Creating Vulnerable

If there is anything in the world that is more vulnerable than creating, I don’t know what it could be. Walking around naked in front of supermodels, maybe? Though now that I think about it, I have actually done that, and writing a poem feels scarier.

I’ve been working on a new project, a series of monologues based on photographs of people who are homeless. At least, I am calling them monologues. I have never actually written a monologue before now so I don’t really know how one should be formatted, but whatever. They are kind of like free form poems, written with the idea that maybe they might be performed someday, or maybe just read in a book where they sit next to the photograph… I really don’t know, yet. It’s new.

What I do know, is that I think they are good. They light me up inside. They make me happy, like really, ridiculously happy, the kind of happy I get sometimes where I giggle like a schoolgirl with giddiness. My heart jumps when I read one. My entire being screams YES! DO THIS! THIS IS GREAT! THIS IS WHAT YOU WERE MEANT TO DO! IT’S SO AWESOME! I tend to do little dances around the room when I finish one. It’s incredibly fulfilling.

If I’m really lucky, this goes on for about a minute, maybe two. And then… the crash. Every bit of that confidence disappears and I’m suddenly a nervous, sweaty, shaky mess. What if they suck? What if I’m completely losing my mind? What if people hate them? What if I’m delusional? How can I ever put these out there? Why am I bothering to write them? (You get the idea). This, unfortunately, tends to go on for much longer than a minute or two. These voices have staying power.

This is why people stop writing, and painting, and singing, and drawing, and modge-podging, or whatever else it is that is your personal art escape in this world. It’s not just hard… It’s painful. It’s scary. It totally kind of sucks. It certainly isn’t easy on the heart, the mind, or the ego. Why do we do this?

And the answer of course is because it’s also needed, and beautiful, and amazing, and necessary. Sometimes I have to remind myself: nobody ever died from creating bad art (though I feel like I might, sometimes). We take this all so seriously. Don’t get me wrong, creating is such a vulnerable space, but the problem is that people have gotten confused over the years and have equated vulnerability with something that is bad. It’s not. It’s painful and hard and scary and it sucks but it’s still good, and it’s necessary. It’s where the magic happens. It’s where growth happens. And it’s where life gets interesting.

So when all my mean voices start screaming, I remind myself that I have danced naked, with all my curves and cellulite, in front of models. I have jumped off mountains when I’m terrified of heights. I remind myself that I’m brave. I remind myself that regardless of how scary this business of being vulnerable is, it’s not only something I can do but something that I have to do, because it’s my calling. And I remind myself that nobody is going to die if my free-form poems that I’m calling monologues all suck and people boo and hiss at me when I finally share them.

And then I use a life-line, and phone a friend, because nobody can do these things alone.

What is it that you are not creating because it’s scary? What is it that you are afraid to share? What is the world missing out on because you, yes YOU, aren’t creating beautiful things? Be brave. Share your work. Share your heart. Even if it sucks, (and it probably won’t), I promise that I will personally thank you for it, and I hope you will do me the same courtesy when I finally let the world see these poem monologue thingys.

I Believe In Magic

I believe in magic.

Last weekend I had brunch with a couple from Chicago, whom I had never met before. We had no mutual connections, and knew nothing about each other, and the meeting was arranged by pure chance: I had won a writing contest that this guy created. When he picked my monologue as the winner, he asked, “Do you live in Chicago? I’d love to have a cup of coffee with you,” and I had to say that no, sorry, I did not live in Chicago or anywhere near Chicago, and was in fact in Seattle. I was sad, because I would have loved to have that cup of coffee. And I meant it, because I really would have loved to meet this guy, who created a contest and paid writers to talk about homelessness, a subject that is near and dear to my heart. So when he responded and said that in fact, he and his girlfriend would be in Seattle in a few weeks, and their travel dates happened to fall at a time right between my trips when I was in town and had no plans, I was quick to arrange a meeting and intent on following up on it. Because… magic. The Universe spends a whole lot of time and energy lining this shit up for us in magical ways and it’s rude to not show up and say yes when it does.

In this case, I’d been following the magic for a while. A couple of months before, shortly after returning from my Just Say Hello Tour, a trip around the United States to meet those who were homeless and share their stories online, a friend had seen the contest shared to a page and tagged me in it. Jen—This has your name all over it. Do it. I read the info.

Write a 1-2 minute monologue about homelessness to be performed on the streets of Chicago to raise money for a person experiencing homelessness. Should be something that connects people and isn’t divisive.

I could see why she tagged me in it, but the fear voices immediately rushed in. “You don’t write monologues,” and “You can’t seriously do this,” and “You’ll never win,” and “Where the hell is the good chocolate you bought last week?” My fear voices are forever craving chocolate.

And yet… just as immediate as the fear voices was this deep down recognition that rushed in, the knowing… MAGIC. Because here’s the thing: I had started practicing to write this piece before I even knew about the contest. In the month before I saw this, I’d started randomly writing poetry again. For the first time since I was an angsty teenager, all the sudden there was poetry flowing out of me that didn’t even seem to ask for my permission to be made… It kind of just made itself. It was weird. Even odder was that I had started reading both poems and written pieces in my head, and was noticing things like cadence and timing, framing them (not even fully consciously) as performance pieces, even though I was FOR SURE never going to be performing anything. I don’t perform. I don’t write things to be performed, either. So, that was weird. I didn’t really understand why I was doing it but whatever… I didn’t question it too much.

When I saw this contest, I knew. Goddamnit. The Universe was sending me a thing and lining it all up in just such a way that I would have had to put my hands over my eyes and stumble around like an idiot pretending to be blind in order to block it out and not see it. I was supposed to do this.

But… I didn’t want to do the thing. Things like this are scary. I ignored it for a solid couple of weeks before mentioning it to a friend, who immediately understood what was going on, because she’s a fantastic friend who knows me much too well. I was trying to be a chicken shit, and she was having none of it (which is of course why I mentioned it to her to begin with, I’m sure). She promptly put three reminders in her calendar and started bugging me to cut the bullshit and show up, for the magic. It was time to write the piece.

