Category Archives: Writing

Something is going to happen.

This is an excerpt from my NaNoWriMo novel this year, and “coincidentally” also basically what I was meditating on in May when I was getting ready to go to the farm up in Burnsville with Joanna for the first time and when I was arriving there the voice was very strong.  Here it is:

Artemis sighed and walked out the door alone to go re-scout tent sites, and prayed that Rory would get there soon. She ended up taking a little hike down to the creek where she sat on a rock to think for the first time since her Greyhound bus ride three days before.

Something is going to happen, she felt the voice speak over her like the friendly hug of a warm blanket. Something is going to happen and you need to take this moment now to let go and let it happen.

You think you’ve been living in freedom these past three years just because you’ve broken out of your conservative Christian community and angsty home and been off in the world traveling. And in a way, you have come a really long way. But that wasn’t freedom; that was only the prelude to what is ahead.

In the travels you oftentimes thought that you were finding answers when really you were finding more bondage, just of a different sort. Again and again you’ve had to rethink so many of your conclusions about how the world works because you thought you had it right and it turns out you were wrong again.

The last time this happened, it humbled you beyond everything. You realize now you are not invincible or unbreakable in any regard. You realize now that you can’t just be hedonistic about your life, you need to live as if you will watch everybody you have ever loved die tomorrow and all you will be able to think about is that the last conversation you had with them you snubbed them and now they will never know how much you actually loved them because you never told them.

But now you’re here. And you’ve think you’ve learned all the lessons you needed to but you haven’t; you’re about to learn the biggest one of all; you’re about to break through to a whole new level. And even THEN you will think you are done but you won’t be.

“I’m going to be horribly confused for the rest of my life??” she asked.

You don’t have to think about it as horrible or really even confusing. But, in essence, yes. That’s why I need you to let go. Because you need to let things happen. Big things, in small things. And… you don’t need to know why, and it would be best not to pretend you know why, but you may do as you wish.

Artemis sat there in silence, staring unblinking at a neverending ripple in the current but seeing nothing, thinking nothing but “What about…?” but never getting past that part of the question. She knew it wasn’t time for what-abouts. It was time to get up, walk back up to the main part of the property, and let the next few weeks happen to her.

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Posted by on November 6, 2012 in Faith, Fear, Transitions, Writing


What I Want to Write About

Wednesday or Thursday or something, I will be leaving for a week to go do a mini writing-retreat with a couple of friends.  I basically want to write about the farm.  And I basically want to save myself and my brain up for that.  I have some specific writing goals pertaining to that, but mostly I want to pick topics about the farm and do freewrites on all or a lot of them.

But I’ll share some thoughts on life with you first, so you aren’t completely in the dark as to “why Jessica suddenly stopped blogging.”  If you cared; which, really, it’s okay if you didn’t.  I write to write, and if people enjoy it, it’s just a bonus feature.

Last night as I was falling asleep, I had the singularly most ingenious thoughts of my entire existence.  However, I was so very tired that I would not get out of bed to jot them down.  Naturally, they have been forgotten.

Perhaps I could trace myself to them?

“Mornington Crescent” by Belle and Sebastian was and still is in my head.  I do marvel at how I associate this Sebastian not with the one at the farm, but with a lovely British fellow who stayed at the hostel and whose real name was Gavin; he was rather meek and shy-acting but had spiked prematurely gray hair and a nose ring; dressed very stylishly; worked as a window washer in London, and was quite the party animal…. was out clubbing when I was at my tango practica.

