The skills of defensive driving

For you, maybe it goes like this:

First real snow of the season. It’s kind of pretty.

Argh, why does everyone forget how to drive in the snow?

Okay, be careful—it’s slippery.

 

For me, it goes like this:

OH NO, the first real snow of the season. I HATE THIS. I wish I could make it all melt right now. Burn it with fire!

(Endless loop begins) DEATH, ICE, SLIP, SLIDE, CRASH, DEATH, SMASH, SLIDE, COLLIDE, DEATH, DEATH, DEATH.

Writes note to husband before work. Quickly adds “love you” because suddenly I’m certain I will of course die while driving today and I don’t want my last words ever to him to be that the dogs need to pee.

 

Argh, why does everyone forget how to drive in the snow?

(Another round of my favorite song, DEATH, ICE, SLIP, etc)

Drop kid off at school. He tells me it will be fine, that what happened to my dad was a freak accident, that we will not die in a car crash. He gets out of the car but makes sure to tell me he loves me before he closes the door.

I leave the parking lot thinking, well shit, clearly I’m going to die now. The universe knows it. It made him be sure to remember to say that to me FOR THE LAST TIME.

Rational brain attempts to speak up: Excuse me, but you’re an atheist. You don’t put any stock in any knowledge or fate or reason or logic. It’s just a swirling mass of chaotic futility. Anxious brain shouts over rational brain: EVERYTHING IS CHAOS! DEATH! WHEEEE!

Then I drive, white-knuckled, south through the suburbs, glad that at least I’m not going north into the city, as that side of the road is barely moving. I creep along, not listening to a podcast, because I won’t be able to actually hear it over my screaming brain, grateful that today I’m picking up $50 worth of donuts for book club, so at least I’m driving to a fun destination. Focus on donuts.

I make it to work and breathe a sigh of relief, but know that this same loop will happen every single day that there is snow or ice on the ground this winter, no matter how far I’m going, no matter what.

It would appear that the sixth winter after my dad was killed is not the winter I magically stop finding driving terrifying.

So now what?

I run my little happy lamp every morning. This crappy darkness makes my depression worse. I do not need the added drama of my brain screaming at me about a specific way of dying. I use my lamp, I work through some mindfulness and breathing-related bullshit (and no matter how hard I try, my brain just keeps thinking of it as bullshit, even when it works). I take my medicines—all of them, the daily ones, the backup ones, the backup backup ones. I do stuff like sit for hours with a battery-powered brush, cleaning grout or the edges of the bathroom or whatever other weird and obsessive thing my brain tells me would be soothing. I go to bed and watch the cars’ lights zoom by on the highway behind our house. The leaves are all gone now, and since we don’t have backyard neighbors, I never close the curtains, so I can see the cars while I’m in bed. I wake up in the night terrified. I cover my ears when Matthew tells me a story of driving home from work and an ambulance not being able to get through. “STOP!” I shriek at him. It’s grief season. I can’t hear this.

I live in Minnesota. It snows a lot here. I work in a different city than the one I live in. I have to drive. I have to drive in snow. I have to keep going. But what I want to do? What I want to do is put on my favorite jammy pants, the ones with stars, and close my bedroom curtains. I want to climb into bed with all three dachshunds, crank the electric blanket, and sleep until the spring. The dogs would like it. My family and my employer probably would not.

 

My therapist has me tell myself that the bad thing has already happened. It’s not happening now. It’s not about to happen. But the great thing about brains is that they can think anything. They can understand linear time but still think time is all weird, that everything is always happening, that it loops back over itself, that it’s a Jeremy Bearimy thing going on.

 

And grief? Grief doesn’t care about logic or breathing or something being in the past or anything. Some days, grief only cares about expanding to fill up the container, overtaking me, blocking out anything else. And when the thing that triggers your grief is something as large and omnipresent as nature and weather? That’s hard to escape.

But I made it through driving on the first really bad roads of the season. And I started the day with $50 worth of donuts on my desk. And I will do this over and over and over, this winter and every future winter, likely not with the support of so many donuts, but I will never not get in my car on a snowy day and think of what happened to my dad. The world is a random, dumb, unfair, ridiculous place. Drive carefully out there.

Happy adoption anniversary, Oscar!

