Did you hear that Martha Stewart's daughter has a new memoir out about her childhood? I heard just enough about it to breathe a deep sigh of relief at the realization that not even Martha Stewart is Martha Stewart.
It's inevitable that there will always be gaps between what you see of people and their work, whether it's being shared on television or in a magazine or online, and what the whole story is. But it's also this very human trait to fill in the gaps with our imagination--and we usually cast it in a very idealistic hue. To find evidence of this, just look back on all the crushes you ever had, how shining and shimmering those people or things appeared until you got a good look behind the curtain.
Some people will be fast to call this "inauthentic", but I don't think that's always the case. Are some people really invested in the Looking Good Game? Yes. Some are. But this phenomenon is unavoidable for all of us, because even the most honest glimpses into our lives cannot hold the whole truth of us. We are all of us far more deep and rich and complex than any public way of being known can hold.
I'm bringing this up now because I have a lot of productions that are releasing in close succession, and I'd prefer to avoid that giving anyone a complex if I can. Already I've received a few dazed comments and questions about how I'm managing it all, so please allow me this attempt to keep it a little real.
One of the first things I wrote in my early days writing in Brooklyn--back when I was trying a bunch of different forms like throwing spaghetti on the wall to see which would really stick for me--were some short essays for an anthology called Women Writing on Family: Tips on Writing, Teaching and Publishing. That anthology is complete and will release in January 2012. With the galley here for review, I'm looking forward to reading the whole collection. I know as well as anyone how, let's say, delicate writing on family can be. My contribution is a very humble one (and I am not exaggerating when I say this I swear), but I am happy to be included in such fine company.
Many of these other projects have been in the work for not months, but years. I started teaching my voice and story courses at Squam Art Workshops in 2009. In 2010 I taught a lot, and wrote companion texts for my students for four different courses. The first editions were shared with my students in pdf form. At the same time, I started leading Integrate Retreats as a way to develop and share work that was unfolding in the present, at my developmental edge.
By November, I was weary from travel and teaching and a string of personal losses. All I wanted to do was hibernate in my apartment and make good things that I could drop in the mail slot. In December I ventured out to Argot Studios to record the audio portions of Finding Your Voice and Telling Your Story. In January and February I was like a little winter-time hermit, finishing FYV and letting it pull me out of bed every morning.
Sometime in the spring, I connected with designer Liz Kalloch. (A partnership that changed everything forever: more on this next week.) We planned to release Telling Your Story in the fall, and worked on the 3-ring bound curriculum so it would be ready for my SAW students in September. We also put together the idea of doing a new edition of The Care and Keeping of Creative Souls (another course companion I had written in 2009) to also have for September SAW students and then to release for sale online for the holidays. We blazed through the two print projects so they could be done (or very very close to it) before my summer sabbatical.
And then I took off almost twelve weeks to be with my kids, take a trip up through the Pacific Northwest, and to visit my family in Colorado.
Since the September SAW session, I've been editing the Telling Your Story Sound Studio that we recorded last December and putting the last pieces in place. Now I'm working on The Iconic Self, which Phyllis and I recorded in March of this year but really started developing at those Integrate Retreats in 2010. I'm also excited to be producing work by Caren Gazley and Liz Lamoreux in the spring. I put in a quick order for a small batch of a new shirt design a couple days ago, on a complete whim. Look for those December 1st.
It's all going to come out in a burst, and it will look like so much is happening all at once. But I've been hammering away at all of it, a few swings a day, for so long. A little bit every day over time seems to build exponentially. I'm all the time working with an amazing team of collaborators who do so much of the heavy lifting. I call at least one friend a day (or three) and say things like, "Everything's gonna be okay, right?" My apartment still hasn't bounced back from when I was sick. There are about three zones that are clean and operational: the kitchen, the bathroom, and the shipping center in the studio. The rest is all markers and balls of yarn on the floor and empty coffee cups sitting around.
I'm sometimes so rattled by the vulnerability of releasing new work that my appetite drops off. (One side effect of this is a complete failure to plan meals for my family or grocery shop.) I have to keep pulling my shoulders down and away from my ears. I can't stay up late or miss my morning meditation or it goes from mild apprehension to Crazy Town in 60 seconds.
It's important for me to say these things because it's too enticing to turn the small pieces we see online or elsewhere into some imagining of The Whole Story. Try to notice whatever mythology you're building up about me or anyone else you see or know in a public arena, bring your awareness to it and Let It Go. Because I promise you, if not even Martha Stewart is Martha Stewart, you can be sure that not even Jen Lee is Jen Lee.