Bodies of Knowledge

Untitled, Jussi Valtakari, 1981

Ever feel suspicious of the internal voice who knows you better than you know yourself? That voice that always seems to be whispering something, and always seems to be right?

I think I’ve just figured out why that voice makes me feel so uneasy: I hadn’t trusted where it was coming from.

For most of my life, I’ve preferred to live in my head. I trusted rationality more than messy, inconvenient emotions. I’ve thought of my body as an adequate, sturdy, container but a largely silent partner. I’ve become aware of my body as a sophisticated system that links physical sensation to powerful emotional wisdom…to which, I realize, I’ve been giving short shrift.

Until fairly recently, I placed a much higher value on intellectual prowess than on any other kind of human intelligence. I would set ambitious goals for myself, and was an unforgiving master. My motto was akin to “The beatings will continue until morale improves.” My husband would periodically hear my vicious self-talk aloud, and come in and interrupt me.

“I would never let anyone talk to you the way you talk to you,” he would say.

He was right.

I never really understood why, when I had a big, complex, project that started to get really stressful — like trying new ideas to grow my business — I would start to crumble rather than shine.

My usual mode of operation for years, especially when working on big projects or major goals, has been to push-push-push through day after day, past a creeping sense of exhaustion as my mental fog rises so high that I stall and tumble into a completely disoriented whiteout and stagger to bed. Interrupted in the middle of the night by fear of failure, I might or might not get back to sleep before the alarm went off at 5:50 am.

And that was before pandemic. I was one of those for whom pandemic removed the other “out of the house” activities like my commitments to teach at the climbing gym or run a meeting for a local association that once created practical boundaries on the end of my office working day. Once pandemic arrived, I locked myself into some bizarre kind of house arrest, and the push-push-push increased.

I had lots of theories for other people: let’s see, pandemic creates stress that means we can get 30% less done; then we need another 30% capacity to support everyone else around us who is also stressed, so we should all expect to get no more than half as much done in any day or week or month as we used to expect.

Of course, those theories were for other people.

 I finally acknowledged I had lost all perspective the Friday afternoon that I spent four hours trying to write a five-item to-do list. 

Not complete five tasks on a to-do list.

Just write down five things on a list for Monday. Any five things would have done.

My brain was a frozen slushy swirl. I just couldn’t.

Which was when I started rearranging my time to take Friday afternoons out of the office each week. Even if I only managed to get on a hike every other week, that extra half day made a huge difference. I would still think about work, though less and less. At first, it sometimes took me two hours to stop processing the events of the week and be fully present in the woods. But after a few months, I was gladly letting go of the push-push-push focus on work.  

When I stopped trying so hard, sometimes the ideas I needed would start to bubble up more easily.

Things I’ve been reading over the last year have gotten me thinking much more about the power and importance of emotional intelligence, and how emotional intelligence is firmly grounded in the body and the right side of the brain.

I wrote recently about my recent discovery of the book Positive Intelligence by Shirzad Chamine. His background includes graduate level studies in neuroscience in addition to a BA in psychology, an MS in electrical engineering, and an MBA from Stanford. He presents the concept of “mental fitness”, a synthesis of neuroscience, cognitive and positive psychology, and performance science.

He replaced the familiar concept of a single “inner critic” (which various theorists suggest one might defeat, embrace, or both) with nine mental “saboteurs,” plus a master Judge. You’ll recognize many of them when you read about them. He even offers a free confidential self-assessment based on 50 questions to give you some sense of how active these responses are in your everyday life today.

I admit I was majorly dismayed by the idea that instead of just one persistent uninvited nastygram, I might actually have a dirty near-dozen left-brain thinking-processing-based assassins, hiding in the tall grass of my already tangled psyche ready with hair-trigger fight-or-flight survival responses. The thing is, these gremlins aren’t (or originally weren’t) inherently negative or toxic. They are programmed into us, or taught to us as we grew up, to ensure we survived to adulthood. They are meant to protect, or help us learn.

The trouble is that we often leave them on autopilot. We don’t inform them with what we have learned. When they activate, we often don’t notice how they trigger all kinds of responses we might not have chosen consciously, and that create stress for us and difficulty for those around us. Left to their own devices, these responses keep firing long after they’ve outlived their usefulness.