Then I ran into him in a couple of different places around the little sunny town of Ashland, Oregon, like the two-story bookstore with the coffee shop upstairs and the jungle-like courtyard in the back that I didn’t discover till the last day I was there…

Last night I had just put down The Witches by Roald Dahl…. let’s see.  I always read at night till I get tired and then put down the book and promptly fall asleep.  And I have to ask myself, why can’t adult literature be this good?  I haven’t liked reading something this much since… I don’t even know when.  I love all sorts of books, but this just beats them all.  Basically, I rest my case that kid stuff is just better, and I’m going to keep on singing Veggie Tales in the grocery store.  Don’t try to stop me.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, a list of topics I want to write about.  Let me know if I have forgotten anything or anybody.  It’s probably because there are several geese hanging around in the street and I keep watching them so that they don’t get run over…

dining rooms
bunk house
fire pit
The shack

The kids
Chase and Charlotte
red fire
red oak leaf
black seeded Simpson
seed trays
Jonstuff, even though he wasn’t really there…
salad spinners
Saffron and Andrea
Jonathan’s farm
that random freeloader chick
Cheddar Blossom
New Orleans
Nola markets
the Mississippi
Baton Rouge
Louisiana swift bus
Jazz and blues
cliche Nola/tourists
stupid Bourbon street
Daniel’s house
Mark and Shelley
Delaney and crew and house
the creek
pickup trucks
the van
Mr. Wobbles
movie nights
Super Bowl
Academy Awards
The Addam’s store
The Star
St. Francisville
The William’s Store
thrift store
hot house
harvest room
tool shed
water bottles
the view
golf course
plots A-G and Sometimes H
Mardi Gras
fire ants


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Posted by on May 14, 2011 in Life Pursuits, Travel, Writing


As the Writer Writes

There are four perceptions of writers.

1. They are masters of their art, continuously pumping out fantastic works of genius
2. They are looney recluses who should be avoided at all time, if you get a chance to before they go ahead and avoid you
3. They are awesomely quirky and eccentric; wearing their hair in messy buns, donning geeky glasses and fingerless gloves, and possibly smoking pipes
4. They are lazy bums who do nothing but sit at their computer all day moving their fingers as their butts get wider, never bothering to contribute something of worth to the world (the writers, not their butts)

The facts are, each of these stereotypes are quite real, in most senses. And, yes, all at once. Here is the key:

New friends believe stereotype #1:
New Friend: “What’cha doin’?”
Writer: “Just writing a book.”
New Friend: “What, really?? What kind of book?”
Writer: “A novel.”
New Friend: “That is SO COOL! Can I be in it?? Can I read it?? When are you going to PUBLISH IT????
New Friend: “I’ll bet it is amazing. This is so awesome.”
Writer: “Um.”

People who don’t know any writers believe stereotype #2:
Typically, these people are afraid of me and we do not carry on conversations. I also try as hard as I possibly can to affirm their stereotype. That is the extent of our interactions.

People who are very good friends of writers believe stereotype #3 (and will not stop, much to the ego enlargement of those writers):
Old, Dear Friend: “How is your novel coming?”
Writer: “Oh, it’s coming alright. I had a pretty good writing session last night.”
Old, Dear Friend: “Did you write by candlelight?”
Writer: “What? Oh, yes, definitely. Just one, solitary candle. I wrote with my quill pen till the candle had burned down to a mere pool of wax, and even then I kept writing a bit to finish my thoughts for the night, albeit my fingers were terrifyingly cramped and frigid.”
Old, Dear Friend: “Do you not have heating? Or can you not afford coal for the fire this time of the year?”
Writer: “Yes, I am afraid that coal is just too expensive for me; I am already living off of one meal a day of bread and cheese.”
Old, Dear Friend: “Oh, my dear! Here, have my red scarf, that will at least help warm you up a bit. And, there! You look like such an inspirational writer! I wish I was you.”
Writer: “Oh, thank you, my old, dear friend. I don’t know how I will ever repay you for a kind favor for a poor soul such as myself.”
Old, Dear Friend: “Think nothing of it! You live such a tragically romantic life…”

