Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Year I Work My Ass Off

As I so boldly announced in this blog early last year, 2010 was supposed to be The Year Things Happen. Around October I was beginning to fear that I was horribly, horribly mistaken. I am learning, however, that things tend to feel unsuccessful in progress, and as I write this now, watching the hours of January 1, 2011 slip away to make room for January 2, I can see that things did, in fact, happen last year. Last year I:

-picked up 400% more clients than I had in 2009,
-sharpened my business skills, including rate negotiation (always a toughie),
-had my work published alongside several skilled writers in's first book,
-built relationships with several other writers and professionals in both the publishing and film/television industries,
-made it to the top 4% in the Disney/ABC Writing Fellowship, alongside my brother and writing partner, Phil.

Of course, there were plenty of setbacks, failures, and goals that went neglected (the upkeep of this blog, for example.) But that's okay. I've got another year of learning, failing, and succeeding to keep me moving forward. In fact, while sifting through the chaos in the New Year's Resolution quadrant of my brain (yes, it takes up an entire quadrant), it quickly became clear what this year's theme is.

This is The Year I Work My Ass Off.

It has to be. I didn't meet all my goals in 2010. But I did open a lot of doors and started flirting with a lot of opportunities. Keeping up this momentum is going to mean some late nights. Even more so, it's going to mean sharper focus. If this were a high school football movie, I'd bust out some inspirational "go-get-em" type words here, but I don't write in that genre. But whatever. You get my drift.

So here I go . . . and here's to all the possibilities of this New Year, for me and for you.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Sunday Pep Talk: Right Round

Last week was not so great. You failed big time. Your loved ones let you down. The world turned dark gray sometime around Wednesday, and by Friday even sweet, little, old ladies were spitting at you.

Time to thank goodness it's over. Because it is. It's over.

Maybe it wasn't last week. Maybe it was only yesterday. Or maybe it was last month. Or possibly last year. Whenever it was, however bad it was, it's over. Today is still new. And tomorrow? Even newer.

This week--much like your own dear self--is loaded with potential. Absolutely packed and darn-near exploding with so much glorious possibility. This week you may unexpectedly find the solution to the problem that's been nagging you for years. Maybe you'll get a promotion. Maybe you'll fall in love. Maybe you'll win an award. Maybe.

Likelier, though, you'll succeed at some spur-of-the-moment problem solving. You'll attempt something new and the attempt will be more successful than you anticipated . . . or you'll fail and be amused and wiser for the failure. At some point you'll laugh, and at another point you'll make someone else laugh. You might cry this week, and if you do, it will probably be the release you need. For a minute or two, you'll be angry with someone, and for a minute or two you'll reflect on how deeply you love someone . . . possibly the same person. You'll embarrass yourself a little, you'll blush at an unexpected compliment. you'll make someone else blush. When the week is over, you'll be exhausted. You'll have complaints. You'll sleep late, knowing you needed to but wishing you hadn't. You'll feel a bit weary with the cycle of life, with the repetition of your schedule and the feeling that you're only moving in a circle, never changing, never moving up or forward or any direction you're trying to go.

But then you'll look at how far you've come in a week . . . at the new things you've learned, the tiny moments of growth in your relationships, the difference between who you are on Friday and who you were on Monday. Who you are in May and who you were in February. Who you are at thirty and who you were at twenty-five.

Life is cyclical, yes. But with each passing day, your circle gets wider, so that even as you loop back around, the expanding circumference carries you into new territories, upward and outward, wiser and better, so that no matter how much today looks like yesterday, it's not. It's new. It's different.

It's a very good day.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sunday Pep Talk: Let's Fly Away

I like to break the process of goal achievement into three handy sections: The Beginning, The End, and The Really, Really Slow Part.

The Really, Really Slow Part happens, as you may have guessed, in the middle. It's the part where you're actually doing things. The part after the Beginning, which is when you're so hyped up on the possibilities that you're convinced you're moving forward at warp speed. The part before the End, which is when you're just waiting to put that final button on your project so you can bust out champaign and--depending on the size of that particular milestone--weep.

The Really, Really Slow Part is, in my experience, a lot like the middle part of a commercial flight, after the thrill of take-off has ended and the pilot has given you the okay to bust out your laptop. Rumor has it, planes are really fast. I suppose this must be true, because it only takes me about four hours to fly halfway across the country. But flying doesn't feel fast the way driving does, when you get to see the scenery zip by, the dashes on the road getting sucked up under the wheels of your car, one right after another.

No, the view from the window suggests that flying is a slow and laborious process, given that you can see the same stupid corn field for fifteen minutes. Yes, yes, I get the science of it, and the fact that the plane is really far away from the earth and blah, blah, blah. But that doesn't change the way it feels to someone who is more accustomed to land travel.

