In honor of International Women’s Day, HERliograph will celebrate at the Women’s Day Festival in Oakland on March 5th. We will be enjoying workshops, women-founded organizations, and kid-friendly activities. You can learn more about the event and buy tickets here. Please note that one ticket counts for two people, so you can invite a heroine in your life to join you. Proceeds from ticket sales go to Sol Sisters, a nonprofit organization founded by the Hope Dealer, to fund their work combining art, physical and mental wellness, and community service to empower women from all backgrounds.
Along with millions who marched throughout the US and the world last weekend, these three beauties took proudly to the streets of San Francisco. Special shout out to Miss Ogony, Miss Information, and Miss Representation! May your stand for human rights guide our leaders and each of our hearts in days to come.
My heroine Rad Rhodessa's wise words are ringing loudly in my heart, "Sister friends, daughters, mothers, we all have a right to a life, our own life." Yes we do, and another Heroine's words, "We're stronger together!" Yes we are, sister friends, daughters, mothers, we are stronger together. May it be!
On September 19, HERliograph is excited to join the clowns from Crescent Moon Theater Productions to celebrate amazing, strong women.
The clowns and I will be joined by poets, musicians, circus performers and merry makers of all sorts, with performances by the Circus Warrior, Sage Russo, Michelle Musser, Jasmine Osborne and the good doctor. Get ready for a good dose of laughter and inspiration!
Monday, September 19, 2016 from 8:00 PM to 9:30 PM
PianoFight - Second Stage 144 Taylor St, San Francisco, CA 94102 -
Tickets: $5 in Advance, $10 at the door, available at:
When I was a corporate attorney many years ago, I worked with tall, well-bred, smart, Caucasian men. I wasn’t like the status quo. I had worked hard to get my law degree from a top law school, and I was well-liked within my firm and by clients. Still I kept wondering, what would it feel like to be a real lawyer?
When I became a mom, I made a very conscious choice to stay at home with my children. I was fortunate that I could, and every fiber of my being bound me to my babies. Nursing them, carrying them, tending to their every need, I was completely done and undone by motherhood. I remember once again feeling deeply isolated. I saw few moms like me. On the playgrounds, at the grocery store, even at mommy groups, I saw mostly nannies of different ethnicities, a few grandmothers, and very rarely mothers. The women of my stage in life whose friendships I craved to make were elsewhere working hard and forging their careers. I wondered, was I a lesser woman because I could and did spend all my days with my babies?
Having grown up Taiwanese in South America I am no stranger to being an outsider, but it’s still disorienting. I am in a world that is different from what I believe to be true to me, like standing in front of a mirror that reflects a stranger back, jarring each time even if I have come to expect it. I refused to let this mirror erode my sense of self. Instead of accepting the obvious, I looked harder for clearer reflections.
I approached women who were in their own way also going against the grain to stay true to themselves. I asked about their stories. How did they know their authenticity and retain their sovereignty when the world pointed them away from their internal compass? One woman shared with me her struggle with eating disorders and finding her healing path by devoting her life to helping others with mindful eating. Another shared her harrowing childhood growing up with albanism in Africa, congenitally devoid of pigment, abandoned and persecuted, told over and over that she was going to fail, disappear, and die. Mirror, mirror, it lies. She grew up strong and iridescent, and she has founded an organization in Kenya that educates and supports families with albanistic children. Still other women have shared with me about their passions, how their artistry has brought social justice to the world because they didn’t give up or back down in the face of disbelief and ridicule. I found woman after woman, brave, beautiful and authentic in her own way, each heeding her inner voice. Even with loud voices to the contrary everywhere shouting her down, my everyday heroine says with fortitude that it is the world that is distorted, not them.
I created HERliograph to reflect the light of everyday heroines so that through recognizing the beauty in each other we may come to embrace ourselves more clearly. Along the way I have found that amazing stories are everywhere, but you won’t find them looking to the obvious or listening to the loudest. We each have an inner knowing, and when we tune in, it leads us towards our light.
