My Creative Life: an interview with Brené Brown

My Creative Life: an interview with Brene Brown |


So while I struggle on with writing my own book, here’s a woman whose books I admire hugely! Brené Brown is a researcher-storyteller who has spent the past ten years studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity and shame. It was the publication of her latest book, The Gifts of Imperfection, and the Perfect Protest on her blog, that inspired my recent post about my *ahem* glorious imperfection. She’s inspiring, intelligent, real and doing such important work, and I’m thrilled to have her company in this space today!

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Dr Brené Brown…

SC: Did you always know you’d teach and write? How did this path begin for you?

BB: The journey that led me to become a researcher was anything but a straight and narrow path, which, ironically, is probably why and how I ended up studying human behavior and emotion for a living. I was a college drop-in and drop-out for a number of years. During my “off semesters,” I waited tables and tended bar, hitchhiked through Europe, partied too much, and played a lot of tennis.

I found the social work profession in my late twenties and knew it was home. I did a two-year stint in junior colleges to raise my GPA enough to get into a big university with a social work program. It was in those junior college classes that I feel in love with teaching and writing.

Why write about imperfection, and why now?

I really started with an interest in studying the anatomy of connection. How do people cultivate genuine connection? About two months into that research I ran into this thing that unraveled connection; it tore relationships apart and fueled isolation. That thing was shame. I thought I’d merely “look into” the shame topic for a few months. Six years later, I finally got my head around shame and how it works.

As it turns out, shame is the birthplace of perfectionism. If we want to understand what drives the “Never good enough” feeling – we have to understand perfectionism. If we want to practice authenticity – a prerequisite for connection – we have to understand how perfectionism gets in our way. Until we start embracing our imperfections and vulnerabilities, we will struggle to engage with the world from a place of worthiness. My new research on wholeheartedness is all about moving from “What will people think?” to “I am enough.”

My Creative Life: an interview with Brene Brown |
In your most recent post you said: ‘Being our best selves is about cultivating the courage to be vulnerable, authentic, and imperfect.’ How do you cultivate YOUR courage, Brené?

As you know, courage is a huge theme in my life. It seems that I’m either praying for some, feeling grateful for having found a little bit, appreciating it in other people, or studying it.

The root of the word courage is cor—the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage literally had a very different definition than it does today. Courage originally meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Over time, this definition has actually changed, and today, courage is synonymous with being heroic or performing brave deeds.

Heroics and bravery are important, but I think we’ve lost touch with the idea that speaking honestly and openly about who we and about our experiences (good and bad) is the ultimate act of courage. Heroics is often about putting your life on the line. Courage is about putting your vulnerability on the line. In today’s world, that’s pretty extraordinary.

For me, practicing courage means telling my story with all of my heart. It means being honest about who I am, what I believe, and how I feel. It doesn’t come easy for me – I have a tendency to self-protect  – but it really is about practicing authenticity and letting myself be seen.

You’re a professor, a researcher, a writer, a mother, a wife. How do you dance with all these roles in a typical day?

Dance is the perfect metaphor for what my life looks like. The original Texas Cotton-Eyed Joe is the dance of my life (not the new techno version with the line dance stuff). In the original dance, you hold on to a bunch of folks you trust, you move forward one step at a time, and every now and then you push back and yell, “Bullshit!”

I have an amazing husband, a strong support network of friends and family, and two awesome kids. I try to set and hold a lot of boundaries. I love my online life and I’m grateful for the opportunity to share my work with the public, but I am an intensely private person and a homebody. I drive carpool, volunteer at the school store, sit in the front yard and talk to neighbors, do art with my kids, and sneak in as many date nights with Steve as possible. I schedule my downtime and family time just like I schedule my work events – they are nonnegotiable.

My Creative Life: an interview with Brene Brown |
What and who inspires you – could you share some links with us?

I’m a deeply spiritual person, so my greatest personal inspiration comes from my faith. I access my faith mostly through nature, prayer, and music. Music plays a huge role in my life – I love everything, but mostly rock, 70s music, and Texas folk music. I’m on a Rolling Stones bender right now.

