A few weeks back, my friend Chris (who is an unstoppable force for LGBTQ equality) asked if I’d be a part of something called "The Human Library" in Sedona. It’s an event held in September that helps dissolve prejudices and stereotypes. Essentially, I’ll be a “human book” telling my story in about 15 minutes time, and then attendees can ask me questions for another 15. I’m honored to be part of this event surrounded by incredible human beings who, in most cases, have endured prejudice and unfair treatment far worse than anything I’ve ever endured.
For me, well, my topic is about gender inequality. Here’s my book cover description…
"As a self-taught carpenter and furniture designer, and the founder and CEO of an internationally-known furniture company, she faced gender discrimination on a weekly basis for fourteen years. Despite being told she was crazy to think a woman could do what she did, she built a furniture company out of her LA garage in 2007, won a deal on the TV show SHARK TANK in 2011, and grew her brand internationally through licensing partnerships. Now, at the age of 47, she’s fighting for her transgender daughter to ensure equal rights for all genders."
When I was crafting my book cover description, I thought back to my carpentry days and all of the sexist comments, the looks, the naysayers, the grossly inappropriate comments, and a few moments where I had to leave the room in order to not strangle someone. And then I realized that even now, during a time that I’m not as entrenched in the male-dominated furniture industry (aside from designing pieces for the Frank Lloyd Wright collection), I still continue be a target for men whose egos are larger than Texas.
Ironically, when I finally ousted a few king and queen narcissists from my personal life, the same damn type of person showed up in my work life. I thought I’d left behind the old boys’ network that is still at the helm of the furniture world. Turns out, they are in or around nonprofit work, too.
My husband, who is the antithesis of the men I’m describing, is one of the good ones who does all he can to fight for gender equality. He’s even gone to bat for a woman who was being sexually harassed by a top dog in the TV industry only to find himself kicked to the curb because he stood up for her. There are a few other good ones, too. But on the whole, over the last three years that I’ve been involved in nonprofit work, I’ve seen many wolves in sheep’s clothing. And let’s be honest—most of them are older white men. That’s been my experience, at least.
I’ve been told to calm down when I wasn’t doing anything but asking questions about a project this particular man needed done. For God's sake, I was helping him!
I’ve been retaliated against when I stood up and demanded to be paid for the work I’d done. (Apparently, this dude just expects everyone to do work for him for free.)
I’ve had to stand up to abuse while filming a speech only to be made a target again and again for expressing that I will not tolerate bullying.
One guy even asked a woman that I report to if she could handle me. First of all, that question is incredibly demeaning and degrading to both of us. I’ve never been someone who has needed to be "handled". I’ve always gone above and beyond to ensure our team succeeds, no matter where I'm working or volunteering. Now, think about this for a second…if you swapped out two men for the two women in this scenario, would he have asked the question in the first place? I think not. Who asks another man if they can handle a business colleague or direct report?!? No one.
I used to want to believe that what I endured while building the Mod Mom brand was mostly industry-related. That it was just the good old Southern boys running the show, ya know.
But it’s not. Despite the work of equal rights activists like Gloria Steinem and Malala Yousafzai, and all who came before and after them, gender inequality is everywhere.
Like the silent epidemic of childhood abuse, sexism and chauvinism are still happening at a rate I didn’t want to believe to be true.
How do we stop this, you ask?
You keep standing up.
You keep talking about gender inequality and sexism.
You keep shining a big freakin’ light on generational cycles of dysfunction and abuse that will only end when people are aware of what they’re handing down to their children.
But what do I know?!?
I’m just a woman who needs to be handled.
Friends, you have to read The Ghost Photographer. If you're a fan of wicked smart badass women, true tales of intuition and the afterlife, and touching memoirs about the human condition that bring tears to your eyes one minute and make you laugh the next, BUY THIS BOOK. Or, download the Audible file like I did.
I happened upon The Ghost Photographer while researching the publishing house called Atria. As you likely know by now, I don't believe in coincidences. Clearly, I was supposed to find Julie Rieger's incredible book about how she became a ghost photographer.