And I did. And what came out took my breath away. It was easy. It flowed. It was stunningly beautiful. I nearly made myself cry with my own genius. I sent it to three friends to see if I was crazy, and they all assured me that I was decidedly not crazy, and it was awesome. So I held my breath, and I submitted it. And then I got an email a few weeks later… saying that I won first place. MAGIC.

So, you see, I was pretty sure all of this was meant to be. As I walked into this restaurant, to meet these strangers, I had no qualms about whether this was going to be awkward or weird, because I knew better. Life had lined up something beautiful, and I was getting smarter by the minute. I was going to just show up and say yes, and let it all happen. Clearly, whatever this connection was, it was divinely orchestrated, and therefore I expected it to be good.

This is the part where I kind of want to shake things up and tell you that it was horrible and painful and I clearly read all those signs wrong and breakfast with complete strangers is not something the Universe ever conspires to send you, but I have written some variation of this five times now and am finding that I can’t even write it with a straight face, which is stupid but true. No, you guys. It was amazing. Of course. It was the start of what I expect to be a long-time friendship and likely a working relationship that could lead to completely unknown but amazing projects either of us have yet to even form in our brains.

Finding allies who are working on addressing homelessness in unique ways is always a gift, but one that wants to address things artistically? Extra special. I consider this connection to be a gift from the angels, delivered right into my life when I had no idea what to do with this tour I did, and the stories I recorded, and the feelings I had that while I for sure didn’t want to keep driving around the country, I wasn’t done with this topic and didn’t know what could possibly be next. I still don’t totally know why he’s being put in my life. I think I have some ideas of what’s next: more monologues. I like them, a lot. I think they are a good way to connect people and an interesting way to tell stories. What happens after that? No clue.

What I do know, for sure: I believe in magic. Magic is real. The Universe really does send signs. We just have to slow down enough to notice them, shut up the fear voices, and show up and say yes.

Growing Pains

In Denver, Rory ran up to me at the end of a long day of outreach with the homeless during the Just Say Hello Tour, exhilarated. “Mom, I think I broke my shyness!” she exclaimed. And, for that moment anyway, she certainly had. Emboldened by having a friend there, an older teenage girl that she could look up to, she had been handing out waters all day, giving people food, running around checking to see if we had more socks, more donations. She was actually talking to people, not just saying hello but having entire conversations. She was so lit up, excited and happy and engaged. It was what I had hoped the entire trip would be like on our Just Say Hello Tour, and I was so relieved because it was only our third official stop doing outreach, and YES, we had broke her shyness! This was totally going to work out after all.

This, of course, did not last. The shyness crept back, and the fear of saying hello came with it once the euphoria wore off and we were onto the next stop. I was disappointed that what I saw in Denver wasn’t easy to replicate as we continued the trip. I shouldn’t have been surprised though. This is how personal growth works… it’s an ebb and a flow, an up and then a down, an expansion and then a contraction.

So often we are tempted to think that life happens in this linear fashion. We struggle with an issue, we conquer the issue, done. If by chance that issue shows back up, there’s an inclination to equate that with failure, like maybe we didn’t really conquer it last time. I must have just been fooling myself, because here it is again, right? Somehow we twist the fact that we have conquered it in the past into proof that we can’t conquer it again. It makes no logical sense, but it’s what we do anyway. It’s a side effect of this linear thinking, this start to finish ideology that says that a challenge coming back up must mean that we are moving backwards.

But, we are not moving backwards. We are simply moving our way through life, and the way that life works is that things move in a circular fashion, not a linear one. Sometimes I forget this. I’m particularly harsh on myself. “Why is this same shit coming up again?!” I think, when I know that a month ago, or two months, or a year ago, I took the time to do my work around it, and move past it. Why the same patterns, the same defenses, the same mistakes? And the answer is always, “Because that’s your journey. You still have progress to make, and it’s OKAY. You’ve battled this before. You’ve got proof you can do this. Take a breath… You can do it again.” I remind myself what one of my favorite authors says on this topic, that life is not a beginning and end, but an endless spiral staircase where we just face our same demons again and again and again, climbing higher and getting stronger with each pass by them. I climb the stairs and do the work, again, and I remind myself that I’ll be stronger next time because of it.

I never did see another moment on the trip where Rory was able to achieve that level of comfort, security, and courage again. That stunningly beautiful moment ended up being a bit of a fluke, rather than a sign of some major change. I could be sad about that, but instead I’m just so grateful that we both got to experience that day. I know that we learned from it, that she grows stronger as she climbs her own staircase, and that we will work together to find another moment where she turns a corner, climbing upward, and surprises herself with her own ability to break through her barriers. And when that happens, I’ll celebrate with her. And when it passes, as all moments do, I will remind her that the point of it all is to find the beauty in the breakthrough and the lessons in the struggle, and to know that the fact that she conquered her fears once means that she now has proof that she can do it again.

Admit It: You’re Important

I’m in a cabin in the middle of an island in Washington. This is my last night here, in this cabin, by myself, dreaming, and planning, and reflecting, and creating. I took a nap today. I created a plan to move forward into 2017. I reflected on 2016, and all the ups and down and growth that happened. I sat quietly by myself all day, never leaving the cabin. I talked to a friend about my future. I reached out to ask a couple of people for support in reaching my goals. I read a book. I enjoyed every bite of every meal I had. This is definitely one of my greatest pleasures, and one of my greatest self-indulgences… time by myself.

And at the end of this beautiful day, one of four I am spending here, I sat outside on the screened-in porch, listening to the rain and to Oprah read her audiobook “What I Know For Sure,” while smoking a cigar and drinking a glass of good red wine. I listened to her stack universal truths on top of each other, and share with me some of the greatest collective insights I’ve ever heard, and I learned/was reminded of so much truth. But the one that hits me hardest right now is that I deserve to take care of myself, and that nobody will do it for me if I don’t. I have control over this. I brought myself here, in the very literal “I booked this cabin and drove myself way,” but also in the much larger, “I gave myself permission to provide space for myself,” way. I told myself that I am important. I chose me. I stopped apologizing for knowing what I need, for knowing what fills me up and allows me to stretch for great achievements. And I am a better person for that.

