The rejuvenating power of the interview

One of the bennies from my Seattle Times column gig is that it has led to other work. I was able to pitch some story ideas to AARP for their work/career section and two of them turned into actual assignments.

I love stories that involve several interviews and consequently varying points of view and advice. An article, which is already outlined, takes on a new shape that’s guided by each new person I interview. First up was a story on how Boomers and Gen Xers can communicate effectively with Millennials in the workplace. I was astounded by how many people wanted to weigh in the subject and in a positive way. The next story was on how to turn your love of travel into an encore career or part-time gig. I had been inspired by Ruby Montana, who now runs a kitschy motor lodge in Palm Springs, and Margaret Manning, who runs a website for women 60 and older from her home in Switzerland. Again, many people generously agreed to share their experience and advice.

Now, energized by these assignments, it’s back to the drawing board with a new secret book project, more freelance articles and publishing consulting. As Ruby Montana might say, Giddyup!

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The pussyhat activist

When it comes to conflict, I’m a bit of a pussy.

I am ashamed to say I have only participated in one march, a huge pro-choice march in the early 90s in Washington, DC. While I talk a good game and post articles on Facebook in a furious indignation, the truth is that I’ve let others do the heavy lifting. My blog and subsequent books, Things I Want to Punch in the Face, took aim at the small things in life that chap my hide. I can go after mimes and man buns and mixologists, the truth is that I skirt around the more divisive and serious issues that I believe in, like gun control and reproductive rights and misogyny and climate change and Black Lives Matter, because I have never felt confident enough to argue my point to the metaphorical death. I didn’t grow up in a family or culture that invited spirited debate. We scurried away from any topics that were unpleasant, which meant religion, politics, and money were off limits at the dinner table.

Then along came Donald Trump. I’d say he’s a joke of a human being but the threat he presents is anything but funny. And after decades of taking my rights and freedoms and citizenship for granted, I’ve finally woke. I’ve been a passive American because more often than not, I’ve felt that others were taking care of business on my behalf. Now, I’ve come to realize that citizenship is indeed a responsibility that requires more action than posting New York Times and Atlantic pieces into the echo chamber of my social networks.

It requires more than knitting pussyhats. But for me, that was a start. Stitches have flown off my knitting needles in the past week, as I’ve knocked out 10 in a fever dream. I’ve sent them to all corners of the country and passed them out among my friends. Some women have commented that they think the hats are silly and the pink color too weak to represent our collective rage. But for me, that’s not the point. For me, the process of knitting has been powerful and a way for me to channel and transform my feelings into action. On 9/11, I was living in Philadelphia. Unsure of what was happening and who was still at risk, I walked the 20 blocks from my office to my home, curled up into a fetal position, and then took out my needles. Over the next several days, a sweater emerged from my needles, a deep blue to match the depths of my grief. This past week, I’ve knit resilience and resolve and sisterhood into each hat, reclaiming pink as a badass power color. I have done this so that when I look around tomorrow at the sea of pink hats and lock arms with friends and strangers alike, I will feel myself a vital if small part of this great nation.

So this is why I march tomorrow, and why I will continue to stand up and rise up. We have to protect the rights that have been hard won by those who came before and we have to protect each other. I’m ready to put on my pussyhat and put some skin in the game.

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I’m a columnist for The Seattle Times!

mastheadI’m super excited, y’all. I just started writing a jobs column for The Seattle Times! I’ll be writing about how to navigate the gig economy, workplace trends and culture, that sort of thing. And while I may have to do some research to stay current, I do know a thing or two. I’ve been a freelancer for a loonnnnggg time, which is remarkable for several reasons.

But the main reason is that I’m a wuss. Running your own business is not for the faint of heart. I’m risk-adverse so quitting a full-time position as a publishing executive was not exactly an easy decision. On the side, I had co-authored a New York Times best-seller, even winding up on the Today Show. I should have been as cocky as a Kardashian. But I was trembling in my high-heeled boots. Working in publishing, I had a deep Rolodex (yep, I just dated myself right there) and lined up four gigs writing work-for-hire (i.e., non-royalty) manuscripts for various book publishers and packagers. I figured that money would sustain me for a while and if not, I could find another FTE job in publishing.

