My epic cross-country train trip

It’s been a while since I have written here.  I judge myself, sometimes, for my lack of discipline in keeping up this blog.  And then, sometimes, I am able to instead empathize with myself—to recognize the obstacles that get in my way, and also celebrate all the other ways I choose to spend my time and energy instead—and just let things be as they are.

But I feel drawn to write now.  I am embarking on a journey I wish to document and share.  Many of you know how much I love train travel.  For the past year and a half, I have been dreaming up the trip that I am just now beginning.  (As I type, on Thursday evening, September 5th, I am sitting in the Sightseer Lounge car on the Amtrak Coast Starlight train, with panoramic views of the Willamette Valley countryside.  It is beautiful.  Dry at this point in the season, with the trees just beginning to change color.)

I have crossed the country by train before, more than once, on the Empire Builder. (The colonialism/manifest destiny of that name now makes me wince, whereas initially when I took it to my ten-year high school reunion back in 2000, I was enthralled by the implied power and adventure in it.)  That route stretches from the Pacific Northwest across the top of the nation, through scenery including the breathtaking Glacier National Park, all the way to Chicago.  In Chicago I transferred to the Capitol Limited, which took me through Pennsylvania and West Virginia to Washington, DC.

I wanted to try something different this time.  I had heard the name of the fabled California Zephyr, described by many as the most beautiful route of the 15 in the Amtrak long-distance-train system.  I had taken the Coast Starlight to southern California several times, and absolutely loved the views.  And I wanted to try a new way to get between Chicago and the DC area, so I looked up the Cardinal, which goes through Indiana, Ohio, and West Virginia. 

I also wanted to see various sights across the country, and visit various friends and family members.  I had seen Luray Caverns, in Virginia, with my grandmother at age 6, and it had mesmerized me.  I wanted to see it again!  I also wanted to bicycle a rails-to-trails project, the Washington & Old Dominion (W & OD) Trail, which opened when I was about 8 or 10.  It ran from Washington, DC, out to Purcellville, the small rural town where I was to attend middle and high school.  At the time, I had never heard of the rails-to-trails concept, but I thought it sounded cool.  My family lived out in the country, without bikes, so it didn’t occur to me as something that I could personally use, but I liked knowing that it existed, and that some adults in the area apparently enjoyed biking and/or walking along it.

When I moved to Portland in 1990 to go to college, it only took a few years before I adopted the city’s bicycling ethos and took up cycling as my main form of transportation.  Every time I would go back home to visit my parents (who still live in the old stone farmhouse they bought in its shambles state the summer before I was born in 1972, and spent decades lovingly restoring) I would think to myself, “Hey, I ought to bike that W & OD Trail one of these days!”

But I never did, because I never had a bike when I was back there.  I decided that this trip would be the perfect time to prioritize it.  (More on the amazing logistical details in a future post!)

I’ve also grown obsessed with Japanese gardens, ever since my remarkable partner Johnny decided, more than five years ago, to build one inside the maximum-security prison where he resides.  In that span of time, as I have watched and supported his efforts to bring the garden to fruition (it’s nearly there now) I have made a point to visit at least a dozen Japanese gardens, around the United States and Canada.  This trip seemed like a perfect opportunity to see several more, and to revisit one that was built by the same world-renowned Japanese garden designer, Hoichi Kurisu, who has partnered with Johnny to build the prison garden.

I also have cultivated a love of botanical gardens over the past few years, and I plan to see several of those as well.

So… this feels like a trip of a lifetime.  My hope is that I will fully enjoy every moment riding the rails—drinking in the scenery, meeting interesting strangers, enjoying the vegan dining-car meals I worked hard to secure—as well as fully enjoy all the cities and towns I visit, and the friends, family, and strangers I connect with along the way.  I also hope that I may be able to inspire someone reading this, whether to take a train trip of your own, or to work toward realizing some other travel or life goal.  (And, as always, I am here to support any such endeavors if you need some co-brainstorming, strategizing, or emotional support of any kind.)

My intention is to post regular updates here, detailing how the trip is progressing.  Thank you for following along with me!

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How to use Tinder (without losing your soul)

(Note: This is a piece I wrote for another site, and I wanted to share it here as well. So many of us struggle to find meaningful connections; I hope some of you will find this useful.)

