Interview - Jenny

Jenny is an international pilot for a major airline carrier, an engaged advocate for women and women's rights, and a single mother with her second daughter due any moment. We met Mother's Day weekend at a coffee shop when her daughter was five days old. She is a powerful expression of strength and beauty. 

Jenny and her daughter.

Jenny and her daughter.

Where are you from? 
I was born in Mountain View, California, although I grew up from the age of 7 in Colorado.

What brought you here?
I wanted to live in New York City from the very first time I laid over in the city (or more precisely that layover was in Flushing, Queens near LaGuardia Airport) at age 22.

What keeps you here?
I love the feeling of community in Brooklyn.

How has this place helped you develop?
When I first moved to New York City, I felt immediately overwhelmed. I didn’t know anyone except a few friends of friends from Atlanta. My apartment was expensive (although beautiful and fun in the LES) with lots of stairs for carrying lots of luggage frequently. I asked myself more than once that first summer in 2010 if I could cut it. I also listened to the Jay Z song Empire State on repeat. But when I finally relaxed, joined the MoMA, walked the High Line, ate cupcakes at Sugar Sunshine Bakery, the city started to fit. I feel a confidence, independence, and self-reliance here that I earned. Now I don’t hesitate to try everything or often repeat the same things and just be part of the city. Being on my own in New York City gave me the strength I needed to be a single parent and to travel the world with my little family.

If not here, where would you be?
Someday I will live for a while in Europe. London or Paris. And someday, I can imagine living or at least retreating more to Vermont where so much of my mother’s family lived and where I always feel an overwhelming connection to place.

What do you love about your home (domestic space)?
I love that my living space faces a park with tennis courts and playgrounds and also skyscrapers and that I can tell time from my couch by the clock on the historic Williamsburg Savings Bank Building. I was actually only ok with moving to Brooklyn from Manhattan when I realized that my new Brooklyn neighborhood would be just one stop from my last apartment in the city (the N train from Canal to Atlantic Center!). I also love that I can walk to 14 train lines within a half-mile and get anywhere easily.

Favorite place of all time?
I love to go everywhere but I always love to come home the most.

What is your favorite occupation?

I love my chosen career as an international airline pilot for a major US carrier. It is really interesting and challenging and rewarding to fly airplanes and I am honored to be part of the flight deck crew for each of the 246 passengers on each of my flights.

What are you passionate about?
I love travel. I love to visit parks and art institutions and historic sites everywhere. Oh, and I love to knit. It is so satisfying to create practical things like sweaters and blankets!

What inspires you?
Feminists. I work in a tremendously gender imbalanced field (less than 7% of airline pilots are women) and I am an advocate for change and equality. I have taken my passion for flying into additional work with the Air Line Pilot’s Association (our union representing more than 50,000 pilots at many carriers). I started six years ago advocating for airline pilots in Washington, D.C. by joining a robust Government Affairs team and meeting with Congress to protect and advance the airline pilot profession as well as aviation safety. This work led to running a Committee within the Association. I am one of the first women at my carrier to take on this role. I relish the opportunity to change people’s preconceived notions women within the field. I am encouraged to see the work rules improving for women who want to both fly and raise families and I envision these changes leading to greater participation by women in pilot careers.

What drives you? --

Who inspires you? --

Why is it important for you to do your work?
I think being a professional working-woman gives me balance in my life. I need to have work, family and friends, and creative inspiration. Work gives me the satisfaction of achieving the long-arc goals of my life while making so much more possible for my family. I think that the joy I get from working will also shape the lives of my daughters (my second daughter is expected any day now) and open their minds to the possibilities for women to simultaneously achieve personal and professional success.

