Elle A Essay

Dusk was falling as I arrived at the white room from my dreams. It was stark, absolute, white, and a symbol of something new, of beginnings. As I looked around, I thought, “What on earth have I done? Why am I here?” And as clear as day, I heard a voice say, “It’s time to paint.”

As time passed, I found myself choosing Must more often than Should. And over time, continuing to choose Must opened doors into worlds I never could have imagined. Here are three qualities I’ve integrated into my daily practice that have helped me achieve a sustainable Must.


Often times, reconnecting with the road to Must is not about doing a lot of running around.

This solo inward journey has been called many things throughout time — the myths call it the labyrinth, the abyss, the forest, and the night journey. Culturally, it’s called the “walkabout,” the vision quest, and the pilgrimage. In tech, it’s recently been called “the Struggle” by Ben Horowitz.

Searching for solitude is how I eventually found myself in an Airbnb in Bali alone for six weeks, in the middle of the rice paddies, with no phone, no email, and no walls on three sides of the house.

I called my new home “the house without walls.” It was wrapped in palm trees, smelled of jasmine, and over the coming weeks, the geckos and frogs and people would come and go as they pleased, because there were no rules and no walls to stop them. I had long dreamed of being in a place where the inside and the outside were one and the same.

For six weeks, in “the house without walls,” I slowed down, silenced the voices, and relaxed into a quiet place deep within myself. I dreamed under the palm trees, night sky, and various phases of the moon.


It was in “the house without walls” that I fell in love with the moon. And, one day, a Balinese friend of mine decided to turn two of my paintings into textiles — for the fun of it.

Fast-forward a few months: I was back in San Francisco trying to figure out what to do with these exquisite textiles. The batik process of hand-painting each cloth was so beautiful, and so close to my own painting practice, that I wanted to find a way to combine these techniques on a larger scale. So I decided to go to New York, hunker down in an Airbnb, and figure it out in two weeks.

A friend of mine once compared focus to the beam of a mag light — if you keep the light unfocused, light shines everywhere. It’s bright, but it’s blinding.

If you focus the light and tighten it, the light becomes a laser beam. Focused and strong.

Bring others in.

As a former IDEO-er who believes in the power of human-centered design, I began to wonder, even worry, how this inward journey would connect with the outside world. And this is what I found:

During my two weeks in New York, I emailed a dozen of the most talented, brilliant women I knew, inviting them to collectively review my work and give me feedback at the end of my sprint. Of course I needed to bring others in, I suddenly realized, but not until after I knew what I was working on and why.

The women gave invaluable feedback, leading to significant insights. And this is why, the very next week, I found myself Bali-bound again. Except this time, with 200 yards of raw fabric. Working with master batik artists, we hand-painted 100 limited edition pieces of art, inspired by the phases of the moon. We launched the textiles as the inaugural collection of Bulan Project, and sold out in two weeks.

Over the years, the name Monica Lewinsky has become synonymous with sexual scandals.

In 1998, the world learned that the former White House intern was involved in a sexual relationship with then President of the United States, Bill Clinton, 27 years her senior.

As a result, the now-activist was thrown into a political sex scandal storm and resulted in Clinton's impeachment and eventual acquittal.

Now, on the 20th anniversary of Kenneth Starr's investigation into former President Clinton, the 44-year-old has reflected on her affair, exploring the 'trauma' of her past and how the revolutionary #MeToo Movement has helped her view her experience in a new light.


In the essay for Vanity Fair, Lewinsky writes: 'As I find myself reflecting on what happened, I've also come to understand how my trauma has been, in a way, a microcosm of a larger, national one.

'Both clinically and observationally, something fundamental changed in our society in 1998, and it is changing again as we enter the second year of the Trump presidency in a post-Cosby-Ailes-O'Reilly-Weinstein-Spacey-Whoever-Is-Next world.

Lewinsky goes on to explain that following Hollywood's recent sexual abuse scandal, she spoke with a woman leading the #MeToo movement who told her: 'I'm so sorry you were so alone.'

I've also come to understand how my trauma has been, in a way, a microcosm of a larger, national one.

In response, Lewinsky says: 'Those seven words undid me.

'Somehow, coming from her—a recognition of sorts on a deep, soulful level—they landed in a way that cracked me open and brought me to tears,' she later adds.


Discussing the power of the #MeToo movement, she says that just hearing a story from one woman instantly welcomes another into a 'tribe'.

'The democratising potential of the Internet to open up support networks and penetrate what used to be closed circles of power is something that was unavailable to me back then. Power, in that case, remained in the hands of the president and his minions, the Congress, the prosecutors, and the press,' she explains.

Lewinsky highlights that while some people don't believe her experience with Clinton has a place in the #MeToo movement - as what occurred was as a result of a gross abuse of power, not sexual assault - she reveals she's been asked about the movement repeatedly in recent months, regardless.

Power, in that case, remained in the hands of the president and his minions





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