And that's what it is to pursue a previously unsought dream. You may feel stuck, but if you're still working and you're still focused, there's a good chance that you're actually moving forward at warp speed. You may not be able to see it, because you've finagled yourself into a brand new position where everything looks different. But you're moving. And if you keep your focus on what you're doing for a little while . . . on the work and milestones and all that . . . when you peek back out that window later, you'll probably find yourself looking at an entirely different terrain. Mountain ranges?! Where did the corn field go?

Of course, you'll get restless over the mountain range, too; we're programmed to get a little antsy. But just know that that mountain range is temporary.

So is the time when you're embarrassed by your lack of experience. And the time when it feels like every 20 actions yield one result. And the time when you feel like a bumbling moron because not even you can commit to a firm list of priorities.

You are moving forward. You are changing for the better.

As the person standing on the ground, staring up at the underside of your plane as it whizzes by, I am telling you you're on your way.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sunday Pep Talk: It's Your Call

There just isn't time.

Between personal obligations and professional obligations, between caring for ourselves and caring for others, between catching up and moving forward, there just isn't time.

As I write this I am worn out and aggravated that I didn't have this posted this afternoon. I'm aggravated that I didn't do about six things I swore I'd do this weekend. I'm aggravated that when I look at the next days, weeks, and months of my life, I'm not sure where I'll find the time to move forward.

And chances are, you've got a little bit of the same thing going on.

So tonight, as I sit achy and bleary eyed in front of my computer, I say to myself, "This life belongs to me."

All of it. Every square inch of it is mine. Outside forces can hit it, and sometimes they can shake it pretty hard. But how I live is up to me. The same is true for you.

It certainly doesn't feel this way, of course, when a friend is calling for our help and a boss is pressuring us for extra attention and the distant light of our dream career threatens to flicker out with our neglect, but here's the beautiful, hideous kicker:

We chose that friend. We accepted that boss. We conceived that dream. We are living the life we chose. Our frustration is born of success, of past goals met and incorporated into our lives. Is it a bit much at times? Sure. But here's the next big news:

We choose what happens next. When it's time to let go of old milestones, we can. In the case of friends and family that we want to hang on to, we have every right to consider our own mental and emotional health when we determine how to respond to their needs. And when we approach a new day and a new schedule, we get to do so knowing that each new day is a new opportunity to declare our priorities, to define ourselves, to shape the big, wide open future that stretches out before us.

And so, with that in mind, I'll be scraping the pout off of my face and putting myself to bed, so that I'll be plenty rested to seize ownership of the morning . . . another morning that belongs entirely to me.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Naysayers and Say-Yayers

People love to warn others of impending doom.

When I was spending a summer at my parents' house in Lubbock, right after my college graduation, I signed up with a temp agency, hoping to scrape together enough money to move someplace interesting and theatrical, like Chicago or New York. I interviewed with the owner of the agency, a lumpy, unhappy looking man in a brown suit sitting behind a beige desk in a khaki office. He looked over my resume, then told me they had an opening right there in the agency.

"You'd be working full-time," he said. "Permanent. You'd be placing people in jobs."

I had a sudden vision of my soul lying limp in the corner of the office, flopped against the wall like a worn pillow, wheezing, "Why, Abi? Why have you done this?"

I politely declined, informing the gentleman that I was only planning to be in town temporarily; I was an actor and would be moving to a theatre hub soon.

The man made a few notes on my resume and said, without looking up, "Heard a statistic recently. Less than half of one percent of people who try to make it as actors actually succeed." He looked at me then, as if to triumphantly view the shattering of my ambitions.

I smiled back, assured him I knew how difficult it would be, and asked him to call me if any temporary positions opened up.

Let me tell you, when your career plans involve acting, you get this speech a lot. Same with writing. And probably with any other art career a person would wish to pursue. What kills me is that so many of these anti-pep talks also come from within. Seasoned veterans with lofty careers warning you in arrogant tones that "If you can do anything else in the world and still be happy, for heaven's sake, do it!" Now, I get this line of thinking for would-be Marines and young women who declare they want to have 12 kids and raise them alone. But for a wide-eyed young artist pursuing what he or she loves best, or at the very least, what he or she believes he or she loves best, I think the statement is overkill. Very few deaths result from young artists pursuing a very difficult career that they don't love enough. Usually the "nightmare" that ensues involves a couple years of frantic trying and failing, several months of your standard early adulthood depression, and eventually a little bit of self-discovery and personal rebirth as our harried-but-wiser artist embarks on a new path.