In a nutshell, Julie Rieger-- the award-winning former President, Chief Data Strategist, and Head of Media at 20th Century Fox in Hollywood—wrote a book about how and why she went from analytical skeptic to full-on believer in the afterlife (and much more). Her awakening began after her mom passed away from Alzheimer's disease. As Julie said in an interview with CBS News,"Grief creates chaos which allows us to shed our rigidity...our rigid belief systems. I happened to shed the skepticism, and that's what opened the door to The Other Side."
Now, I'm not going to give anything away, but I do want to say that I felt, at times, like I was reading my own journey. Chills raced up and down my body more times than I could count as I made my way through her memoir. I, too, was a skeptic with an analytical mind who, later in life, awakened to the world of spirit. Also, neither of us had a near death experience, like many do who suddenly start channeling spirit out of nowhere. And neither of us offer spiritual services (like mediumship) for a living—we both kept our day jobs. We simply do what we do for the people we love, and for those who are guided to us for one reason or another. And we talk about our journey because it is life changing in the best (and sometimes scariest) ways.
Not only does Julie share her incredible journey, but she also shares tips on how to capture photos of ghosts (and more), how to protect your space, how to clear your home of negative energy, how to utilize crystals for healing and protection, and how to talk to your guides/angels who are helping you live your best life. Or, in Julie's case, saving her from crashing her car on the freeway. (Okay, I did just give that away, but you'll have to read the book to find out what happened.)
If you're still deciding whether you believe in life after death, READ THIS BOOK. It's my new favorite memoir/how-to primer about discovering and trusting intuitive gifts. We all have those gifts, ya know. Even those of us who are wired to trust empirical data over gut feelings.
In Julie's case, and in my case, learning to trust our intuition changed our lives for the better.
Reading this phenomenal book just might change yours, too.
FIND JULIE AND/OR HER BOOK HERE:
Ah, April 1st. April Fools' Day.
This day is full of so many memories. Some are amazing, some are not so amazing. On April 1, 2011, Shark Tank aired my segment on ABC primetime. AMAZING! Then, on April 1, 2014, I flew down to North Carolina to be the spokesperson for Stanley Furniture's kids' line (Young America) and to sign the accompanying licensing deal only to find out they released to the press they were shutting down their Young America furniture line. They just didn't tell me. I learned about it when I stepped off the plane. There went my spokesperson job and my licensing deal that was projected at five million in sales for the first year. I was crushed at the time, but now I see it as a gift. The Frank Lloyd Wright deal (that never would have happened if I'd been with Stanley) began to take shape in April 2019 and launched officially on April 2, 2020.
Is April a big month for you? I definitely now see it as beginnings and endings for me. And this year, I'm seeing April as a huge period of change for so many loved ones in my life. I'm personally waiting to hear back from several publishers regarding a book deal, and I just found out my personal narrative made the finals (consideration for inclusion list) for a new book by Dr. Ramani Durvasula. On the sawdust side of my life, we're in the process of cranking out new prototypes for the Mod Mom/ Frank Lloyd Wright line of furniture. More to come on that!
Ironically, this morning, when I rolled over to check my phone and was reminded that it was April 1, I also saw a headline in my inbox that read: "Stanley Furniture suspends domestic operations." I did a double-take. For a split second, I thought I was back in 2014. But I'm not, and their news isn't an April Fools' joke. For me, it's a reminder that even the gut-wrenchingly hard let downs in our lives are simply just redirections to something better.
Here's to Spring beginnings and endings!
Link to my Shark Tank episode: modmomfurniture.com
HBO's four-hour documentary about Woody Allen abusing his daughter, Dylan, is chilling, to say the least.
Even more chilling is the support you'll find for Allen online when you Google Allen vs Farrow. And I'm not talking about random people supporting him. I'm talking about op-eds in the Chicago Tribune and other prominent publications.
What the actual fuck.
How in the world can there be this much public support for a man who has a proven track record of obsession with younger women?! Young girls, even.
You see this pattern in his movies. Every movie plot involves a forty or fifty-year-old Allen romantically involved with underage girls and young twenty-somethings.
