Where are you from?
I’m from here (Indianapolis) by way of Ann Arbor, Michigan, by way of Guttenberg, Iowa, by way of Fort Wayne, Indiana, by way of Osage, Iowa, by way of (again!) Fort Wayne, by way of Montague, Michigan, which is where it all started. Where I started. In other words, I’m a chronic and habitual Midwesterner. In other other words, I’m the daughter of a now-retired minister whose schooling/work shuttled my family around the Midwest, and I took over the shuttling around when I became a grown up. So I’m partly to credit and/or blame for my sorta-transient life, but I’m pretty well settled now, and I’ll also take credit for that.
Where do you live?
Irvington, on Indianapolis’ east side. I love it here. The neighborhood charter school, where my son attends, is fantastic. We can walk to the grocery store, the library, to get coffee, to visit the park. There are trees—old, interesting trees—everywhere. The houses are charming and distinct. A diverse collection of people make their lives here. We are thrilled to be part of it.
When did you realize that you wanted to be a writer?
I wish I had a smacked-me-upside-the-head realization to return to and say, Yes, it was THIS MOMENT.
Instead, wanting to be a writer crept up on me. Like how you can have a best friend who is there for you year after year after year, that you completely depend on without consciously acknowledging that you do, and then one day, you’re all grown up and you realize, oh my gosh, I am in love with So-and-So; why did it take me so long to see it? My realization was slow. Gradual. I have always been wrapped up in words— I am a reader; reading I have had with me for my entire life. I was the kid who disappeared for entire afternoons because I was absorbed in a book. I have always been enamored with stories and characters, with language, with what can happen and where you can go and what you can feel just because words are ordered in a particular way. But it took me sort of a long time, first of all, to realize I yearned to work in words and, second of all, to actually do it.
Who influenced you as a writer?
My high school choir director/Advanced Comp and Lit teacher, Mr. Wilson, was instrumental in shoring up my self-belief; without him I don’t think I would have attempted collegiate English studies—or, heck, maybe I would have; it was my leading aptitude as I approached the end of high school. But, without his encouragement, I don’t think I would have entered college with the level of confidence that I did. Mr. Wilson taught me two things: that I have permission to fail, and that all I have to do, in anything, is keep going. I should be clear in saying that these were not *new* lessons, per se—my parents raised my siblings and me in a reasonable environment, one that acknowledged that our human-ness would usher in plenty of screw ups into the day-to-day (mostly in the form of us kids bickering with one another). But I have never been a fan of failure. It is not my temperament. Faced with something difficult, something unfamiliar, my M.O. is avoidance, not headlong abandon. Or, I have to have a way to practice on my own until I am ready to go public.Then one day, Mr. Wilson assigned my Advanced Comp class the task of writing a sonnet in iambic pentameter. Try as I might that night as I sat on my bed completing my homework, I couldn't get down something I liked. Either the ideas were stupid, or the meter or stressed syllables were wrong. In class the next day, convinced of my poor attempt, I REFUSED to read my work to my classmates. Mr. Wilson let me pass on reading, but later, in my voice lesson, he confronted me. But not about my botched sonnet attempt—no, what he wanted to talk about was my attitude. My resistance to embracing the fact that it's possible to get something wrong the first time around. Because so what if I did screw it up? The real failure would have been quitting there, never trying it again. Thus the second lesson: to keep going. Hearing all of this from an “outsider”—a person in no way obligated to me, not really—blew my mind. It was one of those, “maybe this shit they say about trying and perseverance really is true” moments.
I’ve written a couple of posts on my website about the failed sonnet
and Mr. Wilson’s impact on me
http://jackielutzke.com/2014/02/20/unwritten-letters/ and I invite you to pop over there to read more.
In terms of writing ~style~, I am a product of my reading. I don’t believe you can write if you don’t read — how can you know what’s POSSIBLE if you’ve never seen what’s being DONE? I read widely and love many types of books, in basically every genre. Favorite writers include Virginia Woolf, George Saunders, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Donna Tartt, Jeffrey Eugenides, Patricia Hampl, John Green, Gary Schmidt, Barbara Kingsolver, Margaret Atwood, and about a billion others. (Hey readers, go find me on GoodReads.)
Creative nonfiction. Creative nonfiction works how I think: it’s interested in sorting through, examining and understanding life, people, motivations, etc. Perhaps I gravitate toward writing from the true stuff—mostly memoir—because I want to redeem every rotten thing that has ever happened to me. I want to make it mean something. I want to find a way to transcend the facts and see them on a new plane, and writing lets me revisit what was, run it through my fingers, and try to understand it. Some of my writing resists genre classification, and that’s a topic I’ve been interested in for awhile. During my master’s degree, I spent a bit of time researching and writing about multi-modal pieces of writing—writing that blurs or falls outside of tidy genre lines by combining them, or even by welcoming in unexpected stuff like images or massive amounts of white space. What does that do, both for the piece and for the reader, when a piece isn’t quite what its genre leads one to expect? Is there an enhancement of self-identification and, perhaps, inclusion, when pieces are constructed with pockets of space, or images to be pondered, or other thing that make moving through the piece slower as we try to decide, what is the purpose of this or that element?
