It’s a funny thing, this struggle for worker’s rights in Wisconsin.

Labor isn’t something I consciously think about. It is perhaps because I have gotten my income through consulting and self-employment more than through general employment. However, even though I am not currently a member of a union, the struggle for worker’s rights has struck me more deeply than I could have ever imagined. I am energized, I am excited, I am engaged, I am encouraged.

#WIunion isn’t just about unions, though.

#WIunion is about people.

It’s about teachers and electricians and boilermakers and firefighters, yes.

But it’s also the husbands and wives and children of these people. These people who are people first, and not their professions. These people who have families that rely on the consistent wages and healthcare and vacation time that collective bargaining provides in their professions.

It’s also people who are elderly and live on a fixed income, needed assistance to purchase medication. It’s about folks with mental and emotional disorders who rely on state aid to provide mental health professionals and medication to allow them to live productive, meaningful lives.

It’s about people like me, who earn less than $8000 a year and couldn’t have health insurance without BadgerCare. People like me who are slated to earn less this year than last year. People who have drive and ambition and intelligence, and are just trying to get out in the world and put their talents to good use.

That’s me.

I spend full days at the courthouse, live-tweeting public hearings, because I am directly affected by #WIunion in ways that aren’t talked about. Until now, I haven’t really talked about why I am so committed and dedicated to this fight. It’s not because I have state health insurance (which I nearly lost, and may still lose). It’s not because I’m a member of a union (I’m not because I afford the dues). It’s not because I have dozens of friends and loved ones who are already re-arranging their lives and their futures because of pay cuts, loss of benefits and coverages, lack of vacation time to spend with their families, and furlough days that cut into lives in unexpected and complicated ways.

It’s because this is about people. And I care deeply about people.

I care about basic rights. I care about complying with international declarations. I care about following the law as dictated by a judge.

And even though I am affected in a fairly minor, I am compelled to be part of this in my own small way. Sharing the words and statements directly from the courtroom is my way of contributing to the fight for #WIunion rights. It’s a small contribution, not a lot of power or force behind it. It’s not dramatic, like the man on a hunger strike (he’s on day 26).

But I feel like it’s something. I appreciate hearing from each of you who send messages of gratitude and support. I am grateful for your re-tweets and sharing information on Facebook and beyond. I am hopeful that the things you read from the courtroom and those I share from others inspire conversation and collaboration.

That is what I get from participating in #WIunion. How about you?

PS: I have been asked by folks how they can contribute to my work live-tweeting the court hearings (including helping cover lunch and other costs. I have created a PayPal account that will accept PayPal and credit card donations. This is not a request for donations, simply creating an opportunity for folks to contribute, if you feel so called. If so, know that your donation is appreciated beyond words.

Vivienne McMaster is photographer and self-portrait artist based in Vancouver. She captures the power of raw emotion and real experience in all of her images, and leads others to discover this emotion and realness through her online workshops and in-person immersions. Her work has inspired many, and has encouraged me to consider turning the camera onto myself now and then. I am SO excited to share her words with you in this interview. The next round of You Are Your Own Muse begins on February 14th (not by chance), and there are a few spots still available! If you want more information about Vivienne, her blog, or with any other questions, don’t hesitate to contact her. She’s extra-friendly.

You are a self-confessed “late bloomer” to photography. How did you get your start and what initially drew you to self-portrait work (the topic of your 2 e-courses, Wading In and You Are Your Own Muse)?

It is true. I had little interest in photography before I neared the age of 30. I hear of so many people say that they picked up their first camera at age 5 and never turned back but that isn’t my case at all. I have been creative in some way for most of my life: art journaling, theatre, songwriting and singing but photography wasn’t even in my radar.

The truth of how I got started with photography is that I was really depressed. I was going through a major funk. It was much this quote:

When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.
Lao Tzu

Sure, that quote sounds pretty good but in reality it was a pretty intense process. When I emerged from my 6 months of crying I felt like a totally blank canvas. I knew what I had let go of but I had no clue that I was anymore. I also didn’t want to be around anyone yet. It was around the time that cell phone cameras were starting to become common and I had one. I would go on walks alone just starting to notice the beauty around me. I soon moved to a point and shoot and then a big camera (and way too many other film & Polaroid cameras). It took my life by storm.

