Hi. I'm Jenna McGuiggan.
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What to Read When the World is Weeping

A few weeks ago, in the face of the many tragedies and attacks happening in the world, I published a long post on my personal Facebook page. The post dealt with racial inequality and injustice, and it also touched on other issues of violence and injustice here in the U.S. and abroad. 

I posted it even though I knew it might lead to arguments, angry challenges, and trolls in the comments section. After all, that kind of thing has happened to me before. But I risked it because it felt wrong to stay silent.

 Then the most lovely thing happened: More than 150 people clicked "like" or shared the post or left a supportive comment. There wasn't one hateful word in the mix. I was floored by the solidarity and support people shared. 

If you're interested, you can read the full post here, but the gist of it is this: I'm white. My husband James is black. We've been married for almost 15 years, and I'm still working to understand the ways in which we experience the world differently due to race. I wrote out of sadness, fear, and frustration. I wrote about how it's difficult for those of us who have not experienced racism or violence to understand how those things shape our society. I wrote about the awful deaths of innocent black people, of innocent cops, of innocent citizens around the world. But more than anything, I was writing about love. 

I wrote about how love is the thing we all have in common:  

"There is horror and killing happening everywhere we look. ... Different people, different places, different details. The one constant: These were people who loved and were loved. They were someone's child, lover, parent, friend, co-worker, partner, neighbor. Each one of these hundreds of people were someone's world. Each one leaves behind multiple people who are grieving, who will always grieve."

Here's the thing: Racial injustice isn't the only atrocity breaking so many of our hearts these days. We could talk and weep for days about violence against women, against the LGBTQ+ community, against police, against people of various faiths or political groups. Sadly, the intersections are practically endless. Some of this violence manifests in physical acts of terror. Some of it manifests as hateful rhetoric and fear-mongering. Some of it tries to hide as bad jokes and microagressions, those small slights that go unnoticed except by those who feel their sting. 

It's tempting to think that all we need is love. But we need a love that drives us to be more than simply kind. Those of us who have the privilege of being part of the dominant culture need a love that drives us to educate ourselves, to listen to marginalized voices, to speak up against violence and oppression and those "jokes" that mask hatred, fear, or misunderstanding. 

To the people of color in this community, I say: You are welcome here.
Your life matters. Your words matter.

To everyone here (regardless of your race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, economic situation, illness, disability, sexual orientation, gender expression, or other factors), I say: You are welcome here. Your life matters. Your words matter.

For months I've wrestled with whether (and where) to address these kinds of issues with my writing. I've worried that sharing my thoughts here might come off as annoying, naive, or even hurtful in some way. I also know that many of you come to my website for information about writing, not about social justice and hot-button issues.

But to remain silent in the face of so much pain is wrong. 

Besides, we are writers. And what else do we do but write (and read) about the world around us? 

So I want to tell you this: Although I don't know the stories or experiences of every single person reading this, I know you are readers and writers. I know you are people who care about the world of ideas, words, connection, and creativity.

In the interest of those shared values, I've linked to a few resources that meet at the intersection of writing and racial justice. 

My hope is that the words of these black writers and poets will bring you some small level of comfort, understanding, or both.

"If You Are Over Staying Woke" (a poem by Morgan Parker)

"17 Poems to Read When The World Is Too Much" (compiled by BuzzFeed staff)

"Read These 23 Books & Authors When the Injustice Is Overwhelming" (compiled by Huffington Post staff)

"What It's Like to Write Crime Fiction in the Era of Black Lives Matter" (a roundtable discussion on LitHub.com that goes far beyond the genre of crime fiction) 

"Young Black Writers: After Michael Brown" (an essay and round-up of work by black writers from Zinzi Clemmons on LitHub.com)

I have not read every book or poem on this list, but I'm working on it. May we all strive for the kind of love that pushes us to learn, to speak, to act, to write, to share.  


Stalking Sweetness 


(Turn up your volume.)

