How can we make social media more realistic and less aspirational?

Social media. Yikes.

I’ve stayed away most of the summer. Mostly because I was just busy with work, but honestly…I struggle SO MUCH with social media. Especially in my social media presence as an author. I want to create something of beauty where people can go to feel magical and safe. But I also feel pressure to make everything look perfect in a way that’s just not realistic.

This picture, for instance. I have many photos I’ve taken for my website that I absolutely adore, that feel like they embody who I am on the inside. But guess what? I don’t wander around in the woods wearing an outfit like this. HA! No, I usually go out there after my workout, in sweatpants and Wellie boots. There’s absolutely nothing feminine, beautiful, or mystical about me in those moments, at least not on the outside.


The honest truth is that I get SO frustrated with social media today. It seems to be inundated with sexy photos of girls in their twenties pouring tea with their hair cascading down their shoulder and into their décolletage, or wandering barefoot and braless in the woods, or twisting their spandex-clad legs into yogic knots on the top of a boulder. Where the fuck are we, Toto?

I have actually had to unfollow people because I couldn't handle some of it. Outdoor soaks in bathtubs filled with rose petals? Sensual nude selfies in the greenhouse? Foraging for berries in a miniskirt and thigh-high boots? Come-fucking-on.

I don't actually have any objections to these things on principle. It's just that this is not all of real life. This isn't even 20% of real life. (And if you tell me you regularly bathe outdoors under the full moon, forage barefoot for your own food, and are quite commonly naked when watering plants in your greenhouse, I might punch you. I'm sorry in advance, but seriously. I can't handle it.)

I don't expect to see pictures of meltdowns, tantrums, broken hearts, disappointments, the earwig crawling up your wall, a broken pipe, your cellulite-y thighs, or your arm coated in the chocolate cake you just binge-ate. I suppose that doesn't make for particularly compelling social media posts.

But can we just talk about these things? Please? And can we post the occasional imperfect picture that maybe shows just a peek of real life?

And really…is everyone on Instagram twenty fucking years old? Where are the bold women in their 40's, the brazen hussies of 50, the scandalous seductresses in their sixties, and beyond? Where are they posting? Thank goddess for Catherine Just and Kris Oster and Lyn Thurman and Valerie Geary and Liz Gilbert and Anne Lamott for daring to take up real estate in this youth-obsessed culture.

I try, in my own ways, as well. I struggle with my author accounts on Instagram and Facebook. I don't really like to get personal on social media. In a memoir? Sure, I'm all about that. What's the difference? Hell, I have no idea. One feels more controlled, I suppose, more contained. Who knows what happens to your words and images on social media.

So I try to walk that line of what to share, tending to stick a little too closely to talking about my projects. I try to post occasionally about what I'm doing, but that voice inevitably crops into my head: Why the hell am I sharing this? What possible reason could I have for telling a bunch of people I don't know that I'm baking bread on a Sunday afternoon? Yes, I want to share my feelings of warmth and comfort with others, but again, on social media, it too often leaves me feeling empty and even sometimes manipulative.

The truth is, no matter what my Instagram feed looks like, I'm just an ordinary person with a job and a side hustle and an unbelievably messy, disorganized house, a crazy family, and an endless ability to annoy people with my quirks, flaws, and habits. Sure, I wish I was beautiful and sexy and that I radiated an unshakable inner calm 24/7. I wish I spent my days puttering around in a field filled with mullein, untangling my long skirts from the grasp of bittersweet nightshade. I wish I picked mushrooms with an owl perched on my shoulders and a fox at my heels. I even wish that I took baths under the moonlight and snapped nude photos of myself in the greenhouse.

But really, I’m just a woman with a messy ponytail running from one modern-day obligation to the next, like most of us do. It ain't pretty, it ain't sexy, it's not even that interesting. I suppose it wouldn't do much for social media, right?

In my attempt to find a way for myself in social media, I created another Instagram feed called The Owler's Notebook. I use it to share photos and stories from my owling adventures. It's very specific, which helps me feel like I know exactly what to post there, and I don't have to second-guess my motives because I'm there for the owls. I'm there to share their story, more than my own. That, I can handle.

I do want to present curated content at The Owler's Notebook - of course I do. I'm inviting people into the forest, and it must look the part. But I feel that I'm able to find the balance between reality and Instagram-fantasy-land very easily.

