Stuck

February 23, 2015

Stuck.

Who hasn’t felt that way at one time or another?  Everyone gets it.  No one likes it. We all know that feeling of being stuck, unable to get out, hemmed in, trapped.  There are times when we find ourselves trapped between a rock and a hard place, and when we do, our first reaction is usually to try to get out.  Now!  Alarm sets in and the flailing begins, as we look for any and every way out of the place in which we are wedged.

But.   Read the rest of this entry »

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The Gift of Un-Certaintly

February 20, 2015

Yesterday, the first day of Lent, I gave up the Fear of Uncertainty.  It is a fear with which I am familiar, having taken up precious space in the suitcase I carry with me on my trek. My suitcase is most definitely of the carry-on sort, as it comes with me wherever I go.  There is only so much room allotted, so tending to the contents is essential.  Anything I carry that is not useful (like my angst over the unpredictable nature of life) prevents me from packing something else.  Every item that holds me back, gets in my way, makes me less rather than more, complicates rather than simplifies, is excess baggage.  The weight of carrying all that useless stuff that I stuff into my stuff sack?  It weighs me down, wastes precious time and wears me out.

On this second day of Lent and first full day of traveling without it, it dawned on me that with the fear of uncertainty no longer taking up real estate in my bag, something new could take its place.  What to pack instead?  And then it hit me.   Could I find the courage to pack Un-Certainty?

Certainty means I know it all. (Been there.)

Uncertainty means I don’t have a clue. (Done that.)

But Un-Certainty?  Oh… I like the sound of that.

Un-Certainty gives me the choice to toggle between the known and the unknown, and not get stuck-in-the mud of either.

Un-Certainty allows me to navigate off the map and into the mystery.

Un-Certainty pushes me to explore and experiment, expand and experience.

Un-Certainty  leads me to wonder and wander and wrestle and wrangle.

Un-Certainty makes me humble and open to receiving the new.

Un-Certainty helps me seek forgiveness and extend grace.

Un-Certainty transforms fear into faith, which seems like the perfect traveling companion during Lent.  Or any other time for that matter.

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The Doorway of Lent

February 18, 2015

IMG_0467Lent begins today and is traditionally a time for fasting and reflection and “giving up stuff”.  It takes place over the 40 days leading up to Easter, and those who practice this spiritual tradition often ask one another, “What are you giving up for Lent this year?” For me, when I have actually chosen to enter into Lent, it usually means giving something up that I would really, really, really, really miss.  A guilty pleasure.  Wine.  Coffee.  Binge-watching my latest series.   Read the rest of this entry »

Your Vote Counts

November 8, 2014

The mid-term elections are over.

Yes, I voted.

No, I wasn’t happy with the results.

Thankfully I didn’t have to add insult to injury with the guilt I would have felt if I hadn’t sent in my ballot. From my first experience going to the polls and filling out my ballot in the privacy of a voting booth, Read the rest of this entry »

Please join us…

October 30, 2014

We are beginning to engage more in our Matters That Matter work including a couple of writing projects that have us inspired and energized, speaking and scheduling workshops… and we also are beginning to post regularly on our blog (about once a week). Our intent is simply to offer encouragement and support for readers to connect more closely with what and who they care about, and live more closely in synch with their most genuine selves.

If you are like us, there is so much “incoming” – information, blogs, emails, videos, social networking etc etc… so we are working to provide content that will support and encourage, not burden. We would love for you to subscribe to our blog and add to the conversation as you feel led. Together we are better. Share it with others if you find that it will benefit them as well. And if this sounds like one more thing to add to your to-do list… then hit delete asap with our blessings!

Thank you for letting us even ask.

With gratitude and blessings.

Molly & Kristine

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Plugging Away

October 28, 2014

“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work; you don’t give up.” – Ann Lamott (Bird By Bird)

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It is so easy to get derailed.

