A lot happens in the last twenty minutes before bedtime.
A lot happens in the last twenty minutes before bedtime.
When I was a sophomore in college, I was assigned to write an essay for a linguistics class about the origin of my surname.
I thought, I don’t know. I think it’s German?
What I discovered about my name has stuck with me.
It wasn’t German. It was Frisian. And Frisian is the language that is most closely related to English.
I learned that my ancestor, Okko Peter Tjaden I, the seventh of eight children, arrived in the United States on June 4, 1856. In the United States, he met and married his wife, Anna Ubben Juttbrook on May 17, 1857 in the Silver Creek Reformed Church in Forreston, Illinois. They both died in Ocheyedan, Iowa (population in 2010–490 people).
Okko grew up in a city called Emden, which is currently part of Germany. But it hasn’t always been German. When you look at Emden’s political situation over the past five hundred years, it makes you weary.
It made me think, How did my family view their national identity? Did they consider themselves to be Germans?
When I asked my father about this while he was still living, he gave me a very broad answer, something like, They were Dutch-speaking Germans. They didn’t speak German. They spoke Dutch. But Germany controlled the country.
It was all very confusing to me, a twenty-something who was still actively untangling my own identity. If they spoke Dutch, why was the origin of the Tjaden name Frisian? Which parts of my values and beliefs came from being an American? Which beliefs came from my religion? What did I think about politics?
Over time, I’ve been able to sort through what I believe and what I value and trace back their origins.
It makes sense now that my ancestors probably didn’t value their national identity as much as their religious identity. Politics can change. Governments topple and are rebuilt. But the Kingdom of God is forever, they would argue.
I understand much more fully and more completely now just how important religion was to my ancestors.
When I was in graduate school, I dug into the research on Dutch immigrants and their cultural assimilation in the United States. I found that compared to their Catholic Dutch counterparts, Dutch Protestants stuck together as a cultural group and resisted assimilation.
Many Dutch Protestants came to the United States to establish Dutch-speaking religious schools where they could teach their children without government interference. In the past, there was increasing pressure on schools to outlaw Dutch children from speaking Dutch in schools.
It’s a story we’ve heard over and over again. A government forces children to learn their language in order for them to be considered True Citizens of wherever they’re living. Forget your old culture and embrace our new better culture.
So they were forced to use German in the schools. Obviously, this didn’t go over well with Dutch families and some of them even decided to leave the whole country behind and forge ahead in a new country, where they were told by relatives who had already settled in the States that they could set up their own religious schools and teach what they wanted, without government interference in the language and values that were taught in the school. (By the way, we have religious Dutch immigrants to thank for Betsy DeVoss. Sorry about that.)
I don’t know if this is the key reason that Okko Peter Tjaden left Emden, but he did join a large community of Dutch immigrants who had settled in Iowa. His arrival in 1856 suggests that he probably left because of the decline in agriculture (an influx of American wheat was driving down the price where he lived). However, he and Anna were married in a Dutch Reformed church, which certainly had members who had left behind Holland/Friesland and other areas because of school indoctrination issue.
For whatever reason, I’ve always felt that I’ve had a strong connection to my father’s side of the family. It’s not because I spent a lot of time with them. I actually spent more time with my maternal grandmother and aunts, uncles, and cousins on my mother’s side. They are the people of whom I have the warmest memories.
But there is no doubt that I don’t look like my mother’s side of the family.
I look like my father, and my father’s brother, and a cousin on my father’s side.
It turns out, I was right.
I did the 23andMe genetic test and found that I have the following ancestral components:
The French/German made sense. That was the Tjaden line through my paternal grandfather. The Eastern Europe made sense. That was my paternal grandmother (nee Osimowicz), who was 100% Polish.
But Scandinavian? 22%? Really?
I looked back at the family tree that I had mapped out so far and thought, Oh. That’s interesting.
My paternal grandfather’s mother was 100% Norwegian. Her parents immigrated from Norway in 1870 and I’ve been able to trace back the Norwegian line all the way to the 1600s.
Genes are fun.
