Image found on the webs... no photo credit Image found on the webs… no photo credit

With your feet firmly planted on the ground… raise your hands up and turn your face toward the sky… now feel the turn of the earth… set your intentions… put your feet back on the track to your heart’s desires… this is the longest day of the year… the days all grow shorter from here…

Merry Solstice, all.

This weekend is Mother’s Day, a holiday that I have a great deal of trouble with. While the premise seems simple and innocuous (sharing with your mother that you appreciate and love her), the practice has become fraught… and for many people was always fraught. Some people, when they think of Mother’s Day, find their hearts full of pain, shame, guilt, and a slew of other emotions. When they think of their mothers (or their lack of) or their own motherhood (or their lack of), the last thing they want to do is celebrate.

If those feelings rang like a bell in your heart just now, I write this post for you. And I want to give you permission, right this minute, to opt out of observing a ritual that causes you so much pain. You don’t have to pick out a card or send flowers, or receive candy and hollow sentiments to try to hide the fact that everything is not “world’s best mom” perfect in your motherly relationships. In fact you probably shouldn’t. 

Don’t send a card if you don’t really want to. Don’t force yourself to fit a mold that wasn’t made for you. Don’t let others make you feel lesser for something you may have no control over. You are valuable. You are loved.

Mother’s Day, just like any other holiday, is a social construction, given weight by the current cultural belief that motherhood is the most exalted state of being for a woman. It reduces women to one particular role and then judges them by how well they fit into that role. Worst of all, it fails to acknowledge that a lot more goes into being worthy of appreciation and praise than the simple act of giving birth.

Anne Lamott says in an article she wrote for Salon in 2010:

“But Mother’s Day celebrates a huge lie about the value of women: that mothers are superior beings, that they have done more with their lives and chosen a more difficult path. Ha! Every woman’s path is difficult, and many mothers were as equipped to raise children as wire monkey mothers. I say that without judgment: It is, sadly, true. An unhealthy mother’s love is withering.”

Some women who would be amazing mothers aren’t, either because they can’t or don’t or have chosen not to have children. Some women would rather not have or weren’t ready to have children. Some women were mothers but aren’t anymore. And some people’s mothers are absent for reasons totally out of their control.

A person’s value is not contingent upon their fertility (thank you, The Handmaid’s Tale). And the truth is that no amount of cards or candy or flowers can make up for the the quality, or lack of quality, of our relationships. So I’m advocating for Hallmark and the government and organized religion to stay out of our business. They’re the ones who make it easy for a broken social construction to keep forcing this holiday down our throats.

Instead, let’s focus on being real, being present in the relationships that we have and valuing the people in our lives regardless of our biological connection to them.

What are you wishing for in this new year? What are you dreaming of doing? Do you hear of friends and acquaintances receiving awards or discovering opportunities that you wish were yours? Do you feel like you could be, or should be, doing so much more with your art/life/etc.?

It’s a new year, dreamers, wanderers, lovely readers. It’s time to put yourself out there and make your dreams become a reality. Want to win an award for writing? Enter contests! Want to have a painting accepted in an art show? Put your work out there! Want to get added to Benedict Cumberbatch’s restraining order list? You better hurry up and pluck those eyelashes to mail to him! (too far?… maybe…)

Time to take a risk

My point is you can’t have the things you want if you don’t put yourself in the way of them. Sure, entering a contest or applying for a spot are scary, time-consuming things. But no one can experience your work, can offer you the chances you want, if you’re not out there actively looking for them.

I’m saying this more for myself than anything else. All the time I hear of people that I know accepting awards or putting out amazing collaborative projects or getting their dream jobs and I think, “I wanna do that! I want to be recognized! I want to collaborate!”

Turn “No” into “YES!”

But I’m here to tell you, as proof myself, that until you put something on the table, until you take the risk, until you share yourself, your art, your heart with others, you’ll be stuck saying “I wanna…” and feeling unfulfilled. And it takes more than once, usually, before you realize your dreams. For some people, it takes years of hearing “No thanks. Not at this time. Better luck next time. It’s just not quite right for us.” Just today I found out that I did not make the top 20 in a contest I entered. But will that stop me from believing in the project I’m working on? No!

If you believe in yourself, if you love what you do, if you feel in your heart that you’re meant to write that book, paint those pieces, do that ONE THING… you’ll pick yourself up after each one of those No’s and keep going until you hear YES! It’s not instant success. It’s persistence that brings fulfillment to most of us. So, dear wanderer, never give up. And I promise I won’t either.