One day it seems that I know what I want, where I’m going and how to get there. Finish that manuscript. Knock on the door that is beckoning. Make that scary phone call. Take a deep breath. Trust that voice within that ALWAYS knows what to do next. Read the rest of this entry »

YOU ARE INVITED

September 30, 2014

WE Are The Life of The Party  by Molly Davis

Together around an outdoor fire, a group of us have shown up to continue our conversation about the matters that matter to each of us, and ultimately, to all of us. The good, hard, sometime exhilarating and often scary work of learning to live our own genuine lives. A lifelong process. Perhaps the process.

As we make our way through the evening, I am struck both by the commonality of our desire to be our most authentic selves and, by the uniqueness of what each person in front of the fire brings to our collective party.

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Starting from the left and moving around our little circle:

She always brings something unexpected and more than a wee bit magical. A poem, a story, a question, which is usually preceded with a few words about not being sure why this offering, for this night. But, she has obviously learned to trust that inner nudge which I’ve yet to see lead her or us astray. On the contrary, what she shares moves us both deeper and further. Because of her, we cannot stay in our boxes.

Moving clockwise.
There is a quiet knowing that radiates from her. A sense that she is one of those sacred healers, here to mend our planet and the souls that inhabit it. She brings a kind of gentle fierceness that invites us to find our own brand of strength. The question she poses causes us to ponder long after we have left the warmth of our fire behind. Her smile, which starts in her eyes, is infectious.

Another tick to the right.
She grounds us with her quiet and thoughtful presence. There is a kind of safety in the way in which she listens deeply. While slow to speak, what she says always matters, and it is obvious that it comes from a place of deep self-knowing. From her we learn that an economy of words can carry a wealth of wisdom.

Uh-oh. My turn.
(While it is always easier to illuminate the gifts of others, understanding what I bring is equally important. So here goes.)
I provide a space in which we can all show up. As ourselves. The real ones. As I listen for the message beneath the words, a question takes shape in my mind that I can ask of us all. And in searching for answers together we are able to find our own ways forward.

The empty chair to my left.
She sits in her home 100 miles away, and yet is as present in the room as the rest of us. By trusting the voice within, she knew that she needed to stay put. In saying ‘no’ to joining us, she said a powerful ‘yes” to herself. It takes courage to act on our own behalf. Her willingness to choose to honor her self encourages us to do the same.

Completing the circle.
She is the spark that keeps us gathering in front of this fire and reminds us that we aren’t meant to fend for ourselves. Often the first to talk about the “hard” of finding our way, she opens the door for the rest of us to keep it real and talk about what is below all of our fairly together surfaces. And, she is usually the first to swear… for which I am eternally grateful!

Seeing the individual amidst the collective is a reminder to bring what we have to any and every party to which life invites us. Work. Family. Friendships. Communities. The world. Each one of us brings something that no one else can. Together, we are the life of the party.

Whatever you have…. BRING IT!

Margins

September 13, 2014

The Need For Space by Molly Davis

Imagine a book in which the pages have no margins, or a photo where the image fills the frame with no space in which to sit.  The empty space is as important as the rest.  For it is the emptiness in which the words fill the page, the art the canvas, the photo the wall.  Without it the power of the words and beauty of the image is lost. Or at best, diminished. In order to be fully there, they have need of some  space.  So do we. Read the rest of this entry »

The Practice of Practice

September 12, 2014

Practice what you practice. 

Whatever you practice, you become good at.

Glenwood - Jan - March 2008 & RLP 070

​K​now that you are practicing something in every moment.

You may be practicing ​self loathing​, kindness, anger​, acceptance, love, fear or  grace. If you are not practicing something consciously, you will be doing so unconsciously.

So, be conscious of what you are practi​c​ing now.  Kno​w that whatever you are nurturing​ ​will encourage or discourage you.

(thank you, Ann-Marie Ahye)

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Eyes Ahead by Molly Davis

Recently I was talking to a younger woman on the phone.  She is at a cross-roads.  One of many she will  encounter, and that is giving her pause to consider questions most of us will recognize.  