I’ve been thinking about what it means to lead from the feminine. Having grown up with and surrounded by authority figures who are male, I’ve long equated leadership to be a masculine thing. Sure women are loving, safe, gentle, beautiful, benevolent. But a real leader, someone powerful, magnetic, commanding, effective — the image I conjure is that of a man or a woman with manlike qualities. And with this I’ve long internalized that if I am to be powerful, effective, make an impact, and be taken seriously, then I should make myself as manlike as possible. Meaning I should behave as though things don’t bother me, intimidate, wield sharp analytical prowess, in all ways be able to compete with the toughest of them.
For as long as I can remember, my own mother has said to me, “Softer, you have to be softer. You are a girl.” I rebelled strongly against this all through childhood. The disdainful connotation I found was that being soft was to be subservient and to put ourselves second to men. Later after I became a woman, she still often says, “You are the gentler sex, use that to your advantage.” or “As women, we know how to serve our men because we have gifts they simply have no inkling of.” or "You are the water that must flow around his rock.” Hearing these kinds of things made — still make — my blood boil. They in fact make me want to jam my elbow into the nearest Adam’s rib or apple. Fortunately for my loving husband undeserving of such attacks (mostly), I usually pound out my frustrations in a gym or failing that jump up and down in place until my feet hurt. Women are equal to men! We can be just as strong and capable!
As I’ve become a wife and mother of two boys, I have very gradually learned that there is such a thing as leading from distinctly feminine strengths. After a thousand times of the family triggering my fight response, of yelling, pushing through linear argumentation, the my way or the highway approach — all this and getting nowhere except everyone most of all me being burned up — I am humbly learning that there are indeed powerful ways to lead from the feminine energy. And it doesn’t mean I am weaker or manipulative. It means recognizing my strengths and honoring that they bring a wholeness that is otherwise unavailable among the whole host of masculine traits.
So what does it mean to lead from the feminine? Knowing there is still much more learning to come, here are a few I’m beginning to practice:
- Trusting myself. Tuning inward rather than leaning solely on external cues.
- Recognizing that my natural modes of compassion, caregiving, connecting, relating, empowering, and supporting are real and deeply powerful.
- Calibrating situations with my intuition, as much as my critical thinking.
- Continuing to forge meaningful relationships — The prolific Austrian-American physicist Fritjof Capra has a thoughtful quote that rings true to me: “The way towards an eco-literate society involves a shift from a focus on counting things to a focus on mapping relationship.”
I can’t make it to the Cultivating Women’s Leadership, a week-long retreat that brings together women from all diverse cultures, ages and backgrounds to learn from each other and investigate together insidious internalizations often held about leadership. Learning among a group of women about feminine leadership sounds like a wonderful set up. But for now I must settle for learning by trial and error with my tribe of men. The experience will be much less supportive and tear-free, but that’s the work I have before me.
Recently I exhibited HERliograph at Blessed Unrest, a three-day festival that brought together activists, performing artists, writers, educators, visual artists, poets and other change makers who work at the intersection of art and social justice. The event was held at the CounterPulse Theater, which has been supporting community-based arts since the early 90’s in San Francisco. Over the course of three days, twenty-five artists across different mediums gave over a dozen performances, workshops and panel discussions reflecting upon art’s transformational power.
After Blessed Unrest, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Polina Smith, the producer of the event and a heroine, for a few questions:
What was your goal in producing Blessed Unrest?
PS: I’ve had the privilege to meet a lot of incredible artists working at the intersection of arts and social justice. I’ve long had a dream to connect these amazing people who share this essence in their work. In other parts of the world arts for social justice is well-established. Developmental arts or community arts, as it is called in Europe for example, is recognized as its own field, different than say the ballet or other arts-based nonprofits. Not so in the US. I'm passionate about bringing forth this recognition for art and social justice. And for people to recognize the arts as a powerful agent of necessary social change.
What were your favorite moments of Blessed Unrest?
