Shedding Light In Dark Places: Another Artist's Life Gone Too Soon

In tribute to our dear friend, Jennah. We dedicate this collaboration to her life gone too soon, and all artists who have struggled or continue to struggle with peace while pursuing their life’s work. We ask that you reach out if you or someone you know has any suicidal thoughts or behaviors that concern you. For more information or help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.

Jennah Through Aimée’s Eyes

Jennah was introduced to me at a time when I felt the tiny pulling of magic in the world and the possibility it held within the palm of my hand. When I met her on an iconic dreary day in Seattle, the moment is still one I visit from time to time. Her warm face and bright smile that stretched out to both ears. Her pink wispy hair and large glasses that framed her face. Immediately I felt that she was someone worth digging my soul into and knowing. When she told me that she was a photographer, I asked her to pour into me everything that she could teach me in the writing retreat weekend that we would be together. I was a novice, at best, but willing to be vulnerable and learn. She assured me that the price of the camera was of no matter. “It’s the perspective.” Those words cast a halo of light overhead, one that I still reach toward every day.

It wasn’t just the aspect of the lens that drew me into Jennah. We shared a love for looking outside the window and finding comfort in the clouds that hovered in the sky. We felt the energy of white waved crests in sprawling water and deepened our connection within the soul soothing sounds of storytelling. Though we were both struck with terror at the thought of sharing written pieces of ourselves, we knew in the process, we would also be much closer to finding ourselves.

Every week after the retreat, we exchanged frequent texts or words of encouragement through social media platforms. Until I received a frantic phone call in November asking for help. This was uncharacteristic of Jennah, however I did as much as I could to come to her rescue without knowing full details. After receiving a package from me in the mail, she wrote back her gratitude and assured me that her world was better now. “I’ll write more later.” Her words haunted me a few weeks after that text, on the evening I learned of her tragic ending. The story that went on unwritten.

Shortly after Jennah’s passing, members of the creative community began to come together. Robyn and I reached out to one another for support, trying to make sense of our sweet friend’s departure. Another artist’s life gone too soon; the loss compounded on the contributions she had yet to give. A piece of the world that was left untouched by her magical presence. Feeling isolated and alone, I craved a connection. Wanting more than just our final experiences with Jennah, I asked Robyn to share her version of our dear friend.

Jennah Through Robyn’s Eyes

In the fall of 2015 I was sitting on a couch at a writer’s retreat when she flew past me — hair streaming behind with her long black sweater trailing in her wake. Her large, round glasses covering much of her face coupled with her infectious smile as she entered the room to take her seat.

We spent some time that weekend chatting about writing, about how necessary it is to put words on paper. As I came to know Jennah in the following months I understood she wasn’t doing the work of an artist. With a thriving online following and heavily involved in mentoring young writers, she was living her art. It flowed from her, eclipsing her words, her movements, it was the angle of her pen resting on the page. How her thoughts formed in flowered sketches overlaying watercolors and mixed media. It emanated from her.

The next winter I attended a writing retreat specific to memoir. Pleased to see her again, we caught up over cups of early morning coffee. We spoke of our lives and ongoing projects — a favored topic. Over the next few months we kept in regular touch, but just before Thanksgiving I received an unusual, urgent text asking me to phone her. Startled into action, I abruptly rose from my lunch meeting knocking my chair back.

When the call connected, words were already pouring from her, as if she had been speaking before I was on the line. I quickly waded into the moving stream of conversation struggling to catch up. Jennah was in the eye of her own storm and asking for support. The details weren’t important, only that she asked me to check in on her periodically as a touch point. Happy to help, we spoke on the phone and over message for the next few months, keeping tabs on one another.

I flushed hot with sick panic when I received word Jennah hadn’t weathered her storm. Immediately I gravitated toward all I had of her: mutual friends, our text messages, and her social media profiles. I spent hours scrolling, searching for something to tuck away and hold onto.

