The Real. The Raw. Failure on Mt. Hood. [VIDEO]

I know some people have nightmares of being naked. A manifestation of vulnerability. I don’t usually. I dream of failure.

I dream over and over of failing a college class that I forget I’m taking. This dream comes so frequently that every month or so I ask my husband if I’m enrolled in any courses just to clear my mind. I haven’t taken a class in years.

In the last few weeks I’ve been feeling very drawn to honestly and vulnerably telling stories of my fears and failures. I can attribute part of this to being at WDS, where stories of vulnerability and bravery go hand-in-hand.

Someone once told Ben and I that our climbing was like a perfectly constructed team building exercise in which we were being stretched to work on our most pressing communication issues. We thought we just had a hobby.

Climbing pushes me to my mental and physical limits and stirs the pot so that I face my ugliest shadows and worst fears. Especially my emotions around failure.

This video is about the raw, real emotions that I felt during my attempt of Mt. Hood last week.

This is not a reality tv show. I hate that vulnerability and emotional responses are being dumbed down by the prevalence of this brain-rotting phenomenon. This is me. My journey part way up a mountain and the wash of exhausted emotion I encountered en route. Keeping it real.

When daring gets me into trouble...

Today Ben and I went climbing in southern New Hampshire with a few of his friends. This is a normal thing. But today I got a bit more than I bargained for.

Much like our little dog, when I get bored, I wander.

After my first climb I started exploring the cliffs. I hadn’t intended to go far, so I was barefoot, which made almost stepping on a 4’ snake more terrifying.

First thought: “I’m not afraid of snakes.”

Second thought: “That is not a garter snake. That is not a garter snake. I have no idea what kind of snake that is. I am far away from everyone now and that is a huge snake that I almost stepped on.”

We watched each other for a while. The snake stayed coiled up, not moving. I assume it was cold.

After a while I went around it and back down. I later identified it as a milk snake. Harmless. Still not something I would have wanted to step on barefoot.

I was a little on edge after that. All the coils of rope kind of looked like snakes to me. So perhaps this encounter is partially responsible for what happened next, but I know better than to follow Eve’s example and blame the snake.

A route around the corner from where my husband was climbing with a friend looked easy enough. It had already been established that it might make a fun free solo climb. By our estimates it was only a 5.4 route. A sloped crack on a slab. No big deal.

I told the guys I was going to “run” up it. Solo climbing. No rope. Just me and the rock.

I started up. Not having done much free climbing before it was exhilarating. I felt brave. New horizons of challenge rose up before me. It was a good, easy climb. Just a little jaunt.

About half way up I started to realize that I was getting a bit high off the ground and the rock was a bit wetter than I had anticipated. I had a moment of chanting “Oh fuck. Oh fuck. Oh fuck,” to myself. But then I reminded myself that climbing is a mental game. “Don’t think,” I told myself. “Just climb. You can do this.”

About three-quarters of the way up there was so much water in the “easy” crack that I had to abandon it and make a few moves on the face of the slab, which was steeper than I had thought from below.

I made three more moves during which the reality of my situation started to slowly seep in. Not as an irrational voice, but as a calm, calculated voice of reason.

The voice helped me see that I was very high at this point. Higher than I realized the climb was. High enough to kill me if I fell. And the rock was much wetter than I had thought. It was slippery and I was exposed. I envisioned my body splayed out on the boulders below and it was a wake up call.

I only had two moves to go to the top. Just two.

But the rock was wet and one slip would mean my death.

As soon as I realized this truth the fear instantly materialized. And then I had no choice. I wasn’t going anywhere. I was paralyzed.

So I called out to my husband. I took the route of humility and admitted that I was paralyzed and in a dangerous situation.

And as soon as I did the floodgates of irrational thoughts burst into my mind like disgruntled peasants breaking down the palace gates.

I am so stupid.

Why can’t I do this?

This was stupid.

This is insanely embarrassing.

No one here is ever going to want to climb with me again.

(note: this last statement now seems extremely bizarre to me, but there it is.)

And the tears came. A physical manifestation of the flowing thoughts and fears.

I heard the clinking of gear being exchanged. Ropes being pulled. Voices of Ben and his friends. He was coming to get me. All I had to do was hold on.

