The Nameless, Faceless Abyss

Hula's photos on exhibition with others at The Impossible Project

I remember years ago, before I was online, teasing my husband (a computer guy) about the "imaginary friends" from his IRC channel (this was before chat rooms). I knew they were real people, out there, somewhere, but even though he knew those guys for years and felt close to them, when he referred to them by screenname in casual conversation it just lacked the weight of reality for me.

And then when I started writing in this space (circa 2005), it was really a subversive act for me. The code I lived under then was a lot like: Be [nearly] invisible and make us look good. There were things I wanted to say I didn't believe in anymore in regard to groups we were involved in, but there was no one to tell and it wasn't good to get caught trying. Then there were many things I didn't believe anymore. The nameless, faceless abyss of the internet was for me then a place I could send what thoughts I could eek out--out of my head, into the ether.

I saved my most personal stories for the stage. For many people, THIS would be their idea of a nameless, faceless abyss--but not me. I may not be able to tell you on any given night who is in those rooms, but I can tell you who isn't, and sometimes that's just as important.

But here in this space, it's been hard to keep ahold of my sense of who is in the room. The nameless, faceless abyss is not so helpful when you stop hiding and start hoping that someone is listening. Hoping that when you choose courage, it matters, and that the "mattering" will counterbalance what it costs you.

When I got the idea for the new 2012 Catalog, it was such a strong intuitive hit that I felt compelled to protect it from my reason. I wouldn't even calculate the cost of it, or give that reason-voice any ammunition to shoot the idea down. I couldn't even tell you why I thought it was important--I just kept insisting that it was, and that we wouldn't understand why until later.

And then requests came in, and I started handwriting each address, and I felt some place inside of me exhaling. I wasn't in here alone. And with every house number and street name, you--my "imaginary" companions--crossed some threshold in my consciousness and I could start holding the reality of you. You have names like Mallory and Deanna and Pen. You live on streets with names like Foster Avenue and Sycamore Square Drive. I imagined the catalog showing up at the post office in towns called Granite Canyon, Wyoming, or Wilmington, Delaware, and also making its way across oceans to India, the Netherlands, throughout Europe and Australia and New Zealand.

I had no idea how much I needed to know at least a fraction of who is in this room (and that anyone is here at all). Maybe we all need these reminders of one another's reality and humanity, these moments when we pause to imagine whole lives unfolding behind every avatar and screenname. I'm seeking more of these personal connections all the time, and I'm so thankful when you reach out and say: you're here. We're together. And it all matters.

(Now you can get new posts in your inbox: subscribe here.)


Yes, he's funny. But the side of Andy Ross I love most is when he's thoughtful and true, as he was in our latest conversation for Retrospective. You can listen here, or in iTunes. Andy is a comedian, writer, storyteller and the host of New York's popular live show, Real Characters. He is also the World's Greatest Wedding Dancer.

How to Feel Crazy and Still Make Things

I feel like I only do two kinds of blog posts any more: project posts (videos, podcasts, books we're making) and posts in which I confess to barely keeping the crazies at bay. Lately I've been thinking of dividing it all up into separate streams, in which case all that would be left in the "Journal" category would be these little check-ins I throw out to illustrate that I don't have everything together, regardless of how all the project posts might make it seem.

Remember when we were little and we used to swing on swingsets? Our family had the small, wobbly versions in the front yard, and then in 5th grade my friends and I had a really tall one on the school playground with long chains and you could go so high. For two weeks straight, we played a game where the girls would wear slip on shoes (usually dress shoes) and swing, and once we got going really high we'd kick them off to see how far they would fly and the boys would chase after them and bring them back.

I'm thinking of that giant swing set this morning because there are these times when I can trust myself, really trust myself. And I can listen for what I should say in an email or what wants to be made and I can feel the stretch of shooting my toes up to the sky. But then the chain reaches as far as it will reach, and I get pulled back.

"Oh no, I totally blew that email. Why can't I write emails like regular people? You know, the ones who always know what to say and always come off sounding so sane and normal." 

"I can't believe I thought my photo was good enough for a full-page spread."

"I got it all wrong."

"It's a disaster."

Back and forth, more like whiplash than rhythm. Pride and shame. Celebration and fear. Elation and debilitating insecurity.

