Jane Paffenbarger Butler
You definitely cannot tell who I am just by looking. Oh, sure, I'm an average woman with gray curly hair and red lips. I'm Jane. What you cannot see is that when I first meet you, in my outgoing and animated way, I must step over an old insecurity. I used to be so sure you'd never remember me that when I’d meet you again I would barely dare to say hello, looking to you for a cue that I might have made a prior impression. Even though my past has followed me right up to today, today it is different. Today I know I leave an impression.
As a stay-at-home mom for the past twenty-plus years I have had the opportunity to be on the front lines with my three children before embarking on writing the story of my own childhood. A few years ago I started a blog, My Own Personal Sky, where I write about what I am learning while I am growing up. Also, I have felt compelled to reach out to young people by speaking to the parents of preschoolers about engaging with their children, by teaching introductory piano lessons, by tutoring second-graders in reading, and by working at the local high school as a writing coach hoping to encourage students to find their voices.
I am an active member of the Main Line Writer's Group and the Brandywine Writer's Group.
Degrees and other claims to fame:
On a whim, I submitted an essay to the Philadelphia Inquirer about the after-school music program my sons attended, and it was published on the front page of their Neighbors section complete with a photo of my eldest at the keyboards.
More recently, an excerpt from my memoir was published in Unclaimed Baggage: Voices of the Main Line Writer’s Group. It tells the story of my first date, at the age of fourteen, with a boy I have only met moments before on the telephone, and of my misbehavior as a cheerleader two years later on my sixteenth birthday.
I won the January 2014 West Chester Story Slam where I stood at a mic in a crowded restaurant and told the story of how my son first learned how babies are made. The text of that story was later published in West Chester Story Slam: Selected Stories 2010- 2014. I won again in August of 2016 with a story about being lost and alone and not even knowing it.
Other credentials of mine include two legitimate degrees, and one I made up. The Bachelor's of Science in Pharmacy secured me a very good job at a pharmaceutical research firm when I was twenty-three, not to mention taught me how to spell words such as 'hemorrhage', which does come up a bit in my writing. The Master's in Health Systems Management helped me get another job in research that led me to contribute to and be responsible for editing a 400-page technical document entitled the "Overall Summary - The Efficacy and Safety of Oral Milrinone in Congestive Heart Failure", an FDA must-have. I also co-authored a paper in the journal of Clinical Research and Pharmacoepidemiology, entitled, "A Comprehensive Interactive Training Program for Clinical Monitors". For me, the real point of attending college was not for these professional opportunities, but to acquire the credentials to become financially, and subsequently emotionally, independent. But all of this is ancient history.
More recently I gave myself a made-up degree, an Honorary Doctorate in Psychology, or something along those lines. Someone with an actual doctorate could judge it better. But anyway, I grant this in recognition of my twelve credit-hours of master's level psychology courses above and beyond my first master's degree, combined with my twenty-plus years of psychotherapy, the first four of which the therapist termed “intensive”. For a fee, my mentor was obligated by our implied business contract to give me her undivided attention, eye contact included, for fifty minutes every week. Classes were in the tutorial style, there was increasingly more challenging homework, and I conducted extensive research that culminated in the memoir titled, You'll Get Over It, Jane Ellen.
My childhood influences and why I write:
I've been defined by my experience growing up on an isolated private estate where my parents were most comfortable denying their emotions. My father, who was manager of the estate, was a self-assured dairy farmer-turned-lawyer. He was married more than fifty years to my mother, a woman whose childhood defined her as well, hers being impressive for its calamity. I have spent my adulthood struggling to reconcile these unusual circumstances. As a writer I know the power of words. I have been working hard to turn my collection of personal journals, all my childhood report cards and a notebook full of stories into my memoir with hopes of sharing it with those who I know could benefit most. I feel a strong desire to put this story together, tell it well, and imagine I have done all I can to help my family members understand our past. Since secrets and hiding and denying are hallmarks for us, telling my story honestly and out loud, cannot help but shed light so others may find their way.