With my foot in a medium-sized hold and cramping up by the minute I held my position.

My fear ebbed and my shame increased.

“I should just keep climbing.” I yelled to Ben. “I’m two moves away. This is stupid. I can do this.”

I looked down and saw he was halfway to me.

“Don’t move.” He said.

He got to where I was. I could see the panic in his face when he realized how slippery the rock was next to me and I still wasn’t tied in.

I was still trying to save face and finish the climb, but he wouldn’t let me move until three anchors were tying me in. Then I was good. I made the move.

As soon as I was tied in and out of my cramped position my panic vanished. I turned a corner. “I actually planned this so Ben could practice his rescue skills,” I yelled down to Ben’s friends in an attempt to shine humor on my foolish choice to make the climb. They smiled. One of them acknowledged that it had seemed like an easy solo climb. This made me feel better.

Ben built more anchors. He climbed up and over. He built another anchor and belayed me up.

It was an easy finish. Totally within my comfort zone when on rope or bouldering. Totally not okay with wet rock 35’ off the ground.

In another scenario I could have finished the climb, then cried when I realized how dangerous it had been.

In another scenario I could have finished the climb confident, then brushed away compliments when others repeated the difficult route after me.

In another scenario I could be dead.

Crazy? Who me? (the route is behind me)

The curious thing about this story is that I’m not sure what to take away from it. (Besides the obvious: don’t climb high without a rope.)

To say “I almost died today” is an over exaggeration. I probably would have finished fine.

To say “I could have died today” isn’t specific. Everytime I get in my car I put myself in harm’s way. I love adventure. Risk is always a part of my life. It makes life worth living.

But one thing I realized is how legitimate a threat needs to be in order for me to fear it. I don’t normally feel a lot of fear. I have some general fears, but I tend to be fearless about a lot of things that the general public fears – like quitting my job, exposing myself to heights, teaching middle schoolers, and traveling alone. So when I feel fear with a physical sensation in my body and have the common sense to be vulnerable about my fear it is a pretty legitimate danger.

(Or there is a sea monster with tentacles and razor-sharp teeth, but that’s another story.)  

There is one thing this underscores in my mind:

I am an adventurer. I live for the possibility of reaching another horizon. This is who I am.

Today was just a bit more than I bargained for. A little higher and a little wetter than I thought.

But I’m here! I’m good! I live to see another adventure. And the next won’t be so life-threatening (at least I hope not).

P.S. Don’t give me any of your “Jeeesssssss!!! What were you thinking!??!” bullshit. If you know me at all you should have been expecting this post.

For another epic climbing post, 

read this one.




Dear Nana-In-Heaven,

I know that my rock climbing always freaked you out and made you worry. And I know I always told you that I never climbed without a rope. And I know you worried anyway.

I’m sorry I climbed without a rope today. I won’t do it again.

Thanks for caring and for watching over me today. I know you were there.

xo Jess



I am lying when I say that I need to be on Facebook all day in order to do my job. It's a distraction. There are only a few directed tasks I need it for. Beyond that I can minimize the chatter. This morning had been one of good food, a hot shower, no distractions, and fruitful work/ideas. Here's to less distractions!

Teaching Today

Teaching one class today while I am home on break from the Jumpstart Creativity Tour. The studio really makes me feel at home. Love this space and love my local students. Love teaching. I am glad to have fit this class into these two weeks home. Teaching in this favorite place is grounding.


I hope you are following along on my awesome epic creative road trip

Just over a week ago I took a break from traveling to teach at EncaustiCamp with some of my favorite people! Want to share some of that lovely experience with you! 

I recently gushed about how much I love wax over here on Teahouse Studio's blog. I have a class coming up at the studio in Berkeley in a month. 

My classes at EncaustiCamp were awesome. I was so moved and humbled by the students' response to the project I planned for us. The general idea for the class - Bare Soul in Wax - was to paint a background or simple painting and then smash a hole in it with a hammer, then mount a box on the back so wax and objects could be embedded in the hole. Since the paintings are so moving and raw with images and color bursting out of the painting, we took some time to consider the parts of life that make us feel that way. Starting with some writing and reading some quotes, I invited the students to bring some intention or memory into their work. The results were moving and beautiful. 

