Today I’d like to introduce you to my friend, Sas. We met online back in 2010 and our first in-person date was actually a whole weekend at my place in Bath (I’ve since learned that Mr P not only drove her from their home in London but hung around nearby in case I was a psycho and she needed rescuing. Ha!) Since then we’ve been on plenty of escapades and put the world to rights MANY times. Sas recently stepped into her true calling as a life transformer (aka life coach) and I honestly can’t think of anyone more suited to that job. This month she’s leading the first session of emBODYment, her online program for women who want body peace — how awesome does that sound?
She asked me to share the Soundtrack to my Life over on her blog today, so I thought it only right that she does the same over here. Meet Sas!
When were you happiest? Right now, is marvellous. Most of the last decade has been about healing; working through grief and all the ‘stuff’ brought up by this big love with Mr P, irrecoverably changing my body with kindness, and stretching into my real purpose. I turn 40 in a couple of months and I feel awake, open, happy and so grateful. Nora Ephron was so right: ‘everything is copy’.
What was the most important thing that happened to you as a child? I had open heart surgery at four years old to correct a hereditary Atrial Septal Defect and Pulmonary Murmur (which is just fancy talk for a heart with a hole in it and an extra beat). In the early 1970s in New Zealand, this was an experimental procedure. Because she never expected me to survive, Mum poured everything into my early years – I could read and write from the age of three. Every day was an amazing adventure.
To whom would you most like to say sorry, and why? to Mum. For taking the precious years we had together completely for granted.
What song best explains the soundtrack to your teenage life? Must I Paint you a Picture, Billy Bragg
What does love feel like? It’s like coming home; its so simple and easy. And yet its profoundly extraordinary. It took me a long time to learn how to be loved. And to love myself.
What is the dumbest thing you have done in the name of love? So many things! From awful teenage poetry, to losing my self-belief.
What three qualities must/does your life partner possess? He is thoughtful, kind, and he makes me laugh.
What is your favourite love song? Feeling Good, Nina Simone and Keep Me In Your Heart, Warren Zevon
What is your secret job title? Wielder of the Magic.
What traits do you deplore in others? Any kind of fundamentalism – there is just no room for possibility.
What is your greatest life lesson (so far)? We are not our thoughts, feelings, bodies or actions. At the root of the root of all of us and everything, is love.
What song would you like played at your funeral? Goodbye Old Girl, Art Farmer and Short People, Randy Newman
What is your most treasured possession? A handwritten letter from Mum.
What is your favourite daily ritual? I recently bought a vibrating face cleanser (really) and it has changed my freakin’ life! I use it every morning and night and I love how soft and smooth my skin is.
Who are the five people you would love to host at afternoon tea? I have so many questions for Janet Frame, Buckminster Fuller, Christopher Hitchens, Julia Child and my maternal grandmother who died a decade before I was born.
What song feels like home? Not Given Lightly, Chris Knox. This song is the smell of a BBQ and sunscreen and the sand between my toes. Its the sound of clinking glasses and the kids playing beach cricket. There’s nothing quite like a New Zealand summer evening *homesick face*
How do you take care of your body? Tonnes of water, SPF 86, rest and play. And good chocolate.
What has your body taught you? Everything. Who I am in the world is all because of my body. I navigate every decision in my life through my intuition (Sas Nav. Ha.) which lives in my body. I have such a deep, conscious trust for my body which feels kind of miraculous given how long I was completely indifferent to it.
If reincarnation is a thing, what body do you want to possess in your next life? No question: a beloved cat.
What song never fails to make you feel un-freakin-stoppable? Born Slippy, Underworld
What feeds your soul? Stories. There is nothing like an uninterrupted hour with a book. Or a conversation with someone who knows me well and loves me anyway.
What do people thank you for? For showing up and for the laughs.
If you were to be remembered for one thing, what would you like it to be? For being the kind of friend you could count on to help hide the body.
What song feels like it was written about you? Let Go, Frou Frou
[Photos by Xanthe Berkeley]
Last summer I was lucky enough to spend some time with the luminous Rachel W Cole in Portland and San Francisco. I’d admired her blog for a while and wanted to see what this switched-on inspiring woman was like in real life — and she didn’t disappoint. Wise far beyond her years, Rachel is a life coach who helps guide women towards a pleasure-filled, nourishing, well-fed life. And I know I want a slice of that so I’m thrilled to share that Rachel’s coming to London in April as part of her Well-Fed Woman Retreatshop tour. I will be sitting in the front row — can you join us, too?
