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A Weekend with Thoreau

 weekend with thoreau 640px

All month I’ve been craving sun - sun to soothe me, sun to bathe me, sun to heal me. But it turns out sun isn’t the only thing that heals. Silence does, too.

The silence is what struck me most about our three nights in Point Arena, hidden in a redwood grove on a private property a few miles inland of the Mendocino coastline. The airbnb rental was aptly dubbed the “Thoreau Cabin” with the headline “Write Your Book.” Sold.

1 cabin entrance

Floor to ceiling was covered in volumes and volumes of journals, giant clipped manuscripts, old classics and short story collections. The husband and wife who owned this cabin were readers. And writers. Which came first? It was hard to tell because for as many books as they had stored away, dog-eared and well-worn, the woman had an equal number of her own published works next to tattered leather-bound journals. Journals containing scrawled notes, pasted quotes, clipped photos.

The journals were movie-like in their nostalgic quality. Like a room of treasure maps that some kids had come upon in an adventure tale, wiping dust from decorative covers to seek some secret of the past. Some clue. Her documents were romantic, they were raw, they were inspiring. They reminded me of the journals I kept when I was younger: a mix of sketches and collages and letters and memories. Back before smartphones and Evernote and Siri - back when everything was preserved in books, or lost forever.

journal

Today my compulsion to document with pen and paper has been watered down by Instagram and Facebook and texting. Why take the time to keep a leather journal, textured with all the words and images of your life, when I can instantly upload it online and wait for the ‘likes’ to roll in? The art of hand journaling has been lost. The art of handwritten letters and scrap booking is a thing of the past.

There was something powerful about the presence of all those books and all those journals. So much wisdom and knowledge, so many stories and recollections. Sitting in that quiet cabin, with only trees and books as my witness, I felt a deep love of words arising in me. Looking around those shelves I felt in the company of friends. Even completely alone, miles from another living soul (besides my husband sleeping in the lofted bed, and perhaps our blue jay friend outside). The room was silent and it was full at once of the voices of so many talented, interesting, opinionated, fascinating, and genius minds.

2 cabin in woods

I thought of my grandmother and something she had said last time I saw her.

“I can’t tell this to most people, but I just want to sit inside and read all day long.” She was on her knees digging through the bottom of her bookshelf for a title to loan me. “I know I’m supposed to be more active but I’m perfectly content curling up with a book.”

“Me too,” I said. “I’ve been giving myself more time to read lately. For awhile I felt guilty spending hours with a book, but now I’m calling it research. I’m remembering that reading can add a lot to my work.”

“Not just to your work!” she looked up. “Reading adds to your whole life.”

3 cabin interior pano copy

In the quiet of our cabin after dark, my husband started complaining of boredom but I felt myself coming alive. I luxuriated in the absence of TV and wifi. I was inspired by the void. Lack of noise, lack of distraction, lack of stimulation. The absence of external distractions gave room for my own thoughts to come to the forefront. My own creativity, imagination and curiosity became the stimulation. It felt sacred, it felt true.

I had no idea how much I missed the silence until I had it. At home, I’m tired at the end of the day and easily resigned to watching TV or a movie. It’s easy to check email and get sucked into Instagram. It’s easier to give in to media - the colors and the images and the sounds. They are designed to draw you in and make you forget. Make you forget that within you, there are stories to be told. Curiosities to be fed. Media of your own to create. Imaginations to be explored.

4 lighthouse pano copy

What’s not easy is to separate yourself from the TV room, to separate yourself from the noise. To remove yourself from the current of technology and sit with the spinning head on your shoulders. Wait for it to settle down, like a dreidel, and then report what you find. It takes incredible dedication to find alone and quiet in the grind of daily life, especially when it’s a city life.

