Inspiring stories of success, joy and refusing retirement from renegades rocking life after 50.

Featuring Jaki Shelton Green

Episode 012 Diamonds of Truth

Has this ever happened to you? Every once in a while, you are blessed to experience a conversation that flows sweetly like honey, hits directly like a hammer, and sparkles like diamonds of truth. That my dear friend, is what today’s conversation is with my guest Jaki Shelton-Green. Jaki is the current Poet Laureate of North Carolina—an amazing honor and achievement to be sure. But even that noble designation doesn’t begin to reveal the truest heart and soul of the incomparable Miss Jaki. If this conversation doesn’t bring a smile to your lips, a song to your heart, and quite possibly a tear to your eye… Well, I’ll be surprised. I loved this conversation SO much, I wanted to wrap it around me like a soft and comforting blanket.



Favorite Quotes

There were so many! Here are a few…

“All of this wonderment is happening around me, and this is what I should be listening to.”

“Everything is about outcomes and numerics that have nothing to do with our humanity.”

Favorite Moments from the Interview

Jaki’s stories! Be sure you listen for the one where she discusses being rudely dismissed and not recognized as the honored speaker at an event…and how she handled it.

And then there’s the one about almost dying and being wheelchair bound for three years…only to triumphantly reinvent herself.

And then there’s the one…oh never mind. You really need to discover all the gems for yourself. Watch and listen!

Why the Renegade Boomer Community will love it

Oh, my goodness, I was right there having the conversation, and I’ve still gone back and listened to it again…and again.

You’ll love it because it FEELS good…

You’ll love it because Jaki speaks so much TRUTH…

You’ll love it because Jaki is an amazing storyteller, and has many to share!

You’ll love it because you’ll likely be left with an afterglow of hope and the realization that…

You. Can. Do. ANYTHING!

Ready? Me too.

Find Me On Social Media:

View Transcript

[00:00:00] Tina: Hey, beautiful Renegades! This is Tina Lorenz and today, I’m just really honored to speak with my guest on the Renegade Boomer™ podcast. And my guest is Jaki Shelton Green, and she’s the Poet Laureate of North Carolina. I’m just like, wow, this is so amazing. But that’s just the beginning of what Jaki’s been able to do.

I have a couple of notes about her many, many accomplishments. But she’s the ninth Poet Laureate of North Carolina and the first African-American and the third woman (so there’s so many amazing breakthroughs with all of that just in one sentence) to be appointed as a North Carolina Poet Laureate. It’s a mouthful.

So you know, she’s been featured in 2022 Forbes 50 over 50. She’s published eight poetry collections. She’s been published in over 80 national and international publications, magazines, and anthologies; has received (I counted them up) at least 25 prestigious awards for leadership, for writing, for social service, all of these amazing accomplishments.

And I particularly am interested to explore with her that she left a career in marketing and development at age 50 to write full-time, and I didn’t start doing my kind of writing until I was past 50, so we have something in common there, and also released her first LP poetry album, “The River Speaks of Thirst”. And just the name should tell you a lot about her beautiful gift with words.

She also has an organization called SistaWRITE that’s providing writing retreats for women all over the world in such amazing places like Sedona and Morocco and Ocracoke and Tullamore, Ireland.

I mean, super, super interesting, all of these things, and I just wanna welcome you today, Jaki. Welcome to the podcast.

[00:01:32] Jaki: Tina, thank you. And your enthusiasm and energy is really, really wonderfully impressive. Thank you. You know, it’s so early, and I’m like, wow, she’s such a bubble. I love it. I just love it.

[00:01:48] Tina: I love that.

[00:01:48] Jaki: When I say bubble, I mean effervescent and just sparkling. So thank you for having me as your guest. I feel very honored.

[00:01:56] Tina: Well, I’ve been just really looking forward to it because, you know, I love the power of words. And I know recently, you had one of your writing retreats in Morocco, I believe. Isn’t that correct that you were just there like a few months ago?

[00:02:06] Jaki: We were just there. Actually, I came back on February 13.

[00:02:10] Tina: And I just read one of your Facebook posts about it, and it was just juicy, you know. The words were just like uhmm.

[00:02:17] Jaki: And we go there often. It’s a magical space that I entered I guess around 2016 when I was invited to Keynote at an International Prose Poetry Symposium in Morocco, and we fell in love with Morocco.

I’ve always kind of attracted to the colors. But when you’re there, the colors, the smell, the topography, the people, everything is magical. It is not without its faults like all countries. But when we are there, we find it to be our soulful place, our place of calmness and serenity.

And I’m looking forward to post Poet Laureateship, I’d like to be there at least three months out of a year to get back into my writing, which has not suffered. But during my tenure as the Poet Laureate, I have been very mindful, intentional about serving the people of the state of North Carolina.

And everything that I’m doing is, you know, it’s the external drive. And right now, I’m really needing to be quiet, to be still and actually get back to doing my own writing, which I’m looking forward to.

[00:03:23] Tina: Oh, that’s wonderful. I mean, that’s amazing because I wanted to ask you about how you made that transition, I believe it was at the age of 50 that you went from a marketing-type background into full-time writing. Is that correct?