This is how it feels to me: making things. I think it's also why promoting anything is such a struggle for me--I just can't get those proud, celebratory, elated moments to last. One minute I post something, the next minute I'm dying to take it back down. 

A few things help:

Making work with other artists. This gives me emotional distance from some of the parts and pieces, because when it comes to someone else's words or images or layout or design, I am the shoe flying off the foot of the little girl on the swing. There is only the joy of flight, with no chain to yank me back. I love their work through to the end, and it's easy for me to tell you how much I love it. I do feel responsibility, though--that never goes away. I want to do their work justice with whatever form we put it in. There's still so much vulnerability involved in the process that I can only do it with people who are safe places for me.

Staying connected. I talk to my friends every day. When I feel like I'm drowning in doubt, I say, It's gonna be okay, right? This happens so frequently that in the end it's like a verbal tick. Yes, everything's going to be more than okay, they say. It's this funny call-and-response that's like being rocked in a rocking chair. Their swing is going forward when mine is pulling back, and because I trust them, it comforts me. 

Learning the art of gentleness. I'm just trying to love that girl on the back swing. To get her someone to talk to when she needs it, people who will help her look after her wellness, a teddy bear to hold, a Masterpiece Mystery to watch, a cup of cocoa or peppermint tea to soothe her nervous stomach. I'm trying to schedule days off for her, time to lay down and rest when she's not feeling well, and permission to have days that feel more crazy than sane, more fearful than brave.

And somehow, by some miracle that I cannot yet explain, things keep getting done. Something is finished, and before the day is over the next adventure is born. And so I make things. And so I swing.

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.)

Spring 2012: New Work by Amazing Artists

Indie artists play at Pike Place Market in Seattle

It was this time last year when the dream of producing other artists' work began.

I was feeling moved and inspired by work I was seeing around me, but also noticing how traditional channels could alter it beyond recognition. You know that saying about trying to fit a square peg in a round hole? Clearly what we needed were some square holes.

At first I didn't take it or myself too seriously, the way we so often don't. Then I said it out loud. Mistakenly (or not) to a friend who takes me quite seriously. He said yes absolutely I should do it. I scoffed.

"Yeah, maybe someday when I have my own independent media company."

"Correct me if I'm wrong, Jen," he said, "but I think you already do."

(Long pause. I feel in this beat that this is not one of those ideas that will let me off the hook.)

I consulted some trusted advisors to see what they thought. I really didn't want the job if it wasn't my assignment from the universe, so to speak. I didn't want to just run down a rabbit trail as a distraction from doing my own work (which often begs for distraction).

"It would be really good for you," they said. "It would be social, for one thing." They know I have a tendency toward isolation.

So I just said a quiet Yes one afternoon in the middle of my kitchen with the afternoon sun my only witness.

And that's how it began. In the weeks to come, I'll tell some of the stories about how the partners and projects I have since held in my hands and in my heart came to me and came to be. But for today, I'm so happy to begin the story and share that this spring I am delighted and honored to produce new work by amazing artists: Caren McLellan Gazley, Andrea Corona Jenkins, Jolie Guillebeau and Liz Lamoreux, all with the help of my partner-in-crime, Liz Kalloch.

(Here's a sneak peek at what's coming in April: now available for pre-order.)

From All of Us

"If I appear to be brave, it is because I have been well-loved."

I can't count how many times I have said this or wrote this to people. I could also add, "If I appear to be productive, it is because I have been well-loved." There's a way in which we are quick to assume that people's accomplishments (even the things they have legimately done themselves) happen in a vacuum, but I'm not sure I believe this is ever true.

I've been knee-deep in DIY projects over here all winter. On the plus side, I'm becoming quite well-rounded in my skill set and I'm learning so much about all the different parts of the production process. On the down side, this has meant that official collaborators have been scarce. When you're doing creative work with others, it feels like the creative energy is a ball you pass back and forth, and it enlarges with each exchange. This feeling of play and expansion has not been easy to keep alive on my own.

