Happy Birthday to Me From Spirit Poems

7 Oct

Last night, I started a new class facilitated by Sofia Rose Smith that’s a meditation-writing hybrid. It’s remote, so we meet on the phone and online. She calls it “Spirit Poems: a 4-week online writing workshop for those with open hearts.” Ironically, I feel like my heart is very walled off, so I joined hoping it would help me open it; help me fight my inertia. Then, I thought, maybe once I tended to that, my writing and creativity would start to come back. Besides, I thought it would make a nice birthday gift to myself.

I used to be really emotional, really touchy-feely, really in tune with myself and other people, but I’m not anymore, and I’d like to get it back. I’ve struggled over the years to break through this fortress of (feigned and real) indifference, and in so doing, realized just how thick the brick is. I don’t know exactly why this happened, but I have some guesses. I think it started with one or two major emotional traumas that blistered because I couldn’t or didn’t tend to them well, so rather than heal, they just became calluses. And as I’ve gone on through the years, working professionally in very sad and sometimes toxic setups, the calluses have just grown. And grown. And they did their job–they stopped me from feeling.

Well, I don’t like it anymore. And I’m trying to do something about it–for my sake, my writing’s sake, the sake of my family and friends and associates…

So when I saw the link for Sofia’s class on the Facebook page of my friend Allison, who I look at as a spiritual role model these days, I took it as a sign, and registered immediately.

I was a little unsure about what to expect…I was worried my cynical heart would be too dismissive of or fight the experience, which it tried to at first, but Sofia’s guided meditation at the beginning of class won out. By the time it was over, and it was time for our first 5-minute free-write, it spilled out:

The rain falls in sheets. I can’t see anything beyond the waterfall. It’s mossy and wet and thick. I’m not sure how I got here in this forest, trees around. But here I am. I don’t care about getting out. I inhale the ground smells and gulp the air and rest my hand on bark. I laugh and look upwards.

I miss her.

She is here, and I miss her.

I love this place and her and ache to hug it all. To envelop them like they hold me. Close. Tight. Light. Beyond darkness.

I sit.

I wonder if she’s here.

She’s here.

I shuffle my feet, push earth up onto my soaked boot. Plunge my hands into the ground.


Of course, I’d like to go back and edit and add and all of that, but what struck me was how at the surface it was. When Sofia gave us the sign to start, I didn’t just sit there, staring…waiting…second-guessing how it would look to anyone else. It just came, like a freight train, and I got out of its way.

Waterfall in forestAfter some sharing with and commenting on each other’s work (all affirmative), Sofia gave us a couple of prompts. The first one was “Earth,” to which I asked, “If we coincidentally wrote about earth in our free-write, can we share that, or would it be ‘cheating’?”

Sofia responded, “yes! You can share it! Your intuition is on point!” I let myself celebrate that tiny moment and shared.

The next prompt was “Water,” and this came:

True as the tide,
I turn to the side
When I should face front
And just open up.

I want to
Yes, want to
But lately,
I can’t.
Like my boat needs a map
And my oar needs turn
And I’ve only one flare left in my arsenal to burn.

So I send it on up–
Over the wide open sea
And maybe, just maybe
I’ll hear back from me

I rock and sway
And try to hear what I say
But the waves catch each word
And the water’s gone inward

The class ended with another round of shares and affirmations, and I found myself not wanting to leave the space when Sofia announced we were 7 minutes over time.

I know this type of thing isn’t for everyone (or every part of one), but it’s for me–right here, right now. I’m so glad!

Two Years and the Big So What

21 Jan

Imsorrywhat–has it really been 2 YEARS since I blogged on this site? ExCOOSE me?

I knew it had been a long time, but I honestly had no idea two full years had gone by. What the eff was I doing? Let’s see…well, I spent weeks, months, and apparently years blowing my momentum…I made whiney excuses (“now that I do cartoons, posts take so much TIME”)…I ran out of ideas that anyone might care about reading…I beat myself up about it…I had ideas but then had actual paying work to do…and then I became so ashamed that so much time had passed that I just couldn’t bring myself to ever show my blogface here again. But then–the worst of all things happened: it all just simply stopped registering. Sure, I got busy with my business at NinjaDog (60 cases under my belt and counting), and with my various writing and editing gigs I’ve been lucky enough to hold onto over the last two years, but this blog that once brought me so much joy just wasn’t even on my radar. Wasn’t. Even. On. My radar.


So here I am again suddenly, not even sure of what to write or how to make it entertaining and useful. I’m feeling around in the abyss, trying to find a handhold, a foot notch, anything that will help me create friction so I can get moving. I need something to stand on, to hang onto. Something that’s worth something. Something, that after reading it, doesn’t prompt a big collective belchy sigh of a SO WHAT.

They say it’s all part of “the process;” that this is the pre-determined, angst-ridden path of a writer. I get that. And obviously, in many ways, I revel in it. But what’s extra cruel–what I haven’t been able to wrap my head around–is why I can’t write now? It seemed like before I left my job in 2010 to pursue this, I teemed with ideas and artful ways to express them. I’d spend many a work (and after-work) hour, composing emails that were more meaningful and crafted than anything I can seem to come up with now.

