The Ecstasy of Time

by Monica McCarthy on September 18, 2014

Time is a lost art form.

This is the first thought that comes to mind as I sit down to my computer to write.

We live in an era that has become particularly time-centric. We are obsessed with the notion that we can somehow control time. We attempt to reverse time with creams and pills and photoshop. We try to expand time with life and health hacks. We attempt to capture a moment in time with our smart phone images.

But the reality is, despite our best efforts to barter/beg/steal, time just is.

Not that this stops us from trying. We humans are a rather stubborn lot.

Writer and philosopher Marcel Proust attributed time as being the catalyst for the very existence of art: The fragility of time is found in the futility of our effort to grasp what is fleeting.

In this way, Time reminds me of Truth. As director Werner Herzog stated during his recent talkback at BAM,

Facts do not constitute truth, per se. There is a deeper truth… an ecstasy of truth.

Time acts much the same way, in that there is the factual concept of time (the minutia of minutes, hours, days, etc) but there is also the deeper understanding of, and relationship with, time. This is the level of time that ceases to exist when we’re in the throngs of passion, and bears down in moments of pain. The time that plays tricks like a slight of hand magician when we’re working on a critical deadline, and the time that sheds a glimmer of light in our darkest moments of sorrow.

Stating I don’t have time is akin to claiming I don’t have oxygen. Of course we have time. Or rather, there is time and there is us, and any discussion of existence or ownership is futile. If you are here, you have time.

Why time is on my mind at this moment, I’m not quite sure. Perhaps it’s due to waking up in new surroundings, having moved to a new neighborhood this week, or the cosmic snapping of fingers declaring the sudden scents and signals of autumn, or the quickening arrival of twilight.

Or maybe, just maybe, it is my own fear of running out of time. Of worrying that I’ve made the wrong choices in how I’ve spent the minutia of “my” own minutes, hours, days.

Too late now.

That time has past.

Better instead to focus on the time at hand.

Tick tock.



That Thing You Do

by Monica McCarthy on September 4, 2014


What do you love more than life itself?

Writer Elizabeth Gilbert poses this question in her 7-minute 18-second TedTalk on Success, Failure, And The Drive To Keep Creating.

For the author of the runaway hit Eat, Pray, Love the answer is, unsurprisingly, writing. In the speech Gilbert explains that she believes her life wouldn’t be worth living if she couldn’t write. Or, to put a happier spin on it, the act of writing makes her life worth living.

Another way to phrase the question is: What do you feel called to do? Yes, that sounds a bit heavy on the spiritual or woo-woo side of things, but ask anyone who chooses vocations like art or creativity or social work or parenthood or anything else that doesn’t totally make sense from a rational perspective, and the only explanation that can be offered is that of the deafeningly quiet push and pull of the Muse.

The calling isn’t only for the famous and history books.

The calling, the sense of urgency to express, to do, to be, is real and alive in each of us. How loudly we hear the voice and the devotion to which we answer back is what determines the rest.

Here’s where I confess that as much as I value art and creative expression, I do feel a tad bit squirrelly at the thought of loving any one of those things more than life itself.

And if you look at my track record, there have been a number of things I felt called to do for a time, be it writing, acting, traveling, directing, etc. But I’ve discovered, for better or worse, that the medium is not what determines the message, or rather the foundation as Gilbert puts it, for the rest of my days on this earth.

What I do know is I would feel less alive if I couldn’t continue learn. To try. To experience. To connect. To feel. To be in community. Unfortunately that isn’t as easy to explain as, say, to write. I clearly haven’t figured out the panoptic word for my calling yet. But that thing, whatever it is, that is what feels unapologetically me.

For the past two years I’ve dreamed of creating a space for curious, smart, fun people to come together to learn about ideas and skills and concepts they’s always wanted to know more about. The goal is not to be an expert or become certified in anything. Just to try. In person. Not an online course. Not a massive conference. But an experience.

