what is the opposite of "gun" ?

Moving to The States has been much more of a culture shock than I realized it would be. I am wrestling in my spirit with all of the muck we are in right now as a country, this country I am now a part of - and for the first time, truly fearing for my safety on any given day. I was gifted tickets to a music festival this weekend and my first thought was wondering if it would be the target for a mass shooting - sitting ducks, I thought.

Are we not to go on living, to stay in the house, for truly, it could happen at any time, at this grocery store or on this bus or with these friends or in this park. But are we to just go on living, and not say enough to this?

I write to my senator and I sign the petitions and I get my affairs in order to be able to vote in the coming elections. I shake my head and I struggle to find the words, and so sometimes I borrow others’ who capture the belly of the beast in its heartbreakingly accurate tone:

The Opposites Game (for Patricia Maisch) - Brendan Constantine

This day my students and I play the Opposites Game 
with a line from Emily Dickinson. My life had stood 
a loaded gun
, it goes and I write it on the board, 
pausing so they can call out the antonyms – 

My                 Your 
Life                Death 
Had stood ?   Will sit
A                   Many 
Loaded                     Empty 
Gun ?

For a moment, very much like the one between 
lightning and it’s sound, the children just stare at me, 
and then it comes, a flurry, a hail storm of answers –

Flower, says one. No, Book, says another. That's stupid, 
cries a third, the opposite of a gun is a pillow. Or maybe 
a hug, but not a book, no way is it a book. With this, 
the others gather their thoughts 

and suddenly it’s a shouting match. No one can agree, 
for every student there’s a final answer. It's a song, 
a prayer, I mean a promise, like a wedding ring, and
later a baby. Or what’s that person who delivers babies?

A midwife? Yes, a midwife. No, that’s wrong. You're so 
wrong you’ll never be right again. It's a whisper, a star,
it's saying I love you into your hand and then touching 
someone's ear. Are you crazy? Are you the president

of Stupid-land? You should be, When's the election? 
It’s a teddy bear, a sword, a perfect, perfect peach. 
Go back to the first one, it's a flower, a white rose. 
When the bell rings, I reach for an eraser but a girl 

snatches it from my hand. Nothing's decided, she says, 
We’re not done here. I leave all the answers 
on the board. The next day some of them have 
stopped talking to each other, they’ve taken sides.

There's a Flower club. And a Kitten club. And two boys 
calling themselves The Snowballs. The rest have stuck 
with the original game, which was to try to write 
something like poetry. 

It's a diamond, it's a dance, 
the opposite of a gun is a museum in France. 
It's the moon, it's a mirror,
it's the sound of a bell and the hearer. 

The arguing starts again, more shouting, and finally 
a new club. For the first time I dare to push them. 
Maybe all of you are right, I say. 

Well, maybe. Maybe it's everything we said. Maybe it’s
everything we didn't say. It's words and the spaces for words. 
They're looking at each other now. It's everything in this room 
and outside this room and down the street and in the sky. 

It's everyone on campus and at the mall, and all the people 
waiting at the hospital. And at the post office. And, yeah, 
it's a flower, too. All the flowers. The whole garden. 
The opposite of a gun is wherever you point it.

Don’t write that on the board, they say. Just say poem.
Your death will sit through many empty poems.

Posted on August 10, 2019 .

on leaving and new beginnings.


Hello and happy spring to all of you, 

Here is this funny, completely under-utilized corner of my blog. I have the same kind of corner in my new apartment, all this wall space that currently has a stack of unframed artwork leaning awkwardly, and where, around 7:24pm, the light hits it just right and it feels like the perfect place to bask with a gin and tonic and reflect on the day, but I’ve yet to get around to doing so. Do people still do this: banter into the internet void? 

I had extremely grand visions of meticulously documenting this crazy time in my life, thinking that any time I’ve thrown myself into the middle of the ocean to learn to swim, I will be so full of feeling, and feeling usually leads to words for me, and here instead I have been met with a tongue-tied bewilderment and a general nervousness that has taken me aback. And now it’s nearly June, and so much in my life has changed, and I still feel like a fly on the wall to my own existence, but I’m trying to find a way to anchor myself back into the narrative. 

