Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Steak and Potatoes | Writing Does That For Me

Friday, August 14th, 2015

in your heart

Every time that I write here these days, I feel like I am saying the same things. “I’m sorry.” “Will write more soon.” “It’s just that life is so hard, so demanding at times.”

But this is not always true.

“I’m back…for now…maybe.”

But this isn’t always true either.

This is what I hear in my head when I write here. But maybe I don’t say these things at all. It’s just that every time I come to write here, I feel these things. Every day, I feel these things about this blog and about writing here.

For five years, blogging has been like my other digital plant, the one I over-watered in the beginning, under-watered in the middle, and outright neglected and loved and neglected again in the end, or not the end but right now. Every day, this plant (since my blog is always metaphorical in my head) needs more watering. It needs to bear some fruit. The soil feels dry and the leaves are browning. But before they brown, I write something unplanned, usually like this. Or when I don’t write, I usually do something visual. I change a header. I change a font. I change something to make it easier to not feel guilty about what I am or am not doing with this plant that could grow but won’t grow because I don’t water or love on it nearly enough. But I still do water it some, love it some, still after all these years.

I once had a friend at my first professional job who took lunch breaks with me every day. We were just out of college and ambitious and overly confident in who we thought we were back then. So these lunches were always so serious, long (usually over two hours), and memorable. One lunch break, we were walking down 7th street in DC and talking about how people in our generation should learn to stick to things. “Yeah, exactly, if like they just committed to a job instead of looking for a new one every five seconds, they’d grow.” And “Yeah, exactly! Can you imagine what would happen if we changed…if people in our generation just paused and learned to enjoy and grow where they are right now?”

We both left that job five months later. Onward and upward.

The older I get, the more children I have, the more I try to make it a point, however, to do what I once said people like me should do more of.

I sit still. I focus on growing in one thing before moving on to my next thing. Motherhood is my thing that I’m sitting in right now. It’s a chair that demands so much that I’ve learned so much in sitting there, or here. I’ve learned to sit in all things, especially in my writings.

I used to be in such a rush to publish, publish, publish. Faster, faster, faster. Now, I take my time. I start an essay or article and unless I have a really good reason to leave, I stay there. I keep writing until I’m done.  Getting “done” is always hard for me because 9.8 times out of 10 , I have no idea what I think until I really start writing. Or usually I think I do know what I think. And then I’ll start writing and realize how much of what I think I think is usually not what I really think at all.

I think we all have these things in our head about why we do the things we do, why we think what we think.  We all tell ourselves different variations of our truths not because we mean to but because it’s far more easier to do so.

It’s far more easy to reflexively say when asked “I know who I am! I know what I believe!” It’s far more difficult not to do these things.

It’s far more difficult to come to terms with the idea that usually we don’t know why we do the things we do. Usually we don’t know what we believe until we really confront what we believe, learn to be critical of it, and then come to terms with what really remains after that. This kind of work is hard. This work comes with age. This work takes time.

But it’s worthwhile.

It’s worthwhile to be critical of yourself, to practice being a spectator of your thoughts and ideas and decide that rather than being “right” in your head, you just want to be close to “the truth,” or what really resonates in your heart.

Writing isn’t spiritual, or it isn’t intentionally that way for me. But sometimes I get there, or to my truths, through writing.

When writing, to get there, this is what I do: I write until I read what I’ve written and can breathe new air. That’s when I know I’m done.

And when I’m done, it’s like I’ve finished a meal of steak and potatoes. I don’t eat steak and potatoes. I mean, I have eaten a steak. And I have eaten potatoes. But never together in one meal have I eaten steak and potatoes. But when Americans talk about steak and potatoes they talk about getting full, feeling satisfied, wanting nothing more. I think. Right? Yes, for the sake of this post let’s assume that steak and potatoes does that for Americans. Well, when I write I get to the place when I’m really, really, really finished. But I don’t feel bloated in the way I imagine red meat and starch would do, so maybe that metaphor isn’t apt . When I really write what’s within, I feel most human, most myself.

Once I’m there, then I can use brain energy on new things.

I was stuck in an essay last week (or really for the past months). But I’m close to getting “there” with it.  I can smell the new air. And this is why I am writing this today.

So, until next time.


Love, Jessica ♥


Tell The Untold Story Inside You

Thursday, March 19th, 2015

maya quote

Every so often, I am asked how I decide what to “share” online, in my writings. Usually, the person asking this asks this because they have things they’d like to write about, talk about online. But they don’t write or talk about these things online or anywhere public out of fear over people knowing too much about their “personal” lives, their personal “selves.

“But I don’t share everything,” I often tell them.

Sometimes when I’m going through something in my life, I don’t write about. I just live it. And if there’s a story worth sharing, a story that needs to be shared, I’ll share it.