As a woman, this is not something that came naturally to me. So often, “me time” is considered to be selfish and self-indulgent. This is particularly true if you are a mom. God forbid if you should ever admit that your children do not completely fulfill you, that you need something outside of them (They don’t, and I do, so there). The only time “me time” is really okayed for a woman in this society is the time we spend on improving our outside appearance… going to the gym, getting a pedicure, getting our hair done. These are all (semi) reasonable things for a woman to spend her time on. But disappearing to the middle of nowhere to work on your soul for several days tends to make people wonder who you think you are and why you think you’re so important. It feels like a drastic step in claiming space for yourself.

The answers to those questions, for me, are simple. I think that I am a person a value. The reason I think I’m so important is because I am so important. I am important as a human being, a person who is worthwhile and completely separate from the roles I play as mother, as partner (not currently, but if I was playing that role), as friend, as lover, as daughter, as employee and as any other role I play for you. I am a being completely separate from all of those things. I have a lot of value to give to the world. I am a human who deserves to figure out what I need and then create space to have those needs met. I am my own unique and amazing person in ways that have nothing to do with the people that I serve in the world. And I deserve to take time for myself, and to take care of myself, and to be centered on self on a consistent basis to make sure that I stay whole and fulfilled and able.

And SO ARE YOU. The real questions are, “Who are you?” and “Why don’t you think that you are important?” We create our own realities. There was a time when I used to think that I could never do things like this trip. “What would people think?” (Secret: Some of them will think you are selfish. Forget them. But some of them will think you are brave. Embrace them.) And you know what? Because I never believed I could do these things, and make room for myself in this world, I didn’t. I didn’t create the space or the money for them, I didn’t create the people and the support I need to make sure that my daughter is well taken care of while I’m not there. And I suffered. I was miserable. I was drained. I was unhappy. I wasn’t present in my life. I wasn’t making an impact. But I was doing what I was supposed to do, right? And I certainly wasn’t selfish.

What I’ve realized is that there are worse things in the world than being selfish. What I’ve realized is that I can give myself permission to want space for myself. What I’ve realized is that when I state strongly that I deserve to be important, suddenly actions like a 4 day retreat by myself for visioning and reflection and writing seem reasonable. In the end, I was the only one ever standing in my way of doing things like this. All the people who might judge me for doing these things are still there. My daughter is still there. All of the outside world responsibilities and demands are still there. But what isn’t there is the guilt that I feel for taking time for myself and stating clearly what I need. What isn’t there is the excuses and stories I used to throw down about how I couldn’t ever do things like disappear for four days in the woods by myself just because I want to and it helps to heal my heart and fill me up.

I’ve started to own my life. I’ve started to believe that I really am important, and that what I need, what makes me happy and fulfilled, is really important. This year, my biggest wish for you is that you are able to do the same. What is it that you want? What are you telling yourself you can’t have? What would change if you suddenly started to believe that you could actually have those things? What actions would you take? I challenge you this week to take a moment to claim at least a couple of minutes, if not hours, or even days (!), just for you, to help fill your soul back up… because you are important, and you do deserve it, and the world will not end when you step away from it for a moment to take care of the most important person you could ever take care of… you.

White Flags

Today I Carry… A White Flag

I was out the other night in Seattle with several friends.  We were drinking, laughing, enjoying life... It's been a tough couple of weeks for most of us, and one of us was visiting from out of town, so we were celebrating.  It was a pretty typical fun, dressed up, cocktails and dreams kind of night out, just us four thirty-something year old women giggling as walked down the sidewalk in pairs, with a sole husband in our mix laughing at our ridiculousness and playing designated driver.  

As we walked from one bar to the next, we crossed a street to walk past an urban church, one I’ve never really noticed before even though it’s large, and beautiful, with vines growing through the gate that surrounds it.   Suddenly, everything slowed down.  Our chatty groups fell quiet, and broke apart, as we all came to a stop at different intervals of the street, staring, at first uncomprehending, but at the same time recognizing power and beauty. What are all these white flags fluttering in the wind, tied to the wrought-iron?

The goosebumps started. I turned to look closer at the white strips of fabric tied to every single rail of the fence that lined the entire city block.

“We stand against oppression.”

“You are loved.”

“You are valued.”

“You are not alone.”

And then, amongst the flags, I noticed the sign:

“In the aftermath of Tuesday’s election,

You may be scared,

You may be tired,

You may feel hopeless,

You may be angry,

You may be triggered,

You may be oppressed

The notes here are from our church community to you. Read them and know that we love you. We need you. We will work for justice. We believe that racism, sexism, homophobia and any form of hatred is contradictory to the good news that Jesus taught us and asks us to live.

There are more ribbons and pieces of fabric here if you wish to tie one on the bars of the church as a sign of solidarity for anyone feeling vulnerable among us.

Peace be with you.”

I read more. Then,  one that made my breath catch in my throat:

“You are not a thing to be grabbed. I will walk with you.”

Tears welled up, and right there and then I offered up an intense prayer for the man who wrote a message to me, to everyone woman who needed to hear it. Gratitude filled my entire body. We are not alone.

There were hundreds of these messages, tied there specifically for people to read, but also for people to untie and take with them if needed. A variable wall of support, of empathy, of love, fluttering so beautifully in the night breeze. It was like seeing hope, incarnated. Every single person in my group stood there, stunned, all set slightly apart from each other, reading the messages, slowly wandering back and forth along the block, glancing at the each other with love and surprise, almost to say, “Do you see this, too?”

The resounding answer from the depth of each of our souls was, “Yes… I see you. I see this. I see love.” Separate but together, I stood there with my friends and soaked each and every message I read deep into my bones, holding them all there as truth, and in that moment I knew that we are going to be okay.

