Jennifer Lighty

Jennifer Lighty

Jennifer Lighty

Jen, you talk about your life before you met your mentor 14 years ago. Can you tell us a little bit about that? What moved you to take a new path? Was it a gradual change or was there one particular moment when something clicked with you?

Before I met my mentor, a healer named Maria DeMarco, I was on a very destructive path, abusing myself with alcohol, drugs and food. I was traumatized from childhood sexual abuse and sought out abusive situations as an adult, constantly putting myself in risky situations  with men that included being physically abused. I cycled in and out of extreme depression. If I was not really depressed, then I was just down. Most of my thoughts were negative and I didn’t have faith in anything or believe that life was worth living. I wasn’t exactly a sleepwalker, because I was aware of how bad things were, but I was floundering around in my own pain and unaware there was any way out of it. I believe there is a good chance I would have killed myself if I hadn’t changed course.

I met Maria a few days after the bombing of the World Trade Center at a ceremonial fire she was called to hold on Block Island, where she was visiting at the time. She spoke of thanking the souls of the people who had died in the planes and in the towers, including those of the attackers, saying that they had chosen to sacrifice themselves in order to awaken humanity. It was the first exposure I had to the idea that the soul has an agenda that is often not what a person would seek out for themselves because the ego is so invested in the body’s survival. It was a revolutionary moment that has stayed with me since. It was the first shift that opened me up to the possibility that we are never truly victims, that our soul chooses some situations for us because that is how we need to grow. Sometimes this growth will involve a sacrifice as great as death or in being the perpetrator of a crime for which we will be vilified, like the terrorists who perpetrated the World Trade Center bombing.

The big moment for me came a year into working with Maria. I was still drinking, still depressed, but the work with her was opening me up intellectually and energetically. I was still depressed and still felt an overwhelming unwillingness to be in my body that led to suicidal thoughts. One day driving down the road I was thinking “I just want out.” As I thought this, a deer dashed in front of my car. I saw another in the rearview window crossing the road behind me. I narrowly missed the one in front. They both disappeared into the graveyard to my left. I could have crashed into her, injuring, possibly killing, her or myself. I knew when I missed her that I had chosen to live on a soul level. I quit drinking and began the work of recovering my joy and seeking to fulfill my soul’s purpose at that moment.

When it comes to your mentoring practice, is there a common theme that you find in the clients that come to you for help?

I find that people are coming to me who want to learn how to connect with the natural and spirit world through their creativity. I began working with poets, but the work has been expanding to include many others who I am calling creative seekers-people who are looking for a different way to relate to themselves and our planet.

When you work with students, in your 30-Day Poetry Challenge for example, what advice do you give them to keep that inner critic quiet long enough for them to feel comfortable getting that first draft down on paper? 

I really encourage people to connect with their body’s wisdom. In a concrete way, this involves not just reading what they’ve written aloud, but composing aloud. It is easy to get disembodied as a writer and imitate the voices we have in our heads as readers. I encourage people to walk, practice yoga, dance–all of these physical activities will help free the voice and quiet the inner critic. One other thing I do is tell people to write with their non-dominant hand. I learned this from the poet Marie Howe. It’s a wonderful way to bypass the intellect and go straight into the imaginal realms of intuition and body-knowledge that is difficult to access when we are trapped in our heads.

I understand the Medicine Wheel is a walking practice. How can we novices begin to incorporate that in our every day lives?

A simple way is to orient yourself according to the directions within the places you inhabit the most. Your home, your office, etc. For instance, do you where north is? Is there a lake to the south of you? What direction is the wind coming from? I lived many years on Block Island where the old timers knew out of necessity what a northeast wind would bring versus a southwesterly breeze. It was just a part of daily conversation to be aware of the weather, so I was lucky to have this early influence.

What advice would you give to the woman who may suddenly find herself with an empty-nest, a job she’s unhappy with and no idea what to do next?

