Run, Lady, Run

Posted February 18th, 2019

“I feel like a feral cat pacing back and forth in a cage,” She said.
 
I looked at her and everything about her seemed like it wanted to be wild—her hair, the laugh that exploded out of her in a snort when she was caught off guard, the way her eyes lit up when she talked about taking the kids, getting a RV and hitting the open road.

Wild.

And yet contained by the confines of the life she had created with a great deal of intention to offer her kids the stable base she had never had for herself—emotionally, financially, and physically. She had wanted roots and now she had them. But somewhere along the way, those roots had overtaken her life, and now were feeling like kudzu, possessive and consuming, cutting off the light and air with its dense leaves and thick vines.

No wonder she felt caged in. No wonder she wanted to hack it all back and break free.  Her cat had gotten caught in a jungle of its own making.


It happened in the blink of an eye. One minute she was sitting there by her owner, idly panting and waiting for her walk, and the next minute she had shirked her collar and was looking around wildly, suddenly overcome with the opportunities of freedom.

To be honest, I had forgotten that Lady even existed. Sure, it was spring on our street and we’d all been house bound throughout the long, cold winter, but I’d been living next door to these people for nearly ten years now. How was it that I never saw this dog come outside? Seeing Lady emerge for her walk was like spotting a Yeti, it kind of made you do a double take as you recalled her name and the vague recollection of her being among the four footed residents of our street.

But that warm spring day, while her owner was talking to me about her latest transition to a new school district and our plans for the upcoming school vacation, Lady had somehow managed to slip out of her collar like Houdini. For a moment, she stood, frozen, looking up at the empty loop of leather swinging at the end of the leash from her owner’s hand. What I would have given to read her thought bubble.

And then? She bolted, as if jolted into motion by this great surge of electricity. While we watched, stunned, she zipped across our dead-end street and disappeared into the neighbor’s backyard. Moments later, she came flying up another driveway, tongue hanging out the side of her mouth, and her four little legs a blur of motion. As she dashed by me, I swear I saw the whites of her eyes wide with delight.

Free at last, free at last! Good lord almighty, Lady was free at last.

Her owner, finally recovering from her stupor, started chasing Lady all over the street— through the backyards, up the driveways, across front lawns, down other driveways, up the sidewalks, and between the cars. This woman, the owner, is a highly conditioned runner in her own right, but she was no match for Lady that day.

Lady was making the most of her moment of freedom, and she wasn’t about to be leashed.

When I think about this, isn’t that the way most of us respond when we encounter that sweet moment of freedom? When the collar slips off our neck, and the owner is otherwise engaged? Do we bolt and make the most of our freedom?

Or do we wait for permission—for it to be okay?

Because I will tell you right now, if Lady had waited for permission, it would have never come. And something wise in her doggie heart knew it. So she seized her moment and didn’t look back.

But it reminds me of that famous science experiment most of us learned about at some point in school—the one with the flies in the mayonnaise jar. As the story goes, apparently these flies were kept for weeks, if not months, in one of those jars with the holes poked in the lid. Rather than standing upright, though, the jar was laid on its side. During the first few days, then weeks, the flies would ping against the sides of the jar and the lid to try to escape, which was obviously futile. And then one day, the researcher would carefully unscrew the lid, leaving one end of the mayonnaise jar wide open. And the flies stayed in the jar.

They had been conditioned, you see, that it was futile to try to escape. They had banged their little fly heads against the lid one too many times, so somewhere along the way they stopped trying.

Even when the jar was wide open, and their freedom was in plain view, they assumed they were still trapped.
But Lady didn’t assume jack that day. She saw empty collar swinging, she saw the distracted owner, and she made her move.

Had she waited one moment longer, or asked for permission with her brown little beagle eyes, “Mother, may I?” the opportunity would have passed her by and the jar would have been firmly screwed back on the lid.

But that’s how fast it happens, that split second decision to stay put or make your move. There’s often no time to deliberate, weigh your options or make sure you’re ready. Much like Lady, many of us don’t even have a sense of where we’re going or where we’ll end up as a result. We just figure it out as we go, weaving and dodging among houses and shrubbery, hoping like hell we don’t get caught or hit by a car.

And sure you could say it’s a bit of a stretch to liken a neighborhood dog on a leash to a woman, say, in the corporate world, but maybe it’s not. Maybe you’ve gotten a taste of both the tight leash and the very freedom that Lady experienced that day.

Maybe you know that sometimes all it takes to duck out of leash is to let it slip off when nobody is looking. Maybe you know there isn’t a lid on the mayonnaise jar anymore—and that you could just turn around and fly straight out to freedom.

But here’s the question that keeps many of us leash-bound and jar-trapped:

What would you do with all that freedom? Or more to the point, who would you be with all that freedom?

If you didn’t have the excuse of being yanked around by someone else’s power, if you had to rely on someone else’s to allow you to come in or go out at their will, or if your muscles became atrophied or your wings became cramped from lack of use… would you have the courage to own your own freedom?

Lady did that day. I saw her. My clients do. I see them.

And like Lady did that day, as she made her mad dash across my lawn with her eyes bright and her little doggie grin on her face, my clients are never more alive than when they’ve taken the leap, made the bold decision, or pounced on the opportunity.

Like Lady, they weren’t expecting it, they weren’t ready, they didn’t have their plans fully mapped out, and didn’t know how it was all going to go down. They just saw their moment and they made their move before they lost their nerve. Or the lid when back on.


Intrigued? Want to read more? The above excerpt is right off the pages from the unedited manuscript of my upcoming second book: Witch Ways: You’re Not Crazy. You’re a Woman.  If you want to read more about what’s coming in that book, where it came from and when it’s coming out, please check out my GoFundMe page for more information, access to five sample chapters read by me via SoundCloud, and frequent updates on where I am in the publishing process. I may be the birth-mother of this book, but you are its lifeblood, so this is indeed a book that is truly powered by women for women. Thank you for all of your enthusiastic support in helping me get this into your hands sooner than later! 

The Pattern Of Questions

Posted January 29th, 2019

I don’t know what magic lives in a bathroom, but whenever I’m in the shower I start writing in my head and have my absolute best insights. And whenever I’m going throughout my day with my hair on fire, sometimes the only moment I get to stop — and be with my own thoughts — is when I stop to pee.

Maybe it’s something about water. Or maybe it’s the small, private space reminding me of being in the womb. But there it is. And in case you’re wondering I don’t have some weird fixation on all bathrooms — I assure you I won’t be spending time in yours if I don’t need to be—and I most definitely avoid them in public unless absolutely necessary. No, for me it’s about being in my bathrooms.

Ergo my problem of the ugly and cramped one at my office. It just wasn’t cutting it. So in one of my massive procrastination bouts when I found myself physically spent and damn near brain dead after the release of my first book, I was struck with an idea: I was going to turn that shitty little bathroom into a booth of inspiration! If my clients and I were going to be trapped in there a couple times a day, we were going to be surrounded by a bevvy of images and a plethora of quotes, making it a veritable boon of motivation.

Now if you think about a bathroom, there are two distinct pieces of prime real estate for women (not counting the mirror, because by then I’m all about washing my hands and getting out). The first is the back of the door, and the second is the space right above the toilet paper holder, right? You with me? Ski areas know this, and libraries are also onto this little secret. That’s where they know they’ve got a captive audience.

So naturally I thought long and hard about which of my selected quotes I would put in these two places. I felt a sense of responsibility. After thinking about it, I selected two of my favorites from the lot – the poem Now Works by Danielle LaPorte and The Good Life Project Living Creed (the original, not version 2.0) by Jonathan Fields. Danielle was above the toilet paper, and Jonathan was on the back of the door. And I swear every time I went in there, I felt like they were in there with me — not in a creepy way, but in an ear-whispering, soul connection, kindred spirit way; like I wasn’t alone or crazy in doing this work and saying yes to being on this path.

Danielle whispered insistently from above the toilet paper roll DO IT, Lael….don’t wait a moment longer. I know you’re scared and you can be riddled with doubt, but don’t you dare settle for less that what you know you want…be THAT brave…after all, isn’t that what life is about? Riding it hard and putting it away sweaty!? Whatever it is, Lael…do it NOW. Now WORKS!

Jonathan’s voice was relaxed and quiet, like we were two surfers hanging out together in the ocean sitting on our boards waiting for the next good wave to come along. His was the voice of the philosopher…or the stoner…saying Dude, do what makes you happy…we’re all making this shit up, you know? So if you don’t like what you’re being, tell yourself a different story, you know? Like, we can do that…it’s just a matter of giving ourselves permission and going for it, you know? There are no walls or chains holding us back, those are just in our minds…

I’m realizing as I’m writing these now, that these two are probably as close as I’ll ever come to have a board of directors or an advisory committee. Or even a mentor. I’m that unstructured and informal. Truth be told, I’m an artist. Roberts Rules of Order and Bi-laws will never be welcome in my bathroom.

