Month: October 2007

Making things

ceramic butterfly

I was going to sit down and talk about how hard the past week was…how draining.

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…

xxx
c

Image by Sidereal–who is rapidly becoming a communicatrix staple, it seems–via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

“I quit!” or, the fallacy of sudden change

quit button

As a big ham from way back, I confess to being a fan of the dramatic gesture: the defiant, definitive, triumphant human equivalent of the exclamation point.

But the dramatic gestures that are so fabulous in, well…drama, usually fall flat, ring false or, worst of all, boomerang on you in real life. You piss people off unnecessarily and/or leave a mess to be dealt with later, either by others (various and sundry fallout) or yourself (egg on face).

(Just so we’re clear, I’m talking more of the you-can’t-fire-me-I-quit type of gesture rather than the symbolic (or actual) saving-the-puppy-from-the-burning-building gesture. Although sometimes the latter can backfire on you, too.)

What I’m ramping up here for is a little apologia. Long-time readers are familiar with my battle to stay on the SCD; long-time readers with good memories might even recall I specific instance where I declared that I was Done. My god, what fun that post was to post! I even got off on searching for the exact perfect depiction of the enemy to illustrate my hubris.

From my vantage point of 10 months down the road (and 10 lbs around the middle), it’s easy to see the folly in pronouncements like that. I absolutely meant it at the time, though, and the feeling was so much like other times I had quit quit quit, how was I to know this would be the time I would not not not? Even the circumstances were the same, I pointed them out in the post:

Back in September of 1987, I met my friend, Karen Engler, for dinner in Lincoln Park. I asked her what was new and she entertained me with amusing anecdotes of her crazy job du jour.

She then asked me what was new; I said, “I quit smoking.”

“Really!?! When??!”

I checked my watch. “6:30,” I said.

Allowing for a few minor tweaks and edits for storytelling’s sake, this is almost a verbatim exchange. And it stuck! I threw away a pack of cigarettees, told my friend about it at dinner that evening, and never smoked again! Well, there were a couple of drags off of friends’ smokes some 15 years later, and a weird sometime-cigar during the height of my marriage (which coincided with the late-80s cigar-smoking fad), but okay, let’s say one puff per year over spread out over those 15, and I only inhaled once.

So what happened with the SCD? For that matter, what happened with the GTD, the YBYY, the great decluttering project? I used to be a person who made up her mind and then got things done; where the hell did that person go?

The truth is, that person was a big, fucking pain in the ass. She was all about the black (or the white). She was ruthless in her pursuit of everything, to the exclusion of everything else. She was a girl out of balance. She succeeded, yes, but usually at the expense of something else. That girl could dot “i”s and cross “t”s and make pronouncements and be sure she was right, even if she wasn’t.

That person stayed too late at work and too long in relationships (sometimes quitting is not quitting–there’s a zen koan for you to suck on.)

That person put this person in the hospital. This person, on the other hand, with all her foibles and bobbles and missteps, with all her questioning and doubts and fears, with all of her warts and wrinkles and inconsistencies, got both of them out. Got them healthy. Got them happy. Got them writing and creating and yes, failing, too–sometimes gloriously, even.

There is no quit button; there might be a start, and maybe even a restart (or hell, you can learn the key combination pretty easily.) If I look back on the oh-so-clear examples of quitting, even that wasn’t quitting: it was a point in the process of stopping one habit and picking up another, a slow process of change that began with a (failed) attempt at quitting some 12 years earlier (funny how I didn’t blog about that part.)

I’m changing now; I guess you are, too. I guess everything is. And there are little things that end up being big things, and big things that end up being nothing to speak of.

The bad news is there’s no guarantee. The 12-steppers got that right: one day at a time.

The good news is that the dramatic gestures you see other people make, the bad ones, like asshat traffic moves, temper tantrums, and other boorish behavior, don’t mean we’re all doomed. They just mean you caught the pimples on the ass of change. (Like that? I got a million of them.)

I can be forgiving. I can be tolerant.

I can start again right now.

Right now…

xxx
c


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

The creeping, creeping bar

high jump

It is Sunday.

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

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

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

It’s success, pure and simple.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the very first instruction?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope you will, too…

xxx
c

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

The Stone Soup House

paradise

For you busy types, here’s the topline: the communicatrix is well rested, the happy couple is well (and legally) married and (surprise, surprise) I did not get half as much done as I thought I would on my merry jaunt up the coast.

For the rest of you, settle in. Because that last bit was the source of a lot of deep thinking over the past several days.

