Women’s Stories Matter—To All Of Us

Posted October 23rd, 2019

Something happened for me at my SheSpeaks evenings of women’s storytelling last year. I didn’t see it coming, but once I did, I saw how it had been there all along.

If you’re not familiar with SheSpeaks, then you might not know that this annual event has become something of a tradition for many women—a heaping dose of good mojo, heartfelt energy, and inspiration delivered right before we all head inside (ourselves, and our dwellings) for the long, dark winter months.

I’ve been running SheSpeaks since 2011, and have brought ten amazing and sold-out audiences together with over fifty-two speakers courageous enough to share their stories with their whole hearts and soul fires. No fancy bells or whistles, no elaborate rehearsals or formal introductions, just some loud or soulful music to get the party started, and women speaking their truth on stage. Just as they are.

But last year, having expanded SheSpeaks to a two-night event—and still we sold out!—I noticed something different: more men came out to be in the audience.

I’ve always been very clear that this is an event open to everyone—not just women—even though only women’s voices are featured on the stage.
 

That’s the idea: showcasing women’s power, perspective, and experiences as valuable, relevant and worthy of our attention.

But last year, as I looked out at the audience—especially on the last night, I saw more men than I’ve ever seen before. It excited me. Not just because I’m the mom to two boys or that my husband’s presence in that audience literally helps to root me both nights I’m on stage (making this event truly a family affair…)—but because more men were literally seeing what it looks like for woman to lead.

See what I just did there? I made storytelling and leading synonymous.

Men came up to me after both shows last year and said things like this:

I’ve never experienced anything like this before…
I had no idea…
What just happened?
I’ve been laughing, nodding, and tearing up all night…
This feels like the church I’ve always wanted…
I didn’t expect to relate to this…
I was just here to support my friend on stage…
I can’t believe I didn’t know about this…
I want to bring all my friends to this next year…
That was the best night ever…
I didn’t expect to feel so welcome here…like I belong

I’ve heard things like this before from men who have attended in the past—men who have quietly approached me after the show, their hand extended, shaking their head in disbelief, wondering why they were drawn to me…to this.

In fact, the first time I ever hosted SheSpeaks, a man came up to me after and said—in all seriousness—“So when are you going to do a HeSpeaks?”

I laughed outright, and I regretted that later. Because I had missed his point, I suspect. While his comment felt rather tone deaf about the entitlement of white men to have a voice and a captive audience, I think what he was really getting at was this:
 

“I want something for men that feels like this…Can you help?”

Sadly, I didn’t know what I know now. Back then I was still a bit bitter from my corporate days and had some harder edges to me. Back then I was still guarding my heart and looking for fight.

But last year? Men were undeniable in the house—not only as a captive audience, but seeming to say the same things in a chorus, not just as a lone voice.

While all this amazingness was unfolding, however, something else was happening that was not so hot. I didn’t know it at the time, but a client of mine later shared her experience—and her disappointment.

Apparently she was in line at the bar during intermission and turned to the woman behind her—someone she didn’t know—to express her excitement about the evening. She said something like:
 

Have you noticed how many men are here tonight?

What my client meant, but didn’t feel the need to say because she thought it was obvious was: “isn’t that different…EXCITING?”

All that excitement came crashing down when the woman she’d spoken to rolled her eyes and said, “I know, they’re totally crashing our party…”

That sort of shit makes my heart break. But I also get it, because at one point at time, I was that woman. I was tired of constantly being surround by men—most of them white—talking to me, about me, on all these platforms. I was tired of not feeling heard and seen. I was tired of not having a space that felt safe or comfortable to me as a woman. And I was tired of not seeing more women on the stage, in the office, grabbing the microphone, or in the spotlight.

So I get it. And yet.

I also know what it’s like to not feel like I belong, to be the one woman in the room, and to feel grateful to have just been invited by a man to join in the conversation. I know what it likes to be included in places where I don’t feel like I belong.
 

Women need to actively invite our men to join us—in our spaces, at our tables, to our gatherings—so we can create change together.

This is what I was thinking about when SheSpeaks wrapped last year.

It’s not about giving men a microphone, having them set the agenda, or asking them to lead. It’s about inviting men to follow our a woman’s lead. It’s about enlisting men as allies and granting them access to the world of women.

How else can we demonstrate what it’s like to be in the presence of a woman leading an audience if we don’t invite men to witness us—to see and feel what it’s like?
 

Leaders are visible, not hidden behind closed doors.

So here’s my challenge to you: invite more men into your world. Let’s show them how we do things as women. Let’s show them what it looks like and how it feels. Let’s show them how alive and vibrant and magic it feels when women feel safe enough to reveal the full wattage of their power—and do it together.

But don’t should yourself over there, okay? I remember how much I craved being in the company of women back when I had no access to it. So if that’s what you’re hungry for right now, than have at it—go nutty, get your needs met with wild abandon, and I will be over here celebrating you.

Just be mindful if you have any of these thoughts, though:

He won’t be able to handle it…
This would freak him out…
He’d feel so out of place….
He’ll probably feel awkward…
He’ll probably say no anyway…
He’s not going to get it…
He’ll just make fun of it…
He’ll ruin it for me…

Check yourself. Is that really true? Or is that just something you’re telling yourself? Have you ever tested those beliefs? Do you want to find out? Do you believe in him? Have you ever told him your concerns? Have you ever expressed how much it means to you—and admitted that you want him to share it with you?
 

Because those things? Those are on us to own as women.

We cannot control what the response or outcome will be, but we can damn sure assume responsibility for extending the invitation.

Now lest you think I’m over here with all this shit figured out, let me offer you a story from my own experience that just happened this morning.

A client of mine let me know that Glennon Doyle will be coming through Boston this Saturday—just three days from now—as part of her Together Live tour. I’m a big fan of Glennon and clearly I’m all about women’s storytelling, so I clicked through to the link, fully expecting to see tickets were sold out months ago.

