The Useful Ones

a home-rolled lettuce wrap over a kitchen sink

Good enough, Day 11: Too hot to be bothered

When I tell people about the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, their first reaction is usually a brief take of mock shock and/or sympathy over how terribly restrictive it is, followed immediately by a round of that game no one seems to tire of, “Can You Eat X?”

But really, the SCD, a diet for people with Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis (and, believe it or not, autism) isn’t any more restrictive than diets for people with diabetes or high cholesterol. And I’m way, way happier forgoing bread and pasta and fries than I would be suffering through them the way the folks with hypertension do—WITHOUT SALT. Sweet Jesus of Nazareth, talk about pointless.

No, after 11 years on and off of it, I can honestly say that the only place SCD really falls short is in the area of convenience. Since almost all processed foods are out—illegals like starch, sugar, and the murky “flavorings” are almost always lurking therein—you’re down to preparing most stuff yourself or finding quality places you really trust. Things have gotten far easier since the advent of the Paleo Diet, which mimics ours in many ways (and again, which I find far worse—WTF, no cheese??), but it’s still dodgy, eating out, not to mention expensive.

* * * * *

When you are literally chief cook and bottle-washer, you end up eating the same things over and over, especially when dietary needs get tricky. My prayer to the dating gods is for them to deliver me a loving chef with something to prove. Until then, I see myself sticking to the same six or seven menu items, swapping them out seasonally, or when I get bored.

For example, I went through a years-long omelet phase, varying only fillings, and only under duress. When I burned out on omelets a couple of years ago, I switched to a hard-boiled egg and a bowl of SCD-legal yogurt with seasonal fruit.

Lunch and dinner are easy in cool weather. I make big batches of soup, chili, stew, and so forth, freeze them in portions, and pull them out as needed. Even the early part of summer is fine: I make a big salad every day, and that’s that. For years, I did the Meat Blueprint Salad. This summer, I switched to greens, tuna, peppers, and avocado, dressed simply with oil and vinegar.

But when hell sets in here, usually sometime in late August, the idea of even this much prep is exhausting.

So I swing by the deli, pick up 1/2 lb. of turkey and 1/4 lb. of cheese, some romaine lettuce, and a gritty, sour mustard free of illegals, and eat these until the heat breaks. Over the sink. Quickly, so I can get the hell out and back into some library or coffee shop that’s air-conditioned.

If you’re new to the SCD, know that even deli meats usually are not safe. They are pumped full of disgusting things to make them look pretty and stay stable; they are absolutely processed foods are not part of the program of “fanatical adherence” that our beloved founder Elaine Gottschall wisely advised maintaining if you want to see results. What you can do, in this case, is track down a minimally-to-unprocessed turkey breast and roast it yourself. Roasting will heat up your kitchen like mad, but if you do it in the cool of the evening, it’s slightly less heinous. Portions freeze beautifully, and a breast will last a good long time.

There’s a lovely kind of comfort to be had, having the same things over and over. And there’s a correspondingly wonderful feeling of gratitude and delight when I get to switch things up again.

(Someone remind me of this when I have to move, okay?)


The skinny on, plus all previous 21-Day Salutes™.

three pairs of identical walking shoes

Good enough, Day 10: Two good feet and a two-mile radius

When my ex-husband and I moved to L.A.—right around when those dinosaurs down the block took a permanent bath in the primordial ooze—we shared a car, which meant that one of us was usually walking somewhere.

Back then, I thought nothing of walking two miles to our favorite bar, three miles to class, or four miles to the movies. It seemed a good enough way to justify a treat during my profoundly underemployed existence, and hey, you can eat as much as you want when you’re literally walking your ass off.