I’m also inspired by people who share their gifts with the world – folks who are teaching and leading and holding space for others. I have a new “classes” tab on my blog. These teachers and their classes inspire me.

Of course, there are several books that I would say literally changed my life.

What is the message you want to share with the world? (in other words, what do you consider to be your life’s work?)

I really think my research on Wholehearted living is what I’m supposed to be doing right now. Here’s a quote from the new book that explains what I mean by “living and loving with your whole heart:”

“Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of
worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection
to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and
how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking,
Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t
change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.”

I want to learn more about this AND I want to live it.

What are you working on next?

I’m working a couple of things right now. A book titled, The Gifts Of Imperfect Parenting, and a memoir titled, Wholehearted: Spiritual Adventures In Falling Apart, Growing Up, And Finding Joy.

You’re having a dinner party and can invite six famous people from the past or present – who would you choose and why?

Dang! I’ve been trying to think of my list and I just can’t make myself do it. I could choose Martin Luther King and Eleanor Roosevelt, and other people I admire, but the truth is that I really don’t want to go to a dinner party. I’d like to cook something and sit down with Steve and the kids, then maybe piddle around the house while Ellen and Charlie play outside.

* * * * *
Brené, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us today! Isn’t she fabulous? And as if her fabulousness wasn’t enough, Brené has very kindly given me TWO copies of her new book to give away, so if you’d like to read more about the Gifts of Imperfection, simply leave a comment on this post and I’ll draw two names on Friday :)

[the giveaway is now closed]

photo of Brené by Andrea Scher :: more interviews over here

My Creative Life: Marianne Elliott

I first met Marianne Elliott in 2007 when she arrived at my front door carrying a small rucksack and a yoga mat; she was in the UK on leave from her job as a Human Rights Officer in Afghanistan and after finding each other via our blogs she made her way to the sea to see me; as often happens with these blog-meet-ups we discovered we were sisters under the skin. I’ll never forget the sight of Marianne doing yoga in my living room as i searched for my cigarettes (I was still a committed smoker back then!)

These days Marianne is back in her native New Zealand, teaching yoga, writing her memoir and basically saving the world :)  I love her and I hope you guys will too – please welcome Marianne!

SC: Did you always know you were a writer? Tell us about your path into this career.

ME: I always dreamed of being a writer. When I was a wee little thing I thought I was a writer; I wrote great long stories inspired by Spike Milligan and J R R Tolkien. I even started a magazine with my best friend when I was about 12 years old; we wrote articles about the birds nesting in the trees up behind our church and guides on how to care for the ponies we didn’t have. We didn’t have photocopiers or computers, so we only produced one copy of each edition, which we then took turns lending to our friends and family.

But somewhere along the way I lost confidence in my creative writing. I became an accomplished professional writer, able to churn out reports on human rights in Afghanistan in my sleep, but I was unsure about my ability to write creatively.

The confidence to write creatively returned to me slowly through the process of writing my blog. After writing regularly on my blog for several years I decided to try to write a book about my experiences in Afghanistan. That was two years ago now and I’m now in the process of working with my agent (Laura Nolan of De Fiore and Company) to revise my manuscript so that we can send it out to publishers. My path has been one of repeatedly facing my fear that my writing won’t be good enough and then writing anyway. I suspect it will continue that way for a long time.

Please describe a typical day

My days vary a lot depending on whether or not I’m going into the office for my work as a human rights consultant, which I do at least three days per week.

6 am: In the morning I either write, meditate, do yoga or sleep in and then rush around like a crazy person to get out the door. Obviously some of these options start my day off better than others, but I can live with any of them as long as I have tea.

7 am: Out the door. If it’s reasonable weather I walk to work otherwise I take the bus. On the bus or while I’m walking I do some morning meditation. It’s a stunning walk, more than an hour up and over Mt Victoria with a view of Wellington harbour. This walk is currently my spiritual practice and my most consistent form of morning ‘yoga’.

8.30 – 5.30 pm: I work as a human rights consultant which means anything from developing tools and materials to help NGOs in the Pacific advocate for fairer trade rules to interviewing people in Wellington about how their disability affects their day to day lives. I contract to government, non-government and inter-governmental organizations and my work sometimes requires travel around New Zealand or the Pacific. If I’m travelling my typical day looks quite different.

