Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Dreamtopia: the best things that happened

I spent a magical two days at Cathy Heller's LA workshop, Dreamtopia 2019. Cathy and her friends didn't disappoint. I knew it would be inspired but I didn't expect an experience so affirming and life-changing. 

Something in me has been shifting as of late. Call it a light switch being flipped in the "on" position. Whatever it is, I think it's the beginning of an enlightened Second Act. 

I'd love to share my Dreamtopia experience with you. Here are the Ten Gifts I took home with me:

Finding kindred spirits - You know when you've found your tribe? Your fellow creative souls? Your sisters and brothers who just get you? They flew in from all over the world (the UK, Australia, Thailand); many braved the 101 and trekked from the Valley to Sunset Boulevard (gasp!); and one guy even drove all the way out to Los Angeles from Georgia. For two days, I felt the love and positive vibes radiating from these 200 perfect strangers (who, by the end of the conference felt like true community).

Don't give up. You're on the right path! - My partner and I have been chasing our own crazy big dreams for the past six years. There have been countless ups and downs. Heartbreaks and breakdowns. Breakthroughs and f*ck ups. Coming so close only to be so very far away the next day. The emotional strain of it all has been so great there were moments where our sanity (and marriage!) felt like it was on the verge of oblivion. But hearing the stories shared at Dreamtopia (animator Saul Blinkoff's incredible journey in fulfilling his childhood dream resonated so deeply with me) confirmed that we are never alone. "Don't give up! You are MILLIMETERS away from seeing your dreams become reality!"

Cathy Heller - She's the girlfriend who kicks your ass in the best possible way. There's a reason Cathy's podcast, Don't Keep Your Day Job, is at the top of the charts and boasts over 5 million downloads. It's because experiencing life with her is like taking big gulps from a fire hose. She is an inspirational POWERHOUSE and helps you plug in to the best version of you. I needed a serious nap after spending two days with her. Wow! (And someone please get this woman her own standup special. She's freaking hilarious!) 

Transformation - The first day was Fire. Synapses exploding in the brain. So many ideas. So many connections. Scribbling notes like mad (It's time to expand my audience! I need to seek partnerships! I want to finally write my book(s)! What about my podcast? Need to get going on that, too! And the event! The magazine! The creative collaborations! Let's build community! Aahhh!) The second day was Earth. It was the "Oh sh*t! Where do I go from here?" sobering reality that comes after your feet have landed on the ground.  

The sound bath - Have you ever heard of a sound bath? Me either. I knew nothing about it until I started doing homework before the conference. I found out that sound bath meditation is a calming yet powerful auditory experience for the mind and body via instruments like tuning forks, gongs and Himalayan singing bowls. Honestly it all sounded a bit mawkishly sentimental for me (raise your hand if you're naturally a skeptic like me). At the conference, our sound bath was led by scientist and sound alchemist Shanila Sattar. I'm telling you, I experienced something supernatural. I promise to tell you more in a later post, when I interview Shanila about my experience!

The maze is the key - Illustrator and Creative Pep Talk host Andy J. Pizza (how can you not love a guy with a name like "pizza") shared a powerful story about "the maze." After scoring big with The Indie Rock Coloring Book - an adult coloring book inspired by his final year at art school - Andy felt like he had bypassed the maze. Meaning, he had figured out the code, found the key, slayed the dragon and skipped to the "You Won!" part of the proverbial video game without going through all the levels. Early on in his career, Nickelodeon came knocking on Andy's door, wanting to collaborate. Ecstatic, he sent his sketches. They responded. "This is great for a first pass," they wrote. "Could you send us your finals?" Those were his finals. He didn't get the job. He felt like a failure. Andy had skipped the maze and the world found out. 

After some soul searching (and many nights spent face down on his living room floor - flattened like a piece of cold pizza), Andy picked himself up and found his mojo. He made his own maze: a 100-day challenge to create a new illustrated character every day. Some were awesome! Some, he said, were awful. But he did the work. Every single day. And you know what? Nickelodeon called again. And this time he was ready. "The maze is the key," Andy told us at the conference. "The journey is the point. You can't skip to the end of the game. Well, you can but you will only be cheating yourself."             
H.U.S.T.L.E. - I love fitness guru Jennifer Cohen's Keanu Reeves story. I had listened to it on Cathy's podcast, but to hear it from Jen herself at the conference was amazing. The story: It was 1995. Jen had heard the superstar was in town. Six months earlier, Keanu had rocketed to fame thanks to Speed and was now positioning himself as a "serious actor" - tackling Hamlet in Winnipeg, Canada of all places. Jen had her own dreams of becoming a veejay at Much Music, the Canadian version of MTV. So she hatched the perfect plan: interview Keanu and submit it to Much Music as her audition tape. Cut to opening night at the Manitoba Theatre with Jen waiting outside after the show. She fights her way through the crowd of hundreds and manages to reach Keanu. He thinks she wants an autograph, like everyone else there. "I don't want an autograph!" she yells to him over the mayhem. He seems confused as she explains her request. OK, give me your number and I'll call you, he tells her. She's dubious. "You're not going to call me!" Jen says as she hands him a gum wrapper with her phone number written on it. I will, Keanu tells her. And he does. Two days later Keanu F*cking Reeves is in Jen's living room. She videotapes the interview. Her mother makes them a snack between takes. In the end, Jen didn't get the gig (she was runner up!), but she learned a very important lesson: Find your killer instinct. Be relentless. Don't give up. "Why did you call her back?" Jen's mother asked Keanu that day. "Because there was a fire in her eyes," he replied. 

