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Talkin’ at Me

“Everybody’s talkin’ at me / I don’t hear a word they’re sayin’ / Only the echoes of my mind.”

It’s been a tumultuous few months, especially coming off a year of backbreaking product development with an ambitious client.  And since the unanticipated breakup with said client, it’s the echoes that haunt. You know the ones: the fear, the doubt, the uncertainty in yourself. Everyone had something to say about it, some attempted to rubberneck through the carnage, few stuck by my side, one confessed his sin.  I believed in this client – and still do, despite the dreary news leaking from every corner of the organization. I believed in myself – and still do, despite the extended break and faltered confidence.  I’ve ignored all advice, all well-wishes, all good intentions over the past several months for one solid reason:

It’s not enough.  This one’s on me.

It’s the affirmation of a lifetime.

I wrote my mission statement (or manifesto, depending on your point of view) in a clear moment several years ago, and I still turn back to it when I need the inspiration to stand up and fight another day.  I know I’m good. strong. capable. smart. savvy. inspirational. accomplished. And combined with my ambition, there is nothing I can’t accomplish.

Here it is:

I want to create your future exactly how you want it — even if you don’t know yet how it looks, feels, acts, or belongs.

it’s said the best ideas come from the depths of necessity. we, as individuals, communities, citizens, humans, are deep in the chasm of necessity for new, radical, revolutionary ideas to change the ways things have been done.

our future relies on those who refuse to bow down to the pressure of no.

our future relies on those who refuse to conform to “good enough.”

and it’s a future not for tinkerers or idealists — it’s not enough to want something done.

it’s only enough to do it yourself. in a collective of others working toward a similar goal across disparate entities, boundaries and borders.

it’s time to lead the charge into a more prosperous future.

so let’s get started.

No. 642

panic cycle

This is post number six hundred forty-two here at annehollander.com.

And it’s been a longer than anticipated absence since post number six hundred forty-one.

Sorry about that.

I haven’t written in more than a year.  And while it could be convenient to say much has happened – nothing has.

For that I take full blame.

Yet.

I miss the creation days.  The days lazily typing in a coffee shop, a pastry reward for a solid, editable five hundred words.  The nights spent living and listening for exactly what a character sounds like, looks like, feels life at the end of a bar or back of a car or among a crowd of those who forgot that life meant something, somewhere, some time ago.  And, perhaps, that kindred spirit who still believes in something, separated from cynicism, and willing to take that chance, whatever it may be.

Instead I’ve found narrowed comfort in a numbing nine-to-five, grocery shopping, and a bottle of wine in front of whatever will stream to my living room television, alone to glance at the two-dimensional characters someone else created.  I don’t find jealousy – no, it’s much worse – just apathy.  A lack of interest in the creative, a dearth of considered analysis in a sea of knowledge, and, sadly, diminishing drive to get up, get out, and work at something that one incessantly teased and taunted me.

And that scares the fuck outta me.  The world is spinning faster and faster each day, and I’ve pushed myself outside the whirling dervish and into false comfort.  I should be in the middle, documenting with my own eyes, ears, and experience.

This is post no. 642, fresh with resolve to roll the dice and see where this takes me again.  Perhaps faked until it’s truly made.  But it’s a start – and one I can find confidence in.

Lessons in Multitasking

Busy, busy, busy winter.

