childhood, children, comedy, television

Step 212: 4 Things That Made Me Laugh This Week

As a kid, I loved the movie Mary Poppins. I still do. The scene of Uncle Albert and Bert on the ceiling (played brilliantly by Ed Wynn and Dick Van Dyke, respectively) brings a smile to my face every time I think of it. Imagine the energy of laughter so strong that we literally rise up to the ceiling. Can laughter make us fly, at least figuratively? I think so.

This week ended up as one filled with laughter, some true funny ha-ha laughter, some laughing at dumb luck, and some of the shaking head, “I can’t believe this is happening” variety. None of it literally got me to the ceiling, though on several occasions I doubled over and my face hurt. I consider that a week well-lived.

1.) The Del Close improv marathon. My pal, Amanda, scored us some tix and a rockin’ place in line to see The Colbert Report writers perform. Though they stated clearly that they are writers, no performers, I found them hilarious. (During the days of George Bush, I used The Daily Show and The Colbert Report as my daily dose of news. I chalk it up to survival instinct.) The Del Close Marathon runs this entire weekend with a slew of shows nearly round-the-clock. Check out the schedule and pricing here.

2.) Comedy in marketing. I snapped the photo above outside of The Plant Shed, a store in my neighborhood. According to the sign, customers received a hug with every purchase. True statement? No idea, but it made me laugh. A course in comedy should be required for every marketer. Johanna, one of my yoga teachers, uses comedy in her classes all of the time because when people laugh, they breathe. And we all need to breathe, whether passing by a store, taking a yoga class, or just getting through our daily lives. Yes, sex sells. I would wager that comedy sells more.

3.) Kids say and do the darndest things. My niece, Lorelei, cracks me up on a regular basis. One of her favorite games is to have someone cover her up with a blanket and then wander around saying out loud, “Where’s Lorelei?” Then she jumps up from under the covers and you must pretend that she surprised you. I have no idea why we found this so funny, but we rolled around laughing about it for many hours and the game never got old. Spend more time with kids and you’ll laugh more often.

4.) Phineas and Ferb. I am a great believer in cartoons. I can be found in apartment watching them on a regular basis. I grew up on the Muppets, and I classify smart comedic writing for children that also amuses adults as high art. (I took a comedic writing class at UCB about two years ago. I was awful – I’ve never had to work so hard to write something decent. Out of 8 sketches, only 2 were even passable.) Comedy is hard. Smart comedy is a rare gift. Smart comedy for children that makes adult laugh is rarer still. Thanks to my brother-in-law and niece, Phineas and Ferb are my latest animated obsession. They must have a movie coming out – this kind of comedy cannot stay confined to the small screen. I watch every 20 minute episode laughing out loud. They are two brothers (with a pet platypus named Perry) who dream up crazy day-long stunts to keep themselves occupied and experimenting over summer vacation. They are wicked smart with big hearts. They believe the sky’s the limit. You should too because, well, it is.

That kept me amused all week. I didn’t get to the ceiling, but I’m not ruling it out as a long-term goal. What’s got you giggling lately?

change, creativity, feelings

Step 211: 5 Ways to Improve Concentration

“Through meditation and by giving full attention to one thing at a time, we can learn to direct attention where we choose.” ~ Eknath Easwaran

A lot of people want our attention. Take a walk stroll through Times Square without any sense of urgency, and your mind will start spinning with the dizzying number of companies and brands who ask us to pay attention to them amid the chaos. In New York City, distraction takes up residence in every nook and cranny. We spend a lot of energy and time just trying to focus. I’m sure residents of other cities have the same challenge. Not an impossible task, though certainly a difficult one.

The list below details 5 things that help me focus amid the turbulence of New York. I first moved to New York at 22, left, came back, didn’t last long, left, and came back again. In this 3rd stretch, I have lived here for over 3 years – a personal record of staying put in one city. Recently, the winds of wander have come knocking. While in Florida on vacation, I actually contemplated packing it all up (especially since I no longer have that many belongings), and heading for new pastures, even if not necessarily greener ones. Then the Universe, did a funny thing – it made it very difficult for me to physically get home from vacation. Absence, even short and fleeting, always makes me long for New York. The Universe has a deep wisdom and a wicked sense of humor.

5 ways I stay focused here in New York:

1.) Yoga helps. Really. I have a bias here because I am a yoga instructor. Though I got into yoga to reduce stress and anxiety. It gave me the lovely and unexpected side effects of increased creativity and the extremely ability to focus when needed. I don’t use yoga, nor do I teach yoga, to help someone balance all of their weight on their pinky while up in some crazy balance pose. I use it to decompress, and that works for me.