[00:03:34] Jaki: That’s correct. I’ve always been a writer. My first book was published in the 70’s and I’ve always had a full-time job. I’ve not been that writer who has been financially solvent enough, secure enough to quit my day jobs and run away and write full-time.

So raising three children, two divorces, you know, putting three kids through college. The juggling act, the balancing act of being the breadwinner for my family and also trying to stay committed to my artistry and creativity.

And people will ask me, “You have a Master’s in Community Economic Development, like, what does that have to do with writing?” And it has everything to do with writing.

You know, I realized that poetry is not going to help some of the people that I was working with. I worked for legal services for 30 plus years. I was this development director for an amazing child advocacy and policy. A nonprofit that is doing amazing work around the world. So I knew that my creativity has always been hinged on service if that makes sense.

But I’ve always known that poems are not going to build affordable housing or help women who need help, or help young children, or our most vulnerable citizens. So, it was easy for me to kind of have that double track.

But I did hit a wall. I hit a wall in 2004 where being the director of development was consuming me. I was really, really good. I had the nickname as the Fundraising Diva, the Development Diva. And I did good work. But there was never enough. I mean, you know, I worked for an agency that valued me, but it’s like more, more, more, more, more.

And that level of work was literally sucking the juice out of me. I mean, like all of my creativity was tapped into raising money and building relationships, you know, long-range relationships around fiscal development. And I knew I had to leave, so I did. I threw them the biggest 40th anniversary party and knocked it out of the ball field with the money and gave my two-week resignation.

Yeah. So, I felt really good about it. It was the healthiest thing I could have done. So I left that June, I wanna say that June or July, and had a manuscript ready to come out like that following August, September.

So the transition was very challenging for me. I was hearing my mother’s tape, you know, that rattle in my head, “What have you done? You’re not gonna have any pension.” You know, like, “You have no savings.”

[00:06:33] Tina: “It’s a good job.”

[00:06:34] Jaki: “Have you lost your mind?” And I did. I was having panic attacks sitting on my deck, but it was really the natural world of my backyard.

[00:06:43] Tina: Mm-hmm.

[00:06:43] Jaki: That beckoned me to show up and be still and be present. There were things happening in my backyard.

I remember spending an entire day watching this bird family, the mom and dad having a fight. And I was sitting there making up my own narratives like, “Mm-hmm, you should have come home last night.” And she was literally building a nest across the yard in another tree, and he would follow her. And she would like attack him and there would be feathers flying.

And she finally found a tree that she disappeared from him and he couldn’t find her. So I’m watching him soaring around the yard all afternoon and one by one, she carried her babies to that new nest.

[00:07:29] Tina: Oh wow.

[00:07:30] Jaki: And in that evening, I could hear she and her babies chirping and the dad was still like circling because he couldn’t find them.

And I thought, wow! All of this wonderment is happening around me and this is what I should be listening to. You know, I saw crocuses growing along the edge periphery of the woods, and I’m like, “I don’t remember planting those,” you know. I was seeing blooms that I had forgotten were in the backyard because I hadn’t been in the backyard.

[00:08:00] Tina: Isn’t that amazing? I mean, we have an acre here in Tucson and I admit to getting caught up in the work, you know, the work that I do, and we have an unobstructed view of the mountains and saguaro cactus and wildlife. We have bobcats that walk around on our property and coyotes that come visiting and howling at night, you know. And it’s almost, there’s a spiritual quality, don’t you think to just being in the natural surroundings? And the lessons imparted just now from the bird fight, the bird family. There’s so many analogies and metaphors and, you know, all of those things just in that story.

But I referred something I call spiritual amnesia that we kind of forget, you know, we get caught up in the noise and we don’t really listen.

[00:08:42] Jaki: Oh, I love that spiritual amnesia. You’re absolutely right. I’m gonna write that down because you’re absolutely right.

[00:08:47] Tina: Go, write it down. Oh, I’m so impressed. I’m so excited about that.

[00:08:53] Jaki: You know, this culture, our culture, collective American culture, Western culture, you know, we measure what we do. Everything is about outcome and the measurement of how successful we are based on some numerics that have nothing to do with our humanity and nothing to do with compassionate listening or what does it mean to actually show up and be present in your everydayness.

And I still push back against that, just trying to show up every day differently, more compassionate, more alert to the world around me and to the affairs of people around me. It’s not enough to be safe if my neighbor is not safe, you know? And these are the things right now I think that matter to us as a culture.

You know, we may have come here in different boats. Some of us may have come through Ellis Island or have the blue blood that may be a Mayflower ancestor. Some of us may have come in tiny boats, you know, as immigrants and many of us have come through the middle passage as enslaved people, but we’re all in the same boat now. There’s one boat.

There’s one boat. Our natural world is threatened, our economy, everything around us. I don’t wanna use the word crumbling because I don’t believe we’re crumbling, but we’re certainly in need of some compassionate, unified work. And that work should be the thing that unites our solidarity and humanity.

So, as a writer, I stand for the possibilities whenever I’m working with public audiences is trying to help other people understand their worthiness, how worthy their voices are, and how when we tell each other our stories, we find ourselves over and over again inside of each other’s stories.

