Category Archives: Interviews

Creative Superheroes Interview: Vivienne McMaster

I adore Vivienne McMaster.

Besides being an incredibly talented photographer and writer, she also has one of the best hearts you’ll ever find. She is brave and real and tells the truth about her life. She is full of color + joy. She is pure pleasure.

We first met when she moved to the Bay Area several summers ago. She answered my ad to share an art studio and I adored her from the moment I met her. I still miss our lovely photo walks and studio chats. Lucky for me, we swirl in the same circles and I get to see her a couple times a year.

It is an honor to feature her today as a creative superhero!

What is your superpower?

One of my superpowers is the ability to spread whimsy and wonder.

For the most part, we tend to need to keep our whimsy contained.  I wish we all felt wildly free to skip down a sidewalk or just stop and stare at a ray of light in awe for 5 minutes, but we have busy lives and often need to be much more ‘serious’ than we might want to.

I feel pretty grateful that in my work I get to invite people to join in creative adventures with me and to bring on the whimsy. It isn’t wimpy to be whimsical. It is a beautiful innate way of being that kids have and my superpower is helping people see that they can access that wonder anytime, at any age.

What are your obsessions? and how do they make their way into your creative work?

My Nia dance class.  Each week I show up in a room full of strangers that absolutely feel like community.  We all let our guards down and let our inner wild-and-free dancer selves out.  It completely seeps into my creative work in the way I view community and especially the place I go to both when I turn the camera on myself or towards someone else.  Embodying what Nia taught me, to be present in my body and that beautiful place of freedom I can find in both that dance class and taking self-portraits.  Where I am totally in control of the experience, but simply knowing I am in control allows me to relax into the experience and just show up.

Creative Awakenings.  Helping people discover that they are a photographer or an artist.  I truly love working with people who don’t yet believe they are creative and taking them on a playful photo adventure (be it online or in person).  I love seeing when people are proud of themselves and that absolutely drives my creative work.

Rainbows.  This has become a new obsession as they keep on appearing.  We’re knee deep in the rainy grey of winter here in Vancouver right now and it is so easy to forget the wonders of rain.  This past weekend I was walking with a friend in the rain and all of a sudden we turned a corner and there was not only a rainbow but it was also a very brief break in the clouds that brought in the most beautiful golden light that was contrasting with the blues of the unlit street.  It was like turning the corner into a magical world, into wonderland.  It was a beautiful reminder that whimsy awaits us just around the corner and that absolutely makes its way into my photo adventures.  Photography itself feels like a tool to keep open to wonder!

What are the top 5 things you’ve learned so far as a creative entrepreneur?

Be Yourself 

This has been a big lesson along the way.  There are parts of my identity and self that I keep protected, keep offline.  For a long time I felt like I had to share everything to ‘be myself’ but I’ve learned that it isn’t about spilling all the beans, its about letting your self be seen in your work.  For me that ended up being about letting my playful silly side be more seen.

Ride the Wave

Being a creative entrepreneur is a lot of showing up for yourself, for showing up in fear and vulnerability and it can be a mighty tender experience.  You’ve got to stick with the lows as well as the highs.  The lows will make your business even stronger as long as you don’t close up and run away when they happen.

Small is indeed Beautiful

I’ve learned that growing my business at the pace it is going is perfect for me.  That having smaller class sizes allows me to really connect with the participants, which is so important to me.  I’ve learned that my business is growing at exactly the right pace and while we all tend to want to something to ‘take off’ and be really successful, there is so much that is beautiful about a truly small business.

Create a Support Network

One of the best things I learned was that you don’t have to go it alone.  It makes all the difference to find one or two people who have a business that are different but who are at a similar stage in their creative business journey.

You’ve got to show up for yourself

It hasn’t been a strength of mine in the past to really show up for myself, so in a way this creative path is a total gift but a total challenge.  Its not completely a place of ease.  Parts of them are bliss, like taking photos, portraits or self-portraits, creating classes and teaching them.  But the act of putting it out there, of promoting them, of making it all happen don’t come easily to me.  I’ve got to show up in my own life and make it happen!

Tell us about a time when you had to practice courage. 

The story of how I found photography is a good example of this.

A few years ago I was robbed twice in one week and had to come face to face with the person breaking in.  While I was unharmed physically, I felt my sense of safety shattered to pieces.  It actually wasn’t in the robbery where I felt like I had to practice courage, but in the aftermath of it.  Every day after that I had to show up feeling more vulnerable than I had ever felt before.  I had to sit with my fear.

I did that daily, letting it do what it needed to do be that looking out the window 50 times before bed or double checking the lock repetitively.  I let these obsessive fears have a place in my life for a while.  I felt like I needed to rebuild that feeling of safety, even if it took looking out the window 20 times a night to make sure there was no one there.

Slowly the wall of self-protection was rebuilt and the obsessive need to guard my safety relaxed until I didn’t need to peek out the window or check the locks any more.  I’ve never had to show up in my own fear and deepest vulnerability like that, day after day.

As soon as I felt as though I made it through to the other side and I began to heal, I felt something incredible happen.  I picked up a camera and discovered my love for photography.  Having no interest in it what so ever before then, it really felt like it was a gift from the universe for getting through it and not running away from it.

What are a few things people wouldn’t know by looking at you?

That I live in a truly tiny one room apartment (like, really tiny).

That I almost always do a silly dance when I take a self-portrait

That I have a neon pink velour cape in my closet (okay, maybe they would)

That I’m rather obsessed with eating Kale almost daily

That I’m an introverted Leo

That I love running

What did you believe as a kid that you no longer believe?

Really early in my education (like grade 2) I started to believe that I wasn’t smart.  I was totally traumatized when kindergarten art and group work turned to tests, quizzes, desks in rows and ‘right answers’.  I just never felt like I could play the game and that my brain just didn’t work the same way other people’s did.  I really did believe that for most of my education.  People would tell me I was wise but I didn’t believe I was smart.

But I don’t believe that anymore.  In fact it makes a lot more sense with the work I do now as I always was smart just not within ways that were expected in traditional education.

Not believing I was academically smart has somehow lead me to a creative line of work where I do believe in myself and am committed to helping other people see their own creative wisdom.

What is your current mantra? Tell us about the last time you used it.

