Me Too

Me too.

Not once, not twice, not dozens of times.

Thousands of times.

If you haven’t been on social media in a few days, there is a flurry of women coming forward with the words “Me too.” The call to action was a post that said in part-

If all the women who have been sexually assaulted or harassed wrote “Me Too” as their status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.

I’ve read so many posts from my friends, some brief and some heart-wrenchingly long, and I felt called to share my story as well.

When I was six years old my cousin and I who both had super short hair were physically pushed aside by a couple of older women so they could get to my younger sister with her curly blonde hair so they could rave about how beautiful she was. Ah. Girls need to have long hair and they need to be beautiful.

When the boys in middle school snapped my bra strap this fueled my suspicion that my body and my feelings about my body were not my own.

When a man tried to rape me at nineteen I blamed myself. I shouldn’t have worn that outfit, and I shouldn’t have gone into a room alone with him.

When the men in the Army National Guard who didn’t want women in the military disparaged me within hearing distance and laughed raucously I simply pretended I couldn’t hear them. I was on their turf. I had to be careful.

When a man who is in a position of authority over me said a couple of months ago when I didn’t immediately voice an opinion on something when he asked- “Just like a woman. (You) don’t know what to say. Just like a woman.”

When ALL the men (and women) over the years have said some version of- “You’d be so much more attractive if you just smiled.” I’ve thought, Oh. I need to be nicer. That’s right. Women need to be NICE.

And so much more.

I learned young that in order to make it in our society I had to steel myself before I left the house every day. To watch where I went and when. To temper my voice and my opinions so I wouldn’t offend not just the men in the room but the women who were trying to make it in a man’s world. I learned how to pretend not to hear. Not because it was the right thing to do but because it was… easier. It was easier than getting in a fight, than defending myself, than standing up for what I knew was right. It will blow over. This too shall pass. They don’t really mean it. Boys will be boys.

I agree that bringing awareness to the magnitude of this problem is a step in the right direction.

And I could end this post here and I might have friends leave a Heart Icon in the comment section or even a {{{{{{{HUG}}}}}}}

But my story doesn’t stop there.

Yes. I have been the victim of sexual assault and sexual harassment.

But if you were to ask me if I’ve ever been the perpetrator of sexual harassment I would have to say, “Yes.”

Me Too.

In my past I admit that I have gossiped and called other women a B**ch or a Sl*t . In doing so I was not only harassing the woman I was talking about but I was also influencing whoever I was talking to, man or woman.

I’ve seen other women being harassed and I’ve said nothing.

I have been part of the problem.

And, then there’s one of my biggest secrets and deepest regret-

When I was in sixth grade my family moved to a new town. There was a girl in my new class who was physically fully developed and the other girls used to make fun of her. I remember so clearly being in a group of girls surrounding her on the playground chanting terrible things at her about her body while she stood there sullenly, shoulders slumped, hearing our cruel words in her soul.

I knew what I was doing was wrong. I felt it in my blood. But I wanted to be cool. I wanted to be liked. I wasn’t the instigator, I was just a follower.

Years later I ran into this girl and felt my face flush with shame. To my great surprise she lit up with joy when she saw me. I wanted to apologize, to assuage my own guilt, but I didn’t want to make her revisit something that she may have forgotten or released. So, I smiled and made small talk with her.

A few years ago, I earned a Master’s Degree in Spiritual Psychology. I’ve forgiven myself for my actions in sixth grade. The truth is that I was doing the best I knew how to do at the time.

But, as Oprah says, “When you know better, you do better.”

Now I know better. I can’t change the past but what I can do is take responsibility for my actions in the future.

I can take ownership of the way I speak about other women. I can speak up when I am the victim of harassment or when I witness harassment of another woman.

I have a voice. I will use it.

Me too.

Christmas on a Fire Truck

In the spirit of the holidays, here’s a post from the archives-

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For the last five years or so my department at work has come together at Christmas to support families in a small trailer park by our office. We found out about these families through our local fire chief so every year he arranges a fire truck and a Santa to deliver the gifts we collect to the children in this park.
We can usually coerce six or seven people to leave our busy office to ride on the truck and help Santa pass out the gifts to the children. Let me tell you, riding on top of a fire truck is pretty fun. Seeing the faces of the children when a fire truck drives up their driveway with Santa on top is fantastically fun.

