Monday, December 6, 2010
Questions are her life's work - An Interview with Jennifer Louden.
Best selling author and The Comfort Queen,Jennifer Louden, talks about success, digital stress and answers to her life questions.
It was a series of endings that started Jennifer Louden on the path as a best-selling author, spokesperson, workshop and retreat leader. Her boyfriend broke up with her and his friend wrecked her car. Her dog bit her. She was on crutches recovering from a skiing accident, moving from a house to a very small apartment, and trying to finish a screenplay. Her agent was getting disinterested and she was suffering from a huge case of writer’s block.
“And I couldn’t write. I was rewriting the same two pages of this screenplay over and over again,” said Jennifer.
If anyone needed comfort at that moment it was Jennifer, “Inside this voice was saying, Honey, you just need to take some time off. You need to take care of yourself. You need to maybe go work in a bookstore for a while, or you’re interested in some gardening. It’ll be ok. And I said, Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ll listen to all that when I sell the screenplay.”
But instead of finishing her play, she was helping and comforting another writer.
Jennifer said, “I was very jealous of a friend. I had taken care of her, given her advice, a space to work. She got a better agent than I did and she was just off and running. Here, I was drying up. And, so, I called to tell her I was going to quit writing for a month. But really when I said it, I meant I was going to give up. And that was when the title for my first book, popped into my head as clearly as a voice said to me, The Woman’s Comfort Book.”
At first, giving up her writing and creative life, felt like a huge relief. But the book title kept coming back to her, like a call that wouldn’t go away. Jennifer asked herself, “I wonder what did it mean to comfort myself? And then I began to think about writing a book and that book was very successful and launched everything else.”
Jennifer wrote a series of best-selling books starting in 1992 with The Woman’s Comfort Book, The Couple’s Comfort Book, The Pregnant Women’s Comfort Book, and Comfort Secrets for Busy Women, followed by The Woman’s Retreat Book, The Life Organizer Book and companion CD. Even though she’d published successful books, Jennifer still had problems seeing herself as a real writer. That inner critic was saying to her, “Well yes, you wrote a book and it sold hundreds of thousands of copies, but it’s a ‘self help’ book. It’s not a ‘real’ book. It’s not literature.”
Every book was a ‘self-help’ book for Jennifer. By looking for the answers to questions in her own life; Jennifer helped herself and many other people, too.
“I think that’s why so many of us write anything or create anything because we have a question. And somehow we are directed or constructed, or both, in a way that we don’t just do it for ourselves, said Jennifer.” “There’s something about the conversation that is huge for me. That’s what I love about the internet, and my blog, creating products and doing teleconferences, retreat calls or both, there’s feedback back and forth. And that sparks more learning and questions for me and then I get interested in answering questions for other people, too. But it’s got to be that sweet spot between the two.”
Life, according to Jennifer, is a question of balance and asking yourself, “Am I present enough to know what I want and what is needed in the moment?”
Add the internet to the demands of ordinary life and many moments can get eaten up with what Jennifer likes to call ‘shadow comforts’, “Email for me is the big time suck. I was given a writing retreat by the Fetzer institute in April and my intention for that was to be unplugged.” This made such a difference in her life, she decided to use her own tool, ‘Conditions of Enoughness’ to take a digital sabbatical in August.
“The sabbatical did bring me a huge gift, said Jennifer. “I’ve had a question for years now about what I want to do next and it really made me realize how much I want to be an active part of helping save the world. I think we’re on the edge of disaster and we don’t have a lot of time left. And I don’t think I could’ve done it if I was checking email every hour.”
Jennifer uses a computer program called, ‘Anti-social’ that prevents her from checking email, twitter, facebook or other sites for a set amount of time each day. But although she admits that comments filled with bragging, competition and comparisons can make a bad day worse, sometimes she realizes that it’s not always the sites themselves.
