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!

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.

Undeniable Perspective

Posted May 6th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I never spoke openly about it. Until now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not far enough. Not fast enough.”

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

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

Contributing A Verse

Posted September 10th, 2014

Contribute a verseFour weeks ago, I sat in a stale-smelling, artificially-lit waiting area of Maine Medical center. It was 6:30 am and my first-born child had just been wheeled into surgery.

First child. First surgery.

I was told – first patently, then patronizingly – that I had “no reason” to worry. The arrogant and emotionally-stunted – albeit brilliant, or so I was told repeatedly – surgeon insisted my son’s surgery was a non-event and nothing to be worried about, and attempted to mollify my concerns and questions by recounting his vast years of experience, reminding me that he could work at any hospital in the country. He was that brilliant, that good.

In one fell swoop, this surgeon-cum-God informed me that not only was I wrong to be worried on that cold medically-induced morning, but I was also remiss in not understanding how lucky I was to have him performing the operation on my son. Wrong on two counts, I was.  Yup, we were mixing like peanut butter and mustard on cinnamon-raisin bread.

In the large scheme of things, he was probably right. This wasn’t a big deal, was it? Four months prior, my son had the misfortune of getting a rather large splinter lodged in his foot when he slid across the length of his friend’s hardwood kitchen floor in socks. Unbeknownst to us, a piece remained after the initial extrication, and continued to fester – stubbornly – in the bottom of his foot, a fat and fetid chunk of dirty wood suspended in a large pocket of pus (lovely, right?) So yea, I guess a case could be made for it not being a big deal. After all, it wasn’t his heart or his brain being cut open. He didn’t have cancer. Nothing was broken, really.

My otherwise healthy eleven year old son was having a one-inch piece of wood surgically removed from the bottom of his foot. The foot that I grew inside my body. From scratch. The one that had never been cut open before by a surgeon’s knife.

I get how in the large scheme of things, I ought not to have been concerned. But here’s the thing: that morning in the hospital – and in the days leading up to it – I wasn’t living in the larger scheme. I was living in my scheme. The one where I had the right to worry. The one where worrying was a normal reaction. The one where putting my child under with general anesthesia and signing a waiver that if something went wrong it wasn’t the hospitals fault was a very big deal.

But, sadly, you know what I did when faced with this reaction from the doctor? I allowed myself to be shamed and ultimately silenced. I’d like to say it was unconscious on my part, but I’d be lying and well, let’s just not do that here. Truth be told, I actively participated in stepping down in the face of a bully with a scalpel who was deigning to care for my child, despite his annoyance with me as his unfortunate mother.

I blamed it on my pediatrician, the DO with whom I had entrusted my children’s care for nearly twelve years. The one who listened compassionately and offered the perfect blend of head and heart, traditional and alternative care, listening and counseling. The one who has assured me that I had a right to ask questions and encouraged me to be resourceful and gather information and options until I had answers. The one who validated that it was, in fact, my job to advocate for my child. The one that told me to listen to my instincts. The one who told me it’s not a crazy outlandish notion to want to feel that you can trust someone with your child’s life.

But instead, I got out the flog and started beating myself with it (for shame, Lael!) I told myself I was spoiled and had come to expect too much from doctors. I told myself that most surgeons were like that. I told myself that they had to be that way, and that it made them better when they were not caught up in the emotion of it all. I told myself that I had no reason to complain because there are plenty of parents out there every day with real reasons to worry. It’s all fuzzy to me now, but I believe I even used words like “silly” and “over-reacting” and “hormonal” in this internal rant.

I essentially told myself to shut the fuck up. And I did.

They wheeled my son off for surgery and I sat down in the doughy and stained chair to wait. Resigned, I picked up a newspaper and there was the news that Robin Williams had just ended his life the day before. That was all it took. I burst out into sobs, days of frustration mixing with worry and angst and grief at such a tragic loss. Because you see, like many of you, I grew up with Mork. I moved onto him after the Fonz wasn’t cool anymore. My friends and I actually said “Nanoo-nanoo” and I never did get, but oh my, did I want a pair of those rainbow suspenders. Then, as an adult, I got to appreciate his intellectual brilliance in addition to his artistic talent and timing, marveling at how smart he had to be deliver that fantastic political-cultural-comical shit so fast and furious. It was dazzling. And then he could switch gears and deliver these heart-felt dramatic performances. Mind blowing, he was.

