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Jessica Anahid Shadoian

What was it that drove Jessica Shadoian?

Jessica never did anything subtly, in a small way. A college degree? Only a PhD would do. Horseback riding? She had to have her own. A morning jog around the block? She preferred ten miles at midnight. She wrote thousands of letters by hand despite email. She consumed kilograms of candy despite her cavities. She wore her highest-heeled boots on hikes; she ate only the cookies in Cookies and Cream ice cream; she loved the splashiness of Stephen King, the complexity of Laurence Sterne and the rawness of Mary Karr. Jessica was both overtly ebullient and deeply private. She loved the overwhelming beat of a club dance floor and craved the comforting silence of home. She resisted definition and refused to behave. She had nine lives and used them all, and on March 14, 2023, she left the world as she entered: unexpectedly and far too early.

Jessica Anahid Shadoian was born on May 18, 1974 to Jack and Carol Shadoian. Her birth had been predicted for June 18, her older brother Christopher’s birthday; there was no explanation for her early arrival, but she was healthy and beautiful, a small, chubby goofball who, unlike so many babies, looked exactly like she always would, like Jessica, especially her large, pale blue eyes, with their always-dilated pupils. She spent her first 18 years in Leverett, Massachusetts, trooping through what she called the “academic woods” with the family Newfoundland dogs, riding horses at Mt. Toby stables (and, eventually, her own ornery and well-loved horse, E.K., at home), keeping warm by the woodstove with the cats, and generally pushing limits, rules and boundaries of all kinds. Friday family movie nights were especially cherished: her father would screen vintage sci-fi, horror and crime films from his classes, her mother pan-cooked enormous bowls of popcorn, and she and her brother Christopher would “fight” over fistfuls of corn and who got which family pet. Like most kids, she lived for the freedom of summer vacations, and although she loved the rustic cabins her grandparents rented by Fourth Lake in the Adirondack mountains, the weeks that would become her lifelong favorites were spent in Wellfleet on Cape Cod in late June, enduring the frigid Atlantic and eating soft-serve from Bob’s Sub and Cone with a rotating cast of family and friends.

After Amherst Regional High School, Jessica graduated summa cum laude from the University of Michigan with a degree in English, followed by a Master’s and PhD in Literature and Writing from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Writing remained a lifelong passion and became her career. She found a calling in medical writing at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, and followed this path in 2003 to Austin, Texas, where she excelled as a Lead Instructional Designer and Content Manager for Enspire Learning. Enspire closed in 2017, but Jessica’s dedication to and expertise in instructional design continued to shine on collaborators and clients alike.

It was in Austin that Jessica found the love and companionship of Dr. Paul Nelson, her partner of 17 years. Together, they embraced a shared love for music festivals and travel to destinations both domestic and international—Greece, Portugal and Japan were amongst her favorites, though she would take Paul whenever possible to the familiarity of Wellfleet. Their deep connection, shared passions and loving circle of friends brought immeasurable adventure and contentment to Jessica’s life.

Jessica’s favorite hobbies remained a lifelong constant: riding horses, seeking adventure and dancing like nobody was watching—though everyone was watching and wanted to join. She was always the brightest star in any room (perhaps the galaxy), and her superpower was knowing how to make people feel seen and heard while keeping her own cards close to her chest (if only she could have stuck to that philosophy when she was actually playing cards!). As was always the case with Jessica, laughter and seriousness went hand in hand. “Shut up and listen” was one of her mantras; she affirmed the importance of paying attention when someone was trying to tell a story or articulate something that mattered to them. Her generous, loving, brilliant, curious listening and attention was a gift she lavished not only on family and loved ones, but on people she’d never met, from all walks of life and degrees of extremity, and especially those who might otherwise go unheard. People are often inaccurately described as having “never met a stranger,” but this was extraordinarily true of Jessica, to the great benefit of all who were lucky enough to encounter her.

Jessica was somehow both elegant and glamorous and a real goof. She was almost always—with help from her awe-inspiring collection of towering boots and high-heeled shoes—the tallest woman in the room, until someone collapsed her into helpless laughter with silly bathroom humor. There were words she couldn’t hear or even think about without a laugh bursting from her, and she relished that feeling. From an early age she would stride into a room and pronounce, typically to her brother, that “You can’t make me laugh!” This wasn’t remotely true; she was so susceptible that even the first syllable of her (many) trigger words would procure an inimitable laugh that was almost a cough or a bark—a sound which usually caused her to laugh even more.

Jessica will also be remembered for her original and so distinctively her own way with words (the majority of which are too profane for an obituary). In a juxtaposition that those who knew and loved her will recognize, despite her gift for rule breaking, many of her favorite expressions involved questions of good form and rectitude. “Proper,” for example, was a solemn judgment, intentionally pronounced in a lower register to signal approval for everything from a particular strain of old-school hip-hop to the especially sharp delivery of a well-deserved rebuke. And “Do better!” was an imperative not just to others but also to herself, and always delivered with a characteristic mix of humor and exasperation. With her home-made names for people and things, her uniquely deployed expletives and inimitable voice, Jessica made huge swaths of the English language her own. 

Jessica’s passing leaves a void in the lives of all who knew and loved her. She was predeceased by her parents, Jack and Carol, and is survived by her partner Paul Nelson, her brother Christopher, and a close circle of friends deep in both years and love. Additionally she leaves behind her aunt, Jean Evans, with whom she had an especially close bond, as well as her loving aunts and uncles Susan, Bill, and Carolyn Fossett, Varvar Yorganjian, and her great uncle Souren Baronian.

Jessica did not specify her burial wishes, but she and her brother strongly agreed about what their similarly-undetermined parents would have wanted. So her ashes join her mother, father and several beloved family pets in a stream behind the family home in Leverett, Massachusetts, and on Jessica’s favorite beach in Wellfleet. In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to a local food kitchen or mental health service for the homeless, which were Jessica’s charitable passions. And do better!

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