Go On.

When someone breaks something of ours – a thief cracking our window, a boss changing our schedule, a loved one not showing up — we blame them for disrupting our way of being. We villify them.

And perhaps we are right. Maybe they are the evil in our hero’s quest.

But, like an earthquake demolishing a temple, disruption clears a path.

Without our beautiful garden to tend to, we can move in new directions.

It’s hard: to pick up and relocate after a storm.

But in time, we live different, we work different, we love different.

We are powerful creatures.

Like some magical beings, blessed with time and cursed with mortality, we turn pain into beauty and devastation into renewal.

And, in spite of the gauntlet set by the Gods, we go on.

The Last Staple


I finally ran out of staples.

It took 25 years.

In my first job as a temp at the Writer’s Guild of America in Los Angeles, I went into the supply closet after hours and stole a crate of staples. Not a box, a whole crate.

The staples were for my manuscripts.

Writing was my thing. I was going to be a writer, and you had to get published to be a writer, so I temped during the day and wrote at night on my makeshift desk made out of an overturned door and two milk crates (I sat on the floor). Weekends were for mailing out manuscripts to magazines, in between eating 99-cent Big Macs.

I wallpapered my room in rejection letters. It was an act of resilience. You can’t bring me down! The world needs to see my words.

I remember getting a note from Mother Jones telling me they’d publish a story I wrote about three high school kids at a small-town carnival (yes, it was autobiographical; I was in my early twenties), but they’d only publish it if I were willing to rewrite the mom character who, they claimed, “had decidedly loose morals.”

I refused.

Soon, my wall was full of short, impersonal rejections, and it was time to move on. I went to San Francisco, where I still used a door as a desk but put it on two bureaus this time and got a proper chair. It was all email by then, so I’d started using fewer staples. But the rejections still came in the mail.

That wall filled up, too.

I picked up a job as a Recruiting Assistant for Tech Writers, not because I wanted to get into recruiting but because I wanted to be around other writers.

A strange thing happened at that job that I didn’t expect.

I liked it.

I got promoted and mentored. I loved staying late and listening to my bosses talk about clients, listening to our clients talk about their work. I loved finding jobs for people and making enough money to eat the sandwiches I wanted to eat. I was a natural-born matchmaker with an endless appetite for helping people reach their goals.

I got home from work too late to write proposals for magazines. Tomorrow, I thought, but tomorrow I was busy.

The quest for the next rejection letter became less of a priority.

I still wrote in my journal, typed out short stories, and scrawled ideas down on postcard mailers.

I’d developed a writer’s mind. I’d never see the world the same way.

I write without paper or screen. I write my thoughts, short stories always playing back in my head. It keeps me company, kind of like the young Cliff is always with me. He works hard. Gotta respect that.

My stories no longer needed staples. Everything was mostly email anyway. Over the years the need to fasten paper together all but disappeared. I’d use maybe 1 or 2 staples per month, for poems to girlfriends, lease agreements, letters of resignation, conference handouts, internet recipes, school field trip forms…

It took a while to empty out the last refill, but it happened: I pressed down on the stapler and nothing came out.

It made me laugh out loud, alone in my office. I almost teared up.

Coincidentally, I had a client later that day who had confessed to not caring about his work for most of his twenties, but then at 28, he decided to get serious. That’s why he’d called me: to get serious.

“I can relate,” I said, thinking about the trip into the supply closet 25 years ago.

It wasn’t just that I needed staples for manuscripts; it was a big fuck you to all those cubicles, the grey walls and fluorescent lights, the pompous guy in the elevator, the forbidden 5th floor. It was me shrugging off the persona of an employee and staking my claim as a writer. It was a tribute to my mind.

But, eventually, like my client, I got serious. Or found my calling. Or got sick of being broke. Or whatever.

It doesn’t matter.

It was a fortuitous turn: letting go of what I was meant to be and recognizing what I already was. And that those two things were actually not that far apart.

To be honest, I’m really only certain of one thing.

It’s gonna be weird buying staples.