I found a piece of Jennah while looking for her in those tiny squares on social media. Around the holidays she posted a picture wearing a sweatshirt from a small clothing label. She was thanking them for its coziness and remarked she spent much of December snuggled up inside. Wanting a piece of Jennah I clicked through and ordered one.

When it arrived emblazoned with Love is My Superpower across the front, I immediately pulled it over my head. She was right. Of course she was. It’s top notch and falls perfectly off my shoulder like I am about to nail my audition in Flashdance. It’s already a favorite, not only for cut and fabric, but because of Jennah. It's my piece of her. This posthumous recommendation.

Jennah’s absence produced a flurry of texts and calls amongst the artistic community. A coming together, exclamations of sadness, a piecing of who spoke to her last and how she was. I felt us knit closer in a fabric of vulnerability and concern for one another.

Wishing to share this touchstone, I ordered and sent out several more sweatshirts to women in the community just as heartbroken about Jennah. Although separated by states and countries, time zones and responsibilities, one by one as they pulled their Superpower over their heads I felt us click into place.

Clicking Into Place, Superpower’s Unite

I received my Superpower sweatshirt from Robyn, and immediately my heart swelled as I slipped on the replica piece of clothing that Jennah had once lovingly worn. It became a beacon of light calling us together in remembrance, honoring Jennah and the network that we built together. Now I wear the soft piece of fabric against my skin like a hug, with meaning beyond the thread, reaching out in different ways to connect to the artist tribe of kindred souls that continue to inspire me.

The collaborative effort in the creation of this tribute, an example of artists coming together and finding connection in a way that builds community. Robyn and I hope to begin a conversation centered on artist awareness and to reassure those who feel the intense calling to create. While we may not have been able to change the outcome following Jennah’s phone calls, we gather comfort in knowing that she had people to reach out to.

Much of the artist life can be lonely. An existence swirling with our own characters, chords and beauty waiting to be unleashed into a world that we hope will finally validate and understand us. It is a long road, and often a seemingly unfulfilled journey. Perhaps as artists and creatives, we should become better acquainted with our own tribe. Resist the urge to feel competitive or jealous of another’s progress or triumphs. Instead lift one another up and into the light, however we choose to interpret it. Celebrate our marvelous differences and our own unique contributions to life, as we know it. There is room for us all. We each have something to enrich the world that we live in.

From a place of profound loss of a life gone too soon, we are left with a sense of purpose. Often, we look at the work of a struggling artist and we refrain from seeing beyond the piece they bring into the world. It is not comfortable to shed light on the tribulation often accompanying the path of creativity. Many would argue that it is part of the process. As Maureen Neihart, Psy.D. describes, “Creativity provides a way to structure or reframe pain.” Perhaps, as more artists come together, we will be among the first to recognize when pain extends beyond the canvas. Encouraging each other to ask for help and providing resources when struggle demands attention.

We should know that we are not alone in this journey through creativity, and it helps to find support along the way. Some ideas to connect include: listening to inspiring podcasts, read books by a variety of authors, sign up for an artist retreat, look into online creative groups, talk to your local library and art center, start a blog and contribute to a blogging forum. The world is a little less lonely when we are able to reach out, finding people who share similar interests.

May we start a coalescing movement to make something bigger than ourselves. The way we shape art now is a delicate collaboration of the makers who came before us. The work that calls out, continues to grow and evolve as we invite others to walk alongside us. Paving a way for those who will be here, long after we are gone and only our work remains. Discovering in great awareness that we are in this quest together. Collectively, we are already validated and understood, by standing up and saying that we are here.

Jennah taught us something long before the Superpower sweatshirt arrived on our doorsteps. We are living art in everything that we touch, breathe and love in this life. When we join hands in this creative pursuit, we strengthen its hold on the world we live in.

Simply, we are enough. And with each other, we are everything.

Robyn is a women’s coach and a writer, dividing her time between the U.S and Italy. She’s currently working on a memoir chronicling her experience as a young widow who discovers her dead husband never stopped dating, and the unexpected and often hilarious growth that happened as a result. Robyn never says no to an adventure and can be found @robynwoodman and at robynwoodman.com.

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