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Travis Bean

Travis bean neckHave you ever seen a Travis Bean guitar? It has a solid aluminum neck and center section that runs through the guitar’s body, a T cutout – the pickups are directly mounted to the aluminum – the sound is incredible.  I used to own one, or at least, I lived in the same house with one, lived in a house with my husband, the musician. Tracked it down before ebay, we bought it with our student loan money and extra shifts at the mall.

The day the Travis Bean came, all cream and chrome, I laid it like a prayer, like a new lover, on my side of the bed, anticipating that he’d be so into it and into playing it he’d forget all about me… which was thrilling, because he could play, and he was somebody.

He arrived home that day to my excitement without acknowledgment, without gratitude, without touching me, or my proxy. I slept on the couch. I can’t come up with any other explanation as to why he’d deny this excitement to me or himself other than he was an asshole. He was young and awful: all math, sarcasm, cruelty, control, and logic… but damn, he really could play.

That guitar was beautiful, machined to sound like heaven, heavy and smooth. I liked seeing it in his hands, I liked watching him work it. I wasn’t much, but he and that guitar were my everything. I suppose I was young too: all empty insecurity, filling myself with guilt, enthusiasm, and hero worship.

Eventually I left him, first in a series of leavings that would teach me who I was. You break-up, you grow up. He grew to be a philosophy professor, putting his art and music away, tucking his Travis Bean under his bed with the dust bunnies and old shoes. To be honest, my heart broke a little to hear he’d traded his guitar for tenure. It’s hard to know someone turned away from something they put some much of their heart into, that I put so much of my heart into.

Sometimes I check online auctions, maybe he’s sold that incredibly perfect guitar to someone who plays it, maybe I’ll go see a show and I’ll see my proxy, the Travis Bean in someone’s hands again, there were only a few thousand ever made, and I loved one once.

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Time Travel

Once, mother and I calculated the sum of my sick days and determined I’d lost two full school years of classes to pneumonia. It dawned on me today that the spottiness of my early education was more than just incongruous learning, it was a strange way to time travel.

I would sleep, fever, and dream for days at a time, too weak to care about dates or whether the sun or moon was up. When I woke and was able, I’d build elaborate worlds out of modeling clay and construction paper. I spent from morning till night in my stories and fantasy.

After some weeks, I’d arrive back to my same desk at school, same teachers, same friends, same chicken-fried steak. But the classes had advanced, and my friends had memories of learnings and events that I didn’t. I just had these disjointed thoughts. That’s what I mean by time travel. I had a memory of school, long bits of absence from time, and then there I was in the future again.

So, when we wonder “where did the time go?” I’m more inclined to think it did slip away, somewhen. We fall down these rabbit holes and can’t remember when we’ve been. I wonder where all that extra time collects?

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What if I’m Just Here to Pour Your Coffee

Yesterday I found myself listing all the things I’ve made and done over the last 7 years. I started this list not because I was particularly proud, or couldn’t keep track (although it IS getting harder to do.) I listed them because I was terrified they wouldn’t be enough. It’s a real fear, now that my children are all finally in school. I am terrified that I am going back to the same space I was in 7 years ago.

7 years ago I was waitressing, 7 years ago I was pouring your coffee. 7 years ago Chicago was the purgatory between my previous life as a cubical slave and my future life of big adventure. I’m equally terrified and feel incredibly guilty when it seems that taking the time to stay at home with my children was not the adventure, but just what I did while I waited for it. What if my children have begun their autonomous lives, and I’m still just… waiting.

I tell myself that this is irrational, that this feeling of panic over my own autonomy is normal if slightly unjustified. After all, I’ve done so much in these past 7 years. I tell myself all stay at home parents go through this when their kids go to school, my children are not leaving for good, they’re just leaving for 7hrs a day, 5 days a week… But this month, these last few weeks, have felt like a slow motion free fall. No longer anchored to playgrounds and playdates,  I am left struggling to make sense of the silence.

I have kept myself busy. I marketed and produced a conference and community, I’m days away from launching Where are the Women with Marian, I’m in a hotel room in Portland preparing to speak at an entrepreneur conference, I’m planning another RVSX excursion, and planning new classes and events for the CWDevs community. Despite all this, I feel like I’m standing still. Without the normal constraints on my time, without the tug on my sleeve or demand for a sandwich while I take phone calls, all this action feels like atrophy.