  • 2013 is off to a fabulous start – I’ve transitioned into a consulting role with a super-neat startup in the Boston area to work on pushing the company to scale with an influx of multi-sided users.  It’s been a whirlwind and with quick, significant progress  – I’ve finally found the women’s restroom no less than eight weeks into the game.  There’s incredible potential for the technology they’ve developed, and we’re going to take this thing far & wide.  The visionary & strategic aspects of my role are incredible, and it’s caused a deep realization that hey maybe this is what I should have been doing — not the process-oriented roles I’ve filled in the past.
  • Timing is good too – a smart friend recently left his comfortable job for greener pastures in the world of marketing convergence.  What is this magical term I speak of?  It’s the first time anyone has linked together all marketing activities directly to business activities and directly to consumer activities. It’s a closed-loop system. Our tool is super easy to use and – best of all – doesn’t require the coffers of the Catholic Church to implement & maintain.  I’m proud of it, excited about it, and ready to introduce much much more in the coming weeks.
  • I’ve been writing, albeit slowly, working on an old/new project.  You remember Notes from the Field, right?  It’s undergoing a reboot and when I finish the intense outline, it’s hitting the publisher circuit.  (Another one you’ll be hearing much more about in the coming months.  I’ve dedicated nearly all my flying time to writing – except Superbowl Sunday and when I get jammed next to someone who insists on invading my space, brain, and consciousness with their nosy inquiries.)
  • Commercial and residential real estate is also on my radar, though I seem to spend more time kicking the tires than finding what I want. Essentially, I want to build out some decent commissary kitchens for up & coming chefs, home bakers, and those who want to break into the catering, food truck, and other food-types of business.  It needs to include a small cafe and a market (ideally), but finding the right-sized warehouse space that I can purchase & get up to code hasn’t been an easy task.  From the residential side – it’s time to put down some roots, if only so I have somewhere to come home to on the weekends.  I just don’t know where (yet).
  • And, of course, this past Saturday  marked the beginning of the soccer season!  Pictures & stories forthcoming — though I’m excited to coach another season with the girls. (They’re now 7 1/2 years old.  It’s our eighth season and going strong.)

Yep, this year is shaping up to be a game-changer.  Let’s make it happen together though — tell me what you’re up to!

Invocation for Beginnings

I’ll be honest:

I’m coming back.  Restarting with a new idea, an enhanced vision, and the same goal I’ve always had: to go out and do something great.

And it thrills, excites, and scares me sleepless.

Seems it does for many restarts though, including the all-wonderful Ze Frank:

Welcome back. Feeling pretty good about this so far.

High Failure Rates

Hugh MacLeod: High Failure Rate
This is on my refrigerator — one of those regular reminders to wear the clothes, not let the clothes wear me.

I never forget what I’m wearing.  Suit or otherwise.  The dreamers may see things in a gauzy light, the creatives may strive for beauty, but the inventors build something useful not only to themselves, but for an entire contingent of people.

And that’s where things have changed over the years.  No longer do we have to invent for the mass audience, but to solve a particular problem, addressing a need or desire.  We want the perception that something is specifically for you, even if you are hundreds or millions wide (though as a good friend we’d never tell you that).

I am a suit, even if I hesitate to admit it at times.  I’m as comfortable in the suit as a t-shirt and jeans or wrapped within a white lab coat or draped in a soccer jersey and bloody cleats or as dressed up like a Viking at Halloween.  Perhaps each of these styles has its own alter-ego, each of them with a separate view, voice, and perception.  Yet the ability to conceptualize an idea, articulate a theory, rigorously work to disprove myself — the scientist within me — and develop something novel is what I live for.  Others describe this as passion, but the only emotion tied to it is simply that I must follow this process.

And as for the failure of suits, my own have carried me far in this world thus far. Perhaps as a sign of respect in an otherwise insubordinate persona, committed not only to what’s best for me, but what’s best for the company, and what’s best for the world.  A tall order, but one well worth it.

The Turning Point

Every innovator can identify the turning point in life — that storybook moment where suddenly an epiphany linking inspiration, purpose, passion, dedication, and the yellow brick road finally (and brilliantly) converge.  That gauzy fog lifting to bright sunshine, asking only ‘why have I attempted anything else in life?’

I’m sitting atop the brick wall, my feet dangling beneath my perennially skinned knees, admiring the sun-dappled clouds above and below these days, confident in how the future unfolds.

All my life, I’ve unabashedly confused two concepts: anything and everything.  More precisely, that the two are interchangable — that I can do anything and equally substitute that I can do everything.

And that’s not true nor realistic nor probable.  (I will leave just enough room for possible — a little suspension of reality is necessary to get any dream, hope, wish, or desire to its realistic ambitions.  Or being wrong and the proof smeared across my face.)  I can do anything, but cannot do everything I want.  I won’t do anything, but I will do everything I want.

There’s a peculiar relieving sadness in this new-found distinction; coming to grips not with the blacks and whites of strengths or weaknesses, but instead the finer greys between like and love, between interest and dedication, between goals and purpose, and between the multivariate choices along the way.