One of my favourite  mantra is ‘Playfulness is an anti-dote to fear’.  That the best way to get past fear is to diffuse it with some playfulness.  I use that trick on myself all the time.

The other day I was totally being attacked by my own self-doubt gremlins.  Feeling like I didn’t have something unique to say and I was quite honestly getting tired of hearing that negativity in my head and the way it made me felt.  So I took charge and attacked the gremlins with two playful techniques.  I put on my ipod with some music that chills me out and grabbed my camera and went for a walk.  It truly didn’t take much more than walking one block before I felt so much better.  There is some growing I want to do in my creative work and it is indeed scary, so I like to take my own advice when the fear gremlins attack and get playful, make a silly face into the camera.  Scare ‘em away by making myself laugh.  Fear and laughter can’t exist together, can they!

 

Vivienne McMaster is a photographer with a big heart and a spirit of playfulness.  She is part whimsical, part urban, and definitely quirky.  She teaches a wide variety of photography and video based e-courses and believes that self-portraiture and creative exploration can save our lives.  She shares colorful visual stories over at her website.

How She Really Does It!


Courage interview

So honored to be featured on the How She Really Does It radio show today! You can give a listen right here.

We talk about:

  • What courage means
  • Times when I felt like I didn’t have courage
  • How to build courage
  • Dealing with uncertainty + courage
  • Why I created the Cultivating Courage course

P.S. If it inspires you to take Cultivating Courage, I will be offering a session in the New Year. Class will begin Monday, January 14th!

Creative Superheroes Interview: Karen Walrond

photo of Karen Walrond by Justin Hackworth, justinhackworth.com

Dear Superheroes,

I’m overjoyed to introduce the newest creative superhero today, Karen Walrond! Karen and I first met at a Blogher conference back in 2006. I shyly tapped her on the shoulder and we hugged and shouted with excitement since we were both big fans of one another. She was wearing a superhero necklace and I couldn’t resist photographing her right there on the spot. Isn’t she gorgeous?

The greatest thing about Karen is she has a way of making every single person she meets feel beautiful and amazing. She sees your beauty in a way that makes you see it too. She is a generous friend and cheerleader and I feel lucky to have her in my corner.

When my new site launched, she immediately called me and screamed OH MY GOD!!!!!! DO YOU UNDERSTAND HOW BIG THIS IS???? into the phone. It made me laugh and feel so celebrated. Thank you Karen. So honored to introduce her to you today!

What is your superpower?

I can see beauty wherever I am, no matter who I’m with.  It’s the most awesome superpower to have.

What are your obsessions? and how do they make their way into your creative work?

I’m obsessed with photography and telling stories, and luckily they both are a big part of my work as an author, blogger, photographer and public speaker.  I’m also obsessed with making sure that people realize how awesome they are — and happily, I’m coming up with new and creative ways of making sure that people understand this.

What are the top 5 things you’ve learned so far as a creative entrepreneur?

1.  It’s not as easy as it looks.
2.  It requires as much time as it did when I was a corporate wonk — perhaps even more.  The good news is that I love every minute.
3.  Making a living as a creative is wonderfully fulfilling, but it also requires downtime as well.  This is one of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn, but I’m learning it.
4.  Even though I spent most of my adult life doing something else, none of that time was wasted.  It’s all fuel for my current life.
5.  Being creative — no matter in what capacity, even in jobs which might at first glance seem uncreative — is the only way to live.

Tell us about a time when you had to practice courage.

The time that most immediately comes to mind is when I quit my job as a lawyer.  It was very weird:  I had a great job, I was good at what I did, and I had a boss who respected me and my work.  To tell him that I had to leave, and it wasn’t for a better offer was a very strange and uncomfortable place to be, but it was my truth.

Happily, we’ve remained friends, and he has remained a mentor.  I’m very lucky.

What are a  few things people wouldn’t know by looking at you?

Most people wouldn’t realize that I love scuba diving, because in general, I’m a big scaredy-cat.  Most people don’t know that I speak pretty passable Spanish, and can be comfortable in any Spanish-speaking country.  Most people wouldn’t know that I’m deathly afraid of insects, snakes, feet, heights and what might be lurking under my bed at night.

What did you believe as a kid that you no longer believe?

I used to believe that my parents knew everything and were always right.  As an adult, I still think they’re smart and good people, but I’ve finally realized they’re also human, making their world the best way they can, like the rest of us.

I used to believe in little woodland people, like elves and gnomes and fairies, and that plants and trees could feel pain and joy and happiness.  I don’t believe in the woodland people anymore, but I kind of still believe it about the plants and trees.

I used to believe that I would never be the kind of perfect person that my parents wanted me to grow up to be.  Now, as a grown-up, I actually don’t care anymore, because I’m pretty okay with the person I did end up being. Happily, my parents seem okay with her too. 🙂

What is your current mantra? Tell us about the last time you used it.

Be grateful, do your best every day, and don’t sweat it if it isn’t perfect.   This is the latest mantra I’m working on, and it’s tough, sometimes.  But I believe it’s the secret to a joyful life, so I’m going to keep trying.

Karen Walrond is a (nonpracticing) attorney, writer, photographer, and creator of the award-winning site Chookooloonks. Karen is also the author of The Beauty of Different, a book that will convince you that the thing that makes you different might just be your superpower.  She loves dark chocolate, a good rum, and she’s wildly convinced you’re uncommonly beautiful.

Creative Superheroes Interview: Bari Tessler

Wow, you guys. We’re on a roll here. Today’s creative superhero is Bari Tessler! and I adore this woman.

I took her Conscious Bookkeeping class almost 10 years ago and she taught me so much about my relationship with money– where I hold shame and fear, the source of my “money style” and how to createa bookeeping system to match my values and spirit. I could tell she was onto something big… and I am so happy to see that she has blossomed her work into a super successful online enterprise as well.

If you have soul work to do around money (don’t we all?) she’s the one I trust. She is compassionate and gentle, wise and generous.

I saw her at WDS in July and we excitedly hugged. Then she stared at me with those pretty pale blue eyes with such love and presence that it made me cry, right there at the cocktail party.

I’m so honored to introduce you to another member of my soul tribe, Bari Tessler.

What is your superpower?

My superpower is the art of un-shaming.

