Why "Write What You Like" is the real first rule of writing, with a hearty thanks to Austin Kleon for the assist.
Its badness was made possible by its goodness. Much like a relationship where you're slowly gaslighted into madness until a gigantic Acme mallet (or Joseph Cotten) shows up to snap you out of it, about 90% of what went down was fine, excellent, even.
Which is precisely why the remaining 10% was so dangerous: plenty of inert matter to make the poison go down smoothly.
* * * * *
Do you think about money often? I think about it quite a bit, just before I shove the thoughts from my head in a holy panic.
My lifelong attitude toward money mimics my childhood attitude toward adulthood: Lots of power; too much scary. RUN! The thing is, of course, you really can't avoid either. Or at some point, you just realize that avoiding them is more exhausting than giving in. And when you do finally settle into one or the other (or both) a bit, when you start handling your money with respect or learning to delay gratification in favor of prudence and responsibility, you see that it's not really dollars or years that you're scared of; they're just dollars and years.
You're scared of that part of you that you think is incompetent. Or vain. Or maybe flat-out evil, you devil, you.
You're scared that the small, not-so-good part of you will override the big, pretty-okay part of you and ruin everything. That you will be left alone, reviled and ridiculed for the incompetent/vain/flat-out-evil devil you are. That you will die.
It doesn't matter that it won't, you won't, and you probably won't for a long, long time. That 10% of you puts on a really convincing show.
* * * * *
One thing I learned in that horrible-wonderful acting class was that a well-drawn character wants something more than anything else, and over the course of a well-played scene, will use every trick in her personal playbook to get it. (We call the wants "intentions" and the tricks used to get it "tactics." Now you can impress your actor friends with your inside knowledge.)
Here's the conundrum, the strongest want is nothing without an equally strong obstacle in the way of that want: Al Pacino thwarting Robert DeNiro in Heat; the survivors racing against the water in The Poseidon Adventure; Ray Milland battling himself in The Lost Weekend. It can exist without or within, but if you take away the immovable object, the unstoppable force whizzes frictionless through nothingness, fizzling out somewhere far, far past our interest in watching it. The tension between the two is what fuels the creativity of the characters and heightens the suspense.
More tension, better show.
No tension, no show.
* * * * *
I'm working on a huge (HUGE) project for my upcoming birthday this September. It's the kind of project that could be astonishing and life-changing and crazy, crazy fun if it comes together, not just for me, but potentially for a lot of other people, you included. And if it falls apart, of course, it is one of those things that will make me, and only me, look stupid. The flavor of fail I am more afraid of than anything.
Here's the hilarious (and predictable) part: as the deadline for each part of the project has approached, I've balked. You're coming off of a five-month Crohn's flare. You need to focus on your business. You'll have to call in every favor you have and rack up debt in the favor bank, to boot. The scale is ridiculous. The time frame is insane. You're insane, even if you pull it off, there's no assurance it will make any kind of difference.
All of these things are true. Mean to say, but no less true for it.
But what is also true is that so far, all the drama has come from me, myself and I playing out a three-person scene; the universe has been an extraordinarily compliant scene partner.
So it's 90% good that I'm 10% evil. Otherwise this sucker might never get liftoff.
* * * * *
I don't know how you discern between regular shadow and the toxic kind in the moment. These sorts of calculations almost always benefit from some time and/or distance. Seth wrote an excellent book about knowing when to stop (and when to plow through) that I should probably re-read. Byron Katie came up with those four questions that do a pretty good job of rooting out untruths.
If you put a gun to my head, I'd say the danger of 10% evil crosses over from frisson to "Warning, Will Robinson!" when you feel yourself starting to disappear. The point of danger, this kind of danger, is to make you stronger. There were people in that horrible acting class who were well served by it. I was one of them for a while, and then I wasn't, and then I left.
But I don't think you should wish away evil any more than you should wish away time. Instead, wish for the alertness to stay on your toes. Wish for help from the muse finding creative ways to slay your dragons. Wish for courage. Wish for vision.
Then get that show on the road.
Oh, I could (and did) endlessly re-label and sort the files in the canary-yellow file cabinet I requested and received for my 13th birthday. That's not real order, I now realize: that's low-level OCD masquerading as order. A disorder, manifesting as order. Because while I worked and re-worked taxonomies in my head, on paper, then on the file tabs themselves (this long, long before I knew what "taxonomy" was), I was not preparing myself for work or for thought or for anything; I was soothing myself as best I could in a time (pre-teen) and space (my maternal grandparents', a.k.a. "Gloomy Manor", a.k.a. House-o'-Alcoholics and the Enablers Who Keep Them Going) that were very anxiety-provoking for me. (My sister and I also indulged in the sitcom-perfect passive-aggression of singing rousing choruses from "If Mama Was Married" while we did the dishes together, but that's another nugget of tragicomedy gold for another day.)
These days, I have all but abandoned my poor, poor file folders. Oh, they're there, and they're (reasonably) neatly labeled, but there are so few, it doesn't take long to find what I'm looking for even with only medium-good filing habits. I spend more time keeping the IKEA desktop they support clean and cleared of clutter, because that does seem to help me get my work done. The fewer things I have lying around me in stacks and piles and other smoldering and/or moldering piles, the easier it is to write, to think, and most importantly, to keep my spirits up. I am of little use to myself or anyone else when they are otherwise.
This is why I have added "clean dishes" as my last household task before heading for bed, the bed that is always made 10 or 12 or 16 hours before: it lifts my spirits at the beginning of the day to see a clean, fresh sink just as much as it soothes me at the end of one to slip into a made bed. I feel cared for, I feel safe, I feel hopeful. My friend Gretchen Rubin says this is the #1 change her readers tell her they've made which has had a significant impact on their happiness, and I can see why. It's do-ably small, but has a magically high ROI. Maybe it's because, as she implies, it instantly creates a look of order. A bed is a rather large thing, after all. But I also think there is something about starting out the day with a small bit of control that is a big part of the benefit. And so, to cap it, for the past several weeks, I've been playing around with finishing off the day as Dan Owen does, by making sure the kitchen is ready to go first thing in the morning.
The result? I feel so much better on days that begin with a clean sink that it's now a regular part of my routine. No matter how tired I am, I clean the dishes. And because I've had to do it a few times when I'm very, very tired, I've also gotten a bit better about clean-as-you-go maintenance.
I am very aware that without awareness, this lovely, Fly-Lady habit could morph into another manifestation of OCD. My sister and I also joke about how, in the last decade or so of our father's life, you could not leave your iced tea on the end table while you went to the other room for a magazine, for fear it would be "cleaned up" while you walked there and back. If it's possible, he decluttered too much; in the end, he had no tolerance for any personal artifacts, save a photo or two that, if I'm honest, were probably mostly there for showin', not blowin', as the saying goes.
