Boris, the butt-monster

The recently acquired Boris the Buttmonster who is helping me deal with my recognition issues

I’m exhausted by all the striving I see online.

—Patti Digh, in fear.less (which you really should read)

* * * * *

I have been having a spot of difficulty lately with my writing.

By “writing,” I mean “posting anything to outward-facing places like email or the Internet,” and by “a spot,” I mean “fucktons.”

Privately, I have written a great deal over these past several weeks—as much as (if not more than) I ever write. Pretty much every day, I write at least three pages, longhand, in a spiral notebook. Most days, I also sit down to one or another of my now TWO computers—whichever feels luckiest—and write quite a bit more in various text editors and/or word-processing programs.

Even more than writing, I have been reading lately: magazines, of course—no shortage of these had piled up during my little birthday project. And the Google Wave with Dave™ (aka the Greatest Blog in the World Written Just for Me).

But mostly, I have been reading books. Delicious, delightful, glorious books. I have three books going in the bedroom, three as part of my morning crank-up routine, one for the bathroom, and a few more on the Kindle, as I’ve been on the lam from my L.A. life these past several weeks, and carrying even one’s most beloved books becomes burdensome when it must be done on the back of an psychically exhausted, physically out-of-shape, middle-aged body. (Restoration work is underway here as well, but it will be some time before I am in, you’ll excuse my political incorrectness, Sherpa-shape.)

If my math is correct (and Lord knows, it frequently isn’t), I have read four times as many books in the three months since 50-for-50 ended as I did during the two months the project ran full-steam.1 Putting aside the unnatural competitiveness that would have me exceed last year’s final book total or feel a failure regardless of what other accomplishments I’d accrued, this much reading-of-books speaks to a deep need for filling the well back up in a particular way. Rest is great, but rest-plus-reading really does the trick.

Besides, one can only sit in a hot tub watching Midsomer Murders for so many hours per day. Although I have also astonished myself these past few months by how many “so many” can be. Also, how many episodes of Midsomer Murders exist.

* * * * *

For future reference, here’s a list of things not to do (in no particular order) when you are already feeling pretty darned bad about yourself:

  • Hold your breath
  • Sit with your legs crossed
  • Lift your shoulders up until they are just below your ears
  • Keep them there
  • Quit exercising
  • Eat a pound of dairy products
  • Refuse to leave the house, except to purchase more dairy products
  • Go on Twitter or Tumblr
  • Read any blogs except this, this, this, or possibly this
  • Wear your tight pants
  • Refuse to turn on the heat in your apartment because while you live in Southern California, you grew up in the Midwest where they have REAL winters, and besides, you are horrible and don’t deserve heat
  • Execute any items from the backlog of your to-do list
  • Look at your to-do list
  • Look at reminders of previous accomplishments
  • Wait to post something to blog until it is Significant

* * * * *

For a time in my early 20s, I lived in New York City—two years in what is probably still an unfashionable part of then-barely-fashionable Park Slope, and then, to reduce the possibility that I might lose my shit on the “F” train and do harm to myself or others in a sweaty fit of claustrophobia-induced rage, a final year in Midtown Manhattan. (Never underestimate the change of attitude to be gained by getting to work as one’s ancestors did, by rolling out of bed and walking a brisk 12 blocks to Madison and 41st. Also, corn muffins!)

I was conflicted from the moment my college roommate dropped me off at my new, temp-to-perm apartment. New York was awesome in both the yo, bra!  and traditional senses of the word: there were those rare days where everything clicked and it was like riding one big, long, beautiful, lazy wave in my own private music video; mostly, there were long stretches where New York’s indifferent magnificence and seismic power kept my shoulders stooped and my sense of self in some kind of check. Ultimately, though, you either make your peace with the energy of New York, accepting that it is always-on and that you, spindly human creature, must lower your sights, or you leave. (Or, I guess, you harden parts of yourself and/or die, but these seemed unacceptable options to a headstrong young American lady of 25 years.)