What if, after all this time, I can’t function without the freneticness? What if my hustle was just a way of keeping sane through the routines of parenting small children? What if breaking my day into those tiny pieces of attention was exactly what my creative brain needed? When I mention this confusion of time and pace, my friends tell me to slow down, take a breather… but these are my childless friends, my friends that haven’t been waiting 7 years for their lives to be even remotely their own. These are friends that don’t understand that the constraints of full time motherhood that made my accomplishments seem extraordinary last year, are no longer there, and I may just be ordinary, after all. What if I slow down and find I’m just “waitress”, what if this last 7 years of waiting didn’t count, what if I’m just here to pour your coffee?

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Doing Brilliant Things You Suck at Doing

Two years ago I came up with an idea, as I am inclined to do when I have ideas, I immediately bought some domain names to add to my ever growing list of domain names.  I knew it was a brilliant idea because it was all about filling a need I desperately wanted not to suck at, Pitching. I was going to start a conference and online forum all about learning to pitch my ideas without shaking like a leaf, about learning to give the kind of keynote that gets a standing ovation at a conference, about negotiating a contract, or knowing how to talk to my clients, or writing a press release that actually got talked about by the press. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but knew I needed to get it done.

I’m a doer, I’m a maker, I’m a conversationalist, and being a maker and a doer (admirable skills that have certainly gotten me far) I love making and doing things that are useful to my friends, and I am great at telling my friends about it because of that. But talking to audiences, the media, or handeling myself in a normal business presentation situation… not so much… I suck. I’m not a business person, I never trained to be one. I’m a doing and making person, and it shows.

“Sucking,”  is of course, the layman’s term for “failing”, and failure – the fear of failure – is some scary shit. I know there is a “Fail fast, fail often” mantra out there (at least in the tech entrepreneurial world,) but I didn’t set out intending to fail, and that mantra is one of the dumbest entrepreneurial phrases I’ve ever heard. Starting something is not about failing, it’s about doing cool shit the best you can, it’s about making something that doesn’t suck, no matter how badly you suck at doing it, or in my case, saying it. As far as I’m concerned, no matter how badly you suck, you’re probably way ahead of the game, you are better than the scads of people too afraid to even try and build something.

I vacillate from roaring like a lion, to leaning on the stereotype that women are horrible at pitching themselves and their own projects and accomplishments. I get gun-shy if I’m doing too much talking. I have been conditioned to blend in, be a good girl, and not rock the boat, no matter how much success boat rocking has gotten me in the past. The compulsion to sit back and let my projects get “discovered” like models in a shopping mall is overwhelmingly prevalent. The fear of failure coupled with the fear of doing something I have been conditioned not to do my entire life is sometimes paralyzing, and I won’t lie, I have from time to time fallen into the role of the stereotypically meek woman, because it’s an easy, well trodden path. It’s always been a struggle to put myself out there.

My brilliant idea, Pitch Refinery, is scheduled to take place in just a few weeks (Sept 22nd and 23rd.) The speakers are stellar, the venue is paid for, the volunteers are ready, but the audience… lets just say they’re all going to have front row seats if I don’t figure out how to do all the things I built Pitch Refinery to teach me to do… it’s truly the most redonkulous catch-22 ever, but I’m going to do my best, even if my best totally sucks. My speakers say not to worry, people will show up, and I have to have faith that they’re right, because they’ve “been there, done that”  – they are all very smart business owners, they’ve been on TED stages, written their own books, made their own money and write regularly for publications like INC., Forbes, Fast Company, and Harvard Business Review – but I’m still nervous that this super cool thing that I’m doing, the thing that will teach me to operate way outside of my comfort zone, the thing that all my entrepreneurial and freelancing friends said they need to go to,  is something I’m going to totally suck at pulling off.

I have a feeling that they say “fail fast, fail often” so they can pretend that being sucky is what they were aiming for in the first place, but I can’t subscribe to that. I’m building something amazing, and no matter how much I suck at telling the world about it, failure is not what I’m aiming for. You can learn to not screw it up right along side me at Pitch Refinery, get yourself a 20% off ticket, I’ll save you a seat, just in case you want to sit in the front row.