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Once again, I’m writing at bedtime—my bedtime, which is past the time when the day officially ends. December 2 is just coming to a close for me. December 3 will start after one sleep.

December 2’s prompt comes from Leo Babuta: Writing. What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing—and can you eliminate it?

My answer is easy to identify and difficult to conquer: Cringing in fear. Most people call it procrastination, and Barbara Sher, one of my favorite authors, calls it resistance, but I know that it’s fear, pure and simple. I’m afraid to write what I most want to write. the more I want it, the more I fear—fear that it can’t possibly be as good on the page or on the screen as it is in my head, and even greater fear that it will be exactly that good, and people will hate me for seeming better than them, or for saying something so strongly.

When I get scared, I do anything I can to avoid writing. The worst offenders are the tasks that accomplish very little, like driving aimlessly, reading every entry on Failbook.com or FML, watching mindless TV. Sometimes I do great, useful things while I’m trying not to write, like going for a run, practicing my guitar, designing a new knitted hat, or calling an old friend, but knowing that I’m doing it for the sake of running away, rather than running towards the good things, steals some of the joy out of the task. And in any case, I become increasingly guilty and stressed out because I haven’t written. If it’s professional work I’m trying not to write, I will get it done by the deadline, but with more stress and less devoted time than I wish I’d had. If it’s personal writing, it often doesn’t get done at all.

Can I eliminate this? Probably not entirely. If I knew how to simply get rid of the fear, I would have done so years ago, and saved a lot of wasted time. So far, the procrastination activities are what I need to do to calm the fear enough to allow myself to write. I will work on finding the best, most efficient ways to get past the fear. I will try to streamline the process. This is my project for the coming year, and probably for the rest of my life.

In an effort to re-start my personal blog, and to focus my mind for the coming year, I’ve joined the #Reverb10 project, in which bloggers write on a prompt for every day of December. I’m posting right before I go to bed at the end of my December 1, even though it’s past midnight and the calendar says December 2. I plan to write every night this month before bed—maybe earlier sometimes, but #Reverb10 is likely to be my bedtime musing most nights.

December first’s #Reverb 10 prompt is: One Word. Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you?

2010: Testing

This was a year of trying things out. In 2010, I’d come to see that my plan of living from house sit to house sit, rent-free, living on very low income, had become more a form of hiding than a way of exploring what life had to offer. The fully nomadic, low-money-usage life may have had things to teach me, but it had outlived its purpose. It was time to try something new.

On the other hand, I knew I still didn’t want a conventional life. Near the end of 2009, I turned down a full-time ad-agency proofreading job (at the height of the recession!) because it didn’t offer to teach me anything I needed to learn—but also because, I realized, I really couldn’t imagine working a standard, 9 to 5, office job ever again. I wanted to expand my career(s) and be part of the economy, rather than avoiding needing or using money.

To that end, I spent 2010 trying things out. I found wonderful mentors in two of my major writing clients, and now I’ve learned corporate ghost blogging, taking my freelance writing career in an entirely new, constantly educational, far more lucrative direction.

I tried living in one place, sharing a cabin in Evergreen (a gorgeous small town in Colorado’s foothills) with the boyfriend I met in the second half of 2009. From that, I learned that Evergreen was too far from the hustle and bustle of Denver city life for my taste, and my romantic relationship worked better when we lived in separate homes.

I slowly tested my acting skills in new directions, too. The start of 2010 found me in Chicago auditioning for MFA acting programs . . . to no avail. I learned that my lack of formal theater education, and probably my age, make it extremely unlikely that I’ll ever be accepted into such a program. I’ll have to find other ways to take my acting to a higher level. Back home in Denver, I experimented: I acted in my first scripted stage show in three years. I became a regular in children’s murder mystery shows. (Yes, there are such things. Don’t worry—we murder fictional adults and let the kids solve the cases. No children are murdered.) Most amazingly, I learned how to help train police officers by playing realistic characters in crisis—mentally ill people, the developmentally disabled, and people who were very angry or severely traumatized.

