Monthly Archives: July 2012

Creative Superheroes Interview: Maya Stein

So delighted to bring you the next installment of my brand new interview series! If you have read my blog for any length of time, you have probably come across one of Maya’s poems. This one called Believe might be all time my fave… but I recommend getting on her list so you can receive her 10-line poems each week like I do.

Maya just completed a Mondo Beyondo dream called Type Rider, where she bicycled for 40 days straight (toting a typewriter behind her) and with the intention of bringing people together through the written word. Enjoy her interview below!

What’s your superpower?

I’m incredibly – almost pathologically – spontaneous.

The other day, for example, watching the Olympics with a friend, I was chuckling at all those profiles they do of the athletes, with these behind-the-scenes stories of how they rose to excellence. Triumph of the spirit sorts of things. They crack me up. All that dramatic music and slow-mo replays of some tragedy that befell them and then how they came back to win the World Championship, etc. etc.

And I thought, what if there was a profile that could be made of a normal person, like, going grocery shopping? Having to figure out which cantaloupe was ripe. Deciding between fusilli and penne pasta. You know, fancy problems. So a profile about someone like that. And the next day, my friend and I started filming.

What are your obsessions? And how do they make their way into your creative work?

I love adjectives. And lists. I think I might be somewhat obsessed with those. Not lists in the way of grocery shopping or to-do’s, but the tumble of list-making that happens internally, how you scan your surroundings and without really realizing it, you’re making lists of everything you see. That woman’s bright orange slacks, the garbage truck leaving its trail of smells, the kid behind you who spilled his milkshake behind you.

It’s less about what the mind is processing but what the senses are taking in. And adjectives are always useful in helping to fine-tune these experiences. What kind of orange were those slacks? What specific smells came spilling out of that truck? What flavor milkshake and what was the table made of onto which he spilled it? The details of the details. They make their way into the fragments that make the lines that make the poems I write. They’re a kind of architecture I build around the bones of what I’m writing. They give it dimension, flavor, impact, and context.

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

1. Not to worry what other people are doing. Not to mark your progress (or what might feel like a lack of progress) against anyone else. Stick to what’s intuitively you. Creativity is not a competition, and the most important thing is to be exactly who you are.

2. Stay curious, open, experimental, and flexible. Don’t be afraid to have outcomes in mind -– hopes, wishes dreams, best-case scenarios – but don’t be married to them. There are so many variables that could make your experience more dimensional

3. Have FUN.

4. Don’t fear being emotional. The creative act can be a highly emotional experience, and establishing a business around creativity a thousand times more so. I am probably the most emotionally porous and susceptible than I’ve ever been. Just because I’ve been in practice with my work for a long time doesn’t mean I’ve become immune to ups and downs, or less fearful of disappointment, or less ambivalent about trying new things, or somehow impervious to stress or pain.

The opposite, in fact, is true. The more I put myself out there and the greater I am willing to risk discomfort and fear in the service of my creative work, the higher the stakes everywhere. But what I’ve discovered is that these high stakes also come with tremendous rewards – a deep feeling of satisfaction, a peak sense of happiness and pride, and a profound connection to the world. To me, emotion is the lifeblood of creative work.

5. Don’t go it alone. Find allies. There are so many sources of inspiration, knowledge, and guidance that can help your work thrive and stay sustainable. There’s no need to attempt a hero’s journey through the desert without a thermos of water to your name. Seek like-minded spirits that nourish and delight you. Don’t be afraid to be transparent with your questions, your searching, and your vulnerabilities around your business in particular. Other people’s experiences offer a wealth of good information for you, and learning from them can help you refine your own skills.

Don’t isolate yourself, especially when you feel scared and unsure about next steps. This is exactly the time to reach out. And you’ll be surprised how much relief that can offer others. The big permission slip to yourself turns out to be the same thing for someone else.

Tell us about a time you had to practice courage.

