Lessons from SXSW, Part 2: You be you be you


I’m reading a wonderful book right now: Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling memoir, Eat, Pray, Love.

Well, I was reading it anyway. I got through “Eat” on the outbound flight to Austin, and most of “Pray” on the return flight to LAX, but I was sobbing so hard during the “Pray” part, I felt like I was so alarming my seatmate, a man drawn more to the Airport Potboiler type of tome (not that there’s anything wrong with that), that the only kind thing to do was stop. Besides, you try blowing your nose on a stack of those starchy airline cocktail napkins.

There are many things I expect I will be discussing from my experience reading Ms. Gilbert’s wonderful book, along with many more things about SXSW, the mind-and-heart-splitting festival I see fit to subject my poor, battered body to every year, but right now, I need to discuss themes. She discusses themes in her wonderful book: specifically, she talks about the word that sums up each city or person, according to her Roman language-sparring buddy, Giulio. For example, according to Giulio (who apparently has given all of this a great deal of thought), Rome’s word is “SEX” while the Vatican’s is “POWER.” After giving it some thought Gilbert (she of the brilliant “Olé!“) settles on “ACHIEVE” for NYC, and her Swedish friend Sofie decides that Stockholm is “CONFORM,” which depresses both of them and probably everyone else who picks up the book, Swedes inclusive.

I think that events might have words, too. I’d probably go for RIPE or ELECTRIC or JUICY for SXSW. But I also think that people bring their ideas along with their ironic tees and handheld computing devices and PowerPoint slides, and the main idea I caught in the air this year was this:

“Be the best you, not the second-best someone else.”

At least, that’s what I’d been rolling around in my brain since I left town on Monday, and what I responded with when someone asked me on one of the social networks I spend way too much time frequenting.

To be fair, it may not have been the Theme of the Hour. But lately, it seems to be the Theme of Colleen, which not only rhymes in a most auspicious manner, but means that’s how my antennae are cocked (or half-cocked), so that’s what I’m pulling down. I heard it in a panel with Merlin and Gruber, and I heard it about three other places I can’t recall anymore because I forgot to take notes and a whole buncha stuff went down in a way-tiny space of time. And besides, it’s not only a Central Truth for the Ages, but something of note in crazy times like these, when fear starts curling around people’s ankles and pulling them back toward the Dark Place.

I have to turn in a resume? I’d better do it right, like the candidate they want to hire, rather than show them me and my crazy edges.

I have to choose a path? I’d better pick something that’s tried-and-true (for, uh, someone else) instead of veering off in that crazy-ass direction that hint of a whiff of a central urge is pointing me towards.

As someone who, from the ripe old age of consciousness, spent a considerable amount of time sussing out what other people wanted me to be, and exerted a similar amount of effort to suppress whatever wacko tendencies wanted to float to the surface, I get it; I do. And hey, I just have me and my single, non-debt-carrying, rent-controlled-apartment-dwelling, devil-may-care old carcass to maintain. If I go off the rails, no big whoop. If any of the hundreds of moms or dads in my life, The BF included, do that, we’re talking some serious consequences. That kind of fear is 1984-rat-in-the-face-cage compelling.

My thought on that would be this: if you need to knuckle under and dig some ditches, so be it. But if you can, carve out a little time and space, fifteen minutes in the bathroom before anyone wakes up, even, to let you be you be you. Or it is too easy for you, and the days, and your life to slip away.

Or for the word for your life to be SMALL, or FRAUGHT, or worst of all, UNLIVED…


Image of me being the only goddamn me I’m capable of at this point (and a surprisingly tan-looking Lydia Mann), by permission of and ©2009 Jeffrey Zeldman, my new and excellent friend, via Flickr, whose community is managed in part at the hand of the amazing Heather Champ, whom I also finally met at SXSW. Good gods, people, need ye any more reasons to hie thee to the greatest festival in all the land?


  1. Check out TED.com. Elizabeth Gilbert gave an inspiring 15 minute talk this year. You can view her entire talk, along with many other thought provoking presentations. Enjoy your happiness.

  2. Thanks, Kat. That “Olé!” in the third paragraph links to a post with an embed of the TED talk.

    Funny—that book was all over everywhere, but it took the talk to get me to pick it up and actually read it.

  3. hear hear for 15 minutes in the bathroom – look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself how lovely you are! JUST the way you are! Ugh, it’s so hard though sometimes, isn’t it. Still, mustn’t give in to the all the pressures all the time.

    I also loved eat pray love and went to hear Liz speak recently, and wrote about it. Not sure if the link’ll go up, if it doesn’t come find the article on my blog. http://buildingthelifeyouwant.wordpress.com/2009/02/25/my-truth-and-elizabeth-gilbert/

    Good vibes to us all, Dee xx

  4. Like one of my all time favorite quotes:
    “Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else. ” – Judy Garland.

    Excellent book too…I LOVED reading it & want to read it again soon.

  5. Doris – That was a great write-up you did. Everyone, go on over and read Doris’s write-up. It’s like you were there, only you didn’t have to put on pants and park.

    Paula – That is a FABULOUS quote. It’s a brilliantly simple (but often hard to do) thing, like my fave Beverly Sills quote (which would be “There are no shortcuts to anyplace worth going.”) Thanks for hipping me to it.

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