This year we decided to try to help this small community beyond supplying gifts to the children. Everyone brought in little luxuries to make gift bags for the families. Luxuries like chocolates and Christmas cookies and handmade fleece blankets. In addition to providing gift bags for the families with children we decided to make gift bags for the trailers without children as well. Year after year the people in those trailers have come out to watch us take care of the families with children and been happy that they were getting support. Everyone in our department came together to put the gift bags together. We were all excited to know that this would be a complete surprise for absolutely everyone in the trailer park.

We also took up a collection to provide gift cards for a local grocery store so that the families could buy supplies for a nice holiday meal. We’ve done this in the past but we wanted to make a bigger impact this year so we set a pretty high monetary goal for the department.

I was particularly struck by the generosity of a woman I work with. She didn’t bring me money for the collection until the very last day. She apologized and explained that she thought she was going to have to tell me that she just wasn’t in a position to contribute this year but at the very last second miraculously the money appeared. She gave me more than we requested so I offered her change. She insisted that we use it all for the gift cards. She was honored to give more than her share.

A few of us rode on the fire truck today with Santa to deliver everything to the trailer park. It is always incredible to see the children accept their gifts from Santa. For many of them, the gift we give them will be their only gift for Christmas so we all know that it is very special to them. The parents always hang back, taking photos and letting their children have their moment in the sun. Today, however, the parents were all called forward and presented with a gift bag and a gift card for food. They were surprised and grateful.

After all the families with children had received their gifts we started calling forward the homes without children. The first house number we called was that of an elderly couple standing in the background. They couldn’t believe that their names were being called. They slowly came to the fire truck to receive their own gift bag and gift card. At first they were shy and trepidatious, but when Santa handed them the gift bag I saw in their eyes that in that moment they too, felt that they were special. They understood that other people in the world took the time to make sure that they were cared for. It was stunningly beautiful.

Every single person that we gave gift bags and gifts to in that little trailer park on the side of a major city street accepted their gifts with grace and honor. I’ve seen children tear through a dozen gifts on Christmas morning and barely realize what they’ve received. Today I know that every gift was special. Every gift was appreciated. And every recipient felt valued.

This, for me, is the true nature of the holiday spirit. It’s not in what we get this holiday season. The real joy is in what we give.

Jealousy vs. Inspiration

Last week I went to a book panel discussion in Santa Monica. One of my writing teachers was the moderator for the event and I was intrigued enough to make the long drive across the whole of Los Angeles in rush hour traffic.

At the event my teacher asked how many people in the audience were writing a memoir. Half the audience, including myself, raised their hands. I was in good company.

I didn’t research either of the other two writers on the panel so I was surprised to witness one of them, a twenty-five-year-old woman, speak about how she went from publishing one essay in The New York Times to having editors and agents fight for the right to publish the book she hadn’t written yet.

It was the second time that week that I’d been in a situation where I had seen a young woman being celebrated for her accomplishments. A few days before the book panel I went to a gallery opening and watched a twenty-four-year-old woman field compliments and accolades for her solo photography show.

Both times I watched myself to see how I would feel and how I would react.

Both times I noticed an old story coming forward. A story about how these women were too young to accomplish so much so early. A story about how their economic backgrounds must have contributed to their early success. A story about how I deserve to publish a book and show my photography. A story based on my own judgments and insecurities. A story based on comparison, them against me. I’m not at all sure what I was doing at twenty-four but I’m pretty sure it involved working in a mediocre Mexican restaurant and a lot of haphazard plans that I would get to “one day.”

On both occasions, rather than succumbing to feelings of inadequacy and lack, I realized that I had a choice in both how I viewed these women and in how I viewed myself. I no longer believe that there is a limited amount of success in the world. I no longer believe that someone else has to fail so that I can succeed. I’m all in with what Stephen Covey references in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I believe in Win-Win. I believe there is enough for all of us. I believe that there is enough for me- enough attention, enough money, and enough love.

