Claiming My Name

When I was born, my mother gave me a common name.  She did this intentionally, as she had grown up with an unusual name and it garnered her more attention than she’d wanted.  My mother has always strived to blend into the background, to not call attention to herself when in public, to not stand out.  She gifted me with a name that she hoped would provide such a life for me: Jessica. The second most popular name for girls born in 1984 (second only to “Jennifer”, the name people most often mistakenly call me when they forget and just remember the “J”).

Unfortunately, my mother had given birth to a little girl who feared blending in, who desired attention, who wanted to stand out and be noticed.  She gave birth to a little girl who loved being a freak, a weirdo.  Of all the unique snowflakes out there, I wanted to be the most interesting, the one that everyone stopped and stared at.

Things were fine until I started high school.  In elementary school, I’d been the only Jessica in my class.  But in high school, there were at least seven other Jessicas in my grade.  I shared most of my classes with at least one of them, if not more.  And I started to learn to wait.  If a teacher asked a question, I would raise my hand.  But if they called on “Jessica”, I waited.  It might not be me.  It might be one of the other Jessicas.  I would wait.  They might not mean me.

As an adult, I’ve worked in several different places, or joined different groups.  I grew accustomed to hearing the following at job interviews, and on my first day at work: “Uh oh, we already have a Jessica.  We’ll have to call you something else.”  At which point, they would come up with my new “work name” so that they could easily identify me from the Jessica that had already established her dominance just by being there and having the same name.  I was a second-rate Jessica.  They already had one of me, and now I was extraneous.

It’s funny, I never realized the toll that had taken on my life until the last day of Hoop Path Retreat.  In Hoop Path, we start each session with blindfolded movement.  This particular day, Baxter had opened the space by reminding us that we are not our jobs, we are not our clothes, we are not our children, we are not our bodies, we are not our emotions, etc.  But under that blindfold, I made one more connection.

We are not our names.

I realized that all of that learned behavior…feeling like no one really wanted to talk to me, feeling extraneous, feeling like anyone acknowledging me probably meant to acknowledge someone else…I realized it had worked its way into my subconscious and had manifested as my reality.  You must not mean me.  I’m in the way.  I’m unnecessary.  If any one of us were dead weight, could be easily abandoned, it would be me.  I let myself land in second place, despite a longing to be in first.  I let myself take second place in communities, in relationships, in work environments.

I made those connections and they hit such a powerful nerve that I sobbed heavily under my blindfold for an entire song.

Last year after Hoop Path, I started creating my own Maidan* story.  I knew how old my Maidan was, how she felt, what she wanted, but I didn’t know her name.  I figured when the right name came to me, I would know it.

Under that blindfold, making those connections, I knew exactly what her name is.

Her name is Jess.

I am not my name, but I still love my name, and I have the right to own it.  I have the right to relish hearing it called by others.  I have the right to stand out.  I have the right to be unique.

Over the years, I’ve taken on nicknames from time to time, usually given to me by others.  Nicknames stick to me very well, and I embrace them, usually because I embrace the people who gave them to me.  Even my own mother hasn’t actually called me “Jessica” since I was four.  In recent years, I’ve joined the burner community, a group of people fond of renaming themselves to better fit the self the identity they’ve developed for themselves.  I have more friends that go by nicknames than their real names, to the point that I don’t even know some of their real names.

I do not need a “burner name” because Jess IS my burner name.  I am Jess.  That is the me that I identify with.

The next time someone dares to tell me, “Oh no, we already have a Jessica,” I will say, “The hell you do.  Bitch, you ain’t seen a Jess like me.  I guarantee you I’m the only one you have.  And that’s what you’ll call me.”

Because I deserve it.

*In Hoop Path “mythos”, the Maidan are an order of holy women who used hoops and hoop dance to connect with and understand the world around them.


What’s Your TRUE Percent? (OR: Why I’m Having a Tough Time Deciding What Side of the Occupy Fence I’m On)


My income from my new job, where I’m making a whopping $13.72 an hour, more than I’ve ever made at any job in my whole life, puts me in the richest 8% of the world. Even when I was making a paltry $5.75 an hour at my first real job, working a grand total of 15 hours a week for a yearly salary (if I’d stuck it out a whole year) of $4,485.00, that only moved me down to the top 14.5%.

Am I still the 99%? Sure, but I’m a hell of a lot closer to the 1% than a lot of that number. Chances are, if you’re reading this on a computer connected to the Internet, you are too. Take a moment to see what your real percent is, and then get back to me.

This exercise isn’t really to prove any sort of sweeping point, it’s mostly just food for thought. It’s true that many people don’t make nearly enough to easily support themselves or their families. It’s true that I am lucky enough to have made it to 27 years old and not had any kids along the way, to be in good health, and to not have tens of thousands of dollars racked up in debt. I’ve been lucky enough to have family and friends that have helped me out at times when my finances were not quite where they needed to be for the way I was living.

