way that I could finally begin to hear it. Simply, as it turns out, and with gentleness and compassion. Over and over. And over.

This is how Brooks (once a mysterious angel, now a first-name, real-life friend) works, both on the page and in person. It seems almost too simple at first—that by sitting down and bringing your attention to objects, one item at a time, you could simultaneously reduce the amount of useless stuff in your life and restore a sense of joy and hope. Until, an hour or two later, there is a carful of stuff on its way to Goodwill and the library and various other redistribution centers, and you are left in your little apartment, surrounded by freshly empty spaces and suffused with a surprising mix of energy and calm.

* * * * *

Which brings us to Clutter Busting Your Life and an obvious question: if the first book worked, why another? If the process is so simple to understand, why more pages to explain it? If your spaces remain relatively empty—or if you know what to do when they start becoming less so, and you do it—what could a second book really offer?

The answer, it turns out, is some insight into handling clutter where it intersects—and interferes with—relationships. Because while determining whether an object that is yours alone should stay or go is a straightforward process, dealing with other people's stuff—a partner's, a child's, a parent's, a friend's—is fraught. And unless we wall ourselves off from the world (a sad and horrible prospect), we are always, always dealing with other people's stuff.

Not to mention their "stuff". Because to further complicate matters, it is not just someone's actual, physical stuff that can become clutter to us, but our reactions to the stuff, and their reactions to our reactions, and so on. You cannot do a damned thing about anyone else's crap, but boy, can you ever complicate matters by your response to it: one person's magazine attachment or drawerful of half-empty toothpaste tubes can metastasize into everyone's full-blown marriage crisis if tended (im)properly.

So this book, then, is about arresting the escalation. It's about learning to removing the "clutter" in relationships—the fear and anger and frustration that accompanies all things buried, all decisions forestalled too long—so we can reconnect to each other. Which, yes, begins with reconnecting to ourselves.

Note: in the hands of your average self-helpster, navigation through this territory can get annoying and/or dangerous quickly. Again, Brooks Palmer's strength resides in his ability to keep things simple and focused. He addresses the levels of relationship one at a time, in order and through the lens of clutter, starting with our relationship with ourselves, then moving outward into our various relationships with others—current and workable, past, current and unworkable. There's a special chapter on clutter busting for two, but there are exercises throughout to help you with various aspects of the excavation process, emotional and physical, including a recap of basic clutter-busting technique for newbies or those needing a refresher course.

* * * * *

Full disclosure: if you get Brooks' new book, you will find a blurb from me on the inside front page. While "blurb" is a light, bouncy, almost throwaway word, I take blurbing very seriously. (Except as a verb. Then I laugh like a hyena, because "blurbing" sounds asinine.) Into my very serious blurb I inject one bit of hyperbole, about Brooks possibly being able to help us all clutter-bust our way to world peace. Which is probably an overstatement. There is a whole lot of clutter between us and achieving world peace.

I do believe, though, that on some level, this is holy work. Bringing ourselves back to connection with one another and the present moment is big stuff. That one road back might involve shedding a few things—and ideas, and behaviors—that no longer serve is really not such a far-fetched notion.

If it's your road, this might very well be your road map.

xxx c

Book review: The $100 Startup


For the past year, I've been traveling around the country, telling people about Chris Guillebeau. (Seriously. You can see it here, starting at 2:48 in.) One reason is that his story—of building a platform from zero to massive, of pursuing "impossible" goals like visiting every country in the world by age 35—never fails to inspire audiences. In a time when life can look rather grim around the edges, let alone when we stare into the deep, black heart of it—we need all the light we can get.

But the other reason I talk about Chris all the time is because his methodology for success is rational and replicable.

Yes, he's a quick study, but he is also a perpetual student who reads widely and never stops asking questions of people who know things he doesn't.

Yes, he has what is probably a natural facility with words, but he still parks his ass in a chair (or the floor of some foreign airport) and plunks out 1,500 of them per day. Every single day.

Or, as he summed it up himself in his first book, remarkable achievements are a result of these four prerequisites:

  1. You Must Be Open to New Ideas
  2. You Must Be Dissatisfied with the Status Quo
  3. You Must Be Willing to Take Personal Responsibility
  4. You Must Be Willing to Work Hard

So while Chris has built a fairly unconventional life for himself, filled with international travel, digital entrepreneurship, and rapid iteration, he has done so as much though old standbys like integrity and effort as he has entrepreneurial risk-taking and a 21st-Century attitude toward change.