At a certain point, though, we acquired a second vehicle—and with it, I’m sorry to say, the lazy, disconnected ways of the isolated and/or entitled Angeleno. As I moved from my failed screenwriting career to my thriving office-monkey career, driving felt like compensation for the degradation of suffering through honest employment (cf. entitlement, above). And then when my commercial acting career took off, having my own car was a necessity. The greenie types can squawk all they want about buses and bicycles; during those five-auditions-per-day years of the boom times, neither people-powered nor mass transpo was a realistic option.

Fast-forward a dozen or so years. But for the rare and delightful exception, my acting career is largely behind me, and along with it, the need to hustle my ass hither and yon at a moment’s notice—and along with both of these and menopause, my midsection was becoming a upper-middle section. Clearly, the time had come for an adjustment.

My friend Alissa is a renowned Walker in L.A., and had been cheerfully forging the path, as it were, ahead of me. She’d become so adept at navigating the city sans car that she’d gotten rid of hers years before. And in between writing interesting articles about design, architecture, and her late, lamented gelato, she managed to put together a piece on how to reorient yourself to a car-centric town on your own power. Her breakthrough moment was drawing a two-mile radius around her house on a map, and seeing how much stuff fell within that radius—everything she needed, including a Target! She pledged to walk, bike, or take transit within that two-mile radius, and her life was forever changed. (And I do mean her life—her whole career ended up taking a new and exciting direction once her feet hit the ground.)

After hearing Alissa talk about it, our other friend, Heather, did a similar writeup of her walking experience. Clearly, my time had come.

* * * * *

Things that make walking AWESOME:

  1. You can skip the gym. I was doing this already, but now I don’t feel guilty about it. At some point, I will have to fold in some strength training, but for now, I just lift the grocery bags a lot or buy the occasional overly large melon.
  2. You save a LOT of money you can spend on other stuff. I fill up my tank once a month now. Gas near my house is running $4/gallon. ‘Nuff said.
  3. You arrive at your destinations calm yet energized. Maybe this happens to super-mellow people who drive, too, like driving monks, but it never happened to me. I generally arrive anxious and enraged, as I am the polar opposite of a driving monk. Except for the haircut.
  4. You get to see a lot more stuff and take a lot more photos. My sister is fond of shopping carts gone rogue. My pedestrian travels afford me many opportunities to bomb her inbox with stray carts.
  5. You instantly become both fascinating and impressive. I’m so used to walking 2, 3, and 4 miles—each way—that I forget it’s an exotic thing. Yet it’s still a safe topic for polite discussion, and far more interesting than traffic, weather, and sports.

* * * * *

Two more things before I go.

First, shoes—as in, having good ones is exceedingly important. I actually began my walking odyssey last spring, but I was walking in whatever hipster sneakers or civilian boots I had handy. These are fine for short jaunts, but for serious walking, they should be considered as dangerous as high heels. I ended up with weird leg pains and swelling that I was sure meant imminent death. One very expensive trip to the vascular surgeon ruled that out, thank God. But it was the few consultations I had with my cousin Karen, an alignment expert, that set me right. She did a diagnostic long-distance, and prescribed a series of exercises and relatively inexpensive accessories to help correct what I’d thrown off with overzealousness and ill-fitting shoes.

I’m now on my third pair of these Altra “Zero-Drop” beauties. If it is not immediately obvious, I am using the word “beauties” ironically, because merry christmas, them is some ugly-looking shoes. If it is not also obvious by the rollover, that is an Amazon affiliate link, because these run $100 a pop, and I burn through a pair every two months. I am also a convert to toe socks, although not so anyone can see. It just feels nice, each toe having its own snuggly socklet, and I find there’s less chafing and sweating.

Second, and finally, competition: it makes capitalism and me run. Er, walk. Even when I was just competing with myself, walking with the Fitbit and seeing how many steps I’d accrued really incentivized me.

Now that I have a handful of friends on my leaderboard, I’m even more motivated, because I’LL BE DAMNED IF I’LL LET MIKE MONTEIRO BEAT ME.


