Last winter I met Jen Utley as a writer for Vanguard Seattle but I knew her as one half of Seattle's runaway hit Project Girl Crush. This not-really-a-blog blog is a sensation and features on so many women of The 206 that you forget our city is actually tipped in favor of men. Only in population numbers, natch. Fast Forward to this spring. Jen was rushing to catch a ferry so hello was on the fly. I stalked her on Instagram to get an update: There was an image of a new apartment paired with words about starting over. Rows and weeks of images unfolded a life after a break-up until there was a smile on her face. Then a picture of a smiling boy. Lots of happy and then a real-time pic that revealed she was on a food tour of Northern CA with said smiling boy. It was amazing how her life of the past 5 months was told in pictures. As a peripheral friend, I was just happy to know she was happy. Fast forward to this summer. Local creative agency WINTR hosted a party to share their new studio. Jen was there and Genevieve, the BFF. Nevermind the talk of Instagram pics, Jen is actually the writer and Genevieve is the photographer. The Wonder Twins.
Rewind to three weeks ago. The three of us met at the Sorrento Hotel the day before Jen's birthday. So we toasted while we talked then headed outside and stopped talking while Genevieve made peacocking on the corner of Madison St. seem, you know, normal. Prior to our meeting. I was asked to spill my guts out about, you know, life. The entire interview is below and you can see the edited interview with Jen's heart-melting and humbling introduction along with Genevieve's far too kind images here.
What do you do for a living? According to my boys I sew dresses. In reality, I work with amazing pattern makers and seamstresses who help me create “OMG, I must have that.” pieces missing from my own wardrobe that I am lucky to share with others.
How did you come to do what you do? Happy accident thanks to a gift (errr. 30 year hand-me-down) from my mother-in-law.
Are you creatively fulfilled by what you do? More than anything I’ve ever done. Aside from LEGOS.
Describe one thing that inspires you: Vacation.
When you’re having a bad day / week / month, how do you harness that inspiration and keep creating? Asking how it gets better. Not when. The magic is in the little things that compel and propel you to move forward.
Where else do you find creative fulfillment? Problem solving people. Including myself.
When do you feel the most yourself? Why? Without a plan. I believe in magic.
When do you feel the least yourself? Why? On Day 3 without my kids. They are my magic.
What do you love about yourself? Tell me why – acknowledge yourself right now. Seriously. I am less black and white smart but outstanding in the gray, which makes me clever. Not at everything but if you could choose one thing to have on a deserted island, I would be a good pick whether you want to launch an escape or an empire. I am clever at surviving everything from travel to mean girls to a night out. First clever move is quickly finding people way more clever than you, which is how I would describe all my closest friends and my husband. I can also parallel park like a mofo.
What don’t you love about yourself and why? Same opportunity as above. Although I love scheming and living in the gray, I can be very black and white. Problem solving people as a creative exercise is a double-edge sword. There is a lot of empathy and a lot of criticism - of myself and others.
Describe your greatest professional achievement, and remember that this does not have to be a traditional accolade. Just something that you have done that makes you feel proud of yourself. Total. Career. Overhaul.
Describe your greatest personal achievement (same idea as above): Ten years- and counting- of marriage.
Talk about an instance that made you feel vulnerable, unprepared, and/or scared:
Driving my oldest son home from the hospital. We pulled over in the garage for an hour. (We live less than ten minutes from said hospital.) I knew my husband and I were in deep shit.
How did you made it through that time? I seem to recall there were bottles for baby and mom.
Describe a time when you felt incompetent: A time? Countless! Let’s just I am not *equipped* for the demands of everyday life. Better at big than small.
Who are you intimidated by? Why? (I know it’s scary, but consider this an opportunity to come clean to him/her! I promise they’re not as terrifying as you think, so it might just feel good...) Alicia Hatch. Here’s the big stuff: She is raising four radical boys and scaling/selling businesses all while sober for, like, ever. And she goes to church every Sunday. The little stuff she simply doesn’t sweat.
Name one person you admire and why (perhaps you know him or her, but you don’t have to)?
My parental unit. (I cannot choose!) Patience, grace and unconditional love.
Name one woman you have a girl crush on (again – maybe you might know her, maybe you don’t)? Why? Jennifer Lewis. Super hot, well-read and a great mom.
What’s a meaningful piece of advice you have been given, and who gave it to you? Everything is as it should be. Wise words from a wise woman.
At what age did you feel most vulnerable/uncomfortable in your skin, and why? From conscious memory until age 35. Growing pains.
What advice would you share with that former self? Relax.
Do you have a particular vision of your life 30 years from now? What does it look like? (This can be purely conceptual – maybe it’s a feeling, maybe it’s a picture. Allow yourself to dream). Jim and I are living in Paris and CA (toss up north or south). Flights to and from are frequent for visits with friends and family including a couple of grandchildren. James, my oldest son, is running APRIL PRIDE where his younger brother, Sid, is overseeing all creative. Happiness and health for all.
What are you doing today to help yourself realize the vision described above?
Meditating, screwing sleep and being clever.
Tell me something pretty. A quote, a lyric, a drawing... however you choose to express yourself. Pretty is as pretty does.
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