We are pretty far away from the purest place we could be, where we look at each human as a human first: a person inherently worthy of love and belonging, a person on their own path with their own challenges. We have a lot of work to do. A lot of listening, a lot of loving, and a lot of heartbreak and pain to face. But somehow, through all of the scary things going on in this world, we are going to make it out. I believe that now.

Today I carry a white flag, but it is not of surrender. It is of love, and of hope, and I will lift this banner and carry it with me into battle. It’s going to be a fierce battle, this battle against judgment, and fear, and hate, and anger, and intolerance, and injustice. But we can do it. We can do it together. It’s going to be hard. But we can do hard things.

Today I raise my white flag, one that declares “You are loved.” There is light in this world. I am loved. And you, my dear reader, are, too.

What Do You Really Want To Say?

a couple of years ago

We all have those moments, when we tell ourselves that our motivation for doing something is simple, when really it’s much more complicated. We know what we want from a situation, deep down, but we are afraid to fully admit it, and so we tell ourselves that all we really want is just a snippet of what we really want. We tell ourselves that our reason for approaching a person or place or idea is simple, that it’s surface, superficial, and doesn’t matter, but that simple reason hides our inner desires and wants for how the interaction will turn out. These are times when we convince ourselves to take steps or actions toward something when we want more and know that we are highly unlikely to get it, the times when we set ourselves up for disappointment and failure, acting in such a way that is bound to cause hurt and is the opposite of mindfulness and authenticity.

Let me give you an example:

You miss your ex-boyfriend like crazy and have had a couple of glasses of wine. What you really want is for them to profess their undying love for you, but you tell yourself that your reason for texting them is just to say hello. If they respond, you attempt to be lighthearted and funny while also attempting to lead them into telling you they made a huge mistake and beg for you to come back to them. They don’t. You are hurt and angry. Of course if they don’t respond, you are also hurt and angry. The chances of them actually responding with a resounding, “I made the worst mistake and have just been sitting here waiting for you to say hello so that I can tell you how much I love you and beg for you to take me back,” are in the realm of the chances of getting hit by lightning after finding out you’ve won the lottery, while you are having a simultaneous orgasm with your partner on the beach and actually enjoying sex in the sand. It could happen, but it isn’t too damn likely. But you do it anyway, and you tell yourself that all you really wanted was to say hi. (Please tell me I am not the only person ever to do this)

I used to do this shit ALL THE TIME. I wasn’t even really aware I was doing it most of the time. Most of the time, for me, it had to do with romantic relationships—because that is the area of my life I most struggle with-- but it could be a friendship you are unhappy with, a familial tie that feels strained, or a work situation in which you are frustrated; it’s really all the same. We want more, but we think (or inherently know) that it’s not going to happen so instead of accepting that and moving on, we come up with some small reason to approach the person or situation and then get immensely irritated when it doesn’t go our way. Doing this, unsurprisingly, led to a lot of hurt, anger, resentment, and pain for me that was completely unnecessary and of my own doing, even though I didn’t own that at the time. Then a couple of years ago, in the middle of a breakup, my therapist called me on it and asked me, “What are your real motivations?” She challenged me to not reach out unless I had done some soul searching and reached deep down to find and admit to myself what the motivations were in doing so.

This has been a game changer in my life. It is the simplest thing, and yet, I cannot fully express how much pain and suffering this has alleviated for me (and probably for the poor folks I kept doing this to). Asking myself what I really want before communicating with or making plans with people in my life has allowed me to step back and take a breath before doing so, and when there is an ulterior motive, one of two things (almost always) happens now; I choose not to communicate with them, or I choose to directly communicate what I actually want from them. One might argue that telling an ex that you wish they would tell you they made a mistake and beg for you back is way more ridiculous than just telling them hello, and that it would be just as painful when respond negatively or not at all as it is when they don’t respond to a friendly hello text or do respond in a way you don’t like. It isn’t. Those people need to knock it off with the sideways talk and try it my way. Here’s why.

Owning your shit makes it easier to deal with. Being honest with yourself about what you want and the motivations behind your actions changes how you react to the outcomes of those actions. At the end of the day, when you own your truth, you get to sit in the knowledge that you showed up and were honest about it, even if you still don’t get what you want. Instead of throwing rubbing alcohol into a wound, you applied some nice healing ointment and a band aid. The wound is still there, but it starts to heal rather than feel like someone is tearing it open and burning it with a hot poker.

So… just try it. The next time you are feeling vulnerable, the next time you’re planning to do something that leaves you with a feeling of trepidation or fear, the next time you decide to text the ex… ask yourself what your real motivation is. What do you really, truly, want? And if it’s not just to say hello, put the phone down or type what you really want. You’ll thank me later, I promise.

​Have you done this?  Does this help you?  Comment below and let me know.

Walking on Eggshells Around Yourself

a couple of years ago

Today, I realized I was highly triggered, and had been for days. Another school shooting set it off; my grief over the event and my anger at the lack of answers mingled with my fear of my daughter growing up in a world where schools were not safe, and shootings are just a price we pay to attend one. World events and conversations online heightened my emotions to the point of painfulness. I was wound up so tight by yesterday evening that the sound of my daughter’s laugh, her pure joy and silliness and joking around, were like nails on a chalkboard for me. I repeatedly caught myself snapping at her to knock it off, which only increased my guilt, sadness, and irritation, in a cycle I couldn’t seem to pause. Then, the icing on the cake: maybe because I really did need to pass on the gift of the book I am reading that made me think of them, or maybe because I am a glutton for punishment, or maybe because I was already spontaneously breaking into crying fits multiple times a day and figured it couldn’t get worse, I broke down after months of no contact with a love who wounded me deeply and messaged that person. Their simple and heartfelt response of thankfulness and well wishes felt like a dagger to my tender and damaged soul, and broke whatever façade I had left that I was okay. I was crying, I was overflowing with sadness, and I was most definitely not doing okay.