I spent the 2010 trying new things in all kinds of directions, still not sure what was the right path to focus on.

2011 Direction

On New Year’s Day, 2011, I’ll already be at Shakespeare & Company, a Shakespeare festival theater company in the Berkshires, working my ass of in their month-long intensive training program for professional actors. I’ve known for three years now that this is what I most want to do with my acting career: perform live, on stage, in the classical and other brilliant plays done by Shakespeare festivals. Giving up on MFAs, I’ve chosen the most direct route I can find: the highly-respected, Shakespeare-specific training of Shakespeare & Company’s 40-year-old Month-Long Intensive program. I still don’t know exactly where my acting will go when I finish this “acting boot camp” and return to my regular life, but I’m confident that what I learn in the Berkshires will help me map my course.

Corporate blogging will continue to be my bread and butter from February on. I’ve already arranged with my best client to pre-write the blogs that will go live while I’m at business further as soon as I’m back home. I also plan to start writing fiction again—once my favorite art form, but one I’ve neglected since college. I haven’t felt I had the concentration to write my own stories these past . . . too many years. It’s time to find my focus again.

As for my home, when I finish my actor training, I will still have a home to come back to. I’ve been renting a room in the house of an old friend from high school, and I love it here. I’ve actually unpacked and set up furniture. I have a home base to help me focus on my next direction . . . or directions.

 

And my love life? That’s the one area of my life I don’t think I have the power, or good reason, to try to direct.

There are drawbacks to freelancing (financial ups and downs, feast-or-famine schedules, condescending credit card companies), but there are many rewards, as well. Perhaps the greatest of those is being able to choose every project I take on, and sometimes being paid to do things I would love to do whether or not money was involved.

For example, I often do small projects for Sounds True, the spiritual and self-help publisher where I’ve once had the privilege of working full-time. Lately, I’ve been transcribing installments of Sounds True’s weekly podcast, Insights from the Edge, for posting on their web site. In these podcasts, Sounds True Founder and CEO Tami Simon interviews great thinkers who’ve created audio programs (lectures and lessons on CD or downloadable mp3) for Sounds True. Three weeks ago, I was particularly excited to find that Tami had interviewed Vicki Robin, who, with the late Joe Dominguez, co-authored Your Money or Your Life. I was being paid to listen to one of the great heroes whose ideas had informed much of my adult life! Check out the interview here.

Tami’s interview celebrates the release of the updated, 10th anniversary edition of the Your Money or Your Life. I remember when the book first came out, when I was a 20-something, deep in college studies and deep in anxiety, wondering if I would ever figure out how to handle my own finances, live free of family support, and take care of myself. I read the book, began tracking my expenses, and have never looked at a job offer or a price tag in the same way since. It’s not an exaggeration to say that this book changed my life, or more accurately, that it did a great deal to shape my adult life.

Vicki Robin and her coauthor, the late Joe Dominguez, taught me to see money as something I (or someone, such as my parents, who have given me many generous gifts over my lifetime) traded hours of my (or my loved one’s) precious, limited life to gain. They also taught me that credit is a form of indentured servitude—a harsh way to put it, but it is signing up to work for many hours, often hundreds or thousands of hours, to pay off a debt—not free money. And best of all, they taught me that true financial independence—defined not as having mountains of money, but as being wholly in control of one’s own financial life—is possible. Creative lifestyles can be fun and freeing, the “American dream” is not a dream for one, and a sustainable world for all is possible.

I was delighted to trade my life energy for money when it came with a chance to listen to Vicki Robin expanding on the ideas from this life-changing book. The interview is a nice introduction to the Your Money or Your Life philosophy, and an interesting listen (or read, if you prefer—just go to the podcast page and click “Read the Transcript” to see my handiwork). I encourage you to check it out.

2009Happy new year!

