If the apocalypse comes, beep me

I haven’t posted on here in a few weeks because I’ve been busy working on various writing projects. I’ve also been equally busy losing myself in my all-encompassing obsession with BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER.

Here’s the thing about me: I tend to like something forever (all my favorite movies are from the 80s, all my favorite punk music is from the 90s, my outfits of jeans, Converse or Vans, and black novelty t-shirts has been a 20+ year standard) or come to something extremely late. BUFFY first aired in the late 90s, yet somehow I’d never seen it. Not even one second of one episode. I enjoyed the camp factor of the movie, which was a sleepover staple for a long time, but never checked out the television show. I blame it on the fact that it aired when I was in college and graduate school, a time when I wasn’t watching a lot of tv.

Anyway.

In December, we had some friends over and were talking about television and they asked if we’d seen BUFFY. They were making their way through it and totally loving it. I don’t know why this time the recommendation actually clicked for us, but it did. It seems like most of library/book Twitter loves BUFFY, and certainly people have suggested we watch it, but I never dove in. We started watching it, me tweeting away the whole time, sharing how skeptical I was that we’d make it through much of the show. It was okay, but not great. I didn’t get the BUFFY mania. Hang in there, everyone told me. Get past the first many episodes. Wait till you get to season two. It gets so much better!

And it did. Boy, did it.

I am hard pressed to sit down and watch even a 22 minute sitcom. I’d rather read or write. Matthew works approximately 4 gazillion hours a week, so he’s not exactly excited to carve out time to watch tv either. BUT. Since December, we have watched the entire season once all the way through (144 45-minute episodes, 7 seasons) and are now on season three of watching it the second time. That’s right—we finished it and then immediately started it over again.

Over spring break, I read 83 BUFFY comics (the television show ended with season 7, but the comics continue the story, and I’m up to season 11, the current season). We have a BUFFY calendar in our kitchen. We’re listening to the podcast about the show, BUFFERING THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. I’m reading other books about the show. It’s almost all we talk about. I wrote an entire first draft of a new novel over 8 weeks and it’s fair to say that BUFFY totally fueled my writing and my state of mind.

The depths of winter are hard for me. My depression and anxiety are compounded by December being my least favorite month (the month my dad was killed in a car accident), the snow triggering all kinds of grief and anxiety and panic attacks for me, and the lack of sun making me even more depressed than usual (my trusty little SAD lamp can only do so much). But in all honesty, BUFFY is a big part of what kept me going these past few months. I would write in the mornings, from 5-7, knowing if I hit my word count goal, I could watch BUFFY in the evenings without feeling guilty/needing to do other things.

And really, what better message for me to spend months absorbing than fight a demon, fall down, get back up, fight again? My brain needed that message. I think the series gripped me so hard because it’s not only great writing, and great characters, but is so much about grief, the continued fight for their lives, and battling their own demons. I get it, Buffy, I really do. Some of us are totally aware that we’re teetering on the brink of our own personal hellmouth.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

“Strong is fighting. It’s hard and it’s painful and it’s every day. It’s what we have to do, and we can do it together, but if you’re too much of a coward for that, then burn.”—Buffy

“I don’t know what’s coming next. But I do know it’s gonna be just like this – hard, painful. But in the end, it’s gonna be us. If we all do our parts, believe it, we’ll be the one’s left standing. Here endeth the lesson.”—Buffy

“Sometimes the most adult thing you can do is… ask for help when you need it.” — Giles

“So what — are we helpless puppets? No. The big moments are gonna come. You can’t help that. It’s what you do afterwards that counts. That’s when you find out who you are.” —Whistler

“From now on, every girl in the world who might be a Slayer, will be a Slayer. Every girl who could have the power, will have the power, can stand up, will stand up. Slayers… every one of us. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?” —Buffy

 

What I’ve been reading

Surprise Me by Sophie Kinsella

I love Sophie Kinsella. I was number 76 in the hold queue for this book, but my library has this excellent thing called Lucky U, where they keep some copies of new, popular books to put on the shelves so everyone has a crack at them. The day this came out, I raced to the library after work and managed to snag a copy, which turned out to be really excellent, because then later in the week when I was stuck in bed sick, I could read the whole thing. Anyway. In this book, a couple is told by a doctor that they are in such great health that it’s likely they will both live to 100. The prospect of 68 more years together sort of freaks them out and sets in motion a bunch of events and thoughts that threaten to derail their marriage. An engrossing read about trust, secrets, partnership, and truly living your life.