In case you did not see the very obvious hovers, all the item links are Amazon affiliate links, which means if you click on them and then buy something—anything…even a potato chip at Amazon, I will get some money. Rest assured that it will not be much (especially if you buy a potato chip), and that it will all go toward the next pair of Altras. 

The skinny on, plus all previous 21-Day Salutes™.


a glass of iced beverage on a table

Good enough, Day 9: Giving the Arnold Palmer a run for its money

I must now admit to an embarrassing personal deficiency: 99.999% of the time, I hate drinking water.

Okay, maybe “hate” is a bit strong; I really, really dislike it. But I stand by the percentage! Water is the most tedious beverage under the sun. It is blah. It is non-delicious. From the wrong wells or pipes, it is aggressively foul. Am I saying there are no exceptions to this? I am not. When I was an entitled jerk who drank bottled water, there were brands I loved. Arrowhead? Moderately tasty. Sparkletts? Delicious. On those occasions when I am that bozo who forgot her water bottle, I will treat myself to an overpriced Dasani from the 7-11 cooler and drink that whole sucka down right there. (I am convinced they put something in it to make it more palatable. Crack, maybe.) And, okay, when it is 8 million degrees here in L.A., as it inevitably is in September and October, even water from a fountain that hasn’t had its filter changed since the Carter administration can taste pretty good. Overall, though, I give a big, fat “meh” to water as a beverage.

This poses a few problems, as the adult, responsible Colleen knows she needs a certain amount of water per day for good health and flushing things out and counteracting Americanos—which, as everyone knows, God invented for himself on the seventh day while he “rested”, then hid from the rest of us until 1982. For a while, I tried getting my daily H20 con gas, as the Italians say. Sparkling water was highly satisfactory from a gustatory perspective, but was hell on my intestinal tract, not to mention fitting in my pants by the end of the day.

I had a major breakthrough sometime last year when, for something like the 44th day in a row, I found myself pouring out my almost-untouched nightly peppermint tea in the the morning. I’d begun making a mug of it at bedtime in an attempt to calm and soothe me into sleep. I must be an easily-suggestible type, because within several months, just setting that thing down on the bedside table made me sleepy. Great for feeling rested, but a terrible waste of perfectly good peppermint tea.

So, one fateful morning a year or so ago, I poured what was left in the mug into a glass, figuring I’d just drink it cold, only—well, I was out of ice. On a whim, I topped it off with chilled, sparkling water and JUST LIKE THAT, my new-favorite drink was born. It is easy as pie to make. It is cheap, even if you brew the tea fresh, for this express purpose. And, while most definitely con gas, it is con less gas than fizzy water alone.

Best of all, it is delicious. If you like your drinks non-sweet and just a little acrid, as I do, you will be in hog heaven.

I was thinking I should call it a “communicatrix”—why should Arnold Palmer have all the non-alcoholic fun?—but upon reflection, I believe I will have to dub it the…

(serves 1)
Fill a 12-oz glass halfway with brewed peppermint tea. Fill to top with chilled sparkling water. Enjoy!


The skinny on, plus all previous 21-Day Salutes™.

a horrible photo of a delicious smoothie

Good enough, Day 2: The Freezer-Burn Smoothie

It has been more than a good-enough summer here in Los Angeles; it has been nothing short of spectacular. Warm (but not overly so!) days, sandwiched by mornings chilly enough for long walks and evenings cool enough—with the assistance of cross-ventilation and some strategically-placed fans—for the winter comforter. (L.A. “winter”, anyway.)

But, oh! There is a give-and-take to all spectacular things, is there not? In this particular case, what has given is smoothies, a mainstay of my summer-in-L.A. diet for a good 10 years, or whenever I bought my crappy old blender. I have a somewhat inefficient internal temperature regulation system, you see. I don’t shed heat well, except in winter—yes, even L.A. “winter”— when it bleeds from my extremities like Jesus on the cross. Smoothies were introduced as a corrective—a means of bringing down my core temperature a half-degree or so when the temperature here in the E-Z-Bake Oven climbed over 85ºF—and they work. (This could, of course, be purely psychological, but I resist looking up the science involved, because you try living in this joint without air-conditioning or hope in the middle of a monthlong heat wave.)

