Month: September 2008

Staying Awake in Seattle, Day 4: Small is the new big

Whatever directions your circumstances take, expanding or contracting, growing or reducing, uptick or downward trending, you adjust.

I’ve adjusted upwards and downwards all my life. Up, up, up for years; then, a few years after my parents divorced, a sharp downturn when we relocated to Gloomy Manor, a.k.a. my maternal grandparents’ house, where we lived with them and two uncles who were also in the throes of their own particular life changes.

Up again with Mom’s second marriage; down and down and down with the demise of that. Although at that point, the downwards contractions were only visible on vacation visits to the homestead; my own path had diverged in its own upwards/downwards fashion, through various communal living experiences at college and in New York City, where I shared a series of shitty rooms and apartments with a series of interesting roommates. Mammals, most of them.

The move to L.A., back in 1992, was a big step up in comfort and convenience. Grouse all you want about L.A., we live the soft life there, with our cars and our endless free and/or cheap parking. Parts of Los Angeles are truly urban, and I have one intrepid friend who’s managed a car-free life for her entire stay there, but for the most part, we are fat and lazy suburbanites in city people’s clothing. In New York, you get tough; in L.A., you may become hard, but you get very, very soft.

My four days here have been sort of a revelation in terms of personal comfort. Don’t get me wrong: I adore this lovely neighborhood, its walkable treasures, its spectacular views. Within a half-hour’s walk I have all the great bookstores, markets, coffee shops and eateries a city girl could hope for. And I mean great, of the kind of exceptional quality that would have you driving all over L.A. and back again.

But the trade-off for truly civilized living, at least, among the commonfolk, is 7/8ths-scale everything else. A tiny apartment, with tiny closets and a microscopic kitchen. You? Maybe you’re fine with the microscopic. Me? I’m a metaphorically fat, lazy American pig who’s used to driving her car to the supermarket, buying in ridiculous quantities, and feeling vaguely guilty about the waste. And the E-Z-Bake Oven is not exactly a McMansion, either. But compared to my current digs, the full-size fridge, oven AND cooktop, and capacious cabinets feel positively suburban.

Truthfully? It feels good to scale back. I like literally weighing an item in my hand and deciding whether or not I want to hump it back to the crib. It feels good to be able to count on both hands the items of food and drink I have to eat and drink. Having to wash the previous meal’s dish and cutlery before I eat again, because there’s only one set? Is a good exercise for me.

Some of the good comes from things just being different. From being outside of the usual, and my comfort zone, so I’m forced to be thoughtful and attentive (and thankful! Let’s not forget thankful!)

But part of the wonder of this trip is in literally scaling back. To the stuff I’ve brought with me. To the space allotted.

In constraints lie the keys to expansion.

Here’s to busting down more walls…


Staying Awake in Seattle, Day 3: Wax on & serendipity

Anne Lamott says Mondays are bad for writing.

She goes so far as to say that one, “one” being you, the aspiring writer, should never endeavor to begin an important project on a December Monday, December being the Month of Mondays.


She also speaks (kindly) to a lot of important concepts for the creatrix: the importance of the Shitty First Draft. The soundness of the Short Assignment. The eminently sensible principle of Not Beating Oneself Up, a.k.a. the Scourge of Perfectionism.

I did work today and I wrote today. Some okay work and a horrendous Shitty First Draft of a new Chapter One. Forgive me for not sharing all, I hate to be coy, but to fill you in on every last detail would be to spread my seed rather too thinly. And as the kind of gal who always half-wished she was a dude (the freedom! the equipment!), I’m excited enough to have seed to spread, period.

At some point today, when the slanting sun had crept high enough so as to make work in my otherwise otherworldly-perfect workspace unbearable, I crept out and up the hill for a coffee. While there, feasting on caffeinated beverages that only get this good because of fierce competition, I received a call from my gal, gelatobaby, who, coincidentally, is here tearing up the town…with her mother.

An invitation to dinner! From two ladies who know their culinary stuff far better than I can hope to in a thousand lifetimes! How could I say anything but “yes”?

We met, we supped, we plotted. They treated me to the finest dinner I’ve had in months (oh, god, the carpaccio! the mussels!) and dropped me on their way back down the hill. I hadn’t the groceries I’d intended to get on my way up, but was fed better than I possibly could have been by my own hand and the Safeway.

Part of what I am here to do is what I planned. The rest? What just comes up.

In serendipity we trust. Good night, Seattle!


Staying Awake in Seattle, Day 2: Tables and sharing

I will go to great lengths of accommodating discomfort in order to avoid Discomfort.

Case in point: I ate white-bread-and-cheese sandwiches for four days in London during my first visit there, at age 16, because I was too terrified to venture out beyond the first place I found that sold food. (I also missed my chance to see Elvis Costello in teeny-tiny concert, as well as the original cast of the Rocky Horror Show, for pretty much the same reason. Yes, I know.)