Tricky Trick

photo of man walking of foot bridge

Some days, I feel like I’ve cracked the code in making a living, that I’ve created a business where I draw people to me at the most pivotal times in their lives, a facilitator of change, a beacon of hope (and paid for it too!)

Unabashedly me. And the “me” part is my secret weapon.

Other days, I feel like I’m just another sprinter in a race as wide as the nation,

moving things around vigorously with my head down,

trying to “prove my value” before people even meet me,

peeking around the corner at a giant blank space on the other side of my appointments.

Keep moving, Cliff.

Fill the slots, change the lives.

I produce happiness… at scale. And sometimes even that, in all its nobility, can feel like a production line.

Fill the slots, change the lives.

Good news: I’ve found a way out of this mindset, a way to go from the dark to the light, or from the darkside to the brightside, as it were : )

The trick is to go smaller, to narrow my field of view.

If I focus on the connection in front of me instead of the line of connections I need to keep making… well, then I’m good.

And it’s all good.

But goddamn, that can be a tricky trick to play!

To feel each step instead of the distance in front of you.

To notice the faces of the other runners, and not just the outlines.

To feel the breeze without fear of the storm.

Reframing reality without lying to yourself is like walking across a long, skinny plank over shark-infested waters. In a hurricane.

I pretty much live on that plank, and I’ve gotten so I can do backflips on it without faltering. I walk the plank for myself and I take my clients across it 3-4 times per day.

That’s what us coaches do: we show you the narrow bridge that you missed.

And our faith in its strength is all that holds it up.

I told you, it’s a tricky trick.

Or a God-given talent.

Depends on the day.

Some Things Never Change

Even as a child,

I’d leave behind the chaos of the monkey bars at recess

and go lay down in the shaded dark green grass by an abandoned remnant of playground equipment: a lone pole with a chain attached at the top.

And I’d listen to the sound of the chain clanging into the pole in the wind, taking position as “first chair” in the cacophonous orchestra around me.





I loved the tone of it.


And the silence between the notes.


( )


( )

Sometimes I’d lay there until the teacher called us back in to line up.

Her voice was startling but welcome.

Even then, I was puzzled by the lines we were forced to make,

amused by the exaggerated anger and sadness in the faces around me as we filed back into the school,

comforted by the sound of the chain as we entered the familiar hall lined with faux cinderblocks and fluorescent lighting.

There was something more alive in that chain than anything else on the school yard,

the whispers of sages across millennia.

It’s so wonderful to look back at your childhood and see yourself doing the things that make you who you are today.

It’s like having your soul wink back at you.

In all the chaos of being an adult, a dad, a business owner, I still hear the chain.

And the silence.

The Nick

I love my car.

Excessively so.

I wash it by hand. I never park under trees or power lines. I try not to take it out in the rain.

I talk to it. “Good to see you… Sorry about the rain.”

So when I came out of Rockin’ Jump Trampoline World and saw that my driver’s side door had been nicked down to the primer, it just about ruined my day: a white scratch in the shape of a backward’s L, clear as day.

There was a note stuffed into the crack between the window and the door.

“Sorry my door scratched your car. Please call me if you want to repair.”

The big looping letters had been scrawled quickly on the last page of a checkbook, torn haphazardly along the top edge.

The note helped. It kept me from slipping into anger. (It’s so easy to be angry at someone who isn’t there.)

I imagined a mom pulling into the space next to mine, her exuberant teenager bounding out of the car before she could stop him.

Her day ruined too.

The scratch got bigger in my mind as I drove home. It’s all I could think about. I called my dad. He loves his car too. He was able to talk me down.

As luck would have it, I already had an appointment scheduled with the auto shop to get my car serviced. I pointed out the scratch.

“Probably $600-$700.”


“Let me guess. Parking lot?” the guy asked.

“Yeah. They left a note.”

“Phone number?”

“Yup, said they’d pay for it.”

“We should do a separate invoice, then,” he said.

It was a done deal in his mind.

I pictured the mom scolding her boy in the parking lot, calling her partner to confess, going on with her day, waiting for my call, perhaps researching the cost and regretting she’d written the note, which would be a shame because it was such a nice note.

