A conversation about love and art, and a giveaway with Julia Fehrenbacher

Julia2I’m so excited to interview writer-poet-painter-friend, Julia Fehrenbacher.

I first discovered Julia last July when her poem, “Unleashed,” was published on Kind Over Matter. I was in the middle of my Year of Fearless Love, and if you’ve read The Love Essays, you know that July was a turning point for me, the point at which “fearless love” became not just a theory for me to research but a lifeline, a desperate, hopeful leap into the rest of my life. In the midst of all my shit, I read “Unleashed” and it was as if Julia, who I’d never met (or even read before) had plucked me from my fear and uncertainty and pulled me close.

A lot has happened in the year since I read that first poem, and one of the most exciting things is the publication of Julia’s new book, On the Other Side of Fear. I’m seizing the opportunity to ask her some questions about the creative process, about where inside us art comes from, about courage, love, beauty, pain and release…

j: Many of your poems are written in second person, as if to the reader. Do you usually have someone in mind when you write them? 

Julia: Yes.  Sometimes I have a particular person in mind, a friend who is struggling to know her worth, a fellow blogger or reader of my blog who is pained and paralyzed by the same old I’m-not-good-enough-thoughts.  Often my poems are sparked from my own discomfort and doubts, my own deep desire to move past what keeps me spinning in fear and into my most empowered self.

Sometimes I think of my dear Aunt May, a woman who took her own life when she was just twenty-six.  I was a teenager when she died, so it’s been decades since her death, but I feel her presence often.  When I sit down to write, I often think of the words I wish I (or someone) could have said to her, words that might have helped her to know she wasn’t alone, that she was just right exactly the way she was.  I imagine her, or others, who suffer (which is all of us) finding some comfort, a gentle embrace, a stirring of empowerment and possibility—a reason to get up and try again even when the tired runs deep.

j: I love the whimsical quality of your art. Many of the paintings have words in them, like “Breathe” and “Create With Abandon” (two of my very favorite pieces). What comes first for you, the words or the image?

Julia: The image comes first.  After I sit with a painting for a bit, after I stand back and get closer and stand back again—its essence begins to speak to me and the words slowly reveal themselves.

j: So, how does a painting come to you then, versus a poem? I’m wondering if the process is similar, or completely different?

Julia: It’s never the same, really.  Sometimes I’ll see a photo, or I’ll be walking in the woods with the trees and birds and get the urge to capture the sweetness in a painting. Sometimes I’ll see someone else’s art or a splash of color that sparks a feeling inside of me that needs to be turned into something others can see.

JustRightDonkeyWhich reminds me of one of my very most favorite Rumi quotes: You dance inside my chest, where no one sees you, but sometimes I do, and that sight becomes this art.” 

Yes, like that.

My favorite thing is to treat painting as a meditation or a spiritual practice—this is when I sit down with the intention of getting out of the way, letting go of trying to control and needing it to be “good” (this is much easier said than done), and instead focus on allowing something to flow through me.  When I painted “Fearless Me,” which is the cover painting for my book, it was a moment by moment unfolding.  I had no idea what I was going to paint when I began.  Despite everything in me trying to control the process, I was able to drop deeper and allow something beyond my mind to lead me, one brush stroke after another.  That painting would have never come through if “little scared me” had tried to control the process.

j: Letting go during the creation… that can be so scary. Trying not to think, “What if it’s shit when I’m done.” Whenever that happens to me from now on, I’m going to remember “Fearless Me.”

