It’s true. There are 2 things about you that don’t matter to me. Two traits that don’t define you as a person or tell me anything about your character. And as fixated as society is on these 2 things, I promise you I never will be.

The first is who you love. Your sexuality is quite literally the least interesting thing about you. It’s about as fascinating as the color of your hair or your shoe size. Traits you are born with don’t describe who you are as a person. Here’s what I want to know – do you have love in your life? Have you experienced the profound beauty of a trusting relationship? A friend, a lover, your family of origin or found family? This is what I hope for you, and it has absolutely nothing to do with your sexuality.

The second thing I don’t care about you is your weight. A number on a scale, the size of the clothes in your closet, if you gained 100 lbs or lost 15. It means nothing to me. Your value is not determined by your size 0 or your size XXXL pants. What you weigh does not define you. Let’s repeat this so that it really sticks – your weight does not define you. And it will never tell me what I need to know about you. But there are 3 traits that will.

The first is how you treat people. Are you kind? Are you respectful? Whether it’s service providers, colleagues or your family – are you forgiving and understanding? This matters to me because we have a choice in our behavior. We choose how we interact with each other. How we respond. We aren’t perfect, that’s for sure, but patterns of behavior are revealing. Patterns reveal character.

Second, I care about how you treat me. Are you kind? Are you respectful? Are you mindful of my boundaries and clear about yours? When I screw up do you cut me some slack – and then hold me to the same standard in return? The saying ‘actions speak louder than words’ is actually not 100% accurate. How you talk to me, and how you talk about me, matters.

The third thing that I truly care about you, is how you treat yourself. Are you kind? Are you respectful? Do you give yourself the same grace and compassion that you give others? Do you let yourself off the hook when things don’t go as planned, or do you beat yourself up with insults and shaming? Our inner dialogue can get pretty nasty sometimes. Do you make time for what’s important for your health and well-being? I hope you are your priority. Doing what you need to do, to be happy and healthy, to build loving relationships, and to flourish, is what I care about the most.

And to show that I really mean it, I’ve invited Ed Sheeren & Justin Bieber to sing ‘I Don’t Care’! https://youtu.be/y83x7MgzWOA

2020 shifted from a full schedule of productions and in person events, to the year of video. What a priviledge to share important stories of heart and hope. Using the power of story to cross isolation, social distancing and lockdowns. Many organizations had to shift to video to connect with clients. So our company collaborated to create a platform for these voices to emerge from behind the data and statistics.

This video highlights the important work of Sihle BLOOM for young women. Check out my Youtube or Vimeo page for more stories of community building.

Corporations, non-profits, businesses and start-ups share a success model based on achievements. Each organization has its unique thumbprint written into a mandate or mission statement. Most have these posted on their websites as hallmarks of thoughtful, good business practice. Attention is being paid to the ‘why’ a company exists and typically in the case of non-profits, the ‘who’ they are attempting to serve. The statements are based on Values.

Over time, and as growth occurs, these achievements are measured. Goals are set for employees, financial benchmarks increase, companies buoyed by success look for innovative ways to meet their potential. And this is where it gets interesting.

As a contract employee with many years of freelance consulting and producing,  I have been privy to a wide scope of high level board room conversations. As incredibly diverse as these projects have been, one constant is true – the leadership in these rooms sets the tone. (There are many fantastic articles and books about leadership that prove across cultures specific leadership styles remain consistent. No need to re-visit in this article. Brene Brown’s  Dare to Lead is quite literally, the manifesto.) Stay with me here…

It is the culture of success in the board room that defines the ultimate success of the company. Obvious, yes? What isn’t so clear is how the measurement of success can easily slip away from the early achievement goals based on Values. Being in the room or part of the conversations of so many different types of organizations has offered me a front row seat with a balcony perspective. Leading my own projects has provided the ‘in the trenches’ experience of keeping a team on the path to reaching  goals while holding onto the mission -which is the true heart of the work. It’s not easy. Especially when there are so many ‘constituents’ to please! Murky messaging occurs when the heart of the work is forgotten and success outcomes shift. Here is today’s big realization:

We value the measurements of our success. When really, for true success we should be measuring our values.

Boom.

Mic drop. (Hello, is thing on? Anyone still with me?)

In our pursuit of success – as companies and as individuals – have we put all our eggs in the ‘measurement basket’? When did measuring our values stop being important? Companies need to continue to keep the values at the forefront of decision making asking questions such as ‘is this new direction inline with our company values?’ That initial foundation of ‘value built success‘ unfortunately gives way to numbers driven, employee stressed, higher and higher achievement expectations that chase outcomes based on numbers metrics.