Such a nice gesture.

“Don’t worry about it,” I said to the shop guy.

I bought a $12 touch-up paint pen instead.

“It won’t look like new,” he said, handing me the pen.

“That’s okay.”

“You are kind!”

It was strange, the way he said it. He emphasized the word kind, with surprise in his voice, almost like an accusation more than a compliment.

“I am kind,” I said, wearing the word like a badge.

I knew my next move.

I waited until I got my car back. The nick was actually shrinking now.

I called the number on the back of the check book and took my time leaving a a lusciously kind voicemail.

“Hello, I’m the guy whose car you scratched by accident. You’re awesome for leaving that note. It really helped a lot. So thank you for that. Don’t worry about the repair. I’m not going to ask you to pay for any of it. And no need to call me back. Just have a lovely day. One good turn deserves another.”

A $500 phone call.

And it felt gooooood.

I pictured her face softening, taking a second to quietly love a stranger, and then going back to helping her energetic teen with his homework.

This may or may not have been happening, but it didn’t matter, because this was happening:

I sat in my beloved car a few minutes longer, phone in my lap, windows rolled up, relishing what my $500 had bought me.

I rubbed the dashboard, warm from the sun. “We did a good thing.”

It’s been a few days since the incident.

I still haven’t painted it over, the nick that almost ruined my day.

Perhaps if all of us focused a bit more on receiving and spreading kindness instead of just trying to get what we’re owed, we’d be in a better place.

Never Too Much Love

Foggy window heart

One thing you can never overdo is love.

“Stop loving me so much!” — said no one ever.

Iterating and reiterating love is always welcome.

Even better than that? Finding a new way to love someone, or a new thing to love about them. Or (oh yes!) a new thing to love about yourself. Indeed one inevitably leads to the other: outward love to inward love and inward love to outward love.

To clarify, I’m not talking about romance here. Romantic love feels huge to us but is actually quite small when compared to the other loves.

The best loves are unrequited; they seek nothing in return. Their only purpose is to allow us to reach another heart, something at which we cannot fail if we truly want it to happen.

So, go out and love. Love with words. Love with action. Love in secret. Love in the beautiful light of day. Love when it hurts and love when you don’t think you can.

Whichever direction you face, however loud or soft your message, that love you send is for you. It will land on you. It will nourish you in ways you weren’t expecting.

Love is the only thing you get more of when you give it away.

A resource we can’t deplete.

But all need.

And deserve.

Good Is Good

black trash bin on sidewalk during daytime

I’ve noticed this scenario with activist groups:

PROTESTER 1: We did it! We got them to make a change.

PROTESTER 2: Well, we never should have had to fight for this in the first place.

Or this…

PROTESTER 1: We raised $100,000!

PROTESTER 2: Yeah, but what about all the families who didn’t get any aid?

Both protesters are correct.

#2 is more righteous than #1 but her comments are not necessarily more helpful.

One thing I’ve learned about fighting a moral fight is that Good is Good. Any change from less good to more good should be celebrated.

A slightly better rule.
A small shift in sentiment.
A soft-spoken yes

A good act is always good.

A narrow-minded person becoming a little less narrow-minded is a victory.

This can be hard to see against the backdrop of extraordinary pain and suffering.

When a sliver of light comes in the window, it’s okay to reach out and put our hand in it.

It’s the warmth that keeps us going.

Saying Goodbye to Clé

Closeup photo of assorted color marble ball lot

I’ve had a knot in my stomach since I heard the news.

And then this morning, in that spiritual space between dreaming and waking, I was gifted with this:

Pulling into the driveway on Hope Hill Road. 🙂

What a wonderful place! There were always rows of cars in the driveway, even pulled up onto the grass. It was the hangout house, a place for us teens to congregate.

But this time, there were no cars in the driveway, no tire tracks in the grass. I got out of my car — I was on the passenger side for some reason — went up the short stone staircase and opened the door. (One never needed to knock on Hope Hill Road.)

“Hi, Cliff.”

