A Short History of a Personal Journey Through Halloween

Age 0-3: I am dressed as a frog. I am a quiet baby, I don't say much, no one realizes I'm petrified. Someone makes me touch a doll. 


Age 5-6: Everyone now knows I'm terrified. I wear extravagant costumes stitched and molded and stuffed by my mother who never backs down, even when she should. My parents cover the dining room table in torn velvet and spooky lace. I let it cover my face, only peaking out to see the trick-or-treaters come to the door. They scare me too. I hide again. I watch The Nightmare Before Christmas on VHS and feel better.


Age 7: I'm dressed as Flareon. The boys in my elementary school dressed as Ash Ketchum chase me and throw rocks and bark chips at me and call them Pokéballs. I hide behind my mom but my costume makes me bigger than her. I avoid the playground the next day and reorganize my Pokémon cards in order of cuteness before organizing them back chronologically. 


Age 8: I am a pink and purple seahorse. I can't run due to the tail. Mom eats all the Almond Joys, Dad eats anything with peanuts. I stuff an entire Kit Kat Bar in my mouth.


Age 9: A costumed goon jumps out of a coffin and scares the kids ahead of me in the trick-or-treating line for the pink house with the big front yard. I turn to my mom and say, "One year I'll go up there and get my candy, but not this year." I never do.


Age 10-13: I help Mom set up the Halloween decorations because I'm tall enough to hang the ripped cloths and lights. The dining room table features tarnished silver dishes and candle holders. Candy is everywhere, the creepier the better. Gummy eyes and brains plated with fake blood accents, a squash and radicchio pizza completes the set. My entire family comes over like they do every year, we eat a lot and everyone raids my candy stash. We wrap the front steps with caution tape when we're out of candy so no one can reach the door.


Age 14: The final trick-or-treat of my life takes place on the less taken street. At the first house a kind looking grandma gives us Smarties... But also rape whistles. Which she demonstrates. 


Age 15: I hand out candy for the first time for a full night. I tell the little ones how cute they are and tell the older ones riddles. Most of them grab the candy and run.


Age 16: A grandfather rented a pony for his granddaughter, a princess, and his grandson, a cowboy, to ride from door to door. I let the horse chew my hair. Everyone kind of ignores the kids because there is a goddamn mini horse in the front yard. My dad hopes he can collect manure for his garden later.


Age 17: I've finally figured out the best way to scare kids. I wear a plastic glove that looks like a witch's hand, put a candy in the palm, and shuffle my hand through the mail slot. When a kid reaches I grab their arm. I made two kids cry and a 16 year old swears to never come back. His friend asks if he pissed himself. Since he doesn't answer I assume that means "Only a little."


Age 18: I'm handing out candy to a cute kid dressed as a fairy, her dad starts hitting on me. I stand in shock. My friend asks if that really just happened, I nod and say "I think so," and cringe. When the kids over 16 come to the door I chase them off the porch and refuse them candy. I throw a Dum Dum at the one that didn't even bother to wear a costume. A new mom with her baby gets a fistful of chocolate.


Age 19: I'm in Olympia crying because I hate it so much. My best friend says it could be worse and I blubber "How could it be worse? I'm stuck in a smelly dorm on Halloween with a drum circle outside!" I am inconsolable and buy my own candy the next day at the Halloween fire sale at Wallgreens.


Age 20: I pout alone in my room in a Pikachu onesie and demand everyone leave me the hell alone while watching Shaun of the Dead.


Age 21: I work at a chain restaurant and bar as a waitress. I get stuck with the Halloween shift. I'm in the Pikachu onsie and my boss, dressed as Elvis, jokes that if I take it off he'll fire me. He leaves the trainee manager in charge and heads out for a night of galavanting. Later in the night I see a girl collapse outside. I put down the beer bucket in my hand and run out. I ask the four people around her what happened and they say she's had too much alcohol. She's dress for weather fifty degrees warmer that this. Two of the girls don't know her and wanted to try to help, they're dressed as the Blues Brothers, the other is the fallen girl's boyfriend, who is borderline hysterical. I grab her and start carrying her in my arms into the bar. I can barely lift her but I try and the posse follow. I yell for the bus boy, who is six feet and all muscle. As I struggle to pull her he picks her up for me and runs with her to the bathroom. I follow while the manager yells I can't do this, I'm as good as fired. I usher everyone out of the bathroom except her friends and hold her up on the floor feeding her water slowly, wet cloth on her forehead. I call an ambulance. Her boyfriend is crying, their dorm won't let her in drunk. I hold his hand and say she's going to be okay, I'll take care of her. A women walks in and tries to get a picture of us on the floor I rip the phone out of her hands and tell her I'll rip her throat out if she tries that in my bar before giving it back. The other waitresses cover my tables and push my manager back from ripping the drunk girl from me and throwing her back on the street. I hold her and keep saying, "You're going to be okay, I'm right here. You're going to be okay. I've got you." One of the waitresses finds out that a customer at her table is a nurse and rushes her to the bathroom to help me. She checks her pulse and checks to make sure she hasn't bumped her head and helps keep her awake.

The Ambulance comes and I hand her over and put my arm around the boyfriend and say, "You did the right thing, you got help, you didn't leave." He gets in the ambulance with her. All my old tables ask if I'm okay, I'm shaking but say I am. One of them hugs me. Someone sends me a shot. 

My next shift I'm called into the office. My boss is not dressed as Elvis. He says what I did was the most irresponsible thing he's ever heard, that having a minor in the bar drunk could have got them shut down, that the bar could have gotten bad publicity, that I made customers uncomfortable, that I undermined my manager that night, that he wanted to fire me, but then he got an email from corporate. The boyfriend wrote a message in an effort to find me to the regional managers. He said I was with them and helped them and that he never expected someone to do that for him and his girlfriend. That he wanted me to know that I changed everything for them that night and that he considered me a hero. My boss says the higher ups were ecstatic and told him he should be proud to have someone like me on board. He said that he realized he is.

An hour later we share a quesadilla and he says again "I'm proud of you."


Age 22: The Pikachu onsie prevails and in 7/11 three different people take pictures with me. Then four more at the pizza joint down the street.


Age 23: We're sharing Halloween stories in a writing class. One of my classmates was with the girl that night two years ago. She enthuses to the class, "Gasp was a hero. She pushed her manager out of the way and carried this girl. She saved her life." Everyone looks at me, I kind of shrug. "You would have done the same." She says not to say that, because I did it.