Jennifer said, “I can go on twitter on a bad day and feel horrible about myself. And I can go on twitter on a good day and feel like I’m at the spiritual water cooler. So I go on with limits. Am I feeling good enough to do this? Can I make a contribution or am I going on there to give the mean voices some ammunition? Then I’m not going on.”
What are your Conditions of Enoughness for the internet? According to Jennifer, that’s a question you have to answer for yourself, with many more questions.
“Why are you on there? What’s your intention, asks Jennifer, is your intention to run away from your marriage? Your creative work? Dysfunction in your kids? From the fact that you didn’t exercise today? Or is it, wow, I’d just really like 20 minutes to check in and look at what your friends are doing? Or is your intention to build your business? And are the other live people in your life getting enough from you?”
Jennifer knows that she’s not alone in these questions and now she wants to explore answers in a different way, taking the personal to the global level. After 10 years, she’s saying good bye to the Comfort Queen website, the place that’s sold her books, retreats and workshops. She is designing a new website and blog. Is this a bold move for Jennifer? Her way of changing the world or just her world? Or a little of both, perhaps?
Jennifer answers, “I’ve listened to the mean voice that said, ‘You got lucky with the success of your books, so you need to keep doing the same thing over and over again because you’re not going have anything else.’ And I’m at the point where I don’t want to believe the mean voices anymore and if they’re right, I’d rather go open a cheese store. I’m a person who likes to learn. And I think of the one thing that defines me, it’s learning and changing. So I have to keep doing it or what’s the point of being here. I’ve got to create.”
Jennifer’s not sure exactly what this creation will be yet. Even though she feels strongly about taking time off from the internet, this project will require internet involvement using her blog. Again, Jennifer starts this new project with more questions.
“How do you do enough of your passion that you make a living and savor the world and save the world? And what’s the sweet spot between the three? Because that’s my question, I need to work. I need to make a living,” Jennifer said.
Jennifer Louden has been making a very good living since the beginning. First it was traditionally with publishing advances, book sales and international rights, workshops, retreats and speaking engagements, but with the boom of the internet, Jennifer has creatively diversified her work and products. In 2000, she launched her Comfort Queen website expanded with virtual events, tele-classes, comfort café memberships and digital products. Now her income is made in a wider range of diverse products instead of the larger chunks from her book publishing past. Does this cause her to feel her life is too complex, that she’s stretched too thin? Maybe.
“One of my fantasies is that my life would be a little simpler, Jennifer said. “I don’t know if that’s a possibility so I live that question, sometimes I do feel a little spread thin. And the truth is, I don’t like to do just one thing. I like to do several things at one time.”
Jennifer feels doing the same thing over and over is like answering the same question over and over. And to some degree she feels she’s been doing that with Comfort Queen.com and she needs to explore new questions. How does Jennifer see this new work and life coming together? Right now, she’s not sure. Jennifer has been successful in the ‘self help’ field for decades, but she still has her share of fears and fantasies about future projects.
Said Jennifer, “I may wake up in the middle of the night petrified, but right now it feels great. And I’ll start to have fantasies that I won’t contribute. I won’t get to create. Nobody will listen to me. I’ll be poor.”
Has Jennifer finally learned to comfort herself writing successful self help books? Or not? “It has been an ongoing exploration of….what does it really mean to take care of myself. And I think that’ll be a question I’m living my whole life. I think that’s part of the role of a creative person is to be able to live in the question. I love questions, but I want answers.”
Jennifer Louden has made asking questions and seeking answers for her own life, her life’s work. Whether she’ll find all the answers and learn to savor and save the world is yet, another question. But she has to try, even if it means she has to open that cheese store after all.
“The key is loving the questions, said Jennifer. “Loving the fact that there are so many questions in life. How can we be in that place of curiosity?”
If you'd like to hear Jen talk about her life, listen to the podcast interview on Voices of Living Creatively website. And visit Jennifer's blog at Comfort Queen