Most people have no idea who they are. They think they are their job or their family or, especially in California, their cars.
My mother thought she was her lists: bullet points of the day to be checked off at night. I did X, Y, and Z and therefore I am a good person. I can have my Friday night Manhattan and call it a week. Where are my cigarettes?
I studied my mother all my life because 1. I loved her. 2. I seemed to love her more than she loved herself. 3. I could see the choices she was making were killing her 4. I was afraid of two things: of becoming her and of not becoming her.
Some people are born already arrowed to the rest of their lives—they just shoot out and continue forward and do what they were born to do. I think of Shirley Temple, Joe Montana. People who were so themselves from the get go that the world did not have to sculpt them—they were ready made.
I think I was born a substance more like Play-do. I feel sculpted, deeply influenced--dare I say manipulated--by my upbringing. Part of this, I believe, has to do with being adopted and part of this has to do with character. My mother wanted a mirror reflection of herself. She wanted a child who was smart, who loved books, who loved language, the outdoors, and who was happy to help around the house. And so I grew to be that person.
I wanted a mother who loved herself and deeply respected her own strengths and desires so that I could feel permission to have the same feelings. What good is it to be told that you can do anything you want with your life by someone who is not living out her own dreams? It’s like having someone with her hair on fire giving you safety tips.
When my mother finally did chase her dream of writing a book, the angels sang. Truly. (Just let me have this moment. Let me believe that when my mother sat down day after day to write the story of her beloved Louisa Catherine Adams, the angels in the heavens broke into song. Why should you let me have this moment? Because it’s beautiful. Because it connects heaven and earth.)
When my mother died, her brother finished the book and Yale University Press published it and The Sunday New York Times praised it on the front page of their book review. If, as a writer, that sort of thing doesn’t make you hear angels singing you are either deaf or made of stone.
I think all these years of studying my mom gave me my most treasured part about myself: I have this ability to see into people. I can see their deepest stories and their super powers, and I get crazy when I see them not living out their dreams. I mean, I become a pain in the ass. A cheerleader who just won’t let up. And I love it. People love it, too, because they want to be held accountable. They are just afraid of their own glory. And so they need someone with a tractor trailer, pushing them forward until there is enough momentum for flight.
I am a midwife for your best self.
For years now I have been a writing teacher, but I realized recently it’s not the writing that is so important to me: what’s important is that people find a way to express what they want and who they are through the writing. Writing is a tool, not the finished product. It could be painting, dance, construction, cooking, yoga. The finished product is your life.
I see people as tubes of energy, and I see that when the story they carry is blocked, it’s like their spine is crooked. Everything is affected: musculature, the nervous system, the efficiency of thought and movement. Many, many things can block a story. Shame and fear are the biggies. You often need a midwife there by your side to encourage you and to help you believe the telling will not kill you. Once you have your story out, once you have told it, written it, sung it, your brain no longer has to subconsciously work to try to put order and meaning into past events. You can put the story aside and just be you. That’s called living.
Living without knowing your story or being in touch with your story is like living without a spine. You are a jellyfish. I know this because I jellyfished my way through my life until I sat down at age 52 and wrote my book, my story. Then, boom, I had a spine. I stood up. I was in the house. I had done what my spinning brain had been working at for years and years and years: I had constructed a narrative that made me feel real. I had gone Whitman and yawped my truth. I had birthed my own self. Do you know how much more fun life is when you are fully present? I mean, people pay good money for drugs to feel like this and you can do it for free, for real, just by going in and telling your truth.
At the end of the day I am an advocate for life. Writing is a way to inhabit your life more fully—it is a form of prayer, an act, not the thing. What that means is, in my book, you can call yourself a writer without putting a word on the page. In my mind, writer means liver, one who lives, one who attends to the world with all of his or her senses.
When I am on my deathbed I want to think of the things I saw and the people I loved, not the books or movies I wrote. The books and movies are wonderful, but they will not sing to me as I die. They will not hold my hand or give me sips of water.
