What are you thankful for?

A photo of a chocolate lab puppy

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on November 28th, 2019.

Me? Family, good friends, dogs, meaningful work, good food (especially cinnamon buns!), AND a belief in a higher power. This year my gratitude runs extra deep. Let me tell you a Thanksgiving story.

Almost exactly 14 years ago we decided to get our first dog. Our kids were nine and six at the time, and my husband and I thought that that would be a great age. We surprised them by taking them for a drive, saying we were going to a friend’s house, when really we were going to visit a breeder. I will never forget showing up at this house in New Jersey, going downstairs to a room full of puppies, and seeing the expression on my kids’ faces when they figured out what was happening. It was the look of pure joy. We named our new dog Sunnie, and we picked her up for good a few weeks later. For thirteen and a half years she was the love of our lives. Truly, Sunnie was the best part of every day.

Earlier this year we found out that she had cancer. It was so bad that there was nothing we could do, and in hearing that our hearts were broken. We got the news just before our son’s graduation, and we prayed that she would be okay until he could return home. She was. Amongst all the sadness we remembered that Sunnie was almost fourteen, which is a wonderfully long life for a dog, especially for a lab. We also remembered that she not only lived through our daughter’s graduation from high school, but her gap year before college as well. I can’t imagine how hard it would have been if Sunnie had lived a little longer and Allie would have had to say goodbye to a sick dog, her sick dog, and head off for university where it was supposed to be exciting and joyful.

At the end we were all by her side. The cancer had taken over her body and her stomach had become distended with fluid. Although we had drained it once, the process was so hard. We had to take her to the vet, and throughout the whole process she looked at us as if to say, enough. Let me go. But we couldn’t. She was ready, but we were not. A few days later her stomach had refilled, and so we made a plan. On her last day we spent every second at her side. Allie made her a peanut butter cake, which despite her sickness she ate. She was, after all, a lab. When the vet showed up we picked a spot in our front yard and we surrounded her, petting her, blanketing her with our tears, and softly whispered we love you as she drifted off. Brutal cannot describe it. No words can describe it. No words can describe the heartache of loss or grief. But there is gratitude.

If you have read a prior post, you will know that I have a thing for the numbers 1111. I already wrote that story, but for me, when I see them show up, which is often, they are a reminder to give thanks and have faith that things will work out. To know that the love we have for others who have passed, and the love they had for us, is a force that transcends space and time. There were a lot of 1111s that showed up around Sunnie’s death, and they reminded me that despite the grief, one day we would be together again. Pain and peace, for me, were holding hands.

It was a few months later that talk of a new puppy started to occur. My husband wanted one, and the idea was to get a chocolate lab and name her Sadie after my grandmother who died a few years ago at the age of 97. It was my grandma, the original Sadie, who was particularly connected to my feelings around 1111. The validation came one day a couple of months ago in New York City when we were dropping my daughter off for school. Greg and I decided to go for a run, separately, and meet up at a Hungarian pastry shop for coffee post workout. It was 10:00 am, and we were going to meet at 11:00 am. It turned out that the pastry shop was located at 111th street and Broadway. As we were standing there, I noticed that we were standing at 111th street at 11am, and Greg said that it would be funny if a chocolate lab named Sadie showed up. Not more than a minute later a man walked by with a chocolate lab. Stunned, I stopped him and asked if her name was Sadie. It was not. It was almost a sign. And then, and I swear to you on a stack of Bibles that this is true, not a minute later another man walked by with two dogs on a leash and said, “Come on Sadie.” The time was 11:11am. Needless to say, we were destined to get a chocolate lab puppy named Sadie.

We left the idea hanging for the next couple of months, but then Greg started looking. “What if we could find a puppy in time for Thanksgiving? The kids would both be home, they would have time to bond with her through the holiday season. What if?” I was not really ready, but he was, and a heartbeat later he had found a litter that would be ready at the perfect time. We drove south for about an hour, and sure enough, there was a beautiful lab who had given birth to 11 puppies, all chocolate. Greg was insistent on a girl, of which there were two. Both were beautiful, and so we picked one. We immediately called her Sadie, and to our surprise, the breeder said, “That’s interesting. Two of her ancestors are named Sadie, Sadie the Duck Hunter, and Sadie the Shady Lady.” We put down a deposit on the spot.

