Filling My Mind and Fueling My Body

Someone wanted to pose as a wheelbarrow...

There are a hundred other things I should be doing, but instead here I am, saying hello. We're getting ready to introduce a new project tomorrow by the joyful Jolie Guillebeau. It's really one of the loveliest projects we've ever done. I have trips to the printer about the catalog in my future, along with ironing out the details with iTunes on the new Retrospective podcast. Then there are events I'm dreaming up and planning up and I'm sure another dozen things swirling about.

But here is what is filling my mind and fueling my body these days: this very quiet awe about what we can make against a backdrop of friendship--how rich and inviting and welcoming it all is. The people whom I clutch close to my heart, whether they know it or not, and the gratitude that comes with living inside a story of love. It's a story that I hope will never end, and that we will some day find a way to tell properly.

There is much to do, much undone, and all terribly imperfect, but in this moment I am all joy.

(Make sure you listen to and download Strong by Maya Stein. It is an absolute balm.)

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.)

From All of Us

"If I appear to be brave, it is because I have been well-loved."

I can't count how many times I have said this or wrote this to people. I could also add, "If I appear to be productive, it is because I have been well-loved." There's a way in which we are quick to assume that people's accomplishments (even the things they have legimately done themselves) happen in a vacuum, but I'm not sure I believe this is ever true.

I've been knee-deep in DIY projects over here all winter. On the plus side, I'm becoming quite well-rounded in my skill set and I'm learning so much about all the different parts of the production process. On the down side, this has meant that official collaborators have been scarce. When you're doing creative work with others, it feels like the creative energy is a ball you pass back and forth, and it enlarges with each exchange. This feeling of play and expansion has not been easy to keep alive on my own.

I was wilting a couple months back and felt immediately confronted when I realized how great was my need for encouragement. We're talking, it takes truckloads of You Can Really Do This and What You're Doing Matters and I Swear to Gods, People Will Be Glad You Did's to get me through to the end. It felt embarrassing, and I was really battling shame over it. But I knew I needed it, like it or not, so I started calling and emailing my friends.

Can you just look at this, and tell me that it's good? Can you just feed my optimism and hope enough so I can keep going another day?

So many people have been really in this with me. They've met me for lunch and we've had that creative-ball-back-and-forth play while sharing about one another's projects, they've talked me through wilty days on the phone, they've looked and looked again at my drafts, at my design, they've patiently listened while I've talked of nearly nothing else for weeks and weeks. These unofficial collaborators are my creative team, and my heart is full of gratitude for them.

If I had truly done this "alone", it either wouldn't have gotten done, or it might have gotten done but felt thin in the end, without the richness of things grown in the soil of love. Instead, I now have boxes and boxes in my apartment full of things that I can't stop touching and holding and gazing at like new babies. For the next few days I'll be unpacking them and writing notes inside every one, and then soon it will be time to pass the love and creative possibility to you.

But please don't forget, it's from all of us.

Through Someone Else's Eyes

Polaroid by Sarah Ahearn,

Susan and me, in class. Photo by the amazing Lisa Parks,

Photo by Lisa Parks,

One thing that came up over and over again at Squam by the Sea was the importance of telling each other what we see in one another.  So often our vision of ourselves can be distorted like a circus mirror by the past (think, The Ugly Duckling), by our own insecurities, blind spots or fears.

These were emotional conversations as we realized how hard it is to see ourselves with the same gentleness, compassion and love that others hold in their eyes when they come to rest on our faces.  I think this is why I spend so much time looking at the photos taken of me--there's something in my own eyes that I'm trying to adjust, there's a way I'm training myself to see the way they do.  To see that mysterious thing that's present through someone else's eyes.

Now it is time

Photo by Stephanie Roberts, www.littlepurplecowphotography.comWhen a Rwandan woman named Odette asked Jen if she could use her phone, so many months ago it's now been years, Jen's intuition told her, "This one will cause you trouble."  We joked about that last week, calling it the understatement of the century.

The road she's been on ever since that day--reuniting Odette with her two daughters--has turned her life so upside down and inside out that the internal workings of her heart and her soul are nearly unrecognizable.  She would be the first to say that this is why she has received more from this adventure than anything she gave.

When the rest of us were invited into this story, we were welcomed into it in the same manner.  Many of us have felt surprise at how much room in our hearts Odette and her girls have inhabited.  How deeply we've cared, how strongly we've longed for this famly to have a happy ending.

But Odette's gifts were for all of us, as well.  She gave us long stories, and the kind of friendship that only comes from long telling and long listening.  Her stories kindled our hope and fueled our dreams.  They fed our belief in love, especially the kind of love that can turn strangers into sisters.

A community of hope was born through this story, and now, along with the longing, we all get to share in the knowledge that we do not hope in vain.  That we ourselves can be a source (and when we are in need, a recipient) of the kind of fierce love that hears, This one will cause you trouble, and says, Yes, anyway.  This love could break your heart--I won't lie--but it has taught me that in the end, it always gives more than it takes.

This journey has lifted us, sobered us, humbled us, and at times brought us to our knees.  It has pushed up against and then broken down the boundaries we constructed around love, the ideas we had about how much was too much to give to, or too much to receive from another person.  We will never be the same.

Now it is time to join our hearts and hands and give thanks.

Love always wins.

It's not too late to help cover the costs of this amazing reunion.


Things from this weekend's retreat that I will never forget:

  • Seeing my chocolate chip cookies work their magic right before my eyes.
  • Listening to my beloved friend, Fatou, laugh with delight. Again and again and again.
  • Catching giant snowflakes on my tongue in Times Square.
  • Watching Wicked on Broadway while sitting between two of my greatest loves.
  • Setting the oven mitt on fire.
  • Acting out my fantasy to lead a hands-in-the-middle group cheer.
  • Going all-forks-in with amazing women on an equally amazing chocolate cake.
  • Every smile, each embrace, every opening and beginning.
  • The way love makes us brave, and the way--with courage and togetherness--we make dreams come true.