Month: February 2009

Baby steps, steep curves and other lessons from my bookkeeper


For those of you with zero experience around the Virgo nature, whose entire worldview of us was formed by the scant information you picked up on the back of a celestial cereal box, we are not, contrary to the party line, all that.

We are partly that: the Organizer, the Planner, the Gals (and Dudes) of the Brother P-Touch/Dymo Brigades. Some friends stare at my magnetized remotes and my coordinated-by-color closet agape with wonder. A smaller subset rolls their eyes, having ridden in the filth pit that is my car on any given day (what is the passenger-side footwell for if not my mobile detritus?) or lain on my carpet with its soft, cushy, overlayer of 100% human hair (hey, vacuuming is for suckers…hahaha!)

Or, to bring it on home to stuff I actually give a rat’s ass about, some people (god bless you, fine people!) seem to think there’s something noteworthy about the way I string words together into sentences, or make an idiot fool out of myself in a shower cap for the sake of a couple thousand laughs. I do appreciate it (truly, BLESS you fine people!) but know that for me, those things are frictionless. In the same way that other are naturally athletic, social or brilliant at making a buck, I’m good with the words and the goofy. It’s my metier. It’s my EZ Zoneâ„¢. It’s even my default setting: I have to be careful not to retreat into it, but to use it as a foundation to build out.

Take storytelling, for example. I suck at it! No, really! No, seriously, have you listened to Ira Glass or the Moth podcasts? Those people can tell stories. I try and I try and while I’m better at it than I used to be, it’s a form I’ll probably always struggle with. I’m an essayist-with-a-moral person, and that’s a very different thing than being a story-with-a-beginning-middle-and-end person. I can do it, but not off the cuff. It takes painstaking practice. When I want to do well, I take the pains.

Or jokes. I suck at telling jokes! No, really, I do! People think I must be great at it because I’m so down with the goofy, but a good joke, a story joke, is, again, a puzzlement to me. Like writing with my non-dominant hand or trying to learn a foreign language. (If you want to see it done well, check out these Old Jews Telling Jokes. Maybe by the time I’m an old half-Jew, I’ll be half as good. But I’m not holding my breath.)

I suck at a lot of other things: things that you’d figure (sports, powerlifting, painting) and things you’d not figure, given my Virgo nature. Managing money, every aspect of managing money, has always been a struggle for me. It’s only because of incredible luck and good fortune (they’re different, you know) that things have worked out this well. But between my inexorably advancing age and the somewhat sudden death of my father (whom I always considered my safety net should things go really wrong), I’ve finally come to realize that while luck and fortune are fine things, they are not to be counted on. My moments of realizing this added up to a kind of renewed vigor to TCB, and a couple of years ago, I brought in some help in the form of a bookkeeper, to show me how the grownup people did it.

She is patient, kind and wonderful. An artist herself, she is deeply understanding of the exquisitely delicate artist nature. She is nothing but encouraging, and never complains when she has to spend 75% of her time and a lot of my money to clean up messes that wouldn’t be there if I would GODDAMN GET THE INVOICING DONE and ENTER THE BASTARD INTO QUICKBOOKS. For days before she comes, and the whole, otherwise pleasant time she’s here, these admonishments pound in my head.

But in her best Put the Puppy on the Mat, zen-buddhist way, Liz gently turns my gaze back towards what I have accomplished. Silly little things like billing from my accounting software instead of my writing software, or of carefully copying by hand all my deposits into pages of my notebooks, or tying all my receipts to the credit card statements, with line-item notations for each one.

Things that would seem like no-brainers to a person with a Head for Business. Then again, I might look at Mr. Business Man in amazement when his voice cracks, his hands shake, and the “um” train goes a-runnin’ every time he gets up in public to speak.

So Mr. Business Man (probably a Taurus) goes to Toastmasters, and Colleen makes up games to get herself to tote up her expenses and bill on time. Bit by bit, drop by drop, we all can get there, or at least, far enough to be close enough.

