The only inspirational quote you need as a writer & entrepreneur

“If you have the words, there’s always a chance you’ll find the way.” Seamus Heaney Nobel prize winning poet and Irishman Seamus Heaney's quote is scrawled on a post-it above my computer. It fights for space with love notes from my daughter and memos about my many accounting goofs, but it's the only inspirational line I keep in my line of sight.

"If you have the words, there's always a chance you'll find the way" is the only guidance I need because it speaks to heart of my work as a writer and as an entrepreneur.

These words are going to open my Story Triangle webinar that's set for 1 PM ET tomorrow (Tuesday, April 5).

Even in our multimedia world where video talks and images sell, words are always at the heart of our work. We need the words to build the narratives that change minds and touch hearts.

We tell stories to find a way - a way to connect, to inspire, to build a business and a livelihood, and, ultimately to make this world more beautiful, bearable, and bold.

Please join me tomorrow. I'd be honored to show you a new way to use your words and stories.

Save my seat at the webinar!

The Shame of Shushed Story

The Shame of a Shushed Story, #365StrongStories by Marisa Goudy
The Shame of a Shushed Story, #365StrongStories by Marisa Goudy

“Oh honey, let’s not tell that story.” The words flowed easily from my lips but they were terribly hard to hear, hanging there in the air. I’d delivered them as kindly as I could in the voice of a woman with too many worries and too little sleep. All I wanted was the oasis of a quiet shower and to make it to my first cup of coffee before anyone pulled hair or screeched or required a bandaid.

But I know that silence and distrust and disconnection are born of distracted admonishments. This was a tiny sin that hinted at a deeper darkness.

My six year-old was remembering the beach house that the family rented for several summers. Her memories of eating a dozen clementines gave way to remembering when one older family member had fallen and knocked out a tooth.

I don’t like that memory. It was upsetting and it wasn’t pretty. I felt the pain and the worry of that Cape Cod morning. The guilt that I hadn't been very helpful at the time was (my excuse was morning sickness, but that seems paltry now). None of these thoughts were going to ease me into what was going to be another challenging day, so I shushed her and kept moving.

As I dive deep into what it means to tell stories, I'm learning just as much about how to receive and keep stories. Stories need to be held and reviewed when they bubble up. When they are stifled they become the monsters of shame and doubt and fear.

In trying to protect myself from unresolved hurts, I create new ones for my daughter. In trying to stifle the pure, spontaneous sharing of memories, I am creating new ghosts that are bound to be much more ghoulish the next time they come around.

I am a storyteller. I ask people to walk into the shadows with me so that we can appreciate the light. That means I also need to allow others to tell me their stories - even when I find them unsettling or inconvenient, even when I want to wish the memories away.

Learn how to tell your own stories with greater sensitivity and awareness. Join the free online class, The Story Triangle, on April 5.

Sign up now

Traveling Distances by Guest Storyteller Peggy Acott

Traveling Distances, An exclusive first look at One Dish At a Time, the novel-in-process by guest storyteller Peggy AcottWhy had she taken a train out of Minneapolis instead of making a direct flight to Seattle? It postponed the inevitable conversation with Bea, true, but made the anticipation of it a torment, stretching out like the endless lines of cattle fence rushing past her window; she had spent the last several hours (last several days, if she was to be truthful) running over various scripts and monologues in her head of how she was going to approach the topic with Bea. Hell, I can’t just walk into her house after all this time and say “Hi! Guess what? Daddy’s alive, but not for long, and he wants to see you.” She groaned audibly though no one heard, unless her moan got picked up by the wind and was now startling some poor prairie dog family minding their own business in their den. But Alice couldn’t deny that she had been happy to see him, terrified by his cancer prognosis. She, who avoided all things having to do with sickness and mortality; she, who could not summon up the courage to visit her mother (for she still thought of Adriane as her mother) until the week before she died; couldn’t bear to see her sick and failing. She knew Bea was furious with her, maybe even hated her. She felt an ugly, malignant sort of cowardice that she wouldn’t admit to anyone. Well, now she was getting paid back in spades.

Alice gazed out into the distance. The parched, dry ochre hills and plains were so opposite to the life she made in the lush Hawaiian Islands; this landscape seemed like the no-man’s land threshold separating her past and her present. Unbidden, her memories started to bubble up: Daddy teaching her about fireflies; dinners around the wooden kitchen table in the dining room or the picnic table in the back yard in summer; her mother reading to her and Bea at bedtime in the room they shared, the warm pool of light from the bedside lamp illuminating the page of Wind in the Willows and their mother’s concentrated expression.

#365StrongStories Guest Storyteller Peggy AcottPeggy Acott is a writer in many forms, who shamelessly takes advantage of the rainy weather in western Oregon to help maintain her (mostly) regular writing practice.