One day I sat down and I saw this particular line on the Good Life Project Living Creed jump out at me. It read: Genius begins with a burning question, what’s yours? My first response was, “Just one?” It kicked up for me this this envy I have of many people I admire. I once saw a Brené Brown interview in which she had admitted she had never — not even once — watched the TED Talk that made her so famous. The one on vulnerability that went viral seemingly overnight. When asked how that could be, she responded that her decisions are governed by one guiding question, “Does it serve the work?” Apparently, after that massive explosion in popularity of her TED talk, she concluded that watching the video of herself telling that story did not, in fact, serve her work.

Gah! I wanted a governing question so badly in that moment. And now that I was staring at Jonathan Field’s gentle ask about what my burning question was, I was starting to feel like something was wrong with me….like I would never be able to be a gracious host to genius, like I was an unfocussed, unproductive lazy sack of shit who was forever destined to be a classic underachiever. All that is untrue, of course — but I couldn’t help but feel like I was doomed to forever wander aimlessly without something like one of those questions to anchor me. Did I even have a burning question? Why wasn’t I burning?

But if I’m to be really honest — and that’s what we’re doing here, right? — I don’t think I want a governing question to guide me. I don’t want to be burning. I don’t want a hard gaze on any one particular thing. I don’t want to doggedly pursue or ferret out answers to a pointed inquiry. In fact, the more I think about it, I don’t really have much energy around any of the traditional questions such as What, Why or How. Honestly? I kind of don’t want to know the answer to those. They just don’t give me juice.

How is it, then, that I’ve managed to design an entire business around my ability to be curious?

Because what does give me juice is noticing patterns in things — hearing, seeing or experiencing something and being able to recognize an arc that binds them together like a luminous thread. Pulling back from a multitude of data points and inputs and saying, Huh, have you ever noticed that this piece and that piece always seem to be present when that thing happens? It’s what my clients pay me to do every day with them — to help them see themselves in their lives as they’re living into a particularly bold stretch of their journey.

Apparently that’s what creatives do in the world. The performance artist, Amanda Palmer, totally nailed this realization for me when I was reading her book The Art of Asking. She said that the hallmark of artists is that we collect things, we connect things, and we share them with the world. Amanda talks about seeing a leaf as a young child and saying, have you ever noticed that the veins in a leaf look like the back of your hand? She says that sometimes the lights go on in their eyes which made the sharing worth it. And sometimes she’d get laughed at.

That. Is. Me. I think it’s why so many people refer to me as a storyteller — something that I had never set out to become, nor saw myself becoming.

While I don’t believe in having one governing question to guide my life, I can’t help but notice a clustering of questions that has emerged as I’ve been working with women one-on-one and in small groups and large communities over the years. Rather like the subtle rock pilings called cairns that mark trails above treeline or the faded blazes on trees or boulders along a pilgrimage, these questions have consistently appeared over and over to me throughout the years—enough so they form a pattern.

What’s happening to me?
Can I really want this?
What the hell am I doing?
Am I willing to make an ass of myself?
Can we be done yet?

Houston, we have a pattern. And an ancient one, at that. When you consider how a woman grows, births and nourishes another human life inside her body, these questions are often present for her. When you consider falling in love, these questions ring true. Something deep within each of us knows how to be guided by these questions—to see them as markers of movement— and yet…we have forgotten them in our relentless quest for “knowing”.

Inside these questions live our desires—the hopes, dreams, possibilities that inspire us to get out of bed every morning and believe in ourselves and each other, to believe in the power of love, the beauty of our world, and the gift of contributing to our conversation. These questions ask us to unearth and give voice to what lives inside our hearts, so that we might manifest it outwardly as an offering to our world.

Inside these questions live our humanity—the doubts, fears, and anxieties that bind us to each other as humans on this planet, reminding us that we are not alone and independent, but are all connected and therefore interdependent. These questions ask us to reckon with our discomfort so that we can rein in our unchecked egos.

Inside these questions live our humility—our insecurities, imperfections, and organic nature that remind us that we are animals and not machines, and as such are limited, inconsistent, and always changing. These questions ask us to live with the paradox of I’m not that special/important and I am special/I matter.

Inside these questions is a call to action and service—to assume responsibility for the life we have been given, and to get busy living it as an active, creative, resourceful and whole participant, and not a numbed, passive or entitled spectator. These questions ask us to be self-serving so that we may be of service to others.

These are the questions of a seeker, a sojourner, a pilgrim. These are also the questions of a misfit, a rebel, an artist. This is me, and these are the people who gravitate to me.

To be led by these questions requires a boatload of trust and a willingness to hold multiple truths. It also demands that we move in the face of the unknown, feel our way forward, and learn to navigate ambiguity, contradictions and messy terrain.

Notice I didn’t say it requires comfort, skill, patience, grace or a fancy degree? Nope. Those are myths I intend to debunk on these pages.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________

The above story is an excerpt from the unedited manuscript of my upcoming second book: Witch Ways: The Unspoken Ways Women Create Change. If you want to read more about what’s coming in that book, where it came from and when it’s coming out, please check out my GoFundMe page for more information, access to five sample chapters read by me via SoundCloud, and frequent updates on where I am in the publishing process. I may be the birth-mother of this book, but you are its lifeblood, so this is indeed a book that is truly powered by women for women. Thank you for all of your enthusiastic support in helping me get this into your hands sooner than later! 

Pebbles In My Shoe

Posted July 7th, 2018

Someone once wrote about me in an interview, observing that “it seems she never stops thinking, considering, fitting pieces together.” That woman got me, she did. She described how I move (“she talks with her hands and her arms, radiating exuberance…”) and didn’t seem surprised to learn that I was always writing in my head, jotting down notes to myself mid-sentence and had my next three books already fleshed out.

A former colleague once commented that I had lots of “pebbles in my shoe”, which perfectly summarizes what that experience is like for me. I do my best to walk around “normally”, but until I actually pause, and jot down the things in my head or talk them out, they are just going to rattle around in there messing with my gait, slowing me down and distracting the hell out of me. So a long time ago, I learned it’s best to just stop and grab those pebbles as I feel them.

I used to be self conscious about this, even apologetic—like I was “too much” and needed to temper who I was and dole out bite-sized pieces of me lest others choke on my excess. I tightly guarded this ability of mine to weave together concepts and words because it wasn’t hard for me. And wasn’t anything worthwhile supposed to be hard? Was I cheating, somehow, thinking I could make a living doing something that flowed so naturally from me?

And then I heard these same phrases come my way time and time again.

Just say something…anything…
Whenever you talk, I always get something out of it…
You’re a master storyteller…
Your stories on stage are the ones I wait for…
I get inspired just listening to you...

For years I batted those comments away, doing my best to graciously hide behind excuses of it not really being about me, not being anything special. In fact, I cringed a bit even sharing them with you now. Many times, upon hearing those comments,  I would diffuse the substance of what someone was saying with humor or by making light of myself, saying I just a dork at heart or a bit of a freak that way.

That was me, playing small.

I was afraid of seeming “all that” and being arrogant (because humility is one of my most treasured values).

I was afraid people would think I was full of myself and narcissistic (because come on…look around you…it’s an epidemic)

I was afraid people would say “who the hell do you think YOU are up there saying that…?” (because I am honestly still figuring this shit out along with you)

I think it’s a thing women excel at, dimming or hiding our light.

So often I hear women talk about “playing big”, and that phrase always makes my heart break a bit. Because aren’t we all BORN BIG to begin with? It’s not something we learn or acquire or “play”, it’s something we are born with inside us. It’s not any one thing we do, it’s something we are. But so often our circumstances and life experience train that out of us…so much we “play small” and believe that big is something way outside of—or beyond—ourselves.

Sadly, this concept seems to only apply to women. How often do you hear a man talk about wanting to “play big”? Exactly.

Gradually though, over the years—of my life and in my business—I’ve started to see that it’s actually selfish of me to hold all that light in me inside. Gail Larsen, an amazingly talented woman who supports others in expressing their stories, asserts we are all born with what she calls “original medicine” —the gifts and talents you and you alone possess that, when expressed, are medicine to others. Her invitation: Bring it. Give it. Share it.

I watched an absolutely incredible interview of Oprah Winfrey by the Stanford Graduate School of Business where she said her biggest fear used to be that others would think she was full of herself. Now, she admits, she sees it as her job.

To be full of myself.

