Sunday, September 27, 2009


A few days ago, I got rear-ended…hard. As I sat on the side of I-5 waiting for the tow truck so I could get back to a book deadline, I started thinking about all the accidents—four, to be exact—that I’ve ever been involved in.

Fresh out of driver’s ed, I was driving to a cast party after a performance of “Don’t Drink the Water.” I was playing Marion Hollander like Edith Bunker and it totally killed, if I do say so myself. For reasons I won't go into, I wasn’t supposed to go to the party; my mom was running interference so I could slip away for a couple of hours. I was on the clock.

As soon as the curtain went down, I changed clothes and zipped across town. As I approached the intersection of Napier Avenue and M-139, I got nervous. Reputedly the most dangerous intersection in Southwestern Michigan, it was a clusterfuck of lanes around the Orchards Mall and the Fairplain Plaza. Impatient, I stepped on the gas in my tiny red Toyota truck and promptly rear-ended a couple. As I got out of the car and scurried over to the pair, I prayed that there was no damage or injury.

“ohmygoshiamsosorryareyouokay?” I blurted out, looking at our bumpers rather than them. Aside from a bit of paint transfer, all seemed intact. Then I looked up. The couple was staring at me, speechless.

I suddenly realized that I never took off my stage makeup. My hair was sprayed gray and I had age lines drawn on with greasepaint. While I was wearing my Guess jeans with the zippers at the ankles and the rad Ocean Pacific jersey I got in Chicago, my face was straight out of granny central casting.

In a word, insane.

Well, after the initial shock, the couple insisted on taking down my digits. Although they never did call, I was on pins and needles during the ensuing weeks, waiting for news that my ass was grass.

After that, I enjoyed a spell of accident-free driving. In my early twenties, I moved to Washington, DC and took a job working at a magazine production company. I lived in Georgetown and drove out Route 50 every weekday into Northern Virginia. Even with the reverse commute, traffic sucked dead bear.

A multi-car pile-up was bound to happen. I was jarred from my NPR reverie by unwelcome impact. Again, rear-ended. I didn’t brake quickly enough, so I rammed into the car in front of me. And so on and so on and so on. While I was fine, the bumper on my Tempo of Doom suffered some damage. This time, I was more concerned about being late to work than anything else.

Fast forward ten-ish years. I was again scurrying to my job, this time at a publishing house in Philadelphia. I had an important meeting…with Mister Rogers. Obviously, I didn’t want to be late and I didn’t want to miss a minute of time with him. The light turned, I got the go-ahead, and I started into the cross-walk. Some dim bulb on her cellphone turned the corner and barreled right at me.

She sees me. She has to see me. I’m in the middle of the crosswalk. Uh…why isn’t she slowing down?

As these thoughts raced through my head, I realized that she did not see me and that I was going to get hit. Luckily, my body responded faster than my thought process. I leapt and succeeded in only getting hip-checked. At this point, the driver sort of noticed me. She stopped, rolled down her window, and yelled, “Did I hit you?”


I bitched her out with signature snark, and kept it together until I got into my office. Then I broke down. And after a good crying jag worthy of Holly Hunter in Broadcast News, I collected myself and went downstairs to meet my hero.

And that brings us to this latest run-in. I’ve been fortunate to have only sustained minor bruising during these collisions. In thinking about them, however, what's been interesting is that I'm always being driven by my passions when an accident occurs. Be it my teenage acting aspirations or my career, I can't wait to trade insurance information, tape up the bumper or my body, and get back to it. Maybe I'm impatient, but it's usually only because I love what I do and I can't wait to stop sweating the small stuff (like a dinged bumper) and get back to what really drives me.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Writer’s block: fact or fiction?

I’ve long maintained that I don’t believe in writer’s block. Sit down, focus, and knock some text out. I guess it’s my blue-collar, farmer roots. I don’t want to indulge the finicky muse. I just want to get shit done.

I’m revising this belief.