 

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story by Dan Harris

I’ve read scads of books in the past few months on meditation and mindfulness as research for the book I’m currently working on. I don’t include them on here because they cover a lot of the same ground and aren’t necessarily my “fun” reading, which is what I like to write about here. Anyway. This one managed to cross over from “semi-arduous research” into “fun reading.” Nightline anchor Harris, a religious skeptic with a monkey mind full of anxious thoughts, finds himself journeying down a path of meditation and mindfulness after having an on-air panic attack. Harris writes about all of this rather humorously, casting a judgmental eye on himself as he starts exploring this new part of his life. This is by far the most engaging and readable book I’ve read yet on mindfulness.

 

This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America by Morgan Jerkins

I’m just going to quote from the flap copy here: “Doubly disenfranchised by race and gender, often deprived of a place within the mostly white mainstream feminist movement, black women are objectified, silenced, and marginalized with devastating consequences, in ways both obvious and subtle, that are rarely acknowledged in our country’s larger discussion about inequality. In This Will Be My Undoing, Jerkins becomes both narrator and subject to expose the social, cultural, and historical story of black female oppression that influences the black community as well as the white, male-dominated world at large.” That about sums it up. A powerful collection of personal and political essays about racism, sexism, and white feminism.

 

Fetch: How a Bad Dog Brought Me Home by Nicole J. Georges
A graphic memoir about a punk zinester girl who desperately loves her cantankerous little shar-pei dachshund? SIGN ME UP. Yes, I loved every page of this long book. Yes, I cried repeatedly. Yes, I now will force this book upon anyone I know who loves dogs, especially “bad” dogs. A beautiful ode to friendship, love, loyalty, and the way our pets can keep us tethered to the earth.

 

Invincible Summer by Nicole J. Georges

After reading (and loving) FETCH, I had to check out some of Georges’ other work. This zine anthology collects issues of her zine from the early 2000s. A few bits in here show up in an expanded and more polished form in FETCH. Her zines feature stories about dogs, heartbreak, friendship, work, coffee, relationships, and so much more. They’re a mix of comics and narrative pieces, some sort of hastily done and hard to read/decipher, some much cleaner. Having spent my youth devouring zines, the messy format and sometimes hard to read pages didn’t bother me. There’s a second anthology, too, that I still have to track down.

 

Calling Dr. Laura: A Graphic Memoir by Nicole J. Georges

When I find someone I like, I generally obsessively burn through their stuff. Obviously. This memoir covers a lot of the same ground at least briefly mentioned in FETCH, but goes into much more detail, especially in her childhood. Like the other two books I read by Georges, it’s a lot of stuff about punks, relationships, music, dogs, and identity. Here, the two pivotal secrets she is keeping/is being kept from her are about her sexuality and about her biological father. I greatly enjoy her drawing and her writing, so I’m okay with how this rambles and meanders, but stronger editing would have made this pack more of a punch. A highlight is, of course, when she begins to date a girl with four dachshunds.

 

Every BUFFY thing I can get my hands on

This picture here is my pile of BUFFY library books. I have others on order. If you follow me on Twitter, then for the past three months you’ve seen me OBSESSIVELY tweeting about BUFFY. Somehow, we had never watched it. Somehow, 20+ years after it aired, we all became obsessed with it. I am mostly stuck in the 90s anyway, so it makes sense that this show would be the one to snag my complete and total devotion. We watched the whole series in three months (and I wrote an entire draft of a book–as Matthew said, you really can have it all!). I now harbor an extremely problematic crush on Spike. After the last episode, I went to my room and cried my eyes out. So now Matthew and I are both listening to the Buffering the Vampire Slayer Podcast, and I’m reading the graphic novels, and we started the series all over and are watching it from the beginning (or, as I keep saying, once more, with feeling). OBSESSED.

