Guns, Women, Writing

I haven’t written anything about this for awhile, but I’m still working on a writing project about learning how to shoot, gun culture, women and guns, and other things I can’t seem to quite categorize or pin down. The project has grown larger in scope than I originally intended, and it’s somewhat nebulous. I’ve been scouring the library holdings where I teach for books about guns, and I sometimes wonder if the research librarian has red-flagged my library account, as I’ve been running searches like this: “women and guns” “gun violence” etc. It’s made for some interesting summer reading.

One of my writer friends, Rachel Kramer Bussel, told me about a documentary called A Girl and A Gun and I’m really excited to watch it. I wish it was coming to a theater near Minneapolis, but it looks like I’ll have to download it on itunes.

This morning on The Hairpin I came across an interview with Cathryne Czubek, who created the documentary. After reading the interview, now I really want to watch the documentary.

In the interview, Czubek talks about how she shot a gun for the first time alongside a 10-year-old girl, and how some of these girls took up skeet shooting as a way to bond with their fathers. In the process of learning how to shoot, I have found that my interest in guns has resulted in bonding with some of my male (and female!) family members, and family friends. When I was home in Pennsylvania last summer, I shot a pistol, rifle, and shotgun with my best friend from home, J, and her dad. I have known both J and her dad my entire life, but shooting clays with them was a bonding experience, unlike any other we’ve had. I could tell that J’s dad enjoyed teaching us the mechanics of how the shotgun worked, giving us pointers on how to aim, and just spending time with us, teaching us about something he loves to do. Every time J or I hit a clay, her dad let out a whoop of genuine excitement.

In Pennsylvania, I shot a variety of guns with one of my uncles, and that too was a bonding experience. This uncle likes to hunt, and now that I am interested in hunting and shooting, we have a lot to talk about. My uncle coached me on how to shoot my dad’s old thirty-ought-six, and as I was shooting, I remember thinking how cool it was that I was shooting my dad’s old gun, and that my uncle was coaching me on how to shoot it. There we were, in the woods, shooting targets, old beer cans, and water jugs, and it was so much fun. My dad’s gun was heavy and had a significant recoil that left me with bruises dotting my shoulder, but I’d gladly shoot it again.

Likewise, on that Pennsylvania trip another friend from home invited me up to her back 40 and her brother coached me on how to shoot all kinds of guns. He had set up a number of targets, including but not limited to: a water heater, some boxes, actual targets, soda bottles and beer cans, and a toilet. I shot a toilet with an AR-15, while wearing a WWII helmet, just because I could. There’s a lot more to this story, but you’ll have to wait until I publish the book to read about it.

In my personal experience, the people in my life have been quite generous in mentoring me as I learn about guns. They have been excited about teaching me what they know, and when I set out to begin this project, I hadn’t foreseen how it would strengthen my relationships with them. It has also strengthened my relationship with my husband, as we both enjoy shooting, although he prefers shooting handguns, while I prefer shooting shotguns. Last summer, when we were up in north-central Minnesota, our friend D taught us how to load and shoot a shotgun, and my husband and I shot clays for hours under the unrelenting Minnesota sun. It was a fabulous day.

The bonding and relationship strengthening and building was not something I had foreseen in the early days of my gun project, but it has been good, and it got me to thinking about my gun experience in a different way. Why am I so interested in shooting? Obviously I am interested in how women and guns go together, and how they’re portrayed in popular culture, and guns as a feminist issue. But there’s more to it than that, I think. Learning how to shoot, and researching this project has been a way for me to connect with the rural Pennsylvania of my youth, and also a way to connect with my friends and family there, now that I live in suburban Minnesota, which seems about as far away from my childhood experience as possible. So maybe in a way I am like those 10-year-old girls in Maine who are skeet shooting in part to bond with their dads. Instead I am a 32-year-old woman learning how to shoot as a way to get back to a certain time and place, and to bond in a new way with important people in my life. Maybe it’s also a way to acknowledge part of who I am, and where I am from. I’ve been living in suburban Minnesota since 2003, and that’s 13 years, but I spent the first 22 years of my life in rural Pennsylvania, and my experiences there obviously played a large role in shaping who I am today.

