The Stuckness

I was cruising right along, minding my own business- writing, creating and pumping out printed words at a feverish rate.  Happy clients, pleased editors and even some enthusiastic readers all confirmed that hey, maybe I can do this writing thing. And then it happened. The Stuckness.

For five sluggish days, I was barely able to squeeze out a Tweet. Last night, as I was forcing out  a simple puff piece about social media trends and noticed the degree of difficulty was more akin to that of composing a dissertation on the current economic climate in Cambodia, I had to realize that I was knee-deep in the Stuckness. I call it this because of the all encompassing feeling of paralysis that I experience while I’m in the Stuckness. “Writer’s block” seems too simple and “uninspired” is too defeatist. The Stuckness is a destination. A gray, bland shithole that no quip, one-liner or tagline will get me out of. And it’s not an out and out shithole because at least that would be inspiring. No, the Stuckness feels like looking at a test pattern and waiting for the television show to come back on but knowing in your heart you might be waiting forever. Being the dramatic homosexual that I am, whenever I wind up in The Stuckness, the thought temporarily crosses my mind, “Well, here it is. It finally happened. The well has run dry. I am out of ideas. I should go apply for a job at paperclip making factory and be done with it.” Thankfully I know this is not the truth and I also realize it’s hard to write abut recovery and inspiration when I’m feeling like Eeyore waiting to refill his Cymbalta prescription.  Yet, perhaps there’s some value in The Stuckness. I picked up some classic books I’ve never read before at the library. I’m blasting random music while creating new dishes in the kitchen. We’re watching shows on Hulu and YouTube that aren’t on our usual menu. The point is creativity was here the whole time and determined to push its way out.

Being here, being stuck is something that has happened before in my career as a freelance writer. Thankfully, my job is so deadline ridden that I usually can’t pay much attention to it. I have to grab onto something and let it yank me out. Unfortunately, this was not one of those times. As I wrote and re-wrote the same dumb lines for the same dumb article, I realized what I had to do. I looked around and said out loud,”I’m stuck.” I stared at The Stuckness and noticed it’s bleak stranded quality, realized I was truly there. I even tweeted about it. I read other blogs and chatted online with other writers. And that’s when It happened. I was rescued. It sounds simplistic but just by saying “Yeah, I’m stuck. So?” the whole thing stopped being a big deal. No, the rest of that piece did not come easily. And honestly it kind of sucked.  No, I wasn’t able to bang out several chapters and a few scenes right after. But the acknowledgement alone set me free. As an addict, this act seems to happen a lot. Realizing I’m fucked, saying out loud “I’m fucked” and then asking for help-divine or otherwise is a routine we recovery types have to get into. So winding up stranded in The Stuckness is no different and luckily I have my tools to help me get out of it. This being said, The Daily Inspiration will return tomorrow as will more blogs etc. I know. Longest explanation for a blogging absence ever. Enough of me, now it’s your turn.

So fellow bloggers, writers, artists and creative types, tell me how do you get out of The Stuckness? What kinds of things do you do to stay inspired and how do you avoid burnout? Let me know all about it in the comments section! 

Inspiration for Sept. 20th: “Fame” by David Bowie

Sometimes I need to start my day with a deep, reflective moment. And other times, I just need a funky, booty-shaking jam that serves as my soundtrack to my day. Today is the latter. Therefore imagine my delight when I found out that on September 20th, 1975 , Fame by the incomparable David Bowie was the number 1 song. That’s right- 37 years ago, the country had actual taste! I’m kidding. Kind of. “Fame” is one of those “attitude” songs. You know. The kind of song you move your head to and maybe even strut around your apartment to. It’s a track with a funkiness you can’t deny- see the Soul Train dancers in the above clip for further proof.

The song like most Bowie songs has a great back story. Apparently Bowie wrote it as a kind of response to being ticked off at his management company at the time. According to Wikipedia:

Bowie would later describe the song as “nasty, angry,” and fully admits that the song was written “with a degree of malice” aimed at the Mainman management group he had been working with at the time. In 1990 Bowie reflected that “I’d had very upsetting management problems and a lot of that was built into the song. I’ve left that all that behind me, now… I think fame itself is not a rewarding thing. The most you can say is that it gets you a seat in restaurants.”