Self-portraiture came from this same place. At first to document my sadness and then it shifted as I was trying to figure out who I was again and to reclaim Joy. It began with taking photos of my feet, then to my face in the sun and then into putting the camera down and taking my photo in different contexts. It was really a documenting of my return to a place of happiness.

I’m someone who is interested in self-portrait work and deepening my photography. Can you tell me briefly the difference between your two courses and who might be drawn to each?

The way I approach teaching both courses is that they intertwine self-portraiture with finding or deepening our voices as photographers.
The main difference between the 2 courses is the depth to which they delve. Wading In: Dipping our Toes into Self-Portraiture stays in a really light, playful place but still invites participants to do some powerful exploration.
You are Your Own Muse is a bit more of a dive into self-portraiture. We dig deeper into the potential of self-portraiture for healing and for shifting our self-image to a positive place. So we look inward while we are also doing the outward work of taking self-portraits. It too is packed full of fun though!

In your experience, what is the most powerful aspect of self-portrait photography?

I think the most powerful thing about it for me, and I’ve heard this from my students too: is seeing ourselves. We all know how good it feels to make a friend or meet someone that we feel ‘sees us’ for who we really are. I have found that self-portraits can allow us to do that for ourselves. When we take photos that feel like our true selves shine through, photos in which we see ourselves as beautiful or in which we are capturing our truth (whether it be messy or shiny).

I also think that seeing ourselves as deeply and truly beautiful, in this present moment, is a revolutionary act!

You’re currently running a series on your blog, 14 Days of Self-Love. What inspired this series? Tell us about your favorite day (thus far).

The 14 Days of Self-Love project appeared as I chose my ‘word of the year’ to be Love. I wanted to create something that anyone could relate to whether they are in a relationship or not. Because the only constant in all of our lives is ourselves and why not treat that person as best as we can.

My favorite day so far is day 2, when I share ideas about writing our selves love notes. Some of them are kind of unconventional ideas and I had a lot of fun collecting these ideas. I hope there is a lot of love note writing out there this valentine’s day!

What keeps you doing the work of self-portraiture (and photography) with joy and gratitude?

Joy is integral in my relationship to photography, as my story of how I found photography explains. With each photo I take I feel like I am documenting my gratitude for this return to a place of happiness. As well, whether it is self-portraiture or photography in general, when we document the beauty around us we strengthen our ability to see the beauty within us. This is what keeps me doing this work.

As well, now that I’m teaching classes I’m seriously smitten each and every participant that takes my classes. Their ability to embrace bravery, joy, playfulness and to show up in this process is just stunning. They are my teachers too.

I feel like each time someone takes a self-portrait and proudly shares their unique self it has the potential to empower someone else to look more kindly at themselves. That is powerful!

If you could suggest one thing that women can do to move forward in their personal journey with integrity and wholeness, what would that be?

Don’t forget to be playful. When we keep joy, playfulness and an openness to adventure at the forefront they help us to move forward with wholeness, plus they are a great antidote to fear!

Natural Spring, Duck Pond, December 2010

Registration for my next workshop opens on Monday. Head over to A Forest of Stories to check out today’s post about the workshop and how to sign up!

Last night I dreamed of you.

You were tall and thin. I could only rest on my eyes on your shoulder, your collarbone. You did not want me to see your face, shadowed by the dim light of a single candle. My hand settled in the small of your back, warm still from being snuggled into the flannel sheets. We had just been talking, voices soft in the night, muted by the snow falling outside our bedroom window. And then you sat up, suddenly sad, tears glinting like diamonds on your cheek.

I do not know if it was your past or mine haunting those eyes, curling your body into itself and away from the rest of the world. I do not know if I could say something, hold you, and have it be okay again. Do you want a blanket? A sweater? Are you even cold?

I lay there in the darkness, quilts pulled high to protect me from the frigid air. You stood, and for a moment before you stepped into the black beyond the candle’s glow I could see the taut muscles in your legs, the sinewy stretch of calf and thigh. I saw the dragon on your hip, so small I almost missed it, a symbol of your own inner strength and will.

