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We Pay a Price for our Humanity

I think a lot. Like, a lot. Sometimes I get thinking so much that everything kind of blends together until it’s all just a blur and I can’t reach out and catch hold of anything because all of the coherent bits are ripping by me too fast. I think that’s why I write. If I can force my brain to lock in on the words I’m putting down on a page, I can get things things to slow down just enough so that I can make sense of what’s going on up there. So I can make sense of what’s going on out there.

Lately, I find that I’ve not been able to do that. If there’s anything that the past few days have taught me it’s that life in general, the world—whatever words you use to talk about our existence—none of it, not one single bit, makes any lick of sense. I grasp at straws; I come back with nothing. I’ve also learned that us humans like to try and make it make sense anyway. We work daily to ensure everything fits, everything works, all ducks are in a neat little row. But what I’ve started to notice is that most of the time, once we get close enough to getting it all lined up, just when we think we’ve got it, that’s when something comes along and screws up the process, throws a wrench in the plan, and you’re back to a jumble of disconnected parts with which you’ve now got to use to figure out a new jigsaw puzzle.

But we never stop trying to solve that puzzle, God love us. And we become so comfortable with each new theory we develop to comprehend our world that we forget they’re all merely theories. So when we hit the snag and we’re left with a big pile of things that don’t fit, we become lost, we get angry, we’re devastated.

Recently, I hit that point. I’m a little angry, and a whole lot lost. I found myself, early this week sitting in front of a jumbled puzzle and nothing was snapping into place properly. I kept sliding the damn pieces around on the kitchen table trying to see if a picture printed on any of those cardboard chips came anywhere near close to matching with another one and none of it worked. I was so close to giving up and just taking my arm and pushing them all onto the floor in frustration, but I stopped myself, because I’d gotten to thinking again. So I did what I do best, and here I am, sitting in bed with my laptop trying to make sense of things by writing about them. I’ve not yielded much, but this is what I’ve got:

Life doesn’t make sense, because if it did, we’d never get to appreciate how beautiful it is. If it were predictable, we’d end up taking everything for granted—without even understanding what taking something for granted meant. If it were fair, we’d have nothing to fight for. If it were easy, we would not get to test and expand the limits of our strength; we would never discover how capable we truly are.

If we got to keep the ones we love forever, we wouldn’t have the opportunity to love anything as fully as we have been shown, as humans, to do. And I think, despite the soul-crushing grief that inevitably comes with loving someone truly, madly, deeply, that we get to love at all is what makes everything—all of the confusions and disappointments and sorrows that come with living—worth it. That our lives are finite, that our existence is fragile, that we are so easily thrown off of our axis, makes our capacity to do good, to hold each other up, to experience joy, laughter, excitement, peace, and empathy that much more important, that much more meaningful.

I don’t think life is supposed to make sense, anymore. If it were supposed to make sense, we wouldn’t be equipped with the amazing ability to deal with the times when it doesn’t. We wouldn’t be given brothers and sisters to keep us standing when the rug comes out from underneath our feet. We wouldn’t have been given memories, we wouldn’t have been given the capacity to comfort and to hope and to heal. Hell, we wouldn’t even be here, because we wouldn’t have survived the very first time everything went to shit. We pay a price for our humanity, but we were not made to experience it ill-equipped.

And because of this, I think, I can stand firm amidst the chaos. And I can anchor those who haven’t quite gotten their footing back yet to show them that they can stand, too. And we can stand together then, and enjoy an age of sunrises before the next storms roll in.

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It’s Called “The Indian Problem” and it’s About Time We Acknowledge That

I’m an historian by trade. In particular, my work focuses on “decolonizing” Canadian history– challenging Western European thought systems by focusing on the histories of marginalized Indigenous groups, as well as working to convey distinctly Indigenous understandings in my work. I also happen to be Mi’kmaq. I am a First Nations woman, and though I’ve been trained to check my biases, it is my identity that drives my passion in the field.

I’m about three months away from finishing my undergraduate degree, and I’m about to move on to a Master’s where I will use my thesis to continue working to decolonize historical understanding of Aboriginal-White relations in the past. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m all about challenging Western discourse. I’m also a huge advocate for the reconciliation movement between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada. Part of this movement– ahh, yes, we see the connection now– is to acknowledge not only indigenous worldview, but to understand and admit that Canadian treatment of First Nations, Métis and Inuit people has been, and still is deplorable, that assimilation policies and Indian Residential Schools destroyed entire cultures and left physical and mental scars on generations and generations of human beings, all for the sake of the progress of a colonial “civilization.” In other words, reconciliation, among other things, is about working to understand alternative narratives, acknowledging them, and working to counteract the repercussions of a past (and present) that frankly puts Canada in a very bad light indeed.

