Writing Coach Interview: Jen Holman
Continuing our series of interviews with our marvelous writing instructors, here’s the latest installment: an interview with the wonderful Jen Holman!
Jen Holman has been teaching for Brave Writer since 2015 after being a long time user of Brave Writer products in her own homeschool. Jen’s foundation for teaching lies in her experience working with university students on essays for their classes. Teaching literary analysis and essay writing for Brave Writer is a perfect combination of academic and personal interests. Her husband’s work has allowed their family to travel extensively in the last few years, and Jen has taught her classes from around the world, on trains, in airports. This past year they settled down in Canada to live near their families.
What kind of a writer were you in high school?
I wish I could say that this period produced some of my most sophisticated writing. INSTEAD I will say that I wrote everyday, voraciously! There was no texting in that day, or even email. My friends and I exchanged what we called “notes.” These varied between a few lines and a page, sometimes two, or three, scribbled on loose leaf paper while on buses, study hall, in between classes. They outlined the days of our lives at the time. There was compelling drama! Irony! Vivid detail! (Everything your creative writing teacher wants you to practice wink).
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You’re a new addition to the crayon box. What color would you be and why?
Is ‘Hazel” a crayon color yet? My father always says his eyes are hazel, which is a perfectly acceptable eye color, but I don’t think anyone would know how to pick it out of a crayon box.
What inspires you?
I get really excited to see passion in others. It doesn’t even matter what that passion is! If that person talking is excited and engaged and can’t wait to tell me more, then I can’t wait to listen. I’m always trying to expose my kids to people who love what they do, whatever that is. Scientists, architects, mathematicians, artists. People who grow their own food, people who love arts, or cars or bugs.
I get to experience this as a teacher all the time, because teenagers are so passionate about the things they care about. My Brave Writer colleagues know that at the start of every class, I RAVE about my students and all the cool things they do and love. “YOU GUYS, these kids are so amazing, they…” I can’t get enough about hearing about what makes YOU tick.
What do you work toward in your free time?
Travel is a huge priority for us as a family. Homeschooling affords us a lot of flexibility and so does my job! My husband’s work allowed us to travel for a semester at a time the last few years. We’ve lived for various lengths of time in Istanbul, Rome, and Madrid, with plenty of side trips along the way, passing through Greece, France and Switzerland.
Which superpower would you like to have? What is a superpower you already have?
The superpower I’d like would be to regain the ability to sleep past 7:00 in the morning. You’ll be excited to know that I actually do have a real superpower! Due to a copious number of hours spent reading Curious George books and Goodnight Moon to my kids when they were little, I can now read out loud AND think of other things at the same time. It’s like how people arrive somewhere by car and have no memory of driving there. I can read aloud, and meanwhile, be composing my grocery list or thinking up a plot for my next big writing project.
If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be and why?
I am the memory-keeper of my family, and so I would pick a gingko tree. Not only is the leaf a beautiful fan shape, but gingko extract enhances memory.
If you could be any character in fiction, who would you be?
For better or for worse, I am essentially Wendy from Peter Pan.
What would the name of your debut album be?
Straight on Till Morning
What’s your favorite smell? What memory does it remind you of?
My favorite smells are generally food smells that take me back to somewhere we’ve traveled. The smell of sizzling durum from Turkey, pizza and coffees from Rome, paella and cured meats from Spain.
If you don’t know the words to a song, do you improvise?
Yes! I’ll go out on a limb and say you absolutely must! The flow can’t be broken! I definitely try to at least rhyme with the original, if possible. I’m really terrible at deciphering lyrics, so this happens a lot. I have been blurring my way through parts of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” since 1984.
If you had a family gathering, how many different cultures might be represented?
I am fortunate enough to be part of the United Nations of families. If everyone were to be in the same place at the same time, you could share a wonderful traditional Indian meal with people from Sweden, Russia, Egypt, Romania, South Africa, England, Scotland, Ireland, and Canada. Along the way, we’ve adopted many friends as family from places in the world such as Turkey, Italy and the U.S.
You’ve had the chance to live in many countries. How has that impacted your homeschooling?
Travel showed me how to slow down in our homeschool. My husband teaches a drawing class abroad, and it’s all about stopping to notice your surroundings! We took a page out of his book and brought sketchbooks along for all four of us on our travels. We would pause throughout our day to sit, sketch and just absorb everything around us. My kids would draw, sometimes in earnest, but also doodle, play tic-tac-toe, glue in ticket stubs, press flowers in it. They cut up and made collages from the flyers and brochures we pick up at places we would visit. Their notebooks became a learning tool, and a very special keepsake of their own making. Now that we’ve put down roots for the next little while, we still use this approach of a deep dive, pausing to dwell in a topic of interest before rushing on. It’s a joyful way to learn.