For the Brand New Year

December 31, 2014


I think I learned to stop hyping up New Years Eve the year that Jess and I spent the holiday in London, and I was slipped liquid meth in my drink at a private pub party. I was delivered by ambulance to Jess’ apartment and sleeping it all off by 11pm. How’s that for adventure? I’m a little more quiet about New Years Eve these days (or have spent them working in restaurants), but I still like the symbolism of a fresh start. I like the opportunity to set an intention-- to begin with a seemingly clean slate, and to think about what I’d like to invite more of into my life or clear away (sometimes more of this than anything).

Here are some of the rituals for the new year that I particularly like:

+ Taking time to clean & throw out old/unneeded crap & maybe even burning some sage if it seems needed. I sorted through my closet this week and left only the handful of items that I regularly wear. Everything else went to Savers or got saved for a clothing swap (or put in a plastic bin for next year). It feels really nice to start the new year with less clutter. 

Making a Mondo Beyondo list, which is essentially a list of really gigantic (and hopefully impractical) dreams that you'd like to accomplish-- maybe this year, maybe in this lifetime. Andrea Scher runs her Mondo Beyondo ecourse each January (this year it starts January 12) and I highly recommend it. 

+ Choosing words. My friends Betsy and Molly have the tradition of choosing 3 words for the year past and 3 for the year to come. Sometimes it feels very appropriate to ceremoniously burn the words for the year past. Last year I found myself just focusing on one word to invite into the year to come, usually based on what I think I could use more of. Last year I chose 'thrive' and the year before 'release' and both were great accompaniments to my year- something to reflect on in literal and metaphorical ways. This podcast with Elise Blaha Cripe and Ali Edwards discusses this kind of word intention. 

+ If you're a fan of processing via writing, these end-of-year prompts are good ones. 

It was a year of stretching for me-- I think they call that 'growth'? It's not to easily summarized as 'good' or 'bad', though there were certainly huge amounts of joy. I'm grateful to have to have this space to document the passing of time and the transitions I've been through in the past few years. Here's to more growth (and especially joy) in the new year.

Sugar for the Holidays

December 22, 2014

It's the week of Christmas, and I'm ever aware that while this is a time of relaxation and easeful family togetherness for many, it's also a really hard time of year for many others. The holidays unearth buried (or not so buried) family baggage and personal struggles. There's a lot of pressure to overextend and spend money you don't have and put on a good face. A lot of you have recently lost loved ones, or are still watching them struggle with illnesses. I'm so sorry. Unsurprisingly, I have no magic elixir for smoothing over the rough edges and making hard times easier. I do think it's a good time to practice lots of self care-- read that comforting book, take time for yourself, see the people that you feel best with.

I was pretty excited to discover that Sugar, the ultimate advice columnist, has a new podcast. (Actually, there were two Sugars-- Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond-- and they share the podcast.) The first episode was a mix of background information on how the column came to be and the two Sugars dishing out advice on some pretty tough human dilemmas. I love how Strayed and Almond treat these requests for advice as sacred. They don't pretend that the questions have overly succinct answers-- they're dilemmas, after all. There is an equal admission that life is wonderfully painful and terribly beautiful; this paradox is completely valid. 

I started reading Sugar during a really hard time when there were few people I felt comfortable sharing my personal struggles with. The gift of Sugar was realizing that other people were walking around with terrible/wonderful struggles of their own, and that this didn't mean that there was something wrong with them. Maybe that sounds strange, confusing circumstance and the goodness of a person, but that's how I felt: my hard times led to a shame spiral. Tiny Beautiful Things (the compilation of Cheryl Strayed's columns) felt like a dose of grace and an affirmation of strength: you're doing great and things will get better, but for now own this story. And that's a pretty huge gift. Thanks, Sugar. 

What does that have to do with the holidays? Though I have no solution for hard, painful times, I wish you the ability to give yourself some grace and take time for your own end-of-year rituals-- whatever feels right. Comparing yourself to the family/person next to you that appears a beacon of easy circumstance is a personal disservice. Reaching out to others that are having a hard time is a gift. Trust me that there are many of these people. We're all so good at hiding our scars, but they're there. Take care of yourself. Read (or listen to) some Sugar, and eat your feelings if you need to. I hope your holidays have at least a bit of exactly what you need.

You can listen to the first episode of the Dear Sugar podcast over here

Bits

December 15, 2014


Hi! There are just 10 days until Christmas if you identify as a Christmas celebrating individual. Some things on my mind:

+ My goal for next year is to budget better for the holidays-- especially so that I can put my pennies towards many of the super options for locally made gifts (or at least gifts that support small businesses). Will someone remind me of this goal in July? Laura Brown is selling her fabulous annual calendar, and today is the last day to buy it if you want it shipped before the holiday! Today-- Monday! Get on it.

+ I'd also like to buy everyone this great print.