I’m not always a fan of New Year’s resolutions. We all tend to make cliche ones (“I’ll lose weight” or “I’ll be a nicer person”) and then immediately ignore them. Lately, though, I’ve been setting down some lofty, but exciting goals for myself, and now looks like the perfect time to share them with … well, whoever, if anyone, is reading this blog. Keep me honest, folks. Knowing that someone is out there watching me, ready to be disappointed in me if I should fail to meet my goals, will spur me on. If you’d like to share your goals with me in the comments here, I promise to cheer you on, too. Let’s make this the best year of our lives! All righty. Here’s what I have in mind for 2009:

  • Get my own home. This is part of the plan that I came back from Oregon with, and I still haven’t completed it. I’m tired of jumping from house sit to house sit, having nowhere to sit still, to organize my mind and my stuff. Still, I’ve been stalling because it’s hard to go from paying no rent to coming up with a check every month, and to go from total freedom of travel to, possibly, living with a lease. It’s time, though. What I’m doing now: Today I turned in applications for two possible rental homes—both rooms in houses with roommates. My recent employment and rental history (or more to the point, lack thereof) make me an unlikely choice, but I’m hopeful that one of the two landlords will be willing to take a chance on me. This should make a big impact on my effectiveness, my peace of mind, and the next resolution, which is:
  • Get rid of all of my extraneous material stuff. The room in my mother’s house that she kindly lets me use for storage is full of some pretty strange junk. There’s the usual knitting fanatic’s stash of yarns and needles just waiting to be made into something wonderful (and half-done somethings wonderful waiting to be finished), and there’s the layer upon layer of boxed-up life necessities that I haven’t needed in my nomadic days (dishes, bedsheets, and such) or haven’t used because I haven’t been able to find them in years. There’s clothing so out of date that even I would be ashamed to wear it. Weirdest of all: When I was a teenager, my mother dealt with the junk mail and miscellaneous papers that piled up on the kitchen table by shoveling it all into a grocery bag once a week or so, then dumping the grocery bags in my room. There’s a sea of them still in there: college application packets, homework that my brother or I had to do again because we couldn’t find it, catalogs from 1991. That room is an overwhelming place, altogether, but it’s time I cleared it out. I want to own very little, and to know where everything I own is, and why I own it. What I’m doing now: See above. My main excuse for not sorting through this stuff already is that I don’t have a space of my own to spread it out in, or to organize it back into. Once I have my own home, I’ll have no more excuse. I can use the process of unpacking and moving in to unpack everything, then get rid of all of the stuff I don’t want.
  • Become a much better guitarist. When I first took up guitar four years ago (!), I learned fast, practiced nearly every day, and had some great teachers. Now I haven’t taken lessons for nearly two years, and I’m thoroughly stuck in an embarrassing beginnerish state. I barely know how to play, and I haven’t gotten any better for a long, long time. I’ve started practicing more regularly, but I don’t even know what to practice anymore. This is made more painful by the fact that several of my friends are really amazing musicians. I want to be able to jam with them, to play out with pride, and to see myself growing again. What I’m doing now: So I just need to find a good teacher and take more lessons. I have a place in mind, Denver’s Swallow Hill Folk Music Association, and I promise to call them tomorrow.
  • Become a much better fiction writer. This doesn’t say much, as I haven’t written a fictional story in years. In high school and college, I always seemed to have a natural aptitude for fiction, just waiting to be honed with a lot of practice. It is just a matter of practice. I need to make a point of writing often, make fiction part of my life again. What I’m doing now: I’ve dug up my favorite books of writing exercises. Starting tomorrow, I’ll practice writing for at least a few minutes a day … most days … barring emergencies … okay. I promise I’ll write something today, before I go to bed.
  • Attend advanced professional actor training. This is an extension of the acting portion of my post-Oregon plan. I auditioned for lots of plays, and plan to continue auditioning, even though I haven’t been cast in a play yet (unless one counts the many murder mystery shows I did this holiday season, which, I suppose, I should). I took one acting class, which was okay, but I want more immersion and more challenge. My goal now is to get into and attend one of the many professional-level summer intensive actor trainings I know of around the country. There was one in Denver, but word is that it’s not happening this year. Now I’m looking at programs in San Francisco (my top choice so far), Chicago, and New York. What I’m doing now: A local teacher who I’ve worked with and grown to respect offers coaching in such things. I’m going to email her tomorrow and find out if she can advise me.
