I had one of those it's-a-small-world moments when one of Phineas's friends showing up at my house turned out to be Eric, whom I've known for ten years and, now, seem to be connected to through about a million people. (His reaction was kind of the same. "The invite was a double whammy," he reported. "It was like -- holy crap! Phineas is getting married! And then: holy crap! It's at Justine's house!")
Another guest I instantly recognized. "Rafe," I said, and held out my hand. "Hello!"
I could see him trying to figure out how we knew each other.
"We've never met," I assured him. "I saw you on The Millionaire Matchmaker."
Rafe was one of the millionaires "looking for love" ("I did it for charity," he said, and indeed, made an active effort to highlight a nonprofit on the show, which did not go over well with either his date or the Matchmaker herself, Patti Stanger). He is a friend of both Phineas and Dude, and Dude and I had watched that episode together while Dude texted Rafe our reactions (Rafe was in England at the time). Just like he'd been on the show, Rafe -- a successful Hollywood director -- was amusing, intelligent, and verbal, very much a storyteller. We compared notes (I was recently on television), and Rafe talked about a friend of his in D.C. whose wife had agreed to star in The Real Housewives of Washington D.C. They ended up getting divorced in the second season. That, we agreed, topped both our experiences in terms of both trauma and horror.
It struck me as a conversation you can probably only have in LA.
It was a fun, interesting, creative crowd. "Half of them don't have two nickels to rub together," Dude observed at one point, "and the other half are millionaires."
After the party, Dude and I hung out in the kitchen and talked with Phineas and his tall blonde European fiancee Greta, who looks like a model but is actually an M.D. There was another guy hanging out with us. He didn't say much. Phineas seemed to know him. I gave him friendly glances and kept wondering: was he a guest? or one of the caterers, waiting for us to get out of the way so he could finish his job? or a total stranger who had wandered in through an open French door?
Finally he introduced himself. "My name is Nick."
He was indeed a guest.
"For a minute there I felt like I was in a movie," Nick said. "I'm, you know, the quiet guy that nobody knows who he is."
I like a man with a sense of the meta.
*This is the first time I've had to give someone a pseudonym not just for the sake of privacy, but because I've already used his real name as somebody else's fake name.
A Facebook friend drew my attention to this lovely project on Kickstarter.com, by two young female artists:
Dreamscape Memory Cave
I love the ideas they're working with, so I pledged a few dollars and brought them closer to their $2000.00 goal. Check it out. Help them if you can. They might make you a chandelier.
(I am becoming fascinated with chandeliers.)
I had dinner with my great friend Nia who recently saw the new movie JANE EYRE.
"I had some serious problems with Rochester," she said.
She wasn't talking about the actor.
"That whole Byronic hero thing," she continued. "I was into it when I was younger, but now it turns me off. It doesn't translate well to life."
"Heathcliff," I agreed, referencing a different novel entirely but eager to make my point, "was a psycho."
We're talking about a character who kills his new wife's dog just to torment her because she isn't Catherine. (This is how I remember it, anyway.) That is not romantic. Cruelty to animals is one of the signs of a potential serial killer*.
Nia said, "I don't want to impose contemporary values on, you know, a different historical period, but I was watching the movie and I thought -- Am I the only one bothered by the fact that he locked this woman in the attic?"
"Have you read --"
"I mean, he locked her in the attic."
" -- WIDE SARGASSO SEA?" It's a slender novel of gorgeousness written by Jean Rhys, imagining the story of the "mad" wife Bertha: where she came from, how her relationship with Rochester developed including how she got to be in Rochester's attic. You can probably tell that it does not end happily.
We talked for a bit, and I said, "It kind of disturbs me now about how it didn't disturb me then when I read the book in my teens, and then again in college. I was just completely accepting of the whole situation. But all we have is Rochester's word that she was insane to begin with, and guys can be so quick to call a woman crazy. It can be very convenient for them. And of course she was dangerous and pissed off. Who wouldn't be, in her situation?" For all we know, the woman just wanted to go shopping.
