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Book Excerpts

Addiction, denial, despair — and joy — mark one woman’s thought experiment, aided by soft-hearted “guides”

In "Soft Hearted Stories," author Jenny Forrester views her world through a kaleidoscopic lens of prose and poetry

Jenny Forrester (she/her) has been published in GetSparked, Gobshite Quarterly, Pom Pom Lit, Nailed Magazine to Columbia Review, Portland Review, Seattle’s City Arts Magazine, and elsewhere. Her books include “Narrow River, Wide Sky: A Memoir” and “Soft Hearted Stories: Seeking Saviors, Cowboy Stylists, and Other Fallacies of Authoritarianism.” She can be found at jennyforrester.com

The following is an excerpt from “Soft Hearted Stories: Seeking Saviors, Cowboy Stylists, and Other Fallacies of Authoritarianism.”

UNDERWRITTEN BY

Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.


2020 Colorado Book Awards finalist for Creative Nonfiction

EDITOR’S NOTE: The formatting in this excerpt is an approximation as the book itself contains specific formatting with strategic white space on the pages for readability and clarity.

Part One. Questions for the Journey

Soft-Hearted Stories: The Landscape, a Trusty Horse, and a Guide

I’ve lived in arid landscapes and in the Pacific Northwest Rainforest, along rivers always—by narrow rivers in Colorado—the Eagle River and the Mancos River, and in the Sonoran Desert, by the Salt River Canal, and in Oregon by the Willamette and the Columbia Rivers and paddled the Tualatin and driven along the Deschutes.

I’ve lived in addiction and denial and in despair, earned and unearned, and in ecstatic joy, earned and unearned, and all of it visible and invisible. I’ve lived in the vast landscape of suicidal ideation and come out again to The Mountain.

Now, I live on The Mountain. Like so many of us, I go around, walking the way I’m able—sometimes in the Sun and sometimes in Snow and sometimes in Rain and always in the Wind.

The Guides I’ve known were rarely certified by any legitimate outfit, but they were brave or they were supernatural or they were anti-heroes or hitchhikers or god or they were animals or plants or pages in a book or they were artists or ideas or they were rivers or mountains or valleys or they were guitars or beds or knitting needles or old letters or they were metaphors. They were always Soft-Hearted. 

If you see me walking the world, say hello. I’ll hey you back.

If you see Horse, my car, smile and wave. 

If you need an ear to hear your addiction, denial, despair, ecstatic joy, or suicidal ideation, I hope you find one. I’ve got two ears and a car named Horse and Mountains and a Poetic Pen that I mostly have to put down in order to live a sane life and so I can have friends because who wants to be friends with a writer. I’m not certified by any legitimate outfit which ultimately means, you’re proceeding at your own risk. I wish you soft-hearted guides on your journey and all the support you need.

Part Two: It Always Happens in Threes 

Soft-Hearted Stories: You Have to Leave Home

And you have to sell the pretty green house with an east-facing sunburst front porch and the backyard with chickens and the yellow-sun-painted living room.

Soft-Hearted Solomon: Strong Back, Soft Heart

The Realtor, the same one who’d sold us the house almost fifteen years prior, sent a man, a mover, said, “Some people don’t like that he does things his own way, isn’t insured, for instance.”

“It’s fine,” I said.

Jenny Forrester

I was surprised the Realtor with his perfect-fit suits, his white-male-assuredness ever-present, hired someone without insurance, but they went to the same church, he said. 

Solomon showed up with a clipboard. One of his eyes is damaged. He’d been wearing sunglasses, but the house was too dark to keep them on. 

Solomon and I walked around the house and when we got to the filled-up basement, filled with the material manifestation of ideas and dreams and things to learn and do and be. Filled with the spirits of rescued animals from the days when my daughter volunteered at the Humane Society and we fostered kittens, mostly kittens. And there was the table I was going to use to grow food in the long, dark winters. There were tools and telescopes and memories and carpet and rugs and things the animals had peed on that I was going to clean some day and it was all late capitalism and it was shame. The shame I had to carry mostly alone.

I cried, told him how long my then-husband had been together.

Solomon said, “I was married forty years. My wife died of kidney disease.”

I cried and cried.

There were boxes and boxes of photos of dogs and canoes, black and white Minnesota. Boston. Photos of men in ties, wool suits. Photos of people I didn’t know. Multiple boxes of exactly the same things. I had them because I kept them after Mom died. 

What do we do with the things our loved ones cherished?

How can we throw it away if we’re lucky enough to have it?

So many people in the world starve and I had all these photos and boxes and boxes of memories of dogs and cats sitting on rocking chairs and I had certificates of completion earned by people long dead. My grandmother’s piano lesson certificates. Receipts. Bits of paper with lists written in all caps by my grandfather.

Soft-Hearted Stories: Soft-Hearted Money

The Divorce Money Thing. 

It Loomed. 

Money will Money You. 

Money was Money-ing Me. 

History was history-ing Me. 

Laws. 

Divorce Law was Law-ing. 

Shame was all -ING. 

So Much-Ing.

I sought a friend to talk to, the Libra. Laura. She talked to a lawyer with me. I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t think rationally. 

