video

Good enough, Day 8: Wacky wig and glasses, redux

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I tend to take things very seriously. And by “things”, I mean everything. What you say to me in a casual email. What I say to you in line at Starbucks. What I read on your Facebook timeline.

And always, always what I am working on.

When I went to kindergarten, I was a dead-serious carrot-peeler and colorer. When I wrote ads, I was a dead-serious jingle writer who came early, stayed late, and worked weekends. And when I finally admitted to my fathers heavenly and biological that I was an actor, I signed on with the rigorous devotion of the fresh convert. I knew which newsstand got their copies of Back Stage West before the rest, and I had my self-submissions mailed out the next morning. I took any role I was offered and prepared for it as though it was the lead—which it wasn’t, ever, until the tail end of my acting career. (And even then, only once.) My embarrassingly short stint in the Groundlings Sunday Company was an object lesson in the futility of trying too hard, yet persist, I did: submitting sketches, wheedling fellow company members to collaborate, and, most shameful of all, sinking kingly sums into my personal wig collection long after it was clear to everyone else that I had the stink of death on me.

I let go of those wigs the way I disposed of the pieces my copywriting portfolio—slowly and reluctantly, as their lack of relevance dwindled, then altogether, in a kind of wistful resignation. My print ads ended up in the dumpster, but the last few wigs I offloaded on a talented young friend (who still has a busy career in and out of sketch comedy, and no clouds on the horizon). Even then, my need for security and, I suppose, recognition was so great, I included a request with the handoff—namely, that if some unimaginable need arose, she would be willing to loan one back to me.

Life is funny, and so is my friend Justin‘s writing. So when he offered to write me into his soap-gone-gonzo webseries AVE 43, I agreed without hesitation. My head was shaved by now, and the part he’d written kinda-sorta took that into account: when Margo made her first appearance, she was an imperious interior designer. After it became clear that “imperious” is NOT a color I’ve been gifted with, Margo reappeared as a terrified victim of The Highland Park Diddler in two episodes—once in a support group, and another where she has an unfortunate run-in with the Diddler himself. (PG-17 for violence, not sex.)

When Margo returned, she had joined the ranks at The Twat Club, AVE 43’s resident cathouse. While she was strictly a “‘novelty’ slut”—even in gonzo-soap webseries, I don’t play romantic leads—Justin thought it would be best if she donned a wig, for verisimilitude. He told me that he and his boyfriend had an old “Marilyn” wig I could use, but I said I was pretty sure I could cover it on my own. I am, after all, a pro-FESH-un-al.

Annie was more than willing to do that loan, but as I mentioned above, she is much in demand. It came down to a choice between me fighting my way out to Santa Monica on a Friday night, or the as-yet-unseen Marilyn wig. Though only midway into my year-and-a-half-long experiment with “good enough,” I managed to make the sane choice. I showed up the following morning with my lines down cold but everything else breezily scavenged: working-girl costume cobbled together from creepy, too-small underwear I’d kept on a hunch, plus a six-year-old lipstick I was too cheap to throw out.

Oh, and the wig of course. The hideous, gorgeous, dime-store wig. It lifted Margo to a (sorry) ho new level. The wig deserves its own credit, really; it does most of the acting, and writes its own jokes.

What’s most important is that I love wearing that hideous wig. It is easy. It is messy. It gets the job done, but doesn’t take itself too seriously. It suits the kind of actor I have somehow, accidentally, backed into being: not one who does it because she has to, or out of some wildly mistaken notion that it will fill any kind of hole inside, but because it is fun. I learn my lines, I show up early, I pull the wig on—any which way, mind you, and no mirror—and have a blast. I am allowed to be my ridiculous self, channeled through an even more ridiculous character, playing alongside brilliantly talented people.

Good enough? No—perfection.

xxx
c

The skinny on, plus all previous 21-Day Salutes™.