But the exciting thing I discovered, if one explores this worldview further, is that Chamine proposes a set of antidotes: five of what he calls “Sage” responses, These are based in — you guessed it — the body, and the right side of the brain, home of “gut feel,” of intuition. He makes the case that, first, if we notice the mental messages of the Saboteurs when they kick in, we can then challenge and disengage them with one or more right-brain-based Sage responses. 


Imagine: by harboring, and giving so much attention to, this chorus of critics, I was unaware that my better angels have been murmuring messages to me in the wings. I may have missed as much as half the insight — all kinds of right-brain-based intelligence — that was open to me.

Ever have somebody tell you, “get out of your head” when you’re trying really hard to solve a problem? Chamine agrees. Doing so, he posits, let us tap a whole other well of wisdom that resides in our bodies. To prime the pump on that well is simple: all it takes is to stop for a few seconds, multiple times a day, to routinely engage one’s physical awareness by doing something as simple as rubbing your fingers to imagine feeling the ridges in your fingertips, or slowing your breathing or (sound familiar?) wiggling your toes. 

A regular practice of physical awareness, he proposes, interrupts old habitual responses that freeze out new ideas and paralyze problem solving. In so doing, we can create and strengthen new neurological pathways, lower stress, and open new lines of creative thinking.

What’s not to like?

Maybe you’ve heard of the psychological technique sometimes called centering, or “grounding.” My experience with that has been positive, but seemed to take too long to incorporate into my day in any practical way. I thought of it as something for those weekend retreats with aromatherapy. Maybe it was something that more advance life forms than I am are able to do in a few minutes before a meeting, but not me.

Or, to quote one of my favorite warrior princesses,

Instant gratification takes too long.

~ Carrie Fisher

As I read about the Positive Intelligence techniques, I thought of these as “micro-centering.” Surely I could manage to pay attention to my body in five second bursts. And how long is six hundred seconds? Ten minutes, split over a whole day. How hard could that be?

Um, well, actually, it takes more effort than I thought, and more than a few days practice to develop a, well, practice.

I wish I could tell you that in a matter of days, my life was transformed. Those are the kind of stories that online marketers love.

In truth, some days are better than others. Of the six different options I might choose from as alternatives to my toxic inner talk and related, unthinking, destructive behaviors, I recognized one as an all-purpose starting point. Any time I can notice and act on an opportunity for self-compassion, I’m off to a good start, whether or not I use any of the other additional techniques.

Over the past month, I’ve found modest success in my efforts to be more aware of the feelings — both physical and emotional — in my body from moment to moment. As a result, of that greater awareness, I notice small changes in how I respond in specific situations as well as a trend of slow but steady improvement of my sense of mental equilibrium. I feel less stressed. I’m more confident in my decisions. I’m more and more present and connected with people, and I solve problems more easily.

My body has been offering me more wisdom than I ever imagined. The voice I was so reluctant to trust has been more on my side than the chorus of critics that has commanded so much of my attention over the years. Instead of looking back and feeling disappointed by everything I’ve missed, I’m excited to look ahead, and to listen more intently to the voice that’s been whispering to me all along. 

I welcome your comments and thoughts. Please do like, share, and/or message me . Many thanks to my editors J.J. Gertler and David Egan for helping me organize my thoughts and helping me hear all the voices worth listening to.

Pande-Versary Box

Prelude: this is my second blog post of the month. I thought I would be able to develop a new cadence that wasn’t quite so exhausting — doing all the February posts was a great exercise and it also added a lot of stress that I didn’t need. 

However, I notice that without pushing myself to finish a blog post most days of the week, and leaving it until the weekend, I’m back to my old bad habit of writing something so long that I fear nobody will read it. And I notice that vulnerability takes practice: without the near-daily exercise of opening up, the doors creep closed again, and my tone of writing slips back into writing soul-less advice instead of sharing what’s going on with me and how I feel about it.

Not sure how to find the new groove, but just know that I’m working on it.

Sitting down to read the weekend newspapers, I see everyone else’s retrospectives about a year of pandemic. People who are more practiced present a concise selection, like a box of chocolate miniatures: well-organized, with complementary shapes that all fit into a nice set.

A box of various chocolate pralines – the photo is taken above

That would not be me. But here are a few of my notes and observations.

