Closer 

Did a bunch of doctory stuff this week and feel like I am getting closer to some answers about why I’ve been feeling so fatigued and achy. Might be fibromyalgia. I am overwhelmed. 

Getting closer on this draft.

Getting closer on some work stuff.

Getting closer on figuring out some new routines. 

Getting closer to a cleared to-do list and an empty inbox. 

… but days like today (full of sleep and aches) make everything close feel far. 

Objectivity, yes? 

Sorry if this post makes no sense. 

Fourth Quarter Comeback

I’ve been a bit quiet about progress on my goals for 2017.

As for my creative goals …

Finish Salt Novel.
Find the soul of Yes Novel.
Read a book a week.
Blog once a week.
Learn something new every day.

I’m actually on track to finish Salt Novel by the end of the year! It has been just an outright battle for me this year, and I will probably cross the finish line by collapsing on top of it. Short assignments and butt-in-seat. The only way I know to write a novel is to not stop until it looks like one.

I am exploring the soul of Yes Novel, which has been fun. I actually have a video series at home right now about Zero to Infinity, plus a book about math + Plato. If that sounds lame to you … well, it’s not. Ha!

I haven’t been able to keep up with a book each week, but I wouldn’t say I’m too far off from that. I’ve been trying to constantly be reading through something, but I just can’t seem to find more than 24 hours in a day, no matter how hard I search. Help?

I have blogged at least once a week!

Also, I’ve probably learned something new every day– but I haven’t been able to record it in my little Kate Spade journal the way I intended. That said, it’s been an awesome year of learning. Whenever someone has a difference experience from me, I try to ask questions. This year, I have become dear friends with a Muslim man and we’ve had such deep conversations about religion and culture. I’ve become friends with a BDSM Dom; lots more questions! I have a new friend from Scotland, a friend who has taught me about his experience of CP, friends in addiction recovery, friends who are homeless. I continue to learn about a variety of things from people all over the world via Quora. I’ve learned about scars, Portuguese, how to grow marigolds from seeds, the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, naming conventions, and a ton about antiques. I’m gonna call this one a win.

And my one word

Sacrifice.

To offer to God and friends and the marginalized something that costs me.

Am I inviting discomfort into my year? Well, yes.

Did I invite discomfort into my year? YOU BET I DID.

So. Quick disclaimer. I understand that as I talk about sacrifice here, there are two things I should address: 1) I’m in a position of privilege. I’m a single woman with two careers and a global network of dear friends who act as a safety net for me always; 2) I’m not writing about this to “toot my own horn”– I just want to talk honestly and briefly about my experience with this goal. I promise.

As I first posted back on January 4th:

But I do know that I have been given much. And I know that I am selfish and don’t want to be. There is a story in the Old Testament in which King David wants to build an altar to God on land that is not his. The man who own the land offers it to him for free, and not only that, but also the oxen for the offering as well as threshing sledges and yokes for the wood.

But the king said to Araunah, “No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing.”

This year, I set out to basically give until it hurts.

To give without expectations of repayment,

to give without needing to know how the money would be used (for example, I made the conscious decision to give, when I could, to people with signs at street corners– no questions asked, no hesitations. My job was and is to give– not to judge who is “worthy” of a gift. I tried to keep a Target  gift card in my car to make it simple. Or if someone was asking for money near a particular restaurant, to go to that restaurant for a gift card.),

and also– when I questioned, “Can I do this? Can I ‘afford’ this?” to say, “Yes” and try to give even more,

and when I absolutely could not meet the need, to use my time and connections to fund the need through my network of friends and family.

This has been the first year of my life where I haven’t been able to pay off my credit card every month (again, trust me, I know that is the reality for MANY people– I know I’ve had so much privilege in order to be able to do that!), but whenever I have gotten stressed about money, I remembered:

This was the goal. Give till it hurts. Give something that costs me. 

And then I’d experience joy. I had, after all, invited this discomfort into my year back on January 4th. This was what I was working toward. I feel like I’ve learned so much– not even things that I can necessarily put into words– although I will say that I have truly learned that I have the most incredible group of friends, family, and coworkers. I knew that before, but now I have empirical evidence.