Naked on stage - I wasn't literally naked on stage in front of 200 people. But I came pretty close, thanks to Amber Rae. The Brooklyn-based artist and author of best-selling book Choose Wonder Over Worry talked to us about the concept of thoughts and feelings. How we are vessels for our thoughts and feelings but we are NOT our thoughts and feelings. "The Ancient Greeks believed our emotions are like visitors," she explained. "So what message does it have for you?"  

Our thoughts, feelings and emotions are like archetypes of ourselves. Amber asked us to join her in an exercise. "I want you to name your archetype, name this character," she said. "The one putting excuses in your head." Who do you think you are? It's too hard. It's impractical. It might never happen. But everyone is doing it already. Amber's archetype was called Grace. She was uptight and wore glasses and had a posh British accent. We all feverishly jotted notes in our journals. Giving voice and shape to our own "devil on your shoulder" characters. I named mine Nancy (maybe subconsciously I was doing some word association and "Negative Nancy" came to mind?). Nancy didn't look like anyone in particular. Rather, she was my shadow. Always with me. Always following me. She's quiet. Kind of an introvert. Very Type A. Always planning and plotting. Worrying. Driven by fear. But deep down, she wants the best for me. Amber called on three of us to share our archetypes. I just KNEW I had to go up there. I didn't want to expose myself, to be so vulnerable. I didn't want to do it, but the next thing I know I'm raising my hand and Amber is looking straight into my eyes. "Here we go!" I said under my breath as I got up from my folding seat and headed down the aisle toward the stage. I'm holding the microphone in my hand, looking out into a sea of faces and my heart is beating like a hummingbird's. Somehow I muster up the courage and introduce everyone to Nancy:

There was silence and a lot of nodding in the audience. Quiet affirmations and positive, loving vibes. "What would you say in response to Nancy?" Amber asked me. I paused for a moment. Then said, "I would tell her, 'I see you. And I thank you. For reminding me who I am and that I don't want to feel like this anymore. I thank you, but I need you to take a back seat now.'" It seems counterintuitive, but I became empowered in my vulnerability. Nancy forced me to come clean, to lay bare my brokenness and insecurities. And in that, I found my freedom. 

Funny is so much better than almost everything else - I thoroughly enjoyed the banter between comedian Wayne Federman (he's that guy you don't know but has been in like EVERY movie and tv show ever) and the hosts of the Self-Helpless podcast (Delanie Fischer, Kelsey Cook and Taylor Tomlinson). They shared how they hone their craft (write every day!), what makes a person successful (learn how to deal with rejection), and how painful moments can be used as a future anecdote that you will share when you are a super successful mogul. 

This gal - Consider yourself lucky if in your entire life, you can count your true friends on one hand. Those are the friends you need to cherish. This woman is the reason I even showed up to Dreamtopia in the first place. It's been a long, arduous road and I was feeling stuck, confused and lost. She knew exactly what I needed. Thank you, Ann.

Dear friends, my wish for you is all these things and more. You were made to create something. We are all makers at heart. You'll never be ready to do it - so you might as well get started now! And most of all: Believe in yourself. Because YOU ARE ENOUGH.


Stop Writing Alone host and fellow Dreamtopian Nicole Rivera shares her top takeaways from the conference. Yours truly sounds off at 46:00. (Stop Writing Alone)

Monday, March 25, 2019


Was that a dream? 🌴 

Thankfully, my trip to LA to attend Cathy Heller's Dreamtopia conference was not a dream.

More posts and a full recap to come. Caught some nasty germs on the flight back home. I've been sick for the past four days and finally starting to feel semi-human today.

Stay tuned...

Always believe.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Tuesday selfie

I'm headed to LA tomorrow to attend a conference with fellow big dreamers - entrepreneurs, designers, artists, writers, podcasters and small business owners, among others. For two days we'll be workshopping, networking and pitching our ideas - all with the goal of quitting our day jobs to pursue our passions full time.

The event is also an opportunity to put an outfit together (obviously!) and I'm happy to report that this whole ensemble cost less than a hundred and fifteen bucks.    

