Minnesota’s Own Tragedy

Minnesota Bridge CollapseIt’s been ten years, but I can still remember the fear that froze my heart in 2007 the night the 35W bridge collapsed in Minneapolis during rush hour.

It was like having Pearl Harbor … or 9-11 … or the apocalypse in my own backyard.

I sat alone on the couch in the house I was then living in with Desiree and two others, watching the news in total shock, trying to call my friends before all the cell phone signals were jammed.

Des was in Mankato that weekend.  I knew she was safe.

Another roommate Linds missed the collapse by maybe an hour or so.

My friend Anna missed it by 10 minutes.

Monica, who is mentoring me at work, missed it by 4 or 5.

I was desperate to get ahold of Megs, who was doing a med school rotation at HCMC and who turned out to be fine.  I couldn’t reach her for hours, hours where I sat crying in the living room, staring and staring and staring at the television screen.  This was the bridge I used almost every day.  This scene of absolute chaos was happening ten minutes from my home.

You never expect the ground to give way beneath you, steel beams snapped like barley sugar and bowed gusset plates that no one had noticed.

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And did you know that there was current construction on the bridge at that time too?  My first thought when I’d heard of the collapse was how it was rush hour in constructionmeaning there would be so many stopped vehicles on the bridge at that time.  I watched the death toll rise to 13.  There were 145 injured.  A school bus was shoved up against the guardrail near a burning semi.  Pieces of the bridge looked like giant tectonic plates that had shifted right over the Mississippi.

The flag will fly at half-mast in Minnesota today.  Today I am thinking of the 13 who died and their families, of those who were injured and are still suffering physical and emotional pains, of all the first responders and rescue teams and volunteers who dove right into the melee to help.

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I’ve Long Since Put the Halo Away

haloSociologist Robert Ezra Park said, “It is probably no mere historical accident that the word person, in its first meaning, is a mask. It is rather a recognition of the fact that everyone is always and everywhere, more or less consciously, playing a role.”

In my life, the mask that was my biggest temptation was spiritual superhero. My writing instructor Judy Hougen described it this way in her book Transformed into Fire:

“We’re all haunted by some image of the perfect Christian – the person who is rarely ruffled, full of right answers, and tirelessly ‘there’ for everyone.  Such people glide through life with a two-inch gap between their feet and the ground.  They pray for ten hours a day and can recite the New Testament over coffee.  And, most important, they seem to have no needs, no obvious wounds or weakness.  They’re always cheerful, never touched by depression, loneliness, or other heavy emotions.”

Nope. No way. Not anymore.

It has been in sharing my wounds and revealing my weaknesses that I have been the truest version of me— and in doing so, I welcome others exactly as they are. And even scripture says that it’s in our weaknesses that God’s power is made perfect. So, like the Apostle Paul, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses.

Someone made a joke a couple weeks ago about my halo. I was quick to correct him.

I have set down the halo (which was itself a mask) so that I could take up freedom.

Ramble-some

Hi friends, I thought I’d just ramble a little bit about life, if that’s cool.

Even if that’s not cool. 🙂

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The summer has just been blazing by, which is so wild. Usually June is a quiet month in admissions at my university, but this June was the busiest I can remember in my fourteen years in this role! It’s fun– but also a little hard to not be able to catch my breath during a season I was expecting that opportunity!

I spent the 4th of July [extended] weekend working on the novel, and I polished up the first 10 chapters (approximately 75 pages) in a way I’m really proud of. Stay tuned to see if my editor agrees. There are a couple issues that I still need to figure out. Tomorrow I’m getting a massage, and I swear: I have some of my best ideas while lying on that table! Fingers crossed.

Online dating is maybe the craziest thing I’ve ever experienced, apart from writing a book, although in all completely different ways. This summer I keep switching my profiles “off”– on most sites, you can hide or suspend your profile– in order to recollect myself and get a little work done. I am talking to someone now who is sweet and fun and intentional … which means I am probably a week or two from screwing it up. #optimist

One thing I am trying to do this year is to be intentional about making sure my friends feel loved. I am trying to learn their love languages and care about them in the ways that they appreciate most (versus the way I feel most comfortable). This has actually been really, really fun and meaningful: sometimes it looks like coffee and conversation, sometimes coming up with the most perfect gift that will make them laugh, buying a gift card for grocery delivery, handwritten letters. Yesterday I got to have a video call with an overseas friend. I plan to continue this experiment/experience/intentionality throughout the year and hopefully next.

I’ve read some great books lately. I’ll post reviews soon.

Tell me about you. Please. Leave a comment about anything in the whole world.

 

Beauty, Boundaries, & Naps

Three years ago, I listed 20 life lessons I’d picked up since college, and you can read those here.

Here are a few more Life Lessons with Jackie Lea:

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1. If you can afford to hire movers, do it. Your family and friends will be so grateful, and your stuff will be protected and insured in the move.