Age 24: I teach my partner how to carve a pumpkin. We laugh as we pull out the guts. 

The Seance

    In case you missed the reading last night, here's the flash fiction piece I read! It's about a failed seance in a dorm room on a Wednesday night...

    “It’s quiet tonight,” Sydney says, laying on the floor of co-RA Zach’s room.

    “Ee-yup,” Zach says. He’s arranged his pillows into a pile behind his back that he reclines and slouches against while reading a magazine.

    “Where is everyone?” Though they weren’t on duty tonight the quiet still made Sydney want to stalk the hallway of the Sycamore building and check.
“They’re probably in Amy’s room.” Zach flips another page and then scratches his knee where his jeans have torn.

    “Doing what?” Sydney asks.

    “I don’t know, she’s doing some witchy bullshit or something tonight.”

    “Oh.” Zach puts down his magazine and looks at Sydney, sitting on a yoga mat on the floor, her arms wrapped around her knees. Her pointer finger is tapping against her shin.

    “Chew some gum or something, you’re getting all twitchy.” Sydney glares and then sits on her hands, stretching her legs out in front of her so that her heels are on the edge of the yoga mat. Zach picks up his magazine again and continues reading.

     Outside Zach’s room, the Sycamore building, the oldest on campus, creaks. It creaks like the walls are biting down on the floor boards. Down the hall is 2C. It’s far enough away that Sydney and Zach can’t hear the door quietly opening and closing as one pair of feet at a time shuffle in. 


    Tyler, from room 2A, is the last of the Sycamore second floor to enter into 2C. The room, lit only with dollar store prayer candles, is filled with the sweet, gagging smell of sage. 

    “So, what’s going o—”


    “Don’t slam it!”



    “Put the towel back!”

     Tyler hushes the hissing from the circle of cross legged freshman on the floor whispering, “Okay, okay” as he slowly closes 2C’s door until the soft click sounds. Bending down he shoves the towel, spotted with bleach and run off of black hair dye, into the space between the floor and the door. The circle shifts and opens up a space for him, which he has to squeeze into. He tries to flatten his crossed legs and the circle rumbles again, expanding to house his him.

    Tyler sits between Kelly and Carmen who are both in pajama pants. They put out their hands. Tyler hesitates for a second before linking himself with them. He notices that their hands are cooler than his, smoother, like how a cucumber tastes.

    The room rises and falls between whispers and silencing. No one reaches to smooth out a crease in one of the scarves on the floor in the middle of circle. Amy sits across from Tyler, her eyes closed as if in meditation.

    Amy had told everyone on move in day that “Amy” was short for “Amethyst.” It wasn’t. But she made sure everyone thought otherwise.

    “Tonight we contact the spirits of those lost in the the shuffle of adulthood and adolescence. The ones who continue to wander. The ones—”

    “I thought we were just looking for that kid who died in the ’98,” Kara, the red head from 2F says.

    Amy shoots her a look and says, “Would you like to be reminded you were dead if you were a ghost? Have some tact.” Kara, while not totally convinced, bites her lip and sighs.

    Amy closes her eyes again lifting her hands, the rest of the circle, linked with her, follows the motion, unsure what else to do.

    On Tuesday, Amy announced she was doing a seance to speak to one Rufus Moore, a freshman who was found dead in the nearby woods under “mysterious circumstances” in 1998. He lived on the second floor and Amy claimed she felt a certain undeniable connection to him. Amy also, however, told everyone she had seen the Jersey Devil herself last summer, but on a Wednesday night, under age and still mostly friendless what was the the second floor of the Sycamore dorm building to do?

    “Spirits! Lead us to Rufus Moore’s truth! Reveal yourselves!”

    Carmen sneezes, causing the snapping and realigning of heads.

    “Gesundheit,” Tyler says.

    “Sorry,” Carmen whispers before sneezing once more, and then another time.

    “Gesundheit,” Tyler repeats.

    “A sign!” Amy shouts. She blows out three of the five candles. “Give me my cards!”

    Anthony, the only one on the floor with a sports scholarship (for tennis, if you were curious), unclasps his hands from her and Kara, and hands Amy a deck of tarot cards. Amy releases her grip on Sara to her left and begins to shuffle the cards. No one is sure if they should keep holding hands, but they do, Sara and Kelly giving each other a pulsing squeeze, a silent confirmation that this was a mistake.

    Amy “Amethyst” Branson, who’s parents flirted with a Strawberry Switchblade goth/new wave phase in the 80’s and who were now both dentists in the suburbs of LA, pulls her first card.

     “The eight of wands! He was being attacked from all sides, unsure where to turn. Friends, professors, family, they all turned on him, leaving him helpless, unable to escape and overcome the struggles of life.” Everyone in the circle leans in to examine the card. It showed what looked more like sticks than wands to Tyler, all pointing towards the lower right hand corner, seemingly in flight. Amy slams down the next card.

    “The Hermit!” An old man is revealed holding a lantern. “he felt alone. Isolated.”

    The next card came, a skeleton knight on a white horse.

    “Death! Suicide!” The circle didn’t exactly gasp, but there was definitely a visceral, uncomfortable reaction.

    Amy picked up her sage, still smoking and stood shaking it’s ashes around the circle, “Spirit, thank you for this insight, we now ask to see Rufus and understand him, to help him move on to his next journey!”


    “Do you smell that?” Sydney asks. Zach stops reading for a moment to sniff the air.

    “I guess? Someone’s just burning some incense probably.” He looks back down at the article, if you could call it that, and flips the page.

    “I think it’s time we break up the coven meeting, that smell is going to make me sick.” Zach sighs, but gets up anyways, following Sydney out the door to go down the hall to room 2C. The smell only gets stronger and Zach fans the air in front of his face with the magazine.

    “I hate this fucking job,” he says as Sydney raps on the door. Amy’s voice is audible inside, saying “Rufus, show yourself!”

    Sydney calls, “guys, open the door,” but tries the handle anyways, finding it unlocked, opening it to reveal the circle in candlelight Amy standing with her arms in the air, eyes closed facing the low ceiling.

    “Rufus!” Amy yells. Everyone in the circle looks at them. Zach reaches in and turns on the light and Sydney tells Amy to put out the sage before she sets off the fire alarm.

    “We’re in the middle of a seance,” Amy snaps, “Rufus is coming. I can feel him. Join our circle and see for yourself.”