One of the things a smart girl is supposed to do when considering a guy's boyfriend potential, is to look at the way he treats the women in his life: mother, sisters if he has any, female friends if he has any (and if he doesn't, that's not a good sign), and especially ex-girlfriends. The idea being: how a guy talks about his ex is the way he will one day talk about you.**
So a guy who is on good terms with his exes is generally an excellent find. It means he treated them well, broke up well, and gave them no reason to actively hate him. A guy who refers to his exes as "crazy" or "psycho" or "bitches" should send up a major red flag. Chances are he is a) attracted to psychos, which means you should probably question why he's with you, or b) he has no respect for women and takes no accountability for the part that he played in the apparently destructive dynamic between them, which does not bode well for the dynamic that he will develop with you.
So if Jane and Rochester were chatting each other up at a local Starbucks -- shooting the breeze, getting to know each other -- and Rochester were to let it slip that, well, yeah, technically he's married, but his wife doesn't understand him because she's such a psycho, and even though they live together they don't really live together because, you know, he locked her in the attic, which means he's totally free to see other people and so, hey, how about dinner and a movie....
Jane should say no. Or use him for sex and then dump his ass.
* together with arson and bedwetting: the childhood unholy triad that could signal a potential sociopath. (The bedwetting part I don't really get.) (Edited to add: a wise person in the comment section below has pointed out that not all sociopaths become serial killers. Some of them go into politics. Or corporate life, for that matter.)
** My very wise, older friend M. once said to me, "I think there should be a rule. No woman should marry a man before she has a serious conversation with his ex-wife, who knows him better than anyone."
"I'm an ex-wife," I pointed out, "and we have no credibility. We're, you know, all bitter and crazy and shit."
"Not all of you," M said.
My friend Genevieve came over the other night. "I need your moral support with something," she said in a note sent through Facebook. "Not a man thing."
I was very curious.
I love to be in the company of very smart, worldly, accomplished older women. When you're coming up on 40 (I am 38 and a half), a birthday that someone once described as "the old age of youth and the youth of old age", it can seem a bit like coming to the edge of a cliff with nothing but this obscured, smoggy space ahead. But then you put yourself in the presence of these remarkable women and it's like a friendly smack. It's a reality check, a voice piping up to ask: was it really all that stimulating to be an arm ornament, or decorative wallpaper? and isn't it kind of awesome to know that your pregnancies are all behind you? and isn't it exciting to learn from your old mistakes? Now you can go and make new ones!
But I suppose in some ways it's not all that different from the trauma of about-to-turn-30. You get so wrapped up in the death of one era, you forget that it's also the birth of something new. The challenge is, do you allow yourself to move forward, embrace change, and let yourself evolve, or try to freeze yourself in the amber of the past? The latter seems a tragic failure of imagination.
It turns out that Genevieve's husband went to France and sent her an email to let her know that he bought a chateau. It was such a great find that he couldn't pass it up. Since they were transitioning out of their Malibu home anyway, it makes sense to spend part of the year in France (Genevieve speaks fluent French, and her work takes her all over the world).
She showed me pictures of the place, and of course it's beautiful. My favorite detail was a big white spot on the ceiling of one room where a bomb once went off. "It went up through the roof and made this hole," Genevieve told me. "When they restored the room, they left that white circle. Do you think we should fix it or leave it there?"
"Leave it there."
Then I said, musingly, "You know, my father once bought a motorcycle without telling my mother. This seems a bit like that. Only different."
Speaking of homes, there's one I have my eye on. I might let myself fall in love with it, if it doesn't prove emotionally unavailable.
"But it's not cozy," complained my boyfriend.
"You haven't even seen it."
"I've seen pictures of it. I thought you wanted something cozy."
"I want something that has enough space for five or six* kids and that I don't hate," I said. "I can make it cozy."
(I look forward to decorating. I don't plan on any major change, just taking the furniture and objects I already have and injecting a kind of gypset, rock'n'roll element that my ex-husband would probably have hated.)
So I walk through these rooms and hallways, absorb the views from all the windows. What an amazing place to live. This house has held a negative charge for me. But now I can appreciate it, and start to miss it.
The universe needs the conflict of contrasts in order to keep moving forward. There's no light without the dark. In the end, it's all part of the same bigger picture.
