Standing on the Tower- and Leaping into the Flames

During my mini Smoky Mountain Walkabout, I had a Tarot Card reading from a very wise and intuitive herbal healer.  Apparently, I drew some very powerful cards, all relating to the feminine power and indicated a big change is on the way.

For someone who takes change like other people take vitamins, this isn’t a big shocker.  But apparently, I drew the mother of all change cards- the Tower. It was this tower with this little guy about to take one giant leap into the flames below.

Seems a little extreme, don’t you think?

But, it seems that the Universe may be right.  I feel this thing churning inside- well- I think we all feel this at some point in time.  This feeling that something big is about to happen- something that we hope we have the ability to recognize and act upon when it presents itself.  Where you stare down two paths and you choose the gnarly, twisty one that scares the piss out of ya, but you know the possibility of beauty exists along the way.

Upon returning to the beach, I decided to really take my card reading into account and look at my current situation and surroundings with a more positive spin- a spin towards my upcoming leap.

A young Palestinian girl dances at a Peace festival in Israel in 2007. One of my favorite pictures- such joy!

I embraced the feminine voice. This is a challenge for someone who proudly grew up as a tom-boy and swore off dresses until the 6th grade.  I’ve recently started reading several blogs by women in the online world that I admire- White Hot Truth by Danielle LaPorte , Escape from Cubicle Nation by Pamela Slim (I even bought her book, though I’ve never worked in a cubicle before) Colleen Wainwright of Communicatrix.com and Dyana Valentine.  Maybe this is part of the feminine voice my cards were indicating.

I purchased one chapter from Danielle LaPorte’s Fire Starter Sessions (yea, I could only afford one chapter at the moment- but am thinking of just eating peanuts the rest of the month to buy the rest) and watched the included videos- and there it was.  Someone, whom I do not know and have never met- telling me to embrace the feminine (not in those words). There was this person on this video telling me about the entrepreneurial tendencies, struggles and idiosyncrasies in a way that no other person had vocalized for me. Telling me it’s OK to be who I am.

Yea, I know, our moms and teachers tell us that all our lives- but we’ve blocked that advice out many decades ago.

I’m not a “self-help” person- I don’t watch Oprah and I don’t have a collection of Dr. Phil books (not that this is a bad thing- I just don’t go there).  For my self-help, I turn to Eastern philosophy and try to sprinkle my life with some Taoism.  So this type of video/book is different for me.  At first, I was a little uncomfortable with the whole thing.

A little Tibetan Buddhist treat I stumbled on while wandering the streets of Kathmandu.

Does this make my some flighty self-help wanna be listening to the advice of someone two thousand miles away on a computer screen?  Am I gonna be that “Don’t do this” poster-child who pissed her money away on business e-books, only to not have two pennies to rub together in 6 months? Yea, that’s my inner dialogue- can you see a few blocked chakras in there? My Tarot cards also mentioned a male voice fighting with my feminine voice- YOU THINK??

But then it all just clicked.  As I watched this powerful woman telling me to just embrace who I am and be what I am- the easy way- to let grace unfold and just manifest itself through my work, I thought, “Why the hell not!  She’s totally right!”

And I’ve felt like I’ve been sitting on a fire ever since. Like I’m about to truly take that leap off my tower and just fly out into the world.  Guess she doesn’t call those the Fire Starter Sessions for nothing.  She also sells note cards that say “Fan F*cking-tastic” so this isn’t your run-of-the-mill-warm-and-fuzzy-shit.

These readings have really brought into question what I do and who I am.  As a creative being and an entrepreneur, I want to be everything, I want to do it all.  And as soon as I figure something out, I want to learn something new. This is a blessing and a curse.

So in doing this internal audit, I am forced to ask- what is it that, if everything else were to go away, I would want left behind? What is it that I’m truly gifted at?  How can grace present itself through me- with the most ease? And, as I have done throughout my entire adult career, I come back to photography.  It’s always about the camera and the image.

And here I sit, with a brand new (new to me) shiny camera that sends jolts of electricity and glee when I press the shutter (I don’t like most of my digital cameras- actually none of them- so this is a big deal for me) and hopefully by the end of September, I’ll have enough cash flow to truly head out into the world again.

In working with this new content, a reoccurring theme is presenting itself as well- charging what you’re worth. Due to insecurities, occasional low self-esteem and a blocked chakra or two, I don’t charge what I’m worth.  I never really have.  So, last night, I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning writing my rates page.  I am going to charge what I’m worth. Period.  And I am talented enough to charge these rates.  Period.  Ahhh, so liberating.

