FULL CIRCLE by Terri Lyne Carrington

Teri Lyne Carrington

When I look back on my life there are a lot of instances where people, especially women, have told me how much I inspire them, seeing me as fearless and daring. This was not always comfortable because I always felt like I was just being me. Factually speaking, I am a drummer, playing an instrument predominantly played by men in a male-dominated music industry, so I have had to be fearless and daring or I would not have gotten very far in my field. What I find interesting is how I’ve had to present myself in order to be accepted in this community. This was not a fully conscious effort on my part.

I was always pretty good at reading personalities and figuring out what needed to be done or said in order for a situation to produce or fulfill its maximum potential. My personality is strong, not uncommon for women in my field, and often people find that intimidating, so I naturally developed a way to present a more softened version of myself – a “me” that I actually grew to be quite fond of as well. Still, what repeatedly rings in my ears is my mother’s voice scolding me as a child for being too concerned with what other people think. And later in life, I recall my dad’s voice remarking on how it was the veteran musicians – one or two generations before mine – that hired and supported me the most, indicating that I was never fully accepted by the majority of my peers. And to be noted, I was nearly peerless on my instrument.

I believe that we are continuously coming into our own as human beings. This evolution can be a wonderful process. During the period that I worked with mostly musicians of a previous generation, I learned more than I could have ever imagined if they had not mentored me. Jack DeJohnnette, Clark Terry, Wayne Shorter, Lester Bowie, Herbie Hancock, Bernice Johnson Reagon, as well as my big sister-friends that were hovering around 10 years my senior; Dianne Reeves, Patrice Rushen, Cassandra Wilson. All of these people helped to create a nurturing community that I called home, literally and figuratively. I was able to be open, honest and a work in progress, while still trying to figure out how I fit into the dynamic of the male centered jazz culture.

As I matured, I discovered that a big part of the “me” had developed for the comfort of others. I toed the line of what would be considered acceptable social behavior for women in the ’80’s and ’90’s, and the far less acceptable behavior of a woman that wanted the same societal freedoms of her male counterparts, comfortably going toe to toe with them as well, a balancing act that can be tiresome. Well, now in my 50s, as cliché as it may sound, I am finally daring to be my fabulous self, however that turns out, without regard for other people’s expectations.

I am finally realizing how much time I spent and wasted on trying to fit into various boxes–from worrying about who likes me, or who doesn’t, to worrying about my pant size or my hairstyle. Dianne Reeves once told me that I spent too much time trying to find “what is hip?” and that I did not realize that I am “what is hip!” I thought about that one day and the truth in her statement brought me to tears. Though I am confident, intelligent, strong-willed, and relatively outspoken, I have felt very much misunderstood over the course of my life and I finally get that I have some responsibility for that. I see that it takes a lot of courage to discover and to be your authentic self in an environment that is constantly telling you how to be.

Most of us are complex people that find it difficult to be free enough to outwardly show the beauty and neurosis of our many complexities, whether in our personal relationships, career, or society in general. I know now that the freedom I’ve been looking for has always lived within, and that I have been my own road block to fully accessing it. This kind of freedom is a real possession. Though I still struggle to bring it to the exterior, I know that I have to in order to live my life genuinely, because it is not something that someone else will grant me.

I have had many examples that have brought these principles to light for me. When I tried to make a CD after the success of my Grammy-nominated debut CD in 1989, I could not get arrested. I went over 10 years without label interest, but when I invested in myself, produced and paid for it on my own, my career trajectory changed to being a solo artist that has since won three Grammy awards, creating the art autonomously.

With all the praise, awards and critical acclaim I have received over the years, outward reinforcement of my being “fabulous” never really stuck with me because career accomplishments alone did not make me feel complete. It is my personal growth and discovery of self that makes me feel more fabulous every year, and contributes heavily to my faith, confidence and perseverance. Without these things, I could not successfully pass down my knowledge and experience to others.

The one event that has made me feel especially fabulous is my decision to raise a child, which has now been an 11-year journey. Having a child, something that is simple for (or even expected of) many women, has presented its challenges, but I would not trade the experience for anything in the world. It takes work, sacrifice and commitment to adapt – regularly. I had romanticized parenthood, but now I see how fabulous mothers truly are. It is the hardest thing I have ever done! Although co-parenting is not always easy, we are both grateful and proud to be parents to an amazing little boy. I had faith that the right “child spirit” would choose us, and I still believe that to be true. Though my family is being formed alternatively, there is a natural joy and sense of purpose that comes with this, and I am so glad I did not allow the business of my career to rob me of this experience.

I moved back to my hometown a little over 10 years ago, and I am now far away from everything I knew and loved in Southern California, but this chapter is still being written and I trust the universe to unfold the future as it should. I am now the Zildjian Chair in Performance at Berklee Global Jazz Institute, so my life has come full circle, teaching at the same college I attended over 30 years ago.

This is who I am – an artist, a mother, a hope-to-be grandmother, as well as a daughter and a teacher, and I dare to be fabulous!

Terri Lyne Carrington Grammy

Terri Lyne Carrington was given her first set of drums at the age of seven, and by the age of 11, she received a full scholarship to the prestigious Berklee College of Music. She has toured with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Stan Getz, Al Jarreau and others, and is a three-time GRAMMY award-winning artist and producer. She is also the Zildjian Chair in Performance at Berklee Global Jazz Institute.  

 

A SHY TV ANCHOR by Wendy Tokuda

Wendy Tokuda

I am a shy person at my core, but no one believes this because for almost 40 years, I made my living as a TV news anchor and reporter.

It’s true. When I was little, I was so shy that I wouldn’t go trick-or-treating. My brothers and sisters would come back with huge bags of candy, dumping them on the floor and running out again for more. I can still see them, breathless with sugar-charged excitement, trying to get me to come along, but the idea of knocking on the doors of strangers or even neighbors was just too terrifying.

Having to sell Girl Scout cookies door to door was torture. At one home, the lady made my sister and I come inside to kvell over our little uniforms. I wore one of those little Brownie beanies. I still remember the kvelling– INSIDE A STRANGER’S HOUSE. It was mortifying. 

Wendy Tokuda girl scoutWhat I enjoyed most was playing by myself in our small backyard. My dad made me a bird feeder and in the spring the birds would nest in the Hawthorne trees next to my bedroom window. My favorite childhood memory is watching the whole nesting process, from the egg laying all the way to that amazing day when the chicks fledged on unsteady wing, with their nervous parents shrieking hysterically.

I was a living stereotype of the nice little Japanese girl: quiet, polite, and obedient. My mom worried that I would spend my life being stepped on like a doormat. She told me that she spent much of her own life as a doormat, and the idea of me repeating that experience saddened her. My poor mom raised five kids, pretty much on her own. One of my brothers is disabled and one sister had emotional problems and my dad could never really handle it. If one of us did something wrong (and you know how kids are), he would go nuts, yelling, and often hitting my brothers.

