Authorhood

Hello again!

School is in full swing, the sky is September blue, it’s time for an update, and so I shall.

I have submitted four pieces of writing for publication since beginning the 100 Rejections Project. Well under the two-per-month hoped for, but four more than I’d ever submitted before. As of Friday, August 16th, I’ve received four rejections. Yes, I chose to submit to publications that were very unlikely to accept my work. Those first submissions were more like a signal to the universe that I wanted to try and that I had aspirations. OK universe, I sent the signal. Now it’s time to find some more likely homes for my work.

Well what do you know, I already made a home for some of my work! Right here! I haven’t shared any poems so far because a posted poem (even on a little-read blog) is considered published and can no longer be submitted. Ah, but you can post a draft. So that’s what I’ve done. Details below.

As usual, a variety of circumstances or events have thrown my equilibrium (if you’ve been reading this blog you may find it funny to see the word “my” and “equilibrium” in close proximity. I think I’m more like a game of Jenga. And sometimes the pieces fall. And if you know that the whole point is to enjoy playing, when the pieces fall you can throw your hands up in the air, make some kind of loud noise, gather the blocks back into order, and start again): there is publishing the book, there is the experience of playing music with and for others, there was summer break, and there are home repairs and (thankfully) paid work.

I’ve been playing music as much as I can and writing more songs. I’m going to share some of them on the blog. I know that wasn’t the plan. I don’t know if it is a distraction. But I do know that when I feel like doing something that isn’t so good for me (mindless iPad games, for example) if instead I allow myself to sit down at the piano, when that hour passes I am in a way better place. It’s a healthier way to deal with wanting to change your feelings.

Change your feelings? Why would you need to do that? Publishing an unplanned and very personal book about yourself and sharing it with everyone you know, in case you are considering this option, is emotionally a little rough. Terrifying might not be too strong a word.

But time has passed, two beautiful friends have arranged for me to read from my book in front of groups of people, that has been very encouraging and helped me to feel more peaceful about the whole thing. Many people have been encouraging. And now it is time to keep working.

“Find the comfort in the rhythm of commitment.” I wrote this down from my 2019 Danielle Laporte “Desire Map” Weekly Planner and it has lately been useful to me. I said I was going to write Stuffed so I’m going to finish it. It might take a while and I’m not going to turn off the faucet when a poem shows up and I’m going to play music and write songs and share those too. And there is (thankfully) my paid work and being a mom/wife/friend/sister/daughter. So as usual I will write when I can and I will try to keep the blocks balanced and not have to start again, as life and my own nature allow.

I’m writing an artist manifesto. I will share it when it is done. In the meantime, two passages from my manifesto notes:

May the accumulated wealth of our spirit continue to grow among us, so that each of us may enter, and be revived by, a vitality beyond his or her solitary powers.

— Lewis Hyde, The Gift

Not I, not any one else can travel that road for you,
You must travel it for yourself.
It is not far, it is within reach,
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born and did not know,
Perhaps it is everywhere on water and land.

Shoulder your duds dear son, and I will mine, and let us hasten forth,
Wonderful cities and free nations we shall fetch as we go.
If you tire, give me both burdens, and rest the chuff of your hand on my hip,
And in due time you shall repay the same service to me,
For after we start we never lie by again.

— Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself,” Leaves of Grass

I have read three amazing books lately. After I received the letter, in August, indicating that my two poems, while appreciated, had not yet found a home, I went to the library and checked out Red Bird by Mary Oliver which I read in one sitting and then twice more over the course of a week (it is a thin book of poetry, in case you are not familiar with Mary Oliver). Reading her words, I felt so un-alone and so much awe for the human spirit. While reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates I did not come to all of the same conclusions as Mr. Coates, but I found his writing to be beautiful and moving and challenging. I learned from and appreciated the stories he shared and I think it is a helpful, an important, book to read and consider dealing with race in America. It certainly expanded my perspective and I feel has changed my thinking and behavior. Several short sentences about writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg I think will change/has changed my life. If you aspire to write, to communicate, I think it is worth the two hours it will take to read. I also started reading Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman for the first time ever. I don’t know how this can be true, but it is. Something I loved:

TO A CERTAIN CANTATRICE

Here, take this gift,
I was reserving it for some hero, speaker, or general,
One who should serve the good old cause, the great idea, the progress and freedom of the race,
Some brave confronter of despots, some daring rebel;
But I see that what I was reserving belongs to you just as much as to any.

— Walt Whitman, “Inscriptions,” Leaves of Grass

Some “big news” is that the Adventures with Jenny Goodguts blog will soon be no more. What? How will you handle not getting a sporadic blog post from me whenever I feel like it?? Not to worry. I am moving the whole she-bang over to a soon-to-be newly designed site at jenniferhole.com. I’m torn about it. I love Jenny Goodguts. But functionally for me this will be better, and I think it will make it easier to share more frequently, easier to organize, more appealing to read, and so on. I don’t know. It is what I’m doing and it will be great. SO, I’ll be adding some poems to that site and they can be found here (there are two there now, somewhat randomly selected but one is related to The Stuffed Project).

I am also going to add new songs here. The song I have already shared (the Dear God song), as well as the mom opera which I am frankly embarrassed to mention, and the first ever video from five years ago are all up on that site. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you before. I was hoping you wouldn’t find them but they exist and they are, for the time being, still there.

That feels like enough updating for one day. I am committed to finding my way as an artiste. I feel that the universe is looking favorably upon my effort and that friends and ideas appear to help me on my way. At least I feel that way today.

It can strike me as insincere when some email blast from a smiling, perfectly coiffed blogista is signed “love,” but that’s how I feel so…

with love from my little desk,
Jennifer

A “brief” meditation

I have never known a world without Underoos. When I was born in late 1975 Underoos did not exist, but by the time I was old enough to say “mama I dropped my eggs” (reported to be my first sentence) or even something as simple as “I want,” superhero-themed underpants were being sold in grocery stores across America.

I imagine it, a world free from cartoon characters smiling or glowering from the surface of any product large enough to be so emblazoned. No Fred Flintstone on a box of cereal. No sultry tween, hands on her hips, pouting from the corner of a pair of cheap sunglasses. No plastic bits of crap that break immediately upon exposure to human flesh (TOA: Trash On Arrival) but were purchased because they happened to have a sticker of a Paw Patrol somewhere on their useless petrochemical body.

But such a world did once exist, and not so long ago. A world of solid colored, functional children’s underpants.

In 1977, it was calculated that children in the US wore out 250 million pairs of underwear each year. Sold at $2.25 a pair, this made for a $600 million dollar annual market. Wanting to increase their market share in children’s skivvies, the Union Underwear Company licensed the use of various comic-book characters. Images related to the characters were printed on underwear which was packaged as “Underoos” and sold for $4.79 per pair (more than double the going price for standard-issue drawers).

Philip Dougherty, in a column about advertising that he regularly wrote for the New York Times,discussed Underoos in 1978:

“There has never been a product like this before,” exclaimed Mr. [James W.] Johnston [Union’s marketing vice president], who noted that not only would it deliver higher profit margins than conservative underwear, but it would also react better to advertising and “for the first time add children’s influence to the purchasing decision…” Mr. Johnston … was later to say, “Advertising is not necessary to sell the product, because it’s a powerful product, but advertising is necessary to establish it as a permanent part of the children’s culture.”

Hey! That’s me he’s talking about! My culture!

Several years ago, after I had become a mom, I read the book The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, a story of the daughter of Jacob and Leah (from the Bible) that explores the traditions, and the brutality, of ancient womanhood. I remember a scene where the main character, Dinah, as a girl, sits in the lap of her aunt. As is common in the book there has been some kind of gory trauma that day. The aunt is brushing or braiding the girl’s hair to soothe her and singing songs that tell stories. The stories are about life, often using metaphor to explain the world and how to find meaning and what has value and what is beautiful. I remember being moved. I remember wondering, then, about the stories we use to teach children these same things in my world.