That is my job description, quite literally. Because who else’s job might it be, if not mine? I sure as hell don’t want that to be society’s responsibility. No, I’m the best fit for that position, thank you very much.

Most recently, this sentiment was punctuated for me when I watched Abby Wambach deliver her amazing commencement speech to the women of Barnard College this past May. She told the story of being coached as a teenager by Michelle Akers, a powerhouse professional soccer player who was so intent on coaching, she had inadvertently forgotten to actually play during a scrimmage with these girls…until a light switch turned on inside her and she ran back to her goalkeeper and said

GIVE. ME. THE. EFFING. BALL.

At which point the goalkeeper did, and she blazed through Abby’s entire team and scored. And then she went back and demanded it again. And again, she scored.

Abby shared this story as an invitation to the women of Barnard College—and wolfpacks of women all around the globe who have seen this speech since—saying, “Women. At this moment in history, leadership is calling us to say:

GIVE ME THE EFFING BALL.
GIVE ME THE EFFING JOB.
GIVE ME THE SAME PAY THAT GUY NEXT TO ME GETS.
GIVE ME THE PROMOTION.
GIVE ME THE MICROPHONE
GIVE ME THE OVAL OFFICE.

Photo credit: Ginger Soul PhotographyTHAT is why I am committed to get out of my own way and unapologetically let my fullest self shine. I have that intention each time I step onto the stage in front of the audience at SheSpeaks, my evening of storytelling in December, knowing that I need to walk my talk because I ask the women who join me on stage each year to do the same.

And THAT is also why I created ISpeaks, an unscripted evening of storytelling I have with just me—an event where I let lose all the pebbles in my shoe that have been giving me pause for thought, irritating the shit out of me, or grabbing my attention, weaving together the things that might have been on the cutting room floor from SheSpeaks (or my book), conversations that seem most relevant, or resources that have me and my clients talking or thinking differently.

Because honestly? I could do that all day long, weaving together the bits and pieces of thoughts and ideas swirling in my brain. Honestly, that doesn’t feel like work to me—it’s actually a relief to get it out. And bonus—having now held SheSpeaks eight times and ISpeaks four times, I know that when I can allow myself to be full of myself in public….its never my worst fear, and is generally my best medicine.

And that’s where it’s at for women, right? Being of service. Sharing our medicine.

I see it all the time when I’m working with a woman. If she can start to see how what she desires most will actually be of service to others…well now, she’s unstoppable. She turns into a force of friggin nature. If she can see that she’s actually being miserly with her medicine…well now, she throws open those cabinets with wild abandon and starts doling it out more generously and with less preamble or apology.

Talk about a win-win situation. Connecting with service is often all it takes to flip that switch that has her demanding the effing ball.

So I’m going barefoot on July 12th at ISpeaks, but I’m bringing along my shoes filled with pebbles. Because I’ve got ’em and am happy to share.

 

 

Want to hear more stories and reflections like this?

Join me on July 12th for ISpeaks: An Unscripted Evening With Lael in Yarmouth, Maine. Advance tickets are on sale now and will save you $5. I’ll be speaking to some of the biggest pebbles in my shoe these days and will be touching upon many threads and themes of my upcoming book Witch Ways: The Unspoken Ways Women Create Change. My first book, Unscripted: A Woman’s Living Prayer is chocked full of stories like this, too, and will also be on sale at that event.

 

And if you’re a fan of SheSpeaks or want to be…

Save the date for this year’s SheSpeaks, which has now been expanded to be a TWO DAY event, featuring the stories of 10 different women (5 each night) over two days: December 7th & 8th at One Longfellow Square in Portland. Tickets will go on sale —and go fast!—this fall, but save the date now to set the intention.

 

On Turning 50: A Story

Posted May 18th, 2018

Age is a funny thing.

On one hand I’ve always found it rather arbitrary and annoying—a number that aims to qualify, and in many cases DISqualify, the value or merit of an opinion, idea, or presence. As an old soul who historically has looked younger than my years, I have felt my age (or what others perceive to be my age) as irrelevant and confining, often adding a layer of unnecessary context to interactions that either muddy the waters or dilute it.

AND…

I distinctly remember the day I turned thirty when working in the corporate world. NOW they’ll listen to me, I thought.

What I didn’t know back then was that my age was just the tip of the iceberg as to why I was feeling like I had to shout to be heard, keep my impatience and boldness on a tight leash to be invited to the table, and craft my words carefully and strategically so they would be taken seriously. Back then, I hadn’t even begun to open the box of understanding about how my very presence as a woman was a factor in what I was experiencing. Back then, I still saw myself as “one of guys”. Back then, I didn’t even know I was white (I know, go ahead and laugh, I am…), and didn’t recognize the sea of white men I was swimming in and wanting to belong to—even as I twisted myself into a pretzel.

Twenty years later, I find myself turning fifty, and there is that same voice saying that same damn line…NOW they’ll listen to me. 

But unlike my thirty year-old self, I find I am gently asking that voice:

Who are THEY, Sweetheart?
Simply say what you have inside you, Sugar. They’ll listen or they won’t.
Not everybody will buy what you’re selling.
But for some, it might make a difference,
And that makes it all worthwhile.

Age IS a funny thing, isn’t it?

Mine always seems to confuse or perplex people, rather like the guys that used to try and pick me up when I was working on the waterfront of a summer camp—they expected me to be lighter than I was because I looked a certain way, but then they gave a big OOF! And fell to the ground with the weight of me. I am not what people expect, it seems, and as a result they often don’t know what to make of me.
I am an old soul who has felt wiser than her years.
I was a tall woman from a young age.
I have genetics that have me look younger than my years.
I am older than most people assume.
I am younger than many people my age.
I relate to women in their late 60s and identify with my nieces in their late teens.

Age is a funny thing.

And yet it’s very real, in that my years have been markers of the story I have lived, the roads I have traveled, and the experiences I have both created and endured.

I have brought two human beings into this world from the center of my body.
I have sat by the bedside of my sister-in-law as she dictated letters to me for her children the day before she died.
I have held a newborn son in my arms as he took his first and then last breath.
I have wept at the souls lost and found inside sacred canyons in the middle of nowhere.
I know the smell of a mighty redwood, an ancient cathedral, and warm chocolate ganache.
I know the taste of salt on the skin from sweat, ocean, birth and grief.
I have lost all faith in humanity by witnessing our collective actions.
I have restored my faith by witnessing the kindness of a single stranger.

I write this not because I am special and have lived a particularly full life. Mine is just one of many, and we all acquire our own distinct markers over the years that signify the moments that have helped to shape and sculpt us, whether we like it, ask for it, are ready for it, desire it, resist it, embrace it or rail against it. The water just keeps coming toward us, like a river flowing through a canyon, sometimes rushing and swollen and sometimes slow, like a trickle.

I write this because age is a funny thing. 

And as I sit here mid-life, I am struck by the paradox of it being meaningful and having no meaning whatsoever.

I write this because I am honored to spend many of my moments with clients who ask these questions:

Should I wait to do this…to leave…to make my move…to try this?
When is the right time….how will I know…what will happen next?

There is, of course, no answer to these. That comes from each of us living our way into those questions. But here’s where I am with living those questions in my own life—

Last week, in order to feel what the participants of my writing experience were feeling, I sat down and wrote a story (see below) about what I was noticing.
It was odd…about a dog…and somehow exactly what I needed to hear.

Then this week, I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in over five years, and then learned her husband had died suddenly the very next day.
It was awful…and tragic…and somehow exactly what I was meant to feel.

When I put these two happenings together in my one body, the message feels clear to me:

Life is short.
And so very precious.
Do something with it—again and again.
Be in it—again and again.
Don’t budget joy and desire and pleasure.
Don’t be miserly with your gifts and medicine.
Boldness and courage often result in service and inspiration.
Don’t wait to be a certain age. It doesn’t matter.
Use the wisdom and experience of your years. It matters.
You are more free than you realize.
You are more resourceful than you recognize.
And you are stronger than you imagine.

And with that, my friend, I will leave you with the story I wrote most recently— the one that delivered me to this place I have arrived in, at the cusp of turning fifty.

We shall see what happens next.

She gave a firm tug, and nothing happened. 
Another one, and still nothing.

She knew better than to keep tugging.
She was an older dog now, and wiser as a result.
But she’d also grown weary of the leash, and how it was a constant in her life,
Jerking and dragging her along, behind, over, and away from.

She knew she’d probably lived more years on the leash than she had left to live.
She knew something needed to change.
And yet, the persistent leash, and the failed attempts,
And the pervasive knowledge that dogs were no longer allowed to be wild,
But were, in fact, domesticated possessions with masters and leashes.