Last, but not least, the family and/or people whom you live with believe stereotype #4:
Writer sleeps late. Writer gets up and fixes coffee. Writer returns to bedroom. Writer emerges an hour later with an empty coffee mug. Writer makes an egg and cheese sandwich and returns to room. Writer emerges with empty plate… scratch that. Writer lets plates and cups pile up on desk and then on bookshelves when the desk is full. Perhaps this is Writer’s monthly Dish Day. Writer tries to sneak out all the dishes and wash them while People of the House are distracted. Succeeds 25% of the time; the other 75%, is ridiculed by People of the House until Writer retreats back to room. Writer emerges at about 4pm to fix some canned soup, which is eaten in room. Writer comes back out half an hour later and, taking laptop, goes down to local coffee joint to eat, drink, and sit in a dark corner and write. Writer returns; People of the House are busy watching television, so do not notice. People of the House offer Writer tea later. Writer accepts absentmindedly; Writer remembers the offer of tea at about 11pm, at which time Writer eats spaghetti at the dining room table while reading a book, and actually puts dishes in the dishwasher. Writer pours cold tea and then goes and drinks it while writing into the night. Repeat.

This is performed with various levels of questions and “constructive criticism” from the People of the House. Writer wonders why the argument, “what if I were a college student??” never works and only seems to anger the People of the House further.

But what does the Writer think of the Writer?

The Writer is intimidated by the Writer who is more accomplished.
The Writer gets higher self-esteem from the Writer who can’t write as well.

But as for the opinion of the Writer: she feels a little bit of all four stereotypes at the same time as well. The Writer feels like what she is writing is frivolously about everyone she has ever met and definitely worth publishing; like she is weird and reclusive; like she is quirky and writerly; like she is a bum. This is somewhat of her own accord, for sure, but 99% influenced by the people who believe in those stereotypes.

Other than that, she doesn’t really think much of herself, actually; more only on what she is doing. Is she producing the thing she intended to? Does it sound right? Is it entertaining? Will others like to read this? When they do like reading it, she wonders, will people like the next thing I write? Can I really write something as good as what I wrote before? What if it’s better? What if it is relatively the worst thing ever? Should I keep writing in this genre? Am I really telling the truth; do I really know what I am talking about?

Why do I like writing again???

And I leave you with that.


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Posted by on December 13, 2010 in Identity, Life Pursuits, Writing


Just call me Rip Van Winkle

So, dear readers, perhaps you are wondering what happened to the writer of this blog. Did she get consumed by a man-eating tiger while on a safari in India? Did she find El Dorado and promptly get kidnapped and put in some El Doradian dungeon? Did she fall into a sidewalk chalk picture with Mary Poppins? Did she get attacked by Twilight fangirls for declaring that Edward and Jacob were both ugly?

No, none of these valiant things occurred; at least, not in real life. Instead, she was writing a novel. Again.

Now, here is the lady herself:

Greetings, folks! It is I, Jess. I am alive and well. Like my announcer said in the paragraphs above, I have simply been writing a novel. You see, November is National Novel Writing Month, which is a challenge to write a 50,000-word novel within the thirty days. I participated in it last year (you can refer yourself back to my Backstory), and I felt compelled, naturally, to participate this year as well. The result at the end of four weeks? 51,720 words, 106 pages, of pure gold! And by gold, I mean… well, not gold.

NaNoWriMo was an interesting experience for me this year, on a number of levels. You see, last year, I had planned excessively for the novel I wrote. As in, I had already tried writing it multiple times in the years prior (before I knew about NaNoWriMo); and then, once I signed up for the retreat in Oregon, I basically spent August, September, and October making sure my outlines and character profiles were perfect. This resulted in me writing a despicably boring book, to me, because I knew everything that was going to happen, and all I had to do was write it out. No room left for the spontaneity of flying by the ‘pants of my seat’, going with wherever would be exciting to write.

This year, I concluded that it was a horribly bad idea to do that to myself again. I spent a total of maybe four or five days spread out over several weeks to come up with what I wanted in the novel, and basically left it at that. The only extra planning I did came in little spurts of ideas that I would quickly jot down in my notebook so I could move on with life.

But as I wrote I still felt like I had planned too much. I think this is because I felt like I had to stick with something; and that something was the little I had planned. I ended up beginning the novel with no inciting incident other than, “It was a dark and stormy night, so I decided to go on an adventure.” Wow, Jess. Epic storytelling abilities for the win.

