About jenniferphelpswrites

Jennifer lives in northern California, where she begins countless projects and then sets them all aside to write. Her poetry and personal essays have been published in the 2013 issues of the Santa Fe Literary Review and Blood and Thunder journal, The Hot Air Quarterly, and Trajectory journal. Her writing has also been featured in Hair Pieces, the 2008 anthology of Sonoma County Writing Practice. She contributes articles to local newspapers and to North State Parent magazine and blogs at www.NakedNotebook.net. You can visit her website at www.JenniferPhelps.net.

Featured on Nailed Magazine – Deathwish

Nailed Magazine is rich with raw, edgy, breathtaking art and writing.  I’m honored to find myself in such superb company.  Below is a short excerpt…click the “read more” link to visit the site and readJennifer Phelps on Nailed the entire (short) piece:

By the time I arrive, my mother’s body is already cooling in the bed, transitioning from animate to inanimate.  Her forehead is now the temperature of window glass on a late spring morning.  Read more on Nailed….

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Writing Is Art

Writing is art. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, but it’s a phenomenon that I’m sure veteran writers have been dealing with for ages. What I mean when I say writing is art is that even if the writing is labeled “nonfiction,” it is a creative endeavor. It is not intended to represent the whole truth, nor can it. It is a slice of life, a snapshot, one angle on the truth in any given moment. That is not to say nonfiction writing is a lie – it’s not! But it is a piece of writing. It is not meant to convey the totality of the feelings and intentions of the writer.

writing is artNeither should the writer attempt to explain, justify, or soften the writing. This can be very slippery territory indeed. I’ve never published anything I regret, but I do wish I hadn’t answered questions about some of my pieces, and I have vowed never to do it again. Once, after reading a poem I’d placed in a lit journal, a well-meaning relative asked, “Was this about so-and-so?” She already knew who the poem was about, I’m sure, because enough of the details were recognizable. So the question caught me off guard and I answered, “Yes.”

“I thought so!” She sounded pleased – she’d solved a puzzle. She knew the inside story.  And I instantly regretted affirming her suspicions – because the poem didn’t tell the whole truth. It was only one piece, one facet. If you read that poem and thought, “This is what Jennifer thinks about so-and-so,” you’d be wrong. Did the poem represent a thought I’d had once about so-and-so? Sure. A recurring thought, even. A poetic thought. But it wasn’t the complete story. A poem can’t be the complete story. It’s a poem.  Continue reading

Conversations on Death

When the subject comes up and I tell people my mom died in the recent past, I watch them, watching me. They always look uncomfortable, like I’m about to burden them with some embarrassing display of emotion they won’t know how to respond to. The assumption seems to be that I’m sad, even though I’ve said nothing about being sad. They act like we’ve stumbled on an awkward subject that I don’t want to talk about, but nothing could be further from the truth.

conversations on deathOur vocabulary for grief and our experiences around death and dying is dismally limited. Losing my mom when she was 60 was/is a big deal, but I’m not “sad,” exactly, and I’m continually frustrated that I can’t have more meaningful conversations about my experiences around my mother’s death.

Most of my exchanges on the subject are like having an iPod that came with one song on it, and not being able to download more. I put on that same fucking song whenever I feel like music, but that song almost never matches the mood I’m in. I get up and dance to it anyway, because I want to dance and I don’t know what else to do. It’s pointless, boring, unsatisfying.  Continue reading

Hashtag Hysteria, or #YouDontNeedAHashtagForEverything, or Do You Know What Hashtags Are Actually For?

Dear beloved social media friends,

Can I call you my friends?  I’ve never met some of you, but I feel like I know you intimately.  You show me photos of your sushi and take me with you on your family’s travels.  I know where you work and what cocktail you’re sipping after hours.  You even confide in me when you’re mad at someone (although sometimes you’re quite cryptic about who that someone might be).

hashtag definition

Source: Oxford Dictionaries (www.oxforddictionaries.com/us definition/american_english/hashtag)

Because I’ve come to care about you through our frequent exchanges of miscellany and minutia, I’m writing to inform you of a worrisome trend I’ve become aware of lately: the overuse, misuse, and obscenely liberal application of hashtags in any and all social media communiqués.

Let me explain what hashtags are supposed to be for.  They are to connect similar threads so that we can follow a specific topic. For example, I might post something about ObamaCare and include the hashtags #ObamaCare #HealthCare #HeathInsurance.  But wait, I wouldn’t do that.  That’s too political.  More realistically, I might post something about kittens.  In my post, I might include the hashtag #Kittens, so that other kitten aficionados can find my post.