Of course, that’s the simple version, but I focus on Canadian reputation today because I’ve started to notice a trend in attempts at reconciliation in my own community lately. Take Stephen Harper’s 2008 apology to Residential Schools survivors, for instance. Many argue that the bureaucratic, matter-of-fact speech delivered by the then Prime Minister was a way for the government to respectably close the door on a past that they needed to forget in order to “move on.”

“Moving on” in the Canadian context can be read as “shutting up the Natives so that they’ll stop whining and making us look bad.” Harper spoke about the schools as an isolated part of history, one that began and ended in the past tense, separated from twenty first century Canadians and therefore as something that should be packed away and forgotten about. Because it was over. Right?

Based on the poverty, suicide, mental illness, poor health and unfit education levels among Canadian Aboriginal populations here in 2016, I’d give that a definite no. The legacy of those schools is perhaps just as horrific as the schools themselves, but because these institutions–and the overall assimilation policy under which they operated–are painted as things that “happened back then but are done now,” it’s easy to just forget about it and “move on.” The barrier between us and reconciliation grows ever higher.

Forgetting. If there’s ever a weapon that a victor of war wants to use, it’s that. Forgetting, though, isn’t just about not remembering that something happened. Forgetting can also be minimizing things that have occurred; if something isn’t seen as relevant, it’s ignored. Once something is ignored, the process of forgetting is already in full swing. It’s what happened with the 2008 apology (Google it, if you’re interested). It is coincidentally also what has been happening in my First Nations Sociology course over the past few weeks, and why I’m writing this now.

See, when something dark comes to light, those who have spent most of their time in the light tend to shrink away from it. It’s cold, it’s heavy, it’s uncomfortable, therefore, it should be avoided at all costs. Sometimes, though, there are people stuck living in the dark, and it’s just as cold and heavy and painful as the people in the light would imagine– and you know what, that’s totally fine, because when someone’s in the dark, no one on the other side of it can see them; it’s good for business. But what happens when someone who has spent a lot of time in the dark  draws attention to themselves? They’re probably pitiful to see; pale, fragile. Everyone’s fine shaking their heads in sympathy and saying “tut, tut, that poor soul,” that is, until they realize that they’re the ones who forced them into the dark in the first place. Or, in the case of Canada, their ancestors did, and maybe by ignoring the fact that the dark still exists, and being quite content with leaving it the way that it is– “because I didn’t put it there, now did I?”– these present day folk might be just as instrumental in keeping people there as their grandparents were.

But no one wants to admit that, do they? Lately, I find that when non-indigenous people who aren’t familiar with decolonized history come face to face with the absolute horrors of Canadian assimilation policy, they refuse to take in any information, because it’s uncomfortable. I’ll be the first person to admit that it’s extremely unsettling– now imagine that just two generations before you, your grandfather was taken away from his family and given to another one more “fit” to take care of him and even though he grew up and “moved on” with his life, the scars that he bore–invisible to most– were screaming red for later generations to see. And funny enough, those scars imprinted themselves on you, too. Yep. Super uncomfortable. Except, in this situation, you wouldn’t have the ability to put your hands over your ears, to say “enough!”

Part of the problem of reconciliation is that we’re still fighting against a colonial discourse that many are still unwilling to admit exists. No one is willing to have their worldview challenged by a reality that rips the carpet out from under their cozy understanding of things. And this, unfortunately, has ramifications for people right now. Google “Canadian First Nations issues;” you’ll have a bunch of facts and figures delivered right to your lap if you want a picture of the sort of things we’re dealing with. But on top of the depressing stuff– and of course, on top of the amazing success stories, Indigenous victories and powerful Aboriginal leaders and game-changers that have risen over the past few decades–we’re also fighting against a society that has become an expert at forgetting. They got so good, in fact, that people now are completely unwilling to learn anything but the stuff they’re told to remember by their society. And the results, as I recognized today, are pretty dangerous.

I enrolled in the Sociology course as an elective, something to tack on to the end of my transcript to fulfill extra credit requirements before I graduated. Of course, because of what I’ve dedicated my life to, the material seemed engaging. This was a course all about looking at First Nations issues with a goal of “decolonizing” students’ understanding of these issues. Perfect. Right up my alley.