Camp wasn't only about the classes. We went on a wine tour, cheese sampling, were visited by Karl Kaiser, and I spent some lovely moments in the woods. 

Karl Kaiser and his 100-layer work!

left: my first Banana Slug!


Stay in touch if you want to join us next year. 

Check out my Berkeley, CA class August 18&19 if you're in the area. 


Too late for second-guessing
Too late to go back to sleep
It's time to trust my instincts
Close my eyes: and leap!

(from Defying Gravity)

To maintain sanity I am fliping back and forth between a high-energy Glee soundtrack and listening to the soundtrack of the natural environment. 

I leave tomorrow. I leap tomorrow. Or have I already leaped?

Last night about 20 of my family and friends gathered to help stuff 1400+ envelops to give away on the first leg of the tour. It was one of those moments that I felt connected and held...and also realized the enormity of what I am doing on this tour. Those moments have been sneaking up on me. They are a good and in a scary way. 

So here I go. 

Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.


Went Something Like This

I talk to myself. Today the conversation went something like this.

Me 1: Sometimes I just wonder whether that small voice inside that says that I will never accomplish this huge vision I have is right. What if that voice is not the inner critic? What if that voice is just reality and my vision is too big and I'm not special enough to bring together all these people and change lives? It is possible that I will fail. 

Me 2: Get a team. People keep saying you need a team. Envision a team of people sitting around and planning the next steps of this vision. Feel what is feels like to work with other people to step-by-step bring creative opportunities to the masses. It would work, right? Now go build that team. 

Me 1: Yeah. The task doesn't seem so crazy when I see a team helping me. Okay. I won't give up yet. I will build a team.

Want to join my team? We are going to change the world. 


Stress drives me to do strange things. Like buy sauerkraut for the turkey dogs and ice cream cones, watch TV, sit by the campfire alone, conjure up memories of the Cape while eating burnt marshmallows, camp out with the little dog, wait for a storm, read by headlamp, sleep by glowstick. I do what I need to do. And trust that the wildness will renew me.

About To Jump

I am standing on the edge of a cliff. I have made the decision to jump. I know I will miraculously grow wings and fly, or maybe land in that mysterious net that appears when we need it, or plunge deep into warm and soothing waters that will carry me, or something like that. But right now from here I can still see it all laid out before me - the plan and the unknowns.

I can see that I have started something. The next 5 months of my life will be about a road trip. A leap of faith. A giant journey recorded on the internet. A spinning of a web connecting thousands of people. A coming together. A world of unknowns that will become known. 

I am one of the ones who always has to jump. I never regret it. I only ever regret not jumping. 

I wonder sometimes if the urge to jump will leave me someday. But that seems like such a distant question for another time so I choose to ignore it. What happens will happen. 

Right now I am jumping. 

Puppy Days

I overheard Ben talking to our little dog yesterday morning and he said "If I worked at home I'd never get anything done because I'd just want to play with you all day."

So true.

Home From Spain

I know I've been home from Spain for 4 months now, but Home From Spain is the title of my show in Northampton right now. I am showing the paintings I produced in Spain and tonight I am giving a talk about my work and my time in the residency. This is a culmination to the experience and that feels nice. 

Maya Stein and I are sharing the space on Market Street. She is running an open mic night and doing a writing workshop. A fun collaboration. 

a book i just made at Artfest of papers collected during my travels this fall

Looking forward to seeing some of you tonight!


Recently I have noticed that my words have dried up. I have less desire to describe my world and less ability to formulate anything I feel is worth reading. I like writing, but recently it had dried up. 

I have a hypothesis that stress has pushed it out because the desire to string words together has been replaced with panic regarding running two businesses and a general sense of not doing enough. 

Ah, there is that word again: enough. How appropriate that it should show itself again. My nemesis, I think.

And yet sometimes something is not enough to get you to where you want to go and you either need to fight your way upstream or surrender to failure. I tend to just keep fighting and get more and more tired. And that probably sums up where I have been lately. And when I state my situation like this I am reminded of that saying "fight smarter, not harder." So there I go. That is what I must do.

The Blur. The Rush.

