Month: March 2009

No point moving forward if you can’t reach back


I’ve been thinking a lot about an essay written by my fine, young friend, Chris Guillebeau, over to the fine, year-old blog, The Art of Non-Conformity.

Chris had been doing some thinking of his own, as per usual: this time, about a little phrase that’s often bandied about by Those People Who Get How Things Are (i.e., not too many regular readers of this blog or of Chris’s blog) when they bump up against Those People Who Insist That Things Are Malleable (i.e., many, many readers of those two blogs.)

Specifically, he was raging against one of those most grating of phrases to those of us who are trying to change the way we move through the world (and often, the world, too, while we’re at it), those stubborn hippie/arty/lefty/boho/slanderous-descriptor-here types who refuse to sit down, shut up, take our goddamn licks and eat dessert last because that’s the way it’s always been done, ergo the way it should be: “Welcome to the real world.”

Chris is right: it’s a dismissive, belittling, marginalizing phrase…if we take it that way.

You see, I made the point in the comments that while yes, the phrase was annoying as hell, and yes, its appearance, especially when one is grappling with the various roadblocks Meaningful Change tends to throw up in her way, the hussy, can incite something close to murderous rage in the recipient, that replying in kind is exactly what you don’t want to do.

And by “what you don’t want to do,” I mean it’s generally exactly, PRECISELY what you want to do. It’s basically “I told you so” for our times, and it’s no improvement on its predecessor. (For a great story about one man who graciously declined to use the phrase, please do see this episode of This American Life, referred me by The Chief Atheist. It’s awesome. And sad. But mostly, awesome.) And who doesn’t want to punch the ever-living lights out of whatever smug bastard has the temerity to sling an “I told you so” on top of our monster sundae of shit like it’s a fucking maraschino cherry?

So you want to. We’ve established that.

Here’s the thing, though: at some point, it has to stop. Or it has to morph into something else, some different kind of opposition. Ask the Freedom Riders or Nelson Mandela or Gandhi, if you’ve got a pipeline to the Great Beyond. Or hey, ask me sometime. No, really, buy me a nice single-malt Scotch or small-batch bourbon and I’ll regale you with tales of how I lost the better part of both sides of my family over complete and other horse’s assery. And those are two stories with fairly happy endings, as I see it, because each of them was left with an open door.

Believe me, I get anger. I get righteous indignation. I get having no room for “sorry.” I was told I was crazy and wrong-headed and foolish systematically by so many different people, it’s a miracle my brains aren’t more scrambled than they are. I’ve been bad at times but I’ve been wronged at least as often. Who among us hasn’t? (If you raised your hand, my heartiest congratulations, plus a message to stay alert.)

A little grace goes a long way towards building bridges, and bridges are what we’re going to need to bring the rest of the people over. Yeah, yeah, you hacked your way through the wilderness with nothing more than a rusty Mach III and stones of steel. I’m proud of you and grateful for you, fellow traveler (hopefully just ahead of me, so as to make my own hacking slightly less painful); the world needs more like you. I know you must protect yourself and preserve the mission above all, we’re all ultimately responsible for ourselves, but please, please, be as nice as you can be.

Know that I say this to myself as much as out loud, to anyone else. I had my head so far up my ass at one point that I couldn’t have found my cheeks with both hands. If it hadn’t been for the lovingkindness and good humor of so many people ahead of me, Jack Kornfield, Joseph Campbell, my first shrink-slash-astrologer, I wouldn’t be here typing these lofty, lofty words.

I’ve decided that it’s the key to grace in our times, by the way: humor. The gentle kind, not the mocking kind. If you look at the three people above, or at a host of other great and beloved path-forgers, most of them were pretty down with the funny. (They were also down with the grounded-and-relaxed, which I’m desperately working on.) It’s a real gift on this plane, and especially during dark times.

Is it your job to get everyone out of the burning building? I dunno. I don’t. Probably not. Save yourself, save those closest to you. Don’t be a martyr, unless that’s your wiring, in which case, hey! knock yourself out!

