The Wabi Sabi of August McLaughlin

embraceable“Sexuality, which is innate, includes your gender, sexual orientation and sex-related impulses and desires, how you relate intimately with yourself, others, and arguably, the world. It’s in your essence, your spirit, your soul.

While you won’t discover everything you need to know about sex in this book, my hope is that you will gain understanding of sexuality–particularly your own. Without such understanding, sadly, there will be problems. Trust me, I know…” ~~August McLaughlin, Embraceable: Empowering Facts and True Stories About Women’s Sexuality

I must admit, I first admired August McLaughlin for her outward beauty. She is a person one might look at from afar and think, “She’s perfect.”

AUGUST

Then, when I met her and experienced her openness, her friendliness and her beautiful smile, I admired her inward beauty.

AUGUST3But as I got to know August better through social media–Facebook, her blog and online radio program, Girl Boner® Radio–I began to admire her true beauty, in essence, not the beauty of her “perfection,” but the beauty in her courage to be open about her imperfections, her wabi sabiand even more, to encourage others to do the same.

To celebrate the release of August’s new book, Embraceable:Empowering Facts and True Stories About Women’s SexualityI’m honored to share her thoughts on a few questions:

JAN: Have you always had the ability to open and honest about topics? If not, can you pinpoint an event or time when discussing “sensitive” topics became easier for you?

AUGUST: I’m pretty outspoken by nature, but, like many kids, I learned early on that “sex talk” was fairly off limits. When I was about 20, I took a sexuality college course that changed my life. It was the first time I, and many of my classmates, were encouraged to speak about this “taboo” subject.

JAN: There are many topics I’d like to write about, but hesitate because I worry about how it will make someone feel. Do you ever worry about what your loved ones will think of something you’ve said or written about? Does it ever stop you?

AUGUST: Worrying about what others think can be extremely stifling, both creatively and emotionally, so I avoid that. At the same time, I try to be respectful of loved ones in all of my work. In Embraceable, for example, I share some pretty intimate details about my life; but I aimed to tell my story only. When I mention others, I do my best to protect their privacy and make it clear that it’s not their perspective I am (or even can) tell.

JAN: In all of your interviews and/or discussions about sex, is there one “hang-up” that stands out above all others?

AUGUST: I hear from many women who are concerned that something about them isn’t “right” or “normal,” whether that’s a perceivably high or low sex drive or fantasies they have. The most common hangup or question I hear boils down to this: Am I normal? Am I okay? And for the record, the answer, across the board, has been YES.

JAN: Do you think there is a relationship between your anorexia and your sexuality? Which was harder for you to open up publicly about—your past anorexia or sex?

AUGUST: Absolutely! That’s why I do the work I do. Learning to embrace my sexuality allowed me to heal from the eating disorder and years of body dysmorphia and dwindling self-esteem. My personality is such that speaking out feels like the best and most natural thing to do in response to hardship. Speaking about my experience with an eating disorder helped me heal, though, admittedly, parts are still painful to share. Reliving difficult times isn’t easy, but it’s incredibly gratifying for me, knowing that it might help someone feel a bit less alone or gain a smidge of hope.

By the time I decided to speak up about sexuality with the mission of empowerment, it felt completely natural; I was giddy. That’s not to say my palms didn’t sweat when I hit “publish” on my first Girl Boner® post, of course! But those are the good kind of butterflies.

JAN: In some ways I think we have too much sexual information and imagery. In other ways I think we can barely talk about sex. If you agree why do you think that is?

AUGUST: This is such an important question. It’s the type and gaps in the information about sex that’s problematic. We live in a culture that over-sexualizes women, and shuns them at the same time, if they’re perceived as “too” sexual. The idea that women are “sluts” or “prudes” trumps on, which is incredibly sad.

Meanwhile, kids learn extremely little about sex and sexuality—other than from porn, which many experts believe has become our culture’s sex ed. We need more normalized conversations about sex and sexuality. Sex ed  needs to be more comprehensive and start much earlier.

