Creative Superheroes Interview: Jen Lee


Hey Superhero readers,

I’m so excited to introduce a brand new interview series! These will be Q & A’s with creative superheroes in my life– people I admire deeply for their talent and important work in the world. They use their gifts to spread joy, inspiration and transformation and I am thrilled to introduce them to you.

The first interview is with Jen Lee, who I met through the Lovebomb gathering several years ago. Jen is a brilliant writer and teacher (definitely check out her site) but what gets me every time is her ability to tell stories. (Like, in public. On stage.) If you are a fan of The Moth like me, you might have already heard her story featured in this episode. Jen brings authenticity, beauty and depth to everything she does and I am so honored to have her here! Her wisdom is breathtaking. Enjoy.

Q: If you were a superhero, what would your power(s) be?

Being able to really see people–the gifts they hold or their capacities–in a way they often struggle to see themselves. I wish it worked as well with myself, but the irony is I really struggle with seeing myself accurately. I can be sounding the drum calling others out of the bushes and into the circle to dance their dance, while somehow still trying to hide in those same bushes when my own courageous moments come knocking.

It’s a struggle to be able to do something so easily for others that is such a challenge to do for myself, but it gives me compassion for all of us about the difficult work of becoming. It keeps me from getting flippant or glib or from minimizing what it costs us to stop into the courageous futures that call and beckon.

Q: What are your obsessions? and how do they make their way into your creative work?

God, where do I begin? My obsessions fall into two categories. The first are grounding–they give me rootedness and stability on the outside while things swirl and storm inside. These include my morning and evening rituals. Going to bed and waking at the same time every day, eating the same breakfast (currently obsessed with apple cinnamon instant oatmeal and English Breakfast tea), rubbing almond oil with a few drops of essential oils into my feet at night. I listen to the same record on repeat, wear the same necklace and clothes combo (dark jeans, soft tee). I go on these crazy food kicks where I crave one thing around the clock for days or weeks and have to force myself to keep eating some variety, drink out of the same glass (a Sarabeth’s jam jar)–things like that.

The other category are creative obsessions, which I stumble into unconsciously and often tease out later the missing piece they help me find. I was on a big Johnny Cash kick recently, and right now I’m obsessed with this British show called MI-5 on Netflix streaming. We watch it almost every night and I just realized a couple days ago (six seasons in) that its characters are icons of courage for me right now. I watch them at risk, in frightening situations, and over and over again they are willing to be the one, willing to be of service. Every night I feel that feeling in my body–a vulnerability and fear cocktail–and I watch it play out to some kind of resolution. It’s like I’m teaching my own body and that I can press through that feeling, that someone will be glad I did, and that I will be glad, too.

Q: What are the top 5 things you’ve learned so far as a creative entrepreneur?

1. There are no blueprints for journeys like ours, and trying to graft someone else’s methods onto your unique calling is often a source of confusion, not clarity.

2. There is no someday coming day when it no longer feels vulnerable. If we are growing and letting ourselves be seen, we are always pressing into that edge.
3. Being of service is always a better context to work inside of than trying to make a buck.
4. The wisdom of the organizational world does not always strictly apply to creative work. Our strategy must be as inspired as our making. My favorite creatives remember they are artists first and don’t lose themselves in contexts like Sales and Marketing.
5. You can only be you–just as you are and just as you are not. With the moves you’ve got and without the ones you don’t. Inhabiting it without judgement or apology . . . well this is something I’m still learning.

Q: What are a  few things people wouldn’t know by looking at you?

I’m a super introvert. I’m told the social awkwardness I feel in many situations doesn’t always show.

Q: What did you believe as a kid that you no longer believe?

I used to think since one of my sisters had allergy shots and the other one had braces, that I would probably get cancer. You know, just to keep things “fair”. Some part of me has been waiting to get cancer ever since, but now even if I do I don’t believe it will be because of some divine justice.

Q: I believe that vulnerability is a superpower. Tell us a story about how embracing your vulnerability.  What were the gifts on the other side?

Every time I step on stage to tell a story, it’s practically nothing but an exercise in vulnerability. I ‘fess up to the things I fear will forfeit my belonging–being misguided, being unsexy, being wrong and scared and always flawed. Not too long ago I told a story about a conversation I had with my daughter about sex. I so wanted to get it right, but God it just tapped into so many tender places mixed with my best intentions and it was really a struggle.
The gift that is always on the other side, when the show is over and the lights come up, are these amazing moments of connection. A mother and daughter duo were in the audience that night, and they came up and told me it reminded them of their own story pioneering that terrain. And some really dear friends were there, and they got this piece of my story and my history that just doesn’t come up in casual conversation.

These moments are slowly accumulating like a growing conspiracy to show me the things I think will forfeit my belonging are actually my greatest points for creating connection. I’m literally stunned every time to find more affection, not less, waiting for me on the other side. But no matter how this new body of evidence grows, I don’t think it will ever stop having that feeling of fear and trembling in the moment. So I play my record and watch my MI-5, and hold myself very, very gently along the way.

Bio: Jen Lee is an independent media producer and a beloved performer in New York City’s storytelling scene, including the Peabody Award-winning Moth Radio Hour and The Best of The Moth, Volume 15. Jen is co-leading a series of Indie Publishing Workshops with designer Liz Kalloch in October at the Create Explore Discover Retreat. You can find her Telling Your Story home study course, the Retrospective podcast and other resources to nourish and inspire at jenleeproductions.com. Photo Credit: Bella Cirovic, shetoldstories.com

4 Comments

  1. Posted July 16, 2012 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    such an awesome interview piece, Andrea….thanks for sharing and thanks for sharing the retreat as well…wish you could be there with us…

  2. Posted July 16, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    Andrea! Just met you moments ago – what a great blog! Love to connect further IRL for a delicious treat from Local123. In the meantime, I’ll stalk you here. :)

    all the best!
    jane

  3. Posted July 16, 2012 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    Love Jen! Love you! Love this new series!
    Can’t wait to see all the wonderful folks you will bring through here! xox

  4. Posted July 30, 2012 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    Jen’s honesty is so refreshing here. I’ve only heard her voice on the radio one time, but this sounds just like her – just like sitting across from someone who is telling you the truth. Jen feels trustworthy. Great interview.

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