[video] Hair today, books tomorrow

[Long-ass video clocking in at a whoppin’ 5:05]

Salutations, and apologies for the distinctly lengthy, somewhat self-indulgent, purportedly “useful” video above. In my defense (and I’m nothing if not defensive), I’m both: (a) woefully (or not) out of practice; and (b) pressed for the kind of time needed to write a shorter letter. We’re looking at a rather tense couple of months here at communicatrix HQ, deliverables-wise (after which time I’m sure my essays will return to their previously scheduled interminability; my videos will return to a brisk conciseness; and my newsletters will return, period.) (Kidding. I think. I mean, I should be putting out a newsletter next Wednesday, but don’t quote me on that. But you can sign up here, if you want to roll the dice.)

This video—which you may have to click through to watch if you’re reading this somewhere other than on the web and an actual computer—contains two main sections.

Section the First is just a hair update. While very little has changed, hair-wise, since September, amazingly (as is abundantly evident via this video), it takes me A MINUTE and THIRTY-NINE SECONDS to state this very obvious fact. I suppose part of the issue is that I’m taking a little time to say howdy and to provide context, and another bit is that I had to shill show off my fancy new Wahl cordless electric all-in-one hair-clipper thingy. Lots lots lots more to say on this whole being-bald(ish) thing, but those are stories for another day—a day which has not quite made it on the publishing calendar yet, but which certainly will at some point.

The second section concerns books. Not just any books, but a particular ritual of reading certain books—one I’ve been engaged in for some time, and which I’ve found to be extremely helpful in keeping me focused/on-track (a perennial challenge) and non-depressed (ditto, and how).

I’ve actually written at some length about daily reads in my marketing column for actors, so I won’t belabor it here except to say this: the daily devotional has its place in the secular world, too. Some kinds of change are particularly slippery and elusive, and the right words (i.e., from people who’ve been working on this stuff longer than you, and are further down the road, and are maybe not too preachy) in a manageable, portion-controlled size (for me, extremely small), repeated at the right intervals (in my case, daily) can be great helpmates. Two of the books are listed in the column I link to, above, but for your convenience, they are:

Think and Grow Rich Every Day, a carving-up of the Napoleon Hill self-help classic by two enterprising fellows, and more power to ’em. Each month focuses on a particular aspect of Hill’s teachings, with one month lumping together two of the shorter chapters (“The Subconscious Mind” and “The Brain”). The authors claim to have updated the language a bit from the fusty original text, but damned if I can tell much difference. And that chapter about the sex urge is just nutso; you’ll want to take October with a grain of salt, or a pinch of saltpeter, or something. But it’s eminently more readable in these bite-sized morsels, and has helped me to keep my eyes on the prize. And as I mention in the video, this book was, in a weird and witchy way, partly responsible for the success of 50-for-50.

One Day at a Time in Al-Anon, a compendium of teachings from the 12-step recovery programs for the friends and families of alcoholics, who (boy, howdy) generally suffer from their own addictive, self-destructive tendencies. I hope you don’t need this one. I hope that you have no boundary issues or co-dependent b.s. or any other of the narsty, sticky residue of self-loathing that growing up in an alcoholic (or xholic) home can leave. But if you do, and you can put up with a little Higher Power here and there, you may find it not only steadying in stretches, but shockingly illuminating. I have taken in a few days’ entries with the wonder I can only imagine Helen Keller must have felt by the family pump.

The third book I cannot conscientiously recommend yet, as I’ve only been playing with it since the start of this new year. (Which somehow already seems old at four days in—how weird is that?) But in the month or so since I finally got over my squeeginess over the covers, I have become quite taken with the output of Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy, aka SARK, reading a full two books’ worth and well into a third. (I put down another one a third of the way through because the erratic typesetting was making me seasick.) But in case you want to check it out—which I did, literally, from the library—here it is.

But really, with all of these books, I’d suggest test-driving them via your amazing public library before committing your hard-earned dollars and even more precious attention. Unless you are filthy rich, in which case please buy them and anything else your heart desires via my Amazon affiliate link.