Fairly early, I had posted that I felt like I’d just been dropped off into the middle of a personal development course that I hadn’t signed up for.

I was surprised by how many friends wrote to me with concern that my apparently indefatigable merry sunshiny spirit, the one they counted on to be there to lift them up, appeared to have dimmed.

Their response took me aback…and ended up tugging me even more deeply into what my intuition had indeed correctly identified as a massive, full-immersion, personal growth experience where I didn’t get to design the core curriculum, much less pick out the optional elective topics.

So, yes, this is my first pass at retrospection.

It won’t surprise you that I begin with gratitude.

Unlike well over half a million families in the United States and more around the globe, all of my extended family are well, and have stayed free of the virus. Despite stressful symptoms, concerns, and testing, we remain physically healthy and continue to make conservative decisions that are keeping us safe, While we’ve had some minor differences of opinion about what the best course of action is in specific situations, we’ve respected each other’s choices and have been pretty much on the same page about that. 

Huge gratitude.

I’m grateful to be part of a five-person, four-household bubble of people who have taken exquisite care of one another, with patience, creativity, and logistics wrangling, and have drawn from a greater depth of empathy and compassion than any of us ever thought we either had or might need to find. We have had clear, open communication within the bubble about what’s okay and what’s not, and that clarity has kept us all safe.

Within both the “friends bubble” and the family circles, we’ve exchanged support and been there for each other as much as possible.

I’m grateful for the experience my husband and I have had: after his office sent everybody home, for the past year we have spent more time together than I think we might have had in the previous, say, five years. The part I’m particularly grateful for is how much we still like each other. Not that that comes as a surprise, but maybe just a little relief as we ended doing — well, in racing terms, practice laps for a time fast approaching when we’ll be spending full time together by choice, not by diktat.

I’m grateful to have skills and business that meant I could keep working basically uninterrupted. Grouse as I might about “staying home,” I had been working from home for 17 years at the point lockdowns started. I entered pandemic with a strong professional online and on-camera presence. That made it a little easier and less stressful to step up my game when what was optional for a lot of people became a way of life in my business community, and people expected a lot of each other.

I’m grateful for the friendships I renewed, through old-fashioned phone calls as well as video chats, with people I’d been out of touch with for a while.

I put some practices in place that I knew were good for me, like journaling most days, and aimed to do SOMETHING physical four or five days a week. Pandemic happened JUST at the point where I had a physical and fitness routine that was working well for me when I lost my gym. My makeshift solutions have never really closed the gap. 

I bought some more weights and a kettlebell, and splurged on the professional-grade TRX resistance training system. But it feels like mandatory drudgery while I’m doing it. And all those things where the person in the video sticks their feet into the straps and does planky things? Oh, please. Even when I stop and restart the video, I can’t seem to get the straps right and the entire elaborate core section of the workout is…  Lesser-angel is growling at me, “You clearly aren’t serious about yourself,” as I flounder and flop around and in no way resemble what the trainer is doing.

I like personal attention and personal instruction. It makes a huge difference for me. And I miss high intensity training with my small group (which, to be fair, wrapped up in the fall of 2019 and I never found a successor to). Could I do a bunch of those things at home on my own if I dug out the screen shots of the workout boards from class? Yes. So what’s my excuse?

Goodness. My demons are all coming out for spring training.

I miss training in a fully-equipped gym and particularly miss the only sport I have ever really loved: rock climbing. I miss the joyful experience of putting my life into someone else’s hands and going up a wall. I miss the close relationships with my climbing partners. I miss the thrill of choosing a complex physical and mental challenge of picking a climbing route, working at it, even failing multiple times, getting support and encouragement from my partner as I work on it, and ultimately solving it.

I chose to minimize my risk — and the risk to my bubble-mates — by staying away from a gym that, to its credit, is using sophisticated procedures to keep its members safe. I’m not as strong as I was a year ago, or, sigh, as thin. 

What could be so hard about setting a routine and sticking to it? What could possibly be so exhausting about another day at home, working, working out, and keeping company with a loved one who’s had pretty much the same day?

I come back to remembering the idea of chronic micro-trauma. Pandemic has played with our heads, warped our sense of what is normal, stolen our sleep, and repeatedly drained our resilience.