The voice came from my left, from a room that doesn’t exist in that house. I know it doesn’t exist because I spent a lot of time in that house. It was my second home, sometimes my first.

“Hey, Mrs. P_____________”

She was sitting there on the cement floor, which was wet with puddles soaking stacked boxes amidst sparse furniture. It was obvious she was packing up.

In her hands, she held a jumbo tan cube eraser which had a hole in the top and holes in each of sides with straws, cut lengthwise, attached to each side.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“You made it,” she said, holding it up.

I had no idea what it was. She continued to look up at me from the floor. She had the same short white hair I’ve always known her to have. And I’d known her a long time, almost my whole life. Since kindergarten.

I was a weird kid. I had a weird mom, gushing with incredible love but lacking any type of boundaries so that her love just flowed over everything, drown some things, washed away landscapes in seconds.

“What’s it for?” I asked.

She handed me the strange contraption along with a handful of marbles. They clacked together as she passed them to me.

“You wanted to create a toy that was different every time.”

I put the curious thing on the ground and dropped a marble into the top hole. It flew out the side and rolled across the wet floor.

She was looking at me, not the marble. I could finally decipher that look; it was the look she’d given me throughout my childhood and teenage years, into college: a patient look, a proud look, like she could see something in me that I couldn’t see and she was just waiting for me to see it.

She always laughed at my weirdness, pointed out the cleverness in my metaphors, supported me in seeing the world through the cracked prism I was born with.

She seemed to always be there.

She’d come into the basement while we were playing pool and grab something off the couch, or she’d descend the porch steps with huge, dripping slices of watermelon, to briefly interrupt our volleyball game.

Clé was always there, and though we were teens who were constantly seeking to be left alone, I secretly appreciated being watched, finally comfortable with being my irrational self because I knew there were rational hands nearby.

It’s my hunch that others felt that way too. That’s why we all went there.

“Put another one in,” she said, still looking at me.

I dropped another marble in, and it slid out the side, same one as the first.

“It doesn’t work,” I said.

“You’re so unique,” she said softly.

I looked down at my invention, so ugly and clever. Around the rim of the top hole, I could see the black marks of the ballpoint pen I had used to carve it out, something I did while sitting in class.

It was definitely mine.

“Go ahead,” she said.

I carefully funneled the entire handful of marbles into the hole. They flowed in all directions, down the wilted straws, and across the hard cement floor. They rolled through the puddles, under the remaining furniture, thudded into the boxes all around us…

She laughed, or did that giggle thing in the back of her throat that she does. Her watchful, tireless eyes followed the bouncing, rolling marbles on their chaotic paths.

“Thank you,” I said, staring at the marbles with her, following their crooked lines as best I could until all of the wonderous colliding and the echoing stopped completely, and there was no movement left to share with her.

Suddenly I was older, no longer a teen.

It seemed strange to be standing there in the silence, no longer certain what my role was.

She took the lead (once again) and got back to her boxes.

“Matthew’s out back,” she said, giving my heart something familiar.

“Thanks,” I said, and the room became warm, the puddles gone, light coming in from everywhere, making the marbles sparkle and glimmer like stars fallen out of the sky.

She seemed content with what she was doing.

Okay. I can take it from here.

Better Than Best

Funny girl with bucket on head sitting in forest

We are quick to applaud those that rise to the top of their class, and, no doubt, they deserve our respect, for it takes hard work and discipline to perform at that level.

But there’s a danger.

When you attach your self-worth to comparative achievement, you’re destined for disappointment, isolation, and burnout. You will, at some point, experience imposter syndrome. And you’re likely to run a path that’s been run a thousand times before.

How much does that benefit you? How much does it benefit the world?

Perhaps we’re overlooking something.

What about that kid in the back of the room who’s staring out the window, the one who says no to their parents when they ask about baseball tryouts, the one who plays make-believe in the field across the street, the one who doesn’t have any interest in the Honor Roll, who doesn’t glob on to activities just because they’re thrown at them in a very particular order…

But, who, instead, gets into punk rock, crocheting, transit bus maps, beat poetry, trees, electrical circuits, car engines, microeconomics, US history… all on their own?

