Friday, September 13, 2019

A Love Story That Happens to be Mine


I'm writing this because I still, even now, struggle to believe that Jon and I are real.

It still. Feels too good. To be true.

I think I just really believed it wasn't going to happen for me. I believed that so hard that I haven't quite admitted I was wrong yet.

So I'm going to tell me a story, and you're welcome to listen in.

Jon is pretty much your textbook jock. Football team in high school, then construction instead of college, then the firefighter/EMT gig, which was his dream for years. My initial take on him was that he was a nice guy. Lots of muscles. Not too much depth or substance. Attractive, not interesting. Vanilla with Pecs.
That's what I thought.

I'm like. A super nerd. Math team in high school. Graduated from the nerdiest of all nerd colleges with intellectual arrogance to spare. I thought I wanted to be with someone just as nerdy as me. Someone who would talk Plato and Nietzsche and Dickens. I thought anyone who couldn't do that wasn't good enough for me. Wasn't smart enough for me. Wasn't interesting enough for me.

Turns out it's Waaay more fun listening to Jon tell me everything that's wrong in an episode of Grey's Anatomy or Chicago Fire, how many bones are in a human foot, or what exactly happens when you shoot someone up with Narcan. See, Jon is a a total nerd too. Just a completely different kind, which I love. Turns out it's way more fascinating to be with someone different than you, someone who knows all sorts of stuff you don't and sees the world in a completely different way, than someone just like you.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Jon and I met at a Fourth of July party four years ago. We played football in a pool with a watermelon. I thought he was cute, but I didn't talk to him. I saw him a year later at the same party. He was setting off fireworks. That time I thought he was pretty. darn. attractive. And I talked to him just long enough to find out where the bathroom was. Classic Abby.

We had our first actual conversation at church just before he left for Maine on a work trip. I saw him notice me, and I told myself I didn't care, and it didn't matter. He spent the next year wriggling into my friend group. I spent the next year seeing other people.

Then someone I really liked broke up with me. And when my friends gathered around to support me, Jon was right there, seeing his chance. For the next couple months he was just someone to talk to. Someone to lean on. He became one of my best friends. And then one day he was like, Look I know I have no chance with you, but you should know how I feel. He told me how he felt like it was just something he had to get off his chest.

And I was mad. I was mad because the timing felt awful what with the breakup and some other confusing nonsense with male humans. I was mad because I loved talking to Jon and texting Jon and sitting with Jon in church. I just really didn't want that to be all ruined just because he had to go and catch feelings.

A few weeks before I had tried to set him up with a cute girl at a coffee shop, but he wasn't having it. I tried, guys, I tired.

But Jon did an amazing job making it clear that he had no expectations from me. He didn't need me to give him an answer. He didn't need me to like him back. He made it really clear that he wanted to be my friend, first and foremost, that I wasn't responsible for his emotions in any way, that no matter what, our friendship mattered to him, and that he wasn't going to walk away just because he wanted more and didn't get it.

And I was so thankful because I genuinely thought I would never want to be more than his friend.

Now I just want to clarify something real quick, men. There's a right way and a wrong way to go about a situation like this, and Jon did it the right way, but I've had a couple guys in my life do it the wrong way.

The Wrong Way
You tell the girl you like her; she says she doesn't like you back. You either don't believe her or decide you can convince her otherwise so you Lie to her and tell her you're totally down to just be friends, and then you proceed to treat her As If She Is Your Girlfriend. You talk to her like she's your girlfriend, you express physical affection like she's your girlfriend, and you put her in a position of having to either constantly remind you that's she's Not Your Girlfriend or capitulate out of sheer convenience. You might get your way for a while, but trust me, this just isn't healthy for either party.

Jon's Way
Jon, on the other hand, meant what he said. He was down for being my friend. He didn't push me to hang out. He encouraged me to join group activities sometimes, but mostly he let me come to him. He let me be the one to initiate (or not initiate) physical affection (I'm talking about stuff like hugs not stuff like kissing). Jon did a lot of just talking to me. Showing me who he was. Showing me I was wrong about who he was and what he had to offer. That's what changed things.

Oh and it also helped that a bunch of older, married people started coming up to me and telling me what an absolutely amazing person he was, and I Should Be So Lucky.

It wasn't one thing that made the difference. It was everything. It was every reason I could think of not to be with him torn down and a thousand completely opposite reasons built up in its place.

So, finally, I quit being an idiot and told him he could ask me again.

And he did.

But I still made him wait a month to kiss me, because I really wanted to be sure, and I'm really thankful we did that. Our relationship is stronger for it now. We still look back on that month super fondly because when you're not kissing, hand-holding is the sweetest thing in the world, and you'll never quite get that back. I'm so thankful for those memories.

A lot of people have commented on how fast Jon and I got married. But the thing is, he spent so long tryna, and I spent so long tryna not, that by the time we got together, it was already over. All those big important conversations had been had. Every reason we could possibly imagine for Not being together had already been dismantled.

But when my girlfriends ask me how I "knew" Jon was the one, now that's something else. The answer is I didn't. Marrying him felt like the most natural thing in the world, but I'm someone who's always going to fret and question and wonder if I'm doing the right thing. The idea that you can be sure of something as infinite and independent as another human being just doesn't make sense to me. Jon is The One because I married him, and he married me, and we both made promises. That's it.

I will say this. I will say this one last thing:
I always knew that if I was going to marry someone I had to love that person in the same way that I loved Africa--not as something small enough to fit into a human body, but as something as vast and varied as a continent. Not as something standing in front of me, but as something I could live inside. Not as something I could memorize, but as something I could explore for a lifetime and never fully know.

Jon was the first person I ever loved like Africa. And there was a moment when I realized that, and maybe that's the moment I "knew". I don't know. But since Africa was never quite real to me, neither is Jon. Not yet.

