A little wink from the past.

Sometimes I love finding old emails. It’s a little like reading back on a journal and cringing or smiling or thinking… whew! I’ve come a long way. I had one of the latter moments just a few moments ago. I am writing the prologue for a good friend’s beautiful book on Happiness (more when that comes out) and was looking for an email confirmation from Spirit Rock… dating back to my first brush with meditation. It was about a year after I graduated from law school and I was feeling utter and completely lost. If you don’t know me and you’re reading this, here are a few things about me now: (1) I no longer practice law and never ever will again.  (2) I am an artist (3) I do a lot of writing professionally and for fun (4) I took those dance classes (5) I left Marin and moved to Brooklyn! (I am back in CA for a stint, but it’s been amazing)

Life is always changing. And sometimes you just gotta follow your heart!

Enjoy.

///

Hey girl,

Well, you are probably just about to pop, and I know it’s been a while so I thought I’d drop you a note.

Things have been a bit rough here. Reid and I suffered the final chasm and I am still looking for a job. I have been doing a lot of re-thinking about things in my own life, and started creative writing and some other stuff. Today, I went to do yoga, and I decided that was going to let myself do whatever I want, so I turned on some classical and danced like a ballerina for an hour. It felt kind of silly but was strangely liberating, and I thought you would have been very proud of me. After practicing for so long, it’s easy to make yoga such a rigid thing, and I have been feeling it become that way for me, especially living in Marin and only practicing on my own. I was thinking about maybe taking a little break from it for a couple of weeks, just to see what happens, and I even looked into some dance classes.

Re job sitch. Also coming to conclusion that maybe this whole lawyer thing wasn’t the best idea, not just current economy, but also the fact that I think I am a rather creative person and that has been stifled by lawyer thoughts. I still want to try it for at least a couple of years, but I have a feeling that my career will be something always evolving and hopefully it won’t involve me sitting at a desk for 10 hours a day for the rest of my life. I am thinking it could be cool to eventually be able to do some art law, even if it is in just a pro bono capacity. I have been volunteering at legal aid in Sonoma, which has mostly involved domestic violence work. It’s funny that after all of these years of public interest work, I am finding myself thinking – is this really for me? It’s just SO exhausting dealing with women who continue to place themselves in these abusive relationships. Not that I am judging my entire choice to go to law school or pursue a public interest career based on this one experience, but it’s just got me thinking.

So, that’s about it. I have been spending a lot of time alone, which has been a little lonely at times, but being unemployed has given me the chance to try to sort things out in my personal life. I guess I am just trying to remember that everything will work out in the end – not easy, but i am constantly reminding myself. Oh, and I went to a meditation retreat at Spirit Rock in Woodacre saturday, also good, but hard! I forgot how hard it is to sit still and try to clear the mind.

Anyway, I really hope that you are happy and healthy. Give me an update. I am so so happy for you.

Talk soon,

Nicki

No, you are the fucking problem

I found myself growing impatient to get back to New York last week when I hadn’t heard back from a new client on a project start date. I called my friend Joe and groaned, “I’m just ready to start my life again!” Joe gave me all sorts of advice, one of which was to take control of the things that I could control and start doing them. (This happened to be working on a new website for the company). So I did. I experimented with code on Squarespace, emailed their customer service team literally 50 times (and they emailed back within 10 minutes each time). (Side note: Squarespace, you rock)

But the big change happened when I woke up the next morning. I was on a hike and I had a grand epiphany — “my life starting” is purely a matter of choice. I can think of myself as stuck in sick/recovery mode or I can think of life as ALREADY restarted. This period of California time has been incredibly fruitful after all — I have rediscovered my creative spirit, started a growing company and set off on the path of embracing my new self.

And then, I was just perusing my healer/teacher Reverend Zoe’s new site and her blog post popped up.

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Yes,  through some rather tough love sessions, I have been told this before by lovely Zoe. And with practice and work, I have begun to accept this. That nearly all of my gripes with people, jobs, life’s circumstances etc., are re-created patterns of shittiness over and over again and then I wonder why the same things keep happening “to me.” (I, for the record do not include cancer in this category) (And, I believe this is universal, but just decided to take some ownership over that by putting it in the 1st person).