Okay! This post is already too long and my to-do list isn’t getting any shorter. One short request before I go: if you have any daily-devotional-type books you LOVE, feel free to leave them in the comments. Right? Right!

And happy new year, while I can still say it.

xxx
c

While this is probably obvious, for the purposes of 100% transparency, this post contains a shitload of Amazon affiliate links. Feel free to buy ANYTHING through your local bookseller, or to test-drive via your local library. Except for maybe that hair trimmer. Because (a) doubtful that anything but a chain store will stock electric clippers or that libraries carry them at all and (b) ew, gross.

Start with the end in mind

This post is #50 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.

Roughly 18 months ago, I began thinking of how I wanted to mark my 50th birthday.

The easiest part was eliminating what I did not want: a fancy trip, a lavish party, and above all, presents and cards and stuff stuff stuff. Aside from a few mission-critical hardware upgrades, and possibly a new traveling suit, I’m loathe to acquire much in the way of stuff.

So I started thinking of what I wanted to feel like on my birthday. This was far less complicated, although it was still easier to talk about how I did not want to feel: empty. Wistful. Lonely. Small. Powerless. Afraid. Sad.

And then, a few months later and entirely by accident, a thought was planted in my head: SELFISH. I realized that more than anything else, I did not want to feel selfish—not on that day, not on my birthday, not ever again. On the other hand, my previous forays into volunteering had been “enh” at best, disastrous at worst. Let’s just say that my blessings, while considerable, did not include a dominant follow-through gene.

So I decided that I would use what I did have to do what I could do, and then some. I could write. I could employ all of my old marketing and design and advertising tricks in the service of good. I could test the sturdiness of this (ugh) “platform” I’ve built over seven years of life on the Internet by seeing if it could hold up under the weight of a ginormous (double-ugh) “ask.” Yeah, theoretically I’d been building it to promote something of my own I could sell in the vague-but-foreseeable future—a book, a service, a something—but what the hell? Based on my previous track record and actuarial projections for a chronically ill middle-aged woman living in toxic Los Angeles, I could easily die before that happened.

Besides, as The Youngster used to tell me, “Don’t save ‘happy’.”

The pieces fell into place almost magically after that. When I decided that the tangible thing I’d do was to raise money for some cause already out there doing good in the world, the number $50,000 floated into my head. It felt insane—until I spoke it aloud to my friends Jason and Jodi Womack who said, “It’s not insane, and we’ll help you make it happen.” And said it with such conviction and such love that for the first time, I believed it might actually be possible. When I anguished over which of several worthy nonprofits to do this in support of, my friend Bonnie, whom I had introduced to WriteGirl, and who had subsequently become a mentor to an actual WriteGirl (she has a much better follow-through gene), reminded me of the “no-duh” choice.

Ideas for perks floated into my head, and friends ass-kicked me (nicely!) into making the terrifying-to-me requests for help. Jill Murphy materialized out of nowhere, while I was, as she put it, freezing my butt off under a strategically-placed vent in the PDX airport; equally out of the blue, my friends Jennifer and John Lehr graciously offered their home—their home, where they live—for the party.

I cannot begin to list all of the people who helped right now without running the risk of omitting some, but when has that ever stopped me? My friends Lisa and Heather shot and edited a fan-fucking-tastic video. Gabriel built a website. Overnight. My friend Jean and her partners Greg and Philip at Smile donated 50 copies of TextExpander. Jim Coudal sent me so many Field Notes, I had to stop seven times on the walk home from my mailbox, the carton was so heavy.

