Interviewing Michael Nobbs, and other exciting news

There's so much to tell you about this morning, I hardly know where to begin. 

Let's start with Michael Nobbs, the creator of sustainablycreative.com and the author of Drawing Your Life, whose work has been a comfort and inspiration to me over these last difficult months. I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael in the latest episode of Retrospective: The Podcast. If you're doing creative work inside of time or energy constraints, you won't want to miss this conversation. Jump over and give it a spin, or subscribe and listen in iTunes.

What's next? Well, at 8am PST, registration will open for the Story Excavation Retreat on the Oregon Coast with Liz Lamoreux and Kelly Barton, which is the only 5-day retreat I'm teaching at this year. This coast is a sacred landscape for me, where I've done much of my own healing and becoming. I can't imagine anything I'd love more than to cozy up on the sofa next to you.

Lodge at Gearhart (photo by Vivienne McMaster)

Lodge at Gearhart (photo by Vivienne McMaster)

Finally, a quick update about the Indie Kindred summer screening tour: we are totally doing this. I have our route and itinerary in place for July and I'm working on August dates and getting venues lined up. My girls and I are traveling from coast to coast to see you, and I can hardly wait. (Stay tuned--details to come.)

Thank you for all the enthusiasm and support for this work, in all of its manifestations. Now, back to the film cave . . .

Finding a New Rhythm

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My husband has been walking for about 10 days now.

It's been a transition back, as he's gone back to his office and I've converted my own studio back from convalescent room to workspace and refuge. The first day everyone was gone it was SO QUIET. And it's interesting how quiet can become a stranger to us, even as we long for it. We simply forget how to be in its company.

I had all this expectation on myself, as if NOW I would be like a racehorse out the gate, fast and unhindered. My phone friends heard this kind of pressure in my voice and urged me to take it easy. To stare out of windows. To not feel that every second now needed to be productive to make up for something--it's only an illusion that anything has been lost.

It was a good thing they did, because the next day it was as if two months' worth of fatigue hit me all at once, like that big let-down after college finals when we usually got sick.  I had a long list of things to do, but no reserve to work from. So I wrote about this cycle I go through of clearing space, rest, and rapid execution, and I tried to believe, as I struggle to every time, that the productivity and clarity would be there waiting for me on the other side of clearing space and rest.

I broke down boxes, and took out recycling. I put things in their place. I watched a lot of Wallander (the Swedish version) on Netflix streaming. I took baths. I walked around the block. But mostly I just waited.

It's funny because the old-school approach to getting work done--the entrepreneurial, management-style approach--says that if we start clearing our spaces or wanting to read in bed, we're just avoiding our work. That we should "push through" and keep in motion.

But that approach has never worked for me in the realm of creative work. Clearing space and resting are as essential to my productivity as the sun and water parts are for growing plants.

I fight against these spells as those old voices nag me, and one day last week I did try to do some work. I was looking over my notes yesterday, which reminded me of the ones I took in college just after lunch, when I would struggle to stay awake through the entire lecture. (Even with the lights on, even when I sat in the front row.) The letters and words are uneven and ragged and difficult to read. The thoughts are so vague in spots that the ideas are even hard to follow.

But my notes yesterday looked like they were written by a completely different person. Even and ordered, in columns and categories. I even banged out a couple things on the list like they were no big deal.

I'm finding a rhythm again--one that's not dictated and structured by external needs but is directed and guided by something internal. It is being at the source of doing. It is the way I keep proving to myself over and over again that if I'm well cared for, the work takes care of itself.

What rhythms are appearing in your creative process? What essential elements are you learning you need to do your best work?

On The Other Side Of Terror

Photo: with Maya

Photo: with Maya

On the other side of terror, nervous energy spins me out of my seat and the best kind of puttering takes over. I start clearing spaces, not in a look-good, feel-perfect kind of way, but in a way that creates a feeling of openness. The kind of clearing that ushers out the not-for-nows and makes space for the cherished and necessary to be easily at hand.

Puttering through and clearing my spaces creates order in my thoughts; taking out the recycling gives a new place to stand, and from that kitchen tile the whole world can look new.