Among other things, this year has been a lesson in the mighty power of the tiny increment. And of staying humble, and of staying power.

I hope I’m going places, but so you know, I’m not going anywhere, even if I do. I’m working the fields in front of me, one row at a time…


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

Countdown to SXSWi: 2 weeks out, heeeeere we go!


This is Part 2 of a three-part series on prepping for South by Southwest (interactive flavor). You can read Part 1 here.

Hopefully, you’ve already tackled some of the bigger to-dos on your list that we talked about in Part 1, like making your reservations and buying a damned cell phone and getting some kind of cards to hand out. (Your regular-usual biz cards will do in a pinch; the main thing is to have something to hand people so they can get in touch with you.)

This week, you’ll want to start getting your ducks in a row. They will, of course, scatter to the four winds as soon as you touch ground, and this is part of the delight of SXSW. To make a spin on the old adage, you’ll want to have strong plans held loosely to squeeze the most life from South-by. But because we aim to be helpful here at communicatrix-dot-com, a few suggestions…

That thing about signing up for My.SXSW? I wasn’t kidding

Okay, if you’re a big privacy freak, DON’T sign up for my.sxsw. I get that; I do. But if you’re not a freak for privacy, or willing to waive a bit of it on a one-time basis, the site does offer conveniences, like connectivity with your fellow nerds and being able to add events to your calendar automagically. If you’re not into that, opt out. Don’t tell me which things you’re attending.

Just make sure your photo is uploaded to your account so that you don’t have to belabor what can already be a lengthy check-in process. Cool?

Firm up plans with people you absolutely must see

I know, I know, this is in direct opposition to what I’ve said above. But the time flies while you’re there, and if you leave things to chance, chances are they won’t happen. Other tremendously delightful things will happen, but those things you were counting on in sort of a Kismet way? No. Not those things.

You can order it any way you’d like, but my suggestion is this: give first priority to the people you know you want to see or meet and whom you know you will likely not meet in the course of the next 12 months if not in Austin. If there are groups of you, by all means, set up some group activities. You don’t need to pick the venues for these breakfasts, lunches, dinners, drinks, etc, you’ll find places soon enough, and those kinds of plans you can keep flexible. (Although if you’re looking at going somewhere out of walking range of downtown, to get you some bona fide TX BBQ, f’rinstance, you might want to arrange that.)

So maybe don’t lock it up tight, but get it in the chute. The last thing you want is to make that big, long trip and leave without so much as a “Howdy-do!”

Set your (loose) panels schedule

After two visits to SXSW, I’m tempted to say ditch the panels entirely and just meet people. But really, you’ll do fine if you treat them like you do the above plans for socializing: get your “musts” in the calendar, and make note of other “maybes.”

By “in the calendar” I mean make use of the great WebDav-blah-bitty-blah-amazing technology that is iCal and GCal. If you’re a Mac-head, it’s dead simple, you just subscribe to the SXSW calendar (click “add this to my calendar” from any particular panel or event in your

Read up on the people you do want to meet

I don’t mean to cram for SXSW like it’s an exam. But if there are some panels you’re interested in going to because you want to meet one of the panelists, maybe do a quick bit of research on the other panelists. At the very least, you’ll have better questions to ask during the Q&A, and if you do end up talking to the person, you’ll be much more comfortable. (This falls under the general rubric of “be prepared!” that I talked about in my newsletter issue devoted to SXSW and networking. It’s of special interest to fellow introverts, I think, because it reduces some of the drag that socializing has on us in general.)

Prune/plump your Twitter

This was the single greatest piece of advice my friend, Heathervescent, gave me before my last SXSW (there was no Twitter at my first one). It’s less of an issue now that there are iPhone apps to filter your feed and reduce noise, but if you have focus issues like I did, you might want to dump some of the chattier non-attendees at the same time as you add other people who you’ll want to be following. After taking a few deep, calming breaths, I re-added my friends Chris Brogan and Laura Fitton (@chrisbrogan and @pistachio, respectively) because they’re the kind of prolific, plugged-in types who will be all over the happs (which is why I had to reluctantly give up on following them before). You may want to add them now, too, or just subscribe/click over to their stream for the next week or so.