What is it I’m truly dedicated to?  That I love? That I can accomplish, given the skills and abilities I’ve cultivated over the past thirty years? That gives me (and others) purpose?  What do I choose to spend my time on, given magnanimous equality to all options?  And, most importantly: recognizing and accepting the inevitable sacrifice that must accompany such decisions.

Before today, I wallowed in the abstract — big ideas, creativity, solving problems, reading, writing, thinking.  I could tell anyone exactly what displeased my disposition in all the past choices made, and where my regrets and inabilities betray my confidence, yet it lead me no closer to a destination.  I knew enough (sensed, maybe, or judged rather than knowledge) not to set my sails for tradewinds, but instead embark to the vast unknown, be there dragons, doldrums, or worse.

And much better.  I’ve found my purpose, my passion, my dedication, my inspiration, and just enough direction to know where I’m heading these days.  I arrive with a compelling story of adventure and boredom, of love and heartache, and luck both happy and unfortunate, and the experience (and perhaps comfort) to close a novella of indecision and inner turmoil for a epic tale of unbridled innovative work in the field of higher education.

And to the triumphant return…

Welcome back to the reconcepted, restrategized, redesigned, rewritten, relaunched, and reanalyzed home of Anne Hollander.

I’ve got to say – it’s a year for “re”s.  A year for the grabbing hold of the memory of past energy & enthusiasm, the grip on goals & achievement, but this time distilled and presented in a much clearer, more vehement format.  Not an evolution or version 2.0, but second generation stoically committed to its causes and effects in the idea of affecting change.

Poetry aside,

I’m excited to be back in action.

And without further redo, the metrics & goals for 2012:

(1) Twelve project pitches this year, completely and entirely based on the ‘next big thing’ projects you see here.  Sharing is caring.  There are no shortage of options to pitch and/or present, but the higher goal is to develop teams to bang against the idea, get on board & commit resources however large or small, and amplify what it is we’re working on.  In other words: validators, joiners, cheerleaders.  Which will you be this year?

(2) Twelve new ideas this year, completely and entirely separate from the projects you see here.  Say what you will about envy and jealousy, a healthy dose of each is enough to light a fire under our (collective) ass.  Knowing what everyone else is working on and where they’re going is imperative to ensuring success.  As I’ve heard all my life, I’ve got to make the attempt to fit in, even when others that don’t – and the life of my projects should follow the same admonishment.  Do you have a project you want to share?  I’d love to hear more about it.

(3) Between engaging friends, participating with family, exercising, working the 9-5, working the 5-9, and sleeping, I get to choose three.  I want each day to be slightly different, but my commitment to each day very firm – and my personal acceptance of this daily balance to be paramount.

Just three important goals this year.  Here’s to a new you – and accomplishing something together this year.

Cue the Music!

I’m moving!  Buh-bye, Dallas!

Okay, okay, I’ll be back on a regular basis through the duration of the fall soccer season, but only for short weekends.  My actual hard move date is still a bit fluid (looking at about 30 days-ish, but only 12 before I start work), but this will be the first move where I’ll have (1) someone else pack my belongings, (2) someone else load and unload the truck, and (3) and someone else to drive and deal with the near constant headaches of moving.

And I have just under two weeks to pull it all together and make everything work.  Who wants to help me pre-pack?

In other news, after nearly twenty years of chemically-induced hair colors, I’m finally back to my natural color (which I didn’t think possible — thank you to my long-time stylist and his meticulous records!).  No highlights or lowlights, no glossing or emulsions.  And, oddly, I feel more like my quirky self than ever before in my adult life.

And this — this is a very good thing.

Twenty-Four Hours

It was a self-fulfilling prophecy: the more I listen to (read: dance to) Katy B’s “Louder,” the more it seeps into my day-to-day life.  The more it seeps into life, the more the underlying philosophy guides the days, weeks, and months.  Where I’ve previously described the angst of the ‘quarter-life crisis,’ it’s not the memories of my youth that I mourn, but quite the opposite: that instead it was wasted.

Listen for yourself:

(It doesn’t help that I looked like that at 16.)