That was fifteen years ago.

I somehow made it work. Since then, I’ve had some lean times and some shit jobs. I’ve written thousands of product descriptions, I’ve given lectures at colleges around the country to sometimes-empty auditoriums, I went without a car for years and health insurance for months. I’ve put in my 10,000 hours writing, often at a regressive hourly rate. Living the dream sometimes means getting creative, staying hungry, and remaining humble. I may be a New York Times-bestselling author, but I still have to figure out how to make rent.

But on the flip side, I became nimble. I figured out my personal brand and built a solid author platform. I’ve developed a network both broad and deep (which is how I nabbed The Seattle Times gig). And I’m bringing all that juicy experience to the table to talk about thriving in the current economy.

My first column covers the often pesky but always absurd issue of bizspeak. Because I want to help, I share my tips for how to get granular on your industry’s vernacular and skill up in no time. You can read the column here.

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Secret of a skincare junkie: Brynn Strader at Jill Bucy Skincare

I thought I’d write some posts about my favorite people, places, and things. And because I’m vain, I thought I’d talk about my skin and who helps me keeping it looking so youthful. I’ve never had fillers or Botox and yet I’m consistently mistaken for someone way younger than 47. Part of my secret is that I never go outside. Here’s the rest of the story:

I’m a skincare junkie. I used to happily play the beauty guinea pig for Allure magazine, acting as their Seattle reporter. I got spray-tanned in the middle of a heavy rainstorm. By the time I walked back to my car, the drenched cuffs of my jeans had wiped away the tanner so while the rest of my bits and pieces were sunkissed, my ankles were chalky white. I got bikini-waxed in the winter, I went to a celebrated stylist to have my hair colored…after I had just paid for a single process the week before.

I loved it all.

But I held a special place in my heart for facials. With each new esthetician, I believed I’d find the answer to unblemished, radiant, youthful skin. When I went to Jill Bucy Skincare for the first time, it was on assignment for Allure.

That was six years ago and I’m still hooked on their French facials and Biologique Recherche products and treatments. Protecting the skin and building it up is a distinctly European philosophy, exotic and strange in the face of a lifetime of hearing that I should scrub, scrub, scrub. Exfoliate. Use Retinol. Get glycolic peels. All of this had aggravated my rosacea and resulted in contact dermatitis. I backed away from foaming cleansers, abrasive exfoliants, and products front-loaded with parabens and scent. My skin cleared up during that first facial with Jill and I became a loyal devotee.

brynnJill herself has moved on but I’m still in excellent hands. I just visited Brynn Strader (more on her here) for a treatment, and found myself needing to share the experience.

Let me walk you through the French facial (I know, that sounds dirty), customized for my sensitive, middle-aged skin:

Brynn started by cleansing my skin with Lait VIP O2, a gentle cleansing milk for my delicate skin, massaging it onto my face and neck. Yum.

She followed it with BR’s famous P50, a watery liquid that balances the pH level of the skin, moisturizes, and exfoliates. It really is unlike any other product and I use it twice a day, swiping it on my face, neck, décolletage, and back of my hands. Applied with a thin cotton pad, Brynn swirled it over my skin until it tingled. In a good way.

Next up was Lotion MC 110. Similar in texture to P50, it further exfoliates and tones the skin.

I was sufficiently prepped for the next step. Eschewing steam and extractions, both of which would aggravate my skin’s redness, she applied Soin Lissant to one half of my face. Soin Lissant is a combination of lotion and powder, mixed to a client’s skin, and rich in Omega 3 and hyaluronic acid. It provided some slick so that Brynn could “restructure” my skin and the muscles beneath with a stimulating, lifting treatment. I can only describe it as a quick, pulsing massage that moved from the neck upward. It rocked.