I hope to see more of this in social media - accounts that tell a story as realistically as possible. And more of people who are more honest about their struggles - if not in the pictures, than at least in the captions. (But I swear to god, don't let me catch you posting about what a rough day you had because your body dysmorphia reared up, beneath a close-up shot of a pendant hanging between your naked breasts. I'll have to punch you again.)

I don't know what the answer is, and I don't want to be a judgmental bitch about it, either. Okay, okay, post whatever you want. #liveandletlive But I think we're moving pretty quickly in the wrong direction. Everything has to be on-brand. Good lighting. Sexy, pouty selfies. Poetic, provocative hashtags.

#Fuckallofthat. #Cantwejustbereal?

Meet Ruth, of the childless ones


This is Ruth.

Unlike my grand-aunt Aida, Ruth and I crossed paths in this life. Despite the fact that she was one generation higher than Aida, she lived a very long life. I met her a few years before her death, in the late seventies. Sadly, I was so young, I do not remember her. But I share her name (Ruth is one of my middle names) and have always felt a deep connection to her.

Ruth was the daughter of Norwegian immigrants who settled in Minnesota in the late 1800's. She was the middle of three children, with a brother above her and a sister below. Like me, she was the quiet, introverted sister, and like me, she worshipped her gregarious, outgoing, vivacious little sister.

My great-grandmother Ruth's little sister married and gave birth to my grandfather by the time she was 20 years old. Ruth was still single at this point, watching both her siblings build families, waiting, no doubt, to build her own. For me, in the 21st century, watching my younger siblings reach major life goals ahead of me wasn't so bad - it's not something that's considered unusual anymore. But back then, in the early 20th century, I can only imagine how much she must have stood out, single and childless, long after her siblings had created their own families.

Ruth fell deeply in love in her late twenties and "finally" married at the age of 27 - spinsterhood in 1919. From the stories I heard, she adored her husband - and he adored her right back. All the family spoke of their relationship and what a deep companionship the two forged.

  Ruth & her husband

Ruth & her husband

Unfortunately, Ruth still found herself childless well into her marriage. Motherhood did not seem to be within her reach…until one day, she found out she was pregnant, and as the story goes, she was overjoyed to finally have the chance to become a mother.

What came next is heartbreaking: Ruth's baby was born still. It was a little girl who never took a breath outside the womb.  

While I remember hearing many stories about Ruth, I heard very little about this horrifying experience - how it happened, why it happened, what happened after. I don't know anything about it except the baby's name: Dorothy. I can only imagine that Ruth and her husband were devastated by the experience.

She never had another child. Were they plagued with infertility? Did they stop trying?

I don't know the answer to these questions, but I have been told that their marriage was strengthened by this tragedy, which isn't always the case. Ruth and her husband stuck together through thick and thin.


My grandfather loved his aunt dearly. His father was not much a part of his life, and as such, Ruth became like a second parent to him, taking care of him when her sister was busy. She might not have had her own children, but she loved the children in her life as much as any mother would.

  Ruth & her nephew (my grandfather)

Ruth & her nephew (my grandfather)

Ruth's husband died after a good, long life, leaving her on her own. One of the things I admire so much about my great-grand-aunt is that she persevered for many, many years, all by herself, after his death. She lived alone in Minneapolis and took care of herself, keeping in touch with all her nieces and nephews and their offspring, like a loving mother hen. She outlived both her brother and her sister, and became a surrogate mother, of sorts, to all their descendants.

She was an amazing, brave woman with a heart of gold, and I'm so proud to be her great-grand-niece. As with Aida, it's so important to me to keep her memory alive. As a descendant three generations below her, and as the only one in my family to have met her, I realize I might be the last one to tell her story.

Her bravery inspires me every time I think of her. She was so willing to surrender to the life that was given to her, even though it bucked tradition and didn't give her what she had hoped for. She still put one foot in front of the other each and every day and freely gifted others with her motherly love.

If I find that I share her destiny - to be childless - I hope that I can be as generous and brave as she was.

Meet Aida, of the childless ones


This is Aida.

I discovered her in my 20’s when I was working on my family tree. She was my grandfather’s sister. I had heard a little about her during my childhood. She had died young, in her early twenties, and by the time I was that age, and found myself looking at a photograph of her, I couldn’t stop thinking about her legacy.