I mean, it’s 7:30 pm on a Monday, and I’m sitting at Bagel Nosh in Santa Monica, California. I’m here for Writers Blok–a group I joined last fall. We meet up weekly to write, and then talk and share a little. I feel like an imposter.

I’m a regular at Bagel Nosh during daylight, carb-eating hours, and when I saw the poster on their wall advertising this group, I took it as a sign (well, yeah–um, duh). I thought it would be exactly what I needed to become a real writer–you know, one with motivation and ideas and beautiful prose spewing out of her fingertips like some kind of Pulitzer-winning Electric Grandmother. Although I was terrified, I packed up my laptop with the llama in a taxi cover, and went. I had pretty much decided that the group would either be comprised of a few old crusty guys who still handwrite 100,000 word novels or a roomful of screenwriters who’d use the time to tell us all about the spec they’d written and ask who we know that could get it bought.

I found I was only partly right.

There were a few older (and younger) people working their notepads. They were not crusty and were way more productive than me.

There were some screenwriters, comics, and industry folk about, but they were all really nice and even generous with their support of all genres.

nice people

And since then, I’ve come pretty much every week, except for the break we had for the holidays, and maybe one or two sessions when I was on a case.

I’ve loved getting to know everyone who comes back, week after week. I love hearing their latest installments or about their progress. I get happy when new people join in and find the comfort I’ve found here. I get sad when people like Rod, the former Marine Staff Seargent who writes fairy tales, have to leave for a move across the country or because they got a job like Drake that has them working nights.

The facilitator, Paul, has us circle up near the end of each session to go around and talk about what we’ve done and what we want to do for next time. And he also has this cool little ritual of bringing a book he likes, and then giving it away to one of us. Sometimes, the book’s subject itself is relevant to a certain person. Sometimes, he gives it to someone as a way to reward, motivate, or encourage. And sometimes, he gives the book to someone just because. But always he gives it to someone who hasn’t read it yet. When Paul names the recipient, there’s always a little smile that breaks out on the recipient’s face, and we all clap. I wonder how many have come back or felt renewed or inspired because of that simple gesture. The first time I came, he also gave away a t-shirt that has his e-magazine’s logo on it, and I was the lucky recipient. It’s an XL, so it’s way too big for me, but it’s got the coolest owl on it. I took it as a good omen, and it certainly made me come back!


Now that Writers Blok is in its third “season” (I didn’t know about the first one), Paul has made Writers Blok shirts, which are sweet. He trotted them out last week, and I didn’t have any cash on me. This week, I don’t have any cash, period (no, really–I paid my five dollar entry in change tonight). So that will have to wait until next week.

I was texting with a friend earlier today about what I was doing tonight, and I told her how stuck I’ve been feeling, how I’m fighting to find whatever is here…and I said that even though I’m fighting to write (fwrighting?), I’m still going to go because going is better than not going. She agreed.

I don’t always look forward to coming here. There are nights when I have to talk myself into it. And on nights like tonight, I also have to literally shake my couch cushions down for enough scratch to get in, but once I get here, I’m always grateful and I’m always comfortable.

dog hair and cheetos

Now, Bagel Nosh itself is comfort, regardless of who or what they put in it, so it’s already got a leg up. It’s this family-owned, independent deli in the heart of breakfast-loving Santa Monica. Aside from the fact that it’s one of the best places for an actually affordable, fresh breakfast in this town, it’s like eating in your childhood neighbor’s home. The counter is alive with long-time employees that take your order on an order pad, the prices and calculations all memorized as they jot it on a sheet you take to the register at the end. The seating areas are big without being cold–they’ve got carpeting beneath the tables, chairs, and red vinyl booths. It gets packed on the weekends, but somehow, you can always find a seat. The red lamps hang down from the ceiling, and a glass partition etched with their name and logo separates the ordering from the eating. There are huge picture windows along the front and east side, which makes the giant TV in the corner that’s always on during business hours seem diminutive and subtle, and the mirrored wall along the back is classic.

I know this is starting to sound like a Yelp review, but bear with me–I’m almost to my point. Writing (or being unable to do so) can sometimes be downright painful. It can be terrifying. Lonely. Depressing. But a place like Bagel Nosh, filled with people like these, makes all that go away. Now, the Nosh is closed every day by 3 pm, so that means that by the time we get there, we have the place to ourselves, thanks to the fact that owner Randi is part of our group. I love being there at night. It’s quiet and cozy, the hum of creativity thick and pervasive.

Even if I can come up with nothing to write on a given night, I come here to sit amongst my people. To offer myself to the writing universe. To put in the time. To practice. To be in this space.

And guess what?

Apparently, it can work.

I’m up to 1444 original words–all thought of and written tonight–in the past hour. That’s more than I’ve even been able to access in quite some time.  Although none of this means anything to anyone but me, I’m grateful for it. It may not be the most substantive, but there is some friction–even if it’s just a tiny pinky toe’s worth.

A lot more people here are a lot more honest than I thought they’d be. They talk about shitty first drafts and getting mired down, and missing goals. They’re gentle but enthusiastic with themselves and each other. They also accomplish goals, set new ones, and try stuff out, so I know that when it’s my turn in the circle, I’ll be able to be proud of what I’ve done tonight. And the people here will understand and their nods will be genuinely supportive and congratulatory.