 Tag in his new yard
Tag in his new yard

I haven’t posted anything about this yet because house buying can be so fraught and unreliable, but we closed on a house yesterday! I had all these plans of taking pictures of Noah and me in front of it to share… and maybe we still will… but it was super rainy today (see “sad collie in wet yard” photo above).  Also, there’s no electricity at the property for a few more days so with clouds it was just too dark for photoing. 

In a couple of weeks we’ll be moving into our new little home and preparing for the long haul of renovation/repair work that come with homeownership. We’re excited for it for now. We’ll see how we feel as time wears on. 

It’ll be a new experience, a new city (even if it is just 20 miles from our old place). I’ve been working on expanding myself for a while and it feels like a new city will help me to do that. To reach further and more purposefully for friends. To stand more firmly on my own.

For Noah and me both, the large yard is a huge draw (and for Tag). We have horticultural dreams we would like to realize and artistic ones as well, and so though the space is small inside, outside there’s room to stretch and grow and fill and be messy and noisy in. 

Stay tuned for updates on house and garden adventures!

In other news, I’m on the last round of substantial revisions for Chasing the Wind. The end is in sight! I will keep you all posted on the pub date as soon as I have it available!

love and light. happy holiday season. 

 Raven in Death Valley. Photo credit me (Elisabeth Kauffman) 2015
Raven in Death Valley. Photo credit me (Elisabeth Kauffman) 2015

I’m in Berkeley tonight, spending the night with my fab friend Lauren so we can be ridiculously productive and torture me with running on super-steep hills in the morning. It’s a lovely thing that I have friends who make the mundane and sometimes painful parts of achieving goals more enjoyable. Though I don’t know that I believe in a god, I acknowledge that I am blessed.

And, not to bury the lede, but… I have some ridiculously exciting news. I mean, this is epic. Well for me, that is. My novel, Chasing the Wind, is currently in the last stages of beta-reading! I’ll be rounding up the notes from my awesome reviewers, making a few revisions, and then sending it off to be edited SOOOOOON! And that means that if everything falls right into place I could have a published novel by the end of 2016! Eeep!

And… one of the more cool parts of the publishing process? I have a cover!!!! This is the REAL DEAL y’all. Today a cover, tomorrow a Goodreads page and an Amazon page (well, not TOMORROW, but soon…) Wow. I am starting to get all the nerves, ya know?

So now I just need to verify the timing and that I have everything together, and then I’ll share Chasing the Wind‘s cover with you. Yay! Make sure you sign up for email updates so that you get a first look when I reveal the cover. I’m sussing out dates right now. You don’t wanna miss it! Also, if you wanna help me broadcast the cover reveal to the world, I’ll have a sign-up list for that really soon, too!

I’m so glad you’re on this journey with me, friends.

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 Image from  International Solidarity Day
Image from International Solidarity Day

I have started so many blog posts over the past few weeks, to offer my support to different groups who have been experiencing violence and hatred recently and perpetually, systemically. The world is an ugly place and suddenly my drafts box, my inbox, my Facebook feed is overwhelmed with all of the pain and injustice in it. 

And I want to acknowledge terrible thing happened last night when those snipers attacked police at a Black Lives Matter rally in Dallas. I feel sad for their families, sad for the fact that their lives were cut short.

But let’s not forget the systemic violence and oppression that have led us to this moment. Let’s not forget all the others who have died, and what that means for our society. Let’s not forget why Black Lives Matter became the slogan of a movement in the first place. Let’s not get carried away so quickly from the issues and the injustices that have brought this world to the boiling point where people take up arms against their neighbors for having a different face, a different religion, a different love.

So before I get into what I want to talk about, let me just say this: Stop the killing. Just stop it. Right now. We must correct the imbalance, acknowledge that the system is broken, and actually make strides toward doing something about it.

As someone who sits uncomfortably with her privilege, I know two things for certain: 1.) I have to say something, have to speak out against the evil that I see and the insidious ways it manifests itself in the world and even in my own interactions with others, and 2.) I usually have no idea what to say.

Except that today I do know what to say. And I know who I need to talk to. Because I know you’re out there, you people who just like me are appalled by the horror we see in the world and clueless as to what you can do about it because you’re not black, you’re not LGBTQ, you’re actually pretty blessed, and you’re afraid of what will happen if you draw attention to yourself by taking a stand that has so many drawbacks, so many avenues for disapproval.

But not saying anything is not going to cut it anymore. By keeping silent, we allow others to fill the void, to drown out our voices with their own messages. So if you’re wondering what you can do in the face of all this hate, here are a few ways to get the conversation started, and begin working toward some resolution in your own community.