I was wilting a couple months back and felt immediately confronted when I realized how great was my need for encouragement. We're talking, it takes truckloads of You Can Really Do This and What You're Doing Matters and I Swear to Gods, People Will Be Glad You Did's to get me through to the end. It felt embarrassing, and I was really battling shame over it. But I knew I needed it, like it or not, so I started calling and emailing my friends.

Can you just look at this, and tell me that it's good? Can you just feed my optimism and hope enough so I can keep going another day?

So many people have been really in this with me. They've met me for lunch and we've had that creative-ball-back-and-forth play while sharing about one another's projects, they've talked me through wilty days on the phone, they've looked and looked again at my drafts, at my design, they've patiently listened while I've talked of nearly nothing else for weeks and weeks. These unofficial collaborators are my creative team, and my heart is full of gratitude for them.

If I had truly done this "alone", it either wouldn't have gotten done, or it might have gotten done but felt thin in the end, without the richness of things grown in the soil of love. Instead, I now have boxes and boxes in my apartment full of things that I can't stop touching and holding and gazing at like new babies. For the next few days I'll be unpacking them and writing notes inside every one, and then soon it will be time to pass the love and creative possibility to you.

But please don't forget, it's from all of us.

Through Someone Else's Eyes

Polaroid by Sarah Ahearn,

Susan and me, in class. Photo by the amazing Lisa Parks,

Photo by Lisa Parks,

One thing that came up over and over again at Squam by the Sea was the importance of telling each other what we see in one another.  So often our vision of ourselves can be distorted like a circus mirror by the past (think, The Ugly Duckling), by our own insecurities, blind spots or fears.

These were emotional conversations as we realized how hard it is to see ourselves with the same gentleness, compassion and love that others hold in their eyes when they come to rest on our faces.  I think this is why I spend so much time looking at the photos taken of me--there's something in my own eyes that I'm trying to adjust, there's a way I'm training myself to see the way they do.  To see that mysterious thing that's present through someone else's eyes.

Now it is time

Photo by Stephanie Roberts, www.littlepurplecowphotography.comWhen a Rwandan woman named Odette asked Jen if she could use her phone, so many months ago it's now been years, Jen's intuition told her, "This one will cause you trouble."  We joked about that last week, calling it the understatement of the century.

The road she's been on ever since that day--reuniting Odette with her two daughters--has turned her life so upside down and inside out that the internal workings of her heart and her soul are nearly unrecognizable.  She would be the first to say that this is why she has received more from this adventure than anything she gave.

When the rest of us were invited into this story, we were welcomed into it in the same manner.  Many of us have felt surprise at how much room in our hearts Odette and her girls have inhabited.  How deeply we've cared, how strongly we've longed for this famly to have a happy ending.

But Odette's gifts were for all of us, as well.  She gave us long stories, and the kind of friendship that only comes from long telling and long listening.  Her stories kindled our hope and fueled our dreams.  They fed our belief in love, especially the kind of love that can turn strangers into sisters.

A community of hope was born through this story, and now, along with the longing, we all get to share in the knowledge that we do not hope in vain.  That we ourselves can be a source (and when we are in need, a recipient) of the kind of fierce love that hears, This one will cause you trouble, and says, Yes, anyway.  This love could break your heart--I won't lie--but it has taught me that in the end, it always gives more than it takes.

This journey has lifted us, sobered us, humbled us, and at times brought us to our knees.  It has pushed up against and then broken down the boundaries we constructed around love, the ideas we had about how much was too much to give to, or too much to receive from another person.  We will never be the same.

Now it is time to join our hearts and hands and give thanks.

Love always wins.

It's not too late to help cover the costs of this amazing reunion.


Things from this weekend's retreat that I will never forget:

  • Seeing my chocolate chip cookies work their magic right before my eyes.
  • Listening to my beloved friend, Fatou, laugh with delight. Again and again and again.
  • Catching giant snowflakes on my tongue in Times Square.
  • Watching Wicked on Broadway while sitting between two of my greatest loves.
  • Setting the oven mitt on fire.
  • Acting out my fantasy to lead a hands-in-the-middle group cheer.
  • Going all-forks-in with amazing women on an equally amazing chocolate cake.
  • Every smile, each embrace, every opening and beginning.
  • The way love makes us brave, and the way--with courage and togetherness--we make dreams come true.