My advice would be to cultivate the practice of surrender. It is easy to intellectualize your circumstances by looking Buddhaat them through the lens of soul needs versus ego desires, but I found once I started to get really deep into the process of spiritual growth that I had to go through the emotional work required to open my heart that didn’t necessarily go along with the understanding that I was co-creating my circumstances with my soul in order to evolve. If you can surrender to feeling your emotions you will find that you will be more present with yourself and the moment. This will decrease anxiety that keeps us locked into a future scenario and help us receive guidance from a higher power as to what to do next. Again, I find that moving my body helps. Yoga has been invaluable for me and I recently underwent a course of underwater rebirthing sessions through a practice called janzu this past winter in Mexico that opened me up to a whole new level of self-acceptance of where I was. Before janzu, I was actually in yet another cycle of anxiety about where to go and what to do next. I was able to let go of that and opportunities presented themselves to me that I could never imagined before I allowed myself to surrender and trust.

What does your typical day look like?

In the past year I have made the shift to self-employment, so my typical day varies a good bit because I am not a person who gravitates toward routines. However, more days than not I find myself beginning the day with yoga, even just practicing a few sun salutations before I engage with others helps. I have had a long journey with physical illness, so I make a point of caring for my body with nourishing drink and food. I like to sip a cup of warm water and lemon, then drink some green tea. Then I begin reading and writing, corresponding with students and colleagues. In the late afternoon I usually get outside. For the past 6 months I was in Mexico, so I went to the beach. Now I am back in New England where this is not yet possible, so I go for a walk! I cook myself a nourishing meal, then sometimes write again or read, watch a movie. I spend most of my time alone. I enjoy it. It has taken me a long time to enjoy my own company and not constantly be seeking love and approval outside myself, so now I really revel in this time alone.

What’s next for you?

I have a lot of projects going right now! I have a chapbook coming out from Finishing Line Press. It’s called “Breaking Up With The Moon.” I’m not sure yet of the publication date. I am working on a full length poetry collection and on a book based on my 30 Day Poetry Challenge. I am currently without a fixed address and see a lot more travel in my future!

Jennifer Lighty is an award-winning poet and teacher whose work has been nominated for The Pushcart Prize, Best New Poets, and been published in The Beloit Poetry Journal, Verse Daily,  Thrush Poetry Journal, Earthlines, The Island Review, The North American Review, Poet Lore, Off The Coast, Room, Bamboo Ridge and many other journals. In 2103, she received a grant from The Rhode Island State Council on the Arts.  The focus of her work is to help creators develop more intimate connections with themselves and Earth. Her work is grounded in permaculture, deep ecology, and archetypal psychology. She is committed to helping others transform their wounds into gifts that can serve the world. Visit her online at walkingthemedicinewheel.com.

Jacky Colliss Harvey

Jacky Colliss Harvey

Jacky Colliss Harvey

Jacky, like many artists your career has taken many twists and turns from jobs in art history and museum publishing to actor and life model. Did you always think of yourself as a writer?

Yes, always – and I have always written, too, although now my other writerly (and published) friends tell me I have to start referring to myself as ‘an author’, instead. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t involved in creating some sort of narrative, from daydreams as a child to trying my hand at short stories to novels as I got older, I was always making up stories and as soon as I knew how, writing them down. I still think the best words in the English language are ‘Once upon a time’, and I have always loved books as objects too – I am never without something to read, and as a child used to take my favourites with me as companions. I was a bookworm from the moment I learned to read, devouring everything I could get my eyes on. One very wonderful teacher at my junior school arranged for me to have access to the senior school library, as I had read everything the junior library had to offer by the end of year two. If you’re a writer-in-embryo, access like that can be life-changing, and I thank her for it still.

I also always had a very active imagination – over-active, my parents might have said. This could at times make the world a very scary place to grow up in. Writing stories about it, even in my head, was a way of using narrative to control my surroundings and empower myself within them. I think many, many writers start writing from some similar impulse

Tell us about the moment when you decided to write Red. From your background in art history to your beautiful red hair, it seems like it was inevitable.

You learn a lot about yourself in the process of writing a book. Reading back though RED now I can see so many themes in it that have always fascinated me – the parallels between one age and the next, the unchangingness, both good and bad, of human nature. So I guess you’re right – there was an inevitability to it. But the actual moment of inspiration – the lightbulb over head – happened while I was sitting in a sales conference, watching another publisher present, and set myself as a mental exercise the task of coming up with a similar titles to theirs. Shazam. A history of the redhead!