I left—ostensibly, for a boy, but really, so I would not fry my delicate circuits—and moved back (back!, most awesome-in-the-old-way of all words next to “forward”) to Chicago. For my first year there, friends would have to all but snatch a handful of coat to slow me down as we walked. Even when we weren’t walking with much of a destination in mind. I received a new nickname—“the White Tornado”—which, I’m not proud to admit, I secretly adored. I ground my teeth and smoked my face off and moved to probably the only apartment in Chicago without an actual kitchen you could cook meals in, subsisting almost entirely on takeout, black coffee, and the bitter rinds of dwindling dreams; I lived, in other words, like I was still in New York, only with colder winters and much more closet space. I hated my job but refused to leave, I loved my boyfriend but refused to make time for the relationship, I hated myself but refused to consider doing even the tiniest thing differently. Magical change! That’s what I wanted!

Eventually, I found a new job, my boyfriend wised up and dumped me, and I got into therapy—not quite in that order, but close—and things did change, mostly because (hel-lo!) I changed them. Astonishing, right? To find one is not, in fact, locked in a dungeon in 17th-Century London, but that one has agency. Of course, humans being what they are and me being an especially human sort of human, my upwards trajectory from there was not without its backsliding and dips. But I never did slip back to that nadir of despair I felt before I walked into my first-shrink-slash-astrologer’s office and took the red pill. Can’t un-ring a bell, I guess.

What has eluded me, however—and rather astonishingly, when you consider how many times the Universe has been called upon to serve up the lesson in yet another shape—is how to slow the fuck down. How to grab the back of my own coat, if you will, and ratchet things back to a sprint. Every time I find myself here—Wile E. Colleen, blinking in midair, breaking the fourth wall to share with an unseen audience a woeful acknowledgment of my dumbass-ness in chasing a Road Runner (who will never, ever be caught) to the wrong side of the cliff—I wonder if there will ever come a day when I don’t find myself picking my broken self up and putting myself back together, just to repeat the sequence in the next reel.

* * * * *

They say, whoever “they” are, that you should never apologize for not updating your blog, the implication being that to do so is either presumptuous or tedious (or both). But even putting aside my very genuine feelings of sorrow over letting my public-facing work languish (and my worry that you will no longer love me, really love me), I am sorry: I’m sorry I caused some people to worry (and thank you for your emails, dear worriers); I’m sorry I requested attention by showing up regularly, only to throw it over when I couldn’t. With great privilege comes great responsibility, and don’t think for a minute I do not understand what an enormous privilege it is to have anyone’s attention for any amount of time in this day and age, much less for the amount of time these long-winded and mineral-dense essay-lets require.2

What I must give up, though I fear it will be neither simple nor easy, is being sorry that I cannot do it all. That I cannot fight New York and win, that I will never be always-on. How can I be? There are 8 million people in New York and just the one here at communicatrix HQ.

This goes double for the Internet, where everyone—no, really, everyone—is trying so hard all the time, and where, at least once per day, someone somewhere is posting the results of some extraordinary accomplishment. Both of these things are deadly to individual human beings: the striving for attention is, as Patti Digh says, exhausting; and comparison, as those smarty-pants Sufis know, is from the Devil (although the saying comes to me via that great and gentle Virgo, Mark Silver).

* * * * *

Repeat after me: “I will receive no awards for the things that mean the most to me.” Rewards? Certainly, and plenty of ’em, although if you are like me, Speedy Gonzales, it can take a while to recognize them as such.3 All I can say, from my privileged vantage point of 50, is “be patient” (and, though it should go without saying, “stay awake”). I am rewarded for going to bed at a reasonable hour with a rested mind capable of a productive day. I am rewarded for exercising some restraint around cheese with, among other things, comfortably-fitting pants. I am rewarded for the time actually spent exercising with a more cheerful outlook. And so on.