2.) Meditation helps, too. I hated meditation for a long time. I actually thought the whole idea of it bore a striking resemblance to The Emperor’s New Clothes. I spent many years as a critic of meditation without ever giving it a fair shake. Then with my yoga teacher training, I had to have a daily meditation practice as part of the program. Even for just 5 minutes. That regular practice did the trick. Now I have a meditation buddy from my yoga training – we don’t meditate together. We just check in with one another each week to keep one another on the meditation path. No I actually feel the effects of meditation, even during moment of increased stress. It taught me how to calm down and gave me a pathway to a peaceful, restful mind.

3.) Choose your neighborhood wisely. I live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. People ask me why and my answer never wavers. I like to go to crazy, but I don’t want to live in. There are far cooler, more happenin’ neighborhoods, no doubt. The restaurants in my neighborhood are decent, I have a Whole Foods and a branch of the public library around the corner, and live very close to two huge parks. That meets my requirements. I also live alone on a high floor and have some outdoor space in a quiet building. Those two things remind me just how lucky I am to live where I live. Crazy lives a short cab or subway ride away – good enough for me.

4.) And choose your friends even more wisely. About a year ago, I gave up on negative people. I had a lot of them in my life. People who never get to happy and cannot be happy for others. I serve as blood-in-the-water to those types of people because I have an extraordinary flair for listening to hard luck cases that want no help or improvement. Now I focus my time on those people in my life who give me more energy than they take, people who create and dream and grow. It had made a world of difference.

5.) Get a coach or therapist. The old joke goes that everyone in New York goes to therapy because we are all extraordinarily screwed up. Truthfully, everyone, everywhere can benefit from therapy. We all have issues and challenges and an unbiased opinion really, really helps. I see a social worker who acts more as a life coach than a therapist. If you want his name, I will gladly referred you. He helped me to gain more confidence and pursue a life that excites me. I also recently interviewed Will Meyerhofer, a lawyer turned therapist, for an upcoming freelance piece. He works on a sliding scale and has oodles of integrity and talent. Check him out at

What did I miss? What helps you stay sane in this crazy world?

art, creativity, film

Step 210: The Role of the Critic and Criticism

“In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends… Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.” ~ Anton Ego (voiced by Peter O’Toole) in Ratatouille (2007), written by Brad Bird

While on vacation in Florida, my brother-in-law pointed out this quote to me. I had seen Ratatouille before though had not paid this quote nearly the credit it deserves. If someone covered the attribution, I would have assumed a seasoned journalist as its writer. The gorgeous language, the lament, the honesty, and then the sense of purpose have an eloquence and dignity to them. I want to make t-shirts with this quote on them. I will certainly paste it up at my desk.

The new, indeed, needs friends. Supporters. Believers. People who can let go of past ideas and conceptions in favor of something different and out of the ordinary. They must step away from the safe, sure bet, and make their way out to the ledge to join the artist who had the courage to go it alone with only his imagination as his guide. Critics and artists alike earn their true credit out there on that ledge together.

Great artists can come from elite pedigree schools and backgrounds – critics often hold up those examples as the pinnacle of high art. As Brad Bird sees it, a great artist could just as easily come from any far-reaching corner of the globe, no training even required, only friends. An artist needs vision and the ability to bear out her ideas for the world to witness and critique. Making art, putting our hearts on our sleeves and inviting others to view them takes conviction, confidence, and bravery. Artists do and must throw caution to the wind. Their pallets may consist of paints, brushes, pens, computer design programs, clay, performance abilities, and a variety of other tools. The medium does not determine greatness. What makes a great artist, and also a great critic, is the unquenchable desire to make and remake, to believe that their greatest work and their greatest discoveries always lie ahead.

My brother-in-law, Kyle Waldrep, painted the image above. Visit his art blog here.

adventure, productivity, transportation, travel

Step 209: 10 Things You Can Do to Make Air Travel More Enjoyable

I planned to write about 10 things that Delta could do improve their customer service. Then I realized that post would be useless. After my recent experience with Delta, I’m pretty sure they don’t care about customer service. On my most recent Delta trip, my plane was struck my lightning, badly damaging the wing. My hat goes off to the pilot and co-pilot who landed us safely without causing passenger panic. I can’t imagine how terrifying that must have been for him. Delta’s customer service should take their cue from their pilots’ performance.