The Art of the "Self-Focused First Draft"

Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don't try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It's the one and only thing you have to offer.” - Barbara Kingsolver, #365StrongStories 67Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don't try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It's the one and only thing you have to offer.”- Barbara Kingsolver

For years, I sighed with longing when I read this passage by Barbara Kingsolver. How fortunate she was to have such a healthy ego! How privileged she was to be the woman who could enter her writing room knowing that she had the power to author books that would sell. Maybe someday when I grew up I could be so free.

And so, I dedicated myself to looking over my own shoulder for a good five years. I hunched over the keyboard and scanned the web for clues about how to wear just the right chains for just long enough. Eventually, I prayed, I'd earn the right to tell the stories that mattered to me.

Because I thought it was part of paying my dues, I forced myself to choke down the “how to create viral content” KoolAid (even though I distrusted those marketing “gurus” and it killed my writer's soul).

Because I was so afraid of being revealed as a fraud, I avoided “real” writers at all cost. It seemed smarter to maintain a healthy distrust for artists and other free spirits who took Kingsolver at her word and created with wild abandon on the other side of the studio door. After all, they were the lucky ones. There was no use envying them their freedom when I still had dues to pay and chains to wear.

What changed? What made me finally realize that Kingsolver was right and that she is speaking to anyone who feels called to write at any point in the creative journey? I certainly didn’t “make it” using all those marketing formulas and trying to please the crowd. I dropped those chains because I had to.

Finally, I realized it was true: I didn’t have anything of worth to offer if I didn’t uncover the story that mattered to me. I was starving my creative passions and I wasn’t building a sustainable business. I was miserable and my writing wasn't connecting with anyone.

Permission to Write the Self-Focused First Draft

I completely believe that the stories that matter need to matter to you first.

You can’t stop there, of course - not if you want to turn those stories into online content that builds a community of people who want to invest in your vision. But before you start looking over your shoulder and before you start looking into the eyes of the people you want to serve, you must connect to your own stories.

Right now, I am developing a course called the You, Your Stories, and Your Audience. As you understand how to craft stories that matter to the people you wish to serve, you also learn the art of the Self-Focused First Draft.

Your SFFD will evolve into final draft that transforms your readers’ perspectives and compels them to take action. But before it’s asked to do anything so grand it’s rooted in exactly what you have to say. You'll learn that before you can dedicate yourself fully to anyone else, including your reader, you need to practice a healthy selfishness and tend to your own stories. 

This course is for emerging thought leaders, especially therapists, healers, and coaches, who wants to build a business through blogging today and develop an online presence that will get them a book contract and big time speaking engagements in the future.

Get all the course details and save your seat for the May 2 launch!

Sorry, Shame: This Mama Is Too Busy Healing Her Girl to Sip Your Poison

Sorry, Shame. This Mama is Too Busy Healing Her Babe to Sip Your Poison. #365StrongStories by Marisa GoudyWe didn’t quite make it a year between visits to the walk-in emergency clinic. There are three things I have learned from the early morning trip to have two-year-old fingers checked out after a door slamming incident:

  1. Telling personal stories on a blog means never having to guess when past major life events occurred. They also lend you strength you may have forgotten you had.
  2. My little one is accident prone, tough as nails, and sweeter than I thought possible. My big one never means to hurt anyone and her feelings may be more wounded than her sister's digits if we're not careful.
  3. I’m still woefully and beautifully imperfect. And I am still ok with that. Shame need not apply when I'm busy healing my baby and keeping the big girl from falling into the shame spiral.

Here's an updated 2016 version of that story from last year:

One of my girls had an accident this weekend. Though it was terrifying at the time, it ended up being relatively minor. Now I can claim a parenting merit badge my mom never earned: held my daughter as she got stitched up x-rayed and told she'd merely lose a pinkie nail.

It was an accident, yes, but it could have been prevented. I could have had my hands on the kids instead of sitting an inch beyond an arm’s length away lying in bed three feet away, utterly exhausted by another night of tag teaming sleepless children. I could have said “no, honey a five year old isn’t big enough to carry her one year old sister yet.” screamed "no, you will not slam that door just because your sister is trying to come into the bathroom!"

But I didn’t.

And we ended up at the walk-in med center, covered in blood all swollen up – and sidewalk chalk and dirt from what was supposed to be a typical Saturday spent in a yard just awakening to spring still in pajamas, eyes full of sleep.

We’re so proud of our girl for healing so quickly and handling it all so well. And I’m pleased to report that I’ve emerged from shame’s shadows. Truthfully, the horrible guilt dissipated within twenty-four hours. (Likely that’s because much of the swelling did too). 

Truthfully, I skipped shame all together this time because a shamed mama isn't a strong, compassionate, in control of her emotions mama who teaches her girls to be same.

No longer blinded by self-recrimination, I can simply hold my little one tight, overcome with gratitude and rendered speechless by how precious she is to me (and by utter exhaustion).

