The missing step in writing

[A video that has exactly ZERO to do with this post!]

This post is #37 in a series of 50 dedicated to the art and life of writing, in support of the 50 for 50 Project to benefit WriteGirl. If you like it, or if you think it could have been improved by a better writing education for its author, please give generously. And pass it on.

My struggles with that mythical circus balancing act known as the Brothers Work-Life are legendary and ongoing. And experts agree that in my case, the smart money is generally on Work.

Still, I make inroads. At a recent meetup of my master mind group, I was praised not just for taking the time out of this nonstop fundraiser-fest to do some exercise, but for exhibiting the knowledge that doing so was a significant achievement. Because while the first step to lasting change is noting where you are, and close behind it is setting an intention, then moving towards it, one frequently overlooked step is acknowledgment.

Or, they are also steps which stand there, unmoving.

There are two ways this has to do with writing. First, please remember that this delicious brain of yours that hooks the words together cannot keep doing its work without rest, without play, without a little care and feeding of its housing.

Second, at some point in your work, pause. Not just to rest the brain and the body that are working so hard for you, but to complete a cycle of work. This practice is baked into my favorite values-centered goal-setting system, Your Best Year Yet, the very first step to setting next year’s goals is reviewing the previous year’s accomplishments. And disappointments, but whatever. Other systems use a variation of this forward/backward technique, and I finally get why:

Completing cycles of work equals better work.

Live and learn.


It’s just Monday

It was 1.1.11.

The first day of a new decade, all shiny, all ones, all the promise of a big, brave, beautiful new year stretched out before us.

It was the reboot, the fresh start, the alpha to 12/31/10’s omega. It was hope, objectified. It was intention, projected.

Or, you know, it was what we called it the week before:



One of the reasons I decided, finally, to opt out of the Race for the New Year in December of 2009 was because of the pressure. So much pressure to get it right, to start out right, to not screw up this fresh chance to not screw up. Instead, I decided to roll with December in January.

It turned out to be one of the smarter moves I’ve made, but not for the reason I thought. Yes, there was less stress, not compounding a searching moral inventory with the demands of a holiday. My god, have you experienced a holiday recently? By which I mean “have you endured one?” BAH. And humbug.

I haven’t really even celebrated the holidays since my split with the Youngster back in ’02, and I find them off-the-charts stressful by osmosis. The world gone mad, right up in my airspace. And my left-turn lane. And everywhere else on the roads, in the stores, at the bank, and the etcetera.

No, the big “win” I got from pushing everything off for a month, and then five, six, seven weeks before locking down the program for the upcoming 52, was realizing that I could do it. That I was the boss of me, not some calendar established by a powerful pointy-hat-wearing patriarch four and a half centuries ago. To catch a plane, to make a meeting, to honor a birthday in a timely fashion, yes, I will adhere to the almighty calendar; to determine my present and future well-being? No way, Pope José.


I quit smoking on a Thursday in September over 20 years ago.* I started this blog on a Monday in November over six years ago.

I have done everything that changed my life for the better on a day.

On the other hand, I have done plenty of things that went absolutely nowhere on a day. You never know what will come of a day, and what will not. Sometimes you stick a flag in a hill and things work out; sometimes, not. But most of the time, it is the picking, not the day.

What I know now is that today is as good a day as any to start something. And that no day is a good day to stop without intent. Opt in or opt out, but opt. Pick a hill. Start pushing. It’s as good a day as any.


Then again, sometimes the thing picks you.

My ex-boyfriend told me that one day a voice in his head told him, “Get a dog.” And he did, and the dog was Arnie, and it was good.

And yesterday, on my morning walk, a perfect one-word theme for the year floated by: SHIP.**  I have never picked a one-word theme for the year, although reading about it has piqued my interest. Many years ago, I would have sweated and fretted my way to a one-word theme, with the probable result of it not fitting, not working. Finally, I am learning a thing or two about ease. And about how other people’s “instructions” are of far, far less use to you (or me) than their stories. No two paths are the same. No two interesting ones, anyway.


So. It’s just Monday. What are you up to today?


*Thursday, September 17, 1987. This is one reason why I will never, ever throw out my journals, they are my outboard brain.

**Seth has been talking about this for months, for years; I’ve been resolving to do it for almost as long, at least since I talked it over with him at this time last year. Oh, the plans I had for 2010! The resolve! The three books on the docket! Of course, I still have them. Only on a much longer, far more sensible docket. Although there’s still the outside possibility that I could get three books in some ship-able state by the third week of February. But I wouldn’t take that bet.