Here’s the thing, though: if the temperatures do rise and catch you unprepared, you are hosed, smoothie-wise. The (sorry) smooth preparation of smoothies requires, among other items, a ready supply of frozen bananas. And because of my fabulous-yet-persnickety diet, my smoothie-bananas have to be black when they go into the freezer, which requires even more foresight. So the surprisingly clement temperatures gifted us by the roller-coaster ride that is global warming, coupled with my apparent inability to remember to check weekly forecasts for the errant day from hell, did not just throw me off my smoothie game—they took me out entirely.

But oh, the gifts a challenge comes bearing under its own, sweaty wing. In my desperation, staring into the minuscule, apartment-sized freezer for the 75th time, hoping bananas would miraculously appear, I spied a stash of diced avocado (stuck in there during a stretch of exasperated thrift, no doubt). I had enjoyed avocado smoothies elsewhere over the past year, in Ojai (deadly hot) and Portland (you’d be surprised, and they are TOTALLY unprepared for that shit). Yes, these were professionally blended in budget-killers I will never save enough Amazon points for, but hey, I could give it a try. The worst that would happen was my own blender dying, which would suck eggs, but something-something zombie apocalypse anyway, right?

I am DELIGHTED to report that this desperation introduced the most delicious smoothie variation I have found since I learned to replace OJ with apple juice. My avocado/coconut milk/strawberry smoothie went down like (insert sexist, circa-1956 locker-room joke here), and did a bang-up job of cooling me down.

The Good-Enough Freezer-Burn Smoothie

4 ice cubes
1 good handful frozen, diced, ripe avocado
1 good handful frozen, sliced strawberries
1 cup coconut milk*
1/4 cup apple juice (if you like it sweet, like I do; otherwise, add more coconut milk)
1-2 tablespoons honey (again, for sweet-toothed folks)
1/2 cup yogurt (optional)

Pulverize ice cubes in blender. (It should scare the cat.) Add the rest of the ingredients and blend together until smooth. If you have an old-timey blender like mine, keep an ear out for the motor sticking, and stop/hand-stir, and/or add more liquid.

Makes two 1 1/4-cup servings, or one big-ass serving.

*I made this the lazy-man’s way. It’s a little gritty, made with an old-timey blender, but you don’t notice the grit in a smoothie.

Good enough!


Image by me, and definitely good enough—just!

brooks palmer and his book clutter busting your life

Book review: Clutter Busting Your Life

By the time Brooks Palmer’s first book fell in my lap, I didn’t need anyone to tell me that my problem with clutter wasn’t the stuff itself. I knew full well that the crap I couldn’t seem to keep myself from accumulating was connected to circuitry gone awry—that I was collecting things to fill emotional holes or wall off feelings or otherwise protect myself from perceived danger.

But I did need someone to say it to me differently, in a way that I could finally begin to hear it. Simply, as it turns out, and with gentleness and compassion. Over and over. And over.

This is how Brooks (once a mysterious angel, now a first-name, real-life friend) works, both on the page and in person. It seems almost too simple at first—that by sitting down and bringing your attention to objects, one item at a time, you could simultaneously reduce the amount of useless stuff in your life and restore a sense of joy and hope. Until, an hour or two later, there is a carful of stuff on its way to Goodwill and the library and various other redistribution centers, and you are left in your little apartment, surrounded by freshly empty spaces and suffused with a surprising mix of energy and calm.

* * * * *

Which brings us to Clutter Busting Your Life and an obvious question: if the first book worked, why another? If the process is so simple to understand, why more pages to explain it? If your spaces remain relatively empty—or if you know what to do when they start becoming less so, and you do it—what could a second book really offer?