Wait, there is more. We were due to pick her up last Wednesday, because I had a quick trip to see a friend and was returning on Tuesday night. However, Greg called on Monday to say that he was going early, as there was going to be a big snowstorm. I was sad to not be there, but I understood. That night I was out with my friend in New Orleans on Frenchman Street, and sitting there, in front of a shuttered up store front, was a man named Joe, with his typewriter, doing live poetry. The sign said “Live Poetry. Tell me a story. I’ll write a poem. If you like the poem pay what you want.” I told him my story. About Sunnie being the light of our life and dying. About getting a new puppy and naming her Sadie after my grandmother who was my angel. About I felt mixed about it as I was still grieving Sunnie so much. And I told him the 1111 thing at the nudging of my friend. Really that was about it. We left him for about 20 minutes and this is what he typed.

my sunny day sinks winked below horizon. turned glowed in its last gift to sets its farewell to the daffodils it cast before my mornings. i had lost my star again.

dark where flashing clocks alliterate the night’s fall – 11:11 like four straight branches of a family grand. and the tree’s so great it stretches past all notion of who passes on and who still lasts for now.

sure as roux turns blonde to chocolate, the shade has re-birthed light again pawing up to greet us, still brown from the ground, and wagging

the love baton’d on down and laps up past and future gone and here, only names and numbers what’s under them and beats in us lives on.

for jacki 11-17-19 (note for 1111s in that) frenchman st jh

So what I am thankful for this year in particular? For having almost 14 years with the most perfect dog a family could ever ask for. For our new chocolate lab puppy, Sadie, to pour our homeless love in to. For my family, together, today. All four of us of a family grand. For a home to nest in and good food to eat. For my two stars in the night sky, grandma Sadie and Sunnie, who will continue to remind me with every 1111 I see that there is a mystical force in the universe, and to trust that indeed everything will be okay. For Joe, a poet on Frenchman Street, for writing a poem that will be framed with the paw prints of Sunnie and Sadie, and will forever capture this special time as a family.

Wishing you all a very blessed Thanksgiving and a joyous holiday season.

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** As a footnote that connects my prior post on my grandmother to this one. The night before we said goodbye to Sunnie I went to sleep with her at my bedside, praying for my grandmother to watch over her as she leaves this world. It gave me peace as I feel asleep. I woke at 1:11am.

Are You A Dangerous Woman?

Photo of Pat Mitchell reading to an audience at a book launch party.
JZ’s photo from a book party in Park City, Utah at the Susan Swartz Gallery

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on November 25th, 2019.

I just finished reading Becoming a Dangerous Woman, and let me tell you, it left me a little fired up. With a title like that, how could it not? The book is the autobiography of Pat Mitchell, a woman who has become a cherished friend, mentor, colleague, and confidante to me over the years. She is not only one of the great trailblazers in media over the past several decades, but she is also one of the most authentic, steadfast champions for women and underrepresented people that I have ever had the honor of knowing. Simply put, Pat is the real deal.

Despite this, I know that this book was not easy for her to write, and it took many, many years for it to come to fruition. Ironically, Pat is known for helping so many other people tell their stories, and yet it was not until the age of 76 that HER incredible life story is finally out in the world. As she tells it, “my life began in an unlikely place; on my grandparents’ small cotton farm with no electricity or indoor toilets.” In the book she talks about growing up in the south, and goes on to chart her incredible personal and professional journey that has covered many decades. It is an extraordinary story, so let me give you some highlights.

Pat began her career in media as a news reporter and news anchor, and went on to shatter one glass ceiling after another over the course of several decades. She became the first woman to host and produce a nationally syndicated day time talk show in the 1980s called Woman to Woman. In 1993, she became the first female president of Turner Original Productions and CNN Productions after having been recruited by Ted Turner himself. The story of their first encounter is well documented in her book in the chapter entitled “Taking My Shot”, and it was the chapter she read aloud to a group in Park City at one of her launch parties. She went on to become the first female president and CEO of both PBS and the Paley Center for Media, and in 2010, she helped co-found TedWomen and remains a curator to this day. In just two weeks, Pat will be giving her first TED Talk after years and years of coaching countless people to do theirs. Along the way, Pat has been recognized with 37 Emmy Awards, 5 Peabody Awards, and two Academy Award nominations. She has been named one of the most powerful women in Hollywood by the Hollywood Reporter, and in 2009, she was inducted into the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame.