Happily, there were still some left! And I soon found I was in possession of not one, but two tickets to go to this event Saturday night.

I’ll admit, my first thought was this: What woman do I want to bring with me to this event? After floating the offer by a couple of my badass women, I thought back to my my experience of SheSpeaks and had another thought:
 

I want to share this with my man. This matters to me—and to us.

So I invited him to be my date over text, even though the voice in my head said all the things I listed above….

I didn’t just ask him to come because I couldn’t get anyone else to go with me. I told him how much it meant to me if he would make this event—and my world of women—a priority. And show up to it.
 

His response: I’m in!

Even though he’s tired. Even though, like all of us, he’s been all go, go, go and was looking forward to not going this weekend. Even though he knows he’s going to be in the minority. Even though he might feel uncomfortable, awkward or not welcome.

He’s going not out of obligation or guilt—he’s going because he was asked. And he trusts my invitation.

And sure, he’s an awesome man who was raised by a strong mother and four strong sisters, but still….how often do we underestimate our men? How often do we assume their disinterest and write off their participation in something that is valuable—that matters—without even extending an invitation to them to decide for themselves?
 

That’s on us, women.

So I double dog dare you to join me. Invite your men. Forward this post to the men in your world and see how they respond. Go on record that you’re going to be inviting them to join you in women’s places and spaces more.

Because it matters and it’s time.

Start with SheSpeaks. That event is a great place to start, and people are flying in from all over the country to go to it, but begin by using your own voice today. Use it to actively enlist men as our allies, and see what happens next.
 

Invite men to be a part of our women’s world, and see it as a public service for us all.

______________________________________

Can I get an amen to that? Does any of this resonate with you over there or is this just my truth? If you like what you’ve read here, you’re really gonna dig my second book Ignite: Lighting The Leader Fire which will be released on November 15th. I go into this and much more in this book that is both a heat-seeking memoir and a fiery missive for women to assume the helm. 

Looking for more inspiration and want to meet more of your people? Stay tuned for these upcoming events:

Thursday, December 5th: SheSpeaks, night 1 

Five amazing women will be taking the stage with Lael at SheSpeaks to share their stories at this ever-popular annual event! Tickets are on sale now at One Longfellow Square and going fast, so be sure to get yours early if you want in on it this year!

Friday, December 6th: SheSpeaks, night 2

For the first time ever in the history of SheSpeaks, Lael will be taking center stage for the second evening of SheSpeaks to share stories from her own experience, and will weave together threads from her work with women over the years, as she celebrates the release of her second book, Ignite: Lighting The Leader Fire. Tickets are on sale now via One Longfellow Square and are going fast for this special edition night of SheSpeaks.

Power: Pure And Simple

Posted October 11th, 2019

I have this dream, and it begins with changing the language we use as women to describe ourselves—or any people, really, outside the construct of the white male narrative we’re all living in.
I have this dream about the word “empowerment” fading to obsolescence….
Instead of reading articles, seeing conferences and discovering entire organizations framed around “empowering” or “empowerment”, they would simply be about our POWER—the EM would be gone. As in:

Women’s POWER
Black POWER
LGBTQ+ POWER
Indigenous People’s POWER
POWER at the Margins

Do you see and feel how subtle that shift is? What happens in your body when the “EM” is taken off? More to the point, I wonder what your mind says about that? Does it get loud, noisy, start to “Yea….but…”, get defensive, annoyed at me because I don’t understand and have missed the point? Does Siri shout at you that she’s recalculating because we’ve dodged the satellite and have left a government sanctioned road?

Are we okay with the word “power” just as it is?

These are the places I play with women, and what gets talked about behind closed doors more often than you might realize. The women I know are irritated by this word “empower”. It doesn’t work for us, it seems, and I’m starting to get louder about it. For many women, it feels like it’s a word we’re told we should want—and when we actually don’t want it, we somehow feel like we’re in danger of getting voted off the island.
What if she’s already feeling empowered? Is she free to admit that to you or is there something wrong with her? Does she have to shrink or lie to fit in?
Is this how we might inadvertently be holding each other back as women? I think about these things.

When have you seen a leadership conference or a New York Times bestseller about “men’s empowerment”?  How often do we applaud corporate initiatives dedicated to exploring how we can “empower men?” Exactly. Because men’s power is presumed to be present already—so no one feels the need to talk about it.

But what if men’s power—specifically white men’s power—were exactly what we needed to be talking about?

Consider this: What if there were entire conferences, magazines, and books dedicated to “men’s disempowerment”? Can you imagine what the reaction to that might be from men and women alike? And can you imagine how bitter and resentful men might be if others profited financially off of this? Weird to even consider, right?
But isn’t that exactly what we’re getting at when we’re focussing on empowerment for women (and others, like people of color and LGBTQ)? We’re talking about our need to reckon and respond to the entitlement, centering, unchecked privilege, abuse and corruption of white men’s power…

See what I’m getting at here? We’re talking about our power in relative terms—relative to white men, that is. We’re talking about power as if we weren’t all born with it inside us already.

We’re not really talking about the root of the conversation: white men’s power.  So here’s my latest hunch: “empowerment” is actually a white man’s word…

What if the word “empowerment” was a tool of the Patriarchy—to keep it functioning?

Our words matter. They shape our reality. As a word nerd who actively plays with things like this, and as a midwife to badass women, I actually have loads of stories and evidence now that tell me I’m not alone. I hear and see the reaction women have to this word “empowerment” everyday in hushed tones behind closed doors.