We humans can shame ourselves and each other about almost anything. There’s a lot of un-doing that needs to happen here. In my professional life, I unshame through the lens of money, but it touches everything else in our lives. The art of un-shaming is about bearing witness, unconditional love, forgiveness, and moving forward. It’s about safe containers full of compassion, insight, intelligence, playfulness, creativity and big love.

Amazing things happen when we un-shame ourselves and each other.

What are your obsessions? and how do they make their way into your creative work?

I am obsessed with:
Chocolate. Oh, Chocolate, how I love thee. Chocolate is everywhere in my teaching, my copy, my daily life. I eat it every day. I invite my students to nibble on it during their money practices (try it, it really helps).

I am obsessed with listening to the body’s messages. The body knows everything. I first learned to listen to my body through my Authentic Movement Practice and went on to earn my masters in Somatic Psychology to understand how the body can help us heal from the deepest emotional and spiritual place. My body is my path. In my money work, I teach my students what I call the “body check in”. It is the starting point for bringing awareness to our money story and patterns (and just about anything else, by the way.)

I am obsessed with crafting a lifestyle for our little family on our own terms. Honing the subtleties of being a dual entrepreneurial family, working from home, working on the road, working in and contributing to each others’ businesses. And parenting. Oh, I’m so in love with parenting my little guy. This obsession informs almost every choice I make in my work – it all feeds back into creating and designing a life that helps us thrive.

The list goes on. I am so lovingly obsessed with . . .
Picking up the bones of our past. Grieving. Forgiving. Shedding the old. Birthing the new.
Learning practical systems and skill sets, like bookkeeping (who would have thought?!). And incorporating those practical solutions in a sacred way.

Lighting candles. Listening to music. Nibbling on chocolate. Doing body check-ins.
Creating pyscho-spiritual practices that bring in our dreams, visions, and next steps.

I have put all of these obsessions into my work, and my Conscious Bookkeeping method (Money Healing, Money Practices and Money Maps). These “obsessions” are the foundation of my 3 doorway method of my money work. I live them, I teach them, I return to them, always.

What are the top 5 things you’ve learned so far as a creative entrepreneur?

1. Know your strengths and what you suck at. We all have both. For a long time, my mantra to help me remember this was: “All I have to be is myself. Nothing more. Nothing less.” Bring on a team to fill in your gaps. Collaboration is where it’s at.

2. You can run a business from a deep + intuitive place, and be successful. This one is easy to forget, and essential to return to, again and again.

3. Your business model can, and must, change with you and your life. For example, I went through a phase of working all the time to grow my biz. I had a business partner, a team, lots of services, and lots of overhead. Then I became pregnant with Noah, and chose to work only 10 -15 hours during my son’s first 2 years. My entire business model had to change. I scaled back to a team of one (me). I spent my time on the most fun, simple and lucrative aspects of my work. I shifted from being a locally based business, to 100% online. In the last year or so, the desire and energy to grow and revamp have returned. I’ve stepped into a growth phase again, and hired a small team to support the growth. The point is to always stay awake to how your business can support your life, and when it’s time to shift.

4. Infuse everything with the spirit of experimentation. Be playful! No one really “knows” much of anything. Trial and error. Leaps of faith. Flirting with possibilities.

5. Bring together your support team. Find your teachers, your business coach, your therapist, your acupuncturist, your dance teacher. Find your people, and tap into their love and wisdom.

Tell us about a time when you had to practice courage.

During my home labor, it took a tremendous amount of courage to put on my orange sundress after hours of terribly painful contractions and tell my midwife and husband that we were going to the hospital. It went against all of my ideals and plans for a perfect home water birth. I had to face my fears of going to the hospital. I had to listen to my intuition; I knew something was off, and my body was sending very clear signals. Yes, that took a lot of courage! And it saved both of our lives.

I believe that vulnerability is a superpower. Tell us a story about how embracing your vulnerability. What were the gifts on the other side?

Several years ago I landed my dream gig with a publishing company. I was given the opportunity to record my work and method, to be sold as a multiple CD set. It was very fancy, and I was over the moon excited.

Long story short, I fell flat on my face. Massive failure. I sat in the recording studio with nothing to say. I felt so naked and inadequate. So vulnerable!

This threw me into a bit of a tailspin as I let myself sink into all that vulnerability and doubt. I questioned everything and considered giving up my work and my teaching altogether.

Somehow, I found some courage (courage is always partnering with vulnerability!) to name and honor who I am and who I am not. I sunk my teeth into the vulnerability of seeing where I sucked! (Teaching to an empty recording studio, for example.) And in the face of that failure, it was so vulnerable to honor myself and continue moving forward and shaping my work.

I came out of that painful experience crystal clear that I need live students to teach at my best. So, I tapped into my strengths and produced a Home Study Program with live recordings from an amazing group of students. I collaborated with a phenomenal team to write a comprehensive workbook and so many resources to accompany my teachings. Bingo: Vulnerability + Failure led me to my vibrant creation, built on my own terms.

I came out the other side with so much more strength and confidence than I had had before. I came out with clarity about my path, and the knowledge to set myself up to thrive.

What are a few things people wouldn’t know by looking at you?

This is tough. I think of myself as such an open book, and am very revealing about who I am and how I do life.

But! Here are two tidbits I don’t usually broadcast:

I dislike wearing thong underwear but I do it for my husband every once in awhile as a gift 🙂
I shaved my head just as I was turning 30 years old so that I could challenge my beauty beliefs.

What did you believe as a kid that you no longer believe?

I thought I was too sensitive, and that I had to become tough. I have always had strong feelings and strong sensations. I’ve always been super sensitive to the energy around me. I used to think it was too much for me to handle (and too much for the rest of the world to handle!).

Thank god I’ve learned that this sensitivity is one of my greatest gifts, and it influences everything I do.

What is your current mantra? Tell us about the last time you used it.

Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude.

Every day I use this mantra – without effort, it shows up. Reading books in bed + cuddling with my son, opening my laptop to do work I love, hiking just outside my door on the beautiful mountain, holding my husband’s hand. It’s everywhere in my life. Yep, there it is again.

 

Bari Tessler, M.A., is a Financial Therapist and the founder of the Conscious Bookkeeping Method: Tools For Financial Transformation™. She offers online money programs as well as private Financial Therapy for women, couples, and creative solopreneurs.