And I think that’s the beauty of what writing does for me, what the arts collectively offer us as a people. And you know, that’s kind of my story. I’m sticking to it as I move forward. I’ll turn 70 on June 19th.

[00:11:02] Tina: Oh my gosh, that was your birthday. Oh my goodness.

[00:11:04] Jaki: It’s June. And I’m like really thinking about what do I do, what do I do? I’m turning 70! And now there’s this little voice that says, “Just keep moving.” My mom just died at the age of 106 in December.

[00:11:19] Tina: Oh my gosh.

[00:11:20] Jaki: She left so much light and so many stories and just so much. She was a Rosie the Riveter. She was a real daredevil for a woman in her age group. And I’m gonna make sure that I continue to manifest that personification that she’s given to me and my daughters.

[00:11:40] Tina: Well, obviously, the legacy is there, right? And you’re living it. And this is something that we had just a little bit of a conversation about before we began the podcast about those of us past 50. And I’m right there with you, you know, that we need a community for that kind of unification as well so that we don’t fade into the shadows, so that we don’t become marginalized.

You know, I’ve heard it said, and I have said that the most acceptable ism still around is ageism, right? And we do it to ourselves, you know, that we often limit ourselves in our own thinking and what we’re saying to ourselves. And that’s again the power of our words, the words we say to ourselves.

You know, here’s another one, I coined the term Words To The Third™, Words To The Third Power™, right? The words we say to ourselves, the words that we are repeating to our subconscious, the words we are saying and taking in from those around us. And if we believe in divine source, which I absolutely do, that connection to something greater than ourselves, the words we receive in that sense, through prayer, through meditation, through contemplation.

And I just see that. I love how you use words because look at the power of them. They can be used to divide and they can be used to bring people together.

[00:12:46] Jaki: Yeah. First of all, I will say that growing up Southern, you know, growing up in the south of the United States, growing up in a very unique African-American, close-knit community really is a blessing, to be able to witness transformation and change, to see families, some families who come from very little who are very creative and innovative to be able to send an entire generations of families to college and beyond.

You know, I grew up in the segregated south. And it wasn’t until the 9th grade that I was in an integrated school and then I was kicked out of public schools in North Carolina in the 10th grade during forced freedom of choice. It was really forced desegregation. And the thing is no one around the country had a playbook. Like there was no real way to do it. People didn’t know how to desegregate, and we all were making it up every day and hoping for the best.

But being kicked out of public schools in the south was the best thing that could have happened to me because I landed in a Quaker boarding school in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

[00:13:55] Tina: Oh my gosh.

[00:13:56] Jaki: Yeah. For the first time in my life, I was away from family, which was a major thing, but I was surrounded with young people from all over the world.

[00:14:07] Tina: Wow.

[00:14:08] Jaki: From all over the world. And we found our connections and commonalities and connectivity and community and sisterhood, you know. We found it.

We found it because we lived together, because we played together, because we studied together, because we fellowshiped and ate together. You know, food was a big thing. And I say all of this to say that in this season of my crone years, I’m so looking forward to that diversity again, and I have that diversity.

My business SistaWRITE provides a lot of that. It’s open to any woman who really wants to tap into her creativity. You don’t have to be a writer. It’s an invitation to come play, to come play with yourself, to come play with others, to come listen. It’s about revolutionary love and how women our age know something about revolutionary love and how that revolutionary love should really harness the energy and the fuel that we need to offer to the next generation.

So, I’m committed to that. And, yeah, it’s very spiritual. I know that creativity is medicine, and I do an entire workshop, keynote on creativity as medicine because working with women on death row, working with many, many women in different survival modes, be it incest or domestic violence. I’ve seen the power of creativity and the power of words and how women don’t know we we’re carrying that medicine.

[00:15:42] Tina: Oh, I’m almost speechless with that because there’s so many women, and I can count myself among them, that have endured various kinds of abuse and hardship. I was homeless in my 40s. I was in a domestic violence shelter because someone tried to murder me.

And so, how do you think women then, especially for women, can find that power in themselves when they go through difficult times like that?

[00:16:07] Jaki: Well, I think the first acknowledgement is that they’re not alone, that they’re not alone, that their pain is unique. But there’s so many other women they can lean into, and there’s so many open arms for that leaning to receive that person in need. I think we have to stop believing the stories that are told about us.

You know, I gave a speech Saturday and I asked the people in the audience, I said, “How many of you have walked into rooms and stories have been made up about you that are not factual, not based on any information whatsoever.” You walk into a room. People look at you. They look at your hairstyle. They look at your clothing. They peek to see what kind of car you get out of.

You know, they have a way of finding out, “So where do you live?” And people make up their own narratives. And I think that we have to be very, very clear.

So one thing I tell my students at Duke University every semester is be very, very clear, be very, very careful about the lenses you create for telling someone else’s story. Because it’s kind of a human thing. We all have been accused, and we all can do it, you know?

So many times I’ve had people walk up to me and just make some of the most erroneous comments based on absolutely nothing. Or people who I’ve walked into rooms as the Poet Laureate of North Carolina, and I remember, this is really funny. There was a library group that had invited me to come speak on a Sunday afternoon, and I arrived about an hour early because it was hour-and-a-half drive from my house, and I wasn’t sure where I was going, and it was very rural. And I was like, “I’ll just get there early.”

