Turning Points & No Regrets: Jonatha Brooke

From the archives--Photo by Susannah Conway, susannahconway.com

I still think about those dark days a couple winters back when Jonatha and I left our respective hermitages and slipped out for a coffee here or a lunch there. How consoling it felt to be with someone who knew what it was to be burrowed in deep, someone who knew how rejuvenating even that small injection of company could be.

It was like getting hooked up to an oxygen tank before plunging back under water.

It's so different now to be together in the bright sunshine of July, with those hard times behind us. With the champagne joy of new work pulling us forward into the crazy scary places that bubble with vitality and life.

I'm so happy to share our most recent conversation with you on Retrospective, where we talk about her adventures in music and theater, turning points and the decisions she'll never regret. (You can also listen in iTunes.)

Join Us: Indie Publishing Workshops this October

 

 

I'm so excited to announce my latest collaboration with Dream Designer Liz Kalloch--a series of workshops to get you off and running on your own indie publishing adventures.

We're gathering at the Create Explore Discover Art Retreat at the gorgeous Cedar House Sport Hotel near Lake Tahoe. 

After 6 major releases in the last 9 months, we're bringing all our best moves and lessons learned to the table to provide the information and wisdom you need to offer your own unique projects and gifts to the world.

Read all about it, bring your project ideas and dreams, and get ready to get in motion.

Join us: October 12-14, 2012

Introducing Hand Holds, and Work that Gets Done in Its Own Time

Read more about The Gift of This Moment Home Retreat Kit, and order yours today.

I think it's common when you're pioneering a new way to do things to compare your process to other, established and seemingly more legitimate ways It's Been Done Before.

Take launching, for example. Some traditional joints have the process super dialed-in, and the timing and execution of the way they introduce new work to the world feels elegant and effortless. I have to admit to envying the polish and shine of it. The established way felt like the legitimate way to do it.

So we had the best of intentions for an elegant launch. I had a whole wall of the apartment papered with a big 12-month calendar. We had hopes that all the new work would be done by April, and that videos would be completed and posted 10 days ahead of time. We had all kinds of good intentions in this department. From mid-September until our production season ended (we were hoping in April), we were looking at six major releases: Telling Your Story, The Care and Keeping of Creative Souls, The Iconic Self, Ritual and Rhythm: A Guide to Creative Self Care, Beauty Everywhere: A Portable Gallery, and The Gift of This Moment.

But my friends and I, as you may have gathered, do many things, of which these resources are just one part. We travel, we teach, we care for loved ones who fall ill. We are committed to our own growth and development, which requires our presence and attention, as well as time with our mentors, guides, and support people. Around January it became evident that keeping our schedule would require us to work in such a way that would be out of line with what we value. See, we can't teach about things like taking care of ourselves and being present with any integrity unless we are practicing them all along the way--and not just when deadlines are far away.

The primary piece of what my friends and I are committed to is not just making the work, but creating a new way to be in the world, even while completing our tasks. So we changed the schedule. We gave each project to come after a little more room to breathe and become. We took care of our souls and our bodies in the meantime, and kept our presence-promoting practices firmly in place. We imagined the introduction of a new work as not a one-shot opportunity to bomb the interwebs with ads and chatter, but as a conversation one simply begins, and invites others into, and expands collectively and organically over time. 

The work will be done when it's done became the new motto.

There is so much yet to be done (believe me, the long list is never far from my mind), because the truth is, this is only the beginning. I'm trying to remember all I've learned this spring as I head into my summer, which I hope will be filled with lots of rest and maybe some short film-making. When the long list haunts me, I say, The work will be done when it's done.

And it is.

Navigating the Crumbly Days

Yesterday Liz Lamoreux tweeted about how the day after a launch felt even more vulnerable than the day before. It hits all of us at different moments, in different ways. We reach for different words in an attempt to explain what we're experiencing. Phyllis Mathis says, "This work costs something in soul." Liz Lamoreux says, "Putting from the heart work in the world feels like giving a piece of your heart."

It's a very specific kind of vulnerability to put not just your ideas into the world (Top 10 Ways To Blah Blah Blah) but work that holds the essence of who you are, the stories you carry with you always in the cavern between your ribs. The moments that made you who you are and continue to form you as you journey with them by your side and in your pocket.

You leap, and land. You say, See? That wasn't so bad. You're still in one piece. But then later--a minute or an hour or a day or two after--suddenly you feel all wobbly in the knees like your legs might give out on you. Your body doesn't feel like the solid structure that carried you off into the leap and absorbed the weight of your landing; now it feels like cookie crumbs shaped into a person-shape, held by plastic wrap. You worry that if someone bumps into you or looks at you unkindly, even for an instant, you might collapse into a pile on the ground. You put on clothes before leaving the house but it doesn't matter, nothing makes the naked feeling go away.

All those weeks and months of trusting yourself and what you knew you needed to do to say to make are suddenly drowned out by loud inner shrieks of the hysterical person on prison break in your mind. No one cares! No one wants this! It's going to make no difference!