What is your favorite genre to write? To read?

I have hugely enjoyed writing RED, to an extent that has surprised me – I always thought of myself as a fiction writer before. The discipline and detective work of creating a narrative from historical fact and scientific investigation completely possessed me as I was writing. And being on such a tight deadline (contract signed in April of ’14, delivery that December) really kept me moving along – every single evening and weekend for 9 months was devoted to nothing else but. I think it also changed my writing style – I didn’t have time to be discursive, to set the scene; I had to plunge straight in with each chapter, each sub-section, and once it was done, get on with the next.

I will read anything, literally – the backs of cereal packets at the breakfast table, adverts on the tube… fiction-wise I love big, bold fat books that take chances: Dickens, George Eliot, a lot of C19th American fiction, the French novelists. I adore Hilary Mantel. I read and re-read her writing, as I do Dickens, just for the pleasure of rolling her sentences around in my head. I loved The Crimson Petal and the White. I loved H is for Hawk.

Recently however I have been reading Patrick Modiano (my partner is his translator), a very different writer – spare, and elusive, haunting. It doesn’t really matter for me what it is, as long as it’s not crap – my idea of hell would be to be locked in a room with nothing to read but a Jeffrey Archer. Or a Dan Brown.

What’s your typical day like? Do you write early in the morning? Do you have a morning ritual?

I work full-time at present, so my writing was usually in the evenings. I’d get home, change into my writing gear – ancient track pants, wash-dead t-shirt (oh the glamour!), make a cup of tea and start. I always had a goal to get to – write till 9pm, say, or finish this section or that. I’m very lucky in that my employers have been so invested and supportive of the idea of my writing this book, right from the start, so allowed me a month’s unpaid leave to finish it, in December. During that month I would get up with my partner at the unearthly hour of 5.40 or so (I am so not an early bird), go running with him round Prospect Park in Brooklyn, come back to breakfast, then sit down and start writing. I’d nap at about 2pm or so, to give my brains a chance to cool down, and allow my subconscious to resolve whatever bits of writing I was unhappy with, then tap away again for the rest of the afternoon. That seemed to suit me very nicely as a routine.

What do you do to de-stress? Yoga or meditation? Running?

Running. I am not at all a sporty type, but running really suits me. It’s solitary and anti-social and it re-sets me in some way. The process of running – one foot in front of the other, just keep going – is very similar to the act of setting words down on a page. And just like writing, the more of it you do, the better you get at it.

Tell us a little about the agent/publisher submission process.

I met my agent at a party in a bookshop. I found myself in conversation with one of her other authors, on – you guessed it – the subject of red hair, and at the end of the conversation suggested that there might be a book in it. And my agent, Chelsey Fox, agreed. It was a huge stroke of good luck. I put together a proper proposal for her, and we had interest from a couple of UK publishers at once. Then Black Dog & Leventhal, came along. Black Dog really excel at taking niche and making it mainstream. Again, I was very lucky. I now have two more publishers for the book – Allen & Unwin in the UK, and Terralannoo in Holland. More luck – but also, I hope and think, the result of this being the kind of subject that people just ‘get’, instantly, and whose potential they can see at once.

How has your life changed now with the book coming out?

It’s got very interesting and very full. These days the work once you have written a book has hardly begun. My book has a FB page, I have had to learn to tweet; I have had to learn to publicise myself, and to pursue every connection I can. I’ve given talks, I’ve done podcasts, and next month I will be recording the audio-book version of RED in London. It’s full-on!

What can you say to encourage women who don’t have the time or the family support to sit down and write that book that they’ve been dreaming of writing?

If you are a writer, and not writing, you are only half living. Be selfish. Make the time, however difficult, however unpopular it makes you, however many invitations you have to turn down. Glue arse to chair and do it. Prioritise it over everything. You may be surprised at the interest and support people give you – the idea of someone writing is hugely intriguing to most folk; they want you to finish and they want to share in the process, too. Friends will get used to the fact that you’re a hermit; they will understand. But you have to be fierce about it; you have to turn those invitations down, you have to claim ‘me’ time, and that is something many women find hard to do. Our culture kinda frowns on it – most unfairly.