Our instructor is white. That’s not a red flag. In fact, seeing non-Indigenous citizens, scholars, politicians, and more get involved in the reconciliation movement is uplifting. The instructor was explicit in stating that they were indeed descendants of settlers, that they too were working to decolonize the way they saw things. Even better, I thought to myself.

Except, I began to notice the very discourses we work to shatter creeping into the course material, not just with the instructor themselves, but also with the way the students were engaging with that material. So, I started to ask questions. I started to answer questions that the instructor posed with an indigenous viewpoint that sometimes didn’t make sense to them or to the other students. These comments tend to spark debate–which is a good thing– except the debates reek of hurt feelings. It’s like students are getting insulted by someone raising–here’s the word again– uncomfortable questions about their own discourses. The indigenous side of reconciliation is not meant to attack religion, or culture, or any spiritual belief system. I mean, come on, we’ve been dealing with that for centuries, why would we throw it onto others? Instead of contemplating things, they close their ears. Once it gets uncomfortable, they stop listening. And that’s when we run into trouble.

Last week, the class discussed the infamous “Indian Problem.” That was the name that the Canadian government gave to the issue they thought assimilation would solve. The Indian Problem–for Canada did indeed see it as a problem–led to a bureaucratic attempt at genocide–which is the intent to destroy a group in whole or in part, according to the UN Genocide Convention, and, as history shows, is exactly what happened here. The concept is sinister, and the name that it was given, tossed around like a municipal acronym for a bike trail action plan, is something you’d picture archaic dictators like Adolf Hitler using. That can’t happen in Canada, that wouldn’t happen in Canada, we’re civilized; we’re the most peaceful country in the world!

And yet, it did. The Indian Problem was something understood by Canadians everywhere, ones who were willing to do anything, regardless of how awful we consider it now, to solve it. To call it by any other name would be to remove the horrific power that it had, to destroy historical significance and to undermine any attempt to fix the issues that it caused. The Indian Problem existed. Say it with me now, The Indian Problem existed. And the Canadian government used a colonial, Social Darwinist view to justify dealing with the “problem.” It birthed the residential schools, the banning of the potlatch, forced enfranchisement, the separation of families, the death of hundreds of thousands of innocents…it was real.

Pretty uncomfortable, isn’t it? Some students in my class, along with the instructor certainly thought so. As a result, they decided that they didn’t have to say “The Indian Problem” anymore and instead began to call it “The IP.”

I’m going to be honest, as a Mi’kmaq student and one who has dedicated her entire career to breaking down colonial discourse, the concept is frustrating. In a class meant to challenge this worldview, the students and the teacher have suddenly become okay not dealing with the uncomfortable stuff. In the span of an hour and a half, in a class meant to foster reconciliation by helping students understand real issues, the point of the lessons it was supposed to give was lost. The Indian Problem, the foundation of assimilation policies that Canadians— in our own lifetimes, no less–imposed on a group of human beings, has become taboo in our class. Because it made a few squirm in their seats.

Reconciliation fails when we neglect to acknowledge the past for exactly what it was. Reducing real, negative historical concepts to childish “F-word, S-word” swear- acronyms because no one wants to be uncomfortable, takes away what we as First Nations people– and the class itself in principle– are trying to do.

Another example: today, the instructor discussed the physical, mental and emotional abuse Residential School survivors faced during their incarceration. He neglected to mention rampant sexual abuse as well. I wasn’t the only Native kid in the room to pick up on that one, either.(Yes, there are multiple indigenous students sitting in this classroom) We were disappointed, frustrated, even a little bit angry. The class has become a “safe place” to talk about Aboriginal issues– i.e. one that provides a censored, bedtime story version of a history already muffled by Canadian victory narratives. And based on what has been happening, I don’t see it helping the course objective of decolonizing western thought at all.

There can be no progress made when we’re stuck in the safe-zone, coming to the boundary between what’s acceptable in contemporary Canadian life and the hard truth and refusing to step foot over the line. By letting discomfort push you into using silly acronyms and avoiding the tough questions, you not only defeat the purpose of challenging what you set out to challenge in the first place, but you make a farce out of something that millions are working to give legitimacy to.

The class was asked today if Canada was making any progress in its relationships with Aboriginal people. The technical answer is yes, the instructor was quick to add. But remember: this “progress” involves learning about Aboriginal trials and triumphs and actively working to understand our past, our present and our collective understanding of each of these things as Indigenous people.

If there’s anything that this class has taught me, it’s that it has been slow progress indeed.