Happy birthday, Edward and Billy

Today, Edward and Billy turn 14. 14! That is pretty old for dachshunds. We are so lucky to have both of them reach this age, to have them still be mostly healthy and energetic. I literally do not know what I’d do without these Good Boys in my life. They will happily accept your virtual pets, snuggles, and nose boops.

Previously in dachshund posts:

The story of Edward and Billy, on the occasion of their birthday

Dachshund pictures galore

Dachshunds being cute

Introducing Oscar the dachshund

Unadoptable

Oscar: A Dachshund Update

 

A month of reading-related shirts

February was I Love To Read Month. We did lots of fun things at the elementary library, like reading bingo cards, blackout day (wear black and read/stay off electronics), cuddle up and read day, and made a school-wide bookworm that showed how many library books we read. Super fun. I decided I would wear a reading-related shirt every school day in February (which was easy, because I kind of a have a t-shirt collecting problem). Here’s part of my collection of nerdy book shirts!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have lots of fab socks, but these library card socks are my favorite.

Haven’t thought about toxic masculinity? You need to.

After this past week’s school shooting, I was talking to a coworker about it and she mentioned mental illness. As you may guess, I am TIRED of everyone throwing mentally ill people under the bus whenever any act of terrorism (particularly white terrorism–notice people are always willing to jump to this conclusion if terrorists are white, but don’t necessarily attempt to find an “excuse” or “reason” like this when it’s someone not white) occurs. Stop stigmatizing mental illness. Are some of these people possibly mentally ill? Sure. But so are TONS of people who don’t grab guns and commit absolutely appalling acts. Here is a quote from a New York Times article:

Overall, mass shootings by people with serious mental illness represent 1 percent of all gun homicides each year, according to the book “Gun Violence and Mental Illness” published by the American Psychiatric Association in 2016.

 

Anyway. We all know I am host to many mental illnesses and don’t particularly enjoy the constant stigmatizing of mental illness, so I’ll spare you that rant. Where this post is going is here: After my coworker brought up mental illness, I VERY EMPHATICALLY said that of course this is about guns, and gun culture, and mental health, but more than ANYTHING, this is about toxic masculinity. This is about male entitlement. I said the three things I never, ever stop talking to my son about are consent, white privilege, and toxic masculinity. Until our culture somehow revamps how we raise and treat boys, until we look hard and correct our views of masculinity and aggression and violence and teach boys/men how to deal with emotions, how to value women, how to seek and accept help, until we stop excusing a whole host of bad behaviors with “boys will be boys,” this will never change. Ever. She said she’d never thought of it that way, which shocked me. Don’t get me wrong—it is guns and gun control that is to blame, but just as much to blame, tied up intricately in this mess, is toxic masculinity. It’s killing us. 

If you are someone who has never thought about it from this angle before, if you are raising a son, I implore you to please learn more about toxic masculinity and what you can do to help counteract its negative, deep-rooted, and terrifying grasp on our culture. Here are some recent articles to read up on. And if you’d like to defend guns or tell me how wrong I am, how it isn’t “all men” or some other garbage, go away. I’m not looking for your input.

