The other day my co-conspirator went to an introductory tai-chi class and brought back a plastic card for testing stress. You press your thumb against a black, heat-sensitive rectangle, and if you're relaxed it will turn from green (pretty stressed) to red (getting better) all the way to blue (aah, relaxed). Mine stayed black. My brain and body had clenched so tight I hadn't until then even realized I was tense.

None of the exercises suggested on the card -- fist-clenching and releasing, then slow breathing, mostly -- had any effect. Finally I decided to stop everything and plug myself into the stereo with these terrific Bose earphones (guilt about their high price had contributed to my stress, but I reasoned that they were lots cheaper than therapy). It took maybe an hour and a half of Rampall playing flute concerts, followed by Mozart string quartets, until I was able to turn my card-print blue.

Why so stressed? Tom Ridge's Homeland Insecurity alerts certainly hadn't helped. Premonitions of what Bush's bombing was going to do to neighborhoods full of people in Iraq made it worse. But then there was my particular, personal situation: I've been really, really anxious -- more than I wanted to admit -- about my career. And some of what I was doing about it was just making me more anxious. Specifically, I'd concocted this plan to generate four or five freelance article queries every week -- while working against a May deadline to produce half of a contracted book and trying to sell my novel. That was crazy. If any of you have ever tried to write three or four completely unrelated works simultaneously, you'll know how crazy it was. And it was helping to drive me batty.

So, once I'd turned my card blue and my brain had unlocked, I decided to drop the high-intensity freelance query project. Maybe a couple of queries, for projects to do after the May deadline -- one is already out, for a column (weekly?) that I want to call "Mistaken Identities," on my usual themes of encounters and misunderstandings between people of different cultures. It's a rich vein. I've proposed it to Salon.com. If they don't take it, or if they don't survive, I may still do something with it. But not now.

Last night my anxieties about getting an agent to place my novel were greatly alleviated by a roundtable presentation by Robin Davis Miller at the Authors Guild. It was helpful to see that my anxieties regarding the author-agent relationship are almost universal among writers -- but that they don't need to be. Ms. Miller made it seem more like a rational, manageable process. I'll report more as I go along. So far, I think I've been doing the right things -- investigating what sort of agent I want & sending out sensible, targeted queries.

The other great anxiety is from work on the book, Latin American Architecture and Urbanism. But that's a good sort of anxiety, the thrill of a challenge. Writing is something I know how to do and enjoy. It was that damned four-query-a-week plan that was messing me up by keeping me away from the book.

The final cause of anxiety is the perennial: income. The depression brought to us by the G.O.P. (Greed, Oil and Privilege) has wiped out the discretionary funds of the nonprofit & education agencies that had been my clients. That was why I came up with the desperate freelance query scheme. But we'll just have to ride things out, on our rapidly diminishing reserves, in hopes that in addition to the money coming when we turn in half the book manuscript, (a) somebody buys my novel, or (b) one of my other probes pays off, or (c) my co-conspirator & co-author's other major project (a beautiful little apartment complex she's designing for a spot on the Costa del Sol) begins to pay out, or (d) it starts raining gold -- softly, so as not to injure anybody.