This had a huge affect on all of us. I learned not to do anything wrong. I learned how to avoid conflict.

Staying under the radar was actually something the whole Japanese American community did. The WWII Internment Camps had only closed down in 1946 and our parents were busy trying to reestablish their homes and businesses. We lived with this unspoken truth: you could lose everything in a moment because of your race. There was less chance of that if we avoided conflict and studied hard. We set out to prove that we were good Americans.

All of this made me even less willing to take gambles and just reinforced my need to seek approval. Add being shy to that mix and you get the picture.

At some point though, I began to see that being shy, quiet and obedient meant you usually didn’t get what you wanted. Sometimes you didn’t even KNOW what you wanted because you were so used to being obedient.

My disabled brother and sister NEVER got what they wanted. Neither did my mom.

All of these quiet realizations led to THE MOMENT. I don’t personally remember this moment, but my mother did, and she has recounted THE MOMENT in vivid terms:

I was about 10 years old, and quietly (as usual) sitting at the kitchen table with Mom and her friend. My mom was talking about how worried she was about my siblings, when suddenly, as she tells it, I hit my fist on the table and announced, “I’m not going to be like that!!”

She was stunned. Such a dramatic pronouncement was totally out of character.

But in fact, after THE MOMENT, I began to change.

I don’t remember thinking any of this through at the time, nor was I consciously aware of how badly I wanted something different for myself. What I do remember is slowly starting my own little assertiveness training program, forcing myself to be more out there. Looking back, this took some serious willpower. I ramped up those efforts when we moved to a new neighborhood and I had to meet new kids.

It was really hard at first, foisting myself on strangers. I had to force myself to say “hi” and to start a conversation. It felt almost out-of-body strange- like acting- very inorganic.

One day, I found an old copy of How to Make Friends and Influence People, among my dad’s old books. That book taught me a lot. It taught me to break the ice by asking questions. I learned to listen well, and I came to realize that I was actually pretty good at making other people feel comfortable. I think this process helped me recognize that even though I was shy, I had natural communication skills.

High school for me became all about making friends and influencing people. Our school had a large percentage of Asian students- in fact our entire top 10 were Asian. But the Asian children of tiger moms were not getting what they wanted- they were keeping their heads down and worrying about grades. I really did not want to be stuck in that box. I became loud, opinionated, and outgoing. I was a cheerleader.

During college, Asian Americans were joining the larger civil rights movement. Being Japanese American became something I felt proud of, not something I felt I had to overcome. Women were pushing for equal rights- no more doormats. I was getting outside reinforcement to break stereotypes and to reach for something larger. I changed my major from Elementary Education to Political Science.

By the time I finished college and started thinking about a career, I was a more complex person- still shy inside, but with a learned ability to push past that, and meet, greet and pursue.

A Japanese American woman had just started reporting on local TV in Seattle. When she came on, my father would yell, “BARBARA’S ON TV!” and we’d all come running into the living room to watch.

Maybe I could do that, I thought…

Someone knew her and arranged for me to shadow her in the newsroom one morning. At some point during that visit, I recognized deep in my gut, this was where I belonged. This was what I really wanted.

Shyness can end your career in a newsroom. But the best thing I had going for me, shy or not, was persistence. That was crucial in landing that first on-air job, and later, in getting information. If someone said no, I had to find a way around it.

When I got that first job as a reporter, we had to have our scripts checked by the Managing Editor. I would stand politely in line while other reporters simply jumped in front of me. “Sorry Tokuda, I’m on deadline,” or “I’m late, I have to get in here!” I would think to myself in my small, shy voice, “I’m on a deadline too…”

I had to learn to push my way in and stand my ground. I forced myself way out of my comfort zone to approach strangers and get “man-on-the-street” interviews. Again, it felt awkward and inorganic at first, but I pushed through that feeling and just did it.

Having a microphone and a photographer at my side gave me a power I’d never had. “Excuse me, Channel 5 here,” I learned to say, walking taller. The waters would part, and we’d move through the crowd.

Another thing I liked about reporting- we weren’t IN the conflict; we were COVERING it. We were trained to be fair. Not to take sides, but to find the truth. The truth would speak for itself.

Reporting involved skills that regularly pushed me out of my cocoon- asking a lot of questions was the only way to get a story, and speaking out was the only way to be heard. I found that I had a competitive, ambitious side too, which seemed to grow with success.

One day my mother asked me, which are you: the shy little girl, or the pushy broad? I thought about it, and answered, “I guess I’m both.”

The truth was, sometimes that pushy bravado still felt a little forced. It would take many years for me to find the boundaries of what I was really made of and to feel truly integrated, whole and authentic. It took successes and failures and life to develop true confidence.

I was in my 50s by then . . .

I’m retired now. As I’ve gotten older, I care less about what others think, but the shy thing never totally goes away.

I still feel shy when we go to parties with a lot of strangers or if I have to meet an important person. During the election this fall, I had to gather all my courage to hand out leaflets at the farmer’s market for a friend who was running for office. For the most part, I now accept shyness as one of the many characteristics that make me who I am.

By the way, I have several bird feeders now. I am back out in the garden and spend hours in the forest doing environmental restoration work. It’s very healing after all those years of pushing. I am enjoying a quiet peace.

Wendy TokudaWendy Tokuda was a San Francisco Bay Area television staple for more than 30 years, as both TV news anchor and feature reporter. She retired from broadcast journalism in 2016.

 

WHERE THERE’S SMOKE, THERE’S FIRE by Caroline Paul

Caroline Paul

The first dog I ever rescued bit me. I held on, so he dropped two poops onto the sleeve of my fire coat. I couldn’t blame him: I was just the latest bummer in what had been a very bad doggy day. There had been flames, there had been smoke, there had been the shouts of strange people. With an axe at my side, and an air mask on my face, I was as scary as the rest. But I held him tightly and, whispering promises of dog bones and hugs, I carried him to fresh air. The owner rushed at us, arms outstretched, crying.

This was a fairly typical workday for me. I was a San Francisco firefighter, part of a crew called Rescue 2. Our job was to search for victims in fires, and sometimes those victims were dogs who pooped on our fire coats.

When my career began back in 1989 there were barely any female firefighters, in the whole wide world. In the San Francisco Fire Department, for instance, I was the fifteenth woman hired. That may sound like a lot, until you realize that there were one thousand five hundred men.

This meant that I was the only female firefighter on my shift. Sometimes I was the only female firefighter the other men had ever seen! I loved the job and I respected many of my coworkers but, let’s face it, it’s tough to be different. As the only woman, I was left out of the jokes. I was excluded from the easy camaraderie. I often didn’t understand the social rules. For the most part, the ostracization wasn’t purposeful. I was like that new kid in school with weird hair and crazy clothes who couldn’t find someone to eat with at lunch.

