My guest today is my neighbor and creative, new friend, Jenni Grover.
Joan Brunwasser: Welcome to OpEdNews, Jenni. Although we had never met or even laid eyes on one another until a few weeks ago, I have long admired your signs, particularly your "Take Courage" one. Can you tell us how that came about?
Jenni Grover: Hi, Joan! Thanks for having me. It's always nice to know my neighbors!
I'm a quilter, and I'm also an activist. For more than 15 years, I ran a chronic illness advocacy project called ChronicBabe, through which I coached and educated thousands of people on the best ways to live a beautiful life in spite of illness. It's rooted in my own experience of having multiple chronic illnesses for more than two decades -- I care a lot about helping people. And in my own life, I find the intersection of creativity and activism to be a powerful place!
JG: So in these dark times, I thought, how can I create something that lifts up my neighbors? I pulled out an old technique of making bunting, and I drew the words freehand on fabric to cut out each letter and assemble the bunting. I love orange and pink so I had to use my signature colors... and I think the effect was really solid. Many people stopped to chat with me as they saw the sign on their walks or bike rides, and that felt wonderful.
Right now, the feeling I think we all need to cultivate is courage. We need to feel strong and solid, grounded in our knowledge, and safe in our homes. It takes courage to keep going in difficult, traumatic situations. If I help a few people feel that way, then I've done something meaningful for my community.
But! But. I need to learn a new technique for banner/bunting making. The wind and rain and hail really did a number on the bunting, so I took it down for now. I'm dreaming of a new sign to make soon!
JB: I love that you're constantly finding opportunities to use your creativity. I'd like to go back to pre-ChronicBabe and talk about you and your health issues, if you feel comfortable doing that. You've had chronic issues for years. That can't be easy. What can you tell us about that?
JG: Sure! I was only 25 when I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 1997, and at the time, we didn't understand much about the disease. It was hard to get any information (I had an AOL email and a 56k modem!) and people would always say "you look too young to be sick!" It was a really difficult time. But over the course of a few years, I learned how to cope, and then to thrive in spite of it. (I was also diagnosed with a bunch of other illnesses... it's a party!)
Blogging started to take off, and I decided to create the resource I had wished for when I first got sick. ChronicBabe.com was a hit, and over the 15 years I ran the project, we offered a hearty YouTube series with more than 100 videos, created ways to connect on many other social media platforms, I consulted with nonprofits and corporations, spoke at tons of conferences, advocated for people with illness, and even published a book: ChronicBabe 101: How to Craft an Incredible Life Beyond Illness.
JB: Have any extra copies of ChronicBabe 101 lying around? I'd love to take a look. How deftly you turned a health 'challenge' into a way to support others. It sounds like you have moved on. But, knowing you, I'm quite sure you're not sitting around eating bonbons. What have you been up to, besides for making inspirational signs to keep your neighbors going?
JG: I don't have any copies right now but I just ordered a batch. They always sell out when I tell people I have them in stock! When I get more in stock (early July) I will list them at my Etsy shop, which is called Hyperscrappy Handmade.
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