Former instructor discusses new book

Former University writing instructor Jonathan Friesen will be signing his new book in Coffman Memorial Union on Tuesday. The book, Jerk, California is about a young man who is diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome and goes on a life-changing adventure.

Paul Bangasser

Former University writing instructor Jonathan Friesen will be signing his new book in Coffman Memorial Union on Tuesday. The book, Jerk, California is about a young man who is diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome and goes on a life-changing adventure.

An hour north of Minneapolis, in a small house overlooking the Snake River, lives an author with a painful past. Jonathan Friesen , a former University writing instructor, has struggled with Tourette Syndrome âÄî a hereditary disorder that causes involuntary ticks or twitches, which can be physical or vocal âÄî since he was 6 years old. Over the last two and a half years heâÄôs used his battle with the disorder to write âÄúJerk, California âÄú, a fictional story about a young man who is diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome and goes on a life-changing adventure. The novel hit bookstores last week, and Friesen is coming to the Coffman Union bookstore Tuesday at 4 p.m. to talk about writing the book. But FriesenâÄôs real life story is as compelling as the one he invented. Friesen developed Tourette Syndrome when he was 6, but he wasnâÄôt actually diagnosed until he was 19. For the majority of his childhood, Friesen wrestled with a disorder that nobody understood. âÄú[Tourette Syndrome] wasnâÄôt labeled yet,âÄù Friesen said. âÄúEveryone thought I was just screwing around.âÄù FriesenâÄôs childhood was also riddled by asthma and epilepsy âÄî a disorder that affects the nervous system and can cause severe convulsions and loss of consciousness. Because of his disorders, Friesen said he stayed away from sports and didnâÄôt have many friends. âÄúIn school I was either passing out and flopping around on the floor, or looking like I was about to,âÄù Friesen said. âÄúPeople were like, âÄòWhatâÄôs going on with this kid?âÄô âÄù Friesen fainted and twitched his way through school and went on to study at Bethel University , where he was kicked out after his second year. Friesen chose to not comment on why he was kicked out. He enrolled at St. Cloud State University before finally returning to Bethel to get his degree. During his time in college, Friesen attempted to major in guitar performance, secondary education, English, psychology and business. He eventually settled on a degree in elementary education and landed a job teaching fifth graders in the Anoka-Hennepin school district. The job turned out to be a saving grace, Friesen said. Through teaching, Friesen was able to get back the childhood experiences he had missed out on as a kid. âÄúTeaching gave me back the years I had lost,âÄù Friesen said. âÄúI just wanted to go out and throw a football around during recess.âÄù Friesen said his students didnâÄôt care that he had Tourette Syndrome. âÄúEverybody is weird in elementary school,âÄù Friesen said. âÄúTo them I was just Mr. Friesen.âÄù After a few years of teaching, Friesen said he finally became comfortable with his disorder and no longer feared what people thought of him. But Friesen eventually decided to quit his teaching job and write a book about Tourette Syndrome. Although Jonathan Friesen has written for most of his life, he didnâÄôt get off to an easy start with âÄúJerk, California.âÄù It took two years to write the first six chapters, he said. Author Cecil Murphey has published more than 110 books and took Jonathan Friesen under his wing three years ago. âÄúThe first writing he sent me was pretty awful,âÄù Murphey said. âÄúI kept telling him to open up and tell people who you are.âÄù Once Jonathan Friesen was able to be honest with himself, his writing drastically improved, Murphey said. âÄúJonathan is an incredible writer,âÄù said FriesenâÄôs wife, Wendy Friesen, who helped him decide to write âÄúJerk, California.âÄù But it was difficult to relive his childhood struggles that inspire the emotions for the book, Jonathan Friesen said. âÄúIâÄôd be writing and my hands would be jerking all over the keyboard,âÄù he said. Jonathan Friesen is contracted to write two more books for Penguin Book Group, and although he still has twitches and ticks, his future looks far more stable than his past.