WOMEN OF NOTE:
Jennie Edgar | So Textual
Jennie Edgar’s creative interior world is so active she requires a peaceful and soft environment to welcome ideas without distraction. She has many of them: immeasurable passions and interests. Her compass beats fastest when revolving around design, arts, fashion, critical thinking and literature. But her biggest pleasure has always been books; “books can be good company, a comfort, a pastime, a way of life”. From her nest in Hudson, she created a delicate online space for a community of avid readers, So Textual, which recommends beautiful and enduring books, inspired by conversations with creatives of many realms. While she’s reading or writing for So Textual, Jennie stays grounded by coming back to her breath, again and again.
Jennie shares with us the books currently at her bedside and the inspiration behind So Textual, wearing the Drawstring Dress in Court Check.
Location: Hudson, NY
Where are you from and where are you now?
I grew up in Vermont and have always lived in New England until I moved with my family to upstate New York three years ago. We live a few minutes outside the town of Hudson which is such a fun and vibrant community with great shops, food, and creative people.
If you could only use three sentences to describe your path in life so far, what would they say?
At 33 I’ve already tried on many different careers and played out many different iterations of what my life could look like. I used to think this was a fault – that I was flaky, non-committal. Now, I see it as my superpower: I find something that excites me and I plumb the depths to immerse myself in it.
Do you prefer mornings or evenings?
I’m a morning person. I started waking early – 5am – when my son was a baby because it was when I could have time all to myself. I find I’m much sharper and clear-minded early in the morning. This worked well when I was a pastry chef and kept early hours, but now I’m much more protective of this time and make sure my schedule is open until well after lunch.
Can you describe where you live and the view from your bedroom?
We live in the Hudson Valley and it has quickly become one of my favourite places. It offers everything I love: rural countryside, roads free of traffic, secret swim holes, yet there are museums and cultural resources not usually offered in the country. Of course, it’s the proximity to NYC that gives this area its culture and energy.
You studied philosophy and literature at Harvard and have recently launched So Textual, an online community for lovers of literature and the arts. Where did your love for books begin?
My grandmother was an avid reader and I learned about the literary lifestyle from her: the way books can be good company, a comfort, a pastime, a way of life. Since middle school, I’ve always had a mentor. These relationships were so formative and being an apprentice to teachers and academics who had an incredible life of the mind taught me that books are a treasure – to reference Harold Bloom - where wisdom is to be found.
How did So Textual come about?
During the early days of the pandemic I was craving a community that was interested in all the seemingly disparate things I love, that fall generally under these two categories of the arts: aesthetic appreciation and critical thinking. So, that manifested in an online platform that recommends truly excellent, enduring books inspired by conversations with artists, writers, creatives, and founders on the books that changed their lives. It took me over a year to fine tune the business model and be sure I was creating an offering I felt was needed and desired; something I wasn’t seeing anywhere else. So Textual is still very new and I’m constantly fine tuning to make sure my offerings are as strong as possible, but the support so far has been incredible.
You work as an editorial and art director in the beauty, wellness, fashion, and lifestyle space. What is important to you when creating for a vision and what do you enjoy most?
Getting to know the founder’s story, vision, references, and goals is so fascinating, and I love the subsequent challenge of rendering the conceptual into the tangible.
You are also a visual artist working with paper mediums and delicate folding techniques. Can you tell us how you found this practise and how it fulfils you?
I began writing fiction when I finished graduate school to continue thinking about the philosophical concepts and theories I’d been grappling with in class. But writing demands so much time alone and, even when I wasn’t alone, I was still lost in my thoughts, working through a narrative arc or character trait. Parenthood wasn’t conducive to this creative practice and I would get quite moody when I was interrupted. I began to channel my creativity through my hands, instead, so that I could be more present in my surroundings. And so, it was actually playing with quilting that led me to think, What would it look like to use paper instead of fabric? I had been working with gorgeous handmade Japanese and Korean papers for bookbinding, so I ordered an entire roll of okawara cut it into small squares and then sewed them together with silk thread. The work is subtle – and for that reason doesn’t always photograph well – but I have a few pieces in my home and it’s often the first thing guests will remark on.
