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.


A NOVEL IDEA by Kristin McCloy

If anybody asks, as everybody does, I am a writer. I’ve dabbled with plays, poetry, published a couple of stories, written some reviews, edited other people’s work, and taught; but mostly, I’m a novelist, and very lucky that when my first one was finished I was in the right place at the right time (young/NYC/late ‘80s, with a runaway manuscript that had five sex scenes, not a single one gratuitous).

Velocity made me a ridiculous amount of money while my second novel had already been bought as an idea. Because of this, I fell, and for too long remained under the illusion that writing would always sustain me.


My third novel, Hollywood Savage, published by an imprint of Simon & Schuster called Atria Books was given zero publicity. They rushed it out without even the author photo I had provided, or any blurbs from other authors. Perhaps they decided I would make a better tax deduction, but it was very hard to watch something I’d spent several years on come and go without a trace.

I am now working on my fourth novel, advance-free and editor-less.

All of the above is the preamble to the how and why I became an animal caretaker.

Primarily, it is something I do to generate some cash flow, if not much, but it is all cash, and boy does it flow. In and right back out again — as it should! That’s why it’s called currency.

I’ve been stupid rich, and I’ve been astonishingly poor, and I’ve discovered that I’m not materialistic, and I don’t need more money than it takes for me to live on – which I’ve learned to do with not much, unless you don’t count on tremendous generosity from your friends — and I do. Oh boy, do I!

In fact, part of that help began when a woman I met at my first reading for LitQuake, and who became the most constant member of my fiction workshop, asked if I would consider staying in their back storage unit/living studio to take care of their menagerie (one dog and three cats, plus the house and garden), so that she and her husband could take a three-month fellowship he’d landed in Marseilles, France.

The storage unit is filled mostly with books, has a wonderfully high bed, high ceilings, great insulation and a skylight, while the garden is lush and wild, with plum and apple and peach trees, along with a lot of fennel which attracts Monarch and Swallowtail butterflies. I couldn’t say yes fast enough, especially when I saw that my own kitty, Zelly, a serious hunter could leap out the window and into the mysterious natural world whenever she wanted, and then back in again – I felt like I’d won the lottery.

After they returned and graciously allowed me to stay on, I looked for more animal caretaking jobs and slowly began acquiring clients, two of whom book me at the beginning of every year, and who’ve kept me afloat when other jobs occasionally dried up.

While the work is not exactly high-pay, I love it – not least because it comes so easily to me, as I’ve loved animals with a freakish intensity ever since I was a little girl, as I think most children do (just look at picture books!) Innocence has such a soft spot for other innocence, and children are particularly vulnerable, as are nearly all the animals in our world.

I’m good at what I do because I have never not fallen in love with other people’s animals. It’s fun getting to know each little sentient being for its own distinct personality, with as many quirks and differing habits as any person I know. The exception is that, given enough time and attention, all of these little guys will start to shower me with affection in their own way – whether it’s wanting to be in (literal) touch at all times, or deciding they need to sleep on my chest at 3:00 A.M. Some of them follow me from room to room, others are more, Can you open the effing door already?

Like Jules Pfeiffer’s cartoon women, I dance to the ever-present grace in every single cat, their ability to drape themselves anywhere (and then sleep!) to twist themselves while free-falling in space so as to land on their flexible feet, then simply walk away unscathed (and, more importantly to them, I believe, unembarrassed!)

I dance to the way they pretend you don’t matter, but manage to keep you in their sight-lines at all times, regardless of how well they hide themselves (it’s called ‘cat space’ and if that cat does not want to be found, well then: good luck!)

When I’m writing I often ask my small charges to help me channel the genie, and so often they will curl up around me (on the arm of a couch, on the floor at my feet, nearby on a windowsill) and fall into the trance-like sleep I so envy, creating an atmosphere of deep serenity into which my mind can drop.

The only thing I dislike about animal care is that I have to leave Zelly at home by herself, where she basically just waits for me. She’s an Abyssinian, a breed known for their wild beauty as well as their unusual loyalty. They bond with a single being and you, lucky lucky you, become their world.

I got Zelly after the cat I had adopted from a neighbor who was never home — a regal creature I named Napoleon — was hit by some asshole driving very fast down a single-block street. Napoleon tried to come home and made it only halfway across the street. I bent over him and howled. The grief was so intense I knew the only thing that would help would be adopting another cat, because believe me, there is no shortage of beings who need out of a cage and into your heart.

Zelly was curious, insanely playful, and if you threw something for her, she would snatch it out of thin air and bring it back. Not like a dog, panting and leaving it at your feet, but much more casually, jumping on the bed and carelessly dropping it near your hand. Her cool was stunning, and very funny. But when she needed affection, she let me know. She would get up on my chest and knead me, then curl up next to me and sling one paw over my collarbone. I often fell asleep holding that paw.

Somewhere along the line, I had the realization that my cat was essentially living for me. Attending to her own cat business (oh where to take those seventeen naps?), but also waiting for me to come home, wanting attention, wanting to play, and later, if I’m very lucky, jumping in bed when I wake up panicked by everything at 5:00 A.M. to meow in my face then curl up in the space between arm and heart to purr us both back to sleep.