To give you a taste of what Ms Cole is all about I asked her a few questions for the Creative Life interview series. Friends, it’s my great pleasure to introduce you to the lovely Rachel Cole…
Rachel, tell us a bit about your path into coaching…
My mother will tell you that I was always a coach. It’s not that I was always telling others what to do, but rather I was always interested in the deeper, more personal aspects of a person’s life and how they could find happiness. At parent/teacher conferences my teachers would report that I was “familiar” with them, asking about their personal lives – not your typical peer- or self-focused student.
My path towards coaching went something like this….
Majored in Political Science when I really should have been Psychology major. Developed anorexia in college. Recovered. Became fascinated with everything having to do with feeding ourselves. Was hired by the college post-graduation as a Disordered Eating Prevention & Education head for the Student Wellness Center. Spent a year developing campus-wide educational programs and working with the counseling team on the treatment side of things. Realized I was hungry to learn more and headed back to graduate school.
I toyed with becoming a therapist, but ultimately felt more called to health education. Became frustrated that traditional Health Education masters programs quantified health in ways that I didn’t – namely by weight.
Found an awesome program in Holistic Health Education and moved to California. During that program, I took a seminar in Life Coaching and fell in love with it. I filed it away to be my second career because at the time, I was working in the sustainable food world in San Francisco and having a good run at it.
Ultimately, though, I left the food world in 2010 and started my Life Coaching certification.
This version of the story is from 30,000 feet. Get closer and you’ll see even more twists and turns. In the end, I’ve never been more at home in (or more grateful for) my work in the world.
What does being well-fed mean to you personally?
Being well-fed means that I welcome my hungers as wise allies, seeking to be in deep communion with them, and treat feeding myself as a sacred and powerful act of service. A world full of well-fed women would be a much more vital world than the one we’re living in today. This is my life’s work.
You’re bringing your Well-Fed retreatshop to London in April (yay!) — can you tell us more about what we’ll do on the day? What will participants come away with?
I mentioned above that you’d get to see more twists and turns in my story if you got closer up. Well, you’ll get that at the Retreatshop. I share my story and the pull out the core lessons that form the basis for my teachings today. I offer individual attention helping everyone get really clear on their hungers and through a range of thought-provoking, soul-stirring, fun and restorative activities we work with our hungers, how we relate to them, and what gets in the way of feeding them. Shifts are guaranteed to happen. We’ll have time to talk and share stories and I do a lot of answering “but” questions. Questions like “But what if I don’t know what I’m hungry for?” or “But what if my partner is hungry for something that I’m not?” or “But what if it’s not possible to have what I’m hungry for?”
We laugh. We listen. We inquire. We share. We feast. The whole day is magic.
If you had a look at what past attendees said about attending, I think you’d get a good sense of the takeaways.
How do you personally deal with creative blocks and down days? Tell us about your self-care practices…
I surrender to it. I try to never muscle through anything in my life. Long ago I embraced the idea that you can catch more flies with honey. Ease and softness are my ‘weapons’ of choice.
I tune out what others are doing so I don’t fall into a well of comparison and despair.
I follow where my flow wants to lead, even if that’s mopping the floors or cutting my toenails.
I trust. I release as many ‘should’s as I can. I practice self-kindness in how I speak to myself, in how I choose to spend my time, and how I move through a block.
What and who inspires you – could you share some links and recommendations?
Jenna Lyons & J.Crew
My parent’s collection of American Baskets
This Modern Love article
What is the message you want to share with the world?
Trust and feed your truest hungers. The world is crying out for well-fed women.
What are you working on next?
In September I’m co-leading my first overnight retreat with one of my sources for inspiration, Anna Guest-Jelley. Details about the retreat will be released soon, but I can tell you that it’s called Wise Body, Wise Hungers: Yoga & Coming Home to Your Desires and it will be held at Green Gulch Zen Center in California.
You’re having a dinner party and can invite six famous people from the past or present – who would you choose and why?
:: Jimmy Fallon – for the laughs and to play board games with.
:: Wendell Berry – for, among other things, leading grace.
:: Bill Cunningham – for his commentary on the night’s fashion and overall adorableness.
:: Julia Child – for her majesty and because she’d cook something delicious.
