Archive for the ‘Work and Life Hacks’ Category


new magician,
beware of wishes:
for they become living beings,
awaiting your coaxing touch.

Beware the ease with which
they fall into your unsuspecting arms
in basketless apple-bushels.

Beware the icy smoothness
with which they slip into your life
and snap the tense winter of waiting.

Beware that moment
when you look up and see
that your dream has come back to you,

panting at your door,
loyal to your summoning.

you are its master.
Invite it in
and let it lick from your plate.

In the night as you sleep,
it will call its friends,
whose faces
you have not yet imagined.

Close your eyes
and dream effortlessly.
Learn and possess this magic of yearning.

Let your wish-seeds multiply
and their granting
be the least of your worries—

for our dreams seek us
even more than we seek them.
– Sarah Noack 2008




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(This was the first place Mother’s Day essay contest winner in Austin Parent Wise Magazine, May 2010). http://www.parentwiseaustin.com/Archive/2010-05/Geisha

I am having a bad morning after an even worse night.

My daughter, whom I care for alone and drive to daycare alone every day, is having a tantrum and screaming so loudly the neighbors can hear. The neighbors I never invite over, because I don’t want them to see how empty my house is, how I can’t afford to buy a steamer and paint to cover the ugly wallpaper my daughter compulsively rips off, how collection agents call me every few hours and leave angry-sounding messages on my machine. I am alone in this chaotic mess my life has become, because I am a single, alone mom of a restless four-year-old, working overtime to keep us alive.

I am ashamed. Of all these secrets. 

But let’s put all that aside for a moment—because I am going to work.

When I drop off my daughter at daycare, I return to the car and drive the 20 minutes back to my job at a local spa, where I work as a front desk receptionist. When I step out of the car, I am a different person. I have applied a coat of fairy dust to my ruffled feathers. I have put on my smile. I have perfectly tied my imaginary kimono and tucked my obi into place. I am ready to serve. 

Everything is clean, pristine here. The lighting is perfect. I am suddenly someone else. Someone who is happy all the time, who is gracious and fluid, who creates beauty.

When I answer the phone, I say, “How may I serve you?” When asked how my day is going, I smile and say “Excellent, and yours?” When a plumpish 60-year-old guest comes out of her facial appointment, I look at her as if she were the only person alive on earth—as if she is my best friend. “Wow,” I tell her. “You’re glowing!” And she is. 

The skincare therapist is busy cleaning her station, so I offer to do the guest’s makeup—that’s part of my job. Slightly nervous, as I’m still new at this, I assess her face and pray to God, Krishna, the Virgin Mary, all the Muses and Kevin Aucoin: please let me show her she’s beautiful. And she is.

She is a talker, so it’s a little tricky to work on her. Her fine lines (which I will never in a million years refer to) pose a challenge as well: makeup tends to collect in them if not applied carefully. I explain to her what the primer does and how it is enriched with seaweed extract that will hydrate her skin, create a base for the orchid-extract-fortified foundation to adhere to. I ask her what look she usually likes. Peachy, sun-kissed; shiny lip gloss, no foundation, bronzer. I can see that she’s outgrown this look. I don’t tell her this. I’m thinking she could do something a little more glam, more regal. I ask her if she’s with me on that. And she is.

I am going to give her a new look today. Her face, only more stunning. I can see that her dark eyes have a wonderful Egyptian look. I explain to her after applying powder and concealer, that I’m going to use this gold eyeshadow with a little olive green in the corners, to make her eyes stand out and look glamorous. I use lash-lengthening mascara, smoky umber smudge pencil along her lids, and a very subtle cream blush in a bronze hue. I finish that up with a subtle look on the lips: I want her eyes to do all the talking. Just a little lip gloss in a sheer rusty hue is all she needs. The shimmery colors help add a glow that smooths fine lines, but the colors are stately and do not pretend to be teenaged and foolish. She is curious about every step as we go—what is this for? Can you write it down for me? She tells me about her granddaughter’s soccer tournament, her renovations on her deck, and I listen and comment approvingly. It is easy to win people over when you listen and care. It helps make sales as well, but it’s not about selling to me anymore. Sure, I need to make more than the pathetic $8 an hour I’m making here. Sure, I need your commissions. But I am not fishing. I am acting. I am forgetting my pain by creating joy in others. And I am believing. When I show the woman the mirror, I ask if she is happy. And she is.