Traveling always seems to allow time to play tricks on me. These last couple weeks here in the Northwest have really flown by. They kind of feel like a blur. We did a lot of relaxing and exploring, but also a lot of working. I am talking about Seek Your Course wherever I go because I believe in my company and in our mission. And so I work and that makes time speed by even faster. 

Now our trip has come to an end. We toured the NW and enjoyed it. Part of my grand plan to move out here and Ben is no longer so opposed. He has seen it and approves. There are a few places we would love to live and I hope we are lucky enough to do so. 

one of my aunt's many elephants

I am continuing to fight the feelings that I am alone in my work. I would love to find a team to build around me. Seek Your Course needs a team building it up. I tend to be inpatient so I am fighting this and trusting that the team will come. 

I was thinking last night about walking like an elephant...slowly, steadily, with intention and an internal compass. Then I remembered that Ganesha, an elephant, is the remover of obstacles. I've been dwelling on these thoughts to help me move forward. 

another remover of obstacles

I will post more about Artfest soon. Or at least link you to my SYC posts about it. 

Artfest 1

Artfest is over. I finally got here and this was the last one, so it is over in more ways than one. It has been fabulous. A huge celebration of creativity. A giant dive into messy making. A lovely string of moments of laughter and hugs. More soon.

Finding Green

So we went from snow to desert and then back to the lush green western side of the Cascades. We have spent the last couple days in Portland, Oregon. We have seen friends, eaten great food, drank great beer, driven all over the area to see as much as we could, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.


Today we spent an hour around the N. Mississippi Ave area. We ate at food carts and then saw some awesome shops, including these.

at Flutter (#3948)


at Flutter (#3948)the window of Sunlan Lighting (#3901)at Pistils Nursery (#3811)

And I have been getting in my babytime. We are staying with a 5 week old and he is precious!

Lyon (son of Erik and Katie)

Finding Snow

We are on the road! Ben and I are exploring the NorthWest before Artfest next week.

Just a quick post to tell you the epic tale of driving through the Cascades here in Oregon.

As we headed from the Salem, OR area towards Sisters, OR we received a call from the lodge we had reservations at saying that there had been an avalanche and there would be a long delay to get to the lodge. Being us we continued on knowing that there was only one road to Sisters. The roads weren't great because it was still snowing, but thankfully we had gotten upgraded to an SUV with good tires and 4WD. We were all set. And it was beautiful. 

waiting in line to get through the pass

We waited in a line of cars trying to get through the Santiam pass, where the avalanche occurred, for less than an hour before it opened. Some people had been waiting for hours. Here is the local news story with a photo of the vehicles that got trapped in the avalanche. 

Snow Eater!!! This giant snowblower was intense!

We got here safe and sound and have been enjoying another round of snow. Went snowshoeing yesterday and saw the beautiful Mt Washington.

This has been our stop for R&R and it has been wonderful. We are here at The Lodge at Suttle Lake because of a Groupon deal which included a suite, wine and cheese socials, and a couples massage. Feeling rejuvenated and ready to travel again today. 


I was inspired  to think again about the word savor by Andrea Scher's post about savoring life

Savor is a word I want to acknowledge more in my life. I've learned to eat fast, work constantly, and even my procrastination doesn't involve taking in beautiful things slowly. So instead of doing the same again I took my time with my lunch today. I sat in my favorite lunch/cafe spot, ate olives with my fingers, listened to my Glee pandora station, indulged in a savory grilled cheese and tried to slow down a little bit. It was delicious. 

Now I'm going back to work with a satisfied feeling in my stomach and in my mind. 

Winter's Last Hurrah

A week and a half ago we had a nice snowstorm. Not an overwhelming amount, but enough to snowshoe and enjoy. It was especially nice since this was an unusually warm winter and we hadn't gotten much of any. It was also extra extra nice because it was pretty. The snow stuck to the trees for days. A proper Winter Wonderland.

Left: Basil is a very good follower; Right: Ben and Lexi

We're climbing up that? Just did!

barely a was still snowing

And then the Smith College Bulb Show started. I've been going for many years. Last year I posted pictures from when I was a kid along with current ones. Here are some shots from this year:

Now, a week and a half after the snow storm I am wearing flipflops in unusually warm March weather. Can't complain about that!