After an overnight in Syracuse where we were grounded and an Amtrak ride home (re-booking on a Delta flight seemed highly improbable given all of the weather delays), I decided to write this post on things that ordinary folks could do to improve the process of air travel, remaining productive even in the face of delays and cancellations. I hope you find these tips useful and will add to them in the comments section.

1.) Bring more to do that you think you can finish. Extra books, magazines, projects. The worst feeling while traveling, particularly if you run into delays, is useless Thankfully the Detroit airport (where I had a layover) had a Borders where I could buy Let the Great World Spin (future post forthcoming). Next time I’ll make sure to pack more reading materials.

2.) Don’t check luggage. Almost every airline is now charging for every checked bag, over weight fees are outrageous, and the wait at baggage claim seems to get longer with every flight. And there is always the stress of possibly losing your bag. I bought a small rolling bag that meets all of the FDA standards. If it can’t fit in there, I just buy what I need at my destination.

3.) Recognize that a lot of delays are for your own good. Cancelling and delaying flights is a much bigger hassle for the airline employees than it is for any of us. It’s a last resort due most of the time to bad weather, damage to a plane, etc. Just take a look at any gate agent’s face when dealing with delayed or cancelled flight customers. They’re in pain, physically, mentally, and emotionally. It might be the worst job in America. I would much prefer that the airline cancel or delay my flight than take a risk with my life at 30,000 feet.

4.) Steer clear of grumpy passengers. Whenever there is a delay or a cancellation, there is always a group of passengers furious beyond reason. They almost caused a riot at the airport in Syracuse. Cursing, screaming, throwing things. It was awful to witness. Stay away from those people. If you are one of those people, please stay home and watch TV – the Travel Channel will bring the sites and sounds of exotic far-reaching places right to your living room.

5.) Carry-on your essentials. If you refuse to heed the advice in step #2 and insist on paying exorbitant prices to check your luggage, then your carry-on must have certain essentials: a toothbrush, toothpaste, handi-wipes, anti-bacterial gel for your hands, moisturizer, eye drops, chapstick, and a complete change of clothes that are more respectable than your PJs. I also pack socks, a pair of jeans, and a lightweight jacket of some kind because although airlines skimp on just about everything, they crank the AC to the max until I’m so cold that my bones actually hurt.

6.) Get a smartphone with email and apps. I have a Droid with Verizon service and it has always come through for me on long trips. It’s a huge convenience to know what’s going on with your travel plans right on your phone rather than having to stand in line or wait on hold to ask your questions to a live representative. I think that airlines notify customers by email before they even tell their own gate agents what’s going on. It also gives you a way to catch up on old emails, check Facebook, Twitter, and any other of the gazillion apps that are out there. And you just might learn something new while waiting around for your flight to board.

7.) Podcasts are your travel friend. I’m a fiend for them and almost every podcast is free to download and play. Thank you, Apple. Go to iTunes and search away for podcasts on every subject imaginable, and some that you never knew existed.

8.) Grab the good snacks before you go. The only thing worse than a terrible tasting snack is a terrible tasting snack that’s expensive. Airports have cornered the market on terrible tasting expensive snacks. Pack your own – even if you buy the granddaddy deluxe snacks a la Whole Foods, they’re still less expensive than the ones at the airport, taste better, and are better for you. Good food does wonders for your mood when your flight is delayed or cancelled.

9.) Be friendly but break from the pack. Those grumpy people I mentioned in tip #4 are all the worse because they travel in packs like thugs. You will make a lot more headway by being nice to the people on the frontlines of the airline managing delays and cancellations. Smile, remain calm, and be persistent and reasonable. Don’t try to help those grumpy passengers along the way. Trust me, they aren’t going to try to help you and honestly will tank your own efforts to get where you’re trying to go. Just take care of yourself and whomever you’re traveling with. Leave other passengers to their own devices and attitudes.

10.) Take Amtrak or a luxury bus. You think I’m being cute with this last one but I’m totally serious. I love the train – it’s a more civilized way to travel. When I go to visit friends in DC or Boston or Providence, I take the train. It never crosses my mind to hop on one of those air shuttles. By the time I get to the airport, strip down to go through security, board, take the flight, de-board, and get to my final destination, I could have taken the train or a luxury bus for the same price or less than the flight, and traveled more comfortably and been more productive along the way. I’ve never used the luxury bus lines but my friends love them because they are equipped with wi-fi, are super-comfy, and cheap. Just don’t get caught in rush hour traffic coming into Manhattan. That’s a nightmare in any kind of vehicle.