Bari holds a Masters in Somatic Psychology from Naropa University. She originally worked as a body-centered therapist, leading authentic movement groups, working in Hospice and later ran a bookkeeping practice.

In 2001, Bari founded Conscious Bookkeeping, based on her 3 Doorways for Financial Transformation: Financial Therapy, Values Based Bookkeeping and Life Vision Planning. The business quickly grew from a one-woman operation into a team of six other accounting, psychology, coaching, and investment professionals. Then, with the birth of her son in 2008, Bari successfully evolved back into a one-woman rockin’ show as a mommypreneur, updating her business model to honor the importance of spending lots of time with her family.

Her teaching combines practical action steps, a wealth of therapeutic experience, and game-changing inspiration to help her clients transform their relationships with money, body, mind and spirit.

To learn more about Bari and her work, go here: http://baritessler.com/

Creative Superheroes Interview: Tara Sophia Mohr

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Hey Superhero readers,

This interview series is quickly becoming one of my favorite things to do– share the work of my Superfriends with you. Turns out there are so many talented women in our midst!  And Tara Mohr is no exception.

I met Tara for the first time when we sat together at Spirit Rock meditation center for a daylong workshop with Rachel Naomi Remen. (We are both huge fans!) I adored Tara immediately and hoped we would intersect again. To my delight, we would continue to weave into each others’ lives in the coming months.

Tara is wise and articulate and someone you want as your teacher. She’s got smarts and soul. And great taste in shoes. 😉

I look forward to taking her course Playing Big sometime soon. (Next session begins in October) If you are wanting to play a bigger game in your life, check it out here. In the meantime, check out her Creative Superheroes interview below!

What is your superpower?

I think we all have many. Here are a few of mine:

Fusing left-brain/linear/logical/organized thinking with the swirling inner world of the heart and spirit.

Calling women into playing bigger.

Dancing with the divine through writing.

What are your obsessions? and how do they make their way into your creative work?

  • Putting the heart back at the center – of everything. Using the mind in the service of the heart, rather than putting the mind in charge.
  • How women hold themselves back and how we can stop. How women’s long-marginalized voices can bring our world back into balance. How women have gotten cut off from our bodies, how higher education tends to shred women’s confidence to bits, and what we can do about all that.
  • Compassion as the natural expression of wisdom.
  • Creative expression as a fundamental part of being human – not as something special only for “artists.”

What are the top 5 things you’ve learned so far as a creative entrepreneur?

1. Feed your creativity, give it space, and show up at the blank page/canvas/dance floor every day, and the creative wellspring will never run dry. But you gotta show up, and play around for at least 15 minutes for the waters to start flowing.

2. We are naturally drawn to teaching what we need to learn–not what we are already perfect experts in.

3. I, and most women I know, underestimate our “readiness” for that next bigger step. We are better off if we stop assessing, “Am I ready to….appear on that TV show, write for that publication, give that big speech?” and instead follow our creative impulses and aspirations. Those desires will take us places our egos are sure we aren’t ready for, and we’ll do just fine (actually way better than fine) when we get there.

4. I need a lot of community and allies to sustain my ability to do solo work.

5. The joy has not come from external success milestones –– celebrities loving my work, media appearances, hitting the right numbers, or even heartfelt notes from readers. Always, always, always, the joy comes from the work itself.

Tell us about a time when you had to practice courage.

Going on the The Today Show. Going on LIVE television in front of 2 million people will get your inner critic talkin’. I was flooded — FLOODED — with fear. I was sure the hosts wouldn’t get my work and they’d be critical of it. I was sure my message wasn’t honed enough. I was sure my wrap dress was going to come unwrapped.

Because I had the tools for dealing with the inner critic and fear–the tools I teach in my programs–I knew the voices of the fear weren’t telling the truth. I acknowledged the fear, waved hello to it, and was able to walk forward onto that stage, where I got to talk to 2 million women about their owning their brilliance. Oh yes.

I believe that vulnerability is a superpower. Tell us a story about how embracing your vulnerability. What were the gifts on the other side?

Pressing the “publish” button on the essays and poems I write is a near daily practice in vulnerability. For years, that vulnerability felt like too much. After years in highly critical university writing workshops, where creativity was subjected to grades and competition (both creativity-killers, of course), writing felt too vulnerable, unsafe, to the fragile artist inside of me.

Over time, I nourished that fragile artist back to health enough that she could begin to conceive of writing again, and even conceive of sharing her writing.

Now she gets to write almost every day, and she is happy and well cared for and feels safe again. The way she handles the vulnerability of sharing her work is by knowing that in the end, it doesn’t matter what they think. She is writing for the joy of it. She is writing for the communion with that thing larger than herself that runs through her fingers when she writes.

What did you believe as a kid that you no longer believe?

Most of the things I believed as a kid I believe now too: the mega healing power of love and compassion. The utter insanity of war. The pathological marginalization of the heart in our culture, and its many costs.

10 years ago – I couldn’t have said that I still hold the beliefs I held as a child. But I’ve spent the past few years reclaiming my childhood ideals – ideals I got talked out of in years of fancy college education and graduate school. Maybe this is an arc we all travel in life, leaving and returning to the truths we knew in childhood.

What is your current mantra? Tell us about the last time you used it.

Breathe & observe.

When I hear in my head those old familiar negative judgements about myself or other people, I try to step back from the thoughts to an “observer” place inside, and watch them. I might say to myself, “Oh, there it is again–that old feeling of being an outsider.” Then I breathe and watch it and experience it – but as the observer of it, as a person in a chair watching a movie in front of them. This is classic mindfulness work, and it helps get us out of our old unhelpful thought patterns.

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Tara Mohris an expert on women’s leadership and wellbeing. She’s the creator of the Playing Big leadership program for women, the new session of which begins in just a few weeks. A columnist for Huffington Post and the author of Your Other Names: Poems for Wise Living, Tara’s work has been featured on The Today Show, USA Today, Ode Magazine, More Magazine, MariaShriver.com, Whole Living and numerous other publications. Click here to get her free download, the 10 Rules for Briliant Women Workbook.

Creative Superheroes Interview: Laurie Wagner

Hey Superhero readers,

I am beyond delighted, excited, ecstatic to share today’s interview with you. It is with a dear friend, a writing mentor + teacher and someone who I deeply admire. Not just for her smarts, her depth and her artistry, but for her ability to tell the truth in the most beautiful and heart-opening way.