You can also go through the list of speakers and people from your my.sxsw (are you getting why I like it?) who are going to be there and add them, as well. Twitter was made for SXSW. (I mean, hey, it basically made its bones there two years ag0.)

At some point, people will settle on a hashtag for SXSW tweets (#sxsw or #sxsw09) and you’ll want to note that. In the meantime, you may want to go to Twitter search, create a search for “SXSW” and subscribe to that RSS feed. Or, if you use a Twitter management tool like TweetDeck, set up a search within that.

The point is to get your feet wet with that now, before things get too crazy. Which they will. It’s inevitable.

It’s part of the fun of it all…


Photo of Colleen Wainwright and 2009 SXSW speaker David Eckoff by Becky McCray or Chris Brogan (I think) via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons. No, we did not coordinate outfits beforehand. Yes, we look related. SXSW is nutty like that!

What frustration and fear are for


Try saying that headline three times fast.

No. Don’t.

You’re already frustrated enough, aren’t you? I know I am. These days, for every moment of wonderment, and happily, there are many, and happy moments of wonderment, at that, there seem to be three of the WTF-OMFG-WFHIT* variety.

People are craaaaaazy right now. There is a craaaaaazy amount of fear in the air, and an actually not-so-crazy amount of scrambling accompanying it. Because all the rules have changed, or seem to have, in the middle of the game. (I’ll make the rather existential argument that we’ve all been living in a fantasy hullaballoo of our own creation, but for our purposes, things got nutjob, fast.)

I was musing on (about? over?) this today because I had a Creeping Panic Moment of my own. Jesus Christ on a busted-ass Segway, what the hell is wrong with me? I wondered. I spend over a year figuring out “where I’m at” (to cop a 70s phrase from my favorite 70s movie) and in which direction I want to point my guns, and now I’m going to spend another year, or two, or five, building it? A brand new service business, in this market? What am I high on, my own fumes of delusional self-glory?

Somehow, the moment passed. Actually, I know exactly how the moment passed, and I’m going to share this AMAZING AND ALL-POWERFUL SECRET with you: I worked.

I sat down and did some bona-fide, best-of-my-ability, all-out marketing consulting work for a wonderful woman up in Palo Alto doing her own wonderful work to change the world with her own gifts. We worked, the two of us. And on the other side of that, after we’d gotten some good work done, I’m guessing we both felt better. (Well, she has a worse cold than I, by the sound of it, so she can’t have felt entirely better-better. But still.)

After the call, when I set about to some puttering (I must needs putter after a call, I’m so hopped up), a crazy thought popped into my head. An analogy, which is one of my favorite kinds of thoughts, a whole string of them, actually.

It’s been like this before, thought I, when I couldn’t get a college paper to work, or before I first jumped up on stage in front of a bunch of strangers. It was like this when I got my sorry ass kicked out of the Groundlings Sunday Company. It was like this when I quit advertising, when I started acting and sucked at it, when I sucked again and finally had to walk away.

It was like this when I first rode the bus to school by myself, when I tried out for the basketball team in the seventh grade and again every single time I was called off the bench to play (not many for a 4’11” point guard, but I went up with my heart in my mouth each time). It was like this when my dad drove away after dropping me off at my freshman dorm; it was like this just before I finally capitulated and went into therapy for the first time. I don’t remember it, but it was probably like this when I first learned to walk and talk.

These craaaaaazy times are calling for a lot of faith. Not in some celestial force, although that’s fine, if it works for you (and if you don’t hand over the reins to the point of missing your truck, boat and helicopter). Given the tightness of money and the uncertainty swirling around us, there will probably be more lag time between risk and reward, IF there’s a reward.

I’m going to try to remember that things generally work out; I’m also going to try to remember that even when they haven’t, I’ve not (yet) been engulfed in a tower of flame or turned into a pillar of salt.