Photo by Evil Erin via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license. And yeah, “Bench Monday” is a thing..

Video Vednesday: Annual Goals, Daily

Don’t worry. There’s no way I’m titling an entire series with a corny pun.

I’m not even sure I’ll make this a series. But I did decide to finally, FINALLY, do a little videoblog thingamabobby.

Because it’s important to try stuff. Because some people (apparently) like video. Because for once, I had something to write about that seemed to lend itself to video.

Well, kinda-sorta. Enough to give it a go. So here goes!

If you’re not into video, I basically describe my new morning habit, cribbed from Penelope Trunk, of writing down my annual goals (almost) first thing every morning, then writing down my daily goals underneath. With checkboxes next to them. Because little things are important. [BONUS LINK: one more from Penelope Trunk on goal-setting/achieving, complete with rationales for why the individual “tricks” work.]

If you are into video, I would love to know why. No, really, I really would. Because I don’t mind doing it so much as it’s just not my default mode. And feel free to let me know if you like audio, and why. And maybe even what. I have a much better idea of why people might like audio (in the car, on an iPod, while cleaning or doing repetitive/dull tasks, etc), but I’m sure there is a lot of stuff I haven’t thought of.

Thanks, and enjoy, if that’s your thing. Or, you know. Just tune in tomorrow, lots more writing from this gal…


Hungry, angry, lonely, tired

puppy crashed out on floor

Most acronyms make me cringe a little, but from the first time I heard it, I loved the 12-step acronym used to help keep adherents, well, adhering: H.A.L.T.

Hungry. Angry. Lonely. Tired. As in, when you’re struck by an urge to use (or drink, or use, or what-have-you that you shouldn’t), STOP (or, you know, HALT!) and see if maybe you aren’t one of those four things.1 I am not sure if the next step in the protocol is to do what one can to edge one’s way out of whatever state one is in, or to call one’s sponsor, or both. Or neither. The main thing one is supposed to do is a not-doing; however you accomplish that I’m guessing is fine and dandy, provided you’re not breaking any laws or hearts in the process.

I’m not in the Program, but that doesn’t mean I can’t fall into some bad, bad habits when my level of awareness dips, or my basic needs are left unmet. Food was and is the easiest fix; between the abundance of good-for-you snacks readily available when I’m being good and the abundance of horrible-but-delicious fast foods available when I’m not, it’s almost impossible to get hungry anymore. Anger is less of an issue than an effect when hungry or tired kicks in; loneliness is even less of an issue, as it’s almost impossible for me to get enough time alone anymore, and rare that I feel lonely when I do.

Tiredness is my thing. Tiredness is probably every workaholic’s thing, because there is always, always, always more one can be doing, and almost never anyone to order you to sleep. Not that you’d obey, anyway.

This past trip to Austin got me thinking deeply about the need for rest. When else do you dream of water but when you’re in the desert? Even with the Nei Kung to bolster me (I was worlds better off this year, all things being equal, thanks to Nei Kung), I could feel myself slipping further and further into the Dark Place as I got more and more tired. Or rather, I was keenly aware of the additional effort it took to keep myself up, to stay buoyant and lively, to prevent my brain from racing to the judge-y, lowest-common-denominator, knee-jerk awfulness it will when I am tired.

For a while, I even toyed with the idea of changing Goal #1 for the year, to get back on SCD 100%, to “Get 8 hours of sleep per night.” When I am deeply rested, not only am I at my gracious, nimble-thinking best: I actually like doing all the other good-for-you stuff like eating well, exercising and giving traffic nimrods the benefit of the doubt. (Believe me, in L.A., where 3/4ths of the population drives like crap and the other 1/4 is loaded for bear, it’s a highly salubrious act.)

Then it occurred to me that I can fold that goal rather neatly into the SCD goal, thereby gaining two bangs for my buck. In addition to helping me create a strong foundation for resisting tempting treats like, oh, everything, increasing my nightly sleep load from six hours to seven hours to eight hours is a much cleaner metric than “avoid bread more often” or “try not to hit the drive-thru window for 99¢ tacos at Jack in the Box.”

More on this as I sort it out, but for this week, my goal is “lights out by 11pm.” For now, anyway. If you’ve successfully adjusted your own sleeping/waking hours to include more of the former, I would love to hear how you did it, and what the payoff has been.

Oh, and for the record, this entry was set to post automatically just after midnight, a full hour after Me-of-the-Future (who will be known as Me-of-the-Past by the time you read this) went to sleep…


1Or some combination, I suppose. These four things, they mix and match very well.)

