Websites and Wallflower Moves

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Today I want to give you a little behind-the-scenes glimpse into my relationship with my website, which is perhaps more prickly and precarious than you might imagine--partly to capture this aspect of my journey at this moment in time, and partly because I can't be the only one feeling totally crazy about her site and design. 

My site has felt all wrong to me for more than a year, I'd say. I know many people just hire designers to do this side of their work, but that hasn't been a good solution for me for a couple reasons. First, I'm a DIY-kind of girl, and I actually enjoy doing the work and knowing how to tweak it whenever I want.

People who hire out site designs have these big public unveilings: Come look at my new site! This doesn't happen much around here because the site redesigning is constant and continuous. Even now, there are some new banners, but there are pages to come and  graphics yet to be made. Phyllis pointed out at one point that it's a tall order for the site to keep up with the fast-paced evolution my work. "First you were a blogger, then a writer, then an instructor. Then you were a stage storyteller, then a photographer, a publisher, a producer and now a filmmaker." Okay, so when she said it like that, I could see that was one force I was up against--rapid growth as a multi-media artist.

From a pragmatic angle, this means creating a navigation structure that allows people to find all the things I'm offering in one place--and the more offerings I have, the more thoughtful I've had to be in this organization.

The other element of my struggle was a vision issue. Even if you want to hire someone to fulfill your vision through a website, you need some clarity in that vision. Going into the site restructuring I did this summer (primarily to clean up the organization and navigation), I had this strong desire to really showcase and feature the work.

Visually, our offerings are growing more diverse all the time--not just because we have so many projects but the projects are designed to reflect the personal style of the authors and artists behind them. A Jolie Guillebeau book looks and feels like Jolie's paintings and her website, and the offerings by author LIz Lamoreux are infused with her style and sensibility. Add a growing collection of short videos and trailers to our library of book cover thumbnails, and visually there is very quickly a lot going on.

I did my typical wallflower move--I thought, I don't want this to look like the Jen Lee Show. I want a quiet canvas that allows the resources and the artists who made them to be the focus. And that's why the banners went away.

Yes, the site was quiet on the eyes to look at, but it was missing some essential pieces. It took me a few angsty months to realize once again, for the two hundredth time, that my wallflower move never goes well. That I have to keep bringing myself to the table and letting myself be seen. That it's the kind of being seen that doesn't hide other people in its shadow but that draws them into its light. That bringing back a sense of person and place creates context for all that we create.

Place is really essential for me--there's someone I get to be here on this brownstone block in Brooklyn that I don't get to be just everywhere I go. There is a possibility that life in this city represents to me that is a unique kind of partnership in my creative work. So banners are back, along with many of my photos of this beautiful landscape I call home.

As soon as my photos were back in the mix, I felt like Rip Van Winkle waking up. I wanted to shout, I'm Back! because that's how it felt. Like I had been missing and the room had been bare. Do I feel narcissistic with all these photos of myself? Yup. I just try to not think about it too much, and to remember that when we aren't seeing each other face to face every day that we feel a certain hunger for faces and voices. And I'm trying to give you all of me I can.

When Being Seen Is An Inside Job

Photo by Bella Cirovic, shetoldstories.com

Photo by Bella Cirovic, shetoldstories.com

Almost two years ago I sat in the office of a wise woman whom I had never met with my friend Kate by my side. When she asked what brought me there, I said, I'm a girl without a mirror. And then she told me who I am. It was so uncomfortable and unbelievable to sit under her gaze and hear her words that I squirmed in my chair and tried not to let her words just roll off of me like raindrops on an umbrella.

I tried to receive her words and tuck them into some pocket of my heart so I could carry them with me as a small reassurance or reminder until my vision could catch up to hers.

There are very few of us who can't use a good mirror from time to time--people who see us and tell us the parts we have difficulty seeing for ourselves. That day something transpired with Kate as my witness that felt almost holy, but it was really the beginning of a journey and not an arrival point. Since then other people have seen me quite clearly, and their words have been a balm to me.

It's true.

But taking on and using the words of others has not been true. Not because they weren't good words or they weren't the truth, but because I wasn't ready to be seen that way. Because I wasn't ready to see myself that way.

And this is the part of my journey that has been most arduous--the part for which I've needed companions who are not afraid of the dark. Companions who would be mirrors not once for me, but for months and for years.

When who you are becoming breaks all the rules in the world from which you've come, the job at hand is not just to have words for who you are but to construct a new interior world in which who you are can be welcomed and not feared.

And that is not a one-day job. That is a two-years-from-being-seen-to-writing-a-bio journey, at least for some of us. Even with the best of friends and soul care professionals.

This has weighed heavily on me in recent days, as websites and people pop up around the internet promising big things in the way of sexy web copy, skyrocketing sales, and the kind of just-around-the-corner success that will Finally Make You Feel Okay as a Human Being. ThIs I know: Those who bathe their web copy in super-steroid adjectives like bodybuilders who can't stop flexing are not my people. And it's too bad, because some of them share some helpful material from time to time, if you can, as Phyllis says, duck the hyperbole.

I woke up one day last week at 5:20 in the morning with words pouring into my head. I sat up and grabbed a piece of paper on which to transcribe them, and that's how I was able for what felt like the first time to express clearly what it is I do.

It didn't happen because I hired a copywriting rock star. It happened because of all of the hundreds of parts and pieces of this long journey, which strung all together finally landed me onto a safe shore.