Gathering Good Things

I've been shooting black and white film for the last couple weeks.

Let's see, things are quiet and happily in motion over here.  It seems I'm storing up my juice for the Companions for the Journey retreat, which begins tomorrow.  Some companions are already en route, and I'm taking a move from my mother's playbook:  try to do as many preparations ahead of time as possible, so that when we're together, we can just be together.

I'm gathering good things, thinking all the time how strange it is to feel like Christmas Eve in February. It literally feels that festive.  I vacillate between feeling like Santa Claus and the little girl who knows she's about to get something unfathomable--something she's always wanted and for which she is still stunned that she was even bold enough to ask.

So I guess that explains this daze, this happy glow on a rainy day in February.

I know this, more and more every day: there is no other way to be than together.

(Join us in April.)


On Light and Love: A Weekend Giveaway

A lot of people throw around words like Light and Love, but when my friend, Jenna McGuiggan, speaks of such things, she does so as one who really knows what it is to long for them, to hope for and then find them.  She speaks as someone who shines her light and bestows her love onto humble hearts like mine.  This makes her the most beloved kind of friend.

Sometimes we cook up ways to share the love, which is exactly what Jenna did with her latest project, Lanterns: A Gathering of Stories.  There's an intimacy in the way she shared her journey into friendship and togetherness in this project, a generosity in the way she gathered her friends to extend their gifts to her on to you.  There's a hope these stories plant in your own lonely places that assures you there is no dark corner that light cannot eventually reach.

It is my sincere honor to play a small role in this moving work, and my extreme joy to offer a free copy to one of you!  Just leave a comment on today's post telling us about someone whose light has illumined your path, and I'll announce the winner on Monday morning.

But if you really want to win big, head on over to Jenna's site, where you can hear an audio excerpt of Lanterns and find an amazing package this month called Light and Love, that includes:

  • one signed copy of Lanterns: A Gathering of Stories;
  • one 5"x7" color print of "The Chocolate Room" by Jennifer McGuiggan;
  • an audio recording of the book's opening poem, "Oceans Vast: A Blessing," by Rachelle Mee-Chapman
  • a handwritten love note; and
  • a sweet treat, all thoughtfully packaged.

A Year of Being a Beginner

I've been feeling nostalgic this week about the year drawing to a close.  New Year's Day feels like a lifetime ago, and so much has happened this year.  A year ago the Diana+ camera was just something on my wish list.  I thought I should figure out some photography move so I could have some visuals to pair with my writing.  My camera arrived a little into January, and so began my crash course in film, my adventures in cross-processing, and the way shooting saved me when I wrote all the way to the fence.

This year also began with the Portfolio Project game, which Jen and I hatched up in late December and many of you began playing with us in earnest on January 1st.  The game was a 12-week fast and dirty productivity burst, in which we focused on quantity over quality, trusting that even though it wouldn't all be good that some of the raw material would be.  I started podcasting then to have more time to write offline, and ran a podcast through the whole game.  The best of my work--visual and written--from those first three months became the Fortunes collection a few months later.

Being a beginner didn't stop with the photography or the new way of getting creative work done; it was the biggest theme of the year.  I started doing live storytelling on-stage at The Moth Story Slams in Manhattan and Brooklyn.  I found the courage to tell the stories that I never tell, and traced back to the roots of that courage. I met a community of storytellers there that is kind and generous, and that continues to teach me more than I can say.

I attended the Blogher conference for the first time, met many of the Shutter Sisters and all the Kirtsy Girls.  Felt immediately more hopeful about the state of the world knowing that those women are in it.  Meeting online acquaintances face-to-face continued at Squam, my first art retreat and an event that itself held many firsts for me.

I felt the vulnerability and humility of being a beginner over and over again.  I had steep learning curves, which seems to be my way as I crash-course everything I can.  My word for the year was fearless, and I tried to leap into every project and event just as I was, without knowing what it meant or where it would lead.  You might expect that to feel strong like flexed muscles, but it didn't.  It felt crumbly and raw and unsettling--I felt unlaced and undone more than anything else. All. Year. Long. But looking through my photos from the year, I didn't see those things.  All I could see was the beauty of where trust can take you. 