I’ve always hated that word…
I’ve never understood that word…
I’ve never related to that word…
I never identified with that word…

“Empowerment” subtly points us to something “out there”, and suggests someone need to hold space for it to emerge and be turned on. This word suggests the POTENTIAL for power, not it’s presence.
POWER is undeniably and ALREADY here. There is no “getting”. It doesn’t need to be “given to”. It affirms it’s existence and gets down to the business of honoring, celebrating and expressing it.
Which is a wholly different conversation to have than searching, wondering, strengthening, and waiting—for our power to be discovered or emerge.

Women have not misplaced our power. It’s right here inside us. It is the source, in fact, from which every person was born.

What I’m talking about here is subtle and could easily be dismissed, but it’s distinct and important to acknowledge. Some might read my thoughts about this, hear my humble invitation to simply use the word “power“, and say it’s the same thing—the intention is the same, I’ve missed the whole point, and I don’t understand. And that’s okay, we can agree to disagree here. “Empowerment” is, after all, the sacred cow of women’s language—it’s everywhere and entire industries hold it as the holy grail.

But I’m old enough to know that my body doesn’t lie to me—and it doesn’t rise at the sound of that word, it waits. I trust her truth.

What I do know for sure is that women are more hellbent than ever on rising up. We’re no longer waiting—and this is good, and awesome and timely. My invitation, however,  is this:

Let’s leave our “em” at the door, and travel a little lighter as we rise with power.

______________________________________

Can I get an amen to that? Does any of this resonate with you over there or is this just my truth? Feel free to let me know if you’re on this slip ‘n slide with me. It feels good to hear from you—especially as I haven’t been out here much because I’ve been finalizing the manuscript for my second book, Ignite: Lighting The Leader Fire (due out November 15th!!!) 

Looking for more inspiration and want to meet more of your people? Stay tuned for these upcoming events:

Thursday, December 5th: SheSpeaks, night 1 
Five amazing women will be taking the stage with Lael at SheSpeaks to share their stories at this ever-popular annual event! Tickets are on sale now at One Longfellow Square and going fast, so be sure to get yours early if you want in on it this year!

Friday, December 6th: SheSpeaks, night 2
For the first time ever in the history of SheSpeaks, Lael will be taking center stage for the second evening of SheSpeaks to share stories from her own experience, and will weave together threads from her work with women over the years, as she celebrates the release of her second book, Ignite: Lighting The Leader Fire. Tickets are on sale now via One Longfellow Square and are going fast for this special edition night of SheSpeaks.

What She Said

Posted March 12th, 2019

What if I were to call you a storyteller…how would you respond?

Would you agree or would you start Yea-Butting me?

Yea, but not a good one.
Yea, but it’s not like I’m a REAL storyteller.
Yea, but it’s not like I know what I’m doing.
Yea, but it’s not really about anything important.
Yea, but it’s not like anyone wants to hear what I have to say.
Yea, but it’s not like anyone asks me to do it.
Yea, but I’m just goofing around.
Yea, but I’m introverted.
 

YeaBut. YeaBut. YeaBut.

After working through this very conversation with nearly 70 women who have stepped onto the stage for SheSpeaks—a women’s storytelling evening I’ve run ten times now—I’ve heard a lot of YeaButs. I expect them. I normalize them. I actually have come to love them, and you know why?

When a woman says YeaBut to my invitation to SheSpeaks to share her story on stage, sure she faces her fear and her doubt and all those other hairy monsters we have within us as humans. But you know what else she does in that moment?  She touches her humility in that pause. She touches her humanity in that hesitation, and let me tell you, that is often the beginning of a beautiful story.
 

Stories with humble beginnings are some of the best ones in my book.

It is in that pause that she reckons with that question Marianne Williamson asks in her book A Return To Love:

“Who am I to be brilliant, talented, gorgeous, fabulous?” 

You know what comes next, right?

“Actually, who are you not to be?”

And Marianne goes on to remind us that showing up fully as ourselves is, in fact, a deep service to not only ourselves, but the world.
 

Your playing small does not serve the world….We are all meant to shine.

So put THAT in your YeaBut. I know I have over the years—many times. In fact, when I first left the cushy corporate world and started SheChanges I had a whole lotta YeaButs to contend with—the first being that up until that point, I had considered myself “one of the guys“. What the hell was I thinking starting a business working exclusively with women?

So you know what I did?

I painted that quote on the wall in my itty bitty home office that was the first roosting spot for my business.

(Side note: if you know me at all, when I really want to OWN something bold in myself, I either paint it on a wall or get a tattoo)

But back to being a storyteller. And being a woman.

What I’ve come to appreciate in the past fourteen years doing this work with women—and wrestling with my own hairy monsters—is this:
 

Storytelling is a feminine form of leadership.

A story transports—it has the power to take someone with you to another place.
A story paints a picture with words—it leaves images like breadcrumbs for others to find their way back to it.
A story enlists the senses—it asks our whole body (and heart and spirit) to experience it and not just the mind.
A story invites us to connect with ourselves and each other—offering solid ground to stand on in uncertain times.
A story offers a deeply personal perspective—allowing space for differences to emerge and resourcefulness to rise organically.

But you probably know all this, right? This isn’t new information. In fact, a case could be made for this being really OLD information—like ancient, in our bones information.

But if I were to ask you to speak with me on stage at this year’s at SheSpeaks…would you see yourself as that woman I see?
 

The Storyteller.

The one who could take up space on that stage—tomorrow if need be— and lead us forward simply by sharing what’s in her heart as only she can?

Or would you wait until you felt ready?

There’s no right or wrong answer here, and it’s not a trick question. It’s an honest one. An earnest one.

Because as I sit here in the heart of Women’s History Month, I am already eager to hear what you’d say, woman. Not just at SheSpeaks, but on our world stage.
 

Let’s storm the stage. YeaButs ‘n all.