Understanding that this breathing, living, loving, very chatty being was and is singularly devoted to me struck me with a sudden force. The extent of that devotion left me breathless, and from then on I knew: she wasn’t my cat, I was her girl.

I think most people take their animals’ utter devotion for granted, and I want to shake them and ask, Don’t you understand what an honor that is?

So here’s the thing: while I identify myself as a writer, a label that goes a lot deeper than words (no pun etc.), who’s to say what’s the more important work? Writing books that one hopes will outlast one’s own lifetime, and might perhaps achieve what Jean Cocteau always claimed was the main reason for writing – to ‘utterly overwhelm a single soul’? Or is it the care and love that flows between myself and the animals I’ve been entrusted with, including my own?

I met a dog named Dirk when I was an undergraduate at Duke. Dirk was easily the smartest animal I’ve ever met (she should have been, considering how many classes she attended with me alone!) She was one of my roommates during her owner’s last semester at the university, and when I asked for custody, her human sneered and said, You don’t even know where you’re going to live next year!

Well, that was true. But apparently, Dirk did. Because one day, when I wasn’t even home, my sister, with whom I shared an off-campus house along with a litany of others, heard a wild scratching on the screen door, opened it, and in out of the rain came Dirk. She jumped on the couch, stretched out, and fell asleep. She remembered my promise, and she obviously had my number. For the rest of the time I was there, Dirk lived with me.

When, we had to part, I entrusted her with my soul. She was the fiercest guard I could think of, and when I die, I pray she will be the first creature I see. And when I look around, I hope that I see every other animal I ever loved, freed, helped, took care of, or mourned for – including every animal sacrifice, any animal hurt, wounded, or poached – every animal in the whole wide world.

Because that is my idea of Heaven.

This essay is a shout out to the gorgeous variety of creatures who have their own deep intelligence, and everything to teach us about being at ease in your own skin, trusting your instincts, and loving without limit.

Kristin McCloy is a thrice-published author (Velocity, Some Girls, and Hollywood Savage), working on her fourth, and living in Oakland with the cat who owns her, Zelly, and the family who took them in. 



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

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.  


MRS. SPOOK, SPAIN, 1965 by Lillian McCloy

Lillian McCloy

Lillian McCloy was the wife of a deep undercover CIA officer during the Cold War. This is an excerpt from her memoir, Six Car Lengths Behind an Elephant: Undercover & Overwhelmed as a CIA Wife and Mother. Frank in this story is Lillian’s husband.

There were times when Frank needed my help, usually to translate intelligence memos written in Spanish. They could not be translated at the embassy, because there appeared to be no secretaries in the political section who could read and write Spanish. I was unable to help Frank in this way until I had been in Spain for a few years and felt confident about my ability to speak and socialize entirely in Spanish.

Once, there was an intriguing assignment for me. Frank had been meeting with a Spanish-speaking Russian (Boris) who was being highly paid for his information by the CIA. Frank was suspicious that Boris was a double agent, working both sides, as it were, so he asked for my help one evening. The plan was as follows: Boris would have coffee in a small café, taking a seat by the window where Frank could see him. Frank would then drive by the café in a particular Volkswagen. When Boris spotted the car going by, he would walk to a designated corner several blocks away and Frank would pick him up there.

When Boris exited the cafe, I was to walk a discreet distance behind, keeping a keen eye on him. I was to wear a black wig (which I borrowed from a friend “for a costume party”) and an ankle-length brown coat. I would also carry a large, black umbrella, which I would use like a walking stick. If Boris talked to anyone on the street, or made a phone call, I was to open the umbrella to signal Frank. This, of course, was a really sappy piece of drama, in my opinion.

Frank was carrying a German passport and wore a fake mustache and thick glasses, as he did every time he’d met with Boris. When we drove away from our house in the Volkswagen, he said he wasn’t feeling well. I suggested it was just nerves, or perhaps the thick glasses. A few minutes later, Frank shot his head out the window and vomited violently. This was not a good beginning, I thought. Definitely not good.

The cafe where we were to see Boris was on an intimate little street in a residential area. We parked nearby. Frank got out of the car with me and we sat on a bench so he could catch his breath. He threw up again. “Put your head down!” I ordered heartlessly, as though I were annoyed with him. I also ducked my head, thinking one of us might be recognized. I realized I was looking at the puddle of Frank’s upheaval and his mustache was in it. I quickly picked up the mustache and slapped it on Frank’s ashen upper lip, but it wouldn’t stick. Half of it did, but the other half didn’t. It hung down to his chin.

Boris wasn’t by the cafe window yet. I could see a farmacia sign (drug store) across the way, so I bolted across the street, my long brown coat billowing behind me. Mission: adhesive tape. I quickly bought the tape and ran back. Folding the tape over, I was able to jam Frank’s mustache back in place. He was so sick by now that he was trembling. He glanced up and raised his eyebrows. There was Boris in the cafe. Frank stood, staggered over to the Volkswagen and pulled away.