Today, I stared at the screen. And a number of deeply personal thoughts flashed through my mind — parents, ex-boyfriends, jobs, etc. Sometimes it’s easier to blame other people for pain. But in the end, it’s not. Because we give away our power to change our lives and the relationships that we find ourselves in over and over again. And how fortunate I felt in that moment — reflecting on my own patterns — that I am able to read that statement and embrace it.

Not a coincidence is the fact that I did hear from formerly MIA new client this morning. Somehow, I KNEW it would happen that way. I had to retake control, of the things that I could control rather than griping about the things that I can’t. Call it universal vibes, or a lesson in patience, but I think it was a little reminder that we are far too often, the fucking problem.

Michael Porter, Shared Value

Yes, yes, yes. I love you, Michael Porter. And you’re glasses are so hip. Just sayin’.

A big part of the problem lies with companies themselves, which remain trapped in an outdated approach to value creation that has emerged over the past few decades. They continue to view value creation narrowly, optimizing short-term financial performance in a bubble while missing the most important customer needs and ignoring the broader influences that determine their longer-term success. How else could companies overlook the well-being of their customers, the depletion of natural resources vital to their businesses, the viability of key suppliers, or the economic distress of the communities in which they produce and sell? How else could companies think that simply shifting activities to locations with ever lower wages was a sustainable “solution” to competitive challenges? Government and civil society have often exacerbated the problem by attempting to address social weaknesses at the expense of business. The presumed trade-offs between economic efficiency and social progress have been institutionalized in decades of policy choices.

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Read the full piece from HBR here

Reflections at 10,000 Feet

I turned 34 this month. I am officially in my mid-30s — which is both totally terrifying and also kind of awe-inspiring. Like, I had no idea that life would look like this during my mid-30s.  I have been in California since August and as I write this, am on the plane headed back to the West coast after nearly 3 weeks in New York / DC. These plane rides always give me time to be still and reflect on what has transpired since the last time I was bored on a plane. And if I don’t count the last flight from Palm Springs my birthday weekend, which marked the worst hangover of my life – a lot of good stuff has happened.

A couple of amazing developments since the 4 months that I last wrote:

1. Cancer free for 1 year!! Two sets of MRIs and Chest X-rays, and several vagina probes later, I made it to the golden one-year point of cancer free. Feels great to be here and I am still waking up every morning and thanking God that I am healthy.

2. Mastery of the ceramic beaded necklace. I am fucking proud of these things! My friends have been pushing me to sell them, but I would hate it if the bead whittling that I so love were to feel like a chore, rather than a luxurious pleasure.

3. A successfully growing business. I haven’t quite exhaled just yet, but I am back to doing my human rights / sustainability stuff and there is some exciting stuff happening which I’ll write about at another point.

4. In line with my tradition of a 5-year cathartic haircut (and also totally inspired by Michelle William’s do), I chopped my hair off. It feels good. When I don’t feel like a frumpy lesbian in sweatpants.

5. I have a baby. Sort of. Well, I feel like my niece Quinn is my baby, especially now that I have gotten to spend so much time with her. I’ve seen her teeth roll, crawl, turbo-crawl, stand, make funny noises, laugh, smile, and increasingly harass my sister’s dog. It’s been pretty amazing. Quinn was born during my life shit storm, which makes her presence a reminder of how beautiful life is, even when it can be so hard. In some other dimension a piece of me found itself in her little spirit. I realize that sounds a little crazy but there are some things in life that are a little crazy. What can I say.

6. I got a tattoo

7. The launch of Quinnrose Olive Oil! I am super super proud of the label and the oil, and laying the foundation for what I am convinced will be a kick ass gourmet food business. I am still in the process of placing it in stores, but check out the website for updates.

8. Some fun writing. That I actually get paid for. And I get to work with artists!

9. Taking life ownership. Between hopping coasts and conversations that shift wildly from topics of human rights safeguards to the Coratina olive to artist/writer collaborations to clay hand building, life is not boring. It’s taken me about 6 years of solid work to get to this place, but I feel really proud and excited about where I am professionally. Call it career schizophrenia, I call it really happy to be able to do all of the things that I love.

