Month: October 2008

What do you do for an encore?

There’s a terror in doing something for the first time, of course.

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…


Staying Awake in Seattle, Day 21: Home, sweet home base

I do likes me a grand finale. Yes, I do.

For mine, I pulled off a 60-minute presentation with nothing but my bare hands and a stack of index cards. You shoulda been there. (Well, some of you were. Hi! It was kinda fun, huh? Just rolling with it?)

Somewhere along the line, I taught myself how to improvise. Some of it was intentional; some of it was…well…not. But it really is all good.

Every piece of goodness and weirdness and what-the-hell-is-this-ness can move forward with us to inform the next thing. Do your work. Prepare like a motherfucker. Then let the hell go.

Because as one who’s planned a wedding and a career path and countless other Virgo-type Things with Outcomes, I’ll tell you flat-out: you cannot control what will happen.

The restaurateur will use your carefully thought-out seating plan as a coaster and set up whatever two-, six- and 12-tops his people feel like. You will be waved onto the express lane for success and find the speeds make you carsick.

Thank god. The good stuff is what happens in the in-between spaces. The stuff you plan for, not the stuff you plan.

Three weeks of so much unexpected good stuff. Months (I hope) of unpacking ahead of me.

Thank you, Seattle. Thank you everyone along the way, and here and there, and everywhere, who came along for the ride.

Let’s see what kind of trouble we can stir up on our respective home fronts, shall we?


Staying Away in Seattle, Day 20: Home, sick

This is the mug that stares back at me every time I pick up my phone.

It never fails to cheer, but for the past few days, it’s also filled me with homesick longing.

There’s no question about it: Seattle is a great town. It feels about as warm and welcoming as a place could be. I’ve made scads of new acquaintances, reconnected with old ones and even run into a few random L.A. types also up here escaping the desert heat.

And this trip itself has been wildly invigorating and deeply gratifying. I’d come hoping for some perspective and was rewarded not only with that (and in spades), but absolute confirmation that direction I’ve come out of this year of wandering with is the right one.

No wonder this place has started to feel like home.

Today, though, for the first time, the pull to go home-home felt stronger than the desire to stay here. I don’t doubt that The BF having to cancel his plans to fly up, hang out, and drive back has something to do with it. We’ve been apart for a month today, and that’s too long for people who have some kind of choice in the matter.

I’m also fairly sure that actual sickness has something to do with it. I went to bed last night feeling not-great and woke up feeling even worse: a return of the exact same symptoms I had before starting this trip. That kind of symmetry I can do without.

When you’re physically low, a little sick, a little tired, a little cold, a little hot, whatever small thing you might be going through seems magnified. And when you’re a little homesick and a little sick into the mix? You miss your babies something fierce. Technically, I don’t have to vacate the Fabulous (Temporary) Bachelorette Pad until Monday. But given the circumstances, I’m cutting it short by a couple of days and heading back Saturday.

Wave to me on the I-5.

Oh, and wish me luck on my last day at home before I go home…


Staying Awake in Seattle, Day 19: Putting it together

Sometimes, the only way you get stuff done is just to commit to it and make a leap of faith.

Like this presentation I’m giving on Friday.

Hell, like this entire trip, while we’re at it.

You form an intention, you get as organized and prepared as you can, and then…

You jump.

It’s what I’ll be talking about on Friday, when I share what I’ve learned about connecting with people online with a bunch of people in the Actual Real World. Am I the king-god-be-all of Internet fabulosity? Please.

On the other hand, I went in with the vaguest of intentions, to develop my voice, to share what I knew, and made it work, so I figure that if these people have some clear objectives and can fold in the stuff I’ve learned? Soufflé time, baby.

Right now, the chef’s gotta get back to the kitchen.

More soon…


Staying Awake in Seattle, Day 18: Into every life, a little rain must fall

I suppose it’s a sign of how fantastically, beyond-my-wildest-dreams awesome this trip has been that the little bit of rain I got sprinkled with today so thoroughly dampened my spirits.

Truth be told, I didn’t have too many dreams coming up here. Expectations, either. I suspected that this would be a trip that would give me some perspective, and it has. I suspected that it would force me out of the rut I’d gotten into, and it has: in a thousand tiny ways, I’ve been forced out of my comfort zone.

In a thousand other ways, though, I’ve felt myself slipping back in.

Witness the red* card in the picture above.

I’ve been here, in Seattle, for 18 days now. Hawk-eyed viewers will note there are 12 punches on the card; I turned it in today for my 13th cup, free. That’s 13 cups of coffee at the same place 18 days.

Yes, I’ve sampled coffee in lots of other Seattle establishments. A couple of Portland ones, too. That’s still 13** cups of coffee in one place, in a town that’s lousy with exceptional coffee.

I’ve eaten at proportionally more places, but have still managed to eat the same (fantastic) Greek salad topped with gyros from the same neighborhood restaurant three times now***.