She had never married or had children. Who, I wondered, would remember her? Who would keep her memory alive?

Even at that young age, I remember fearing such a fate. If you are a woman who doesn’t have children, who will remember you? Who are you and what does your life mean if you leave no descendants, or if your descendants leave this earth before you do?

And twenty years later, I find myself facing those very same questions all over again, as a woman who did not have children (by circumstance, not by choice).


Even in my youth, I recognized how important it is to remember the women who came before us. But now I realize why. Our ancestors, mothers or not, leave an impact on their family members – cousins, sisters, nieces. Aida might not have had her own children, and might have died long before I ever had the chance to know her, but as my grand-aunt, she is still part of my DNA. And it’s important to me to remember her and share her story.

Like me, she was the eldest of four children (though unlike her, I have two older half-siblings, as well). Also similar to my family, the older two children were girls, the younger two, boys. Aida, my grandfather, and their siblings were born in Copenhagen, Denmark. They spoke Danish and English, and a smattering of French and Latin. All four of the siblings were fierce kayakers. They loved to be in the water. They came from a long line of Scandinavian intellects, philosophers, and craftsmen.

  Aida at St. Joseph's Hospital, Copenhagen, Denmark: 1920

Aida at St. Joseph's Hospital, Copenhagen, Denmark: 1920

That is, I’m sorry to say, most of what I know of Aida. My grandfather didn’t share much about his family when I was little – and I was probably too young to have appreciated (or retained) what he did tell me. Any other information I have beyond this is based only on my intuition. I have a feeling Aida was a bit of a loner – perhaps her health problems set her apart from others. I believe she loved her siblings, and most especially, her sister, but that she never felt like she truly belonged. And most of all, I believe she loved life, and didn’t want to leave it so soon. I suspect it pained her, in the end, to face leaving her family, knowing they would go on to live full lives while she would never realize her dreams.

Aida was the only one in the family who never left Denmark. She was buried there. Soon after her death, the entire family – Grandpa, his remaining siblings, and his parents – gave up their lives in Denmark and immigrated to New York. None of them, to my knowledge, ever returned to their homeland.

  Aida's grave: 1922

Aida's grave: 1922

What happened to Aida seems so brutally unfair - to die so young, without the chance to experience love, motherhood, life. I have an especially deep compassion for women who have lost the chance at motherhood – in any way that might have happened. For some, it might be the death of their child. For others, infertility or other circumstances. And for some, like Aida, it might be their own early death.

It’s so important to tell the stories of the unheard women. We don’t have the voices of our daughters to echo our story to the world. But these stories need to be told. We need to be remembered, too.

To that end, I dedicated The Fox at the Door to two of my "great-aunts": Grand-aunt Aida, and Great-grand-aunt, Ruth. I will be the daughter they did not have, making sure their legacy lives on. I will share their story, and even join hands with them, as a fellow childless woman.

Now it’s your turn. Please leave a comment sharing the story of a childless relative (or friend) that you want the world to remember.

The thin line between seduction and destruction

Most people put plants into a category of inanimate objects. If they don’t move, they aren’t seen as “alive.” Plants, however, are very much alive, very active and even, you might say (I certainly do), very conscious.


  Copyright: Yancy Lael 2017

Copyright: Yancy Lael 2017

What seem like random characteristics and qualities are actually very deliberate designs of survival. The smell and colors of flowers make them attractive to bees, thus ensuring their propagation. The way a plant leans and the way the bark of a tree twists indicates its attempt to move toward light and water. Poisonous plants developed toxins as a defense mechanism to keep browsers from killing them.


Strategy and Survival


The poisonous plants are the most fascinating to me. It’s amazing to think of the strategy involved in the evolution of those plants. Some plants are very direct, scaring off threats with things like thorns and brambles. But others take it to the next level – toxicity and even death.


Most animals can detect these toxins and as such, the mechanism works perfectly, keeping the plant in question safe. But humans aren’t equipped with this sophisticated sensate awareness that most other animals have. Humans are often fooled by appearances, mistaking hemlock for parsley, or narcissus bulbs for garlic.


What we don’t know can hurt us. Our lack of understanding of the wild green world makes our relationship just a little bit dangerous. (And maybe a little bit thrilling.)