I met Laurie Wagner at a party over 10 years ago. We immediately gravitated toward each other, giggled over red wine and told stories deep into the night. My heart recognized a kindred in her. Shortly after, I began writing with her at her dining room table in one of her Wild Writing courses — a magical table filled with women pouring out their hearts in words, learning to be brave and vulnerable, guided by the enchanting Laurie who sets the bar high and makes it look easy.

All these years later, I am still taking that Wild Writing course (now at Teahouse) and she launched an online version called Telling True Stories this year. (Lucky you!)

There are a small handful of writers that I owe everything to. Laurie teaches me (as a writer and friend) that we can share the real stuff of our hearts, that there are others to receive it and be moved by it. She helped me find my voice, go to the edges of my courage and heal my heart through the transformative practice of writing.

Get ready to fall in love.

What is your superpower?

What I value most in a person is honesty and authenticity, and so I aim for that as best I can. But it’s more than just a set of values, the truth is, I simply can’t tolerate the lie or the half-truth inside of me. If I’ve kept something from you, eventually it will come out. I must purge it or I can’t sleep. And this propensity to tell the truth reveals itself all over my life – in writing classes, at dinner parties, in relationships, good god – sometimes in professional meetings with strangers. That doesn’t always go so well.

I can’t help myself. I tell the awkward truth, I point to the elephant in the room, I confess.

And when I do this, when I take the first risk and sacrifice myself like that, what often ends up happening is that it changes the air in the room and people start telling the truth and taking risks around me. This going first business seems to have the effect of making it safe for people because it shows them how big the territory of our connection is, and it turns whatever space I’m in – a classroom – a dinner party – into a much more interesting and soulful experience because we all wade into deeper waters.

I tell the truth to save my own life – but it’s also an invitation for other people to join me there – and I think that’s where a lot of people want to be. And so because of this superpower, if you will, my connections and experiences with people – friends and family and students – are full of vitality, authenticity and richness.

What are your obsessions? And how do they make their way into your creative work?

I adore rusty metal – old buildings – walls – scraps from a work site – abandoned equipment.  I love the way metal oxidizes and the patina changes over time. You get these amazing colors; oranges and greens, pinks and grays. I use metal in my altered books, and some day when my life opens up a little more I’m going to weld and make things. Rusty metal is some kind of doorway for me – every time I pass a gorgeous, old metal building I always promise myself, soon, soon.

Ripped Paper. I do a lot of collage and most all of it starts with ripping paper up – something that I find deeply freeing. Just the sound of it – rrrrrriiiip! There’s an intrinsic relief in that – I think because it immediately takes me out of my perfectionist tendencies to create things “just so.” You can’t control how the paper is going to rip, and so you work from what you get, which inspires an intuitive, off the grid kind of art-making. There’s no road map – just rip and paste, rip and paste, and kind of quickly too. It isn’t so different from the messy speed of wild writing. Both teach me to go with gut instinct, let go of perfection and take risks.

Racquetball, clearly– even if I’m not playing it, I’m thinking about it. Sometimes when I’m laying in bed I can see the ball coming at me and I imagine how to shift my body to receive it – over and over. Playing a sport is a perfect metaphor for everything because who you are on the court is who you are in your life. Do you frustrate easily? Can you tolerate missing the ball over and over? What are the thoughts in your head when you’re ahead? When you’re behind? When I’m on the court I’m thinking about the game, but I’m also making the connection between how it applies to the rest of my life. It’s one of my biggest teachers.

I make a lot of lists. I just feel more located, like I can find myself when I’ve written things down – plus – my memory is shot and has been drifting away ever since I had kids 17-years ago. But list making isn’t just about getting things done – it turns out that you can write really beautiful stories from an itemized list. I wrote a story about my childhood using street names from my neighborhood. I’ve written stories by using the names of old boyfriends.  Each name is like a wrung on a ladder and a way to explore some aspect of who I have become as a woman through knowing them.

What are the top 5 things you’ve learned so far as a creative entrepreneur?

1. I’m a double Taurus – practical, grounded, flat-footed and I love a sense of security, so I’m big on keeping a day job. Your new offering – your class, your coaching practice, your gorgeous line of purses may be the cat’s pajamas – but putting all your eggs in that basket is stressful because those new adventures take time to grow legs. Having something you can rely on until you’re ready to fly helps you feel more held, less panicked. I always worked in bookstores, even when I was publishing articles and working on creative projects on the side.

2. Trust what you love. Today I have a brand – but it didn’t come from a master plan, it came from consistently moving toward things that I resonated with. One of the most fun things I do is the Traveling Writers Series, where internationally known writers come to my house to teach. People ask me how I got so and so to come all the way to California to teach to a small group of writers in my living room, but it wasn’t part of a business plan, it came from a pure desire to work with writers who I admired and wanted to study with. I didn’t have the time or money to go to them, so I invited them to come to me. I didn’t think, “Who would people want to study with?” I thought, “Who am I dying to study with?”  Over time, by consistently trusting what I love I have assembled a world around me that others can participate in, but which deeply sustains me – not just financially, but soulfully.

3. Be Patient. I’d been teaching writing for at least 10 years before I truly understood what I was actually teaching. Yes I was teaching people to write, but I was actually teaching them how to live, how to get curious, how to examine the story they were telling  to see what else was there. So I’d say, focus on deepening your relationship with what you’re doing. Stick with it, learn more about who you are in your work and why it’s meaningful to you. Whatever you end up offering is going to come from a much deeper place and have more organic integrity.

4. Move away from the market and the pack. I find that if I’m too interested in what other people are doing I start to compare myself, and I wonder if I should be doing what they’re doing. It’s distracting. A bunch of years ago I had a productive life in the market. I’d published some books and a lot of essays, but I got to a place where my creativity was totally fused with the market. “What did people want to read about?”  “What would sell?”  It got in my way creatively. So I stepped away and took 10 years off of trying to sell anything so I could focus instead on what wanted to come out of me – who was I as a creative person on my own, without the influence of wanting to sell things. That’s where that day job came in handy. I worked in bookstores, I taught writing. But most importantly, I spent all those years getting to know my own language better – the one that wasn’t meant for an audience, but the one that was the most authentically me.