I know I will go home tonight to an empty house, an empty refrigerator, a crying child who is ready to finally unleash her pent-up aggression on me and only me. I will hear the phone ring and know it’s about a bill. I won’t answer it. I will drive to Taco Bell and sit in front of the cold blue flourescent light of the drive-thru, and order some .89 cent bean burritos fresco-style, because I’m worried we’re not getting enough vegetables anymore. I will sleep alone on the couch or put my daughter in bed with my ex in the middle of the night, and take over her bed—which is already drowning in Care Bears. I will sit in front of my computer because I’m too tired to clean the mess in front of me, and dream. Converse. Plead. Write poetry. Bleed. Try to remember what it is like to have real flesh-and-blood friends around me, to be held, to be talked to with a live human voice. To live in a house where I feel myself spread out like butter, that I am proud to inhabit and maintain. To live in beauty, feeling my power and my tribe of friends encircle me snugly like a hug. To give gifts freely in abundance, and feel that the ground under my feet is my own.

But until then, I struggle. I know I will get to this place of peace—one scraped handful of bricks at a time. Until then, I have this discipline, this practice to help me imagine. For the space of today’s work, I am creating luxury and graciousness. And as easy as it’s become to put aside my problems in the morning, it seems to get harder and harder to put away that grace at the end of the day. Sometimes I find my kimono is still tied, my obi still fastened, my hair still lacquered into place as I set down my daughter’s homely Taco Bell burrito on a plate, discussing the nutritional benefits of beans and tomato salsa.

And I wonder if this practice can become a calling. If somehow, this mood of service is sinking into my bones. If I am learning that through pleasing others, through transforming them and helping them see their own inner beauty through new eyes, I am doing the same somehow to myself.

And I am.

© Sarah Noack 2007

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Is it just me, or is everything just getting too damn small?

Today I accidentally washed my iPod Shuffle in the laundry (it was attached to my gym shirt), and then knocked a 2GB memory strip into the AC floor vent as I was trying to back up my hard drive. Argh! Even though I’m kind of a nano-human at 5’1″, I’ve decided I’ve had it with small.

I’ve had it with digging into my purse to find cell phones that mimic the contours of a credit card. I’ve had it with keychains overflowing with assorted electronic thingies. I’ve had it with thingies that clip onto your ears or clothes like inconspicuous parasitic insects, sucking assorted waves and bytes out of thin air. And I’ve definitely had it with shoving my entire life on little thingies the size of boogers.

I’m claustrophobic. I used to have freak attacks in elevators when I was a kid. I hated the last two months of pregnancy because I felt so squished and crowded out. So when I think about my tax returns and design files bumping up against ultrasounds of Jeni, complex applications, and MP3’s of Madonna and Meatloaf, I feel deeply anxious for them. I wonder how such a motley crew (sorry, back to the M artists…) of data can possibly stand being squished nuts-against-butts onto something that could fall into a floor crack.

I understand that big isn’t what I want either. I am really happy that computers don’t take up a whole room anymore. I thank God for laptops, and do not want to revisit my stepfather’s old cell phone from 1991, which was about the size of a small gerbil cage. But at least, back in those days, everything had a special place and device. It wasn’t all just DATA that fit on one do-it-all thingamajig. There was uniqueness in the world.

Somehow, it just feels wrong to have my friend’s cherished songs live alongside my demo invoices and font “read-me’s.” Shouldn’t they have a special place where they can bask in their specialness? A place that is easily found, easy to notice, an album I can hold in my hand, smell, touch and lovingly re-read the liner notes while doing absolutely nothing else but relaxing? And what about poems and love letters I’ve collected over the years? Shouldn’t they be stashed away in a silk-lined box under my bed… the kind that has a real key, not an encrypted password? And what about all these pictures of Jeni? I can’t think of the last time I printed them out and glued them in an album. They’re all just backed up on more and more little sticks of data, data, data… little 0’s and 1’s I can’t even see, like some kind of exotic digital alpha-bits cereal all jumbled into a heap that somehow points to beauty in its various forms. Looking at all this data… I half believe the idea that life could begin from a pile of gases exploding out of nothingness. Everything feels so random. It’s up to me to make sense of all this data, all these bits and bytes of my life, heart and soul stored onto various inconsequential lumps of plastic the size of tiddlywinks.

