I vastly underestimated my ability to do something “impossible.” And I vastly overestimated my ability to recover from it.

* * * * *

It is curious, the formless form recovery takes.

When I was recovering from my Crohn’s onset nine years ago, there was a constant tension between wanting to leap forward, back into life, and needing to fall backward into bed. Maybe this is how our crazy will to live manifests itself: as soon as we’re assured that we’re not actually dying, we’re programmed to grab for the next branch to pull ourselves up with. Only it’s not the logical branch—that one right there, just a few inches above us, with a groove that looks uncannily like a handle; it’s that one over there on that other tree—at the tippy-top, a mere vine’s-swing away. And so—well, there’s a lot of falling and flailing.

What I want right now, for example, is to EAT THE WORLD—to “Mary Poppins” my way back to order and sanity, to launch the 147 new ideas that have floated into my head since this 50-for-50 madness began, and to experience the hell out of everything I’ve had to put on hold. I want to wrassle my Excel spreadsheets to the ground and merge them with MailChimp and fulfill all those perks, already. I want to write that first book I’ve been putting off for five years. I want to bake a freezer-full of SCD-legal bread, walk a labyrinth, drive cross-country, spend an hour on the phone with each of my friends, and digitize my tapes. I want to read the 25 books piled up in my to-read stack and buy 50 more (and still check out a couple every time I visit the library). I want to go paperless, speak Spanish, walk a mile a day, learn calligraphy, buy a sofa, move, adopt a dog, fall in love, host a dinner party, spend a month in Australia, plant a garden, and empty all my inboxes.

What my body wants, on the other hand, is to sit in a tub of extra-salty water with the lights out, a glass each of seltzer and bourbon beside me, and some soothing BBC porn streaming from my laptop a few feet away. (While I slowly, carefully shave my head.) (For the third time in two weeks.)

Two steps up, four steps sideways, and a backwards dip into the bath. It’s quite a pas-de-deux I’m having with myself.

* * * * *

For me, one of the most insidious but helpful indicators of overload is the desire to acquire.

It can manifest as the desire for tangible goods, like books or gadgets or art, but just as often these days, it shows up as digital items—electronic file folders overflowing with stories to read later, eCourses I have no time to complete. I have showed Brooks Palmer my considerable and embarrassing hoard of paper and CDs, but I lacked the fortitude to share the rickety hard drives filled with busted fonts, crufty Quark files, and PDF manifestos.

And let us not speak of the overworked, underutilized Someday/Maybe list.

I have now read enough books about clutter and watched enough episodes of Hoarders to know that this itch to take things on speaks to some lack that these items can never, ever fulfill. When I am sane and well-rested, I have the discipline to resist all stores but the one that sells groceries, and to visit that one only when well-fed, and with list in hand. When I have rested my body I can exercise it, and when I’ve exercised it, I can make it sit still and write. When I have allowed myself to really feel all the things I am actually feeling—which I hate to do, because it almost always involves crying—I find a calm afterward that allows me to do or even just be, that transforms me from Ms. Pac-Man nom-nom-ing my way through random ones and zeroes to an actual human being who can listen to herself and others with something resembling compassion, who stands an honest-to-God chance of really being useful.

* * * * *

When things get really crazy, the only thing to do is get super-normal. I go back to the small, simple-not-easy things that ground me in reality, then let me inch across that ground. I make my bed. I wash the dishes. When enough days have passed where the dishes have been washed, I clean the sink. I buy groceries and cook meals from them instead of eating takeout. I walk, I work out to an exercise video, I hold Horse Stance for five minutes. I lapse. I write my morning pages. I recover. I lapse again (which I guess would be a relapse). I meet with my master mind group; they tell me to do what I know I must, the simple-not-easy things.

Fall off. Get back on. Fall off. Get back on.

* * * * *

I had an idea that recovery would take two weeks, and so I dutifully blocked them off on my calendar. It turns out that blocking things off does not a restful time make—you actually have to rest, too. But there is always something else to be done that looks more interesting, and, more to the point, that seems more productive.