I don’t mean to beat up on young Chris; I’m one of his biggest fans and I don’t care who knows it. I also relish the enthusiasm and energy with which he backs up his convictions. Makes me nostalgic for my 20s. And 30s. (Jesus, how the hell did I get to be an elder, anyway? And when do I become good at it?)

I brought it up in the thread and again here because I think in the heat of the moment, maybe he just…forgot. Because that boy, he funny. Puh-lenty.

You are, too; I know you are. I can be, too, when I’m not getting all up in my own jumbrage.

Feet on the ground, heart in the joke. If you can get yourself into that position, there’s no end to who you can reach.

Which reminds me: a Mormon, a Jew and a duck walk into a bar…


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

Changing room


Ask anyone: I’m a planner.

If you had access to my early college journals, you could see my sweeping plans for life, in college, and beyond. If you had access to The BF, he could bend your ear for hours about my planner genes (especially if you plied him with tasty craft beers).

If you flipped through the various notebooks I’ve kept for the past five or six years, you’d find myriad plans for all sorts of projects, from painting the living room to launching a business to writing a book. Sorry, books. And if you could periodically scour the recycling bins in my apartment building, you’d find the rest of the lists, scribbled and squirreled away on scraps of paper here and there before they were either transferred to electronic formats or just discarded outright. (You would also be arrested if someone caught you, and old Eileen across the courtyard has a hawk eye for that kind of creepy nonsense.)

The next step is to bring in a confidante of some sort, a friend, my shrink, or even a random stranger in a line or on a plane. I say it out loud, make it more real, and see what happens. And then finally, a few of the ideas I take into real-real life: I book a flight to interview for a job I’m not even sure I want in a city I’ve never been to and, while I’m there, look at houses I’d buy if I lived there. (Disclaimer: while the notion looked nutty on the outside, and definitely to The BF, I could absolutely see myself going through with it going into it, or I’d never waste the valuable time of my potential employer or the real estate agent. That’s just shitty.)

Most of the things I try on are lower-stakes than an expensive (for me) exploratory trip halfway across the country. I’ve become a huge devotee of thrift store shopping specifically because it lets you literally try out different looks for very little money. There were definitely expenses involved with me trying out various career options: I’ve thrown out more business cards than most people will have in a lifetime and spent crazy amounts of otherwise-billable hours writing copy or designing websites for myself that had to be scrapped six months (or weeks) later. And I’ll not speak of the insane amount of money I’ve poured down the drain of acting headshots except to say that it would have come in very, very handy for weathering the current financial storm.

What used to stop me from doing anything new was the enormity of everything new. I couldn’t quit my glorified cubicle job (it was a corner office, but the work was as odious as any cube monkey’s) because how do you go from a job that not only pays you now, pays into the future and covers your health care but also is the sole ferry for your identity? I couldn’t move to another state because my significant other was tied to this one. I couldn’t be a writer because what the hell had I ever written outside of a letter or a :30 ad or a 3-minute sketch that anyone wanted to look at, much less pay for?

From the other side of the valley, here’s exactly how: you don’t quit your job outright; you go part-time, then freelance for five years, using the old hand in to cover you while you reach the other hand out to save yourself.

You test-drive Indiana and the Pacific Northwest with pilot visits and an open mind.

You start a blog. For no money. That no one really reads, for a long, long time, which is good, because it’s sort of weird and herky-jerky for a long, long time.

You try stuff on, and you walk around in it, and you see how it fits.

Make no mistake, it can be as terrifying to try stuff on as it can to make one, bold, crazy leap. After all, when you leap, there’s not a lot of time to think about the many, many ways things could go south. Which, surprise!, they do.

I’d say that things being what they are, you might as well. Because life is nutty now. Because it’ll be over sooner than you think.

I have two little tools that have helped me with trying stuff on over the past 10 or so years.

The first is to have a credo. Or a mission statement, or a verbalized philosophy, or whatever else you want to call it. Mine is “To be a joyful conduit of truth, beauty and love.” I came up with it fairly spontaneously doing an exercise from a book whose title I have, alas, long since forgotten. There were also some five-year plans and 10-year plans and lifelong plans I created along with it; those lists are mainly novelty items now, plan detritus, if you will. But that mission statement/credo thingy keeps me on the straight and narrow.