I waited until Boris left the cafe, and then followed at a distance. It was a clear evening, filled with stars; the big, black umbrella was a ludicrous accessory and would look even crazier if I opened it. Boris lit a cigarette and strolled down the street. He spoke to no one. I was not destined to be Mary Poppins tonight. After he got in the Volkswagen with Frank, I hailed a taxi to go home, removing my wig and coat to avoid suspicion when I arrived. The driver seemed to find this only mildly interesting. (We had donned our gay apparel in the garage before we left).

Frank’s plan after picking up Boris was to go to a room in a very large and busy hotel. They would have their discussion there, as they had done on previous occasions. Earlier in the day, after booking the room with his German passport, Frank had rigged a reel-to-reel tape recorder behind the bed. (There was nothing simpler at that time). He later told me that when they got to the hotel room, he was imploding with diarrhea and had to apologize to Boris for his non-stop trips to the bathroom. As he sat on the toilet, he imagined the whir-r-r-r of the tape and the impending doom if it reached an end and began to flap.

There was no way of turning the tape machine off without moving the bed and he was becoming concerned. There was only one thing to do. He had to tell Boris how ill he was and arrange to meet him another time. Luckily, Boris had a written report to give him and didn’t mind rescheduling their discussion. A soon as the door closed behind him, the tape started to flap.

Frank spent the following week in bed with stomach flu and high fever. Shaken, but not stirred.

Lillian McCloyLillian McCloy’s memoir was published just after she turned 90 years old, proving that it’s never too late to become a published author. John le Carré calls the book “a charming and unusual portrait of the secret life.”  Her book is popular with book clubs and gets 5-star reader ratings on Amazon and Goodreads.

Excerpt from SIX CAR LENGTHS BEHIND AN ELEPHANT: UNDERCOVER & OVERWHELMED AS A CIA WIFE AND MOTHER by Lillian McCloy, copyright © 2016 by Johanna McCloy. Used by permission of Bordertown Publishing.  All rights reserved.


melissa haynes

“Everyday you can either be a host to God or a hostage to Ego”Dr. Wayne Dyer

Dreamers spend their lives asleep. The early bird gets the worm. Keep your head down and work hard. Your job is your worth. If you don’t have a good job, you don’t have anything. Money makes the world go round. You are your bank balance. Your title defines you. No one will like you if you aren’t successful in business. Things matter. Appearance is everything. Grow up. Get real.

My father had the stage every Sunday night at the formal dining room table. In between bites of roast beef and soggy vegetables he pontificated this sage advice. His well-meaning yet fear-based words were meant to instill a strong work ethic, but as a young child I took these words verbatim and adopted them as my own fear-driven demons beliefs that would form my identity and value.

In The Impersonal Life, author Joseph Benner says beliefs are merely the “rubbish we have gathered from the dumping ground of others.” This is a story of rubbish removal told from the best viewpoint possible: hindsight. It’s 20/20.

It was 2010; I had spent the last three decades desperately trying to fulfill my so-called identity. That started with a paper route and led me to where I was now – about to finish the 2010 Olympics and with it my job as an Olympic project manager. Recession would follow the Games; the economy was already contracting and the torch hadn’t even left town yet.

Melissa HaynesThousands would be looking for jobs and they told us to prepare to be unemployed for at least a year – perhaps two. The prospect of being jobless, worthless for two years was unfathomable. Lucky for me, I didn’t have to. I had an offer to sit at the head of a company in an industry I knew inside and out. The Head of an established company. The Boss. The Big Cheese. The ‘Shit’. I had finally fulfilled my identity destiny and my demons had never been more thrilled.

The job wouldn’t be easy; I’d work long hours at least six days a week, and not have much of a life outside of work; something that was strangely alluring in the past. I’d be so committed to work that I’d quickly bypass the point of no return when it came to children; also something that was strangely alluring in the past. So why then, was I hesitating?

It was the nudge.

The nudge came in the form of a story the late Dr. Wayne Dyer recounted in many of his PBS specials and his movie, The Shift.

Wayne Dyer was 19 years old and had just entered the navy. He was about to make the 28 day voyage to Japan by sea. Before he boarded the ship his uncle Bill gave him a book of short stories written by Leo Tolstoy. One of those stories was called, The Death of Ivan Ilyich. Ivan Ilyich was a judge who lived in Moscow. He hated his wife because she had pushed him into this prestigious career, one he did not get any sense of purpose from. He was filled with internal rage and anger. Laying on his deathbed, his wife holding his hand, he looked into her eyes and whispered his last words, ‘What if my whole life was wrong?’ then he died.

Wayne set down the book, opened his notebook and wrote these words: Dear Wayne, don’t die with your music still in you.

While I stood at the crossroads of perhaps what was the biggest (in hindsight) decision of my life, the nudge was too powerful to ignore.

Would I dare to fail? Would I dare to be embarrassed when I fell flat on my face? Would I dare to be judged? Would I dare to let my bullshit identity die? Would I dare to expunge the one thing that defined me? Would I dare to challenge my demons beliefs?

The temptation of comfort and the known was great, but the possibility of living a muted life was even greater.

I turned down the job and dared to do what I had wanted to do my entire life. A spark of passion that was ignited in kindergarten while daydreaming within the pages of National Geographic magazine – I would go to South Africa and save the animals.