I’m tired. You might even say I’m burnt out. I don’t think I’ve taken a two-week vacation in my adult life. I work every weekend and often am taken unawares by B-list holidays. Recent Christmases have found me sitting at my parents’ dining room table trying to jack a neighbor’s WiFi so I can research a music legend for a possible book collaboration or write content for a retail website. Ho ho ho.

Being a freelance writer sounds idyllic to those on the outside. I get to set my own schedule. I am able to develop passion projects. I have the ability to meet up for coffee or lunch regularly. I can work in my housepants all day.

The reality? Not exactly puppy dogs and rainbows.

Don’t get me wrong. All the above “perks” are true but aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Scheduling is a bitch. Without meetings and others to report to, I find it nigh on impossible to keep to a routine. I need accountability beyond myself. I don’t draw a regular paycheck, so I take on all sorts of projects to pay the bills. I agree to unrealistic deadlines. I work seven days a week. I know I need to have more balance in theory, but I struggle to create this in practice. And I don’t sit in pajama bottoms all day, contrary to popular freelancer belief. What would Bill, my beloved UPS guy, think?

All this wears on me. And it wears on my writing. At times, my creative cupboard is bare.

Sure, I have techniques to jumpstart my writing when I’m staring at the screen. But if I’m uninspired by a project, it’s hard to make a cognitive shift so that I can plow through it in short order. Often, the projects that make my heart sing and my fingers fly get pushed to the side in favor of immediate, lucrative assignments. If I’m stuck with a claw-my-face-off project, I’ll put it aside for an hour or two and write something else that blows my skirt up. For instance, I’ll draft a blog post here or for Things I Want to Punch in the Face, a forum that provides me pure bliss. It’s an efficient way to re-juice me creatively.

And while I don’t exactly believe in waiting for that wifty bitch of a muse to roll in like Olivia Newton-John in Xanadu (although that’d be dope), I have discovered that my writing needs space to breathe and develop in my mind and heart before I can transfer it to the page. I’ve been batting around a teenage memoir like a cat with a mouse for years. It started out with one focus and I just couldn’t muster up enthusiasm to keep it going. I backburnered it and felt guilt over it for a year or two. Then something happened. I found the heart of the matter. It was only by giving it space that I realized that the real story, the painful one lurking behind my pithiness, was the one I needed to tell. It’s the project I have to write. In this case, writer’s block turned out to be a gift, not an excuse.

Meanwhile, I’m still staring at the screen and working to finish my urgent projects so I can fit my memoir into my schedule. I’m eager to have my heart singing and fingers soaring again but sometimes, I got nothing.

Do you believe in writer’s block? If so, what do you do to alleviate writer’s block? What inspires you?


Friday, September 18, 2009

Talk talk, all we do is talk talk

Two weeks ago, I road-tripped to see Dave Matthews Band with a childhood friend. When I returned to Seattle, I had a houseguest in town for a music festival. After he left, I had a day alone before I flew cross-country. There, in New Jersey and then Delaware and back to New Jersey, I was with a couple housefuls of people for a week-plus.

I felt like I had a radio in my head that couldn’t be turned off.

I suddenly realized why I was screaming in my skull. I hadn’t been alone for more than 24 hours in two weeks when I’m usually alone most of the time. Some days, I talk to a neighborhood barista and that’s it. While I adore my friends and can’t get enough of our sidewinding conversations, I am not trained these days to run the convo course. I can go at it in sprints but I get winded halfway through a marathon.

When I lived on the East Coast, I shone in situations where five conversations were simultaneously going on. I took it as a point of pride to follow all the threads. It was sport.

But it wasn’t connected. It was more about showing off than tuning in. I have been working to change this. And I know I’m different. When someone cuts me off, I can’t take it. I often just shut down and let them talk, figuring it’s more important to them to drone on than for me to interrupt. But I’m equally aggravated when someone isn’t listening to me. I don’t always have something important to say, but I am talking.