Yes, gravity won sibling rivalry made us all losers in that split second, but I forgive myself.

I’ve decided that I am mother enough for my daughters – even if I’m woefully and beautifully imperfect.

Echo Grandma by Guest Storyteller Evelyn Asher

Barren Trees of Winter: Echo Grandma, #365StrongStories by Guest Storyteller Evelyn AsherAs my thoughts propel through barren trees, the chill of a Northern Georgia winter diminishes. My heart travels on wings of love across four states to northwest Ohio where I picture two of my granddaughters, ten year-old Nora and 8 year-old Samantha, fastening their seat belts in their dad’s dated van.  Off these resilient young ladies go to their hip hop and jazz dancing lessons while their same-aged stepbrothers are scurried in another direction.

My younger son, 49, a bearded bear and a vivid storyteller, fosters fierce grandparent bonds and tends a family legacy. He remains in the frigid north to ensure he is an integral, stable part of his daughters’ lives.

“Hi, Grandma Asher.” I melt when these words greet me each time they phone.           

“What are you doing this afternoon?” I ask when the girls called to thank me for coloring books.  “We are going to Poppy’s. He isn’t feeling well.”

Tonight, I will craft a “C” poem on decorative paper and I will post tomorrow for weekend receipt. Enclosed will be two sheets of paper, suggested letters of the alphabet for a poem written in different script, and two self-addressed stamped envelopes. I delight in creating a collage of the girls’ poems and sweet notes that come back to me- sunshine in my mailbox.

When distance-induced heartache surfaces, I giddily send surprise packages. Sometimes I compose “fill-in-the-blank” letters and send them off - also with a SASE. I have learned to ask at the end of each letter, “What haven’t I asked you that you would like to tell me?”  About my new haircut, one tells me.

At other times, my heart spills over in when I meet a young mother in the check-out line and ask how old her child is.  I recently asked a mom at Michael’s if I could treat her child to something extra as I would if I my grandchildren were near. Gratefully, I had that pleasure.

Dance recitals are calendared for June. Will I be in the audience?  Perhaps. Whether I make the drive or not, I will always be in my granddaughters’ balcony, cheering them on.

Through the barren trees, my echo carries. Can you hear me now?  Can you hear me now?

Evelyn Asher #365StrongStories Guest Storyteller

Evelyn Asher is a business coach and poet who yearns to take her family on a Custom Sailing cruise.

Is That a Rant or a Story?

Rant or Story? My life is an Unmade Bed, #365StrongStories by Marisa Goudy This morning as I rushed from room to room gathering necessary clothes and snacks and computer accessories and toys, it occurred to me: My house is like an unmade bed.

I was tangled in the twisted bed clothes of an entire household of stuff. Everything I needed was lost in this riot of a rumpled nest and it felt nearly impossible to meet the day.

This blistering tirade fueled my mad dash (because, of course, one girl had to make the bus and another had to be dropped at playgroup exactly on time so that mama could make her daylong VIP session with a client).

Once I was safely belted into a quiet car with my coffee, I began composing the day’s story in my head, so pleased that I had such a powerful image and title. But then I paused.

Was I a storyteller or a cranky woman who just wanted to score some sympathy points for performing the impossible? (At this point, I realized that I wasn’t a righteous super hero. I would probably just sound like a disorganized creature who, though hilariously human, was also a trifle whiny.)

Do you want to entrance them with story or blind them with shared rage?

A strong story is compelling. It moves the reader to say “me too!” and click share. Of course, the same can be true in the case of a red hot rant that pushes your audience’s buttons.

But one of these is likely to be full of gory details that you don’t want to revisit or defend in conversation. It’s about a topic that’s too intimate, too raw, too prone to morning after regret.

When you think about it that way, if you’re writing to build your business and establish your professional reputation, you want to avoid that kind of TMI like the plague.

An authentic blog post is intended to give people a window into your world, but the goal is to hold onto a few shreds of dignity and authority so that readers will say “I want to work with that human.”

A story is a well processed piece of prose that features a beginning, a middle, and an end. It has a conflict and a resolution and a protagonist you can root for.

When you write a story, you want to be vulnerable, but you’re not yowling about an open wound like you might in a full blooded rant. Instead, you’re showing off your healed scars with a smile.

How do you know when your post is more diatribe than engaging story?

A rant doesn’t have a strong ending. It may not even have a clear beginning. It’s all messy middle as far as your harangue colored glasses can see.

There’s plenty of conflict, but resolution hides below the horizon of a limitless sea of indignation.

Now, your rant may have characters - generally the wounded party (who may or may not be you, the writer) and the evil perpetrator (an actual villain or just the beasts of excess and chaos). In your unfiltered narrative, you might not be able to make your hero likeable enough to root for. An angry victim will boil alone in her vitriol if she doesn’t have a plot to hold her and prove her case.

Ask yourself: how do I want to connect?

We live in the age of storytelling, not in the age of tirades.

