Be the heroine of your own story


, , , ,

I like this post by writer, Theodora Goss. It touches upon some of the same themes that I am interested in, but it tackles them from a decidedly more feminine point of view.

I encourage you to check out the rest of her blog— there are some other great posts to be found!


Doing 80 mph


, , , , ,

I used to have a rule that I would not live in a place that required me to have a car. Part of that was because I was into living in big cities and part of that was because I was a fan of public transportation. And part of that was because I didn’t particularly like driving that much.

So until a couple of years ago, the closest I had ever come to owning a car was when my parents loaned me one to use during my last year of high school. It was a diesel with a speedometer that reached a maximum of 80 miles per hour (mph). I was somewhat responsible as a teenager, so I never floored it to the max.  80 mph seemed so fast to me at 17 and 18 years old, and it continued to do so into my 20s and 30s. I had an intellectual justification for it, too— going 80 mph was unnecessarily showy. Truth be told, though, I just felt a real visceral discomfort being about going that fast.

Let me tell you a funny thing, then, about creating a cross-country road trip itinerary based on Google Maps.  Google Maps apparently factors in speed limits when calculating travel times to and from various places.

That hadn’t occurred to me.

And I had forgotten about the head-shaking articles that I read 15 or 20 years ago about how some Western states had drastically raised their speed limits above 65 mph.

So, when I had to get to Livingston, Montana from Central Eastern Washington one day, and then from Livingston to Bismarck, North Dakota the following day, those trips seemed manageable, since Google Maps estimated that they would each take about 8 hours or so to drive. I didn’t really wonder how I’d be able to drive about 530 miles in 8 hours while crossing the Rockies, for example, until I crossed the Montana border and saw that the speed limit was a jaw-dropping 75 mph.

Since I had a Monday deadline to keep (see my recent post) and I was getting passed up going 70 in the slow lane by just about every other car on the road, I decided to stretch my comfort zone and flirt with 80 mph. What I realized pretty soon thereafter was that 80 mph was really not that big of a deal, and the more I did it, the more comfortable I felt with it. And while it’s not like I actually went 90 or 100 mph the next day, for the first time in my life, I could imagine doing so.

That reminded me of something I ask my coaching clients when they reach their big goals: how do you kick it up to the next level?

What really hit home for me on that trip was the following: when we stretch ourselves and normalize, in our own minds, performing at the high level that we truly want to attain, not only is there a good chance that we will attain it, but also that we will be faced with the reality that it won’t just end there.

Instead, we will be left with the questions of ‘What do we do from here?’ and ‘How do we kick it up to the next level?’

So, whether you’ve recently achieved something you’ve been wanting to achieve for a long time— or whether you’re still on your way to doing so— ask yourself those questions, and ask yourself the following question as well: ‘What do I want Me, Version 2.0 to look like?’

Spend some time reflecting on these questions and formulating your answers.

I would venture to guess that what you come up with will leave you feeling more excited, more challenged, and more reinvigorated for what lies ahead.

A Case for Thanksgiving Eve


, , , , , ,

I have another travel-related post ready to go, but I feel compelled to share first this thoughtful and touching pre-Thanksgiving reflection that my creative and multi-talented father-in-law, Gary Furr, wrote.


My next blog post (“80 mph”) is coming soon! Have a great Thanksgiving, everybody.

A Case for Thanksgiving Eve.

Changing the tune


, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tidbit #2: Change one small thing in your process to get yourself untracked.

Have you ever struggled with something you’re doing and sunk deeper and deeper into the quicksand? Maybe it’s a passage in a story, maybe it’s a project at work, maybe it’s getting your recalcitrant toddler to eat more solid food, maybe it’s figuring out how to get started on a sketch. I’m sure you can come up with your own examples.

Often we feel like we are banging our heads against the wall as we persist doggedly in our process— with increasingly frustrating results.

That happens to me too, as a writer.

As somebody who is very sound-oriented, though, I have found that just changing my music is often enough to get me untracked. For example, today, I needed to change the music I was listening to from dreamy to something more linear. On other days, I need to change it to dreamy or contemplative.

Here’s another example of getting untracked: I often marvel at how my very creative wife is able to move herself out of (rare) power struggles with our daughter by suddenly and unexpectedly making her laugh. In those situations, it’s the introduction of laughter into the process that entirely transforms it.

So, if you’re stuck on something right now, try this: think of one thing you can change in your process. 

Let’s call it a game-changer.

