For this first #MotivationMonday, we’re going to talk about the blog that saved me: Big Strong Yes.
Big Strong Yes is a brave and life-changing podcast where an academic with a poetic soul, and a brilliant and empathetic narrative theorist who have both risen from hardship work their way through three challenging books to learn in real-time how to fall, how to rise, and how to fly.
A little over a year ago, as hurricane Harvey was forming in the Gulf of Mexico, I found a podcast that literally changed my life. I’m not one to get too personal on the internets (I may have to face a Senate Confirmation Hearing someday), but suffice to say, this podcast gave me the tools to realize I was in the burning house, the strength to get up off my butt, and the courage to walk out the front door.
It all started with me listening to a podcast by two literary agents that I followed on Twitter. They recommended a podcast by two narrative theorists who were analyzing Buffy the Vampire Slayer — be still my heart. I hopped on over and fell down the rabbit hole . . . until one day the podcast stopped. There was a note from the inimitable Lani Diane Rich (learn more about her podcasting empire in the “Pairings” section below) leading the way to her new media company. At first I tuned in out of curiosity to hear more from a woman who had taught me more about literature and criticism and art than any of my classes in school. But what I found was what I needed to hear.
Big Strong Yes is hosted by Lani Diane Rich, a self-proclaimed preacher of story (and y’all, she has earned that title), and Dr. Kelly Jones, a professor with a doctorate in learning theory who will make you define your terms and do your homework. Together, they led a bookclub of sorts where they read “Rising Strong” by Brene Brown, “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert, and “Year of Yes” by Shonda Rhimes. Their goal — embrace “courage, creativity, and the call to adventure.”
The books are of course brilliant and inspiring. Brene Brown is a professor of social work at the University of Houston (Let’s here it for the Hometown!), and her book talks about what it’s like to take a fall (figuratively speaking) and learning to rise again. Elizabeth Gilbert is the author of “Eat, Pray, Love” and her book is about finding your creative magic and leaning in to the trickster magic of the universe. And Shonda Rhimes is the creator of shows like “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal,” and “How to Get Away with Murder” (as if you didn’t already know), and her book is a memoir of her learning to stop hiding from her life and say yes. I commend these books (and they’ll probably be subjects of future #MotiviationMonday Posts), but there is a reason I’m starting with the podcast. Listening as two incredibly intelligent, capable, funny, beautiful women work their way through some of the most challenging material will change your life.
Each week there’s a reading assignment from one of the books, and adiscussion focusing on three things → the Big Idea, the Strong Challenge, and the Yes. Lani and Dr. Jones discuss the portions of the reading assignment that resonate with them, the portions that they resist and didn’t want to face (and thus needed to face), and a homework assignment inspired by the reading (sometimes self assigned, sometimes assigned by their partner-in-podcasting — honestly those were the best).
The first book was Rising Strong. They worked through the shame-triggers and the skill set necessary to learn to rise. They wrote shitty first drafts and said the things we’re all afraid to admit we feel. It was a slog. They cried. I cried. My dog whined. Hell, I wined. But we all grew together.
The second book was Big Magic, and y’all, it was candy. It re-awoke my belief in the trickster magic of the universe and blasted its way through the hard coating of my pain right to my melodramatic, passionate, emotional center. I felt again. I remembered what it was like to feel something other than fear and shame. I felt alive.
The third book was Year of Yes, where we all had to put our money where our mouth was. In Year of Yes, Shonda Rhimes talks about her struggle to stop numbing and start living. To say yes to the things that scare her. To get out of the comfortable, workaholic, food-numbing bliss that is the fear cocoon. Our fearless podcasters busted out of that cocoon right with her. They shared their real life stories of trauma and began the unfuckening (this blog will be PG13)– the perfect word created by Lani Diane Rich to describe the process of not necessarily forgiving, but also not letting someone who had hurt you control your emotions any more.
All in all, it was the journey I needed when I felt like I’d come to the end of my rope. And wherever you are in your journey, it’s the podcast for you. Do you feel like you’ve hit rock bottom and you don’t know where go to? Start at episode one. Do you feel like you’ve lost touch with your creativity and it’s a dried up raisin of your soul? Start at episode twelve: Big Sloppy Wet Kiss. Are you stuck feeling like life is . . . just meh? Start at episode 22: The Naughty Bits.
So here’s the thing, the podcast was all about bravery. They shared their stories so we felt less alone in ours. They showed us how to work through the tough times, so we at least knew it was possible. In that spirit, I suppose I should share (a little) too.
In August of 2017, when I first ran across Big Strong Yes, I was working in a toxic environment. It wasn’t actionable under Title IX and no one physically beat me, but it was snuffing out the essence of who I was a little day-by-day. When it first started, I thought I was crazy or overly-sensitive. But then the coincidences got less and less believable. And I talked to others who’d left the same position and realized it wasn’t just me. Y’all, if you’re one of those people who don’t know the word cry and suddenly start crying daily at your job, you should probably change jobs. I had a great friend at that job who kept me sane . . . and honestly probably kept me alive. But I felt myself become less and less me. I closed in. I became afraid of people — I’m an extrovert! it was terrible. I’d been doing improv for a year and a half, but suddenly I found myself frozen on stage. I lost hair. I gained weight. And all the while, I blamed myself. My own weakness. My own frailty. Until something happened that I couldn’t take the blame for, couldn’t ignore. That even the people that laughed off my horror stories and treated me like a child that didn’t know her own mind couldn’t ignore. And I would’ve fallen, hard. But because of the process I went through with #BSY, I had the skills to stand back up, find a better path, and leave.
So here’s your call to “embrace courage, creativity, and the call to adventure.” If you’re stuck in the numbing cocoon you’ve built to protect you from the pain you can’t face and you need someone to show you how to walk through, this is the podcast for you. If you aren’t quite as melodramatic, but you’re still looking for coping skills or skills to find that creative spirit that never seems to sit down with you when you’re ready to create, this is also the podcast for you.
The books! Rising Strong, Year of Yes, and Big Magic, are all masterpieces. I highly recommend them.
Chipperish Media → This is the media company created by Lani Diane Rich and it has something to offer for nearly everyone. Still Dead and Still Pretty are podcasts analyzing Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, respectively, through the lensof narrative and character theory. Bonus! Dr. Jones is the co-host of Still Dead. How Story Works is a college-level class on narrative theory and advanced literary criticism in podcast form. But beware, I’ve lost so many nights re-writing works-in-progress based on the knowledge I’ve gained (it’s a real pain). And then there’s Listen Up A-holes where LDR and superhero scholar Joshua Uhnrue analyze the Marvel Universe. Joshua is a comicbook aficionado who makes Marvel’s world-building accessible for us fan-girls who really just showed up for Tom Hiddleston. There are other podcasts too!