"You have this way of unzipping and letting us see your heart."--Meg Bowles, Curatorial Director of The Moth

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Informing and Inspiring

Unedited, cross-processed film. Taken with my Horizon Perfekt panoramic camera.I wish I could say it's as simple as telling your soul to wait until June, to hold off and sit quietly in the corner until this last project is made. This part of the making takes so much left-brain attentiveness to copy editing and making sure the sound edits are undetectable, so many calls to printers and attempts at clear communication and then when it's out of your hands and into someone else's--so many crossed fingers and prayers.

But I've been saying "just hold on" for so long now and "it won't be much longer", even as our timetable has stretched this long production phase from April now to June. And perhaps at the end of the day one doesn't have this much say in what kind of seasons draw us in or usher us out.

It makes me feel split between two worlds whenever I have deep, intuitive shifts happening under the surface. So much is always happening up at the surface, whether five pieces are going into production or I just need to remember Wednesday morning's check-up at the doctor and that tomorrow really IS the deadline for a little one's field trip money and she will be so disappointed if I forget.

I tell myself, Be present. But in the middle of the playground or the Friday night movie I have a montage all my own running behind my eyes as the part of my mind that weaves together and connects and takes all the patches and sees how they fit into the whole, spins with memories and emotion and the wise things others have said and all I'm missing is the popcorn.

While I'm shifting and swirling in the place where two worlds overlap, here are a few of the pieces simmering in my internal pot. Things that are informing or inspiring me, right here, right now.

The New Feminine Brain:

Developing Your Intuitive Genius

by Mona Lisa Schulz, M.D., Ph.D.



Maya Stein's Spoke-n-Word daily journal of her amazing Type Rider project


Johnny Cash at San Quentin




(You may need to switch to full-screen mode to close the pop-up text windows.)


An Evening of Stories with Jolie Guillebeau

All photos by Bella Cirovic, whose generosity feels completely other-worldly to me.

Arriving early, waiting for dinner.

When you live far from people you work with and people you love, being together feels like waking up into a dream that keeps on dreaming you even after daylight hits its screen. Disbelief is your constant companion as you shake off the thoughts that this is all too good to be true.

It IS true, you tell yourself. You are here, right now, together. You found one another—in the great sea of the world, you recognized some kindred light in water or in sky and you found a way to meet. And this is your reward: these soothing souls who help you decide what to wear, who drop into your afternoon routine with the little girls, who help you carry the load and host and take pictures that make you look beautiful, who drive and ride for hours to share a table and a drink and receive your stories as a gift. 

I'm not sure there's any better medicine for the soul than stories and togetherness. Gatherings like these are physical manifestations of the truth that runs like a current, always, beneath our feet: no matter how alone we feel, no matter how particular and specific the details of our struggles and sorrows, the minute one person shares her story all the separateness falls away and we remember that our stories touch places in the stories of others. They run parallel, they ring out in the same key, they chart a way through the common frontier that is the human experience.

We are not alone, this we know whenever stories and togetherness are present. It all matters, we all count, and as someone I know would say, it's beautiful.

To hear some of the stories from the evening, check out this podcast interview with Jolie. (You can now subscribe in iTunes.) My deepest gratitude and thanks go out to all the dear ones who came from near and far to join us. The whole evening was a dream come true, and it wouldn't have been the same without you.

Jolie's book, Beauty Everywhere: A Portable Gallery, is available for a limited time.


Walking in the Snow

One winter night I was in line before a StorySLAM at The Nuyorican Poets Cafe with some friends. I really wanted a peppermint tea, and Ben wanted to find a restroom so we set off together to find a coffee shop. We wandered through the Lower East Side of Manhattan, past stoop steps and empty flower boxes and these snowflakes started falling--the big, quiet kind that make you feel like you've suddenly stepped into a movie. Snowflakes landed on our heads and our shoulders and I don't even remember what we talked about but I remember feeling this big, quiet kind of happiness that makes you feel that you are just where you need to be.

That walk through the snow is one of my favorite New York moments.

It was such a pleasure to sit down with Ben Lillie and hear about the journey that brought him to the Nuyorican that night. A former physicist at Stanford, now the director of Story Collider and a writer for TED.com, Ben is my most recent guest on Retrospective: The Podcast. Listen to our conversation here, or subscribe in iTunes.


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.


What Being A Beginner Looks Like

Our first attempt at a mailing like this.

Getting a lesson in perfectionism from the printer: (The good one.)

Compiling all the addresses into a spreadsheet, but then not being able to figure the mail merge out. (Oh well--handwriting is better than labels anyway.)

Thinking removable mailing seals sound like a good idea.

Noticing a few popping off, and thinking, I must not have gotten them on good enough. Rubbing them back on with your fingernail because that will do it, right?

Watching the postal worker drop a huge stack of international-bound mailers in her giant cart and seeing a seal pop free right before the pile falls.