At the time I didn’t know if I had just made the best or worst decision of my life. I was leaning towards the latter. But now from the vantage point of the hind, I can see it was the best damn decision I ever made.

After researching many organizations and projects I decided on a Big Five conservation project with an organization called Edge of Africa. I liked that the project was small and very hands-on.

HiShortly after, I arrived in a tiny pocket of South Africa just off the Garden Route to a small game reserve. The reserve was home to rescues of the Big Five: lions who had been saved from a trophy-hunting farm, elephants whose herds were annihilated by poachers and sent to be touring elephants – a fate they rebelled against so they ended up here. Rhinoceros, giraffes, wildebeest, buffalo and crocodiles plus many other animals also called this place home – it was a dream come true.

That was at least until I was shown to my tent camp, a small triangular plot on the edge of the reserve, where I would be sleeping alone. Nothing but a thin electrical wire that merely served as a ‘mental block’ to the animals was all that separated me from them.

065 - Version 2The lion camp bordered one side. The elephant camp was on the other side and the open reserve on the last. The lions were so close, I could hear their roars every night, needless to say I didn’t sleep a wink that first night.

Work began at dawn and ended at dinnertime. The first time I put on the soft, butter yellow, work gloves I had never felt more proud. That is until I began to actually work. Have you ever lifted elephant dung? It’s as heavy as a bowling ball. Mucking out ellie stalls took hours of backbreaking, stinky work. But you know what? It was great. I loved every grueling second of it.

Days were spent patrolling the reserve, tending to the animals, tracking cheetah, and overall reserve maintenance. Working with the animals was exhilarating. I had never felt more purpose or alive because I was finally taking out the rubbish. I had never learned so much about things that really mattered. Every day I gave of myself trying desperately to even out the balance sheet, but the more I gave, the more I received – forever indebted to the animals of Africa.

037A few days in, the worst storm in over a century pummeled the game reserve. Our conservation effort quickly morphed into a massive clean up effort. Rebuilding roads by hand one stone at a time. Chopping reeds from within a crocodile pit to relieve the flooding. Cutting tree branches for food, our only tool for all these jobs – a machete.

One of the casualties from the storm was a red hartebeest, a regal creature. She didn’t die instantly; it would take a few days. I cried and cried for that hartebeest but I also witnessed the perfection of nature and life in her passing. It was a gift that would release me from my own grief over my mother’s passing a few years before.

Soon I no longer feared sleeping in my tent, the lull of the roar of the lions put me to sleep every night. In fact, pretty soon I didn’t fear anything and was ready to confront a life-long phobia: Great White Sharks.

The finale of this volunteer project came weeks later, off the coast of Mosselbaii, South Africa. Pumped-up from my experience thus far, I began to shiver with fear when I climbed into the titanium shark cage. There we waited in the deep blue darkness and silence save for the loud thumping of my heart.

And then it began.

101The cage began to rock. Not from the current, but from the massive weight of the creature that had just slipped past behind us. I tried to look but only caught a glimpse of a dark shadow disappear into the blue. The terror was overwhelming. I reminded myself to breathe.

Within minutes shark after shark came to check us out, one even pushing his nose through the cage just inches in front of my face. Oh my God! Would he bite my head off? Smash the cage? No, no he would not. He would retreat and move on just as quickly as he had arrived.

In this moment I realized that this life-long phobia was nothing more than an illusion. Great white sharks were the coolest and most beautiful beings I had ever seen.

My fear quickly morphed into profound love for this misrepresented creature. A graceful, inquisitive, powerful predator who, after surviving millions of years was now endangered at the hand of the greatest super predator of all: the human race.

As the sea turned pink with sunset I made it my mission to spread the truth about these magnificent creations and put an end to the myths by supporting shark advocacy groups and speaking up for legislation to protect sharks.

My time in Africa was a brief sojourn, merely weeks. I went there to save the animals but the animals saved me. They saved me from my beliefs demons that kept me from daring. They saved me from . . . dying with my music still inside me and I’ve been dancing ever since.

Hindsight. It’s 20/20.

Melissa Haynes is a shark advocate, animal lover, adventure junkie, and author of the book, Learning to Play with a Lion’s Testicles. Her book has appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and on Ellen. She is now working on her second book. To see more photos visit her website. (Her crossed-out words in this story are intentional.)

ISN’T THAT FABULOUS by Jenna Jolovitz

Isn't that Fabulous Jenna Jolovitz

Fabulous. It’s not a word that comes out of my mouth naturally. Saying it feels alien, like wearing a hairpiece or playing softball.

Fabulous women have long, tousled hair or extremely short bangs. They wear vintage Chanel with jeans and scarves for belts. They throw casually chic dinners and vacation with friends on islands.

I have, however, done what I consider to be some fairly fabulous things in my life. Okay, I’ve been told that some of things I thought were “fabulous” were actually “weird,” and eating a beef rib in the women’s bathroom of Harrods is apparently “gross.” But the following, I believe, qualifies as fabulous. For you see, I went topless. Not just topless, but topless in the south of France. Cannes, to be exact.

So far, so fabulous.

