The Quiet Parts and Hidden Places

You're Not Alone: http://jenlee.net/shop/youre-not-alone

You're Not Alone: http://jenlee.net/shop/youre-not-alone

There are a hundred things I've been wanting to tell you, stories and scraps of stories that I don't even know how to string together yet. It's always hard for me to wait for the words to catch up. 

This gap can be a slow and subtle torture, especially because it's so hard to hear the quiet spells of others. We only see their words on the screen or hear them coming from a lit up stage or in a carefully edited film and it's easy to imagine they are always like this: witty and clever, buttoned up and polished with their timing effortless and smooth. 

But here is what I want you to know: 

No one tells you about the quiet parts. 

The magazines aren't hunting down actors between roles to say: How are you resting right now? They don't find a musician right after the tour ends to say: How do you find your way to what's next? 

And to be honest, I quickly tire of all the unveilings, because as a creative I live so little of my time there and I need wisdom for the other seasons, too. Not in a Hold My Hand So I Can Imitate You way, but in a way that finds universal wisdom running under and through each of our very specific experiences. 

I want to tell you about the quiet parts. 

I don't want them to take you by surprise when they come, because for those of us who find so much comfort and meaning in the words, losing them can feel terrifying, like falling out of a plane with a parachute that won't open. And you're watching the ground get closer and closer and wondering if the parachute will magically open in time. 

Because despite all our talk of writerly discipline, there is an arbitrary magic to when the right words appear at just the moment we need them. There's a grace, a feeling of receiving something instead of making it up out of some mix of sweat and grind. 

[Now switch metaphors with me.] 

But when the quiet comes, it is like Mother Nature insisting we leave this ground fallow before planting again. It forces us to nourish, to rejuvenate, to rest.  It protects us from stripping ourselves bare again and again--because this can so easily become compulsive.

And how can it not? When our attention is always on the launch or the release, we easily infer: I release, therefore I am. To do anything else feels not just lazy, or like falling behind--it can feel like we actually don't exist. That nothing else matters, and that we don't matter in any other posture or context. 

This is why I want to talk about the quiet parts and the hidden places--so that when they come we will all know that we are not alone. That we will remember that it all starts here, in the quiet beginning

So we will remember to treat these times as sacred, and ourselves as holy in them. 

Tell me you know the quiet, too, and we will circle and bow heads together. 


The "You're Not Alone" shirt is now available in my online shop, and all the previous designs are on sale while supplies last--check them out on the apparel page.

"Finished" is so hard to say.

Photo by Liz Kalloch

Photo by Liz Kalloch

I finished my film yesterday afternoon, and I couldn't even tell you. 

Partly because it happened as everything happens over here these days--swirling and in the midst of so much else happening all around. There was a painting to pick up before the thunderstorms hit, a daughter to take for our weekly coffee shop date, then a spontaneous afternoon and dinner with our beloved friends and neighbors who are moving back to Germany today. Then as they descended down the stairs, another neighbor climbed up to watch the girls while my husband and I went for a night out at BAM with Neil Gaiman on his publication day, including a surprise visit by his wife Amanda Palmer, and hosted by my dear friend, Peter Aguero.

If you're wondering why I haven't written more lately, it's probably because this is almost typical of how my days have been flowing, one momentous or intense or emotional thing after another with scarcely room for a breath between.  

The moment has required much of me. 

It was also hard to say because my nerves felt raw and I was afraid that the minute I played the final cut back I would find more errors. I watched it this morning in that way you do when you've been looking at a work too closely and for too long and all you can see is every shortcoming and flaw and you've forgotten how to step back and to just let it happen to you, as something whole and complete and enough. 

It's hard to say "finished" because you realize you could tweak and change the damn thing forever, if you let yourself.

It's hard to say "finished" because I collapse that with "perfect", and this is far from that.  

It's hard to say "finished" because that means opting out of the striving and trying for something that might polish over and shine up my shortcomings and limitations.  

It means letting you see me just as I am. 

A woman with a swirling, twirling life, who spends an astonishing portion of her days cooking and washing dishes and brushing little girl hair up into "Rock Star" ponytails--who squeezes out this story around the edges of everything else.  A beginner, a DIY addict who loves doing every part herself: the shooting to the editing, even if it means steep learning curves and countless imperfections.