The Seduction of the Plant World


Add to that the seduction of the plant world – bulbs that burst from below the dry earth reaching with an endless hunger toward the warmth of the sun, the pure satin of flower petals against the skin, the riot of color that flowers display every spring, the intoxication of a plant's perfume, the taste of nectar on the tongue… Humans are much like bees, drawn to the plant world, flowers in particular, yearning to run our fingers along those pollen-encrusted stamens.


Isn’t it interesting, then, that so many toxic plants are flowering plants? The elegant trumpet of Datura. The sleek, exotic purple flowers that mature into the shiny blue-black berries of deadly nightshade. The exquisite milky white petals of frangipani and the voluptuous bell-shaped foxglove.


How utterly fascinating (yet not at all surprising) that we should be so drawn to that which could hurt or even destroy us. It’s that “pretty poison.” It’s that oh-so-thin line we walk between sex (life) and death.


It’s nothing new in the archetypal journey of the human soul. And it’s not even necessarily bad.


The Tension of Opposites


We are always living in the tension of opposites. Creation and ecstasy might always involve just a little bit of risk, a little bit of danger. Maybe even a little bit of destruction.


I don’t think our culture tends to think of it like that. We tend to blame the plant. The seductress. The poison. We don’t blame the one who was seduced. The seducer manipulated them into risk, into danger. There’s only one side to that story.


But I believe there’s another side. I believe the pretty poison got the short end of the stick. Really…what about the seduced? What’s their story? And does their story make the pretty poison’s story look any different?


Remember, the development of poison is a defensive tactic, created by an organism to protect itself from danger. The one seduced by that poison is the very thing the organism is defending itself against. The one seduced is the danger.


So which story is true? Who is the hero and who is the victim?

Pretty Poison

There is a popular myth that female murderers choose poison as their weapon of choice. Why? My theory is because it’s quiet. Clean. Introspective. It doesn’t require brawn (which many women biologically do not possess in the same quantity as their male counterparts). It requires creativity and a little bit of wile.

There’s a seductiveness to poison, as well. Think DC Comics’ Poison Ivy with the lethal, but irresistible lips. Or the gleaming, succulent red apple offered to Snow White from the jealous queen. Or sexy Gillian Owens mixing belladonna into her violent boyfriend's liquor each night so they can have all the passion she wants without the angry bruises inspired by his temper. Or the stunningly vengeful Ingrid Magnussen of Janet Fitch's evocative novel, White Oleander.

In the old days, poison was often the only way a woman could maintain any sovereignty over her life. Women knew their way around the dark magic of the forest because they had to. They might need a slightly toxic plant to abort a pregnancy that threatened their survival (financial, familial, or literal). Or even to sicken – or permanently silence – the man of the house if his will bruised and battered her body, or the bodies of her children.

In medieval times, women would conspicuously hide powdered poisons in rings or necklaces with hidden compartments. As the keepers of the kitchens, this would give them easy access to whatever went into their husbands’ mouths, and one with one little shake and one little stir, they would have the chance to protect themselves from further violence. And for some, maybe even feel the satisfaction of revenge. (Maybe you're picturing Lady Gaga poisoning Alexander Skarsgard in the Paparazzi video right now…?)

  Copyright: Yancy Lael 2015

Copyright: Yancy Lael 2015

It’s no surprise then, that as time has gone by, our culture has learned to identify certain kinds of women as “pretty poison.” Beautiful. Seductive. But bound to destroy the man they give their attention to. They pull a man in with their raw sexuality, but underneath those batting eyelids, those undulating hips, lies a vengeful wildcat. And you never know when she’s going to strike.

That’s the story, at least.

But who is to blame for the powdered poison whisked so stealthily into the violent husband’s beer? The versare alla traditora? Who seduces whom? What’s really underneath that pretty poison?

It’s easy to point the finger. It’s easy for women to say it’s the fault of men because they lead with aggression and possession. It’s easy for men to say it’s the fault of women because we deceived and entrance – the seduction of Eve, bringing Adam to his knees.

The truth is, there is so much more to this archetype than meets the eye. Pretty poison reflects the imbalance of power between genders and the dark pathways that a woman might follow in order to get her power back. There is so much more to her than the façade she puts on, or even the supposed wildcat that lurks within. There is even so much more to the man who is raised in a society that teaches him not to partner, but to dominate, not to hold space, but to take it.

