Be radical. Love Yourself.

Love yourself

I don’t know why it is so hard to love yourself. To love every part of whom you are. It is time to stop the micro-aggressive attacks.


I hate seeing photos of myself. It is worse than going to the dentist. It is worse than picking up dog poo with a plastic grocery bag on a walk. It is worse than cleaning the bathroom. I would rather do almost anything than look at a photo of myself. When I work up enough courage to actually pull off the Band-Aid and look at a photo I am in, I can actually see the discomfort in my face and body. I pains when my photo is being taken because I know I am going to have to look at it one day.


Sometimes, it even extends beyond just a photo. I avoid getting my hair styled because that means I have to look at myself in the mirror for an hour. I buy clothes and try them on at home so I don’t have to catch glimpses of myself in the mirror half-naked and wrestling to get on a pair of jeans. Life would be so much easier if I was invisible.


I didn’t always hate to look at myself in a photo. As a young girl and a teenager, I can remember setting up vignettes and posing like a model with my friends. The wait for the film to develop took forever, and we would always get doubles so we could each have copies of the pictures.


When I was about 13 or 14 I went with one of my friends and her family to Lake Powell. One afternoon, we were drying off in our bikinis and her mom snapped a couple of shots of us sitting on the back of the boat. We had just gone for a hike and gone for a plunge in the warm lake. I remember sitting up straight and smiling for her mom as took our photo. We were having fun and I felt good in so many ways; being surrounded with red rocks, stretching my legs out on a hike, and the free feeling of swimming in the warm water. A few weeks after we got home, my friend gave me a little envelope with photos from the trip.


“I’m sorry,” she said when I got to the photo her mom snapped of us on the boat.


“What for?” I asked.


“Well, I kept the better one,” she said as she pointed to my stomach. “In case other people see it.”


“Oh, thanks,” I said as I squinted, hoping to see what she was pointing out. My body shifted away from her as I realized she was criticizing my physique in the picture. I didn’t know what she was talking about. I thought I looked good.


As my body shifted from a child to a young adult over the next few years, I found myself in unsure of how I looked to others. Sometimes I looked thin. Sometimes I did not. Some clothes were flattering, and some times my clothes got made fun of. I was never quite sure, and I lost trust in my ability to feel good in my body. I no longer trusted the reflection I saw in the mirror. I was likely to look different to other people, and the same thing happened in photos. I wanted to know what other people thought of my appearance, so I started criticizing myself (it was socially unacceptable to give myself compliments) to see what response I would get.


I came to realize that I was missing out on something huge. Everyone else could tell if clothes were cute, haircuts were complimentary of my face shape, or if a backpack was out of style. But, I was (and still am) clueless. I stopped trusting the image I saw in the mirror and photos, and at some point I stopped looking beyond the bare minimum required to maintain myself. I even close my eyes when I brush my teeth.


Lately, I have been noticing that other people don’t mind having their picture taken, and some people even like it. I am jealous. I want to know what that feels like. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate myself and I have plenty of confidence in myself, but I have never been exactly comfortable in my body.


My 40th birthday is rapidly approaching, and I want more than anything to love myself, all of myself, even my body. Stretch marks and all. I want to see my smile without the pain in my eyes when I get my picture taken. I am going to smile at myself in the mirror when I get my haircut. So, if you see my face showing up in more pictures it is my way of working toward self-acceptance, and loving the person that I am. Stopping the micro-aggressive criticisms is a great gift to myself, and loving who I am as much as the love I show to others is a new road to walk down.

Love Your Space

IMG_8768I felt like I was opening a present as I sliced through the clear packing tape with an old plastic kitchen knife, unfolded the cardboard flaps and pulled a clump of 20-year old photos from the top of the box. On top of the clump was a picture of my fluffy black and white Siberian Husky with one floppy ear, Stoli, who passed away just over five years ago. I tried to softly peel the photo off of my brother’s family photo, but water must have leaked into the box and sealed the photos in to one solid mass. Most of the photos were from the pre-digital era, and replacing them would mean sifting through shoeboxes and holding negatives up to the light to try to make out the tiny picture held captive on the film.


I was in the process of unpacking my new home and was looking for photos hang on the walls of my writing nook. I used to think designing spaces was for people with extra time and money on their hands (of which I have neither), but I started paying attention to how spaces around me made me feel and found that I felt different in different spaces. How could space effect how I feel, and what could I do about it?


I had never had my own writing space before, and wanted to surround myself with objects and images I found inspiring, full of love and good memories. I have found joy in deciding what items get to go in the nook, and am taking my time shopping thrift stores and yard sales for furniture the perfect old, wooden desk for the space. Unfortunately, by boys are now old enough that I can no longer convince them to crawl under furniture at the local DI to read the brands, so I have to figure that out on my own. If I could get my space just right, maybe everything else would be easier.


