What's in the gallery?

We dissolve stuck and rewrite patterns. We apply radical playfulness to life (when we feel like it!), embarking on internal adventures (credo of Safety First). We have a fake band called Solved By Cake. We build invisible sanctuaries, invent words and worlds, breathe awe and wonder.

We are not impressed by monsters. Except when we are. We explore the connections between internal territories and surrounding environment to learn what marvelously supportive delicious space feels like, and how to take exquisite care of ourselves. We transform things.* We glow wild.**

* For example: Desire, fear, worry, pain-and-trauma, boundaries, that problematic word which rhymes with flaweductivity.

** Fair warning: Self-fluency has been known to lead to extremely subversive behavior, including treasuring yourself unconditionally, unapologetically taking up space, experiencing outrageously improbable levels of self-acceptance, and general rejoicing in aliveness.


The Story of Selma

selma_portraitI have a strong streak of davka. Contrarian-ness? Yes, I am a contrarian.

Not that I do everything to be contrary davka, but I do many things davka. And not writing a FAQ (though I did write an amusing — but really only to me — post on how to write one) is one of them.

Insisting on using the word davka because it’s better than “deliberately contrary” is another.

All that to explain why I’ve never written a post about “why a duck” or “how Selma and I met” or “what is wrong with me and why would I think that having a duck as a business partner is funny”.*

*For the record, I don’t think it’s funny at all. Bizarre, yes. Tragic, maybe. Funny? Not even a little.

Yes, these are essentially the three most Frequently Asked Questions that show up in the inbox that I never see. (You know what’s crazy? The post I just linked to also contains a FAQ. Fascinating. Apparently I write them everywhere and then pretend I don’t. We’ll talk about that later.)

And I don’t answer them. So I think it might be time. Yeah. It’s time.

Who is Selma? Or: “What’s with the duck?”

Well. I usually just say she’s my business partner. Which is true. It’s just that it’s the short answer.

Sometimes I tell people that she’s my silent partner.

Because she doesn’t say much. Again, funny pretty much only to me and Selma.

But you probably want more than that. I can tell.

And the truth is, I don’t really want to write about Selma. Selma is private. And not just in the sense that she’s my personal friend so I don’t want to divulge too much. No, she’s just a very private duck.

So here’s what I can tell you.

How my duck and I first came to meet.

I was living in a mostly-abandoned building in East Berlin and teaching yoga. In Hebrew. My wonderful friend David was visiting from London. He brought ducks. It’s a long story.

Never mind that.

The point is that Selma and I fell in love. Her brother Julius was sweet and kooky and adventurous and prone to getting into trouble. And Selma was just Selma. Always smiling, very calm.

She just has this lovely way about her, you know?

Julius ended up going back to London with David. And Selma stayed with me. There was another sibling but he got eaten by a baby and it’s a pretty tragic story and we will not mention it further here.

Walking the duck.

I’ve already referenced my bizarre living situation when I told the story of how the Fluent Self got its name, but I should add that there were always interesting people coming and going.

I’m not exactly a people person, so I would often take Selma out for long walks in the sun. Or in the rain.

One day I came back and one of our many international guests (a stop-animation artist from Barcelona) was in the kitchen. She grinned at me. She said, “You like to walk your duck.”

And then she told me a story.

After her dog died, she been pretty miserable. Obviously, she missed him terribly. But she also really missed the experience of having a reason to go off by herself for a while.

She had always gotten her best thinking done while walking the dog. So she kept walking the dog. Just without the dog.

She’d grab her coat, pick up the leash and announce casually, “I’m going to walk the dog.”

Eventually people got used to it.

We understood each other.

In which Selma and I begin to work together.

I was already taking her everywhere, so of course I brought her to class.

At this point I was teaching Dance of Shiva (my wacky yoga brain training work) in both German and English all over Berlin. Selma turned out to be a huge help in these classes.

For one thing, people kept forgetting to keep their palms flat (palms of the hands, not fronds or anything — it’s wacky, yes, but it’s not that wacky). So I’d use Selma to demonstrate the hand positions.

