Year: 2012

photos of the author with shaved head

51 Things I Learned in 2012

This year has been longest I can recall in the decades since they started flying by. It has challenged me in ways I could not have predicted even twelve months ago, when I foolishly thought I’d mapped the full landscape of challenges.

Much of what I’ve experienced I have not been able to share, partly owing to a lack of adequate processing, partly due to exhaustion, and partly, I’m afraid, because of Facebook. It is perilously easy to let social media drive, and to content oneself with lobbing the occasional comment (or cold French fry) from the backseat.

Which is why this year almost became the one in which I did not do a List. How could I, when so many of my lessons have been private? And why bother, when, for the rest of it, I can just direct you to My 20 Biggest Moments (as chosen by Al Gore Ithym)? Sure, it’s lazy, ill-managed, and trite, but have you seen Congress lately?

Then it occurred to me: what better way to exercise my new-found and very-hard-won habit of doing things imperfectly than sharing a smaller, less hilarious list? If people unsubscribe in droves, well, less pressure moving forward, amirite?

So here, for the first time ever, a list of the 51 things I learned over the past year. Slightly more than half, far short of “perfection”, and a fine symmetry with years lived.

May 2013 be the year of your dreams, whatever those may be.


  1. Just when you start to doubt it, the internet reminds you of how hard it rocks.
  2. And by “the internet”, I mean “the people on the internet“.
  3. And the internet.
  4. “Humbling” does not equal “humiliating”.
  5. Traveling for work is the most exhausting perk you’ll ever love.
  6. I should have been reading The Sun 20 years ago.
  7. You of the Past will always overestimate the willingness of You of the Future.
  8. There are worse afflictions than terminal earnestness.
  9. No. More. Scarves.
  10. Falling behind has its compensations.
  11. That Joni Mitchell song about taxis and parking lots also applies to gumlines.
  12. And savings accounts.
  13. But, oddly enough, not to hair.
  14. Instagr—wait, I mean Flickr.
  15. The most expedient way to learn about yourself is to have smart people ask you questions.
  16. Shaving your head dramatically reduces your dating opportunities.
  17. But sharply increases photo ops.
  18. A little lighting makes a big difference.
  19. God will wait until you’re good and ready.
  20. Or maybe just ready.
  21. Fuck manicures.
  22. New Orleans is a thousand times better than I ever imagined.
  23. Except for Bourbon Street, which is a hundred-million-billion times worse.
  24. Hormones are nature’s way of saying “That’ll be $80 a month, please.”
  25. New York never misses you.
  26. Eventually, you stop caring.
  27. The universal cure for what ails you is a Dole Whip in the Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Room.
  28. Giving blood feels as restorative as getting blood.
  29. Nothing beats hanging out with old friends.
  30. But stumbling across their new books runs a close second.
  31. A bad video can be too long at a minute.
  32. A great play can be too short at eight hours.
  33. Victory tastes even sweeter when it’s Sugar’s.
  34. I love playing an asshole.
  35. But I make a much funnier loser.
  36. Gelson’s has the best air-conditioning.
  37. Also, the best egg salad.
  38. And, unfortunately, the loudest televisions.
  39. TEDx is the new “done”.
  40. A Breville tea kettle will change your life.
  41. Not to mention strip the paint off of your kitchen cabinets.
  42. It’s only foreign until you do it once.
  43. Receiving accolades is surprisingly less fun than doing the things that earn them.
  44. A professional knife sharpening is worth its weight in Band-Aids.
  45. Sometimes the best thing you can do is almost nothing at all.
  46. Or at least, what looks like nothing to the outside world.
  47. Besides, I wasn’t not blogging; I was helping you maintain your information diet.
  48. Beginnings are always lovely.
  49. Cancer still sucks.
  50. Things change.
  51. But when they don’t change fast enough—which is almost always—this helps.

See you next year!









Photo of me and shave artist supreme, Brandon Massengale, by some other person at Bolt Barbers, West Hollywood.


Getting down with where you’re at

I was supposed to be married now.