Yes, it was the beach in Cannes, and everybody was doing it. In fact, I would stand out more if I didn’t do it. And even better, I knew no one, and no one knew me. I was completely anonymous.

So I did it. Like a banana, I peeled down the top of my tank suit (Did you really imagine I owned a bikini?) and into the water I went. Quickly.

There I was, topless in the Mediterranean. The tops of my breasts gleaming white like the top halves of two hardboiled eggs. I felt empowered and alive and sensuous. I felt like a woman capable of enticing an attractive Italian man, spending the evening with him, and then making out at dawn before we caught separate trains – without ever learning his last name. For the first time in my life, I was in total possession of my sensuous femininity. Electric. Powerful. I was a Jackie Collins heroine. Then, from very nearby, I heard:

“You go to Duke, don’t you?”

As it happens, I did.

Lowering myself a little further in the water, I turned to see a young man, my age, right next to me.

“We’ve met. I’m Brad Lastname’s roommate.”

Brad Lastname was a friend at school. He briefly had an unrequited crush on me before graduating, winning a great deal of money in the lottery and posting extensively on Facebook. And there his roommate happened to be: that particular day, in Europe, in the South of France, in Cannes, in the water right next to me, as I went topless.

What are the odds?

“Oh yeah, hi.”

“So, you are studying abroad?”


A typical, banal conversation except for the fact that under the water, my breasts were exposed and we both knew it. That knowledge could have given our conversation a sexual charge.

“You have a Eurail pass?”

“I do.”

“The two-month one?”

“No, the one month. You can’t use it in England. That’s the BritRail pass.”

Do I need to say we didn’t make out? When he left, I pulled up my top, and left the water. Nature, or a higher power was sending me a crystal clear message.

Stop doing that.

What else was I supposed to think? To me, the lesson was laid out before me, Nathaniel Hawthorne-style. I was Hester Prynne, only there was no place to sew my “A.”

I’d like to say that since that experience I’ve found the self-love and acceptance I need to express my own uniqueness and use the word fabulous about myself without extending the “a” way too long in a deep voice. But I can’t.

I am not, nor will I ever be fabulous.

But I learned that it’s not what women wear, or do, that makes them fabulous. It’s not joining or following or copying anyone else. It’s that they dare to express their true selves — from the inside out, for all to see. They carry themselves with a confidence and boldness that no roommate of Brad Lastname could ever shake. That’s what we all find so fascinating.

And they do it in their home countries.

Age has allowed me to appreciate the fact that I am not the norm. I make instant pudding with half the milk, because I like the mortar-like texture. My hand gestures don’t illuminate what I say. And I get way too way too much joy from the $1 Ikea breakfast to be truly mainstream.

I am authentic. Isn’t that fabulous?

Jenna JolovitzJenna is a freelance writer and an alum of Second City in Chicago where she wrote and performed shows alongside Steve Carrell, Stephen Colbert, and others. She has been on the writing staff of such shows as MADtv, That ’80s Show, Steve Martin’s The Downer Channel and King of Queens, as well as a guest writer on Saturday Night Live. Jenna has also written an upcoming comedy feature, The Flaming Jerk.


Molly Caro May

On a cool April day, a close friend fielded my questions about motherhood as her toddler leapt from stone to stone nearby. I gazed up at cottonwood trees, stroked my pregnant belly and told her my plan.

“I’m going to strap my baby to my chest and hike into the woods right away,” I announced, “Like hours after birth. I mean women do it all over the world, right?”

“Yeah, but your vagina might hurt for a few weeks,” she said.

Somehow, I hadn’t ever considered that possibility. As a girl, I had hung upside down from tree branches and run faster than the boys. I grew into a woman of physical endurance—long bike races, long hikes, and long manual labor building projects. After birth, I would simply pull on my old jeans and get on with it. But my pregnancy had been rough. Nausea didn’t go away after the first trimester. I became a pro at vomiting into a mason jar every day while driving to/from anywhere. It was, at times, demoralizing. I complained, and yet told myself the intensity had prepared me for birth. Labor, well, labor I would do a thousand times over. I touched into my wisest animal self—all breath and moan. No fear surfaced, even in pain, even when my home-water-birth turned into a van ride to the hospital as my midwife straddled me, held an oxygen mask to my face and requested that I don’t push yet, even though the urge was strong. I ended up pushing for five hours until my umbilical-wrapped daughter came out. She wasn’t the blue breathless baby they expected. We were okay. I could have dropped to the floor and done 100 push-ups on the adrenaline of my empowerment. One of the nurses lifted her arms and said, “You were amazing! Look, I sweated through my scrubs. That was awesome.”

Pregnancy may have knocked me over, but I had labored like Wonder Woman. If the upswing trajectory followed, postpartum would be manageable, maybe even a breeze.

Within a week, it was clear that the liquid coming out of me was no longer the standard lochia but urine. And not just when I sneezed. When I walked to the mailbox. When I squatted to pick up an errant sock. When I bounced to sooth my daughter to sleep. I was officially incontinent. I bought a Costco-size box of Always extra-long pads with wings and pasted one in my underwear at all times.

Maybe this problem would go away.

But it didn’t.

I went hiking anyway.