Firefighting was full of adventure and excitement, but it was also difficult, those first years. People had a lot of questions. Were women strong enough? Were women brave enough? I was watched very carefully. Any mistake would not just reflect on me, it would reflect on all women, and each female firefighter knew it. Some of the men were mean in ways that were so dumb and embarrassing for them it isn’t worth mentioning here. But many were decent and respectful, even if they, too, had doubts. Soon three of us women had joined the biggest station in the city, on the rig that responded to the most fires, called Rescue 2.

Art 80 - What it looks likeJoin me now at a fairly typical fire. That’s me, crawling down a hallway. I’m hauling hose, but you can’t see me because the smoke is so thick. I can’t see me, either – not my hand in front of my face, not the beam of the flashlight on my shoulder, not the floor beneath me. My partner, Victor, is behind me, and he keeps bumping into me, but that’s okay, because I keep bumping into Frank, who in turn must be bumping into Andy, who is at the front of the line and is most certainly bumping into walls. The is how it goes in what we call “a really good fire,” which to most people actually means “a really bad fire” – terrible visibility, a lot of clambering around, and air that seems made of molten lava stinging your ears.

One day, there was a small fire, confined to one room; an engine crew had already extinguished it. We jumped from the rig anyway, and walked toward the chief for instructions. I could still see smoke wafting from the window several stories up, but clearly the flames were out. Then something caught my eye. A small black object, on the ledge outside the smoking window. I squinted. Was it alive? Yes, it was.

I took the stairs two at a time. I rushed past the crew in the apartment. I asked someone to grab my coat, then I leaned as far as I could out the window. There she was, just within arm’s reach: a tiny, mewling black kitten. “Hello,” I said in my most soothing voice.

Below a crowd of gawkers milled like ants, but I didn’t allow myself to look down. I extended my arm slowly. I tried to communicate pure thoughts of animal love. I murmured nonsensical assurances. I hoped for a miracle. And the miracle happened. The kitten didn’t run, as kittens are wont to do when strangers approach. I grabbed, latching on to her tiny scruff and pulled her back into the apartment. She was shivering, so I dropped her into my coat. I held her next to my heart. “You’re okay,” I told her, “you’re okay,” and together we headed for the stairs.

Caroline PaulOnce a young scaredy-cat, Caroline Paul grew up to fly planes, raft rivers, climb mountains, and fight fires. In her book, The Gutsy Girl: Escapades for Your Life of Epic Adventure (illustrated by Wendy MacNaughton) Caroline shares her greatest escapades and encourages a new generation to conquer fears, face challenges, and pursue the lives they want — lives of confidence, self-reliance, friendship, and fun. 

A COMEDY WRITER’S STORY by Ali Rushfield

A Comedy Writer's Story

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be invisible? You probably imagine a scenario like this: you, listening in on your best friend’s conversations, find out what everyone really thinks of you. You are happily surprised to discover that while they think you have a big mouth and cannot be trusted with secrets, they consider you loyal and think you’ve been looking better than ever these days. Okay, slow down. That’s not the kind of benign invisibility I’m talking about.

Have you ever sat with eight to ten of the funniest people you’ve ever met, said something you thought was one of the most hilarious things your brain has ever managed to conjure up, and suddenly felt invisible? Not even like you ceased to exist, more like you never existed in the first place. Pairs of eyes glazing over you as if you were only an empty chair. Or worse, looking right through you, as if you were made of air. Invisible.

That is what happened to me in the writer’s room. More specifically, the writer’s room of a TV comedy show. In 2001, when I just started out working in TV comedy, I worked in one of the most difficult writer’s room there is, Judd Apatow’s, on his show, Undeclared. It was difficult in the way you want a writer’s room to be difficult—everyone was so good at what they did, it was hard to make a dent. It was like sitting at a dinner table surrounded by sharp wits, all day, every day. But I couldn’t sit there silently and pick at my food. This was my job. I was being paid. I was expected to pull my weight.

The range of reactions to my jokes (and everyone else’s) ranged from being invisible to being made fun of mercilessly, so much so, that whatever joke you happened to make became a nickname that could follow you for the rest of your career. (The story isn’t worth retelling here, but I was known as “Cranky Pastrami” for a time during Undeclared.)

Let me just point out the obvious perks: free food, free Red Vines, free soda and candy, free paper and pens (I haven’t paid for a pen in over 15 years.) It is the greatest job in the world, the only downside are the dangers of invisibility or humiliation, as well as mockery for your age, gender, race, religion, etc. I also want to point out that I have no memory of ever having my feelings hurt in the writer’s room over one of my missed attempts at a joke. It was embarrassing on those occasions, maybe, but the environment was never threatening. These people became my best friends.

Eventually, I developed a skin to the humiliation. The moments of being mocked, rejected or just ignored became a positive. It made the skin stronger, until it was an almost armadillo-like shell. Once that skin was there, I could do anything. I could say anything. I was on a suicide mission. Nothing could hurt me.

I contributed my real life story of flying, which became the air marshal story in the movie Bridesmaids (though in my true life tale, the guy was not actually an air marshal.) I went to a joke writing session for the movie Anchorman and was initially in awe. Will Ferrell. Adam McKay. Steve Carell. It was the most intimidating writer’s room I could imagine, but I remembered that I had that skin and that I had built it up for exactly this kind of situation. I don’t remember what I said, but I know I made everyone laugh. It was a career high.

For a while I felt invincible in the writer’s room. My skin was so thick, it was like being on a suicide mission. I could say and do anything without fear of embarrassment or taunting. If anyone tried to mock me, I mocked back (not necessarily my proudest). That skin had reached its maximum strength. It was as I was a knight or an armadillo. Untouchable. Then, things changed. I started work on a new show (new for me anyway, it had been on the air for four seasons by that point). The show was Parks and Recreation. It’s a funny show. I’m a funny writer. I assumed it would be a perfect fit. But Parks and Rec was not my finest hour. I couldn’t click with the show. I pitched jokes that people thought were funny, but almost never right for the episode we were working on. I remember throwing something out there for the main character, which I thought was particularly hilarious and the show runner responded by saying, “That would be amazing . . . if she were out of her fucking mind.”

My carefully developed skin was eroding, and it was all because I had become cocky. Now, that skin thinned down to something akin to an old grape. I thought I no longer had feelings when it came to the writer’s room. But I did. I realized this because now everything seemed to be hurting my feelings. There was a day when everyone ordered individual chicken potpies for lunch. I was out of the room and they forgot about me, so when the potpies showed up and there wasn’t one for me, I actually went into my office and cried. A thick-skinned powerhouse does not cry alone because of a potpie. But I did. My reign was over. Or so I thought. I left the job feeling like I had, for the first time, failed.