It was a handful of weeks ago that I was driving to work, thinking to myself “is this what being grown-up is?”  The constant nagging feeling that I don’t really have any answers to the same questions that plagued me years ago, just a a few glimmers of insight.  I feel exactly as I did at 16, but with a few additional responsibilities and a whole lot more freedom.  I still drown out my thoughts with loud music; I still drive fast; I still escape situations where I’m awkwardly uncomfortable; I still coach (and play) soccer; I still adore the same things I did then (though the list has expanded some over the years).  And while I appreciate the present tense moments, I’ve never given in or been seduced by them, at least long-term (momentary weakness: yes; reckless addictions and compulsions: no.)  Which leads to an quirky question: did I miss out on an undefinable something called youth?  And worse yet: is that why I still feel 16?

I think this is a good thing, albeit odd.  Going through photos of friends, a handful of them have grown up – they’re married, some with kids, they have houses and mortgages, and have piled on the responsibility and sacrificed (some) freedom.  And they’re happy, happier than our parents were.  Yet it’s not about the rite of passage-style events anymore – it’s all about whether they’re still in touch, moving and shaking in some way.  It’s been made much easier to move toward and from the edge, in constant, dynamic flux with the use of social technologies.  ‘The man,’ as previous generations have declared, will get you, bogeyman-style, when you lose your cultural edge. Now, there’s no excuse.

My millennial generation has grown up in a period of unraveling and fragmentation in the cultural sphere, yet we’ve always been cared for and protected through this instability.  It’s said that we were the generation who elected Obama; it’s said that we can’t function alone, but only in teams.  We’re coming of age, not necessarily into adulthood, but into a larger role as we become the dominant power in this sphere. And given our predilection for optimism and energy, we’ll be the generation to redefine, fight, and expand our cultural power.

Certainly I’m part of that.

I’ve been working on a couple proposals for two serious – and high-minded – projects that can and will change the face of education, utilizing technology and the social space.  These projects address the continued fragmentation of education and the crisis of insurmountable debt (and the uneven impact to show for it).  I’ll be the first to say that my undergraduate education gave me the skills and abilities I needed – and the network to back it up.  My graduate education gave me the clout and discipline of responsibility.  I use none of my degrees in their narrow fields; it was never my intention to do so as none of them are vocational-level degrees.  I want to share this freedom with the world; I want the world to have the same opportunities I do and to be able to take these opportunities at any point in life.  Friedman and his disciples call this principle “flattening” – I call this necessity for a world soon (if not already) in the midst of cultural crisis.  Education isn’t a magic bullet, yet it is a stepping stone in the right direction.  The ability to think, to read, to write, to create, to analyze – these skills are priceless as the foundations of any existence.  A government is only as effective as its citizens; a culture only as pervasive as its citizens; an economic system is only as strong as its citizens.

And I have the heroic impulse (and 16 year-old indefatigable, youthful optimism) to take on the challenge.

My voice is getting louder.

Back in Action, Jackson

Annnnnndddd….

I’m back! It’s been a bizarre couple weeks – between the death of a noted international terrorist, the demise of a basketball legacy, and a wholly renewed sense of good old-fashioned American ethic and optimism,

things.
are.
great.

Now to focus the plethora of notes and ideas, knowledge and experience into a fresh and innovative proposal – I’m tickled pink at the prospect of a design mired in elegance and the opportunity to execute with a hungry, altruistic team.

And a shout-out to Grapevine High School – thanks for picking my book Sunday’s Child as “semi-required reading” for your reunion this summer!  I can’t wait to meet & greet with y’all!

Sleeplessness

Sleeplessness due primarily to self-righteous anger.

A smarter friend once said depression is anger turned inward.  Is this state of mind (and full body assault) then depression turned outward?  That final snap triggered to the unreasonable, irrational, illogical catharsis?

For years I’ve attempted to chronicle exactly this situation (with fictional twist) and even now I’m thwarted.  I’m living it, I’m experiencing it, I’m watching so closely yet this is the point where writing gets hard.  I don’t know what to say or what to write and as I try typing out these words, the ones you’re reading right here, the anger recedes from the overboil to a bare simmer.

And its in these unobserved moments I find that little bit of hope and optimism amid the swirling ugliness released.  That I can do this.  That I can make this work.  That it will all be okay.  That I will survive and thrive, and that one day I’ll look back on this and think “yep, that was the right move” – or think “yikes, screwed that one up” — but still I fight regardless of the regrets or affirmations.

So while I may have hit extreme burnout, and while this anger causes trouble and underconsidered or ill-advised action, tomorrow will be different.  Starting tomorrow, it’s all mine.