To make “Fame” even more awesome, the song was co-written by John Lennon, who can also be heard on the backup vocals! Ever the collaborator, Bowie later re-released the song in 1990 with a rap from Queen Latifah back when she was still a badass.

So on a day like today where I’ve got a lot to do a song like “Fame” is the perfect jam to rock out to. But Bowie’s ability to channel a bad experience into something genius is über inspiring as well. Instead of stewing in situations or feeling hopeless, I will try to remember today that I have talents and tools to help me make things better. Also, Bowie’s willingness to collaborate and learn from other artists is something I need to take with me all day too. Mainly, I’ll use “Fame” as my funky, full of swagger, theme song today.

Readers, what’s your Thursday theme song? Post it below!

 

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Inspiration for September 19th: “Make Your Own Kind of Music” by Cass Elliot

Nobody can tell ya there’s only one song worth singing.”

-Make Your Own Kind of Music

Had she survived a massive heart attack in 1974, “Mama” Cass Elliot would have been 71 years-old today. In a short but rich career, Elliot recorded no other song that better described her individuality and “screw ’em if they don’t like you” attitude better than “Make Your Own Kind of Music”. Recorded in 1969 as a followup to her hit, “It’s getting better”, the tune didn’t really make much of an impact at the time and only reached #36 on the Top 40. Elliot struggled to stay relevant as she departed The Mamas and the Papas and as the 60’s were becoming the 70’s. Nevertheless, this curious little pop tune has endured. Barbara Streisand, Bobby Sherman and others have recorded the track but it’s Cass’ version that survives. She really sells the songs corny but sincere message and elevates the track to classic status. Upbeat, catchy and unabashedly optimistic, “Make Your Own Kind of Music” is own of those songs I picture playing during the opening credits of the sitcom based on my life. Anybody else? No? Just me? Okay. Moving right along…

Fans of the show Lost will undoubtedly remember Desmond playing the song on a record player during the season 2 opener entitled, “Man of Science, Man of Faith.” “Make Your Own Kind of Music” shows up in several other episodes and even had a surge on iTunes, thanks to Lost. 

According most biographies of Cass Elliot, she struggled with truly loving who she was and suffered a lot of emotional and physical pain due to her struggle with her weight. It’s a shame she never got to really believe the message of personal acceptance that she inspired in her fans. So on this slow-moving Wednesday where there isn’t enough coffee to get me going, I’m going to try to take the song’s message to heart. I have a few “what if they hate it” or “what if I fail” creative projects that I’m going to jump head first into today. Also, it’s important as a creative person to keep going and trust the process so I’m going to try to help others do that today too. Finally, I have to remember to do things in my own voice and not care if “nobody else sings along.”

Happy Birthday Mama Cass and Happy Wednesday, friends!

 

 

The Happy Hostage

Sing Hallelujah, come on get happy!  And smiles, everyone, smiles! And happy, happy joy joy. And don’t worry be happy! And happy days are here again! Except for one tiny detail. I was never actually happy.

I certainly played the part of Mr. Happy. I smiled all the time and told people I was “Fine! Fabulous! Couldn’t be better!’ I could even convince myself for long periods  that I was happy. However, it never really occurred to me that genuinely happy folks didn’t have to drink themselves blind seven days a week just to deal with their lives.  I thought if I simply acted like I was happy, I would become happy. Like those girls who hang up pictures of the perfect supermodel bodies on their inspiration boards but never actually go to the gym. Whats more is that I couldn’t stand people who were unhappy and who had the unmitigated gall to say how miserable they were. Those poor suckers who bemoaned about having a bad day or cried about how hard their lives were, I usually brushed off as “negative.” I mean how dare they have real emotions? I didn’t want to be bothered with facing the reality that some times life is shitty. People going through rough times or experiencing long bouts of sadness didn’t really have a place in my world. When you’re living in a delusion it’s best to keep out individuals and situations that are ‘real’. I mean you wouldn’t let suicidal sadsacks run Disneyland now would you? The unfortunate thing was that reality would always find it’s way in regardless of how much I drank or what drugs I took or who I had sex with. When reality did reappear it was usually ten times worse than I remembered. The bills I never paid were out of control, the people I never called back were now really pissed and reality itself was angrier and more chaotic. There was no hiding from reality.  After all, even Eeyore hangs out at Disneyland.

