do what you must :: when it's more than a rash.

This past month has been one of the most stressful I've experienced in a long time. A few days ago, on a Story Sessions call discussing Rilke and the importance of artistic rhythms, I had a moment of clarity I decided to turn into a mini-series on the blog about doing what you must. This is the first post. 

The rash started on my knee. 

At first, I thought it was a heat rash. (Hello, Texas summer) When it didn't go away like other heat rashes, I thought maybe a cut was healing.

And then I woke up one morning clawing at my neck. When I looked in the mirror to see what could be going on, I found tiny red splashes of irritated skin staring back at me.

Hello, stress. How are you? So nice of you to visit. 

I did what I normally do: complain, try not to scratch, and use an inordinate amount of cortisone cream. One morning I kicked my sheets off of my legs and started scratching feverishly, watching as tiny bumps formed underneath the red streaks left behind by my fingernails.

Nothing was working outside of an insane lathering of aloe vera, and well, that just got sticky.

After a few days, the spots on my neck faded and my legs were calming down considerably. And then? It was everywhere. My legs. My stomach. My arms. My neck. My chest. 

The redi-clinic couldn't help me, saying it was eczema and for me to use lotion. When I finally connected a new laundry detergent appearing shortly after the rash, I decided to throw that one out and get an old stand-by we'd used before.

It wasn't until a sleepless night had me googling allergic reactions to every single thing I'd used in the past month that I connected the culprit: arnica. 

A magical little gel-like substance that solves any muscular aches, it also can provide horrific reactions to those allergic to ragweed (raises hand). I felt simultaneously hopeful and frustrated. 

Especially because I had even taken the pills. 

This was more than just your standard allergic reaction. 

After a trip to the dermatologist and a hefty dose of steroids, I started noticing a slight improvement. 

But this story is not about a rash.

.::.

For the past week, I've had to keep my skin as hydrated as possible. This meant stopping what I was doing throughout the day to rub lotion onto my legs, my arms, my stomach, my chest. 

Talk about forcing embodiment. 

Every day, I took a handful of lotion and in circular motions, massaged these pieces of me that normally don't receive so much attention. After a few times, I started talking to them. Letting them know that I see them, and I notice the rash, and I love them anyway.

It was a profound moment of mothering myself. 

Rashes are a thing for me. I don't do well when there's something going on with my body in which I have no control. I would say you could blame my past for that, but it's also a healthy dose of fear of the unknown and my need to have things in a certain order. 

I've gotten better over time, but there's nothing that will send my anxiety spinning then seeing something I can't stop. Itchy skin is up there on the list of triggers. 

I used to think I'd be a horrible mom because of this. Kids get rashes. They just do. I know this—as a teacher I saw plenty of funky skin conditions. 

But I also had the lysol spray handy.

I had friends tell me that it would be different when I was a mother, that it wouldn't matter because this was my kid and he or she was uncomfortable and that would be my priority, but I knew myself. I knew the way my mind played tricks on me. I wasn't so sure I would hold so much grace. 

So it's fitting that my first round of mothering was meant for me—for my skin and knees and arms and neck that were red and angry with a reaction coming from within. 

It was the only way I could calm down. Sit on my bed and breathe. Pull out the lotion and breathe again. Use my thumbs and fingers and work out the tired muscles tense from stress and worry. Whisper safety and healing and love. 

Only then could I begin to see connections between stress and how my body was reacting. Only then could I begin to understand that maybe the allergic reaction was yet another way of my body reminding me that I needed release.

And that's when I remembered it'd been weeks since I cried.

Posted on July 23, 2014 and filed under creativity & rest, desire map.

12 First Dates: An Accidental Blog

Call me Sonia. It’s not my name, but if I told you who I really was, it may sabotage my dating life. 

Right before New Years, I decided I was ready to actually try when it came to romance. I promised myself I’d go on at least one date a month for the full year. Twelve First Dates.

I wanted accountability, so I put a call out on Facebook. "To my single girlfriends, like this post if you are interested in a challenge that might result in love, could result in winning money, will definitely result in some funny stories and could very well result in heartbreak too. I’ll message more details over to anyone who likes this." 100 likes later, I found my pool of ladies to join me.

