Maria Rodale, vice chairwoman of the publishing group Rodale Inc., has collaborated with her 23-year-old daughter, Maya, on "It's My Pleasure: A Revolutionary Plan to Free Yourself from Guilt and Create the Life You Want."
Maria Rodale, who had Maya when she was 20 years old and unwed, was miserable as the creative director of Rodale, her family's business. She came to the realization that she wanted to be a writer and took the steps to make that happen. Along the way, she and her daughter have learned to incorporate all types of pleasure into their lives by loving what they do and living life by their own rules.
You can read an excerpt from the book below.
Introduction: 'It's My Pleasure'
This is a book about the power of stories to change your life.
It's about stories we know deep in our soul, but have forgotten. It's about discovering the reasons why we forgot them, and remembering them again -- and seeing them in a new way. It's about why our culture looks down on those happily ending romances and fairy tales that little girls love and women secretly crave. This book is about why we let our children watch violence on TV, yet sex is strictly forbidden. It's about our story as women -- mothers, daughters, friends, journeying together on a long, adventure-filled, and sometimes frightening path. It's the story of many women who you may or may not have heard of, but who have paved the way for all of us in revolutionary ways -- in spite of tremendous odds.
These stories have already changed our lives and continue to, so we want to share our own story with you to show you some possible paths to take. But the true magic happens when you create your own story, which this book will help you do.
What's the main story that we've forgotten? It's the story of pleasure. How we lost it. Where we can find it again. It's the story of why pleasure often makes us feel guilty, as if we don't deserve it. It's about why we truly do deserve it, why it matters, and why it's so easy for us as women to say, every day, as we are helping others, "It's my pleasure," but so hard for us to say to ourselves "It's MY pleasure." This story is about a revolution in your attitude about yourself and about pleasure. It's about taking action to create positive change in your life and in the world. And, it's about appreciating the tremendous, wonderful change that has already occurred. Finally, it's about believing that maybe we can create a happy ending after all.
How I Tripped and Stumbled Onto the Path of Pleasure -- Maria
When I was 35, I quit my job.
You have to understand how scandalous this was. I had been designated the heir of my family's publishing business by my father, who had died seven years earlier. Until my mother decided to retire, which she vehemently vowed never to do, she was in charge of the company; then it would be my "turn." I was expected to work my way up the ladder, rung by rung, proving myself to the Guys (and to the occasional Girl-Guy, which is a woman who wants to be one of the Guys) along the way (none of whom, I realized later, really wanted me to succeed). I'd been climbing persistently since I was 13, when my parents forced me to work at the company to keep me out of trouble after school (the joke was on them).
When I was 35, I developed a fibroid the size of a golf ball. I thought this was ironic since, as a woman in business, it always had irked me that men went off on any sunny day to play golf and called it work. I read a book called "Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom" by Christiane Northrup, which said that fibroids were the physical manifestation of unborn creativity stuck inside us. She hit a nerve.
My job title at the time was creative director, but there was absolutely nothing creative about it. Most of my time was spent on budgets and personality conflicts. I managed a department of 70 people who were accountable to persnickety, often small-minded "clients" who always wanted completely safe but "out-of-the-box" thinking. Of course, there's no such thing. Plus, I oversaw our direct marketing business. There is something depressing about creating a mailing piece that 97 percent of people who receive it throw in the trash (if you are successful).
At one of our management retreats, a guest speaker urged us to write our own obituaries in order to get in touch with our true desires. That night in bed, while the Guys were at the bar getting drunk, I wrote mine. It became totally clear to me that I was on the wrong path in life.
I wanted to be a writer. When I died, I wanted to have "author of..." behind my name. But all I had written to date were memos, direct mail copy, and dozens of journal entries filled with bad poetry.
So I quit. I had been married a few years before and was thinking about having more kids. I also was the parent of a 15-year-old girl who I had had "out of wedlock" when I was 20. (More on that later.) By the time I made my decision to leave my job and set my last day of work, I actually was two and one-half months pregnant.
