Jackie, the Child Writer


Some of my stories from growing up:

In third grade, I invented the Pononia family and spent time exploring the romance between Billy Pononia and his girlfriend Kate. When they left for college (a concept I could hardly fathom), they didn’t know how to find one another (because obviously a dating couple wouldn’t share where they were each going, right?) and Billy had to search long and hard for Kate, who had given up on him and was starting to love another man. But when Billy tracked her down (on her college campus!), he fought that man (of course!) and ended up marrying Kate. That’s romance right there, people.

Around sixth grade, my sister Kristin, neighbor Amber, and I started the Story Society, which was to meet weekly in our awesome clubhouse (a room in our motorcycle shed that I’d cleaned out and whose walls I adorned with a freehand painting of a castle with just one light on in one of the turrets). We were supposed to write one story each week, read them aloud to one another, and then offer feedback. My first story was about a jealous best friend taking archery lessons who ended up shooting her best friend’s boyfriend– but her best friend jumped in front of the boyfriend, and the arrow pierced both their hearts.  Tragic. Then the Story Society disbanded.

In junior high, I authored a soap opera. I’d write “episodes” in a green notebook labelled “Sunnyside High,” which my friends passed amongst themselves before it would end up back in my hands. Then I’d write a few more episodes for everyone. This soap opera was full-on drama: a teen pregnancy, a long-lost twin, a rebel who’d gotten AIDS from a tainted blood transfusion after his motorcycle accident. Sheer gold.

I also wrote a story about two best friends competing for just one spot on the track team. (Note to self: maybe stay away from writing sports stories, mmmkay?) I also penned a stunning mystery where a girl kept seeing her dead boyfriend. Hot.

Then there was my novella about a teen cheerleader who developed emphysema. Let me tell you; this was intense. I finished the story around 2 am in the dark in our family room, only the light from the computer screen to illuminate the tears that flowed down my cheeks.

In high school I turned my attention to bad, melodramatic free verse poetry, but that’s a whole other post. I’ll spare you for now. 🙂

If you’re a writer, do you remember some of your earliest creations? Were they dramatic and over-the-top like mine?

Childhood Creativity

(First of all, the new students move in at the University of Northwestern in the morning– hooray!  A year’s [sometimes two!] worth of work parades in front of us today, and it’s fun and exciting and campus will be buzzing with teenagers embarrassed of their parents and about to meet their new best friends!)

childartistToday, for Random 5 Friday, I wanted to share with you some of my creative endeavors of childhood.  Next Friday, I’ll tell you about my high school exploits!

1. Story Society.
My sister Kristin, our childhood neighbor Amber, and I formed loads of clubs, but the best idea we ever had for one was the Story Society, which sadly was quite short-lived.  We had a clubhouse (a room in one of the sheds on our farm), which I painted.  Kristin and I went in there just last month, and one wall still says, “Story Society”; another, “Expanding our Imagination”; the third, a freehand castle with just one window lit up.  We were each supposed to write one story a week, then read it aloud at our club meeting and critique it for each other.  I remember my first story was this melodramatic piece about a jealous best friend who ended up shooting her friend’s boyfriend with a bow and arrow– only the friend jumped in front of her boyfriend, and the arrow pierced both their hearts.  Awesome, right?

2. Glamour Shots.
Kristin, Amber, and I wanted to do our own version of the beautiful Glamour Shots that adults sometimes did, so we raided the dress-up trunk and took *glamourous* (read: hilarious and awkward) photos with a disposable camera.  I distinctly remember choosing outfits Claudia Kishi of the Babysitters Club would wear.

3. Library.
You’re starting to see the roots of my current writerly nerdiness, aren’t you?  Well, how about this: one of the “games” we played was called Library.  Amber would haul some of her books down to our farm, Kristin and I would add ours in, and we’d lay them out on the deck stairs before each choosing one and then … reading.  (Let’s be honest, all I ever really wanted to do when I was a kid was just read uninterrupted.)  Amber had naughtier books than we did (i.e., books where girls and boys kissed), so that was a total bonus.

4. So many plays.
I wrote them.  Kristin, Amber, my brother Kevin, our friends Brandi and Tina, and I would act them out.  Most of these illustrious scripts have now vanished, but we do have one play (on rollerskates!) recorded on video.  It’s about rollerskating Olympics, and I was the star.  Of course.