Ok, so that is a total lie seeing as we are living through an American presidential campaign, but we really are in a golden age of storytelling when we get to market our businesses not through newspaper ads but through content that connects.

An emotional explosion might bring the right people through your door. But, most often, those rants will fall flat and keep keep your ideal clients at arm’s length. How can they see the solutions you offer through the drama you describe?

Write stories, not rants. Your readers and your business will thank you for it.

Need some help telling a story that connects? Download your free strong storytelling guide now.

Is it intimate? Is it vulnerable? Is it my story to tell?

Is it intimate? Is it vulnerable? Is it my story to tell? #365StrongStories by Marisa Goudy Writing a story a day is a mad, marvelous mission. Time constraints and the very real limitations on creative energies are valid concerns that might make you quit before you begin. Another reason to think twice about asking your creative impulses to take the shape of something that can be fully expressed within a twenty-four hour period: the strong stories often want to take a lot longer to be conceived, born, and debuted in this strange, complex world.

After two months of shaping and sharing these stories, I have finally started to recognize a story that needs to germinate. It would be a disservice to the narrative, the reader, and to me as a writer to force a certain kind of story to sing and perform before it can even cry out its own name.

When you force yourself to work on a deadline, however, it’s nearly impossible to abandon a story that’s three quarters written - especially if it took more than the hour you told it that it deserved.

Today, I wrestled with a story for a couple of hours only recognized that we both needed a rest when it bloomed past the 800 word mark. In a few days, I might be able to tell you if it was a lost cause journal entry with delusions of grandeur or if it’s something real and important that wants to reach beyond the scope of #365StrongStories.

How can you tell if your story needs to be nurtured in secret or if needs to be shoved (lovingly) into the light?

First, follow Brene Brown’s wisdom: is the story intimate or is it vulnerable?

Is the story full of gory details that you don’t want to describe or defend in conversation? That’s too intimate to share.

Or do you feel brave and proud and just the right amount of scared? That’s vulnerability and that’s at the core of every strong story.

And second, ask yourself whether it is your story to tell. If neither intimacy or vulnerability seem relevant to the equation, your story might be asking you to dive deeper or revisit it when you’ve really got something to say.

Sticky subjects that might stink of shame

The story I’m not ready to tell is about parent shaming. I’m very much inspired by Mercedes Samudio’s #EndParentShame work and I was triggered by an exchange I saw in a Facebook group today. It’s such an important topic that we need to start talking about across our communities.

Thing is, I felt nauseated rather than exhilarated as my fingers flew across the keyboard. I think I was more of a voyeur than an ethical memoirist describing her experiences.

All of those are signs that I’m sharing the wrong details about the wrong aspect of a greater truth. You, my story, and my integrity as a storyteller deserve more.

If it’s a strong story, it will wait.

It's my mission to help you discover and tell the strong stories that matter to you, your audience, and your business. Learn more about the You, Your Stories, and Your Audience eCourse.

You, your story, and your audience ecourse for therapists, healers, and coaches by writing coach Marisa Goudy

The everyday anguish of a creative life left unlived

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” Maya Angelou, #365StrongStories by Marisa Goudy“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” The girl had grown up reading that quote, an amateurish watercolor on a piece of torn paper that was tacked to her aunt’s kitchen wall.

“Auntie? Why do you have that old piece of paper up there, way up high?”

The woman sighed deeply and looked into her mug of tea. Childhood went by faster than ever, but there were certain stories that wouldn't fit into a six year-old’s world.

“The writer who said that - can you read where it says ‘Maya Angelou’? She changed the world by writing the stories of her own life. She was a poet who talked with presidents and she had a deep, powerful voice.”

This was when the woman began to pray, please let that be enough. When her niece came to visit her tiny apartment in this blah bedroom community, every inch of the place was examined, so she ought to have expected this question.

“Yeah, but why is it way up there by the ceiling?”

Because I needed it to be there, but not there, the woman screamed silently. The truth behind this painting was too important to lie about and yet too raw to speak aloud.

“I hung it way up there so I had something to look at when I do my neck exercises.” That was a sad attempt an explanation. On the bright side, maybe that lame little story would remind her to stretch now and again.

“Did you paint it?”

“Yes, honey, I did.”

“But you’re not a artist!” the girl exclaimed, skipping over that cumbersome  “n” in her passion.

“No, honey, I’m somebody in a cubicle.”

Apparently cubicles weren't interesting to children either. “Yeah, but what does ‘agony’ mean” she asked, making the word sound like it rhymed with pony.

“Something that really hurts.”

“Oh, ok. I don’t have that. I tell all the stories in my heart.”

The nice thing about being cross-examined a first grader is that you can pull her onto your lap and rest your chin on her head so she cannot see the tears in your eyes.

Tell the stories that matter to you. Learn how to access them with this quick, free guide for creative entrepreneurs.

