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.

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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.

The Stories You Might Have Missed—Or Want Again

Posted May 30th, 2019

Last year, on the underground of London, I saw something that made me stop in my tracks. When the doors opened to Euston station, there it was….the EXACT reason I hold my SheSpeaks women’s storytelling series each year.

And then, as quickly as it registered in my brain, the doors shut and we were off—in the underground again.

I’ll never forget that moment as long as I live. It imprinted on my soul in a flash—you know those moments.

The sign on the platform that had me immediately clamoring for a pen and madly scribbling on the inside cover of my Lonely Planet London book was a quote from Lily Allen promoting her new book, My Thoughts Exactly:

“When women tell their stories loudly and clearly, things change for the better.”

 

BOOM.

Yes, Lily. My thoughts exactly, too.

Two months later, I would be taking the stage to kick off the first of two nights of women’s storytelling series, SheSpeaks. But this year, it had a twist.

It was the first time I had DOUBLED the event—2 nights, 10 women, and one theme that connected us all: Sovereign.

Could I do it?
Could I fill the house for both nights?
Would it be too much?
Would I be too much? Or not enough?
Would I be getting in over my head?
Was I too ambitious?
Or would it prove to be the smartest thing I’ve ever done?

Leading up to the show, I had Lily in my head talking about how telling stories is important…especially if you’re a woman. It made me think of that shampoo commercial with Heather Locklear (yes, I’m dating myself here…) where it was so good, she said, “I told two friends about it…and they told two friends…and so on, and so on, and so on….”

Storytelling is what women know. It’s also how we lead. And I wanted that to take center stage.

I didn’t know the answers to my questions leading up to that event, but I did know this:
 

I was going to do everything in my power to find out.

And I did.

What followed at the event that night—and then again the next night—was a highlight of my professional life.
 

It felt like magic.

If you were in the audience either one of those nights—or both—maybe you felt it, too. The stories told on stage that night—5 women one night, another 5 women the next night, with my own stories weaved in between each—weren’t video tapped, and the event wasn’t streamed. This was done with a great deal of intention, and was a contributing factor to why the night felt so….special. Refreshingly old-school.

You should have seen the audience from the stage. They were so….there. Present. Seeing us. Catching us. Being. No cell phones came out. No one got up to get drinks at the bar. They. Were. With. Us. And believe me, we felt that up on stage.

But what many people don’t know is that those stories told up on stage that night were recorded. The intention was to offer an “audio souvenir” for each speaker, because if you’ve ever told a story up on stage before and you’ve been really, really present to it, then you know…you truly have no idea what you said up there.

But then something delightful happened, and that brings me to why I’m here with you today.

The audio recordings? They came out really well—and clear. And after the dust of all that magic settled in our bones and the speakers had a chance to listen, process, and be with their own experience of what, exactly, happened up on stage for them….
 

They agreed to share their stories with you.

So without further ado—six months later— I offer to you, the stories from the five women who joined me on stage that first Thursday night of SheSpeaks, on Dec 6th, 2018. Enjoy. Take your time with them. Share them with those you love. See them as medicine to the headlines that divide us these days.

Let’s do as Lily suggests and change this world for the better—one story at a time.
 

Lael’s Intro: Sovereign

Anne Morin: Whispers Under The Words

Lael: On Making Shit

Louisa Irele: My Queendom

Lael: The Holy Grail Inside You

Corinne Mockler: Water Witching

Lael: The Game Of Life

Lyn Carter: Women’s Ways Of Knowing

Lael: The Golden Buddha

Nadine Farag: The Vessel Of Self

Note: I will be releasing the stories from the 5 badass women who spoke at Friday’s SheSpeaks shortly…but I wanted to begin with the 5 brave women who helped me kick SheSpeaks off that Thursday night.

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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’m getting ready to publish my second book, Witch Ways, which is chocked full of more women’s stories and pulling-back-the-curtain reveals on the specific ways women are leading change—that don’t normally get talked about in the light of day (or the light of the full moon).

