Month: December 2009

Poetry Thursday: More music

You will
look better with
that 32″ waist
eating more
fresh fruits and vegetables
sleeping eight hours nightly
doing first things first
and getting many things done.

You might feel
and virtuous
and even gleeful
with squeaky-clean windows
and a clutter-free car
and a bright white sink
empty of contents

Your friends
and your family
and your clients
would love
a thoughtful note
with carefully chosen words
and a stamp
or the exact right perfect gift
arriving via brown-suited courier
in a timely fashion
to commemorate their special day
and your thoughtful reverence

There are a thousand
fine choices to make
at the end of a year
and the beginning of forever
any one of which will make
your lungs cleaner
your mind sharper
your wallet heavier
your pants smaller

But if you are among those of us
who step up to the buffet of possibilities
and fret over what to eat first
may I offer up this:

Your stomach
will rumble
for a thousand tasty morsels

But your heart
which asks for so little
and offers so much
will never say no
to more room

Nor your spirit
to more joy

Nor your soul
to more music

Put a tender close
to what came before
and trust
that if you create the space
and allow it to fill up with love
all the rest
will follow
for all the rest
of your days.


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


100 Things I Learned in 2009, Part 2

Wherein I (once again) attempt to show that one is never too old—or middle-aged, anyway—to learn.

Or spout off about it. Part 1 here, in case you missed it.


  1. Making something short takes a long, long time.
  2. And still provides a disproportionately large ROI.
  3. To love is to serve.
  4. Idiocy can inspire genius.
  5. Podcasting is more fun than I thought it would be.
  6. Screencasts are more fun for everyone than I thought they would be.
  7. Writing for a year seems to take two.
  8. Less is the new more.
  9. If you don’t like what’s on TV, change it.
  10. Never stop growing.
  11. Especially when you want to.
  12. The world’s new-greatest radio station is YouTube.
  13. Time Warner needs a good kick in the ‘nads.
  14. You don’t have to like your teachers to learn from them.
  15. In fact, you learn more if you don’t.
  16. I’m better at wrangling than I thought.
  17. I’m smart enough to acknowledge that and move on.
  18. Well, mostly.
  19. When they say “stop to put on snow chains,” they mean it.
  20. If anyone is selling answers, run.
  21. Clicking offline is the payoff for all the clickclickclicking online.
  22. (And I mean clickclick-clicking.)
  23. Hilarity is less important than sanity.
  24. Skype will be to Vonage as Vonage was to PacBell.
  25. And it can’t be it soon enough.
  26. The best way to write about marketing might just be in verse.
  27. There’s a reason Einstein and Uncle Steve wear the same thing every day.
  28. Consumables are the best gifts.
  29. Cash is the best consumable.
  30. With the possible exception of The Pears.
  31. And PIE.
  32. Keep your tools sharp.
  33. The bear gets his days at the table, too.
  34. The impulse to give away is almost never wrong.
  35. The impulse to take on, not so much.
  36. It is not what it cost you, but what it costs you now.
  37. At a certain age, knits should be loose.
  38. Their hatred is never about you.
  39. And vice versa, hot stuff.
  40. You cannot live well in two places.
  41. The road to hell is paved with drive-thru windows.
  42. Wealth really is a state of mind.
  43. Wellness, on the other hand, requires peeling your ass from the couch.
  44. “No, thank you” may be the most delicious phrase in the English language.
  45. Followed by “delete all” and “forward to voice mail.”
  46. Silence is platinum.
  47. $10 a month for faxing works out to $60 per fax.
  48. .Me, you’re next.
  49. Collaboration is AWESOME.
  50. So is having your 1,000th post land on New Year’s Eve Eve.

New here? Or just uninspired to check the back catalog until now? I live to serve!







Book review: The Happiness Project

Full disclosure: Gretchen Rubin is a friend. But I was a reader and fan of her blog long before we even met, and there’s no way I’d have done an elaborate pre-launch pimpage post if I didn’t think this book was so terrific. Also, this review was based on my reading of an uncorrected proof; there may have been minor changes in the book that ultimately went to press.

I have long had a love/hate relationship with self-help books: I love finding new ways to wake myself up, fresh strategies for altering the course of my life, novel frameworks that give me a real look at myself; I hate the dull and plodding style most of them are served up in.