I thought about it as I gazed out the window at the view of all views, not doing the Important Writing I was sure the solitude would facilitate. I thought about it as I walked the six happy, hilly miles to get my cup of espresso from the village every day. And I thought about it quite a bit on the long and tedious drive home this afternoon.

One of the excellent civic truisms I learned from my ex-husband, Chief Atheist of the West Coast and World-Class Urban Driver from way back was “If you’re passed on the right, you’re wrong.” Clearly, 95% of the people on the 101 S never had the Chief for their traffic school instructor. Between the uptick in asshats and the population boom overall, what used to be a beautiful drive is now little more than a colossal pain in the ass, at least for sadly long stretches.

Get mad at the people for being in the way. Get mad at me for not being perfect. Expect things to be different without really changing. How ridiculous I can be! How amazing it is that anyone at all listens to a thing I say! How fortunate it is that I have my monthly shrink appointment in two days to sort out some of this mess!

Of course, the heavy lifting of shrinkage is done outside of the 50-minute hour. You get assignments and perspective for those 50 minutes, but you do the work on your own. Or you’d better, unless you like wasting time and annoying the pig. And I have done a bunch of mine this week, even if it wasn’t the Important Writing kind.

  • I spent a day positively convinced I had back-of-the-leg cancer, when really I just had a case of too much exercise for too-atrophied muscles. Because I worry about everything.
  • I spent two nights watching Law & Order marathons. Because I am an addict.
  • I spent five nights freezing my ass off before I finally broke down and turned on the gas furnace. Because a part of me will always be 12, forced to live in my grandparents’ drafty barn of a house and afraid afraid afraid to ask for anything.
  • I ate cookies and burritos, beans and bread, chips and corn and god-knows-what in the delicious sauce of the meal my friends Terry and Gus bought me, and paid for it all in many square yards of methane output. Because I am the spawn of the King and Queen of Denial.

That’s a lot of thinking for one week, huh? I wish I could give credit to my wonderful brain and ferocious will to change. The truth is, though, it was the house: I was staying in a magical house.

Its location is magical, certainly, poised as it is a mere 10 yards up from and 20 yards away from the mighty Pacific. Few things are as restorative as viewing a fine sunset over sea water and a cold beer.

But I think the house itself must be magic. Compared to the outsized homes of the neighboring “Yankee fuckers”–swathed in decks, crapped up with all manner of aggressively country decor, my house is a pint-sized throwback to another time–a kinder, funkier time, when four swingin’ cats might just bake a doob in the glassed-in turret (accessed via the bathtub!) or while away a rainy day playing strip Yahtzee. My house all crazy angles and dark, moldy wood–including the countertops! It’s practically decomposing before your eyes, with its long-busted pocket doors, its non-functioning locks, its stop-gap newspaper insulation held in place with brittle masking tape. So what? There was a broken recliner and high-speed internet and a view: I was ready to move in, brother.

And I’m not the only one. My fellow outcasts–the ones without yellow magnet ribbons on our SUVs, the ones who like things a little sexy-grubby-rundown, had all left pieces of themselves there. Books with loving inscriptions to future guests. A closet full of puzzles, games, and 8-track tapes. A pantry full of foods, fancy and plain, with a little extra stock in the fridge.

People leaving stuff instead of stealing the toiletries. I was ashamed of my fleeting thought to abscond with a jar of barely used peanut butter–which I’d bought myself.

Never fear–it was fleeting, and just the lack talking. The weeks and months of people not letting you merge, not saying “please” or “thank you”, avoiding “hello” or even eye contact. And I can’t blame them: I am them, on my not-so-great days. I left my own contributions to the pot: Mrs. Meyer’s Dish Soap, the aforementioned jar of Laura Scudders, a lone Sierra Nevada beer.

I suppose the real topline for this week’s adventures is Wherever You Go, There You Are. I had my Dorothy Gale experience and it was all marvelous and trippy and very, very Technicolor in nature, but now I am back in my own backyard, ready (I hope) to deal with the accumulation of rusted out cars and old refrigerators that have been piling up there.

Because I would like to have fewer not-so-great days and more dancing-around-the-house days. More laughing days. More reading, walking, thinking, skipping, lounging days. I got an infusion of good mojo from the residual juju of a thousand happy Stone Soup House inhabitants before me; now it’s up to me to get some of that good witches’ brew going down here.

xxx
c

Photo of paradise courtesy of The BF.

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

me at the ranch

Skip vacations at your own peril.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tears of joy, of course…

xxx
c