Annnnnd now is about the time that I start coming back to face the big, belching, obnoxious SO WHAT. Now that he can see this is coming to an end, he’s come to the table to slap me and poke me and crumple my shit up because…well, so what? There is nothing here that matters or makes the world better.

But you know what? I don’t really care. I’m going to throw my hot coffee in his face and push him down…and let the llama in the taxi spit on him…and so what?


llama so what

5 Crazy Things I Do That Are Normal In the Dog World

26 Mar

Working from home means I get to spend a lot of time with my dogs, which is one of the things I looked forward to most when I started…and so far, I haven’t been disappointed.  Granted, they often require more attention than I’d prefer: someone always needs to go out, or get refereed, or sit on my lap, or fart in my face.  It never fails that I’ll get them all fed, peed out, tucked in for a nap and be tiptoeing back to my computer when one of them  pops her eye open and it’s all over.  Makes me wonder how parents of kids–you know, the human kind–ever manage to stay sane, let alone prevent a household from being condemned and get a hot dinner on the table.

But still, ten times out of ten, my dogs win.  No matter what deadline looms or how much housework glares, I will always take a hand (sometimes both) off the keyboard to lay it on a belly or scratch behind a ear.  I’ll shove over on the couch so someone can breathe hot doggie breath on my cheek.  Why?  I love them.  And one day they will be gone.  One day, I’ll wish for their noses jabbing at my elbow, and they won’t be there.  So while they’re here, they win.  That–or maybe I’m lazy.  Or easily distracted.

Whatever the case, I’m around them pretty much 24/7, and that has exacerbated my pre-disposed crazy dog lady tendencies.  I know I do things that are weird to people who don’t have dogs.  The only people they aren’t weird to are other dog people.  As a way of auditing how in touch with reality I still am, I’ve started a list called “Crazy Things I Do That Are Normal Because I Have Dogs,” and figure that as long as I can still come up with things to add to the list, I’m not totally bonkers.

I’ve got ten on the list and have illustrated only five, but man, I gotta stop for now.  I have tons of other (aka “paying client”) work that I need to get done before they all wake up again.


Shower with the door open:when you have dogs, you shower with the door open
Carry on conversations with poo in my hand:
i talk to people with poo in my hand

Make up nicknames and songs to go with them…and then perform for the dogs:

yes, i sing to my dogs.  don't you?

Stretch out on the dog bed to watch TV:

the dog bed is way better than the couch

Have my superpower in the form of baby gates:
superpower activate--form of...baby gate!

Sarah Leaps Letterpress (?)

3 Mar

As I’ve been trying to find my voice as a writer, one thing I’ve noticed that I like and can do reasonably well is short form, like taglines and stuff.  It makes sense, if I look back on myself through the years.  In high school and college, I was a notorious quote collector.  In my years with ALC, I learned about marketing and discovered my love for it. I suppose it was only a matter of time before I came up with little bite-sized nuggets of my own.  Plus–let’s face it–who wants to read a whole blog?  We’re all much too busy setting our DVRs and trying to figure out Google’s new privacy policy.

So to help us all out, I started boiling the lessons I’ve learned down to one or two-liners (okay, sometimes a third line sneaks in).

Then, I used my rudimentary designs skills to make some of them pretty (hint: black backgrounds always looks classy), like so:
Doing it is hard

Now, I’m doing some market research to see if maybe these bad boys are sellable.  I’m thinking 6″x6″, on letterpress.  They’re not cards.  They’re not posters.  They’re just little squares of stuff.  If you want to see these things go to market, weigh in on the Sarah Leaps Letterpress Facebook page.  No hard feelings if you don’t; paying rent is overrated anyway.  But should there be enough interest, I might figure out how to bring these to market.  I’m not sure how I’ll do that, seeing as how I have absolutely zero cash to front on this, but whatever.  Either way, this little list is alive, so I’ll add more as the journey continues.  But for now, here’s the launch of “What I’ve Learned So Far (in three lines or less).”


  • Doing it will be hard.  Not doing it might be harder.
  • It’s going to fight you.  Fight it back.
  • If you need a break, take one.
  • Read whatever inspires you – every day.
  • Learn things for free.
  • You’ll be terrified in ways you weren’t ready for.  It’ll be okay.
  • Guilt, shame, doubt, and creative drought will be lobbed at you.  Have a mental racket ready and just keep swinging.
  • Step away from the computer and get off your phone.  Stop consuming media long enough every day so your brain can produce its own.  I promise the emails and social media updates will be there when you get back.
  • Do your homework.  It’s possible you’ll find a shortcut, but it’s more likely you’ll just need to work. Incredibly. hard.
  • At some point, your goals will probably feel crazy, unattainable, and maybe even detrimental to your own financial (or mental) well-being.  It’s totally normal.
  • Don’t pad your resume or make up qualifications.  What you’ve accomplished has been enough to get you this far–no need to lie about it.
  • Be willing to explore all opportunities–keep the ones you want, and walk away from the ones that aren’t for you.
  • Enjoy the freedom of being able to work anytime, but don’t work all the time.
  • Have a few different projects going on at the same time.  That way, if one thing isn’t working at the moment, you can work on something else.
  • Have a good handshake.
  • Put visual pep talks, notes, and reminders out for yourself to see every day.
  • Dogs generally make everything better.

