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DLS: you're scared shitless and mad to boot, but that's not the real problem

This I shot on my little iPhone, and almost dismissed it because it was overexposed and sapped of colour originally. But a little editing and punching up the colours brought up the true beauty.

This I shot on my little iPhone, and almost dismissed it because it was overexposed and sapped of colour originally. But a little editing and punching up the colours brought up the true beauty.

To my DLS (dear little self), freaking out as life feels like it's careening out of control, 

Why are you so angry? You had such a beautiful night with the secret group of powerhouse women that gathered in the hot tub to share their stories of victory and struggle last night. You had a great time! Why so sad? 

The honest truth is I'm terrified to leave. I've been to Brazil 6 or so times before, and each I was eager and happy to go. This time, I am panicking at regular intervals during the day. Breathing shallow, eyes narrowed to pinpricks, groaning tiredly in my skin. I feel old. Not excited or eager, but tired and old. 

I feel I can't unstuck myself from my life this time. I can't go, life is too full, I will miss too much. I have worked so very hard and waited so long to get to this point in my haphazard career - when I'm actually busy and in demand. I'm turning down work all the time. I could potentially sustain myself with video work through the spring if I kept going at this pace. It's modest, but it's the first real start I've had since I moved to Gabriola and I feel I'm gaining traction at last under my own steam.

I am doing many things I love, and I am loving editing again. I love to help people with their strategies and public outreach. Everyone suddenly wants quick, shareable video. Everyone I talk to wants me to make a web video series. 

And I'm leaving in the middle of it all. 


If I'm really honest about it, I'm actually kind of angry about it. Not about the project, I love being there and I will enjoy it with the boys and learning horsemanship from Douglas will be an amazing gift. I'm angry that my life is so stressful and full. That I have made things so damn complicated that I can't just pick up and leave without experiencing two months of chronically overheating brain and hyperventilating nervous system to get there. 

How did I get so tangled up? Housesits and dogs, horses and my cat, my mess and debris from having too much stuff and too many projects scattered everywhere. I don't just have to sort and back up hard drives, organize luggage and things to take with me, I have to immediately sort ALL my stuff, the useless crap I'm leaving behind, too. Or at least that's what it feels like. 

I live like a transient person. Everything half finished, almost done, nearly there, then dropped at the last stage as I run to another project or rush off to another rescue. So when it comes to leaving the country for 2.5 months, I'm also having to deal with all my unfinished bits and pieces I've left strewn around. The taxes and corporate papers. The camera lenses I didn't get around to buying. The birthday bonfire wood that's still lying around. The half-started garden I wanted to get around to. The blueberry bushes that I won't see bloom for the 4th year in a row. Things left undone bug me, but I am a chronic leaver of things undone.

So yeah, leaving this time stresses me out. And the other half of it is anger that comes out at my dear friends and anyone who want or ask for my time. I'm so upset at every suggestion to hang out because "can't you see I cannot be SOCIAL? I'm BUSY FREAKING OUT over here!" 

But why be angry at all? Why so uptight, DLS? Why not accept that you simply cannot do everything, that you have chosen to be out of the country for two months, so you have to say no to some people and projects and things, and let it all go? 

Because... oh yes here it comes... because you still desperately want to matter to people. The big lie you live with is that you don't matter, that your life is just your own strange collection of ideas and desires that somehow doesn't quite knit in to anyone else's and therefore doesn't matter to them. So now, for almost the first time since you moved here, you feel connected to community and that your work and contributions may actually matter to people. So you've become angry, outraged, incensed, that you are about to be uprooted from that. 

Whoah. Didn't see where that thread was going.

So unpacking it a bit now: my belief system is 'Tobi's life doesn't matter to others.' So she works very hard to provide services that could be of use to others, and she takes on very big projects that matter, because she knows they are important and need to be done, and that her life will grow in significance because she is attached to them. These services and projects go largely unrecognized, and she goes for years feeling unseen and unknown, her gifts falling silent and ungiven, at her feet.