I am putting down markers for at least two future posts: First, I’m still recovering from my stressed response to the politics of 2020, which left me feeling so…well, I realize that I spent much of particularly the last year shoving most of my feelings under a trap door, and that hasn’t gone well.  And, second, 2020 was yet another horrible year for racial justice in the United States, and pandemic continues to make that injustice ever more stark. While that weighs ever more heavily on my mind, I have not yet figured out where I can contribute meaningful words or actions I want to make public.

I’m still trying to find the sweet spot between my better angel of self-compassion, who whispers, “you’re doing the best you can, and that’s plenty good enough,” and my old “friend” Slayer, the judgmental angel who brandishes the flaming sword while roaring “not good enough.”

(Dude. Not you again. Seriously. I have some lovely parting gifts for you.)

I am so grateful to have decided that what I probably needed was to add a non-aerobic element to my mix, and took up tai chi. The repeated immersion in the humility of “beginner’s mind” has given me a foundation that I expect to keep building over years to come, and provides me with support throughout my day.

Hah! I caught the vulnerability shields closing down instead of opening up. That last paragraph sounds really happy-dappy, doesn’t it? The reality of my Beginner’s Mind is something like, “Again? You got it wrong again? Waaait… you’re still a beginner even after ten thousand times. This is the journey. This is the work. Imperfect is who you are. And that’s absolutely okay and truly good. We promise.”

Tai Chi is a singular pitched battle with my perfectionist, who gets to spend my Tai Chi practice time locked up in the equivalent of what at church they used to call the “crying room”, a sound-proofed balcony where mothers (it was almost always mothers) could take crying children so as not to interrupt mass but still get to watch.

So, with curtailed fitness options, I appreciate the simple pleasure of walking anywhere outdoors, even with a mask on…and especially when I’m far enough away from anyone to be able to be unmasked. I cherish the hour or so of walking I do some mornings, and the company of my walking partners (one of whom I look forward to climbing with again once I’ve been vaccinated).

Then there are the discoveries: things that might never have happened without the jolt of pandemic.

I figured out that I can completely relocate my office every week, alternating between Alexandria and Baltimore, and have continuity of operations. On the one hand, I find it challenging to change gears and immerse in the standard operating procedures of two different households. On the other, I feel like I’ve always got a change of scenery and fresh company coming up.

I made new friends in an online community called the Onward Movement, created by Emily Harman, coach and podcaster of Onward, and met kindreds spirits who support each other as we go through life and its challenges together.

I crashed a bunch of times before I learned that that boundaries are different from limitations.

It took me six months to fully understand something I knew in my head pretty fast: that the amount of work I had been expecting myself to get done in any given day or week was not sustainable, and if I kept it up, I was going to break. So by October, I began to place much firmer limits on the end of the work day — or at least make a dedicated effort to do so. I have not mastered that art, but I’ve really noticed that I can be much more fully present for the people I’m with, and simply feel more resilient if I’m treating my personal energy as a finite resource that needs care and replenishment.

Because of that rearrangement, I’ve spent countless hours hiking three or four chunks of Maryland’s outdoor woodland trails, taking a couple thousand photographs and spending time with people I love. Until pandemic, we’d mostly walk in the city to a restaurant and back. Now, our excursion is to drive out of town away from people, and renew body, mind, and spirit outdoors. When I take pictures, I look closely, reflect, unpack ideas and metaphors from the natural world for the rest of life, and have new things and images to share with people.

I’ve had a whole year of empathy practice. More than a few failures, but with lots of practice comes lots more success. I’m much better able to walk my talk, slow down, really listen to the people who want to talk to me, and hear in their stories how I can not only serve them better as a business owner, but be there for them as another human being, whether or not we ever do business together.

I find it easier to really answer somebody’s question, “How are you doing?” and find my way in the space between “Fine, just great…” (because NOBODY is “fine, just great…”) and having a meltdown on camera. Every so often I do get into emotionally ragged space in real time when everybody’s looking, and that’s… okay. I’m certainly more willing to say, “Well, I’m having a hard day and I miss my family and I just worked too long last night and wish that something as simple as sleep weren’t quite so elusive…how are things with your mom?”