I wonder sometimes if those little flyers the religious fanatics used to throw on my doorstep—you know, “The End Days are Near… Don’t Accept the Number of the Beast on your Hand,” are coming true. Maybe we really will start getting barcodes and data chips embedded into our skin, because there is no more “nano” left to go without going within our very cells. It creeps me out. I don’t want nano. I want “manageable, function-specific macro.” I want a device that plays music and a device that watches movies. I want to be disciplined to do one thing at a time, to enjoy each thing for what it is, to not start mixing up all these bits and bytes inside my brain. I want to experience the integrity of a moment, a song, a picture as something solitary and unique—not a “file type” among many others, all squashed up into the same crowded bedroom like transients in an Amsterdam youth hostel.

What’s particularly interesting is that the more “nano” electronic devices get, the more “macro” we get… our meals, our bodies, our cars, TV’s, businesses. It’s kind of disgusting. I feel like the two are directly proportionate. Do we really need to eat 20 ounces of steak? (I don’t need to eat any, but theoretically). Do people really need to drive Hummers if they aren’t in active military service? Do three national banks and one coffee place need to own the entire share of these markets? Do we need to drive everywhere? Here in my town, the county planners didn’t even bother to build sidewalks in the main commercial areas. It’s ironic how, to me, moving to a city, my life will be, in so many ways, less “macro,” and more “microcosmically conscious.” I will be without a car, I will be able to compost and buy fresh fruits more easily, I will have sidewalks to walk on and resources for living soulfully. I won’t have to go to big chains for everything like I do here. Cities are becoming the place where it’s possible to live an organically empowered life.

One of these days, we’re going to be so disproportionate in our mini/maxi tendencies that we’re going to lose all our ipod shuffle extra-minis and memory microchips in the folds of our burgeoning sedentary flesh, while consuming whale-sized burgers in front of TV’s that take up entire rooms. We’re going to have such big needs for space, despite all the downsizing we seem to be doing, that we’re going to have to send half the human race into outer space just to survive.

I have only one thing to say about this:


© Sarah Noack 2008

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(Well, that’s what the sign said at least.)

I have an undercover job that leads me in strange places. Today, it was King’s Dominion amusement park down in Richmond. I wish I could have brought my daughter with me—but it was too expensive now that she’s three, so I used the opportunity of a free park pass to force myself to have fun in ways that bookish, nerdy Virgoes like me rarely seek out. 

I have to confess. I am a roller coaster virgin. OK, so I once rode the kiddie one with Jeni. That doesn’t count. I’m also a bit of a voyeur. I watch them. I sit in the stands and stare as people scream. I envy them. I wish my delicate nervous system could tolerate that level of stimulation.

When I say “delicate nervous system,” we’re talking “tested for autistic spectrum” delicate. When I was very little, “overstimulation” to me meant things like, um, someone saying “hi” to me. The feeling of sand on my feet (which made me cry the first time I felt it). Hearing Mozart and feeling my heart break while sitting in my high chair, or seeing an abstract expressionist painting in a museum that threatened to invade my tiny retinas with aggressive black splashes. We’re talking “afraid to go to sleep because I had nightmares,” “doesn’t play with other children,” “sits in the corner with her hands over her ears” delicate. I worried people. A lot. I learned to claim the overwhelming sea of my sensory universe bit by bit, gradually toughening my skin with continued exposure and a growing dark comic sensibility. I learned that if I played the clown, people would cut me some slack, allow me some eccentricity. I could laugh off my pain.

So, my only couple of experiences with carnival rides other than the merry-go-round have been terrifying. Once when I was about eight, I decided I’d try to go on one of those circular bobsled rides at the fair. It didn’t look that scary. I ended up practically having a seizure, and my father having to stop the entire ride to let me off. I was shaking and traumatized for the rest of the day. I only dared revisit the carnival ride thing in high school, once at Busch Gardens on a class trip where I went on one of those swing type things that goes around and around. I was a little tougher then, but once was enough.