6.00 – 7.30 pm: I teach yoga five nights a week. Some of the classes start later, at 7.00 pm, in which case I try to get in my own yoga practice before I teach. On the nights when the class starts earlier I depend on fifteen minutes in the room alone before the students arrive to ground myself and connect with my wisest inner teacher, the part of me that always knows the perfect response to every person and moment that shows up.

I generally get home between 8.30 – 9.30 pm. I make myself some dinner, or eat a takeaway salad that I picked up on the way home, and settle in to work for the evening. In the evening do the work for my 30 days of yoga course (customising yoga videos, responding to questions, posting the regular updates etc), write guest posts for other blogs and catch up on Twitter, which is by far my favourite form of social media.

I try to get off the computer by 11pm and make a little time to unwind with a little restorative yoga (lying with my legs up the wall is a favourite) before getting to bed before midnight. Lately I’ve been teaching myself to crochet. I have ten nieces and nephews and it seems at least one of my friends is having a baby every month so I’ve decided I need to follow my Grandmother’s example and start crocheting baby blankets. Crocheting is a great way for me to unwind in the evening, my brain can start to switch off and prepare for sleep.

Tell us more about 30 days of yoga.

30 days of yoga is an online program designed to support you to begin or restart a regular practice of yoga in the comfort of your own home. Lots of people struggle to get along to yoga classes regularly or to establish a regular practice of yoga at home. That might be because they run their own creative business from home, it might be because they live a hundred miles from the nearest yoga studio (or further, I have participants living in Afghanistan, Kosovo and South Sudan) or it might be because they find the idea of showing up at a yoga class horrifying, especially if they have to wear Lycra pants. If you are one of those people, I designed this programme for you.

You don’t need to know anything about yoga – the programme also works really well for people who already practice yoga but want to establish or deepen their home practice. You don’t even need a yoga mat. Most of the time I practice on the carpet rug in our living room. I design the practices in sections or modules so that if you have 10 minutes you can do just the first section. If you have 20 minutes you can do two sections etc. All you need is the intention to discover what is right for you and the commitment to give yourself what you really need.

There are two ways to participate in the 30 days. Option One is called Exactly What You Need – I provide participants with a yoga video selected just for them based on their answers to a simple questionnaire. Option Two is called You Know What You Needthis is for people who already practice yoga, know how to put together their own home practice and are looking for support, advice and encouragement to actually stick with a regular home practice over the 30 days and beyond.

The next 30 days starts on 12 June.

How does your yoga support your writing?

My life is very full and I learned a long time ago that I can only sustain this kind of pace if I am really healthy – so one way in which my yoga supports my writing is simply by giving me the fitness and focus to work or write solidly for twelve to fourteen hours a day. I wouldn’t be able to get this book written if I didn’t have that stamina and focus and I attribute a lot of it to yoga.

Yoga also reminds me, over and over again, that the only place to start is exactly where I am. Writing works exactly the same way. Every day when I sit down to write I have to first agree with myself to accept myself and my writing exactly as it is on that particular day. There is a profound kindness in yoga, in the practice of meeting and accepting ourselves just as we are and that kindness has transformed both my process of writing and, I think, the content of my writing.

You have a lot going on in your life – writing, teaching yoga, working as a human rights consultant. What’s the connection between all these threads?

I believe that we all have a unique way to serve the world. Part of my purpose in life is to support and motivate others to find and own their own authentic place in the world and their own unique way to serve the world. All the work I do is connected to this purpose.

The ‘30 days of yoga’ course focuses very strongly on each participant creating an authentic practice of yoga, something that suits and supports them to continuing connecting into their truest self.

The ‘Yoga in Action’ courses that I facilitate here in New Zealand, are a seven week process to get help people clarify their unique purpose, their vision and their community and then develop spiritual and well-being practices that will sustain them as they begin to live the kind of full, abundant lives that we tend to have when we are living on our true purpose.

In my writing, I aspire to tell stories that remind us all that the world can be a place of kindness, that we are all each other’s people, that together we are enough. I hope that these stories will remind us all of the essential place we have in the world and of the potential we have to serve others simply by being our truest selves.