    “Okay, okay, seance is over, everyone please return to your rooms or… something,” Zach says pinching the bridge of his nose. The circle, lead by Anthony, breaks apart without a singular groan of disappointment. Zach and Sydney part to allow their charges to go back to their rooms (they hoped).

    “Coven meeting next week, same place, same time! Next time you can bring snacks!” Amy calls out after them.

    “Goodnight Amy,” Sydney says before closing the door to 2C.

    “A seance, really?” Sydney asks when they get back to Zach’s room.

    “It’s a brave new world,” Zach replies, already reclining back into his pile of pillows with his magazine, “Want to know what your love forecast is this month?”

    Sydney sighs and deflates onto his bed, “I guess so.”

    In the corner, by the ceiling air vent, Rufus sneezes, “I fucking hate sage.”

Anthills... Molehills... Malls...

    I don't like malls. I don't think I ever really liked them, to be honest. I think I thought I was supposed to like them, because I was a teenage girl growing up in America. That's just societal math 101. 

    Malls are a great idea... In theory. Put a variety of stores all together, under one roof, for easy, get out and go shopping. That's something I can get behind, I fucking hate shopping, get out and go is exactly what I want. But here's where they went wrong, here's where capitalism went too damn far: they made reasons for people to stay.

   So here comes me, thinking "I gotta hit three store for four different things, and a gift, I've memorized the layout, I'll be out of here in 30."




    The world suddenly feels a little too big and a little too small all at once when you enter a mall. An indoor mall manages to be huge and overwhelming, while also bringing you in such close quarters with humanity that you can feel yourself in a perpetual cringing hunch as you try to drag yourself through the crowds with minimal contact. Horrifying.

    I'm an extravert, since childhood I've liked talking to people, and my shyness was almost no existent by the time I hit age ten.. I tended to charm myself in or out of situations... It's only now, as I've gotten older, and perhaps more surly, that I realize I am a selective extravert when it comes to actually dealing with people. In a mall I want as much anonymity as possible and I want to deal with a total of 0 (zero) people. The only reason I'm ever in a mall is because I need to pick up one thing I can't get anywhere else or I need to knock out a bunch of shopping at once. I want to be like a ghost, all that's left behind is maybe the energy I shed trying to escape the hellhole I desperately just tried to crawl out of. 

    But in a lot of these places where these monstrosities sit... There isn't much going on. This is it. Mallrats range in ages from four months to one foot in the grave. And they'e here for the indoor playground, they're here for the spa, they're here for a meal and drinks, they're here for a movie, they're here for pottery painting for God sakes. All of this is provided so that one could spend an entire day in there and feel somewhat fulfilled (one would imagine anyways). But I think most of the time spent isn't even in these places. Most of the time is spent triangulating, or swarming, depending on how you look at it. A quiet and shallow flood of people going in and out with the tide considering where to go and what to do. Thousands of options, limited maps, and no real or desperate purpose. That's what malls do. They encourage you to enter with a promise of some sort of "experience" and then they shock you with a paralyzing realizations that you don't know where the fuck you are, which way is up, and which escalators go which way.

    Suddenly it's the pure endurance from Survivor mixed with a the problem solving of a Saturday New York Times Puzzle. People lose time in there, myself included, just trying to get through. Distractions and obstacles turning you around in hopes you'll buy more, window shop more. Your list, the map you took a cellphone picture of, your natural sense of direction, if you're so lucky, suddenly mean absolutely nothing, as stores change and tents of nicknacks and hair extensions pop up, and in-store events wield lines like sabers five stores down.

    The worst is that food courts aren't actually a thing in the one mall I find myself at. Food stuffs are sprinkled through out every inch of the mall, crumbs and grease spots falling around me like locusts in a medieval depiction of the plague. Every few steps someone trying to offer me a free sample of tea only to be met with a look that sits on the line between deer in the headlights and rabid raccoon under your house. No I don't want your tea, I don't even want your artisan chocolate, I just want to pick up my organic shampoo and a pair of slacks for my partner and leave. Trust me, both of us will be happier if I complete this mission with minimal interference. It's not you, it's me... And the rest of humanity. 

    Nothing about the process appeals to me. When my friends went to shop for prom dresses I sat outside the mall with some busking musicians for an hour, I'm just not built for this kind of thing. If you ask me, the whole idea of trying on clothes under florescent lights that make you look sallow and somehow distort your body into various lumps and corners should be deemed a form of cruel and unusual punishment. They should provide a therapist in every dressing room to deal with the fallout of returning a stack of clothing. In the mall with a thousand people always in line for the dressing room, walk of shame as your drop everything off has a whole new meanings. Hell, I've taken to memorizing where I took clothing from and returning it myself just to avoid the nonexistent stares in reaction to my failures. 

    As a customer, a consumer, a reluctant participant, I can only imagine how the people who actually work in these glorified anthills feel. So shout out to them, the true heroes. While we're at it, shout out to all the brave souls who work at airports.

    And after all this, there I am trying to find a corner of sanity, locating my fire exits, at least once a month. Most of the time coming out while popping Aibournes like candy and checking my pulse. Sometimes sprinting to the car and locking myself in before anyone can stop me. Always sighing an exhausted "yikes" while driving away, and not looking back.

If Home is Where the Heart is, Maybe I Just Have Two

    About six months ago I finally renewed my driver's license after about five months of carrying around my passport. I still renewed it in California though, and while waiting to to receive it in the mail everyone kept asking me why I didn't just get a state I.D. from an Illinois DMV, I don't drive in the city myself anyways, so why does it have to be a driver's license?

    It's a fair question. I moved here about four years ago and transitioned to living here full time about two years ago. I spend all but maybe one month out of twelve in Chicago working, grocery shopping, writing, and yes, now occasionally driving-- it would make sense to change my residency (it might make getting a paycheck into my mailbox easier too). What I ended up saying is that I plan on going back in the future, that I like my health insurance (I'm not ready to give up a 24/7 advice nurse), that I have a guy who takes care of my taxes in California, but frankly I just don't like change very much and still consider it home.

    But here's the kicker: so is Chicago. When I'm about to head back to California for Christmas, I say, "I'm going home of the holidays," and then when I'm about to return to Chicago, I say, "I'm coming home." There's no differentiation between the two, sentimentally for me. That's why it stays in any bio I have and how I introduce myself in casual conversations. It's just part of who I am and informs so much of how I move about it the world. It almost feels disingenuous not to mention it.