JAN: How important do you think sex is to healthy intimacy between a couple?

AUGUST: I think it really depends on the couple. For asexual couples, sex is completely off the table. For most other couples, it plays an invaluable role—but how and how often they express it varies hugely. What matters is cultivating a sexual lifestyle that works well for both partners, and maintaining open communication, growing together as time goes on.

JAN: Relationship therapist/speaker/author, Esther Perel has posed the question, “When we are taught that sex is dirty, but save it for the one you love, is it any surprise that so many couples become erotically alienated?” What are your thoughts?

AUGUST: I think she makes an excellent point. Seeing sex as “dirty,” or any other negative adjective, doesn’t help anyone. Such negativity invites shame, which is at the root of all sorts of intimacy problems, from relationship tumult to sexual dysfunction. It’s one reason women struggle with sexual empowerment, since sex is often perceived as “dirty” or taboo for us, whereas “guys will be guys.”

JAN: I often think about authenticity—about being honest about who I am in a variety of areas. Yet, being sexually open-minded, about myself and others, I often find I can’t be completely honest, because the concept of what’s dirty/naughty/taboo varies so widely, and is often judged harshly. How have you  pushed past a fear of being judged?

AUGUST: For years, I had no idea I carried shame around sex and my sexuality. This is extremely common, because shame is so engrained in the fabric of what it means to be a woman in the U.S.—with too few exceptions. Since learning to embrace my body and sexuality, I’ve not seen anything about either as “dirty.” As a result, I don’t judge others’ bodies or sexuality harshly either.

I’d say if you’re judging others based on who they’re attracted to or how they express their sexuality, it’s gone too far. Have a heart-to-heart with yourself. Look within, and commit to undoing that negative dialogue. You’ll be blown away by what that type of empowerment can do for you and your loved ones. For many, it’s the beginning to a truly authentic life.

AUGUST2

By owning her own story and encouraging the women in this volume to tell their stories, without shame and without judgment, August McLaughlin has created a valuable tool for healing, education and social change…Sometimes the most healing sentence anyone can speak is, “Me, too.” This book is filled with powerful “me, to”s. ~~Foreword by Susan Harper, Ph.D.

Thank you, August, for the interview, for Embraceable and for encouraging us to embrace who we are, to open up to each other so that we may feel the healing of “me, too.”

august4

August’s new book, Embraceable: Empowering Facts and True Stories About Women’s Sexuality, is now available! Purchase your copy on Amazon.

August McLaughlin is an award-winning, nationally recognized health and sexuality writer, radio personality and host and creator of Girl Boner®. Her work appears in DAME Magazine, the Huffington Post, LIVESTRONG.com and more. Kirkus Reviews called her first novel, In Her Shadow, “an engaging story with an inventive structure and an intriguing focus on body-image issues.” Her latest book, Embraceable: Empowering Facts and True Stories About Women’s Sexuality, is a celebration of women’s sensuality. Each week on Girl Boner® Radio, she interviews relationship experts, celebs and more, exploring women’s lives and sexuality “like no one else.” Known for melding personal passion, artistry and activism, August uses her skills as a public speaker and journalist to inspire other women to embrace their bodies and selves, making way for fuller, more authentic lives. www.augustmclaughlin.com

 

 

Posted in perfection, sexuality, wabi sabi | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Happiness Jar: #1 – Mommy Love

On New Year’s Day, I read a post on Facebook by Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) about Happiness Jars.

EG

At first, I read it and thought, “What a nice idea.” But in the few days that have passed, her post has prompted me to think, “That would be something I’d put in my Happiness Jar.”

Jar

 

 

So, I’ve decided to start one.

 

 

 

 

I’ll put it in our room, and every night, (that’s the goal, anyway) Steve and I will add a note about something that made us happy that day.

