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.

The "Telling Your Story Sound Studio" Arrives!

I've been crazy sick this week--the kind that makes you stumble down the street when you're not laid out flat in bed--but even in this compromised state I managed some serious excitement yesterday when the Telling Your Story Sound Studio CDs arrived.

The three disc set, featuring extensive interviews with Peter Aguero and Ophira Eisenberg, is packaged in a beautiful 8-panel digipak designed by the amazing Liz Kalloch. To be able to hold these exquisite objects in your hands helps the possibilities they hold seem even more tangible and real. It's not just in your head or on your computer, it's in your car and your kitchen and on the little stand next to your bed--always reminding you of the path and all the possibilities it holds. Giving you permission to be a new way in the world--you own it. Your stories are just as worthy of being told as any of ours, and these physical manifestations of so many powerful truths will not let you forget it.

The Telling Your Story course starts shipping tomorrow. Be bold and audacious--be one of the first in the world to hold these treasures in your hands.

The other thing I was so thrilled to receive yesterday was our first, full-color four-page Jen Lee Productions catalog, which will go out with every order this winter. It's so amazing to see all that we're up to, all together. There is so much to celebrate with you.

What ARE these new resources, exactly, and when is your next retreat?

My next live event is in March at Teahouse Studio in Berkeley, CA. I'm bringing a whole bunch of my friends--amazing, inspiring women are gonna be in the house--and I hope you can come join us. I'm looking forward to the workshop format, which is more affordable for locals and still convenient for us out-of-towners to come in and stay at the hotel across the street, or in town with friends. The conversation we'll create about The Art of Creative Wellness is one I am living and breathing over here--one that makes us or breaks us. Read more and claim your spot here.

As for the next retreat, I'm really not sure. I'm doing a limited number of live events right now. In terms of presence and community, it's an ideal way to be together and interact with these powerful conversations. But in terms of tuition and the limited spots available for attendees, it's not so ideal. That's why I'm in the midst of a long season of producing resources that make the content of 12-week workshops or 5-day retreats available, for a fraction of the cost, to anyone in the world. No plane ticket required.

If you've been looking for opportunities to work with me, or suspecting that our paths are running in kindred directions, these courses are for you. I have so much to share (with more coming very soon)--this is the best way to make these conversations available to the most people, in a form so personal and intimate that it's the next best thing to being together live.

These practices, insights and conversations have changed my life, and they can change yours, too. Join me: find your voice. Tell your story. Share this work with those friends who are looking for Just This.

"The story you are writing with your life is the most important thing about you."

Who are you? Where have you come from and where are you going? The story you are writing with your life is the most important thing about you, but most of us go along in life without bringing our awareness to the narratives that formed us, that influence our present and shape our futures. Until your stories are told, they have a way of owning you, whether you realize it or not. When you tell a story, you own it.

Telling Your Story was created as a one-of-a-kind companion and guide for story excavation and a bold introduction to the art and craft of storytelling. Discover your formative stories and bring them into the spotlight. Rock them. Bring the house down.

It's your story. Tell it.Telling Your Story includes:

  • 3-CD set in an 8-panel digipak: Telling Your Story Sound Studio featuring Jen Lee's full audio workshop, along with extensive interviews professionally recorded with story pioneers and mentors Peter Aguero and Ophira Eisenberg.
  • 125-page interactive, 3-ring bound home study curriculum with black and white photography and line drawings by artist Liz Kalloch throughout.
  • Content equivalent of a 12-week workshop
  • 8 entryways into discovering your own formative or forgotten stories
  • 60 pages of exercises to walk you step-by-step through the journey
  • 24 composition pages to insert wherever you need them

Special Introductory Price: 200 USD

Quantities are limited. Only one per person. Ships free world-wide, starting 11.11.11.

The Jen Lee Guarantee: We are commited to Telling Your Story playing an essential role in your journey. If you are not completely delighted with your purchase, simply return your materials for a full refund.

Like this video? Link to it or embed it on your own site!

Whether we are entreprenuers, activists or artists, we are learning more and more the importance of employing a story-based approach when communicating about our work to the world. And yet, most of us don't know where to begin, how to select the stories that really matter and pull it all together into powerful presentations. Telling Your Story was created to guide participants from all walks of life step-by-step through this essential process.

Inside the Telling Your Story Sound Studio

Session One: Become a story excavator as Jen Lee guides you in the hunt for your own story treasures, and learn the secret ingredients that will transform even a quiet story into an epic tale.

Session Two: Join the bold and audacious Peter Aguero for a heart-to-heart conversation about truth, courage, and the stories that change us forever.