Once upon a time I used to live in such a state almost without reprieve. Rare moments of calm were spotlights of shock and awe that, even though comprised of the simplest, smallest moments, were memories that stood out vividly years later. But that is no longer my life. I have worked hard to move away from a constant state of trauma and stress, and while everything is far from sunshine and rainbows in my life, I can say that most of the time the boat moves ahead through calm waters as I chart my course. For that reason, these storms of intense emotion stand out much clearer, and are often felt with much greater impact than I consciously remember feeling them years ago. I’m not used to hanging on for dear life anymore; it’s not my daily existence. Because of that, these instances always feel more vivid now, and more intense.

The first couple times that this happened, I had no idea what to do with myself. I tried tools I had used in my previous, hectic, storm-ridden life. I tried to shove the emotions deep, deep inside myself; no dice. I tried to outrun the emotions by piling a million to-do tasks on my plate and working non-stop; I only got more irritated, my temper even shorter. I tried to smother the emotions under numbing agents, like really great whiskey that I drank so fast I barely enjoyed it, and pints of Ben and Jerry’s, and Netflix binges; I woke up feeling worse. Clearly, my previous life had been a storm-filled mess for a lot of reasons, one of which being that I had no valid, healthy coping mechanisms to deal with the negative emotions of life, and not dealt with, those emotions (and the unhealthy coping mechanisms used to deal with them) tend to become a rather ugly permanent state of being. Now that this state of being was no longer my status quo, now that I was aware of how damaging all my unhealthy ways of dealing with unhappiness were, and now that I was no longer okay with living in such a state for weeks or months until some sunshine broke through, I found myself rather lost. How can I deal with the moments when life gets the best of me? I knew I couldn’t avoid them completely; no human being does. My therapist wasn’t available at my beck and call to help. I had to look for other options to minimize the trauma and impact these moments had on my life.

One day, after being in one of these highly-triggered emotional upheaval states for a week or more, I got out of bed and suddenly stopped. I was exhausted. I wasn’t sure I could move through another day feeling the way I was feeling. So, even though it was very hard for me, I paused. I took a couple of deep breaths. And in that moment, I consciously decided to spend the entire day walking on eggshells around myself.

We all know this feeling. We’ve all done it with a loved one at one point in time or another, and in general, it’s not any fun. It’s the feeling that you have to be so careful with what you say to someone, or how you act around them, what you ask of them, what emotions you show… the feeling of walking on eggshells in order to not trigger them, to not start a fight, to not upset the waters and get drawn into the drama. When this act is done in order to not upset someone else, it often feels draining, and frustrating, and like an intense burden that unless you are much a better person than I am you resent having to carry. It seems like an odd tool to use against yourself, and I’m not at all sure why I did it or what made me think it would help. But in that moment, it felt right, and I was too exhausted to fight the idea. I went with it. What I found when I did felt like a miraculous discovery. But first, let’s talk about what it looks like to walk on eggshells around yourself (or what it looked like for me, anyway):

1. I gave myself permission to not get anything done for the day.

2. I moved very carefully, and very slowly.

3. Every time I thought to go do something, I asked myself, “Is this going to make things better, or worse? Will this make me happy? Is this something I truly want to do, right now, in this moment?”

4. I committed to only moving toward the things I truly wanted to do and that would bring me a sense of calm, peace, happiness, or joy, and I let absolutely everything else go.

My therapist would probably just call this mindfulness. And to an extent, it is. It’s an extremely heightened version of mindfulness. I call it walking on eggshells, because that is what it felt like to me. Whatever it is called, it saved me. By the end of the day, I found all the weight I had been carrying had lifted. Where all my problems solved? All my sadness gone? No. But everything was manageable again. I was able to listen to my daughter, watch her be silly, hear her laugh, and not snap at her. I was able to see the beauty around me. I stopped crying (so much). I was able to find gratitude again. I had given myself the space to grieve, to process, to start to move forward, and in that space I was able to find the light breaking through the clouds again.

It was a realization that I will never forget, and a new tool was added to my belt that day. Today, crying into my cereal, I realized it was time to pull it out again. I got my daughter ready for the birthday party she was going to attend, and called my mother to ask her to pick my daughter up from the party and keep her overnight. I dropped her off, went home, and sat very still. I visualized in my head holding myself like a very fragile thing that might break at any time. And I moved with intense slowness, all day. This time, that meant leaving home minutes after walking in the door, just to go get myself an iced coffee because that sounded like heaven, then going right back home. It meant messaging my love and telling them with careful words what I would need in order to even answer the question, “How are you?” without causing myself damage, and knowing that I would hold that boundary regardless of the answer. It meant going to a store in the mall that always carries my size, with saleswomen who always genuinely attend and offer heartfelt compliments, and trying on dresses that made me feel beautiful. It meant cleaning my office so that it was once again a sanctuary, turning on my favorite lamp, made of gorgeous stone which offers a reassuring and comforting glow that I bought in Mexico one year, and curling up in my chair. It meant opening a really great bottle of wine. And it meant writing this blog post for you.

At the end of it all, I can tell you that I have found my calm. In the happiest of accidents, I also found closure in a situation that has been haunting me for months, which I hope will allow me to cautiously approach again a friendship I have missed. I found five amazing dresses that make me feel beautiful. I found that inspiration visited me and allowed me to create. I have found my center again.

The next time you notice yourself feeling as if the world is spinning out of control, or find yourself bristling with irritation, or drowning in sadness, I urge you to take a moment, and pause. Even if you cannot carve out an entire day, just carve out an hour, or even a few minutes, and walk on eggshells. See the places that are tender within you, and move carefully around them. Show them love and kindness. Erase the judgment. And move very, very slowly. You might just find that in walking on eggshells around the tender places inside you, you start to find the healing you’ve been searching for.

More than Motherhood

a couple of years ago

In a recent grocery store commercial, two women chat lightly about the cost of groceries at the store and the ads for the week, and then one says, “Do you remember when we used to talk about the latest line of designer shoes?” “Yep, before kids!” the other replies, and they both laugh.

Immediately, I am intensely irritated and internally cringing.

