I grew up in Tacoma, Washington with a family of artists. During my childhood, my brother and I stayed busy with activities like hunting for the Fly King, or transporting our cat around in a blanket-burrito. While pretending to do my homework I mostly doodled on a desk blotter and filled up journals with deep thoughts. I desperately tried to will my own Goonies adventure into becoming real. (Now if I could just climb into that storm drain...I know there's a pirate ship in there...) I also did a good deal of sneaking into my parent’s office to use the phone since they were still attached to walls back then.
I went to high school in a castle–Stadium High School–in the funky but underrated city of Tacoma, Washington. I went to undergrad at Lewis & Clark College in Portland. These beautiful settings only helped blur my already fuzzy delineation between fantasy and reality. I travelled, too, and was fortunate to spend semesters abroad in Indonesia and Strasbourg, France.
After college, I worked in public relations for a couple years. I was then drawn to teaching, and so I began working in private schools. Later, I earned an MAT at Portland State University, a nice, normal-looking school, and I became a public elementary school teacher. In total, I spent 16 years learning from the tiny sages that filled my classrooms.
However, as the years of teaching wore on, something was changing in me, slowly but surely. My love of the job was slipping away. This was a complex, messy, uncomfortable experience, and was not easily identifiable at first. It's terrible when you think you've found your "thing," and then your heart goes out of it. Even worse is when you're still paying off the student loan for your "thing."
Somewhere in there I started writing again.
My real AH-HA moment came during an SCBWI writing conference in 2015. Author Richard Peck said of his life, “I had to leave teaching to communicate with the young.” This described my crossroads exactly, and I cried sloppily–yet quietly–through the rest of his talk. I knew that leaving the classroom was also what I needed to do. I’d lost my spark for teaching, and the desire to write, especially for children, was calling me. Actually, it was shouting by that point and I was ready to listen. My head was, and is, filled with stories that I want to bring to life.
As a teacher, parent, and human being, I am fascinated with the power of story in our lives. Stories are our reflections. They entertain us, give us hope, offer us wisdom and spark our imaginations. Stories are how express ourselves and go exploring anywhere we want.
Currently, I live in Portland, Oregon with my husband and two kids. I am writing and drawing away, madly, in my basement, AKA the "Creativity Cave."
-Jefna M. Cohen
email: jefnamc at gmail dot com