So, while I realize this article is rambly and really just about me, I thought I’d give you a peak into the mind and thought process of an artistic entrepreneur- and let you know that it’s OK to have such insane questions in your head.

We struggle to fight off the mediocrity that sucks the creative being out, we fight for the confidence to make the right decisions, and- every so often- we stand at the top of the Tower- look into the flames below and leap.

Ten Steps for Creating an Effective Blogging Workflow

We’re gonna embrace our inner Type-A personality, coddle our little methodical inner gnomes and examine one writer’s blogging workflow. My workflow, to be exact. Not trying to be a narcissist here, I just know my workflow and can explain it best. Yes, I’m biased.

We’re not exploring the creative side of the writing- each individual will have their own path to stir up the creative juju and produce brilliance- but the actual, step by step logistical process to writing.

Buckle up, put on your logical thinking cap and let’s dive in.

When I began writing my blog, I really didn’t have a system and hadn’t stumbled upon anyone elses writing system, so, I adapted my professional photography workflow when applicable and winged it when not. Through trial and error and 9 months of writing regularly my system seems to be working pretty well- when the writer’s block doesn’t take hold. But that’s an article for another time.

Step 1. Frolic with your Muse!

I venture out into the world to drum up my writing material. My blog, for the most part, is based on my personal interactions with people and places while traveling. I keep a moleskin journal handy and jot down notes, headlines or just vague concepts for my articles. This step will vary based on your topics, but be sure to recognize and embrace your creative muse and allow time and space in your writing routine to frolic with your muse.

My Creative Muse- People Watching!!

Step 2. Let the music flow.

Your style may differ, but I can not write without music. And not just background noise floating around all “Sound of Music” like, but serious, techno-style Moby/Thievery Corporation beats. Long songs, complex musical structures, few words and powerful rhythms. And no ordinary headphones will do.  You are entering the zone- hoping to be sucked down the rabbit hole into the vortex of your mind- you need professional grade, noise canceling headphones that immediately send you into a parallel universe. This is of the utmost importance if you work in public locations, like coffeeshops, for every screaming baby and steamed cup of milk will break your concentration and pull you back to reality.

Main point- respect and cultivate your writing environment and be sure you have the proper tools to tune out distractions.

Step 3. Enter the WriteRoom.

No, the WriteRoom isn’t some dark, dank writer’ cave tucked away on the shores of Walden Pond (though that wouldn’t be bad) WriteRoom is my computer’s happy place that sends me into the writing zone and, if I’m lucky, propels me into the Flow.

WriteRoom is a down-loadable computer application that, when opened, turns the entire computer screen black and your computer becomes a word processor- circa 1985. It’s gorgeous! The dock is gone, no icons are screaming for distractions and no birds are Tweeting or emails dinging. Nothing. Just a black screen, green awkward font and my thoughts. I actually can’t write without it. Pony up, spend the $30 bucks, buy the software and go to your Flow.

Brings back memories- how can you not love the 1985 word processors?

Step 4. Write.

Yea, that’s a no brainer, but not always an easy thing to do. If I know what I’m writing about, I type in the headline- or a rough draft of a headline- and then write. I do punctuate and capitalize, but some people frown upon this as it breaks the flow of your writing. It’s personal preference- I just do it naturally. I do not correct spelling while typing and I turn off all spell check notifiers. That Red Line is a deal-breaker in my book and you’d be wise to do the same. I suck at spelling, I get that, I’m OK with that character flaw and I don’t need a constant reminder of my inadequacies while I’m in writing Flow.

Now, if you are staring at a totally black screen and no words are coming out of your fingers, then just write gibberish. Write about what you ate for breakfast. Write about the dickhead that cut you off on the way to the coffeeshop then tossed his cigarette out the window. Write about the next door neighbor trimming the hedges in her silky nightgown yesterday morning while the old timer sat on his porch across the street taking it all in. Whatever- it matters not- just write. After some time, you’ll find an article or a theme starting to rear its little head. Encourage the little theme to surface, nurture it out into the open and let it morph into your article. And whatever you do, DON’T STOP WRITING. You’ll know when you’re done.

Step 5. Save it!

