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Embrace The Suck

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A video featuring the wise words of Ira Glass has been floating around my Facebook feed where is giving a commentary as only Ira can about the creative process and how we all suck at the beginning of any creative endeavor and just have to plow through until we get good. A friend of mine wisely paraphrased it as The Rules of Suck.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PbC4gqZGPSY

Last week I was reminded of The Rules of Suck when I was running through beautiful Northwest Portland. For those of you who don’t live here, NW Portland is beautiful but very hilly and I had to run up those hills for two miles during my weekly running group long run. My lungs complained, my legs complained and bad thoughts and four letter words went through my head when the marathoners passed me when I caved and walked up part of the hill.

When I got to the 1.5 mile mark, I stopped and watched the other runners and considered my fate. I could turn around and go back and no one would know, or I could keep huffing, panting and swearing for another half mile. About that time another fellow runner in my group ran by and told me I was doing a good job. I figured this was a sign from the Universe so I took a deep breath and walked and ran the last half mile before I turned around.

As expected, the downhill part was easy and gave me time to review my performance. Of course I immediately went to everything I did wrong: my sore muscles, my tight legs, etc. until a voice that sounded a lot like my mom’s said, “What about all the things you did right? You didn’t short your run and who cares if you walked? You FINISHED.”

Insert stunned, sweaty Anna here.

As I trotted back down the hill I realized The Mom Voice was right: If I want to be better and stronger I was just going to have to embrace the suck. The perfectionist in me HATES that but the sensible part of my brain knows I have to keep moving forward to get better at anything I do. I will never be Steve Prefontaine nor will I have has fabulous 1970s ‘stache but I can celebrate my victories no matter how small and embrace the suck until I can run up those damned hills without stopping. And when I do, you’ll be the first to know.

Book Report: Art, Anthologies, Royals and Movement

My original plan to add more content to my blog was to do a book reports when I finished reading a book. But, I’m not good at book reports and I’ve never been good at finding subtle nuances of gently placed commas and comparing the main character’s flaws with Freudian psychology. So, I decided to do things a little different; instead of reading a book and reviewing it, I’m going to do a monthly book report summarizing the books I read (and picked up but never finished). It’s much more interesting than long book reviews and I’m all about bite-sized chunks.

So, the first book I read in 2014 is a re-read and it’s Steve Martin’s book An Object of Beauty: A Novel. Yes, that Steve Martin. Steve Martin’s works of fiction like Shop Girl and An Object of Beauty are very approachable much like his on-screen work but have subtle, erudite themes that make you feel like you’re being included in something truly wonderful. This book is the story of a young, ambitious New Yorker named Lacey Yeager who lands a job at Sotheby’s Auction House. Narrated by Lacey’s friend Daniel who finds her strangely fascinating and infuriating. Lacy is one of those aloof and smart people we say we want to emulate but can never truly be. While this may seem like any other “ambitious young person” book, Steve Martin throws in an Art History 101 course (complete with visual aids and pictures of the work he references) and a behind the scenes glimpse into the New York art world. I’ve always admired Steve Martin and this book made me admire him even more. It made me want to peer into his brain and watch the gears turn as they work their magic.

Next up is Membrane Fiction + Art Anthologie. I have read many books of short stories by reputable authors and usually they have a couple of stories that stand out but the rest are fillers. Not so with this book. Membrane is a release from The Dreadful Café, an author collective and publishing imprint that gives their proceeds to charity. Membrane is packed with engaging short stories on everything from zombie grandmothers, clown plagues, cannibals and more. Sprinkled in between stories are original, thought provoking pieces of art with short back stories. It’s very rare when I don’t want a book to end but I was surprised when I got to the end because I wanted more. This book is available for download only but Dreadful Café promises it will be out in print soon.

Turning now to biography, the next book is one I started but didn’t finish but not because it was a bad book, but because the “characters” in the book were repulsive, abusive jerks. I’m talking about Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. I first heard an interview with Jane Ridley the author of The Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, the Playboy Prince and was intrigued by the topic. Besides walking by Royal Albert Hall in London and seeing the movie Mrs. Brown I knew absolutely nothing about Vicky and Albert. This thoroughly researched book shines a light on the life and times of “Bertie” or Edward VII. It gives you an inside look into the papers and writings of the family and explains why Bertie went from a gambler, glutton and womanize to a respected head of state. I loved the writing in this book and appreciate the research, but I just couldn’t finish it. Vicky and Albert needed a healthy dose of anti-depressants and why Bertie didn’t haul off and kill them is beyond me.

The last book on my “read” list is The Unapologetic Fat Girl’s Guide to Exercise and Other Incendiary Acts by Hanne Blank. It doesn’t matter if you weight 120 or 220 pounds, this book is for anyone who has had body issues or just can’t find any joy in exercising. When I started my running program this year, my main goal was not to run a marathon or a half marathon (that will come later) but to learn to enjoy exercise. Before I started the program, exercise was work. It was something I did to train for an event and it wasn’t fun. It was something I did because I needed to lose weight. It hurt and I beat myself up too much when I didn’t “perform” to the standards in my brain. This book helped me get beyond those feelings and learn to enjoy exercise again. The basic message of the book is we shouldn’t exercise to conform our bodies to society’s standards or implied health issues, but we should do it to feel better in our own skin and make our bodies more functional. Hanne gives sound advice on choosing workout plans, choosing workout gear and how to feel comfortable in a gym when you’re surrounded by the Beautiful People. I can’t emphasize how important this book is for anyone who hates exercise or has felt less than comfortable in their skin. It’s a down-to-earth approach to exercise with no shame and by the end you’ll feel empowered enough to move more.

Let us step into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about taking R. Buckminster Fuller’s advice and changing things by building a better model. I called it Anna 1.5. Typically when I make grand proclamations about things like unfinished projects, weight loss, etc I think about it for a few days and put it in a dusty corner with a pile of other unfinished projects. This time, however, I took some time to mull over Bucky’s advice and broke it up into smaller chunks and thought about what it really means to evolve into Anna 1.5. What I learned was I wasn’t “chunking” things up very well and would focus on the entire mountain instead of picking it apart. I have trained and raced in triathlons but after the races, I never had anything planned to maintain my level of fitness. This time around, I’m not doing another triathlon, but I have joined a local running group and I’ve made a list of local, smaller events I can race in before a doing a half marathon. It’s a constant dangling carrot to keep me going rather than training for ONE thing and crashing at the end and undoing all my hard work. While I was “chunking” my goals into neat piles, I thought about this blog and its focus. It originally started as supplemental material for A Closer Look Radio with tidbits and detritus I randomly gleaned from the interwebs and evolved into a blog about life, creativity, business and whatever else came to mind. I wrote about my husband’s deployment and aired out my brain on a variety of topics. Lately, I’ve been feeling like I’m repeating myself and the blog is getting stale. Don’t worry, I’m not going to shut it down, I’m just going to turn it into Anna’s Blog 1.5. My plan is to provide more interesting content allowing me to grow as a writer and actually use my creative automat. I’m going to write more book and movie reviews, take pictures of my food (cuz I’m such a hipster), explore new places, and create a diary of my travels served on beautiful plates. Sure it sounds like my usual grand plans but using a calendar and my newly found chunking skills, I will have a plan before jumping in to the deep end of the pool. My mom always told us to get out of the house and explore, so I’m going to do that and take you with me. I will continue to write about the creative process and anything else that comes to mind, but more writing exercises and better content for Blog 1.5 is definitely on the docket. I also have an exciting project I’ll be working on as my way to give back to all of the combat vets but more on that later.

One is not born into the world to do everything but to do something

Celebrated architect, systems theorist, author, designer, inventor, and futurist and designer of my sister’s (geodesic) home R. Buckminster Fuller once said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

2014 is lurking and so is the promise of a cleaner slate, grand plans™ and the year I will finally do x,y, and z. Like most people, I get caught up in the excitement of a New Year and the chance to “start over”. But somehow, when the clock strikes midnight, I have not transformed into Anna Alexander 2000® and I still have to get up for work, pay bills and deal with traffic. What I don’t do each year is take “Bucky’s” advice and think about how to build a better model and learn from the previous model’s mistakes. It’s easy to get caught up in the inertia of life (work, commute, family) and not spend time building better models of ourselves. I’m not saying you have to lose 50 pounds in one year and split atoms in your garage on the weekends, but how often do you take inventory of your life and think about the small ways in which you can either continue being fabulous or make little tweaks to build a better model?

One small tweak I did this year was set monthly lunch and pedi dates with a friend. I tend to ignore my feet until I’m doing sun salutations in yoga class and realize they need maintenance. The monthly date is a nice little treat of relaxation and it doesn’t cost the earth. Something I really need to work on in 2014 is getting out of bad headspace at work when I’m learning something new. The perfectionist in me thinks I should already know how to do something rather than “being a sponge” as my mom says and enjoying the opportunity to learn. I work with some very intelligent people and I have a great opportunity to learn – beating myself up because I don’t know how an electrical current works does not make me a better Anna 1.5.

What does make me better is knowing I CAN be a better Anna 1.5. I haven’t’ been exercising as much as I should these past few months so I used some of my Christmas money to buy a membership to a local running club. I do better when I exercise with others and, quite frankly, it’s more fun. Sure, it’s going to hurt and I won’t be able to sleep in on Saturdays but I’ll like myself better and that’s work an early morning wake up call any day.

What about you Gentle Reader? What simple steps can you take to build a better model in 2014? What has been on your list forever that needs action or just simply crossed off? Drop me a line and I’ll report on my findings throughout the year.

Howling and Getting Messy

It’s Sunday and I absolutely hate Sundays. I wake up knowing there are looming responsibilities ahead and blog posts to write and Facebook pages to update. There’s work I stupidly brought home on Friday thinking I’ll get to so I won’t have as much to do the following week, but it somehow stays in my car over the weekend collecting dust. I put a lot of my Sunday chores off until the minute on Monday because I absolutely HATE doing any sort of work on the weekends. So why do I bring work home on the weekend and not write blog posts during the week instead?

My desperate need for balance.

I am, by my genetic disposition, an overachiever and tend to be a workaholic when I can get away with it. As a modern woman I sometimes feel like I have to expertly maintain a balance between work and home, being active and enjoying the fruits of the Pacific Northwest. No one places these expectations on me except me and the hamster in my brain. Maybe I read too many magazines but I keep thinking there’s a magical Pot O’ Balance and if I keep turning over rocks, I just MIGHT find it. I was like that in college when I refused to focus on just one class and let the others go and I’m like that as an adult. Luckily, the Universe had an answer for me this week when this article landed on my Facebook feed and made me stop and re-think the whole idea of balance. For those of you who didn’t click on the link, the author summarizes the act of trying to finding balance by saying, fuck balance! We aren’t meant to find balance! We were born to shift and be selfish and howl and get messy.

Powerful words, huh? I wish I had written them, but I didn’t so I printed them out and put them on my computer. My journal is full of lists on ways in which I “should” be finding the elusive Pot O’ Balance instead of just howling and getting messy. Finding balance is what prevents me from sitting still for too long or just enjoying the moment before moving on to something else. That’s not to say I’m not curious because I will always be curious, but trying to find work/life balance is never going to happen so maybe it’s just time for me to jump head-first into the void and enjoy the ride. Mark Twain once wrote, “What is joy without sorrow? What is success without failure? What is a win without a loss? What is health without illness? You have to experience each if you are to appreciate the other.” That Samuel Clemens sure was smart.

What about you, Gentle Reader? Do you keep searching for the Pot O’ Balance or have you learned to “sod it all” and howl and get messy?

Wear your heart on your skin in this life

This weekend I joined the ranks of the Portland hipsters and ultra-cool and got a tattoo. For most people it’s no big deal, but for me it, was a big deal. It was a lesson in keeping my promises and following through when I said was I going to do something.

I had always wanted a tattoo but I never found anything that really spoke to me or that I felt I absolutely HAD to have tattooed on my body. In December of last year the Vegvisir came to me and I honestly don’t remember how I found it. The Vegvisir is an Icelandic symbol meaning guidepost. It is said to be an internal compass and helps the bearer find their way through rough waters. When I found it, I was unemployed and down in the dumps and needing something to grasp on to so I pasted it in my journal so I wouldn’t forget it.

A couple of months later I interviewed for my current job and made a promise to the Universe that if I got the job, I would tattoo the Vegvisir on my arm and we would be even. I got the job, but I waited to get the tattoo. I was nervous and needed to research about the best places so I asked around, talked to random strangers about their tattoos and took mental notes. It wasn’t until I told my friend Tressia I wanted to get a tattoo that the ball was set in motion.

Tressia has two gorgeous tattoos I love and she forced me to get out of my comfort zone and go the tattoo shop and talk to the artist where she got hers done. I figured it wouldn’t kill me and I wasn’t committing to anything. We set a lunch date and visited the shop after our lunch. I walked into the shop feeling like a fish out of water not knowing what to ask or how to ask it. Tressia took control of the situation and explained to the artist that I was looking to get a tattoo. I showed him my design and he told me he really liked it and told me how much it would cost and when I should come back. This particular artist is in high demand and is typically booked out six months in advance. BUT! He did take walk-ins on Sunday. We made a date to come back and Tressia bounced out of the tattoo shop like a giddy school girl while I stood there wondering what I just did.

On the day of reckoning, I awoke to excited texts and messages on my phone from Tressia with plans to meet. I was excited but mostly nervous while Tressia bounced off the walls. As we waited for the artist to set up, we looked around the shop making cracks about horrible tattoos I could be getting. I think it eventually morphed into a half-naked woman riding a phallic-shaped object. The laughter eased the tension and I was ready to go when Dan called me back. I’ll spare you the gory details from here, but I found the whole experience to be very positive from inception to execution. The staff at Atlas Tattoo is incredibly kind and supportive and everything was done quickly and efficiently. Yes, it did hurt.

I came away from the whole experience walking on Cloud 9 feeling very proud of myself.. it could have been the after-tattoo endorphins, but I said I was going to do something and I did it.

I know I am not the first or last person to get a tattoo but the whole thing was an important lesson in keeping my word. I made a promise and I kept it. I could have chickened out, but I didn’t. Yeah, it did hurt but in the end it was worth it. I don’t have a picture to share right now as my arm is bandaged up, but if you’re friend with me on Facebook – you will have seen it.

While getting a tattoo is not for everyone, I would recommend keeping this story in mind the next time you make a promise to yourself, the Universe or anyone else. Find someone who will take you to the edge of the cliff and encourage you to jump. Find someone who will jump with you and hold you accountable and make you feel like you’re not in it alone. It’s worth the endorphin rush in the end.

I Tried to Do Handstands For You

This week on the blog, I’m going to do something a different and not make it all about me. I have no pithy experiences or observations to share and I won’t be emptying my thoughts into a bucket for public review. However, I do wonder what would it look like if we COULD empty our thoughts into a storage container like the Pensieve in the Harry Potter books? Would my thoughts be a swirling mass of blue and pink energy waltzing in time? Or would they be a dark, cloudy mass full of anxiety dreams and worries in a mosh pit at a punk concert? I wish I could draw that. Where was I? Oh yes, this week, I am going to let others do the work as I offer you up some interesting morsels of inspiration found during my internet travels.

