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On the walk from my apartment to campus, I pass by the home of man I can hear but cannot see. He lives in a make-shift tent—more rope and tarp and tattered blankets than Coleman—strung between bare trees on a small plot of level ground cut into a steep embankment above the Burke Gilman trail. His home can’t be seen from the road above and, when the trees leaf out, it won’t be seen by people like me, walking or biking the trail.

Most mornings, when I get within 50 yards his home, I can hear him shouting. He is very loud. It’s hard to describe these wordless outbursts. The first time I heard him, I heard anger, and I was scared. I cast glances up the embankment and walked faster, hurrying past his place, looking to see if there were other people down the trail in case I got in trouble. Nothing happened. He didn’t emerge from his home. I heard him the next morning, the one after that, and after that, and after a while, I didn’t hear anger any more, and I wasn’t scared. I heard frustration, and then I heard pain. And today, I heard words.

“Please leave me alone,” he yelled from inside his tent. Then “Please stop talking to me.”

I stopped on the path to see if anyone was up there bothering him, encroaching on his patch of land. There was no one.

“Please stop talking to me,” he yelled, again and again. And I thought of all the voices he must hear. And how he, like all of us, yearns for a quietness of the mind, a calm place to reside inside our heads. But that for him, there was no such place.

*The image I am using is not of this man’s home. I felt that taking (and I use that verb purposely) that photograph would be an invasion of his privacy. The image I used is one that appeared elsewhere, but it approximates the feeling of his place.

Statistics are hard to come by and can be massaged in many ways. By some accounts, Seattle is the 16th most populous city in the U.S. with the 3rd highest population of unhoused.

March 7, 2018   No Comments

I hate FaceApp

File this one under “walk your talk.”

In the seminar I’ve been teaching at University of Washington this winter, we’ve been taking about, reading and creating “empowering narratives.” These are stories that show people working on solutions, stories that present the idea that tough problems can be and are being worked on, that what people do (or don’t do) makes a difference. These narratives appeal not to fear—Oh my god, the opioid crisis! Oh my god so many guns!—but to hope, to the power of action and involvement.

We are also talking about the parallel to this in the advertising world, “Empowerment Marketing.” This is a message strategy that appeals (that is, tries to sell stuff) to people by tapping to their higher instincts: the desire to connect, to be of use, to contribute to the society, to be part of a solution. The way marketing usually works is to appeal to our baser instincts: greed, vanity, self-interest, fear, insecurity. The idea of this pervasive “dark marketing” is to tell us that we are substandard, that we are missing out, that we are lacking…and then to present a product or service that will make us better, shinier, sexier, etc.

So I know all this. I’ve read books about this. I’ve studied the research. I lecture about this. I talk the talk.

Enter FaceApp.

I upload a photo of myself, and FaceApp shows me a gorgeous version of myself that I never before imagined. All of a sudden, I see my real self as…lacking. Okay, kinda ugly. I look at my FaceApp self: that nose! I love that nose! I now am insecure/ vain about my actual nose. I could buy that FaceApp nose! I could spend $6000 and get that nose! And those smoky eyes! Why aren’t my real eyes like that? My real eyes are…lacking. But I can buy cosmetics! I can buy a “make-over” at a salon! I can have those eyes. And don’t get me started about lip plumping.


I have been effectively Dark Marketed. Disempower Marketed. I’ve been ensnared by appeals to my insecurity and vanity. And I know exactly what’s happening. And I fall for it anyway.

But I don’t fall so far that I’ve scheduled a rhinoplasty.

However, this morning, for the first time in, like, a year, I applied mascara.

February 28, 2018   8 Comments

Biting off more than you can chew

What happens when you bite off more than you can chew?

You have three options: You choke on it. You spit it out. You take a very very long time chewing it.

Why is this relevant? Because this winter I bit off more than I could chew. Opportunities arose to which I could not say no. Opportunities arose to which I could say no, but did not. Deadlines were all of a sudden a lot closer than they used to be. Things happened. Good things and bad things. Unexpected things. People needed me.

I started to choke. This made doing what I had to do – plus what I wanted to do – even harder than it already was. I didn’t have the luxury of or patience for long-term mastication. Commitments. Deadlines. People depending on me.