But even better, having a duck with me kind of took the piss out of what is otherwise a frustrating, challenging, mind-bending practice. It gave people — Germans no less — the chance to loosen up and have a little fun with it.

Once Selma started teaching breathing exercises, it was all over.

One day I didn’t bring her to class, and people didn’t like that. So I brought her on board as co-teacher and everyone was happy. Especially me.

In which I am an idiot and try to hide my duck from the world.

When I first started biggifying, I mistakenly thought that people would judge me for my duck. For having a duck.

Well, they do. But it’s just not a big deal. Here’s what happened though.

People told me over and over again that I had to appear as professional as possible, if I wanted to get clients and have everyone take me and my work seriously. Everyone I talked to advised against talking about Selma.

And for a long time I listened to them.

I was making the classic mistake of wanting to be an expert so badly that I wouldn’t let myself be human or seem vulnerable. I erred on the side of safe and boring, thinking that was the sacrifice I needed to make in order to be successful.

But eventually I realized that I couldn’t keep it up. My duck was my partner, my companion, my muse. I couldn’t not talk about her. I needed Selma to be a part of things.

So I psyched myself up. I started mentioning her in the noozletters. Eventually I changed my photo to one of the two of us. We’d both sign our names to stuff I’d write while she was sitting next to me, peering over my shoulder.

And the world did not collapse. No one fired me. I did not end up living in a cardboard box. I could not have been more astonished.

In which I become famous and then everyone thinks I was all strategic about it.

Selma became a superstar way faster than I did.

People love her. Not just that, but the right people love her. My people. In fact, that’s how I find my Right People.

Anyone who doesn’t get it? Anyone who thinks it’s stupid that I have a duck as a business partner? Probably not somebody I want to work with.

It’s the people who write to me saying, “Ohmygod you have a duck! This is so perfect!”

Those are the ones.

I never intended for Selma to become what Michael Port refers to as a “red velvet rope”, but that’s essentially what happened. More than that, she taught me how that whole concept works so that I can recognize other people’s red velvet ropes.

A lot of people seem to think that I’m a clever marketer and that Selma is some kind of strategic ploy. Which is hysterical, because when Selma and I met I still couldn’t even hear the word “marketing” without throwing up.

Not to mention the fact that everyone I talked to warned me that she’d lose me business.

Now she’s a total celebrity. And she’s made me one too, in her weird little way. She got us on German television. She got us onto the front page of the Style section in the New York Freaking Times. She got called a whore by Itty Biz. You know how it is.

But I can handle it…

So Selma’s more popular than I am. And I’ve mostly made my peace with that.

She gets fan mail. She gets presents. People will send things addressed to Selma the Duck, c/o Hoppy House.

And — even more bizarre — sometimes these packages are addressed to Selma Brooks. I mean, it’s not like I adopted her. We don’t share a last name. Oh well. That’s just part of living with a celebrity, right?

The truth is though, I love her.

I love having her around. I love her psychotic, goofy smile and I love the way she looks at me. If she wanted to leave the business and go off and sell shoes or something, I would cry.

Now you’ve gotten me all sentimental and mushy and Selma will never let me live it down. Actually, she will. Because she’s like that. But no one else will.

Man, I hope this was as interesting as what you were hoping for. Because I probably won’t get around to answering another Frequently Asked Question for a while. Let me distract you with my duck!

35 Responses to The Story of Selma

  1. The idea of someone having a duck is not a new one to me, and I thought you might enjoy the story of why.

    A dear friend of mine some years ago was the leader of our local church group. As such, she was subject to the usual small-community drama, people wanting her to fix their problems, change the way she did things, ad nauseam. She handled this with infinite grace and aplomb, visualizing it as running like water off of a duck’s back.

    One particularly stressful evening, it became too much and she snapped at someone. She went off for a few minutes to calm down, then came back to apologize, saying “sorry, I lost my duck.”

    Tthe phrase stuck, and we began gifting my friend with ducks at every opportunity.