Between the P50, the Soin Lissant treatment, and Brynn’s skilled hands, my skin was invigorated.

The rest of my body, however, was beyond relaxed. I was so checked out that when she applied the Visolastine Masque to the left side of my face, I fell into a waking sleep. In my dream state, I believed her to be my boyfriend, and I talked to her and answered nonexistent questions, while she repeated the treatment on the right side of my face.

Bless her heart, she didn’t bat an eye. She just proceeded to give me a hand and arm massage before removing the masque with warm compresses, and applying finishing serums and creams.

To bring me back to life, perhaps, Brynn brought out what looked like two metal porkchops. Called Cryo-Sticks, they were kept in the refrigerator until my treatment. She gently applied them to the rosacea on my cheeks, reducing the skin temperature and limiting vasodilation. And yes, the sticks were bracingly cold. I thought they might stick to my skin, the way the kid’s tongue was glued to a frozen flagpole in A Christmas Story. Thankfully, they didn’t stick but the results did. When I looked in the mirror later, my complexion was even and my cheeks looked like I had put on foundation or CC cream because the redness was at an all-time low. Instead of looking like rosacea, it just looked like I had a natural glow. Genius.

The beauty of Brynn is her commitment to treating each client individually, discovering how best to target different skincare issues. “I like seeing a client come in and knowing that I can help her to relax, even temporarily. I enjoy having a one-on-one connection and focusing exclusively on a client’s specific needs.”

If you’ve haven’t been in for a facial for a while, or if your skin feels dull, or if you feel that nothing you try improves your skin, I’d urge you to give Brynn and a Classic French Facial a try. Treatments start at $100 and go up, depending on your customized treatments, and I can’t recommend them enough. Jill Bucy Skincare changed my entire attitude around skincare, which was no small feat, considering that I was weened on beauty magazines and the beauty industry. The results speak for themselves. This is what 47 looks like!

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Saying no to New Year’s resolutions

66270141New Year’s resolutions. Whatever.

Maybe I am just too content or complacent this year, but for whatever reason, I’m kicking New Year’s resolutions to the curb along with the brittle remains of my Christmas tree.

Here’s the deal: Why should I wait until New Year’s Day to make resolutions—grand, sweeping proclamations about what I’m going to do (or not do) in the coming year? I work on myself in small ways every day because I’m playing the long game, which continues long after a New Year’s resolution falls by the wayside, usually around MLK Day or my period, whichever comes first.

I have a great support network. I work with a leadership coach who keeps me accountable or at least aware of my ongoing resolutions: write more, eat cleaner, move my body, be kinder and more compassionate, work smarter, earn more, spend wisely, allow myself to enjoy being in love. These are goals I aspire to on a daily basis.

But I don’t think of them as resolutions, because that’s setting me up to fail. Of course I will break resolutions. Life isn’t absolute. Life gets in the way. Things come up. A lobster mac and cheese crosses my path. It’s too cold to go for a run. I cannot live without owning that vintage Whiting & Davis disco bib necklace. Oh yes, it will be mine.

I have resolved to let “resolutions” go gently into that good night and replace them with kindness toward myself and my sometimes slow but persistent progress.

That’s a resolution I can keep.

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Merging lives, merging Christmas ornaments: A love life in review

12375314_10156316791195072_6745333156560058817_oI have never read the New York Times’ Modern Love columns for the same reason I avoid real estate flyers in resort towns: they aren’t for me. I’ve never been able to take the flight of fancy needed to read about others’ love stories or dream houses.

I was so far away from a robust love life or bank account that reading stories of love or listings of vacation homes made me sad and resentful. Even stories of heartbreak or failed relationships elicited a response of, “Hey, at least they experienced love before it all went to shit. At least they had a relationship.”

I was 46 and had never gotten out of the gate.