A Funny Thing Happened Today at Cartier

Or at least it will be funny when the new watch I ordered comes in and is fitted to my left wrist and highly satisfying to take a hammer to the one I’m currently wearing because god help me if I’m ever that mortified again.

And in the same vein,

I love that I’m independent.  I love that I have the ability and fortitude to rectify this and any other situation.  That no matter what I can take care of myself – and do so without pretense or fabrication.  I love that I can spend Saturday running errands, then indulging in a little bit of retail therapy without buying things as a salve for a deeper emotional issue.  I love that I can come home late Saturday afternoon, strip to my skin, and throw myself a mini-spa hour (and a half) – and I love that I can then order a pizza with pepperoni, sausage, canadian bacon, meatballs, prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, ricotta, sun dried tomatoes and spinach — with extra garlic.  I love that it’s Saturday and I can stay home, curl up with a book – or I can go out and have a glass of wine alone – or I can wander the aisles at Whole Foods and come home with a odd mish-mash of really good food.  That I live by myself in an apartment I really love (even if I don’t love the management company) and that I can provide fully for myself and my family and those I love unconditionally.

Maybe it’s just been awhile since I’ve been in a good mood.

Maybe it’s just that I’m settling into a good groove and I’m optimistic about what’s coming next.

Maybe I’ve let go of the hidden worry and fear that I won’t be loved again – because I will.

And I’ll even tell you why: because there was a moment yesterday afternoon when I (finally) saw how important it is to love myself, if only because I’ve made others suffer because I haven’t.  I’m not the enemy of myself, though I’ve sure as hell waged a damn good twenty-something year battle of self v. self.

Cliff’s Notes version: I’m the problem.

And because I’m the problem, I’m the only person who can change it or fix it or do something about it, whether it’s straight up abatement or temporary injunction or imperfect compromise.

Which brings me to a related issue:

I’m a creative person who likes – no, needs – to be immersed in collaborative work.  Simply, I need to work with smart, creative people.  Who are not like me — who are more than me.  More visionary.  More creative.  Smarter.  Faster.  More more more to combat the collective weaknesses (my own included) and enhance the collective strengths (my own included) and achieve the common goal.  This isn’t a lofty abstract desire; this is a need.

The problem with collaboration is that it requires true commitment.  Discipline.  Passion.  Attention.  Even habit.  And the emotional, personal connection with collaboration is crucial – you gotta be a believer or it all falls apart.  You take make anyone play on a team, but if a single member’s heart isn’t in it, the whole collaborative process is a sham, a ruse, a shell of false idolatry.  Add in an inability to effectively communicate (ahem, honestly and openly), add in a layer of politics, and add in a disaffected attitude, and welcome to disaster.

Also known as my personal hell.  The wide-eyed promise of collaboration for an amazingly awesome goal torn apart because the discipline, attention, and passion of one single team member rings hollow.  To see the house this team has built is a case study for the gods – yet this house will be bulldozed because we didn’t choose the perfect wallpaper in the living room and there’s a leaky faucet in the bathroom, that…it destroys me.  It disrupts the collaborative process – that discipline, that habit, that passion – and for what?  Something trivial.

Maybe it should be seen from another perspective – that I allow the destruction of this one house to distract me from the neighborhood of houses previously constructed.  That I’m the disruption on the team rather than the guy sitting in the ‘dozer.

Problem is, the guy sitting in the ‘dozer doesn’t know how to operate heavy equipment…and probably doesn’t realize what’s going on or what he’s about to do.  Yet another sign something is in rotten in Denmark, another indication of poor communication and inadequate leadership.

And here we come to another rampant weakness of mine: reason and precision.  Always tell me why.  If only because it’s the only thing that will convince me that at minimum you understand what it is you’re doing and see the scope of things as something slightly larger (at minimum) than yourself.  Or you don’t, but are still okay with things not being larger than yourself.

And another weakness: trust.  I’ll trust you until you give me reason not to.  You can earn trust back after that point, but not without a considerable amount of effort and energy, at least to partially compensate for the time, effort, energy I expended in cleaning up the mess I trusted you not to make.  (An honest “I’m sorry” typically does the trick.)