More proof? After three weeks of profound illness and several harrowing nights of 104º+ fever, I still had to be tricked into going to the hospital by my clever, clever sister. Because to hell with the idea I might die by staying away: the emergency room would have been a clear admission that something was seriously wrong with me.

I did what I could to prep for a good month away: clothes, plans, transpo, housing. It never occurred of me to ask my charming host about workspace arrangements. Hell, she was throwing extra sets of keys to an office to me; why would I think about it?

So when I threw open the door to my Home-and-Office Away from Home, imagine my surprise at finding exactly two clear horizontal surfaces above the floor: the bedside tables on either side of the Tempurpedic. Which, to be fair, is also a clear horizontal surface (and a scary-comfortable one, at that), but highly impractical for use as a computing workspace, which is what I was after.

I jury-rigged something out of one of the tables, the iMac box and a few pillows (for carpal tunnel-reduction). Within five minutes, it was clear that any notions of productivity I’d driven up here with were going to be dashed upon the rocks of half-assedness; there’s only so much one can do with crap tools and a crap set-up, no matter what kind of raw material and will one is working with.

The BF said two words: Craig’s List. Well, I guess that’s one word, as far as the Internet is concerned. And it was a fine idea: people unload far costlier items than a beat-to-shit table on the “free” list every day.

But I knew that looking it up was only a small fraction of a complex equation, the rest of which was a snarl of potential issues that started with my giving up a parking spot in a neighborhood that places a premium on them, and ended with me sliced to ribbons in a culvert out back of a trailer park in some remote, exurban swath of Seattle. With a lot of narrowly-missed freeway exits in between. I could put up with the end table, couldn’t I? For just a few weeks?

I couldn’t. I came here to write, and I couldn’t write shite perched on a futon couch, my knees wrapped around a bedside table, my mousing arm wobbly on a giant cardboard box. I found the perfectly priced, beat-to-shit table in a faraway suburb, took a deep breath, and emailed. Three hours later, my table was reassembled in the Temporary Pad, my car was parked in a new and equally deliciously located spot, and I was walking downtown for a celebratory Americano at my beloved Caffé Umbria.

They don’t alter you overnight-and-forever, these little stabs at change. But they do have a way of making other things fall into place almost magically. A few hours later, I ran into a friend from Los Angeles who is here, performing in a play. Got invited to dinner with a couple of online friends who were gathering nearby. (Got to buy my idol, Dan Savage, a drink while I was there, too.)

On the cab ride over (did I mention the cab that magically appeared out of nowhere?), the driver and I talked about fear and petrification and how to manage the former to help stave off the latter. I think I may have convinced him of the rightness of taking a two-hour vacation, all by himself. As a start. As a gateway challenge.

Today? Was a good day.


Staying Awake in Seattle: A 21-Day Salute™

There is a reason they call it uprooting yourself.

If you’ve never moved, you have no idea what I’m talking about, and if you have, you’re know exactly what I’m talking about: that weird feeling that you’ve landed on another planet, where the ordinary rules of gravity and suchlike don’t apply. You can walk, because your legs still work, but you’re taking in so much information that it all feels new, like the first time you walked (I think, really, I can’t remember that far back.)

You pull into a parking space and you’re not sure if it’s a legal space because they mark things differently, so you feel even more unbalanced as you go to check out your new place, the place you will call home for the next few weeks. And it’s fine: you have not, in fact, landed on another planet, but on a very thin slice of this very same planet, which happens to have stairs and running water and windows and walls and floors just like your own slice.

Still, this is not your own slice. The strange smells and sights that assault you at every turn assure you of that. You are an alien; you are here by the grace of something other than you. This ain’t you, babe.

So you unpack your stuff. And as you obsessively unzip and unpack and plug in and turn on (narrating the whole damned thing like your Big Move is a show on the National Geographic channel), you of course think of Carlin and his stuff. And you wonder about all the other people who move around all the time, and how they make their nomadic whistle-stop lives feel grounded and substantial.

You fuss and muse and make a few calls (because those lifelines to other worlds, they are grounding) and finally, you decide to take one of the homegrown maps your absent host, your Ghost Host!, has drawn for you and walk for provisions (and definitely walk, because you’ll be goddamned if you’ll get back in that car and drive up disorienting hills after three days on the road, only to return to find the maybe-parking space is gone and now you’ve got to find another…in the dark.

It’s beautiful here. Even tired/jazzed and disoriented, you can’t help but notice. Around every corner is another picture-postcard view. And different from the picture-postcard views you’re used to, with their Hollywood signs and magic-hour lighting on the palm trees, so you really see them.

