7 Random Facts About Me

I decided to jump aboard the 7 Random Facts About Me meme for today, so without further ado …

1. You all probably know that I majored in English with a concentration in writing, but I also have minors in history and Bible.

2. I have trichotillomania, which means I pull out my hair when I get stressed.  I don’t have bald patches like some of the more extreme tricho cases, but I do have a little “tuft” of hair that is continually growing in from the spot where I pull.  I style my hair to disguise this!

3. I am the oldest of three kids (and I display pretty much ALL of the oldest sibling traits!).  My sister Kristin is 3 years younger than me, and my brother Kevin is three years younger than Kristin.  They are both AWESOME.

4. I sponsor three children in the Philippines through Compassion International, an organization that continues to impress me year after year with their commitment to releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name.  My kiddos’ names are Jona (17), Antonio June (13), and Bea (10), and they are so sweet and delightful and send me lovely letters (I save each one).

5. I don’t watch TV during the week, but I do enjoy SNL on Saturday evenings!  Stefon is my favorite!

6. I rarely listen to the radio or to any music in my car.  Instead, I enjoy audiobooks!

7. I’m a Nerdfighter!

Your turn!!  I want to know some random facts about YOU … and what you think about mine!


Jackie’s Must-Read Books

1. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
These are classics!  I seriously cannot get enough of them– I read them over and over and over and love them every single time.  I am just finishing up the series for the first time this year, and– no joke– after book 7 is over, I will start again on book 1.
Must-read: everyone, all ages

2. Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
This book is seriously one of the best-written young adult books I have ever read.  In my life.  Period.  I love so many things about this book: the language, the characters, the structure, the humor.  It gets a 10 out of 10 from me.
Must-read: anyone who loves YA or a clever, quirky romance

3. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
A Printz honor book narrated by Death himself, this is “just a small story really, about, among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist fighter, and quite a lot of thievery.”  I love books that are about the joy of words– and it’s even better when you mix in unforgettable characters and gorgeous writing full of incredible imagery.
Must-read: YA lovers, people who love words, anyone interested in Nazi Germany and the Holocaust

4. Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
The brilliance of this story is in the masterful writing.  Every single page will leave you in awe, plus the story is so real and deep, and it makes you think about things like miracles and family and loyalty and guilt.
Must-read: lovers of literary fiction, adults who want a great story, parents

5. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
This book is richer than chocolate.  It has magic and competition and romance– and it avoids all cliches.  It is a sensory extravaganza.
Must-read: people who love Harry Potter and are ready for magic from a grown-up perspective, anyone who values great imagery

6. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
TIME’s 2012 book of the year!  This YA book will make you laugh and cry and think.  It’s a cancer book– but not one of those cancer books.
Must-read: people who love YA, philosophy, and incredible characters

I’ll leave you with those six for now.  As I think through this list, I feel full.  They are that good.

reading girl

The Problem with Seeking Reassurance

For years, one of my biggest compulsions was seeking reassurance.

Do you think I’m going to heaven?  Do you think it was wrong I did such-and-such?  Do you think I hurt so-and-so’s feelings?  Do you think yadda yadda yadda …

My obsessions were like burns, and when someone would reassure me that things were okay, it was like sticking my burned fingertip under cold running water.  The relief felt real … but it was temporary.

Ten minutes later, I’d want to ask again.

(And quite often I would … sometimes to where I would frustrate my family and friends.  They would sigh deeply and look at me with these terribly sad eyes and repeat, “Jackie, no.”)

It functioned just like all compulsions– it provided a temporary relief from my obsession, but then it gets out of control.  I didn’t realize it at the time (and neither did my friends), but all they were doing was enabling my OCD.

What would have been better (although much, much harder for both the OC and the friend) is to say, “Look, there are a lot of things we can’t know with certainty.  What you’re afraid of is POSSIBLE … but it’s not LIKELY.  Let’s look at the available evidence.”  Of course, no obsessive-compulsive wants to hear even an ounce of uncertainty … uncertainty doesn’t soothe the burn like cold water.

At least, not immediately.

But as you introduce the idea of uncertainty into your life, and you learn to embrace it, what happens is that you start to heal.  It is hard for EVERYONE, but it is BETTER.  Reassurance only leads to seeking more reassurance.  Uncertainty leads to acceptance and healing and a new life.

