Support Your Local Bookseller

bloggessI am a little—no, a lot—ashamed to say that after having lived in the Bay Area for almost eight years, tonight was my first visit to Book Passage, the premier independent bookstore in Corte Madera. I have been meaning to go, in much the same way that James Garner was forever “basically on [his] way to Australia” in Support Your Local Sheriff.  And there was the time in 2007 when I crashed the Poetry for Water fundraiser at The Lark Theater after seeing it on the calendar of my SoMa Literary Review email a few hours before it started, not knowing that it was an event for people who had gotten tickets from Book Passage, because I thought it would be really cool to hear Peter Coyote read poetry in person. (It was really cool, and so was listening to Anne Lamott read one of her humorous essays and watching Nina Wise perform an interpretive dance, and I know this because the kind Book Passage staff member found a person in line with two extra tickets and gave them to us.)

So, what drew me into Book Passage tonight for a virtual stamp in my imaginary literary passport? None other than Jenny Lawson, also known as The Bloggess. If you are not one of the gazillion people who became a fan when her post about buying a big metal chicken named Beyonce went viral, you need a little more whimsy in your life. I had felt a bit smug as the link to And That’s Why You Should Learn to Pick Your Battles… rocketed its way across Facebook and beyond; after all, I had bookmarked The Bloggess in my Favorites, in 2009, after designer Jamie Varon told me she had designed the web site. And I lurked and loved her posts for a good two weeks before I stopped reading blogs altogether, because they reminded me that other people had developed good writing habits, which reminded me that I had not.

Jenny Lawson, who is on tour promoting her book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir), is positively delightful! That she inspired me to sit down two hours later and write, when I have built a wall of writer’s blocks that would put Pink Floyd to shame, is truly saying something. Flanked by Copernicus-the-Homicidal-Monkey and Juanita Weasel, Lawson started by recounting how she might have inadvertently insulted Lisa Loeb this morning when she walked into “hair and makeup” before a live television interview, saw her with large curlers in her hair and—not realizing it was Loeb—exclaimed, “Bitch stole my look!”

Lawson is self-deprecating to a fault, proclaiming that she is proud to be a “misfit,” and she is grateful to her many fans who may or may not be misfits in their own way. She is at the same time candid, outrageous, and humble, tearing up with almost every “thank you” directed at the audience, and in response to the boy who did not ask a question, but said, “My abs hurt from your sparkling personality.”

Jenny Lawson wakes up famous every day, whether or not she is able to get herself out of bed—or the bathroom. She is an inspiration to writers and other misfits, and anyone else who would take “You can’t say vagina on CNN” as an invitation to find a colorful euphemism.

As an aside, in February, after a comedy show at the Impala Lounge in San Francisco, comedian Rachel McDowell told me that I was her “happy place,” because I was clearly enjoying her show and I exuded “positive energy.”  So, Jenny, if you are reading this, I was the woman with sunglasses on her head in the seat that was perfectly aligned with the center aisle of the front group of chairs, about 35 feet from the lectern, sitting behind and just to the left—your right—of the guy wearing the black watch cap despite its being 85 degrees today. I hope I was able to be your happy place.

But not in a weird way.

Fame is about Sharing your Dreams

Inside jacket sleeve of "I Am Alive" CD by Tamara George.
Inside jacket sleeve of “I Am Alive” CD by Tamara George.

I wrote a few songs in the mid 90s, initially planning to self-produce a CD. That intention transformed into submitting songs to publishers, instead. When life twisted and turned, as it does, and I stopped songwriting, I vowed to return to it someday.

Intentions are funny things; we must be open to seeing them manifest in ways other than we imagined they would appear.

I met Tamara George, in 2004, at a spiritual center choir practice. She asked me if I knew any teachers, because she was working on a liberal studies degree and needed to interview a seventh-grade science teacher. I told her that I taught seventh-grade math and science.

When we met for the interview two weeks later, Tamara told me that she had changed the emphasis of her degree from teaching to Spiritual Consciousness, and that she would begin a master’s program in Consciousness Studies as soon as she finished her bachelor’s degree; she had decided to become a minister.

The interview—she still needed it to complete a course—turned into an evening of talking about music and songwriting. I had written and demoed a few songs the previous decade, and she had written a few within the past couple years and was still writing. That night, we knew that we had become friends the moment we met.