:: Brene Brown – for her Texan drawl, belly laughter-inducing stories, and brilliant heart.
:: Amanda De Cadenet – to take amazing portraits of us (you know, just me and the gang) and ask great questions.
Not famous additions:
:: My parents and sister – because they taught me the joys of a well-thrown dinner party.
:: My Nana – who is no longer with us, but would make the absolute best tamales.
This party would be awesome.
Isn’t she delicious? Thank you so much for sharing with us today, Rachel!
You can sign up for The Well-Fed Woman Retreatshops over here
It’s been a while since I’ve shared a Creative Life interview here so we’re back with a bang with Ms Tammy Strobel. I was lucky enough to spend some time with Tammy while I was in Portland in July and she really is such a sweetheart! You might have heard of Tammy thanks to the amazing tiny house she lives in with her husband, Logan. They’ve downsized their life to the absolute essentials and now live in a purpose-built house that’s just 128 square feet. Her first book, You Can Buy Happiness (and it’s Cheap), launches this week and it’s a pleasure to be able to introduce her to you all…
SC: How did this path begin for you?
TS: About seven years ago I took a life changing trip to Mexico. At the time I was volunteering with the Mexico Solidarity Network and I was unhappy with my career and huge mound of debt. After visiting Mexico and seeing so much poverty, I realized how trivial my problems were back home with drama at work and feelings of inadequacy in my culture. When I got back, I knew I had to make some serious life changes, but I didn’t know where to start.
Logan was the one who suggested that we downsize our lives by moving into a smaller apartment. He thought it would be a great way to save money and simplify our lives. Initially, when Logan suggested the idea of scaling back I didn’t want anything to do with it! After many bargaining conversations, I finally agreed to downsize to a smaller apartment. Once I jumped on the simplicity bandwagon I had more time, less stress in my life, and I became hooked on this lifestyle.
You and your husband live in your amazing tiny house — what convinced you that this was where and how you wanted to live?
I remember the moment very precisely because it left such an impression on me. It was December 31st, 2006, New Years eve, and it was a cold, windy evening in Davis, California. Logan and I were snuggled up and warm, wrapped up in the covers of our bed; he was surfing the Internet and I was reading a vampire novel (I’m a huge fan of young adult fiction).
Logan was reading about a naturalist named Dick Proenneke and his cabin in the woods when he stumbled across a related You Tube video featuring Dee Williams and her little house. Dee and her little house seemed to symbolize an ideal that was simple, free, and happy. As soon as I watched the video, I knew that I wanted to buy a little house because they were so cute and affordable!
“Living with less is a life philosophy; it’s not about the number of things you own.” I love this! For someone reading this interview who’d like to downsize their possessions but might be feeling daunted, where would you advise them to start?
Choose a small section of your home to tackle first. For example, when I began culling through my stuff I started with my closet. Each day, I took an hour to pull out clothes that I no longer wore and by the end of the week I had five, 30 gallon, black garbage bags filled with clothing that I donated to Goodwill!
Alternatively, you could give away ten to twenty belongings a week. This strategy isn’t as overwhelming and by slowly culling through your stuff, your clutter will disappear. Remember that this isn’t a race or a competition. If you keep clearing the clutter, you’ll end up with a beautiful home; a sanctuary that’s restful and relaxing, rather than overflowing with stuff.
Could you describe a typical day for you in (and out!) of the tiny house?
My husband, Logan, and I typically get up at 6.30 or 7a.m., make coffee and play with our kittens. Then we’ll make a small breakfast and Logan will pedal off to work. I usually stay home in the morning and write and spend my afternoons in a cafe drinking drinking coffee and writing in my journal. Other days, I spend my afternoons walking around taking photos. I try to keep my days open because I enjoy spontaneous get-togethers with friends and I need large blocks of time for writing. If I don’t have the time and space to write and think, nothing gets done. In between writing and taking photos, I check my email and make time for reading too.
Typically, Logan gets home from the lab around 6.30 and we’ll make a yummy dinner together. I’ve been off sugar for a few months and it’s renewed my interest in cooking real food. Lately, we’ve been going to bed early and reading. I love snuggling in our little loft. It makes me happy.
As I write these words, we’re still living in Portland, Oregon. We’re moving back to Northern, California soon. So I’m sure our daily routine will change. I’m looking forward to the new adventure and change.