So what did I take away from my weekend in the Thoreau Cabin? Silence. Inspiration. Books. Pen and paper. I want to reawaken my love of journals that are part sketchbook, part scrapbook and part memoir. I want to revive my love affair with books. Books for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I want to remember the beauty of silence. The peaceful void that calms everything else in my life; that smooths out the kinks, that holds the uncertainties. The silence that heals.

6 watching ocean from fence

Photos courtesty of Dana Shaw.

My Favorite Interviews on Creativity

favorite interviews on creativity

As an independent creative, I’ve really come to rely on my internet heroes for mentorship, inspiration and advice. And the beauty of twitter, podcasting and good old fashioned print media is that I have direct access to the insights of so many brilliant people.

I admire and trust these writers, speakers, actors, musicians and comics with reverence - they’ve been at it for years, they’ve built a loyal audience and they are consistently putting out good work. They are living the artist’s dream. They are intelligent, funny and wise.

And when they speak - I listen up.

Here are a few of my favorite interviews with creative people - about process, business, self-doubt and all the other inevitables of making art in the spotlight. I've pulled some of the top quotes to give you a flavor of what's to come. 

Ira Glass (This American Life) on Lifehacker

Writer / Radio Producer Shares "How I Work"

“I am a noisy introvert. My sister Randi made up that phrase and it describes lots of people I know. Lots of writers seem to be introverts who love to now and then be on stage. Lots of radio people too. I covet large amounts of time alone, and I'm most comfortable and very happy when I'm alone, but obviously there's another side to me because true introverts don't end up with their own national radio shows.”

“I'd just say to aspiring journalists or writers—who I meet a lot of—do it now. Don't wait for permission to make something that's interesting or amusing to you. Just do it now. Don't wait. Find a story idea, start making it, give yourself a deadline, show it to people who'll give you notes to make it better. Don't wait till you're older, or in some better job than you have now. Don't wait for anything. Don't wait till some magical story idea drops into your lap. That's not where ideas come from. Go looking for an idea and it'll show up. Begin now. Be a fucking soldier about it and be tough.” MORE

Jerry Seinfeld on Alec Baldwin's Podcast, Here’s the Thing 

Comedian Explains How to "Make It" In the Arts

“Who's in show business? I'll tell you who's in show business: who wants to be more than anyone else. The people that are like, I want to be in it, I'm going to be in it. Do I have the skill set? Do I have the talent? Do I have something to offer? We'll find out. Most of the people we see in the arts are there not because they have the most to offer, but because they want to be there the most.” MORE

Steven Pressfield on Pam Slim's Podcast

Author Talks About Resistance, Ego and Creative Work

“When resistance rears its ugly head in all its various forms, it can defeat an amateur because an amateur isn’t really in it with both feet. An amateur isn’t really committed. But once we make the switch in our heads and tell ourselves, I’m a professional, everything changes. For instance, a professional shows up every day. A professional stays on the job every day. A professional plays hurt. A professional doesn’t accept any excuses for not doing the work.” MORE

And another good interview with Mr. Pressfield: Ask Me Anything 

Macklemore on Nerdist Podcast

Musician on Branding, Creative Process and Honing the craft

“There's so much fear within the process of being creative. What are people going to think? . . . The best songs are written when you’re not thinking about anyone else, they just kind of flow through you. They come from something greater than the pen that’s in my hand. But the criticism and fear is there, the brain is active, it comes down to training the brain to be overridden by the heart when you’re writing a song. . . This is something that takes practice and maintenance.” MORE

Danielle LaPorte on Jonathan Fields' Video Series, Good life Project

Author Explores Magnetism vs. Charisma, Desire vs. Doing

“As soon as I think someone else could be doing this better than me, I’m out. Time to move on to something else.”