What do I want my life to look like? 

What is my work?

How can I craft a life that allows me to work at something I love, pays me well and makes a difference in the world that is within my grasp?

As I listened to her sift through her thoughts and feelings, I was struck by the language she  used to articulate her desires and vision for her life.  Most sentences began with what she DIDN’T want. Read the rest of this entry »

Just One Thing

August 27, 2014

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Just One Thing by Molly Davis

The other evening I had a small gathering of women from our little town. No agenda. Nothing special on our minds except to have some time together on a beautiful evening. As the sky grew darker, the lights still up from our daughter’s glorious outdoor wedding last month glowed above us and out into the nearby pines. Night sounds floated in on the cooling night air; cows in the distance, evening bird song, a few dogs barking and then the sweetly eerie cry of a coyote. It was a time of ease, space and grace.

I had decided to make the evening simple. No big production of food or even cleaning up. I think I swept the floor before they came…but I’m not sure. I made my favorite popcorn concoction which includes butter (lots), salt (plenty) and big flake brewers yeast (enough). That and a couple of bottles of wine and the Piano Guys on my iPad. 

We’ve all been talking about the importance of connecting and spending time with other women.

There is magic that happens when women gather.

The conversation settled into an easy rhythm, threaded together by a common theme; the importance of living authentically and fully,finding purposeful work that uses our gifts, fills us up and does a bit of good in the world. While we all are living in the midst of different chapters and circumstances, the same thoughts and questions seemed to be coursing through our veins. Somewhere along the way, one of the women read a poem she brought to share. “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver, reminding us that we all have a place “…in the family of things.” We all took home a copy. And then I asked a question, “What is one thing you feel called to do right now?” No further explanation was needed, as I knew that every women on that porch had the answer within. It was a matter of trusting what she heard and bringing it out in the open to consider. After living for 60 years, if I know one thing to be true, it is that we each have an inner GPS. There are a ton of other voices, maps and directions that vie for space on our radar screens. Tuning into the one that is ours is the trick. And, it is one that even the oldest of dogs can learn. Trust me on that.

One by one we answered, each in our own time. And it was true, we all knew what that one thing was.

Make an appointment with the life coach whose name and number has been quietly waiting on her desk.

Get out those pencils she bought a month ago and start drawing.

Begin journaling to excavate the creative work that lies beneath her surface.

Keep on writing that book. Everyday.

Spend time in quietness, just listening.

Just one thing.

It is how any and everything begins.

What is just one thing you know you are called to do today?

 

The Busy Trap…

March 31, 2013

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The following text is a June 2012 New York Times blog post by writer-cartoonist Tim Kreider called « The ‘Busy’ Trap »:

« If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: “Busy!” “So busy.” “Crazy busy.” It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: “That’s a good problem to have,” or “Better than the opposite.”

Notice it isn’t generally people pulling back-to-back shifts in [a hospital’s intensive care unit] or commuting by bus to three minimum-wage jobs who tell you how busy they are; what those people are is not busy but tired. Exhausted. Dead on their feet. It’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve “encouraged” their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.

Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work. They schedule in time with friends the way students with 4.0 [grade point average] make sure to sign up for community service because it looks good on their college applications. I recently wrote a friend to ask if he wanted to do something this week, and he answered that he didn’t have a lot of time but if something was going on to let him know and maybe he could ditch work for a few hours. I wanted to clarify that my question had not been a preliminary heads-up to some future invitation; this was the invitation. But his busyness was like some vast churning noise through which he was shouting out at me, and I gave up trying to shout back over it.

Even children are busy now, scheduled down to the half-hour with classes and extracurricular activities. They come home at the end of the day as tired as grown-ups. I was a member of the latchkey generation and had three hours of totally unstructured, largely unsupervised time every afternoon, time I used to do everything from surfing the World Book Encyclopedia to making animated films to getting together with friends in the woods to chuck dirt clods directly into one another’s eyes, all of which provided me with important skills and insights that remain valuable to this day. Those free hours became the model for how I wanted to live the rest of my life.