    Oakland is where I learned to play guitar, where I went to school for k-12, where I learned to drive a car, met my best friends, drank beer in cemeteries, learned to drive, and lived with my family for almost two decades. It's where I went to shows and where I voted for the first time. It directs the style I use to make art, to write, to dress myself, and even the toothpaste I prefer (Tom's is always a well stocked necessity in the East Bay).

    But Chicago has the one college and two degrees I stuck with, is where I make my art, where I protest, where I really learned to write, where I have new friends and bar tabs, where I sleep, clean, shop, and work. It's where I choose to spend eleven months out of the year.

    I've found that I've gotten to a semi-rare point where I've finally reconciled the two and am perfectly happy in that in-between place where I strongly feel I have two homes. I say semi-rare because I don't see it very often. Most of my friends in Chicago either have been in the area since birth, while other transplants barely ever mention where they're from or have assimilated to to the point where I didn't even realize they weren't born and raised in here, changing phone numbers and residencies. But I still have a ring on my finger that says "(510)", and my number is still the same, but I've also got an address and and anchor that says this, Chicago, is the place.

    I know that Cook County probably needs my vote more than Alameda County does, and that I still can't give directions to anyone here, but I could never do that in Oakland either. These are just two places the coat my entire being, vision, and my own biases in such a way that I couldn't possibly choose to give my full allegiance to one or another. And I think the people around me are starting to get that too. 

    At the end of the day, I guess I have two homes, and that's alright with me. but I'm still rooting for the Ravens when football season comes around. Sorry Raiders and 49ers, sorry Bears, it might not makes sense but here we are.


    Are you a transplant? Do feel your loyalty is shared or are you all for one? Let me know in the comments!

The Art of the Book Haul

    Book Hauls: a chance at true joy. Book Hauls are always fun but a lot of times I get overwhelmed or self conscious and wander around for 15 minutes before I even know what's going on. Or I get to the counter and have that embarrassing moment where what I've collected is out of my price range and have to make choice between destroying my bank account or face the embarrassment (that's totally self inflicted) by putting a bunch of books back. Or I have a perfect experience, the clerk at the counter gives me the covetted "good choices" nod, and I get to go home with books for myself that I will enjoy. Here's some tips that I use that I hope will help you.

The Hunting Ground

    First we need to choose where this Book Haul is going to take place. If you're online or irl, it doesn't matter, but you need to make a choice that will allow you the best book haul possible. There are plus and minuses for each. You'll probably get a better deal online, can use multiple sources at one time, and you don't have to dedicate time to leaving the house and physically searching through shelves. But your brick and mortar give you the instant gratification of taking your books home right away, the physicality of book shopping, and sampling everything you pick up. You can shop independent, used, or at a chain, just make sure it's a place you want to be in. A book haul should be a good time you should be excited to conduct your search, and a lot of times no matter what you find, where you are changes how much fun you have. (But, obviously I will heavily suggest you keep supporting your indie booksellers, even if it's just for one book, than money can continue to circulate in your community an keep one of a kind places in business! Plus those are the booksellers who can help you curate a perfect book haul just for you if you're a regular!)

And don't forget your libraries! The friendliest place to Book Haul! Your wallet and local branch will thank you!

    I like Half Price Books, personally, because I can always bring in books that I need to get rid of (old reading material for classes, books I have multiples of, and things I just didn't like), and they always have a changing line up of things. It's a bit out of the way for me but it's always worth it. Plus have you ever spent time in the antique section? When I'm in California I like Moe's in Berkeley!

The Double Budget

    Your budget should always be in two parts: Finances and Time. Here's the thing Finances should always be based on time, whether you're budgeting books or groceries. Think about the typical paycheck, the money given to you is based on how much time you work, right? Why should spending money be any different?

   Think about how much time you spend on a book. Are you a quick reader? Are you slower? Do you read only when you know you have more than 2 hours at a time to dedicate to reading or do you read mostly on your commutes where you're reading for a half hour at a time?

    Personally I read on a curve, I'm slow to start but after the halfway mark I start flying. If I'm familiar with a writer and like them I'm more likely to press myself to move pretty quickly to that midway point when reading becomes really easy for me and I get in "the zone." I'm also very sensitive to the density; big words, changing time lines, politics, and social commentary are all things that when reading I'm intensely attentive too, which slows me down quite a bit. Which means  Native Sun (Socio-economics, race, Chicago specific history, thick blocks of description, and the Capital-"L" Law) took me almost six months to read and Saint Anything (Author I'm familiar with, lots of dialogue and triangulation between characters and relationships, straight forward moments of showing and telling a story, quick pace) took me a few days. Both are great books and the time it took didn't effect my genuine enjoyment of either novel, but it did make me aware of how my reading style works. Since I work from home too, a book is always close by between working on projects for clients and myself, so I could pick it up for five minutes at a time or for a couple of hours depending on the day and what my work load is like or if the book is related to my own research (i.e. the fun type of work).

    After you identify yourself as a reader through the lens of time (i.e. your average read time for a 250 pg book), identify your time spent between buying books. If you tend to buy books weekly your budget is probably going to be much smaller than someone who is only buying books once every couple of months. 

   Now put that all together, and figure out how many books you realistically consume between visits to your bookstore. For someone like me (a slower reader, with irregular reading schedule, who is able to buy books every couple of months) my budget is around $60. It gets me just enough books to last me about three or so months before the next time I get to visit my favorite bookstore. So that's what I aim for, not counting money I reserve for Holy Grail finds.

The Holy Grail

       You know, that first printing of Breakfast of Champions, the hardback book of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture and essays, the leather bounds and anthologies. These are those finds that you just can't leave behind. They'll always pop up. I'm guilty of always looking in antique and collectable sections for books. I really like old illustrated botany texts, books of essays, and particular first editions. So more times than not I'll find something out of my price range and really feel my heart strings tugged by what I've already found and collected in the day's search through book piles and what has just been uncovered.

    Here's the thing though, I'll be the devil's advocate here, don't leave those books behind! Who knows when/if you'll ever come across them again. If they're a real Holy Grail book they're going to be something you're going to appreciate for a long time, sometimes that joy is worth anything!

    This is why you should not consider a Holy Grail book part of your entire budget. While you can (and probably should) return books to the shelves that you can easily find another time, to make the price more manageable you should set up a different pricing and allowance system for the Holy Grail books. (I have a treat yourself fund that I calculate from my checking account, and take money from there, providing myself with one nice thing for myself once a month.)