I had a dear friend who died when her children were still young, and her minister told me that one day he was sitting with her and she was blissful as she lay on the couch listening to the sounds of her children playing. You might write about that, but it’s the living it that matters.
All of this is to say that I want to work with every one of you and be your story coach. I want to help you see who you are and what you want and how to create the elevator pitch of you so you can get whatever it is you want out of this sweet wild life.
I have done this work with therapists, life coaches, commercial and residential real estate brokers, high-tech employees, writers, artists, lawyers, salespeople, singers, teachers, hairstylists, and the gainfully unemployed. I can work with you. It’s all about figuring out what you want: money, recognition, new clients, a book, pizza every Friday, and figuring out how to use language, spoken or written, to get it.
To me, you are a bundle of energy, a mass of potential, and my job is to see the light and to help you see it, too. My job is to see the constrictions in the energy and to find ways to help you find space and freedom for new thinking.
What does this look like? I ask a lot of questions. I might have you write something. Draw something. I might ask you to clarify, again and again and again until the bell of truth rings for you, something you said. My goal is to create a space where you feel safe and feel you have not only permission but encouragement along with the expectation that you will lay it all out there so the both of us together can celebrate the wonder that is you.
It’s not even personal. You didn’t make you. You just are. It’s like you were born a star and you were so afraid of blinding others or hurting them with your points that you quickly found ways to wrap stories around and around yourself, dimming the real you, keeping you safe from notice.
And that’s so boring.
Just be the star. There are billions and billions of them in existence already. It’s time to join the party.
It’s like Mary Oliver said in her poem Wild Geese:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves…
This is such good news. You do not have to be good. You just have to let the soft animal of your body love what you love, and I can help you figure out what that is, the soft animal part of you, and what it loves and what it wants to do next.
You can reach me at email@example.com or you can text me at 408 219 6404. I charge $150 an hour and I work very, very quickly.
Here’s some feedback from some beloved clients to give you an even better idea of what I can do (and yes, all of my clients are beloved):
As an investigative reporter for three decades, I told thousands of other people's stories.
Then I tried to tell my own.
Turns out it's incredibly difficult. Because I'm living this story as I write it. I'm writer, director, principal actor and producer. I have no distance, no perspective. I can't see it when I'm lying to myself. And I can't see my greater Truth, my context, my identity--especially as an adoptee and recovering alcoholic.
I desperately needed another person and that person couldn't be a shameless sycophant or a negative naysayer.
I needed a truth teller. For me, that was Anne Heffron.
Most editors or coaches or fellow writers will basically try to tell you what your own story is--rather than be a partner in helping you figure it out. I had a therapist tell me all her clients know their answers. It's just the therapist's job to pull them out. Anne's not a therapist. She's better. She costs less! She takes more time. And she's a helluva lot more committed.
My story was like my baby. I was like the bloody screaming mother just trying to push this thing out. Anne was the ever compassionate, ever encouraging dula. Without her I don't think baby would have made it alive. I'm not sure mother would have either.
I work in commercial real estate helping companies and……” WHO CARES!!
I love what I do, and I’m good at it. But every time I would try to answer the "what do you do” question, I could immediately see people/clients start to lose interest. I spent one hour with Anne and built a framework of talking points that completely changed the conversation.
Now I can literally see the light go on in people's eyes when I tell them what I do. The guys who makes my coffee and the multi-billon dollar investor all want to know more…instead of looking at their phone when I start talking!
"I make people a lot of money by solving real estate problems." This is what Anne and I came up with. This is what I do.
Coaches can be sounding boards, strategists and advice givers. They help teach and train you to win the game. But what if you don’t know what game you want to be playing or even what winning means. What if you just know that something is inside of you and it needs to be given expression or else you will recede into the background of your life or the couch. If that feels familiar, text Anne and say “help.” She will meet you with a commitment to your hope and a knowingness of your gift as if she raised you herself. You won’t know exactly how she does it--this one is sneaky in her brilliance and creativity, but soon enough you will find yourself in a forward motion that you’ve been longing for a long, long time. If you want to live the book you want to write about yourself, work with Anne.