June 27, 2016

An Interview with Tattoo Artist Shannon Wages

Of all my bitches, I've probably known today's for the least amount of time. I met Shannon last September when she gave me my 9/11 tattoo. I don't know how many of you have current tattoos, but as someone with a tattoo from 1993 and another one from 2015, let me tell you, things have changed. When I got my first tattoo, I flipped through a binder until I found something I liked, then they smoked over me while they permanently etched this cursed flower vine onto my ankle, charging me $20 every time I jerked my leg. They're no longer in business. Probably because they made all of their money off unaccompanied minors.

When I decided to get my new tattoo, I talked to my friend Freya and she connected me to Shannon. She blew me away! Shannon is an artist, she drew my tattoo - no more binders! She also intuitively knew when I needed breaks and was comfortable being present while I felt all of my feelings. Y'all, that is hard to do. I can't recommend her enough. I also highly recommend her Instagram feed for tattoo inspiration. Meet today's bitch, Shannon Wages!

What do you make and what is the name of your business?

I make tattoos at Banshee Tattoo, aka Shannon Wages Tattoos.

When did you first learn about this field of work?

I started working in tattoo shops when I was 23. I was in college studying Mass Communications, circa 2003. I started as a counter girl, never having any intention of being a tattoo artist. I had 40 jobs before I was a tattooer, I swear, I counted. I kept them maybe 9 months before I would lose interest and stop going. I have a highly short attention span. I always say that tattooing only keeps me interested because it’s intense and requires a constant front row seat.

How did you know it was what you wanted to do?

I initially had no intention of tattooing, I only knew that I loved the environment of the tattoo shop and I knew where I belonged (I had that “ding” moment your college counselors tell you about). After being there long enough, seeing the way the tattooers and clients interacted, I saw that the field needed to change. I saw clients not being treated the way I thought they should, and I noticed them having more of a connection with me than their tattooer, simply because I would listen to them. My stepdad had a salvage store when I was a kid, where I worked, and I saw his relationship with his customers. He was a great business man, he always believed in being good to his customers and having relationships with them. I wanted to see a tattoo establishment that treated their customers with friendliness instead of snobbery.  

What was your path that lead you to where you are now?

The actual building:  Gentrification. I was sharing a space with Blackbird and we were all kicked out because they wanted to re-do the building and raise the rent. At that point, I was approached by Brandon to join East Tattoo Collective. 

My position as a tattooer:  Being unwilling to accept the run-of-the-mill crap of a walk-in shop. My standards were higher, I wanted more for myself as an artist and a more personal, boutique experience for my clients.  

Why did you decide to start your own business?

I hadn’t found anyone doing it the way I thought it should be done. I wanted to be able to do what I loved without getting burnt out on the same designs over and over. In my current atmosphere, I can persuade clients to choose a more personal design, instead of the typical Pinterest reboot. Setting my own terms (not to mention my own hours) helps me stay in love with what I do. Plus, I’m just a terrible employee, lol.  

What was the best piece of business advice you’ve been given?

Never have a partner. Everyone in the Collective contributes to the bills, but we operate as separate business entities. I have problems with authority, lol (not lol).

 What was the most difficult part of starting your business?

The fear of not having the client base to sustain me outside of a walk in shop. I’ve been lucky enough to get the best clients an artist could ask for, but I also like to think it’s because I’ve established relationships with them.  

Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned?

Don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice from those who have been there before you. 

Pay whatever the government says you owe. 

Don’t be afraid to be different. Sometimes being the weirdo is the best trait you have! Just because no one in your friend group/industry/city is doing something, it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. Weirdness is the hallmark of true innovation!

Failure you learned from or that helped you improve the way you work?

I first operated with the notion that the customer is always right. The customer isn’t always right. That’s why we go to professionals, we rely on their experience. Don’t be afraid to tell your client no. Sometimes you have to stand up to them for what’s best for them, even if they take it personally (although I would argue that a good tattooer can keep it from seeming like a personal style attack). 

What would you do with 2 more hours a day?

I would learn more languages (but probably just play Sim City). OOOOO! I’d play Sim City in different languages. 

What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made?

The family life. I work way too much.

What is your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) related to what you make?

My last tattoo. I always want to be most proud of the tattoo I’ve just finished. My mentor taught me that your portfolio isn’t shit if you can’t perform on command. 

What’s the first app or website you open when you wake up in the morning?

One of three websites of a very sensuous nature, not gonna lie. I make no excuses for sexuality. Then Instagram to see who has posted tattoos overnight. 

Where do you go when you need inspiration for your work?

The book store. Errrr... Well, now more my bookshelf, or Amazon. I’m so sad the bookstore has gone the way of the buffalo! The library is nowhere near as flashy. I love to look outside of digital media; it’s readily available to everyone for reference. I like to try and look outside of something that can be consumed so rapidly. Other than that, exercising (dude, I totally lift and it’s awesome), playing music, or learning something new. Learning a new art form or new instrument always helps me see more clearly what I can do to vary and reinvent my work.