Over the next eight years, Tamara earned her master’s degree, became a minister and founded an omni-faith spiritual center with a dynamic youth group, and continued writing and performing her music all the while; we often sang together. When she was offered the opportunity to work on a spirit-based project with the potential to reach a global audience, she closed the spiritual center, receiving nothing but well wishes and encouragement from the members.

In the midst of all her transitions, Tamara completed her first CD, I am Alive, with the help of her friends. I had the privilege of singing backing vocals and assisting with the album artwork. They aren’t my songs, and it isn’t my CD, but to date, it is the closest I have come to fulfilling one of my own dreams. General Electric and I: we [help] bring good things to life.

In the studio where I recorded my demos, there was a sticker on the wall that said, “We become successful by helping other people to become successful.” I wholeheartedly agree, and would paraphrase that to say, “We become famous by helping other people become famous.”

We live in a reciprocal universe; what we give freely returns to us in ways we cannot even imagine.

What have you done to help someone achieve his or her dreams?

Who could use your help today?

Fame and a Life

fameI spent a little time with PhotoShop today, creating the above image to showcase Clive James’ quote. I’d write more, but I reread the quote as I placed it on the page, so I am heading out the door to have a life today.

If you are not doing something to feed your spirit, right now, then I invite you to turn off your computer and find something that will.

Convergence, Synchronicity, or Boomwalla?

convergenceMerriam-Webster defines convergence as “the act of moving toward union or uniformity, especially: coordinated movement of the two eyes so that the image of a single point is formed on corresponding retinal areas,” and “the merging of distinct technologies, industries, or devices into a unified whole.”

Dictionary.com calls synchronicity “an apparently meaningful coincidence in time of two or more similar or identical events that are causally unrelated.”

While I was mulling over this post, trying to decide which of the two terms was more applicable to my recent experience, my friend Tom Fiffer posted this on Facebook:

missing

 

In 1997, artist Clark Whittington repurposed an old cigarette vending machine to sell his photographs, thus giving birth to the first Art-o-mat. Today, more than 90 machines dispense the miniature works of hundreds of artists worldwide, in venues ranging from a coffee shop in Boise, Idaho, to the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.

According to the Art-o-mat web site:

Artists in Cellophane (A.I.C.), the sponsoring organization of Art-o-mat, is based on the concept of taking art and “repackaging” it to make it part of our daily lives. The mission of A.I.C. is to encourage art consumption by combining the worlds of art and commerce in an innovative form.

I first learned of Art-o-mat about a decade ago, but I had never seen the real thing until I accompanied photographer Suzin Porter to RayKo Photo Center, in San Francisco, where she picked up the flash that she used when she took the picture above. I might have squealed when I saw the machine, and then I rushed to the counter to buy the $5 token needed to acquire my first mystery art. After much deliberation, I selected a piece by Andy Mathis, whose business-card-size placard showed watercolors of animals.

I opened my cellophane-wrapped treasure to find a varnished print of a cat entitled Maybelline, complete with a tiny display “easel” fashioned from the business card of “Andy Mathis, Veterinarian/Watercolor Artist.” I was both delighted and intrigued.

"Maybelline." Varnished print by Andy Mathis.
“Maybelline.” Varnished print by Andy Mathis.

Visiting Andy’s web site reminded me that when we say, “I’d love to (write, paint, play guitar), but I just don’t have the time,” it is a big, fat lie.

You see, Andy didn’t retire and take up painting—he took a class and started painting shortly after finishing veterinary school! And he just kept painting—and marketing. Many of the proceeds from his sales support animal charities, and he does targeted fundraising to help treat specific animals.

And he blogs.

I emailed Andy to thank him for his artwork and learned that he had been questioning the value of his time-consuming commitment to create work for Art-o-mat. He was very gracious and said that hearing from me made it seem more worthwhile. He also sent me this picture of the real Maybelline and her cohort, Leon, two “hospital cats” he spared from certain fate.

Photo courtesy of Andy Mathis.
Photo courtesy of Andy Mathis.

If our collective experiences call us to assign varying degrees of meaning to events, what is the magic number? How many things need to be “in our dots” before we connect them and call them meaningful? Does the fact that I wanted to be a veterinarian from about age 5 until shortly before I graduated from high school make it any more interesting than the simple fact that a woman from Napa, California, bought a picture painted by a veterinarian from Elberton, Georgia, from a repurposed cigarette machine in San Francisco?