The other thing is to be prolific. If you can make a lot of stuff, or try on a lot of stuff, it takes pressure off of having to have ONE THING that really works for you. Obviously, you need to strike a balance: if you do too much, you spread yourself thin, and that’s no good for figuring out anything. Plus, it’ll drive you nuts. But throwing yourself into the trying on, in whatever way you can, that is a very good thing.

I’m trying on a few things for size right now. They have to do with ways to live my life as well as ways to make a living. And yes, I realize that given the current state of the global economy, this is something of a luxury. I have been both fortunate and frugal, and have no one to support nor answer to save myself. I do not discount the enormous freedom these things have given me to explore options, and I realize that most people, especially most people living in North America who are within 10 years of my age (47.5, as of this writing), don’t live in this luxurious triangle of choice.

While I know it can be hard to come by, changing room is essential to most of us on the path. Just a little bit of private, move-around space for trying stuff on. Maybe it’s not luxurious; maybe there’s an item limit. Maybe it’s makeshift. Maybe it’s even shared, like the godawful spaces at Loehmann’s where we all have to sort of let it all hang out by ceding each other some pretend private space.

But hey, just changing alongside old Jewish ladies and middle-aged Persian ladies and young ladies who just fell off the Turnip Express from Topeka will sometimes score you nod of approval (or a quick head shake of the other), sometimes there’s even a little comradely advice or encouragement to be had in the company of fellow travelers.

I don’t know how you find your room. All I know is that the alternative, to live a life where you deny your heart even a sliver of  space to dream and your mind the tiniest room to roam, is mighty bleak.

Maybe start small: five square feet. Five minutes per day. An extra thirty seconds on the john after you’ve done your business.

In my own wackadoo experience, a little bit of room begets more.

And makes everything a little bit better…


Image by newtype2011 via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Referral Friday: Money honies


Referral Friday is part of an ongoing series inspired by John Jantsch’s Make-a-Referral Week. For more about that, and loads more referrals for everything from cobblers to coaches to gee-tar teachers, start here. Pass it on, baby!

While I am reasonably good at putting one letter next to another, I am the suckmeister of all suckitude when those letters are replaced by digits.

Seriously, I’ve had more than one romantic partner shake his head when he saw the inside of my checkbook, and then never, ever bring up the subject again.

Fortunately, I have found fine, kind people who make things balance and suchlike with the utmost professionalism while never, ever casting any sort of aspersions on my complete and utter inability, thus far (we live in hope!), to do the same.

These people will be most easily employed by you if you live in the Los Angeles area, although theoretically, you can use them from anywhere via the magic of FedEx and/or cheap photo scanners. I know for a fact my tax dudes file everything electronically, and I could just as easily mail them my 1099s as anything; thing is, I like them so damned much, I feel cheated if I don’t get a little sugar once or twice a year in person.

Gods of Taxes

For taxes, I’ve been using Actors Tax Prep for years now. Nine of them, to be precise, though I can hardly believe it. Co-founded by two actors who had previous lives in big business, Actors Tax Prep specializes in tax preparation for the performing artist and other related fields: basically, anything to do with show biz in any of its forms. They have grown by leaps and bounds since I began using them because they are thorough, reasonably priced, and “get” show biz types. (You know who you are and you also know what I mean by that.)

I’ve stayed with them even as I moved out of acting because they also “get” small business. Think about it: most actors don’t just act; they do a ton of other crazy stuff, much of it taxable in nature.

My original contact and co-founder, Sid Wilner (who also played my father in a fine production of a Clifford Odets play), has retired from the business; his co-founder, David Rogers (who, in a weird stroke of coincidence worked with my real father in advertising), heads up a team of the nicest, thorough-est, patient-est tax preparers in the world…who also happen to be actors. Go figger.

Oh, and full disclosure: if you say you were referred by me, they knock $20 off my next year’s bill. So if you have issues with that, just say you found them through the magic of the Internet. Really, I just like them and would totally refer them anyway. Which I just did!