I see this type of sentiment everywhere. Being a good mom means always putting your children first, before everything else, and especially before yourself. Things that used to be important, passions and dreams and hobbies and interests outside of your children suddenly seem to disappear, or at best become once a quarter or even once a year treats that you give yourself for an hour or two so that you don’t go crazy. Anything more seems selfish.

Well, I say fuck that.

Because you know what? I am more than just a Mom.

Motherhood is not all encompassing. It is not a full definition of who I am. It’s a part of who I am, for sure, and an important part. But it is not the be all and end all of me. I am a writer, an entrepreneur, a dreamer, a passionate learner of all new things. I am a traveler, a doer, a liver of life experiences, and a woman who loves lots of social nights out as much as I love quiet nights in. And I am also a mother. Sometimes I can blend that one aspect with the other aspects of me, as I should, because it’s important to share all of those aspects of me with my daughter and include her in them. Then there are other times I cannot bring her along, or times when I just don’t want to. I go and do them anyway—all the time. As much as I love living a full and beautiful life with my daughter, I desperately need the time I take away from her as well to keep my individuality.

I think that I am not alone in this, but I can never be sure because few women I know will admit to wanting a separate life from their young children. I almost never meet women who echo my feelings when it comes to motherhood. They do not openly talk about being elated, or even okay, with getting time away from their children. They don’t talk about the amazing feeling of freedom when you suddenly have days where you can decide what you want to do with your time, rather than a few hours of predetermined activity sans kids that is often as scheduled as the life with kids. A friend will post on Facebook about her amazing weeklong vacation away, and will several times mention missing her children. My 19 days in Europe? I’m pretty sure I didn’t mention missing my daughter once, because honestly I didn’t miss her at all until the very end. I was having too much fun. I was living my life, and I knew she was fine, at home living her life.

That is okay. Regardless of what anyone else might say, I’m here to admit to you that motherhood does not complete me, and that that is okay. I will not assume that all women feel exactly as I do; we all experience life differently, and there is no judgment here on how anyone experiences motherhood. But I am here to say that if you are burying yourself, all of your wants and desires and dreams and passions and hobbies and everything you ever thought you’d do, under being a mother, it is okay to stop. It is okay to not miss your kid. It is okay to want to live your life outside of them. And it is always possible to do so, with a support system built up around you through family or friends or other mothers, who all need help and time to escape, too. Find time for yourself. I understand why it might be scary to do so if you haven’t done this regularly (by regularly I mean several times per month at least, not twice a year). To admit that you want that much time away from your children means to open yourself up to judgment and criticism. To spend that much time away from your children means to give up any control issues you might have. Both can be tough things, especially in the face of criticism, and there is no other area where women are as intensely scrutinized and criticized than the area of motherhood, especially by other mothers. The prevailing sentiment seems to be that mothers are only good mothers if they are selfless mothers. To admit to wanting more than motherhood, to not being fulfilled by motherhood, is a dangerous proposition in most social circles. I get that. But I urge you to try anyway, to take the time for yourself that you need, and to let go of what people think in terms of what kind of a mother you are for doing so.

I am definitely not a selfless mother. There. I have said it. I’ll go one step further: I don’t feel bad about it, not one tiny bit. When I started openly vocalizing this, I got my fair share of criticism and judgment, and for a while, that was hard to deal with. When I honest with myself, I knew I could tell my best friend, “No, sorry, I can’t go to Europe with you, I should stay home and spend time with my daughter.” I could avoid conferences and events that are immensely self-fulfilling and soul building but which I wouldn’t take her with me to. I could choose not to take time for myself. In fact, now that I’m self-employed, I could choose to be there for her pretty much all the time when she’s not in school. I could choose to be rarely separated from her. I could choose to be a mom first and foremost and make it my sole job on the planet to be her mother. And I don’t. It’s a choice I make consciously and willingly, and one I had to own.

Once I did so, it did not take long to find a tribe of women who understood, who felt the same way, and who wanted to band together to support one another. I learned that needing to be more than just a mother is okay. Then I found that over time both my daughter and I flourished when I started to make time for me outside of her. I found an intense pride about how well I feel I parent my child that is no longer influenced by people who judge how I do so. In that knowledge, the things that used to bother me, or cause me guilt, I now see as strengths on both our parts. I don’t have to feel bad about not missing her while I was on vacation. I can be confident in the knowledge that my daughter is okay without me. When on the eve of going to her grandparents for a week because I’m traveling, I can’t get my seven year old to cuddle with me because she’s busy playing, and she isn’t concerned at all about going the next week without seeing me, I can feel assured that her lack of clinginess means she feels confident and safe in how loved she is. When I exaggeratingly whine at her to cuddle and she sighs and says, “Geez Mom, come on! I’m not going to miss you AT ALL,” I will admit to a tiny stab of hurt to my ego, but then I realize how amazing it is that she is so independent and well-adjusted at just seven years old, and I let it go. By admitting that I need to be a full and independent entity outside of her, I have given her permission to admit the same thing for herself.

I am not just a mother. I am a person, with passions and interests…and I am a mother. Sometimes being a mother comes first, but sometimes being my own person is more important. Motherhood is not an all-encompassing thing for me, a full definition of who I am…. And it doesn’t have to be in order for me to be a good mother. I can choose to be there for each field trip and also choose to dance each Tuesday night with my Tuesday girls, giving myself both the joys of being there and the joys of being away. So can you. Let go of expectations, and go dancing, or painting, or to that conference, or on that vacation. Find yourself, and allow yourself to question, what things define who you are? Are you honoring that, while being a mother? My hope for each of you is that you do.

Go Nude

a couple of years ago

Dear wonderful souls, I am writing to you this morning from the comfort of my favorite chair and a half in my living room, enjoying my coffee. And I am naked.

There is something immensely powerful about sitting in your body, doing everyday things, while naked. For people with a natural hippie leaning, this is probably not news. If you’ve ever been to a natural hot springs type place or a nudist resort, you probably have experienced this. Even the people I know who are most self-conscious, most self-critical, most modest, have learned to find some peace and connection in moments of nudity in such places, and have commented after on how powerful it is to just simply be, without clothing, in the world.