Knowing as you walk away that it will be a small-scale disaster. Imagining them all coming apart, getting returned to your tiny postal box which cannot hold them, or arriving postage due. Feeling your whole body tighten with dread.

Searching all over the neighborhood for "permanent" seals. Believing when you find them that this time it will work. 

Folding every domestic mailer, plastering them with little white circle seals. Bundling them all into your market bag.

Carrying them to the postabl box, only to find these labels popping off, too. Rubbing them back on with your fingernail. Dropping half of them in before realizing that it will be a small-scale disaster.

Imagining them all coming apart, getting returned to your tiny postal box which cannot hold them, or arriving postage due. Feeling your whole body tighten with dread.

Calling your mother, who has a much stronger relationship with objects and the physical world than you do. She suggests staples, or tape. Feeling foolish for ever trusting those damn white circle seals and their lofty claims.

Remembering last night's revelation about all you cannot control, the futility of trying to hold it all together, and the calm that followed. Acknowledging the way your peace and hoped-for enlightenment are brought to their knees in an instant by a rebel force of little white circle seals. Spiralling into crisis because you literally cannot hold them together.

Longing to pull it off exquisitely, with joy in your heart and ease stretching across the morning of your face, but knowing everything will conspire to remind you: you cannot be anything but what you are. A beginner.


Please send forgiveness and understanding my way if your white circle seals don't hold. I'm leaving the comments open because I could really use the good news if any of these catalogs arrives successfully. The third batch went out Saturday, with tape. And it's not too late to request some good mail.


Helpful Things People Have Said

a country retreat

Helpful things people have said to me in the last few days:

  • You're expecting too much of yourself.
  • It's enough.
  • You need to get back on stage--that's why you're so tired.
  • What would it be like to stop hiding, to come out and just be? (That's what you do on stage, isn't it?)
  • What would it be like to forgive yourself for not being able to do the impossible?

How to Feel Crazy and Still Make Things

I feel like I only do two kinds of blog posts any more: project posts (videos, podcasts, books we're making) and posts in which I confess to barely keeping the crazies at bay. Lately I've been thinking of dividing it all up into separate streams, in which case all that would be left in the "Journal" category would be these little check-ins I throw out to illustrate that I don't have everything together, regardless of how all the project posts might make it seem.

Remember when we were little and we used to swing on swingsets? Our family had the small, wobbly versions in the front yard, and then in 5th grade my friends and I had a really tall one on the school playground with long chains and you could go so high. For two weeks straight, we played a game where the girls would wear slip on shoes (usually dress shoes) and swing, and once we got going really high we'd kick them off to see how far they would fly and the boys would chase after them and bring them back.

I'm thinking of that giant swing set this morning because there are these times when I can trust myself, really trust myself. And I can listen for what I should say in an email or what wants to be made and I can feel the stretch of shooting my toes up to the sky. But then the chain reaches as far as it will reach, and I get pulled back.

"Oh no, I totally blew that email. Why can't I write emails like regular people? You know, the ones who always know what to say and always come off sounding so sane and normal." 

"I can't believe I thought my photo was good enough for a full-page spread."

"I got it all wrong."

"It's a disaster."

Back and forth, more like whiplash than rhythm. Pride and shame. Celebration and fear. Elation and debilitating insecurity.

This is how it feels to me: making things. I think it's also why promoting anything is such a struggle for me--I just can't get those proud, celebratory, elated moments to last. One minute I post something, the next minute I'm dying to take it back down. 

A few things help:

Making work with other artists. This gives me emotional distance from some of the parts and pieces, because when it comes to someone else's words or images or layout or design, I am the shoe flying off the foot of the little girl on the swing. There is only the joy of flight, with no chain to yank me back. I love their work through to the end, and it's easy for me to tell you how much I love it. I do feel responsibility, though--that never goes away. I want to do their work justice with whatever form we put it in. There's still so much vulnerability involved in the process that I can only do it with people who are safe places for me.

Staying connected. I talk to my friends every day. When I feel like I'm drowning in doubt, I say, It's gonna be okay, right? This happens so frequently that in the end it's like a verbal tick. Yes, everything's going to be more than okay, they say. It's this funny call-and-response that's like being rocked in a rocking chair. Their swing is going forward when mine is pulling back, and because I trust them, it comforts me. 

Learning the art of gentleness. I'm just trying to love that girl on the back swing. To get her someone to talk to when she needs it, people who will help her look after her wellness, a teddy bear to hold, a Masterpiece Mystery to watch, a cup of cocoa or peppermint tea to soothe her nervous stomach. I'm trying to schedule days off for her, time to lay down and rest when she's not feeling well, and permission to have days that feel more crazy than sane, more fearful than brave.

And somehow, by some miracle that I cannot yet explain, things keep getting done. Something is finished, and before the day is over the next adventure is born. And so I make things. And so I swing.