Finding Your Voice: Forgiveness

Photo by Allison Downey, allisondowney.comEvery time I step onto a stage I have to forgive myself.

I forgive myself for breaking so many rules, like: 

  • Be quiet.
  • Stay small.
  • Swallow your truth to spare other's feelings.
  • Look good.
  • Make us look good.
  • Stay positive.

I forgive myself for not being able to control what others feel, whether they agree or not, whether or not I am understood.

I forgive myself for decades of jaw-clenching to hold my words inside. For the way my throat still tightens and catches, making my voice break when I wish it was pouring out uninterrupted and free.

I forgive myself for forgetting how to forget myself and be natural, for needing to practice, to remember.

I forgive myself for wanting to be good, to get it right, to have my words tight and dialed in.

And I forgive myself for fumbling and for stumbling as I try to let it all go. As I try to surrender.

Join us for an intimate night of stories (no stage) tomorrow night at Park Slope Ale House (7:30pm, no cover). I'll be with one of my favorite people in the world, Jolie Guillebeau, whose stories are better than mine. You'll get to see what we've been up to together, live and in person. Tell us you're coming and we'll save a spot for you.


More on Finding Your Voice here.

Steady Burn: At Teahouse Studio

Good things: everyone enjoyed seeing our good things in person, and being the first to see what's coming soon!

It was so good to be at Teahouse Studios with Stef and all the new friends who came out to join us. Everyone was open and generous, sharing stories and laughter.

Jolie Guillebeau, my unofficial business manager, relaxing before the workshop begins.

Me: Oh my gosh, Liz--those pillows look like you painted them!

Liz: I did.

(Of course.)

The irreplaceable Phyllis Mathis.

Weekend bonus: getting to be face-to-face with some of my most beloved friends.

Somehow, every time I take a picture of Caren Gazley, she's sipping a warm drink.

Color, color everywhere.

Being at Teahouse Studio is like being wrapped inside an artist's pallette. So many colors and textures delight and inspire, everywhere you look.

These two are always so happy to be together.

We enjoyed some of the yummiest meals EVER.

Handmade pottery by Phyllis, and a sneak peek at the cover art for Beauty Everywhere: A Portable Gallery by Jolie Guillebeau.

We savored Caren's special touches, like her tealight candles and her essential oil tips and treatments.

I loved seeing Liz, my partner-in-crime, in person. She always makes me smile.

Steady Burn was the most nourishing, filling, feeding-of-body-and-soul event we've ever done. If you'd like to experience some of this creative wellness wisdom for yourself, order your copy of Caren's brand-new book: Ritual and Rhythm: A Guide to Creative Self Care. (Coming soon!) We took the opportunity to celebrate this new project while we were together, ooh-ing and aah-ing over Liz's design and Hula's photography, reveling in the exquisite feel of the paper and the joy of seeing Caren's words and wisdom come to life.

Many thanks to all whose presence and contributions made this weekend so special.

Yearning for some time together? Join me at Squam Art Workshops in September.

A Night to Remember: Moth GrandSLAM XXV

The Highline Ballroom before doors opened. Taken with the Vignette App on my Droid.

What a night!

Sound engineer extraordinaire Paul Ruest runs sound check.

I was up past my bedtime, performing in the Moth GrandSLAM, a championship show in which 10 winners of Moth StorySLAMS come together in an evening that is part showcase, part competition featuring some of the best live storytelling around.

And last night was no disappointment.

Before the show I talked new belts and water bottles with some of my fellow performers, many of whom were stepping onto the GrandSLAM stage for the first time. When the doors opened, the party really started. I was honored and delighted that Amy Williamson and Maya Stein traveled in to see the show. Many of my storytelling pals were in the house, including Ed Gavagan, Jim O'Grady, Ben Lillie, Steven Berkowitz, Peter Aguero, and Steve Zimmer sharing the stage with me--in addition to the friendly faces that make up The Moth staff and support.

A room of profound listening.Pre-show shotsHost Dan Kennedy and Senior Producer Jen Hixson introduce the judges.

Our host for the evening, Dan Kennedy, was completely cracking me up, as usual. If you haven't read his book, Rock On: An Office Power Ballad, go to and download it today. I'm super picky about memoirs, and I loved hearing this one in Dan's own voice so, so much.

The other three female storytellers were picked out of the hat right off the bat--one, two, three. And they were slaying it. I honestly can't remember a night so filled with heart and soul from start to finish as last night was. I was SO proud to be a New York City storyteller, so honored to be in their company.