Once I got sober, happiness didn’t come skipping back into my life. The opposite. I cried daily for the first five months. I felt horribly alone. Once I whined to my sponsor, “I think everybody’s having more fun than I am” to which he replied, “That’s because they are.” Upon my clinic’s suggestion, I went to a psychiatrist at 9 months sober. I was going to meetings and seeing a doctor since I was newly diagnosed as HIV positive. Things were pretty rough but I was hanging in there, still going to school and not getting loaded. This tiny little man with itty bitty glasses, kid hands and a basement office in a clinic in Venice brought new meaning to the term “shrink’. He had me answer questions about my past, about my drug use, about how I was feeling about my diagnosis, about my recovery program, etc. He sat there for a few minutes and then said, “Well despite your best efforts, you’re still pretty miserable.” Miserable? Nobody had ever called me miserable! I was the smiley guy who everybody loved, right? The word knocked the wind out of me. Sure, he might of had a point but I was newly divorced, newly sober and just found out that I was HIV positive.Was I supposed to come tap dancing into his office singing “Who Could Ask For Anything More?” I thought it was impressive that I hadn’t thrown myself in front of a speeding train and then this little guy calls me miserable? He wanted me on Wellbutrin which I didn’t take and wanted me to come back which I did once but it was really out of spite to show him how great I was doing and that I wasn’t miserable. He,in turn, gave me the card of a therapist who dealt with depression and addiction. Sigh.

Today, real happiness isn’t a thing or an event. I usually feel it when I’m walking down the street and I realize how good my life is. Generally, when I’m sad I let myself feel that too. I also realize that the happiness and unhappiness of others isn’t my business. I can let my husband, friends and family feel their lives too and everything will be okay without me manufacturing happiness for them. When Michael Jackson died, the media mentioned over and over how “Smile” by Charlie Chaplin was his favorite song. Such an addict. I mean those lyrics- “You smile through your pain and sorrow. Smile and maybe tomorrow, You’ll see the sun come shining through.” Smiling through his pain and self-medicating didn’t really go so well for MJ.  And one of Judy Garland’s signature songs was “Come on Get Happy!” and we all know how great things turned out for her too. The point is, I don’t need slogans or upbeat jingles to convince the world I’m happy. I do consider myself a happy person but it ain’t always sunshine and lollipops. A lot of times, it’s a total disaster. But the truth today is all of it is just fine the way it is.

Inspiration for September 17th: Henri Rousseau

Beauty is the promise of happiness. -Henri Rousseau

In September 1910, Henri Rousseau died at the age of 66. He died relatively obscure and definitely broke. You know. The oldest artist song in the book. While alive Rousseau exhibited his works with other artists and usually took a critical beating for painting in the “naive style.”  Obviously, Rousseau transcended bad reviews and snobbery by his fellow artists. His work captures the imagination and brews up excitement for art lovers of all ages.

While reading about Rousseau this morning, one biography of the artist said that despite falling on hard times and harsh criticism “his faith in his own abilities never wavered.” A former army officer with a teenage delinquent past, Rousseau claimed that for the most part he had no formal art training and that nature and his surroundings were his only teachers. Paris’ botanic gardens, taxidermy in museums, the countryside and illustrations in books were all Rousseau needed to paint his famous jungle scenes. These works are what most artsy types consider his quintessential pieces despite the fact that they were universally hated at the time and that Rousseau himself never went to the jungle.

Rousseau’s final painting was entitled The Dream. It was shown in an exhibition in 1910, a few months before he died. Despite dying in poverty, Rousseau’s own dreams live on. He was a major influence on Picasso, Jean Hugo, Beckman, and the Surrealists. His paintings inspired Joni Mitchell’s song The Jungle Line and even the animated film Madagascar.