Ask me in a few years if I believe I'm married to Jon Libby yet. I'm genuinely curious when me and reality will catch up with each other.

Monday, September 9, 2019

A Short Rant About Not All Men

                   woman wearing black top standing near yellow wall

I have been catcalled more times than I can count in the past week. Yelled at from moving vehicles, mostly. Honked at. Startled. Today I was walking in a pair of slacks and a loose t-shirt that covered my butt. I was reading. And someone yelled NICE ASSSSS in the most lewd voice I can think of. Yelled. I couldn't even tell where the voice was coming from, just that it was male.

I'm no supermodel. This happens to pretty much every woman I know regardless of clothing, weight, attitude, etc. Some of us are more likely to mention it than others, but it happens all the time.

I don't walk in bad neighborhoods. I wear casual clothing that is appropriate for my professional job. I don't swing my hips around hoping someone will think my ass looks nice. 

It's not all men. I know it's not all men. I know there are good men out there, I married one. But there are so many Sucky, Sicko, Horrid men that a modest, married woman can't walk on a sidewalk in a decent neighborhood with her nerdy head in a book without getting harassed. 

Now I'm sitting here feeling a bit sick. Feeling a bit slimy. Shaking a little. Definitely angry, in case you couldn't tell. And I'm thinking about how when women like me speak up about things like this the response is usually: Well what were you wearing? Probably just a bad area. IT'S NOT ALL MEN. 

No one said it was all men. When I say: I don't like toxic men, it's like saying: I don't like wormy apples. 


No, no they're not. I agree with you. Not all apples are wormy. Not all men are bad. I prefer my apples not wormy and my men not bad. I LOVE masculinity. I think it's awesome. I just don't like the toxic kind. And for the record I don't like toxic forms of femininity either, and I'll spend my life doing my best to be a not-toxic person And You Should Too. Cool? Cool. 

Let's just stop pretending this isn't a problem. Let's stop pretending that the attitudes that lead SOME men to think catcalling is okay can also lead to Much. Worse. Things. And you might not buy the whole one in three women are qualified to say #metoo statistic, but in my general experience it appears to be pretty true. One time I grabbed three of my girlfriends at random and asked, and sure enough, one had been raped as a little girl. And that's scary. And horribly, horribly sad.

Honestly, it doesn't matter what the statistic is. It doesn't matter if you think "rape culture" isn't a thing. It doesn't matter if you think "toxic masculinity" isn't a thing. For those of us who love someone who has been raped. For those of us who have experienced a toxic man (or fifty) first hand. For those of us familiar enough with the problem to see it everywhere: our hearts cry out to be heard and believed.

Please someone believe us. Please someone help us stop the evil men in the world. The ones who rape little girls. The ones who touch us while we're at work. The ones who yell slimy things from car windows. Please stop saying it's not real and just do whatever you need to do in your little corner of the world to make it safer. I don't care if that means changing your ways or just being sure to teach your sons right. Please just don't deny that this is real. 

And while we're at it.

PLEASE CAN WE STOP PRETENDING THAT PORNOGRAPHY ISN'T PRETTY MUCH THE PROBLEM HERE. Please can we stop pretending that the majority of men don't look at pornography and at least begin to forget that butts and boobs belong to human beings with souls. Some act on that in different ways than others, but it is the natural fall-out. I'm not saying I think all men who look at porn are evil, but I truly believe that pornography is the root that easily grows toxic masculinity. Pornography is the root that grows rape culture. Pornography is the root that grows every form of the dehumanization of women on the spectrum: from catcalls to violent rape. And if you deny "toxic masculinity" and "rape culture" are legit, you can't deny how widespread pornography is. 

If you are male but you are convinced you are not a toxic male ever in any way, And You Don't Use Porn, then I believe you. I believe you have a healthy attitude toward women. I believe you have nothing to worry about, and you can leave this post feeling totally not called out because I wasn't talking to you at all. Go in peace.  




That's all I have to say about that I guess.

Leave a comment if you would like to share. If you want to discuss. But while I don't like squelching free speech, I do reserve the right on this post in particular to delete comments if I believe they might prove hurtful to someone else. This applies both to my blog itself and to any social media. Thank you for being respectful.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Unfinished Business

                     broken glass window

Necessary Vocabulary for this Post: DNF
Literal Meaning: Did Not Finish. 
Frequently made a verb, as in, "I DNFed that book."
While the acronym implies starting and never finishing, it is generally not used to denote a book that is still, theoretically, in progress. Rather, DNF is a way of saying, with finality, that you have quit a book. You have slammed it shut. You do not plan to finish it. At least not until something significant changes in the way you view either that book or the world. 

I have so much Unfinished Business in my reading life: series I started and never completed, books I DNFed but now think might deserve a second chance, and books that left me with questions I needed a few years and a reread to answer.

Do you have Unfinished Business too?

Let me give you some examples and explain along the way why I think cleaning up literary Unfinished Business is important for mental health and growth.

Series I Never Finished
It was pretty common for me to find the first couple books in a series from a small, local library, love them, but then have a hard time getting my hands on the rest.
I think each unfinished story left a little wound. I got invested in the characters and then accidentally abandoned them to whatever danger or internal struggle they were facing, and in doing so, I abandoned myself to whatever the story was helping me work through. This might not make sense to you, and that's okay. Stories help me get through life. They help me see my own mess through a different set of eyes, and each story helps me get a little less messy. At any rate, I'm bothered by each story I haven't finished, so I'm being really intentional at this stage of my life about remembering and going back and finishing things.