My only peace this morning is to rest in the humility of this work. I have long known that it would not be a film shot with a whole crew and fancy equipment. I have always understood it would not be technically perfect. From the beginning I have trusted the heart of this project to carry the day--the love and intention beneath and behind it to shine something through that impacts people on a deeper level than technical execution  can do alone.

And today I am trusting that still. Indie Kindred is a love letter to the music I love, the artists who inspire me, the community that carries me and so much more. It was created around the edges of a beautiful life and as an act of fierce faith and courage, the likes of which I have never attempted before. 

I can already tell that on the other side of some rest (and a few hours of Masterpiece Mysteries), it will feel like about 90% of my brain capacity is freed back up again. I have a list of film stories I'd like to tell you before our summer tour begins. I share the first of these stories in the June issue of Kindred Magazine, which is now available for pre-order

But before I sign off today, I want to thank you for believing in me. For being patient and understanding as I've had to let so many other things go to make space for this dream to be born. For being at my side all along the way.  

A Video Hello, and a Quick Film Gear and Process Q&A

Before I dive into our very early Spring Break, I wanted to jump on and say hello. Here are a couple clips--the first is a brief update about how things go in my world these days, and the second is a quick Q&A about film gear and the process I'm using to build the documentary I'm working on, Indie Kindred.

I forgot to mention that I also sometimes used a Blue Snowball Microphone on older videos shot with the Flip camera. If you have the time and inclination, I think the best way to increase the quality of your short videos is to record the audio separately from the built-in camera microphone and then synchronize the audio and video afterward.

Missing you all like crazy, and my head is spinning with ideas of things to share with or make for you. Those things are going on a list, though, while I do my best to focus on the work at hand. 

Your patience and notes and comments mean so much to me--these things take work, and it helps so much to know you're reading and watching and traveling alongside.

I covet your feedback. Which do you most enjoy or find useful: personal story and journey updates like the first video, or practical behind-the-scenes tips like the second video? Or are you enjoying a mix of the two?

On Delays and a New Relationship with Time

There are few things as maddening to me as delays.

Don't get me wrong--I'm not one of those caff'ed-up people who run through life like Alice's white rabbit. I try to keep things pretty mellow and unhurried on the outside. But on the inside, when it comes to my work, I feel like a racehorse, hungry for the finish line.

I love finishing so much that I always try to get to the finishing part as fast as I can. It's thrilling and elating, and it's this very particular move I have, so I confess it's an easy place for my ego to become entangled. That part of me that wants to be the best or the fastest just salivates over speed.

Not long ago I was talking to my therapist about this film project and she said, "You know, I wonder if, for this project, you could create a timeline that isn't so punitive." I swear I felt the ominous music cue right then, like that moment in the movies where the missile launcher locks onto its target and you just know there's no escaping what's about to come.

"I'll think about that," I probably said, while simultaneously thinking, "Not likely."

Not much later, my husband took a nasty spill in an ice skating accident. He broke his leg, and his ankle in two places. We spent the day at the hospital, and took him home, crutches and all, to our third-floor walk-up apartment in our pedestrian neighborhood.

Let's see, in the two weeks since then we've had another day spent at the hospital, a third nearly 12-hour day there while my husband had surgery to stabilize his ankle while it heals. We've had a feverish pink-eye scare and today it's an orthodontic emergency. 

I have a move called He's On A Trip, but I didn't have a move for this. I've been learning to care for three, to get my two girls to and from their two different schools on my own, and to roll with the complete unpredictability this season holds for us.

I could say so much about the emotional weight of being reminded of how frail we are, or how I'm trying to hold our hearts together with scotch tape and paper clips as we operate out at our thresholds. But I have so little time to write right now, and there are these other things I want to say:

Working slowly scares me. I worry that if I take too long to finish, that I will move on internally to some other conversation. That I will lose the urgency that gets me to the finish line in the first place. I look at other people's long creative projects, like films which are 5-7 years in the making, and wonder how people manage to care so long.

I'm also afraid that the world will move on without me, that people will say, Jen who? 

