I WAS CURIOUS about this woman, this traveler.
So I sent a note asking for an interview, thinking she’d never have time, what with the holidays and her international work schedule.
But to my delight, Laura O’Neal wrote back: “Yes yes yes.”
Away we went on a conversation that flowed like the free Elwha River.
One favorite part: Her story about the day she set up her booth at a regional festival as The Advice Lady.
It’s just one of her enterprises (more at TheAdviceLady.com).
A woman came up, paid the 25-cent fee, and began speaking.
The Advice Lady listened, and listened some more.
When the woman finished, she said: “You saved my life.”
“I hadn’t said a word,” O’Neal recalled, exaggerating slightly.
The point is that listening is magic. Not easy, but magic.
O’Neal earns her living as a trainer for organizations across the Americas.
From British Columbia to Texas to the Bahamas, she coaches bosses and their workers in mediation and conflict resolution.
She teaches business people how to live their values.
All this listening and learning has kept the trainer humble.
Earlier in life, her humility stemmed from not having a lot of confidence.
Now it’s fed by the fact that she still has so much to understand about us humans.
Let’s go back to her Advice Lady booth.
Another woman came to O’Neal, asking: My husband has cancer but has refused chemotherapy. I can’t get him to change his mind.
What am I going to do?
“You’re going to love him,” O’Neal replied, after sharing tears with the woman.
Make a plan for yourself, she added. Let your friends in to help, now and in the future.
O’Neal’s job, as she sees it, is to give people a safe place and time to reconnect with themselves.
As the Advice Lady, as a trainer and coach, she accompanies people back in to their own wisdom.
“If I could have any job, I’d be Oprah,” O’Neal tells me, now that she’s fully warmed up.
“She can have the money. Just let me talk to people.”
In this new year, O’Neal hopes to do more Advice Lady, though festivals can be prohibitive.
She charges a quarter, remember, so her intake may not cover the vendor costs.
It’s worth it to her to connect with people in this way.
But it would be nice if festival organizers gave her a break on the fee.
Fortunately, O’Neal has a healthy list of training clients as well as coaching clients she works with.
But we’re not finished yet.
She’s well known in these parts as a comic, the one who gave us the one-woman show “Travels with a Broad” several years back.
Sometime in the late 20th century, O’Neal put together a short set and, not ready to reveal herself thus in Port Angeles, where she lives, took it to an open-mic night at the Public House in Port Townsend.
“I did about four minutes. I bombed … I got a few laughs; I think they were pity laughs,” she said.
“I did not know what I was doing.”
She’s since gotten to know it well, thank you, having performed all over Western Washington.
The new year looks to be a good one.
O’Neal will unveil a brand-new comedy show about herself. This one’s inspired by her 20 years of seeing her therapist.
The time has come: He’s retiring.
“It’s going to be good. I think it’ll be funny,” she deadpans.
Look for O’Neal this spring in a theater near you.
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a freelance journalist and former PDN features editor, lives in Port Townsend. Her column appears on the first and third Wednesday of the month. Her next one will run Jan. 17.