The people who know you in your trusting and brave moments don't always know what to do with you when in the grip of crippling doubt. People forget to tell you that you're doing alright and that they love you and that it all matters deeply because they take it for granted that you know. And some days, you do. Just not these days.

I wish there were magic words we could speak to each other on these days that chases the doubt away like a very powerful spell. Or that we could wrap ourselves in some protective cloak. But the only magic and cloak I know is to wrap ourselves in love--the deep abiding love of those who are ever-present safety net whether we fly or fall. To try to take it in through our ears, our eyes, our skin. To ask to be embraced, held, listened to while we say the crazy thoughts out loud so we can hear ourselves how crazy they really are.

It is only because of this safety-net kind of love that I can ever take a leap at all. Everything begins there for me, and on crumbly days like today I remember that everything ends there, too.

Phyllis Mathis has been this kind of friend to me for over a decade. I'm so honored to have her as my guest on this week's podcast, as we talk about the way we are formed inside of friendship and conversation. Everything I do begins and ends in these deep soulful connections, but it's a relational form that feels on the brink of extinction.

Give it a listen and think about a safety net you could weave or strengthen in your own life, and the courageous leaps you could make as it holds you.

What Happens When Artists Rule?

There's a school of thought that says when making and then selling something, people don't care about how or why you make it the way you do--they just want you to answer the question, What's in it for me? It's likely true for some people, probably a personality thing, but I am a values-oriented person and I can't imagine I'm alone in this. The how and the why matter immensely to me--it's why I buy organic and free range and free roaming food and support farms with humane practices. I pay more money for these items, and not just for their superior flavor and nutritional content. There is a kind of work in the world I believe in supporting, other values-oriented people I believe in sustaining.

Maybe this is why each time a new release draws near, I'm always compelled to pull the curtain back and let you see a glimpse of how we do things and why we do them that way. The curious among us can read on.

Almost everything we make has official and unofficial titles. For instance, something that might be called, say, The Gift of This Moment may have an unofficial or working title like, How to Feel Less Fucked Up and Alone. Maybe we'd sell more if we just stuck with those unofficial titles, I don't know, but I do know that they help us keep our eye on the ball during the making. To remember what we're up to and why. 

Similarly, the official tagline you'll see on a Jen Lee Productions banner right now reads, Hold the possibilities in your hands. And that is part of what we stand for, for sure. But an unofficial tagline has been keeping things clear behind the scenes in the making: Artists rule.

Like many things we create, I started down this path of independent media production because I was frustrated--frustrated with the ways we have undervalued wisdom and allowed systems to flourish that diminish creators and wisdom-keepers. I dreamed of a way to make things that would pay artists more than mere cents for the culmination of years of living and cultivating and researching and developing. A world where authors would get to name their own books and get to be a part of the process of making and shaping and designing their work, where they don't lose creative control to vetoes from the marketing department or a big-name bookstore that threatens not to carry their work unless they change the title.

We all know that what we really respond to are authentic voices, but I don't believe projects we run through such severe interference emerge with that authenticity intact.

What's the remedy? Letting artists rule. The work is the way the work should be, even if we're hours from going to press and we decide no, those interior photos really don't work in black and white. If they must be in color to retain their power and beauty, then in color they shall be.

Some content is well-suited for book form, and in those cases it becomes a book. But the concern and consideration that most drives me is transformation. I'm not asking, What will people buy? I'm asking, What way of interacting with this content will be the most transformative? The greatest shortcoming of books is that we are passive in our posture towards them. We generally hope that they will do something to us: entertain us, inspire us, give us the magic recipe we've been missing to have the life of our dreams.

But my journey has been more heavily influenced by a deeper kind of work--one in which I am interacting with the material and really reflecting and seeing things that I can no longer not see, things that change everything forever. It was while doing a writing exercise in The Artist's Way--not while reading it--that I had a realization that ultimately culminated in our move to New York City. It changed the direction of my work and our lives. A few months after arriving, someone was visiting me and saw the book near my bed. Oh, I read that book once, she said. I think I'll go back and 'do it' after I retire.

I almost had to sit down. What if I had just read that book, like it was any other? What if I had waited until retirement to take the time to listen to myself and hear what I most want? She had read a book and thought, That's nice. I had really interacted with it in a way that shifted my life's trajectory.

This story is not ever far from my mind when I'm writing home study courses: work that is active and invites you in to play with it, to experiment, to wrestle with the more difficult parts. The same ethos drives the home retreat kits. Yes, being in person, presence-with-presence is the most transformational way to interact with the material. But what if the logistics of that are out of reach? What's the next best thing?

When we began talking about Liz Lamoreux's new project, we quickly learned that the solitary nature of some of her practices for reflective living were not well-suited to the group format of a live retreat. At first I thought we would make a binder and CDs, as we had for Finding Your Voice and Telling Your Story. Our companions for the journey had powerful, rich experiences with them, and we knew how to make them--it would be a breeze.