How do you decompress at the end of the work day?

Boyfriend, bath, Lush, wine, weed. In no specific order, but frequently in combination.

What’s the hardest thing about being your own boss that isn’t obvious?

Knowing when to turn the lights out and take time off. If there are tattoos to be done, I want to be doing them. I have recently hired someone whose list of responsibilities includes telling me to put the machine down and go home.

Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?

Law and Order (the OG) or Peep Show. Shit. Maybe Bob’s Burgers? Are we talking animated or live action? This is a tough one. Also, I thought The Sopranos was great.

Snacks? Cereal. Hands-down, cereal. Cereal or ice cream with whole milk poured on it (it’s like ice cream soup, aka milkshakes - try it and thank me later).  

All photos courtesy of Shannon Wages

June 20, 2016

An Interview with Burlesque Performer Freya West

You guys, I am so excited about this post! If you know anything about me, you know that Freya is my spiritual guide to body positivity and pizza. I met Freya in 2012 when I was two weeks into what would turn out to be a terrible job. I'm pretty sure my first words to Freya were "Run! Seriously, if you got offered any other job, take it." That job broke my brain and crushed my soul, BUT, I got Freya out of it. And I learned how to do front humps. Kind of.

I don't know a lot of people like me, people who get praise for doing things that other people think they can't do. It's hard because you want to be gracious and you don't want to discount the work, but you also want to help people realize they can do the same thing. It's just work, and you either decide to do it or you don't. Freya is a fantastic performer and teacher, but it's not a superpower, it's work. Meet today's bitch, my soul sister in cheese, Freya West!

What do you make/teach and what is the name of your business?

I’m a burlesque warrior and headmistress. I make ephemeral sexy performance art on stage and I teach the art of charisma at Delinquent Debutantes, Nashville’s very own burlesque finishing school.

When did you first learn about this field of work?

I saw my first burlesque show in college in Chicago, mostly because it was at a BYOB theatre and my underaged friends and I knew they didn’t card. Instead of being drunk off booze though, I found this beautiful show of badass women who were bawdy, who were all sizes, and who were all unabashedly sparkly.

How did you know it was what you wanted to do?

It’s the most terrifying and gratifying thing I’ve ever done. After my first performance, I immediately wanted to start on the next one. And I still leave every class with a smile. In short, it makes me happy.

What was your path that lead you to where you are now?

I found burlesque classes in Chicago. After about a year of classes with Michelle L’Amour, one of the world’s best stripteasers, I made my debut in 2008. I moved to Nashville in 2009 and joined Music City Burlesque the same year. In 2010 I started performing at festivals across the United States and Canada, which are like big networking events in burlesque, just with more rhinestones and less clothing. In 2011 I headlined Iceland’s very first burlesque show with their national circus and began teaching seriously. I opened Delinquent Debutantes as it’s own studio in 2014. That’s the tiny highlight reel of my eight years performing, failing, trying new things, failing better, and growing.

Why did you decide to start your own business?

Performing is always sort of being your own boss, which as someone who’s always had - erhm - struggles with authority, was appealing to me. I started teaching because I was asked to, and it’s absolutely the best decision I’ve ever made.

What was the best piece of business advice you’ve been given?

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, do what will make you money. Can you finish something that will make you $100 today?

What was the most difficult part of starting your business?

Money! I had saved from teaching just enough to put down the deposit and first month’s rent when I decided to make the leap to studio ownership, and then we crowdfunded the actual buildout, which was incredible, but we started a business at literally $0 in the bank. It’s quite a motivator to know that you have to make your expenses every month because there is no cushion.

Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned?

Every day is a new day. No matter how bad or good yesterday was, get up and do the work today. You can’t rest on your laurels (but you should celebrate your successes!), similarly, you can’t wallow in your failures (but a little cry and sad music helps the process). I also think this keeps you humble, because you’re just there to show up, put your head down and do the work.

Failure you learned from or that helped you improve the way you work?

You can’t do everything by yourself. My ever-loving and patient husband, Keith, has saved my ass multiple times, from forgetting little things for a show to big things like those midnight tears when you’re too stressed to sleep. A little support goes a long way. If your work is good and helpful (if it’s not, why are you doing it?), then people will want to help. Pick the right people, and let them help! When we first opened the studio, Shan (my right hand business and friend babe) and I would do all the teaching, all the cleaning, and all the promo. It was way too much. Once we made the leap to trust four incredible women to work the front desk and do cleaning duties, the entire studio shined brighter, our customer service went up, and those women are so much more invested in the success of this business.

What would you do with 2 more hours a day?

Spend that time reading and taking in art. I never lack for inspiration, but I feel so much more fed as an artist and as a business owner when I allow myself the space and time to be an audience to someone else’s art.

What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made?

