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.
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.