Month: May 2008

As if, and what it takes to act that way

Ask any self-help guru and they’ll tell you straight up: getting there is equal parts thinking and doing: thinking, to figure things out and doing, to, well, to do the damned things.

Of course, if it was easy, we’d all be there, right? Happy, graceful and accomplished, speaking five or six languages as we waved to our two perfectly behaved children while playing a mean game of tennis in the same shorts we wore back in high school. Or rather, the same-sized shorts: we’d be so rich, we’d own a few shorts factories.

What usually happens is more like a variation on the spinning-plates scenario, children and waistline going to ruin while we apply proboscis to grindstone, or worse, a Rip Van Winkle approach to change: we fall asleep for 40 years while plate detritus builds up in scary towers around us. It’s not that our intentions aren’t honorable; it’s just that it’s such a pain in the ass, dealing with all those fucking plates. The idea of real change is enough to make anyone run screaming into the night, and isn’t that what falling asleep really is? A really quiet way to run screaming into the night?

I’ve been piling up plates for what feels like forever. There’s always some great plan to help me keep them spinning: an electronic whojamawhatsit, a new system, a new book. None of them work, or at least, they don’t until you close the gap between thinking and doing. And lo, there is the rub that will keep the self-help industry thriving forever.

So how am I closing the gap? Uh…slowly? Painfully? One heinous, long-put-off task at a time.

And for me, there are two things that keep me going.

The first is a dream: me and a laptop and an ocean view. The clearer I get about what I really want to be doing and where I really want to be doing it, the more my precious stuff looks like what it is: a bunch of crap I’m holding onto in lieu of doing the hard work I must to get myself there.

The second is support. I’m a loner and an introvert and kind of a crabapple, besides. I like to do stuff by myself because that way, I get all the credit. There, I’ve said it.

Only the more I really looked at things, the more I realized that nothing I did, not one single thing, did I truly do all by myself. Someone’s always got some kind of damned hand in there, even if it’s not in an immediately obvious, collaborative kind of way.

If that’s true, that I’m not really getting it done all by myself, why not outright ask for support to get there? For…everything? If one of the keys to getting to the next place is acting “as if” one is already there, why not solicit help from people on the other side of the divide, who don’t have to act “as if” because they already are that, exactly? The fittest I have ever been is when I hired a personal trainer to help me get there. The best headshots I have ever taken were when I employed the specific help of my agent as well as many-minds (for a referral) and the photographer (for…well, duh.)

Support can also come from people with a like-minded goal, even if they’re still in the “as if” stage. Alcoholics Anonymous? Built on that. Accountability, accountability, accountability.

This humble slice of the web has been a bit of that for me, and I thank you for it. Toastmasters, similarly, has been a huge help: when people expect you to show up, you show up. Or at least, there’s a better chance you’ll show up.

I’m ramping it up a bit now, with a few accountability partners for getting my shit together and putting it out there. I have a lot of shit, as it turns out, and shoveling shit is no one’s idea of a good time. Neither, for that matter, is putting it out there. It’s about as much fun as not eating ice cream or saying “no” to a trip to Disneyland.

It’s “no” for now, though, so that it can be a resounding “YES!” to other things, that laptop, that ocean view, soon.

Not soon enough, of course. But soon…

xxx
c

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

The communicatrix also rises

In the spirit of Do One Thing Differently, I have been: getting up early.

Now by “early,” I do not mean “farm-early” or “elite-athlete” early or even “holy-shit-I’m-late-for-work” early. I mean that I’m actually rousting my own ass from the comfort and security of my delightful bed every morning and…wait for it…WALKING!

It started in sort of a grudging, half-assed way, as many things do. Way back in November, The BF got a dog, a.k.a. Arno J. McScruff, a.k.a. the Furry Love of My Life. We walked the dog together when I was there, and I’m fairly sure that most of the time, The BF walked the dog when I wasn’t there. Except when he didn’t, which I started to realize was kind of often and almost certainly irregularly, because if there’s one person who hates morning with an even greater vengeance than I, it is The BF.

Still, even if they weren’t walking as much as that dog whisperer dude said you were supposed to, at least they were hanging out together most of the time. And that was the main thing to me: that this unending and fur-covered source of unconditional love get a little back, in the form of human companionship.

But then The BF got an onsite job, which meant leaving the house, which meant leaving Arnie. Alone. And what I wouldn’t do for myself, interrupt whatever Unbelievably Important Thing in my life that I was doing to take even the mildest of exercise, I realized I would do for this dog. AND drive 11 miles round-trip, to do it.

