Hi, I'm Jill
I'm a mom, an award-winning author of 3 books, and an avid outdoor adventurer, who married a performance artist and addiction counselor renown for the best risotto on the planet.
I grew up as an Army brat, traveling the world. Now, I'm psyched to live in Spokane and adventure around the Pacific Northwest.
If you were to ask me, “How can you love this world?” as I often ask myself, the answer would be, “Because Ann Patchett writes novels.” Sometimes it would be, “Because Alice Munro writes short stories.” And sometimes, it’s more specific, the name of a book I have just read, and how I stalled at the end — maybe with only seven pages to go — and decided that I needed to wash dishes, or do laundry, or take the dogs for a walk. But before any of that, I need to be still, with this book’s binding in my hands, in a strange kind of desperate prayer. Don’t end! and it must end! pressing through me with a languid energy like the slowing of a long train.
This morning, I read in the front room, surrounded by dogs. They follow me everywhere. No matter who is home. No matter what is happening. The dogs follow me, unless Mary is cooking, and then they don’t give a fuck about me. I am the favorite unless there is food. I want to tell them about the book I’m reading, but instead I rest it against my chest and look at the other books in the bookshelf. I’m searching for The Magician’s Assistant, the first Patchett book I read. When Mary and I began dating, I’d lent her my copy. She returned it, the front cover torn and dogeared, and said she wasn’t interested in Nebraska. It was like a blow. To return a book I’d lent in such a condition and to have refused to finish reading it.
I should have included that story in my wedding vows: I love you enough to overlook your shabby treatment of books in general and Ann Patchett in particular. Love doesn’t get bigger than that.
The dogs follow me to the bathroom, where I fill the tub with scalding water. The young woman in Commonwealth has just helped a famous drunk author to his hotel room. She could lose her job for this. For taking his money at the hotel bar and then helping him up to his room. But she tucks him into bed with tenderness. In Ann Patchett’s novels, the human condition is so sad that the only recourse is optimism. What better option than kindness?
I finish this chapter, touched again, by the way she writes about men and women. How failure is the middle of the story rather than the end. The end is something else, always. Something more.
What did you get out of this story? Everything. It was filled with everything. And I have only read the first third. The rest needs to last. Please last.
As I type, one of the dogs has her head rested on my thigh, and then on my arm. If you keep typing, how will you love me? What could possibly be more important than this?
I do pet her.
And I resist reading another chapter.
Make it last.
Stretch the beauty out as long as possible. Make the beauty last. Let it go on tomorrow as well. The story between us. Still unfolding.Read More
Here is Warsan Shire’s poem, 34 Excuses for Why We Failed at Love:
1. I’m lonely so I do lonely things
2. Loving you was like going to war; I never came back the same.
3. You hate women, just like your father and his father, so it runs in your blood.
4. I was wandering the derelict car park of your heart looking for a ride home.
5. You’re a ghost town I’m too patriotic to leave.
6. I stay because you’re the beginning of the dream I want to remember.
7. I didn’t call him back because he likes his girls voiceless.
8. It’s not that he wants to be a liar; it’s just that he doesn’t know the truth.
9. I couldn’t love you, you were a small war.
10. We covered the smell of loss with jokes.
11. I didn’t want to fail at love like our parents.
12. You made the nomad in me build a house and stay.
13. I’m not a dog.
14. We were trying to prove our blood wrong.
15. I was still lonely so I did even lonelier things.
16. Yes, I’m insecure, but so was my mother and her mother.
17. No, he loves me he just makes me cry a lot.
18. He knows all of my secrets and still wants to kiss me.
19. You were too cruel to love for a long time.
20. It just didn’t work out.
21. My dad walked out one afternoon and never came back.
22. I can’t sleep because I can still taste him in my mouth.
23. I cut him out at the root, he was my favorite tree, rotting, threatening the foundations of my home.
24. The women in my family die waiting.
25. Because I didn’t want to die waiting for you.
26. I had to leave, I felt lonely when he held me.
27. You’re the song I rewind until I know all the words and I feel sick.
28. He sent me a text that said “I love you so bad.”
29. His heart wasn’t as beautiful as his smile
30. We emotionally manipulated one another until we thought it was love.
31. Forgive me, I was lonely so I chose you.
32. I’m a lover without a lover.
33. I’m lovely and lonely.
34. I belong deeply to myself.
I have been, for months now, doing lonely things. Walking the dogs by myself, their leads rubbing my hands raw, their urgency something I hold back, or use to accelerate. How fast can we experience this walk? How quickly can we move through the trees? No, no, we’re missing everything. Wait. The day is already too much. Let’s just stand here for a moment and pee on everything.