My Buddy Lennie

Farewell, Lennie. #365StrongStories by Marisa Goudy“A small, redheaded girl from Centerville was a crowd favorite.” I’m not exactly sure that’s what the Cape Cod Times review said, but I can’t seem to find the clipping from the summer of 1985. I do remember my mother read it to me over breakfast while I wore my gold medal - a piece of cardboard covered with the band members’ autographs.

The night before, I had won Sha Na Na’s “Monster Mash” contest during their concert at the Melody Tent. I’m not sure the other contestants had a chance - it’s pretty easy to limbo under a plastic leg held by a man dressed as Frankenstein when you’re not even four feet tall.

Perhaps I was picked from the crowd because I was the only kindergartener in the place or maybe it was because my parents had known saxophonist Lennie Baker from back in their days working in the saloons of Falmouth, MA. Either way, it seemed like a perfectly ordinary - albeit wonderful - occurrence. Doesn’t every kid get to go on stage with the band from Grease and land in the papers?

I’d known that my parents used to hang out with the big redhaired guy on TV (remember when Sha Na Na had their own show?) and there were pictures of him holding me in my baby album. The only story my folks told about him his version of a diet - a six pack of light beers and a lettuce sandwich. That one anecdote certainly that doesn’t sum up their friendship or Lennie’s life. Then again, his obituary in the New York Times doesn’t either.

RIP Lennie. I can say "I knew you when," but that's more legend than fact.

Knowing Motherhood by Guest Storyteller Barb Buckner Suárez, #365StrongStories 56

Knowing Motherhood by guest storyteller Barb Buckner Suarez, #365StrongStoriesMy baby lay on my chest, warm and wet from being born just moments before. I called my parents to announce they were grandparents - again. This was their 10th, but my first. Still high on the other side of giving birth, I looked at her impossibly tiny fingernails, and dialed. My Dad picked up on the first ring shouting with joy. Mom got on next and the minute I heard her voice, I burst into tears. “I’m so sorry!”

Concerned, she asked, “For what, honey?”

“For all the times that I said I’d be home by midnight and didn’t come home until 2 am! For all the times you must have worried. For everything!”

She chuckled, “It’s okay. It’s okay.” Which only made me sob harder.

How is it that the word “mother” remains unknown, unknowable, until you are a mother yourself?

Just as my mothering journey was beginning, the veil that obscured motherhood had been pulled away. Suddenly and with great clarity, I realized that all of those times I’d been convinced my Mom was “ruining my life” were just her attempts to save me from harm. I couldn’t make sense of this at the time. The center of my universe was me.

Now, holding this completely dependent, tiny little person, I realized the enormity of it all. I had just irrevocably committed myself to doing everything possible to raise this child into adulthood with an intact and healthy spirit. What the hell was I getting myself into?

I couldn’t believe that my Mom had made this commitment six times - all without a mother of her own to call and apologize to.

Where does this determination come from? To love so fiercely that your heart catches in your throat at the thought of your baby ever getting hurt?

I don’t know the answer to these questions. But my Mom was willing to show up and answer them. I’m forever grateful that I have the opportunity to show up and answer them myself, however imperfectly.

But I admit it: I’m looking forward to receiving that call to support my own daughters when it's time for them show up and try to answer these questions on their own motherhood journeys.

Barb Buckner Suarez #365StrongStories guest storytellerBarb Buckner Suárez works with expectant couples as they are preparing to become a family. She believes that every woman should have a birth story worth telling. You can find more of her writing at

Permission to Read Signs Sent By a Friendly Universe, #365StrongStories 54

Permission to Read Signs Sent by a Friendly Universe, #365StrongStories by Marisa GoudyThe morning was shorter than it was supposed to be. Our little one was awake half the night asking to use the potty and singing every song she knew, so we needed that extra hour of sleep. We missed the bus and I was crazy late for playgroup drop off, but this was my one, precious day alone in the house and I was going to do amazing things even if I'd lost 90 minutes already.

And then, on my solitary drive home, the school sent a text about early dismissal due to hypothetical snow. The afternoon just got a whole lot short too.

So I did what every brilliant American mom entrepreneur does when the going gets tough - I called husband to commiserate and think through how rescheduling my clients would impact the kid yoga/ decent dinner/ bath night juggle.

We were shifting gears from strategizing to complaining when I saw the birds. “Honey, I just need to shut up and drive,” I said. “I’ve seen a deer, a hawk, and a pair of cardinals in the last two minutes. I need to pay attention to something.”

As much as I may lament being married to one of those spectacularly practical engineer types, I love this man who says "I love you" and accepts animal totem sightings without question.

For a few minutes, I was one with the curves in the country lane. The protective swell of the Shawangunk Ridge and its mighty Mohonk Mountain House promised me that I am in just the right place at just the right moment.