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Why the “Nano Method” Works: Silencing that Inner Critic

I think the ever popular Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month, for all you noobs) and its sister event, Camp Nanowrimo produces a lot of shitty writing. I also happen to think that that is fantastic. Now, before you get all frazzled and prepare to comment sixteen reasons why your Nano writing doesn’t suck, hear me out.

When I was fifteen, I wrote a book from damn near start to finish. That’s pretty awesome for a kid in the tenth grade who took on extracurriculars like an addict to coke. For a while after that, I found myself starting projects and not being able to finish them. One after another, I’d give up and toss my material out because, well, frankly, it was godawful, and I knew it. It’s only been recently that I’ve been able to push through to the end of projects satisfied with myself.

So what happened? What was the difference between five years ago and now?

The difference is this: at fifteen, I actually thought I was a good writer. Oh, not just good, I thought I was bloody fantastic, the next Margaret Atwood right out of high school. Then, when I wrote things, I just shot them out as they happened in my brain, and to me, whatever I put to paper was pure gold. King Midas with a laptop, yo.

Now, jump ahead three years, multiple small town publications and a glowing review from my local university’s writer-in-residence. I had gained a single, valuable piece of knowledge that changed the way I wrote astronomically. One day, as I sat in a creative writing class with thirteen or so other “great writers,” I discovered that I wasn’t nearly as much of a prodigy as I thought I was. It was simultaneously the best and the worst thing that has ever happened to my work.

It was the worst thing for a few reasons. I got it at the wrong time, for one. An eighteen year old kid with self-esteem issues to begin with isn’t going to like realizing that one of the things she thought didn’t suck about herself, kind of, well sucked. I started second guessing everything I wrote, unable to string three words together without deleting and rewriting them in different variations six more times; I wanted everything to be perfect, bringing out the editing pen before I’d even gotten the story down. Secondly, I don’t think I was at the point where I could understand that sucking is just another stepping stone to being freaking awesome at something.

After the revelation, I spent another year and a half starting projects and not finishing them, scrutinizing my work paragraph by paragraph as I trudged along, never making any progress (or so I thought) and then getting tired or bored and giving up.

It was the best thing, because it allowed me to eventually understand that everyone sucks at writing when they first start a story. And I have Kate DiCamillo to thank for that.

If you don’t remember who that is, DiCamillo is the author of one of the staple books of my elementary school years: Because of Winn Dixie. It’s a pretty good book, but we only know that it’s good because we just get to see the heavily revised, beautiful final manuscript that the author brought forth with all of the brain power she could muster. I don’t know if you’ll believe me, but let me prove it to you; the first draft of that book was an absolute turd pie.

One day, I was messing around on the internet, and I came across a document from Scholastic Books comparing the first pages of the many drafts of Winn Dixie, and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read this monster:

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Welcome to draft one of a John Newbery Medal Winner. It’s a jumbled mess of choppy sentences and poor word choice, and yet it was exactly where it needed to be at that moment. Without that initial vomiting of ideas and bits of dialogue, the author would have a pretty difficult time forming a story. It’s like trying to cram for a Chemistry exam, but focusing carefully on every little chapter instead of the bigger picture. By the time you get to the end, you’re bound to forget half of the things you shoved into your brain from the first six units, and you can’t even do the seventh unit, because you can’t get the base knowledge to finish a titration equation anyway.

I’ve run into this problem so many times: I’ll get a semi-rough first chapter down, and I’ll have all of these awesome ideas that seem to work perfectly with it. Except, I waste three days chipping away until that first chapter is exactly how I want it, telling my ideas to hush, and be patient and please hold on for another twenty freaking minutes and I’ll write you down, okay? By the time I’m ready to move on, the ideas have gone stale, and I’m left with what I’m assuming is the writer’s version of blue balls.

I’ve got this beautiful first chapter, and nowhere to put it.

The “shitty first draft,” as Anne Lamott calls it, is important. It’s not about proper grammar or flawless plot lines. It’s about spewing out everything you need to create the fantasta-crazy-beautiful story living in your imagination. You can’t carve a bust without stone, and as a writer, sorry to tell you, but that lumpy grey slab has got to come from your brain. So bring it up.