UPDATE: Just read a great piece by publisher Michael Hyatt about the sources of work creep (as it cuts into sleep/rest time).

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

Anatomy of a breakthrough, Part 2

helium-filled balloons caught in trolley wires

This is the second installment of a two-part post about a recent writerly performance (or perform-y writingness). You can read the first installment here.

At some point in your travels, when you’ve traveled long enough, you’re able to recognize what maybe you couldn’t in the moment as turning points.

That night in the Westwood movie house some 25 years ago, eating contraband falafel, watching some movie I’ve long since forgotten, that was one of those events. That morning on a Santa Monica stage was another. Certainly, the afternoon in a West Hollywood hospital bed was another, and one that actually announced itself as such at the time.

It will be time’s call whether my experience last Thursday evening proves a turning point or not. In the moment, though, or here and there during the series of moments that made up last Thursday evening, I noted a number of things that were for me, as I hinted earlier, extraordinary.

Me, talking to people

I don’t know when I crossed over from faking it till I made it to actually making it, but somewhere, somehow over the past four or five years, my introverted self hit critical mass with playing extrovert.

If I was a betting woman, I’d put money on my two-year stint with Toastmasters; then again, something in me wanted to speak more than something else feared walking into a roomful of strangers, so there were probably a number of factors operating to get me over the hump and into a once-weekly meetup with a never-ending stream of new people: years of having to sell overpriced commercial productions to underwhelmed business school graduates with nothing more than charm, pantomime and a few key frames of marker art had to have helped. Moving from a class of 40 girls I’d known since I was six years old to a brand new public high school, with boys, and during the ugliest years of my life, that probably helped build up some callouses, too.

And then there were three years of hard-core business networking as I worked furiously to build up my tiny design and consulting brand. I didn’t turn out to be much of a designer (the jury’s still out on the consulting), but boyoboyoboy, did I log some hours walking up to complete strangers and saying “Hi!”

I am still exhausted after too much time with groups of people, and still require borderline-antisocial amounts of private time, period, but not only can I get out and about by myself, I actually do enjoy it, once the fear has passed.

Me, telling a plain, old story-story

You will laugh (I hope), but I never thought much of myself as a writer. I wanted to be good enough to think of myself as a writer; I hoped that if I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote (and wrote and, well, you get the idea), I’d eventually become good enough at it to win the jobs that would allow me to say, out loud, “I’m a writer” when the inevitable question arose as to my vocation. Now I’m starting to see that in the same way as it goes for actors, the first step is tilling and fertilizing adequate headspace so that one can self-identify as such, after which work, and several dozen-to-hundreds of cycles of submission/rejection, the pro stuff just falls into place eventually.

Again, you will laugh (I hope), but I had ideas of stories in my head that I couldn’t get out. Probably because I thought of them as “pieces” and separate from me. Anytime I wrote something, even as I wrote it, I’d compare it to that ideal (unwritten, of course) in my head, and of course, I found it wanting, and of course, I either stopped dead or somehow sabotaged myself.

The exceptions were humdrum things like letters, journal entries, proposals, evaluations. You know, non-arty writing. And doing vast quantities of non-arty writing is probably what helped me log enough hours to see some results. At a certain point if you do anything enough times with enough focused attention, you get better at it; it’s almost impossible not to. I didn’t get good enough at short stories or poetry or plays because I never worked through the horrible stage, but between all the pedestrian writing I did as a civilian and the insane quantities of time I spent on the blerg, here, I became good enough to tell a story with a beginning, middle and end.

Oh, and once you give up the idea that you will ever be an artiste or that a soapbox is a reasonable place from which to deliver your two cents and just roll with being a Smurf, it gets a lot easier to tell stories that work.

Me, asking for stuff

I’m really at the beginning of this asking-for-stuff trajectory. My modus operandi up until now has been to drop more and increasingly larger hints, working ever harder to be content with even less as I simultaneously hope for a miracle. For me, even acknowledging there’s such a thing as an ask and that it can not only save time and sanity but actual relationships is a huge gain.

And really, I will probably always prefer being asked to having to ask. I accept that it’s my wiring, like “introvert” and/or my years of training as an ACoA rearing one or the other (or both) of their wearisome heads.

But when my new friend Bill and his wife started talking about the Moth, I drew them out, asking questions and advice, accepting such help and guidance as was offered. While I will not be the one battering down the gates anytime soon, I am becoming bold enough to raise my hand to request a day pass.


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

Anatomy of a breakthrough

I had an extraordinary experience last Thursday night, and enough time to process it since that I feel like it warrants some dissection here on the digital word slab (which may be my new pet name for communicatrix-dot-com) this morning.