Walking my talk, showing greater comfort with vulnerability, has brought home to my clients what that looks like and sounds like in a way that’s more powerful than giving someone a list of seven voicemail scripts that help you get your calls returned. They are more connected with their clients, and I’m building better relationships with them.

Then there are the bright spots that either just happened to happen during this time — like being invited to edit one nephew’s sports blog, or engage another nephew to build a gamification business quest board for my elite clients.

And…we bought our next house. Exciting, a place we’ve wanted to be and can start spending more time. It brings a ton of new work we’d like to do faster than we’re able, and some stress managing that transition as best we can. 

After losses come the firsts, and the memories of the lasts.

It’s been a year since my last haircut.

It’s been a year since I last taught a group of people how to put their lives in each other’s hands — literally — and go up a wall. I remember considering what it might mean to be older and at higher risk of COVID, and, a few days before shutdowns were mandatory, the president of the climbing gym where my gear is still sitting in my staff locker telling me that she was concerned for me and wondered if this might be the last class I taught for a while.

I remember my two gut-punch moments of “oh, wow. This is really happening.” 

One was the day in early March, before Virginia closed down, that we got the letter from the place my husband and I traditionally go for a week of summer vacation, saying that they had decided to close down through November of 2020. 

We look forward to that time away, just the two of us, away from it all, deep reconnecting, all year long. Now, it wasn’t going to happen. That annual rest and reboot was gone. The restorative break that leaves us refreshed and renewed…nope. Endless same-old-same-old was coming. I could not imagine how it would be possible to get out, get away, anywhere, let alone to any place that had the unique mix of special experiences we longed for. 

I was somewhere between ashamed and embarrassed that, with the threat of literal death and illness on a massive scale sweeping the globe, the wave of grief I felt was for…

…a lost vacation.

When I confessed my embarrassment about this to my thoughtful friend Robert, he offered me a way to be gentle with myself on that one. “Grief is real,” he said. “What you lost, you lost. You don’t have to compare your loss or the cause of your grief, with anyone else’s. Your feelings are real, and you can — and should — acknowledge them.”

That helped a bit. 

Still, when I look ahead and consider the big features of that trip, I have a little trepidation about whether a getaway that’s all about quiet isolation will be the same kind of treat as it has been… Oh, come on. I love that place and I’m going to be just as thrilled to get back to my favorite cottage with the view of the Atlantic as I’ve ever been. I am not going to let my brain make up problems. Just no. 

I remember the other wave of grief: I was driving into Baltimore one night in April, listening to the nine o’clock news, which included the story that Prime Minister Trudeau announced the closing of the Canada-U.S. border to all but essential traffic. 

That was when I knew for sure that I wasn’t going home for Christmas 2020. 

At least I had a good seven or eight months to come to terms with that reality. I felt lonely, and then of course selfish that, in that moment, I felt worse about losing my vacation than I did about going not one, but what would become TWO, full years without seeing my Canadian family.

I love them and I miss all the messy complications that come with loving the people I’m related to. In some respects, we are in more frequent contact than we were before pandemic, and we’re more deliberate now about finding ways to bring everyone together for capstone and milestone events in our lives. 

Will I be glad when I’ve got my vaccination and can look ahead to being with more people again? Probably. I notice that part of my way of dealing with things I can’t have is to not think about them. I saw a meme last week saying something like, “Not sure if you’re ready to go back to in-person conferences? Don’t worry: your social skills have completely atrophied anyway.”

I feel like I’ve adjusted to simply be more of an extrovert-facing introvert: I’m “on” when I need to be on, and when the ring light clicks off, I’m ready to hide under the furniture, right after I wash off the makeup.

Spring arrives this week. 

I welcome the longer days. I welcome the return of the light, and of the feeling of hope that comes as vaccines become more available and more people get them.

As things open up, I’m a little more willing to dream again, but my sense of hope is weary. Research shows that humans are incredibly resilient, so odds are good that I’ll get through the months ahead just fine. I ricochet between happy and exhausted.

Maybe it’s also a good thing that the return to…well, “pre-pandemic normal” is not ever coming back, but… whatever post-pandemic life will look like is going to be slow. What will come back? What will I just leave behind and not try to pick up again?

I know I’m not feeling ready for whatever is next. I do know I’m ready for what is to start being over.

