Filling My Mind and Fueling My Body

Someone wanted to pose as a wheelbarrow...

There are a hundred other things I should be doing, but instead here I am, saying hello. We're getting ready to introduce a new project tomorrow by the joyful Jolie Guillebeau. It's really one of the loveliest projects we've ever done. I have trips to the printer about the catalog in my future, along with ironing out the details with iTunes on the new Retrospective podcast. Then there are events I'm dreaming up and planning up and I'm sure another dozen things swirling about.

But here is what is filling my mind and fueling my body these days: this very quiet awe about what we can make against a backdrop of friendship--how rich and inviting and welcoming it all is. The people whom I clutch close to my heart, whether they know it or not, and the gratitude that comes with living inside a story of love. It's a story that I hope will never end, and that we will some day find a way to tell properly.

There is much to do, much undone, and all terribly imperfect, but in this moment I am all joy.

(Make sure you listen to and download Strong by Maya Stein. It is an absolute balm.)

Retrospective: A New Podcast...and Maya Stein!

If all the people I know and love lived here in my neighborhood, I would host a party every Friday night so you could meet one another and hang out. You would be so inspired and happy to know each other, as I am every single day.

But we live near and far, and we will likely never be all together on a Friday night. So I'm creating this new podcast series as an attempt toward the next best thing.

It's called Retrospective, and it features in-depth conversations with artists, authors and visionaries about the places in which we find ourselves and the stories that brought us here. It's an inquiry into our experience of journey. But at the heart of it, it's an introduction between some of my favorite people in all the world.

It's coming soon to iTunes and all that jazz, but I can't wait for everything to be 'just so' because my first interview is with poet Maya Stein and it is a very time-sensitive conversation about her latest project, Type Rider. Here's the video trailer:

Yesterday I went in to meet Maya on the Highline Canal in Manhattan. She was here in town, and she's been setting up writing stations here and there, even though the official Type Rider trip doesn't launch for another few weeks. I wasn't sure how it would go over here in New York--would people be curious, or too cautious to investigate?

Just those few minutes I witnessed there, with passerby being drawn to her blue typewriter like bees to blossom and Maya conversing with them in a space of pure welcome, held so much beauty and humanity that I was all tears under my sunglasses. I wanted a video camera or some other way to capture the quality of playfulness and adventure that was as tangible as the warm sun on our cheeks. Some way to bottle it up and give it to you like the best present ever.

I do have this to offer you, though: a heart to heart chat, friend to friend, with Maya herself.

There are only a few more days to fund the Type Rider project--please help us spread the word.

 

Maya Stein is a poet, feral writing instructor and adventurer. She is the author of Spinning the Bottle and The Overture of an Apple. On her blog you can sign up to receive one of her original 10-line poems in your inbox every Tuesday.

 

 

Click the link below to play the episode in your browser (it may need a couple minutes to load), or right-click (or control-click) to download it into your library. I have individual files of each of the poems she reads to share with you, but it looks like I need to post those separately. Look for them to be added in the coming days (along with ways to subscribe to this new series.)

Solace

The darker the days

the deeper my roots reach

for this whisper we call solace.

I press into boiling kettles

and vintage quilts

I wash by hand in the bathroom sink.

 

I clear out the objects of seasons past,

pictures I've stopped seeing

when I pass by them on the wall.

I call about the insurance policy

and rip out the shower caulk

that makes me feel like a failure.

 

I wish I could say there is some

fancy hocus pocus that

sprinkles through my days,

but each one begins and

ends with me

just me

laying in my bed,

seeking assurance in my breath

and clinging to this mantra:

Just be a body.

And I let myself be covered.

I let myself be held.

Some Day

Walking with Great-grandma, Lomo Chrome xpro 100 filmSome day the bus will remember

to pick your child up at her stop.

Some day you will wake

into an easy rhythm of a morning,

lyrics you've learned,

a beat with an easy sway.

Some day you will kiss your loves

and send them on their way with soft lips,

and this clenched knot your shoulders weave

with your neck and the fist in your chest

will be your daily companions no more.

 

Some day your heart will feel safe

inside these four walls,

you will inhale and exhale, let your hair

out of its restraints

and undress

as if no one is watching.

Some day you will feel strong and sure,

commanding the world to fall in line,

or at least reigning your power over the dishes

and winning the war against mildew in the bathroom.

But today is not that day.

Today you will replace the belt that broke

before your pants fall down

or show more than you desire

when you sit down.

 

Today you will leave the dishes and remnants

of all your living right where they are

and lay down, close your eyes and breathe.

 

You will stare out windows and sit

still while your insides spin.

 

You will walk and walk and walk

until the reality of where you now stand

hammers into you like a nail.

You will move and then stop

move and then stop

until today releases you onto your pillow

and into a dream of some day,

closing your eyes like hope,

like prayer.