10. Happily single. Yes, my 34-year-old female self has been really, really content taking care of herself for the past 6 months. No dreaded ex-boyfriend run-ins, no emails from ex-boyfriends the morning of their wedding (yes, that happened), no shitty dates, no OK Cupid prowling, no worrying about physical appearance, no compulsive phone checking or hypothesizing whether of not he really got my text message or if it was lost in cyberspace.  Just lots of solo time figuring out who I want to be. I am not going to lie and pretend there have been tons of amazing dating opportunities in Novato (um, there have been none for the record). But it felt refreshing to just throw in the towel and not even consider dating. In fact, I have been happily married to myself. And it’s been awesome. (If you still need some convincing on this point, read this awesome article and watch this video).

Dear Universe, I am Grateful.

I caught myself this morning. I was sitting in my morning meditation, warm fog nestled over the valley below.  I could hear dogs barking in the distance and the occasional hummingbird whirred over my head. The heavy smell of bay leaves and dust sat in the morning air. It was perfect.

So perfect that I should take a picture and share it on instagram! (Yes, this popped into my mind during meditation).

No. I reminded myself. Not everything needs to be shared on social media. How would I capture the fog just so, the smell, the perfect damp coolness brushing my face? I knew it was impossible. And one of those moments I wanted to keep all to myself.

Can technology ever replace these simple, yet extraordinarily beautiful moments in life? I don’t think so. I don’t think it will ever be able to do so. For these are the moments that separate human from machine.

Grateful for this time. So grateful.

Finding the artist within

A corner of the garage studio

A corner of the garage studio

Last week, my family and I toasted over a nice bottle of wine. “To unleashing our creative spirits,” I said. My dad looked at me like I was insane.

I’ve been in California for almost a month now, and I can safely say that my creative spirit has been unleashed. I wound up at a drawing night in Sebastopol a couple of weeks ago with my dad who had befriended an older artist named Robert. Robert was a former NYC art director, but has been a fine artist for the past 15 years and now resides here in Marin. I thought I’d go for the hippies, and warned Robert that some stick figures might pop out (we were drawing human figures). To my astonishment, people came out.

Robert coaxed me into coming to his studio to draw with him. So I did. And then I started working for Robert’s friend, the legendary Stanley Mouse (who is creating a label for my baby olive oil company), in exchange for a logo. I have found myself hanging out with one of the most creative people I have ever met in my life, full of constant wonder and curiosity at the world around him.  It’s been nothing short of inspiring and endlessly entertaining.

Much to my father’s chagrin, the garage has been transformed into a pottery studio. I have raided Clay People and Aftusa in Richmond — literally a gold mine for all things ceramic. I have also begun befriending Sebastopol’s senior citizen community at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts. While on a solo hike this weekend, I decided to take Stanley’s lead. I would sell my own art and work with Robert to fulfill my creative potential. I would continue the plunge into the world of unconvention (via what I like to call the Coney Island Skycoaster). I came down a little bit from this manic planning since then, but I am at LEAST making a killer dinner set.

“Quite a life you are leading there,” my friend Gena said to me last week. She had caught me en route from Robert’s studio to my studio back home. “I know,” I laughed, “its amazing.”

I halfway feel like a spoiled brat writing this post. I know that I am allowed some degree of a life vacation given all of the shit that I have been through the past year, but I also know that I am tremendously lucky to have a supportive family and a beautiful house I get to live in rent free in California.

I feel like there must be more people like me out there. Those of you who became a doctor or a lawyer, or a banker or some other boring professional (I say that because I am one too) and always felt a nagging within. An emptiness that told you you had to just GET IT OUT. (I spent years trying to figure out what that thing was) You probably loved art when you were a kid and you were really good at it, but then you figured that no one can actually be an artist when they grow up, and who has the time to draw/throw/paint when there’s crappy reality television to watch and a Facebook newsfeed to surf.

I began to paint after I was sick. I was in Alabama and figured it was better than sitting at home alone feeling sorry for myself. The ceramic studio was attached to the paining studio and I saw people getting messy and I KNEW that I wanted to do it too. So I did when I got back to Brooklyn — at Columbia Clayworks — which happened to be 3 blocks from the house I was living in for 3 years. I used to walk by that studio every night with the dog and pick out my favorite pieces. It just seemed so… unattainable to actually do it myself. I deactivated my Facebook account, tired of wasting my time and energy reading other people’s newsfeeds and feeling increasingly shitty about my own lack of direction.

