When Vocabulary Fails

Planter and all--at the corner.

Planter and all--at the corner.

There should be a verb for that thing you do when the big emotions are bubbling up to make things tight in your chest or maybe leak a little out the eyes but the children are around always around so you tie the emotions up in a bundle and find somewhere else in your body for them to live. You dig up the optimistic voice from your little toe and try to get it all the way up to your throat in time to say something like, "Cupcake time!"

There should be a condition for when your body can't take this displacement anymore and starts to come unlaced in smaller moments or weighs down with weariness from this particular fatigue.

There should be a word to say that you are relieved to be safe, to have made it to the doctor in time to catch the pneumonia just starting, to get the asthma medicine just as your supply was running out--but a word that says how the relief doesn't live alone in you but is tangled and twisted with the grief and sadness you feel for all the others who are not warm or dry or making it anywhere anytime soon.

A phrase for how your heart is heavy until there is relief for all. But not your heart--because the children are still around and that's too close to the surface. Your elbow, perhaps. (Unless that one's already taken.)

Sometimes there are just no words.

The Limitations of Black Boot Armor

The Moth GrandSLAM at The Music Hall in Williamsburg, photo by Justin Lee

The Moth GrandSLAM at The Music Hall in Williamsburg, photo by Justin Lee

I thought if I had the perfect outfit, I wouldn't feel so vulnerable up there on stage.

Of course, one part of me is too wise to believe that, but another part of me couldn't help giving it my best shot.

I've been feeling a little angst-y about my clothes lately. Earlier this year I pinpointed some major food intolerances and when I stopped eating them a couple things happened: my skin cleared up for the first time since I was 12, and I dropped a size. Or two. I know that this is a problem that feels like no one has the right to complain about, but it didn't feel good to feel like my body was getting lost in a bunch of extra fabric--it felt like I was disappearing. And I didn't want to disappear on that stage.

So I went out and found some clothes that fit. I had my black boots that make me feel a little badass (not a lot, mind you, just enough). And then it was time to go. I pulled on my first boot and grabbed the zipper, which promptly fell off its track.

I wish I could say that on my way to sound check I am preoccupied with loftier things, but the truth is I was cursing those damn boots and mourning my perfect outfit. I threw on my rain boots, tossed a second pair of shoes in a bag and ran out the door.

On the subway I decided I was also wearing the wrong bra, and it was all I could do to not call Justin while I was going over the bridge and ask him to bring me another. Now you're really being crazy, I thought.

It's not like me to be keyed up about the shows, but this time was different. I was telling a story that happened pretty recently and is still close to the surface. It's also important to me, and I worried that I wouldn't do it justice in the telling. As long as I obsessed over my clothes I could avoid thinking about my story and that final moment when it's just me and a microphone and a whole lotta people listening.

It's easier to walk out into the spotlight with a funny story. I don't have a lot of experience in this department, but it's happened once or twice. I think what is much harder to me is giving the audience a window into my sadness. When I get really quiet alone with myself, or really really true, an ocean of sorrow is there, its tide rocking underneath everything.

Sorrow doesn't rank so highly in the entertainment department, but some stories won't let you go. You have to give up "being bulletproof", as Brené would say, leave behind your black boot armor. The things that are hard to say are just hard to say.

Nothing makes me feel more fortunate than being received by a compassionate audience, or spending a night among friends who let themselves be seen, who create together a night of big belly laughs and damp eyes and the courage to be just as we are, to say even the things that are hard to say.

My friend Micaela Blei won the night with a story that was tender and chilling and fierce, all at once. You can hear an interview with her on Retrospective.

You Can Find Me Here


Quiet. Grateful. Thinking. Happy.

That's how things are rolling over here. I've got all kinds of fun things brewing, but there is a beautiful summer to be had in the meantime. Books to read, shows to see, a little trip upstate for a performance in the Adirondacks.

Here are some other places you can find me:

What I Wish Those Articles on Transforming Our Spaces Told Us

Creative Superheroes Interview

7 Ways to Get Out of a Creative Rut

Meet the Artists: Jen Lee

Care and Keeping: Feng Shui Your Friends

TWO Iconic Self Live Events: August 19th


Phyllis Mathis and Jen Lee, the creators of the groundbreaking personal development course, The Iconic Self, reunite this summer for a power-packed, fun-filled day.




11am-3pm: Who's Driving the Bus?

An Iconic Self workshop with Phyllis Mathis and Jen Lee

Have you ever had an experience where your clear intentions were totally thwarted by some mysterious internal player?

Have you felt various parts of yourself at odds with each other and wondered how to call a truce?

Come and find out who is driving the bus, and how to smooth out the ride.

This interactive, story-rich workshop is for soulful people, artists, therapists and educators. 

Registration is $85 for this 4-hour workshop and includes:

  • new stories
  • interactive exercises
  • guided discussion
  • a gathering of kindreds
  • a light luncheon
  • a beautiful, intimate setting

Spots are limited, so register now:

4pm-6 pm: The Iconic Self Launch Party

This work has already transformed so many lives, and the journey is just beginning.


celebrate with us,
mingle with others on a rich interior journey, and join the conversation with a live Q&A session with Jen and Phyllis.

Refreshments will be served. This event is FREE, though reservations are required.

Pomegranate Place: Denver, CO

The Iconic Self LIVE

August 19th, 2012

750 Clarkson Street,

Denver CO 80218


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

An Evening of Stories with Jolie Guillebeau

All photos by Bella Cirovic, whose generosity feels completely other-worldly to me.


Arriving early, waiting for dinner.

When you live far from people you work with and people you love, being together feels like waking up into a dream that keeps on dreaming you even after daylight hits its screen. Disbelief is your constant companion as you shake off the thoughts that this is all too good to be true.


It IS true, you tell yourself. You are here, right now, together. You found one another—in the great sea of the world, you recognized some kindred light in water or in sky and you found a way to meet. And this is your reward: these soothing souls who help you decide what to wear, who drop into your afternoon routine with the little girls, who help you carry the load and host and take pictures that make you look beautiful, who drive and ride for hours to share a table and a drink and receive your stories as a gift. 


I'm not sure there's any better medicine for the soul than stories and togetherness. Gatherings like these are physical manifestations of the truth that runs like a current, always, beneath our feet: no matter how alone we feel, no matter how particular and specific the details of our struggles and sorrows, the minute one person shares her story all the separateness falls away and we remember that our stories touch places in the stories of others. They run parallel, they ring out in the same key, they chart a way through the common frontier that is the human experience.


We are not alone, this we know whenever stories and togetherness are present. It all matters, we all count, and as someone I know would say, it's beautiful.

To hear some of the stories from the evening, check out this podcast interview with Jolie. (You can now subscribe in iTunes.) My deepest gratitude and thanks go out to all the dear ones who came from near and far to join us. The whole evening was a dream come true, and it wouldn't have been the same without you.

Jolie's book, Beauty Everywhere: A Portable Gallery, is available for a limited time.