This brings me back to Nanowrimo, and why I love it and its awful story creating so much. Above anything else, this hectic push to fire out 50,000 words in thirty or so days has taught me to be okay with my shitty draft, mainly because I don’t have time to fart around and make everything look pretty. Not if I want to keep on track, anyway. And if you’ve committed to Nano and actually told people you were doing it (stupid,stupid, idea, that one), your ego automatically requires you to finish. So, for sanity’s sake, you’ve got to try and keep a constant flow of words, even if you can’t think of the right title for your super spy organization, and have to call it “lkasjdfhlasd” for the first three weeks. Believe me, it’s no fun having to catch up on a four thousand word deficit on top of your daily 2000 word goal at two am. So skjfhdj webrksjd gasudi away, friends.

Thanks to Nano, writers with all of the potential in the world are forced to bite the bullet, stomp on the muzzle of that reptilian critic in their brains, and tell the damn story, already. Nano is about producing material; if it were about making things perfect, it would be National Novel Writing Year.

So, aspiring authors, regardless of whether you choose to participate in Nanowrimo or not, learn to love your bad work, because your bad work is still material, and it still, from time to time, produces lumps of absolute genius. But you can’t make material pretty if it isn’t there to work with in the first place, ya feel me? Spew first. Shoot it all out. Build a routine and stick to it; keep your momentum up. And then, only when you’re sure there isn’t a story left to tell, then you can attack it with a jackhammer.

I shall leave you with a mantra, courtesy of Ernest Hemingway: “The first draft of anything is shit.”

Repeat after me: “The first draft of anything is shit.”

Now go write shitty novels so you can make them bestsellers, you wonderful creatures.

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Once more for good measure.

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Performance Anxiety

There’s always a period of time before I start a project where I’m afraid of what I’m about to do. I’ll have everything planned out– unless it’s one of those woah where’d you come from, let’s get you over with quickly then, ideas– and I’ll be excited to get to work so I can see my quiet thoughts live and in colour in front of me. Except, the closer I get to my start date, the more I balk.

I feel like anyone who’s serious about writing doubts their ability; I have days where I’m like, psh, I’m so good at this, I was born to do this, why did I ever want to do anything else? Those are the rare days, if I’m speaking honestly; the other ninety percent of the time I’m left scrutinizing ideas or already written works and thinking about how hard this stuff is. For every good sentence I write, there’s about sixteen more awful ones, and if I’m not tearing my hair out at that point, there’s likely a screw loose. But then I suppose every author has felt like that before they really got going, and continued to deal with that apprehension after they discovered that they could make a living from their scribbles.

I know that with enough elbow (knuckle?) grease I can write good stories, ones that people will read and talk about. It’s just that it’s easier to imagine success than it is to actively achieve it, and that scares the hell out of me. I’m not afraid of the work, believe it or not. There’s nothing I love more than a good heavy writing session (editing is a completely different story; editing is a process Satan himself invented, I’m sure). I also revel in the rush I get when I finish a large project. (Again, editing excluded. Because that is like pulling teeth.)

What I’m scared of is starting. Because once you start, anything can happen. Once you start, there’s a possibility that you can get thinking about what crap the whole thing is and give up before you’re done. Or you can reach the end and cut off all the rough bits and slap a fresh coat of paint on your piece and send it out into the world with a bow in its hair only to be ridiculed by all who see it. Once you start, you can fail, and doesn’t that just scare you to bits?

It doesn’t always happen that way, I know. There are books on the market and short stories in magazines to prove that. But in the beginning, at that place where everything is rusty, and getting anything out is a whole lot like trying to get the first few sips of a chocolate milkshake through a plastic straw, it always feels like you’re headed straight down the not-so-nice and difficult path. I find myself thinking about quitting more in those beginning stages than I do at any other part of the project.

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It’s probably not even that bad; I’m a total wuss.

I guess in that way, writing–like starting a workout plan or committing to piano lessons– is very much a test of faith in yourself. Nothing good ever comes easy, but whether you finish– regardless of the outcome– comes right down to how bad you want to get to the end. And because of how bad I always seem to want to get to the end, I push through the terror I feel at the beginning, right through the muck of the first few paragraphs, and then, once I’m up to a good clip, I keep going, because that’s what I was born to do.

But don’t you dare mention the word editing, yet. That shouldn’t come in until it is absolutely necessary. Before that point it is a forbidden swear, and until then, the project is beautiful and everything is perfect and don’t you ruin it, you little wretch.

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Am I Really Doing This Again?

I think the more I try to push away writing projects for other things, the more my life works to swing me around and bring me right back to where I started: small and scared, pen in hand in front of a blank piece of looseleaf. Or, in this case, insert creaking knuckles and office laptop screen into the appropriate slot, I suppose.