But when I hit a stop sign, I find my fingers fussing at the phone screen. I'm seeking solace or maybe just a podcast. For once I feel guided rather than addicted as I seek out a series I haven’t listened to in months - Tara Brach’s weekly teachings on Buddhism.

Without taking you on a tour of my most recent spiritual awakening, let it suffice to say that an episode called “Trusting Ourselves, Trusting Life” was like a love letter written to my spinning soul.

And when Tara offered up this sweeping prompt from Albert Einstein, it was like the arrow through my laid bare heart:

“The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.”

The weather isn’t out to get me. The animals who come out to greet me might really be there to wish me well. I’m choosing to believe that this is a friendly world… how else could I push my little girls into it every day?

Your turn: what happened today that proved we live in a friendly universe? And if it felt like a hostile world, the #365StrongStories community will hold you through that too.

Conversations With an Empty Chair, #365StrongStories 53

imageOne Friday, my Mom and I spent the day in the kitchen talking about a revolution.  Well, we were whispering about the stuff that eventually leads to revolution. We were talking about the state of the world and daring to examine our fears and entertain all the “what ifs?” What happens when we all find out that Al Gore has been right about the climate?  What happens when people really start to run out of water? How many links in the chain have to break before our global network of food distribution is disrupted? In what part of the psyche and the spirit should stories like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road reside?

It has been six years since my mother and I had the luxury of marinating on our 3 a.m. worries together. We lavished so much attention on hypothetical global crises and never spared a thought for the private tragedies that could be so much harder to bear.

We had no idea then that mom had a few hundred thousand minutes left to live. She’d be dead of a sudden heart attack by mid-summer and she’d never know if any our great big global fears would change our comfortable American lives.

Now that I sit alone at the same kitchen in 2016, I don’t have any clarity more clarity about the fate of western civilization. I’m not even sure have any more perspective on the unbearably brief and precious nature of an individual life. I still wish away time as I long for spring and pray that the tougher phases of childhood will pass quickly.

But then I dive deep into this line from Natalie Goldberg: “Give everything while you can.”

I think it’s easy to misread this as “do more!” After all, we live in a “lean in” and “manifest 6 figures in 30 days” kind of world. But I guess I have learned enough about mortality and personal tragedy to reframe these words into those that heal rather than strain.

That winter day in 2010, my mother and I didn’t leave the kitchen. We didn’t solve a single problem or even take the dog for a walk. We snuggled my new baby girl and we loved one another and we dared to be vulnerable and speak our truths. Though I cry as I type these words, it’s just because I am overcome with gratitude for knowing that on that particular day, we gave each other everything while we could.

Held by Earth, Air, Fire & Water - No Matter What, #365StrongStories 52

Held by earth, air, fire and water - no matter what, #365StrongStories by Marisa GoudyThanks to taxes and a toddler, I’m working on three hours of sleep. It’s like being underwater and floating in the air and mired in mud and burning with delirium all at once.

When I put it that way, it almost sounds like a spiritual experience.

I’ve roamed across faiths and devotional practices for half my life. Finally, I’ve found myself in the hinterlands between the Catholicism of my childhood and the Mother Goddess dirt worship that I’ve picked up during the quest. Ultimately, my home is made at the crossroads. You might choose to see this as a symbol of the cross. But I’ve never found much solace or inspiration in that part of the Christ story. Give me a divine birth and miraculous healings, please. Give me the goddesses who guide the travelers’ way.

North, east, south, and west and the elements that resonate with each - that is where I always come back to. It’s the very essence of being alive as I understand it.

The earth is our very bones. The air is breath in our lungs. The fire is the spark of movement. And the water all the sweat, the tears, and the blood that wash us full of life.

In these years of mothering young children when I feel almost perpetually off balance with exhaustion and a poorly tended body and soul, I would tell you I’d lost track of these elemental marks of aliveness.

But as I drown and float and burn and feel so stuck, It seems that nothing could be further from the truth. Even when I’m sleepwalking through a Sunday, I’m held by these forces, by the energies that compel this world, these bodies, the collective spirit.

We're losers. We're divine. We're bizarre. We're boring., #365StrongStories 51

We're losers. We're divine. We're bizarre. We're boring. #365StrongStories by Marisa Goudy“Part of me suspects that I'm a loser, and the other part of me thinks I'm God Almighty.” I wasn’t the only one! When I heard this John Lennon quote sometime in my sophomore year of high school I was relieved to know that at least one other person lived the same sort of split existence. (And yes, this deepened the Beatles crush - even if it was 30 years late.)

Turns out, John and I don’t share some secret bond across time and space.

Unless you’ve reached enlightenment, every human on the planet suffers from some sort of epic inner conflict. And though “I’m brilliant! I’m shit!” is one of the more common examples, this sort of double consciousness cracks our psyches in all sorts of ways.