My performing career definitely took a hit when I opened the studio, because I had this newborn business that needed all my attention. A year and a half in, that’s starting to shift again as the studio begins to become more self-sufficient. I also tend to keep the worst working hours, as I’m in classes until 10pm and then will answer emails until midnight, but that’s not a huge sacrifice since I’m a night owl.

I’ve been very humbled by the experience of relying on others to help build this business, but it’s all been so worth it. Becoming more vulnerable with my own shortcomings, and owning up to mistakes while still leading a company is living with continual growing pains. Again though, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

What is your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) related to what you make?

With the exception of about five performers in Nashville, all the rest of the burlesquers here I trained. Some of them are producing shows, teaching at the studio, and performing at festivals and big events now. It’s beautiful to feel like I’ve really grown this community up and provided an opportunity to let these ladies shine.

As a performer, that Iceland gig is still a big highlight for me. This year I’ve also been asked to perform and speak at two major conventions outside burlesque, and I’m thrilled that my work is being recognized outside of our tiny industry. I hope I get to continue spreading the gospel of bawdy positivity!

What’s the first app or website you open when you wake up in the morning?

I’m totally a morning Instagram stalker! I can’t handle my inbox first thing, nor the hectic pace of Facebook, so looking at people’s curated food/travel/clothing happies in the morning makes me feel like I can tackle the other things.

Where do you go when you need inspiration for your work?

I’m going to be boring and tell you that inspiration is everywhere, but it really is true! I get ideas for acts and shows everywhere from being stuck in traffic to a beautiful hike in nature. 

How do you decompress at the end of the work day?

Epsom salt baths save my ass (literally). Being in water at the end of the day means I can’t be online and have to relax. I’m also a big fan of mindless TV and midnight snacks ;)

What’s the hardest thing about being your own boss that isn’t obvious?

I don’t know if it’s obvious or not, but motivation on bad days. When the self-sabotage in your head starts, you have to be very vigilant that it won’t wreck those precious hours that you need to be productive and move forward. Times like those, I’m thankful to have friends to reach out to. Having a lunch with someone who knows is essential to my mental health.

Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?

Of all time? Probably Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’ve watched the series a few times all the way through and it’s still really enjoyable. Right now? I’m watching Six Feet Under and it’s so, so brilliant.

Favorite snack, cheese, without a doubt. I often credit my photos with “body by cheese” and it’s true. Specifically, my favorite weird snack that I can’t keep in the house because I devour it is Ruffles potato chips dipped in cottage cheese. It’s salty crunchy creamy perfection!

All photos courtesy of Freya West

June 16, 2016

Dear Orlando Survivors

I know what it's like to be part of a national tragedy, and to feel like you're not what people are talking about. Survivors don't grieve like a normal person. I'm heartbroken over this senseless fucking tragedy, and I'm horrified that 49 people were shot and killed, but my grief is with the survivors. I know what they're about to face. I know there is going to be a song, or a cell phone ring, they can never hear again, a smell they can never smell again, and that they will never be able to drive past Pulse and not feel a surge of adrenaline, if they can even drive past it at all.

Years from now, there will be another national tragedy, and they'll use yours as a benchmark. The part of your brain that's broken will think you're in danger and will flood your body with fear. You won't recognize it and will wonder why you can't stop crying and why your reaction is so different than everyone else's. Your husband will ask you to call your therapist. Your therapist will ask you to check in with her every day, and to get acupuncture or a massage to release the fear your body is holding.

There is no support club for us. There's no club for people who didn't die in a national tragedy, but were there, saw it, heard it, and smelled it. There's no monthly meeting where we can meet other people like us and then go grab coffee. It is a lonely place.

Dear Orlando Survivors,

I am so sorry for what you saw. Your experience matters, even if no one is giving you space to know that. You'll feel guilty for grieving. Don't. You'll feel guilty for being alive. Don't. You'll feel like you don't deserve your grief. You do.

Surround yourself with people who have earned the right to hear your story and are capable of the compassion and empathy you'll need. Find a professional to help you with the heavy lifting. Know that you matter. Your story matters.

I'm sorry you were forced into this club. So was I. Lonely as you may feel, you are not alone. We don't speak up often, but we're here, and we're holding you up from afar.

Stay well.


Please make a donation if you can:

Pulse Victims Fund

Zebra Coalition

June 13, 2016

An Interview with Transformational Facilitator Susi Willis

Though I don't run anymore, I met today's bitch through local running group, East Nasty. I used to write for them, and I wrote their "East Nasty of the Week" profile on Susi. That was in 2013, and even though we knew each other before, that was when we really became friends.

If there was a cloud of good things you could reach up and pluck compliments out of, every single thing in that cloud would apply to Susi. She has shown up unannounced to cheer me on at out of town races; she has reached out when I've been hurting and sat with me while I talked and cried; she has asked me for help when she needed it; and she has gotten me hired for jobs. She inspires me to stay curious, to never settle, and above all, to do what you want to do. Meet today's bitch, Susi Willis!