I close the gate, and walk through the leaves, and want nothing more.
What has happened to my country? To the humans around me who cannot seem to pry their faces from their phones? Hunched over like the small illumination is keeping them warm.
Or it is me, alone, separating myself a little more from the compression of information? Data files. I have a pile of books to read, but I have to shake off everything to be able to sit with them, and read page after page. I have to retrain myself for chapters in the age of paragraphs.
Am I judging you? Do you feel judged? Was there a time, that you remember, when love was a solid thing? A conversation that went on so late that we found the chairs up at nearby tables. A broom nudging us toward the door, and the night, and home again to more solitude. Do you remember conversation?
I remember it like something that sank slowly in the the distance while I pulled myself ashore.
I feel my humanity less with humans than with my dogs. Though they watch every day for squirrels, and doves, and deer on the trails, they seem to crave an interaction with me above everything else. The pack. The family. The tending of one another.
I spent the summer preparing for a little less. So I won’t be disappointed. But it never quite works out the way I plan.Read More
I began watching Penny Dreadful because I am half in love with Eva Green, but my favorite performance is Patti LuPone’s. I love that the show doesn’t attempt to justify the paranormal events. Sure. Frankenstein has raised these people from the dead. It has something to do with water and electricity. Also, stitching.
Yup, lots of witches. Witches who help women and witches who help themselves.
Hounds of god. Check.
Lots of creepy-assed dolls.
Dorian Gray flits about with his boring self and makes one of the most interesting arguments against immortality that I have ever considered. You can’t go on living and be reasonable. It is monstrous to go on living, or to go on being undead, or whatever it is when you’re immortal.
Life isn’t just suffering; it’s necessary suffering. So that death becomes a relief. And we can treat each other, suffering and mortal, with compassion.
Penny Dreadful’s argument isn’t humanistic, but spiritual. There is, everywhere, the search for god and forgiveness. There is, everywhere, the devil and corruption. Sickness. Poverty. So much heartbreak that it’s almost a relief to see Dracula. Simple monsters.
Simple monsters who have cheated not just death but the fragility that is supposed to encompass the whole of our lives.
When I was a teen, I thought my life would burn up so quickly that recklessness was my best option. You’ll be old and frail too soon. Drive faster. Drink harder. Race. Race. Race.
Penny Dreadful argues there is power in our suffering. Power in our struggle to resist and sacrifice. Power in our humanity.
It also argues that we are petty as fuck.
In other words, it’s true. True and human and filled with monsters.
But the finest speech is Billie Piper’s when she begs for her memory. She begs against being unmade. Against forgetting. Against the shell that will exist when she can no longer suffer.
I’ve been thinking a lot about PTSD. About the fact that grief and trauma are different. I think we are bound to grief the same way that we are bound to love. They are extensions of what it means to wake every day with skin and bones. With clumsy attempts to communicate in languages not quite specific enough.
If you only knew. If you only knew how I wake with a bridge between my fingertips that stretches the length of my arms, that spans my chest. That this heavy love I have for you is like an animal. Curled and uncurling. That it sleeps here, against me, and prowls awake. That it says nothing. And knows things.
I am so flawed.
How tired I am, sometimes, of my self.
Year by year, I’m more like a goddamned flower. Closed off. Fragile. And then, each morning, eager for another chance at warmth.Read More
A friend of mine, who makes gorgeous jewelry, and has spent her career researching symbolism and spirituality, asked me recently if it was enough to make beautiful art. Is beauty without meaning enough?
In December of this year, I’ll have spent half of my life in Spokane. When I first moved here, my grandmother was in physical therapy after breaking her hip. Since I was a college student without a job, I would drive her around to appointments and errands. I kept Jack Gilbert’s The Great Fires in the car with me so I could read the poems whenever I had to wait for her. The first time I read Gilbert was in a college poetry class where the professor was his BIGGEST FAN. Once, she read a poem about his numerous affairs during his second marriage, and she stopped before the final stanza. She stared at the floor tiles, took off her large red glasses, and told us: “Sometimes I get so mad at him … but the beauty is real.”