 

Men Are Responsible for Mass Shootings: How toxic masculinity is killing us. By Jennifer Wright (Harper’s Bazaar)

Don’t Blame Mental Illness for Mass Shootings; Blame Men. If you want to cut down on gun violence, first target toxic masculinity. By LAURA KIESEL (Politico)

Toxic white masculinity: The killer that haunts American life by CHAUNCEY DEVEGA (Salon)

What Is Toxic Masculinity? by BY TRACY E. GILCHRIST (Advocate)

Overcompensation Nation: It’s time to admit that toxic masculinity drives gun violence. Our national attachment to dominance models of manhood is a major reason why we have so much violence By AMANDA MARCOTTE (Salon)

Toxic Masculinity Hurts Us All. Here’s How We Can Fix It.
Annie Reneau (Scary Mommy)

 

What I’m reading

My “fun” reading has slowed WAY down lately. I’m deep into writing and researching (SO MUCH RESEARCHING) my current novel (still called Teenage Mutant Nightmare Friendships, because why not?), am churning out tons of posts for books I read for Teen Librarian Toolbox, and reading my eyes out every free second I get at work at the library. By nighttime, all I want to do is watch Buffy and pet dogs. Here are the few titles I’ve managed to read in the past few weeks.

 

The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying by Nina Riggs

This had been in my TBR pile for a while. I had intended to start reading it in early December, but once I found myself playing the waiting game to see if the lump my mammogram had found was benign (it was), Matthew gently suggested I maybe move it to the bottom of my pile and wait to read this memoir about a woman dying young from breast cancer.

This book, written by the great-great-great-granddaughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson, was stunning. It’s sad, of course—she’s chronicling being in the 30s and watching her breast cancer go from “one small spot” to tumors everywhere—but it’s also just a beautiful exploration of how we live especially as we face death. The book is honest and sweet and funny and devastating. Riggs, trained as a poet, makes even the quotidian seem breathtakingly significant. Full of life, love, strength, and dark humor, this story, and Riggs, is luminous.

 

Something New: Tales from a Makeshift Bride by Lucy Knisley

A memoir that’s also a graphic novel? Yes, please! I love all of Knisley’s graphic memoirs and had somehow missed reading this one when it came out in 2016. It’s hefty, at over 300 pages, and each page is packed with many panels full of tiny text. This story chronicles her path toward walking down the aisle, and, thanks to lots of relationship details and facts about the history of wedding traditions, manages to hold up the whole (long) way through. She casts a judgmental eye on the Wedding Industrial Complex, and, as a feminist, on the very idea of weddings and marriage at all, while still getting really excited to create their own (very DIY, whimsical, lovely) wedding. I adore everything Knisley produces. Check her out if you haven’t.

 

Going Into Town: A Love Letter to New York by Roz Chast

This love letter to Manhattan started as a guidebook (well, she says she wouldn’t use that word, but it’s the easiest one to convey what this book is like) that Chast made for her college-bound daughter. I will happily read anything Chast produces. This is a quick read, full of large, busy illustrations covering many aspects of New York that may take some getting used to for someone raised in the suburbs (as her daughter was). Full of photos and maps and small stories, this would be an excellent gift for anyone who is headed to college in New York.

 

Texts from Jane Eyre: And Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Characters by Mallory Ortberg

Like all people who like smart and funny things, I’ve long been a fan of Mallory Ortberg and The Toast. I’ve read snippets of these texts in various places, so when I saw this book at a recent library book sale for 50 cents, I grabbed it. It’s exactly what it says in the title—this book is hilarious made-up conversations with literary characters. The Rene Descartes conversation is my very favorite mainly because it sounds an awful lot like a conversation between my anxiety brain and my rational brain at 3 a.m (a bit of the conversation: RD: “Are you up? I can’t sleep. What if there’s an evil demon as clever and deceitful as he is powerful who has directed his entire effort to misleading me?” Other person: “I don’t know. I guess that would be awful. Go back to sleep.”). Big literature nerd? Like funny things? This quick read is for you.

 

When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele

Just read it. Especially if you are white. Especially if you have not given much thought to or done any real reading about institutionalized racism, about mass incarceration, about the criminalization of black people, about systemic racism, the drug war, police brutality, or about communities under siege. Khan-Cullors, an activist from a young age, recounts experiences from her life growing up black, queer, and poor. She talks about her brother’s struggle with mental illness and his arrests/imprisonments as well as those of her father and other men in her life. All of this feeds into her joining with some friends/other activists to create the Black Lives Matter movement. Necessary reading.

