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.


Monday, March 8, 2010

And On That Day, A Scinti Was Born

Here's to starting 2010 off with a bang! Or, at least, my version of a bang, which sounds more a like a loud POP to the coat-throat, 18-hour workday, wildly ambitious leaders of tomorrow. But for this girl, who likes to work methodically and quietly, a few new clients and communities in a matter of a couple months definitely constitutes a bang.

One of my most recent delights has been the new opportunity to work among the inspirational and insightful bloggers of, a new personal development blog that was born yesterday. As the handy "About Us" page so eloquently explains:

"Scinti is a place to share our stories and unique perspectives on life in an effort to help each other. In short, we want to be the spark in people’s lives. There are many amazing personal development sites out there to help you live a better life and we plan to feature the owners here over time. We would like to complement those sites by sharing our life stories as examples. If there was an official handbook on life, we want to be the real life examples you can reference along with the manual."

So come on down and get yourself sparked!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

In Appreciation of Lists

My boss loves lists. So much.

This makes some sense to me, because I am rather fond of lists myself. Even so, my fondness of lists cannot compete with hers; she has a list for every thing. Everything. It seems to give her a sense of calm--to know that she has reliable records of where everything is, how everything is organized, what she needs to do, what she has done, where she did the things she has done, with whom, and for how long. That woman picks up a list and this perfect peace falls over her face, like all is right with the world.

As I said, I cannot compete with a love of lists that runs so deep. My fondness for lists is more shallow--I care for them, but I view a list more as a charming organization specialist who stops by, evaluates my situation, and tells me how to move forward. With each new step, my world becomes clearer. Cubbies in the closet, files alphabetized, pens in the pen cup thingy. Then at the end of the day, I shake the organization specialist's hand and say, "Thank you! You've been a big help today, and I will now watch you walk away with a quiet sense of accomplishment and gratitude."

Then the organization specialist walks away, leaving her card behind and knowing that I will call again soon.

I like my list. In fact, I am about to make a new one now to sort out the millions of things I have to do today. Then I will do each thing one by one, seeing my day and my plans fall carefully into place, feeing a sense of perfect accomplishment as I draw that perfect little line through each task completed.

Yes, the list is good to me. But if a list is looking for a really serious, really deep love, it'll want to go find my boss.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Bright and Marvelous World!

My cup, as they say, runneth over.

I have just had the most delightful birthday run. On Thursday night my brother took me to the Justin Townes Earle concert, which was (as I'm sure you would by now expect) a marvelous, wonderful, perfect occasion. I will refrain from going into detail, as I am sure you have all had your fill of JTE by now.

Last night, the night of my actual factual birthday, I went out for a delightfully gluttonous meal with my friend, Nora. Our birthdays are six days apart, so we celebrate together every year. We went to one of those Brazilian restaurants where they keep bringing you meat as long as your "meat beacon" is set on green. It was a meal to remember.

And now, here I sit this morning, beside the bay window of my "nook", a dark amber-colored tea in the glass tea pot my parents sent me, with a list of work to catch up on and birthday calls to return. The sun is shining and I'll probably take a walk later.

What a blessed thing it is to have love in all its forms!

Happy Valentines Day.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

For the Love of the Game

Add ImageI’ve never really “gotten” baseball . . . which I’m pretty sure is a vile transgression, considering I come from baseball people. My father was named after a baseball player. My brothers spent their childhoods in little league uniforms. And to this day, when I think of St. Louis summers, I think of the sound of cicadas mingling with Jack Buck's voice on the radio.

But I never could find my way to embracing the sport. When my mom offered me her ticket to a Cardinals game during my visit to St. Louis last fall, the only thing that drove me to take it was the opportunity to spend some time with my dad. It had been a while since he and I had hung out, just the two of us.

So we went to the new Busch Stadium, with its Rockwellian design and good-timey baseball feel. My dad treated me to a hot dog and a grossly overpriced beer, and we sat, side-by-side, to watch the game. And then it happened . . . my dad taught me things.

They say that teenagers have a natural resistance to the wisdom of their parents. I was not that teenager, but to some degree, I am that adult. It’s not that I doubt I can learn things from them; it’s that I’m finally beginning to learn things from myself. And as that happens, as I begin to embrace and assert myself as an actual, bonafide grown-up, I find myself trying to make it clear to my parents that I am an adult now—that my opinions are just as thoroughly thought-out, and that they can feel free to learn from me, too. When I really think about it, I don’t think I do this for their sakes. I think they know I’m grown up. I do it for mine.

When I was a little girl, trying against the nature of my language-oriented brain to learn the numeric values of money, my dad would invite me into the dining room, where he would spread his pocket change out on the table. I would stare at the nickels and dimes and quarters, trying to make meaning from their sizes and colors. I watched, transfixed, as my father’s long, thick fingers slid the change around on the dining room table, his steady voice explaining each move with patient genius. He worked with such confident ease . . . no need to calculate or count. He just knew that dime, dime, nickel was the same as one quarter. He was that smart.

It became hard for me to hate the science of money, because I loved the way my dad taught. I liked the reassuring steadiness of his voice and how fascinated he seemed to be with the options of money, with the strategy involved. He grouped the coins to show me that a nickel and five pennies were the same as a dime, and when I began to catch on to the game--when I began to arrange and present my own strategies--he smiled broadly and said, "Yes! That's right!

That's what it was like to be at the baseball game with him, to be at his side, watching a sport that has always been beyond my interest or willing comprehension. I asked him what I was seeing, and he taught me the same way he taught me change: in a careful, patient way, his manner approachable, his voice welcoming. He taught me with an obvious fascination for the strategy of the game, and once again, learning from an enthusiast made it difficult not to be enthusiastic myself. Before I knew it, I was observing the game using the new terms he'd taught me, and, just as he had twenty years before, he smiled broadly and said, "Yes! That's right!"