Of the 100 who liked my post, 24 of them were willing to actually step up to the challenge. We would each ante up $20, joining a community where we were encouraged each other be bold when it came to dating. We built a secret Facebook community and as strangers became friends, we became each other’s cheerleaders. We’re genuinely happy when someone in our community finds love. We feel that we helped each other! (Come on, admit it, you get jealous when your friends post blissful romantic photos online.)

So, from January to May, Twelve First Dates was just a private community of women cheering each other on. As beautiful and vulnerable stories started pouring in, I began to realize that maybe the world beyond just this Facebook network should hear the stories of these gals’ bravery. 

In May I bought up the web URL for Twelve First Dates. I swooped up social media ownership rights as well. Then, I began a conversation with our group. Were we comfortable sharing our most vulnerable dating experiences? Were there confidentiality issues for the men we’d been dating? We talked and everyone agreed that there was too much “good stuff” here to not share it with the world. The blog was born.

Since May, I’ve been busy building a website from scratch. The Twelve First Dates bloggers have been working hard fine-tuning their dating experiences into posts. We’ve been writing reviews of the best dating books and websites we’ve found. We make sure to tell the book author and web designers know that we’re sharing their work on our website.

That’s working. We’ve been approached by popular dating websites and distinguished authors who find the approach behind Twelve First Dates completely fresh and authentic. Why thanks

For the past two months, I’ve filled my non-dating evenings with meetings with friends who have a strong eye for design, begging them to tell me everything I’m doing wrong. I read. I bought Blog Inc by Joy Cho to learn what the heck “SEO” means and how to improve it.

Meanwhile, while I’m learning how to build a blog, the bloggers for Twelve First Dates post. And post. And post. We’re totally okay doing this even if we never magically explode as a viral sensation. We haven’t been promoting the website until we’re fully confident that Twelve First Dates is chopped full of compelling content. 

Today, our social media following is still in the double digits, but for some unknown reason, the website is getting hundreds of views per day. Somewhere, an underground swell is building and readers are taking our blog posts to heart.

Why? I think it’s because real life is more interesting than fiction. In real life these things have already happened during the first half of 2014:

These are the juicy stories your girlfriends tell you at happy hours. Hundreds are visiting the website daily because it’s authentic

And now, this week, Twelve First Dates is launching (thanks for sharing Elora!) Rather than rushing a launch, our community has slowed down to be certain that what we have published is interesting enough that YOU would want to read it.

If you want to build a blog, slow down. Make it authentic. Build in vulnerability. Say something different from the rest. 

My goal in doing ALL this isn’t to build a website. It’s to find love and to help my friends do the same. This isn’t about elevating myself into a famous blogger... If it was, I wouldn’t put a bag over my head on my profile picture. 

Sonia
Age: 28
City: Los Angeles, CA
Career: Event Planner for the Fashion Industry
About: Sonia thought of this crazy idea while spending a bit too much time alone in her car right before New Years. She holds a master's degree, and is pretty obsessed with craft beer. Her biggest dating mistake is she keeps enthusiastically telling men how much she loves her kitten... but it's a really adorable kitten. She's datable. You should tell your friends.

Posted on July 17, 2014 and filed under co-connivers, finding your one thing, writing.

Knowing your direction: Story 101's last hoorah

When I came up with the idea for what would become the signature eCourse for Story Sessions, I was in my kitchen banging my head against the counter because we didn't have money for rent.

And then — boom — CONNECTION.

Creating a space for women artists to process through their writing voice and biggest hang-ups in the process: knowing your muse, balancing art and faith, diving into edits, and post-production—all of it got my heart racing. I built a syllabus and created a post much like this one and then?

Since hitting publish on the very first registration post, over 200 women have taken this course. It's blown my mind and opened up doors I never imagined. Now I can't think about what it would be like if it never happened.

Story 101 became the avenue in which hundreds of women found their voice. 