While I am enjoying the process of this writing project, there is a bit of sadness to it. The person who might’ve been the most excited about it, and who would’ve loved to mentor me on how to shoot is gone. I like to imagine that if there is a heaven, per my Catholic upbringing (and I have no idea what I believe on that subject, and that is a whole separate blog post), that this person is looking down from the clouds and is as excited about this project as I am. I would’ve loved to have shot with this person, and I think they would’ve loved shooting with me. I think about them every time I shoot, and when I’m doing research.

One of my favorite essays involving guns is “Shooting Dad” by Sarah Vowell. It can be found in essay collection Take the Cannoli. It’s about much more than just guns, including father/daughter relationships and politics. The last paragraph of this essay is just phenomenal (talk about ending with a bang!).

As you can see, I’ve been thinking about all of this quite a bit. Guns, Women, Writing. There is lots more to come…


Poetry Project Tumblr

One of my goals for the summer is to write more poetry, and so I started a poetry-based tumblr where I post my own poetry from time to time, other people’s poetry, quotes and photos I find inspiring, etc. I am writing a lot about Pennsylvania lately, so it’s kind of Pennsylvania-focused:

I’m doing a lot of tweeting about random stuff these days: @nicolejjohns

I’m on facebook:

I’m digging goodreads:

…and google+…


Upcoming Speaking Engagement: Elkins, West Virginia

I am working on logistics for some speaking engagements next academic year, and I can now share with you that I will be headed to Elkins, WV on Friday, September 13th to talk about eating disorders, body image, and recovery with middle and high school students. I am especially excited about this trip because it’s not far from where I grew up in rural, western Pennsylvania (which means I get to stop in and visit some family as well) and because I will be addressing middle and high school students, and most of the time eating disorder awareness (I don’t really like that term, but I haven’t been able to come up with a better one yet) focuses mainly on college-age women, which I think is a mistake. It’s just as important to talk to pre-teens and teenagers about how to cultivate a positive body image, how to seek help for an eating disorder, etc. as it is to talk to adults about these things.

Having the opportunity to speak to people of all ages about eating disorders, recovery, writing, etc. is one of the best things to have come from publishing Purge: Rehab Diaries. I am honored that people invite me to schools to speak about these issues, and it’s something I enjoy doing. It’s a privilege. I have met so many wonderful people in the process of publishing my book, and I’m looking forward to meeting even more  wonderful people this coming school year.

My Grandma Sent Me Penn State Chocolate Bars

My grandma sent me two Penn State chocolate bars (how cool is my grandma?). They totally made my day, and they were delicious as well.


It’s summer, and the academic year has ended, which means I have a lot more free time on my hands. I’m going to be blogging again, and not just about books, writing, and psychology (although I will likely be blogging about those things as well). I’m working on some writing projects this summer, as well as planning out courses for next year, reading for fun, traveling, and working on scheduling speaking engagements for next year as well. I’ll be posting some updates soon, and letting you know what I’ve been up to this year, as well as what I will be up to next year.

I don’t always post everything on my blog, but you can follow me on twitter: @nicolejjohns, facebook:, and I’m on google+ and goodreads.

NYT Article About “Fat Talk”

The New York Times published an article about “fat talk” that I thought I’d share. I will fully admit that I sometimes participate in “fat talk” although I have gotten much better about not automatically diving into the conversation. Usually I feel pressured into engaging in this kind of conversation, like it’s expected of me. Often, for me, if someone says something negative about their body, I will try and make them feel better by saying something negative about my body, which is completely counterproductive. But, it’s like we’ve been conditioned to converse about our bodies in this manner. I’m trying to be more conscious of this, and I’m trying to stop.

Here is a link to the article:

The Atlantic Article On Thinspo, Fitspo, and Social Media

I found this article in The Atlantic interesting because it addresses the idea of “thinspo” and “fitspo” and the fine line between wanting to lose weight for healthy reasons, and wanting to lose weight for unhealthy reasons (or because of an eating disorder). It also deals with the idea of censoring certain phrases and images on social media, which seems counterproductive to me. Unfortunately, there will always be “pro-anorexia” and “pro-bulimia” phrases, images, websites, etc. on the internet, and censoring these phrases and images will not eradicate them, as they will just pop up elsewhere.

