New Project: Chapter 3

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(To read the previous chapter, click here)

Three

 

 

Women are taught to give. Their time, energy, and bodies are in service all the time. There is supposed to be dignity in this, even grace. Soft and fluid, women spin the world. They are sustenance, encouragement, and comfort. The depth of their love is the breadth of their worth. Their families come first. If a woman chooses not to have a family, she’d damn well better be extra dedicated to her work. Passion is their lot. To be woman is to suffer, for better or worse.

What women are not taught is how to give in ways that make sense. Instead, they are taught to give to others at their own expense. This, too, is in the recipe book.

Laurie Penny writes, “Of all the female sins, hunger is the least forgivable; hunger for anything, for food, sex, power, education, even love. If we have desires, we are expected to conceal them, to control them, to keep them in check.”

For years, I did this with Steve. He’d ask what I wanted for dinner and I’d say I don’t care. He’d turn on the TV to stream a movie of his choice and I’d snuggle down to watch. His needs were my priority. His desires came first. I could always squish a little more of myself to make him comfortable and prove my worth.

Steve never required this. In fact, he was oblivious. He took for granted his right to choice. I expected this and acquiesced without ever really thinking about it. Like many women, I sleepwalked through life with him and operated by rote. I’d watched my dad dominate, my first husband dominate, and even my sons. It was their birthright like it was mine to pick up their socks. Waking up wasn’t easy on any of us.

At first, I blamed patriarchy for my conditioning. I could lay frustrations and insecurities at Steve’s feet and say, “Here. Look at these, you privileged jerk. You’ve never had to deal with any of this. You’re clueless,” though I seldom did.

Instead, I read feminist books aloud to him while he cooked. Listening, his eyes would wince with hurt. He’d apologize not just for himself, but for all men, and I appreciated that. We were making progress, taking baby steps to change our world. Then, the baby steps faltered. The effort didn’t work. Our fights returned.

I wanted Steve to change. He was the product of male privilege and his sense of privilege made me small. I couldn’t compete with his autonomy or confidence. We spent hours talking about how he could make room for me and what equality meant in our partnership. At first, he thought granting me equality meant he had to relinquish something. Then, he realized he just needed to step aside so I could step up.

Even the language we used was wrong. It wasn’t for him to grant me anything. He didn’t need to make room at the top. We needed a different way of looking at things, but it’s bloody hard to let go of everything you’ve been taught. Patriarchy is evil. So is the economic system it supports. We will not change personal or collective culture as long as we separate the two in our minds and hearts.

In August, 2009, Steve bought a bankrupt shopping center. It was the height of the recession and the world was falling apart. Initially, I wasn’t going to be involved in the project. I had my own business and thought shopping centers sucked souls, but I had a marketing background, had done some event planning, and could do a little desktop publishing. Most of all, I saw the writing on the wall. Business as usual died that year and we had to come up with something new or the project didn’t stand a chance.

The day after we acquired the property, Steve and I walked it again. Three beautiful buildings measuring more than 30,000 square feet sat empty in the summer sun. Tumbleweeds hugged doorways, hiding from the wind. Steve whistled a refrain from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. He could always make me laugh and didn’t fail me then.

Most of the tenant spaces were unfinished. Concrete floors, bare rafters, and exposed insulation taunted us. We were bleeding $25,000 a month. Shopping centers all over the country were failing, banks weren’t lending, businesses weren’t opening, and we had bought this. We either got it going or it would ruin us, but where to start?

The concept I developed centered on making individuals matter again. At the time, with the onset of online shopping, corporate conglomerates, and a political climate that rescued banks instead of homes, people felt lost, disconnected, and unimportant. On top of that, the vast majority were terrified of what might happen next. In our community, many remembered first hand stories of the Great Depression and its incumbent hardships. For us, building trust was more important than initial success.

With this in mind, I used three words to describe our vision. These were connection, convenience, and enrichment. We would build community, bring in businesses that provided necessary goods and services, and commit to enriching lives.