Julia: Yes, definitely, it can be scary.  Yet, it’s the fear-infused thoughts like “what if it’s shit when I’m done” that keep us paralyzed and get in the way of the magic flowing through.  It’s not a matter of “trying not to think” the limiting thoughts as it is choosing, moment by moment, to drop below the level of the judging mind so magic can move through.  I see so clearly that the more I hang on and try to control, the less room there is for the surprising new to move through.  Ironically, the more I try to control/plan/manipulate the process, the more likely the process and the outcome will be shit.  Like the example of painting “Fearless Me,” once I stood in the midst of fear and let go of needing to control, I touched something sacred.  Even if I hadn’t liked what I’d painted, I would have come out on the other side of fear—freer, more trusting—changed for the better.

j: So many of your poems are about letting go – of that need for control, of the past and the stupid voices (inside and outside) that tell us we’re not big or strong or talented enough. When I read those poems, I feel such a sense of release and reassurance. And always when I finish I think, “Why can’t I just remember this.” Why do you think we can’t remember how good it feels, how much we accomplish when we simply believe we can?

Julia: Ah, yes, those stupid voices are so damn persistent.  The ego mind is such a powerful little machine and has had decades of training.  The mind is gifted at spinning and replaying the same stories over and over again.  I read somewhere that the majority of thoughts that spin through our heads are just recycled worries, fear-infused stories about the past and the future, doubts and insecurities—basically thoughts that do everything but serve us.  Very few of them are new and fresh and empowering.  It is a moment by moment practice to drop below the level of this mind noise and into the moment we are in—the moment that has never been before and is absolutely fresh and new.

When we show up right where we are, we can meet what is directly, with an openness to what IS rather than our stories about what is.  Our minds are conditioned to be on alert, to look for what’s missing, for what’s potentially dangerous or wrong.  It convinces us that it’s being protective, that it’s for our own good to stand still and not take risks.  We must be very mindful and alert to drop below the level of this well-worn-groove of fear-based mind noise so we can allow ourselves to step into the deep breath of fresh and new.

j: Which brings us to your donkey. I LOVE your “Just Right” painting. I think your colorful winged donkey IS perfect. Do you? Are you able to stand back, embrace your own magnificent point, and say, “Yes. My donkey is just right”?

Julia: Yes.  I truly am.  That sweet winged donkey talked to me the whole time he was being created.  He told me to just begin, to take it moment by moment.  He told me to breathe and trust, that he was all mine,that he didn’t need to look like anyone else’s donkey.  He told me not to quit even when he looked like a big mess on the canvas.  He told me that he was just right, exactly as he is.  And that I am too.  I love him for that.  I have the original in my living room and every time I look at him he reminds me to trust, to keep showing up as ME, that I am just right.  He’s quite a wise one, that guy.

j: Your reference to “the big mess on the canvas” reminds me of a TED Talk I heard once. The speaker was talking about a reality show in which an interior designer makes over people’s homes. They aren’t allowed to watch the work being done. They can only come back at the end, once the magic is finished because – as with all works of art – the process can be so ugly it’s disheartening. When I heard that I thought that we, as artists, have to fight through our own insecurities and impatience, or we risk giving up on something that, in the end, is “just right.”

Julia: Yes!  Rarely have I created something that didn’t first go through the “ugly phase.”  Our little selves love to get in there and judge every word/every stroke of the brush—our minds are forever trying to take the reins.  If I left it up to my fearful mind, I’d bale on everything in the midst of its ugly phase.  I think that in order to keep moving we must not so much fight our minds but rather embrace every stage as simply part of the process.  I find that when I embrace rather than fight I am able to drop into trust, and allow my “just right” to emerge.

j: Some of your poems, “Complete” and “Like the Moon” are very short, but they convey so much. How do you know when a poem is done? 

Julia: After I’ve re-arranged and whittled the poem down to its essence by getting rid of all the excess, I just sit with it until I know—it’s not a mind/thinking knowing, it’s a deeper/trusting knowing.  It’s one of those “I just know” kind of feelings that we’ve all had but can’t necessarily put into words.

j: Actually, whatever that sense is, I’m lacking. After a piece of mine gets published, I have to stop reading it. I never stop wanting to tinker.

