Music is my favorite hiding place

The neat thing about Now is that I have the worst attitude I’ve had since I was a teenager. Only it’s made better because I also LIVE with and raise a teenager. And made even BETTER by the fact that I’ve been an adult for a verrrrry long time so why does my teenage attitude still hang around so much? “Teenage angst had paid off well, but now I’m bored and old” etc etc.

 

Anyway.

 

Music has always been my fix to things. An emotional bandaid. An auditory distraction. A place to put my rage and sadness and joy and whatever other feelings there are (we should all be impressed, in this timeline, that I remembered that “joy” is an option for a feeling).

 

Here’s my teen’s backpack. It could be mine (both now and back when I was a teenager):

 

 

I’m grateful Callum seems to have also found refuge in music, especially because he introduces me to new things and lets me play my “old” stuff for him. How else would he have become a die-hard Nirvana fan? (I’m just kidding–I think it’s still a requirement of being a teenager and just comes alive in you once you hit 14.)

 

The world is a dumpster fire, but at least we have music. Here’s some of what I’ve been listening to. Maybe you want to share a song with me, too?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have you happened to notice things are Not Good?

Well, have you? If you’re shaking your head that you haven’t, just go away. I can’t deal with you right now.

 

Have you seen that meme of the Spidermans (Spidermen?) as seasonal depression, regular depression, and COVID depression? Here, I’ll spare you googling:

 

 

I am all these Spidermans (men?). And I have no resources left to pretend to find any positive things to say about anything. COVID is terrifying. The mental health of 2/3 of the humans in my house is Not Good. More injustices and inequalities are revealed every day. We now live in a world without RBG. We live under the rule of one of the most evil, hateful, stupid, and unqualified leaders ever. It’s all a mess.

 

I’ve never liked the throwaway question of “how are you?” even though of course I ask it all the time in the exact same way everyone else does—as a reflex and not something I really want answered. But now, it’s just a ludicrous question. The only real answer is some sort of wounded animal noise that conveys the weight of everything, a weight beyond explanation.

 

 

A weird thing I keep doing is trying to be like, “But it’s okay! We’re so lucky! It’s fine!” Because I had the luxury of choosing to take an unpaid leave for a year from my job at school to stay home and coach my teenager, who hates school with the heat of a thousand million suns, through online learning. I had the luxury to allow him to stay home full-time. But last week, my husband worked 70 hours. And I kept saying, “But at least I’m also not working, so it’s so much better!” But I AM WORKING. I am doing all the house stuff. I am caring for dogs. I am literally teaching my child every single subject in his 9th grade curriculum. I AM RELEARNING FUCKING ALGEBRA. I am paying bills, running errands, making and ferrying to appointments, cleaning, cooking, writing, blogging, reading, and on and on. And my brain is a volatile disaster that works aggressively hard to make me feel like I’m dragging chains around all day while I do this shit. And my kid’s brain is a toxic waste dump of mental health issues and regular ol’ teenage garbage and we can’t get in to adjust his meds until late NOVEMBER because goddamn everyone is trying to get into mental health professionals because WE ARE ALL NOT DOING WELL.

 

 

Sometimes people on Twitter will communicate to me that they appreciate how honest I am about how horrible my brain is and how hard this all is. I can’t pretend. I can sometimes ignore it, but I can’t pretend it away. I keep telling Callum we have to dig deep to work hard during this super weird and confusing time. That we can do hard things. But honestly, that doesn’t help. And I just picture myself from now until June barking orders at him to try and keep him on top of the PHENOMENALLY MASSIVE amount of homework being assigned and it all makes me want to go hibernate. I tell him, “This isn’t who I want to be. This isn’t fun for me,” being this taskmaster mother-teacher-classmate-principal-friend-EVERYTHING. I’d like one role with him. It would be less complicated.

 

 

 

So yes, I’m grateful I get to stay home this year. I’m grateful we have resources and safety nets and all the blah blah positive things. I never for one second forget how many people don’t have these choices, these resources. But I am still allowed to say that this sucks. That I didn’t want to have to choose to leave my job. That I didn’t want to have to choose to teach my child 9th grade. That just dealing with my regular old crappy brain issues would be plenty but now they’re amplified by everything. This all sucks.