Today marks one year since we adopted Oscar. You can read about his introduction to our family here, and the fact that he was marked as “unadoptable” here, and get some other updates here and here.

 

Adopting him was one of the best choices we’ve ever made. He’s sweet and goofy and so, so loving. Edward and Billy love him—especially Edward. Enjoy some pictures from the past few weeks. Oscar has a good life now and we’re so happy to have him in our family.

 

Dispatches from the elementary school library

Oh, hi. It’s somehow the middle of October. September was a total blur of me going back to work, Callum going back to school, Matthew interviewing for a new job, me being super sick thanks to the AMAZING amount of germs small children generate, etc. Now that things have evened out a bit—back in the routine of work and school, Matthew has started his new job, I am temporarily healthy—I have time for things like blogging (though I’ve still been cranking out posts at Teen Librarian Toolbox multiple times a week—come visit!). 

One of my favorite things about working in an elementary school is simply the interaction with kids. I never know what they will say to me. Ever. So, as I’ve done before, here are a few quotable moments from my days in the library.

 

Summer reading part three

Books. Summer. Reading. You know the drill by now. Here’s the first installment. Here’s the second.  I think this puts me at 77 books read this summer. I have 8 more books in my current TBR pile. Think I can get them all done by the first day of school? I do too.

 

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The House That Lou Built by Mae Respicio. MIDDLE GRADE. Wonderful look at community and culture. Filipino American Lou has a real talent for carpentry, design, and architecture. Lou is spirited, filled with determination and heart.

 

Drum Roll, Please by Lisa Jenn Bigelow. MIDDLE GRADE. Melly’s a shy girl, but she finds friendship and confidence at music camp. She learns how to rely less on her best friend and experiences her first crush on a girl.

 

When Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisberger. ADULT. Another rich people and their problems book. These are always my favorite summer reads—a little over the top and a lot of fun.

 

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate. MIDDLE GRADE. A powerful look at working class poverty. Unique take on an imaginary friend story. We don’t often see families in situations like this in middle grade. Serious but ultimately hopeful.

 

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The Terrible Two by Mac Barnett and Jory John. ELEMENTARY/MG. Wide appeal. The illustrations and high-interest plot help make for a quick read. Fun, silly, and full of mischief.

 

 

The Hero Two Doors Down by Sharon Robinson. ELEMENTARY/MG. Uplifting story of understanding prejudice and encouraging tolerance/acceptance. A quiet story, the strong characters and thoughtful, unexpected friendship and its lessons make up for the lack of real plot.

 

Cursed by Bruce Coville. ELEMENTARY/MG. Whimsical story, fun illustrations and “documents” help flesh out the story. Humorous, but the story does drag a bit and mixed format/places we learn information a bit confusing. Fans of magic will enjoy this brownie’s story.

 

Fish in a Tree by Linda Mullaly Hunt. ELEMENTARY/MG. A feel-good story about embracing differences and seeing beyond labels and impressions. Characters are interesting and complicated. Great story about friendship, too.

 

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Webster: Tale of an Outlaw by Ellen Emerson White. ELEMENTARY/MG. Webster thinks he’s a bad hat, but he’s a very good dog. A sweet and emotional look at animal neglect/abuse and rescue. Humorous and full of adventure and rescues.

 

The Infinite Pieces of Us by Rebekah Crane. YA. Reviewed for School Library Journal.

 

Last in a Long Line of Rebels by Lisa Lewis Tyre. MIDDLE GRADE. Strong characters carry this rather slow story of Lou and friends working to save her house and solve a Civil War mystery. Themes of racism, atonement, and changing values.

 

The High Season by Judy Blundell. ADULT. Say it with me now: rich people and their problems! I really loved this book—great writing, compelling characters, lots of depth.

 

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Soar by Joan Bauer. MIDDLE GRADE. I usually love Joan Bauer, but this title lacked depth—characters felt like props and MC doesn’t feel nuanced. People who like “inspirational” unrelenting positivity and adult-sounding sixth graders may enjoy this.

 

Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar. ELEMENTARY/MG. This was great—fast-paced, super interesting, and filled with tension. The cautionary tale puts the characters in real peril. Readers will race through this suspenseful story.

 

Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman. ELEMENTARY/MG. An excellent addition to the field of puzzle-solving books. Suspend your disbelief and get caught up in the mystery, ciphers, literary allusions, and the journeys around San Francisco.

