Category Archives: SEEK

La Gilbert

Liz BN EventSay what you want about behemoth bookshops. Barnes & Noble has been quite good to me over the years, if only for the fact that they have provided me with opportunities to exchange a laugh or two with people who completely inspire me.

(Note to self: tell the story about meeting the graceful Susan Egan in a New York City BN and how she subsequently, divinely, and synchronistically sent you the elusive sheet music you had been seeking out for months. Well, actually, that’s pretty much the story.)

Last Monday, Barnes & Noble sent me Elizabeth Gilbert.

Yes, I’m a big Eat, Pray, Love fan. Who isn’t? Who didn’t read that book and all of a sudden treat themselves to luxurious artist dates consisting of solitary brunches and meditative labyrinth walks? Who didn’t follow her journey and repetitively conjure up friend after friend who would appreciate this section or that? “Oh, Suzanna would love this part about Italy,” I would think to myself while reading, and “I wonder what Stacia would think about this part in the ashram?” or “I can absolutely see Lisa and Tatiana and I having this conversation over dinner at French Roast.” And on it went. Book clubs happened. Copies were wrapped in Christmas paper and sent to the post. It was, and still is, at the top of my reading recommendation list.

But I think the appeal of that book is more than the fact that it’s a good read. I think the appeal comes from the fact that it’s so incredibly relatable. The voice is not an unfamiliar one. And as we watch the author “Frankenstein” her way through her experiences, as she might say, we get a sense of how to go about unpacking our own journeys, or at least perhaps how to  summon the courage to try. (Please note: the word “Frankenstein” can only be used as a verb if it is accompanied with the proper Frankenstein’s monster-ish walk, a proper illustration of what it is like, sometimes, to do “new and scary things.”)

“Writing is the thread that has sewn my life together,” said Elizabeth Gilbert at the Barnes & Noble event space adjacent to the loudly colorful children’s section. At least, I think that’s what she said. In a moment of haste, regretting the absence of a notebook in my purse, I busted out a pencil and started scratching in the back of my copy of her latest offering, The Signature of All Things. Anyone who knows me has witnessed those moments when I am caught scrutinizing my own writing as if it were a secret message from Orphan Annie and I am sans a decoder ring. (Yes, my life revolves around Christmas references. Get over it.) So, bear with me.

I think anyone who calls herself a writer would recognize that notion of not being able to truly understand things until they’ve been… I was going to say “written down,” but actually I think “written through” is the more accurate preposition. To “write something down” has such finality. To “write through something” implies work, journey, understanding. Joan Didion said it so many times in her personal essays: “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.” Even now, I have a dear friend who is Frankensteining her way through unpacking her childhood abuse, writing through her experiences, bringing light to the dark corners.

I don’t know if Liz Gilbert feels exactly this way, but she contended that she even after the great success of EPL, she knew she couldn’t leave writing behind, get a big house, and “raise Corgis.” And so it is. Writing as necessity. In her own “Thoughts on Writing,” she says, “I never promised the universe that I would write brilliantly; I only promised the universe that I would write.” Joan said, “We tell stories in order to live.” Indeed.

Of course, this blog is about the not writing, the question of what happens when that is true and yet the words/space/time/healthy psychological headspace don’t seem to come. Liz had some things to say about this, too.

Starting with something like “stop trying to find your passion.”

Instead, she said, seek out curiosity. “Passion” is a word so fraught with anxiety, she said, that it becomes yet another weight to bear sometimes. Follow curiosity, that “small tap on the shoulder that makes you turn your head just a quarter of an inch. It’s smaller, quieter, and less intimidating.”

Cue the cumulative sigh of everyone in the room abandoning their stressful adherence to “finding their passions.”

I love this about Liz. (I can call her “Liz,” because we are obviously BFFs now.) She completely dispels the idea of the tortured writing process. “Artistic torment is a really romantic idea,” she said in an interview with Globe and Mail last month, “but it’s not very conducive to output.” In other words, she admits that her artistic process “would not make a very good biopic.”

Since she was raised on a farm, she says, her writing process is seasonal: the season for inspiration, the season for research, the season for writing, editing, and finally, for rest. Sometimes these seasons can take days, and sometimes they can take months. Sometimes, like winter in Westeros, they can take years.