It happened about an hour ago, getting off the bus at Port Authority, having come into the city with an intention to set up my typewriter somewhere near the New York Times building. I have been wanting to extend this project into something sustainable, work that I can assemble and put out there on a regular basis for others to enjoy. So I thought to myself, “Why not go for the gold, and see if the New York Times would be interested in having a Type Rider column?”

I wrote to a few editors and made my proposal, but when I heard nothing, my friend Amy suggested that I, like, actually GO there. And so I did, and because it was raining I went to the café right next door, where it seemed like the people who work for the paper must go there for coffee and lunch. I don’t know why this was harder for me to than bicycle half-way across the country towing my typewriter behind me, but something about it felt excruciatingly difficult. The fear, I suppose, of being this close to something that I want. The proximity to the big kahuna.

But then I reminded myself of this new thing I’ve been trying, which is to do the thing that surprises me. To choose the option to which I don’t know the outcome. And once I have that in my head, I get a kind of kick out of the challenge. And that loosens the grip on my fear. It pares it down into something much more bite-sized. And then I get curious and excited to see what happens, and that neutralizes the fear entirely.

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

My parents like to tell a story of when I was about 8 or 9 years old. We were at an amusement park and I saw a ride I wanted to get on. There were these airplanes in it, or cars that were made to look like airplanes, that went around and around in a circle.

I thought for some reason that you got to control the airplanes, that there were buttons in the cars that could make you go up and down. When I saw the ride, in fact, I noticed that some of the airplanes were high and some were low, and so I just assumed that the riders got to control that part. But what I didn’t realize was that the ride was intended for kids a lot younger than I was, and there were no controls of any sort, and the cars were stationary and so you had to choose whether you wanted to be in an higher-up airplane or a lower one. And because, of course, I thought I had the power to control the airplane, I didn’t think it much mattered which one, and got into one of the ones that was low to the ground.

When the ride got going and I didn’t see any buttons for me to push the airplane to go up, I was crestfallen. Well, that’s definitely an understatement. I was horrified, ashamed, furious, and trapped. My parents tell me my face was drained of all the excitement that preceded my getting on. But because they knew they weren’t going to be able to prevent me from going on the ride – that they weren’t going to be able to convince me it was for really little kids – they had to let me ride out all those feelings.

And I see now that this has been something that I’ve carried when I enter into new experiences. I have to ride them out. I have to – as my writing mentor Deena Metzger once said – see the experience to its completion. I remind myself of this when I find myself in uncomfortable situations, or in an environment that’s unfamiliar and scary.

What are the few things people wouldn’t know by looking at you?

I’m a Scrabble nerd.

I have a weakness for slot machines.

I don’t like yoga.

I love to make lip-synch videos.

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

That I have to be alone to be happy.

What is your current mantra? Tell us about the last time you used it.

One rotation at a time.

I used this daily on my cycling trip from Massachusetts to Milwaukee for the Type Rider project. It kept me in the present tense, focused on the road my tires were currently on. And it’s a metaphor I’ve been sticking to. Basically what it means is- work with what you’ve got right now. The terrain will change and the way you meet it will change too. So don’t worry so much about what might be coming down the pike. That thing will come and you’ll know. This is about not over-anticipating, not over-cogitating, not over-planning.

I think we carry more wisdom about how to deal with stuff than we realize. But we spend so much time trying to future-trip, coming up with possible scenarios, mostly to avoid discomfort or disappointment or failure altogether. But when we live our lives one rotation at a time, we meet challenges as they come, not before. We do exactly what’s needed the moment that it’s needed.


Maya Stein is a poet, creative nonfiction writer, and facilitates writing workshops. She has published two collections of personal essays and two collections of poetry and photographs. Her “10-line Tuesday” poems, which she has been writing for more than seven years, reach nearly 1,000 people around the world each week. Maya recently completed “Type Rider: Cycling the Great American Poem” a 40-day Kickstarter-backed bike journey from Massachusetts to Wisconsin that had her towing a typewriter and inviting strangers to contribute to a collaborative piece of writing. She will be publishing a book about the project later this year. To learn more about Maya, visit


Nothing you’ve ever done is wasted.

old photobooth pics from my massive collection

The lost art of the friendly letter

When I was in grade school, we were taught the art of the “friendly letter.” Although I can’t remember every detail now, there was a structure to these handwritten notes — a place to put your return address, the date, a proper way to address your friend or family member or teacher. Did you learn how to write a friendly letter too?