But we weren't far into our discussions before I could hear that the binder would not be a good fit for this project. What we needed instead was a meditation journal, a separate poetry collection, and a field journal and photo album. We needed an audio CD with Liz's teaching and stories to walk our companions through the practices, and some audio meditations would be helpful, too. And that is how we build a project, piece by piece, form following function and not the other way around.

It's not inexpensive to make exquisite things in small batches, compared to what it costs to manufacture something you see for sale in Starbucks or Barnes and Noble. But in our case you know that your funds support the artists directly, that they receive more than mere cents from your purchase. Much of the work we offer is free, but every now and then we come up with a way that we can give you the best of what we have to offer in a form that allows you to give your support in exchange. We have not produced a resource yet that was not years in the making--years that we would not have had to pioneer these frontiers and then be your guides along the way if our financial circumstances did not and do not continue to allow it.

What happens when artists rule? Dreams come true. Next week (6.13.12) we release our latest project featuring the warmth and wisdom of artist, author and teacher Liz Lamoreux. We're in the dreams coming true business for artists and visionaries, and we hope you'll celebrate this one with us.

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.

Ritual & Rhythm by Caren McLellan Gazley

Many people probably dream of someday writing a book, or have some version of that aspiration on a list somewhere. Caren McLellan Gazley has dreamed of many (other) things, but she wrote this book for one simple reason.

I asked her.

It's been my delight and honor to introduce people to Caren in retreat and workshop settings, where her no-nonsense, candid manner endears her to all. I hope to gather again many more such times in the future, but in the meantime I wanted people--near and far--to be able to hold some portion of her story and her hard-won wisdom in their hands.

Caren at a Brooklyn Patisserie in December

From leading faith-based communities to their current humanitarian work in anti-human trafficking, Caren's partnership with her husband, Phil, and their journey together have taken them all over the world. She’s cultivated tried-and-true, practical-as-your-mama’s-good-advice wisdom about how to stay sane and even thrive in the midst of passionate work, parenting, community, and even devastating loss.

"Many years ago I had a decision to make: pack up and quit, or figure out a way to maintain my energy for the long haul." --Caren in Ritual & Rhythm: A Guide to Creative Self Care

In Ritual & Rhythm, Caren chronicles her self care journey, sharing her struggles, challenges, and all she's learned along the way. She reminds us that body care IS soul care, and that all we do for ourselves benefits everyone around us. Through the practical examples she shares, we learn how to craft our own daily or weekly rituals for taking care and find nourishment as our everyday living unfolds inside their rhythm.

at The Integrate Retreat in The Rockies

"When my self care journey began, what I most needed was some deliberate time apart for myself. Time that required nothing of me emotionally or mentally. Time without expectations from others. And so I created a safe place in my kitchen."--Caren in Ritual & Rhythm: A Guide to Creative Self Care

Caren playing with color after dinner in Berkeley

In a world of Do More and Go Faster, and in the face of human need that can stretch like a bottomless ocean before us, this book is the permission we've been waiting for and the guidance we need to find our way into a lifestyle that goes beyond surviving, into a realm where things like thriving, sustaining and flourishing carry the day.

Special Bonus: Everyone who orders Ritual & Rhythm before next Wednesday (4/11/12) will receive a full-color printable pdf featuring four of Caren's most-requested recipes, designed by Liz Kalloch and written in Caren's own handwriting.

We are thrilled to officially release:

Ritual & Rhythm: A Guide to Creative Self Care

by Caren McLellan Gazley

Photography by Andrea Corona Jenkins, Design by Liz Kalloch

Paperback, 48 pages

$28 USD, ships free worldwide

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.)

Quiz: What Kind of Creative Are You?

When a creative idea strikes, you think:
A. Great! Let me just finish up the dishes, the laundry and the taxes so I can get to the fun.
B. Another one? Awesome--that makes 5 today. Wait . . . what were the other four?
C. Clear my schedule--I must serve the muse until she passes.
D. A creative idea--who, me? Let me get on Etsy and see if someone's already made that--maybe I'll buy one.
E. No problem--I can rock that idea out with my right hand and cook dinner with my left hand.

A good-looking creative opportunity arrives in the mail box, but you already have a plate full of commitments. You think:
A. Whoa, whoa. One thing at a time. Let me finish the things I've committed to first. Then if I have time and energy left, I'll consider this new one.
B. It sounds like a great opportunity. You know, it reminds me of this other thing I heard about . . . I should go try to find that.
C. Mail? Honey, I don't check my mail when I'm immersed in a project. It'd be long past the deadline by the time I saw it.
D. No worries--they must have sent this to the wrong person. This can go in the recycling bin.
E. I've got to say, Yes, no matter how full my plate is. Opportunities choose us, after all.