Awards add a frisson of awesome, both big and bra, and have their place. The ritual around them is nice, as is the occasional bit of formality, and coming together for a shared moment. But that is what they are, these outward-facing, peak experiences—frissons, blips on a long, and (let’s face it) often dull radar trail of a life. A sane mind and a peaceful heart in a healthy body is pretty much the trifecta. For as much as I like my big-and-bra awesomes, I live for those bits of peace I’m able to string together in longer and longer increments. Hallelujah for getting older, I guess.

And so I will sign off by paraphrasing a few more words from my wonderful friend, Patti Digh4: while I was busy doing one thing, and a thing I very much loved doing, I did not realize how much I had gotten away from doing another thing, and a thing I very much love, for all that. Without recognizing it, I let things fall a bit out of balance a bit too long; I have been taking, and will continue to take, steps to bring myself back to balance. (And oh, holy cow, do I ever hope that my own returning to balance allows for a site redesign sometime in the coming year. We are overdue!)

I am back, albeit as a slightly different “I.” I shall proceed with the moving-forward in an awesome-in-both-ways way. Big and scary (most of the time)! Big and super-fun (some of the time, or I’m ditching it entirely)! The newsletter will be back on Wednesday; the posting will resume with more regularity here. Those of you awaiting writing in the form of various perks from the big shindig will not, I am hopeful, have to be a-waiting forever. I will continue to do more of this talking stuff, and I will resume shaping the book version of the talked-about stuff.

And if you see me barreling ahead of you, for the love of all that’s holy, grab the back of my coat, remind me of this post, and gently but firmly suggest slowing my pace.

I may growl at first, but not loudly, and certainly not for long.


1Five books finished from 7/15 – 9/13 vs. twenty from 9/21 – 12/12. That’s four times, right? Or did I lose even that tiny, already-withered part of my brain, too?

2I am also sorry that I cannot always be there to engage with you, and to talk to you about your Thing, whatever that Thing may be, on Twitter or Tumblr or what-have-you. I am even sorrier that I cannot always support you in your Thing as vocally or renumeratively as I might like. At some point, I will give up this crazy notion of a quid pro quo world and really, truly make my peace with the excellent twin notions of from-each-to-each and Paying It Forward; for now, I mostly feel guilty and failure-ish. But if it is your Thing and you love it, you must do it anyway, and hate me as you like. Because each of us must work as hard as we can—although only as hard as we can—to get our Thing out of us and into the world. However, I am also pretty sure we should be very judicious about how many Things we throw our weight behind, or put out there. (Cf. Patti Digh in that excellent fear.less piece, which you really should read.)

3That’s two Warner Bros. cartoon references in one post. What do I win?

4Words which (I swear to you) I found only at the tail end of writing this piece. Is there something in the water, or is this a ladies-turning-50 thing, or what?


  1. Gosh, I haven’t even finished reading this post and am already popping down to commentville to say hello, glad to read this, and no need to say sorry, if I may say that. I assumed you were (a) off having a good time; and/or (b) off re-charging the batteries and hoped that you were not unwell etc.

    This is a great post – it’s so encouraging to a mere human struggling just to get up in the morning and keep things going until I can go back to bed again at night.

    Thank you, Colleen.

  2. Go forth at your own pace.
    It’s your life and it’s your website.
    Let people who care about you know your’re alright so we do send out seach parties. A friend can do this for you.
    I love that you share so openly but it isn’t a requisite nor a responsibility to the public…even the one you created.
    Do what you need to do.
    My life goes on. It’s just a little sweeter and more vivid with what you bring to it.

  3. Thanks for outward facing this particular post, Colleen. Now I can, with less struggle and striving, better inward face myself. Keep on keepin’ on…

  4. SO glad to have you back, Colleen. That said, don’t feel any pressure about your blog. I wonder if you’re a perfectionist, perhaps? Perfectionists often have great difficulty writing — especially for blogs — because they want it to be, well, perfect! Understand that no one expects perfection. We’re just happy to see you back!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. Oh, lordy, Daphne—you’re kidding about that perfectionist bit, right? I mean, it *has* to be obvious that I’m a longtime sufferer…right?