The present hysteria is not a necessary or inevitable condition of life; it’s something we’ve chosen, if only by our acquiescence to it. Not long ago I Skyped with a friend who was driven out of the city by high rent and now has an artist’s residency in a small town in the south of France. She described herself as happy and relaxed for the first time in years. She still gets her work done, but it doesn’t consume her entire day and brain. She says it feels like college — she has a big circle of friends who all go out to the cafe together every night. She has a boyfriend again. (She once ruefully summarized dating in New York: “Everyone’s too busy and everyone thinks they can do better.”) What she had mistakenly assumed was her personality — driven, cranky, anxious and sad — turned out to be a deformative effect of her environment. It’s not as if any of us wants to live like this, any more than any one person wants to be part of a traffic jam or stadium trampling or the hierarchy of cruelty in high school — it’s something we collectively force one another to do.

Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day. I once knew a woman who interned at a magazine where she wasn’t allowed to take lunch hours out, lest she be urgently needed for some reason. This was an entertainment magazine whose raison d’être was [rendered obsolete] when “menu” buttons appeared on [TV remote controls], so it’s hard to see this pretense of indispensability as anything other than a form of institutional self-delusion. More and more people in this country no longer make or do anything tangible; if your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary. I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.

I am not busy. I am the laziest ambitious person I know. Like most writers, I feel like a reprobate who does not deserve to live on any day that I do not write, but I also feel that four or five hours is enough to earn my stay on the planet for one more day. On the best ordinary days of my life, I write in the morning, go for a long bike ride and run errands in the afternoon, and in the evening I see friends, read or watch a movie. This, it seems to me, is a sane and pleasant pace for a day. And if you call me up and ask whether I won’t maybe blow off work and check out the new American Wing at the [Metropolitan Museum of Art] or ogle girls in Central Park or just drink chilled pink minty cocktails all day long, I will say, what time?

But just in the last few months, I’ve insidiously started, because of professional obligations, to become busy. For the first time I was able to tell people, with a straight face, that I was “too busy” to do this or that thing they wanted me to do. I could see why people enjoy this complaint; it makes you feel important, sought-after and put-upon. Except that I hate actually being busy. Every morning my in-box was full of e-mails asking me to do things I did not want to do or presenting me with problems that I now had to solve. It got more and more intolerable until finally I fled town to the Undisclosed Location from which I’m writing this.

Here I am largely unmolested by obligations. There is no TV. To check e-mail I have to drive to the library. I go a week at a time without seeing anyone I know. I’ve remembered about buttercups, stink bugs and the stars. I read. And I’m finally getting some real writing done for the first time in months. It’s hard to find anything to say about life without immersing yourself in the world, but it’s also just about impossible to figure out what it might be, or how best to say it, without getting the hell out of it again.

Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done. “Idle dreaming is often of the essence of what we do,” wrote Thomas Pynchon in his essay on sloth. Archimedes’ “Eureka” in the bath, Newton’s apple, Jekyll & Hyde and the benzene ring: history is full of stories of inspirations that come in idle moments and dreams. It almost makes you wonder whether loafers, goldbricks and no-accounts aren’t responsible for more of the world’s great ideas, inventions and masterpieces than the hardworking.

“The goal of the future is full unemployment, so we can play. That’s why we have to destroy the present politico-economic system.” This may sound like the pronouncement of some bong-smoking anarchist, but it was actually Arthur C. Clarke, who found time between scuba diving and pinball games to write “Childhood’s End” and think up communications satellites. My old colleague Ted Rall recently wrote a column proposing that we divorce income from work and give each citizen a guaranteed paycheck, which sounds like the kind of lunatic notion that’ll be considered a basic human right in about a century, like abolition, universal suffrage and eight-hour workdays. The Puritans turned work into a virtue, evidently forgetting that God invented it as a punishment.