 

Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Letitch Smith. YA. This is a nice mix of romance, routine high school drama, and more serious topics like racism, bullying, and becoming more socially aware. Louise, the main character, is Muscogee (Creek).

 

Image result for the collectors westImage result for the hating gameMoonstruck, Volume 1: Magic to Brew

 

The Collectors by Jacqueline West. MIDDLE GRADE. Great characters, including a hard of hearing main character who uses hearing aids, interesting world-building, tons of suspense, and leaves readers wanting more. A great addition to any collection. Be careful what you wish for!

 

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne. ADULT. 100% my favorite book I read this summer. Enemies-to-lovers fan? You will devour this book.

 

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang. ADULT. Stella is autistic and hires an escort to be a practice boyfriend, but, big surprise, they end up falling for each other. An excellent romance with tons of sexual chemistry and great writing.

 

Moonstruck, Volume 1: Magic to Brew by Grace Ellis, Shae Beagle (Artist), Kate Leth (Artist). YA. Super wacky graphic novel about lesbian werewolves. What’s not to like? Cute, diverse, and full of supernatural fun.

 

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Giant Days Volumes 1 through 6 by John Allison et al. YA/ADULT. Excellent comics about the first year (and second, by volume 6) of college. Follows a small group of girls and boys as they figure out housing, money, dating, and more. Read all six volumes in 28 hours. Really good.

 

 

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Meet the Sky by McCall Hoyle. YA. The far-fetched plot will appeal to readers who like their main characters in peril. Girl trapped during hurricane evacuation with the boy who broke her heart.

 

Girl CEO by Katherine Ellison, Ronnie Cohen. YA. Full color makes this book very visually appealing. Great profiles of and advice from diverse women entrepreneurs, inventors, CEOs, media stars, and other leaders. Inspiring and educational.

 

The Glitch by Elisabeth Cohen. ADULT. Fast-paced read about a Silicon Valley exec who maximizes every second of every day, but is thrown for a loop when a woman claiming to be a younger version of her shows up and makes her question everything.

Summer reading part two

Last week I shared my first chunk of summer reading books. Here’s the next installment.

 

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Heart of Thorns by Bree Barton. YA. The prologue to this ARC says, “Once upon a time, in a castle carved of stone, a girl plotted murder.” I’m in. Read my Teen Librarian Toolbox review here. 

 

Storm-Wake by Lucy Christopher. YA. Shakespeare’s THE TEMPEST in a post-apocalyptic world. Dark, dense, and challenging.

 

Zebrafish: SPF 40 by FableVision team. Middle Grade. Great art in this graphic novel, but the story feels all over the place and doesn’t go anywhere satisfying.

 

There Are No Grown-Ups: A Midlife Coming-of-Age Story by Pamela Druckerman. ADULT. A meditation on what it means to be in your 40s? Yep, sounds like required reading at this stage of life.

 

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Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry. YA. A bunch of misfits find each other, and some trouble, while at a Catholic school they all feel on the fringes of. Loved it.

 

 

All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin. ADULT. I always enjoy her books. The main character reexamines what she wants out of life after having to take a hard look at the actions of her son and her husband.

 

Mary Shelley: The Strange True Tale of Frankenstein’s Creator by Catherine Reef. YA. Great biography of Shelley, whose life was just as dark and dramatic as you’d expect.

 

Steal This Country: A Handbook for Resistance, Persistence, and Fixing Almost Everything by Alexandra Styron. YA. Essays, interviews, photos, comics, and plenty of tips for action and allyship. Intersectional and thorough.

 

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Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram. YA. Mostly takes place in Iran. Really great look at fitting in and finding yourself.

 

 

Not the Girls You’re Looking For by Amirah Mae Safi. YA. Iraqi American main character. Examines friendship and complicated family relationships. A little slow.

 

Love Double Dutch by Doreen Spicer-Dannelly. Middle Grade. A fun, fast read about overcoming obstacles and making new friends on the path to a double dutch championship.

 

The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller. Middle Grade. Compassionate and supportive look at the ways families can be affected by mental illness. Very necessary addition to the small field of MG books about mental health.

 

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Where the Watermelons Grow by Cindy Baldwin. Middle Grade. Della’s mom stops taking her meds for schizophrenia and Della, who feels responsible for her mother’s illness, tries to find a cure. Empathetic and quiet.