I’ve gone to this park many times, and never worked up the guts to ride. But today I talked myself into it. #3, it said on the sign for the Avalanche. “Moderate Thrill Ride.” Uh-huh.

Well, the ride itself, love child of a huge slinky/roller coaster thing and a luge ride, was deceptively concealed behind a forest. Ignorance is bliss, and I was very ignorant and blissful for a few brief seconds until my car reached the top of the slope where I could see the entire ride and realize what I was in for.

I admit: I enjoyed it. I hated it. I was shitting my pants. I was grinning. I was retching. I was upside down and sideways and spiralling in all places at once, with the G-forces pitching me forward aggressively. It was cruel, it was delicious, it was relentless, it was ecstatic. And yet at the time, I didn’t quite feel that way. I just wanted it to end. But when I got off, I realized I could get addicted to this. It was new and fascinating to me. And so I went once again. 

I wonder what the #5: “Aggressive Thrill Rides” must feel like?!

The closest sensation to this ride that I have ever experienced, was natural labor. There is absolutely no way you can see the entire ride, all the twists and turns, from in front of the trees where you’re waiting. And then once you’re up at the top of the slope, all you can say is, damn… how can I get OUT of this craziness now? But you can’t. You’re pushed and banged and thrown to the ground and careened down terrifying slopes that knock out your senses, you feel your ribs are going to crack open and your ass will split down the middle, like your very life is being squeezed out of your body. That you will DIE: the alarm of mortality is very real. And yet under all the unfamiliar agony and terror, there is a sort of peculiar transcendence. I wouldn’t call it fun… not even slightly. (And I was one of those new agey “but birth can be pleasurable if we reprogram our conditioning” thinkers, so I really wasn’t afraid of pain. I welcomed the experience). 

It’s kind of like falling in love, too. You never know what sort of ride you’re in for when you’re just looking at the pretty signs. And once you’ve signed on, once that emotional contract clicks into place, you’re stuck. You can’t get off until you’ve rode it until the end, whatever that may be. You just have to hang on tight and remember to sometimes open your eyes and taste the wind. To not be scared, because whether or not you look, you’re still going to be upside down and shitting your pants, looking like an idiot.

And in reality, you’re always safe. You’re not going to fall down and get killed because you dared to follow your heart, get into that car and accept the invitation to defy gravity in this wonderful way the universe provides for us here. It may feel that way, but it’s only illusion. We are all much safer and more protected than we can ever realize, once we learn to claim our own worth. 

But the wise soul understands that it’s ALL just a ride… life, love, everything. One which, once experienced, you’re only going to do all over again. It’s just too compelling. You’re not going to be deterred by a little dread, so why waste time deliberating? Just buy some overpriced popcorn, gamble on a useless Cessna-sized Care Bear, check out the bad tattoos, and enjoy. Gravity is your friend today.

© Sarah Noack 2007

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Some people call the idea of developing your ideal life, “Co-Creation.” Others call it “Conscious Manifestation.” And others still call it following the “Laws of Attraction.”

I call it hunting.

I don’t eat meat. I’m a wimp at sports and I’d die in military bootcamp. I am not a very competitive person. The idea that my friends or neighbors are doing something doesn’t usually motivate me to try to imitate or outdo them. On the contrary, I might try to do the opposite. Even in business, it’s not my iron will, my steady persistence, or the firmness of my spinal column that lends me a helping hand if I’m to be successful at anything.

It’s my ability to stalk prey.

If you ever watch a cat, they will be content to watch something for a long time with intense focus before they leap just at the right moment. That’s how I am. I am basically, fundamentally lazy and hedonistic… but obsessive. In spurts. I don’t like to work hard unless I’m doing something I want to do… until I don’t want to do it anymore. But if I’ve decided I want something, I always get it… unless there is some very big, important reason that I shouldn’t have it. Which usually becomes crystal clear in retrospect.

Hunting for me is intimately tied in with the concepts of Laws of Attraction and Conscious Manifestation and all that new-age stuff. Only, to me, “hunting” is just is a lot more fun, accurate and productive way for me to phrase it, as it applies to my own life. And really, it IS a sport. I’m not out there working all that hard for what I want in life, most of the time. I’m also not just sitting around waving pictures of what I want in front of my head and saying “I hope.” OK, maybe I do sometimes. But then I straighten up. That’s not what I’m about. I’m a hunter of possibilities.