I wish designing space automatically encouraged me to be disciplined in writing, and exercising and choosing to eat foods that make my body feel good. But, just because a vignette looks appealing, does not mean everything happening around it is full of greatness. Space does not generate happiness or positive thoughts, that is up to each of us, and is attainable regardless of our surroundings, but space can offer a refuge, serenity and remind us of the person we strive to be.


Most of all, creating space with intention fills me with gratitude. My father’s stained glass window piece, my son’s artwork or note, a trinket from travels, a photo of a favorite writer from the past, my rock collection or stacks of books, everything in my home is here because it is something that makes me feel good. I look forward hunkering down during the icy and hopefully snowy winter months ahead and finish unpacking.


I resign to the loss of the photos now clumped together as I slide it into the garbage pail, blow the dust off a post card from a friend rescued from the bottom of the box and stick it to the wall next to my computer with removable adhesive tabs. I think I will leave a few shelves and drawers empty, just so I have a place to put new things that come my way in the New Year.


Twilight Concert Series

“Can you describe your son?” the security guard at the First Aid tent asked. My son, boyfriend and I had walked four blocks from my apartment to the Death Cab for Cutie concert in the park.

“He is super friendly and will probably be with a crowd of people, six feet tall, wearing a black shirt with a rapper on it, light brown hair, 14 years old and his name is Eli,” I said, while choking back tears. The security guard nodded, set down her two-way radio and looked up at me.

“We have had reports of missing four and five year olds, but this is the first 14 year old,” she said. I stammered, unsure of what I could say without sounding like a crazy person.

How could I explain to a stranger how afraid I was that he would try to walk home; how it feels to live in an apartment building where drug dealers aggressively surround your car at night, or how unsafe I feel as I walk my dog across the parking lot so he can go to the bathroom in a mulch field several times a day? I wanted to tell her we were only living there temporarily, it was just a stepping-stone to something else, there were things we had grown to love about living there, I am working super hard to build a career, I am starting a master’s program with a fellowship, I take my boys to the nature and the wild as much as possible and the past two-and-a-half years had gone by so quickly.

“Well, I am not worried about him being lost. I just don’t want him to try to walk home alone. He would have to go past the homeless shelter and it is dangerous,” I said. I didn’t go into details of how accustomed we had become to seeing five or six police cars and several officers arresting drug dealer in our parking lot. Eli is a man-cub, but he is tall and could easily be mistaken for somebody much older. My urge to protect him was conflicting with the need to let him go a little bit, to trust that I had taught all that I could about this world.

“He knows that, right?”

“Kind of,” I said. We hadn’t really talked about it because we had planned to meet inside the concert, and he had quit responding to my texts. Splitting up was a mistake. I wanted to take it back, tuck it away inside of me, and keep us all safely together. I scanned the crowd, but darkness had set in, and I was no longer able to make out the faces of people 20 feet away from me.

When Eli was four-years old we took a vacation to Oceanside, California. I sat on a large towel and watched his blonde curls blow in the wind as he dug trenches in the sand, retrieved buckets of water and, as he poured the water into the trenches, he created a stream that searched the walls for signs of weakness as it ran along the trenches. Eli go disoriented in the crowd on his way back from getting water, and took off running down the beach in the wrong direction. As I followed him, I saw him reach up to a man to ask for help. I called his name, and he turned and ran to me.

I wished he would look for me now, that he would search the crowd for me and seek out someone to help him. But the truth is—he was fine. His soft blonde curls had changed in to a short brown haircut, and he no longer needed to know where I was to feel safe.

We are 30 feet behind the Birch tree people are climbing, my text from a half an hour ago read. It was twilight; blues became soft pinks and purples in the sky. The band was playing slow, methodical songs and except for the occasional spinning hippie dancer, the crowd stood still. I wondered if papery pieces of barks stuck to the sweaty twenty-somethings as they climbed the tall, pale white birch tree. I hoped the next person to climb up would be Eli, but only so I could tell him to get down from the dangerous height and wrap my arms around him.


I asked Bruce to check his phone—there was nothing. No response. I knew I should let go, not worry about him until after the show, and have fun—but I couldn’t enjoy myself without knowing where he was. In less than a year, Eli will have his learner’s permit to drive, and just a hop-skip-and-a-jump after that he will be able to drive on his own. He is capable of handling himself at a concert, but reason left me and I couldn’t stop scanning the crowd in search of the only face that would bring me relief.

The music stopped, the crowd cheered, the lights went off and the show ended. Instantly, the crowd was on the move for the exits, and I felt like any sense of control I might have had was leaving with them. As the noise died down, I called him again.

“Hello,” Eli said.

“Hi! Where are you?”

“I am right here,” he responded.