Let me put this another way: a new company initially looks for clients who mirror their values, we look for like-minded clients who share certain affinities. They are the low hanging fruit so to speak, of potential contracts. As the company succeeds and expansion continues, the measurement of success is increasingly about productivity, achievement and growth. The story that can be told by the accumulated data – the numbers –  takes center stage; percentages based on dollars and bank figures; graphs, charts and spreadsheets become the benchmark.  And this is the easiest way to recognize a shift in company culture. The story changes. The story is no longer about the ‘why’ and ‘who’.

Growth, achievement, output, all absolutely need to be the goals of running a successful corporation. Success is awesome and important. It just seems to me, that when we put more emphasis on the measurements – the data – we lose sight of greater potential. Give me a room full of people dedicated to the Values of the organization and the achievements will blow the limits off of any growth chart! Focus on the Measurements, and the value system is askew. That same room of awesome people will have to use that same extraordinary collective energy, to push numbers. Ugh. Trust me, focus on the Values and the numbers will follow.

I just need to say it one more time. About Success.

To achieve true success we need to continually Measure our Values. Otherwise, we end up Valuing the Measurements – which is not a long term strategy for success.  It’s people, people! Keep our eye on the Values and growth will follow. Along with happiness.  And a whole slew of other healthy outcomes.

Like Mother Like Daughter was my first collaboration with Kim Blanchard Souch and her daughter Sara Sobey. This mother-daughter duo began performing together when Sara was just a young teen. Kim was a touring singer/songwriter while pregnant with Sara, so it was not a surprise that Sara could sing before she could speak! What Kim could not have known was that music would be more than a bridge between them. For a long time, it would be their only shared language.

Diagnosed on the autism spectrum, Sara had a very limited vocabulary. It was when she sang that Sara could communicate with an extensive vocabulary, discovering a joy that was both physical and emotional. Her body would almost hum as her voice resonated!

This is just where this duo’s story begins. Tours, fundraisers in support of the Autism Society, recordings and appearances brought much attention to their beautiful harmonies and storytelling.  Original songs penned by Kim have told the stories of mothers and daughters, family, life, love and loss.

Now, something extraordinary is happening. Along this life journey Kim and Sara have developed their own unique voices. They perform together – and always will! But now there is room for self-expression. Kim’s path is returning to her roots as a touring artist with songwriting for herself and others as a renewed focus. Sara’s dream has been to perform with a Symphony, which happened for the first time this year.

There is more, much more, to come from both these artists and I can’t wait be a part of this next chapter! Over the coming months, their music journeys are diverging and yet we know they will always be entwined. For as they find new strength with their own voices, that beautiful harmony they create will only deepen.

Enjoy this link, to Kim Blanchard Souch and Sara Sobey singing:

Like Mother, Like Daughter

My Brother’s Keeper, an Obama Foundation led initiative to provide mentorship to young men of color, found a special home in Spartanburg, South Carolina. It was an honor to tell its impact story in this video. The partners from the community, the school and school district as well as the men who commit to years of mentorship, are making a difference one young man at a time.

 

The sweet fresh breezes of spring resound  ‘Love is in the Air’! Wedding season is about to get real. It is making me a tad nostalgic. My thoughts drift back to my first marriage.

We were young. Very young. It was a brief engagement followed by a simple wedding. There were just a handful of guests, mostly my friends. As it was a hasty affair, the hundred year old tree in the field provided a shady spot to exchange our  solemn vows. There is much about that day I remember in great detail. I spent my childhood living my life as if in a great novel. Often repeating moments that had just occurred in the third person, as if the narrator of my own story. (Louise paused from her typing, smiling to herself at the memory of a younger Louise standing in the middle of the field under the shade of the tree.)  The sky was really blue. like, really blue. And the sun was blazing. Although it was hot, I remember the cooling breezes shifting the tall grasses near the fence.

My friend Susan really gets credit for making it all come together. When you are in Grade 4 and contemplating a ‘forever and ever’ commitment, it helps to have a good friend’s encouragement. Taking her role as both wedding planner and officiant quite seriously, Susan marched me across the schoolyard hopscotch pads, between the baseball diamond and soccer games, across the track field to the big oak tree where a few of our girl friends were waiting. Holding dandelion bouquets. (Actually I don’t really remember the bouquets, but we did often make dainty dandelion chain crowns during recess.)  I stood there a bit queasy shifting from one foot to the other wondering of all things, how I was going to break the news to my parents.

