Month: June 2010

Show me yer rig! (Gmail filters edition)

See it bigger on Vimeo.

Joining its brethren, the screencasts on Google Reader and gCal, is a little (too long of a) video on one specific thing I really like about gmail, its filters.

Pretty much every email program has filters of some kind built in, but I like how easy gmail makes it to set them up, especially once you start making use of keyboard shortcuts (and a cheat sheet can help with that).

The specific hack I added is a top-level (i.e., above-the-fold) label named, reasonably enough, “add to filter.” (I mistakenly call the label a filter in the screencast, but it’s definitely a label. You create labels, which you can use to help you with filtering.) When bacn-y email shows up in my inbox and I don’t have time to deal with it right then, I grab it and move it to the “add to filter” label. I then clean that out once or twice a month, creating filters for stuff I want to funnel somewhere, or sometimes just unsubscribing to something on the spot. I definitely suffer from eyes-bigger-than-stomach syndrome when it comes to bacn.

You don’t even have to watch the video if video ain’t your thing. My main point here is to draw attention to the advantage of taking time to do one small thing (automate your email sorting) if it helps free up time and headspace to do big things (work, nap, etc.).

Although if there was enough interest, I could do an additional, longer video or post about gmail workflow, with screen captures on the taxonomy I’m using with labels, which has helped me tame the beast. But maybe not. Email is a really personal thing. Plus, isn’t everyone sick of talking about it? And haven’t most of you given up on email for anything useful or fun and just gone to Twitter and Facebook?

I know I get enough dang “emails” in Facebook.

As usual, comments, criticisms and observations welcome, especially those that will help me improve. And questions? Of course!


Book review: Holy Land

cover of "holy land" and photo of author dj waldie

We are studying style in our weekly writing workshop, how we use everything from humor to commas to sentence construction (or lack thereof) to express things, and how those things add up to what we might call a “voice.”

Brenda, our fearless-leader/teacher/tour-guide also has us doing exercises that bring our attention to the style of other writers, literally deconstructing their work line by line, paragraph by paragraph, to see how they craft worlds, lure us into stories, and guide our focus.

Like most new things, it’s a maddening exercise at first. I stumble through essays so clean and deftly executed they seem born that way, like little literary Venuses on the half-shell. I know it’s a lie, of course; no one escapes the painful and humiliating tedium of Anne Lamott’s famed Shitty First Draft. Still, despite my best efforts at keeping this (and that wonderful Beverly Sills quote about there being no shortcuts to any place worth going) at the forefront of my thinking, I am always quite sure that when I sit down, it should be different. And immediately, if not sooner.

Here’s who might cure you and me and anyone else within earshot of that notion: D.J. Waldie, thoughtful chronicler of Things Southern-Californian, with emphasis on that which was created out of something only to erase the thing from which it sprung. In Holy Land, his memoir of a suburban boyhood in Lakewood, California, he alternately describes what it was like growing up in one of the many manufactured towns that began popping up outside of slightly older outposts like Los Angeles and, in his case, Long Beach after the Second World War, and chronicles the inception and building of the town itself.

Unlike the by-now convention of switching back and forth between stories, chapter by chapter, something James McBride did beautifully to create context and build suspense in his memoir, The Color of Water, and that James Michener did thoughtfully in The Source, so you could skip over the tedious modern-day love story, Waldie writes in what I can only call fragments, because my literary vocabulary is so limited. (I’m working on it, I’m working on it.) He loops from personal recounting of the modern-day life in this same town he grew up in, Waldie lives in the same house his parents bought freshly built, and works for the city government, to historical documentation to childhood impressions and so forth, delicately switching from lens to lens until magically, this strange and complex something that sprang from “nothing” starts coming into focus.

You can get all kinds of glimpses into what this crazy place is like, of course, and from all kinds of angles: Chandler and Cain, Bukowski and Fante, and poor old Nathaniel West, to name a few of the few I’ve read. Of them all, Joan Didion’s writing comes the closest to this kind of oblique, restrained, meticulously constructed narrative (she’s a big fan, by the way, if her glowing blurb is to be believed). It’s work that clearly required a lot of work to make it look like it didn’t; it’s un-showy yet elegant, and always evocative.

Holy Land restores your faith in the value of rewriting, and the precision it brings. Not to mention it’s a helluva good read…


Legalese, etc! Links to the books in the post above are Amazon affiliate links: if you click on them and buy something, I get Amazon dollars. Which is great, as it helps keep me in books to review. More on this disclosure stuff at publisher Michael Hyatt’s excellent blog, from whence I lifted (and smooshed around a little) this boilerplate text.

My narrow, narrow bands of interest and utility

For most of my life, I thought I envied people who were on a mission: the ones who were seized by the desire to paint or to build stuff or to cure malaria.

It was only very recently, maybe as recently as last week, or the week before (time has been playing tricks on me this month), that I realized what what I was really wishing for was to have some kind of defining passion that easily translated into a verbal business card at a cocktail party. I hated being in advertising for most of the years I was in advertising; I didn’t even particularly enjoy telling people it’s what I did. But man, did I not begin to appreciate how easy it was to tell it.