It takes great courage to save your attention for that thing you haven’t found yet.

And the gifts you give are so much greater when you know you’re where you’re supposed to be, instead of where somebody else put you.

You can walk anywhere with confident feet.

And we can cover a lot more ground.

Knowing Everything, Even The Future

summer in Iceland

I had a dream where I was back in college, with all the knowledge and memories of a middle-aged man but surrounded by people trying to discover themselves.

I saw a friend and walked alongside her, trying not to stare. We didn’t actually spend much time together in college; it was after college when we got to know each other, so, in my dream, I didn’t waste any time.

“What if I told you that in 30 years, we’re going to be best friends.”

She didn’t give me the reaction I expected.

“I’d say, ‘Gee, Cliff. That’s a little weird.”

She let me follow her to her study group anyway.

There, in a ring around me were 6 students, some I knew, some I didn’t. They were talking about their majors and lack of majors. There was a lot of anxiety in the room, many knees tucked up under chins.

I miffed that one too.

“I’m an English major. I mean, right now, I’m Undecided, but I’m gonna be an English Major eventually — English Lit, though I’ll be regretful I didn’t do it with a Creative Writing Minor. Or Psychology, even just Sociology. It seems so obvious now. Duh.”

They all stared at me like I’d grown another head.


I slipped away while they studied and sought out a person who I knew I wouldn’t know when I was middle-aged because I would lose them before that.

It took a while, but I found them. They were at the campus center. I watched them order a slice of pizza, scanning the menu with their index finger, standing in white tennis shoes, while I, off to the side, was on the verge of tears.

He didn’t even see me.

All these people around me, working on building stories I already knew. It was painful, like when you realize a child’s game goes the same way every time.

I burst out the door nd looked for paths I’d never walked, buildings I’d never entered.

I ran up the steps of a dorm I’d never stepped foot in. The stairs were bare cement but well-lit, unlike the stairs in my dorm, which was carpeted and closed in. The sound inside was different, more echo-y.

I ran up the steps two at a time, pulling my way up the railing, until I realized something horrible, something that was inevitible.

I couldn’t take another step. I couldn’t move.

This stairwell, with its well-lit cement steps and never-endingness, was yanking me away from the life that I was supposed to live — the life that I wanted to go back to and live again — my Molly, my girls, my Oakland…

I turned around and ran back the other way, knocking into shoulders and book bags, burdened by the knowledge of what I was to become, or was supposed to become.

At the bottom of the stairs, with a hand on the door, I realized it’d be impossible to retrace my steps, and this thought terrified me.

I woke up, like a man falling out of a building.

My wife was sleeping. My dog was sleeping. I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth.

What else could I do?

The toothpaste cap was caked in toothpaste.

Some days that would draw out a frustrated sigh, but after running through the labyrinthian paths of my past, I just picked up a bit of tissue and started cleaning it off.

It was my 7-year old, no doubt. I recalled her cherubic little voice the night before giggling and yelling to me through the door: “I put the toothpaste cap on backwards!” She giggled some more.

I had been deep into a game of Wordle.

“That’s nice.”

Replaying the memory made it easier to deal with the aftermath. I sat on the edge of the tub as I always do in the morning, in my house, on my street, and worked at the toothpaste lid.

When I set it down on the sink, still a bit caked up, I noticed there on the ground was a perfectly clean cap, so I picked it up and switched it out for the gooky one. It twisted on so easily, my reward for the little thing of not getting frustrated, like winning an extra ball in pinball: not really a big deal, but monumental in the moment.

So many different universes to choose from, and all of us swerving around and smacking into death and love in our own scribbly line architected by the unenlightened hand of a child, a teen, an adult, and a middle-aged man sitting on the edge of the bathtub.

Ha. Maybe I AM enlightened.

I’d walked back over my own crooked line between the buildings that changed my life. I relived the wonder of seeing a friend’s face for the first time, experienced the pain of watching another one walk away.

I don’t know all the answers, even after an allegorical dream, but, when it comes to looking ahead, I can tell you this:

The gift is not knowing.