Perhaps most importantly to me, I also do this work through my role as a human rights advocate. In order to find our place in the world we need to be safe, connected and able to make decisions about our own lives. For so many people all over the world that simply isn’t the case. I’m deeply passionate about doing everything I can to tip the scales towards a fairer, kinder and more sustainable world for everyone.

So whether I’m working on project to improve police understanding of women’s rights in Afghanistan or working one-on-one with a yoga client, what I do always comes back to this: When we can meet ourselves where we are and treat ourselves with compassion, then we are able to meet others where they are and to engage with the world with compassion.

Tell us more about your book…

My memoir Zen Under Fire: Learning to sit still in Afghanistan is the story of my life and work in Afghanistan. It’s the story of an idealist who loses hope in her mission and in herself and how she, slowly, learns to find her own kind of peace, even in the midst of war.

I’d been on the job just over a month when I was left in charge of the United Nations office in Western Afghanistan. My boss was barely out the door when tribal fighting broke out killing dozens of children and turning my dream job into a nightmare.

Despite thousands of international peacekeepers posted in Afghanistan, our mission had failed to keep the peace even between two neighbouring tribes. I wondered whether we could justify our presence and began to doubt my life mission. I became depressed. My relationship with my boyfriend, the only friend I had at the time, began to unravel. My family urged me to come home. But I couldn’t leave Afghanistan until I had recovered the sense of hope that had brought me there in the first place.

Over the course of the following year I met Afghans who had survived terrible suffering and yet retained their faith and hope. I met women who refused to be bowed by relentless pressure and who continued to find ways, day after day, to make the world a safer place for others. By teaching me to sit still long enough to hear their stories with an open heart, the people of Afghanistan showed me how to find peace even in the midst of war. All going well, I hope that Zen Under Fire will be published 2011.

What (or who) inspires you the most?

My parents, all the community human rights advocates I’ve ever worked with, my yoga clients, my yoga and meditation teachers, Pema Chodron, Karen Maezen Miller, Seane Corn, Jack Kornfield, Noah Levine, Mary Oliver, Natalie Goldberg, Danielle LaPorte, Jen Lemen, Stacey Monk, Maggie Doyne, Letha Sanderson, Daoud Hari, Alex de Sousa, Christine Mason Miller, early morning walks on the beach, the Pacific Ocean, owls, sea turtles, dancing, music, laughter, stillness, my own breath.

How do you maintain a good work/life balance?

Balance for me is a feeling of ease in my belly. That feeling of ease tells me that I’m still loving it all, that I’m aligned with my joy and my purpose. Every now and then I get a tight, anxious feeling my belly that I now know is a warning sign that I’m out of whack. It is less about how much I’m doing and more about what I’m doing. When I’m maintaining my own well-being practices – when I’m meditating and practicing yoga, eating healthy foods, walking and spending time with friends – I have a lot more stamina for everything else.

I also notice a difference in how I feel depending on my motivation to be doing something. As soon as I’m doing something because I feel I have to, whether that’s because I need the money or because of some sense of moral obligation, that tight feeling in my belly comes back. I’ve learned to trust what my body tells me because my body will tell me as soon as I am out of balance, as soon as I am out of alignment with my true self and my true purpose.

I also have learned that opportunities are not going to suddenly disappear on me. If I have to choose between writing a guest post for a high profile website and going to the hospital with a friend who needs my support, I’ll go to the hospital. Maybe I’ll take a pen and paper and sketch out the draft of the post, but maybe it will turn out that my friend needs me to sit with her in silence and give her all my attention. I’ve learned to trust that since being with people when they need me is part of my purpose, I will never miss out on anything that matters by making that a priority.

Tell us a secret…

I don’t practice yoga every morning. At least not in the way most of us think of yoga – not on my mat in my stretchy pants.

This isn’t a very well-kept secret, since I’ve told everyone who does my 30 days of yoga. But there does seem to be a widely held belief that all yoga teachers practice yoga every morning and any one who does anything less is not really doing yoga properly. I’m ready to bust that myth. Your yoga practice will develop to suit your life and your needs. Only you will know what ‘doing yoga properly’ looks like for you.