The death of one thing.
The birth of something else.
* Dude has a young son whom my sons adore
Now seems a good time to once again change the name of this blog. Little did I know, when I started it five or six years ago, the kind of trouble that it might get me into. C'est la vie. Je ne regrette rien.
I've thought about closing it down and/or melding it into Tribal Writer, but no. If a blog can be a kind of quest -- for knowledge, identity, meaning -- then this blog and I are at the start of something new. The re-invention of a life, the world post-divorce, the next, new act. The claiming (or reclaiming) of personal power. The desire to be fearless, bold, and balls-out -- even if, afterward, I must curl up in the fetal position.
We don't really talk about money in this culture. We don't really talk about class.
I believe that the stuff we keep in the dark is the stuff that grows a dark power over us.
There's a difference between a high-consumption lifestyle and a wealth-creating lifestyle. Many people choose the first at the expense of the second: big house, fancy cars, little saved and/or invested. I spent a few years in the world of what Thomas J Stanley calls "the glittering rich": people who can actually afford to consume outrageously while still creating wealth (sometimes without even trying). Due to a document I signed at the beginning of my marriage, I had no say in family finances, no access to capital, no ability to make major purchases. I had a monthly allowance. Since finance bored me, and I don't have a talent for numbers*, I was willing to co-create this situation and live in it and focus on other things (babies, books, blogging and a social life). Can we say stupid, boys and girls? After the separation I got depressed and stressed and careless with my credit rating. Can we say even stupider?
But it is what it is.
Since my separation I've discovered a small body of literature about women and their troubled, ambivalent attitude toward personal finance (in particular I recommend Liz Perle's MONEY, A MEMOIR: Women, Emotions and Cash and anything by Barbara Stanny). The first thing that's necessary for anyone to do to get a financial clue is assume responsibility for their own situation. You must eject any and all fantasies of something that's going to save you, whether it's Prince Charming or a winning lottery ticket or (*awkward cough*) a generous settlement.
"Don't think of it as downsizing," Billy told me. "Think of it as right-sizing."
Billy is my financial advisor and investments guy. He wears baseball caps, goes to rock concerts, and has large, very blue, sympathetic eyes. (It can be distracting. In conversation with him I will lose my train of thought and think, Wow. He has these large, very blue, sympathetic eyes.) He connected me to the elegant, grandfatherly Keaton, who is now my business manager.** After the divorce settled and the transfer of property took place (including the property tax bill my ex immediately sent me), they plunked me down in a conference room and said, "You have to fire half your domestic staff and sell your house."
"Oh," I said.
Your house is the biggest predictor of your future spending, according to the neighborhood you live in and the Jonses you try to keep up with. The prudent situation is to find an area where you can afford the most expensive house on the block. Suffice to say, that area, for me, is not Bel Air, where my one neighbor has an empire of around $300 million (if he can manage to stay out of jail) and my other neighbor has been world-famous since the age of 20 and has a bedroom in his house meant for Oprah when she visits (he calls it "Oprah's room"). The property tax alone is more than double what the average American makes in a year.
I need to get my ass out of glittering Bel Air and into a nice, upper-class neighborhood where it belongs.
So I said, "Okay. Let's sell this mofo."
Enter Janice, who sells real estate with a partner who is also named Janice.
This means you can refer to them as "The Janices". This is convenient.
The biggest mistake people make, the Janices told me, is to fail to be realistic and overprice their home**.
"When a house is properly priced," they said, "it should sell within the first two weeks."
If it's overpriced, it sits on the market and sits on the market and continues to lose perceived-value until you end up with an offer that's often lower than the offer you would have gotten if you'd priced it properly in the first place.
We slapped a number on the house that was in line with a recent appraisal.
It sold to a nice young man from the east coast who plans to use it as a second home.
So my to-do list now includes: Work on novel. Organize rotating menu of kids' meals. Get new freaking house.
* two excuses women often make when choosing to live in a kind of financial smog
**Turns out he also works for my actress friend I used to blog about who was dating an international pop star. She has since married the pop star, gone to live in his home country, and become a figure of mystery (ie: she's more or less disappeared). I suppose that happens. I miss her.
