"No. 1: Try marijuana."
At 37, local Jené Jackson was plotting an adolescence. The list included 25 "wild oats" she'd not yet sown.
The daughter of a Nazarene minister, Jackson grew up fearing the experiences many people have at some point between 15 and 25. She'd never been drunk. She'd never had a full-body massage. She'd never been to a rock concert. And she'd never smoked pot.
"My mom prayed for me that whole night," she says of her first task.
In 2007, Jackson checked off each activity on her list. And now she's hitting a big one that wasn't part of the official 25, but was secretly always on her mind — releasing her story, The Oat Project, to the public.
And she's doing it in an out-of-the-box way. After trying the traditional route, shopping the book around to literary agents, she decided she wanted more control over her "castle in the sky."
On March 2, she'll celebrate with a launch party for her e-book at Rico's Cafe and Wine Bar, where she did much of her writing, in journals by hand. She plans to release one to two chapters that can be purchased individually every few weeks for reading via Kindle, Nook and Smashwords. She's also selling a subscription through her website, theoatproject.com, which will get you the whole book, and a printed edition included at the end.
It likely won't stop there. The former Independent sales executive (and longtime friend of Fine Print editor Kirsten Akens) has plans for a sequel, which she hints will include more "oats."
"Maybe this process creates more sanity than insanity," Jackson says.
Bursting the 'bubble'
Over the summer that she took on this project, Jackson gained some new friends: those who suggested it would be good for her to experience being out of control, and those, like her brother, who told her she'd been living in a "bubble."
But she also lost friends. Many of them thought she was on a path to ruining her life.
Nearly everyone judged her. And she judged herself, believing that wanting to get a tattoo or go skinny-dipping meant she was spiritually weak.
But a couple things kept her going. First, she had struggled with weekly panic attacks since age 19. She wanted them to end, and nothing had worked. "Church hadn't solved it," she says. "Leaving church hadn't solved it. Children hadn't solved it."
Just as important, though, Jackson didn't want her kids to grow up with the same fears she had. When her oldest daughter was 2, the girl saw her mother crying and shook her arm. "Momma, I waked you. I waked you, Momma," her daughter said.
Jackson says that moment shook her up in more ways than physical. She felt a desire to tackle the fears that haunted her and move on with her life. She wouldn't, though, until her third child was born not breathing and had to be revived — catalyzing discussions with friends and turning a list into a life journey.
If Jackson had thought she was a mess before this process, the 14 weeks it took to finish her 25 tasks would lead her to other issues. Completing the project revealed problems in her marriage, and would ultimately lead to a separation from her husband.
But it also made her a better mother. She says it's hard to be a parent if you haven't actually lived. "I hope they see me having a life," she says, "and knowing that they can figure that out on their own."
What Jackson really seeks is for people not to judge what she did, but to say, "I never thought about it that way," and to have some conversations about it. One of the reasons she's chosen to self-publish chapters every few weeks is because she imagines it building a sense of community. Jackson hopes people facing similar issues or who are just interested in what she's gone through will join her online to learn more about what she did, how she did it — "I did it as safely as I could at that time of my life," she says — and what they can do.
Looking at her notes now as she edits the upcoming chapter releases, Jackson realizes how naïve she was at the beginning of all of this. But she also recognizes that now she has to work to see life through that restricted lens, when it used to be the norm.
Of herself back then, Jackson says, "I kinda feel so sweetly sorry for her."