I was supposed to live in some sort of expensive housing with my husband—that we owned outright, if you’d have asked my more optimistic and/or financially prudent forbears. In Chicago, most likely. Or the suburbs, for the schools. (I was supposed to get over my Thing about the suburbs, too, I guess.)

I was supposed to have produced a couple of grandchildren for the mother and father who were most certainly supposed to be around to enjoy them, albeit less energetically than they’d have liked.

I was supposed to shop and eat and bank and recreate in a world that looked a lot like the 1960s or maybe the 1980s (but definitely not the 1970s), only with more jet packs and fewer multigazillionaires and a lot fewer angry, confused white people.

I was supposed to be—well, not writing TV commercials anymore, surely, but overseeing the people who oversaw the people who wrote TV commercials that were supposed to run on the many high-paying, widely-viewed network shows that featured exactly zero housewives, unless they came bundled with scripted jokes and a laugh track.

I was supposed to have excellent benefits, including dental and a generous retirement package, for doing this, along with six weeks’ annual vacation, a seat on a few local and national boards, a shit-ton of frequent-flyer miles (redeemable at any time, with no blackout dates), a vacation home, one or two books, and a pristine set of intestines.

When I look at the long, long list of things that were supposed to happen but that did not, it is perhaps less of a shock that this post tumbled out late, light, and lonely, no weeks (nor months) of posts shoring it up on the one side.

This, you see, is exactly where I am supposed to be, 51 years and pocket change into my life, and eight years into this amazing odyssey that someone, somewhere, regretfully decided to name “blogging”: in my little apartment, noting a remarkable thing after a remarkable day that included nothing that any one of my wonderful, wonderful, well-meaning family would have called “remarkable”.

I am exactly where I am supposed to be, which is fine with where I am.

I would say that I wish I’d been here eight years ago—or 38 years ago—but that’s not true, either: I was exactly where I was supposed to be then, too; I just didn’t know it.

More soon. Although what either of those actually look like, remains to be seen.




A friend in deed

Ten years ago next month—close enough to my birthday to call it the world’s worst present—I was diagnosed with an acute onset of Crohn’s disease.

Thanks to great care, a little luck, and the world’s most amazing diet, I was able to avoid both surgery and aggressive, costly immunosuppressive therapy; still, my 11-day stay at the “Sheraton Cedars Sinai” alone cost upwards of $40,000. In 2004. I don’t want to think about what my birthday colonoscopy would cost today. (Actually, I don’t want to think about colonoscopies at all. Ever again. Especially birthday ones.)

In those five months between flat-on-my-back and back-on-my-feet, I learned what love was. I learned it from the hospital staff, whose dedication to my recovery went far, far beyond what their wages warranted. (Kind orderly with the miserable task of collecting my bloody poop every day, I’m looking at you.) I learned it from theater pals who brought DVDs by the bagful, and stayed to share funny stories in the merciless heat of my sweaty apartment. I learned it from my friend, Greg, who grocery shopped for me with the patience of Job, and from my ex-boyfriend, who put aside his grudges and neuroses to take out my garbage and do my laundry—once, with my sister, who did everything, and too readily, and any time I asked, and as many times when I couldn’t.

And because for me, money is inextricably bound up with matters of the heart, I learned love once again from my perpetually generous father, whose first response upon hearing of my predicament (after “OH MY GOD ARE YOU ALL RIGHT I’M GETTING ON A PLANE RIGHT NOW!!!”) was “Tell me what you need; I’ll write you a check.”

Unbelievably, and for the first time in a long, long time, I did not need money. At all. My relationship may have tanked, but I’d had good year financially—my best since quitting advertising, a decade before. I was single, debt-free, and swimming in glorious, liquid cash.

Money can’t buy you love, but it can buy you health insurance and five months to get your shit together. Literally, in my case!

* * * * *

Last year, I had an extraordinary birthday. It was the birthday of a lifetime—a celebration for the ages! With the help of over a thousand friends—some I’d met, many more that I made—I raised over $100,000 for a group of women and girls whose dedication to meaningful change still takes my breath away.