  • Actors Tax Prep
    210 N. Pass Avenue – Suite 205
    Burbank, CA  91505
    (818) 557-3355

Prior to that, I used Ruzicka & Associates, a Chicago-based firm, for the rest of my tax-filing life. Which started three years later than it should have done (long story), which mess they unsnarled and got me back on good footing with the IRS.

Anne Ruzicka, who shares a first name with my dear, departed mother, but who was much, much better at finances, is a dream: another one of those thorough, get-it-done types who is also NICE. With no jumbrage, ever. And her husband, Tony, is lovely, too.

Ruzicka & Associates is a more costly proposition than Actors Tax Prep for those at the sole proprietor level; most of their clients are dealing with more complex tax issues, as I was when I was a homeowner and earning income in two states (CA and IL). But they’re an excellent value for the right client, and a dream to deal with.

Day-to-day Money Magicians

You know what saves you money? A bookkeeper, that’s what! Liz Davies has been mine for two years now. She’s another fellow actor, so she gets the creative mindset. But she works with all kinds of clients, and all different sized businesses. She works on site, and has a minimum fee for her visits (which, because of my colossal suckitude at this stuff, I always meet). She helped me set up my books, and she has patiently taught me new things to do as I’ve been ready to grasp them. Everyone should have a Liz; it’s too bad you can’t all experience it.

  • Liz Davies
    blizzful-AT-mailcan-DOT-com (take out the “-AT-” and “-DOT-” when you mail)

If I hadn’t met Liz, I would be using Alexandra Ward as my bookkeeper. She’s The BF’s, and he loves her.

Alex has a design background and is “French-from-France” French, which means she has better taste than you or I can ever hope to have, and yet she never lords it over you! And if you speak French, you can handle all your telephonic transactions en Francais. Woo-hoo!

Alex works locally, out of her house, although she agreed that theoretically, if you were into it, you could do it all via FedEx/etc. She is mom to the cutest baby in the world, so she does not do onsite visits. Seriously, if you saw this kid, you wouldn’t want to leave her, either. A-dor-able.

  • Alexandra Ward
    alexandracreative-AT-gmail-DOT-com (take out the “-AT-” and “-DOT-” when you mail)
    (323) 316-4400

Happy tax season, everyone!


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

Junking jumbrage


Back in my youth, I remember an older, wiser friend taking a rather bemused stance over my ranting and raving on some Topic of Incredible Importance.

Righteous indignation, he said, is the province of the young.

Of course, that only had me railing all the more. Good GOD, I thought, and said, because I was something like 24, and decades from developing my internal editor, if everyone felt like you, what then? If no one got their panties in a bundle about the myriad injustices of the world, how would wrongs ever get righted? How would the stuck become unstuck? How, I demanded to know, would anything happen!?

My mother, while given to prolonged assaults on my character, attitude, or whatever else peeved her in the moment when in her cups, never did suffer much from righteous indignation. Like my older, wiser friend, she preferred the bemused stance, seasoned with heavy doses of acerbic wit. I’m not sure if it’s something she developed over time or was baked into her character, but while she was certainly capable of a freakout if she caught me setting something on fire or other insalubrious activities, she tended to meet my childish need for justice justice justice (and engagement) with a shrug and a lazy, detached “They’re your feet” or “Because I’m the mother” or her favorite, “Who ever told you life would be fair?”

I’m pretty sure it’s Dad who had the issues with fairness doctrines. Early on, he instilled in me a love of Clint Eastwood films, with their simplistic  credo of right over wrong, and to hell with the rest of it; toward the end of his life, he, my sister and I discovered we were all members of the Law & Order/Judge Judy fan club: nothing more satisfying than someone Getting Theirs in a predictable episodic or half-hour format.