Here we are, 2019. So many technological tools for connection… and yet a large percentage of the population feels isolated, lonely, and touch-starved. We want love, we want sex, and it seems like those two things (separately or together) should be pretty easy to come by. But for those of us who are living consciously, trying to stay connected to our hearts and our integrity, those two basic human needs can feel tragically out of reach.

I’ve been using Tinder, and similar apps, for a couple of years now. In that time, I have made a few great connections. I’ve also, at times, experienced brushes with the depths of despair, both from my own interactions (or a painful lack thereof) on these apps, and from the stories and social media postings of friends who are similarly struggling.

Many of my friends are now considering signing up for the apps for the first time, and many have expressed trepidation about “how to do it.” I also know people who have tried to use the apps, but have been so unsuccessful in their goals that they have quit after a short period.

In my trials and tribulations, I have noticed some consistent “problem patterns” among users, and I have felt the difference that certain approaches can make. My intent in writing this piece is to help others to navigate the world of dating apps as effectively as possible. (I will use the name “Tinder” here, but my suggestions will apply equally to any similar dating apps.)

Ready to dive in? Let’s begin!

The first step is to get very clear on what kind(s) of connections you are seeking. Are you looking for a long-term, monogamous partner? (Yes, some people do use Tinder—successfully!—to find such relationships.) Are you looking for short-term connections? A summer fling? Multiple partners? Fun dates while traveling? A committed, but open, relationship? Whatever it may be, first identify your ideal connection in the present moment, and then consider what other kinds of connections you might also be open to.

After you are clear about what you’re seeking, it’s time to put together your profile. First, choose photos. Plan to upload at least five, so that people can see you from a variety of angles, and in a variety of contexts. Avoid sunglasses in most photos; let people see your eyes. Make sure all photos are recent. A good guideline is within the past 2-3 years. If you are self-conscious about how you look, compared to how you looked in older photos, remind yourself that whoever you are seeking is going to need to be attracted to the current you, so make sure you give them accurate information to help them decide. Make some effort to find flattering photos. If you don’t have many, maybe take some new selfies, or ask a friend to take some photos of you. Before you hit the “upload” button, take a look at each photo, and see if your facial expression is a good one for attracting the kind of person(s) you are seeking. Maybe ask a close friend or two to take a look and offer their feedback on your pictures.

Now, write your bio. Do not skip this step. Many people—myself included—make a policy of never swiping right on someone without a bio, because it comes across as aloof, arrogant, lazy, and/or secretive… as well as simply not giving people enough information about you to know whether you might be a good fit. (And for that matter, I do recommend swiping left on people who haven’t made the effort to do this. Whenever I have made an exception to my rule because the person looks so attractive or interesting in their photos, I have always—every single time—found myself disappointed in the ensuing conversation.)

The text field is pretty small. Use it wisely; don’t waste space writing things like, “Does anyone even read these things?” or “I’m terrible at this stuff. If you want to know anything, just ask.” Make the effort to be as thorough as possible, in the limited space, about what is unique to you, and exactly what you are seeking. It’s best to use positive language (“I’m looking for a long-term relationship”) rather than negative (“Not looking for hookups!”) That said, it’s OK to list deal breakers (“no smokers, please”) to respect everyone’s time. Spend roughly half the space describing yourself, and the other half describing the kind of person(s) you are looking for.

Once you have uploaded your text and photos, you are ready to begin searching for connections! As you begin, remember that each photo/bio on this app represents an actual human being: a person as real and complex as you, who is also seeking connection. Sadly, many factors in our society—including widespread trauma—can lead people to show up on dating apps reflecting less than their full, beautiful human selves. This can be painful to witness and feel as you browse the apps. But, it is an important practice to remind ourselves of each other’s humanity, so that we can enjoy the process as much as possible, and be as successful as possible in finding our optimal connection(s).

The most important principle to follow—even though it can be difficult to remember in our fast-paced, phone-addicted world—is, Don’t swipe absent-mindedly or half-heartedly. Before you open the app each time, take a few moments to close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and feel into the kind of connection you are seeking. Maybe picture someone who would be an ideal connection for you. Take a moment to really feel the way you imagine feeling in the presence of this person. Maybe imagine doing whatever things you are wanting to do with a Tinder connection, with this imaginary ideal person. Only after you have spent a few moments doing this, and have really felt the positive feelings you are seeking from Tinder connections… open the app.