Some years ago I also found attending a writing class was hugely helpful. It created that ‘me’ time, for three hours in the evening, once a week. I would recommend that.

What’s next for you?

Oh good question! Come October, by which time RED will have been published in the US, the UK, and Holland, a week on a beach, slathered in factor 50, without a single literary thought in my head. And then – well, my hope is that RED does well enough to make a Book 2 possible. I have a number of ideas for a follow-up, one of which really seems to snag people’s liking, and which I have started noodling about with already. But I’ll say no more about that now – mustn’t jinx it!

Jacky Colliss Harvey is a writer and editor. She read English at Cambridge University and Art history at the Courtauld Institute. She has worked in museum publishing for the last twenty years and is known as a commentator and reviewer, speaking in both the U.K. and abroad on the arts and their relation to popular culture. At the same time, her red hair has also found her an alternative career as a life model and a film extra playing everything from a society lady in Atonement to a Parisian whore in Bel-Ami. She lives in London. (Pre-order RED here.)

Catherine Storing

Catherine Storing

Catherine Storing

Tell us about your childhood and what brought you to America.

I grew up in the Caribbean – The Dominican Republic to be exact. Growing up in the Caribbean was great and hard all at the same time.

I grew up going to the beach year around – warm water, palm trees and all the coconut water you could drink, sounds idyllic right? Well the flip side of the coin was that I was picked on and bullied because I did not look like everybody else. My hair was crazy curly and I loved it. However I was “encouraged” to wear my hair straight like everybody else. Then I was “too tall” and “too skinny”. Needless to say those experiences shaped my self esteem and confidence.

Luckily my family moved to the US in my late teens and here I was accepted as I was created: fearfully and wonderfully made. Little by little my self esteem and confidence were restored and I started to become the woman I was created to be. I am so glad I went through those experiences because now I get to help women that like me have been told their uniqueness need not be so unique, conform and look like everybody else. I call myself a beauty highlighter, it is my pleasure to shed light to beauty that is dormant and almost hidden. It is a privilege to see woman shine from the inside out after they work with me.

Catherine Storing

Catherine Storing

I loved sewing all through my teen years. When did you learn how to sew? Who taught you?

I learned to sew back in 2004, working with a designer that showed me all about sewing, design, fabric, the works. I fell in love with sewing hard, and don’t get me started with fabric!

Tell us about the first time you sold something you created.

I have been making something from very early on, I did craft fairs selling decorations and things. The first item I sold was a skirt I designed and made. It was an amazing feeling to get paid for doing something I love.

What is your inspiration for your new clothing line?

My upcoming fashion line got inspired by several things, one not seeing clothing out there that was tailored, stylish, not crazy expensive and modest. I believe women can dress classy, stylish, and colorful without compromising their values and morals. Also, I will be using this clothing line to create jobs in my beloved island for both Dominicans and Haitians. Who says style and fashion have to be frivolous and without purpose? This is a clothing line with a purpose.

You’re a writer, a coach, a designer, a speaker. How do you do it all? Tell us about your typical day.

Thank you. Yes, I do it all…but not at the same time. That is the trick, to keep the balance……or try to anyway. My typical day is never the same. I wake up early-ish to read my bible and pray. Then I take my daughter to school. From there the day is just crazy: working on whatever is due – I am a firm believer in giving myself deadlines. It’s what drives me to push beyond what I can do.

Were you always an entrepreneur or did you work at a regular job while you built your coaching business?

I think I have always been both, corporate America has been a part of my life. The key again is the balance. I have worked, written, spoken in front of hundreds of people, designed clothing, coached. I believe you have to do whatever it takes to see your dreams and projects become a reality.

Styling Faith by Catherine Storing

Styling Faith by Catherine Storing

You are a very confident woman. What advice would you give someone who might be stuck in a job they’re not happy with?