I’ve always been simultaneously confounded and fascinated by you oddballs who can maintain a level of detachment. I was easy to rile (and easy to surprise, since I was always in reactive mode), and viewed the sanguine like they were another species. My first serious education in the art (and rewards) of detachment was during my marriage to The Chief Atheist, whose nickname could just have easily been The Chief Ball-buster. He was a black-belt in flipping people’s fury back onto themselves, and he looked at the whole thing like a science project. He had a look and way about him that was very blue-collar, although he was born into a nice, middle-class family from suburban Chicago. Instead of seeing his look as an obstacle, he used it to his advantage, playing dumb because (stupid) people expected him to, watching them blow stacks and hit roofs while he most decidedly had the last laugh.

Of course, there were things that got under his skin, too, including, from time to time, the idiotic assumptions people made about him because of the way he looked. But mostly, he accepted the cards he’d been dealt and learned to play a much, much higher-level game. He certainly never had much use for jumbrage, something I indulged in regularly.

“Jumbrage” is my recently (and accidentally) coined portmanteau word for “judging” and “umbrage,” things I do and take too often, respectively. And I’ve cut back a bit, a lot of bits, really, from my youth. It’s still easy for me to go there, but I’ve realized how lousy it feels to live there, so now I just visit, take note of when I’m doing so, and hightail it back to friendlier, calmer climes.

The more I do, the easier it is to see how many people enjoy indulging. I mean, they must, right? To do it so often, and with such fervor?

And now that I don’t join in every time someone starts a round, it’s kind of startling to note how far off they are on the judging thing. The other night, for example, I was waiting in line to purchase a copy of a friend of a friend’s new (and pretty interesting-looking) book: a line of two, to be precise, with me comprising the rear part of the line. The party of the first part was engaged in some very complex transaction involving the return of something and the crediting of something else, which complexity she compounded with, among many other things, her insistence to the junior cashier-type person that she need only give up her first initial, not her entire name. Me, I was hanging out, trying to keep Monkey Brain’s mitts off the gigantic, fluffy, homemade marshmallows (a half-pound for $7.99!), which was very difficult as Monkey Brain likes pure sugar even more than she does sugar in other things. Also, the marshmallows were so dense and heavy in their cello-wrapping (four marshmallows! an eighth of a pound each! two bucks a throw!) as to be almost pornographic in their appeal.

I happened to look up from the marshmallows; oh, hell, I was able to tear my lustful gaze from them for a quarter-second, the precise quarter-second the first half of the line looked up and back, nervously, angrily?, and found me in the way.

“She’ll be WITH YOU in a MOMENT!!!!” she said loudly, whipping back to face the cashier.

I blinked. Huh?

She whirled to face me again. “I SAID, ‘She’ll be WITH YOU in JUST ONE MOMENT!!!'”

A mere six months ago, I’d have jumped on the Jumbrage Express without hesitation: “Fine!!” I would have answered, my tone and physicality (probably a “WTF?” look) inferring that not only were things not fine, they were the furthest thing from it, and in case she didn’t get it, it was all HER FAULT.

Or, “Oooookay!” with that kind of a “cuckoo! cuckoo!” look that very clearly established where each of us were on the sanity and cluesomeness hierarchy.

That night, though, I did nothing. As in, nothing. Except look surprised, which I was, and probably a little foolish, which, let’s face it, ain’t far off the mark. Not only did I have no idea I was in her space, riling her up, down and sideways with my angry, impatient behavior as #2 in the line; I was consumed with homemade marshmallows.

In that second of realizing the miscommunication, the rampant projection going down, a whole playlet that had gone down without me realizing I was onstage, I got the futility of being reactive. That thing about the meditation, and all the self-grounding I have to do? No kidding. Like the man said, “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.

There are a lot of changes happening really fast right now. For me, the first step to getting a handle on most of them is slowing down to take a good, hard look at them.

Jumbrage included…


Photo of coconut TOTALLY looking like it’s taking umbrage by certified su via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license. I mean, seriously: that coconut is taking umbrage!

Three things per day and a special outfit


Many years ago, in an uncharacteristic bit of self-indulgence prompted by a stranger’s warning that if I didn’t, I’d be in serious hot water down the line, I started going in for regular shiatsu bodywork therapy.