The Signature of All Things was written from a 70-page outline, which was constructed from the index-card fruit of three years in the research season. (Shout out to her West Civ teacher, Mr. Kisco, and his index card research methodologies.)

Three years of research. Three years of preparation. Three years of curiosity. After that, writing was like painting a room where the the furniture had already been moved and the windows pre-taped.

“I feel sorry for the girl I was in my 20s,” she laughed, who would often try to paint only to realize there was a couch in the way. She spoke of sitting and staring at the blank page wondering where the inspiration was going to come from. She would later discover the way of the creative warrior.

“Inspiration is like a one-night stand,” she said. “Creativity is a 40-year marriage.”

elizabeth-gilbertTEDOf course, we’ve all seen her eloquent TED talk, where she outlines the potential parameters of genius, inspiration, and creativity.

But the counterweight to creativity? Compassion.

In a discussion about women and artistic pursuits, Liz pointed out that we are very likely a “new species.” We have no role models, no history, no mythology to reference as we go about our lives making decisions about family and career and balance. Never before have we had such freedom of self-determination. Here, she referenced Martha Beck, fans of her Facebook page, and also her sister as examples of the one thing that will enable us to truly embrace who we are and shine appropriately – compassion, for each other, but most importantly for ourselves.

“Martha Beck defines the mystic as the woman who chooses family, or career, or both, but has enough compassion for herself not to constantly berate herself for not choosing the other path,” said Liz, sort of. She then told a tale of her sister and a significant gesture of compassion she extended towards another mother who was spiraling into an oblivion of unworthiness after witnessing the gingerbread houses that her own kids had put together while being babysat by Liz’s sister. That conversation started with “You’re a better mother than I am” and ended with, simply, “Let’s not do this to each other.”

The Facebook has become an extension of this compassionate community, aka “Tribe Liz,” and visiting her page is like a run-in with someone offering free hugs. But, the cool part is that she is quick to return the embrace. She keeps track of her people, reaching out to them when necessary, tethering them to the font of support which that space has become. There is the story of the young woman on the other side of the world who has shared her hardships on the page, who was sent a copy of The Signature of All Things, who responded in broken English with “You care on me!”

“Yes,” said Elizabeth Gilbert. “I care on you.” And, the funny thing is, in this world where our heroes are constantly disappointing us, she really does.

Check her out on book tour now.

me and Liz

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A Newbie at Blog World Expo NYC: DAY ONE

A new blogger navigates day one of the biggest blogging convention in the country.

Day One at the Javits Center
(which is NOT on 43rd Street)

TUESDAY, JUNE 5, 2012

630 am:  Awaken!  On my friend’s couch.  I don’t care that my back is a little wonky, it’s Day One of Blog World Expo!

715 am:  Choose to wear heels.  So sue me, I want to feel taller today!

730 am:  Double check that I have my registration confirmation (the one that a friend in San Diego had to scan and email to me because I forgot it beautifully pinned to my vision board over my desk).

745 am:  C train to Port Authority!

800 am:  Have a Rachel Berry moment as I pop out of the subway station on 42nd street.  Stop in Starbucks to blog about it.  COFFEE.

830 am:  Find the Javits Center.  I swear it was on 43rd Street, not 38th Street.  Refuse to regret the heels.

845 am:   Check in.  Smile broadly as I am handed my 3 Day Blogger/Podcaster/Web TV pass.  Wander downstairs to discover a multitude of round tables strapped with giant power strips in front of the exhibit hall.  Nice amenities for a blogging conference.

850 am:  Meet nice people from Social Media Examiner and Atlanta-based Organ Wise Guys.  Asked what I “do.”  Respond with “I write.”  Asked what I “blog about.”  Respond with “Uh…writing.”  Make a mental note to come up with wittier repartee.

855 am:  Get a tip that Scott Stratten is verbal caffeine.  I’m there!

859 am:  Find a seat in  Scott Stratten’s crowded opening session, “Seven Deadly Sins of Social Media.”  Spot a guy sitting up on stage in a black t-shirt making snarky commentary as people filter in.  Wonder briefly if he has combed his hair.  Realize I’ve seen this behavior before.  (I’ve lived in LA, for Pete’s sake.)  Search for confirmation that there is such thing as a blogging celebrity.

902 am:  The room quiets as he speaks.  I’m pretty sure he’s insulting us a little bit here and there.  No one cares.

