I’m on a romantic holiday, in the Italian countryside, no less. My love nest is a sixteenth-century villa nestled in a tiny hilltop hamlet in the Le Marche region, whose undulating landscape is all sloping striped vineyards and spire-topped peaks, framed by the crystalline horizon of the Adriatic Sea. Honestly, it’s enough to make a cherub weep.
For the past five days I’ve been immersed in a mastermind retreat with the Confidancia Collective, a small group of women entrepreneurs with whom I’ve been on a year-long odyssey of personal and business transformation. We’re on our third retreat together, and the theme this time is “romancing the self.” Each of us is flirting with the idea of falling madly in love with ourselves.
When we’re in love, all we want to do is please our sweetheart and show them how much they matter to us. We bring them coffee in bed, rub their feet, listen to their stories, and marvel at how witty, clever, and sexy they are. We bring them the kindest, most generous and affectionate version of ourselves.
This week, we’re invited to consider: What would happen if we treated ourselves this way?
Here’s what it looks like for me: Keeping my hotel room tidy and laying out my things in a pleasant way; serving myself a perfect cup of tea on the terrace. Dressing slowly and choosing my outfits deliberately. Knotting my wrap just so at my right hip and sensing its swing and sway as I pad down to the pool. Wearing lipstick to lunch and rose oil to bed. Revelling in the silk of my bare skin.
The sensual aspects of romance come easily to me – I am an earthy woman with a pleasure-seeking body. But I’ve had some resistance to the emotional side of this love affair. I felt shyness, or maybe it’s shame, when invited to explicitly celebrate myself.
At the beginning of the retreat we each set an intention, and mine was to be radically kind to myself. This is a simple proposition but not an easy one for me, especially when romancing the self is on the agenda.
Understand, I’m no newcomer to the concept of self-acceptance. I was reciting affirmations into mirrors as far back as the early 90s, when my first therapist handed me a copy of John Bradshaw’s Healing the Shame that Binds You. I have done years of inner work to meet my wounded parts and love them into wholeness. But that doesn’t mean I’m always nice to myself.
I mean, I’m a lot nicer to myself than I used to be back in the bad old days. But my inner critic still snipes at me, unrelentingly inventorying every one of my flaws and failings. An uncharitable observation about another person, a selfish impulse, a moment of weakness or needfulness or ineptitude – it all goes into the ledger of misdeeds. This voice finds fault with my face and body, the way I talk, my work, most everything about me. It even polices and punishes me for my private thoughts and feelings. Especially my private thoughts and feelings.
What’s The Underwire, you ask? Why, it’s my new Substack publication. It’s intimate, supportive, and sometimes uncomfortable. Geddit?
If you’re new to Substack, it’s an email-based content platform for journalists and creative writers to create community around their work. I like it because it’s not a marketing email client like Mailchimp. (Not that I have a beef with marketing. Just, you know, different vibe.)
In The Underwire, I share a mix of personal essays, reflections on the things that haunt me in the dead of night, and even the odd poem, which is weird because until recently I was fairly certain I hated poetry. Nowadays poems slide out of my brain and onto the page from time to time, and – gasp – I like it. Who knew.
Because I’m a nonfiction book publisher and longtime editor I happen to know some stuff about writing and publishing, so sometimes I share tips, prompts, and encouragement for the writerly road.
And because I’m also a longtime student of the antics of my own mind (through therapy, meditation, journaling, reading oodles of self-help books etc.), I’ve acquired a colorful bouquet of spiritual and mental health practices and tools that work for me. Sometimes I share those, too.
If you like stuff like that, please consider subscribing, and you’ll get every post delivered to you by email.
This “newsletter” is not a marketing thing. It’s a deeply meaningful personal project that marks a new chapter in my creative life. I feel shy about it, and also proud and excited.
If you subscribe to it, you’ll get each post by email, and you can also read the archives on the website underwire.substack.com. My emails should feel like letters from a friend. My hope is that they might also support you in creating stuff that makes you happy and adds to the sum total of joy in the world.