What is your job title and where do you work? 

I'm a Senior Consultant and Transformational Facilitator. I work as a consultant at Mobius Executive Leadership. I also started my own business recently with 3 colleagues/friends. Our company, Sangha Leadership Group, is providing coaching, leadership and organizational development consulting. We are excited because we will be hosting a 3-day Leadership Development workshop in September. I am also teaching yoga twice a week at Renee’s Groove Room in Hermitage. I love that the coaching, transformation work and yoga all compliment each other.  

When did you first learn about this field of work? 

I had been working at DuPont for 15 years, when in 2008 my job as an Employee Assistance Consultant was outsourced to a call center. I was encouraged by a colleague to apply for a position as a Transformational Facilitator, which sounded very crazy, at least from a title perspective. When I read the job description though, it sounded like it was written for me:  facilitate personal insight workshops for leaders of the company so that they understand what they are doing to either help or hinder their teams and organizations to be successful. It was like my whole life’s experience lead me to this job.

How did you know it was what you wanted to do?  

When I was applying for the position, one of the application processes was to write a life journey essay. I wrote about my favorite hobby, which at that time was quilting. I used the analogy that I was making something that would outlast me, that I was investing in a future I wouldn’t necessarily see. I feel the same about coaching leaders and their teams. This work has never become stale, it has always given me so much energy and passion. I love seeing people come away with a broader perspective of themselves AND their co-workers.

What was your path that lead you to the job you have now? 

I have a Masters Degree in Social Work. I worked in both the mental health and substance abuse fields before working in organizations as an Employee Assistance Counselor. I have helped employees and managers with issues since the late 1980s. I moved to Nashville to work for DuPont in 1993. It was an incredible work experience for me.  

In 2008, when I shifted roles to a Transformational Facilitator, my teachers for this work were from Mobius Executive Leadership, where I am a consultant now. I was a Transformational Facilitator about 4 years, then my boss retired and I was named leader of my group. I was able to travel all over the world and see so much I would have never done on my own. I am so grateful for being at DuPont 23 years. My work team and I were caught up in some recent restructuring at DuPont and when I announced I was leaving, I was offered an opportunity to work with Mobius.  

Favorite piece of advice, business or otherwise?  

I don’t know about others, but I usually dream too small for myself. I think I have historically been ruled by a need to feel and play emotionally safe at work. So the best advice I would give, is what was offered to me by my mentor Kathy, she said that she hoped I would be able to see myself as others saw me.

Don’t let your negative self talk rule how you show up. 

I think that is what kept me in my comfort zone so long. If my job hadn’t been outsourced, I would probably still be doing it, and while I loved that job, it wasn’t the job that gave me the opportunity to stretch and grow. I would hate to have missed the last 8 years doing transformational work. 

The other advice is get a passport and leave the country at least once a year (and don’t go to a place where it’s filled with other Americans), so you can understand why it’s important to be a global citizen.

Here is my beauty advice I wish I would have received in my 20s, moisturize the hell out of your neck.

Failure you learned from or that helped you improve the way you work?  

During the outsourcing of the EAP consultant role, I reached out to a HR leader to ask for help on how to get another job in the company. He told me that there wasn’t a job for me and that if I didn’t agree to relocate, I would be effectively resigning from the company. He then told me I had 3 days to decide if I would relocate or not. For many many years I held a grudge and carried a negative view of him. I later learned that if he had granted my wish to stay at the plant to work, I would have NEVER moved very far from my comfort zone. 

I also learned that I had played a part in that situation. I went to get advice from the person who had the least investment or interest in my career. How this has improved my work is that I now try to look at upsetting situations from the mindset of, “How have I contributed?” and “What am I learning?”. It has changed me from seeing myself as a victim. These are just experiences and they are for here my learning.

What would you do with 2 more hours a day? 

Read more and get a different type of exercise in more frequently than yoga. I have to say, the transformation work led me to getting more active, which lead me to running with East Nasty, which led me to yoga and my recent graduation from Yoga Teacher Training at Sanctuary. So lately I have been very happily immersed in yoga AND recognize I need to get back to more running and zumba. Can I have 3 more hours in the day?

What is your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your professional life?  

That I moved from being an individual performer to managing a global team. I am most proud of the relationship that the team I managed created. We didn’t get to meet as a team but maybe every 2 years, this could have been an interference to relationship building, but it wasn’t. This group of about 17 people refer to themselves as a family (even now after after being disbanded), they supported each other, shared and learned together.  

I also think that some of that success came from being willing to really give and receive feedback. My biggest growth came from leading this global team and I owe so much to 2 of my mentors, Sandra Chillous and Kathy Wright. They both saw something in me that I hadn’t recognized for myself yet. 

Also, I have to mention that I am so proud to be doing a job that I absolutely love. I get to work with people I completely adore. When I was looking for pictures of my work to share, what I have is pictures of moments of love and joy, true true gratitude to be sharing this work with people who have become such dear friends. They are part of my chosen family.