PS: Blessed Unrest’s role in initiating the new CounterPulse Theater space. After being at the forefront of arts for social justice for over twenty years, CounterPulse lost its lease and was forced to move out of its former home. Thanks to a charitable act and after months of renovation, CounterPulse moved into its new home at 80 Turk Street, right in the middle of the thriving arts community it has long served. I’m thrilled to produce my arts and social justice event that is CounterPulse’s opening act. This impact became tangible to me when a group of Tenderloin residents came in to enjoy our performance on the second evening. At one point performers and audience members alike came together in a spontaneous choir, creating song and dance accompanied by drumming. In that moment, I felt grateful, thinking especially of who usually has access to art spaces and who doesn’t. I felt the power of art to open minds and hearts and to break barriers. Through incredible artistry, it is possible that we reach a higher plane. Then never again are we the same. And I found myself thinking if this is what I devote my life to, it is a life worth living.
PS: I came away from the weekend having an even deeper appreciation for how art functions as an agent for transformation and cleansing. Art has served as such agent for much of human history, like when our ancestors danced to bring on the rain, sang to welcome a newborn, or wailed to release grief of loss. Art has the power to hold space for stories that are denied elsewhere, stories that are never heard by the legal system or recognized in media. I’m exhilarated by this experience of reclaiming art for higher purposes. As Elbert Hubbard has said, “Art is not a thing. It is a way.” May the world we dream be danced, sung, and painted into being.
In this spirit, I’m energized to continue following my dreams just as producing Blessed Unrest has come to fruition for me after dreaming about it for so long. What’s already in the works includes producing a clown cabaret that celebrates art, dance and activism. Swipe Right, an epic singles event with experts speaking on sex and dating. And Holistic Health Saloon, a natural and health wellness fair.
Rock on, Dreamcatcher!
What started out as a political event, International Women’s Day, which is celebrated on March 8 every year, has become an occasion for people around the globe to express love for women. I had a wonderful day planned. I was going to start my day with a challenging work out — I'd feel alive and strong! I was going to travel across the Bay to meet a new heroine, someone who has been supporting women for several decades through labor and childbirth. I was so excited to learn her incredible story. And finally, I was going to end the day as I did everyday spending time with my boys.
Instead, my day started right at midnight when my older son woke me up crying and proceeded to vomit all over the bedroom carpet. So I spent the wee hours of my International Women’s Day cleaning him up and soothing him back to sleep. I made him chicken porridge, the way my mother used to make for me when I was sick, with sliced onions, garlic and potatoes, and a drizzle of sesame oil. I spent my day with my boy home from school. I held his hand and heard him tell me over and over how much he loves my chicken porridge, how much he loves me.
As the day draws to an end, I feel the weight of my heroine Rhodessa’s words in my heart when she says, "Sister friends, daughters, mothers, we all have a right to a life, our own life. We know very well how to take care of other people, but in the midst of all that, don’t forget that it’s about your life.” But I also hear my heroine Tristan’s words, "We are queens. We are empresses. Let’s know our worth and own it!"
Under bright open skies over the gateway of Marin Headlands, Chris and I set up camera equipment right along the edge of the water to photograph a new heroine, Gina. Before us are expansive views of the San Francisco Bay and cityscape. And the Golden Gate Bridge, its red majestic lines demarcating land and water, manmade and nature, earthly and ethereal.
Gina is herself a duality, a neurobiologist with a strong spiritual practice. She catalyzed thoughtful conversations. Just five below, each a philosophical musing:
- Share good things. Share instead of hoard and see what comes back.
- Begin a meditation practice. Sit just five minutes a day of consciously paying attention to only your breath.
- Could children be our ultimate mindfulness teachers?
- Yes to bringing more consciousness to our corporate world.
- What happens when we let go of our tight fists?
Artist and author Elle Luna writes, “There are two paths in life: should and must. We arrive at this crossroads again and again. And each time, we get to choose."
I’ve been thinking about my shoulds and musts.