“Wait for me,” I said, and I took a deep breath. I just might survive raising a teenager.

My First Kiss

image I wrote this micro memoir as part of a writing exercise while I was co-facilitating a memoir writing workshop at Metro Jail. I like to participate in the writing with the participants, and was surprised that this little story wanted to be told. Enjoy!


My First Kiss

My legs pressed in to the edge of the old wooden dresser. I peeled off long strips of faded white paint and collected them in the palm of my hand. A shy smile crept up on me as I looked up at my older brother’s friend, Joe, and decided his short buzz cut, matching t-shirt and short set, and Vans shoes made him look mature and absolutely dreamy. He smiled back, and lump the size of a golf ball appeared in the back of my throat. I knew our age difference would catch up to us eventually, but for now I was willing to put my heart on the line for a third grader.

“Shauna and Joe sitting in the tree k-i-s-s-i-n-g,” my brother sang in a mocking tone.

My brother’s teasing did not faze Joe. He stepped closer to me. The strips of white paint stuck to my dewy hands. When Joe’s face was in front of mine, I didn’t know what to do so I closed my eyes. And I waited. My brother stopped his teasing chant. I heard the shuffle of shoes moving across the wood floor.

I opened one eye (just enough to see what was happening around me). A grass stained navy blue t-ball uniform sat in a pile on the floor, a plaid comforter was scrunched up on the bed, and Hardy Boy mystery books were scattered across the multi-colored rag rug. Joe and his gap-toothed smile were still there. My brother hovered by the door—his hand gripped the tarnished brass handle.

I closed my eyes again, and waited. I leaned toward Joe. I felt his warm breath on my nose. His lips were rough and sweet like cotton candy as they brushed against mine. When I opened my eyes again, Joe was looking at the floor and rubbing his nose.

“I’m going to tell mom,” my brother said as he opened the door.

Fitting in the Box: The interview question that stumps me every time.

Imagination_EinsteinUntraditional, alternative, creative, innovative, and tenacious are all words that have been used to describe me. As hard as I try, I just don’t seem to get things done the same way as everyone else. My education and career path are no exception.

As my body aged I began to feel the wear and tear from working for more than 15 years as a massage therapist. I realized that my body could suffer long term damage if I continued to work as a massage therapist until retirement at the age of 65—still 30 years way.

At 34 years old, I took on a full class load at Salt Lake Community College. Four years later, I graduated from the University of Utah with an Honors Bachelor of Science degree in Writing and Rhetoric Studies.

I was the first student to be accepted in the new degree, and I was well aware of the career risks of getting a degree that most people would not recognize. However, I decide the individual attention and classes specific to the type of work I wanted to do, to not only be able to write, but address topics rhetorically, would make it worthwhile.

Throughout college, I had worked part time at an organization that focused on community literacy. I worked as a writing assistant, mentor, coordinator of writing groups, facilitated workshops, worked with diverse populations, and compiled and edited two books—all things writing related. I thought the position would be a great resume builder and help to prepare me for when I was looking for a full-time job.

I hit the job market, with a fresh off the press degree, about nine months ago. I wanted a position in technical writing, copy writing, or another entry level writing position. I started off strong, submitted dozens of resumes, and landed a few interviews.

Once the interview questions shifted from asking me about my degree (most applicants had journalism or English degrees) to questions about my work experience, I quickly learned how hard it is to shift from a non-profit position to a position in business.

Without fail, in every interview, I would be asked something along the lines of, “How will you handle shifting from working in a position that has the immediate benefit of working with and helping people to a position where you are simply a cog in the machine?”

I would answer the question with a statement comparing qualitative and quantitative data, and value, while different, is significant in both. I did not get a single job offer; I guess I never gave the answer they were looking for.

I left the interviews with one question on my mind, why would I want to work with a company that viewed me as simply a cog in the machine?

The answer is simple; I do not want to work with a company where educated, smart, innovative, and motivated employees are viewed as cogs in a machine. I want to work for a company that utilizes education, inspires creativity, trying on new ideas, and mentors employees to not only do their best, but also generate expansion and on-going education and training in new platforms.

My dream company may be idealistic. However, I feel that a correct fit between an employee and employer is essential for job satisfaction and employee retention. I was fortunate enough to receive a Graduate Teaching Fellowship in my area of study, but when I hit the job market again in a few years, I will be looking for a company to fit my career ambitions, rather than simply finding somewhere to punch my timecard.

The flip side of adventure

IMG_8169My kayak flipped, and rather than risk getting tangled up in the boat, ladder, and rope and held under water, I abandoned my gear and swam to shore. I had to make a split decision between paddling close to the undercut rock or making a move to the right through the small channel between the ladder and the shore. The water level was ideal to kayak the Ferron Creek, but a high gradient made the water move fast, leaving little time for decision making on the run.