Our first stop is this blog post I wrote months ago about making your own creative automat. It’s one of my favorite posts and apparently resonated with my friend Neal who was finding his daily routine involved too much time on Facebook and watching Breaking Bad reruns and not enough creative time. Neal is a freelance cartoonist and animator who was inspired by my automat post to change his own creative routine by using the respectful act of bowing taught in Aikido. You can read all about how he did it by clicking here.

The next act of brilliance comes from a writer who wasn’t inspired by anything I wrote but got ME to challenge my own thought processes. The challenge came from a blog post on the website of a literary magazine called Ploughsares in which the author wrote about an important lesson she learned from her yoga teacher when she was too afraid to try a headstand in class. The yoga teacher wisely told the class to do the headstand as if they already knew how. It’s was that whole fake it ‘til you make it thing that retrains your brain into thinking you CAN do something rather than giving in to your fears and quitting before you try.

After I read the post, I thought about my fears and and applied it to my daily routine at work. I jumped into projects and meetings with the mantra: do your headstand and it worked! I displayed confidence in my projects and my co-workers responded positively.

What about you gentle reader? Did you find anything this week that inspired YOU to greatness and to do headstands?

Come On Get Active – Week 1

 

The Universe can be a fickle little bitch sometimes.

Last week I proclaimed to the world I was on a mission to get active and lose weight! I planted my flag and claimed this journey for Queen Isabella and set off to make great strides.

The Universe, however, had other plans for me.

While was writing the blog post I failed to mention I had hurt my back that week and needed my husband’s help each morning to get my shoes and socks on. Going to the gym after work was impossible because while I could take my shoes off, I could not get my exercise shoes ON. And yesterday I woke up with a scratchy throat and a cold that is thinking about taking up residence in my head or chest.

Exercising vigorously was out of the question so instead I focused on what I ate, why I ate it and just moving more. I took walks during my lunch hour instead of sitting at my desk and made a conscious effort to be more active over the weekend rather than planting myself on a chair or the couch.

I doubt I lost any weight last week, but developing healthier habits and sticking to them is more important right now and I’m happy with my week. I made better food choices and enjoyed the autumn weather while it’s still nice. I took walks with my husband around our neighborhood and spent an hour this morning walking around Vancouver Lake enjoying the sights, sounds and smells.  And that’s all that counts.

Jumping off cliffs and developing wings on the way down

Before I put 40 candles on my birthday cake, I wrote a blog post about getting better consistently, and, like a fine wine, improving with age. The day after I wrote the post, my 10 year old cousin died and I went back to Minnesota for a wedding. When I returned from the whirlwind tour of the Midwest, life took over, work got busy and I found myself coasting again with no plans or benchmarks.

I did have an e-mail waiting for me at work from our HR Director letting everyone know they were starting up another round of Biggest Loser. Much like the reality series, participants gather around the postage scale at work and weigh in each week. Those who lose weight get a dollar back from their entry fee and those who don’t are left talking smack with the other participants. I decided it was time for me to join in on the fun as I wasn’t hitting the gym as much as I should and my body was craving exercise.

My first adventure with the giant postage scale was a bit of a shocker. I knew I had some work to do but the mean, red number was much bigger than I thought. My new job, stress and a long commute were reflected back at me as I stupidly asked if the scale was correct. The shipping manager said it is calibrated every week and yes, it was correct. I left the shipping dock ashamed.

As I walked back to my desk reflecting on the number, I realized I could stop at the vending machine and buy a bag of peanut M&Ms and pout or I could accept it and make plans to do something about it. It also got me thinking about my after work schedule and how I’ve been content to come home, eat, and sit in front of the computer or TV and not take a more active role in my creative life.

Like many writers, I tend to go after the shiny object and abandon them when I’m stuck, it gets hard, or when the next shiny object presents itself. I have a hard drive with too many projects collecting dust and people waiting for me to deliver. I have written in the past about my Unfinished Symphony which I never really completed, and I have written about benchmarks and never really set them. Now that 40 has come and gone, it’s time for me to get working and start clearing things off my plate and dropping weight. It’s time for me to start setting micro goals rather than trying to eat the whole whale in one bite.

So, the first micro goal on my list is to adapt a more active lifestyle. One hour at the gym after work is a good start, but it’s not specific enough. I really need to be more active on the weekend which means more walks with my husband or finding a group that meets and goes on walks, rides, hikes, etc. I find doing things in groups is a better motivator and holds me more accountable.

I don’t have benchmarks yet on my weight, but I will work on that next week. How it feels, what it looks like, where I want to be at a particular date. Each week as I beg the shipping scale to be kind, I will check in on this here blog and write about my exercise and creative processes in addition to my regular blog posts. My goal is to make it interesting so you’ll come back or join in on the conversation and not make it a blog of me whining about how hard it is.

As for my creative projects, I expressed my lack of word count to my friend Jaymi who told me about a writing group that meets once a week to write. I now have a date this Tuesday to write with the group and will talk with them about writing goals and word counts and projects I’ve been ignoring for too long.

What about you Gentle Reader? What micro goals can you set to achieve greatness or make friends with the bathroom scale? Drop me a line. We’re all in this together.

Midnight Conversations

At some point during my internet travels I wrote down the phrase taking action on a midnight conversation with yourself in my journal to reflect on save for later. I don’t know who wrote it or where I found it so I can’t give that person credit but the phrase recently made appearance in my life again when I was paging through my journal reading old entries. I thought about all those nights when the gerbil in my head is running at full speed reviewing unfinished projects, work demands and whatever else I didn’t accomplish that week. When the gerbil wakes me up with her mantra, I vow to take action to be a better person, grow 4 inches and lose weight immediately. Then I go back to sleep and hit snooze until the next night when the gerbil jumps back onto the wheel and begins her workout again.

Lather, rinse, repeat. It’s easy to make Grand Plans in the middle of the night to get yourself back to sleep or during quiet times of reflection but why is it so hard to follow through? Inertia? Comfort? Laziness?

The answer came to me in the form of my friend Pam’s online talk show. As many of you know, I have been working as the Content Editor for A Closer Look Radio for many years. My blog started as a way to provide content for the show and get people interested in the guests and interviews. It has since evolved into a forum for me to sort out my creative and professional life and get the gerbil in my brain to slow down for a few hours. Last week Pam interviewed Jen Sincero the author of You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life and the conversation struck a chord with me. They talked about how we “learn” our fears and how to un-learn them and focus on the words and stories we tell ourselves. I mean, we can only tell ourselves we are losers for so long until we start believing it. Jen also recommended writing letters to things like money and food as if they were a real person telling them how we really feel. It’s an interesting exercise and I certainly learned a thing or two.

Go take a listen to the conversation and let me know how it can help YOU can take action with those midnight (or in my case 3 a.m.) conversations with yourself and how you can invoke your inner badass. I’ll be here having a conversation with my inner gerbil telling her to slow down and enjoy the process.

I am not young enough to know everything

Last year when I turned 39 I vowed this would be the year I would take on Herculean tasks and become a Better Person™. I had no plan or benchmarks set in place just a proclamation to the Universe and a written submission in my journal.

Well, shortly after my 39th birthday I lost a job I never liked and stumbled through 6 months of unemployment until I found a job I did like. I hiked and biked and learned new things and met some interesting people. Some people were temporary blips and others stayed and helped me grow out of my comfort zone.

My 30s were all about learning what I really wanted and who I really am. It wasn’t the easiest decade as a deployment was thrown in halfway through and I learned new acronyms like PTSD. I also lost a couple of grandparents and a close friend or two but I gained many new friends and learned important lessons.

If Hallmark is to be believed ones 40th Anniversary is the “ruby anniversary.” Rubies have many regal qualities and, according to one website, stimulate the base chakra and increase vitality and life-force energy. Rubies also banish fear and improve concentration.

Instead of looking at my 40th birthday with dread (as I have been doing) I plan to take on qualities of the ruby: Banish my fear of crossing off another decade and embrace this life force energy. Appreciate that I’m in good health, have amazing friends and family and an excellent support system that doesn’t care how old I am.

Before sat down to write this post, I was reading something an acquaintance wrote about why he runs. He didn’t make any lofty goals or proclamations about why he runs or the goals he sets, he simply said he wants to get better consistently.

As I enter into my fourth decade, my goal for next year is to get better consistently. Set benchmarks, explore how things will look and feel, and shave time off my mile.

Happy early birthday to me.

Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions

Curmudgeon_Logo

A couple of months ago the NY Times Magazine profiled a group of twentysomethings who are, as Laverne and Shirley did, doin’ it their way. The Times praised these trailblazers fresh out of expensive colleges as they snub their noses at corporate culture and start their own businesses and change the world. Sure they work twenty hours a day fueled by energy drinks and will most likely burn out before they are 30 but that’s OK! They are entrepreneurs! I read this article with fascination and sense of dread as my next birthday lurks around the corner, taunting me as I prepare to cross into another decade.

Actually, the article really pissed me off. Oh fine NY TIMES! We “old farts” just aren’t good enough because we go to bed on time and drink regular coffee and not energy drinks! It made me want to dig out my old Nirvana CDs (they are all on iTunes now) and brood over simpler times. Well, not really, but the article did make me think. Ya see, I come from a long line of entrepreneurs and small business owners and for a while thought I was going to be following the same path. But my new job came along and gave me a raise, healthcare and a 401K and I’m fine with that. I have enough challenges working 8 hours a day with a lengthy commute and staring my own business just isn’t in the cards.

What was in the cards was an interesting conversation I had with my husband about these pesky Millennials who constantly remind us we’re doing it wrong as they blaze their own paths. Sure, they live on their smart phones and can’t open a spreadsheet but one thing they are doing and doing well (thanks to social media) is cultivating communities. They hold their friends close and wonder what the hell the problem is when old-fashioned politicians complain about what the queers are doing to the soil. (Sorry, bad Dead Milkmen reference) They reach out to each other when they can’t get funding for a project and have no problem putting together a Kickstarter campaign rather than sitting in a stuffy board room with venture capitalists. And I admire that.

During our “Millennial” conversation my husband and I got on the topic of creative communities. Places where a venture capitalist or a writer or a starving filmmaker can meet in a neutral area (like a coffee shop) and talk about the creative process and help with projects. It got me thinking about my creative automat and I how I only “stocked” it with writers and creative weirdos like me. I didn’t think to invite the designers, the energy-drink-fueled entrepreneurs, the engineers, the personal trainers and all the “weirdos” in between.

So, in conclusion, Gentle Reader, I guess I did learn something from the NY Times piece I so flippantly dismissed. Perhaps it’s time for me to take a page from the Millennial Playbook and get out of my creative comfort zone and expand my inner circle. Who knows? Maybe I’ll meet a publisher desperate to publish my yet unwritten book.

What about you? How could getting out of your creative comfort zone help you grow? What lessons have you learned (if any) from younger generations?

You ain’t gonna miss your water until your well runs dry

Perhaps it’s the unusually warm and dry weather we’ve had this summer or perhaps my muse is taking an extended vacation, but my creative well dried up a few months ago and refuses to replenish itself. I occasionally drop my bucket into the well hoping for inspiration and ideas and bring back an empty, dusty bucket. The same old ideas seem contrite and overdone and the new ideas are a distant mirage in a hot, dry desert.

Earlier this summer, when I pulled up the last drop of creativity from my well, I wrote about putting together a creative automat to use during times like these. I have actually been trying to put mine together but I can’t seem to find anything that truly speaks to me. I’ve toured antique shops and craft stores and come up empty handed. After a particularly frustrating moment in a craft store, I realized I had no plan for my automat, I just wanted one. I had no idea what I wanted it to look like or how I planned on using it.

I recently took advantage of a slow lunch hour and made a list of what I wanted out of my automat. From there, I turned it into a real place and put it on a corner in Greenwich Village. I described the patrons – who they are, what they did there and what they wanted. I painted the walls, selected the music and made plans to serve my patrons delicious food with fresh Stumptown coffee for only a nickel. My automat is open 24 hours and can be picked up and moved around the world whenever I need a change of scenery.

Turning my automat into a “real” place helped me develop a better plan to get around my creative road blocks (or paint them pink with silver glitter). As my list grew, the ideas flowed and I was able to make a list of writing topics and future blog posts. Perhaps maybe my creative well wasn’t completely dry; it just needed direction to nearest ocean.

What about you, Gentle Reader? How do you replenish your creative well when it runs dry and the ideas just don’t seem to be flowing?

So let’s have another cup o’ coffee and another piece o’ pie!

automat

In 1912 the hungry citizens of New York City were introduced to the world of on-the-go lunches and treats wrapped in wax paper when the first Automat opened in the city. For those of us who are barely old enough to remember them, Automats were “vending” machines in a cafeteria-like setting where fresh sandwiches, pie, soups, pieces of fruit and even chicken pot pies were on display for hungry patrons to plunk in nickles and remove their lunch.

I grew up reading about Automats (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) but didn’t eat in one until I was older. I had a romantic notion (because all things from NYC are great, right?) that the Automat was a magical place where everyone had good manners and wore white gloves while enjoying a fine feast. I don’t remember where I was when I had my first and only Automat experience but I do remember eating THE worst egg salad sandwich ever made and apple that probably deflated when I bit into it.

automat_1902_chairsRecently, I was sitting in a pub with my husband discussing the creative process and the idea of building my own Creative Automat popped into my head. I have spent many a Sunday night sitting at my computer sifting through blog post ideas as I tried to squeeze water out of a rock. During these “dry” creative times, I believe everyone should have their own Creative Automat to fill up with wonderful ideas and concepts to access when the creative well runs dry.

I formed the idea in my head and visualized Anna’s Creative Automat – Keeping Ideas Warm 24 Hours a Day and its daily operations. I gave it a location on a bustling but pleasant street corner in “The Village” where all the creatives hang out and slapped a bright coat of paint on it. I visualized the patrons of my fine establishment and the ideas it would nurture and hatch.

As I continued to build the Automat of My Dreams, I realized I needed to build an actual physical representation of my Automat where I could draw ideas from instead of keeping them stored in notebook or the dusty confines of my brain. Actually psychically building something is completely out because the prominent carpentry genes in my family were never passed on to me and I can barely hammer a nail without hurting myself.

What I can do is build a mini-Automat by scouring the craft stores and second hand shops for a window box or something with little shelves I can paint and fill with ideas. I like of pulling out a slip of paper or button or piece of memorabilia when I’m looking for a blog or article topic or when I’m craving a decent egg salad sandwich. I might even buy a plastic egg to put in my Automat to remind me of the possibilities. Check back with me as I develop this idea and buy the materials for Anna’s 24 Hour Automat and build it. I will post pictures and write about the process.

What about you, Gentle Reader? What does your Automat look like? Does it have a smell? What type of machines would you have and what would the doors and windows on the machine look like? What sort of things would you fill it up with? Books of poetry, slips of paper, YouTube videos? What sort of people would come to your Automat? Would you keep it private or open it to the public? Drop me a line and let me know. I want to see pictures of your completed idea!!

Of Writers and Dangling Carrots

dangling-golden-carrot

In my expert opinion, there are two books any writer worth their ink should have on their shelves: The first is Stephen King’s masterpiece On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft and the second is The Productive Writer by Portland-based writer Sage Cohen.