If I happened to wake at my place, I usually would wait until afternoon to make the trip. (Animal freaks please note that he was well-fed and watered, with a fine yard in which to frolic and poop, and 24/7 access to said frolic/poop-land via doggy door.) When I’d overnight at The BF’s, however, I’d take care of the walk first thing, and early, so as to miss the morning rush hour traffic home.

No one was more surprised than I was to discover how much I enjoyed the morning walk. Two horrible things put together usually equal one massively horrible thing; this, however, was…kind of nice. Peaceful.

There was something else to it, though, which I kind of hate to admit for fear of sounding (no pun intended) pedestrian: it lent shape to my day. I know, I know: this is the kind of advice you read everywhere from every source, exercise to lifestyle to productivity blog. First things first.

I didn’t actually get this until I stopped walking. See, The BF’s onsite stint drew to a close, which let me off the hook. Only I realized I didn’t want to be let off the hook: I wanted the structure, I wanted the shape. So I started getting up early (7 or 8, for me) and walking first. Before bed-making, before email-reading, before coffee-or-tea drinking. Walking, not running. I understand how incredibly lame this sounds, that in a land of ferocious plenty and a time of ridiculous unease, I am crowing about walking, at an old-lady pace, a grand total of 2.5 miles in the morning. Whoop-dee-fucking-do.

Thing is, what had fallen from my life was that shape. Don’t get me wrong: I systematically worked at scrubbing that routine from my life. But some structure? Is good. It’s how bridges get built and insurance gets paid for and children get raised properly. And yeah, it’s how art gets made, too: let’s not kid ourselves. Novels don’t write themselves. Neither do blogs, while we’re at it. Seat of the pants to the seat of the chair. Wax on, wax off. Do or do not, and all that hoo-hah.

So when I don’t write here, know that I’m working on writing elsewhere. Only it appears that the first step, for me, is the walking. (Oh, okay, pun not exactly intended, but it’s kind of poeticamal.)

And then slowly, gently, firmly, fold in more structure. It doesn’t have to be the hateful, rigid structure of Hateful Day Job. It just has to be…structure.

One day at a time. Starting first thing in the morning.

The early part of the morning…

xxx
c

Image by 0range County Girl via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

ADDITIONAL BONUS ITEM: For those of you who don’t subscribe to my every move and may have missed postings elsewhere, I was up to something last week…and I documented most of it with my brand new Flip video cam. Here’s a taste of instructive pleasures yet to come.

Why following your bliss might not feel blissful

Some things are simple. Some things are easy. (And, it should go without saying to anyone living in the early part of the 21st Century, some things are neither.)

There are even rare times, those Kojak-parking, traffic-lights-synchronized, buy-a-lotto-ticket days when you’re really, really cooking with gas, that things are both simple and easy.

But the quickest route to heartache is confusing simple with easy. Because in the context of goals, they couldn’t be more different.

A (good) goal can be expressed in terms that are fairly simple: get married; lose 10 pounds; balance checkbook. Rarely, however, is that simple goal an easy one to accomplish. How do you go about finding someone you’d even want to marry, much less create a relationship that leads to marriage? If 10 pounds is so easy to lose, why are people constantly having to lose the same 10?

And don’t get me starting on the #%@^ checkbook.

I’ve found myself running up against this simple-is-not-easy maxim repeatedly lately, and to an extent that is pretty deeply humiliating. In fact, the sheer act of writing this piece is pretty deeply humiliating: what ordinarily flows easily is resisting with a stubbornness and tenacity the likes of which I’ve not experienced since I had to create bullshit “science” copy for a P.O.S. hand lotion. “Micro-particles absorbed quickly and easily, leaving no smooth, hydrated skin with no greasy film” my ass.

What’s triply frustrating (because it’s hot as a troll’s nasal cavity today, and that’s two) is that this is the first time in my life where not-easy is proving really…well, hard.

Working my way up the adhole chain in my 20s? Not particularly easy, there were long hours and mountains of shit to shovel, but nothing like this.

Becoming a working actor? Or dumping that to hang out my own shingle?

Leaving my marriage? Getting over the Crohn’s?

Hard, hard, hard & hard, to be sure.

At least, that’s what I thought, until I ran up against this.

And what, pray tell, is this “this” of which I speak?

Exactly.