The store is not your store, but it has food like your store. Food so like your store, you try your customer affinity card at the checkout, and are secretly delighted that it works. (Secretly, because you have no one to tell; you’ve made a friend of the checker, who is also a SoCal transplant, but she left San Berdoo eons ago and it is her job now to talk to the wobbly and disoriented of all stripes.)

You feel a little better walking back. You’ve walked this way once, so it’s already less unfamiliar. You start to think about how in a few weeks, maybe a few days, it will feel familiar. You need to mark this, the feeling, and sit in it, and for god’s sake, don’t rush past it.

And then you look left. A giant spire, lit up like Christmas, looks back at you. Points toward the rest of a sweeping vista, a carpet of lights ringed around a bay. For you. Here. For you.

This is why you haul your ass out of town. This is why you leave things and change things and try things. For the feeling of imbalance. For the reminder that you’re just a floating speck on a floating leaf. For the occasional glimpse of beauty that’s both shockingly new and hauntingly familiar.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am here in Seattle to wake myself the fuck up the rest of the way. Done what I could where I could; now I let my new, host circumstances take care of the rest.

We shall see what we shall see.


Seattle happens on the left side of the “but”

When anyone uses 'but' in a sentence, throw away everything to the left of the 'but.'

I shouldn’t be here now. Living. Writing. Relationshipping.

Seriously: I’ve done everything wrong.

I shouldn’t have left my job-job 16 years ago (and counting). Not that Real Job, with its corner office view and its fancypants title and its fatty paycheck and its sweet bennies.

I shouldn’t have moved out to Los Angeles to chase a half-baked dream. I definitely shouldn’t have then dumped the half-baked dream for the even loonier one of becoming an actor.

I shouldn’t have left the hospital that weekend. I shouldn’t have gotten rid of the Similac and everything else on the doctor-recommended BLAND diet and gone on the non-doctor-recommended Specific Carbohydrate Diet. I shouldn’t have worn extra layers of clothing and filled my pockets with change for my first weigh-in, to buy myself more time.

I shouldn’t have left my marriage: we loved each other; that’s supposed to be enough, right? And I certainly shouldn’t have entered into a committed relationship with a married man.

The older I get, and, let’s face it, the less authority figures whose worry-laden calls of inquiry after my current madness that I have to take twice weekly, the more comfortable I am with doing the stuff on the left side of the “but”. The craaaazy stuff.

I’d like to try parachuting but

I’d like to take a sabbatical but

I’d like to try the chicken tikka masala this time but

A couple of things worth noting here. First, some people really don’t want to do any of that stuff; they just like jaw-flappin’. That’s cool, but you know what? If you’re here, putting yourself through the very specific agony of reading all these verbal gymnastics to unearth some pearl, odds are you aren’t of the fish-mawed yarnspinner variety.

Second, not all of the stuff on the left side of the “but” need be executed. Or, given your current circumstances, is even executable, by a sane and responsible citizen, anyway. If you’re the sole means of support for a family of seven, I’d consider you a prize shithead if you ditched them to pursue your left-of-the-but dream of…well, anything.

What you are allowed to do, what we all must do, and always, because we are not fixed in stone, is to stay awake and keep your finger on the pulse of your desires. Provided you are not just talking for the sake of hearing your own voice (and if you are, well, dang, there’s a little something you could study for a bit, isn’t there?) the stuff on the left of the but, in my experience, is the you that’s a few steps ahead calling out for a little help, here. Whether that voice is a canary in a coalmine, tweeting your tatty and inevitable death-by-not-being-alive or a quietly shining light guiding you through an approaching fog to the next safe harbor lies largely with how you treat it.

The big breakthrough for me was starting to look at the stuff on the left side of the “but” as a bit of guidance: a place to start. Is there something about parachuting that’s interesting to me? What is it? Or them, all of them? And while we’re at it, let’s have a look-see at the stuff on the right side. What, exactly, is this thing that is stopping me? How do I feel about that? Is it even true, or is it a rutted road, an old story, something I don’t particularly like or believe in anymore, but have come to accept as a fixed given?

You don’t have to parachute; you just have to sit down and make a list. Surely, you can sit down and make a list. (Yes, I can. And don’t call me “Shirley.”)

I speak of the list both literally (I am a big listmaker) and metaphorically (hello, therapy!). This is about you, getting down with you. Use whatever time and tools necessary, because really, you aren’t going anywhere until you do. That thing about your shit following you around? About the Universe, in its infinite diaffected jackassery, delivering the lesson to you time and time again until you learn it? Living proof, right here.

At the end of your listmaking, literal or metaphorical, you may decide that yeah, parachuting is just the thing, and what the hell are you waiting for? You may find that you actually hate the idea of a sabbatical but you hate your job even more. You may find that this fear of ordering anything but korma is the tip of a particular iceberg you might want to start addressing…by having the tikka masala.