Convergence, synchronicity, or boomwalla?

Ah, yes: it’s life!

Shhh… Somebody Might Hear You

shhhFor as long as I can remember, people have told me that I am a talented singer and a gifted writer. When I run into friends I haven’t seen for years, one of the first things they ask is, “Are you still singing?” If they know that I have been published, then “Are you still writing?” invariably follows.

I could say, “I’m writing excuses for not singing,” and kill two birds with one stone, but I’d be lying about the writing part. Mostly. Plus I sang the national anthem at a Super Bowl party to the appreciation of a lot of new friends who had never heard me sing—another dozen or so people who will ask, “Are you still singing?” every time we meet until the end of days.

The truth is that I love to sing. I have performed alone, in school choirs, in madrigal choirs, and in small local bands. I have sung for weddings, for memorial services, in musicals, on karaoke nights, and in the classroom, to the surprise and delight of my students.

I also love to write. Or rather, I love to have written. Poetry, short stories, articles, essays, blog posts, tweets, letters, and funny one-liners. In my early 30s, I combined my love of music and words into songwriting and created eight or nine demos over the course of about two years.

And still, I can never give a definitive, “Yes!” to either of those two questions.

I have declined some invitations to sing because I’m afraid I’ll forget the lyrics, and I have accepted others and then done just that. After Christina Aguilera’s performance at the actual Super Bowl, my new fans included, “And you even remembered the words!” in their praise. Smugness is cruel: I knew exactly how Christina felt.

My fear of writing—because surely it is fear—is that I will have nothing interesting to say. I can talk a good game about how it doesn’t matter, that writing is about the process, and that I only need to write about what is interesting to me, but when it comes down to facing the blank page, I see it only as a reflection of my mind: blank. I have nothing to say right now. I will have nothing to say five minutes from now. I will NEVER have ANYTHING to say.

We can now say things like, “Our beliefs create our realities,” in public, without having people exchange knowing glances behind our backs. The idea that our attitudes and intentions affect our lives has reached our collective consciousness. That said, as I write this, I am home, sick with a cold that has stolen my voice; teaching middle school is challenging enough on days that I can speak.

Let’s revisit two of my fears and throw in one of my persistent beliefs:

“I’m afraid I’ll forget the words.”
“I have nothing interesting to say.”
“My students don’t listen to me.”

Interesting.

I credit Diane D.M. Solis for bringing me to the page today. After I read her post, Life is Always Teaching Us…Something, it occurred to me: Talking is not an option right now, but silence is a choice. If I don’t honor the still, small voice within, it will stop singing, too. And that would be tragic.

Now it’s your turn. Where are you holding back because of what someone else might think? What things do you dismiss simply because they come easily to you? And, of course: What is the one thing you would do if you knew you could not fail?

Do it anyway.

Starstruck

starstruckI am not one to gush at celebrities. People are people, and I respect others’ right to privacy, unlike my daughter’s friend, who all but lost bladder control when David Beckham came into her workplace. That said, I am intrigued by actors, and by knowing who appeared with whom in what. It fascinates me how often I rent two movies, sometimes from different genres and filmed years apart, and see the same character actor in both. When he or she shows up on CSI: Anywhere, a day or two later, I buy a lottery ticket.

I don’t worry about the meaning of life, but I have spent many a sleepless night wondering, “What is her name?” or, “Where have I seen him before?” Not only does the Internet Movie Database prove the interconnectedness of everything; it also keeps me off Ambien.

I am hardly the first one to suggest this celluloid-channeled-coincidence. It’s been two decades since the concept of six degrees of separation—that on the average, any two people in the world are separated by six social connections—became the six degrees of Kevin Bacon. Until last weekend, however, I’d never turned to IMDB to investigate any connection to my own life.

When I checked in for a writers’ retreat, I recognized a name on the list as someone I’d searched several months ago. Despite my clear memory of having looked up her name, I could neither picture her face nor remember what had prompted the search. I consulted the IMDB app on my Android. Yes, her face seemed familiar, and I have seen several of the things listed in her filmography, but nothing hinted at why I so distinctly remembered her name.