+ We're preparing to host a party. I love parties! Thanks to our co-host, we have an abundance of festive tunes to play-- pretty much every single pop star's Christmas album. What's a good beverage to serve? I want one with booze and one without (that's more exciting than sprite and fruit juice). This bourbon grapefruit drink is delicious, but I'd like to try something new.

+ I am pleased to be staying home in my pajamas for Christmas. I plan on watching marathon episodes of Scandal, which I originally wrote off as trashy tv. Be you not so dismissive! You could also catch up on Serial, which you're probably already listening to. I'm already mourning the last episode, set to air this Thursday.

+ Yes, I know this time of year is really busy, but I highly recommend spending a couple hours knocking out a few things you've been procrastinating for maybe, say, months. Maybe do this the week after Christmas. You'll start the new year feeling insanely good. 

+ I recently reread this book and found it to be full of stuck-ness solutions-- the awesome, deceptively simple kind. Maybe ask Santa for it? 

All I want for Christmas is for our cat to stop thinking that the downstairs bathroom is his bathroom. What about you?

December Reading

December 4, 2014


I first read The Gifts of Imperfection (which I keep giving a typo to, much to my amusement) in 2012, but I'm in need of another dose of the Brené gospel -- not a skim, a real read. So I've started into it again with the goal of covering a couple of chapters a week. It's tempting and easy to read the whole thing in one sitting, but I fear the content might go in one ear and out the other if I take that approach.

Have I mentioned that I'm suspicious of self-help books? I am. This isn't one-- it's more of an approach to life book (I've consumed the kool-aid, haven't I?). Brené Brown (well known for this TED talk on vulnerability) is a researcher. In the midst of her research she started noticing similar traits amongst a group of people she labeled "wholehearted": worthiness, rest, play, trust, faith, intuition, hope, authenticity, love, belonging, joy, gratitude and creativity. And these wholehearted people were missing some other traits: perfection, numbing, certainty, exhaustion, self-sufficiency, being cool, fitting in, judgement and scarcity. The Gifts of Imperfection takes Brené's research studies and explores what this wholehearted living thing is all about.

Here's why I think it's important: wholehearted living is all about engaging with the world from a place of worthiness-- a place of heck yes, I know I belong, rather than a shame-y place of inadequacy where you're constantly aiming for perfection in order to prove yourself (*cough, cough*). I know from personal experience that when you're trying to make your best work that this shame-y place gets in the way. Want to make great stuff and share it freely with the world? I'm fairly certain that the secret lies somewhere in the (deceptively hard to master) list of wholehearted traits. As I look to the year ahead, these are the traits I want to lean into-- the muscles I want to develop. The last couple of years have brought really amazing things to fruition in my life. I'd call many of them miracles! They didn't happen because I worked to achieve and muscle them into place. They happened from letting go and trusting and becoming more vulnerable (and getting rid of some of the counter traits in the second list above). 

Other things I've been reading:
+ Austin Kleon's Show Your Work, because I've been excited about the ideas he shares on his blog
+ Anne Lamott's Operating Instructions: a journal of my son's first year, one of the few Anne Lamott books I haven't read
+ Living and Sustaining a Creative Life: essays by 40 working artists, edited by Sharon Louden -- though I was bummed to realize about 15 essays in that all of them are written by visual artists

What are you reading? Do you want to join in the December dose of Brené Brown?

5 With: Ben McGinley

December 3, 2014

I'm really excited to share thoughts from my very own spouse for this week's 5 With. I've known Ben for 9 years, so I've been able to watch (up close and personally) as he transitioned from a career in theater (and food service!) to his very first video client, and then to working for himself full-time (just about 4 years ago). I've learned from him that the best way to learn is to do-- that learning curves are inevitable, and only time and practice will make them less agonizing. I've also been reminded of the permission theme that I keep running into. As in, no one is going to give you permission to do anything; you have to give it to yourself. I'm guessing that there were plenty of skeptical people when Ben started his little business, but today he works with some pretty dreamy clients. Want to make something happen? Start.


Describe your creative work and what drives it. How did you come to do this work?
I produce video for arts organizations, public education, and individual performing artists. There are three things that drive my work:  
  • Mission: I’m very lucky to say that 90% of my clients’ missions are ones that I can proudly stand behind. It makes me feel a part of important work, not just a hired hand.  
  • A love of being the producer and making (lots of different) things happenProducing video on this small of a scale allows me to wear many different hats, which is good for my attention span as well as my tendency towards wanting control. I worked as an educational theater actor for the better part of 15 years and grew weary of just being one of the slices of pie; I wanted to be the baker.
  • Money: There’s no getting around it: I need to make a living, and video production is how I do this. I value building a creative life and eating. Luckily, I’m part of a generation of kids who have opted towards entrepreneurializing their passions.
I’ve been making movies since I was 6. It never occurred to me until my mid twenties that I was more passionate about video than I was about live theater. I messed around with a cheap camcorder and iMovie making various short films in my off time. Eventually, someone offered to pay me to do it for them. And I loved it. Video editing, as it turns out, is a fantastic fit for the control freak. I can be anal retentive, fussy, nitpicky and my work is better as a result.