 

One thing that doesn’t suck: my friends. I am eternally grateful to have collected a bunch of really honest, really great friends. So I lean on them during all this. We exchange irritated texts, parenting and schooling woes, dog pictures, fun mail, and just provide a little break and distraction from whatever mess we’re each dealing with.

My new friend at my desk is this tiny potato from Jess. This tiny potato helps a lot.

 

 

 

How am I doing? Not well, my friends. And you probably aren’t either. And that’s okay. Because frankly, if you’re really doing fine, you’re obviously not paying attention to what is going on all around us. And if you’re not paying attention, well… that must be nice.

 

 

 

Here are some animals I want

Look. I’m an introvert with social anxiety. I thought I could contentedly stay home forever. But who know what’s at home? Myself and my brain. And you know what I’m sick of? Myself and my brain. And you know what makes my generalized anxiety and my depression worse? A PANDEMIC and endless time with my brain. So basically I’m starting to want to crawl out of my skin to get away from myself. I imagine I’d look like this sloth crawling, only my skin would peel off as I go. Have I mentioned I’ve been reading a lot of horror these days?

 

 

 

We are doing our duty and STAYING HOME and away from humans (except for me going into a mostly empty school to work and occasionally to a grocery store). I love my quarantine buddies, both human and canine, but I need some other interaction. Don’t get me wrong—I don’t mean people (unlike Ariel, even during non-pandemic times, I want to be where the people aren’t). I mean I need more animals.

 

As an ardent list-maker, I have been keeping a list of animals I want. What else is there to do? Every inch of my house is clean, my TBR pile is dwindling, I can’t get new books from the public library because I am busy NOT SUPPORTING CURBSIDE PICKUP because I like library workers to be safe. Good lord, I’ve even been driven to doing yard work. YARD WORK!

 

Here are my current animals, The Good Boy Squad (or, when I’m trying to get a good eye-roll out of my teenager, The Good Boi Clique):

 

 

Here are the animals I want:

This dachshund is a BOGO dog; it had to be adopted with the next doxie pictured.

 

Oh, you and your adorable baby dog need a home? BRB, gotta go sob over you.

 

Hi, your ears are tiny and amazing. Please come be my dog.

 

 

The two-legged kitten from this article. I need to hug it. I NEED TO.

 

 

This good boy just wants to be included. You can come to my house and do anything you want. 

 

I could sneak this long-eared hedgehog with me wherever I go, right?

 

 

I want to pet this blonde penguin.

 

 

 

Despair has found me eating bread in the dark at night and watching Bob Ross, the original ASMR guy. Throw in the fact that he often rescued and rehabilitated animals and I’m all set. 

 

Some other animals I have wanted include every deer that passes through our yard; all of the kittens I saw one day in a picture of kittens in a pot; various cart-dogs (aka dachshunds who need a cart to get around because their legs no longer work) that I like to look up and make myself cry over; a new goat every 3 weeks (this one involved some math about lawn-mowing costs and feeding etc); and also I would like basically every dog I pass when I drive to and from work, especially a dachshund I saw the other day that looked to be half cocker spaniel.

 

 

And finally, yes, hello, I WOULD like 48 goats in jammies. 

The Golden Age of GRRR ARRRRGH

This is the Golden Age of GRRR ARRRRGH.

 

This is the Golden Age of Bullshit. It truly is. What do I mean? I mean *gestures wildly around at everything*. ALL OF IT.

 

This is the Golden Age of:

 

Reply all

Snacking

Fear-sobbing

 

Happy dogs

IMG_8723

 

Zoom meetings

Bad hair

Candy consumption

What day is it?

Hope this email finds you well

Panic-sobbing

Cancelled appointments

Losing brand loyalty

Wanting to stay in bed

Jammy pants

Waving

 

Family time

IMG_8448

Desperate pleas for pet pictures

Anxiety-sobbing

Yelling at the news

ANGER

Dogs attending meetings

 

This video:

 

Uncertainty

Boring planners

If we ever get back to normal, whatever normal is *ha ha, sob*

 

Cleaning all the things

cleaning

Being unable to concentrate

Shaking our heads

Sighing

Meltdown-sobbing

Other duties as assigned

Emails from every company ever

Isolation

No bedtimes

 

Lists and post-it notes

IMG_8725

Napping

Vivid dreams

Grocery wish-lists

Waking up in the night

 

 

I am tired of living in the Golden Age of Bullshit. I am tired of *gestures wildly around at everything*. ALL OF IT.