Something happened when I shifted my thoughts about this in the presence of these young women. In understanding that their success didn’t dim my light, something magical happened. That twinge of jealousy shifted to inspiration. I saw each of them in a new light. I saw beauty and grace in the way they were both sharing their gifts with the world.

Yes! I could do that. I could focus on polishing the essay I’ve been working on for The New York Times. I could put some of my photos together and have a show somewhere. Neither one of them has done something that is impossible for me. They have shown me that having an art show and publishing a book are both entirely possible.

I came home and immediately downloaded the young woman’s book. Here’s the thing- it’s good. It’s really good. She deserves every success. I am grateful that she shared her story with the world, and in doing so she’s inspired me to do the same.

Big Tipper

Diner

I guess you could call me a big tipper. A few months ago I tipped a waitress in the desert near Joshua Tree, CA a hundred-dollar bill on a twenty-five dollar tab.

Three years ago I attended the World Domination Summit in Portland, Oregon. Chris Guillebeau, who puts on this conference for four thousand “unconventional people doing remarkable things”, runs it as a non-profit so when he found that he had money left over at the end of the conference he decided to give each and every attendee a crisp hundred-dollar bill with the caveat- go out and make a difference in the world. I’d been sitting on that hundred-dollar bill for three years.

A year ago I stopped for breakfast at a Denny’s in that same area on my way back from an all night gong concert in the desert at the magical Integraton. My server was distracted and overwhelmed but I felt called to show her she was seen and valued. I didn’t have enough cash in my wallet to tip her a hundred dollars so I gave her a twenty and set the intention to bring that hundred-dollar bill with me on my next trip to the desert.

My first job waiting tables was at a truck stop in Jamestown, North Dakota. I used to bring home a Styrofoam cup full of change on Sunday afternoons, all the while envious of the far more experienced blonde waitress whose cup always seemed to be filled with dollar bills instead of change. Our Styrofoam cups sat right next to each other on the counter by the coffee machine. I wasn’t jealous. I was inspired. I hoped that one day I would also be worthy of dollar bills instead of change.

As I packed for another gong concert a few months ago I found that hundred-dollar bill languishing in an old Moleskine notebook. I put it in my wallet, excited to finally allow this money to fulfill its destiny of making a difference in my little part of the world.

I coerced a friend into having breakfast with me this time. We stopped at a diner I’d never been to before. It was textbook Americana, with red vinyl booths and a black and white checkerboard floor. We slid into a booth. I was in all black yoga apparel, and my friend, who is far more serious about yogic tradition, was dressed in all white with a turban.

Our waitress was prompt and thorough, blonde, polite, and attentive. She was young and eager. She reminded me so much of myself at that truck stop in North Dakota. As my friend and I discussed the prevalence and future of sound healing and Kundalini yoga she filled our coffee cups and made sure we had enough jam.

After we paid the check I called the waitress over and told her the story of how I had been charged with the responsibility of giving away this hundred-dollar bill. As I passed it to her I explained that I felt called to give it to a server in the desert and that I had chosen her.

Tears immediately came to her eyes. She asked, “Do I need to give this to someone else?”

My friend said, “No, you don’t have to pay it forward. It’s for you.”

“You can use it for anything you like,” I said, “Buy yourself a little treat, use it to pay a bill, it’s totally up to you.”

She looked from side to side, weighing her options. She was crying. She hesitated and finally said, “I feel like I shouldn’t take it.”

I could see how conflicted she was in that moment. I imagined what kinds of things were going through her head- What do they want? Is this a trick? Is there a hidden camera somewhere? Can I trust this?

I thought about all the ways I’ve been resistant to receiving in my life. From letting a friend buy me dinner to accepting praise, I have tended to push all gifts away, as if doing so makes me stronger or more accomplished. It doesn’t. What it does is create distance and alienate me from the people I love.

“Look,” I said, “For me this is an exercise in giving. For you this is an exercise in learning to receive. Can you receive this?”