Or better yet, if you ARE a fan of my work and are out there cheering me on, please let me know you’re with me by making a contribution to my GoFundMe campaign that will support me in putting this in your hands sooner than later. Any amount would be most appreciative, and would go a long ways in helping me to know I’m not alone, but am backed by a large and robust pack of women #wolfpack. 

Click on this link or simply scan the QR code below to make that happen. Thank you! 
https://www.gofundme.com/shechanges-book-2-powered-by-women

And stay tuned for these upcoming events if you want to meet your people:

Thursday, June 13th
I’ll be speaking about why women leave organizations at Disrupt HR in Portland. VERY excited for this one!

Thursday, September 26
SheChanges Leadership  Summit for Corporate Women— save the date, details to come!

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! 

The Almighty Point

Posted February 15th, 2019

“What’s the point of doing it if it’s not good?” She asked.

I hear that question so often from clients. Hell, I ask that question so often, myself. So I can appreciate first-hand, how every slight detour or deviation from our “normal” day to day operations are often met with an elaborate vetting system with plenty of checks and balances and hoops to jump through to even give ourselves permission to do it.

At which, point, we’re so thoroughly exhausted from the Roberts Rules of Order in our head, we’ve long-since checked out and given up and crawled deep under the pile of other words that take the fizz out of our ginger ale, like “pragmatic”, “productive”, “valuable”, “good enough”, “worth it”, or my personal favorite “prudent”.

These are all phrases designed to get us “back on track” (who’s track that is, exactly, can be a whole other conversation). Bottomline: we’re off it.

So on that day, when my client asked herself that question, we paused. Rather than barreling through with the assumption there was a point, we actually spent some time actually considering that question—from a place of curiosity, rather than judgment.

She had been trying to carve out some time in her busy life to feed her creativity, deciding that painting was something that she wanted to do more. Except she was noticing she wasn’t—doing it, that is.

It was clear she was hitting something—resistance, fear, overwhelm, or some concoction of all three. Can you relate?

What’s the point of making art if it’s not good?
What’s the point of writing if no one reads it?
What’s the point of making music if no one hears it?
What’s the point of gardening if you don’t grow anything?
What’s the point of fighting for change if there’s always someone who is going to disagree with you?
What’s the point of trying something new if you won’t eventually master it?
What’s the point of slowing down if you will have a pile of work waiting for you when you return?
What’ the point of fresh-cut flowers by your bed if they’ll eventually die and you won’t see them when you sleep?
What’s the point of romance and intimacy if you don’t have an orgasm?
What’s the point of sending a hand-written thank you note, if it’s faster just to send a text or an email? What’s the point of being in a band if you never perform or make money?
What’s the point of giving something if you don’t get credit for it?
What’s the point of having a business if you don’t grow it?
What’s the point of crying if it doesn’t change anything?

What IS the point?

Of beauty?
Of art?
Of pleasure?
Of dreaming?
Of giving?
Of receiving?
Of getting lost?
Of making connections?
Of feeling our emotions?
Of speaking our truth?

Do you see what I’m getting at? We’ve lost our way. Ironically, we’ve missed the point in our feverish attempts to stick the landing of it.

This is the voice we answer to in our society. This is what keeps us in our heads, keeps us up at night, keeps us from trying anything new, scary, or different. This is the voice that makes decisions for us, and this is the judge that we plead our cases before when it comes to desire, pleasure and joy.

And yet our hearts keep beating, and our desire, it just. Keeps. Rising. Wanting.

We’ve lost our way because of our love of the destination, forward progress, the outcome and the return of our investment.

We’ve lost our way because we’ve forgotten that lines aren’t the only form us humans can take. And that there are more crayons for us to color with other than black and white, and maybe a few shades of gray.

We can curve and bend. We can wax and wane. We can ebb and flow. We can rise and set. We can wander and not be lost. We can be present and moving. We can be still and active. We can bleed and not die. We can be silent and engaged.

Women know this all too well, as we are designed to move this way. Naturally.

We are designed to have curves.
We are designed to have cycles.
We are designed to be inconsistent.
We are designed to see webs of interconnectedness.
We are designed to create new life inside ourselves.

But we’ve forgotten that, just like my client did that day.