It’s hard to be 105

Sweet Bilbo Baggins Dachshund-MacGregor has been diagnosed with dog Alzheimer’s. It’s not surprising, given he’s 105, but it’s still hard to watch his cognitive decline.

Now, to be fair, Billy has always been a dog of very little brain. The runt of the litter, he’s always been prone to seeming a little spacey and doing strange things. But lately, he’s been showing all of the signs of dementia.

From Pet MD:

 

We will put food down in front of Billy and he will just stare at it, seeming unsure what to do, then just walk away. This from the dog who has ravenously attacked anything remotely food-like his entire life, who just weeks ago was fighting Oscar for food, who has never ever passed up a meal unless ill. I will find him in a corner, staring at where the walls meet, or I will accidentally close him in a closet because I didn’t realize he’d gone in there to curl up (something he’s never done). He seems lost most of the time. He trembles anxiously all day, often crying to himself, or barking at nothing. He will sit in an empty room and bark. He loses his mind when Callum comes in the room. We always joked Billy was barking, “Hey! I know that guy!” in excitement, but it may be more like, “Hey! Who is that giant stranger in our house?”

He no longer rushes to grab the nearest toy to proudly greet anyone who comes into the house. I find him wandering circles around the kitchen island, or standing frozen on a step, seemingly unsure where he’s going and how to get there. He wakes up in the middle of the night and wanders the house. He roams the bed a million times in the night, unable to get settled, grunting and whining to himself as he makes nest after nest. He is most content when one of us is sitting down and he can snuggle in tightly next to us, wrapped in blankets. He’s always trembling, always cold. In just a handful of months, he lost 1/3 of his body weight, down now to just 8 pounds. His little harness is embarrassingly rigged with rubber bands to make it small enough for him.

Our vet says that beyond his ailing brain, his health is great. She says he is a little energizer bunny and will keep going. He’s a tough little dog. Edward and Billy clearly come from very healthy dogs. Our vet also recently said he will not be surprised if Edward is the rare dachshund to make it to 20.

I don’t know what any of this means for Billy. Dachshunds generally live to 12ish. Ours are little wonders, something the vets comment on every time we take them in. Even little goblin Oscar has rallied so much since coming to live with us. Our vet had never seen a dachshund overcome paralysis without surgery—but Oscar did it! They are Good Dogs.

 

Billy may live a long time still. Edward has spent his entire life fulfilling his role of Nanny Dog. He has always groomed, cared for, and guided Billy. He knows how to take care of him. I made Edward and Billy promise, way back when we got them in Boston in 2004, that they would live forever. Some days, when I’m losing my mind from the choices and behaviors of very elderly dogs, I think maybe that was a deal with the devil. But generally, I thank them every day for holding up that deal.

 

When we got home from the vet yesterday, Billy reluctantly ate a little food, got lost in thought in the yard and had to be retrieved, and then… raced to the couch, crawled under it, and emerged with Eddie’s favorite ball, something rascal Billy always likes to steal and hide. He batted the ball around, chased it when Callum threw it, and gnawed on it for a long time. He can’t remember which door he goes to for potty (lately he stands at the closet door in our mud room to wait), but his little brain reminded him of his hidden toy. His little brain said, “You are a tiny stinker of a dog who likes to play toys and get into mischief.”

He’s a Good Dog. For as long as it takes, we will find him when he’s lost in the house and redirect him. We will offer food over and over until he remembers that food is for eating, and eating is for living. We will clean up potty accidents, put up with him barking at nothing, and hold him tightly to ease his anxiety. He is our best buddy and the toughest little runt we know. Just like with everything else in life, we didn’t just sign up for the easy and fun parts—we signed up for the hard stuff, too.