  • Acknowledge the injustice, the inequality that exists in the world. That’s an unpopular thing for some people to admit. Injustice and inequality perpetuate violence in all its forms. And the people that benefit from them would rather you not admit that they exist, or that there’s anything you can do to correct them. So first things first. When you hear about it, speak about it. Share it. Shed light on it. And don’t believe the people who tell you it doesn’t exist or that it’s all a matter of perspective. They’re wrong.
  • Find someone who is a part of one of the oppressed groups, who is speaking their truth, and amplify it. Share it with your friends on Facebook, on your blog, talk about it around the dinner table with your family. Give marginalized voices your platform to speak from, no matter how small you think that is. You may lose “friends” over this, because by amplifying someone else’s voice, you’re showing your hand and admitting you support them. But whatever you suffer in loss of friends, just remember it’s a thousand times worse for the people who are the subject of the violence and aggression you’re helping to shine a light on.
  • Understand that you are going to get things wrong at first, but that, if you’re open and willing to learn, you’ll quickly start to get it right. And “getting things wrong” in the process of lending support, love, and solidarity is no excuse to keep your mouth shut. If we don’t get things wrong sometimes, how do we ever learn what’s right?
  • Remember to keep the focus on the issues, the violence, the broken justice system, the rampant poverty and inequality that causes and is caused by these things. When you’re speaking about someone else’s pain and suffering, the narrative should never be about you. It’s not about how brave you are for speaking out in support of black people or gay people. Don’t make their tragedy, their oppression about you.

I admit that I have been too silent, too willing to let someone speak out about the problems I don’t know how to solve. I’ve started and not posted many blog posts because I didn’t know what to say and let the ambiguous “fear of being wrong” keep me from speaking out. But not anymore. I want justice, dignity, peace, and freedom for all people. And I’m not going to shut up about it.

Black lives matter. This does not mean that I think that police should be murdered. It does mean that violence and oppression against black people is real and must be acknowledged and stopped.

Want to know more about what you can do to speak out about injustice this week? Here are a couple links. Get outside your comfort zone. Talk to people in your community. And share what you know.

Campaign Zero – addresses legislation around police violence

Black Lives Matter

National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund

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I had to schedule myself to write this post. Even as I’m sitting here now I keep thinking of reasons why something else might be easier or more fun to write. But I made a commitment to myself to talk with you about this. About Vulnerability. So here it is, in stream of consciousness, me being vulnerable, living wide open here for you.

Its kinda a catch phrase these days, vulnerability. Brene Brown cracked open a global conversation with her book and her TED talk. Amanda Palmer pushed the conversation forward with The Art of Asking. But what does that mean for you and for me? 

Well, technically it means it should be a lot easier to talk about being vulnerable. But practically we know that’s just not true. 

But what I also know is that if I don’t challenge myself to be vulnerable, I’ll never take any risks, I’ll never learn anything. And worst of all, I’ll never create or share my art.

So while I know it’s scary and it might hurt, I wanna live wide open. I wanna live in trust and share my true self. I don’t want to be limited by the safe option… I don’t wanna hide myself, hide my art, silence my own voice out of fear that someone might disapprove.

That’s what being vulnerable is. It’s taking the parts of you that you’re insecure about, the true and authentic you that you’re hiding and hoping no one will find out about, and it’s putting those bits into the light to be seen and to be shared. It’s allowing yourself to speak, to have opinions, to take up space. Your voice is important, even, no especially if it’s different from everyone else’s.

And let’s face it, it’s easier to share, easier to live authentically, than it is to hide. When you’re hiding, you always have to keep up the facade. You can’t ever let your guard down… But when you allow yourself to be you, you can let go of the personas and the mental barriers and filters that you put up. You can just be you…

You can stop living in fear of what people will think if they know who you are, or how to keep them in your life once they discover. Those people aren’t worth your time anyhow. Spend your time and energy loving people who freely and gladly love you back. You’re worth that. And you’ll find those people much more easily if you’re just being yourself.

Also, when you’re being vulnerable, living Wide Open, you can grow! When you hide, when you’re closed off, you limit your potential. But when you open yourself up, when you live life Wide Open, you give yourself space to grow. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you can fill the space you give yourself to just be in.

Trust me. It’s beautiful. It’s freeing. And you’ll never want to go back. Not that you could if you tried. Living Wide Open, choosing vulnerability, it will change you forever.