On the other side of terror is deep rest, the kind that cozies up with spy novels and takes afternoon naps under the covers. It is restoration in the presence of good company, playfulness in the presence of children, food that inspires one to chew slowly and savor.

It is a rest that walks away to let the ideas simmer on the back burner for awhile--lid on tight, no stirring. It is the long night giving way to morning revelations that wait patiently on your pillow.

On the other side of terror is doing the work, returning with a spacious mind and rested eyes and that moment of finally seeing how the puzzle pieces fit together. It is a burst of energy, a singleness of focus, and the feeling of elation that only a small victory can bring.

It is the hope that you really will figure it out and pull it off. It is the way your soul soars when something true has it in its grip. It is trust for one more day, letting your heart loose like a kite in the wind. It is taking the next step. It it saying, Yes. Again. And again.

Update:

The route and itinerary for our Indie Kindred summer tour are coming together so nicely. I'm confirming dates and venues for the Los Angeles area and Salt Lake City next, so if you're in those areas and would like to attend or host a screening, let me know! (Email: jen@jenlee.net)

Do you think we should, maybe, meet?

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So here's what I'm thinking.

Wouldn't it be so fun if I packed up the girls and some of our good things and came to see you this summer? Indie Kindred, my documentary about creative collaboration, will be ready and what seems most in the spirit of the film is to share it in person, with you and your kindreds, in living rooms and homes around the country.

You may remember I've been dreaming of a tour for awhile now, and I'm checking in and collecting information to see if conditions and timing are right to do that in July or August. Or both.

Here's how you can join me. If you're interested in partnering with me to create an intimate and inspiring gathering in your neck of the woods, drop me a quick email at jen@jenlee.net. Say something like this:

Dear Jen,

I am interested in attending a living room screening this summer.

(or) I am interested in hosting a living room screening this summer.

(and/or) I am interested in hosting you and your girls for an overnight stay during your adventure.

I live in (City, State). It's going to be great.

(your name here)

I'll read your notes, spend a little time with a map, and see what we can cook up. If it's not the right thing at the right time, that's fine, but it would be so lovely to see your faces, meet your friends, and spend some time together.

Now, who's in?

On Holy Terror, Fear and Trembling

Photo by Katrina Noble, temporary tattoo by Chickadee Road

Photo by Katrina Noble, temporary tattoo by Chickadee Road

Documentary film update: I've officially hit the holy terror part of this project.

I know this feeling intimately--it's the same feeling I get when I'm working on a new story to tell onstage. It starts sometime after I say yes, after the event is announced, after people expect me to show up and deliver. It waits until I have a table full of parts and like some mystery mechanic I try to assemble them together for the first time.

I step back and see that it is all wrong, that it either doesn't hold together or doesn't stay together, or at best it looks good but is completely not operational.

That's when I get very quiet and wish my body could fold inside itself like those tiny notes we passed around the schoolyard, folded into wads the size of thimbles.

Maybe this is the time I don't pull it off. The thought sticks to me like a bad dream that still feels real after waking. It makes my body feel heavy, my movements slow and my breath shallow.

I'm not just afraid of looking bad publicly. It's true--the thought doesn't warm me, but in my better moments I can leave that out of it.

The bottom line is, I work in service of the story. The idea of not doing a story justice, not distilling out its essence and delivering it in a way that can be received, not getting to that juice that doesn't just entertain or amuse but transforms us--both in the telling and in the receiving--that is my fear, my most holy dread.

It makes my nerves raw. My body looks calm but If you look in my eyes you can see this very primal animal-on-the-run business just leaking out like invisible tears.

I used to mistake this feeling for madness.

I even got myself checked out to be sure.

She said, Do you really think that courage always feels like a cape flapping in the wind on a mountaintop? No. Most of the time it feels like fear and trembling.

That was good news, because I LIVE in the land of fear and trembling.

Okay, Loves, it's Join the Club time. Do you have a holy terror part of your creative cycle? What do you work in service of, and what is it you most fear? Scroll down to join the conversation in the comments, if you're reading via email click here, or pipe in on Facebook.

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?