      Well, in case I’ve done a spectacular job inadvertently hiding it, yes—yes, I am most certainly a perfectionist. Always have been, and expect I always will be.

      However, should trends continue, I have hopes that I may be bothered by it less and less until it barely matters. (Note: this is based upon projections of my living to a ripe old age of 126. But still—I’m optimistic!)

  5. Colleen, I relate to so much of what you wrote. I am currently on vacation from work until the end of the year (use or lose). My husband tells me that I have “the gift of time,” but I feel overwhelmed by all the things I feel I should be doing.

  6. Welcome back. The internet is a better place with you here.

    I honor the hard place you have been to to become this new “I.”

  7. OMG MIDSOMER MURDERS. BEST. SHOW. EVER. Pace and I watch at least two a week, in the wee hours before bed, to unwind from my own dose of burnout. We MUST geek out about this sometime. Preferably soon. <3

    1. I think we did do a mini-geekout during BlogWorld (appropriate territory for it, no?), but it was loud and I’m old and really, who knows?

      The sad thing is that at the rate I’m going through them, I’ll be out of episodes by the new year. Seriously. Is there a 12-step program for Midsomer Murders addicts? Because I have a p-r-o-b-l-e-m.

  8. Oh Colleen, Collen!

    So wonderful to have you back in my inbox!

    It’s been “hell without you!” (Hope you don’t feel too cramped there). I love you forever, you inspire me, your writing is superb and heart-felt–what more can I say?

    Just this: Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

    Thanks for leaving us forward!

    Looking forward to more news from you. Love the example of being able to cool the blog to take of “what needs to be done.”

    “Sail on sai

  9. When I didn’t get your regular posts, I assumed I had inadvertently dropped off your mailing list. So I can now add this to my “it’s not always about me” list, and I’m so happy that you shared what you’re going through. I always relate to + get inspired by what + how you write. xo

    1. Well, while I’m glad you were able to extract a lesson from this whole affair (always nice, being able to extract a lesson), I would like to find some way of keeping people from worrying.

      Merlin Mann used to do a little coffee-cup icon tweet when he took a “Twitter break.” Maybe I could do that here, or have a Lucy Van Pelt-style, “The doctor is OUT” sign.

      Hm. Widget for that?

  10. I woke up this morning here on the east coast, hopped on my computer, looked at my own to-do list, and sighed at all the “striving” I was getting ready to chase after…or that I felt I MUST do. And in the midst of a massive flood of emails shouting out accomplishments, proseltizing change, and selling me something by making me feel like crap…I found your email. I’m just one guy in a small yet remarkable city (Charleston, SC), but I want you to know I stop for your writing. Somehow and someway, your work cuts right through all the noise. So glad to have you back Colleen.

  11. P.S. My mantra for 2011 has been on my fridge, not sure it’s sinking it yet, but FWIW:

    “Shed your obligations.”

    That includes our obligations to our own insanity maybe? :)

  12. Okay, it’s official – I am in love with you… well, with your writing, your brain, your heart. Thank you Dyana Valentine for sending me to this blog.

      1. I am so tempted to start another blog just devoted to the “f*ck-you 50s”, a fantastic term I just heard during TEDxWomen.

        But I won’t. I WON’T I WON’T I WON’T.

        And that coat-grabbing thing goes double if you see me doing anything of the kind, ‘k?

  13. Hi, Colleen,

    Here’s the big irony that screams at me after reading this post: You’re worried about being perfect, and we’re just waiting for those regular pearls that you can’t help imparting to your adoring fans. Your turn of phrase excites even the most non-literary of my friends to whom I recommend your blog.

    How many times and how many different ways can we say it? You don’t need to be “always-on.” Just being Colleen puts you head-and-shoulders above the rest of the blogosphere, and we will always love you, really love you.