5.  Mysteries.
For my sister and her friends, I would create these elaborate mysteries that they would then be tasked to solve.  Again, it was writing.  I’d set the scene for them, and then there would be a series of clues– some that would seem to incriminate various characters and some that (sneakily) exonerated them.  If you were to process all the clues together, you could come up with the culprit.  After everyone guessed, I’d read the true answer.

So, was I a dork growing up?  Yes.  Do I care?  Not a bit.  Look at how early the seeds of creativity were sown in me!  I’m proud of creative little Jackie Lea.

Random 5 Friday is a weekly meme over at A Rural Journal.

TV Shows of my Youth

Random 5 Friday is a weekly meme over at A Rural Journal.

Today I want to tell you about the shows I grew up watching!

1. Rescue 911.  Narrated by William Shatner, baby.  Is there something strangely gruesome about three kids who would hustle through baths and into pajamas in time to watch a show reinacting crimes, injuries, and accidents?  We loved it.  And we especially loved the end where Shatner would say, “Next time, on RESCUE ………………………………………… 911.”  The pause was Seacrest-worthy.


2. Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.  I can’t have been the only young girl with a devastating crush on Sully.


3. Square One TV.  My siblings and I didn’t even realize we were being tricked into learning math.  The best part of this show was the last 10-15 minutes, featuring MATHNET, where two mathematicians solved crimes.  (It was like the original NUMB3RS!)  My sibs and I geeked out on MATHNET, pretending to punch details into our fake calculators right along with the investigators, and doing a three-way high-five when we’d solve a crime.  George Frankly was the name of the male investigator.  Over the years, he had two female partners: Kate Monday and Pat Tuesday.  And no, I didn’t have to look any of this up either. 🙂

Bottom left: Pat Tuesday and George Frankly

Bottom left: Pat Tuesday and George Frankly

4. Ghostwriter.  WORD!  “He’s a ghost, and he writes to us.  Ghostwriter.  What a trip!”  Another mystery-solving show, this time featuring a team of kids from the city solving cases with the help of a ghost who could read.  Again, tricked into learning!  Gotta love it!  My sister even carried around a “case book” and wrote to “GW.”


5. Boy Meets World.  Heck yes.  Shawn, Corey, Topanga and gang were featured in the show to watch in junior high and high school.  Did you know that there is a companion series coming out soon called Girl Meets World, featuring Corey and Topanga’s daughter?  Danielle Fishel and Ben Savage are returning!



What were your favorites?

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

Live OCD Free app: my review

I first learned of the Live OCD Free app when I was in Boston last October, attending an event hosted by the International OCD Foundation.  I was intrigued by the idea of a web app that could simulate or guide Exposure and Response Prevention, so I picked up some handouts to take back to my university, and that was that.

Until I had lunch with Faith, this incredible 9-year-old who is battling with OCD.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I had stored the memory that this app had a children’s version to it, so I contacted the company and asked if I could have a free trial of the app so that– if I liked it– I could promote it on my blog.  I received a very kind email from Dr. Kristen Mulcahy, who also sent me a promo code.

Live OCD Free app

What it is: 
Billed as “your personal pocket therapist,” this web app allows you to undergo cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), specifically Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), either on your own or with the help of a therapist.  With it, you create a hierarchy of exposures, practice your exposures, and record your progress.  You can even easily email your progress reports to your therapist!  There is an adult version and a child version (both available with just the one purchase).

Child version:
In the child version of the app, there is a video that shares the story of the “Worry Wizard” with the child– in the video, the Worry Wizard happens to be another person (a bad kid, ha!), which I kind of like.  It goes along with the idea of narrative therapy that YOU are NOT the problem, the PROBLEM is the PROBLEM.  By showing children that the Worry Wizard is a completely separate entity from themselves, they are able to treat OCD as the enemy and not themselves.

ERP is then made into a game of sorts.  Children (along with the help of an adult) create a list of exposures (with simple prompts to aid them).  They then can practice their exposure at the click of a button.  If there is a need for an imaginative exposure (creating a loop tape/recording), they can do that within this app as well.  There are also built-in timers to remind users to practice their exposures and to record their anxiety levels (for the progress reports).  It’s really easy to use, very self-explanatory.

Adult version:
The adult version is very similar to the child version except that it just tells it like it is. 🙂  

The secret weapons (child version)/toolbox (adult version).

