Monday, December 21, 2009

Carmen & Josephine

This morning, I came across an article about Carmen Herrera, a 94-year old Cuban woman who– for the first time in her life-long love affair with painting– is being commercially recognized. Married 61 years to her best friend and 'inspiration', she painted every day for six decades simply for the joy of it. Now, her geometric works are selling for $30,000 a piece and being featured in shows at MoMA, the Hirshhorn, and Tate Modern.

I have my own 94-year old Cuban inspiration; my 'Nena' Josephine Jimenez lived a life of similar 'quiet success'... one of the first women to graduate from UCLA, the first Latina principal of a high school in Los Angeles, married as well to her best friend, biggest fan, and soul mate for decades... her story, her life, and she are all tremendous inspirations.

The two embody the most simple and important lessons... that life is a journey with no destination but life itself, to enjoy the ride at every age and stage, and to remember that each moment is as beautiful as the last... if not more so.

That success is in the living, not the recognition.

As Carmen Herrera said in the article, "I paint because I have to do it; it's a compulsion that also gives me pleasure." She is amused by her success, but not rewarded by it. I'm reminded of how Nena would say to me, when I'd long for good reviews, record deals, and recognition, "Jennifer, do you enjoy what you're doing for its own sake? Are you comfortable in your own skin? Do you love your family and do they love you?"

Nena, and it seems Carmen could answer yes to these three questions. How many of us can do the same? So often we run through life, racing for the prize, only to have forgotten what it is we're running and racing for...

We no longer pay much attention to our elders in this country. We should; they have the wisdom of perspective, born only from having watched so much time, and so many philosophies and loved ones pass away.

To all the Carmens and Josephines alive today, here to witness yet another turn of year and decade, we thank, honor, and celebrate you for your wisdom, your inspiration, and your example.

The best to you all for a wonderful holiday, and a 2010 filled with love, peace, and song...

To read the New York Times piece on Ms. Herrera, visit:

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Saturday, December 12, 2009


One of my clients had a breakthrough yesterday. With her permission, I'd like to share her story with you.

Katherine doesn't consider herself a singer. She works in finance, but heard about me through a friend and thought doing some singing would help to open her up to deeper creative and personal expression.

As many of you know, I've found over the years that vocal tension– for both the amateur and professional– more often than not comes from or is exacerbated by non-vocal issues; lack of faith in self, unresolved or unaddressed emotional concerns, insecurities, fears of failure and success, and the like.

With this in mind, as she struggled through a song, I asked Katherine to focus not on how she was sounding, but rather, to concentrate on the meaning of the words and music. To feel the voice coming from a deeper place. To stop listening to and trying to manage every note, and instead, focus on the process of the sound being born, formed, resonating in, and leaving her body.

I asked her to sing from her soul.

To which she replied, "I don't know where my soul is..."

We sat there together for a long while in silence, as Katherine consciously confronted an issue she'd been trying so hard to avoid- one I'd so carefully been trying to lead her to. Bringing her back to the song, I shared this with her:

You don't have to know where your soul is to sing. By singing, the journey toward your soul begins. And it's a never-ending journey... a leisurely, sensory walk deeper and deeper into yourself and the world.

But the journey of finding and celebrating your soul can't begin until you relinquish judgment and expectation. The soul and the voice don't care how you sound or look. They don't have an idea of how your heart song 'should' go. There is no music they call 'good' or 'bad', no notes they call 'too high' or 'too low', no feelings or ideas or imaginings they call 'wrong' or 'right'. The soul only asks one thing... the voice only asks one thing...

... to sing.

Katherine sat still, eyes closed, hand on her stomach, tears in her eyes, and– as all of the muscles in her face and body released in childlike surrender– made some of the most beautiful sounds I've ever heard.

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