white wild flowers growing taller by the minute

White wild flowers growing impossibly fast in my driveway in southwestern New Mexico, they went from tiny to knee height to waist height in about two weeks, soon my driveway will be impassible, but I admire their tenacity, and maybe there’s a good clue in that…

Happy Wednesday!

Last Wednesday we talked about studying The Blade, before that we covered A Good Obsession.

Today is about my deep abiding love for fictional con artist Neal Caffrey, and how I turned this into my favorite journaling prompt. It is also, as usual, about habits, patterns, goals, practice, feeling feelings and wishing wishes. Let’s investigate!


What Would Neal Caffrey Do?

I wrote in a recent essay, A Good Obsession, about my heart-felt, almost aching affinity for the character Neal Caffrey on the show White Collar, how his birthday is two weeks after mine exactly. We were born in March 1977, the same month the Fleetwood Mac album Dreams came out. We are both dreamy people.

Dreamy and intense, which is fitting.

Dreamy dreamy people

Yes, we are both dreamy, creative, joy-loving and pleasure-seeking missiles, and also people who can sometimes get into tight spots. Neal can get out of them, so let’s channel some of that, please.

Obviously we are also different…

(Neal is a professional con artist who loves luxury and, through a combination of luck and flattery, scored a Manhattan penthouse for a symbolic amount of rent, while I am whatever the opposite of a con artist is, who lives in under 200sq ft in rural New Mexico without hot water, heat or air conditioning, we are not the same.)

And yet, I feel this kinship with him, drawn towards what he symbolizes for me, and I also admire the way he extricates himself from tough situation. Mainly I admire his fearless trust in his own luck and skill…

The question / A question

A question I ask whenever I am feeling stuck, stymied, frustrated, or any form of not-at-ease, something is off:

What Would Neal Caffrey Do?

I have asked this so many times that I have developed a sort of WWNCD self who is not Neal Caffrey the character, but more a version of me who embodies his qualities and attributes. Or maybe, a version of me who can make better guesses in answer to the question What Would Neal Caffrey Do.

Or maybe just the most Neal-Caffrey-esque version of me who can exist alongside me. Maybe I am becoming Neal Caffrey, sometimes and in some ways, through the process of asking this question every day.

Today I am sharing some excerpts from my journal, where I either ask this question (What Would Neal Caffrey Do), or request advice and loving counsel from the version of me who can channel these Neal Caffrey powers.

They are all on different topics, but honestly, all these topics are also interrelated.

How awkward is it, Havi? Medium amounts of awkward!

Is it a little awkward and vulnerable to share this? Yes!

But I’m doing it in the interest of modeling my process, and maybe it will inspire you to do some playful journaling as well with an aspect of yourself, or with a character you care about deeply.

It’s like fanfic therapy, or something, I don’t know what to call it. Ideas and suggestions are welcome.

Let’s play!

Processing related to mysteries of love and sorrow

Me: Feeling so many big feelings and am deep in my stickiest stuck stuff, and it sucks. It sucks to think that I will never be able to love or trust again. (Is that a monster story, aka an unhelpful self-critical sneaky internal narrative? Maybe! Probably! It feels super true in the moment!)

Ruminating on past and current experiences, it really just keeps coming down to the same thing; loving people who are just not dependable in the every day.

Meirav, my therapist from 1996, would say that this is a form of re-creating the dynamic that is most familiar to me from childhood, and sure, I’m not arguing that point.

Mainly my big sadness feelings can be summed up like this: I would actually love to have closeness, intimacy, pleasure, joy, real connection again, but at this point how do I know that there will be a non-vanisher, there have been too many Mysterious Disappearers!

What is the opposite of a vanishing act, what is something steady? And how do I maintain steadiness and faith and connection to myself in the face of these repeated Mysterious Disappearances?

WWNCD: It sounds like you’re looking for the quality of EQUANIMITY. You crave Equanimity.

Drawn to equanimity vs in too much pain to consider it

Me: Yes, where is the equanimity, and how do I even channel that.

Also, let’s be honest, these last vanishing and re-vanishings do not hurt even slightly as much as the big awful one, like not even in the same realm, they are almost unrelated.

And is that numbness or is that getting used to it, or is it simply having zero expectations at this point, or is it understanding at a deep fundamental level that they are not good for me, not a good fit? Which they are not!

Seriously, they have zero self-fluency skills, they think their emotions are knowledge if they can even get that far, and they don’t communicate what’s going on for them.

What I want is fulfilling connection and building trust, and a generosity of spirit, someone who is willing to talk things out with me right away, to bring things up, to resolve whatever is going on with me, in collaboration and companionship, even if they still need to disappear, I want to be included in the process.

Equanimity is related to trusting trust

WWNCD: It’s interesting that you won’t let yourself feel the hurt. The hurt is obviously there, what X did was super shitty, what all of them did was at best cruel and disrespectful.

They chose retreating into their own fear over being clear, open, honest, loving and committed with you, they absolutely conned you, and you have the right to be really fucking angry about it, or any other feeling you’re feeling.

Trust needs to be earned, and no one has earned yours, and that itself is okay, at least in the sense of it is what it is right now.