I saw her shift when she decided to take the money. She softened. Her shoulders relaxed and she looked up and said, “Thank you.”

In seeing her accept and appreciate such a simple act of generosity I see that I too can learn to receive, whether it’s in the form of an unexpected gift from a stranger or a compliment from the checker at the grocery store.

Lover’s Lobster for Two

I worked in a beautiful restaurant in Maui in my late twenties. It was one of the most expensive restaurants on the island but we were full every night because the chef was a genius. I’m not at all sure how I got a job there in the first place, the restaurant itself was way out of my league at the time, but the chef was also from Montana and he decided to take a chance on me.

Fresh Lobster

He always created special menus for holidays and on Valentine’s Day one year he did a very extravagant menu that featured, among other things, a dish he called Lover’s Lobster for Two. It was the most expensive dish on the menu that night and it included 2 glasses of champagne and 2 fresh lobster tails which were surely nestled together to form a heart, expertly designed to delight wives and girlfriends.

Valentines’ day is one of the busiest nights in any restaurant and that night was no exception. I had a table of newlyweds who, after waiting patiently for their table long past their reservation time, sat in my section, holding hands and gazing lovingly at each other. They ordered the lover’s lobster for two. I brought them their champagne. The kitchen was crazy busy that night. I watched these two wait almost an hour and a half for their meal. I’d check with them every so often to see how they were doing and apologize for the kitchen, they were perfectly happy just to sit and nurse their glasses of champagne and wait for this mythical lobster to arrive. They were careful not to finish either glass; they just took tiny little sips ensuring that when the lobster arrived that they would finally be able to enjoy the fantastic food pairing of champagne and lobster.

Because of the chaos of the evening the kitchen ran out of fresh lobster before their order was even started. The chef pulled frozen lobster tails from the freezer and I realized that this lovely patient couple would not get the lobster they deserved, but this substandard replacement. My heart sank but I knew there really wasn’t anything I could do.

When their plate showed up in the window, two small lobster tails sliding around in a broken butter sauce, I had no option but to take it out to them, head slouched in shame. They didn’t deserve second place, they didn’t deserve to have lobster that had been in the restaurant freezer for months instead of the lobster that had been flown in fresh that morning. They received the plate with delight and savored every single bite, raving about how delicious it was. They still had a little champagne left in each glass to enjoy the lovely pairing of frozen lobster tail and warm champagne.

I was embarrassed, but I certainly couldn’t tell them that their meal wasn’t exactly what they expected. I had to allow them to believe that they were enjoying perfectly fresh lobster. I don’t know how long they saved for that meal, it was clear to me that they didn’t indulge in expensive restaurants often. Not because of the way they spoke or acted, but because I saw the reverence that they attached to the evening. Every detail was special for them; they didn’t take any of it for granted. I brought them a chocolate soufflé for desert on the house, I told them it was to thank them for their patience in waiting so long for their meal. I couldn’t tell them it was because they didn’t have the experience I thought they deserved to have. They were pleasantly surprised by the soufflé, once again, savoring and enjoying each and every bite.

I’ve been keeping notes on scraps of paper my entire life, preparing for the book I am finally writing and this story has always stood out as being significant to me. I’ve wondered just what was so memorable about that night and that couple. It wasn’t just about the fact that they unwittingly settled for second best, because they had no idea that the lobster they received wasn’t the best possible quality.

It was really about the grace I saw in these two people. All around them diners were tapping their watches and making demands- it was a busy night, the kitchen was slow. If anyone in the restaurant had a reason to complain that night it was this couple. But they didn’t complain. In fact, they did exactly the opposite. I can only imagine that they had been looking forward to having an incredible experience that night. At any point during the evening they could have chosen to view their experience differently, they could have seen the situation as upsetting or disappointing. Instead, they held hands and sipped their champagne and chose to have the night that they dreamed of having. I don’t know if it would have mattered if I brought them a plate of ham sandwiches, they probably would have been pleased. They were predisposed to have a good time no matter what. Even as a twenty-something waitress I saw the beauty and the power in their behavior.