His new book, The $100 Startup, takes a similarly old-plus-new approach to building a business. It's Chris's philosophy that the most rewarding work takes work, and that it should be done for personal fulfillment as much as for financial freedom. The 100 or so businesses used as case studies in the book reinforce this philosophy—each of these microbusinesses employs five or fewer employees (many are solopreneurs), and most are designed to stay that way.*

This is not, in other words, a book about building a massive, franchised empire from a single taco stand, nor designing killer iOS apps that get bought by Facebook for a billion dollars: it's about helping you to come up with a solid idea at the intersection of your passion and a customer's need; each of the tools within helps you tease out the one in relation to the other. There are checklists for evaluating the business-worthiness of your ideas and for prepping a product launch. There are formulas for constructing a marketing offer or creating a self-published work. There are charts that explain the different types of sales methods and that map the difference between passions that are fun for you and passions that will work in the marketplace.

It's a book filled with incredibly detailed and specific information—nutrient-dense, especially at just over 300 pages—but because it's so well-written and so liberally studded with inspiring, real-life stories, it's a truly absorbing read: business book as page-turner.

In fact, if there's a flaw to The $100 Startup, it's that the stories, lessons, and tools are woven together so artfully, it's difficult to treat casually. This is not a self-help book to be consumed in lieu of action, nor is it a reference book to be shelved and consulted via index. It's meant to be read through from start to finish, preferably while taking copious notes as you go—although as much because the examples and concepts are likely to spark ideas for your own business as to find your way back to useful ideas later.

It is, in Chris's own words, "a blueprint for change and action". He's thinking nothing less than a complete revolution, of people one by one leaving behind what they no longer need to serve themselves and the world and have a great time doing it. If you think that sounds crazy or impossible—especially with seed funds of $100—well, you don't know Chris Guillebeau: a young man who simply doesn't accept that things are impossible.

xxx c

*Size-wise, anyway. There was a minimum condition of $50,000 in net income generated per year, but no cap on the top side, and many of these very small businesses have gone on to become far more profitable. Other conditions required for inclusion in the book were: employee size (1-5, max); a passion-based model; low startup cost; no "special skills" (e.g. dentistry, law, tightrope-walking); and full financial disclosure.

Photos by Tara Wages.

What's up & what's gone down :: April 2012

[] A mostly monthly but certainly occasional round-up of what I've been up to and what's in the hopper. For full credits and details, see this entry.

Colleen of the future (stuff I'll be doing)

  • "Making People Love You Madly" tour for ASMP [May 3: Tucson, AZ; June 7, Seattle, WA] The last two of my "marketing in the postmodern age" talk for the American Society of Media Photographers—oh, how time has flown! This version of my core talk on marketing was customized for commercial photographers, but anyone with a small creative business will come away with plenty of ideas. And, if you're good at networking, many new contacts from the world of photography!
  • World Domination Summit [July 6-8, Portland, OR] I'll be giving the 50-minute version of "What I Did On My Summer Vacation" (aka "the 50-for-50 talk") as a workshop at this year's installment of the world's most fun conference EVER in Portland. The conference has been sold out for months, but occasionally, some poor soul has to release their ticket and you can jump on it. Follow #WDS2012 and @chrisguillebeau on Twitter for scoop.

Colleen of the Past (what I have done for you lately)

  • TEDxConcordiaUPortland [Portland, OR; March 31] I was beyond thrilled, honored, and yes, terrified to be presenting at this conference whose theme is "Becoming Extraordinary." I mean, pressure much? But Michelle Jones, my friend and TEDx organizer (and 50-for-50 supporter) extraordinaire, had faith in me, so I screwed my courage to the sticking place and also, actually rehearsed. A lot. I'm pretty happy with the results, which you can watch above, or by clicking through to YouTube.
  • 3x3x365 :: I don't really do guest posts, but when my wonderful and, briefly, exhausted friend Amy McCracken called out for help, I was able to hide my eagerness to tell a story on my favorite-est blog in the cloak of selflessness.
  • The Strictly Business Blog :: I've continued to write for my wonderful clients, the ASMP, on a variety of marketing and productivity-related topics. Recent contributions include a love note to Evernote and managing expectations with your very own Twitter policy.
  • Savor & Serve Blog :: To celebrate a full year of her re-branded blog, the gorgeous and talented Jennifer Louden invited a group of her friends to share how they'd savored and/or served this past year. I was thrilled to participate, mostly because this year, I finally managed to do some service! It's a lovely, sweet, and breezy roundup.

