Hi everyone. I woke today with a burning desire to start writing again. I’ve made a list of ideas and hope to make time to do it.
Eventually, I’ll retire this website. Please come follow me on Substack and subscribe for free for my posts:
Writer, Story-Teller, Dog Lover
Hi everyone. I woke today with a burning desire to start writing again. I’ve made a list of ideas and hope to make time to do it.
Eventually, I’ll retire this website. Please come follow me on Substack and subscribe for free for my posts:
Author copies of my new book arrived today. You can order an autographed copy at my store. Link below. But please do check out the Playlist for Origins on Spotify. I listened to it non-stop while writing.
I’m not using social media right now. The shift was subtle in late 2020, and then, after the insanity of the US election season and the Insurrection, I deactivated Facebook and Twitter. I had to take a few steps back. I couldn’t control the information I was consuming, and as such, my well-being suffered. I had horrible, anxious dreams.
We are not meant to consume information like this. We should not be constantly bombarded.
The algorithms Facebook uses are dangerous. Twitter enabled Donald Trump. Both have enabled the despicable partisanship in America fester to the boiling point we witnessed in January. I know it’s not all the platform’s fault. We’re still fighting the Civil War. The animosity between the Left and the Right has always been there. But I know social media is not helping. I also know how I felt the last time I signed into Facebook and was bombarded by my news feed. Overwhelmed. Hopeless.
I’m not sure we’re ready as a species to use such tools responsibility, and I just don’t want to participate with them right now. I don’t want my information to be a commodity these companies use to derive a profit until I feel greater trust in the long term impact social media. Study after study shows its responsible for decreasing empathy. That the notifications, likes, and reactions are designed to keep you hooked, leveraging tricks used by casinos.
But deactivating social media just wasn’t enough. I then cancelled my subscriptions to the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Now, I only get a paper copy of AZ Republic delivered. I read that with lunch and don’t look at the news again for the day.
I feel so much better.
I know there are benefits of social media. Keeping in touch with friends and family. Animal advocacy and dog rescue. I am sure people miss pics and stories about my senior dogs. I miss interacting with so many people. But the digital world just feels too noisy for me right now. I’ve kept my Instagram account, though it is private now. My wife uses it quite a bit and I love to see what she’s doing. I also follow a lot of dogs I’m really attached to. If you’d like to connect you can find me @jenjensenauthor. I don’t post much anymore but I check it once a week. I’m also on Goodreads.
A month or so ago, I started reading books about silence and solitude. I love technology, but I’ve returned to reading paperbacks and just listening to the radio. My goal is to use my digital phone for less than thirty minutes a day. I have a landline and I call people on it. I showed my five year old niece how it works and she squealed with wonder and delight. “Where is the screen to see people?” she asked.
I long for the simplicity of pre-digital life. When I wasn’t expected to be constantly available. When news wasn’t flying through the ether faster than I have time to process it.
I’m well and good. My life is happy and whole and revolves around Sarah, dogs, my family, friends, and work. It’s quieter. I don’t look at my phone very often. I don’t post about it. But it still happens, unfolding into ever opening expanses of time, unencumbered by obligation, noise, or addictive technology.
I have no judgement about anyone else’s use of these platforms. The past year has been so difficult, I know for many people, it’s been a lifeline to connection. I know people who earn the living using social tools. We’re all fumbling our way in this new world, trying to figure it out as we go. We are all in process.
Much love & peace,
I like to construct a playlist for the books I write. I listen to it when I need to get into the space to write. I can’t take credit for all of this though. My love curated this as she read each chapter.
You can see Shelley & Rand’s playlist here:
I’m working on the second Jamis Bachman novel right now. Here’s an early glimpse at Jamis, shortly after we left off in the first!
The dirt covered wood under her feet splintered and Jamis dropped. She hit the dirt below with a thud and a groan. Dust fell from above and she closed her eyes and mouth to avoid it. She rolled to her side, pulled her knees up to her chest, and held still. After a few moments, Jamis opened her eye closest to the ground. There wasn’t much to see. After a few more moments, she opened her other eye. Jamis relaxed her legs and let her knees drop back down and rolled onto her back. The floor above had split under her weight. Pieces of wood dangled above her and she shimmied to the right, out from under them in case they fell.
