Making Out: Surfacing

Making Out is a series centered on how Jess Burnquist, mother, writer, and teacher is "making out' as she processes adolescent issues amid the glare of parenthood and the shadows of nostalgia.

About Jess

Photo Credit: Jess Burnquist. Because those are her kids.

My daughter asks me what she should do with her life. Registration for her sophomore year of high school, at the high school where I teach, is quickly approaching. My friends have a plan, she says. My brother has a plan, she says. We are driving. I merge onto the 202, heading east. The dark morning sky begins to silver itself against the Superstition Mountains. She tilts her head against the window glass and waits for me to reply.


When I was 10 years old, I used to pretend to be the author Judy Blume. My mother would plug her electric typewriter into a safety-orange extension cord and slip it through the doggy door to our patio table and she would pour and refill a ceramic, writer-like mug with mock-coffee—grape juice.

I wrote random lines, but mostly pushed keys as though I were in a mad spell of creation only to stop, cradle my mug, and then do my very best to feel like I thought a writer should feel. Sensorial. Aware. Thoughtful.

My father arrived home and unplugged the typewriter. Go wash that mug, he said.

This scene again and again. For years.


Jaime Casap, Google’s Chief Educational Evangelist (cool title, sir), suggests asking students what problem they want to solve rather than asking them what they want to be.

Q: What problem do you want to solve?

A: How do I grow up?


I tell my daughter to shower or we’ll be late. After 25 minutes of her being in the bathroom, I realize the faucet hasn’t turned on yet. I knock. She opens the door a crack. She has drawn a star around her right eye with eyeliner and filled it in with bright blue shadow. Only her right eye. We stare at one another through the crack. She closes the door. The tap turns on.

Q: What problem do you want to solve?

A: How do I get ink off my face?

It wasn’t eyeliner after all.

My daughter is her own canvas.


My mother put me in therapy when I turned 16. She was concerned about my desire to be alone and my constant tendency to withdraw. I don’t recall very much from that time. I wasn’t depressed, but I wasn’t present either.

I remember my therapist telling me that the reputation I had established with my family for being obstinate, selfish, and full of back talk was really because I was practicing self preservation.

Respectfully, I nodded, but I had no idea what she was talking about. I was supposed to be answering questions in a notebook she had provided. Instead I was writing terrible poems. Also, I was drawing eyes. They were awful. Like marbles in the skull of a giant carp. Bulbous. Peering and strange.

Now I know that I was trying to reach the surface of my life with ink.


Q: What problem do you want to solve?

A: How do I teach my daughter to trust herself, now, now, now?


Today my AP class discussed the prologue of Ellison’s Invisible Man. One student noted the abundant contrasts. Light/dark. Silence/music. Outer/Inner vision. Love/hate. This prompted a discussion about the opposite of love. I vote for indifference.

There is something to be said about the dead space of indifference. It is a river fish, hooked and dragging against its natural current, but it is without pain.

I haven’t truly spoken to my father since he unplugged my dream.


Q: Mom, what should I do with my life?

A: Live it. Swim and dive and float in it. Sing, dance, design, or solve it. All the while, love yourself and know that I love this life more with you in it.

* You may find archived installments of Making Out, and other work by Jess, at