I sold the concept. Steve sold the concept. Newspapers and radio stations picked up the story. At a time when all was doom and gloom, our center promised hope and something more. We held our grand opening in December, just four months after we took possession of the property. Thirteen businesses opened with us and more than two thousand people attended the all day party we threw. It was the marketing coup of the year.

At the opening, people said, “Uh, good luck…”

Six months later, they said, “Wow. This is working.”

After a year, they said, “Look what we did.”

When the community took ownership of the center and what it had become, we knew we’d built something good. We had also taught a valuable lesson to those who would observe: Business thrives when it gives to the community it serves.

The center became our baby and took over our lives. My business took a back seat to its needs and I became a wife. I gave it all and got the prize, but when alone I cried.

New Project: Chapter 2

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(To read the previous chapter, click here)

 

Two

 

 

Home. Open doors, welcoming arms. The place they have to take you when you return. The place you can’t go back to once you’ve gone. Myth and mystery of cold and warmth, slammed doors, silent alarms. The place you run from. The place you belong.

Before my father died, there was a semblance of balance. My parents fought, but they also kissed. If one of them denied me a bra, the other encouraged me to wear lipstick. Then, suddenly, he was gone and my mother couldn’t afford the rent. Pack it up. Pack it in. Move on.

After awhile, my mother had a string of boyfriends. With each of them, she was different. The shifts were subtle, showing up as new interests or convictions, but they were as disconcerting as the men disingenuous. I partied with them sometimes.

“Here honey, have a sip.”

“Take a hit.”

“Wanna come along?”

At fifteen, I met my first love while at a bar with my mom. He was wonderful. He wrote me songs. I quit the track team to be with him and let my homework slide. I, too, was a chameleon changing color for a man. That’s what we’re taught. Lure him then keep him any way you can.

The formula for toxic love goes like this:

 

  1. Empty yourself just a little to make room for what matters to him.
  2. Give up things you love to spend time with him.
  3. Help him.
  4. Expect him to reciprocate.
  5. Resent him and guilt him when he doesn’t.
  6. Take the blame when things go wrong.

 

Though an age-old recipe for disaster, it’s also grandma’s secret to landing and keeping a man. Even when we don’t want to believe it, even when we think we’re better than that, the recipe is handed down and served up on college campuses, at family dinners, and at church potlucks again and again and again. Most movies, TV shows, songs, and books script the same narrative. He’s got a life. She’s got a love interest. If she’s worthy, she’ll earn herself a man. In this way, men are currency. In this way, feminism doesn’t stand.

Feminists would argue that women are perpetual victims. They are written out of history. Their voices are silenced in boardrooms, bedrooms, and courtrooms across the land. As women age, their self-esteem diminishes and their confidence crumbles because, to paraphrase Gloria Steinem, they bear witness to their own absence.

However, in the recipe for toxic love, women are not made absent from their lives. They choose to be absent. Nobody likes this, but once the ingredients are mixed the meal is inevitable and we choke it down.

Fifty years after second-wave feminism took its stand, educated women still choose to be absent when it comes to their home lives. In most instances, these women are not victims. They are perpetrators of their own demise. They are caregivers by choice; sacrificial martyrs who give themselves up to get what they want and then get stuck in a pattern. Feminists would have us believe that the unpaid emotional labor women expend is anathema to a healthy society. I would argue that there may have been a time when a man would let a crying child starve before doing a woman’s job, but those times are, for the most part, gone. Most men do not make women caregive. Women caregive because they believe it’s what they must do to win and keep the love of a man.

In her book, Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family, Anne-Marie Slaughter says, “Not valuing caregiving is the taproot, the deeper problem that gives rise to distortion and discrimination in multiple areas of American society.” She believes that focus on care and caregiving will change the way men and women relate. However, Slaughter does not argue for women to care less. She argues for men, corporations, and governments to care more.