Hair Today…

My hair is making me just a little crazy right now.

This is the longest my hair has been since 1986 (with the exception of 18 months in 2002-2003). Both times have been visual, albeit largely unheralded, symbols of my determination to get through a time of tumult to the next threshold for my life — personal and professional.

Throughout history, across many cultures and around the world, how we wear our hair is a powerful symbol. Styles and meaning change, but the choices we make send a message to the people around us. 

Are you old enough to remember (or even to have been) one of those “long-haired freaky people” in the song Signs (by Canadian group Five Man Electrical Band, reached #3 on the U.S. Billboard chart in 1971) or wondered whether and, if so, why, barristers anywhere still wear wigs)? 

My pandemic bubble includes a couple of high-risk people, so I’m making really conservative choices about pretty much everything one might do to avoid COVID exposure. Not only do I not want to get this thing, but if I were to give it to one of my bubble-mates…nope, not going there. I’m doing everything I can to take care of people I love.

Which means I’ve just marked the one-year anniversary of my last haircut.

My hair is greyer than it was even last year — which I don’t mind, really. It’s also thinner than it was in 2002, and doesn’t grow as fast. The little twisted-wire hair combs don’t stay in well for me. Wispy pieces fly around once my hair dries, and so don’t quite all do up into a ponytail without some kind of hair glue. While that looks tidy, the ballerina bunhead look seems pretty severe on me, and definitely needs a little makeup if I want to look like I’m trying. And while the long hair blowout with the curly brush ends up being a pretty good look for me, I find I resent the five or ten minutes amount of time and bother it takes to look good (for, well, who, again?) compared with the short cut I so miss that I could blow dry in 60 seconds flat.

It started last week, when my assistant Jan popped onto our zoom call with an immaculate pageboy ‘do and fresh color.  Why now? Plenty of my friends and family have found ways to get themselves to their hairdressers. Why not me?

I wouldn’t even have to go to a salon: my hairdresser, Gail, has come to my home to cut my hair for over a dozen years. Gail is wonderful, and she’s one of the people I miss most. She’s mostly gotten over being exasperated with me (I think). 

By this time, you know how the line of logic works: Even if my hairdresser says she’s fine, even if nobody in her family has been sick, she can’t know where any of them (or any of her clients) have been or who they’ve been with. Call me a drama queen if you like, but the way I look at it, even if I don’t get sick, the last thing I want to do is make an asymptomatic transfer of a virus I picked up because I just couldn’t wait a few more months for a haircut, and lose someone I love.

A year into pandemic, I still have to work at not judging people whose ideas about getting through pandemic, or whose entire situations and “bubbles” are different from mine. I have friends who have gone to Disney twice. I have friends who reside in assisted living. I have friends who are medical professionals who have calculated the risks and gone on dive trips and come back just fine.  have a couple of friends I walk outside with, masked up and at a distance. I have clients in Texas who were delighted by their governor’s latest decisions on masks, and friends in Florida who were headed to the gym or booking summer concert venues for their musical ensembles the last time I talked to them.

I hope we all come out of this alive and healthy. Not everyone will.

Some people will end up catching the virus despite taking heroic measures to avoid it. I hope my bubble mates and I aren’t among them. My male bubble-mates have more haircut options than I do. 

Almost a year ago, one sat himself down in front of me, handed me clippers, and said, “Here. You’re going to cut my hair.” 


Well, pandemic has been full of first-time experiences. I do relish collecting new skills, but this was one I hadn’t expected. Fortunately, David’s hair is already pretty short, and he knew which blade and setting to give me. Honestly, his hair is pretty hard to mess up. And what was the downside? At that point in pandemic, he wasn’t going out at all, and wasn’t zooming much either, so even if I messed up a bit, I was pretty much the only person other than him who was going to see it.

I had never applied electric clippers to anyone’s head, and I was nervous. The results were, well, let’s call it “promising” the first time around. I finished with a fresh wave of admiration for the skills of professional barbers and hairdressers everywhere.

On it went. We were both pretty confident by the time I got to my third try. While now it’s one of the pandemic rituals in our temporary normality, we’ll both be delighted when he can return to his wonderful professional neighborhood barber). 