                                            Image result for the children of the lamp

The Children of the Lamp series by P.B. Kerr is one of these. It's a seven-book series about a pair of twin siblings who discover, at the age of 12, that they are djinn. They grant wishes, pop in and out of lamps, and, naturally, take on the forces of evil in the djinn world. It's very Arabian Nights, elementary edition. I found the first two books in a little Christian school library somewhere around fifth grade and convinced the librarian, *cough* my mom, to add the third one when it came out. And then I'm not really sure what happened. I didn't see hide or tail of the fourth book until I was eighteen and wandering around a Borders. By that point I had pretty nearly forgotten the story, but I read it anyway, trying to pick up the where I'd left off. It didn't feel the same. Reading it without remembering well just created a disconnect. I could have sought out further books, but I didn't.

It wasn't until this Spring that I started thinking about it again, did a little research, and discovered that the series was finally complete and available at my (much larger) local library. So I went back to the beginning. Sometimes you have to do that. I've reread the first two books, and I hope to complete this bit of Unfinished Business by the end of the year.

                                                 Image result for troubling a star

The story was a little different with Madeline L'Engle's Austin Family Chronicles, a series I started in highschool by accident. I had just finished the Time Quintet, loved it, and picked up what I thought was a standalone L'Engle novel at a used bookstore. Turns out it was the fifth and last book in the Austins series: Troubling a Star. I loved it, but also got the feeling that I had missed a huge amount of the story. But did I learn my lesson? No. Not knowing exactly why Troubling a Star felt so incomplete, I picked up A Ring of Endless Light in college thinking it, too, was a standalone novel. Turns out it was the fourth book in the series, which I was now reading backwards. A month or two ago, I finally picked up the first book like a Normal Human and thoroughly enjoyed reading the beginning. Now all I have to do is read books two and three. But in Which Order? I haven't decided.

Books That Needed a Second Chance

I've only DNFed a few books in my life. I hate doing it; it feels so wrong. The first time I ever did it was with a book called Wringer by Jerry Spinelli. It was about a little boy who had to kill birds by wringing their necks, and it disturbed me so much I had to just put it down. I felt sick. Both about the story and about not finishing it, but every subsequent DNF has been easier.
(I just realized it kind of sounds like I'm talking about the first time I killed someone and how each subsequent kill got a little easier. Oops. But I stand by it.) I have no intention of ever resurrecting Wringer.

But not every DNF is like that. There are a few books I put down for good reasons and finally picked up again for different good reasons.


This was the case with Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta. I borrowed this book from my small-town library in early highschool based on sheer cover love, and I was hooked from the first page. Absolutely riveted. It's a multi-generational mystery with multi-generational pain. It's beautiful and harsh and honest and problematic.

**Spoilers Ahead** A romance developed on the side between the female lead and the boy who captained the troops on the other side of a war between boarding schools. It was low-key violent and high-key mean. The relationship began with a concerning level of pushing each other around, which shifted through tense and mistrustful make-out sessions, to genuine affection. The deeply-rooted mystery kept me hooked through one sexual encounter between two adult side characters, but by that point I knew I shouldn't still be reading. The language, violence, and sex were all aspects I knew my parents did not approve, but I desperately hoped I could get to the end before admitting that to myself because the story was So Good. But then, a few chapters from the end--So Painfully Close to the end--it became apparent that the two main characters were about to have sex in an alley.**Spoilers Complete**

 I closed it. And I cried. I told my parents. I tried to get the library to move it to the adult section so that no other unsuspecting naive virgin mind like my own would be so blindsided, but to no avail. Apparently librarians view even the slightest challenge to a book as an attempt to squelch free speech. I'm not entirely sure I disagree, but it hurt at the time. The whole thing really hurt at the time. And the unsolved mystery burned in the back of my mind. This book haunted me FOR YEARS.

And finally, sometime in my college era, I just sat down and asked myself why I couldn't just finish it. Why I couldn't just find out how the goshdarn thing ended. So I bought it. And I read it. And I cried. Because after the characters do what they do, they go on to solve the mystery. And it's sad. And poignant. And hopeful. And beautiful.

And Some Stories Are Worth Wading Through A Little Yuckiness, Okay?

This book is now one of my favorites in the whole wide world. Would I recommend it to just anyone? No. But it did make me reevaluate my book standards. Do I believe I compromised my morals to read this book in full? No. If you read books To Be Entertained and Nothing Else, then your moral standards ought to be pretty tight, I think. After all, if you're just opening your brain and dumping stuff in, then it should probably be as pure as possible. But that is not and has never been how and why I read. I read to learn. I read to see. To evaluate. To feel. I read to Think. So will I read Fifty Shades of Grey so that I can Think Deeply About the Themes? Ummm NO. But I will never again close a book just because a character commits a sin that the Christian community has arbitrarily decided is Particularly Yucky. I'll probably take up this topic again in a later post.

                                                 Image result for the sword bearer

Moving on. The Sword Bearer by John White, book number one in the Chronicles of Narnia-like Archives of Anthropos, is a book I accidentally DNFed. I call it a DNF because it was, at the time, quite permanent. I had picked up the first book in publish order: The Tower of Geburah in Ivory Coast, Africa when I was nine. The volumes belonged to my mother and had been left behind in Africa after our first evacuation, but we were back and hopeful that the country would stay stable. I was midway through The Iron Scepter when the first bombs dropped. I started The Sword Bearer a day or two before we started packing our bags. And I do mean bags. 20 kilos apiece is all we were allowed to bring on the military transport when the UN pulled us out. It wasn't until I was on the jet that I realized I'd left the book behind.
I accidentally left that book in my home on a different continent and never ever got to go back to that home. A new copy just arrived in the mail last week, 15 years later. I don't remember the series being that good, but I am going to finish it. There are some things you just have to do to heal.