You pulled on jeans, a tee-shirt, and the sweater I gave you for our first Valentines. You pulled your long hair back tight, so no strand dared escape, and padded down the hall to brew some tea. It wasn’t morning yet, still that middle-time between sleeping and waking. I curled back into the warmth of the bed, smelled the pillow where you had only just been, and cried my own silent tears, for you.

Would we ever be so deeply connected that I could, with one glance, understand you? Would you ever bring me roses just because you could? When I bring you coffee at work tomorrow, will you say “thank you?”

Through the light of that candle, the one that burns every night, the one that chases away all darkness in our hearts, I can hear you singing. Your voice is soft, trying not to be heard, but I know the song. It’s the one you wrote for me, the only one you ever sing when the shadows of the past come raging through our dreaming.

The tears on my pillow this morning were real.

Somewhere, in this vast and crazy world, you are real, too.

Hi there! I’m so delighted to be sharing this interview space with Tara Sophia Mohr. I personally have been touched by her words and sharing through herr blog, goals guide, and recent poetry collection, The Real Life: Poems for Wise Living. As a coach and personal growth teacher, she offers both individual and group coaching, and today is the registration deadline for her next women’s small group coaching circle. I’m honored to share with my readers a bit about her and her coaching style as a woman doing amazing work to help other women find and unleash their unique voices in this life journey!


Tell us a little about your start on this path of wise living and coaching other women:

Well, I got a very early start. I was hanging out in the new age bookstore as a kid, reading about all the spiritual traditions and about psychology. I grew up analyzing my dreams with my mom at the breakfast table every morning – over oatmeal! But at the same time I was immersed in very competitive, secular academic environments. My life has been about bridging those worlds.

I spent my 20’s playing small and avoiding my purpose. I worked in a career that looked just fine from the outside, but wasn’t what I was meant to do. When I turned 30, I got serious. I was scared of my adult life flying by, knowing I was being more loyal to fear than to my dreams. Even though it was very hard, I started articulating what wasn’t working, what I wanted for my life, the kind of impact I wanted to make. And that led me to this career path – of writing and working with people on living more fulfilling, joyful, wise lives.

Who participates in your coaching and coaching circles?

Fabulous women! Some are entrepreneurs and some work in organizations. They are doing business, nonprofit, and artistic work. There are coaches, therapists and social workers. Some women are balancing work and child-rearing, some are not. What they share is a desire to live more authentic lives, get their “juice” back, and overcome fears and insecurities that are holding them back. That’s what they get from the coaching circle.

What do you see as the most beneficial aspect of coaching, especially as it differs from therapy or counseling?

I love coaching’s focus on creating a fulfilling future – going beyond being “psychologically healthy” and looking at how to create a knock-the-ball-out-of-the-park life. Also, the experiential nature of coaching sessions –using writing, visualization, action steps, the body – going beyond the realm of language and left-brain based talk therapy.

How does your background as an MBA graduate focusing on leadership and innovation affect your coaching style and guidance?

I bring a strong practical, analytical side as well as a heart-centered, right-brain, mystical side. People love that fusion in my coaching. More and more I also offer some business and leadership guidance to woman entrepreneurs along with the life coaching work we are doing. I’m about how to bring the ideal into the real – how to bring revolutionary work and ideas into this world – as it is, now.

Recently you wrote a blog entry asking readers to consider what they would say when giving a TED talk. What would the theme of your TED talk be?

I have two. One is this: you have a brilliance – a unique, incredible, totally necessary-for-the-world brilliance. You’ve been measured on the wrong scales, told the wrong things, and as a result have ended up covering, even fearing, your brilliance. It’s time to start sharing it.

My other TED talk is about compassion. That committing an act of violence is a symptom of sickness, not of evil. We need to treat people for that sickness, rather than punish them for a moral failing. The “insanity defense” makes no sense because all violence is insane. We need to move to a very new understanding of crime, war, and violence.

What is your favorite part of being a coach? What keeps you doing this work with joy and gratitude?

My favorite part is launching brilliant women into the world to do important work. I love it when, in coaching a client, I get to see their brilliance and feel how much it is going to enrich the world once it’s unleashed.

