Behind the Words: Jennifer Crystal

Posted by on Mar 7, 2014 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Jennifer Crystal Jennifer Crystal’s “Thank God for Naps,” published in the “Beanstalks” section, illustrates how terror and compassion coexisted on the day of the Boston Marathon bombing. Jennifer is enrolled in Emerson College’s MFA program, and she writes for the websites Lyme Disease and Tick-Borne Disease Alliance. Her website can be found here.




Julia: “Thank God for Naps” pulls the reader fully into your emotional journey the day of the bombing. We feel your uncertainty at first, then the dread and horror. We also experience the comfort that you found with your friends that day—the comfort of food, the comfort of safe harbor, the comfort of being tucked in. You offered a balance between the darkness of the attack and the goodness that naturally comes out during tragedy. How did you decide to include both aspects of the day—terror and kindness—into your work?

Jennifer: I wrote this piece two days after the bombing, before I’d had time to process what had happened. Including both terror and kindness was therefore not so much a conscious choice, but a raw telling of exactly what I experienced that day. Upon reflection, I see that the immediate reactions of terror and kindness are basic human reactions of fear and love. The bombings were an act of fear, but the responses–to victims, their families, the city, and to me personally in my own experience–were acts of love. At the end of the day, love always wins.


The piece ends with the lines “That first night, all I could think of were the wails, those awful wails of people in shock, sounding like children who had waited a moment to decide if they were hurt and then screamed for help. But now all I can hear is the silence before the wails. That awful, awful silence.” This is a powerful description of the suspense between an event and the reaction to it. Did this emerge in the initial writing process, or was this included once the piece was in revision?

I purposely did not revise the piece before submitting it. I wanted it to really reflect exactly what I had experienced that day. At the time I wrote it, I was still in shock. I couldn’t think about using good literary devices to describe the day, which is strange to say as a writer. I simply wasn’t far enough removed from the event to reflect on it or think about how I wanted to portray it. To this day, it is still the silence–the suspense between the event and the reaction to it–that bothers me the most. Twice since the marathon, there have been loud booms that have woken me from my nap–once it was a transformer explosion, and once it was thunder. Both times I screamed, and my heart pounded as I waited during the terrible silence. But thankfully those times, there were no wails or sirens to pierce the silence. Everything was okay–but it will take me awhile–forever, maybe–to be jolted from sleep and not anticipate that terrible suspense-reaction hang time. If I were to write the piece today, that moment would still be the one that would stick out the most.



Have you written any more about the Boston Marathon bombing, or do you feel compelled to explore this more in the future?

I haven’t. I can’t say for sure if I will write about it in the future, but for now I don’t feel compelled to. I feel like I got my experience out on paper, and that was an important part of the healing process. So many wonderful, concerned friends contacted me in the hours and days following the bombings, wondering what exactly had happened to me. It was too hard to repeat the story over and over, so I’m glad I was able to send them this written account. For now I want to focus on the healing that has come from this tragedy, which so far has manifested in tangible experiences instead of written reflections. It was very important to me to walk along Boylston Street the day it reopened, to stand on the other side of the Lord and Taylor building and look back, to really see how lucky I was. I needed to go to the memorial site in Copley Square, to touch the t-shirts and pictures and sneakers placed there, to look through the new glass at Marathon Sports. I attended the re-opening of Forum in August, which was a great victory for my neighborhood. As a Yankees fan (eek–have I admitted that out loud?) I attended with pride the Red Sox World Series victory parade, grateful to be part of that Boston Strong moment. It was a powerful experience to stand by the finish line that day with throngs of cheering people. Again, love won out over fear that day. Finally, I volunteer at the Spaulding Rehabilitation Adaptive Sports Program in the summer, and it was especially meaningful to work this summer with recovering bombing victims. So far, these tangible experiences have been more integral to my healing process than writing.


You write for Lyme Disease and TBD Alliance, and you have a number of publications about travel as well. How did you get involved in both medical and travel writing?

My love for travel writing began while I was studying abroad in Paris. While there, I recorded my experiences in a journal. These writings later became the foundation of my memoir, Et Voila: One Student’s Journey from Foreigner to Francophile, which I am trying to publish now. I penned that memoir from bed while recuperating from a serious case of multiple tick-borne diseases. Writing about such a happy time in my life was a wonderful escape from the reality of illness. I published a chapter of the book in Abroad View Magazine, and once I started to get a bit better, I was able to take a job as the Editorial Assistant for that publication. My illnesses are chronic and I still have many limitations, but I am well enough to now attend graduate school, where I am writing a thesis project about living with tick-borne diseases. While travel writing was an escape from a dark reality, I am now able to write about my illnesses because my daily reality of living in Boston is much brighter than it was when I was bedridden. I am grateful to be able to be a voice and advocate for people struggling with chronic diseases.


You are earning your MFA from Emerson College. What would you say has been the biggest impact from enrolling in a MFA program?

The best part of my MFA program has been working with and learning from my fellow writers. We’ve established a wonderful community built on trust, and I love having both the writing input and emotional support of my peers. To be sure, I would not be able to do the writing I’m doing today without them.


In two years’ time, what would you like to accomplish writing-wise?

My dream is to see both of my books published. Et Voila is complete, and my thesis project is well underway, with a book proposal that is ready to go. I hope I’ll be able to see both in print someday soon!


Julia Blake lives outside of Washington, D.C. and is a contributing faculty member in a Master’s Mental Health Counseling program. In addition to a PhD in Counseling, she recently earned her MFA in Fiction at Spalding University. She has a story forthcoming in Soundings Review and has served as a student editor of The Louisville Review.

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