On the other hand, I have no doubt he held us in his heart, which is where these things really matter. And that is what I try to remember matters to me: what and whom I hold in my heart, and which habits and actions go the furthest towards keeping them secure there.
Making the bed and cleaning the sink are my signals to myself that I am still fortunate enough to be able to exercise some control over my destiny. They are actions that show respect for the space I'm lucky enough to inhabit and the time I have been given to work on what I want. They mark the beginning and end of a day lived the way I want to live: deliberately, thoughtfully, with enough order and support that creativity can flourish. I do not make the bed to bounce quarters off of nor shine the sink to see my face reflected within: I attend to structure, to the vessels, and trust that whatever it is that keeps floating ideas my way will keep up its own good work. We each of us have our part to play.
I am grateful I can make the bed; I am happy I can wash the dishes.
God, or whomever, or whatever, can take care of the drying...
There are three people and/or things directly to blame for me starting a blog way, way back on November 1, 2004:
- a severe onset of Crohn's disease, which served both to jar things loose and make me unafear'd (or less afear'd) of looking like a jackass;
- my friend, Debbie, who is so discreet her web footprint is almost invisible, and so modest she's probably already mortified at being called out here (hi, Deb!);
- Hugh MacLeod, insanely great writer and generous creative mind who also draws cartoons on the backs of business cards
I was introduced to the goodness that was Hugh back in 2003 by a smart but annoying troubadour during my 18-month tenure as the Whore of Babylon. Hugh's blog was by far The Troubadour's biggest gift to me; I was instantly hooked both by the mad and intricate drawings that came from Hugh's Rapidograph and the buckets of cold, clear water he splashed over the screen with his keyboard. The Hughtrain, his manifesto on marketing, remains one of my favorite WAKE THE FUCK UP, PEOPLE! screeds on the nexus of old tenets and new tools. His blog posts were a refreshing mix of smart, funny and flat-out curmudgeonly. And the cartoons, well, they made me laugh. Hard. And think, at the same time. And slightly after that, wish I could draw well (I'm still trying, as you can see by the little illos on my monthly newsletter). And yes, hate him. Just a little.
But it was his "How to Be Creative" series that hooked me hard and eventually turned me into the drooling fangirl obsessively linking linking linking to Hugh's shit. "How to Be Creative" was as comprehensive in his way as Twyla's is in hers. There's theory embedded in there, and stories, and even how-tos, if you're not a lazy slob.
Ignore Everybody (And 39 Other Keys to Creativity) is the book that (finally) sprung from that amazing series of posts. It's inspiring and infuriating, and it's both of those things because it's true as hell. Hugh has lived his way through these 40 rules and has the experiences and the output (and doubtless the battle scars) to show for it.
The book itself is an example of Rules #1 ("Ignore Everybody") and #16 ("The most important thing a creative person can learn professionally is where to draw the red line that separates what you are willing to do from what you are not.") As he says himself in a story illustrating Rule #5 ("If your business plan depends on suddenly being 'discovered' by some big shot, your plan will probably fail"*), Hugh was offered a deal years before to turn his series into a book, but turned it down because ultimately, he couldn't stomach the terms. This book, he says, is exactly the book he wanted to make, with exactly the cartoons to illustrate it.
Having gone through a heady back-and-forth myself with a big NYC agent earlier this year, this cheered me greatly. Yeah, I was probably a dumbass (or a hard-head) in most people's books for not making some changes that would move me closer to my dream of being a Writer Who Speaks.
In my book, though, it would have been in wild violation of Rules #27 ("Write from the heart") and #26 ("You have to find your own shtick.") When something is going to chip away at your soul just enough to bother you, there really isn't another choice.
To answer that question (cheap) people repeatedly bring up when it comes to books derived from blogs, yes, a great deal of what you'll find in Ignore Everybody is easily found on Hugh's blog. Frankly, if you're that hard up, I'm guessing Hugh would be cool with you reading the material online for free and just missing out on the tweaks and finessing that make this a book-book. But if you're really enmeshed in the struggle to be creative, don't you want an ally at your side, your literal, actual side, while you whack your way through the marshy swamps that lie between you and your cherished prize?
I did. I do. No one is getting my copy. Not until Oprah drives by in that long, sleek limo, rolls down the window and beckons me in...
- BUY Ignore Everybody on Amazon
- READ Hugh MacLeod's blog, Gaping Void
- <a href="">GAZE with envy upon my specially-deconstructed-by-Hugh business card
Whether from laziness, lack of inspiration or the youthful conditioning that made me the cheapskate I am today, it's rare that I will mark up a book.
Unless the book is choreographer Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit and you are me over the past two weeks. If my first pass was any indication, I'm going to need to bust out the box of 64 for subsequent reads. Of which there will be many. Many.
It would almost be disrespectful not to mark up a book like this: a staggeringly juicy and well-crafted manual/bible/first aid kit, bursting with tools and inspiration for creative types, served up in every possible way to serve every possible style of learner.
There are concepts, laid out clearly and logically and in an order that makes perfect sense, and that would be a jumble of chaos in the hands of lesser wranglers*.
There are stories to illuminate and illustrate the concepts, both from Tharp's career and those of the great artistic legends of our time and beyond.
There are pictures, there are (praise be!) lists, there are pull-quotes.
And there are exercises, 32 glorious, immediately executable exercises, that I guarantee you will be all over like white on rice.
One minor quibble? The bulk of the book is rather unfortunately set in Bodoni, a lovely title case, but a bit hard on the eyes as a text case**. On the other hand, it slows you down, which is probably a good thing: I quite often found myself racing through parts, my greedy brain screaming for more, and faster. This is a book to be devoured and savored, and marked up, and discussed, and grabbed for in moments of creative crisis. Of which...well, you know.
Honestly, I don't care who you buy this from. But buy it. It's not a loaner. Not unless you have an extremely understanding librarian.
And then, when you get it, don't put it on your "to read" stack: put your ass in the chair, get a big, old writing implement and commence to reading***.
You can write and thank me later...
- Buy The Creative Habit from Amazon (and I get a few cents, which I use to buy...more books!)
- Buy The Creative Habit from Powell's (and Rian will get off my ass)
- Buy The Creative Habit from Simon & Schuster (and reward a publisher for doing the right thing)
*The author credits go to Tharp and Mark Reiter, Tharp's literary agent and a frickity-frackin' Renaissance one at that, he's collaborated on eleven other books! That's the kind of agent I want, dammit.
**Merlin likened it to "reading a 250-page poster for a freshman poetry series." Maybe unkindly, but brother, it's the truth.
***Thank you, Julien. You were 100% right, and I totally owe you a beverage of choice.
Back when I was a young pup Shilling for the Man, I wrote a lot of ads for a certain mass-market sports beverage.
As in, a lot of ads.