Friends stepped up, more and more of them, with alacrity and remarkable cheer, to offer help as I explained this Big, Scary Thing that I needed to do. Dyana and Donna. My friend Julie and her sister Gillian. A dozen people offered to do supporting projects: Mike Monteiro and Erika Hall and the whole Mule Design team, who indulged me with a special run of my favorite t-shirts, and then threw in half the proceeds from an entirely different set of t-shirts, to boot. Danielle LaPorte, who did a special “telejam” for her people, working together to raise a staggering $3295. Bee and Geoff hung themselves out there and created work to be auctioned off. Tim made art you can still bid onClaire and Mary & Dave sold their art. Pace and Kyeli raised over a thousand bucks and sang a filthy song with me. (Which O-Lan mixed, even though she was not supposed to be working. Because she is awesome.)

Ten designers created desktop wallpapers, 50-count-’em-50 lady writers contributed beautiful interviews, and a partridge in a motherfucking tree, stick a fork in me ’cause I’m DONE.

As promised, there will be a series of more thoughtful, detailed, and specific follow-ups on what I learned doing this Big Scary Thing, so that hopefully, you can use some of it to go do your own Big Scary (and, I hope, totally different) Thing. But for now, let me leave you with this: that thing you think you can’t do, because it’s impossible?

Maybe it isn’t.

xxx
c

P.S. Forgive me for making you do this, but there is some really big, fat, juicy effin’ news toward the middle of the above video. I know, I know—you hate watching videos (unlike that other guy, over there). But trust me, it’s more fun to hear or see it than read it. I know, because I about fainted when I was told, before I started screaming like a teen girl at JFK in 1964. So for you, a cheat: hit play, then advance it to 1:20. You won’t be sorry. And THANK YOU.

And on the 50th day, they partied

This post is #45 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.

Yes, you have to work hard.

But occasionally, you have to stop working to rest. Or relax. Or, occasionally, to celebrate.

And by “you”, as The Youngster used to say, I mean “me.”

I’m still working—hahaha—on all of these things: learning to rest, relax, and (occasionally), to celebrate. Last night, for example, I sort of relaxed while my good friend and even better sport Heather Parlato painstakingly coconut-oiled my scalp, so my soon-to-be-barren dome wouldn’t look all scabby and gross after the shaving. We caught up on gossip during and I had a rosé-wine spritzer after, so I’m counting it in the “fun” column.

I hope you are putting things in your own, personal “fun” column. I hope that occasionally, your “fun” column runneth over onto the other side of the page. Fun (or even “fun”) is a necessary component of human existence—even the existence of steadfast and earnest, workaholic writers.

Or so they tell me.

xxx
c

P.S.  As per the looooong video above, I would love it if you decided to come have some fun with me on my birthday, this Tuesday, September 13. Owing to my nervous-Nellie conservatism about too many people at my host’s house and plain old bad math, I initially released far fewer tickets than I probably should have. This has been corrected. Please buy one! I have to spend all this money on the food and drink anyway; a few more heads will make the party more fun, and still be wildly cost-efficient. Yay, efficiency!

The lost days of summer

This post is #44 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.

Between the hacking, the ungodly heat (with humidity, which is downright baffling out here in the desert), and overwhelm born of dreams you barely dared to dream actually coming true, I lost a day. Or two. Or something.

At least, I lost the outward-facing part of them. Because sometimes, the things you make to put out in the world aren’t ready to live there just yet. (Especially when it’s 450 degrees in your apartment and your brain has been simmering in its own juices for three days.)

It is my longstanding policy to write about things only when they are useful, and experiences only when I have enough of a handle on them to be at least somewhat illuminating. I have a year-or-so’s worth of fumbling, stumbling garbage posts which, I think, prove the wisdom and prudence of adhering to such a policy.

So I “lost” a day. To you. But this day is not really lost. In addition to being, like any day, part of the rich fabric that makes blah blah blah, I also learned a Very Important Lesson about myself which should make things better/stronger/faster moving forward, and which (of course, duh!) I will share just as soon as it’s been properly assimilated.

In the meantime, a word about someone else.

I met Michael Bungay Stanier at the World Domination Summit this year. I’d been a fan for a long time—he’s a really smart, really funny fellow who shares terrific resources for busting through creative blocks—but I fell for him hard in Portland. Because in addition to being really smart and really funny, he’s really, really true-blue. This is something you can maybe fake online, but that you cannot ever fake in person.