Thank you. That was not always the case. I am glad I did not give up when things got hard – and they always did. Keeping your eye on the prize is key. Go to the job with the mentality that it is where you are supposed to be until the time is right to strike on your own. Use time and don’t let time use you. Plan your day, I am big fan of targeted to-do lists: a list of items that will further your vision and will keep you on track.

What’s next for you?

Right now I am working on my second book – Styling Faith: The Complete Style Guide. It is a compilation of my 18 years of styling, along with experts in the fields of: make-up, nutrition, fitness, hair, and much more. The book comes out on my 39th birthday – May 20th. You can find it here.


Catherine Storing is an author, coach, designer, consultant and stylist. Read more of her story here and be sure to follow her on Twitter and Facebook

Laurie McMillan

Laurie McMillan

Laurie McMillan

Some people say that in one day children laugh up to ten times more than adults. Whether or not this is true, we can all agree that laughter makes you feel good. Have you always had a sense of humor or do you make a conscious effort to bring humor to your daily life?

I have definitely always had a sense of humor; I love to be around funny people, and my husband and my two kids make me laugh on a daily basis. They all say I’m the least funny one in the family.

My dad loved to tease and joke around when I was growing up, so I’m very comfortable with silliness and physical humor. Sometimes life feels like one long to-do list, and acting like a goofball helps me break out of that daily grind. Also, as a teacher, it’s important that I make my classes entertaining so our brains are engaged. Humor is one way to make that happen.

It’s tough to say how much of a conscious effort I make to bring humor to my daily life. It’s definitely there! But it’s not something I always think about.

Tell us a little about your WinkyFace videos. I understand your original intent was to demonstrate gender trends on YouTube… but the videos seem to have taken on a life of their own. What do future do you see for them? Do you have any other videos in the works?

WinkyFace is the YouTube channel I co-developed with my colleague and friend Lindsey Wotanis. We do parodies of faculty life, parody interviews with fictional characters, and assorted behind-the-scenes videos. We have had a LOT of fun planning and producing the videos, and we have learned a lot. We didn’t plan on doing the channel forever, but we don’t have a definite endpoint in mind either. We have a lot of videos that are either scripted or brainstormed, so I see us sticking with the work for awhile still. It may be tough to let it go!

Although I do a lot of feminist research, WinkyFace was never focused on gender trends. Lindsey and I developed the channel because we saw a need for our students to learn social media, and we know that the only way we can teach our students is if we ourselves are using the media. YouTube is the ideal challenge because a) it’s possible to make money (so it will seem like a good option to students), b) it involves multimedia so we’d be learning a lot of skills all at once, and c) it involves media presence across platforms, so we would need to learn instagram and twitter if we were to do YouTube.

Learning how to YouTube successfully was our first goal, and the content was secondary.

We brainstormed a few ideas. I really wanted my kids to get involved because it would be easier for them to reach an audience on YouTube than for me to do so, and I figured they’d enjoy making some money. But they weren’t interested, so Lindsey and I decided we would do it ourselves. And we made the content fun so that we’d get a kick out of doing it!

Once we decided on a focus, we also developed a behind-the-scenes blog titled Margin Notes. That might be where you noted our interest in gender issues. Because I had already done a YouTube channel, I was familiar with the inappropriate ways people talked to me (or about me) when leaving comments on my videos. Also, Lindsey and I published research analyzing the comments on Jenna Marbles’ videos versus Ryan Higa’s. The difference is exactly what you’d expect, but it’s still overwhelming and disheartening when you see the numbers. At any rate, before we even began putting out videos, we spent some time thinking about all the dynamics, and we blogged about that sort of thing over several posts.Laurie

Do you have a daily writing regimen? Are you an early riser or do you burn the midnight oil?

I should have a [sailing <–somehow, I wrote “sailing” instead of “daily,” and now I’m thinking how lovely it would be to have a sailing writing regimen!] daily writing regimen, but I don’t.

I’m an early riser. At different times in my life, I had different habits, but now my entire household is moving between 5:00 and 6:00am. I found out that my brain tends to work better in the morning than at night when I was playing Words with Friends and Scramble. I was almost unbeatable when playing in the morning! At night, I was terrible.

But I still write at night at times anyhow, because sometimes that’s the only way to get the job done.