By the time I’d found my tonsorial groove, JJ (my husband and fellow bubble-mate) had gotten sufficiently shaggy that he, too, presented himself to me along with an open boxed set of shiny never-used clippers. 

Good thing the guy with the more complicated hair came second.  I felt nervous all over again, because JJ does do a lot of video conferences. I really wanted to get this right. I was tentative on the first try but at that point any cut was an improvement. The second try… well, let’s say I was glad his schedule didn’t include any on-camera engagements for a couple weeks right after that.

I’ve gotten quite good at cutting his hair (though I have no plans to take up a new profession, and have renewed respect for barbers every time I try to remember what I did right last time), and last time he even said how good it makes him feel to have a fresh haircut. That’s especially high praise!

Age isn’t a “thing” for me. I get exasperated by people — and it’s almost always women — who say things like, “I’ve been running this company for 33 years, so you have to understand that I started my business when I was five…”  I am 61 years old and happily own every day of that. I wouldn’t give back a single day of it. It’s also part of why I don’t color my hair anymore. I went through a few years of getting highlights but after a while I just resented the expense along with the implication that I’d be stuck doing it forever if I did it for so long that that was the color people genuinely thought my hair was. I know perfectly well that people change their hair color all the time, and it’s nobody’s business to judge. I genuinely like my grey hair and everything it stands for. If you decide you want to judge me because of my hair color, go right ahead. There’s a completely different blog post out there somewhere about hair color, but today’s not that day.

Then again, I just recently started watching Star Trek Discovery, where many humanoid commanders who don’t have naturally curly hair have straight-down locks. So maybe I’d feel less grouchy about the effort if I decided I was giving myself a command-do.

Paradoxically, given what I just said about hair color, in these days of pandemic, I really notice what a difference it makes when people put some effort into their time on camera: not just their personal appearance but also real background and lighting and sound quality. I make the effort to look professional and put-together: hair, clothes, makeup. I use a real backdrop, not a simulated one. It makes me feel like I’m on my game, and it shows people I make the effort to dress up for them, just as I would if I were visiting their office or conference. It makes the occasion special — for all of us.

Maybe it’s the cumulative effect of the one-year anniversary of pandemic, but last Monday I almost had a mental mini-meltdown in my head during a zoom call. Mondays are what I call “backstage” days, when I typically don’t have any public presentations or provide client service. This call was a working committee meeting and I thought of myself as not being on serious public display. So I was having a no-makeup, hair-pulled-back day. Ironically, our committee meeting was all about planning another “virtual networking” session for members of an industry association, and we were talking a lot about best practices for how to show up on camera. That day, I just wasn’t walking my talk. I kind of thought it didn’t matter that much that day.

A fellow committee member who started the meeting off-camera, was cajoled into making an appearance, and wow she looked great! Impeccable short-hair coif of the kind I miss so much, and perfectly-blended makeup, too. I had instant haircut-envy, even though she admitted she had just gotten all done up for a video shoot. My “not-good-enough” inner critics were all over me in a heartbeat. I’m grateful to be close enough friends with these good folks to have been able to share how I felt, and that they are good enough friends to say, “Hey, give yourself a break,” and “Hey, we’ve got you,” and “I really appreciate you sharing how you feel. It happens to me too — the experience and how I felt about it. I’m glad to know I’m not alone.”

The only other time in the last 35 years that I ever let it grow anything like this long was when I decided it was time to leave my job of 14 years, the job that had brought me to Washington, at the Canadian Embassy. I hadn’t yet figured out when I was leaving or what I was going to do next,  but growing my hair out was one thing I had control over. It took me a year of soul-searching and researching before I found the courage to simply walk away without a clear plan at all. 

The day after I told my manager I was done, I went out and got my hair cut short again. It wasn’t exactly burning the ships, but there was no turning back.

Today, my long hair is a symbol of my love and solidarity with my bubble-mates, and commitment to my family, to get us all through pandemic safely together. When I get my second shot of vaccine, I’ll be making my appointment for my haircut.

For so many reasons, I can hardly wait.

Let There Be Cake

As February comes to a close and I wrap up my month-long blogging challenge, I started thinking about cake.

Goal: write a personal blog post every day for a month. Box scores: 22 out of 28 days, 79% of my goal, if I round up. 