I wrote a lot of friendly letters. And had some random pen pals in Switzerland.

Many years later, I found myself post-college-a newly annointed artist bursting with creativity-discovering mail art. This was a subculture of people who, like myself, loved the medium of making art specifically for the mail. We’d collage postcards, tiny books, cut and paste remnants of everyday life. Think ticket stubs, feathers, shells, drops of red wine, repurposed matchbooks and cocktail umbrellas. We’d manipulate photographs, draw pictures and paste inspiring quotes from old books… Most striking to me now is that we made these things, not for the market or for a readership, but for one person only – the one who would receive this treasure in their mailbox.

It was a gift. Pure and simple. A creative way to communicate between old friends who lived across the miles. A way to explore our creativity with total freedom and joy. There was one particular house I lived in during my time in Santa Barbara where all of us roommates spent nearly every night on the floor of our bungalow with scissors and glue, photo booth pictures and glitter, drinking wine and listening to music and making things. The mailman knew we always got the best mail!

A designer in training

From the outside, all of this cutting and pasting wasn’t amounting to much. I was working as a barista (they called them coffee slingers in those days) and smoking a lot of cigarettes at cafes. I was having lots of fun but feeling aimless. What I didn’t know is that I was also training myself for a step on my future path.

Years later, when I decided I wanted to find my favorite author SARK in San Francisco and convince her to hire me, I decided I would connect with her energetically by making her something. That something turned into a beautiful accordion book full of photographs and quotes, boa feathers and paint, and a letter introducing myself. Because I only had her publisher’s address, I didn’t think it would ever reach her, but I felt moved to connect this way just the same. Several weeks later, I got a call from SARK’s office. Not only did the little book reach her, but they called to tell me that they couldn’t wait to meet me. To meet ME! Apparently that little book functioned as an accidental portfolio piece and I had intrigued them.

The day we all met, I remember reading the Camp SARK mission statement and I cried. It was the beginning of a brand new life, one that aligned with my spirit. In a world where I had no idea what was next for me, where my only professional experience was selling coffee or clothes, I was floored to have suddenly have found a dream job.

And my first assignment there? It was to create a line of licensed gift products based on SARK art. I literally sat on the rug and cut and pasted SARK quotes and artwork into greeting cards and stationery. Turns out all those hours of mail art were the perfect training for a future of design and art-making in the real world. And it was a dream come true.

I love this story because it affirms something I believe wholeheartedly — That whatever you are curious about, whatever delights you and brings you joy is precisely what will take you on the path towards your deepest dreams. You don’t need to connect the dots or even understand it. In fact, it might be better if you don’t. Just do it for the joy of it.

And know that nothing, absolutely nothing you’ve ever done is wasted.


The many faces of a five year old.

The best of the bunch.

Originally, I was just going to post this shot above. It has the best light, Ben looks happy and his eyes have that bright spark… If you have taken a Superhero Photo class you will recognize those as catchlights!

Anyway, as I loaded this image up, I realized that I never show you the whole progression of the mini-photoshoots I do with Ben. As you can tell, Ben is a ham… and as he gets older it’s harder and harder to photograph him looking natural. But I find if I keep it playful and click the shutter about a hundred times, I always come away with some great images.

Also, for those trying to improve their photography, you will notice that the light was instantly better when I swiveled around and photographed Ben on the ground to my left. When he was on the bed his face was in shadow and things got a bit grainy/noisy. Of course, sometimes it’s all about the expression and a less than perfect exposure can do the job as well.

Hope your weekend was good! and full of photo-worthy moments. I’ve been cooking up a new set of classes for you that I will be announcing soon, so stay tuned!

