Blogger: Jessica Reed, “The Westchesbian”
Since this is my first post, I’m supposed to introduce myself. I’m kind of terrible at that, so I’ve decided to just provide a bunch of random lists. I promise future posts will (mostly) be more narrative.
Random list about me, me, me:
- I grew up in Asheville, North Carolina. Although I couldn’t wait to get out of there when I was a kid—which had something to do with the stifling feeling I had from growing up in the South but more to do with escaping a childhood that was never safe—it’s one of my favorite places in the world and the place I think of as home when I think of home as a geographical location. If you haven’t been, go.
- I live in Tarrytown, NY, with my wife, Kim. We met online in 2009—as the kids do these days—and married in August 2015 on the sixth anniversary of our first date. I didn’t really want a wedding, but it was important to Kim, and as much as it kills me to admit it because it feels so cliché and heteronormative, it turned out to be one of the happiest days of my life. It was just a really, really good day.
- When I think of home as a feeling, Kim is home. Here’s a snippet of my wedding vows that drives this point home (see what I did there?): I wrote this poem not long after we got together called “Easy.” It’s been through some revisions since then (like we have), but the crux of it has remained the same, which is that you make me feel safe, something I didn’t know another person could do, something I didn’t know I could feel—and our little apartment in Tarrytown and the life we’ve built within and around it is home. Not the place so much as the feeling. You are home, and I am at home with you.
- We don’t have kids, and we aren’t having kids. I came into the relationship with my cat, Vinny (full name Vincent Laguardia Gambini Reed, after Joe Pesci’s character in My Cousin Vinny), and he’s the closest thing to a grandchild this lesbian union will be producing, which Kim’s mom happily embraces.
- When I met Kim, I was living in Inwood in upper, upper, upper Manhattan (seriously, it’s still on Manhattan; you just have to turn the map over). I lived on Thayer Street, which is one block below Dyckman, an address that—as a proud dyke—entertains me endlessly.
- Speaking of dyke-appropriate addresses, unlike much of the lesbian population of New York City, I’ve never lived in Brooklyn, and, more specifically, I’ve never lived in Park Slope. I’ve lost count of how many people have started conversations with, “When you lived in Park Slope…” I haven’t. I don’t. I will not.
- My mother and father, both from New York City, were hippies and druggies in the 1970s (and beyond—more on that later). They named me after Lady Jessica in Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novel Dune.
- My mother supposedly chose my middle name, Rose (which I’ve always hated), with the thought that if I became a famous Broadway star, I could drop my last name and go by Jessica Rose, like Danny Rose or Gypsy Rose. I disappointed her by becoming a corporate professional instead. (There’s an alternate version of this story, which is that my parents were so strung out when they met that my father couldn’t remember my mother’s name and kept calling her “Rose.” I’m honestly not sure which story is worse.)
- For as long as I can remember, reading and writing are how I’ve made sense of the world. Writing, in particular, is how I’m best able to set shit free, let shit go, and, ultimately, burn shit down (in a good way, in an essential, elemental, hold-other-people-accountable-for-their-shit kind of way).
- I’ve never been a dreamer; it’s just not in me. But if I did have a dream as a kid, if I had let myself have one other than getting as far away from my family as possible, which was more a goal than a dream, I guess it would have been to be a writer. Even though I was also a singer and a theater kid and an overachiever in all things academic (in other words, not in the “in” crowd), writing was the thing that felt most like a calling. It also got me lots of positive attention all through my primary and secondary education. My “Fluffy the Killer Hamster” stories, a series of vignettes about a seemingly harmless pet who killed the people around him—excluding his owner, a little girl who lived with her perfect parents in a perfect house on a perfect hill—by biting them three times, were particularly well received by my classmates.
- I became serious about poetry in high school, as serious as an angst-ridden, deeply depressed teen can anyway. I discovered three poets at the time who changed the way I saw the world: Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the Beat poet who founded City Lights Bookstore and first published Allen Ginsberg’s Howl; Kathryn Stripling Byer, a local North Carolina poet (originally from the foothills of Georgia) who left me spellbound with her ability to capture all that I loved about the Blue Ridge mountains; and Adrienne Rich, a renowned Jewish lesbian feminist poet and scholar who taught me how to speak as a woman on the margins.
- I was the first person in my family to go to college. I have a BA in English with a creative writing concentration from Oberlin College and an MFA in creative writing from the City College of New York (CCNY).