I understand that not everyone is so lucky. I understand there are people that genuinely have it rough.

But this post isn’t really about the people that have it worse off than I do, it’s about my conflicting feelings about the Occupy movement.

I can’t fully oppose the Occupy movement.

I agree with the fact that it’s dangerous to have major decisions made by people who can make any decision they want provided they throw enough money at it. I agree that it seems counterproductive to bail out huge companies that failed when the country’s citizens are failing as well without much (if any) money handed out to them. I agree that police brutality against a peaceful protest is horrible and uncalled for.

And yet, I can’t fully support the movement, either.

When I was in high school, I very much longed to be a hippie in the 60’s. I wished, god knows why, that there were some sort of devastating war going on, some kind of horrible social offense that I could get out in the streets and protest. Show just how dang mad I was. Because, I don’t know, that was the thing to do. It showed you cared, it showed you were paying attention.

Now, however, I’ve grown out of that protesting for protesting’s sake mentality. I have never been to a protest, and I don’t have any great desire to. I think the main reason protests don’t appeal to me anymore is because, from my point of view anyway, they automatically put the protesters in the role of the victim. The people holding the signs are telling someone else, “I am aware that you have power over me. If you didn’t have power over me, there would be no need for me to hold this sign.”

Which brings me back to our true percentages. I spent a long time living with someone who felt that they had been dealt a raw deal, income-wise. We lived together in a one-bedroom apartment. We both had cars. We both had computers. We both had jobs. And yet, all he could see was how poor we were. How it must be THEIR fault that we were so poor. How, if those people with billions and billions of dollars would just give us some of their billions of billions of dollars, everything would be okay, their wealth would be justified and we could, I don’t know, buy a horse or something.

I’ve lived in houses. I’ve lived in apartments of various sizes, from fairly large to most-people-would-feel-cramped tiny. I’ve lived on friend’s couches. I’ve lived out of my car. I’ve lugged most of the possessions I’d acquired from my 99% income to a storage shed that I ended up not being able to pay for, so everything in it was sold. It came as a relief.

What I’m trying to say here, and I’ve said it before, is that we choose what we do with our money. We choose how wealthy we feel or don’t feel. We make the choice to compare ourselves to the people that appear to have more than we do. Meanwhile, how many more people are out there wishing they had as MUCH as we do?

It’s a crap or cone sort of idea. You can feel like it’s all big government’s fault that you are only making $15,000 a year. Or you can look at the fact that if you’re making $15,000 a year, you’re doing better financially than 90% of the rest of the world. You can believe that your rights are being taken away, that the people in charge are squashing you like a tiny bug under their enormous, expensive shoe.

Or you can make your own rights. You can live your own freedom. You can choose to not be the victim to any self-imposed power. You can choose to put down the sign and be your own strong economy.

That’s just what I believe, anyway.

Stop Saying “I’m Broke”


For years it was my mantra. “I can’t do that, I’m broke.” If friends wanted me to do things with them, it was assumed they’d pay. I tracked every penny to make sure I had enough money to pay my bills at the beginning of the month. I always did, and yet, I insisted on repeating it: “I’m broke.”

But I wasn’t broke. If I were truly broke, why did I have an apartment? A car? GAS for that car? Food? A computer? Games to play on the computer? A TV? DVDs to watch on the TV?

I wasn’t broke. I was choosing where to put my money.

I didn’t see it that way, though. Money was tight. I had to be careful. I spent so much time worrying about money that I didn’t see how much I really had.

Then, one day (after yoga, incidentally), I had an epiphany. If I keep telling myself I’m broke, how am I ever going to get un-broke?

Worrying about money I don’t have is a waste of worry. If there’s nothing to be done about it, the best thing for my sanity would be to just let it go. I can’t tell you how many miracles have occurred when I give myself permission to not worry about money.

One time, I was fretting about how I would cover the cost of something. I realized there was nothing I could do about it immediately, so I gave myself permission to let go of the worry. Later that day, I got a phone call from a former employer telling me they had an un-cashed payroll check in the system from two years prior, made out to me, for $200, and did I want it?

I never could have predicted that could happen, but the point is, every time I’ve ever let the worry go, something happened (usually un-planned or unexpected) that got me out of whatever pickle I’d been worrying about.

Not worrying is one thing. Breaking out of the lie of “I’m broke” is another. For me, forcing myself out of the habit of saying those two words has been the next step in truly letting go. It seemed contradictory at first, so I needed a new mantra to re-program myself. I can’t remember where I read it, but a blogger suggested that instead of saying “I can’t afford that, I’m broke,” replace it with, “I’m choosing to spend my money elsewhere.”