5. Identify your teachers. Surround yourself with people you admire. I made a list of my writing heroes and then systematically brought them to my house at 27 Powers to teach. Being in the midst of people I respect, watching them teach, listening to them respond to students has helped me to make a place for myself as a teacher and validate my own instincts. I have grown so much in the last few years, becoming a better teacher and writer in the process.

Tell us about a time when you had to practice courage.

Every time I send out a newsletter it takes a little courage.

Like a lot of people, I need folks to play with me – sign up for classes, come to workshops. So to have to consistently sell yourself takes something.  I try to take good care of myself so the demons don’t rush in with their snickering, “who the hell do you think you are?!” Seriously, I eat well, I work out, I keep my relationships with people clean. All those things keep me feeling proud of myself so that when the voices come I feel like I’m standing on solid ground with myself, and I won’t be as susceptible to their cruelty. That allows me to have the courage to keep going.

I believe that vulnerability is a superpower. Tell us a story about how embracing your vulnerability.  What were the gifts on the other side?

A week before I launched my new e-course, Telling True Stories, I still didn’t understand how to run the classroom, which buttons to press or how the site actually worked. All these people had signed up and paid me and I knew they were going to have questions about how to navigate the site. I could talk to them for days about writing, but the mechanics of the classroom were still new to me. I could hardly breath thinking about not knowing how to answer their questions. I would be such a disappointment! They’d want their money back.

Rachel Cole, my coach, talked me down, reminding me that showing up with flaws was a GREAT thing to do, right off the bat, because it would reveal to my students that I was just a regular gal, imperfect but well intentioned – JUST LIKE THEM! Who knew that you could actually USE your flaws to draw people in?  So I took a deep breath – and yes – there were problems on the site and people were frustrated, but I was able to calmly communicate with them and let them know that I had their back. And the students got it, they empathized with what I was dealing with, and they wrote me, thanking me, cheering me on. I showed up with good intentions AND site problems and they were with me all the way. It turned out that having problems was not a problem.

What are a few things people wouldn’t know by looking at you?

That I’m seriously addicted to Friday Night Lights
That although I have many friends, I spend a great deal of time alone.
That I have a visceral memory of sitting high on a hillside looking down onto the Medieval town I lived in centuries ago.
That I sometimes buy a pack of cigarettes and smoke them.
And I chew a lot of gum.
That something’s going on with my sexual mojo – at 52 my sex drive is a tiny blip on the radar.
That I have perfected the art of pulling hairs off of my chin with my fingertips.
That when my dad was dying I waited and waited for him to tell me he loved me.
That I encourage people to cherish their messy, beautiful selves, but of course I battle my own perfectionism
That I’m very competitive – in racquetball when I win I scream.

What did you believe as a kid that you no longer believe?

I remember thinking that if you loved someone that you would love them forever.

I didn’t understand how people who were married for 25 years could divorce. I thought love was made of metal – impenetrable – forever. My teenage daughters still think this way. They can only imagine one Prince Charming. I remember when I broke up with my first love at 25 – I still loved him AND I realized that I couldn’t be with him if I wanted to have a more full life. It was the first time I realized that life is complex – you can feel two almost opposite things at once and they can both be true.

In my 21-year marriage there have been endless moments of complexity where I was certain we were over, then later the tides would change and I could feel our togetherness again. It’s almost easier to live in a black and white world where you can paint by numbers and follow the rules. But when you embrace complexity it asks you to sit with feelings that don’t always feel good. I was taught, as were many people, that feeling bad meant that you ought to get the hell out of where you were – but that’s not always so. Feeling bad takes you into a darker, deeper place where you probably have some bidness with yourself.

What is your current mantra? Tell us about the last time you used it.

“I love this game.”

I made this up when I was playing competitive racquetball. The thing was, I really wanted to win – everyone did. Racquetball players are very Type A – very intense, totally competitive. We hit that ball hard. But I found that if I led with all that aggression and open desire to kill my opponent, it was too emotional for me. One time I even kicked my racquet in front of a crowd. So I needed to find a place to be in the game that wasn’t the emotional extreme of either “YAY I’m ahead! Or “Shit! I’m losing!”  And I found that the mantra “I love this game” took me into right relationship with the game – the place that allowed me to keep a good spirit going no matter if I won or lost. Because I did love the game and winning or losing wouldn’t change my love.  I was grateful to be able to compete and play. So every time I served the ball I’d mutter to myself, “I love this game,” and the funny thing was, I started winning a lot more. It calmed me down.

I try and implement this mantra into my life when I remember to. Someone once told me, “It’s an appreciation game.” They were talking about everything – all of it – every second.  This is sometimes hard to remember, but it’s a good practice. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I love this game. Thank you.

 

Laurie Wagner is a published writer, (Living Happily Ever After: Couples Talk about Lasting Love, & Expectations: Women Talk about Becoming a Mother), who has been leading Wild Writing workshops and teaching Creative Writing through 27 Powers.org & Writers.com for the last 15 years. Her new baby, Telling True Stories, a 5-week eCourse, will run again on September 10th.  Laurie’s teaching is based on the belief that when we put the truth into words, life swings into focus. and before too long, telling the truth becomes an unstoppable impulse – an internal river of confidence, clarity and freedom. Find out more about 27 Powers and Laurie’s classes here www.27powers.org

 

Creative Superheroes Interview: Maya Stein

So delighted to bring you the next installment of my brand new interview series! If you have read my blog for any length of time, you have probably come across one of Maya’s poems. This one called Believe might be all time my fave… but I recommend getting on her list so you can receive her 10-line poems each week like I do.

Maya just completed a Mondo Beyondo dream called Type Rider, where she bicycled for 40 days straight (toting a typewriter behind her) and with the intention of bringing people together through the written word. Enjoy her interview below!

What’s your superpower?

I’m incredibly – almost pathologically – spontaneous.

The other day, for example, watching the Olympics with a friend, I was chuckling at all those profiles they do of the athletes, with these behind-the-scenes stories of how they rose to excellence. Triumph of the spirit sorts of things. They crack me up. All that dramatic music and slow-mo replays of some tragedy that befell them and then how they came back to win the World Championship, etc. etc.

And I thought, what if there was a profile that could be made of a normal person, like, going grocery shopping? Having to figure out which cantaloupe was ripe. Deciding between fusilli and penne pasta. You know, fancy problems. So a profile about someone like that. And the next day, my friend and I started filming.