Despite the weaknesses, I don’t know what to do about the breakdown of collaboration.  Smear a layer of frustration and disappointment on as well; it brings out the troubling flavor from the overmasticated texture.  Some say go to the mattresses; others say mercy; still others wonder if there’s a trusted resource able to do anything.  I fear the die has been cast and only now are the implications of betting everything peaking through the veil of a hasty, backed-in-a-corner decision.

Learning the Hips

I’ve started into dance classes this month as part of my grand plan to learn something new every month this year, matching interests with curiosities.  (This is a habit/trait/characteristic I learned from my father, by the way.)  Go resolutions.

But among my most favorite of songs is the one below.  It was featured this morning and it’s amazing how much better I feel just to “leave it on the dance floor” – and, of course, its always a great reminder that the exuberance of love still rings true.  And now, watching the music video, I’m reinvigorated for Brazil, yearning to get down there.

But enough yammering – here’s the video:

(And a preview for what’s next on the list!)

A Question Answered

On a fairly regular basis, I’m asked about the nature of ideas.  More specifically: where do your ideas come from?

Typically I laugh and make a snide-to-snarky comment and lop-sided grin about the birth of ideas akin to the birth of babies – one more titillating, one more compelling than the other.

But seriously.  Like babies and boyfriends, they come when you least expect them.

I’ve killed weeks and months at a time in a reverie and daydream, just drifting out in the doldrums.

And I’ve murdered weeks and months at a time drowning in anxious-yet-mundane tasks guaranteed to kill the spirit and livelihood of creativity.

I’ve slaughtered time reading, observing, hearing, watching others’ great (and not-so-great) works, studying their miscues and brilliance.

Time was never really the difference to my great surprise.  No matter how I spend my time, the rate or quality of creativity doesn’t change.

And then, while talking, I launch into a monologue proudly proclaiming that it’s different for everyone.  That everyone has their ‘ah-ha’ moment no matter what they’re in the middle or beginning or ending or purgatory of.

And then I pause,

And say,

But for me,

it’s the welling up of an emotion deep inside me, to the point that if I don’t stop myself, I’ll scream or cry or demons will burst from my abdomen or angels sing from my head and I think I don’t/can’t take another breath – it’s that moment right there I look for because

then,

right then,

if I step out of the catharsis, lean back in my chair, close my eyes for a long, slow blink,

that’s when it happens.

It’s simply that ability to purely reflect on what you know and what’s going on around you- all together instantly and without any self-interest other than to get to just one more breath — and shazam, there it is.

it’s then I approach a theory, perhaps as selfish validation:

Nabokov described inspiration as two parts (though he didn’t assign ratios) – the first half as rapture:

“a combined sensation of having the whole universe entering you and of yourself wholly dissolving in the universe surrounding you.  It is the prison wall of ego suddenly melting away and the non-eogo rushing in from the outside to save the prisoner – who is already dancing in the open.”

The moment where time ceases to exist.  Where there’s no conscious purpose in existence.  The idea.  The moment lightening strikes shock through the air.

The second half he describes as the recapture – the conscious work of construction.  The idea in practice.  The thunder following the lightening.  As you blurt it aloud and start to reflect on what it is you’re saying and continue in a babbling way trying your damnest to position the idea, put boundaries – it’s always with sparkling eyes and increased tempo (in a gentlemanly fashion – others I’ve known fancy more toward crazy eyes and irregular tremor through the body).

The issue, I pointedly say, is finding your ratio – balancing the lightening and the thunder to fit you.  I’ve seen too many taken down by rush for one direction or another, whether by drugs or alcohol, by gluttony or avarice, by talent or lack thereof.  All in the hopes of finding something they thought they needed, even though it was there all the time.

In all, I believe, the storm will come.  No matter the singing or dancing, the lollygagging or grind.  Just be open to more than rain.

Who Says?

Franzen writes …”the one thing nobody can take away from you is the freedom to fuck up your life whatever way you want to.”

Mayer sings “who says I can’t be free from all the things I used to be – rewrite my history – who says I can’t be free?”

And as I sit here, quiet and comfortable in my city apartment, opportunity brightly (and insistently) knocking down my door, I find myself a smidge lonely.