Perhaps the world would soon slide to ruin if everyone behaved as I do. But I would suggest that an ideal human life lies somewhere between my own defiant indolence and the rest of the world’s endless frenetic hustle. My role is just to be a bad influence, the kid standing outside the classroom window making faces at you at your desk, urging you to just this once make some excuse and get out of there, come outside and play. My own resolute idleness has mostly been a luxury rather than a virtue, but I did make a conscious decision, a long time ago, to choose time over money, since I’ve always understood that the best investment of my limited time on earth was to spend it with people I love. I suppose it’s possible I’ll lie on my deathbed regretting that I didn’t work harder and say everything I had to say, but I think what I’ll really wish is that I could have one more beer with Chris, another long talk with Megan, one last good hard laugh with Boyd. Life is too short to be busy. »

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/30/the-busy-trap/

Tired

by sisterarnell

I am tired down to my bones. Tired of trying to explain why I am tired. Tired of fighting all the little things that add up to a mountain and a constant uphill trudge.

This Steubenville rape case is just the last straw. If you haven’t heard the words “rape culture” by now, you must have been ignoring the whole thing, which I probably should have done, but I just couldn’t.

I’m going to soapbox here for a minute.

Rape culture is a society giving women a list of do’s and don’t’s that boil down to “make sure he rapes the other girl.”

Rape culture is a society where women are scared to go out by themselves at night.

Can we think about that for a minute? We’ve created a society where women are scared to be by themselves. Isn’t that horrifying? The ability to be alone, to be yourself, to choose to do whatever you want is limited because of fear.

I’m scared to go camping by myself. Not because of the wild animals, but because of the wild humans who are more terrifying than any bear or cougar. They will just maul you to death and then eat your corpse. It will hurt for a bit, but it will be over quickly, especially if the cougar manages to get the right bite on the back of your skull to sever the spinal column.

No, it’s the humans that do the real damage. It’s the humans that leave scars that last a lifetime. It’s the humans who play with your body and kill your soul. It’s the humans who think they have a right to your body because you chose to walk by yourself home from the library after studying for three hours for that physiology final you have tomorrow. Or because you wore your hair in a ponytail so obviously you want someone to grab you by it and throw you to the ground. Or because you walked by a construction site. Or a dorm. Or down the street in your neighborhood.

It’s the humans who say, “hey, she was drunk.” Who blame a girl, not even a woman, for “bad judgment” because getting intoxicated obviously causes boys to forcibly penetrate you repeatedly, take pictures of it, send them to their friends, laughing about what you did. It’s the humans who excuse this behavior because boys will be boys, and skill at sports washes away any “mistakes.” And then sentences you to less time in prison than you would get for pirating a DVD or possessing cocaine. What does that tell the victim? You are less important to society than a bootleg of Gigli. 

Rape is not a mistake. You don’t just fall over and end up with your penis in someone’s vagina or anus. You don’t accidentally rape someone. Rape takes intent. It’s an act of power over someone who you consider less than, non-human, the other. It’s not about sex and boys are horny and it just happens. It’s about perpetrators not thinking their victim is a person.

Stop teaching “boys are boys.” I have a son. He’s a total boy. But he’s not an asshole. Boys don’t have to be assholes. You have to teach them to be assholes. And really, when advertisements feature women selling everything, it creates a culture where the women are just objects that are for sale. The female body is something to be consumed, that is designed to be looked at, that exists to be looked at.

I’m tired of it. I’m tired of a culture that thinks it is okay for you to come talk to me on the subway, and when I am not interested, I’m automatically a bitch or a lesbian. You know what? You don’t have a right to my time or attention any more than you have a right to my body. I do not exist for your ends. I am an end in and of myself and you do not own me. So if I choose to spend time with you, consider yourself lucky, and if I don’t want to spend time with you, that’s not my problem, because I do not have responsibilities to you other than to respect you as a person. And I’ll do that.

