Jennifer the Beholder: The Woman Behind the Blog
Recently we sat down for a one on one interview with Jennifer Chatman, a writer who resides in Stone Ridge, Virginia. Jennifer is popularly known as Jennifer the Beholder and is usually on the other side of the interview.
For Jennifer Chatman, who pens the popular blog Jennifer the Beholder, writing was not her first choice for a career. As a native of the Baltimore/Washington D.C. Area and a graduate of West Virginia University, Jennifer started out in the apparel industry. As a young college graduate whose parents had just moved away from the beltway to Memphis, Tennesee, Jennifer decided that she would make the D.C. Metropolitan area her home. She landed a job in the apparel industry and moved in with her aunt and uncle who lived just five miles away from her new gig. “I am always very committed to my work, no matter what it is that I’m doing,” Jennifer tells me in the busy coffee shop where we have met for this interview. She is wearing a neat cardigan and is sipping tea as I enter the shop from the cold street outside. I am late, a bad habit of mine. Of course, I am apologetic and hurry to sit down and gather my tools for the interview. Fortunately for me, there is never a shortage of things to talk about when I am talking with Jennifer the Beholder.
“The phrase, ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,’ kept crossing my mind,” Jennifer tells me in explanation as to how she became Jennifer the Beholder, “and I originally wanted to call my blog The Beholder. I saw that the URL was available and asked my husband to take care of purchasing it for me, but as it turned out, we didn’t get it in time. So I kept brainstorming, and it was my sister-in-law, who has a background in marketing, who suggested that I put my name if front of it.”
But being a writer who blogs privately versus publicly was a big deal for Jennifer and she wasn’t sold on the idea of putting her name in the blog’s title. “I am one of those people who likes to fly under the radar. Whether I’m volunteering at my children’s school or elsewhere, I like to come in, get my work done and move on. I don’t need recognition for the work that I do. Putting my name on my blog was not in my comfort zone.” So I ask her why she decided to go public when it is out of character for her to do so. Her response, “I knew that in order to do what I wanted to do with this blog that I couldn’t be private, that in order to accomplish what I wanted to do, I would have to put myself out there. I have to be on social media. I have to be saying something everyday.”
Recently the power of being a writer and being public with her thoughts and feelings came full circle for her when she published a powerful essay on how she coped with watching her father die over the course of three long years. She says it dawned on her that her writing about her experiences was bigger than her and that in a way, the insight and truth that she shares with others in her writing shouldn’t belong to just her. “I know that other people must feel the same way. I am a spiritual person and I believe that we all have a purpose. For me, I wanted my blog to be about the beauty I witness in my life and the interesting people who I meet. By sharing those stories, I want to help make my community a better place.”
Her inspiration for making a difference in her community came from two sources: Chip and Joanna Gaines’s show Fixer Upper on HGTV and her personal spirituality. She says, “I loved watching how the Gaines would fix up houses and in the process transform the town of Waco, Texas. Having never visited the actual town, as a viewer of Fixer Upper, I can tell you where to grab a cup of coffee or where to stay in town for a vacation. The Gaines have built an empire from their show that includes a bakery, a magazine, and a home furnishing store. But along the way, they also helped promote their friends and neighbors so that they’d be successful too.”
At first, when Jennifer was circling around the idea of how to help her community, she did dabble in interior design. Unfortunately, she says it didn’t stick. “I saw the writing on the wall and my interior design business just wasn’t going anywhere.” Being the spiritual person that she is, though, it wasn’t hard for her to walk away. Later on, she says she was chatting with her husband and a friend of theirs who is a food blogger. She mentioned that she thought she might pen a blog. “My husband Chris really got excited about me starting this blog. I thought, wow, if he’s seeing value in this then maybe I am on to something.” So she started writing and between December 2015 and March 2016, she had written 25 articles.
What happened next for Jennifer was another sign that writing was her calling. It was weeks before she had officially launched Jennifer The Beholder and on a whim, she decided to email The Washington Ballet about a curiosity she had had for years. Jennifer wanted to know why The Washington Ballet includes a cherry blossom fairy in its annual Nutcracker performance rather than a sugar plum fairy. “I decided to email them and ask. I never imagined that I would get an answer, and that if I did it would be an intern who replied.” Instead, Septime Webre, who was at that time the Artistic Director and choreographer for the Washington Ballet replied to her. He suggested that they do a phone interview. Jennifer took him up on it and she admits, “I was sweating through the entire interview, but after that, I figured, it can only get easier.”
Reflecting on her work as a writer, Jennifer says, “I can say that this is the most fun I’ve ever had in a professional capacity.” While Jennifer’s former creative outlets like interior design and sewing have come to a close for her professionally, her writing continues to pour from her. Right now she is working on a children’s book called Are You a Baby Reindeer? which was inspired by Jennifer’s real life dog. While Jennifer would love to work directly with a publisher, she wants to retain creative control over the copy and the accompanying illustrations. “It’s a story about animals so I really need a good illustrator who can render animals. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the illustrator’s artwork is their livelihood and it’s a legitimate amount of money for their service.” In the year ahead, Jennifer hopes to secure an illustrator and move forward with the publication of AYABR as well as to continue to interview interesting people for Jennifer the Beholder. Whatever the vehicle though, it seems that writing will be Jennifer’s way of making a difference in the world, reflecting on life and sharing her insights and humor. Jennifer the Beholder can be found online at: https://jenniferthebeholder.com
Interview by Jessica Monte