Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Journey In Has Become the Journey Out: Thoughts on writing my memoir, Walking With Tension

When I started writing my memoir in late 2009/early 2010, I set to work on a laptop purchased in 2002.  It was one that my friend Colleen helped me carry across campus from the computer store to my dorm the first day of college.  It had a floppy disk drive and was the type you "plug in" because, at the time, wireless had yet to emerge.  No matter, I didn't have Internet access at my house anyway.  The battery died back in 2005, so there I sat, chained to my desk, typing away, night after night.

In the beginning, writing was a journey in.

Writing this memoir often involved painful negotiation.  I continually mulled over whether or not I was willing to tell the story of my life. It was an act of slow confession.  There were so many things I felt compelled to express that I never allowed myself to think about fully or had never spoken to anyone aloud.  It was a game of give and take. Little by little, I relented to vulnerability as words formed and appeared on the screen.

There were nights when my eyes were so clouded with tears that I could no longer see.  I would regrettably have to close the laptop early. Hours I had planned to write lay in waste as I nursed my hurt.  My heart had been ripped open too wide to continue.  My story sat within me like undigested food, but slowly, as the words came, writing began to feel like the uncorking of a bottle of wine being poured out on the page.  Gradually, I sat at my desk beholding something that had become richer and deeper with age.

There were many conversations I held with God, and many, many tears.  As I made my final edits, the pain became intense, so I placed a chair near my desk as a reminder of God's constant presence with me. On several occasions, I laid my head down on the chair as if I were placing myself into the lap of God and wept.

Slowly, writing became a journey out.

In 2011, I purchased a MacBook Pro and installed home Internet access. I started blogging for United Cerebral Palsy of Central MN and my personal blog, both called The Walk.

Suddenly I found myself sitting in coffee shops and restaurants, living rooms and summer camp, staring into the faces of people who've been impacted by disability: parents, children, peers.  For the first time in my life, I had something of substance to offer the people looking back at me besides my silence and pain.  Writing had become a healer and had given me a voice.  I started to speak in churches, then branched out to a college campus, and finally to the students at my school.  A reporter from WCCO surprised me this fall, showing up in the middle of class, asking me to tell my story.

My story is finally published and here for all to read.  Today, March 26th, 2014, is the 30th anniversary of my life; the celebration of a story that is still being written.   I'd like to invite you to read about my journey of Walking with Tension, available now on Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions.  

You can find information about my book here: http://jwalkinguphill.blogspot.com/p/blog-page.html

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Kindling of a Flame

Me with my second grade teacher, Georgia Docherty.

Socrates once wrote,  “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”  My second grade teacher, Georgia Docherty, understood this well.  She taught us about authors…every month.  One Saturday, she organized a class field trip so we could meet one: Tomie DePaola.  That was the Christmas season of 1991, but I remember it like it was yesterday.  We went out to eat at McDonalds and I got a mermaid in my Happy Meal from the movie Hook that was in theaters.  We went to Barnes & Noble to see Tomie and then over to the O’Shaughnessy Auditorium on the Campus of St. Thomas to watch Tomie’s play, Merry Christmas Strega Nona.

Sometime during that school year I fell in love with books.  A flame was lit in me and it has not burned out.  

Posing as an author for my second grade career project.

Please enjoy this article written for The Monticello Times by my childhood friend and fellow second grade classmate, Meghan Gutzwiller.  She beautifully writes about the publication of my book, Walking with Tension.

In a Pinewood Elementary School classroom in the early 1990s, second grade teacher Georgia Docherty kindled a spark of passion for books in her student, Jennifer Hill.

The class did author studies on notable children’s authors like Eric Carle, Tomie dePaola and Leo Lionni. They went to meet dePaola and watch a play based on one of his books, read many books by each featured author and wrote their own books, sewing them together so they were bound like ‘real’ books.

These units interested Hill so much that when it came time for the class to do a project on their future careers, she already had her mind made up that she wanted to be an author as well.