Author Q&A with Jessica Pulver
December 28, 2022
This week’s Author Q&A is with Jessica Pulver. Jess is a mother, social worker, and aspiring gardener nestled in the woods outside Portland, Maine. She majored in Creative Writing at Swarthmore College over twenty years ago and recently returned to the writing life. Her work is forthcoming in Literary Mama, Waccamaw Journal, and Kaleidoscope Magazine, and her short nonfiction, Explication Of My Guilt, appears in our latest issue. We took this opportunity to ask Jess a few questions about her writing and newly rediscovered writing life.
We began by asking her to share a little bit more about her latest essay.
This piece is obviously about something painful and difficult for me to write about. I had written several other essays with scenes of Leo’s birth and my subsequent guilt woven into them but had not isolated them in such a focused way. Readers of my earlier essays responded to the imagery and the strong emotions, but often asked me questions related to the events – it seemed I was never telling enough or doing enough justice to the fullness of the experience. I felt I was being honest and forthcoming in my writing, but realized I was doing so in pieces rather than as a whole. I set out to write this essay to take on the most ambiguous aspects of the birth trauma and address them directly. Doing so forced me to articulate precisely what I was trying to express – not only about what I felt when it happened, but also how those feelings changed over the years of raising Leo, and what I make of it all now. It was a cathartic process and felt deeply releasing to complete. The essay feels like a resting spot on a journey and reminds me that in years to come, my perspective on my guilt will continue to evolve.
We then asked what the most difficult part of the writing process is for her.
The most difficult part of the writing process for me is committing to the time it takes to write. I am a mother, a therapist, a wife, a friend, a daughter, and a gardener most of the time before I am a writer. My life at this stage of parenting is bursting with micro-responsibilities for Leo and his two also-somewhat-complicated younger siblings. I am not accustomed to laying aside time in my schedule for writing, and I am always surprised by how long it actually takes to put words on a page that I want to stay there the way they are! I struggle to justify the time I’m spending – to myself but if I’m honest, more so to others, because once I start writing I love it so much that it seems self-indulgent. It is not earning money, it is not even something that can easily be shared for the benefit or pleasure of others without even more work and time (and luck).
As I write this response, it occurs to me that I am expressing a sense of guilt about writing; I hadn’t thought of myself as a person necessarily prone to guilt but here it is again. I do believe our dominant culture places entirely too much emphasis on productivity and infuses many people’s hobbies, relaxation, and community-building with a sense of guilty pleasure.
This is all so true and relatable. Not only does it take considerable time and effort to work on ones writing, but it can often be seen as unnecessary and not productive in the eyes of society. These factors make it very difficult to prioritize in our busy lives. If we were to view it as more essential, for the catharsis and human connection, then perhaps it would change the way people think about it. We then asked Jess to share her biggest fear as a writer.
My biggest fear as a writer is to turn out to be not as good at it as I hope to be! Right now, since I’ve only returned to writing in the last twelve months after majoring in creative writing at college over twenty years ago, I am riding a sort of beginner’s luck. I have lots of ideas, at the sentence level and at the concept level, and I feel motivated to find a shape for them all. I feel successful in having published two poems and two essays right out of the gates, especially since I had previously written entirely poetry. But writing essays and even dipping my toes in fiction has me feeling excited and aspirational – so my fear is that this comes crashing down if I get further into the writing experience and receive consistent rejection from the publishing world, mixed with lukewarm support from friends and family.
Again, very relatable fears, and as we are all living that “writing life” here at The Good Life, we know very well about the rejection that comes with sending your work out. With all the time, effort, and possibility of rejection, what fuels your desire to write?
I’m fueled from multiple angles! Writing is an opportunity, to be honest in a way that isn’t possible when speaking with even the most intimate people in our lives because we’re able to take the time to be more thorough and to get the words right. It’s also a privilege to put that honesty out in the world, in hopes that it empowers others to be honest with their own feelings and to feel encouraged to share. As a therapist, I’m daily in support of people struggling to find words for their feelings. We as a culture are not in the habit of discussing our feelings accurately even privately, and we are taught to carry shame around the prospect of making them public. This distresses me when I see the effects on people’s lives. I think of my writing as a place where I can make some difference in righting this (no pun intended).
In my own relationships, I think of writing as a way of showing love. Capturing scenes with my children in particular – their voices, their surprising responses to the world – is definitely an act of adoration for them. At the same time, I’m driven to give depth and complexity to the relationships with my family and friends on the page. I’m somewhat obsessed with the project of expressing the contradictions and messiness of relationships and showing that this is not only okay, but it is also a source of wonder and gratitude. I want my essays to be sort of mini-love manifestos to the people in them.
Lastly, I feel a real affection for the particular ways people speak, as well as the sounds of words when they’re beside one another swimming in my own head. Often while I’m doing something mundane, a phrase or sentence cadence will arrive in my imagination or memory in a way that feels randomly compelling. It feels in those moments like I’m a conduit for that splice of language music. I then get the fun of writing around that sentence and trying to give it ground and a larger meaning.
That’s beautiful! As we always do, we ended our Q&A with the final question of what comes to mind when she hears the phrase “the good life?”
When I think of The Good Life, I think of being held and surrounded, by arms, by water, by peace. I think of putting my hands in the soil every day and sleeping on the ground. I think of doing nothing else while eating except tasting and smiling at whoever’s there.
Thanks so much, Jess, for sharing more about your life and your story with us. We’re honored you trusted us with your words and we wish you the best in life and with all your writing endeavors.
~The Good Life Review Team