    The original duck, while obviously not Selma, I think must have been a relative :)

    Heather Freemans last blog post..Weeeeeeeee’re back!

  2. christy
    Twitter: twitchinggrey

    I’ll admit it. I have a terrible crush on Selma. I have not yet decided how stalker-ish it is or is not, so I’ll hang on to that for awhile.

    I have always wondered how/when/why Selma adopted you, but figured that was personal. Even a duck is entitled to her privacy.


    christys last blog post..The Fallacy of Time

  3. Stacie says:

    Hearing you talk about Selma always just makes me smile. I did have the initial, “Wait, is she talking about a duck? Like the duck in her photo?” But once I figured out that, yes, indeed, you were talking about the duck in the photo, I was like, “Oh, cool. I kind of love that she has a duck as a friend [at that point I didn’t quite realize that Selma is your business partner – silly me!]. I think I’m gonna like hanging around this place…”

    And, of course, I do.

    But now I’m wondering what Selma’s last name is, or if she just goes by a single name like Madonna or Prince? I mean, I could understand that – she is pretty famous, after all.

  4. Pree says:

    Havi, on a related subject, can you tell me how you got such a gloriously CLEAR picture of you and Selma? Even the tiny picture you have on twitter is so clear and most people’s are horrendous. Mind sharing your secret? Thanks!

  5. Lisa Firke
    Twitter: lisafirke

    Ah, it’s all kinda like I figured it might be. Now I feel omniscient.

    Lisa Firkes last blog post..More Nimble

  6. Josiane
    Twitter: kimianak

    That was sweet of you to share this, and extra sweet of private Selma to let you do so! Hugs to both of you!

  7. Terry Heath says:

    I always suspected Selma was your familiar or something like that. Now I am convinced it’s true, but not in an ooh-scary hocus-pocus way.

    Thanks for the insight, an interesting story and nowhere near as weird or calculated as I thought.

    Terry Heaths last blog post..Give Commentators Link Juice

  8. Jill
    Twitter: scabbyrobot

    Oh Havi, I just love this post. I admire you for so gently putting Selma out there. I’ve recently been working on how to explain my own business FAQ… what the heck is a Scabby Robot…and each time I stagnate with annoyance and furrowed eyebrows.

    I’m inspired to follow your example of soft playfulness. Thanks for doing what you do!

  9. Brandon W says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I love your duck.

  10. Anna-Liza
    Twitter: Divina712

    None of this sounds strange to me, except the part about people telling you to hide Selma.

    And, referring back to the post about how you came up with “The Fluent Self”? I don’t think I would ever have asked–the name makes perfect sense for what you do. But I really enjoyed the story–it’s perfect, too.

    Anna-Lizas last blog post..Pollyanna Says Don’t Open the Door

  11. Havi Brooks
    Twitter: havi

    Awww. You guys are so great.

    @Jill – Scabby Robot is the Best Name Ever! I love it. Even having no idea what it is … scabby robot! How fun.

    @Terry – ohmygosh! My familiar. Wow. I never would have put it that way but you are so right. That’s exactly what she is. Okay, new tagline: “Havi Brooks … the least intimidating witch you know!”

    @Josiane – oh, Selma doesn’t know about this yet. I wrote it while she was still asleep. She’ll probably throw a fit when she finds out (which will also take a while because she’s a ridiculously slow reader). But she’ll get over it eventually.

    @Lisa – I always thought you were omniscient. I guess that makes me extra-omniscient. (And the battle begins!)

    @Pree – what a sweet thing to say! My gentleman friend took the picture with his trusty tiny digital camera. But other than that, can’t tell you much about it. Selma is very photogenic though, I’ve noticed. She’s kind of glowy.

    @Stacie – Totally. Madonna, Cher, Selma. You know. Though I tend to think that her last name is “the Duck”. Like Winnie the Pooh. Selma the Duck.

    @Christy & Brandon – *blows kisses*

    @Heather – what a great story. “I lost my duck.” That’s beautiful. Thanks!