As always, the first step to changing a behavior is realizing you have it; the next is noticing when, then why it’s happening. You get to—or really, you have to keep living your life as you change. Recovery, a.k.a. living, is messy and non-linear. But much like life itself, it beats the alternative.


Wanna make some art, lazy-man style AND help clear out your house at the same time? Check out my friend Leah Peterson’s Group Painting project and contribute some earthly detritus. I’m releasing last year’s three Nikki McClure calendars. Yay, art!

Image by Graeme Newcomb via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.


Of all the questions I’m asked about the 50-for-50 Project, the one that comes up most frequently is definitely “Why the hair?”

Sometimes it comes up in the context of context—i.e., What the hell does shaving your head have to do with raising money for WriteGirl?—which I can understand. More on that in a bit, although since we’ve officially begun bean-spilling time, I may as well confess that the desire to shave (or at least, the desire to see what the hell was under all that hair) pre-dated the desire to do anything remotely selfless by a good eight years. I mean, what woman hasn’t sweated through a grow-out summer or written that check for single-process color AGAIN or, hey, seen another bald chick and wondered to herself what it would be like?

But far more frequently, Why the hair? might be loosely translated as What are you, crazy? So few choose baldness (and let’s face it, even the “bald by choice” crowd is more accurately described as “balder by choice”) that opting out of hair is seen as extreme. Why would you do voluntarily what sick people are dragged into kicking and screaming? (And I’m speaking of our friends in chemo, not casting aspersions on military recruits, religious orders, or even right-wing extremists. Although, well, you know.)

* * * * *

The party line for “Why the hair?” vis-à-vis a fundraiser for Girl Empowerment came from my friend Daniel Will-Harris, another writer/performer/marketing hybrid-freak like me. Figures, right?

I was still casting about for a way to quickly sum up a logical “why” when I threw out the problem to him in an email exchange we had way back in mid-July, just two weeks shy of Launch Day. What he wrote back was so logical, so obvious, that if I’d had time to do it between the eleventy-seven constant items on my to-do list, I’d have kicked myself.

Because it’s about what’s inside a girl’s head, not what’s outside.

Duh. I mean, DUH.

Delighted, I tucked away this nugget in my filthy miner’s pockets to satisfy curiosity in the metaphorical saloons of tomorrow, and did not think much more about the email—except, of course, to credit Daniel whenever I used the line, because I’m not an ass—until I pulled it up to check the date on it for this piece. And as I scanned it for the money phrase, I finally saw an equally important line below it:

How many men can you recognize just by their haircuts?

Sure there are the joke haircuts. And, ironically, the very serious “Kojak.”But really, how many?

Whereas I’ll bet that with absolutely no help from Google Image Search, you could come up with five or ten examples of women identifiable by haircut on the spot. Hell, I think Jennifer Aniston and Madonna might be responsible for five or ten iconic styles between them. Every day on Pinterest, I find yet another worshipful gallery of wish-list hair styled created by yet another woman. And so we’re clear on this, I’m not immune.

The more you think about it, the worse it gets: How many hours do we spend on our hair? And how many dollars? Even worse, how much emotion do we have tied up in it? How often do we judge—ourselves, our friends, complete strangers—on something as evanescent and arbitrary as hair? This person is [old/hip/stylish/frumpy]. To be [pitied/admired/envied].

Just how attached are we to our hair? Or, by extension (you’ll pardon the pun), to any of our other external markers?

Like most things I write on my blog, when I say “we,” I’m most definitely saying “me.” When she did my chart, my first-shrink-slash-astrologer warned me that with Venus in Leo, my obsession with my hair wasn’t going to end anytime soon. “You’ll always need to be happy with your hair,” she said.

Which is why I thought of her when I woke up last Wednesday morning and really looked at myself in the mirror for the first time. Could I be happy with my hair, I wondered, if my hair was no-hair?

Because unless I had completely lost my head along with the stuff on top of it, I was actually digging my no-hair, and was thinking of not-keeping it.

* * * * *

Trust me when I say that I have thought through the angles on this baby. I know that my no-hair could easily become as much of a “thing” as my hair ever was, if not more. Already, it’s my new toy: I have endless fun in the store, trying on this or that, seeing what works with the not-hair.1 While I have no hair, I have no less vanity. Indeed, I may have more: I actually like how I look! And I am not at all embarrassed that I like it!