I'm stalking sweetness by sound. The neighborhood ice-cream truck plays Calypso-styled music, which would normally annoy me, but which works as a surprisingly nice complement to the evening birdsong. I stand in my driveway, waiting to see if it will make its way to my street. The few times it drove by last year I was too shy to run out to it since I had no kids in tow. This summer I'm determined to get a photo and a treat. After all, what good is being an adult with your own money if you can't buy ice cream with it?

This was originally posted on Instagram. Find me over there or on Twitter for more images & words that tell little stories as #OneMomentMemoirs and #VerbalSnapshots.



Conversation with Poet Rebecca Macijeski

Last month in The Word Cellar Writers Guild, I chatted with poet Rebecca Macijeski about how poetry can help us to record – and interact with –  the world around us. We also talked about the power of delight to reach people in our writing. Oh, and there's a sloth in a bathtub.

I met Rebecca during our time at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I like her poetry for many of the same reasons that I like Rebecca herself: both of them are smart, funny, musical, and genuine. 

The video above features a few clips from our longer conversation. In this excerpt, Rebecca shares how poetry can be a way of knowing beyond academic or linear thinking. She also reads one of her poems. (Hint: It's about a sloth in a bathtub, and you really need to hear it.)

The full 40-minute interview* includes much more conversaton, plus readings from her current project and from a few of her favorite poets. She also shares one of her favorite writing exercises that works for both poetry and prose.

I had a great time talking with Rebecca, and I'm so happy to share her – and her work – with you. (Rebecca was featured on this site previously as part of the "Loquacious" series.) 

Here's her official bio: Rebecca Macijeski is a Doctoral Candidate in Poetry at the University of Nebraska and holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She currently serves as an Assistant Editor in Poetry for Prairie Schooner and Hunger Mountain. She has attended artist residencies with The Ragdale Foundation and Art Farm Nebraska, worked for Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry newspaper column, and is the recipient of a 2012 Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prize. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Poet Lore, Nimrod, Sycamore Review, Potomac Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Storyscape, Rappahannock Review, Border Crossing, Gargoyle, Fourteen Hills, and many others. 

*The full interview is available in The Word Cellar Writers Guild, where we also have interviews with other inspiring writers, including Brené BrownSue William Silverman,Marianne Elliott, and more!

About The Word Cellar Writers Guild

The Word Cellar Writers Guild focuses on three aspects of the writing life: creativity, craft, and community.

The Writers Guild is a good fit for you if:

  • You want to write (and publish) more pages.
  • You crave more joy in the writing process.
  • You long to create deeper connections with other writers.

I'd love for you to join us for writing modules, community support, live events, and an ever-expanding resource library. 


Moving Pictures: Virginia & North Carolina

I'm back home after 10 days down south. I started out by spending a weekend in Arlington, VA, for Barrelhouse Magazine's Conversations & Connections writers' conference, where I presented my One-Moment Memoirs workshop. I drove south to Richmond to see a dear friend, and then I kept going south to the Outer Banks for a few days of the 3 R's: rest, relaxation, & 'riting. Along the way I shared some photos on Instagram and social media. Here are a few videos from my travels. They're short and unedited, but I love them for the little glimpses they offer of my time away. 

I could watch the waves for hours -- and I do, every time I am fortunate enough to be at the seashore. 


I saw these birds (pelicans, I think) coming from a distance, and they flew right overhead. 

Most of my drive home was cloudy, rainy, and foggy, but for a little while in the Shenandoah Valley in eastern Virginia, I broke through to the sunshine. As the camera pans to the side, you can see the clouds caught on the Blue Ridge Mountains. 


May You Be Rooted Like Rock

haystack rock, cannon beach, oregon (march 2010)

May you be rooted like rock
That reaches down beneath the constant tide
And pushes tall into the air.
May you shimmer like sun-skimmed sand
Along white, white waves.
May a line of footprints lead you
To adventure and home and back again.
May your perspective be one of compassion and beauty.
May you ruffle your wings in the water
And flutter them dry on the breeze,
Plump with the knowledge that you are as permanent
And as temporary
As this land.

(I originally wrote and posted this in 2010. I re-posted it again in 2011 and 2015. And here it is again, because it's been too long since I said "hello" in this space; because spring comes around every year; because April is National Poetry Month; and because I'm dreaming of the sea, always.)