  12. leah says:

    You’re so right. Selma helps you find your right people. When I first came upon your blog, I saw your black and white photo and your professional looking blog and thought, o.k, I’ll look around a bit. But then I noticed the bright yellow Selma perched on your shoulder and knew that anyone willing to work with a duck would be worth getting to know. :-) Funny how that works. Selma definitely lightens up what could be some tough stuff to think about and she’s silly and I love me some silliness.

    So thanks for sticking to your guns (or your duck, rather).

    leahs last blog post..Intuitive Art and Committing to your Creativity

  13. Joely Black says:

    Lovely story! She’s a gatekeeper to you, in a way. I love that.

    Joely Blacks last blog post..A “what happened next” entry and a request for somebody else

  14. Nathan Briggs says:

    *jumps up and down with joy, then falls over*

  15. Funny coincidence…Just today, I was thinking about your duck and wondering why she rests on your shoulder.

    What a wonderful post with so many great messages and reminders for all of us. I had a turtle that “helped” me write my senior thesis at Michigan. Have an affinity for turtles to this day – the inanimate ones, at least. Never thought of making a partner of one. Wonder if I could find one that knows as much about writing resumes as my old turtle friend knew about Victorian lit? :-)


    Miriam Salpeters last blog post..Some takeaways for job seekers

  16. This is a great story! I have to say, I’m a bit jealous that you have a duck to help you find and attract the right audience for you.

    “Anyone who doesn’t get it? Anyone who thinks it’s stupid that I have a duck as a business partner? Probably not somebody I want to work with.”

    Brilliant. Now I just have to figure out what could possibly serve as my audience filter. :)

    Kristin T. (@kt_writes)s last blog post..Seder in Farmer City, revisted

  17. Deveena says:

    Havi, I’ve been a lurker on your blog for a few months. I’m only commenting now cause I finally figured, “why not?”

    I remember being so curious wondering what the deal with Selma was. I’m glad that you shared this story with us today, and that you followed your gut. You’re a nice lady, and Selma just fits right in here. Matter of fact, it would be sad if she was just suddenly out.

    P.S. My baby boy has tons of ducks. Of course, your blog now flashes in my mind every time I have to give the little guy a bath. Who needs the RSS feed, when I have your Selma as visual reminder to come by? ;)

    Deveenas last blog post..How to Make an Audience Like You

  18. Kaushik says:

    I am reminded of a wonderful song that Sesame Street about rubber duckie probably 15 years ago when my daughters were little. Thanks for the great story!

    Kaushiks last blog post..Addiction

  19. Kelly Parkinson
    Twitter: copylicious

    Two years ago, I met Selma in person at a Shiva Nata class in San Francisco. I remember she was exceedingly gracious and good-humored. This was before she had become the celebrity she is now, of course, but I could already see that she had what it took. I said to myself, “THAT DUCK IS GOING TO BE A STAR! A STAR, I TELL YOU!!!” As usual, I was right. They just don’t make ducks like Selma anymore. BTW, everyone thinks babies are cute, but no one knows they are also ruthless duck killers. RIP, brother of Selma. If only you could see your sister now.

  20. I get it. And I love it.
    I big heart this story so much :)
    My dream-soulmate is a horse named Rebble. Rebble is getting ancient in horse years, but I can’t think about him without tearing up at just how much that horse loves me and has helped me on my journey.
    I just wrote about him on my blog, I’m on an animals-are-miracles kind of day today. :)

  21. Deveena says:

    I took a pic of the cute little ducky dudes at my house. I posted it on Twitter, but I figured I’d post it here too, cause they were beggin’ to say hi to Selma. : )


    P.S. Forgive the rabbit ears, my child is going through a phase.