A whole weekend opens up to devote to your creative work. You:

A. Clean and reorganize your studio. Now if you only finish the rest of the house, you can come back to this beautiful space and make something.
B. Go to the art supply store and lose yourself. You spend way more than you meant to, and come home with an array of things--you can't exactly figure out what to do with them or where to start. So you break out a crafty magazine and call up your girlfriend to chat.
C. Hit the pedal to the metal. You end the weekend wearing the same clothes you started with, feel weak from not sleeping or eating much, but look at all you got done! (Wait, is that a cold coming on?)
D. Go on a tour of museums in your area. There really is so much to see and admire.
E.
Start your own film production company, because when are you going to have a free weekend to do that again?

When it comes to creativity, your motto is:
A. Everyone needs something to look forward to when the cleaning is done.
B. I must just be an idea person--I need to find an executor to do all these great projects!
C. Live on inspiration: nothing else matters.
D. Leave it to the professionals. After all, someone's got to be the audience.
E. If I'm not a little exhausted, I'm not really trying.

If you answered:

Mostly A's: You are a Dutiful Creative. If life were a meal, you'd consider your creativity is the dessert, and always strive to eat your vegetables first. Pacing and knowing how to say, No, are your strengths, but your creativity is more essential to your well-being than you realize. You need to learn how to fit your duties into a creative life, and not just the other way around.

In our upcoming workshop, Steady Burn: The Art of Creative Wellness, Dutiful Creatives will learn how to make creativity a more essential part of their daily lives.

Mostly B's: You are a Distracted Creative. With a hundred ideas shooting in a hundred directions, it's easier for you to think up creative projects than to actually sit down to do them. Ideas and inspiration are indeed your strengths, but if you learn how to drop down into your ideas and dwell with them, you could slow down enough to enjoy the other part of the creative process: making.

In Steady Burn: The Art of Creative Wellness, Distracted Creatives will find a way out of Idea Overload and into a creative practice that leaves them feeling restored, not strung-out.

Mostly C's: You are a Deep Diving Creative. When the muse finds you, you jump all in--fast and deep. Learning to ground yourself in you body and the routines of daily life, even while you're in periods of creative flow will stabilize your health, protect you against illness, and nurture your relationships.Support for your work among your loved ones will grow when they are not constantly in competition with your creativity for your attention and care.

In Steady Burn: The Art of Creative Wellness, Deep Diving Creatives will learn a model of care, not neglect, that will equip them and preserve their stamina for the long run.

Mostly D's: You are a Doubting Creative. You envy people who create things, but don't dare think the creative spirit applies to you. However, creativity is not reserved for some special club. Your own creative spark is what prompts you to admire the work of others. It's likely that by addressing your fears and finding the right medium or way in, you would enjoy making even more than you love admiring.

In Steady Burn: The Art of Creative Wellness, Doubtful Creatives will learn how to tap into the source of creative energy directly for themselves.

Mostly E's: You are a Do-It-All Creative.  You approach your creative work with the same ambition and vigor usually reserved for things like corporate ladders. Your ability to execute is the source of many a friend's envy, but your brutal pace comes at a price. Your health, relationships, and your ability to hear your inner guidance may all be compromised over time.

In Steady Burn: The Art of Creative Wellness, Do-It-All Creatives will find their way into their inner source of guidance and wisdom so their actions are purposeful and their path invites miracles.

There are still a few spots left--we would love for you to join us!

Christine Mason Miller: Creating from a Place of Joy

Desire to Inspire: Using Creative Passion to Transform the World, photo by Christine Mason Miller

I was happy and honored to interview Christine Mason Miller about inspiration and comparison, working inside our intentions and of course, her new book, Desire to Inspire: Using Creative Passion to Transform the World. Christine is someone I respect and enjoy, and I could have talked to her all day.

Photo by Thea Coughlin

 

Christine:

This has been nothing but a process of joy.

You can decide, I'm not going to let anxiety be a part of this.

And it's carried through every process of the book . . . every part has been about joy. Only joy. What I've learned is, you can decide. You can choose joy and step into that, and it's there waiting for us at every moment.

 

I picked out the juiciest parts of our conversation to share with you here. (Click the link below to listen, or right-click to download.) If you enjoy our interview, please share it.

Collaboration Closeup: Liz Kalloch

Top of the Rock by Liz Kalloch, from "Telling Your Story" (also current website banner)

If I were really telling the truth about this story, I would tell you how alone I felt back then. How I'd started thinking that the kind of partnerships I dreamed of were just that--pipe dreams. I would tell you that I did the Finding Your Voice course largely on my own, even though I can't stand working that way, because it was getting me through a hard winter. And it took half a dozen friends to hold me together.

Liz draws me for "Telling Your Story"

I thought about people who felt soothing to my soul, and Liz Kalloch was one of the first people to come to mind. I was trying to figure out a way to see her and spend more time with her, (we met at Squam and she lives on the other coast) and she said, "It would be really fun to create a project together".

It was like when you've had a really bad fall on the sidewalk, and you're sitting there staring at your bloody knees, too sore and dazed to try standing, and someone stops and reaches out her hand.

It was just like that.

I remember talking to Jen Gray back then, telling her how I received Liz like a gift from the gods. She said, "Liz Kalloch is an earth angel," and I said, "Oh my god, YES. That is EXACTLY what she is."