This is a fundamental problem. Even Slaughter acknowledges the fact that women don’t like to let men caregive and will often convince themselves and everyone else that the men are doing it wrong. Women do this to be indispensable. If men pick up the slack then women aren’t important, grandma’s recipe won’t work, and love won’t last.

The morning after my epiphany, I told Steve about it. At first, he didn’t understand. Defenses kicked in because he thought he was under attack.

“I can’t do anything right,” he said.

The morning was clear, the sun bright. Tall, yellow grass bent in the wind. In the distance, the lake sparkled like a gem. I took his hand, squeezed it tight.

“No. You do most things right. I need you to hear me this time. I realized something last night. I gave up my garden to hold your hand. I quit reading to sit on the couch next to you. I gave up things I love to be close to you.

You didn’t ask me to do any of that. You accepted it, didn’t question it, because in your mind, I’m autonomous, but somewhere along the line I lost that sense of myself. I want you to tell me I matter, to show me I matter because I somehow lost my self-worth. I keep asking you to prove your love by doing things that are not in your nature. You keep trying. You keep failing because they’re not in your nature. But you try. That means I do matter to you. It means I have worth in your eyes. I’ve been so focused on what I don’t get, I missed what you give. That makes me wrong. It also means I have to reclaim my life and I’m terrified.”

Steve shook his head. “Of what? Why?”

“What will you do with my absence? How will you fill the time? Will you miss me or will you forget me? Truly, honey, I’m petrified.”

Steve cupped my face in his hands. He kissed me and wiped a tear from my cheek. “I fell in love with a strong, independent woman. I am still in love with a strong, independent woman. You think you’re lost, but I see you and you’re amazing. You will never lose me by taking care of yourself. I might get annoyed sometimes, but hell, I’m a man.”

He laughed, blue eyes bright, when I slapped his arm.

The New Project

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For the last month, I’ve been putting words to paper every chance I get. The new project is challenging in that it’s not linear and it introduces ideas about how we might move forward individually and collectively.

I promised I’d share this project with you, so here are the first two installments. Enjoy and, of course, share your thoughts.

Prologue

 

I sat at the front of the bus eating warm yogurt with a plastic spoon. At the back, Rock music blared from an over-sized boom box. Cool kids gathered round it, all gleaming skin and silky hair. Their limbs stretched across each other — leg on leg, arm on arm — in a tangle of languid bodies. Muscled and tan, they writhed and stretched to a beat I couldn’t hear.

I watched them in the driver’s mirror. They seemed perfect. Natural. As if they had somehow skipped the struggle the rest of us endured. A full two years younger than them, I didn’t listen to Rock, shave my legs, or wear the right kind of perfume. They were a school of brightly colored fish. I was a hermit crab at the edge of the lagoon.

Out the window, the land dropped away from the road. In the valley below, the Rio Grande wound through green fields and cottonwoods beginning to turn. Ahead, vast cliffs rose like God’s castles – red and majestic against a sky deep blue. O’Keefe’s home. Rattlesnakes and cow skulls. Cactus and ants. Cumulus clouds like cotton candy and ridges to stop your breath. The land would kill you if it could.

The bus crawled up the hill bellowing diesel fumes. A car, impatient, passed on a curve and I sucked in my breath. Northern New Mexico: land of enchantment, land of death. In the hour and half since we’d been traveling, I’d counted more than a dozen Descansos. The little crosses marked the passage of souls. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. Plastic flowers and shattered liquor bottles to decorate our roads.

I’d lost my father in June. The fact hadn’t sunk into my bones. I couldn’t feel it. Mourn him. Cry at all. Instead, I counted crosses at the sides of roads. The school community had been kind. They’d brought more food than we could possibly eat and left it on the porch – a whole smoked turkey, a roast leg of lamb, casseroles galore.

Now September and the start of a new school year, the kids pretty much ignored me and teachers left me alone. I went through the motions, did what I had always done, but I was numb.