And suddenly, I was a true adult, admitting to myself that I liked learning something from my dad, that I liked bringing him my curiosity. I am my father's adult daughter. I am independent, self-sufficient, intelligent, and solid. I can think for myself, fight my own battles, and solve my own problems.

And the more confident I am of these things, the more willing I become to learn from my parents again.

Monday, February 8, 2010

A Lot of Power in a Little Honesty

This will be my third post on Justin Townes Earle. Does this mean I have a problem? Perhaps. Perhaps I do. Nevertheless, I feel I must mention him again in anticipation of Thursday night . . . the night the alternative-country love of my life takes the stage in LA and sings (I will imagine) just for me.

I love JTE for the same reasons people all over the world love their favorite musicians: because he makes music that cracks my soul open, that speaks to me, that moves and inspires me. When I listen to Justin Townes Earle--cheesy as it sounds--I catch myself thinking of the type of person I want to be.

It's not that he's singing "Man in the Mirror" type songs. It's simply that he's singing truth. He sings about the good and bad in himself, in the people around them. He sings about how he's loved, how he's failed to love, how he's been hurt. These are, of course, standard topics. But there's something pure and simple in his delivery. Something very honest. No forced poetry, no attempt at clever phrasing. Just stories . . . true stories, shared with deliberate openness.

Take for example one of his most popular songs, "Mama's Eyes." As the son of a largely absent, but fairly well-known father (Alternative Country artist Steve Earle), Justin wrote "Mama's Eyes" to, as he says, "set the record straight." Justin skips past the typical angsty descriptions of his relationship with his father and instead sings in earnest simplicity about the dark habits he learned from his dad. "I ain't foolin' no one," he sings. "I am my father's son."

After a length of singing about being the same as his dad in all the wrong ways, he pays tribute to his mother (and communicates his discovery of his own personal strength) with no great poetic displays of adoration. He simply leans into the microphone and sings:

Now it's three a.m. and I'm standing in the kitchen
holding my last cigarette.
I Strike a match and I see my reflection in the mirror in the hall
and I say to myself,
"I've got my mama's eyes,
her long, thin frame and her smile,
and I still see wrong from right,
'cause I've got my mama's eyes."

Pure and simple.

There is something marvelous about an artist who isn't trying to force emotion out of you. It takes tremendous confidence and balance of mind to be able to simply speak the truth--to simply tell the story--and trust that the clear and simple truth is enough.

This is how I would like to operate as a writer. No manipulating my audiences, simply writing truthfully and trusting that truthful writing will be enough.

This is also how I hope to live my life. No games, no affectations, just pure and simple honesty. And when I am a little bolder, some deliberate openness of my own.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Day the Blah-Blah-Blah-Whatevers Came for Tea

I burst in to 2010 like a . . . thing that bursts really quickly in to something else.

And now this. As you can see by my attempt at metaphor (above), my well is drying up a bit. The well of creativity, the well of motivation, of inspiration, of intrepedation.

It was bound to happen, despite the season I am in. Not Winter . . . I mean, the season of my life. I announced to my brother in early January that this is the year "things happen." 2008 was the year of figuring myself out--figuring out what I wanted and where I was headed and who I hoped to become. 2009 was the year of outlining--of making plans and preparing, of clearing out the things that don't belong in my life and ushering in the things that do.

And when I woke on January 1, 2010, I could feel that gentle breeze of continuing motion. I have been doing nothing but moving forward for the past month, keeping my sights focused on my goals, my mind bursting over with a million ideas for achieving them. Yes, indeed. This is The Year Things Happen.

And then it happened. I woke up yesterday with an overwhelming desire to stay in bed. And when I finally talked myself into getting out of bed, I wanted nothing more but to wander purposelessly through the day--to spend long moments staring at walls, to check my email seven times in a row in the hopes that something interesting would happen to me, to brew tea and then forget to drink it. It was a severe case of the "Blah-Blah-Blah-Whatevers," and I am sorry to say that it continued on to this morning.

But here, my friends, is the blessing: regardless of how I felt yesterday and how I feel today, this is still The Year Things Happen. Therefore, this is the year I learn to deal with the Blah-Blah-Blah-Whatevers. This is the year I learn to acknowledge them without judging them, then interact with them civilly in a way that encourages their exit without forcing it . . . because they cannot be forced out, and they cannot be stifled.

This morning, I opened my blinds, in a gesture that told the Blah-Blah-Blah-Whatevers, "Please make yourselves at home. I just hope you don't mind a little sunlight." Then I took a long shower, all the while saying to the Whatevers, "I'll be with you in a moment, I just need to refresh a bit." Then I cleaned up my room and cleared off my desk. By this point the Whatevers were awkwardly sitting in the corner of my room, with a look on their faces that is often reserved for those moments when one is the only guest at a dinner-party who is not privy to all of the inside jokes.

And here I sit now, on my freshly made bed, easing into the work of the day with some writing designed primarily with my own mental health in mind. The Blah-Blah-Blah-Whatevers are still here, but they're glancing at their watches and trying to think of a good excuse for leaving so soon.

And I am smiling to myself over a small victory. I realized this morning, that lying in bed next to the Whatevers, resenting them and thinking of how I should be pounding out proposals and words at the speed of blind ambition only made me feel overwhelmed by laziness. But a slow and steady response has apparently put me back in control.

Good to know, seeing as how this is, after all, The Year Things Happen. And I have just found a tactful way to make unwanted guests leave.