Jessica Erica Hahn was born on a renovated WWII ship off the coast of Florida, but spent much of her life in San Francisco, where she lives to this day. She's a special education teacher by trade, a mother of three, and an avid traveler. A graduate of San Francisco State University's MFA in fiction program, she has published stories and essays in several literary journals, and her quintessential self-published book from the 1990s, Transient Ways, has been taught in several American universities (Lehigh, Miami, St. Francis).
My hippie, entrepreneurial parents met as expats in British Honduras in the 1970s, and delivered me onboard Olive Oyl, an oil tanker built in the 1940s. They shipped tallow between Central America and the States, plans to cruise around the world and up the Amazon, and wanted more children. The plans were interrupted when my dad died. I was fifteen months old, and he was 31.
My mother moved my older sister and I to San Francisco and built a house on a hill, paying friends with drugs and parties to do her construction (and the house still stands). Though we had a place to call home, she loved to travel and took us away from the city whenever she could. We drove up mountain roads in Northern California to visit a commune where there was a god-awful toilet where everyone pooped in a circular room with zero privacy, or went further afield--Hawaii, Australia, Micronesia--often in tents. Waking up in the back of a car wasn't too odd in my childhood. I was amenable to change, and close to my family. I thought I was a child of the world, not an American. When I was maybe four or five, I remember sitting on some woman's fat lap under a palm-thatch palapa in Samoa and announcing, "I wanna be Samoan when I grow up!" It seemed the world was full of good people, and every place was home.
In sixth grade, my mother pulled me out of school to travel around the world for a year on a shoestring budget. Who cared that we lost half our money ($3K) on our first day out in Korea, our first stop? My mom wasn't going to be deterred. We carried school books, two or three pairs of clothes, a cassette player with three tapes (Mozart, Grateful Dead, and Bob Marley), and my mom's Aquanet canister filled with weed. We walked everywhere, took elephants through the jungle, rode swaybacked mares out of ramshackle colonial plantations, took WWII vehicles through weird and wild countrysides, and slept in cheap places, like a whorehouse in Madagascar. I had a great time. My mom didn't worry about all sorts of things, and it seemed everyone just about was good to a kid and a single mom. From this experience I learned you set your mind to something, it'll happen, one way or the other, and that sometimes you just got to trust that other people are good and helpful. You know what?---it works.
Back in San Francisco, the years rolled by, in large part because a big snafu occurred. We were planning on moving to Hawaii's Big Island, but then the SFPD came smashing at our front door with a warrant. They busted my mom's marijuana growing business, and a long story short, she ended up in jail for a while when I was in high school. I became a bit jaded, you could say, a bit of an authority hater. I got a job when I was 14, and worked from then on until a brilliant point in my early 20s when I left it all.
One night in the early 1990s, while still a pimply, angry teenager in high school, I went to my first punk show. The Dead Milkmen and Reverend Horton Heat brought down the house at at a club in San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood, and I was electrified by the scene and the camaraderie. There were many aspects of punk culture that attracted me--DIY ethic, anarchic principles, gender equality--but also punks traveled more than any other social group I knew, and they did it on the cheap, spontaneously, and basically trusting that they'd get by, meet good people on the road, and have a blast. The Misfits said to "go where eagles dare" and the Pogues sang of living the free life of a rover, and the squatter's motto LIVE FREE resonated within me.
My mother once asked, "You want to end up being a bum sitting under a bridge?" It didn't sound so bad, but for some confused reason after I graduated high school, I ended up in a university. Despite whatever I was into by the time I was 18, I loved learning, school, and all that. I got a scholarship was like, hallelujah! I'm free. But it wasn't like that at college---it was a helluva lot of work, and my job was that of a campus custodian, literally cleaning the shitters on campus (I'd don my headphones and daydream about leaving the free ride to college, and the literally shitty job). Leaving a good thing is hard, especially when your friends tell you you might be ruining your life.
I dropped out of college in the first weeks of my junior year, foregoing a halfway completed degree, an upcoming year abroad in Central America, and a hefty scholarship. I just wanted to have life be spontaneous to the point where each day was entirely unknown when I woke up in the morning. It wasn't about money, prestige, degrees, or amassing information.
With a partner, I hopped freight trains for thousands of miles, lived in abandoned buildings, wrote every day, and felt at peace most of the time. My early publications (Transient Ways, Elysian Fields, Elemental) are all about those days. But when things got bad on the streets, they got crazy-making, and I wanted stability. I settled in Oakland, returned to school, and started a DIY publishing company, Passing Through Publications, with college loans.
I earned a BA in English from UC Berkeley, and then some years later an MA in education from University of San Francisco. I worked for ten years as a special education teacher, mostly with high school kids who could've been my friends if we were of the same age, and took them out on over 40 field trips and camping trips in my tenure. I stopped teaching a few years back and returned to school for a second master's degree, an MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University.
Right now I'm finishing up a creative nonfiction book, The Junk Magician & The Countess of Nowhere, about my parents when they were seafaring hippies. When I can I keep a blog, Hill Babies, about hiking with a baby in the Bay Area of California. I live in San Francisco with my husband and our little girl, and am expecting identical twin girls the summer of 2013. Maybe you'll see us on the road--a pack of girls and one happy man--but if not on the road, on paper or a screen through words and images.