- I didn’t love Oberlin. I chose it because it fulfilled four key criteria: it was in Ohio (i.e., far, far away—unfortunately, my mother ended up moving there, a story for another post); it had a strong creative writing program; it was consistently ranked in the top 20 liberal arts colleges by US News & World Report (it now hovers somewhere in the top 25, not that I’m still counting); and it had a large LGBTQ community (i.e., it was super gay). I didn’t find my groove academically until my junior year, and I never found my groove socially (it turned out “super gay” was synonymous with “super judgy,” and I just wasn’t queer enough). However, I did get a top-notch education, and I got a great job as a computer consultant that set me on the path for a career in technology.
- Grad school was awesome. I waited until I was in my late 20s, which for creative writing is the youngest I think anyone should start a graduate program. It took me four years to finish because I worked full-time, but unlike at Oberlin, I found my groove immediately at CCNY.
- If you Google me, you can find some of my poems online, including in The Paris Review and the Huffington Post. There’s another published poet named Jessica Reed who’s also a physicist or something like that. We’re not the same person.
- Immediately after graduating from college, I moved to London and then to Toronto. I was able to get temporary work visas through work abroad programs available to college students and recent grads. Unlike most of the other kids who took advantage of these programs to tend bar, I used my visas to secure IT contracts (such a nerd).
- I worked in IT support, including 5+ years as an IT manager, until I couldn’t take it anymore. I hated being on call at all hours. I hated the whirring server rooms. I hated dealing with creative directors who thought it was the end of the world if an obscure font they pirated wouldn’t load in QuarkXPress.
- I saw a horribly written job posting on Craigslist for a technical writer (remember when Craigslist was where you looked for a job?), and on the off chance that it was real, decided to apply. I had dabbled with software documentation in college and in my IT management positions, and I had an aunt in the field who had told me while I was still in college that I should seriously consider going into tech writing (she’d even offered to help me find work if I moved to Boston, but I was too busy jumping headlong into a bad 10-year relationship to listen to any kind of reason). Anyway, the job was real, and I got it and have been doing some form of technical communications professionally ever since. I’m still amazed by how it all worked out. I get paid really well to write about technology. Who knew?
Random list of things I don’t believe (in):
- New Year’s resolutions
- Low-fat food
- Gender as biology
- Sugar alternatives/substitutes
- Butter alternatives/substitutes
- Any variation of fate, including but not limited to “everything happens for a reason,” “it was meant to be,” “the lord works in mysterious ways”
- Any variation of “The One,” including soulmates, true love, love of one’s life
- Putting up with bullshit
- Unconditional love
- Biological family being unquestionably forever
- Making lists (just kidding—big fan of lists over here, just wanted to make sure you’re still with me)
Random list of things I do believe (in):
- Choice, above all things
- The power of language
- Love, just not unconditionally
- Loyalty, also not unconditionally (that was a lesson, more on that one later)
- Deep breaths
- Gender as a social construction
- Chosen family
- Good grammar and proper punctuation
- Holding people accountable and acknowledging that some things really are unforgivable
- That I can totally be a Jew and an atheist because being Jewish goes way beyond religion
- That the children are the future—teach them well and let them lead the way but don’t make me have any
Random things that delight me:
- My wife
- My cat
- The Blue Ridge Mountains
- Paris, especially Montmartre
- Iceland, especially Snaefellsnes Peninsula
- Really good stand-up comedy
- Binge watching
- The Chicago Manual of Style, especially the monthly Q&A
- Parentheticals and em dashes
- Popcorn (salty, not sweet, preferably made on the stove)
- Boiled peanuts
- Traditional bourbon cocktails
- The word “motherfucker”
- Being asked to join the Feels team (thanks, Janis and Cherry!)
Until next time,
Jessica the Westchesbian
Jessica lives with her shiksa wife and geriatric cat in picturesque Tarrytown on the Hudson. Although a proud Westchesbian these days, Jessica grew up in Asheville, North Carolina, back when the opening of the Olive Garden and the 24-hour Walmart were big news. During business hours, Jessica’s a communications professional who translates highly technical concepts into clear, concise, colloquial language that media buyers and sellers can understand. Outside of business hours, she’s a poet, cat mom, wife, avid reader, and lover of questionable crime, sci-fi, and supernatural TV shows (preferably all in one), not necessarily in that order. Her poetry has appeared in Tin House, The Paris Review, LIT, and The Huffington Post, among others.