Julia:Yes, the mind would forever go on tinkering/tweaking/trying to make better.  I think if we left it up to our little selves, we’d never be fully satisfied.  Which is why it’s essential for me to allow the deeper/wiser part of me decide.

 j: I think most writers and poets come back to the same themes over and over again. Near the end of his life, Kurt Vonnegut was asked what he felt his theme was and he said, “family.” What do you think your themes are?

Julia: Trust.  Letting go.  Opening.  Embracing.  Listening.  Breathing.  Enoughness.  Freedom.  Possibility.  Gratitude.  Love.

j: Thank you, Julia.

Julia: Beautiful J.  Thank you so much for these just right questions, for being exactly who you are.  Your support and love, your seeing me, has helped me to be more of who I am.  I treasure you, my friend.

j: Me too, you. I’m not only a friend, but an enormous (only slightly slobbery) fan. I want to shout from the rooftops, “BUY THIS BOOK!”


Win the book!

Okay, it’s your turn! I had such a great time talking to Julia. I’d love for you to jump into our conversation. Leave a comment, and next week (July 9th), Julia will pick a name at random to win a signed copy of her book! (I got my copy in the mail last week. It’s… well… just right.)

If you’re hungry for more, Julia did a “behind the scenes of her book” interview with Alia Indrawan. You can listen to that interview here.



  1. Clare Flourish on July 2, 2012 at 12:42 am

    Thank you. Oh, the “I am not good enough” thoughts-

    I found writing and drawing with my non-dominant hand (my right hand, as I am left-handed, so my left-brain) useful to access something deeper, get below the mind-chatter. I drew something free-handed which I did not understand at first, but it was a copy of a picture which spoke to exactly what I had been thinking of, and consciously I did not remember the picture or recognise it until I saw it again, half an hour after drawing it. This is not a technique for drawing for publication, perhaps, but for getting to hear other voices in me.

    • j on July 2, 2012 at 8:06 am

      I wonder if that works because you stop worrying about outcome. Clearly your non-dominant hand won’t produce “art,” so you get below that expectation to what lies deeper inside you.

      • Clare Flourish on July 4, 2012 at 12:58 pm

        My left hand does not produce “Art” either!

        I am good with words and music, and these are where I will work on/with my creativity.

    • Julia on July 3, 2012 at 5:53 am

      Thank you for sharing this story, Clare. It is such a relief when we can drop below that level of mind noise and into that deeper place…this sounds like a great way to do that.

  2. Bonnie on July 2, 2012 at 1:29 am

    I always love reading and listening to writers and how they get inspiration to produce beautiful things…… i aspire to be a writer and find comfort in knowing that it can be a process before the “beauty” emerges.
    I too am working on a book of poems that I would someday like to publish, as you ladies have both done.I have been grappling with the idea that “it’s already been said” but continuing on.
    You have inspired me to continue on and I enjoy your work very much! Thank you for this opportunity

    • j on July 2, 2012 at 2:09 pm

      I love this comment. You go, girl!

    • Julia on July 3, 2012 at 5:57 am

      Hi Bonnie. It may have already been said but it hasn’t been said by YOU in YOUR way. Please continue on…we need to hear your voice.

      And now, I have to include this quote because it’s so relevant…

      “Nature never repeats herself and the possibilities of one human soul will never be found in another.” -Elizabeth Cady Stanton

  3. Nuttin' on July 2, 2012 at 3:15 am

    I truly have this feeling of growth in my heart when I read Julia. I feel like I’m okay, like being just me is just right, like I want others to see inside me – past all the bullshit and things that might turn them away, and see me as one of Julia’s paintings — a big mess for a while but ending up just right. I think it’s so hard for us humans to see inside people, we sometimes get all muttered up by the mess we see… but, we’re all complicated and we’re all messy and we’re all deserving and we’re all connected and we’re all starting over each day, and we “hold each others hearts in our hands”. Anyway…

    I have a signed copy of Julia’s book, I just wanted her to know my inner emotional swirlings from not just her poems and prose and paintings, but from her.