It happened because when I told my friend Aaron I wanted to make a movie, he didn't look at me like I was a crazy person. Because my NYU film-prof/mom-friend-from-school thought it was really amazing that I'm a self-taught artist and not really ridiculous. Because my therapist says I haven't really fallen from grace, just because I've fallen out of an old paradigm which had nothing to do with real grace. Because Bella caught something in her camera that I could finally see as something real outside the fantasy of my mind. Because my friends take me seriously even when I don't. It's the mysterious and divine way in which a hundred moments combine and converge to knit your heart together in the places in which is torn.

There is no 3-step formula for this kind of transformation. The kind that says I will let myself be remade, I will say good-bye to something past and raise my head and open my eyes while I step into something new. There is only encouragement and guideposts and inspiration and companions along the way, and this is the bedrock foundation of everything my friends and I make and do together.

In commercial terms, it's like the worst marketing ever.

So we don't even try to make it fit through the commercial machines. We do it our way, without hyperbole and promises. And we invite you to come along.


Check out what's new on the site about what I'm up to right now. And if you want, drop me a line and tell me what you're up to. I won't think you're a crazy person--I will think you are amazing. Really.

Holiday Bustle and Dreams That Come True

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Lots of holiday bustle over here--but the very best kind. I'm in this very serious nesting-kind-of-kick as Thanksgiving approaches, giving the apartment some love (and getting happier and happier in my space with every minute), gathering food and having my mind just a little bit blown when I realize that visitors will arrive tomorrow. Creating clearings for rest and play and love.

We're also bustling here at Jen Lee Productions with a holiday special like we have never had before, just for those who have requested our catalog or to keep in touch in some other way with our offerings and happenings. You can go here to make sure you're on the list for our virtual postcard going out on Friday, and there's a couple days left to tell your friends.

I am feeling a sacred quiet and like my heart is busting out of my chest all at once when I think about the way you read along, journey alongside and support us as we make the good things of our dreams. It's been a landmark year: around this time last year we released Telling Your Story, then The Care and Keeping of Creative Souls. At Christmas time we were wrapping up The Iconic Self, then in the spring we introduced you to Ritual & Rhythm: A Guide to Creative Self Care and Beauty Everywhere: A Portable Gallery. The Gift of This Moment carried us into summer, with a CATALOG to hold it all together.

I still get that wobbly-knee feeling, just remembering how vulnerable it's been to take so many close-to-our-heart dreams and to make them real. To order boxes full of vision and to have faith they would be greeted with kindness and even open arms.

It's because of your encouragement, your belief and support that we've been able to do this. You literally make our dreams come true, and for that we are truly thankful.

Saving Graces, Freelancing and the Power of Place with Liz Kalloch

Photo by Bella Cirovic, shetoldstories.com

Photo by Bella Cirovic, shetoldstories.com

My friendship with artist Liz Kalloch is one of my life's great pleasures. Her story, her journey, and who she is in the world teaches me every day. I'm thrilled to share her with you in the latest in-depth interview on Retrospective.

Two Journeys and the Bridge Between Them

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One of the reasons why I feel so behind or backlogged when I've been out of touch is that there's not just one batch of stories to tell. Sure, I was away for a week working on the documentary project, and I came home to sick children and caught what they had and we spent a week together on the couch. And then we squeezed in a birthday celebration before the next round of illness hit and then there was a super storm and we were all home another week. There were a couple close calls and so many dishes to wash. 

This journey itself holds plenty of stories, its portion and then some of emotions. It could criss-cross maps with its starting and ending points. 

But that's just the outer journey. While all of that was happening on the outside, there was another journey happening on the inside. There were books read and provoking films watched, there were conversations to both soothe and aggravate. There was an invisible terrain to navigate, paradigms and expectations, courage and discernment, trust and grace.

I'm not sure exactly what to say when people ask how I am or how it's going and there is so much, inside and outside. Often I say very little, especially while it's all still swirling. Maybe there's a way to tease out the contained moments and smaller episodes, to take one's time telling them and resist the pressure to live blog one's life.

What I'm learning most of all is this: my body is the bridge between the two journeys I am concurrently traveling. It is both bridge and barometer. On Monday I can wake up with ideas of all kinds of things I 'should' do, and then Tuesday I can feel tight and tense and headachy and it's a reminder that I physically can't swing living inside of external expectations at the cost of internal calling. All those things I 'should' do undergo fierce examination and are either discarded or have to take another form.

I wish I could say it comes naturally just to trust my body barometer, but the truth is it takes a lot of encouragement and validation--especially when what it's telling me is to simplify and dial down the outer production to hold space for all that is happening, unseen, in the interior. I have to send my inner Performance Junkie packing.

There will likely be more to say about this later, but I just wanted to offer what I have right now--these thoughts trying to take shape in a mess of words before I tend to my body and what it needs from this day.

Turning Points & No Regrets: Jonatha Brooke

From the archives--Photo by Susannah Conway, susannahconway.com

From the archives--Photo by Susannah Conway, susannahconway.com

I still think about those dark days a couple winters back when Jonatha and I left our respective hermitages and slipped out for a coffee here or a lunch there. How consoling it felt to be with someone who knew what it was to be burrowed in deep, someone who knew how rejuvenating even that small injection of company could be.

It was like getting hooked up to an oxygen tank before plunging back under water.

It's so different now to be together in the bright sunshine of July, with those hard times behind us. With the champagne joy of new work pulling us forward into the crazy scary places that bubble with vitality and life.

I'm so happy to share our most recent conversation with you on Retrospective, where we talk about her adventures in music and theater, turning points and the decisions she'll never regret. (You can also listen in iTunes.)