Hungry for specific examples of how women create change with their stories? Every chapter of my next book, Witch Ways: You’re Not Crazy. You’re a Woman. begins and ends with a “She story” that might have you think someone has access to the thoughts inside your head, but rarely say out loud. 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 access to five sample chapters read by me via SoundCloud, and 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! 

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! 

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.

 

If Not Now, Then When?

Posted January 5th, 2018

He looked at our words painted on the wall, then he looked at me. “If I were you, I would have chosen Queen…

That was my youngest son—the oracle Buddha boy I grew inside my body—saying that to me four nights ago. The night the moon was so bright and so full, it kept me up. The night I finally got up and pulled the switch. The night I laid it down. And painted it on my wall like a promise.

 

Sound dramatic? I assure you it’s not. It’s how magic works.

This might come as a surprise to you, given what I do for my living and all, but I’ve never really been a big fan of goals. That very word makes me raise my left eyebrow in a challenge…you know, the facial expression that conveys the “you’re not the $#&#@ boss of me” look. And let’s not even talk about the whole “New Year’s Resolution” beat…. that phrase elicits the raised eyebrow/pursed lips combo that reads: “nobody puts Baby in a corner. Dude.”

There’s a longer story there that involves a rebellious spirit filled with wanderlust, a leaning towards things left-of-center, and an penchant for upsetting the apple cart of authority…but let’s just leave it at this: While working in the corporate world (goal central…) one day, I saw this sign in someone’s office:

“If you always know where you’re going, then you’ll never get a chance to end up anywhere else.”

I remember reading that and something in my whole body exhaled. Permission moved in…to NOT know, to NOT be so rigid in my plans, to NOT move in a direct line from A to Z, collecting my $200. I swear something in my body that day decided to move through life a bit differently than what I had been told and trained to do so well.  Something in me woke up—

 

A desire to wonder. A desire to wander. A desire to figure it out as I go.

And yet…I wanted things that required some planning, work, and even training to accomplish. Things that scared me, overwhelmed me, and felt like a challenge because they were new, audacious or wildly out of my comfort zone.

In short, I wanted to live a brave life. I also love a challenge. And I get bored easily.

So what to do?

Enter, stage left: intention and our wall of words.

For the past eight years, my family has this ritual of painting “our words” for the year on our kitchen wall. The words we choose cannot be more than seven letters—not for any mystical reason, but for a very practical one (the wall is only a thin strip between two doorways so space is limited). Sometimes words are picked with a great deal of advance thought and reflection, and sometimes serendipity is at work and our words are delivered to us at the last minute in random ways. Sometimes we know exactly what our word means for us, and sometimes we just get this vague sense that the word will be a teacher or a guide into something we cannot yet see or understand. It doesn’t matter how we arrive at this word, and there is no one “right” way to do this.

 

What matters is that the word feels like an intention we want to hold for the year.

The operative word there is FEEL As in “I don’t know , but something about it just feels right..” or “it feels good to me…”

The word we each chose to paint on our kitchen wall each New Year’s becomes our traveling companion for the year ahead, like a intention kissed by our soul, and released into the void during the darkest time of our year, like one of those paper Chinese sky lanterns lit by a candle and carried aloft in the nighttime sky. I guess you could say the word is a living prayer. Which would make our home a sacred temple.

So back to my oracle son and his comment the other night…

In the weeks leading up to the moment of actual painting, my youngest heard me talk aloud about the words I had been considering, just as I had heard his (we’re the two talk-alouders in our family, and as such we tend to seek each other out…). He heard my original choice was Witch for 2018, and how that one opened up to Queen as an option, which led me to Rise, then Fly, only to have me arrive back where I began….at Witch. 

Photo credit: Ginger Soul Photography

What he didn’t know—because I hadn’t even admitted this to myself yet—was the degree of information and intel from the universe (call them signs if you’d like…) I had been getting that were consistently pointing me in one direction. The very direction he called out to me on that night. After the deed had been done and the paint was already drying on our wall.

 

Queen.

If I were to be honest, it was how I felt on stage at SheSpeaks, my evening of women’s storytelling, held for the eighth time late last year, and it mirrored the comments people made afterward about how they had never seen me as that radiant, powerful and comfortable in my own skin as they had that night. And when the pictures came out of the evening from our photographer, people literally said I looked like a QUEEN.

And then there was the spontaneous video on Facebook I did about the word “empowerment” because I couldn’t take it anymore, and was concerned that word wasn’t serving women by using it—even as I knew I was speaking ill of one of the sacred cows of women’s business models. My annoyance had outweigh my silence and hesitation so I finally gave it voice, and as I watched the comments flow in—both validating and illuminating in different perspectives, I was reminded of the power of our words we use as women and about women and was heartened to see the words I’d been playing with such as “sourced” and “sovereign” were picked up in its place.

Earlier that month, I had gone to a Qoya dance class and spontaneously decided to wear this top I had stuffed in my closet – the one I’d never worn because it was, well…too much…not me, not appropriate. Sometime during the evening, my friend who was leading the session paused, pointed at me in front of all the women gathered, and said “Can we just take a moment and admire that top…and how you look like a QUEEN in it?”

Then there was the moment I was preparing for my women’s circle in December, doing the readings that I assembled, and read a passage from Rochelle Schieck’s book Qoya as if I’d never read it before. My eyes glued to this passage and my heart swelled in my chest with recognition…and desire:

“Qoya, in Quechuan, translates to QUEEN. Not a bejeweled, emotionally distant woman holding a position of power, but a feminine manifestation of a higher consciousness. She is the embodiment of the four phases of feminine evolution: Maiden, Mother, Queen, and Crone, all at once, because as Queen, she is sovereign…she is the woman willing to be wildly reverent to her instincts and inner wisdom…[She] is the one who sits on the throne that is [her] life.”

I thought about random stuff, like how I had this book The Star-Touched QUEEN  beside my bed for over a year and hadn’t yet cracked it because it felt, too….something. Like I wasn’t ready for it or worthy of it.