The backstory of the event

A few weeks ago, via Facebook, my friend Brenda Varda invited me to read something at the 2.0, spoken-word gathering  of her project for writers and writing, w o r d s p a c e. (And yes, it’s spelled out with the spaces, get it? Word space.)

The invitation asked for my best “extreme” 5 – 10 minutes of current material; there would be snacks and drinks, the public would be invited, and the list of other invitees was made public, so we could get a handle on the shape “extreme” might take, or at least what the rest of the lineup might be like. She later followed up with a request for a short bio and our putting the word (no pun intended) out to our own networks. Specifically, we were asked to bring one to three people: she wanted a full house, but Son of Semele‘s space (okay, this time I’m punning a little bit on purpose), the venue, was on the small side.

We were given the theme of “breaking the wordspace” to either write around or choose our material from; we were told that accompanying music was a possibility (among other things I am envious of her for, like her amazing hair and killer mid-Century modern house in the hills of Silver Lake, Brenda is an accomplished composer and musician).

Where I was coming from

One of my goals this year is “Do three Ignite-type presentations.” That’s my shorthand for:

  1. Planned (thought out, plotted carefully, well-rehearsed)
  2. Important (to me, personally, and in the scheme of things)
  3. Fun (because life is too fucking short)

Last fall’s experience presenting at Ignite: Portland was huge for me. Not just because I presented to the biggest honkin’ crowd I had yet, 600 fine and enthusiastic people, bless every last loudly appreciative one of ’em, but because for the first time since I started thinking about speaking as a means of sharing information, I was talking about something I deeply cared about. Don’t get me wrong: I’m happy to share what I know about branding and marketing, and grateful for the opportunities it gives me to practice skills while relaying information that’s useful to people. To say it’s where my heart lies, though, would itself be a lie.

So I’ve been casting about for ways of moving closer toward my goal of being, essentially, a motivational speaker, if not an outright preacher without a church. There: I’ve said it. I’ve pantsed myself. It’s out, it’s done, I’m exposed, we can move on.

Okay, perhaps a little more on that stink-bomb I just dropped…

The formula for my future

If you’ve hung around at all, you know that I’m a big one for condensed shorthands, not as a means of skipping steps, but as a way of staying focused. I have problems with focus, or perhaps, I have a central challenge of remaining focused when I’ve been blessed with a interests like water contained in a brain like mesh. So I come up with formulas to help me stay on track: The Formula for articulating your brand in terms of your end user; the formula for Right Use of social media (which, as I always point out when deliver it in a talk, also works beautifully for marketing and life in general).

I still can’t articulate what it is that I want to be when I grow up clearly and succinctly in childlike terms, but if I can’t have the laser-like focus that “ballerina,” “fireman,” or even “C-Suite creative executive in a new media company” might give me, I can come closer with a direction and a formula:

  • Direction: I want to write and talk.
  • Formula: 70 – 90% writing, 30 – 10% talking.

Note that the direction doesn’t specify the type of writing, and that I’ve used “talk” rather than “speak.” That’s intentional: I’m thinking of “talking” as incorporating more than just speaking, which (to me) means a stage, possibly a mic, and definitely a crowd. “Talking” may mean audio and video performance of some kind; it may even mean teaching of some kind, although it would have to be a very special set of circumstances for me to go that route, since (good) teaching requires a level of interaction that would send me and my poor little introverted self running for the hills where our cave of privacy is dug into.

What happened in and around w o r d s p a c e

The above provides both the context for my decision to participate and a jumping-off place for the nutty amount of sturm und drang, synapse-firing, syntheses and lessons that came out of the experience.

But in the grand tradition of jumping-off places, I’m going to hold the rest of it until later. Because the scale of my goals in certain areas this year requires that I learn to exercise some restraint in others. Tune in Wednesday for Part 2, and in the meantime, enjoy the clip, above…


Video shot by my good friend, former client and fellow Cornell alum, Larry Greenfield. Sorry for the overexposure; one of these days, I’ll learn to find my light.

10 in 2010: Chunking out goals

chopped carrots and a cleaver

As one of my 10 goals in 2010+ is “Get back on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet 100%,” I probably should have spent Fat Tuesday whooping it up with all of the sugar, rice, wheat, chocolate, potatoes and etcetera (lots and lots of “etcetera” on the SCD) I won’t be able to eat anymore.

Instead, I holed up in a favorite coffee shop with a green tea and, while I waited for my friend from Portland to show up for our visit, I set about breaking out this monstrous, slippery to-do into smaller, hopefully more manageable tasks.