I know now that I can also choose in each moment how I perceive what is happening. Frozen lobster can be magnificent or it can be tragic. The choice is entirely up to me.

The choice is also, entirely up to you. How are you viewing your world today?

Lessons from Pain

I’ve always prided myself on my ridiculously high pain threshold. I broke my ankle in sixth grade gym class and walked home afterwards. A couple of years ago I broke my little toe just before I left the house to do an entire Bikram yoga class, balancing poses and all. In Army basic training I marched with a 50-pound rucksack on my back until my brain shut off all feeling in my feet. I thought I understood pain.

I’ve had my fair share of medical conditions in my life. In every circumstance the intake nurse always asks the question- “What’s your pain level?” There is usually a poster nearby with an array of illustrated faces on it to show the different levels of pain. From a happy smiley face at 0 to an angry crying monstrous face with lightning shooting out of its head at 10.

No matter what, I had never claimed to be anywhere above a 6.

A few weeks ago I looked a nurse square in the eye and told her I was at a 9. I had never experienced pain at that level before. Eventually I found out I have shingles and a problem in my lower back that affects a nerve in my leg. Nobody could tell me which issue was causing the pain. Really, it didn’t matter where it came from; my primary focus in life became how to make it stop. My priorities quickly shifted from my frustration with not being able to do spin classes for a few weeks to wondering how I could possibly climb up the stairs to my house without falling over and crying. The pain moved beyond just distracting to pervasive and all encompassing.

I’ve had a number of medical issues in my life and rather than just get through this I decided to learn as much as I could from this pain. I vowed to be brave enough to look at what this pain had to teach me.

The lessons I learned from this weren’t at all what I would have expected. Being in that kind of pain broke me open in a way that nothing else ever has. I was stripped of everything I usually rely on to protect me in this world. My intelligence, my wit, my charm- none of these things served me in this situation. I had no control over my emotions. I cried in front of absolute strangers- nurses, doctors, Uber drivers. I didn’t care. I put myself in situations with doctors I didn’t know and I simply trusted that they would help me.

Here’s the thing- these doctors and nurses and receptionists did help me. But it wasn’t because I stood up for myself and DEMANDED that they help me. It wasn’t because I cocked my head to the side and batted my eyes at them to CHARM them into helping me. It wasn’t because I had done my research and interviewed 4 different surgeons and CONVINCED them why and how they should help me. It wasn’t even because I was crying in front of them because for the most part I wasn’t. They didn’t help me out of pity.

They helped me out of compassion. They helped me because I was wide open and bare in front of them. The mask I usually wear to protect myself from the world was completely gone. I was just raw, primal, thoroughly and absolutely my true self. They saw ME, the real ME. The Laura within Laura. And they moved heaven and earth to help that part of me. Not because of anything I did, but because they saw the honesty and the humanity of my true self. They saw and were moved to help the part of me I’ve fought my whole life to hide, to protect from the world.

I went from an MRI to 8 steroid injections in my spine in less than 3 days. That process usually takes weeks. Thankfully the shots initially released most of the pain. I’ve had more pain creep back in and I’m doing my best to manage it. Carefully. Respectfully. Knowing that pain is a difficult teacher but there are great lessons to be learned.

I AM grateful for the lessons I am learning from this pain.

I AM grateful for the compassion and generosity I was and continue to be shown by all the medical professionals involved in my care.

I AM grateful to the support I’ve received from the friends and family I reached out to for help.

More than anything, I AM grateful for seeing the gifts that can come from sharing my true self with the world.

Pesto 101

There was a boy in college who decided that he was going to date me. This was long before cell phones so his plan of approach was to show up at my apartment occasionally to charm me. I was generally not home, so he often ended up chatting with my younger sister about how fabulous I was. When he finally actually caught me at home I was rather short when I asked him what he wanted. He mustered up his courage and said that he wanted to make me dinner. I took pity on him and agreed.

Basil

The afternoon of our dinner date he showed up at my apartment again. He was making pesto and didn’t have enough money left to buy a crucial ingredient. He asked to borrow $3 so he could get fresh basil. I was surprised and somewhat annoyed but I gave him the $3.

