Collaboration Preview: Christine Mason Miller, Liz Kalloch

Photo by Justin Davanzo.

Photo by Justin Davanzo.

Christine Mason Miller and I were fortunate to become friends at just the right time in both of our journeys. She is a friend and support of artists: mentoring them and championing their work, all while creating her own work in the world with steadiness and grace. 

Liz and Jen.jpg

Liz Kalloch's friendship continues to be a hand that reaches out and grounds me, and I wish I had a hundred merit badges to give her for all the times she has laced me back up and helped me find my way. 

This week Christine and Liz and I will gather for the Indie Kindred screenings in Santa Barbara and Santa Monica, but I'll be celebrating the togetherness we've woven all along the way and letting their love and belief restore my weary bones. 

It will be more than good to be together. 

To see if we have tickets left for these screenings or others in Vancouver, Brooklyn and Melbourne, check here

Indie Kindred Debut at WDS 2013

All photos by  Justin Davanzo . With moderator  Michelle Ward  and featured artists:  Jonatha Brooke ,  Jolie Guillebeau ,  Liz Kalloch ,  Christine Mason Miller  and  Liz Lamoreux .

All photos by Justin Davanzo. With moderator Michelle Ward and featured artists: Jonatha BrookeJolie GuillebeauLiz KallochChristine Mason Miller and Liz Lamoreux.

9599808332_9bb31dd916_z.jpg
9599815148_570e662f38_z.jpg
9597337647_d998e4efe2_z.jpg
9600132412_1fcd5e2286_z.jpg

Usually when we finish a big project, my friends and colleagues are still scattered across the country, exchanging words of congratulations by phone. But not on this day. 

On this day, so many of the people involved in the project were there with me, and it was an unveiling of epic proportions. We sat close by each other near the front of a full theater and balcony, and every time someone near us appeared on screen (or her artwork did), hands reached out from all around her to touch her shoulder, give a hug or squeeze her hand. I got to be there to see the tears in my friends' eyes as they watched their story unfold.

I have nothing but gratitude for this day, for everyone who made it possible and who came to bear witness and celebrate the introduction of Indie Kindred.  It really was a dream come true.

Big thanks to Justin Davanzo for being our event photographer. You can see more photos from the debut and other events in the Indie Kindred Flickr group.  

Next up: Seattle and then we're back for a public screening in Portland! Our fall schedule is filling up--check out upcoming events here

Indie Kindred: The trailer is here.

Email readers: click here to see the video.

Are you ready? The Indie Kindred trailer is here, along with a website. And the Coast to Coast Summer Tour is coming together, with dates and cities coming soon.

If you're as excited about this project as we are, here's how to show your love and support in 30 seconds or less:

These small things help more people find and learn about this project.

Sharing this kind of work feels like wearing one's heart on the outside. Thank you for being good companions for my journey--your encouragement means more than you know.

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.

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.)

A Story of Love and Friendship

Phyllis in her Colorado home this summer.

The story of my work is always, at its core, a story of love and friendship.

I met Phyllis Mathis when I was 22 years old. I had been married for less than a year, and out of college even less than that. I still remember every detail of our meeting--the metal folding chairs we shook hands across, that curious banter you do with strangers, the way she stood with shoulders back, head high, her face radiating warmth and welcome. It's as if some part of my memory-making mind woke up and said, Pay attention. This moment is important.

Not long afterward I attended a retreat Phyllis led and as she spoke one morning I was overcome by this strong sense of kindredness which I wish I could say happens to me more often than the rare times it actually does. I thought, Something about the way her mind works and the way my mind works feels the same. Our journeys have been entwined ever since.

Years later, when the first thread gave the first tug that began the unraveling of my life as I then knew it, Phyllis was the first person I called. She sat across from me and watched in real time as all the pieces I had so carefully crafted and constructed fell to the floor and shattered.

She later said it was one of the most beautiful things she's ever seen.

There is not a secret in me that she has not held. Not a single place she has been unwilling to journey with me, no matter how dark or embarrased or unfit for public consumption I become before it's all over. Her friendship has been a safety net that has caught me and reassured me and given me courage time and time and time again.

Cover photography and design by Liz Kalloch, lizkallochdesigns.comThis week we're sending our collaborative project into production, and today as we do the finishing touches, I'm so present to the depth and richness of the wisdom and stories we've mined in over a decade of friendship, the ways we've helped one another weave in and understand even the stories which began long before. It's the most epic piece of work I've undertaken yet, and I am just humbled beyond belief to be able to share it with you soon.

I'm a big bundle of feelings in the meantime: excited, a little nervous, very tender, but most of all deeply grateful for this woman and this friendship which have shaped and comforted and guided me all along the way.

The Iconic Self (available now for pre-order) releases January 24, 2012.