    Now get to work.

  14. Ah, your blog post inspires me to quote Hannibal Lecter: the world is a more interesting place with you in it.

    Lady, what are the BOOKS that you are reading? Inquiring, coffee-drinking minds would like to know….


    1. That is an EXCELLENT question. Which I thought I’d answered via clever linkage within the post itself, but of course, the links were borked and I swear, between turning 50 and those a-holes hijacking the site and screwing up all my preferences, I can barely post anymore, much less create a hyperlink.

      So. Here we go.

      Status Anxiety, by Alain de Botton. Fantastic and engagingly-written analysis tracing the sources of envy and anxiety in modern-day life to the falsely-meritocratic way of our times. Contains some excellent prescriptives, as well. Just A++, would buy again. There’s a bitchin’ BBC minidoc available to watch on YouTube as well, but the picture quality is crapola.

      Lit, by Mary Karr. Her hilarious and gripping account of descending into alcoholism and getting dry. I think I enjoyed it even more than I enjoyed Drinking: A Love Story, which I enjoyed very much. (And it’s way, way better/funnier than that Augusten Burroughs account of his getting sober.)

      Art and Fear, by David Bayles and Ted Orland. I’ll do a mini-writeup of this for next month’s newsletter, but basically, a great addition to the canon of Companions for the Working Artist.

      Oh, and I fixed those effin’ links. Eff ’em.

  15. I like how you seem to be honest with yourself. I find that much harder than admitting to and apologizing for my shortcomings to the world. It’s certainly nice for you to do both, though.

    How wonderful it is that the answer to your problems is to slow down! Do less! Recharge! Take care of body, mind and soul! Ignore Oxford Commas! Watch Midsomer Murders! (Which is all I want to do today.)

  16. Spectacular post, certainly worth the wait! I’m envious you got to go to Havi’s Playground. Your 50 for 50 was a rocket ship of productivity. If you hadn’t taken some time to recover, I would begin to wonder if you were made of platinum, or some other bad-ass space-age material. I am so glad you are in this world, and that we get to reap the benefits of your tornado-ish, Road Runner-ish life. Please do remember to take time to rearrange some orbits of your life to swing back to balance (which is ever-changing), or WE WILL REMEMBER FOR YOU! We will be here, happily anticipating…
    P.S. I will always love you, you can’t possibly change that, no matter what you do. Or don’t do.

    1. Thanks, doll. My wish for you—for all of my fave women artists (the men can find their own wish fairies, dammit)—is that they get to experience Rally once. So restorative, so…interesting. I know that sounds lame, but really, it is just the damned truth. Gonna take a whole lot more unpacking to get at the magic that is Rally.

  17. Holy Mother of Posts this is unspeakably authentic and who the hell could ever ask for more from our own selves and each other. Thank you for admitting that being everything to everything and everyone is just not sustainable. Thank you for reminding us that we can (and probably should) stop chasing the coyote (good ref on the WB cartoons and wonder what WILL you win for that one!?). Thank you for not being a robot and for being a beautiful, imperfect, introspective, funny as hell, smarty pants, self-caring, ever-learning, non-smoking, body-caring, soul-thriving, fabulous human. You continue to inspire me. And I hope by now you are living in a place with a kitchen!! Love to you.

  18. All I have to say is hello. And, if you need food, come visit. You’re wonderful Colleen, and being wonderful takes a lot out of a person.

  19. God, Colleen, I’m sitting here with tears streaming down my face because on so many levels I needed to hear this today. Serendipitous world.

    I’ve missed seeing your posts pop up in my RSS feed; you’re always someone I turn to first because you (and Havi, too) have an incredible way of making sense of (and communicating your thoughts about) the weird and wonderful world we live in.

    Welcome back and thanks for being you – with a return like this one, who needs apologies? Take all the time you need to rest and recover. I think I shall shortly be doing the same, after reading this.