The forces of habit are, shall we say, exceptionally forceful. You can run from them, but you cannot hide; they run faster, and I’m pretty sure they all have GPS. So it was with a sick sense of recognition that I felt fury rise in me this afternoon when confronted with what is, in the face of all the horrific shit going down in the world today, a ridiculously small disappointment: The BF has to cancel his trip up here.

It means no BF until I get back, and very little of him before he heads to the Midwest for his selfless volunteer tour of duty as Driver-of-Early-Voters-to-the-Polls-in-a-Swing-State (plus seeing his kids who, let’s face it, really need to see him much more than we need to see each other.)

It means the happy pictures I’d painted of us tromping around Seattle for a couple of days are melting away like so many (fairly elaborate, but still) chalk paintings on the sidewalk. It means being apart on his birthday. It means driving the 1,100 miles back home alone.

It means things changed, just like things change all the time. Just like things have changed moment to moment, day to day on my entire trip. Only instead of rolling with the changes like I’ve been doing so far, turning into them to see what new fabulosity lies around the corner, I have, for some reason, clung stubbornly to my vision of how things were supposed to be.

Supposed to be? Nothing on this trip so far has unfolded like it was supposed to: that is what’s made it so fantastic.

The good news here (among much other good news received today, including the speedier-than-expected recovery of a dear friend from a serious surgery, while we’re putting things into perspective) is that I was able to deploy my ninja skillz of bullshit-dispelling to great effect, with relative ease. I leaned into the disappointment hard, then took my sorry, self-pitying ass for a vigorous, uphill walk. By the time I’d reached the top of the hill and headed back, I had things back in their proper perspective. Well, pretty much.

I still don’t know what will happen next, but I know I will not cling to what I believed might happen before.

It is harder to be in flow than you think.

It is easier to get back in than you give yourself credit for.

It’s good to remember both of those things.


*Which, shot as it was with the world’s greatest handheld computational device, admittedly looks more orange than red. The iPhone makes a much better computational device than it does a camera.

**Maybe more. I had a several cups at this place before I discovered they had punch cards, and while I did ask for a few retroactive punches, I was too embarrassed to ask for all of them. Junkies get defensive and shit.

***And have the ill-fitting pants to prove it.

Staying Awake in Seattle, Day 17: Other people’s omelet pans

You know you have made yourself at home when…

…the coffee people start making your order as you walk in.

…people on the street ask you for directions.

…you finally coax a Los Angeles omelet from your friend’s Seattle stovetop.

Two weeks down; one week to go.


And then?

The rest of my life, just like here.

“Here” being “wherever it takes me”…


Staying Awake in Seattle, Days 16: PDX, PDQ, Part the second

The whole of the Pacific Northwest is pretty beautiful, and the bits around Seattle especially so, but there’s something about Portland that says “home” to me.

It may be because of its size: Seattle is smaller than New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, but it still feels like a big city.

It’s also a little fancier than its sister to the South. Okay, a lot fancier. It’s not formal, by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a little more decked out, a little less grubby. Fancy.

Portland, on the other hand, reminds a great deal of Chicago, specifically, the tiny, homey Chicago of my childhood. 1960s Chicago, when we had three good restaurants and the Loop and a big, fat chip on our collective Big Shoulder because we weren’t New York. Only Portland doesn’t feel like it has a chip. It feels a little working class, a little crunchy, a little fanatical (hello, foodies! hello, bikers! I’m talkin’ to you!) and okay with it. My pal, Robert, who’s lived there for some time now, says it’s really just a grimy old port town that got classed up. So is Seattle, for that matter, but I guess there’s a lot more money up here, because there’s a lot more visible class.

Anyway, if it felt incredibly wrong to blow by Portland on my way up the I-5, it felt truly thrilling to take a little side trip back down there in the middle of my stay up here.

First, there’s the middling-longish drive there: three hours each way. Yeah, I’m a lousy citizen, burning extra dinosaur bones rather than hitting it on the way up or back, but I haven’t found the thing yet that jogs stuff loose in my brain like a middling-longish drive.

And after a couple of weeks of doing new stuff here, believe it or not, I’d fallen into a groove. It felt good to jump out of it, and really good to jump back into PDX to change it up. I stayed in the same hotel, walked the same streets, went to the same restaurant (sweet baby jeebus, that place is good), shopped in the same bookstore. I did meet one new former imaginary Internet friend, but hung out with two old ones, including my first shrink/astrologer. I talked change with my shrink, who has known me over 20 years now; I talked shop with Havi, whom I’ve known for about 20 weeks, I think. (I talked about everything from sex to writing to money with Robert, but we are weird.)

More than anything, I’m realizing this an idea-collecting trip. Or maybe an idea-coalescing trip. Or maybe both. I needed this distance from my L.A. surroundings and routine to start seeing how all these pieces of things I’ve been toying with for the past 12 months fit together. I’ll be heading back in about a week, but it will be a back that’s forward.

New business plan. New project order. New excitement for life in general.

Backwards to go forwards. Or just stopping, so you can go, period.

Remind me of this when I’m home, would you?