I love On Writing because the idea that the Master of Horror began his writing career toiling away on a typewriter in a small, cramped room with only a furnace and his drug addiction to keep him company feeds a romantic part of my brain. Sage Cohen’s book is the perfect How to Be A Writer handbook with outlines, worksheets and goals to plan your writing career … and sound advice like keeping your butt in that seat until you’ve written your word count for the day. Sure, there are other books like Anne Lamont’s masterpiece Bird By Bird where she coined my favorite phrase: I have a black belt in co-dependency but Sage and Stephen’s book are the ones I pick up when I need advice or inspiration.

I keep a well-loved copy of the The Productive Writer on my desk and thumb through it while I’m waiting for my computer to boot up. I wasn’t searching for anything in particular one night, but Sage’s spirit (or muse) seemed to have been hovering around me when I read the sentence: Claim your carrot – find the motivation that keeps you going.

If there is such a thing as a carrot-shaped light bulb it would have exploded over my head. What exactly is MY carrot as a writer anyway? For a long time it was extra income but now that I’m gainfully employed, I’ve lost track of my carrot. I thought about the idea and as my computer slowly booted up and pulled out my journal and made a list as good Virgos do:

  • Achievement
  • Completion
  • Bragging Rights
  • Mastery
  • Exhale
  • Met deadlines
  • Accomplishment
  • A checked box
  • Name in print
  • The next new shiny object

I inspected my list and realized that except for the achievement and mastery parts, my carrot was mighty anemic.

Now, my writing origins started in journalism and I have always associated writing with work and deadlines. I edit as I type and it’s impossible for me to free write and go back and edit later. While watching the movie (the book is better) The Orchid Thief, I realized I could never be a “real” writer because I have never written naked or drunk or both at the same time. I also never really had a writing carrot other than meeting a deadline or inertia. Perhaps it’s time for me think long and hard about my writing carrot and the elements that make it up. I want to make writing my passion rather than something I just do.

A former college of mine posted on Facebook that she wanted a small cabin in the woods with high ceilings, a typewriter and an endless supply of paper. She makes writing her passion, I make it a chore. As I noted in a previous blog, it’s time I become a master at something, not a dabbler. It’s time for me to write clearer sentences with better transitions and feed my love for words, and most importantly, make it fun.

What about you, Gentle Reader, what is your carrot? How do you define it? What would it look like if you could hang it front of your computer or typewriter? Drop me a line and let me know!

Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened

For the past month, I have been on an adventure of boundaries and steep learning curves. I have realized that I am, in fact, a human being and not a machine and need down time and rest. I don’t need to be doing 17 things at once and looking into joining a gym near my workplace.

Perhaps one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is deciding when it’s time to let go of something. I have been working as a freelance marketing consultant and writer for a few years now and depended on the supplemental income. I wrote articles on everything from marketing concepts to real estate to online music sources and even on the way and how we sweat. I learned A LOT about many different subjects and appreciated the opportunity my freelance work provided. Yet when I got my new job and the new responsibilities and stressors came with it, I struggled for a time trying to balance my old clients with my new responsibilities I found myself sitting at my computer after a long day of work slowly burning out and arriving to work cranky and tired. My mom did warn me I was going to have to reduce my workload and I figured it was time to take her advice.

Here’s What I Asked Myself:

Does This Make Me Happy? – Before I reduced my workload, I rushed home after work and inhaled dinner only to sit down at my computer and write about things that didn’t make me happy or feel fulfilled. I was putting off other, more “nourishing” projects for junk food that added a few extra dollars to my checking out.

What’s the Return on My Investment? – These days when people blog or write about marketing the catch phrase Return on Investment (ROI) is often thrown in to add credibility. It drives me crazy and when paired with the phrase, Search Engine Optimized – it makes me want to throw things. That being said, as I made my list and contemplated my own workload, I had to think about my own ROI. What was I getting out of these projects? Was I learning anything? Were the hours I was putting in to the projects worth the return? Some of them were and I decided to keep those and others not so much and have so been dropped.

80/20 Pareto Principle – There’s a saying in business that 20% of your clients take up 80% of your time. Much like ROI, it refers to unequal investments of time and money. I had one particular client I didn’t like and would cringe whenever they would call or e-mail. They wanted the world but only wanted to pay for a small island in the middle of a polluted river. I found myself getting resentful and not wanting to work for them at all. When my new job came about it gave me the perfect out. I bowed of my obligations respectfully and kindly and thanked them for their time. No bad blood was spilled and I left the situation feeling lighter and happier.

Is It Time to Stop? – As the stylish and fashionable musician Kenny Rogers once crooned, you just have to know when to walk away and know when to run. Sometimes you invest a lot of time and energy into a project and it’s hard to let it go. Sometimes it’s easy, usually it’s not. We identify with our projects and when we let them go we think we failed. But we didn’t. What I was failing at was taking care of ME and shoving aside my own projects to please others

I thought about this list long and hard as I whittled down my projects to a manageable size. This is the first weekend in a long time I haven’t felt rushed to write an article on the International Old Geezer Convention in South Florida or get a project done by Sunday night – I actually relaxed, made up a reasonable schedule for my projects and even took a nap or two. Tomorrow, when I go back to work, I will feel rested instead of fried and not need a gallon of coffee to stay motivated.

What about you, Gentle Reader, what do YOU do when your workload is getting too big? How do you parse everything out? Have you ever had to “fire” a client? If so, how did you do it?

Eat the Cookie Now!

Overwhelmed

This week’s blog post almost didn’t happen. The usual sources weren’t delivering and the rare appearance of sun coupled with flowering trees and the thick layer of pollen in the air sapped my energy. I thought about a re-run, about skating out of a blog post or just rehashing an old topic. But I needed to write so I opened a blank page in Word and stared at it. No words magically appeared. I switched to iTunes and noticed I was way behind on my podcasts by about 28 episodes. I often listen to podcasts when I write to keep my mind focused and as “background noise”. I clicked on the podcast for The Truth – “a short film without pictures” and was immediately drawn in.

For those of you who don’t listen, and you really should, The Truth is a 10 to 15 minute podcasts based on a theme. The podcast sucks you in, peaks your curiosity and will have you listening again and again for missed details. The theme from the podcast I listened to is Where Have You Been? Actors explored the idea in a variety of ways from a daughter challenging an absent parent, a son making amends with an absent parent, and a parent explaining their long absence. As I sat entranced, one line made me stop, reverse a few seconds and listen again: Everyone’s overwhelmed with their life! Life is overwhelming! So did you find another life that didn’t overwhelm you?!

I looked at my To Do List sitting on my desk, and feeling a bit overwhelmed myself, realized it doesn’t have to be this way. My thoughts turned to a blog post I read earlier in the day on The Sophia Project website in which Cyndi writes about practicing our art and the obstacles we put in front of ourselves. We look for a magic formula, we make excuses, do the laundry, clean the house and care for our families first instead of just taking time to write, draw, or practice our art. Like many creatives, I tend to put my paying freelance projects ahead of my own writing projects instead of starting with them. In many ways it is like the financial advice so often given about paying yourself first and setting aside money savings like you would for a bill or utility. My own writing, like savings, shouldn’t be something which I only get after everything else is done because my writings is part of everything.

Continuing with this theme, Neil Gaiman and other accomplished writers were asked to take pictures of their hands and share professional advice for writers on SharedWorld’s website. I read through the submissions and noticed an emerging and simple theme: Write, write often, finish things, keep writing, and believe in your stories. Writing can be glorious, difficult, rewarding and maddening. So much so that it can easily be something that intimidates us even when it is our own work. So, we find ways to put it off rather than digging deep and letting our muse talk through us.

What about you, Gentle Reader? How do you go about practice your art before attending to laundry or your daily mundane tasks? Or do you?

We know what we are, but not what we may be

I have been sitting at my computer for 20 minutes trying to think deep thoughts ™ and write my weekly blog post but nothing was coming to me. I rolled around the usual ideas: trying, failing, journey through life. Nope. Already did it. I mined the inner-depths of my brain for a creative post idea and all I got was bread pudding. I can’t be too hard on myself; I did spend most of the afternoon helping teach a workshop so my brain looked a lot like bread pudding.

So, I did what most creative people do when they are stuck and checked in on all 190 of my Facebook friends. It was the usual Sunday night miscellany filled in “inspirational” posts from bizarre pages and vague comments about not wanting to work tomorrow. I did see a new journal entry post from Neil Gaiman so I clicked on it to see just how fabulous his life is as I sipped my $10 wine. In his blog post, Neil had the latest installment of his Blackberry Keep Moving Project. The video was stunning as usual and you can watch it below, but one quote from the video stood out: There comes a moment in all art when you have to leave things behind and go on to the next thing. But you do it really happy because whatever you leave behind you has taken on a life of its own.

When I worked in radio, we were trained to write at a level we considered a happy medium. Tight deadlines made it difficult to create true masterpieces and there was no room to be a perfectionist. At some point we just had to let it go. Besides, unless it was a barn-burner, using up anything more than three brain cells on a city council meaning wasn’t worth it. But we did eventually let it go, and it took on a life of itself. I occasionally go back and read old blog posts or stories I wrote and realize just how good they are. At the time I thought they were OK but a little time and space changes my mind.

This week, Gentle Reader, I would like YOU to think about the projects you have stored on your hard drive, stuffed in your closet or just collecting dust and let them go. Show them to world and see what kind of life they on. Come back and tell me your success, or not so success stories and we’ll talk.

Never fear quarrels, but seek hazardous adventures

When I was young, my mom used to have a phrase that would secretly drive me into a blind rage. It was usually delivered at moments when the world wasn’t spinning the way I wanted or I was forced to do something I wasn’t interested in doing. Think of it as an adventure she would quip when I was fuming over having to get out of my comfort zone or “try something new.” Think of it was an adventure was NOT what I wanted to hear at the time and I’m sure I would have kicked a small child or puppy if I was that type of person. But I’m not.

So, I found it interesting last week when Rob Brezsny posted my horoscope for the week on his Free Will Astrology website that read:

Here’s a passage from Charles Dickens’ novel Great Expectations: “It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.” Judging from the astrological omens, Virgo, I suspect your life may be like that in the coming days. The emotional tone could be sharply mixed, with high contrasts between vivid sensations.

The nature of your opportunities may seem warm and bright one moment, cool and dark the next. If you regard this as interesting rather than difficult, it won’t be a problem, but rather an adventure.

There are weeks I swear Mr. Brezsny follows me around and takes notes because this horoscope was “spot on” as my British friends say. Things have been interesting in my life and I could react by kicking the wall or yelling at the Universe but I have instead chosen to look at it as an adventure. I have been trying to open myself up to opportunities and sometimes it clicks and other times the Universe just shrugs its shoulders.

I try and learn from each successful and failed opportunity and think about what I did that worked and what didn’t work and how I can improve. After a recent disaster at the hair salon I wrote about a few weeks ago, I sat down and wrote an “after action review” as they say in the military about what could have gone better. Certain patterns emerged and I realized I can’t just flip a switch and make some flyers and hope people show up. I could have beat myself up over it, but instead, I just saw it as “an adventure”.

I’m sure my mom would be proud.

What about you? How do you change your challenges into an adventure?

Such is a game she plays, and so she tests her strength

I am not a morning person. I don’t like getting up early and I have a hard time focusing on the tasks at hand when I start work. When I was working full time, I would stare at my computer for the first hour upon my arrival hoping my computer and the gallon of coffee I just drank would jump start me into my day.

This morning was no different. I sat down at my computer and pointedly ignored my To Do list while clicking on Facebook and fashion blogs. It wasn’t until I clicked on this article from Tiny Buddha that the light switch finally came on. For the past 6 months I have been swimming in a large pool grasping on the smallest item as I tried to give my life a little more direction. Some of things have lead to successful partnerships and others not so much. Two weeks ago I met with a Life Coach for a free consultation and halfway through our meeting, she threw up her hands and asked me if I even knew what success looked like. I probably looked like a fish hit me in the face because I knew what it looked like financially but nothing beyond that point. I sat there in the busy Starbucks and realized I was a little … lost.

The article on Tiny Buddha didn’t talk specifically on how to get un-lost so I figured I would make up my own list and submit it for your review.

  1. Start with what you love. What gives you happiness? What makes you want to get out of bed in the morning? I love the creative process, I love finding new things, and I love to travel. I love funky restaurants and coffee shops. Having a clear idea of what I’m going to get done that day, looming deadlines and a sense of purpose gives me reason to get out of bed in the morning. What keeps me in bed is not having anything on the calendar and a long list of vague ideas and concepts with no real direction or plan for expansion.
  2. Chunk it down – The best way I deal with big lists is to turn it into easy-to-swallow chunks. For example, one item on my vague To Do list says: Update website. Nothing sends me to Facebook or fashion blogs more than vague concepts and ideas. What my list should have said is: Write bio, post an introductory statement and organize blog into categories. I can further chunk these ideas down: Write a 500 word bio, post an introductory statement with three key items, and organize my blogs into categories: Reviews, self-help, business and marketing, travel. If you like to write, create art, or want to start your own business, this is the best way to stay on track and make sure each day is focused and clear.
  3. Organize Your Day & Recognize Rhythms – When I’m working, I do my best when my day is full. I don’t do well when my plate only has a few random things on it. I have also found I do my best work Wednesday through Sunday and I’m fairly useless on Monday and Tuesday. Instead of forcing myself to be productive, I spend those two days planning and organizing my week and sending out e-mails. For those with 9 to 5 jobs, it can be a little harder to adjust your jobs to your rhythms but what you can do is schedule your weeks and productivity based on your own peaks and valleys. I tend to put too many things on my plate at once so I have learned to spread the tasks out through the week allowing for wiggle room when things come up
  4. Set Limits – Advancing technology gives us plenty of distractions with the latest shiny object, app for folding and sorting your laundry, Facebook cat posts and Pinterest pages. Sitting down at the computer to work can lead to hours of looking at useless web pages and fashion blogs. We all need a little escape so instead of spending hours surfing useless websites, set a limit as the amount of town you will spend online. Better yet, set a time with a goal of writing for half an hour or painting a picture or working on your business plan for one hour. When you’re done you can update your Pinterest page for 15 minutes and then go back to writing or working. I also recommend getting up and moving around and stepping away from your work.
  5. Have Fun – It’s kind of sad when we have to schedule fun time into our days but it’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae instead of enjoying the process or just taking time to enjoy life. Many of us feel we have to spend money to have fun but that’s simply not true. Last week my husband and I went to a free lecture on the state of the publishing industry (yes, we’re nerds) and really enjoyed ourselves. I have attended many free art lectures and recently found a local (free) authors lecture series. I make a point to find out when local galleries and museums have their “free night” or get to festivals and events early and pay a discounted price.

It’s so easy to feel lost in a sea of internet overnight success stories. It’s also easy to feel lost when you’re the only one sitting behind your computer trying to making a go of things with no map or compass. What do you do when you’re feeling lost? Schedule your day to the minute or just let things flow naturally? Let me know and I’ll share your ideas in a later post.

Learning from Mistakes

EpicFail

 

Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new – Albert Einstein

A couple of years ago Neil Gaiman gave his near year’s wish and asked his readers to make a lot of mistakes that year. Grand mistakes, epic mistakes, mistakes that will go down in the history books. His reasoning was if you aren’t making mistakes you aren’t trying. I kept that in mind but my year passed without epic mistakes, only small, boring mistakes.