Because while those of you who haven't had the pleasure of working in the salt mines of advertising might not know it, the ratio of ads-come-up-with to ads-actually-produced is crazy high. Or low. You get my point: creatives, as they are affectionately known, dream up and sketch out far, far more ideas that get shit-canned than make it to the airwaves.
As a result of this crazy ratio, and a particularly trying mix of difficult personalities (which was out of my control) and quarter-life crisis (which, to be fair and in retrospect, was probably largely out of my control as well), I started to experience burnout. The well ran dry of ideas (how many ways can you sell spiked water, anyway?) and I started to feel myself turn into a hack, applying what had been successful in previous go-rounds to the supposedly new challenges before us (which, come on: spiked water? there are no new challenges). I turned to a formula, such as it was, and my copy became sort of a caricature of its former self.
It scared me enough to start the wheels in motion for my escape. There were other contributing factors, egregious politics, rampant greed, physical burnout, but I could see I'd need some sort of major cranial overhaul to keep going in my chosen career, and while I don't think there's anything wrong with advertising per se, I never could get 100% down with the amount of resources it consumed for the value it produced. At least the typing monkeys were working towards a second Hamlet.
Success is terrifying. I mean, it's great for about 20 minutes out of the 2 million it took to get there, the peak experience of a big sale or shiny statuette or the equivalent is a serious head rush. But then there's that blank page the next day, and the mandate to fill it with something equally awesome or even more so. Death, death. But that's exactly what happens to creative after creative, artist after artist, blogger after blogger once they hit something like their stride. Reach a peak, or even a plateau of competence, and the pressure is enormous to stay there. Worst of all, you can even stay there for some time, convinced that you're evolving, that you're building on a solid foundation of hard-won knowledge instead of lolling about on your dusty, crackling laurels.
A while ago, I bookmarked a wonderful piece on this subject by fine artist Robert Genn (whose semi-weekly newsletter, The Painter's Keys, is one of my favorite regular reads). It's titled "Sterility," after Pablo Picasso's take on the eternally interesting (if confounding) topic. Sterility, Picasso said*, is the result of copying oneself, an infraction he considered far worse than copying others, because engenders artistic death.
The opposite of sterility is fertility, and Genn's argument (and Picasso's, by extension) is that fertility is a learned state, or at least, that learning and action can help keep one in a state of artistic productivity or fertility. This resonates deeply with my own experience, which I liken to having to throw myself off a goddamn cliff just as soon as I've caught my breath from climbing up there. It's terrifying, it's exhilarating, it's teh suxors, as some geeky kids somewhere said at some time. Flinging myself into the gaping maw of who-the-hell-knows what, again and again and again.
To you, reading this now, it may not seem so. You may see (or hear, however it works) some kind of voice or through-line. One post is enough like the other so as not to seem schizophrenic, but different enough (and either good enough or trainwreck-ish enough) that you're moved to read more than one.
That voice is more like a side effect of flinging, though. Flinging and exercising, in tandem. You write and you write (or paint and paint, or what have you) and you learn stuff: tricks, tools and such. The rules, if you like. Those are muscles, and they do get stronger. You build up a kind of tolerance for the climbing, and maybe a better sense of how and where to fling yourself. You might even learn a thing or two about how to land without blowing yourself into a Wile E. Coyote puffball of smoky smithereens.
It's the flinging, though, that gives you the voice. Flinging and flinging and flinging. And getting up, either on the next cliff or from that faraway ground, and prepping yourself to fling again. And 48 years into the game I'm here to tell you: the flinging? It does not get easier. It just gets so that you become reasonably sure you will not die (or go broke, or whatever your doomsday scenario is) as a result of the flinging.
Before I scare anyone off of making any kind of art ever again, please remember that little phrase a few hundred words ago about fertility being a learned state. There is stuff you can do to change it up, to challenge yourself and to generally keep up the "private search for 'new'" necessary for fertility. Genn includes a short list for artists of tricks, change your media; mix your media; change your working environment; etc, to be used singly or in combination that is pretty easily adaptable to other fields of artistic endeavor. And once you get the in mindset, you do get better of keeping yourself in the state of flux/growth, or at least, you learn where to look for help.
And then? Back to flinging...
- Robert Genn's terrific essay on Sterility (and beating it)
- My newsletter archives are filled with ideas I've road-tested (you can subscribe here)
*The actual quote, which I liberated from this very spicy bit on Picasso, is this: "One begins to copy oneself, and to copy oneself is more dangerous than to copy others. It leads to sterility."
Those of you with a touch of mania understand the glorious thrill of getting gobs of stuff done.
And I'm not talking about stuff you can cross off of a list (although that's nice, too): I'm talking about the wildly productive times in your week, month, year when it feels like you're surfing wave after wave of ideas, gently (but gloriously, and thrillingly) supported by the powerful, shifting, magical waters of inspiration beneath you. Good times, a.k.a. cowabunga.
I get that because I've got a touch of the mania, myself. And a healthy (or not) streak of Calvinism, and a predisposition towards "-aholism", so far, the "work-" kind, but I know enough to stay on the alert for the others, as well. My most comfortable setting is "full-bore"; unfortunately, up until recently, the only other setting I could find was "off," and "off" is a bitch for maniacs. I realize now, after years and years (and, um, years) of therapy that because I love operating in "full-bore" mode so much, I got used to operating in it under all conditions, with and without inspiration, or sleep, or oil, or what have you, until I'd lost the sense of what it felt to really surf the waves.
Fellow surfers and maniacs, this may surprise you as much as it did me, but not every day is a wave day. (Or week, or month, or year, even, but more on that in another post.) There are days (and weeks and months and yes, goddammit, years) when it seems like everyone else around you is up on their boards, inspired as a mofo, surfing the hell out of those ideas, while you are left to softly weep and/or curse what feels like incessant paddling for piddling surf-action, or a complete disinterest in the whole thing entirely. Entirely! As in, "Why am I even at this stupid beach in a stupid spring suit when I really want to be watching Cops at the Surf Shack over a tallboy?"
The answer, sometimes, is as simple as "because you're supposed to be at the Surf Shack drinking a tallboy over Cops, dumbass." Other times, it's something not as simple, like a physiological something-or-other that needs sorting, more sleep or less sugar or fewer tallboys, even. It is beyond the scope of a silly, silly blog (or even this most excellent one) to address the exact underlying cause of your misery.
However, because I am me, I will lob a few things over the net for you to think about. This is a list of stuff that's worked for me in the short term (when I can remember to do one of them, anyway), so your mileage will almost assuredly vary, but it may spark something.
1. Switch that shit up. If you're in front of the computer, walk away. Far away, to the closest bit of nature and/or living manifestation of the animal kingdom that you can find. Lately, I've taken to enjoying two (short) meals per day on the backyard patio with a book and Arno J., who I'm pretty sure is only there in the hopes that I will either drop some of the food (fat chance, dog) or cave and let him lick the plate when I'm done.