And I get in the library and there’s no one there, but I hear voices coming from a room, and it’s a kitchen. And I go back and I go, “Hi!” And it’s all the women, I guess the friends of the library. They’re like making the refreshments for the reception and I was like, “Hi!” And they don’t even look up. One woman just goes, “It’s not time for the program. Why are you here so early? Just go out there and sit down.”

[00:18:18] Tina: Oh, geez. What a welcome.

[00:18:21] Jaki: That’s alright. I can do that. So hour and a half early, I go out and I sit. I have a book in my bag and I’m sitting there reading. I think I maybe took a little nap. And people are filling up the room around me. Like at this point, there’s a huge audience. Three of the women from the back, they come out. They go up on stage and they’re like, “Well, thank you all for coming. We have no idea where our speaker is. We can’t believe she’s late.”

And I sit there and I don’t say a word. I’m on the front row. And they were like, “Well, hopefully she’ll be here in a few minutes.” And this man in the back of the room stood up and he walked up front and he said, “Ms.Shelton Green has been here for over an hour.” He said, “I’ve been here an hour.” And he walks up to me and he said, “Do you not know who she is?”

[00:19:18] Tina: Oh wow.

[00:19:21] Jaki: There are posters of me all over the library.

[00:19:26] Tina: Oh my gosh.

[00:19:28] Jaki: And that was a lesson like who we choose to see?

[00:19:31] Tina: Yes. Oh my goodness.

[00:19:32] Jaki: I just looked at them like, “Now the program is like 30 minutes late starting. That’s your fault.”

[00:19:38] Tina: Oh, I just love that you had the fortitude to just sit there and wait.

[00:19:43] Jaki: I sat there because I attempted to say, “I’m here!” But you totally shut me down because you saw a dark person in your door who’s not supposed to be in your door. And when we can kind of like pay attention to who’s in our space-

Now, as the Poet Laureate, I’m encountering this quite a bit. I’ll walk in and speak to people, they barely speak and then 20 minutes later, they’re like, “Oh, you’re the Poet Laureate?”

[00:20:12] Tina: “Oh, well now, I’m worthy of your attention. Yes.” Isn’t that annoying?

[00:20:19] Jaki: And now you wanna be cordial and civil. So you know, the book I could write as Poet Laureate while black, I could write that book. I could write the book about Poet Laureate as a woman in this role, which has been very different.

One of my best friends in literacy and in literature died. She was the first woman Poet Laureate. So if I could talk to her, you know, I know she and I would have big stories to tell.

But I say all of this to say that we still push through. You know, we push through. I transcend. I remain loyal to declaring that I am here. And I think that’s what everyone has to do.

You know, I, I tell this story often. I came upon this tidbit of history a few years ago where I read an article that talked about enslaved Haitian women being more severely beaten and punished and more regularly than their male counterparts.

They were beaten more regularly because they used their only instrument, their only weapon of defense towards their enslavers, their tongues. They would not shut up from sunrise to sunset. They screamed, “I am here!”

[00:21:41] Tina: Oh wow.

[00:21:42] Jaki: “You will see me. You may have chains around me, but I am here.” And I think that that’s my roar. And I think it’s a roar that many of us should have. Just a declarative that, “I am here. I am present. I am not going anywhere,” you know, “I belong also.”

And the worthiness, I thank you for providing this platform because I realized that you are a part of a campaign to help acknowledge how important the voices of all people are and the stories are, and to be the facilitator and to provide that bridge where we connect. So, I just wanna, you know, thank you for being just one other medium that we can tap into.

But that declaration is so important and how we market it, how we translate it for others, and how we removed the fear.

This woman said to me last night, a friend of mine, and I’m working on a collaboration, she said, “We saw people so afraid.” I said, “Of what?”

[00:22:42] Tina: What do you think they’re afraid of? What do you think they’re afraid of?

[00:22:45] Jaki: I’m not sure. I think sometimes that we are afraid of ourselves. I think sometimes we’re afraid of the possibilities that, “Wow, I really could do something great. I really could be fabulous.” I think that there’s so much attached to being fabulous that’s negative that we have kind of bought into, you know, that we have to release. And we have to reimagine what fabulous looks like.

And I don’t mean being a diva. I don’t mean being inaccessible or being a mean-spirited person but fabulous in that we are here available to the worlds that want us to be a part of them in the worlds we want to create.

[00:23:26] Tina: Do you feel like that third layer of invisibility can also be age of how others see us? Because, oh, well, you know, you’re older.

[00:23:34] Jaki: Yes, most definitely. I get it all the time. Oh yeah.

[00:23:39] Tina: And how do you handle that? I gotta say I’m still in the front row at the library trying to figure out how you maintained with grace and dignity. And how did you end up getting up? Did you just sort of stand up? I picture you like rising, you know, drifting up to the stage.