A hundred things I could tell you

Holiday Hair Studio, Portland, Oregon

You know you've been away a long time when you receive emails from friends that begin with lines like, "When you resurface . . .". In the last weeks, we traveled up through the Pacific Northwest and then spent some lovely time with my family. We were gone so long that the apartment felt strange when we got home, and we were all doing double takes trying to remember where basic things like the toilet paper were located.

We came home to major disruptions in nearly all our utilities, and spent our first week back getting our power, hot water, cable and internet all back up and running again. It's so strange to have a computer and an internet connection at my fingertips for the first time in what feels like ages.

I still have another month with the girls before they are back in the rhythm of school days and I am back to regular time in my studio, but I do have a few bits and pieces to share here in the meantime. I don't have many words these days, but am happily scanning photos from these last weeks and will share many of them in Photo Journey posts in the days ahead.

For today, I'll leave you with these lines from last week:

There are a hundred things I could tell you, if I had the energy to part these lips.

I would tell you about how our downstairs neighbors moved while we were away, their vacant apartment gutted.

How it feels like someone knocked a wall out of my heart every time I come in the door or down the stairs.

Even now I can't believe that this is my life without them, though our footprints in the construction dust don't let me forget.

I would tell you that my body is back in Brooklyn, though some part of me is still hovering somewhere over the plains of Nebraska.

That my memories of all that's transpired in these last weeks keep landing, one by one, like birds on the telephone wires.

I would tell you that words don't always carry the day, that things like presence and absence are are perhaps the most powerful of all.

I would say that some landscapes can mend you, that the ocean is an old and sacred witness, and that the journey gives us all the answers we need, in the end.

The Salt Beginning and Pepper End


It's strange the way we talk about
beginnings and endings
as if they were not married to each other,
as if they were not as inseparable as
the salt and pepper shakers
we are careful not to divorce as we pass
around the table.

With every beginning, an ending sneaks
in the back door to whisper
in our ears as we sleep,
It will never be the same
as it was before.
And the parts of ourselves that were cozy
and warm in that past
will protest,
sometimes loudly and without grace.

But children are weaned
seeds sprout
every planet takes its turn around the sun.

Romanticism and nostalgia
settle onto the couch and motion
for us to sit down between them.
Wasn't it good back then? they prod.
That was the life!
They are so quick to forget that
every time has joys
and struggles
and longings
all its own.

Some endings feel so final,
like a law enforcement officer
delivering bad news.
We think the words slammed the door
shut in our faces,
when we've simply been ushered
or wooed
or thrust across a threshold
into a new day,
a new frontier
and anything is as possible as
the day we were born--
our days laid out full of pristine possibility,
freshly fallen snow without
animal print or fallen leaf
to mark it.

If You Were Here

"God, is she so lazy now that she can't even be bothered to crop these before posting them?" Yes, yes she is.

I would make peppermint cocoa for two

on the stovetop

and we would sit side by side on my red loveseat,

our backs leaning against the arms and our feet

meeting somewhere in between.

 

Either your presence would perk me up,

or I would hang a cheered expression on my face

like the fresh hand towel in the bathroom.

 

If I could coax you into it, you would tell me about

what winter was like when you were in third grade.

I've been thinking about third grade a lot lately.

You might pause at the sight of new flakes floating

outside the window and we would both say,

This January has been so strange.

Banks of snow lining the street for a whole month now

when most winters it scarcely lingers long enough to run

the sled up the hill to the park.

 

I might confess that I'm working too much

for a season I had allocated for rest,

and you would believe me when I say that

I don't know what else to do

but keep making things.

I don't know any other way out of my bed,

which threatens to close me into its cozy comforter cave

until April.

And let's face it:

my optimism won't last that long untended.

 

I pray for other kinds of rest now--

that like all these falling flakes

each cup of cocoa and quiet conversation

and every long gaze out the window

will accumulate into something that will last.

That they will line my long, thin, upward-reaching places

and pile into a covering that sends the deep places

even deeper.

To Be Okay Again

Inside Flirt Boutique, Horizon Perfekt camera with Redscale film

I've learned a lot this year about grief.  Sometimes it loiters around, overstaying its welcome until we wonder if everyone will abandon us for our perpetual talk of sadness.  Other times it gives us a respite, and we enjoy a window of Living As Usual before it returns from its cigarette break and resumes its perch on the bar stool in the corner.  It makes it hard to say how we really are, because we can be fine and not fine at the same time, or in alternating moments.

This is a hard time of year because melancholy stands out in such relief against the celebrations that twinkle like so many lights on the tree.  Today is the darkest day of the year, but I have already felt the light returning for some weeks now. 

Still, there are overcast days, often when I am weary. I wrote this on one such day:

My yoga teacher spent an entire class
on a flow of poses to untangle
the knots around our hearts.