The Sense Of Immediacy And Thoughts On Revision

I have the luxury of spending roughly four hours on writing-related ventures today (I am so lucky!) due to a fluke in my schedule and a quiet week school-wise. I have been writing like fiend, whenever I get a chance, and I have been caught up in my subject in a way I haven’t been since grad school, when I started writing Purge: Rehab Diaries. It feels really good to be so caught up in something, and I’m so motivated right now. It feels quite urgent that I get everything down on the page. It’s a matter of necessity. The creative part of my brain is firing away. And so I’m writing, writing, writing. The sense of immediacy looms large. I have to get everything down, because it just feels urgent, and I’m afraid I will lose momentum.

While I’m plowing ahead and writing away, I’m also revising earlier stuff. Move forward, stop and look back. Revision is difficult. It sometimes seems counterintuitive to the sense of immediacy I’m feeling, but if I don’t revise (I’m talking structurally) then I can’t move forward, because there is no road map to where I’m going. Two steps forward, one step back.

Still, I am in a great place right now, writing-wise, despite the push and pull of creation and revision. And so I keep moving forward, and looking back.

Some Musings On The Evolution Of Authorial Voice

It’s 2:23 on Wednesday, and I’m at my favorite coffee shop in Minneapolis, where I wrote the majority of Purge: Rehab Diaries. I’m drinking some Montana Gold tea, which is my new favorite tea, and watching huge, wet snowflakes fall to the sidewalk and melt. My favorite barista is working. It’s a cozy scene, and a perfect day for writing.

I’ve been mulling over some thoughts about writing lately. Mostly I’ve been thinking about authorial voice, and how it can change over time. I recently went on a historical expedition through my old computer files, and hard copies of papers, essays, stories, etc. I wrote while in undergrad and grad school. I had no particular reason to go through these files, other then they were a good distraction and procrastination tool (I should’ve been studying for a midterm). But, what I found made me think, and provided and explanation for some writerly troubles I have been dealing with over the past few years.

How I wrote in undergrad is much different than how I wrote in grad school. This seems like it would be obvious, but it wasn’t obvious to me until I read through my old work. My undergrad voice was excited, over-the-top, a bit ridiculous, but really fun. I took risks and chances with my writing. There were lots of cringe-inducing moments when I reread that old stuff. But there were also some hilarious moments, too. And amongst all of the rough material, there were a few gems. In undergrad, I was 18-21, and it shows. Next I read over my grad school writing, and I noticed that my authorial voice grew more authoritative, and more solid. My diction and descriptions improved. I still took risks, especially with structure and form, but they were calculated risks. My grad school writing had a more mature voice. I was 22-24 in grad school, so it makes sense that as I matured and changed, so would my writing.

Now, I am 30, and I feel that my authorial voice is changing, again. This seems like a natural progression, but it’s still difficult, trying to find and establish my new voice. Just like I wasn’t the same writer in undergrad as I was in grad school, I am now experiencing another evolution. I am not the same as I was when I wrote Purge: Rehab Diaries. My voice has changed again. I remember how shaky and uncertain I felt writing-wise when I transitioned from undergrad to grad school. I was cognizant of the fact that my authorial voice was changing. It was a hard, distressing time, but ultimately, I came through the confusion more sure of myself as a writer. It was a good change.

I need to take calculated risks again. When I read my writing from undergrad, it makes me smile (and sometimes cringe) because I didn’t care about publication, agent deadlines, or anything like that. I was free to experiment, and although I didn’t realize it at the time, I was completely artistically unencumbered. I had loads of encouragement from the PSU-Erie English folks, both students and faculty. Anything went. I miss that freedom, even though in a way, I still have it. I just need to turn off my internal censor, and forget about the outside world for awhile.

Tybee Island, Georgia (con’t)

WordPress wouldn’t let me post all of my pictures in one post, so here are the rest of my Tybee Island pictures:


They were all over the beach.

Gators at The Crab Shack

More Gators