[00:23:54] Jaki: This gentleman was so annoyed by their standing up saying, “We don’t know where our speaker is. We can’t believe she’s late.” And I didn’t even, you know, I never looked back. I kind of knew people were sitting around me, but I just sat there quietly, knowing that at some point they’d start the program, and he was so annoyed that he was like, “Don’t you know who your speaker is? She’s sitting right here.” He said, “I’ve been here an hour. I don’t know how long she’s been here, but she was here before I arrived.” So, I kind of don’t deal with it. I allow people- It’s not my stuff, if that makes sense.

[00:24:31] Tina: It does make sense.

[00:24:32] Jaki: I am not a cleanup person. Like once you acknowledge the inappropriateness of this, you have to take care of that.

[00:24:40] Tina: You know, Byron Katie has a quote, “My business, your business, God’s business.” I like that one a lot. But just all the grace that you exude is just really remarkable and especially in the circumstance. I’m almost picturing the gentleman escorting you to the platform of the stage, you know, “Here she is,” presenting you in some sense.

[00:24:59] Jaki: Well, he did. He asked me. He extended his hand, and I stood up. And I just like ignored them.

[00:25:05] Tina: Yeah. Oh.

[00:25:05] Jaki: I just walked up to the podium. I didn’t even give them the time to introduce me. I just walked up and I started talking.

[00:25:13] Tina: The queen has arrived. The queen. I love it.

[00:25:16] Jaki: I mean, I did nothing and kind of invisibled them, like this is all about me, you know, so you can go sit down. But I don’t mean that in a mean way.

[00:25:28] Tina: Oh, I know. I know. You know what? Actually, my hands are sweating, thinking about being in that situation. I’m feeling some of the physical reaction I could imagine having in that scenario.

But you know, it’s the being. We just need to BE first, right? It’s an inside job of being that person, the person of grace, the person of dignity, the person of confidence, the person of fabulosity, right? I’ll just make up a word for us. And being that person so that you then can do the things that are required to get the result that you are desiring to have in your life, right? And it’s really an inside job. And I think you’ve got that really dialed in as far as understanding that.

So how do you think, especially, you know, when you’re talking about having courage, I’ve had people, I’ve had women say to me, “I wish I had the courage to have fun color in my hair.” You know, it’s like, “Well, why don’t you?” You know, why don’t you? “What’s keeping you from having that courage?” And so, how do you counsel women that might be-

You know, I didn’t start doing what I’m doing online until I was already past 50. And so it’s a journey. It’s been my own journey, right? No college, on my own at 17, you know, high school education, all of that. No experience and just decided. I made a decision about what I was going to do with words.

And what do you say to, especially for women that are feeling like, “Well, it’s too late. I’m too old. I can’t do it. I’m afraid,” you know? What kind of advice would you give women that are feeling like that about the next step of their journey.

[00:26:46] Jaki: Well, in a lot of my workshops and creativity salons, I ask women to think about what’s inside of their human museums. Like, “What are you holding? What are you carrying?”

I believe that what we keep keeps us. What we keep keeps us, good or bad. And what’s inside of your human museum that’s blocking. Like, do you have like rooms that are just chock-full of fear, or rooms that are chock-full of messages you received as a child or still receiving maybe from other women or from family members? What are those things that you’re holding?

We are our own curators of our human museums. We are also the curators of our personal archeological and anthropological digs. And that’s how I see creativity, writing and painting and sculpting and dancing and being a musician. All of these are tools for excavation.

So I invite women to really dig deep and not be afraid to hit rock, and to be prepared to face, you know, some very real and not real things that we create on our own. You know, my mom at 106 was still very, very controlling.

[00:28:03] Tina: Mm-hmm.

[00:28:03] Jaki: Lovely woman, full of grace and dignity, but very controlling. And she’s lived with us. She lived with us for the past 15 years. And you know, I was having daily reflections with myself that you are really grown now.

[00:28:22] Tina: It’s good to remind yourself.

[00:28:26] Jaki: But there are times when I would say, “Mom, I got this covered. I am 69 years old. I think I know. I can make my own decisions about this.”

But so many of us, I have these conversations often, are still kind of embroiled, entangled, like all wound up in someone else’s perspective of us and the path they’ve decided we should have. So how do we take that back?

So these are the questions. How do you take that back? How do you really take that back and what are you doing inside of your liminal spaces? Because that’s where the magic is really happening inside of liminal space. Like, where’s your magic? Go get it.

So those processes are the processes that I work with women. First of all just looking at yourself up close and personal and really hard and having that conversation. I can only facilitate a process. You have to do the work.

[00:29:27] Tina: Right. Absolutely.

[00:29:29] Jaki: And women pick me out and come to a lot of my- You know, I don’t have to do a lot of marketing and advertising. The retreats have really marketed themselves by word of mouth. I get emails from women who say, “Oh my God, my niece came to your workshop and she wrote me and said, ‘You must do this. You have to do this.'” And yeah.

So I create these very safe, nurturing landscapes for women to come into. I cook the entire time. I love to cook. I’m a fabulous cook. You know, some women will write me and say, “We heard about the quiche. We’re just coming for the food. We don’t give two schleps about writing, we’re just coming for the food.”

[00:30:14] Tina: “We’re waiting for the quiche to cook.”

[00:30:17] Jaki: So yeah. I’ll tell you a little bit about, because this may help answer this question too. How I started SistaWRITE is that in 2009, my oldest daughter died at the age of 38 from aggressive cancer that they really could not name.