What’s the first app or website you open when you wake up in the morning? 

I check email, my calendar, the Book of Face and weather.com… usually lay in bed doing all of that before I roll out.

How do you decompress at the end of the work day? 

Usually when I am working, that means I am traveling, so I use Facebook to connect to others. If I am home, it usually involves yoga, cooking a Blue Apron meal or putting together a new playlist for a yoga class. I also find Pinterest a great way to decompress. A quick thing I do is play a New York Times mini crossword each day.

What’s the hardest thing about your job that isn’t obvious? 

Many times people will refer to this work as the “soft stuff”. I see it as the hard stuff. If it was soft or easy, more leaders wouldn’t have employees plotting against them and teams would be working together more functionally and really excited to come to work. I help leaders understand what it takes from them to co-create these work experiences. Most don’t realize that what helped you become successful at work doesn’t mean it will keep you successful.

What is one thing everyone gets wrong about what you do? 

I am not sure people are always clear what I do, but if they do know what I do, they probably don’t understand the connection of what I do that impacts teams, productivity and making sustainable changes.

Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack? 

My favorite TV program runs during the summer, whatever is on Mystery on Masterpiece Theatre. I especially love any British mystery, they know how to make a murder cozy, as strange as that sounds. My favorite snack is getting a Starbucks Venti nonfat Chai Tea Latte, or, if no one is looking, lots of bread and with embarrassing amounts of butter.

All photos courtesy of Susi Willis

June 6, 2016

An Interview with Attorney and Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher Paige Seals

Like many of my friends, I met Paige when I started working in the Legislature in 2006. I don't remember how Paige and I realized we had so much in common, but we did, and we started talking about books we were reading, yoga, and hilariously, I think, Weight Watchers, which I'm pretty sure we were both doing in 2006.

In addition to being kind and empathetic, Paige has an energy around her that makes me feel safe, calm, and supported. Two years ago, I was in a real bad spot (see:  every blog post I've ever written) and Paige invited me to her Thursday night yoga class. I couldn't afford it, so she waved the fee and let me take her class for free until I was back on my feet. Now, with two years of Iyengar Yoga under my belt, I see the correlation between Paige's energy and this style of yoga, both of which I am so, so grateful for. Meet today's bitch, backbend enthusiast, Paige Seals!

What is your job title and where do you work?

Attorney/Revisor of Statutes in the Office of Legal Services (OLS) for the Tennessee General Assembly (the state Legislature). As part of my Revisor duties, I also serve as Executive Secretary for the Tennessee Code Commission. 

Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher. I teach classes at the Iyengar Yoga Center of Nashville (also known as 12South Yoga).

When did you first learn about this field of work? 

I learned of the Office of Legal Services (OLS) in a very loose sense when I was making cold calls as part of my job search at the end of law school. I was browsing through a directory of government agencies and saw a listing for the Legislature’s Legal Services Office, but had no idea what the lawyers in the office did. 

I really learned about the field when I took a temporary position in the office more than a year after that phone call. There's nothing like an on-the-job education, especially when you make a comment on the second day of your temp job about a perceived error in the drafting of a bill, without realizing you are talking to the drafter of that bill. Luckily, the attorney was really cool about it, and there was, in fact, a drafting error (whew!). That same attorney was instrumental in getting me hired on a permanent basis at the end of my temporary stint.

I first learned about Iyengar Yoga when I ended up in a class in a studio that taught in the Iyengar tradition. I had never been to a yoga class and had no clue what I was walking in to. My friend LaDonna asked me to go to a yoga class with her, and though I did not really want to, I agreed to join (thank you, LaDo, for being hard to say no to!). She had driven past 12South Yoga and just picked that place for us to go to. That was spring of 2004. From the first class I was hooked, and I have been attending classes there at least once a week every week since.

How did you know it was what you wanted to do?

I didn’t know, until I did it, in both cases -- becoming a lawyer and a yoga instructor. Probably something a therapist and I could explore for a good long while.  

At the end of college, one of my professors (Bill Shulman, former Metro Public Defender and big brother to our friend Jim Shulman) encouraged me to apply to law school. In the small world of things, Jim was Chief of Staff for the House of Representatives when I started working at the Legislature five years after Bill wrote me a letter of recommendation for law school that helped put me on the path that eventually lead to the General Assembly. 

In regard to yoga, my teacher, the fabulous Aretha McKinney Blevins, encouraged me to sub a class for her, then encouraged me to prepare for assessment (which is a pretty daunting undertaking in the Iyengar assessment system). She saw something in me that I did not see in myself, and I am eternally grateful to her for that. I love teaching.
So back to not knowing -- I used to joke that I “lived life by default”. Someone wise said to me that it sounded like I was being negative about myself when I put it that way, and that I should view my life and choices in a more positive light -- that I took advantage of opportunities that presented themselves. That wise woman may have been you, The Blonde Mule, or the incomparable Rachel Mathenia -- I’m lucky I have so many wise women* in my life that I get them confused!