What may seem like de-familiarization and a pushing away by a piece may also serve as a locus for thinking and meaning-making—and all this, at the end, actually increases engagement. I don’t fixate on these heady matters of form and genre too much when I work, necessarily—I think more about what I want to say and let the form be dictated by the message. I write a lot of flash (super short) creative nonfiction, which might feel to some more like prose poetry (same difference? I get scared claiming to be a poet of any sort). I don’t have a problem with these complexities—I like to write what I like to write—but this does make publication occasionally more challenging, though more and more lit mags are looking for pieces that walk the line between genres. Maybe even pieces that walk with one foot in one genre while dragging a leg in another.
Do you take part in any other creative pursuits besides writing?
I love beautiful/interesting things, and I've never had a lot of spare money, so I've learned to make what I want. This desire for cool stuff that I can't necessarily afford led me to sewing. Several years ago, I was gifted a rather wonderful Husqvarna sewing machine that I barely deserved (because of my lack of sewing ability when I got it—my entire experience at that point was 8th grade home economics, where I made a pair of rrrrreeeealllllyyy ugly flannel shorts), but in the years since then, I have learned a lot by doing and have sewn everything from pillowcases to stuffed animals to dresses.
My current fascination is purses—I made several for myself, posted photos of them, people liked them, and now I've made around 10 for others. It's a nice way to make a few extra bucks, and it gives me a chance to use different mental energies than I do whenI'm writing.
Do you have a studio? Where is it?
My side of the bed, primarily. I’m a one-woman, one-laptop show, and we can go most anywhere. I cringe but have to admit that one of my favorite and most productive places for writing is the local Starbucks. I also love writing at Central Library. But most often, you’ll find me hiding out in my bedroom, clicking away on my keyboard.
For the rest of my projects, my entire house is something of a studio—I work wherever I can find room. For sewing, I'm grateful to have a small room off of our bedroom where I can set out my stuff and not have to clean it up in the middle of the project. You can read that to mean it's a big, embarrassing mess right now.
When did you become a mother?
How many children do you have?
Do you want more?
I had my son, Oliver, in October 2007—during my first semester of grad school. And yeah, as you might guess, this wasn’t a pregnancy my husband (Alex) and I had planned. Fall 2006 I was in the throes of preparations for grad school—taking the GRE, getting my applications written—and then February rolls around and I get to announce to my husband that I’m expecting. This could very well have changed my path toward grad school, but it didn’t. I had enough people encourage me to press on as previously determined. One friend said, “You can do this. You can go to school and have a newborn, and it will just become the way that things are.”
He was right. I can’t say there weren’t major challenges in caring for a newborn while grappling with graduate level coursework—for one, I had to factor in GIVING BIRTH to my first semester—but we made it through, all three of us. Alex and I have two kids now—Oliver (7) and a daughter, Margot (3). It took me maybe a year after Margot was born to come to a place where I was ready to say done—as in, no more kids done. It’s really weird and difficult to tell yourself, hey, this special, important, for-women-only experience—you’re never doing it again. Ever. Never ever. So even though I’m self-aware enough to realize having another child is madness for my temperament, and our budget, and the physical space in our house, it was still a difficult thing to call off. But I have these two great kids, so I’m not really that sad.
When do you spend time writing?
In the evenings and on weekends. My kids go to bed around 8, 8:30 (I am VERY SERIOUS about bedtime), and my work time commences as soon as I can get them settled, and lasts for as long as I do. Meaning, sometimes I get tired way sooner than I want to, but, generally, I stay up pretty late, probably later than is advisable for someone who works full time, which I do. I make my living as a copywriter, and sometimes that fact—that I ALREADY write all day—undermines my work in the evening. Thankfully, the writing I do for work and the writing I do on my own time come from different parts of my mind and accept different energies.But you’ll have to ask my probable carpal tunnel syndrome if they’re really that different.
What have you learned about balancing motherhood and your passions?
Exactly that—that balance is necessary. I want to be here for my kids and offer them as much of my time and attention as I can, but then I also snatch back a bit of time for myself—not to be awful or withholding but because I’m a multifaceted person who requires many things in order to feel grounded and sustained. I have to write to feel like me. And that in turn helps me be a better mother. On top of that, I want my kids to see that living life like this is possible: that it’s possible to have a family AND a job AND creative pursuits (my husband is an artist, so that helps compound the message). I hate the idea that I have to choose, that if I want to be a “real” writer I’m not going to have time to be a mom, be a wife, or vice versa—if I want to be a mom, I don’t have time for writing. I move more slowly, for sure—I don’t write pieces as quickly as others can; I don’t get work out for publication on as rigorous a schedule—but I’m doing fine. Slow and steady. The act of writing is the point, not the hoped-for success; though I certainly wouldn’t mind a bit of that.