Now, here is where things get a bit fuzzy. I distinctly remember Susan getting perturbed that the groom had not yet arrived. All the girls, me the exception, began yelling at the groom to leave his game of pick-up soccer for just 2 minutes to make it official! ‘Because, if he couldn’t commit to even that, then how was Louise supposed to take this whole relationship thing seriously? I mean, come on!’ My betrothed kicked the ball into the field punctuating an exasperated ‘FINE!’, then ran to the tree and my giggling friends. With great gravitas, Susan clasped her hands and asked us to repeat the vows. I said my ‘I do’, looking directly at Susan. My groom gave an exasperated ‘Yeah, whatever’, kind of touched my hand and then ran back to the game. And that was it. In that 15 minute afternoon recess  I became the first of my friends to marry. They congratulated me and one of them offered to go tell my sisters who were playing on the other side of the schoolyard. I remember feeling different, somehow. Awed by the the whole situation and my prominent role. I can’t really explain it – older maybe? Definitely wiser. As the bell rang and we joined the rest of the school running towards the doors, I mused to myself ‘it’s true, marriage really does change you’.

There is, ahem, one important element that I can’t recollect – getting back to that ‘fuzzy bit’. It is the kind of detail one thinks one could never forget. I swear on a stack of dandelion crowns, I can’t remember the groom. Not his name or even what he looked like. He may have been wearing brown corduroy pants. Gosh, who did I marry that warm spring day? Alas, the first Mr. Louise Fagan will forever remain the blurry memory of an otherwise beautiful ceremony. (I’m just thinking it would have been nice when we reached our 20 year anniversary to have given him a bit of a ‘shout out’. Kinda feel bad about that one.)  

Back to the marriage. We never really spoke afterwards, my first husband and I. It was a short-lived union that suffered from a lack of communication. We drifted apart. It was bound to happen. He had his friends and I had mine. By morning recess the next day it all seemed so long ago. Sigh.

Spring, see what you do to me? It’s that promise of warmer days and weddings. Love and lovebirds. Joyously anticipating my own son’s wedding in just a few short months. (I think it’s his first). Love sweet love is in the air!

 

beautiful bloom blossom clouds

This is a story about the gift of contrast. Water and desert are used as analogies not labels – I could use, for example, the polar ice caps and the tropics. Water and the desert just work for me.

Imagine you’ve focused your life’s work on the study of water and you move to the desert.  Like anyone who has a career specialty, we hive together feeding off each other’s energy, comparing our pails of water.  When I moved from Toronto/New York to the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, I had no idea where to put my bucket.

It’s a beautiful thing to be a stranger in a welcoming place. You must learn to navigate a new space and before you can know where you belong, you have to know where you are.

Now, you may think you know where this story is going. The water/desert metaphor is just too strong and it would be easy to assume that there is an epiphany of the desert needing the water.

Cue the plot twist.

As I look out my big studio windows,  my current body of work reads:

  • episodic hourly drama series pilot/pitch complete
  • reality tv show pitch complete
  • two podcasts in development
  • national staged project fusing sciences and arts in production
  • jewelry design company
  • special projects for regional organizations that utilize my particular ‘water skillset’

This has been the most productive time of my entire career. Yes, of course, obviously, there is a lot of creativity and artistry in the foothills of these mountains- that is a given. Yet in learning about this place, I have learned so much about myself. It has redefined my work with a freedom that I did not find while swimming in the ocean with my bucket.

Huh! Plot twist revealed –  Turns out that what my study of water was missing, was the desert.

 

 

Today marks 10 years since the 2nd In Good Company Festival. The first In Good Company Festival held in 2007 celebrated the contributions of women in the arts. In 2008, In Good Company returned to celebrate the creative contributions of immigrants to the cultural landscape.

Both Festivals highlighted the past achievements and early ‘pioneering’ spirit of non-traditional creative expression. For women it was hand-work such as stitching and quilts, personal correspondence, paintings and compositions that had rarely if ever been performed for a public audience.

Present day artists, performers, musicians, writers were given forum for their work. Multiple stages throughout the community were used from large scale venues to black box theatres, intimate galleries and the region’s largest stages. Traditional dance shared the stage with contemporary and classical disciplines; a funk band paired with a world music group; classical Indian dance as well as a classical theatre movement workshops; many, many opportunities to discover the incredible talent contributing to the community’s creative conversation.

The main goal of the 4-week Festivals was to give public space to the voices that are often sidelined, but there were other important reasons for the efforts – including the payment to the performers and contributors. To pay artists for their work validates their efforts and contributes to the region’s creative economy. To that end, multiple partners stood with the Festival including Foundations, Art Councils, private sponsors and the region’s established arts organizations to ensure the contributions were compensated.

