Category Archives: Career/Life

Lake Effect

It turns out that blogging is much more easily accomplished from a Days Inn hotel room in an unfamiliar town during a blizzard than on a birthday or a visit home for the holidays. I’m not sure I have anything particularly insightful or pertinent to put out there, except to express my gratitude for warmth and safety. We sat on Interstate 90 for hours today with our surprisingly patient four month old in her car seat in the back, chattering (I’m assuming) about her hopes that we would change her diaper and feed her again some day. Finally, the state patrol kicked everyone off of the freeway and we found ourselves on even more treacherous country roads. There’s nothing like seeing car after car in ditch after ditch to remind you how lucky you are to be creeping at a snail’s pace ahead. On that potential metaphor, I think I’ll call it a night– only adding that in the past, I’ve spent the first few days of new years looking back and tallying up signs of progress. This year, I would rather look out at sideways snow and be glad that there’s more than a car between it and my family.snow

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How We Didn't Become Famous

… and how I became that mom.

You can already guess, this is more minutiae than crucial. If you want something on the grounded and meaningful side from me, go back and read my birth story.

This all starts back when I was a kid and wanted to be an actress more than anything besides having lots of dogs and rabbits and a pony. I took acting classes, got headshots, and did a victory dance when a local talent agency wanted to sign me. Then my lawyer mom read all the fine print and became concerned about someone “owning” any part of her daughter. End of my career, thanks Mom. (Just kidding. I find writing far more rewarding.)

Cut to: Monday night when I got an e-mail looking for babies 1-3 months for a commercial shoot with a certain famous toy company. I thought of my friend’s niece who was all set for college by age five because of the Baby Gap ads she did, asked the potential star’s daddy for permission, and sent in her pictures. The next day I got a call that yes, they wanted to “use” Francesca and maybe me as well. Could I send in a full-length shot of myself? I was flattered, but completely unprepared. I found a couple of candids where I’m holding Francesca, and I’m wearing tennis shoes and not much makeup. Why was I surprised when the response from the agent was… “Yeah. They just want Francesca.”

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Mom-athy

“Don’t tell Mom.” = An e-mail from my sister.

“I know.” = My response.

We hadn’t done anything illegal (you’re shocked, I’m sure). We hadn’t broken anything or hidden any evidence, and we weren’t re-enacting the Christina Applegate movie. We simply decided to protect the woman who bore us from: news of the Return of the Thrush. It may not be grammatically correct to capitalize the name of the infection or to put “the” in front of it, but it feels appropriate. We just weren’t sure Mom could handle it, even though she’s dealt with much greater crises with one hand behind her back and the other one cooking a gourmet dinner. You could hear her teeth grind every time she asked, “Is it any better?” and a pained sigh every time I said, “No, not really.” And I might have thought she was overdoing it a bit, had I not discovered for myself that knowing that your daughter is in pain is a whole new kind of anguish.

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The Inner Space

inner-spaceA brilliant healer friend of mine recently gave me homework: “You always write about the space around you, what you see, how others respond to their surroundings. Why don’t you spend some time writing about the inner space?” I am continually obsessed by the contention that our inner space is shaped by our outer space. But instead of exploring that orientation (again and again), here goes an attempt at only the inner space. 

I am a chronic anticipator. I anticipate what will happen next, how it will happen, and often I anticipate the worst in order to pre-grief whatever might await. As Rebecca Solnit writes, “Worry is a way to pretend that you have knowledge or control over what you don’t–and it surprises me, even in myself, how much we prefer ugly scenarios to the pure unknown.” 

So when another friend of mine (a visionary artist) shared his debilitating worry about whether a commission would go through with an important client, I told him about what I try to do in those moments of self-doubt or worry. Imagine that “worry thought pattern” inside your brain. Give it a color and watch it traversing across your scalp. Now, erase it; start at one end and smudge it out inch-by-slow-inch. With that new vacant space, draw a vibrant healthy thought pattern in a different color. Do this every time that “worry thought pattern” appears. Eventually, you reprogram yourself. 