I will never forget the horrible moment right before I was to speak to a room full of 70 people waiting to hear my farewell speech. I had run to the bathroom, saw blood, and knew I was miscarrying the baby. With toilet paper stuck between my legs, I went back into the room and gave my speech.
The first month of my "leave of absence," as my mother called it, was spent recovering from a D&C to remove the dead fetus. I bled for the whole month.
Then I tried to get in touch with my inner fibroid to figure out what it wanted to be. I decided to write a book on organic gardening, something I am very passionate about.
My grandfather, J. I. Rodale, invented organic gardening in 1942. His ideas were an integral part of my upbringing. As part of my research I decided to read what he and my father, Robert Rodale, had written. My grandfather's books were eccentric, funny, crazy, and brilliant. He got into trouble for the stuff he said, but I was shocked at how much of it was finally proven to be true. Among his insights: smoking causes cancer (he was the first one to publicly claim this at a time when doctors were featured in cigarette ads); and exercise and nutrition prevent disease (again, he was one of the first to make the claim back in the 1940s).
My father's writing was different. His books were filled with dire predictions … like if we don't ride bicycles instead of cars there will be no oil left in 20 years, and we will all be doomed. Given that I was reading his book 30 years after he wrote that, and cars were bigger and more prevalent than ever, I felt kind of embarrassed for him. But his passion for change led him to do many great things for the world -- including launching the first long-term studies into organic versus modern agriculture -- so I didn't hold it against him.
It was while reading one of my father's books that I realized that most of the organic and environmental movement was using a fear-based, doomsday method to motivate people to change. If we didn't do what they said, we would all starve and strangle ourselves in our own filth. That's if we didn't blow ourselves to smithereens first. There was even a prejudice against beauty. If it was beautiful, they must have used chemicals, or it must be evil, the thinking of the time went. Ugliness and frugality were the ultimate virtues, and "simplicity" was the code word.
But real positive change seemed to be happening in the organic movement in food. Gourmet food. Alice Waters and her restaurant Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, Calif., started it in the 1970s. She made organic food taste so good that the appreciative "foodies" made it cool. Next thing you knew, all the high-end chefs were going organic, and Whole Foods markets became one of the hottest growth stocks around.
The first time I walked into a Whole Foods I cried. Finally, someone had gotten it right. I tried to imagine what my grandfather would have thought -- back then if you wanted organic food you had to grow it yourself and endure the ridicule of your neighbors. Sixty years later you could enter a paradise of pleasure and buy almost anything organic you wanted.
That was the first time I tripped and stumbled onto the path of pleasure. But I still didn't recognize it fully, nor did I accept that it was my true path. But I was beginning to see one of the first truths about pleasure, which is that pleasure is a better motivator for change than fear.
Fast-forward five years. I've written a gardening book and a laundry book. I've had a healthy baby girl (and two more miscarriages). I've realized I am an alcoholic and given up drinking. I've returned to the family business and led a massive management change along with my mother, which resulted in most of the Guys leaving for good. (This change was just in time, too, since our business was in deep trouble and the banks were breathing down our necks.) I've launched a magazine called Organic Style, the aim of which is to seduce people into doing the right thing rather than scaring them. The only downside then was that it was costing more money than we had.
Was it pleasurable? Hell no! I actually had people walk up to me in the local supermarket and say they would never want to be me. Frankly, I didn't want to be me, either.
Here is what kept me alive during that time … romance novels. At the end of an excruciating day I couldn't come home and drown my sorrows in a martini or bottle of red wine anymore. But I could escape to a place where the women were strong and the men were good-looking. Something about their stories of victory over adversity, people following their true hearts instead of society's rules, and the transformational power of love gave me the strength to wake up another day and keep at it.