Money & Resources

  • The money doesn’t always come.  Be ready for some very lean times.  Think now about what you could cut if you had to.
  • Never pass up an invitation for free food, drinks, or rides…or free anything, really.
  • Money isn’t the only way you can pay someone.
  • You don’t need to pay for PR, business cards, or meeting space.
  • It’s okay to give people a deal, but never sell yourself short.
  • Don’t be afraid to charge what you’re worth.
  • If people really want what you’re selling, they’ll find a way to pay.
  • When times are tough, cut your pay.  Don’t cut your employees’.
  • Take stock of every skill you have–even the seemingly irrelevant ones–then price them out.  You never know what you’ll need to do to keep you afloat.
  • Sometimes, you’ll only take a gig for the paycheck.  Perfectly acceptable.
  • Find ways to make money while you’re sleeping.

Working with others

  • When you find someone who believes in your vision and does something better than you, find a way to bring them onto the team.
  • When you need it and it’s offered, accept help.  And ask for it if it’s not.
  • If they really want to talk to you, people will leave a message.
  • Your parents will probably worry about you, so don’t tell them everything – like how you haven’t eaten a real meal in 3 days.
  • When you find people who are who or where you want to be, spend as much time as you can with them.
  • Always thank people for their help–and if it can be publicly, even better.
  • Share what you learn–it’ll help others and be a reminder to yourself of how far you’ve come.
  • Call bullies out when they’re being mean to you, but keep your response focused and professional.  Never fire back–especially if you’re not face-to-face.
  • Find ways to collaborate with people you like, even if the connection isn’t apparent at first.

So there you have it.  Another little effort to help others (and myself).  If you like what you see, visit that Facebook page (you can feel free to comment here, too, but the Facebook page is really where I’ll be measuring interest).

As Long As You’ve Got Friends, You’re Still in the Game

28 Feb

I got some mail today!

It wasn’t the usual junk and bills; it was a real-life box, with a handwritten address and everything!  When I opened it up, this is what I saw:

Now THIS is a box of cereal!

Now THIS is a box of cereal!

My good college friend Kim had sent it.

My first thought was, “That was truly the sweetest thing I’ve seen in a long time.  I think I’m going to cry.”  Seriously, I am still kind of on the verge of bawling over the thoughtfulness.

My second thought was, “That’s a lot of cereal!  I won’t have to buy any for like 2 months!”

To the average eye, this might just be a cute stunt.  To me, it’s a gift of presence.  Kim and I haven’t seen each other in at least 10 years…maybe more.  We live on opposite coasts and don’t talk often.  And here she is, suddenly at my doorstep.  Her handwriting, her spirit.  She had to go shopping for all of this cereal–or maybe she had it lying around, in which case, maybe she needs to start blogging–and she boxed it all up and sent it off.  It’s a gift people don’t often give or receive much these days.  It’s one of pure thought and love.  It’s an old friend, taking time out of her busy life of being a CFO, wife, and mom to two boys…to follow my humble writings and to give of herself.  It is just so freaking thoughtful.

It was so kind…and more than that–it’s so USEFUL!  I mean, sentiment is all well and good, but man…it takes a true master to blend emotion with PRACTICALITY, yo.  Truth be told, I would have had the same reaction had she boxed up a plastic baggie of Cheerios with the note.  It’s a great bonus that I can actually get some mileage out of this–wow!

This was beyond nice, and really proves ol’ Clarence right: “No man is a failure who has friends.”

And cereal, apparently.

As Long As You’ve Got Cereal, You’re Still in the Game

19 Feb

It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged.  I’ve struggled to compose this “re-entry” post nearly as long.  The easiest way to explain my extended absence is that I just fell into the hole.

It’s part of leaping.

Sometimes, leaping works–the net appears or you have enough trajectory to propel yourself across the canyon on your own–and you think you’re pretty hot stuff.  You’re like, “hey look at me!  I took a huge risk and it paid off!  I’m so self-actualized and gutsy!”

sometimes, leaping works
And then, sometimes–the whole thing goes to hell.  You lose momentum and start plummeting…and that dang net suddenly disappears just when you need it the most, and you plunge into a sinkhole.  At first, you’re like, “whoops, ha ha–clumsy me!  I’ll just find my way outta here…let’s see…I’ll be going now.  Peace out!”  But you can’t.  Every door shrinks away, every window melts before you, and every ladder disintegrates.  It’s then that you start to grasp the situation at hand, but of course, it’s too late.  “Oh shit,” you think, as the light of your hopes, dreams, and fighting spirit gets swallowed up by the darkness.

And that’s what happened to me.

I guess it started in September and it is now February and I’m still stuck.  Not all of me…I mean, I at least pushed my head and hands through long enough to type something.  How lucky this laptop was within reach!

zombie stole a laptop
I really wanted to blog during that time, but I couldn’t do it.  The whole reason I have this blog is so people can see the reality of taking risks, of trying to do your own thing.  It’s not all book deals and puppies.  It is really, really sucky and terrifying sometimes.  And that’s important for any dream-chaser, leaper, entrepreneur, artist, “do-it-my-own-way”-er to hear so they may fortify thyselves!