Plenty of people are talented, but not everyone is kind. Plenty of people can do the work, but not everyone can do the work in love.

And for me, the kindness and love are everything.

I wanted Telling Your Story to have as much visual beauty packed into it as possible, so we came up with this idea for Liz to do line art based on the photographs that were going into the project. The simplicity of her pieces, along with the subtle repetition, really infused the whole curriculum with visual interest without making it feel too busy. We even added her work to the "blank" pages in the back that can be inserted throughout the 3-ring binder wherever they are needed. She was my design consultant for the project as I put together the layout, working the cover with me and doing the entirety of the Telling Your Story Sound Studio design this fall.

The other idea we cooked up all those many many months ago was a new print edition of The Care and Keeping of Creative Souls manual I'd written and taught from last fall. It would feature Liz's original line art drawings, my full-color photos and some new writing. The final result is so exquisite to hold in your hands that people literally go speechless for a moment when I hand it to them.

 Front Cover: The Care and Keeping of Creative Souls

A peek inside of "The Care and Keeping of Creative Souls: A Manual", line art and design by Liz Kalloch

 

Back cover: The Care and Keeping of Creative SoulBy now we have so many good things cooking, I can hardly stand it. Liz is my vision catcher, my collaborator, my magic-maker and dear friend who talks me down from the tree. I couldn't be more honored to be on this journey with her, hand-in-hand, or more thrilled to share her and her work with you.

 

 

Liz Kalloch has been dancing to her own beat from an early age, when she thought the Brownie badges were ugly and made her own. (So clever, and yet so unappreciated by her troop leaders.) Her creativity bursts forth through more mediums than we can name here, but her greatest work is what she creates out of love, friendship, beauty and an adventurous heart.

West Coast, Here We Come!

Teahouse Studio presents

Steady Burn: The Art of Creative Wellness

March 24-25, 2012: 10:00am-5:00pm both days

Location: Teahouse Studio, Berkeley, CA

Registration: $385, including catered lunches and beverages throughout

Early bird registration: Register by 2/01/12 using code BURNEARLY to receive $20 off

Steady Burn: The Art of Creative Wellness

There are all kinds of classes and books about how to do your art. How to write a paragraph or mix paints. But there isn't as much wisdom available about how to be a thriving creative--how to keep the fires of inspiration burning, steady and strong, as life and relationships and careers ebb and flow all around. All the know-how in the world doesn't make a difference when you're overwhelmed, burned out, unsure of where to start or when to stop.

In this two-day workshop, we'll explore the terrain where self-care and soul care overlap for artists and creatives of every medium and background. Uncover deep wells of restoration and rest, tap into hidden sources of power, and discover access points for stamina and rhythm.

The creative fires don't have to consume you and rage, and they don't have to dwindle and die. You can learn to tend this flame, to kindle your own steady burn.

This workshop is for:

  • Those who long to nurture their creativity and make space for it amidst the bustle of daily life.
  • Artists of every medium who seek to break the Burst-Burnout Cycle and find their way into steady productivity.
  • Accomplished creatives who may have experienced success-induced difficulties, and who are learning the art of creative wellness in the presence of velocity and opportunity.

Registration:
March 24-25, 2012: 10:00-5:00 both days
Registration: $385, including catered lunches and beverages throughout
Early bird registration: Register by 2/01/12 using code BURNEARLY to receive $20 off

Note: class is limited to 20 participants, early registration is encouraged.

Coming in from out of town? Find travel tips and nearby lodging here.

About the Instructors:

Jen Lee is a voice recovery specialist, independent media producer and a beloved performer in New York City’s storytelling scene, including The Peabody Award-winning Moth Radio Hour and The Moth Mainstage. Jen is a sought-after mentor and guide for workshops and retreats unleashing creative expression. She is also the creator of Finding Your Voice, a cutting-edge personal breakthrough course, and a contributing author of Women Writing on Family: Tips on Writing, Teaching and Publishing.

 

Phyllis Mathis is a long-time spiritual leader, an ontological coach and licensed professional counselor who has been practicing for over 30 years. A seasoned writer, retreat facilitator and a beginning potter, she is the co-creator of a forthcoming course called The Iconic Self (January 2012). 

 

 

 

Caren Gazley is a soul care specialist and human rights activist whose work has led her to places like Mauritania and Albania. Still an L.A. girl at heart, Caren has deep wisdom drawing from her rich personal experiences about caring for yourself in the midst of parenting, partnerships, community and passionate work. She is the author of Ritual and Rhythm: A Guide for Creative Self Care (March 2012).