According to the guidebook, the undercut rock was not a hazard. There is plenty of space to right of the river, and we didn’t see the ladder in the water when we scouted from the road. Had we seen the ladder while scouting, we would have been able to plan accordingly. Where did the ladder come from? I decided on a line just to the left of the ladder and right of the rock, but my partner ahead of me pointed to the small channel. At the last minute I tried to change my line. I didn’t make it, and the current turned my boat sideways as I hit the ladder. I flipped and found myself submerged and scrambling for safety.

When in the wilderness, your ability to adapt to circumstances and challenges as the need arises can affect your safety, and the safety of those in your party. While I am not an expert, nor do I claim to obtain a wealth of knowledge in outdoor survival, I have learned a few tricks over the years. While you can’t always control what happens, your response to the situation not only determines your safety, but also your satisfaction with the experience.

  1. Do the work. One of my greatest joys in life is setting out on an adventure. It can be a road trip, hiking, biking, snowboarding, kayaking, taking a new class, meeting new friends or just returning to a place you know and love with a fresh perspective. Research, gather required gear, and ask for advice before you set out.
  2. Know your limits. You are the only person that can determine your ability level for an adventure. Don’t get in over your head. Get the experience you need before taking on more challenging adventures. It is not only your safety in jeopardy, but also the safety of the members in your party.
  3. Surrender your plan if necessary. Taking on new adventures requires flexibility, as it is rare that things go exactly as planned. You know how it goes; you have a plan, you are committed, a hazard arises at the last minute, you change your line at the last minute and pull it off.
  4. Walk away with grace. At times all the planning and preparation in the world cannot change unplanned obstacles such as weather or gear failure. As hard as it might be, a trip to the local hotel and bar might be the best option.
  5. Try again! It took me three attempts to be able to backpack Grand Gulch in Southern Utah. The first attempt was foiled by flash floods, the second a wildfire. The third attempt was successful and resulted in a great trip! Decide what trips are worth it, and don’t give up.

Luckily for me, Ferron Creek dumps into a reservoir. I spent the remainder of the day searching for my boat, only to see it dump out at the reservoir. While I only got to paddle a mile or so, my day ended paddling across the peaceful water with a beer in hand to rescue my boat that had its own story of running rapids to tell.

What are you without your possessions?

IMG_4405Forget the Dwell photos, this is what it really looks like for one adult, two kids, a dog and a cat live in 750 square feet. I, like most freshly divorced people, downsized significantly—I moved into a space that is approximately 25% of the size of my previous house. It had been more than 15 years since I lived in an apartment, and I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Surround sound was definitely overkill, as it would rumble the ceiling of the apartment below me. I had a small patio that a bistro set for three would barely fit on. Gone were the years worth of seed starting, gardening and the subsequent need for canning supplies. I mourned the loss pulling out a jar of tomatoes and basil grown in my garden to use to tenderize a pot roast as it baked in my crockpot on a blistering winter day. However, the farmer’s market is just a few blocks away from the new space and I can easily acquire all the fresh produce I desire.

Downsizing is about finding new ways to use less space and resources to function. Over the past few years I have come up with a few essential tips to moving into a smaller space

  • Take on a new way of looking at your space and your belongings. While the footprint of the apartment is small, the ceilings are high—so it makes sense to go vertical. I gathered a multitude of hooks and devices to hang gear on the walls: skateboards, snowboards, a bow and arrows, etc. all take on a decorative look when hanged on a wall.
  • There is no room for things my sons and I do not love: my grandmothers bamboo dresser and carved heads her brother found in Bali in his travels, my mother’s china, my grandfather’s clock, pottery from the boys elementary school days. I found that by passing things we no longer use or need on, we have created space for new things to come into our lives.
  • Organization is key. In a small space everything item needs a home, and that home needs to be convenient to using it and putting it away. A small space gets messy quickly, and, for me, peace of mind comes with eliminating clutter.
  • Storage is essential. Lets face it some things need to be stored, like camping gear and painting supplies. After a year of having every closet stuffed to the brim, I found a storage unit a few blocks away. The extra 8 x 10 foot storage space opened up gobs of new living space. We put a study desk in the boys’ closet, and surprisingly decided to get rid of a few more items we did not use and we decided they were not worth storing.
  • You probably own supplies to do most things. Look around your space before going to the store—can you alter a recipe to use ingredients on hand, or recycle other items to meet your needs? I got rid of most kitchen utensils that have only one function. Get outside! Urban living means loads of events going on all the time, and public transportation is easier to use. When we get cabin fever we get outside—concerts, museums, libraries, hiking, snowboarding, or just walking the dog.

As Patagonia founder, Yvon Chouinard, says, “..simplify your life. It’s a lot more satisfying.”