    Here are some Holy Grail Regulation tips for those of you who, like me, can't say no

  1. If you're like me, recognize where you usually uncover your Holy Grails and go there first. Get it out of the way, that way you won't feel guilty returning other books you've found to their stacks. (And you can adjust that budget we talked about!!)
  2. If you haven't already, check the editions print date and search it's title and year online and see what it's going for regularly. More likely than not, the book in person will come out to much less than it's being sold for online, but it's always good to check. It's also good to see if it's not as rare as you thought it was!
  3. Look at EVERYTHING. This may seem counter intuitive, but a lot of times when I'm in an antique book section, I'll pull out a couple of things, and then after seeing everything the section has to offer in front of me I'll realize only one of the books is really extraordinary. And put the rest back.

Keeping a List

    Between Book Hauls you should always be keeping a list of books you want to get to at some point but don't yet have. Delete and edit the list as time goes by and keep updated on how the books in your list are doing as far as reviews go. If your favorite reviewers don't like a book you might want to re-evaluate if you want to be on the lookout for it.

    While searching shelves or webstores aimlessly can be fun and bring you new things you've never seen before, it's always good to have some finds that you're almost guaranteed to enjoy because you've researched them and have been excited about them for a while.

    Create your list however you want, leave notes for each book, rate them in desirability, whatever makes sense to you. Making the list, for me, just helps me keep organized and also let's me know if I have blind spots in my reading list. Am I reading from mostly male authors? How diverse are the protagonists am I reading? Is a lot of my non-fiction readings America-centric? Things like that are really important, Book Hauls should make you a better reader and open up a new doors for you.

Fielding Suggestions

     Sometimes you find yourself with no real aim and you need a hand. If you don't have a list of books you've already been eyeing and updating yourself on or are feeling overwhelmed. Most of the time I resort to asking Facebook with a status if I find myself unarmed and unready to face a single bookshelf. A lot of the time if I look for books people suggest to me I find that they aren't book they think I'd like, they're book they liked.

    This is a two faced coin, on the one hand it's another form of exposure to books I wouldn't have looked for or seeked out, on the other hand I can end up with a list of things I have zero interest in. So when you ask for help, ask people who know you or who are really into something in particular you'd like to get into. So that's something you need to be acutely aware of, don't only look at the book but think of the person suggesting it. If this person ingests a lot of high fantasy and suggests a fantasy book you might want to listen, even if it isn't your thing, even make note of it for later. If someone suggests a book to you and you haven't talked to them in five years and know them only by their instagram handle, maybe ignore them. 

    But you know who your biggest ally is going to be? Your bookseller! No one who is selling books hates books, and if they do, you're in the wrong place and you need to RUN. But I trust you would never end up in one of those places, so ask a bookseller who is hanging around a section you're interested in (chances are they'll know something about the section!) or someone else who works there. When they ask what you're looking for it's like a haircut, you can give them free range but you'll more likely come to better results if you let them know what you're about. Tell them a couple of themes you like, maybe mention a book your read recently or a long-time favorite author. Don't give them a life story but give them a couple of specific markers about your own reading tastes and they'll be able to help you narrow down some choices or maybe give you a specific recommendation! Don't forget to ask if they've read any of the books they've suggested and ask what they're favorite part was about it. A personal recommendation is always great, and it's also great to see someone else enthuse about a book, it's pretty contagious!

Getting the Fuck Outta There

    You've hit your budget, you've found your Holy Grail, it's time to hit checkout! At this point you should love everything you have in your hand, you shouldn't be longing for anything else. If you aren't happy with your stack start returning stuff and trading it for something that does get you excited.

    So let's pay up, head out, and enjoy what you found. How you choose to proceed through your stack is up to you. 


For those keeping up at home

Last Book Haul: April

Location: Half Price Books, Niles, IL

Finds: Swing Time by Zadie Smith (Paperback 2016), Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur (Paperback 2015), Strong Hearts by George W. Cable (Bound 1899 edition), All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (Hardback 2014), and ER Season 8 (we can't all have great, god-like taste)

Budget: $60

Actual Price: ~ $45.00 (lost the receipt!)

And So We Jump

    Now, all we have is each other. And I mean that.

    The time to practice our trust falls has long been over. Now it's time to jump and catch each other.

    Volunteer at your local organizations, or larger ones, that you believe in whole heartedly. Set up monthly donations, no matter how small, to give non-profits a constant flow of support. Speak out, always, if you see something wrong SAY SOMETHING, CALL SOMEONE. Support your local artists of all mediums so that they can continue to reach others and perhaps remind us all that we're capable of something true and beautiful when we help one another. Artists, please keep sharing your art. Continue to read, share what you've learned. Support you local NPR and Public Radio Stations. If you pray, then fucking hell, pray and work to make those prayers a reality. Donate food, donate clothing, skill share, one a person to person level or through organizations you trust. Support local businesses, especially those own and operated by the communities that are hurting the most. Support and create safe spaces. Take care of yourself in the ways that you need to, be thoughtful, invite others to join you. Go to community meetings, go to your national forests and enjoy them for a weekend, go to beach cleanups. If someone reaches out their hand, if someone is a afraid, reach back and comfort them, if you need to, enlist help. Update your speed dial and memorize phone numbers. Sign a petition, start one if you don't see the one you need, call your local government, your slightly bigger government, don't let them forget that someones always ready to tell them to do their job to protect everyone who lives here.

    Never miss a chance to listen, to be compassionate, and to fight with teeth bared for those who need it the most.

    We've all seen people and problems swept under the rug, we've all turned our backs on something at least once in our lives, now is the time to break those habits. We should never try to hurt one another, we should never excuse hurt. Together we need to stop creating, perpetuating, and allowing hurt and start healing and standing in the way of injustice. 


I will be at the Chicago Women's March tomorrow, join sister marches across the country, make some art for them, and stand with justice.

Best Albums of 2016

2016 was a shit year, but at least there was some great music.

5. Goodness by the Hotelier

The Hotelier took two years to release their third album, after the electrical Home, Like Noplace Is There, the band bursts forward with a certain lightness that brings new breath into the discography. The writing remains also celestial and dreamy in quality, while the melodies remain anchors for the images creating unexpected hooks. A great compliment to the Hotelier's previous releases.

Listen to track 10, Sun Get it Here




4. Camp Cope by Camp Cope

What can I say about Camp Cope besides that they are absolute heart breakers and fixers. They have a habit of ripping you up and sewing you back together again in a single song. Grim and beautiful, you just have to listen to fully understand the weight this album carries. So, get on it!