The answer, it turns out, is some insight into handling clutter where it intersects—and interferes with—relationships. Because while determining whether an object that is yours alone should stay or go is a straightforward process, dealing with other people’s stuff—a partner’s, a child’s, a parent’s, a friend’s—is fraught. And unless we wall ourselves off from the world (a sad and horrible prospect), we are always, always dealing with other people’s stuff.

Not to mention their “stuff”. Because to further complicate matters, it is not just someone’s actual, physical stuff that can become clutter to us, but our reactions to the stuff, and their reactions to our reactions, and so on. You cannot do a damned thing about anyone else’s crap, but boy, can you ever complicate matters by your response to it: one person’s magazine attachment or drawerful of half-empty toothpaste tubes can metastasize into everyone’s full-blown marriage crisis if tended (im)properly.

So this book, then, is about arresting the escalation. It’s about learning to removing the “clutter” in relationships—the fear and anger and frustration that accompanies all things buried, all decisions forestalled too long—so we can reconnect to each other. Which, yes, begins with reconnecting to ourselves.

Note: in the hands of your average self-helpster, navigation through this territory can get annoying and/or dangerous quickly. Again, Brooks Palmer’s strength resides in his ability to keep things simple and focused. He addresses the levels of relationship one at a time, in order and through the lens of clutter, starting with our relationship with ourselves, then moving outward into our various relationships with others—current and workable, past, current and unworkable. There’s a special chapter on clutter busting for two, but there are exercises throughout to help you with various aspects of the excavation process, emotional and physical, including a recap of basic clutter-busting technique for newbies or those needing a refresher course.

* * * * *

Full disclosure: if you get Brooks’ new book, you will find a blurb from me on the inside front page. While “blurb” is a light, bouncy, almost throwaway word, I take blurbing very seriously. (Except as a verb. Then I laugh like a hyena, because “blurbing” sounds asinine.) Into my very serious blurb I inject one bit of hyperbole, about Brooks possibly being able to help us all clutter-bust our way to world peace. Which is probably an overstatement. There is a whole lot of clutter between us and achieving world peace.

I do believe, though, that on some level, this is holy work. Bringing ourselves back to connection with one another and the present moment is big stuff. That one road back might involve shedding a few things—and ideas, and behaviors—that no longer serve is really not such a far-fetched notion.

If it’s your road, this might very well be your road map.


Book review: The $100 Startup

For the past year, I’ve been traveling around the country, telling people about Chris Guillebeau. (Seriously. You can see it here, starting at 2:48 in.)

One reason is that his story—of building a platform from zero to massive, of pursuing “impossible” goals like visiting every country in the world by age 35—never fails to inspire audiences. In a time when life can look rather grim around the edges, let alone when we stare into the deep, black heart of it—we need all the light we can get.

But the other reason I talk about Chris all the time is because his methodology for success is rational and replicable.

Yes, he’s a quick study, but he is also a perpetual student who reads widely and never stops asking questions of people who know things he doesn’t.

Yes, he has what is probably a natural facility with words, but he still parks his ass in a chair (or the floor of some foreign airport) and plunks out 1,500 of them per day. Every single day.

Or, as he summed it up himself in his first book, remarkable achievements are a result of these four prerequisites:

  1. You Must Be Open to New Ideas
  2. You Must Be Dissatisfied with the Status Quo
  3. You Must Be Willing to Take Personal Responsibility
  4. You Must Be Willing to Work Hard

So while Chris has built a fairly unconventional life for himself, filled with international travel, digital entrepreneurship, and rapid iteration, he has done so as much though old standbys like integrity and effort as he has entrepreneurial risk-taking and a 21st-Century attitude toward change.