931 am:  I think I love this man.

946 am:  Some good stuff from Scott Stratten on social media:

*  You don’t have to be everywhere, but be present where you are.  Stop pushing your tweets to your FB and vice versa.  Stop automating.  It makes you look dumb.

*  Be there to engage, not announce.  You can’t automate authenticity.

*  Passion drives social media.  People recognize passion.

*  The clincher:  To be great at social media, you only have to be average.  Because everyone else sucks.  

954 am:  Feel slightly inferior about my red moleskin notebook in this sea of iPads.

1008 am:  Stare at the Twitter icon on my iPhone.  Acutely aware of my lack of Twitter etiquette, I tweet a thank you to Scott Stratten.  I have no idea if I did that right.

1015 am:  Wander into a few sessions about publishing, including a knock-down, drag out fight between Stratten and Jim Kukral about the merits of  traditional versus self-publishing.  My takeaway:

*  Self-publishing is appropriate for highly-focused, specified content, especially when it relates thematically to a blog and especially if it is built for that blog’s followers. 

*  People still like to buy real books.  They aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

*  Also, my own mental note:  Do NOT try to win an argument with Scott Stratten while drunk in a bar.

1235 pm:  Slightly overwhelmed, I duck out of the Javits Center and head ten blocks north (no, wait, 14 blocks) to catch a friend at Ensemble Studio Theatre for lunch.  Feel slightly guilty about not sticking around to network during the lunch break.

100 pm:  So happy to be eating lamb sliders at Il Baretto: an amazing find with attentive  servers and tasty food.  Cute bistro atmosphere adds to the charm.  Yum!!

240 pm:  Late for the afternoon session.  Duck into Jay Baer‘s “12 Imperative Must-Dos for the Serious Blogger.”

241 pm:  It’s super crowded.  A woman in argyle pants motions to me that there is a free seat next to her.  Gratefully, I take it.  Compliment her on her argyle pants.  Laugh when she says the name of her company is Argyle Social.

314 pm:  Briefly wonder what a “tribe” is.

330 pm:  Blogging tips from Jay Baer:

*  Be specific.  Because of this blog, [this specific audience] will have [this specific benefit].

*  Create a backstory for your target reader.

*  Value PERSPIRATION over inspiration.  More posts = more traffic.

*  Share the burden.  Gather new voices.

*  A blog is a magazine:  incorporate a variety of media.

*  Self-validate:  your community is not your validation.

*  Write great headlines.

*  Be a great sharer  (my favorite).

335 pm:  Contemplate a few things from Jay Baer, namely, the idea of self-validation, the fact that some people might not like my blog, or that they may one day comment negatively.  For some reason, this thought has never occurred to me.

340 pm:  Have minor anxiety attack.  What am I doing here??  Feel momentarily heartened by the fact that passion is seemingly a driving force behind a blog’s success.  Resolve to keep writing, even if my parents are my only followers.

345 pm:  Afternoon coffee in hand, dutifully take notes about monetization with David Risley.  David is lovely but this money stuff is depressing!  Ad sales and banners and brand boasting…this doesn’t sound magical at all!  Cut to current balance of bank statement.  Continue taking notes dutifully.

412 pm:  Notice that my left foot seems a little puffy.  Wonder if maybe I should have opted for flats today.  Shake my head vehemently at such a thought.

500 pm:  Keynote with Gary Hoover who riddles us with the entire history of broadcasting and publishing in a mere matter of minutes.  Astounding.

530 pm:  Gary Hoover’s applause is cut short by the arrival of the naked paparazzo.  Twitter is aflame within seconds.

614 pm:  The transit of Venus has started and  I am bereft of proper viewing equipment.  Secretly long to hightail it to the Hayden Planetarium to commune with astronerds like me.

615 pm:  Decide to be a good girl and stay for the networking party.

700 pm:  Opening party at Club Amnesia on 29th Street.  (Really, Guys?  29th Street??  You know that’s like ten blocks away, right?  No, I’m not taking a cab.  I used to live here.  I walk.  Damn it.)

714 pm:  Enter crazy dark techno music laser light show club.  Find a place to plug in my iPhone.  Say hello to three other people sharing the same outlet to charge their iPhones.

