Looking Forward

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I miss you.

It keeps coming up, and then I think,  I should say something, but sometimes words are a little scarce, you know? And quiet times feel like something there's not so much permission for in these times.

But here's what I do want to tell you. There's greater work swirling about, because as I put together the short film I'm also forming a vision of my work as a whole in the coming season. And because I see my work in a context of partnership with my friends and collaborators, their forming visions of the next season of work is part of that conversation.

It's the kind of perspective that requires some distance--like seeing the earth from the moon. So these past days have been about getting that kind of distance. Stepping away, getting a little quiet, turning my mind to other things--like a new stage story--when my mind needs to work on the problem in an inactive sort of way (think new ideas in the shower). Pulling each part and piece into focus, distinguishing one from the other.

It's also meant taking inventory and a little looking back at how different experiments have played out.

And some of what I've seen back there has made me feel tender, and I've tried to hold myself with as much gentleness as I can muster. To forgive myself for sustaining injuries along the way, for the way those injuries made me want to pull back a little from view, for the string of vulnerabilities created by releasing so many heartfelt offerings in such a short time and the way it's been easier to stay quiet and small than risk being seen on any grand scale.

Some of it has been a self-protection mechanism, I can see that now. But I think there's a certain kind of grief that accompanies any realization about how we've been withholding from the world. So I'm traversing those feelings and gathering myself--along with a new sense of strength and well-being and resilience--and looking FORWARD to all the good and brave things to come.

The best remedy for the quiet is connection, so if there are things *you* are wanting to say, just jot them down in the comments section and I'll be happy to catch them.

The Sacred Quiet

My favorite windows to gaze out of are train windows.

My favorite windows to gaze out of are train windows.

It's not just the time between Christmas and New Year's Day--I'm noticing this rhythm at the end of most months in which I drift into a sea of quiet. I stop reading non-fiction and sit back gently into story on the page or story on the screen. I hold my children. I take naps. I bake, and spend a lot of time gazing out windows and sipping tea.

Sometimes I peruse Twitter and marvel at how much everyone has to say. When my own words go, it feels like watching other people fluent in a language I am struggling to remember.

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I think about all the people who counsel to write or blog every day and how every time I come across that idea I think, fuck that. I would rather only say something when there is something to say, and the honest truth is that many days are marked here by a sacred quiet. Those expectations are just a shame spiral waiting to happen in my world.

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Of course I have all those thoughts that you might have in such times, too.  Other people's lives and work can seem so remarkable and adventurous when we are laying down for the second nap of the day, when we have neither the impulse or desire to take a picture or to pick up a pen.

When these times come, there are a few postures I can take (I've tried them all).

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I can panic. Tell myself that the words are never coming back, that my magic fairy dust has somehow been squandered or used up. Or worse, thoughts like: Maybe it's cancer. (It's not cancer. At least not yet.)

I can try to power through. Force myself to keep being active, even if it's not really productive. That generally leads to laborious work that doesn't forward the ball, heaps of frustration, and then the kind of exhaustion that throws all my good coping mechanisms out the door.

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I can surrender. Remember creative processes like incubation and gestation and the healing power of rest. Tell myself that the words will come back in their own time, probably with such velocity that I can't even catch them all as they blow through.

When I surrender to the sacred quiet, I let memories surface and collect them like quilt patches. I listen to what's really tugging at my heart and try to hold everything else at bay. I make my bed and create space in my environment for whatever weather comes. I hope that in this posture, direction and redirection will find me. I let the people with words have them, and know when mine return, I will be rested. Ready. And listening.

February is a good time for inner journeys, and while I'm editing my new short documentary project, Indie Kindred, I'll also be here, creating a powerful conversation about soul excavation and integration with my long-time friend and collaborator, Phyllis Mathis

I hope you'll join us!

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.

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.

The Limitations of Black Boot Armor

The Moth GrandSLAM at The Music Hall in Williamsburg, photo by Justin Lee

The Moth GrandSLAM at The Music Hall in Williamsburg, photo by Justin Lee

I thought if I had the perfect outfit, I wouldn't feel so vulnerable up there on stage.

Of course, one part of me is too wise to believe that, but another part of me couldn't help giving it my best shot.

I've been feeling a little angst-y about my clothes lately. Earlier this year I pinpointed some major food intolerances and when I stopped eating them a couple things happened: my skin cleared up for the first time since I was 12, and I dropped a size. Or two. I know that this is a problem that feels like no one has the right to complain about, but it didn't feel good to feel like my body was getting lost in a bunch of extra fabric--it felt like I was disappearing. And I didn't want to disappear on that stage.

So I went out and found some clothes that fit. I had my black boots that make me feel a little badass (not a lot, mind you, just enough). And then it was time to go. I pulled on my first boot and grabbed the zipper, which promptly fell off its track.

I wish I could say that on my way to sound check I am preoccupied with loftier things, but the truth is I was cursing those damn boots and mourning my perfect outfit. I threw on my rain boots, tossed a second pair of shoes in a bag and ran out the door.

On the subway I decided I was also wearing the wrong bra, and it was all I could do to not call Justin while I was going over the bridge and ask him to bring me another. Now you're really being crazy, I thought.

It's not like me to be keyed up about the shows, but this time was different. I was telling a story that happened pretty recently and is still close to the surface. It's also important to me, and I worried that I wouldn't do it justice in the telling. As long as I obsessed over my clothes I could avoid thinking about my story and that final moment when it's just me and a microphone and a whole lotta people listening.

It's easier to walk out into the spotlight with a funny story. I don't have a lot of experience in this department, but it's happened once or twice. I think what is much harder to me is giving the audience a window into my sadness. When I get really quiet alone with myself, or really really true, an ocean of sorrow is there, its tide rocking underneath everything.

Sorrow doesn't rank so highly in the entertainment department, but some stories won't let you go. You have to give up "being bulletproof", as Brené would say, leave behind your black boot armor. The things that are hard to say are just hard to say.

Nothing makes me feel more fortunate than being received by a compassionate audience, or spending a night among friends who let themselves be seen, who create together a night of big belly laughs and damp eyes and the courage to be just as we are, to say even the things that are hard to say.

My friend Micaela Blei won the night with a story that was tender and chilling and fierce, all at once. You can hear an interview with her on Retrospective.