Maybe your game changer is changing where you sit in the room as you write. Maybe it’s changing the lighting in your room as you paint. Maybe it’s going to work on your work project in a coffee shop before you go into the office. Maybe it’s making something into a game with your child. Maybe it’s deciding to improvise with what’s left in the refrigerator instead of planning the main course.

Be adventurous and creative in what you come up with. But most of all, have fun with it.

If you already have a game-changer that works, then try this: create some reminders for yourself to utilize it. Alarms on your computer. Post-its on your sketch pad. Pictures on the refrigerator of your improviser inspirations. Tinker to find what works best for you.

It’s Only 165 Miles to Missoula


, , , , , , , , ,

One of my favorite trainings that I received— and gave— as a community organizer was strategic planning. I enjoyed thinking about what intermediate steps an activist group could take to get from their Point A (their current reality) to their Point B (their ultimate goal). One of the things I learned from that training was to put these steps on a timeline, and to make them specific, measurable and doable. I continue to use that training as a coach when I support my clients in designing action plans to make the lives they want for themselves into the lives they have.

So, it was ironic that I did not think to apply these lessons when I first began my cross-country road trip with Maradog.

Some background: in case you didn’t know, my family and I moved last month from Seattle to Hudson, NY (about two and a half hours north of New York City). For several reasons, I ended up driving from Seattle to New York with our dog, Mara. Since Mara is still waiting on her license— apparently having your own facebook page doesn’t qualify as sufficient proof of human identity (who knew?)— I had to drive solo. And we only had seven days to make the 2,945-mile trek: I made a commitment to myself (and to my wife) to be at the Albany airport to pick up my family when they arrived— which would be six days after the movers finished loading our stuff onto the moving truck.

Thinking about driving 2,945 miles wasn’t daunting to me, so much as it was unfathomable. But as it got closer to my departure date, I started to wrap my brain around what that meant.

Thinking of myself as a good strategic planner, I made a few decisions.

One was that trying to drive the journey straight through with little or no sleep was not an option for me in my forties. That decision was made even easier for me when I considered the fact that I would have an aging dog along for the ride who had had a recent bout of bladder issues. On a similar note, I decided to try to be realistic in pacing myself for this trip, in terms of how many hours I would drive every day—since 2,945 miles is a marathon, not a sprint. So that meant that I would have to stay in hotels and motels.

At the same time, though, I was aware that I had a timeline to keep. I also was aware that it would be less straightforward than usual for me to find dog-friendly accommodations. Bearing those facts in mind, I decided to chart out a place or two where I might stay each night— depending on how far I got each day. So, on the day I left, I had a few possible rough itineraries in mind.

I didn’t get on the road until after 7:30 p.m. on the first day, though, after getting delayed by dealing with the movers and other final moving details. Between my late start and encountering a huge rain storm in the Cascades, I hadn’t gotten very far by the time I stopped for the night at 12:30 a.m. I wasn’t even 100 miles from Spokane— my fall-back option for where I’d stay the first night.

That meant that in order to get back on track with the one itinerary I’d worked out that still that remained an option, I would have to drive 525 miles the next day— and a good chunk of that would have to be through the Rockies. I didn’t have much choice— I needed to get to at least Bismarck by the 3rd night if I wanted to have any realistic chance of making it to Albany on time, and if I didn’t catch up in Montana on the 2nd day, that wouldn’t happen.

It felt pretty daunting to me to think about driving 525 miles in one day, as I thought about it at breakfast that morning. I was in Central Eastern Washington, and I was going to have to get to Central Montana that night. It felt even more daunting once I started driving on I-90 again. My GPS suggested it was going to take over 10 hours, and the miles felt like they were going by slowly.

But I had learned a lesson from the previous day.

That first night, I had no idea what the benchmarks (the landmarks, cities and towns) were on the way to Spokane; the only thing I could see was how far away Spokane continued to be. On the second day though, I had familiarized myself, beforehand, with the benchmarks on the way to where I was going— Spokane, Coeur d’Alene, Missoula, Butte, Bozeman.

To me, 525 miles was unbelievably far. But 137 miles to Coeur d’Alene for lunch… not so much; 165 miles to Missoula for gas, a walk with Mara, and a snack… that seemed manageable.

Although I knew that I needed to get to my destination that night in Central Montana— even more so after I put the room on my credit card around the time I was driving through Missoula— by staying focused on the benchmarks (the intermediate goals), I was able to make the trip feel doable for me. My error the previous night had been to not break down the intermediate steps of my cross-country trip (i.e., the 7-day itinerary) into even smaller intermediate steps for each day (i.e., cities and landmarks that would be signposts of my progress).

In spite of the exaggerations of my GPS, I did get to my destination that night in good time, even after taking several breaks for Mara and myself.