So, that’s the update on my year as I head into the final quarter.

It’s been a wild, wonderful, hard, amazing, stressful, blessed year.

P.S. …

[I’m actually nervous to post this because I fear that maybe it’s been insensitive in some way. I promise that if I have been insensitive at all, it was done out of ignorance– and I welcome your correction, honestly. I know that I am in a pretty outstanding place where I even have the option to sacrifice. Some do not; there is just no margin. I also know that sacrifice can look like so many other things than giving financially. Those things were also on my mind this year– most specifically, sacrificing my time and also sacrificing my first choice (letting someone else choose the activity or event or what they’d like to do– on a very practical level, this has looked like this picky, picky eater trying new foods for the first time … and often loving them! Curry! Ecuadorian! Thai! haha). I talk more about this in an earlier blog post where I reflect on sacrifice looks like from a biblical perspective.]

The Magic of Saturn

Fifteen years ago, in college astronomy, I saw Saturn through a giant telescope. It looked like this: http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2016/01/04/12/2FC7F6CF00000578-3383727-The_picture_of_Saturn_taken_by_the_15_year_old_schoolboy_clearly-m-18_1451908993404.jpg

This teensy little yellow circle the size of a pencil eraser, with a little ring around it. And it was powerful for me actually. So powerful that, 10 years later, I included the experience in my debut novel.

So, just imagine the thrill I get from the Cassini images. Check out this NYT article: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/09/14/science/cassini-saturn-images.html

Stunning. Absolutely incredible.

Farewell, Cassini! Thank you!!!!

JACKIE LEA SOMMERS

baptism with website

What’s your favorite star-gazing memory? In college, I took astronomy and got to see Saturn through a powerful telescope. That experience worked its way into my novel. To learn more about Truest, click here.

Pin it:
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Click to tweet: How author @jackieleawrites’s favorite night of college astronomy worked its way into her novel #Truest https://wordpress.com/post/26594688/7199

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Untethered: Revisiting Solipsism Syndrome

Gorgeous Romantic Girl Outdoors,If you’ve read Truest, you know it deals with a (fairly rare) dissociative disorder that sometimes readers accuse me of making up. (I guess they don’t have Google.) Even though I myself have struggled with a form of it, it is still VERY rare for me to find anyone else who talks about it. I do have people who come to my blog and discuss their experience with it in the comments, but other than that, I don’t hear too much.

I have loved the band Counting Crows for some time, and they are mentioned in my WIP, and I’m dreadfully in love with Adam Duritz, the front man, who is a genius and whom I admire for his blatant discussion of mental illness. I had known that he has battled through things, but I never knew precisely what his struggle was. I guess I’d just never dug in deep enough because it wasn’t hard to find: he struggles with the same disorder that Laurel does and that I have. In fact, in this article, he and I/Laurel use the same type of descriptions!

Adam: “I have a form of dissociative disorder that makes the world seem like it’s not real, as if things aren’t taking place. It’s hard to explain, but you feel untethered.”

Laurel: “Gravity wasn’t working right. I felt like I was going to fly off into space.”

Adam: “And because nothing seems real, it’s hard to connect with the world or the people in it because they’re not there. You’re not there. That’s why I rarely saw my family back then: It’s hard to care when everything feels as if it’s taking place in your imagination. And if you’re distant with people … they eventually leave.

West/Laurel: “Laurel,” I said quietly but with force, “Silas is your real sibling. The only one you’ve got. And you’re pushing him away.”
“Yeah, sometimes I seem to know that,” she said, “but I can’t … can’t hold onto it.”

To read other things I have posted about solipsism syndrome, follow the tag.

Remembering 9/11

My second year of college, I lived in a suite with seven other girls whom I laughed with and fought with and loved.  That Tuesday morning, one of my quadmates Tracy and I had a class together, and I was getting annoyed because she was dawdling because she didn’t feel well and was probably going to make me late.

Another quadmate Megan, pre-med, had an early lab that morning and returned to our place, breathless as she reached for the remote.  She clicked on the news, saying, “A plane crashed into the World Trade Center!”

My first image was of some podunk, rogue new pilot who had accidentally somehow managed to bump into the building.

