Hair Dye

I have been thinking about being a teenager quite a bit lately as I write a book chapter on female adolescent and young adult development.  For all of you I can only imagine leapfrogging over other hungry little readers in line to get their hands on a copy of a developmental counseling textbook, I’ll make sure you know how to get your fingers on one!  Not need to harm one another with your clamoring.  I’m especially nostalgic-nauseous as I’m writing when I think about the time I spent during that decade of my life wishing to be something other than I was.  Happier, thinner, prettier, shorter (yes, shorter-don’t judge), and on and on and on…it was endless.

My circle of gal pals graciously sent me their thoughts about themselves as teenagers, and I was totally overwhelmed with my own remembered insecurities.  I was launched back in time with the sharing of their own hilarious and heart wrenching stories that also line my path from adolescence to adulthood.  I am blessed to know such courageous women.  I am also blessed that social media did not exist in its current form when I was a teen.

Sweet Lord, I can only imagine the parental heart attacks that would have ensued if many of us had the type of digital imprint that this generation has. The decade from 13-23 were not easy years by any stretch, but I am humbled to look in the mirror today and see that scared to teenager peering out in amazement at the strong woman standing there.  She is mesmerized to see how tough edges and soft lines work together now where they used to grate. That feeling is worth every battle scar, every broken heart, every giggle I can muster out of an embarrassing story told about those years.  Perhaps I’ll tell those stories with a little more reverence now for the girl trying to figure out how to be a woman.  Tough little punkette with the purple hair, the choices you made then started the journey that got us here.  A thousand shades of hair dye later, we’re happy, healthy, proud to stand tall, and feel most beautiful wrapped in the love of the many people we get to love.  Thank you.

Tattooed Insight

I got a new tattoo recently.  Since I already sport ink, it was not a huge revelation to many of those nearest and dearest to me that would actually notice a new pigment augmentation on my skin.  However, my best friend’s mother saw it and quickly voiced her opinion that tattoos are gross.  We didn’t linger on the topic for too long, but she made her sentiment known and then dropped it for other verbal pursuits.  What a revelation in that moment that I took absolutely no offense to her comment.  Because I love her.  Unconditionally.  And I know that she loves me.  Unconditionally.  In fact, as I left her home that day she said, “Can I just love you and hate your tattoos?”  
The unequivocal answer is yes.  Both can exist.  Duality exists.  It's a real thing that infiltrates most of our human interactions.  The self-help genre has long espoused a notion (and I’m primarily pointing the finger at those on the shelf towards the romantic end) that you have to love all the things about someone if you truly love them.  Because everything always has to boil down to an all or nothing simplistic equation to truly understand if you do or do not love someone.  Horse manure.  Totally stinks of fecal matter, false.  That is not love.  Look a little further up the self-help aisle.  That’s right next to the full-on psychology section because it’s delusional thinking.  Perhaps what ails us as a nation tearing our cultural mosaic apart has a lot more to do with what we rail against instead of what we take the time to understand, and either embrace or distance ourselves from in our PERSONAL choices.  I give you shouty capitals because we have the distinct privilege of having individual choices in this country.  That’s still something to wave our proverbial nah-nah-nah-nah-boo-boo childish hand gestures about since we have it and others don’t.
I don’t get to make choices for anyone other than myself.  That’s not my right.  When I try to take that right from someone or something else, I do so falsely thinking that control is anything other than an illusion.  I cannot control whether or not someone “likes” my new tattoo more than I can make someone adopt all my ideals.  What fun would that be?!  Let’s all think, and dress, and act alike.  That way we all know we’re all on the “right” side.  Again, smells of fecal infested falsehood to me.  If you’re engaging in an argument, you’ve already lost.  Be you.  Do you.  Love all.  Teach compassion and kindness.  Reject hatred in your own heart and personal choices.  Let’s start there and see how it goes.  M’kay?  Thanks.  That is all.

Compassionate Confrontation

Let me be clear that I’m about to rant and rave.  It will be humorous though, so stick with me.  If you’re not in the mood for a good rant, go elsewhere.  Here, it’s rant central.  I’m pretty sick and tired of everyone being sick and tired.  Social media has become the new space to air our mean-spirited little jabs at the rest of the world.  Wouldn’t dare to do it to someone’s face if you saw them out and about in that alternate universe we used to call real life?  No worries, you can just be passive aggressive online.