 

The Jigsaw Jungle by Kristin Levine. Middle Grade. A mystery with a complicated story about identity and sexuality behind it.

 

You Think it, I’ll Say it by Curtis Sittenfeld. Adult. Short stories. Fantastic. One of my favorite reads of the summer.

 

 

Dream Country by Shannon Gibney. YA. This Minnesota author’s book moves between the United States and Liberia and covers multiple generations. Review to come on TLT closer to the September pub date. Brace yourselves—this book is phenomenal.

 

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Paper Girls volumes 1-4 by Brian K. Vaughn. YA. Comic books. 80s setting, badass girls, wormholes, monsters, mind-bending plot, plenty of action, and great art. LOVE.

 

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500 Words or Less by Julian Del Rosario. YA. Main character writes college admissions essays for her classmates, learning about them and about herself in the process.

 

What If It’s Us by Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli. YA. Can’t go wrong with a book by these two. Cute story about missing and making connections.

 

Lost Soul, Be At Peace by Maggie Thrash. YA. A compelling and surprisingly deep story about the things we lose, the things we find, empathy, connection, and family in this graphic memoir about depression and family history.

 

Deadendia: The Watcher’s Test by Hamish Steele. YA. Can I marry this book? Fantastic graphic novel about a trans young adult, a talking dog, and a portal full of demons. Amazing.

Summer reading part one

Summer is waning, but I’m still going strong on my summer reading pile. I’ve  read 67 books so far and hope to squeeze in maybe 20 more. Have I done anything else this summer, you may ask? Sure. But who cares about that stuff—summer is for reading as much as humanly possible (more, ideally) and staring at dachshunds. Busting my ankle definitely helped me burn through my TBR pile. Here’s the first chunk of what I read this summer—more posts forthcoming.

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Calypso by David Sedaris. ADULT. It’s possible I’ve read every word he’s ever written. The flap copy says, “This is beach reading for people who detest beaches, required reading for those who loathe small talk and love a good tumor joke.” Nothing on earth may have ever spoken to me more or made me feel more seen. Already have our tickets to see him in April 2019 in Minneapolis.

 

 

Cut by Patricia McCormick. YA. First read this back when it came out in the early 2000s. Read it this time for the selective mutism rep for research reasons.

 

 

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin. MIDDLE GRADE. This one does double duty—read it for the selective mutism rep and because it’s a Division II Maud Hart Lovelace Award nominee. A moving examination of grief, loss, friendship, and healing.

 

 

The Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell. MIDDLE GRADE.  This is a really excellent book with one of the most diverse groups of kids I’ve seen in a children’s book in a long time. A surefire hit with the graphic novel crowd. (LINK TO TEEN LIBRARIAN TOOLBOX REVIEW)

 

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My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma. YA. A cute, fun read about love, fate, and prophecy. Lots of drama and scheming.

 

 

The Way You Make Me Feel by Maureen Goo. YA. Legit hilarious book. Great main character who loves snark and pranks, but manages to eventually be introspective and grow.

 

 

Social Intercourse by Greg Howard. YA. Rom-com with potential, but the book fell flat.

 

 

From Twinkle, With Love by Sandhya Menon. YA. Cute romance with lots to relate to re: romance, crushes, ambitions, and popularity.

 

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The Problem With Forever by Jennifer Armentrout. YA. Read for selective mutism rep. A compelling if overlong look at trauma and at relationships.

 

 

You Were Here by Cori McCarthy. YA. Broken record—read for selective mutism rep. I couldn’t read any of these books while drafting my current novel, but now that it’s been through sensitivity readers and is in revisions, I could burn through much of my list. A sister tries to deal with her brother’s death through urban exploration and wild, unsafe stunts. Told through multiple viewpoints and in multiple formats.

 

 

How Hard Can It Be? by Allison Pearson. ADULT. Follow-up to I Don’t Know How She Does It. Exhausted mother of teens goes back to work as her life basically falls apart around her. Oh, and she’s pretending to be a decade or so younger than she really is. Good fun.

 

 

The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell. ADULT. Essays. Picked it up for $1 at a book sale. Can’t go wrong with Vowell’s witty commentary.