Columbia University graduate non-fiction program chair Phillip Lopate sees another brutal internal split that silences storytellers before they even begin. As he says:

The fledgling personal writer may be torn between two contrasting extremes:

a: “I am so weird that I could never tell on the page what is really secretly going on in my mind.”

b: “I am so boring, nothing ever happens to me out of the ordinary, so who would want to read about me?”

Both extremes are rooted in shame, and both reflect a lack of worldliness.

I’d love to say that I’ve outgrown my fraud/goddess complex, but I admit I’m still a human stuck in the middle. I also must admit that I still worry that my stories are too bizarre or hausfrau dull.

But somehow, I’ve learned to be grateful to my dualities - even when shifting between the poles makes me feel seasick. All my contradictions are turning out to be essential to telling a year’s worth of stories…

So the bad news is that we’re all embroiled in inner conflict. The good news is that we’re not alone. Please share one of your creative conflicts in the comments or tag me when you share a strong story about one of your contradictions!

Doubt and Annie D. by guest storyteller Suzi Banks Baum, #365StrongStories 50

Doubt and Annie D, A #365StrongStories Guest Story by Suzi Banks BaumI wake up almost every morning happy. I crank open my eyes to assess the weather, then turn to my prayer practice.  I tug on wool socks, light a candle because Rumi says, "learn to light the candle." I close my eyes again. This seals the deal on my internal climate. I can handle calamity. Though I have ridden out usual mothering storms and some complicated travails, today's stratospheric turmoil has rocked me. Caused solely by my college-aged son, who'd just spent 18 hours with us, who left at 7:30 AM because he wanted to get back to school to the library. Here I am, saying goodbye, again. He is not off to the military, not off to the fields. He is not off to the hunting grounds or climbing on to a horse or a camel or a tank. He is getting in to his little car and taking his clean laundry and going back to school. But my heart cracks anyway, because wherever the destination, it is away and that changes me.

So I find myself in a curiously quiet house, no alternate sound track running in another room. The girl child is off on an arctic adventure in Manhattan. After 22 years of being accompanied, I am alone. They will be back; this nest is not cleaned out and orderly after the upheaving of babies, toddlers, or teens.

But look who has moved in! Doubt, the cold sister of possibility, has already chosen her bedroom. She chimes in before it is her turn to talk. She tugs away my equanimity and questions every choice. She loves to dangle the "who do you think you are" banner across my daylight. She glories in my prolonged dithering.

Then, Annie Dillard shows up:

The sensation of writing a book is the sensation of spinning, blinded by love and daring.

There is a bootstrap and I will pull it up today. I know what it feels like to show up blind with love, daring to move forward, even when I don't want to, even when Doubt casts her pallor over my day. I have 22 years of experience showing up for two people. Some days, I did not feel like oatmeal or elastic waist jeans pulled over thick-diapered bottoms, but I got them on anyway. Oats and jeans. Doubt. Take a seat. Take a number. Get in line.

Daring and love snuck in and I have work to do.

#365StrongStories guest storyteller Suzi Banks BaumSuzi is an artist, actress, writer, teacher, community organizer, and mom. She’s passionate about helping women find their creative voice and live focused, joy-filled lives.
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No, you can't have chocolate with your whine. Mama can. #365StrongStories 49

Would you like some wine with your chocolate? #365StrongStories by Marisa Goudy There comes a moment in every child’s life when she stands at the top of the stairs crying “mommy, I need you!” It will be thirty years before she understands what mama is really doing when she calls, “Yes, darling, I know. Let me just get your cough medicine!”

Mother is actually going for a mouthful of Cadbury chocolate and a slug of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Good night, dear.

Corporate Lawyers Who Do Our Emotional Heavy Lifting, #365StrongStories 48

The Corporate Lawyers Who Do the Emotional Heavy Lifting For Us, #365StrongStories by Marisa GoudyWill they ever find out that Mike is a fraud? No, not Mike my husband. I’m talking about Mike Ross, attorney at Pearson, etc.

I really worry about Mike, even though he’s not real. Actually, I worry about him because he’s not real. There’s almost no plausible scenario that would put us in the same circles. No, I only care about him because some screenwriter got the formula just right.

My husband and I owe a great Mike and his colleagues on Suits. Over the last few months, their high stakes corporate takeovers, epic spats, and captivating wardrobe choices have been like a trip to the spa (even better than “mudding”). Because absolutely no one on the show has children, it packs an even more satisfying escapist punch than Game of Thrones.

But then, there was the episode we watched last night - dead parents, infidelity, professional betrayal, fear of being alone, Catholic guilt, and being found out as a fraud. Messy, human stuff that you couldn’t tune out after a five-season investment. So much for escape!

This is what stories are supposed to do, you see. They’re supposed to be addictive excursions that open us to experience terrible, wonderful, tantalizing things. When the fear and pleasure centers are triggered, the brain honestly doesn’t know the difference between fiction and reality. That's why stories make us care and cry and even change the way we think.