Smiling for the camera, shot with Canon Xsi

Trying to be serious.

A more typical shot I get.

If I had a nickel for every shot like this…

Ben and the half smile.

Ben fart face, shot with Canon Xsi


Sponsor Spotlight: Kelly Rae Roberts + Chris Guillebeau

Superhero Journal sponsors are…well…super! So check out the exciting opportunities Kelly Rae and Chris are offering this month. Also, if you’d like to see your e-Course, Etsy shop or blog on the sidebar or in an upcoming Sponsor Spotlight, we’d love to have you. Just send a quick email to Amber at: [email protected] to get all the details.


Kelly Rae Roberts

“Holy Moly, Kelly! Thank you for being so generous and thorough in everything you are covering! I’ve taken several e-courses and read many e-books, but this is by far the most practical and actually makes me feel like I can do it. Awesome.”

“I cannot thank you enough for this wonderful content and the fact that it was not just informative, but that you, yourself, Kelly Rae, came shining through, making it all so personal. This is the most amazing, WORTH IT content I have ever read.”

“Holy Camoly. Where in the world could we find all this info in such a short time, from someone who KNOWS? It would have taken me a LIFETIME…thank you so much Kelly Rae!”

“I am absolutely floored at the empowerment you are giving me Kelly. I don’t think I have ever felt as confident as I do now.”

“This content has been beyond helpful. You’ve answered every single question that had been circling my brain for months, and now I feel so much better prepared to get my creative biz up and running. Thank you!”

**Come join us for the last run of the wildly popular Flying Lessons: Tips + Tricks To Help Your Creative Biz Soar


Chris Guillebeau – The $100 Startup

Imagine a life where all your time is spent on things you want to do.

 Imagine handing a letter to your boss that says: “Dear Boss, I’m writing to let you know that your services are no longer required. Thanks for everything, but I’ll be doing things my own way now.”

In The $100 Startup, Chris Guillebeau shows you how to lead a life of adventure, meaning and purpose – and earn a good living too. Here, finally distilled into one easy-to-use guide, are the most valuable lessons from those who’ve learned how to turn what they do into a gateway to self-fulfillment.

You don’t need an MBA, a business plan or even employees! It’s all about finding the intersection between what you love to do and what other people will pay for.

The $100 Startup is packed with 300 pages of action to get you on your way. Or come meet Chris and a fun group of independent-minded people in a city near you on The $100 Startup Tour. There may even be cupcakes…


things I saw this week.

big folded down daisy, shot with Canon Xsi

more whithering daisies

tree shadows, Berkeley, CA

Nude cyclist in SF

Ben and his cousin Elijah

big folded down daisy

Nico at the tot lot, Berkeley, CA

View at Land's End, SF

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 Photo Credit: Bella Cirovic,

Highlights of WDS + Portland in pictures

The talented Mati Rose who just published a gorgeous book

It happened again! Chris Guillebeau’s incredible event, The World Domination Summit was held last weekend in Portland, Oregon.

Some highlights of my time in pictures:

1. Staying with Kelly Rae, Mati and Ali Edwards in Kelly Rae’s gorgeous home. OMG. Every corner is oozing with love and color and beauty… it is beyond inspiring.

2. Attending the Q&A with Brene Brown. Total pleasure. Total inspiration. I was moved to tears and laughed even harder. Brene is a brilliant storyteller and is doing such important work in the world. I am so proud to call her a friend.

Reunion! Mati rose, Kelly Rae, Ali Edwards, Brene Brown, Andrea Scher, Andrea Jenkins

3. Storytelling into late in the night in the backyard with some of the Lovebombers. We hadn’t all been together in a long time.

4. Meeting some new blogging friends who I suspected I would love and I did. You can see more photos of our gathering at Kelly’s studio here.

photo by Mati Rose

5. Stand up paddle boarding for the first time in my life! This was amazing! So. Much. Fun. Kelly’s husband John (who wined us and dined us all weekend) took us out in the water. So awesome. Thank you John!