It gets exponentially more difficult when you know what the goal is philosophically (“To be a joyful conduit of truth, beauty and love”) and even particularly (to help people find their Truth by sharing my own journey through writing and speaking) but there are no paths laid out. Or the paths take the shape of sweeping, Yoda-esque maxims (“the change, be”). This is a fucking poet’s life, for chrissakes; who signed me up for this?!

I did, of course, with each choice I made along the way. Start choosing truth and there’s no going back to the other. Take the red pill, and taking the blue pill is no longer an option. Some days I’m fine with it; most of the days, however, are really, really not-easy lately.

Friends help. Tribe members, especially a good mix of old and new. Those who’ve known you a while help show you that the excruciatingly incremental growth you’ve been experiencing is actually mildly impressive; those who are new to you accept the You you’ve grown into, and make Future You seem achievable.

Routines help. I’ve instituted a daily walk in the morning for a week now. For a non-morning person, this not only constitutes a huge achievement, but creates some (healthy) shape to my day.

Speaking of achievements, I can’t overstate the importance of folding relatively easy, short-term projects into the mix. Getting a sinkful of dishes or the kitchen floor washed . Burning through a to-do list or a time-delimited assignment. Saving up for something. Planning even a small party.

Writing a blog post.

I’m profoundly grateful for the small, hardy group of fellow travelers that have assembled here at communicatrix. The feedback I get in the comments and via email helps keep me going, both because it feeds me and keeps me on my toes. There is always something new to think about or puzzle out or grapple with.

I am glad we’re walking the goddamned path together. Even, or especially, when things get a little hard…

xxx
c

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

The Wayback Machine: Advice to the lovelorn

Between coming off a lollapalooza of a trip and the crapload of work staring me in the face upon my return, I’ve been kind of overwhelmed and under-motivated. Happens.

But in a twin stroke of magic from the Serendipity Fairy, I got an infusion of inspiration on a trip to Ojai visiting a lady-homey, and another jolt while trying to clean out the Fibber McGee’s closet that is the innards of communicatrix-dot-comâ„¢, official bloggity-blog of Colleen Wainwright and the communicatrix empire.

Specifically, at the tail end of my journey, I ended up talking about…tail: where one gets some and how to procure the quality version. (If you’re a lady-homey, you already know how to procure quantity: walk into a bar and flash any portion of your ladyparts.) And tonight, I came across this unpublished bit which had been languishing at the bottom of a pile.

So for those nice ladies I got caffeinated with at Ojai Coffee Roasting Co. the other day, and for any of the rest of you who might be on the prowl, romantically-speaking, I offer the following. Mostly still sound, mostly not too poorly written. Some updates in brackets [like so]. It’s more general than tactical, but I think it’s no less useful for it. Maybe you’ll confirm this; maybe you’ll tell me otherwise.

Me, I’m going to enjoy some of the fruits of my own online labor of many years ago and head over to The BF’s for some…um…weekend. Yeah. That’s it.

Have a lovely “weekend,” all y’all…

I’m not prone to giving advice, wait…yes, I am. Well, not unsolicited advice, shit, I do that, too.

Sigh…

Okay: I love giving advice. I’ve been addicted to advice columns since I found Dear Abby on the funnies page (her hipper twin, Ann Landers, was in the Sun-Times and we were a Trib household all the way).

I especially enjoy advice on matters of the heart since I find love fascinating, although as regular readers know, I spout off on pretty much anything within arm’s reach. I loved Em & Lo, the erstwhile Nerve gals who write so well about sex, and subscribed to Salon.com not so I could keep up with their excellent news coverage but because I got tired of reading the Daily Pass ad to get to my Cary Tennis. [Today, I’m an ardent (haha) fan of the magnificent Dan Savage, whose excellent sex/relationship advice column is widely syndicated in alternative papers and whose out-loud version of the column (a.k.a. The Savage Lovecast) is so true and funny it makes me snort things out my nose even as I pound the dashboard in assent with his uncanny insight.]

Ironically, though, ever since I actually have had some clue about How These Things Work, I have questioned my right to be an authority on (insert topic here). I’m definitely one of those women who suffers from Imposter Syndrome, as Jory Des Jardins describes it:

(Imposter Syndrome) is a fairly common condition that affects many women, particularly those who are achievement-oriented. It’s a belief that one’s accomplishments are not deserved, that one has somehow fooled the system and will inevitably be found out for the fake that she is.

