Hey Jennifer, I am glad we will have the opportunity to chat for awhile. So, you spent your childhood in Virginia, teenage years in Idaho and now you are in Minnesota. How did those experiences frame the person you are today, and does each place of residence hold a particular impressionable memory for you?
Hello Bill! Thank you so much for the opportunity to talk with you, and for the great question! I’m new to Minnesota still and the only way that it has shaped me so far is that I now think that anything above 10 degrees is warm. Haha! But Virginia and Idaho are different stories, and hugely impactful on my life and poetry. I lived in each place for 13 years, believe it or not. My friends say I’m on “the thirteen year plan.” It’s kind of an essential and loaded topic for me, so I will try to be brief in my explanation. Forgive me if I’m a little long-winded!
The experiences I have had in each state were very different. I had a rough childhood, to put it mildly. Prior to going into foster care at age twelve, my life was about survival and trying to understand the darker and more complicated nature of “simple” things like love and family and truth and safety. None of these things were ever what they seemed or easy to define. Heavy topics for a young kid, but I’ve always been an abstract thinker. Luckily, I have also always known that I was going to be a writer, since age four, and that dream has saved my life more than once.
Now, if Virginia and my first thirteen years were about surviving and making sense of what was done to me, then Idaho was the exact opposite. Idaho and the next thirteen years was all about surviving and making sense of what I was doing to myself. Let’s just say that trying to figure out your identity when you’ve seen and experienced things that are truly horrible can be a difficult process. Thankfully, in this time my writing helped me to see that my experiences, though tragic, are also not uncommon. I began to share what I wrote with others in the hopes that my words can be a beacon on the other side of life’s oceans when the rocks seem in-traversable.
I would say the dichotomy of experience represented by Virginia and Idaho, and the resulting desire to help others find the salvation that writing has brought me, is a core part of who I am and what my work is about. Not all of it, for sure, I try not to be a one-trick-pony, but foundational for sure. So, as I said, good question! I hope my explanation wasn’t too long.
First of all, I am not one to shut down what someone is sharing…so do not worry about being too long-winded. Just don’t get me started. You can take naps, go the bathroom, fix a sandwich and I will still be going on about something. My brother-in-law and his wife foster-cared 3 young sisters and then worked through the myriad hassles of adopting the girls. When their half-brother was born, he became a foster child for this family and is on his way to adoption to be with his siblings and loving parents in Michigan. Are you in contact with your birth parents and what is that relationship like; have those foster care experiences been put to rest?
And gosh Jennie, your voice is so strong and focused. Back in the day, I would say, “I’m afraid of you!” How did you get through what you were doing to yourself besides the writing and are you now comfortable with your identity and who you are? And if so or if not, why? (And if I am getting too personal, just tell me to move on! I am cool with that.)
You’re not being too personal—no more personal than my poetry opens me up to be in the first place. If there’s one thing I’m not afraid of, it’s sharing my life with others. I honestly believe that the only way to get at the truth buried at the heart of a mess is to talk about it with others. Sharing our stories is the only way we can know that we are not alone. There are others out there like us, people who have survived what we are struggling with and came out better for the struggle.
It can be really hard to take in a whole family in foster care—mine was split up—so it’s great to hear that your brother-in-law was able to take them in, provide a loving home, and adopt. It’s a rarer story that it should be! I am still in regular contact with my birth family. My mom passed away, which was the catalyst for me going into foster care, but my dad is still my biggest fan. Luckily I was fostered with some distant relatives, so I was able to stay in contact more than most.
How I got through the “identity crisis” phase was actually pretty simple. Faith was a part of it, eventually, but it was mostly writing—the act of writing, and the vision of “being a writer.” I could see a future for myself. No matter how dark it got, how lost I felt, when I looked ahead there was always that vision to be a light. Sometimes it was the only light, but it has been there my whole life and it wouldn’t go away. I had to keep moving and keep writing if I ever wanted to achieve it, and eventually moving in the direction of that vision forced me to make healthy decisions in order to get there.