The outfit: Who What Wear 3/4-sleeve striped blouse and matching midi skirt from Target; Calvin Klein white pointy toe pumps from Nordstrom Rack (similar ones here).    

The occasion: Dreamtopia Workshop hosted by Don't Keep Your Day Job podcaster Cathy Heller and her friends. (My dear friend encouraged me to go with her and I said yes. Sometimes you need a good pal to give you a swift kick in the butt.) 

Why I like this look: It's bold, eye-catching and best of all, I feel really good in it. The blouse's fluttery 3/4-sleeves and high neckline are flattering. I'm also feeling the concept of the midi skirt - feminine and conservative yet not stuffy. When I tried this outfit on in the dressing room I was envisioning white pumps as the perfect contrast to the bold stripes. I got lucky and found a beautiful and comfortable pair, heavily discounted. To finish the look I'll wear a piece of statement jewelry, like this necklace but in pink.

A Monday, Wednesday and Friday selfie. :)

Friday, March 8, 2019

Happy International Women's Day

List via McSweeney's Internet Tendency.

Best tuna sandwich ever

Have you read Samin Nosrat's best-selling book, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking or watched her new docu-series on Netflix? I'm obsessed with her! Samin, you're so charming, so approachable, so full of joy and curiosity and wonder. I want to eat with you. I want to travel with you. I want to be your best friend!

Beyond her sparkling personality and obvious passion for things that taste really damn good, Samin's story of how she got to where she is today is quite fascinating. After a life-changing meal at the legendary Chez Panisse restaurant (at the time she was an undergraduate studying English at UC Berkeley), Samin went back and begged for a job bussing tables. She worked her way up to the kitchen and eventually learned how to cook at Chez Panisse, in Italy and at (now defunct) Eccolo in Berkeley. "Since 2000, I've pursued my twin passions of food and words with equal vigor, aiming to create work that inspires, creates community, and raises cultural, social and environmental awareness," she writes on her website.     

And now she's showing us how to make the best tuna sandwich in the universe.

Thank you, Samin. 

Samin's beauty uniform. (A Cup of Jo)

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Four great reads on the Internet

A wise person once said, "Reading is a basic tool in the living of a good life." Reading is like time travel. Reading is like watching a movie in your head. Reading is an act of empathy.  

I recently came across these beautifully-written, soulful and brave articles (thank you, Internet!). Take a journey and contemplate your "pet faves" (as opposed to pet peeves), walk in someone else's shoes (in this case a 460-lb. man's), feel the stress of working an 80-hour week at two full-time jobs while barely making ends meet, and understand what it's like to shed who you're expected to be in order to discover true freedom.        

Below are some of my favorite excerpts. Happy reading!

Ordinary Things That Bring Me Extraordinary Joy 
by T. Wise (Man Repeller)

"As I sat on my balled up coat, negativity coursing through me, I considered my pet faves. When elderly women call me 'baby.' When the doors of the train I’m on open as the next train I need pulls up across the platform. When old couples walk down the street holding hands. Paying with exact change. When I am the only person with no one sitting next to me on the Chinatown bus. When I see a shirt I love, there is only one left on the rack, and it is my size. Falling asleep on a road trip right as I leave and waking up right before I arrive. Putting dry socks on dried feet after swimming. When someone I love hugs me and later that night I put on my coat and can smell them for one second. When I forget to turn my early alarm off, wake up, and realize I have two more hours to sleep. These are not life-changing moments, but that could be their true magic."

The Weight I Carry: What It's Like to Be Too Big in America 

by Tommy Tomlinson (The Atlantic)

"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned: I lust after greasy double cheeseburgers and fried chicken legs and Ruffles straight out of the bag. I covet hot Krispy Kreme donuts that melt on my tongue. I worship bowls full of peanut M&M’s, first savoring them one by one, then stuffing my mouth with handfuls, then wetting my finger to pick up those last bits of chocolate dust and candy shell. My brain pings with pleasure; my taste buds groan with desire. This happens over and over, day after day, and that is how I got here, closer to the end of my life than the beginning, weighing almost a quarter of a ton."

Dollars on the Margin
by Matthew Desmond (The New York Times Magazine)

"A $15 minimum wage is an antidepressant. It is a sleep aid. A diet. A stress reliever. It is a contraceptive, preventing teenage pregnancy. It prevents premature death. It shields children from neglect. But why? Poverty can be unrelenting, shame-inducing and exhausting. When people live so close to the bone, a small setback can quickly spiral into a major trauma. Being a few days behind on the rent can trigger a hefty late fee, which can lead to an eviction and homelessness. An unpaid traffic ticket can lead to a suspended license, which can cause people to lose their only means of transportation to work. In the same way, modest wage increases have a profound impact on people’s well-being and happiness. Poverty will never be ameliorated on the cheap. But this truth should not prevent us from acknowledging how powerfully workers respond to relatively small income boosts."