That sentence is the way I feel about a lot of art that upsets me. Shakespeare’s plays, for instance. “Sometimes I get so mad at him … but the beauty is real.” I moved to Washington state with all my sadness in 1995. I wrote poems about heartbreak and islands and oceans, about what it feels like to leave the tropics for the winter. All the cheesy metaphors. I wrote sad, angry songs and screamed sad, angry lyrics. I read Jack Gilbert and nursed my own furious heart. I ferried an old lady around town.
One of Gilbert’s poems I read most is called Recovering Amid the Farms:
Every morning the sad girl brings her three sheep
and two lambs laggardly to the top of the valley,
past my stone hut and onto the mountain to graze.
She turned twelve last year and it was legal
for the father to take her out of school. She knows
her life is over. The sadness makes her fine,
makes me happy. Her old red sweater makes
the whole valley ring, makes my solitude gleam.
I watch from hiding for her sake. Knowing I am
there is hard on her, but it is the focus of her days.
She always looks down or looks away as she passes
in the evening. Except sometimes when, just before
going out of sight behind the distant canebrake,
she looks quickly back. It is too far for me to see,
but there is a moment of white if she turns her face.
It is a straightforward poem, I think. And beautiful. Every time I read, “The sadness makes her fine, makes me happy,” I hate him a little. Her life is over but you are happy? But that is not it at all. He is talking about the girl. There she is with the livestock, every morning climbing a mountain. Her red sweater one of the few variations. It is her youth that makes him happy. That her journey leads her past his solitude every day. That they have this exchange in this sad, isolated place. She is beautiful. And her beauty has changed him.
The way his beauty has changed me. The way the artist, at times, is beside the point. Even while they are naming themselves as a character, central to the action. For my part, my sadness embarrassed me. I felt small and needy at twenty, in a cold new city. Every day I read poems and put on a parka and drove my grandmother around. Some days she’d ask me to dust her apartment, but when we got up there, she made me tea instead and asked me to tell her stories. I thought my life was over, but here was this old woman, who made the focus of her days my face as I sat across from her and went on telling my sad, angry tales.Read More
When I was a kid, I wrote the names of my potential children at the back of my spiral-bound notebook. The rest of the notebook was filled with random journal entries and dozens of poems. They were terrible names. Brad. BRAD? But I wrote them like spells.
The morning after I delivered, the nurses told me I was an old parent. I wouldn’t be thirty for more than 2 months, but they meant that I asked a lot of questions. “We can always tell,” they assured me. “Older parents worry about everything.” Horseshit. I worry about everything all the time. I’m the ideal person to put in charge of your financials because I lose sleep over them. I worry about everything so that you don’t have to. In many ways, I was practicing for parenthood.
When I realized I was pregnant, I researched names with the same ferocity as child development. Elliot? Too E.T. Finn? Too Mark Twain. Simon? He’d hear his name followed by SAYS! for the rest of his life. We searched the Social Security website for most popular names across the U.S. going back for decades. I researched derivatives. Meanings.
The middle name was easy. My favorite Jack Gilbert poem, The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart, which argues against language as commerce, gave it to me:
How astonishing it is that language can almost mean,
and frightening that it does not quite. Love, we say,
God, we say, Rome and Michiko, we write, and the words
get it all wrong. We say bread and it means according
to which nation. French has no word for home,
and we have no word for strict pleasure. A people
in northern India is dying out because their ancient
tongue has no words for endearment. I dream of lost
vocabularies that might express some of what
we no longer can. Maybe the Etruscan texts would
finally explain why the couples on their tombs
are smiling. And maybe not. When the thousands
of mysterious Sumerian tablets were translated,
they seemed to be business records. But what if they
are poems or psalms? My joy is the same as twelve
Ethiopian goats standing silent in the morning light.
O Lord, thou art slabs of salt and ingots of copper,
as grand as ripe barley lithe under the wind’s labor.
Her breasts are six white oxen loaded with bolts
of long-fibered Egyptian cotton. My love is a hundred
pitchers of honey. Shiploads of thuya are what
my body wants to say to your body. Giraffes are this
desire in the dark. Perhaps the spiral Minoan script
is not language but a map. What we feel most has
no name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses, and birds.
Archer. And that led me to his first name. A Welsh derivative of Gawain. Some sources claim it means “little hawk” while others say “white hawk.” Some claim it’s Gaelic. His name, like the rest of living, is uncertain. (My name used to appear in novels to describe a girl child. A jill. That discovery is the only thing I ever enjoyed about Thomas Hardy’s novels.)
We thought his name would be uncommon, and initially people asked if we made it up, but since kindergarten, he’s had another Gavin in all of his classes. Nothing is certain.