I thought of how I’m literally writing a book right now about women NOT waiting anymore (to want what they want, to be who they are, to take action on what they feel, see, and know…), and how so often we have nothing but green lights in front of us, but are holding ourselves back with our foot on the brake. Because of our fear.

Art by Tang Wei MinI thought about how a woman I’d never met on my SheChanges Facebook page messaged me with a link to a post and wrote: “I saw this and thought of you, beautiful teacher…” and how how I’d immediately saved the accompanying image that came with it as my lock screen on my phone because she looked like a QUEEN…”

“A true healer does not heal you; she simply reflects back to you your innate capacity to heal. She is a reflector, or a loving transparency. A true teacher does not teach you; she does not see you as inherently separate from her, or less than her. She simply reflects back your own inner knowing, and reminds you of the vastness of your being. She is a mirror, a signpost.”

I thought about all of this as turned off the lights in the house and walked up the stairs to go to bed that night. I wondered if I was meant to paint Queen and chose Witch instead. I reminded myself that there wasn’t a “right” word, and that the deed was already done and the paint was drying. I told myself to let it go. To move on. It was too late.

And then I heard a small voice inside myself say this, almost as a whispered negotiation: Let’s just see how Witch goes for you this year…and if you can live up to that, THEN you’ll be ready to choose Queen next year…

That’s when I put down my toothbrush, looked at myself in the mirror with my mouth full of toothpaste, and said:

 

Holy shit, that word QUEEN scares the shit out of me.

You know where this is going, right?

Now many of you reading this might like to paint me as a woman who’s fearless, and that’s very kind of you. It’s also incredibly inaccurate. I, frankly, don’t know what I would do without my fear because it is what I use to point me in the direction of my truest desire. Every. Time. It’s why I am not a fan of the whole “fearless” mindset. No thank you.

 

What I fear is often the key to what will set me free.

The biggest mistake we can make, I think, is to not notice our fear—to pretend it’s not there. To close our eyes to it. This doesn’t mean we hand over the tiller to fear. Quite the contrary. What I’m suggesting—and what my clients and I look for together—is to captain our ships and chart our course by noticing where fear doesn’t want us to go….and then go there, in that direction. Unless, of course, it’s a dark alley. And therein lies the tricky part…discerning feelings of fear that have us play small from our survival instincts that can help us stay alive.

But I wasn’t going to die from being a Queen, right?

I thought of the story Marsha Greenberg told on stage at SheSpeaks back in December, about drawing a continuum that represents our life—on one end having the year you were born, and on the other end writing the year that you guessed you might die (she picked 90). She suggested drawing a line to represent your current age, and then spoke about the choice we had in looking at the time remaining: we could freak out or we could get busy.

I’ve thought a lot about that since hearing her story. And how 2018 is the year I will turn 50—not in a dramatic or dreaded way, but in a way that shines a light on the stark reality that I have now lived more of life than I probably have left to live. Which means I have a choice to make.

 

I am choosing to get busy.

That night, thanks to my oracle son and the mountain of evidence he reminded me I had, I spit out my toothpaste, marched my ass downstairs, turned on the lights again, and painted over my word on the wall. I broke my own rules. I defied the drying paint.

 

I made myself sovereign. Because that’s what Queens do.

So here’s to sitting on our thrones more honestly and fully this year. And here’s to repainting our walls even though the paint is dry, the lights have been turned out, and everyone has gone to bed. Here’s  to more of us not waiting until next year to get busy.

Here’s to 2018 being a year to remember.

 

Because if not now, then when?

 

 

Want to hear more stories like this? My book Unscripted: A Woman’s Living Prayer is chocked full of them.

 

Feel like getting your boogie down and burning off your Saturday Night Fever for a good cause? Join me at HerMojo January 13th (100% of proceeds will go to benefit Planned Parenthood!)

 

Hungry for more storytelling and inspirational mojo, grab a ticket for my Unscripted Evening on March 15th.

White Women Cake

Posted September 19th, 2017

For most of my life, I have been accused of being angry. I say “accused” because it very much felt like that. Words like vicious, ruthless, and combative would attach themselves to me, and I accepted them, feeling ashamed, like I was too much for people to handle and therefore needed to be really careful with how I show up in the world lest I inflict harm.

I was told to pipe down, just relax, cool my jets, get over it, let it go, pick my battles, and move on. Sound familiar? 

On the playground in elementary school, I used to get in the face of kids who were nasty when the teachers weren’t looking. In middle school, I used to look directly at bullies through my tears and call them out on their actions. In high school, I used to speak up when kids used others as stepping stones (or public punching bags) to make themselves look and feel more powerful. In the corporate world, I blurted out comments when the emperor had no clothes or bullshit was being served up on a platter. As a parent, I did not turn the other cheek when shit was going down.

All of this made me wildly unpopular at times. I was, of course, singled out by the bully when I diverted the attention to me. I sealed the fate of my dorky outcast status in high school. I was tightly managed in the corporate world. And I felt like a pariah at pick-up time from my kids’ schools, sports sidelines and dinner parties. At one point in my mid 40s—when my give-a-shit meter was just starting to go on the fritz—another mother actually cautioned me to “be nice” as  I was walking into a school community gathering.

As a result, for most of my life, I tried to walk this razor thin line between taking a stand (which had me speaking up) and muting myself (which had me playing small). I harbored this secret shame that I was unbelievably cruel and mean and capable of  doing some serious harm. In short, I battled this chronic fear that if I weren’t careful, I would use my powers for evil, not good. I became afraid of feeling angry, and learned it’s best to keep that shit under tight wraps lest I express it outwardly and lay waste to everything I hold dear.