What made it harder to write the novel was the fact that during three of NaNoWriMo’s four weeks, I was travelling the country and visiting friends. This, ladies and gentlemen, was not in the original NaNoWriMo plan; I made the decision to go a week before I peaced out of North Carolina. And this would have been fine, but for an introvert like me, it is extremely difficult to concentrate and be creative when there is bustle all around, and people you like being with are doing funny and distracting things… and, frankly, you would actually like to visit with them since that is what you came to do in the first place.

After the rough start of the first week, I was basically able to concentrate to some degree or another; and then I finally got into the flow of writing in the third week. This can be compared to running or swimming a long distance: the first couple of miles or first 500 yards are ridiculous and awful; and then you get in the flow, and you can just keep running or swimming forever, and it feels great. And, after spending so many days behind on my word count (and even coming down with a killer virus over Thanksgiving weekend), I finished a day early with almost an extra 2,000 words tacked on to the end.

That is certainly not to say it is The Great American Novel. It is more like The Great and Terrible Solid, Visual Form of Jessica’s Brain for the Month of November 2010. It is all over the place. It basically has no point. It’s dramatic, hilarious, irrelevant, rambling, improbable, nonsensical, and certainly Not Like It Was Supposed to Go. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. What matters is I DID IT.

This is my second time doing NaNoWriMo; technically, my third, since I also tried to do my own NaNoWriMo challenge in June. I did not make it to 50,000 words either of those times; in November, I made it to 47,000, and in June I made it to 43,000. So, this is the first time I have ever made it to 50,000 words in the required time. Needless to say, I feel extremely accomplished. I danced around the house for the next few days… and now, looking back, I want to dance again.

So, folks, that is what I have been up to in my absence! I hope you were even more productive than I.

Happy Winter, everyone!

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Posted by on December 7, 2010 in Life Pursuits, Writing


A Tip off the Natalie Goldberg Iceberg

It was a most tragic thing that I should second guess my life’s purpose the day before I left.  I therefore left behind the physical manifestations of my actual life’s purpose and took with me some other things that I sort of like, but aren’t ever worth taking when traveling around one’s country.

The day before yesterday I shipped those things back home; but I figured it was pointless to ask my family to ship to me, c/o my good friend Rachel, my books which I was originally going to take with me: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books, On the Road by Jack Kerouac, and most importantly, Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg.

These books were  meant to inspire my fiction and freewriting which I was planning on accomplishing during the month of November, 20 days of which I will be spending in the land known as “not in the comforts of my home where all of my writing resources always are no matter what.”  But, in case you missed the part where I thought for a bit that I would do something a little less pleasant but a little more useful than NaNoWriMo… I don’t have them with me, because it seemed silly.

And we all know the saddest part is that I am actually traveling with absolutely NO Natalie Goldberg along to inspire me.  I have to live off of my own whims.  I don’t even know how I’ve made it this far, or how I have 8,884 words in my NaNoWriMo novel right now.  There must be some miracle at work here.  And I can’t even find anything of hers online.  She needs a blog.  Just for me, a desperate woman stranded with nothing but a laptop and her own notebook full of mediocre writings.

For those of you who don’t know, Natalie Goldberg is basically the coolest person alive.  She writes, and then she writes about writing.  She’s a Zen Buddhist whose main focus is freewriting.  Freewriting, which Google Chrome says is not a real word, is when you just start writing and you write about whatever comes out.  Some friends thank me for slightly more illustratively renaming this process “word vomit.”  I should probably patent that term, but since I am poor, I’ll just hope that some kind people give me credit if they use the term themselves, and I’ll leave everyone to go about their normal lives and not worry about me showing up at their back screen doors with a pick axe and a rather resentful looking snarl across my lips, distant eyes spelling out an urge to mutilate anyone who has ever done me wrong.  Don’t worry.  Those same friends who praise my “word vomit” creation?  Yeah, those friends.  They will also inform you that I am much too nice to do anything even remotely close to even looking menacing and murderous.  So forget about it…. sigh…

In my desperation, I was able to find some of her quotes online… one of which just put me to shame: “Life is not orderly. No matter how we try to make life so, right in the middle of it we die, lose a leg, fall in love, drop a jar of applesauce.”  Okay, fine, Natalie Goldberg.  I get it.  Life can’t be perfect and I should keep writing anyway, whether you are here to help me or not!