I know I do it, too. I might be working on the computer or watching crap Bravo TV (you know what shows I’m talking about) and zone out. I didn’t used to do this. I've been on high alert for most of my life. As a kid in an alcoholic household, I learned to multitask, doing homework, watching TV with the family, and always listening, listening, listening for something that required a laugh, a comment, or a trip to the kitchen for another highball. I guess my coping strategies have slowly melted away. I don’t need to split my mind into different compartments, I don’t need to always impress. Rather, I want to connect, to feel that ripple that flows through my body and causes my eyes to tear up when I am absolutely on the same page, wavelength, whatever you want to call it, with someone. That’s when the white noise stops and I can hear everything crystal clear.


Friday, September 11, 2009

Flexing my flexibility

Until a few years ago, I thought I was just a logical person with high standards for myself and others.

Then I realized that I was extremely inflexible. Rigid, in fact.

I expected people to follow through on plans or tasks, no matter what. I was disappointed when a friend consistently, almost without fail, canceled on activities at the last minute. I couldn’t deal when someone blew off a deadline.

And the person I was hardest on was myself, which meant I was anxious and filled with guilt and/or self-loathing pretty much all the time. It’s little wonder I have acid reflux.

But after working with a life coach and gaining a bit of perspective, I realized that being vulnerable and inconsistent is not a failure. It’s human.

I set myself up when I hold myself and others to the highest standard. Take today, for example. I was supposed to travel to New York for a day of meetings (four, to be exact). After taking a red-eye from Seattle to Philadelphia and doing a “planes, trains, and automobiles” thing for 36 hours, I was already compromised on sleep. I woke up with a sore throat and a runny nose and it was pouring outside. But I still got up, showered, prepared to make the trip regardless of the fact that I have a full itinerary for the next week, including my best friend’s wedding shower that I’ve helped to plan. Tromping around in the rain, my health would most likely be further compromised. But I was reluctant to alter my itinerary. I had appointments set up, I had made plans. I felt like a wuss even considering going into the city later in the day, let alone bagging on it altogether.

But when I went to wake up Alison, she was the voice of reason. Finally, talking it over with someone other than the voices in my head, I was able to allow for the possibility of an alternate plan. Within 10 minutes, I realized the folly of the trip in the face of all I have to do in the coming days. I e-mailed all of my appointments and rescheduled a couple for next week. My only regret is that I got out of bed so early.

Being flexible and fluid takes constant practice and I’m slowly learning to give myself and others a break. I am learning to accept when a friend leaves me hanging and be excited when she actually shows up. As the saying goes (attributed to Denis Waitley), “Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised.” And I’m trying to remember to step outside of myself, look at a situation, and lighten up. The only person who expects me to meet unattainable standards is me.

I’ve got a long way to go to be spontaneous, but that’s okay. Nobody’s perfect.


Monday, September 7, 2009

The work/play tug-o-war

It seems as if I’ve had vacation on the brain these days. If I can’t take a full-on break, I can at least dream about one. And this rainy Labor Day weekend, I’ve been trying to find my spots of blue sky where I can find them.

Sometimes they only exist in my mind.

On the surface, I had a great weekend set up. My childhood friend Ann, who I reconnected with last year, scooped me up and whisked me away to see Dave Matthews Band at the Gorge, a spectacular outdoor venue in Eastern Washington. We spent the night in Moses Lake, hit the breakfast buffet in the lobby, and hightailed it back over the mountains.

DMB was fantastic; the time spent with Annie was even better.

I continued the tour through my past when I got back to Seattle. My high school pal Kevin flew in from Chicago for Bumbershoot, a three-day music and arts extravaganza. The festival would be overwhelming even if I didn’t have a lot of deadlines. But I do. So I’ve been doing my best to find balance, the middle of the road between work and play, the desire to be a good hostess with the need to be an effective small business owner.

The results are mixed. In trying to do both, I’m doing neither very well. But what I am doing is the best I can. I sent Kevin off in the rain to see the Black-Eyed Peas this afternoon; I’ll join him in a couple of hours to check out some acts this evening. The holiday is almost over and I’m going to be as present as possible in whatever activity I’m engaged in, be it writing, editing, or rocking out. At least I'm going to try.

Do you ever experience work guilt when you play on the weekend or holidays?

A sampling of my books