Don’t worry. This story has a happy ending. I spent two years away from the writer’s room and wrote my own stuff. I drew cartoons. One was published in The New Yorker. My confidence came back eventually. I now work on the Netflix show Love. It’s a pretty friendly writer’s room. My skin isn’t particularly thick or thin. I’m not cocky, but I feel confident. I have found a middle ground.

Ali RushfieldAli Rushfield is a TV comedy writer and producer. She was a writer and co-executive producer of  Undeclared and  Parks and Recreation and is writer and co-executive producer of the Netflix show, Love.  

 

TRUCKIN’ by Johanna McCloy

Truckin'

It was the fall of 1984 and I was a sophomore at Duke University. My boyfriend Mark had just graduated and was uncertain about what he wanted to pursue as a career, so he extended his summer job as a driver and mover for a local moving company while he pondered his path and his future.

The moving company that he worked for was founded by a couple of Deadheads, Doug and Toni. Besides them, the staff comprised of Mark, Mark’s brother, and about five other employees, so it was small and had the feel of a large family. The name of the company was Truckin’ Movers and their logo was the same famous Grateful Dead boot that is seen on the cover of the band’s live Europe ’72 album. (I was told that Doug ardently pursued and happily received the band’s permission to use the name and logo.)

In addition to being Deadheads, Doug and Toni were also Krishna devotees, so Doug sometimes wore traditional Indian clothes to the office and donned a tilak (ash mark) on his forehead. In their Durham warehouse, incense smoke wafted in the air and shoes were stashed at the front door. Tapes of the Dead played all day with occasional interludes of Krishna chanting. We knew to be quiet upon entering the warehouse whenever chanting was heard.

While I made my way from Philosophy to Japanese to Geology classes at Duke, my beau mastered the art of loading and driving an 18-wheeler. The large truck had just been added to their fleet of smaller vehicles and Mark was the first employee to get a big rig driver’s license. It wasn’t easy. Maneuvering such a large truck was one thing, but there were also 12 gears and a very specific approach to braking. (If you’ve ever seen runaway truck ramps, that’s what they’re for, braking problems.) Mark had to know about the truck’s mechanics and followed a regimented checklist before each trip, just as a pilot does with a plane before taking off. He also had to know what to expect at highway weigh stations and how to address any issues that might arise there.

When Mark drove long distances over holidays, school breaks or weekends, he’d sometimes take me along, picking me up at the house where I lived off campus. Everyone knew he was coming for blocks before he arrived, because you could hear the truck’s rattling diesel engine and the hissing and squealing of its brakes. Large rigs weren’t supposed to drive through smaller neighborhoods, so as soon as I heard his truck approaching, I’d run outside and wait at the curb. He’d drive up and I’d open the passenger door, take the three large steps up into the cab, plop into the large rotating seat awaiting me, and throw my duffel bag into the sleeper area behind us while the truck barely idled. Then, he’d get the truck out of there before the police could arrive to hand us a ticket. (Doug and Toni weren’t always informed that I joined him.)

Truckin TrailerThe truck’s CB created another world on the freeways, an audio salon covering about a five-mile radius. Over the CB, truckers talked to each other about their jobs, the roads, their trucks, or the area around them. The most common use of the CB was to announce “Smokey” (highway patrol officer) sightings, which allowed truckers approaching the area enough time to slow down and avoid a possible speed trap. In Mark’s case, he received a lot of questions regarding the relatively new crate and tarp system that was being used on his 18-wheel trailer. After explaining how it worked several times, Mark suggested that I take the next query. I happily consented and we decided to make my CB “handle“ Tokyo Rose, based on my years of living in Tokyo as a teenager. It wasn’t typical for a female voice to be heard on the CB and the actress in me loved it. I’d use any excuse to start a conversation. “What’s the weather like in Bammy [Alabama]? Over.”

Truckers also used the CB to comment on motorists, looking down from their high perches into neighboring car windows and taking note of what they saw. Approaching truckers would be told to watch out for the chick in the blue skirt in the brown Toyota, for example. They’d look into the car as they passed, commenting to everyone with a “woohoo,” or “let’s see more of those legs, darlin’.” Little did that poor girl know that all the truckers in the vicinity were talking about her. Moving freely to her tunes, she was likely feeling invisible inside her boxed enclosure.

I learned about runaway ramps located off steep inclines for trucks whose brakes were failing. I learned about the frequency of torn tires and the need for replacements. I also learned the silent ways that truckers communicate by blinking their lights once to tell a truck behind them to go ahead and pass, and blinking twice as a way to say thank you after getting in front, if you were the truck that did so.

When we went to truck stops, we always used North Carolina accents so we could blend in and converse without calling attention to ourselves. When we pulled into weigh stations along the freeways, we’d hear the universal request from the officials awaiting us, arms outstretched with a palm open toward the driver’s window, their words jumbled together as one: “drivuhzlicenserestrationlawoogbuuk!” (driver’s license, registration, log book.)

A trucker’s log book identifies the drivers, the truck owner, the type of truck and the commodities being shipped in its trailer. It also tracks the location and miles for every 15 minute interval of time, whether on or off duty, and throughout every 24 hour period. (This is because there are strict laws regulating how much time a trucker can drive between rests. A faulty log book can result in harsh fines and even prosecution.) After the officials checked the documents and found them to be okay, which was most of the time, Mark would drive onto the designated scale markers on the ground. Each axle would be weighed to ensure compliance with state law maximums and a red or green light would indicate whether we’d need to pull over for further inspection or were free to move on.

When Mark first started driving for Truckin’ Movers, they only owned small trucks, so we were accustomed to riding together on those long vinyl seats that ran across the cabs and rattled along with the truck engines. When he graduated to the 18-wheeler, it felt like we’d become freeway royalty, bouncing with soft air suspension above everyone, in big comfortable easy chair thrones. The first couple of times we rode in those trucks, we’d inevitably break into British accents, pretend waving as if on a parade, “greetings to the minions.” When I rode along with him on multi-day trips, we generally stayed in motels overnight, but when he was alone with the big rig, he’d park at the large truck stops and sleep in the sleeper section of the cab, occasionally awoken by truck stop prostitutes knocking on the cab door to see if he might need anything.

One time, we were hit by a horrible storm in Alabama. I usually helped him by tracking inventory of the items being moved, but that day, I helped him load the truck as well. He was solo and the weather made the work even more grueling. The shipper couldn’t have been nicer and didn’t balk about the trucker’s girlfriend helping him load. After we finished loading, it was after dark and we were frozen to the core. We drove to a motel, took long hot baths and buried ourselves under the blankets, our bodies aching from head to toe. Another time, we unloaded a truck in San Francisco, where Glen, Mark’s “humper” (that’s the actual job title used for the person who assists the main driver/loader in the moving business), literally humped the client in her bedroom as we inventoried and unloaded her furniture on the floor below. She came downstairs with a wide grin on her face and when we were done, she took us all out for pizza.

