burning questions with the communicatrix: from the hip, to the heart

Without exaggeration I can report that some of the Communicatrix’s

writing has made me laugh so hard that I snortled – in front of people. Her poetry, which she publishes every Thursday, has made me cry multiple times. And she does these Full Monty Makeover ass-kicking assessments for websites, to which I’d like to send 77% of the world wide web – so many could use her high-sensibility whippin’s.

Colleen Wainwright’s approach to creativity and marketing is like Buddhist-meets-Ninja-meets-BareNaked Ladies, with a lil’ Joni Mitchell thrown in. Just when you’re all charmed by her sass, she’ll throw out some cosmic truth that makes you go “yeah, true dat!” So lean in and listen up. The Communicatrix never fails to say precisely what she means and make you love her for it.

1. What’s the dumbest thing that you used to believe?

You will laugh long and hard—and I will join you in this long, hard belly laugh, O Sister of Lessons Hard-Won—but I used to believe that if I was just a good girl and worked hard, everything would be fine.

I cannot tell you how many stupid, sorry years I wasted, not to mention how many opportunities I probably let slip through my fingers, by not Going For It and/or believing in the Limo Shortcut to Success.

While the latter can be a problem for anyone in our postmodern dig-me age, the former is a sad side effect of being a good student, and possibly-especially a good female student. Life is still set up around rigid hierarchies and strict patriarchies, and it’s really easy to slide into the system and fall asleep for a lot of years if you’re good at playing the game. Which I was.

Unfortunately, it leaves you ill-prepared for pretty much everything when you graduate out of those systems, as with school, or when the systems themselves fail. I was in a dying industry (consumer advertising) and well-paid for my part in it; similarly, I was in another node of a dying industry (commercial acting) and well-paid for that. Fortunately and miraculously, I could see the writing on the wall with both of them and got out, but boy, have I seen a lot of friends and former colleagues get burned.

2. What’s your favorite belief these days?

It’s gonna sound even more wide-eyed and naive than my former belief, above, but it’s that one way or another, everything will work out.

This is directly related to a hospital-bed epiphany back in 2002, with some follow-up lessons over the following seven years. It’s seriously woo-woo shit, but the truth is, once the worst thing that ever happened to you turns out to be the best thing that ever happened to you, it reframes pretty much all of life, bing-bang-boom.

3. What are your creative habits? How do you keep the poetry, wisdom and wise cracks flowing?

Great question—I love “show me your rig”-type stuff.

Honestly, my best, juiciest, creativity-inducing habits have more to do with regular-usual habits. Daily self-care has become critical: getting enough rest, eating reasonably well, getting enough exercise (and I mean just enough—I do the bare minimum to keep things in working order). And firewalling time for ME ME ME: two hours every morning, usually to write, usually my blog, my newsletter or my actor-marketing column, but sometimes I’ll devote the time to a big presentation I’m working on, or to some collaborative venture.

I’ll even use it to be lazy and puttery (hey, my prerogative, as I’m the boss). But I recognize that it’s an insane luxury, this time to myself, so I try to use it wisely, not wastefully.

The only even mildly exotic thing I do is to take myself on the occasional getaway. I spent a month last year up in the Pacific Northwest (Seattle, mostly, plus a wee bit of Portland) and will do the same for a few weeks this year (although it will be PDX mostly, with a soupcon of Seattle-ish). In my dream world, I spend half the year in retreats away from home, where “retreats” means anything from cabin in the woods to working off-site in another city, and the other half snug as a bug in my own little rug.

4. What’s your really righteous (or deeply humble) advice to anyone who feels like they’re pushing a cock-sucking boulder up a mother fucking hill?

You are, most likely, but that’s where the most joy comes from. I’ve been reading Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, plus a lot of other things that seem to be mentioning the difference between joy and pleasure. My short, half-assed definition of the difference is that joy is experienced actively, from doing something, and pleasure is something that’s experienced passively, from not-doing (or from enjoying something with a minimum of effort). Nothing wrong with pleasure, but too much of it becomes hedonism, and that’s dulling. Whereas you really cannot have too much joy.

5. What books are you always telling people to read?

The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron (for divining purpose and excavating true self)
The Creative Habit, by Twyla Tharp (for a map and a light, when you’re a creative soul—the book is new to me but instantly went on my “Highest Reco” list)
Move Your Stuff, Change Your Life, by Karen Rauch Carter
Revolutionary Road and Easter Parade, by Richard Yates (for understanding the costs of not following your heart’s desire)
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald (if you want to understand America)

I tell people to read a lot more than these (because I’m bossy!) and the actual titles range more widely, but this is probably the tightest cross-section of recos around.

6. What global policy, credo, practice or law would you like to decree?

BE NICE.

‘Nuff said. (I hope.)

7. I’m going to give you a word. Tell me what the first thing that comes to mind when you read it… Ready? The word is: USEFUL.

“To love is to serve.”

My first shrink-slash-astrologer said that to me a long time ago, referring to what, in general, makes Virgos tick and what, in particular, might help me wrap my head around the idea of personal happiness.

The older I get (and the more I see people around me grappling with what makes life good, rich, meaningful and fulfilling, myself included), the more I reflect back on this lovely phrase I had dumped in my stupid, 26-year-old lap so long ago. I’m sure the answer to true happiness (i.e., something that looks a lot more like joy and a lot less like pleasure) is different for all—and really, Viktor Frankl’s point about purpose creating meaning, and hence fulfillment, is pretty salient. But you could do a lot worse than starting with service.

. . . . . . .

FIND Colleen Wainwright. Now.

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