The super fun play zone that is my home office

If I’m not at work at the elementary school library, or obsessively watching Buffy with my family (why did it take me SO LONG to watch this show? How did I live all those years without Spike?), I’m probably holed up in my office. When we bought this house, we knew Matthew needed space for an office, but lucked out in the house being big enough for me to have an office, too. No more writing at the kitchen table, yay! I spend a ton of time in this room, writing blog posts for Teen Librarian Toolbox, or book reviews for School Library Journal, or working on my novels. Matthew’s office is all gray and very grown-up, full of all the things you’d expect a software engineer to have (okay—it’s not totally boring, he does have plenty of Star Wars toys in there and Dungeons and Dragons prints). My office looks like a child, or maybe a teenager, decorated it. I spend a LOT of time staring at the various things in my office as I think about what to write, while I search for just the right words. Edward, Billy, and Oscar enjoy curling up on their big dog bed in my office and keeping me company, too.

Here’s my work space, in all its glory. Show me where you work, too!

Try to sleep

You know that John Green line that everyone loves, “I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once”? That’s lovely, I guess. But if I were to write a truthful version of that line, based on how I sleep, it would be something like, “I fell in love the way you fall asleep: fitfully, exasperatedly, for a little bit, then not at all.”

Anxiety disorder is a peculiar creature. It can churn away in the background (if I’m lucky) all day long, not even necessarily latching onto anything that it feels it needs to obsessively ruminate about. But as soon as I go to bed, it leaps to life, like, “HELLO! SO GOOD TO SEE YOU AGAIN! OH MY GOD, I HAVE SO MANY THINGS TO TELL YOU!” And then it’s off and running.

I adore this tweet because it totally GETS anxiety.

 

If I didn’t live with someone who can go from being upright to being in bed asleep in under three seconds, I wouldn’t believe that people can just go to sleep. That my particular exhausting ritual isn’t normal.

Before I even get in bed, I take my various brain meds, including the one for anxiety that makes it possible for me to sleep at all. I have to sleep facing the door with my back to the inside of the bed. It (go figure) makes me too anxious if I’m not facing the door. I have to sleep with a pillow between my legs because if my knees touch I get that fingernails-on-the-blackboard feeling. I also have to sleep with something playing on my phone. I burn through old sitcoms like mad, usually having 3-5 episodes on a night. I can’t listen to podcasts, because I want to actually LISTEN to them, which keeps me awake, but old sitcoms that I’ve seen a thousand times are perfect. Their noise helps distract me from my own noise. The other night the Hulu app went down and I nearly lost it. NEED SHOWS.NEED NOISE. I also usually sleep clutching one of the dachshunds, focusing on their little heartbeat and breathing.

 

Recently, I got a weighted blanket to help. One of the things I have always done to try to sleep is work on convincing my body I was heavy and sleepy. Weighted blankets are not cheap, but I finally made the leap, figuring it would be worth it if it could help me. The blanket is 14 pounds (most things I read suggest a blanket 10% or slightly more of your weight) and I love it. However, the first two nights, it actually kept me awake because I was so worried about my 8-10 pound dogs sleeping under that weight. Yes, give me a product designed to help reduce anxiety and I will turn it into something that actually makes my anxiety worse. I’m talented like that. Anyway. The blanket seems to help. I wake up way less in the night, and when I do wake up (and turn another show on on my phone), I fall asleep again faster. It either actually helps or has convinced my brain to behave like it helps (and convincing my brain of anything is a great task). I don’t really care how it works, just that I get a little more uninterrupted sleep with it.

If your anxiety pummels you all night long, tell me your coping mechanisms, okay? I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before my anxiety catches on to this blanket trick and rejects its help.

Billy sleeps hard under the weighted blanket, too.