Laura and I went on a walk. She paused while we pet a dog on a sidewalk in the raining streets of Portland, bits of sunlit drops here and there. 

Then. 

She said, “Yes. There are many women you’re getting the money for, and one of them is you.”

“Soft Hearted Stories” by Jenny Forrester.

Soft-Hearted Stories: Sticks, Stones, and a Wolf, Blood, Super, Blue Moon

Went snowshoeing in a soft snowing night when the blood/wolf moon was Super and Blue, with an eclipse for a moment. Quiet. Soulful. So beautiful.

And online, I can’t say I went snowshoeing because someone will say how lucky, how privileged to play in the snow. How ableist, how in-my-face you are with your joy. And my joy wasn’t big enough to stand on its own like that in that face of that in the face of anything. 

You find out, though, some things about joy and I’ll speak in metaphor and mixed-up-ness to protect myself from slander, but the truth is that everyone’s eyes are filled with sticks and words are stones and a woman who says she’s an orphan has married, rich parents in San Francisco who welcome her with open arms, you find out, all while she’s telling everyone else on social media she has nothing and no one and a woman who says she’s a shepherd on her family’s organic mulit-generational family farm says she’s been legally homeless for six years during that same period of time and no one calls any of them to task. No one. Not even me. 

Because I’ve got all these sticks in my eyes and if I remove them, I’ll be blood and if I pretend they aren’t there, my stone words will ricochet. 

Sometimes, you just have to be cool and sometimes you have to let everyone see your fat arms and sometimes, you just have to melt and cut into your wounds so the poison can’t reach your heart, but then you find out that’s a lie. There’s no way to cut out the poison. You have to live with it. You have to have enough grit to be joyful or to experience moments of joy or to even smile.

Money comes up again and again to money me. 

A friend says, “The divorce laws were written for women like you.” She says, “Take the money,” and one friend writes a blog post about The Money. She Writes, “Women Shouldn’t Get Money Just Because They’re Women,” and another one friend says, “If women can’t work, they deserve what they get,” and an Enemy, a white woman like me who calls herself an activist/radical/the way Portlanders do, says, “I can’t work for many reasons,” and then says, “White middle class women are the ones getting the divorces,” and it’s all the same stuff the Conservatives are saying. But hardly any of this is said to you because who would say such shitty things, you know? To someone’s face?

And it hits you in a kind of way that everyone’s forgetting history, that the Machines have eaten all of their brains, but they sure get mad when someone points it out. So you’re alone with it and your own silence and you think about complicity, but it’s a tangle too big to unknot.

When I got college Pell Grant money back in the day because my mother didn’t make much money, I felt guilty or Something, Some Word, Some Shifty Word. When I had a husband with a good job then another good job and a great job and amazing health insurance, I felt guilty–or Something, Some Word, Some Shifty Word. 

But it’s more. Guilty isn’t the word. Imprecise. Not full or deep enough.

I didn’t feel worthy.

Of breath.

Of living.

I shouldn’t have been born. I’ve tried to explain it since I was a burr under my mother’s saddle. I wrote in my cave all the drawings and carved my little-burr self, out from under climbing the words of a book I wrote so I could explain it, saddling a horse and galloping with my flag in my boot that I constructed from metaphor, knowing my mother did the best she could. She birthed me. She fed me. Still, explaining it, that last book, was bloody. I killed a small herd of horses doing it. 

Someone else plants flower-words in the virtual pasture where many herds feed. Her flower-words say that you should die. All of you. Should. Die. You understand what she’s planted — these flowers are real, for sure. And. Your Eye is Big. You see. Genocide. It seems like a solution sometimes. Humans do it to each other. Exterminate. 

She says You should all STFU. Shut. The. Fuck. Up. You’ve heard this before as Your Seed Self and as Your Forest Self. 

When you come from people who say things like, “I’m a fiscal conservative and a social liberal” or some other variation of Bootstrap Theory, you understand it as a level of Genocidal Extermination.

Money Moneys My Flesh Self.

Money moneys itself and places itself as value on the flesh self.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

He offers to calculate a lower caloric value for sustaining Your Essence on a fallen and crumbling leaf instead of abiding the Owl because He doesn’t think the Owl understands the injustice in Math, though He’s always been Pro-Matrices-and-Pro-Bits-and-Pro-Robot-Future. His story changes as His Designs change. Politics.

It gets awful in your brain pan knowing what you know about your place in the world.

The Doctor says, “Do you have a plan?”

“No.”

The Doctor says, “You’re not alone,” indicating her complete lack of understanding You and Your Beautiful, Actual Life. You have such a beautiful life.

It’s all hyperbole. Everything in your mind. Depression lies. Everyone says that. Memory, too, is a wobbly thing. 

And. It’s upside down, which Matter matters. Not Brain, but Men in suits. Tall ones. Corporate Logos. Wealth.

So. You see.

It. is. 

And. 

It’s. Not.

Women like me.
Women like Her.
Women like me.
Women like Them.
Women like me.

In the old westerns, there’s always a rattler and a horse or a dog that has to be shot. 

You wonder at your place in things.

You understand your place in things.

You gaze into the sun and slither.

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