My personal theory on the naysayers is this: people (and I humbly include myself in this) love being able to say, "I was there." Even more, we love to say, "I suffered through that." And even more than that, we love to hold up our suffering and say, "Behold my credentials! Honor my sage advice!"

And the result is many young actors, writers, painters, and puppeteers shuffle home with their heads lowered, feeling as though they've failed before they've begun, and weakly promising themselves that they'll still make their dreams come true, even though that person clearly doesn't believe they can.

Now, obviously I can't very well end on that dumpy note; not in a blog dedicated to Pockets of Joy . . . Pockets of Joy like supportive friends, inspiring mentors, and those few but satisfying moments when your own personal naysayer looks at how far you've come and says, "Well, I'll be."

Hopefully you're blessed like me, and your social circle is bursting with good hearts and good energy. Undoubtedly, you also run into doubt in your journey, whether it comes from other people or boils up unexpectedly inside your tender little gut. I want to make sure you're armed against doubt, and that's why I'm starting Sunday Pep Talks.

Starting this coming Sunday, I'll be posting weekly Pep Talks, designed to give us all a boost for our weeks . . . a dash of hope here, a spritz of can-do there, maybe a pom-pom or two. Because as my brother, the ultimate Pep-Talker, says, "There's no reason you can't do whatever you want to do."

No reason at all.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Society of Girls With Dreams

Now is the messy part of ambition.

This is, as I have previously asserted, The Year Things Happen. I stick to it. Things are happening. Sometimes more slowly than I would like, sometimes more quickly than I expect, but overall, things are happening.

And the more things happen, the busier I get. I am in the middle place right now, balancing new writing jobs with personal assistant responsibilities and the tremendous work of collecting new clients. Oh yes, and the work of editing my beloved novel, which haunts me in my dreams saying, "Don't forget your truest dreams, Little One. Don't forget your truest dreams." That's right, my novel calls me Little One. I never asked her to, but she doesn't ask permission; she just acts.

I digress. The point is that my dear friend and (former) cosmetology student, Nora, texted me yesterday afternoon to ask if I wanted to go out after work.

I told her, as I generally do on weeknights, that I was busy. I asked her what was up.

"Nothing," she texted back. "Today was my last day of [cosmetology] school and I thought it might be nice to celebrate. But it can wait till Saturday."

I responded with a vague apology and some gibberish about how I'd have more celebratory energy on Saturday anyway and closed my phone. And then I realized how stupid it was to turn such an invitation down.

It had been Nora's last day of cosmetology school. It was almost two years since I sat in the passenger's side of her car, listening to her talk about all the new hair products she bought for school as we cruised toward the beach, celebrating her last free Saturday before school snapped her up. I thought about how excited she was then, how she has become the best stylist I've ever had, how she is looking forward to what is bound to be a brilliant career . . . and how she said she was going to do something, and then she up and did it.

Nora, like many of my friends, has been a big support to me as I've stumbled my way into drawing up a serious writing career. She has cheered me on, and she has inspired me with her own goal-chasing. Skipping out on a night of dancing to work on my neglected novel is one thing . . . ducking out on a celebration of the Society of Girls With Dreams is quite another.

I called her immediately after I sent my sloppy, "Sorry, see you Saturday" text and made a date for happy hour. Over sangrias and quesadillas, I toasted her genius and felt my heart swell with gratitude for mutual support and a good excuse to go out on a weeknight.

Tonight has been an especially productive night; I think checking in with the Society of Girls With Dreams has reenergized me. And so I publicly extend my contratulations to Nora and my thanks to Nora and to Angie Frazdz and to Sister Angie and to Nikki and to my parents and my brothers and all the other angels who hover around me, offering their support and giving me the honor of being a (somewhat sloppy) support to them.

Thank you. With Love, From Abi.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Shiny, Shiny Sunshine

I consider the first day of Daylight Savings Time a holiday.

I spoke to my dear friend Frazdziak last night, and she was singing the praises of Spring in Chicago. I admitted to her that that was what I missed most about the Midwest--the soul-exploding Spring. I don't care much for the long, dark, slushy Winter, but surviving the long, dark, slushy Winter is how the Midwesterner earns the eruption of joy that is the Midwestern Spring.

Even so, I am enjoying the warming weather in LA. I am enjoying a forecast of blue skies, and a drawer full of skirts that are nearly ready to rediscover the light of day. And most of all, I am enjoying the fact that my day just got longer.

Of course, there are the same hours in the day regardless. And even in darkness, I must train myself to be productive and to honor my time. That said, it's so much easier to do all that when the sun stays up until 8:30. It's so much easier to feel that glowing, yellow light inside me, pulling me forward, keeping me awake and alive.

Today feels like a new beginning, a new shot of energy, a new blank page waiting to be filled.