And the ending of this particular episode was devastating. Usually, of course, autoplay would do its magic and we’d only teeter on the cliffhanger edge for a few moments. But it was a Tuesday night, and husband was feeling strong and virtuous, so he clicked the TV off.

Here's the thing about story addiction: when you don’t get your next hit, you just might have to feel something for a while.

Both of us sat there staring at the blank screen willing the clock backward so we could dive deep into this pinstripe sea and put off real life for another 44 minutes. In this silence, I felt the swell of unbidden emotions. My husband sensed the rush within me - it’s quite easy to hear your partner’s ragged breath when it’s not competing with “Previously, on Suits…”

All those lawyer problems had triggered my own doubts and fears, and though the details are as different as a Hyundai and a Bentley, the pain was universal enough.

In this binge watching culture, we’ve denied ourselves access to the real power of all these stories. We revel of the abundance of “more good TV than one could watch and still have a job!” and deny ourselves the divinely unsatiated state when we see just enough to feel something real.

Entrepreneuring, Mothering, and Laundry Basket Despair, #365StrongStories 47

Entrepreneuring, Mothering, and Laundry Basket Despair, #365SttrongStories by Marisa GoudyI prefer mountains of laundry to mere hillocks. So, when I enter a marathon sorting and folding session, I know there will be plenty of time for introspection. Today, however, both kids are home thanks to some freezing rain and a minor fever. Turns out I can’t get much deep thinking done when I must constantly exclaim “Please do not knock over mommy’s stacks!”

So I’m left to consider the clothes themselves. Since I could tell you my life story by giving you a tour of my closet, this is actual fertile territory.

There’s this fuchsia Marks and Spencer sweater that’s just beginning to pill. I find this terribly disappointing and give myself over to a little bit of laundry basket despair.

Even in that moment I knew I was actually mourning the fact that I’m folding and refereeing rather than writing and planning. This was supposed to be a brilliantly productive professional day. But wishing I were entrepreneuring instead of mothering isn’t going to get these clothes in drawers or make me any nicer to my kids, so I focus on that sweater (and sounding kind when I beg the girls not to jump on the towels I’d just turned into relatively perfect squares.)

This sweater doesn’t owe me anything. It was some hand me down that I never even put on my first daughter because it always looked too fancy. With my second daughter, I’ve tried to quit hoarding pretty things for the day when our lives were perfect and posh enough to do them justice, so she’s worn it during trips to the grocery store. As I sit in the midst of this domestic mountain range, unable to control the weather or viruses or my own work day, I breathe into the realization that our lives will never be what the glossy catalogs tell me I’m supposed to be striving for.

We’ll have brilliant days while wearing our mismatched pajamas and we’ll suffer through others while wearing our newest and brightest best. Eventually, it will all come out in the wash.

Does Every Story Have to Have a Bad Guy? #365StrongStories, 46

Mom, does every story hafta have a bad guy? #365StrongStoires by Marisa Goudy“Mom, does every story hafta have a bad guy?” For some parents, this might be a straightforward question. (Perhaps: “no, not really, but most of the stories we like best do” would suffice.) In our case, the answer lasted the entire fifteen minute ride home from town.

My daughter had just seen one of the Minions movies. It's amazing we held out this long. If you earned a quarter for every Minion you spotted at the grocery store you could cover a decent part of your bill - their googly eyes stare at you from cookies and Band Aids and even the bananas.

Her voice was thin with worry and I could tell my first grader was feeling betrayed. That kind of product placement told her they were about sweets and treats, not about scary noises and tummy-churning plot twists.

So we talked about the stories she knows that don’t have bad guys. Everything from the Itsy Bitsy Spider to Wind in the Willows to nearly every Magic Tree House book.

We got to talk about individuals versus nature and how misunderstandings can make for a good story. There was a discussion of quests and journeys and how we like it best when the main character learns and grows and does things she never thought possible.

But this got me thinking about the stories that I’ve been telling - and whether I have really been writing stories at all.

I love stories with “bad guys” - it’s part of being human, this desire to see good triumph over evil. Ask many storytelling experts and they’ll say that conflict is THE defining factor. But when it comes to exploring conflict and antagonists every day in my own #365StrongStories project, well…

Most of these stories are drawn from my own life. I'm not a secret agent and I’m not a big fan of interpersonal strife, so what’s left?

The stuff of our imperfectly perfect, magically mundane everyday reality, that’s what.

We live powerful stories all the time, and if we’re lucky, almost none of them include criminals or violence or practical jokes with an edge. We’re thrill seekers who pick up novels and watch TV and movies so we can experience a vicarious jolt in our otherwise peaceful, bad guy-free lives.

But do our stories need a bad guy, dear daughter? No.

We may flock to watch megavillains fill the screen and we'll cheer at their demise. But we can still go home to create our own stories about personal realization and the revelation of another’s true character and know we've done work that's just as strong.