Books That Needed Rereading by an Older Me

This last category is much harder to explain or understand. In much the same way that Jellicoe Road haunted me, there are books I read years ago that have haunted me even though I did finish them. These were books I knew I didn't understand. Books that hurt, and I couldn't tell why. Books that left me with unanswered questions. The best example of this was A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket.

                           Image result for a series of unfortunate events books

I read these voraciously as they came out. I died waiting for release dates. And all along Snicket said, Don't Read This. You Will Regret Reading This. Read Literally Anything Else. Like most of the avid reading world, I didn't listen. And then I read The End. And I hated Lemony Snicket (or Daniel Handler, if you want to be all correct about it). The series left me with so many gaping wounds. I could not understand at the time how the ending was a good one. I could not come to terms with the fact that the Baudelaires, having been through so much, could not have a traditionally happy ending. It had to be quiet and sad. It had to be that way or it wouldn't have been real. It wasn't until I had a talk with Marli Hutchinson about the series, which she adores, that I began to realize I was wrong to hate Mr. Snicket. Marli's beautiful, sad, artist soul helped me realized that it's okay if you never get over the death of Dewey Denouement. You Shouldn't ever get over the death of Dewey Denoument. That's the whole point. **SORRY SPOILERS, DEWEY DIES**

So by the time the Netflix series came out (Which Is Amazing by the way), I was ready to tackle a reread. It was worth it. No one but Lemony Snicket has ever taken such time and care to talk to children about hardship and evil and injustice in the world. No one has ever been so honest or funny or raw or hopeful all at the same time. It's wisdom packaged in the ridiculous and macabre. If you want to read more about A Series of Unfortunate Events, see my sister's extensive reviews from her own reread: Books 1-3Books 4-6Books 7-9Books 10-12, and Book 13 on her blog, Out of Coffee, Out of Mind.

I've found that the more I've undertaken to revisit these childhood loose ends, the more I've uncovered. And it's been such a beautiful season of reading because of it. I'm quite literally turning the page on some painful bits of childhood, and it's fixed some bruised places in my soul.

All that to say, don't be afraid to retrace your steps in your reading life. Sometimes revisiting something old is better for your insides than reading something brand new. 

Let me know what you think in the comments. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

A Balanced Reading Diet

                  assorted book lot

[I've peppered this post with the covers of some books I've read or been thinking about recently, sans commentary. Feel free to ask.]

You've just finished a book. It was fantastic. You cried a little. You called up a friend to talk about it. You lovingly shelved or regretfully returned it to the library. Now you look around your life and feel that gaping hole in your existence. You need something else to read.

What do you do? How do you decide what to read next?

                                         Beauty and the Clockwork Beast (Steampunk Proper Romance)

Who am I kidding? This never happens to me. One, I've always got multiple books in progress, so it's very rare for me to feel that gaping hole. Every once in a while I make myself finish everything I've got going before I start anything else, but even then, Two, I always know Exactly which book I want to start the minute the last one is done.

Which is why I'm writing this post.

I'm intentional to the point of neurotic about my reading diet. Let me show you.

              TBR = To Be Read, implies a list or a pile. Use: "It's on my TBR."

I have a massive TBR.

There are four ways books make my TBR:

1) Recommendations 

I'm careful with recommendations. People are so different. What deeply resonates with one person can rub another the wrong way. Individuals often recommend that which is uniquely their own taste, and that ends up being a hit or miss kind of thing. However, if I hear the words, "You would really like this book," from someone who gets me, then I will probably read it. If I hear the words, "You are reading this. This is not a suggestion," then I will read it. If I get the same recommendation from multiple people, I will probably read it. If I've been eyeing a book for a while, wondering if it's any good, and I get a recommendation from Literally Anyone, I will read it. At the end of the day, recommendations can push me out of my literary comfort zone, and that can be a really good thing, even if I don't end up loving the book.


2) Hype

If a book is being recommended all across Booktube, debated all over Twitter, featured on every Bookstagram from here to Russia, or inspiring Fanart on Pinterest, then I'm probably going to read it. Eventually. I'm often late to the game on hyped books, but I nearly always enjoy them. If a book is widely loved across millions of readers, then there's something to like about it. Or at least to think deeply about. Even if the writing isn't great (*cough* Veronica Roth) or the romance is cringy (*cough* Stephanie Meyer), there is always something the author captured, however clumsily, that in turn captured a ton of hearts, and to me, that's nearly always worth the experience.

                                            Image result for Twilight (Meyer novel)
3) Controversy

Controversy is like salt, I don't like too much of it in my reading diet, but some is good. It keeps my thought life from becoming bland. Reading controversial books gives me the chance to join in the conversations. It makes me think about that which I'm actively avoiding. That which I am just too self-centered to consider. That which I can't imagine and need someone to show me. And oftentimes after reading something from a wildly different point of view I still disagree, just with more compassion. And that's important.

4) It was Shiny

Sometimes I'm just cruising a bookstore or wandering a library or scrolling through Goodreads and I spot something. And then I buy it. Or borrow it. Or download it. First I'm "just looking around," then two seconds later I'm 100 pages into a book I had no idea I needed in my life. I love this. I love when I meet books like this. It shouldn't work out so consistently well, but it does.

                                             Image result for caraval

You CAN Judge A Book By Its Cover. The more an editor believes in a book's potential, the better the cover art and title will be. If you're drawn to a cover, there's often a good reason. Good cover art communicates the spirit of a story, so if you're really into the art, then that book is probably worth your time. Don't believe me? Walk into a bookstore and buy the book to which you're most visually attracted. Tell me you don't love it. I dare you.

Moving on. 

Once a book is on my TBR, it's just a matter of time and priority.

At any given time I like to have something going in each of the following categories:

1) 1-2 Physical Fiction Books. These are the books I read on my lunch break. That I read in bed. That I read while Jon plays video games. That I read while walking. That I read in the bath. You get the idea.

