Category: Uncategorized

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.

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.