And if my sense of worthiness is tied into going fast, it's a pretty logical follow that going slowly triggers shame for me. Yesterday I FINALLY finished the opening credit sequence for Indie Kindred that (according to Instagram) I started about a week and a half ago. I was going to guess it was three weeks ago, because it feels like an eternity to me. It's hard to even tell you this because that shame tape is not polite enough to say, I have experienced delays. It goes straight to, I am a failure. What was I thinking? I'll never pull this off.

So I'm just noticing all that's coming up for me around delays. The care-taking requires so much of me that I have to make sure my own care doesn't slip through the cracks. This leaves precious little time left. In my more weary moments I call dear friends who can catch my frustration, but in my better moments I hold panic at bay and apply myself to the awkward reworking of my relationship with time.

How do YOU navigate delays and the frustration that can so easily follow?

A Timeline of My Journey, and Turning the Corner

The Cloisters, NYC

The Cloisters, NYC

There's a certain perspective that one simply doesn't have in the moment. We rarely think, Today is the day I begin a slow but tangible downward spiral. When we speak of hind-sight, part of what we are aiming at is this ability to see life events in the context of all that came both before and after.

And sometimes it takes someone from the outside telling us the view from Out There to help us even identify the shifts which have occurred. I've had these conversations lately, and I spent some time revisiting the events and milestones of the last few years.

Here's what I can see now.

I remember when I started my blog in 2005. I remember my mom being really perplexed by the idea that anyone besides herself or my grandparents would care to read it. This space has meant many different things to me since then, but more often than not it's been a quiet little corner of the internet where I could stay under the radar while still saying the things I had to say.

In July 2008, I released Don't Write, a Reluctant Journal. Near the end of that same year came a collection of audio poem/stories called Solstice: Stories of Light in the Dark. In June 2009 I released Fortunes and then in September of that same year was Take Me With You: A Journal for the Journey . That same month, I started teaching workshops about the dilemmas we face around truth-telling and its consequences and how to craft our stories. 

In 2010, I taught at six intensive events--three of them were retreats I hosted with friends and collaborators. I hadn't calculated yet how much this work costs me in soul, and on top of that 2010 was a year filled with grief and loss from beginning to end. It was too much. We lost family members and friends (there were too many funerals), and one of my primary relationships unraveled, taking part of my creative community along with it.

I cannot always tell the stories of the failures and departures and unravelings with the same vivid enthusiasm as the stories of finding our dear ones and the joy that initially follows. There are no Flickr groups for those moments. And to only be able to tell one side of that coin placed me in a major bind. I'd been struggling for some time with the relationship between my public and private worlds, and this is probably when I tucked my head down even more.

head down.jpg

I felt exposed and grief-stricken from a year that had just snowballed down the mountain and finally caught up with me. All I wanted to do was hide away in my studio, make beautiful things, and drop them into mailboxes.

And so that's what I did.

In 2011, I turned my live workshops into multimedia home study courses and manuals, and embarked on some amazing creative collaborations.  Finding Your Voice, Telling Your Story, and The Care and Keeping of Creative Souls all came out, quickly followed in early 2012 by The Iconic Self, Ritual & Rhythm: A Guide to Creative Self Care, Beauty Everywhere: A Portable Gallery and The Liz Lamoreux Collection.

at Teahouse Studio

at Teahouse Studio

I made new friends, built a new community, and dedicated myself to creating a really rich private world. I sunk in deeply and deliciously with my husband and my children, I spent time with my peers here in New York and traveled to see friends far-away. But this time I've been quiet about so many of the good things and so many of the good times, not knowing when it might all shift again in a way that ties my hands from making retractions.

Because let's be honest: how are you really going to say, Hey everyone, I'm not friends with this person anymore--just wanted you to know. Or, hey everyone, I'm not working with this other person anymore. How do you say, Your heroes are not who you think they are? There's no photo album of it all crumbling and going terribly, horribly wrong in a way that even begins to balance the vivid stories that were told of it coming together and for a moment feeling full of promise and hope. And even if there was, I wouldn't post it.