And now he’s gone. And I’m crying.

Fast forward a week, and my son is at home with me, bandaged foot (minus the splinter) propped up on the couch. Admittedly, I used that convalescing time to go on a bit of a Robin Williams movie bender. It was cold and raining outside. We both love movies. I had been holding out watching Dead Poets Society with him, though, because it had been so long since I’d seen it I couldn’t recall if it was appropriate (it wasn’t). And how ironic, with the suicide theme. But it a conversation is sparked for us about education, and how the best moments of learning can feel so amazing – so alive. I play for him this scene where Robin Williams’s character, John Keating illustrates the power of a poem (Walt Whitman’s Oh Me, Oh Life)  to evoke desire, to ignite dreams, to call forth inspired action.

We start talking about his move into middle school in a few weeks and how this new community he was about to enter favors an expeditionary model for learning. I smile, knowing that he’s about to be introduced to one of my favorite ways to learn – the kind of experiences that are electrically-charged, powered by an entire community, shared freely like a productive virus, and entirely memorable. The kind of experience that sneak up and teach you without realizing you’re learning. I start to get more and more animated (frothy mouthed at this point, I’m sure) about how awesome learning feels when it’s charged with excitement, possibility and a sense of adventure.

We talk about that line from Walt Whitman’s poem: “The powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse” and what that means. The gift of a life. The choice that is ours to make. Daily. The footprint that is your distinct mark to leave on this world. Your verse – a legacy, an impression, a contribution. All yours. For us.

The powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.

Then I ask him the same question Robin Williams asks his students in that scene: What will your verse be?

As a side note – and an ironic twist of fate – Apple used the voice-over from that same Dead Poet’s clip when they launched their iPod Air TV ad campaigns back in January of this year. Gives me chills watching it. Every. Time. It describes why I do what I do in the world. All those verses just waiting to be written…or not. Frothy stuff.

As another side note, I’m fairly certain most of that conversation I had with my son went over his head. I’m also relatively sure it had nothing to do with him and everything to do with me. Thankfully, wise and gracious kid that he is, I think he got that impression, too (the frothy spittle probably gave me away…), and lucky me, he didn’t make a big deal about it.

But here’s what I’ve concluded having come out the other side of living that story: it is a big deal.

My verse. And contributing it to the play we are all living.

That’s what I traded in when I told myself to shut the fuck up that morning. That’s what I thwarted when I silenced myself with shame. That’s what I started to give up, to hand over when I trash-talked my instincts and mocked my needs.

My verse. My voice.

It’s not “silly”, it’s honest. I wasn’t being “hormonal”, I was experiencing blatant sexism. I wasn’t “over-reacting”, I was being bullied and feeling invisible.

So thank you, Robin. For reminding me of the gift I – we all, each one of us – have been given. And thank you for reminding me it is – and has always been – my choice as to how I use it. Or don’t. Thank you for making me laugh first, and cry later, which helped me to stand up a bit taller and feel a little lighter. Thank you for asking me – us all – that question time and time again, which serves as a reminder that we can choose to write that verse with each new day.

I know what my verse will be.

Running Over My Rabbit. Repeatedly.

Posted June 13th, 2014

rabbit-on-gravel-roadWhen I was in grad school, we were asked to share with the circle of thirty students in our cohort what animal best represented ourselves as a leader. Not surprisingly, as we went around this circle of bright and ambitious working-professional students, there were many fierce and classically top-of-the-food-chain animals offered up: hawk, eagle, falcon, wolf, bear, lion. I started to sweat a little because I knew what my answer would be.

“Rabbit”, I said.

I can still hear the laughter and feel the condescending smirks that came my way in the moment, now twelve years in my past. If I’m not quick enough to catch it, I can still go to shame. Vulnerability inevitably sneaks in under my radar.

Once the snickers subsided, someone was bold enough to comment, “Oh, you’re road kill.”

I gasped and threw up in my mouth a little at the violence suggested in that comment and how it was a metaphor for my experience in this not-so-safe group and, truth be told, being a woman working in the corporate world.