And so I spit out something. And that something was this blog. What I mean is that I stopped writing and posting. Of course I was flooded with messages from bereft readers, people who planned their entire week around my Wednesday postings, people on the edge of their various seats, holding their collective breaths waiting for witty, insightful commentary, but then settling for my posts. I feared all this frenetic traffic would break the Internet. Alas, the Internet abides.

I think perhaps I missed you (at least I missed writing these weekly posts) more than you missed me. Regardless, I will be back, seat of the pants to seat of the chair (actually, I write standing up, but I love that expression) in mid-March.

In the meantime: Chew with your mouth closed!

February 21, 2018   2 Comments

We, the People

We are not the Resistance. We are not a small band of fighters, hunkered down, defeated, sending signals to the outer galaxy looking for help to arrive. We are, as my friend Shan Anderson wrote in a powerful New year’s Day “manifesto,” THE RESPONSIBLE MAJORITY.

Sit with that for a moment, folks: We are the majority.

Let us remind ourselves, as 2018 begins, that 74 percent of eligible voters did not vote for the man who currently inhabits the Oval Office. (This is not just to reiterate that the current president lost the popular vote but also to remind ourselves that in our much-vaunted democracy, half of those eligible to vote to do vote, even in a heated presidential election.) Also note that, although Democratic senators are in the minority right now, they represent the MAJORITY (53 percent) of American citizens.

And here is what we, THE MAJORITY, believe:

* 70 percent of Americans support women’s right to choose, the highest percent since Roe v wade was enacted. (Pew, January 2017)

* 64 percent of Americans approve of same sex marriage. This approval rating has been on the rise for years. (Gallop, May 2017)

* 73 percent of Americans aged 18-49, and 65 percent of all Americans favor alternative/ renewable energy over gas and oil. (Pew, January 2017).

* 68 percent of Americans believe humans are causing climate change. (Gallup, March 2017)

* 54 percent of Americans support the Affordable Care Act, this after a concerted and sustained onslaught of negative, mis- and dis-information. (Kaiser Family Foundation, August 2017)

* 60 percent of Americans are against building a border wall between the US and Mexico. (CNN poll, February 2017)

* 55 percent of Americans oppose restricting immigration on the basis of religion—three guesses which religion we’re talking about. (CNN poll, February 2017)

* 89 percent of Americans believe all races should be treated equally. (Ipsos poll, September 2017) Yes, that number should be 100 percent.

Let’s stop licking our wounds. Let’s embrace our MAJORITY standing. Let’s use the power of our numbers. We are the people.

January 3, 2018   2 Comments

The Power of Place

I am about to head off to my regular Wednesday shift at Food for Lane County’s Dining Room, a restaurant-style (as opposed to soup-kitchen style) facility that feeds up to 300 people a day. The people who come – many but not all are unhoused – sit at tables set with silverware and cloth napkins and are served hot meals by a volunteer wait staff who takes their order (meat or vegetarian? Full plate or—my least favorite request—no vegetables? Food allergies?), brings condiments, serves coffee and dessert. There is almost always live music.

I’ve been volunteering for close to four years now, and during that time I’ve thought a lot about the power of place. But until today I’ve thought only about the power of The Dining Room in the lives of the diners, the momentary oasis provided by this calm, warm, friendly, non-soup-kitchen place and the effect this has on those who sit and eat.

There is the blessed experience of sitting in a warm place on a cold day, sitting in a dry place on a wet day. There is the immeasurably enriching experience of being acknowledged not avoided, being looked at not looked away from. There is being asked what you would like. There is being told yes. There is being served. There is the comfort of a full stomach. There is the experience of being in a place suffused with politeness and respect.

Today I am thinking about the other side of this power of place: The power of The Dining Room in my life. This is a place where I get to work along side good people, not “do-gooders” who are oh-so-proud of themselves for their little volunteer gig, but upbeat, hard-working, good-humored people who care about other people, who care about their community, who transform compassion into action, who are in it for the long haul.

It raises my spirits, however low they may be — and they have been lower this year than ever before – to spend time in this place. It nurtures my belief in my fellow humans. Being surrounded by good people makes me a better person.


December 27, 2017   2 Comments

What if I regret leaving the comfort zone?

Here is an interview I just did with B3 magazine. The magazine is sponsoring a book giveaway right now. Visit the site!