And yet … I was embarrassed for myself. No one else I knew read romances, or at least admitted to it. In the publishing world, of which I was a member, they were considered trash, drivel that was beneath the nose of anyone who had any intelligence or sophistication. If I had had any taste I would have been perfectly happy reading stories of rape, murder, incest, the meaninglessness and inhumanity of life … much of which is called literary fiction. Occasionally, a Jane Austen book was allowed into this lofty circle, but only if it was read as social satire rather than romance.
The more research I did into the genre and history of romance the angrier I got. Here was the largest selling genre of fiction, and it was completely disregarded by those "in the know" as not being worth the paper it was printed on -- except to all the people making so much money off it and all the women, like me, who found hope and inspiration in it.
Out of curiosity, I attended a Romance Writers of America conference. I needed to see for myself who was behind all this stuff. Were they the miserable outcasts of society? Were the writers ugly, bitter spinsters who never got any for themselves and so had to invent it on the page? Were the readers, as one literary agent had described them, white trash women with cigarette butts hanging out of their mouths laboring over the ironing board?
As I entered the lobby of the New York City Hilton I felt as though I had entered an alternative reality. First of all, I had never heard such a high-pitched buzz of excitement inside a hotel lobby. The chirping was deafening. There were old women, young women, stunningly gorgeous women and not so pretty women, thin women in mini skirts, fat women in long flowing tartan plaids. There were overtly sexy women and a few who looked like those librarians before they let down their hair and took off their glasses and were totally hot. But they shared one common factor -- they all seemed excited, smart, and FREE. They had made their choice to do what they loved, and they were reveling in it.
That was the second time I tripped and stumbled onto the path of pleasure. But I still wasn't quite sure it was right for me … although I was definitely starting to feel more joy and less guilt about reading romances. In fact, I imagined myself as a heroine of my own story. I had learned another important clue to pleasure: Optimism and hope feel good. Cynicism and despair feel bad. I chose to feel good.
The third and final trip and fall was a long, slow, jagged tumble that had been going on my whole life, a sort of fall from grace, search-for-God-in-everything, spiritual journey. My father was a lapsed Jew. My mother was a lapsed Lutheran. I had the sneaking suspicion that there must be some commonality that would unite all the religions, but I was kind of frustrated and angry that they all seem to have been built by men, for men, with their highest ideal, in the case of Christianity, being a celibate man (talk about lack of romance!).
In an Asian religion class I took the year after I had given birth to my daughter, Maya, the teacher spoke of the highest ideal of Buddhism and Hinduism being renunciation. She undoubtedly oversimplified the philosophies, yet I could barely contain my horror. What an irresponsible, selfish way to worship God, I thought. Yet part of why I had decided to have Maya rather than abort my unplanned teenage pregnancy was my belief in karma and the sacredness of all life.
Later, I started reading about religious history and was absolutely appalled by the corruption, competition, genocide, power struggles, countless episodes of heads being chopped off and burnings at the stake. And New Age religions seemed populated by creepy people who were more concerned with elevating themselves to guru-hood. No religion seemed to have a clean, honest past that I felt I could commit to. None. I wanted no part of any of them.
And yet, I felt very spiritual and connected to the universe. I never stopped believing in some sort of higher being. But I needed an anchor. A role model. A pioneer to lead me onto the path of pleasure for good. I found her one day while I was cleaning. Seriously.
Here is what happened. My husband is happily and devotedly Roman Catholic. I had agreed to marry him in a Catholic ceremony but also had his agreement that I didn't have to convert. I found it funny that the church had no problem with me being an unwed mother -- but if I had been married and divorced with children, I would have had to get an annulment in order to marry him. I guess since the Virgin Mary was an unwed mother, it made it okay. Anyway, I was down on the floor cleaning when I found the following prayer on a magnet stuck to the radiator. It was the prayer that the high school football team my husband had played on 20 years earlier would say before every game. At the time Maya was about nine and entering a more independent phase of her childhood. I was full of fear. I worried obsessively any time she wasn't with me and was terrified that something terrible would happen to her. I read the prayer:
Remember, O most compassionate Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your assistance, or sought your intercession, was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, we fly unto you, O Virgin of Virgins, Our Mother; to you we come; before you we kneel sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not our petitions, but in your clemency hear and answer them. Amen.