Oh my goodness, I absolutely loved this feature*.  When you choose to practice an exposure, you set the timer for how long you’d like to do it.  While you are practicing an exposure, you can access the secret weapons/toolbox area, which includes:

1. Reasons for fighting (both versions).  A place where you can review and record your reasons for fighting OCD/the Worry Wizard.
2. Uncertainty agreement (adult version).  Where you acknowledge that you cannot know things with certainty.  This records the date that you “signed on” for this!
3. Relaxation (both versions).  Listen to an exercise in muscle relaxation.
4. Motivational messages and inspirational quotes.  You can even add your own!
5. Tips from other kids fighting the Worry Wizard.  Obviously, this is in the children’s version.  Loved it.  The quotes were so good and meaningful and encouraging without being enabling at all.
6. Songs (child version).  This included two songs for children (although there is a whole CD available on iTunes).  I have to admit, one of the songs– “Worry Wizard”– made me cry listening to the lyrics.  It just breaks my heart that children have to deal with this crippling disorder.  They are so brave!

*When I was doing my own exposures, I was told to focus intently on them … I wonder how this toolbox jives with that, or if that was only my therapist’s method.

Live OCD Free User’s Guide
This is wonderfully written, very clear.  If someone is choosing to do ERP on their own and without the guidance of a therapist, this user’s guide will be critical to their success.  Since I have undergone CBT, I now find it fairly easy to recognize obsessions and compulsions– and to identify appropriate exposures.  However, I would not have been able to do this if I hadn’t gone through ERP myself already.  The prompts are very helpful (and OCs often know what things bring them the most anxiety), but this user’s guide will be a huge help in sorting through obsessions, compulsions, and exposures.  I emailed with Dr. Mulcahy, and she said that sometimes people will meet once or twice with a cognitive-behavioral therapist just to set up their exposure hierarchy before attacking the actual exposures on their own.  Even if you don’t have health insurance, I can see where this would be very helpful.  If not, the user’s guide will assist in that matter.

Progress reports
This app makes it easy to see your progress.  I love that.  A visual reminder of how far you’ve come can go such a long way!

There are very, very few cons to this app.  The graphics in the video of the Worry Wizard were not my favorite, and (of course) being a writer, I thought the story could have used a little polishing, but all in all, this app is phenomenal.  

The cost is around $80, which at first seemed like a lot of money to me … but it’s really not.  Not for what you get.  An ERP experience for $80 is a bargain (even with awesome health insurance, I still probably paid about $300 out of pocket to meet with my cognitive-behavioral therapist).  And the freedom to be gained through this process is priceless.

I imagine that CBT without the guidance of a therapist would also be more difficult, especially as there is less accountability, but the truth of the matter is that CBT takes a lot of commitment, no matter what.  I have said it before and I will say it again, you know you are ready for CBT when the hell you’re experiencing daily is worse than the hell you’ll have to go through with CBT.

All said, I highly recommend this product.

I cannot say enough good about CBT/ERP and how it gave me back my life.  Whether someone chooses to go the traditional route of seeking out a cognitive-behavioral therapist (note: NOT a talk therapist) or chooses to use this web app … or chooses to use both in conjunction with one another … I am 110% for it.

The important thing is that you pursue CBT.


Lunch with Faith: discussing OCD with children

I had the privilege of visiting with Faith over lunch last week.  Faith is a nine-year-old third-grader, and she is the cutest nine-year-old in the world, all eyes and sweet, sweet smile.  Not kidding, you look at this little girl and think, Oh my gosh, a hug from this child could change the world.

Faith is the strongest, bravest nine-year-old I know.  She has obsessive-compulsive disorder, and she is dealing AT NINE with obsessions that buckled me in my 20s.  My heart just breaks when I think about the daily battles she fights, and it makes me hate OCD even more than I already do (with the passion of a thousand and one suns) for the way it could dare to target such innocence and loveliness.

How do you talk about OCD with a third-grader?

That was the question that I grappled with in the week leading up to this lunch.  My OCD first appeared when I was seven, but I didn’t have the vocabulary to really discuss it until after my diagnosis, which didn’t come until after college.  I am such a huge advocate for cognitive-behavioral therapy, but I’m so ignorant as to whether this is even possible or appropriate for a child to tackle.  When it nearly snapped me in half at age 26, is it even reasonable to expect someone one-third of that age to try something like it?