It all feels like a soupy, homesick mess, but I thought, in a few installments, I could challenge myself to summarize some of the sticky feelings that come with packing my life up and transplanting myself into a new world. 


First of all, some back story to get you up to speed: I met my boyfriend Alex at our mutual friend Katie’s wedding in Santa Cruz last June, and we jumped into the dizzying excitement of a basically-transcontinental relationship with 78-ish hour visits every few weeks, which was completely financially unsustainable. The crazy thing about long distance dating is you have to quickly decide if you see longterm potential with that person, and also have no idea what any kind of “normal” life feels like with that person, because there’s no space to be grumpy or bored or uninteresting when you spend all this time missing each other and only have a weekend at a time to go off of - everything is interesting and charming and exciting and dramatic and wonderful. There is no  Tuesday Dinner And Argue About What To Watch On Netflix, or Are We Seriously Still Wandering Around The Apple Store, or Let’s Hang Out At My Apartment In Different Rooms, or Can You Pick Up Cilantro On Your Way, or I Know You Asked Me To Choose A Restaurant And Make A Reso But I Totally Forgot. 

Fitting in nicely with my generalized existential angst, I was independently trying to figure out what I was going to do with myself for work, feeling pretty “over” serving but feeling kind of stuck in the industry, and wrestling with the ever-present vocation/occupation dance: how does art/ creativity/ personal projects/ quirky dinner series/ inevitable need for some sort of pay cheque. The initial plan was for me to come to San Francisco for a couple of months to be in the same vicinity as Alex and see what normal-ish dating would be like, and then the question became: what happens if it goes well? Then I go back to Toronto after not working for a few months, have an apartment I’m paying for with no job to return to,  and save up again to turn around and return back to San Francisco? It seemed like I was going to hold my 2019 in limbo that way, so I decided to take the plunge and go all in. 


I sold my bike and all my furniture, justifying that it seemed unreasonable to ship IKEA furniture and dishes I’ve had for a decade across the country - in hindsight, with every corner of my life saturated with newness and unfamiliarity, coupled with starting from the ground up and varying interpretations of what “nice decor” means between Alex and I, I wonder if having a few more things from “home” would make me feel a little less unsettled. That being said, I don’t know if Thin Mint The Bicycle could make it up or down Fillmore Street, and cycling in SF, at this point, seems completely terrifying, and I don’t know how helpful it is to tie my sense of safety and identity into the wobbly-but-beautiful wooden coffee table I so proudly carried home from outside a house on Follis Avenue. 

I suppose this has all been about exactly that: taking away any kind of comfort that I could prop myself up with, and seeing how my sea legs held up on their own. I left a city I came to love, and knew like the back of my hand, I left the people who brought it to life, I left people I created and collaborated with, which has felt like losing a limb. It has been incredibly humbling, if not just completely disorienting, to be a creative with no words, a gatherer with no community, a dreamer with dreamless sleep. I thought I would approach this like a blank canvas, full of potential, but in truth I have started out feeling feeble, sheepish and shy. 


This has been, I want to be clear, such a grand and worthwhile adventure: there is, first and foremost, the man I love and the softness and humor he brings to my world; there are streets lined with eucalyptus, and the roses that bloom in March; there are pink houses that bring me inexplicable joy; there is the foggy bay and arching bridge that takes my breath away every time I bring myself to the water; there are dinner series events and storytelling nights and poetry readings; there are warm and inviting people who have graciously invited me for drinks and park hangs and yoga classes. I am confident that I can make a home here, and that I am in the middle of skyrocketing personal growth. All of this is just growing pains. 

Posted on May 29, 2019 and filed under The Daily: SPILL.

spring reading schedule.


I'm not sure how it happened, but the other day I woke up and realized that I have four different piles of books that I am chipping away at - the stack by my bed has a light read that I picked up at one of those neighbourhood library cupboards that people have on their lawns, and a book I didn't immediately get into, but have every intention of going back and reading, and also its crisp white cover with whimsical clementines looks great decoratively in the room, and Mary Oliver's Devotions - I feel like it's an artist win when a poem is the last thing I look at before turning the light off.