The land leveled. Rock striations in yellow, white, and red jutted from the plain, made mesas like paper cut-outs against the horizon. The bus shuddered. A teacher groaned. A foul odor made my stomach turn. Red-faced and laughing, a boy denied responsibility for the aroma. Someone opened a bag of Doritos. I wanted someone to open a door.

At the campground, we pitched tents, laid out sleeping bags, and unpacked food. Kids were sent to gather wood. Alone, I wandered about, eavesdropping on conversations like a ghost. Darkness rose. A hand clapped my shoulder and I looked up to see a teacher I hardly knew. He pointed toward the cliffs and asked me to come along. Surprised, and not a little grateful, I trotted behind the small group he’d collected up a narrow trail. Pinon and juniper trees delineated the path, but his flashlight bobbed on the ground – a bright spot in the twilight illuminating rocks and weeds that would snag our toes. After a short climb, he flicked it off and gestured. In front of us, a sandstone amphitheater carved by millennia gaped wide and inviting. Above it, the last vestiges of sunset glowed.

He said nothing. Instead, he began to sing. His voice, low and mellifluous, rose like the dark into the sky. “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, to save a wretch like me…”

One by one, the kids joined him, their voices a chorus of angels. As they sang, the amphitheater caught their notes, built upon them, echoed them back so the air was alive and tingling. The harmony caught me, hooked me, pulled open something stuck and my tears spilled. I didn’t know the words, but as they sang I hummed.

As the sky lost its color, the last notes faded. We stood, silent and awed. My wet cheeks stung. In silence, we headed back to camp. As we descended, sounds of laughter and cooking broke the spell. Campfires dotted the darkness. Someone yelled.

Thirty-five years later, that moment still gives me chills. What made that teacher do what he did? Why did he tap me to go along? I hadn’t taken a class with him yet and wasn’t one of the chorus kids. Thinking back, thinking it over, I believe his invitation was simply a gift. He will never know what he did. I never told him, never revealed my tears or the fact that until that moment I hadn’t been able to shed them. That man was the first to teach me that Amazing Grace is more than a song. It is a state. It is an experience. It is an act of love.

 


One

 

 

It was my birthday weekend.  We’d gone camping and the trip had gone wrong. I poked the fire and glanced at him. He slept with a half-full glass of whiskey tilted precariously in his hand. Firelight flickered across his face, highlighting day-old stubble and age and I wanted desperately to wake him up, shake him up, and start all over again. Then I realized he would never change.

Perhaps the campfire conjured spirits. Perhaps the moon was to blame, but something happened on that late May night. The epiphany came in waves. He loves me. Sip of whiskey. He’s trying. Add another log. You can’t make him something he’s not. What if you’re the one who’s wrong?

The lake spread like silver fingers across a dark land. The wind rose, sending a shower of leaves to the ground.  I set my whiskey down, pushed the hair off my face, and let loose the tears I’d been holding too long. Amazing Grace – that moment where you give up or give in – is the crossroads, the dangling fate, the beginning or end.

The song was written by a man named John Newton in the eighteenth century. A slaver, Newton had little religious conviction until a storm at sea nearly cost him his life. That night, he called out for mercy. Ten years later, he gave up his profession to study theology and write songs. Amazing Grace speaks to his redemption, promises salvation regardless of sin, offers forgiveness for those who have wronged.

My marriage was at the soul level. No vows could do justice to the depth of my love. No words could define the breadth of it. Steve was my-end-all be-all-everything-all-the-time-oh-my-god man and my undying, raging, over the top love was consuming us like the demon product of a Hindu god.

I could never get enough, never let go his hand for too long. He was home and air and nourishment all at once. With him, I belonged

We met through our kids at the YMCA and first we were friends. When the demise of our respective relationships made us both single, fate broke a computer and let us bump into each other again. In the thirteen years since, we’d been through a lot. Still, as I fed the campfire and listened to him snore, I understood we were, like Newton, adrift in a storm. I cried for mercy, cried for the storm to stop, cried for the love that was killing us both and the lover I might have lost.