His new book, The $100 Startup, takes a similarly old-plus-new approach to building a business. It’s Chris’s philosophy that the most rewarding work takes work, and that it should be done for personal fulfillment as much as for financial freedom. The 100 or so businesses used as case studies in the book reinforce this philosophy—each of these microbusinesses employs five or fewer employees (many are solopreneurs), and most are designed to stay that way.*

This is not, in other words, a book about building a massive, franchised empire from a single taco stand, nor designing killer iOS apps that get bought by Facebook for a billion dollars: it’s about helping you to come up with a solid idea at the intersection of your passion and a customer’s need; each of the tools within helps you tease out the one in relation to the other. There are checklists for evaluating the business-worthiness of your ideas and for prepping a product launch. There are formulas for constructing a marketing offer or creating a self-published work. There are charts that explain the different types of sales methods and that map the difference between passions that are fun for you and passions that will work in the marketplace.

It’s a book filled with incredibly detailed and specific information—nutrient-dense, especially at just over 300 pages—but because it’s so well-written and so liberally studded with inspiring, real-life stories, it’s a truly absorbing read: business book as page-turner.

In fact, if there’s a flaw to The $100 Startup, it’s that the stories, lessons, and tools are woven together so artfully, it’s difficult to treat casually. This is not a self-help book to be consumed in lieu of action, nor is it a reference book to be shelved and consulted via index. It’s meant to be read through from start to finish, preferably while taking copious notes as you go—although as much because the examples and concepts are likely to spark ideas for your own business as to find your way back to useful ideas later.

It is, in Chris’s own words, “a blueprint for change and action”. He’s thinking nothing less than a complete revolution, of people one by one leaving behind what they no longer need to serve themselves and the world and have a great time doing it. If you think that sounds crazy or impossible—especially with seed funds of $100—well, you don’t know Chris Guillebeau: a young man who simply doesn’t accept that things are impossible.


*Size-wise, anyway. There was a minimum condition of $50,000 in net income generated per year, but no cap on the top side, and many of these very small businesses have gone on to become far more profitable. Other conditions required for inclusion in the book were: employee size (1-5, max); a passion-based model; low startup cost; no “special skills” (e.g. dentistry, law, tightrope-walking); and full financial disclosure.

Photos by Tara Wages.

Book review: The Fire Starter Sessions

It seems like every 10 or 20 years, there’s one breakthrough book in the personal development category.

The chronological first of the How-Do-I-Get-There-From-Here? books to help me find my way was Barbara Sher’s Wishcraft. It’s gentle and playful in tone, yet still filled with the kind of useful tools and practical exercises that make a Virgo’s heart go pitter-pat.*

Next in the all-star lineup was the first I came to, Julia Cameron’s legendary Artist’s Way. Its language is a bit soft and dreamy around the edges, but structurally, the book is rock-solid. After finishing The Artist’s Way, one friend of mine followed a long-dormant dream of becoming a singer-songwriter; I finally left copywriting behind and embraced the terrifying-to-me path of acting.

Which brings us to today, and to Danielle LaPorte’s sweeping, energizing entry in the canon, The Fire Starter Sessions.

Like her predecessors, Danielle’s exercises for excavating your true self are rooted in real-life experience, emerging over time from hundreds of sessions with actual clients. Full disclosure: I attended an early Fire Starter workshop in Los Angeles, and have been a friend and admirer of the Fiery One and her spark ever since.  Further, fuller-than-full disclosure: I am reasonably sure that Danielle may count “witch” alongside other credentials on her impressive resume. She has an uncanny knack for sussing out fuzzy and/or difficult truths that training alone can’t account for.

That said, the worksheets and exercises in TFSS should prove enormously valuable in uncovering your own true self. Her core discovery tool alone (“The Burning Questions”, of course!) will shine considerable light on your key truths, but please don’t skip ahead: the book is designed to lead you through a process, and step-skippers will miss out on valuable anchoring ideas and frameworks.

While the central focus of the book is pretty clearly self-discovery, Danielle also has an excellent grasp of marketing and promotion, especially where they intersect with personal branding, and a keen sense of what stops many of us from making money (hint: usually, prior issues around money). The Fire Starter Sessions is definitely not a business book, but as with Wishcraft, the lessons you learn about how you engage with people, places, and money will impact your work life as well as your personal and spiritual lives.

