Mindy Hardwick's Blog

Author Mindy Hardwick Muses about Writing

A Tribute to a Dear Writing Friend

on May 21, 2021

I lost a dear writing friend this week to a battle with cancer.

I met Jennie in our Vermont College MFA Writing for Children and Young People program. We attended the low-residency program and two times a year–January and July–we’d fly to Montpelier Vermont and attend ten days of lectures, readings and workshops.

Immediately Jennie popped out to me with her bright smile and great laugh. She wrote poetry and picture books and was sharp and quick witted. But it wasn’t our writing we bonded over, it was our location where we lived.

Both Jennie and I were from the West Coast and not the East Coast. And it made a difference in that low-residency program. Our flight to residency took an entire day. We often arrived tired after two plane rides–one usually a small plane from Chicago to Burlington, Vermont. We would speed down the hill to the nearest pub with our other far traveling friend, Rhay, from Cyprus. The two of them would order beers and try to chase away jet lag while I sipped on cokes and tried to calm my nervous flying stomach and anxiety while gearing myself up for ten days of residency which could often be long and intense.

During residency Jennie and I would often talk about the difference in teaching styles from West Coast to East Coast writers. West Coast writers were often more schooled in the language of free writes from Natalie Goldberg and exploration and process while East Coast writers were more of the traditional teaching style with what seemed like little room for play and exploration in process.

In the winter, the West Coast group of us complained that we didn’t have the heavy coats, mittens and scarfs it took to trek across the campus to lecture halls and dining rooms. We hated the heaters that blasted at us while we struggled with keeping our body temperatures somewhere in between sweltering and freezing.

Jennie and I often had gates next to each other in Chicago, she to Arizona and me to Seattle. We would sit in between the two gates while we waited for our flights to be called and discuss how glad we were to be going back to the West Coast. She to sunny warm winter days and me to rainy cool Pacific Northwest winters.

After we graduated, Jennie and I visited each other. I flew down to Arizona in February to see her and get out of the cold and damp Seattle winter. We sat by her pool and wrote. She toured me all over Phoenix and showed me the coffee house where she wrote, as well as some tourist attractions.

A few years later, Jennie came to visit me with our friend Rhay. The two of them sat on my sweeping porch overlooking Lake Stevens and talked and laughed–loudly. So loudly that as I was in the bathroom above them their words carried up to me. I was in the middle of some not so nice disagreements with neighbors and suddenly, I stormed downstairs and threw open the door and told them to be quiet! Both of them looked at me like I had lost my mind and started calling me the Noise Police–a name which stuck and would often be referenced as the years went on in Facebook posts.

Jennie often felt like my soul sister in writing. We both struggled with finding a path in traditional publishing for years. Jennie worked tirelessly in Arts Councils and bringing art workshops to schools, similar to the paths I was trying to carve in Snohomish County. For a long time after graduation we had long email chains with Rhay about our writing process. We critiqued each other’s work, gave advice and encouragement when the rejections came and sent each other places looking for submissions.

Jennie moved to San Diego at the same time I moved to Portland and I felt our friendship drift apart. I got lost in the survival of restarting my life, trying to find a job and trying to get settled in a new town. Sometimes Jennie would pop up and we’d have a moment of how hard can it be to find a grocery store in a new town! And then we’d drift back apart.

When Jennie was diagnosed with breast cancer, it hardly seemed possible. And some part of me thought, she’ll get through this. Jennie gets through everything! It can’t be that bad.

And she did. She got through the first round of it.

But then, the cancer came back.

And through it all Jennie never got quiet on Facebook. She seemed to tag me in every writer post or resource there was and again, I thought she’s doing okay.

Last fall, I reached out to Jennie when my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer. I felt like I hadn’t been a good friend during Jennie’s own breast cancer journey and half expected her to ignore my request for support. Of course she didn’t.

She sent my sister a long email with helpful tips and resources and messaged me that she understood.

She had far greater grace then I might have if the positions had been reversed. But that’s who Jennie was–she was always there for you.

When the email came she was in hospice with her family around her I felt the rage. No! No! She’s still young. She’s only early 50’s. She has lots of life in her. She has lots of stories in her to tell! No. Just no.

But the Universe doesn’t listen to us and cancer is neither fair or kind. A few days later, the message was posted on her Facebook page that she had gone peacefully.

All around me the world blooms in full spring. Glorious pink rhododendrons in my backyard. Green trees everywhere. And as it once did in May eight years ago, when my Dad died, the world stands still and I wonder how everything can be so ALIVE when someone who always felt like one of my soul sisters in writing is gone.

As I took a walk on the beach the night I learned she was gone, I heard her in the waves and the wind. She was all around me. Her voice. Her laughter. Her strong sense of play. It was fun, she called. It was so much fun. And it was. With Jennie she reminded me that the best creative spirit comes from play and fun.

Jennie wrote under the name Jennifer Grym and has two published books. Fairy Tales for Bad Girls and Witches and Bitches. Both are lively and for adult audiences.

If you are so inclined, I know she would love for you to check them out!

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