He stirred, almost spilt his cup. I pulled it from his fingers and set it down without waking him up. I wanted to stroke his hair, climb into his lap, snap him, me, us, out of it.

The epiphany sang.

He loves you. He’s trying. You can’t make him something he’s not. What if you’re the one who’s wrong?

I didn’t want to hear it, didn’t want to own it, and didn’t want to change. The night wore on. The moon rose. The fire cackled like a vicious witch and I swallowed hard. All the fights through all our years boiled down to one damned thing. What I needed from him he couldn’t give me and what did that mean?

In her fabulous book, Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies, and Revolution, Laurie Penny says of women, “We are the ones for whom biology is not just destiny: it is catastrophe.” She is speaking of patriarchy, rigged systems, and the systemic oppression and abuse that keep women worldwide in a constant state of vulnerability and flux. Through these we learn to accept and express toxic love.

When I was ten, my father tried to teach me to sing. At his command, I stood next to the piano in our living room. He played a few bars of My Funny Valentine and said, “Sing it.” I nodded and began. Only a few lines in, he stopped me. “No. Not like that. Sing it like you.” I didn’t know what he meant. I tried again. He got frustrated and left.

It took me years to understand that his push for my authentic voice was at odds with his push for my conformance to his ideals. His lesson lingered. At the campfire that night, I heard it again.

I was taught to be a perfect chimera of what woman should and could be – a wolf in a sheep’s body, a pig with the heart of a bull.

When I first met Steve, I was autonomous, but as my love for him grew, so did my need of him. As my need grew, so did my fear of losing him. I gave up my garden to hold his hand. I emptied myself to make room for his goals, hoping our fusion would keep me whole. The trade sucked life from us both.

A log popped. An ember burst free, flared for a minute, and went out. I sipped my drink, savoring its heat. If he couldn’t give me what I needed did that mean we were done? I watched him sleep, watched the light play in the little bit of drool at the corner of his mouth, watched his chest rise and fall, rise and fall.

He loves you. He’s trying. You can’t make him something he’s not. What if you’re the one who’s wrong?

I matched my breath to his, imagined the beating of his heart, and felt my own slowing, calming, steadying. I heard a voice in my head. It said, “You can’t control what you get. You can only control what you give.”

 

#yesmetoo

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Like most, I’m looking for a path forward, a way out, a different way of doing things. I want hope to be sturdy, love simple, peace possible, and change easy. I hunger for thunderclouds, a storm surge that might wash the muddied plains of despair momentarily clean.

I hope for revolution.

Pray for justice.

Read the news and weep.

Democrats have nominated a woman to be President, but Brock Turner got six months.

The statement of his 23-year-old victim went viral for its brutal, beautiful humanity, yet she remains anonymous – a figurehead, an ideal, a faceless poster child for what some consider a lost cause.

We hide her to protect her, to save her from additional shame, but I want her to be a hero.

I want her face plastered across my Facebook feed.

I want to celebrate her resilience and free her from the stigma of rape.

Rape happens. It’s awful. But it’s not something of which we should be ashamed.

If we’re going to challenge rape culture, if we are really going to make concrete change, then the victims of rape need to be seen, stand straight, and reject shame.

Can you imagine #Iwasraped? Can you imagine a flood of photographs accompanied by #yesmetoo? Can you imagine a world where the reality of rape and the faces of its victims become that surging storm that wash clean the muddied plains?

I wish every woman who has experienced rape or sexual assault would come forward and inundate the media with their humanity.

We are not abstract statistics. We are not faceless victims. We are not damaged irreparably or victims in perpetuity.

No.

We are strong.

They would deny us our dignity, but it is not theirs to deny. Today, in solidarity with the faceless victim in the Stanford case, I share my face. Maybe you will, too. #yesmetoo #Iwasraped #nomoreshame

The Path Forward

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I’m starting to think about my next book. I won’t be able to start writing seriously for another couple of months, but I’m taking some steps in that direction. Here’s a speech I recently gave that touches on the new book’s thesis and I’d love to know what you think. Please share your thoughts in the comments. Thanks.