As a well-under-30 pup selling ads to clients twice my age, I remember having frequent “When Will They Find Out We Are Frauds” discussions with my then-boss back in the go-go ’80s.

But, as usual, I digress.

I think that my youthful zeal for offering advice had more to do with my needing to be seen and valued than with any selfless desire to share the wealth. These days, I find it easier to resist offering unsolicited advice one-on-one. I figure if someone wants my goddam opinion, they can goddam well ask for it; if, on the other hand, they’re just jaw-flapping, as The Chief Atheist used to say, and I have an excuse to walk away and not waste my valuable time and energy.

As an avid reader of Craig’s List, however, I used to find my advice-giving buttons pushed pretty frequently, and the lure was strong. Fortunately, they make you jump through so many hoops to reply to a post that often, my ardor cooled in advance at the prospect. In fact, I’m always shocked at how many people will jump on a lame thread in the Rants & Raves section; they must have really, really boring jobs.

But every once in a while, a post would cry out to me. The poster seemed to genuinely want an answer to a problem that spoke to my experience, and I’d have an extra ten or so minutes to devote to the issue. I always considered it another way of giving back; lord knows enough people have helped me through the dark and murky times.

I won’t repost this guy’s entire plea for help since I don’t have his permission, but suffice it to say he was experiencing some bewilderment on the dating front and, having given up entirely on meeting people in real-life venues like bars, he had now come to the conclusion that even the people looking online weren’t really looking for a relationship. Worse, I could sense he was on the precipice overhanging The Dark Place; one stiff wind and we might lose him to the other side.

Here’s what I had to say:

You know what? You’re absolutely right…and you’re absolutely wrong.

I’m a fairly cool chick (or so I’ve been told by some fairly cool people who didn’t stand to gain anything by saying it) and I’ve met some pretty great guys online. And in bars. And through friends. And even, one unusual time, standing in front of a burning bus.

I’ve also met some equally heinous guys in each of those places. (Well, I only met the one guy in front of the burning bus.)

Point being, there are asshat chicks *and* cool chicks *everywhere*. If you’re really looking for a cool one, why close off any reasonable avenue? Two caveats, though. First, in my experience, you do better if you’re open but not Looking. Cool chicks can get a little turned off by guys too much on the prowl. (And nobody likes a needy person.)

And second, if you are burning out on any part of the process or developing any kind of an attitude about a particular avenue, stay away from it until you can jump back in with a better attitude. Don’t date angry!

Now, I know Em & Lo [or Dan Savage] would have been way funnier, and that Cary [or Dan Savage, can you tell I’m queer for the dude?] would have done a much more thoughtful job of dissecting the guy’s modus operandi and even analyzing his intent. But sometimes, the best “advice” you can give is a little reassurance that this, too, shall pass, and that maybe it’s a good idea to cool one’s heels until one can approach the “problem” with an open mind and a fresh perspective. Especially when you don’t really know the person asking the question. And as someone with extensive experience in online dating who had experienced burnout and the falling rate of return that accompanies it, I felt uniquely qualified, nay, compelled, to speak up. So I’m pretty sure I wasn’t talking out of my ass.

Hopefully, I wasn’t just flapping my jaw, either.

xxx
c

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

Lean into the fear

This is dark days, my friends.

Not an hour goes by where some cold chill of a fear doesn’t pass over my heart and threaten to bring me down. This election. This war. This economy, and what it’s doing to people. The never-ending, always-on stream of bad news and…well, what it’s not doing to people.

I read a good book over my 10 days away in Chicago by a crazy young hardcore punk zen monk. It gave me odd comfort, along with some perspective. Perspective, because things have always been crazy: they were crazy when Gautama Buddha set out on his quest; they’re crazy now.

Comfort, because one really persuasive answer, while not exactly easy, seems pretty straightforward: accept responsibility.

For yourself.

For the things under your control, that help shape the world, your anger, your fear, your not-niceness. Your living-in-smallness. (Oh, and by “you”? I totally mean “me.” So we’re clear.)

While a Twitter-friend assures me we’re not technically in a recession, the fact is almost beside the point: our fears, my fears, are telling us we are. And, as another new nerd-friend says, the answer lies in addressing the fears head on, and with grace and compassion. Be here now. Love thy neighbor…actively. Ground yourself in the truth of you.