So back to Mr. Johnston’s quote, which I must acknowledge gives me a bit of a sick taste in my throat each time I read it, Underoos was a permanent part of my culture. So were Strawberry Shortcake and G.I. Joe and He-Man. All had TV shows that I guess were developed to sell products to me. I don’t know what came first, the characters and the shows or the plastic empire? Somebody made these things to sell them to my parents, via my brainwaves, my imagination, my myths, the ones that I would internalize as the stories of what had value, how we act, how we make decisions. My stories, the ones I spent the most time with, were thought up by people like this underwear guy who used advertising to make his product, his story, a permanent part of my culture.

I had a pair of Wonder Woman Underoos. I think my brother had Superman, maybe Spiderman too. Incredible Hulk? I don’t know, that kid loved to dress up like superheroes. In seeing the word, and trying to remember us at that age, all of my brain synapses in relation to the term “Underoos” are firing “happiness,” “joy,” “fun,” “love.”

Lewis Hyde discusses Underoos in his book The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World, noting that the company seeks to market not an improved product but an image, in particular images of superheroes. Hyde writes: 

“The profit depends on this formula: an innocent and imaginative child plus a parent with money plus an affectionate tie between the two. The people who marketed Underoos sold them in supermarkets rather than clothing stores because children more often accompany their mothers to the market and the whole promotional strategy would fall apart if this third thing, the bond between the parent and the child, was missing at the moment of the sale.”

In The Gift, Hyde defines a true gift as something very different from an exchange, it is not transactional. A gift is a movement of value, it is a transfer from have to need, and it has a liveliness to it, it is an offer of creative, life energy from one being to another and it flows in a circular way, giving when you have an abundance, receiving when you do not.

And the problem we begin to encounter with Underoos is that the marketers know that the relationship between a parent and child is an emotional bond. There is a life force and a willingness to give, to let energy and resource flow to a genuine, heartfelt desire. And then the marketer takes the emotional, imaginative life of the child, his desire to be strong and powerful, an age-old, beautiful, vital, vibrant part of being a child. And Underoos rolls that into a transaction. In Underoos we see the love, the gift urge, the imagination, recombined into a new dynamic.

In my experience, in the world we live in with cartoons on boxes of food, notebooks, shoes, crappy plastic rulers, this new dynamic often breeds a sort of horridness. Where, instead of gifts as defined by Hyde, we deal in transactions. And frequently in demands that are either met or not met. The innocence and imagination are still part of the equation, they still underpin the exchange, but there is such a weight of transactions in the life of my children. I imagine, from everything they have seen, from their lived experience, these products seem to be a rite of childhood, a given, an obligation. If I meet the demands, we lose. If I don’t meet the demands, we lose.

CHILD: Mom, can we get a box of Choco-Syrup-Stars? The one with the picture of iPhoneX Man on it?

MOM: Sweetheart, the picture has nothing to do with the taste of the cereal and those look really disgusting and also they are not food. There is not one food ingredient on the list. Look.

CHILD: But there are games on the back. You can help IPhoneX man find his missing charger and then there are instructions for how to take selfies and post them on a special site that will draw a phone right in your hand.

MOM: We’re not buying this cereal. We come to the grocery store to buy food. Not pictures of fake phones and a box full of corn syrup and glyphosate.

CHILD: When am I going to get a phone? Ella has a phone already. And she gets to eat this cereal. Her mom buys it.

MOM: I’m pretty sure we’ve gone over this before but I’m not Ella’s mom.

CHILD: We never get anything good. I wish I lived at Ella’s house.

(Mom silently pushes cart along, thinks about Caroline, mother to Laura Ingalls Wilder, thinks back to Underoos, shrugs).

More from The Gift:

But what is the fate of affection and imagination if, whenever we are drawn in their direction, we must pass a stranger collecting tolls?

Once goodwill has been separated from its vehicles, matter will increase without spirit. Objects will begin to appear that carry no social or spiritual feeling, though they are the products of human hands.

I hear friends say things like “Susie won’t wear [such-and-such].” But there was a world, not so long ago, where all these decisions weren’t up to Susie. There were functional things that a person needed and was provided with. Except for Nellie Olsen and we all know that she didn’t turn out well. A world full of trashy junk covered with stickers and logos, the one that needs Marie Kondo to help us all declutter, and that accepts the use of the word “clutter” as a way to remove us from the responsibility of all of the stuff we have somehow accumulated, it’s not the only path.

And it isn’t a satisfying path. It has taken what was love and imagination and it has created a transaction that almost always ends in dissatisfaction. Matter has increased. Spirit has diminished.

I’m curious about what it does to the relationships. The saying yes or the saying no. What it does to the experience of getting, of having, of valuing, of appreciating.

I’ve read about ads making us feel worse about ourselves. How marketers use the tension of our wanting to be or feel something different to get us to take some action. Occasionally the action taken leads to an improvement of some sort or a different feeling, at least momentarily. But often we are paying to feel the hopefulness in the gap between wanting and having, we are paying for the imagination of things being different. And then we have the thing in our hands and nothing is different and we still have to look at the thing, organize the thing, somewhat embarrassed to have spent the money and that it didn’t actually fix us by magic, life is still the same, and we’re determined to get some use out of this “matter” that is sucking the life force out of us.

In thinking about Underoos I’m wondering about the shift in our relationship to our things when this transactionality is introduced into what used to be a different kind of relationship. When the best parts of us, our love and our imagination are monetized. When what existed more in the space of a gift is intentionally manipulated to become a transaction, what is spiritually lost in that change? And does that have anything to do with how we feel about all of the things that surround us? Have they lost the energy to ‘spark joy’ because the transaction somehow depletes the life force, the goodwill has evaporated with the commodification of love and imagination?

I’m not going to come to any conclusions today. We loved our Underoos. We spent hours playing GI Joe, possibly with mixed psychological results. I probably have a screwed up body image but there are so many possible culprits, I don’t dare blame Barbie (or Three’s Company which we always watched after He-Man and GI Joe even though my mom doesn’t remember it that way).

It seems relevant to The Stuffed Project (one woman’s quest to reimagine our relationship to the material world) to consider the story of Underoos. To recognize the change that has occurred during my lifetime. To think about the nature of how a thing comes to be in your space, the intent behind it, by whom, and if that changes in any way your relationship to the thing. And if that changed relationship is in some way linked to less soul, more stuff. Just a lot of thoughts. Jotted down. Shared with you.


My first book, The Rise and Fall of Jenny Goodguts, is now available for purchase. You can learn more about my current work, including The Stuffed Project, or subscribe to the blog to get new posts directly in your inbox.

Lost and found

Dear readers,

A number of new folks (a proportionally significant number though in absolute terms not especially large) have joined our ranks in the past couple of weeks. My plan was to welcome them (welcome! I’m so glad you’re here!), to write something explaining how we do things around here. But, as an introduction, what follows is probably the most appropriate because this is how we do things around here — life, my life, seems to dictate that certain things be written at a certain time. Often abetted by a friend or reader, life shouts: today you must write this! I try to follow suit when life’s agenda becomes plain. So without further ado…

One year ago from tomorrow, June 25, 2018, it was a Monday. I had last worked on my novel on May 14 when it had reached 78,858 words. In the time between May 14 and June 25, I had written three blog posts that had felt significant to me: Eating and other problems, 365 days, and the beginning. I had taken a break from the novel to write these, I had been to my 20-year college reunion, I had spent a week in Vermont with my family, and I had completed some paid contract work, editing a technical document about sustainability in forestry. It had been a longer break from the novel than I had wanted, it was Monday morning, the kids were in camp, I was sitting at my desk which by that time had moved to its present location looking out at the ravine and all of the trees. I can’t remember what brought it about, but I had an idea, I knew how the novel would end.