  • Pay better attention to friendships and potential friendships. In my little brainstorming notebook, where I first came up with these resolutions, this was a very specific  resolution regarding my treatment of one particular friend, but that’s too private a detail to post on a blog. Besides, I think the more general point is the best one to keep in mind. Here’s the crux of the story: Over the holidays, an acquaintance that I don’t see often (because he lives halfway across the country) blew into town for a few whirlwind days with all of his Colorado friends. When I saw him again in person, he acted like he was one of my best buddies in the world, and to my surprise, I realized that he was absolutely right. It turns out that the boy is a total nerd (a wonderful thing, in my book), much smarter than I ever gave him credit for (and I’d always thought he was pretty darned bright), and fun in the quirky, goofy way that I click with most. This just blew me away. I had a wonderful time, and even as he flew away to visit other folks in other places, I was excited to have discovered such a compatible, fun, brilliant friend—but why hadn’t I discovered him before? I’d hung out with this guy off and on for years. He’s a high-school buddy of one of my best friends on the planet. Why hadn’t I noticed the possibilities before? Who knows how much fun, brilliance, support, and inspiration I’m missing out on with everyone in my life? I promise to pay more attention to people this year, to appreciate them more. What I’m doing now: I’ll call my far-away friend in a day or two, when I’m sure he’s back home and settled in, (I can’t remember for sure how long his trip was. I’m not good at paying attention yet.) to remind him that I’m glad he’s my friend and ask how 2009 is treating him. I’ll also remind myself daily to pay more attention to all of the people in my life.
  • Complete the Body-for-LIFE Challenge. Really. This is a scary thing to say in a public place like cyberspace, because it’s a big commitment, but I really do want to do this. For those of you who haven’t seen the bestselling books or heard the hype, Body-for-LIFE (BFL) is a 12-week fitness program used, largely, to advertise EAS Myoplex brand nutritional supplements. I first heard about it six or seven years ago, when the boyfriend I was living with tried to get me to do the challenge with him. Our efforts fizzled, mostly because the relationship wasn’t going well and I didn’t want to spend that much time with the guy. Still, I learned a lot about the program, and I came to respect it. Yes, it pushes products, but the supplements are good and helpful ones, as far as I can tell, and they aren’t necessary to complete the program. The program, itself, is a simple, easy to follow (and easily available online and in library books) combination of exercise and nutrition. Body-for-LIFErs do short, moderate workouts six days a week, lifting weights (which I actually enjoy) and doing their choice of cardio exercises, starting at whatever level feels challenging to them and gently increasing intensity as they grow stronger. Taking classes or meeting with personal trainers to learn correct form is strongly encouraged. Eating is sensible, and involves real food in small, balanced meals including protein, carbohydrates, and lots of vegetables. Unlike the plan I tried last time I really thought about improving my body, (when I was about 20. Step one: Berate self for not looking like Kate Moss. Step two: Stop eating entirely for two weeks. Step three: Try eating. Get severe stomach pains. Throw up. Step four: Terrified, learn to eat again. Give up on dieting. Step five: Berate self for not looking like Kate Moss …) Body-for-LIFE could actually teach me to kick my junk food habit, while making me strong enough to do all of the adventurous things I’ve been wanting to do, if only I weren’t such a wimp. Some examples: Surf all day long. Rock climb. Snowboard. Cross-country ski. Spend a day snowshoeing with my super-tough buddy, Brian, and not once have to ask him to slow down for me. What I’m doing now: I have to do some preparation for this. Over the past few months, I’ve slowly trained myself to run for 20 minutes straight, (Yes, I was an incredible wuss to begin with.) as I’d like to use running as my main cardio exercise. Now I’m working on gently weaning myself off Pepsi, as it’s not on the BFL menu, and right now, I’m so thoroughly addicted that a day without caffeine is a day spent in bed with a withdrawal-triggered migraine. I’ve also checked out the latest BFL book, Champions Body-for-LIFE, from my local library. In about a week, I should be caffiene free, studied up, inspired, and ready to get started.
  • Start my own business. This one is scary to say out loud, too, as it will require a lot of learning and a good amount (for me) of financial risk. And yes, I realize that I have my own business already, sort of, by selling my time as a freelancer. What I have in mind here is my own business selling something besides myself. I’ve been reading about internet stores, marketing ideas for new gadgets, manufacturing, packaging and selling information (e-books, craft patterns, informative audio, etc.). I don’t know what I’ll sell yet, but this year I plan to give an online retail business a try. Whatever happens, I’m sure to learn a lot. What I’m doing now: I’m reading books on small business, and contemplating. Actually taking this huge step will wait until I’ve landed a regular home and settled into it. I intend to cherish the time and energy I save on packing, unpacking, and driving around, and use it to take this leap.