One of those friends was Patti Digh, a writer whose work I’d long admired, but whom I’d met scant months before, and certainly had no business expecting anything of. Of course, if I’d paid attention to the life she’d led and the causes she’d championed and the all-in, full-out way she’d done both, I’d have known that when Patti signed on to help, Patti helped.

She contributed an interview—one of my favorites of the 50—but she didn’t stop there. She gave money; she gave more money. She summoned her legions of fans, and they, in turn, gave money, and shared with their friends. Privately, she sent me wigs in the mail—Marge Simpson hair, Fat-Elvis hair, Marilyn hair, rainbow-‘fro hair, bright-pink poodle hair. “Life is a verb,” says Patti, and she means it. I don’t think I’ve met anyone who lives the ever-loving shit out of their life like Patti Digh does. I surely don’t.

* * * * *

Today is Patti’s birthday. As far as I’m concerned, every birthday she has is extraordinary because that’s the kind of life she lives every ding-dong day.

This birthday stands out for a different reason, though: two weeks ago, Patti’s husband John—a man so wise and funny and generous, his nickname is “Mr. Brilliant”—was diagnosed with renal cancer. Which is, of course, a way crappier birthday present than almost losing your colon and having a camera shoved up your ass.

But it gets worse: the Digh/Ptak household has no health insurance. They did have, for years, but, well, the vagaries of self-employment and caring for two children in a bad economy can force some pretty tough decisions on a family. So here we are: two of the most wonderful people in the world, kicked upside the head by circumstance.

Are they more wonderful than anyone else who needs help? Well, being truly wonderful people, Patti and John would argue that they are not. And I cede the point. The older and poorer I get, the more compassion I have for all people. Everyone deserves decent care, and clean water to drink, and not to have to worry about getting raped on the way to the well to fetch it. Everyone.

Right now, though, is not about everyone. It’s about two friends who mean a lot to me, who have done a lot for me and for the world, and who now need help. (Patti and John have not asked for this help; their friends, who are also wonderful, just figured it out and jumped on it.) To paraphrase my friend John Gruber from a year ago, it would be really nice to see a little bump in dollars from people who read this blog. Especially since there’s a matching donation of $25,000 set to kick in when we roll over to $50K—I mean, lordy be, the symmetry!

If you are inclined to make a donation, a friend has set up a place to do that.

If you’d like to buy a t-shirt, another friend has taken care of that.

If you’d just like to show your support by clicking a button and sharing your own love—well, you get the idea.

You can even join some 500 of us Patti-crazed lunatics in a glorious, 137-day creative odyssey led by Patti herself. Pay what you can, all proceeds go to the cause. The journey begins today. UPDATE: 137 Days has maxed out at 1,000 (!!!) sturdy pioneers, but you can still donate, buy a shirt, join the Team Brilliant page on Facebook for further updates, and do cartwheels on the nearest patch of grass. I’m fairly sure cartwheels done with abandon aid the cause.

Whatever you can do, my friend—or my friend I’ve yet to meet—I thank you for…



What’s up & what’s gone down: July 2012

A mostly monthly but certainly occasional round-up of what I’ve been up to and what’s in the hopper. For full credits and details, see this entry.

Colleen of the future (stuff I’ll be doing)

For the first time in the three years that I’ve been doing these updates, I have zero plans. (Well, that I can talk about publicly.)

Zero public talks. Zero hosted meetups. Zero conferences I’m planning on attending, save World Domination Summit next year. And most definitely, zero birthday plans for this year.

At some point, hopefully soon—and I only say “hopefully” because I’m a hopeless Virgo hard-case when it comes to work—I’ll have some things to share. Until then, sign up for the newsletter. Stay tuned here. Friend me on Facebook. (Unless you only want to be “friends” so I’ll like your whatever or come to your whaddyacallit, because that is “friendly,” not friendly. Obviously.)*

Light a candle, say a novena, butter a piece of toast, but only if it makes you happy. I’m fine, I swear! Plenty of cool stuff going on.