It doesn’t mean you don’t have lost the capacity to trust forever, you actually have a tremendous capacity to trust, it just means that no one has earned it yet and honestly they haven’t even tried.

Yes, let’s talk about Powered By Equanimity

Me: I don’t know what to think about this situation, I mean, I just have no use for being sad or mad, and I am so bored of being scared, so yes please, Equaniity Powers. Powered by Equanimity!

On the one hand, Equanimity confuses me. I keep thinking, “Okay but how do I get there?”

On the other hand, I feel so much closer than I have ever been to this, because I am so hurt that I am somehow also eerily calm right now.

But also all the current options for what to do next are so miserable, and that is a direct result of [betrayal], and I do not feel Equanimity about that yet.

Equanimity as the ultimate power move

WWNCD: Equanimity is such a power move. A seriously baller move.

Hell yeah, don’t respond, just strategize!

That’s how we do it.

Not reacting is the power play of all time. Just decide in your head how you are going to maneuver this into a win, but don’t show your hand, don’t show them anything.

Talk to me about Not-Panicking

Me: I know what doesn’t work (getting overwhelmed, panicking, meltdown, tears, avoidance), and I know what does work or at least what helps, aka consciously choosing towards It Solves Itself, and Into The Pot or into the cauldron.

In other words: Do something else, something intentional, and let the situation percolate.

Breathe. Move or be still. Either one is good.

Move or be still

Move (yoga, dance, pace, stretch, roll, hum, yawn, any stim in a storm).

And be still (sit and meditate, light a candle, ask your friends to light candles), and of course, talk to your wise incoming selves, skip stones or otherwise journal on it, feel it out.

And even though yes, I am infinitely better than previously at turning away from what doesn’t work and towards what does work, I still get tripped up.

Honestly, I get super overwhelmed and also, it’s very hard to talk to X who only wants me to be in a good mood, which is not something I can conjure up when everything is so tenuous.

Practice makes familiar

WWNCD: I think this is a good setup, those two starting points are huge. Turning away from the panic and towards doing what helps. Lighting a candle for It Solves Itself, and then straight into We Do Grounding Things.

We are only looking at narrowing the gap of the meltdown so that we can go straight to what helps (which you’re already doing, just doing it more often, and having it be speedy and immediate).

Good job, you are PRACTICING, and part of practice is fucking up and starting over, you’re doing great, you have the right approach and the right idea, no big mysteries, just space and time and sleep on it.

Sleeping on it is a great way to let a situation percolate while you heal up. I believe in this and I believe in the healing process.

(I know you hate “trust the process”, but I’m doing it for you!)

How do I believe more deeply in It Solves Itself?

Me: How do I believe more deeply in It Solves Itself?

WWNCD: You keep noticing it and naming it. Like with the Luck Journal practice, right? That’s a practice of steady noticing.

That’s very smart, and of course you keep giving yourself credit for what’s working, and you get more sleep, and you make a list, and we get things off the list, and we do what we can.

One fractal step at a time. Let’s keep the faith. It will either solve itself or it won’t, but fretting over it isn’t the answer. We are making new answers.

Stay playful?

Me: I guess I am at a loss for what to think or know or do, other than that the answer is hang on, trust, keep doing my best, keep writing every day, keep journaling on next steps, stay playful?

And of course, Reduce & Destroy: pare down, simplify, invite in simple elegant solutions.

I am glad that I have these clear indicated steps and also it feels like really not enough..

Hmmm, I feel really …. not sure what this feeling is, bleak, and it’s not the usual hopelessness monsters, it’s something else plus that.

Focus on the mission at hand

WWNCD: We’ve been in worse/ harder / weirder situations and made it through unscathed.

This isn’t even a climb on top of a moving tram high in the air above the water to save a painting situation (White Collar reference!), it’s not the emergency you think it is, even if you are experiencing it as an emergency. So let’s not let this take on a big fear valence.

Instead let’s do something else. Let’s stay steady and focus on the mission at hand.

Yes to Operation Reduce & Destroy, we are working towards a better way and we will find a way.

And maybe this is also related to your wish about being cherished and not-disappeared-on, so sure, there are a lot of moments of No in order to get to the new Yeses, that’s how it goes.

Proxy time

Me: Okay, this is a proxy situation (investigating something entirely unrelated as a way to secretly to work through whatever is stuck), are you ready?

What do we know about Pine Syrup, like making syrup from pinecones or pine needles?

I love the idea of pine syrup in everything, and also not buying it but just having it. So fun, especially for unique desserts but also in beverages or in sparkling water or with a shrub.

Also I love the idea of a foraging basket and quart jars, I love that you don’t have to can it to preserve, and really could just make a big batch.

Oh, and love the idea of really getting to know the trees here…

What are you talking about?

WWNCD: Yes, yes, pine syrup! Yes, it’s like making wine.

Me: Gotta say, I’m confused. Like, I know you know enough about making wine to know that it is not like making wine, it’s not even slightly like making wine, what are you talking about?

WWNCD: It’s a transformative process that uses time and sweetness to let something become tantalizingly delicious. No forcing, just allowing. Making space for the transformation.

