Great Ideas

Four Degrees of Separation

Have you watched the 1993 movie Six Degrees of Separation? It's a brilliant film that explores the notion that we are all connected by six or fewer human links. It features wonderful performances by Will Smith, Stockard Channing, and Donald Sutherland and is set in New York City. 

It's funny, dramatic, and surprising. If you've not seen the movie, please watch it soon.

A few years after Six Degrees of Separation came out, I found myself in a book store in Taos, New Mexico. I'm not usually a chatty person, but I enjoyed a long discussion with the shop's owner, Lucile.  She connected me to an artist I admire, Georgia O'Keefe

Here's a short piece I wrote after meeting Lucile.

Four Degrees of Separation

Artist Georgia O’Keefe first visited New Mexico in 1917. She returned in 1929 for four months during the summer. She stayed in the Taos area at the home of Mabel Dodge Luhan’s Pink House, a small adobe guesthouse across a field from Luhan’s main residence. O’Keeffe also rented a tiny studio next to a stream to interpret and paint the wild and wonderful landscape. It was during this trip she visited Ghost Ranch in Abiqui for the first time.  Eleven years later she bought her now famous property with its breathtaking view of the Cerro Pedernal (Spanish for flint hill).

Taos resident Mabel Dodge Luhan was a former easterner, wealthy socialite, and arts patron. She was celebrated for the avant-garde and intellectual mix of people she hosted at her sprawling hacienda she called Los Gallos (the roosters). Aside from O’Keeffe, a few of her famous house guests included writer D. H. Lawrence, photographer Ansel Adams, Psychologist Carl Jung, and actress Greta Garbo. After moving to Taos, Mabel divorced Maurice, her third husband, and married Tony Luhan, a tall, handsome, and influential member of the Taos Pueblo.

Robert, a native-born Taos resident, was a driver for both Mabel Dodge Luhan and Tony Luhan in the late 1940s. Robert began driving for them when he was only fourteen years old, as licenses were not required. One day, while Robert was driving Mabel, she pointed to a piece of property adjacent and across the street from her main house and asked Robert what she should do with the property. Robert said it that there was an excellent spot for a house toward the back of the property. Mabel later gave the property to Robert, or rather to Robert’s father with the stipulation it be given to Robert when he came of legal age. Robert built his dream house on the property many years later for he and his wife Lucile. They sold their previous home to the famous Taos artist R. C. Gorman.

Lucile was the owner of a used bookstore one block off the plaza in downtown Taos. She had operated this small and overstuffed book gallery, as she called it, for over 25 years. Lucile had lived in Taos since her family moved there when she was four years old. She knew all the local writers and credited her loyal customers for enabling her to stay open through many building owners who imposed daunting rent hikes.

I met Lucile on a hot summer day in July 2005 while attending the Taos Writer’s Workshop. I was looking for a book about Roswell, New Mexico, and left with two books and an interesting story.

Four degrees of separation between Georgia O’Keeffe and me.


Mini-Misadventure - Fun with Words

Here's the opening to a story I'm working on. What do you think? Hint: It's related to yesterday's post...

Spaz Romano’s Sugar Shack

I was loading my identical-twin Pomeranians BeeBop (Bee and Bop) into my car when my neighbor, Jimena, a police captain, flagged me down and rushed to my car.

She touched my wrist with her lime-green painted fingernails and gazed up at me. Her cheeks were flushed and pink. “Thank you.”

I’d seen this expression before on others. “They must’ve worked.”

“Don’t understand how or why, but yes. I’ve not felt this good in years.”

I tapped the window to quiet BeeBop, who were jumping up and down in my driver’s seat. “They love the Arboretum.”

Jimena flipped her long, tussled hair.  “I won’t keep you. Just wanted to tell you how grateful we are, especially after I ransacked your office, put a gun to your head, and hauled you down to the station.” She giggled. “I owe you one, Spaz.”