For a sample of my work (it's one of those weird flash creative nonfiction/prose poem things!), check out a recently published piece, via Voicemail Poems.
Have you ever considered giving up writing in order to be a mother?
No. In fact, I’m kind of the other way around. When I became a mother, I found a voice. Becoming a mother gave me an opportunity to analyze and reevaluate my person hood in a way I’d never had before. Suddenly it seemed like it mattered that I do that—I had a child now. Someone to be invested in, by investing in understanding myself.When my son Oliver was a bit over one year old, he came into contact with peanut butter, and his entire body broke out in hives. Soon followed blood testing to confirm something we had suspected for his entire life: the kid has a ton of food allergies. “Becoming” in that moment the mother of a food allergic child led me to my first writing project, titled Feeding the Oddnivore.
Check it out.
When I first started the blog, I thought maybe it’d turn into a practical resource for other parents of kids with food allergies. I should have known better that it wouldn’t—I’m not a blogger; I’m a writer with a blog (yes—I do think there is a difference). Soon I was only writing creative nonfiction type pieces on the blog, and it became a satisfying outlet for my writerly urges. In my day-to-day, I am always thinking about my children—what they say and do; what I say and do; what our interactions remind me about my own growing up; what our interactions help me understand about the world in general—so me being a mother and me being a writer, these things are completely woven together. My kids often appear in my latest project, Today, in 100 Words, which is specifically concerned with pondering each day's happening—and with the added fun of a restricted word count.
Check it out, if you like.
Do you have support from your family and friends to keep writing?
I do. My husband in particular is awesome, and he understands that my passion for writing is serious and that I need to be able to allocate significant amounts of time to it. He’s willing to read drafts if I’m dying for feedback, and he’s always available to hear me out while I ramble my way through an idea. My dad has always read my blogs, has always treated me to thoughtful comments. It's nice to know he's keeping an eye on what I do. After I published my first piece of writing, my mom emailed me to say that she’d printed out the essay and put it in her Jackie file, and she had room to fill it with many more Jackie pieces. And then there is my writing group: four of the most amazing people in the city of Indianapolis. Possibly the whole state. Possibly the entire country. Not only are these people amazing writers, but they have become some of my very best friends. I would not be anywhere near where I am today without their support, their humor and their exceptional feedback. <end award speech> But seriously, I love them. If you are a writer out there who feels lost and unfocused, make ye a writing group. It will change your entire life.
Do you feel like you are taken seriously as a mother artist?
Do you think mother artists are taken seriously in society? Maybe. In so far as women in general are taken seriously. I’m distressed, still, at the way women are objectified and marveled at when they have stepped into a place of prominence. We are endlessly commenting on what women look like, how slim (or not) they are, how stylish (or not) they are, etc., as if their level of attractiveness or their adeptness with modern fashion has anything to do with how we should assign value to the thing they have said or done or made. Sometimes it seems like we observe a woman who is successful and, if she happens to also be a mother, tack on that fact in incredulity. How could she have managed both? What a wonder! Alternately, we may speculate if a successful woman’s children somehow missed out on something in their upbringing, because surely they did if their mother has had all of this time and energy for X or Y thing that she is doing in addition to mothering. Maybe these children did, but then again, maybe not. Probably not. Likely not.And I think there are probably still some antiquated notions in place about what mothers are capable of creating. Just because many of us choose to stay home with our children doesn't mean we are brainless. Just because many mothers; worlds are filled with household tasks and caring for children, doesn't mean that the trappings of these worlds are unimportant, or lesser. They are merely different. I guess what I’m saying is there is work to be done here. It takes a long time to change mindsets and shake off stereotypes, but we have to keep on it. Some diligence is needed. Perhaps it starts with women, and how we treat and value one another.
You get one life. It might be a hard life, but that you can create—that you write, or draw, or paint, or sew, or compose, or whatever it is that you do—that is yours. No one can take that from you. Even if you don’t have the resources to do a lot, or take things to the scale that you dream of, the fact that you are assigning time and importance to a creative pursuit means so much. This is your opportunity to honor whatever is going on in your mind and your heart. Don’t give that power away by ignoring it, or marginalizing it. Be brave. Keep going.
What do you want to be remembered for as a writer and a mother artist?
I hope to be remembered as someone who thought carefully and deeply. Who noticed and celebrated the often-overlooked things in life by giving them attention in her writing. Who wasn’t afraid to try new things. Who didn’t get too discouraged by failure. Who was real. And who managed to pass on some of these aspirations and traits to her kids.