“Money can buy happiness, but it depends on how you spend it” — I’d love you to elaborate a bit more on this, Tammy.
After your basic needs are meet, money can buy happiness. Researchers have shown that spending money on experiences, like vacations, a lovely dinner with your partner, or a coffee date will make you happier than buying a new shirt, a brand new car or even a big new house. In short, humans adapt very quickly to new things in their lives, so happiness from buying new stuff wears off quickly.
However, spending money on experiences typically produces more — and longer lasting — satisfaction because joyful memories continue to nourish our feelings of well-being. Instead of buying new stuff, happiness research shows that you can be happier by helping others, donating to charities, and buying a few small pleasures that make for a memorable experience.
Your first book is about to be born into the world — could you share with us your experience of writing a book?
Writing my book was an incredibly rewarding and challenging experience. There were times when my words seemed to flow out of my pen and into my journal and other times when I wanted to delete my entire manuscript.
The book writing process taught me that I’m a non-linear writer. I write content in small segments in my journal and then transcribe my words onto the computer screen. I discovered that writing in my journal first is the way to go, otherwise I edit myself too much, forget my subject, and I end up totally frustrated.
Finally, writing this book reminded me that we all have stories to tell. During the writing process, I constantly questioned my value a writer and there were times when my inner critic made me cry. But, I kept reminding myself that we all have stories to tell. Sharing my experiences — and writing from the my heart — is one way that I’ve helped readers and myself too.
What and who inspires you – could you share some links with us?
Last week, I rediscovered a fun app for my iPhone called FlipBoard. I’m loving all the photography articles that it’s led me to. It’s so much fun and it’s been feeding my Friday link round-up with all kinds of goodies.
I’m also an avid reader. Lately, I’ve been into young adult fiction and memoirs. Right now I’m reading Torch, a novel by Cheryl Strayed. Her writing on love and loss is inspiring, authentic, and thought provoking. You can check out my book list here.
Finally, I adore Instagram. I love photography and I’m fascinated by how people see the world through their camera lens.
What are you working on next?
I’m working on a couple of projects. My fall writing course starts on October 1st and I’m super excited about teaching it again. I’m also developing a photography ecourse and working with my business partner Courtney on Your Lovely Life. We’re planning on releasing another ecourse in November!
I’ve been working on a new book idea too. But the concept isn’t flushed out yet. My dad recently passed away and I think the book will be about grief. But the more I write about the topic, it’s turning into something a book that’s focused on love, loss, and hope. If all goes well, I’ll send my book proposal off to my agent by the end of the year.
You’re having a dinner party and can invite six famous people from the past or present – who would you choose and why?
1. Logan, my husband, because a party wouldn’t be the same without him. And he needs to be present so that I don’t make an ass of myself.
2. Cheryl Strayed, the author of Wild and Torch. Her thoughts on love and loss are powerful. I’d love to talk with her one on one.
3. Maya Angelou’s writing has touched me so deeply and I love her voice. It’s so soothing.
4. Angela Davis’s book, Women, Race, and Class, was assigned reading in a college course. I devoured the book and was blown away by her words and perspective on life.
5. I had the opportunity to see Anne Lamott speak in Portland last year and I loved her talk. She is hilarious and her book Bird by Bird is something that I re-read at least once a year.
6. Dee Williams is an obvious choice on this list for me. Dee is a constant source of inspiration, she’s a talented writer, and good friend. Dee would ease the awkwardness of strangers at a dinner party and I think she and Anne would spend the whole evening making jokes.
Tammy Strobel is a writer, photographer, and tiny house enthusiast. She created her blog, RowdyKittens.com, to share her story of embracing simplicity. Since then, her story has been featured in the New York Times, The Today Show, USA Today, CNN, MSNBC, and in a variety of other media outlets. Tammy’s new book is called, You Can Buy Happiness (and it’s Cheap).
Connect with Tammy on her blog | on Twitter | on Instagram
Thank you so much, Tammy! Are you guys feeling inspired to downsize? I know I am :)
We have THREE copies of Tammy’s book to giveaway! To be in with a chance to win one, simply leave a comment on this post sharing something that brings you happiness. The giveaway closes on Friday 21st and I’ll announce the winners in my SFTW post
Lots more Creative Life interviews over here
I can’t remember how I came across Justine Musk’s work but I do know it stays with me long after I’ve read her words (I often link to her posts in my Friday round-ups). The author of three dark fantasy novels, mama to five boys and a prolific blogger, Justine’s got the kind of edgy style I love, so I was thrilled when she agreed to do the interview. Hot pink notebooks, candles and badass creativity? Bring it ON.