But the people on the news seemed serious, and Tracy sat down on the couch next to Megs to watch.  “We need to go,” I told her.

She waved me off, still watching the screen.  “I’m not going to go.  You can leave.”

I stomped off to Nazareth Hall, upset and annoyed that I would be late now without a partner in crime.  When I got to the fourth floor, someone in my class had turned on the TV in the room, and now the news was reporting on the crash at the Pentagon.  Everyone was transfixed.  I clearly remember thinking, Is this the end of the world?

Our teacher made us turn off the TV.  I don’t think anyone quite realized yet that this would be one of our nation’s biggest tragedies.  We talked in class about leadership.  I don’t remember anything specific about it.

At Northwestern College, we had chapel every morning at 10:30 am (CST).  As the student body was making its way to Maranatha Auditorium from all areas of campus, everyone was buzzing about the news.  I was in the Totino stairwell talking animatedly about the towers being hit when John, a friend from freshman year, said, “I think the bigger deal is that it has collapsed.”

Wait, what?

I remember being in complete shock– how could a small plane collapse a skyscraper?  It wasn’t until a week or so later when I saw in a magazine an illustrated cross-section of the tower with an overlaid plane, as if seen from above.  Then it made more sense.

In chapel, they had a live news feed playing over the giant screen above the stage.  The student body watched, cried, prayed.  They let the feed play all day, and students came in and out to watch and pray.

I was shell-shocked, since my sister Kristin and my dad had been in New York City only two weeks earlier.  They had pictures of themselves from the roof of the WTC.  Even though I knew they were safe and in Minnesota, I kept picturing them on top of that building, knowing that someone else’s sister and dad had to be in the building that day, my heart breaking for them and so relieved that my family had escaped tragedy by fewer than 14 days.

Everyone at my (rather Calvinistic) school kept saying, “This did not surprise God; this did not surprise God,” and I knew that Northwestern was the very best place for me to sort through the tragedy.  It was incredible to grieve with a community that both loved and trusted God’s sovereignty in spite of the destruction and sadness.

What a day.  Sometimes it is hard to believe that it has been over a decade since then.  Sometimes it feels like it’s been even longer.  My dad says he always remembers what he was doing when he found out JFK was shot.  I suppose this is my generation’s event.  It makes me sad even to write about it today, all these years later.

One thing I know: September 11, 2001, did not surprise my good and perfect God.  I continue to trust Him.

This post was originally written on September 11, 2012. 

Have More Discussions.

Was talking today to a new friend about vulnerability and authenticity, and it made me circle back to this post. I will say that I feel very lucky– my transparency has resulted, over and over, in favor. I know that’s not true for everyone, and I feel very grateful.

XO Jackie

JACKIE LEA SOMMERS

I’m participating in an HR initiative at Northwestern in which I’ve been paired up with a mentor, and together we’re going through the book True North by Bill George, the former CEO of Medtronic.  It’s all about “discovering your authentic leadership,” and in addition to reading the book, I’m doing all the exercises found in the accompanying workbook.  The workbook exercises are deep and thought-provoking and quite fascinating.

I had to draw a timeline of my life up till this point, including the ups and downs, and then I had to split it up into five chapters and give each a name.  Here are mine:

1. “She Thinks Too Much”: early childhood

2. “She Smiles on the Outside”: my school years, in which I was well-liked, very smart, and excelling at most things, except that my spiritual life and mental health were in shambles, though most people weren’t…

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Second Draft Manifesto

Just needed to revisit this very briefly before diving back in. 🙂

Jackie, be kind to yourself. Writing is a long, arduous, difficult, but rewarding process, and almost nothing comes to you easily. You have to fight for it all, and you do that by showing up, day after day, sitting down, and doing hard work. You eat an elephant one bite at a time, and to be honest, it’s probably irrelevant where you start: toes, ears, tail. Bring salt.

Keep reading: Second Draft Manifesto

The Long Journey … to the Starting Line

It’s been almost 5 years since I first posted this, so in the part where it says, “Five years later, I still am [giddy with freedom]” … well, now it’s nearly ten years. Am I still giddy with freedom? You bet.