Some goals lend themselves to chunks. As I’ve mentioned before, my breakthrough moment with “Read a book a week” came when Julien Smith shared his own chunking solution: read 40pp per day. It’s obvious in hindsight, but when you’re panicking at the thought of how to do something you’ve never done before (or haven’t done since your early 20s), looking at books as roughly 280pp units and then doing some quick division ain’t the first solution you try applying.

My new Nei Kung practice shakes out the same way: “Practice Nei Kung every morning” has a built-in chunking mechanism; it’s expressed as a chunk. (The morning part I’m facilitating by tying it to a morning routine, which is another pro-tip Julien puts forth in his excellent post. I swear, I’ll keep linking to it, so you might as well go read it now.)

Compared to reading and Nei Kung, “Get on SCD 100%” is a slippery mollusk. While being on “100%” is both a clear metric and in keeping with SCD tenets*, it doesn’t help me “be” on SCD day to day. I like to-dos; to-dos make for a regular and orderly life.

So I sat down and brainstormed a number of activities I can do to help support my transition back to and then my staying on the SCD. They include:

  • expunge cupboards of all SCD “illegals”
  • cull non-SCD-legal and/or non-“keeper” recipes from recipe binder
  • create running grocery list
  • check running grocery list
  • make SCD-legal baked goods in bulk (e.g. almond-flour cookies, breads, etc.)
  • make SCD-legal freezer-portion foods in bulk (e.g. stews, chilis, pizza sauce, etc.)
  • search new recipes for SCD-legalization possibilities
  • shop farmers’ market

Some of the items are daily things I can check off, and very small. Just because you’ve committed to a big annual goal doesn’t mean every ding-dong day has to involve pushing a c*cksucking boulder up a motherf*cking hill. Some days, you just want to look at your running list and check the fridge, freezer or pantry for supplies. Other days you might only have the gumption to spend five minutes surfing epicurious for Paleo recipes you can convert, or even email a chef-y friend for suggestions on how to fabricate legal substitutes for some craved food.**

And there’s no law that says you can’t find to-dos that kill two goals with one stone. I’m also looking to make more plans with friends this year; who says one of them can’t be “Go with so-and-so to farmers’ market on Sunday”? Not me. I wouldn’t say that.

One final note: to get myself started with the list, I asked myself a couple of “how and why” questions: how does the diet work for me, and why do I want to be on it?

When I initially got on, the answers were clear and obvious: to not die; to get out and stay out of the hospital. As I’ve moved further away from peril (praise the sweet baby jesus), it’s become more difficult to come up with pressing reasons. To get off of meds? Yeah, a worthy goal; these immunosuppressants are hell on your liver, long-term. For me, the reasons are now tied to other things, like having the energy to really apply myself to my other big goals. I do NOT want another repeat of last December, when I viewed my previous year’s list of goals and saw six or seven out of ten unaccomplished.

Therefore, since I know that in the moment those BIG goals aren’t necessarily enough to keep me on the straight and narrow, I needed to look at some tactical stuff, too: what daily to-dos can I put in place to remove friction? To make it easy to say “no” to Mr. Delicious French fry, or at least, easier?

For me, it’s about not letting myself get hungry and not letting myself feel deprived. So some of my to-dos can become:

  • prep travel bags of snacks for on-the-go
  • think up more games to keep myself motivated
  • look at pictures of bloody transverse colon pre-SCD

Kidding on that last one, sort of. Truthfully, “Watch Ignite video” would make a really great to-do for a given day, since it is both a graphic reminder of what I went through to get here (and what I never want to go back to, ever), and a motivator to stay on track with one of my other goals, which is to do more speeches that I feel really make a difference.***

But that is another goal story for another day…


*At least initially, being on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet calls what our beloved Elaine called “fanatical adherence”: the smallest cheat nulls the effect, since what you’re striving for is a removal of all opportunistic, “bad” bacteria in the gut, and the slightest trace of something juicy will keep the bastards alive. Once you’re on and symptom-free for two years, you can consider an indulgence here and there. Although as I seem to be an abstainer rather than a moderator when it comes to things like French fries or Italian bread with a gnarly crust and chewy tooth, I’m just off of it, period.

**I’ve been dreaming of those greasy sesame sticks you buy by the pound at Trader Joe’s, and my friend Wayne said, “Oh, I love figuring out stuff like that.” So there you go. Make someone else’s day into the bargain.

***And who said you can’t kill two goals with one story? Not me. Never me!

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