As you begin to browse, feel for the energy of each person you see. Swipe right only if you feel that this person could genuinely be a good fit for what you are seeking. Also, don’t swipe right until you read their bio. There may be a deal-breaker in there, and if there is, it will be less potentially hurtful for the other person if you don’t match to start with.

Once you find a match, take a moment to look back through the person’s photos and bio. Feel into who they seem to be, and what you find attractive about them. Then, send them a message. Don’t play games by waiting for them to contact you first. This is not a power struggle; it’s an effort to find intimacy of some kind. Be proactive. Be vulnerable. Make the first move. In the message, start with a compliment about something you saw and/or read. Ideally, include both a visual compliment and a personality-based one. (“I love your smile! And it looks like you enjoy bicycling as much as I do.”) Of course, any visual compliments should be respectful and not vulgar. Keep the first message brief, but end with a question or something the person can respond to. (“What are you most excited about these days?” “Have you been enjoying this beautiful summer weather?” Or, if possible, ask something related to their stated or depicted interests, especially if those interests overlap with yours.)

If they don’t respond, try not to take it personally. Remember that not everyone uses Tinder in a conscientious way; some people swipe right carelessly, looking for matches merely as ego boosts, or simply swiping on photos they like, without looking at bios for deal-breakers. If someone doesn’t respond to your initial message, trust that they are not a good fit for you, and move on.

If they do respond, you will probably get an immediate gut reaction as to whether you might get along. When you read their message, do you feel a spark of excitement? A sense of warmth? Or a feeling of disappointment, because they didn’t match your warm, interactive tone? If you get a bad feeling for any reason, it’s probably best not to pursue the connection. You can either politely let them know you don’t think it’s a good fit (“Sorry, I’m getting the feeling we won’t be a good match. Thanks for the conversation, and I wish you the best in your search!”) or, if their response was minimal, just let it drop. Use your instinct about which is more appropriate in any given case: saying “goodbye” can be overkill if the two of you have interacted very minimally… but on the other hand, using dating apps can feel very isolating, with people starting connections and then disappearing; so a brief “thanks for this, and I wish you all the best” can go a long way—for both parties—toward humanizing the process. (Of course, listen to your gut and respect your own boundaries. If someone speaks to you in a disrespectful way, you owe them absolutely nothing, so feel free to un-match, block, and/or report anyone at any time.)

If you find that you and a match have been chatting for an amount of time that leads you to want to meet up, ask if they would like to meet up. (Again, don’t play games by waiting to see if they will ask first.) A good way to do this is to say, “I’m really enjoying our conversation so far. Would you like to meet up sometime, to see how we feel in person?” If you like, you can be more specific: suggest coffee, lunch, a happy hour drink, or maybe a walk.

If you do agree to meet up, follow basic safety precautions: Meet in a public place, maybe let a friend know you’re going on a Tinder date.

When you meet in person, treat it like any other date: Do your best to relax and be yourself. Ask questions, and listen as much as you talk. The two of you can decide from there if you are a good fit, and if you would like to get together again.

If the answer is yes, congratulations! You’ve made a Tinder connection! If the answer is no… well, congratulations, too, because you still made it through the process, and you can now go back and repeat the process, until you do find a good fit. Persistence in the process is essential, which is why it is crucial to remain connected to your sense of both your own and others’ humanity. To a large extent, dating is a numbers game. For every successful connection, there will be a few dates that don’t go as well as you had wished. For every date you set up, there will be other matches who won’t make it to the date-scheduling phase. For every match you get, there will be some who don’t swipe right back on you. So… do your best to stay present, to stay connected to your felt-sense of what you are looking for, to enjoy the process, and to honor your own, and others’, humanity as you interact.

ps. I love working with people one-on-one to help them find the kind of connections they are seeking. If you’d like to schedule a free, no-obligation 30-minute phone call to see if we might be a good fit to work together on this, please contact me to set up a time!

