hello and welcome ✨

You’ve arrived… nice. [a warm smile for you] You’re just inside a clearing, where you can see some wildflowers and shady trees, maybe, depending on the season. Maybe you can smell the air. You’re welcome to sit beneath a tree, lean back against the trunk, feel your body meet the ground. Or you can grab a bench seat at one of those tables there.

Either way, you’re most welcome to relax here for a bit.

First — a proper introduction

Hello, I’m Alex (Alexandra Jacoby). I’m the founder and welcome committee.

It’s nice to have you here.

This is the front yard of UNDERMININGnormal, an unhurried space for conversations women don’t usually get to have.

Something I’ve wanted for myself, for my friends, for the women I meet at work, in the news, for women everywhere, anywhere because this is basic.

We have to be able to talk about all the things, as we are, openly, without pressure or rushing to conclusions, as a living practice, with intentional space for half-formed thoughts, I don’t knows and complexity —and with free-flowing reference to our female embodied experiences as normal. Because they are.


Let’s pause here, ok?

I’m learning to pause. That’s one of the many, so many things I’ve been able to discover (often it’s rediscover) and sit with, since I began inviting women to living room picnics, taking-my-time-under-a-shady-tree sit with it, so I can hear myself think, hear what someone else said, what she meant, wanted me to know and understand about her.

Pauses can be radical changemaking tools.

Next, I’ll tell you about living room picnics and how they led to this digital coffeehouse.

with much care and interest,

How a digital coffeehouse grew out of living room picnics…

Since late February 2021, I’ve been inviting women I know to living room picnics. Small group conversations around a single topic. Attendance varies and there’s never any preparation required. We go deep, we go light and laughing, and always we go wide—on journeys with each other, peeking into our respective worlds, past, present and future.

I have to say that pretty much every week, at some point during the call (we meet via Zoom), I think to myself:

This is amazing, just listening to her talk, or what she said about herself—I had no idea or Me too! Thank you for saying that for us.

How do I keep forgetting in between picnics that these conversations will inspire, nourish and ground me (in ways I just can’t do on my own)?

But I do forget.

It’s new for me to routinely have the space to connect with myself, while I connect with other women (connecting with themselves too) in unhurried conversations.

Not just because of the pandemic, I have kind of always felt twinges of isolation - around my creative pursuits and when tending to my overall wellbeing.

It’s hard to meet and connect with (and to go without) women I can talk with openly, get to know and learn from about the many things I do and need and aspire toward personally, professionally, socially, civically, ecologically, physically, mentally, emotionally — humanly. Especially as a woman.

But—we have the internet, right? I should be able to find whatever I need.

Yeh…well, sometimes I can, but often I can’t.

Often, what I need is time and company in the in-between spaces. Where I can share my not-fully-formed ideas and questions, where I can connect with women who are doing things and thinking about things and seeking to create, achieve or support things that I do or don’t have in common with them, but that interest me (or could interest me if I found myself in the room).

I don’t always want to be among like-minded people. I’m not really sure what like-minded means actually. Our minds are so complex. (I just added that to the list of potential topics to picnic on).

I do want to be around women who are deep-thinking, creative and caring, who are also seeking space to have the conversations women don’t usually get to have. Where we can be as we are, in all the ways we are our female-bodied selves. Not as an add-on. Not at an extra cost. Normal.

I’ve actually had this thought, parts of it, sometimes ever so quiet and lonely, other times screaming loud and exhaustedly and lately, just smiling at the simple truth of it, mixed with the infinite human complexity of all that goes into a space for the conversations women don’t usually get to have…I’ve thought about this for years.

It wasn’t until I began holding conversation experiences in the form of living room picnics, that I finally decided to do it, to open such a space. The one I’ve dreamed about, becoming the one I couldn’t possibly imagine on my own.

Next post: I’ll get more specific about living room picnics, so you can get a sense of what to expect.

What is a living room picnic?

A living room picnic is a small-group conversation that begins around a particular topic and then goes where it goes. Friendly digital get togethers where you can reflect, relax and have a candid conversation, even about challenging topics. Anyone can hold a living room picnic.

At UNDERMININGnormal, living room picnics are a space where women can have conversations they don’t usually get to have. We talk about all kinds of things.

A living room picnic runs for an hour. We meet via Zoom. You learn of the topic beforehand, in the invitation that I email out a few days before with some initial thoughts about why it interested me and what I thought we might explore together. Sometimes I include links to a reading or visual art, maybe a podcast. Though, there’s never any preparation required. You can skip it all, register and just come.

A day or two before I send a continuation of the invitation, with the discussion prompts and breakdown the flow, so you’ll know what to expect. My intention is that we get some time in that space where thinking out loud and talking together mix, where there is no agenda other than to get to know each other and ourselves, we complex humans living the experiment of our lives, a little better.

We surprise ourselves and each other, sometimes subtly, sometimes deeply, but pretty much always —because there is no way to know where an open-minded, open-hearted conversation like this will go, no matter the discussion prompt. Like a picnic, we bring what we bring, there may be ants and weather and we deal with it. We plan for trees and earth, bring what we like to sit on, and hope for breezy sun.