I strapped my daughter to my chest and peed all over myself, through my pad, onto my shorts, onto the trail. My car seat smelled of urine, no matter how hard I scrubbed it. I learned to wear a skirt so other hikers wouldn’t notice. When my new mama friends couldn’t believe this was my new normal, I learned to make it normal.

“Oop, peed on myself again,” I would laugh.

But the grief pressed against my face, my mouth, my neck. I refused to acknowledge it. I couldn’t. I couldn’t do that and everything else. There was so much everything else in new motherhood.

One afternoon, at a museum, my birth class friend had to carry both our children up the stairs because being pee-soaked in a museum isn’t as acceptable as on the trail. I watched her strong arms and strong back and the sorrow of this comparison dug a groove through my heart. If I hadn’t been in a public place, I would have collapsed. Would I never be able to carry my daughter up stairs? Where was I? Why couldn’t I pull it together? Where was the woman who had labored without fear, almost without effort?

This went on for six months, for a year.

I saw some pelvic physical therapists. They looked at me with kind doe-eyes and gave me elaborated Kegel exercises. I did them solidly for a week or so. Maybe they were actually helping. At my cousin’s wedding, I couldn’t wait to dance. It had been so long. When I hit my first hip thrust/bounce, urine poured down my leg and almost onto the dance floor. I scuttled outside under the moon. There, alone, I could release my sobs. This was not what I had expected for our first evening out alone. Later that night, I begged my husband to suck the milk out of my breasts because they were so engorged without my daughter there to nurse them. So he did—in the dark of the parking lot with the car windows down, the smell of sagebrush on the night air. “It’s sweet,” he said, and we laughed, because the gap between laughing and crying was invisible. I woke desperate in the early morning. No breast pump. Hand expressing would not be fast enough. I grabbed my own large, painful breast and drank my own sweet milk. Urine or milk. Life is about fluids or being fluid, I think.

In the haze of sleep-deprivation, I couldn’t manage a plan to do my pelvic floor exercises. All I could do was lie on the concrete floor and stare at the ceiling fan, the red latex PT strap unused. One morning, I woke unable to move. “Help,” I gulped to my husband as he made his way out the door, “Help me.” My battery had died and I couldn’t lift my daughter. I watched her watch me with wide eyes. Panic washed over me in waves. A blood test revealed postpartum hypothyroidism on the edge of becoming an autoimmune condition. I morphed from someone who never took prescription medicine to someone who did. Healing this thyroid issue would also require, in part, more exercise, but every time I exercised I peed. Sometimes I found myself in the woods throwing, no hurling, rocks at a tree. How had I gotten there? My rage scared me enough to request more blood tests. No serotonin problem, no postpartum depression, but my neurotransmitters were all off. Months later, adrenal fatigue became part of the picture. My doctor started an email to me with, “Dearest Molly, …”

None of this was the worst thing possible

None of this was a death sentence

But I didn’t believe it would ever change.

This was not the mother or woman I had ever wanted to be.

Every day I scanned my perimeter for someone to blame—my husband, my mother, my father, my friends, my dog, myself. My anger became volcanic. During the day, I sang, swam, laughed, loved, and smooched my daughter. When she fell asleep, I paced the kitchen and drove down dark roads at 1:00 AM, fantasizing about walking into the woods and never returning. Was this what giving up looked like? But my daughter kept me accountable. I could never have left her. I made gratitude lists. There was so much to be grateful for. Hard as I tried, my gratitude practice fell flat.

Two years into this situation, something changed.

I don’t know what clicked. I began to swim laps at our local hot springs. There I could exercise and pee and no one would know. At my doctor’s suggestion, I stopped nursing and took progesterone and herbs. My daughter started to sleep through the night. As she potty-trained, I chanced it and stopped using pads everyday. We could let go of diapers together. Summer came around again. Sun. Heat. Green. Maybe it helped that time had passed. I don’t really know. I still wonder how nothing changed but everything did. Maybe I decided to step back from the edge.

I decided.

I decided.

I decided.

For the first time, in 35-years of living, I decided to be kind to myself. I started to talk to myself the way I talked to my daughter. “It’s okay, I know it’s hard, you can do it, do you need a hug, I see your radiance, I see you, I see you…”

When a body-worker recently told me that my pelvis was in shock and all tangled up, I didn’t catastrophize with images of doom. I let her words pass out of me and replaced them with My body is healing. I could cultivate this belief—despite the externals. Of course, this story is still alive. This, right now, is me finding my way. I still pee on myself but mostly just before my period. I still take thyroid and adrenal medicine and may have to for who knows how long. But I’m off progesterone.

And now, I wouldn’t want any part of my continuing journey to be different.

It forced me to break up with my beloved anger. That, turns out, was the only way to open the starting gates to heal. My righteous self used to quietly judge the hell out of people who make poor, life-altering decisions. Now I understand that we all walk an edge, whether we touch it or not. My pelvis is my new gal pal. We talk everyday. I’ve gotten comfy with the mess of life. I’ve learned that grief can take time. The laboring woman in me has been laboring all along. She is the woman I was looking for. And this is the only way I could have found her.