So, how can you take what I learned and apply it to your own life?

I’ll give you a clue: I’m not thinking you’re going to read this, hastily pack a suitcase, and then walk out to your car to take off on a cross-country road trip.

Instead, ask yourself: what is it that I am working on now that feels like the end is far off in the distant future, or what is it that I have given up on? Maybe it’s an idea for a new career. Maybe it’s a book you’re writing. Maybe it’s a script you haven’t started or a movie you need to finish editing. Maybe it’s a new consulting business, or a move to the other side of the world.

And now ask yourself something else: how can I break these projects down into even smaller intermediate steps than I already have? Perhaps instead of ‘updating your resume,’ you need to write the new entry for your current job first— or even gather the bullet points for it. Perhaps instead of ‘writing the next chapter,’ you need to get as far as writing part of a specific scene. Perhaps you need to contact the embassy first of the country where you want to move instead of just fully ‘educating yourself on the legal requirements’ of moving there.

You get the idea.

Now try this: try accomplishing your first benchmark tonight. I’m serious. Try it. You don’t have to finish it (though that would be ideal). But just try making it a reality.

You might be surprised: it might just be more doable than you think.

Spontaneous Inventions is Back!


, , , , , ,

After a long move-induced absence, Spontaneous Inventions is back, and I have a backlog of posts to share here in the next few weeks. Posts from my trip cross-country, posts from our move— even posts from before the move— and much, much more. We’re more or less settled into Hudson, NY— one of the quirkiest places per capita I have ever seen— and I am sure that it will provide some material in the future, as well!


In any case, to continue in the meditation and mindfulness link vein from my recent posts, here is a guided meditation that Sharon Salzberg (author of “Real Happiness”) gave to a meditation retreat group, and here is a guided Vipassana meditation session given by American vipassana pioneer Joseph Goldstein.


You might find one or both of these helpful depending on your style.


But please feel free to use these so you can be more intentional and more mindful in your day-to-day life.

Meditation 101– Meditation link #1


, , ,

I’ve arrived in New York after a 7-day odyssey and spotty Internet access for the better part of the last week. More on my trip coming soon!

But in the meantime, I wanted to offer some good links for those interested in beginning mindfulness meditation. There’s a great website that the Spirit Rock Meditation Center has created.

Here are links for their Meditation 101 page and for one of the best introductory ‘how-to meditate’ manuals that I have seen.


Paying attention


, , , , ,

I’m driving across country and I’m in Bismarck.

Sounds like a dream to me. One of those off-kilter dreams that’s neither good, nor bad. Just off-center.

We’re moving (again)— this time from Seattle to New York. While I’ll miss Seattle and the people I knew there, I am very excited to go back to the one place in the world that most feels like home. The Hudson. The trees. The buildings. The bricks. The architecture. The bridges. The vegetation. The sounds. The look of the street signs. The sarcasm and the bluntness. The people who surprise you.

It’s been a whirlwind since my wife and I made the decision to move— we had three weeks to pull it off. One of the things that we ended up deciding to do was to have me drive cross-country with our dog, Mara.

When I first started to consider the idea seriously, I half-seriously said that it could be a vision quest for me. And it has been. I won’t go into detail about it, since part of my vision quest involves keeping it to myself.

But I will share one aspect of my experience. That is the challenge of paying attention. To the moment, to the current present of my surroundings.

It’s hard enough to keep my mind from wandering toward other topics– work, relationships, movies and television shows I have seen, books I have read, political acts I would like to undertake, where I’m staying for the night, and other thoughts that come into my mind.

Then there’s the added difficulty to stay present to one’s surroundings with cell phones, smart phones, texting, and GPS. It’s easy to get so pulled into using these devices that what’s going on around you only dimly registers somewhere in the recesses of your consciousness.

Being present to my surroundings on this trip is fundamental to the vision quest aspect of it. And yet, I have found that far more challenging than expected— far tougher than on previous trips for me when I was younger. But I need to pay attention, to see, to listen— it provides a grounding that allows me to get deeper into my self. And in kind, that access to my deeper self is grounding to me.

And I have rediscovered how to do that.

So, try this sometime.

Decide on a time to spend without your 21st Century gadgets (except maybe your ipod— in case music helps you in what follows below).

Get present to what’s going on around you. Look around, listen, use all of your senses.

Now go even deeper. Get quiet internally. What do you see? Hear? Smell? Sense? Make these things register for you— whether it’s just sensing them with undivided attention, keeping an internal running narrative, or journaling about them. You might be surprised by the creative, business, and work ideas that just come up out of you, automatically, out of nowhere.