Mark and I enjoyed all the adventure and independence that came with life on the road. We enjoyed it so much, in fact, that we seriously pondered buying our own truck and taking a year to live and work on the road as independent owner/operators after I graduated from college. That didn’t come to pass, but it remained a dream for some time.

When I’m on road trips and I pass big trucks on the highway or on long country roads, I consider my brief sojourn into that world and smile. Sometimes, I blink my lights to offer a trucker the chance to pass me, or as a way to say thank you for letting me do the same.

Tokyo Rose says hi. Over.

Johanna McCloy is the editor of Dare to be Fabulous. She is also the editor of her mother’s memoir, Six Car Lengths Behind an Elephant:Undercover and Overwhelmed as a CIA Wife and Mother by Lillian McCloy. (An excerpt from that memoir, “Mrs. Spook, Spain, 1965” is also featured on Dare to be Fabulous.) 

AN INDEPENDENT WOMAN by Sohini Chakraborty

Sohini Chakraborty (Micky Wiswedel photographer Photo Courtsey Vital Voices)

I decided at a young age that I wanted to live my life as an independent woman. I know a lot of women are independent in spirit, but in my case, I also wanted to live on my own, outside of my family’s home. In the cultural context of life in India, this was very bold, as family is a big thing. The traditional way of life in India is that children continue to live with their parents or their families until they are young adults, usually until they marry. I was single, and I wanted to stay single, but I also wanted complete independence. I wanted to not only live in my own space, I also wanted to have financial independence. That was my choice, my decision alone. I was considered a rebel.

My mother died young, so I grew up living with my father. I was a dancer, but I had a degree in Sociology, so I think he wanted me to get a good government job. My decision to live independently was not a decision against him; it was a decision for myself. This was very different from the traditional or “normal” life of a woman in India and it was very, very challenging.

When I was 21 or 22 years old, I had a big idea that dance could change lives. I began to fully pursue that idea when a lot of people were saying that it wouldn’t work. It was a bold decision, but I’ve chosen to live life on my own terms. I think that my independent spirit has helped me to be successful.

Prior to starting Kolkata Sanved in 2004, I had spent about nine years pursuing my dream of changing women’s lives through dance. Most of that time was a constant struggle, but I decided that all those challenges provided me the opportunity to move ahead in life. That’s how I got to where I am today.

I had a daring dream that dance could change lives and I transformed it into an organization: Kolkata Sanved. It was only my dream, one person’s dream, but now it’s the collective dream of many women, and it is truly transforming lives.

For all women who speak Bengali, I share this video message (I have also inserted English subtitles:)

 

Sohini ChakrabortySohini Chakraborty is a sociologist, Ashoka Fellow, dance activist, and Founder/Director of Kolkata Sanved, which has expanded the notions of dance and traditional rehabilitation programs. Through Kolkata Sanved’s groundbreaking dance/movement therapy program, survivors of violence and trafficking release trauma, develop confidence, identify their own potential as human beings, and become independent and empowered individuals rather than victims.

THE ADVENTURE OF CHANGING ONE’S WORLD by Tabra Tunoa

Tabra Tunoa logo

I am Tabra Tunoa, Fabulous, Creative, Jewelry Designer, Artist, and Very Courageous World Traveling Adventurer. That’s how I like to think of myself….

In the summer of 2006, I decided the time had come for me to stop designing and manufacturing jewelry in the U.S. and move “Tabra International” to Bali, Indonesia. I couldn’t afford health insurance for my employees any longer and the increasingly difficult economic times were stressful. I had marched and marched in the streets of San Francisco protesting the beginning of the Iraqi war and was becoming discouraged as the war started anyway and then dragged on year after year. I was angry, depressed and obsessed about it.  I was losing interest in creating beautiful art.

My business had grown from selling jewelry on the street to a corporation with jewelry sales close to five million a year. My business won the “Inc. 500” Award for one of the fastest growing small businesses in America for two years in a row along with a prestigious Award for Diversity and Social Responsibility in the Work Place. There were many newspaper and book articles written about the way I created jobs for refugees.

In 1997, I faced a difficult life situation. I went bankrupt and lost everything – my house, my car and of course, my business. I was penniless with no prospect of a job. Realizing that there was no one who would hire me at the salary I wanted or give me the freedom of “running the whole show,” I began slowly and painfully to rebuild my business.

During my 20s, I lived with my son in various countries in the South Pacific, the Caribbean, Europe and Central America. I only returned to live in my home in Texas, when it became clear that the war in Vietnam was ending. However, I never really fit in there, so my former college art teacher suggested that I should try Berkeley, California.  Sure enough, at the age of 29, I found a place where an eccentric, non-conforming gypsy, hippie artist and single mother, could thrive.

I sold on the streets of Berkeley for many years before deciding to try the Renaissance and Harvest Festivals. That’s when I began to make real money from designing and creating my hand-made jewelry. The next step was to hire employees to meet the growing demand for my work. I also hired a professional business therapist to teach me how to manage and run a business.

For some 30 years, while traveling in remote corners of the world, buying stones and beads, looking for inspiration, and selling in fairs across America, I continued to grow my business and raise my son in California – all at the same time. In 2006, with my son grown up, and me without a significant other, I was ready for life in another culture again. I was ready for more adventure. I would go alone and I would be okay.

After making that difficult decision (the logistics of it all were absolutely daunting), I gave my employees six months to find another job. The majority were Asian refugees who had fled oppression in their own countries. Some of the refugees had worked with me for 20 years and many had chosen my company when they first arrived in the U.S. fresh off the boat, so to speak. They took my announcement with amazing grace and supported what they knew I had to do.

Powerful Bronze Indonesian Moon Goddess Amulet Bracelet With Lapis Lazuli Eye Symbols To ard off Evil and Protect the Wearer. Set in Sterling Silver Designed by Tabra and Fabricated in Bali.

Some of my employees found other jobs right away and some stayed with me until the end – helping me with the difficult business of closing down my life in America. Some didn’t like the new jobs they found, returning to work with me again until they could find another job that suited them better. I had been advised that this was not the way to close the business – that it would be best to announce the closing as I passed out their final checks, the same day I closed, but I closed my business in the manner I felt my employees deserved. They had to make their own adjustments and it would be difficult for them, as well. What I kept reminding myself throughout the process was “this is not all about me.” We had worked together for so long, through major ups and downs, and they were like family. Those who stayed with me got jewelry-making equipment, office supplies, computers, beads and bonuses at the end. Everyone got something.

During those hectic six months, I took time to write up plans for my future – a one year plan, a five year plan and a twenty-five year end of life plan. It was important for me to be very clear with myself about what I wanted to do with the remainder of my life.