I don’t want to talk about where I’ve been; I’ll let the stories do that. What’s important is that I’m back again, and that I never actually stopped writing to begin with. The rusty old brain has been kicked around, patched up, scratched up and booted halfway from here to Arkansas (I didn’t actually go to Arkansas, I just like the way it’s spelled, and how I say it phonetically in my head like an elementary rebel while I pronounce it aloud the right way), but thank the Lord above, she’s kept on trucking for me, and that’s more than I could have asked for.

Hell, she even managed to pump out some things that got published, that little fighter, and I love her for it. And now, after our nap that wasn’t quite a nap, now we’re here; maybe because I like this medium, or maybe because there’s something I’m supposed to get from this, I’m not sure. I do know that my fingers got to aching to move a melody against a set of plastic keys–this Mac makes a better sound than a baby grand, let me tell you– and where a rusty tap used to jut out from my cortex, a leak has sprouted from beneath the siding and there’s a bunch of stuff–creative oil, perhaps– just gushing out into my imagination and pooling there. And though that blank page is as terrifying as ever, I’m starting to see what it would look like with, dear God yes, words on it. So I guess I’ve just got to do what I’ve always done and put them where it looks like they should go.

You can see it when I’m done, too, if you like. For now, you’ve got these silly little brain scrapings to read. Hope you like ’em.

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Hello, again.

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Adults are Boring: What I Learned From YA

For the past few years of my life, save for a couple exceptions, I’ve tried to stay away from YA fiction. That is, until I started to write it, and became drawn to the stories that were pulling so many of my friends in. So I’ve been looking for it a lot lately. Last night, I came across a little gem called Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. It seemed innocent enough. A story about two teenagers who fall in love in the eighties. And it didn’t have vampires in it. So I went for it. And I read it in one sitting like I expected to. Image

What I didn’t expect was the impact that it had on me. This book is the farthest thing from mindless. Though the two title characters are sixteen, there’s something about their relationship and their experiences that just seems so raw and true. I found myself identifying with them. I had felt what they felt before; I understood.

I laughed. The book was funny. I found myself caught in a current of erratic heartbeats and chest swells as I roared through that book like a transport truck late for a delivery. I ate it. Chewed it, swallowed it, and then realized I had eaten too quickly, because when I finished the book, I was left with the same feeling you get after wolfing down a great donair way too fast. I wanted more.

And as I closed my e-reader (so not the same as closing a real book, but I’ll take what I can get), and let it digest, I became aware of something that I had been running from without even knowing I was doing it. I had been avoiding the teen section at the bookstores because cynical old me thought I was too old for YA (That’s Young Adult Literature, for all you noobs out there). Yeah, and I was probably seventeen when I made that decision, which makes the things seem so much more ridiculous. I thought that YA was somehow romanticizing the life of young people in some stupid cliche fashion that was going to give the wrong ideas to people my age. I thought that writing “teenager” and “love” in the same sentence was dumb and unrealistic. I thought that YA books were trying to turn the adventures of their younger characters into something that could rival the life of an adult, and I thought that was kind of silly. Why? Because I had been told that teenagers and children weren’t capable of the stuff of grown ups by people who were living adult lives since I was probably old enough to string a sentence together.

So I read adult fiction, and by that, I don’t mean erotica. I haven’t so much as touched a copy of Fifty Shades, nor will I ever. I just mean books the the general fiction section. I stocked up on heavy novels with deep political or social meaning as though somehow, books about adults for adults made the adventures, feelings and experiences of the characters much more real.

And then I picked up Eleanor and Park, and I finished it, and finally realized what I had been missing. I’m sorry, lovers and writers of (some) adult work, but your plots are too lofty; your diction tries too hard, and it looks to me that you’re all just little kids wearing big people suits, trying to make yourselves look grown up. All your doing is making yourself look boring. After reading the likes of John Green and Rainbow Rowell, I’ve discovered some things, and remembered other things I had loved during the days of Ramona and Beezus and Nancy Drew. First: adults– and by that, I mean the societal definition of adults–are overrated. I really do think we’re all secretly sixteen-year-olds with skin that wrinkles a little more each year. I think that as people get wrinklier, they feel as though they have to act like they’re wrinkly and they forget what it’s like to be a teenager. I find too many people dismiss the thoughts and feelings of young people as being too melodramatic, or implausible as if age and wisdom was somehow the only thing to legitimize one’s ideas and emotions.