This is how hashtags were intended to be used, but they’ve morphed into something else entirely.  Now, they seem to have become an excuse to shout out random proclamations, like some kind of social media Tourette’s.  Example: I just made a batch of chocolate chip cookies!  Woot!  Woot!   They are delicious!  #Yummy!! #JustLikeMomsCookies!! #ChocolateAfterMidnight!!   Or, another example:  I spent my entire morning waiting for the cable guy.  #FourHourWindowMyAss  #AwfulService  #Frustrated!!!!!  (Quite often, the perpetrators guilty of peppering their posts with useless hashtags are the same people who abuse the exclamation point.  In fact, that would make for an interesting study: hashtag overuse correlated with the frequency of exclamation points.)

It’s an alarming trend.  People are even using hashtags in places where they aren’t functional (i.e., not clickable), like in blog articles and text messages.  What do they mean?   #NotSureWhatThatsSupposedToDo

I fear that if this continues, we’ll lose sight of what hashtags were actually intended for.  We won’t be employing them to connect related threads; rather, we’ll forget how to construct a coherent sentence altogether and be reduced to disjointed shout-outs of single words and short phrases. #StopTheMadness!!!!

Friends, I implore you, please utilize discretion with your hashtags.  While they are useful, and admittedly they’re trendy and cute (and everyone agrees you look super-cool when you use them), they are in danger of becoming degraded into nonsense.  Here’s a helpful pointer: if you can’t click on your hashtag and find any posts other than your own (or, furthermore, if your hashtag isn’t clickable at all), it’s probably not relevant.  To anything.

With warmest wishes for healthy hashtag use,

#Jennifer 

First Friday Freewrite #66: “My favorite mistake…”

Welcome to the First Friday Freewrite! 

If you’re a newcomer, here’s the deal: I’m a writer, and I’ve found that I desperately need accountability.  Regular writing exercises help me keep my writing fresh, keep me honest and – most importantly – keep my pen moving.  Join me, and post your response to this month’s writing prompt in the comments.  It’ll be fun!  See below for details…

Here’s how it works: I post a “JUMP LINE,” a short phrase that will serve as a writing prompt, each first Friday of the month.first-friday-freewrite-square

YOU put pen to paper and write. (I’ll do it, too, of course.)  Don’t think.  Don’t cross out.  (That is wise advice borrowed from Natalie Goldberg in Wild Mind.)  Just start with the prompt and see where it takes you.

Then POST YOUR RESPONSE as a comment.  (Just click the comment bubble  to the right of the Friday Freewrite post title above to leave a reply.)

Today’s jump line:  “My favorite mistake…”

Happy Writing!

First Friday Freewrite #65: “In the light…”

Welcome to the First Friday Freewrite! 

If you’re a newcomer, here’s the deal: I’m a writer, and I’ve found that I desperately need accountability.  Regular writing exercises help me keep my writing fresh, keep me honest and – most importantly – keep my pen moving.  Join me, and post your response to this month’s writing prompt in the comments.  It’ll be fun!  See below for details…

Here’s how it works: I post a “JUMP LINE,” a short phrase that will serve as a writing prompt, each first Friday of the month.first-friday-freewrite-square

YOU put pen to paper and write. (I’ll do it, too, of course.)  Don’t think.  Don’t cross out.  (That is wise advice borrowed from Natalie Goldberg in Wild Mind.)  Just start with the prompt and see where it takes you.

Then POST YOUR RESPONSE as a comment.  (Just click the comment bubble  to the right of the Friday Freewrite post title above to leave a reply.)

Today’s jump line:  “In the light…”

Happy Writing!

Show Me The Door

“Show me the door, and I will walk through it.”

This is the promise I made to myself during the most difficult time of my adult life, when all the elements of my existence seemed to be in discord.

doorwayIn the months – truly, the first raw years – after my mother’s death at the age of 60, not one thing in my life felt congruent with me. In dealing with her illness and death, I’d reconnected with parts of myself I’d long buried or shoved aside.  I now felt obligated to honor my “highest and best” self unequivocally.

This transition started many years before Mom actually died, when she suffered a traumatic brain injury. After that, my husband’s career was sucked into the vacuum created by the collapse of the housing market. Then our dog succumbed to a swift and brutal illness.  Mom’s cancer was diagnosed shortly after the loss of our dog, and although I carried on with my usual optimism and bravado, I must admit to feeling a little beset.  Still, I had this sense that even these difficult circumstances were leading me somewhere – deeper into my own life, to a more complete knowledge of myself.  Continue reading

First Friday Freewrite #64: “When it’s over…”

Welcome to the First Friday Freewrite! 