Or not.

The thing is to look at the thing. Pay attention to the thing, both sides of it, and how they intersect (or don’t). Since I started applying this thinking, I’ve not done as many craaaazy things as I have done, but I’ve considered them all. Considering costs you nothing but a little cold, hard light on your interior works. Which I realize is more than some of us are willing to do, ever, and that any of us are willing to do always, but again, you and I are both here, so I’m guessing we both get down with the craaaazy from time to time.

Which is why, like the subject line sez, I’m heading up to Seattle later this week. For a month.

There are plenty of good reasons to not get in my car this week and drive 1,135 miles just to do there what I do here, or much of it, anyway, god willing and the creek don’t rise. Gas is crazy-expensive. The drive is long. I leave behind unfinished, L.A.-specific projects here. Not to mention an excellent boyfriend and his equally excellent dog.

But there are other, less-Good reasons to go. I fell in love with the PacNW when I visited it last year, and want to see if what I saw and felt was true. I’ve “met” a lot of folks from parts north-by-northwest and feel like it’s time to actually meet them.

Biggest of all the fuzzy reasons to go: I’m coming up on my 16th year here in Los Angeles, and it gets harder to see stuff when you’ve been looking at it for so long. Or, it seems, to make stuff.

So here’s me, doing the craaaazy thing. Going to Seattle to meet people. In the middle of fall. To make stuff. To talk about it all.

It took a long time of things lining up in my head (listmaking! therapy!) and a fortuitous clutch of circumstances to do it, but I’m going. I’ve been surprised at how non-surprised, even supportive, the people I’ve told have been.

Maybe we all want to do the stuff on the left side of the but more than we know.

Maybe it’s time to start thinking about it…


Wherever you are, hang in there

For all of the people who extol its virtues, I’m pretty sure that there are relatively few people who actually live in that state of grace known as balance.

At least, most of the awake people I know don’t. We’re on a tear or we’re passed out. We’re Getting Things Done or cooked. We’re high as kites or low as…really, really low things.

Heaven forfend I offer prescriptions for anything, since I’ve got my own mess I’m wading through, my own silverware tangle to sort out, but since externalizing some of what I go through seems to be useful to some people, I figure I might as well keep on doing it. And Thursday’s observation is this:

If you do the work, it works.

It may not work as fast as you wanted, although it probably will happen in the time it should. There are plenty of cautionary tales for not wishing things on oneself sooner than one is equipped to handle them; enough baby actors have fallen backwards into a tub of sitcom butter and shown up 20 years later on Reality Rehab for us not to know this. But still, the Wanting gets so big sometimes, it can override everything: the good sense to take a breather. To spend time on “non-essential” (read: essential) activities. To sleep. To eat. To reflect.

I know, because I’ve done it. I’ve thrown over all kinds of things, including my good sense, in pursuit of the external. Which, after many years of coming up empty-handed, I’ve decided should really be called the Pursuit of Filling in Giant Holes with Air. Doesn’t work. Not even sure it should. After all, those holes? They’re your landscape, your badge of honor. Your map of Places Been, your souvenirs of Hills Conquered.

No, to paraphrase my wise first-shrink/astrologer, you don’t ever get rid of stuff; you just learn to recognize it, and do an end-run around it, more quickly. It becomes as if your shit isn’t there, but of course it is. It’s a part of you, your shit, which is as it should be. Otherwise, we’d all walk around the emotional equivalent of the Elective Surgery Squad, simulacra of our real selves. Pleasant enough (provided we don’t cheap out on the contractor), but lacking the je ne sais quoi of real, live human beans.

If you’ve been hanging ’round these here parts, you’ve seen and heard of my long struggle. Way back around this time in 2007, it became clear that things were unclear. I’d made a huge career shift the year before, from acting to design, and had experienced just enough success to realize it wasn’t where my passions lie. (Lay? Mignon Fogarty, where are you when I need you!?)

Believe you me, if you’re a highly motivated, high-producing type, there is nothing more terrifying than not knowing which direction to point your guns at. It’s terrifying to give yourself room and time and space…to just swing gently in the breeze. When I asked for help last December, it was with the firm conviction that a good four months of reflection would allow my Purpose to bubble up and reveal itself. Add the few months of anguish mounting to the point where asking for help was actually less painful than not asking, and you’ll see why I was a full-bore wreck around the end of May.

That thing about kissing frogs to find princes? Really, it’s about finding your thang, your path, your Joe-Campbell-style bliss. And Campbell, no doubt, would have agreed: fairy tales, like myths, are metaphor, coded for your protection.

I’m not quite ready to lay out the All New and Improved Communicatrix Offerings just yet, but my head is (mostly) clear on what needs to be done and, more importantly, my heart feels light enough to manage the task.

More soon. Much, much more…


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