The room around her was dark, but the light above lighted a path in front of her. She pulled her iPhone from her pocket and turned on the flashlight. An open doorway arched in front of her. Dust covered crates and shelves were stacked around the small space, filled with bottles of alcohol. Lanterns hung on the wall. She pushed to her feet, grabbed her side. Her ribs were freshly healed, and they screamed with pain. For a terrified moment, she was afraid they were broken again. As she caught her breath, the pain lessened, and then disappeared into a dull ache.
Now on her feet, Jamis spun around the room with her phone light. She’d fallen into a small room underneath the tunnel she’d impulsively decided to visit.
“Go visit one of Sage Creek’s tunnels, I said. That will be so much fun. I need to get out of the house.” Jamis spoke out loud to the empty space and brushed dirt from her clothes with her hand. “I did not say, oh, gosh, today I want to plummet to my death.” She looked above her. “Ten feet at least,” she said, hand in the air. “Why does this shit happen to me?”
She stomped her feet up and down and walked into the path of light shining from above.
“Help,” she yelled, hoping someone would hear. A larger group was behind her in line. The tour guide had recognized her and let her go alone. “Oh, I can go alone. Is that okay? I’m a professional, after all,” she said to the empty space around her.
“Help,” she cried upward, hoping someone heard her.
She pointed her flashlight at the doorway. She could text Johnna but didn’t want her to know she’d fallen. She queried up her chain of text messages with Sapphire, the town archivist. She’d met her a few months earlier and together; they solved a twenty-five-year-old murder.
Help. I’ve fallen in the tunnel beneath the old Woolworth building. I think someone will come but if they don’t, can you please rescue me? She hit send. She had just one bar of service and held her breath as the blue line crossed the top of the screen. Finally, it finished the long march across the screen, her message travelling the ether to Sapphire.
Then, suddenly, there was a tall figure in the doorway about ten feet from her. She jumped back, yelled, “Well, hell.” She turned her phone light on the figure. It looked like a man, probably six foot four, in a long, dark coat, with a tall hat. “Who are you, Abraham Lincoln?” He didn’t move.
“Are you a person or a ghost?” The figure still didn’t move. She walked toward him, flashlight up. The light caught on his eyes and they glowed red. He smiled then, his lips curled up and back, showing his moth covered green teeth. He lurched forward and opened his mouth. A black cloud emptied from his mouth, like water falling from a bucket, and then swirled around him like a cloak. Jamis screamed.
The dark figure moved toward her in a fluid movement of shadows and smoke. She felt him settle over her like a hand covering her mouth, trying to suffocate her. She gasped for air and her knees buckled. Her phone dropped as she fell. Frigid cold seeped into her bones and she flailed against it, struggled to stand. Her sore ribs screamed again.
Jamis closed her eyes against the assault and centered her breath in her stomach and thought about Johnna. Thought about climbing from the guest bed over a month ago and sliding into her bed. Jamis hadn’t slept alone since. She thought about their legs tangled in bed the night before, talking about their next day. She’d told her she was going to get out of the house, take a walk, look at the tunnels as they opened for summer. Jamis thought about Johnna climbing from bed to run, the sound of the shower running later, and the kiss she’d given her before leaving for the day.
Johnna, she thought, and pushed up to her feet. The dark cloud flew off her, as if in pain, and resettled back into the figure in the doorway. “What am I doing down here? I could be doing anything. Why am I down here with you?”
She shook her arms and kicked out her feet. “What the hell were you doing to me? That was so rude.” He shimmered in and out of phase and then solidified. “I have an amazing girlfriend. She saves animals and doesn’t eat them. She has these long legs, all muscular from running, and she cooks. She always smells good, has an adorable dog, and operates on kittens. And I’m down here with you?”
The figure rose up in the doorway, creating wind that raged at her. Jamis jumped up and down, pumped her arms up and down in front of her. “Oh no you don’t. I’ve been through this before. I’ve been avoiding getting myself into these situations. I’m so bored I can’t stand it, but I’m abstaining. Now, here you come. I don’t think so!” She continued to throw her fit, standing in place, in the path of light. “Shut up. Your hat is stupid,” Jamis said. She threw dirt at the figure.