What are your biggest creative challenges?
Challenges for me come in the form of client relations or technical limitations. Though I’ve gotten very good at curating the type of client I like to work with, there have been less-than-idea circumstances that were very negative experiences. Part of it is just having needed to put in my 10,000 hours. I have much more confidence now than I did 4 years ago. As for technical challenges, I’ll spare the details, but the world of video, editing, graphics technology is vast and there are countless tutorials and workflows to be learned, implemented, altered, and mastered. Every day is a Lynda course.

How do you balance running a business with other aspects of life?
  • I know my limits: I don't thrive when I constantly work. I take breaks, big and small. I work at home, so sometimes this means taking a break to do laundry, going to work out or cooking lunch. 
  • I self-advocate: I ask for fair compensation; I over-communicate with clients and set clear boundaries; I take time off for vacations. I've learned over time that I'm the only one who will make these needs a priority.
  • Inspiration: I love movies and I love live performance. I make time to watch both regularly.
Give some advice:
My advice is to get in the driver’s seat and work. Everything I do is self-taught; I have learned and am driven by doing. And don’t let technology get in the way: every $100 problem has a $1 solution. That’s all I’ll say. Get to work.

What's inspiring you right now?
I’m inspired right now by The Verge’s video segments. They are entirely motion graphic based and have given me that old feeling of I don’t know how they did that, but I want to learn how and do it in my next project.

You can find Ben's work here and here, and read more 5 With over here. 

Work Habits for the Self-employed

December 1, 2014

It's one of our first really cold days (4 measly degrees), and this morning it was hard to shake off thoughts of skipping out on work in favor of curling up on the couch with a heating pad and some leftover pie. When you work at home there's always the temptation to break the deadline you made for yourself. Motivation has been harder than usual for me lately. I'm genuinely excited about what I'm working on-- I've just needed a little help getting into a groove. Austin Kleon wrote this, insisting that there's still a lot of the year left at the beginning of December. I agree. I want to make the most of it. Here are some ideas for refocusing when you're out of a work groove: 
  • Step away from the computer: Computers are really helpful for, say, computing. It's great to write emails and researching things and make spreadsheets. A lot of times I begin my work day by automatically sitting down at my computer when I don't necessarily need it. The computer is full of distractions that will take me down. All of a sudden I have 8 tabs open unrelated to my original search. All of a sudden I'm on Twitter. Or checking email for the 10th time-- and I'm unsure as to what I even set out to do in the first place. Today I was reminded of the importance of a separate analog workspace and a good old fashioned pad of paper and pen. 
  • Organize: My work is a combination of performance projects and writing/web content projects. And then there's the book keeping and promotional and administrative bits. I also have to schedule dental appointments and pay bills and find new health insurance, etc... This hodgepodge of tasks can leave me really scattered. This week I put everything down on paper and grouped similar tasks together: home/family, current work, future work, self care, producing, outreach... It doesn't matter what kind of categories you use, just that they make sense to you. Deadlines and billable work always gets first priority, but I try to scatter other things into a work day, too. 
  • Make space for balance and fun: If you dread your to-do list, you're doing it wrong. There should be some fun stuff on it-- otherwise what's the point of being master of your own schedule? I like to mix in coffee dates so that I'm sure to see other humans. I write this blog because I like to. I take movement/gym breaks and try to cook myself the occasional exciting lunch. I mix my favorite aspects of the job with my least favorite ones, and make sure to surround myself with sources of inspiration. 
  • Move it, move it: Taking movement breaks isn't just about physical fitness or health, it's about mental sanity and optimal brain function. I work better when I go on long walks daily or stretch every hour for a few minutes. It's icy outside, so I rely on classes and the track at the Y for exercise. Movement is also really helpful for warding off SAD. 
There's also a handful of usual work habit suggestions I give clients. They are pretty straight forward, but invaluable for me:
  • Don't work for longer than 90 minutes without a break: Your work will be better!
  • If you are dragging your feet about something, commit to doing it for just 20 minutes: A lot happens in 20 minutes, and you might end up getting into the groove once you start.
  • Limit the coffee dates: Your time is valuable, and you're the only one who can enforce this. Don't be afraid to schedule something a few weeks out if it's not directly related to billable client hours.
  • Set attainable goals: I make my to-do list at the end of the previous work day, rather than at the beginning. If I get too ambitious, I get frustrated.
  • Do your hardest work in your prime time: When do you work the most effectively? Use it wisely.
  • Give yourself structure: Most people I know crave a certain amount of structure. Even if you make your own schedule, figure out how to find some. Can you work out at the same time each day? Work on a particular project on certain days of the week? 
What are your best suggestions for getting sh*t done?
 

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