I am comfortable and confident in who I am now. Getting through to that point was a lot of bull-headed ambition more than anything else I think. I had my sights set on what I wanted to be, and I was just ambitious enough to think that if I made the right decisions I would get there. And it’s working. I think I still have a lot of that ambition in me most days. Perhaps that’s a character flaw? I’m not sure. I like to think that I’m just “driven”.
Being “driven” is cool; and ambition, I think, keeps us going even when it is just easier to toss in the towel and walk away from a challenge. But, here’s the deal. Writing helped you find your path, and faith supplemented or complemented that. What do you say to the young person or adult who doesn’t write (or feels that s/he can’t) and there is a feeling of hopelessness and absence of faith, if faith means hope? And when you say faith, is that a religious concept or belief in one’s abilities, or what?
For me, faith is religious. There are only two people in life that never leave, even for ten minutes: yourself and God. And both can be difficult to understand. But I think that faith is a dynamic concept, different for everyone. Someone once said that “Faith is seeing light with your heart when all your eyes see is darkness.” I think that’s closer to what faith really is than a lot of things.
To the person who is struggling and doesn’t write, I’d say that it’s less about writing itself and more about choosing or creating a vision for your life. Whatever your dream is, whatever you love, run after it. Hold it before you like a lantern in the night and let it guide you. That’s where dreams connect with faith. You have to have faith that if you have only one vision, one dream, one tiny lantern in a sea of darkness—faith that pursuing it will take you somewhere better. Most of the time, it does. And when you have that light to follow, share it with others whose light may not be as bright. That’s the most rewarding part of all.
And my dear Jennie, what is your dream? How do you share it with others at this point in time? How do you express your religious connections and I am not necessarily referring to the “I go to church every Sunday” response as much as I am seeking how the day to day actual manifestation of one’s belief system happens for others around you?
My dream? Well, my dream is pretty simple. I just want to keep writing, and to be able to share that experience with more people. I dream of putting out a book someday too. I have a lot of little dreams: live in one city for ten years. Open a coffee shop. Get a PhD. Own a house. Get married. And there is progress in achieving all of them—the opportunity to be published in aaduna being top on my list right now!
I think that I share my dreams in the same way that I express my faith. I just try to help others as best as I can, and I try not to let the trials and tribulations of everyday life affect my inner joy. I’ve noticed that the more you choose to be happy, the happier you feel, and the happier you are, the more you show it when you relate to other people. And when you allow your joy and happiness to come through in your interactions with others, especially when things are tough, life is stressful, and most are giving in to pessimism and complaining, the more it rubs off on people. They see your joy, know your struggles, and think maybe everything will be okay.
It’s a small thing, just a choice to be open and positive, but I have noticed that it seems to make a big difference in people’s lives. For example, I work in a very high-stress environment. A lot of my coworkers and their leaders get really stressed out and negative. Rather than letting myself get pulled into that, I just keep myself focused and make a decision to be positive. I’ve been told multiple times that people appreciate my positive attitude in the work place, and that it makes a difference.
For me, that’s expressing my faith because the joy I have comes from the Lord. Life has been tough. Sometimes the Lord and I don’t get along so well because I get angry about it, and that’s okay. He’s big enough to take my tears and my yelling when I need to. The point is that he knew that all I needed to find the strength within myself to overcome was the right vision, a couple well-places teachers to reinforce it, and a little bit of talent to back it up. Not to mention that he has sent me a lot of blessings along the way, especially in the last ten years.
What type of work do you do? It’s extremely positive that you bring a joyful spirit to your work environment and maintain that soulfulness in all that you do. And also, that you consciously empower your faith in real ways that can affect people. That’s cool. Wow, your little dreams are some folks’ big dreams. And I am sure one day, you will sit in your home, in front of your fireplace, and find this chat as you rummage through old memories. And a big grin will spread across your face as you strike a line through those little dreams, and the big one, all of them achieved! You shared a few things that you do to relax in your aaduna bio (i.e. fish, play Zelda) but give me an example of a typical fun weekend for you, you know from Friday after work through to Sunday night.