You’re having a dinner party and can invite six famous people from the past or present – who would you choose and why?

Seane Corn, because I’ve never met anyone as fiercely compassionate as Seane and for her fantastic stories of compassion, courage and guardian angels in the form of drag queens.

Te Puea Herangi, (also known as Princess Te Puea) for her courage and intelligence and for the extraordinary stories she could tell about the history of the Waikato region where I was born.

The Topp Twins, because no dinner party is complete without a pair of yodelling lesbian singer/comedians. I also love and admire Jools and Lynda Topp for the courage, grace and extraordinary good humour with which they have campaigned for gay rights, Maori land rights and a nuclear-free NZ, amongst other things.

Oscar Wilde – for his courage (I see a pattern emerging here, I admire people who combine courage with good humour), his wit and because I have a suspicion that the Topp Twins could convince him to yodel and I want to be the hostess of the party at which Oscar Wilde yodelled with Jools and Lynda Topp.

Steven Colbert,  because I think he needs to meet Jools and Lynda Topp, and because he makes me laugh – which, as we all know, is a very attractive quality in a man and in a dinner guest.

Bret McKenzie (of the Flight of The Conchords) because despite his fame he’s still one of the kindest (and funniest) men I know and because he’d make the perfect dance partner if I decide to impress my guests with my re-enactment of Torvill and Dean’s gold medal winning ice-skating routine.

* * * * *

Thank you so much for giving us a peek into your world, sweet Marianne! If you want to find out more about Marianne’s book be sure to sign up to her mailing list and follow her on Twitter, too, for inspiring links and worldly chit-chat.

My Creative Life: Christina Sbarro

I can’t remember when I first came across Christina Sbarro’s blog, My Topography, but I do remember being in awe of her writing style and the way she appeared to be living her life. Christina’s was the first woman-with-kids blog I had read and connected with, even though I have no children of my own. A published writer and artist, I often found her poignant observations of everyday living incredibly moving; she has one of those blogs you want to visit in the real world.

Now she’s working on a project that will bring her words and art together in a book I can hold in my hands, stitched together by her own creativity and the backing of a tribe of supporters (just like a community raising a barn – i love it!)

Ladies & gentlemen, please welcome the very lovely Ms Christina Sbarro…

SC: Did you always know you were a writer? Tell us about your path into this career…

CS: I didn’t always know that I wanted to be a writer… although I’ve always been a sucker for stories. I’ve always kept a notebook; eavesdropped; watched.

When I was small I was perpetually the one straggling behind my family whenever we went any place because I’d be staring at people, devouring the details of their clothes, gestures, expressions, posture. I was always looking for the moment when something happened—like the moment in the mechanic shop when I was ten, and I looked up to see the entire room of men in cowboy hats, many of them from the nearby Navajo reservation, staring at us, rapt, listening to my brave mother read The Jungle Book aloud while we waited, stranded, a family of five, while our carburetor was being fixed in the middle of the California desert.

Before I learned to write, I colored pictures and would tell myself stories as I drew. This was the beginning of the lifelong ménage a trois I’ve had with words and images.

Still, I didn’t pursue writing or art outright as a career until quite recently. I became a teacher first—because that was sort of the expectation my family had for me; and I taught for several years, until writing became the most urgent thing in my life. Then, finally, I took a writing workshop at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown with Pam Houston and realized that there was nothing else that I could do except write.

I’ve continued working with Pam – her critical eye, humor, and ability to identify the revisions that need to be made is nothing short of brilliant, truly – and now, finally, after the birth of my second son, I am at the place where in spite of the odds and precariousness of taking such a leap, I have; I am doing this thing called writing, with my whole heart, because it is the only thing I can do and still feel true to myself. (Although yes, for the time being, I still have a part time job.)

How does motherhood influence your creative life?

Motherhood has forced me to encounter the transient, temporal, messiness of the present in a bittersweet, astounding, full-velocity way. It has had the effect of distilling everything in my life, so that only the most essential things are the ones that persist. Both of my sons have had a profound affect on my creative life, in that with each of their births I was compelled to make huge changes in my life around work and creativity, and perhaps most significantly a mother has made me realize just how fiercely I love this life. I have always felt this to some degree, but seeing my children grow up makes the passing of time a tangible thing embodied in their ever-lengthening limbs and silly grins.