What is your favorite genre to read? To write? What are you reading now?

I like to read in a lot of genres, but fiction is probably #1. I recently finished The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I also reread The Joy Luck Club for my book club, and I was so glad I did. The writing is awesome, the stories are awesome. I read a lot of light fiction (mysteries, chick lit, young adult fiction, whatever). I’m not a snob in any way when it comes to reading.

This may seem nerdy, but I like to write serious research because it makes my brain work really hard. The whole process of analyzing material to really show something appeals to me, and it takes unbelievable effort to organize ideas and spell things out in a way that will make sense to readers (without them falling asleep). I learn a lot every time I do that kind of writing.

I love poetry, too–both reading it and writing it. But it’s less of an everyday habit except when it intersects with my teaching.

Recent studies have shown that as adults play helps us manage chronic pain, reduce stress, build memory, and encourage creativity. Have you found this to be true for you and for those around you?

I think these studies are right on, but I regularly turn into a big ball of stress, so I’m not at the point of fully modeling this ideal. That being said, even moments of goofiness help bring me perspective, and I certain kinds of play can be meditative. I recently started doing zentangles (a meditative practice that involves drawing patterns on small squares of paper), and that kind of play feels completely different from the shenanigans that make me laugh when working on videos. While the zentangles give me space from the rest of the world in some ways, the videos are always about engaging the world (or at least a tiny segment of it!). Both types of play make things better!

For more of Dr. Laurie McMillan’s WinkyFace fun follow here on Youtube, Facebook, her blog, or on Twitter or Instagram!

Jenny Hill

Jenny Hill

Jenny Hill

Jenny, many of us played with hoola hoops when we were younger. How old were you when you first started out? What was it about hooping that kept you taking it to the next level?

It’s funny, but I don’t remember hula hooping at all as a child. We grew up in the woods, and our closest neighbors were about a mile or so away, so my sister and I did a lot of creative things. We created circuses, made up games in the woods, and once I tried making a pop up restaurant in my bedroom where I made my parents pay for food they had already purchased! I’m sure there was a hoop around as part of one of our circuses, but I really don’t remember playing with it as it was intended. I was 39 years old when I first picked up a hoop and was determined to keep it spinning. My sister introduced me to it by bringing a hoop making kit with her the weekend she visited for my wedding. There are a number of different things that have kept me engaged and excited about hooping. At first it was just sheer determination and the old competitive spirit of sisterhood. My sister could hoop beautifully. Why couldn’t I keep it going? I spent days out in my backyard, practicing. Eventually something clicked and my body said, “Yep. This is it.” I spent years up in my head. It felt really good to have my body speak for a change. I was always the awkward kid growing up – the one that was picked last for the team in gym class, so suddenly having a creative outlet that was also athletic and made me feel graceful instead of clumsy has kept me engaged. One of the things that continues to keep me going with hooping is the playful aspect of it. It’s a toy! So if I make a “mistake” I turn it into a new move, or I laugh it off and continue. There have been a lot of lessons with hooping.

We’ve been hearing a lot about “flow” recently when it comes to sports and the arts. It seems to me that your hooping is a great example of flow – total focus and being in the moment. Do you agree? Do you get the same feeling from your writing?

Mmm, yes, flow. I think the word gets used in a number of different ways. For me there’s the flow of linking moves together with hooping and generating a personal style. There’s a lot of talk about flow in the hooping community. Hoopers who have learned the basics and want to level up sometimes get uptight about “finding flow,” because they feel like they aren’t skilling up quickly enough. Flow happens in a sort of quiet way, I think. It’s subtle. You keep practicing at a thing you’re passionate about (writing, hooping, cooking), and suddenly and without much notice you have developed a style. My husband talks a lot about Mise en Place. It’s a cooking term that means you have all your ingredients ready and are capable of putting together a delicious meal. I think this applies to most art. Having enough technique and craft to develop style.