There is clearly a lot to be inspired by with Henri Rousseau. His resilience and perseverance are good things for me to strive for on this gray Monday morning. Also, as I work on some big projects, I need to remember that so much of what I need for research or to stay inspired I can find right here or in my imagination. I need some library time today and Rousseau’s use of the resources around him have made that a priorty for me today. Lastly, I will have an unwavering belief in my own talents today. Haters (especailly the ones in my own my mind) be damned!

Happy Monday everybody!

 

Coming Soon! But Not Soon Enough.

Every summer when I was a kid, comic books would have big full-color ads for the new crappy 80’s cartoons. The Smurfs! The Trollkins! The Snorks!  The Littles! All essentially the same cartoon and  all coming soon to Saturday morning! I’d hang onto whatever comic book it was so I’d know when the new shows were starting. This innocent issue of Betty and Veronica or She-Hulk soon bore the burden of becoming my all-knowing resource and guidepost for Saturday morning entertainment. I would check and recheck the dates almost daily. The anticipation was unbearable and senseless. Like why couldn’t the cartoons start in the summer? Why did we have to wait until fall?

As an addicted person, I’ve spent most of my life screaming at instant gratification to “Hurry the hell up!’ It’s beyond ironic that someone as inpatient as myself waited tables for so many years. Ha! Ha! Universe! Good one! The guy who couldn’t stand waiting in line at the grocery store spent over a decade reassuring hungry customers, “Your order will be right out.” Waiting tables can taught me a lot about patience and understanding. But mainly it taught me that people suck when they haven’t eaten. And in Los Angeles some of them have eaten in decades so you can imagine how crabby they are.Naturally, I again find myself waiting. Not tables, thank God. This blog would be replaced with a suicide note if that was the case.Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for the experience and happy I had the work for as long as I did. But being almost 40 and working in some diner still telling people, “Your order will be right out” seems like my personal idea of hell.

The annoying little tickle in the back of my head that’s coming soon and driving me a little bit crazy is the fact that I will be turning 40 at the end of November. Here’s the truth. I’ve been having a 40 freak out. Not in a get myself a 22-year-old boy toy, a convertible and some hair plugs kind of way. But I definitely feel some pressure to get some nagging goals accomplished and to get my proverbial shit together. I mean I’m trying to live some bumper sticker like “Forty is the New 20!” or “Forty & Fierce!” But I actually  feel like “Fuck?! Forty?! Really?” The upswing is that a lot of positive things have happened. Some writing goals have been reached, new spiritual practices are in place and I’ve gotten myself a sparkling set of teeth after going through some dental hell earlier this year. Now I just kind of wish 40 would get here. Not because it’s going to be mind-bending in its awfulness or awesomeness. But because I want it to be over. I’m having a big party and some friends and family from out-of-town will be here. It’ll be great and then on December 1st, I’ll just be another 40-year-old who gets to look forward to freaking out about turning 50-coming soon!

And yet the giant cosmic bitch slap of all of this is I really have a lot to enjoy right now.Living in the future makes me miss the incredible things currently happening in my life.  From playing fetch with my cat while I drink my coffee to my impending stroll around the farmer’s market, things right here at 957am MST on September 15th, 2012 are pretty damn great.  Besides, I need to remember that most of the things that are “coming soon” usually turn out to be not that big of a deal.

Inspiration for Sept. 10th: Kurt Cobain

Released as a single 21 years ago today, Smells Like Teen Spirit  by Nirvana is one of those rare tracks that defines an era. It’s the theme song for a generation of unimpressed youth and the guy who wrote those lyrics Kurt Cobain was something of messiah for the grunge set. Truth be told, at the time I didn’t see what the big deal was. Top me Cobain seemed like another drug addicted hipster whose message of indifference was as old as drug addicted hipsters themselves. Yet it wasn’t until I heard Nirvana’s Unplugged record that I actually got it. Their cover of David Bowie’s ‘The Man Who Sold the World’ resonated with me for with it’s starkness and Cobain’s haunting delivery.

Cobain’s artistry and talent are on thing but his strong point of view and voice are what made him a star. Cobain was a strong supporter of Pro-Choice, gay rights and very anti-war. In the liner notes of Incesticide, he wrote, “”if any of you in any way hate homosexuals, people of different color, or women, please do this one favor for us-leave us the fuck alone! Don’t come to our shows and don’t buy our records”. Cobain was also an incredible storyteller in his songs. Each tune paints a picture of a man at odds with loneliness, disillusionment and the world at large.