One of our favorite things about ringing in the New Year is that it’s an annual reminder to shake things up in a big way. But as refreshing as grand-scale changes can be, they can also feel paralyzingly daunting—and that makes for prime negative-self-talk territory (Who am I to think I can do this? What if I fail? What if I regret leaving my safety zone?).

If you can already hear the doubts creeping into your New Year’s goals, stop what you’re doing and read our interview with Lauren Kessler, author of Raising the Barre: Big Dreams, False Starts, and My Midlife Quest to Dance the Nutcracker. When Kessler decided in mid-life to pursue her dream of dancing in the famous ballet, she could have found a million reasons to talk herself out of it. Read on to find out how she dealt with the negative self-talk, why it’s important to embrace change no matter what your age, and how making one big leap led to another even bigger one. (Kessler’s story is so powerful that Sadie gave a copy to each B3 studio owner when it first came out!)

B3 MAGAZINE: What advice do you have for someone who is considering changing course a little later in life?

LAUREN KESSLER: Simple advice: DO IT. Challenging yourself, making changes, leaving your comfort zone, raising the bar on your own life is exhilarating. Yes, also undeniably scary—but it presents an extraordinary opportunity for growth. Creating and embracing meaningful change “a little later in life” keeps you vibrant and vital, curious and interesting, humble and in learning mode—in other words, youthful. It’s not that you shouldn’t think hard about making real changes, but you can think yourself out of it. You do not have to be convinced that you can be successful, only convinced that you can bring energy, passion, and commitment to the endeavor.

B3 MAGAZINE: A lot of women reach a point in their lives when they want to take a leap, but sometimes they don’t know exactly what that leap is. Can you talk about how you landed on dancing in the Nutcracker as your big leap?

LK: Dancing in The Nutcracker was a big leap, not THE big leap. My reasons for choosing this challenge were complicated. I had loved ballet as a child and been told I had “the wrong body” at age 12. That statement by my (very famous) ballet teacher has resonated in my life for four decades. I wanted to revisit that, silence that negative self-talk so deeply embedded. I also wanted to confront and test the cliché “you’re never too old to___________.” Could I, in fact, get my mid-life body into shape to dance on stage with a professional company—or are there some things it really is “too late” to do? (Enter barre3, by the way. That’s how I did it.) As a writer, I embed myself in worlds I know little about and try to learn from that experience (and reveal it to readers). So another reason I chose The Nutcracker is that I was fascinated by not so much the world of ballet but the world of artists who give up so much for their art. The dancers I trained with, danced with, and befriended had very little other life than dance. I wanted to explore that level of passion and commitment.

B3 MAGAZINE: Negative self-talk is masterful at keeping us from trying new things. Can you talk about the negative self-talk you experienced, and how you quelled it?

LK: Aside from the “you have the wrong body” self-talk, there was also “you are too old,” “you will embarrass yourself,” “who do you think you are?” and “stick with what you know” self-talk. In fact, the self-talk was deafening. It was, at times, louder in my head than thinking. So…what did I do?

Instead of telling myself it was stupid and self-defeating to talk to myself this way (translation: I was stupid to think this way = just another form of negative self-talk), I carefully listened to each statement, pretending a close friend said these things about herself. How would I respond? My response to my “friend” who tells herself she has the wrong body? What a second, you have a strong, healthy body. It has seen you through 100-mile bike rides, killer mountain hikes, and three pregnancies. Wrong body? Ha! And so forth.

I am not sure it is possible to erase negative self-talk. For me, what works is creating positive (actually far more realistic) self-talk that speaks louder.

B3 MAGAZINE: Do you have any advice for people who want to make a change but are experiencing pushback from their loved ones?

LK: This is a very hard question, mostly because I cannot imagine someone who truly loves you standing in the way of life-enriching change. Or rather, the only way I understand this is to think this person is scared, too. You are scared to make the leap. The loved one(s) are scared this change will be threatening to the existing relationship. Talking through what you want to do and why you want to do it, what it means to your own growth, how this may enhance and deepen the relationship because it deepens you—this might help quell these fears and transform the pushback to loving support.

B3 MAGAZINE: Did taking this big leap give you the confidence to do other things you wouldn’t have considered before?