On the other hand, if you're not at a computer, if you're painting or tinkering or what-have-you in a real-world fashion and it's not coming together, switch that shit up, anyway. Or, if you're tired, rest. Rest is switching, too, maniacs.
2. Take a walk. When you're stuck, and every day, even when you're not. Some people swear by swimming or running; I've always loathed both, so I'm not qualified to speak to their efficacy. A walk, sans iPod, will almost always do it, though. And (BONUS EXTRA) a walk done regularly seems to stave off some of the fallow time.
3. Clean something small. Your sink. A not-too-challenging shelf or drawer. A tabletop. A computer file folder, if you haven't been spending too much time in front of the computer already. Something that will either prime the pump (your small thing is a test to see if that's what's needed) or act as a mental palate cleanser. (BONUS EXTRA: sense of accomplishment, which is great for maniacs.)
If you look at these three sample things, you can see that they all have to do with reflection, rejuvenation or high-level procrastination. They're all components of staying motivated and inspired, and you can plug any one of them into Google and it will likely return all sorts of other ideas, if you haven't thought of them already. But that last, high-level procrastination, I have found to be most useful for me as a true maniac. I'm not good at sitting still and I'm really bad at napping, but boy, do I like to putter. And for me, the puttering is often a way out of the doldrums.
As I hinted at, above, these are sometime-solutions for short-term lack of inspiration and motivation. Long-term wandering in the desert is another story for another day (and one I've got a fair amount of experience with, as well, so perhaps there will be another post on another day).
Also, a little kindness and a little perspective go a long, long way. Self-flagellation might have been good for martyrs, but it rarely works for producing great works*.
And finally (for now, anyway), please do yourself this small favor and remind yourself that it was not ever thus. You will be inspired again, and motivated, and manic, and surf-y. Until you're not.
There's just a way these things work. And don't...
ADDITIONAL ARTICLES THAT MAY BE OF USE:
- Make 10 minutes make a difference (from the Get Your Motor Runnin' 21-Day Saluteâ„¢ at the start of 2009, which may also be of use)
- Communicator, teach thyself! (from the September 2008 issue of communicatrix | focuses)
- McGyver-ing your way out of creative blocks (from the September 2007 issue of communicatrix | focuses)
*See my friend, the great Jeffrey Zeldman, for more on this. That man has surfed more waves and, I'm sure, been beached on more shores already than I will in my hopefully-long lifetime.
Did you read Julie & Julia? I did, and I enjoyed much of it heartily. Not precisely for the book itself, which is a perfect example of marvelous voice and great story minus adequate time and editing, but for the way it brings to vivid, crazy-passionate life the joy of throwing yourself madly into what you do.
If you are within arms' reach of 50, you might remember Julia Child that way, too, the wild, delightful, not-quite-right lady who dug in and made do and generally got down with her food as an extension of herself. Julia was her food, and her food was Julia, and it was all infused with a kind of messy, art-infused passion you just don't see in a Rachael Ray (who has energy, but fueled by the sell) or a Martha (who has passion, but confined by control) or a Giada (who has the sex-ay, but is, unlike dear Julia, gloriously unhampered by the plainness that plague mere mortals). Big, wild, plain-faced Julia burst through the screen and grabbed your heart because she was all about life, and just used that food as a vehicle to deliver the goods. (Also, she was funny, which goes a long way towards making things work.)
What's more, while Julia brought fine, French cooking to a land whose food at that time was neither, one got the sense that she'd do the same kind of I-love-life cartwheels cooking up a burger or a baked potato as she would any of the fancier items in her repertoire. My own memory is shot (thank you, 1980s!), but YouTube continues to fill in the gaps and offer sound backup to my theses, as in this clip where Julia waxes rhapsodic about roasters with a lineup of actual, dead chickens. Good lord, no wonder a nation was transfixed by her! Even an idiot girl of 10 who had to be tricked into eating Dover sole by being told it was tuna fish in a different shape could dig that fusion of Method truth and vaudevillian showmanship.
I have been thinking inordinately about food and joy and showmanship of late because finally, and really, given my diagnosis and my age and how ill I fare when my fare is less than fair, it probably is final, I am back on the diet I use to manage my Crohn's disease, the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. As I've said before, it's not that it's the worst diet in the world, and I'm happy I was dealt the Crohn's card instead* of something that wasn't so easily managed by diet, lifestyle choice and exercise. It's just that...
It's like meeting three awesome friends in the first grade that you spend an entire lifetime goofing off and carousing with, and while, yeah, maybe some mornings after you wonder if you shouldn't spend quite so much time with them, you still wouldn't want to tell them that you'd come to a point in your life where the relationship wasn't serving you, that you'd grown apart and that while it wasn't them, it was you, you still needed them to understand that you could never, ever hang out ever again. Especially since, given their popularity among throngs of total strangers, you were likely to run into them for the rest of your lives on a regular basis. Awk-ward!
I was talking this over yesterday with my friend, Lucy Rosset, a.k.a. Lucy of Lucy's Kitchen Shop, where many of us SCD-ers buy our SCD-legal supplies. I told her about my backsliding and my shame and how yeah, I knew pizza was a hoodlum but he was so hawt, I couldn't resist. And Lucy agreed, but then she turned the conversation toward cool stuff we could eat. And all of a sudden, dontcha know, we were talking smoked salmon bites and salade Nicoise and dolled-up sandwiches with bacon and avocado and all manner of other delicious "legals" nestled together in the same small space of almond or cashew toast and damned if I wasn't fired up to get all Julia Child on my food, to love up what I had, the gizzards and ends and weird parts, instead of bemoaning what I couldn't. It was Lucy who got to the heart of it: we can't have everything, but we can put crazy attention and focus and creative thinking into what we can, and, in addition to making our food taste a whole lot better, exercising that creative muscle has a wide-ranging, beneficial effect on everything we put our minds to.
It's a nice kind of a practice, in these strange economic times, to focus on what's true and before me. It's a nice kind of meditation for an artist, to work with the materials she has, and to come up with something beautiful out of it. I have seen nothing less than magic worked with no more: fairy worlds from duct tape and plastic, empires from WordPress and persistence, re-written futures from collaboration and creativity.
We never have nothing. And what we can do with it?
Now that's really something...
*Dear Universe: Please feel free to not deal me additional cards. Thank you! Love and xxx, Colleen.