Colleen of the Present (stuff I do, rain or shine)

  • communicatrix | focuses :: My (usually) monthly newsletter devoted to the ways and means of becoming a better clearer communicator (plus a few special treats I post nowhere else). Free!
  • Act Smart! is my monthly column about marketing for LA Casting. Nominally for actors, there's a ton of good info in there for any creative business person. Browse the archives, here.
  • Internet flotsam :: I am currently rather disenchanted with the Internet. Also, busy. But I continue to waste far too much time over on Facebook, who, speaking of which, have not yet ruined Instagram.

xxx c

Book review: The Fire Starter Sessions

It seems like every 10 or 20 years, there's one breakthrough book in the personal development category.

The chronological first of the How-Do-I-Get-There-From-Here? books to help me find my way was Barbara Sher's Wishcraft. It's gentle and playful in tone, yet still filled with the kind of useful tools and practical exercises that make a Virgo's heart go pitter-pat.*

Next in the all-star lineup was the first I came to, Julia Cameron's legendary Artist's Way. Its language is a bit soft and dreamy around the edges, but structurally, the book is rock-solid. After finishing The Artist's Way, one friend of mine followed a long-dormant dream of becoming a singer-songwriter; I finally left copywriting behind and embraced the terrifying-to-me path of acting.

Which brings us to today, and to Danielle LaPorte's sweeping, energizing entry in the canon, The Fire Starter Sessions.

Like her predecessors, Danielle's exercises for excavating your true self are rooted in real-life experience, emerging over time from hundreds of sessions with actual clients. Full disclosure: I attended an early Fire Starter workshop in Los Angeles, and have been a friend and admirer of the Fiery One and her spark ever since.  Further, fuller-than-full disclosure: I am reasonably sure that Danielle may count "witch" alongside other credentials on her impressive resume. She has an uncanny knack for sussing out fuzzy and/or difficult truths that training alone can't account for.

That said, the worksheets and exercises in TFSS should prove enormously valuable in uncovering your own true self. Her core discovery tool alone ("The Burning Questions", of course!) will shine considerable light on your key truths, but please don't skip ahead: the book is designed to lead you through a process, and step-skippers will miss out on valuable anchoring ideas and frameworks.

While the central focus of the book is pretty clearly self-discovery, Danielle also has an excellent grasp of marketing and promotion, especially where they intersect with personal branding, and a keen sense of what stops many of us from making money (hint: usually, prior issues around money). The Fire Starter Sessions is definitely not a business book, but as with Wishcraft, the lessons you learn about how you engage with people, places, and money will impact your work life as well as your personal and spiritual lives.

Finally, if it's not already obvious, like Sher and Cameron before her, Danielle LaPorte writes for a specific type of creative mind: searching and open, especially to the connection between mind, body, and spirit. While she is absolutely down-to-earth—her language is lively and colloquial and her practical, real-world experience abounds—as the subtitle suggests, her attitude towards change is at least as soulful as it is practical. If pressed, I'd probably describe it as woowoo-friendly, with an edge. Which is far from a bad thing, but is a very particular thing. A quick read of her enormously popular blog or a sample chapter should immediately determine if this book speaks to you.

If it does, you're in for a real treat: The Fire Starter Sessions contains Danielle's best wisdom on creating the life you truly desire. It's comprehensive, wide-ranging, and packed with valuable stuff for the journey.

xxx c

UPDATE 4/25/12, 10:50am: There's going to be some kind of a Twitter party going on tonight at 6pm PT. 10 cents for every tweet marked with the hashtag #FireSS goes to WriteGirl, nonprofit beneficiary of The 50-for-50 Project. Go! Tweet!

Book design by Maria Elias. Author photo by Sherri Koop.

*One stellar example? The woowoo-friendly version of that time-tested accountability wonder from the business world, the master mind group. Scher calls hers "Success Team", and if you've been put off by Napoleon Hill's early-20th-Century, male-centric prose, it might be the thing that finally saves you.

Book review: Design Is a Job

design is a job and mike monteiro is GREAT at his job There are all kinds of myths surrounding the arts, especially where they intersect with commerce. Myths about working when the muse strikes, as opposed to working to increase the odds that she will. Myths about success ("It's a mysterious mystery come by Twitter!"). Enough myths about money to keep the stick-shaking brigade busy for a thousand billing cycles.