This morning, he started his crossing guard duties at school. I told him we had to leave super early. For my part, I woke at 6 a.m., let the dogs out, and tried to decide if I should get up or just chill for another twenty minutes. And then I heard him in the next room.
“And dressed!” he answered. “We have to leave early! I made my lunch last night.”
A child who worries about everything.
I meant to spare him that, but life is unexpected. Thirty years ago, I was certain his name would be Brad. Or Duncan.
My ever-growing child. So much better than anything I dreamed in poems or notebooks. I think you wake your own heart. I think that’s how it works. You give birth to your own heart and it lives against you for a number of years until it slowly wanders wider and wider into the world. And you ache, and recognize it, and send it off again each time with as much encouragement as you have. Like a spell.
What we feel most has no name but gavin archer.Read More
I should stop immediately. I’m watching an old fellow from my car window, and he turns as I reverse up the drive. He and I both hear the alarming sound of my car. I pause, listen, reverse again. It still sounds weird. I pause a couple more times in the next seven blocks, and then, at last, I pull over to the side of the road, jump out, and race around to stare at my obliterated, smoking tire.
My giant 4Runner looks like it has a shoulder injury. It’s hunched to the right, and I’m certain I’ve fucked up the wheel as well as the tire.
“I can help you!” A young man yells from the base of the hill. “If you have a jack, I can help.”
He’s carrying a chair, some clothes, and one of those circular padlocks you see on storage lockers.
I don’t have a jack. Or a tire rod. And we are watching a video on YouTube about how to lower the spare from under the car, this man and I, when my aunt and uncle arrive with tools. He has been trying to help me for twenty minutes, his legs too close to the driving lane where cars routinely exceed the posted 35 mph. He’s covered in grease and has been careful to stay in front of me, and ask before he does anything.
“Do you live down here?” I say, while we’re waiting for tools.
“I live by the river,” he tells me. “The guy who owns the property said it’s OK to camp by the river if I watch out for his house when he’s gone. People tell me I shouldn’t drink from the river, but it looks pretty clean.”
“It isn’t clean. Don’t drink from it.”
“I’m from Montana,” he says.
And we talk for a while about the animals that live in our neighborhood. He didn’t know about the snakes.
Later, my aunt is upset when she finds out he doesn’t have a tent. They tell him they will bring him supplies.
“I have two great sleeping bags,” he says. “This neighborhood is great. People are really nice. I’m from Montana. I try to be kind. This neighborhood is like that.”
I don’t tell him that earlier, while he stood on the sidewalk, with a towel and a bottle of water, and kept asking if he’d gotten all the grease off his face, that I had so much love for him. This man who sprinted up a long hill to help a woman he’d never met, who had no fucking tools, while she freaked out beside the road. He looked at the wheel, first thing, so that he could assure me it was completely undamaged.
“I’m sorry about your tire, but you did the right thing. Good job pulling over right away.”
Sometimes we are shored up in ways that defy explanation. How could this man know how sad I have been? How shaken, as Donald Trump goes on and on inciting the worst in us. Lightning killing a hillside of reindeer. Dogs left tied up in flooded neighborhoods. Fires and fires and fires. A hurricane making landfall.
He cannot know what it meant to me that a stranger ran to my side, to help in any way that he could. That he restored something in me that I hadn’t even realized was starving.
He made goodness a simple action. The way it seems when you’re a child. A person helping a neighbor. A man with little, giving whatever assistance he could lend.Read More
It’s hard to describe what I find most irritating about the documentary, No Impact Man, but I think it’s the fact that extremes freak me out. Deciding, in a single year, that you’re going to forsake fossil fuels, coffee, toilet paper, electricity, plastics, new purchases, any food products outside a 50-mile radius, vacations, toothpaste, makeup, cleaning products, and that your family is going to as well, is wack. Maybe it’s especially wack because the entire thing is promo for your latest book after the previous two books did not sell as well as you’d hoped.
It did get me thinking about plastics, though. We buy too many plastics. And recycling is of limited value. So, in our house, we were already formulating a plan to reduce our plastic consumption that includes buying in bulk from our co-op, and avoiding packaging as much as possible. Pretty simple. We already use jars to store most of our food, so this was a move to be even more conscious about things like soap and shampoo. I can’t watch videos of sea turtles rescued from the ocean with their stomachs full of plastic, and console myself with: it’s cool; I recycle.