Not how the story would end exactly. But I knew that the heroine would receive a gift, a gift that any reader of the book would know was not the kind of gift she would have chosen. A gift that wasn’t what she wanted. Not only different from what she would ask for, but something that if you asked her in advance “would you like to receive such-and-such a gift?” — she would definitely say “no. that is not something I would like.”

She was going to receive this gift. And she was going to feel content, feel love. Not because of what the gift was at all. But, maybe, because what the gift was didn’t really matter. Because in looking at life and how messy it is and can feel she thought, this is good, or this is life and I accept. What mattered was the giving and the givers and the life all around her and somehow between where I was at 78,858 words and wherever this book would end, which had originally been imagined at 80,000 words but certainly, on June 25 of 2018, felt like it would take many more words, somehow she was going to learn to be part of the flow of life.

I wrote a note to myself about the ending. It is still there, at the bottom of the only saved version of the novel that remains. I can open the document now and see the note. I could tell you exactly what it says. But thinking about doing that, about opening that document, and seeing again what is not there, is so uncomfortable.

Last night my friend was sharing a story about an outing she took with her parents and her kids to the Spy Museum. She was talking about the tendency of grandparents to want to purchase stuff — any kind of stuff — for their grandkids when I remembered a forgotten scene from the novel. The grandparents tell the mother (the heroine) that they are taking the children to the library but instead they go to the bookstore and let the children choose one book each to purchase. One child chooses something like Spiderman and the other something like a book about Barbie, or maybe about volcanoes. I can’t remember. And then there is a conversation afterwards between the heroine and her mother, a sort of funny and exasperated conversation. It wasn’t a great scene. It would probably have been cut in the end. But I can’t read it again. Remembering that, last night, I felt sad. I wished that I could read it again.

So there it was, Monday morning, June 25, 2018. I had the idea about the ending. I was so excited. I opened the file where I was writing the novel, I scrolled to the bottom to write notes about the idea. And as I was typing the note, and after I was finished, I kept waiting for the tally of the total number of words, the word count at the bottom of the screen, to update. To move above 30,006. And it kept not changing.

Have you ever been at an outdoor movie, you are sitting on a blanket talking to a friend, your child is playing on the playground a little ways away? There are a lot of people, there’s movement and commotion. You realize it has been about seven minutes and you haven’t seen your son, haven’t checked for him. Okay, you think, I’ll just make brief visual confirmation that he has not wandered off into the wide world and then continue my pleasant conversation. Your eyes scan, relaxed. But his yellow shirt is nowhere to be seen. It’s bright yellow though, should be easy to spot. And then, a feeling comes into your chest and even if he were standing right in front of you you probably wouldn’t see him because you aren’t looking anymore, you are panicking, you are thinking of all of the possibilities, your eyes are searching everywhere at once and nowhere carefully, and you can’t quite breathe and you stand up and walk quickly over to the playground. He must be here, he knows not to leave, but no… You feel totally desperate and then, eventually, after probably just 200 super uncomfortable seconds, you find him right outside of the fence pretending to sword fight with three other six-year-olds.

It was like that on that Monday morning.

But I didn’t find it. 

Most people reading this already know the story but, just in case, my novel was deleted, or at least 50,000 words of it. The version from May was gone. Unrecoverable. The only remaining version was from February. I thought the cloud was a treasure chest, a safety deposit box. It’s not.

What I understood, within days, was that I had not recognized what the novel meant to me. I had not understood how proud I was of what I was creating or how the act of focused creation was changing me. I hadn’t acknowledged this to myself, let alone to anyone else. I had not valued my work, not treasured it, not protected it. The loss taught me how much I cared. Maybe that I cared enough that I was ready to be vulnerable. Ready to say out loud that I wanted this and that I was going to do it, not on the side, not prioritizing everything else.

It’s been a year. Instead of a finished novel, I’ve published a different book, an unplanned book. I’m in a band now. I’m singing and I’m writing songs again. I started writing poetry in October. I’ve submitted several poems for publication and so far had no response, but I know it can take awhile, and I know I will keep trying. I have an idea for a new novel, or for a new direction for the old novel — and I’m really excited about the idea. I have new people in my life who talk about new things. I have old friends in my life who talk about new things, or help to remind me. I have opportunities for different kinds of work. I have people asking me to write for their blogs. I had someone invite me to speak at her bookclub, an acquaintance who heard about my book from someone other than me. I did a book reading over the weekend, reading my words aloud to a group of people who have supported me and encouraged me to keep going.

I was curious enough to be uncomfortable. I opened, just now, the file that holds what remains of the novel. I scrolled quickly down to the end, past the ghosts of all of those missing words. And now I’m going to share with you the note that I left for myself about the ending of the novel, the last words I jotted down, quickly, on Monday morning, June 25, 2018 before learning that the majority of the novel was gone:

It is totally broken, it is not what she wants, it comes together in a weird way from different unexpected sources, and it is magic and she feels love and that’s life – that’s the conclusion. She gets something that she didn’t want, from a weird unexpected source, there are conflicting emotions of joy and sadness and guilt and despair, and she feels love and connection and life.

I’m not where I planned to be. I didn’t want this gift. But this is life with its vast ocean of possibility, with its love and connection, if you choose to look for it, and I accept. With a thankful heart.


My first book, The Rise and Fall of Jenny Goodguts, is now available for purchase. You can learn more about my current work, including The Stuffed Project, or subscribe to the blog to get new posts directly in your inbox.

A letter to my first 35 readers

Dear Sarah Lu, Libby, Kelli, Mom, Robert, Jen G, Mahlette, Laura, and Leigh

Dear Amy, Dave, Dad, Gareth, Ms. Furse, Claire F, Patricia, Aunt Shirley, Colleen, Mari, Nina, Katrin, Martha, Lani, Claire M, Becky, Aunt Lynn, Jen T, Lina, Adam, Stacy, Sarah E, Jessica, Andy, Angie, and Joan

I’m writing because last weekend (on May 11), I published my book, The Rise and Fall of Jenny Goodguts. The dedication in the book reads as follows:

dedicated to the vast ocean of possibility
and to my first 35 readers,
thank you for the gift of your time, and for your encouragement

I wanted you to know that you are one of the people that I’m talking about, one of the 35 people to whom I dedicated my book.

In October of 2014, I went to Mexico to sea kayak with seven other women, five of whom I had never met before. I remember riding in the van on the way to the ocean I felt this tightness inside my chest. This wall inside blocking me from something. I wondered if it would ever melt, dissolve. I don’t know what happened on that trip. I spent a lot of time in the same wet clothes. I sang three songs with two old friends with cactuses in the background. We talked about life. We slept outside. We saw a sunrise. And when I came back to my real life, I wanted something to change. So I started a blog. I sent a few written thoughts, nothing fancy or special, to the women from the trip. They encouraged me, you encouraged me. Time passed, life happened, and I kept writing things down. Not many people read the words I wrote for the first couple of years, I didn’t share much of it. I thought I needed to find some way to start a business — I had to find some way to write words and share thoughts that would pay the bills. I couldn’t see a path and I was trying to bend myself to the world, to look at the way the world seems to work and figure out how to have everything I thought I was supposed to have via “doing what I love.”

When I started the second blog, Adventures with Jenny Goodguts, in April 2017, I picked up a few more readers, and I started to send every post automatically to subscribers. This automation meant that I didn’t have to consider, each time, whether any particular piece was something I felt comfortable sharing. Of course I didn’t feel comfortable. I never feel comfortable. I always wonder. Did the words that I put down, in that particular order, signify to those other souls / hearts / minds what I was hoping to signify? I can’t just take a tube and connect my heart directly to yours, so that you can know what is in there, words are one of the only ways to try to build a bridge, and the more you practice, maybe the more skilled you can get, but there are limits. And your understanding of one word, if it is different to mine, means that you will take something different away. And maybe my heart is silly anyway. Who is to say that if you could know exactly what is in it, even if I could convey it perfectly each time, maybe you would think that my heart is too privileged, too narrow, too open, too closed.