The idea caught up with me this week as I learned a valuable lesson in mistaking making. I got some bad news earlier in the week from a potential client who didn’t want to hire me and an open house I helped plan belly-flopped. I was angry, sad, and a little embarrassed. I was annoyed at myself for not being perfect and not planning the perfect event despite the fact it was promoted heavily. I wanted to stick my head in the sand.

After a brief post belly-flop review we determined that sometimes you have to shoot an arrow into the dark and sometimes it lands and other times you miss. As I mull these experiences around in my brain, the perfectionist part of me keeps reviewing everything I could have done better and I can either let this hamster wheel in my brain spin and beat myself up or make a list and learn something. I’m choosing the list. One thing I did learn is that if you don’t put yourself out there (to make mistakes) you will never learn anything and thus staying inside yee olde comforte zone.

I will continue to make grand mistakes but next time, I’ll be a little more prepared. What about you? Tell me about your epic fails and how you learned from them.

We know what we are, but not what we may be

Once upon a time, when we were all much younger and wearing very small shoes, we were the masters of three important things:

1. How old we were up to the exact date

2. How tall we were up to the exact half inch

3. What we wanted for our birthday or Christmas. Included with that list were footnotes and explanations of said gift ideas.

Nowadays, when people ask me what I want for my birthday my mind goes blank and all I can think of is dishtowels and bed sheets. I do know how tall I am, however, after I turned 35 I stopped caring about age. The “what do you want” conversation came up again this week when I got together with a graphic designer who has been helping me update my website. We were discussing the header and banner for the site and Malee asked me if I had any font ideas. I stared at her blankly and gave her some lame ideas which were dismissed with the shake of her head. I really had no idea. Like any smart designer Malee saved me from babbling incoherent statements about dishtowels and sheets and encouraged me to come up with a list of 10 characteristics I wanted to communicate about me and my business. If there were any traditional light bulbs hanging above my head, I’m sure they would have exploded with happiness.

As I Virgo, I enjoy making lists but I really had to think about what I wanted to convey. Was it all about me, me, me? Or my clients? Or my professional qualities? What am I really all about anyway? I sat down at my computer and started hammering out a list. I started with personal characteristics and then threw in a few professional ones. I took out my thesaurus and changed words and shuffled words around and deleted and added. I thinned out and expanded the list until I came up with something suitable. Here it is:

  1. Outgoing
  2. Efficient
  3. Polished
  4. Obtainable
  5. Clever
  6. Accomplished
  7. Worldly
  8. Spirited
  9. Well-rounded
  10. Savvy

What do you think? Is it fitting for me? Now think about the same list and apply it to your own creative endeavors. If someone asked you to give ten characteristics describing your business adventures could you do it?

It’s not easy but once you do come up with a list it will help you focus your ideas and goals as you brand your message. Try this exercise and let me know what you come up with. I’ll share answers if I get enough responses.

To weep is to make less the depth of grief

Seven years ago I stood in the rain at Kliever Armory in Tigard hugging my husband as a painful Band-Aid was slowly ripped from my psyche. We had prepared for this moment and I had been holding my breath for months hoping it would be easier. My husband was taking the first of two steps before he deployed to Afghanistan and this was our last night together before he went to Camp Shelby, Mississippi. We had gone out for dinner and pretended like everything was OK but I felt as though I had been punched in the stomach and was trying to hide it.

We stood in the rain and I don’t remember what we said but I made a dumb excuse to leave because I really couldn’t deal with the pain of the Band Aid. We kissed, made dumb excuses and I got in my car and drove away. I’m really not sure how I got home because someone had taken a can opener to my soul and exposed it to the rain. I cried. A lot. I came home and cried and I cried for at least two days after that. It was not a fun time.

As I dealt with the deployment, I found myself fighting many battles in my head including the stoic part that insisted everything was fine and I should just suck it up. I finally gave in and made an appointment with counselor, Betti. I remember going in and talking to her and telling her what was going on and how hard of a time I was having. The first thing she said when I was done was, “Well, you have gone through a tragedy.”

I sat there with my mouth gaping open ready to argue with her and realized, yes, I had gone through a tragedy. I would like to tell you the clouds parted and the unicorns galloped into Portland bringing rainbows and cheer but it what did happen put the whole ordeal into perspective and allowed me to grieve properly. No, Ian wasn’t dead, but who really enjoys sending their spouses off to war?

I haven’t really written about Ian’s deployment much on this blog because it’s not something I like to talk about at social gatherings or parties. But recently on A Closer Look Radio, Pam interviewed Russell Friedman a grief recovery expert and the author of the Grief Recovery Handbook and Moving beyond Loss. Russell talked openly and honestly about the recovery process and why we tend to react poorly to grief and why being strong during a time of grief is the worst possible thing to do. As I listened to the interview I thought back to the deployment wishing I had known about Russell and read his books. It would have made things a lot more bearable.

The interview also gave me a better perspective on grief and how to handle it when my friends and family are dealing with a loss. Not just a loss of a relative or pet but the loss of a job and our perceived future. Think about how you feel when you lose a job and how painful it is the grieving process you go through. Think about all the dumb things you have said when a friend or family member was in pain and how you could have said something differently. Pam’s interview with Russell is a must listen for anyone with a pulse or a conscious. Here’s a link to the interview.

You have the time to listen.

Paintings by Raphael

Like many of the artists and writers of his day, French writer and playwright Honoré Balzac was a square peg trying to fit into a around hole. Growing up, he was frequently disciplined at school for acting out and not toeing the line and had the occasional suicide attempt thrown in for added measure. Balzac was persuaded to study law but he snubbed his nose at it after three years and announced to his family he was going to be writer and moved to Paris.

Balzac lived a penniless existence as he worked on his craft and lived in squalid conditions. Whether it was an effort to cheer himself up provide motivation to work harder, Balzac sketched a large, blank picture frame on the walls of his room and labeled it Paintings by Raphael. The image of him working in a seedy little apartment with a blank picture frame got me thinking: How many of us have been motivated by the idea of a Raphael painting or its equivalent on our walls to keep us working?

I have a few pieces of art on my office walls for motivation including an image of Felix Baumgartner jumping out of his space capsule, but I don’t have any sort of dangling carrot offering me hope and encouragement. I have no images of me accepting a Pulitzer Prize or a picture of Munich or Paris for when I strike it rich (or save up enough money to go). All I have are anti-motivators telling me to Go! Do! Go! Do! Stop sitting there! Go! Do!

No wonder it’s so hard for me to get motivated in the morning. Perhaps these “motivators” need to be replaced with softer images of my favorite writers and even a dream board to represent my goals for the month. Now I’m as cynical as they come and realize that just wishing for something doesn’t mean it’s going to happen, but having visual cues as motivators is a lot easier than trying to force myself to be creative.

This idea continued play out through the week and especially when I listened to A Closer Look Radio. Pam interviewed internationally acclaimed author Marianne Williamson about her new book The Law of Divine Compensation. During the interview Marianne talked about adjusting our “mental files” and creating unlimited thinking in our daily lives. What she meant by that is we need to stop holding ourselves back and start imagining what are capable of doing. We need more blank frames reserved for our Pulitzer prizes and Raphael and Monet paintings. We need more blank frames filled with pictures of Paris or Munich or even India. By doing this we open ourselves up for possibility and shut out all those voices telling us we are just no good.

So, I’m going to take this hint from the Universe and work on making my workspace a little more inspiring and a little less demanding. I just got a gift card for Home Depot so I’m thinking a new paint job is in order. What about you? What does your own blank frame have in it? What motivators can you replace in your life?

 

In other creative news, I wanted to let all three of my loyal readers now I am a featured writer at Where the Spirited Women Gather. You can read my first post here.

Enjoy!

Small Victories and Grand Plans

champbottle

On this New Year’s Eve, I was planning to write a post of epic greatness. This post was to be about goal setting and looking to the future with renewed spirit. It was to be about how we should all, as Neil Gaiman says, dream dangerously. I was going to make soothing statements and give offerings of hope and encouragement for 2013 and encourage you to make grand plans for the future.

But then my aunt Trisha went ahead and posted something on Facebook that pretty much summed up everything I was going to write. I didn’t ask her if I could post this, but I’m sure she won’t mind. It’s not like she gave away any family secrets:

Tomorrow we sit on the edge of a new year. May it be filled with surprises, wonderful challenges, and victories. Let us never forget we are not alone.

So, gentle reader, as we toast to 2013 and bid 2012 adieu, I wish you a year of wonderful challenges, victories and good surprises. I also encourage you to make grand plans and host a few grand dinner parties. P.S. – my aunt Trisha is a clown. A good clown. Go buy her stuff.

 

 

Death By Misadventure

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In an attempt to avoid doing any meaningful work during this holiday week, I happened to click on a celebrity gossip site that reports on hard-hitting topics like what Britney Spears wore on a trip to Starbucks or whether Lindsey Lohan is residing at home or in jail this week. As I was scanning through the important celebrity news, I happened upon an article about Amy Winehouse. Apparently officials in London are re-opening the investigation into her death. The article itself really didn’t interest me but the cause of death listed on her death certificate did: Death by Misadventure. Phrases like this get the gears in my head spinning and I actually wrote it down in my journal.

What exactly is death by misadventure? A wrong turn down a dangerous alley? Getting mauled by a giraffe on an African safari? Not staying on the cleared path and stepping on a landmine? While I’m sure there are many people in this world that have been mauled by giraffes, the phrase got me thinking: What does it mean to go on a misadventure and what do we have to do get there? Take a wrong turn? Not read the map? Or just jump into the deep end of the pool? Does it all have to be bad? Can we go on a good misadventure? I do it all the time when I make a wrong turn and find a new, unexplored part of town.

Two weeks ago on A Closer Look Radio, Pam interviewed Dennis Perkins, noted author and leadership consultant. Dennis participated in the Sydney to Hobart race in 1998 and learned some very important and deadly lessons. One of the things he said that really stuck with me is how we can decide to learn from our failures and how long we’re going to take before we get up again. He also talked about why we SHOULD sail into a storm and go on a misadventure or two. You can listen to the interview by clicking here.

As long-time readers know, my husband is working on his Project Management degree. As part of risk management, a successful manager has to view problems which arise as learning experience for the future and as a potential opportunity. While having the rug pulled out from underneath me when the company I worked for got sold could be seen as a misadventure, it did enable me to focus on projects that added more meaning to my life. The old adage about lemons and lemonade may be hard to swallow when you are deep in a misadventure but sometimes a problem is only a problem if you view it as such. Things are what we make it. Work to make everything in your life as something you can spin to your adventure and every misadventure can be an adventure of self-discovery.

As 2012 closes out and many of us look forward to 2013, I would encourage YOU, gentle reader, to go on your own misadventure and see where the path takes you. What do you consider to be a misadventure? Have you had any run-ins with stampeding giraffes?

Write about it, blog about it, draw me a pictures! Share your misadventures with the world and come back and tell me about it!

Right Here, Right Now

My friend Kim is a certified Creativity Coach and owner of MuseCraft. She offers creativity coaching, writing prompts, and tips and inspiration to not only follow your dreams but live them. She recently offered up a writing prompt on how to live in the moment and recognize our daydreams but not live in them. I was so inspired by her prompt, I asked her to write this guest blog post. Go checkout Kim’s website, read her blog, and take a class!

 

We all long for something—a new job, travel, love, adventure—things that are “other,” things that are not our everyday lives. Creatives long maybe a little more than most people. It’s in our nature. We are dreamy and live with heads and hearts filled with possibilities and “what ifs.” Longing is part of our makeup.

Sometimes, though, the longing can pull our attention away from the here-and-now. It takes us away from that day-to-day life that could be filled with the things we are longing for if we would let it. Sometimes you have to let go of the longing so you can see where you really are right now.

So how do you find your dreams right where you are now? Start here:

  1. Write about the things you want to see and do. Put in lots of detail. Take “I want to go to Paris” and make it “I want to go to Paris and see the Eiffel Tower and the colorful flower stalls and visit the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa and stroll the countryside picking flowers.”
  2. Write about the feelings you want from the experiences you are longing for. Instead of “I want to have lunch in a Parisian street cafe” write “I want to feel the breeze brushing my hair as I eat creamy brie and a soft, chewy baguette while taking in the colorful street scenes.” Put in the sensations you are longing for and also the emotions you want to feel from the experiences you’re dreaming of.
  3. When you have a good, clear idea of the feelings you want to bring in to your life, make a list of things that already give you some of those feelings and also things you think might give you those feelings. If you want the peace and calm and quiet of strolling country lanes, drive yourself to a nearby small town and wander through it’s streets and sights.
  4. Find ways to add these things into your life whenever you can. Look around and see where you can fit them in—a little bistro table in your own yard and bread from a local bakery can give you a taste of that Parisian cafe you daydream about.

Living the life of your dreams isn’t all about changing things and adding things into your life, though. It’s also about finding things around you that already match your dream life. Look at your life and find what matches up to your dreams. Is your dream to be an artist? That little box of paints and stack of canvases in the corner is part of the artist life. Start there. Build on what you already have and do, add to the parts of your life that connect you to your dream. Start right where you are.

Finally, remember that your dream is a joy. It is meant to add pleasure and magic to your life. So add pleasure and joy and magic and beauty wherever you can. (Add some things like my little dancing flower and let yourself smile and laugh whenever you can.) Let yourself have some joy because joy builds on itself, and your creative dream will grow from joy.

An Evening with Dining for Women

 

I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver. – Dr. Maya Angelou

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we do many things well: Scenery, wine and food, music, and bookstores – and coffee. Can’t forget the coffee. So, when you combine our love of food and drink together, it’s not a surprise when magic happens.

This week I had the opportunity to attend the monthly gathering of the local Dinning for Women chapter. Dining for women got started when its founder, Marsha Wallace, read about a group of women getting together for potlucks and donating the money they would have spent in a restaurant to charitable organizations. Dining for Women spread like a tornado across the Great Plains when the national media picked up on it and ran stories in newspapers and TV. I mean, come on! Who doesn’t like a good potluck?

Dining for Women showed up on my radar twice in the same month so I figured it was time for me uncork my best bottle of wine and see what it was all about. I met a friend at the gathering and she introduced me to some of the movers and shakers in my community. As an ice breaker we were asked to introduce ourselves to the group and talk about one item on our bucket list. Most of the women in the group were well-traveled and had a few unexplored countries still on their lists. One woman said she wanted to take light rail into Portland. For those of you who don’t live here, light rail (especially its funding) in Vancouver is contentious issue with those who have never lived in big cities or commuted to Portland during rush hour traffic. Much laughter was had by all. I got up and introduced myself and said I wanted to go to India.

At the November gathering we learned about an organization called Pachamama that works with the Achuar people in Ecuador’s Amazon Rainforest. They give the women and men the tools to be more empowered and in control of their land and reproductive rituals and ceremonies. We specifically learned about a group of midwives helping the Achuar women to reduce child mortality. Many of the women here are forced to give birth in the jungle, by themselves, with no medical or family support. It was quite sad and heartbreaking, but it gave me hope knowing this organization was helping to empower and educate the women on pre and post-natal care.

At the end of the night as I was washing dishes, I looked around at all the happy and sated faces and listened to the laughter as tables were rolled up the and building cleaned. It made me feel empowered and proud to be with a group of women who were so worldly and intelligent and who really wanted to make a difference.