 

What people are saying:

"It was nothing short of magical, what transpired in those three days, and I would go back in a moment to experience it all again if I could." --Dana Fontaine

"Being at the Integrate Retreat was like being wrapped up in a warm brown blanket, with Jen and Phyllis telling stories you could listen to for hours, threaded through with wisdom and friendship. There was a lot of beauty, fun, and warmth there. The pleasure of it stayed with me for a long while, and the friendships started are still going strong." --Sandra Flear

"Jen is like slipping into a cozy chair with a cup of hot cocoa.  Her Integrate Retreat was a gift that continued to give for weeks on after . . . her storytelling is mesmerizing and she provided thoughtful writing prompts and food for thought.  I continue to peel the layers as I continue to discover the various voices I am integrating.  The women I met at the retreat continue to be my daily touchstones, soul sistas, and kindred spirits.  I look forward to attending future retreats!"  --Amelia Maness--Gilliland

"The weekend was very transitional for me, being in a space of such love and acceptance was unlike anything I have ever experienced.  The stories I held and that others held for me were so powerful. The way your voice spoke to us in story and also in lessons was a true gift." --Stefanie Renee

"Jen teaches and guides in such an entertaining and intuitive way that it hardly feels like 'learning'. If your soul is after rest and nourishment, and your spirit yearns for encouragement and validation, then you won't regret signing up for one of Jen's retreats. You'll return home inspired and with new horizons stretching before you . . . and with the support of a group of incredible, like-minded women. Be brave. Go for it!" --Helen Agarwal

"It was an amazing weekend--catalyzing and replenishing at the same time. You created an atmosphere that was both new and familiar, and I left feeling thoroughly listened to, acknowledged, and understood. I can't say it enough: thank you."  --Kate Godin

Self-Care Rx: When the End is In Sight

Vancouver, BC

I wish you could feel the energy buzzing around my kitchen these days, and see how I'm so lit up inside I can hardly sleep or remember to eat. The end is in sight on my new project, and there's nothing that gives me a greater high than finishing things. I feel like a racehorse with the finish line in sight, and I get these tremendous bursts of energy which are a perfect match for the tremendous number of tasks there are to do at the completion of any big work.

The new project, Telling Your Story, is a home study course designed to guide you through excavating your stories and sharing them in a powerful way. Imagine if you could attend a 12-week workshop with myself, along with Peter Aguero and Ophira Eisenberg, two of New York City's most amazing storytellers--one from an improv background and the other from the world of comedy. Imagine all those stories, tools, insights and exercises beautifully packaged and arriving right in your mail box, ready to inspire and guide you. In your own world, at your own pace--it will meet you right where you're at.

Can you see why I'm excited?

But I keep pulling my feet back down to earth, to practice my self care and make sure I don't spin myself into exhaustion or illness. Here's a list that I'm writing for myself, and sharing in case you could use it, too.

Self-Care Rx: When the End is in Sight

  1. Remember to eat. Set alarms if you have to. Energy bursts throw off my appetite, and I get easily disinterested in food or resentful of the time it takes to track down good food and consume it. Now I recognize that these are red flags that mean remembering to eat good food throughout the day is more important than ever.
  2. Resist the fallacy that you don't have time to take care of yourself. I understand our deadlines often feel like guns to our head--trust me, I'm the only one holding it in my own scenario. I have those fears that say it won't all get done unless I stay up late at night and work through lunch and wait until November to take a shower, but I know from experience it's not true. It all gets done, and taking care of myself along the way just means it gets done without unnecessary suffering. When I'm well rested and fed, I have access to my magic--that special groove that seems to stretch time and make the impossible manifest before my eyes. When I'm run down, I lose all coping skills and start to cry a lot. Reminding myself of this when those fears come knocking is gold.
  3. Walk away. Close the laptop, walk down the street for a lunch date. Take a day to be with a visiting friend. What seems like an unrelated distraction might be just the thing you needed to read or to hear to leapfrog forward in your work. I have some conversations that feel like they catapult me ahead by weeks or months of the pace I'm making on my own. Everything in our lives is so interconnected that I'm clear that my rest, my play, my friendships--everything I fill my breaks with is supporting the work I'm finishing. It's not a distraction to walk away and take breaks; it's a necessity for finishing without suffering.
  4. Go to bed early or take naps.  Sleep is my #1 secret weapon. My mind solves all kinds of problems while I'm sleeping. The temptation is to burn the candle at both ends, but lately I've just started refusing to do that. And here's the big surprise: the work still gets done.
  5. Delight in the project, the work, the deadline. Feel the energy bursts and the fears and revel in how alive it all is. This is you at the finish line: persevering, focused, digging deeper than you ever imagined you could go. And you've never been better.

On Serving Two Vocations

I can't remember in which of the tens of Madeleine L'Engle books I read in my twenties she wrote about her work as a writer and mother as serving two vocations, but the phrase has been seldom from my mind these last weeks and months. When the religious speak of vocation, they are pointing to something distinctive from occupation, something with an element of calling to it, something with a layer of devotion that goes beyond punching a clock.

For instance, no parent I know thinks of that role as an occupation. It's a role so constant that it blurs the line betweeen a state of being and a state of doing. A parent does not cease to be a parent after the children go to bed--one sleeps lightly and snaps awake at the sound of children in the night. Nor does one cease to be a parent after the children are grown with separate residences of their own. Just ask my mother how often I still call to say, "Do you think this meat is still good?" or "I think I'm getting sick."