If you’re a newcomer, here’s the deal: I’m a writer, and I’ve found that I desperately need accountability.  Regular writing exercises help me keep my writing fresh, keep me honest and – most importantly – keep my pen moving.  Join me, and post your response to this month’s writing prompt in the comments.  It’ll be fun!  See below for details…

Here’s how it works: I post a “JUMP LINE,” a short phrase that will serve as a writing prompt, each first Friday of the month.first-friday-freewrite-square

YOU put pen to paper and write. (I’ll do it, too, of course.)  Don’t think.  Don’t cross out.  (That is wise advice borrowed from Natalie Goldberg in Wild Mind.)  Just start with the prompt and see where it takes you.

Then POST YOUR RESPONSE as a comment.  (Just click the comment bubble  to the right of the Friday Freewrite post title above to leave a reply.)

Today’s jump line:  “When it’s over…”

Happy Writing!

Three Word Wednesday – 3WW week #400

This is a fun writing exercise, a little like my Friday Freewrites only the prompt is 3 words, the directions are simply to write something with the three words in it.  Go to Three Word Wednesday to play along!  *Disclaimer: I’m treating this as a freewrite, so you’ll find below a minimally edited piece written spontaneously to include the following three words:

This week:  Devastate.  Gossamer.  Plummet.

Who knew that hope is a thing we find at the bottom?  The word hope carries a lofty connotation; it is something held high, something to aspire to.

I always pictured hope as a shimmering beacon atop a slippery slope, to be scrabbled up toward, fighting for handholds and footholds.  Or I imagined hope as a welcome yellow porch light casting cheerful rays far into the shadows of an otherwise inky night.

But nothing is what I thought it was.  Not the bad-news phone calls, which as it turns out come when they shoudn’t, not ominously at 3 am but rather on a benign Saturday morning while dunking breakfast dishes in sudsy water.  Certainly not the news itself, which should devastate me but doesn’t.  Not the doctors, who are supposed to have useful answers and explanations but whose limited wisdom, it becomes abundantly clear early on, isn’t going to do us one goddamn bit of good.

No, none of it is anything like I expected.  It’ll take me years to integrate this trauma into a new version of reality.  Reality, it seems, is a web of gossamer threads, each one so fine it could sever in the slightest breeze, but together so strong they form a thick fabric in which we’re all willingly ensnared. It takes a lot to thrust us from reality, so we talk about it like it’s something immutable, permanent, but reality is actually constantly in flux, changing as we construct and deconstruct it to fit our circumstances.

Anyway, something happened, as you’ve likely gathered, and it changed everything.  It cut me right out of that sturdy web of reality and sent me into freefall, plummeting down, down, to land in deep water.  I held my breath and let myself sink to the murky bottom, tried not to think about the cold.  There I began searching, grasping at vague shapes, picking up, examining, discarding.  Then – there is was!  Hope!  Not a shining beacon at all but rather a humble stone, worn smooth by time with a weighty heft, just right to slip into my pocket.  Hope, plucked from that bottom-place, that place I would never have gone by choice, that place that showed me how to be truly alive.

Missed-It Monday Freewrite…Or, First Friday Freewrite #63: “Thirst…”

Alrighty then!  As one of my more vigilant and devoted Freewriters gently pointed out, I completely forgot to post a freewrite on this past “first Friday.”  So, better late than never, here it is…

Welcome to the First Friday Freewrite! 

If you’re a newcomer, here’s the deal: I’m a writer, and I’ve found that I desperately need accountability.  Regular writing exercises help me keep my writing fresh, keep me honest and – most importantly – keep my pen moving.  Join me, and post your response to this month’s writing prompt in the comments.  It’ll be fun!  See below for details…

Here’s how it works: I post a “JUMP LINE,” a short phrase that will serve as a writingFriday-Freewrite-Image prompt, each first Friday of the month.

YOU put pen to paper and write. (I’ll do it, too, of course.)  Don’t think.  Don’t cross out.  (That is wise advice borrowed from Natalie Goldberg in Wild Mind.)  Just start with the prompt and see where it takes you.

Then POST YOUR RESPONSE as a comment.  (Just click the comment bubble  to the right of the Friday Freewrite post title above to leave a reply.)

Today’s jump line:  “Thirst…”

Happy Writing!