The experience is different for each individual. For me, the act of nudity provides a level of connectedness to the earth around me. I find that after a period of time being naked, my mind is clearer. I am more relaxed. But the biggest thing for me is that I find I am less critical of myself. I’m more able to look in the mirror and notice the saggy fat around my waist, the stretch marks from birthing a nine pound baby, the dimples in my butt, without wincing at any of those things. I can actually, without sarcasm, send both the parts of my body that usually make me cringe and the parts that I like all my love and positive energy. I can find self-acceptance where I am without constantly thinking only of where I wish I was.

I believe that is a powerful and rare moment for any woman to have, regardless of her age, shape or size. For that reason, moments of nudity have almost become a form of therapy for me.

The first time I full experienced this phenomenon was just a few years ago. On the morning of my thirtieth birthday, I got up early in the morning with two of my girlfriends and drove 5 hours to a hot spring retreat resort in the middle of nowhere, Oregon. I had spent the last two days alternately drinking, dancing, and being outrageous with friends, and spending some time with my family. My thought process had been that I would spend the last few days of my twenties doing what I did most of my twenties, drinking and partying and being relatively maladaptive in my self-care habits. The first few days of my 30’s I would spend doing yoga, meditating, soaking in hot springs, and eating all vegetarian organic food, which was the way I wanted to spend more of my time in my thirties. While I cannot say that this plan has entirely worked (I have not been without my fair share of drunken nights in my 30’s), I can say I certainly have more balance now than I ever have. And since that weekend, I go back to the hot springs at least twice a year, oftentimes more, in order to reconnect with myself and disconnect from everything else.

More than 10 miles from the nearest town, which consists solely of a lone gas station, and completely out of the range of all cell phone carriers, Breitenbush retreat center is a rare chance to disconnect. While the disconnection is amazing, and so is the food and the entire experience, what was most surprising to me that first trip was the power I found in being naked. Being naked by yourself is great, sure. That was something I’d caught onto a long time ago. But being naked around other people in a non-sexual way? That was a new experience. It was deeply uncomfortable and yet oddly comforting. It was boundary pushing and yet oddly relaxing. It was certainly inspiring. As I settled into it more and more as the weekend went on, I realized what was happening. I could look at every other soul there and find beauty in their bodies. Regardless of age, weight, scars, and supposed imperfections, I saw beauty everywhere. The act of being naked together was an act of shared vulnerability, even if we never talked, and that immediately created a bond, a sense of compassion for those sitting naked in the hot springs with me, a sense of empathy. Without it consciously happening, I became less critical of everyone around me, and in turn, I immediately become less critical of myself. How can I find beauty in everyone else, and yet revile my own body as being ugly? I asked myself. The answer of course was that I couldn’t. It was ridiculous. I was clearly being overly critical of myself, and I had to accept that if I was able to find beauty in everyone else, it was likely that most of those around me were seeing beauty in me in the same places I saw flaws. The act of shared nudity created a normalization of the naked human body, in all its shapes and forms, which allowed me for the first time to see the body, and my body, as a beautiful thing rather than something to critically assess.

I went home from that trip feeling as if I’d done a year of therapy in three days. As the weeks went on, as these things tend to do, the experience faded a bit. While I was forever impacted and changed from it, most things fell quickly back into normal patterns. I lost the connection with my body that I had discovered there, and while I would find it each time I went back to the hot springs, I was never able to carry it at home for very long. Without consciously realizing it, I would always fall back into a pattern of battling with my body rather than loving and embracing it.

Then, a year ago, a post came across my Facebook feed. A picture of a friend of mine, sitting in the morning sun, enjoying her coffee… naked (a from the shoulders up picture, because Facebook rules and the internet and all, but still). It was a no makeup, messy hair, naked declaration of loving herself, and it linked to a blog post encouraging other women to do the same: Naked coffee was not only a thing, it was a movement (You can check out the original blog post here).

I immediately connected on a soul level to the idea; I was already a believer in the power of connecting to my body through nudity, and naked coffee seemed like a way to bring this into my home in the times between my two or three retreats per year to the hot springs. I stripped off all my clothes and brewed a hot cup of joe, and settled in to relax on my couch. And you know what? It was incredible. Within moments, I was relaxed and calm, centered in my body, connected to it. I knew I had found a new ritual for my daily life. I even posted a picture of me, no makeup and messy hair, to document the moment------>

In the year since that moment, I cannot say that I’ve managed to make naked coffee a daily habit. There are times when the hectic schedule of life takes over, and I forget to take time for myself. But inevitably, I’ll remember, and pause. At least once a month, oftentimes more, I’ll strip off my clothes and relax into a comfortable chair, and take ten minutes of quiet solitude to enjoy my coffee and connect with my body. I send it love and acceptance, and I never fail to feel more centered and calm afterward. I hope to one day be able to hold those feelings of love toward myself, my body, and my whole being as a constant state of being, but in the meantime, I am glad to have found a way to always find my way back to those feelings when I lose my way.

As a woman in today’s world, there is never a lack of criticism on how we should look, on how our bodies should be; it surrounds us constantly, both overtly and subtle, telling us to look critically at how we fail to live up to whatever perfection is. At the same time, there is a desperate scarcity of self-love, of body love, of positive examples of how to embrace our bodies, accept them, and move within them holding them as a cherished friend rather than an enemy that must be conquered. My wish for each of you is that you find your own way to honor your body in small moments, and connect to a sense of love and acceptance of where you are, right now. It is an amazing feeling to press pause on the barrage of negative feelings and direct some love to your body and your soul. Go nude. Sit down and have a cup of coffee. Try some yoga stretches in the buff. Dance. Whatever works for you is what is right. Find the peace I feel as I write this, drinking coffee with no clothes on.