6. Meeting so many of you at my breakout session at WDS! We talked about courage and vulnerability and our superpowers… You were all such a gift to be with!


What’s your metaphor?

Flora Bowley standing in front of one of her paintings, San Miguel de Allende

Way back in January, when I told a friend about my upcoming trip to San Miguel de Allende to paint, he asked me about the teacher. I confessed that I didn’t know a whole lot about Flora except that I was a huge fan of her work. And then I surprised myself by adding, “I think she’s actually teaching the same thing I do. Only difference is she’s coming at it through painting and I’m coming at it through photography and writing.”

My suspicion was right. When I think about that time in Mexico, I often forget (at least initially) that I was painting every day. What feels most visceral and profound was the metaphor that we lived inside for one whole week. Somehow, through the practice of moving paint around on a canvas, we had to confront all of our stuff. Our humanness. We had to muster the courage to show up in each moment in the face of the mess, of things not working, of feeling like we sucked. We had to battle the voices that threatened to shut us down. We had to trust ourselves enough to keep going. We also learned to relish the joy that showed up unexpectedly, in moments of flow and presence.

I learned to lean into my strengths – my love of color and my confidence – and use those to my advantage, boldly throwing down the most delicious colors I could find without thinking too much about it. It was all right there, all of me, in that one little microcosm of a blank canvas. My fear of not doing it right, my attachment to to the product, my impatience and perfectionism, my brilliance.

Since then I am seeing metaphor everywhere and wondering: Are we all learning the same stuff? Are we all trying to:

1. Cultivate our courage
2. Learn to trust ourselves
3. Find faith in uncertainty
4. Find bits of unexpected joy in the process?

Do we all have a metaphor, a practice that takes us there?

Perhaps you are a gardener and learning faith this way. Or maybe you are a runner and practice courage and resilience through moving your body. Maybe aikido is your thing? Or stand up comedy. It can be almost anything, right?

What’s your metaphor?

In the comments below, tell me what your practice is and what you are learning from it.


Happy 4th of July!

shot from last weekend in Guinda, CA

Wanna capture your summer with stunning photos?

The gorgeous Denise during the magic hour

The Magic Hour

Have you ever noticed how dreamy everything looks during the magic hour? This is the time of day just before sunset when the air is still, the shadows are long, the light is warm and soft and everything looks magic. The light can transform even the most ordinary things– fire hydrants, garden hoses, candy wrappers on the curb–into poetry.

There is a saying I heard recently that photographers are never home at dinnertime. It’s just too beautiful outside and they are taking photos! I can totally relate. This is my favorite time to shoot, especially in summer.

Practicing Gratitude

We can use our cameras as a way into presence and joy. It’s true. For me, photography is like a moving meditation, a way for me to connect with what’s happening in the moment, to see what’s beautiful and interesting and pull me deeper into my experience. It is a way that I appreciate the world and practice gratitude.

Superhero Photo offers a playful, creative way into photography that will completely transform your images. Like, forever! It will teach you to wake up to everyday beauty and capture it all with more skill and mastery. It is more about seeing… so even for seasoned photographers it will be a spark of inspiration. 6 weeks of fun. At the end, you will have a beautiful document of your summer.

All skill levels and camera types are welcome. Your iphones and point and shoots are just fine!

Here’s what you’ll discover, inside:

  • Fresh themes, every week: Portraits, hidden treasures, composition, color + my photo secrets!
  • No-sweat technical lessons: Superhero Photo is focused on play & self-expression, but you’ll learn the fundamentals of aperture, lighting, post-processing, and more.
  • Treasure hunts: Download a collection of creative photo prompts, to inspire a spontaneous photography adventure.
  • Interviews, galore: Inspiring chats with super-talented photographers, like Tracey Clark, Vivienne McMaster, Anna Kuperberg, Andrea (Hula) Jenkins, and Tara Whitney.
  • Community cheerleading: A warm & encouraging community space on Flickr to share & admire our work.

Join in the fun! Class begins next Monday, July 9th!