I thought about all this stuff over and over these past several days. It was hard not to. Between the overwhelming generosity of all my friends, old and new, who lent me their homes and spare bedrooms, who took time out to meet with me, who bought me meals and drinks, who showered me with love, and the long, long walks I took all over my beautiful native city, one thing got hammered home time and time again: enjoy this moment, right now. This soft bed, this slice of pizza, this drizzle of rain, this “L” train that showed up at exactly the right time, this hug, this laugh.

I have a mission statement that I’ve had for a while, which I mentioned recently, “To be a joyful conduit of truth, beauty and love.” But it is also nice to have a platform: some slightly more actionable ideals to root your ass in the here and now, and the way you’d like the next here-and-now to be. When I was Chief Nerd of my Nerdmasters club, my platform was thusly:

  1. Have fun.
  2. Leave things better than we found them.
  3. Start and end the meetings on time.

I chose them because, for whatever reasons, we’d let these things slide during the administrations before mine, and…well, it kind of chapped my hide. But the exercise of addressing these things week after week, of plotting a path that would make the platform real, both helped me realize it and why things slip away to begin with: because we are focused on other things. My presidency was far from perfect, but dammit, we had fun, that room and the people in it were better off when we left each Thursday night, and we got to the bar in time to get the drinking underway at a reasonable hour. Plus we learned what needed to happen next time. What still needed to be worked on.

What projects lay before us.

For the next few months, I’m committing to my own platform. I want to honor (and, god willin’ and the creek don’t rise) wrap up my previous commitments. I want to revisit my Best Year Yet plan I so earnestly began in January. I have new projects, including one promise I made with a lovely lady in Chicago, that I intend to see through.

And beyond that, I am going to adopt and adapt my Nerdmasters platform from last year as my personal platform for the rest of this one:

  1. I will have fun.
  2. I will leave things, myself, my people, my projects, better than I found them.
  3. And I will start and end my days on time. (Uh…after this one.)

I have some other ideas for how to tell Mr. Fear to take a hike which I’ll share as time goes on and I actually start putting them into practice. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what’s going on with you: what are you doing to grab your life by the horns, and what can the rest of us learn from it?

xxx
c

Image by tcd123usa via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Stop! Sucking! Day 21: You-be-do-be-you

In case any of you were wondering, the main reason for my trip to Chicago was to attend this event.

Well, in case any of you were an IRS auditor from the future, anyway.

But here’s the reason I really made this trip: to see my people. My people whom I’ve known a lifetime, or half a lifetime, or a third of a lifetime. And my people whom I mostly or only know from our time together online, I came to see you, too.

It’s lonely out there, and tough, and these are strange times to be a human being on the planet. In fact, it’s so crazy out there right now, with so many people running around like characters out of a Lewis Carroll story, that it becomes all the more important to hunker down with one’s homies and get the truth via that mirror:

Yes, you’re okay.

Yes, you’re sane (or at least, crazy in the good way).

Yes, it’s kinda wild out there now.

Everyone knows how hard it is to get tone right over the internet. And the phone helps, but really, it’s a measure of last resort, and a far, far better tool once you already have some grounding in reality with the person. I’m here to do the bonding in person, because that’s what people who live in the third dimension do: they see, touch, hear and, depending on how close they are or how the spirit is moving them, taste and smell each other.

I can’t begin to describe how difficult my life has been these past several months without A PLAN. Because (a), historically, I’ve operated under one; and (b) when I’ve done, I’ve done well. Even if I hated what I was doing, I at least knew why I was doing it (money, ambition, fame) and what to do. Now, I’m down to a mission statement, and one of your spazzier ones at that: “To be a joyful conduit of truth, beauty and love.”

Some business plan, huh?

I had a new (internet) friend write me recently to ask if maybe I was work-impaired. I guess I am, but not in the way (I think) he meant. I’ve got all the work I can handle right now, being me and figuring out how I make myself useful to the universe. It’s work I chose, and that meant I had to stop some other kinds of work, i.e., the paying kind, to do it. If my father was here, he’d tell me I was crazy like my mother, and then ask if I needed money.

For the record, I’m not and, for now, I don’t. I am trusting that if I work hard at what I know I can do, write stuff down, illuminate darkish corners, make people laugh a little, the rest will work itself out.

It is a leap of faith, the stopping. But the alternative, to go and go and go, and be stopped by whatever rock drops on my head in 10 or 20 or, if I’m lucky, another 47 years, is no longer an option.

I gotta be me. Nonstop, 24/7/365.

And now, off I go to meet a few new old friends…

xxx
c

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