JACKIE LEA SOMMERS

"Cross That Line" by xLadyDaisyx on deviantArt “Cross That Line” by xLadyDaisyx on deviantArt

It is SO HARD for OCD sufferers to be correctly diagnosed and then find the right treatment and a good cognitive-behavioral therapist.  In fact, it takes an average of 14-17 years for someone to access effective treatment.

That stat stings my heart.  I feel it deeply because of my own personal struggle.

I developed a sudden onset of OCD at the age of 7.  I wasn’t diagnosed with OCD until I was 22.  I started ERP (exposure and response prevention) therapy at 27.  That’s twenty years, folks– fifteen just till diagnosis alone.

Growing up, I just assumed that I “thought too much”– was an “overthinker” and especially sensitive to issues of morality. I didn’t understand that other people were also undergoing the same doubts as I was but were able to move past them with ease.  I, on the other hand, would get…

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4 Myths about Writing Fiction

old books isolated on whiteMyth #1: You won’t have to research. 

Ha. Ha ha ha. HA. Once upon a time, I thought that only non-fiction writers and historical novelists had to do research for their books. If someone wrote contemporary fiction, well, she would already know how life works … and anything else she could make up, right? Gosh, that was so short-sighted, it’s comical to me now. Of course, we often hear the phrase “Write what you know” (sidenote: I much prefer my writing mentor Judy’s “Write till you know”), but for most of us, that’s about one book’s worth of content. After that, guess what, you have to write another one. And it has to be different. Full of things you might not know. And even that first book … look, you’re still gonna have to research. I have read books about Greek mythology, philosophy, string theory, antiques. I’ve watched YouTube videos to learn about carpentry. I ask questions every single day to my wide network of friends, am super involved on Quora, and spend hours researching the finest details– details that, if done right, the reader will not even notice.

Myth #2: You must plot.

Nah. Sure, many writers do. But many don’t. Each writer has his or her own proclivity toward planning or “pantsing” (writing by the seat of one’s pants). You may have seen J.K. Rowling’s hand-drawn outline for Order of the Phoenix. Then again, Ray Bradbury said:

When you plot books you take all the energy and vitality out. There’s no blood. You have to live it from day to day and let your characters do things.

pantser (1).jpg

There are tremendously successful books on both sides– and some that employed a combination of tactics. With my WIP, I pantsed the first 6-12 months, then– after I knew my characters better– ploted it out before revisions.

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Myth #3: You must know what you’re doing. 

You just need to not give up until you get there. This can take years and years … are you willing to invest that time? Do you feel called to it?

That said …

Myth #4: Anyone can do it. 

Here I defer to Ann Patchett, who shares this story in her book This is the Story of a Happy Marriage (it’s sooooo good … I briefly reviewed it here):

…my husband had told her I was a novelist. Regrettably, I admitted this was the case. That was when she told me that everyone had at least one great novel in them.

I have learned the hard way not to tell strangers what I do for a living. Frequently, no matter how often I ask him not to, my husband does it for me. Ordinarily, in a circumstance like this one, in the Masonic Lodge in Preston, Mississippi, I would have just agreed with this woman and sidled off (One great novel, yes, of course, absolutely everyone), but I was tired and bored and there was nowhere to sidle to except the field. We happened to be standing next to the name-tag table. On that table was a towering assortment of wildflowers stuck into a clear glass vase. “Does everyone have one great floral arrangement in them?” I asked her.

“No,” she said.

I remember that her gray hair was thick and cropped short and that she looked at me directly, not glancing over at the flowers.

“One algebraic proof?”

She shook her head.

“One Hail Mary pass? One five-minute mile?”

“One great novel,” she said.

“But why a novel?” I asked, having lost for the moment the good sense to let it go. “Why a great one?”

“Because we each have the story of our life to tell,” she said. It was her trump card, her indisputable piece of evidence. She took my silence as confirmation of victory, and so I was able to excuse myself.

I couldn’t stop thinking about this woman, not later that same day, not five years later. Was it possible that, in everybody’s lymph system, a nascent novel is knocking around? A few errant cells that, if given the proper encouragement, cigarettes and gin, the requisite number of bad affairs, could turn into something serious? Living a life is not the same as writing a book, and it got me thinking about the relationship between what we know and what we can put on paper.