[00:30:33] Tina: Oh, sorry.

[00:30:34] Jaki: In 2011, I became deathly ill. And for an entire year, there was no diagnosis. The doctors at Duke Hospital told my husband I had perhaps four months to live.

[00:30:48] Tina: Oh my gosh.

[00:30:49] Jaki: They can’t figure out what was wrong. They said, “We don’t know what’s wrong with her, but she’s definitely ill. She maybe has four months. All of her organs are shutting down.”

Well, fast forward, I was still alive. This was in October of 2011. February of 2012, I was still alive. And this is divine intervention. We were led to a holistic doctor who saved my life, and it was Lyme disease.

[00:31:16] Tina: Oh my gosh. Wow!

[00:31:18] Jaki: For an entire year that Duke never-

[00:31:20] Tina: And that’s an established, you know, respected medical facility.

[00:31:23] Jaki: Rarely do they, well, almost never do they look at Lyme, even think about Lyme disease. And the holistic doctor, she said, “I bet my entire practice just based on what I’m reading in your charts, based on what you and your husband are telling me about your illness, you have Lyme disease.” She said, “We’re gonna do the cheap test. We’re gonna do the very expensive test. They both are going to come back negative.” She said, “I know.” She says, “But you have Lyme disease.”

So she treated me holistically for Lyme disease. I was in a wheelchair for about three years. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t talk. I had serious neurological things going on. I could not have had this conversation with you.

And I’m healing and I’m still in the wheelchair, but I’m having these conversations with myself because I’m watching the literary community around me just like passing by me. And everything has changed. The gatekeepers have changed. It’s a whole new ballpark and I’m thinking, I don’t even know how to re-enter this world again.

And I thought, well, you don’t have to, you just need to reinvent yourself and repackage yourself. So I’m sitting in this chair and I’m thinking, okay, if someone else was sitting in this wheelchair who came to me for advice, what would I tell them?

[00:32:40] Tina: What would you say to them? Yeah. What would you say to them? Yeah.

[00:32:42] Jaki: So I started thinking about it. I made my list. I did my parachute list. I listed everything, everything that I had ever wanted to do, every fantasy that I’ve ever had. I also listed everything that I will never do. Like these are the jobs, these are the projects I’m not doing, I don’t wanna do.

And at the top of that list, I’ve always wanted to facilitate writing retreats for women. So inside of that wheelchair for an entire year, I was researching, studying women’s retreats. I was looking at spiritual retreats and artist retreats and music retreats. I just wanted to look at the anatomy of what people were creating. Look at price points and what they were offering inside of those price points and one day I was like, “You know, I can do this.”

And I called up a friend of mine in Ocracoke who owns a bed and breakfast, who had said to me a few years before, “You know, the winter months are really like, nobody’s here.” He said, “It’d be a great time. If you ever wanna use the house for a women’s retreat, just know that you got it.” And years had gone by and I called him up and I told him about my idea and he said, “Hey, you can have it.” And I put it out there on Facebook and Instagram and literally, in less than 45 minutes, I’d sold out.

[00:34:08] Tina: Oh my gosh. That’s amazing. This whole story’s just amazing.

[00:34:12] Jaki: Sold out. And that was my first one. And it was fabulous that, that first group of women remain kind of a group of their own.

[00:34:22] Tina: Mm-hmm.

[00:34:22] Jaki: And they come only with each other. It’s kind of like they’d call me up and like, “We need a reunion!”

[00:34:27] Tina: Yeah.

[00:34:27] Jaki: You know, and there’s some of them that have come to all of my retreats, including traveling with me out of the country. But it’s just low key. I have space that’s called Queens Roaming because I knew what I did not want this to be. I didn’t want it to look like a conference. I didn’t want it to look like work.

[00:34:45] Tina: Mm-hmm.

[00:34:46] Jaki: And I, myself have attended enough writer’s retreats over the years where I come home and I need a vacation.

[00:34:52] Tina: Yeah. You have to recover from the retreat.

[00:34:56] Jaki: The writing work was so intense. So, you know, Queens Roaming is you have all of this space built into your day where you might need a nap or you might just need to walk to the beach. Nothing gives me better pleasure than being out in the yard in the hammock and looking up, and there are women out on the roof patio. They’re talking, or someone else in another hammock, you know, writing. People find their niche. So I do a lot of facilitating.

I do some creativity salons, but I try not to be top-heavy. What’s more important are the conversations that happen around the dinner table, the conversations that happen one-on-one. I’m there to do one-on-ones with people. But to see people find their person at the retreats and talk about personal things that have sort of held their artistry hostage for years. So people walk away-

I have a friend who tells me, she says, “I don’t write anything when I come. I come for the community. I come for the conversations.” And she said, “But when I go back home, I’m so opened up.”

[00:36:04] Tina: Yeah.

[00:36:05] Jaki: She says, “I’m ready to sit down and be in the business of doing my writing.” And she said, “When I’m with all of you, it’s just like, it’s energy overload. There’s so much energy like floating around. I just wanna tap into it and roll with it.”