Again, no brainer. But really, save the document- usually in a text format. If you’re not using WriteRoom (shame on you) write this draft in a text document program. The lack of formatting and options helps the words flow out. I use a naming convention based on the date and a slug related to the topic (YYYYMMDD_SLUG.txt). The file is saved in a folder with the same naming convention and the folder lives in a Category Folder that reflects the categories on my blog. Here’s a screenshot if that last sentence sounded like Mandarin.

My Folder Structure. It works. Use it.

I’ve used this naming convention for years with photography and it’s a necessity. Why, you ask? Why the anal file naming convention, oh work-flow-nazi? Well, when you use the following naming convention- 20100822_WRITINGWORKFLOW.txt (and yes, it must look exactly like that- YYYYMMDD_SLUG ) then your files will automatically order themselves chronologically in your folders. And when you’ve been writing for months- or years- and are trying to scan through hundreds of articles to pull out an old post for your portfolio, you’ll know exactly where to find it.

Seriously, I can’t stress this enough, if you don’t organize your writing files, you’ll have a train-wreck and your blog and writing will suffer eventually.

Step 5. Copy and Paste.

Now, WriteRoom is not the best for editing and does not format your text, so copy the writing and paste it into your word processing program, such as Pages for Mac or Word. I save the file using the same naming convention as above, IN THE SAME FOLDER, and then I hit my trusty friend, the Spellcheck! I like to knock this out right away so I don’t start off my editing with a reminder of my character flaw. Save it, close your computer up and go get some sunshine.

Step 6. Edit.

After some substantial time away from your article, three to five hours at a minimum, return to your computer, open up the word document and start the editing process. Just like writing, everyone will edit differently. Some will harp on the AP Style, others will obsess about it’s versus its and others will just gut the piece like a red snapper fresh from the sea. One of my professors at journalism school, a brilliant writer and historian, would print out his articles and physically cut sections together and tape them back the way he wanted them to flow. He’s in his 70s, so he learned to edit before computers!

Know your voice, know your writing style and edit accordingly. I know that my voice is unique and my grammar blows- at least for my blog articles- but that’s a more natural, conversational tone that I strive to maintain when editing. I know that my voice can reflect my years of bartending and my discovery of Eddie Murphy’s Delirious at the tender ago of 13. My vulgar use of the English language is one reason I don’t have my mother proofread my articles (and yes, my mom is a professional proofreader).

Step 7. Re-read it! Read your article. Read it again. Go on, one more time.

Step 8. Format for the Web.

Go through your article and find any points in the writing that might be well-served by a few hyperlinks, find them on the web and paste them into the article next to the actual place you’d like to place the hyperlink. This little step saves you time once you’re entering your article into your blog platform and will keep you from flopping around on the internet like an ADHD 7 year old without your meds when you’re supposed to be focused on publishing.

Step 9. Photos and Graphics.
Choose your photos or graphics and add them to your folder with the articles. Be sure the pictures are formated for the web (a 72 DPI resolution and sized no bigger than 900 pixels wide) and, for the love of god, be sure you have permission to use them.

DO NOT grab a random photo off the internet and make it your own. Not only is this tacky, disrespectful to the photographer and just cheesy- it’s also illegal. Illegal to the tune of $125K per copyright violation. Just don’t go there. Use Flickr’s Creative Commons section for free photos (with attribution) or learn how to take your own photos.

And don’t use sucky photos. We’re a visual society and we take quality images for granted- meaning- your readers expect quality photographs and if they come to your site for the first time and see shitty pictures, your words might not be strong enough to keep their eyeballs on your site. OK, I shall step off the photographer’s soap box now.

Step 10. Send it to the Web.

Finally. We’re ready to publish!! Open up your admin panel for your blog, click the new post and copy and paste your text from the edited version into your article. Cut the hyperlinks and paste them into the Hyperlink dialogue box, add your photos in the appropriate spots and add whatever special excerpts, thumbnails and formatting your blog requires. Then, hit publish. Go on, don’t hesitate! You’ve gone through the steps, your writing is brilliant and people will love it! Go for it!

Are we done yet??

No. Time to let the world know your life-altering prose are available for them to consume.

Go to the Ping.fm , visit the Facebook, fly over to the Hootesuite and send your article out to the world. In 140 characters or less, tell the world why your article matters and why they need to read it. Use Hash Tags to get your article in front of the right eyeballs and let it fly!

One more thing- BACK UP YOUR WRITING. Yes, back up your blog folder structure on your computer to an external hard-drive and send it to the cloud.