Then, something shifts: Tobi is suddenly needed, seen, asked for, her services wanted. The recognition that Tobi could provide something of value to another person's life comes at the precise moment she is dancing toward liftoff. 

I am mad about leaving because I suddenly have found my place here and feel confident in the gifts I can bring. 

Oh well that's just dandy. F***! How am I supposed to deal with that? 

No wonder I'm tired and mad and sad. I'm fighting a belief system, not just struggling with how much gear I need to assemble before you go or cleaning up the birthday wood debris.

So the challenge becomes: can you detach your value from your work, and simply allow yourself to be loved and appreciated for who you are?

Can you see that gaining popularity and being in demand for what you do is the precise opposite of becoming the kind of person who can live a life of authenticity and strength from within? That your services and gifts are just that - services and gifts - they are not YOU, and they do not make you more or less visible to those who surround you. 

Oh I can see it now. Yes, a little editing of that picture, and the whole thing blooms with truth. 

I hope you can work your way into the light again, DLS. You're worth it, you know. And you deserve not to be stressed and anxious all the time. 

Love, Me


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Packing and All the Little Things

To my dear Slightly Scattered and Not Wholly With-it Self, as you wake with a start and realize that life is not a rehearsal and you're leaving the country very soonly, for two months,

You do realize don't you, that as you're lazing back in a king-sized bed at the house-sit you've been staying in for 3 weeks, with an artificial fire in front of you, laptop on the lap, coffee with cream, and toast with butter beside you, this picture of comfort and luxury won't last forever.

Outside it's windy and rainy, and normally if you weren't looking after a dog, you'd be taking your beloved beach cat for a walk.

In a little over two weeks, you do realize that the scene will be totally different? You will be in hot, dry Brazil, listening to the endless chatter of a million morning birds, reading your Bible, eating eggs from the farm and drinking black strong coffee filtered through a stocking. Hopefully still writing.

I cannot remind you often enough: two weeks. Is not. A lot. Of time.

The walk around the block with Chili, the rescued street dog, looks like this.

I'm not panicking, but I'm certainly not ready to go, either. This is the period before leaving when everything must get done, and all the little loose ends I've forgotten about must get wrapped up. Buying Brasilian reals. Finding my old phone with the Brasilian SIM card. Buying lenses I keep ogling but not committing to. Organizing my kit and making sure I have absolutely everything, including lots of batteries and plug ins and audio equipment and plastic baggies and tripods and all the little mounts and things needed to attach all the doo-dads and things together.

Get my harddrive back from my old laptop so I can take the music library that I accidentally deleted when formatting my new laptop.

Hard drives. Oh Jesus, the hard drives!! So much sorting needing to happen before I go. Transfer everything off the little portable ones on to big internal ones. Put all the work that I will need to take with me, back on the little ones. Back up stuff. Make lists of where everything is. Ahhhh.

Taxes. Corporate and personal. Receipts from the last Brazil trip I haven't dealt with yet.

Gardening. Throw more seeds in the ground. Clean up the cabin I rent and make it presentable for the landlords to come back to. Clean deck from old leaves. Get Secret Dan to mow lawn. Get my poor cat to the neighbour's to look after. Pick up blueberries from my ex's and re-pot before they die.

Horses. Make lists of all that needs to be done for them. Bake cookies for the open houses this weekend so everyone can meet them and I can wrangle more help for chores. Sign people up. Get phone numbers and emails. Make sure I have a line on hay and supplies. It's only two horses but by God they will be looked after thoroughly when I leave!

Work. Finish one sports sizzle reel. Finish another cheesemaking promo that's been in the works for a year. Finish a house builder's showreel. Polish, export, invoice.

Invoice for the other work I keep forgetting to invoice for, and make up new contract to log another filmmaker's footage WHILE I'M IN BRAZIL shooting another documentary and also editing the Dorothy documentary.