What are your obsessions? And how do they make their way into your creative work?

I love adjectives. And lists. I think I might be somewhat obsessed with those. Not lists in the way of grocery shopping or to-do’s, but the tumble of list-making that happens internally, how you scan your surroundings and without really realizing it, you’re making lists of everything you see. That woman’s bright orange slacks, the garbage truck leaving its trail of smells, the kid behind you who spilled his milkshake behind you.

It’s less about what the mind is processing but what the senses are taking in. And adjectives are always useful in helping to fine-tune these experiences. What kind of orange were those slacks? What specific smells came spilling out of that truck? What flavor milkshake and what was the table made of onto which he spilled it? The details of the details. They make their way into the fragments that make the lines that make the poems I write. They’re a kind of architecture I build around the bones of what I’m writing. They give it dimension, flavor, impact, and context.

What are the top 5 things you’ve learned so far as a creative entrepreneur?

1. Not to worry what other people are doing. Not to mark your progress (or what might feel like a lack of progress) against anyone else. Stick to what’s intuitively you. Creativity is not a competition, and the most important thing is to be exactly who you are.

2. Stay curious, open, experimental, and flexible. Don’t be afraid to have outcomes in mind -– hopes, wishes dreams, best-case scenarios – but don’t be married to them. There are so many variables that could make your experience more dimensional

3. Have FUN.

4. Don’t fear being emotional. The creative act can be a highly emotional experience, and establishing a business around creativity a thousand times more so. I am probably the most emotionally porous and susceptible than I’ve ever been. Just because I’ve been in practice with my work for a long time doesn’t mean I’ve become immune to ups and downs, or less fearful of disappointment, or less ambivalent about trying new things, or somehow impervious to stress or pain.

The opposite, in fact, is true. The more I put myself out there and the greater I am willing to risk discomfort and fear in the service of my creative work, the higher the stakes everywhere. But what I’ve discovered is that these high stakes also come with tremendous rewards – a deep feeling of satisfaction, a peak sense of happiness and pride, and a profound connection to the world. To me, emotion is the lifeblood of creative work.

5. Don’t go it alone. Find allies. There are so many sources of inspiration, knowledge, and guidance that can help your work thrive and stay sustainable. There’s no need to attempt a hero’s journey through the desert without a thermos of water to your name. Seek like-minded spirits that nourish and delight you. Don’t be afraid to be transparent with your questions, your searching, and your vulnerabilities around your business in particular. Other people’s experiences offer a wealth of good information for you, and learning from them can help you refine your own skills.

Don’t isolate yourself, especially when you feel scared and unsure about next steps. This is exactly the time to reach out. And you’ll be surprised how much relief that can offer others. The big permission slip to yourself turns out to be the same thing for someone else.

Tell us about a time you had to practice courage.

It happened about an hour ago, getting off the bus at Port Authority, having come into the city with an intention to set up my typewriter somewhere near the New York Times building. I have been wanting to extend this project into something sustainable, work that I can assemble and put out there on a regular basis for others to enjoy. So I thought to myself, “Why not go for the gold, and see if the New York Times would be interested in having a Type Rider column?”

I wrote to a few editors and made my proposal, but when I heard nothing, my friend Amy suggested that I, like, actually GO there. And so I did, and because it was raining I went to the café right next door, where it seemed like the people who work for the paper must go there for coffee and lunch. I don’t know why this was harder for me to than bicycle half-way across the country towing my typewriter behind me, but something about it felt excruciatingly difficult. The fear, I suppose, of being this close to something that I want. The proximity to the big kahuna.

But then I reminded myself of this new thing I’ve been trying, which is to do the thing that surprises me. To choose the option to which I don’t know the outcome. And once I have that in my head, I get a kind of kick out of the challenge. And that loosens the grip on my fear. It pares it down into something much more bite-sized. And then I get curious and excited to see what happens, and that neutralizes the fear entirely.

I believe that vulnerability is a superpower. Tell us a story about how embracing your vulnerability. What were the gifts on the other side?

My parents like to tell a story of when I was about 8 or 9 years old. We were at an amusement park and I saw a ride I wanted to get on. There were these airplanes in it, or cars that were made to look like airplanes, that went around and around in a circle.

I thought for some reason that you got to control the airplanes, that there were buttons in the cars that could make you go up and down. When I saw the ride, in fact, I noticed that some of the airplanes were high and some were low, and so I just assumed that the riders got to control that part. But what I didn’t realize was that the ride was intended for kids a lot younger than I was, and there were no controls of any sort, and the cars were stationary and so you had to choose whether you wanted to be in an higher-up airplane or a lower one. And because, of course, I thought I had the power to control the airplane, I didn’t think it much mattered which one, and got into one of the ones that was low to the ground.

When the ride got going and I didn’t see any buttons for me to push the airplane to go up, I was crestfallen. Well, that’s definitely an understatement. I was horrified, ashamed, furious, and trapped. My parents tell me my face was drained of all the excitement that preceded my getting on. But because they knew they weren’t going to be able to prevent me from going on the ride – that they weren’t going to be able to convince me it was for really little kids – they had to let me ride out all those feelings.

And I see now that this has been something that I’ve carried when I enter into new experiences. I have to ride them out. I have to – as my writing mentor Deena Metzger once said – see the experience to its completion. I remind myself of this when I find myself in uncomfortable situations, or in an environment that’s unfamiliar and scary.

What are the few things people wouldn’t know by looking at you?

I’m a Scrabble nerd.

I have a weakness for slot machines.

I don’t like yoga.

I love to make lip-synch videos.

What did you believe as a kid that you no longer believe?

That I have to be alone to be happy.

What is your current mantra? Tell us about the last time you used it.

One rotation at a time.

I used this daily on my cycling trip from Massachusetts to Milwaukee for the Type Rider project. It kept me in the present tense, focused on the road my tires were currently on. And it’s a metaphor I’ve been sticking to. Basically what it means is– work with what you’ve got right now. The terrain will change and the way you meet it will change too. So don’t worry so much about what might be coming down the pike. That thing will come and you’ll know. This is about not over-anticipating, not over-cogitating, not over-planning.