I decided that Costa Rica and Bali, Indonesia would be my focus countries. I knew that I wouldn’t be happy being tied down to just one country or one culture and I wasn’t finished designing and creating. There were still many women who enjoyed wearing and collecting my jewelry and I wanted to supply them. I also knew that wherever I went, helping educate young women in Third World countries would be an important part of my life.  That would be my gift to the world.

Figuring out what I would need in my new life and what I should let go of, working with lawyers, accountants, realtors and distributors, shipping beads and stones to Bali – took the full six months. It was difficult, fun, physically and emotionally exhausting, exciting and sometimes sad. I was working 16 hours a day, making important decisions every hour that would directly affect the rest of my life. Although it was scary, there was really no time to think about how difficult and complicated I was deliberately making my life.

On the third of January, 2007, I flew to Bali alone – to begin the next phase of changing my world: setting up my workshop and making my jewelry in Bali, selling it directly on my new website www.tabra.com and opening up my beautiful little gallery on Hanuman Street in downtown Ubud, the Art and Cultural Center of Indonesia.  I continued to sell my Tribal, Modern/Ethnic Jewelry to wonderful craft galleries in the U.S., Australia and Japan. I hired five smart, young Balinese women and began English classes for them and Indonesian classes for myself – so that we could communicate. I told them my life goals and they told me theirs. That way we could all help each other achieve those goals.

Three months after arriving in Bali, my condo back in California, sold. I took the profit and made a down payment on 85 acres of jungle and a small cabin in the Turrubares Mountains of Costa Rica. I put the rest of my money into gold and silver investments. I had worked with silver and gold for so long, I felt I understood that market best.  It turned out I had made wise decisions. I sold my house and invested in metals at a very good time.

My future plans continue to develop as new opportunities arise or the unexpected occurs and I have to change directions. However, my overall plan has remained the same: live part of the year in Bali, visit my friends and family in the U.S. every year and develop my land in Costa Rica for eventual retirement. I will build cabins for my artist friends, people I like and family  to live near or visit me often as I grow older. It will be another calculated, but crazy adventure.

The challenge of changing your world takes the courage to be different, to risk disapproval, and to take chances, but for me, it has been worth it. My life is interesting and full of change. I have no regrets. I love the world I have created for myself.

Returning to the U.S. to see family and good friends for a few weeks each year is very important to me. I miss the long walks in the forest with my best friend and seeing her two or three times a week in California. Best friends are not replaceable. But I write long letters and visit her twice a year and I cherish the memories I have of the good times.

I have made many mistakes, but I have tried to learn from them and live my life with grace. Now, I am ready for new challenges. My life in America is finished. From time to time, when things get really tough, I tell myself that maybe I will settle down and live a safe, uncomplicated, predictable life. But I can’t. And, anyway, I don’t want to. I’m addicted to adventure and change.

Tabra TunoaInternationally known artist, Tabra Tunoa, is a leader in the Contemporary Ethnic style of Gypsy Jewelry. She studied Mayan and Aztec art at the University of Mexico City and in San Jose, Costa Rica. She also studied jewelry design at the Masana Art Institute in Barcelona, Spain in the ’60s and ’70s.  She continues designing jewelry and working with young Balinese women in her home near Ubud.

ON SELF-ESTEEM by Gloria Steinem

Gloria Steinem "On Self-Esteem"

As wise women and men in every culture tell us: The art of life is not controlling what happens to us, but using what happens to us.

Like all great oaks, this understanding began with a very small acorn.

It was the late sixties, those days that were still pre-feminist for me. I didn’t question the fact that male journalists with less experience than I were getting the political assignments that were my real interest. Instead, I was grateful to be writing profiles of visiting celebrities – a departure from the fashion and family subjects that female reporters were usually given – and this included an interview that was to take place over tea in the Palm Court of the Plaza Hotel.

Because the actor was very late, I waited while the assistant manager circled disapprovingly and finally approached. “Unescorted ladies,” he announced loudly, were “absolutely not allowed” in the lobby. I told him I was a reporter waiting for an arriving guest who couldn’t be contacted any other way – an explanation that sounded lame even to me. The manager escorted me firmly past curious bystanders and out the lobby door.

I was humiliated. Did I look like a prostitute? Was my trench coat too battered – or not battered enough? I was anxious: How was I going to find my subject and do my work? I decided to wait outside the revolving door in the hope of spotting the famous actor through its glass, but an hour passed with no success.

Later, I learned that he had arrived, failed to see me, and left. His press agent called my editor to complain that I had “stood up” his client. The actor missed his publicity, the editor missed a deadline, and I missed a check that I needed to pay the rent. I also blamed myself for not figuring out how to “get the story” and worried about being demoted permanently back to the ghetto of “women’s interest” articles I was trying to escape.

By coincidence a month or so later, I was assigned to interview another celebrity who was also staying at the Plaza. To avoid a similar fiasco, I had arranged to meet this one in his suite, but on my way through the lobby, I noticed my former nemesis standing guard. Somehow, I found myself lingering, as if rooted to the spot – and sure enough, the manager approached me with his same officious speech. But this time I was amazed to hear myself saying some very different things. I told him this was a public place where I had every legal right to be, and asked why he hadn’t banished the several “unescorted men” in the lobby who might be male prostitutes. I also pointed out that since hotel staffs were well known to supply call girls in return for a percentage of their pay, perhaps he was just worried about losing a commission.

He looked quite startled – and let me stay. I called my subject and suggested we have tea downstairs after all. It turned out to be a newsworthy interview, and I remember writing it up with more ease than usual and delivering it with an odd sense of well-being.

What was the lesson of these two incidents? Clearly, the assistant manager and I were unchanged. I was even wearing the same trench coat and freelancing for the same publication. Only one thing was different: my self-esteem. It had been raised almost against my will – by contagion.

Between those two interviews, a woman doctor had made a reservation for herself and a party of friends at the Plaza’s Oak Room, a public restaurant that was maintained as a male-only bastion at lunchtime on the grounds that female voices might disturb men’s business meetings. When this woman was stopped at the Oak Room door for being the wrong gender of “Dr.,” as she knew she would be, her lunch group of distinguished feminists turned into a spirited sidewalk picket line and held a press conference they had called in advance.

Now, I had also been invited to join this protest – and refused. In New York as in most cities, there were many public restaurants and bars that either excluded women altogether or wouldn’t serve “unescorted ladies” (that is, any woman or group of women without the magical presence of one man). Certainly, I resented this, but protesting it in the Oak Room, a restaurant too expensive for most people, male or female, seemed a mistake. The only remedy was a city council ordinance banning discrimination in public places, and that would require democratic support. Besides, feminists were already being misrepresented in the media as white, middle class, and frivolous, a caricature that even then I knew was wrong: the first feminists I had heard of in the sixties were working-class women who broke the sex barrier in factory assembly lines, and the first I actually met were black women on welfare who compared that demeaning system to a gigantic husband who demanded sexual faithfulness (the no-man-in-the- house rule) in return for subsistence payments. If groups like those were not publicized – and if well-to-do women who lunched at the Plaza were – I feared this new movement’s image would become even more distorted.