[00:36:20] Tina: That sounds amazing. And did you say you do all the cooking? You always meet like in a home-type setting like that?

[00:36:25] Jaki: Yeah, so I don’t do breakfast. I provide a fabulous kitchen full of breakfast foods. I don’t do breakfast because I don’t wanna get up and do breakfast. So people are on their own literally until sometimes I have a salon or sometimes we have a communal walk through the village, like when we were at Ocracoke. And there might be a writing exercise that happens after we come back to the house and sometimes not.

Yeah, I have different little kind of fun things. One year it was, we went to the thrift shop and I gave everybody $5 and I told them they had to find things that resonated with their spirit. And we came back and we wrote about these things. And one person actually found, I couldn’t believe this, a five-dollar Burberry raincoat.

[00:37:20] Tina: Oh my gosh! That’s so funny.

[00:37:23] Jaki: It was like, you know.

[00:37:24] Tina: Like I’m wearing the raincoat and writing.

[00:37:27] Jaki: Wearing the raincoat the entire time. But we do lots of fun things and then we do very serious writing. And it depends on the group.

[00:37:37] Tina: Yeah.

[00:37:37] Jaki: Because I don’t vet, you know, so there may be someone in the room who has never written anything and don’t even know if they want to write. They know that they are creative, they’re creative makers and they want to tap into that. And there may be someone there who is working on a novel. So we’ve had both.

I mean, one year we had a friend come and she had a major writing project that was due while she was there. And she just said to all of us, “I came because I needed to be in the womb of support.”

[00:38:08] Tina: Oh!

[00:38:09] Jaki: “I’m gonna be upstairs isolated because I’ve gotta knock this piece out. So I don’t want you to think bad of me. I’m not being antisocial, but let me get it done and then I can play, then I can show up.”

[00:38:24] Tina: Yeah.

[00:38:24] Jaki: We supported her. Like every day, you know, we would tiptoe upstairs with a tray of food for her at lunch. I would take a cup of tea up to her. I would bring her snacks. I was bringing her nuts and chocolate, you know. One day, she texted me and she said, “Do we have any potato chips?” And I was like, “Coming right up.”

[00:38:42] Tina: “I need salt today.” Yeah.

[00:38:46] Jaki: We all embraced her work because at that point, her work was our work, to embrace her that she had come to this space to be with us to get the work done. And we all felt responsible to be the stewards of that work. And I remember we heard her screaming, “I’m done!” We’re all like, “Come on down.” And somebody handed her a glass of wine, but yeah, and she just was crying.

She said, “Thank you all for helping me get through that.” She said, “It was a major piece of work I had to do,” and she said, “I did hear you all downstairs at times laughing and talking and I thought, God, I wanna be downstairs.” But we all told her, “You have work to do and we are here. We are your minions to see to it that the work is done.”

[00:39:33] Tina: Oh, that’s amazing. What a beautiful scenario. I mean, the whole experience, it just sounds amazing, really fantastic. But you didn’t tell me if you cooked dinner too.

[00:39:42] Jaki: Yeah. So I do cook dinner. You know, a lot of the women, especially people really close to me have been saying, “You just do too much.”

[00:39:49] Tina: Yeah.

[00:39:50] Jaki: “You do too much.” So I’m learning to balance that. You know, like they’ve said to me, “You know, we can do leftovers. Actually, your leftovers are fabulous. We can do leftovers. We don’t have to have a brand new meal every day. And like, we can do soup and salad.” So I have. I’ve listened to this women who have said, “As women, like you won’t let us in the kitchen and we all feel guilty.”

So, you know, I appoint people to do things. I’ll say, “Okay, I need some sous chefs,” you know, “I need these vegetables cut, and they need to be cut like this.”

[00:40:25] Tina: Yeah. About that controlling mother, little tiny bit of that legacy.

[00:40:31] Jaki: And they’re happy when they’re invited into the kitchen. But I wanted the experience to be one of nurturance where women could just show up, walk around in their pajamas all day if they wanted to, that the retreat is what they needed and what they made of, you know, what they needed.

And I kept telling people, “If you don’t even know what you need, it’s gonna show up. It’s gonna show up. Give it a day or two. Like once you are present and you can show up here, you know, your spirit is gonna tell you why you’re here, and then we do the work.” And it’s just been a very organic process. I started SistaWRITE, S-I-S-T-A, and the word write capitalized, W-R-I-T-E. I started this in 2015, ’14 or ’15, and we’ve been rolling ever since.

[00:41:25] Tina: I just love so many things about this story. I can’t even begin to list them all. You know, you didn’t even have to market this. It has its own energy and the life of its own. You’re zigging when other people zag as far as promoting it. I mean, I can’t even believe your experience of near-death for yourself and the loss of your daughter before that, and still finding the courage and the fortitude and the strength to carry forward, right?

And again, your 106-year-old mother, I’m sure, was very proud, the legacy of that women’s strength. And then creating this space where whatever needs to come forth, that’s what happens. It’s not so heavily restricted and organized, everybody must fit into this particular pattern of how we’re gonna get together. And there’s just so many things, such freedom in all of that.