But about six months ago, I started experiencing dissonance surrounding the course. I didn't understand why I felt so detached to it. I gathered Story Unfolding coaches together and had them lead weeks thinking I was just burnt out and needed some added help. 

Despite their kick-ass approach, nothing worked. The rushed heart-beat wasn't there anymore. The calls were still amazing and I was still gathering inspiration from the women who were risking ten weeks with someone they don't know on the internet, but something was off. 

Then it hit me: story 101 was our foundation, but it wasn't our direction. 

Finding you voice? Embracing your muse? Balancing the sticky line of art + faith? All really useful things in building creativity or noticing the pulse within that beats to an artistic tune. Without this course, Story Sessions wouldn't have even existed. Since day one, it's brought women in from all over the world and connected people who otherwise wouldn't know each other. 

But you can't always stay at the beginning. Eventually, you have to move. 

It made so much sense, really. Story 101 had run its course. I would go one more round—with fresh content and new perspective—and then I would package it up and offer it to new subscribers of Story Sessions as a DIY eCourse.

A lot can happen in nineteen months. I feel differently now then I did at the dawn of 2013. Finding my voice means something entirely new now as a business owner and author. So does that line of art + faith. So we're going out in style. 

All new content. 
All new resources. 
Same syllabus + belief in you and your words and finding a way to get your voice out into the world.

Do you need to be a blogger? A published author? Shoot—do you need to even consider yourself a writer? Hell no. This course is for those women who feel a yearning to make something of this creativity burning for release. You hear about embracing your muse and you don't even know what a muse is, let alone who or what your muse may sound like. 

Or maybe you have a story—one you've lived through or one that's starting to take shape internally and you need some extra help with doubt and knowing how to finish well. 

Regardless of your reason, now is the time to join—in 2015, this course will turn into a DIY eCourse previously packaged and recorded. 

Want even better news? Since this is our last run, it's discounted at 127 dollars

What do you say? Come join us? 

THE SYLLABUS -

Week One :: 

Intro
Focus - Finding Your Voice 
Activity - Blogging Peer Analysis 

Week Two :: 

Capturing the Muse 
Focus - How to Get Your Brilliance on Paper 
Activity - Idea Binge  

Week Three :: 

Battling Doubt 
Focus - Finding Fresh Inspiration 
Activity - Comfort Zone Challenge 
Text - The War of Art 

Week Four :: 

Embracing Silence
Focus - Going Inward in Order to Write Outward
Activity - Social Media//Internet Fast 

Week Five :: 

Writing the Hard Thing 
Focus - Listening to the Inner Writer 
Activity - Soul Blurts 
Text - Zen in the Art of Writing

Week Six :: 

The Art of Memoir 
Focus - Writing About Our Memories 
Activity - Mirrors
Text - The Memoir Project

Week Seven :: 

The Intersection of Faith and Art 
Focus - How to Market Without Losing Your Soul 
Activity - Pitching Idea to Someone New 

Week Eight :: 

Finding the Strength to Finish 
Focus - What To Do When You Lose Your Groove//Avoiding Burnout 
Activity - Brainstorm Sessions 

Week Nine :: 

For Love of Editing 
Focus - Finding and Keeping a Writers' Community 
Activity - Peer Critique

Week Ten :: 

Post-Production 
Focus - Knowing Where Your Words Will Land 
Activity - FutureCasting 

NEED MORE INFO? HERE'S WHAT YOU'D GET :: 

  • A 10 week course on story-telling and writing set for September 8 to November 21
  • Weekly conference calls with everyone who can make it where we'd chat about specific topics relating to writing :: tackling faith and art, the marketing agenda and what that means for us as artists, keeping a story moving….etc 
  • recordings of each meeting to listen at your leisure
  • weekly homework/prompts
  • inspirational emails dropped into your inbox about two-three times a week
  • membership to a private Facebook community designed specifically for your class
  • complimentary copy of Elora Ramirez' book Somewhere Between Water & Sky
  • peer critique
  • email availability if you have any questions along the way
Name *
Name

WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING

This was absolutely amazing. I hate to see my course end. Highly recommend for any writers out there who could use a little writing community and inspiration--no matter where you're at in the process - Sarah Drinka
This class has opened me. Emotionally, spiritually and relationally. I thought I had lost my creative self but she was there all along. She needed prompting, nurture and to find her voice. My voice. It's been found. - Bethany Paget
Elora is a gifted and experienced writer and coach. I needed structure for my writing goals — mile markers and directives to guide me — and I needed to break through to the next level of vulnerability as a writer. Elora's guidance and the weekly assignments have enabled me to accomplish that - Teresa Robinson <stargardener.com>
I came to this course hoping to become a better writer. I never imagined I would first start becoming a better person and find a community people who spoke the language of my soul - Adela Just
Story Sessions seriously changed my life. In this space, I was inspired to relaunch my blog, start my own eCourse, and write the book that's been in my head for the last five years (or more). Elora is a natural teacher, she gently guides us into our authentic writer selves. I don't where I'd be without her. All this, and I haven't even mentioned the community! To be surrounded by other women wrestling with their words and their faith has transformed me. And I am forever grateful -Brandy Walker
Each of the class members has touched my heart deeply and I'm continually amazed how each person is putting in words what I feel in my own heart. I've never been in such a community before. The prompts and week's activities are helping to shape me, to identify obstacles, and to think bigger - I'm grateful, so very grateful. Story 101 has gone above and beyond my expectations. So much of me has been numb through years of constant trauma upon trauma... but this journey with Story 101 is like a warm breeze melting the icicles of grief and pain - Susan McKenzie
This course has given me a diverse writing community, which I love. What I think my big takeaway from this is going to be by ability to write about my faith, especially the hard parts of it. I don't even know if I knew that I wasn't, or that I needed to sit and focus on myself, affirming my own humanity and story. When I signed up for this I was thinking that I would learn some mechanics of being a better writer. But what I learned was how who I am affects my writing. And when I plumb my own depths, I find a vulnerability that is more fragile than I thought. But, like someone standing in the middle of a thinly frozen lake, hearing cracks, I am becoming aware of my own strength and possibilities - Caris Adel

Because I believe in this course and quality content, I don't offer any refunds. However, if you find yourself unable to participate I will gladly transfer your admission to another person. 

Posted on July 15, 2014 and filed under community, writing.

creating a map out of your jealousy.

A little over a year ago, someone launched a project and it gave me feelings. I copied + pasted the link and sent the page to my then story-consultant-friend-coach and wrote in incomprehensible language how disgusted I was with this guy's latest attempt at brilliance. 

He sent back an email within a few minutes saying, "let's talk about this tomorrow." 

I remember snarling at the computer screen the next day. That white-hot feeling of why didn't I think of this boiling up and over into my words.

"I mean, it's not like they're actually doing anything." 

My friend chuckled under his breath. 

"Sounds like you're jealous." 

I paused. 

I took a breath and glanced over the website again, this time through an analytical eye. Great design—check. Great copy—check. Impressive backers—check.

My voice dropped to barely a whisper.

"Maybe a little." 

He grunted in appreciation, both for my honesty and his intuitiveness. I leaned forward swiped my mouse back to the home page of my laptop so I could see his face on Skype. 

"But listen. That doesn't make sense. I don't want to do this. I don't have the slightest interest in what they're hoping to accomplish here."  My nose wrinkled again. "This feels sleazy. Manipulative, even." 

He told me to think about it. To allow myself the notion that maybe—just maybe—this jealousy was trying to tell me something. I got quiet for a moment, allowing my eyes to scan over the website one more time and really listening to my body — 

Where was I feeling the anger and jealousy? 
What was that telling me about anything? 
How would I act on this emotion now?

I sat up straighter. 

"Oh my god. I know what it is." 

He looked at me and raised an eyebrow, waiting. 

A smile played at my lips. 

"This jealousy? It's showing me I can do this. There's nothing about what this person did that isn't within my reach. Even more, I can do it better. I know I can. This website is amazing, but there's a better way to support writers and artists. I feel it in my gut." I tapped on the desk with my finger. 

"So...." 