Do you find anything conflicting about your work?
I had a difficult adjustment when my first daughter was born. For the first time in more than 10 years of flying, I wasn’t excited to go away on trips. Admittedly, as she grew I became happier in my dual role as parent and provider and re-captured the value in being away for daylong layovers in Europe. Now I think that the travel makes me a better parent and makes my daughter a more confident and independent child.
When my first daughter was little, I often found creative solutions to long absences by working within the Air Line Pilot’s Association in Washington, D.C. This meant I was inventing child-care solutions for a non-traditional work schedule both when flying and when bringing her along on non-flying advocacy trips. As a result of these challenges, many of the male pilots I work with had the opportunity to see me as a capable problem solver and a kind and involved mother. I know that I changed many hearts and minds in my conservative field. I have taken the lessons from those early years to mentor other women pilots who are adjusting their lives to balance family and flying. About the time my daughter started preschool, I knew that our family could grow. I decided to have a second child on my own and I am days away from meeting her. It is exciting to have already walked the path of a single parent with a non-traditional work schedule and to know that it is possible to expand my family. I am excited that my sweet daughter will have a sister to travel through life alongside. Oh, and I cannot help but daydream of the three of us sitting side-by- side on long-haul flights to so many fun and distant destinations together.

Do you have a clear idea of success?
Success to me is reflected best in respect from people I admire, both friends and family outside my profession and mentors and colleagues within my profession.

When something goes wrong, what do you do?
I have a tendency to ruminate on things that go the wrong way or that cannot easily be resolved. I think this goes along with the personality type of pilots—pilots generally have a strong preference for clear decisions, good judgment, and immediate resolution of problems. Issues that cannot be tackled with a checklist or problems that defy resolution definitely force me from my comfort zone. Being a single parent has created flexibility and an openness that I never really cultivated before. I am definitely better equipped for uncertainty.

How do you cope with disappointment?
Fortunately, I have a network of amazing friends to draw support from so I will pick up the phone.

Friends + Family
What is the most important quality of a friend?

The ability to be truly present is real friendship. A friend that answers the phone; responds to a text; and ideally can make a last minute plan to sit side-by- side and talk is the best type of friend. Simply being available is the foundation for truly beautiful friendships.

What is a characteristic of one of your earliest friends?
Kindness and unflagging loyalty (even when it wasn’t deserved)

One of your more recent close friends?
Creativity and artistic inspiration.

What is something special you recently did for a friend?
I love to be available for my friends. At this point in my life as a working parent, one of the things I can really offer is an open door policy for the children of friends. I recently had the child of friends over for a day so that his parents could spend time together before embarking on some big challenges for their family. I feel such a kinship for the children of friends and I love that they are part of my daughter’s life as well.

If you could change something about your family or friendships what would it be?
I would be friends with my brother.

Do you have any daily rituals?

I love making breakfast with my daughter. And I love a morning coffee—preferably a latte at Hungry Ghost or Bittersweet in my Ft Greene neighborhood. The baristas here are beyond.

Weekly rituals?
I try to go to Golden Bridge NYC for Kundalini practice every week. I started there doing the Khalsa prenatal years ago and I found that the emotional grounding of this practice enriches my happiness. Seriously. If you are in NYC or Santa Monica, you should try it.

What is your most treasured possession? --

What is your favorite flower?

Who is your favorite artist or author?
For authors, I cannot get over Karl Ove Knausgaard. I have a lifelong love for Jane Austen and Edith Wharton (their names are incorporated into my daughters’ names).
For artists, I cannot chose a favorite. I have a photograph by Canadian artist, Sarah Anne Johnson, that I love (Girl with a Sea Lion). I have a huge respect for Taryn Simon, Giacometti, Brancusi, Chagall (ahhh Le Musee Marc Chagall in Nice, FR), Matisse, and as of last week the incomparable Alma Thomas and her paintings of flight and space. I always make time for the Tate Modern, le Musee de Louvre, El Prado, and the Rijksmuseum. I really love art from the ancient to the most contemporary. For all the years I have known her, I am so inspired by this blog’s author and artist Casey Leigh Miller and the unique way she sees the world with the heightened perception of her artistic lens. Casey’s art and ideas are brilliant.

What are your favorite names? --

What is currently your favorite poem or song?
I Carry Your Heart by e.e. Cummings. My daughter and I read a picture book of this poem many times a week and we often recite to each other.

What is your motto? --