Small. Cute. Ultimately dispensable. A dime a dozen. And easily run over.

I knew I had just done something either incredibly stupid or thoroughly brave in outing myself as a rabbit. A case could be made for both, but that moment – as benign as it seemingly was – I sensed I was at an important crossroads, one that would define and irrevocably alter my course: tell the truth and honor who you are or play the game and stay safe.

I opted for Door #1: Truth & Honor.

I’d like to say that what flowed from that moment was a rich dialogue punctuated by curiosity. It wasn’t. No questions were asked about the virtues of the rabbit (nimble, perceptive, intuitive, creative, fast) with regard to leadership or its symbolism (feminine power, lunar energy, fertility, shape-shifting gender).

I’d like to say I offered up my experience that day as a means to explore how the over-developed masculine energy contained in the group (which incidentally was comprised of primarily women) literally ran over and was, yet again, dismissing, discounting and discrediting any feminine energy contained with us. But I didn’t. I shut the fuck up.

And silently made a note to buy a copy of Watership Down on my way home that night for some much-needed validation.

And there it was. Once again I found myself shying away from yet another opportunity to give voice and value to a feminine approach to leadership. I conceded to the violence implied in the “road kill” comment, and silently wished I had aligned with a Falcon with its sharp talons and beak that could impale a rodent. I might as well have been the driver that made road-kill of my own rabbit, in that I allowed it to die a silent and shameful death while on my watch.

It wouldn’t have been the first time. Rabbits tended to die around me.

I grew up in the country, and it was pretty common to have our old flatulent beagle, Polly, bring a near-dead rabbit to our back porch as twilight approached. So common, in fact, that my sister and I had a standard protocol for this event, lining a shoe-box with a towel, putting the bunny with the punctured head in it to rest, feeding it throughout the night with a dropper, and then inevitably burying it in the morning, giving it the next available number in a long-line of “Thumpers” that came before it. I thought nothing of it at the time, how we brought quiet grace and loving reverence to the never-ending parade of half-dead rabbits in our life.

And then there was the time I tried to repeatedly run over a rabbit I had accidentally swiped while driving on a back-country road in my 20s. Far from a masochistic move, mine was an act of compassion. Or at least an attempt at that. The rabbit I had maimed with my car might beg to differ, as I repeatedly tried to run it over to put it out of its misery, missing it again and again with the skinny tires of my Tercel, sobbing “I’m so sorry!” before backing up and trying one more time. It was awful, and I believe to this day that poor rabbit actually died of a heart attack from terror, rather than its initial injury from my car.

But it wasn’t until I started consulting with an Executive Director at a local women’s organization here in Maine that I reclaimed my rabbit.

Because she was a chicken.

Accomplished, resourceful, scrappy and wickedly bright, this woman readily identified and proudly owned her chicken as her totem animal for leadership. She inspired me. So much so, she made me rethink – and ultimately reclaim – my association with the rabbit. We used to joke – and still do – about taking “chicken and rabbit” road-trips to create some badass positive change in the world. Implied in this joint Thelma and Louise adventure (minus the unfortunate cliff scene), was a fierce and wildly audacious commitment to making change happen, fueled by nothing more than own intuition, wisdom, and irreverent belief that a chicken and a rabbit could make a difference.

I’ve since come to understand  that my on-again-off-again identification with Rabbit is a mirror for my on-again-off-again identification with The Feminine. And here’s what I’ve decided as a result of that realization:

I’m official done with running over my rabbit. No more.

rabbit_1887903bNow, at the age of forty-five, I’ve finally grown weary of the shame, the hiding, the back-peddling and hokey-pokey dance I’ve been doing with The Feminine all my life, qualifying and diminishing it with my humor, making it “cute”, comfortable or somehow soft.

No longer that younger version of myself who sat quietly in the shame of that circle, this is what I believe now:

Being vulnerable does not make you road-kill. It makes you visible, and therefore strong.

Being smaller in size (or number) does not make you less of a force for change.

Bringing compassion and curiosity to conversations is a fierce and strategic maneuver.

Sometimes two people is all it takes to create a critical mass.

Once you lose something dear, and then find it again, it’s yours forever.