Please describe a typical day.

6:30 – shower, while my husband takes the boys downstairs and starts coffee and breakfast.
7:30 – out the door with my eldest son for school. It’s a 45-minute drive, but I work in the same town, so it’s an efficient commute. We tell stories and count things that we pass. (Last October we counted 79 scarecrows.)
8:30 – Noon – work (communications + outreach.)
Noon – pick up my little guy and head home.
2:00-4pm – boys underfoot, usually the hardest part of the day. Sometimes art happens. Also email checking; leftover tasks from work; taking walks with the boys; baking bread.
4:00 – Usually some kind of exercise. Most often running with my husband. We take turns pushing the boys in a double running stroller (about 95lbs!). I’ve discovered running is key to my sanity and creativity. Nothing rounds me or refreshes me more than this experience of being wholly in my body, breathing, moving.
5:00 – Dinner prep + dinner. We do this part of the day together—both dinner making, and eating. It’s one of the simplest, most intimate parts of the day as a family.
6:30 – Bedtime routine for both boys
7:30 – MY time begins in earnest: this is time for writing, creating, painting. It makes me sad when I’m too exhausted and end up curled up on the couch reading a book or watching a show.
10:30 – Bedtime. Often I lie awake for a while processing the images and ideas from the day.

When you are starting a new series of paintings, how do you begin to gather your ideas?

Often I clip images to an ever-changing inspiration wall above my studio worktable. I also keep a notebook. And often I wake up with an image in my head that sticks around until I finally sit down to paint (sometimes days later.)

When I actually do sit down at my work table though, what I paint is often a complete surprise. I never know at the outset what a piece will look like when it’s done. It’s this wild, open-ended process, and every time it’s a leap. I have the same experience with writing, although there is an element of precision with writing that isn’t the same with art. With images, things can be blurry and indistinct and inexact. With writing, it sometimes takes longer to find the phrase, the metaphor or dialogue to convey the essence of the piece.

Tell us more about A Field Guide to Now, and why you went the Kickstarter route…

A Field Guide To Now is a wild adventure of a book in that when I launched it at Kickstarter it was more of a prototype than a final product. I’m getting closer to what it will look like when it’s done, but it’s still in smack-dab in the middle of the creative processes right now. It’s a collection of ideas. It’s a bunch of inherited postcards waiting for illustrations. It’s possibility and this idea that I have of capturing the ordinary remarkable moments of the present in a way that celebrates them, and makes them bearable both—because this is how we experience the present: this moment is both a glorious opportunity, and an instance of the repetitive, habitual actions that constitute our daily lives.

Launching it on Kickstarter was a dare to myself to do something with the creative possibility of my life right now; when I first visited the homepage, I was astounded by this innovative way of funding projects that are right in the midst of becoming, which fit the nature of A Field Guide To Now so beautifully.  I also really love the idea of being able to give something back to the backers. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted the rewards to be… and I am proud to offer these creative, beautiful bits of the project. I am so deeply, enormously grateful and honored by the people who become backers. If the funding is successful it will mean taking another huge leap into the unknown of making this book into an actual thing that you can hold in your hands. I get shivers of excitement just thinking about this possibility!

What (or who) inspires you the most?

City streets; people watching; eavesdropping in cafes; live jazz; paper mail; drinking my morning cappuccino while writing in my notebook; literary magazines; walking through local galleries; farm to table food; films with subtitles; the Pacific; a particular field below my house; listening to talks on TED; ultramarine blue; running; sitting still.

What books/blogs/artists etc do you love? Could you share some recommendations?

I am currently loving Grass Doe photography. Jon Levitt is a stunning, emotional photographer and the images fill a place in my soul… I also am really inspired by Brian Ferry’s recent collection of photographs and pretty much his entire aesthetic, and also really love the recipes he shares. I also adore Joy + Ride because of the little glimpses it shares into other writers + artist’s lives!