Session Three: Ophira Eisenberg will make you laugh and move you deeply as she takes on essential topics like vulnerability, self discovery and the connection that makes sharing our stories worth everything it costs, and more.

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.

Peter Aguero is a New York City-based storyteller and performer. Peter is a Moth GrandSLAM Champion, a popular Moth StorySLAM host, and an instructor for the MothSHOP community outreach program. He is also the lead singer of The BTK Band, New York’s only improvised storytelling rock band.

 

Ophira Eisenberg is a comic, writer and storyteller living in New York City. Ophira was named a “Top Ten Comic” by New York Magazine, has appeared on Comedy Central and is a long-time host at The Moth, of both StorySLAMs and Mainstage shows. Her memoir, Screw Everyone: Sleeping My Way to Monogamy, will be available through Perseus Books in Spring of 2012.

 

 What People are Saying about "Telling Your Story":

    "For me, as a peace and conflict researcher specializing in the transformational power of language, narratives and discourse for conflicts, Telling Your Story is one piece in the bigger picture. In every conflict, regardless whether it is personal, social or international, narratives and stories become more and more exclusive, to the point of deliberately ignoring the "other's" narrative altogether. I am convinced that learning about our stories, learning that all of us actually have stories worth telling, and learning how to listen to and sit with our's and other's stories, however uncomfortable, is one key to peace. 

    "The stories in Telling Your Story are heart-warming, soulful, and hilarious. They illustrate that we all, regardless what we are or do, are utterly human. Realizing our humanity and the vulnerability connected to it is one step in the direction of forgiveness, and without forgiveness, there is no peace."

    --Dr. Christiane J. Fröhlich, Peace and Conflict researcher, Hamburg, Germany

     "I feel you pulling for us, supporting and nudging in all the right ways, and also providing the room to anchor our investigation. It feels very much like you're sitting at this table with me, in the next chair over, witnessing as I sift through and explore the material of my life. I feel your enthusiasm, your engagement, and your glee as I make my little discoveries, see you clasping your hands in delight, hear you whisper - as I move through the work and land on the heart of my own narrative - 'Yes, yes, yes.' The generosity of the material here is profound."

     --Maya Stein,  Feral Writing, Tour de Word, Enough Water

    "Jen Lee's Telling Your Story is a poignant, powerful, and honest guide to excavating, forming, and polishing your stories. Jen offers her own stories to illustrate her points and in doing so walks the talk while taking us on a journey deep into our own souls. Simply reading the chapters and corresponding prompts inspires. Imagine the impact from doing all her brilliant exercises? She has mined from the greatest jewels in the storytelling scene in New York City for this guide and is herself a gem - an expert in this genre whose work has impressed and changed individuals across the world. Take this course - you are worth it!"

    --Allison Downey, Storyteller, Singer-songwriter, Associate Professor of Creative Arts Education

"Jen Lee's Telling Your Story curriculum is an amazing resource for storytellers and writers alike. Filled with Jen's soulful wisdom, this interactive workbook guides you through the storytelling process from beginning to end. Inside its pages you will find exercises to help you uncover your best story ideas and the encouragement and inspiration necessary to craft your story into a finished piece. As a writer, I feel lucky to have Jen as my guide as I seek to uncover my own stories. Telling Your Story is not to be missed!"

--Shari Altman, this joy+ride

"I've always told stories. But it wasn't until I spent the day with Jen Lee that I became a storyteller. Sitting in front of a roaring fire, she shared hard-won insights, helpful hints, and many stories of her own. She answered questions I didn't even know I had, from the general (how to choose a theme) to the specific (how to know which detail would make my story come to life). Hundreds of miles and several weeks later, I turn again to my copy of Telling Your Story, and it all comes back: Jen's quiet encouragement, her sincere attention, and the feeling that she's right here, cheering me on, as I put pen to paper."

--Austen Gilliland, Canadian Living

Telling Your Story includes:

3-CD set in an 8-panel digipak: Telling Your Story Sound Studio featuring Jen Lee's full audio workshop, along with extensive interviews professionally recorded with story pioneers and mentors Peter Aguero and Ophira Eisenberg.

125-page interactive, 3-ring bound home study curriculum with black and white photography and line art by artist Liz Kalloch throughout.

Content equivalent of a 12-week workshop, with 8 entryways into discovering your own formative or forgotten stories

60 pages of exercises to walk you step-by-step through the journey and 24 composition pages to insert wherever you need them

Special Introductory Price: 200 USD

Quantities are limited. Only one per person. Ships free world-wide, starting 11.11.11.