 

Now let’s hope the other two can pace themselves and The MacGregor Home for Elderly Dachshunds won’t be dealing with three senile dogs at once.

My daily doomsday prepping

Most nights, we watch one show. For a long time, it was making our way through Buffy—twice. Then Stranger Things—twice. Over the summer, we watched a show on dark tourism and on one street food around the world. Callum, our teenager, watches these with us. It’s our little time to decompress together before we scatter again: me off to read, Matthew to do more work, and Callum to video games.

My new work bag. I’m a grownup!

 

Recently, we started watching a show on doomsday preppers. Whether preparing for some biblical end times, a cataclysmic pole shift, hurricanes, financial collapse, or myriad other (generally very unlikely) disasters, these people stockpile food, guns, and have “bug out” plans. A large number of people featured on this show are former military or police/emergency responders. I hate armchair analysts, but it seems safe to say that most of these people have some form of OCD, paranoia, anxiety, and PTSD. I say this as a person who has a whole jumble of mental health diagnoses … and is a daily life prepper.

 

 

Here’s what I mean: My car is never less than half full. My bills are paid the same day they appear. Laundry never piles up to be anything more than one load can take care of. My house mostly looks like a museum (with the exceptions of Matthew’s office and Callum’s room—I pretend those rooms don’t exist). You will never see a pile waiting to go somewhere. If my to-do list is written out for a week, I will try to get all those things done TODAY. The blog posts I write for Teen Librarian Toolbox are prepared 6-8 weeks in advance. My reviews for School Library Journal are always sent in early. My dogs are never overdue for the vet. We are never down to the last of anything—paper towel, cans of dog food, milk, whatever. I am constantly ready to have some sort of mundane to tragic emergency happen. I have always been like this—thanks, anxiety disorder!—but it’s gotten worse in the years since my dad was killed.

 

Even living my entire life imagining worst case scenarios didn’t prepare me to find out my dad had been killed in a car accident. We had to abandon a lot of our daily life for weeks, and then eventually months, after this. I remember thinking, but at least I’ve bought all the Christmas presents and wrapped them or mailed them; at least I’d done all the holiday baking. Stupid stuff. Who cares? My brain does. It took 11 months to settle his estate and I constantly thought, thank goodness I’m so organized. Of course, my organization took a turn from (semi)normal to mania, but at least I felt productive.

Blog posts scheduled into November

 

I would maybe like to be the kind of person who can CHILL THE FUCK OUT about anything. Small stuff, like let a bill sit for a week if it’s not due for a month or be able to sleep even if I know there’s clutter somewhere in the house. As it is, I send myself emails in the middle of the night when I wake up and think of something I NEED to do. I have a paper planner, a list I keep on the kitchen counter (my one concession to “piles”), and write zillions of notes.

The garbage can in my office only ever contains notes for things I’ve dealt with.

 

I am not preparing for the end of the world. On the show, people keep saying everyone should have a plan for the end of the world. Look, MacGregors are existential nihilists with depression. The end times come, we’re good—goodbye, cruel world. Our plan is we just die. (Don’t send me some worried text. We’re fine. We just know that a zombie invasion or a doomsday scenario means we bug out in our own way. We are indoor folk  with no survival skills and a distaste for humanity on its best day.). I’m preparing for the million small disasters of every day. I’m preparing for my own personal apocalypses. That ranges from being knocked out for two weeks due to the flu to finding myself unable to give a shit about anything other than laying on the floor and staring at my ceiling fans to someone suddenly dying.

 

 

I can’t make fun of those people are the show. They aren’t mentally well. I might not be hoarding food or manufacturing my own ammunition, but I am preparing for the many ways some piece of my world may be interrupted, whether that’s a stumbling block or the ground being ripped out from under me. When people comment on my efficiency and organization, I just laugh it off as “how I am,” but really, it’s not necessarily fun. It’s obsession. It’s anxiety. It’s a Type A desire to feel in control. People so severely misunderstand mental illness and what it can look like. My attention to detail is really just my brain letting its worry and mania run rampant.

 

Side note: Yes, I’m medicated and have been to lots of therapy and am actually doing quite well compared to how my brain sometimes likes to behave. Please don’t send me suggestions for how to stop worrying.

