Holiday Bustle and Dreams That Come True

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Lots of holiday bustle over here--but the very best kind. I'm in this very serious nesting-kind-of-kick as Thanksgiving approaches, giving the apartment some love (and getting happier and happier in my space with every minute), gathering food and having my mind just a little bit blown when I realize that visitors will arrive tomorrow. Creating clearings for rest and play and love.

We're also bustling here at Jen Lee Productions with a holiday special like we have never had before, just for those who have requested our catalog or to keep in touch in some other way with our offerings and happenings. You can go here to make sure you're on the list for our virtual postcard going out on Friday, and there's a couple days left to tell your friends.

I am feeling a sacred quiet and like my heart is busting out of my chest all at once when I think about the way you read along, journey alongside and support us as we make the good things of our dreams. It's been a landmark year: around this time last year we released Telling Your Story, then The Care and Keeping of Creative Souls. At Christmas time we were wrapping up The Iconic Self, then in the spring we introduced you to Ritual & Rhythm: A Guide to Creative Self Care and Beauty Everywhere: A Portable Gallery. The Gift of This Moment carried us into summer, with a CATALOG to hold it all together.

I still get that wobbly-knee feeling, just remembering how vulnerable it's been to take so many close-to-our-heart dreams and to make them real. To order boxes full of vision and to have faith they would be greeted with kindness and even open arms.

It's because of your encouragement, your belief and support that we've been able to do this. You literally make our dreams come true, and for that we are truly thankful.

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.)

All I Wished For

Almost four years to the day after I wrote it, I was cleaning my studio and I found a list of wishes in an old blank book from 2007. Four years ago I was home all day caring for a baby and a three-year-old. I was just emerging from the hunting and gathering phase of our new life in Brooklyn (that Phyllis promised me would not last forever; as always, she was right) and I was starting to get the last of the boxes cleared out of the apartment.

Four years ago I didn't know many people in New York, and I didn't have much social energy to spare. Four years ago I had a dream of writing, but no assurance that I was on the right track at all or that writing was even worth doing. No idea if anything beyond half-filled journals would come of it.

This old blank book seems to have been forgotten, aside from some knitting notes from a Debbie Bliss workshop I attended back in Colorado and this exercise in which I was to list ten wishes in six categories of my life. Just reading through them was like suddenly having a time capsule in my hands, and I had that strange sensation in which one feels the past and the present coming together and meeting.

My lists had items like:

Wear good shoes.

Be well rested.

Go to the Met without the kids.

There were also a few like these:

Write things that make other people feel less alone.

Start conversations that make a difference in the world.

The last page was the most interesting of all.

Someday get a sense that my journey is heading somewhere.

And just like that, I could feel that place four years ago. The hiddenness, the unknowing, the stumbling through a thick fog with only these sonar-like intuitive pings to guide me.

Learn to live like it's not all up to me.

When I read this one I slammed back to the present, and I thought, That's what's happening. Right. Now.

I'm learning to live like it's not all up to me, to treat the limits of my capacities with gentleness instead of with scorn. I'm learning to ask for the kind of partnerships I dream of, and how to wait patiently until they find me. How to recognize them when they are given like sweet gifts of providence. I'm learning how to let go, to do less, to lay down and stare at the ceiling and to sit down and stare out the window. I'm learning how to listen, how to ask and how to receive. I'm learning gratitude for the earth that supports me and all the arms that happily link inside of mine.

And it is all I wished that it would be.

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.

Good Things







Mati and me, photo by Kelly Rae Roberts; Ali Edwards and Brené Brown, PhD

While I'm hard at work on a new project, my friends are serving up good things that you won't want to miss:

If you've dreamed of exploring painting or learning from amazing artists, it's time to Get Your Paint On with Mati Rose McDonough and Lisa Congdon.

Ali Edward's One Little Word workshop is a great way to weave a thread of intention through your new year, and it's not too late to join her.  Registration will be open all year, though who wants to wait any longer?

And starting today, Brené Brown partners with Mondo Beyondo for a special Winter Dream Lab: The Gifts of Imperfection.  Check it out!