But after almost 30 years of circulation in the worlds of copywriting, performance, and design, I believe the most pernicious myth of all is that artists cannot learn to be good business people. Because we absolutely can if: (a) we're willing to make what may be some uncomfortable changes to our outlook and operating style; and (b) we find the right conduit for the information on how to do it.

When you're ready to embrace that first condition, Design Is a Job brilliantly provides the how-to. Written by Mule Design principal and co-founder Mike Monteiro, it contains a no-bullsh*t framework for building a successful creative business, covering everything from what design is (hint: not decoration) to how to keep your pipeline full of the kind of jobs you actually look forward to working on (hint: it does not involve cold calling, begging, or excessive retweeting). Networking, contracts, presenting, and management—it's all in here, in a compulsively readable 130 pages. Because no one knows better than Mike Monteiro that the real secret to getting the job done is doing the job, not reading about it.

While it is specifically written for designers, like The Elements of Content Strategy, a similarly outstanding entry in A Book Apart's series of "brief books for people who design websites," it is absolutely civilian-friendly.* If you're a creative artist who needs to get paid for your creative artistry, there's something here for you—writers, illustrators, and yes, even you, my lovely actors. You may have to put on your translator headphones here and there, but I guarantee that if you do, you will come away with invaluable insight in how to be less of a goofy creative and more of a goofy creative who gets paid.

Few things are more wonderful than being paid to do work you'd do for free—and few things will grind you down to a grim nub of misery faster than failing to treat that work as a job. Design Is a Job clearly, simply, and often hilariously outlines the steps for actually making a profit doing the work you love.

xxx c

*UPDATE: And lo, A Book Apart feels similarly about the synergy between these two books: you can buy them in a bundle!

Book design by Jason Santa Maria.  Author photo by Ryan Carver.

Embracing the tiny, Day 21: Small finales

I began this series because I was having trouble beginning. (If that ain't the sound of one hand clapping, I don't know what is.)

I thought that if I kept things small, I could keep things going—I could keep beginning, every day. And damned if it didn't work, until about two-thirds of the way through, when my well-meaning, deeply toxic brain started off-gassing "should"s.

You should end it with a BIG finish—something grand and profound to wrap it all up with majesty. And symmetry! Or maybe irony!

You should compile these into a book, create a Tumblr blog, buy a URL, start a mailing list. 

You should have a plan. You should have HAD a plan. Or gotten a plan. You should have figured out some way to keep it going, to monetize it, to Grow the Brand.

And you know what? It's possible. It's possible that I should have done many things, and it's definitely possible that I could have done them. What I needed to do when I began this, though, was to begin. And then to keep on beginning, right through to the end. (At which point, of course, I am free to keep beginning.)

So at the end of this beginning, I tell myself this: You looked up at the trees, and saw them a different way. You slowed down, you fixed your gaze on thing after tiny thing, and saw their stories. And that is enough.

I am starting to think endings only seem big, and also that they only seem like endings. And, in the same way, that small things only seem tiny. There is so much there; there is the whole world in that one tiny thing, if you want to see it. Each tiny thing, a door into the whole, wide world.

And the only thing you should do, in the end, is know that you always, in any moment, have the chance to begin again.

xxx c

This is Day 21 of a 21-day series. For more scoop on the who/what/why, go here.

Embracing the tiny, Day 20: A bit of sunshine

a sliver of PDX sunlight While I've been away from it quite a bit this past year, Los Angeles averages 186 days of sunshine per year.

On the other hand, my second-favorite city, "the People's Republic of Portland", gets a measly 68 days of sunshine per year.

This is as much of a reason to visit as any: never, ever do I appreciate a ray of sunlight the way I do when I'm in Portland. (And never, ever do I move as quickly or with as much purpose to capture it on camera.)

For a while after I arrive, the appreciation bleeds over into other areas, too: coffee tastes blacker; inside seems cozier; time spent with friends feels more buoying. The strongness of these sensations tapers off after a week or two, and my pansy-frail constitution begins to wilt under the relentless pressure of gray skies and mud underfoot.

Still, even when I am days—or hours, or weeks—from my crazy, California desert, along will come a slice of sunshine, a spray of crazy-colored buds, an elfin patch of moss, to give me a wee smile.

Good cheer, they whisper, and don't forget to thank the rain.

xxx c

This is Day 20 of a 21-day series. For more scoop on the who/what/why, go here.