Now, just because choosing to be vulnerable is easier than choosing to close yourself off doesn’t mean it’s easy. It’s HARD! It takes pain and effort and it’s counter-intuitive. Not to mention, it’s hard to be vulnerable when you don’t have a support network, even if it’s only one person… but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do it. It just means that you have to be braver than some others.

We can do this. We can be brave. We can live wide open, trusting the universe for what we need.

If you are reading this post right now and you are thinking how scary it would be to take the leap, to put yourself out there for the world to see, and you need a little encouragement, post a comment with your email address. I’ll send you a boost. Because I believe in you!

 The amazing Amy Ray, one half of the Indigo Girls
The amazing Amy Ray, one half of the Indigo Girls

You know how it used to be a thing to ask which was your favorite Spice Girl (I’m gonna go with Posh???)? Or which was your favorite Power Ranger (duh, Pink)**? Well, Amy Ray is my favorite Indigo Girl.

I grew up on the Indigo Girls’ fabulous harmonies and powerful social justice lyrics. In high school and during college, when I had no money for music, I repetitively listened to a bootlegged taped copy of their first album (Indigo Girls, 1989) that cut off in the middle of the song Land of Canaan. I literally did not know how that song ended until I was out of college.

Amy Ray’s raw, sonorous alto voice and the emotion in the lyrics she writes and sings have brought me to tears oh so many times. What I love about her, what I wish to emulate most about her, is the authenticity she brings to her art. She doesn’t hold back from any of it, whether it’s staring down the black abyss of despair or grasping for a shred of humor to cover the pain of reality and make it go down just a little easier. “You have to laugh at yourself, because you’d cry your eyes out if you didn’t,” she says on 1200 Curfews, their live album from 1994/95.

I listen to the Girls when I write, when I’m driving, when I’m just hanging around… hoping that somehow some of that awesome authenticity will sink into my own craft, that some of the poeticism and raw emotion will shine through me or rub off onto the worlds that I write about.  

So thank you, Amy Ray. Thank you for inspiring me. Thank you for writing lyrics that sit on my heart and help me express some of my own angst in this life, and rejoice at the beauty of connection, too. Can’t wait to see you perform again on your next time through town.

**Disclaimer: I’ve never watched Power Rangers. Not even once.

One of the privileges of growing up in America is that I was taught (and truly believe) that I can do anything I want to if I put my mind to it. It’s the bootstrapping American dream, the one they try to sell you instead of better workers’ rights. Just pull yourself up by your bootstraps like these other millionaires and geniuses did. If they can do it, you can do it.

Well, it’s never as simple as the “bootstrappers” want you to believe. And because everyone doesn’t start from the same place of advantage in life, for some people “doing anything” and “putting your mind to it” come with a huge hill of setbacks. But despite all the setbacks and barriers that stand in your way, I still believe that what you want, you can achieve. You just have to be willing to work for it.

Being my own boss

 I am by no means the least privileged person I know, not by a long shot. For years now, I’ve run my own business. I started doing what I do (freelance editing for fiction and memoir) because I love stories, because I love the creative process, and because I wanted to be my own boss, to be the expert, to have all the answers. I hear from my clients over and over again about how much I have helped them, how much I have to offer.

When I started, did I have all the answers? No. I couldn’t even tell a potential client what was a reasonable fee to charge for what I was trying to offer them. I have had to learn a lot along the way. Including how to admit when there’s something I don’t know yet.

Teaching yourself something new, reaching for a goal you’re not sure you can attain, setting out on your own… that’s hard, vulnerable work. It requires dedication, flexibility, and drive. You have to want it bad enough to put everything else second. You have to be willing to lose sleep over it. You’ll make a lot of mistakes along the way, but that’s ok, because it’s all part of the learning process, they say. 

Ha. Try telling that to my heart.

Logic and reason meet the monster of doubt

For example, last week I hit a snag. I made a mistake at something I can and should be proficient at and someone pointed it out. Now, logical, rational me is a lover of feedback. Logical, rational me takes that feedback and rejoices saying, “now we never have to make that mistake again because we know what it is and how to fix it before it breaks!” She realizes that without mistakes and the feedback that goes with them, we’d never become masters at what we do. I wish I listened to logical, rational me more.

The flip-side to logical, rational me is something of a recluse. She’s trying to convince me right this minute that I don’t need to share her with you at all, that I really REALLY need a glass of juice and just to delete this paragraph and move on. She is convinced that if you know about her and the fears she has that you’ll shame her publicly and no one will ever speak to us again.