Sure, I had been in relationships here and there. I was in a six-plus-year relationship in my twenties. But it was mostly long distance and when I finally moved cross-country to be with my boyfriend, we decided to live separately but within walking distance of each other’s apartment.

In retrospect, that was a bit fucked up.

But truth be told, deep down I knew he wasn’t “the one.” I loved him but I was laissez-faire about the whole situation, which should have told me something long before I was six years into it.

My thirties and the first half of my forties are a blur of Nerve, Match and OK Cupid first dates that didn’t lead anywhere but to a closed door and closed heart. I had a yearlong booty-call with a depressed, possibly alcoholic academic. That was a meager Band-Aid on my painful love life. Then there was the musician-electrician, a lumbersexual who broke things off with me via Facebook IM, preferring to get back together with his much-younger, former drug addicted ex-girlfriend.

That left me licking my wounds for years.

Then Carl—my unicorn, my white whale—appeared. All those lonely years melted away into a vague memory in the face of our love.

We’ve been together just over a year and have been marking relationship milestones: moving in together, two-week vacation, meeting the family, wearing matching Halloween costumes, hosting Thanksgiving, one-year anniversary…

That brings me to our Christmas tree. After a quick trip to Home Depot, we erected our 7–8 foot Noble Fir in the living room next to the fireplace for what was sure to be a welcoming, cozy tableau. We brushed off dead needles and filled the tree stand with water, and then Carl left me alone to string colored LED lights and strands of bubble lights with the strategery that comes from mild OCD.

Then came the ornaments.

There was a enormous Santa-sized buttload of them. Carl had accumulated an impressive collection over the years, adding to his treasured retro ornaments, handmade by his mother and spectacular in their number and craftsmanship.

As he laid out his assorted angels, Santas, and snowflakes, I opened my own bin, rediscovering my beauties, nestled in tissue and shredded paper. In addition to the hipster raccoon bandits that look like extras in a Wes Anderson film, I pulled out my tiny glass birds with the tinsel tailfeathers that clip to branches.

Negotiation ensued. Collectively, there were just too many ornaments for our tree. Carl suggested another tree for upstairs but the thought of going back to Home Depot hurt my head. My OCD flared with a plan: we would start with our A-list ornaments and work our way down to the filler nutcrackers and shot-in-the-ass snowmen. When the tree reached maximum ornament capacity, we’d pull the plug and ship the crappy leftovers to the island of misfit ornaments to think about what they’d done. In other words, back into the bin for another year. Thankfully, Carl agreed and we proceeded to integrate our ornaments with the grace and communication with which we’ve integrated our lives.

Who knows, maybe we’ll get two trees next year to accommodate the full lives we’ve lived separately, and the ornaments we’ve picked up along the way. But for this year, we came together, merging our lives, belongings and yes, even our Christmas ornaments.

Now that I’ve done the unimaginable and met the love of my life—at 46, no less!—I may just resolve to read a Modern Love column or two in the new year. I think I may even write one.

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Love in the Time of Cranberry

WP_20151126_001Thanksgiving is upon us, and I can’t wait. And for once, it’s not just about the stuffing.

For many years, I’ve eschewed traveling to the Midwest to visit family, instead opting for a “Friendsgiving.” When I lived on the East Coast, I’d fly to San Francisco or train to Washington DC to tuck into turkey with loved ones. Now living in Seattle, I have gone stag to a pal’s home every year, passing the bread basket to her mom and now her two daughters while her husband refills my wine glass.

And we, like many others, go around the table and say what we are grateful for. On that day, like every other day, I am thankful for my tribe of friends, a curated family of people who have my back even though we don’t share DNA. I am thankful that I always have a place at the table.

But don’t get it twisted: being perpetually single has its advantages, but it can suck Santa’s ass during the holidays. November and December—let’s not even get into New Year’s Eve—can be achingly lonely. Wrapping gifts or trimming the tree by myself, receiving cheery family photo Christmas cards from “The Smiths” or “The Hamlins,” baking desserts to take to someone else’s gathering, opening gifts from distant relatives on Christmas morning alone in front of the tree.