It was so hard.

Then later a healer told me I had
something tied up in my chest.

None of this is news to me.
There has been so much sadness this year
that I can barely breathe through its thickness.

I tell my mom, It's been a hard year,
and she says something like she's not so sure,
something like I'm just getting older and
learning the sorrows that are
always and ever with us.

It is a mercy to be young.

I remember my friend's mother
who lost a son this year, and
how my friend says she keeps going through
the motions of living,
like some daily act of faith or hope
that someday she will be okay again.
What else is there to do, we say,
as we try not to lose each other
crossing a crowded street in Times Square.

It tempts me so often to lie
and say that I am fine,
to tell a story about how I am strong
so it could be true in at least
someone's mind.

But here is what is really so:
I am trying to be brave
and looking for sprouts of strength to break through.
I am trying to keep my heart
open to new friends,
even though my smile has dimmed.
I get tired when I don't leave enough space for
my sadness to lay down and stretch out its limbs.

But mostly I keep going through
the motions of living
as an act of hope that someday I will
be okay again.

 

UPDATED! You can celebrate the Winter Solstice tonight by downloading Solstice: Stories of Light in the Dark and giving them a listen in a quiet moment before you lay yourself to rest.

Midday Clouds

by the windowsillYou make it all the way to Queens and back

on a yellow bus of children without getting sick,

a little girl's head resting in your lap

and your hand blocking the sun from her eyes.

The driver tells you one too many times that you are beautiful

and now it's hard to look him in the eyes

in the rearview mirror.

He says the slow music is to help the kids fall asleep,

but the lyrics seem a little va-va-voom

for this crowd.

 

It's not until later,

at home

when you have a big pot of chicken soup cooking

that you finally feel like you have done something good.

Even though you forgot the parsley at the market,

even though later tonight you will stand on a stage.

It's this halved onion and these bay leaves

you won't forget to pull out later

that mean everything.

 

You turn the soup to simmer and

pull a chair to the kitchen window

to rest your own head,

unshielded from the sun.

 

Some years it feels like more is lost than found

and when the calendar turns to the final page

it is this cup of tea on the windowsill

and this brief afternoon light

that warm your hands.

The pot of basil dividing your tea from your cookie

makes you wonder if next year will be better,

or if we are harvested and pruned forever.

The green leaves probably hold some wisdom

about new growth and possibility,

but the sun's dance in and out of midday clouds

somehow feels more true.

Moon

The full moon woke me this morning,

spilling light through the window

and splashing it across my face like

cool water from a silver pail.

 

I tried to keep my eyes closed against it

gripping my slumber by the tail

but the moon still beckoned me to join it.

I turned my back to the light

burrowed my face into the den

of my blankets and pillows

and tried to find my way back into the night,

as if it were a path leading into deep woods

that suddenly opens into a clearing

where a girl like me can dance.

 

But there is something about waking

that makes it hard to go back to sleep, makes it

harder to believe the not-mine futures I lust after

are anything more than a dream.

 

The full moon woke me this morning

and though I hesitated to turn on my lamp

and shatter night's illusion so violently,

even though I sought solace under these covers

a little longer, still

I reached for my paper and pen

and began to write something

eyes-open true

in the wet white light.

Un-tell

Horizon Perfekt, Lomo 400 35mm film

I miss the early days, my friend,
back before my complexities leaked out
one by terrible one.
Now instead of things
to tell you,
I'm drafting a new list:
the things I wish I could un-tell you.

It looks something like this.

Number one, that I am anything other than
what I appear at first glance.
Number two, that I think deeply and constantly.
Number three, that I feel the sorrows of
my dear ones
as if they are my own.
Number four, that I still keep trying to
save the world, though from what
I cannot say.
Number five, that an international committee
manages my fidelity.
Number six, that I am innocent and wise.
Number seven, that I vigilantly patrol
my dark places.
Number eight, that nothing causes me more hope
or more despair
than the possibility
of love.

Jen Lee

Soul Vacation

Christiane and Lilli at Prospect Park, Diana Instant+

Sometimes
you need a soul
vacation.  
You need the meal
you can't get back home,
the dessert that is drizzled
with love,
the afternoon breeze
that reminds you of
Jerusalem
in winter.  

Sometimes
it's enough to be
together, as if you've
been side-by-side
from the beginning.
Enough to bring forth
a future 
conceived by dreams,
enough to return you
to your heart's own
holy city.

Encore: Dream Seeds

Today I recognized a familiar feeling after I said my good-byes, and it reminded me of this poem:

My friend left town today, after
sprinkling
some dream seeds in my heart.
Tonight I'm going over them
with careful eyes and
tender fingertips,
pressing them in a little deeper,
lest the winds of doubt
blow
them away.
 