She thought of the years she’d lived in her version of captivity, and they hadn’t been bad.
Far from it, they’d been full of love and companionship, and even some adventures.

But they hadn’t been wholly hers, and she knew that now.
She’d learned to adapt to life on a leash, quite well.
She’d experienced choke collars, and traditional leads, even wearing a muzzle at one point,
Before settling into a harness that was away from her neck, at least,
But still encircled her chest, just over her heart, making it hard to breathe at times.

She sat down in the sun and thought, looking out at the water, which she vaguely remembered feeling.
She thought about her younger days and the places unseen by her own eyes.
Her paws twitched slightly as she considered all this.
Her nose lifted to the wind, and she sniffed.

Thinking, imagining, and sniffing seemed to be how she managed to be these days,
Making the most out of her life on the leash.

Part of her was sad with longing,
And the other part of her was resigned to her reality.
She was still fit enough to be able to roam and tap into the wildness she knew was insider her,
While part of her felt too old to have hope that anything would change.

And yet.
She found she couldn’t give that part of her up.

It was the hope of possibility that made her tail wag whenever the door cracked open.
It was the hope of freedom she felt when her necklace was taken off for a cleaning or a good scratch.
And it was hope that shined bright in her eyes when she met another dog on a leash in the park.

It was hope she felt the day she quietly slipped out of her bed in the dark of night when everyone was sleeping.
And it was hope that lead her out the door and down the street that night,
Without a collar, without a leash, without the watchful eyes of her master.

Unlike her younger days, she didn’t make a break for it.
She took her time, feeling the cool evening air on her wet nose,
And the dew on her feet.
She collected herself as she set off,
Not overthinking what she was doing,
Just. Quietly. Moving.
Across the lawn, and down the street.

She followed her wildness to the woods,
Trusting herself to find her way,
Knowing that when she was ready,
She could return home,
And that the door would be open a crack
Allowing her to slip back inside,
And drift off to sleep in her bed.

 

Want to hear more stories and reflections like this?

Join me on July 12th for ISpeaks: An Unscripted Evening With Lael in Yarmouth, Maine. Still hungry? My book Unscripted: A Woman’s Living Prayer is chocked full of stories like this, too. And wait until you read the second one I’m writing…

And if you’re a fan of SheSpeaks or want to be…

Save the date for this year’s SheSpeaks, which has now been expanded to be a TWO DAY event, featuring the stories of 10 different women (5 each night) over two days: December 7th & 8th at One Longfellow Square in Portland. Tickets will go on sale —and go fast!—this fall, but save the date now to set the intention.

A Witch Waking Story

Posted August 3rd, 2017

I’m going to tell you a story that has five parts. Five, I’ve learned, is associated with the universal symbol of the witch. When connected, they form a pentagram, which is the very same design you’ll find when you cut through the center of an apple – you know, the one that made Eve the patroness of Nasty Women? No coincidence, right?

I’m telling you this story because, while deeply personal to me, I’m starting to see how it’s bigger than just me. I’ve been doing this work for nearly twelve years now, so this isn’t a new awareness by any means, but it seems to continually smack me upside the head in bigger and bigger ways.

And if you’re reading this, maybe you’re starting to get that, too. Maybe you’re getting curious about your own story as a woman. Maybe you have a daughter and you’re watching her wondering if her story will be different than your own. Maybe you’re wondering what the hell is going on in our world and you’re questioning everything you’ve ever been told or believed about being a woman. Maybe you’ll recognize yourself in these words—in this story—and it will create an opening in you. For you. To go into.

I dunno. But there’s one way to find out, eh?

Part 1: My story begins with my body. Because truly, doesn’t every story begin with our bodies? I wrote about it recently on Instagram, feeling vulnerable and self-conscious as I did, but also thinking, “I can’t be the only one experiencing this…” And sure enough, I wasn’t. Because I heard from you offline (which is telling that it’s still not entirely safe talking about our sexuality and the power that lives in our bodies publicly in the comments).

I wrote about how I had been terrified for months that I had cancer—or something equally devastating. What began as a head cold back in March, sort of settled in my throat and never really went away. It lingered and then got worse, giving me the sensation of having one of those large marbles lodged in my throat. Sometimes the sensation moved down into my chest, having me feel short of breath, never allowing me to get that last full part of my inhale, just like I did when I was very pregnant with my babies and was carrying them high. I just. Couldn’t. Breathe. I found I was putting my arms above my head and grabbing onto the tops of doorways in my idle moments, hoping to create just a bit more space inside me for my breath to enter.

In the back of my mind, I knew it had everything to do with what I had just lived through in my woman’s body following November’s election. I remember the sensation of that night, and the wise voice in my head that started speaking shortly after that, cautioning me about staying whole, helping toxins to move through my body, and the need to feel my feelings.

So, like many women did, I got my ass to a crackerjack therapist—a new one—who helped me to cry my tears and give voice to the truth and the anger and the despair that was bubbling up in me. I gradually got off Facebook and started turning off the news.

I also started writing my second book—the one about women not waiting (to do that thing, go for it, make it happen, step into the arena, live their life, lead)—which was flowing out of me like hot lava at the time.

The marble in my throat got bigger and more time passed. I got better at living with it, ignoring it most days and powering through it. I doubled down on things like gratitude, prayer, and solitude, but I also stopped moving my body. I started holding myself still. At some point, I became frozen, like one of those mosquitos stuck in amber. I told myself I was stressed, heartbroken, angry, and that it would eventually pass. But inside? Inside I was terrified I had finally pushed the needle too far. Inside I was convinced the other shoe was about to drop.

Eventually, I got worried enough that I decided to seek counsel from the world of traditional medicine, feeling like I needed some concrete data on my body to put my over-active mind at ease. I was ready to know. I started with a full work up with my blood, and when that came back “normal”, I felt something in my body exhale. When the kind doctor looked down at me after completing my endoscopy and said, “You don’t have cancer. You’re perfectly normal”, I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. More relief. I looked up at her, this stranger, and asked, “So this is stress?” She nodded.

Which honestly, was a relief, but was also a source of shame. How could I let this happen knowing what I know? I knew better, and yet I let this get to me—get inside me. And more shame: I couldn’t talk about this because I had no right to complain…I am white and have so many privileges as a result—who am I to complain about the stress getting to me? But you know what? None of that mattered. My body patiently waited with its marble while I made my way out and about and finally, back into my body.

Part 2: Then my witch woke up. With a twinkle in her eye and a full body stretch. It seems she had been waiting for me. It began in earnest when I started reading Lisa Lister’s mind-blowingly awesome book Witch. Always a fan of anything prefaced by “Un”, I was immediately drawn to the subtitle: Unleashed, Untamed. Unapologetic. Having written a book entitled Unscripted, I immediately sensed that this woman was a soul sister living across the pond.

I’d always loved the word “witch”, but tended to use “witchy woman” so as to differentiate my meaning from its identification with Wiccan, which is a specific spiritual practice I don’t necessarily adhere to. That being said, in recent years women have been referring to my women’s circle as their coven, so there’s that.

Lisa defines a witch as this:

“The witch represents the part of each of us that has been censored, ignored, punished and demonized. And it’s a part that wants—no needs—to be accessed and fully expressed. The witch is a woman fully in her power. She’s in touch with the dark. She knows how to be the witness, how to let things go and how to follow her own counsel. Most importantly, though, she questions EVERYTHING. She’s connected, pussy to the earth. She hears the whispers of those who have gone before her, and she feels the ancient secrets that are in her bones. She’s the one who knows without fail that there’s more of this life than actually meets the eye. She causes hierarchical power structures to shake in her wake. She knows that in any given moment, she can be a hot mess, a woman of grace and beauty, angry and grief-struck, loved and pleasure-sated, tired and soft or raw and vulnerable. She also knows that in some moments, she can be all of this at once. She is whole.”

Yea. That.

That is what I have been referring to all these years as “the and”. That was why I needed to write my first book for myself—to sort all that shit out and to reconfigure myself in a way that made sense to me—that allowed me to see the fullest range of myself, to grab all that is within me without apology, and then to put it to use in the world.

I’ll never forget where I was when I was reading her book. We were camping on the shore of this beautiful river, and it was like the sounds of the water moving over the rocks matched the words on the pages I was reading. It reminded me of the currents inside myself that would always lead me home. Inside my body.

During our three day stay on the river, my youngest son and I made it into a sacred place, erecting over twenty tall cairns of stones all along the shore. I felt like a witch, and I watched as both my husband and my son looked at me, and were drawn to me and the power I was clearly tapping into.

