Imaginary Lives.

I’ve got a job for you.

I’m sorry?

I just heard you say that the company you work for was sold. I’m looking for people and I can’t hire ‘em fast enough. Starting pay is 90K a year.

Wow. What’s the job?

Easiest money you’ll ever make. Just sitting behind a desk.

Yeah, but doing what?

Setting appointments. Making calls. Basic admin stuff. You’d be working for me and my team.

And what do you do?

I sell machine parts. Essentially, I’m a mechanic.

Oh. I don’t think that’s the right fit for me. I’m a creative: a writer, a marketer, and a brand strategist. I’m really looking for a job in a creative field. But thank you anyway.

I don’t think you heard me. The starting pay is 90K a year.

It’s not about the money.

Bullshit. It’s always about the money.

Not for me. But thank you.

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I’m sitting in the lobby of my hotel in Kent, WA, sipping a glass of Cabernet. The awkward conversation (err, confrontation) that is currently unfolding is a perfect example of why I wanted to avoid this hotel-sponsored “Wine and Cheese” night. But after a long workday, the complimentary glass of red mere steps from my hotel room proves too difficult to resist. So here I am, trying to politely brush aside the attention of a strange man who’s sloshed on free booze and – worse – impervious to social cues.

The “conversation” quickly devolves, largely due to my refusal to acquiesce to his worldview that money makes the world go round. He takes personal affront to the fact that I have no interest in the job he’s trying to sell me, and within minutes, he has resorted to cursing and name-calling. Thankfully, it’s not long before he stomps out of the lobby in a huff, but not before delivering his final assessment: “If you’re just a snob that wants to write about eyeliner, there’s nothing I can do for you!” I laugh, in spite of myself. You’re right, dude. There’s nothing you can do for me.

My week in Kent has been a strange one. I’ve been working as an independent contractor, helping train employees of the medium-size company that bought the small Los Angeles-based accessories brand where I have worked for many years. Not only is the town of Kent itself odd – an industrial district populated by block after block of sprawling warehouses in the shadow of Seattle’s Sea-Tac airport – but the situation is odd, too. For a week, I’m immersed in a corporate culture completely alien to me – taking meetings, interfacing with all types of people and personalities (many of whom are suspicious of me and are not particularly friendly to the foreigner in their midst), and navigating office politics – all the while knowing that my immersion is temporary; that my normal life has simply been put on hold for a few days while I try on this very different life and see how it fits.

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During the week, I find myself daydreaming both about what my life would have been like had I accepted a job in Kent, and what my life will be like once this temporary independent contractor position is over. It brings to mind one of my favorite exercises from Julia Cameron’s seminal book on creativity, The Artist’s Way, called “Imaginary Lives.” Here’ s a synopsis of the exercise, excerpted from the book:

If you had five other lives to lead, what would you do in each of them? I would be a pilot, a cowhand, a physicist, a psychic, a monk . . . Whatever occurs to you, jot it down.

The point of these lives is to have fun in them – more fun than you might be having in this one. Look over your list and select one. Then do it this week. For instance, if you put down country singer, can you pick a guitar? If you dream of being a cowhand, what about some horseback riding?

The question I am asked over and over again when people find out that my job is ending is, “What are you going to do next?” And what they actually mean is this: “Have you found another job yet?” When I reply that I’m not actually looking for a job, that instead, I’ve decided to take some time off, they are baffled. They usually manage: “That’s great – good for you!” But their faces tell a different story: one of confusion, skepticism and – often – envy.

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Of course, “time off,” doesn’t mean lying on the couch binge-watching Netflix or spending every day at the beach. For me, it means taking all the time and energy and creativity that I have invested in working for someone else and instead, channeling that effort into exploring my passions and building a life that I had previously only dreamed of. It means investing more time in this blog and on my writing in general. It means producing a brand new play (that I’m still writing) this summer at Hollywood Fringe Festival. And it means allowing myself the time and space to breathe deeply, to reflect on the hard lessons of the last few years, and perhaps, to try on some of the imaginary lives on my list and see how they fit.

At the end of my week in Kent, I tagged on an extra day in Seattle with no agenda other than to relax and explore. I took a long walk through the city and ended up at the Space Needle, buying a ticket to a museum I’ve wanted to visit since it opened: Chihuly Garden and Glass. The museum and accompanying gardens are not very big, but I lingered there for hours, immersing myself in the color and detail of every piece. Later, while flipping through a catalogue in the museum’s café, I was struck by this quote from the artist:

I discovered my first collection of beach glass on the shores of Puget Sound when I was four or five years old.

I’ve never stopped collecting since.

As a Pacific Northwest kid, I’ve collected my fair share of colorful beach glass. But as I read that quote, I realized that over the course of my life, the things that I’ve been collecting more than anything else are stories. Stories both real and imagined, both my own and other people’s. And now, as I prepare to move forward on to this next, more exploratory phase of my life, stories are the things I’ll continue to collect. They’re what I’ll continue to figure out how to bring forth into the world. And they’re what will inform my next steps, including any of those so-called “imaginary” lives I might decide to try on.

Until next time, friends.

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Owning it.

“You own everything that happened to you.  Tell your stories.  If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

– Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird:  Some Instructions on Writing and Life

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Four months ago, I started work on a new play that is unlike anything I’ve ever done before. It’s a solo performance workshop called Bare Naked Angels, conceived and directed by my friend Stacy Ann Raposa. The workshop is kept to a small group: our cast, which started as eight people and became seven, is on the larger side.

In the beginning, using readings and exercises from Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” to guide us, we each brought in weekly writing assignments to read in front of the group. As the weeks went on, the seemingly pointless ramblings about our day-to-day experiences or random childhood memories evolved into discussions about our hopes and dreams, the events that shaped our lives, and the nature of our identities. As we settled on the stories we wanted to tell on stage in front of an audience, we each emerged with a strong point of view about how we see the world.

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I began this process with a clear idea of the story I wanted to tell. These last few years, my life has contained an inordinate amount of darkness. I didn’t want to dwell on that. I wanted to tell a story that was uplifting, that was about survival, about hope triumphing over despair. I wanted to tell a story that was more beautiful than what I’d been living. A story that I would want to read, that I would want to hear.

Like many things in life, the place I ended up arriving at was far different than the one I had envisioned when I began this journey. It turned out that I wasn’t so much writing the story as the story was writing me. And gradually, I learned to submit to that process, to let my words come out the way they wanted to, the way they needed to. Without judging them, without censoring myself, without worrying what other people would think. To just let it be what it was: the truth.

When the writing was done, Stacy (our director), took the seven intimate, honest, and (dare I say) incredibly brave stories written by our cast, chopped them up, and wove them together to create something beautiful: an achingly true script that is essentially a solo performance/ensemble piece hybrid. With only three days left until the show’s opening night, I’m equal parts exhilarated and exhausted.

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To be honest, I have no idea how audiences are going to receive this show. I hope they love it as much as I do, but there’s really no way to tell with something like this. There is certainly nothing “escapist” about Bare Naked Angels. It puts real life in your face and dares you not to look away. Yet it’s also full of so many sweet, profound, heartbreakingly human moments. Ultimately, like the story I wanted to tell – and which, in large part, I think I did – I believe that this show will leave audiences feeling hopeful and with a greater connection to their own lives.

So here we go. It’s time to jump into the deep end of the pool and hope I can swim. Wish me luck.

P.S. – If you’re in the Los Angeles area and you want to come see this thing go down, I would love to have you. The flyer is below, and everything else you need to know can be found at www.fringetheatreco.com

Thanks for reading, friends.  I promise to let you know how it goes.

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