Many amazing things happened over the course of the several years we worked together. Crazy stuff like sudden photographic images of the past floating up in front of my eyes, a ton of aches and pains vanquished forever, and crying, lots and lots of crying.

Out of all the amazingness, though, two things have stuck with me.

The first is the almost shocking way that my practitioner, who was pretty much a spinning top like me in her civilian hours, became a loving, radiant center of calm as soon as she slipped into her shiatsu duds. It was incomprehensible to me that such a shift could take place so quickly and so dramatically, but every week, without fail, and for a while, I was going every week, there it was.

The second is her calendar. In her off-hours, my shiatsu lady was, like myself, a working actor. Which is to say she had a lot of places to be on any given day, most days, since that’s the way things were back then, both in the business and in our category. In 1998 or ’99, it wasn’t unusual for me to go out on five calls per day, most days of the week; Molly’s schedule was a little lighter, since I worked more commercially and she more theatrically, but still: it was a lot of activity.

My calendar back then (pre-iPhone, pre-Palm) was a fatty, six-ring DayTimer-type thing. I kept it to Filofax size for a while, but eventually gave in an bought a big, three-ring, half-sheet binder size. Horrifically ugly, but I needed the space.

Hers was a tiny, TINY, pocket-sized, week-at-a-glance style. By “pocket-sized”, I mean a daintily-proportioned pocket, at that: I believe most years, her calendars were giveaways from banks or insurance companies; I know one year, I passed along one I’d gotten.

One day, I asked Molly how she could get all the stuff she needed to do into that little space.

Molly: “I only do three things per day.”

Me: “?”

Molly: “I found I could fit about three things in any given day, so I have a calendar that only fits three things in a given day.”

Me: “?”

Molly (smiling): “See you next week.”

To be fair and balanced (ha!), I know for a fact that at times, my Yoda-in-a-Gi by day was often a white tornado at night, going on marathon unscheduled housecleaning or data entry or file organization tears. She also did a whole lot of non-scheduled stuff of a puttery nature during daylight hours, in her civilian gear. And since her non-Yoda work was acting, occasionally she’d fill up that teeny-tiny space with 3+ auditions, and then some other items. But the scheduled stuff included things like “dance class,” which she loved and wanted to keep a priority, and other things of this nature.

In other words, she had kind of a handle on it. And given that, as Voltaire said (and Gretchen and I like to paraphrase), “Perfect is the enemy of the good,” a handle is a beautiful thing.

I’ve been toying with ideas on building or co-opting a better handle. There seems to be huge power in an actual, written-down list of stuff on a piece of paper for me, so much so that I resent its effectiveness when I actually do it, but I do it nonetheless. Me stopping was me willfully throwing aside the Franklin-Covey weekly calendar I purchased, and the reasoning went something like “I didn’t quit my job and its so-called security to turn myself into the boss I hated.”

What if I could be a good boss, though? What if the part of me that understands we’re trying to get Big Stuff Accomplished could listen patiently to the the small, wadded-up furball of fury, fear and sorrow and then gently but firmly lay down the law? As Emma commented in a recent thread, “we need gentleness from ourselves as often as we need the drill sergeant.” Which reminded me of a discussion Elizabeth Gilbert had with her small, wadded-up furball of fury, fear and sorrow when she was trying to meditate, which made me think that maybe I was onto something. (It also made me grudgingly admit that I needed to put “take another crack at this meditation thing” back on the to-do list. Oh, well.)

I did a test conversation the other night, while in the car, running an errand. Sugar cravings hit me hard, and as any good SCD-er knows, sugar is enemy #1. It’s also hell on fitting into one’s pants properly, so I have double the reason to avoid it, and yet there was that 7-11, one e-z right turn away, and my Monkey Brain screaming for M&Ms. (Monkey Brain is pure class, I tell you.) So Monkey Brain and I had a little confab, we both got to state our cases, and finally agreed that as an experiment, we’d hold off for now, but if Monkey Brain still wanted sugar at the end of the week, he could have an entire package of Peeps. (See? Pure class.)