Given my celebrities-are-just-people stance, I was mortified when my response to her sitting next to me at our retreat kickoff was an overwhelming desire to gush, “You got to work with Nora Ephron!” or, “You have such a cool job!” I said neither of these things, nor did I say, “I know who you are,” because (1) see right to privacy, above, and (2) it is rude to suggest that you know who somebody is because you have seen their resume. Plus, you know that feeling you get when you meet someone for the first time and you feel like you’ve known that person forever? Right. Stalking.

She introduced herself to our group as both an actress and a published novelist, and I realized that it was not a movie that originally prompted me to search IMDB; it was the bio on her web site, where I had landed after visiting her blog, where I had landed after visiting two or three writing sites recommended by someone on Twitter, who had undoubtedly retweeted something by Kevin Bacon.

Later, she told me that her 10-year-old forbids her to wear anything with stripes when she picks her up from school and asked if she would please “not smile so big” when she runs into friends. In other words, she has a perfectly typical relationship with her daughter. When I finally confessed the I-looked-you-up-on-IMDB thing, she asked if I thought it could have been a precognition that we would meet, which led to an interesting metaphysical discussion. And yes, she felt like she knew me, too.

We shape our lives with each choice we make. The difference between waking up famous and waking up FAMOUS can be as simple as the difference between majoring in acting instead of business administration. Choose with your heart, and once in a while, give yourself permission to be starstruck.

Kudos: In 2007, Kevin Bacon created SixDegrees.org, “social networking with a social conscience,” where people can support charitable organizations. Go Kevin!

 

Branch Out

Joshua_tree_1I am fascinated by Joshua trees. Some grow in a single column, some have a few twisted branches that make their silhouettes resemble people in unusual poses, and others are truly majestic, with dozens of branches reaching out in all directions. Whenever I cross the Mojave desert in the evening, I see them as spirits of the desert, waiting to strike a new pose the moment I look away.

Last year, I asked a man at a cactus shop why there is such a vast difference in the trees. He told me that each time a tree is injured, it splits, growing two branches from the injured point. The bigger the tree, the more it has been wounded.

Our wounds contribute to our growth in much the same way. Painful experiences are the opportunities that foster our development, provided we don’t cling to the pain itself. There is a big difference between, “Look what I’ve been through,” and, “Look what I’ve become!”

Branch out. Bless those things that split you in two and force you to grow. The more arms you have reaching for the stars, the greater your chance of catching them.

Hibernate. Then Wake Up.

hibernateA funny thing happens when we begin to pursue our dreams. We experience elation: We’re really doing it! And then we feel terror: We’re really doing it! Now what?

Hibernation is a necessary part of the growth process. Digging deeper into our creative well requires going underground. The danger is when we forget to resurface, hiding under the pretense of finding our voice. We also need sunlight to grow.

When we experience discouragement, we risk oversleeping. Or we issue the ultimate dream killer: Well, that didn’t work. Clearly, I’m not meant to do this.

And that’s a lie.

We were meant to do whatever it is we decide we were meant to do. And, if we stop doing it, for whatever reason, we can start doing it again the moment we are ready.

Allow your postponed dreams to come back to you like long-lost friends. The longer they have been away, the more they will have to tell you.

Photo by digitalART2; Creative Commons license.

Discover Who You Really Are

illuminationIn mid-August, I attended a life-changing workshop. In just five days, I changed my eating habits, discovered what it feels like to be truly aware of my body, had a direct experience of being one with everything, and owned up to my having had one foot out the door of my relationship since it began. I also learned what it means to be fully present in each moment; the downside is that it has been a challenge to hold onto thoughts long enough to write about them, hence the big blogging hiatus.

Then again, had I written about my experience within a day or two of my return, how credible would my testimonial be? In 2007, I attended a three-day financial-mindset-improvement workshop where I acquired useful information. For at least three days after it ended, I claimed to be “transformed.” Except, not so much.

The key to change is something so simple and close to us that we fail to notice it. In fact, it’s with us all the time, but we can’t see it until we look into the right kind of mirror: the face of another.

Maybe you’ve heard it said that others are just mirrors of ourselves. Maybe you believe it. I had said it, myself, and believed it.

And then I experienced it. Completely.

Now, my wish is that every person on the planet could attend the Illumination Intensive or a similar workshop with a teacher who has trained with WarriorSage.