It wasn’t until I started questioning my own beliefs about myself (you know, the ones I had been given and swallowed whole without chewing?), that I started to see there was an enormous gap between the words I’d associated with myself and people’s actual experience of me. Big. Huge. Gap.

When I had a really honest conversation with myself and pulled out the feedback, cards and emails I’d collected from clients over the years to examine the actual comments about my work and people’s perceptions of me, I could finally see what I had missed. It turns out the most common descriptors of me were: warm…big-hearted…make me feel safe..honest…keep it real… inspiring… feel like I can be myself, can say anything…

That was a watershed moment for me.

I realized that somewhere in my youth, I had been called vicious and ruthless or mean maybe a couple of times by a couple of people, and because of its impact, it stuck. I assumed it was true and  never questioned it. Until about 30 years later.

I wrote about this in my book, telling my story of facing and unpacking anger for myself and how I reframed it and, ultimately, reclaimed it. Because you know what lived inside that bundle of shame? My truth, my voice, my effectiveness as a leader, and my ability to affect change. Today, anger, as it relates to women, has been the single most requested topic people want to explore with me during interviews, book readings and storytelling since releasing my book.

Now all this is not to say that I can’t be mean (I can), and that I’m not capable of hurting someone with my words or actions (I do), or that I’m now magically fearless or unfettered (I’m not). My (big) heart still beats wildly in my chest right before I say something out loud that I know will be unpopular, hard to hear or will challenge the status quo. I still replay the video tapes in my head afterward, double-checking myself. Am I mean? Am I blind? Am I delusional? 

But now? Those are genuine questions born out of true curiosity, not out of desire to participate in my own shame. Those questions keep me honest, not small. Those questions keep me humble and connected—living from my heart and my light, not from my head and a desire to hide.

I know I’m not alone, and that helps give me courage. I hear similar versions of the same story from women who make the move, step out, speak up, use their voice, and show themselves. So often those stories begin with being confused, disappointed, concerned, perplexed, frustrated, hurt, and even sad. But you know what’s waiting for us when we dig beneath all that stuff?

Anger. Even rage.

“‘In hard times, filled with hate, look to your highest self instead of getting angry,’ they say. As if my highest self isn’t angry as fuck.” – Andréa Ranae

And here’s the part where anger intersects and clashes wildly with our white women culture. Anger is seen as unattractive, distasteful, threatening and destructive. We are taught from a young age to get rid of it quickly and discreetly, passing it on like a hot potato to someone else if need be. We don’t have a lot of practice being with it, let alone giving voice to it. The result? We kind of suck at expressing our anger at a time when many of us are full to the brim of it, and we could be using that energy to create and lead change.

The bottom line: We white women have some work to do owning and expressing our anger. 

Now let me just pause here and clarify that this is not to suggest that white women are the only angry women. Nor do I mean to suggest that women of color have all that anger shit figured out either. There are plenty of angry women in our world these days, and legions of us are getting loads of opportunity to experience it. What I’m seeking to do—for myself and other white women— is to shine a very particular light in the corner of our white women culture that we don’t often discuss: all that anger we feel and what we do with it.

Because that stuff in our corner? It’s still there, and getting bigger. And if we don’t allow it to exist because we’re uncomfortable (or out of practice, or afraid of not being liked…), we run the risk of it coming out sideways, having it be misdirected, and ultimately rendering it (and us) ineffective.

Ever been dismissed as a bitch, hysterical or an angry feminist? Then you know what happens next. Most of us shut up or get shut down.

But keep all that anger inside, and it rots and festers within us.  I can’t help but make the connection between this unexpressed (in many cases, unvalidated) anger and the state of women’s health. Heart disease. Breast cancer. Depression. What’s that phrase Carolyn Myss, Christiane Northrup and so many others talk about? Our biography is our biology. And when you lay over the history of women and the impact of years of patriarchy? Well now, that’s a pretty rich history that we carry in our collective cellular memories as women.

You know what helps? Practice. 
You know what doesn’t? Shame. 

Why is this important? Because in the absence of doing our own work with anger as white women, we will shop around for others to express that anger for us—like men and women of color or white men. We’ll ask other people to hold the hard stuff we don’t want to be with at a time when many people of color have their arms full of stuff already. There is much to be angry about these days—the injustices, the oppression, the corruption, the violence — and we need all hands on deck if we are to right this ship. Waiting to get comfortable with our anger, be good at voicing it publicly, or having it feel safe is an exercise in white privilege; just as getting self righteous about it is —both actions serve to disconnect and divide us further from ourselves and each other.

You know what helps? Curiosity.
You know what doesn’t? Judgement.

Like many of you reading this, I have been struggling mightily with the anger that has kicked up for me in the wake of our last presidential election. I find I have been working overtime to face and feel the intensity of my anger and use the power of my voice with intention. And yet, many days I am overwhelmed with what I see…how the opportunities…they seem to be…everywhere.

I was sitting with my therapist recently recounting one of them, qualifying it as “not a big deal”, but more of an example of how microaggressions can pile up pretty quickly. I was telling her the story of talking with a man when another man came over and started talking over me, not even acknowledging that A) I was there, or B) I was talking. Without skipping a beat, the man I was talking to stopped listening to me and diverted his attention to the other man. And off they went. I stopped talking and and no one noticed. Or cared. I was fuming but bit my tongue.

“Why didn’t you say anything?” my therapist asked.
“I didn’t want to be, you know… THAT angry feminist,” I responded.
“Why not? “she countered.

Good point. Why not, indeed.