Here's a quick, no-frills and flawed slideshow from the year (I can feel all my film friends cringing already)--just a few favorite moments and images that I'm holding close as I get ready to begin all over again. 

2009: A Retrospective from Jen Lee on Vimeo. Featuring the song, Ageless Beauty by Stars.

a kind light to weary travelers

Were you hoping that something new would come out, just in time to brighten the darkest days of the year? It has, and it's here. Now all you have to do is to get one of these babies in your hot little hands.  And be generous. Light someone else's way, while you're at it. There's enough light and love to go all around.

Lanterns offers a kind light to weary travelers wishing for companions on the journey toward a well-crafted soul. Stories, poems, and essays offer signposts and gentle guidance, reminding readers that resistance melts away in the company of those who believe in the path set before us. By illuminating the ways we can move outside of our interior reflections into a more inclusive whole, this lovely book provides a way into togetherness that will encourage and inspire anyone longing for authentic connection around their creative work.”~Jen Lemen, artist, activist, dreamer

Lanterns: A Gathering of Stories

by Jennifer McGuiggan & friends

6x6 inch gift book; 48-pages 
High-quality paper (100#); Saddle-stitched binding 
Black & white photography throughout 
Unique Polaroid color photo cover 
Holiday orders begin shipping 12/16/09 
Gift bundle discounts available

 Lanterns: A Gathering of Stories is a curated collection of prose, poetry, and black & white photography by seven women writers, artists, and photographers. Each page offers up nuggets of wisdom and candor about life, friendship, and creativity. This beautiful square gift book is handcrafted, professionally printed, and thoughtfully created, making it the perfect gift for your girlfriends, your daughters, your mothers, yourself. It is a gift of hope, inspiration, and the reminder that creativity and community walk alongside each other, hand in hand, a string of lanterns lighting the way. Lanterns is a celebration, an encouragement, an invitation. (A portion of the proceeds will be donated to Girls Write Now, a NYC nonprofit that helps teenage girls develop their creative, independent voices and explore careers in professional writing.) 

Darlene J Kreutzer 
Liz Lamoreux 
Jen Lee 
Jennifer McGuiggan (editor/contributor) 
Rachelle Mee-Chapman 
Lisa Ottman 
Jena Strong 

Lanterns: A Gathering of Stories is now available for holiday pre-order. Buy a single book at the special introductory price of $18 or choose a gift bundle (two books for $32 or three books for $45).

Holiday pre-orders will be accepted until December 13, 2009. Pre-orders will start shipping by December 16 for delivery by Christmas in the U.S.  

Cats and mice and African drums

Yesterday in the Park, Diana Instant+My girls are watching Tom and Jerry cartoons lately, and it has me thinking about my cat-and-mouse relationship with failure.  Many of us think that the fear of failure must wear off after one or two big successes, when in fact the stakes just get higher.  Our stumbles and trips on the rug just become more public, with more people to witness each time.

I felt a lot like Jerry last week, watching Tom sleeping just outside my door.  Calculating the odds.  After all, he's got to catch me one of these days, right?  But still knowing I must go on about my life.  I must try to get to the cake in the kitchen, even if it means running right under Tom's nose and launching the chase of a lifetime.  There has been time to muse (read: doubt), to feel quiet (read: paralyzed).  To stare out the window (and drool).

Then I talk to Fatou yesterday about a project we're cooking up. "This will be hard," she says, and I feel my determination rise up.  She isn't saying we shouldn't do it.  She's just pointing out the booby traps Tom has laid all along the way.  It doesn't change the fact that we can outsmart the difficulties, and it just makes me more determined to try.

Minutes later, I get on the subway.  Three men get on the train with large African drums and small folding chairs.  We pull away from the station and they set down their chairs in a tight circle, and start to play with people standing and sitting all around.  One of them tilts his head to the side, as if he's listening to some unheard rhythm he will birth into sound.  One is intent, one is smiling, slamming out fast staccatos.  I watch them, and for those minutes I let them teach me how to be.

It doesn't look so hard. Open your chair. Sit. Listen for the unborn sound and release it through your palms.  It looks like play, to create in a circle like this.

I think of Fatou, and the way we are sitting down to play together.  It doesn't have to be hard, I see, so I sit down and begin.