All of the things I’m passionate about, talking to people about of stuff, telling stories, figuring stuff out, are squishy and weird. The closest I’ve ever come to a defining thread that connects them all is “creating order out of chaos”; a former colleague once said I excelled at “coming up with creative ideas,” which, once I got over the metal-on-metal grind of a well-intended but gratingly redundant descriptor, I decided was not half-bad as summaries went. Ideas, I has them. Maybe I could be the Lucy Van Pelt of idea vendors: a nickel a shot; a buck, perhaps, given inflation. But no, because I’m even less tolerant than Lucy.

As I close in on six months (!) of self-imposed sabbatical, I’m both predictably alarmed and oddly nonchalant about my inability to define what it is I do in a way that is pithy and truthful. What I have been answering of late in reply is either “Nothing!” or “I’m on self-imposed sabbatical!” I will also occasionally just lie and say, “Marketing consultant,” if I don’t feel like engaging at all. It’s a lie, but a relatively harmless one, as lies go.

To my creative intimates, the fellow strugglers in writing workshop, or elsewhere behind the scenes, I share the only thing I know for sure: that I want to write, and that I am doggedly pursuing it, placing structures where they need to be to support it, addressing what obstacles I can see that might be getting in the way of it. (I’m also actually writing, and not just what you see here. But I’m not quite ready to talk about what.)

One thing I’m considering is slashing my expenses to the bone and taking another Stupid Day Job. There are all kinds of issues with that, too, of course. I may be romanticizing it, for starters. Also, absent the singular focus a definable driving passion provides, I may outright hate it: when I had my last Stupid Day Job, I was pursuing acting rather ferociously. What happens when you just want to live your life, figure out some shit and write a little? Does a Stupid Day Job even work under those circumstances? Can anyone even get a Stupid Day Job in this economy?

And who do I think I am, anyway, wanting to live a life and figure stuff out and maybe write, freakin’ Thoreau?

Ah, well. I have no reason to believe this, but somehow I suspect I will look back on this time when I am old, if I am fortunate enough to grow old, and in the same way I now smile at youthful me for wasting time cataloguing minor imperfections of flesh and character, I will shake my ancient head at my foolish former self for not appreciating the goodness, the greatness of even these sometimes baffling days.

Every day is a gift, even the ones that don’t come wrapped in pretty paper with a bow on it. Even the ones you want to send back to the store. My bands of interest and utility are slender enough not to have crossed in any obvious places, but that they haven’t is no reason to wish for this day to be over any sooner, or any other.

Hello, ridiculous day of this tedious month of my difficult year.

Hello, and welcome. Let us see what we can do to each other, shall we?


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

Frrrrriday Rrrrroundup! #12

tiny toy cowboy figure with lasso

An end-of-weekly roundup collecting fffffive of the fffffantabulous things I find stumbling around the web during the week here, but which I post on one of the many other Internet outlets I stop by (or tweet at) during my travels. More about the genesis here.

Sometimes, the Internet is just about efficient delivery of a good fart joke. [Facebook-ed].

My love for destuckification Pirate Queen Havi Brown knows no bounds. This piece on boundaries (we has them! or is trying!) is a good primer on why.  [delicious-ed]

I am Eloise. I am 23.” [re-Tweeted]

If you want to see how real art is made, and in insane quantities, read this interview immediately. [Tumbld, via The Daily Rumpus]

For the Up! fans out there. [Flickr-faved]


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

Poetry Thursday: The Truth Fairy

woman in mud wrestling pit

You would like
for that life-changing job offer,
that surprise legacy
from a long-lost relative
or never-known billionaire angel,
that exquisitely crafted apology
emanating waves of old love and new understanding
to wash up on the shores of your inbox
one morning
as you settle in
with that first kickass mug
of hot coffee.

You would. Who wouldn’t?

We are human
and the truth of us
is as much about looking
for speedier shortcuts
and easier escape hatches
and handier scapegoats
and better numbing devices
as it is
that we fuck up
again and again
and again,
despite our double-pinky swears,
despite our excellent intentions,
despite our hundred-thousand-million
aborted attempts
at overcoming our obvious

I do the best I can
which ain’t much of much
most days,
but still is my best:
to walk slowly
to pay attention
to write
to work
to slow the fuck down
and choose the second
or third
or eighty-seventh impulse
and wherever
humanly possible.

Watch me fail and fail,
each time more gloriously
than the last
if I am lucky.

If I am doing
it right…


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

Show me yer rig! (Evernote + Instapaper edition)

Haven’t done one of these how-to screencasts in a while, and this one is reeeeeeally simple, so it’s very possible you’ve thought of it long ago and have been using it for ages and are all, “Gee, Colleen, it must be hard, getting old and losing all that processing power.”

However, I stumbled upon this solution for simplifying clipping stuff to Evernote, my fave catch-all/squirreling-away tool. If you’re already slick with the mouse, this will likely be more hassle than it’s worth, but if you’re like me and are not so good with the mouse/trackpad when it comes to highlighting content, you will LURVE it, I swear.