Now, you’re done. Uncork some wine, pop open a beer, brew some tea, sit back and take in your work. Revel the accomplishment of a fabulous article sharing your unique knowledge with the world.

Go forth and write.

A Mini-Smoky Mountain Walkabout

As my restless-feet-syndrome fired up last week and I sat in a movie theater by my lonesome watching Eat, Pray, Love- yep, that was me, alone at a chic flick- loved it- I decided to hop in the car and go visit my best friend in the Smokies.  Here are a few pics from my mini-walkabout.


Smoky Mountain Mini-Walkabout – Images by Crystal Street

Really, it was about an hour, walking through Gatlinburg. As I left one redneck tourist town for another- I decided to limit my exposure to the “Cooters Raceway” and the “Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum” lest my head fly off if I see one more t-shirt covered in a rebel flag.

Enjoy!

Planning My Blog Around the Cycles of the Moon

Yep, I said it.  That’s real.

Think about it for a second.  People have based decisions of consequence for their entrepreneurial endeavors around the cycles of the moon and the planetary alignments for centuries.  Millenia, even.

Storytelling from an Independent Traveler- documentary photography

A young boy watches the sunrise as the ferry approaches the island of Sangihe. Photo by me- has nothing to do with the topic- I just love the peacefulness of it.

Just take the Farmer’s Almanac.  People’s ability to eat was based on the moon- when to plant seeds, when to harvest, when to expect an abundant yield from their crops- all based on where the moon was at certain times of the year.

But, how often do we take the moon’s cycles into account in our creative and entrepreneurial lives?

Seriously- I’m not talking to you from loony-land right now, I’m being serious- I have on my big girl hat.  While I’ve always paid a vague attention to the moon and its cycles- particularly the full moon- I’ve never really paid close attention to my creativity and production energy based on a waning or waxing moon.

Three weeks ago, I was rolling!  My blog was blowing up with lovely new visitors, I was Tweeting my little ass off and business ideas were spewing from my mouth like the Exorcist.

A few days before the full moon, I was talking with a very wise Goddess (she’s in tune with Mother Earth, the universe and planets in ways I can only hope to emulate) and dear friend about her entrepreneurial adventure and the next step to building her business.  I made a comment about putting some online endeavors into action in the following week and she said nope, we were approaching a strong waning moon and she was gonna batten down the hatches and hunker down till it passed.

Huh?  What the hell?  Waxing moons?  Waning moons?  The moon approaching Leo.  Shit, I’m gonna have to learn this now?! I don’t have room in my brain for this!  It won’t fit between the HTML code I’m learning and the Final Cut editing techniques I’m trying not to forget.

And sure enough, the day after the full moon, I awoke to a frightful scene.  My brain was empty.  No words, no internal conversations that evolve into blog posts, no brilliant brain farts that extract new business ventures. Nothing. Nada.  Zilch.  Just the sounds of crickets shouting out mating calls in my brain.

Damn it.  I had lost my momentum, as if someone had pulled the plug on my frothy, warm, aromatic bubble bath of productivity and left me with a soggy, pruned ass stuck to the bottom of a dry bathtub.  Sigh.

The following 14 days sucked.  Every business move and activity was a struggle and pulling the creative juju out of its hiding place was an all out war.  Writing a blog post felt like getting a root canal.  My brain lost the ability to focus and I flopped around between Twitter and Facebook like a dying fish on the dock- accomplishing nothing during its manic gyrating but a faster death.

As the new moon approached, I even applied for jobs, real jobs.  With the dreaded words that give me hives- salaries, 401Ks and vacation time. (DISCLAIMER- National Geographic- if you’re reading this- I totally want that job- all hives aside- those words and fears don’t count when it’s Nat Geo) I was ready to just call it a day and hang up my travel shoes for a bit and wallow in my single-hood state.

Knowing that these feelings weren’t genuine and feeling like space aliens had invaded my psyche, I called my Goddess and asked her what the F**K was going on!  Is this the moon because this can’t be me!!

“Oh no, its not you.  Its the moon- its a big waning moon.  And oh, Mercury’s in retrograde.”

Well that explains it.  Me and Mercury in Retrograde do not play together very well.  Last year’s retrograde I was a train wreck!

So, I have to wonder, should I start really paying attention to the cycles of the moon and plan my business and creative endeavors around its energies? I do this for my personal life, so why not my professional life as well?