I had never had a man cook for me before. My father, on the rare occasion when he had to make dinner, was certainly capable of heating up a can of soup or making a sandwich, but not much more.

I went to his rather fabulous but incredibly small studio apartment at the specified time to find him mincing garlic and boiling water in his kitchen. He had gone all out. He plied me first with a bottle of good white wine as he laid out a simple tray of appetizers- a few cheeses with some salami and good crusty bread drizzled with olive oil. Even though I had been working in restaurants for a couple of years, I didn’t know much about food or how it is really prepared. I was intrigued when he pulled out a mortar and pestle and began crushing the garlic with the fresh basil and toasted pine nuts for the pesto. I had never seen anything like it. He was careful and methodical in the way he prepared everything. He took pride in the little things, the way he sliced the bread, the way he slid the spaghetti noodles into a large pot of boiling water, the way he uncorked a second bottle of wine. It was clear that he had been preparing for this evening for some time.

The spaghetti pesto, when we finally sat down to eat it, was perfect. I had never tasted anything that earthy and fragrant. I realized how very much I had to learn about good food.

As my fork swirled bite after bite of the perfect pesto I looked up and saw this boy in a different light. He was no longer just the boy who had been harassing me. I saw passion in him, a passion for food and a passion for life. I wanted some of what he had. I wanted to find my pesto.

I look back now and marvel at the courage it must have taken for him to come to my house and ask for $3 to buy basil. I wonder how he ate for the rest of the week. I wonder if he had to walk to school in North Dakota in the winter instead of taking the bus. At the time I was so self-absorbed that none of these considerations came into my head. I can’t tell you how the evening ended. There may have been an innocent kiss by the end of the night, but I am sure there wasn’t more.

After that night I didn’t have the courage to tell him that I wasn’t interested so my sister ended up having to explain that I didn’t want to see him again. From what I understand there was some crying and some shots of tequila involved while she consoled him about his loss. It didn’t matter to me.

I realize now the gift he gave me that night, in showing me the passion that can be associated with food. I went on to work in some of the finest restaurants in the country and learn a lot about food. I’ve also had the great fortune of having a number of fabulous men cook for me.

I see now that I owe that boy a great debt. Not for the attention that he paid to me, there were plenty of boys at the time to do that, but for taking the time to show me what true passion looked like. By showing me his passion for food he opened me up to believing that I could and I would find that kind of passion for myself.

“Someone Like You”

When I lived in San Francisco one of my restaurant friends vehemently loved Van Morrison. We’d go to her house after work and open bottles of wine and increasingly become less and less intelligible as we sang along. I didn’t understand her fascination with him, I thought the music was a little folksy but I was so happy to spend time with her that I would have listened to anything.

It was in San Francisco that my dreams of becoming a fashion designer started to come true. I landed a job with an accessories company as a production assistant and worked my way up into the design room as a coordinator between design and production. Fashion is a very stressful business and eventually the head designer decided he wanted to cut back and focus just on the women’s line so I was given the opportunity to design for our kid’s division. I was so excited that I would often go into the office at night after they gym to work on my collections. I remember clearly the joy of strategizing and reworking each piece over and over again alone in the office on those nights. Our office was fabulous. It was in an old warehouse south of market with exotically big windows and a spectacular view of the bay bridge.

I had a mixed CD in the stereo at the office, a compilation with Van Morrison’s version of “Someone Like You” on it. I used to put this song on repeat and look out of those windows at the lights of downtown San Francisco and the bay bridge and feel in my heart that my dreams were finally starting to come true. I’d wanted to be a fashion designer since I was a little girl. I started making clothes for my dolls as soon as my mother taught me how to sew. I realize that part of my satisfaction was in knowing that I had worked really, really hard for that job. I started design school in Maui in my late twenties. I worked 2 and 3 jobs on the side for my first 5 years in the industry. There was definitely a sense of joy in finally accomplishing something that hadn’t been easy.