In ten years it is extraordinary to realize that the conversations from In Good Company are still part of the public conscience. Creating the capacity for these conversations to begin and in some ways blossom occurred because the invitations were extended and accepted.

Here’s to all the capacity builders who create the opportunity for dialogue – especially through the arts.

My previous post Turn Off the Gas, discusses a  negative aspect of not having appropriate, clearly defined boundaries. Not my typical upbeat topic. What I have learned in researching, exploring and writing these articles about boundaries, is that a boundary is actually quite liberating.  It can provide the framework for successful love relationships.

Maya Angelou wrote ‘Love liberates.’ The next line is equally important, ‘It doesn’t bind.’ For me, this reaffirms that within the structure of respect, a relationship finds freedom. My husband and I married as ‘late bloomers’. And, we were in a new state, new city – and for me, a new country. There was a lot to figure out, including the creation of a new identity/audience for my work. This takes time. And it takes a great partner. This is the ‘love liberates‘ recognition – my husband has remained incredibly supportive as I have worked to build opportunity and then step into it. It includes working odd hours, lots of weekends and evenings, often volunteering, as a way to get to know the community and for the community to know my work. His understanding and patience  has allowed me the space and time to figure all this out, while he has shouldered many of our personal responsibilities. Thus, the line ‘it doesn’t bind’ also fits.

And here is what is reaffirmed with each new exploration I undertake about boundaries. They are, in fact, about freedom. Boundaries aren’t about restricting or confining. Once you have established the parameters, the sky is the limit.

Relationships are like dances – the fluid motion of two people who navigate a shared space. Trying to keep in step and in harmony. Being aware of the other’s personal boundaries while protecting the one they create for themselves. It’s binding, it’s liberating, and it’s absolute bliss.

 

 

My recent posts have explored the role boundaries play in creating healthy relationships, first for and with myself, and then with the rest of my world.  These essays have looked at the ways respect lives at the root of every healthy boundary we set, to define how we are treated, what we stand for and how we treat others.  Trouble can occur when someone we work or live closely with, does not respect these clear relationship parameters.

Even after seeing the 1938 classic movie  ‘Gaslight’ starring Ingrid Bergman, I would have described ‘gaslighting’ to be a horror movie concept, not understanding it as a real, day by day, insidious psychological form of emotional and mental abuse . Over the past decade, numerous publications about gaslighting, have surfaced on wellness and health improvement websites but honestly, I still didn’t fully understand what it meant to fall prey to ‘gaslighting’. Until one afternoon over a long cup of coffee, a close friend revealed how her boyfriend had initiated months of psychological abuse.  ‘Nora’ has allowed me to share bits of her story throughout this boundary exploration. It turns out, Nora’s experience is a classic example of gaslighting.

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline , “gaslighting is an extremely effective form of emotional abuse that causes a victim to question their own feelings, instincts and sanity”.  It is strategic, intentional, and often impossible to identify when it starts, until you are well engaged in an otherwise happy relationship – which by then it’s often too late, as self-doubt has set in.

When Nora first started dating her boyfriend ‘James’,  he was attentive, fun, kind, and romantic. As is typical when relationships last longer than that first heady stage of new love, there was an explainable and seemingly healthy shift to a less intense stage. It was around eight months that in retrospect, Nora experienced the start of sporadic challenging mental and emotional incidents. James would be warm and affectionate, then suddenly cold and withdrawn. He rarely if ever complimented her anymore on her appearance or her achievements, which on its own she didn’t feel was really a big deal, but he often complimented other women when Nora was present. And if it wasn’t in words it would be very approving looks, gazes that held too long, with little winks or a charming smile. I asked her if she said anything to James. And she admitted she hadn’t. Because it made her feel petty. And overly sensitive. But it was hurtful. What Nora couldn’t fathom until much later, was that it was also intentional.

The odd behavior started to ramp up. One evening after work, they were happily on their way to meet his co-workers and their spouses for drinks.  Upon arrival at the bar, she quickly realized that she was the only significant other in attendance. Her boyfriend said jokingly, ‘Nora doesn’t let me out without her.” A funny remark until she had the feeling, that James enjoyed seeing her squirm as his co-workers laughed. When she questioned him later, he brushed it off saying it wasn’t a big deal. And it wasn’t. Until the next time when they showed up to meet a co-worker and his wife for dinner. Or so Nora was told. It was again, just James’ co-worker. When his friend said outright, ‘if I had known you were coming Nora, I would have invited Sarah’, Nora says she looked in confusion at James who again feigned ignorance remarking ‘Nora never misses a chance to eat at a restaurant.’ Nora says in the moment, trying to keep things light, she laughed too. But then responded by saying ‘Obviously, there was a misunderstanding about tonight. I have no problem with James going out.’ Which again, made her feel incredibly awkward to respond and react to a purposefully challenging situation that was not of her making. And which her boyfriend took noticeable pleasure in watching. (Plus, did he just ‘food shame’ her??!!) Now it was becoming a ‘thing’.  I asked her why she kept going? She candidly responded, “I have no idea! We weren’t going out a lot so it’s not as if this happened two or three days in a row. Between these moments, our relationship was pretty much, well, normal”.