 

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Brain Camp by Susan Kim, Laurence Klavan. YA. Graphic novel. “Losers” get sent to a camp with a horrifying, and disgusting, secret. I wanted to like this, but found it terrible.

 

 

Chaotic Good by Whitney Gardner. YA. Story about a clever, feminist, cosplaying geek girl. Totally loved it.

 

 

All Out: The No-Longer Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages edited by Saundra Mitchell. YA. Stories of love, identity, exploration, and adventure in various places and times.

 

 

The Place Between Breaths by An Na. YA. A powerful look at schizophrenia. A short but demanding read.

 

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Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro. YA. An intense look at racism, police violence, and mental health. Powerful.

 

 

Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture edited by Roxane Gay. ADULT. Anthology of pieces about harassment, rape, and rape culture. Not easy to read, but important.

 

Fence Volume 1 by C. S. Pacat. YA. Graphic novel about an underdog who gets involved in the sport of fencing. Reviewed for School Library Journal, so that’s all I can say for now.

 

 

Angelic Book 1 by Simon Spurrier. YA. Graphic novel about a post-apocalyptic world populated by animal-machine hybrids. Reviewed for School Library Journal, so that’s all I can say for now.

 

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Lovely, Dark, and Deep by Justina Chen. YA. Interesting look at chronic illness—the main character has photosensitivity.

 

Making Friends by Kristen Gudsnuk. Middle Grade. Graphic novel about finding friends even if you have to invent them. Will fly off the shelves. Great for fans of Telgemeier.
Two Dogs In a Trench Coat go to School by Julie Falatko. Middle Grade. Exactly what the plot sounds like it would be. Great silly and clever fun.

 

Mrs. by Caitlin Macy. ADULT. I always enjoy reading about the secrets and hijinks of rich people. The usual interpersonal drama mixed with a secret that affects nearly everyone in the story.

Get out of my life (but actually, don’t): the complexities of adolescence

“Can I eat dinner in my room?” Callum asks.

“What’s wrong?” I say.

“Nothing’s wrong—GOD! You’re always asking me what’s wrong. I just don’t want to hang out with my parents,” he says, showing off some virtuosic eyerolling.

 

An hour later, Matthew and I are about to sit down to watch two episodes of Cougar Town (once you get past the name, you realize it’s a supremely well-written show full of quotable lines). “I’m watching, too,” Callum says. “Sit by me for both episodes,” he instructs me. Matthew makes a sad face. I tell them I’ll sit by each boy for one episode. “But I came out of you! I’m more important and I love you more!” Callum whines. He is joking, but also not.

 

He doesn’t want to suffer through dinner with us. He desperately wants me to be within an inch of him at all times. He screams that he hates me and stomps off. We have to talk in therapy about our separation issues (meaning that he needs to learn to separate from me better and not be so obsessed with my every reaction and thought).

 

When Matthew and I worked together at Barnes and Noble, way back in the beginning of Us, there was a popular parenting teens book that we sold a lot called Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me & Cheryl to the Mall? Whenever Callum swings from one emotion to another, inevitably one of us will mutter this title to the other. (A classic example of this is at some point toward the end of the school year, when we asked him about a field trip he’d been on and he snapped, “Why are you always trying to know everything about my life?” then asked if I’d take him to Target.)

 

It’s so complicated being 12. And I know things will only get more complicated. I feel like I spend most of my days now just observing him, studying what he’s going through and guessing at what he’s thinking (though, to be fair, there’s not much guessing yet—he continues to have no filter and tell us every thought that crosses his mind). I watch him float around the lazy river at the pool, in a tube with his best friend, a lovely girl who does not put up with any of his crap, both of them giggling and chattering. They wave to me every time they pass by my chair and I marvel that they’re still willing to acknowledge me in public. Callum will often hold my hand when we walk, or, more recently, throw his arm around me and squish me or put me in a headlock. I have one inch on him, but I will probably lose that advantage before summer ends, and soon he will tower over me. He has endless sleepovers with friends and is always looking for the next fun thing to do, but also still spends an inordinate amount of time with us. Matthew easily logs 80 hours a week of work, so I’m the primary parent, but despite how much time Callum and I spend together, he will still ask for “Callum and Mom” time—maybe we go get coffee or go swim. I’ll hear him on his phone laughing and talking and it’s just as likely that it’s with my mom as it is with his buddies. He is a little kid and an almost-teen. He’s cutting and nasty and also the sweetest kid with the best heart.