*** Probably for the same reason people hold on to losing stocks too long. Unless you're selling right at that moment when the house is at peak value, it's tough to accept the fact that you're taking a loss, even if that 'loss' is just in your head. My house sold for more than what we paid for it, and several million dollars less than the peak value claimed in certain articles and divorce documents.
I am blogging this to head off the inaccuracies and misperceptions that, I've learned, would otherwise be reported in one form or another (the corrections of which were the reason I started blogging about the divorce process in the first place). The $750,000 thing completely boondoggled me. Also, an interview I did last fall for a then-untitled documentary about the business*** side of high-profile divorces (...what can I say? it seemed a good idea at the time...) is airing tonight.
* I thought about calling this post 'Golddigger 2', but since that title got me in trouble the first time, and irony doesn't always carry well...
** To quote from a reply I made to someone in the comments section below, because doubtless she's not the only one to think this and so I might as well address it here:
Yes, big wealth, big numbers. I understand why people would resent that...Although to put it in a certain kind of perspective -- Charlie Sheen is reportedly paying $55,000/month child support for two kids. So leaving out the question of alimony entirely, which the sum does contain, $80,000 for five kids is not such a bad deal *in this particular context* of a billionaire father.
The fact that $80,000 is more than most people make in a year is a) very true and b) not relevant to what my own ex-husband should or should not pay in child support, according to *his* responsibilities and capabilities which is to maintain a roughly equal standard of living at both households (and if it makes you feel any better my standard of living will *not* include the private jet and massive mansion that my ex enjoys)....for the benefit of the kids. Not the wife. The kids, which is why child support eventually comes to an end.
*** It's been interesting to muse on the whole golddigger thing, how swiftly women are demonized in this culture, regarded as vile and beneath contempt, and how quickly people link female sexuality to commerce and morality (as evidenced by the many comments left on certain posts in this blog). It's been interesting to reflect on this entire experience in general, which lasted two and a half years (and went public last June). It's been interesting to think about the things about marriage that no one ever tells you, much less prepares you for, and how damaging the fairy tale idea of love-as-rescue truly is, how it seeps into our brains and can fuck us up when we're not careful. It's been interesting to think about how money turns into a symbol for so many other things, and how men and women relate to it differently. It's been interesting to ponder the ancient double standards and hypocrisies that shoot through the heart of our culture. No one is coming to save us, and that is as it should be. We are the ones we've been waiting for. And on that note, peace out.
cross-posted from Tribal Writer
apologies for my absence. will be posting again regularly very soon.
A few weeks ago, a woman named Marie Forleo surprised about eighteen other women and me with a boudoir photo session. We were all solo entrepreneurs or aspiring entrepreneurs gathered for a three day retreat in Santa Monica. You wouldn’t think that posing in lingerie (or nothing at all) has anything to do with learning about online marketing, but Marie’s larger point was this: just because things aren’t perfect isn’t a reason not to just do it, as Nike likes to say. If your hair needs washing, your feet need a pedicure, and you would like to lose five pounds: well, so what. Still no time like the present.
Not long after that, I listened to the writer/activist Eve Ensler talk about her work in the Congo, where she and her organization, V-Day, built the City of Joy. City of Joy is a community that shelters and trains female survivors of sexual violence (I was in Congo to witness the opening of the City, and it was one of the most profound moments of my life). Eve mentioned the people who tried to discourage her, who said that the Congo is the Congo and will never change, the country’s wounds are too deep and vast. But she went, and she built this place, and now there’s a burgeoning movement not just of women, but men (V-Men) who support them.
“Just do something,” Eve told us. “No matter how overwhelming the situation might seem, just do something. There’s power in that, because one action can lead to another action, and once you do something, someone else will do something, and then someone else will do something, and so on and so on. You don’t know what will happen, or what you could start.”
I was having trouble starting a new section of my novel-in-progress. I told myself it was because it needed some incubation, but the truth was: I wanted the draft to be perfect, and I was overwhelming myself with everything I wanted the novel to accomplish.
Never mind the fact that it was a first draft, which is supposed to be imperfect.