So (a), it’s clear that I have not exactly evolved to a higher plane and, (b) it’s bizarre as hell, but there it is. Me, bald equals me, pretty. Go figger.

But it’s not all vanity. I’ve jokingly referred to the effect the shave has had on me as a “reverse Samson”, and I wasn’t kidding—I feel almost shockingly more powerful than I did pre-shave. Part of all this feeling good is doubtless a residual effect of accomplishment: raising more than $50,000 is a not-insubstantial achievement, and overcoming my fear of doing something I considered impossible is arguably a bigger one. (It’s the lesson I hope anyone looking through all this for one will find, anyway.)

The thing is, I am not sure what the thing is just yet. There’s so much to unpack about this experience that it could take me some time. More time than nature allows: hair grows fast. In a week, I’ve already gone from razor-smooth to sandpaper to velcro to enjoyable fuzz. Seriously—I’d be the hit of the rave these days, if they still had raves, and if I could be talked into going to one. My friend The Other Colleen, who was also bald for a time, warns me of weeks to come that will be filled with people wanting to rub my head like it was a Buddha belly or an especially soft cat.

For now, then—until I can figure this out, and until I can get some mileage from my surprisingly feminine new wardrobe—I’m sticking with not-hair. And when I find I have some answers, or perhaps that I’ve become a wee bit overly attached to turning heads (albeit for reasons of freakiness), or I’m through The Change, or I’m assured that it will grow in the luxurious shade of silver I’m longing for, then I’ll probably grow it out again.

Maybe. Possibly.

Unless, of course, I don’t.


Photo by the amazing Josh Ross. Full gallery of his “photobooth” shots of the head-shaving is here. There’s also a terrific series of “event” photos by the equally amazing Barry Schwartz. 

1Slim, clingy, simple, and dark, for starters; “patterned,” “structured,” and “outré,” my former go-to looks, now make me look like a tiny lesbian court jester. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

Start with the end in mind

This post is #50 in a series of 50 dedicated to the art and life of writing, in support of the 50 for 50 Project to benefit WriteGirl. If you like it, or if you think it could have been improved by a better writing education for its author, please give generously. And pass it on.

Roughly 18 months ago, I began thinking of how I wanted to mark my 50th birthday.

The easiest part was eliminating what I did not want: a fancy trip, a lavish party, and above all, presents and cards and stuff stuff stuff. Aside from a few mission-critical hardware upgrades, and possibly a new traveling suit, I’m loathe to acquire much in the way of stuff.

So I started thinking of what I wanted to feel like on my birthday. This was far less complicated, although it was still easier to talk about how I did not want to feel: empty. Wistful. Lonely. Small. Powerless. Afraid. Sad.

And then, a few months later and entirely by accident, a thought was planted in my head: SELFISH. I realized that more than anything else, I did not want to feel selfish—not on that day, not on my birthday, not ever again. On the other hand, my previous forays into volunteering had been “enh” at best, disastrous at worst. Let’s just say that my blessings, while considerable, did not include a dominant follow-through gene.

So I decided that I would use what I did have to do what I could do, and then some. I could write. I could employ all of my old marketing and design and advertising tricks in the service of good. I could test the sturdiness of this (ugh) “platform” I’ve built over seven years of life on the Internet by seeing if it could hold up under the weight of a ginormous (double-ugh) “ask.” Yeah, theoretically I’d been building it to promote something of my own I could sell in the vague-but-foreseeable future—a book, a service, a something—but what the hell? Based on my previous track record and actuarial projections for a chronically ill middle-aged woman living in toxic Los Angeles, I could easily die before that happened.

Besides, as The Youngster used to tell me, “Don’t save ‘happy’.”

The pieces fell into place almost magically after that. When I decided that the tangible thing I’d do was to raise money for some cause already out there doing good in the world, the number $50,000 floated into my head. It felt insane—until I spoke it aloud to my friends Jason and Jodi Womack who said, “It’s not insane, and we’ll help you make it happen.” And said it with such conviction and such love that for the first time, I believed it might actually be possible. When I anguished over which of several worthy nonprofits to do this in support of, my friend Bonnie, whom I had introduced to WriteGirl, and who had subsequently become a mentor to an actual WriteGirl (she has a much better follow-through gene), reminded me of the “no-duh” choice.