Oscar: A Dachshund Update

Sweet Oscar has been with us for 3 months now. He has, despite the claim of the shelter that wanted to euthanize him, proven himself to be highly adoptable. He’s great. But he has lots of baggage—baggage that we can only guess at, given he came to us with no history that we could know. He was abandoned and either lived on the street for a while or was tied up right away in front of a shelter. We don’t know. We don’t know how old he is, who he lived with, why they let him go, what happened in his life, or even what name he had for the first many years of his life. We know nothing except that we love him and he’s a very complicated little dog. But we can put together potential pieces of his story.

 

We know he is terrified of being left alone, and that one has a pretty clear explanation—sweet little dog was literally abandoned. He hates if he can’t see us. He will wait directly outside of the bathroom door for me (or bash the door open if he can). He will jump over our baby gates (used to keep the elderly ones from going into rooms on the main floor and pottying) to follow us. He is only now, three months in, beginning to trust that we will come back into a room and give us a minute or two before he comes to look for us.

 

 

He spends all day curled up in a chair in Matthew’s office. He is lucky that Matthew works from home and can be with him all day. Oscar is very dedicated to his job, spending all day in that office even if Callum and I are also home. If he comes up to my office on the weekend and barks at me for attention, and if I’m busy working, all I have to do is tell him to go to work and he runs down 30+ stairs to Matthew’s office. He doesn’t yet respond to his name, but he knows the command “go to work.”

He still sometimes has accidents. He loves to jump on all the tables and desks and has consumed many sips of coffee. He would love for Edward and Billy to play with him, and tugs at their ears to try to start something, but they are weeks away from their 14 birthdays and not really into playing anymore. He’s scared of going in the car, so I try to take him for short errands to help him understand that no one is going to take him somewhere and leave him. Like all the other dachshunds, he loves snuggling my mother. He loves his food, though he’s still not putting on weight, despite our best efforts. His little tail wags almost all day long.

 

The only real problem we have with Oscar, which is not exactly a problem, but is concerning, is that he is extremely protective of me. He hates it when Matthew and I touch each other—so if we hug or cuddle up, he gets mad. Edward does the same thing, though that’s because Edward is in love with me and can’t stand seeing the Human Husband getting near me. Oscar really loses it at night. Take last night, for example. While I showered, Matthew had Oscar on the bed and was playing with him. He had him flipped on his back and was wiggling him around and having fun. Oscar loved it.

Then I got in the bed. A switch flipped and Oscar HATED Matthew. His little lip started to curl. He started to growl. He started to bark. This is every night. Every single night, Oscar feels he has to protect me from Matthew. He will literally attack him to keep him away from me. Thank goodness he has no teeth. The worst is in the middle of the night. Matthew usually wraps up working around midnight and then comes to collect the dogs for late-night potty. Oscar LOSES it. He not only attacks him, but he will chase Matthew all the way downstairs. Again, he is 8 pounds, tiny, and toothless, so we’re not particularly scared of this fearsome display, but we are sad for him. As far as we can guess, it seems like at some point in his life, he felt he had to protect someone, probably a woman. He felt threatened by a man. He still feels the need to protect me. We spend a ton of time showing him that he’s safe, that Matthew and I would never hurt each other, that no one would ever, EVER hurt him. But still, every night, I have to wake up to get him out of bed to go outside. He is fine with me grabbing him and moving him. Outside of the day he got all his first shots, he has never once snarled or growled at me. But he does daily with Matthew, who during the daytime hours, is his very best pal.

I’m conflicted: I wish we knew his past, because it would help us help him. But, at the same time, I am so glad I don’t know the details. We’re helping him rewrite his story, but it’s slow going. Despite whatever he’s been through, he is still so full of love. He seems happy to have dog brothers, a loving family, and plenty of attention. He’s in an entirely new situation, but his past never appears to be very far from his mind. Whenever he freaks out, we just remind ourselves that he has seen some shit. He has his reasons for lashing out, for distrusting, for being fearful. I wish we had been the ones to have him all along. But he found his way here, finally. And maybe, just maybe, some night Matthew will be able to get Oscar up without fleeing down the stairs as a toothless tiny dog races after him, screaming at him to get away from his mommy.