Then we do the work so that they can see their own brilliance, get connected deeply to purpose – a sense of purpose that is bigger than fear – and go forward boldly sharing their voice and playing BIG. Yesterday I tweeted “Being yourself and playing big are the same thing” – that’s something I’ve learned from my own journey and from my clients.’

If you could suggest one thing that women can do to move forward in their personal journey with integrity and wholeness, what would that be?

Lean into your longings—the things you long to create in your work and in your life. We spend so much energy resisting, doubting, avoiding our dreams and longings – because often they require that we leave the comfort zone, leave the herd, and risk failure. When we trust the longings, give space for them, respect them – then we begin to find our way back to the life we are meant to live, the life that will bring us great fulfillment.

Anything else you would like to share?

And don’t believe the s**t your inner critic is telling you. It’s pure fiction.

If this sounds like it may be the next step in your journey, apply today for Tara’s upcoming women’s small group coaching circle. You will receive exercises and regular support throughout the five-month process, as well as participate in monthly conference calls. Find out more and how to apply here.

May your journey be blessed with teachers of all sorts to support and inspire you as you uncover your authentic, unique voice.

Quiver: to shake or move with a slight trembling motion. Origin: Middle English, probably from quiver agile, quick; akin to Old English cwiferlice zealously First Known Use: 15th century ~ Merriam-Webster

It is this trembling motion I feel in my heart today. As though a thousand tiny snowflakes caught in glass are swirling about my insides. Quiver. Tremble. Judder.

From the outside, I look fine. No, better than fine. I look great! Better than expected. As though nothing had happened. Amazingly well. But what do we know about outsides? They could be made of clay or putty or stone. Outsides are designed to look okay. When I cry, people say they would never have known. When I am angry, I do not flush. I look perfectly normal.

It is the insides. Quiver. A stomach in knots, filled with butterflies and ladybugs and bubbling, gurgling acids. A pair of lungs pumping harder, faster, filling fuller and deflating flatter. Muscles that twitch at the notion of movement, of lunging and grasping and vaulting away, away, away.

Tremble. When I am furious, it is my insides which rumble. My skin a soft blanket covering jagged edges and sharp blades. When elated, it is the membrane of a balloon, stretching and expanding to contain the excitement, the bursting molecules of air, within.

Today I am aquiver. I am all sinew and bone, rattling and rambling and jostling about.

Today I am a quiver. I am the place containing arrows, the ideas on straight rods with pin-point precision, waiting ready to leap forward and land in the center of the target, the exact place where they will flourish and blossom and impact with deftness. I am a quiver, slung on the back of an Amazon rider. I hold the moments of satisfaction, of the hunt, of sustenance. I am a quiver carrying the means to my own survival.

Quiver. Tremble. Judder.

Survive.

Move forward.

Thrive.

Some experiences just crack our hearts wide open.

Sometimes, this cracking open is expected/anticipated. Like spending a weekend at an intensive yoga conference. Or the birth of a child. Or the death of a loved one.

Other times, we cannot imagine the impact a moment will have on our spirits. Like trying so desperately, but not being heard. Or finding nowhere near the right words to speak from our hearts.

Or trying to discover the best way to move forward when all we want to do is rest.

********************************************************************************

Today, I am salt-rain and sore eyes. I am a rib-pierced heart, a perpetual wrong number caller, a slush-soaked high heel. I am a hole in the big toe of your favorite socks. I am the moment just before you hear the words “I love you.” I am the seconds following a car crash. I am every word of doubt your Spirit has heard. I am the three-story glass staircase you hate to mop each night.

I am the quiet lovers sitting at separate tables, working and reading and stealing glances between sips of lattes.

I am the sand-filled spray of a bicycle tire as it spins on the slick streets slowly making way up a hill.

I am the tears you said you wouldn’t cry when you realized the conversation was exactly the one you have been avoiding for weeks, and can no longer ignore. The conversation you don’t want to have because you know you won’t keep your cool, and will likely be misunderstood. The conversation you tried to stay calm during, but even after admitting that you made mistakes you still could not connect to move forward. The conversation you never want to repeat, but will reschedule in a month’s time.

I am the moment your heart whispered “I love you” when no one else would.

I am the moment.

I am.

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