Photo by Eddy Machtinger

How changing one thing changed everything

I hate the camera. When that lens is invading and documenting me, my head is so full of what I am not that it’s impossible to relax into what I am.

Growing up in Los Angeles in the 1970’s, where ideal female beauty was omnipresent, taught me to evaluate my appearance by looking outward. It also taught me to obsess over my flaws. I learned that my value as a woman was not mine to create or validate.

In college, I felt invisible to boys. One of my guy friends explained the problem. …

Here’s to walking toward what scares you . . .

“You should rewrite this as a novel.”

That’s what my father-in-law said when he read a very early draft of my memoir in 2009. I dismissed that idea out of hand, because fiction — that realm of Toni Morrison and Thomas Hardy — that was too heady for me. Non-fiction, anchored by facts and memories, has always felt so much more accessible to me.

I started seriously writing again in 2017 (that 2009 draft memoir sat in a drawer for eight years). …

Stuart Miles/

Sometimes, lipstick is everything

A few weeks ago I was sitting in the foggy morning light in my pale blue bedroom, meditating, when a declaration bubbled into my head. ‘I’m going to wear red lipstick every day when the pandemic is over.’

‘Yes,’ I thought, even though one is not supposed to think thoughts while meditating. YES.

What better way to declare avid participation in the new world than red lipstick? When it’s safe to go out without masks, I’ll wear red lipstick. When we can be in crowds, exuberantly absorbing music and sports and food and culture with our…

photo by Lisa Poulson

There’s a dangerous power in surfaces . . .

Well here we are — it’s 2021. To borrow from the guys at Pod Save America, I feel nauseously optimistic. There are so many daunting challenges to solve, and I believe we can face them.

In 2018, at the United State of Women Summit, Tarana Burke said, “I believe we are entering a period of answers. . . . We’re trying to build something that has never existed. …

Photo by Daniele Levis Pelusi: Unsplash

Windows, nails, and resilience

I climb the stepladder and manage to unhook the window frame’s dual locks, the pads of my thumbs turning white with effort. When I pull the window out of its casing there’s a huff of dust, a squeal of rubber, a rush of air, a broken spider web glinting against the bright blue sky. The dust smells metallic. It would be fuzzy and bitter on my tongue.

Washing the inside panes of the windows was easy, but when they were done I felt a frisson of fear. Would the window locks open? Would I be strong enough to hold the…

Photo by Lisa Poulson (author)

Sometimes it takes a pandemic to learn how to take care of yourself

I woke up the day before San Francisco’s lockdown flooded with cold panic. Fifty-seven, single and self-employed as a communications coach, ninety percent of my upcoming engagements had been canceled. What was coming next?? I heard a sing-song voice ringing in my head.

“La cigale ayant chanté tout l’été . . . “

My 8th grade French teacher made us memorize La Fontaine’s poem, “The Ant and the Grasshopper.” The grasshopper finds her pantry empty when winter comes. She asks her neighbor, the disciplined ant, for some grain. …

Niall David Photography

The revelation’s always on the other side of the terror!

I’m nineteen years old. I’m wearing a floral dress, singing How Beautiful Are the Feet from Handel’s Messiah for my church congregation in Los Angeles on Easter Sunday. This aria is high, it’s slow, it requires precision and purity. There’s no place to hide. I am terrified through every breath, but once the piano starts and everyone is looking at me there’s nothing to do but keep going until I finish. So I sing. …

Photo: Lisa Poulson

My dead fiancé’s son asked the one question I didn’t want to answer

“Why didn’t you ever marry?” my dead fiancé’s son asked me, in a voice that sounded so much like his father’s I had trouble breathing. The question came half way through a charged conversation — our first. This young man, who I barely knew and had only spoken to once, reached out to me when he turned 30 to learn what I knew about his father, who’d died 24 years before at the age of 32, leaving behind an ex-wife, two young boys and me.

I answered questions about his father, how our relationship began, the plans we’d made. The…

Photo by Lisa Poulson

“The last forty pages are the best part of the book”

“The last third of the book should be cut. The best part of your story is your fiancé’s death. Not sure why the rest is there.”

“There is too much about how you feel. It’s too interior. We need more scenes.”

“There is not enough feeling. You tell us what happened, but how did you feel as it was happening?”

When I finished the fourth revision of my memoir, Good Enough?, last August, I sent it out to 15 people I know — thoughtful writers and readers, great friends…

Photo by Lisa Poulson

As I walked out of the grand lobby of the apartment building onto Riverside Drive, a soft breeze lilted across my face, swaying my hair. Equal parts summer humid and fall crisp, the breeze coming off of the river felt so delicious on my cheek that I had to stop, close my eyes and drink it in. For nineteen days, my skin hadn’t tasted a touch that delicate, that present, that sublime.

Nineteen days before I found my fiancé in the ICU after the Coast Guard helicopter he was piloting crashed into the Atlantic. …

Lisa Poulson

An essayist exploring the complex beauty of female power (, a communications coach ( and a San Franciscan.

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