I vote for life imitating art.
You know that chicken-and-egg question we’ve asked ourselves throughout time—does art imitate life or life imitate art? I choose art.
I know it’s not a forced choice and that technically we don’t need to vote…but I’m here to take a stand for art.
So often in the sixteen years I’ve been in this business of SheChanges, I have heard people refer to me as a storyteller. I’ve often marveled at that because it’s not something I ever set out to be. And when I think of the word storyteller, I imagine someone entirely different. While I have received this from others as a compliment and have, at times, donned that mantle, it’s never felt like mine.
But I was on a long walk with my dog Max the other day and this other word came to me: vignette.
I stopped right there in my tracks and looked up the definition on my phone to see if what I had in my head was a clear match to the FUCK YES I was feeling in my bones.
Vignette | vin’yet |(n)
- a brief evocative description, account or episode.
- a small illustration which fades in its background without a definite border.
- a short piece of writing that is more focused on vivid imagery and meaning, rather than plot.
I learned that while vignettes can be stand-alone, they are more commonly part of a larger narrative.
That’s it. That’s what I do. And from where I sit? That’s also what women do.
Think about it. Women often don’t have time, permission or space to tell a whole story so we’ve adapted over time to communicate in vignettes. Look at the dearth of women writers, producers, and directors in the publishing, film, and music industries and you will see how infrequently we get access to the luxury of telling the whole story from our perspective. Look at the entirety of the narrative that has been written and codified for our world, and you can see exactly how HIStory has shaped ours—from our places of worship, to our places of learning and working.
As bitter a pill as it is to swallow for many, the reality is that women (as well as BIPOC, LGBTQ and all those relegated to the margins of our predominantly white male culture) have been reduced to speaking in sound bites. We have had our voices, perspectives, and experiences relegated to the sub-plot, the supporting characters, loosely referenced or vaguely represented in footnotes.
But here’s the thing: we’re fucking good at talking in sound bites. We’ve had practice in getting a word in edge-wise. And we’re efficient as hell. Who needs the long drone of a meandering story when you can get a quick and pithy picture that you can pop into the pocket of your consciousness?
That’s where the power of art comes in. That’s why it will get my vote every time.
Side note: it’s also why programs in the arts are the first to get cut in budget season, when money is tight or there is a time crunch at play. Power and truth (not to mention heart) live in art. What would happen to our world if that became central to our conversations?
Enter, stage left, the vignette. It’s a powerful, potent and pocket-sized little gem that can travel faster than a tomb. Let me ask you this: would you rather travel through life with a handful of precious gems or a suitcase full of encyclopedias? Exactly.
I’ve often described the people in my life as “grab and go” people. They come screeching in from their travels on two wheels with leaves in their hair or bugs in their teeth, big smiles on their face and a sparkle in their eye. They start their sentences with “So anyway….” as if no time has passed. I am that person, myself, so I get those people. I share their love of movement, their insatiable appetites, limitless curiosity, wild spirit of adventure, appreciation for the road, and openness to giving just about anything a try.
So much so, I’ve come to see my work at SheChanges as being a “pit crew” for these people. I offer a way station off the main drag. I meet them at their window as they pull in, often screeching to a halt, with tires smoking. I hold their gaze and offer them a focal point as they gas up, check the tire pressure and scrape bugs off their windshield. My presence offers them a moment of rest, a patch of solid ground, solidarity and brave companionship on their way from here to there. And when the opportunity presents itself, I offer them inspiration, insight or food for thought in the form of vignettes.
This is what I hear on most days when I crouch down at a window in my pit and hold a gaze: “What have you got on __________, Lael?”
These people, intuitively at first, sense that I’ll generally have something of value for them. They can see the glittering gems falling out of my pockets when I make my way to their window, holding their gaze. But what’s more, ours is a powerful relationship built on trust, safety and resourcefulness—and it grows and gets stronger with each visit. They do not give me their power or ask for my own—they meet me at a place where our collective power connects.Maybe you know this if you’ve worked with me. But I imagine many of you don’t because I work with a select group of people 1:1. You might never have had the experience of me coming up to your window, crouching down with hands on my knees, my face suddenly appearing in yours as I hold your gaze in my way station.
Perhaps you’ve gotten a taste of it from me on stage when I speak. Or maybe you’ve read one or two of my books and have felt that connection with me because my writing feels like a conversation with you.
But what might be possible for our world if more of us had access to a powerful pit crew—in the dark of the night, in heavy fog, or raging winds? That’s what I want to find out.
So here’s my great experiment that I’m inviting you to take with me: join me as I work the pit.
I’m going to more fully leverage my abilities to distill large amounts of information, weave compelling and relevant vignettes, and hold a steady gaze for weary road warriors—for a wider audience. I want to give you a taste of the intimacy of a conversation that happens at those windows off the roadways, but without the need to work with me 1:1.
A couple times a month, I’ll be letting you into my heart and my head as I share the gems I’ve gathered recently. I’ll always be honoring the confidentiality of my clients and what we discuss—that’s sacred. But I’ll be offering vignettes to illustrate what I’m observing, themes I’m seeing, things we’re experiencing, and places we’re playing. I’ll share resources I’m using personally and professionally, and will be sharing those I’ve been given by others.
I plan to sync up these connections with you to the moon, herself, harnessing the power of her lunar energy to pull us all forward, together. One email will arrive in your inbox around the new moon and another at the full moon. If you want to receive them, all you need to do is enter your email on the homepage of my website. I’ll be doing these for FREE through the fall as I experiment (and rehaul/relaunch a completely new website!!!), but will eventually be migrating these intimate communications with my audience to a subscription-based model. And I will doing all of this OFF social media.
So here’s a warm welcome to join me in my experiment. Let’s see where it takes us.
Because this I know: we are stronger together.
You know what else I know?
We’re all connected—we cannot do this alone.
We need each other.
I will see you at your window this coming full moon. Forward this to your people in your travels and maybe I will meet them as well. Or not.
But here’s an invitation to join me in the pit with my vignettes and gems.