What we ended up talking about was the narrative therapy that I practiced on myself and my OCD.  Narrative therapy reminds us that the person is not the problem; the problem is the problem.  I chose to separate myself from my OCD by imagining it as a black dot that followed me around … and I got the upper-hand by belittling it.  Most often, I would “dress” it in a pink tutu and make it twirl around.  My OCD hated this.

Perhaps this sounds crazy to you, but it was a good strategy for me … and hopefully for children too.  Faith was intrigued by the idea of the black dot, and I told her, “It’s okay to bully the black dot because it’s so mean and it’s a liar.  So you get to bully it back.”  (Please, Jesus, don’t let me be teaching her bad life lessons … can’t you just picture her telling a teacher, “I bullied the kindergartener because he was mean to me first, and this girl I met told me that was okay!”  Oh gosh.  Ha!)  But I think she understood that we were talking specifically about the disorder, the black dot.

And we sort of talked about CBT elements too.  I told her, “When the black dot tells you that you have to have your locker clean before you go to your next class, you can ignore it because it’s a liar.  And when you feel like you need to wash your hands again, just to be safe, you can ignore the black dot because it’s a liar and a bully.  Instead …”

“… I tell it to put on its tutu!” she said, giggling.


So … there is the element of response prevention.  Hopefully introduced in a way she can understand.

I hope it helps her.  I know it helped me, but I was also going through intense CBT at the time.  What I do know is that I hate OCD, which could dare to steal joy from this sweetest little girl, who should be enjoying third grade, best friends, recess, pencil collections (or was that just me in third grade? ha!), and Jesus, her Savior, whom she loves, and about whom her OCD whispers lies to her.

I remember being that young, remembering overthinking every thing, remember the obsessions and the intrusive thoughts and wondering why no one else my age thought about these same kinds of things.  I am so glad that Faith has a name for OCD at such a young age, but I am deeply saddened that she has to struggle.  My heart hurts for all obsessive-compulsives but today especially for the young ones, who are so confused, who feel so guilty, who are so scared.

I wish I could tear through the lies and fear for them, show them truth.  I am trying.

Does anyone know of tools for obsessive-compulsive children?  Is CBT an option?

sad girl3

writing retreat this week!

On Saturday, I drove about three hours to a small town in Minnesota (pop. 1,200) to retreat from friends, family, work, distractions, responsibility, chain restaurants for the week so that I can focus on my novel.  I have so been looking forward to this!  And now that I am here, I am even more excited.

This town is one of the sweetest little things ever.  You can drive from one end of it to the other in about 20 seconds since the town covers about 1.5 square miles.  I ventured out to find the grocery store and eventually located the large (and old) brown building proudly claiming to be “Dean’s Country Market.”  Inside, the far left is a gift shop and the right is the grocery store.  I was looking for some Advil, but instead I found two choices: low-dose aspirin or some kind of “non-aspirin”-labelled bottle.  Love the variety and selection!  Oh, and the taxidermy on the walls in the meat department!


For those of you who don’t know, I am not actually a Minneapolis native.  In fact, I grew up in a small town much like the one I’m retreating in now, so all of the small-town-life makes me smile and think fondly of where I grew up.  It also makes me think of Green Lake, the fictional Minnesota town where my novel takes place.  This week will be a wonderful reminder of what life is like for West, my protagonist.  It also reminds me that Silas, my character who just moved there from a large city, should probably be a little more shell-shocked.

I’m happy and snug in a tiny BRIGHT GOLD bungalow.  I am so unused to complete solitude that I keep imagining that someone is going to come over/drop by, and it’s just not true.  I honestly believe that I could stay in this house for the next seven days, and I would see no one and hear nothing but the bark of the neighbor dog and the rustle of the train on the nearby tracks.  Even though I am an introvert, I feel quite sure that I will be lonely by Saturday.  Leave me lots of blog comments this week so I don’t feel so alone!

At the same time, right now I am thrilled to be alone.  The days are stretching out before me with such a promise of productivity.  This week will be about words.  I plan to write and edit like a maniac, and when my creativity dwindles, I will read the books I brought along, and when my mind can’t process anymore, I will sleep– lovely, deep, long bouts of sleep from which I will allow myself to wake up naturally.  Who cares if I sleep till noon and then am awake till three AM?  I am all alone.