As it turned out, I was right about tactics and the media’s continuing image of feminism: “whitemiddleclass” did become like one key o the typewriter of many journalists (though polls showed that black women were almost twice as likely to support feminist changes than white women were). But I was very wrong about women’ responses – including my own. For instance: By the time of that demonstration at the Plaza, I already had picketed for civil rights, against U.S. involvement in Vietnam, and with migrant farm workers, often in demonstrations that were far from tactically perfect; so why was I suddenly demanding perfection of women? When blacks or Jews had been kept out of restaurants and bars, expensive or not, I felt fine about protesting; so why couldn’t I take my own half of the human race (which, after all, included half of all blacks and half of all Jews) just as seriously?

The truth was that I had internalized society’s unserious estimate of all that was female – including myself. This was low self-esteem, not logic. Should a black woman demonstrate for the right to eat at dimestore lunch counters in the South, where she was barred by race, and then quietly leave when refused service at an expensive New York restaurant on account of sex? Of course not. The principle – and, more important, the result for one real woman – was the same. But I had been raised to consider any judgment based on sex alone less important than any judgment based on race, class, or anything else alone. In fact, if you counted up all the groups in the world other than white women, I was valuing just about everybody more than I valued myself.

Nonetheless, all the excuses of my conscious mind couldn’t keep my unconscious self from catching the contagious spirit of those women who picketed the Oak Room. When I faced the hotel manager again, I had glimpsed the world as if women mattered. By seeing through their eyes, I had begun to see through my own.

Gloria Steinem is a writer and activist who has been involved in feminist and other social justice issues for over fifty years. A major figure in the launch of the women’s movement in the 1960s, she is one of the few to span generations and cultures with such newer U.S. feminist groups as the 3rd Wave and Choice USA, and international human rights/women’s rights groups including Equality Now. Steinem is the co-founder of New York Magazine and Ms. Magazine, and author of such touchstone books as Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions; Revolution from Within, and Moving Beyond Words, among other influential writing.

“On Self-Esteem” by Gloria Steinem published with permission from the author. Story excerpted from Revolution from Within Copyright ©1993 by Gloria Steinem. Printed by permission of Little, Brown & Company 

IN VINO VERITAS by Ginny Lambrix

In Vino Veritas Ginny Lambrix

Writing about what makes a person fabulous is incredibly easy, unless that person is you. Suddenly you are struck with writing something similar to a personal ad and my first few lines were something like “loves slugs, and ice cream, but not slug ice cream”. Perhaps my ad would go unanswered? But seriously, one of the hardest things about writing this story was realizing how difficult it must have been for my parents to watch a daughter whose sole goal in adulthood was to flee her childhood. I wish that I could instead write about them and the friends who have helped me along the way. I am sure it was not easy for them and they are truly fabulous. But here is my story.

I spent much of my adolescence roaming the fields around our farm in upstate New York, planning my escape. In retrospect, it was not that life was so bad. Shoveling up after cows was just such a far cry from the pages of the fashion magazines that I subscribed to. I wanted to live in a city, be sophisticated and look bored and mysterious. When I was accepted to Colgate University and awarded some scholarship money, I knew that my calculated efforts were paying off. With glee, I shed my McDonald’s after school polyester uniform, loaded up my mother’s car, and promised to never look back.

Even though the university was a short 45 minutes drive from the farm, I spent the holidays at school working. I could not see beyond the campus that held the promise of success, glamour and a glimpse of a world that was so completely foreign. My new friends willingly made me their project, giving me makeovers and things to wear. It was surreal. At some level though, I never quite left behind my love of the land and the outdoors. In the summer, while my friends took off to work as interns in NYC, I was holding a garage sale to raise money to move to New Mexico, where I lived and worked in a state park selling hot dogs and hiking. Not the fast track to corporate success, but I was happy. While I could now dress reasonably well and navigate a cocktail party, the core of who I was proved to be much more resilient…

I am grateful that the twists and turns of life have led me back to farming. Ironically, when I went to apply for a job as viticulturist at De Loach Vineyards, the biggest impediment seemed to be that I was dressed too well to possibly be a farmer! I had to convince the French owner of the company, Jean Charles, that I could be completely happy in grubby clothes, with dirt under my nails. My Colgate friends would have been so proud! I think I even said “I can be really dirty” and then turned eight shades of red as I back pedaled. Fortunately the opportunity was granted.

My work is now completely interwoven into my life. I help guide our farmers (that Truett-Hurst sources fruit from) towards organic and biodynamic farming practices, showing them the things that their piece of land is trying to tell them. A combination of awe, when a conventionally farmed vineyard suddenly comes to life when the chemicals are removed, and passion for making great wine have forged friendships that are real. The people I work with both at the wineries and in the fields have become a second family.

I have no illusions about being the most beautiful, intelligent, athletic, or interesting woman around — the competition is too fierce. Although more than one person might nominate me for being the most stubborn!

What makes me unique is a reverence for nature, a commitment to being true to myself, and the ability to open other people’s hearts to the lessons that can be learned from the earth. Each season, together, we learn new things about the complexity and beauty of life. These resonate within us, and, if we are lucky impart the finished wines with a fresh and elegant voice.

As partner, Ginny Lambrix oversees winemaking for the brands of Truett-Hurst Inc. which also consist of VML Winery , named after her (Virginia Marie Lambrix). Not only is Ginny one of a handful of women vineyard managers blazing trails in the wine industry, she has led the way for establishing sustainable farming in grape-growing practices.

FINDING MY VOICE by Renel Brooks-Moon

Renel Brooks Moon Finding My Voice

I’ve been announcing San Francisco Giants’ games for many years and every game is a new experience; it’s more fun than I’d imagined. My first day of announcing was a totally out of body experience! Last week, I heard my voice announcing the Yankees line up and I was beside myself. I mean, I hear my voice saying, “Number 2, Derek Jeter! Number 13, Alex Rodriguez!” And then, Roger Clemens was called to pitch in relief and pitched to Barry Bonds. A rare occurrence indeed!

All my life I’ve been a baseball fanatic. My parents became Dodgers fans as a result of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier. My grandfather was a big fan of Negro League baseball long before that. My grandfather even taught my mom how to score games. My mother was pregnant with me in 1958 when the Giants moved here from New York, and she has been a fan ever since. So this team has been a part of my life since I was in the womb! My brother had aspirations of being a big league pitcher. My family has always been into baseball. The A’s and the Giants. When I was growing up, you could actually support both teams and both leagues. Those days are pretty much over!