On my kitchen table, there is the book Writing Alone and With Others by Pat Schneider, which is the first writing "instruction" book I've read in a while, along with my journal, and my most current novel I'm devouring, Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. 

In my kitchen I have a poetry book that my cousin gifted me, Bluets by Maggie Nelson, and Padraig O'Tuama's Readings From The Book Of Exile, which just arrived two days ago. 

On the coffee table is the revolutionary The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel Vander Kolk, Big Magic by Liz Gilbert and We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Big Magic and We Should All Be Feminists have already been read (and highlighted and re-read), but are there for easy access and required reading for any visitors. 

So what's a girl to do? I've started scheduling in 20 minute blocks in my day to chip away at each book. Sounds a little ridiculous and a lot nerdy, but it's been a huge improvement to the alternative, "Start a book, drop a book, get a new book, feel guilty about the book you sort of started and still want to read," habit from the past. I read Padraig O Tuama with my coffee, 20 minutes of Bessel Vander Kolk after that, and Little Fires Everywhere has been coming on the subway with me. Problem solved. 

introducing the monument project.


Hello beautiful people,

          Starting in September, I am launching a new writing series called The Monument Project, and I want you to collaborate with me. Anyone and everyone is invited to write to me about a moment in their life that they would like to construct a figurative monument for: where can you pinpoint a significant shift in perspective (about someone, about the city you live in, about your own capabilities or limitations)? What made you discover the thing you're really, really great at? What did you learn about yourself after a month of traveling? When was a time you were truly, very scared? When did you decide (not) to have kids? What was a powerful lesson you learned from your brother? What is the riskiest thing you’ve ever done – and maybe totally pulled off, or totally, really flubbed? What moment made you realize someone wasn’t the one? When did you realize maybe you weren’t depressed anymore? What changed in your life when you moved across the country? How did you decide what program to take in school – or, decide to drop out? I want to hear about it.

       My vision is to capture your story’s heart and write a creative piece (either poetry or poetic prose) from your monument – I will not be re-telling your story, I simply want to give a snapshot of those moments of summit when we have either stood on the peak of something great, seen hurricanes coming towards us and have taken shelter, or had a moment of divergence and how we handled the decision making. I will creatively be writing the plaque on this monument in your life, "here lies the place where we pay homage to...." 

     If you’d like to collaborate with me for The Monument Project, please email your 500 words or less submission to jessjanz @ gmail.com. I will be selecting 12 entries for the month of September, so get them in quick!

Let’s make something great.

xo Jess

a morning prayer from o tuama.

What does one do when they move to a house near the subway line and find themselves constantly waiting on transit? They get obsessed with podcasts of course. 

I've been listening to the podcast On Being a lot lately, which has incredible insights and interviews with lion-hearted people who are excavating right down to the core of what it is to be human, and a few days ago listened to Krista Tippett's interview with Pádraig Ó Tuama, a theologian, poet, author, and leader of the Corrymeela community in Northern Ireland. Near the end of his interview, he shared an excerpt from his book In The Shelter: Finding A Home In The World. I re-played it about five times on the subway, and I recommend listening to the podcast to hear Ó Tuama's beautiful Irish ballad voice, but his words are so gentle and were such a gift to me in the middle of feeling overwhelmed and muddy, so I wanted to share them with you: 

     “Neither I nor the poets I love found the keys to the kingdom of prayer and we cannot force God to stumble over us where we sit. But I know that it’s a good idea to sit anyway. So every morning I sit, I kneel, waiting, making friends with the habit of listening, hoping that I’m being listened to. There, I greet God in my own disorder.
     "I say hello to my chaos, my unmade decisions, my unmade bed, my desire and my trouble. I say hello to distraction and privilege, I greet the day and I greet my beloved and bewildering Jesus.

     "I recognize and greet my burdens, my luck, my controlled and uncontrollable story. I greet my untold stories, my unfolding story, my unloved body, my own love, my own body. I greet the things I think will happen and I say hello to everything I do not know about the day. I greet my own small world and I hope that I can meet the bigger world that day.