Love is the Ultimate Elixir

Friends in Shadow, Friends in Light, Canon Rebel xsi

I'm beginning to believe that there is no wound that love cannot heal, no doubt it can't chase away.  The more I reach out and invite it in, the stronger my steps as I walk through fear, or all the way out of its territory.  Love makes me brave as it weaves a net below to catch me.  It tells me I don't have to go it alone. I can have my hand held in the scary places, and I can have dancing partners when it's time to climb up on the furniture and celebrate.

Those who love me catch my tears in their palms.  They kiss my forehead.  And then they hand me my pen.


Bursts and Stops

Diana Instant+

I feel like a quirky faucet these days; the words come out in strange bursts and stops. One moment I'm sure I have ten blog posts and a couple books already written inside me, if I could just get the time to get it all down.  The next moment, I can't do anything but listen to music and stare out the window.

My friends tell me I'll get better at managing the flow over time.

For now, I'm thankful for the pieces of my life that pull me out of my head and into the moment.  Every interruption is a small safe-guard against a manic, workaholic binge.  I'm thankful for the freedom to ask the Universe, "Are you sure? Can't someone else write that one?"  For all the ways I'm learning to be patient, to wait.  And most of all, I'm thankful for friends who see me clearly and our together spaces, where I return when I'm questioning it all.

My Ticket to Magic

Squam Art Fair, by Kirsten CrillyI'm so thankful for Kirsten Crilly, and the way she captured the magic moment that the Squam Art Fair was for me.  It was one of many things I had never done before at SAW, and getting me there and ready was a labor of love for so many of my friends.

My sister, Meg, came up with the table's overall design and concept (I lack this skill set completely). She coached me like the people in What Not to Wear, and then I went shopping by myself, armed with her advice and my phone camera for her final approval.  Tilky labored with amazing thoroughness and attention to detail on my signs. Hula hooked me up with packaging supplies for my first photography art prints ever available for sale.

My friend, Jenna, devoted herself to me for the evening, driving me, parking the car, helping me set up and run the table all night long.  Having her by my side helped me relax and have fun, like we were third graders playing with a lemonade stand on the corner.  So did all having so many of my students, cabin mates and new friends stop by with their encouraging smiles. They all held me in love, when self-consciousness and nervousness were lingering at the edges, grumbling that they weren't invited.  

By the time we ate our dinner and got to the venue, we only had 20 minutes to set up the table, which was three feet longer than I expected it to be.  But still, everything kept working out.  Andrew helped us unload heavy boxes from the car.  Susannah pulled the photos out of their baskets and propped them up for easier viewing.  I counted at one point, and no fewer than eight of us had somehow contributed to the table design, decorations, signs, the last-minute appearance, and even taking photographs to remember it by. 

That was a huge accomplishment for me.  Only a year ago, I was doing projects by myself (or trying to) because I didn't want to wait to collaborate with anyone else. Speed was my primary concern back then, and few people could keep up with the pace I was keeping.  It resulted in work that felt thin, even to me.

Now, a year later, I don't believe in doing anything alone.  I believe that being together trumps getting things done. Always. And the person I get to be in the world when I'm being together instead of going it alone is so much more joyful and healed than before, I wouldn't dream of going back.

Friendship and love. They are my ticket to magic.

the long table, by Kirsten Crilly

How to Hold On to Love

When everything seems foreign, let go of The Way You Like It. 

When all your values are violated, let the values go. 

When you are uncomfortable, kiss comfort good-bye. 

It is as it is. No commentary or judgement is required.

Inhale love, remembering it is what keeps you alive. Open your lips to tell a story, and then open your ears to receive one.

Love requires a two-handed grip.  If you want to hold on to it, you have to let everything else go.

The Way They See Me

Tracey Clark takes my camera for a spin, Chicago 09, Diana F+

This last year brought me many opportunities to find myself, to pull something of myself into focus like never before, as I was seen by communities and friends who welcomed me with love. It's clarifying to be thrown into a mix, like a crew of actors on a rehearsal stage because you see what you bring that's missing when you step behind the curtain. I play a good sage to her queen, or I am the wild woman in the woods. This is a point-of-view that's hard to get when you're alone with your life and your work.

