We had the good fortune of connecting with Jackie Leonard and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jackie, as a parent, what have you done for you children that you feel has had the most significant impact?
Hands down, the most important thing I’ve done that has and will have a profound impact on my children has been prioritizing my mental health. Before becoming a mother, I really stuffed a lot down and thought exercise and yoga was enough. Becoming a parent magnifies everything, at least it did for me, in a way that made it hard to ignore the things that needed attending. Going to therapy, learning how to set boundaries with others and also with myself, understanding more clearly how my mental state can impact my children early on really has been life-changing. Its helped me see what I need in my life to be most grounded and present for them, and myself too. It’s improved my partnership with my husband/their father so that we are a much more united team that we were before. It’s shifted the way I look at seeking the support I need with my children and also for myself. It’s taken a lot of the shame out of being a mother. I could go on and on. It’s cleared my mind in such a way that my head space is less consumed by my worries, anger, fear, discomfort — I gave so much of my energy in the past to things that just didn’t matter, and was always so tired as a result. I live with joy and gratitude in a way I never had before. I’m a much better, healthier person which in turn makes me a better mother. This, of course, doesn’t mean I’ve “arrived” or no longer experience difficulties or hardships or failures. I just feel so much better equip with the tools and support to attend to my needs in a way I didn’t in the past. I know how to slow down, react less, and take time for myself if necessary. Sometimes when you’re working on yourself, and on a path of healing, it can be hard to see the improvement. Reflecting on this past year and seeing how much our family thrived even amidst a global pandemic showed me that our foundation was so much more solid than I even realized because of the work we’ve done. There is a lot of dialogue out there about mental health awareness, but still a lot of stigma and uncertainty about how to dip your feet in, so to speak. I had SUCH a hard time finding the right therapist, for example, and went through a couple who were down-right awful. For years, I told myself that it just wasn’t for me, when the reality was, I just hadn’t found the right fit. For anyone reading who relates, I see you and encourage you to keep trying. If you’re a new mom, there are many postpartum hotlines that you can call where those on the other line are trained to support moms in finding the right person to talk to. It’s worth it to keep trying. There are times when therapy has been really tough. It can actually deplete your energy, which can seem counterintuitive if you’re a new parent who is already exhausted, but I am very aware now how I am now the happiest I’ve ever been because of what I’ve learned, been able to overcome, and the life I’ve been able to create for my family. It’s the best gift I could have given them.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Lately, I’ve been the most energized thinking back to my childhood and how, without realizing it, I’m truly living out and working toward living my childhood dreams. Before I could even read, I was making up stories. In elementary school, I was just as fascinated with the design and creativity of book-making as I was in the writing and storytelling. I saw even then how they go hand-in-hand. My best friend and I, in third grade, created our own weekly magazine and had our teacher make copies to pass out to our classmates every Friday. What am I doing now? Supporting women worldwide in their writing and storytelling endeavors, leading writing workshops, editing story and poetry submissions,producing biannual magazines and monthly zines to send back out into the world. It all calls back to my early years – when these kind of pursuits first came to me without inhibition, with purity. It was a time when all I needed to entertain my dreams was grab some markers and paper. I realize now, when I can quiet my mind, those sparks of inspiration come back to me, and even today, all I need sometimes are still just markers and paper after all. I realized recently that I am still very much a teacher even though it’s been over five years since I worked inside a traditional classroom as an English and Composition teacher. I believe there is a powerful voice inside every one of us, and my role as a writing instructor is to provide all my students with the access they need to become a confident, empowered writer. The education system has failed students by making them believe they are either a “good writer” or “bad writer.” I have seen this in my high school and college students, as well as adults in my Write Beside Her workshops. Having spent years in the world of academic writing, I have experienced first-hand how exclusive this world is, even for myself. The culture is more focused on criticism and competition than learning and empowerment, leaving me to question if I was a “good enough” writer by the time I earned my M.F.A. in Creative Writing. It took becoming a mother to shatter that thinking. Writing