Taken on their own, these things are lovely but when viewed together, it’s a feat that any single person can stave off melancholy during the holidays. I once or twice thought about foregoing Thanksgiving or a Christmas tree, but I realized I needed to manage any possible depression or self-pity that could sprout in an empty apartment like a weed in a vacant lot. I haven’t always been completely successful, but I have been able to keep things in perspective and weather the few bad days.

This year, however, the game has changed. At 47, I’m no longer flying solo. I’m deeply in love and celebrating a year under my belt and under the covers with the man of my dreams.

This year, I—we—are hosting. I’m part of a we! I get to return the favor, inviting my radiant pastiche of a family into our home, a toasty fire in the fireplace and roasted turkey on an heirloom platter, handed down through generations to land on our dining room table. Hosting Thanksgiving feels like a rite of passage, up there with getting your first car or getting married.

And along with that, I have additional things to be grateful for.

Carl and I are integrating into each other’s lives. We’ve met each other’s friends and extended families. We’ve merged the Venn diagrams that were our solo social circles. We are hosting friends who we now both know and love.

While I am child-free, I was still a package deal and I wake up every morning sandwiched between my man and my cat. My heart turns as mushy as canned cranberry jelly when Carl makes up songs about Frida or roughhouses with her. I think she missed a man’s touch as well, seeing the way she purrs and preens for him, her white belly exposed for maximum rubs.

I’m also thankful that I’m my own person. Those decades of being a third wheel forced me to get comfortable in my own skin. I was generally okay with celebrating the holidays solo, but this time of year can trigger issues for the best of us, regardless of our relationship status. The holidays—full of people, parties, and enforced gaiety—can be achingly lonely. I’ve learned how to take care of myself, even though now I’m fortunate enough to have someone else to share the load.

Come Thursday, I’ll be refilling all my friends’ wine glasses. As for me, mine is already full.

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My week On Rue Tatin

Many of you know I attended a cooking class in Normandy last October with Susan Herrmann Loomis, celebrated chef, instructor and cookbook/memoir author. But I wanted to share the details of the week, as well as the marvelous takeaways. I wrote a guest post for Susan’s blog, detailing my week as a student at On Rue Tatin. It was a dream cooking, learning, eating and drinking my way through Louviers, and I tried to convey why On Rue Tatin and Susan Herrmann Loomis are so very special and why you should book yourself on the next flight to France.

Read the post here.

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There’s No Place Like Home

I just returned from the first hometown visit with my boyfriend. Carl gets a rose, meshing with my family in myriad ways, from drinking a beer with my stepdad Jim while being treated to a tour of his gun racks, to marveling over the details of my dad’s train layout, to running a 5K (his first!) with my dad at the crack of dawn.

He’s a keeper.

But I already knew that. What I didn’t know is how other parts of the trip would burrow under my skin like swimmer’s itch throughout our few days in Southwestern Michigan.

With a flash thunderstorm quashing a beach glass hunt, we had some time to kill. Under grey skies, I asked Carl if he wanted to see the house where I spent my teenage years with mom and Aunt Vikki, her “business partner.” I’m writing a memoir about what when on inside the house, and that’s a story for another day. But outside the house offers its own tragic tale.

Driving over the Bicentennial Bridge, the bustling Caucasian streets of St. Joseph quickly gave way to a quiet, foreboding landscape. I became monosyllabic, retreating to my internal crawl space. As I drove towards 709 Colfax over uneven streets cracked, rutted, and neglected, Carl’s mouth dropped.

“Holy shit,” he said. Then, every minute or so, he would ask me to slow down. My inclination was to speed up and get the hell out of there. It’s the same instinct that sent me fleeing, car doors locked, as soon as I graduated from high school.

I lived in a ghetto. People don’t believe me, thinking I’m prone to hyperbole when describing the area of Benton Harbor where I grew up. With wide eyes and two words, Carl validated my entire adolescent experience. Holy shit.