In fact…


Okay, now that I think about it, there are two places where I know I’ll be in the near future:

  • “Photographers Helping Photographers” :: One of my very favorite people, Jenna Close, is giving what I’m 100% sure will be a kickass workshop for ASMP Los Angeles this Thursday evening, July 26, at Vaney Poyey‘s studio in Downtown L.A.
  • Sustainable Business Models :: This all-day symposium in New York City is free to the public with advance registration. It will also serve as the launch for…
  • The ASMP Guide to New Markets in Photography, the organization’s new and important book on surviving as an imagemaker in an attention economy. And yes, yours truly wrote the chapters on branding and marketing, so I will be on hand, Sharpie at the ready, eager to inscribe something personal and awesome (of course!) on your freshly-purchased copy.

But really, this was all put in place eons ago. So much so that it almost cancels out any future-ness about them.

Colleen of the Past (what I have done for you lately)

Colleen of the Present (stuff I do, rain or shine)

  • communicatrix | focuses :: My (usually) monthly newsletter devoted to the ways and means of becoming a better clearer communicator (plus a few special treats I post nowhere else). Free!
  • Act Smart! is my monthly column about marketing for LA Casting. Nominally for actors, there’s a ton of good info in there for any creative business person. Browse the archives, here.
  • Internet flotsam :: I am currently rather disenchanted with the Internet and have been busy doing stuff in my Actual, Real Life. (You should see my under-sink cabinet!) But I continue to waste far too much time over on FacebookInstagram, and, ever so often, Twitter and Pinterest.

P.S. Newsletter coming soon. I think….


*If, however, you would like to invite me to an actual party or an actual opening or maybe even an actual launch with actual, real, live people, and actual refreshments, by all means, do. And may the gods rain money and ice-cream cakes on your lawn.

brooks palmer and his book clutter busting your life

Book review: Clutter Busting Your Life

By the time Brooks Palmer’s first book fell in my lap, I didn’t need anyone to tell me that my problem with clutter wasn’t the stuff itself. I knew full well that the crap I couldn’t seem to keep myself from accumulating was connected to circuitry gone awry—that I was collecting things to fill emotional holes or wall off feelings or otherwise protect myself from perceived danger.

But I did need someone to say it to me differently, in a way that I could finally begin to hear it. Simply, as it turns out, and with gentleness and compassion. Over and over. And over.

This is how Brooks (once a mysterious angel, now a first-name, real-life friend) works, both on the page and in person. It seems almost too simple at first—that by sitting down and bringing your attention to objects, one item at a time, you could simultaneously reduce the amount of useless stuff in your life and restore a sense of joy and hope. Until, an hour or two later, there is a carful of stuff on its way to Goodwill and the library and various other redistribution centers, and you are left in your little apartment, surrounded by freshly empty spaces and suffused with a surprising mix of energy and calm.

* * * * *

Which brings us to Clutter Busting Your Life and an obvious question: if the first book worked, why another? If the process is so simple to understand, why more pages to explain it? If your spaces remain relatively empty—or if you know what to do when they start becoming less so, and you do it—what could a second book really offer?

The answer, it turns out, is some insight into handling clutter where it intersects—and interferes with—relationships. Because while determining whether an object that is yours alone should stay or go is a straightforward process, dealing with other people’s stuff—a partner’s, a child’s, a parent’s, a friend’s—is fraught. And unless we wall ourselves off from the world (a sad and horrible prospect), we are always, always dealing with other people’s stuff.

Not to mention their “stuff”. Because to further complicate matters, it is not just someone’s actual, physical stuff that can become clutter to us, but our reactions to the stuff, and their reactions to our reactions, and so on. You cannot do a damned thing about anyone else’s crap, but boy, can you ever complicate matters by your response to it: one person’s magazine attachment or drawerful of half-empty toothpaste tubes can metastasize into everyone’s full-blown marriage crisis if tended (im)properly.