Exactly one month ago I started my new chapter as the Experience Impresario for Holstee, a creative design studio in Brooklyn. And today, I’m thrilled and scared and excited to announce that we’re opening our doors this October for what feels like a venerable playground of possibility: The Holstee Learning Lab.

The premise for the Learning Lab began with that whisper of the siren song that became louder and louder until she called with such bravado she could no longer be ignored.

So I opened my notebook and wrote the first thing that came to mind:

Life is short. What would you try if you knew you couldn’t fail? There are no grades at the Learning Lab. Only new ideas born, friendships formed, and curiosity cultivated.

And then I wrote down what I’d like to learn. And then I wrote down the names of people who were experts and teachers in each topic. And then I sent emails. And thankfully people said yes.

Rest assured, this is only the beginning. There will be arts and movement and music and design and just about anything-you-can-think-of classes. If there’s something you want to learn more about then send me an email at monica(at)holstee(dot)com.

Yes, you can Google how to learn something. But you can never, ever replace the fluttering of excitement that comes from that first day of school. The simple thrill of showing up to discover and create and explore. To be a novice and not be afraid to start from the beginning. Or to be afraid to be a beginner but choose to begin anyway.

I guarantee that whatever you want to learn more about, someone else does too. And then, before you know it, a community of people fueled by nothing besides their own innate sense of curiosity is formed.

Gilbert closes her TedTalk with some wise words of advice about treating the calling as a foundation for the rest of our life pursuits:

Look, I don’t know where you rightfully live, but I know that there’s something in this world that you love more than you love yourself. Something worthy, by the way, so addiction and infatuation don’t count,because we all know that those are not safe places to live. Right? The only trick is that you’ve got to identify the best, worthiest thing that you love most, and then build your house right on top of it and don’t budge from it. And if you should someday, somehow get vaulted out of your home by either great failure or great success, then your job is to fight your way back to that home the only way that it has ever been done, by putting your head down and performing with diligence and devotion and respect and reverence whatever the task is that love is calling forth from you next. You just do that, and keep doing that again and again and again, and I can absolutely promise you, from long personal experience in every direction, I can assure you that it’s all going to be okay.

I don’t know whether a studio for the studious is the answer to my calling. But I know it’s a step in the direction of the Voice.

For now, I’ll just delight in dancing to the music of possibility.

And I hope to see you in Brooklyn very soon.



The Space Between

by Monica McCarthy on August 19, 2014


One of the zillions of things I’m loving about my new partners in crime is that they too are fans of big ideas and exploring a different theme every month.

The theme for August is bravery.

Bravery is, more often than not, depicted as a means to a way of obtaining something. But just as often (and as pointed out by Sunday’s yoga instructors Adam and Monica), bravery can be found in the letting go.

When we loosen our grasp, or when clean out the rubble, two important things happen. First, we are able to have a clearer vision of what remains (the important stuff) and second, we’re able to make room for amazing things; be those things people, experiences, ideas, thoughts, or emotions.

Cleaning out takes work. It’s one thing to quickly sweep the dust bunnies under the rug and stuff everything into the storage closet when the guests come over to dinner. Hiding the truth is easier than dealing with it. But real cleaning out means rolling up our sleeves, getting on our hands and knees, and scrubbing the stains away.

Cleaning out also asks us to toss out because we need to make room for what comes next. Bravery often requires us to let go of things we really like to make room for things we really love. Then, occasionally, bravery asks us to let go of things we love because bravery requires sacrifice.

“You can’t be brave if you’ve only had wonderful things happen to you.” – Mary Tyler Moore

Bravery isn’t about leaping and magical nets appearing.

Bravery is about coming face to face with what we want most to avoid, and choosing, despite the fear and trembling, to roll up our sleeves, humbled with scrub brush in hand, and getting to work.

Freedom affords us the ability to make a mess when necessary.

Bravery is what happens in between.


p.s. I’m honored to be interviewed on the Holstee blog today on the topic of making the choice to join a team in pursuit creating a greater good.

image: Mr Thinktank