And I would think such an encouragement for anyone that’s listening or watching this today that just follow that, you know, if you can get connected to that real inner voice that you have of this concept or this inspiration. You know, the word inspire comes breathing in, you know, breathing in the inspiration and trusting it. I think that’s the biggest thing is trusting that.

And I cannot picture, you know, I have this Renegade Boomer™ Anti-Retirement Movement, I cannot picture you ever saying that you are “retired” as in doing nothing. How do you feel about that?

[00:42:39] Jaki: You’re probably right. I am looking forward to post-Laureateship. I’ve already made a decision I’m not going back to teach at Duke this semester. I only taught, when Duke asked me to come, when the Duke University Center of Documentary Studies asked me to come a few years ago. And I was retired, and I was like, “I don’t wanna teach.” And they said, “We really want you to come teach.” They created this course that they wanted me to teach, and they said, “You can do what you wanna do.” So I said, “Okay, I will come. I will teach one class every other semester, one day a week. That’s it.” And they were like, “Great.” so that freedom has allowed me-

I love my class, but I’m tired. I love this class. It’s a sought-after class by students. We have a lot of fun. It’s a really good class. It’s documentary poetry, but I’m tired and I’m ready to reclaim some of the energy that I’m putting out that’s just flowing away, away, away. I need some of that for myself.

I need to remember to feed myself now that I’ve had this wonderful reign as the Poet Laureate of North Carolina. I have an initiative to have a Poet Laureate in every high school in every county in North Carolina. So that’s kind of a lifetime commitment because it’s gonna take a long time. We have 100 counties and some counties have up to 24 high schools. So I’m like, what was I thinking?

[00:44:11] Tina: According to your mother, you still have 30 some years left to be able to- You have time. You have time.

[00:44:18] Jaki: I’m committed, but I’m also very committed to, you know, I’m sitting right now every day was like, “So what are you gonna do now?” Like, “What’s up for you, Jaki?” And that’s the question. I wanna play with Jaki again and what are we gonna play and where are we gonna go to do it and how are we going to do it?

[00:44:36] Tina: Well, that’s the whole rewriting, of completely reconfiguring what we think of as “retirement”, that you get to set those terms for yourself and not some societal expectation of you have reached this particular age, so therefore done, you know. You get to reframe it however you choose. I mean, isn’t that the beauty of it?

[00:44:54] Jaki: Yeah, and I’m excited about that. I’m very excited about it. And you know, women have been calling me saying, “I hope when, like, you’ll give yourself two or three years and then we want you to just do SistaWRITE all the time.” It’s really a wonderful thought because I love SistaWRITE. I love the travel.

We were scheduled to be in the Balkans on the Black Sea this past November. But the Balkans is only one hour from Russia. And I was really concerned about what was happening in Eastern Europe, and I just didn’t feel comfortable, especially with all the people. It just didn’t feel right. So we canceled that.

And I’m talking to a woman that actually, who lives in Phoenix. That’s my Sedona connection for doing SistaWRITE. She and I had planned another Tullamore, Ireland workshop, SistaWRITE retreat. So we’ve come back to the drawing board to that. And a dear writer friend who lives in Cairo, Egypt, who actually had requested me to do the one in the Balkans, we’re looking at Egypt.

But I also do a lot of one-day popups. I do like Saturday and Sunday writing popups. I have a friend who has a fabulous farm out in the country. It’s not a working farm. It’s really a fabulous kind of a wedding venue site for these beautiful outdoor weddings. And it has a lovely old farmhouse that’s beautiful, and we spend a lot of time out there doing our one-day popups, which is really fun.

[00:46:30] Tina: Everything just sounds so deliciously, amazingly fantastic that, that you’re doing. And I’m pretty sure we could talk all day, but we’re gonna have to- I’m mindful of your time. But how can people find you, Jaki, especially for SistaWRITE? And I know you don’t have to promote it, but how do they find you if they would like more information on that?

[00:46:47] Jaki: So my SistaWRITE website is not functional right now. We are revamping it. But my website,, has information. That’s how you can reach me. My email address is there, which is Jaki, J-A-KI-S-H-E-L-T-O-N-G-R-E-E-N dot com. I’m always available to respond to people and excited when I hear from people.

[00:47:12] Tina: Well, you know, I’ve got a mobile office and I’m thinking it could definitely come through North Carolina.

[00:47:16] Jaki: Yes.

[00:47:17] Tina: I would love to do something like that with you.

But thank you so much for being here today. I loved this conversation, and it’s just been so delightful. I kind of hate to bring it to an end, but I hope that we can have another one sometime soon, and share more of just your way of being with those that are watching this podcast.

[00:47:33] Jaki: Thank you so much. It’s been such an esteemed pleasure.

[00:47:38] Tina: Thank you.

[00:47:39] Jaki: I hope to go forward with you. Yeah, thank you.

Copyright 2023 Tina Lorenz

Hey there! Just a quick heads up – we’d really appreciate it if you don’t share this text online or with others without getting our written permission first. Also, just so you know, our transcripts are created using a mix of technology and human transcription, which means there might be some errors. We recommend double-checking the audio to be sure before quoting anything in print. Thanks for understanding!


Tina works with a select few private clients through her Renegade Boomer Consulting. Dare to be one of them?