And of course, you worked in a vineyard once upon a time, so you already know about gathering things at the right time, and you know about waiting patiently too.

Me: It’s true, I do know that.

Reduce & Destroy

Me: Let’s talk more about Reduce & Destroy, my plan to pare everything down even more, go tinier, go more devotional.

WWNCD: I like how you think, this is very smart, a small life that is large.

I’ll also say that even though I didn’t appreciate it at the time, this is exactly was what my short leash in NYC gave me; a refined contained life of wine, friends, striking views and ritualized pleasure.

So much happened there at the table or on the balcony, a contained life can contain more than you would expect, and it was rent-free, which is what you’re working towards too…

Rent-free, great views, steady work at something you are good at, while dreaming up something bigger and better that will allow you to do creative work, live simply, have what you need. It’s fair to say you’re not con artist material, but you are very much a creative, playful dreamer.


WWNCD: Operation Reduce & Destroy is about the parameters.

It’s about consciously creating the parameters of a Simple Luscious Life.

It’s wouldst thou love to live deliciously on a very low budget, this is for you. I love this for you. This can happen.

You are a luscious minimalist, a lone desert fox. Do you know that your dreams and wishes are extremely reasonable? They are.

What if where you want to be is where you are?

WWNCD: I want to point out that for all your wild unconventional leanings, you really create and crave the domestic, in the specific sense that you love interior design and making meals. You love a picnic with a view.

Having a small arbor of trees will suit your spirit, you are beloved by the wilds, you are at home here.

Also you don’t need cities the way that I need Paris or Milan, this is useful here, you aren’t in prison, you aren’t in a trap, you’re where you want to be. And with many of the practices and rituals you want in place

You’re just looking to both simplify and expand, to have camping space for friends to visit and a cozy writing bungalow for retreat guests to come for glorious stays, it’s a beautiful dream, let’s make it happen.

Talk to me about Paring Down even more

Me: I have already pared down so much, how will it even go to pare down more?

WWNCD: You’d be surprised. You are not hungry, for anything, and that’s your power. It will come to you. There will be enough of what you need, but, more importantly, you have the ingredients in place to get through this. You can be astonished by how little you need, but also I like the idea of you asking for support.

Talk to me about [a wish I have]

WWNCD: People call me a Confidence Man, but think of it more as “confidence, man.”

You make your own luck. Be dapper. Wear the hat. Do things that make you feel wildly sexy, and then be that, embody it, own it, dance it, stretch it, undulate it, and have it be second nature again.

If you build it, they will come. And if they don’t, then they don’t deserve you. Wherever you are is where the big magic is regardless.

Occupy yourself with the mission

Me: I really do want to know what Neal’s next move would be.

WWNCD: The Neal Caffrey move is supreme confidence: yes to the right hat, yes to morning rituals, to a clean, high-magic, unique living space, yes to a good cocktail.

Neal loves to flirt but he is not distraught when it doesn’t work; he always knows that more and better is coming.

He occupies himself with the next heist and his pursuit of freedom, and that is what you need to be doing too.

Stay focused on the mission.

The good flirting will come, sure, but more importantly, the good everything will come.

You have your work cut out for you: Reduce & Destroy. Pare down. Train steadily. Wish your wishes. Breathe through it. Take the next indicated steps, one at a time, keep checking in.

What else do I need to know / what comes next?

WWNCD: You are doing everything right, Havi Bell Brooks who is a bell.

You train hard, you have steady practices that ground you. You live by ritual and repetition. You turn inward. You reflect and then reflect some more.

Stay on the path, keep talking to me and to your wise selves, keep asking questions with love and curiosity, keep staying attuned to how you feel, trust in the next indicated step.

Is there anything else?

WWNCD: Put on your favorite hat and do something that brings you joy.

What are your questions, explorations, wish-obsessions?

Come play in the comments, I love company!

You are welcome to brainstorm your own questions to ask of your WWNCD self or any other character in pop culture, literature, film, etc. You can wish any wishes, seed any seeds, play with any of these concepts in any way you like.

Share anything sparked for you while reading, or add anything you’d like to into the pot, the healing power of the collective is no small thing, companionship helps.

Bonus materials! Coming soon…

Update: I am preparing new bonus materials about time and how I prepare for and relate to the different quarters, more about this to come, but anyone who gives to Barrington’s Discretionary (see below) will get these by email this summer…

A request

If you received clues or perspective or want to send appreciation for the writing and work/play we do here, I appreciate it tremendously. Working on some stuff to offer this coming year, but between traumatic brain injury recovery & Long Covid, slow going.

I am accepting support (with joy & gratitude) in the form of Appreciation Money to Barrington’s Discretionary Fund. Asking is not where my strength resides but Brave & Stalwart is the theme these days, and pattern-rewriting is the work, it all helps with fixing the many broken things.

And if those aren’t options, I get it, you can light a candle for support (or light one in your mind!), share this with someone who loves words, tell people about these techniques, approaches and themes, send them here, it all helps, it’s all welcome, and I appreciate it and you so much. ❤️

The Fluent Self