I lived in fear from 12 to 18. Thirty years later, Carl saw exactly the same bleak dystopian vision I accelerated through.

709 Colfax itself is still in pretty good shape for its surroundings. There’s no junk around it, paint isn’t peeling, it looks lived in. But neighboring houses tell a different story. My junior high was just blocks away, but to get there meant traveling over pavement with weeds sprouting through the cracks, past houses boarded up, burnt down, or with black windows and little apparent life. Mom drove me those few short blocks every morning. After school, I boarded Dial-a-Ride, a bright red short bus that broadcast my shame to my classmates. During recess, teachers doubled as guards as we set up yellow metal barriers on either end of the street so we could play four square without interruption. The red ball might have sometimes hit outside our squares but it never bounced past those barriers. We ran like the dickens to grab them before we jeopardized our safety beyond this makeshift fence.

My spidey sense was finely tuned by the age of 12. I’ll never know the fear and anxiety that African-Americans deal with on a daily basis, but I do know how it feels to be a lone 12-year-old white girl in a plaid uniform skirt in a predominantly black neighborhood.

For better or worse, I carry that frozen little girl inside me still.

Driving at a snail’s pace, I drove beyond St. John’s church until I hit Pipestone Road. Here, Carl gasped at a once-grand Craftsman, roof caved in and burnt beyond repair. A majestic Victorian with a carriage house tucked behind it lay fallow, as if waiting for someone to arrive who could grow new life on the grounds. The one well-maintained house had a chain-link fence surrounding the property.

“I can’t believe these abandoned houses are still here,” he said. “There’s no money to tear them down or fix them up,” I replied. My stepmother explained later that the city received a grant to raze the houses and turn them into empty lots but that only 80 had been removed to date and time on the grant was running out.

Benton Harbor’s “arts district,” just across the river from vacation haven St. Joe, now features a handful of charming pubs and shops in refurbished brick buildings that harken back to a once-prosperous era. The Livery contains an elevator that used to raise and lower wagons and horses; how nifty is that? There was no such hipster hangout when I was a teenager. Instead, I worked in the children’s department at the public library. It is located a stone’s throw away from this gentrifying area. Even though it was across the street from the police station, I always walked to my car with another employee, my key-cum-shank poking out through tense fingers.

That old fear was still palpable as Carl and I drove, doors locked, through the sorry streets. We’d occasionally see signs of life, such as it was, dark faces staring blankly above inert bodies sweating in the post-storm humidity.

“I’ve never seen anything like this. It looks how I imagine New Orleans looks,” Carl said, adding, “Post-Katrina” for clarification.

I got it loud and clear. The town, named worst place to live in the US by Money magazine in 1989, looks like the universe took an eraser to it but got distracted by another worthwhile project. Some houses have been rubbed out but detritus has been left behind.

Gripping the steering wheel of our rental car, I became overwrought, holding back tears as the man I plan to grow old with saw for himself why I’ve always felt so ancient. He got me on a profound level. Living behind locked doors wears on the soul, slowly eroding it like waves lapping against sand. Writing my memoir has been fruitful at times but it’s never been easy or joyous. As I dip into my memories, I also tap into a well of feeling. I am tethered to this neglected city, even as I’ve flown upwards and away. Driving down Britain and Catalpa, Pipestone and Colfax, I Benjamin Buttoned myself back to 16. All that angsty energy and emotionality bubbled to the surface. Home may be the same, but I’m not. Now, I’m using self-awareness and acceptance, not fear, to propel me forward. I’m not running away, I’m absorbing the power of this place to take me to a new place where I can truly soar.

There’s no place like home—and maybe that’s a good thing.



The Season of the Witch

My week at On Rue Tatin, Susan Herrmann Loomis’ cooking school in Normandy, was downright magical.

I’m not kidding.