Hunting is deciding, assessing, waiting, and acting at just the right moment. Hunting is scheduling work in a city you want to live and just watching, pacing in your car, examining, and saying “This is MINE. Just not yet.” Hunting is watching a group of children that just seems to shine with meaningful light, and seeing your daughter there holding the chain of hands on a lively street… and stopping the caregivers to ask the information of the preschool they are working for. Hunting is looking around, and saying “That’s mine,” when you see those things that glow like that, that are meant for you and the life you are meant to live.

Hunting is not taking no for an answer when you know the answer is already yes, but the others just haven’t realized it yet. Hunting is knowing your needs and your hungers and your aversions, and honoring them by going out in the bush and pouncing on what you need, without squeamishness or second thoughts. Hunting is falling out of a window, landing on two feet and licking your paw, and going on your way as if nothing had happened. Hunting is declaring yourself the owner of your dreams, and doing what is needed to see them through. Hunting is knowing you are the boss of yourself and that you are worth it… worth as much as you want yourself to be and give and explore. Hunting is letting yourself live in the infinite highway of the moment; not in the dead-end detours of expectation, hope and regret.

A hunter does not live by dogma, but by instinct and adaptation. Even a cat knows that hunting in winter and summer follow different rules, and adjusts its methods accordingly. It calculates without sentiment, and intuits its moment of attack. It doesn’t whine about how it’s missing a tail, its paws are cold, or it wants some Fancy Feast. It is unattached to the results of its actions. If it calculates that its prey is unattainable at that moment, it lets it go. It doesn’t get all hot and bothered over it, crying and writing bad poetry. It moves onto something more suitable. It flows with life.

Hunting is the art of seduction, magnified. It can be applied to seduction but it is much larger than that. It is the seduction of life. It is knowing that life itself is the lover. It is meant to love you back, to give you joy and excitement and intrigue, to be what you need it to be. It is not someone that will tell you what to do, or a child to babysit and fuss about. It is not a bill collector to nag you about your debts and lacks, or a preacher to tell you you’re sinful and bad. Unless you want that, of course. But then you give up your potency, your right to hunt.

If you move in flow with life, you will know the exact moment to make changes in your life, to leap on an opportunity, to make a pass at that person you’ve been thinking about, or to quit your day job to write the Great American Novel. You won’t get so bummed out about things because you’ll know that if you are acting as life’s lover, if you are hunting and attracting ACTIVELY by strategy, patience, timing and persuasion… then everything will happen for you the way it is supposed to.

You will still experience pain, but it will be the pain of loving, not the pain of being afraid to love.

© Sarah Noack 2006

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Pieces of you… pieces of me. Pieces of everything I see.

A man passes my demo table and heads straight for the wrapped sandwiches. I only see him from behind. He is wearing a pink and red plaid short-sleeved shirt and pointy-toed black shoes. I only see the back of his hair, which pokes out above his collar. He is spending a long time picking out his sandwich, which pleases me. I can tell by the way he reads the ingredients, by his clothes, by his aura that he is a vegetarian and sure enough, he selects a bean burrito. He turns around and isn’t that handsome. I smile at him anyway. I am intrigued by his energy. He looks through me and walks on, his heels clicking away as he is lost in his world of clean ingredients and perky colors and high heeled boots.

A woman in a tank top and blonde cornrows approaches my table. She is sweaty and sunburnt, and I realize she must have rode her bike here. Her biker shorts confirm this. I love the way her deltoids bulge in the soft way that only women with muscles can be. She has tattoos of pink orchids floating across the expanse of her bicep. She smiles at me. I smile back, and give her too many samples as she talks to me about how she works outside all day. Her energy feels like the sun—pure and intense. She smells of coconuts; her voice is rough like straw from breathing wind all day. I tell her I love orchids, and she is instantly my friend. We talk flowers, we talk tattoos, we talk sunscreens. When she leaves, product in her card, I watch her walk away… watching the firm curve of her back, her portable bouquets of femininity erupting from the expanse of her muscled arm.