No matter where you live, there is always an opportunity to put on a fabulous potluck dinner and get together with friends. And no matter where you live, there’s always an opportunity to give to those who aren’t as fortunate. Combining the two into a night of education, good food, and good friends is genius. If you don’t have local Dining for Women chapter in your area, (I’m lookin’ at you, Mom!) you should start one. Really.

Inspired Goals

 

Many weeks ago, I wrote about going on a grand adventure to make my life more inspired. I neatly copied the Writer’s Digest checklist of tasks into my journal with my best penmanship and waved my magic wand told the universe to “make it so!”

Well.

As you can tell from the lack of daily updates, I did not succeed. I choose to do these tasks during a very busy week which gave me very little wiggle room to do anything creative much less digest any of my experiences in a meaningful way. I liked the idea of an inspired life but made no plans on how to execute the tasks. I’ve seen friends and creative partners do this when they decide they want to accomplish something but end up burning out because they didn’t plan the execution beyond having a shiny, new idea.

As I write this, I am gainfully unemployed and enjoying handouts given to me by government. I recently met with a nice man at the unemployment offices to talk about my job search. Before the meeting, I took a critical look at my search and realized I had no plan. I was mostly throwing resumes and applications around willy-nilly hoping something would stick. I was reacting to what was in front of me instead of creating smart, measurable goals. As the Content Editor for A Closer Look Radio, it is my job to take notes and summarize the conversation between Pam and her guests. By doing so, I get a free education on how to run a business, sell my services, and stay ahead of the game. As the Content Editor, I did not apply any of these lessons to my job search and creative goals and instead did everything the guests said would lead to failure. It was quite the cold bucket of water on my head.

When we create measurable or SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely) Goals it helps us focus our intention and create benchmarks on our progress. If I want to lose 20 pounds by my 40th birthday, I have to plan to exercise 5 times a week for an hour each day in the late morning (because that’s when I’m awake and ready to exercise) using cardio and weights in my routine. After a month, I’ll asses what is and isn’t working and make changes. I might even meet with a trainer for guidance. Same thing with my job and freelancing efforts: I plan to apply for a certain amount of jobs each week, find at least one networking opportunity each week, and spruce up my portfolio by a particular date. I will also set a bench mark to re-asses everything after 3 and 6 months. Much easier than saying, “I want to find a good job” and having no plan and getting frustrated. I use an application called Wunderlist to help me stay organized and sort out my tasks by project and date. It lets me know when a tasks is overdue and what I have coming up. I really enjoy it and it’s free!! No, they did not pay to me write that.

Think about your own goals and your plan to achieve them. Are you like me and go for the shiny object without a plan or do you stop and actually think about how you’ll accomplish your tasks? Drop me a line and let me know. I’ll open the comments for three or four days but I will have to close them after that. The spammers have been on overdrive lately and I’ve been spending too much time deleting offers for cheap purses and designer coats.

 

Living an Inspired Life

Maybe it was the new moon or maybe the alignments of the planets are off. Or maybe it was because the rainy season officially arrived this week as the clouds moved in for their 9 month stay. Trumpeters stood outside of the coffee shops sounding the alarm for everyone to stockpile coffee, strong red wine and dark beer as the seasonal depression creeps in. Or maybe it is because I don’t have a freakin’ job, but everything was off last week. Really off. Everything was bad and as dark as the low-hanging rain clouds. Nothing was good and try as I might I could not lift myself out of my funk.

So, in an effort to prevent myself from being bludgeoned to death by my husband, I spent most of Thursday holed up in the local public library. The library near my house is wonderfully bright and happy and free of stinky people. Students work on homework while updating their Facebook pages and people using the computers for job searches and resume building. Sure there’s the occasional child having a meltdown, but those only last for a few minutes.

While I was taking a break from actual work, I picked up a copy of Writers Digest to get caught up on the latest writing news and creativity. Mixed in with the featured author interviews and stories on how to deal with writer’s block, was an article on how to have an inspired week. The article focused on creating daily activities like writing a poem or setting a word count for the week while trying new things and making observances. The suggestions peaked my interests as they were easy to follow and, well, inspiring. I wrote the ideas down in my journal and will be testing out the suggestions next week as I try to lead a more inspiring life.

Each day next week, I will share my journey with you, gentle reader, and report back with my findings and observances. At the end of each post, I’ll list the following day’s activities so you can play along and report your observances as well.

Beginning on Monday, my tasks include:

  • Setting a word count goal for the week
  • Visiting a library or bookstore and pick up or buy a book I’ve been meaning to read
  • Order a drink I’ve never tried before (it can be tea or something non-alcoholic) and write about who would drink it and what I think of said drink.
  • I am also going to take lots of pictures of my journey as I’ve gotten out of the habit of taking pictures.

These goals are do-able as they don’t take up lots of time and I can plan them throughout the day. I’ll cross-post on Facebook, but you might want to subscribe to my blog so as to not miss an exciting episode.

So, as I go about trying to live an inspired life, what about you? Are you looking to take small steps out of your comfort zone and share your experiences? Let’s play along together and maybe we’ll invent a new element and make additions to the periodic table. Or write the next great American novel.

It could happen.

Knowing When to Jump

This morning I joined millions of people around the world and watched “daredevil” Felix Baumgartner prepare to break the sound barrier and jump from a capsule 24 miles above the earth. When I first heard about his jump I thought he was just some hack trying to prove himself but after I read about the science and preparation involved in the jump, I sat at my computer for 2.5 hours watching him being carried into space as he prepared to jump.

During the final countdown and preparation, I began to wonder what was running through Felix’s head. He had to be prompted a few times by Mission Control to respond to their commands but his actions were fluid and controlled. I had read that he had serious panic attacks a few years ago and had to work through those, but this was THE moment. Millions of people were watching. He didn’t wait very long as he stood on the platform and Mission Control told him the angels were with him. I yelled for my husband and we both watched him jump, spin, deploy the parachute and safely land. I thought of his mother and the terror and joy she must have felt during the jump and how happy he was when he landed.

I am at a point in my life where I have to decide whether to take the capsule into space and jump. The Universe has provided me with opportunities, and like a good Virgo, I’m dissecting them into pieces and examining each molecule instead of just saying thank you and going for it. I am not one that gets inspired by extreme athletes or sports but Felix’s jump was a big sign from the universe telling me to stop dawdling and just… go for it.

Obviously Felix put a lot of work and thousands of jumps into this event but for me it’s not really about taking the jump, but rather committing to it that is hard. It’s a LOT of work full of setbacks and frustrations but so worth it in the end. I’ve raced in 3 triathlons and after each one I learned something new about myself and what I’m capable of doing. While the races themselves were not easy, the training both mentally and physically was hardest part.

As humans we often get excited about the jump but lose speed when were realize it takes training and practice and WORK. I have a picture of Felix’s jump on my bulletin board to remind me I can’t stand on the platform forever and it’s time to take steps to get there.

What about you? What’s on your project list that is collecting dust and needs to be launched? What motivates you to dust off your list and get working on it? Share your stories! I want to hear from YOU not the spam bots trying to sell me purses and SEO websites.

 

Riding The Creative Wave

 

They say that lightening doesn’t strike twice and we should make hay while the sun shines. So, why is it that when the planets are aligned just right and the humidity is perfect and the universe is going out of its way to help us create something truly wonderful, we self-sabotage and refuse to do it? We make excuses that we’re tired or just need a few more minutes of couch time watching something truly mindless.

For me, it’s the inner editor I don’t want to listen to and the words I think that won’t come. I have a bad habit of admitting to failure even before I start. At a recent meeting of creative minds, my friends and I talked about our inability to write when the pen or keyboard is hot and ignore our creative impulses. We concluded we were going about things the wrong way and scheduling our creative or meditation time when we’re the most tired and exhausted. We get home from work and eat dinner and take care of the mundane tasks and when we’re done, the idea of a sitting in front of the computer writing or taking time to meditate just doesn’t seem very appealing. We schedule our pleasure after our chores and responsibilities are done and we’re too tired to do anything else instead of the other way around.

I grew up in a culture where you had to earn your pleasure. Get up early and get your chores done so you could enjoy the rest of the day was a common mantra which I carried into my adult life. I also grew up in a very cold area where you HAD to get the chores done first otherwise you’d freeze to death. But since I live in the Pacific Northwest, all we have to worry about are our gutters overflowing during a downpour and an occasional volcano getting restless. I also don’t have kids and can always pawn laundry duty off on my husband.

Now, I do have put in the obligatory disclaimer about being a lazy butt, but we’re all adults here and we know when shit needs to get done. However, scheduling writing or creative time when we are brain-dead and tired is not effective. Yes, we can’t always wait for the muse, but when the planets are aligned just so for our pleasure, we need to hop on the wave of creativity and ride into shore. The TV will always be there and if not, there’s Netflix or TV on demand.

My friends and I concluded we need to work creativity into our daily lives and routines. I have a friend who sketches in the sun during her lunch hour instead of sitting at her desk wolfing down her food. It helps clear her mind from work and get some much needed Vitamin D we Pacific Northwesterners so desperately need. Another friend plans on taking meditative walks during her lunch hour to work in time for meditated and I concluded I will keep a notebook with me to jot down story and article ideas as they come to me.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have had a fair amount of serendipity in my life and if I had waited until my favorite TV show was over to take advantage, I would be sitting on my couch wondering what I just missed. What about you? How can you work creativity into your daily life and not when you “have time” or after your favorite TV show ends? How can you ride the creative wave? Next week, I’m going to write about the power of rest and the creative process.

Nobody wants him he just stares at the world

A couple of weeks ago my friend Ken e-mailed and asked if I could help him design a poster for a race he was sponsoring. He had all the graphic elements but he couldn’t get Power Point to work properly. Ken is a personal trainer by trade and while he is in better shape than most human beings, he doesn’t communicate very well. I e-mailed him back and ask what he specifically wanted and how I could help. In a moment of frustration, Ken told me he too stupid to get Power Point to work properly and do what he wanted.

His words gave me pause because they were coming from a man who has raced in hundreds of triathlons, trained people to race in triathlons (including me!), and raced in an Iron Man Triathlon or two. An Iron Man. For those of you who don’t know what that means, an Iron Man Triathlon is a race for the truly bat-shit crazy athletes. You basically swim the English Channel (with a couple of sharks thrown in for good measure), bike 100 miles, and run a marathon. I’m not kidding. Well, I am about the English Channel and sharks part but the swim is 2.4 miles which is a long distance when you’re swimming in open water.

My response to his e-mail was, “So what if you can’t get Power Point to work?!?! You’ve raced in Iron Man triathlons!!!” I’m sure he blew off my comment and internally compared himself to Lance Armstrong or some other, more accomplished athlete who has raced in billions of competitions before their 22nd birthday. We all do it when someone pays us a compliment and honestly, it’s a bit sad. The e-mail discussion got me thinking about internal dialog and what we tell ourselves when we get a compliment. “Oh I’m really not that good, trained monkeys can do what I do, etc, etc.” You know the drill. Sure we joke about it, but in the end doesn’t it do more harm than good?

Two weeks ago on A Closer Look Radio, Pam interviewed psychologist Tim Shurr who discussed self-sabotage and why we listen to the wrong voices in our heads. Tim compared it to talking to our “internal genies” and how if we tell the genie we’re fat, dumb, or stupid, the genie will grant that wish. How often do we actually tell ourselves, “I’m smart, capable, and competent?” Not as often as we put ourselves down, that’s for sure.

Tim also talked about the achievement process and why we should focus less on how we’re going to travel down the road toward our goals but rather what we’ll achieve when we get there. He compared it what we tell ourselves when it’s time to exercise: We know the run or walk is going to hurt so we focus the pain and how much it’s going to hurt and end up not doing anything at all. Tim recommended changing your focus away from the pain but rather the journey. Think about all the time you’ve thought about the long slog ahead rather than the rewards at the end of the slog. I love to go for long hikes and getting all sweaty, but the best part of a long hike? The shower at the end of the hike.

So, gentle readers, as you go about your lives think about the conversations you have with your inner genie. How can you tell people that you are in fact a kick-ass triathelete with little to no knowledge of Power Point without downplaying your accomplishments? I kept track of what I was telling myself and noticed I slipped into moments of bad self talk when I was stressed out, annoyed with my commute, or when I had no control over a situation.

Check out the interview here when you have a spare moment. It’s free and much cheaper than going to a therapist or eating huge plates of comfort food.

Art Therapy for All

 

I was a bad week. My hormones were out of whack, the voices in my head were unkind and the world was a gloomy place. A Google Calendar reminder showed up in my inbox that week reminding me to plan my Artist’s Date. My first inclination was to delete the e-mail because I was in a funk after all, but something in my soul yelled out and demanded I follow through with something I had set for myself.

For those of you who don’t know about Artist’s Dates, the concept was created by Julia Cameron the author of the wildly popular book, The Artist’s Way, as a way to tap into your creativity and keep your artistic juices flowing. In many ways, it is a form of art therapy to get you out of the house and exploring the creativity around you. When I read her book years ago, I made a point to search for new and interesting things to do that didn’t cost a mortgage payment. I went to free lectures on art, watched Sufis spin, took pictures of odd places and objects and went to free art gallery events.

I recently started up again with Artist’s Dates when my life was feeling dusty and repetitive and needed a good cleansing. I set a reminder on my Google Calendar each week to choose an Artist’s Date and keep it on my radar. So the week things were going “pear shaped” as a friend of mine says, happened to include Free Friday at the Portland Art Museum.

I had no excuse not to go so I packed my work bag lightly that morning and headed to the museum after work. I had already seen the exhibit on the display from the previous month’s free night so I wandered around to a different part of the building I had never explored. I looked at 70 year of Portland photography, stared at Mike Kelley’s unusual works of light and video and even gazed upon Monet’s Water Lilies. The colors and textures of the exhibits and the calm of the museum melted my stress away and I left feeling lighter and happier. It was my own form of art therapy and I didn’t have to spend hours at in the therapist’s chair or fork over lots of money to enjoy culture.

Since I can’t paint or draw (see: 5th grade clown painting), I turn to others interpretation of the world through art and color to create my own version of art therapy. Art therapy is used by therapists in a variety ways to help adults and children express themselves, explore self-identification and create perspective. Art therapy has no rules or structure can be verbal, non-verbal, a physical object, a piece of music or whatever else that happens to be created at that moment. When I was at the museum, Francis Bacon’s painting Figure Writing Reflected in a Mirror made me stop in my tracks as I took in the warped image, the colors and the feeling. Something about the picture moved me and allowed me to exhale.

Many of my friends are artists and writers who use art therapy to blow off steam and channel their emotions into a creative outlet. If their work of art turns into a blob of anger, they either give it away or sell it or just put on the side of road for some to pick up and put on their mantle.

What about you? How do YOU use art therapy to give your life some perspective and that types of mediums do you use? Do you go to the museum or create your own works of art? How do you find inexpensive or free forms of art therapy in your community?

Pouring Out the Bucket List

Like most people, I have a few things on my bucket list I would like to accomplish before I reach the end of my mortal coil: I want to travel to India and Ireland, I want to make a living doing what I truly love, and I want to climb to the top of a mountain. A big mountain. I haven’t decided which one; I just want to climb it. A couple of years ago I did train to climb Mount Hood but ended up not going because while I was strong enough to do it, I just didn’t have the cardio training to complete the hike. I missed the window to climb Mount Hood and have since put the goal aside and allowed it to get dusty.