Mindfulness meditation helps you get present to the moment, too— whether it’s Zen, yoga, Catholic centering prayer, or any other tradition. Until a few years ago, I used to think that it was for other people. But the great thing about a meditation practice is that you can create your own— whether it’s orthodox or unorthodox. In the next few days, I’ll be providing some links to some (hopefully) useful mindfulness resources to get you started.

Cut Mental Junk Food Out of Your Life


, , , ,

This is the first in an irregularly appearing series of mini-TIps of the Day (or tidbits).

TIDBIT #1: Cut out one source of psychic ’empty calories’ from your life.

Do you automatically reach for the remote after dinner? Do you check facebook when you get a little down time after putting your child to bed? Do you shop on your lunch break?  Do you play way too many video games? Do you look into some question that came up at dinner and then get lost in researching something for an hour on the Internet that really doesn’t matter that much to you?

These are like the potato chips, the twinkies, the hostess cupcakes of your inner life. Like junk food, it can be enjoyable to consume these empty mental calories in the moment. But also like junk food, in the aftermath, you kind of wish you hadn’t done it. Maybe you wish you had practiced your instrument, drawn in your sketchbook, done something to build your business, written a poem, read a book, had a good conversation with your spouse, or done anything else that you found meaningful.

Junk food might be OK every now and then, but you wouldn’t be healthy with a diet of only junk food: you’d starve yourself of essential nutrients that you need. Similarly, if we only consume mental junk food instead of doing the things that sustain and nourish us, then we feel impoverished and starved of essential nutrients for our psychic well-being.

So, try this: keep track of the psychic ’empty calories’ you consume over two or three days. Choose a habit to eliminate— you can choose to eliminate it for part of the day, as a start.  Come up with an intentional substitute activity that excites you— and which would feel like a source of sustenance for you. Try this substitute activity instead of your mental junk food and keep track of the way that you feel. Repeat this for your other sources of psychic empty calories.

It might seem simple. It might seem insignificant. But it’s a little thing you can do to make a big difference in the quality of your inner life.

The War of Art


, , , , ,

I forgot what it was about The War of Art that caught my eye in the bookstore back in 2003.

I knew nothing about Stephen Pressfield, the author (whose fiction I only became aware of later). I remember it had a very ‘clean’ look and that the chapters were short. Leafing through it, I was wowed so much by what I read that I had to have it.

It’s even better than I thought it would be, that day in the bookstore. With its bite-sized nuggets of wisdom, you can consume this book as slowly—or quickly— as you like.

The ‘war’ in The War of Art is the war against ‘resistance,’ which Pressfiled asserts is Public Enemy #1 of creativity. The first two sections— on how to identify and combat resistance— are indeed, amazing, and I won’t ruin it for you by going into too much explanation here.

I will say, however, that in my work as a coach and writer, I have thought a lot about two of the book’s chapters.

The first relates to showing up every day. As a writer, I used to fall prey to the notion that I could only write when I was inspired to do so. Sometimes that inspiration would come several times a day, other times it would come several times a week. Pressfield asserts instead though, that the successful writer (or artist or entrepreneur) has to do the work anyway, even if he/she is not feeling thus inspired. He argues that our showing up to do the work every day will make the inspiration follow, eventually. And he’s right. I had that experience this weekend, actually: I was feeling distanced from a fiction idea that I hadn’t worked on in a little while and sat down for 45 minutes to write and listen to a CD that used to inspire my writing 15 years ago. Lo and behold, the ideas— and the writing— just flowed out of me once I actually sat down and took that time to do the work.

The second chapter that sticks in my mind relates to dedication and purpose. Years later, I have sometimes found it very helpful in my work as a coach to ask the following question: when you’re upset about something, what do you do to cope? Pressfield asserts that Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example, goes and lifts weights, because that is the artistic territory that he mines— instead of doing things to distract himself or numb himself out (note: this book was written before Arnold’s governator days). I’m not saying that if something really terrible or overwhelming happens to you, that you can’t do whatever you need to do to cope and get through that moment. To the contrary— sometimes that is a very necessary thing for us. But I can say, from personal experience, that he’s right about that too. When I engage in my art (either as a writer, or as a therapist or coach) when I am upset, it not only often can create serendipitous events in my helping relationships, inspire some of my best poetry, and add some inspired touches to my fiction, it also makes me feel better— better in my mood, better about my ability to get through that event, and stronger in my sense of self.

You might not agree with everything contained in The War of Art, but it is an interesting and thought-provoking read. I highly recommend it.