Gretchen Rubin’s newest book, The Happiness Project, escapes both the pedantry trap (i.e., scholarly tracts with snooze-a-licious prose) and the newage-rhymes-with-sewage, self-important, Lite Lifeâ„¢ Solutions b.s. of the quick-to-market “guru” book. Its content is both well-researched and delightfully served up, evidence of not only a fine mind and truly generous soul, but someone who reads lots of ACTUAL BOOKS for the purposes of ENJOYMENT and SELF-EDUCATION.

Like Aristotle! Montaigne! Schopenhauer!

But also A.J. Jacobs! Joan Didion! Daniel Pink!

Even Elizabeth Gilbert, that wonderful lady writer everyone now feels it’s their bounden duty to crap on* because she committed the heinous sin of writing (gasp…the horror!) a P-O-P-U-L-A-R  best seller (and going on Oprah to talk about it). One of the most impressive parts of Rubin’s book is the Suggestions for Further Reading, at the end, where she lists 76+ sources** that run the gamut, genre-wise, from philosophy to science to fiction.

Why is this so fantastic? Because Rubin is a synthesizer, one of that rare breed who can take things in from multiple sources, parse them wisely, and smoosh them into beautiful new ideas and practical suggestions the rest of us can benefit from. Most likely, she finds patterns without even trying, because she’s trained her brain to note and sift so deftly. And then, in the case of a project like this, she finds ways to apply all this good learning to herself, further filtering it through her own experience, and finally reporting on it in such a clean, spry, engaging fashion, we don’t see the work that went into it, we just get what we need out of it.***

And what do we need from a project about finding happiness?

Direction, for one. Effecting meaningful change is tough stuff, and if there’s one thing that requires big-time change, it’s moving from asleep to awake, from unhappy to happy, or, hardest of all, from asleep to happy. It’s necessarily a self-directed, one-of-a-kind thing, since we’re all special snowflakes; how do you go about teaching that?

I think we find our way by studying the great synthesizers before us, which is why I’ve long preferred biography and memoir to other forms of self-help nonfiction. Rubin agrees. As she says in her opening note to the reader, “I often learn more from one person’s highly idiosyncratic experiences than I do from sources that detail universal principles or cite up-to-date studies.”**** We read her well-told tales of struggling with exercise, with spending, with keeping her temper; we watch her apply her book knowledge in real time, see the ease that it brings, and start to look at how we might apply this learning to our own peculiar areas of fucked-up-ness. Are her solutions, a 20-minute circuit with a trainer, soliciting help from her mother to buy needful things in bulk, singing in the morning, mine? Nope. Not even close. But the process she goes through to find the solutions could be, and that she does it is inspiring.

Process and inspiration aside, the book is bursting with great, concrete ideas for changing your own life for the better. You may not recognize them as such, since Rubin is about as far from a proselytizer as you can get, but they’re there, and in abundance. And there are even more at her blog, and in the communities that have sprung up around the Happiness Project Toolbox, her DIY-with-support site she’s set up to complement the book. (And if you’re wondering, no, the book is not repurposed content from the website, but longer stories told with more detail, with lots of never-before-seen material. It actually is an object lesson in the differences between good blog writing and good book writing.)

Before you even think about changing your own life, though, just read the book. Bask in the sunny pleasures of good writing on a useful topic.

If nothing else, this will make you happier…


BONUS! Erin Rooney Doland, who writes at Unclutterer and wrote a really great book herself recently, posted an excellent review of The Happiness Project on her blog. In addition to thoughtful observations about Gretchen’s process, Erin makes some really good points about the connection between happiness and decluttering and of getting clear on your goals before you get going with any project. A great read for the start of the new year.

*Yeah, I didn’t like the “love” part so much either, but you know what? That book still kicks more ass than you’ll ever admit. And I love Oprah.

**The “+” part, because she’s read the entire Samuel Johnson canon, no doubt, and a slew of things that probably weren’t 100% salient to the discussion, so she left them off. Because, as I said, this woman is about reading for the right reasons (ENJOYMENT! EDUCATION!), not the icky ones, like trying to impress people with her bowing library shelves.