726 pm:  Acknowledging the awkwardness of networking, share a timid hello with a representative from Emailvision.  I know he said a lot of useful things during that conversation, but I really don’t remember anything after “my company headquarters is in Paris.”

737 pm:  Representative from Social Chorus:  “What do you do?”  Me:  “I’m a writer.”  SC:  “Do you have a blog?”  Me:  “Yes, I do.”  SC:  “Oh, then you’re an influencer.”  Me:  (pause)  “I’m pretty sure I’m just a writer.”  SC:  (to nearby co-worker) “She’s an influencer.”  Me:  “Um.”

752 pm:  Really, really, I mean really awkward conversation with a woman who blogs about cats.  I can’t even talk about that anymore.

802 pm:  Meet nice fellow from LA-based WP Power Guide while hiding out from crazy cat lady near the restrooms.

826 pm:  Abandon networking party.  Hightail it to Hayden Planetarium.

1100 pm:  Prop puffy monster feet up on friend’s couch and stare at them in disgust.  Ask friend why I have puffy monster feet.  Lean over puffy monster feet and demand they GET IT TOGETHER.

1146 pm:  Fall asleep to the transiting Venus and dream sweet dreams about Day TWO of Blog World Expo.

Hayden Planetarium
my happy place

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Live From Blog World Expo New York

Full debriefing on the way…as soon as I stop dreaming in tweets.

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And Away We Go

Gentle Reader,

I am feeling a little bit like Rachel Berry as I leave my friend’s apartment this morning on the Upper West Side and head for Blog World Expo. Despite the threat of wellie-weather all week, it is a PERFECT day in New York. (I may even go so far as to say it is a San Diego day in New York…) All signs point to this conference being a very auspicious venture for me…the transit of Venus, the rainbow I saw from the plane on the flight in, the appearance of Bernadette Peters singing “Unexpected Song” at Musical Mondays… I might as well stick a gold star on my forehead and bust into a show tune as I walk into the Javits Center. It will be so cool to see how this day unfolds. But first…coffee.

Until later, Gentle Reader.

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A Transit of Me

I wanted to do some research on the astrological implications of the upcoming transit of Venus (happening Tuesday). I had a sneaking suspicion that it would bode well for me and my new venture… You’ll never guess what I found here:

“Look at Venus as the feminine principle, so it’s honouring things like intuition, nurturing, cooperation. Hopefully on a global level that’ll be recognised. If you need a boost of any kind, to write that blog, or bring that creative project out, now’s a really good time.”

That’s TOTALLY a sign.

Maybe Tuesday will be a creative boost for all of us unexpressed writers out there. Time to transit, people! Step into your creativity!

Or, at least step in on Tuesday. You’ve got a seven hour window that day to figure it all out. Venus transits a little slower than the moon eclipses, apparently.

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T-23 Hours till Go Time

So, I leave for NYC tomorrow morning at the (insert inappropriate language here) crack of dawn and here is an assessment of my Yet-To-Do-List (further recommendations welcome from other attendees):

1. Finish grading papers (Shoot me now).

2.  Pack umbrella.

3.  Do more research on speakers and narrow down my list of Must-Attends (Be quiet, Kevin Six.  I am NOT type A.).

4.  Follow Blog World Expo coordinators on Twitter (Check!)

5.  Make business cards.

6.  Confirm dinner with my former a la Sex and the City brunch crew (Check!).

7.  (Do I really need that scarf I saw in that shop last week?  It’s super cute and would match like every outfit I’m bringing.)

8.  Download BWE mobile app on the recommendation of my new Blog World Expo Twitter friend and local San Diegan @mattsurfs  (Check!  Thanks for the tip!).

9.  Make sure I can run my online classes entirely from my smartphone.  This is a huge step into the advances of technology for me.  A little nervous.

10.  Corollary thought to #9:  My computer is a dinosaur from 2005 which is why it is staying in San Diego.  Maybe the giveaway gods will be good to me at the conference and bestow upon me a confirmation-of-my-new-direction gift from the universe in the form of a slick laptop.  Just putting it out there.

11.  Make a blog friend pre-conference.  I so do not want to be the new kid roaming the halls wondering where all of the popular people are hanging out.  If only I could find a cool blogger like me and make a conference lunch date pre-NYC…  (All of a sudden I feel like the Anne of Green Gables version of the blogworld.  Will someone be my bosom blog friend?)