I came home from that trip and found a package resting on my doorstep. It turns out it was a random “just because” present sent by one of my oldest and dearest friends. She had taken a trip to Italy with her daughter this past spring and she wrote: “Saw this in Florence and immediately knew it was for you.” I opened the package, and a tsunami of energy washed over me—a combination of gratitude, love, serendipity and what I can only describe as witch-power. My hand flew to my chest as I picked up the leather bound journal that featured an embossed rendering of Botticelli’s Three Graces.

Not two days before, I had said aloud “I need a grimoire to write down all this stuff.” And now here it was.

Part 3: I got to work healing my body with my body. Meaning: I handed the reins over to my body and said “you steer”. I did what I could to get really quiet and I made more of an effort to listen. I tried my best not to laugh or dismiss the ideas that rolled into my consciousness, like when I couldn’t get the word “jasper” out of my head and finally looked up the significance of that stone and then made a new set of mala beads out of them and bought a jasper yoni egg so I could both wear that stone as well as carry it inside me. All hands on deck. Full court press.

I cracked open my grimoire and I started becoming a student of what I already knew deep down inside me. I started unearthing wisdom in myself that felt exciting and new as much as it did affirming and ancient.

I pulled out all my essential oils and started to use them with intention. I allowed myself to be drawn to certain colors. I paid attention to my appetite and what I was hungry for—and gave myself permission to not eat for long periods of time if my body didn’t feel like it, even when it was “time to eat”. I started to make a more direct connection for myself between my sexuality and my vitality—an awareness that had been building in me for a while, but that got hijacked by my brain so easily in this world of busy and doing and thinking. I started to crave making teas and concocting things like rituals and spells and magic. I started to consider the fact that there was more power in me than I realized—like I had been using just the little finger nail of my pinky, when, in fact, I could be using the entire hand. And my full body. I started to use the phrase “I desire” and then smiled when I realized that is the very same word I chose in January to be my word of the 2017 when we painted our words as a family on the wall of our kitchen.

I knew how to do this.

Part 4: I followed where my path led me. Yesterday, when I was flat on my back getting a “massage” (I put massage in quotes because this woman is clearly a mad-skilled wild woman witch who does more than simply work with my muscles…), I felt her hands and energy be drawn to my heart. She knew about the marble in my throat—I had shared that much with her—and had asked her to tune into the conversation my body was trying to have with me. She put one hand under my body between my shoulder blades and the other she placed lightly on my chest. And she held them there. For a while. Until I felt this wail build up from the depths of me (Oh no, I’m going to lose it…shit, here it comes…stand the fuck back, it’s gonna blow!), and I made sounds that I’d only heard myself make one other time…when I was in the depths of labor birthing my sons. As her hands held steady, my body convulsed with sobs underneath them. One passed, and another started to build, like waves hitting the shore after a storm.

Then, she flipped me over onto my stomach and put both hands on my back. I heard her ask out loud (to my guides, to her guides, to the universe…) What IS this? I was so relieved to have someone other than myself asking that question. A moment later, she said “Mama Bear energy”, and again, I sobbed, this time with anger at the injustice, violence and whole-scale systematic oppression of women that now seemed publicly sanctioned. Apparently I had been carrying that around on my back, reluctant to put it down lest I forget it.

Needless to say I was spent. Wrung out like a sponge.

My “plan” had been to go to this massage and then pop into a coffee shop to crank out some client work before heading out on my August break. She knew this plan, and after working me for much longer than we both had anticipated, she gently suggested that I take a moment before shifting gears—“…maybe take yourself to the water…” 

Which I did. I found a country road and followed it along the coast until it ended. I just keep taking these big huge sighs, and with each one I felt a bit lighter.

I came to a place along the water and pulled over, thinking I would literally get right by the water, maybe even in it.

I wasn’t supposed to be here. I hadn’t planned on it. I didn’t have time for this. I had a mountain of work to get through and here I was just…wandering. I was going to disappoint someone because shit wasn’t getting done when I said it was going to get done. Why couldn’t I just focus, put my head down and get it done? That’s the gist of what my tired brain was saying.

But my body? My body said YAAAAAAASSSSSSS. This is where you are now. Right here is where you’re supposed to be.

So I plopped myself down, pulled out my mala beads (I wear them around my neck for just this occasion…) and went through all 108 of them. When I was done, I opened my eyes and looked across the water at this rocky ledge that was jutting out. And that’s when it hit me.

I’d been here before. Right in this very spot, only last time I was out on that rocky ledge, talking about my life and my business with a trusted friend. It was almost exactly six years ago. I was at a crossroads in my life—wanting something more, but not really knowing if I was worthy of it or could pull it off. You know, that Who Am I…? conversation Marianne Williamson talks about. Sigh. That one.

The conversation on that day was a catalyst for me to make some big changes at SheChanges. Shortly after that I completely re-hauled my website, clarified my brand, stepped away from what felt stale and no longer served me, and grabbed ahold of the idea that would become SheSpeaks, the ever-popular evening of women’s storytelling that, ultimately, was the springboard for my first book to be born.

What my friend and I didn’t know at the time was that there was a woman who was painting us as we were sitting out there. We had seen a woman with an easel, but we weren’t aware that we had ambled into her field of view and become subjects in her painting.

And here’s the really cool part. My friend? She managed to track down the artist, buy the painting, and give it to me with a note that read: As a symbol of our friendship and women making change in the world. For years, I had that painting packed away, but just found it again last year and put it on our bookshelf. When I came home yesterday, I flipped it over on the back and saw that the artist (who’s name, sadly, is illegible…) wrote: Solving? or Creating? Problems!

I shit you not.

Part 5: Coming full circle. Which brings me to where I find myself today.

Driving over to that spot yesterday—long before I realized where I was heading and what its significance would be—I had this thought: I gather the witches. And sometimes the men who love them.

I was thinking about the event that scares the shit out of me this September, and the six brave women who will join me on stage this December at SheSpeaks, and the six women who will gather with my for my women’s circle this fall and winter. I was thinking about the men’s group I have almost had on multiple occasions, that feels more timely now than ever. I was thinking about the second book I am writing that has my hair on fire and can’t come out fast enough.

But I know I am poised at another crossroads in my life now. Sitting there yesterday thinking Who am I…? with that marble in my throat, holding back my heartache and anger for fear of….what? It’s power? It’s impact? My safety?

And like that day on the rocks, I already know what my answer will be. It’s the same one it always is: Yes.

Why? Because that’s the witches’ word. A solemn oath. An ancient promise that has me coming full circle again and again and again. Walking my path with as much courage and moxie as I can muster in my white, privileged woman’s body.

 

Want to hear more stories like this? Check out my Unscripted Evening coming up this September 28th in Yarmouth, Maine. Tickets are now on sale.

 

And if women’s storytelling is your thing, save the date for this year’s SheSpeaks being held at One Longfellow Square on December 7th. The theme is “Life In The Arena” and tickets will go on sale November 1st.

Full Enough

Posted June 15th, 2017

Here’s a confession: I was on a walk with a friend recently and when she asked enthusiastically, “So what’s next for you?” I almost burst into tears.

But I didn’t. Instead, I threw some words out that talked about this and that…to fill the space and answer her question. At which point she asked me more questions about specifics…to be helpful. And then the “Nos” started coming out of my mouth…much to my horror.

Have you ever thought about doing this?
Not really.

What about that?
Nope.

Have you ever considered this?
No…

What about doing that…you’d be great at that.
Nah.

I felt like a failure—like I’d let her down with my vague responses and lack of specificity.
I felt ashamed of the abundance of my NOs and my refusal to cooperate with her obvious desire to be supportive and helpful.
I felt like I was wrong to feel what I was feeling.
I felt like I was missing out on something everyone else was already going after.
I felt unambitious.
I felt like a fraud or a charlatan.
I felt insecure.
I felt exhausted.

The reality is that I was full – I wasn’t hungry for more just yet.
The reality is that I am neck-deep in the process of writing a book that is consuming my thoughts and scaring the shit out of me.
The reality is that I am completely feeling enough right where I am.
The reality is that there is a time and a place for outreach, brainstorming and “ambition” and it is not now or here (for me).
The reality is that I am not a failure, I am not vague, and I have never lacked ambition.
The reality is that I am crystal fucking clear on what matters most and am all over it right now.
The reality is that I have never felt more proud, aligned and full of integrity as I do now.
The reality is that I know myself really well and I’m really good at honoring the me that I am.

This woman is an amazing person, a wise soul, and a fierce champion. I treasure her. So this is not about her, and I know that. Her intentions were only the best and her questions were from a place of love. I get that. I love her for that. I know this is about me, not her.

My point is this: I had no business being on that walk. I knew better than to put myself further out in the noise unnecessarily.

