I recently found out that I had a family member I never knew about.
Another cousin Facebook messaged me about Jen in 2019 and said that she lived not far from me. Not only that but that she’s also a writer, a yogi, and around my age. Why didn’t we know about each other sooner? Something about the family name being changed at Ellis island using an “a” instead of an “o.”
That one tiny letter kept us from knowing one another. Until now.
After we met, I took her best-selling book, On Being Human, with me on vacation. On the beaches of Rimini, Italy, I listened to the audiobook that she recorded. I got to know my newly discovered cousin for the first time, through her own voice, literally. And I loved it.
Here’s our conversation about creativity!
.Annie: What does creativity mean to you and do you feel that you’ve always been in touch with it?
Jen: Good question…when I’m feeling creative it’s when I feel connected. And it could be connected deeply to myself, to someone else, to an idea. I know the difference between being connected and disconnected because I’ve spent a lot of my life being disconnected. Creativity to me also means being uninhibited. In traditional ways, no I haven’t always been touched by creativity, but in other ways, yes. Creativity to me is being deeply connected to my imagination.
Annie: You’ve been writing since you were a kid, same as me. So do you feel like you’ve always had this creativity in you from the get-go?
Jen: Yes, from the get-go. Before my dad died I was writing stories, when I was 6, 7, 8… then I felt like there was so much pressure because everyone was like, “Jennifer is going to be a writer.” So as I got older, like in high school, I got resentful, like, “don’t tell me what I’m going to do.” I had studied poetry at NYU, my mom suggested I write for TV and I was like, “no, I want to be an actor, stop telling me what to do.”
Annie: But did you love writing? Was it just that the fact people were telling you to do it that was annoying you? You rebelled against it, even though you had a passion for writing, clearly.
Jen: Yeah, yes, yes… part of it was yes, I hate being told what to do even though I crave it. The other part was ego — there was a real thing with wanting to be an actor, even though I really didn’t want it. Wayne Dyer used to talk about this, does it feel natural to you? And can you imagine it? And this is the truth that I can tell you now, in my body now, I could never, all through my 20s, I could never visualize myself on set. And if I’m honest about that, this life I have now is so easy for me to visualize. I could always visualize myself connecting, I didn’t know what it would look like, but that should have been a red flag for me, “oh, I want to be an actor” even though I was just waiting for someone to discover me at the restaurant.
Annie: The actor thing for you, was it more that you wanted the idea of what that would look like and not the actual thing?
Jen: Yeah, it was fame and, losing my dad so young, I craved love and that feeling of “want me, want me, want me.”
Annie: So, the acting was more about getting attention. being seen… and the rest?
Jen: Well, I have impostor syndrome with creativity because I’m not an artist, in the way you are, or the traditional way. So sometimes I’m like “oh I’m not creative.” But that’s a bullshit story. Because being creative is being deeply connected to your imagination and not letting my inner asshole say, “that’s stupid” or “that’s cliché” or, “other people have done that.”
Annie: Right. You know, for me, the visual artist part of me is fairly recent. My entire life I’ve been an actor and writer and my feeling about creativity is that we are ALL born creative and it comes out in all the ways that we are. In our daily life, how we behave, in how we talk to one another, in how we dress, cook, in our… everything.
Jen: Yeah, I totally agree.
Annie: And in whatever we make.
Jen: Yeah, just make it. Whatever it is.
Jen holds up my artwork…
Jen: Look at this, I love this.
Annie: Thank you.
Jen: It reminds me of my Beauty Hunting.
Annie: It’s funny because you talk about beauty hunting and I used to say FTB, Find the Beauty.
Jen: I almost named the book Beauty Hunting but went with On Being Human.
Annie: Switching gears… I’m curious about your hearing loss and I know you read lips. How did you learn to read lips?
Jen: I’m not completely deaf with a capital D, I can hear sounds with the hearing aids but it sounds very muffled so I supplement with the reading of the lips. I can’t watch things without subtitles. I learned to read lips at The Newsroom (a restaurant in Los Angeles where Jen was a waitress for several years) My hearing loss kept getting worse and it was survival that got me to read lips. I didn’t even know that I was doing it.
Annie: You learned because you needed to learn, so it just happened over time?
Jen: Yeah, I actually think a lot of people, now that we are living in a masked world, are realizing how much they were relying on reading lips.
Annie: Interesting, even without hearing loss?
Annie: You’re working on a new book now.
Jen: Well, working. (Jen makes air quotes.)
Jen: Well, I haven’t been writing. I haven’t written since my book.
Jen: Yeah, it’s really bumming me out. I feel bad about myself so I can’t speak about writing currently.
Annie: Okay, well when you do write, what’s your ideal environment like? Do you need to shut things out?
Jen: In a perfect world, yes, I would shut everything out because that’s what I need, I can not multi-task, I can not have music on, can not have anyone talk to me. I’m fascinated by people who have music on or tv or sound…
Annie: … Yeah, I have to have some kind of sound around me.
Jen: I would clench my butthole the whole time, I need SILENCE.
Annie: And about not writing, maybe it’s because you’ve been busy lately promoting your book.
Jen: I mean, yeah, at the beginning of the pandemic I lost everything, all my in-person events. I reinvented myself and started doing everything online, coaching and we started a podcast, turned my retreats into virtual retreats, and I have a 4-year-old, so… I haven’t been able to write.
Annie: What do you need to do to make that happen?
Jen: well, it’s interesting you say that because I’m going to go on my calendar today and book out time. I need to block it out.
Annie: Do you have a deadline? Deadlines are huge.
Jen: I do better when other people give me one.
Annie: Okay, I’ll give you a deadline.
Annie: Well, I don’t know how long it usually takes you to write, so I’ll have to get back to you with a deadline.
(Time has passed since our IG live, so, I’ve had time to come up with a deadline. Jen, your rough first draft is due June 15, 2021. I will text you. You’re welcome.)
Annie: Your book started out as a blog first, is that right?
Jen: Well, 12 years ago I wanted to write a book and really I was writing essays and keeping them on my computer. But I started a blog where I’d post a lot “the Manifest-Station.” It’s still there but I don’t write on it. I had workshops called “On Being Human” and I had an agent who found me online a long time ago because I had an online presence.
Annie: Tell me about your new podcast.
Jen: It’s called What Are You Bringing? We're best friends and we talk about what you’re bringing to life. it’s a virtual barbecue.
Annie: Will there be food?
Jen: Well, no.
Annie: Okay, I’ll still come.
Jen: I do it with my friend Alicia Easter, it’s great.
Annie: I will check it out for sure. So, let’s talk advice. What is some advice someone gave you that really stuck with you?
Jen: The one that popped into my head just now is Wayne Dyer,
“Don’t die with your music still in you.”
Annie: I love that one too.
Jen: Yeah, I've been thinking about that a lot, being intentional with how I want to live my life. How to allow myself to be self-expressed.
Annie: Don’t you feel you do that?
Jen: I do, but there are still so many ways that I don’t. Like, why am I getting in my way with this next book and with my shame loss course? It’s me getting in my own way. There’s still music I’m not letting out yet.
Annie: Do you feel successful?
Jen: Absolutely, yeah, I do. Financially I’d love to be more successful. I would love to own a home, to have a bigger place. I define success the way I personally define it is, when I lay my head down at night I get to say, I told the truth today. So, as far as that goes, do I feel successful… yes. Period.
Annie: Good. I love that, Yes. Period. Such a perfect ending to this chat. Thanks, cuz!
This interview was first published on Medium.