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.

Hey, 40, I didn’t really need a breast cancer scare

There are no good pictures to go with this post, so here, look at Billy and Edward.

I had a bad mammogram. Then a bad ultrasound. Then a biopsy that showed my lump is benign. These things are not great for anyone (well, the first two things in that list—the news of not having cancer was pretty great), but if you’re me, an anxiety disorder in a human suit, they’re really not great.

 

 

I turned 40, had a physical, had a mammogram, and while driving to work a few days later got a call informing me that the mammogram showed “an abnormality.” I was able to get in a week later for an ultrasound.

 

The woman doing my ultrasound left the room and came back three times. “The doctor wants to see a spot better… oh, there it is.” It. Something. She sees it. IT. After the third time back, she said that the doctor wanted to come do the ultrasound. A very friendly woman comes in and says, “Are you okay with me taking a look, too?” And I say, “Well, since I’m already here and half-naked, sure,” because I am incapable of not being weird.

 

I had about 8 total minutes alone in the exam room between all the rounds of imaging. Here was my thought process:

 

I wish I had a book. This is boring. At least she’s not making small talk. The little lamp and the soothing music, who are they kidding? Like I might forget I’m at a place called the Breast Center and think this is a spa? (After she leaves and reappears) Okay. A closer look. Fine. Ugh. I’m so bored. I really do want to read. (After she leaves for the second time) Look at this art. An empty canoe on an empty beach. That just makes me think about death. Who left that canoe? Where are they? And that dock going out into a lake? All I see is a path that ends. More death. Good god. This isn’t helping. (She reappears for a try to look just a bit closer, says “oh, I see it.”) Okay. She sees something. Well, I’m dying. Obviously. I bet they’ll be irritated with me at work–I just started there and now I’m dying. Will Matthew get remarried? He’d better. He and Callum on their own is unsustainable. No one will ever clean the house or pay bills or buy food. Jesus, do I really do everything at home? Well, if I’m dying, I bet I’ll get to be in bed a lot and maybe make some progress on my TBR pile (Rational brain: Good lord. That’s pretty offensive. Being sick or having cancer wouldn’t be some lucky chance to catch up on reading. It’s not a vacation. Irrational brain: LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR RATIONAL THOUGHTS RIGHT NOW.) I’ll lose my hair. My one beauty! 

 

Please enjoy this picture of Oscar.

Then I had 13 days to wait for the biopsy. 13! I became totally convinced the lump could not possibly be anything but cancerous. Not only that, but obviously it’s already super advanced and I will probably die really soon. I’ve gotten SUCH terrible colds this year. I can’t fight them off and they last forever. Clearly that’s because I have cancer. (Rational brain: Pssst–you work in an elementary school with 850 germy children! Irrational brain: Shhh! You’re interrupting my thoughts about dying.)

 

Matthew took me for the biopsy the day after Christmas. He took my coat and purse and sat in the waiting room with all the other men holding coats and purses. I went back and put on a robe and sat with all the other women wearing robes (where I was easily 20 years younger than everyone). The biopsy was fine, though I still look like someone threw a baseball at my boob at 90 mph. To say I bruise easily is an understatement. I was hoping I’d know the results before leaving, but nope, I had to wait another day. So they did the biopsy, stuck a tiny titanium marker in the spot, sent me for a mammogram (because why not make this even MORE fun?), taped an ice pack to my boob, and sent me home.

 

Thankfully, 24 hours later they called to tell me the lump was benign. I was hardly able to hear her through the blood pounding in my ears. Answering the phone gave me an immediate panic attack. Even after I hung up, irrational brain was going strong. Even though you confirmed your name and birth date, I bet they got your files mixed up and I bet you do still have cancer. They’ll call back soon to correct that mistake (they didn’t). Or you’ll get a letter and the bad news will be in that (it wasn’t). Or it’s not cancer YET, but I bet by the next mammogram it will be (time will tell. Rational brain: STOP THAT. YOU’RE FINE. JUST BE FINE. Irrational brain: SHUT UP—I’m winning here!)

 

This meant I could sleep again. I could stop thinking about death. I could read that memoir in my TBR that’s about a woman dying young from breast cancer. I could go back to worrying about all of the other many terrible things that could befall me and/or everyone I love rather than fixate on this one specific thing. I spend my entire life envisioning and preparing for scary things, but when a scary thing arrives, I don’t feel prepared at all. Just scared. Glad this boob drama is over. In the words of my husband, “Boobs are great until they try to kill you.”