Pretty poison is one of my favorite archetypes to explore in my writing. (Have you met Mary Raedwolfe yet?) I want to examine it, peel back its layers, look deep down inside. I am, I admit, seduced, and I don’t mind getting a little Datura or wolf's bane on my hands. I’m not afraid.

One day, we will have to acknowledge that true seduction is a dance between two people – not a manipulation of one party by another. We will have to take responsibility for what intoxicates us and what intoxicants we willingly choose to imbibe. And we will have to learn how to remain in our full power, swelling with, but mindfully containing, all the passion and destruction inherent in the soul of a human being.


The Rapture of Autumn

My favorite thing about nature is how achingly romantic it is. There are times of year, like October, when that romance is so heightened, it thrills me. I love the way the wind becomes enraptured with the trees, unable to keep itself from touching and tickling and disheveling every last leaf. I love the way the thick clouds on a stormy day gently embrace the moon, letting just enough gauzy light through that the whole sky looks like silk. I love the way the leaves blush, and the flowers of summer begin to bend longingly toward the earth. 

The spirits watch, almost jealously, and try to make contact, missing the exquisite beauty of this time of year. And we see, hear, and feel them, hovering as closely as they are. We might feel a little haunted, a little sad, a little incomplete...but rapturously so, like that quiet moment on a second or third date when you both know you're about to kiss. 

I desire everything at this time of year. Dark, salted chocolate filled with caramel. Sitting by the fire under a fuzzy blanket. A kiss at the very base of my neck that always makes me shiver down to my toes. 

I have been known to literally exhaust myself with feelings of longing. If I were an actress in the silent film era, you'd see me belly-crawling across the floor in a ripped white dress, reaching out, my eyes almost desperate. I wouldn't need words. 

The truth is, I love this feeling. I love the way desire fires up my creativity. And seeing nature mirror this hunger within me gets me from 0 to 60 miles per hour in about 2 seconds. 
I am learning to make a space for it, to honor it, rather than ride the high and let it eventually burn me out. I still use it to fuel my creative projects, but I pull back just a little bit, reminding myself several times a day that this energy can be directed in a way that it keeps building, instead of flaming out. 

I use desire as a reminder that I deserve to be caressed by the wind just like the leaves do. I deserve the support and embrace of the universe, the same way the moon deserves the support and embrace of the clouds. And I give myself permission to bend longingly toward what I want, the way the flowers of summer bend toward the earth. 

I take a chance and contact someone I haven't talked to in a long time. I clear one of the nightstands by my bed to create space for the man who might like to stack his books there. I cuddle up in my chair, under my blanket, with hot tea and my knitting. I volunteer to do a project I've been thinking about for months. I bend toward it all. 

There is no better time than this to act on our desire. The whole world is drunk with longing at this time of year (even in the Southern Hemisphere, where their world is just waking up with perfumed blossoms). Everything is reaching out, yearning to connect. 

Let yourself bend toward it, with total abandon. 


She Deserves What She Gets

Before I begin here, let me warn you that this is a "mature post." It's about a sensitive topic and it contains explicit language. I feel it's important to give readers a heads-up on that because I've always tried to keep this blog G-rated. However, it felt important to present this exactly as it came through to me.

Secondly, I want to emphasize that this post is NOT about politics. I'm not interested in a political debate, I don't care who you're voting for, and I don't care how you feel about the candidates. This post is about Rape Culture - if you feel the need to comment, please stay on topic, and leave the politics out of it. 

Finally, I use the term rape here to describe any action in which a person physically forces themselves, in any way, on another person in a sexual manner. This includes touching or grabbing someone's crotch or breasts without permission. I realize many would argue that classifying this as rape is inflammatory and a gross exaggeration, but in my opinion, such behavior is taking sexual ownership over someone else's body, and it is WRONG. Obviously, there is a difference between actual, penetrative rape and unwanted, uninvited sexual contact, and the appropriate response to that will vary, depending on the degree of violation, but my point is that it is ALL violation and should not be tolerated on any level. 

And into the dark woods we go...

I often ask myself why I am so drawn to Mary Raedwolfe’s story, why I am still writing about her after The Poison Box. Sometimes, I question my creative urges and try to come up with a purpose behind the project. I’ve been exploring this a lot, lately, while working a bit at a time on the TPB’s two sequels.