Recently I received a newsletter from a writing coach who talked about what’s on her monthly and yearly bucket list. The phrasing gave me pause because my bucket list is so grand it’s not something I can complete in the next year. I see it as something far off in the distance (like Mount Hood) which keeps me longing and hoping my $1 Powerball ticket will pay off.

But what’s the point of having a bucket list of I’m not going to work toward any of my goals? Now the Lutheran part of my brain looks at my checking account and says, “Sure you’re going to India next year!” but the smart part of my brain says while India is a great goal, how ‘bout chunking it down into manageable goals?

That is where having monthly and yearly bucket lists come in.

Each year my friend Jaymi works on what she calls Elemental Goals. She chooses an element in her life that needs tweaking like being more physically active or investing more time into her tarot business. Each month she takes an aspect and chunk of that goal and focuses on it. I had previously tried doing this elemental working but I failed because I didn’t chunk my goals into manageable parts and I didn’t incorporate it into my daily life. I just wrote a long manifesto of what I wanted and then put it in a notebook under a pile of stuff.

If I really want to go to India in the next five years, I might print out a picture and put it on my fridge or bulletin board at home (or even on my desk at work) and set a monthly goal of how much money I need to save. Using the power of technology, I could set calendar reminders on Google to remind me to set weekly goals or even take some time to check in and write about where I’m going and how I can tweak the process.

There are many things I want to get done before I leave this planet but just having a bucket list isn’t enough. It’s time to start acting on the list and even adding to it. What about you? What’s on your bucket list and how can you start acting on it? Let’s exchange some ideas and motivate each other as we work toward out goals.

How to Enjoy Sunday Nights in 6 Easy Steps

 

Like most human beings, when Sunday afternoon rolls around my motivation to do anything productive wanes and the heaviness of the upcoming week creeps into my well-rested consciousness. The early-morning wake up calls, the busy commute, and the pile of work to get done, along with side projects I need to work on threaten to upset all the repairs and rebuilding I did on my mind and body over the weekend. Most of the time, a simple reminder to the creepy crawlies that there is plenty of day left to skip in the streets, read in my backyard, and split a couple of atoms before the day is over does the trick. This weekend, however, the creepy crawlies weren’t listening. The long list of items to get done at work next week I left in my desk on Friday and a few freelance jobs I’ve picked up were lurking on the horizon and diminishing my nice Sunday.

So, instead of sitting down and thinking about how I’m going to deal with these projects, I ignored my To-Do-List and headed outside with my iPod and listened to A Closer Look Radio. As the Content Editor for the show, I am responsible for taking notes and writing a recap of the show to give listeners an idea of what they missed out on and why they should listen. The show inspires me to write and I knew I had to get it done today. What I didn’t know is how the show would inspire this week’s blog post.

Last week, Pam interviewed David Heenan the author of Bright Triumphs from Dark Hours. David was on the show talking about how to turn adversity into success when we are looking down a dark tunnel and not seeing any lights. As a seasoned cynic, I’m not the type to tell someone to turn life’s lemons into lemonade, but rather take the lemons and turn them into compost or lob them at annoying barking dogs and their owners. However, as I took notes on the show I found myself nodding in agreement with what David said as my note taking became more furious. David’s strategy for facing adversity is simple and yet powerful:

  1. Learn from adversity and move on
  2. Fashion a new dream; as you move along your path recalibrate your dreams to your ambitions
  3. Sell your vision; be a dealer in hope and get others excited about your vision
  4. Create partnerships! Surround yourself with inspiring people that give good advice
  5. Focus on your goals and make things as simple as possible
  6. Don’t wait! A great dream is just that if we don’t put any action behind it

David also said something I circled and underlined many times and that was: Divide and Conquer. No, he didn’t mean raiding and looting small villages but he rather breaking up large projects into manageable pieces when things get overwhelming. When I have a mountain of chores or projects to get done, I tend to look at the whole mountain and wonder how I’m going to climb it instead of looking at each individual rock. Or I just ignore the whole mountain and focus on the closest shiny object. I took David’s advice and wrote down the list of things I need to get done next week and parsed everything out to a particular day. By doing this, I turned my mountain into a more manageable molehill and got inspired to boot!

So, gentle reader, how can you learn from adversity and get inspired? Drop me a line and drown out all the spam bots! Their broken English and bad links have no place here!

Dance Like the World is Watching

 

Depending on the source, it was either Mark Twain, some random philosopher standing alongside of the road, or a computer-generated quote machine that said, “Dance like there’s no one’s watching, love like you’ve never been hurt and sing like there’s nobody listening…and you will win the Powerball lottery and the mysteries of the Universe will be revealed.” OK, so the last part was my addition but you’ve seen the quote on enough cheesy Facebook inspirational pages to know it by heart.

The quote was running through my head one foggy Sunday morning while I was sitting at my computer watching this video from BBC.

For those of you who refuse to watch the short video, the piece features two New York City artists who document their creative process via social media and webcams. Artist Borbay opens the story by talking about how seeing behind the scenes is a very important part of the creative processes. This got me thinking about polished stories and art and how no one like to show what they’ve done until it’s perfect. By doing that, however, we are hiding our inspiration from others who might learn from us.

Think about it: We subscribe to author’s blogs and Facebook pages to watch and learn about their writing process, we hungrily eat up behind-the-scenes looks on DVDs and getting a sneak peak at anything is like getting a free piece of candy. My husband enjoys watching the behind the scenes making of The Lord of the Rings more than he likes watching the movie. I enjoy going to plays and seeing the displays in the lobby outlining how the costume designers made and designed the costumes.

Many of the guests on A Closer Look Radio talk about transparency in business and how a business HAS to be transparent in order to succeed. By having transparency, it helps me feel like I’m really part of something and shows me a company’s decision making process. Much like my favorite musician or artist, I like watching the creative process.

We get caught up in not being perfect and not wanting to show people anything we’ve done instead of just enjoying the process and sharing the experience.

When I was in high school working for my parents in Small Town, Minnesota, I went to a Friday night dance at the pavilion by myself. The music was typical Small Town Minnesota rawk so I went up to the DJ and asked if he had any Jane’s Addiction. He did and he played Been Caught Stealing. I was so excited for the break in Whitesnake and late 80s hair bands, I danced on the nearly empty dance floor, BY MYSELF, poorly and I didn’t care. I danced and people watched.

By hiding our creative processes, we’re not helping or inspiring anyone. So, the next time you have the opportunity to dance while people watch, go for it! They’ll just take pictures and post it on Facebook…and you’ll be an overnight success.

Snap Out Of It!

 

A couple of years ago when I was gainfully unemployed and wallowing in self pity, I made an appointment with my counselor Betti to help me “sort out my feelings.” After our usual chit chat about how I was doing, I believe I launched into a whine fest which probably included the phrases “why me” and “what’s wrong with me?” Betti nodded wisely as I vented and when I paused to reach for the first of many tissues, she put down her notebook and calmly said, “I’m going to tell you something I save for very special clients.”

I braced for the usual wise words and spirit-lifting advice from Betti that makes me feel better as I write out my check. I should have braced a little harder because what she said surprised me.

“GET OVER YOURSELF! Do you know how many people are unemployed just like you?! You are not special! Have your pity party, cry and get over it!”

I sat stunned in my chair like I had been slapped in the face with a fish. I’m sure Betti laughed at my expression but I do remember her softening a bit as she gave me tips on how to get over myself.

I should have taken notes. Why? Well, like most creative types, the pity party loop sometimes gets stuck on repeat and has been for the past couple of weeks. I’m not exercising enough, I’m not writing enough, etc. etc. I’m looking for perfect conditions and not finding them, and I keep reaching for inspiration from a piece of concrete and just not getting it. So I do nothing.

When we think of obstacles that get in the way of our dreams it’s easy to look at others and blame them. But in the end, it really comes down to US. WE have to decide if we’re going to continue with a certain behavior pattern. WE have to decide to make the effort to get up early and exercise. WE have to decide that our dreams ARE worth a little sacrifice even if means missing our favorite TV shows. Sure, I can’t be a supermodel that travels the world (nor would I want to) but I can be a travel writer who writes about exotic locales.

Ever since his death, Ray Bradbury has haunted me from the grave. The first time was when I heard an interview with him on Fresh Air which I wrote about in a post that included very sad clowns. In case you forgot, Ray had this to say about the haters, “I had allowed these fools to kill me and kill the future. From that time on I decided I would never listen to another damn fool in my life and started collecting comics again. I have learned that by doing things, things get done”

Then last week, I was looking up quotes by famous people about not quitting and Ray made another appearance in my life by saying, You fail only if you stop writing.

OK, Ray. As much as I hate getting up early, it’s time to take advantage of the early morning sun and just run. Now that my work schedule doesn’t involve a beastly commute, I have no excuse not to write after work. Even if it’s only for 15 minutes. I’m very good at making lists, but not very good at following through. Perhaps I need to tattoo Ray’s words on my arm as a reminder. By doing things, things get done.

Knowing When To Turn Around

Summer was slow to arrive in the Pacific Northwest this year as Mother Nature tried to squeeze out just one more drop of rain while the rest of the nation sweltered in 100 degree heat. When summer finally hit us on the 4th of July and the weatherman predicted temperatures in the 80s and 90s this weekend, my husband and I did what most people around here do and packed up the car and headed to the Oregon Coast.

We got up early and filled a large cooler with water and brought along some snacks for the drive. It was a nice drive to Cannon Beach and we got there before the swarms of people arrived. We spent a couple hours wading in the ocean (the Pacific Ocean is not warm), looking for shells and rocks and sampling olive oil and browsing for books at the local stores. We left Cannon Beach feeling refreshed and made plans to drive to the booming metropolis (joke) of Gearhart to have lunch at a new hotel and pub.

Well.

The traffic gods had other plans for us and as we as we drove toward Gearhart traffic began to slow down and stop. It was hot and our initial reaction was to turn around but we decided to wait it out and see. A couple of minutes later, an ODOT truck with a reader board drove by letting us know there was an accident. Great. We really wanted to keep going as we weren’t ready to turn around just yet so we decided to wait a half an hour and see if the accident cleared. The time passed and we were hot and sweaty and had only moved three feet. As much as we wanted to continue on, we decided the new pub just wasn’t worth baking like an egg in the sun for two hours and turned around.

Well.

The traffic gods weren’t done with us yet because we got stuck in two more accidents along the way. After waiting for 10 minutes in the second accident. we hit our breaking point and turned around and headed toward the nearest pub. We spent a nice hour in the shade drinking local micro brews and eating good food while going over the events of the day.

My husband wisely pointed out that our trip was a lot like the lessons he’s learned in Project Management. You might be barreling along down the road and everything is going well until the traffic gods decide to throw a wrench in the gears. As American’s we are trained to not admit defeat and just muddle through and “soldier on.” Now I don’t believe in quitting when things get rough and I’m a strong believer of tunneling under the wall when it’s placed along on ones path, but what do you when that wall is a traffic jam on a 90-degree day?

We assessed the situation and determined our purpose for the day: To Have Fun. Which we did do in Cannon Beach. Not going to the pub wasn’t THAT big of a deal and there were other places to stop along the way. We did do some prep work before setting out (water, snacks, towel) but our journey could have benefited from a map or a smart phone if one of us actually had one. We kept our spirits up and tried not to let our frustrations get to us. We laughed and made up scenarios for movies on the Psy Fi Channel (or whatever it’s called these days) and ended the day with jokes about barges of rabid chickens overturning in the Columbia River.

Like our frustrating trip, many of life’s experiences involve changing gears and being ready to move on and change when a project gets stuff in traffic. We can’t always commit to just one and plan and have to be prepared to decide if Plan B, C or even Plan M is the best option. Changing courses is not a failure, sometimes, you just have to learn how to turn around and find a better route.

Touching the Creative Snake

Like most creative people, I get distracted by shiny objects and get impulsive when an exciting creative opportunity is waived in front of me like a red flag to a bull. Last week, on impulse, I signed up for a series of workshops to help me grow 4 inches and look better in heels. Well, not really, but I really don’t want to say what I signed up for because it sounds so corny. And it’s not the point.

The point is, I signed up for the workshops and waded through the list of titles until I found something that looked interesting. The title to said workshop sounded a bit suggestive like 101 Ways to Re-Kindle Your Relationship with Mr. Buzzy, but the description (nothing to do with said battery operated boyfriend) sounded interesting so I clicked on JOIN.

The great thing about these workshops is they start with a nice little video to introduce you to the topic and tell you what you can expect. The video I watched was well-produced (I notice these things) and quirky and I found myself engrossed. That was until the instructor began listing the supplies needed for the class. The first thing she told us we would need is two pieces of poster board, two paintbrushes and paint. Hearing I would need paintbrushes and paint, my brain shut down and I stopped listening.

Why? Because I am not an artist. Stop laughing. Let me explain.

I was probably the only person on the planet who actually hated art class in Junior High. Despite my teacher’s best attempts, I couldn’t draw or paint or make anything that looked like what it the assignment required. I hated making art in grade school and usually never completed my assignments for fear of having my ugly drawing of a deformed snowman or punk rock leprechaun placed on the wall for all to see. When I was in 5th grade, I painted an ugly picture of a clown during a field trip. Like most art projects I made, it did not look like the other beautiful clowns in the class. I had a very sad clown. I was so embarrassed by it I tried to hide it when I came home from school but somehow my step-dad found it and thought it was beautiful. He had it framed and my parents still have it hanging up in their home. My step-dad has a degree in art and architecture and knows a good painting when he sees one. I never understood what he saw in my sad, sad clown.

Going back to the workshop that started this rant, when I clicked on “leave this group” I could see my mom’s face in my mind’s eye giving me The Look. It was the look of, “You didn’t even try. You just gave up. Stop being such a stick-in-the-mud.” But Moooom!! I’m not being a stick in the mud. I can’t DRAW. The look didn’t go away so I ignored her. She’s in Canada right now and can’t do anything about it.

I found another workshop that fit into my comfort zone but my initial response to the poster board and paint really stuck with me. Why did I react like this? Why can’t I just get past it? No one was going to see my drawings. There were no sad clowns to be painted.

My answer actually came from a talk I happened to catch on Ted.com. In this talk, entrepreneur and designer David Kelley spoke about how to rebuild your creative confidence after someone tells you the beautiful drawing of a horse you made is really ugly or that you can’t dance or sing even though you are having a good time.

We’ve all had it done to us. I certainly did. When it happens we just shut down and refuse to move past it. Kind of like me when I’m asked to draw or paint. Or dance in public. David’s resolution to this problem was to use a technique designed by psychologist Albert Bandura to overcome fears and build confidence. Bandura recommended turning that what which you fear most into something more familiar. Afraid of snakes? Don’t go into the room full of snakes, rather go into a room adjacent to the snakes and watch them. Get familiar with them, turn it into an adventure rather than something that frightens you so you can eventually touch the snake and get past your fears.

This theory was further emphasized to me when Ray Bradbury had to go ahead and die. I was listening to an interview with him on Fresh Air (while trying not to cry on the bus) and he was talking about how he got teased for collecting Buck Rogers comic strips when he was a kid. He said a part of him died when they teased him but he decided these people just were not worth his sadness. He told Teri Gross, “I had allowed these fools to kill me and kill the future. From that time on I decided I would never listen to another damn fool in my life and started collecting comics again. I have learned that by doing things, things get done.”