became a need again. It became the tool I needed to understand myself. Concepts like “Is it good?” and “Is it publishable?” didn’t matter anymore. In this way, the traditional education system had failed me, so I started my own. I founded Motherscope magazine with companion workshops, Write Beside Her, as a way to democratize writing. Instead of looking at writing as a subject or thing to master, I approach it now as a tool of expression, a pathway to tell a story, and a way to use your voice. In 2020, I focused on teaching women how to have a consistent, committed practice for self-discovery and creative expression in community. When people are taught in this way, there are no limits to what they can accomplish with their writing. I show my students how to harness their word and voice to become empathetic citizens and empowered leaders to the benefit of our world at large. I know this is a tall order, and not something that comes easily. However, through my experience, I have seen how writing, which once seemed such an isolated practice, actually thrives when it happens communally. This is how I teach it, and will continue to teach it, to transform every student’s belief about their ability to write, communicate, and contribute their gifts to the world.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Gosh, I’ve been in SUCH a bubble this past year that this is really going to stretch my thinking! I actually really love being a hostess and have done so for many of my friends in the past when they come to visit me. I’m a North County girl, so I stick pretty close to home and am never disappointed. If there are kids involved, one or two days would have to be spent at the Wild Animal Park and Children’s Discovery Museum – both in Escondido. There’s also the local community farm, Sand n’ Straw, in Vista, which has animals, programs for kids, classes and workshops! I’d have to plan a spa day at what I consider a local hidden gem: The Avocado House in Escondido hosted by Joy Blessman of Bokujoy. It’s an amazing, meditative grounds ripe with inspiration and relaxation. Joy is also just such a wonderful person who really puts so much intention into everything and every experience she creates for her guests. She has a booth at the Vista Farmers Market and sells the best soaps, lotions, scrubs and other aromatherapy items and gifts. We often hit up a few of the easy walking trails that this area has to offer like the loop around Discovery Lake in San Marcos and the San Elijo Lagoon. I love Annie’s Canyon in Solana Beach — it doesn’t even feel like we’re in a beach town when I am walking through there, just so beautiful and unreal. As a San Marcos resident, I’m a big fan of King and I for Thai food, Curry & More for Indian food, and Mr. Taco #2 for Mexican food. Rising Co in Oceanside is one of my favorite places to shop and hang out too. It’s this great co-op and features some awesome, sustainable goods created by local makers. My favorite beach in North County is Moonlight, and we often take a long walk along this beach and head south to Swami’s to check out the meditation garden and walk along the 101. The San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas is a must as well (it’s also where I got married). Favorite places to eat out in the downtown Encinitas, Solana Beach, Cardiff areas are: Union for the bar and their burger, Las Olas for fish tacos, the Pannikin for coffee and breakfast, East Village Asian Diner, Jorge’s and Juanitas for Mexican food, and Pizza Port. Clearly, I’m a big foodie because I could keep going. What I love about all of these places and experiences is that they really allow for conversation, quality time, and relaxation. Can’t beat that when planning a trip.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Oh man, I really do have to shout out one of my oldest and closest friends, Tiffanie Hoang. I’ve known Tiffanie since our early years of college when we both worked for the student newspaper together. She’s been there for me for all my most trying times and is the kind of person who really gives the best guidance and advice by nature. From personal advice to coming up with ideas and strategies in my business endeavors, she’s been there for it all. It’s so second nature to her that sometimes I don’t even realize how much she’s done for me until I sit down, like right now, and think about it. Tiffanie is the one who suggested I focus on mothers specifically when I first had the idea for Motherscope and creating a magazine of women’s stories. She’s who I tell my biggest wildest ideas to, and who holds them in the highest regard. Tiffanie is an amazing person for this world. I just feel like her impact is limitless. She currently works as an education therapist at the Center for Connection in Pasadena, helping her students to create individualized learning strategies and tools to better help them understand their own ways of learning, and to explore and appreciate the fullness of their personhood. Shes a brilliant, beautiful writer. She’s worthy of the greatest riches this world has to offer.
Will need to specify which pictures go to which photographers but here are those who should be credited: Cortney Wood | First House Doula & Alvarado Creative Co Meghan Branlund | Rise Photo Co Aprill Manriquez | Love Captured Photography Tara Johansen