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?

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?

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.