I think we carry more wisdom about how to deal with stuff than we realize. But we spend so much time trying to future-trip, coming up with possible scenarios, mostly to avoid discomfort or disappointment or failure altogether. But when we live our lives one rotation at a time, we meet challenges as they come, not before. We do exactly what’s needed the moment that it’s needed.

 

Maya Stein is a poet, creative nonfiction writer, and facilitates writing workshops. She has published two collections of personal essays and two collections of poetry and photographs. Her “10-line Tuesday” poems, which she has been writing for more than seven years, reach nearly 1,000 people around the world each week. Maya recently completed “Type Rider: Cycling the Great American Poem” a 40-day Kickstarter-backed bike journey from Massachusetts to Wisconsin that had her towing a typewriter and inviting strangers to contribute to a collaborative piece of writing. She will be publishing a book about the project later this year. To learn more about Maya, visit www.mayastein.com.

 

Creative Superheroes Interview: Jen Lee


Hey Superhero readers,

I’m so excited to introduce a brand new interview series! These will be Q & A’s with creative superheroes in my life– people I admire deeply for their talent and important work in the world. They use their gifts to spread joy, inspiration and transformation and I am thrilled to introduce them to you.

The first interview is with Jen Lee, who I met through the Lovebomb gathering several years ago. Jen is a brilliant writer and teacher (definitely check out her site) but what gets me every time is her ability to tell stories. (Like, in public. On stage.) If you are a fan of The Moth like me, you might have already heard her story featured in this episode. Jen brings authenticity, beauty and depth to everything she does and I am so honored to have her here! Her wisdom is breathtaking. Enjoy.

Q: If you were a superhero, what would your power(s) be?

Being able to really see people–the gifts they hold or their capacities–in a way they often struggle to see themselves. I wish it worked as well with myself, but the irony is I really struggle with seeing myself accurately. I can be sounding the drum calling others out of the bushes and into the circle to dance their dance, while somehow still trying to hide in those same bushes when my own courageous moments come knocking.

It’s a struggle to be able to do something so easily for others that is such a challenge to do for myself, but it gives me compassion for all of us about the difficult work of becoming. It keeps me from getting flippant or glib or from minimizing what it costs us to stop into the courageous futures that call and beckon.

Q: What are your obsessions? and how do they make their way into your creative work?

God, where do I begin? My obsessions fall into two categories. The first are grounding–they give me rootedness and stability on the outside while things swirl and storm inside. These include my morning and evening rituals. Going to bed and waking at the same time every day, eating the same breakfast (currently obsessed with apple cinnamon instant oatmeal and English Breakfast tea), rubbing almond oil with a few drops of essential oils into my feet at night. I listen to the same record on repeat, wear the same necklace and clothes combo (dark jeans, soft tee). I go on these crazy food kicks where I crave one thing around the clock for days or weeks and have to force myself to keep eating some variety, drink out of the same glass (a Sarabeth’s jam jar)–things like that.

The other category are creative obsessions, which I stumble into unconsciously and often tease out later the missing piece they help me find. I was on a big Johnny Cash kick recently, and right now I’m obsessed with this British show called MI-5 on Netflix streaming. We watch it almost every night and I just realized a couple days ago (six seasons in) that its characters are icons of courage for me right now. I watch them at risk, in frightening situations, and over and over again they are willing to be the one, willing to be of service. Every night I feel that feeling in my body–a vulnerability and fear cocktail–and I watch it play out to some kind of resolution. It’s like I’m teaching my own body and that I can press through that feeling, that someone will be glad I did, and that I will be glad, too.

Q: What are the top 5 things you’ve learned so far as a creative entrepreneur?

1. There are no blueprints for journeys like ours, and trying to graft someone else’s methods onto your unique calling is often a source of confusion, not clarity.

2. There is no someday coming day when it no longer feels vulnerable. If we are growing and letting ourselves be seen, we are always pressing into that edge.
3. Being of service is always a better context to work inside of than trying to make a buck.
4. The wisdom of the organizational world does not always strictly apply to creative work. Our strategy must be as inspired as our making. My favorite creatives remember they are artists first and don’t lose themselves in contexts like Sales and Marketing.
5. You can only be you–just as you are and just as you are not. With the moves you’ve got and without the ones you don’t. Inhabiting it without judgement or apology . . . well this is something I’m still learning.

Q: What are a  few things people wouldn’t know by looking at you?

I’m a super introvert. I’m told the social awkwardness I feel in many situations doesn’t always show.

Q: What did you believe as a kid that you no longer believe?

I used to think since one of my sisters had allergy shots and the other one had braces, that I would probably get cancer. You know, just to keep things “fair”. Some part of me has been waiting to get cancer ever since, but now even if I do I don’t believe it will be because of some divine justice.

Q: I believe that vulnerability is a superpower. Tell us a story about how embracing your vulnerability.  What were the gifts on the other side?

Every time I step on stage to tell a story, it’s practically nothing but an exercise in vulnerability. I ‘fess up to the things I fear will forfeit my belonging–being misguided, being unsexy, being wrong and scared and always flawed. Not too long ago I told a story about a conversation I had with my daughter about sex. I so wanted to get it right, but God it just tapped into so many tender places mixed with my best intentions and it was really a struggle.
The gift that is always on the other side, when the show is over and the lights come up, are these amazing moments of connection. A mother and daughter duo were in the audience that night, and they came up and told me it reminded them of their own story pioneering that terrain. And some really dear friends were there, and they got this piece of my story and my history that just doesn’t come up in casual conversation.

These moments are slowly accumulating like a growing conspiracy to show me the things I think will forfeit my belonging are actually my greatest points for creating connection. I’m literally stunned every time to find more affection, not less, waiting for me on the other side. But no matter how this new body of evidence grows, I don’t think it will ever stop having that feeling of fear and trembling in the moment. So I play my record and watch my MI-5, and hold myself very, very gently along the way.

Bio: Jen Lee is an independent media producer and a beloved performer in New York City’s storytelling scene, including the Peabody Award-winning Moth Radio Hour and The Best of The Moth, Volume 15. Jen is co-leading a series of Indie Publishing Workshops with designer Liz Kalloch in October at the Create Explore Discover Retreat. You can find her Telling Your Story home study course, the Retrospective podcast and other resources to nourish and inspire at jenleeproductions.com. Photo Credit: Bella Cirovic, shetoldstories.com