If there were no readers, I would not write. But one reader is enough. One heart that I can wave to — hi, I’m over here, are you over there? When I write, and imagine you reading, I am more honest than if you were not there. When I’m writing I don’t feel afraid. I’m reaching, in faith, believing that connection is possible. The fear comes when the writing part is finished.

I look around the world, at the Instaphotos and the plastic faces of the newscasters and the kinds of things people talk about on morning television (only when I am forced to while having my car windshield replaced). I see myself, I see people around me, living out these scripts, these heart-silencing, life-deadening scripts full of shoulds. Feeling bad because we aren’t enough and why can’t we be more like the pictures we see every day.

Screw the pictures.

You’re not a freaking picture.

You are a heart that needs filling and being spoken to.

I was listening to a song in my car. It doesn’t matter which song because I misunderstood the lyrics. The lyric that I thought I heard was:
Tame my flesh.

I immediately grabbed my phone to leave myself a voice memo.
Tame my flesh.

This was my problem. This is what I had done. This is what I thought I was supposed to do.

Don’t want what you want. Don’t listen to your body. Subjugate it to mind, to logic, to reason, to marketers, to fear. The body is the source of wrong-doing, of evil desire, for whatever: peanut butter, whiskey, a lazy Sunday, slow dancing, sunshine, an ocean breeze, being still, breathing.  

There are rules. There are ways we have to be. For safety, for security, for community. And this is true.

But where is the limit?

How tame do you have to be? How much of your essential nature are you willing to set aside? To turn off? And for what? And when you have children, and you are trying to help them learn how to be in this world, how much of their essential nature shall you ask them to set aside? What will you show them about what a heart is for? What parts of themselves will you ask them to turn off? Or will you allow the world to ask them to turn off? For what? 

I thought it was right to turn off my lights to “save the planet”. There were spreadsheets to make, meetings to organize, reports to be written. But turning off my lights won’t save the planet. The planet, the universe, God, they want the lights on. They need the lights on. Or else we’re all going to be sitting, most of us hungry, and a handful of us empty and rocking in our perfectly manicured Instalives.

I don’t have any answers. But I can feel a fire inside. In my body. In my hands as I type these words, in my fingers when I play music, coursing through me when I make music with other people. I can feel a hum and a buzz inside myself that tells me that the candle is lit. When my heart thinks about writing to your heart, I feel energy, like a beam pouring out from me, into life. Filling me. And when I’m filled, the energy runs over, out of me, maybe to you. Maybe not, and that’s okay too.

Your heart was open. It invited me in. And now I am a writer. My body sits at the keyboard and the universe connects to me through my hands. I listen. I learn. I share. I hope. I want to help. I want to love. I would not be here without you. I am so glad to be here.

Thank you.


My first book, The Rise and Fall of Jenny Goodguts, is now available for purchase. You can learn more about my current work, including The Stuffed Project, or subscribe to the blog to get new posts directly in your inbox.

It’s alive!! (aka, the book is here)

The culmination of four years, two blogs, a few songs, a blonde wig, a virtual farming habit, some spreadsheets, many things I said I would do and didn’t, some things I started and didn’t finish or lost, zero recipes, and many, many, many questions, I am delighted and terrified to announce the publication of my first book (an actual book, you can hold it in your hands, or eventually download it to your device): The Rise and Fall of Jenny Goodguts.

Initially I started compiling this book after I lost 50,000 words of my 80,000 word novel-to-be. It was a thing to finish, to have something real that I had made out in the world. But I think it turned out even better than I had imagined. I really love it, a handful of other people (admittedly who know me well) have loved it, and I think you might too.

A FEW RAQS (RARELY ASKED QUESTIONS)

What is this book about?
I’m glad you asked. Thank you. Here’s my letter to the reader.

Where can I get a copy?
Currently, paperback copies are available via Amazon. It will be available as an ebook shortly and through other merchants as soon as I can figure it all out.

WANT TO HELP?

Wow. I would surely appreciate that. There are a few ways you can help get this book to people who might enjoy it and support my ongoing work.*

1. Buy the book.

2. Share the book. If you enjoy it, tell someone, share your copy, buy someone a copy. Tag the book as #jennygoodguts on any social platform so I can follow along once I learn how.

3. Review the book. Currently I have no reviews. I did not send the book out in advance to a lot of people to write nice things. But if you have something nice to say, which is not a given, but certainly a hope, I would love for you to share your thoughts with strangers who might be looking for something to read.

4. Sign up to receive Letters and Lovesongs (working title), my sometimes weekly explorations of how to live authentically, occasional spreadsheets or games, hopefully a song or two with more regularity in the future. Letters come straight to your inbox and I treat your subscription like a gift — no spam, no ads, just my best effort to send you something that helps you to feel better about real life. (If you are subscribed to the blog, you already get this.)

Thank you, thank you, thank you to every living human who is reading or has read these many words that I type and send out into the unknown. It has been an amazing ride getting from there to here. As I’ve said before, I’m afraid to share my book, and proud to have finished it, and looking forward to learning more, sharing more, writing more, and hopefully helping more. From the deepest bottom of my heart, I appreciate all of the support and encouragement that has gotten me this far. I hope you enjoy the book. But if you don’t, it won’t be the last.

** My ongoing work is my right-brain revolution — the transition to becoming a full-time, working artiste.


My first book, The Rise and Fall of Jenny Goodguts, is now available for purchase. You can learn more about my current work, including The Stuffed Project, or subscribe to the blog to get new posts directly in your inbox.

The trouble with marrying an artiste

I was standing in my kitchen. It was a Friday or Saturday night. My husband and I were having a pre-dinner hangout while the kids were happily occupied. We were chatting, we were relaxed. I burped. It was loud. Deliberately loud. With gusto. And he made a joke. He was about to leave on a work trip to Colombia and he said something about Colombia being home to some of the most beautiful women on Earth. We laughed. I laughed. But it must have upset me, or made me think. I know it must have because I woke up early and wrote a poem about it the next morning. At first the poem was a little bit angry, and then, a few days later, it softened. I didn’t share it with anyone, it sat on the shelf. A few months passed and I read it again and thought it was good. I thought it was helpful and something that many people might identify with. I felt like I wanted to share it, but I wanted to know what my husband would think.

I walked in to the kitchen, paper in hand. It was a different Saturday, my husband had just come back from the store with the groceries he had bought to make dinner. We were going to have bratwurst while the kids watched a movie and I knew he was looking forward to relaxing, to having a drink together, to a night where there is no work in the morning, no focus on obligations, just some time to be companionable, together. I knew the timing wasn’t great, but he was about to leave for another trip out of town, and what other time was there? It wasn’t a weeknight discussion. So I walked in, hesitatingly, apologetically, and asked if I could read aloud a poem that I had written because I wanted to talk to him about it.

I think I can imagine the dread that coursed through his body when he heard these words from me. I felt bad, he felt bad, before the poem was even read. Please don’t ruin Bratwurst night we both pleaded silently before I began. But I read it. And I ruined Bratwurst night. Why do you have to write these things down, he asked. Because that’s what I do, I responded. That’s how I learn, that’s how I understand, I said. But I always sound like such a jerk. Not always, I offered but I did have to admit that it was more frequently when I had a negative feeling that he crept into my writing, or that for whatever reason I didn’t feel it necessary or appropriate to write about the good feelings, with regard to him.

