Interview With Jess Schreibstein
by Sarah Gottesdiener·
As I finish up with designing the Many Moons Workbook Vol 1, I want to take the time to highlight the inspiring contributors to this project. It is a major honor to ask people you admire and respect to create something and have them accept and share their knowledge and gifts. Jess Schreibstein contributed a piece about working with the March Full Moon for the project. Jess is a digital strategist, knitter and painter living in Baltimore, Maryland.
I've long been an admirer of Jess on Instagram, where she shares her interesting life and many projects openly. Hearing an interview with her on the awesome Have Company Podcast just cemented my adoration of her. I'm beyond thrilled for you to read our interview here, and for her contribution to the workbook!
A view of Jess's paintings and workspace.
Jess, you are a woman of many incredible talents (knitting, photography, herbalism, writing, painting). Has it ever been difficult to navigate focus? Do you find you have to do many things at once in order to be happy? Or are these aspects such a part of your identity/existence that they are very natural? How do they tie together? (or not!)
This is such a resonant question. The short answer is yes, yes, and yes. Ha!
In college, I changed majors three times – from film production, to religion, to international relations. Throughout my twenties, I’ve struggled with how to define myself to others and myself – am I a knitter? A painter? A food blogger? Can you be everything at once, or do you have to prioritize things if you’re going to be successful in anything?
I think part of the feeling of struggle is rooted in this idea that everyone has one thing they’re great at and destined for, and the pathway to success is to discover that passion and make a career out of it. Yuck. I’d like to think that we’re a lot more complex, finicky, and layered than that. And after I stopped fighting that mandate to narrow in on the one thing I “should” do, and just do what I enjoy and let that guide me, everything seemed to fall into place. Not that I don’t still have those doubts or questions, but I find that my knitting, painting, herbalism practice, and more all relate to and inform each other.
Just do what you want to do. Don’t stress yourself out about it. The rest will figure itself out.
Your piece for the workbook, the Full Moon in March, takes into account that generally this month is a seasonal time of transition. Currently as we careen into Fall, we're also transitioning. Are there any notable ways you prepare for Winter, ritual-wise, cooking-wise, or behaviorally?
I love this time of year, and it always seems to go by faster than I’d like. So I do what I can to try to slow down and check in with myself. If I’m feeling really tired or worn down, I back off from my workouts or my to-do list and make sure I’m getting enough sleep and eating properly. I usually do a deep “spring cleaning” of our space with the windows wide open and smudge the heck out of everything. I also start lighting candles around the house like crazy.
As for my cooking, I feel like I get into hibernation mode once the fall arrives, and I’m finding ways to prepare and store away food for later. On weekends, I cook double batches of soups and casseroles and save half in the freezer, which really helps boost your morale when you get home from work after 7pm and it’s pitch-black and you’re starving. Delicious homemade meal, thanks freezer! I also did some canning this fall, which I really enjoy but haven’t done for awhile – green tomato chutney, concord grape jelly, and a tomato coriander jam from this new cookbook I love, Everything I Want to Eat from Jessica Koslow of L.A.’s own Sqirl restaurant. There’s something so satisfying about preserving the season in self-contained, little jewel-like jars.
View in Jess's home.
I'm guessing from your last name that you are of Jewish descent. (Me too!) Do you find any overlap between your background and other spiritual practices you hold dear?
That’s a funny question, because people assume I’m Jewish all the time but I’ve had a hard time claiming that identity for myself. My dad is Jewish, but I actually wasn’t raised Jewish. My mom is of Polish/Irish/German Catholic descent and I was baptised and raised in that tradition.
I went to a Catholic school – actually, an all-girls Opus Dei school – for four years from sixth grade until early high school. Opus Dei is this super scary and secretive conservative force within the Church that has preaches mortification of the flesh and has a misogynist view of women, among other things. I also grew up in a suburb of Boston and was there when the priest sexual abuse scandals ripped a big hole in the Catholic community.
Not surprisingly, all of this mounted in a crisis of faith when I was about 16, and I broke from the Church and pursued my own spiritual path. Learning more about my family’s Jewish history and traditions has been a big part of my path over the past couple of years, and I even took some intro to Judaism classes at a nearby Synagogue last winter. One of the parts of that faith that resonates with me most is the struggle and questioning of everything – that doubt and debate with G-d are a central focus. That is in complete opposition to the dogmatic “accept everything on faith” that I was taught earlier in my life, and also just makes sense to me personally. I’m more of a Scully than a Mulder.
What was a seminal book, class, or mentor that influenced you as creative person, a spiritual practitioner, a cook/herbalist?
Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Healing for Women changed my life. I’m not kidding. I’ve suffered from my fair share of health issues related to my gynecological health, and at one point was visiting the doctor every single month with symptoms that I couldn’t cure. Rosemary’s book helped me take charge of my health and connect with my body in a more tender, compassionate way.
Jess's home. (I see you, Fleetwood Mac album cover!)
What is your current favorite time of the month? What do you do around that that makes it so?
I have a soft spot in my heart for the dark moon. The full moon is flashy and awe-inspiring, but there’s something quite special about having some sort of energetic permission to check in with your mystery, your darkness, your shadow side. Star viewing is also pretty stellar (see what I did there?) on a dark moon.
What was your experience writing for the book, what do you hope that readers take away from this project, or your piece?
I wrote and rewrote the piece about three or four times to get it to a place where it felt right. I hope that readers feel like it’s okay to mess up, or go down a different path, or try something out as part of a healthy creative process. Good things take time.
Name one thing: writer/poet/singer/park/theory/hair product etc. that you are super jazzed on at the moment.
I’m super into Solange’s new album, A Seat at the Table. I cried when I watched the music video for “Cranes in the Sky.” I’m really digging this Bobbi Brown lipstick in the Brownie colorway.
I’m also currently reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer. Weren’t expecting that one, were you? Ha. Last year around this time, I got really into reading about Jewish German scientists during the turn of the century through WWII, and that led down a rabbit hole where I became mesmerized learning about the rise of the Nazi party in Germany and trying to wrap my mind around why the public would buy anything these people were selling. There are a lot of fascinating implications for what’s going on in our world today, and I’m not just talking about the U.S. election – there’s this backlash against globalization and this resurgence in nationalism and xenophobia happening across Europe right now too.