     "I greet my story and hope that I can forget my story during the day, and hope that I can hear some stories, and greet some surprising stories during the long day ahead. I greet God, and I greet the God who is more God than the God I greet. Hello to you all, I say, as the sun rises above the chimneys of North Belfast. Hello."


Woah. I made it through my twenty-sixth year. It wasn't pretty. It held some of my darkest and most painful days. Thinking back to my last birthday, I had just gotten out of a pretty shitty relationship, I was staying on my friend Lauren's couch for what would be two and a half months, and generally feeling like a loser, completely unsure of where to start. Last year I wanted to burry my head and let the day quietly pass me by.

Last year I started off as a pile of rubble, this year I celebrate with a fire in my belly and an ocean crashing through my heart. Here are some of the milestones, highs and lows, that left a mark: 

Last spring I started therapy, I found a bright, quirky apartment across from the park with a sunny roommate, and in May, I went to Redding for a creativity conference with my longtime friend and mentor, Daphne. I had been having trouble with my figurative and literal voice; didn't know how to write songs anymore, literally couldn't open my guitar case without having a panic attack, and my throat was tight and twisted, like a constant grip of fear was making it impossible for me to sing properly. I listened to emboldened speakers and prophets speak about the role and responsibility of The Artist. I was blessed and built up. I was encouraged and inspired by talented writers, directors, dancers, musicians; my people. Driving away, I physically felt shackles fall off my throat. It was trippy, it was significant. I've embraced it as no small miracle. 

In August I was scooped up by my aunt and uncle Lisa and Mike in Nova Scotia. They make me incredible food and we had cookies at midnight and drank scotch on the porch and they carted me to five different beaches. I realized that every time I visit them, the narrative is always the same, "I'm tired, I'm spent, I've been burning at both ends, I have nothing left in the tank." I started troubleshooting: how does this keep happening, and to what benefit? How could I prevent it? I started making a plan beside the Atlantic with a matching flower crown to my cousin Annika while little Arlo jumped from sand dune to sand dune. 

September brought with it a new determination and discipline for songwriting and poetry. I had a writing schedule, a weekly word count goal, and an idea for my first novel that started writing itself. I went to California (again!) with my friend Tripp. It's always good for the heart to go to California; it has the same healing powers as my native Pacific North West but with more glamourous palm trees and its tinted, sun-kissed locals. We celebrated love at the most beautiful (and detailed!) wedding I've ever been to. We went to a sleepy surf town and tried our hand at body boarding (not entering the Olympics for that one any time soon). We made his parents come with us to morning yoga at the beach. 

On October 6th, the world changed. There are certain life events that become a line in the sand of everything that happened before the event and everything that comes after, and this was one of them. I experienced betrayal by another human, a stranger, and it has challenged and changed me forever. My army of people strapped on their boots and answered the call to action; people wrote and called. They imposed themselves gently but urgently on me. They came to my house and sat with me. They were understanding when I had to bail last minute on plans. They fed me and held me. They let me crash date nights and tag along to movies. They covered my shifts at work. They checked in, and then checked in again. I was buoyed by their rage and carried by their kindness. The following few months were brutal and blurry, but somehow healing happened, even though the wound is still stinging and open. 

My trip home for Christmas was overwhelmingly beautiful. My whole extended family on my dad's side were together for the first time in years. I held my best friend's baby for the first time. My dad hosted a beer tour for my cousins, I got to see my friend Ari perform, I was scooped up by old friends for tea, I drank beautiful wine presented by my wine-genius (and general genius) uncle, Tim, I slept in, I went for lunch with my grandmother, I walked by the inlet, I let the gentle tide of BC lap over me like a blanket.  There was so much healing in those ten days; I felt like I could exhale for the first time in months. 

There was a relief to say goodbye to 2016; something about the date removing me from the events of the fall that brought more distance and breathing room. Many poo-poo the idea of resolutions, but I'm the queen of taking time to reflect (rather, I'm not sure where the reflection stops and fixating begins, but this head is always on). I have some lofty creative plans for this year, I am actively working on adjusting my work schedule (and even work location) to accommodate more space and time for art, and the ever present goal to maybe learn how to blow-dry my hair properly. Someday, I tell ya. Stuff is on the move. 