Bless you, Ray. You are so right. I think I might just have buy that damn poster board and paintbrush and figure out how to approach making another ugly clown painting and yes, touch the snake.

When The Creative River Runs Dry

For the past week I have felt like a fish out of water flapping around on the pavement, gasping for air as I try and grab onto something, just one small kernel, so I can focus and get back into the water. But the ocean is two hours away and swimming in the Willamette and Columbia Rivers this time of year (or anytime really any unless you want to grow another head) is not recommended.

What is the problem? I’ll tell you:

My muse has been on hiatus this week and I haven’t felt motivated to do much of anything. When I got home from work, I just wanted to read and relax and stare at the wall. Of course the voices in my head point to the long list of projects I need to finish and as a creative person I feel like I should be DOING SOMETHING. But I just haven’t been inspired. Now, I realize if I wait around for inspiration to bite, I’ll never get anything done but the pages this week remain blank and my usual sources of inspiration have either dried up or are just not giving me that spark. In a desperate attempt to shut of the To Do Voice, I turned to my friend Kim. Kim is a professional muse and the owner of MuseCraft. Whenever I find myself spinning my wheels, I turn to Kim who always helps guide me out of my creative ruts. This is what she said:

Sometimes, if you don’t feel like writing or being creative, it’s because
you need to rest. Lull, that space of relaxing, resting, maybe taking in
some new sights and sounds and experiences, is a vital part of the
creative process that we skip over too often.If you don’t feel like doing creative work, don’t. Give yourself time off. I do suggest setting a limit on that time off. “I’m not going write/paint/whatever for the next three days.” Or week. Or whatever feels like a good amount of time that will leave you feeling rested and renewed.

Rest, relax, read something inspirational (I love The Awe-Manac by Jill Badonsky or a variety of art journaling books I keep around). After that time, revisit your creative work and see how you feel (and sometimes, if you haven’t taken a break in a long while, you might find that you need more time, and that’s okay, too).

Some other times, though, you might just be having a fit of creative restlessness. You want to do something, but your usual things aren’t quite satisfying you somehow, or you need a break from a big project you’re working on but don’t want to do nothing creative at all. These are the times to use other people. They’re out there, just wanting you to use
them! Take them up on that!

There are so many creative websites with neat little projects to try. There are a dozen magazines at your local bookstore with all sorts of nifty projects to play with (I especially love Cloth, Paper, Scissors
magazine). There are online and in person art and craft classes or even tutorials for a single project (The Zen of Making does all sorts of craft tutorials http://www.thezenofmaking.com/ and Journal Girl usually has a
bunch of art journal video tutorials http://www.journalgirl.com/).

Find something that looks fun, follow the nicely laid out steps, and make someone else’s project. You’ll probably find that as you follow the steps in a ready made project, your own creative juices start to flow again, and you will return to your own work with a bit of a new perspective, some new
ideas to play with and maybe even add into the work, and renewed enthusiasm now that you’ve been away for a while (absence makes the heart grow fonder, you know).

Great advice, huh? Since Kim gave us such great FREE advice here, you can get even better advice and inspiration during her June 20th summer solstice teleconference on sparking your muse. Click here to find out more.

Every couple of months I go through this. I check out 10 books at the library and can’t get into any of them and I wander around the house like a cat that wants everything and nothing and can’t figure out what to do next. It’s frustrating and usually passes, but I can’t seem to get anything done while I flop and flail. With Kim’s wise advice, I’m going to have to get out my markers and colored pencils and make something other than sentences when I get in a rut.

What about you? What do you do when you get in creative ruts? Share your ideas in the comments or e-mail them to me and I’ll do a featured blog post with your ideas.

Colors Inside the Lines; Plays Well With Others

Pithy phrases on motivational posters and Facebook rarely inspire me to greatness or to fully live out my dreams. Most times when I read them, I am inspired to throw things and swear. So it came as a bit of a surprise last week when the usual syrupy sweet “daily tip” that accompanies the software I use at work didn’t make me want to kick something. It told me to Create My Team. It didn’t go into specifics so I could easily start recruiting for the next A Team (I believe Mr. T could use the work) or Dream Team but I haven’t played basketball in years and I can’t afford Mr. T’s expensive jewelry habit. But what I can do is form my own creative team.

As a Virgo and perfectionist, often times, I’m the one that prefers to take on projects myself so I can get them done right. This often results in me working too much and getting overwhelmed, but at least it’s done to my standards. Never mind I could have delegated the work and saved a few blood pressure points. But the random tip about building my team got me thinking about my creative life. I have a group of friends I meet with once a month to talk about our projects, dreams, and anything else that comes up. It’s a great sounding board and we always feel refreshed after our get-togethers. But we don’t carry that momentum throughout the rest of the month and ask for help when we get stuck. We are a team, but only once a month.

Why is it that we take on too many projects and not ask for help? Why don’t we build teams we can use as creative sounding boards or to help us through rough patches? I believe vulnerability and putting ourselves “out there” are probably the biggest reasons but other than that?

As Americans, the image of the lone cowboy or the person who “pulls themselves up from their bootstraps” (what the hell is a bootstrap?!) is pounded into our brains and asking for has become a badge of shame. Who knows what opportunities we can unearth if we only ask for help!

This idea was further emphasized to me last week when someone on in my circle of friends posted a simple e-mail on a mailing list asking for a used iPod or MP3 player. He didn’t have much money and really couldn’t afford to buy one but though he’d ask the group. I was touched by his vulnerability and simple request. He didn’t demand or whine; he just asked. Many people (including myself) responded and he found he was turning people away but pleased with everyone’s generosity. When I read his happy e-mail a voice in my head quietly said, “He simply asked for help.” I was floored.

Looking back, there are many times when I could have used a team to keep me motivated and inspired. My last triathlon is a good example. I trained by myself and did have a great trainer to move me along but I could have used a running or cycling group to keep me motivated when I was feeling down or unmotivated.

With hope springing eternal and the allergy season finally beginning to wane, now is the time to begin building your A Team for your creative projects or whatever it is you want to do. What about you? How can building your own team help you with your endeavors and keep you motivated when life’s blank page is staring you in the face?

Turning A Weakness into Art

Last year I wrote an essay on how to use your weaknesses as strengths (you can read it here). Upon reflection, one year later, I realized the article was three parts whining and another part one part sorting out my thoughts and not a whole lot of substance. So, I’m going to fix it this week and offer a better solution which starts with this short video on Ted.Com. Don’t skip it, it is part of my discussion, and it’s only 4 minutes long; you have time.

 

Get where I am going here? Let me explain with a short story: I have only been to Detroit, Michigan twice…well I’ve been to the airport twice. It was before the big remodel and the place was dark, dirty, and a little seedy. By the time I made my connecting flight, I had added it to my list of least favorite airports (I’m looking at you Atlanta!). My thoughts on the city of Detroit itself came from what I’ve seen on the TeeVee and interwebs from people who spend 10 minutes there to determine Just How Bad Things Are. The recession has not been good to the Motor City and in many ways it has come to reflect all things bad with the U.S economy; lots of crime, high unemployment, crumbling houses. So it came as a surprise to me when I was sitting around watching TV and saw a preview for a new series about a group of artists trying to rebuild Detroit. My fruitless internet searches for said show came up with nothing but here’s a good example of what is being done.

These artists are taking something that looks like a hopeless cause to the rest of the world and turning it into something better and livable. They aren’t waiting for a big corporation to come in and save the day and create billions of jobs. What they are doing is taking advantage of the opportunity and making something better for Detroit. Sure, they aren’t going to save the world either with a coat of paint, but they are going to make it a little better so people can be proud to live there. My friend Karen lives an hour south of Detroit, and like many in that region, is struggling to find work. Karen lives and breathes music so she created a concert series called Concerts At Karen’s Place and holds them on her front porch to court local musicians to her area and bring music to the small town masses. Pretty damn cool if I do say so myself.

These are just a few of the many examples of people taking a bad situation and turning into something, well, pretty damn cool. They are taking their 404 error page and making it art or even making you laugh instead of something that infuriates. That, Gentle Reader is a little thing done right that actually matters.

Having More Fun Than You

This week, I would like to talk to you about something that is near and dear to my heart and drives my husband absolutely bonkers. It’s called the Fear of Missing Out. As a child growing up in an area where Not Much Happens ™ and living 200 miles from Minneapolis, I, and many of my friends had this feeling on any given Saturday night that there was someone, somewhere that has having More Fun Than Us.

It’s a common feeling for kids living in the Midwest and anywhere that doesn’t have much going on. Occasionally an entrepreneur would open Something New that would either be infested with wankers or get “boring” after the 20th visit. Now, I am of the belief that boredom is a self-afflicted injury. Give me some paper and crayons and I’m happy for hours. But as a teenager I felt that non-school nights were for Doing Fun Things. This, gentle readers, (Mom!) did not mean getting shit-faced drunk at Frat Parties. I waited until college to do that.

Unfortunately, I carried this feeling into adulthood, much to my husband’s chagrin. Not the shitfaced drunk part, just the feeling of Missing Out. Living near a large city does not help matters as there is always something fun to in Portland like getting shot at by cops or becoming a fixture at the local wine bar. While my husband is content to sit at the computer for hours playing Civilization, I climb the walls if I don’t have Something To Do. Of course being the product of workaholics doesn’t help matters. But I digress.

With social media attaching itself to our hips and our friends posting status updates of the food they eat and fun they are having, that feeling of Missing Out has increased. I don’t have an iPhone and nor do I post on Facebook whenever I eat a cheese sandwich, but I do read the Facebook pages of people more accomplished than me and feel I should be Doing Something Important. While writing this blog post, I have checked my e-mail 4 times and Facebook more times than I should. In many ways constantly being connected and feeling like we’re Missing Out making us less likely to focus on what is really important. It’s also making us less resilient when change comes around.

What do I mean? Well, last week on A Closer Look Radio, speaker and business trainer Jeffrey Vankooten was on the show discussing many important topics including the fear of Missing Out. We constantly check our e-mail and Facebook pages and distract ourselves with TV and media when should be focusing on what’s important. How about those times you were presented with something truly fabulous and maybe a little scary and were afraid to grab it or say yes? So you went back to what was easy and comfortable. When my cat Lettie was alive, she would always run to her food bowl when she was scared or confused. We do the same.

Jeffery said that by running to our food bowl or checking e-mail when we should be focusing on what’s important is making us less resilient to change. Americans are some of the most stressed out people in the world because we can’t handle change. He gave a few suggestions to consider when life doesn’t go as we expect:

  • Take time to think. Turn off your TV and detox yourself from internet and just think.
  • Consider what’s really important and what changes you CAN make.
  • Choose to accept chaos and that shit sometimes happens.
  • Go with the flow and laugh. Yes, laugh. When I was in New Zealand my dad and I went on a short kayaking trip. At one point in the trip we had to paddle against the wind and current and it was hard. I was tired and frustrated and instead of getting mad, I laughed. It helped.

So in conclusion, Gentle Reader, the next time you are faced with the feeling someone is Having More Fun Than You, regroup and consider if they really are or if it’s just your perception.

Tune in next week when I discuss the various ways in which you can make you your own fun (and not get arrested) and mostly importantly, make your own content.

Adventures in Thoughts and Processes

 

This week I had a moment of what I like to call Low Self Esteem. Due to a lack of exercise, my hormones were off and my brain was not firing properly. When this happens Mean Voice ™ takes over and ‘not good enough’ mantra begins its loop in my brain. It was a bad day and I did eventually get over it but not before doing some Deep Thinking on the State of Things. As a typical Virgo, whenever I need to think things out, I make lists. I made lists of What Was Important, What Was Lacking. Why, How and What. Don’t look at me like that. I’m a Virgo.

As I made my lists I noticed a theme was forming. I was comparing myself and my path to other more successful people around me and catering to the Mean Voice. Not a good thing when your hormones are out of whack. But the Virgo part of my brain realized that maybe there was something lacking otherwise I wouldn’t be doing this. In business there is a process companies use to gauge their progress called benchmarking. Let’s say you own a start-up perfume company that sells organic perfumes and body lotions all lovingly hand-crafted by free-range children. After a year or two, you notice Gen X Perfumes down the block from you is doing better and has recently launched a successful campaign showcasing their perfumes made from free range silk worms. The perfume is flying off the shelves and they have been featured in the local press. Now the hormonal and Mean Brain thing to do would be to throw a pity party and wail to the Universe how things are not fair.

Or.. you can sit down like a good Virgo and make a list and do a little benchmarking. What does Gen X Perfumes do that make them more successful? What processes do they use to rise above the competition and give their customers added value? The key, I have been told by my Project Management Husband, is to focus on the PROCESS. Obviously, you can’t be Gen X Perfumes with their Über budget but you can use their processes to make your business shine. It’s the same thing you can use when Mean Voice is comparing you to others.

During my recent trip to New Zealand with my dad and sister, I met many people in our tour group who had traveled to many exotic countries including the state of Missouri. Now, I love to travel (I just don’t like airports) and I found I was more than a little jealous I couldn’t “be like them” and go on Big Trips every year. Instead of wallowing in self pity and a checking account with a low balance, I can use the same benchmarking techniques above and their love for travel to “be more like them.” By examining what makes these people successful in their travels, I can start making changes to work toward my own goals. The key to benchmarking is understanding the difference in scales between them and you. While I might not be able to go to Tibet each year, I can plan for smaller trips RIGHT NOW and eventually end up in Tibet in 5 years.

Many of the guests on A Closer Look Radio discuss benchmarking and how you can use it for your own business or even your life to gain momentum and get out of ruts. I recommend listening to Pam’s interview she did last week with marketing guru Kelly McDonald. Kelly discusses the 2010 Census and the demographic changes in America. She noted we cannot take the same things for granted when we are benchmarking or marketing to potential clients. It can either be scary for those who don’t like change or exciting for those who want more than bologna on white bread with mayo.

So, now is the time I have to ask how YOU, gentle reader, can use benchmarking in your own pursuits to be and do better and get out of self-imposed ruts?

Absinthe-fueld Gangster Rap

This morning I spent one hour and 15 minutes ignoring my To Do List, putting aside the 4 stories I have to write by Tuesday, and brushing off a blog post that just wouldn’t write itself. Instead, I sat at my computer looking at the websites of Creative People™ wishing my ideas would effortlessly flow like theirs. I envisioned myself hammering away at my keyboard producing amazing content during absinthe-fueled evenings set against a soundtrack of Mozart arias, tribal house music, and gangster rap.

As I closed my tabs and looked at the blank page, Disappointed Voice kicked in. Why wasn’t I producing great content and offering it to the masses? Where was my creative spirit? I look at my surroundings and noticed I still hadn’t taken a shower and was wearing my pajamas and a sweatshirt. My hair was sticking straight up (I’m sure Mozart would be proud) and I was drinking orange out of a wine glass. My husband asked me why I choose a wine glass and I looked at him and said, “How do you drink it?” There was a coffee cup filled with a fruit smoothie in front of me and a notebook full of ideas and plans.

And yet, I sit here looking at Facebook checking my e-mail waiting for inspiration to attach itself to my ankle like a rabid dog. Like many, I get distracted by shiny things and it takes me a while to get back to where I need to be. It usually involves a pity party or two, a list, and then focus. If I actually took my own advice and left the house to write and create, I would probably get more done. I edited a series of children’s books for a woman who wrote most of them in a local pub. When my husband and I have important decisions to make, we don’t make them at the kitchen table; we get out of the house and go to a favorite pub for deep discussions and list-making.

