I started the Inspiration Interview Series because I wanted to know more about the people who share their work with the world and inspire me to practice courage, be creative, and dream big. Jen Lee is one of those people.
Meet Jen Lee!
Jen is an amazing writer and storyteller. And . . . when I say storyteller, I mean storyteller. She crafts these poignant stories then stands on a stage and shares them with a live audience. It’s equal parts magic and bravery. I can’t even fathom the courage it takes to do that.
I recently watched one of her performances and found myself moved to tears. As the oldest of four children, Jen’s story, Anxiety, was a revelation.
I’m so excited to be able to share this with you! It was performed live at The Moth Story Slam in NYC. Please sit down, grab a cup of tea, and enjoy!
Before you start – they cut off the very first line and last line. The first line is, “As an oldest child…” The last line is, “the whole world seems to be made of china, and the people in it of some frail, fragile glass.”
In addition to her storytelling career, Jen has written a powerful new book titled, Fortunes.
Here’s how Jen Lee describes her new work:
“There’s a way that our creative work often communicates more than we know. We set out to tell the story we’re in, and the part of our mind that already knows how the story ends slips in a few clues when we’re not looking. Fortunes pays homage to this phenomenon. What is the story you are living in? How does it end? The clarity to see is good fortune, indeed.”
I’ve read this small, pocket book over and over. There’s something special about the combination of potent words and photos inside a small book that fits in your purse!
Here is my interview with the lovely Jen Lee. I came up with this standard format for the Inspiration Series after thinking, “What do I want to know about people?”
I want to know about their humanity, their ordinary-ness, their pjs.
What is your writing process?
I often write with a specific person in mind, letting her way of being or her work inspire me, or answering a question she is asking. I like to write pieces as gifts for friends. Other times I write to make sense of my experiences, or to bear witness to them.
I am fortunate to write inside my experience of friendship and community (even a long-distance one). So much fullness and depth comes from the journey I share with my friends, and the companionship I have with them on the way. That context is formative for all my writing–even when the subject is me, they provide the foundation of love and acceptance I need to take risks and tell hard truths.
How would you characterize your relationship with writing?
This is a hard question. We have a complicated relationship–writing and I. In fact, it’s tempting to bullshit something on this one that sounds good or simple, but I’m trying to resist doing that. Writing helps me manage my mental wellness in a way that’s difficult to explain. Perhaps because it helps me weave my experiences into a narrative that helps it all make sense to a part of my mind that needs that.
But I also feel like it’s inextricably linked to my soul work. It’s a discipline that keeps my value for authenticity in the foreground. I have a shadow side that believes that pretending everything is perfect (including herself and her life) will win her some imaginary competition. She’s a liar and a fake, and writing is the weapon I wield to keep the wheel out of her controlling hands. It’s like a daily ritual that keeps me true, as I examine the state of my life and my heart and do my best to tell the truth about them. The lies are more glaring in black and white, and having a point-of-view that you’re completely bullshitting doesn’t usually sell to your audience. Part of how I faked things for so long was by staying silent and hiding the pieces that I was struggling with or failing altogether. Writing my life keeps it all out in the light–there are fewer dark corners in which secrets can hide.
What are your greatest creative inspirations? Good storytellers and their tales are my bread and butter. People who really let themselves be seen. Spending time in nature. And love. Always love.
What are your greatest creative barriers? Perfectionism, worrying overly much about “doing it right” or pleasing people can all shut me down. Fatigue and too much work without play can also shut down the flow for me.
Truth-telling is a vulnerable and sacred process for most of us. How do you stay honest in your writing and story-telling? I do my best to represent each person’s perspective and point-of-view, and if no one comes out as a clear hero or a clear villain, I’ve done that well. Almost everyone’s stories are sympathetic when you hear them from his or her perspective, and everyone has blind spots, too. I try to “tell one on myself” as often as possible, I look for things I can confess to, things I can drag from the shadow into an examined light. The things that most frighten me are the ones that stay hidden or in the dark, like monsters under the bed. As frightening as truth-telling is, staying silent sometimes scares me even more.
How do you manage your life (family, partners, children, friends, etc.) when you are writing?
I have a scheduled time to write for several hours early on weekday mornings. It helps me be present with my husband and the girls the rest of the day when I’ve had a chance to get some words out, and I know when my next time to do so is coming. My mind wanders back at times, and I write more during nap time or after the girls’ bedtime if I’m near the end of a big project, but knowing when my next opportunity is coming (and that it is coming, for sure) keeps me from chomping at the bit too hard.
Aside from that, I keep the rest of my life very simple. We keep commitments and scheduled events to a minimum. We have a routine, but we try to maximize rest and play.
Now, for some fun!
From James Lipton, host of Inside the Actor’s Studio
What is your favorite word? lovely
What is your least favorite word? It’s a vulgar word that starts with a “c”. I can’t even write it–sorry!
What sound or noise do you love? the chatter of children just learning to speak
What sound or noise do you hate? cars crashing into each other
What is your favorite curse word? F–udge! (In case my relatives are reading this.)
From JL’s Uncle Jessie Meme
A song/band/type of music you’d risk wreck & injury to turn off when it comes on the radio? “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Chipmunks” by Alvin & the Chipmunks.
Best show on television? Glee. I’m saying it already.
Favorite movie? I’m gonna go with “Away We Go”, directed by Sam Mendes.
Favorite room in your house? It’s a spot–the windowsill in my kitchen.
Best concert? I haven’t been to many, but The Dave Matthews Band at Fulsom Field in Boulder was pretty great.
Brass or strings? Brass, if it’s jazz.
If you could have anything put on a t-shirt what would it be? I don’t know. I’m pretty bitter that “Make Love, Not Horcruxes” is already taken.
The best part about being your age? The feeling that my body finally caught up to my soul, which has felt like a 30-something since I was about 8.
Favorite Girl Scout cookie? Thin mints, yo!
Poker or gin or bridge? poker
Shower or bath? BATH
Favorite pajamas? tank top and girl short undies
Nightmare job? Loading the trash trucks. SO thankful for those guys.
A talent you wish you had? I should probably keep that between me and my husband.
Dream vacation? A Mediterranean cruise is on my list.
What’s on your nightstand? “My Ántonia” by Willa Cather, something by Jennifer Weiner because my friend, Brené, said she’s good, and “Polaroid Stories” by Irène Nam are at the top of a two-foot stack.
From the famous “Weird Things” blogoshpere meme
Tell us 3 weird things about you:
1. I have a white food phobia dating back to a traumatic experience with mayonnaise as a child.
2. I compulsively obsess about my hair being frizzy and worry that I look like Carrot Top every day.
3. My husband says I have a “figure of speech impediment”. I’m always butchering popular sayings, or misusing words or phrases. (“Six to one and half a dozen to your brother.”)
From Smith Magazine’s Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six Word Memoirs from Writers Famous and Obscure
A six-word memoir that captures your life as an artist OR your art life:
Writing like crazy kept her sane.
We are giving away two copies of Jen Lee’s Fortunes. All you have to do to win is leave a comment answering the following questions (before Monday):
Who/what are you trusting today?
Who/what are you grateful for today?
Who/what is inspiring you today?
Today I trust in the power of story. I really believe that stories will change the world.
I’m grateful for my work. I love what I do and I do what I love. I’m incredibly lucky.
I’m inspired by Jen Lee.
Have a great Labor Day weekend! Leave your TGIF comment before Monday evening. I’ll announce a winner Monday night.
Congrats to Tracy G. and Kate (I can’t whistle)! You both won copies of Jen’s new book!