During intermission I checked in with Amy and Maya, who were engaged in a hot debate at their table about the scoring and we jammed for awhile about what makes a good story. As an audience member, I always love it when I get lost in a story--totally immersed in a character, a world, or in a moment.

Photo by my husband, Justin

I was the 6th or 7th storyteller of the night, and I told the story of our move to New York City, almost exactly five years after we walked off that airplane and into the great unknown of our coming life. If you had told me back then that this was the future awaiting me, I'm not sure I would have been able to believe it if I tried.

It's hard for me to explain what it's like to have a place like this stage where I can simply be who I am and tell it like I see it, to have my words received by rooms filled with people offering the most generous kind listening, and to be held by a community of tellers who hold story sacred.

The very first time I walked up onto a stage like this was just over three years ago. Dan Kennedy was hosting that night, too, and I remember I was wearing red shoes as I stepped up onto the stage and I felt like Dorothy coming home.

I think it's felt like that ever since.

At the end of the night, I tied with Ben Moskowitz to win. My first thought this morning when I woke up was that it had all been a dream.

Then I remembered: it was a dream, once. But now it's real.

Quiz: What Kind of Creative Are You?

When a creative idea strikes, you think:
A. Great! Let me just finish up the dishes, the laundry and the taxes so I can get to the fun.
B. Another one? Awesome--that makes 5 today. Wait . . . what were the other four?
C. Clear my schedule--I must serve the muse until she passes.
D. A creative idea--who, me? Let me get on Etsy and see if someone's already made that--maybe I'll buy one.
E. No problem--I can rock that idea out with my right hand and cook dinner with my left hand.

A good-looking creative opportunity arrives in the mail box, but you already have a plate full of commitments. You think:
A. Whoa, whoa. One thing at a time. Let me finish the things I've committed to first. Then if I have time and energy left, I'll consider this new one.
B. It sounds like a great opportunity. You know, it reminds me of this other thing I heard about . . . I should go try to find that.
C. Mail? Honey, I don't check my mail when I'm immersed in a project. It'd be long past the deadline by the time I saw it.
D. No worries--they must have sent this to the wrong person. This can go in the recycling bin.
E. I've got to say, Yes, no matter how full my plate is. Opportunities choose us, after all.

A whole weekend opens up to devote to your creative work. You:

A. Clean and reorganize your studio. Now if you only finish the rest of the house, you can come back to this beautiful space and make something.
B. Go to the art supply store and lose yourself. You spend way more than you meant to, and come home with an array of things--you can't exactly figure out what to do with them or where to start. So you break out a crafty magazine and call up your girlfriend to chat.
C. Hit the pedal to the metal. You end the weekend wearing the same clothes you started with, feel weak from not sleeping or eating much, but look at all you got done! (Wait, is that a cold coming on?)
D. Go on a tour of museums in your area. There really is so much to see and admire.
Start your own film production company, because when are you going to have a free weekend to do that again?

When it comes to creativity, your motto is:
A. Everyone needs something to look forward to when the cleaning is done.
B. I must just be an idea person--I need to find an executor to do all these great projects!
C. Live on inspiration: nothing else matters.
D. Leave it to the professionals. After all, someone's got to be the audience.
E. If I'm not a little exhausted, I'm not really trying.

If you answered:

Mostly A's: You are a Dutiful Creative. If life were a meal, you'd consider your creativity is the dessert, and always strive to eat your vegetables first. Pacing and knowing how to say, No, are your strengths, but your creativity is more essential to your well-being than you realize. You need to learn how to fit your duties into a creative life, and not just the other way around.

In our upcoming workshop, Steady Burn: The Art of Creative Wellness, Dutiful Creatives will learn how to make creativity a more essential part of their daily lives.

Mostly B's: You are a Distracted Creative. With a hundred ideas shooting in a hundred directions, it's easier for you to think up creative projects than to actually sit down to do them. Ideas and inspiration are indeed your strengths, but if you learn how to drop down into your ideas and dwell with them, you could slow down enough to enjoy the other part of the creative process: making.

In Steady Burn: The Art of Creative Wellness, Distracted Creatives will find a way out of Idea Overload and into a creative practice that leaves them feeling restored, not strung-out.

Mostly C's: You are a Deep Diving Creative. When the muse finds you, you jump all in--fast and deep. Learning to ground yourself in you body and the routines of daily life, even while you're in periods of creative flow will stabilize your health, protect you against illness, and nurture your relationships.Support for your work among your loved ones will grow when they are not constantly in competition with your creativity for your attention and care.

In Steady Burn: The Art of Creative Wellness, Deep Diving Creatives will learn a model of care, not neglect, that will equip them and preserve their stamina for the long run.