A New Way of Looking at Things

Today, I’m going to give you a bit of history. This is a subject I always liked. History makes a neat package of names and dates, causes and effects. It’s job is to make some sort of sense out of things and I’ve always wanted that. I mean, who doesn’t?

Isn’t that what we’re after? A predictable outcome? A known quantity? A reason for why stuff happens and the ability to control what happens next?

I was a thirteen year old sophomore when my father was killed by a drunk driver.

When I was a sixteen, I lived in a college dorm with a population bigger than my home town.

At nineteen, I was dating two men. One hurt me. The other rescued me and I married him. He was my hero.

By twenty four, I had three sons. We had no money. Once, I bought cheap dishes at a garage sale, shattered them with a hammer, and buried them near a two hundred year old wall in the woods so my children could discover them in a manufactured archaeological dig.

My kids were elated when they dug up the shards, but, to my chagrin, they didn’t want to glue the pieces back together again. They wanted to watch Power Rangers.

I wanted control. Of my life. Of my heart. Of my husband and children. I had imagined what having a child would be like. I would sit in a rocker next to a window. The curtain would be lace. The breeze would be soft. I would hold my child to my breast and sing while he nursed. That didn’t happen. I had twins. While I nursed one, the other screamed. If I tried to nurse them both, my arms fell asleep.

I imagined marriage. Soul mates. Best friends. I just didn’t imagine what ended up mattering to him. As it turns out, heroes require victims.

I left him, kids in tow, on my 29th birthday. The kids and I flew home. Through the woods and over the hill, to grandmother’s house we’d go. Literally. I mean up a three mile dirt road from hell into a canyon removed from the world.

My kids couldn’t watch Power Rangers. Really. There was no TV. Or radio. Or internet. Just the sky, the mountains, my kids and me.

I tiled my mother’s bathroom.

I borrowed her truck, filled it with regular gasoline instead of the diesel it took, and ruined it.

My mom wasn’t ready to be a grandmother yet.

Coming home wasn’t as I imagined it.

I’d given up on control by this point. Safety was the only alternative. I’d have given anything for that, but it, too, proved elusive. Right now, if I had a sound system, I’d play you a snippet from the Doors.

“People are strange…”

The truth is, I’ve done a lot of things. I regret many of them. Not because I did them, but because I missed the important part. While I pursued control, safety, and personal need, I ignored the one thing that really mattered because my drama was way more interesting.

The trouble with drama is that it doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a nice way of not being boring. When we create drama, we think we matter in some way.

I’m sorry.

We don’t.

Not through drama anyway.

I digress. We’re doing history here. Making sense out of chronology and determining cause and effect.

By thirty, I’d taken a local non-profit from a small organization running 60,000 in the red to a successful organization operating comfortably in the black.

I didn’t do that all at once. It took about a year and half and I had some serious help.

Some of you may remember Owen Lopez, the former ED of The McCune Foundation.

One morning, a long time ago, I walked into Owen’s office with a twenty four year old boss who had recently graduated from UNM and didn’t really know anything.

College can apparently do that.

I wouldn’t know. I didn’t graduate.

Ok. So. Here I am. 29 years old. No degree. No real work history. I’m running an after school program because I won’t let anyone else take care of my kids (that control thing again) and I’m teaching 18 kids about how to carve soapstone with a dremmel and write their own mythologies. We catch snakes and lizards. We make snack. We imagine ruling the universe.

Remember. I’m good at imagining stuff.

So on this morning, accompanied by my younger boss, I make a pitch to one of the biggest granting organizations in the state. Owen Lopez is dry. He’s obtuse and somewhat abstract. He listens politely to my pitch. He makes a joke that goes beyond my 24 year old, recently graduated boss, and asks a question about my proposal.