***In acting, which Gretchen also developed an interest in learning about, because she is that way, we talk about “catching someone acting.” You rarely catch Meryl Streep doing this; you catch people on soaps and three-camera s(h)itcoms and even Important Oscar-worthy Films all the time. If that example doesn’t work for you, think of how ice skaters make it look easy, or of the difference between the very elegant Fred Astaire and the very muscular Gene Kelly: they were both terrific dancers, but only Fred made it look easy.

****”Or talk out of their opportunist, I-have-a-theory asses.” , Colleen Wainwright

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

100 Things I Learned in 2009, Part 1


How about we start off this year’s list with a riddle:

Q: What’s harder than writing your annual 100 Things list?

A: Writing it after a year of blogging every day, plus once weekly somewhere else, plus writing a monthly column, plus writing another monthly newsletter, plus tweeting, plus Facebooking, plus whatever other goddamned writing-type stuff that I do in the course of my non-writing work.

You’d think all of that writing would prime me for some kickass listmaking: all that material! All spelled out, organized and time-stamped! Because hey! I’m a Virgo, right? But you’d be wrong. Hours and hours’ worth of 100% wrong.

Still, this is one of those exercises I derive a great deal of value from that other people seem to enjoy as well. Your win-win, if you will. So without further ado, here you goo.

Go. I meant “go.”

Oy, has this been a long year…


  1. You’re never too old to be a nimrod.
  2. Or less of one.
  3. Or, thanks to Mike Monteiro, out yourself as one.
  4. Malcolm Gladwell is even hotter in person.
  5. Kermit didn’t know how right he was.
  6. Beginnings are lovely.
  7. But endings have a kind of mature élan.
  8. Boulders suck infinitely less c*ck when you mock them.
  9. Especially when you do it in 2/4 time.
  10. But I still wish I could see the top of this motherf*cking hill.
  11. The journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single purse-cleaning.
  12. Even a comments thread can be a collaborative work of genius.
  13. If you think your period is annoying, wait until you slide into a full stop.
  14. For that matter, wait until I do.
  15. My estimator is still bigger than my actualizer.
  16. Blogs are going the way of the buggy whip.
  17. So stick a sarsaparilla in my arthritic claw and call meGranny.”
  18. I love Hulu, but I will pay for Netflix.
  19. When the going gets tough, refer your ass off.
  20. SXSW doesn’t get older: it gets better.
  21. Okay, it gets older and better.
  22. But mostly better.
  23. A second screen is worth its weight in third computers.
  24. Burning out on words is where poetry begins.
  25. Everyone has her price.
  26. Mine, apparently, is a whopping 4%.
  27. I will never become my best until I stop trying to be the biggest.
  28. It really is nicer to give than to receive.
  29. Making things is great.
  30. Making things because you must is sublime.
  31. Most of my favorite places are islands of awesome in a sea of shit.
  32. Nei kung puts the “whee!” in chi.
  33. “Meat salad” is not an oxymoron.
  34. Or a euphemism.
  35. (Outside the pokey, anyway.)
  36. Anything can be art.
  37. You can learn at least as much about yourself from the lists you don’t write as the ones you do.
  38. There’s nothing better than reading a great book.
  39. Except for reading a great book by someone you know.
  40. Commitment is still the sound of prison doors slamming shut.
  41. I’ll run out of money before I run out of money for art.
  42. Tina Fey is every bit as good as they said she was.
  43. No, better.
  44. It is much harder to figure out how to get somewhere when you don’t know what “there” looks like.
  45. That goddamn Yehuda Berg is a smart dude.
  46. Goddamn him.
  47. The best way to save time is to buy more of it.
  48. Dollar for entertainment dollar, you cannot beat what came out of Judy Garland’s twat.
  49. Just don’t bring it up over Christmas dinner.
  50. Sometimes, the good guys win.

Next installment: Wednesday, December 30th! Can’t wait? Luckily for you, I’ve been doing this crazy sh*t for five years!







Image by Jared Goralnick (@technotheory) via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Blank-of-the-year game: Gift-giving gift of 2009

I’m late getting on board Gwen Bell’s backwards-for-forwards Best of 2009 Blog Challenge, but as La Bell herself sez, you can jump on that bus anytime you want. And turn it into a train, plane, or bicycle ride, as you like: if you are blog-free, you can tweet your thoughts, slip them into someone else’s comment stream, scribble them into a notebook, etc. The juicy goodness is in the excavation. Join us!

