Pebbles In My Shoe

Posted July 7th, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was me, playing small.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be full of myself.

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

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

GIVE. ME. THE. EFFING. BALL.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Want to hear more stories and reflections like this?

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

 

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

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

 

On Turning 50: A Story

Posted May 18th, 2018

Age is a funny thing.

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

AND…

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

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

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

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

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

Age IS a funny thing, isn’t it?

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

Age is a funny thing.

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

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

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

I write this because age is a funny thing. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We shall see what happens next.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Want to hear more stories and reflections like this?

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

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

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

Dear March

Posted March 13th, 2018

Dear March,

How is it, that after forty-nine years of doing this dance, I am totally blind-sided each year by you?

Would it have made a difference if I remembered the punch you pack with your one-two hits of snowstorms and virus that demolish our well-oiled machine of a home ? Could I have better anticipated, planned or even mitigated against the inevitable shit storm that ensues like clockwork each and every time you pull into town? Am I deficient in character or vitamin D, somehow— not physically, mentally or emotionally equipped with the necessary fortitude, self-care practices or time management skills needed to endure your formidable presence?

Am I simply no match for you, is that what it is? Do you get off on bringing me to my knees each year with your show of force?

I thought about all this, March, as I laid flat on my back in bed last week, hacking up a lung, sweaty with fever, and not-so-silently cursing you. And when I finally stumbled out of bed because I couldn’t stand the look of my own ceiling one minute longer, I saw this de-stuffed, face-down bunny of Max’s on the floor and thought:
 

This is what March does to me. 

If I’m being brutally honest—which actually is all your fault, March—this is how I feel.

I wonder, though… must it always be like this between us? This perennial knock-down, drag out street fight, where you always emerge the victor and I inevitably get wrapped around a tree in the forest like one of those stupid witch-on-broomsticks decorations everybody thinks are so clever.

Fetched up. Stopped in my tracks. Doused with a ice-cold bucket of wake-the-fuck-up water.

But now that the first two weeks of your month are in my rear-view mirror, March, and the worst (I hope) of the sweaty ordeal is behind me, I’m not as mad at you. In a strange twist, I’m actually grateful you’re here.

In your visit each calendar year, there is a reckoning with my inner and outer worlds like no other—as if something reaches inside me and presses that red reset buttons on the electrical outlet of me after my circuits  had been blown.

When I think about it that way, March, I actually think you are more akin to a lifeline, than an adversary—jumpstarting me annually like a defibrillator.

Because as frustrating as you are, and as much as I resist you each year, you inevitably leave me better than you found me.

Isn’t it ironic, that what began as an official grievance with you, is now turning into a letter of appreciation.
 

But then you know how stubborn I am, so perhaps you’re not all that surprised.

Because of you, March, I rest more deeply this month than I do the entire year long. The collapse-on-my-face, boneless chicken, everything-can-wait, crystal-clear-on-what-matters sort of rest. The kind of rest that takes me WAY past my previous understanding of what true rest really feels like. You connect me with my body, leaving me more capable of truly caring for myself.

Because of you, March, my heart opens even wider to receiving—receiving love (from myself and others), help, guidance, clarity—and the medicine goes all the way down because my defenses are down. You connect me with what it means to belong and be loved, leaving me open to experience both more fully.

Because of you, March, I come closer to death (feel free to roll your eyes and call me dramatic, but that was one hell of a virus last week…), and has me touch that “what will people be saying about me at my funeral” question which inevitably has me cut through all the bullshit and noise in a busy life and gather to my heart all that is nearest and dearest. You connect me with the stuff that truly matters, leaving me with clear priorities rooted in my values, not my assumptions or expectations.

Because of you, March, I see how hard I had been paddling in a circle with one oar, and begin to trust in the wisdom of the things I cannot yet see, understand, know to want, or plan for. I just put it all down and look to be lead somewhere. I believe it’s called surrendering. You connect me with my divinity, leaving me with a freshly-kindled spiritual fire.

Because of you, March, I see the crumbs and dog fur on the kitchen floor as reminders of good meals and groovy kind of love, and the stacks of laundry as testament to having had somewhere to go outside my home each day. You connect me with a powerful perspective, leaving me with gratitude where there once was resentment.