Here’s how our conversation about our Happiness Jar went:

Steve: What do you think is the purpose of the Happiness Jar?
Jan: It prompts us to focus on things that make us happy.
Steve: Have you been feeling unhappy?
Jan: No, I just like to think about things that make me happy. Plus, it’ll be fun for us to dump the notes out on New Year’s Eve and reflect on the year.

I won’t share every single happiness on this blog, but I thought I’d share my first two, because they both have to do with Mommy Love:

January 3, 2016

For my first entry into the Happiness Jar, I printed a text conversation between my daughter-in-law, Emily and me:

Tommy Mommy Love

This made me happy for four reasons:

  1. Tommy told his mommy he loved her.
  2. Tommy is beginning to speak in sentences.
  3. I was happy for Emily’s joy.
  4. I was happy that Emily shares “Tommy-isms” with me.

January 4, 2016

My daughter, Andrea, who is getting married on September 24 of this year, rearranged her flight home from Dallas later this month, just to be sure I could go with her to help her choose her wedding gown.

That it means a lot to Andrea to include me in her wedding planning means so much to me. :)

If you reflect on happiness, whether in a journal or a Happiness Jar, I’d love to hear about what makes you happy!

Posted in Happiness Jar, Happy New Year | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

In the Shade of the Bonsai

bonsaiSome mornings, as I sit at my kitchen table drinking coffee, I stare at these two men and wonder what they’re talking about. You may think that strange, unless you’re a writer.

The following excerpt is from a scene in my work-in-progress sequel to The Red Kimono. It was prompted one morning as I stared at these wise old men.

Nobu picked up a bonsai tree from the shelf in the living room and carried it to the kitchen table. A little clay man leaned against the trunk of the miniature tree, his fishing pole extended over an imaginary pond. How tranquil he seemed, sitting in sunlight that filtered through the blinds.

He ran his fingers along the needles of little pine tree. Follow the branch in one direction and the needles were smooth. Go against the grain, and they were sharp and prickly. And so it seemed, it was with life.

From a small box on the window sill, he removed a tiny pair of scissors, then studied each branch before snipping tips of brown from the needles. He returned the scissors to the box and placed it back on the sill, a routine he followed each morning.

AUTHOR NOTE: As Nobu’s morning progresses, he learns something that will forever change his life…but it’s a secret, so I’ll just skip to the next part about the man under the bonsai tree. :)

Nobu turned the clay fisherman to face the sunlight. What would it be like to be that little man, his only care in the world, to catch a fish?

What do you think these two men are talking about?

Posted in sequel, writing, writing prompt | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Goodbye, Old Friend

hourglass

The story of love is hello and goodbye. ~~Jimi Hendrix

I’ve had many relationships in my life that have come and gone, for a variety of reasons. Often, to overcome the sadness that often arrived with the end of the relationship, I tried to find a lesson.

This morning, as I reflected on 2015, I thought about saying goodbye to the year as if saying goodbye to a loved one. After all, I said goodbye to several in 2015. Also, if you think about it, I had a relationship with all 365 days of 2015. Good days. Sad days. Days I loved. Days I hated. Days I understood. Days I struggled to understand.

So, here’s what I learned in 2015:

From my mom’s death: I was very fortunate to have both of my parents until well into middle-age. I’m lucky and grateful to still have my dad, but my mother passed away earlier this year. Before that, people who’d already lost one or both parents would tell me there’s nothing like it, yet, they couldn’t seem to verbalize their feelings about the loss.

Let me try. When my mother died, it was my first experience with “never” and “forever.” Of course, we use those words all the time. I’ll love you forever. I’d never do that. But it was only after my mom died that I truly experienced the hugeness of the two words.

She’s gone…forever. Never, never coming back. I’ll never be able to call her again. I’ll never see her wave goodbye to me from the front door. I’ll never have the “opportunity” to roll my eyes at anything she says. I’ll never get to wonder if she’d like a certain gift for Christmas, will never hear her say “Happy birthday” again.