And yet its as important for me to remember that Cobain died because of addiction. He killed himself and his body was found in his home on April 8, 1994. He was 27. He’s not so much of an American hero but a tragedy. So on this Monday, it’s Cobain’s artistry that inspires me. Also,Cobain’s legacy makes me think about the millions of people who are suffering with addiction and alcoholism. I’ll remember that today I have a choice that I can choose recovery. And Cobain’s struggles will remind me that I’m not cured and I have to keep doing this thing if I want to stay well.  Lastly, I’ll try to remember where I was when I heard this song for the first time. Enjoy your Mondays, homies!

Inspiration for September 7th: You

This is the 100th post here at UrtheInspiration!

Can you believe it?!? I started this little blog back in December 2011 and here we are. The goal of UrtheInspiration was always a simple one: to perhaps provide a laugh or some hope for somebody who’s going through the things I went through. See, when I got sober in 2009 I read the words of people like Elizabeth Lesser, Deb and Ed Shapiro, Carrie Fisher, Louise Hay, Alexander McCall, Raymond Carver, Dorothy Parker, Shakespeare and so on and so on. I clung to them, quoted them and re-read them because I needed them. These words healed me, made me laugh and helped me feel better even if it was just for a few minutes. As a lifelong writer, I thought to myself, “I hope I can do that some day.” I also wanted to really write down parts about my story I was always afraid of and maybe that could help somebody too. And if nobody cared or no one read and everyone hated it, then big deal.  I got it down, I tried and I could move on.

Well, that didn’t happen. You happened. That’s why you’re today’s inspiration. You showed up, you read and most amazingly you told me I wasn’t alone. You told me you had been through the same thing and how you got through it. You laughed and made me laugh.I talked about crazy, uncomfortable shit and you returned the favor by sharing your own honest and courageous battles. The fact is, we writers like to say that we write for ourselves and fuck what anybody thinks. And to some degree this is true. You can’t worry about reaction or if anybody is gonna get it too much or you’ll never get a fucking word on the page! But writers also need readers too. We need people to say, “Yes!!!” or “I loved it” and we even need people to say “WTF” and “Sorry I didn’t get it”.  I  love hearing all of it and I need it. The real gold here is the rare, crazy times over the last year when one or two have said, “Thank you for talking about this” and “I’m going through a rough time and this helped me”. Holy crap. Mission accomplished! Really.

Oh but I’m just getting started! This blog and you all have inspired me to put a book together (Sparkleholic- coming in early 2013!). UrtheInspiration recently got a spiffy new makeover and I’m hoping to get guest posts from you guys too (hint, hint. email me at urtheinspiration@hotmail.com hint, hint). So here’s to you my blogging friends, Twitter troublemakers, writing comrades, fellow hotmesses, and recovery warriors. Without you, I’d just be talking to myself.

One more favor, (as if listening to my dribble day, after day, wasn’t enough!) if you read this blog leave, please say hi in the comments section today. Since you’re the inspiration today, I’d like to say hello personally and thank you for well, being you!

Can’t Hurt Me Now

You can’t hurt me now
I got away from you, I never thought I would
You can’t make me cry, you once had the power
I never felt so good about myself

‘Oh Father’, Madonna 1989

For a super effeminate card-carrying Madonna fan who sparkled a little bit harder than the Golden, Colorado kids in the 4H program, high school was not always a walk in the park. Or if it was a walk in the park, it was a walk in a park where they yelled “Hey faggot!’ at you. I was routinely pushed and tormented and spent my senior year with charming slurs scratched into my locker door.  It sucked but armed with my smartassed sense of humor and a few tough girlfriends, I survived. Mainly, I just didn’t really show up that often. I mean, ditching class, smoking cigarettes and shoplifting were more fun and less traumatic. By senior year I had friends and wasn’t harassed as much and did my own share of bullying to keep afloat. Like any good Madonna fan, I learned how to strike a good ,”if you don’t like me, go fuck yourself” pose. I worked, I went to concerts and bad teen clubs and oh yeah- I did drugs and drank. But then again, you knew that about me. (Spoiler alert: this drinking and drug thing doesn’t turn out so good for your’s truly.)