Molly Caro MayMolly Caro May is a writer whose work explores body, place, and the foreign. She leads writing workshops across the country and her work has appeared in Orion Magazine, Salon, and Fourth Genre, among others. Her memoir, The Map of Enough: One Woman’s Search For Place (Counterpoint Press) was published in 2014. She lives with her husband and daughter in Bozeman, Montana, where she is co-founder of the Thunderhead Writers’ Collective. 

ON THE EDGE by Alison Levine

Alison Levine

On May 24, 2010, I made it to the summit of Mount Everest. After turning back at the South Summit—just a few hundred feet from the top in 2002—I swore I would never try again. And trust me, there were many moments of self-doubt.

I am often asked what it was like—to go back to that mountain eight years later, after everything I had been through, and finally stand on top of the highest mountain in the world. I can honestly tell you (wait for it…deep breath…) it just wasn’t that big a deal. Heavy sigh. Think about it for a moment. It’s just a mountain. It’s nothing more than a big ol’ pile of rock and ice. And you are only on the summit for a very short time. You spend two months climbing that mountain, and only a few minutes at the very top. I was up there for thirty minutes. Standing on top of a mountain is not important, and the people who stand on top of Mount Everest are no better than the people who turn around short of the summit. Because climbing mountains isn’t about standing on the top of a pile of rock and ice for a few minutes—it’s about the lessons you learn along the way and how you are going to use that knowledge and experience to better yourself going forward.

I promise you that plenty of better, stronger, more skilled, much more deserving climbers than Alison Levine didn’t make it that day—for whatever reason. Most of them turned back because of the weather. But because I had that failed experience from 2002 under my belt, I knew what it felt like to get beat up and knocked around on that mountain. I knew what it was like to get the snot kicked out of me high up on the summit ridge in a storm. And I wasn’t afraid of that this time around. I knew what my risk tolerance was, and I knew what my pain threshold was. Had I not had that failed experience eight years prior, I very well might have turned around when most others did.

Shortly after my return, the New York Times published a photo of me at the summit, which resulted in phone calls from dozens of friends congratulating me on the accomplishment. But there was a lot more to that photo than what they could see. Let me tell you what they didn’t see: the sponsors who helped to fund my trip, the logistics providers who got all the permits in order, the amazing team of Sherpas who helped ferry loads up and down the mountain, the incredible guides who gave me direction along the way, the friends who helped me train before I left for Nepal, the loved ones who gave me their moral support leading up to the trip…I could go on. Always remember: nobody gets to the top of Mount Everest by themselves. Nobody.

Alison Levine is a history-making polar explorer and mountaineer. She has climbed the highest peak on each continent, served as team captain of the first American Women’s Everest Expedition and skied to both the North and South Poles. This excerpt was provided exclusively for Dare To Be Fabulous.

Excerpted from the book ON THE EDGE: Leadership Lessons Learned from Mount Everest and Other Extreme Environments by Alison Levine.  © 2014 by Alison Levine.  Reprinted by permission of Business Plus.  All rights reserved. 


Jo-Anne McArthur Sea Shepherd

Click on each photograph below to see it in larger size.

It’s summer in the Antarctic and on sunny days I can venture out onto the bow of our Sea Shepherd vessel, the Bob Barker, to let the warmth penetrate my bones. Between chores, the bow is a great place to spend a bit of idle time outdoors reflecting on life and on our mission here in the southern oceans.

Keep a sharp eye and you’ll spy dolphins, penguins, albatross, and southern petrels. These moments of quiet reflection give me time to reflect on how the heck I got to be on this boat of environmental and animal rights activists, and on how a few defining life decisions led me to this moment.

A beautiful but wet day on the Antarctic Ocean.

A beautiful but wet day on the Antarctic Ocean.

Life won’t always be this idyllic aboard our boat, which the crew affectionately refers to as “The Bob.” We will have intensely dangerous confrontations with our rivals, the Japanese whaling fleet. Our boat is one of three on this 2009-2010 Antarctic Mission to stop the poaching of up to 935 Minke whales, which are hunted by the fleet and sold for meat in Japan.

Bob Barker captain, Chuck Swift, gives orders to crew in an intense moment while being surrounded by the Japanese whaling fleet.

Bob Barker captain, Chuck Swift, gives orders to crew in an intense moment while being surrounded by the Japanese whaling fleet.

The whalers hunt under the transparent guise of “research,” and though the countries who are members of the International Whaling Commission have imposed a ban on whaling in this southern sanctuary, no one is there to enforce the ban. Long time radical animal activist Paul Watson decided to take the matter into his own hands, sending ships down to the Antarctic to intercept the slaughter of these endangered animals. My title on board The Bob is “Sea Shepherd Crew Photographer.” It’s a role I almost turned down in lieu of a much-needed restful winter in Canada. When I think about a “fabulous” experience or moment in my life, he story of how I came to be on The Bob is one of those. I am a photojournalist and the work I do for animal rights is rewarding and exhausting. The year 2009 was undoubtedly the craziest of my 33 years. It began with a trip through Guatemala and Belize, followed by three months in Africa.

A volunteer shares a moment with a rescued chimpanzee.

A volunteer shares a moment with a rescued chimpanzee.