I’m just going to try.

How about you?


*See here and here for those of you who weren’t psycho enough to have been ardent Parker fans from the age of 16.

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

A brief message from someone I’d like you to sponsor


There’s been a lot of ruckus about The Little Film That Could, a.k.a. Slumdog Millionaire, sweeping the Oscars on Monday.

I haven’t seen it yet, but then, I haven’t seen the movie I’m about to tell all of you about, the one that won just one Acadamy Award, for Best Documentary Short Subject (if they’re still even calling it that).

The film is a 39-minute short called Smile Pinki; it was directed by one Megan Mylan. Through the story of one very plucky little girl from a very poor part of India, it documents the amazing work being done because of an amazing charitable organization founded by an amazing ACTUAL FRIEND OF MINE, Brian “Hi, I’m a Saint Who Just Happens to Look Like A Kennedy” Mullaney.

The charity is called Smile Train, and the work they’ve done, and the way they’ve done it, is nothing short of breathtaking. Brian talks about the concept in this short video accessible via his bio page, but the topline is this: when they ran the numbers and realized how many more children with cleft problems they could save from a lifetime of agony by training local doctors to do the surgery rather than sending U.S. doctors over to do it, they created a charity whose sole purpose was to do just that. This year, they will hit the 500,000 mark: half a million $250 surgeries, one at a time. There is zero cost to the children’s families, and no child is turned away, except for medical reasons (there a few, very rare types of cleft problems that can’t be fixed with this particular surgery.)

I’ve written about The Smile Train before, some four years ago, both here and on LA metblogs. It’s time to write again, and a whole lot more. The global financial crisis is killing donations, and Smile Train is no exception. Yes, I know there aren’t a whole lot of unworthy charities. But this one is run so well and provides such excellent results, it’s more than a vote for these children to donate: it’s a vote for all charities to ramp it up a bit.

Besides, they’ve won an Oscar!

I signed up for the monthly donation program. The bottom end of it, but still. You can sign up to donate, here.

You can watch the trailer (it’s great!) and send it on to a friend, here. You can sign up to host your own Smile Pinki screening and fundraiser, here. Or just sign up to be notified when Smile Pinki will be screened near you, or the DVD is available, here.

And of course, all you savvy social media types can blog or Twitter or Facebook it (yes, they have a page; they’re smart like that.)

The beauty part of this whole plan is that if Brian & co. can keep this up, they’ll actually be able to put themselves out of business within five years. Just five years to get clefts down to the kind of manageable, ho-hum levels they’re at here in the U.S., so they can be dealt with like they are here in the U.S.

I don’t know about you, but that’s my kinda business plan.

Your other ideas for spreading the word are welcome, either via the comments or privately, by email (communicatrix over by the GMAIL with a dotterooski and a COM). They’re especially interested in ways they can spread the word in Africa, which has been a difficult continent for them to crack. So any of you with pull at international organizations, or some other kind of in, please do drop a line.

And now, we return you to your previously scheduled program…


Image via shannonpatrick via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

‘ello, guvnor!


I’ve written about the cold as governor before, but it bears repeating (or at least, my body has decided it does).

Getting sick, while nothing most of us would wish on ourselves, no matter how insignificant the illness, is, like most things, what you make of it. (And by “you,” I mean “me.”)

My colds are like a nagging mother: they force me to take a little better care of myself, to get the sleep I’ve been cheating myself of and the nutrition I need.

My colds are like a business manager: they force me to take a look at the bottom line, and how each activity is (or isn’t) working, ROI-wise.

And finally, my colds are like Twitter: they force me to write short.

Stay well, eat right and get the rest you need. Governors are fine in their way, but there are other people you’d much rather have drop by for a visit.


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

Relentlessly optimistic


Note: the promised Mystery Readers’ Choice Post #2 is in the oven and will be out soon. In the meantime, please enjoy this fresh, delicious content that absolutely nobody asked for.

There is a saying you heard quite often around my old acting studio, and, if a recent visit is proof of anything, still is:

“It breaks your heart.”