But sometimes I don’t write about some things. Things that may negatively impact others in my life? I don’t write those things. Things that I am not certain how I feel, things that I have feelings about but feelings that I know are premature? I don’t write those things. Things that may hurt someone or things that I know are written from a wrong place or with poorly conceived intentions. I don’t write those things.

But I do tell lots of stories in my writings, stories mostly about me because I think speaking out loud, writing things down is how I feel most real to myself. I think so much of our world is fake: fake food, fake hair, fake butts, fake smiles, everything can be faked but the truth.

So when I write, when I live I hope to “be” from that place. I hope, often, when I write things that feel uncomfortable or that hurt, that in living from a real place, others will come out from wherever they are and live there with me if not for forever then just for some moments. This doesn’t always happen. But it’s my hope to make human connections that mean something because at the end of the day, in spite of all that may be fake amongst us, we are still real. I hope we may never forget that.

Forget Yesterday. Wear What Feels Good Today.

Friday, February 13th, 2015


forget yesterday

Forget yesterday. It has already forgotten you. Don’t sweat tomorrow. You haven’t even met. Instead, open your eyes, and your heart to a truly precious gift; today.

I have been meaning to write here more often about how I writing more often. But I have not found the time to say these words. Or I have found the time, but so often I’ve been filling my time with ‘something’ else.

I’ve been filling it with new books.

Anna Quindlen is currently my cup of tea, so I’ve been drinking her slowly every afternoon while my children sleep.

I’ve been filling it with writing essays.

Essays are my new best friend, so we’ve been sharing deep secrets in any moments in between.

I’ve been filling it with exercising.

Barre workouts are my life line, so I do them often to remind my body to feel alive.

Then there’s this blog. This two-year old blog.

‘Where does it fit into all this?’ sometimes I wonder. If my life is a closet, this blog is currently on the floor.

The hangers are all occupied with other fabrics. ‘Is it time to throw you out?” I ask when I’ve picked it up from the floor and studied it more closely to see it’s worth to my today.

But then I’ll think of the history, of all the places it’s been worn, of all the potential for what it could be if only I got rid of something else, made room somewhere else, paired it with something else. Something new and bright, that would give it new life in my today.

Alas, I always keep it. I pick it off the floor. Remove any lint that may have gathered and wear it like it’s the first time I’ve worn it before. ‘It looks good on you’ some will say in seeing me. And ‘you really should wear that more often!’ I agree and in doing so I remember why I still hold on. I hold on because every time I wear it, it looks so good on me. It feels so good on me.

So when I’m done with using it, I delicately fold it into a square. There’s no room on a hanger, but there is on the shelf. I place it on a shelf and smile about keeping it for so long.

Talking About Police With My Daughter

Friday, December 5th, 2014


If you follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ then you probably already know that an essay of mine was published on The Washington Post on Wednesday. If you didn’t already know, that essay is about how I’m learning to talk to my four-year old about police. It wasn’t an easy essay to write. Whenever I write  about things I’m doing as a parent, I always feel terribly naked. Parenting is such a personal endeavor.  What we do with our children is such a personal and living process. To be a writer is to make our “personal” consumable for everyone else, however. When you do that, when you tell your story for an audience, you open yourself and story up their interpretation.  As a writer, there’s no greater agony than this. But there’s also no greater joy. There’s agony is living naked on paper. There’s joy in being able to hear your thoughts re-told by someone else, someone with their own story that will make them more inclined to  agree or not agree with what you’ve said. This is the power of writing.

So, here’s the essay. I hope you read it and share it and take something meaningful from it. Have a great weekend. Love, Jessica.

p.s. If you live in the DC/MD/VA area, you can also read my essay in the The Washington Post this Sunday. It will be in the Outlook section.

How I Made Room For Mother Writers In “The War of Art’

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014


war of art

If you are a writer. If you are a blogger. If you have a social media account, then you have likely heard of a book called “The War of Art” by Steven Pressenfield. If you’ve never read this book but have only read reviews of this book, then you likely have already been mentally trained to favor this book as THE BOOK that every REAL WRITER MUST READ to take their writing to the next level. I know I did.

So I wanted this book a year ago and I got this book a year ago on sale at my local library for $1 dollar. And I read it, took notes on it, but didn’t write about it because I didn’t want to speak prematurely about THE BOOK until I was sure I really felt what I thought I was feeling about THE BOOK. You know?

But it’s been almost a year since the bandwagon of talk about “The Book” has traveled upward and onward to new places. So now I am really sure what I was feeling about the book is what I feel about the book.

Now I can write this post and say, honestly, I liked THE BOOK.

I like this book.