Some notes! Because there are always notes after wrassling with video:

  • It is not a 2-minute video; it’s a 2:42-minute video. I recorded this thing no less than SEVEN times trying to get it under 2:00; like a postmodern Blaise Pascal, I just didn’t have the time to make the thing any shorter.
  • My numeric dyslexia has spread to independent clauses. At about 1:20 in, I say “I want to save the URL and clip the page, just in case.” What I meant was to flip those things: you have to clip the page if you want the content to appear in Evernote; you do not have to have the URL, but I like to keep it, just in case. There’s a nifty little arrow button next to the URLs in every Evernote note that will take you straight to the full page in a jiffy. Sweet!
  • Shareaholic really deserves its own shoutout. It’s a fantastic social sharing tool for Chrome, Firefox, Safari, etc. browsers that lets you easily clip things to Evernote, as well as share content in an insane number of places. Literally, you’d go insane doing that much sharing. Fortunately, it’s customizable: mine has links to gmail, Twitter, Facebook, delicious, Evernote and Tumblr, which is already borderline insane. You can also choose your fave flavor of link-shortening service (I use, mostly), so you can get shortened, trackable links for all the stuff you’re sharing, if you’re into that sort of thing.
  • Ignore what I said about emailing, you can totally leave a comment, and I would love that. I have comment moderation turned on now, so depending on how diligent I’m being with my other work, it may take some time for it to appear, but unless you’re being a sh*thead in your comment, it will appear. (And yeah, I do need a clear commenting policy. It’s on the list!)

If you hate watching video, here’s the tip, in a nutshell: rather than highlighting text and content you want to clip to Evernote, use the Instapaper Text bookmarklet to convert it to clean text before clipping. That’s it!

As always, and especially while I’m on the steep, upward curve of this video-learning thing, comments as to what was and wasn’t helpful, distracting, fun, evil-ish, are particularly welcome.

And because I’m anticipating the question, no, I haven’t made it yet. BECAUSE I SPENT A BAZILLION HOURS TRYING TO GET THIS UNDER 2 MINUTES!

Life is easy; video is hard…


  • Evernote, a Swiss-Army-knife of saving and collecting tools (free; subscribe for extra features)
  • Instapaper, program that strips  and lets you read articles later (free, online and iPhone app; $5 for iPhone app with extra features)
  • Instapaper Text bookmarklet (scroll down to find) Javascript tool that strips visual nuisances from web pages for your reading pleasure; just drag from the page to your browser’s toolbar (free!; Mac users, also try Safari Reader, available in Safari 5)
  • Google Chrome Super-fast browser for PC, Mac and Linux.
  • Shareaholic Fantastic social sharing tool for Chrome, Firefox, Safari, etc. browsers.

C*cksucking boulder update

It’s been a weirdly long half-year so far, but I think we’ve put the hardest of it behind us. Or maybe that’s just the unbridled, sleep-deprived glee, and summer solstice, talking.

Either way, I’m feeling a lightness in my heart and a feeling that things are looking up that I haven’t felt in some time. But there was some serious trudgery up that hill to get here, and I’m a wee bit tuckered out from all the pushing. So just a wee postie to share these few things.

First, ask. Ask for help. Ask your friends, ask your loved ones, ask random strangers you meet on the street if you really need it, but ask. Stuff will happen anyway, but I have recently had it reinforced that stuff happens much, much more easily if you ask. So ask. And really, what’s the downside? A “no”? You’ve got that anyway! Ask! Everyone loves to help, including you. You know it’s true. So let those people have a little thrill: ask!

Second, sleep helps. It really cannot be emphasized enough. Sleep and fluids, but especially sleep. I now get how you could drive someone batshit-crazy-up-a-wall into confessing anything by depriving them of sleep long enough. Not sure exactly what sleep does, but there’s some kind of re-setting mechanism, and a whole lot of smoothing-out of edges. So as much of those good zzzz’s as you can nab, you know?

Third, do just one thing. When all feels hopeless, do just one teeny-tiny thing today that is within your control to move whatever c*cksucking boulder it is that you need pushed up whatever motherf*cking hill you have in front of you. Even if it’s just putting “Brainstorm ways to get c*cksucking boulder up motherf*cking hill” on a list.

Fourth, and finally, comments are back on! Well, sort of!* I apologize for the turning-off, but it couldn’t be helped. They’re being moderated for now, but at least they’re on. So hey, test it out! Let’s take this WordPress puppy out on the open road and see what she’ll do! If we break it, we break it, but we’ll have a good time until then!

Thanks, and a new, non-shower-cap, hopefully-useful video tomorrow.


*Mad, crazy, insane thanks to my gal, Heather Parlato, and her genius boyfriend Jason Brown. You are brilliant, your cats are outstanding in their field, and god bless America, you have a great patio. I am honored and grateful to call you my friends.

UPDATE: If you’re a subscriber, you may have gotten this twice. Apologies. I had to whack the side of my WordPress database a couple more times.