Lisa Jane Persky is best known as one of the 1980s' most versatile actors, stealing scenes in movies from The Cotton Club to The Sure Thing and When Harry Met Sally (she also starred as villain Dirty Dee in 1978's insane Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park). But she was also a fixture in the New York CBGB punk scene, helping to found New York Rocker magazine, and was the subject of the Blondie song "(I'm Always Touched By Your) Presence, Dear." She's a prolific photographer, writer, and designer, was a founding editor of the Los Angeles Review of Books, and is working on a number of books including a memoir and an anthology, Chickens In Literature, (which is exactly what it sounds like).
As a self-employed creative juggling multiple, often unrelated projects, Persky is very familiar with the challenges of focus and prioritization that most busy, creative people face. As a result, she relies on various offbeat tools and even obsessions to calm, train, and organize her mind.
Even though time outs are usually used to settle wound-up toddlers, the age-old disciplinary trick can be just as useful for an over-processing or glued-up adult mind. But it might take a little bit more than making yourself sit in the corner. "I use Smiling Mind, a guided meditation app from Australia created for children, which I think is genius," she says. "It's better than giving them a time out, and for me it's a time out when I’m really stressed. And they're only 7-10 minutes long. If someone told me in my 20s that I'd ever be doing them, I'd think they were crazy, but it saves my soul, if I have one."
As a "huge radio and records nut," Persky also seeks out strange but complementary combinations of music and sounds to focus and tune her mind. "One of the things I really love to listen to is Rhys Chatham Guitar Trio with the LAPD scanner radio playing over it. It's kind of this mad mix, for me it's urban meditation (listen to them simultaneously here and here)."
"I have ADD and if I don't use a timer I will never keep to my to-do list," says Persky. "I have all these different kitchen timers, actual analog timers around the house, and I use them in 15-minute increments. Some of them are very loud. If the alarm scares the pants off me, then I know I’m in the groove and I can set the next one for an hour."
When tasks loom large, we all have distractions that start out as five-minute breaks and turn into three-hour obsessions, whether it's following endless Wikipedia connections or watching every YouTube cover of Beyoncé's "Halo." But while these obsessions feed procrastination, they can also serve to de-stress and reset your mind.
"I have a really weird thing that I look at called RSOE, an online emergency and disaster information service," says Persky. "I'm mildly obsessed with emergencies and disasters. I like to know what's going on. It's an aggregator, a world map with an icon for every kind of emergency or disaster, and includes updated minutiae about whatever's going on. Ebola, SARS, the latest earthquake. Because I grew up a lot on the street (Persky left home as a teenager), I had to be really sharp and savvy and aware of what was going on around me on the time. It focuses me, going from macro to micro—it's like my photography, always adjusting the lens, near and far. And I read it just because I'm interested, not because of some weird paranoia. I don't actually want to know everything. When I was young, my grandma used to say enjoy this time because right now you know everything—but when you get to be my age you won't know anything anymore. It's liberating not to know things."