In the fall of 2011, I was taking increasing risks in my stage storytelling, and my public/private anxiety hit a climax in early 2012 when I started feeling agoraphobic. I couldn't have my web browsers open without feeling like people were 'watching me', and I was wearing brimmed hats and sunglasses to pick my kids up from school, hoping not to talk to any of my parent-friends because I simply couldn't handle talking to anyone.

Photo by Bella Cirovic, shetoldstories.com

Photo by Bella Cirovic, shetoldstories.com

I've come a long way since then, and I'm ready to stop flying under the radar. I'm ready for my work to be seen.

That looks like many things, like turning the comments back on (which I've abandoned at times when I felt too vulnerable), and learning to use Facebook, which has been one of my top anxiety triggers. (So, if you've ever had the thought: Wow, it's like Jen doesn't know what she is doing on Facebook At ALL, you've been right.)

If things are a little clunky or awkward as I transition back from the quiet, burrowing mode into something resembling the freedom and ease I felt when I thought only my five friends were reading, I hope you will extend your understanding and generosity my way.

It's hard to feel completely remedial at things I 'should be' better at, given what I do. It's hard to feel tender, it's a slow process to learn how to let the world see something true while still holding close what is sacred and private. It's hard to feel like Humpty Dumpty, climbing back up on that wall.

If this does not sound completely crazy to you, please comment and say so. Do you have any idea what I'm talking about here? What can you see about the seasons you've traveled through or the one you're currently in? Or come like my page on Facebook and tell me it's going to be okay.

*P.S. Many of the offerings mentioned here are available in the shop.

New Moves and Learning Curves

Photo by Allison Downey

Photo by Allison Downey

Do you ever get this feeling about something, where you just Know You Have That Move?

I tell my friends about the film project, The last time I felt that feeling this strongly was when I started telling stories on stage.

I hadn't done it before, but I knew I had it in me. Before I heard about the stage storytelling scene, I was studying how shows like This American Life were crafting stories for radio. And the very first time I attended a storytelling show, I was ready to put my name the hat. 

Before I'd even seen it done.

It took several weeks of repeating this before my name was finally drawn. We were at The Bitter End, and Dan Kennedy was hosting the annual Valentine's Day-esque show aptly themed "Love Hurts". That year, he'd made Valentines out of black construction paper for each of the storytellers.  (I think I still have mine somewhere.)

The acquaintances I was sitting with kept asking me if I was nervous, knowing my name was in the hat. I wasn't, and I couldn't explain it.

I remember Dan calling my name into the microphone that first time. I remember looking at my red shoes as I stepped up onto the stage and feeling just like Dorothy finally coming home.

It doesn't happen every day or even, in my experience, every year, but from time to time we are blessed with these glimmers or glimpses of being made for a moment. It's as though time suspends for the length of one long breath, and everything that has happened up until right now makes sense.

That's how it felt behind the microphone that first night.

It wasn't all magical ever after--I think sometimes as beginners we are given special graces to ease us into paths we may not have chosen if they had been too bumpy at the start. There was still a lot of craft for me to learn, and the problem posed by live storytelling was that there was no getting better at it privately. I had to be mediocre, over and over again, and publicly--this felt like a slow, tortuous death to my inner perfectionist. It was vulnerable and at times left me feeling shaken up and raw.

I keep thinking of this story in recent days. So many of the other things I've worked at, I've tried making my way up the steep learning curves somewhere away from public view. I've disappeared from this space, for instance, time after time as I taught myself design and layout, as I learned to publish and to produce. I have these long, quiet absences punctuated by these quiet announcements, "It's here!" showing off some final product that often lacks context, as you miss so many of the stories unfolding behind the scenes along the way.

So even though it feels like another slow death to me, I'd like to do as much as I can to bring you the stories unfolding behind the scenes right now as I take on my most ambitious work to date in the short documentary I'm now making. To bring you Notes From The Learning Curve, or something like that.

I'm trusting that you'd rather hear what's happening than not, that you can hold my beginner parts alongside any expertise I may also hold, and that the stories about what we make and why are at least as important as the things we make themselves.

Now, if you want to tell me I'm not alone, I won't stop you. What learning curves are you up against? What are you beginning? Or what move have you not tried yet, but are certain you've got it in you somewhere? (Don't worry--I won't tell.)