January 7, 2018
Oy. Prince, right? Apparently he recently visited another friend of mine in her dream and also encouraged her to be more creative, and why the hell WOULDN"T Prince spend the afterlife encouraging people? But still, the guitar? I'm 47. I'm a full-time writing professor and a full-time novelist (it's a good thing I don't do the math; also, please don't do the math). I have a 15-year-old son and a 47-year-old husband at home, and they're both a blast to hang out with. I've got the world's most amazing friends, whose time and attention I like to swim in like it's the warm blue sea. Not to mention, how self-indulgent is it to learn to play guitar when the world is on fire?
That last question is actually what made up my mind--that, and a list of five reasons to learn guitar that Nadine sent me--because I know that the hardest and best time to create is when life is the most difficult. I can spare an hour or so a week, ten minutes peppered here and there, to learn this guitar, and to maybe blog about it, and to maybe turn that blog series into a memoir. You're welcome to join me, to share your creative endeavors in the comments, and to offer unsolicited guitar-playing advice, starting with: I just pulled that guitar out for the first time in years to snap that photo. It's got a broken string. I don't know how to change broken guitar strings. I guess I'm gonna learn.
p.s. I just looked up the year my guitar was released. 1981. I would have been eleven, living in rural Minnesota. That was the year before Prince released 1999 and blew my small-town mind. Down the road, I'll tell you the crazy story of how I came to own that guitar. For now, let's just appreciate the man...
December 31, 2017
I was introduced to the Rule of 7 in 2002. It appeared in a textbook assigned to me when I took over an Introduction to Critical Thinking class. The Rule essentially goes like this: a person needs to hear new information seven times from seven different sources for it to stick. Internalizing this was a lifesaver. I was teaching in a rural college, where I encountered theses like, “Youth in Asia should be illegal,” “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” and where my students felt entitled to debate whether those in the LGBTQ community should be allowed to adopt children and declared themselves “not racist, but…”
I also taught many bright, open-hearted students. In fact, they were the majority, but those defiantly ignorant ones stuck with me. I’ve been reminded of them often in 2017 because it seems they’ve taken over the news waves, the White House, the country. And as much as I would like to steer (shove) the unkind and the willfully ignorant into seven different encounters with the truth so they would wake up, I know I can’t be the seven. I can only be the one.
The Rule of 7 reminds me of Aesop’s fable, “The Crow and the Pitcher” (and yeah, in middle school I nerded out on my Aesop’s fable collection, Grimm’s fairy tales, and Greek mythology; I still love them all). The tale is about a thirsty crow who finds a pitcher of water. She can’t reach the water through the narrow opening, the pitcher is too heavy to tip, and she’s about to die of thirst. That’s when she notices pebbles lying on the ground and gets a bright idea. She drops the pebbles in, one at a time, until the water is high enough for her to drink.
Those pebbles represent the truth, but we each have only one we can drop into the pitcher. We must speak up—we are being led by a madman and our democracy is in danger; sexism, racism, ableism, heterosexism, and ageism are real and immeasurably destructive; true change requires deep discomfort and hard work—and silence is no longer an option. The problem is compounded because this societal disruption is playing out for many of us on a personal level. I’ve experienced terrible rifts in my family this year. I want to fix everything, convince everyone we can do better, but in the end, I’m only one person, one experience, and I'm only allotted one pebble to toss into any person’s pitcher. They need to discover the other six somewhere else.
Realizing this makes me both melancholy and empowered, a mixed bag for sure. But I haven’t told you the best news yet, which is that, if you live the Rule of 7 when interacting with people whose worldview and choices make you sad, it frees up MOUNTAINS of time to create, live, march, love, and play. By the way, thank you to everyone who's tossed a pebble my way, and continues to share their pebbles. I need 'em.
Be the One in 2018.
p.s. Enough about dealing with them. Let’s talk about you and me, and how we’re gonna write a different story for 2018. Please leave a bit of joy—a photo of someone you love, glitter and sequins, a great sentence you read or wrote, a kindness you witnessed or heard about, favorite GIF, your guiding word for 2018, etc.--in the comments below. Any happiness posted here before January 7 will enter you to win, no strings attached, one of ten seats in my online, self-paced Rewrite Your Life class which shows you how to transform your life experiences into a healing, kick-ass novel.
p.s.s. If you need this online class but can’t afford it, email me (email@example.com) before January 7 to let me know. No details necessary. I trust you.
p.s.s.s. That awesome vintage image was created by Milo Winter and is in the Public Domain.
September 21, 2017
It's been a shit year.
There's the global political and environmental disasters, the ratcheted hate and fear, the never-ending news cycle of pain and unrest, but it recently became personal. Two weeks ago, I severed ties with three of my closest family members. They were making choices I couldn't abide, hurting people I love, including me. Probably unsurprisingly, this has increased stress in my home, and I've frozen my husband out for the past week. For only the second time in my life, I need sleeping pills because when I lay down, my brain whizzes around my skull like a flaming monkey. My rest is uneasy, filled with nightmares.
Except last night.
Last night, I dreamed that I discovered a cabin by a river. I recognized it as my own house, except it was messy. I found my kids in the front room, sleepy but happy, and so I traveled to the basement to research why I had let the place get so dirty. Two people who shall not be named tried to keep me from reaching a room at the rear of the basement, the one with the glowing light emanating from under the door, but I mind-asked, and the door opened. An old, wise Asian man (am I embarrassed that my subconscious' reference points are pure 1980s stereotypes? you bet I am) beckoned me in. He opened his arms and he held me while I wept.
"You can ask me one question," he said.
I knew exactly what it would be: "When will things get easy again?"
He didn't skip a beat. "You didn't think they were easy before," he said.
My alarm went off exactly then, my subconscious crashing into my conscious, leaving me no choice but to agree. I've had some particularly low points, including the suicide of my first husband, but here's the deal: if you had asked me at any point in my life if I was happy/it was easy, even the high points, I would have hesitated. I've always wanted more money, less belly fat, more travel, more time to write, more more more...I've always envisioned this moment in the gauzy future where things will be easy, I will be happy, and there will be balance.
My subconscious was very clear on this point: that moment doesn't exist. Or rather, it always is, and you recognize it or you don't. I know. To even be able to entertain this perspective is a privilege. A Syrian refugee, or a parent searching for a child in the rubble of the Mexico City earthquake, someone not sure where their next meal will come from, a teen dealing with depression, and billions more would switch places with me in a blink. Still, I don't think this message was meant only for me. I can't be the one only wasting the now by pining for a when.
After the dream, I had this Note from the Universe pop up in my email:
"In case you didn't know, you couldn't tell, or you haven't heard...
If you're reading this right now on a phone or computer, Jessica, you're rich.
If you have somewhere to go today, you're connected.
And if there is anyone, anywhere, who for any reason knows where you are at this moment, you’re loved.
Dang, you just keep acing time and space.
Can't argue with that.
Live in the now. Practice gratitude, be self-aware, laugh at any opportunity, ally with those fighting the good fight, and create art. It's not easy, but it is the point. At least that's what the guy in my basement told me.