 

Allie Brosh gets it.

 

It’s kind of exhausting. I always joke that at least I get a lot done, but really, I might not mind being able to let a little bit go sometimes. How does someone prep for that? Maybe I should make a list.

Twin Cities Teen Lit Con 2019: Social Justice and Activism in YA Literature

Saturday, April 27 was Twin Cities Teen Lit Con, a wonderful yearly event that I have now had the honor of speaking at for the past four years. This year it took place at Henry Sibley High School, in Mendota Heights. If you’re unfamiliar with Teen Lit Con, it’s exactly what it sounds like: a convention dedicated to teen (YA) literature. This event is FOR teens—teens win the prizes, teens often get first dibs at getting a seat in sessions, there are sessions that are ONLY for teens, etc. I feel extremely fortunate to not only present there each year, and meet so many wonderful teens, but to then also be able to hear fantastic talks from YA authors from around the country. Big thanks to everyone at MELSA, the Teen Lit Con team, the many volunteers, and Henry Sibley High School for the amazing day. What a lot of work went into pulling it off.

 

 

I had a wonderful day running in to lots of friends, listening to smart, engaging speakers, and nonstop grinning at the absolute joy of watching teenagers totally geek out over books and authors. I’m a huge fan of eavesdropping and overheard so many great snippets of conversations about books and presentations.

I presented my session twice on Saturday. I had printed 100 handouts but ran out during the second session. A born pessimist with impostor syndrome, I always assume that maybe my sessions will only draw a handful of people, though that has literally never turned out to be the case (aren’t the lies that depressed and anxious brains able to come up with and convince a person of so fun?!), so I print what feels like an excessive amount of handouts figuring it will be more than enough and I’ll just bring most of them home. I also made handouts from last year’s Mental Health in YA Lit sessions available yesterday, as those sessions were so well attended in the past and the topic is so dear to me. Those handouts all went, too. The mental health handouts from last year’s talk are available here:

Teen Lit Con 2018 handouts MHYALit

 2018 TLC Additional handout

 

The handouts from my 2019 Social Justice and Activism in YA Literature session are available here:   

Social Justice in Young Adult Literature Recommended Reading

Social Justice in YA Lit Resources (websites for further education)

 

Schools and libraries, please feel free to reproduce these and share these, but please leave my credit at the bottom of the page. 

 

As promised during my talk, I’m going to post a few relevant slides from my presentation here. My presentation was a mix of information about social justice, anti-oppression, intersectionality, and own voices and a rundown of some of the many YA books that address these topics. When I began working on my presentation, I made a list of the books I really wanted to talk about. That list was 186 books long. Listen, I talk really fast, but even I can’t fit that into 45 minutes. So I pared it down to a much more reasonable 62 books. I know. I can’t help it! I used every single second of those 45 minutes. Click on the slides to enlarge them.

 

 

 

The rest of the presentation was quick summaries of books that address social justice topics. Slides showed the book cover (because I do indeed judge a book by its cover) and title/author. The suggested reading list includes all the books I talked about/made slides for. Just for a peek, the slides looked like this:

 

 

The resources handout includes these sites and many more:

 

 

After each talk I had excellent conversations with teachers, librarians, and teenagers looking for more books on a certain topic, or suggesting titles to me, or just stopping by to give me a high-five (and in one case, stopping to slip me a coffee gift card!). It was great to see so many people nodding along to the points I was making and scribbling notes. Four years in, I now recognize so many familiar faces in my sessions. I’m not exaggerating when I say that Teen Lit Con is absolutely one of the best days of the year.

 

As a pretty hardcore introvert, being on display like that, socializing that much, should have drained me. Instead, I left the high school invigorated, fueled by all of the excitement and energy of the day. Did I still go home and hole up in my office for an hour before I could interact with anyone again? Yes. But I can’t think of a better reason to feel a little wiped out than hanging out with people who love YA books.

 

Adventures in Dachshunds: The OH GOD, MY DOG HAS ZOMBIE EYEBALLS edition

(Warning: this post has some icky eyeball pictures. Those with Ommetaphobia may want to skip this one.)