But NOW I am all inspired by all these Natalie Goldberg quotes about writing.

“When you are present, the world is truly alive.”

“Sometimes when you think you are done, it is just the edge of beginning. Probably that’s why we decide we’re done. It’s getting too scary. We are touching down onto something real. It is beyond the point when you think you are done that often something strong comes out.”

“Talk when you talk, walk when you walk, and die when you die.”

“First thoughts have tremendous energy. The internal censor usually squelches them, so we live in the realm of second and third thoughts, thoughts on thought, twice and three times removed from the direct connection of the first fresh flash.”

“There is no security, no assurance that because we wrote something good two months ago, we will do it again. Actually, every time we begin, we wonder how we ever did it before.”

Quite so, Natalie Goldberg… quite so.  Please, keep being amazing – and I hope to meet you one day very soon!

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Posted by on November 6, 2010 in Books and Literature, Inspiration, Writing


The Letter Writing Desk

My official letter-writing area!  I have been wanting to do this for some time now.

Of course, it was much cleaner when I took this picture than it is now, though it is still fairly tidy, with a few additions.  On the far left you will see a small magazine collection which I steal appealing scraps from and then wastefully throw away… the little basket in front of it is full of said scraps from magazines past.  Or is it “passed”?  Whatever.  Anyway, you will also see a little thingy of gluesticks, which are to adhere said scraps to objects which I send through the mail.

On the direct right of the magazines is another container of more scraps, specifically non-magazine scraps.  And stickers.  Moving from the right of that, there is a pile of envelopes, a pile of cards, and a pile of stationary; then there are artistic utensils (the collection has grown to include many more mediums since I took this picture), and writing implements.  In the center is a letter I am writing to my friend Lizzie, as well as her letter to me I was responding to, and in the left corner of that, are two unanswered letters from Joanna and Ellie.
It’s really the simple things in life that I love, you can tell…
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Posted by on September 17, 2010 in Inspiration, Writing


Hostels, novel writing, and blueberry pie!