Michael is taking a brief break from doing all of his awesome business-type stuff to promote a very special cause: ending malaria. To be precise, he’s edited a book full of terrific essays from a variety of other smart, big-hearted people (and written a bang-up one himself), the proceeds of which go to buying mosquito nets to help fight malaria. You’ve heard of this simple fix before, no doubt; what’s kind of sad-making is that this simple fix has not been widely-enough deployed to actually fix malaria. But we soldier on, right?

$20 of each sale goes to the cause. That’s the FULL PRICE of the Kindle version, and all but four or so bucks of the print edition. I’ve read a dozen of the essays so far, and can vouch for the quality. No fluff, no tossed-off nonsense.

And yes, I paid for my copy. Or, as I like to think of it, I bought a mosquito net to protect the girl who might turn out to be the woman who writes an epic poem that makes some warrior decide to lay down his sword, or the woman who finds a cure for malaria, or maybe the woman who becomes the mother of the guy who finds a cure for malaria. (Hey—it could happen. There are some smart guys, too.)

I know that between giving for this and giving for that (not to mention the heat of what’s supposed to be fall), we’re all burnt crispy. But this is a book that you’re buying to help you, too. It’s a book full of actual, helpful, actionable tips and tools you can use to start changing your life in ways that will help you to make the world a more awesome place. So if you don’t want to buy the kid a mosquito net, buy your selfish self a book. It’s all good. They’ll take care of the mosquito net anyway.

xxx
c

Visit the End Malaria Day website

Notes from The Dip [50-for-50 video]

This post is #31 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.

FOR THEM OF YOU WHAT HATES WATCHING THE VIDEOS:

I have been feeling a little bit down these past couple of days because we are in the Dip.

Which means I am in the Dip.

And DAMN, you can read or think or talk all you want to about the Dip, but being in the Dip is an entirely different matter.

So from the depths of the Dip, an email came from my friend, Jennifer Lehr. She’s one of the amazing women writers who did an interview for this project, and she’s been hugely helpful behind the scenes as well. Plus, she gave actual cash. Which is very much appreciated.

Anyway, Jennifer made a very good suggestion, which boiled down to DO SOMETHING. She said it much more nicely and she gave specific suggestions (both of which are hugely helpful) but basically, she’s right: if you are stuck, DO SOMETHING. Something you haven’t done before. Something to move yourself out of where you are. And hey, while you’re at it, maybe show a little gratitude, because there is never a time when that is a bad thing.

So I made a video, and we’ll see, but I’m going to keep making them. Maybe not every day, but as much as I can. Although maybe every day. Maybe I’ll get better at them if I make them every day, and I’ll grow to enjoy it, and people who like video better than they do reading (freaks! all of you!) will have something nice by way of a “thanks.”

One of Jennifer’s suggestions was to share some of the terrific emails and comments I’ve been getting since this thing began. So today, just randomly, I picked a nice one from Clara Boza:

As a writer, reader and all-around word nerd since B.B. (before birth), I can only dream of what an organization like WriteGirl might have meant to me as a shy teen girl with few role models for pursuing my dreams. WriteGirl rocks!

Because that’s the essence of my reason for doing this: I wish I’d had a WriteGirl. And from the comments and feedback I’m getting, and the things I see on Twitter and Facebook, along with the things I hear from the WriteGirl women volunteers, I’m not alone. Girls need this. Probably more than boys. Everyone needs support, but it’s just incredibly tough on girls growing up in this culture. So many weird, confusing messages get thrown at them from every angle, and too often the most important thing gets lost.

Which is that how you look on the outside is not nearly as important as how you develop what’s inside.

I want these girls to hear that LOUD and CLEAR.

I want them to hear it over the advertising and the magazines and the reality TV crap and everything else that shouts at them 24/7.

Thank you for your support! Keep on trucking! Never, never, never give up! And all the rest of it.