LK: Oh my, yes. I closed the door on a job that had become a black hole in my life (as in all the energy I put in got swallowed up). I had inhabited this job for a very very long time and had convinced myself it was central to my self-worth (and net worth). It wasn’t! I cannot fully express what a great decision leaving was. And how scared I was to make it. I am more creative, more focused on what matters, happier with myself and my work than I have ever been. I have learned to lean into the “yes.”

December 21, 2017   No Comments


Well, yes, of course, my ass has been goosed by strangers on the IRT. (Whose hasn’t?) And I once worked with a guy (now a big-shot lawyer, then neither) who made eye contact only with my chest when we talked. (I countered by staring only at his crotch. This made him uncomfortable. Our conversations became infrequent.) But in all my years of working in mostly male-dominated workplaces with (except for three years) male bosses, I have never been sexually harassed. I have never been groped, pawed or touched anywhere questionable. It has never been suggested that I perform any acts other than the ones I was hired to perform.

As I read about all the women (and girls) out there who have experienced sexual harassment in its various awful and disturbing forms, I’ve had these reactions.

ONE: Jesusfuckingchristohmighty, isn’t life tough enough without going out of your way to be an asshole? Are there really these many men who lack basic decency, civility and respect? Are there really these many men who believe they are entitled to manipulate, belittle, demean, harass and violate women?

TWO: What would their mothers say? Or their sisters? (I’m not including “wives” because I don’t want to imagine that these men, after doing what they do, after saying what they say, actually come home and show their faces to a female human. Or a male human. Or their dog.

THREE: Wow am I ever lucky! I rejoice that I have had the great good fortune to have worked with non-harassers. As if this is “good fortune” rather than what should be normal, everyday life. As if simply not being a victim is a reason to rejoice. Yay! I went out into the world today, and no one masturbated in front of me or pressured me to carry their baby in my womb! Life is sweet.

And, I am so very sorry about this one, FOUR: The full weight of the sexist culture crashes down on me and I actually think, if only for a moment: What, I wasn’t pretty, sexy, alluring enough to attract this repulsive behavior? What’s wrong with me? Unbelievable, right? The flipside of I was raped because my skirt was too short.

So I guess, after all #metoo.

December 13, 2017   3 Comments

Becoming inVISIBLE

A few nights ago I suffered through one of those seemingly interminable, low-level stress dreams that sometimes afflict me. This one was about losing my purse. I was standing at a counter picking up tickets for a performance of (you guessed it!) The Nutcracker. I placed my purse on the counter and momentarily forgot about it while involved in the ticket transaction. When I looked over, it was gone. Thus ensued a long, boring, stressful search for purse. After watching me hunt high and low, an employee told me he removed the purse from the counter and put it under a desk. Great, I said. Thanks.

But the employee did not want to give me back my purse until I “proved” it was mine. I had to detail for him, quite precisely, various items in the purse. I would tell him one thing—my key chain—and he’d then ask for another. My Snap Fitness entry card. My packet of g.u.m soft-piks. My ear buds (What brand? he asked. I didn’t know. He frowned.) My Swiss Army knife. What else? What else? This went on for a long time. Finally he let me have my purse. End of dream.

I thought about the dream a lot during the day. It could be just a generic stress dream. But the more I thought about how it felt to have to prove that what was mine was mine, the less generic and more meaningful the dream became.

The meaning? Here goes:

It seems to me that I am now at a point in my life when I shouldn’t be required (or forced) to “prove” my identity, or prove my own worth to others (like the guy in the dream). I have grown into who I am. I have spent a number of decades growing and learning and doing what I do. When I was younger, a bright young penny who knew so little, who understood so little, I was noticed, and the light shone down upon me. Now, knowing so much more, having done and lived and learned so much more, I join the ranks of the Invisible and the Overlooked, the ones — we “older” women — who have to prove we still have it. About whom it is assumed that we have settled into complacency, that we do not burn with creativity and passion, that we are not ignited by new ideas, that we are no longer vital and vibrant and alive.

Guess what, you overlookers, you nay-sayers who put up barriers, you sexist ageist assholes (and especially those who pretend they aren’t)? You couldn’t be more wrong.

And also: FUCK YOU.