I am driving to Charlottesville. The ride is long and I am listening to Duran Duran. My window is open and there are no cars, until a girl passes by me in a little black bumper-sticker infested Volkswagen. Obviously from Charlottesville. She turns to smile at me as she passes me, pink fuzzy dice bouncing from her windshield. It’s not an ordinary pass on a road… she has all the room in the world to drive at any speed she wants. It’s a game, and she’s inviting me to play. I smile back and gain on her, passing in front of her car. We play this for awhile, this girl I see nothing of except the black pincushion of a distressed bob and a small face with dark glasses. I know we are bored on this road full of cows and empty spaces, and no one is watching. We race each other for miles until she finally turns onto another route, smiles for the last time, and waves at me from her rearview mirror.

Arlington, VA… this store is always very busy. A man walks by and smiles, turns around and stops. I can tell by the angle he holds his head, by the self-conscious sway of his hips… gay. There are so many gay men in this neighbhorhood, which is the only reason I love coming to this crazy uptight town where they won’t let you park anywhere. This man wants to talk. He is not young, not typically handsome but he is adorable in a geeky way with his glasses and cropped sandy hair. He tells me of his love for sandalwood, waxes poetic about juniper. I love him already, in a 6-pm DC rush hour, married-woman-flirting-with-a-cute-gay-man sort of way. We talk for a long time about life, and he pauses, holding his basket of beauty products and arugula as other customers come to be assisted. When he has to leave, he tells me how much he loved talking to me and hopes he sees me again. I don’t take it the wrong way. I can feel he’s gay and has someone waiting for him at home. And so do I, at that moment. But I hope I see him again… sometimes.

At another demo, it’s slow and a punk boy with a mohawk and septum ring approaches me. He has a cast on one hand and talks too fast, complains of wanting to set his hand free. He told me he punched an inanimate object, but won’t say what. He exudes passion and impulse and comedy… an alpha-male. He smirks when I offer him lotion, and then finally agrees to try some when I jokingly promise to only show him the manly scents. He gets into a long conversation with me about cheese. I am surprised how knowledgeable he is about cheese. We both like aged Gouda and hate Camembert. We start talking about Amsterdam, from the cheese conversation. He offers to buy me seafood bisque, and then remembers I’d said I was a vegetarian. “I’ll buy you strawberry bisque,” he teases. “Or how about a fruit cup?” Before I can decline politely, he has gone off and bought me some fresh cut pineapples and mangoes. I thank him, and tell him not to punch any more inanimate objects. He is gone with a grin, off to buy fish. I smile at his departing back, amused and charmed.

An old woman approaches me and I can tell right away she will start talking. A lot. She does. She is the sort of customer who starts of seeming interested in the products you’re showing, and then wants to tell you her life story, down to her daughter who’s dating the man who’s all wrong for her, to her recent gallbladder surgery, to everything in her past. This woman explains that she is of the Jewish faith… explains how important hand washing is to her people. I am always so drawn into these moments of solidarity, and this time, it’s a mistake. As soon as I tell her I’m Jewish too, she wants to know my life story… the child I mentioned, is she being raised Jewish? Is her father Jewish? Oh no… he’s Moslem? Where from… Africa? Oh no, how unfortunate for you! Right beside us is an African woman in a burka, glancing over at us. No joke. There really is. I am caught in the middle now. Why did I get into this conversation? They buyers look over at us, nervous. I find a way toquickly and peacefully end the dialogue, just as the woman starts saying how much she hates Moslems, how they all hate Jews and want us all dead, how even the “nice ones” just want to follow the fanatics and not rock the boat. Another customer comes… thank God! I am saved. I quickly and politely excuse myself and wish the Moslem-hating Jewish customer a great day.