I think this is a step in the right direction. I think if I can combine List of a Reasonable Length, three things sounds like a good start, with some discussion and bargaining to keep Monkey Brain satisfied and The Resistor at bay, I might have a shot at nailing some of these opportunities that have been floated out to me in recent weeks.

Of course, as a former actor who totally gets the magical power of costumes (scroll through the photos on this page if you don’t believe me), I’m also thinking “special outfit.” Gi? 1980s power suit and tie? Or just FlyLady’s recommended “dress to shoes“?

Now taking suggestions for the costume of the peacefully productive…


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

The nature of crazytimes change


There’s a really, really good piece by Clay Shirky, the guy who wrote Here Comes Everybody, among other fairly colossal things, that’s been making the rounds lately.

I first heard about it from Merlin Mann at SXSW a week or so ago, then from a bunch of other people; a post by John Gruber, who invariably points to the really good stuff (and whom I also finally met at SXSW after his fine talk with Merlin on Not Being a Dick on the Internet, which title is at least as good as theirs), finally got me to read it. And yes, as I said in the kickoff to this here piece, it really is All That and possibly a bag of chips.

Nominally and in substance, it’s about journalism and newspapers and how the demise of the latter (which even the stubbornest, sandy-headed-est ostrich can no longer deny) does not necessarily mean the end of the former. It’s smart on the topic and smart, period, just a really, really well-written, engaging, well-informed and solid piece of writing. If he’d only written a definitive piece on whassup with the death of newspapers, he’d have done (another) amazing thing.

I think it’s about much more than the death of newspapers, though; I think it’s a thrilling summation of where people’s heads are in general about change, and in particular about the massive and rapid change that we’re undergoing right now as a planet of people.

Consider this quotation from the piece, the one I lifted to accompany my big, fat thumbs-up on StumbleUpon:

When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution. They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to. There are fewer and fewer people who can convincingly tell such a lie.

As I said in my comment, this ain’t just about newspapers; it’s about Elvis leaving the building, genie escaped from the bottle, ship sailing, etc. It’s about the revolution.

I know my conservative friends (and yes, I have some, and yes, I think everyone should) are especially not always so much with the change; there are times (albeit, not many) when I’m in agreement. But there are other times, when the S.S. Poseidon is knocked on its ass by a surprise tidal wave, or when you’re on fire, or when you’re on fire at the bottom (or the top) of the S.S. Poseidon, that it’s good to acknowledge and take action.

Believe me, I know. Because I was basically on fire at the bottom of the S.S. Poseidon (which was really the top, how confusing!) at the nadir of my Crohn’s onset, when my sister had to use trickery to get me to a hospital. And this is living in Los Angeles, a city with some of the best medical care in the world, not to mention no shortage of mirrors, bathroom scales and thermometers. I weighed less than 90 lbs, was having fevers in excess of 104ºF, with an ass functioning like a can of bright red Krylon, and I was still in absolute denial that my physical condition necessitated the care of more than ice baths, acetaminophen and hope. Yeah, right.

Or pick your catastrophe; we all have them. Train-wreck relationship, child clearly on large amounts of drugs and/or alcohol, gambling away the farm. I get why people don’t want to leave their houses in a fire/flood/tornado/hurricane, because I didn’t want to leave mine when my insides were melting. But at some point, you have to sit up and say, “The walls are on fire; maybe we should think about leaving” or “There’s blood shooting out of my backside; how about we call a doctor?”

Or you don’t, and you die.

We are living in more than a time of change; we’re living in crazytimes change, possibly total upheaval. Even the good stuff, like the unprecedented access regular people have to food and information, or the “printing presses” that Shirky talks about in his essay, is being dumped on us faster than we can cope. My grandfather, who was born at the turn of the last century and lived to the tippy-top of it, used to talk about all the stuff that had happened in his lifetime; I think these might have been the times that tipped it for him, where the change was too much too absorb. (Although I think he had an inkling. He was pretty smart about some stuff, was Gramps, when he wasn’t being a blowhard.) Nothing has changed this fast or this furiously since maybe the Industrial Revolution (Shirky talks about that, too, and about how people coped with it, or didn’t, in this piece. It’s kind of Shirky’s Thing right now, this upside-down, S.S. Poseidon, crazytimes change.)