Another friend—who happens to be a creative soul as I am—put it best for me years ago. She said that there are times for inputs and there are times for outputs. Glennon Doyle talks about her creative process in terms of an inhale and an exhale. The moon waxes and wanes. The tides are high and low. There is a time to sew the seeds in the fields and there is a time to reap the harvest from them.

I’m outputting.
I’m exhaling.
I’m a waxing moon.
I’m a high tide.
I’m reaping my harvest.

I get this. I live this. I work with other women to get this and live this. And yet, I forget this…until I remember it again.

That’s what I mean when I say I had no business going on that walk as I did. What I ought to have done instead was to assume more responsibility for where I was and what I needed—to name it clearly and give voice to it publicly. She totally would have been down with that. And I would have left that walk energized and not depleted.

Now did I realize all that in the moment? Hell no. That insight (remembering) only occurred to me many weeks later when a client forwarded me this amazing article on making space in our frantic GO BIG society for mediocrity to be enough. You know, those moments when we feel at peace and embrace where we are just as we are? So this is hindsight talking. But I’m hoping that by sharing this with you today I will be pocketing away something useful next time I find myself here.

Being full enough.

 

Want to follow along with me as I write my book?
Follow me on Instagram or Facebook to read a line from my batch of writing each week—hot out of the oven.

Anger Advocacy

Posted December 16th, 2016

kaliI had a fight with my son this morning. It was one of those times in the car that leaves both people fuming with tense jaws, bitten tongues, and cold steely eyes starting straight ahead. It was awful.

But that’s not what I’m going to tell you about here because honestly, it’s bigger than my relationship with my son and I value our privacy.

 

This is a post about Anger. More to the point, this is about what happens when a woman expresses her anger.

Here’s the gist of what led up to this morning’s stand off in the car:

For the past month, my husband and I have been jumping through the hoops of refinancing our house. We could have gone with another lender and have been done with all this hoopla by now, but we felt strongly about keeping our business local and giving our existing lender a chance to keep our business. That’s all well and good, but the lender has been dropping the ball internally, dragging their feet in making things happen, and making excuses for what essentially amounts to horrid customer service and communication skills. The final nail in the coffin came this week when the appraisal for our home came back (late) and was far below market value. We looked at each other and scratched our heads, having lived in this home nearly 20 years together and having been through this dog and pony show of refinancing many times.

Upon further inspection of the appraisal, it was clear the guy had left off — or failed to make note of — some key things that would have made a difference, like not including all of our rooms, factoring in all the energy efficient windows we’d put in as well as converting our home heating to gas and investing in a high efficiency on-demand water heater. We also learned that the comp he used for our home was one that was significantly smaller, run down, and located on a major through street (versus ours which is at the end of a dead-end street). In fact, a smaller house up the street from us that has an ancient asbestus boiler system and no garage just sold a couple months ago for much higher than the appraisal had come in for our home.

 

Something wasn’t right. So we spoke up. And asked some questions.

The bank basically said tough shit — it’s good enough for the refinance to go though, so we got what we need. Wait, what?

That’s when I called the loan officer directly and spoke up. This time louder. More clearly. More pointed. I was angry they weren’t valuing their relationship with us, given the fact that we could have taken our business elsewhere. I was angry that they knew they had us over a barrel now that the interest rates were going up. I was angry they weren’t fully comprehending that when one customer is dissatisfied, it impacts about 19 other potential customers because consumers talk to each other. I was angry they were confusing disappointment with downright disagreement. I was angry that the loan officer was resentful of our inquiries and inconvenienced by our calling into question the accuracy of a such an important document that was clearly so subjective.

I was just fucking angry.  I started to hear those common phrases play in my head.. move on, get over it already, suck it up, don’t be a sore loser … and I felt the irritation of my chapped skin and raw scab from November’s election flare up again, reminding me how the popular vote in our “democracy” didn’t matter one iota because of the elector college (WTF!?).

Clearly all this was stewing and churning in me as I got into the car and drove my sons to school this morning. It’s clear my glasses were not rosy, and as is often the case in those situations, I started to notice and feel every irritant more deeply. I got frustrated by the driver that didn’t seem to get how to insert a car into traffic by just creeping the nose out little by little and giving the friendly “mind if I cut in?” wave (isn’t that universal?) to the next car in the slow moving chain. I stood on my horn (did I mention I’m from NJ?) when a driver ran a red light and almost slammed into my car.

My son, experienced driver that he is of 14, commented on my driving. I got defensive. I got angry. And then I shut the fuck up – because isn’t that what we’re trained to do as women when we get angry? Like Elsa in the movie Frozen, we are taught to conceal, don’t feel…don’t let them know! We are taught to fear our anger because it could do damage, wreak havoc, lay waste.

But in my silent front seat stewing I started to think about why it is I felt the need to clam up. Beyond the circumstances of my week or the particulars the conversation with my son, I started to see the arc of our culture’s beliefs about women and anger. More than just a frustrated mother of a typical teenager, I sensed there was something of import to convey about a woman’s experience in a world that is governed by white men…a club to which he belongs whether he is aware of it or not.

 

It’s not okay for a woman to express anger in our society. 

I explained to him that as a woman, I have been shamed, shut down and silenced my entire life any time I have attempted to express my anger. I stated this quite plainly. I also said that this is not okay — and especially hurts when it comes from family. Specifically someone I grew inside me.

That was the end of our conversation that I’ll share, but I will say that it was the beginning of a long conversation with myself about this. I started to think about the specific ways we systematically train anger to go underground in women — pummeling it down with a heavy wooden mallet in a never-ending game of Whack-a-Mole.

Here’s the series of escalating steps that formed inside my head:

— We tell women they are over-reacting, being too sensitive, making a big deal out of nothing. Somewhere in there we suggest they calm down, relax, and be more patient, compassionate, grateful it’s not worse (I believe we used to call them hysterical and take out their uteruses…)

— If that doesn’t work, we patronize them, patting women on the head, using terms like humoring, tolerating, and allowing her to vent, rant, or blow off some steam.

— If that doesn’t work, then we resort to shaming, suggesting (or outright saying) women are stupid, uninformed, hormonal, or not capable of understanding something complex.

— If that doesn’t work, we try name calling and labeling women as a means to vilify, ostracize, and humiliate them: bitch, shrew, cunt, witch, man-hater.

— If that doesn’t work, we make them invisible, disassociating, physically or mentally shutting them down and cutting them off.

 

So yea, you can see why women hesitate to express anger or are quick to shut it down in others.

I bring this up because from where I sit, the topic of anger among women is swirling all around us these days. Last week on stage at SheSpeaks, several of the speakers made reference to it in their stories, one of them even asking herself (in front of the audience), “What do I do with all this anger I’m feeling?” My individual clients talk about the anger they are feeling these days — at work, at home, in the world — and my women’s circle dances with it as well.

My most recent thought about it is this: if we don’t heal our internal relationship to anger as women, we’re in for many long, dark nights of the soul (there’s a reason heart disease is the number one killer of women…) But moreover, if we don’t make space in our society for women to express their anger externally, we’re in for a long slow road to change in this world.

There is a fundamental difference between anger and violence, but so often they are interpreted as synonymous, and our fear of one keeps us from expressing the other openly.

“I think anger is one of the most misunderstood emotions we have because it spends so little time in the light of day. It’s shunned and left to fend for itself in its dark cave, mumbling and scuffing up the dirt in frustration like a petulant child. I don’t blame it – I’d be a bit ornery, too, if I were that devalued and misunderstood. Because at its essence, anger is just really another form of energy. It’s an emotion with Tabasco sauce splashed on top. And it generally has something for us to hear. Something that’s coming from a deep and meaningful place.” – Unscripted, pg 135

We are taught that anger is toxic to our bodies, and I agree, but I want to clarify and expand upon that notion. Anger is a natural human emotion that can be a catalyst for incredible change, even a source of power in that it can fuel and drive us forward. But if it remains unexpressed and silenced or stuffed, it can sour and ferment inside us, setting us on the path to one of two outcomes: outward violence (verbal, mental, physical abuse that disconnects us from others and does harm) or inward violence (self-loathing, shame, sickness and dis-ease that disconnects us from ourselves and does harm).

The good news is that we are all capable of making our own choice with how we want to be with anger — our own and others.

We can get out our hammers, participate in our own shame, and do our best to erase the truth inside the anger with a sorry. Or we can increase our capacity to be with it — which means being willing to get messy, be uncomfortable, ruffle feathers, or even offend. But there is one thing that is undeniable in all this:

 

Anger is here, like it or not. It’s the mole that refuses to be whacked.

So what do I plan to do about it?