My mother’s father’s line has been established in the United States far longer. Her family (the Bundy family) can be traced back all the way to William Bundy, who first showed up on records in Rhode Island in 1663. That’s twelve generations of Bundys in the United States (No close affiliation to Ted ((he was adopted)), Clive, Ammon, or Al Bundy, thank you very much). They lived in North Carolina, Tennessee, Indiana, Missouri, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa. They were hard-living people. Homesteaders and farmers. And also very religious.
My mother’s mother’s line has also been in the United States for hundreds of years. They were the Combs and Haburns. Five generations of the Combs family were born and died in Spirit Lake, Iowa. They were even buried in the same cemetery.
What both sides of my family have in common are
They crossed oceans and nations. They worked in multiple vocations in one lifetime, as my grandfather did (farmer, watchmaker, jeweler). They married across ethnic groups (German – Norwegian – Polish) because a shared faith was more important than shared nationality.
I’ve learned that creativity–in a variety of forms–has been a legacy of the Tjaden name. My great-uncle, Otto A. Tjaden, was sign painter, wood carver, and sculptor in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. I found a newspaper article from the local paper in which they talk about an art exhibition of bronze and metal sculptures that was on display in downtown Fergus Falls.
My own father, Leland Tjaden, was a terrific storyteller. Very theatrical in his performance of just about any story that had made an impression (good or bad) on him.
My uncle, Dennis Tjaden, has a love for photography.
And I write. A lot.
Which is not something that happens on my mother’s side of the family. They are a family of few and carefully chosen words. No need to be emotional or superfluous. Just say what needs to be said and be done with it. I have some of the letters that my grandmother wrote to her sister-in-law. Mostly reports on the weather and the children, and occasionally news about who had visited whom lately.
So when my grandmother passed away, there weren’t many people who were jumping at the chance to give a eulogy.
So I did.
Here are some of the words that I said,
Grandma was practical. You could always count on her to reuse an old box of checks for storing rubber bands or a tub of laundry detergent as a garbage can. She wasn’t sentimental. If a soap opera was on TV, she’d usually fall asleep during it. She never said she loved you. She showed you she loved you. She cooked you food and sent cards in the mail. She was a private person. She kept a lot of her own thoughts to herself…
Grandma, you will be deeply missed. I will miss the quiet hours as I would knit and you would doze off peacefully in the armchair. I never cared that you weren’t much of a conversationalist. Just being there was enough. I know you never liked being the center of attention. You were always a fan of serving behind the scenes and laboring without recognition. Know that your life did not go unnoticed. May you find rest from the struggles and labors of life.
What does it all mean?
What does it mean for me to be a descendant of so many travelers who derived their identities from their beliefs and values rather than the country where they lived?
Who could live for years in isolation, miles and miles from neighbors, surrounded in open country where the whipping winter winds chilled them for months, no matter how many fires they made?
What does it mean for me to have the blood of ancestors who struggled through harsh winters in the upper latitudes, who lived modest lives, who worked the land for food, who watched governments rise and fall and clung to their religion to give the world — and their purpose inside of it — meaning?
What does it mean for me to come from families that never once rubbed shoulders with aristocracy and nobility?
Who were for generations uneducated and illiterate? And when literacy came, it came in the form of the Bible?
Who weren’t formally taught science, but who learned about science through tinkering and trial and error?
And what parts of my genetic ancestry have I passed on to my own children?
Will they also have the wandering, curious, creative spirit? The steely resolve? Or will they have their father’s problem-solving and efficiency? Or his penchant for minimalism and order?
Or will they have something else that has been lying dormant for several generations, just waiting to emerge?
I wonder if my heritage is part of the reason that I’m always looking out on the horizon, wondering what is next.
Caught between the gratitude for today and what I have and the curiosity of knowing about what’s down the line. Always thinking about the next thing that I’ll create or write or research.
What is the next thing that I’ll discover or learn or understand or convey to others? What lessons and messages will I be able to share before I join my ancestors in Death? How much of this vast tapestry of life and everything inside of it will I know before I die?
The answer, I’m sure, is Not Enough.