He says, “Ok. Your idea sounds sexy. It’s bold and might work, but I have to ask, who’s going to teach this kind of stuff for $8 an hour?”

Good question, right? Back then, this was 1997, $8 an hour was the going rate for childcare directors.

I looked at Owen Lopez, stepped in front of my young boss, and said, “I am.”

Owen gave us the grant. $40,000 dollars was a lot back then.

Somehow, some way, that grant and my fake archeological dig lined up in my mind, but I wasn’t listening to me then.

Fast forward.

My young boss lasted less than six weeks.

I talked my way into her job.

That’s the thing about parenting. You’ll sign yourself up for almost anything to make sure your kids are adequately fed.

I got a raise. I was making a whopping 10 dollars and 30 cents an hour. Oh. My. God. I should buy a house.

Make an investment.

Put some money aside for my kid’s future.

I still was pretty big on control.

Yeah. Safety mattered, too.

And wow, with the money I was making, I thought I could afford some stuff.

I looked all over town. I applied for mortgages. Turns out, my ex husband’s credit was way more important than my lack of credit.

I was blank out of luck.

I’d be working poor as long as I was willing or capable of work. My kids ate a ton.

And then, this thing happened. Nothing I could have foreseen or planned.

My crotchety, old landlord offered me a gift. “Buy this house.” He said.

“I don’t have a down payment or credit.”

“That’s okay,” he said. We’ll make it work.”

Well, he did. He made it work. He pretended to be my uncle, gifted me $80,000 in equity, and arranged a mortgage through a friend.

Yep, you’re looking at it. I was one of those sub-prime mortgage holders that brought about the end of the world.

No, I wasn’t responsible for the collapse of Lehman Brothers. I paid my mortgage. On time. Every month because I owed it to that man and my kids to hold onto that house.

Then, 9/11 cost me my job.

With the economy in a tail spin, and my lack of credentials, I couldn’t get a job. So I created one. I had almost $5,000 in a retirement fund and some unemployment benefits. This was not nearly enough to cover my mortgage or food in the fridge for long, but it was enough to buy me some time.

Time, when you’re in pursuit of control, or safety, is paramount.

Somehow, I managed to leverage the property I shouldn’t have owned, the unemployment benefits, and the favor or a friend into an art career that shouldn’t have happened. Don’t forget, I had no money. I didn’t have a degree. I was a single mom in a time when the PTA president didn’t want me to join because I would denigrate the organization. No. I’m not kidding.

My career as a sculptor astounded most.
It astounded me.

I didn’t think I deserved my success.

How about you? Ever wondered if you deserved what you got? Better or worse?

Fast forward.

I met the man of my dreams in 2004. I didn’t know it at the time, but, as it turns out, he was one more thing I couldn’t control.

We didn’t marry until 2013.

Before we married, and while we were still figuring out how to be partners, I was awarded the title of Santa Fe Business Woman of the Year.

I was blown away.

Really.

I’m not a business woman in any ordinary sense of the word.

I suck at math.

I refund everything.

I’m never looking at the bottom line.

Instead, I’m looking at my customer’s faces.

And that’s why I’m here today talking with you.

The reason I took that award isn’t because of the profit I made or how carefully I managed costs. I took it because of what I did for the people in my community. I created a shopping center with a soul. I required all tenants to give back to the community they served. I gave back. Some thought me nuts. They were wrong.

As of this minute, I can list the following accomplishments:

I successfully raised three children and they have become men I adore.

I married the man I love.

I won multiple awards as an artist.

I was named business woman of the year.

I have authored four books, the last of which I’d give you all for free if I could, and the first of which took a national award.

I co-own a shopping center. I own a store.

Most importantly, I’m here before you now.

Do you know what’s great about history? It’s not the 20/20 vision of what’s transpired before.

It’s the running themes that evolve into outcomes never predicted, expected, or thought possible.

I didn’t graduate college.