So it is, too, with being artists, writers, creatives of all kinds. One doesn't cease to see the world with a certain studious eye, even after leaving the studio for the day. I can't even slip out for an afternoon "off" at the cinema without noticing and admiring the edits, the acting performances that are so true I feel something in my gut, the lines of dialogue that change the way I see the world forever, or the cinematography that takes my breath away. I also think many creatives have a sense of being chosen by, rather than solely choosing their work. If it were just about occupation, I'd be a barista, or maybe punch in for some company with sweet benefits. There's a way I feel pursued by this work, like I wouldn't be able to sleep at night if I left it undone.

When I walk down the street and there is a small hand inside each of my own, it's like I drop down into a deep well. I can get lost in being with the girls, in our quiet rhythm, in the simple joys of steaming morning milk and washing dishes with the record player spinning and the twinkle lights all aglow. It's like a country I could live in forever.

The same is true when I lose myself in my work. Time stretches or races or simply ceases to be. I feel like there's nowhere else I'd rather be, nothing else I'd rather be doing. When I'm serving one vocation or the other, I sink down deep into the well and I am the rope, I am the bucket, and then I am the water. It feels like bliss. It feels like joy.

But here's the catch--it's not easy to serve two vocations at once. I can't go so deep down that I can no longer see the sky. I have to remember to look at the clock at least once before it is three o'clock and my little ones are waiting for my face to appear in the crowd, for my embrace and our conversations about the day on the walk home. And I can't get so comfortable with my cozy little family that I don't get out to shows or back on stage, or back to the studio projects that have been waiting to be finished.

I am still a beginner in this dance of two vocations. Maybe it's like my friends who are from one country but now live in another--both places hold a piece of their hearts, and they are always longing, even while they are always home.

The Magical Bottomless Barrel

Just a few more hours to work before I pick up the girls and we begin our summer holiday together. I'm tying up some loose ends on the second print project I've done this month (remember those good things coming this fall?) and eating my oatmeal.

I've been thinking about the way we perceive time and what gets done. Caren says that the downside of being wired to see future possibilities all the time is that it's like the carrot dangling out there that you can never catch. Even if you accomplish or make the thing you see, by the time you do you'll be able to see what's next after that and feel the gap between there and where you are.

I'm making peace with the fact that I can always forecast out about 12-18 months in my mind. Learning how to sit with seeing what's to come even when it isn't yet time to be in action or execute anything, to let future possibilities shimmer a little, like tantalizing daydreams, instead of bearing down on me as if the Universe is tapping her loud foot in the background. I'm practicing acknowledgement for all that's been done behind me--ripping that carrot off, sitting on the stoop and eating that sucker, savoring every crunchy bite.

It's like I finally figured out that it's not just a carrot on the end of that line, it's a magical bottomless barrel of them.

It's a paradigm shift to realize that enough-ness lives in the realm of declaration. That we could declare at any time that there's plenty of time in the world--really we have nothing but time as long as we are alive. That everything that really matters to us gets done. That what has been done already is not only enough, but is often worthy of celebration, satisfaction and pride.

Here's to summer, to long stretches of time. To the things that really matter getting done, and no more. Here's to it all being beautifully, perfectly enough.

Comparison and a Sense of Proportion

Are you the photographer?

Uh, I'm the sister-in-law, I said. I just thought I'd take a few pictures, you know, as a gift.

We'll work together, the hired photographer said. I'm not actually a professional, she said, like she'd just been discovered running around in her mother's high heels.

Yeah--me, either.

It was just a small idea I had when we went to my brother-in-law's wedding. I'll pack the cameras. Take a few shots, and maybe some will turn out and I can give them as a gift. I have a Canon Rebel, after all, (that mostly my husband uses) and a 50mm lens.

In my world, this doesn't count as overly serious photography equipment. When you're friends with mind-blowing photographers with lenses as long as your forearm and badass lighting equipment, well, they feel like pretty basic tools for an internet artist to have.

Why did I say I wasn't a professional? I wondered later. For god's sake, I've had business cards that said "Writer and Photographer".

But I'm no Wedding Photographer. Digital isn't even really My Thing.

Wow! someone said. That's like, a PROFESSIONAL camera. I looked around and realized that I had in my possession the only DSLR in town. Including the hired, self-described "non-professional" wedding photographer.

I did a lot of thinking in that southern town about comparison and the way it creeps in when we're not looking. I have colleagues who are so incredibly accomplished that everything I do can feel dwarfed in comparison, and I DO compare, automatically and almost always without even realizing it. They take my accomplishments more seriously than I do, which is a gift. Their work inspires the hell out of me; it expands my sense of possibility and makes my big dreams feel like things that happen to people I know, and might actually happen for me.

But sometimes I can feel it skewing my sense of proportion about my own growth, my progress, and my ability. It's so much more difficult to see ourselves--who we are, and how far we've come. Nearly impossible to recognize our own potential and all that's within us, waiting to be born.