For those of you who do most of your creating off-stage, you may not have experienced the ¡olé! moment. That's my new-favorite term for the magical thing that happens when you get in the zone and out of the way and the work just flows through you. The term comes to me via the astonishing Elizabeth Gilbert in her very moving (and funny, and smart as hell) TED talk, below. As Derek Sivers says in his own post pointing to it, Gilbert's words speak to pretty much any writer or musician; I'll go one better and say that if there is any pursuit you've spent a lot of time getting your body tuned up for, you'll dig it:
The ¡olé! moment happens rarely onstage, but when it does, there's a kind of thrum inside and outside of you, a strange inner/outer vibrational shift where you're very aware of what's happening and you also feel like it's something happening to you, or possibly through you. It's pretty sensational, and I'm pretty sure it only happens when a confluence of circumstances are in place:
- You, prepared
- You, letting go
- Some kind of Mysterious Hoodoo Shit happening elsewhere
It's probably happened to me 30-odd times in my entire performing career, and that includes auditions and scenes in class as well as performances. I don't know if that number is on the low, high or average side, but I do know that when It Happened, it was as much something acting me as me doing the acting. No matter how many times It Happens, though, I can tell you this: It can't Happen enough; the feeling is so amazing, and the level at which you're able to transmit that creative energy is so crazy-high, if you could bottle it, you'd be a bajillionaire, even in a down market.
Especially in a down market.
There are some things that I believe up one's chances for the magic happening. As you might guess, most of the actionable stuff happens in areas #1 and #2. One of the reasons I hammer hammer hammer away at my actors in my monthly columns to Always Be Creating is that it really helps with both of those things: you become both better prepared, because constant application of effort to a certain practice makes you more skilled and confident, the 10,000 hours rule, and you are better able to let go because sheer volume of work means that any individual instance becomes proportionally less important, thereby enabling you to be way more relaxed than you might otherwise be.
It's one reason I decided to post daily to the blog. Yes, a part of me is hoping that replicating the Monday-through-Friday nature of the old-time daily column will somehow trigger the Magical Woowoo Hoodoo into manifesting a modern-day Royko gig for the communicatrix, but another far, far more realistic part of me knows that there's no way I can't get better at this if I'm doing it more often.
As Gilbert says in her talk, there is huge relief in making the shift to thinking you have access to genius rather than that you have to be a genius. My job as access point is to stay in shape and show up daily.
The rest of it? Is up to the genius.
¡Olé! to that...
In case you have ever wondered what I sound like when speaking in public, I finally have a speaking page up which contains an embed of a decidedly non-TED talk. At least I know now what I'm tuning this old carcass up for.
Will I do well? Will I do it "right"? Will I even make it through to the end in one piece? Will they like me?
What is more terrifying, by far, is to do the next thing. Even if you do well. Especially if you happen to do it well.
There are no expectations the first time around; if there are, they're served up with a healthy side of slack. Or an outright escape hatch. It was her first time; she didn't know what she was doing. What's your excuse the second time, though? Or the third, or the fourth?
Or do you just quit while you're ahead?
The technical term for it is sophomore slump: the almost-inevitable let-down of the follow-up. After all, you have your whole life to make your first album, and 12 months to make the next. God help you if you break world records out of the gate, because what next? Do you break your own record? Do you jump into a new game?
I go through a minor version of this every time I write a post that goes over fairly well; after a series that goes well, my performance anxiety becomes almost crippling. And this is me, writing for (at most) a thousand or so souls. What is it like to be Stephen King? Or even Anne Lamott? No wonder Heather Armstrong feels like pulling down the shades and crawling under the table sometimes.
The deeper I get into doing any kind of "real" writing, the more I understand the need for a daily practice for anyone passionate about his work. You've got to keep the gears oiled, yes, but it's also about not getting precious with your output. No, lightning may not strike twice in the same place, but were you doing it for that flash that lights up the sky and disappears just as quickly, or were you doing it because it was something in you that needed expressing, even better, was it something outside of you that needed to move through you to find expression in that moment, in that way.
My job, just like your job, just like everyone's job, is to keep myself oiled and ready, flexible and light on my feet, in the best possible shape to let the spirit (or whatever) move freely through me. I'm only human, and just like the next gal, I get hung up on stats and kudos and other public endorsements of my fabulosity (which really isn't mine at all). But that is frippery; it's not a job.
Buddhists sit every day not to achieve a state of enlightenment or bliss, but because it is good practice to sit every day. The learning comes through the sitting, but the learning is also the sitting itself: the sitting down to practice, the discipline of doing it daily, the humility of seeing a string of days, stretching out into infinity.
Well, your idea of infinity; we're all of us pretty damned finite, when you get down to it.
Before the nudges among you get all fired up, no, this does not mean I will be writing in here every day from now on. I am thinking, however, that it's time to get much more disciplined about writing every day from now on. Finite time, limited resources.
Some days, I will hit the bullseye. Most days, I will most likely truck along, holding my own, doing fine.
What I pray for, or would, if I was a prayin' woman, is the courage to fail gloriously.
Then? I'd know I was getting somewhere...
I'm sliding into it myself, just three years and change to go. Truth be told, I can't wait: my 40s were so much better than my 30s, which were so much better than my 20s, which were so much better than my teens, I figure my 50s are going to rock the house.
Or, at the very least, that I'll get another decade or two of yum before I hit the point of diminishing returns.
On the other hand, it's a good thing I've some time. Half a century is a significant achievement, and calls for a marker of equal significance. I received one such tribute about a week ago, from my friend and former art director, Kevin Houlihan. He assembled 50 of the people he'd met along the way, from the godmother who held him at his baptism to a friend he met in a bar about a year ago, and asked us each to write a little something for a book he wanted to assemble about the people he'd met along the way.
Here's the beauty part, though: instead of asking us to write about him, he asked us to write about ourselves. His point? That, as his wise and no-nonsense New Hampshire-bred father used to say, "You can tell a man by the company he keeps." So Kevin sent each participant a series of questions designed to help us unearth what it was about us that had helped him learn about himself.
The result? A breathtaking compendium of musings, stories and yes, a little haranguing, that is universally appealing because of the specificity of approach. I'm forever parroting every English teacher I've ever had about the key to great writing lying in the detail of the personal truth one lays out there; maybe instead of yakking, I could just direct people to this book.
Unfortunately, it's a private publishing of 50, one for each participant. There has been a groundswell of support for a more public release, but until that happens, you'll just have to content yourself with one of my entries and imagine the rest. The question to me was what, if anything, did the various & sundry creative outlets for my expression have in common, and how did I continue to nurture my creativity.
It's a wonderful question for anyone to ask of themselves, or of their loved ones; it's a glorious question to be asked...
I have called my life many things in an attempt to get across the idea of what it's been like to live it, to express the heart of my journey. One of my fave-raves, coined several years ago upon quitting my Hateful Advertising Career, was that I was â€œLiving My Life Backwardsâ€: going from a hyper-responsible, overachieving, 401K-building, condo-and-cat-owning twentysomething to a foolhardy, largely unemployed, dream-chasing thirtysomething. (And then a sex-crazed, metaphorically-old-purple-wearing-lady fortysomething.)
Not a bad quip, you know us copywriters, always with the handy quip, but somehow tooâ€¦pithy. As Einstein said, Everything as simple as possible and no simpler, please. (As an aside, that's where a lot of advertising and marketing goes off the rails: oversimplification. That, and too many objectives. But let's not go down that bad path, shall we?)