That’s an inner space I can visualize. We make grooves in our brain and our heart. Usually those grooves are worn-down roads. Despite the difficulty of traveling these roads, we like strolling down them again because they are familiar. I wonder about all the uncharted pathways in our inner spaces. There’s a fact floating around out there that humans only use 10 % of our brain. The possibility, the possibility, the possibility. And what of the heart?

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My Addiction or "How To Live"

brainI have an addiction. I admitted this yesterday while staring at the ancient lady–her bright-red, hair-sprayed beehive and two-tone glasses–at the New York Public Library. She is practically a fixture, and has been here forever, or at least during the three years I lived here, and even now when I stroll the marble halls as a visitor. She looks the same. She is still perfectly coiffed. I like that she’s still here. But my brain says, Ugh, how boring. I don’t want to be her, or someone who, at any point in time, is still anything. And therein lies my addiction. I am addicted to that shameful, self-conscious, liberal, privileged concept–new experiences in new places. It feels as strong and confusing as a drug.

“Go a mile wide, not deep” has always been my family’s mantra. I lived in five different countries before the age of 11 and my parents instilled in me the importance of a particular mindset–global, open and evolving. As an adult, I have translated that vision into two principles: the need to continually change environments in job and place (not so hard) and to seek out, in our “like-attracts-like” world, a good proportion of friends who don’t think, look, act, or feel like me (harder than it sounds).

But, knowing that the flip side can be sweet, I also have a thing for the word local and the idea of being deeply connected to a community and a landscape. The instant I start to slip into reverie about such a life, my wandering self barks, “But you must always push beyond your comfort zone! DO NOT get stuck in your comfort zone.” So I live my life wondering, Which way is better?

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Hundreds of Lions – Erin McKeown

mckeown9/9/09, huh? It’s an exciting day! It marks the last set of repeating, single-digit dates that we’ll see for almost a century (until January 1, 2101), and the Remastered Beatles catalog, Beatles Rock Band, and the new Apple iPod are all being released today.

But my favorite celebration today is my third wedding anniversary with the extraordinary Christopher Gandin Le. Suicide prevention expert, exquisite photographer (still and motion pictures), beloved friend, and the best damn husband and partner I could ever desire.

For our anniversary, he gave me the gift of music from one of my favorite artists: Erin McKeown. Since I first heard Distillation 9 years ago, I have loved this woman’s music, and have had a total crush on her as well. She’s excruciatingly talented across a wide variety of instruments and musical styles, her lyrics are poetic, her style is fantastic (check those Fluevogs!), and her live show is always fabulous. Oh, and she’s only 31; she’s been making great music since she was in college.

Her newest album, Hundreds of Lions, comes out this October on Righteous Babe records, and to raise funds for this self-financed album, she launched a very cool endeavor this summer.

Photo Credit: Nancy Palmieri

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Kindly Observing Yourself

Natalie Goldberg’s most recent book, Old Friend from Far Away, came out in 2007, but I didn’t discover it until earlier this year, when I had the privilege of hearing her at an Austin synagogue. This book is focused on the practice of writing memoir, and is as rich as all of her other books on writing.

One chapter is titled “Practice Notebook.” In it, she suggests keeping a small separate notebook where you write a brief note about your practice every single day. You write down the date, whether or not you practiced, and any other short notes about the day’s practice. The idea is to be aware of your writing practice, rather than feel ashamed or derailed by the days that you don’t write. It’s all part of the practice. She says, “This act of noting makes your writing–or not writing–conscious. It plants a seed; you stay connected.”

I’m now keeping a practice notebook for my writing, and, indeed, I feel the ways that this kind observing of myself has started to transform the evil, self-judgmental voices in my head that crop up when I skip a day.

This style of radical self-acceptance and awareness is useful beyond writing practice, too. I’m using it to observe myself around other habits that I’d like to change, and it’s such a relief to see the habits clearly written on the page, rather than seeping like mist through the dangerous regions of my mind.

What places in your life could use this kind of loving, non-judgmental attention?

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Beauty in a Wicked World is a weekly column by Jennifer Gandin Le. It appears on Wednesdays.

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