Don’t get me wrong.  I have my moments.  The indignant scoffing moments where all of a sudden I’ve turned into my grandmother and am looking straight down my nose at someone or something with an air of moral high ground sprinkled with haughty disdain.  Luckily for those that spend time with me, I don’t hang out there long.  It’s not fun.  It’s not pleasant.  Worst of all, it does nothing to connect me to the world around me.
My concern today folks, when I go through whatever social feed I’ve decided to peruse, is that we are losing the art of compassionate confrontation.  This thing that was supposed to connect us has done something very different.  It has given those of us who want to appear nice in person an arena to become nasty little gladiators slugging it out in a hate-mongering fest when we don’t have to look at someone face-to-face.  We are so quick to point out the flaws in whatever someone else has posted.  When did we lose the talent that my grandmother had in spades?  Sure, I might have fooled you there for a minute and made you think I was judging her, but let me explain a bit further.  
She had class.  She was aware that there was a right and a wrong way to carry yourself in this world, especially in social interactions.  She did not allow others to skate by with bad manners, nor did she let you think that white was an appropriate color choice for footwear in the winter.  Sure, the footwear thing seems a bit controlling now.  However, she was fierce.  She would let you know if she thought your behavior was out of line and she would do so to your face.
Compassionate confrontation used to be a mechanism to give someone feedback without the spine tingling little reminder creeping up your back as you did so that you know this is going to result in a passive little jab as soon as the encounter is over on some form of social media.  The ones that really send me into orbit start off with this cloying start, “Don’t you just love it when…”  No!  I don’t.  And you don’t either.  You tricked me with the word love, but now I can see you were just about to phase into a sarcastic rant about your husband not picking up his underwear off the floor.  Stop it!

What if, for just today…we made a collective action to only post comments that are positive and validate the courage it takes for someone else to put themselves out there?  Save the snarky, negative stuff for those that are really worth investing in a heart-to-heart discussion with in real life.  Take the snark out and have a real, compassionate conversation.  In the real world.  It still exists.  Go find it. 
P.S. I just heard my grandmother’s voice reminding me that it’s not Memorial Day yet, but go ahead and wear those white shoes. 

Living in Reverence

In a flash last night, I was transported back to a time when we spent our days and nights in hospital rooms, waiting areas, essentially praying and living in faith that somehow everything would work out.  There was a sense as I had that moment in my daily routine yesterday that I have lost most of the tension, much of the heartache, and some of the reverence in which I lived during that period of crisis.  Now, I’m more than grateful that the heartache and the tension have subsided.  And yet, there is this little piece of me that knows even though it was terribly draining to live that each day there was also a piece where I was never closer to the pure act of living my mission to be of service to others.  Mission?  What?  Wait, she’s typically funny.  Sometimes a little preachy, but mission?  We just went somewhere I’m not comfortable with there, ol’ Jen.  Of course you’re not, friend.
Many of us are not living from a space of reverence each day.  I want to again, and so my practice these days is about not recapturing the negative aspects of that year and a half.  Rather, my faith guides me to believe since I lived it so fully during that time period that there are miracles happening all around us and our job is to live as fully present as we can in the knowledge that those miracles are happening for us.  Pretty big stuff for a weekday morning, I know.  It occurred to me though that I had the honor once of knowing every single day when I woke up that I would witness human kindness, compassion, and empathy in abundance that day.  I just thought I’d humble up this morning and send my acknowledgment out to all of you that it is me who has forgotten how to create that in each day.  My job is to be as present as I can and show up for those that I can, however I can, each day.  Be well, be kind, be giving of your love.

Pain Promotion

I have the distinct honor to see people in pain. Now, on the surface that sounds twisted and a bit inappropriate for a counselor to say. Let me explain…

There are essentially two types of pain. One is the kind that people want to extinguish. The other is the kind that people want to feed, fan, and let flame. Take a guess which one I see most often in my clinical work.

Hopefully, I’ve accomplished my task of thoroughly confusing you because it’s not the one that people want to extinguish. When folks come in and they are so thoroughly focused on getting rid of the pain that has floated into their life, I know they are in the wrong place.

I’m not that woman. I’m not that counselor. I’m certainly not that divine entity. I don’t giveth and I can’t taketh away. And I definitely don’t believe in an unthinking, unfeeling, uncreative universe that would allow us to languish for very short stints only to then magically take away pain without some purpose having been served for it interrupting our collective day.

I get excited when courageous souls come in and know that their pain is not going away. They may have tried the extinguishing route with drugs, alcohol, sex, shopping, hoarding, eating, or their particular flavor of covering it up juice. It didn’t work. And they know it is not the issue. It is a symptom.

What if you viewed any pain currently showing up in your world from a curious perspective? I’m not all that thrilled that you came to visit, but I am willing to ask and listen as you help me figure out the purpose of you being here. Sure, people think I’m nuts when they spend the first five minutes delivering their incredibly sad stories and I respond with… AWESOME! You ready to do some work?