The quiet exactitude of Andrew Wyeth’s work and the messy chaos of Sabrina Ward Harrison’s True Living Project both speak to me right now as well.

The books that I return to are:
Evidence by Mary Oliver
The Way It Is by William Stafford
Eating The Honey Of Words by Robert Bly
Paula by Isabelle Illende
Pilgrim At Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
The Turning by Tim Winton
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

How do you maintain a good work/life balance?

I don’t think I always do. If I didn’t have children I would be prone to long bouts of working without doing anything else, but I do have children and so my life is a perpetual balancing act that often feels precarious. There are many days when I am more exhausted and less productive than I would like to be. But then there are days where I manage to grab several back-to-back hours (essential for being deeply creatively productive) and I get back on track…and feel successful and fulfilled and happy. A big factor for me in maintaining any kind of balance at all is that my husband is really, really supportive and hands-on with our boys and whenever he can, he’s on board: making good food, taking them out on adventures, and generally keeping them out of my hair. I wrote a piece about Balance for the Wishmama’s series at the Wishstudio last fall.

Tell us a secret.

I’ve always wanted to be interviewed by Terri Gross. If this happens someday in my life, it will mean I’ve reached the definition of success I’m aiming for.

You’re having a dinner party and can invite six famous people from the past or present – who would you choose and why?

Elizabeth Strout
Joan Diddion
Annie Dillard
Mary Oliver
Flannery O’Conner
Barbara Kingsolver

These women astound and inspire me. Can you imagine the conversation? BRILLIANT. Terri Gross might have to be there too, to facilitate with her poignant, insightful, incisive questions.

* * * * *

Thank you so much for sharing your inspiring words with us today, Christina! If you’d like to contribute to her Kickstarter project, go check out the project’s page here (love the video!)

My Creative Life: Jenny Doh

Jenny_Doh I was lucky enough to meet my next Creative Life interviewee at Squam Art Workshops last September; Jenny Doh and I shared a class and I was immediately struck by her fabulous personal style, and the way she tackled our Book in a Day class with such expertise (I, on the other hand, did not.)  A passionate knitter and musician, Jenny is the former Editor-in-Chief & Director of Publishing for Somerset Studio and its many sister publications; now, in her new role as Founder & President of CRESCENDOh  (launching March 1st), she'll be seeding even more creativity and inspiration into the world.

Ladies & gentlemen, Ms Jenny Doh…

SC: Could you tell us about your path from social work to publishing (and beyond)? How has your passion for art and craft fuelled your journey?

JD: When I was a social worker, I knew that that was my calling. But after 7 years I think I was burned out. So many difficult cases, so many gnarly stories. I was thirsty to find a professional path that might recharge and refresh me in new ways. And given that I was an avid crafter all my life, I dreamed of an opportunity to potentially find professional recharge within the creative arena. So that’s when I decided to explore the opportunity of entering the world of art and craft publications.

Don’t get me wrong, publishing is a tough industry. It’s about recruiting quality, tending to details, and always meeting deadlines. And sometimes it gets rather gnarly in this creative arena as well. And though the last six years have been very intense, my passion and ability for creating has fueled my drive to succeed and never give up and always reach for the next level of excellence. It is what fuels me now as I embark on the most audacious move of my life to date … Leaving a position that offered me comfort and success … To pursue the unknown … As I build a plan based on my values, and my goal to bring all of my passions and training together.

DoggiesDescribe a typical day – do you have many routines?

These days, I drop off the kids and then come back home to get straight onto the computer. My focus is on ad sales, book development, product development, community outreach, and of course networking with all stakeholders. I am in touch with my freelance and volunteer staff remotely and communicate with them throughout the day. The two most important staff are my two silky terriers, Toby and Scout. They are with me all day long and I couldn’t do it without them. They are cute, smart, and fiercely loyal. They also cajole me into taking breaks now and then to play with them. And before you know it, I’m off to pick up the kids, and then back home to help them with homework as my husband cooks really good food that we all enjoy together.
In your recent Editor’s Letter in the Jan/Feb 2010 issue of Somerset Studio, you wrote: ‘It's a new year. It's a new decade. Let us make a commitment to investing ourselves in the hard work of readying ourselves for a dream that may already be here — just waiting for our disciplined selves to take it all the way…’ I love this so much! How do you personally nurture discipline in your creative life?