I wish I had a pithy answer for my life's work now, for what motivates me, for what the thread is. But I don't. I have a long and boring story, which I'll summarize here:
Many years ago, when The Groundlings Sunday Company pulled over and dumped my baby-actor soul by the side of the road to fend for itself, I thought I needed a theater company to call home. And so it was that I found myself standing on a stage in a tiny, back-alley theater in Santa Monica in front of an insane French woman (sorry, redundant), â€œauditioningâ€ to be a paying member of her highly experimental theater company.
She let me perform my wildly inappropriate monologue, but it was clear that what she wanted to do was get to the Q&A.
â€œWhat would you do,â€ she called out from the dark, â€œeef I asked you to take off your pants, take off your shirt, take off your shoes and stand zere nakeed on ze stage?â€
â€œUhâ€¦ask you why?â€
There was a long pause. Then, whether to out me as a poseur or to see if maybe, possibly she could salvage this ten minutes and put an extra $35/month in the theater's coffers I don't know, but she threw out another one:
â€œWhy,â€ she called out again, â€œdo you want to be an actress?â€
No one had asked me this; I had not even asked myself about the why. Why does one throw away everything with no promise of a something down the road? Why does a sane, smart girl with a career and a title and a condo and a cat toss it all out the window for what younger and more talented people will tell you is one of the world's worst career options?
I stood in on that dusty stage, lit from above, threw head back and my arms open wide and let whatever it was inside me that had been responsible for my irrational decision do the talking: â€œTo tell The Truth!!!â€
It was right, that Voice. (It always is, you know.) My whole life until then had been a quest to funnel The Truth as it is writ large somewhere in the cosmos into words and pictures that made sense down here. So I did it for awhile in advertising. And then in acting. And then in design. And now, with words, both on the blog and aloud, wherever someone will let me.
If I get off track, it gets me back on. If I need inspiration, I go back to the well.
I mean, come on, can that ever get old?
And it was, in its way. For whatever reason, there was an abundance of drama over the past eight days, the missed deadlines, botched communication and general farkakte-ness that seems to accompany Mercury going retrograde. (I wonder, could things have been this messed up before I knew about such silly nonsense?)
There was also a paucity of rest. Social engagements out the wazoo, back-to-back, every day but one. Not light-hearted ones: thinking ones. Emotionally draining ones. Ones that required attention, a lot of driving, or both.
Like my ex-husband's wedding reception, where I was the surprise guest to a raft of folk who hadn't seen me since I lost them in the divorce eight years ago (let it never be said that my ex doesn't have a wicked sense of humor...or his new bride, for that matter). Like dinner with the one friend of my dad's who stood by my sister and me in the ugly, ugly aftermath of his death. Most devastatingly, like the memorial service for a brilliant 26-year-old artist who was stolen from the world too soon. It took three beers, The BF and a Harold Lloyd flick to talk me down from that last night.
I want to run and hide when it gets like this. I want to live in a place where it rains a lot and gets dark early, where I can bundle myself up in a scruffy, fluffy sweater and read books on the sofa with a bottomless mug of peppermint tea. Instead, I live in an overbuilt parking lot with fires breaking out at each end, wearing boxers against the heat and earplugs against the noise. And I have no upholstered furniture. Still.
Fret not, however, for in the midst of all this mishigoss, I am, bizarrely enough, happier than ever. There is work work work and feeling like you do not make a difference, and there is the other kind; right now, and for some time, I feel like I've been living the other kind. It's exhausting, but wonderful. Not particularly lucrative, even, but wonderful. I never felt this way after a day of wrangling copy. Never. Not once. And I did that for 10 years and a lot of money.
Still, this schedule is a brutal one to maintain, and something has to give. It's kind of been my health, which has to stop, and it's definitely been my "optional" writing, which also has to stop.
It's the optional-type writing, you see, that's made all this possible. I'm starting to get it now. So it really isn't optional at all for the life I want to live.
People: create. Make things. Think things and write them down, or tell them, or draw them. Note things and mull them over (or not) and pass them along (for sure.) When I get bone-tired like this, I can feel the pull to buy. It's odd; I feel it. Possibly other people feel the pull to watch TV (I used to feel that, although I'd never give it my full attention) or to play games. Consuming isn't inherently evil, but it leaves you more empty than full.
Tonight I made a (SCD-legal) pizza and this post. It was all I could muster after a long day of pushing pixels. But that pizza tasted better than anything I could get delivered.
And this post? Even better than that...
There are lots of tools the great actor has in her toolbox, but most of them really only gain utility with time. Script analysis, the ability to quickly access one's emotions, physical flexibility, vocal projection, even memorizing lots and lots of text is a skill that can take years to learn.
But there is one tool that is pretty easy to use right out of the box: the character checklist. Exactly what it sounds like, the character checklist is a list of questions that, when answered thoughtfully, provide a wealth of information for the actor to draw from.
Writers stand to gain much from the character checklist as well. For the fiction writer, it's a terrific way to sketch out a full picture of the character in your mind before writing, or even (oh yes) when you find yourself stuck. Let's face it: most characters in fiction draw heavily on slices of the writer's self; it's nice to have a few other things to flesh them out into full-fledged bona fides themselves.
But another great use for the character checklist is to jump-start your own non-fiction writing. Bloggers have embraced the meme in a big way; it's everyone's favorite crutch when the well runs dry.
And pre-Web 2.0, the form was equally popular. From the emails that circulate with lists of likes, dislikes and quirky questions to fill in and forward on to the venerable Proust Questionnaire, people are endlessly fascinated with...themselves, yes, but other people, too. My favorite features in glossy magazines are usually the ones where the same five, 10 or 20 questions are asked of different people.
There are probably as many of these character checklists circulating among acting classes as there are memes proliferating across the blogosphere. I dug this one out of my old actor files, and it's as good a place as any to start:
The Character Checklist from Colleen's Old Acting Files (provenance unknown)
- Marital Status
- Favorite Color
- Favorite Restaurant
- Favorite Song
- Favorite Movie
- Favorite TV Show
- Bad Habit
- What I Like About Myself
- Who I Look Up To
- What Makes Me Laugh
- What Makes Me Sad
- How Do I Relax
- What Word/Phrase Do I Use Most Often
- Favorite Room In Home
- Embarrassing Moment
- Favorite Article Of Clothing
- Pet Peeve
- People Close To Me
- One Word To Describe Me
- Favorite Holiday
- What Is Important To Me
- What I Can't Do Without
The trick to making lists like these useful to your writing (and there's always a trick) is using them thoughtfully and strategically, not just indulging in them as diversions (although that can be fun sometimes, too). Figure out the task you're wanting to accomplish and then pick up your tool. Not all of the items will be useful for every piece of writing you're sitting down to work on, but a surprising number will be, if you let mind wander to new and interesting places.