The work is done in dyads, wherein two people alternate between being the speaking partner and the listening partner. The speaking partner responds to, “Tell me who you are,” or another prompt, and the listening partner says, “Thank you,” (and ONLY “Thank you,”) when he or she has heard and understood the response. Dyads are confidential and consist of new partners every time, and each is approached as though it were the first, because each one truly is a new experience.

Every time I thought, “I couldn’t possibly have anything in common with that person,” I was humbled. Without exception, every person who sat before me presented a reflection of myself. And, I had the unique privilege of being witness to the full range of others’ emotions, from elation to grief, and sharing my own.

The staff created an amazingly safe space to “go deep,” and the love in the room was palpable. To ensure that everyone has an intensely personal experience, couples who attend the workshop are encouraged to steer clear of each other throughout the process, and they are not allowed to room together. My partner and I agreed to alternate between sides of the room each day and scarcely made eye contact until the last evening, when I said I realized I’d had one foot out the door, forever, and it was received with a simple, “Thank you.”

I don’t think I’ve ever been “all in” before. It’s pretty nice.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will receive EXACTLY NOTHING if you sign up for the Illumination Intensive or any other WarriorSage event. I am not an affiliate. Not yet, anyway. I intend to attend more events, and I would love to become a trainer someday, but for now, I am merely somebody whose has been rocked to the core of her being.

I hope you will treat yourself to this amazing experience. After you do, please come back and tell me who you are.

If You Must Complain, Blame Drew’s Cancer

bdc_teesOn May 20, 2009, Drew Olanoff was diagnosed with stage 3 Hodgkins lymphoma. 28 years old and embarking on a new job with the mobile startup GOGII, Olanoff thought that his dreams were ending—at least, that’s what he thought for a minute or two. And then he did something first-rate: he decided to let cancer be the victim.

Enlisting the help of software developer Mike Demers, a friend who beat Hodgkins, Olanoff created BlameDrewsCancer, a web site that encourages people to blame anything and everything on his cancer. Fender bender? BlameDrewsCancer. Mullets? BlameDrewsCancer. Poodles? BlameDrewsCancer.

But why blame Drew’s cancer? As Olanoff says in his blog:

“I am trying to stay lighthearted and optimistic that since studies show that Hodgkins Lymphoma is 90% curable…I should do SOMETHING.”

And he has. By making the choice to shout at cancer instead of whisper about it, Olanoff has raised both awareness and funds. As of this writing, he had raised $3,000 for the American Cancer Society, $500 for Make-A-Wish, and $962 for LIVESTRONG, the foundation established by cancer survivor Lance Armstrong, in 1997.

In a guest post on the LIVESTRONG blog, Olanoff says that LIVESTRONG’s support made him feel “alive and protected, and surrounded by heart.” And, thanks to BlameDrewsCancer, Armstrong had something to blame for the broken collarbone he suffered several weeks before the 2009 Tour de France.

bdc_lance

The fame that comes from within reminds us that we have control over our perspective. We choose whether to focus on a 90% success rate or the other 10 percent.

Comedian Steven Wright jokes that he knows when he’s going to die because his birth certificate has an expiration date. The funniest thing about the joke—or the saddest—is that even if someone knew precisely when he was going to die, he’d be just as likely to put off doing the things that truly feed his spirit until he had “just enough” time left to do them.

Doctors sometimes hand out time-stamped diagnoses like they were library book due dates. If you’re not finished with the story by the posted date, you might be able to renew it, but if somebody else is waiting for it, you have to give it up. Those raised to follow doctors’ orders and institutional rules without question will accept this and let the story end right there.

The library imposes fines, but it does not send a militia to retrieve overdue materials. People who wake up famous keep their stories until they are finished, and they read them aloud for the benefit of others who are waiting.

What stories do you need to finish, start over, or rewrite altogether? More importantly, what’s keeping you from doing it? Name it, BlameDrewsCancer for it, and get on with living famously.

The opening image is from Thropic T-Shirts, a company that clearly gets real fame. For each BlameDrewsCancer t-shirt purchased, $8 goes directly to the LIVESTRONG/Lance Armstrong Foundation. You can also support LIVESTRONG by making a donation via Blame Drew’s Cancer Sponsorship Page.