So what do we do? Who knows. As a planet, I mean. As individuals, I guess we all need to do what we can to get grounded and still stay receptive. For the first time in six or so years, I’m thinking I’ll take another stab at sitting meditation. Maybe. My friend Gretchen and I commiserated about how lousy we were at it over coffee and eggs in Austin last week. I know it’s gonna be a bitch (which, yes, I know will only make it more so, THANK YOU), but I feel like I need to do something. Change what I can.

While the world changes as it will.

Stay tuned. Stay steady. But flexible, too.

I think flexibility is going to be more and more important.


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

The other side of balance


I had my ladies over this past weekend; I’d like to have my ladies over every weekend, they’re so fun and smart and grounding, not to mention they fawn over the dog and bring delicious treats. For me. Well, and the dog.

One of the very grounding things these ladies do is provide context: we’ve been meeting semi-regularly for five or so years now, and have known each other longer than that, so we all know quite a bit about each others’ strengths and challenges and accomplishments and, while we speak of them kindly and with reverance, our inevitable abject failures. We’re omelet-makers, are we, and that entails the breaking of many eggs, and the eating of many mistakes along the way.

The other grounding thing my group provides is this spectacular set of lenses and mirrors. The mirrors are kind of obvious, I guess, we all have people around us who reflect back to us our lunacy and brilliance, our predilections and finer affinities. These gals do that unstintingly, but kindly; they’re like really clean, really fine-quality glass mirrors set in beautiful frames. They’re not skinny mirrors but they’re not fun-house mirrors, either. They simply reflect the truth, with gentle grace and beauty. Which is awesome, let me tell you: I lived a long time in the fun house, and that shit will mess you up.

The lenses are another thing altogether. We have significant areas of overlap, we’re all women, we’re all actors and artists, we’re all very forthright, and enough differences to make life interesting and ourselves particularly useful to each other. The oldest of us is in her 50s, the youngest in her 30s, and the rest of us are born within 14 months of one another. We all make art, but of different types; we’ve all collaborated together on different things, design projects, theater projects, writing projects, video projects. We’ve got a mom, a seamstress, a graphic designer, a professional journalist, two speakers of French, an opera composer, a couple of singers, a drummer, two piano players, a guitarist (and a half), and FIVE, count ’em, FIVE kickass cooks between us.

We also have writers. We’re all writers, of differing sorts of things: blogs, plays, columns, stories, poetry, songs, operas, essays, screenplays, articles and yes, journals. (Although interestingly, I don’t think any of us are journaling at present.) And we’ve each been writing for differing amounts of time, but for a long time.

So when I threw out that the schedule and goals I’d set for myself in late December had me writing 3, 4, and sometimes 5 or 6 hours per day, on top of all the other crap I’m doing, I got a very interesting response.

“That’s a lot. A real lot.”

I’m paraphrasing, but you get the picture. I got the picture. Finally. Finally, it started to sink in that while all that writing is great, and while it’s definitely something I love and want to be doing ALL the time, it’s a lot, a real lot, on top of the consulting and speaking (and marketing of such) that I’m doing. And that’s not even getting into the other things I’d been working on, like turning myself from a half-assed guitarist to a full-assed one, or getting in shape, or, you know, being a reasonably non-shitty girlfriend to one of the planet’s finer human beings.

It hit me hard today, as a lot of things have been hitting me hard, since I don’t have a lot of buffer lately. You can’t be balanced without room to do it, ergo removing stuff from the total load is probably the first step towards balance. (Not to mention focus, but I don’t even know what to do with that right now.)

There were two big messages the universe sent me via SXSW:

  1. If you put it out there, it will come back to you in ways you never dreamed of
  2. Without stamina, there ain’t much you can do about #1

This is not me with a plan: this is me finally starting to get a clue that the plan has to be one that works in the third dimension. I don’t know how yet, but I look forward to the universe throwing a few lesson plans my way very soon.

And by “universe” I mean “everything, including you.” So fire at will, and make it the good stuff…


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