As a writer what I like to do, or even need to do, is to examine life, to look at real life and wonder about it and try to represent it and understand it, for myself, and sometimes to share with others. He did not volunteer to be the public subject of my ponderings, he didn’t even know there was an artist inside me when he signed up for this gig. He married the left side of my brain and then the right side went and started a revolution. So what now?

For the record, I think the man I married is one of the most beautiful souls I have ever known. His exterior is rather handsome which initially confused me until I learned that the real beauty of his person is his kindness and his capacity for giving. Animals love this man, his quiet steadiness, his knowledge of all the best spots to scratch. I don’t know anyone who works harder than he does. Like everyone, he has his challenges, but even these, to hear him speak of them, to follow the thoughtful path of his logic, is so refreshing, such a pleasure. 

He helps me. In every way. He cooks healthy food for me, he digs holes for me so I can plant things, he risks his life to access our attic, he teaches our children to love nature and to listen for birdsong, he is so kind to my mother. When I told him I wanted to leave my job, right after we had signed our mortgage, I know he was nervous. But he agreed that I should. When I told him I wanted to stop earning money for a while, use our savings, retirement, to see about becoming a writer, he supported me.

I was standing in our kitchen, another Saturday, this was about a year ago. I had a different piece of paper in hand. It was a list I had written with my mom, about 20 years prior, in her handwriting. I can’t tell you what was on the list anymore. But as a summary, it was a kind of brainstorm of things I could do to become ‘realized’ as a person, habits to take on, things to learn, ways to get myself to a happy, productive version of me. I found it when going through an old folder and I read it and my stomach fell down lower than my feet. This list looked just like the list I was still writing. Nothing had changed in twenty years. I was still struggling with all of the same things. I wanted to do something and I wasn’t able to do it. I had failed to make anything real in the world, just a bunch of half-attempts that were never completed, always abandoned.

I brought the piece of paper into the kitchen. I showed it to Dave. What if I can never do it? I asked. I have been failing for 20 years to be different, to follow through, what if I can’t do it?

He looked at the piece of paper. He looked at me. Maybe you never will, he said. Maybe, sometimes, there are things you can’t change, some things you aren’t able to overcome. He hugged me.

It sounds like a hard thing to hear, but it was a brave, honest, loving thing to say. It was a real thing to say. And it changed everything. I ripped that paper up into a million pieces.

I will never look at this list again.

I will never write this list again.

I can.

I will.

***

I am publishing my book today. My first book.

That is what love can do for you. Real love.


My first book, The Rise and Fall of Jenny Goodguts, is now available for purchase. You can learn more about my current work, including The Stuffed Project, or subscribe to the blog to get new posts directly in your inbox.

Book one is done

Hello friends — happy springtime!!

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted and there is news to report:

A1 TOP PIECE OF NEWS: I have finished the book. Not the novel, but the other book (The Rise and Fall of Jenny Goodguts). It has a gorgeous cover that I will share any day now. I predict it will be available for purchase in two weeks. TWO WEEKS! First I have to review a proof copy, so it is possible that could slow things down a tiny bit, but not much. I feel terrified and excited and proud.

SECOND MOST EXCITING NEWS: I am in a band! We are discussing our name tonight. We have a two-hour show on April 24th at the Evening Star. Our first one. I’ll be performing music live for an audience for the first time since before the kids were born (and long before that). It feels amazing to make live music with other people. I’ve missed it so much.

Local wildlife report: There are two pairs of goldfinches sitting outside of my window right now, hanging out in the blooming dogwood. We also have a resident fox who sits on a log outside my window.

100 Rejections: I have received my first rejection (the first one within the scope of this project, that is). It was from The Sun, not The New Yorker. I am very glad they rejected the piece as now I have had the chance to significantly improve it. I haven’t submitted anything else recently because of trying to finish the book so I’m sitting at 4 total submissions, 1 rejection, no publication.

I’ve started a separate list to track the things I ask for where rejection is possible but that are not a submission of writing for publication. I sent a letter to the literary estate of E.B. White asking to include a quote of his in my book. And I also applied to join The Author’s Guild as an “Emerging Writer.” There was an actual application and you had to answer questions about your plans and publications. You pay a fee to join, so I imagine they are somewhat lenient in expectations in my particular category, but I got in! I’m officially, as of March 7, 2019, a member of The Authors Guild. I have a membership card and everything.

It’s official!

The Stuffed Project is still underway with numerous almost shareable thoughts particularly about Valentine’s Day and the various cultural practices by which we commemorate the births of our children.

Last thing for today, below is the conclusion or final chapter of the upcoming book:

The end of book the first

April 2, 2019

Four years ago I walked outside to buy a sandwich to eat at my desk in my windowless office. Not pregnant, I was wearing maternity pants although my son, my youngest child, was almost two years old. When I arrived back to my desk, I wrote a few paragraphs, my own thoughts that, for once, insisted on taking form.

Today, I’m sitting at home. I ate lunch, some reheated leftovers, hastily at my desk where I can see the buds on the dogwood outside of my window, almost ready to open. I’m wearing my hoody sweatshirt and sweatpants, the same ones depicted on the front cover of this book. The sun is shining.

Nothing has changed. 

I’m not a published author. I haven’t finished a novel. I haven’t figured out a master plan, I haven’t found a pot of money, I still feel scared every time I share my words.

Everything has changed. 

I have allowed space, I have listened, I have asked for help, I have studied, I have done what scares me anyway, I have sat uncomfortably and waited, I have practiced, and I have learned. 

Later this month I am singing, I have a two-hour show at a local bar with a band. We practice every week on Tuesdays after the kids are in bed. 

I’ve submitted my writing and received my first rejection. I am practicing every day. 

I’m trying to love the world that is. I’m trying not to hide.

I see that I was confused by the certificates. I thought I needed permission. I thought approval provided some guarantee.

This book, the one you are reading that is now at its end, was not the plan. Having read this far, you won’t be surprised to know that there wasn’t a plan. But compiling and publishing all of this introspection was not what I would have imagined as my first big splash (or tiny ripple) into the world of letters. 

If I had not lost (most of) the novel, things would be different. But I did lose it. And that led me to a sad but resolute place. And that led to a conversation with my husband about finishing things. And that led to a decision to finish something. And that led to telling a lot of people I was going to publish this book. And that led to revisiting all of these words, and considering them as a whole. And that led to a few minor revelations. And that led to more conversations and questions about why I had not yet taken action to share my writing in the usual ways. And that led to exploring the usual ways to share writing, and to submitting my work for publication, and to more writing, and reading, and waiting, and learning. I believe the novel will be better for all of this. I hope, one day, to say many useful things beautifully and with humor.

But now here I am, with a book all about myself, ready to share with any living human who decides to open the cover.

I can tell you, that’s a scary place to be. 

This is why people write novels. And fiction. And non-fiction about things other than themselves. This is why diaries are published when people are dead and why memoirs are told in hindsight, sharing what you want to share, rather than your often tortured and sometimes embarrassing inner thoughts.

But its done. This is what I have made, what I’ve finished. So now it is time to share it. Time to place my intention in the vast ocean of possibility and allow the universe to work through me.

And then I will be ready to make what is next.

Making promises, letting go

Hello readers. A quick update on the book: it is inching closer to life. The cover is looking like a real book cover for a real book. I purchased the ISBN numbers that will allow the book to be sold in a bookstore, if any bookseller should be so inclined (I’m planning to publish a paperback and ebook, and also to record as an audiobook, but that will come later). The interior layout is complete. Mostly now I just have to be brave. I’m sure there will be more final changes and decisions, especially since this is my first book. But it is getting there.

One reason I chose the word Finishing as my 2019 word was that, in reading through the past four years of my blog posts, I saw over and over the same ideas, or the same vague statements of intent regarding things I would do in the future, things I would write about. I started to make a complete list of everything I said I would do in the pages of the book that I have not yet done, or the things I started and didn’t finish. I looked at the list. It felt overwhelming. Not exciting. Heavy.