There’s too much beauty and mystery in this life for one human being to ever be able to hold it all at once in one human mind.
It’s too wonderful.
Even when it’s the worst, it’s too wonderful.
On February 2, 1913, Anna Juttbrook passed away in Ocheyedan, Iowa. Okko followed her a year later on February 14, 1914.
104 years later on February 2, 2017, I lifted my hand to the bright winter light that streamed through my hospital window, crying out in pain as I moved into the hardest part of labor.
In that moment, I felt the spirit of my father beside me, although he had passed away three years earlier. In my worst moments of pain when I wasn’t sure I could go on, I closed my eyes and saw people around me. Some of them I knew. Some of them I didn’t. But the people whom I didn’t know, I had a strong feeling that they were related to me and the child for whom I was laboring was a continuation of their blood.
That was what kept me going.
The knowledge that I was not alone.
That I would forever be connected to those I loved and to those who gave me Life.
And humbled by their presence, I said,
I will try.
I will try for you.
I don’t know if I’ll succeed.
But I’ll try.
Three hours later, I gave birth to our second child. A son named Henry.
I did not know until recently that this was the name of Anna Juttbrook’s father.
And her son.
On my worst days, I think about the courage that I had on this day. To step out into the unknown, into the heart of pain and danger, and feel no fear. Because there was no room for it. I was surrounded by Love and strengthened by the Life that was coming through me.
On my worst days, I remember that I was born with ferocity and resilience. I remind myself to feel gratitude for what all of those who came before me have done. Unlike the rugged individualist story that I learned in American history classrooms, I didn’t grow like a magic bean from the ground, dependent only on my own fortitude and industriousness.
I am here because of Okko Tjaden and Anna Juttbrook and Laurence and Mary Osimowicz and Hans and Kari Vaagesar and William Bundy and so many others whose names I’m still learning.
I am here because they left their homelands and struggled in this new foreign country where they were often scapegoated and resented as newcomers for generations before they were considered “real Americans.”
I am here because they chose uncertainty and the hardships that come with it over stability and familiarity.
Am I grateful enough?
Do I make them proud?
For six weeks in the summer, we continue to send the kids to daycare and I finally have time to sink my teeth into a big, creative project.
In 2014, that project was writing my first book.
In 2015, it was publishing my first book.
2016 was a bit weird. It was mostly riding the roller-coaster of early pregnancy, dabbling in writing a short young adult novel, and (admittedly) watching a lot of Netflix.
This year, the big creative project is a new YouTube Channel, featuring instructional cooking videos.
Not recipes. Think techniques.
For years, I’ve watched my husband make simple, delicious, and healthy meals. And he can do it without covering everything in butter, cheese, and ranch dressing. He cooks a large meal on Sunday night. It’s usually a huge pot of rice, some vegetables, and grilled, baked, or roasted meat. Then, he portions it out into containers that we take to work.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heated up a meal that he makes and my co-workers have been like, “Mmm… What’s that?”
This guy is talented. The food is delicious. And he understands food chemistry and can give the best advice about how to prepare food. (And did I mention that another one of his hobbies is photography?)
But he’s not great at the storytelling aspect (although, I think he’ll learn easily).
Oh. And he detests social media.
So that’s where I come in. (And did I mention that I’ve got experience with video editing?)
I remember one night when we had a group of Doug’s friends over at our apartment for a dinner party, probably six or seven years ago, and someone said, “Doug should have his own YouTube channel!”
Our response was mostly, “Ha ha. Someday, maybe.”
“No seriously. He should have a channel.”
“Yeah, okay. Not right now.”
But have you seen YouTube lately? It’s integrated with Google now. It’s getting incredibly easy to get started.
I don’t think we can put it off anymore.
So that’s what I’m working on this summer. I have never done something like this before.
But hey. That’s never stopped me before.
Also on the summer dockett:
And hey, Henry is now officially in the sweet spot of babyhood: post-newborn and pre-mobile.
And how about a baby on a motorcycle?
So hang on to your Harleys.
It’s going to be a busy summer.
Last week, I wrote about practicing gratitude.
And if you’re truly practicing gratitude, generosity is sure to follow.