And if you bitch to your friends about how the girls never like the nice guy, because they are really selfish shallow status-obsessed bitches who always friendzone you, then you’re not really a nice guy, you’re a misogynist in nice guy clothing.* And if you think for one instant that anything a woman does entitles you to have sex with her other than her explicit consent, you are wrong. Because if you do, then I am going to walk up to you and hit you with a baseball bat. Because you didn’t say no, so that means you are consenting to it.

Unconscious means no.

Wearing a mini skirt means no.

Walking by herself means no.

Hair in a ponytail. NO.

Hair not in a ponytail. NO.

She’s had sex with you before. NO.

She’s had sex with your friends. NO.

She’s never had sex. NO.

She flirted with you. NO.

She drank alcohol. NO.

She did drugs. NO.

I mean, really. You learned no when you were a two year old. How difficult is it to get this through your mind, society? The default of “can I have sex with this woman or man” is no. NO NO NO. Just stop it.

And yes, I know people will say, that focusing on changing the behavior of the rapist is unrealistic. You know what? I don’t care. According to RAINN,almost 2/3rds and 38% of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows. You know what that means? You aren’t safe with your friends. We’ve created a culture that means most people are not safe ever. And nothing about the way I dress is going to change that. So stop telling me that I should spend my life expecting to be raped, because that is wrong. You create that culture by saying it. And then excusing it by blaming the victim. And then creating a culture that is so misogynistic about the treatment of victims that only 3% of rapists actually spend any time in prison.

Women are people. Men are people. Stop raping people.

And, because I’m going to assume that the people reading this are the ones who wouldn’t rape someone, though statistically, who knows, I have some advice for you too.

Stop rape culture. Stop laughing at jokes that objectify and sexualize women. Stop consuming media that sexualizes women. Stop making excuses for men being assholes. Name and shame, people. Name the behavior when you see it. Point out how this perpetuates a culture that promotes a society that makes people into victims, and victims into the cause instead of the effect. I’ve read enough social construction IR theory to know that this works if people are committed to making a change. So put it into action.

Stop rape. Stop rape culture.

Body language doesn’t lie, and the concept of shameillustrates this notion. Ask a woman to describe shame as a physical response, and the phrase “she hung her head in shame” will probably come up. It’s a revealing gesture. When you drop your head, you avert your gaze and avoid looking others in the eye. It suggests that you see yourself as inferior to your peers, unworthy, not deserving of face-to-face human contact.Shame is personal and quiet, not loud and attention-getting. If emotions had a gender, shame would be female. Girls and women seem to feel it more acutely — and more frequently — than boys and men. Perhaps that’s why shame is the least-discussed of the powerful emotions. There are tens of thousands of books on finding love, facing fear, reigniting passion, overcoming sorrow, and moving beyond regret. But there are precious few about shame — its causes, impact, and legacy — probably because it’s so uncomfortable to confront and so challenging to address. If anger blazes and love embraces, shame is slippery and repels any efforts to grab hold. Yet shame contains a little piece of nearly every emotion that drives us forward and holds us back. Bundled up in our shame is fear of being unloved, sorrow at what we’ve lost, and passion swamped by regret.Since shame is so unique to each of us, what’s shameful to one woman may not be to another. This fact makes it tough to convey stories of shame and redemption because shame is such an intimate emotion. Telling our shameful secrets isn’t as easy as it sounds. The only confessions of shame that can be universally understood are the authentic ones. The others frequently fall flat. But for those individuals who dare to uncover the deep places of pain, empathy and compassion aren’t the only reward. When light and air enter a dim space, the darkness dissipates.