She wanted to know:

Where am I going with this?
Why does this matter?
How will this help anything?
How is this just not a waste of my time?
What if nothing changes as a result?
What if I suck and people laugh?
What if I’m good and I really am an artist?
What if I can’t stop?
What if I don’t ever want to stop?
What if it makes me cry?
Then what do I do?
What happens next?

Our poor, tired heads…they work so damn hard for us, don’t they?

But here’s the point, beautiful heads:

We’ve forgotten what rapture and presence feel like.

And that is critical to our humanity because it connects us to hope, each other, and this big beautiful blue-green planet we share.

We’ve forgotten how to live from our bodies.

And that is critical because so many of us are sick and tired and something’s gotta give at a time when many of us feel like we’ve got nothing left to offer.

What if it were the other way around?

What if we lived in a world where that values system were flipped, and the “point” didn’t really matter? What if we didn’t give away so much damn power to the “point”? What if the joy, happiness or fulfillment we were seeking, weren’t dependent on being seen, heard, bought or applauded?

What kind of a life would you be living then?

What would our world be like without so many points?

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

What Is Happening To Me?

Posted February 4th, 2019

Imagine you’re minding your own business walking down a crowded city street and suddenly you feel the ground vibrating beneath your feet. You stop, unsure of what you’ve just felt and ask a fellow pedestrian, “What was THAT!?”

Distracted, the person glances quickly over at you and says, “What was WHAT?” You dismiss it, thinking you must have imagined something, and then you feel it again…and again…and again. Until you can no longer deny that something is happening even though no one seems to notice and nothing is making sense.

That is the best way I can think to describe this sensation of when your roots start talking to you. This is how it feels when change wants to come your way. Far from a lightning bolt of inspiration (coming down from on high..), it often begins from something deep down in our bodies (coming from down low…), where they connect with the earth. It’s subtle, until it’s unmistakably there.

Which is why it’s so easy to miss…until it’s not.

This is the place where we feel the most…off (off track, off kilter, off our rocker, off script), and go inward to see if we can sort it all out and make sense of it in the cover of darkness. “Feel” is the operative word here—as it tends to start there, with an emotion bubbling up in our bodies, even before we can put words to it. And because no one else in your skin, and can’t see or sense or understand what you’re feeling, this is also the place where we feel most alone. This is where difficult and dark things find us, like vulnerability, shame, guilt and anger.

Conversely, this is also where we can start to feel most awake and inspired, like we’ve come out of a stupor and are starting to connect to something bigger than ourselves. Something that matters. Some of us start to utter phrases we’ve never used in our lives…like “soul whispers” and “in my bones” and “warrior’s path” or “deeply of service.” Even the most cynical non-believers among are amazed by how drawn they are to this conversation that’s coming up from inside them because it feels strangely…familiar and therefore magnetic.

It’s also where time starts ticking loudly in our ears, and there is this weird sensation of urgency that rises up to our consciousness…having us use phrases like “life is short” and “now is the time” and “just do it”. Which adds to the angst of the situation, because we’re still sitting in the fog wondering…time for what? Do what, exactly? Which can be maddening, but also oddly intriguing.

But here’s what I do know for sure: Our bodies never lie, and if we want to move closer to our truth, it begins by moving closer to our bodies.

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

The Pattern Of Questions

Posted January 29th, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

__________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

The Power Of Women’s Stories

Posted November 21st, 2018

There I was, just minding my business on the northern line of London’s underground on vacation with my family and BOOM—I see it. Validation of everything I had been working toward all these years.

As we pull up to the Euston platform, the doors open, revealing this massive, not-to-be-missed sign that simply read:

“When women tell their stories loudly and clearly, things change for the better.”

And then the doors shut and we were moving again. I swear if there had been white doves released or the sound of angels singing in the underground that day, it could not have seemed more like a sign. It literally WAS a sign. I turned to look at my husband next to me and said, “Did you SEE THAT!?” Not waiting for his response, I started frantically reaching into my pockets or my bag to dig out a pen. Before he knew what was happening, I had spun him around and was using the flat plane of his back to furiously scribble the quote on a page of my London Lonely Planet book.