In the whole first year of my book’s publication, I sold about 150 copies.
Last week, I gave away 309 copies.
Let me explain.
Last year, I learned the Number # 1 Lesson of baby fairs and expos.
Everyone is coming for FREE stuff.
To try to convince someone to buy something at these events is almost impossible.
People were so confused when they would walk up to my table, their eyes searching for what they were going to walk away with. Hmmm… papers with words on them… Some books on book stands… Their fingers would slowly trace the tablecloth, their brains registering the fact that…
I really had nothing.
What I had were fliers, cards, and pamphlets with information on something that I wanted them to buy.
All the other vendors had enormous bowls of candy (regardless of the season) or little goodie bags filled with free magnets, pens, and pamphlets. The smart ones also had a clipboard to collect email addresses for “a chance to win this diaper bag” or basket of baby books, or whatever.
So this year, my approach at this past weekend’s baby fair was quite different.
I gave away my book. For free.
Kindle Direct Publishing allows me to run a free book promotion every three months. The dates of the most recent period coincided perfectly with a local hospital’s community baby fair. So I scheduled my promotion to run for three days, from Saturday, September 24th to Monday, September 26th.
I decided that I would give out half-sheets of paper with directions about how to get their free Kindle copy of my book. At the bottom of that half-sheet of paper, I politely asked for their Amazon review if they enjoyed the book. I also invited them to follow my blog by email.
Then, I told them to enjoy the book.
Their eyes lit up, their eyebrows arched.
“I’ll get it tonight!”
I didn’t advertise the free book promotion at all until Sunday, September 25th. I thought there might be a few people who would come across my book and download it on September 24th, but my main reason for beginning on this day was to have a buffer period for things to go wrong (i.e., Hey, why isn’t my promotion showing up on Amazon???) before the actual date when I need the promotion to be working.
So imagine my surprise when I checked on Sunday morning to see how many free Kindle books had already been downloaded.
97 Kindle books.
I wasn’t sure I was reading the graph right. I read it and reread it. I put my finger on my laptop screen and touched the line.
Who were these people? Was there some special link that Kindle readers follow to immediately download new free Kindle books?
Whatever the reason, I felt incredibly grateful.
No, I’m not making any money. In fact, I’m still about $1500 in the hole for my accrued publishing and marketing costs.
By the end of this promotion, I had reached 309 new potential readers. Some of them will actually read the book. Some of them will recommend it to others. And some of them might even buy a copy for a friend.
Generosity makes the world go round.
Maybe giving away all of these books will lead to this book’s next big break.
Maybe it won’t.
But I feel certain that some new mom out there will end up with this book in her hands and feel comforted by its message.
And that makes the whole endeavor worth it.
I’ve found myself thinking this a lot lately.
I’m already 18 weeks pregnant?
I already can’t sleep on my back anymore?
It’s already time to find a doula?
I’ve already outgrown my bras?
I already have this bump?
I’m already 150 pounds? 155 pounds? 159 pounds?
The time from Weeks 5 to Weeks 11 was agonizingly slow, prolonged by my worries of miscarriage and weeks of debilitating waves of nausea. I could not get through the weeks fast enough.
Come on Week 7… Hurry up Week 8.
But the weeks are flying by now.
The baby is moving.
I felt its first tiny kick in Week 15 as my husband and I watched part of the Opening Ceremonies for the Olympic Games. I felt a lot of “stuff” before then, but that moment was the first clearly movement that couldn’t be mistaken as anything besides a person kicking me.
Life is moving, too.
My daughter is now capable of having conversations with me. In the last week, she prefaces every sentence–a question, a statement, a command, whatever–with “How about…”
And the world is moving.
I woke up on Monday and noticed that our downstairs windows were not covered in condensation. It’s a welcome sign that the humid days of August are coming to an end and the early days of autumn are on the horizon.
Next to our house, a patch of land owned by the local parks department has drastically transformed in the last four months, right along with this pregnancy. After we talked with the parks Operations Manager last year, we agreed to let the land turn into a prairie rather than having the parks department mow it throughout the summer.