Going Public With Shame

The title Dancing at the Shame Prom is a wonderful metaphor for this anthology of 27 stories on facing and overcoming shame. In their introduction, editors Amy Ferris and Hollye Dexter “invite you to…a place where we wear our ugly dresses, then shed them. Where we parade our shame in public, dance it around…and take awkward pictures with it. But this time…we’re breaking up with Shame and driving off into the sunset, stronger in knowing that we are connected at the deepest, most human level.”And to their credit, Ferris and Dexter are the belles of this particular ball, contributing two of the collection’s most poignant, gut-wrenching tales. They spin and weave through their dances with shame with total honesty, revealing vulnerable childhoods and adult lives which continued to reverberate with hidden pain despite their seeming normalcy.Dexter’s “In the Name of the Father” tells the story of a girl so traumatized by her teenage mother’s attempt to erase her past and create a new identity that her former last name became an F word provoking fear and anxiety. (She depicts her early years so movingly that after reading her story you’ll never hear the name “Fisher” again without recalling the author.)

Ferris’s “Bits & Pieces for Five Hundred” takes us inside a dysfunctional marriage as seen through a child’s eyes. From her account of the dirty joke she unwittingly told her class for show-and-tell through her mother’s barrage of verbal abuses, we feel how Ferris was made small by years of shame and humiliation.

If this sounds too heavy to bear, it’s not. Both stories (like all the others) end with their authors coming to terms with their shame and finding power in letting go.

Shame in All Its Forms

More than half the stories in the anthology are standouts. These run the gamut from the horrific to the painfully familiar.”What I Know of Silence,” Brooke Elise Axtell’s agonizing tale of being raped and forced into pornography by a babysitter when she was a young girl, ends with her on a healing path as she speaks out for sexual assault survivors. Robyn Hatcher’s “Stinkin’ Shame” blends humor and yearning in a story of a shy girl driven to be the “Super Special Black Girl” thereby proving her worth. In “The Hair Manifesto,” Marianne Schnall tells how a common problem — a girl’s struggle to tame her unruly hair — ballooned into more extreme self-makeovers which included eating disorders and even a name change. Marcia G. Yerman’s “The Jump Rope Line” recounts how her extreme anxiety as a child manifested as physical symptoms, and how she battles feelings of alienation to this day.Even if their situations are remote from your own experiences, the telling brings up emotions we all share — feelings that none of us are exempt from.

Shamefully Honest

In the book Telling True Stories: A Non-Fiction Writer’s Guide, journalist Ted Conover writes, “Honesty is very important in the first person. Readers see right through a narrator who is putting on airs,” and adds, “A smart journalist always remembers that even though its first person, the subject isn’t me. It’s them. The reader roots for a humble narrator.”If this collection fails to earn five stars, it’s because of a handful of essays penned by women who — while paying lip service to shame — failed to embrace its lessons and kept the feeling at arm’s length. Their lack of humility and relatively weak narratives, not to mention their “shame” over comparatively minor indiscretions, were off-putting in the early pages of the book and almost made me lay asideShame Prom. However, these few stories were the exception rather than the rule.Those who had the courage to approach shame with humility in their voices and candor in their narratives give Shame Prom its jolt of authenticity, and two that illustrate this simple truth are Kristine Van Raden’s “Mother of the Year” and her daughter Kate Van Raden’s companion piece, “I Love Me, I Love Me Not.” Both get to the heart of one of the most compelling themes in the anthology — a mother’s sense of shame at not being able to fix her child’s life, and the feelings of inadequacy that arise from that failure. Kristine is unflinching in relating how she might have influenced her daughter’s slide into anorexia through various words and deeds. Her desire to find a simple solution in the midst of chaos and helplessness is a wish we know will not come true.

Also noteworthy in its equally unflinching approach is Jenny Rough’s “Raising a Cowbird.” Her very real reluctance at the idea of adopting a child is a viewpoint few have the courage to express, and it’s the kind of story that makes Shame Prom live up to its bold concept. No matter what you believe, Rough offers up an honest voice that resonates deeply with the reader.