A man comes up to my demo table. I can tell right away he is not all there. He has had a head injury, he tells me. I think it’s recent, but he tells me it was five years ago. He loves his mother. He tells me this again and again. “I love her so much,” he keeps saying, his voice lost in the reflective tones of the truly obsessed. “She’s my girl. I am getting her a birthday present she will never forget today,” he says. “She always tells me how much she loves me. I am her baby.” I think this is very weird. The man is invading my personal space, coming up and breathing close to me as he talks. He is not really mentally handicapped… just weird. The man tries to put his hand on my arm as he talks. I hate people touching me… I really do. I need to trust people very deeply before I will tolerate them touching me, I am so sensitive to having my space breached. I move away and he moves closer. The man’s energy is innocent like a child’s, yet slightly deranged. Finally I tell him that heneeds to go find his mother, she is looking for him. He looks at me and says, “But I like to talk to you.” “Go find your mother,” I repeat. “She just told me she’s looking for you.” I am so bad with these situations. Confused, he leaves.

Today I am in a store near DC. I love to go here because I love the buyer. She is a vegan, she is tiny as a raindrop, she is young and smart as a whip. She is a skinny little boi-chick who dresses however she wants, grins peacefully at everyone from behind her pale face and yellow crew cut. She seems gritty on the outside but when you talk to her, she is full of gentleness, giggles, fascination for all of life. She always comes up to my table and wants to talk, and I love the bright yellow vibrancy of her energy. I love all the buyers here actually… this store is so full of life. Every time I come I feel like a welcome guest. It is a peaceful blend of female archetypes, all of them strong and intelligent. It is a sheltering place to spend my afternoon today.

Each day I am somewhere new. I am a passing face bearing gifts, a refreshing breeze in a sea of familiar routines, a travelling salesperson combing through the colors of humanity, putting pieces of memories and sensations in my pocket to file away for later. I cannot hold on. These people are only reminders to me, reminders of a picture I once glimpsed. Yet they are more… they are the picture. Love is fractured and it is whole. Loving is singular and it is plural. I am me, I am you, I am everything I carry with me each day. I am the colors I store in my eyes, the sounds I tuck into my ears, the tastes and smells embedded in the fabric of my senses.

I can stop and stay awhile, but these are just pieces… pieces of me, pieces of you, pieces of everything I see. And yet there is a house, and we are in it. There are these people I pass every day, these moments where I fear, explore, touch and let go. This too is love… the house of love is full of rooms, and each inhabitant is a part of me, a part of you, a part of everything.

They are mirrors, they are windows, they are light. I am always on the road, always moving, always alive.

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I’m taking my lunch break… a lunch break that I GET TO decide when I take. Because guess what: I’m self-employed. And I love it. Even though sometimes it requires a little more organization, self-discipline and focus than my ADD-afflicted self usually possesses. Now, I’ve never really been the type to be good at this stuff. I tried the Franklin Covey uber-organized thing and it was ridiculous. Didn’t fit my personality at all. So screw Franklin Covey. I need a more artistic approach.

I’ve developed a list of little tricks that helps me get the most done in a day. I don’t always stick by it, but when I do, I’m very productive. So I thought I’d share (while I’m still on my lunch clock, of course).

1) GET UP EARLY! And don’t stay up all night. When I get up by 6am and go to bed by 1am (I don’t need much sleep), I am much more productive. After 1am, I don’t work as efficiently, I get distracted, I waste time browsing and trolling for scraps of human connection because the solitude of the hour is so oppressive. So I try to pack it in early when I can. Also, starting the day early is important because it’s true: the early AM hours are the most revved-up productive. After 10am the body completely changes rhythm and it’s much easier to just sit around sipping coffee and leisurely checking your email. Besides, I pay for daycare… so I don’t like wasting money on time I’m not using.

2) This is so obvious, but a TO-DO list and portable PLANNER are indispensable. What works best is keeping the tasks really simple and short, so I feel accomplished when I get them done. If I put “clean your office” I will just feel discouraged because it seems too big a job. If I say “get boxes broken down and demo crap shelved from last shipment” I know I can handle it, and it will lead to other organization stuff that I can put on the list post facto to make my day look busier.

3) Get PHONE CALLS DONE FIRST. Partly because I hate using the phone. I am very phone-shy, so I will procrastinate all day if I don’t do that first. Parly just because people are less busy in the AM, so my calls will be more efficient, with fewer hold times and fruitless attempts to reach people at lunch or in meetings.