Now, of course this is difficult.  Who wants to say to a crying child, “Something bad MIGHT happen if you don’t organize your locker”?  Or to a terror-stricken young adult, “It’s POSSIBLE you could catch a life-threatening disease if you don’t wash your hands right now”?  Or to someone who is weak with guilt, “We can’t KNOW for SURE that God didn’t heal your mother because of something you did”?  It’s agony all around.

But it is better.  Healthier.

And then you can follow things up with, “What evidence do we have available to help us make decisions?  Other students have messy lockers, and they usually go about their day just fine.  Even if you did get sick today, it probably wouldn’t kill anyone– in fact, lots of people have been sick at your workplace in the last year and no one has died.  It’s more likely that your mom died due to her illness than to your actions that aren’t connected.”  Obviously, these are hard.  They don’t erase uncertainty.  And that is the point.

Remember, uncertainty is the key to healing!!  That is why obsessive-compulsives need to surround themselves with cheerleaders not enablers, people who are willing to do the hard business of tough love, even in the face of tears and terror.  It means anxiety in the short term– but joy in the long term!

thoughtful girl

Evaluating my Relationship with Productivity

I really can’t tell if it’s healthy or not.

I love productivity.  So. Freakin’. Much.  If I don’t accomplish some kind of “creative work” each day (writing and/or reading), I feel like a failure.

This is not to say I don’t also get rest.  I take naps quite often– long, robust, three-hour-long naps.  And I sleep about 6-7 hours a night.

But I find it hard to just pop a movie into the DVD player, lie on the couch, and watch it.  I want to be working on something at the same time.  I find myself pairing mindless work with creative work all the time, just so that I can still be finding purpose in the mindless work.  If I am cleaning or driving or on a walk, I want to be listening to an audiobook.  If I want to play a game of online Tetris, I will listen to scripture simultaneously.  I even listen to audiobooks while I fall asleep at night and sometimes when I am getting ready for work in the morning.  To me, there is something so purposeful in reading.  I have to augment the mindless tasks this way or I go crazy.

I keep a document on my computer called “Current Goals”– there are usually about six on there.  I like to attack them as if I’m a warrior, and I love to keep all these plates spinning at once.

I am thinking about productivity right now because– as my blog readers know– I just totally restructured my novel in 6 weeks, in time for the workshop in California.  And now that I am back, I have been busy re-drafting yet again, and tonight just delivered the revised manuscript to the editor I hired in January.  I put a load of laundry in and thought, Now, you should just put a movie on and relax the rest of the night.

But I felt like I really should either start a new book or else tackle a new poem I want to write.

So, let me ask, do I have a healthy or unhealthy relationship with productivity?  What do you guys think?


What He Says

Silas’s college visit had gone great.  “Their creative writing program is fantastic, West,” he said to me up on his roof that evening before the August Arms episode, this week’s theme being “August August” since the calendar had flipped once again.  Last night’s story had been centered on Caesar Augustus, for whom the month was named, and his rise to power that incited Mark Antony and Cleopatra to each commit suicide.


“Yeah.  Most of the English professors there have published books, and they have this really cool literary magazine run by the students.  And the campus is gorgeous—brick buildings a hundred years old, and they’re crawling with ivy.  It’s on a lake—well, I guess pretty much everything in Minnesota is—but anyway, it has seven miles of lakeshore and its own island with a community garden.  You really should check it out too.  We … we could … go together.”

By the way he was stammering, I knew that he meant we could go to college together and not just we could go visit the campus together.  I liked that he was thinking of me so far in the future.  Then again, college really wasn’t that far away—senior year was starting in a month, and I’d turn eighteen in just a few days.

“Did you get any info for Laurel?” I asked.  Please say yes.

            He nodded.  “They have a BFA in dance there.  Mom and I asked the recruiter lots of questions, and it seems perfect for Laurel.”  When Silas paused, I could hear the words he didn’t say: “if only she were healthy again.”