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Why is it that our boys and girls put away their comic books and their Lego and the tapes of their favourite pop bands when they hit adulthood? Honestly, I love Lego. Comic books are cool, and I’d be the first one to rock out to the Backstreet Boys on my way home from work. It’s because we’re told that at a certain age, things become childish and somewhere down the line, childish has become a bad thing.

And I think that’s wrong.

I fell for it. So have many of you, probably. And the sad thing is, because we’ve all fallen for it, we criticize teens and young people for feeling and doing as if we’re trying to drag them down with us. But all that’s doing is closing us youngsters off, telling us that we’re being dumb and that we shouldn’t be able to express ourselves. And so we don’t. We keep their mouths shut and our ideas locked away a little tighter each day and slowly as our skin hardens, we become adult.

I just read a novel that focused on teenagers–just like my own work does. One, it should be noted, that I wouldn’t have bothered to pick up before I started my novel. That was because it looked annoying and was meant for teenagers who hadn’t hit the same level of maturity I had in my less than twenty years (Oh, the pretentiousness is killing me). And in it, I have found some of the truest passages about being human that I think exist on the face of the earth. It gives me hope that the message I’m writing will be taken seriously and not tossed aside because my main character is barely out of high school. I wanted to make my Gracie real, and raw and human in ways that I didn’t know YA could do, and now that I know it can, I’m even more excited for what this book has the potential to do.

I got thinking today about all of the things I was afraid to say and do in my stories because I didn’t think anyone would buy it. But today, I’m a little braver, so I’ll tell you three of them.

First, and most importantly, I think, young people can be in love. And I don’t mean all of that stupid lusty stuff adults keep dismissing it for. I mean the kind of deep, true love that people say only happens when you’re old enough to afford a mortgage. The kind that envelopes you and takes every fiber of your being to support. The kind that keeps you up at night, the kind that rejoices when the one you’ve picked gets excited about caterpillars on the sidewalk. The kind that makes you notice really weird– but awesome– things about a person, like how they’ve got nice kneecaps or how they’ve got three giant freckles in the corner of their left eye socket or how they can’t dance at all but somehow watching them do it makes your heart flutter. It’s love in its most purest form, and it is beautiful and fulfilling and because too many people dismiss it for lust (there is a difference people, I promise, but that’s not the point), many of us young folk are scared to express it, because we’re going to be called juvenile and not taken seriously. But you know what? There is no such thing as a proper age to fall in love, and so there is no need to dismiss a book for portraying it before adulthood.

Second: young people are funny. And I don’t mean in the stupid insulting fat jokes kind of funny– of course, I’d be lying if I said I’ve never cracked one, but we all have, and that isn’t the point either– but I mean the intelligent sort that can only come from someone who sees the world differently. There’s something about coming into adulthood that sucks all the fun out of humour, and suddenly jokes need to be horribly crass or to have secret critiques of society in them to be funny. I’m not saying that satire isn’t humourous, I’m just saying I haven’t laughed at a comedian over twenty five, like, ever, and it’s not because I’m not educated either. I have, however, laughed out loud at Junie B. Jones. Like, recently.

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Thirdly: young people are smart, and creative and they worry about things, just like adults do. Real, tangible, important things. We worry about the environment and we worry about staying healthy and growing up and having a family and doing something meaningful, and yet our worries are often dismissed as silly. Our schemes for fixing things are said to be impractical and we’re forced at eighteen to choose something plausible to do with the rest of our lives. I wonder what would happen if we were all given the time to let our teenage brains stay on the same track for awhile, wait a little longer to come to fruition.  We have the capacity to change the world, and many of us are doing it right now, but I think there’s a lot of potential that’s being snuffed out because we’re all being told that we have to grow up. Maybe the way young people see the world is just what we need to fix it.

Go on out tonight, if you’re bored, and hit the youth section at a library or bookstore. I’d recommend John Green or Rainbow Rowell or hell, even Judy Blume if you’re feeling a classic.

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Ever wonder why some of the best books identified in our world right now deal with the lives of mere children?

Go on. Put down your political commentaries and your fact-books. I’m not saying they aren’t good; I’m a fan of a lot of it. But pull off the adult hat for a minute. I think you’ll be surprised by what you find.

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John Green Takes Anxiety Meds: Why Sometimes It’s OK To Admit That You Just Can’t Anymore

Among my friends and loved ones, it’s no secret that I suffer from OCD– you know, that anxiety disorder that people without it use to make excuses for being controlling and anal (Which drives me up the wall, by the way). The thing that not many people know of, is the struggle that I’ve had in coming to terms with the fact that I’m medicated.