Listen to track 1, Done | Get it Here



3. Lost Time by Tacocat

Lost Time does exactly what you expect from Tacocat and then some. Tacocat fills the room with pop culture fun, stories of growing up, good humored teasing, and picks a fight with the first day of a period. The music and vocal stylings of this album celebrate the large range of possibilities Tacocat is capable of and lets their fearlessness in experimentation and discovery shine through, refusing to make an album with a predictable and safe track listing. A little less surf rock guitar and a little more bouncing and distortion, Lost Time is possibly even catchier than NVM and just as essential in any music collection.

Listen to track 5, You Can't Fire Me, I Quit | Get it Here

2. Shine a Light by Billy Bragg and Joe Henry

The mythology of folk music is rich and still going strong as shown by this truly wonderful set of songs chosen by Billy Bragg and Joe Henry. Each song not only celebrates the almost mystical use of trains in music but also the live recording process as each song was recorded in train stations across the USA. Both Bragg and Henry take turns leading songs and giving one another harmonies that portray an array of emotions. The record is human in it's ernest production, delivery, and thoughtfulness. Whether you're a dedicated follower of the folk genre, a traveler, both, or neither, you need this album in your collection. Play in a large room, open the windows, and enjoy.

Listen to track 4, Railroad Bill | Get it Here

1. Blisters in the Pit of My Heart by Martha

If you're not familiar with Martha, now is the time. With six EPs and 1 full length already under their belt Blisters builds upon an amazing collection of songs in ways a fan could only dream. Catchy, clever, well rounded, and above all honest, Martha absolutely kills it with an even mix of female and male vocals, heart break and joy, and good humor over all. I can't say enough about this record, it just gets better and better every time I listen to it.

Listen to track 5, Goldman's Detective Agency | Get it Here

Honorable Mentions

   Tired Eyes  by Cayetana   One of my all time favorite bands, this EP made me so excited to see what comes next for a mercilessly cool and punchy three piece (as if I wasn't on the edge of my seat already). You'll fall in love with the way the music weaves and thumps and charms all in earshot.  Next month they're releasing a split with Camp Cope which I have already preorder, as should you . They also did an audio tree recording this year, but I was trying to keep EPs off the list, so an honorable mention will have to do it for this one.

Tired Eyes by Cayetana

One of my all time favorite bands, this EP made me so excited to see what comes next for a mercilessly cool and punchy three piece (as if I wasn't on the edge of my seat already). You'll fall in love with the way the music weaves and thumps and charms all in earshot. Next month they're releasing a split with Camp Cope which I have already preorder, as should you. They also did an audio tree recording this year, but I was trying to keep EPs off the list, so an honorable mention will have to do it for this one.

  Winter Classic   / Boss Fight Split   Since this is my partner's former band, and our roommate's/friends' band, I didn't think it was fair to put in in my top five, though I do love this album. Both bands kill it and are selling the splits on their bandcamps and at shows, which you should totally go to, on 10" vinyl.  (My partner also designed and illustrated this one!)

Winter Classic / Boss Fight Split

Since this is my partner's former band, and our roommate's/friends' band, I didn't think it was fair to put in in my top five, though I do love this album. Both bands kill it and are selling the splits on their bandcamps and at shows, which you should totally go to, on 10" vinyl. (My partner also designed and illustrated this one!)

   The Things I Never Say  by I'm Glad It's You   One of my favorite bands from Redding, California. They stole my heart with their first EP,  June , this is their first full length.

The Things I Never Say by I'm Glad It's You

One of my favorite bands from Redding, California. They stole my heart with their first EP, June, this is their first full length.

What were your favorite albums of the year? I've noticed Chance the Rapper on a lot of lists this year end (and I have to agree, it's a really wonderful album) and Angel Olsen (Much to be desired in my opinion), but what else have you seen celebrated that you agree or disagree with? 

Oakland Fire

If you've been listening to the news in the U.S.A. you've probably heard about the Oakland fire at Ghost Ship. I never went to Ghost Ship, I didn't know any of the victims personally, but I know Oakland artists and I love Oakland artists.

I remember going through the entire bay area on open studio days with my parents since I could walk properly. I remember visiting my teachers' galleries. I remember on Arts Walks walking in the street with my friends hoping from gallery to gallery meeting and gushing over the arts we saw with little paper cups of cheap wine. I remember going to the annual holiday fair at CCA... All these wonderful things. Losing another place for this, for the arts and those who need safe spaces the most, hurts. There's no other way to put it, it fucking stings.

I can't imagine what the bay would be like without my favorite haunts, Bottom of the Hill, The Hive, Rickshaw, Kala, Grease Diner, and historical spots like Gilman. I'm thankful those spots will still be there for me to enjoy when I get home. I'm thankful my friends are safe. I'm thankful for the bay area for the candle light vigil that lit up all of Lake Merritt.

But my heart still breaks for those we lost. Those who make Oakland what it is.

So, in this time please visit and support your local artists. Let them know their value, protect the spaces they need, and, if you have some extra money, consider donating to Oakland's victims. 

Until then, we heal, we mourn, and we keep creating.

Looking Like...

Do you ever wake up and look at yourself and just feel confused?

Like, you're looking at your messy hair, those bags under your eyes that should be there after eight solid hours of sleep, and your job or lack one or classes or whatever, and just say, "this wasn't what I'd hope I'd be at this point. What I promised 13-year-old me/16-year-old me/20-year-old me/30/40/50/New Years Me/Me From Yesterday Me I would be."

 Frank Iero, of said band

Frank Iero, of said band

I've been having that a lot lately. Especially after listening to an NPR piece about my favorite band from middle school and high school (and still today, if we're being honest with one another). I was heavily bullied in middle school, a lot of people know that about me. It made me hard, it made me mean, but, wouldn't you be too after being told to kill yourself on the regular constantly? And this was over a band. But when I would come home, put my headphones on, and do whatever it was the 12-14-year-old me would do, I'd think about how I'd look years from now. And I do mean "look," doing as well, but I was really stacked on the looking part. I really lacked confidence, I didn't think I looked quite right or cool enough, even to fit in with the "misfits" I akinned myself to. I wanted to fully express what I felt and knew in a visual way. I was really into art, so I made lots of art to express in that way, visually, so naturally I wanted to be just like my art. I wanted a visual recognition of myself.