So the grass grew tall and brown.
Then, it died.
The crab grass took root and grew.
Now, patches of wildflowers spring forth.
Amidst the chaos of weeds and grass.
Against the cacophony buzzing, whirring insects.
Beautiful and whole.
The wildflowers grew.
I don’t know how many copies of Becoming Mother I truly expected to sell on its release date.
Maybe 20? That could as least cover some of the costs that I’ve shelled out of the last few months. Yeah, 20 seems reasonable. Okay, maybe 15.
When I checked that evening around 10:00 p.m., I braced myself.
Success in publishing can be measured in a lot of ways.
Before I published this book, I braced myself for how the whole publication process might affect my own feelings of accomplishment and self-worth. Anyone who knows me knows that it’s easy for me to take criticism too close to heart. I have to mentally prepare myself for any heartless comments that may come my way.
I knew that by taking on the challenge of self-publishing, I was putting the responsibility for book promotion and sales entirely into my own hands.
I’m inviting you behind the curtain today, to show what self-publishing has been like in this first year post-publication. The nuts and bolts. The costs and benefits. The frustrations and joys.
Here we go.
Summary of Expenses
Books sold, August 2015-August 2016:
Earnings: approximately $900
Book reviews published:
Countries where my book has been sold:
Most visited posts/pages:
Other publications that have helped to promote my writing:
A lot of people could scoff at me for choosing the “easy way” to publication. I would scoff right back at them and say, “Easy? Are you kidding me?”
The only “easy” quality about it is that I didn’t have to spend the time flirting around to find an agent who might be interested enough in my work to get it in the hands of an editor at a publishing house, who might actually want to take the risk of publishing my work, who might not completely change my vision. In that sense, I was able to spend more time in honing the quality of my work and deciding exactly how I wanted to market the book.
Self-publishing wasn’t the easiest way to publish. But it did help me accomplish a few goals:
Some of the things that I did to market this book flopped. Some things worked well. Here’s what I’ve learned. Take it or leave it.
Instead, do these things:
1.) Above all: KEEP WRITING.
If you’re really a writer, this will not be hard at all. You love to do it anyway. You love it even though it doesn’t pay the bills. You love it even though you are rejected over and over and over again. You. Just. Love it.
2. ) Promote your most trafficked blog posts through Facebook promotions. (Hint: Being vulnerable often leads to highly trafficked blog posts. This means that you write about the tough stuff.)
3.) Blog. Regularly. But…
… save some stellar work to submit to other literary magazines or websites who are looking for original, unpublished work.
Find other places to submit your writing and submit often. Take the rejection. Take all of it because there will be a lot. Swallow your pride and keep going. You’re in this for the long haul.
(For me, this meant following tags like pregnancy, motherhood, writing, baby, and parenting.)
4.) Embrace the Power of Social Media
Disclaimer**: I was born in 1981, the very beginning of the Millenial Generation, and God, it shows. I graduated college before the advent of Facebook and smartphones, so I have a weird mix of social media literacy and social media repulsion. And yet… I cannot deny that it has helped me reach readers that I otherwise would never have reached.
Blogging has helped me connect with readers in Australia. Facebook has helped me promote my book to Facebook friends and friends of those friends.
I have not walked through the dark, dark threshold of Twitter yet. I fear I might never return. I have too doggone much to keep track of, so I limit myself to Facebook and blogging.
Be honest. Be authentic. Be you. No one wants a martyr. No one wants a superhero. People want authenticity. They want to see you down in the mud where they are–but they also want to see you climb out of it and shine.
Shine on, fellow writers.
In a previous post, I wrote that I had a great concept for a new novel while I was writing my last book, Becoming Mother. Of course, I didn’t have the time to pursue it while I was finishing my last book, but I scribbled out some pages in hopes of not letting the idea get too far from me.
Three weeks ago, I went on summer vacation from teaching. This is my time to write. Pretty much my only, luxurious, uninterrupted time to dive into a creative project.
I wanted to make the most of it.
Even with all uninterrupted time, writing did not come easy this time. Every time I would sit to put my characters in a scene, I would get blocked. What would he say? How would she act? What happens next?