What started it is that I basically ran out of my cushion money and the glut of well-paying gigs dried up.  The advance from our book is long gone and we probably have another 5 years before we see the pennies roll in through royalties.  At first, it was okay because Bark kept me/us afloat, and I launched a new business, NinjaDog Concepts, to fill in the gap as well.  But tried as I did, it wasn’t enough.  And it still isn’t, truth be told.

Here’s a glimpse at the state of affairs:

  • I’m making probably somewhere around $12k for the year right now.  Did you know that the average author makes just $9k, according to the Author’s Guild bulletin I just read?  So I guess I have that going for me.
  • Between my writing gigs (mostly magazine articles and greeting cards right now) and NinjaDog work, I’m able to cobble together enough for my share of rent every month.  But nothing more…so my expenses like car insurance, phone bill, and food come out of money we make through Bark.  And I can’t even address my credit cards.  I’m not sure when the last time I made a payment on those was.
  • One of my car tires blew in October when I was on a lost dog case.  It wasn’t even dramatic–I pulled away from the curb, and there it crumpled, withered from age and mileage.  The car limped home with the donut (thanks to my brother, who talked us through changing a spare over the phone), and I parked it in my driveway, where it sat until just last weekend, when a friend bought me new tires.  I didn’t have any extra money to get them, so we had been operating as a one-car family.Man, am I tire-d
  • I’ve learned how to do what I call “consume strategically,” which is basically a fancy way of saying “how to eat on no money.” I do things like make the same batch of coffee last for days, accept invitations to places and events that feature free sustenance, and asked for grocery gift cards for the holidays.  We save our “eating out” dollars for business meetings or someone’s celebration.  You’d think with this light eating, I could get rid of my muffintop.  But, no such luck.  Ah, the cruel irony of it all.

Muffintops are mean because they're ugly

So all of this stuff’s gotten me down, man.  I feel like a loser because I can’t make enough money to pay bills, let alone get a haircut.  I feel like a criminal 3 times a day when I send the creditors’ calls to voicemail.  I feel like an idiot because I can’t figure out how to put all of this together in a funny, yet poignant book proposal that resonates with the masses and sends a contract my way.  I feel like a failure because I started off strong and now I’ve totally blown my lead.

But the good news is that I’m still here.  And Kim is too.  And so are our dogs (they’re the only ones whose food and care we don’t compromise).   The other good news is that things ARE happening.  I have definitely had my share of little triumphs over these past months, and they are:

  • I was accepted into the pool of verse writers for Avanti Press.  Now THAT’S a fun job!
  • I’ve had not only my first magazine article published, but my second and third ones published…and I have more in the hopper.  So far, they’re all dog-oriented, and I really don’t want to pigeon-hole myself, but it’s where the opportunities are for now, so I’m gladly taking them.
  • Kim and I have seen an increase in commercial gigs through Bark, which is super exciting.  Our passion is obviously our private clients, but our commercial clients help us make a really big dent in our bills.  Plus, we’ve been lucky to get really good ones so far, like the cover of Cat Daddy, Jackson Galaxy’s new book, due out in May.
  • I’ve been brought on as a resource for a non-profit consulting agency that I worked with in my previous life.  This actually is a good tip, so listen up.  On a particularly scary day when I wasn’t sure if I was going to make rent (which happens periodically), I got an email from a former coworker that made reference to said consulting agency and it reminded me that I had not contacted them to let them know of my freelancing availability.  Wouldn’t you know it that right after I sent them an email with my resume, I got a response that was all, “Wow, what perfect timing–we could really use some extra hands!”  So I got steady gigs with them for a few months at the end of the year, right when all nonprofits beef up their end-of-year giving campaigns.  I haven’t gotten anything lately from them, but I’m grateful to be in their pool.  And I discovered I have a new skill that I’m actually really good at: Quality Assurance.  They give me the websites, apps, or whatever they’ve built, and I go through them and read everything, click every link, and put the whole functionality to the test.  Then I tell them everything that’s wrong.  It’s super intense but super fun.  The point here is: use every contact you have from anywhere.  Tell people what you’re doing, what you’re looking for, and how you can help them.  You just never know when they might be looking for what you’ve got.
  • I also worked a lot of hours for my friend Beth, who has the floral design business.  Her busy holiday season meant lots of prepping and delivering that she was gracious enough to let me do.  That helped me close the gap on my January rent.
  • I launched my own writing website: http://www.sarahsypniewski.com
  • And finally, a couple of our media bits have hit recently.  The local news did a spot on how I use technology in my operations at NinjaDog Concepts, a little show called Career Day included Bark in one of their episodes, and I was a guest on Marketplace Money to talk about how people make decisions when spending money on their pet’s health care.

So yeah…there have been really great things that have happened, and those things are my reassurance, my cheerleaders, my motivation.  They say, “you may not have gotten where you want to get yet, but you will.  You’re headed in the right direction, so quit your cryin’ and get back in there, slugger.”

Also, it’s super important to remember when trying to forge your own path: it’s work, man.  All of these things are really awesome…and often, when they happen, people respond with, “wow, you’re famous now,” or “you’ve finally made it!”

No.  We are not and have not.  Despite these wonderful, great successes that Kim and I experience, we are still hustlers.  We are still struggling to make ends meet.  We are not even close to where we need to be, let alone where we’d like to be.

So we keep working.  And working.  And working.