Time passed. And then I changed the plan. Now, I am going to list the things I said I would do that I am still committed to doing and I’m going to tell you what I said I would do that I’m not planning to do anymore. If you’ve been waiting for something I said I would do four years ago, let me know.

I’m trying to learn how to find the right balance of making promises and finishing what I start. This is a concept that I’m thinking about within The Stuffed Project. I’m not sure that a parenthetical mention of something I planned or hoped to write more about someday is a promise so much as it is an idea. Maybe what I’m doing here is clarifying my language so that I am clear on what is a promise and what is an idea, so that I don’t allow the quantity of the latter to keep me from following through on the former.

Things I said I would do that I am doing: Current Projects

The Stuffed Project

Related to what I called project:defrag in the book, I rolled out The Stuffed Project in December 2018. Right now it is mostly a group of letters written from me to various inanimate objects. I will make no commitments in terms of the content of these wonderings (though birthday party favors are likely to be addressed), but I am committed to this project and to putting the thoughts into the form of a book, when a book emerges from the thinking. My current working title is Stuffed: One woman’s odyssey to reimagine our relationship to the material world.

The 100 Rejections Project

The 100 Rejections Project is also underway and I’m sharing updates on the blog (4 submissions, 0 rejections, 0 accepted). Until October 2018, I had never submitted my writing for publication anywhere. I didn’t know how. I didn’t know where. And I was afraid. I don’t think I was afraid of rejection, exactly. I think I was afraid of being known (yes, I do see some inconsistency in light of the contents of my upcoming book), not sure if it was safe or okay or acceptable to share my words, or if anyone, that is, anyone who did not already care about me for other reasons, would take an interest in my thoughts. It does hurt or it can hurt to be rejected, but it is embarrassing to be known to be rejected. And even those aren’t quite the right words. I feel hesitant to put others in the position of knowing that I’ve been rejected and needing to say something to me about it. That specific uncomfortableness is something I have worked to avoid. 

I write to write. And I would love to share and I would love to be known to other writers, I would have loved to sit down with Ursula Le Guin. I would love to have corresponded with E.B. White. But if an editor sends me a note that my poem or essay or story isn’t for her at that time, I don’t know, it hasn’t happened yet, I’ll have to tell you later. But I feel good to be submitting. To be learning how to submit and where to submit. To be imagining sharing my words with more than my nearest and dearest. I believe that I will find some outlet, and I am curious enough, interested enough, and free enough—I am free—to try.

Things I said I would do that I could complete in a day or two, at some future point, not too distant 

Sawyer book

This is a book (something like an iMac photobook) about my soul mate Sawyer, the 14-year-old golden retriever who went to Doggie Heaven the year before my daughter was born, from whom, I believe, she received her copper hair (a spiritual, rather than biological inheritance). I have all of the text and photos, I will be buried with this book. I’ll let you have a look too, if you want. There’s a lot of love in that essay.

French food challenge 

I’ve written about this on the blog, maybe only once. It’s a game, of sorts, that we played with our kids that resulted in their willingness to try many new foods and to eat, without complaint, a number of others. It’s another spreadsheet, super basic, already made. It will take me 45 minutes to briefly describe and share. So I will.

Things I’ve made that are potentially useful and require additional thought to be most helpfully shared but that are not as exciting as other things I am doing right now but that I started so I should… (hmmm, I don’t like the word should)… I prefer not to use the word “promise” in relation to the following. But I am not crossing them off of the list.

Star chart

This is something I made that was fun and helpful and currently is not shared, in any form, anywhere. I don’t know whether I will improve or add to what is already written, the original system and notes, but I can take all of what I’ve done so far and share for folks to use.

Happy Atmosphere Challenge

Ah, here she is, buried at the back like a tiny footnote. What ever happened, you might have wondered, to the Happy Atmosphere Challenge? You can access the complete challenge via the blog (it is a list of activities, a scoresheet, and a rationale explaining the basis for the activities chosen). I implemented some of what I learned while writing it but I never followed through, all the way. I wrote it, but I never did it, and I hardly shared it. I learned a lot in putting it together (about motivation, about overwhelm), but I want to revisit, I need to modify it based on what I’ve learned in the interim, and then I would like to follow through.

Do More Good

Groan. Another promise? So…. many…. Yet I’m sure that this is an important part of what I want to share moving forward. I have mentioned it numerous times in the book, it warrants more explanation, I will provide one, in some form, at some point.

What I am not going to do 

aka, letting go (feels so good)

Climate change and snakes

I mentioned my intention to write this piece in my very first blog post four+ years ago. I also mention, later in the book, that a draft exists. If it did, it is long gone. Here’s the basic premise: scientists have found that one unexpected consequence of a changing climate is increased predation of ground-dwelling bird eggs. The culprit? “Active, hungry snakes.” For me, this alone was enough to fully ramp up my commitment to living off the grid. I feel that all of the environmental orgs and activists have their messaging all wrong. They should just show us lots of pictures of active, hungry snakes. That alone could drive sales of electric cars through the roof. Now you know. Check. Done.

Smoothie recipe

To make a smoothie, I use water (about 2 cups) because it is free, some chia seeds, about a tablespoon, that I try to soak in the water for at least five minutes, usually a banana, maybe three leaves of kale or sometimes some spinach which is sweeter. I add about two tablespoons of raw pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds, sometimes some raw cacao, or avocado if there is some that needs using up, then I add whatever kind of fruit I have. If I have something fresh that is close to going bad, I use that. If not, I use whatever is in my freezer and I try to keep that stocked. We do pick-your-own and freeze (I like a peach/blackberry combo) and I buy frozen fruit at Trader Joe’s. I fill the blender up all the way (leaving about an inch or so of air at the top), blend, add more water if I need to, and pour a quart of the resulting chunky, greenish sludge into a mason jar and drink a glass a day for about three days and then start again. Done.

Basic Training modules

Probably not. It’s possible, but the whole superhero terminology is not working for me so the exercises are likely to pop up somewhere, but not in this format.

What about the novel? And the songs?

I am committed to finishing the novel, and I know that I have more than one inside me. I am torn (pulled, uneasy) about starting another project, one that is not the novel, first.

Toni Morrison wrote Beloved as a single mother, waking up at 4 am, before taking care of kids, before work, to write the words. It is possible to fit a novel around other things, around life. Then again, there are always trade-offs and you have to decide which you are willing to make.

If I were still at 80,000 words I would finish the novel now. But I need to do something that gets my work out into the world of other people. I need to have an outlet for sharing something now and I need to have a map for myself to guide what that sharing is organized around. My hope is that I can launch the book, then turn my main focus to the two projects, and develop a rhythm and routine, and maybe some relationships or some kind of reputation, that will help create the conditions to allow concentrated time to move forward with the novel. 

Maybe you can tell that I don’t know what I’m saying exactly. I’m going to finish Stuffed, I’m going to submit my other writings, and I’m going to finish the novel. I’m just not sure about the order. I want to finish the Jenny Goodguts book first, and then I want to be open to life happening.

Someone advised me once that my writing is better than my songs. I don’t know if that is true. Maybe so far. I think they are two ways of doing the same thing and I love them both. I’m not giving up on the music part. I promise myself that.

Buoyancy

I was sitting with a friend, recounting our 2018 versions of The Holidays. He was describing a situation with his mother-in-law, setting the scene so I could understand, and he said something along the lines of: every year she asks this (same) question, and every year she gets this (same) answer, and then she’s upset and then things go downhill and we’re trying to fit so much in (and so on, you can likely substitute your own situation here)…

I was rude. In the middle of his sentence, I fumbled around for a pen and scribbled an urgent note to myself (he’s a writer, he understood).

I noted that January is the time to make holiday plans. Of course!