This is the cost of being a Good Actor, by which I mean not just skilled in the Theatrical Arts but awake, aware, supple and open. It is the price that exquisite sensitivity exacts, and if you want to really Bring It, must be paid over and over again.

Actors, the good ones, get paid to throw their hearts on the railroad tracks in front of speeding trains over and over again. Their hearts are lobbed around like footballs, shot up in the air like skeet, sliced lengthwise for the viewing pleasure of mere mortals.

Do not confuse the external theatricality of actors, even the good ones, for lack of tenderness; the broad gestures and booming voices and dramatic affect are just tools and by-products, and they belie the things they both project and protect.

Why the hell do I bring up actors at a time like this?

Because times like these are all about figuring out how to live like actors do, every time they act.

Times like these require you to expose your soft underbelly, your tender heart, over and over and over again no matter what dark, cold, scary thing you’re walking into. They require learning, if you don’t know how, to pick yourself up and make one more call, even if you might be rejected, or to reach out to one more person, even though she might turn away.

Times like these are about learning to take one more chance, even though you swear your heart can’t take it.

It can. Again and again.

Here’s the secret: just like Elizabeth Gilbert said to all the fancy folk at TED, it’s not your love; it’s everyone’s love. It’s L-O-V-E. It’s the stuff we’re all really made of, or at least, it’s the stuff that sticks us all together. Plug into it and you’re golden, again and again and again. You’ll feel stupid and awkward and yeah, you might even cry a few thousand times at first, but it works.

Again and again.

I first labeled myself a Relentless Optimist during my online dating days, because I realized that you know, I was. And however dorky and idiotic it made me to float it out there, well, it was the truth. And not a bad truth. A relentless optimist does not have his head in the clouds; a relentless optimist knows she’ll get the holy shit kicked out of her heart…again and again. But she also knows that love, the big kind, the kind that holds us all together and keeps us going and makes all the good things possible (and the bad things slightly less horrifying, if only briefly sometimes), will out. It will fill up her broken heart and mend it up like new, like better than new, because every time you put your heart out there to be broken and it does and instead of pulling it away forever and locking it up in a little box, you put it out there again, your heart gets stronger.

It has to, so it can break, for the world, over and over again.

What we learn now, in the dark, will serve each of us when the lights come back on. Maybe more so, if they don’t. (And I hope they will, you know, because I know lots of people who are young and haven’t had their at-bat yet, but you never know.)

Let’s not dwell on that.

Let’s be open one more time each day, one more micron. Let’s say, a week from now, “My heart broke FIVE TIMES this week, isn’t it fantastic!?”

It is. It is it is it is. Trust me. Trust yourself. Trust that your heart is more magnificently strong than you’ve ever had the privilege of knowing.

Now get out there and get your heart broken, and so will I.

In relentless optimism, we trust…


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

Countdown to SXSWi: 3 weeks out, heeeeere we go!

communicatrix, deconstructed by Hugh MacLeod

In a way, getting ready for the annual South by Southwest extravaganza mirrors the experience of SXSW itself: myriad possibilities, a bubbly feeling of excitement, lots to do and a creeping feeling of panic.

So the first thing one needs to do in the Planning for SXSW process is this: BREATHE.

I’ve been twice now, in 2008 and 2006, and I’m here to say there’s no way you can do it all, nor is there any reason you’d really want to. Some of the most fun things about SXSW are the random events that fall in your lap. The best way to prepare, therefore, is to plan a schedule with plenty of room for unscheduled events.

There are some things that will make your stay infinitely more comfortable, however, and these are worth planning a bit more meticulously, or at least, considering before you toss them aside. (I’m assuming you’ve already gotten your plane tickets, accommodations and SXSW conference pass, but if you haven’t, definitely do that before you do anything else.)