And that’s why this sinkhole terrifies me so much.  Living a leaper’s life takes a ton of motivation, tireless work, and a gut of steel.  And in that sinkhole, I don’t feel anything like that.  I feel totally defeated.  But more than that, I lose so much ground when I’m in that sinkhole.

Look–we all go through times of self-pity, depression, anxiety, or paralysis.  I went through it during my previous life as well.  But the difference there was, I still got paid.  I still made a living, even if I felt a little blue or if I called in sick or something.  If I call in sick or have a down day now, it impacts everything.

So the pressure is on.

It’s always on.

The ironic thing, of course, is one of the big reasons I left my career back in 2010 was because of the constant pressure I was under there.  This is similar, but different.  And even though I’m still dealing with constant stress, I’m glad I’m here.  I still wouldn’t trade it or go back.  Despite the constant threat of the sinkhole, I am actually quite content.

I guess the point of this post is to let you know that the sinkhole will probably find you too, and I just hope this might help you to be ready.  Be prepared for some really, really hard times.  There’s an amazing quote by Ira Glass that sums it up.  My sister was the first to bring it to my attention quite a few months ago, and I’ve seen it several times since.  I think it’s right on the er–money.

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

Honestly, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to keep fighting.  I’m not sure how much more I have left in me.  I may not be meant to be a writer.  I can’t figure it out.  I can’t find my place yet.  I can’t make a living, which definitely makes me miserable on a certain level.  But on the other hand, I still have this voice that eggs me on: “your place is out there.  Somewhere.  Keep going!”  That’s all well and good, but while I keep going, is it too much to ask for some cereal in the cupboard?  After all, that’s good for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

It's good enough for Seinfeld

It's good enough for Seinfeld

Watch Out, Our Book WILL Sign You

16 Nov

I have all sorts of catching up to do…I don’t know where the last two months have gone.  Actually, I do know: I’ve been waylaid in my own artisty angst.  But that’s another post for another time.  Right now, I have to be a good self-promoter and drop this commercial into your inboxes.

That’s right!  Today’s post is all about my


Yes, it’s true…the book’s been out for almost a month now, and it’s time for our first event!  If you’re in L.A., you should totes come–and bring your dog!

What: Dog Photography For Dummies Book Signing & Mutt Mingle

When: Tuesday, 11/29 6 – 8 pm

Where: Pussy & Pooch Pethouse and Pawbar, 564 S. Main Street, 90013


It’ll be a great event, complete with all of the fun and fancy details Pussy & Pooch events are known for, like gourmet human and doggie treats, custom adult beverages, and lots of doggie socializing for all of L.A.’s most metropolitan mutts.  Kim and I will be on hand to sign our books (you can buy a copy there if you don’t have one), raffle off a bunch of awesome swag, talk about how to use dog photography to help shelter animals, and more.

Obviously, this is a book about dog photography…and it would make a great gift for dog lovers everywhere.  It also is good for small business owners who want to launch or better their biz.  We devote a whole chapter to how we set Bark up and how we’ve become one of LA’s premeire pet photogs in 2 short years (we’ve been on the front page of the Wall Street Journal twice, on TMZ, and more).  Our methods can be applied to any small biz looking to make a splash.

But more than anything, Kim and my biggest wish for the book is that it helps rescuers and advocates everywhere save dogs’ lives.  We have woven a rescue message throughout the book and devote a whole chapter to how to use photography to make a difference in the lives of rescue dogs.

So come on out and join the fun on 11/29!  We would absolutely LOVE to see you.  And if you can’t make it, that’s okay; our book will still find you.
He's got a Sharpie...and he'll getcha

He's got a Sharpie...and he'll getcha

We Have Liftoff: a 9/11 Journey Ten Years Later

10 Sep

*Apologies ahead of time.  This is not a funny cartoony post.  I’m sorry I’m not very entertaining at the moment.  Nonetheless, perhaps someone out there will see themselves in my post–perhaps someone will find solace here.*

The day’s here–I’m on my way to New Jersey to take part in the 9/11 Working Dog Recognition Ceremony.  I’m actually writing to you from the plane (thank you, Southwest Wi-Fi).

I’m finding it really difficult to put into words everything that’s going on in my heart and head.  I am overwhelmed with emotion already.  Kim and I watched some 9/11-anniversary coverage last night.  I was–as always–simultaneously horrified and comforted by the images and stories.  It’s hard to explain, but I have this need to constantly relive it…or bear witness to it…or…something.  And I wasn’t even there, you know?  I was not a victim.  I don’t understand it.

It’s been 10 years since I was at Pier 94 and my heart still feels like it’s breaking for all of those trapped people.  All of the people who tried to help them.  All of the last calls, mayday calls, and sheer desperation.  The panic in their voices.  The refusal of emergency workers and responders to hesitate.  Their dogs who went where they couldn’t.

There are some memories I have that I don’t know are real or not.  I remember the mission switching from rescue to recovery.  But how could I?  I didn’t even get to NYC until October.  It’s things like this that make me feel crazy.  I know this post isn’t even making any sense…but I have to just keep going to try.

It’s all jumbled.  What did I live and what did I see on TV?  What did I actually hear from a real person and what did I read in my archives the New York Post that I hoarded from my hotel?  And how have my dreams and nightmares warped it?