12.  Deep breath.  Game face.  Smile.

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Deepak Chopra Talks About Creativity

“Creativity is a quantum leap in context, meaning, relationship and story.”

Story! I knew I was onto something.

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Stories We Tell

photo: blog.hubspot.com

Joan Didion, my absolute all time favorite author ever of all time ever, said that we tell ourselves stories in order to live.

Story:  I am intelligent, honest, loyal, and a generally nice person.

Story:  I live with an open heart and I am stronger, better person because of it.

Story:  The idea of success scares the hell out of me.

What the what?

The truth is that the fact that I’m an intelligent, honest, loyal, and generally nice person has done nothing to contribute to my career path.  Apparently, the real world doesn’t operate in hearts, flowers, glitter, and bubbles.  But neither is it helpful that every time I seem to get close to something one would generally consider success (in work, in relationships, the list goes on), I pretty much abandon ship, citing reasons such as, “I’m just not ready,” or “I just felt like moving back to California,” or “I have to learn how to be a whole person without the validation of financial achievement or personal attachments.”  Yeeeah.

Many a therapist have told me, “You’re afraid of success,” which never made any sense to me at all.  Why would anyone be afraid of success?  I would ask as I cancelled meetings with movie producers and turned down corporate jobs with giant salaries.   Not me!

So, as I begin to pack for the Blog World Expo happening in NYC next week, I notice that my hands start shaking a little bit.  You would think that if I am attending the (insert reverb here) Bloooog Wooorld Expoooo, that I would be a semi-pro at this stuff.  Not true.  I signed up on a whim and now I leave in a week.

First of all, I don’t consider myself a blogger.  I’m a writer and the blogging thing is new to me and the only thing I truly know about it is that I am waaaay behind.  (Next therapy session:  The utter disappointment I feel if I don’t overachieve on Day One of trying something new.)  And so, of course, with my amoeba-like sense of career goals and life direction right now, I decided to do what anyone relatively new to anything would do:  Attend the most gigantic, intimidating, trial-by-fire three day conference on the topic at hand and pretend that I know what the hell I’m doing.  Duh.

Except that I don’t even know enough to pretend.  I’m going to be stuck wandering the halls of the Javits Center on the west side asking random blogger-attendees if they know what a Tweet deck is.  Seriously.  They will sense my fear.  They will eat me for blogger lunch.  They will look down their hipster glasses at me over lattes and shake their heads sadly at my desperate cries of, “But I’m a good writer!  I just don’t know how to do Google analytics yet!”  I’m toast.

So, where does my fear of success fit into all of this?  Because instead of sitting down and linking my blog to my Twitter account, I’m watching back to back episodes of “Scandal” and “Revenge” while noshing on peanut butter straight from the jar with a fork.  (True story.)  And I’m scared.  I’m truly I-feel-like-I’m-gonna-puke freaked out.

You know…I’ve done the whole travelling alone through foreign countries thing.  I’ve been questioned by border military officers on overnight trains in the middle of nowhere (Don’t tell my mom).  I swordfight.  I surf.  I stand on stage and tell stories that other people don’t always want to hear.  I lead with my heart.  I would consider myself pretty brave.  Mostly.

So, why does the thought of entering this brand new world full of stuff I love to do freak the hell out of me?  “You’re afraid of success,” the voice tells me.  So…what?  I’m afraid of using my voice?  That no one will think I have anything to say?  That it won’t be relevant?  So what?

What happens if, on the odd chance, I find out that I do have something to say?  That my voice is relevant?  What if I learn just enough to get me to the next phase of my writing career (let’s call that the “Phase Where I Make an Income,” shall we?) and who knows?  Something magical happens?  Or – gasp – I work really hard and my hard work pays off?  One of my acting teachers once said to me, “Well, you know, if you stand on a street corner long enough, someone is going to come by who can use you.”  That sounded much better in Sam Schacht’s acting class than it does as I type it here, but you know what I mean.  Another grad school adage: Persistence Alone Is Omnipotent.

So, my new course of action:  When my hands start to shake or I find myself readily anticipating Emily Thorne’s next infinity move, I will do my work instead of believing the story of my fear.  And even though I know I will be blogger-scorned in New York, that doesn’t have to be my story, either.

Because, as a writer, the one thing I should know for sure is that

stories

are always

rewritten.

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