2) 1 Book on Kindle. I don't use an actual Kindle for this, just the app on my phone. I usually reserve this slot for extra-long books that are just too heavy to lug around. Aside from the sheer convenience, a book on Kindle is really great for when I want to read in bed, but Jon wants the light off because he's trying to sleep. Marriage is all about compromise, right?


3) 2-3 Audiobooks. One for the car, and one or two for everywhere else. Audiobooks are my bread and butter. I listen while I'm folding laundry. I listen at work. I listen when I'm doing yoga or cooking or walking or putting together a puzzle. Sometimes I struggle to pay enough attention, but generally speaking, it's a great way to get a lot of reading done while still completing other necessary tasks. Almost any book worth reading is available in audio format through your local library, Hoopla, Audible, and even Youtube.

4) 1 Book of Nonfiction, Short Stories, Essays, or Poetry just to break things up. I don't rush myself. I just take it slow and enjoy it over the course of a month or two.

Into each of these categories I am intentional about getting a good mix of the following:

1) Classics
Classics can be slow and linguistically difficult, but they are a million times worth it. I also love me a good retelling. There's nothing like a fairy tale or Austen novel repackaged for the modern age.

                                                Image result for east of eden

2) Fresh Titles in a Variety of Genres
Gotta stay up on what's up.

3) Children's Books
I will never ever be too old to read children's books. Children's books are everything.

                                            Image result for the composer is dead

5) Rereads
You have to make time to reread your favorite stories. It's important. No matter how thick my TBR gets, I will always find time to reread gems like The Lord of the Rings, A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Chronicles of Narnia, the Inkheart trilogy, and, of course, the Gallagher Academy books.

6) Nonfiction
Never stop learning. I pick my nonfiction based on absolute whim. And why not?


7) Graphic Novels
I'm just getting into these. From manga to graphic retellings of classics there is so. much. out there. I love the marriage of visual art and story. It's also perfect when I want something I can finish in an hour or two.                             

8) Series
I find it really easy to start a series and then get distracted with other things, even if it's really good. I have to make myself keep circling back to a series until I finish. I love the breadth and depth of story that can exist within a series. It's a commitment, especially if it's more than four books, but I've found these massive stories become landmarks in my mental landscape, which is really important to me.

                                                 Image result for city of glass

After that, it's up to my mood on any given day.

This has been just a tiny look into my incredibly convoluted What-To-Read thought process. Coming up next:

Unfinished Business in My Reading Life

See you then!!!

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

I Have Anxiety and PTSD. I'm Doing Stuff About It.

                   person holding white printer paper

I struggled for a while with how to approach the topic of anxiety, but I'm posting now because I had a rough week, and it's on my mind. My approach is going to be as haphazard as my thought life has been these last few days. Sorry.

Disclaimer: Not everyone who struggles with anxiety or PTSD struggles in the same way, so I'm not speaking for everyone, just for me.

I've been on medication for anxiety for the past year. It doesn't make me groggy. It doesn't make me loopy. It doesn't make me a bad Christian. The low dosage of Sertraline that I take each night runs interference on what is otherwise an inexplicable, nameless, constant, and sometimes painful white buzz in the back of my head. I say buzz. I mean muted screaming, but it's okay. I can ignore it most of the time. It's fine. Everything's fine. 

There are approximately more or less mostly probably four reasons I have this problem.

1) I really don't talk about this one, but a war zone is no place for a child. Or a human.

*This is a fault line along my most primal responses to crisis, loss, violence, and sudden loud noises. Also packing.

2) There was a person who made me afraid. At the worst he put me into a wall and broke my foot.

*This is a fault line along my reactions to humans who are male. To humans who adhere to the same systems of thought that he did. To myself when I fail to live up to the standard of womanhood I built because of him.

3) I might never be able to talk about this one.

*This is a fault line along ***REDACTED***

4) People will let you down. People will hurt you. That's life. For me that life has just mostly happened inside the walls of church, and that's messed up.

*This is a fault line along my interactions with church people and also the parts of the Bible/the Faith that have been used in ways that hurt me and/or people I care about.

Trauma has a way of planting chemical triggers like little landmines into mental landscapes. When they get hit, the shrapnel hurts the people I care about. 

Just because it is not my conscious intention to react inappropriately to people and/or situations, doesn't mean I'm not responsible for the way that I act. Just because something in my past influences my actions doesn't mean I'm not responsible to shore up those fault lines and be intentional about fixing my reactions.

At this point I just try to make it a point to apologize to anyone who was around me at the time of an episode. I don't apologize for having an attack. That would be silly. I apologize for any ways in which I was unfair or unkind while under the influence of the chemicals surging through my brain. I apologize for lost sleep and lost time. Sometimes I'm too embarrassed or so eager to move on with my life that I don't apologize. I'm working on that.

By the way, there's no way I could have figured any of this out without counseling. Period.
Counseling is really scary. It can also be kind of expensive. I think it's worth it.
If you live in Northern Virginia, and you want to see someone here's where I go.

To Recap: I have an anxious buzz in the back of  my head caused by past traumas (traumi? I want it to be traumi). Even though I go to counseling and take medicine to turn the volume down on the screaming, if a personal interaction or situation hits one of my weak spots too hard, it can be enough to send me into a panic attack or a PTSD episode.

But usually there's a bit more going on.

9 times out of 10 if I'm having a panic attack, I'm dehydrated, and the fastest way to fix me up is to shove water in my face.

4 out of those same 10 times I also need food.

Sometimes this food and water need plus the buzz in my head plus visual overstimulation (such as all the colors and bright lights and cute things in Target) are enough to put me over the edge.