    • Julia on July 3, 2012 at 6:04 am

      Nuttin’. This is so beautifully said. I wonder if it’s possible that we could all start embracing the mess, knowing that without it we couldn’t possibly get to our “just right.” Our mess adds layers of beauty/depth/compassion/love/goodness that wouldn’t otherwise be there.

      Thank you for your words today. It lights me up to think that something I’ve written/painted could help you to feel just right…that is really what I want most for my work/life to do.

  4. Marcie on July 2, 2012 at 4:00 am

    I love love love Julia’s work. It speaks and meets and greets me just where I am. Always on that edge of fear…that feeling it..sinking into it..and releasing.

    Beautiful interview!!

    • Julia on July 3, 2012 at 6:05 am

      Thanks so much, Marcie. I love that you love my work and that it meets your right where you so beautifully are.

  5. Amy on July 2, 2012 at 5:10 am

    Such a beautiful interview, a few times my eyes got very watery. I’m so proud of my sister Julia, she truley is fearless. Xoxo

    • Julia on July 3, 2012 at 6:08 am

      Sweet, beautiful sis. I’m so proud of you too. I can’t wait to put my hands on your baby belly and give you the biggest, real-life hug.

      Thank you for coming here and reading, for continually supporting me. I love you so much.

  6. LunaJune on July 2, 2012 at 6:53 am

    thank you for sharing the process… and some of the feelings behind the poems.. having lost 2 siblings to suicide I constantly come across things I’d love to have them hear, will have to sit with those things and see where the inspiration can take me.

    I love the donkey and that fact that it spoke to you all the way through.

    feeling stronger today just being part of this conversation

    Julia & j
    such a lovely connection

    • j on July 2, 2012 at 8:07 am

      I’ve been thinking of you this week, June. Sending love in your time of loss. xoxo

    • Julia on July 3, 2012 at 6:12 am

      Dear Luna. That this conversation helped you feel stronger made my day.

      I’m so sorry to hear of your losses, I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose a sibling from suicide…I am sending you love and healing.

      Thank you for taking the time to leave your words here.

      • LunaJune on July 3, 2012 at 7:13 pm

        :~) grateful hugs…I have learned many things from loss especially how to enjoy the awesome things life has, to be not afraid…to love and live in the moment. <3

        I love your paintings… they feel soo free and sparrows are my favourite little birds…. don't tell the chickadees ;~)

  7. Pam on July 2, 2012 at 7:19 am

    Excellent interview.

    I’m thinking about the question of how to know when something is finished. Sometimes that’s not hard: when it looks (or reads) like what I had in my head. Sometimes, it takes quite a bit of stepping away (leaving it alone) and looking again to find out if I can see that there’s no more to do.

    Looking forward to reading the interview again later today–when I’m sure I’ll start thinking about something else you discussed. <3

    • j on July 2, 2012 at 8:11 am

      I have occasionally known for sure that a piece was done. “Invisible” was like that for me. And “Mother’s Day.” But as often as not, I have to send the piece to a reader or an editor or a market to make myself stop tinkering. (That’s where deadlines come in handy for me.)

      • Nuttin' on July 2, 2012 at 5:53 pm

        butting in…
        Isn’t that strange (in a good way), those two works are so very powerful, I couldn’t imagine any more or any less words in either of them. I’ve had that feeling a couple of times with things I’ve written. Other times, I write a few thoughts and it may be a couple of months before I get that “all done” feeling. The poem i just posted was started in April but I walked away until yesterday, then it finally wanted to show me which way to go.
        butting out…

    • Julia on July 3, 2012 at 6:15 am

      I agree Pam, sometimes the knowing it’s finished comes more quickly than other times–sometimes the stepping away, getting space from the creation, is necessary. I guess there isn’t a neat little answer for this question. 🙂

  8. Julia on July 2, 2012 at 8:14 am

    Ah, J–I love our conversations. I’m just so deeply grateful for you, my friend. Thank you for this beauty.