As some of you have probably gathered, my life has taken a little bit of a different turn since my last “Memoirs of a College Rebel” entry. Some was planned, some was most certainly not; all has been fantastic!
It all started on May 3rd when I kissed my family goodbye at 5 am. I was flying off to the other side of the country for the second time in my life. “I’ll only be gone for three weeks this time, not even a whole month!” I assured them.
My plans were to fly into Seattle on Monday, stay in the Green Tortoise Hostel for two nights with my friend Jane and spend some time with her; then take the train down to Portland, Oregon on Wednesday, stay with my friend Kina and spend time with her and some of our other unschooled friends who live in or near Portland; and THEN take the train down to Klamath Falls on Friday, stay in a motel for the night, taking a bus the next morning to Medford, where Blake, Cameron, and Aria – my fellow Homeschool Leadership Retreats staff – would pick me up and bring me to The Ashland Hostel, out of which we would be running the inaugural Homeschool Leadership Retreat for the next two weeks, starting Sunday. Then, on Monday the 24th, I would fly back to North Carolina – home sweet home – to figure out what I was going to do for the next few months.
However, during the retreat, some things changed. Actually, a lot of things changed.
The first thing was that I really fell in love with Ashland and did not like the idea of only staying there for two weeks; I also was beginning to feel like it was time for me to be away from home and figure out life on my own for a while. Those two feelings combined made for an official decision: I would stay in Ashland, somehow or another.
I began investigating (and praying about) how to do this during the retreat. I started by asking the lady from whom Blake was renting a room at the time. Unfortunately, she would not be able to rent to me till after June 18th; she would be going out of town and doing a house-swap with people who would be taking up the space she would rent out to me. So, I looked for somewhere to stay in the meantime. Laura, a very amazing mother of one of the very amazing campers, lived about five minutes away from downtown Ashland. However, I could not stay with them because they would have no space – Laura’s parents would be coming to stay the month of June with them.
Right about this time, Aria, the cook at HLR, told me that if I was looking for something to do for the summer, two of the three dishwashers at the summer camp she cooks at had dropped out, and the camp was looking for replacements. The job would start on June 26th.
At first, I hesitated. I wanted to stay in Ashland forever! But I quickly got over myself – had I not been pining about a month prior that I wish I had applied to summer camps to work at, but I had been too wishy-washy? (In fact: yes.) I shot the directors of the camp an e-mail, and not too long afterwards I had an application, and then an interview. Then it was all settled: summer camp, here I come!!
But what to do until the end of June? There would still be a month between the end of HLR and the beginning of the summer camp where I would be… homeless? It seemed unreasonable to fly home for a month and then fly on up to New York.
That was about the time my brain finally made some connections. During HLR, I had befriended a girl at the hostel named Stacy, who was doing a semester at Southern Oregon University and living at the hostel – doing a housekeeping work-trade for her room and use of the hostel amenities. I thought, “Okay, God – I will ask about arranging such a deal for myself. But if it doesn’t work out, I will take the hint and go back home and be content with my two weeks in Ashland.”
One afternoon I wandered into the hostel and to my delight the owner, Marilyn, was sitting at the front desk. I asked her if we could talk at some point, and she suggested that Right Now was a good time. With that, we sat on the couch and I made the proposal to her. Immediately she looked up into the heavens gratefully and exclaimed to me, “Isn’t it amazing how the universe just plunks these blessings right into your lap??”
With that, we shook hands and it was a deal. The Ashland Hostel would become my residence for the month following the retreat – a dream come true. It has been a desire of mine for quite some time to live in a hostel, and now I am doing it! It has certainly been an adventure: almost like an apprenticeship in hospitality in general; running a hostel specifically. I also now know how to fold fitted sheets so that when shelved you cannot tell the difference between them and the flat sheets.
But I am in Ashland for a month! What in the world am I doing while I am here?
Originally during HLR, I had made it a point to, perhaps, find an internship which I could carry out over the summer if staying in Ashland did happen. After asking around many different places, I finally narrowed it down to a promising veterinarian’s office. They suggested I send in a cover letter, which I did – my very first, which was quite an experience; I am so glad I did it.
After I turned it in, I would check back in person or over the phone every couple of days, and after a while began to get frustrated that nobody seemed to be making a decision or wanting to talk to me directly about creating an internship. Finally, on the Tuesday or Wednesday after the retreat, I was lusting in a used bookstore when my phone rang; it was the office manager calling to tell me they were not prepared to take on an intern at that time. (For anybody who ever gets an internship query – if this is the case, please let the person applying for the internship know ASAP, not a week and a half later, with no prior communication. They have a life, too, you know.)
I shrugged it off, knowing myself well enough to acknowledge that I would find things to keep myself busy soon enough. I was not expecting an epiphany as soon as that evening, but it happened: I had been so inspired by the town of Ashland, and specifically by a certain hotel a few blocks away which was rather old, creepy, and awesome-looking. Just a few days into HLR I had begun to brainstorm ideas for my next NaNoWriMo novel to write in November; but the inspiration kept flowing, and I couldn’t keep up with it. I would journal excitedly about all my plans, and then wish I had my journal with me when I went running and got even more ideas.
Then that evening it hit me: I have a month in Ashland. Why don’t I just write a novel now??
So, that is one thing I am doing to keep myself busy, along with obsessive reading of Natalie Goldberg’s writing books and much more journaling than I probably ever did in my life. I also began hanging out with the unschooler family I could not stay with, and I have enjoyed befriending them. Laura, the mom, is an excellent cook, especially when it comes to pie. We have been making pie, journaling, brainstorming blog entries, throwing birthday parties for her sweet 7-year-old Noah, getting ice cream, going on bike rides, having picnics, exploring the SOU library… and so many other wonderful things.
On Thursday, I will fly out to another adventure – summer camp in upstate New York! Life is sure amazing. I wonder what the future holds…
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Posted by on June 20, 2010 in Life Pursuits, Travel, Writing

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