What did I miss? What tips have saved your sanity on flights?


Step 208: Career Advice from Don Draper of Mad Men

“Our agency was being swallowed whole. I realized I could die of boredom or holster up my guns.” ~ Don Draper, Mad Men

I spent Sunday night in Syracuse, New York. Since I either wanted to be with my family in Florida or in my apartment in New York, having my flight diverted and grounded overnight in Syracuse was not optimal. Luckily, the people I met were exceedingly kind and sympathetic to the situation. It also helped that I could watch the Mad Men season premiere in a comfy hotel room.

The quote above closed out the season premiere episode of Mad Men. Don is being interviewed about the new agency he and his colleagues formed. It’s a quote that hit me like a ton of bricks and I drifted off to sleep thinking about how many titan companies of today may be in the same boat as Sterling Cooper, the original agency where Don is employed. No one at the time could imagine big Madison Avenue agencies folding or losing business the way so many eventually did. Who would think that start-up, nimble, lean companies could replace their big, powerful predecessors? And yet, that’s exactly what happened, and continues to happen, in advertising and almost every other industry.

A lot of Don’s behavior is deplorable (we love his character anyway because it’s superbly written and acted), though I greatly admire his bold attitude and confidence in his creativity. He offers his advice at the end of the episode to every employee who finds each passing day of work less than stimulating. Life’s too short to spend a single day devoid of creativity, and we’ve all got it, whether it’s in your job title or not. Holster up, folks.

books, marketing, social media

Step 207: How Greg Verdino’s Ebook Inspires Me

I love Greg Verdino’s blog. I find him interesting, controversial, and wicked smart. He’s also humble, curious, and consist and constantly learning and sharing. He started up his blog almost 4 years ago; I’ve been reading his blog for about a year. Mostly, Greg writes about social media and marketing though conversations (in any form) and relationships always seem to be his underlying topics to me. I’ve been looking back over a number of his posts as I prep the curriculum for the marketing class I will be teaching at LIM College in the Fall.

On my plane ride back from vacation, I finally read Greg’s ebook 4 & 20 Blog Posts, a selection of his writings from his first two years of blogging. As someone considering a career shift, I found his book and back-story very inspiring. Greg was “the social media guy” at Digitas when he started blogging and a brilliant marketer. Then he went to crayon, and now is part of Powered, a full-service social media agency. Conversations are now the mainstay of his profession. I think that’s a great answer to the “what do you do for a living?” question: “I talk to people.”

You don’t need to be a marketer or involved with social media to enjoy Greg’s ebook, the same way you don’t need to be a chef to enjoy Anthony Bourdain’s show No Reservations. Yes, if you love talking with and listening to customers in a variety of ways, Greg’s writing will be not only enjoyable but incredibly useful to you.

Greg is a guy who enjoys his life, has undergone a number of personal and professional changes since beginning his blogging life, and shares that every day with his readers. He gives us big ideas to chew on, visions that inspire us, and calls to action that makes us want to roll up our sleeves and get to work on the work that most interests us, whatever that work may be.

Give his ebook a read (it’s available for free download on his website) and let me know what you think. Greg’s book microMarketing will be published by McGraw-Hill in August.

dreams, family, learning, relationships

Step 206: Dreams Must Be Lived

My niece, Lorelei, lives in her tutu. It’s one of the first things she asks for in the morning. She loves to put it on, along with her dancing shoes (little black patent leather shoes with bows on the sides), and tap around on the kitchen tiles. She’d be thrilled if we could tile the whole world like a kitchen. She’ll spin, belt out a few Disney musical tunes, and take a bow. She invites everyone else to join in.

Her tutu transforms her – she takes on a new persona with it. It’s her special everyday costume. As I danced around the kitchen with her almost every morning of my vacation, I wondered what my tutu is. What is that one thing I have that transforms me into exactly the person I want to be? What helps me put away any fears I feel for the sake of just living to the fullest?

I have a white puffy calf-length skirt that I bought several years ago. I live in it during the summer. I love to twirl around in it. It makes me feel like I’m in some far away place, like I’m an explorer. It’s one of the few things that survived the fire in my apartment building. I have no idea how the specialty cleaner got the smoke and soot out of it. I bet they bleached the heck out it, and I’m glad they did. That skirt is my version of a tutu.