So this book, then, is about arresting the escalation. It’s about learning to removing the “clutter” in relationships—the fear and anger and frustration that accompanies all things buried, all decisions forestalled too long—so we can reconnect to each other. Which, yes, begins with reconnecting to ourselves.

Note: in the hands of your average self-helpster, navigation through this territory can get annoying and/or dangerous quickly. Again, Brooks Palmer’s strength resides in his ability to keep things simple and focused. He addresses the levels of relationship one at a time, in order and through the lens of clutter, starting with our relationship with ourselves, then moving outward into our various relationships with others—current and workable, past, current and unworkable. There’s a special chapter on clutter busting for two, but there are exercises throughout to help you with various aspects of the excavation process, emotional and physical, including a recap of basic clutter-busting technique for newbies or those needing a refresher course.

* * * * *

Full disclosure: if you get Brooks’ new book, you will find a blurb from me on the inside front page. While “blurb” is a light, bouncy, almost throwaway word, I take blurbing very seriously. (Except as a verb. Then I laugh like a hyena, because “blurbing” sounds asinine.) Into my very serious blurb I inject one bit of hyperbole, about Brooks possibly being able to help us all clutter-bust our way to world peace. Which is probably an overstatement. There is a whole lot of clutter between us and achieving world peace.

I do believe, though, that on some level, this is holy work. Bringing ourselves back to connection with one another and the present moment is big stuff. That one road back might involve shedding a few things—and ideas, and behaviors—that no longer serve is really not such a far-fetched notion.

If it’s your road, this might very well be your road map.



Book review: The $100 Startup

For the past year, I’ve been traveling around the country, telling people about Chris Guillebeau. (Seriously. You can see it here, starting at 2:48 in.)

One reason is that his story—of building a platform from zero to massive, of pursuing “impossible” goals like visiting every country in the world by age 35—never fails to inspire audiences. In a time when life can look rather grim around the edges, let alone when we stare into the deep, black heart of it—we need all the light we can get.

But the other reason I talk about Chris all the time is because his methodology for success is rational and replicable.

Yes, he’s a quick study, but he is also a perpetual student who reads widely and never stops asking questions of people who know things he doesn’t.

Yes, he has what is probably a natural facility with words, but he still parks his ass in a chair (or the floor of some foreign airport) and plunks out 1,500 of them per day. Every single day.

Or, as he summed it up himself in his first book, remarkable achievements are a result of these four prerequisites:

  1. You Must Be Open to New Ideas
  2. You Must Be Dissatisfied with the Status Quo
  3. You Must Be Willing to Take Personal Responsibility
  4. You Must Be Willing to Work Hard

So while Chris has built a fairly unconventional life for himself, filled with international travel, digital entrepreneurship, and rapid iteration, he has done so as much though old standbys like integrity and effort as he has entrepreneurial risk-taking and a 21st-Century attitude toward change.

His new book, The $100 Startup, takes a similarly old-plus-new approach to building a business. It’s Chris’s philosophy that the most rewarding work takes work, and that it should be done for personal fulfillment as much as for financial freedom. The 100 or so businesses used as case studies in the book reinforce this philosophy—each of these microbusinesses employs five or fewer employees (many are solopreneurs), and most are designed to stay that way.*

This is not, in other words, a book about building a massive, franchised empire from a single taco stand, nor designing killer iOS apps that get bought by Facebook for a billion dollars: it’s about helping you to come up with a solid idea at the intersection of your passion and a customer’s need; each of the tools within helps you tease out the one in relation to the other. There are checklists for evaluating the business-worthiness of your ideas and for prepping a product launch. There are formulas for constructing a marketing offer or creating a self-published work. There are charts that explain the different types of sales methods and that map the difference between passions that are fun for you and passions that will work in the marketplace.

It’s a book filled with incredibly detailed and specific information—nutrient-dense, especially at just over 300 pages—but because it’s so well-written and so liberally studded with inspiring, real-life stories, it’s a truly absorbing read: business book as page-turner.