I find Pressenfield’s personal story as a formerly failed screenwriter who courageously continued to “do the work” of being a writer to be inspiring and encouraging. You can almost feel him working through his own writer-demons with this book, proving with each written page that the “work” of which he speaks is possible.

I like the idea of Resistance, or the idea that we are all called to do something great. I like the idea that we are, however, most resistant to do those great things because we are afraid.  I like that and I believe that resistance as Pressenfield presents it is real. I believe that it’s ultimately resistance that makes artists not take their art seriously. It’s resistance, more than anything else, that makes a small life of comfort feel okay. It’s what makes it so hard for us to reach the finish line, not to quit.

This part, this part about resistance is my life story, so you can imagine how I felt in reading this. Likely like every writer, blogger, artist online who wrote about this book as being “their” story.

But then, something happened for me around the part where Pressenfield starts talking about what we need to do to defeat resistance.

“Go pro,” he says. This means showing up everyday and taking our pursuits and ourselves seriously.

And this is where that song by Carly Simon, “You’re so vain” started playing in my head. “I bet you think this book is about you,” I could hear this voice in my head saying as I tried to think about myself and my life and my sometimes not so serious pursuit of writing.

I am not a pro according to Pressenfield. I am not , in his estimation, serious enough about my craft. I accepted this in my first reading,  and I started to think that this book is not really about me. But I kept reading anyway. And in reading I formed some opinions which may or may not be fair about Pressenfield’s ideas about defeating resistance.

I didn’t like Presenfield’s idea that being pro, defeating resistance, means that pursuing one’s art must trump all other worldly constraints. I guess since I am a mother, too, this idea can’t be my truth. If it were I guess I would just take Mr. Pressenfield’s words and cry myself in a corner about how my wordly constraints, namely my children, figure far too prominently in my life. But I don’t think that would be productive.

I do think that art is best purposed by those with the ways and means to as Mr. Pressenfield does, rise early and go to the mountains for inspiration, returning only for the dinner his wife has kindly prepared.

Except that’s not my life.

It may be Tiger Wood’s life, Lance Armstrong’s life, or Arnold Schwarzenegger’s life (three male “heroes” referenced SO many times in this book), but it’s not my life. I doubt it’s anyone’s life, let alone any woman’s life, especially so if that woman happens to have children.

I do rise early. But I can’t leave my children to go to the mountains. Even if wanted to. And unfortunately, I don’t ever come home to dinner, since I’m usually the stand in for “the wife” that Pressenfield relies on to make that little detail of his life “work.”

There were other parts of the book that I didn’t get, like the religious and philosophical “trip” that happens at the end of the book, but mainly it was this part about where real life and art should meet that got to me and made me even think that, after a year, it’s worthy to write this review.

The message of The War of Art, it’s central message, is, I think, worthwhile. But in order to make the “whole” of his message work, at least if you’re a woman or 21st century man with children (particularly in a place like America in which parenting is articulated as a purely personal effort) ,’you must take it all with a grain of salt.

He’s not really talking to you, you can tell yourself. “This part of the song is not about you.” And that’s okay.

History is littered with stories, after all, of excluded groups reading “great texts” in spite of their exclusion from those texts.

You can take to heart Pressenfield’s talk of resistance and think about it when, for instance, you feel a tug to not submit a pitch letter. You can think about how fear and ego block you from pushing yourself more as an artist. But you should also remember, when reading books like this one, that your life need not fit into a paradigm of his ideal in order for you to “do your work” as a writer, painter, etc.

I think since I am the dreaded, waste of time “hobbyist” writer that Pressenfield writes against I can say this, too: The work of art and family can be balanced and in real life there are no highly or lowly pursuits. From our children to our novels, in real life it’s all meaningful work that we must do. I think like this because if I don’t I’d be sad about the impossibility about this possibility.

In my world, in my song, this balance is not as either-or as Pressenfield presents it. Again,  it is great and ideal that artists pursue their craft fully without distractions of family or society, but that is not possible for us all.

While I may not have been able to know this at 28, I know this now. I know, now, how to read “great” books and not hate them just because they aren’t written from my truths, my multiplicities as a woman, a writer, a woman writer, mother, a colored mother woman writer. Women, mothers, we need not reduce ourselves, I think, to one-dimensional versions of ourselves so that our art may ring purest. We can be multi-dimensional and still create and be artists and be wonderful. Is it harder to do this? Well, yes. But it’s not impossible.  And I would dare to say that it is that it is still possible in spite of the challenges that will always make it (with it being pursuing our “art”) feel more worthwhile.

Have you read The War of Art? If you are a woman who read this book, how did you make sense of the book’s heavily masculine leaning? Or did you no see it as having a heavily masculine bent? Really, I want hear your thoughts even if you disagree with me.