I’m not a clotheshorse – I actually hate shopping, particularly shopping for clothing. I do think it’s important to have one item that helps us to actualize and crystallize our lives exactly as we wish them to be. It helps to keep dreams in the forefront of our minds.

This week, I worked on numbers, letters, and vocabulary with Lorelei. She taught me about the value of not only having dreams, but also acting out our dreams. I think I got the better end of the deal.

The photo above is my niece, Lorelei, dancing in her tutu. If you have your version of a tutu, I’d love to hear about it!

family, time, travel

Step 205: Choosing to Board, or Not

Delta sent me a message this morning that read “time to check-in” and my immediate reaction was “no”. I’ve been having a blast with my family, especially my little nieces, and I’m not ready for the fun to end tomorrow morning at 6am. I love my life in NYC – my friends, my neighborhood, and my projects that are coming up in the Fall. Some parts of my life need sprucing up.

1.) Dating for the summer has been fun, actually dating for the past year has been fun, and now I’m ready to be in a relationship again. I wasn’t sure this day was going to arrive, but here it is. To read more on the topic of relationships, check out my Owning Pink blog.

2.) More than anything, I need more flexibility with my time, mostly from a geographic stand-point. This trip to Florida showed me that I need to watch my nieces grow up. I need to travel even more than I do. There are conferences and events all over the country (and globe for that matter) that I want to attend. My work, at least a portion of it, needs to be wherever I am.

Those two areas are heavy ones for me, each with plenty of sprucing needed. They’ll be getting some focus and attention, long overdue, in the weeks ahead.

choices, creative process, curiosity, discovery, dreams, experience, productivity, success

Step 204: Better to Never Finish Than Never Begin

“Can anything be sadder than work left unfinished? Yes – work never begun.” – Christina Rossetti

I saw this quote this morning on Twitter courtesy of Bridget Ayers, President of Get Smart Web Consulting. Over this week in Florida, I’ve been planning some new projects including a new blog / book idea about yoga and personal finance, my LIM College class about social media marketing, and schools where I can pilot Innovation Station, my after-school program for middle school students that teaches them about product design. I’ve had some moments of doubt about these projects – Are they valuable to people? Do I have enough experience to pull them together? What if they don’t work?

Doubts are important in the same way that a healthy fear of the ocean keeps us from drowning. After doubts initially occur to me, I remember to be grateful for them. Doubts, if handled properly, can dramatically improve our ideas. Doubts should be incorporated into our product development, but they should not deter us from getting started.

We should always begin, and if our projects don’t work out, we should just begin again. There’s no harm in giving something a go. The real harm is in never giving ourselves a chance.

friendship, relationships, success

Step 203: Get a Buddy

Nutrition experts have long extolled the positive benefits of having a buddy to encourage us to stick to healthy eating and exercise habits. Many scientific studies show that a group (even as small as 2 people) that agrees to lose weight and get healthy together has a far greater chance to get and stay healthy. So why not get a buddy for just about everything we want to achieve?

I thought about this idea yesterday when I received an email from a friend of mine whom I met through my yoga teacher training. She has been wanting to do daily meditation and pranayama (breath work), and has had a tough time getting motivated. She asked me if I’d be her meditation buddy and I gladly accepted.

In January 2009 I became very interested in starting my own business, and though I have many friends who are also interested in this endeavor, most have not taken the plunge just yet. I needed to get out there and meet some other would-be entrepreneurs so I started writing a column about entrepreneurship for In 15 months I wrote 125 columns, most of them featuring start-ups. A collection of 27 of those stories became my first e-book, Hope in Progress. That group of entrepreneurs became my de-facto start-up buddies, people who inspired to get in gear, and they did. I founded Compass Yoga, my own yoga instruction business, in May.

Buddies have taken root in other areas of my life, too. I have writing buddies who inspire me and my writing. I’ve had job search buddies and apartment hunt buddies (you need these in NYC with this rental market!). Buddies have also come to my aid on Innovation Station, my extracurricular education program for middle school students. When I think of the areas of my life where I found the most success, in each I had a buddy.

So where else could I use a buddy these days? Certainly as I ramp up for my first gig as a college professor at LIM College next month. Today I learned about Sprouter, a new online community for entrepreneurs who have just launched – an area where I’d like to connect with other new start-ups. As I’ve gotten more interested in new technology, I started looking for some offline communities in this space. Digital Dumbo is a group of like-minded individuals who are working to make Brooklyn into the next Silicon Valley. I’m attending my first Digital event next Thursday.

What areas of your life could use a buddy?