Because I actually was kneeling as I read it (since it was stuck to the radiator for God knows what reason!), I had a moment of enlightenment -- a religious epiphany. It was sort of a "DUH! -- If you want something, ask Mom, don't ask Dad!"
Then I started finding Marys everywhere and bringing them home. I'd buy old, cracked Virgin Marys at flea markets for a dollar. Some were even as cheap as 10 cents. I felt like I was rescuing her from abandonment and degradation. I had no desire to become a Catholic or anything (and still don't). It was all about her. Who was she?
I started reading books about Mary and found it interesting that in the history of Catholicism there have been precious few Jesus sightings, but enormous numbers of Mary sightings (and she appears in the race of the people who see her). People love her!
As I read, it reminded me that the environmental and organic movement as well as religion use fear to manage their adherents. If you sin, you are going to hell. If you marry someone from a different faith, you will be banished. If you have sex outside of the bounds we set, you will be stoned to death. No religion was exempt from this fear-based intimidation. Somehow I hadn't fully seen this before.
But then there was Mary. She would kiss it and make it better. Mary, as the popular T-shirt slogan states, became my "home-girl." Long before "The Da Vinci Code" became a runaway best seller, scholars and writers had been writing about her. Through them and my own inner explorations, I discovered her long and illustrious tradition, one that had begun well before written history and way before she was declared a virgin by the Catholic Church. I then read a book called "Sacred Pleasure" by Riane Eisler, which explored how ancient, female-based religions viewed pleasure seeking as an act of worship. And that was it. Before I knew it, I'd found lots of other "pleasure revolutionaries" throughout history who had walked the path before me and cleared the way. I learned a third lesson: Pleasure is an ancient, sacred path.
With that, I tripped, stumbled, and fell for good. I was now permanently and forever on the path of pleasure. And I will not turn back.
What does Maya have to do with all of this? In many ways, my daughter was my catalyst, my reason for it all: my search, my frustration with society and religion, my determination to find answers. When I was 19 and alone in a dorm room, realizing I was pregnant; realizing that many in my family and my boyfriend wanted me to have an abortion; realizing that I would probably be shunned by the people I knew (after all, it was 1981 -- upper-class white girls having kids out of wedlock just wasn't done back then -- at least publicly); realizing that my future was in my own hands; I trusted my heart and soul. I listened to the tiny voice inside of me that said, "I am terrified, but I do not want to have an abortion. Everything happens for a reason -- I don't know why it is right now but I'll find out some day. God doesn't give you challenges you can't handle -- I am going to keep this baby because I don't want to live with the regret of what might have been." I realized the true meaning of "choice"; having a child at such a young age wasn't for everyone, nor should it be, but this was my path.
And so I kept my baby. Now she's my best friend. We both are tripping and stumbling along this path of pleasure and laughing at our head-bonks and stupid mistakes … and always stopping to watch Thursday night TV. We comfort each other through our crying fits and depressive episodes.
Pleasure isn't really about happiness or sadness. Of course, the path of pleasure is bound to lead to more happiness. Still, happiness is fleeting. Bad days and moods are inevitable, and often monthly. But pleasure is something you can keep with you and draw on in good times and bad. Those moments of self-discovery can strike you even when you're down, if you invite them to, and we've found that pleasure is always the result. Pleasure is a path of hope and optimism, belief in love and, yes, romance! It's a path that leads to happy endings and true love, but it's up to each of us to create it. We'll let you know what's worked for us. But ultimately the journey is yours to take and create. And the pleasure is yours, too.
Driving Down the Highway of Pleasure -- Maya
According to some people, I should be a total screw-up. I lived with my single mother and had no biological father figure. I watched MTV and movies featuring nudity and sex at a young and impressionable age. I learned and used quite a few curse words at the age of four. I never made my bed. I played with Barbies. And although I had lots of cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents around -- all of whom adored me -- the center of my universe was always my mom and I. And the strong bond between us is part of the reason I think I turned out OK.