 

On the days that my brain feels like idealizing things, I look at Callum and think, What a fun time ahead of you, and I don’t even mean it sarcastically. There was always so much drama and excitement and just interesting things happening when I was a teenager. It’s when I became who I am. On the days my brain is being more realistic, I think, Hang on, kiddo, it’s going to be a long and rough ride. I remember what it was all like so well. It’s rather bizarre to now watch my own kid start to navigate this stuff. I feel like the more I study him, the less I actually know about him or know what I’m doing.

 

Someday he won’t tell me everything anymore. He won’t want to hang out, or wave to me in public, or drape all over me when we watch tv. And that’s good—it’s normal and necessary. And maybe one day I’ll stop constantly studying him, stop marveling at how he’s changing and who he’s becoming. (Our therapist is not wrong to address separation issues.) Someday I will have to set aside my two favorite hobbies, spying on people and eavesdropping, to let him be his own person, to give him space, to allow myself some level of ignorance of what is going on in his life (I have a feeling I will need it). He just always seems on the brink right now of really growing into himself, of becoming the person he will continue to be. It’s exciting and terrifying. I just hope I have the emotional fortitude to withstand it.

 

All of this is to say, isn’t it weird raising children? And weird being parents? And weird that anyone survives adolescence? And weird that anyone survives parenting? 

When suicide is in the news

I don’t even know where to start. 

I’ve been writing this post in my head since Tuesday, but waking up today, seeing what my Twitter was full of, made me sit down and write it.

When famous people die by suicide, I feel a lot of things, mostly because of what I observe all around me. When someone famous dies by suicide, social media is flooded with people saying “oh no” and posting suicide hotline numbers and caring a lot, for a few hours, maybe a few days, about mental health. I am not at all suggesting that those sentiments are fake or misplaced or whatever. A lot of these sentiments are coming from those of us who live with mental illness, who totally get how this could happen, who think, damn, it got another of us. 

But.

When someone famous dies by suicide, I spend a lot of time cringing. I see articles saying Spade or Bourdain “committed suicide.” We don’t say that anymore, people. It’s not a crime or a sin (don’t correct me). These people died by suicide. They died from depression (or whatever). I see and hear people saying they can’t believe it. Like they know. Like any of us ever know what is going on with someone. My mental health battles (and they are battles) are out there and upfront. You all know I live with major depression and generalized anxiety. It’s no different than knowing someone with cancer or diabetes or MS or whatever. I have these diseases, diseases that are very real, diseases that could certainly become terminal, but that I treat and live with thanks to lots of medical intervention. But not everyone wants that out there. Why? Because the stigma and shame is still so great. It’s everywhere.

After Spade died, I overheard a few people at work talking. They were saying how selfish suicide is. How someone has to “deal with finding them” etc. I was so mad. So mad that I didn’t call them out. So mad that I didn’t calmly say, “Hey, that’s all really insensitive. No one says it’s selfish of people to die when other diseases become terminal. No one says of cancer patients, didn’t they think about someone having to find their body?” I knew if I opened my mouth I’d snap. I would probably cry.

How dare they.

You can mourn celebrity deaths. You can feel terrible that they died by suicide. You can be shocked. You can tell people to get help. But I hope you also understand that mental illness is RAMPANT. That the DSM-5 includes more than 250 diagnoses for mental illnesses. That 1 in 5 people lives with a mental illness. That suicide is the second leading cause of death for adolescents. That teens with a mental health condition constitute the highest dropout rate of any disability group. That more than 70% of youth in our juvenile “justice” systems have a mental illness. That there are a ton of barriers to treatment for many people. That LGBTQIA+ kids are many times more likely to attempt suicide than straight kids. That trans kids are especially vulnerable. I could go on. And I have. Over and over.

Talking about all of this, treating it as just another illness, another thing that kills us, is good. It’s normalizing. The more we talk, the more we compassionately talk, the more we can bring this out of the shadows.

Also, this is all A LOT. If you’re on social media, it’s flooded today, and was on Tuesday, with thoughts about mental health, with articles about these deaths, about suicide. It can certainly be overwhelming and triggering for a lot of people. You might need to step back. You might need to walk away instead of have a rage blackout in the general direction of your coworkers. I’m posting this, without rereading it, without second guessing it, without making it less ranty, then walking away from social media today. And that’s okay.