It seems that every year in December we smile (our eyes slightly twitching) and joke with each other: Have you gotten everything done yet? And we look forward to/complain about time spent with whichever holiday companions we may have. And we take solace knowing this time of year is difficult for everyone, fun, festive, difficult. That’s just how it is. We spend weeks or months preparing and we schedule or buy as much festivity as we can fit or (sort-of) afford.

Maybe we is not the right pronoun. Maybe it’s just me. It doesn’t seem like it, from the time I spend with others, from the conversations I have, from the advertisements I hear or receive in the mail. I feel surrounded by messaging telling me that I’m supposed to feel overspent (in all ways) at this time of year, that’s part of the tradition, it’s okay, we’re all in this together.

And November always creeps up on me and it’s too late. It’s too late to make a different plan, to change course. Because it isn’t just me. I’m connected to others and they are way more organized.

While my friend was talking about the things we do that are predictably difficult, and often unnecessary, or the things that are necessary but are adjustable, where I can behave differently and there might be a different outcome, or a different feeling in me or in those around me, I thought: why not spend some time, in January, to consider, to make some notes. To write a letter, draw a kind of map, thinking about what you loved, where you found light, where you shared light, and where you felt its absence. When did you laugh? When did you make someone smile? When did you feel peace or make peace and what were you doing and with who?

If things went seriously downhill on Christmas Eve because you needed to get some food into your kids before church and that caused some memorable unpleasantness, you could make a note: remember to plan time to eat accounting for Christmas Eve church schedule. If your husband gave himself a concussion or your sister had strep throat, or both at the same time, I guess you can’t really prepare for that, but you could make a note that nothing will go according to plan and there will always be more to do than you thought, encouraging yourself to let go of some expectations or plan less or do more earlier (no, not this). Or just write the words “leave space for life” and maybe that will help. Maybe it will.

Make the notes now, save the file, set a calendar reminder and read the notes in October. Before Thanksgiving. Before Black Friday. BEFORE you get this year’s version of last year’s email:

Date: Nov 30, 2018
Subject: Please send me Christmas idea

Note: Christmas idea does not refer to a soulful thought about peace on earth or goodwill toward men. It refers to an object, or possibly an experience (but usually an object), within a particular price range (price range determined based on the individual from whom the note comes). Christmas idea, in my case, refers to one idea per family member (myself, husband, two children) per requestee. Anyone who has requested Christmas idea signifies the need for a requisite return idea for members of that household. Additionally, a number of others who do not request idea but provide wrapped object also warrant their own Christmas idea and so it goes.

Thus, the tougher part of my brilliant plan involves some kind of discussion amongst those with whom you celebrate The Holidays. Yes, now it comes to talking about the gift part.

My beloved people, can we talk about the gift part? Acknowledging that elements of this can be fun and that I love my new sweater (the one I selected but did not pay for), I want to lovingly communicate that the parcel parade, in its current manifestation, is hard on my soul. I wonder if it is selfish of me to mention this, to raise the question. Maybe recognizing that your buying things — or experiences — and giving them to me (or my offspring) is something you like to do, I should connect to your heart, to your light, and appreciate the love behind the gesture.
I see that.
I do.

But if my daughter doesn’t want to be kissed, I teach her that she can tell you that. She can tell you what feels good to her and what feels not good to her. And you listen, because that is respect, that is connection. You care enough to listen and try to understand the kind of giving that makes her feel given to, considered, understood, and the kind that feels the opposite.

My dear family and family-like people, I think we love each other enough, we have known each other long enough, that I can listen to you and you can listen to me.

My soul and spirit feel good when you smile. When you wash the dishes after I have cooked something. When I make you laugh. When we make a puzzle together. When you listen to me or ask me questions about things you know that I care about. When you play with my children so that I can take a shower. When you do something silly, just because. When you turn on music in the kitchen.

My soul and spirit feel good when we help someone. When we make a plan together to do something caring for someone else. When I see you building a relationship with my kids, when I build a relationship with yours. When you teach Maggie how to knit. When you make me a breakfast sandwich. When you do the best you can. When we all pitch in.

The wrapping and unwrapping, the quantity of things and paper, the lesson to the children about what has meaning or where we find joy, the packing or shipping, the number of decisions, the more-than-enoughness of it all, exhausts me. It saddens me. There is less room for spirit. I try. I want to show you love and share it. But I am so tired with all of the thingness.

We don’t need more things.

We need more smiles. From you. To you. With you. From us. To others. To the world.

Can we celebrate light by sharing light? Can we share light where it is most needed? Can we do that together? Can we let go of the thing exchange, or change it?

Through our example, through what we emphasize, where we put our care, can we teach the children to value relationships and time spent with loved ones rather than emphasizing the brief thrill of another wrapped surprise? Another acquisition, another division of what is mine and not mine. What they need, for their happiness, for their spirit, is to learn how to find connection in the world — can we help them learn about finding joy in people rather than in cataloguing and comparing and protecting and admiring their stuff?

Maggie loves that donut pillow, she sleeps with it every night. And the Birmingham picture and sign, the garden seeds and the beeswax candles, and the sweater that I picked out for myself but would never have purchased on my own dime, these represent love and I feel it. So I don’t know what I’m asking exactly. We are fortunate to have people who care, people to spend time with.

I can’t seem to find a model that fits. I’m not looking for a day-off-work, get drunk at breakfast kind of day. I’m not looking for an all-pious, Jesus’s birthday kind of day. I’m not looking for a kale salad, experience-gifts-only where the depths of your creative thoughtfulness are the measure kind of day, that is exhausting too. I like our way. Sort of. But I don’t want to spend December shopping and wrapping, shipping and organizing. Is it okay for me to express that, to feel that?

My beautiful, emotional, sometimes dramatic family (and family-like people), we did just fine in 2018. If we had been sailing in four separate lifeboats, and for a few days the loads of all of those boats were tossed into one slightly larger boat, almost big enough for everyone, and the sea was rough but not so rough that it completely drowned anyone, in the midst of sogginess we worked together, finding places for everyone to sit (when they absolutely had to, but only then), sharing vests, raincoats, snacks, so that we all made it, and there was a little bit of laughter, or at least sometimes a feeling of rowing together, and the kids will remember it fondly.

But this year, before we all pile in together, maybe we could find a way to pack differently, pack less—so that our boat can float a bit higher, so there’s more space.

I’ve made my notes for next year. I’ll bring the puzzle.

Love,

Jennifer

This piece is part of The Stuffed Project: One woman’s quest to reimagine our relationship to the material world (working title). You can learn more about The Stuffed Project or subscribe to get updates in your inbox.

New year, same you (hooray!)

I will begin 2019 with a link to Emily McDowell’s toast to the old you on Instagram which echoes what I believe: you don’t need a new you—love the well-worn book you already are.

My children have been back in school for five hours and 38 minutes. So much to share, not quite enough time.

We will start with…

MAJOR UPDATES

First book coming soon! I am soon to (self)-publish my first book The Rise and Fall of Jenny Goodguts. Cover art is in final stages and I am hoping to be ready to launch by February 1 (stretch goal). I think it has turned out beautifully and I cannot wait to share this book with you.

100 Rejections: Still sitting at 2 submissions, 0 rejections.

Stuffed Project: Three posts written and shared. So far it seems like I’m on to something. A lot of comments and more sharing than usual (especially This little light of mine). Since beginning the project I have been observing all the times when objects are introduced into a perfectly amicable situation and—voila!—mayhem ensues (this is applicable to adults as well as children). I have been reading the book The Gift by Lewis Hyde. He distinguishes between a true gift and a transaction and this has been eye opening though I don’t yet have an articulate way of explaining what I mean. I’ll finish the book first.