That experience this morning got me thinking about all the ways I have experienced my plain truth of anger as a woman, and also all the ways I have contributed to whacking it down. While I can’t control how other’s experience me, I can control my own relationship to anger and how I allow — or don’t allow — myself to express it. I can control how I dance — or don’t — with other people’s expressions of anger. I can also control how I give voice to it as a means for bringing it into the light of day — giving space for it to exist, be safe, have merit. Ergo this post.

When I think about it in the light of day, Anger isn’t something that needs to be “managed” or even tolerated, it needs to be actively practiced — so we can get better at expressing it. Look what happened to Elsa in Frozen when she finally took off the gloves and assumed ownership for something that flowed naturally from her. Sure, the village experienced a momentary freak freeze (ever heard of the Hindu goddess Kali?) and perhaps some people got startled or scared, but ultimately, she lead the kingdom and leveraged her gift to create colorful beauty from cold ice.

And sure, you could make a case for that simply being a kid’s movie…but isn’t that we’re all just doing here anyway? Playing our parts, hitting our marks, and following the scripts that were written for us?

I don’t know about you, but I’m auditioning to do the voice-over for Anger. I think I’d make a badass advocate for that character.

Undeniable Perspective

Posted May 6th, 2016

I posted this video on my SheChanges Facebook page yesterday as a nod to my mother who celebrated her 77th birthday this week. I am who I am because of her, and yet — as the video below reveals — our stories around moving into motherhood while working in the workplace are disturbingly similar, despite being separated by 37 years (my mom’s first child being born in 1965 and mine in 2002).

The other reason it felt particularly relevant to share this story is that Mother’s Day will be celebrated by many of us this Sunday. When I think of Mother’s Day, yes, I admittedly think of the heartfelt poems and pictures from my boys that I will inevitably treasure, but I also think of Julia Ward Howe and her Mother’s Day Proclamation.

“Arise all women who have hearts! Whether your baptism be that of water or of tears! Say firmly: We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies.”

The operative words there for me are “firmly” and “decided”. Given our political landscape these days, Howe’s message just feels so damn relevant (still) and speaks to the role of women’s voices in shaping our society. That proclamation, written back 1870 to “appeal to womanhood”, for me, is still a very active and alive invitation: Arise.

As I sit with that today — as a 47 year old woman (when did THAT happen!?), a mother of two boys, and a business owner committed to creating change powered by women — I am honestly gobsmacked by how little has changed for women in the workplace when it comes to becoming mothers. And now we can add many fathers into that mix, too, given the desire many men are actively voicing for paid paternity leaves.

In my video above, I reference hearing a story on NPR the other day. The piece was seeking to shine a light on how little air-time was being given to this topic in the presidential campaign conversation compared to the huge need that so many people are talking about on the playgrounds, offices and break rooms at work. I learned that in actuality, paid family medical leave (FMLA) is only available to 27% of employees in the private sector, and for those whom it’s available, only 39% of people actually take advantage because most can’t afford that time off without using paid vacation/sick time to make ends meet (which, sadly, many people also don’t have access too).

So apparently, we don’t have a national plan that allows for us to get sick,  have children, or enjoy time off. Right…. that makes sense.

It seems people need their incomes to survive financially. Imagine that.

When I had my first son, I was one of the lucky 27% that had that paid FMLA (which, as an aside, is really a fancy spin on short-term disability…I remember having to fill out forms that forced me to list where the “accident” occurred and laughing as I wrote “the living room rug”). I also remember being blown-away by the fact that I would only be receiving 2/3 of my pay for that that leave.

Shame on me that I didn’t do my research before I was in that position, but I’m fairly confident the “accident” on the living room rug would still have happened.

When I learned I wouldn’t be getting my full salary, I freaked out. We needed every penny of my income to get by, not just a percentage of it. But I felt like I couldn’t complain or say anything. I mean I was one of the”lucky” ones, right? No denying that – I was (and still am) a white woman with advance degrees working in the corporate world and I had a partner who was also working. We were DINKs (double income, no kids). I had no business complaining that we couldn’t make ends meet. So we sold our truck, used the bulk of my vacation time for the year, and cashed in some of my retirement funds to make it happen. And then we prayed we’d have a healthy child with no complications as well as a labor and delivery that didn’t bring me to my knees physically. That would have messed with our carefully calculated plan.

I was ashamed I wasn’t more prepared and hadn’t seen this coming. I felt guilty for feeling the way I was feeling because I knew so many women had it so much worse that I did. I was lucky. I should have been more grateful.

So I never spoke openly about it. Until now.

Listening to the NPR piece about this “issue” of paid medical leave — when that baby I had is now 13 years old — I had the realization that it has not gotten better for women, it’s actually gotten worse because of the economy and healthcare costs. And in hearing my mom’s story from 1965 of being sent home from work “sick” for being pregnant, I started to wonder what it will take for us to see this as not just a “nice to have”, but an absolute need to survive economically as a country.

Maybe that’s why so many other countries that are way less developed than the United States have mandated it. You think?

When I heard my mom reflect on her experience of being sent home from work that day she made her pregnancy public, I asked, “So were you fired?”

“I’m not sure,” she said “but I got the sense I was done and they didn’t want me coming back.”

Huh. Isn’t that telling (sad, really) that 37 years later, “done” was what I would be called, too — not in a mean-spirited or malicious way…just as a matter of doing business.

So my response to that comment (“you should be grateful…we have come so far”) I hear come my way so often — usually from other women? My response is this:

“Not far enough. Not fast enough.”

This is me rising up with my big heart and saying it firmly. I get to decide how I feel.

And I don’t feel “done” with this “issue”. Not by a long shot.

Living My Prayer

Posted April 15th, 2016

2016-04-15 12.01.28Do you have a minute? (sure you do.) Do you wanna play? (it’s okay if you’ve forgotten how…) You’re not alone.

This TED talk by Shonda Rhimes has just moved into the top slot of my all-time favorite TEDs (sorry Liz and Brene…). I think I held my breath the whole time I watched it just now…she just spoke so directly to my soul, I didn’t want any ambient noise to distract me. Even my own. Her bottomline (which I assure you is not a spoiler…) is this:

“Work doesn’t work without play.”

There was one particular part of her TED talk that pinged something in my core. She was talking about how “The Hum” she consistently had been getting from her work in the world — a self-proclaimed “Titan” writing and producing three to four award-winning television shows simultaneously season after season — had simply gone away.

The Hum she likened to “God’s whisper right in my ear” — the very thing that kept her feeling fulfilled, fueled and inspired; the very thing she had come to attach her identity and worth to — wasn’t there for her anymore. It just stopped. And was replaced by silence.

She’s quick to admit that outwardly nothing appeared to have changed (“all the colors were the same”) — she still showed up, wrote, produced and assumed the role of Titan. But on the inside? It was a different story.

She feared her Hum was broken — like its engine had died.

The work didn’t change, but the nourishment she derived from it did. And now she was starved for her Hum, but not knowing where or how to get it from any place other than work. She missed it so much she started to wonder: “Who am I without the Hum”…or even more to the point: “What am I without the Hum”?

And then she said it. That phrase that made something cold inside me start to melt just a little, like the girl from Frozen Shonda references that finally let go of whatever the thing she needed to let go of:

“In the homelessness of my humlessness, I have nothing to do but pay attention.” 

I was dumbstruck by that phrase. Slack-jawed with the resonance of what it touched within myself:

My worry about where my Hum has gone. 

Because something in me has shifted in me since I wrote and released my book. At times it’s exciting (yay: intrigue, curiosity, shiny new toy), and other days it’s completely terrifying (holy shit: panic, fear, bracing for impact).

It’s still hard for me to put words to it, but I sense the shift when I am aware of how much time and space and silence I seem to be requiring these days. This need of mine appears to have grown exponentially over the last year, and I’m a bit intimidated by it.

—How do I honor that need and still run a profitable business?
—What if I’m becoming lazy or worse…selfish?
—What is happening to me?

I suspect it has something to do with the pinky swear I made to myself last year. I wrote about this experience as “giving birth to consent” in my book — it was the moment I made a sacred promise to honor the feminine energy that lives within me; to never again turn my back on her. So long as we both shall live.

2016-04-15 12.44.33We even got hitched — a ceremony, vows, a ring (I thought a moonstone was a nice touch…) — and made it all official.

Here’s what I know about my relationship to the feminine and what it will ask of me thanks to the work of Marion Woodman:

“The feminine can’t be understood, it can only be experienced as presence.”

So not to put too sharp a point on it, but apparently I can’t think, strategize or muscle my way through this one. I have to yield, open, create space, and listen.

It’s about Play for me. As in the verb. 

Which, to be honest, I have resisted. I get that now, but it’s been a process to see the degree to which I have tightly managed that desire. I remember not too long ago on one particular toothy phone call with my editor, I instructed her to yank the chapter entitled “Simply Play” from my book because we had hit a snarly editorial knot. I even joked with my husband that my new favorite phrase was “just fucking delete it.” 