Mostly D's: You are a Doubting Creative. You envy people who create things, but don't dare think the creative spirit applies to you. However, creativity is not reserved for some special club. Your own creative spark is what prompts you to admire the work of others. It's likely that by addressing your fears and finding the right medium or way in, you would enjoy making even more than you love admiring.

In Steady Burn: The Art of Creative Wellness, Doubtful Creatives will learn how to tap into the source of creative energy directly for themselves.

Mostly E's: You are a Do-It-All Creative.  You approach your creative work with the same ambition and vigor usually reserved for things like corporate ladders. Your ability to execute is the source of many a friend's envy, but your brutal pace comes at a price. Your health, relationships, and your ability to hear your inner guidance may all be compromised over time.

In Steady Burn: The Art of Creative Wellness, Do-It-All Creatives will find their way into their inner source of guidance and wisdom so their actions are purposeful and their path invites miracles.

There are still a few spots left--we would love for you to join us!

Can I Get A Show of Hands?

I mentioned that I'm deep in a production cycle right now that will carry through March, if not April (SO many good things coming you will not believe it), but what I haven't mentioned yet is that I'm dreaming of travels and gatherings on the other side. I'd like to do a tour next year, but I'm still listening for the details. I imagine we will go to several cities and host evening events that feature visual art exhibitions, storytelling, music and perhaps some live Q&A discussions. Also food and drinks and a good stretch of time just to be together among friends.

I haven't been able to shake this idea for months now, and even though I don't have the details hammered out yet I decided just to keep saying it until it's so. I've started dropping phrases like, Next year, when we're on tour... causually into conversations and spending time on Amtrak's site trying to figure out if I can weave my train-travel fantasy into the mix.

Then this morning I woke up and was again just daydreaming about this during my yoga poses and I was revisited by that small voice that still thinks only five people are reading, and it seemed like a good time to check in.

So, can I get a show of hands, real quick in the comments section or via the contact link above? If we came to your area for an evening event, would you so be there? Or are you dying to host us in your fair city? The dates and locations aren't finalized yet, so now's your chance to let us know where we should come and who will be there to party with us when we do.

Who's in?

The "Telling Your Story Sound Studio" Arrives!

I've been crazy sick this week--the kind that makes you stumble down the street when you're not laid out flat in bed--but even in this compromised state I managed some serious excitement yesterday when the Telling Your Story Sound Studio CDs arrived.

The three disc set, featuring extensive interviews with Peter Aguero and Ophira Eisenberg, is packaged in a beautiful 8-panel digipak designed by the amazing Liz Kalloch. To be able to hold these exquisite objects in your hands helps the possibilities they hold seem even more tangible and real. It's not just in your head or on your computer, it's in your car and your kitchen and on the little stand next to your bed--always reminding you of the path and all the possibilities it holds. Giving you permission to be a new way in the world--you own it. Your stories are just as worthy of being told as any of ours, and these physical manifestations of so many powerful truths will not let you forget it.

The Telling Your Story course starts shipping tomorrow. Be bold and audacious--be one of the first in the world to hold these treasures in your hands.

The other thing I was so thrilled to receive yesterday was our first, full-color four-page Jen Lee Productions catalog, which will go out with every order this winter. It's so amazing to see all that we're up to, all together. There is so much to celebrate with you.

What ARE these new resources, exactly, and when is your next retreat?

My next live event is in March at Teahouse Studio in Berkeley, CA. I'm bringing a whole bunch of my friends--amazing, inspiring women are gonna be in the house--and I hope you can come join us. I'm looking forward to the workshop format, which is more affordable for locals and still convenient for us out-of-towners to come in and stay at the hotel across the street, or in town with friends. The conversation we'll create about The Art of Creative Wellness is one I am living and breathing over here--one that makes us or breaks us. Read more and claim your spot here.

As for the next retreat, I'm really not sure. I'm doing a limited number of live events right now. In terms of presence and community, it's an ideal way to be together and interact with these powerful conversations. But in terms of tuition and the limited spots available for attendees, it's not so ideal. That's why I'm in the midst of a long season of producing resources that make the content of 12-week workshops or 5-day retreats available, for a fraction of the cost, to anyone in the world. No plane ticket required.

If you've been looking for opportunities to work with me, or suspecting that our paths are running in kindred directions, these courses are for you. I have so much to share (with more coming very soon)--this is the best way to make these conversations available to the most people, in a form so personal and intimate that it's the next best thing to being together live.

These practices, insights and conversations have changed my life, and they can change yours, too. Join me: find your voice. Tell your story. Share this work with those friends who are looking for Just This.