Because of you, March, my thoughts shift to those outside my own little world inside my head, and give me a renewed appreciation for the many gifts I have been given in this life—shelter, food, safety, love, education, opportunity—that so many others go through life without. You connect me with my humanity and my humility, leaving me more compassionate.

I guess it’s kind of like that Rumi quote, isn’t it March:
 

“The wound is the place where the light enters you”

(Yes, March, you are, in fact, the wound in this scenario….) But please hear me when I say that I am officially down with what you’re doing over there. And while I’ll probably forget we had this conversation, I dunno, eleven months from now…I will most likely meet you again with my fists up, resistant to everything about you and ready to rumble and do our dance again.

I won’t ask you not to take it personally, because clearly it is. Happily, that fact doesn’t seem to stop you from paying me a visit each year. Months are funny that way—they just keep showing up, ready or not..

 

Want to hear more stories like this?

It’s not too late to grab a ticket for my Unscripted Evening coming on Thursday, March 15th. Still hungry? My book Unscripted: A Woman’s Living Prayer is chocked full of stories like this, too. And wait until you read the second one I’m writing…
 

Are you someone who uncovers the truth inside you through writing?

You might be interested in my In Her Words writing experience coming up in April. It’s less about what you write (quality), and more about the fact that it actually has you write (the process). It’s one of my favorite groups to run, and it’s the only one available to people outside the state of Maine. FMI, read more about it here, or reach out to me to see if it’s a good fit.

Re-Membering

Posted January 23rd, 2018

I liked this TED talk. AND it triggered me at various points. Many, in fact.
Maybe you don’t know this about me because of, you know, what I DO right now, but I’ve spent most of my life identifying more with men than I did with women. Not with regards to gender identity or my sexual preferences, but as it relates to my closest friends—those with whom I chose to spend the bulk of my time and energy. Men just GOT me and I GOT them, so that’s where I gravitated. That is, up until I had my first child, which “outed me” as a woman, effectively catapulting me into a new club. I untangled this hairball for myself and wrote all about that journey in my first book if you want more backstory—and to learn what was waiting for me (spoiler alert: the feminine…) when I got here. 

 What I know NOW that I didn’t know back then, is that my behavior as a woman with women wasn’t as much about it being natural, as it was about it being learned. But then, maybe you know this. Maybe you also lived this. Maybe you can see and appreciate how women are actively trained and indoctrinated into our masculine culture (I’m not saying patriarchy here—because that word doesn’t quite do it for me—but that’s essentially what I’m pointing to) as women.
Lisa Lister, author of Witch (just get it, it’s friggin awesome…) writes about us living in a dude-centric world of lines—one that doesn’t feel natural or sustainable to us, as we literally are designed to move in cycles and seasons. She reminds us how we are designed to be inconsistent. You know, like nature. And look how She is faring these days, right?
In so many ways, we (btw: a strong case could be made for both men and women being included in that we…) are taught and trained to disassociate, malign, and distrust women—including the woman in ourselves. Some women I know don’t relate to this experience, and I often envy them. I wonder if I might have been one of those women had I not spent a fair amount of my professional life in the corporate world. But honestly? It began long before that.
Happily, there are so many women out there doing amazing work to help us re-member this thing that use to come so naturally to us as women—our sisterhood.
Mama Gena and her School of Womanly Arts is all about healing women’s relationships—with our bodies, other women, and our sisterhood—by offering new (ancient) paradigms in the context of our modern day world. She shares her own story beautifully in her book Pussy: A Reclamation. While I have not participated in her programs, many of my clients have and rave about the power of her work—and in themselves after going through her programs and experiencing the community of “sister goddesses” she creates all over the world. A reclamation, indeed.
Most recently, I attended a Women’s Naked Yoga workshop (yup, I did…and it was mind-blowingly awesome!) with Kimberly Baker Simms, when she made the trip up to Maine from NYC to join me on stage at my December SheSpeaks storytelling evening. She is all about inviting women to literally shed what no longer serves them, ultimately returning us to the essence of who we are with the intention of bringing sacredness back to nakedness. More reclamation. I’ll never forget when she said, “…ten minutes…that’s all it took for this to feel natural…” and how I agreed with her as I stood naked in a circle of 20 women (side note: I am SO not a naked in public person, either...). She likened us to flowers in a garden, and said, “it doesn’t occur to a rose to compare herself to a lilly…”

 So back to watching this TED talk (click here if you don’t see it pictured above…) with these two powerhouse women I admire…it had me touch that nerve of regret. Sadness, even. Then shame and anger followed close behind. Like when I saw the movie “Hidden Figures” and had that “WTF, are you shitting me” moment when I truly GOT in my bones (again…) how history has systematically erased women’s critical—GAME CHANGING—contributions. Just because of who has the proverbial pen.  So there’s that.