Because it was most often just the two of us, we had to spend time together and love each other and become friends. All in all, we had (and have) lots of good times together. We share music (although when I borrow CDs I rarely give them back); we go to movies together; we talk about books we read. She gave me all her old Barbie clothes. We spent Saturdays at work -- she had her desk, and I had mine in a corner of her office. We drove all over town on endless rounds of errands. For a while, we lived in a one-bedroom basement apartment in Washington, D.C. We talk on the phone every single day, sometimes twice.
But liberal as my mum is and was about bedtimes, sex, and stuff like that, she also was overprotective. I wasn't allowed to cross the street by myself until I was around 11. I was forbidden to drive by myself until I was almost 18. Eventually, after all the pain and drama and oppression, I finally was allowed to take the car out. And, damn, was it good. It felt like life really began for me when I learned to drive. One of my favorite things to do is drive on the highway with the music really, really loud, singing along, with happy tears in my eyes. Something about that makes me feel the glory and magic of the universe to an insane degree. I guess it's what really religious people get out of church.
Ours wasn't a religious home. I was baptized at the age of two. My mother's rationale was, "Just in case. It couldn't hurt." I remember sitting in my eighth grade religion class, wondering how people could worship a God that seemed boring and petty. (I was in a nondenominational private school, so we spent equal time on the "big five" -- Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism). Yet, all religions intrigued me. I was encouraged to learn about them without predetermined expectations of what I should believe, so, in high school, I thought of myself as shopping for a religion because I felt the urge to be spiritually connected to the universe. I would try one on and see if it fit. And none of them did. Some demanded that I renounce meat. Ha! All of them had body issues. I did not, perhaps because bodies were never treated as shameful in our house, and I was allowed to watch a movie with sex in it before I was allowed to watch anything violent. A lot of them talked about my inherent and eternal flaws, which my heart rebelled against. All in all, I found them to be a little tight in the crotch. I did, however, notice the Virgin Mary prayer on the refrigerator and my mother's growing collection of Marys. Maybe I didn't need a "pants" religion; maybe I needed a skirt.
A high school English teacher of mine said that everyone has "One Book" that changes the way they see the world. She claimed that if we read anything by Ayn Rand, then that would be The One. I had already read them, but at the time, I still considered myself searching for That Book. And while I no longer subscribe to that notion, a certain book did dramatically change the way I saw the world. It was "The Templar Revelation" by Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince, which my mom gave me when I came home for winter break my first year of college, saying, "You have to read this." I sat on the couch of our hard-core Catholic relatives' house that holiday and read about the secret life of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene. More importantly, I discovered ancient goddess worship for the first time and a new perspective on history, religion, and the world. Finally, I was finding, if not a religion, at least a spiritual outlet that worked for me -- where sex was a powerful creative way of worship; where it was not only okay to be a girl, but exalted; where being human was the same thing as being divine.
This book also prompted conversations between my mother and me, where we would ask, "Why don't people know this?" Of course, since publication of "The Da Vinci Code," millions of people have some of the information. But our conversations, with that question as the refrain, are one of the reasons we decided to write this book.
All this couldn't have come at a better time for me. I needed a grander context in which to understand my life, and that book had started me on the path to finding it. I had just started college and all of a sudden had to deal with boys and sex, new friends and alcohol, and a freedom I had never known before. I had thought I wouldn't be able to have a normal relationship with boys because I never had a father figure. I got over that one. I didn't have guilt issues regarding sex, but I had to figure out (through trial and error) what sex meant to me, and what kind of sex I wanted to be having. My social life had revolved around tequila shots (we have since parted ways). I did have some kick-ass girlfriends, thank goodness. But in spite of some good moments, I hated my life at college. I constantly felt suffocated. One night I had to get out of the commotion in my dorm room to be alone and think and had nowhere to go. I ended up on the steps of the library with my journal and Walkman. People looked at me funny, but I didn't care. I wrote about wishing I was in a café somewhere in a big city.