I felt like I was starting to make it. I was designing my first collection. Yes, it was a line of hats and bags for little girls with Santa appliques but it was a collection and I was the designer and someone was paying me to do it.

Even though I didn’t have a passport and I’d never been out of the country I just knew that my fashion career and my future were both going to be amazing.

Most people see this as a love song. This song has never been about that for me. Oh, I’ve had my fair share of “IF ONLY my prince would come” moments, but not surrounding this song. Somehow it became associated with wistful optimism in my mind. I assume it’s because when I used to listen to it with my restaurant friend we would stay up most of the night dreaming and strategizing about our fabulous futures.

I’m in a graduate program in Spiritual Psychology. At the end of every class weekend we all practice a ritual similar to speed dating where we grasp hands and look into each other’s eyes for a few seconds before a bell rings and we move onto the next person. A lot of people cry during this process. It’s very powerful not just to fully see someone else, but also to be truly and absolutely seen. After 5 minutes of so everyone stops and they play an inspirational song. Last month that song was “Someone Like You.” They referenced the first line; “I’ve been searching a long time for someone like you.” We were told; maybe the one you’ve been searching for is you.

I felt the tears bubble up from my soul. I went right back to that warehouse in San Francisco. I was reminded of the hope and the optimism that I felt during that time. Nobody gave me the power to be optimistic then, I gave that power to myself. My future was completely and absolutely up to me.

After over 20 years in the fashion industry I have a well-used passport and I’m grateful to have traveled all over the world. I realize that I can approach my future today the same way I approached it then, with a feeling of hope and optimism, with the belief that anything is possible and that I alone am in charge of my destiny.

It seems appropriate to quote one of the last lines of “Someone Like You” here-

The best is yet to come.

Waiting for the SUN

It’s not what it sounds like. I do not live at the North Pole. I live in Southern California where I see the sun almost each and every day.

I waited almost 9 months for a large gong named after the Sun. The best gong manufacturer is a German company named Paiste. About 30 years ago they started making gongs associated with the planets. The Sun is one of the largest (and most spectacular) gongs they make.

The Sun

I started training with a gongmaster in Orange County a couple of years ago. The Sun is the very first gong I ever played. I fell in love with it right then and right there. After about a year I played it safe and ordered the much smaller and more reasonable Venus gong. But I wasn’t satisfied. As I was waiting for Venus I kept telling a friend of mine how much I really wanted the Sun. Finally, he said,

 Are you going to spend the rest of your life settling for second best? If the Sun is what you want then get the Sun.

His comment stunned me. He was right. I thought about the ways I settle for second best in my life. There are so many situations where I just compromise because it’s easier or it’s cheaper or I don’t want to have to explain myself.

So I decided that this time I would do exactly what I really wanted to do. I ordered the Sun. I ordered through my teacher because it seemed like the respectful thing to do. Even though the Sun was in stock online (at 20% off with free shipping) I decided that my life isn’t just about searching for the best deal. My teacher suggested I order through him so I did. He told me to practice patience.

I waited. Month after month I pictured the brothers in Germany who make these gongs chanting mantras and hand hammering my gong. I practiced patience. I got irritated and then angry and then I practiced patience again. I set up the stand for it in my living room, a daily reminder that this time I was not settling for second best. I was willing to wait for what I really wanted.

Every once in awhile when I saw my gong teacher I’d cautiously and optimistically ask about the Sun. Every time there was a calm rational explanation. Gongs are becoming so popular. Each and every one is hand made. It takes time. It is becoming increasingly difficult to ship into Los Angeles harbor; they may have the ship to the east coast and put it on a train.

Then one day, the news came. The Sun was in California. After waiting for almost 9 months the Sun was mine at last.

Finally, I sat in front of it in my living room and prepared to play. I wondered if it could possibly meet the expectations that had built up in the months that I’d been waiting. In our culture of instant gratification I realize that I haven’t waited for something like this in a really long time.

I wanted the Sun. I went after the Sun. I waited and waited and waited and I got the Sun. At any step of the way I could have changed my mind, I could have said that it was taking too long, I could have demanded my money back, I could have tried to switch to a smaller gong that may have been easier to get. I could have settled for second best. I didn’t. I held out for what I really wanted.