That takes care of two problems: 1) The implication of lack disappears. It’s not that you don’t have money, you do. 2) Lack of control disappears. It’s no longer a situation out of your hands, you are making an active choice. Money, and how you spend it, is a choice like anything else. Constantly giving your perceived “brokeness” the upper hand is willingly foregoing that choice.

Next time you’re feeling “broke”, try and reverse the feeling. Look around you. What do you have? Do you have clothes on your back? A roof over your head? Food in your belly? Can you read these words? That means you have a computer or a smart phone, and Internet access. How broke can you possibly be if you can log on? The truth is, your life is abundant! Try making a list of all the things you have. You probably have more than you even realize.

I started actively changing my thoughts on this at the beginning of the year, and I feel that I’ve successfully broken the “broke” mantra. Now, hearing someone else say it grates against me, like sandpaper on my skin. It sounds like a lie. Stop feeding into the lie. Give yourself permission to feel abundant! Give yourself permission to not worry about money! Change your mantra. The money always comes. Trust that it will, and it will.

Inspired By Awesome – Jessica Mullen

I’ve been reading Jessica Mullen’s blog almost non-stop since I quit my “day job”, and I can’t get enough of it. It’s full of inspiration and ideas for making each day better than the last!

I stumbled onto Jessica’s blog when I was browsing through the backlog of Gala Darling’s “I Want To Be” posts. From time to time, Gala will feature a professional from a particular career and interview their journey getting to that point. I was actually looking to see if she’d ever done “I Want To Be…A Freelance Writer”, but I didn’t find that post. What I DID find was: “I Want To Be…A Lifestreamer!”

I had no idea what, exactly, “lifestreaming” entailed. I could guess, though, and it intrigued me enough to click on the article.

Turns out Jessica and her wife Kelly run their own School of Life Design, with lessons on how to build your life via your thoughts, and how to turn your website into the outward expression of you. Lifestreaming made immediate sense to me. One thing I’ve struggled with in the past is how to keep my “professional” life separate from my “personal” life (or my online life). I’ve always come to a stalemate with this, because I feel like every aspect of my life is so intertwined that it doesn’t make sense to try to separate them.

The concept of lifestreaming was like an excuse to stop the struggle of holding that barrier up. Make MY LIFE my work. Duh. How long have I been telling myself some form of this? I’ve constantly told myself to make my heath, yoga, hooping, whatever is most important to me my Real Work, regardless of what “day job” I might be holding down at the time. Reading Jessica’s site was like written permission to stop the niggling guilt monkeys in the back of my mind telling me that it might not be okay to live that way.

For some reason, putting a word on it, especially a word that can mean just about anything, gave it the legitimacy I needed to embrace it. I realized that pretty much all of the people I admire most are lifestreamers! Amanda Palmer, John and Hank Green, Kevin Smith, all of these people live their lives publicly online, constantly weaving their work with their lives. Their lives ARE their work!

In my poking around Jessica’s site, I also found The Popular Podcast, which she and Kelly have been doing together for years. Watching some of the episodes, I remembered that I had seen it somewhere before, a few years ago. Someone had linked to it somewhere on the Intarwebs, and I’d clicked and watched. But I hadn’t delved much deeper than that at the time.

This isn’t the first time this has happened to me, where something I find on the Internet then comes back a few years later and turns out to be really important and helpful to me. It happened with Halcyon Styn and his Hug Nation, as well. It’s always a little weird, yet synergistic, when it happens. It’s like, okay, the Universe keeps shoving me towards these people, and at the time, I wasn’t ready to hear what they had to say. But something out there knew I needed them, and it led me back at exactly the right moment.

Definitely the case with Jessica Mullen, I’m incredibly grateful to have come across her site when I did!

Lessons Learned From Jessica Mullen:

-Let go of your fears and trust that you are taken care of

-Post / talk about / think about the things that you want more of in your life

-Your life is your work!

-And much more. Not done learning from this inspirational woman!

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Evolution of a Hooper – How I Shaped My Reality Through Hoop Dance

Photo by Shellie Smith

Recently, hooper Ann Humphreys wrote about the evolution of emotions and experiences that occur with the hoop:

What happens with the hoop is that you pick it up the first time, it feels cool and kinda looks cool too! Then you learn a few things, and start to get curious about the way it works. Very curious. Then you become obsessed. You try to learn everything about hooping. You develop hoop crushes. You start going to hooping events and workshops. You meet really awesome people. You network online and stay in touch. Then the hoop becomes your community, your flow family. People have experiences you can understand. You can understand their experiences.

Then, you begin to understand that the hoop is your spiritual practice, one of your deepest expressions of self. It becomes possible for you to imagine working with the hoop into your 70s and 80s. You are grateful to be given the opportunity to live in this body, to interact with this wonderful instrument during your brief visit on earth.