As delightful as talking about high school is, there is a point here. Last week, I had lunch with a friend from that institution. She was always one of the good ones. We were laughing about high school and the ridiculous people we survived together. Our 20th reunion was last summer, which I did not attend. I was about to explain why when my brilliant friend interrupted and said, “Oh I don’t blame you. They were awful to you.” She then went on to recall a time when she was walking down the hall with me as the homophobic cretins yelled names at me. She was horrified and the memory has haunted her.. “Thank you”, is what I blurted out as she finished her story. It was a weird thing to say but I meant it from the bottom of my heart. In truth, I don’t know why the hell I said it. Maybe I was thanking her for having the courage to be my friend even though the people in the hallway clearly thought that was a bad idea. Or maybe I was thanking her for her honesty. At the center of my gratitude, as I figured out later on during the day, was her acknowledgement. It was so cathartic to hear someone else say notice that people were awful to me. When you’re in that kind of thing, you think it’s bad but it’s hard to know the truth. To have another person say, “that wasn’t okay” is incredibly healing. See, her younger brother was bullied too for being Jewish. So even though my friend was a popular girl with lots of friends, she understood. I wasn’t alone. It’s important for me to remember, it wasn’t just me.  The county I went to school in was not a bastion of love and tolerance. It had an epidemic of bullying, suicides and racially charged violence in the late 1980s and early 90s. Nine years later, this county’s problems would come to a boiling point and it would be put on the map, thanks to the massacre at Columbine High School.

What’s funny is that I am no longer angry or resentful at my tormentors. Yes, I was thrilled when she told me most of them got fat and look horrible- hello, I’m a human being. But overall, I don’t care.I know was a little shit too and probably caused as much pain to someone else. The best revenge is being fabulous, growing up and moving on. And I think I’ve accomplished those things for the most part. But more than that I have compassion for myself and all of the kids I went to school with. These people can’t hurt me or piss me off today. The key is that I’m no longer hurting myself either. Like everything else fantastic in my life, my forgiveness around high school can be attributed to recovery from drugs and alcohol. Thanks to facing my demons, I don’t have to fake the tough Madonna attitude. I legitimately don’t give a shit and I do so with love. So I bristle whenever I hear about bullying and the well-meaning yet over simplified “It Gets Better” campaigns. Yes, it does get better but not if you don’t do the work. We owe it to ourselves to get better too. I’ll shut up now and  let Madonna explain it:

“No matter who you are, no matter what you did, no matter where you’ve come from, you can always change, become a better version of yourself.”

Inspiration for September 4th: Hal David

What the world needs now,
Is love, sweet love,
No, not just for some but for everyone.

Over the weekend, we lost a great lyricist when Hal David passed away at 91 years-old. As the sometimes thankless task of being the guy who supplies the words can be, David was often forgotten. His writing partner Burt Bacharach and their musical muse Dionne Warwick often grabbed more headlines than David did. But without David those catchy lyrics to some of the best pop songs on the planet would not exist. As I read his obituary and tributes in different publications, it blew my mind how many hits David wrote. Some, like Brokenhearted Melody, are tunes he crafted before his partnership with Bacharach. The song is a showstopper for Sarah Vaughn and I dare you to erase it from your memory after listening to it:

David’s lyrical genius can also be found in mega hits like the Oscar- winning Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head, I’ll Never Fall In Love Again, Walk on By, The Look of Love, and one of my all time favorite songs, I Say a Little Prayer for You.

Naturally, everybody has their favorites and the list is endless. David and Bacharach’s hit making machine attracted the biggest names of time and their collaborations with goddess Dusty Springfield are utter genius.

What inspires me today, on this Tuesday after a long weekend, about David’s lyrics is the optimism that permeates in every song. Even the sad ballads give the listener a sense that everything will eventually work out. Sure, these sentiments might seem corny by today’s standards but as I look at the tragedy, cynicism and intolerance in today’s headlines, I think David might have been onto something. Love is still the only thing that there’s just too little of.