Sometimes (statistics not available) if I'm having a really bad attack for No Apparent Reason, and I also happen to notice a sharp pain in my lower stomach, I am having an attack because an ovarian cyst just ruptured. Literally no other reason. This has happened twice this week, which is part of the reason I've had such a hard time.

The other part is that last week I, in a fit of stubborn self-dislike, went off my meds. Bad. Not doing that again. I apologize to everyone involved.

The point I'm trying to make here is...It's Not All In My Head. I can get through an attack much easier if I pay attention to my body, and I can often avoid one if I just take care of myself in the first place.

                     turned on Focus signage

For most of this post, I've focused on ways I've been able to help myself with my anxiety,
but Jon helps me a lot too.

He knows that the first step is immediately getting me away from whatever it is that triggered the attack. Whether that's turning off a TV show or putting pause on a conversation or walking out of a building.

He knows the second step is getting me comfy and giving me water.

He knows I might need to talk, but also that a barrage of questions: "What's wrong? Are You Okay? Talk to me? Abby?Abby?Abby?" can just make it worse.

He knows that if I do talk to him during an attack, it's probably not my normal self. The person who needs to talk is usually nine, and she emotes like a nine-year-old. If I'm going to be able to talk during an attack (which is often helpful), that's the person he has to draw out.

He knows that depending on which fault line was hit, I might want to be cuddled or I might need to not be touched. Whether or not I can handle touch can change at a moment's notice in the middle of the attack. He knows that it's not personal.

Jon knows that whether or not I can handle touch, I need pressure on my central nervous system. This is why he bought me a weighted blanket. I don't deserve him.

Most importantly, Jon knows that I'm not hysterical. I'm not crazy. I'm not dramatic. Sometimes he does pray with me if it seems like I'm struggling with something spiritual in nature, but that's not his main focus. Because Jon is a Fireman/EMT, he's always going to check on my physical needs first. Where are the Triggers? Thirsty/Need Sugar? Cuddles or Blanket? Wanna Talk About It?

Jon approaches my anxiety attacks like a medical problem. Because it Is a medical problem. Sure it's an emotional one too. Even sometimes a spiritual one. But mostly I just need water.

This has been My Chronic Dehydration with Abby.

Please join the conversation! Leave a comment below. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Rainbow Onesies and Other Crimes Against Humanity

                     Rainbow surrounded by trees

Facing your own sin is hard. Letting God show you your pride, selfishness, greed, unkindness, etc. is hard. What's easy is looking at someone else or perhaps a group of someone elses, perhaps a group of people all committing a certain sin, and telling yourself you're better, that you're good with God, because you don't do what they do.

The Pharisee in the Temple: "Praise God I'm not a tax collector" (Luke 18:9-14).

Today's Christians on Facebook:

                              Image result for straight pride memeEtc....

I know there is a ton of disagreement on the morality of homosexuality even among people who love Jesus and believe the Bible to be true, and I don't want that debate to be the focus of this post. I do not want to talk about whether homosexuality is wrong or why it's wrong or any of that. I want to talk about our response to human beings who we believe are in the wrong. We can stand on our convictions without being asses about it. I truly believe that.

Here's where I stand (God, please help me not to be an ass):

God created the world, and designed it to conform to both Natural and Moral Law. A piece of that moral law involves an instruction to refrain from sex outside of marriage and from sex with the same gender. God loves us, prohibits certain behaviors out of a perfect knowledge of both the world and the human psyche, and will not withhold from us any good thing (Psalm 84:11). God loves us. I felt like I should say that again. 

If this is not where you stand, if you believe God is chill with homosexuality, or if you believe God and the Bible are totally made up, I'm not specifically writing this post to you. Please stay! Please keep reading! Join the conversation, even. But know that this post is directed, not at you, but at straight Christians who believe homosexuality is one of the dirtiest, nastiest sins, and treat members of the LGBTQ community accordingly. This post is directed at members of the Church who have forgotten how much God saved them from.

If our gut reaction to Any Sinner with Any Pattern of Sin is not: Jesus Loves You and Desperately Longs to Make You Free of That, then I believe we're grossly misunderstanding and undervaluing the sacrifice He made. 

Jesus let a prostitute show Him public, dramatic physical affection and showed it back (see accounts from different points of view in Luke and Matthew). The ONLY people to whom Jesus yelled, "Hey you! You're sinning!" (Abby's paraphrase) were members of the religious community who believed that they had no sin at all, at least none worth fretting over. Every other sinner Jesus encountered, he waited until they came to Him, showed them Love, bound up their wounds, and Then and Only Then, told them to go and sin no more. His first reaction to sin--even "gross" or "serious" sin--was love, and that sin was against Him, God, personally. 

When someone has sex with someone of the same gender they are not sinning against you.
When someone of the same gender respectfully hits on you because they find you attractive, they are not sinning against you. 
When someone you know comes out of the closet, they are not sinning against you.

If a gay person has lusted after you, come out of the closet full of bitterness and hurtful words, or hit you over the head with a rainbow flag pole...then you have been sinned against, but it is Still God's Job to judge both hearts and actions, not yours. Although I am sorry about that bump on your head. That's rough. *hands you a frozen steak* I promise it doesn't look That bad. 

For the most part though, I think Christians need to stop acting like the existence of homosexuality is a personal affront to them, and threat to their faith. If you feel threatened by the sins of your neighbors, especially if those sins literally never touch you, then I don't know what to say. I feel like you might need a hobby. Maybe take up knitting? It's very relaxing.