Going to New York to respond to 9/11 was my first visit to that great city and though I’ve been back there so many times over the last decade, every time I go, I still feel it as it felt in those weeks of post-9/11 madness, loss, and resolve.  The grief and comfort compete constantly.

And I wasn’t even there.  I was not there when it happened. I was not assigned to Ground Zero–and never even went there to visit.  Nonetheless, it felt like the whole city–the whole world–was Ground Zero.   We put on our uniforms, we moved through our operations, we took our orders from handwritten memos and posted flyers as policy and procedure was developed on the fly.

It’s all fragmented.  Flashes of stuff.  And even though I can’t put it all together yet in a way that makes sense to anyone outside of my head, it blankets me–always.  I can feel its weight often.  The confusing thing is I’m not sure I want to change it.  It’s been with me for ten years and sometimes it wraps me up and holds me in a certain way.  It’s weird.  Why can’t I put it down?  And why do I kind of not want to if I could?

I can remember the fall coming in–my favorite time to be in a city–taking the subway and walking through the autumn streets to get to my post at the Pier every day.

I will always remember those huge walls–inside and out–full of faces.  Mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, children–all but gone–kept alive by one thin piece of paper posted amongst thousands.

I feel like an imposter, a stranger… like this was someone else’s tragedy but I can’t stop feeling like it was mine.  I cannot resolve that I do not have a right to feel this way but still, I feel it.

During my service, I lived the response 24-7, like everyone else…I did my job.  I served my clients and grieved with them.  And I gave myself over to New York.  I lived the response.  And then I came home.  10 years ago.  But I can’t stop living the response.*

It is for these reasons that I am so sad and so happy and scared and embarrassed and ashamed and proud.  As it’s been for the past 10 years, I don’t know where I belong or where to put my heart when it comes to 9/11.

So I’ll just keep flying until I land…

The pilgrimage begins

Going back ten years later


*to read more about my time in New York in 2001, visit www.tdi-dog.org.  My piece, How The Therapy Dogs Saved Us: Behind the Scenes Healing from 9/11, is on their homepage (under my original poem from 2001)

How to Tell if Your Book is Neato

24 Aug

Well, hey there!  I feel like I’ve been away forever, which is so funny to me.   I’m still in awe of The Experiment.

Let’s see…what have I been up to?  The biggest news is that Kim and I have a fully laid-out version of our book, Dog Photography For Dummies.  Apparently, when our editor, Vicki, told us last month that it was our last chance to make edits, it was only half true.  This month was our last LAST chance.  And I actually believe her.  We were only allowed to make edits that were absolutely necessary (like when we called a Mastiff a Great Dane, after switching a photo but not the description, for example).  It all looks really good, if I do say so myself.  All of us did a bang-up job on it.  Super duper, team!  It’s a pretty neato book, and here’s how I know: despite having spent 7 months with these words and nearly another 5 in the process before that (we’re coming up on the year anniversary of when Wiley contacted us), as I went through our pages, I:

  1. Immediately flipped to all the photos first to see how everyone looked–before I even started reading.  Who cares about the words anyway?  Bohhhhh-ring.  It has pictures!  It’s the coolest canine yearbook ever.  I just hope we can get a lot of pawtographs–I’m pretty sure you don’t need opposable thumbs to sign “K.I.T.” or “LYLAS!”
    Content is boringPictures are awesome
  2. Literally laughed out loud once I actually started reading.  I had forgotten how amazingly clever and quick-witted we are.  Oh, we are so hilarious.  And by “hilarious,” I mean “I think we might’ve been drunk when we wrote a few parts.”  To get the full effect, I read some aloud to Kim.  Indeed.  Yep.  We are definitely funny.  Or drunk.
    At least we make ourselves laugh
    *(does anyone know why WP is cutting off this panel?  I gave up fighting with it after 20 minutes)

  3. Didn’t mark it up with edits–and I was looking for them.  There’s an epidemic spreading across this country, people, and it’s called “I don’t care about know spelling I never learnt grammar either LOL but I still get job’s .  People take there life’s too seriosly.”  Really?  I can overlook most of the daily assaults on the English language in casual settings like Facebook and parties (cuz let’s face it–English DOES kind of ask for it with its impossible rules and sassy mouth), but seeing it in PRINT is just tragic.  It happens all the time…and it never gets easier; I’m always totally shocked and angry.  And then I light the book on fire and throw it across the room.  I really hope I don’t have to set my own book alight.

Bad grammar hurts

So after reading our book in all of its official layout glory with the proper font, colors, and photos and figures in the right places (and mechanical errors silenced), I was pretty stoked.  And then I got nervous.

“What if this doesn’t sell?”

All along, I’ve hedged my bets, which I think is perfectly realistic.  While my dad is already planning visits to his famous author daughter’s Malibu estate, I’m measuring my income in Ramen noodles and fending off the nightmare that this little blip on the radar won’t even make it to the radar.

Did you know Amazon lists over 8 million books?  8 million.   According to some remedial Googling I just did, getting below 10,000 in the ranking (we’re at #400,000 something at the moment) is considered successful.  One of the things we’ll be asking our fans to do is help us achieve that by providing positive reviews on our Amazon listing.  Of course, we want honesty.  You don’t blatantly lie…but don’t worry too much about that; I don’t think you’ll have to.