Yes, there was the fois gras and the crème Anglaise and the moule frites and Tarte Tatin and all good things that we prepared and then ate. There were fresh pastries from a different bakery awaiting me each morning, afternoon walks through worn cobbled streets, a tuxedo cat named Coco.

Dreamy, yes. But things didn’t turn freaky deaky until late one night as we rubbed our full bellies and drank the last of the evening’s wine.

A formidable group gathered around the table. First and foremost, force of nature Susan, our hostess/guide/cooking goddess. Then there was my fellow student Doug, a lovely New Yorker who, after suffering some loss in his family, was treating himself to a week at On Rue Tatin, which had long been on his bucket list since reading Susan’s charming food memoir years before. And then there was Carolyn, an American who visits Louviers each Fall. This year, however, she was cutting her trip short to go to the South of France to study medical French for a gig with Doctors without Borders.

It gets better. She told us that she was trying to fit in a session with Martine, a local massage therapist/psychic, before she left town. The previous year, Martine told her during a treatment that in a past life Carolyn had been a Norman man who killed his brother and had to flee the country and spent his life trying to make amends and pining for Normandy. That’s why Carolyn was drawn to the region and pursuing work with Médecins sans Frontières.

Maybe it was the wine, but I had to get in on this. This trip of a lifetime would not be complete without my own session with Martine.

Fast forward to a few days later. During our afternoon break, I walked a few blocks to an apothecary shop and climbed the stairs to a small room on the second floor where Martine was waiting. A squat woman with frosted tips that made her short hair look like sparkly wheat stalks, Martine spoke essentially no English. Between my Franglais and our mutual gesturing, we figured things out. I assumed the usual massage position on the table and received an oily rubdown. Then silence. I am legally blind without my glasses so when I opened one eye, I could see her hazy figure sitting on a chair at the foot of the table. She was just watching me, or at least I think she was.

I was acutely uncomfortable, reminded of the one time I tried a meditation class. With my eyes closed for a few minutes, I got nauseous, as if my mind was trying to keep me from calm. As then, my mind and even my body started working against me. I fidgeted. Crazy thoughts raced through my head. The soles of my feet suddenly felt as if they were on fire, as if Martine had just lit a match under them. Before I left for France, I had a dream about Joan of Arc being burned at the stake in nearby Rouen so I had a brief thought that I was Jeanne d’Arc reincarnate.

Then Martine started talking. Even without my glasses, I understood what was coming out of her mouth.

“You have no confidence.”
“You don’t love the little girl inside you.”
“You are sexually shut down.”
“You don’t love yourself.”


In an hour with English not even as a second, third, or fourth language, Martine tapped into all the shame I have spent a lifetime hiding, often from myself. With her French frankness, she brought to the surface issues I only recently had been able to talk about with my leadership coach, with whom I’ve been working for a decade. She gave me some visualization exercises for each of my issues—one involving picturing a red disk the size of a CD spinning three times clockwise over my girl parts—so she didn’t think me completely hopeless.

I broke down. I barely kept it together while she was talking to me, bawling, howling, and screaming like a banshee as soon as she exited the room. The dam broke, and all my disconsolation flooded through me and out my tear ducts.

How was it possible that I was carrying all this crap around, so close to the surface that a stranger in a foreign land could pick up on all of it? I felt broken, like a doll on the Island of Misfit Toys, defective and rejected before I even had the chance to be embraced and loved.

Silently weeping, I left the apothecary shop and wandered the streets of Louviers as a light rain began to fall over the ancient roofs. I felt as old as my surroundings.

I left Normandy that week unsettled and untethered, and convinced Martine was a witch (Louviers held witch trials in the mid-17th century). Traveling solo in France with really rusty language skills, I was already out of my comfort zone. My session with Martine forced me into internal foreign territory. Maybe I needed to break down to break through my crap. And maybe unfamiliar surroundings helped me do that. I don’t know if I have figured out everything Martine was trying to tell me but I do know that I met the love of my life three weeks after my session with Martine and he makes my head, heart, and everything else spin.

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