This is the success of gaslighting. It is a long game.

The weirdness however continued to escalate. Besides mis-representing her to his co-workers, he started doing the same when they were out with their mutual friends and family. At every opportunity, he would volley between being overly critical of pretty much everything  she said or completely ignore her when she spoke. The same fun-loving man the group enjoyed being with would treat her with a kind of contempt that would be masked by mean-spirited teasing. It was around this same time that she began catching him in little lies. Usually about really inconsequential things. Nora began to realize there was a bigger issue at play.

Okay, so I agree the guy sounds like a jerk. But does that make him a ‘gaslighter’? Passive aggressive for sure. Maybe even a tad narcissistic. But capable of long term psychological warfare? Every couple bickers in public sometimes and don’t always treat each other with proper respect. We can’t always be on our best behavior. I have to confess, I still didn’t really believe this was gaslighting. Besides, what is the point of gaslighting anyway?

In reading articles for this essay, the examples given were extreme cases where the abusive partners were highly manipulative with a targeted viciousness which left the victim an emotional wreck, a mere shell of their former selves. But that is not always the dynamic. Because just as every work, family, love relationship is unique, so are the ways that this psychological undermining, manifests. What is the same in all cases, is that it is about power. One person wants control over another. This power can be to enact more abuse, or it can be to hide something – such as financial problems, legal issues or affairs.

Nora completely understood my hesitation, revealing that it took an unexpected conversation with her brother, to fully see what was happening. They were at a family event when her brother pulled her aside, questioning Nora about James’ erratic behavior. He described watching Nora defend herself against the nasty jabs by laughing it off to avoid a confrontation. Then abruptly, James shifted  his attention to everyone in the room but Nora. He noticeably withdrew, was cold and dismissive. Nora opened up to her brother about the increasingly confusing and often mean behavior, including the newly realized lying.  For the first time, Nora could discuss her concerns because her brother had witnessed it. ‘For the longest time, I thought I was over-reacting, or it was in my head. James would say I was too sensitive or he would shake his head in disgust like I was reading into things.’  Her brother simply said, ‘Nora, this isn’t how we treat people we love, and it isn’t how you deserve to be treated.’ Nora knew this was the truth.

My friend Nora is a really strong person with a history of healthy relationships. She was ready for this conversation with her brother because she realized the relationship was unhealthy.  Once Nora had made the decision to no longer accept this treatment, she became less emotionally dependent on her boyfriend. This distancing gave Nora a clearer perspective as she saw through his behavior, stood up for herself and finally left.  It was not until she was out of the relationship, that she discovered James had kept up this disturbing behavior in part, to hide a series of inappropriate relationships with other women. A charming manipulator, he formed emotional bonds with other women, many times turning physical and always leaving the woman feeling that ‘he really understood’ them. The little lies Nora had called him on in their relationship, had foreshadowed something much bigger. Classic.

And this is why I have subtitled this essay ‘Be a Nora’. Anyone of us can fall victim to gaslighting. At work and in relationships. Age, gender, race, it does not discriminate. Gaslighting is only successful, if you doubt yourself, lose your identity and become completely undermined by the perpetrator. Nora never allowed this to happen. Even when giving him the benefit of the doubt or a third and fourth chance, she never stopped listening to her own intuition. In retrospect, Nora would say she stayed in the relationship too long. But I think she is a bit hard on herself. She did not accept his bad treatment. She did not accept his insults. And eventually, she did leave.

After hearing Nora’s story and reading a lot of articles about gaslighting, I do believe this is what Nora experienced. The textbook cases are extreme examples, but this behavior can manifest in any type of relationship – work, family, love. It doesn’t have to be extreme to be damaging. Besides, love relationships, especially, should be fulfilling not undermining.  If any of this story rings true for a relationship you are in then do some reading, talk to friends, and ultimately if you aren’t treated well, then Be A Nora, and leave.

And one last important note: This essay is for my own personal discoveries about boundaries. I am not a mental health expert, nor is this article intended to offer advice or mental health related treatment suggestions. The National Domestic Violence Hotline provided excellent information for this piece. This 24/7 support network can be reached at http://www.thehotline.org/