“No problem," I said. "It ended up being a fun afternoon. Never been suspected of manslaughter before.” I waived to Jimena’s husband, who was watching us from the window.

I leaned into her and winked. “Let me know when you need a refill.”


You Are Amazing Even You're Off Course Today

I thought I would end the week on a high note and with a call for self-forgiveness as a vehicle for refocusing on generating the life and work you desire.

You are amazing.

I know this! If you and I enjoyed a chat over foaming lattes, I am sure that your greatness would shine bright and I would find your hopes and dreams inspiring. Everyone I meet possesses clear and special talents.* I love to discover the source of a person’s passions and am fascinated by our diverse natures.

Every night on the TV, we see people at their best, but more often, they are at their worst (crime shows, reality TV, droning cable news).

If everyone has the potential for amazingness, what’s going on?

I think that stress and the dizzying circumstances of our lives can push us off course. 

Especially. Right. Now.

2020 has been one of those years when many of us are being challenged in new and uncomfortable ways. But we still have dreams and vision and goals, too.

We know this is not how things ought to be. We know that we have something greater and more compelling to offer the world. Even so, we might get farther off course with each mismatched turn.

You are amazing even if you're off course today.

You have the potential to contribute to others and live a wonderful and fulfilling life. You can get back on track. You can flap your butterfly wings fast and furious, manifesting joy and wonder along the way. You can ooze exuberance and become flexibly strong, like a tall Sequoia tree swaying in the wind. An awesome force of nature.

What’s your goal? Do you need an adjustment? Is there a new temporary goal that you should consider?

You can start right now. Define – Answer – Act – Use that energy to repeat.

  • What can I do in the next 12 hours to get unstuck? (Do one big or five tiny things then rejoice.)
  • Which is more powerful – physical or mental barriers? (Hint: it’s likely mental – obliterate the barriers by taking on a new perspective.)
  • What two things can I do for the next five days to get back on track?

Isn’t it more complex than this? Yes, of course it is, but if you act like it isn’t – guess what? It will become simpler.

We all get off course sometimes and that does not make us any less amazing.

And if you're not ready to get back to it, then you should rest. Reflect on a temporary way forward that you can get excited about and, when you're ready, start flapping. 

* I know some of you are thinking that this is not true. Not everyone is amazing. There are evil and thoughtless and manipulative people in this world. Sure, OK. But I choose to default to the belief that everyone I meet is amazing until and unless they prove otherwise. 


UNDOing so I Have More Time and Space for Adventure.

It doesn't seem possible, but after a full week of aggressively unsubscribing and unfollowing, there's still so much more I can do. Today I unsubscribed from another dozen e-newsletters. And I'm unfollowing on FB and IG - at least 10 per day.
 
It's AWESOME.
 
Twitter is another matter, would love to unfollow 1/2 or more of the 4,000 I follow, but it seems like a lot of work to find the ones I'd let go. Ideas or hacks welcome. I know, I could just shut Twitter off. Might do...I keep Twitter primarily to support others, I get no real joy or value from it.
 
Related but different - I'm also discarding and/or donating items. Silly stuff, like a garbage bag full of shipping peanuts. Why was I keeping these wormy magnetic things? And I have stupid stuff - like cases for phones and keyboards I no longer own. 
 
I'll tackle the books another time and tell you about it. That could be super painful but needs to happen. It's like staring at hundreds of balls of yarn that you know you'll never turn into scarves. I have some yarn, too. 
 
I'm not becoming a minimalist. I'm a less-crap-in-my-way-ist. How will I concoct new misadventures if I'm checking my email every twelve seconds? I'd be a piss-poor attempt if I did.

When to Sunset Goals and When to Expand Them

When should you let a goal go_

Last week, I asked my LinkedIn and Facebook connections to answer the following question:

When do you know (what are the signs) that a long-held life or career goal is obsolete (no longer relevant or possible or desired) and may, in-fact be what's holding you back?

Confession: While my intent was to get a variety of perspectives so that I could share them with you, I was also on a mission to understand this for myself because I'm at a crossroad in my career and life.