A few of mine:
mothering - lovingly have it all together when it comes to the children’s needs, schedules, and discipline
meaningful work - working hard towards professional success as measured by financial rewards, prestige and having something to show for
well-connected - have a wide personal and professional network
look great - or smashing, glamorous, skinny, toned, etc
A few more of mine:
mothering - practicing self-care first so I have the capacity to care for others
meaningful work - write about things I truly care about, which always helps me excavate towards some higher truth
well-connected - have at least one meaningful conversation a day
feel great - listening to my body instead of punishing it, going outside for a run so I can find my breath again after letting it go, sweating it out, and remembering what my body feels like to hold me
Can you tell which of these is my must and which is my should list? The distinction can be subtle. Many of my musts and shoulds sound almost the same. Even on days when I’m most aware and set out with the best intentions, I mislead myself. I go forth putting my all into it, and I effort and effort. In the end, I have gotten out of balance even if I achieve what I set out to do. I’m left in fumes wondering how being a loving mama can make me feel so terrible about myself and my children? Why does meaningful work feel so useless? Why do I feel so lonely with all the connections on LinkedIn or friends on Facebook that I have, literally right at my fingertips? How did I lose my way?
Here’s the distinction: Should is outward facing while must is inward facing. Should tells me I am not enough, I’ll never be, and that I have to ceaselessly work towards measuring up. Must is who I am, my quiet places, where I’ve already got it. So am I seeking for external approval or looking to my internal compass for guidance?
Choosing at this crossroads is hard. Not knowing which way to go, with there being so much confusion and uncertainty. And even harder than not knowing is arriving at the crossroads, seeing clearly which is the better way, but picking should because must is just too darn painful.
Well. I make myself take a breath. And I remember what my heroine Crystal says, “You already have the answer. Exhale.” Okay here I go.
I’m looking forward to meeting Elle Luna on March 3, at the Women Leading Change Symposium where she and I will be speaking more about the should and must. Join us!
Filling out a questionnaire the other day, amidst the formulaic questions, I was struck by one that stood out: What’s your super power, real or imagined? How much easier my days would be if I could blink myself to another location. Or if I could Jedi mind control my boys to getting along with each other. If I could function without sleep (or food or illness) to slow me down. How about twitching my nose and be-witching my way to a completely made meal, perfect in nutrition value and pleasing to the taste.
Alas, I’m just me, plain, ordinary me trying to get through the day. Forget super-powered, lucky at all if I’m not running on fumes. But not one for leaving questions unanswered, I couldn’t stop mulling until I had an answer. If I had to approximate something that’s like a superpower, kinda, I say empathy. Yes, empathy is my imagined superpower.
I feel. A lot. All the time. It’s as if my entire body has feelers that send messages straight to my heart, every bit as real as any sensory input. I anticipate my children's needs before they tell me. I instinctively grab hold of them almost always right before they stumble. I sense my husband's desire without his having to say or do anything. In passing I feel a girlfriend’s tension and touch her arm. I sense another driver’s distraction and make way or slow down, safely avoiding many an accident. When a friend tells me a painful story, tears well up my eyes, even while his stay dry. In a group dynamic, I sense who's holding court, who's into the group think and who's not. And who's left out, that I feel most keenly.
When I stop to think about it, my empathetic power is very real. It has been there with me for as long as I can remember. Throughout childhood, I refrained from group play because I couldn't handle the different signals coming at me all at once. Empathy has repeatedly drawn me to reach out to newcomers or outsiders, my sensing their vulnerable status. Since becoming a mother, I see that my empathetic power has amped way up. I sense even more reflexively and vividly, perhaps biology’s way of helping me move through the vastly different spheres and responsibilities of my life, to nurture all that I care for.
Acknowledging that I have a superpower that’s actually more real than imaginary feels freeing and empowering. I have a secret strength, and it can and has been giving me an edge all along. To my own Peter Parker becoming Spiderman moment - where I go from here all depends on how I wield my empathy. Instead of being oblivious, gonna try leading with it. Gonna try leading myself with it.