Attendance varies, though there are some regulars. Diversity of mood, point of view, history, experience, interests, know-how and bodylife are all expected and welcomed at a living room picnic. We are on-camera, but this is not a performance. It’s not recorded. It’s a shared experience. You are invited to come as you are and to take good care of yourself throughout our picnic time together.

I incorporate a little bit of journaling, which is private and you need not share any of it, so that we can slow down enough to hear ourselves think for a bit in ways we may have not been able to do on our own lately.

We don’t do takeaways at the end. There is no intellectual destination we’re trying to reach, though insights, discoveries, affirmations and learnings often emerge. You’ll have the opportunity to keep going with this topic, as well as to direct message fellow picnickers, inside the community forum.

There is no rush.

This is both an unhurried conversation about a particular topic and —a practice of including the messy, the in-between, the unsorted complexity of being human, of being female in a world where the default is male. By picnicking together, we are already there.

At the end of the hour, we close with a moment to gather ourselves before we head back into our respective landscapes. Nourished, heartened, awakened, a little more open, relaxed (I hope!) for having taken this kind of time together. Just an hour. But if you’re like me, for most of my life, I didn’t let myself take this kind of an hour, let myself see that I need this kind of self-care, this kind of self-expression (and more) and that I cannot give it to myself on my own. That getting together in conversation spaces that take chances on each other, that trust the conversation in the room every time.

If you’d like to receive invitations to living room picnics, you can sign up here. This is for you if you’re a deep-thinking, change-seeking, creative woman.

Next post: I’ll introduce some of the topics we’ve picnicked on.

What kinds of topics do we picnic on?

So far, we’ve held 28 living room picnics.

The topics of our living room picnics to date are listed below, along with the names of primary inspirators (inspirers?), people whose work seeded our discussion. Something I read or saw or heard that generated an interest, energy and an invitation in me.

Before we get to the list, I want to say that: it kind of doesn’t matter what we talk about.

It’s about being in a room where your thoughts can spread out some. Interconnection, under the surface, deeply intertwined or newly so, and often, most often, imperceptible is behind the scenes, holding space for us to show up just as we are.

Everything comes up. In some form. Whether you share with the group or not.

The idea is to bring yourself as you are and have the conversation, or introspection, or reflection through similarities or differences, that you need to have and actually hear it. Who knows where that will lead?

Also, it does matter what the topic is — because, for one thing, as a friend reminded me: it could be triggering. Take care of yourself. Only you know what’s too much for you.

And, it could be challenging in other ways that may be healthy challenges for you. Like maybe you’re unfamiliar with the concept or references mentioned in the invitation, and not sure you’ll be able to keep up, or maybe it’s too familiar and you believe you know all you need to know about it. In both cases, I invite you and yeh, I challenge you a little, to come and explore not just the topic, and not just the other picnickers, but yourself in the experience of being novice or expert and engaging with the people more than the material. That’s where the support and surprises happen.

Living room picnic topics through August 2021

Topics emerged from the work of the artists, researchers and facilitators noted (in parentheses) and from conversations and realizations whose original source I can’t remember.

  • Maintenance Art (Mierle Laderman Ukeles)
  • taking on other people’s energy
  • personal landscapes
  • places that shaped you
  • describing yourself to the world (Pauline Oliveros)
  • Small is good. (adrienne maree brown)
  • Small is all. (adrienne maree brown)
  • Change is constant. (adrienne maree brown)
  • There is always enough time for the right work. (adrienne maree brown)
  • There is a conversation in the room that only these people at this time can have. (adrienne maree brown)
  • Never a failure, always a lesson. (adrienne maree brown)
  • Trust the People. (If you trust the people, they become trustworthy). (adrienne maree brown)
  • Facilitating Complexity + Social Fertility (Nikki Silvestri)
  • Cultivating resilience. (Nikki Silvestri)
  • Move at the speed of trust. Focus on critical connections more than critical mass—build the resilience by building the relationships. (adrienne maree brown, Suzanne Simard)
  • Less prep, more presence. (adrienne maree brown)
  • What you pay attention to grows. (adrienne maree brown)
  • Making friends and other relationships we make online
  • The soil you came from. (Nikki Silvestri)
  • Conversations you don’t get to have.
  • …faith not only in the power of other people but… (Niki de Saint Phalle)
  • life experiments — artistic and otherwise (Niki de Saint Phalle)
  • arriving happens over time
  • loving your tree (V, formerly Eve Ensler)
  • the durability of sexual harassment (Jodi Kantor)
  • it’s essential that we do nothing (Jenny Odell)
  • inalienable rights (Loretta J. Ross)

One of these, we did twice and that’s how we get to 28 :sparkles:

If you’d like to receive invitations to living room picnics, you can sign up here. This is for you if you’re a deep-thinking, change-seeking, creative woman.

Also, you can view recent living room picnic topics here. Since September 2021, I post a public invitation. You can scroll / read through them.

Or, if you just want to see the most recent invitation, this is the place for you.

how did you find your way here?

This question is both for community members and visitors passing by.
How did you find your way to this clearing?

Especially, if you’ve read your way down from the top, it’s definitely your turn to talk.

And, we’d very much like to hear about your way here:hiking_boot: :hiking_boot: :hiking_boot: