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.

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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 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.

 

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.

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.

The Veil

Posted October 27th, 2017

The morning after he died, I was making our bed, just sobbing. I missed him so much. I honestly didn’t know what to do or how to move on. All I knew is that our bed needed to be made. So that’s what I did. And then, out of nowhere I heard his voice talking to me, clear as a bell. He said, “I’m here, sweetie.” And I smiled because I felt him with me. I knew he was okay. Because before your grandfather died, Lael, he promised he’d find a way to communicate with me. And he did. 

I remember my mom telling this story to me like it was yesterday. I was five years old, and it was my first experience with death. The person I loved most in the entire world was absolutely crumbling in the wake of losing the man that was the center of her entire world. This wasn’t sudden, my grandfather’s death. We had been watching him die for weeks in his home from pancreatic cancer, although back then I couldn’t really appreciate the finality of what was to come.

But when it finally happened, it seemed to gut my mom—to flay her wide open and expose her to pain she could not have imagined. I watched her, standing by her side and helping her make the bed in the coming weeks when that was just about all that helped—like a mourning ritual. So when she told me the story of my grandfather speaking to her that first morning, reaching out to her from someplace unseen and unknown, I remember pocketing it like a precious jewel she had given me.

I didn’t know why it was important or what it meant, really. But in that moment, she gave me two gifts that I treasure to this day: 1) A deep belief in things I cannot see or understand and 2) What it’s like to witness and hold space for others.

Both of these gifts I use daily. If you’ve worked with me, than you’ve probably seen them at play in our time together, maybe experienced them first-hand. If you’ve read my book or heard me tell stories on stage, then you’ll probably recall I reference these two things regularly, demonstrating them again and again as I seek to make sense of the world around me. These two gems given to me by mother have governed many decisions in my life, and have guided me on the moments I am most lost and alone. I reach for them constantly, feeling their substance and warmth in my pocket like a well-worn lucky rock.

Two nights ago, however, I made a new realization. I was letting our dog out to pee one final time before going to bed, and my youngest son came out to join me as I stood on our front lawn.

Mom, do you smell them? Do you hear that? The witchy winds… they’re out tonight. 

I watched as he turned his little boy-man head skyward, closed his eyes, and breathed deeply. I watched as the soft, warm and wild wind reached into his hair, making it dance as it swirled about his beautiful head.  I watched as he reveled in the sheer power of it, the sound like a freight train coming for us building to a crescendo and then crashing through us like a wave of air as we stood there on the lawn like two sentries.

He knows this is real because of me. I have passed on some precious jewels from my pockets to his. 

I know this because whenever he senses those winds are present this time of year, he doesn’t question that urge to run outside and feel them on his skin. Instead he honors it. Because he has seen me do the same, and therefore doesn’t doubt it’s real or true. He believes in the power and presence of wind.

And because my son believes the wind is able to communicate with him, he has an open door for the feminine to flow freely to and from him.

I bring this up because so often these stories are referenced as happening between mothers and daughters, as they were with me. So often, these stories are talked about in the context of a “women’s intuition” or “women’s mysteries”, and while I do believe our women’s bodies are sacred vessels of creation, there is also that need to honor the seed that brings forth new life. And so often I see examples of how our society systematically underestimates our boys’ capacity to be with, honor, and value the feminine.

Let’s be clear: It’s not the boys’ capacity to be with the feminine that we need to be concerned about, it’s ours: the grownups responsible for teaching them.

I also bring this up because this is the time of year when the veil between the two worlds is the thinnest. When the earthly plane and the spirit world are separated by only the sheerest of scrims. When the divine masculine, sun and daylight pass the torch to the divine feminine, moon and darkness to carry. It’s also my favorite time of year because I was born right on this cusp of this transition, so it feels like my home and I can access both energies inside me without needing such a wide stance.

I trust most deeply time of year. I also feel fear most deeply this time of year. Which has me reach for those gems in my pocket.

So I share this story as a written prayer, maybe even an invitation. To shine more light on stories about women and their sons, and how the divine masculine and the divine feminine live and dance inside all of our bodies, sometimes starting with our hair and often sounding like a freight train. I share this with the hopes that more of us will pass along stories of things we don’t fully understand and can’t see, so that we’ll learn to trust in that more. I share this because I’m tired of us asking our children to do the heavy lifting for us adults, and I want some of that burden they feel to be lifted.

Just like the veil.

 

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

 

And if women’s storytelling is your thing, grab a ticket for SheSpeaks being held at One Longfellow Square on December 7th. The theme is “Life In The Arena” and tickets are on sale now and going fast!

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!

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.