Ideas for perks floated into my head, and friends ass-kicked me (nicely!) into making the terrifying-to-me requests for help. Jill Murphy materialized out of nowhere, while I was, as she put it, freezing my butt off under a strategically-placed vent in the PDX airport; equally out of the blue, my friends Jennifer and John Lehr graciously offered their home—their home, where they live—for the party.

I cannot begin to list all of the people who helped right now without running the risk of omitting some, but when has that ever stopped me? My friends Lisa and Heather shot and edited a fan-fucking-tastic video. Gabriel built a website. Overnight. My friend Jean and her partners Greg and Philip at Smile donated 50 copies of TextExpander. Jim Coudal sent me so many Field Notes, I had to stop seven times on the walk home from my mailbox, the carton was so heavy.

Friends stepped up, more and more of them, with alacrity and remarkable cheer, to offer help as I explained this Big, Scary Thing that I needed to do. Dyana and Donna. My friend Julie and her sister Gillian. A dozen people offered to do supporting projects: Mike Monteiro and Erika Hall and the whole Mule Design team, who indulged me with a special run of my favorite t-shirts, and then threw in half the proceeds from an entirely different set of t-shirts, to boot. Danielle LaPorte, who did a special “telejam” for her people, working together to raise a staggering $3295. Bee and Geoff hung themselves out there and created work to be auctioned off. Tim made art you can still bid onClaire and Mary & Dave sold their art. Pace and Kyeli raised over a thousand bucks and sang a filthy song with me. (Which O-Lan mixed, even though she was not supposed to be working. Because she is awesome.)

Ten designers created desktop wallpapers, 50-count-’em-50 lady writers contributed beautiful interviews, and a partridge in a motherfucking tree, stick a fork in me ’cause I’m DONE.

As promised, there will be a series of more thoughtful, detailed, and specific follow-ups on what I learned doing this Big Scary Thing, so that hopefully, you can use some of it to go do your own Big Scary (and, I hope, totally different) Thing. But for now, let me leave you with this: that thing you think you can’t do, because it’s impossible?

Maybe it isn’t.


P.S. Forgive me for making you do this, but there is some really big, fat, juicy effin’ news toward the middle of the above video. I know, I know—you hate watching videos (unlike that other guy, over there). But trust me, it’s more fun to hear or see it than read it. I know, because I about fainted when I was told, before I started screaming like a teen girl at JFK in 1964. So for you, a cheat: hit play, then advance it to 1:20. You won’t be sorry. And THANK YOU.


a whole bunch of very special Field Notes books

This post is #49 in a series of 50 dedicated to the art and life of writing, in support of the 50 for 50 Project to benefit WriteGirl. If you like it, or if you think it could have been improved by a better writing education for its author, please give generously. And pass it on.

At some point, you must release into the world the work you have labored over privately.

It will have smudges and smears and imperfections. It will not be all of what you had hoped for in some places. It will be more than you ever dreamed of in others.

But as you let it go—as you ship it, in the parlance of the day—you will feel one very specific, very glorious thing:



Never forget

I am finally old enough to start understanding certain things that I used to think I understood. The line about those not knowing history being doomed to repeat it, for example. I’ve made too many of the same mistakes more than once because of my failure to process them properly.

That’s not much to offer by way of wisdom. As to comfort, I have even less.

So I simply wish that the people for whom this day is especially difficult find some small bit of peace. I will continue trying to make myself worthy of the sacrifices others have made on my behalf by leaving things better than I found them, by showing gratitude for each bit of each day, and by remembering with an eye toward not repeating the past.

Peace on Earth, good will to all.


50-for-50: Frequently asked questions

This post is #47 in a series of 50 dedicated to the art and life of writing, in support of the 50 for 50 Project to benefit WriteGirl. If you like it, or if you think it could have been improved by a better writing education for its author, please give generously. And pass it on.