Zoloft is a pretty neat little pill. You take it every day, and eventually there’s enough in your system so that dealing with the anxiety that sometimes makes it hard to go into public places is a whole lot easier. In the beginning, I was okay that I was medicated. By the end of the year, I was not.

Evil little bastard, you are. (Even though you do good things)

I didn’t like having to check certain cough meds to make sure that they were okay to take when I had a cold (most of them weren’t).

I didn’t like not being able to take Advil when I had a headache.

I’m not much of a drinker, but I hated having to explain to people why I had turned down their offers with an “I can’t” instead of  a”no thank you” (Which I realize I didn’t have to do, but people stop asking faster when you tell them that there’s a reason you can’t drink– welcome to the world of the university student).

I hated having to listen to people– sometimes close friends– talk to me about all of the different options and how sometimes people with medication were weak–butnotmeofcoursenotI’mthestrongestgirltheyknew they are always quick to add.

But most of all, I hated the fact that I had to rely on a little pill to make my brain and body function enough so that I could live a normal life. And they didn’t even work all that well.

By the end of the year, especially in moments of high stress, I discovered that on top of the anxiety every student gets around exam time, the one thing that was causing me the grief that the pills couldn’t counteract was my OCD itself.

The pills were treating the symptom, not the cause.

You see, then I felt silly. Of course they weren’t working all the time. I was taking a pill to calm the anxiety so that I could more easily ignore the issues that were causing it. After a few weeks of being out of school and feeling myself calm down enough to start rationalizing my way through things, I went to the doctor and explained my theory. He seemed to agree, and suggested, now that I was living in a different province, that I waited until I went back to school to go see a councilor who would help me work on attacking the root of my problem. Then, the moment I had been waiting for for months arrived: he agreed to lower my dosage so that I could begin the process of weaning off of the Zoloft.

I was proud. I was strong. I hadn’t quite beaten it, but I was getting better, and that was a total plus. Good for me.

Except it’s been about two weeks since then, and I’m back to pre-medication anxiety levels–in some cases, not all. I’ve found success in dealing with it by using exercise, and I have to be open with my family a whole lot more so they can reassure me of things that my OCD twists around and makes abnormal (which is perhaps the most frustrating part, because I feel silly and irrational and dumb). It’s exhausting, and sometimes I’m very discouraged, but I will work through this doing the best that I can.

After I excitedly informed my parents that I was coming off of the Zoloft, my mum smiled, and gently told me that if I couldn’t take it, then I could always be put back on a regular course. I laughed, because there was no way I’d do that again.

Now, I’m not so sure.

There are a variety of environmental factors I’m taking into account that could be causing the sudden surge in anxiety, and I’m going to ride out the storm for awhile longer, but some days I want to quit and call the doctor. It is on those days where I feel that I’m at my weakest. I’m embarrassed, yet again, that I may have to admit to myself that I may need medication to function. I get frustrated and beg God to take it away, to make me better so that I don’t have to deal with anything anymore. If there is one thing that’s kept me sane since my diagnosis, it’s Him. Except, he rarely ever gives me exactly what I want. That’s the thing about the Big Man Upstairs. He answers your prayers, always, but most of the time they’re in ways that you don’t expect.

 

 

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Or, you know, we can just stay the way we are. That’s fine. We’ve evolved enough. At least we walk on land now.

Today, I was reading through a feed on Reddit that John Green was using to talk to fans. One of them asked about his past with anxiety, and he began to talk about his use of medication–daily and for years– combined with the exercise and cognitive behavioral therapy that I will be seeking in the next few months.

John Green. Nerdfighter, Vlog Brother, Author of some of the coolest books for young adults on the market, and on top of being active and talking to experts, he has to use medication to deal with anxiety.

It’s not because he’s weak.

And evidently, it does nothing to hamper his creative genius.

And, he’s not embarassed to talk about it.

To be honest, I’m not ready to accept the fact that I may need a little yellow pill to keep me running. But maybe there’s something okay about having to admit that I wasn’t ready in the first place. Maybe it isn’t admitting defeat.

Part of getting better is learning to listen to what your body needs. I am sick, after all. It’s not a cold– though my allergies have me wheezing up a storm, over here–but it is a brain-sickness. And sometimes, in order to cure or lessen the symptoms of a disease, or a virus, or a disorder, you need medicine.

If John Green can take his medicine, then so can I.

(If I have to admit that I need it, of course).