  9. rachel awes on July 2, 2012 at 8:46 am

    i too ADORE julia’s words + art + gorgeous heart!
    + thank you for the possible book win!!!
    (hello to you, judy!!)

    • j on July 2, 2012 at 2:08 pm

      Hello, Rachel! I love how the universe works. I was just grabbing my contributor’s copy of Wild Sisters’ birthday issue (yay!) and scanning it to make sure my download worked, and for some reason, I stopped and read your piece – because it’s short and sweet and more than a little bit gorgeous, I guess.

      Then here you are. We truly are all connected. xo

      p.s. I’ll be over to visit your site as soon as I finish my work today.

    • Julia on July 3, 2012 at 6:17 am

      Rachel! As I’ve said many times before but can’t say enough, I ADORE you too. You are a beauty & I’m forever grateful that our paths/hearts have crossed.

      Thank you for being here.

  10. Christie on July 2, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    Great interview j!

    I was trying to come up with the words to express how I feel when I see Julia’s paintings or read her poems and all I could come up with was that they are soft and warm, so inviting, like freshly washed clothes right out of the dryer. I just want to layer them over me. Not only do I feel safe inside them but so very loved ♥

    *raising my glass to j-squared*


    • Julia on July 3, 2012 at 6:22 am

      Christie…I love the picture I see when I read these words. I hope you continue to layer them over you, that they help you access your safe & loved.

      Thank you for taking the time to tell me what my art does for you…it fills me up so full to know my work has the potential to do that.

      Love to you.

  11. Julia on July 2, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    It’s so filling to come here and read each of your words.

    Thank you, each of you, for your kind words, for showing up and taking the time to connect. It means more than I can say.

    With love and gratitude,


  12. Brooke on July 2, 2012 at 10:30 pm

    What a beautiful interview! Even though I have been a witness to the entire birth of Julia’s book, I am amazed at how much her process feels as though I am hearing it, and internalizing it anew, and in a deeper way each time I hear it. I was telling Julia today, that her story about painting ‘Fearless Me’ is igniting in me a deep desire to explore what is underneath the surface–that which wants to be expressed from this unique body-mind-spirit–as if diving deep with this is really why we came here, to see what we could access from within ourselves, when we finally got out of the way. I am so thankful for Julia’s thorough commitment to showing up in such an authentic and loyal to the Source within her way.

    J. I haven’t met you officially, but I have heard SOOOOOOOO much gorgeousness about you from Julia, and I thank my lucky stars that you are in this world. Thank you for showing up in this world as such pure LOVE. I look forward to checking out ‘The Love Essays’!

    Congratulations, both of you. And thank you for this wonderful interview.

    • Julia on July 3, 2012 at 6:27 am

      Brooke, what would I do without you? You bring me back again and again to what matters and help me to feel loved and held–I could never thank you enough for that. You love so fully/widely/beautifully/deeply…and I get to be on the receiving end–that is just the greatest gift ever.

      Thank you for your endless support, for helping me to see me in such a beautiful light.

    • j on July 3, 2012 at 8:32 am

      Hi, Brooke!

      I’m intrigued by the “get out of the way” idea; I always have been. I’m reminded of the Shitty First Draft chapter in Anne Lamott’s bird by bird. I think we’re all using different terms but getting at the same thing. A willingness to be messy, inarticulate, uncertain must be part of the creative process, just as, in the end, a more careful attention to craft is part of it.

      To your point, I think it’s in that open place where we relinquish control and let what flows through us flow through unchecked that we can exercise fearlessness to its best advantage… digging deep in to what has been, until then, untapped.

      Obviously, I need to write more on this subject. Thank you for your beautiful comment!

  13. Estrella Azul on July 3, 2012 at 12:45 am

    Maybe because I, myself, need to let go, I love Julia’s themes. And I recall that poem and painting of the donkey, still one of my favorites.