                                    noise knitting GIF

Every single one of us sins against God every single day. God forgives many, many people over and over Every. Single. Day. And straight people go to hell all the time for rejecting God. Hell is not exclusively for Hitler, homosexuals, unwed mothers, and baby murderers. Being a Christian, in case we've forgotten, is not about what sins we've avoided in our lives. It's about the forgiveness we've been given by our God. It is no harder for God to overlook homosexuality than it is for God to overlook my straight selfishness toward my straight husband. That is, it's very hard. It took Jesus dying on a cross. But it's done, and it's finished, and that forgiveness is available to anyone who wants it, regardless of their orientation and how long they remain oriented in that way. That is, you can be gay and be a Christian in the same way that you can be chronically selfish and be a Christian. It's not optimal, but some sins take a lifetime to kick, and maybe we'll die without doing it or even wanting to do it or even thinking we need to do it, but I have to believe that at the end of all this Jesus will take me in because I put my faith in him and not see all my sin and selfishness that I'll still be soaked in when I die because I'll be  soaked in His blood too, and that covers Everything. I don't know if you've noticed, but blood is really sticky and such a bright color that nothing's going to show through Jesus' blood, not even a rainbow onesie.

Rainbows, by the way, whenever we see them, are meant to be a reminder that there is nothing we humans can do that is so bad that God will see it and decide to flood the earth again. Nothing. Not even wearing rainbow onesies, as horrible a crime against fashion as that is. 

Considering that homosexuality, in and of itself, is a sin Only against the self and the partner, whereas most other sins hurt quite a few additional people, I don't understand why Christians have decided that it's basically the most disgusting, unnatural, repulsive sin there is. We put up with domestic abuse in the Church much more quickly than we put up with homosexuality. What's up with that? What is Wrong with us??

                                      Image result for what is wrong with you gif

Do you walk around reminding people that you believe selfishness is a sin?
Do you feel a rush of spiritual pride when you take a stand against selfishness?
Do you post anti-selfishness memes on your Facebook and Twitter and Instagram? 
Do you avoid all literature, movies, etc. with selfishness in them?
Do you boycott businesses that support selfishness?
Does the presence of selfishness in the world disgust you?

Maybe you do. Maybe it does. But it seems to me that if you see selfishness as Just As Grave a Transgression Against God as homosexuality, then you'll be vicious about rooting it out of your own life, and you'll be so busy with that, that you won't have much time to notice it in others, much less point it out to them. 

We all--each and every one of us--have one or two sins that have a deeper hold on us than others, sins we were born with that we'll be dealing with the rest of our lives. Sins that God forgives us for every day even as He works to love and discipline them out of us. Being naturally attracted to the same gender cannot be an easy thing to grapple with. At all. Imagine dealing with a sin that's written into your most basic hormonal reactions. Imagine dealing with a sin that would require Incredible Sacrifice to give up. Imagine dealing with a sin that will break your heart to lose, especially if you're deeply in love with and/or legally married to that sin.

If that's not something you deal with, then I'd like to lovingly suggest that you shut your mouth about it. You don't know. Focus on your own sin. 

There is nothing, nothing at all, that God requires us to clean up before we can come to him. We do not get to put barriers between people and God. And we also do not get to decide the time frame within which God deals with someone else's sin. In the words of a great philosopher poet of our time: "Shade never made anybody less gay...Calm Down."

God called us to preach the gospel and to stand up for those treated unjustly.
I don't know where we got the idea that it was okay to treat certain types of sinners unjustly, but it wasn't from God.

My prayer for you today is that you have the courage to take your eyes off other people's sin and deal with your own. Now if you'll excuse me, I have some selfishness and pride to work on.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Book Reviews: Thoughts on Manga Shakespeare, LGBTQ Literature, and More

                           Spider-Man leaning on concrete brick while reading book

I love this photo. That is all

Also look! I changed my blog name.

Now on to the reviews! Here are my thoughts on the seven books I read during the 2019 Reading Rush.

Challenge Number One: "Read a book with purple on the cover":  Manga Shakespeare: Macbeth by William Shakespeare, edited by Richard Appignanesi, with art by Robert Deas. Five Stars.

                                                Macbeth (Manga Shakespeare Series)

I am obsessed with these East-meets-West graphic versions of Shakespeare's works. Deas set Macbeth in an irradiated post-apocalyptic world complete with genetic mutations, ruined metropoli, and modern technologies. Macbeth, like Oedipus Rex, examines self-fullfilling prophecy, and like
Crime and Punishment, examines the effects of murder on a guilty psyche. But. Like a lot of people, I struggle with Shakespearean English. I read Macbeth in high school without understanding much at all. In fact, I read a lot of Shakespeare's plays in high school and college without comprehending much. As a general rule, I needed to read a play twice and see at least one performance or exceptional movie adaptation in order to be confident that I had a handle on it. So each play I undertook involved a journey. This manga series (of which there are currently fourteen titles) simplified those journeys. Let me show you:

King Lear    Read it. Didn't understand. Read commentary. Still didn't really understand. Watched a movie adaptation. Started to understand. Read it again. Got a bit more. Watched another movie adaptation. Reached understanding (That. Took. A. While.).

Hamlet    Read it, didn't understand. Read the manga. Understood (Much Better).

Julius Caesar    Listened to audio, sort of understood. Read the manga, understood completely.

The Merchant of Venice    Listened to audio. Didn't understand. Read the manga. Understood.

Othello    Listened to the audio. Didn't understand at all. Read the manga. Decided Othello is my favorite tragedy.

Twelfth Night    Listened to audio. Didn't understand. Read the manga. Understood. Watched a Shakespeare in the 'Burg performance. Decided Twelfth Night is my favorite comedy.

The Tempest    Read a book about people performing The Tempest (The Sweet, Terrible Glorious Year I Truly, Completely Lost It by Lisa Shanahan, Five Stars), thought I understood. Read the play. Realized I didn't understand. Watched a SMASH production. Thought I understood. Listened to an audio version. Realized I didn't really understand. Read the manga. Understood.

A Midsummer Night's Dream    Read the manga. Understood.