How Marie Kondo Helped Me Sort Out My Gender
by Sandy Allen (them.)

"A month later, kneeling and sobbing before my Marie Kondo discard pile, it felt silly, sure, that this book is what had finally done it, but I also couldn’t unsee my actual preferences: so much of the feminine clothing I owned did not spark joy.
I donated it all. I hung and folded the items that remained: flannel shirts, baggy jeans, t-shirts. I had kept a few dresses and heels and feminine winter coats, ones that had seemed really special when I’d bought them. I knew Marie Kondo wouldn’t have approved of my choice to keep them. Each day I passed them and they stared right back at me.
During the months that followed, I steadily shed feminine things. One day, all my makeup: gone. Another day, all my earrings: gone. (My ears had been pierced when I was two!) I tried to do as Marie Kondo said and thanked these items for what they’d given me. I guiltily threw them out, and then felt wonderful.
One August day, I donated the last of my heels and dresses, the ones that had once been my absolute favorites. I happened to run into someone I knew in line at the thrift shop, and he offered to take my box of things to donate. I put them in his trunk and watched him drive away. I didn’t say to him, nor could I have articulated, that I was throwing out the last of me pretending to be a woman."

Opening illustration by Eric Comstock.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Is cultural appropriation always wrong?

When New York Times reporter Walter Thompson-Hernandez heard that Chicano subculture had spread to Japan, he had to see it for himself. "Who knew the culture I grew up with had a home so far from California?" Thompson-Hernandez mused. 

So he traveled 5,600 miles from Los Angeles to Nagoya, Osaka and Tokyo to interview Junichi Shimodaira, one of the godfathers of the Japanese Lowrider scene; musician and recording artist MoNa a.k.a. Sad Girl; and artist Night tha Funksta, whose drawings focus on the positive aspects of Chicano culture.

I was absolutely fascinated by Thompson-Hernandez's report. How amazing for a culture so different from your own to resonate so deeply and personally. It also sparked a question for me: Is cultural appropriation always wrong?

OK, first let's examine its definition:

cul·tur·al ap·pro·pri·a·tion [Noun] The unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.

When Nicki Minaj released her single, "Chun-Li" (off her 2018 album Queen), I had mixed feelings. On one hand, the song is catchy and I always appreciate a good beat. I also acknowledge the nod to legendary Street Fighter character Chun-Li (I get it - it's generally fun for artists to reference Asian culture because Asian culture is generally cool, duh). But I was annoyed that Nicki's hair buns, hair chopsticks, coolie hats and Asian massage parlor imagery (as seen in the video for "Chun-Li") does a pretty good job of reinforcing Asian stereotypes (especially Asian female stereotypes - ugh). 

"This is such outdated thinking!" I yelled out loud when I first watched the music video. "Why am I still watching this sh*t?" 

Rather than having conversations about appropriation, let's instead hear from the people who actually live the culture every single day. Since we're on the topic of female hip hop artists, why not give a platform to Asian and Asian American artists like Jessi, CL, Suboi, HanHan and Ruby Iberra? These are REAL Asian and Asian American women with firsthand accounts about immigration, stereotypes, misogyny, struggles as minorities, and female empowerment. We need these authentic voices. My daughter and son need to hear these stories. (But I digress...)

Times have certainly changed since Gwen Stefani donned a bindi on the Red Carpet and professed her love of harajuku girls. In 2012, No Doubt pulled their "Looking Hot" music video (with Gwen in full Native American regalia) and later apologized to the Native American community. I think most of us would agree: given the long and shameful history of Native American decimation in this country by the dominant white culture, it was totally tone deaf for Gwen to wear that headdress.

So when is appropriation OK and not OK? Is Chicano subculture in Japan acceptable? Should Madonna not have worn North African garb during her award presentation at last year's MTV VMAs? (Or referenced Hindu art 10 years prior in her 1998 MTV Video Music Award performance?) Was Rihanna's papal-inspired gown at the 2018 Met Gala offensive to Catholics? Is it not OK for Asians and Asian Americans to borrow from African American hip hop culture? 

Do we need to make a distinction between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation? Are we all just going a little bit crazy over this? 

What do you think? 

Three cheers for cultural appropriation. (The New York Times)

Monday, March 4, 2019

Monday motivation

The hardest part is getting started... 

Today I didn't feel like doing much of anything. It's cold and gray outside, I haven't got any new ideas swirling around in my head, I don't feel motivated to write, I have nothing in me to offer the world. Get over it, Jenn, my brain said to me. What was it that ancient Chinese philosopher said? The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step...

So I took a deep breath, sat my butt in my chair, looked that blank white screen in the face and started typing. 

Motivation hacks from the best of the best. (Entrepreneur)