December 6, 2017   4 Comments

Tell me a (Nutcracker) story

(American Ballet Theatre/ Brooklyn Academy of Music)
No sooner do I settle myself in when a big guy, burly, bald and beer-bellied, starts to squeeze by to take the seat next to me. I get up to move. “Naw,” he says, dripping Brooklynese. “Doan move. I ain’t as trim as I usedta be, but I’ll get by.” And he does. Then, after catching his breath, he engages me in conversation as if we’re old friends. In the less than five minutes before curtain time, I learn the following: His name is Victor LaRossa and, except for two years in Vietnam in the late 1960s and nine months in upstate New York when he tried to “find myself aftah my first marriage,” he has lived all his life in Brooklyn. He’s never seen the Nutcracker or any ballet. His wife – “hey, Joanie, meet this nice lady,” he brays to the woman on the other side of him – got the tickets from a woman whose kid the wife takes care. “But cultcha, ya know. It can’t hurt,” he says. I love this guy. This guy is why The Nutcracker is the most popular ballet in America.

(New York City Ballet/ Lincoln Center)
At intermission, the elegant lady sitting behind me asks, in a southern drawl, whether I am reviewing the ballet for a newspaper. She has observed me scribbling notes during the performance. She’s just in from South Carolina to take her daughter, an NYU film student, to see the performance. They’ve been “nutcrackering” together, as she puts it, for twenty years, including four years when the daughter was a mouse in the local production. “I worked back stage,” the mother tells me. “I loved every minute of it,” she says. The daughter leans into her mother, gives her a little shoulder bump.

The next morning, hoping to beat the worst of a snow storm that seems to have followed me since Chicago, I am on the plane out of JFK headed for San Francisco. Sitting next to me is a handsome, strapping guy wearing worn, top-quality cowboy boots. It turns out he is a national rodeo clown. Who’s seen the Nutcracker. (Of course, I ask.) His mother took him to a performance by the Tulsa Ballet Company (he grew up on a ranch outside of town) when he was twelve. There’s more. He took his first girlfriend on date to the Tulsa Nutcracker. “I bet that impressed her,” I say. “Well,” he says, in that laconic way cowboys have, “it was kind of a goodbye present. I broke up with her the next week.” I’m thinking: If a rodeo clown sitting next to you on a plane has a Nutcracker story – actually two — Does that mean everyone has a Nutcracker story?

excerpted from Chapter 1: The Binge
Raising the Barre: Big Dreams, False Starts and My Mid-Life Quest to Dance The Nutcracker. Now in paperback!!


November 29, 2017   No Comments

We are not the worse of us.
We are the best of us.

Amid the rancor and fear, the bitterness and contempt, the unleashed anger and ginned-up anxieties, the harassment, the hate speech, the disrespect, the deplorable choices and dishonorable actions, the violence, the amorality, I want — I need — to remind you, to remind me, there is goodness and generosity in us. There is compassion and good will. There is understanding and empathy. There is kindness.

For the past two and a half years, I have been facilitating a writing group in prison. The writers are all serving life sentences. They all did terrible things. In writing about their lives, their experiences, what they have learned, how they have changed, what they hope for, they tell me, almost with one voice: I do not want to be known only for the worst thing I ever did.

And that’s how I feel about my country right now. I do not want us to be known only for this hate-filled moment, for this resurgence of bigotry, for this mockery of values, for this worst thing.

I want us — you and me, our communities, the millions of our compatriots — to be known for our best instincts and our best intentions, for the everyday lives of inclusion and kindness we live, the rich, diverse, multicultural communities we foster and inhabit, for what we teach our children, for those actions that speak louder than words: the shelters and clinics and food banks we support, the legislation we fight for, the way we stand up for who we are, the rights and reforms we dedicate ourselves to, the deep and enduring connections we forge with each other, with The Other.

The most well meaning of us have done wrong. We have said yes when we should have said no. We have said no when we should have said yes. We have remained silent when we should have spoken. We have self-medicated rather than face our own shit. And worse. There are those who do not mean well at all, and the damage they have inflicted and continue to inflict to individuals, to families, to communities, to our country is so scary, so painful, so disheartening that it is easy to give up hope. But we are not the worst of us. We are the best of us. This is what I am giving thanks for on Thanksgiving 2018.

November 22, 2017   2 Comments