It’s been a very long year.  And in nine months, I will turn 30.  And if there’s one thing these near thirty years has taught me, it’s worrisome independence and careful compromise.  I have very little tethering me, save for the ticking clock and its seemingly increasing tempo.  Days go by faster, no matter whether I think of you or anything else.  Nights occur in the blink of an eye regardless of whether I finish the tasks at my fingertips.  Plainly:  I’ve slowed down.

Perhaps for the better.  Certainly the angst that roiled inside of me has mellowed, aging into an increasingly complex wine, nipping each olfactory nerve, smoked fruits eliciting an inaudible (yet enjoyable) sigh.  Give it a few more years, the experts say.  Or at least another day, then another, then another.  Seems its better for me to take things one day at a time.

It’s freedom – and revolution – binding my mind.  Franzen’s treatise threw a book at the complexities, though mired in the inanities of present-tense American life, told primarily from those of “adults.”  Mayer’s opus echoes the inanities of present-tense American life, told primarily from those “transitioning.”  The difference?  How you wake up everyday – and when and why – and what happens next.

Stay tuned.

The Game

I’ve had my mind on the piano for the last few months, mostly thinking about sitting down and playing again.  I wasn’t ever a virtuoso by any stretch; the recording below has me fat-fingering a Rachmaninoff piece (and enhanced applause at the end – I was in front of maybe 10-15 people at the time it was recorded back around the time electricity was invented) and I never gave it the dedication needed to hit decency.  Though it is evidence that yes, I can play more than Chopsticks or Heart & Soul.

Prelude in G minor

It’s the spectrum of dedication, passion, and obsession that I’ve pondered in the few quiet moments, often when driving or when sitting and waiting for the next thing to happen.  I fully recognize I’m a mediocre fiction writer; I’m not particularly creative or inventive, but have just enough ability and talent to squeeze by.  And (to some extent) I’m okay with this – I recognize I won’t write the ‘great American novel’ or anything of the sort.  I likely won’t ever sign a book deal as forcing myself into a commitment day after day isn’t my idea of security.  It’s my idea of prison.

To some extent I feel fraudulent – as though I’m giving up – when instead it’s that I’m shifting my focus.

[To what, you ask.]

To which I reply “A career.”

My safety net is a small neighborhood cafe and bakery, the type of place I find myself aching over each and everyday.  It’s evolved through the grandiose visions (known then as Cauldron) and the quirky hole-in-the-wall existence (known then as Baked).  Some girls grow up dreaming of their wedding; I’ve seen this dream through twenty-something years.  But similar to fiction writing, I can’t do just that.  Never have I ever just done one thing; I lack the ability to accept only what I have in front of me and not think/dream/work toward something bigger and brighter, a characteristic known simply as ambition.

And what a waste of ambition to throw away on sweet and savory baked goods, day in and day out.  (Never mind the hundred other skills, abilities, and desires I’ve cultivated over the years.  If I never practice law, I’ll be a happy camper.  If I never own my own business, I’ll consider this life a waste.)  Paired with a larger vision and a plethora of things to accomplish – and the right team – I can give all myself to a project.  All the dedication, all the passion, all the obsession simmering below the surface.

Contrast this with my current situation: I’m working for a company who’s singular goal is to bring educational opportunities those those who couldn’t afford it, couldn’t make time for it, couldn’t achieve it, not because they weren’t smart enough or capable enough, but simply because life got in the way.  I’ve never worked for anyone or any type of organization with not only a crystalline goal but a crystalline goal I very strongly (and very deeply) believe in.  I’m thrilled to go to work almost every morning because it’s my job to help convince a person that yes, they can/should/will do this.  I find myself slipping into obsession, not out of dedication, but out of passion for this goal – I am inspired by those I work for.  I find myself uniquely frustrated by those who can’t or don’t hold this goal as close as I do; to many others it’s just a job, the same job that can be accomplished anywhere else.  And I’ve finally dug out of that mindset – after years of careers that dried up passion and dedication, jobs that shattered closely held ideals and left syrupy residues of nasty ethical compromises, I’ve found my swansong.

But am I ready for where it could take me?  Am I ready to put aside the small-town dream of a bakery, the mid-town dream of owning and managing commercial real estate?  The American dream of owning my own business and putting my ideas to work be damned for someone else’s great idea?