When I retreated this past summer, I was in Hudson, Wisconsin, so I had access to a Target, Dunn Bros, Perkins, and even home, since I was only 45 minutes away.  This week, if I am people-starved, I will head to the public library, the cultural center, the Eagles Cafe, or the Bake Shoppe.  The people at the cultural center (where I checked in and got the house key) are so nice that I want to just shoot the breeze with them like one of the locals.

My hope for this week is to revise as many chapters of my novel as possible.  I just finished revising chapters 1-4 based on feedback from my writing group, but– nice timing, right?– I am headed into this week to revise chapters that have not yet been critiqued.  I am hoping that I will have great intuition!

Leave an encouraging comment– I need human interaction and encouragement this week!

obsessive-compulsive since age seven

My OCD struck at age seven.  Strep-throat-gone-to-hell and all of the sudden curse words were running through my head as if I were some foul-mouthed sailor, when the truth of the matter was that I was a shy (Yes, really!  Hard to believe now!) girl from a conservative home, who would have never DARED to utter those phrases outloud.

I began to worry that I would lie if I gave my opinion, so for a while, my answer to everything was “I don’t know.”  Favorite color?

I don’t know.

Did I like my teacher?

I don’t know.

Should we do this or that?

I don’t know.


I have this image in my head of running to find my mom under the clothesline, smacking my fist against my forehead, and confessing.  My poor mom.

I wish we’d known then.  It would be another fifteen years before my OCD would even be named, but I’ve wondered what life would have been like had we caught it back in the summer of 1989.  Drat you, internet, for coming along too late!

Every once in a while I google things like “my daughter is attacked by bad thoughts” or “my daughter has bad thoughts” or “my daughter keeps confessing” to see how quickly the trail leads to OCD.

My heart breaks for the obsessive-compulsive children out there, wild minds racing, hearts terrified, robbed of childhood.

Parents can look for the following possible signs of OCD:

  • repetitive confession
  • constantly seeking reassurance
  • raw, chapped hands from constant washing
  • unusually high rate of soap or paper towel usage
  • high, unexplained utility bills
  • a sudden drop in test grades
  • unproductive hours spent doing homework
  • holes erased through test papers and homework
  • requests for family members to repeat strange phrases or keep answering the same question
  • a persistent fear of illness
  • a dramatic increase in laundry
  • an exceptionally long amount of time spent getting ready for bed
  • a continual fear that something terrible will happen to someone
  • constant checks of the health of family members
  • reluctance to leave the house at the same time as other family members

I waited fifteen years to be diagnosed.  Just take your kiddo to the psychiatrist.*

*I’m not mad at you, Momma. 🙂  How could we have known?  You’re my favorite.

Meet my sister Kristin!

On November 23, 1984, I met a girl who would become one of my best friends.  Her name was Kristin Ann, but I wanted to call her Tustin, who was the boy who lived across the street from my aunt and uncle’s house.

Kristin was three years younger than me, an age gap that didn’t always bode so well for us while we were growing up.  We fought a fair amount (although not as much as Kristin and our brother Kevin did!), and she always felt left out.  I have these hilarious memories of her– I would get to stay up/out later than she did, and when my dad and I would drive down the driveway, Kristin would be waiting up for me, staring out the window.  Dad would get mad because she was supposed to be asleep, but how funny and pathetic is that image?  Little sister waiting up for big sister to come back home!

We shared a room from the time she was three until I graduated from high school.  We have so many RIDICULOUS memories of this– from the way we would decorate our room (her half was Backstreet Boys and Spice Girls and Taylor Hanson posters; mine was devoted strictly to Zac Hanson), how it would get so messy that we’d get in BIG trouble with the parents, how we’d read by the “amber light” coming in through the window after our lights were off (it never occurred to us to turn the light back on at that age), playing Princess Pat while dangling upside down from our beds, and when we were older, having Kevin tantrum every night, “TURN THE LIGHT OFF!!!!”

Now that we are older, we get along GREAT!  She is one of my favorite people– so loving and caring, so FUNNY, and my prayer warrior!  She loves God and books and family time.  Kristin is the one who will always instigate, “Let’s go around the table and say something nice about one another,” which has become a family tradition.  Speaking of traditions, the girl holds to them like the world will end if we don’t do our EXACT ROUTINE every holiday.  She is a delight, and I absolutely adore her.