Are Your Relationships Surviving or Thriving?

The holiday season found The Flying Randelli Travelling Circus back in the hospital.  Again.  Yes, I spent some time scanning the night skies Christmas Eve with a blowgun trying to end this eternal war I’m fighting with that judgmental Santa bastard. 
Since I’ve already written an entire book on growth through crisis in a hospital setting, let’s instead focus on the lessons learned this time around.  Also, it’s just not all that interesting to talk about procedures done preventatively to thwart the future chance of the Captain getting himself into real trouble.  He was back at work within a week and feels terrific.  Who knew you could use medical intervention BEFORE a major crisis?  How novel.
Here’s what I want to say from this go around: your relationships are what dictate your life.  Not your weight.  Not your clothes.  Not your car or house.  We all know by now it’s definitely not the amount of money in your bank account, even though I still get a good chuckle when I catch a snippet of the scripted bumbling antics of reality television trying that route. 
It’s relationships.  Are you in ok ones, good ones, great ones, or curl your toes back and howl at the moon phenomenal ones?  Now, you might think because of that last example I’m talking about sexual relationships alone.  I’m not.  Perv.  I’m talking about friendships, family, colleagues, extending all the way to folks you chat up in line getting your morning infusion of caffeine.
Is your existence being validated?
Are the people (I’m not talking about animals here purposefully because I already know they never forget to do this one simple thing) in your life reminding you that they appreciate the fact that you exist on this planet?  If not, I have one very simple and elegant solution.  Do it for them.  Lead by example.  Ask yourself if you are acknowledging the people in your world.  Are you giving of yourself in ways that are quantitatively making the lives of the people you interact with qualitatively better?  In non-academic speak…can they count on you to make them feel truly seen?
Practice makes progress.  One kind word, deed, or interaction at a time.
Here is as far as I will go with Santa today.  Sometimes your timing supports my belief that you are targeting me.  I get that you have a lot of cookies on your plate and the poisoned dart to your rotund posterior may have been a step too far.  I apologize.

Time Warp

I had dinner with an old friend last night. We caught up on life, love, and plans for our respective futures. She reminded me that there have been some pretty significant accomplishments over the past year that I have not taken the time to cherish! I published a book, started a company, gave up a traditional job altogether for my own academic and professional passions, as well as continuing to work towards a doctorate. I also managed to turn thirty-five. All of those are big things and I did feel my heart swell as she reflected them back to me with her kind words and pride.

And yet…that little voice was there. That quiet, insipid, monstrous voice that I think I am not alone in saying is the downfall of many an awe-inspiring moment with sweeping crescendos of music in my head. What, you don’t have a soundtrack running to your life in your mind too?! Weird. It’s that little, and sometimes enormous piece we all have called self-doubt. Can I do this? Am I worthy of this praise? What will it be like if/when I fail? What if everyone I know says nice things about my writing to my face when I know they are snickering behind my back?

Here is what friendship can do though. True friendship and connection helps us quiet that voice. As I assured my friend that her fabulous idea for a new business endeavor would be a perfect match for her talents, I realized I was saying all the things I needed to remind myself of over the last nine months. Her praise was the exact thing I needed to know that there are other people out there applauding my efforts. Sure, they will always be naysayers (that’s an old school word for haters, younger demographic). Being able to offer that same praise for budding talent made me realize the power (yet again) of connection. Holding space with someone by nurturing their hopes while lifting one another up is my favorite way to spend time with others.

P.S. She’s not an old friend, our friendship is. Since we are both now thirty-five, I can say we dames are just getting started with the things we will cheer each other on in doing.

The Lioness Roars

There are women in this world who are the proud and protective lionesses of their respective packs.  In hearing many of your stories working on the next book, I am getting the distinct sense that there is an inordinate amount of these Mama Lions from here in West Virginia.  Perhaps it is the rugged terrain and having to survive on the outskirts of humanity for so many generations. Maybe it is a mechanism of raising children amongst abject poverty as the butt of many a national joke.  Or, it could simply be a cultural ilk that makes Appalachian mamas a force with which to be reckoned.  Whatever the case may be, I am so very proud to know you. 

In particular, I have the best of the best.  (Allow me a few moments to brag, please.)  My mother languished in the West Virginia public school system when she clawed her way through it. Yet, she sat with us every single day and read.  We were read to and sat mesmerized by her beautiful voice, complete with voices for each new character.  Our bedtime routine meant a nightly performance of whatever Dr. Seuss book we were obsessed with at the moment.  She cared enough to work with us and ensure that we had the tools to be successful.  I am coming to the stark realization that life is not about how much affluence one comes from or how many letters are after their name.  What really makes the difference (in my humble and as of yet, non-evidenced based conjecture…but, stay tuned dear reader) is having the support of healthy adults in your world that take the time to play, read, and interact with their children.