But after two days of witnessing social media debates about a certain politician’s comments regarding women, it became clear to me why Mary’s story is important. Obviously, we are still living smack in the middle of Rape Culture. Despite all our social progress, we’re still living in a time when women condone rape mentality. (Yeah, I said women.)

That’s what shocks me the most – the women who say that this is okay. The men’s comments I observed were largely aimed at attacking the female candidate, while (perhaps wisely) avoiding comment on the issue at hand. Dozens and dozens of women, however, said “women like that deserve what they get.” The women they defined who fit into this category included gold diggers, porn stars, sluts, women who dress like sluts, and beauty pageant contestants. Apparently, these women don’t deserve to have sovereignty over their own bodies and it’s okay for a man to take what he wants from them, whether they consent or not.

There are a lot of men who are sexually promiscuous. Does that mean that they shouldn’t have sovereignty over their bodies, too? That a woman (or another man) could, by rights, take whatever she/he wants from that body? Or if a man uses money to get what he wants (the way a woman might use sex to get what she wants), does that mean that his bank account is now open for business – that anyone can open his wallet and take what they want? And are we really going to pretend that men never use sex to get what they want from time to time? Yet it’s okay for them to do that, but not women? (And that’s not to say that I’m condoning shadow work – using sex or money or anything – to manipulate people into giving us what we want. But why are women required to stand trial for that, while men are largely unencumbered by public judgment?)

And who, exactly, decides who qualifies for the “Okay to Rape Club?” Who judges what “slut” means? Is it okay for a man to force himself on a woman if she’s slept with 3 men? Or 5? Or do we wait until she hits 10? Or 20? What’s that magic number a man has to wait for before it’s okay to “grab her by the pussy?” What kind of beauty pageant candidate do you have to be in order to be considered fair rape game? Is a talent show “safe?” Are you free meat once you put on a bikini and walk across a stage in high heels? If you work in the sex industry does that mean your vagina belongs to any man or woman who expresses interest in it? If you are more interested in a financially advantageous marriage than an emotional love nest, does that mean you’ve given up the right to say no to unwanted touch or sexual advances? If you like to have a thong peeking out of your skin-tight jeans, does that mean any man can pull you off the street and screw you in an alley and it’s okay because you were "asking for it?"

These aren’t questions I’m asking men. These are questions I’m asking WOMEN. These are the kinds of comments and permissions made by women that I’m seeing and hearing in this debate – which, frankly, I find far more disturbing than the incident that started it.

There are women out there saying that this is okay. That sexual violation is an appropriate response to certain behaviors and life choices.

That chills me to the bone.

This is why I write about Mary. This is why I’m fascinated about a woman who never got a chance to feel an ownership of her body, and who spent her adult life trying to figure out if her promiscuous behavior constituted the perpetuation of that lack of sovereignty…or if it exhibited her empowerment. She doesn’t know. Hell, I don’t even know. I just know the question needs to be asked and explored again and again until we stop saying that this is normal and acceptable. Until women don’t condone rape in any form.

And let’s be clear about one more thing, ladies. Saying that this is okay because it was just a private conversation between two dudes is BULLSHIT. What you say and do in private is WHO YOU ARE. Is it okay to demean people of other races in private, because you’re just “talking shit?” What about relating fantasies about abusing your children or spouse? Is that okay, because it’s just two people having beers and laughing? Let’s be clear that what’s “in the closet” never stays in the closet. If you’re a racist in private, your racism follows you everywhere you go and influences every choice you make. If you’re two guys just making “locker room talk” about forcing yourself on women, then a) SHAME ON YOU and b) your rape mentality and sense of sexual entitlement won't stay in the locker room. It’s everywhere in your energetic system and it will poison every sexual encounter you have (not that you care).

The fact is, we’ll never heal this Rape Culture until women say a hard and fast NO to any and all ways in which a man sexually demeans and/or overpowers a woman no matter how she dresses, no matter what her occupation, no matter who she marries. That includes saying NO to the normalization of rape banter in private conversations.

This is why Mary Raedwolfe exists for me. This is why I write about her again and again, book after book. Like all women, she longs for the freedom to exist in the lifestyle of her choosing (you know, like men get to do). And like all women, she deserves this.