Eventually, when this is behind me, I’ll write up a more organized list of FAQs. But the video above and the list below take care of some of the things I’ve been getting asked a lot now that are sort of time-sensitive.

1. Party invitations

If you have given money for a party invite and have not received one from us (they’re coming from Pingg.com), contact me IMMEDIATELY: colleen AT communicatrix DOT com. I will forward your email to Jill Murphy, who’s taken over party stuff so my head doesn’t explode before we can get the hair off of it. But yes, all the invites have gone out.

2. Perk fulfillment & thank-yous

We—or rather, I—will be fulfilling perks after the close of the campaign. Probably at least a week after, because I seriously need a week to just recover. Since I’m doing it myself, it may take a while, but you will get your stuff, digital or physical.

As to thank-yous, I didn’t promise I’d do this, but I want to. Again, it will take a while. Please be patient! I can only do so much, and I have taken two months off of work to do the campaign, so I have to work, too. Because boy, Anthem Blue Cross gave me the OPPOSITE of a birthday present. Okay. ‘Nuff said on that one.

3. How I did what I did

I’ve started getting a number of requests for information on how I organized, ran, prepped, etc. the campaign. I will be sharing everything I learned over the next couple of months. Maureen Anderson interviewed me (and separately, Keren Taylor, director of WriteGirl) for The Career Clinic radio show; I’m going to do an interview for IndieGoGo’s newsletter and a Q&A via Skype with Don Stanley for his Social Media class at University of Wisconsin-Madison, which hopefully, they’ll post for other people to see.

I will also be writing things up myself, so please subscribe to the blog and subscribe to the newsletter to make sure you get those. You can unsubscribe whenever you want—I encourage it, in fact. But if you email me asking for the info, you’ll just get a reply to look for the info here. It will become recursive and annoying, and neither of us wants that to happen.

Again, please be patient. I’m pretty overwhelmed now, and I cannot help but think I will be more so once it sinks in that I am a 50-year-old lady with no hair.

4. T-shirt fulfillment

The “Old.” shirts are printed all at once, then shipped out by the printer. You should receive your “Old.” shirt sometime in October, if you ordered one. (And no, you can’t order one now—orders have been closed.)

5. Yes, I’m donating the hair

To these people. They seem nice, and they are definitely NOT blowing their money on web design, which makes us simpatico.

6. When is the last day to contribute?

September 13, 2011. After that, you’re welcome to donate money to WriteGirl, and I hope you will. But to say you’re a part of this crazy little project we’re all working on together OFFICIALLY, kick in here by Tuesday. Early. Because I may or may not have set the campaign to run out before 11:59pm Pacific.

Okay! That’s all I got for now.

Catch you on the flip-flop!


Frrrrriday Rrrrroundup! #68: 50-for-50 edition

desktop wallpaper designed by spencer cross

This post is #46 in a series of 50 dedicated to the art and life of writing, in support of the 50 for 50 Project to benefit WriteGirl. If you like it, or if you think it could have been improved by a better writing education for its author, please give generously. And pass it on.

The Reverend Molly, who found her way to 50-for-50 via Sugar, shared this absolutely beautiful (and also, very interesting and helpful) piece on what it’s like to live outside the cultural norm—in her case, sans hair.

Not only was Sugar stunningly generous in devoting her entire weekly column to 50-for-50, she specifically articulated what was so meaningful about this whole project for all of us in a way none of us, myself included, have been able to.

A beautiful (what else?) story from interviewee Leah Reich about her experiences growing up in a small Colorado town, and what it means to have someone believe in you.

A gorgeous tribute by interviewee, client, and good friend Judy Herrman about why we undertake bits of certifiable insanity like 50-for-50. And living.

This piece mistakenly says I’ve already shaved, but let’s not hold this against them. Because an awesome plug is an awesome plug, and hey, Donna Barger did do a bang-up job with the Photoshopping!

Finally, I love the support from the gentlemens, too.

Image inside the frame by Spencer Cross, awesome designer, dog-owner, human being, and founder of kernspiracy designers’ group. You can get it in a luxurious, desktop-sized image of inspiration with a $15 contribution to the 50-for-50 project on IndieGoGo, through September 13, 2011.