I told Silas about my conversation with Laurel while he was gone, the conversation about all her strange ideas about God, not the one about Whit.  He sighed.  “I knew that sometimes she doubted God’s existence, but I didn’t know she had all those alternative theories of spiritual reality.  Dammit,” he said, “just listen to that phrase—‘alternative theories of spiritual reality.’  It’s more Descartes, that bastard.  Is she really only seventeen?  She drags those few years around like they are a backpack full of bricks.”

The story on the radio that night was about seven Rwandan children—six girls and one boy—who, in August of 1982, had visions of the Virgin Mary showing them a river of blood, people killing each other, decapitated corpses.  Twelve years later, civil war broke out in Rwanda between the majority and minority tribes, including 100 days when about 800,000 people were killed, many beheaded by machetes and dumped into the Kagea River.

It was the vision, come true,” the voice on the radio said.  “A river of blood, bodies without heads.”  It told how the Kagea carried the bodies to Lake Victoria, creating a health hazard in Uganda.

“… Our Lady of Kibeho apparations were later declared authentic by a local bishop …”

“Do you really think so?” I asked Silas.

He shrugged, the flickering bonfire casting light and shadows across his face.  “Maybe.  These days, we’re so removed from the burning bush and the pillar of fire that they somehow seem tamer than a vision of Mary.  But God speaks softly sometimes too.”

“To you?”


“What does he say?”

Silas leaned backward and looked at me with furrowed eyes and a crooked grin.  “I can’t tell if you’re making fun of me,” he said.  “Are you?”

Was I?  I thought of the stories he was referring to—God speaking to Moses from a bush blazing with fire that did not burn it up, God leading the Israelites to the Promised Land as a pillar of cloud by day, a pillar of fire by night.  I’d heard the stories a hundred times in Sunday school as a child.  Did I believe them?  I hadn’t really thought that—what do I believe?—for so long.  I’d just been limping along from Sunday to boring Sunday, doing my best to avoid encountering it all.  Had I been creeping around corners to hide from Dad—or from God?

“No,” I said.  “I’m not making fun of you.  What does he say?”

Silas was quiet for a moment, an odd, lingering moment that made me wonder if I’d been too forward in asking a question like this so flippantly. 

But then that moment was over, and Silas looked at me.  “He says to abide.”


Duck Duck Gray Duck

I love Minnesota.

I love the people.  I love the long Os.  I love that we’re the only state that calls the game “Duck Duck Gray Duck” instead of “Duck Duck Goose.”  I love the midwestern friendliness and how fast people talk.  I love the small towns, like Kimball, where I grew up.  And I love the big cities, like Minneapolis, where I live now.

It’s true that our winters get dangerously cold.  People seem to have a lot of road rage.  The mosquitos are the size of small birds.  Oh, and we’ve perfected the art of passive-aggressiveness.

But it’s home.

Did you know that the Twin Cities has more cultural arts opportunities per capita than anywhere in the US besides New York City?  We’ve been named the Most Hipster State in the US.  We’re the third happiest state.  And we’ve got so much water!  The Land of 10,000 Lakes actually has almost 12,000.

I love living here.  I have to remind myself of that sometimes in the middle of a blizzard or when my car hits the black ice.  But it really is great.

What do you love best about where you live?

minnesota love

Her Life in Red

She was four years old and gone, her parents frantic as they searched the farm: the hay loft where the kittens played, the bicycle garage, the chicken coop where she liked to search for eggs.  Her mother made her husband check the pond, couldn’t bear the image of a preschooler face-down in the reedy water.

She wasn’t there.

They took the four-wheeler around the fields, stopping every few hundred yards to shut off the roaring motor and shout, “Ruby!!  Ruuuuuuuuby!!”

And finally, they thought they heard something.  Just soft.  It could have been a bird.

But as they neared the maple tree, its leaves shocked into the blood-red of autumn, they heard her up in the treehouse.  She was singing Simon & Garfunkel and drumming on the treehouse floor with stunning percussive accuracy for someone so young.

I think it’s gonna be all right
Yeah, the worst is over now

“Ruby?” her mother called from the base of the tree.  “What are you doing up there?”  She was starting to cry—a little angry, but mostly relieved.

Her tiny face peered over the edge.  “I had to be in the sky of red stars,” she said, as if it were obvious.

Who was this this little priestess, at home in her own temple?