I played my first solo set in two years in February. I had a meltdown when I got home, which my friend Rob was kind enough to help put me back together (mostly because he was in proximity. Thanks Rob). It's a weird feeling, this thing I love to do, this thing that sometimes I feel good at and sometimes feel I have no business participating in. 

Then I moved with probably the quickest turn-around of life; found out I had to leave my quirky apartment on Friday, saw a listing on Sunday night, looked at it on Monday, got the keys on Tuesday. My friend Sam contrabanded a moving van and helped me carry all of my belongings out of a three story walk up with four hours notice. After work. Before helping another friend move. Natasha showed up late but helped too I guess (okay can't even end the sentence without making it abundantly clear that's a joke). I now have this beautiful home that I think will greatly serve my closeted introversion and give me space to brood and write. 

I haven't had a birthday party since my 14th, when my school friends came over and told me my house was "no fun," they messed up the basement, and ended the night playing ding-dong-ditch in my neighbourhood. Even since moving to Toronto and finding "my people" I get mega-people-pleasing-social-anxiety and get worried about putting all of my favourite humans in one room. But this year it felt necessary to celebrate and make everyone adult and get to know each other. If I love them, everyone would love them. So that's what we did. Drank a lot of wine and ate a lot (a LOT) of cheese, warmed my new home, ate the best sugar donuts in the world, stayed up like so late. It was easy and cozy and just what I wanted. 

I feel an ache in my heart, which I think is natural after such a blow, but I feel triumphant too. I am humbled by my tribe and how they have loved me. I feel proud of my body, that as it has shrieked and bellowed, it has communicated clearly what my Self has needed. Somewhat inconveniently, but effectively. I am incredibly thankful for the art that has risen to meet me, helping me to make sense of a season that I didn't ask for. Over and over it is re-affirmed that there is beauty to account for when we stop and look for it. 

Thank you, as always, for journeying with me, for your sweet encouragements and gentle nudging. 

Love, Jess. 

Posted on March 14, 2017 .


      It only took a second for the world to change. There was a flash, and the earth became hot and the room filled with lava. As my body was violated I went all the way to the beginning of time, right to the fall of Man. I saw the first expression of free choice take place. I watched as Adam took the apple and ate of it. I was there as Eve understood for the first time her Nakedness.  

       Do you know how the story goes? God called out to Adam, “Where are you?”

       Do you not think God knew where Adam was in the garden, He with his infinite knowledge and understanding?  Down where the path meets the river and the birds would take their morning shower, and the flowers would sing sweetly as they walked by? He knew exactly where Adam stood; He wasn’t trying to place Adam, he wanted Adam to place himself.

       I understand the story differently now. “The woman, she made me do it,” he explained. Here it was: The First Betrayal; The first Deferring Of Responsibility; The first Casting Of Shame.

       I watched as all of time passed and heaven slipped away from our humanity. I watched as women were silenced and put behind doors. I watched as women gave birth to the men who left home and named countries and cities after their fathers. I watched as the child brides left their dolls for their marriage beds. I watched as the prostitutes counted their coins at the end of their long nights as new morning light snuck through their window. I watched as women painted their signs of protest, lining city streets, calling out just to be heard. I watched myself with my colleagues as we wait tables in our black dresses, men telling us to smile, telling us to come closer, placing their hands on our waists, telling us our looks please them. We as women carry with us every injustice since the beginning of time. What has been done to one woman has been done to all of us.

       It all flashed before me with my body made of fire, his hands on my breasts, his hands down my stomach to my groin, his breath heavy on my cheek. Another betrayal. Another deferring of responsibility. Another casting of shame.

       “I think this should stay between us,” his words hovering above me like dark smog as I laid there, paralyzed by disbelief. Is it in some manual somewhere, “The Line Every Pervert Must Say”? Verbatim, I heard it with my own ears. The first betrayal to now, they have said the same thing to us. “Shut up and take it.” “Boys will be boys.” “This is just what men do.” My story is unique, and it is not unique. His hands on my body was a violation done to all of us. I am not the only one.

