Gathering Good Things

I've been shooting black and white film for the last couple weeks.

Let's see, things are quiet and happily in motion over here.  It seems I'm storing up my juice for the Companions for the Journey retreat, which begins tomorrow.  Some companions are already en route, and I'm taking a move from my mother's playbook:  try to do as many preparations ahead of time as possible, so that when we're together, we can just be together.

I'm gathering good things, thinking all the time how strange it is to feel like Christmas Eve in February. It literally feels that festive.  I vacillate between feeling like Santa Claus and the little girl who knows she's about to get something unfathomable--something she's always wanted and for which she is still stunned that she was even bold enough to ask.

So I guess that explains this daze, this happy glow on a rainy day in February.

I know this, more and more every day: there is no other way to be than together.

(Join us in April.)


On Light and Love: A Weekend Giveaway

A lot of people throw around words like Light and Love, but when my friend, Jenna McGuiggan, speaks of such things, she does so as one who really knows what it is to long for them, to hope for and then find them.  She speaks as someone who shines her light and bestows her love onto humble hearts like mine.  This makes her the most beloved kind of friend.

Sometimes we cook up ways to share the love, which is exactly what Jenna did with her latest project, Lanterns: A Gathering of Stories.  There's an intimacy in the way she shared her journey into friendship and togetherness in this project, a generosity in the way she gathered her friends to extend their gifts to her on to you.  There's a hope these stories plant in your own lonely places that assures you there is no dark corner that light cannot eventually reach.

It is my sincere honor to play a small role in this moving work, and my extreme joy to offer a free copy to one of you!  Just leave a comment on today's post telling us about someone whose light has illumined your path, and I'll announce the winner on Monday morning.

But if you really want to win big, head on over to Jenna's site, where you can hear an audio excerpt of Lanterns and find an amazing package this month called Light and Love, that includes:

  • one signed copy of Lanterns: A Gathering of Stories;
  • one 5"x7" color print of "The Chocolate Room" by Jennifer McGuiggan;
  • an audio recording of the book's opening poem, "Oceans Vast: A Blessing," by Rachelle Mee-Chapman
  • a handwritten love note; and
  • a sweet treat, all thoughtfully packaged.

A Year of Being a Beginner

I've been feeling nostalgic this week about the year drawing to a close.  New Year's Day feels like a lifetime ago, and so much has happened this year.  A year ago the Diana+ camera was just something on my wish list.  I thought I should figure out some photography move so I could have some visuals to pair with my writing.  My camera arrived a little into January, and so began my crash course in film, my adventures in cross-processing, and the way shooting saved me when I wrote all the way to the fence.

This year also began with the Portfolio Project game, which Jen and I hatched up in late December and many of you began playing with us in earnest on January 1st.  The game was a 12-week fast and dirty productivity burst, in which we focused on quantity over quality, trusting that even though it wouldn't all be good that some of the raw material would be.  I started podcasting then to have more time to write offline, and ran a podcast through the whole game.  The best of my work--visual and written--from those first three months became the Fortunes collection a few months later.

Being a beginner didn't stop with the photography or the new way of getting creative work done; it was the biggest theme of the year.  I started doing live storytelling on-stage at The Moth Story Slams in Manhattan and Brooklyn.  I found the courage to tell the stories that I never tell, and traced back to the roots of that courage. I met a community of storytellers there that is kind and generous, and that continues to teach me more than I can say.

I attended the Blogher conference for the first time, met many of the Shutter Sisters and all the Kirtsy Girls.  Felt immediately more hopeful about the state of the world knowing that those women are in it.  Meeting online acquaintances face-to-face continued at Squam, my first art retreat and an event that itself held many firsts for me.

I felt the vulnerability and humility of being a beginner over and over again.  I had steep learning curves, which seems to be my way as I crash-course everything I can.  My word for the year was fearless, and I tried to leap into every project and event just as I was, without knowing what it meant or where it would lead.  You might expect that to feel strong like flexed muscles, but it didn't.  It felt crumbly and raw and unsettling--I felt unlaced and undone more than anything else. All. Year. Long. But looking through my photos from the year, I didn't see those things.  All I could see was the beauty of where trust can take you. 