Great question. You know … When I was in college, I remember there was a category of students who never could meet a deadline. They’d constantly be getting extensions from their professors on papers and what I observed was that extensions on deadlines led to bigger problems. Because one extension leads to the inevitable need for an extension on another class, and so on, until everything bottlenecks and you end up constantly living on borrowed time. I simply could never dream of living that way. Thinking about that sort of existence makes me hyperventilate. Life is so much easier when you set deadlines and meet them. So how do I nurture discipline? I simply force myself to do the hard thing first and then do the fun thing second. It’s that simple, really. If I have a book proposal due by Tuesday and a desire to make an art quilt, I tell myself that once I finish the proposal, I can reward myself with the quilt. It’s a way to discipline oneself to delay gratification and to mentally position the gratification as a reward for the hard work that needs to come first.
Artsaves Please tell us more about your plans for CRESCENDOh… will be a special place where we get to see what our favorite artists are creating and also their sources for creative inspiration. Each week, four artists will join me as Guest Curators as they shine light on their projects and projects of others. But the best part is that each curator will also be telling their ART SAVES story … About how art made a difference in their lives or the lives of others. Like a good magazine, will also invite readers to share their ART SAVES stories. Many powerful stories have already come in. We will also have a shop where art kits, books, and cool products will be available. Within this shop, there will be special ART SAVES merchandise that is developed with 100 percent of proceeds going to our charities of choice.

How does motherhood inform your life as a creative person?

When I got married, my world changed. When I became a mother, my universe changed. Motherhood is ultimately how I learned that the world does not revolve around me. Motherhood is how I found out how strong I really am — from giving birth, to raising the babies — there is nothing harder. Now that my kids are a bit older, I get to have a lot of fun with them. We are cracking each other up all the time. They help bring out facets of my creativity in very unique ways.

What books/websites/artists do you love? Could you share some recommendations?

The best book that I’ve recently read is What Would Google Do? By Jeff Jarvis. Anyone who wants to conduct business in today’s world needs to read it. It’s fascinating.
Yarn Do you have any collections?


Other than your family, what achievement are you most proud of?

I think I’m most proud of having made the decision to leave my comfort zone and launch CRESCENDOh. Because you know, it’s about to happen, but there’s no guarantee that it will succeed. It’s a risky journey but it’s my destiny.

Aside from that, I think I’m most proud of having lived a life where I don’t cower away from doing or saying or standing up for what’s right.

How do you maintain a good work/life balance?

Without the support of my husband, I’d suffer greatly. He’s such a constant support with parenting duties, and with duties around the house. That’s how I get balance. By having a really good man who knows how to support and love me.

What is the message you want to share with the world? (in other words, what do you consider to be your life’s work?)

Don’t be self-absorbed. Because self-absorption makes you boring, ineffective, and completely unsexy. Be aware of other realities and perspectives. Be thankful. And use your imagination to be helpful for those who are in need.  

What does happiness look like for you?

Happiness looks like an endless journey of rewarding work and projects. An endless possibility of ideas that I get to give birth to and participate in as a hard-working contributor.

You're having a dinner party and can invite six famous people from the past or present – who would you choose and why?

Bono: Incredible all around. Totally hot. Tremendous ability to affect positive global change.
Johnny Cash: His passion, his voice, and his demeanor would add a layer of intrigue to the party.
kd lang: I’ve always loved her music. I think she’s interesting. I think she’d enjoy hanging with the gang.
Ellen: Such a funny and caring person. She’d help liven things up.
Matt Damon: I like him a lot. I sort of have a crush on his character Jason Bourne. I also think he’s doing good things with efforts to bring clean water to third world countries.
Steve Martin: So funny and so thoughtful and talented.

This group would be one that made me laugh out loud, think out loud, and potentially start a new collaborative project to do something amazing.

* * * * *

Well, that is one dinner party I would pay good money to attend! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us, Jenny!

[Photo of Toby & Scout by Johanna Love; all other photos by Jenny Doh]