Gosh. I have a lot of goals I don’t get to the 79% point on (like “close office by 5 pm”, for which my current average score is around 40%. I’m looking to bump to that score in March)!

How about connecting with people? I can’t tell for sure, but I just took a peek at views: as of this writing, looking back on the months, while most posts got maybe a couple dozen views, more people read each day as the month went on. The two posts with a story or picture related to my wedding got over a hundred views (maybe because, well, stories?). My February 23rd post,  “Caught in the Ringlight,” surprised me with over 51 views. Maybe it was the colorful backdrop, or maybe because I shared that one LinkedIn, crossing over for the first time in this series from the personal side (the way my Facebook profile leans) to the professional (the primary focus of my LinkedIn posts).

Back to connection: that was really the core motivation behind wanting to wade more deeply into expressing authenticity and risking vulnerability.

What happened? My mom said she appreciated all the time she knew went into the writing, and she really liked them. The exercise turned out to be a way for my nephew Simon, whose sports blog, “Shoots Left and Writes I’ve been editing since January, to get to know me better as I have been getting to know him. A couple of friends told me how much they appreciated my posts, including the candid sharing of raw emotions. 

As far as I know, the post that I was most afraid might frost off someone — Good Griefby leaving people I love with the impression that my historically higgledy-piggledy attempts to express condolence for their losses were insincere — seemed not to have resulted in disaster. My niece Natalie, part of Jasper Dash’s family — even posted a “like.”

As an experiment in putting my real self out there, I’d call it a success. I discovered that I can say something reasonably coherent in less than three thousand words with footnotes. I learned that while I can write a post in a single sitting, it is not realistic for me to allow less than a full hour for even a 750 word post when I have a clear idea of a short story I’ve told many times, because formatting and finding the image and all the publication stuff takes me at least 15 minutes every time.

Managing the time got stressful, and managing my own expectations of myself in ways to appreciate what I achieved rather than criticize my production, was the second biggest lesson.

Which takes me to cake.

When I worked at the Canadian Embassy, I used to bake.

I would bake when my Canada-based colleagues rotated out to new postings. I would bake thank-you cakes for my interns when they departed. I baked for team members who changed jobs and for colleagues who got engaged.

As you can see by the progression of cakes, I got better over the years. It was funny: word would get out that I was bringing in a cake, and when the little in-office party time came, people would find their way to the fifth floor from all over the building to get a piece.

It wasn’t unusual to be able to serve twenty people or more with these rich, triple-decker masterpieces!

This was also the job where I had developed my bad habit of routinely working 10- or 11-hour days. Which meant that making a cake like that took me three nights: first night, actual baking. Second night, assembly. Third night, the fun part: decorating! Fourth day, JJ would drive me in while I kept the giant Tupperware cake carrier on the level all the way down Constitution Avenue.

It was a wonderful way to celebrate life’s milestones with people I worked with. 

These days, I rather miss that. I’ve worked from home since 2003, and I can’t remember the last time I made a cake to celebrate with professional colleagues. I remember thinking recently that, wait, since 2007 I’ve worked part time at an indoor climbing gym filled with hardbody humans who possess much more active metabolisms than mine; why on earth wouldn’t I bake for them? Well… it’s a different kind of relationship, for one thing… oh, yeah, and, until pandemic, there was generally no shortable of leftover sheet cake (and, rarely, really good home made masterpieces) from kids’ birthday parties. All-hands staff gatherings there were rare.

But I digress.

Will I keep writing the blog?

My thinking is yes.

Here’s the biggest lesson: Like cake-baking, vulnerability gets better with practice. There are oopses, but I learned. For example, it’s more precise to weigh ingredients than to measure them (especially cake flour). 

I realized I can keep blogging regularly, but spread it out a little more, to create a regular but more sustainable practice.

And it’s okay to do a little thing, like the tiny chocolate lava cake I’ve gotten reasonably competent at making. One bowl recipe, and I can even make a very small one in under a half hour. Neat, sweet, complete.

If I inspired someone else to write, I’ll be thrilled.

Oh, and I will finish by taking a “page” from my nephew Simon’s blog:

Please comment, like, and share. Let me know what’s on your mind, in your heart, and what you might like me to write or think about. Challenge me.

And remember to be. Just be.