The other part that triggered me was around the WORDS and PHRASES we women use when talking about men and boys….which only serve to reinforce the these stories written by our culture. Our words give these stories more and more power. As the only woman in my house, I am constantly surrounded by boys and men. Even the dog is a male. And those statements sting and make me crazy mad—because I SEE with my own eyes and experience in my own heart such a different reality unfolding, even if it’s just in the container of our home.
I would like to see more of us differentiate what boys/men are TAUGHT from what they are CAPABLE of feeling and being, because there is a big friggin gap. Like a Grand Canyon gap. And we do so much to unwittingly buy and sell those same stories that keep their stock prices high, viable, and on the open market. Our language is powerful and how we shape our world. We’re all in this together. 
The final thing I’d leave you with is this… Lilly Tomlin said “Female friendships are just a hop to sisterhood, and sisterhood can be a very powerful force to give the world the things that humans desperately need.” And then Jane Fonda said, “Women’s friendships are a source of renewable power.” The moderator, Pat Mitchell, then asked the BEST question…a simple, yet powerful one that I’ll share with you now:

“So how do we USE that power?”

My immediate thought reminded me of something Elizabeth Lesser once referenced when interviewed by Oprah years ago about women and power: She said, “We need to ride our chariots of love into the center of town.” I have ALWAYS loved that image. And invitation to women. That’s what I want—for me, for us, for our world: lots and lots of women’s chariots pulsating with love and crowding up town centers all over our world.
I want us to re-member that we know how to do this. 
What about you? What comes up for you as you watch this? What are you re-membering? 

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

 

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

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!

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 Busy Living

Posted May 12th, 2017

What would I be doing today if I only had thirty-seven days to live? 

I love that question. I hate that question. I forget it often. I remember it constantly. That question keeps me grounded and honest, but it also is something I resist because it insists I live here, and not there—that place when I’ll finally be ready and enough. And have permission.

That question is all about living in the now. It doesn’t give two shits about what happens later. In fact, it has the audacity (in this world that loves vision and asks annoying where do you see yourself in five years questions…) to suggest that NOW is all we have—now is real, whereas then is a mirage that seduces us with something that may or may not ever materialize.

I stumbled upon this magnetically repulsive question years ago after picking up Patti Digh’s book Life Is A Verb. The premise of her book revolves around her own intimate exploration of that question—one that was framed by the sudden diagnosis and death of her stepfather that occurred within a thirty-seven day window. Helping him to live—and die—in that brief period of time brought her face to face with her own life and how she was (and was not) living it. It was a reckoning.

“The time frame of thirty-seven days made an impression on me. We often live as if we have all the time in the world, but the definite-ness of thirty-seven days was striking. So short a time, as if all the regrets and joys of a life would barely have time to register before it was up.”

If you were to sit with this question for any length of time, you might imagine where it ultimate took her: the realization that life was about living each day with more intention. Fully inhabiting the life we have been given each new day as if it were a gift, and making choices from that space and place.

What she concluded about her life, wasn’t about creating whole-scale change (although this might be the case for someone else), but rather about being more present to her experience and her desires, and using that awareness to inform her daily decisions. To be intentional and deliberate.

This is an active endeavor, not a passive one. Ergo her title: Life Is A Verb.

It’s about not waiting another day to make that thing, say those words, take that action—not in a frantic, irresponsible or desperate manner, mind you, but in a deliberate one. Actively moving toward the life you want to be living. Each day. And then get up and do more of that again, for as many days as you are given.

I’ll give you an example of how this looked for me. Years ago, after hearing one too many amazing stories from a friend about the travel and adventures she went on with her family, I lost it. In one of my more caddy moments, I made a snide remark to another friend about how she must have a trust fund, and how it must be nice to be able to afford all that travel, and how she was so lucky and I was so wretchedly miserable and Maine-bound and tight-budgeted. Wah, wah, wah.