The responses were thought-provoking! Here are a few key themes:

  • Does the goal/project/desired outcome energize or drain you? If drain and if you find yourself resisting doing the work that supports the goal, it might be time to question its relevance.
  • The energy shifts – what people pull into or push away from changes (think working from home post-covid).
  • When your purpose shifts and a higher calling reveals itself to you.
  • When I get an even bigger idea!
  • Life is trial and error. We try a lot of approaches before we find what works best. When something is working, we might need to let other, less aligned goals go.
  • Sometimes after doing something for a while, you may feel like you’re done and ready to move on.
  • Sometimes stuff happens to force us to move on and create new goals – work changes, health changes, family changes.
  • We realize the reason we set a goal was hollow – based on what we thought we should do versus what we really wanted to do.
  • When we realize that the time or opportunity window has closed, or that we’ve not demonstrated real/true/visible/tangible commitment for completing the goal

That's a meaty list of considerations and I'm thankful for the input I received. Which of these resonate for you?

I’ve decided to put everything I’m currently working toward through the energy question:

Does thinking about it or working on it drain or energize me?

It’s a tough one because, if I’m honest, over half of my current goals will fail this test. I shouldn't say fail, because that's not accurate. Most would end up in the column headed, DRAINS ME.

And then if use some of these other considerations, I should get a pretty good idea of the goals I should sunset and which I should expand.

Such a useful tool!  And important work if we want to live a more misadventurous life, don’t you agree?


The Creativity and Distractions - Can they Co-exist or are We all Doomed?

Untitled design

I've been thinking about the act of creation and the dilemma we face because we need to unplug to create.

Some of you might argue with this point and say that you can create while your email pings, cellphone vibrates with a new text, or you overhear eavesdrop on (we're all secretly voyeurs, don't you agree) several conversations.

Maybe...but not likely...and we could be creating at a much deeper level if we focused.

My email just pinged. I went to look, deleted the new message and now I am back. It is taking me a few moments to get back into what I was writing for this post. Sip of coffee might help.

… We need to unplug to create. I know this to be true for my writing. My best stuff flows when I shut down all outside influences for at least four hours. This is tough a challenge impossible with all the plugged-in things we have managing our lives (it's like they're in charge, isn't it?). Add to this the warm-blooded people and pets who seek our attention.

And then there are bodily functions, thirst, temperature, and other physical interruptions that pop up.

My writing was just halted by thoughts of being cold. I couldn't decide whether to turn the heat (no, because it will be hot later) or put on a fleece pullover. Or perhaps I should get on the WaterRower and generate heat. That seems like a lot of work.

Creation demands our undivided attention. And yet, so many of us find this a hard gift to give ourselves. Even the little red squiggly line that pops under misspelled words can disrupt our thinking.

Another ping. Should I look? Heck, I've already diverted my attention, might as well look. Two messages, deleted them both.

Where was I? Still cold and, oh yes, creativity.

Perhaps instead of a sensory deprivation tank, we need a disruption-free module somewhere in our home or office. We could remodel an Airstream Bambi and make it a safe zone. Or get one of those new office sheds. But the key would be to NOT bring cellphones, email, phones, or other potential distracters into the module. Or if a tighter space would be more practical, we could repurpose an abandoned phone booth (aren't they all?), paint it black and use a barstool sit on and the little shelve for your pad for laptop. Like a tiny house craze for offices!

Another ping. It’s OK, I'm still distracted because I'm shivering and haven't put on another layer. Why? My fleece pullover is in the other room and I don't want to get distracted. Wait, this email is GOOD – the REI summer sale starts today.

When I think about great writers – Hemingway, Steinbeck, other dead guys – I imagine they went to secluded places where they could write undisturbed. I've been to Hemingway’s home in Key West and, other than the genetically mutated extra-toed cats, it seems like a place that would have allowed him to focus while writing.