And then the dreaded, What’s this story really about again?
Argh. So frustrating.
How could I write this story if I couldn’t even get my mind around it?
I ignored it and plowed ahead, letting the scenes take me where they wanted.
Boy, did I get lost.
I kind of started developing an understanding of the characters that I was writing about, but I still felt like I didn’t really know where the story was going. But worse, I didn’t feel like I could see into the soul of these people.
Last Thursday, totally in a funk, I closed the “Working_Draft_3” document that I was hammering away at. Then, I pulled this book off my shelf.
I bought this book several years ago when I was looking for ways to improve my already-written first novel.
I’ll be honest about my first impression: I scoffed at it.
This guy was presenting a “formula” for writing a great novel. It gave you guidelines for how many sections to have in the beginning, middle, and end, depending on the final word count. It pretty much laid out a lock-step guide for crafting a novel.
Great art is not formulaic, I’m sure I thought. And I’m an artist.
Yeah, but I was also a novice. I didn’t really know the first thing about crafting engaging and well-paced scenes inside narrative arcs.
I wanted to break the rules before I even knew them.
And that’s how I ended up with 400 single-spaced pages of plot-gone-wrong.
And a beast of a novel that was far to wily for me to tame after the fact.
When I revisited this book last Thursday, I thought, Yes! This is exactly what I need.
I need structure–badly.
My idea is great. But this book helped me work through some of the biggest challenges in creating an engaging and believable plot and characters.
I used to think (secretly) that I was too good to write a formulaic novel.
Nope. I’m not.
I’m not above it at all.
I’ve got a lot to learn, and I’m ready to learn it.
And in that spirit, I’ve plotted out all 48 sections of this new novel, complete with three formulaic surprises and worsening failures for the lead character from start to finish. I also spent time creating characters notes so that I could understand my character’s inner struggles and conflicts.
Now, when I sit down to work on a scene, all I have to do is look at my notes on the current section that I’m writing, review my character notes, and jump into it. I realize that I don’t have to have this all finished before I return to teaching–because I can just look back at my notes and remember where I’m going.
I’m on my way to my SFD–my shitty, first draft.
Now that social media has started to calm down on the great debate of whether a human being or a gorilla is more valuable and of whether your child entering a zoo enclosure means you’re a negligent parent, maybe we can step back and get some perspective on what we pay attention to on social media. All week long, social media users have been sharing post after post about the killing of Harambe at the Cincinnati Zoo.
It’s the mother’s fault. Get control of your child!
Or Did they really have to kill Harambe?
Or Leave the mother alone! You can’t always be in control of them!
Fine. Everyone feel better now?
While we’ve been distracted by the death of an endangered gorilla and our unspoken love of shaming other parents, 880 migrants died last week as they tried to cross the Mediterranean on smuggler’s ships.
2,500 people have died in this manner since the beginning of the year.
It doesn’t bother me that people feel the need to talk about the Harambe story.
I get it.
I think most Americans can more easily identify with this story, and thus feel like they have something to say about it. Most of us can imagine being the parent that takes our child to the zoo and then being forced to watch your child being handled by a 400-pound gorilla. Some of us can even find the compassion in our hearts to mourn the death of an endangered gorilla, who spent his life under the constant parading gaze of humans.
Our imaginations can take us this far.
But our imagination stumbles when it comes to the refugee crisis.
We probably don’t know any refugees. In fact, given how long the U.S. refugee settlement process takes, it will probably be years before we have any refugees living in our communities. In the meantime, this whole refugee crisis thing seems like some horrific story happening in some other world.
Quite simply, there’s no fertile soil in our hearts for these seeds of compassion to grow.
It’s hard to imagine being forced out of our homes because our city is now rubble.
It’s hard to imagine walking six hundred miles with our children.
It’s hard to imagine strapping life vests to our loved ones, telling them It’s going to be okay.
It’s hard to imagine sleeping in the hallway of a train, like this.
But that, my friends, is exactly what we need to do.
And direct our attention toward something more worthy of our energy and angst.