Thankfully, I was talking with one of those friends. You know, the ones that won’t buy what you’re selling, and know you well enough to call bullshit on your whining? So she listened to my woe-is-me story that day and then she said quite plainly, “Oh Lael, you’re jealous! Look at you—you want to travel!”

YES! YES! YES! Something in my soul did a double fist pump and then high-fived my friend.

But no sooner had I plugged into that outlet in myself, did I then I sever my own cord, telling myself I couldn’t afford it. I piled on other excuses that felt more noble, like having young children who needed me, a business that didn’t pay me to take vacation, and needing to build up our savings and put money away for retirement. And just for good measure, I started to shame myself by saying how lucky I was just to have a job and a family. And my health. And a home. What kind of a selfish person would ask for more than that? Look at me—a greedy bitch.

Which, of course, was an thoroughly ineffective strategy, throwing all this guilt and shame on top of a raging desire…not a winning move.

But you know what was? Driving my ass to the post office and picking up an application for a passport, that’s what.

With all my whining and kvetching, what I had failed to realize is that if someone had literally given me a plane ticket that very day, I wouldn’t have been able to physically leave this country because my passport had expired.

That was me, answering that question and living life as a verb: Lael-ing.

One year (and multiple applications) later, I finally had a passport in my hand, as did each member of my family.

That one simple act broke the damn on my desire and set me in motion. Later that fall, I spontaneously joined my husband in New Orleans at a conference he was attending for a week, falling right on our anniversary. Four months after that, our family rented a VW Westfalia, travelled up the coast of California and camped out in the canyon lands for two weeks, after having spent months together as a family pouring over maps and planning our trip with unbridled anticipation. A year after that, we went on our first family trip out of the United States skiing in Canada (thank you passports!). And two years after that my husband and I bought tickets to go to Paris for our 20th wedding anniversary.

We marveled at all of this because we hadn’t seen this coming—we just kept taking steps toward it, watching the road unfold before us with each deliberate step. All because I finally picked up that damn passport application that broke the seal on my excuses.

It was symbolic and it was active. It had me living in my desire, and not wait another blessed day to take action on something that mattered deeply to me.

This is not a novel or original idea, I realize. In fact, years ago, I heard a Native American storyteller speak about the importance of saying “some form of a yes“, suggesting that it really didn’t matter what you specifically did, just as long as you are doing something that is a nod to start moving in a direction. More recently, Shonda Rhimes touches upon this very thing in her book Year of Yes, when she talks about her personal philosophy of doing her way into her dreams. She calls it “laying track“. There’s that verb again.

Perhaps my most favorite illustration of this invitation comes from a line in the movie, Shawshank Redemption, when Tim Robbin’s character says to Morgan Freeman’s character that it comes down to a simple choice: “Get busy living, or get busy dying.” At the time they were both in prison, talking about his dream of spending the rest of his days in a far away beach town in Mexico called Zihuatanejo. And as we watch beyond this scene, we see how that character gets busy living, moving toward this dream, literally brick by brick.

I get to do this work with my clients every day, helping them find the hairline cracks in the cement of their logic, unearthing the symbolic actions and their “some form of a yes” that will begin to move them toward what they want so that they are no longer postponing their joy or waiting for the “someday”—their versions of Zihuatanejo —out there in their future.

One of my clients said it best, quoting a line from a movie I’d never seen: “I don’t want to save anything for the swim back.” 

With every passing year of my life, I find this question is getting louder and louder in my mind. At the age of 48, as I’ve personally lived through a handful of life’s cosmic 2×4 moments and have witnessed so many of my family, friends and clients face down illnesses, accidents and death, life seems to feel even more precious and fleeting.

What would I be doing today if I only had thirty-seven days to live? 

I used to think that question was morbid and overly-dramatic. I used to feel selfish, entitled, ungrateful for wanting to answer that question. I used to think that question didn’t apply to someone like myself—someone who was healthy, happy, and fulfilled. Now I see it as deeply in service of cultivating and sustaining that very thing—my health, my happiness, my fulfillment. As a daily act, not a desperate measure.

I find I am rising up to answer that question more frequently and more boldly. I am still afraid. I am still not sure. I am still not ready. But something in me is starting to trust that I am enough as I am. Something in me has given me permission to want what I want.

And somedays I whisper to myself, just to make my soul smile: Zihuatanejo…

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.

Anger Advocacy

Posted December 16th, 2016

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

So what do I plan to do about it?

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

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

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

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