We cannot be together without magic
sparking--
somewhere in my urban retreat,
or in the words she feeds me
like a meal.
I am sad tonight that she's
gone.
When the last guest leaves is the
moment
that makes my chest
ache.
 
It is easier to wait
for dream seeds to take root
and sprout
when someone paints
a picture of the bloom,
when she
exhales
its fragrance.
 
Tonight I'm staring at dirt.
Trying to remember.
Patience is my skin;
my insides are
words
and
breath.

Dream Seeds, by Jen Lee

Notes to Myself

Green Market, Union Square, Diana Instant+

Notes to Myself on a Thursday

You don't have to try so hard.
You don't have to be the glue that holds it all together.
You're not the only one who can cook or host.

You still think it's your job to feed the world.

But what if it is enough for you to get out of bed every day,
what if no one minds your plaid hat and your unwashed hair?
What if they scan your tired, half-hearted appearance
and call it
“hip”?
What if all anyone ever needs is you, just as you are?
What if your presence alone gives the world
something
true?

Let the chatter die away
and forget about getting
a single thing ever ever right.
Ask for something you want,
and let someone else give it to you.

Consider there's some other glue that holds it all together,
and your job is only
to be held.

Jen Lee

If P. Could Write a Poem for S.

Diana Instant+

    There's someone I want to be for you,

    a way I want to catch you
    when you lose your balance
    at the top of the stairs.
    I want to taste my fear of losing you
    and have it crack me open
    instead of making me numb.
    I want to be the rock you land on after a storm,
    not this tired rope on the anchor
    worn thin and threatening to break.

    You tremble
    you fall
    and I can't even cry.
     
    There's someplace I want to take you

    today and all the days after,
    where good intentions carry the day
    and love is the ultimate elixir,
    where not knowing what to do makes me the hero
    and loving me anyway makes you a saint.

    But you fall
    you tremble
    and I can't even cry.

    Here's the truth, if your constitution can stand it:
    I don't know what to do.
    Sometimes I freeze when I'm scared.
    I hate myself for not catching you,
    and this time I'm the one who's lost my balance.

    If I let you see me tremble,
    if I let myself just fall,
    maybe you can cry.

    Maybe you can take us to the place
    where good intentions carry the day
    and love is the ultimate elixir,
    where not knowing what to do makes you the hero
    and finally feeling it all makes me a saint.
     
    Maybe just for today.

"If P. Could Write a Poem for S." by Jen Lee

A Taste of Something Good

Fire by the Sea, Canon Rebel xsi

Today's audio clip is a reading of "Fortunes", the poem that shares its title with my favorite collection of the year--a little book made to hold close to your heart or to give to a beloved friend.  I'm sharing it today in honor of 2009, and all the joys and sorrows that inspired my most honest work yet.

Introducing: Fortunes

Fortunes: Front Cover

Karen Maezen Miller, author of Momma Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood:

We have a saying in my practice, "Not knowing is most intimate." Here, Jen reveals the chill shimmer of bone-deep recognition, the eyewitness to incandescence. Without knowing when or how, we pass an inconceivable divide– then and now, daughter to mother, home and away, shadow and light – across halves that no longer exist. And the treasury opens by itself.

For many months I tucked my little journals into my bag whenever I was going to see my friends. Inside their pages were poems I'd written about my own experiences, but when I talked to people I would think of one that they could use and read it to them. Then I watched them soften, as they released something or embraced something. Time and again I wished that I had a duplicate of those little books, so I could just send them along for the journey, and that's how the idea for the Fortunes collection began to unfold.

The words were working some kind of transformation on me, and they made my little journals feel sacred, like prayer books, and my poems like prayers that ran again and again through my mind and my heart. I pulled together the best of them, paired them with powerful images from my collection of vintage-style photography and put them all into a book that's the perfect size to give to you. The perfect size for you to carry in your bag, so they can travel with you on your way. The perfect size for you to give to your friend, when you're talking together and you hear how she could really use it.

There's a way that our creative work often communicates more than we know. We set out to tell the story we're in, and the part of our mind that already knows how the story ends slips in a few clues when we're not looking. Fortunes pays homage to this phenomenon. What is the story you are living in? How does it end? The clarity to see is good fortune, indeed.

Find your fortune here.

While supplies last, Fortunes will ship with a set of three limited-edition decorative magnets.

To order in the United States:

Add to Cart

For international shipping:

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To a Young Painter

 

Trust yourself. Your vision. Your hand.
And when your eyes wander in comparison,
close them.

When the world wants you to strategize,
do not apologize for letting your heart lead,
for letting your canvas bleed out
your questions and your fears,
all the desires that you clutch.
You can throw them into the world
like a great flying disc,
letting them land in light and shadow
and colors that surprise.
In images that do not apologize for their honesty.

Give yourself. Your vision. Your hand.
And when your eyes see what is true,
open them.