I am now distracted by my own mental interruption. I can’t help but wonder why there are BOTH too many wild chickens and too many street cats in Key West. It seems as though one would take care of the other and they would just have too many freaking fat cats. Having an extra toe means having an extra claw, too. Doesn't it? Not sure, but if so, they'd have one more weapon against the chickens. Will google.

But this has nothing to do with creativity.

The heater just kicked on, which tells me that I was not being a sissy, it was cold in here (we have the thermostat set at 67, so it must be colder than this).

I'm trying to think back to the last time I was able to create in a –

Another ping. It’s my daily Publisher’s Lunch email. I love seeing all the deals agents get for their clients...who write and FINISH books. How is it that some are so prolific? Do they not have a life or any friends? Or Twitter?

I am trying to think back to the last time I was able to shut out disruptions. It's been a while. I've read about famous writers who said that they took years to write a book. This seems like a long time, but maybe this is because it takes that long to string together bits of uninterrupted writing time.

an hour here

25 minutes there

two hours last week

etcetera

I am distracted by the fact that this is likely the first time I've ever typed out the word etcetera in a sentence. It looks strange. We get so used to abbreviations.

The heater is still going, which tells me that it was VERY cold in my office. No wonder I was having a hard time thinking. Jeezze.

What is the solution to this conundrum fight never-ending bloody battle? How can we create works of beauty within the ugly mess that is our everyday lives?

There is no magic pill. Not legal, anyway, and drugs are never rarely the answer. We need to embody personal accountability (there's a sexy phrase, said no one ever). We need to do the best we can to reduce distractions. Turn all pings off, wear a diaper (kidding), dress comfortably, go for a pre-thinking walks, pet the cats and then lock them in another room, and then fill up a large mug of coffee and create.


Build a Bolder Mindset and Re-Think Misadventure

Time to re-think misadventureIf you look at the dictionary definition of misadventure, you might think they're something to be avoided at all costs.

We should avoid driving off a cliff.

We should avoid ingesting poisonous plants.

We should avoid jumping into a pit full of hungry tigers.

Some of the more common words used to describe misadventures include mishap and misfortune. Even tragedy. And misadventures can be these things and often are. But let's talk perspective and scale.

Common mindset based on what we often learn about misadventures: Misadventure = something to avoid.

Consider another, bolder mindset about misadventures: Misadventure = opportunity to live full out and have a more vivid experience.

But how do we avoid driving off a cliff but welcome trying driving with no destination in mind or map? How do we avoid eating a deadly berry but welcome experimenting with new foods?

Misadventure as opportunity is a mindset that nudges our every day habits closer to the edge of our comfort zone. Eventually, misadventure as opportunity is a mindset that routinely takes us out of our comfort zones, but not irresponsibly (like jumping in a pit of tigers).

This week: Reflect on what misadventure as opportunity might mean for you. It's different for each of us, because our comfort zones are at different places.

For me, nudging or blasting through my comfort zone could mean:

  • Being really open and nurturing, spending time in this way.
  • Transcending what I think I'm capable of physically.
  • Engaging in a new enterprise that requires strong teamwork and co-leadership to succeed.
  • Cooking something new from scratch.
  • Taking a trip with no agenda or plan.

Yes, I'm a recovering control freak. I'm currently cooking up potential misadventures for all of these types of experiences. What might your list look like? And if you embraced your list, how might this impact your work or life? I think the more we nudge or blast past our comfort zones, the more interesting and fulfilling our live will feel.


Break Apart to Surge Forward

Untitled design (8) copyIn Anthony Brandt's TEDxHouston talk, he shared how creative endeavors involve bending, breaking, and/or blending. If you're interested in creativity, I recommend you listed to Anthony's full talk. 

This weekend, I'm contemplating the breaking apart part. Knowing some of my habits and assumptions are fairly ingrained, perhaps breaking some of them are in order. 