That was one of my first conscious pleasure moments -- and I simply had to prolong it. I had listened to the quiet of my heart, and was finally of an age where I could take action. I found a summer program in Paris and took off to live the best six consecutive weeks of my life so far. In Paris, for the first time ever, I walked alone down the cobblestone streets and laughed at the sheer joy of being alive and doing something so simple that was so perfect. I spent hours alone in cafés writing. I had a little love affair. I made friends. I spent hours in the Louvre looking for what I read about in "The Templar Revelation." I found statues and paintings of beautiful women. I sauntered through outdoor markets. I went shopping. All in all, I lived quite well. I was deliriously happy.
Then I had to return to college in the fall. Coming from Paris back to a small town in Connecticut was like a hangover that wouldn't end. I woke up crying. I took long drives through the countryside, playing music really loud, trying to figure out what I needed to do to fall in love with life again. After many of these trips I decided I had to move to New York City.
During the drive to my new school, I had an unforgettable moment of panic. I was safely in the backseat with my parents up front, and suddenly we were in loud, chaotic, colorful Chinatown driving toward my new dorm. I had never seen this part of the city. I suddenly had the thought that I'd played a practical joke on myself, and that it had gone too far. And everyone else had fallen for it, too. Did I really want this freedom? What had I gotten myself into? But there was no going back.
And, thank goodness for that, because I fell in love with life again. Growing up with my overprotective mother, I still get excited about going out and walking around the city all by myself without asking permission. I stay out late -- just because I can. I love having so many choices that it's almost a burden. I love that when I first arrived in Chinatown that January day I had very little but suitcases and hope, and two years later I have a full life that I created all by myself.
At first I had maybe two friends, so I threw myself into my schoolwork. I ended up majoring in Women & Fiction. My mother insisted I couldn't legitimately accept that degree without reading a romance novel. After all, they are written by women for women about women. In the name of research, I read one and then another and another, as well as all those ancient goddess history books. And I started to wonder how I could apply all this rich stuff to my real life.
In high school I earned the nickname "The Mankiller," which had stuck through the beginning of college. But then I realized I didn't want to be that kind of girl -- one that would flirt but never let her heart open up and love. But I also didn't know who I wanted to turn myself into, especially in relationships with boys. I had grown up on Madonna and the idea of periodic reinvention of oneself. So I created a mantra for myself: Books before Boys. I went on strike, at least until I had met a good man. And when I did find one, I had finally gotten to the point where I was ready and willing to be in a relationship. Ours may not be a romance-novel kind of love, and it certainly has its ups and downs, but it's pretty darn close.
Throughout all of this, my mom and I talked on the phone every day, even when I was in Europe. We were reading the same books and, like partnering detectives, we shared notes and thoughts. We thought and talked about the lives we wanted to live, and knew we wanted them to be happy, and satisfying, and pleasurable. With the books on history, religion, sex, and romance novels, we realized that we -- and all women -- not only deserved pleasure, but also had the capacity to give it to themselves. It was up to us to create it. So we did. Somewhere in all our conversations we decided to write a book about what we were reading, thinking, and talking about. I cannot remember when we decided this, or when we started, or what life was like before it began to take shape. It just seems always to have been present in our lives in some form or another.
But I do remember being eight years old, riding shotgun in the car with my mom, both of us singing along to Madonna's "Like a Prayer" on the radio. Looking back now, I remember, vaguely, that the world had a temper fit because the video showed a woman mixing sexuality and passion, power and religion without guilt or shame and above all, in a fun way. My mom and I didn't bat an eyelash at all that -- we just sang along. Little did we know that years later we would be rediscovering how to do that in our own lives. And, of course, having fun along the way.
Excerpted with permission from "It's My Pleasure," by Maria and Maya Rodale. Published by Simon & Schuster. Copyright © 2005 by Maria Rodale and Maya Rodale.