I’m beginning to think that there is just too much noise and content for us to get anything done. Good decision making has atrophied to what is comfortable and familiar instead of unknown and a little scary. Last week on A Closer Look Radio, Pam interviewed futurist Eric Garland who pretty much said the same thing. He recently published this article for the Atlantic Monthly explaining how Über conglomerates are creating redundancy through bureaucracy and ignoring the fact that times they are a changing. Eric argues we left what was considered “normal” in 2008 and will never go back. These Über corporations don’t want to face this fact while perpetuating mediocrity.

I mentioned this idea to my husband and he wisely pointed out how companies spend too much time dealing with issues and not enough time adapting to changing climates. He also said something that really stuck with me: We need a peaceful and sacred space from which to make decisions. We need to get away from the interwebs, Facebook, and cell phones and just catch our breath. There’s too much out there distracting us from making good decisions or writing good blog posts.

By spending my Sunday morning looking at the websites of Creative People ™ and feeling sorry for myself, I can either perpetuate my own mediocrity or use those sites as inspiration and do something about it. I’d rather do something about it.

What about you? Pity party or absinthe-fueled creativity sessions complete with gangster rap?

Living Deliberately

 

My weekly blog posts have been unusually absent for a few weeks, and gentle reader, will be again for a few more weeks. I have been busy writing articles for pay and seeking out new projects. This was the first weekend in a long time I didn’t have 5 articles due by Monday and a bunch of projects to complete. While I do enjoy the money, I don’t enjoy the stress and spending my weekends in front of the computer.

This weekend I met up with my group of creative friends and we exchanged ideas, notes, and experiences and solved many of the world’s problems. At the end of our gatherings we set intentions or pull a card from a tarot deck to focus our intention for the next month. The card I pulled was from the Enchanted Map Oracle Deck. The card’s focus was on hitting my mark, not letting myself do all the work (like a good Virgo) and most importantly, to live deliberately.

Next week I will be flying halfway around the world to go on a bike tour of New Zealand and spend a couple of days in Sydney, Australia with my dad and sister. I have been to Europe three times and traveled around the U.S. but never gone a trip this big. I have not spent 15 hours on a plane and not eaten vegemite. I have to admit, I am a little overwhelmed and not quite sure what to expect. What I am, however, is excited.

The card I pulled about living deliberately got me thinking about this trip. My dad presented this trip to me and my sister last November and, without asking our supervisors at work if we could have the time off, we simply said yes, we are going. I have been trolling the interwebs for the past couple of days looking at pictures of Milford Sound, Sydney Harbour and other sites.

When you think about how short life really is, it makes me wonder why we don’t take more risks. There are the usual excuses: comfort, patterns, inertia, etc. that keep us from jumping off the cliff but is it worth it to stay home and watch re-runs of Jersey Shore? Yeah, I’m a busy girl and I don’t slow down enough, but I LIVE. My mother always told me to get out of the house and go on adventures, so I do.

In the next two and a half weeks, I’m going to do my best and live deliberately and explore and truly enjoy my trip “down under”. What about you? How can you live deliberately? How can you apply that to your own creativity? I want to hear all about it when I come back. I’ll have plenty of stories to tell.

All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise

Everyone has their own ideas of success. Person X might not feel successful until they make a million dollars. Person Y might not feel successful until they clear a particular hurdle like owning a home or wining a presidential election. For me, I believe in faking it until you make it and no one will be the wiser. I call myself a writer because that’s what I do. I may not have my articles published in The New York Times but I still write just about every day and have had my words published in publications with smaller distributions than The Gray Lady.

In this country we hear about people who arrive with three cents in their pockets and eventually turn into robber barons or are born here to immigrant parents and become 4-star Generals. Their success stories usually involve a lot of work and determination but their failures along the way never seemed to be highlighted.

This week at a friend’s birthday party, I met Edward Martin III. He is a bit of a local legend around here as he writes books, makes movies, doesn’t sleep much and is incredibly creative. I introduced myself by commenting on his creativity and asked if I rubbed myself up against him like a cat if it any of it would rub off on me. He laughed and we launched into a conversation about writing and what we do. We talked about the writing process and I told him I wasn’t very good at writing fiction. He gave me a look like, “have you really tried?”

We talked more about the writing process and something he said at the end of our conversation really hit me. When we see the finished, Photo-shopped image a photographer publishes, there are at least 200 or so images they had to shoot to get to that perfect shot. Same thing with writing. We write a lot of words. Much of it is crap and occasionally we crank out a gem. It is the equivalent of going through 3 rolls of film to get one really good image. During our conversation, Edward pointed to his book of short stories sitting on the table in front of him and said there were at least 3 or 4 stories in the book he really liked and the rest were passable.

Insert light bulbs shattering moment.

As a perfectionist, I thought all writers wrote great works and had to do a little editing at the end. Yes, I’m being completely unreasonable but bear with me. As I stated above, I prefer to learn about the writing process and the failures that happened along the way. As a writer, it’s important to know Neil Gaiman wrote 12 versions of American Gods before completing the final draft. It makes the creative process more human and relatable.

I have a little speech by Ira Glass pinned to my bulletin board that paraphrase the writing process and most importantly, talks about making stuff that isn’t good. We will make crap and we will be disappointed but our good taste in words, stories and art will keep us going. He says people often never get past this phase and our work is only as good as our ambitions. Here’s a link to the videos where Ira describes the creativity and learning process.

So, going back to my original conversation with Edward that lead to this blog post, at the end of the evening Edward shook my hand as we stood outside of The Horse Brass Pub, and without having read a word I have ever written, turned to me and told me to promise to keep writing. I stood there dazed and a little choked up and answered, “Of course I will.”

After my light bulb shattering moment this weekend, I want to pass it along to you, Gentle Reader, and ask that you promise to continue to write, create, experiment, love, do whatever makes you happy, and promise to make a lot of mistakes, create a lot of crap, and thoroughly enjoy the process.

The deep end of the pool is waiting.

Give Them Something Real

Taking the train to work every day allows me to listen in on some interesting conversations – some I want to hear and others not so much. There’s the men and women yelling at their spouses and telling them that yes, even though they have slept with many women/men they ARE faithful. Or the two homeless men trying outdo each other as to who has had the worst life. Or my favorite, the LOUD teenager screeching about music, manga, a mutual friend who may or may not be a ‘ho. Occasionally I get to hear something worthwhile that makes me turn off my iPod and listen.

On the way to work last week, I was sitting near two gentlemen who were talking about their workplace. From what I gathered they worked for a high tech company that may or may not be run by two guys named Steve (not the dead one) and Bill. They were expressing their frustration with the bureaucracy of the company and how difficult it was to get decent products to the customer. About the time one of the gentlemen started talking about “change management” I took out my notebook and started taking notes. Yes, I did take notes -but it’s for your benefit, Gentle Reader.

The main point of the discussion was that the company shouldn’t just “roll shit into production and use ideological management” but to really give the customer something they can use. I began underlining my notes when they talked about creating an infrastructure model for change and making their company relevant. Normally Corporate Speak makes me want to throw things, but this conversation really got me thinking. Why do we fear change so much? Does the same way we’ve been doing things really work? Is there life out of our comfort zones? I’d like to think so.

As a writer I take this in account when I market my services to people. I was a journalist in my previous life and can write quality product quickly and efficiently and I never miss a deadline. I can also change my tone to the client’s needs and really listen to what they want. In her marketing workshops, Pam Atherton talks about making your business relevant and how to differentiate from yourself from the competition. She urges small business owners to find one or two things that will attract people to your services and get beyond the basics. This is good advice for not only your professional life but personal life as well.

Pam also recently interviewed an expert in this field on A Closer Look Radio and had a great discussion on how to manage change. Listen to the interview here.

Before I got off the train, the conversation ended on change management; how to make things more efficient, getting beyond ingrained beliefs. By discussing the flaws and solutions to getting products to their clients, these two guys inspired me while also making me think. How do we as artists, writers, business people and just plain human beings, use change management when we adjust to change and how do we use it to find solutions to our problems? Keep with the old or look into new ideas? Tell me your ideas! Keep those spammers from commenting!

Epic Failing – On Purpose

Each year, über writer and person-I-want-to-be-when-I-grow-up, Neil Gaiman, sends out a New Year’s wish to his readers. Last year he wrote something that needs to be painted on my office walls and meticulously copied in into my journal:

May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness.

This year Neil changed gears a little and presented an interesting idea that should be tattooed on everyone’s brain:

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it. Make your mistakes, next year and forever.

In other words, Neil Gaiman is giving us permission to fail. Is my interpretation too extreme? Maybe, but what this amazing writer is telling us is we have to get away from our computers and Facebook and meet people and making glorious plans and allow ourselves to make mistakes while we do it. In America it seems people’s biggest fears are failure. Failure to achieve those lofty goals we set for ourselves, failure to get our dream business going, failure to train hard enough for an event before the starting date. But is failure really that bad?

I have failed at many things including golf (although I am an excellent putter), making decent spaetzle and getting up early to write. I participated in group sports when I was a kid and realized it was best to quit while I was ahead. I worked in radio for four years before deciding I had enough. Does that make me a failure? No, I am being realistic about my strengths and learning to understand my limits. This, in turn, allows me to become a better-rounded person.

Think of the people you know who have never left their home state. I knew a few people like that, in fact, I know people who live in the suburbs of Portland and refuse to drive downtown. Most likely because traffic is horrible any time of the day, but STILL.. never leaving your suburb?! Don’t make come over there! There is life outside of our comfort zones!

Last week on A Closer Look Radio, Pam interviewed entrepreneur and author Troy Hazard about how to stop lying to yourself and not make decisions based on fear. Listen to the interview here. Troy is a guy who sits down every year and writes out what is truly important to his personal life, his family, and his business and how he can achieve his goals to get the most out of all three aspects.

One thing Troy said that really stuck with me was how he makes that list and includes people who can influence and inspire him to achieve his goals. Perhaps maybe it’s time for me to call up Neil Gaiman and invite him over for afternoon tea. Or maybe just take his advice and start making grand plans and even grander mistakes.

 

Spirit of Place # 1 The Hop & Vine

hop&vine.jpg

Welcome to the inaugural Spirit of Place. For my first “episode” I’m taking you to one my favorite places. No, it’s not Powell’s, but is on my list of places to go. I’m taking you to one of my favorite eating and drinking establishments in North Portland, The Hop & Vine.

The day I came here was a typical rainy Portland afternoon. My plans for the day had fallen through and I wanted to go somewhere to write. I got to thinking about this project and wondered what the spirits here would be like, if they would talk and what stories they would tell. So, I pointed my car to North Portland for a bite to eat and a glass of wine and a conversation.

The spirits at The Hop & Vine aren’t very forthcoming with information or making their presence known. Typically spirits in “haunted” places are usually a bit more forceful and insist on letting me know they are there and whether they like me or not. The spirits at Hop & Vine, however, are a lot like the clientele: laid back, relaxed and passionate about their libations, and are slow to open up.

I connected the spirits after my first glass of wine and lunch. I can’t do anything when my blood sugar is low and I didn’t want to go into the place with my metaphysical guns blazing. I never do that anyway, but you get the point. The spirits here made me work to connect with them as I sent my feelers into the dark corners of the bar. When I finally connected and proved I wasn’t there to exploit or kick them out, I told them I was there to hear their stories and just talk.

Their presence is felt more at night when the windows are steamy and people can’t feel them moving through the building. They are attracted to the building by the energy from the spa next door and come to The Hop & Vine for the ambiance. Having worked in a spa briefly, I can tell you spirits are attracted to the healing energies.

This is their story: We are the people of the land. The people who lived here before you did. We are the people who worked and tilled the soil and died here making Portland what is today. We like the energy here and we like to sit at the bar and trick the bartender dears into making drinks no one ordered. We are the working class, the blue collars and we enjoy the bar for its music, ambiance and tattoos. We stay in the back in the employee only area in the morning and early afternoon and come out at night. Sometimes we sit in the patio area when it’s sunny.

 Are you first natives? No, we are the settlers of Portland. The dockworkers, the mill workers, the people who needed to relax and decompress after work. This is where we came to be with our working families. We don’t like it when people are constantly on their phones, and if you notice, the people here don’t do that. Bring your friends, eat, relax and boast. Use this place like your working class neighborhood bar but with a better tap list and better food. Unpretentious. That is what we are and that is what we try to make this place.

 Come here to hatch plans and write and be creative but don’t take up too much space. This is not your personal office, it is a place for you and your friends and the people you love. We are the protectors of this business and this building and want to keep it prosperous for as long as we can. Thank you for talking to us. Not many can see/hear/or feel us and we are glad you took the time to seek us out. Come back often and hatch more plans.

I wrote this piece and let it sit for a few weeks and recently returned to Hop & Vine for date night with my husband. We sat outside in the back and I said hello to the spirits.  While we were there, I looked around and noticed, that except for the guy who brought his laptop into the bar to show pictures to his friends, no one was on their phones. People talked, laughed, ate and enjoyed each others company without posting pictures of their food and drinks on Facebook. I encourage you to come here for a date night or after work drink with people you want to laugh and talk to and leave your phones in the car. The spirits will thank you.

Do you have a place you want me to go? Drop me a line in the comments I’ll see what I can do.

Introduction to a new series

Window in Window

WordPress has kindly informed me this blog is beyond dusty and extremely moldy as I haven’t posted anything for a little over 2 years. Kinda sad, but life got in the way and I had a brief writing crisis of faith where everything I wrote felt like it wasn’t any good.

But the muse bit me recently and bit hard and I would like to introduce to you, gentle reader, to a new series to this blog called Spirit of Place.

As many of you know, I have been reading runes and tarot cards for well over 20 years and I also connect with spirits and provide readings for people who want to learn about and get to know their spirit guides. I guess my official title would be Medium. I call them spirits and not dead people because I find that to be disrespectful.

haunted fountainThe idea of Spirit of Place came to me when my sister, Rachel, and I were in Italy. We had just visited a nice haunted castle in a cute little Italian town and were enjoying some afternoon libations near a water fountain in a small park. Rachel also has the same gifts as me and told me there was a spirit near the water fountain who wanted to talk to us.

I convinced the spirit that the language barrier wasn’t a problem and were introduced to a very dapper spirit named Fritz. Fritz told us about his family, his life and why he chose the water fountain and the park. We had a pleasant chat with Fritz and when we were done, we poured out a little of our afternoon libations and thanked Fritz for his stories. He thanks us for listening and went back to the fountain.

And that is what I am going to do this with blog series. I will visit local business, open spaces, parks, etc. and talk to the “Fritzs” inhabiting the spaces and ask them to tell me their stories. I will also ask how others can take advantage of the “spirit” of these places for your own benefit. Also, if I go to a place and the spirits don’t feel like talking, I won’t push. I may come back a few times until they do, but if they really don’t want to talk, I won’t force them.

Please also note: this is not a “ghost hunting” blog. I’m not going to whip out EMF Meters or digital recorders and demand the spirits talk to me. I find that recent trend to be a disrespectful and I’m not here to get readings.

I hope you enjoy this “spirited” ride and if you have any places you want to recommend or are curious about, let me know.

Also, if you do visit the places I write about, make sure to leave an offering for the spirits residing there.

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