Sunday night I put together the loveliest little wedding album you can imagine with so much love I thought I was going to burst. I hope they like it, I hope they like it, I kept saying over and over like they were the only words I knew. I looked at the pictures again and again, until I no longer saw just the beauty of the day or the sweetness of being together with our dear ones.

I looked at them until I could see myself.

Easing In

Union Street Garden, Horizon Perfekt, xpro Lomo Chrome film

Before anything else, feed yourself something good. Lay down on the floor and stretch, wide and long. Walk somewhere, even if it's just to the corner market, and say good morning to all the guys up early and working there. When the flood of thoughts rises about all the things there are to do, feel in your body which ones bring you joy. Begin there.

Make something. Prepare a good gift. Write something--whatever rises to the top. Feel the rhythm of body and movement and breath and words that drift out like an exhale. Look at your inbox, if you must, and do what you can there before you feel overwhelmed. Take a break. Feed yourself another something good. Refill your water. Open the window. Feel the wood floor under your feet, and rub some oil into your dry skin.

Feel all the things that are undone, survey the messes made and left, the wreckage of things broken in the fray. This is how it feels to be alive. Undone. Unfinished. Try to let it sink in that the work is never done. There are simply moments of pause or clarity, scarce seconds when the plate can find a clear space to rest at the table. Artifacts of our projects and questions, our adventures out and stumbling back home laying like rubble all around us, testifying to the living that is happening in our times and in our spaces.

Let the walls and this sturdy floor hold it all, and let them hold you as your legs steady themselves again, for just a moment, on moving ground.

Some Seasons Are For Living

One thing I often say is that it's difficult to tell a story while one is still living it. More and more I sense this rhythm between living through an unfolding story, living with the story afterward as it works its work on us and as we wrestle our way into some understanding of or peace with it. Eventually we stumble out of a tunnel into a land of words. And then we can begin to tell.

Perhaps this is why I struggle to identify as a writer, and why storyteller feels a better fit. So many times, words fail me. When stories are happening to me, there is often much more in the way of living going on than thinking or telling. Often there is precious little to write or to say, while there are many other things to attend to--things so ordinary it would bore you for me to list them here. But in these seasons that seem marked by more attentive living, it seems as if my whole life is in these clothes which need sorting and these bodies that need feeding and this soft bed that is a place of such joy. The surface is quiet and steady, simple and ordinary, while things shift and move and mend in the deep.

So I forgive the absence of eloquence, and I surrender to the rhythm of the seasons as they blow through once again. Some are for understanding, some are for telling. And some, for living.

Checking In and Catching Up

I'm posting this picture today because I imagine us sitting in this lovely spot, just checking in and catching up. Nothing too profound or heavy, just a "what's new since last time we talked?" situation. We might admire this cool piece of art on the wall and I would sip a cup of hot water or peppermint tea. I love watching the people. I wish I knew what these two were talking about, and what point of connection brought them to this place, on this day, together.

I'm feeling better and better all the time. Partly because I'm having big breakthroughs in the health and wellness department, a subject on which I usually experience a lot of resignation--you know, putting up with things because I think they must just be my lot in life and not really having hope or an expectation that I could feel or be better. The resignation and the symptoms are both so nice to say good-bye to. My appreciation for the healers who care for us, mind, body and soul, is vast and deep.

It's also made such a difference to read this book on Jolie's recommendation and realize that some things I struggle with could have an explanation other than being straight-up character flaws. It's like finding a way into a new level of kindness toward myself that I was in sorry need of, and having someone bulk up my self-care tool kit even more.

I especially love what Elaine Aron had to say about the struggle to share new work that I shared about recently:

The difficulty, I believe, is that normally we artists work alone, refining our craft and our subtle creative vision. But withdrawal of any kind increases sensitivity--that is part of why one withdraws. So we are extrasensitive when the time comes to show our work, perform it, explain it, sell it, read reviews of it, and accept rejection or acclaim. . . . Much of the suffering of sensitive artists could be prevented by understanding the impact of this alternating of the low stimulation of creative isolation with the increased stimulation of public exposure which I have described.

Ohmygodiamnotcrazy.

It's hard to know what else to say about this right now because I'm still processing it pretty deeply, but it has made a big difference to do interviews around the web lately. It turns out that I have things to say, but I'm so close to new work by the time it comes out that it's hard for me to have the distance required to anticipate what others might wonder or ask or want to know about it. (Another one I loved doing was for Karen, who is graciously giving away Finding Your Voice to one lucky commenter.)

I am racing a bit against the looming summer vacation, trying to see how much I can get done before the girls are home for ten weeks and my solitude shrinks to a trickle. I'm working on the next Voice and Story Course, and cooking up all the good things I can for my students and friends at Squam in September.

So, that's what's happening over here. I'm dying to hear what's going on with you--jump on in the comments and tell me, and it will completely make my day.

More soon...

Update: I keep forgetting to mention that you can now find site updates on Facebook.