You see this pattern in his marriage to Soon-Yi, one of Mia Farrow's other adopted daughters, whom he started grooming, taking nude photos of, and eventually having sex with when she was just seventeen-years-old during the time Farrow and Allen were still married.
In the documentary, you see the grooming of Mia's daughter, Dylan, who was just a toddler when the abuse started. He began isolating her, taking ownership of her by telling her that she was his child and not Mia's, and frequently insisting she lay down on the bed with him. All grooming tactics that prep a young child to tolerate more invasive abuse.
A nanny even testified to seeing Allen press his face in Dylan's lap while she was sitting on the couch. Dylan herself talked about him breathing on her legs. I believe she was around the age of five when that happened. The head-in-her-lap incident alone was enough to know something was very wrong. And yet there's more—young Dylan told investigators, therapists, and social workers what happened when Allen molested her in the attic. Each time, she told the same story. She was seven.
Despite all of that, people still don't believe her.
Is it surprising? Sadly, no. Is it heart-wrenching? Yes. This is how we treat childhood sexual abuse survivors. We don't believe them.
In my own life, no matter how much proof is out there regarding my own childhood sexual abuse, and then later in my life, abuse I endured at the hands of a sociopathic sexual predator, there are still some who deny any of it happened.
I know the truth because I lived it. Even though it took forty years for my memories of childhood sexual abuse and rape at the hands of my uncle to surface, my subconscious knew what happened every second of every day. And it shaped my life in various ways that didn't seem connected until the flashbacks started. I didn't know why I was incredibly modest, or why when I was intimate for the first time, I just laid there, or why I had to have vaginal surgery in my late teens, or why my mom said potty training me was a complete nightmare, or why I started having panic attacks at the age of 40 when I was in intimate situations, or why I have so few memories of my childhood, or why I as such a people pleaser for most of my life. And this doesn't even cover the most compelling evidence regarding my abuse. You can find that story here.
I was groomed to please from a very young age. Just like Woody groomed Dylan.
Toward the end of the documentary, Dylan talks about childhood sexual abuse being a lifetime sentence. And I have to say, as much as I've healed over the years, I agree with her. Like Dylan, I've been triggered by events in my own life that remind my body and soul of the abuse I endured. I don't see it coming when it happens—it just happens. I recognize that it's my subconscious and my inner child screaming, but it comes out as involuntary shaking, crying, and almost hyperventilating. It even happened at a recent doctor's appointment.
I stand with Dylan and all childhood sexual abuse survivors who not only lived through unimaginable pain, but also live through not being believed.
Thankfully, the #metoo movement has helped shine a light on the childhood sexual abuse epidemic in this country, but we still have a long way to go in terms of believing and supporting survivors. Especially if they're speaking out against charismatic, prominent sociopathic predators who are master manipulators. We still want to believe children are sexually abused by the creepy guy down the street instead of the nice, charming, good-looking guy in the house...in the family.
To those supporting Allen, take a good, hard look at why, despite so much evidence, you don't want to believe grown-up Dylan.
What about little Dylan?
Now, picture your own daughter, niece, or granddaughter...
Can you look her in her eyes and tell her you don't believe her?
This pic is from 2017, right after we got back together, and right before we went ring shopping, again. In honor of Valentine's Day weekend, I thought I'd share our "second chance" rings story. If your love isn’t a perfect, without struggle, fairytale of Facebook-able love, you’re not alone. I’ll take real, messy, honest love any day. I’m so grateful for our path—even the hard bits.
This is an excerpt from my book, Little Voices:
The ride down to Phoenix felt easy and fun, which was in such stark contrast to how I’d been living. I hadn’t gotten away for a weekend vacation in a long time. If anyone needed it, Scott and I did. We were inching our way back to one another, spending more and more time together while I was living in my own apartment with Grace.
Talking about what we endured during our time apart wasn’t all that hard. He was and has always been my best friend. We pledged to be completely open. He told me about the women he dated in Phoenix and Flagstaff, detailing some of the crazy escapades he experienced, and I slowly revealed all of the details of what I had lived.