"Listen to who we say you are," I tell her now. "Can you just step inside that picture of yourself long enough to play in it a little--try it on to see how it feels?" I know she will feel like a child trotting around in high-heeled shoes, but I ask her to trust us. To trust that just maybe (or quite likely) we see her more accurately than she sees herself.

"I want to tell them about this," I tell Jen later, "about how we find ourselves through each other's eyes. But I'm afraid. I don't want to cause despair for anyone who doesn't have this experience yet."

I need not worry, she says. "The desire to see comes with it a willingness to be seen. Desire is the beginning of everything, don't you think?" We are like old ladies when we talk to each other this way, knowing more than our present selves could ever claim.

Nodding, I think it must be so. I know plenty of people happy not to be truly seen (I have been one myself), but those who desire to see and be seen seem to get what they wish for, even if a small dose of patience is first required, like a faith offering.

How about you? Are you willing to be seen? Can you pry those clenched fingers open, smooth them flat against the table top so when love brings you your first morsel, you have a surface on which to receive it?

Receiving the love is the hardest part of being seen.

I feel you cringing. Yes, it might sting, because it won't let you keep that distortion you call your self-image for long. But it's the pain of healing, and the relief and balm that follow are worth every risk you take, and then some.

I've known this healing, and I'm becoming more whole and true all the time. It doesn't happen as often now, but I still have spells in which I'm waiting for someone to notice me, feeling like a quiet wallflower at the the party--holding the fireworks behind my back and just waiting for someone to clear a space on the dance floor and invite me to set them off.

But how can I keep convincing myself that no one's noticing me here, when they keep seeing me and putting me out there for the world to see? (Not very well, that's how.)

[I just want to make sure our photog/visual arts friends understand the priceless gift they give us when they see us, and let us see ourselves through their eyes.]

My friends, old and new, teach me how to be seen. You don't have to smile, they school me. It's safe to let the curtain drop. So I look deep past their lenses and their skin, and I let them see my intensity, my love for them, the way my heart looks when it's been dismantled by raw, wild love.

After all these photos of this woman, try to believe these old thoughts she once harbored:

  • I'm not really beautiful.
  • I'm a wallflower at the dance of life, and no one sees me.
  • I'm not good at being myself, just a master role-player.
  • It's too scary to be seen; I should keep hiding out.
  • If I show them the Real Thing, they won't appreciate it.

Do you see how the way they see me is remaking my vision of myself? This is how even when I am lost to myself, I am found in their presence. Their eyes. Their love.

This is the opportunity we have (no cameras required) in every conversation, with our eyes and with our words. We can really see people, and tell them who they are: to us and to the the world. And when others do the same for us, from a place of love, we do well to believe them.

Desire is the beginning of everything, she says. Do you desire to see? Are you willing to be seen?

You will never be the same.

a post in which i say "you" because it's easier than saying "me"

Ticket booth at Coney Island, Diana+After a year apart, I'm in the homestretch now, just a week away from being with friends again on the Pacific coast.  Close enough now to be thinking about it a good portion of the time.  Close enough to feel like I'm coming apart a little at the seams.

Have you ever noticed this phenomenon?  When you are in sight of an opportunity to let your hair down, suddenly hair pins start spontaneously popping out on their own accord.  Locks fall in your face, and as the pin-popping trend continues you start to look tousled and disheveled.  What is happening, you wonder. I've been holding everything together so famously for so long.  But that's just the point. You know soon you won't be required to, and the part that's been holding in its breath can't help but start to exhale in little bursts at the sheer anticipation.

I can't be a mess when I arrive. Deep down you're worried about the embarrassment of being seen in such a state: human. Full of paradox. Grateful and grieving. Lost and found. But you cover it up with thoughts like these: What if someone else needs to fall apart, and she needs me to be the strong one? This is the kind of justification you always use to keep your own experience at bay, so you don't have to really inhabit it. 

The truth is, no one needs you to be anything. You will be all that is needed simply by being present.  By being there.

You know this is true about these people, and this place, and it makes you wonder if it could be true in the rest of your life, too.  If the coifed hair and held breath are ever helping, or if they are just encouraging others to do the same.