    Thanks, j, for interviewing Julia, for this little peek into her creative process 😉

    • Julia on July 3, 2012 at 6:34 am

      I don’t know anyone that doesn’t need to let go, Estrella. I think most of us (me) are gripping on for dear life and it’s sucking the life out of us. I’m tired of hanging on so tightly–I think we all are. In those moments when I’m able to let go finally, there is such relief/openness/expansiveness/deep breaths of freshness– trust.

      So, here’s to letting the hell go and finding our great big wide open FREE! High 5s to that!

      And that reminds me of an Oprah Winfrey quote…

      “Breathe. Let go. And remind yourself that this very moment is the only one you know you have for sure.”

  14. Chris Edgar on July 4, 2012 at 7:44 am

    Thanks for this interview, J. I didn’t realize that Julia did both the art and the poetry, but viewing the pieces next to each other it definitely makes sense. I like what she says about artists always coming back to the same theme — I do get that sense that each artist, like each infant, has their own unique, indelible temperament that comes through in everything they do.

    • j on July 5, 2012 at 9:38 am

      And so it makes sense, too, that our individual temperaments play into our processes. I keep thinking about Julia’s advice that we don’t need to fight through our insecurities as much as accept them as part of the process. Even though I see what she’s saying, and agree to the extent that I have no choice but to accept them, often I move forward by getting tough with myself. It doesn’t feel like acceptance, it feels like a willful, rebellious leap in the face of my fear.

      Your comment makes me think about how Julia and I may well be doing the same thing but our temperament plays a big role in how we perceive and feel our actions.

    • Julia on July 5, 2012 at 9:42 am

      Hi Chris! I so agree. I come back to the same themes over and over again, these themes pretty much permeate everything I write/paint/talk about/dream about…I couldn’t get away if I tried!

      Thanks for jumping into the conversation!

  15. christy on July 4, 2012 at 9:25 pm

    oh how I love learning more about your creative process Julia! the JUST RIGHT donkey speaks to me too (all the way over here, I hear him) and reminds me to embrace my creative process and let go of the outcome, for when I truly create without judgement the end point is always amazing!!! I am working on some paintings this week and your donkey is just who I needed to hear from right now!! THANK YOU both!

    • Julia on July 5, 2012 at 9:58 am

      Christy, yes! So often when I let go in the midst of the creative process, the outcome (meaning the product) is amazing and sometimes it’s not. 🙂 What I have found is that when I truly let go (of needing it to be “good,” of what others may think, of trying to control) mid-process, I don’t care so much about the outcome because the process itself was so amazing/expansive/freeing…this is a hard thing to put into words but I’m sure you know just what I mean. I’m learning that the release/connectedness that comes from true surrender is worth more than any “thing” else.

      It makes me so happy to know that “Just Right” donkey speaks to you too. I do love that little guy.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to connect, Christy. I’m really grateful.

  16. Naomi on July 5, 2012 at 7:52 am

    I’ve had my eye on Julia’s book for a couple weeks now… I just love her poetry and art. Thank you.

    • Julia on July 5, 2012 at 10:00 am

      Thank you, Naomi! Smiles & love.

  17. Eydie on July 5, 2012 at 8:24 am


    I admire how you have shared your journey “on the other side of fear” with honesty, insightfulness, and confidence. Even when your experiences are different from mine, your words are threaded together in such a relatable reality that connects me to your heart and voice.

    Such a creative and brave accomplishment. Be proud, my friend.

    • Julia on July 5, 2012 at 10:05 am

      Dear Eydie. I appreciate you so much. I am truly grateful for our connection–it’s such a comfort to know that our hearts can hear one another.

      Thank you, my friend.

  18. Stephanie on July 6, 2012 at 11:37 am

    This is such a well timed post! Thank you for sharing this wonderful interview!

    I think that the idea of turning our art into a meditation/practice is something that keeps resonating through my heart right now… the Rumi quote is beautiful.

    Thank you!


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