Thank you, Bill. I hope that you’re right about looking back and realizing that my dreams and goals have been accomplished. That day sure seems farther off some days than others! For my “day job”, I am an executive assistant at a hospital. I help keep a few senior directors scheduled with meetings, organized, and running smoothly. I also do quite a bit or project work for them due to my writing and computer skills. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t get good jobs with a writing degree! Our skill sets fit so many positions you really do have the pick of the litter.
When I get off work on Friday, a typical fun weekend for me can depend on the season sometimes. During the summer, we go fishing and do a lot of day hikes. We like to get away from the sounds of the highway and the city, out into the wilderness where we can just refocus our spirits and lose the distractions. During the colder months, I snowboard, play hockey, and I’m getting into fencing here soon.
And, not gonna lie, I do play a lot of Zelda games. I find it very cathartic, and inspirational. The Legend of Zelda is my weird quirk. All my friends will tell you that I’m obsessed, and they’re probably right. For example, I’ve been writing a trilogy of novels for the last eight years that takes place in the Zelda universe. It’s been a great arena in which to practice and experiment with different writing techniques and styles. I get immediate feedback from readers, and the books have gotten quite a fan following for being just a fan-fiction.
Your professional and leisure activities sound like wonderful experiences to give you a full and meaningful life. I know working in a health care setting basically means that any day is somewhat dissimilar from the day before and I suspect you thrive on that type of atmosphere. Your after-work activities tell me you like variety and challenge in your life and that you do not take anything for granted. Good for you…complete use of your skill sets! So, our chat is coming to an end, and wondered if you have any advice you want to share with our readership? After that, you get to play my silly, little “this or that” game.
Well, thank you. I do enjoy variety. There are just so many interesting things in the world and so little time! And I try not to take anything for granted. I remember what it was like not to have much, and I’m always grateful for what I have now.
If there was any advice I’d like to share with aaduna’s readership in light of the conversation that we’ve had, I think it would be this: don’t give up on your vision and don’t be afraid of the darkness. We all have our demons, and it’s easy to be afraid of them and run from them. When we do that, though, it allows those demons to run our lives. Facing my demons and conquering my fears has been my pathway to regaining control over my life. My best writing often comes from my darkest memories. I think that’s how it’s supposed to be.
How time flies when you are having fun! So as we get ready to bring closure to our conversation, you get to play “10 of this or that.” Without thinking or trying to figure out any hidden meaning, pick one thing over the other. Here you go:
[N.B. Ms. Wolfe’s answers are in red.]
Huckleberry Finn or Captain Ahab? Captain Ahab
Abridged or Unabridged? Unabridged
Blast Off or Splashdown? Blast off
Black Friday or Cyber Monday? Cyber Monday
Burrito or Enchilada? Burrito
Sugar or Flour? Sugar
Tupperware or Baggies? Tupperware
Fourth of July or Labor Day? Fourth of July
Horse or Camel? Horse
Tweety Bird or Woodstock? Woodstock
Thank you for all that you shared and continue to be who you are.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share! It has been wonderful talking with you. Hopefully we will get to do this again someday.
♦ ♦ ♦
When aaduna started, I did an interview process titled “E-Viewpoints” with contributors. The purpose was to construct a wider audience for aaduna writers and artists while providing our readership with a better understanding and glimpse of the individuals who penned the poetry, fiction, and non-fiction and created the diverse array of visual arts. For a variety of unplanned reasons, I took a hiatus from that initiative. But now, I am back with “Conversations.” The plan is to chat with current and previous contributors and delve into aspects of their background that you may find intriguing and uplifting. I hope you become a regular follower of this series of “Conversations” and continue to enjoy the work of the individual that I have a chat with. The intent is not to be “in your face” but enable you to savor the nuances, expectations, and challenges that aaduna contributors face as people, just like you and me. I think you will find “Conversations” interesting, maybe provocative, and enlightening. I hope so.