Here is some lioness advice.  Turn off those damn smartphones when spending time with people you love!  The only thing smart about your kids will be their mouths if all they see of you is your twaddling thumbs!

Thanks Mama Leoni. 

September, 2014

Hey ladies!!!!!!  Yes, if you're of a certain age you should be hearing the hook from a Beastie Boys song right about now.  I have a second book in the works and I need your expertise.  I want to know about the experience of being a woman growing up, leaving, and perhaps making the choice to return to Appalachia.  For those of you that do not have the great fortune, or distinct cross to bear of knowing and loving wild West Virginia women...we are a rare breed.

I have all of these amazing women who have influenced my trajectory on this spinning orb that hail from our great state.  Some are fellow writers.  Some are painters.  Others are jewelry designers.  Business women getting it done out there in a man's world.  Women that refuse to back down from their convictions.  Women that stand up for others and act as advocates on their behalf.  Doctors.  Educators.  Counselors.  Mothers.  Daughters.  Wives.  Sensational Singletons.  Girlfriends.  Sisters.  Cousins.  Best Friends.  And my Mom.  Sweet Lord, don't get me started on her.  She alone fills every single category I just named above.  In one person.  Epic.  I should have been wearing underoos on top of my clothes (what, you didn't do that too?!?!) that had a symbol for my Mom on them instead of Wonder Woman as a kid.  Linda Carter and her fabulous get up have nothing on Mama Lib.  

So, here's the general idea.  I have questions to start a discussion.  You send me some answers, along with an idea of when I can contact you and pump you for even more information!  Then I put it all together in a book!  See, this writing business is actually quite simple.

Here are the starting point questions, but please note that they are merely a launching pad.  Get as creative as I know each and every single one of you to be.

Who or what was your most valuable teacher about how to be a woman?

How have other women shaped your journey?

What stands out to you as the most powerful example of being a West Virginia woman?

What inspired you to come back to West Virginia if you lived elsewhere?

What do you value most about living in West Virginia?

Do you identify as Appalachian and if so, what does that mean for your identity as a woman?

Dreaming is Dangerous Business

Ok, I thought I’d throw together this little book and give it away to people that were there to support us in our time of need.  And then it kept growing.  Email entries turned into chapters with shape and form.  Chapters turned into themes that then turned into an entire book.  The book transformed into a family systems how-to guide for those in the midst of crisis.  There had to be cover art and an artist photo (!) for the book.  I had to decide if I wanted to pitch the book to publishing houses both large and small.  Someone had to edit this whole production.

I am a firm believer that once an idea takes shape in the form of a dream that has been whispered in quiet, peaceful conversation between you and the Creator…look out.  Here it comes.  Quite literally this meant enlisting every talented person I knew to help me birth a book baby.  No, I’m not pulling a Gwyneth here and equating raising a child in Hollywood to going off to war.  (Yes, she really did that.  No, you can’t keep badmouthing her for it.  She made a mistake.  She said something ill advised.  Point of order, someone was asking her a question and she was supposed to respond off the cuff to an audience of millions.  Was it an insensitive analogy and glaring reminder that she is not like the rest of us?  Yep.  Let’s all resume our lives now though and remember we do our best when we are practicing grace.)  Back to the point at hand…book babies.

I have not been through childbirth on the receiving end, just the giving end.  Sorry Mama Lib.  I have no idea how amazing/excruciating that experience is.  I do know the trepidation with which friends present their children to the world (and now Gwyneth in all her ill-fated glory) making this face that says, I am about to show you my baby and what happens when your polite smile clues me in to the fact finally that this baby is ugly?  What if my book baby is ugly?!?!  I thought this would be a neat thank you for people that stuck with us through my father’s medical ordeal.  Now, there’s an actual book that I’ve self-published through a company that I started in order to self-publish with art work on the cover beautifully done by my dearest Darrian Rapp (as well as the artist photo…oh, if you could have been a fly on the wall as we flipped covers and laughed or grimaced at other writers in all their egocentrism), as well as paying an honest-to-God editor to make sure I’m not a complete babbling idiot!  I have an Amazon page.  Let me repeat that.  There is a page.  On Amazon.  That is mine.  This just got real, folks.  Stay tuned around the first of each month to my website (I have a flipping website?!?!) for blog-esque updates.