“Everyone is Invited to Dance”

While a few gems are scattered throughout the beginning, the strongest entries are in the latter two-thirds of the book. Wisely, the editors chose to close out the anthology with the explosive “1329 Lynx Trail” by Samantha Dunn, a tale that reads like a storyboard for the reality TV series Hoarders. It’s a wonderful, terrible, stomach-twisting account of a mother-daughter pair locked in a conflict that we know will end disastrously. Raw in many places and often difficult to get through despite the crisp, clean prose, it nonetheless closes on a redemptive note. If Dunn could come to terms with her shame, any of us can. Her message, “You are not the only one,” echoes the invitation issued by Ferris and Dexter at the beginning: “Welcome to the Shame Prom where everyone is invited to dance.”Even if you’re a confirmed wallflower, get up out of that chair, grab your most shameful memory and hold it close before you kiss it goodbye. Ultimately, that’s what this anthology will give you the courage to do. Dancing at the Shame Prom is a long overdue invitation that no woman should turn down.

Dancing at the Shame Prom: Sharing the Stories That Kept Us Small
Edited by Amy Ferris and Hollye Dexter

Paperback, 264pp. ISBN: 978-1580054164
Seal Press (September 11, 2012)

Molly and I recently had the opportunity to speak at the 2012 Women At Woodstock Conference. While it is always a privilege to do our work and teach the things we are so passionate about, one of our greatest joys comes from who we meet and what we learn from them.

This was an exceptional gathering of women. The following article was written by one.

Thank you Janet.

 

……this comes from a workshop that I attended during the Women at Woodstock 2012 retreat by a couple of spectacular gals from Matters that Matter.  You know that instance when you’re asked for something and you DON’T say what you really want to.  Well, that happened to me.  It’s happened in the past.  I am learning.  I am learning that you can’t always be prepared for what comes your way.  I am learning that what you think “should” happen isn’t always what does happen.  When I think of things that matter, and how I could say things when I want them to matter, I think of that workshop.

We don’t always get rehearsal time.  What happens when someone throws a curve ball our way?  Do we dodge it?  Do we get hit by it?  Do we catch it and run, or swing and hit?  Clearly this is all metaphorical, but what do you do?  Think on that for a sec; one instance where someone “hit” you with something you didn’t expect, and what you do when they do.

I know what I used to do, and I know what I try to do now.  I used to catch it and run, or in other words, absorb what was given and do whatever it takes to make the situation better, or make it go away, or eventually make it so every one involved is as happy with the results as possible.  Whoa.  That was a lot of energy.

Here’s what I try to do now.  I think on things for a bit.  Sometimes I’m annoyed at how long I think about things but that’s in my DNA:)   Then, and most importantly, I say what I truly mean.  It sounds very simple yet is extremely difficult.  It sounds tough but is actually quite rewarding.  My hope is that with an equal blend of kindness, fairness, and honesty I can say what is in my heart.  My hope is that as I age and my time on this planet gets less and less, I stand tall in my own self worth and my own value.  My hope is that as I choose my words in matters that matter, I am kind, and fair, and honest.  I have earned the right to say no, to disagree, to have an opinion.  I choose to say what I mean, and mean what I say.  Kindly.  Fairly.  Honestly.

Think on that.  And try not to be so easily offended.  Maybe when you hear words that are unsettling, it comes from someone trying to say what they mean and mean what they say.  Maybe they’re learning.  Ask them.  Did they intend to offend, or intend to be honest.  And if you’ve got this all down pat then kudos to you.  Keep up the good work and help those around you by not throwing curve balls.  Do unto others….as they say.

Again, think on it.  Doing or saying what’s in your heart is not always second nature.  We tend to do or say what we think our loved ones want us to do or say. There is the power within each of us to practice new things.  Hmmmmm…..

That’s what I mean, so I said it.  Amen.

And go forth with Peace.  It’s such a wondrous thing.

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