Seeing a project through to completion – getting a piece back from my framer – is incredibly fulfilling because it’s magic to see what my idea as a tangible object. In this case, this object is aesthetic only, there’s no “practical” reason for it to exist. Of course, I argue that art is surely a necessity. So it’s fulfilling to make something absolutely necessary – for myself, at least.
As a multi-passionate and ever-evolving creative, are there any new mediums sparking your interest lately?
I have a million and one brand ideas I’d love to launch myself. For many of them, I’ve already completed the brand books and have a folder of photos on my phone or computer. The problem is time. But because these brands have such a strong identity, I feel a strong connection to them. I’m hoping one day I’ll have the time to bring one or two of my favourites to life.
You consider your personal style ‘an expression of selfhood, and creative practise in relation to literature and art’. How have you come to establish your personal style?
Now that I think of it, perhaps the years spent living on Cape Cod informed my style. I once found a perfectly worn, perfectly oversized jean jacket at a swap shop for free. The outer Cape lends itself to dressing like Mary Oliver: men’s button downs, for instance. This is my go-to shirt because it’s good for the day, paired with some loafers, and you can dress it up. It’s very “rolled out of bed”.
What does a day in your life look like at the moment?
I wake at 5am, make my tea (one of my day’s great joys) and practice my Kundalini sadhana. I rotate between answering emails and reading in the early mornings before the rest of the house wakes. I recently started taking Spanish lessons three days a week because my husband’s family is fluent. Before I head to the studio, I am usually able to exercise for 15 – 30 minutes, the perfect amount of time for me. Fridays are for my visual art and I have a home studio I work from. For work, I’m often on my computer all day so I try and disconnect in the evenings with a podcast while I cook a quick dinner. The evening is for reading and my husband and I take turns putting our son to bed; right now we’re reading The Chronicles of Narnia, which he loves. It’s very much a simple country life when we’re not traveling to the city or having friends over for dinner. But that suits my husband and I just fine. My interior life is so active that I need a quiet, gentle environment to allow my ideas to come through without distraction.
Who, what and where do you turn to for inspiration?
Honestly, I go for a walk. It takes about twenty minutes for the repetition of my steps to put my mind in a far-off place, but I’ve solved many creative (and personal!) problems this way. Also, I allow myself moments of nothingness. In the 80s or 90s, if people were waiting alone they’d be smoking a cigarette, but their minds were engaged with their surroundings or their thoughts. Now, we reach for our phones and our minds are held hostage. I’m not someone who is ever bored, but I try to rub up against boredom as often as I can.
Has there been a significant moment of your past that has informed where you are today?
Undoubtedly, motherhood. Just like how when the seasons change and it’s hard to imagine leaves on the trees when there are none, it is nearly impossible to remember myself before becoming a parent.
In your house, which room do you find most solace in?
When we moved into our house, I converted a lofted bedroom into my studio. It feels like my old dorm room, which is a nice respite and ritual in magical thinking. I mostly sit at my desk and write emails or sit on my meditation cushion, but it is truly so nice having a space all my own.
What are you currently reading?
Having just finished Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting by Penelope Mortimer, I’m currently re-reading Deborah Levy’s The Cost of Living, which is a brilliant work of autofiction about the end of a marriage and the heavy lifting of metaphor to carry us through life, especially the hard times. I’m about to start Nadja by Breton.
How do you find comfort?
Next to our wood stove in winter. And in good shoes!
How do you stay grounded?
I’ve tried many types of meditation, and most recently TCM and Kundalini are working well for me. I sometimes notice that when I’m driving or reading an email that I’m not even breathing. Coming back to my breath is incredibly grounding. My husband has been very interested in Sam Harris’ Waking Up app, and consciousness, more generally. He’s always sharing articles and bits of wisdom that help me to keep things in perspective.
How do you unwind?
With a glass of white wine - sometimes with an ice cube at 2 in the afternoon, if necessary!
Do you dream while you sleep? If so, what do you dream of?
Something comes to mind, but I’ll keep it to myself – sweet dreams.