The Slow Suicide of Not Living Your Passion

a couple of years ago

In years past, I’ve spent Valentine’s Day in a variety of ways; I’ve reclaimed it as Girls’ Night out, celebrating being single with my girlfriends while actually pretending to not be lonely; I’ve spent it openly angry and bitter at being alone and single; I’ve spent it occasionally with some man in my life, usually disappointed that it wasn’t all I had dreamed it would be; I’ve proclaimed that it’s just another day and ignored it. I’ve watched everyone around me do pretty much all of those four things. It’s a holiday I’ve grown to, if not exactly hate, at least be ambivalent about. It has always seemed like a crock to me.

So here it is, again. It’s Valentine’s Day 2015, and I’m sitting in an Airbnb in Puerto Rico, and I’m not going to lie, I’m rethinking my ambivalence toward Valentine’s Day. No, I’m not on a romantic adventure with some new guy who has ignited my passion, stole my heart, or completed me. I’m here with my daughter for two delicious weeks of vacation, but I can tell you now that I feel absolutely drunk with love and passion, more so than any other Valentine’s Day I’ve lived through. Why? Because I am living my dream, and this is the first serious manifestation of the steps I am taking to make my dreams the reality of my life. This is my life. I keep having to say it to myself over and over again to believe it. I’m working from Puerto Rico. It is freaking paradise here, especially after a long winter in Seattle. I am in awe of my beautiful daughter and I get to experience this with her! Seriously, the child got woken up at 3 am yesterday to start a 17 hour travel day, and didn’t so much as whine, not even once, the entire day. She blows my mind and always exceeds my expectations. This is just a taste of what is to come. This is the first time we’ve traveled all day to reach an exotic destination to set up camp and relax and get some work done for a couple weeks, but it definitely won’t be the last.

Toward the end of the day, which was a mix of pool time, emails, walking the streets of a new city, outsourcing tasks, lazy reading, and follow up with potential new contacts, I took a break on Facebook and came across this quote: “Ignoring your passion is slow suicide. Never ignore what your heart pumps for. Mold your career around your lifestyle, not your lifestyle around your career” (Kevin Claiborne). “THIS!” was all I could think. This is why I feel so alive today! I am no longer slowly dying inside, killing myself while I attempt to mold my lifestyle around my career and push off what I want, what really makes my heart race and soar with joy, for “later.” And then the thought came, “This is what life is about!” And a second later, “No, this is what love and passion is about.”

I sat in that thought for a while. I have always been a staunch adversary of the campaign of “You complete me,” the idea of a Jerry McGuire style love that answers all the questions and fulfills all the needs and suddenly leaves a person “whole.” It’s bullshit, I know it’s bullshit. I insist it’s bullshit. If you’re not complete and whole before you enter into a relationship, you aren’t complete and whole inside of one either. But knowing that does not mean I am immune to the desire and longing of wanting a quick fix answer that will erase that empty space inside of me that is sometimes just a small rut and other times feels like a vast canyon of need; need for passion, for love, for the feeling of content when I analyze the life I am living. The idea that meeting “the right guy” might make that feeling go away forever is a lovely fairy tale that society tells people, and I’ve wanted to believe it many (usually drunken) nights, even if the logical side of me knows that that is simply not how life works. This is why I’ve always disliked Valentine’s Day. It pushes the “You complete me” agenda in a very public way and makes most single people feel like they are missing some key component of their life.

But sitting there taking that quote in, I recognized that today was the first Valentine’s Day I’ve ever felt truly full of love and passion, comfortable with where I am and not craving more, and it wasn’t because of some guy. That hole that is sometimes a rut and sometimes a canyon isn’t due to the lack of romantic love in my life, regardless of what Hollywood and our heteronormative monogamous family-centered society says to the contrary. That hole comes from not following my dreams, from not living up to my potential, from not pushing my boundaries and from not humming with the excitement of simply being alive. It comes from doing what I think I should do, from barely getting by, when all the while my soul knows that life doesn’t have to be this way. That hole is the symptom of a slow suicide.

It was a lovely realization, now that I’m mostly on the other side of the days of slow suicide. I still have my moments, nights where everything goes quiet and I don’t keep myself busy with endless tasks, and I am suddenly swamped with doubt; nights where I start to feel that hole growing again and fight not to fill it with all the unhealthy things we often fill it with: booze, cigarettes, mindless tv, internet surfing, food, sex. I have several poisons I like to pick from, yours may be some of the above or even ones not listed. The point of the poison is simply distraction; avoid the discomfort of feeling like something is wrong, by numbing the mind with immediate gratification or old fall back comforts. Those moments are rare for me now. Even today, on Valentine’s Day, a triggering day for raw emotion and gaping holes if ever there was one, especially for a single gal in her thirties, I find myself quietly sitting here tonight, content and at peace, not a semblance of uncomfortable empty space looking for distraction and comfort. I wish though, that I had known years ago what I know now. The answer to the empty space that popped up often, and always on holidays, was never to desperately search for a romantic partner. I was right to call bullshit on the thought that I needed anyone to “complete” me. All I needed, in the end, was to stop attempting to suppress my dreams in an attempt to fit the lifestyle I wanted around the lifestyle I thought I had to live: “the responsible life” with the safe, stable career, the husband, the house, and the 401k. All I needed was to believe that I could in fact have it all, could achieve my dreams, without needing to have any of it conventionally. I could decide what I wanted, and as unrealistic as it sounded based on the general societal expectations of an adult today, I could actually have the life I truly wanted and enjoy success in a career along the way. All I needed was to stop the act of a slow suicide on my soul.

From now on, I’ve decided to adopt a new take on Valentine’s Day. It will forever be a day to celebrate love and passion, but I choose to use this day from this point forward to celebrate love and passion of life, not of an ideal of romantic love. It will be a day to truly look at whether I’m succeeding and filled with these two beautiful emotions, or whether I need to re-evaluate my steps in life. But if there is ever a time again when this day fills me with a deep hole of yearning, sadness, or regret, I’ll know that where I really need to focus my attention is on whether or not I’m still on a path of living authentically, true to myself, and not on finding some guy who might fill that hole and “complete” me.