I love you all!

xxx
c

Writer lemonade

here we go...

This post is #17 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.

A few years ago, I was invited to do a reading at a friend’s series called “In the Flesh.”

Because I am a gigantic thrill-seeking hambone who lives for the high-wire of small theater, I jump at every opportunity to perform live, including this one. It wasn’t until later that the full impact of what I’d agreed to sunk in.

You see, “In the Flesh” stood not only for the act of reading live and in-person, but doing a reading of sexy material. About sex. A subject which, despite all of my cursing and bravado and forthrightness, I have never felt comfortable writing about.

Did I know this when I agreed to the gig? I did. Perhaps you do not hail from an alcoholic family and therefore lack my experience in advanced denial and holding two completely conflicting notions in your head at once. It’s magical, I tell you! You would not imagine the nutty, sitcom-like situations you can find yourself in!

Anyway, there I was, a couple of days before the show. Too late to back out, too chickenshit to talk about sex with the class. So I did the only logical thing: I decided to sing about it.

For years now, I’d been noting the more unusual search terms that had brought people to my blog, and posting them every now and then in a semi-regular, semi-comic way. What I’d kept in reserve were the questionable, the adult, the outright perverse ones. I pulled them up from the text file where they’d languished, weird and dirty-like. And suddenly, they spoke to me, in rhythm. Then melody. I sang pieces of it over and over, rearranging them here and there, until they magically came together into what I dubbed “The Dirty Keywords Search Song.” I enlisted the help of a friend who played guitar and owed me a favor, he met me at the venue (on his way home from a flight, adding a rockstar, cosmopolitan touch), and if memory and the video documentation serve, we brought down the house. Even after a top-flight lineup of very talented, very funny writers. Including Nina Hartley, who gave me a big hug afterward and said, “You funny.”

I bring this up now for two reasons.

First, I’m trying to raise money. A LOT of  money, $50,000, in case you hadn’t heard. And one of the ways I’m doing that is by offering incentives, to make it fun for people to give and participate, and to show my commitment to this thing. The entry-level incentive is a pack of MP3s, and, well, I thought it was high time that “The Dirty Keywords Search Song” got the full-on treatment. So I went back and re-recorded it the way I did that very first time, three years ago, to give as a practice track to my guitarist friend. I enlisted the help of Pace & Kyeli to add some nifty backing vocals because I was completely enchanted with their doo-wop skills when I saw them displayed in service of the World-Changing Writing Workshop.

And then, because you’ve gotta have a video to sell stuff, I made a video:

(I have to use the old, Flash-style embed on this blog, so if you can’t view it, you can click here to see it all modern and HTML5-style.)

Note: the MP3 will sound much nicer because I also got my good friend O-Lan to remix it for me all professionally and stuff. But the raw mix sort of works for the video, so I left it raw.

You can get this as an MP3, along with other assorted tracks, for a $5 donation. Or it comes bundled in a fabulous value pack with all this other stuff like wallpapers and a cross-stitch pattern of the Writer’s Motto for a $25 donation.

But there’s a second reason I made this video and am sharing it here: crazy shit happens. Things break, they don’t go as planned, they don’t come together. And if you are a little unsure of your skills or a control freak or both, it can be dispiriting. Your nice plan, all derailed by crazy shit!

The thing is, the very best stuff can come out of the derailment. The first draft that disappeared in a power outage almost always results in a better, tighter draft tossed off after all the long processing you had to slog your way through. The terrifying hospitalization yields a miraculous bloody epiphany which turns into a stage show and a talk and a whole new, happier life. There’s a longstanding literary tradition of turning lemons into lemonade which I finally, FINALLY get because it takes conflict to have resolution, and we all need to make sense of something in a scary world gone mad.

Speaking of which, there’s a third reason I needed to do this: because it scared me. And if you’re not terrifying yourself on a semi-regular basis, I can almost guarantee you’re not working hard enough.

xxx
c