 

There is so much support and help out there, if you can access it. If you can bring yourself to take the first steps. Neither of those tasks are easy. Not by a long shot. Help is expensive and complicated and not quick and involves a lot of trial and error. It is extremely difficult to let the voice in your brain that says to get help be louder than the voice in your brain that says it’s not worth it. None of us really know what anyone else is going through. Even if we put it all out there. Take care of each other. Educate yourself. Know warning signs. Reach out. Watch how you talk. Be compassionate. Look out extra hard for teens, for queer kids, for people in your life. Help is not easy. Hope is hard to find. Depression is a monster. All those other 250+ mental health diagnoses? Monsters. All of them. 

 

I didn’t know where to start and I don’t know where to end. Here, have some brilliance from Bunmi Laditan.

 

Updates from The MacGregor Home for Elderly Dachshunds

I joke that while I have one kid, really I’m only built for .75 of a kid. Even 1.0 is too much for me. I always thought my capacity for dachshunds, though, was infinite. Lately, 3 is feeling like a LOT. Life with 3 old dachshunds means three separate foods (two of which are prescription), various medications, dog diapers, baby gates all over the house to keep them from carpeted rooms, a stroller because they can’t easily walk far anymore, and lots of time spent lifting tiny dogs onto and off of furniture, not to mention the fact that some dog is always at the door waiting to go out or come in.

Then there’s Oscar. Sweet, toothless, urchin Oscar. A few weeks ago, his back legs stopped working. One day he was mostly fine, the next day he was dragging his legs behind him like a little mermaid tail.

A few days before ending up in the ER.

 

He didn’t seem particularly bothered by this development. His tail was always wagging, and he was determined to still move around, like, It’s okay, guys, I got this! I’ll adapt! 

Clearly not doing well.

Matthew took him to the vet, who was not nearly as chill as Oscar about the partial paralysis, and sent us to the emergency department at the U of M animal hospital. There, Oscar was thoroughly examined. X-rays didn’t show anything of note, so an MRI was scheduled for days later, with the assumption that after the MRI, he would undergo surgery.

Full of pain meds.

Dachshunds are prone to a disc disease, and we figured odds were good we’d eventually face this. The hard thing with Oscar is that we don’t know anything about his life prior to him coming to us this past fall. We assume he was abused, just because of his reactions to certain things. He was certainly neglected. We have no way of knowing if he’d had episodes like this in the past. But, we’d promised him a good retirement home when we adopted him, so, after regaining consciousness after the shock of seeing how much the MRI and surgery would cost, we scheduled everything and waited.

Edward is such a good nurse.

And Oscar? He started to get better. He was full of all sorts of pain meds, but still so determined. We’ve spent the past week plus either holding him, having him sleep in a closed room with one of us present, or tethering him in his stroller.

Doesn’t exactly look comfortable, does he?

He’s supposed to be on kennel rest, but he’s TERRIFIED of his kennel. Good thing I bought that dog stroller (take that, neighbors who have side-eyed me and commented on how “different” it is to put a dog in a stroller).

Such a good doggo.

We’d take him outside to go potty and have to support his back legs because he couldn’t hold his own weight. But pretty quickly, he started walking a little again. He started using one leg to hold himself up and to move, the other leg dragging along behind. He would crookedly walk around the kitchen while we got his food ready. Through it all, that little tail wagged nonstop.

All snuggled in.

When we dropped him off at the U earlier this week, we were shocked to get a call just two hours later saying that he was recovering so well that the neurologist didn’t even think an MRI was necessary—it would just be a waste of money. The rest was working. He was healing. And so, he came home. No MRI. No surgery. And since then, he’s continued to do great. He still walks sideways or in a bit of a circle if he tries to move on his own. He spends a lot of time in his stroller. Edward, aka the nanny dog, is always snuggling him.

Oscar and Edward.

We can’t know if he’ll fully recover, or if he’ll have another episode, or will eventually require surgery or a wheelie cart. But for now, this sweet little dog who has already survived so much, is doing just great.

The Good Boy Squad.