Experiencing the depth of “never” and “forever” has taught me two things:

  1. Don’t say or do anything I might regret–forever. And don’t withhold saying something I need to say. I’m grateful I told my mother I loved her the last time I saw her, even though I’d just finished rolling my eyes over the “discussion” we’d just had.
  2. Don’t take those you love for granted. Forever and never are right around the corner.

From my uncle’s death: I experienced the power of compassion from my sister, Cyndie, who for weeks, stayed by Uncle Fizzer’s side before his death, only a month and a half after our mother’s death. She’s my compassion mentor.

From my friend’s death: Once again, I learned that never and forever are right around the corner. I spoke to him three days before he took his life, on a day he apparently already knew his plans. It still hurts that he didn’t say “goodbye.”

But I learned something from his death that I think will be a life changer. For the dozen years I knew him, I often tiptoed around an 800 lb gorilla, to avoid saying things that I thought needed to be said, fearing he’d cut me off.

In the end, he cut me off anyway…forever…without saying goodbye. Maybe if I’d had the courage to be a TRUE friend, an honest friend, he’d still be alive.

Those are all pretty heavy events, and although it’s those three events that will forever mark 2015 for me, I did learn other things, too:

  1. My sequel is not going to write itself. (Haha! I already knew this from the last three years, but what’s an end-of-year blog post without putting this at the top of my list?)
  2. Proceeds from my art and writing are nice, but hardly enough to support myself, so it’s nice to have a regular paycheck again.
  3. A dog brings a kind of joy nothing else can bring.
  4. I can adjust to just about anything.
  5. It’s rarely about me.
  6. Not much matters in the long run.
  7. A touch can speak louder than words.
  8. It’s so nice to work on a blog while Steve cleans the bathrooms. :)

And, instead of listing resolutions or goals for 2016, (I’m not usually very successful with those) here are a few things I’d like to learn:

  1. It doesn’t really matter what anybody thinks of me, even though I learned #5 already.
  2. There’s a fine line between being “authentic” and giving too much information. Where is that line?
  3. Same with finding the balance between saying what needs to be said and keeping my mouth shut. Problem is, that’s a subjective balance. :)

And on that note, I wish you all a happy New Year!

What do you hope to learn in 2016?

Posted in Life, love, new year | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Here We Go Again…

It’s almost time for New Year’s resolutions, and once again, at the top of my list is to finish the sequel to The Red Kimono. (Me thinks this is Year 3, but it’s possible this is Year 4.)

I bring this up now, because I found a good article by Stephen King on Twitter this morning, where he lists his Top 20 Rules for Writers. Take a look, then guess which one appealed to me most.

Time’s up. It was Rule #10:

You have three months.

That’s Mr. King shouting at me. He adds:

The first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months, the length of a season.

jan thinkingSo, what if I gave myself three months to finish the sequel? I work best under pressure. Maybe that would help. It would be a huge challenge, now that I’m working full time. But even if I didn’t make it, I’d get a bunch of pages added. Right? Right.

(That’s me talking to myself.)

The piece of advice he gave that would help me most to accomplish this goal is Rule #9:

Turn off the TV.

He’s still yelling at me.

It’s not that I watch that much television. But what if I told myself I couldn’t watch any more television until the book is finished? I’ve never tried that before. Can I do it?

I’ve also started listening to Kelly McGonigal’s audiobook, The Willpower Instinct. It’s a fascinating look at focusing not so much on our goals, but on what causes us to fail in achieving those goals. I’m sure I’ll blog more on that later.

I haven’t decided yet if I’ll take on Mr. King’s challenge. But I’ll continue talking to myself about the possibilities for 2016. Feel free to add more pressure. And, of course, I’ll keep you posted. :)

Anyway, have a look at Stephen King’s list. It’s a goody on which to end the year.

I wish you all the best for 2016, and may you be successful in keeping your resolutions and attaining your goals!

Posted in sequel, writing | Tagged , , , | 14 Comments