While shooting a photo story at a primate sanctuary in Cameroon, I contracted dengue fever, which left my body crippled with reactive arthritis. Refusing to return home for a rest, I moved on to Uganda to do photo work with the Jane Goodall Institute. There I asked a doctor to load me up with the meds necessary to allow me to continue my work. These meds were steroids, and I relied on them for close to four months. They helped me to walk and work, but slowed my overall healing significantly.

After a brief rest in Canada, I left for Spain and France to do factory farm investigations and a story about the brutal slaying of bulls during La Corrida. Night after night, with cameras in hand, I traipsed all over the country to document the extreme suffering of pigs, broiler chickens, egg laying hens, and bulls. From there I went onto Scandinavia where I documented mink farming. It was incredibly exhausting work, in both the emotional and physical sense. The traveling and all-night investigative escapades left me drained in a very profound way.

Thousands of bulls are needlessly killed each year in Spain’s Corrida.

Thousands of bulls are needlessly killed each year in Spain’s Corrida.

I do all of this investigative work so that I can help expose the use and abuse of animals worldwide. The images I take have become part of my umbrella project on the subject matter, called We Animals, and dozens of animal welfare organizations use the images to promote their work. We Animals is my passions combined: my love for story-telling through the lens and my love for helping animals, seamlessly entwined, epitomizing that famous quote by the writer Kahlil Gibran, “Work is love made visible.” I feel very strongly that my work for We Animals is what I was born to do in this lifetime. I took action to solidify this belief when I wrote to Sea Shepherd that November.

Free range chickens are collected, six at a time, by their legs, and put on the truck headed to slaughter.

Free range chickens are collected, six at a time, by their legs, and put on the truck headed to slaughter.

The Sea Shepherd mission came on the heels of my European investigative work so I put off replying to them as to whether I would join. The opportunity stood before me as a chance of a lifetime: saving whales, visiting the Antarctic, living on a boat, working alongside other dedicated activists … incredible! Yet I knew that I had to say no for the sake of my recovering health and my sanity. I wrote a carefully crafted e-mail, saying that I would love to join future campaigns, but would regretfully decline this upcoming mission. I sat there at my computer before hitting “send,” feeling responsible but hollow. As I navigated my mouse to the “send” button, however, something happened. I quickly deleted that email and, with a smile and a sigh, wrote the words “Sign me up!” I hit send. My fate was sealed.

The Ady Gil, moments after it has been rammed by the Shonan Maru No.2 The boat sunk less than 48 hours later. All crew members escaped.

The Ady Gil, moments after it has been rammed by the Shonan Maru No.2 The boat sunk less than 48 hours later. All crew members escaped.

My “yes” to Sea Shepherd was a door thrown open wide. I felt like I was also staring down a dark abyss of danger, seasickness, and sleep deprivation. It was all that and so much more. Not only did I have the adventure of a lifetime with inspiring activists and work that was meaningful to me, but my photos were also published by over two thousand news agencies worldwide. Though I was working for Sea Shepherd for free, it turned out to be a decent career move while helping to expose the poaching of whales in the southern oceans. I’m happy to report that my Sea Shepherd mission only somewhat slowed my recovery to full health. The dengue-induced arthritis lingers, but I have made a full recovery.

photo by Bohdan Warchomij

When I finally caught my breath after that whirlwind twelve months, I was sure that things would slow down and that there’d be calmer waters ahead. Actually, though, that whirlwind hasn’t really stopped. Since that year, I have travelled to dozens more countries and worked with many inspiring animal protection groups to document factory farms, wildlife sanctuaries, puppy mills, captive animals, fur farms, slaughterhouse vigils, animal fairs, and more. I have written two books and, with Dr. Keri Cronin, launched the Unbound Project to highlight the work of women on the front lines of animal advocacy. Little did I know that in 2009, I was just getting started.

In documenting our complex relationships with animals, I see the best and worst of humanity: the willingness of so many to look the other way in the face of atrocities, and the refusal of some to turn away.

Me and a rescued chicken at Farm Sanctuary. Photo by Karol Orzechowski

The work I do is can be difficult and devastating. I’ve shed more tears than I thought possible over the cruelty, hopelessness and apathy that I have witnessed. Not being able to save the tens of thousands of animals I’ve met causes me a lot of heartache too. Yet every moment of injustice and suffering that I have captured serves a purpose. My images have been presented to government committees examining industry practices. They have been mounted on billboards seen by millions of people. They have been featured in countless exposés highlighting practices that would otherwise remain in the dark. The work is hard, yes, but the suffering of those animals is not lessened by our not seeing it. Change will only come with visibility, so I continue my work to make sure these beings are seen.

On the other side of what I do are the rescued animals. And the activists who give––and risk––everything to make sure that those animals know that despite everything they have been through, they’re safe now. They’re loved. My work for animals is my love made visible.

Jo-Anne McArthurJo-Anne McArthur is an award-winning photojournalist, author, educator, and animal rights activist. Her documentary photo project We Animals explores our uses, abuses, and sharing of spaces with the animals of this planet. She is featured in the award-winning documentary film The Ghosts in Our Machine and has written two books, We Animals (2013) and Captive (2017).