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Partnership for Safety and Justice benefit


I have long been a supporter of the work of the Partnership for Safety and Justice. This Oregon nonprofit takes a holistic—while also unapologetically political—approach to criminal justice reform, focusing both on pragmatic support for crime victims, and a humanistic approach to offenders and their rehabilitation, for the benefit of the entire community. Members of PSJ have met with my partner Johnny at the Oregon State Penitentiary to talk about criminal justice reform in general, and his prison healing garden in particular. The organization also recently featured the complex and nuanced story of my friend Rebecca, who in her family has experienced both sides of the victim/offender perspectives.

In these waning days of 2018, I am offering a benefit for PSJ, donating 20% of proceeds from any Happy to Listen or Dream Into Change session that is scheduled and paid for by the end of the year. The actual sessions can happen later, if need be, by phone, Skype, or in person here in Portland. As usual, this is a sliding-scale benefit, so you can pay whatever rate feels good and workable for you, and 20% of whatever you pay will go to PSJ. Sessions can be 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 60 minutes, or 90 minutes.

The end of the year is a great time to speak out loud your feelings about the previous year, as well as to set intentions for the coming year or begin new projects.

Feel free to call or message me to schedule a session, and please also share this with anyone you know who could use some empathy and/or strategic support, and who might want to support intelligent and compassionate criminal justice reform.

Happy almost-2019!

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Please vote!! and a MoveOn.org benefit for November

I’ll keep this brief. I’m sure I don’t need to tell anyone reading this that our nation, and our world, are at a political crisis point. The US midterm election is less than a week away, and its results could have catastrophic consequences for numerous marginalized groups of people, as well as our natural environment, for years or decades to come.

So, three things from me:

  • Please, please, please vote. And please encourage your friends and others to do so, in person and/or via social media, lawn signs, door-to-door canvassing, street-level actions (alone or in a group)… etc.
  • I recently learned of a peer-to-peer texting-based Get Out the Vote campaign by MoveOn.org. I plan to sign up and spend a view hours texting targeted progressive voters. If this type of activism appeals to you, you can learn more at https://front.moveon.org/join-moveon-text-team/
  • I have always appreciated the work of MoveOn, in all their various campaigns. I am going to support them financially with a benefit this month: For any Happy to Listen or Dream Into Change session scheduled and paid for between now and Election Day on November 6th, I will donate 20% to MoveOn.org. (The session can take place later if need be; it just must be scheduled and paid for by the 6th.) I want anyone to be able to participate, so this will be a sliding-scale/pay-what-you-can session, but 20% of whatever you pay will go to MoveOn. This is a great time to brainstorm a campaign or project you may have been toying with, and/or to speak out loud any hopes, fears, anger, or other emotions that might be keeping you up at night in this fraught time. I am here to listen and offer emotional and/or strategic support.

May we all move forward together, toward a better world.

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October benefit for assault survivors

Wow. What a week. As we all reel from the activity in the United States Senate these past few days, I have felt a groundswell of emotion all over my social media feeds. People of conscience—particularly women and sexual assault survivors—are both horrified and incensed. This feels to me like a pivotal moment in our culture. I am hoping and trusting that whatever the outcome for the Supreme Court (and of course I am hoping against hope that by the end of this process we will end up with someone who will take our nation forward, not backward) that at the very least, women and sexual assault survivors will be more heard and respected from this moment on. This is so, so far past due, and I feel the momentum building unmistakably.

I feel drawn to make my own small personal contribution to the cause by offering a sliding-scale benefit for the first week of October. For any Happy to Listen or Dream Into Change session scheduled and prepaid (at whatever rate is affordable to any given client, no minimum nor maximum) I will donate 20% to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) for their work in supporting survivors. The session itself—by phone or Skype, or in person if you’re in Portland—can take place during this week or later.

If you wish to just talk or vent, on any level, to someone who will listen fully andrespectfully, this is an opportunity to do so. If you have an idea for a project or political campaign to shift our cultural reality, this is an opportunity for bouncing ideas, co-brainstorming, and/or resource-gathering. For more details about what to expect in a session, see http://happytolisten.com/expect.html and/or www.dreamintochange.com/page-2/

Thank you to all of you, for everything that you are doing to shift our culture forward. We can, and will, make change away from violence and oppression, toward mutual support and respect.

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Three new salons: Portland, Boston, and Vancouver, BC!