“The patriarchy is so scared of women’s anger that eventually we learn to fear it, too. We walk around as if we were bombs about to go off, worried about admitting how livid we really are, even to ourselves.” – Laurie Penny

Writer Laurie Penny talks about this very thing in her book Bitch Doctrine, exploring why women hide anger, why we fear it and how we can use it to create change. She is clear about the need to distinguish anger from hatred (“anger is an emotion, hatred is an action…”Gloria Steinem has been talking about anger for most of her life. Danielle LaPorte’s latest book explores the notion of “spiritual bypassing” and how “all the woo [can] keep us from dealing with our poo.” Most recently, Tina Fey—in only the way Tina Fey can do—shined a humorous and extremely well-pointed barb on the rage living inside women these days, stirring up a mixed-bag of responses with her “sheet caking” alternative to protest, that would have women yelling at their cakes.

You know what helps? Acknowledging the suckage and trying anyway.
You know what doesn’t? Pretending it doesn’t matter and expecting things to change.

So I, for one, will continue to pull up my plate of anger and sit it squarely in front of me—my version of a sheet cake, I guess. Which means I will get messy with it, make mistakes, make an ass of myself, maybe even offend someone. But you know what? I’ll learn something in the process.  I will have practiced something hard and will suck less at it each time as a result of that effort. I have no intention of stuffing my words down with cake or misdirecting my anger at some shapeless mass of empty carbs, though. And I will try my best to remember this:

It’s not about being nice; it’s about feeling angry.
It’s not about being unproductive; it’s about being honest and showing up.
It’s not about being ready, it’s about being present.
It’s not about feeling safe or comfortable, it’s about being accountable.

And if that doesn’t work, I will hold the image of Tina yelling at the camera with frosting all over her face and her fork flailing around. And if I am so moved, I will lift up my fists full of frosting and make some noise for change — ready or not.

 

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 are on sale now if you’re a planner!

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.

Get Your Groove On, Virginia

Posted January 20th, 2017

Mrs. Claus and I had a rather spirited exchange this past Christmas season. It came on the heels of my SheSpeaks storytelling evening — the one in which I wore a long red dress, made an entrance strutting through the sold out crowd to Christina Aquilera’s Show Me How You Burlesque, stood proudly in the bright hot white light on the stage, and let it rip with my whole heart.

I have never felt sexier and more powerful in my life than I did that night.

And then I got offstage, went home, took off the dress and went back to normal life. No entrance song, no lights, no white hot lights, no stage. Just my everyday life, plus a sink full of dishes and a pile of back-logged work I’d put off until after the event. The magic was gone. Or so I thought.

It never occurred to me that I had woken up and tapped into something vital in me.

Shortly after that, we got busy with our preparations for the holidays, which included shopping for presents. Our two boys have historically written to Santa Claus each year, so I began prompting them to get on that task stat. My fourteen- year-old rolled his eyes and gave me the all-knowing wink that assured me he was going along with whole “believe in Santa” bit for the sake of his younger brother.

His brother, now 9, looked at me point blank and asked: “Do you believe in Santa Claus, Mom?” I gave him the same answer I have consistently given both of our kids over the years — and to myself in my life: “I believe in things we cannot see with our eyes. I also believe in magic. So yes, I choose to believe.”

And then I thought: “…or do I?” Because this past November’s election tested that belief mightily. I felt as if I had used up every last ounce of my hope in the years leading up to that one day, like I was swimming up to the surface from the bottom of a very deep lake using one big breath. Except I didn’t break through the surface. It just moved further away…like it was in sight of me, but not possible to get to. It was like that scene from the movie Passengers when  Jennifer Lawrence is swimming in the pool when the gravity lock stops working, and all of a sudden there is no surface, just a blob of floating water with her trapped in it. In the movie, gravity eventually kicks in again and all the water splashes back into the pool and she finally breaks through to air. But this? This shit is real. And I panicked, then got furious, until despair moved in.

Do I still believe? Back in December, I was struggling with this. 

We all ended up sitting down to write Santa Claus one night as we usually do, but I chose to direct my letter to the woman behind the scenes: Mrs. Claus. The one, I suspected, that keeps the entire operation running smoothly at the pole. I decided I would talk to her as I never have before, woman to woman.

It might sound strange, but writing that letter to an archetypal female was like sending out a prayer into the universe: Show me how to do this. Help me. 

And then the strangest thing started to happen. In the days and weeks that followed, I got some very clear messages and started to see the same things replicating over and over…things that didn’t make sense or seem related at first. Until they did.

I started to hear women talk about the familiar topic of self-care in new and different ways…like they meant it this time. For real. No more half-assing it. As if ensuring they stay whole and healthy was now much higher of a priority — even as the flurry of the end of the year activities kicked into high gear.

It’s like women were starting to get the direct connection to their own vitality and their ability to affect change. 

Somewhere in the mix, those conversations with my friends and clients (and myself) were shifting away from concerns about guilt and feeling selfish or self-indulgent to being about their ability to be more fully of service and the desire to assume responsibility for ourselves as women with more reverence.

One evening as my women’s circle gathered we were talking about the feminine (being feminine, the Divine Feminine, feminine energy), and the topic of our sexuality came up, as it often does. Someone mentioned that she thought she’d feel feminine when she became sexually active, but when she really felt it for the first time was when she learned she was capable of giving herself an orgasm. All. By. Herself. We talked about the power of being able to give and receive our own pleasure, and what an inherently loving act that is: Self-care. The words Queen and Goddess entered into the conversation having it, again, feel more reverent, as we started to envision our bodies as alters.

Photo credit: Anita DoreI was reminded of the story told on stage at SheSpeaks about the intersection of our sexuality and our spirituality and how it is has been systematically severed through our enculturation, education and religious doctrines. She called it a form of bullshit oppression.

“If our bodies are holy, then sex is worship”, she said.

That very same message seemed to be everywhere I looked after that. I felt as if Mrs. Claus was whispering hot sweet nothings into my ear all the way from the icy north pole. And I was listening.