This post is exactly 2009 words long. Happy New Year!

Photo by Robert S. Donovan (booleansplit on Flickr) used under Creative Commons license

Photo by Robert S. Donovan (who does not necessarily endorse the opinions on this blog) and used under a Creative Commons license

The main branch of the Boulder Public Library—my favorite local library, one with a great variety of interesting books—has a nifty gadget for its book drop. Instead of the usual mailbox-like hole in the wall, all books returned to the Boulder Library (whether or not the library is open) go into a machine embedded on the outside wall of the building, a small metal box with a door in its center, under a sign that says “Book Drop.” When one waves a book (or anything else, really) towards the door, an electric eye notices, and the door opens, revealing a treadmill-like belt. A pleasant voice says, “One item at a time please. The door will close when you are finished.” Books placed on the belt are spirited away to some secret, safe spot inside the building. When the last book is gone, the door stays open and the treadmill running for a full minute, the electric eye making sure no more books are coming, and then the door gently slides shut.

I like the machine. It’s more trouble and more electricity than is strictly necessary, but I find it fun, and it does give me a secure feeling to know that my books are so tidily tucked away. Also, when there is a line of people returning books, one person after another can swoop in and set a book on the treadmill, efficiently stowing away several people’s deliveries before the little door closes. Sometimes I watch, making a game of seeing how many people can get through on one open door.

The game didn’t work today. One woman was at the machine when I arrived. I waited a polite distance away for her first two books, but then I noticed that before every book, she stepped back and waited until the door closed. Then she pressed her thumb on the metal housing that contained the electric eye, leaning hard, as if it were a sticking button. Eventually, the door would open again, the voice would say, “One item at a time, please. The door will close when you are finished,” and she’d reach into her large bag of books and place one on the treadmill. Then she’d wait for the door to close. Then she’d pound on the electric eye. Then she’d place one book on the treadmill. Then she’d wait for the door, then pound harder on the eye… At this rate, I would be waiting all morning to spend my two minutes with the machine.

“There is no button,” I said. “It’s motion activated. And you don’t have to wait for the door to close.”

“One item at a time!” the woman shrieked back. “Can’t you hear?!”

“That just means, ‘Place one book on the belt at a time,'” I continued over the electronic voice, which was starting up again. In unison, the voice and I said, “The door will close when you are finished.”

The woman ignored me and continued to pound on the electric eye.

“That’s still not a button,” I said.

She kept pounding, placing one book, pounding again, ignoring me and the machine’s voice. She placed one last book, then looked at me at last. “There! Are you happy?!” She stormed off.