2. It’s okay to appreciate beautiful things you don’t understand, like abstract art and experimental poetry. You don’t have to understand something to know if it is lovely or makes you feel something.

3. Makeup primer is not a joke. If your face is melting off by noon, try this. (I swear by Urban Decay primer potion and setting spray.)

4. Asking for help makes you strong, not weak.

5. If you have a strong intuitive nature, don’t suppress it. Bringing up my thoughts and suppositions in a gentle, appropriate way has led to some of the best conversations I’ve had in the past few years.

6. Self care is so important, and it starts with getting enough sleep.

7. If you want someone to open up, tell your story first. This gives him or her a safety net.

8. It is perfectly acceptable to say “I have plans tonight,” even if those plans are with yourself, your pajamas, and Netflix.

9. Train yourself to be a better listener. Especially if, like me, you tend to talk a lot, tell stories, appreciate the spotlight. I have to repeatedly tell myself, “Tonight is about listening,” on my way to meet with a friend. Even then, I still struggle sometimes. But I do believe this is trainable behavior.

10. Keep your goals visible and flexible.

11. Sometimes taking an incredible selfie is the first step toward loving your body. Stage your own photo shoot. No one has to know how many shots it took to get that one.

12. Stop using the word “fat” and replace it with “curvy.” This was perhaps the most important thing I did in the journey to regain my self confidence.

13. “Naps can be holy.” (Judith Hougen)

Happy Bday, Dad: A Legacy of Breath Mints

I have long wanted to write a thoughtful blog post about my dad, but I never seem to have the time that I think it will take to make the post what I really want it to be. And now, tomorrow– June 23– is his birthday, and I am still fumbling over whether to just say, “HBD, Dad!” or to write some eloquent tribute.

Maybe it will just be a little in-between thing.

How about a story? About breath mints and a legacy.

certsThe story actually starts with my Uncle Bob. To this day, I’ve never met someone with so much joy and mischief and love in his eyes, and I doubt I ever will. Uncle Bob, my dad’s older brother, was an incredible backbone of the Sommers family– hilarious, kind, joyful, talented, one of those special souls that, if you are lucky enough to encounter one, you will never be the same, and you will always seek out that spark for the rest of your life. Uncle Bob has been gone for many years now, and one of the things I remember so well about him was that he always had Certs in his pocket.

The Certs (to me, at least) were a part of his identity.

Later, my dad picked up this habit.

tic tacsIt started with Certs and eventually morphed into Tic Tacs. My dad always made sure to have them with him on Sunday mornings, and all the church kids knew it. One, when she was very, very young, started calling him “Tic Tac Tom,” and for Christmas, Dad brought this little girl her very own packet of Tic Tacs. Then he took another out of his pocket. Then another out of his other pocket, always acting like he was surprised to find yet another one. I remember her, her little hands not even able to hold all 10 or 12 packs at once, looking so overwhelmed but also happy.

My dad is something else. So special. The king of both quiet generosity and of vociferous attention. A man everyone wants to be around. He has been, for me and for many, a bridge to solid ground and the solid ground. Smart and funny, joyful and the life of the party, he’s a storyteller, which he passed onto his daughter. Like Uncle Bob, my dad also has incredible eyes; dad’s tell of happiness, hard work, and hope. He has unique passions– the Indy 500, Disney World, Secretariat, his card collection– and he loves them with such a diehard enthusiasm that I can’t help but love them too. Dad draws people into his world, and everyone wants to stay.

And, of course, the Tic Tacs.

When my dear friend started having children of her own and my heart fell so desperately, hopelessly in love with them … I started buying Tic Tacs. It is one of the first things they ask me whenever they see me; they dig around in my purse for them. I have grown accustomed to the sound of clacking as my purse bounces on my hip. My kiddos and I explore new flavors (big, big fans of Strawberry Fields and cherry cola; less so of spearmint). I had no idea that there would come a time in my life when I would go to different stores based off of which color and flavor of Tic Tacs they kept in stock, but … there you have it.

It’s a weird legacy, right? But it’s mine.

I miss you, Uncle Bob. Happy birthday, Dad. You are the best men I know.

3 Things I Want to Say to My College Self

  1. Quit being so damn proud and ask for help.
  2. There is more gray than you would imagine– and it’s a good thing.
  3. Give more grace. 

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Ask for Help

Look, I know that all your life you have prided yourself on your intelligence– how you can figure things out on your own, how your mind is such a steel trap you don’t need to use a planner, how you don’t take shortcuts in anything (except maybe gym, ha!). But things are gonna get harder and harder and harder, girl, and the sooner you learn how to suck it up, ask for help, and accept that help, the better it will go for you. In fact, you will feel even smarter— which makes sense, since it’s wise people who collect resources and use them. Quit trying to get to the Everest summit without oxygen. Utilize your mentors, the counseling office at your college, the weekend extension given on that writing assignment. One day, you will be so happy to have tools and to use them. One day, you will see that it was always smarter to humble yourself and ask for help. The sooner you learn this, the happier you will be.