For example, let's say you've got a blog edumacating people about widgets and you are plumb out of widget stuff to write about. You could...
- Talk about how people shorten the life of their widgets with bad widget habits. (#12)
- Describe your favorite widget use, and why. (#28)
- Relate a horror story about a customer being widget-less in a widget-necessary situation. (#21)
- Interview a few people in the widget chain of supply. (#24)
- Link to your favorite widget scene in a movie on YouTube. (#9)
There's no set way to put yourself in a frame of mind to see questions differently so that you can answer them differently, but one great trick is to imagine yourself sitting down with someone who knows nothing about widgets, or who thinks they know everything about widgets, and then look at those questions as though you're being interviewed for a show or podcast or magazine that goes out to that target.
In other words, playact...like an actor!
P.S. If you give this a whirl, I'd love to hear how it works for you: communicatrix [at] gmail [dot] com.
This post gets a lot of traffic from StumbleUpon. Go figure. Anyway, if you clicked looking to find posts about acting, there are a ton of them here, two years' worth of columns written for a major casting service's newsletter here in L.A. And if you're looking for more tips on writing and how to make it more awesome and less awful, check out the back issues of my non-sucky (I swear!) newsletter. Back to you, Chet!
I've been working on a super-secret web project for an interesting, celebrity client who is using her high profile in the real world for, as I like to say, the powers of Good and not Evil, something I always try to support here at communicatrix-dot-com.
Hell, that's kind of my modus operandi for life in general.
Anyway, eventually, everyone and his brother will be able to participate just by going to a good, old-fashioned URL. But for launch, we want to have some coolio stuff ready to go. I told my client that I have the most interesting, fearless readers in the world, and hey, counting the readers of readers, that's probably close to true, so I'd put the word out here.
We're still working out the copyright issue, because ultimately, there may be enough cool stories to warrant a compilation in book form, which she'd like to be able to do. But for now, let's say that there will be a rider there where you can opt-in if you'd like to be included in the book, and opt-out if, for some reason, you wouldn't. Either way, everyone retains copyright of his or her material, meaning you're free to do whatever the hell else you want with it.
In other words, she ain't looking to get rich off us chumps; she's doing fine in that department. She's just really, really into stories.
And that's what the site is about: everyone's stories. Because as someone who's walked longtime amongst the rich and famous (and the starving artists and regular people before then), she knows that "famous" does not necessarily mean "has better story."
So here are the topics she's looking for essays on now:
- "Most inexplicable fling or crush" (you know, that one you're, like, WHAT THE HELL?!?! after it passes)
- "New passions or obsessions, however fleeting" (she mentioned a new and strange love of watching Sunday golf on TV, even though she hates golf and has no desire to learn to play)
- "Regrets" (big, little, whatever)
- "Most memorable high school dance" (could be prom...although not for me...)
- "In what ways are you a weenie" (uh...yeah. 500 words probably isn't enough for me)
- UPDATE: "Favorite space you've ever lived in, and why"
Each story should be on ONE of the topics (i.e., don't combine your crush with your prom story, or at least not as though people will get that there is more than one topic; each story should stand alone).
Also, if you want to play, they should be:
- around 500 words, max
- personal (i.e., about your experience)
- p0rn-free (or really, really hilarious)
Other than that, she's wide open. Site should go live June 1, god willin' and the creek don't rise. If you're totally freaked by sending your precious words to me like this, I can give you more details, but you'll be sworn to secrecy and if you blab, you will be SO uninvited to my birthday party.
E-MAIL STORIES TO ME, PLEASE, AT communicatrix-at-gmail-dot-com
Let's say by...May 18. (Don't want to drive the developer batty, esp. since he's The BF.)
Don't worry if you're a great writer, a medium writer, or not-a writer. Although I believe there's no such thing: we're all storytellers somehow, and if you don't believe me, you don't listen to StoryCorps enough.
Or read this blog enough, for that matter...
I'm back from a three-day spree in the desert. Usually, these trips involve prodigious amounts of whooping it up; this time, it was me and 200 of my new-best nerd friends, hanging out, talking shop about...talking.
I might get around to talking about talking (or speaking, as they call it) more at a later date. In fact, I'm doing a debrief of TalkFest 2006 over at The Marketing Mix tomorrow, in case you want to hear about me and the nerds (and I say that with the greatest affection: me LOVE nerds).
The short of it is two things: the more I do, the more I realize I am the only one who can do it. (I might also be the only one interested in me doing it, but that's another story.) Only me, only you, that whole Martha Graham/quickening thing.
And the more I do, the more I get excited about doing more. More transactions. More ideas put out into the marketplace. More love, more fun, more craziness, more risks, albeit more of the kind that will put me somewhere interesting, not in the hospital.
Anyway. For what it's worth.
Oh, and one more thing: the more time I spend with him, the more I am blown away by the unparallelled awesomeness of The BF. He went above and beyond the call this weekend, was delightful to all, helped me enormously by contributing his time and prodigious skillz for nothing and added a thousandfold to my enjoyment of the proceedings.
A lucky, lucky way to kick off Birthday Week...
P.S. No I haven't forgotten Cleaning My Damned Apartment. And in case I had, the dirt decided to throw a party and invite the extended family. Oy. Happy Birthday Week to me...
Image by The BF, who takes one nice picture no matter which side of the camera he's on
- My Country House is closer to the FAKE gallery, where I finally caught Matt North's hi-larious music-and-comedy act, HAIL THE SIZE!, and I hit the wall fast after 11pm (10%)
- The BF is out of town and staying at his place a night or two makes me miss him less (10%)
- I get to enjoy my weekly middle-class treat, reading the Sunday L.A. Times on the deck (60%)
So I wake up, grab a nice cup of tea and my paper, and carry them both to the fabulous garage-roof deck that overlooks the reservoir. Doesn't get much nicer than that; I'm a lucky girl.
Only about three sections into the proposition, my ankles start itching. Like, c-r-a-z-y itching. I mean, I'm starting to wonder if maybe my old pal, Mr. Eczema, isn't making a return appearance. Only this feels different, like...like...
...LIKE A MILLION FLEAS ARE HAVING BRUNCH ON MY LEGS!
At least I think they were fleas, since I hear tell the bastards jump a lot and magically resist death by slapping. I wouldn't know, I grew up in a civilized apartment-hold, sans dogs and avec indoor kitties. What I do know is that when you sit down to relax and find your ankles black with bugs, it does something to you.
In my case, it set me off on one of my tears. I spent the next 8 hours playing White Tornado at My Country House. Fine and dandy: it needed the attention.
More importantly, because really, we are more important than our stuff, since we, and not our tchotchkes, are the ones who go out and interface with the world, so did I. Physical labor clears my head and cleans my psyche, and they both needed it after too many consecutive days at the keyboard. After a full day of focused attention on one thing, the house looked better, I enjoyed a real sense of accomplishment (and actual physical fatigue), and there are clean sheets again for everyone.