I’ve worked three days in the past two weeks. Thanks, polar vortex!

The timing of being home so much turned out to be great. As anyone who follows me on social media knows, one of our dogs suddenly went blind last month. For a handful of days, the sides of Edward’s eyes just looked irritated and red. Not the biggest deal–dogs always have all kinds of strange things going on, especially old dogs. Maybe it’s allergies, I said. Maybe he’s allergic to dogs.

Starting to look gross, but not too bad yet.

 

Once he couldn’t see, he just started keeping his eyes closed all the time.

 

As the redness got worse, we took him to the vet. They did a funky little test on him that basically turned his tears neon green, then they examined his eyes with some kind of special light/tool. Nothing odd showed up, so they sent us home with an ointment. We repeated this process two more times as his eyes became increasingly weird. They went from red, to milky/cloudy, to ZOMBIE EYEBALLS.

Look:

 

It was clear that he was totally blind in one eye and the other was about to call it quits, too. Our vet told us she’d never seen anything like this, which is always super fun to hear, and referred us to a veterinary ophthalmologist. There, the incredibly kind and smart doctor informed us that Edward has a VERY rare disease, something he sees maybe once a year and something that there’s no way our regular vet would know to diagnose. Essentially, there’s a glitch in Edward’s immune system telling it to fight an infection when there is none. As a result (somehow), his corneas became completely inflamed and his eyes were clouded with white blood cells. “He’ll be fine,” the vet calmly told us. “A few weeks of medicine and he should be back to seeing just fine.”

 

We about fell over. Edward and Billy turn 15 next month. We had accepted that Edward was now blind and just really wanted an answer for why he had zombie eyeballs. It was a better diagnosis than we expected. They took him in back for a cortisone shot near his eye, gave him lots of treats, admired what a handsome man he is, and sent us on our way with some prescriptions.

 

Resting flanked by concerned brothers.
Resting after his cortisone shot.

 

He already seems to be doing a bit better. Today, his eyes tracked me setting down his food dish, where before I had to set the dish down and then move him to it, pushing his head down into the bowl so he could find his food. I always assume the worst. In everything. All the time. But even I think the doctor is right—Edward will see again.

 

Here at The MacGregor Home for Elderly Dachshunds, we know we will have our hands full as our pack continues to age. The fact that both Edward and Billy will turn 15 next month is amazing. Billy spent much of the past few years battling stomach problems and seeming like he was about to die, but then suddenly seemed to decide, NOPE, I SHALL LIVE. It’s now like he’s aging backwards. He’s down to 8 pounds (from 12 pounds just this past August), playful as heck, and as fierce as ever. Edward can’t hear, can currently hardly see, and has a history of seizures. And Oscar… well, he’s an adorable little disaster. He has no teeth, has basically recovered from last spring’s paralysis, has a heart murmur, and has been through some shit in his life. We have baby gates blocking all rooms without doors. I have a subscription order for potty pads. Two of the three dogs need prescription food. We have dog diapers, dog strollers, and use our steam cleaner a lot. A LOT. I cry over them and swear at them and desperately love them. I don’t know what I will do when they break our DOGS LIVE FOREVER pact. But for now, I’m just grateful that Edward seems to be rebounding from this setback.

 

I was depression planking and crying. Blind Eddie found his way up onto me.

 

For your viewing pleasure, dachshunds being adorable:

Billy, melting.

 

Oscar froze his paws.

 

This bed was our best investment.

 

Billy watched the ALA Youth Media Awards with me.

 

SNUGGLE PILE.

 

Desperate for the sun.

 

Can’t get enough of ol’ derp-face Oscar.

 

Oscar, king of the pillows.

 

Sun + bed = happiness.

 

 

They’re not going to know what to do if I have to work a full week next week. Bring on more snow!

 

(Also, hi, I have not written a new blog in ages. Blame winter despair. Blame the fact that I spent half of December and much of January battling and bouncing back from influenza. Blame whatever. You can always find me blogging away over at Teen Librarian Toolbox. Or flooding my Twitter with dog pictures. And hey, I even updated the EVENTS page of this blog, so if you want, you can come listen to me speak at TEEN LIT CON in April.)