I finally picked up Regena Thomashauer’s latest book Pussy: A Reclamation one night and I read:

“I had never thought to look at myself like this, to notice my own beauty….to my utter surprise, when I looked for my beauty, I was completely enraptured with my reflection. I found myself to be so radiant, so lovely, and so touchingly gorgeous…I realized in that moment that women have no clue about our own beauty; no clue about the connection between pleasure and time; no clue about this deep, delicious, endless replenishing source of divinity within each of us.”

Wait, what? Pleasure is my access point to an endless source of Divinity? And it lives inside my body? Whoa Nellie.

But it made sense. Something deep and wise inside me knew this. I had just forgotten how to find my way back to it amidst the shame, guilt, noise and all those walking heads preaching something entirely different. My body knew it was true. It always does. It’s just a matter of reconnecting my body to my head, and pleasure, I was learning, is the glue that will bind them together again.

I started to dig around some more and then found this in Christiane Northrup’s book Goddess Never Age:

“Our bodies are not designed to limit or contain our pleasure. They are meant to experience it as the medicine it truly is…If you want to live healthfully and as a goddess, you need to know how to work with your innate sex drive and spiritual life force, bringing it down into your pelvic organs and your female erotic anatomy. Spirituality and sexuality are two aspects of the same thing, despite the fact that they have been separated by many cultures and many religious for millennia.”

Medicine. Pleasure as medicine. What a delicious concept.

I thought back to how I felt that night on stage in that red dress, and how I had brought intention and a boatload of permission to myself leading up to that event to revel in my body with reverence — as if I were showering it with gratitude for being the container that allowed my spirit to stand in that light, be seen, and ultimately be of service. As if I were a holy offering — a wholly offering. I had finally done what one of my wise friends suggested I do years ago:

Find out who you are and adore yourself accordingly. 

But what about the regular days? When the sink is full of dishes and the magic feels far, far away? How could I bring that intention and permission I had given so generously to myself on stage to my everyday life? To the non-special days.

A trip to Target gave me a clue. I happen to be trolling the shoe aisles looking for winter boots for my kid, and my eye caught these thigh-high black suede boots with three inch heels. Now, I’m a pretty tall woman in bare feet, so when I wear heels, I’m extremely tall — people inevitably make the comment “You’re SO tall!”, as if I’ve stepped outside the bounds of acceptable size and taken up more than my fair share of space in the world.

But I couldn’t stop staring at the boots. And I swear I heard Mrs. Claus’s saucy voice in my ear breathing, “yeeesssssss.” So I bought them not knowing why…All I knew is when I put them on, something in me went “yeeeeessssss”. And when I coupled them with something spicy, the volume of that affirmation turned up even louder.

I didn’t want to wait for a special occasion any more. I wanted to be my own special occasion. I didn’t want to wait for a reason. I wanted to be the reason.

I was ready to embody who I am more fully and adorn myself accordingly. Just because I can. 

And the final bit of intel this whole conversation with Mrs. Claus gave me is this: I need to move my body more. I need to dance. I need to get my groove on more frequently so I could feel my hips move in circles and remember that I’m living in a woman’s body. And I need to do this in the company of other women who are also hungry for that movement, so we can feel the collective power — that “endless replenishing source of divinity” — that lives inside our bodies as it wakes up and comes out.

So I did. On Friday, January 13th I held a women’s benefit dance called HerMojo, and women came out in droves to dance out their prayers and find their swagger again — all for a good cause (resulting in a gift of $900 to Planned Parenthood of Northern New England). Together we swirled and stomped and sweat, and I was so keenly aware that somewhere in the magic of that evening prayers were being said with our bodies and visions for change were being conjured.

Medicine” was the word I heard again and again that night.  And it was.

I share all this with you because if you’re feeling at all like I was back in December — at a loss of what to do, angry or full of despair — check in with your body and see if it’s glued to your head these days. And if it’s not, reach for some pleasure (which I will tell you is heretical, but if you’ve read this far you’re probably good with that). Take a bath by candlelight, buy yourself some flowers for your bedroom, feed yourself chocolate, adorn yourself with oils, do something that makes you feel sexy, take yourself out to listen to live music and dance with wild abandon, or make love to yourself. But find your way back to your endless source of divinity that is waiting patiently somewhere inside you.

That thing I felt on stage that night? It wasn’t about the event or the dress. It was about the energy I had tapped into and allowed to flow through me. It was eros – that distinctly feminine expression of desire. As Regena Thomashauer writes about, it was that “golden buttery caramel feeling” that was fueling my vitality that night, having me feel like a Queen or a Goddess. Worthy of reverence. That is what I’m talking about. And it’s in you, too. We’ve all got it and we don’t need a stage to access it. It’s ours for the taking each day.

So find it. Grab ahold and adore it accordingly. It’s good medicine.

Just ask Mrs. Claus, the saucy vixen.

Want to get your groove on?

Come join me on February 16th for An Unscripted Evening
For those of you who attended SheSpeaks (or missed it, but heard about it), this might be for you. It’s essentially my version of a revival for heretics, misfits, rabble rousers and mavericks. Part storytelling, part improv, part book reading (not necessarily my own), this evening is me at my most real and authentic self. It’s me: Unscripted. In a sanctuary. Tickets are on sale now via Brown Paper Tickets.

Listen to and/or follow my podcast An Unscripted Woman
If you haven’t checked this out already, this is basically my creative response to requests for an audio version of my book. I’ve had a bit of a hiatus from this over the holidays, but will be loading up new episodes soon (so thanks for asking!). In each episode I read a chapter from my book and also do a riff at the end about what I’ve learned, noticed, and am aware of since writing it.

Check out the new events I’ve got coming up this late winter/early spring on my homepage
I’ve got some new experiences lined up for those of you who are not local to Maine, but might be hankering to connect. And yes, I believe I’ll be offering another HerMojo benefit dance sometime in April… Fun! Also, the video of my story I told at October’s SoundBites just became available, if you missed that event but want to check it out.