I guess in that way, I’m grateful to No Impact Man. He reminded me that change happens home by home. And he prepared me for a stunning documentary about food, Michael Pollan’s Cooked. Pollan’s doc focuses on the ways we’ve outsourced our food production to corporations. I’d never thought of processed foods in that way. I’ve realized local farms mean better, fresher food (and, often, less misery for animals). You can’t beat the Farmers’ Market or the Co-op for taste or sustainability. But we’d never taken the final step of purchasing meat and produce solely from local farms.
We live political lives. How we spend our money matters. But how we eat matters even more than that. I’m fortunate to live with a woman who loves to cook. She roasted a fresh whole chicken last night and the meat tasted better than anything I have ever eaten. It sat like a little god on a pile of potatoes. We had yellow plums for dessert. Did you know that we’re the only animal that cooks? In fact, our branching away from the apes happened when we began to cook our food. Even our faces evolved to chew less. Cooking from the produce of local, sustainable farms is a radical act. It’s a re-discovery of food itself. The way the plum bursts open and soaks you.
So far, our experiment has saved us money. But we benefit from having a wide availability of local produce. That won’t be true everywhere, or every season. And if I didn’t live with a person who enjoyed cooking, my project would involve living almost exclusively on foods generally considered appetizers: local cheeses, local fruits, fresh baked bread, and salads. Not everyone has the time or the resources to consume like this. I have no judgment for the way people eat, or what they eat. We do the best we can. But I want my footprint to be a little more like my grandparents’ footprints: recirculated in their community.Read More
Until my wife was injured at work this last winter, I’d never been inside the building where she works. Confidentiality protocols for residential drug treatment are stringent. If a woman I don’t know comes up to Mary and starts talking to her, I walk away. Most of the time, the woman is an ex-client. I don’t know a single one of their names. In fact, I couldn’t pick out more than five or six of Mary’s co-workers and name them. They are a community where anonymity matters.
When I first met Mary, I assumed she worked on the set of that Sandra Bullock film, 28 Days. The addicts were all quirky and well meaning, the staff was overtired but earnest. They went on field trips to interact with horses. That kind of thing. A narrative wherein addictive behavior is reckless and compounded by terrible boundaries, but can be overcome when you’re ready.
I wish, sometimes, that I still believed that story. The mostly happy endings of addiction. Mary’s job is harder than I can even imagine. She comes home some days with a migraine from hours of crying. She battles for resources. In the middle of a fucking opioid crisis, she is battling for funding, housing, mental health, medical treatment, parenting resources, clothing, furniture … the list is endless. It’s endless. That’s what I’ve learned about addiction. About her work. It’s endless. She comes home late, she rushes in on weekends, she frets and paces trying to advocate harder. Trying to push a system that doesn’t believe that addicts can stay clean for long.
And meanwhile there are children. Dozens of children on site, reminding everyone, daily, why what they do matters. Because these kids deserve to be safe and loved and healthy, the same way their mothers deserve to be safe and loved and healthy.
I get frustrated sometimes by the way her work wears on her. The way she brings it everywhere. But that’s what service is. That’s what service does. It is a life of practice, and the practice leads to hope. We get a little better all the time, don’t we? We get a little better. Her work is a microcosm for a larger struggle. You can change the narrative with work. You can change the narrative with work. You can change the narrative with work.Read More
Maybe it’s because I was raised in an evangelical household. Or maybe it’s because the first statue I loved was Michelangelo’s Pieta. Because I looked at it and wondered what it would be like to love like that. The broken intimacy. I can’t watch the videos anymore, but when I read about someone being shot to death, I imagine that I am scooping them up in my arms. I have no context for imagining the victim, or the perpetrator, but I know the mourner. I know her inside and out.
I know the teachers who hid children at Sandy Hook. And the mother of 11, who shielded her son at Pulse, and I know the girlfriends and mothers and children of black men shot in cars, on streets, in parks. I don’t have to imagine that he’s my child; I mourn with you because he is. He is my child. I’d lift him up in my arms and stagger forward asking for help. Because that is the center. The center is to lift up the injured and stagger forward asking for help.
You don’t have to see yourself on either end of the gun. It’s not a failure of imagination, or a failure of geography. The dead in Iraq, the dead in boxes with American flags draped over them, the dead in Paris, the dead in Palestine, the dead in Dallas where they’d assembled to protect peaceful protestors. I don’t have to wonder. I know exactly what it’s like to love like that. With broken intimacy.Read More