Around this time last year, I made a decision: five days a week, for all 52 weeks of 2009, I would write here, on this little blog.

Why did I do this? For two reasons.

Reason #1: Writing for glory and eyeballs

Assuming it’s done well (or is at least of some interest), regular writing translates into more readership. Cheap-to-free blog stats aren’t an absolutely reliable indicator, especially when comparing a month rather than total visits per annum, but at least they offer some kind of metric. Here are my December visits* since I first launched communicatrix-dot-com, back in 2004:

  • In December of 2004, this blog had 800 visits.
  • In December of 2005, this blog had 3,500 visits.
  • In December of 2006, this blog had 1,800 visits.
  • In December of 2007, this blog had 3,700 visits.
  • In December of 2008, this blog had 5,000 visits.
  • In December of 2009, this blog had 8,500 visits (as of 3pm on 12/23/09).

The first bit of data you can extract from this is that if you’re reading this now, you are part of a very elite crew: we could safely call ourselves The Tribe of People Who Like Reading for the Most Part Really Long Sh*t. We are few, but, I like to think, we are mighty.

The second bit is that what I’d like to think of as the natural growth curve of this site was severely thwarted by my asshattery in the Year of Our Lord 2006. Perhaps I should do an overlay with my liquor purchases for the year: there must be something that can explain it. The start-up of my (now-defunct) graphic design business? The launch and management of The Marketing Mix blog back in September of that year? Or my tenure as business/marketing columnist for LA Casting, which also began that month? (At least I can’t blame the newsletter: I didn’t start that until April of 2007.)

Reason #2: Writing because it’s what you DO, dammit

I took a long, hard look at what I wanted at the end of last year. (Okay, and the end of 2007, too, bear with me, here.) And I realized that more than anything, I wanted to be the very best at what I’m the very best at. Which, well, I still haven’t figured out.

But I know that the way I’m the very best at delivering it is writing. I was a passable actor and a just-barely-acceptable designer. I’m a middling teacher, a so-so songwriter and a dreadful (but heartfelt!) singer. I’m a reasonably engaging speaker, enough that, given adequate time and effort and opportunity, I might have a shot at become a great one (which would thrill me no end).

I do no such apologizing for my writing, except to say that for a while, I didn’t do enough of it. If ever I had a natural gift, writing was it. And when you are given a gift, it is selfish and sad not to work at it. (To trash it with bad habits or neglect may be borderline sinful, but I check off the “spiritual not religious” box, so I tend to think that really, the worst thing about stomping on your gift is wasting potential, which I personally consider sinful in the Church of Colleen.)

Plus, with the exception of several years in advertising (which counts as stomping if anything does) and a few more recovering from the sting of Groundlings rejection, I have always loved writing more than anything. If I ever got stuck, my first shrink-slash-astrologer told me while explaining my chart, I could write my way out of it. Combing through the back catalog, even the wince-inducing sophomoric years, reveals more delights than horrors. I will get rid of every other book in the house, including my original Black Sparrow Press editions of Bukowski, before I let go of those ratty college journals and loopy, pain-filled spiral notebooks full of mid-30s angsty morning pages.

Results of the Great Writing Experiment of 2009?

I missed a few days, but very few, and more than made up for the total count with the two Salutesâ„¢ that bookended the year. (Lesson? They really do work for motivation.) It was exhausting at times and exhilarating at other times, but mostly, it just became That Thing I Do.

Can I keep it up in 2010? Do I want to? Yes and yes, although perhaps not here, and definitely not here in the form it’s taken thus far. Not if I want to write anything else. Not if I want to make a living. (Note to those who would try this crazy experiment on their own: be sure you have huge cash reserves before embarking on a project that can easily siphon four hours off of your day, when you have other writing due.)

A natural question as I look back at this colossal gift I’ve given myself, this luxury of (largely) unpaid writing, is what I do as an encore? What will my Big Gift to myself be in the coming year, or the year after that?

I don’t know. And I may not know until this time next year (or, you know, the year after that).

It’s a crazy thing about gifts: the best and finest of them can start out looking a lot more like obligations than anything you’d put on your Santa list…


*If anyone is good with Excel and wants to compile a trends graph of visitors from launch to today, I’ll give you the keys to my Sitemeter. We can make it public, we’ll call it a collaborative cautionary visual tale!