“This is my theory: every single thing you’re doing - this interview, the clothes you wear, the people you hang out with, the food you eat - is all about you wanting to feel good. So why don’t we get a little more specific about what wanting to feel good means, and you do whatever it takes to feel that way. And I think that’s when you become god.” MORE

Anne Lamott in Common Ground Magazine 

Author on Self-doubt, Spirituality and Hard Work

“My creative process is to sit down at a desk five days a week, at the same time every day. I don’t wait for inspiration or believe in being inspired. I just write when it’s time to write. I’m never in the mood to write. I’d rather watch MSNBC or go for a hike, but I’m very strict with myself at the same time I’m very loving, like your best friend would be.”

“The ‘dark night of the soul’ is where almost everything profound in literary and spiritual wisdom comes from. The most important stuff doesn’t come from people in good moods; it comes from struggle. From being pressed really hard and from being way outside your comfort zone and forced to turn deeply within to something you may never have had the courage to try before - i.e. not trying one of your good ideas but instead surrendering the reins.”

“At the core of my creative soul is this belief that there is truth and that it will set us free. And that we have a debt of honor to give back what was so freely given to us, which is this truth and the exhilaration of art and the miracle that we have found in other people’s love and artistic expression.” MORE

Dan Harmon & Emil Amos on Duncan Trussel Family Hour Podcast

TV Writer & Musician Discuss Suffering, Creativity and Ego

"The part of you that’s capable of feeling anything, and taking credit for anything, and enjoying anything - that’s the part of you that has to be gone - dead and gone - whenever you do anything of merit.” -Dan Harmon

“It’s my job to sit down and report everything that I’ve learned. Just pure hard work. . . it’s not fun necessarily but it does make me happy in a very deep way that other things can’t make me happy.” - Emil Amos MORE

 

So that's it! A month's worth of inspiration for ya. Which interviews have influenced you the most over the years? 

Four Years, 10,000 Hours and My New Definition of Success

ten thousand hours

“In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.” - Malcolm Gladwell

This month marks my four year anniversary - or as I like to call it, my freeversary - as an independent creative. Four years feels monumental because it’s a self-enclosed time period for achieving something big. Four years is also the approximate amount of time that it takes to reach 10,000 hours - the “magic number” for getting enough practice to become a world-class expert at any one thing.

Milestones are a time for reflection and they can quickly turn to a time of self-evaluation. What do you have to show for yourself? In hindsight, were did you slack off, where did you falter, where did you get distracted? I remember applying for college and feeling like a wet turd when I had no school clubs to put on my application. I had a 4.3 GPA and a beautiful art portfolio, but goddamnit what was I thinking not joining ASB or Yearbook? It was so much easier to focus on what I hadn’t done than what I had done. And I had achieved a lot. But when you measure yourself against other people’s standards, it will never be enough.

One of my biggest lessons this year is learning to redefine my own standard for success.

People focus so much on the moment that you go freelance as “the big scary jump.” But once you jump off the cliff and arrive in your new encampment of freelancehood, old models of success can still haunt you. They did for me. In fact, they still do. I'm coming to terms with the fact that even though I diverged from the path, forging a narrow side trail to get to that batch of foxtails, I have carried with me the old guidebook. I have consulted the glossary to identify wildlife along the way, to read the stars, to find water. The path was different but the manual was the same. And I became imprisoned in my own abusive relationship of employer-employee. Only this time I played both parts.

Now I'm learning that it's not just about making your own path. It's about writing your own guidebook, too. The old rules don't work out here. They take you back to the same old miserable place of "keep your head down and get it done," and "put your time in," and "work your way up the food chain." Self-limiting beliefs that keep me in a box, that keep my creativity bridled, that keep my heart just far enough from my work to make it feel like work.

It's scary starting out. We cling to our handbooks for a sense of security and structure. But what I've found out here in the wilderness, is that the signs are all around me. The universe sends me signals to confirm or deny that I've made the right decision, and decisions are being made every day. Lead flow dries up. Lead flow goes through the roof. Clients give raving feedback and highlight where I added value. The work feels easy or it feels incredibly hard. These are the signs that I'm using to write my own manual. The guide to the uncharted territory that is my completely unique creative landscape.