Art Helps. Seeing it helps. And the heavily-symbolic nature of manga does Shakespeare justice in a way that a Western graphic novel couldn't.

What I'm trying to say is: Find these. Read them. Thank me later.

Challenge Number Two: "Read a book in the same spot the entire time": The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Five Stars

                                                 The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

The first thing I'm going to say about this book is that it is a story well-told and a message well-communicated, and for me that means a five out of five star rating regardless of whether or not I agree 100% with that message. And actually, there's very little of the message with which I disagree.
Evelyn Hugo is in love with a woman. The story follows, confession-style, the lengths to which she goes to hide her relationship with Celia in order to continue her career as an actress in old Hollywood when her bread and butter is straight, romantic leads. This is not a book about how sad and terrible it is to be gay when everyone is judging you. If it was, I wouldn't have liked it in the same way I wouldn't have liked any book that felt whiny and/or guilt-trippy. No, this is a book about a woman who values her career over nearly every human being in her life, and comes to the end with a great many regrets and a great deal of grief. I like Evelyn because she's fascinating and lovable and deeply, deeply flawed. This is a book about one of the most beautiful, privileged women in the (fictional) world, who still has to deal with abusive husbands, cheating husbands, and husbands who only love her for the significance she brings them. Also sex. This book articulates some of the more valid tenents of feminism very well. And it deals with relationships well. It deals with friendships, with lust, and with love, showing clearly the differences. And it shows two women who fell in love with each other and hurt each other in profound ways, yet found it possible to forgive each other and keep loving and accepting each other despite deep flaws. It's a forgiveness story that is powerful and worth reading, regardless of what you believe about homosexuality. I think I will write more on this whole topic later, but for now I'll leave it with this: I think we can believe that homosexuality is a sin without reacting to it like it's a disease that's going to rub off on us if we get too close. I don't think we should be afraid to pick up an LGBTQ novel from time time. Understanding where other humans are coming from is the whole point of reading. If you want a better understanding of homosexuality and bisexuality from a point of view that's both compassionate and honest if not in conformity to Biblical morality--then read this book. And call me when you're done. I'd love to talk about it.
Challenge Number Three: "Read a book you meant to read last year": Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. Three Stars.


Something Wicked This Way Comes is the second book in the Green Town Series. If Dandelion Wine, the first, was a heavily poetic summer book about the wonders of childhood, then Something Wicked is a heavily metaphorical fall book about the horrors of that moment when you first start to grow up. If you liked Dandelion Wine, you'd like this, I think. Especially if you're into Creepy Carnival stories. But if you're looking for standard Bradbury or you tend to dislike verbose and poetic prose, then this is probably not your cup of tea. Go find some other tea.

Challenge Number Four: "Read an author's first book": City of Bones by Cassandra Clare. Four Stars.

                                                Paperback City of Bones Book

Speaking of other tea, whenever I read a debut novel, I try to give it grace. There's often a huge difference between what an author produces her first time around, and what she is capable of with a little more practice. For example, I thought Breaking Dawn was worlds better than Twilight. Sometimes authors get better with time; some get more and more derivative of themselves. I enjoyed City of Bones, but mostly, I'm withholding judgement on the Cassandra Clare and the Mortal Instruments series, until I've read a couple more volumes. I know that there are some controversial aspects of some of the later books, so I'll probably do a post on the series as a whole whenever I get to the end. Whenever that is.

Challenge Number Five: Read a book with a non-human main character: Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. All Of The Stars.

                                                  Aurora Rising (The Aurora Cycle, #1)

If you love Star Trek and/or Doctor Who, you will love this book. If you love books with equal parts mystery, action, and hilarity, then you will love this book. If you are a rational human being, then you will love this book. It's Squad Goals and Spaceships, Aliens and Unrequited Love. It uses sci-fi conventions in a way that makes it feel both familiar and Right. I loved it. That is all.

Challenge Number Six: "Pick a book that has five or more words in the title": How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found by Sara Nickerson. Five Stars.

                                                  Paperback How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found Book

This was a blast from the past. It's about a hermit who writes comic books and believes he's a rat. It's about a guilty secret from a generation past. It's about the four children who get caught up in trying to uncover the truth in a pile of pain and garbage. It's about how to make friends when you're not sure you like other humans. It's about giving people a chance--and about giving people a second chance. It's about the power of stories to open locked boxes in your mind and heart. It's about family. It's really good. It's a little creepy, so I understand why this mid-grade novel has gone out of print, but I think it's a real shame. If anyone wants to read it, you can still find used copies on Amazon, and, if that fails, I own a copy I'm willing to lend out.

Challenge Number Seven: "Read and watch a book to movie adaptation": The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. Two Stars.

                                                   Cover art

I can see why people like this book, but I really didn't like it. There were certainly things I liked About it. Like Lyra. She is one of the most fierce little girl characters I've ever read, and I really appreciated the chance to go on an adventure with her. I liked the world-building and the concept of your soul living as an animal outside your body. I really loved the armored bears. But in the same way that I don't love books that are overly religiously preachy, I don't love books that are overly anti-religiously preachy. And this one is vicious in its hatred of not only church entities but also the very concept of teaching children to fight against their own sin. It seems clear that Philip Pullman thinks it's something like murder to teach a child about dying to the sin nature and living for Christ. I can see where he's coming from. I understand why he thinks this way. I just think he's deeply wrong, and that wrongness was so loud in the story, that I just couldn't enjoy it. That said, I did like the movie better than the book. I think it toned the preaching down just a tad, the visuals were impressive, and the cast was pretty spectacular. Additionally the movie was rated PG-13 rather than being touted as a children's story, so that made it easier to swallow as well.

And that's seven, everybody! Sorry to end on that sour note, but it couldn't be helped. Let me know your thoughts! I'd love to talk.