The Giants are a very progressive organization. There are lots of women in upper management in the organization that you don’t see. The VP of Marketing for the Blue Jays came into the booth to say hello last week. Women are increasingly in heavy-duty positions. And the Bay Area is very tolerant. I feel protected and supported by the guys that I work with; they’re great. We are like family during baseball season. I mean, we see each other more than we see our own families! And some of the guys in their 20s and 30s have told me that they see me as an example; that they learn from me, and I in turn learn from them. You want your work to speak to have that kind of impact. I had no idea what to expect from this group of guys, and they all could not be more supportive and caring.

I’m a Virgo and I have the qualities ascribed to that sign. I strive for perfection. I put more pressure on myself than anyone else ever could! I have a sense of responsibility now, because I am looked at as a pioneer and a trailblazer, so I don’t want to screw it up!! Radio wasn’t a possibility when I was a little girl. I’m so proud to have a little something to do with inspiring young girls and women and changing their thought processes and expanding their possibilities! When I was young, there were few women and even fewer women of color doing what I’m blessed to be doing now. Getting into radio was pretty much a stroke of good luck. Although Oprah Winfrey says there’s no such thing as luck…but rather it’s preparedness and opportunity coming together. When I graduated from college, I took an entry-level job at KCBS, worked my way up and around, and also, I have to say, was in the right place at the right time more often than not. Opportunity meeting Preparation!

I’ve been in the business for over 25 years and it’s not easy to see my male counterparts make more money than I do, and be treated with a great deal more respect and professionalism. But I stay true to myself and keep on pushing, and so far it has served me well. If you stand up for yourself, as a woman, you’re viewed as not being a team player, you’re considered a bitch or too aggressive. But I will ALWAYS stand up for myself. Always. I’ll be as professional and as courteous as I can be, but I will always stand up for myself, and my team for that matter. I’ve been demoted, I’ve had my show taken away and replaced by a syndicated show that turned out to be a failure, but in the words of the great Destiny’s Child, “I am a survivor.” I have my audience to thank for that, because when management does something shady, they write, they call; they are very vocal in their support for me. That means so much. In radio, you have to be competitive…or what are you doing? But I think you can have a healthy competitive spirit, and not be mean-spirited or nasty. I think I’ve proven that you can have a successful and entertaining radio program that is positive and uplifting. I don’t get down like the so-called “shock-jocks,” that will never be my thing or my style. It isn’t necessary, as many women I’m sure understand.

Of course I feel fear. I feel fearful every day. I’m the biggest wuss! I just keep on going. I think of my dad saying, “C’mon, don’t let ‘em getcha.” That brings me to earth and sanity. My parents have been through so much. My mom just turned 81. She was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 80 and she went public with her experience. Her attitude is wonderful. Instead of “poor me, why me, God?” she’ll say, “Lord, just guide me.” She stood by my dad and I can’t even put into words the admiration that I have for them. My dad was the first African American high school principal in San Francisco. He always had a big personality and I take after him that way. I’m definitely a daddy’s girl. He passed away four years ago, but I think of him every day. I want to make him proud. He’s my greatest inspiration and role model. Thinking of my parents and the experiences they endured gives me great strength. My dad and I are the same person. Same astrological sign, same sense of humor, same face!! Everything I’m doing now in my career is everything that he and I enjoyed together…music, comedy, entertainment and sports. I definitely think of myself not as a broadcast personality, but as a performer, something my husband and my immediate family will attest to!

I found my voice at Mills College in Oakland. Kind of ironic, I suppose. Or not? Mills is a women’s college and is all about women finding their voices. Up until then, I struggled with my voice and my sense of self. My school years were difficult as they were during the height of integration and the civil rights movement. I had a really hard time finding my place, and struggled to be accepted by both black and white students. My first day of high school in 1972, students threw rocks at the bus. It was like Little Rock, Arkansas in the 1950s! But again, I would think of my parents and find my strength; I CAN do this and I MUST do this. I entered Mills College in 1976 and that experience forever changed me. It forever changed me. It was that experience that helped me find my voice and confidence. I met wonderful women; African American women with the same experience as my own. It helped me find my voice as a feminist and community activist. My parents’ greatest lesson was: “The biggest deterrent to racism and sexism is education. Get your education and be the best Renel you can be. And make a difference in the community and the world.” Last September, I delivered the convocation address at Mills. That was AMAZING. Unbelievable. I had come full circle and that was a profound moment for me.

As we get older, we start to just get it. I have a posse of five best friends. We’ve been tight for 14 years. Every December we have a blowout slumber party at my house. We met at our neighborhood Jazzercise class and we all just clicked. And all these years later we realize we were all meant to be together as sister-friends. We’ve been through divorces, cancer, raising children, aging parents, career struggles… you name it. There’s nothing better than best girlfriends to pull you though the ups and downs of being a woman in this world!

My husband was a student at UC Berkeley when I was at Mills. That’s when we met, but we didn’t get together until 13 years later. He saw me performing in a talent show on campus and claims that he knew one day I’d be a performer. It takes a special kinda brotha to be married to me and all that comes with the “Renel Experience”! I think it helps that he’s the oldest of six siblings, four of whom are sisters! And while his dad was in the Air Force, he had to step up and help his mom raise the family. He and his mom have a great relationship, so Tommie is pretty good with women!

My favorite thing to do is just to sit with a glass of wine in the tub. I usually take a vacation during the All Star break, but hello! Not this year! We’ll probably go this fall. I love tropical weather, so I like to go to Mexico or the Caribbean. I can sit there for hours. My husband will visit with me, but then he’s off to do something again. I guess I love sitting still because I don’t get to do that very much in my daily life. I usually get up at 4:00AM to start getting ready for my morning show, which airs until 10:00AM. Then, I’ll go to they gym or take a nap. Or prepare for the next day’s show. I have to be at the ballpark by 4:00PM for pre-game interviews. Then, after the game, I’ll go home and do some more preparation for the next morning’s show. I usually sleep about five hours. People have called that amazing, but it’s not amazing. Single moms are amazing! Moms in general are amazing! There are women who are juggling way more than I am an under great adversity. That’s what I call amazing.

I wouldn’t turn back the clock ever. Not on your LIFE. Life is good. Life is good. It’s quite the journey, is it not? When I think of the woman I was in my 20s and even 30s I refer to myself as “her,” because she was totally a different person…but she got me to the woman I now am…preparing to turn 50 next year, welcoming it, and daring to and continuing to be FABULOUS!

Renel Brooks MoonRenel’s voice is widely recognized in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has been the host of popular radio programs and the public-address announcer for the San Francisco Giants. Renel marks the first time in history that a woman announced either a World Series game or an All Star game. These are among many firsts for Renel, whose infectious enthusiasm and positive example have been an inspiration to people everywhere.