"I'm not frustrated because he's doing it and I'm not. I'm frustrated because I can see a way to do it better and right now, I don't have the resources. I don't have the Big Name backing me. I don't have the fancy website. I don't have the perceived value because of ridiculous prices."

"They are kinda ridiculous." he nodded.

I looked at my friend. "But this doesn't have to stop me, does it?"

"No."

I leaned close again. "What if I did something different? What if I gave space for authors and dreamers and artists to grow and thrive with no expectations? What if I became the counter to this offering?"

He leaned back in his chair and rested his hands behind his head.

"Elora my friend, you just became an entrepreneur." 

I laughed and pointed at the screen. 

"You did this on purpose." 

The whole side of his face lifted with his shoulder when he shrugged. "Maybe a little bit." 

.::.

Jealousy is fierce. It can take you out before you even know what hit you. 

But what if you can take that emotion and turn it into a map? What if you could ask the emotions threatening to ruin your day hey—I see you, show me more. How can we grow out of this? 

It takes skill. It takes the practice of breathing and flipping the switch of feeling everything in your bones to an analytical mindset. When this happens, something strange comes out of it: instead of discounting the feelings and emotions, you're giving them the platform to speak. 

Before, they were just banging around trying to get you to listen. 

Now? They'll come at you a little softer, maybe even offer a moment of clarity with open hands. 

It's a practice of embodiment, giving space and name to everything you experience within this flesh and bone. It doesn't mean it won't ever happen again. I can't tell you how many times I've felt the curly fingers of envy threaten to dismantle everything I've built. But since learning about this concept, I've started making maps out of my emotions. 

Sometimes, fear shows me an overstepped boundary. 
Anger points to the practiced skill of owning my voice.
Frustration reveals a better rhythm for my problem. 
And jealousy? Well she always makes me work even harder but it's in the best way—she's the one who helps me stand up to my full potential. 

.::.

The project that launched doesn't exist anymore. I think about it every once in a while, how it served as a catalyst for me to buckle down and work. I never saw this brand as competition, there were too many holes within their system for me to take them seriously. But I learned from them — 

I learned about launching too soon. 
I learned about mistaking market research. 
I learned about biting off more than you can chew. 
I learned about watching who you partner with in joint ventures. 

But most of all? I learned that the easiest way to watch your hard work crumble around you is to start focusing on what everyone else is doing. You don't build a house doing research on how everyone else built theirs—you do it brick by brick with the dirt under your fingernails and sweat on your brow and the hope blossoming in your chest.

Head down, eyes focused, only coming up for air. That's how you get things done. When the emotions bite, close those eyes. Find where you're feeling the pinch. Say hi and ask for what it wants to show you. 

And when the map is revealed, you move.

Have you ever had a moment where emotions threatened to take you out? Tell me about it in the comments! 

Posted on July 11, 2014 and filed under creative entrepreneurship, desire map.

risky business and peonies.

When I got married and it was time to choose an arrangement for my bouquet, I had no idea where to begin. I'm not the girl who likes roses. I mean, they're pretty and all but a little over-stated. Despite my hemming and hawing and mentioning that I kinda like gladiolus, the florist nailed my bouquet. 

Since then I haven't gotten much better. I just don't know much about flowers. I know I love bougainvilleas. I know chrysanthemums make me happy. The Texas highways in the spring are my worst distraction. But there was never a flower that made me suck in my breath and get all misty eyed because of the beauty. 

That is, until I came face-to-face with a peony.

Before I saw them in the floral section of our local grocery store, I had only heard about them—I'd never actually seen one. The moment it happened, I knew. This is the one—this is my favorite. I want them always.

.::.

A few days ago, I texted my business coach and told her these past few weeks have felt like a crash-course in an advanced MBA program. When I started The Story Unfolding, I had no idea what the hell I was doing. Workshops and seminars on high-brow literature? Yes. Courses about writing and getting your work out there? Sure. 

Owning my own business? Bringing on multiple brilliant coaches to expand the reach? 

...hold on just a second. Let me grab my inhaler and some gin & tonic.

