Friday, June 24, 2011

Poor Dirty Virginia Girl Makes Good at Local Furniture Store

For our wedding, my husband and I were given a $60 gift certificate to La Diff, the outrageously gorgeous avant-garde furniture store downtown. While the sentiment was beautiful, the reality was bleak. Would we even be able to buy the leg of one chair? We didn’t know, but we decided to find out.

It just so happened La Diff was having their annual 4th of July sale, in which anyone who sang a patriotic song at the register could receive a discount. I am tone-deaf, but have been able to recite the pledge of allegiance in sign language since 4th grade summer camp so we were able to buy one half of a lawn chair set from the discount room in the back for 20% off. But boy, was that one beautiful lawn chair.

Unfortunately, however, while scouring the three floors of warehouse sized rooms, I’d lost my new husband and had even run out to the parking lot to see if his car was still there. To see if he’d left me, even though we’d just gotten married three weeks earlier. Because, you know, the idea that he-- or anyone-- would want to love me forever was unthinkable in my not-so subconscious. I saw myself as a dirty, poor Virginia girl who wore her heart on her ripped up thrift-store sleeve.

In the car on the way home, my husband gave me a super-hero nickname which has stuck ever since. Fatal Leap. To this day we refer to La Diff as more of a mind-set than a place. “Are you getting all La Diff on me?” he asks if I make a mountain out of a molehill. “Don’t leave me like you did at La Diff!” I say when he goes for milk.

You get the picture.

But yesterday, my first time back to La Diff in ten years, was a little different. I’d been asked to give a 13 minute presentation with artist, Susan Singer by a new Richmond City initiative called i.e., (Innovative Excellence) meant to both high lite and jumpstart innovation, creativity and collaboration amongst individuals and businesses in RVA. The big screen, stage and microphones were on the third floor, but this time I didn’t get lost because I was wearing a lanyard and there were lots of nice people showing me where to go and how to get there.

The room was electric with both smart phones and energy. I’m usually skeptical about words like innovation and synergy, but yesterday I encountered them in action.

The room was full of superstars and suits. World-renowned creative geniuses and mega-business masterminds. Cutting edge entrepreneurs and people who know not only how to balance their checkbooks, but the definition of a stock portfolio. Whatever that means.

When it was our turn, Susan opened with her intention to use her art to change the way the world views women, to honor all body types, not just those with physics-defying dimensions, like Barbie, which led nicely into talk about her upcoming show Not Barbie: A Celebration of Real Women and the seven week event/lecture series that will accompany it, Beyond Barbie: Piecing Together Today’s Woman.

As the backdrop for our talk were Susan’s paintings--- two of me as well as her own nude self-portrait. Directly next to our nude paintings sat the Mayor of Richmond, who had a front row view of both Susan and I a la carte. For a second I thought I might die, but once again I did not.

Instead, I talked about how having Susan photograph and paint me naked helped me confront and overcome one of my biggest fears. That it had allowed me to be more naked, more vulnerable, more honest and more real in other ways, like in my writing. That since our collaboration this February I had written about what a disaster my house is, surviving 6 miscarriages and a hysterectomy, the almost-dissolution of my marriage last year. That sharing these things with others had made me feel less alone, less ashamed, less isolated and less weird, like when you’re shopping for a new orange VW bug and suddenly EVERYONE has an orange VW bug. Like that, but instead of with an orange VW bug, with what I had once considered my darkest, deepest most shameful secrets. There were a million more things I could have talked about had our timer not gone off, but they are future thoughts, future posts, future collaborations, future explorations and conversations that I now actually think I can- and will- have in this city. Not that they weren't happening before- but I had failed to see how my voice could have been strong enough to hear.

Afterwards, when not only people who looked like me, but men in suits came up to shake my hand, I discovered what may already be obvious to everyone else—that their hearts beat, too. The big man president of a big successful company had shared a story about accidentally peeing on himself after a really huge big deal event at a really huge big deal place. Was that story naked enough for you? he asked me. Yes, it most certainly was, I said. Suddenly, this poor, dirty Virginia girl felt like she was on the same floor as everyone else.

So, not only did I not die in front Susan last year, I did not die in front of the Mayor and a whole room chock full of CFOs, CEOs, executive directors, ad execs, musicians, artists and my own mother sitting on very fancy chairs, from La Diff, all for sale, yesterday. And next week, you too can buy those chairs for a song. The important thing is recognizing that you deserve to sit in one.

Thank you, i.e.


  1. Great post! And you knocked them out. Way to go ... !

  2. You and Susan were a highlight of the conference fo sho.

  3. Your presentation and this event were both great studies in courage for me (professionally and personally).

  4. What a wonderful story! All around, from your initial experience with LaDiff - and the ironic code name that was derived from it - and your inspirational sharing of experiences at #ierva. I truly look forward to reading your blog, hope to learn from you through courses available, and wish you all the best in continued growth and self love. - Sara Anderson

  5. Paint covered hearts safety pinned to thrift store and TJMax shirt sleeves thanks you
    Simply wonderful , right on Valley! Ed Trask

  6. You rocked, and shifted a lot of people's hearts and perspectives. Nice to formally meet you at the Science Museum today, to boot!

  7. Everyone, thank you. I'm still blushing. And beaming. And embarrassing myself. In the best possible way. Thank you for laughing with me, not at me. I love you all.