I started spending hours in the studio. It became my Friday night ritual. I would bank on a member working there who would let me stay for hours. I started smuggling pieces home and carving them at the kitchen table. I saw patterns wherever I went, especially at Strand, where I would sit on the floor in the art section and flip through art books for inspiration.

I had no idea what to do with my own life, but I knew that I wanted to create. Just a couple of days after arriving in California, I sat with my longtime therapist / clairvoyant Zoe (yes, I know it sounds totally new agey but she is seriously amazing) and she told me to accept the gifts that the universe was offering me. To live rent free until I knew what I wanted to do, to hike in the woods, to wake up smelling dusty bay trees, and to spend hours painting and carving clay in the garage. I’ll take it I decided. The next week, I told Stanley I could help him in his studio.

I still am about 50% clueless of what I am doing with my life. I know that I am headed back to Brooklyn, eventually. For the first time in what seems like my entire adult life, I feel calm (for the most part at least). I am learning to be OK with the fact that I am a multi-faceted human being, and that I probably will never just do one thing. The next year looks like potter / olive oil entrepreneur / management consultant.  And, you know what? I am okay with that.  Just as long as I can keep these creative juices flowing.

 

 

Learning to Freefall

IMG_1824Last night I flew over the Coney Island Boardwalk. (Well, via the Coney Island Skycoaster). As we sailed back and forth, cutting through the moist night sky, the fireworks began, and I felt exhilarated knowing that I had leaned into my fear of heights and melted into a graceful tumble at the mercy of gravity.

We were still damp, mind you, from diving into the ocean as the sun was setting. Laying on our backs we floated over the gentle waves as the vibrant colors of Coney skimmed the surface of the salty ocean. We yelped into the setting sun, and the creeping black, hollowing out life’s stresses and expectations from the depths of our bellies, laughing deep gutteral laughs that were reserved for life’s special moments.

I’ve had so many moments this week of fear and anxiety, as I have packed up my apartment, said my goodbyes (which are hopefully just temporary) and mentally prepared myself to step away from New York for a bit. I’ve started working on a screenplay, which is all about life after the end. Life after loss, life after new beginnings, life after life didn’t turn out the way we thought it would. It just felt like the most fitting thing I could do at the moment.

I have been in some what of a free fall the past year or so, with illness, career experimentations, and heartbreak. Despite being utterly terrified of going on the Skycoaster yesterday (and thank you Briana for coaxing me to go on), I knew that I had no other choice but to embrace the free fall.

Wikipedia describes free fall as any motion of a body where its weight is the only force acting upon it. We often think of free fall as something bad — events feel out of our control, people don’t act the way we want them to, ultimately, we feel out of control. But imagine experiencing life in a way where we are the only force influencing our experience of the world. Let go of parental expectations, of past baggage, of New York standards, of traditional notions of what one’s life should look like at age 33. What if we just allowed ourselves to tumble, weightless, knowing that the universe would not only catch us, but reward our courage with a flight through fireworks as we sail over the crowd below?

I am fortunate to have an amazing family who will always buffer me from complete devastation, and I will be staying with them in August. But as I step away from the security of my home in Brooklyn, my professional and social circle, I know that I am allowing myself to fall into some place of unknown. I am tired of fighting, of pushing, of wanting, and expecting. It’s time to surrender, to look at the ground from a 110 feet above, pull the cord and to tumble into the arms of the universe below.

When love persists beyond loss.

Something beautiful and unexpected and mysterious happened to me this morning. An email from a person who I have not spoken to in years fluttered into my inbox and has left me lost in reflection about love. So often, the relationships that we lose are intimately tied to other losses — friends, rituals, and hardships that were endured by both partners (carried by one / supported by another). I myself have been trying to make sense of this latter loss lately — where does the loss of the individual partner end and other related losses begin? How do we separate that person from the devastation of an illness for example? In other words, how do we measure what we have lost and what remains a part of us as individuals as we carry on in the world solo? And what happens to that energetic love when the journey between two people comes to an end?

I think I fully understood this morning that real love never dies; it only changes form. This remains so challenging for me to accept and embrace, but somehow makes the risk of loving another person slightly less terrifying. I love how this video of artist Marina Abramovic and her former partner Ulay so beautifully and honestly depicts the spirit of the special relationships that tie us together for life — beyond time, new partners, and loss.