Recent reads

You know the drill by now. I read a lot. I write about what I read. I wrote about 111 books for Teen Librarian Toolbox this year (Callum tells me I can do better than that, so watch out, 2018!). I blab about books on Twitter. Here are the grown-up books I’ve read recently.

 

Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches by John Hodgman

I am a John Hodgman superfan. His podcast, Judge John Hodgman, is one of my very favorite things in life. When he came to St. Paul on his book tour in November, we went, excited to share in his weird brand of humor (and got exactly what we expected: some poignantly funny stories mixed with recommendations on the best pans for cooking eggs and a good New England whaling museum battle). This book is about middle age, about aging, about families, homes, anxieties, privilege, death, and the everyday burdens of being a person. Hodgman fans will not be disappointed. New readers will hopefully go see out the podcast, where they can get weekly doses of humorous observations about life’s inanities.

 

Insomniac City: New York, Oliver Sacks, and Me by Bill Hayes
I enjoyed the heck out of this book. I read most of it on a quiet Sunday afternoon, unable to put it down. It’s a beautiful and poignant look at life, love, and loss shown through photographs of people on the streets of New York, diary entries, and narrative peeks into the life of Hayes and his partner, the brilliant Oliver Sacks. I almost took this back to the library unread, thinking I didn’t have the time to get to it, but I’m so glad I sat down with it and lost all those hours to this lovely, moving book. Nonfiction/memoir fans, get on this one.

 

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul
I am, once again, on a memoir and essays kick. This happens a lot when I’m actually really writing (as opposed to only kinda sorta writing, but mostly staring at my computer and sighing and erasing things). I need to read less YA to keep that space in my brain open for writing YA. ANYWAY. Koul, who’s the daughter of Indian immigrants, writes about Indian culture, anxieties, phobias, interracial dating, and so much more. She easily goes from writing about getting stuck in a skirt in a fitting room to discussing India’s caste system, rape culture, and family issues. Often darkly humorous, this was a quick read that was a little uneven (some essays were less engaging and I only skimmed). I look forward to more from Koul.

 

Home is Burning by Dan Marshall

Looking for a swear word-laden, depressing, darkly humorous look at upending your life and caring for two dying parents? Then do I have the book for you! Admittedly, this maybe wasn’t the best choice to spend the anniversary of my dad’s death reading, but I’d somehow brought home from the library FOUR books about death, so what could I do. In his early 20s, Marshall’s mom had already been dealing with cancer for years when his father was diagnosed with ALS. Dan and his brother, both out of college, moved home to help care for their parents. The thing that keeps this from being a total sobfest (and from being boring–the care can be rather repetitive) is Marshall’s love of swearing and his totally dark sense of humor. And his family, especially his foul-mouthed mother, is a lot like him, too. It makes for a read that is extremely moving and compassionate but also so darkly funny. Touching, honest, and vulgar… my favorite things.

 

It’s Not Yet Dark by Simon Fitzmaurice

Read this memoir about ALS on the heels of the above book. Totally different experience. Fitzmaurice’s writing is tight, measured, spare, eloquent. This slim book explores life post-ALS diagnosis and wanders back repeatedly to his younger life. It’s a beautiful, powerful, and unflinching look at living a full life even in the face of impending death. Heartfelt, full of love for his family, friends, and film, and full of determination. Fitzmaurice died in October of this year.

Tell me your least favorite words

A while back, I made a list of all the words I really like and so many of you shared your favorites with me, too. Now it’s time to talk about words we hate and why. Pretty please share yours with me so we can rant together.

Words I hate:

Pamphlet (too many consonants together—mphl. Yuck)

Moist (all humans are required to hate this word)

Phlegm (just looking at that word makes me want to barf)

Klatch (it sounds so aggressively ugly)

Redonkulous (hated it when it was popular, super hate it now)

Impactful (it’s annoyingly jargony. Find another word)

Artisanal (seems to only be used by the insufferably insufferable)

Whimsical (I had a boss who used this incessantly and ruined it forever)

Harambe (if you hang around tweens enough, you will hear it ALL THE TIME)

Rock star (okay, it’s more than just one word, but I HATE people calling other people rock stars)

Just saying (again, more than one word. Of course you are JUST SAYING. That is language. It does not excuse you to say any dumbass thing you like if you add this. It’s like “no offense.”)

These ones (almost nothing grates like this. Say “those” or “these.” You don’t need to say “these ones.”)