Finally, if it’s not already obvious, like Sher and Cameron before her, Danielle LaPorte writes for a specific type of creative mind: searching and open, especially to the connection between mind, body, and spirit. While she is absolutely down-to-earth—her language is lively and colloquial and her practical, real-world experience abounds—as the subtitle suggests, her attitude towards change is at least as soulful as it is practical. If pressed, I’d probably describe it as woowoo-friendly, with an edge. Which is far from a bad thing, but is a very particular thing. A quick read of her enormously popular blog or a sample chapter should immediately determine if this book speaks to you.

If it does, you’re in for a real treat: The Fire Starter Sessions contains Danielle’s best wisdom on creating the life you truly desire. It’s comprehensive, wide-ranging, and packed with valuable stuff for the journey.


UPDATE 4/25/12, 10:50am: There’s going to be some kind of a Twitter party going on tonight at 6pm PT. 10 cents for every tweet marked with the hashtag #FireSS goes to WriteGirl, nonprofit beneficiary of The 50-for-50 Project. Go! Tweet!

Book design by Maria Elias. Author photo by Sherri Koop.

*One stellar example? The woowoo-friendly version of that time-tested accountability wonder from the business world, the master mind group. Scher calls hers “Success Team”, and if you’ve been put off by Napoleon Hill’s early-20th-Century, male-centric prose, it might be the thing that finally saves you.

Book review: Design Is a Job

design is a job and mike monteiro is GREAT at his job

There are all kinds of myths surrounding the arts, especially where they intersect with commerce. Myths about working when the muse strikes, as opposed to working to increase the odds that she will. Myths about success (“It’s a mysterious mystery come by mysteriously…plus Twitter!”). Enough myths about money to keep the stick-shaking brigade busy for a thousand billing cycles.

But after almost 30 years of circulation in the worlds of copywriting, performance, and design, I believe the most pernicious myth of all is that artists cannot learn to be good business people. Because we absolutely can if: (a) we’re willing to make what may be some uncomfortable changes to our outlook and operating style; and (b) we find the right conduit for the information on how to do it.

When you’re ready to embrace that first condition, Design Is a Job brilliantly provides the how-to. Written by Mule Design principal and co-founder Mike Monteiro, it contains a no-bullsh*t framework for building a successful creative business, covering everything from what design is (hint: not decoration) to how to keep your pipeline full of the kind of jobs you actually look forward to working on (hint: it does not involve cold calling, begging, or excessive retweeting). Networking, contracts, presenting, and management—it’s all in here, in a compulsively readable 130 pages. Because no one knows better than Mike Monteiro that the real secret to getting the job done is doing the job, not reading about it.

While it is specifically written for designers, like The Elements of Content Strategy, a similarly outstanding entry in A Book Apart’s series of “brief books for people who design websites,” it is absolutely civilian-friendly.* If you’re a creative artist who needs to get paid for your creative artistry, there’s something here for you—writers, illustrators, and yes, even you, my lovely actors. You may have to put on your translator headphones here and there, but I guarantee that if you do, you will come away with invaluable insight in how to be less of a goofy creative and more of a goofy creative who gets paid.

Few things are more wonderful than being paid to do work you’d do for free—and few things will grind you down to a grim nub of misery faster than failing to treat that work as a job. Design Is a Job clearly, simply, and often hilariously outlines the steps for actually making a profit doing the work you love.


*UPDATE: And lo, A Book Apart feels similarly about the synergy between these two books: you can buy them in a bundle!

Book design by Jason Santa Maria.  Author photo by Ryan Carver.

Embracing the tiny, Day 13: Slightly better

how to take a great photo with a point and shoot, by felicia perretti

My birthday photo lesson from Felicia Perretti

Early last year, I started touring my little how-to-market-yourself-without-being-a-tool talk at a series of conferences hosted by the American Society for Media Photographers (ASMP).