Jenny Hill

Jenny Hill

Then there’s the kind of flow that happens where you are focused and in the moment, which you mentioned. That type of flow, to me, is a sort of meditative state. There are moments of this for me with hooping, especially when I am alone. I don’t feel that kind of flow while I’m teaching, or performing, or when I’m working on some off-body four hoop move. Once I’ve figured out the move and can incorporate it into the other type of flow, well then I might reach that sort of nirvana “brain shutoff”. It’s interesting now that I think of it how the two types of flow work together. It’s hard to get the meditative state of flow while you’re learning to master waist hooping, but once you get it, the brain chatter stops, and it’s a blissful place to be.

What is your typical daily routine? Do you practicing hooping every day? Are you an early-riser writer?

I’m up at 5:30, and I write for an hour. I’ve kept journals for years. If I’m working on a poem that usually happens in the morning as well. I read after that for a bit, usually until 7 a.m. Hoop practice during the spring, summer, and early fall happens in the morning as well, usually after I answer emails and make a list for the day. I spend at least an hour in practice, and it’s usually at the local park. I’ve gotten to know a lot of people in the neighborhood this way. When the winter months hit, I practice indoors.

Your life seems to be full of play and creativity. We’re learning that flow, play and creativity are important for our health as we age. What advice would you give someone who is stuck in a stressful job and busy schedule?

I had parents that encouraged creativity, and I think that made a big influence on how I live my life. My suggestion for anyone struggling with stress is to find a creative outlet that speaks to you and moonlight from your stressful job in discovery. Theatre bug? Go audition for a local theatre or offer your help backstage. Musical itch? Take lessons. Everyone has busy schedules and the key is making time for that moonlighting. It doesn’t have to be a lot. An hour a day, or a half hour if you’re really crunched. I think anything that you’re curious about is a good place to start.

Hooping has had a lot of benefits for me, some of them being an increased spatial awareness, better eye/hand coordination, an increase in self-esteem, a boost in happiness, and then all the physical bonuses too. I’m stronger now at 45 than I was at 17. I hope to keep this up for as long as I can! Creativity is good for the brain – your brain develops new neural pathways as you skill up in an art form. This is super-beneficial as you age. I just finished teacher training with the Center for Creative Aging. There are a lot of studies that show that play and creativity have positive effects on health and well being.

You’re a teacher also. Can you tell us about one or two of your most rewarding teaching experiences?

It’s endlessly rewarding. There have been many moments of discovery and magic. I once took a group of 4th grade students outside so we could focus on the sense of sound, and they closed their eyes as I read a poem about snow. It was October. When they opened their eyes, it was snowing. They begged me to read again so they’d get a snow day! There was a teenage boy who slept through class but stayed awake when I visited to write a poem about his sister. It was like he was waiting for me to arrive so he could have the permission to write it. There was a school board meeting I attended with high school students. All those men in suits were so intimidating! They held all the cards, you know? They made all the decisions. One of the students read a poem for them called “Bomb in my Bookbag.” The “bomb” was her bible. I’ll never forget her bravery. I think every moment someone puts their trust in me to share their thoughts, or to try out a hoop, or share a life story, is rewarding. Living is rewarding. Getting to know other people is one of the best things in life, in my opinion. Students are always teaching me new things.

What’s next for you? Do you have another creative project in the works?

There’s always something going on around here. There are a string of performances I’m giving in the next couple of months, so I’m rehearsing a lot. I’ve finally committed to taking an improv class with the Philadelphia Improv Theater, and I’m excited about how what I learn there will inform the other things I do. I’m teaching a Hoop Revolution class at a local yoga studio – a quieter, slower introduction to hooping, and a Hoop Yourself Fabulous series that starts next week, which is a higher energy hoop class. In the evenings, since it’s hockey season, I will be writing. One of the things I love about the later fall is that things slow down a bit and I have time to reflect on what I’ve done and where and how creative ideas overlap. Hooping and poetry do overlap, and that’s a combination that has been fascinating to me for a few years. The most interesting exploration to me so far was a group hoop/theatre performance I created called, “O, Jabberwocky.” I’m working on developing a hooping and literacy curriculum that I can take to schools. That’s next. My lists are long, and time is of the essence!

Jenny Hill is a certified hoop fitness and dance instructor as well as a poet, actor and arts educator. Visit her online at Acts of Jennius and be sure to follow her on Facebook!