4) PLAN YOUR SCHEDULE two weeks in advance. If you book an entire month in advance, you’re asking for cancellations and trouble to happen. Shorter, you’re going to look like a slacker and chances are, you will become one because you won’t have the momentum to plan events or gigs one at a time on such short notice. I do this a lot, and I’m realizing how dumb it is, how it totally wastes so many opportunities for making money. I don’t like planning ahead. But it helps.

5) If you are getting DISTRACTED BY EMAIL, BLOGS, MYSPACE etc as I tend to do when I’m in a mental block, get your ass to some reasonably quiet place with good tea or coffee, and NO INTERNET CONNECTION. You do NOT need to check your email every half hour… a few times a day is sufficient unless you’re doing a project that requires constant updates. When all else fails, I sometimes go to the library, although it’s so quiet there that I want to fall asleep if I am sleep-deprived. And they do have internet connection there.

6) DO NOT always work at HOME. There is a reason why you see places like Starbucks and Panera, as well as many local indie cafes if you have them, loaded with parked-all-day laptop wielders. Even if you have a home office, working alone all day is a drag. Plus, if you’re like me, it’s very hard to focus when you are looking around and seeing all the domestic fires that need putting out. I would rather separate home and work. Plus, it’s fun to be around other people while I work. Panera’s music and coffee both suck, but they have tasty sandwiches and salads, and free wifi connection. Starbucks and Borders, you have to pay for “Hotspots” to get it… and it’s 20-40$ a month! Screw that. I used to do it, but sucker I am no more. I just discovered Caribou Coffee, which actually has way better ambiance than any of these places… it’s sort of this faux-Yukon, Northern Exposure type vibe which is a bit cheesy, but the fact that they only offer fair-traded, sustainably harvested coffee makes up for it. And the one near me has an illicit wifi connection. Of course, I always prefer the indie cafes, but there are none around here with free wifi connection (or at all, for that matter).

Oh and BTW, if you stay in one of these places for longer than two hours, leave a small tip. Or buy something else. I try to always do that… it just seems courteous. I don’t want bad karma with my “office leasing agents…” LOL.

7) DO NOT work in your pajamas. I never had to learn this one. Who wants to work in their pajamas, without even taking a shower? That’s just nasty. When I approach my work, even if it’s writing an article at my own computer, I approach it the same way I would approach it in an office: in clean clothes, with music playing that fits my mood, with my hair done and an appropriate shade of lip gloss selected. OK, so I’m barefoot. I don’t wear shoes in my house. But seriously… I have this superstition that people can really tell a, if you are talking on your cell phone on the toilet (ugh, I know people who actually do this), b, if your car or office are a mess just from talking to you, and c, if you are working with your pajamas on. They can tell. Really.

8) That said, my car and office are both messes right now. I have to fix this. My car is a never-ending battle for clean, but half the week I practically live in it, so it’s hard to keep neat. I eat in it, commute in it, converse in it… it’s awful, but I don’t have much choice some days—especially when I get stuck in horrible DC traffic for hours. Today Jeni drew all over the plush seat of my Buick with sparkly markers. I don’t know what to do with her. We’re going to go to the car wash tonight and shampoo it together so she can see the work involved to clean that up. My office, I keep a mess so that my ex stays out of it. It’s like my castle moat… impassable and foreboding. Yes, even somewhat to me, but that’s OK.

9) Another thing I have to get better about. Bring your business cards and/or other promotional materials everywhere you go. I am so bad about promoting myself. Send gifts and thank you notes to clients. Again, something I must start doing. I am so bad on all the 9-related points, but I will get better.

10) If you work on the road a lot, mapquest everything to minimize travel time. Or better yet, invest in a GPS. I am about to inherit one and I can’t wait!

11) GET UP OFF YOUR ASS every hour to do something else. Make some tea, use the john, eat something, stretch, whatever. This helps me stay more productive and keeps me from going down the evil spiral of computer myopia… where you get so focused on a task that you get distracted by it and don’t complete it in a timely way. Or where you spend 20 minutes painstakingly writing an email that could take 5 minutes. The breaks in concentration actually help me focus better, maybe because my brain drips with ADD.

12) For daunting tasks, set a time limit. Today I told myself I would spend no more than an hour scanning photos and researching stock images for a publication. I went a little over, but not by as much as I would have otherwise.

Any other self-employed work and time management tips welcome!

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