Get a personal, SXSW-only card

People do bring and use their regular business cards, especially freelancers, solopreneurs and entrepreneurial types whose name and Internet contact info is front-and-center on it. But there are compelling reasons to get a second card made up, and printing has never been cheaper and easier. If you work for Mr. Big Corporo-Megolopoly, or even Ms. Tiny Start-Up-Where-Your-Name-Ain’t-on-the-Door, you may want to get a separate card printed up with your name, your contact info and your web presence (or whatever private thingy you want to promote) on it. Some resources:

Order any hardware, software or other-ware you might want to have handy

These are the things you think about getting a week before and that then drive you batshit crazy as you run around trying to find them and figure out how to use them and break them in before you hop on a plane to head out. You may not need all of them, but most of them are things I’ve either missed because I haven’t had them.

  • Working mobile device Critical. If you’re going to replace your aging mobile, now is the time, not three days before, which is what I did the first year. You’ll also want to make sure you have a good-sized text package for your time in Austin (I went to “unlimited” for one month), so consider that at sign-up.
  • Powerstrip and/or cubetap Outlets are at a premium in the Convention Center and, surprise!, in your hotel room. I mooched off The BF’s the first year and depended on the kindness of strangers the second year. Not again.
  • Extra juice My iPhone is never far from a charger in my usual life, but during SXSW, all bets are off. I kind of hate to buy an extra gadget, but I’d hate no power even more, so I’m researching battery backup options for the 3G now. (If you have a strong preference, please let me know in the comments.)
  • A camera that you know how to use Sounds dumb, but it’s really fun and useful to have. And I borrowed my sister’s last year, which was great of her, but I didn’t RTFM first and…well, let’s just say there were a few moments of frustration
  • Good walking shoes I bring two pair, in case rain ganks up one. What can I say? I hate wet feet.

Bookmark pages, make a calendar, hook up with your peeps

Social media keeps making it easier and easier to plot out your stay.

  • Make a folder for your browser toolbar Store any URLs you’re going to want access to re: SXSW here. You can delete the whole shebang when the gig is over, or move it into your general bookmarks. (You can also use Evernote, delicious or whatever else you want to hold your bookmarks and info in. I’m also creating a Things project, but I like redundancy, because I’m kind of a re-dunce.
  • Start a text file or paper list of stuff to do I mean, my lists are great, but you need your own, right? Method of choice, here.
  • Log onto SXSW and set up your profile They’ve got a greatly improved “My SXSW” site this year with some social networking components. Can’t tell yet whether people will use that or just old-school (ha!) Twitter-plus-hashtag system to connect, but it’s at least a lot prettier and easier to upload your badge photo and info, which you should do, now.
  • Bookmark the Panel Picker Available for SXSWi here. You can start looking it over to get a feel for what’s there and which panels you absolutely want to attend. For example, there are a few people whom I’ll grab any opportunity to see because they’re so compelling, and a few friends I’d like to support. After two trips to SXSW, though, I can definitely say that the main reason to go is the people, not the panels, so don’t spend too much time plotting out every little thing.
  • If you’re not already, get familiar with Twitter It was the social networking platform of choice last year (and basically was born the year before). If you’re new, don’t overwhelm yourself; just pick a username, set up an account, and try to follow along for a few days. When you’re ready, you may want to consider using a tool like TweetDeck to follow Twitter from, as it lets you organize your Twitter universe (which can get messy, fast) and Set up a search for #sxsw09 in Twitter You’re

Some great to-do/checklist-type SXSW posts

Questions? Comments? Concerns?

Fellow previous-SXSWers, what did I miss? (For four weeks out, we’ll get to the other stuff as we get closer.) Newbies, what kinds of questions do you have? I wish I’d known more about what to expect my first year, so I really don’t mind entertaining even ridiculous questions. In fact, if they’re truly ridiculous, they’ll be truly entertaining, so let ‘er rip!


Of possible interest:

Image of my 2008 SXSWi blog card, deconstructed © 2008 Hugh MacLeod at the SXSWi BlogHaus.

UPDATE 2/25: The author suffered severe brain cramp as she wrote this; the date was really 3 weeks out. That bodes well, doesn’t it?!