The moment I finally played it I knew for sure, some things are absolutely worth waiting for.

Shopping in the Season of Joy

I work as a fashion designer. So, for better or worse, shopping the stores is part of my job. A few weeks ago I spent a day at South Coast Plaza, the biggest, most prestigious shopping mall in Orange County. It wasn’t close enough to Christmas to be crazy on a weekday but there were a fair number of shoppers in the stores.

I realize that you might not have empathy for me, but after walking all day I finally sat down in the Tory Burch store to lounge on their fabulous couches and rest for a moment. Tory Burch is one of the hottest brands out there today and their stores are always crowded. This day was no exception. Next to me on the sofa were several women trying on pair after pair of the newest boots contemplating and debating every detail. There were a few men, obviously on a mission for their wives, and several women “just looking” but what really struck me was a woman slumped across from me in a plush overstuffed chair. At this location they process all payments in the back of the store. This allows their customers to sit down for a few moments to wait for their (beautifully) wrapped packages to be delivered to them. I could see that she was waiting for her purchase.

She looked completely defeated. Her shoulders were slumped, she had another shopping bag at her feet and she seemed miserable. She didn’t have a lovely glass of champagne in her hand or one of the tiny little bottles of water that they bring for anyone who asks. She seemed isolated and alone, waiting with resignation for something I’m not at all sure that she even wanted.

What I was witnessing was the opposite of Joy. I realized in looking back on the day that I had seen this on face after face in the mall that day. When did this happen? When did the joy go out of shopping? When did shopping become a chore?

I thought about the way shopping, especially shopping for clothing, has transformed for myself. I used to get excited about each and every purchase. I would save for things, lust after things, watch for sales and be delighted when I finally brought something I had desperately wanted home. I realize that I don’t do that anymore. If I really want something and I love it I will usually just buy it. Truthfully though, I don’t buy much anymore. One of the reasons, certainly, is that I have several closets full of clothes I don’t wear but beyond that I find that I don’t yearn for THINGS the way I used to.

When I was fifteen all I wanted was a pair of Hash jeans. In my little town in North Dakota Hash jeans were the epitome of high fashion. Popular girls had multiple pairs. I just wanted one. They were outrageously expensive for the time. Now most of us are desensitized to the price of denim, many people don’t blink at jeans that cost $200 and up. At the time my mother still bought Plain Pockets jeans from JC Penney. I don’t know what those Hash jeans cost, but they were the equivalent of many pairs of Plain Pockets. No matter how hard I pleaded with my mother she wouldn’t budge. Plain Pockets were good enough for me.

So I dreamed and I strategized and I saved until I finally had enough money to purchase my own pair of Hash jeans. I clearly remember the day I actually went into the store to buy them. What distinguished Hash jeans from every other brand at the time was the fact that they had different embroidered designs on one of the back pockets. I easily spent over an hour in the store debating between the different options before deciding on a pair with an EAGLE on the back pocket. I was happy to hand over my hard-earned money in exchange for this fantastic symbol of lavish luxury. I wore them as often as I dared with pride. Acquiring those jeans was an accomplishment for me. They meant something.

Today I have a drawer with a dozen pairs of expensive jeans that I never wear. None of them are special. None of them have an eagle on the back pocket.

There’s been a lot of discussion recently about the future of retail, about how brick and mortar stores can differentiate themselves from all the online options available today. I think the key lies in changing the shopping experience for the consumer. It lies in finding a way to allow that shopper in the Tory Burch store to find JOY again in the shopping process. It lies in educating consumers about the everyday choices they make between quality and quantity and how these decisions affect us all. It lies in each of us taking responsibility for how and why we buy things and what they mean to us.

As we round the bend towards the end of this holiday shopping season may we all keep this in mind. Whether you are still buying gifts for others or buying things for yourself, what is special to you? What is really valuable to you? What will bring you or your friends and family JOY?

How has the shopping experience changed for you? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.