I’ve won some awards and achieved a modest wealth.

But here’s what I’ve learned.

There is no guaranteed outcome.

People are strange.

There is only ONE Thing we can control and that determines everything.

What we control is what we give.

To ourselves.

To our customers.

To our children and friends and lovers.

To our community and our families.

What I’ve learned. What I’m on a mission to share. Is that we are NOT in control of anything else.

But when we accept that small responsibility, everything changes.

We’re taught to manage, manipulate, seduce, or coerce to ensure the company is profitable, the children do well in school, the marriage lasts. We’re taught to go after what we need, to GET it at whatever cost. And our focus on getting is a tragedy.

Today, I invite you to imagine with me. Imagine if, instead of waiting for someone else to fill your need, you fulfilled theirs or yours?

If you want loyal customers, imagine giving them something bigger than a discount. What do they need? Is it your time? Is it the music they like on the radio? Is it a warm smile and the promise they can have their money back if they change their mind?

Now, imagine something that makes you happy. Just for a second. Close your eyes. Breathe in. Do you see it? Imagine giving that to yourself. Just doing it, buying it, going there.

Next, imagine dismissing all the reasons you can’t get what you want. Because there aren’t any. There is nothing standing in the way of your happiness except what you’re unwilling to give to yourself.

Here’s the thing. When you wait for someone else to give you what you need and want, you give away ALL YOUR POWER. They are now in control of what you receive. Maybe they like that. Maybe they don’t. Maybe they don’t know how to give to you in way you’re able to receive.

But…

When you give – to yourself, your customers, your children, your friends, family, and community, you empower yourself and give others permission to do the same. There IS NO CONTROL. There is only who you want to be, how you want to live, and what you give to your dream.

That’s what makes an excellent business.

It’s what makes a marriage.

A friendship.

A connection.

When you give, wholeheartedly and without trying to control an outcome, history becomes irrelevant. The story changes.  Life begins again.

When the Ideas Come

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I lay somewhere between wake and sleep, that tangled place of sheets, timid sunlight, and chaotic dreams.

It is here, in the stillness, ideas surface. They come like trout to the surface, swift and fleeting. A twist of phrase, a leap of scent, a shimmer reminiscent of mountain sunsets.

I breathe slowly. One sudden movement and they’ll dart away. That one, there, just out of reach. It’s a big one. Hard to catch. Harder to hold. Ah. There it goes. It’s gone. Retreated to the deep. Waiting at the bottom beneath some great old tree for me to quit, give up, leave.

 

Experimenter

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Under the comfort of a soft blanket, my husband and I nestled on the couch, ignoring sunshine and chores to binge watch Netflix for the better part of a lazy afternoon.

At one point, we stumbled on an interesting movie. Experimenter startled us. Of course we knew about Stanley Milgram’s research into human behavior, but somehow the film drove it home in a way that psyche class decades ago failed to do.

The film was a great reminder of how easily we succumb to authority and how so much of our behavior is influenced by a need to belong.

It made us more conscious about the importance of listening to our hearts and acting on what we hear. Somehow, when we do that we regret less and have less to fear.

The movie and subsequent dialog are worth the time. Who knows? Maybe they’ll help the world.

Valentine’s Day

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Valentine’s Day isn’t really my thing.

I’d rather a dandelion in a meadow than a dozen roses in a vase.
Give me the sweetness of a kiss or touch that doesn’t demand.
Ask me about my day without a phone in your hand.

Walk with me to the top of the hill and listen to the wind.
Romp with the dog and flash me a grin.

In the morning, don’t jump so quickly from our bed.
Linger awhile.

The world can wait, love. It can.

Stop for a moment.
Dance with me.

Those songs, our songs, smooth the wrinkles and lines.
They light your eyes.
They make me sing inside.

Don’t give me a holiday or sliver of night,
buy me a card, or wait for candlelight.

I’ll take the minutes snatched from our lives.
Like conspiring thieves, let’s steal more time.

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