I love my Dream Into Change salons, and I’m taking them international this summer!  I will be visiting the lovely Vancouver, BC, by train (of course!) at the end of June and beginning of July, and I will be and hosting a vegan-themed salon while I’m there.  I can’t wait to hear what all those cool Vancouverites are dreaming up!

A month before that, I will also be hosting a vegan-themed salon in Boston (Cambridge, to be more precise) over the Memorial Day weekend,when I visit that fair city to connect with a dear friend.  I’m finding that the vegan social and activist scenes in Boston are different from those in the Western cities I’m more familiar with, so I’m interested to see what sorts of things the movers and shakers (and aspiring movers & shakers!) in that region are dreaming up as well.  The number of all-vegan restaurants in the Boston area seems to have just about tripled since the last time I was there, in 2013, for my East Coast Empathy Tour… so I know there must be cool things percolating!

And finally, right here in my own Portland backyard, on May 9th I will be hosting my first ever sustainable-transportation themed salon. Portland is well known for being a great bike and transit city; I myself have lived here happily since 1990 without ever owning a car.  There is constant innovation in those arenas, and much of it comes from the grassroots.  I want to learn what people are working on and envisioning right here where I live.

More details about all the events can be found on my Events page, and as always, I would love your help in spreading the word about these events.  So, if you know people in these cities who might be interested, please share the event links with them!

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Accountability: The political and the personal

As I’ve written before—and as I certainly don’t need to point out to anyone reading this—we are living in very difficult times. Violence, prejudice and oppression, and environmental destruction are all around us. Political atrocities and scandals bombard our news feeds daily, if not hourly. It can be very easy, under these conditions, to lose a sense of hope for humanity. Many people I know are feeling depressed and desolate about the possibility of positive change.

On a more personal scale, many of us are also struggling with interpersonal connections. Many of my friends are longing for close romantic connections, and/or mourning the loss of such connections that are ending. Many people are also feeling disconnected from family, friends, or coworkers because of political differences that seem to feel more stark with each passing day.

For the past several months, I have been personally struggling with both of these: the large-scale and personal-scale breakdown of human connection. I feel it keenly. It informs my listening and coaching practices as I work with clients who are facing similar struggles. I find myself struggling with a sense of deep loneliness and despair. As I reach out to others to talk about it, I find that these feelings are very commonplace.

So what can we do about all of this? What kinds of things can we do to sustain ourselves, each other, and humanity as a whole?
Lately I’ve been thinking about accountability. I perceive that we have a deficit of accountability in the world at present, and I believe it contributes to our current state of affairs.

On the large-scale level, I think most people can agree that many politicians lack accountability to the people they ostensibly serve. This has become increasingly obvious in the past few months, as the White House public phone-comment line was shut down, and several members of Congress have stopped holding public town hall meetings in their districts because they don’t want to face the opposition and tough questions they are likely to encounter in such meetings.

When our leaders fail to take accountability for their leadership, we are all left feeling vulnerable and uneasy. How can our needs be met? How can our voices be heard?

Meanwhile, on the small-scale social end of things, I have watched over the past few years as texting has replaced voice talking, Facebook messaging is replacing the longer-form email messages I used to enjoy taking the time to craft and savor, and “swipe-culture” dating apps are replacing meaningful opportunities to get to know people with whom we may seek to share intimacy.
It is in these smaller-scale communication realms that we can hurt others, and be hurt, most easily, via a lack of attention to each other’s humanity and needs. And it is in these same realms where we can be most easily and quickly empowered to shift the culture in a positive direction. Political actions of various kinds are absolutely necessary, and I strongly support any efforts to communicate with our elected officials, whether by phone, email, online petitions, in-the-street protests, contributing financially to activist groups that are working in strategic ways… etc. I absolutely encourage you to do—or continue to do—all of these things.

But in this environment of increasing despair, we need our interpersonal connections more than ever. I am going to make an uncharacteristically personal and vulnerable plea here:
Please, take the time to support your friends and acquaintances. We all need it more than ever. The easiest and most effective way to do this, speaking from my own experience, is to reply to texts in a timely fashion. It may sound simple or obvious, but I find that it rarely happens. It can be so easy, in our busy-ness and distraction, to see a text from a friend, think, “Oh, cool, So-and-so! I’ll reply later.” But then much more time may go by than we had initially intended, and So-and-so may be really wishing for connection in the meantime.