       This story belongs to every woman, and this story belongs to every man, but it is not every man’s sin.  Rather, it has been the men in my life that have buoyed my grief.

       Rob walked me through the park and took my hand, he let my soaked face and dripping nose wet the shoulder of his sweater. His quiet steadiness made it safe for me to unravel and succumb to the sadness on the first night.

       The next morning I kept my appointment with Ryan, and, his hands in my hair, I was overwhelmed with the stark contrast of his touch to the man touching me the day before, here with my friend who paints my hair gold and tells me stories of all the places he’s been and all the people who have made his day. And as he massaged my scalp, I didn’t flinch from the intimacy. It was Ryan’s gentle urging and encouragement that helped me rally the strength to file an official report.

         Iain, my stand-in dad when I’m 2000 miles away from my own, picked me up after I was finished at the police station and anchored my thoughts with prayer, his words a prophecy for a whole heart and a bold life; “You were victimized, but you do not have to live as a victim,” he reminded me.

       Two days later I got on a plane and was gathered by my parents, and I spent the weekend clinging to my father. I cried and he cried and he put his hands on either side of my face and the rage in his eyes flashed the same color as the fire in my belly. My lovely father who honors us with morning coffee runs when I visit and stoic gentleness at any other time was furious and bellowing, and his outrage was a gift to me.

       The men of my life have stepped up and demonstrated their loyalty to me over and over. They have taken on the responsibility to stand like mighty oaks in this heavy forest, their kind words like rustling leaves whirring and singing, making it easier to find some sleep. They have gathered my tears and cloaked me in honor. They are not like him. His sin is not their sin.

       Last night I had a dream that we were all back in Eden; the sun was tucking itself behind the mountain range and the wolves began to howl and the tide of the ocean began to come in and people gathered in their tribes around crackling fires. And Eve walked – no, she was floating – from circle to circle, calling us each by name. She kissed our foreheads and her laugh was like a song, and each man’s eyes filled with tears and they took her hands in theirs and one by one spoke the covenant: “I see you, I am with you, I am for you, I honor you.” Eve kissed their palms and anointed their brows as our daughters danced and ran through the field and down to the water. 

Posted on November 20, 2016 .


My birthday this year was spent with closest friends on a quiet Friday night in, a monstrous cheese board, the fanciest of champagnes, a tower of cronuts (pictured), and celebrating the triumphs and challenges of twenty-five, and declaring bold and beautiful adventures for twenty-six, namely just these things:

less worry, more surrender
less battling, more tenderness
less anxiety, more trust
less bottling, more spilling
less second-guessing, more trying
less solitude, more partnership
less apologizing, more intention
less hurrying, more presence.

Over and over I am bewildered by the obnoxious support of my beautiful circle of friends, who, specifically in the last few months have rallied and surrounded me and fed me and housed me and wrapped me up in their love and goodness and cheered me on in the hazy uncertainty and sometimes achey heaviness I can sink into. They make my world beautiful and worthwhile with their beautiful hearts. 

personalized jewelry for valentine's day.

Gotta admit, though Valentine's Day can be a little over-cheesy and I am a firm believer in writing love notes on the regular rather than just on one day of the year, there is something sweet about walking around the city and seeing so many people on their way home with bouquets of flowers. 

My vote for non-cheesy and so-thoughtful gifts for someone you love? Lovely & simple personalized jewelry. Here are some of my faves:

Courtney Williams runs the Etsy Shop AdorablySimpleDesign and makes these sweet hammered metal rings with personalized initials on them. How cute for sisters or for your mom with a ring for each of her children! 

Beth Macri makes these awesome hidden message necklaces that look so polished and refined. You can choose from gold, silver and rose gold characters, and they look great mix & matched. 

A long time favourite of mine, COATT makes personalized morse code jewelry. They have various silk or chain necklaces to choose from, as well as bracelets or constellation (zodiac) patterns. These are so delicate and dainty and are a win for any special event if you ask me. 

[All photos are from each vendors websites].