I've gone off the traditional employment grid, but I've been too scared to veer completely from my old protestant ethic. The one that says, this is how you work. These are the hours. This is the business model. This is the marketing. These are the big ticket clients. This is the safest bet for long-term financial stability.

“If you believe that you have something special inside of you, and you feel it’s about time you gave it a shot, honor that calling in some small way — today.” – Elle Luna

Yes, it's totally natural to do anything you can to survive. Especially when you're out on your own. But I'm starting to question, is “following the money” really the best way to survive? Playing it safe can earn you a safe income and a safe pat on the back. But is anything really safe? What if I really did let myself experiment, stray from the old standards, invite the side of me to come play that has been standing at the trailhead waiting for the "go-ahead," the side that is the beautiful intuitive creative counterpart to my logical thinking surviving lizard brain?

My new mantra: define success on your own terms.

Working for yourself is a great place to start. But still, it's not the employment model that sets you free. It's the limitations we put on ourselves. Limitations like, "I don't have time to write outside of work." Well guess what? Since January 1, 2014 I've written at least 300 words every morning. I've been trying to give in to my heart just a little more, to experiment going one step down that new path each day.

The rewards have been astounding. And as I get nearer to my 10,000 hours as a self-employed creative, I realized it’s not just the writing and marketing practice that counts. It’s 10,000 hours of learning to trust myself. Of building enough confidence in my new guidebook to let go of the old one, burying it beneath the poppies.

 

Fuel for the New Year: 2013 in Review

Fuel for the new year

The past week I’ve noticed a new thought pattern emerging while I’m in the shower, at the bus stop or at the dinner table. Goals. Milestones. Resolutions. January 1, 2014, just a few weeks away. Like a traveler at the trailhead of a new journey, I find myself making quiet preparations. Rations, goods, emotional check-ins. Do you find yourself doing the same?

Today I realize I’m getting way ahead of myself. Before jumping into plans for the New Year, I need to pay my respects to 2013. So it’s time to pull out the binoculars and see the big picture of how far I’ve come – the triumphs, the challenges, the surprises and the shifts. This global view will be my fuel for the journey ahead – it will be my super magic nutrient-packed trail mix. And I’m going to fill it with just the right mix of chocolate.

Here’s my recipe for supercharging the triumphs of 2013 into a jetpack for the new year. Try it out and tell me what you think.

The Nuts

Nuts are the foundation of your rocket fuel. Fatty and delicious. So, how do you define success? This is the standard by which you will measure the past year. For you, does success mean:

  • Making rent for 12 months in a row
  • Sticking to an exercise routine
  • Spending quality time with people you love
  • Raising your rate
  • Signing new clients
  • Increasing profits
  • Traveling to new places
  • Getting published
  • Hiring new staff
  • Writing a chapter, editing a piece, finishing a song, or just making time to try

Make a mental note or jot it down. Now it’s time to add some jazz to that mix of almonds and brazil nuts.

The Fruit

Dried cranberries, mango, raisins and pineapple make trail mix what it is. It’s the tang. The sweet n sour. The kick. Fill up your trail mix with a little moment of appreciation for yourself and all the things you kicked ass at this year. Ask yourself:

  • Where was I dedicated?
  • Where was I patient?
  • Where was I challenged?
  • Where was I afraid?
  • Where was I brave?
  • What did I let go of?
  • Where was I uncertain?
  • Where was I wise?
  • Where was I generous?

Choose your most delicious fruits and throw em in the pack.

The Wild Card

We all love something obscure in our trail mix - wasabe beans, coconut flakes, honey-drenched sunflower seeds or whatever pleases you. Think back over your last year and find the wild cards.

  • What were you pleasantly surprised by?
  • What unexpected connection did you make?
  • What relationship turned out to be highly rewarding?
  • What did you learn about yourself?

Scour the bin for your wild cards and throw 'em in.

