It seems as if I’ve been here almost forever, in this kind of hermit’s life. In reality, it hasn’t even been a month. This is a real test of my character, I guess. I used to imagine what life would be like if I were a hermit or the solo operator of a lighthouse, somewhere in a foggy, unpopulated place. It all seemed so romantic. But I knew that the reality of unrelenting loneliness would cause me too many problems. Would the crashing waves and the rocks at that lighthouse of my imagination be enough? Would I be creative? Or would I feel deflated, bored, and restless?
In this real life experiment of being a hermit (not something that I would have chosen if I’d been given the opportunity to choose), I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve learned that I don’t really feel a sense of unrelenting loneliness. I have books and crafty stuff and there is the outdoors, just so long as I stay six feet away from other human beings. And I learned that, no matter how much I may have to physically distance myself from other human beings, I find them completely fascinating. They inspire me to be better than I would have been otherwise. So in this blog post, I am spotlighting a person who has inspired me. Her name is Jayne Keyel Drumheller Brown.
I met Jayne in 2018 at her home out in Murray, New York. That’s in Orleans County. It’s not all that far from Brockport, which is where I went to college about half a million years ago. That was back when I thought that an education would lead to a great career. One great career. But, instead, I found that I had to reinvent myself a few times. I think that I am okay at reinventing myself. But then, I met Jayne. And she is great at reinventing herself. She’s done it several times, always with a great deal of energy and grace.
The reason that I went to Jayne’s house was that she was hosting a house party for Nate McMurray’s first Congressional campaign. Her party was held shortly before the incumbent in the 27th district, Chris Collins, was indicted on charges of insider trading.
The house party was great fun. It featured loads of food, an ice cream social, and a cake with Nate’s picture. I think that I probably gained five pounds at that party. It took me longer than an evening to shed those five pounds!
After the party, I went to lunch with Jayne at Dick and Jenny’s on Grand Island, and she told me her story. She had gone to Rochester Institute of Technology as a biology major, hoping to go on to veterinary school until this happened…
“When I was taking anatomy and physiology, we had to dissect a collie, a
dead collie. And I owned a collie. I just couldn’t do it. If I become a vet, it
didn’t occur to me that there would be pets that could be mangled by cars. I
didn’t think that I could face that. I just wanted to give shots. I didn’t want
to have to repair pets that had been abused.”
Jayne had to re-evaluate her career plans. She decided to stay in the biology department and shift her attention from animals to plants. Fortunately, she loved plants as much as she loved animals. Dead plants are nowhere near as gruesome as dead animals, so that is always a benefit. She graduated from college…
“… and became an ecologist and was hoping to become a forest ranger…”
And she got married… and, in rapid succession, had three children. At home, with three children, she decided to shift her focus yet again.
“So I did the other love of my life, which was writing. I always loved to
The genre that she chose was children’s stories. She said that writing fiction was a lot different from the detached writing style that she had to adopt as a scientist.
“When you’re doing science, you have to do everything
dispassionately. You have to be very objective and analytical. And I love to
invent my own world. That’s when I started doing the children’s short story
writing thing. I did that for several years, and my poor children found
themselves in quite a few stories published in some little magazines that,
hopefully, no one has ever saved. They actually were quite delightful. And they
were fun because, at that time, little church publications came out every week.
I became quite good at submitting to these little church publications and they
didn’t pay well. But they gave you a lot
of publication credits. Their publications went all over the world. So I got
letters from children in Africa, saying, ‘We loved your adventure story!’ And I
was amazed that kids in Africa were reading my stories.”
After a divorce, Jayne had to reinvent herself yet again. She needed more income than she could earn from the small publications. She shifted focus completely, opening herself to the possibilities. She was very adaptable and was ready to embrace a career field that was far from the original career that she had in mind for herself.
“I became a private investigator some 30 years ago. That was after I went
through a divorce and I had to support my three kids by myself. Before that, I
was a children’s short story writer. I liked doing that when my kids were
little, and I could do it from home. I would love to get back into that, but my
life is so freaking busy that I don’t have the time! I also used to write
letters to the editor because things would always tick me off. The letters would get published, and my neighbor, two doors
down, who happened to be a private investigator, needed someone to write his
reports for him because he was overwhelmed with work. He asked me if I’d be
willing to do office work for him and write his reports. So that’s how I got
started. I would transcribe all of his interviews with people. Then I would put
them together into a report.”
The neighbor, who has since passed away, trained Jayne in field interviewing and investigations.
“He taught me everything that I needed to know about investigations. At
that time, we did everything. Our forte would have been car accidents. We
worked for a lot of attorneys, who people would hire if they had a car
accident. We’d interview the people that the police had identified, search out
the car, do all the photos, collect all of the data. But then, we were also getting into at that
time sexual harassment in the workplace. It was beginning to be investigated.
We worked for some attorneys who did those kind of cases. So I ended up by
doing all of those because women would open up to me and tell me more than they
would tell my male partner. Then we were doing some criminal work, too. There
were a lot of sensitive cases… people who had been sexually abused. We were
working with people who had developmental disabilities who had been abused. So
I started developing a specialty in those more sensitive cases.”
Jayne went on to get a license as a private investigator. More recently, she has focused on working as a field investigator for health studies. When I interviewed her, she was working on a teen tobacco study, to determine whether or not teens were paying attention to public service announcements about tobacco and about how effective those public service announcements were.
I also asked Jayne about her experiences outside of her career, and she told me about a trip that she and her daughter took together. It was a cruise for writers in Europe. Jayne’s daughter also has reinvented herself. She owned a ceramics business for ten years before she sold it. Since selling the business, she has focused on writing.
“She and I went on a writers’ cruise last year to the Baltic Sea. So we
went to Sweden, Denmark, Russia, and Estonia, and Germany. We had a ball, and we
learned all kinds of stuff. She has been way more diligent about applying it
than I have. She was at Nate’s party, as well. She is in the process of
The trip, Jayne said, was quite the experience. She said that her favorite country to visit was Estonia. She described it as very friendly and beautiful. Russia, she said, was scary.
“They put us on these buses, and we had a tour guide who spoke English
very well. Every two minutes, she was saying how wonderful Putin was, how much
he had improved their cities, how happy they were to have Putin in charge. I’m
not kidding you. It was like every two minutes. We are sitting on this bus, all
of us, going she is being recorded. We all had the feeling that we were being
watched and recorded. It was very creepy.”
Sounds like the setting for another story! Anyway, that’s Jayne, who has reinvented herself over and over, with grace and energy every time.
And my next entry in the “Life in these strange times” series? It’s a great mystery! But then, why should life be predictable? Where would the excitement be in that?