Then Lara Eastburn expanded on this in a post for, describing hooper’s relationships with other hoopers.

I wanted to use it as a vehicle to talk about my own evolution with the hoop.

I definitely went through everything in that first paragraph, as I’m sure plenty of other hoopers have as well. I could probably even go back through this journal and find posts documenting each and every one of those key moments Ann mentions.

What I want to spend some time discussing is the part that happens next, when you reach that “deepest expression of self” point. And really, I think this applies to all skill toys, or anything that requires practice to learn.

When you first start out with a toy, in my case the hoop, you have limited knowledge of it. You have to get it acquainted to your body, and your body to it. This takes time. I’ve written in the past about learning to love and embrace this process, because it’s so easy to wish you were already past it all, past the learning and the struggling. You want to be in that comfort zone where everything is easy and moves just come. Where you and the hoop are both part of one unified dancer.

I know I did. Oh man. I remember watching hoop videos when I first started and going, “How do they DO that?” I remember drilling tricks into my muscle memory, waiting for the time I would try it and nail it.

The truth is, you never fully get to that point where you can do everything you want to do. People are constantly coming up with new tricks, new combos, new styles that will inspire you and you will want to try. But you DO eventually get to a point where you are comfortable with the hoop, and you are able to do little to no thinking and just dance.

And that’s when you start to really connect with your toy.

HOWEVER. It’s so easy to miss the transition, because it happens so gradually. You’ll be going along, practicing, dancing, doing everything in this effort to reach this state, and it isn’t until you stop and take stock of it that you realize you are already there. You may have actually been there for a while.

I had this realization today. Granted, this isn’t the first time I’ve had it, it happens from time to time, but today I really THOUGHT about it. I thought about how connected I feel to the hoop when I dance with it, to the point that it’s not so much a toy anymore but an instrument, an extension of my body. When I am dancing, I know where the hoop is at all times. I know where it will land if I exert force from a given angle. I know how to prepare my body to catch it before it even reaches its destination. I know how it will react if I grab it a certain way.

These are the nuances that make someone a truly great hooper. I can honestly say that in the past several months, I’ve begun to feel that I am a great hooper. I’ve been complimented by, even told that I inspire, people who I watched in awe when I first started hooping. (Who am I kidding. I still watch these people in awe. The only difference is that now the feeling is mutual.) This is a powerful feeling, something that’s very easy to let go to your head. Just because you are great doesn’t mean you can’t get better, you can’t continue to grow. My hoop still surprises me, sometimes even eludes me, when I try a move I haven’t drilled into the ground. I still watch hoopers and wonder how the heck they DO that.

However, the point is that as you progress as a hooper (or toy manipulator, or anything), your skill becomes less about big leaps as you learn new moves, and more about subtlety as you learn how to connect everything, how to make those moves that took hours and hours of practice look like they are effortless. And by the way, the reason it’s possible to make a move look effortless is that, given enough practice, it becomes effortless. You just have to put in the effort to get there. 😉

The hoop-to-body connection is something I try to stress in my classes, because I want my students to experience that feeling of oneness with the hoop as quickly as possible. Even though it isn’t possible to get there all at once, realizing it’s possible upfront makes it a much more palatable goal to attain. I don’t know that I really understood the difference between compiling tricks vs. connection with your instrument until nine months into my hoop practice, when I went to Hoop Path Retreat 3 with Baxter and Ann (yes, the same Ann from the above quote). When Bax laid that concept out on the table, my whole perspective of hooping shifted, and I began to move in the direction of the hooper I am today, which is someone I’m extremely proud of.

At HoopPath Retreat 3

In some ways it feels like it happened all at once, the initial discovery, the obsession, the travel, the people, the spiritual growth. But then I realize it happened one step at a time, as I just kept stepping in the direction I wanted to go every day, towards feeling confident enough to really call myself a Hooper with a capital “H”.

This whole experience has taught me that I can build my own reality. When I first saw hooping, I didn’t have a hoop of my own, I hadn’t even touched a hula hoop since I was a kid, and I never would have dreamed of calling myself a dancer. All I knew was that for some reason, watching these people do this thing, I felt this deep stirring in my heart and I wanted to be a hooper.

And now I AM a hooper. Because I let myself be. I could have stood in the way and said no, you’re not talented/thin/athletic/graceful/motivated/worthy/etc. enough to be a hooper. There was PLENTY of this in my way, and not all of it came from myself. For some reason, with this particular hobby, I chose to push through all that and force myself into an area I was uncomfortable with: Letting myself be who I want to be.

I could have easily stopped at phase one, picking up the hoop and thinking it feels & looks cool. But I kept stepping forward, over, under and through all of the opposition that stood in the way of getting to the next step of the hoop journey. I did it, and continue to do it, one day at a time.

If you want it, it can happen. Just TRUST, and DO.