 Kat Von D, the platonic heart throb of my teenage years

Kat Von D, the platonic heart throb of my teenage years

On TV I worshipped the looks of people like Kat Von D and Audrey Kitching, I found myself jealous of all the art the bands I loved could wear so proudly, I swooned over the theatrics of the make up and hair that the 20-plusers had at the shows I would go to. To me, all these people were fearless creatives. I wanted, strongly, to be part of that pack. I wanted to wear hair like that club, I wanted to have the art like that club, to some extent I wanted to be part of the history and tapestry of "the scene."

In high school I started dying my hair myself and dreamt of being a tattoo artist. When I was 19 I started collecting piercings and shaved half my head. In college I dyed people's hair on late nights and lurked around the windows of my local tattoo shops, discovered eyeliner, and finally succeeded in having a completely black closet. Now I still dye my hair, I cut it myself in the sink, I still don't entirely know how makeup works, and I don't have a single collared shirt because I've cut all of them to bits. But still, when I go out to shows, or walk down the street, or just go through instagram or tumblr, I think "gosh, I still don't feel quite right."

There are lots of things I really wanted when I was younger, and there are a lot of things, physically, I still want. I always wanted tons of tattoos. Piles of them. I thought, and still think, that they are one of the greatest artistic inventions of humankind. But my mother is adamantly against them, I mean has told me she'd think I would be ugly with them, disown me, etc. You know, the standard emotional black mail you go through with a child and their new fangled whatcha-ma-call-its. Of course she would never disown me, but still the idea of her gagging at the sight of me gives me great pause and adds so much unwanted anxiety attached to something I find so beautiful, and negativity that I just can't emotionally handle.

 Grace Neutral, tattoo artists who hosts Alternative Beauty on I-D

Grace Neutral, tattoo artists who hosts Alternative Beauty on I-D

I definitely thought my hair situation would get better, and it hasn't. Which I've discovered is a pretty universal feeling. (Seriously, name one person who loves their hair at level of 80% unconditional love. Just one.) My hair is fine, and even thought there's a lot of it, it always seems to fall flat but also manage to curl at the perfect angle to hit my eyes and mouth. On top of that I had to deal with the unforeseen issue of growing out a partially shave head, which left me with a mullet for a solid 5ish years, no matter what hairstylist I enlisted to help.

I have most of the piercings I want, my septum the most coveted of the six I have. But I still get jealous of ears stretched with tear drop stones, and those who have high enough pain tolerance to pierce every part of their ear. I still want to pierce both nostrils, but there's only so much I can put my mother and father through, who surprisingly only put up real a fuss before piercings and mercifully leave me be by the end of the ordeal.

 Me, age 13, 2006

Me, age 13, 2006

I still live almost exclusively in cut up band shirts but I'm never happy with my jeans and still want to cry a little when forking over the cash for them after having my butt put under mirror scrutiny. I do have a colorful Doc history (just like the punks of the 70's/80's I'd google image search in the dead of night at 12), and for the most part I only buy what I really love now a-days. And I still only wear two pieces of make up regularly that work for me. However, I've forgotten how to be fearless and wear red lipstick and I'm wondering if tweezing my brows is cutting it anymore. 

And for the record this isn't an emotional "Surprise! I'm Ugly!" styled pity party. I actually think I'm pretty alright, to be honest. It took me a really long while but I do love the me I wake up with. I'm just wondering why I still have this disconnect where I feel like I don't look like myself in regards to the things that can change and relate to a certain vision or aesthetic I'm endeared to and want to convey. I.e. my hair, my lack of tattoos, the fact that I never actually look my age due to something I'm convinced is my unwillingness to part with winged eyeliner.

 Me, age 22, 2015, looking quite like myself, I think

Me, age 22, 2015, looking quite like myself, I think

I'm getting closer to waking up and getting showered and dressed and looking at myself and feeling right.  As I cut my hair in the sink and section of pieces of hair for my partner to bleach, I can feel it. I can feel I'm getting closer to really looking the way I want to look, but sometimes it's frustrating. I just want to be there now. But I'm trying to get used to being patient, and adjusting, and insuring that when I do try out a new lipstick, it looks like who I see myself as, and it affirms me. And that feels really good. 

Is there anything you're changing about yourself that makes you feel more like you? Leave it in the comments.


When I was 14 my history teacher freshman year told me on my first day to always carry a bandana in case of a revolution. Incase the cops threw tear gas and some one needed to run out and throw it back. To use to cover my nose and protect my lungs or wrap my hand so that if it was hot I wouldn't get burned. Incase I needed to signal for assistance or to warn others. Incase I had to cover my face in front of media or help someone cover theirs.  Incase I got hurt or someone else did and we needed something to keep the pressure and bandage. So I kept one.

It was always in my bag. Waiting.

I'm generally not one for politics. I was raised in a liberal bubble where my history class sophomore year of high school was titled Anarchy & Socialism. I was not really built for the political climate America fosters, or really, once I think about it, what most any country's population deals with. That's just a fact.

But, even though the system, as it currently exists, isn't something I'm 100% behind, I always have prided myself in my willingness to slosh through all the mud, get my research together, and vote for what I feel is morally right. I'm sure a lot of Americans feel this same way.

We look at our two party system, a good portion of us kind of sigh, and then we make the most educated vote we possibly can. Or, at least that's what I've always put my hope on. Clearly, this election was a totally different animal altogether. I saw people completely burned out on it before April hit, and I saw even more folks arguing with each other over a system that is just not wiggling enough to allow real change in the way our government stands.

 NPR Live 2016 Election Coverage: Watch Paint Dry

NPR Live 2016 Election Coverage: Watch Paint Dry

But at the same time, I've never seen politics as a "lesser of two evils" situation, especially this year. Generally I try to keep evil out of my politics, I find most American politicians aren't evil, they're just politicians. Inherently this means they have big mouths and even bigger aspirations. So I chose the one who's yelling aligns the most with my own (because realistically, you'll never find a politician running in our two party system who thinks exactly as you do). This year, however, I found a very thick and obvious line between "evil" and "a politician."

So, I cast my vote against the person who was threatening the lives of refugees and immigrants, who threatened the value of the lives of POC, the health of women, the LGBT*QIA community, and differently abled folks. That's an easy choice, recognizing evil and voting for the person who has the absolute best chance of squelching it. Admittedly that's not the same way I vote in my local elections or even how I vote in the primaries, but like I said, it's a two party system, you can smell the evil a mile away on this one.

