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First Person

The Experience Questionnaire: Eilen Jewell

Eilen (“ee-len”) Jewell is an acclaimed singer/songwriter from Idaho.  Her latest album, “Gypsy,” is out now. Follow her here. 

Where do you come up with your best ideas?  
The bulk of my creative moments happen in the mountains of central Idaho, near where I’m from. Me, a cabin, and a pen and paper are my idea of heaven. But every now and then a creative spark will hit me in the shower, or while Im cooking dinner or sitting on an airplane. 

What is the best non-material gift you’ve received?
Applause, particularly a standing ovation. When an audience gives back during a live show, its exhilarating. Im eternally grateful for my fans. I just dont know where Id be without them. And the fact that anyone still comes to hear live music is amazing to me. No one has to listen to my music or come to my shows, but they do anyway, and they bring a positive energy. Its a really profound gift.

What is the best non-material gift you’ve given?  
Love. Unabashed, unwavering love is the most I have to offer. I pour it on my daughter Mavis every chance I get.

I would like to win a Grammy and live to see my grandkids, so I can also become a grammy.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced?  
I went through some really intense postpartum depression and anxiety. Ive always struggled a little, but this was just a hurricane of sadness and panic and despair. It lasted for roughly a year. Mavis wasnt much for eating or sleeping in those days, so deep fatigue didnt help the situation. But I wouldnt take nothing for my journey now, as the gospel song goes. 

If you had to choose a different profession, what would you do?  
I would attempt to write novels. I have serious doubts as to whether I could ever finish one; it seems so daunting to even come up with an idea for a novel. But to try seems like a noble pursuit. 

What is the most useful mistake you’ve made?  
I made lots of mistakes in my youth involving men. I wasted some of my best years staying committed to relationships that werent healthy or fulfilling, or even fun. But they proved useful because I wrote a lot of songs about those mistakes. They were all part of the process of learning how to be me. 

What’s the strangest experience you’ve had?  
When I lived in Santa Fe in my early twenties, I experienced a lot of strange things. I didnt believe in ghosts until I moved there. One night my friend and I were driving home and there were these little points of light that kept dancing around in playful circles just in front of the windshield. To this day we can only describe them as ghost-fairies. They were beautiful but so strange. Im still scratching my head about that one. 

What opportunity do you regret passing up?  
I had an opportunity to party with R.L. Burnside at his home in Mississippi in 2004, but I was too shy. I told myself Id do it next time I was passing through, but he passed away shortly after that. Now Ill never know what kind of trouble we couldve gotten into together. 

How do you relax?  
I breathe and take in the present moment. A lot of my tension stems from being in the wrong time zone — thinking too much about the past or the future. When I can bring it back to the present, I can reign in some anxiety. Also, a good book in a hot bath cures what ails me every time. 

If you could go anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go?  
I still really love to travel, even after doing it for a living for 13 years and counting. Theres still so much of the world I havent seen! I’d love to travel to the Greek islands someday. I was obsessed with Greek mythology as a child, so to visit one of the temples of Artemis would be a lifelong dream come true. 

What is your most indelible childhood memory?  
The first time I went backpacking with my best friend. We were 14, in the wilds of central Idaho, and had no clue what we were doing. We accidentally left most of our food on the kitchen table at home and survived mostly on wild huckleberries for three days. I saw the Milky Way for the first time, we taught ourselves how to build a fire, I learned how to read a topo map. We swam around in a cold lake at night in a thunderstorm. We were as free as two people can possibly be. The sweet, pure taste of those huckleberries though…That may be the most poignant memory of the whole experience. 

What’s the most valuable thing you learned in school?  
In college I learned how to write. More specifically, I learned how to question my own message, not to fall for my own b.s. Thats had a lot of ramifications in other aspects of my life too. It started a quest for honesty. 

When you’re stuck how do you get unstuck?  
When Im really struggling, I find talking about the struggle with anyone who will listen is the best medicine. 

What is your proudest moment?  
Bringing little Mavis into the world after 80 hours of relentless labor. 

What would you like to experience before you die?  
I would like to win a Grammy and live to see my grandkids, so I can also become a grammy. Ha! 

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Photo by Douglas Mason/Getty Images

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