The figure raged toward her before pulling back, to disappear back into the hallway from where it came. She jumped up and down again. “God damn. That was scary.”
She lifted her head to the hole in the floor and screamed, “Someone help me.”
“Oh my god, ma’am, are you all right? Where are you?” A young man crouched down on his hands and knees. He was the eighteen year old tour guide who’d let her go ahead. His head cast a shadow in front of her.
“I fell through the floor, and now I’m under it. That’s where I am. Please get me out,” Jamis said.
“I have to call 9-1-1. I don’t know how to get you out.” Jamis covered her face with her hands. The paramedics in town were going to get sick of her. “Don’t go anywhere. I’m calling right now.”
“Where would I go?” She snapped and looked quickly back at the open doorway. It was empty.
Jamis fled the scene, even though photos were likely already blowing up social media. The fire department had stuck a ladder down in the hole and she climbed out. For her drama, it was pretty anti-climatic. Sapphire rushed in just as a firefighter helped her from the ladder. She’d fussed over her for nearly twenty minutes before she was satisfied Jamis wasn’t injured again, and then left to return to work.
Jamis felt sore from her fall and settled into a powder blue 1980 Bronco and started the engine. It roared to life. Johnna kept it in her barn. It was a gift from a client who couldn’t pay for the surgery Johnna performed on his dog, Butch, who ate a tube sock. Instead, he drove the fully restored Bronco to her house and left a note on it. Johnna suggested Jamis drive it instead of the rental car. They’d made a day trip out of returning the car to Salt Lake City. Jamis had been in the Bronco since.
Jamis glanced in the rear view mirror and jumped. There was a woman in a white bonnet in the back seat. Her skin was grayish green and cracked in the middle of her forehead and on her left cheek. Jamis could see her teeth through the hole in her skin. Black tears ran from her eyes. She opened her mouth as if she spoke but no sound came out. Jamis spun around in the seat and looked behind her. There was no one there. She turned back around and hit the steering wheel with her fists.
“Holy hell,” Jamis said. A couple on the street stopped to look at her. She smiled and waved. “Ghost in my backseat,” she said and put the Bronco in drive.
At the stop light, she forced her gaze to the mirror again. The woman was there. “You’re kidding me.” She held eye contact. “You can’t follow me home. You just can’t. You have to get out of the car. I can come back and talk to you later, but you can’t come to Johnna’s house.” The woman continued to open and close her mouth. “I’ll pull the car over.” The woman opened her mouth and screamed before unfurling from the backseat in a haze of blue smoke. Her phone rang. It was Johnna. “You better go,” she yelled out her window as the blue smoke retreated. She slid the button to answer. “Hi.”
“Jamis, Sapphire just told me you fell into an abyss of never ending darkness where a black cloud tried to assault you. Is that true?”
Jamis turned right. “Are you wearing scrubs?”
“Don’t deflect,” Johnna warned.
“Really. It would be nice to think about.”
“Yes, but don’t get frisky. Someone just brought in a box of kittens and they’re watching me. It feels wrong.” She paused and Jamis laughed, while thinking about Johnna’s strawberry blonde hair pulled up tight in a bun on top of her head, to keep it out of the way. “Really, Jamis?” Her bright green eyes and perfect smile. “Are you still there?”
“I was thinking about your smile. I’ll tell you about when you get home. When are you coming?”
“Around six,” Johnna said. It was almost three hours away. Johnna paused again, her even, calm tone soothing and peaceful. “An endless abyss is what she said.”
“Johnna,” Jamis said, “I’ll see you when you get home, and I love you.” She said this quickly and hung up the phone before Johnna could respond. What would she do if Johnna didn’t say it back? A few moments later her phone chirped. She paused at the stop sign to look at her phone. There were two texts from Johnna.
I love you too.
An endless abyss of darkness and black smoke?
Jamis replied. I should have stayed home.