Clothes. Fuck. I may actually need a whole wardrobe, as I don't have anything but Irish wool sweaters and barn jeans left. What is a tee-shirt, again?

And food. Taking all the powdered vegetables I can carry because everything is poisoned with Round-up and pesticides down there. Also drinking all the beer I can because it's a dry farm. And that's not helping with the focus, Tobi. Come on. You know better.

Better get going. First order of business, as always, feed the horses. Then everything else will fall into place.

I hope.

Love from your Future, Hyper-organized Self in Total Control of All the Little Things

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The Perfect Workweek

My Dear Driven Artist and Compulsive Overworker,

I've always known that working 40 hours per week was not for me. It was always either 70 or 80, or 10/20 ish. I believe I'm really only productive when I'm working flat-out, obsessively, enjoying the rush and stimulus of expediting food for a conference of 1000s of attendees for example, or fitting in a leisurely 2 hour work period as I do in my late 30s, between caring for horses, large dogs, gardens, and packing or unpacking my things from whatever housing arrangement I have at the time. 

Now I have scientific proof that working less is better for me, and is more productive in the end. I hereby present: The Ideal Workweek, According to Science, by Simon Parkin.

ideal workweek poster.jpg

Basically, he explains that just because "we live in a culture that venerates overwork", doesn't make us more productive. In fact, a lot of the research shows that four hour stints of work is about as much as anyone, from artists to philosophers to athletes, can handle. And even that might be best broken up into one hour work segments, with 15-20 minute breaks. 

My challenge, and perhaps yours too, is that my brain has been transformed by the ADD-inducing nature of social media culture, to the point that I can't seem to concentrate on a single task for more than 20 minutes before I'm actively looking for a distraction.

Ironically, when I'm "working" on social media content and surfing the web and Facebook for marketing opportunities, I can sit there, zoned out like a zombie, for hours. But when I'm standing in front of the computer doing some actual creative work to do with one of my documentaries, it takes about 20 minutes before my brain starts to drift, and if I can harness it at that point and wrestle it back to attention, I'm still only good til around the 40 minute mark before I have to do something else. 

Why is that? Why can't I focus on the work that is most meaningful and will produce the most long-lasting feeling of satisfaction for me? At the end of a workweek, I don't look back on my social media posts and go, "wow, those were some creative pieces of work there, Tobi, well done!" OK, so I do pat myself on the back a little bit for the bloggy bits that actually take some storytelling skill. But when I think about what I've done that week in terms of "real work", it's only the time I've put in to actually putting bits of video on a timeline, or words on a page, or ideas and research in a publishable format, that I really feel a sense of accomplishment about. 

The problem perhaps is, that the sense of accomplishment comes long after I've actually done the work, not while I'm creating. I usually have a sense of un-accomplishment while I'm creating something. It feels always rough, unpleasant, not enough, not polished, unhappily unfinished. So I go away from it with the nagging sense that I have to come back, and it bugs me. Whereas social media publishing work has an immediate sense of accomplishment, a reward right at the time of posting, and I feel a little rush and sense of satisfaction that makes me want to do more. 

So instead of limiting myself to a single post, like an addict, I have to replicate that post's success, doing it in multiple groups and trying to get even more traction, chasing the dragon of more reach and interaction. But it's a high that never lasts, and I don't think about it beyond that limited period. The gain is instant, and instantly over. 

But real work... the hard, uncomfortable stuff that I have to do daily if I'm ever going to finish one of my documentaries... the grinding, hair-pulling, sweat-inducing valleys and troughs I have to push myself through to actually lay track... this kind of work can only be done in short bursts.

I take hope in the evidence that far greater artists and thinkers than I am have traditionally worked in short bursts and then taken their leisurely time to do the rest of life, and let their mighty creative minds and juices slowly recover. Here's to a better workweek, and to working with less pressure and compulsion, for all of us. 

Hang in there,

love, Me.