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

Poetry Thursday: Words

You can find them in cities
on signs
and on subways
and sidewalks
and lines,
embedded in a thousand million faces.

You can find them at malls
and in books
and in mall bookstores
if you can find one extant.

You can find them in abundance
on trains
where they float in
on the clackity-clack
of the wheels on rails
through the small cracks in your attention
as you fix it on those cows,
that prairie,
that ramshackle bit of city
just outside the station.

You can pluck them from the very air around you
if you are quiet-quiet,
from the very silence itself.

You can find them anywhere
and pick them like daisies
or trace them like stars
or gather them like truffles
if you are French
and have a pig handy.

You can even
(god help you)
farm them like salmon.

But words
will never come to you:

You must go to them.

Visit. Talk. Sift. Watch.

Surround yourself with stories
and songs
and all the thoughts-out-loud
and truths told softly
and million-thousand words
channeled from places we can’t name
through voices made fine
by work
and love
and attention.

And if one or two
call out
while you are on your way,
be ready to catch them
and rearrange them
and send them on their way
to the next passerby.


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

Blank-of-the-year game: Great online discovery of 2009

I’m late getting on board Gwen Bell’s backwards-for-forwards Best of 2009 Blog Challenge, but as La Bell herself sez, you can jump on that bus anytime you want. And turn it into a train, plane, or bicycle ride, as you like: if you are blog-free, you can tweet your thoughts, slip them into someone else’s comment stream, scribble them into a notebook, etc. The juicy goodness is in the excavation. Join us!

I love Evernote and will doubtless do a screencast about it in 2010.

Instapaper rocks my online/offline world, too, thanks to its iPhone app cousin.

And Netflix, glorious streamer of an astoundingly deep back catalog that keeps me cable-free, fat and happy, is definitely up in the top 10. Five. Okay, three: I like watching old video more than I like reading anything on my tiny iPhone screen. (What the hell will I do when there are no more book-books?)

But if there was one application I’d fight to keep, it would be Skype. I’d first futzed with it back in 2006, collaborating on design projects with my delightful German friend, Michael (and several times, our Orange County-based clients, who might as well have been in Russia, for as conveniently located to me as is the OC). Multiple dropped calls and accompanying frustration made me dump it: when Michael and I did talk, we’d use Jajah, or he’d call me with some mystical magical cheap-to-free resource-of-the-moment he found (he’s handy, is young Michael. And good. You should totally hire him, if you can.)

Today, with the addition of a Skype-in number (so clients can call me) and Call Recorder (so I can record our conversations and send them through yet another online application), I am loving Skype once again and more than ever. It’s cheap, the quality is far, far better than it was when I first tried it and, using the iPhone Skype app, I can call from anywhere there’s a wifi connection. (Since getting my iMac, then MacBook Pro, I can use the video function as well, but I’m lukewarm on video chat, as I find it more draining than a regular call, already draining enough as it is.)

More than anything, I love the way new tools show me new ways to look at things, and to modify my work habits:

  • I don’t need Evernote, but using it has become a reminder that I experience less stress during certain points of travel or project creation if I have all my crap gathered in one place
  • I don’t need Instapaper**, but now that I have it, I have begun to notice how my attention gets pulled away from stuff, and have begun taking other steps to correct it beyond offloading content.
  • I don’t need Netflix, but having it available has let me ease up on hoarding: with an infinite (for my purposes) variety of great stuff to entertain me when I need it, I don’t need to be the custodian of all of these DVDs. That, in turn has helped me get down with flow and impermanence, the key drivers of the abundance outlook.

Next, what I need are apps that teach me how to write short, move more and yes, walk away from the computer entirely.

Engineers? How about it?


**Read It Later is fine, too, and has a nice Firefox extension and iPhone app; I just found Instapaper first. Main thing? If I find myself spending too much time reading something while I’m supposed to be doing something else, I bookmark it for later consumption. In that way, my “Best Online Thingamabobby” is much like my fave Internet startup: what I love most of all is learning a new way to work more efficiently, just like what I love most about Gwen’s challenge is that it makes me stop and think about the “why” behind things.

Image by A Geek Mom via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.