If someone you care about texts you, text them back. Promptly. If they have asked a question and you don’t have the answer yet, you can write, “Hey, great to hear from you! I don’t have the answer to your question yet, but I will get back to you as soon as I do.” (And then, when you get the answer, get back to them. Promptly.)

If someone contacts you on a dating site, and you are interested, let them know. Promptly. If they ask you on a date, let them know, as soon as you can, whether the date and time they have suggested will work for you. This is not a cultural time when we can afford to play “I don’t want to look too eager” games. If you’re interested, respect the person by responding to their messages in a timely fashion.

You may not have the time—or the inclination—to respond personally to people who contact you if you don’t feel drawn to them… but where possible, I also encourage you to take a moment to acknowledge these people’s humanity and courage in approaching you. It only takes a moment to write, “Hey, thanks for your note. I want to be honest, I’m not feeling drawn to you romantically, but I wanted to say that I’m flattered that you reached out, and I wish you all the best.”

I’ll be vulnerable and speak for myself, here (though I also know I am not alone): These simple courtesies from friends and acquaintances can make a powerful difference in whether I have a sense that I’m a part of the larger community of humanity. When they are absent—especially several times in a row, from several people in a row—it can be very easy to feel dejected, and from there to draw the conclusion that no one cares, and I am going it alone.

In these apocalyptic times, that can be an unbearably—and unnecessarily—lonely feeling. As we do our work to shift the culture forward in positive directions, let’s please take good care of each other’s hearts. We’re in this together.

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ACLU empathy benefit in a fraught February

How are you all hanging in there? I don’t have tell any of you that it’s rough. It’s really rough right now. On so many fronts.

I’ll keep this short. I’ve been marching, sending money to activist organizations, contacting my elected representatives (over and over and over)… but I also want to contribute to a vision of a loving and just world by using my personal strengths, specifically empathy and inspiration.

So, for the month of February, I will be donating 10% of all Happy to Listen and Dream Into Change proceeds to the ACLU. And, in conjunction, I’m offering sliding-scale sessions, because those most impacted and stressed by our current situation are quite possibly also those with the least access to disposable income.

So if you would like to set aside some “empyting out”/recharging time with someone who gets it, please feel free to schedule a session of any length during the month of February. More info on what to expect at www.happytolisten.com and www.dreamintochange.com/page-4/ I can do in-person, phone, or Skype sessions. You set the price, and 10% of it will go to the ACLU. You can contact me via the websites, or by phone at 971-303-8395.

Until next time… please take good care of yourselves as we move through all of this.

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New offering: “awkward-email” support

Fellow culture shifters:

Do you have an awkward email sitting in your inbox right now? Something—either personal or professional—that you know you “should” respond to, but you’re scared to do it, because you want your words to come across the way you intend, and for the other person to respond in a way that feels good to you… but you fear that instead, you’ll accidentally say the wrong thing, or the person will take it the wrong way, and then the relationship will be strained (or, more strained than it already was?)

One way I love to support people is to use my knowledge and practice of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) tools to help write emails that will be received in the best possible way. I’m happy to collaborate with you in a real-time session, listening to some relationship backstory and then co-drafting the email with you. Alternatively, we can do a back-and-forth email exchange to craft it and polish the message before you send it. Or, perhaps you’d just like to vent, and/or think out loud, to an empathetic third party before writing the email yourself. That’s always an option too!

If this speaks to you right now, feel free to schedule a session. In any case, I wish you clear and effective communication, this holiday season and into the new year!

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Need to rant?

Could you use a cathartic rant right about now? (I think most of us could.)

I am offering something new in my Happy to Listen practice, and I will be debuting it this coming Wednesday, November 30th: A 20-minute “rant call” for $20. You call me, I pick up, you spill whatever is on your mind for 15-20 minutes, I listen with empathic presence, and then we wrap it up… and you feel better and more energized to handle your life (and quite possibly do more effective activism, whatever that might look like for you.)

I’m currently scheduling 20-minute slots throughout Wednesday the 30th, so send me a message if you’d like to partake! Also, feel free to share this with friends who might be in need of some catharsis, in this particularly fraught moment in time.

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