Never mind that I had forgotten one of the basic laws of creativity: there is always something in the box.
This is a phrase I took from the book IMPROV WISDOM – a great little book – which warns you not to overprepare, but to pay attention to the moment, to prepare only to be surprised. The book suggests an exercise in which you close your eyes and imagine a gift-wrapped box. Imagine yourself taking the lid off the box, reaching inside and finding – what? What do you find? What do you pull out of the box?
I myself found a statue of a Chinese horse, but that’s not the point. Your mind will offer up its gifts. Your mind won’t let you starve. It will feed you richly.
You only have to start.
If you’re anxious – and what is beneath procrastination if not anxiety – it helps to do what Eric Maisel calls hushing the mind. Sloooooow everything down. Breathe deep. Downshift those brainwaves into creative mode. When you’re in thought overwhelm, it’s way too easy to freak yourself out and go watch Real Housewives instead.
Empty your mind.
Do a brain dump on paper of all the things that are bothering you, all those pesky tasks you still need to complete. Get them out of your head. Clear that mental space for other, more creative thoughts. There’s always something in the box, but it helps to get rid of the junk.
Create a ritual that will shift you from the everyday-state into creative-state. Rituals are powerful because of the way they wire certain actions together, so that once you start one thing (just start!), you’ll move automatically into the next action, into the next action, and then suddenly you’re working on your novel. No drama. A ritual is like a willpower shortcut. You only need the willpower to do that first, simple thing – lighting a candle, or putting on a certain playlist, or tidying your desk – and the ritual will flow you through the rest.
Small actions are important, because they cannily sidestep that primitive part of your mind that senses change, or difficult task ahead, and so slams on the brakes and spins you toward some stress-relieving activity. Like shopping. You can use the power of small by setting small goals for yourself. Micro-goals. Five words of your novel everyday for thirty days. Five words? The brain laughs, but sits at the desk and meets that goal and feels the thrill of satisfaction, closing the loop, and so does it again the next day, and the next day, until three, four weeks have slipped by and sitting down at your desk to write everyday has become a habit. The principle behind this is called kaizen, the Japanese word for progress through tiny but steady improvements.
If I know you – and I don’t, except I do – there’s that book you want to write, or need to finish, but you don’t think you know how. You tell yourself it’s not the right time. You tell yourself you’ll get around to it tomorrow. You tell yourself this because if you think too much about the book, your thoughts crowd your head until you can’t think at all.
But a good friend once told me this, and I pass it on to you:
Everything you need to know is already inside you.
It doesn’t have to be perfect. It does have to get out of your head, to manifest, so that you can work it, and pay attention to it, and follow where it leads.
One small act of creativity begets another small act of creativity, like links in a chain leading all the way to a finished draft.
Breathe deep. Hush your mind.
Prepare to be surprised. You don’t know what could happen, or what you could start.
So go ahead.
Open the box.
cross-posted from Tribal Writer
Most aspiring fiction writers don’t read enough fiction, which is like a fighter going into the ring with one hand tied behind her back. The game is over before it started. I’ve written about this before – Reading is the Inhale, Writing is the Exhale: Developing Writer’s Intuition – and posted about it in various places and forums over the years, and I always encounter resistance (generally from aspiring fiction writers who don’t read enough).
But this isn’t surprising, since the culture itself delivers deeply mixed messages about the importance of fiction. Parents tell their kids to read books, because we all know that reading is good for you, and makes you smarter, but when the kids look to the parents to see what the parents are doing, they are…generally not reading novels. (They might even be trying to ban the novels that they’re not actually reading.)
Part of this has to do with the way reading is taught in schools, which often works to destroy the very pleasure principle that drives us to do what we do. Studies have shown that extrinsic motivation (offering someone a reward, such as a prize or a good grade) tends to destroy intrinsic motivation (the desire to do the activity simply for the sake of doing the activity), which worsens performance instead of improving it.
And part of this has to do with the fact that the culture doesn’t really understand the point of reading fiction. We prize efficiency, productivity, quantitative results, and ‘being busy’. Fiction seems too self-indulgent, so we tend to say, I just don’t have the time for it. (We do, however, have the time to watch hours of television a day, or go shopping, or aimlessly surf the Web, but whatever.)