What was your path that lead you to the job you have now?

My first job out of law school was in a small, general practice firm. It did not take me long to realize that was not the place for me. I gave notice at the firm without having a job lined up or a plan (see a pattern here?). After a few months working for a friend who was running for office, a stint at retail during the holiday season (life lessons), and a false alarm for a law-related job that would have taken me back to Memphis (where I attended law school -- go Tigers!), I ended up saying “yes” to an opportunity I had said “no” to before -- a temporary position in OLS writing bill summaries during the 1997 legislative session (shout out to Christy Ballard here -- she knows why!). That lead to the chance to interview for a permanent position in the office, and 19 years later, I am still here.  

The yoga path I described above briefly, so I will say here that the beauty of yoga for me is that it is always a path. A very beautiful and sometimes challenging path. I’m not just talking about the challenges of the assessment process in the Iyengar system (you can potentially go through 14 assessments -- I’ve completed three!), or the challenges to improve my teaching, but the practice of yoga itself. For me, it’s about continual learning, growing, exploring.

Favorite piece of advice, business or otherwise?  

I am surrounded by sage advice, from my great co-workers, my yoga-related readings (Light on Yoga, Light on Life, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali), my friends, my family, and my teachers, but here are a couple of things that have resonated with me. 

My yoga teacher Aretha says this, which I think is from Walt Whitman (and I am paraphrasing): 

Look at what you are doing not with judgment, but with curiosity. It applies to yogasana practice certainly, but it applies to everything we do, right? Just being more mindful, taking an interest in our own life (because often we get more caught up in someone else’s life than we do our own), taking responsibility for ourselves, but also being more loving and accepting of ourselves. We live in a world that tends to favor quick solutions and instant results, and having someone else tell us how to fix whatever it is we (or they) perceive to be wrong with our lives, our bodies, etc. It takes patience and kindness to yourself to be in this thing for the long haul; to know that if you want to change, only you can make that change, and it usually involves some hard work that may take years. You may also realize along the way that you don’t need to be “fixed” -- we are all pretty freakin’ fantastic, just the way we are.

I also love this one, which is again paraphrasing from another of my teachers -- a man I never met, but who has had a profound effect on my life, Sri B.K.S. Iyenger:  Grace is falling upon us all of the time -- it’s up to us to recognize it.

Failure you learned from or that helped you improve the way you work?

Many failures, many mistakes, many lessons learned. One thing that stands out for me though, is a failure to recognize things about myself; an inability to identify emotions. It was a silent, invisible emotional paralysis. I was physically moving forward, but emotionally stagnate, which led to problems in relationships and at work. I did not fully realize how stuck I was until I finally got unstuck a little bit. Age and experience certainly played a role in getting me unstuck, but I credit yoga, the practice and the community, for lifting the veil that was covering that part of me.

What would you do with 2 more hours a day? 

Practice yoga more. Read more.

What is your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your personal or professional life?

Having yoga students tell me they enjoyed my class or learned something from me. Best feeling ever.

On a more personal note, I'm proud of the lives my sister and I have created for ourselves, with the help of a wonderful mother. When I started working at the Legislature, I learned from listening to Education Committee meetings about "students at-risk of failing" and realized it was a label my sister and I, because we were from a low-income family, carried throughout school, unbeknownst to us (thank goodness, as we both went on to not fail! More than not fail, we hit it out of the ballpark and succeeded!). 

My mother, with only a high school diploma, raised children on her own starting when she was barely more than a child herself. When I was in high school, I had the privilege of seeing my mom and sister graduate from nursing school -- they started nursing school together after my sister graduated from high school. I don't know where my mom got her drive or how she put up with us crazy kids. Her actions were such a shining example for us. I'm torn about the "at-risk" label, but regardless of whether it's a good or bad way for a system to identify certain students, a label does not define who you are or what you can accomplish.

What’s the first app or website you open when you wake up in the morning?

Gmail and Instagram, for no particular reason. I never thought I would be that person attached to her iPhone.

How do you decompress at the end of the work day?

Yoga practice, glass of wine, time with friends or boyfriend or both, a book. I can do without the glass of wine, but I need at least one of the other things to happen. If they all happen, that’s a really great evening.

What’s the hardest thing about your job that isn’t obvious?

When it comes to OLS, staring at a computer all day. My job is a writing and editing job, and most of my interaction at work is with my computer and my colleagues, not with my clients (the elected representatives).  

The hardest part about teaching yoga? Mirroring your students when you teach and figuring out your left from your right when you aren’t mirroring! On a more serious note, there are many hard things, but when I start teaching, I forget what they are. It is hard after teaching a class if I feel like I didn't connect with a student or couldn't help a student in a way I wanted to, but it gives me incentive to keep working on my teaching skills.