Only today, back at the c-trix ranch, things are looking...well, a bit grim. Grimy, in places. Cluttered almost everywhere else.
I give you, for instance, the six bags of books that need to go to the used book store. The silverware drawer that makes me want to eat with my hands. The piles of Stuff festering away, scoffing at my earlier attempts at Getting Things Done.
But really, it's not my fault. How can I Get Things Done when I can't find the Things to Do under the layers of Los Angeles filth that have accumulated on top of them?
So I'm taking a page from my own book, so to speak, and kick-starting my way to a new 'tude with a three-week attitude adjustment program: Cleaning My Damned Apartment™. Sure, walking for an hour or so a day would probably work just as well, if not better, but I know myself. I'll never justify taking a whole, entire hour to "just" walk; I can, on the other hand, trick myself into some meditative time if I cloak it in the guise of usefulness.
Besides, then I wind up with a more peaceful demeanor AND a bitchin' crib.
All seredipitously timed to coincide with Birthday Week...
I left the cocoon of Harvard, I left the cocoon of Saturday Night Live, I left the cocoon of the Simpsons. And each time it was bruising and tumultuous. And yet every failure was freeing, and today I'm as nostalgic for the bad as I am for the good. So that's what I wish for all of you, the bad as well as the good. Fall down. Make a mess. Break something occasionally. Know that your mistakes are your own unique way of getting to where you need to be. And remember that the story is never over.
[posted to SU by Zolox | Stumbled Upon by communicatrix on August 15, 2006]
As someone toward the peak of the early adopter curve, I came late to stumbling. Bonnie Gillespie, who is way geekier than I, turned me onto it in her usual, non-pushy way (i.e., by alluding to it to her blog, which is what blogs are for).
At first, I thought it was just a great way to procrastinate. And it is...oh, how it is. But it's much, much more...
I just received your emails and also your message from last night. I was away and am just getting back this morning. I had every intention of calling you andmeeting to go out but your email has completely turned me off and i find it extremely tacky. I will not be sending you any money since i offered that night to pay and you told me no that you would take care of it.
Please do not call me or send me another email i would rather not hear from you at all. And for future reference in the dating world you may want to rethink the tacky approach about asking someone for money like that perhaps that is why you haven't met anyone or have seen them again.
Upon downloading the SU toolbar to Firefox and inputting a few preferences, with every click of the SU button, you are transported somewhere new and wonderful (or not) loosely based in your stated interests. Hi-larious stories. Great portfolio sites. Mesmerizing video. Sexy toys (as opposed to sex toys, which I've always found to be sort of sad and pedestrian and unsexy).
Its most common name, aubergine, is French. The aubergine originates in India where it was called vatin-ganah - bringal in modern India. When it arrived to the Middle East it was named al-badinjan, in France, it was corrupted into aubergine.
There are great things about wikipedia, including their randomizer, which just took me to a They Must Be Giants Bed Bed Bed page (talk about random). There are different great things about Stumble Upon, but its focused randomness (like delicious) plus its goofy community feature (like epinions, from the old-school dayz) plus its visual goodness (see Flickr) make it super delicious. SU aggregates the caprice of the aggregators, then dispenses it with the self-same caprice. It's pretty much everything I love about the web: deep, wide, infinitely customizable (pick your categories or stumble by favorite stumblers), (almost) infinitely random.
In most religious traditions one prays to the deities of the tradition in the hopes of receiving their blessing, which will benefit one in some way. In the vajrayana Buddhist tradition, however, the blessing and the power and the superlative qualities of the enlightened beings are not considered as coming from an outside source, but are believed to be innate, to be aspects of our own true nature. Chenrezig and his love and compassion are within us.
A part of my work, I'm starting to realize, involves copious amounts of play. I get stuck otherwise, in the same books, the same thoughts, the same intake. And since I cannot expect to do anything differently by doing everything the same, Stumble Upon is a great way to change things up, open things up, shake things up.
Not to mention whoop it up...
I have a series of frames in my bathroom. One holds a picture of a glass half-full, a cover from the New Yorker on my mother's birthday the year after she died. Most of the rest of the frames are empty, or hold the "For Display Only" shots of nameless brides and sunlit couples and price tags, not because I am lonely and friendless, but because I was always waiting to find the perfect item to place within them.
Similarly, I had long been in possession of a striking, horizontal frame filled with black-and-white shots of attractive people from the 1940's and 1950's. For at least six years, it has stood propped up against various walls. I almost consigned it to the Goodwill pile a few times but something stopped me: mainly the fact that I am a congenital pack rat, but also the charm of this frame, which I just knew would look perfect when it finally displayed the exact perfect black-and-white shots of my own attractive family members from the 1940's and 1950's.
Then two weeks ago, crisis struck in the form of a video shoot at my apartment. My office area, one of the "locations", was looking very dingy and cluttered and needed some set dressing triage, stat. I cleared a few postcards off of the wall and, on a whim, laid them out on the frame. Not bad, they were sweet, childlike illustrations of animals and worked together thematically. But there were two spaces left.
Over and over in my life, it seems that the right thing will fall in my lap when I least expect it, but only when I am ready for it. Sometimes my guard is down or my spirits are high (same thing, really) and I let that sucker waltz right in; sometimes I have an agenda and the thing couldn't penetrate my well-intentioned defenses with a battering ram.
On this particular day, I was preoccupied enough with my task to get out of my own way. And as my eyes swept the imperfect wall, they lit upon my beautiful calendar by Nikki McClure. I remembered that I'd saved an old one, loving her perfectly imperfect woodcuts too much to dispose of it along with the year (and, yes, being a pack rat).
Sure enough, there were two months with animal scenes which, with a little (gasp) hacking away at their structural integrity, would fit...perfectly.
I've been enjoying the feeling of flow more and more in my life, so much so that I now look both for ways that I might be stopping it and ways of letting more of it in. For me, a huge part of getting with the program is patience, and learning to live in process. But I'm realizing now that a perhaps huger part is letting go of some ideal of perfection. Because some really great things can happen when I'm not busy steering my boat towards the mist-enshrouded, golden shores of the Isle of Perfection. And when I let things just "happen", they tend to unfold in a way that I'd describe as...
"Beware of the "golden handcuffs." Beware of a profession that pays you so well in money that you enter into a lifestyle (house, cars, a great deal of stuff) that traps you. You may end up in a vicious cycle of trying to earn more in order to maintain the material things that give you less and less pleasure." , John December, on taking care of your money, in his eBook Live Simple
"Funny always wins out. I always think that women who complain about people who say women aren't funny are probably not funny. Because, really, who gives a shit?" , Sarah Silverman in an interview with Jenelle Riley in Back Stage, the actor's newsweekly