We tend to say: I like to read books that actually teach me something.
Because in the end, what does fiction actually do for us? What’s the ROI? It’s not like it actually teaches us anything, or improves our lives in some measurable way…right?
The irony is that we are hardwired for narrative. We consume stories. We hunger for them, we gobble them up, we look for more. Television shows were invented solely to keep enough of us in one place long enough so that advertisers could sell us stuff that we don’t need and were doing fine without. Stories can be scripted – like LOST – or unscripted – like THE BACHELOR, or when Brad dumped Jennifer for Angelina, it doesn’t matter.
The brain is a funny thing. It doesn’t always distinguish between reality and the simulation of a reality. On some level, the brain doesn’t even distinguish between your friends and your favorite imaginary characters. (This might be why, when the 1980s show FAME killed off Nicole, I broke down and bawled like a baby. I was maybe twelve or thirteen at the time. This might also be why, in Victorian times, crowds swarmed the docks when the boats came in carrying the latest edition of Charles Dickens' serial novel. They cried out, “Is Nell dead?” and when the answer came back ‘yes’, there was weeping and hysteria.)
In fact, when you read about a character performing an action, your brain responds as if you were performing that action yourself. In so doing, your brain absorbs that experience as if it were your own and files it away in that repository of knowledge it can draw on in the future.
There is a survival benefit to this.
Say I’m a caveman, and you’re a caveman, and you come back to the cave one day saying, Dude! I ran into this huge hulking beast with teeth that are like THIS BIG and it seriously tried to eat my head, and I had to run up into a tree and hide until it went away and I needed to piss like a racehorse. Maybe I’ve never seen such a creature before, or even known that it existed, but by absorbing your story I absorb your experience and thus enlarge the field of my own. The next time I leave the cave, I know to keep my eyes peeled for the huge hulking beast, and to hide in a tree if it attacks me.
Even our fascination with celebrities – the stories of their lives – can be traced to evolutionary advantage. Humans are social animals, and it seems to be the way of things for the less powerful to study the powerful, and for the powerful to ignore everybody but their peers. By studying those who influence and rule us, we could figure out how to navigate their routines and personalities so that we could, maybe, poach a mate or steal some food or copy their tactics or in some way advance our own situation.
Narrative organizes information and allows us to remember it. It’s also through narrative that we impart meaning and value to events. In this way we do more than tell stories; we co-create the very reality that we live in. As any number of self-help books will tell you, if you want to change your life, you have to change yourself, and if you want to change the way you see yourself, you need to change the story that you tell yourself about yourself. Either your story empowers you – or it dooms you (a.k.a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’).
We can not only use stories to transform ourselves, but to change others: to impact the way they see the world, to alter their own co-created reality.
Because here’s the thing. We are not the rational creatures we would like to think of ourselves as being. If we made rational decisions for rational reasons, Americans wouldn’t be nearly so overweight, addicted, or in debt as we are (and we are more these things than we’ve ever been in history). Our neocortex – that top layer of brain that enables self-awareness – is a relatively recent development. Our limbic brain (the middle, mammalian brain that runs on emotion) is much older and our reptilian brain (the bottom, primitive brain that runs on instinct) is older still. They’ve had a lot more time to figure out how to get what they want, which means our so-called ‘rational’ brain often gets co-opted, manipulated and overruled.
So in order to truly get through to another person, you have to enlist their emotional as well as their rational brain.
You have to charge your argument, your ideas, with emotion.
What better way to do this than through stories?
– to be continued —
image by Sophie Phelps
It's ten to three in the morning and I am jet-lagged and wired from my trip. Returned to Los Angeles in the early evening. Reunited with my boys (who were back from their father's).
This trip stands alone. It was a singular experience. I am still processing.
I met Dude in D.C. and then we continued to Brussels and then to Burundi in what Dude referred to as "a colonial puddle-jumper." (Congo was colonized by the Belgians, who -- like so many others -- lusted for its woods, its minerals.) We landed at a small, humble airport and started to mingle with the rest of our group, which had gathered from around the world and included celebrities Rosario Dawson, Thandie Newton and Charlize Theron. We were all here to witness the opening ceremonies of the City of Joy, spearheaded by the phenomenal writer-activist Eve Ensler. We were all donors, supporters, and Eve would later say that she wanted us to be "a family".
