I miss writing.
Over the years, a handful of worthwhile endeavors have quietly stolen time away from my true passion; endeavors like creating a nonprofit and renovating a farm for my disabled son or necessary obligations like marketing and social media, or fun “let’s stretch Jess a bit” type of activities such as hosting a podcast, speaking engagements, or creating a documentary. Good endeavors, life-giving endeavors, but not THE endeavor that makes my heart sing. Not writing.
I resigned from teaching for the same reason. Teaching was a stable, worthwhile endeavor but not my endeavor and teaching left little time for writing. Life is full of complicated choices that involve either this or that and the choice must be made because otherwise neither this nor that can be done very well.
All I ever wanted to be was an author. As a young girl, I poured over Hemingway, Faulkner, and Graham Greene while my friends competed in sports and played spin the bottle. I was always a bit of a complicated soul who resonated with the likes of Sylvia Plath or Emily Dickinson; tormented writers, although my life was far too normal and suburban to be all that tormented.
Instead of living vicariously through small squares on Instagram, I lived vicariously through characters. Books provided an education to my naïve homeschooled life; an education about the world and human behavior including intimacy, sex, and desire. Yes, mom, I read smut by the light of the moon.
I penned my first poem at age 9 entitled When God Created the World and wrote Missy May, my first work of fiction, around 11. I KNEW they were brilliant, but no one else seemed all that impressed. In fact, my younger brother, the one who would become an attorney, he received most of the accolades when it came to writing, or intelligence, for that matter.
I didn’t care. The misguided affections simply lent credence to my theory that I was a tormented writer whom no one understood.
In 1999 I excitedly enrolled in college eager to enter the world of higher education which I was sure would affirm my talent, and again, no one had much to say about what I wrote. My professors often stated something to the effect of “There is so much potential here; however, you need to slow down and develop the content.”
Develop the content.
The Devil, most certainly, is in the details.
I am very much a “good enough” person. Good enough has gotten me far enough in many situations, and good enough was good enough at that stage of my life. I enjoyed the free time that the Bs allotted. I enjoyed not having to work so hard for A’s, and then there came a day when I had to give a speech.
My first speech ever.
It was called “All of my Heroes have Died,” a story of courage and valor, a story that retold the Columbine tragedy which had occurred only a few months prior. I read detailed notes as I clutched the podium, and then as I read the last sentence, I exhaled to calm my racing heart. I lifted my head and nervously looked out onto the room and met the gaze of approximately 20 faces and saw that most of them were wiping away tears.
And then I understood. Storytelling just might be my sweet spot.
That’s where I did enjoy the details.
That same year I showed up at an ex-boyfriend’s house and flung a bunch of poems at him – poems sharing the agony of my broken heart, poems like a bird stuck in a cage and chewed up gum under my shoe, overly dramatic hormonal ridiculousness. There’s no other way to describe it, but I do experience a smidgin of glee when I let my imagination run wild and allow myself to become a New York Times best-selling author. I imagine that maybe he still has those poems, and I wonder what he’d do if he realized that I had become famous. Or as famous as an author can be.
Another time I shared my poetry with a skeezy older guy I met at the gym, and the next day he asked if I was ok. I said then, (as I say now) yes, I’m fine. The thing is, I’m observant. Most of what I write is not about me. Most…
After college, I married Jason, a man I met at that gym, and we built our dream house for our dream life which included a third-story attic (my dream) where I would pen the great American novel, or so I thought. I occasionally sauntered up the stairs to put pen to paper, but then the birth of babies and special needs and brain cancer took over, and my manuscript gathered dust. I did write late into the evenings as I shared personal stories on my blog while my husband labored to breathe in the next room over.
Jason died in 2010, and a year later I packed up that dream house that had been built for a dream life that was no longer viable. I stuffed a pile of notebooks with half-written stories into a crate and began a new dream with my husband Ryan and our 7 children. I resumed a graduate program that I had begun years earlier, and on the last day, I handed in my final assignment; a paper that had become intimately intertwined with my own grief. Day after day I listened as the discussion dissected the hardships that many of the characters had endured; eerily familiar hardships like mine. I whispered an opinion a time or two but slowly let my voice fade when it faltered and then resigned to simply listening. For the final assignment, I wrote The Whiteman Road, one of the most deeply personal essays I’ve ever written, and the feedback I received agreed, “this paper is easily among the best, if not the best, in the class.” This admission made my heart soar, and I realized I still had words to write.
Our crew eventually moved to rural TN where I lived many of my stories and where I was asked to write my first real book Sunlight Burning at Midnight! I almost DIED of joy – a publisher wanted my story! That book was released, and I was asked to write another on blended life which I did in the middle of a global pandemic and then a poem went viral and reached millions of people, and that’s when I understood that not everyone was going to appreciate what I had to say. In fact, my truth might trigger responses in somewhere they would wish me dead. That was a hard lesson to learn. But my skin toughened up, as most skins do with scars that eventually heal, and I was asked to write another book, a book on marriage, but a nonsugar-coated book, which was just my specialty. My philosophy is “tell the truth or don’t waste your breath.” Nobody’s life is changed by reading sugar-coated spam, and if I agreed to write a marriage book, it would expose our scars. Healed over scars but deeply forgiven wounds, nevertheless.
I wrote that book, Lovin’ with Grit & Grace, and now we wait.
Ryan and I expectedly await your reaction.
And as we wait, I return to my first joy, my passion, writing.
These shall be called my Monday Musings, and they will arrive in your inbox weekly. They will hopefully be spirit led but sometimes the ego gets in the way too – that’s how it is with these human suits of ours. Some musings might be brilliant and some might be “good enough” but I hope they inspire you to lean into life, love deeply, be present, face hard things, make changes when necessary, and pursue joy above all else.
Just keep livin.