Like the spider plant pictured here, we can become root-bound and stuck. Stuck in our thinking and ways and stuck with beliefs that no longer serve us. Still alive but not growing. The antidote for the spider plant, and perhaps us, is to clear away some of the hardened roots and reimagine a freer way to exist. This task involves some risk.

The planting exercise was one of my weekend mini-misadventures, but it's also a pretty good metaphor for what we all can try to make leaps forward in progress.


When We're Relentless

Hell bent. Obsessed. Dedicated. Driven2. Fullsizeoutput_85d

I admire those who simply MUST do X (and X is a good or decent thing) and ensure they do X even when barriers make doing X hard or near impossible. Case in point. David Sedaris' commitment (obsession) with racking up huge numbers of steps  on his Fitbit.

And by huge, I've learned that Sedaris routinely gets thirty thousand, forthy thousand, even sixty thousand steps in a day. He's even walked 20 miles in one day. And he loves beating the total daily step numbers of his Fibit pals. 

I first heard about his walking habit a few years ago in a New Yorker story. Then Bill and I saw Sedaris perform and he talked about it there. While getting him to sign a book, I told him I also used a Fitbit. He signed it accordingly (see pic).

That was when Sedaris could walk through his neighborhood in Normandy (or wherever he was). Then the covid crisis occurred. This recent story from the NYT shares how David got his steps in while being home-bound and restricted in NYC. At first, he walked around his apartment for hours each day. Then, when it was allowed, he started walking the New York City streets while wearing a mask.

That's dedication! That's grit! It might be a few other things, but I admire his resolve.

But this isn't a story about steps; it's about discovering something that is important enough that we become unstoppable. What would you put in that category and how might you like the targets of your grit and determination to change?

If you made one small change in the right direction, I bet it would make a big difference. Like the Butterfly Effect. 

For me, I need to get a more assertive hold on my various health issues. I have an appointment with my oncologist in a few hours and it's time to be decisive. I've been dinking around the corners and welcoming delays and inaction (some of it covid related, sure). But this is something that is keeping me zoned out and inactive. Barriers be damned. I'm ready to get this surgery over with and re-health back up to whatever my new normal can be. I've got some projects waiting for my focus and concentration (which is low right now).

Is there something that you could recommit to that would help put things on a clearer track forward


Good Tips from a Serial Entrepreneur about Dealing with Disruption

I attended a Startup Advantage zoom session yesterday that offered a few interesting tips. 

The talk was called, Get Uncomfortable: A Mindset for Innovation and Disruption. It was lead by Randall Stevens, CEO of AVAIL and co-owner of two large coworking spaces.

He related his ideas to a large disruption we're all living through right now: covid-19 and its reverberating impacts. Here are the key points:

Stop, slow down, or change what you can and should. This means that, even if decisions are difficult, we need to adjust some things. And as leaders, entrepreneurs, and community members, it's our responsibility to have eyes wide open and act accordingly.

Tell a new story. You might have a product, service, or skills that could help people and organizations right now - especially right now. Think Zoom. Think NTI technologies. Think grocery delivery services. But to add value and operationalize this capability, we need to tell a new story so that potential users or customers, who might not be thinking this is something they need or could trust, see the potential for how it might add value to their work or life.

Create features FOR the moment. Any disruption - whether broad like covid or specific to one location or industry - calls for some things to stop and new things to begin. What are the services, messages, tools, or features that would best serve the moment? I decided to start this blog at this time partly with this in mind. That people might need suggestions and encouragement for how to best enjoy their lives and careers during this major disruption. How to have fun in a fog kind of thing.

Meet your "customers" where they're at NOW. Things have changed. Needs have changed. Bank accounts have changed. The structure of family life has changed. Recreation has changed. Goals and aspirations may have changed. Don't expect people or organizations to restart right where they were in January. Start thinking about how to best help and serve them based on their current reality.

This is not rocket science, but it is helpful to think about at this time. I'm going to use these suggestions to assess how best to ensure the success of my writing, the Lexington Writer's Room, and my other endeavors. I hope you will, too!