The Chocolate

Trail mix without chocolate is just boring. It’s the reward, it’s what we’re really digging for among all those peanuts and raisins. It’s the reason we eat trail mix at all. Right? So ask yourself:

  • Who did I help this year?
  • How was I of service to my community?
  • How did I invest in myself this year?
  • How did I take care of myself?
  • What evidence did I leave behind?
  • How am I different than I was on January 1, 2013?
  • What new skills, experience, connections, resources and portfolio do I have now that I didn’t have one year ago?

That’s the good stuff - that’s the nourishment that will get you through the next 12 months. Cuz chocolate makes everything better.

The Journey Ahead

Once you’ve taken a minute to marinate in the goodness of everything you put out this year, you’ll have a good hearty (and delicious) fuel pack for moving into 2014. Your New Years Resolutions might even be a little bit brighter.

 

In Memory of Ana Stenzel

 Ana Isa Power of Two

The best part of my business is getting to work with all types of amazing people, some of whom continue to influence me long after our project together. Ana Stenzel, who left this earth just one month ago, is one of those people.

One of my first freelance gigs was working on "The Power Of Two," a documentary film about twin half-Japanese sisters with cystic fibrosis (CF). The subjects were Ana and Isa Stenzel, two amazing women living in the Bay Area and entering their 40th year on this earth - despite doctors’ predictions that they would never make it past high school.

The twins each considered it a miracle to have lived long enough to graduate from Stanford, establish meaningful careers, travel the world, and share their story in both a memoir and documentary film. As close friends in their CF and organ transplant community seemed to pass away every week, Ana and Isa chose to continue living unafraid. They watched each other fall in love and get married; celebrating every day they had breath in their lungs.

Cystic fibrosis is a terrible disease that deteriorates lung tissue, and in advanced phases, can only be survived with a double lung transplant. Ana & Isa were fortunate enough to each receive new lungs and a new chance to breathe.

In one of my favorite scenes from "The Power Of Two," Ana & Isa sit around a table with a group of fellow lung transplantees. Each person describes what it felt like to take their first breaths after receiving new healthy lungs. My body felt like a temple. It felt sacred, full. It was ecstasy. It was life.

Ana & Isa’s story helped me recognize how lucky I am that no matter what worries I have, taking my next breath is never one of them.

My growing yoga practice has underscored this awareness of breath in the past year. In learning about all the benefits of full deep breathing, I have more appreciation than ever for what the twins went through. The majority of human beings go through the entire day without once noticing their breath, taking it for granted until it’s gone. And I was no different.

I'm now learning that breath is a powerful thing to pay attention to. It regulates our effort, our relaxation and our focus. It connects us to our physical space and to our physical bodies. It is the most basic building block to our waking reality. And without it, we’re nothing.

The Stenzel twins have been acutely aware of their breath from day one. And through voicing their most raw and intimate personal stories, these women empower an entire community of people that share the same struggles.

But they also have something to teach those of us without major health issues. When I spent time with Ana and Isa, their love of life was intoxicating. Their gratefulness for every breath, for every day. Despite all their suffering, I always felt like they were very fortunate. Because every day on this earth was appreciated, noted, and lived to the max. They had far greater perspective than any of us. They saw this life for what it is - an experience that could be over without warning, and one to be taken full advantage of while it lasts.

Ana Stenzel did take full advantage of her 40+ years on this earth. She probably lived more than most people do in twice that amount of time. It’s hard to believe she’s gone because part of me saw her as being invincible in the face of disease. But she leaves behind a legacy that will continue to inspire and encourage. A legacy carried on by her sister, Isa, and by a lifetime of writing and advocacy. A legacy that will continue to give people hope, to fight for change and to find comfort in common experience. She was an incredibly talented writer and compassionate leader, but most of all she was a selfless friend.

I was incredibly lucky to be part of Ana’s story even in the tiniest way. She is one of those people that in a short amount of time left a huge impact, and she will be missed.