What is one thing everyone gets wrong about what you do?

Relative to my job at the Legislature, there is a misconception that I work in politics, which is not at all what I do. I work in a nonpartisan office; we write, we research, we staff committees, but we do not do politics. 

Relative to yoga, I think there are so many misconceptions. People think that a yogi has to look a certain way or have a certain body type. They think that yoga is only a physical practice. They think you have to be flexible to practice yoga. And there are some misconceptions about practicing and teaching yoga in the Iyengar tradition -- we’ll have to leave that for another post, another day.

Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?

I have the hardest time with picking a favorite, so I’ll give you a few... The West Wing; Friday Night Lights; Breaking Bad; Parenthood (I wonder how the Bravermans are doing?).

Anything crunchy for a snack: chips, crackers, carrots, crunch!

*I have been so lucky to have so many wise, wonderful women in my life and there’s no way I can list them all, but here are a few: Kim Baldwin; Christy Ballard; Aretha McKinney Blevins; Helena McKinney Blevins; Angie Bonnes; LaDonna Bowers; Jan Campbell; Vivien Fryd; Amy Geise; Melissa Harmon; Susan Lewis; Rachel Mathenia; Dana Migliaccio; Rachel Moss Mitchell; Estella Mosley; Juli Mosley; Emily Passini; Kristin Russell; Sarah Seals; Margaret Smith; Rachel McMahan Troxtel; Emily Urban; Kim Seals Vroom; the women of the GBC and BBR book clubs; the women of 12South Yoga; and the women of the Office of Legal Services for the Tennessee General Assembly, past and present.

All photos courtesy of Paige Seals

May 26, 2016

Fabulous By Forty

Last week I turned forty. As I celebrated, friends kept saying the same thing, "You did it - Fabulous By Forty"! As a recovering perfectionist, and someone who has trouble accepting compliments, I can't even begin to tell you how uncomfortable that made me.

After my birthday, I had my last regular appointment with my therapist. After two+ years of weekly and bi-weekly appointments, I'm transitioning to "therapy lite" (my phrase) where I have check-in appointments every couple of months. In my post-birthday appointment, The World's Greatest Therapist helped me unpack my, let's call it, less than gracious, reaction to the Fabulous By Forty accolades.

She was not surprised to learn people said loving and supportive things, nor was she surprised that I was surprised. She told me for the past two years, I've been climbing a mountain, and the entire time I was climbing, I kept my head down. I didn't look up to see how much farther I had to go; I didn't sit down to rest, and I didn't let myself get distracted. When people tried to compliment me, or comment on my journey, I shooed them away - 'Leave me alone; I'm climbing'.

She asked me, "You climbed Everest, and now that you've reached the summit, you're surprised people noticed"? I am surprised. I had no idea anyone was watching me. I just had to climb that mountain.

In 2013, when my nutritionist gave me the goal of Fabulous By Forty, I had no idea what that would look like. I just wanted to lose weight. Because of course I thought all of my problems would be solved by obtaining the body I was "supposed" to have.

That year, I did lose weight. I also lost my mind. I had a terrible job and an abusive boss, who was eventually fired after months of mediation and victim blaming. So I was skinny-ish and my boss got fired. Everything should be good, right?

One of the directors I worked with was a therapist, and a great human being. About a month after my boss was fired, there was a shooting at one of our facilities and I got triggered. I was talking to him about it and he calmly started questioning me about smells and sounds, and if I had ever talked to anyone. I said no and then said I honestly wanted to talk to someone, not about 9/11, but about why I kept ending up in jobs with abusive bosses - that the only common denominator was me - maybe I was attracting these people. Saying this out loud opened up something that had never been opened and I spent the next few days in a dark headspace. A few days later, he came by my office to check on me and I asked if he could be my therapist. He couldn't, but he gave me the name of a therapist that he thought would be a good match for me. Spoiler alert:  she was. I called and she saw me the next day. I've been seeing her ever since.

In hindsight, I'm pretty sure I had what Brene Brown calls a "spiritual awakening", or what Lifetime movies call a nervous breakdown. Regardless of what happened, I'm glad it did. I'm lucky that I don't have a diagnosed mental illness. I went into therapy because I woke up one day and saw that I was the only connection between what was making me unhappy and causing me pain. And once I saw it was me, I couldn't un-see it. You can't self-help yourself out of that. You need someone to come in and offer you perspective and options for evolving past it - a sherpa, if you want to stay with the Everest analogy - someone to guide you up the mountain and help you hold your shit when it gets too heavy.

I'm forty (I just kicked my legs into the air). Am I fabulous? I don't know. That's a weird word and it doesn't suit me. I am something though, and I'm something I wasn't three years ago. I'll leave you with the mind map I created two days before my fortieth birthday.


no apologies
worked hard
have opinions
less scared
morning ritual
write more
love more
I do what I want
gratitude practice

Thank you for watching me climb a mountain. I didn't know that's what I was doing. I just knew I had climb up out of whatever I was in.