When I made that mistake last week, logical, rational me’s flip-side had a melt-down. She swore that no one would ever want to work with us again, that we were a fraud and that it was only a matter of time until everyone knew. She says we should have known, should have done better, or should have never tried in the first place because we knew we couldn’t do that thing that was asked of us.

The worst part about the flip-side is that, when she sees the work that we need to do to learn the new thing, or to fix the mistake, she’s convinced we can never do it, that it’s too much, that we should just go back to our old job where we don’t have to do the hard thing, where we never make mistakes (at least not ones that people can see).

Impostor Syndrome

I’m not a psychologist. I barely understand why I react to life the way I do, why I succeed at some things and fail at others… I am trying to learn, though. Because if I let the illogical, irrational flip-side of me have her way, my dreams are dead in the water. I’ve taken to shoving her in the closet when she gets noisy. If I use every mistake I make as a reason why I can’t do something, I’ll never accomplish anything. 

Impostor syndrome is that voice in your head, that flip-side of logical, rational you, telling you that you must not be a “real” editor because “real” editors (or writers, or artists, or administrators, or programmers…) would never make a mistake. It’s an ugly voice bent on convincing you that you must be a fraud because what you want to achieve shouldn’t be this hard…

But the truth is that some aspect of every little thing that you want will be hard. If you focus on the hard, on the failure and the incongruity, then you give strength and credence to that monster of doubt, and that will always hold you back from what you might otherwise be capable of.

Believe in yourself

If you choose, however, to believe in yourself, to give yourself the space to learn from your mistakes, there’s no limit to the joy you’ll find in what you can achieve. And how do I know this is true? Because people make mistakes. Every day. All the time. And the world has not yet ended. There might be giant, horrible, impending doom out there somewhere but it does NOT hinge on whether or not I catch every last mistake before someone else finds them or whether your first novel was a smash hit/NYT best seller… 

Let’s leave the impending doom to others. Because the flip-side is that you get to do things! You get to be the best version of yourself. You get to make mistakes and learn things and become a better writer (editor, artist… human being). Sometimes you don’t notice that your shirt is on backwards AND inside out until AFTER the run… and that’s ok.

I’m not saying you should lower the bar for success. Not by any means. But just allow for the fact that mistakes and failure are part of the building blocks of success. They prove that you’re doing things right. You’re learning and growing in the most human and real way possible.

So go ahead. Make mistakes. Believe in yourself a little bit more.

 I crocheted this ear warmer all by myself!
I crocheted this ear warmer all by myself!

If you really want to watch your budget this year, I recommend you try a “No New Clothes” policy. Pick an amount of time (3 months, a year) and make a point to only buy from thrift stores if you need to purchase any clothes (except for things like underwear and socks… gotta draw a line there). N and I did this for a year, and we both learned a lot about our spending habits.

First thing I noticed: “No New Clothes” saved me a lot of TIME by keeping me clear of the mall and the outlets. And I definitely saved money by not buying designer clothing on impulse. I found I was less susceptible to the “what’s hot” marketing ploy that stores use to make us buy their nice, shiny new clothing. The thrift store is full of the unique. Outfits aren’t pre-packaged. There’s usually only one of each item, so you have to take your time and make your own best decisions about what goes together.  Beauty standard? What beauty standard?

Still, in a lot of places, clothing is so cheap that “No New Clothes” isn’t really even about how much you’re spending. It’s more about checking yourself before you spend. You know how it is. You go into Target for… shampoo and a new bowl because you broke one… and you leave with a cart full of t-shirts and shoes that you may or may not wear more than once, but they were so cheap so how could you not buy them?

That kind of spending adds up, not just monetarily, but societal-ly, as well. It’s the kind of thoughtless consumption that corporations nurture, because it benefits them. But it doesn’t always benefit you, and it definitely doesn’t benefit the people at the bottom of the manufacturing food chain.

We could argue both ways and until hell freezes over about how our spending habits do or do not affect the rest of the world, and I’m not gonna do that. I haven’t run the statistical models. I don’t have any facts for you that will blow this thing wide open. And that’s not really my point, anyhow.

But I will tell you that spending a YEAR consciously not buying new clothing made me a better, more mindful spender in the long run. I began to break the instinctive habit of just throwing that cheap pair of pants in my cart because they were so cheap, or buying that designer’s mass produced outfit because it’s trendy. I now stop to think about my closet, and about my budget, before I spend. And I think about who benefits from my dollars more. I try to buy things from the people who made them when I can. Because it’s important to me.

So if you want to work on your brain and some of the ingrained notions of beauty that society has force on you, but not shaving is just not something you’re willing to handle right now, why not try “No New Clothes” for a few months or a year?