All I can say is the book is done, and I’m proud of it.  Not only because it’s well-written (at least, I hope it is), but because we managed to create something we think will really help others.  Whether it’s an individual dog guardian, a slew of rescue volunteers, or an aspiring entrepreneur reading through our pages, I really believe this book has the power to add something positive to their lives (as well as their dogs’).  Throughout the book, we do our best to tie it into what matters–the love, celebration, and welfare of dogs.  And in the end, that’s worth way more than an Amazon ranking.

Well, I Didn’t Blow Myself Up

18 Aug

Well…I made it!

I have officially written and blogged for 7 days in a row.

That might not seem like much to you, but this is a major achievement for me.

I think about where I was a week ago…actually, I’ll back farther–like, a month.

I was smack in the middle of a slump.  We had finished our book except for the final edits, a big freelance account was coming to a close, and I just wasn’t sure what I was going to do.  I also had not one iota of desire to write.  And it was paralyzing.

It seemed all I did during my “previous” life was spend hours I didn’t have writing emails that didn’t need to be written…the kind full of narrative and exposition and you know…writing.  Just because I wanted to.  Just because I felt it.  And I’d find inspiration in my daily doings–sitting back in the middle of management meetings to watch my colleagues collaborate with so much heart and smarts or driving home from work in the moody but huggy fog–and I’d just have to write.

I left my life behind because in my soul, I just felt like I was a writer.

And immediately, things took off.  I was rockin and rollin right outta the gate, and I was feeling pretty dang pleased with myself.  And then somewhere around mid-June, it just started fizzling out a little and no matter what I did to try to fan that little flamelette, nothing was catching.  For a few weeks, I was worried, but okay.  After a month of it, I was consciously starting to ignore the depression that was tap-tap-tapping at my window.

I managed to push out the Freelance Hustle at the end of June, and then that was it.  I went into a dark hole of not having anything to write about or say and not knowing why.  And then I started doubting everything and trying to make myself as small as possible on the universal radar.  I even dissed Coacherly the Great because of a scheduling snafu that I couldn’t recover from.  We had arranged a session after a couple of tries, but a vet appointment for one of the tiny snarling beasts ran long on the day we were finally supposed to talk, and I felt so ashamed of not being able to keep a simple appointment, that I just disappeared.  When I’m that low, I can’t bear to face anyone, even after tiny hiccups that aren’t my fault.  I just can’t bring myself to lay my failure at anyone’s feet.

Luckily, Coacherly the Great is a talented and encouraging man.  He didn’t let me get away.  He used his powers of email to blast through my feeble wall, and caught me at a good time.

I was in a weeklong Grantsmanship Center training to learn how to write grants, and it had raised my mood significantly.  Going to class every day for 5 days was just what I needed.  I got to be around other people (something that’s distinctly missing from home-based offices, for better or worse), got to use my brain and collaborate and try new things and feel productive and like I could really do something with this new skill.  I felt alive again!  So when I got Andrew’s email, I responded and knew I would keep the appointment he invited me to try again for.  And well, you all know what happened during that.

The biggest thing that stuck with me from that session is the theory he had around why I wasn’t writing.  Or, why I wasn’t feeling like I had anything to write about, after I had totally changed my life to make room for it.

He said that sometimes, our internal saboteurs are crafty mothers, and they have a real way of messing us when we’re trying to just git er dun, you know?  It’s like the universe is testing us to see if we REALLY want what we say we do.  It’s just a big chess game, is all it is.  Like, I took the leap to leave my job and my immediate reward of a book contract kept me busy for 9 months (check), but I haven’t written much of my own stuff (brought my queen out too early).  So now that I have the time, the tricky, doubting devils inside have made me believe I have nothing to say (dang–took my queen).  Just to eff with me.  Just to see how badly I want this.  Well, I wanted it (still have my rook–didn’t see it there, didya?).

So I embarked on that Experiment.  And now that I’m at the end of it, here are my conclusions:


  • I can’t believe how fast it went
  • I will miss doing this every day–I don’t want this to end
  • I feel like I know a lot more about who I am as a writer
  • I actually believe that I am a writer–it’s not just an affirmation written across the dry erase board in my office

And most of all, my hypothesis was proven.  I thought 7 days would be long enough to create enough momentum to form a habit.  And it totally did.  And that–more than anything else that happened this week–is what means the most.  Because it means that even though I didn’t feel like I did at the time, I actually had faith in myself.  I couldn’t see it or feel it, but I actually was willing to believe I could write for 7 days.  And then I did.  This week was the vision I’ve had of myself–excusing myself to my office on a schedule to write, feeling articulate, having people to write to, staying up late, getting up early…riding the wave.

I’m so tired…but so, so happy.  I managed to shake the cobwebs out and create some energy here (but not now. Now, I have to sleep), and I’m so grateful and excited.

The only question now is, what’s next?

I had a request today to keep blogging every day.  I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep that pace up, but I will definitely be doing it a lot more now.  It feels like a lifestyle now as opposed to something on a to do list.  And I love it.  So who knows what’s next?  Anything’s possible–so long as I continue to LEAP.


How about you guys?  Any of you fight with yourself?  How do you beat your saboteurs?  I hope you will share your stories of success or trade ideas here.  We’re all in this together.


Well, I didn't blow myself up





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