May 23, 2016

An Interview with Public Policy Director Melanie Bull

I don't think it's any secret that my personal life and political life are connected. Today's bitch has made that ever elusive transition from work-friend to friend-friend. In 2008, Melanie interned at the state legislature, where I worked. Our professional lives have been intertwined since then, but our personal lives, not so much. But then she went to a dance class with me, and then she hired my personal trainer and started working out with me twice a week, and now we're twerking together. Point? I see Melanie in tank tops a lot (and I like it).

Watching Melanie work all these years, I knew she was smart and confident. My girl rocks a selfie like nobody's business. But what's been interesting to see as I've gotten to know her is where that confidence comes from. Unfortunately, there's a lot of stigma here around looks and marital status, and God help the female lobbyist who's in her thirties, single, and attractive because you will never get the credit you deserve for being good at your job. What I love about Melanie is how she puts her deuces up, zips up her pencil skirt, and out-works everyone who's whispering about her, #boybye. Meet today's bitch, Melanie Bull!

What is your job title and where do you work?

I am the Public Policy Director at the Tennessee Disability Coalition. We are a member organization of about 45 disability groups across the state. I do state level lobbying, advocacy, and public policy work on a variety of issues from healthcare to education. 

When did you first learn about this field of work?

Growing up, I remember hearing a lot about lobbyists on TV - mostly negative (big oil, tobacco, etc.) but what most people fail to realize is that everyone has a lobbyist, and if they don’t, they need one. Part of a lobbyist’s job is to provide a seat at the table, and you know how the saying goes “If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu.” This is especially important for groups of people that are underserved. 

How did you know it was what you wanted to do?

This sounds absurd because I believe these are kind of basic human principles, but I’ve always had a strong sense of justice and fairness. I’ve felt a strong desire to help those who can’t always help themselves. I also believe that the world isn’t inherently fair and sometimes people need help - plain and simple. But because I don’t like getting dirty or hot climates, I wasn’t going to join the Peace Corps. 

I also love politics. I was a political science major in college and have been volunteering and working on campaigns since high school. Having had a few jobs in politics though, it wasn’t what I wanted to make a career out of for a multitude of reasons. 

At some point the job heavens opened up and I realized I can talk for a living (my one true skill) while helping others, and work close to politics but not necessarily in it. It’s truly my dream job.

What was your path that lead you to the job you have now?

I was a legislative intern at the Tennessee General Assembly in 2008. In college, I always thought I wanted to teach at a university/have an excuse to stay in school forever (I like reading!). During my internship I realized that I wanted to have some real world experience before I tried to teach college kids about the real world. I was also extremely burnt out at school and tired of reading. 

After college I worked for a fundraising consulting firm, then worked on several different campaigns. I was designed for the pace and the nature of the work, but I realized I wanted to do issue work rather than election work. I reached out to some lovely lady lobbyists and a position at the Disability Coalition had just opened up a week before! 

Favorite piece of advice, business or otherwise?

Ask. Ask questions, ask for advice, ask for a raise, ask for jobs, ask for help, don’t ask permission. Asking doesn’t have to portray weakness; to me, it portrays confidence. You can’t just give yourself a raise (unless you are the boss) but asking for a raise says, “Hey, I’ve been doing a really good job and I think my salary should reflect that.” When you ask you get an answer, and when you get an answer you can move on to the next thing. 

Failure you learned from or that helped you improve the way you work?

In my job, you win or you lose, and there’s rarely an in between. What’s also true is that my wins and losses are usually public. It is extremely hard to not take losses personally, especially because I often have to talk to or see a person with a disability that is affected by that loss. It’s disappointing and sometimes heartbreaking, but these losses have taught me how to lose gracefully. I won’t be able to do my job to the best of my ability if I wear my heart on my sleeve all the time. I want to be a passionate advocate, but I don’t want that passion to get in the way of progress.

What would you do with 2 more hours a day?

Yoga, sleep, read more, go to twerk class with Kim, but TBH, probably look at Instagram. 

What is your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your professional life?

I love it when I have a person with a disability, or their family member, work on an issue with me and finally feel as if they had their voice heard. It’s the single greatest thing about my job. 

What’s the first app or website you open when you wake up in the morning?

Email (eye roll emoji).

How do you decompress at the end of the work day?

During legislative session you can find me at the Oak Bar sipping a happy hour vodka soda. 

What’s the hardest thing about your job that isn’t obvious?

Having to be “on” all the time. During session, I can’t close my door to my office when I’m having a bad day. 

What is one thing everyone gets wrong about what you do?

That it’s easy. People tell me ALL the time they could easily do my job. Come try it, bro.

Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?

Parks and Recreation. Leslie Knope is all that is good about government. And any kind of party dip, especially if it’s covered in buffalo sauce. 

All photos courtesy of Melanie Bull


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