Twin Cities Teen Lit Con 2018: Mental Health in YA Literature Presentation

Saturday, May 12 was Twin Cities Teen Lit Con, a wonderful yearly event that I have now had the honor of speaking at for the past three years. This year it took place at Chaska High School, an absolutely stunning (and giant!) school. 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 get first dibs at getting a seat in sessions, 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 Chaska High School for the amazing day. What a lot of work went into pulling it off.

Waiting for the kickoff panel with Angie Thomas, Adam Silvera, Melissa de la Cruz, and Barry Lyga

 

Two years ago, I presented on new and forthcoming YA. Last year I also presented on Mental Health in YA Lit. I presented one session to an absolutely packed room. You can read more about that here. This year, they asked me to present my Mental Health in YA Lit talk twice, so we can accommodate everyone who wanted to attend without squishing people into one session. I was a little nervous because my first session was opposite Adam Silvera’s talk and wasn’t sure anyone would come see me when they could be seeing Adam. Fortunately, my room filled up.

Callum and his BFF Miya came with me and were lots of help setting up all my free stuff.

 

Mental Health in YA Lit is one of my main areas of interest. I have presented on this topic before at NerdCon: Stories and for the International Bipolar Foundation (that webinar is archived and available in the link). Since 2016, we at Teen Librarian Toolbox have been running a Mental Health in YA Literature project (#MHYALit). This link will take you to the hub for our project, which so far has had well over 100 guest posts from authors, bloggers, librarians, and other teen advocates, often about our own mental health struggles and successes. I am passionate about advocating for mental health awareness, care, and representation in YA books. I never tire of talking about it.

 

Thank you to To Write Love on Her Arms, Mental Health Minnesota, and National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for providing me with free materials to hand out at each presentation. Thank you to my fellow Teen Librarian Toolbox blogger Karen Jensen for the reading- and TLT-related buttons. I also made buttons that said STRONG on them to hand out. Thank you to the great Buffy Summers for saying so many things that apply to both literal and metaphorical demon-slaying.

 

A big thank you to the years of effective care and treatment behind me, and to the medications that allow me to get out of bed every day and function. Other than my laptop, the most important thing I packed for Teen Lit Con was my anxiety medication that I needed to pop before I could get up and speak in front of people. Thanks, science!

 

 

 

Posted around Chaska High School.

I’m going to post a few relevant statistics slide from my presentation here. My presentation was a mix of the reasons why good, accurate, and compassionate mental health depiction in young adult literature is so vitally important; a look at the staggering statistics about teen mental health; and a rundown of just some of the many YA books I recommend that get mental health rep right. I also made handouts (because I love handouts) with YA titles that deal with mental health. Those are available here: Teen Lit Con 2018 handouts MHYALit and 2018 TLC Additional handoutSchools and libraries, please feel free to reproduce these and share these, but please leave my credit at the bottom of the page. 

 

 

 

My pal Dezra brought me this on Saturday. She couldn’t have known I would talk about feeling like a superhero in my talk. Sometimes you just share a brain with your pals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As has happened each time I’ve given a presentation on this topic, people came up to talk to me afterwards to share their stories or thank me for speaking out about a topic that still carries so much shame and stigma. All of those conversations after I talk are so important to me, but it’s the one with actual teenagers that really get me. One teen quietly asked me, “But how do I actually get some help if my parents don’t think there’s anything wrong with me?” Oof. As people waited to talk to me after, one attendee slipped me a note of thanks. Those conversations, those hugs, those notes are all so meaningful to me. If there is any one upside of living with mental illness (and believe me, it’s pretty hard to find one), it’s that I get to speak up about something so vitally important and help people feel less alone.

I had a long conversation after my morning presentation with a teacher who is advocating HARD for increased support and understanding of the mental health challenges her students are facing. We talked about using the privilege we have to speak up while so many others can’t. As a white middle class woman with lots of resources and support, I feel like it’s my duty to talk about something that remains so hard for others to talk about. I’ve somehow developed an impenetrable shell around me, one that doesn’t let the constant shame and stigma the world hurls at mentally ill people to get to me. There are so many who want to listen and who want to talk. There are so many who are so relieved to not feel alone. We’re not alone in this fight. The reminder is so powerful.

 

We had such a great day at Teen Lit Con. As a pretty hardcore introvert, being on display like that, socializing that much, drained me. But I can’t think of a better reason to feel totally tapped out than hanging out with people who love YA books. I can’t wait to do it all again next year!