I’m not happy. I’m rather depressed, actually. I’ve been thinking about her all day. This woman will never learn how to use the cute little book drop that so many of us enjoy, and soon she’ll probably break the electronic eye. Worse, she’ll spend the rest of her day, her week, her life, complaining about how difficult everything is, and how rude people everywhere seem to think that she’s an idiot.

She is an idiot. This is not an inborn trait, a mental illness, or a chemical imbalance. It’s just that she works so hard at never understanding what’s really going on. She clings to her first impression so completely that she can never understand anything new, anything that takes more than a single glance to figure out. “One sentence at a time, please. The mind will close when I am finished.” Many people learn slowly or in different ways from the standard school curriculum. I enjoy these people: I’ve met many with “learning disabilities” who are, in fact, highly creative, intelligent individuals who create great things and broaden my view of the world. In a completely different camp, and far more common, I’m afraid, are people like the woman at the library, who work very hard at refusing to learn, refusing to consider anything but the first conclusion they jumped to.

Of course, we all do this to some degree. I am taking my ten minutes with this woman and expanding it to assume that I know how she lives her entire life. I could be wrong. She could be closed-minded and defensive only around fancy library book drops. Still, I am better about this than the average bear, and I’m sure this is the only reason why many people around me think I’m remarkably intelligent. I do score very well on IQ tests, but only because I like puzzles and games and figuring out what answer each game is looking for. My mother (who, at 66, is actually quite good with computers, and much better than she thinks she is) is always impressed when I “fix” her computer problems, even though I only tried one more possible fix than she had. One of my past boyfriends, a tri-lingual, high-tech marketing manager with a degree in physics and a hobby of studying linguistics, called me “the smartest person he knows,” but only because I knew a little more than the average person did about every subject that came up. I usually figure out how the latest thriller film is going to end before the rest of the audience does. I’m curious, I like revelations and plot twists, and I am relatively open to being proved wrong.

I still need to work on this, though. Aggressive stupidity, the refusal to let go of one’s first assumption and find out something new, is still a problem for me, and it’s at the root of most of our world’s problems.

The US economy? Ordinary, working folks came to assume that a mortgage broker wouldn’t give them a loan for more than they could pay, so they let predatory lenders tell them “how much house they could afford.” Investors in mortgage-based securities had always assumed that mortgages were rock-solid investments, so they bought the shaky loans. All up and down the line, most folks didn’t notice that the game had changed until the damage was done.

Workplace misery? The Dilbert-esque “pointy haired boss” still lives in offices, warehouses, worksites: the one who refuses to listen to “underlings” who have more specific knowlege and training, the one who, faced with a problem, leaps to blame the nearest person for it, never finding out what really happened or how to prevent the same thing from happening again. These are the people who use oversized words they don’t understand, and will never learn the meanings of, because they assume that they sound smarter that way. These are the people who make their coworkers miserable and their companies ineffective.

Bigotry, hate crimes, and most wars? We all tend to make snap assumptions about other people, and the more different a person is from us, the less we know about them, the more broad and rigid the assumptions. “All muslims are anti-American terrorists.” “All women are crazy gold-diggers.” “All men are violent jerks.” “All homosexuals are promiscuous, disease-ridden, and rapists, too.” “People with developmental disabilities can’t learn, and have nothing important to say.” “Everyone in Country X despises our country and wants to destroy our way of life.” “All Republicans are heartless.” “All Liberals are mindless, soft-hearted saps.” And on and on. Groups get polarized, wars declared, and huge misunderstandings live on and on until someone finally looks past their first assumption. Peace and acceptance only come when we can finally past a general label and get to know a real person.

I know I need to work on this, myself. Clinging to our first assumption is a bad habit, and a very dangerous one. At least now I have a solid image to remind me to open my mind. Now, when I’m feeling stuck, frustrated, victimized, I can just ask myself, “Is this situation (person, machine, etc.) really impossible, or am I just pounding on an electric eye?”