In the beginning, I researched my ass off. I worked with a story-consultant who is also a friend and brilliant and worth probably ten times his pay in what it means to build strategy within my brand and social media reach. It helped—within the eight weeks I worked with him my mailing list doubled and I gained deeper clarity on what Story Sessions, a branch of Story Unfolding, meant as a community. Within three months of his coaching I launched Story 201, the Story Sessions' subscription began, we brought on interns and coaches, and in January, the website went live. Somewhere during this time, I began whispering to other people I have a business.

For six months, every single development was built out of necessity.

- Story 101 members wanted a class that went deeper into the technicalities of writing. So I developed Story 201.
- The Facebook page for Story 101 members was getting cluttered with noise and there was a lack of focus within my purpose as well as those staying—so I created the subscription, opening up opportunities for weekly prompts, write-ins and more.
- Subscribers wanted a place to gather off the FB page—where we could offer the public a peek into our community and what we're creating. The blog was born and members gained access to a private page where additional resources, prompts, and inspiration were dropped.

All of it was good—great even. But everything went so fast the research and hours I spent on developing Story Unfolding seemed light years away. 

So I dug in. 

I came up with core values — rhythm, beauty, depth, luminosity, freedom, belonging and abundance. I drafted a coaching agreement for the brilliant women who are now independent contractors and trained coaches under Story Unfolding. I watched videos and listened to podcasts and read books from CEO's who paved the road before me. 

I remembered—and clarified—my why. 

It was hard. I fell under resistance and got migraines and stress rashes as a result. I led a retreat for Story Sessions' and came home more exhausted than I've ever been in my entire life only to jump right back into blogging and prompting and meeting the next week.

I fell. A lot. 

I bumped into my own fears and learned how to articulate my wants. I took the time and listed out my core desires — golden, rooted, abundance, embodied + sensual, la loba, rhythmic — and refused to flow with anything that went against these and my values. 

And eventually, it led me to a confidence I didn't know I possess. There is still much to be done. But I can—and will—do it. Story Unfolding is only just beginning, and after a year of tremendous growth intermingled with plateaus, I can't wait to see where the community will be in a year.

There's no limits to our dreams and what we want if we're willing to put in the work.

.::.

2013 was my year of risk. It was the year I jumped and started a business. It was the year I self-published Every Shattered Thing. It was the year I found myself underneath the safe exterior I desperately held onto because of past hurts and mistakes.

So when my word for 2014 revealed itself as soft. I thought maybe the risks were over. At least the big ones. I thought this was the year I learned about who I am really. And it's happened. I'm more embodied, more rooted, more confident than I've been in my entire life. 

What I forgot was that learning about yourself—your values, your wants, your desires, your beliefs—this is always a risk.

.::.

A few days ago I decided my new found peony obsession would need to be memorialized in ink. I started researching and finding designs I liked and the meanings behind the flower. Fortune is a common theme, as is compassion and bashfulness and love and beauty. But in one description, a word jumped out at me from the page. 

Risk.

I thought about the past few weeks and how crystallized my vision has become for Story Unfolding. I thought about the way the peony petals unfold and risk the falling. And then I realized—unless you risk, unless you sacrifice and say yes or take the time to really dig in to whatever this dream is you have—you're never going to get where you want. It's like my wedding bouquet. I got lucky. The florist made me a pretty arrangement that left me happy. That's not always the case. 

Do you know what you want? Can you articulate it? 

Even more so, do you have the guts to act on it?

As my business coach responded to one of my many texts about time spent on the perils of creative entrepreneurship— "E, if you never risk you'll never be awesome." 

Go ahead. Risking is huge—I get it. Articulating what you want or like or believe is scary. But you can't just stop there. You have to do it. You have to own it. This is what I've learned. 

Even peonies keep their beauty in the unfolding. 

 

If you are at all interested in talking more about how I snagged a business coach and who this brilliant mind is, let me know. Bianca Broos has changed the scope of my understanding of what it means to be an entrepreneur and from the beginning has believed in me and my crazy-ass dreams. You want her. I promise you do.

Posted on July 6, 2014 and filed under creative entrepreneurship, desire map, {soft}.