But a second after I’d offed Play and relegated it to the cutting room floor, I caught myself and said: “Hold on…I think that’s what I’ve been doing my entire life…” And then I fought for it to stay in.

And now? I’m doing my damnedest to live it. The SPACE (not my ability, mind you, but my intention) I hold for Play in my life has become the essence of the “living prayer” I talk about in my book.

I’ve realized that “work” isn’t work for me at all — it’s easy. It comes naturally and is sanctioned, supported, and publicly celebrated in our society. But “play”…ah that is where I need to stay awake and alert. THAT is what I need to actively nourish.

And in case it’s not patently obvious — which it might not be if you haven’t read my book yet… — “work” is how my masculine energy shows up in the world in all its glory. It has a robust appetite and I am extremely skilled at feeding it. “Play”, on the other hand, is how my feminine energy is expressed, and like many of us…I’m still on training wheels when it comes to its feeding schedule. But I’m in it for the long-haul and I’m hellbent on learning how to ride this bike on my own. With both of my wheels —work and play, masculine and feminine — moving me forward.

The feminine is about being present to myself. Period.

That realization is all well and good, but in a very similar vein to Shonda’s story, things started to get wonky right after that spit and shake with the feminine in me. For instance, my internal world started to demand to be fed much more than it has in the past. It’s no longer satisfied with the little licks of nourishment I had doled out to it on the sampler-sized ice cream spoons in the past.

The feminine in me wanted more than just a little lick. 

And after what I considered a good feeding — a handful of days off to play hooky, unplugging, a more gentle schedule, lower expectations, permission to push things off — my appetite for it didn’t wane, it actually grew.

Which in one regard was a good sign, right? The feminine in me was getting stronger, more comfortable, and confident in the solidity of our relationship. But on the other hand, it begged the question of its capacity to eat…would it ever leave me alone? Would it ever be full?

The answer to that, I know, is yes. 

But in the meantime it’s uncomfortable and weird and slightly terrifying to trust myself — and my instincts around nourishment — to this extent.

I bump up against selfish, and privilege, and shame daily as I invest in my relationship to the feminine in me.

ShondaBut I want to talk about it with you here (among other places), because I firmly believe this is the way I will live my prayer out loud. I want to be that brave. Like Shonda is.

So thank you, Shonda Rhimes. Thank you for telling your story so that I don’t feel so alone. Or crazy. Or both.

You’ve inspired me to keep going on this path.

And to keep saying yes to Play. 

Whoopsie

Posted April 13th, 2016

MoneyI made a startling realization the other day. One that actually made me say “whoopsie” out loud – and had me kicking myself for letting it happen on my watch.

The realization? I had inadvertently made the amount of money I earn the sole measure my worth.

Whoopsie. And wtf! I knew better than that, yet there I was – caught red-handed with my own realization.

It’s not surprising how that happened. I mean, this is tax season — the time many of us have a reckoning between last year’s best laid plans and this year’s actual reality. It can often be a nail-bitting, breath-holding time of year as we run all the reports, gather up the receipts, fill out all the forms, and then….wait. Wait for the final verdict – which, depending on the degree of your fiscal planning acumen (and discipline) can run the gamut from pleasantly surprised to totally blindsided (and everything in between).

To be completely honest, I pretty consistently fall in the “somewhere in between” camp. Such is the life of a hard-working optimist who loves strategy and also believes in magic.

I love playing with numbers and making them sing in our personal household finances as well as my business. I have done a shit ton of work around money (thank you Kate Northrup ) over the past years, and am proud of the solid and respectful relationship we’ve fostered, Money and I.

Thanks to teasing apart my truth from what I had been taught, I was able to face down fear, slay some old dragon beliefs I had been carrying, and fully own my desire as a woman to feel financially free and prosperous. The result is that my relationship to money feels lighter, more powerful and yes, even nourishing — having me feel financially fed as I run a profitable business while also feeling spiritually and emotionally aligned and connected to my work.

I am undeniably passionate about women realizing and getting their financial worth. I look at the wage gap, and I see all the systems, cultures, and antiquated mindsets we still have that get in the way of us making more forward progress. It’s a lot to look at — at times overwhelming — even with rose-colored glasses.

But in my work? I look at the woman I see in the mirror. And I look at the woman sitting across from me (in person or over the phone) and I ask: How are you culpable here? How are you contributing to the wage gap? And then I invite us both to look at that topic of worthiness (or confidence, assertiveness or negotiation), because that is something we women have direct control over – our relationship to money and how we show up (or don’t).

All good stuff, right?

On most days, yes, absolutely. I walk my talk around money, “touching” it on a weekly basis, looking at it from all different angles, and doing analysis in both forward and backward directions to orient myself. All of that lends credibility to the work I do with women leaders and business owners who are also seeking to increase their income at the same rate they are unleashing their value-added contributions. Turns out I’m not the only woman out there wanting to make her numbers sing more.

Sure, there are plenty shit-hitting-the-fan, oops-we-forgot-about-that, or YOLO moments that happen throughout our year. There are many, many nights I lay awake just worrying about what could happen in the blink of an eye — the unexpected health scare, lost job, ailing parent or heaven forbid child, natural disasters, and things (cars, furnaces, septic line, roof, relationships, contracts, social security system, the power grid…) that could break. 

Which of course has me feel vulnerable. Like a turtle without its hard shell.

I kid you not, I actually woke up the other morning listing in my head the insurance coverage and policies we had that helped offer some semblance of a “shell” that would mitigate against disaster if something unforeseen went down or exploded. It took me a while. Let’s just say I needed more than 10 fingers to tick them all off.

And then I thought (yes, still laying in bed…I’ll even use worrying as an excuse to stay in bed a bit longer…): What the fuck is wrong with this picture? So much insurance. So much bracing for disaster.  So much fear.

So much riding on making, having, and spending money. Like a machine.

But the thing is, I’m not a machine. Nor do I wish to be one — or even play one on TV. I actually am the turtle without its shell. All that other stuff is just an illusion. A source of comfort, sure, but ultimately smoke and mirrors.

Which brings me back to my worth and the realization I had the other day.

I had forgotten to make space for other measures to define my worth.

That’s my job — clearly our society won’t do that for me just yet — and I had fallen down on it. I’d let money be the sole measure of my worth. Whoopsie.

I came home that night and catapulted into the kitchen, eager to share my latest realization with my best friend and life partner. He smiled at me, knowing me well enough to know that my whole-body-wagging sensation would only be abated when I shared my new found treasure with him.

“I can’t believe I have been basing my entire worth on how much money I’m making! Do you realize what a mistake that is – and how limiting it can be? Dangerous, even. It sets me up so that if I’m making money, I’m worthy…but if I’m not making money – or enough of it, I’m what…unworthy!? Or worse..worthless? That’s fucking bullshit. How did I let that happen?”

Again, he smiled. Reminding me of the time I came home earlier this year — after having written blog posts for 10 years, and having written, re-written, edited, and actually published a book — and said with a gobsmacked expression on my face (so I’m told): “I think I’m a writer…”

That guy…he just gets me. Even when something “new” dawns on me when to him it has been obvious and plain as day all along.

So I’ve been getting busy. Now that the tax season is nearly behind me, the “somewhere in between” big reveal has happened once again, and I’ve done my annual crunching of the numbers to position myself for next year, I’m taking a step back from all that.

I still love to make my numbers sing, and I will always have that. But I want to widen my definition to include more measures of my worth — ones that don’t hinge so much on my ability to make money, the size of my savings account, the state of our readiness (insert laugh track here) for our sons’ educations and our eventual retirement.

It’s got to be a broader. And it’s up to me to put the rib spreaders on the chest of that existing definition to crack it open.

As I sit here today, I think I have my first clue. I’ve been writing this post in a local coffee shop, hearing the Beatles croon in my ear. First across the speakers, and now in the lovely ear worm it left inside me playing loop after loop of the same refrain:

2014-01-28 09.51.16All you need is love 
All you need is love
All you need is love, love
Love is all you need. 

I was humming those words to myself again and again without even realizing it.

I was reminded of that opening scene from one of my favorite movies, Love Actually, where Hugh Grant, in his lovely British voiceover, reminds us that when you need to counter the gloom of the state of the world, all you need to do is consider the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport in London…or the messages sent from the people on board the planes hitting the twin towers.

“If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling that you’ll find love is actually all around.” 

Which makes a pretty solid case for worth having a lot to do with our capacity to both give and receive love — as well as to see it when it’s all around.

Yup. I’ve got that in spades.