Is it possible to crank out content, projects and business ideas for two weeks straight during the waxing moon and then go into the creative cave for the remaining two weeks- for the waning moon- and get all introspective and shit?  Maybe I’ll just sit on the beach for that waning moon and read a good book.  Then run around like a banshee for the waxing moon and put all my intentions out into the Universe.

Since the dark moon has passed- I feel like my old self.  Mercury is in retrograde, so I’m still a little twitchy, but the juju is returning.  I drooled over Lonely Planet today, accomplished my business tasks with vigor and feel my ideas generated in the last waxing moon resurfacing to manifest into something fabulous!

But, I believe I am going to study the moon cycles a little closer and see if I can’t make a calendar of sorts for action and introspection based on the moon.  I’ll keep you posted on my progress as I journey down the work/moon balance.

Any thoughts about your work/creative moods and the moon?  Post them below!

Are We Losing the Art of Conversation?

Have you looked around your coffee shop recently and noticed the incessant tapping of keys and the glow of laptops?  Noticed the lack of conversation, the lack of personal interaction- minus the chatting of the barista making your coffee? Have you had the opportunity to talk with a stranger recently, and chose the fabulous sounds of your iPod instead?

Yea, I’m guilty of avoiding conversations.  Yea, I’m writing this in a coffeeshop- tapping away at the keys on MY laptop.  I get the hypocrisy, but hear me out…

When did we lose the ability to converse with one another?  Did we actually lose this ability or are we afraid to actually have the meaningful conversations with virtual strangers that helps solidify the human connection?

Tibetan monks gather at the main temple in Dharmshala, India each evening to engage in the art of debate.

I am currently living in an area where conversation is taken for granted.  When I sat down at a bar last week for a late lunch, two guys sat next to me and we talked about the silly shit that came on the HLN “news” channel.  And I couldn’t help but think, can we have a meaningful conversation?  Can we, as strangers, immediately bypass small talk, the weather and this week’s NASCAR race and actually talk about something of consequence.  But as I attempted to interject that vein of conversation, I received blank looks.  And the fumes of Budweiser coming from this crew reinforced my anticipation that the conversation wasn’t going anywhere.

Can we talk about something of meaning- something of consequence?  Talk about the deep places in your being?  The trials you’ve overcome? The dreams you are living, the places you are going in life.  The deep caverns you’ve traveled to in your past and the walls you climbed and leaped off of to exit your dark caverns.

Are we that scared of our own inner dark and twisty places that we can’t risk engaging in conversation with a stranger for fear of where that conversation might take us? Are we afraid to look within our souls and see our own short-comings that might arise in a conversation?

I just had a conversation with a wonderful man I met at my favorite coffeeshop.  When I awoke this morning, I didn’t have an agenda or a plan.  I just knew that I needed to be around community.  So, I sucked it up, drove the 20 minutes to my favorite coffeeshop and knew that I’d see someone I know and want to talk with, someone to engage with and contemplate something meaningful.  I saw several friends, and then happened to share a conversation with this new person.  Randomly.  And the conversation was so refreshing and invigorating, that I had forgotten how much I miss the beauty of a random conversation.

And we spoke about our interpretations of society and our generation.  We spoke of real topics, of life and something of consequence. We spoke about the art of conversation.

And I sit here now, reflecting on the conversation and wishing that it could continue.  This person I met is just here visiting, so I don’t know if our paths will cross again.  It’s possible, but even just the fact that these chance meetings occur- the fact that two strangers can cross paths and engage in meaningful conversation, becoming something more than strangers, is so incredibly refreshing. To know that possibility exists, and to actually have the opportunity arise, gives me hope that there are more chance meetings in my future.

And it reinforces the actual act of seeking community, reinforces the need to enter the community and find like minded beings.  For life should truly be a series of chance meetings and artful conversations that either evolve into lasting friendships or live on in our memories as the opportunity for something fabulous.
These chance meetings motivate us to enter the world and seek out people who share our interests, our beliefs, our understandings.  To seek people that understand and respect the power of a community gathering place.

To seek people that are not scared of the conversation, people that are willing and able to look deep within themselves while talking with a stranger and not be scared of what they see.  People that value the art of the conversation and the true beauty of spending several hours on a summer morning talking over a cup of coffee.

That’s the beauty of the Third Place.  That’s the art of conversation.  We should all seek more of this art, more of this beauty.  Maybe we’d find more fulfillment in our lives if it was filled with conversation and community- rather than consumption and solitary pursuits.

Now go- find your Third Place, your community gathering spot and strike up that random conversation.  Go.  Now.