Embracing the tiny, Day 19: Full of care

a packet of teas, nicely tied It doesn't take all that long to tie up a packet of teas with a nice piece of string. But doing it 640 times takes a long, long time.

Yet that is what the fine organizers of the conference I'm attending did. Along with a number of other small things I can't disclose, lest I ruin the surprise.

But that today's conference will be extraordinary? That's no surprise. No surprise at all.

I cannot think of a better way of tying up March.

xxx c

UPDATE: Of course, I discover after the fact that my friend, Jolie, is the tie-er of delightfully tiny ribbons. Among other small and wonderful things. Of course.

This is Day 19 of a 21-day series. For more scoop on the who/what/why, go here.

Embracing the tiny, Day 18: Land of the Super Grown-ups

brass door handle that says "pull" Do you remember what the world looked like when you were four years old?

How tall everything was, and how mysterious? How grownups navigated these mysterious things with astonishing agility—driving cars, getting on and off buses at the right stops, counting change, ordering food. And how they seemed to just know, without anyone having to show them (much less show them again and again, as you needed to learn things like shoelaces and chopsticks and bedtime).

When you spied something with a sign on it, with letters or instructions, you clung to it: it was a hint, a clue, some foothold in this bewildering world you would never, ever master. You'd whisper the word to yourself if you could, working out the letters, testing.

You do master it, of course, or at least some of it: adding up numbers and signing your name and cooking a hamburger. Other parts remain always a little out of reach, the domain of SuperGrownups who know how to navigate the rapids of change, or can manage to remember that the blues, too, will pass.

Perhaps that's what's so comforting about coming across one of those old signs in the wild now, when you are tall enough to reach for the handle from the top. I learned this, you think. At some point, I will learn the rest of it.

And you whisper to yourself as your fingers curl around the dented brass bar.


xxx c

This is Day 18 of a 21-day series. For more scoop on the who/what/why, go here.

Embracing the tiny, Day 17: Getting over yourself

the kroger building in cincinnati, from Over the Rhine

It is not, as it turns out, that hard
to take a half-decent picture.

What's hard
is taking 4,000 horrible pictures first.
What's hard is standing in the middle of the street
like a stupid tourist hick
taking two, three, seventeen horrible pictures
while people stare at you with your doofus camera
and your zero credentials acting (as if)
this is something you do every day
because it is so much fun.

What's hard is going home
and sifting through
the ten, twelve, ninety horrible shots,
and trying to suss out
which are really horrible and
which are just bad and
which are...okay?
and which are slightly better than okay
and which of those remaining two is better
because they look exactly the same

And what's really really hard,
as it turns out,
is not taking the picture at all
but putting it out there for people to see
and judge
and form assumptions
about your talent
and your character
and your level of denial
and to not just do it once
but to do it the four thousand times (at least)
that you have to be bad
before you can start being halfway decent.

But taking a half-decent picture?
Is not that hard
as it turns out.


This is Day 17 of a 21-day series. For more scoop on the who/what/why, go here.

Embracing the tiny, Day 16: Ur kettle

the perfect tea kettle To earn its keep on my cooktop, a tea kettle must do three things:

  1. Be as easy to de-scale as it is to fill. This rules out those ridiculous kettles with only a spout.
  2. Be easy to pour. All of those "helpful" kettles whose handles wobble? OUT. Double-ditto for those ones that leverage gravity so that tilting to pour releases the cap on the spout.
  3. Alert me to the doneness of water. What the hell's up with those whistle-free tea kettles? I mean, the non-electric ones? At least with those, you can't burn the house down. A little "ding" is fine under those circumstances.

Were you to view my own tea kettle—13 years mine, like the apartment—you would see it is missing the half-functional, half-decorative knob atop the cover. This is because when it broke, a mere year after I bought it, and I wrote off for a new one, the company informed me there was no way to obtain a replacement. Planned obsolescence, just like its higher-end cousins. Shameful.

I drink a lot of tea—just ask my dentist—so I have searched high and low for a kettle that meets these criteria, at any (reasonable) price. No luck, so same old kettle. So I've just had to use a pliers around de-scaling time, and adopt a wabi-sabi attitude about the rest of it.

Still, when such a small thing to fix is the first thing a company jettisons? Shameful.

xxx c

This is Day 16 of a 21-day series. For more scoop on the who/what/why, go here.