A few days ago, I saw my ending with this company.  It’s a political suicide, not shrouded in loyalty or pride, but in self-respect.  The metaphor I’ve used to describe it to others: imagine you’re twenty pages into a book and you already know exactly how it ends.  It doesn’t matter how long the book is, it doesn’t matter how the plot twists or turns – the ultimate destination has already been cast, the pieces are moving, and now I’m playing the game.

The question isn’t why I’m playing – that answer should be pretty obvious.  The question is who am i: the ‘go get shit done’ piece or the pawn who ‘gets capped quick’?  Do I play the game with agility or finesse?  Who is working against me, seeking nothing other than to trap me?  It appears that no matter my passion, my dedication, or my obsession my fate is written.  For some, this bleak post-modern outlook is persuasive.  It justifies the conspicuous spending and paranoid hoarding of resources.  It allows the ego to take on mythical qualities.  It reduces us to a caste despite the ravenous clawing for power in each interaction.

It’s an one-sided outlook of the game.  A philosophy I don’t subscribe to.

But it does give me pause to consider whether what I believe – no matter a fleeting state of passion or perpetual state of dedication – is true.  And whether knowing the ending should influence my decision(s) in the game.

Giving Thanks

This morning I crawled out of bed, my eyes still crusty with sleep but my heart aflame.  Said goodbye and safe travels to a guy whose role in my life is to be determined as you’ll see below.  We’d fallen asleep last night next to one another recognizing our blessings and thanksgivings, a squeamish activity for me primarily in the outward sharing with someone who, yes, I’m thankful for, but who has little context with which to pair my words and sincerity.  Still, we slept soundly.

And yet it was this morning, while making coffee and eating pieces of baguette with creamy cheeses and grapes, while lighting a cozy fire in my living room, while scrolling through an ipod for the music to fit my time, place, and manner, while sitting on my couch with a fantastic book that this particular realization sprouted: this is exactly what I’ve always dreamed of, wanted, desired, and worked for.  Today, this morning.  Cozy solitude, the perfect morning for me to glide through the rest of the day.  The ideal morning to open up my mind and body and spirit.  What I want every morning to be.  What I’ve wanted every morning to be since I was six years old: warm, halfway between absorbed and reflective, quiet but for the sounds of typing, a melancholy saxophone, hissing fire, and the slight puff of a chilling draft from the windows. Dressed in an oversized gingham pearl snap shirt.  Comfortable in my otherwise bare skin.  Wrapped together in nothing less than appreciation and true gratitude for the path I’ve taken to get here and for the moment of stark, blossoming epiphany.

Come what may for the rest of the day – I am content this morning.

And thankful for it as this peace has been too long in coming.

I didn’t think it possible.  My eye steals away to the other end of the couch where I keep expecting to see him with each stolen glance, worn flannel pajama pants, a navy Smith College t-shirt, absorbed into the Times or a book of similar weight and magnitude, enjoying the quiet solitude with me.  This is what he always wanted from me: quiet, steady comfort, yet always found a reason to disrupt it for the thrill of spontaneity.  Until today, this morning, I thought it was my fault; believed I’d never achieve this.

Yet here it is, and I have the recipe now.  I can create it whenever I want it, I know how.  And I can’t express that particular relief.

Which brings me back to my current situation, complete with a man thankful for his freedom and who has unilaterally opened my eyes to see again: with the recipe for quiet, steady comfort emblazoned to knowledge and memory, it’s time to break out again, seek fertile experiences, a fresh (and refreshing) view of life at its molten core.  I can always come back to this (says the optimistic and entitled American); it’s time to let all this go, every last drop, and start fresh elsewhere.  I’ve previously promised myself Columbia as the next destination.  Instead it may be Russia or Panama or Venezuela or Brazil – or a meandering wander through these countries and more.  The dream of embracing that adventurous, Gypsy-minded streak running through my spirit has caught me as a red-handed romantic.    I’ve been placid in my existence far too long, frustrated by an nameless yearning for something greater, a grain of redemption for my past misgivings and deeds.  Where before I’ve turned a blind eye only to have the malfeasance and their wretched consequences seep and ooze through my dreamy subconscious as a monster we all know as guilt and contempt, today I am content, not only thankful for my past struggles to get where I am presently, not only for the blessing of all the skills, abilities, and experiences I present, but for the recognition that I have the freedom to choose my adventure, my freedom, my content and displeasure – and the single-handed aptitude not to passively be – but to actively do.