I like to keep things lively, so I tend to use a lot of photos, much as I do here on the bloggity-blog. And, because I’ve never been especially good—okay, because I’ve sucked at taking photos, I’ve tended to use a lot of screencaps or terrific photos from Flickr to do the illustrating.

But occasionally, I cannot find the image I’m looking for elsewhere, and am forced to come up with it myself. This is how a truly horrible photo of a truly awesome thank-you note ended up in the presentation.

horrible photo of a nice thank-you note

Click through to see this and all the other how-to photos

My point was—and is—that all the fancy visual branding in the world does you no good unless you have great behavior to back it up. In this case, Chris Guillebeau combines great visual identity work (designed for him by the delightful Reese Spykerman) with the right action of sending a handwritten thank-you note, something he did for every single one of the 500 attendees of the first conference he hosted. It turned what was essentially a piece of collateral marketing (albeit a pretty one—yay, Reese!) into a meaningful memento. And really, that’s what you want to do with all of your marketing: create stuff that either literally or metaphorically passes The Fridge Test.*

I did the best I could with my shaky skills and rudimentary equipment, then tacked on a self-deprecating credit line at the bottom, “Horrible photo taken by yours truly” and turned my nonexistent skillz into a joke. Because (a), play to your strengths, and (b), always head ’em off at the pass.

What I did not expect was for an enthusiastic young photographer named Felicia Perretti to bound up to me after the talk in Philadelphia and assure me in no uncertain terms that I could learn to take better photos, even with “just” a point-and-shoot, and that she could show me how. She seemed sincere enough, but as it was a heat-of-the-moment situation, I did not take it seriously. Nor did I take it seriously when she followed up with emails #1,2, and 3, a few days, weeks, and months after the presentation.

four tips on taking better photos

Click through for a better view on four tips for taking better photos

It was not until I received a birthday card in the mail—hand-drawn, with individual tips and a likeness of me holding a point-and-shoot camera—that I realized this girl not only was a woman of her word, but that she truly found joy in turning people on to the incredible things she’d already learned.

tips! on taking better photos

These will make your photos better. Just try 'em! Click through!

So when I had to expand my presentation from 60 minutes to 90 (and from 211 slides to 300!), naturally, the first great marketing story I had to add was the one about how selfless actions can end up being the best kind of marketing there is. Because some eight months after a sincere offer to help, Felicia Perretti was now a fixture in the canon, her name, story, and website plastered all over screens everywhere as an example of Doing It Right.

the author as as a happy Weegie

Look, ma! One hand!

There is no guarantee that a small thing you do will make any difference in someone else’s life, much less have a huge ripple effect. If you are using actions as lottery tickets, stop it now. (Or don’t, but know that’s what you’re doing.)

But the things you are moved to do, big or small, “successful” or “failed”,  will always make a difference to you. After almost eight years of writing posts here, I can promise you that. Many, many times when I hit the “publish” button, I was sure that THIS post was (god help us all) going to be the one that ignited the blogosphere, that THIS brilliant thought would make me, would usher in fame and fortune. No such luck—which is good, because it would have been the shittiest kind of luck.

It is not what ignites or explodes or propagates that matters. It is scribbling in journals, doodling on margins, pausing to take a photo—and another, and another, and then, applying the Rule of Thirds, thoughtfully, another—that matters. Conscious effort to improve yourself, your world, and the way you interact with it. Meaningful work, engagement with other life forms, and, as I am finally (finally!) on the verge of learning, having some damned fun in your life.

I have good teachers. Thanks to them, I am slightly better than I was last year, last month, last week, a moment ago.

And, god willing and the creek don’t rise, I’ll be slightly better than that tomorrow.


This is Day 13 of a 21-day series. For more scoop on the who/what/why, go here.

Click through to see the full series of how-to photos on Flickr.