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This Book Completely Changed My Outlook On Life

There's a book for every turning point in my life.

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There's a book for every turning point in my life. When I graduated high school and ventured to Norfolk State University, Oh, The Places You'll Go! by Dr. Seuss reminded me to be myself and embrace new people and experiences. Following college, Meg Jay's The Defining Decade, a life-saving work I still visit every now and again, reassured me that I could survive my emotionally unstable 20's. I literally carried that thing with me everywhere for like a month, and her words stood as a pocket-sized reminder that I wasn't the only twenty-something whose life seemed to be in crisis.

Then, once I was knee-deep in my career and stress blurred my vision for my life, I searched for literature that was deeply insightful; words that celebrated my power as a passionate young woman seeking truth. I needed a book that encompassed everything there is about being a whole woman. And as fate would have it, I stumbled upon an interview where photographer Natasha Campos cited Women Who Run With the Wolves as a go-to book about just that.

"Be wild; that is how to clear the river. The river does not flow in polluted, we manage that. The river does not dry up, we block it. If we want to allow it its freedom, we have to allow our ideational lives to be let loose, to stream, letting anything come, initially censoring nothing. That is creative life."

Before I discovered Clarissa Pinkola Estés' bestseller, I questioned everything. I felt largely misunderstood by myself and others. In the search to discover who I was, I was about as graceful as a 10-month-old's first steps, and I felt like I had no real control over my life. Like, I desperately wanted out of New York, but I wouldn't leave. I wanted to stop loving people who didn't love me properly, but I continuously dealt with shitty guys. For someone who never bites her tongue, I never truly felt confident in my voice or my ideas. I second-guessed so many decisions in fear of other people's judgement.

It was as if I knew I had magic in me and the power to craft the life I wanted to live, but I didn't know how to access it.

Thankfully, though, Estés' understanding of womanhood showed me that tapping into my queenliness required trusting my God-given intuition and the deep female psyche.

“It is worse to stay where one does not belong at all than to wander about lost for a while and looking for the psychic and soulful kinship one requires?"

According to the Maya Angelou-cosigned book, the wild woman is self-assured and courageous. She is not unruly or out of control, but she is daring. She is feminine and trusts the earth and her spiritual connection to it. She also understands her unmatched internal power, since she is the creator of life. In love, she is nurturing but smart. Her heart leads but she never shushes logical caution. She is intuitive. She is liberated by her sexuality, and when it comes to her creativity, she nourishes it. And now, I strive to be this very woman every single day.

“The psyches and souls of women also have their own cycles and seasons of doing and solitude, running and staying, being involved and being removed, questing and resting, creating and incubating, being of the world and returning to the soul-place."

Here are four things I learned about the woman I am and want to be through Estés' Women Who Run With the Wolves:

1. Being naive means being your own worst enemy.

The thing about not knowing yourself is that you never do what's best for you. Through the stories, old wives' tales and studies discussed at length in this novel––"They are for you to read and contemplate in order to assist you toward your own natural-won freedom," Estés writes––I realized I wasn't woke in matters of the heart. For instance, instead of side-stepping heartache, I'd willfully choose the Future type over the Russell Wilson guy believing he'd want to change (because of me, duh!). Thankfully, Estés drops gems about these errors of judgement throughout Wolves and forced me to start acting in my own best interest at all times, especially in relationships.

2. Happiness is directly connected to creativity.

For some time, I swapped out passion projects for stable work, which often suppressed my quirky, creative side. Limiting my playful spirit, however, was like stomping out my light. After Estés broke down how I could foster my spirit of ingenuity to create vision for my life, peace of mind, and contentment started flowing. Amen.

3. There's healing in feeling every emotion.

I gloss over my sadness or anger because positive thinking is so on-trend these days. But sometimes I'm just f*cking pissed and I want to bask in it. It's a waste to pretend everything's fine all the time. For instance, when my father got locked up, instead of showcasing how broken I was by it, I quickly accepted it as just a new normal of my life. In turn, I became bitter and silently raging because I wasn't dealing with the pain. Anger, like all emotions, can be a positive, though. Estés identifies it as not only a source of pain, but also an origin of great ideas and healing. The key is to not let it fester and consume you. Additionally, she explains how to feel my emotions and how to place boundaries on those feelings as to not allow them to control my life.

4. Belonging is a blessing.

I have an anchor tattooed on my finger as a constant reminder that I'm grounded, stable and I belong somewhere. I moved around a lot as a kid, so as an adult, I operate like a loner. Sure, I have friends and loved ones, but no place ever feels completely like home. But Wolves emphasizes finding my pack. It's still hard for me to feel connected to people and things all the time, but since embracing those I considered my fellows "wolves," I've experienced a stronger sense of self.

All in all, women are some of the most powerful beings in the world, and it's our responsibility to be at our most emotionally and mentally fit. We need books like this to teach us the key to living our best lives. For Black women, this is especially necessary since we carry the burdens of our culture on our backs. Wolves was a long overdue awakening for me, showing me that in order to slay I had to reconnect with my instinctual nature on every level: spiritual, economic, emotional and mental.

So I must say, my world's been different since cracking Wolves open. Confusion and uncertainty used to send me into an emotional spiral, and to be honest, I felt weak. My newfound power, faith and trust in myself, however, steels me in the event that life gives me lemons. Hopefully my understanding of these lessons will continue to deepen into my 30s. But if it is, hopefully there'll be another book waiting for me.

"...I call her Wild Woman, for those very words, wild and woman, create llamar o tocar a la puerta, the fairy-tale knock at the door of the deep feminine psyche. Llamar o tocar a la puerta means literally to play upon the instrument of the name in order to open a door. It means using words that summon up the opening of a passageway. No matter by which culture a woman is influenced, she understands the words wild and woman, intuitively."

- Women Who Run With the Wolves

What are some books that have had a life-changing effect on your life and why? Share with us below!

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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