The Jen Lee Guarantee: We are commited to Telling Your Story playing an essential role in your journey. If you are not completely delighted with your purchase, simply return your materials for a full refund.

Click here for more information about The Essential Journey Collection.

"It's Your Story. Tell It." shirts are available here.

Like this? Use the share button below to spread the word.

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.

Flow

in Stanley Park, Vancouver

I dream of moving through days like these with something that looks more like grace and less like a stilted back and forth between bursts of cleaning and sound editing and cardboard box fort-building. I am wandering from room to room and task to task, trying to stay in my body while my idea factory is working at top speeds and I'm charting new terrain in the deep.

I know from experience that some kind of rhythm will soon emerge, even amidst the flow. Until then, here a few updates:

After a brief summer hiatus, the Merch page is back up and running, with apparel that's designed to be your companion on those days when you have to speak up for yourself in that meeting at work. When you're visiting your mother, your in-laws, or that person from your past who makes you feel like you're still 10. They are for the days when you need your courage close to your heart, for when you need to wear it Superman-style: tucked inside another shirt, where only you know it's there. They are for truths that are hard to live into, to soak in, to carry without losing along the way. I live in them, I sleep in them. I cook and I clean and I play in them, knowing that I need these words most of all and every single reminder brings me closer to the person I long to be in the world. I just made a few extras in case you need them, too.

Also, the introductory price for Finding Your Voice is almost over, with a significant increase coming soon.

AND, look for a new merch item here next week.

My birthday is coming up, which is a different experience every year. I'm feeling reflective about it today, and to be honest the last year has been really big and often hard, and in this moment the year to come feels daunting. It's surprising to feel so tender about it all, but I can't help but feel gratitude for this virtual home I have in the world, and for every day, moment, smile, tear, embrace, kiss, laugh, touch, gaze and step that I am blessed to partake in and to witness. For all the friends and companions who are with me every year, every day.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Finding Your Voice

What to say, what to say? Let's see. Ahem. It's here. Uh, surprise? Ta-da moments have never been my strong suit. But you have been so patient and gracious that I wanted to post this, even though I'm going to be in and out of the studio this week. The information below has a long-term home on the Multimedia Resources page, and this is the first in a series of resources that are currently in production.

Putting new work out in the world is so vulnerable--it's actually a salvation for me to spend this week under the covers with my unwell girl and back in the sound studio, so that I don't sit here and obsess over that one transition in the video that drives me crazy or the thousand ways I could tweak all of this to death. I do all kinds of crazy things to try to soothe the vulnerability, when probably all there is to do is to just sit with it quietly, hands folded in my lap and a quiet I hope you like it on my lips.

So. I hope you like it.

Finding Your Voice: A Voice and Story Course by Jen Lee

 

From the back cover:

There are thousands of books about how to write, resources about the mechanics of telling our stories. But before we ever open our mouths or pick up a pen, there is something to overcome. Debris to clear from our path. The question, Will it be worth it? to answer.

The time for finding your voice has come.

Let’s clear the way.

 

The first in a brand-new series, this resource brings material previously only available at in-person workshops and retreats right to your door. It arrives ready to enjoy a long life as a companion and guide--in your bag, on your kitchen table, working its magic through your hands into your heart.

 

This self-paced, Multimedia Course includes:

An Audio Learning Program, recorded in a professional sound studio, including the stories and insights shared in my Finding Your Voice workshop (CD, 52 minutes)


An Interactive Workbook in a resilient 3-ring binder with a full-color cover and over 100 pages of course material, black and white photographs, and countless exercises to walk you through powerful shifts and breakthroughs. Blank pages in the back give you the freedom to create more room to write wherever you need it.


A Handwritten Blessing from me to you on the workbook's front page.


Private Access to a course-specific discussion board on jenlee.net, where you can enjoy the company of friends who are on this journey with you.

Order Now: Finding Your Voice ($58 plus $5 US Shipping)

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Order Now: Finding Your Voice ($58 plus $13 Int'l Shipping)

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Common Questions

When can I look for my course resources to arrive?

The FYV resources will ship via Priority Mail within 2-5 days. If you do not receive your package within a reasonable time frame, please contact Jen to investigate whether a technical difficulty has been encountered.

Is this similar to any of the workshops or retreats you've previously offered?

This material was first developed as a workshop called "Truth and Consequences" at Squam Art Workshops 2009, then became part of the Companions for the Journey retreat in February 2010. It was later presented in a workshop called "Finding Your Voice" at Squam by the Sea in October 2010, and the workbook began as a pdf guide for that session. It was expanded into a fully interactive workbook in early 2011. Around the same time, the course content was recorded by Paul Ruest at Argot Studios in New York.