Truth be told, I don’t think I could forget that moment if I tried. Inside that quote was validation of what has been steering me—sometimes pushing, sometimes pulling—all these years to bring SheSpeaks, my evenings of women’s storytelling, back to the stage year after year. Inside that quote was the answer to “So what’s SheSpeaks about, anyway?” And inside that quote was the energy of the crowds that poured into SheSpeaks evenings every year, their hunger to hear more and more and more women’s stories pumping through our blood as loudly as the music that greets people as they arrive each evening.

Women’s stories and their power to change our world seem like they are everywhere I look these days…literally.

Earlier that day in London with my family, we had stumbled on an exhibit by Jenny Holzer in the Tate Modern museum where she had literally papered the walls of one entire room with all the messages she has heard and collected over the years. She called them “truisms,” even though as you begin to read through them, it becomes very obvious that they are riddled with contradictions. Her exhibit poses one provocative question to those to find themselves surrounded by these “trusims”:

“How do you cope—within and without—when all these views are present, sometimes clamoring, sometimes fighting, sometimes murderous?”

Put another way, she’s touching upon the very things that I ask of women who take the SheSpeaks stage with me each year:

What do you see?
How do you feel?
What are you making of it? 
And where are you in all of that? 

And then I hear #METOO. I thought I was the only one who thought (said, felt, experienced…) that, and it’s so good know I’m not alone. And it’s not just women saying these things after the events, but men as well.

So many of us think we’re alone, don’t we? Maybe that’s the power of women’s stories—they connect us to ourselves and each other, and they have us rise individually and collectively as a result.

But women’s stories are everywhere, sometimes spoken, sometimes written, sometimes expressed as art, and sometimes seen on the walls of the underground. But what gives me hope is that they are taking center stage more and more.

When I came home from that London trip and I began to work with each of the ten speakers for this year’s SheSpeaks, I happened to stumble upon the Netflix special Nannette with Hannah Gadsby, and there it was once again… that validation…that sensation in my bones that telling our stories as women is some of the most important work of our times.

I can’t begin to do justice to the impact her show had on me because I’m still trying to find my words to describe how powerful it felt to me. So I’ll offer you some of Hannah’s words instead:

“Laughter is not our medicine. Stories hold our cure. Laughter is just our honey that sweetens our bitter medicine. I don’t want to unite you with laugher or anger. I just want my story heard and felt by individuals with minds of their own. Because like it or not, your story is my story and my story is your story.” 

This is why I do SheSpeaks each year. Because I see stories as some of our most powerful medicine in these times. All stories have value, but too often we only hear a select few repeated in a loop, and after a while those stories start to morph into facts…and then systems and cultures. But like the best medicines, the best stories are the ones that are still alive—and being lived.

Women’s lived experiences. That’s what takes center stage at SheSpeaks each year. You can’t rehearse that shit. You can’t fake it or make it up. Sometimes it’ll make you cry, and sometimes it’ll make you roar with laughter, but the stories each night are told from the heart and caught by an amazing sold-out audience year after year.

Photo credit: Ginger Soul PhotographySheSpeaks is like my sign on the underground wall. Each year, a loaded car full of people comes barreling down the tracks headed for somewhere. They pull up to the platform, the doors open, and stories flood into the bones of the people on the train. And then, just like that, the doors shut, and we’re moving again.

But you have to be there to see the sign. It’s not recorded, you won’t find them on YouTube, and you’ll only see still pictures of it that won’t nearly capture the magic. So now would be a great time to ask yourself: Do I want to be on that train December 6th or 7th (or both)?

If that answer is yes, you might want to pick up your ticket to ride at One Longfellow Square very soon—those cars on the underground are already getting full fas. And when it’s sold out, the doors of these two trains will close and they’ll head out of the station until it comes around again next year.

 

Thursday, Dec 6th will feature these storytellers:

Anne Morin
Louisa Irele
Corinne Mockler
Lyn Carter
Nadine Farag

Friday, December 7th will feature these storytellers:

Ashley Dobbs
Rosa Slack
Molly Neuner
Robin Hodgskin
Virginia Dearani

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.

 

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.