That night we hung out at Hotel Tanganyika. We sat poolside and ordered off the menu -- pizza, cheeseburgers, chicken kebabs -- and introduced ourselves to each other. A lot of people already seemed to know each other; I watched the warm embraces, happy cries of hello hello, and had that new-kid-in-school kind of feeling. "It's a tribe," Dude said to me. "It's the Vday tribe."
Then Christine Schuler Deschryver came out to greet us. The daughter of a Belgian man and Congolese woman, Christine is a tall striking woman with a magnificent presence. She and Eve had worked together to bring the City to fruition. Eve followed Christine's words with some words of her own, encouraging us to "surrender" to our experience in the Congo, where electricity and running water and Internet access tend to come and go of their own accord (assuming you're one of the lucky ones to have it at all). "It's anarchy," she said, "but it's beautiful anarchy...There's no plan. We told you there's a plan, we sent you that agenda, but that was just to make you feel better. There's no plan." Laughter in the humid, falling dark. Eve also expressed her love for and commitment to the Congolese women, and how moved she was that we had come so far to support them.
The philosophy behind City of Joy is turning pain to power. These are women who have been raped in the most extreme ways possible: gang-raped (sometimes more than once), raped with guns and sticks, their insides shredded, their bodies mutilated. These are women who have lost all of their children, watched them hacked to death by rebels, gunboys.
And yet, Eve said, "they dance."
I first came into contact with Vday when I went to see a staged reading of Eve's play O.P.C., an event that was sponsored by Dude's environmental organization Global Green USA. Still dazed and raw from certain events in my personal life, I found that night to be a turning point and would refer to it in the article I wrote for Marie Claire a full year later. What I didn't mention in the article was that, after the reading -- which was intelligent, knowing, profoundly moving, and hysterically funny (there's a scene involving Prada boots that had me cracking up in the aisle) -- Dude joined Eve onstage for a moderated discussion that drew parallels between the exploitation and commodification of the earth, and the exploitation and commodification of women. They also spoke about the need for men to step up and join the fight to end the violence against women who are, after all, their sisters, mothers, girlfriends, wives (and, I would like to think, their friends).
I had no idea that that night would eventually lead me to the Congo. I did sense, at least on some level, that I had discovered -- or rediscovered -- something that I hadn't even known I'd been looking for, or hadn't even realized I'd lost. Sometimes knowledge comes in flashes, images, in felt and nonverbal forms. All you can do is respect it -- know enough not to dismiss it -- and give it space to unfold, to grow.
(This was also the moment when I looked at Dude onstage -- we had been dating casually for several months by this point -- and realized, Wow. I could totally fall in love with that guy. )
When I was checking in at Los Angeles Airport, and trying to check my bag all the way through from LA to DC to Brussels to Burundi (it took a long-ass time to get here), the woman behind the counter looked up at me with a blank expression on her face. "Where did you say you were going?"
"Bu -- what?"
"I've never heard of -- How do you spell it?"
"Okay." She tapped away on her keyboard, handed me my boarding pass and said, "Have a good trip to -- to -- to whatever that city is you said you were going."
1. Live for the process
(that's how you lose yourself & find your best work)
When we focus on the process instead of the end result, we're more likely to reach flow. Otherwise known as being "in the zone", flow is a state of mind in which we lose all sense of self-consciousness and lock in on the task at hand. When we're in flow, we are...better. More focused, more creative, more skilled. It's when we do our best work, and grow toward new capabilities.
2. Give it away
(so they can't live without it)
Seth Godin writes in LINCHPIN: "...the real magic is the leverage this expansion adds, not the loss of commerce it causes. When you have more friends in the core circle, more people with whom to share your art, your art is amplified and can have more power."