So there it is, my lost and found story of The Feminine that began and ended with a rabbit.

Sourcing New Stories

Posted May 30th, 2014

2012-10-06 11.26.26I’ve been playing around with the idea of our stories as a source – and how the things we tell ourselves ABOUT ourselves can guide us…but only up to a point. My most recent thought about this is that around mid-life, our stories start to run out of gas…we reach the end of the line with them and they start to give us diminishing returns.

When you think about it, the stories we collect and share are really just evidence of the beliefs we hold dear. They serve to reinforce themselves time and time again each time we share them. Until they run out of gas and sputter out.

One such belief of mine is “I’m a fighter”.

I’ve long cherished this belief about myself, and have countless stories I could tell – of my childhood and having been completely deaf for nearly a year before anyone realized it…  living with my mom as she navigated a drawn-out and nasty divorce…being a division one runner…to being a woman working in the corporate world – that would serve as evidence to reinforce that belief of me being a fighter. Scrappy. Resourceful. Resilient. Fierce. Strong.

Earlier this year, my eldest son and I got totally sucked into the Divergent book series. The book is based on a dystopian society, where at the age of 16 you have to make a choice to identify with one of five factions – each one valuing a particular quality. We both flew through the books, knowing the movie was coming out soon, and were eager to compare notes. We both wanted to know which faction WE would have chosen for ourselves.

In my mind, it was a clear cut choice for me – a no-brainer, plain as the noise on my face. I would have chosen the Dauntless faction. This was the faction that valued courage above all else. They were the warriors of the society, totally badass – physically capable, mentally strong, fiercely loyal.

But I didn’t say any of this, I just asked my son to guess my faction. He looked at me thoughtfully, and said, “I’m thinking you’d either be Amity (which valued Harmony) or Abnegation (which valued selflessness)”. My jaw dropped. Images flashed through my mind from my life, and I felt ridiculously close to having an identity crisis.

How could my son not see me more clearly? How could he not get that my most treasured quality is courage?

After all, this was the SAME son, who when he was six on our vacation at a lake house accidentally knocked over a steel davit– one of those big hooks that held boats away from the docks – in such a way that it actually fell down on top of him, pinning the skinniest part of him to the ground. Had it not been for a railroad tie by his feet that acted like a fulcrum displacing some of the weight, he would have been crushed.  I heard his screams and came running outside. Without hesitation, I lifted up the davit and told him to drag himself out from under it, which he did. He was rattled, as were we, and we went to the ER to make sure he had no internal damage. “How much did that davit weigh?”, I heard the Doctor ask my husband. “About 500 lbs, the same weight as my motorcycle.” My jaw dropped. I had heard about mothers lifting cars off their children, but I honestly didn’t believe it. It hadn’t felt that heavy, but try as I might later that night, I could NOT lift that davit one inch off the ground.

Surely that act alone, would qualify me for the Dauntless faction.

In many ways, that’s who I am. I rally, I rise, I respond to the call, ready for action. Ready to fight, if need be. So as I listened to my son that day, I could feel myself DIGGING in. HOLDING ON.

Around this same time, I was reading the Desire Map and trying to solidify my five words that best described how I wanted to feel in life.  I put DAUNTLESS right at the top of my list. Other words followed like POTENT and RESOURCEFUL and SHINING. I wrote them on a pink sticky and posted them in my office.

And then the strangest thing happened. I noticed that every time I saw them, I felt exhausted. Drained. Uninspired. I sighed a lot when I looked at them. They depleted me just hanging out on a stickie, let alone considering putting them into action.

I told one of my friends, “It’s like all the fight has gone out of me.”

What I’ve come to appreciate through the convergence of a bunch of other events since that day, it that my masculine energy in me – the fighter in me – has been tapped one too many times. Depleted. It’s simply not working for me like it used to. It’s a story that has told itself out, making way for a new story to emerge – one where The Feminine energy in me is the main character. Which, to be quite honest, is a completely foreign concept to me.

When I went to an energy worker earlier this year, she said, “Hmph. Your entire body – especially your lymphatic system (the fluids that house your emotion and spirit) is stuck in fight mode. And fight is just another form of protection. Which means your body is afraid….and has been for many, many lifetimes. It seems it’s all you’ve ever known.” Oh. So I asked her what she thought I should do.