Gray isn’t the Enemy

The truth is that you have an undiagnosed anxiety disorder– OCD– which is making you so incredibly uncomfortable with anything that isn’t black or white. And if something is gray, the uncertainty of it makes you wild with panic, enough that you will think yourself in circles until you are able to move that gray along the spectrum, one way other other, to black or to white, so that you can breathe again. But the truth is that the sooner you learn how to sit with the gray, to let it be, to learn how to breathe even in the midst of uncertainty– that is where you will find relief and freedom.

Grace

First of all, you’re a bit of a self-righteous jerk right now, aren’t you, Sommers? Because you don’t accept help from others, and because you force everything in your world to be either black or white, and because you have scrupulosity (sit tight, you’ll learn more about this in a few years), you sometimes act like you have cornered the market on Being a Good Girl. Please stop. It is in your weaknesses that God’s power is made perfect. It’s in your humility and vulnerability that you draw others and help them open up. The mask of perfection that you wear feels so necessary right now, but it’s when you take that off that you will start experiencing deeper friendships. It’s when you show the darkness of your heart and find that you are still beloved that you will taste that richest flavor of being known. Give grace– to yourself and to others. This is the better way.

Warm Thoughts about the End of the World

I’m re-reading through the New Testament and today I read from Matthew 24– wars, rumors of wars, nation against nation, famine, earthquakes– and it’s kind of felt familiar for a while, hasn’t it? And yet these are the beginning of birth pains.

What struck me was verse 12: “And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.”

Please, God, don’t let my love grow cold.

I am so grateful to be surrounded by the best friends in the world, friends whose love is scorching in the best way, friends on fire for love and justice and mercy and grace and faithfulness, no matter the cost.

Thank you, friends. Thank you for keeping me from letting my love grow cold.

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I Will Say This

I read Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur today in one shot. I adored it. It was raw and empowering.

Online dating is still happening. My squad of new friends is incredibly eclectic, and honestly, they are making me love the internet. I adore my new friend J, who rocks awesome wheels; my friend S from Kashmir; my friend J2, two weeks sober. Where else can you talk to some guy online and then see him in your local Chipotle a few days later? I have met a BDSM master, a Universalist, a man whose parents were rebel fighters against Fidel Castro, and the funniest single dad, who also understands my anxiety.

I’ve also met a ton of creeps. (Click here ONLY if you are willing to see men become feminist mince-meat.)

I’ve read a handful of great books– reviews to come soon.

Novel revisions: I needed a new approach, especially in the past week, when I was basically smacking my head against a wall over and over and over … and then feeling guilty about it. I decided to not write on weeknights and to tackle revisions on the weekends, at least for this precise season.

In fact, that is what I am off to do now! Send creative energy and good thoughts my way!!

xoxo Jackie

 

Lately

I am just so tired. No, that’s the wrong word. I am well rested. I guess I’m exhausted… emotionally, mentally.

Online dating is a really great way to feel like a piece of meat. I’ve heard from about 300 guys just since the start of the year, and it’s mostly made me sad.

Writing is such a beautiful thing, and it is usually life-giving to me, but lately, it’s been a battle just to open up my manuscript.

My friends are incredible… but going through some very hard things. I want to support them well, but that takes energy too. 

I have zero dollars. Please save me, tax return.

All in all, life is so good, so lovely and exciting and challenging. I’m just exhausted, that’s all. 

Psychiatrist on Monday morning. I need to see if any part of this is chemical. 

How are you, lovelies? What are your best suggestions for free/cheap self care?

Dear Diary

run-overGood grief, 2017 is running me over like a Mack truck.

Then again, I’m still standing. I’m still moving forward. I can smile. I can (mostly) think straight. I’m doing really well with my creative goals. I know we’re only three weeks into the new year, but I’ve read a book a week, have blogged every week, am learning something new almost every day (though I need to be more intentional about writing things down), and feel really good about getting back to work on Salt Novel.

I had a great conversation with my editor on Wednesday, and I feel like we are on the same page (or pretty close!), and that is such a relief. Now I’m doing a little brainstorming this weekend and then BACK TO WORK on the story next week. I’m excited. I haven’t worked on it in nearly three months (!!!). It was a much needed break, but I’m ready to go again.

And my 35th birthday was wonderful! I felt very loved, and a handful of people even donated to help with the refugee crisis. I’m so honored and so in love with my crew.

So, you’re probably thinking: just what has been so hard about 2017 then, Jackie?

lot of panic and anxiety. Realizing I have old wounds that never healed properly. I’ve taken about 10 Ativan pills in the course of two weeks. That’s probably more than I took in the whole six months preceding it. It’s okay. My friends and coworkers have been so exceptionally kind and thoughtful and supportive.

That said, God’s got me. My friends and family do too. And Northwestern. And I am learning so much about myself– honestly, so much. Some are things I really like.

How cool is that: to like myself again.

Maybe 2017 will be good after all.