Russell Simmons dedicates a chapter to this idea in his new book SUPER RICH: "...the best way to get a [record] deal is to forget about the labels and instead just start giving away your music for free...Never pass up any opportunity to share your gift with the world...[The labels are] going to want to find the person who's generating much love and enthusiasm. And when they find you, they're going to reward you...more handsomely than if you had come to them begging for a deal."
3. Work your ass off
(baby, you've got to ship)
The more blog posts you write, the better chance you have of writing one that goes viral. The more stories you write, the more paintings you paint, the more companies you dream up: not only will you develop your voice and improve at whatever it is that you do, you increase your own chances of success.
Obviously you don't want to sacrifice quality for quantity. You need instruction, feedback, the tough love of intelligent constructive criticism: fold all of this into your process. And then work it.
4. Tell the truth
(truth is beauty & power)
Telling the truth is about paying close attention to your own strengths and interests instead of just chasing the marketplace. It's about speaking in your own voice. When you tell the truth - your truth - you infuse your work with soul and originality. And because it's truth, it will resonate with others. People will find you unique, but still be able to relate. They might even feel like you're speaking their own truth in a way that they can't, or didn't even know to do.
That's powerful stuff.
5. Follow your instincts
(they know more than you do)
Howard Gardner put forward the idea of multiple intelligences, some of which are nonverbal. Scientists have discovered that neural intelligence doesn't just exist in the brain, but also in the body: your heart, your gut. Your intelligence is more complex and complicated than you probably think, and it is constantly absorbing and processing information on an unconscious level. Intuition is a form of nonverbal intelligence, and it's not just women who have it. Pay attention to it.
6. Be vulnerable
(you connect when you're authentic)
To produce good work, you need to dive beneath the surface of things. You need to "go there" in a way that we specifically train ourselves not to do in day-to-day life. We believe that if we reveal too much, we'll expose ourselves as unworthy. Shameful. But it's shame that keeps us isolated, silent, and disconnected from each other. Part of believing that you have something to say is flying in the face of all that. When you lean into what discomforts you, what scares you, you're getting to the good, original stuff.
Hey. If it was easy, then everybody would do it. And do it well.
7. Know yourself
(play to your strengths)
When you know yourself, you can figure out how to play to your strengths and navigate your weaknesses. Your strengths are the things that make you feel rejuvenated and powerful , not necessarily what you're already good at. (You might be good at accounting. That doesn't mean it fills you with a zest for life.) By cultivating your strengths, you can lose yourself in the process (see #1) and get better and better and better at specific things until no one can deny how freaking remarkable you are. If you are a writer with a strength for plotting, you might produce the next bestselling thriller. Or if your strengths are for prose and character, you might develop into the next prize-winning literary short-story writer.
8. Love the world
(makes you healthier & more creative)
Hate and bitterness are unproductive. Hate destroys and contracts; love builds and expands. Be a builder. Much more fun that way. We only have so much attention to put on the world; put yours on what you love. Let the rest fade into the background.
9. Value stillness
(that's where ideas live)
When you slow down your brainwaves, you literally downshift into a very different state of mind. Day-to-day life requires us to be alert and vigilant in a way that is not conducive to creativity. To create, you want to access the deeper, more unconscious parts of your intelligence. You want to let your mind roam freely to make new connections, factor in new bits of information, find new relationships between them. It's why daydreaming is linked to creativity. It's why Einstein believed in taking lots of naps. It's why meditation is a force of good. You've got to let your brain out of its practical, everyday cage.
10. Make mistakes
(the real art grows out of them)
Give yourself permission to make mistakes. The best and fastest way to get better at anything is through something called deliberate practice, which requires (among other things) that you work at the limit of your abilities. When you make mistakes, your brain is forced to slow down, pay attention, and process what you did wrong. This is how we learn.
Not to mention, sometimes the mistakes can spark off new insights and directions of their own.
11. Get open
(let the world in)
'Get open' is a hip-hop phrase that I picked up from Russell Simmons: it means "losing your inhibitions, or letting down your defenses...You want to always be as open, creative and fluid as possible, and never become rigid, old, or tight. The freedom you experience when you're open is where all the positive change in your life will emanate from." Amen.
12. Remember that we are stronger for the broken places.
Every scar has a story behind it. Tell yours with pride.