He knew I endured a lot of emotional and psychological abuse, but I don’t think he understood the escalation of the abuse. After all, I didn’t tell him about the cops coming to my door until after I finally broke free from Tony. Many times, he would listen with tears in his eyes and then swoop me up in his arms and hug me tight. I was having to learn to trust all over again, even though I knew I could lean into Scott. My triggered reactions to closeness created panic attacks at times. I made sure he understood that I wasn’t reacting to him but rather anything that felt confining or controlling. Everything I’d buried deep for forty years was right at the surface. Thankfully, he didn’t take it personally. He simply wanted me to feel safe again.
After two hours of talking, laughing, and singing on the way to the hotel, we finally arrived ready for some fun in the sun. Our weekend was beautiful and I indeed felt free to be silly again for the first time in a long time.
Scott said he could see joy in me that had been lost. Being together again was both familiar and new, exciting and comfortable. Still, he could see pain and sorrow in my eyes at times, even though my light was returning.
As we were driving home, we stopped at a P.F. Chang’s restaurant just north of Phoenix. We were on cloud nine almost not believing where we were in our lives after all we'd been through. We still marveled at the fact that we never filed for divorce.
Over appetizers, I asked, “Hey, what would you think about getting rings again?”
Back in December of 2014, I had to sell our wedding rings, my engagement ring, and a few of my grandmother’s rings in order to pay rent shortly after we told the kids we were splitting up. At the time, I knew selling the only valuable things we owned was something I had to do to provide for our kids. I did it without hesitation, but it was still a very emotional moment for me.
After we talked about where we could get rings, we went back in time remembering how met and the story behind our first set of rings. I was fresh out of Ohio University in 1995 when I made my home in Charlotte, NC and met Scott at the not-so-classy Vinnie’s Sardine Bar. He got a call that night from a friend who invited him to join her and her new friend from Ohio—me—at the dive bar. He decided to pop by, even though his fellow housemates had other plans. He walked in looking strikingly handsome. I knew instantly there was something about him. We talked and laughed as if we’d known each other for years.
When we said our goodbyes in the parking lot, we promised to see each other again soon. He tells the story that when he got home, his roommates asked where he’d been. Without hesitation he said, “I just met the girl I’m going to marry.”
Four months later, we were sitting in his parents’ den in the sleepy town of Tallassee, Alabama. We were about to end a wonderful weekend with the seven-hour drive back to Charlotte, NC when he whispered in my ear, “Can I please tell them what we did? About looking at rings at the mall last week?”
I chuckled because I knew he couldn’t keep it a secret, even though he was the one suggesting not telling anyone. I smiled and nodded yes. Immediately, the room erupted in squeals, clapping, and hugs. Lots of hugs. Laughing, I said, “Whoa, hold up a minute; he hasn’t even asked me yet.”
Before we knew it, both sets of Scott’s grandparents and his aunt and uncle were on their way over to the house to celebrate. Scott and I were sent to the grocery store to buy champagne, but for what? Because we’d looked at rings? It was comical and fun so, naturally, we were both all in.
Loaded with bags of snacks and champagne, we made our way up the front stairs of Scott’s parents’ gorgeous southern home. Suddenly, he stopped me. He placed his bag on the step and got down on one knee. “Kiersten, will you marry me?” A smile spread across my face and without hesitation, I said yes. Now, we truly had something to celebrate!
We decided to spend one more night at his parents’ house while we celebrated our news, but it wasn’t lost on us that we were missing an important, traditional component of a proposal—the ring.
As it turned out, the only jewelry store in town was the same place that sold two generations of Hathcock men their wedding and engagement rings. We knew the perfect place to go in the morning.
Fast forward twenty-one years to Phoenix, Arizona and here we were again needing new rings. We knew what we needed to do and it didn’t involve a jewelry store. After shelling out two hundred and fifty dollars at the nearest Kohl’s, we walked to our car wearing new silver wedding bands and a cubic zirconia engagement ring. Even though we paid a fraction of what we did for our first set of rings, our new rings will always be priceless symbols of our second chance.