I posted this meditation originally on August 14th, 2017. I was recovering from shoulder surgery, two dogs had passed away, and I was pondering the decisions that took me from the life I made in NJ, to the one I have now. I didn’t know what to expect then, but now, looking back, I know the lesson of surrender & acceptance I learned during this difficult passage is what continues to sustain me today.
I hope someone else finds comfort knowing peace is possible, even in the darkest moments, when we’re able to surrender to what IS. We may not be happy about it, but with acceptance,we can know peace.
Sometimes, there may be no answers, but we can let go of the questions.
I just read a Zen proverb tonight ‘Die before you die.’
I love this. I think each time we let go of something, we’re preparing for the ultimate letting go when we die. How we die is how we lived. Death & living, like grief & love, are the same thing, just inverse.
Each time we let go something -a relationship, loved one, expectation, addiction – who we were dies. Our world is re-ordered. The perceptual markers which orient us in reality shift and the world is no longer the same. Which is a powerful thought because our perception drives so much of what our world is. We tend to inhabit what we perceive. At least this is true for me. Hell is a state of consciousness. It’s resistance to what it is and my arrogance which insists I know what’s happening.
I never really know what is going to be best for me and I’m always surprised by what lurks right below the surface of what I think I want. I’m often a mystery to myself.
Now, I’m in a passage marked by both loss and expansion. I must let go of what was to make room for what is coming. If we allow it, loss opens room for different energy and growth.
But I can’t talk about loss with new age platitudes. It really sucks. I have no desire to overlay the challenging experiences in life with unicorns. (Like getting a hole drilled in your humerus or losing your best girl, Junie B. Jensen.)
When you think you’re ready to evolve, do something more, change, forge ahead, the Universe somehow expands like a rubber band with you and then, just as you test the farthest limits of your current reach, it snaps back, sends you back a pace or two, puts you in your place, demands your patience, acceptance, surrender and generally, let’s you know that you’re most definitely not really in charge. Then, with time, as you start the trek again, the band stretches with you, instead of against, and you gain more ground.
You can get in alignment but you just don’t know enough to really chart the course for yourself.
How humbling life is. As I get older I find great comfort in humility. I’m fond of saying, “I have no idea what I am doing. None. Right now I’m not a mess but I could be at any moment in the future. I’m just happy I’m packing all my marbles in my pockets today.”
In the past few years, I’ve learned about the uncomfortable process of surrender and acceptance and now I find great solace in the moment I get to turn inward because I’ve realized acceptance is demanded. It is as though I can somehow just wrap my arms around it, pull whatever it is tight, and whole it with presence.
Don’t ever be afraid to just sit with your shit. Once embraced, it’s not really all that scary. Just let go and die a little every day.
I came across this passage in my reading today, and noted how much it resonated.
It’s Carl Jung himself, (though I modified the pronouns):
“It is often tragic to see how blatantly a human bungles their own life and the lives of others yet remains totally incapable of seeing how much the whole tragedy originates in themselves, and how they continually feed it and keep it going. Not consciously, of course – for consciously they are engaged in bewailing and cursing a faithless world that recedes further and further into the distance. Rather, it is an unconscious factor which spins the illusions that veil their world. And what is being spun is a cocoon, which in the end will completely envelop them.”
Almost ten years ago, I wrote:
1. Most of what goes wrong in your life is going to be your own fault. Don’t beat yourself up about it. You do the best you can with what you have at the time.
2. It’s like your life is a video game – it’s only after you clear a level that you realize there was a shortcut there the whole damn time. Don’t fret. Just remember it next time.
3. From time to time something really awful will happen that won’t be your fault, but through the intricate absurdity of the universe, know that this will be the thing for which you blame yourself. Try not to.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I’m any Carl Jung, but I think the commonality of the expression makes me really settle into his theory of archetypes and collective consciousness. I arrived at those same conclusions after making such a horrid mess of my life there are no words for it. In the aftermath of the disaster that was me, I had this profound epiphany while sitting outside drinking my coffee one morning. I took a sip, and a voice inside my head, mine, but different, stronger, wiser, said, “If you made this mess, which you did, that means you can fix it.” Somehow my higher cognitive processes got the upper hand on my subconscious shadow impulses and sent a message through. I imagine a great struggle happened to do so, with ships and cannons firing, while one brave neuron and synapse broke through the barrier, crossed the moat, and lobbed the bottle with the message into my conscious mind, over the castle wall. (The battle continued on for a few more years with great intensity, and every now and again, I still hear the occasional burst of gun powder, but most days, I think everyone gave up and went home.)