Here's a quick, no-frills and flawed slideshow from the year (I can feel all my film friends cringing already)--just a few favorite moments and images that I'm holding close as I get ready to begin all over again. 

2009: A Retrospective from Jen Lee on Vimeo. Featuring the song, Ageless Beauty by Stars.

a kind light to weary travelers

Were you hoping that something new would come out, just in time to brighten the darkest days of the year? It has, and it's here. Now all you have to do is to get one of these babies in your hot little hands.  And be generous. Light someone else's way, while you're at it. There's enough light and love to go all around.

Lanterns offers a kind light to weary travelers wishing for companions on the journey toward a well-crafted soul. Stories, poems, and essays offer signposts and gentle guidance, reminding readers that resistance melts away in the company of those who believe in the path set before us. By illuminating the ways we can move outside of our interior reflections into a more inclusive whole, this lovely book provides a way into togetherness that will encourage and inspire anyone longing for authentic connection around their creative work.”~Jen Lemen, artist, activist, dreamer

Lanterns: A Gathering of Stories

by Jennifer McGuiggan & friends

6x6 inch gift book; 48-pages 
High-quality paper (100#); Saddle-stitched binding 
Black & white photography throughout 
Unique Polaroid color photo cover 
Holiday orders begin shipping 12/16/09 
Gift bundle discounts available

 Lanterns: A Gathering of Stories is a curated collection of prose, poetry, and black & white photography by seven women writers, artists, and photographers. Each page offers up nuggets of wisdom and candor about life, friendship, and creativity. This beautiful square gift book is handcrafted, professionally printed, and thoughtfully created, making it the perfect gift for your girlfriends, your daughters, your mothers, yourself. It is a gift of hope, inspiration, and the reminder that creativity and community walk alongside each other, hand in hand, a string of lanterns lighting the way. Lanterns is a celebration, an encouragement, an invitation. (A portion of the proceeds will be donated to Girls Write Now, a NYC nonprofit that helps teenage girls develop their creative, independent voices and explore careers in professional writing.) 

Darlene J Kreutzer 
Liz Lamoreux 
Jen Lee 
Jennifer McGuiggan (editor/contributor) 
Rachelle Mee-Chapman 
Lisa Ottman 
Jena Strong 

Lanterns: A Gathering of Stories is now available for holiday pre-order. Buy a single book at the special introductory price of $18 or choose a gift bundle (two books for $32 or three books for $45).

Holiday pre-orders will be accepted until December 13, 2009. Pre-orders will start shipping by December 16 for delivery by Christmas in the U.S.  

Cats and mice and African drums

Yesterday in the Park, Diana Instant+My girls are watching Tom and Jerry cartoons lately, and it has me thinking about my cat-and-mouse relationship with failure.  Many of us think that the fear of failure must wear off after one or two big successes, when in fact the stakes just get higher.  Our stumbles and trips on the rug just become more public, with more people to witness each time.

I felt a lot like Jerry last week, watching Tom sleeping just outside my door.  Calculating the odds.  After all, he's got to catch me one of these days, right?  But still knowing I must go on about my life.  I must try to get to the cake in the kitchen, even if it means running right under Tom's nose and launching the chase of a lifetime.  There has been time to muse (read: doubt), to feel quiet (read: paralyzed).  To stare out the window (and drool).

Then I talk to Fatou yesterday about a project we're cooking up. "This will be hard," she says, and I feel my determination rise up.  She isn't saying we shouldn't do it.  She's just pointing out the booby traps Tom has laid all along the way.  It doesn't change the fact that we can outsmart the difficulties, and it just makes me more determined to try.

Minutes later, I get on the subway.  Three men get on the train with large African drums and small folding chairs.  We pull away from the station and they set down their chairs in a tight circle, and start to play with people standing and sitting all around.  One of them tilts his head to the side, as if he's listening to some unheard rhythm he will birth into sound.  One is intent, one is smiling, slamming out fast staccatos.  I watch them, and for those minutes I let them teach me how to be.

It doesn't look so hard. Open your chair. Sit. Listen for the unborn sound and release it through your palms.  It looks like play, to create in a circle like this.

I think of Fatou, and the way we are sitting down to play together.  It doesn't have to be hard, I see, so I sit down and begin.