Report card / promises / letting go: Over my four years of blogging, I have promised a number of things. In the near future (note, another promise) I will provide a report card on promises kept, commitments of future work, and changes in plan / the promises made that I am going to let myself off of the hook for (I don’t think you’ve been waiting for them all this time, but if you have, you can let me know).

My word for 2019: Finishing.

And now for 2018 in review

(Or, things I made in 2018 that I’m happy about and that you might like.)

Here we will walk down memory lane and take a look at major creative milestones, in reverse. I’m going to go back to 2017 because I have a number of new readers and I’ve never done this before so there is no 2017 round-up to look back to.

Dec 2018: Began The Stuffed Project, a theme I will explore and write about over some period of time, culminating in a book. Through this project I aim to develop: a joyful appreciation of the material world as reflected in my daily life; clear criteria for decision-making, to dispel exhaustion in the face of hundreds of daily decisions about the stuff I/we are managing; a way to consider obligations, including the obligation of organizing, acquiring, disposing of all the stuff, that restores time and energy for living. My approach is to bring some lightness and humor to the subject and think about it in new ways, not to get too heavy, or focus on harm and doom.

Dec 2018: Launched The 100 Rejections Project. While writing things and hiding them in obscure places on the internet is a very enjoyable and valid way to practice, sharing the things I’m writing more widely is something I feel ready to try. I don’t expect rejection, but at this point learning about submitting itself is a huge win for me, that is where I am in the learning process. I also do not have relationships or a reputation in the publishing world—yet—so that is something we build : ) Also, I like games so this way it is fun for me and also something I can share with you.

Dec 2018: Told a wise friend I was planning to finish my book (Rise and Fall) and then just “put it out in the world and see what happens.” She told me that is like saying you’re finished being pregnant at 8 months and she insisted that I have to come up with a plan to share it. She’s right (so I asked for her help and she said okay).

Dec 2018: Submitted an essay (my first) to The Sun.

Nov 2018: Commissioned cover art for The Rise and Fall of Jenny Goodguts (versus designing myself as had been the plan).

Oct 2018: Submitted my writing for publication for the first time as an adult. I sent one poem to The New Yorker. I think it is a good poem. I also wanted my first submission to be to The New Yorker. Probably because of E.B. White. If you have never read his essays, may I highly recommend One Man’s Meat or Essays of E.B. White.

Sep 2018: Enrolled in Seth Godin‘s The Bootstrapper’s Workshop with practically no forethought other than having read his daily blog for the past four years. Met a lot of interesting, thoughtful, supportive people who helped me to feel braver and more ready than I thought I was. Wrote a lot, learned a lot.

Jul – Nov 2018: Spent hours, days, reading my published and unpublished words from the past four years. Saw some patterns. Noted the number of things I kept saying I would do or write about someday. Noted that Stuffed, for example, was something I’ve written about writing about since November of 2014. Can’t decide if I never gave myself permission to do the writing, if I had other priorities at the time, or ??.

Jun 2018: Accidentally deleted 50,000 words of my 80,000-word novel draft. Not recoverable. Devastated. Shortly thereafter, notably while writing about it, was honest with myself about priorities, saw more clearly the importance to me of the work I had been doing. Thereupon decided to pursue the Rise and Fall book which I am so glad to have done. I did not know that Rise and Fall would take quite so much time as it has, but I’m glad I made the decision to put the time in and I’m proud to have followed through.

May 2018: Eating and other problems is incomplete but writing it was very important for me. This was when I felt (not thought, but felt in my body) that I have spent too long living in the story of how humans cause damage to the Earth and focusing on the details of the damage caused. I want to focus on how we love the Earth, how we love each other. This does not mean ignoring information and it doesn’t mean turning away from what is hard or scary. Love can be, is often, hard. But it feels different than fear, avoidance, or wishing. And it is active.

Mar 2018: Writing When Bono saved Easter also shifted my perspective on life. This one is a very appropriate New Year read and may help you to rethink the New Year, New You claptrap. Of everything in this 2018 review, I think reading this one may give you the most hope, or acceptance. I love this piece.

Jan 2018: I wrote my most popular piece of writing, to date, How to lose 10 pounds in 10 days. It is funny. But I will tell you a secret. The reason it has so many views is that a friend of mine has about 10,000 Facebook friends and she is a revered wit. She shared the piece saying it was “hilarious” and almost all of the views and comments came from her friends. As an emerging artist, this is tough because what it suggests to me is that my humorous writing is the most marketable thing I have going. And I love to write with humor. But not all the time. It’s tricky because people want to know what to expect. So, here’s what you can expect: I frequently write with humor, but sometimes I don’t.

And some notes on 2017

Nov 2017: Successfully extricated myself from annual post-Halloween sugar-fueled emotional slump. Blogging helped.

Oct 2017: Began writing my still incomplete, mostly deleted but not abandoned novel. This was an amazing experience (even considering the mishap). My writing improved, probably because I came to understand what it means to sit with your paper or your computer and listen and translate words that are not crafted only by your own mind, to be a conduit. I also learned that the act of sitting and writing, itself, is asking a question. The answer doesn’t necessarily come while you are writing but the act of writing down the words helps you to understand what the question is, where you don’t yet know something. And then, sometimes, an answer comes first thing in the morning, or in the shower, or washing the dishes, or driving and listening to the radio. I look forward to granting myself more time to do this.

Oct 2017: Posted a song I wrote while thinking about how to keep going when people you love are hurting and the world is feeling dark. I’ve written about 20 songs and this is the only one I’ve shared in this way and only in voice memo format. Also I was sick when I recorded it so in my opinion it is not my finest vocal work. I’d like to record this one and some of the others in a more listenable format and I’d like to do it in 2019. But right now it is an aspiration and not a plan or promise. This is #2 in terms of my most viewed post ever. So again, not sure what to draw from these small slices of data. Comedienne, songwriter, poet, hybrid? I’m still going for hybrid.

Sep 2017: Wrote How to find your life purpose and How to make any decision. I love both of these pieces and the first one marked a shift in my voice and style of writing.

Aug 2017: I wrote a lot around the time of the violence in Charlottesville but none of it is posted on the blog. Some of this writing made it into the book though, so you will be able to read it there. I did share one piece on the blog, I may be right, I may be crazy, that my dad (who is usually one of my biggest fans) did not care for. I think is a helpful read for someone who is aching to be creative but afraid. I think I was on the cusp of jumping towards writing more honestly and authentically but of course I didn’t know that yet.

Jun 2017: I wrote the Happy Atmosphere Challenge after President Trump announced the US would pull out of the Paris Agreement. It could use some refining and I have new thoughts about it in light of a year and a half of more thinking. It was an important exercise for me, I think it is a good read. Refining and sharing this in some way is one of the projects I am thinking about within the context of Finishing.

May 2017: Launched the Adventures with Jenny Goodguts blog. Wow — it hasn’t really been that long! I love the launch post Not holding out for a hero and the explanation about the origins of Jenny Goodguts, even if I’m not using the superhero terminology anymore.

April 2017: Found a lucky quarter—face up—in the Trader Joe’s parking lot. Made a spreadsheet. Life changed.

***

After writing, and rereading this post, I reflected a bit. I asked myself, do you think the work here is the best you can do? Is THIS how you want to be known to readers? And I smiled at myself, inside. Yes, I said. This IS the best I can do. Today. That day. And I did it. And I shared it. I don’t know what is the best I can ever do, if I get more time. If I stay healthy. But I’ve done this, and I’ve learned, and I’m learning. I’m practicing and I’m trying.

Thank you for reading and for your encouragement. Thank you for helping me to find my voice and share it. Thank you for bringing out the best in me.

In Adventures with Jenny Goodguts, I share progress and notes on a variety of experiments while trying to become a published author, reimagine my relationship to the material, and sing a lovesong to the world. I share about one post a week (historical overestimate). Subscribers occasionally get extra news and notes. You can subscribe here.