    Deveenas last blog post..How to Make an Audience Like You

  22. Aww, it was really great to learn more about the story of Selma. I think it’s really cute, and I really did think it was a strategic thing the first time I saw your picture. But then you know, we hear you talk about her like a friend, so we get it. ;)

    I really enjoyed the idea of walking the dog, without the dog. You’re always full of great ideas! Oh, and Selma is too, I’m sure. ;)

    Nathalie Lussiers last blog post..Gratitude Mondays #1: Mondays Are Nice Edition

  23. I too have a duck. He’s so cool, he gotta wear shades… blue shades. Known as Cool Duck, he comes with me to conferences and overnight things. He has said that he’s Too Cool to deal with the general public, but perhaps now that he’s seen Selma, he might change his mind… He likes music, essential oils,coolness and Selma… and he’s single. Just a thought…

    marion barnetts last blog post..Overspill…

  24. Heidi Fischbach
    Twitter: curiousHeidiHi

    what a wonderful post! top of the list. a keeper, for sure. thank you for telling the story of you and selma. I love you both even a bit more. Even!

    Heidi Fischbachs last blog post..Hmm… the S in Scared didn’t want to leave!

  25. Gilbert (@CrazyOnYou)
    Twitter: CrazyOnYou

    Since I seem to be the first guy to respond I get to claim priority in saying, “Ummm… Yeah. You and Selma. Always though you were a package deal. Never really thought about the two of you apart, cuz, well, uh, geez, just never thought about it. Not just a guy thing, just a ‘Well, of course, Havi and Selma, why not’ thing. You know, like when someone points out the picture from college and asks who the guy with underwear on his head was and you go, ‘That was just Bill being Bill’ cuz you know that Bill just did stuff and if he didn’t he wouldn’t be Bill anymore, just this guy you went to college with and that would have been boring. Anyway, it’s kinda like that. Of course you and Selma.”

    Or something like that. Just keep being you and never listen to the people who tell you to grow up. A lot of them are bitter that being a grownup isn’t as much fun as they thought. Your Right People love you just as you are.

    Have a wonderful day and thanks for bringing a smile to the party today… :^)

  26. I remember hearing Jim Henson tell that when they did the casting for the movie “Labyrinth” they first thought of picking Jennifer Conelly for the main roll because she showed up hugging a teddy bear. There must be something irresistible about these things!

    Koldo Barrosos last blog post..Fifofant Smells a flower

  27. Kelvin Kao says:

    Ernie from Sesame Street has his Rubber Duckie too. And both of them became stars!

    Kelvin Kaos last blog post..TweetDeck (Verdict: I like)

  28. […] who I mentioned here yesterday, also has a duck. Her name is Selma and she is of a brighter, smaller, wide-eyed variety. I suspect Havi and Selma would agree with […]

  29. […] people, such as Havi Brooks, are fortunate enough to have been tamed by a rubber duck. Some people might never consider the value of taming a rubber duck. Some of us try to tame our own […]

  30. […] Include cute things whenever possible. Animals, babies, smiling faces — I guess this is to make an emotional connection. I’ve certainly read enough email newsletters about people’s cats to turn me off for a lifetime. But done right, meaning when the connection is topical, it’s good. For example, have you met Havi’s duck, Selma? […]

  31. Andrew Lightheart
    Twitter: alightheart


    Thanks for telling this story – I’m thrilled and honored to know.
    .-= Andrew Lightheart´s last post … Friday list #2: a chipmunk called me fat =-.

  32. […] It’s going for habits and yoga advice and finding a rubber duck business partner. […]

  33. Kirsty Hall
    Twitter: kirstymhall

    Wait, how did I miss this? I must have been hiding under a rock when this post came out. Naturally, like everyone else here, I love Selma – what’s not to love about Selma?

    I don’t have a duck but I do have chickens – real life chickens who lay eggs. I strongly suspect that they will end up being way more famous than me.
    .-= Kirsty Hall´s last post … On Being Brave =-.

  34. guruwench says:

    Squee! A duckie! :D

    Duckies are fantastic. Longish story, but I became known as The Duck Lady to my partner due to demonstrating an unknown-to-me-at-the-time skill in Duck Herding… and the rest is history.

    Everyone should have a duck.

Leave a reply

CommentLuv badge