The greatest work we will ever do in life is with our own shadow. Those impulses we project onto others, and the faults we see in their decisions, beliefs, and actions are our greatest teachers. The messes we make, chaos we spin, and arguments we pick can point the way to our own awakening. And if your life feels messy right now, it’s all good. We do the best we can with what we have and know at the time. We’re mysteries to ourselves. Jung also said that our shadow can’t be truly anticipated, only met, in the world, through our action and continuous commitment to understanding ourselves, each other, and our existence.
Which means we’re all in process, and that really takes the edge off.
Citation: Carl Gustav Jung, The Portable Jung (New York: Penguin Books, 1986), 147.
Happy New Year from the Serenity Pack. They were all once dogs no one else wanted. Now they’re loved unconditionally. As we roll into a new decade, they remind me that no matter how bad things are, Hope is never far, and love is always possible, no matter what. We can always choose to let it all go, start again. Wishing you the very best in 2020
Jamis has rattled around inside my head for twenty years. I could never quite get it together enough to bring her to the world. Until I did, unexpectedly, in late 2017. It took another two years to get here – and an amazing editor who believed in me.
The music I associated with the story was constant. I’ve created a playlist on Spotify to share with you. Click below for the playlist – and read on for my commentary.
“Crazy” – Shawn Colvin This is all Jamis. It’s her anthem. There is a great line about control, and I really think this story is about surrender, acceptance, transcendence and the what happens when we let go and trust.
“Waters of March” – Jane Monheit I originally thought about writing this story as a split Jamis/Johnna POV, but it didn’t work. It wasn’t the story that wanted to be told. But I always imagine Johnna running her favorite trail, the bricks, the bottles, the shotgun shells left behind. Johnna more than any other character is fully present. She notices and sees everything. This is her anthem. It’s ultimately what I wanted the story to be about – life, death, and carrying on.
“Life for Rent” – Dido This is Jamis. Another anthem.
“Take it Easy on Me” – Beth Hart This is a love song for Jamis and Johnna. It’s so breathtaking, haunting, and beautiful. I imagine this is how Johnna feels when she asks Jamis, “Why me?”
“Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk” – Rufus Wainwright I imagine this as another Jamis anthem, as she struggles through her course of action, to stay or go, to love Johnna or not. To let go and trust and allow herself to find love and happiness.
“Divenire” – Ludovico Einaudi This song is haunting and beautiful, and at times, builds in intensity to untenable heights. But it never stops being beautiful, and I feel like this is Stephanie. Her pain is so real, it manifests in the physical world and brings Jamis to Sage Creek. She is at the heart of the story, with Emma, and it is their story that carries Jamis to her destination.
Emma / Carmen
“Love that Makes a Cup of Tea” – Gretchen Peters This is how Emma feels for her kids and Jamis. It is the sentiment that guides her actions. I love how this song makes me feel. This is Emma’s story. I love her character so much.
“Summer Dress” – Shawn Colvin I imagine this song playing as Emma dresses and readies to drive to Carmen’s mother’s funeral.
“My Immortal” – Evanescence This is Carmen’s song. I imagine this is her anguish, losing Emma, twice. Her struggle to move on with her life.
“A Case of You” – Diana Krall This is Carmen and Emma’s love song. I imagine it playing while they make love after so man years.
The Story’s Arc and Ending
“Rain” – Creed I hear this song as Jamis drives away from Mildred and Salt Lake, confused by her own darkness and demons, uncertain of her path.
“Up the Wolves” & “Foreign Object” – Mountain Goats I imagine both of these songs as the ending blazes. Read and you’ll know why.
“This Must Be the Place” – Shawn Colvin This the song that takes us to the end of the story, when Jamis realizes Johnna is home.
“Let the Mystery Be” – Iris Dement I think the song speaks for itself.
“Crazy” -Gnarls Barkely Just another great version of the Jamis’s song.