In fact, if there’s a flaw to The $100 Startup, it’s that the stories, lessons, and tools are woven together so artfully, it’s difficult to treat casually. This is not a self-help book to be consumed in lieu of action, nor is it a reference book to be shelved and consulted via index. It’s meant to be read through from start to finish, preferably while taking copious notes as you go—although as much because the examples and concepts are likely to spark ideas for your own business as to find your way back to useful ideas later.

It is, in Chris’s own words, “a blueprint for change and action”. He’s thinking nothing less than a complete revolution, of people one by one leaving behind what they no longer need to serve themselves and the world and have a great time doing it. If you think that sounds crazy or impossible—especially with seed funds of $100—well, you don’t know Chris Guillebeau: a young man who simply doesn’t accept that things are impossible.


*Size-wise, anyway. There was a minimum condition of $50,000 in net income generated per year, but no cap on the top side, and many of these very small businesses have gone on to become far more profitable. Other conditions required for inclusion in the book were: employee size (1-5, max); a passion-based model; low startup cost; no “special skills” (e.g. dentistry, law, tightrope-walking); and full financial disclosure.

Photos by Tara Wages.

What’s up & what’s gone down :: April 2012


A mostly monthly but certainly occasional round-up of what I’ve been up to and what’s in the hopper. For full credits and details, see this entry.

Colleen of the future (stuff I’ll be doing)

  • “Making People Love You Madly” tour for ASMP [May 3: Tucson, AZ; June 7, Seattle, WA] The last two of my “marketing in the postmodern age” talk for the American Society of Media Photographers—oh, how time has flown! This version of my core talk on marketing was customized for commercial photographers, but anyone with a small creative business will come away with plenty of ideas. And, if you’re good at networking, many new contacts from the world of photography!
  • World Domination Summit [July 6-8, Portland, OR] I’ll be giving the 50-minute version of “What I Did On My Summer Vacation” (aka “the 50-for-50 talk”) as a workshop at this year’s installment of the world’s most fun conference EVER in Portland. The conference has been sold out for months, but occasionally, some poor soul has to release their ticket and you can jump on it. Follow #WDS2012 and @chrisguillebeau on Twitter for scoop.

Colleen of the Past (what I have done for you lately)

  • TEDxConcordiaUPortland [Portland, OR; March 31] I was beyond thrilled, honored, and yes, terrified to be presenting at this conference whose theme is “Becoming Extraordinary.” I mean, pressure much? But Michelle Jones, my friend and TEDx organizer (and 50-for-50 supporter) extraordinaire, had faith in me, so I screwed my courage to the sticking place and also, actually rehearsed. A lot. I’m pretty happy with the results, which you can watch above, or by clicking through to YouTube.
  • 3x3x365 :: I don’t really do guest posts, but when my wonderful and, briefly, exhausted friend Amy McCracken called out for help, I was able to hide my eagerness to tell a story on my favorite-est blog in the cloak of selflessness.
  • The Strictly Business Blog :: I’ve continued to write for my wonderful clients, the ASMP, on a variety of marketing and productivity-related topics. Recent contributions include a love note to Evernote and managing expectations with your very own Twitter policy.
  • Savor & Serve Blog :: To celebrate a full year of her re-branded blog, the gorgeous and talented Jennifer Louden invited a group of her friends to share how they’d savored and/or served this past year. I was thrilled to participate, mostly because this year, I finally managed to do some service! It’s a lovely, sweet, and breezy roundup.

Colleen of the Present (stuff I do, rain or shine)

  • communicatrix | focuses :: My (usually) monthly newsletter devoted to the ways and means of becoming a better clearer communicator (plus a few special treats I post nowhere else). Free!
  • Act Smart! is my monthly column about marketing for LA Casting. Nominally for actors, there’s a ton of good info in there for any creative business person. Browse the archives, here.
  • Internet flotsam :: I am currently rather disenchanted with the Internet. Also, busy. But I continue to waste far too much time over on Facebook, who, speaking of which, have not yet ruined Instagram.