  20. Holy cow I am so in love with you. I can’t possibly leave a comment that would do this post justice. I had a dream last night that I was not only Executive Director of an animal shelter, but of my apartment complex, Greater Richmond Transit Company, and the Kroger where I buy avocados. And I was getting fired from every job. Because I was a one hit wonder. And was washed up. Past successes were not enough, I had to keep up the pace and be bigger and better than ever better. And then I got to read this. Oh, love. Love. Love.

    1. Haha. Do you know, the morning after I posted this piece, I woke up from a dream where I MISSED A CALL TIME FOR A FILM. Which, if you’ve ever been in the Industry, is the sin of sins.

      Always feeling like a fraud. Always feeling behind. Always feeling like I’m one post away from oblivion. Never feeling like there’s any goodwill in the bank.

      Glad to know I’m not alone, I guess, sister-wife. We’ll have to see what the Prophet has to say about this.

  21. Loving it, especially as I stopped by on an afternoon in which I set aside a precious hour to visit the dozens of Really Good Blogs that I haven’t read in months. On my way into this experience, I vowed not to feel less-than for not reading more, more often. I vowed to encounter each post without baggage, insofar as possible. What a treat to encounter yours.

  22. As a fellow Type A girl trying to catch up with New York Virgo… AMEN! And thank you. I’m truly soaking up this bit of wisdom from you and taking it to heart.

    This is the voice of reason, even though it takes constant reminders daily. :)

  23. I’m glad Hiro Boga shared the link here today at Facebook. Reading what you’ve shared makes me feel better about not publishing anything for quite some time on my website or blog while I’ve done a variety of things I truly love … and continued to write for myself daily in my usual convoluted manner, as I’ve done for decades now. I’ve added your site to my ‘reader’ and methinks I’ll print out your list and post it around the house … just because.
    Hugs and blessings,

  24. Glad to see you back, sweets. Recuperation time is important, and the folks that really dig you (and are too lazy to clear their Readers) will always be here. <3

  25. So glad you’re back. I missed you. This one is the phrase that needs to be printed out and hung over my desk:
    “I will receive no awards for the things that mean the most to me.”

  26. IloveyouIreallyloveyou. And I wish we were friends. And in that creepy way that only the internet affords, I already feel like we are. Because you write wonderful things like this—and I *know* you know me and are *just* like me and I’m sure we’d get along *famously.* (What. I’m sure my therapist would have no trouble at all with that… narcissistic says—what?)

    I certainly appreciate the craft in producing even one of these wonderfully accessible posts. I think we all do. And since your honest self-awareness is so much of what we come for—and care about you for—I’m pretty sure we’re all down for you taking whatever time you need to be ‘Colleen’!

    (Plus, it worked out great for me; I swore I’d be more diligent in keeping up, and then got too caught up over here… again… and now don’t feel so left out!)

    Looking up the books now. Thanks thanks thanks. For all you do and who you ARE.

  27. Thank you for your honesty, humility and openness…and your writing! I’m in hibernation mode myself; don’t want to blog unless it’s perfect- I’ve got probably 4 drafts unfinished, just waiting for me to come back to them; then there’s the guilt of not posting- isn’t this SO ridiculous to be plagued with such emotions about simply writing and sharing who we are and what we wish to create and share with the world? Writers dis-ease. I read the whole post, and it was looooong, and I admire your skill (how many rewrites did that take?!), I mean I saw not one grammatical error (perfectionist observer here;). I appreciate your story. Time for me to go update my convivial little blog…Be good to yourself.

  28. Reading this post (and the satisfying Patty Dingh snippets) made me feel like I felt this one time in junior high when a fellow student raised her hand and asked the teacher if we were supposed to be enjoying Shakespeare when we all took turns trying to read it aloud. Thank god someone said it out loud it was I thought. Thanks for naming a bunch of stuff people rarely say out loud but are always thinking. Like why do people allow Mariah Carey to continue to wear tube tops on TV and all of what you’ve posted here. Thank you I love reading what you write.

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