Guest blogger J.M. Cooper: A Badge For Writing

Girl Scouts badgesMy grandfather is a retired Episcopalian minister. He used to talk about The Calling as some kind of mysterious, undeniable force that brought him to the church, a voice that couldn’t be argued with, the most knowable thought one could know, an irrefutable decision. I wanted that assurance—when I was a kid and well into my young adult years. I wanted to know what I was.

One day my daughter and I were looking at my old Girl Scout sash, peppered with patches I’d earned when I was her age. Tracing the colorful badges, she said, “Mommy, you are good at a lot of things.” Initially, it shocked me that my little girl was the first person to say something I hadn’t heard out of anyone’s mouth. But then I had the realization that although I was no longer earning badges, I still hopped from hobby to job to hobby, when what I really wanted was to have that one thing. I wanted to excel at a single thing. I didn’t want to be a collector of patches.

If someone asked me “what I did,” I always said I was a mom. Somewhere along the line, probably around the same time my daughter pointed out my various unrelated skills, I knew I couldn’t go on the rest of my life answering that question the same way. What would happen when I was sixty? Would I then just change the answer to grandmother? The thought haunted me. Yes, I was a mother and someday I’d be a grandmother, but that did not define me or even come close to completing me, nor is it necessarily supposed to, even though that is what common culture often has us believe. It took me a very long time to understand this, but once I did I was able to hear my own calling.

Really, it had been there all along.

I began writing around age ten; journals, stories, poems, observations. I only paused for a few years when my first two kids were babies, because who the hell has time for anything when there are two babies in diapers?! By the time my third child was born, I’d learned a better balance and I labored through writing my first novel. And then, inevitably, somewhere around when I was thirty-five, I began admitting to people that I was serious about writing. When I earned my MFA I could no longer hide behind “Mom.” I was called to write. The voice was loud and in my ear most of my life. The difficult part was that it required me to change my life drastically. I had known that for a very long time and ignored it. Callings are not usually easy.

My calling is not as simple as a single vocation, or title, but more a chosen way of life, a life where I choose to put my energy and passion into what truly fulfills me, no matter how broke I am, or where I live, or who I love. My calling pulls me out of bed before the sun is up, forces me to read the words I’ve written, and then add more. When I can’t do this on a daily basis, I begin to go a little crazy. Nothing in my life has equaled this sustained attraction. And now when I look into my future I’m confident that my answer will never change when someone asks me what I do. I know who I am. I’m a writer. I wonder what the Girl Scouts badge for reaching your vocational nirvana would look like?

Jessica head shotJessica Cooper is a freelance writer and editor with an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She writes middle grade and young adult novels and has been published in Ars Poetica and Curious Parents Magazine. Jessica earned second place for Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award and was recognized as one of Warren County New Jersey’s “Writers on the Rise.” Find her online at and @jm_cooper_


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13 responses to “Guest blogger J.M. Cooper: A Badge For Writing

  1. You inspire me. 🙂

  2. Good for you, girl! Keep on keeping on. As for me, I did wait until I was tired of saying grandmother (never tired of hearing it thought) and went back to writing. I used to write all sorts of stories when I was a kid, then actually got a couple of magazine articles published, but I got my first novel on the shelf after I was well into my fifties. My first few were indies, just little things based on a pony I had, then I got serious and now I have a novel on an agent’s desk. Your post is inspirational.
    Write On!

  3. Doesn’t matter the age we hit it, right, Jess? Nirvana awaits at any step along life. And the callings are NOT easy I agree! I got mine and hung up the phone for 13 years. Now it’s still a challenge, each learning step of the way but how can I go back? Nirvana chaos is still heaven compared to the alternative :). I had no idea what I did with my time before- it’s a blank. And now I know what I did with it – I filled it in. So wonderful to see you reach your Nirvana state Jess – looking forward to your journey my friend!

    • Doesn’t matter at all what age! Sometimes I look back and wish I’d gotten my act together at 25 rather than 35…but I am who I am. Can’t change the past and really, I like most of it! Just have to make the absolute best of the time that is left. Thank you, Gandalf.

  4. hethfeth

    Thank you. As a mom embarking on a similar path, I know what you’re talking about. I’m trying to allow time for the writing I love…striving to get good at it. Good luck to all of us who are out there trying!

  5. Yes! I hit my vocational nirvana a bit late myself (well into my 30s), but I’m so happy to be here now. I am so sad to miss you guys this weekend.

    • Better late than never, right? It’s a good feeling. I can’t imagine having lived the rest of my life hovering my personal truth. I think that would be the worst sort of hell. Hopefully we will cross paths soon!

  6. Thanks! And yes–only a few more days!

  7. NAILED IT. Thank you for this. See you in, oh my god, less than a week!