Ladies & gentlemen, please welcome Ms Justine Musk…
SC: What do you use for writing a) notes/ideas/brainstorming and b) your books?
JM: I love big eco-friendly notebooks with hard covers (hot pink when I can get it) and blank pages. Never lined. I need all that gorgeous empty space for scrawling and mind-mapping and random jottings. I do my actual writing on my laptop, but there’s something about the hand-to-paper connection, the physical motion of writing, that helps me think things out.
I switched from Microsoft Word to Open Office because it runs on the open-source Linux platform and you can download it for free. I’m a big fan of Dropbox, which allows you to access your files from any computer anywhere. I just joined Pinterest with the intention to create an online visionboard for the novel I’m working on now. I want to access that visual, holistic, intuitive side of my brain when developing a storyworld, so I will try to get away from words and think in terms of images. You can make new associations that way, flash on insights, open up new ideas.
How do you begin?
It starts with snippets and fragments of things that live in my head for a while – a half-formed idea, or a sense of a character, or a setting I want to use, or an image that keeps nagging at me, or even just a feeling. Then those fragments start joining up with each other in a way that begins to feel like a story. There’s always one aspect I find really compelling, that drives me onward, and the rest coalesces around that, or grows organically out of it.
This part of the process rarely if ever happens at my desk. A lot of it happens when I’m driving. I’ll be rocking out in my car and have that Eureka moment, when different ideas click together and boom. You know it’s a book. The question is whether or not you need to write it.
Describe your writing process (edit as you go? Shitty first draft? Daily word count goal?)
The daily word count thing has never worked for me. Time tends to move differently according to which part of the novel you’re working on. You might have a day where all you get is two paragraphs, but those could be difficult paragraphs that blast you through a vexing plot problem. So it’s still a total win.
I’ve also learned that if I hit a block, it’s a sign that something isn’t working and I need to back up and take another look at how the story is evolving. If I ignore it and press on to meet some arbitrary word count, I tend to zig when I should zag and end up trashing those pages anyway.
The important thing is to stay in daily contact with the novel, even when all you can do is dream it out a little more in your mind.
I’ll do some line-by-line editing as I go, but I leave the heavy lifting of deep, structural revision until I’m working with a complete manuscript. I need to see how all the parts relate to each other.
And I totally believe in the power of the shitty first draft.
What do you do when the words aren’t coming?
I’ve learned to work it hard, then release and surrender. You can get trapped in ruts of thinking where your mind doesn’t go anywhere new, just repeats the same old patterns. So you sever those patterns by switching your attention to something completely different. Or even just zoning out. That frees up your undermind to mull things over for a while, do its own thing, so when you return to the project you can see your way forward again.
So I’ll work out, or take a nap, or meditate, or find an excuse to drive somewhere. I will drive just to drive, because something about it frees up my thinking. And I’ll stay open and receptive to whatever comes to me.
And I’ll read. There’s something about reading fiction that primes my brain and makes me eager to get back to writing.
I’ll also meet up with my writing coach (Rachel Resnick), who will offer up some brilliant nugget that inspires me.
Please describe any writing rituals you have (I’m assuming you have some as all writers I know have some, including me)
I clear my desk, except for a few talismanic objects I’ve chosen to represent the novel in some way and which help trigger the right mindset. I’ll take a few minutes to meditate and downshift into the creative brain waves. I put on music – I make a kind of soundtrack for each novel. Sometimes I’ll light a candle, supposedly to signify that I’ve crossed over into this creative space, but mostly because I just like candles.
What’s your favourite part of the writing process/madness?
I love to revise. I love the feeling you get when you re/vision something and understand how to make it better. The story moves in your hands and takes on its final form.
Justine Musk blogs about badass creativity: how to channel your signature voice and express it in the world with purpose and impact. She’s the author of three dark fantasy novels published by Penguin and Simon + Schuster, and is at work on a psychological thriller called THE DECADENTS. She lives in Los Angeles with her five sons.
Cartoon portrait of Justine by Mars Dorian
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Thank you so much, Justine!
You might like this, too: This is how I write: Danielle LaPorte