DELAROQ is thrilled to continue our Women We Love series with a special focus on the writer, comedic storyteller, and producer Elna Baker. If this is your first encounter with her then you’re in for a treat.
Elna’s a regular contributor on This American Life and has appeared on The Moth Radio Hour, Prairie Home Companion, BBC Radio 4, All Things Considered, WTF with Marc Maron, Studio 360, The Joy Behar Show and in the book The Moth: 50 true stories. She’s written for ELLE, Glamour, Men’s Journal, O Magazine, Rookie, Refinery29, More Magazine and xoJane.com. Her memoir, The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance, was published by Penguin and earned four stars in People Magazine as well as the 2010 AML award for best humor writing.
In addition to admiring how skillfully she connects audiences through storytelling and laughter, we are constantly in awe of Elna’s vulnerability as she describes the experiences of reclaiming and reframing her self-image against the societal grain of ceaseless improvement. There is a quiet generosity in the candor with which she describes facing certain challenges. And as we listen to her story, we take solace in recognizing that if this wise, good-humored knockout knows that embracing oneself is an ongoing process, then perhaps we too are not alone. She inspires us to courageously commit to this ongoing state of negotiation, and that is why – for us – Elna is the picture of grace.
Favorite DELAROQ bag: Troisieme Tote in Pitch Black or Red (I love them both)
What does influence mean to you?
I think of it like a magnet. It’s what drives us, often without our conscious awareness. Sometimes it’s good, other times it pulls us away from our true selves and being authentic. The other day I bought skincare vitamins and I was like, why do I want this? Then I noticed my phone had been showing me ads for vitamins, probably for weeks. But it was as if it was all happening behind the scenes. That’s when influence makes you feel a bit like a lab rat with a Mastercard.
How do your daily habits influence you?
They’re everything. I look at it like a formula, effort + time= your future self. But you can’t live for the future. If you want to be happy in the future, you have to ask yourself, am I happy right now? If the answer is no, what little things can you do to bring more joy, love, and color into your life every single day? Then you do them, daily and eventually... it helps.
How has your upbringing influenced you?
A bunch of things happened and they made me who I am. I’m the only person all of these particular things happened to in this particular order. I’m a walking collection of the things I touched, saw, heard, tasted, smelled and loved. And the things that hurt me too. Particularly those things. When you think about it, it really fills you with a sense of wonder. Everyone is special in that they're the only combo quite like them.
How have the other women in your life influenced you?
I have three sisters, and only one brother, so from the beginning I came into this world with a team of women. We were so creative together, and caring, and helpful. I still see these qualities in my female friends. The narrative that women are competitive and pull each other down has never felt true or like it captures what I see on the ground. The women in my life tell me I matter, they uplift me, they validate my feelings and experience of the world, they keep me sane and they make me laugh super hard.
What is some of the best advice that you’ve ever been given?
To learn to think with your heart…and to always know the difference. If you’re asking yourself, “Is this the right or the wrong thing to do? Or is this good or bad?” …then you’re stuck in your head. If you’re trying to get something/possess it or push something away/reject it, you’re in your gut. But if you’re in your heart, there’s just a sense of stillness and knowing. You don’t do anything unless you have to and you know when you have to. The monk Sokuzan Bob Brown taught me this.
What makes you feel beautiful?
This is a tough one. I feel beautiful when I’ve taken 50 selfies and one turns out okay. I tell myself I look like her and immediately delete the other images from my memory. But then it doesn’t really work, so I rarely feel beautiful. But that's because I was conditioned to think of beauty as a very narrow, unattainable thing that is based on falseness. Even as I write this, I see how fucked up it is. What I'm describing is when I think I'm beautiful. Which is very different than feeling beautiful.
To be honest, it's hard for me to feel beautiful because I've spent so much of my life disconnected and disassociating from my body, which I think is really common for women. But recently, I’ve come to see that the body is everything. That every single thing I think and experience comes through my body. And when I actually sit and appreciate what this body is giving me, then I feel something that is more than beauty in a material sense, I feel connected and alive and empowered. This body is how I've touched everyone I love. How I've thought everything I've thought. How I see color, how I hear, and the list just goes on and on. It's so strange how much time we spend disliking our bodies when really, we're only able to think these things because our bodies are still working, so we should slow down and give them way more credit than we do.
Tell us about some of the current or upcoming projects that excite you most
I’m about to take a sabbatical and I’m going to go to live on a remote horse ranch in the mountains of Mexico and write a fiction book. I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’ve never been more excited to make something.