“Do? There is no doing here. Only feeling. And being. Everything right now needs to flow from your heart, not your head.”

Shit. Then I asked, “For how long?” And she just smiled. 

Yielding. That’s what I’m talking about here.

Yielding as means of sourcing my Feminine energy. It’s all about opening, receiving, allowing, and feeling my way as I go. Allowing myself to feel vulnerability as I’ve never felt it before. No fighting, no rising up, nothing to protect. Just some fresh new stories to live.

The preceding was a transcript from a portion of my own story I shared on stage at SheSpeaks, my evening of storytelling held 5.8.14. This particular segment was used to set the stage and segue to Erin Oldham, the fourth storyteller of that evening.

Bad-Ass Naked Cake Series: The Story

Posted June 14th, 2012

This is the final post in my series of three this week, and it’s probably the most intriguingly obtuse of them all (even I don’t yet fully understand what it means, and this is ME I’m writing about…) So if you have any insights, I’d love to hear them!

For those of you just joining this series, it was inspired by me taking a serious dose of my own medicine. I am participating in a pilot group for my women’s writing experience, designed to take the questions for a spin and see if they hold water (they do). The result is I have been completely backed into a corner by my own writing, and have found the words that flow out of my pen are both comical and electrically charged. I am gaining clarity and a renewed sense of purpose with each word I write.

Here’s how the process works: each week of In Her Words has a theme, and participants are asked  to select one of three questions and write their thoughts on it from three different perspectives: a journal entry, a letter, and a story. The theme I was writing about this week was “Daring.”

If you’d like to read the series in the order it was written to get the full impact, you can check out my journal entry and my letter before reading the story below. It’ll also offer some context for the whole bad-ass, naked, and cake references in the series…

Without further ado, here is my story:

The woman was clearly comfortable in her own skin. Why else would she be naked on the deck of the boat among all the other tourists? She might as well have been alone, for all the attention she paid to the crowd that summer day. She was obvious to them, and that oblivion served as a guide – instructions if you will – to the others to just ignore her nakedness.

No one told the captain or reported her to the harbor master. They just accepted her, neither averting their eyes, nor opening staring at her. She had created a new normal without ever uttering a word. And now she was simply part of the crowd, accepted in the face of all odds.

As the boat pulled out of the harbor, the woman kept her eyes trained on the horizon, in her own world. She seemed to be looking for something, but not in a frantic or desperate way. Just a steady one. She must have blinked, given the brightness of the sun, but it was almost imperceptible, that movement.

As the day wore on, the woman reached for a fishing pole. Without shifting her gaze, she cast her line out and affixed the pole into the bracket on the deck. Then she got another one, cast, and did the same. And again, until there were many poles at work, their translucent lines disappearing into the water behind them.

She continued to stare out at the horizon, this time a small smile playing on her lips.

And then it began. The marlins started jumping, making big arcs in the blue sky and falling back down to the water amidst explosions of sea spray. It was exciting and scary to watch. The fish were massive and the lines were pulled taut. But still they held. It was almost like a choreographed act from one of those sea parks in Florida, except there were no trainers in the water with whistles. And the marlins looked frantic, not tame.

Like wild things fighting for their life.

Well, there you have it. The end of the series. I can feel it in my own body, having written these…there is clearly something shifting, making space for something new to enter. It’s one of the rare moments in life when you literally feel yourself changing, as you are changing.

I’m still churning through my thoughts on all this. But I’m certain of one thing:

There is a bad-ass cake in my future…and I most likely will be eating it naked. Without a fork.

The Bad-Ass Naked Cake Series: The Letter

Posted June 13th, 2012

Ok, so if you’re just joining me in this series, this is the second of three posts that show what it looks like when I take a dose of my own medicine.

I’m part of my own pilot group for my women’s writing experience, In Her Words, so I’ve been doing some “back-you-into-a corner” writing of my own as we take the questions for a test spin.

Again, if you’re new to this series, each week there is a topic and participants are asked to select one of three questions and write about it from the first person (journal), second person (letter), and third person (story). The topic I’m writing on is “Daring”.

Without further ado, here is my letter:

Dear Lael,

Well, look who’s waking up all hot and bothered! Good mornin’ Sunshine, it’s time to greet a Brand New Day!

Remember that quote you love, the one where the devil says when that woman wakes up and puts her feet on the floor, “Oh shit, she’s up!” It’s time to be that woman. You are that woman.

This is not a fluke or an errant dream, it’s your calling.

And it’s right on track. Think about it a minute…for the past six years you’ve supported women in plugging into themselves – to find their voice and listen to it, to trust what it was telling them, and to act upon it. You’ve supported them in assuming responsibility for their own nourishment and you’ve created communities to demonstrate these women are not alone but are, in fact, in good company.

You’ve shined a light on the source of impatience, anger, exhaustion, and frustration and you’ve asked women to create solutions that work for them.

You’ve asked women to be leaders of their own life – the leaders they had been waiting for. And then you gave them tools and encouragement and each other to fortify them.

You’ve insisted on health, fulfillment and courage, showing women that they were even stronger and more capable than they realized. You’ve revealed the depths of their resourcefulness and restored the faith in themselves, their instincts and the impact they are able to have on the world around them.

And now it’s time to unleash the hounds.

Head right into the epicenter of change, and don’t just be content to play at the fringes. It’s hot in there. You are right to be nervous. But you’re onto something and women are going to gravitate to it. You will pull them in, almost by standing still.

This is not a radical shift or departure from who you are or what you’ve done to date. It’s more of who you are that will come out to play.

Expect that you will surprise yourself with your audacity and boldness. Expect that you will feel more vulnerable and less comfortable.

But do it anyway. Do it anyway.

Love,

The Universe

Note to the new reader: if you don’t get why this is called “Bad-Ass Naked Cake”, you might want to check out yesterday’s post to get the full picture. And then be sure to join me tomorrow for the final post of the series.

A Vomit Moment

Posted May 22nd, 2012

In the spirit of complete vulnerability, I will tell you that this woman is singing an aria directly to my soul. But sometimes it sucks to hear.

This particular message is making me throw up in my mouth a little.

I call these “vomit moments” and I’ve learned they are hands-down the single best predictor of the path I am meant to walk. They’re like gastronomic trail markers, those moments. They say,

“Hear that? Feel that? Go there. That’s what you need to step into.”

So that happened to me. Just now. I was listening to Brene Brown’s most recent TED Talk thanks to a client forwarding it to me. It’s a follow-up to her first talk on “The Power of Vulnerability” she gave at Houston’s TEDx in 2010. In this one, she reflects on the “vulnerability headache” she had after giving that talk and having it go viral and become one of the top five all-time viewed talks. In debriefing this unexpected turn of events with a good friend, she realized,

“There was a part of me that was working very hard to engineer staying small. Staying right under the radar”

That’s when I felt the moment of vomit hit. I literally had to hit pause and walk away from the computer. It was like a sonic blast to my chest, pushing me to my feet with its force. Needless to say, it got my attention. I felt, well, vulnerable, because it was like she was looking at me, seeing my engineering-small ways…

This particular vomit moment was coming on the heels of me reading through all these testimonials people have sent to me over the years – e-mails, cards, and letters that praise my work, thank me for doing it in the world, and encourage me to do more of it, bigger. Right before I watched this video (which is probably no accident…), I read this one:

“You are quite talented at bringing women together. I have seen it on a small-ish scale, and a large scale (the retreat). I encourage you to keep expanding the ways in which this might manifest. Different venues, different topics, incorporating multimedia, something at Merrill Auditorium, grow, expand, reach for the stars. You are capable of impacting a lot of women. You are a natural Producer.”

My reaction? Oh, that’s so nice.

Nice!? That’s all I’ve got?

After listening to that sonic blast line from Brene Brown, I suspect it’s a whole lot more than that.

I suspect it’s the truth. And my reaction was to get busy engineering to stay small. And comfortable.

Vomit.

So I’m now I’m going to swallow, watch the rest of this talk, and let my life unfold accordingly (in that order).

I’m sure tomorrow I’ll be suffering from a “vulnerability hangover”, but today…today I’m choosing vulnerability.