And then there is the non-profit work that she has done and continues to do. She currently serves as the Chair of the Women’s Media Center, an organization dedicated to advancing women’s representation in the media, and in 2012, she was awarded their Lifetime Achievement Award. However, her commitment to positive social change extends beyond media, as she is actively involved in numerous nonprofit organizations and foundations throughout the world, including the VDay movement to end violence against women and the Acumen organization, which is dedicated to ending poverty. Close to my heart is her work with the Sundance Institute, where I am honored to also serve as a Trustee. Not only is Pat Chair of the Board, but she is also out in the world, championing for the support of independent artists, with a particular focus on marginalized groups who are so often underrepresented.

The above is truly an incredible list of accomplishments, but what is special about Pat is her character. Not the what, but the how. I’m reminded of David Brookes book, The Road to Character, where he talks about resume virtues versus eulogy virtues. The latter, of course, being the ones that truly matter. Ones like kindness, generosity, bravery, all of which Pat has in spades. This is evident in how she wrote her book. It couldn’t just be her story. No, instead she has punctuated it with brief interviews of other dangerous women, including Christiane Amanpour, Ava DuVernay, Ruth Ann Harnisch, Zoya, and many more. Similar to the ridiculously fabulous Gloria Steinem, Pat’s story has to ALSO be about other women’s stories. In the chapter describing Pat’s tenure as the host of Woman to Woman, she talked about ending every program with the mantra, “Woman to woman, that’s how we learned, that’s how we change, that’s how we support each other.” Heck yes!

So why the title, Becoming a Dangerous Woman? For her it means that “at whatever age or place in life’s journey, to embrace risks and engage with renewed passion and collective purpose in the truly dangerous work of making the world a safer place for women and girls. …For me, it doesn’t mean being feared but being fearless; it does mean speaking the truth when silence is safer; showing up for one another even within the patriarchal construct that encourages us to compete and compare; and it does mean speaking out about the politics and policies that diverted us and diminish our individual and collective power. It also means optimizing that power to be effective in allying with those who don’t have access to opportunity, influence, or privilege. It also means, for me, sharing our stories as women have done for generations to survive, thrive, and move forward.” Again, heck yes!

This is a book for anyone and everyone, but it is especially applicable for women navigating the separate, yet inseparable spaces of career, home, and community service. For Pat, it was not always easy, nor it is for most women, and she openly shares how her choices for prioritizing one over the other came with consequences. At the end of day, we all must own our choices, while also understanding that those choices are informed by things that happen to us along the way, but over which we have no control. Pat, like so many other children, suffered the pain of incest, and her choice to share this story was made to “help raise awareness of the vast number of women carrying the lasting wounds and pain of it.” Brave? Heck yes! Hmm… maybe the title of this article should have been, Heck yes!

Pat is clearly an extraordinary individual, and I’m thrilled that even more people will now know about her and celebrate her accomplishments with the release of this book. More importantly, I hope it inspires others, and in particular women, at all stages of their lives to be dangerous women themselves.

Shop the Dangerous Woman Collection

You can pick up your own copy of the book HERE. Farasha Style and Zenzee have partnered together to create the Dangerous Woman Collection. Products are created by women-led, sustainably minded companies, and all proceeds go towards the organizations mentioned in the book. This is truly shopping with a purpose in time for the holiday season. My favorite pieces are the dangerous women red scarves and the sustainable bamboo straw/utensil kits. To shop, please click HERE.

What If

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As published on LinkedIn Influencers on November 7th, 2019.

I don’t remember who first told me about the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling, but it was when I was in high school, some 40 odd years ago. Soon after I typed it out on my typewriter, I folded it neatly and carried it around in my wallet. Every home I have lived in, every office I have worked in, I have had this poem somewhere on the bulletin board. It remains my go to poem to this day. It is who I aspire to be in this world.

Why am I posting this today? Because over the past few weeks I have been re-entering the world post my gap year of sorts. It feels like a new beginning. A new chapter. And front and center is not only WHAT I will be doing, but HOW I will be doing it. The below is a great framework for the how.

Calm. Kind. Confident. Patient. Honest. Humble. Grateful. Thoughtful. Risk-taking. Reflective. Resilient. Generous. Inclusive.

Enjoy.

If – By Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

 But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

 Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with triumph and disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

 And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with kings—nor lose the common touch;

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run—

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And—which is more—you’ll be a Man (Woman/Person) , my son (Daughter/Child)*!

* My Additions

If you have a favorite poem please share. Have a great day.