But heres the thing... Many didn't. We have tons of people who think they made an informed vote for themselves and the country and while some people, I have no doubt, were happy to hurt all the communities that weren't white, cis, heterosexual men, I have a good inkling that many didn't think it would hurt their friends who are part of those communities. They made a choice to ignore the needs of all the people in the USA, or hoping for a better life in the USA, who needed the votes for their safety the most. And that's the sad part for me.

 Infographic from  The Washington Post

Infographic from The Washington Post

I'm not surprised our country is this racist, this sexist, this ableist, this trans* and homophobic, etc. I'm not. It's just not something I'm shocked by anymore. It hurts just as much though, every time it's affirmed. When I woke up the next day I definitely told myself not enough people went out to vote thanks to the media circus that was all too ready to distract from the actual process of voting after an opinion is formed. But then I looked at the breakdown of voters. White women, like myself, were not on the same side of that very thick line as me. They aligned themselves against themselves in order to stand with a a figure that represents everything most women have grown to fear. A man who up until a couple of weeks ago was set to be tried for rape and who proudly bragged about sexually harassing and molesting women. Why would they stand with him? Why would they align themselves against women, and more violently against their fellow women in the trans*, POC, and other diverse communities? Why would they choose a frightening -- no horrifying -- white man over their fellow women?

Maybe that's a larger conversation on survival of women, how a underlying fear of powerful men makes us side with them in hopes we might not get hurt that day. Makes us "other" the women who don't look or identify exactly like us. That thought really scares me. That I didn't expect at all. I thought woman were going to stand together on this one, and they didn't. Breaking up and othering is something we can't afford as women today, tomorrow or ever. We cannot be devaluing each other and ourselves like this, and yet... Here we are.

I've been doing a lot of processing in these weeks. I run a activist driven space on The Compost, I moderate a group on facebook. I bring extra bandanas and vinegar and water to protests just like my history teacher taught me. But when I go under my sheets in my safe and warm apartment, I still have to question everything I've done, if I've done enough, or what doing enough really is. I wonder why my home state still hasn't outright outlawed the death penalty even though everyone I know voted to do away with it. I listen to my partner and roommate grapple with the idea of a lock box in a state that's spent more than a year without a budget...

But my bandana is always in my bag, and I hope you have yours in there too, next to your wallet or pepper spray or favorite book. Keep it as an insurance policy and if you see someone without, make sure to have an extra, because while many things don't make sense right now, it does make sense to stick together.

Find me, and I've got you.

I am Grieving, But I'm Okay

So, a dear friend of mine passed away a few days ago now.

I don’t really know what to say or how to deal with it. When I found out I cried and cried, I felt atrocious knowing that we kept missing each other and that we were both so busy and weren’t able to connect in the way we did when we would get to see each a few times of week because we were closer to one another physically. (Classes at the same time, closer to connecting public transit, etc.)

But I haven’t cried since, and I’ve felt great in the past couple of days too. And that’s a really foreign feeling. Sometimes I forget that she’s just not here in the capacity I want her in. In some way the not being physically and debilitatingly sad feels good. When my grandfather I seriously considered self harming again (which few people know about because generally I would throw myself against things to create bruises that I would push and push and push, or find bruises I got from genuine accidents and push), I became heavy with guilt, I would cry all the time, stare out into space and be aloof, and my confidence went down a lot while my anxiety went up ten fold, etc. It was genuinely traumatizing. I still have nightmares about my grandfather dying, and I still get that phantom limb like feeling. 

 A picture of me and Danielle in Boystown with a friend of hers. We danced all night together and then ate hash browns. She was always more photogenic than I was.

A picture of me and Danielle in Boystown with a friend of hers. We danced all night together and then ate hash browns. She was always more photogenic than I was.

So, this is a very different experience, and while I’m glad I’m not back in that dark place, I still feel guilty for having fun, even though D was the most fun loving, jubilant, and lively person I knew. S and I went to an amazing show the night we found out after discussing it I could emotionally handle it and I said “D would have gone.” So we went, and I had the best time, laughing, and singing, and making friends. I had a whiskey sour in commemoration of D (a drink we both got by accident once and laughed about for hours) and the next morning we go hash browns (something D and I got after clubbing and what we rewarded one another with when we followed through on something). And I enjoyed them. I didn’t cry, and that felt… Wrong, you know? Here I was, enjoying life to it’s fullest, exactly what D always did, and what she always helped me do, and I felt guilty. Maybe not in the moment but after. 

I kept asking myself, was I thinking about her enough? Is it awful that I afraid of talking to her parents at the visitation? That I’m stressed about what to wear? Am I being selfish and not trulyappreciating D’s impact on so many lives in this time of death and in her life?

I know that this is not the case. Unfortunately I went through death before in an extremely painful way, I’ve learned how to deal with the anxiety, the stress, and how to keep living and enjoying, because I made the mistakes of not doing so already. I know I am a compassionate, emotionally driven, and deeply feeling person, and perhaps my absence of destructive grief is just something I’m not used to/didn’t expect. I’m high strung by nature, so this calmness I feel, this sureness that I will be okay is not what I know how to approach. 

But, I think something that makes this calmness and sureness and healthy sadness and joy possible is the support system I have now. When my grandfather died the only support I had was from one friend and my family (in fact the person I considered my best friend at the time was verbally abusive and mean and used her parents to shame me for my grief and my personality change). But with the death of D, I have my partner, the dear, dear friend we both shared who grieves with me (even though she’s miles away), and my family. The support I feel is through the roof. I feel safe, I am safe.

After writing that, I feel better, actually. Because it makes sense, this is probably why I’m handling it the way I am. Because I love my friend, even in her death, and I am immensely loved, and it reaffirms my love for her and vise versa, which I could never forget and never regret. That love that’s surrounding me now, in all different capacities, even seeing love left on her facebook page, is wonderful. And warm. And it’s helping my cope in ways I haven’t realized until just this second.

I’m visiting Ireland in the fall for 23 hours on my way to Italy to be with parts of my family I love and miss and fear of losing. D was half Irish and very exuberant about her culture from there, and I want to do something there for her. I want to speak to her family and tell them, ask if there’s anything I can do or take with me, if it would provide relief for them, but how do you ask that? People have taken my grandfather’s ashes all over the world, we give out tiny vials people hide in their pockets and in stowed away luggage just so he can be everywhere and see everything. But that’s what we do. Not what we are offered, we ask people to do it for us and all happily oblige, excited to be a part of his life in another way. I’m not sure how to ask to do something like that for someone. Not the ashes bit, but the in memoriam bit.

But now I’m realizing, just going there and thinking of her is giving love. I want to give her family the love and support D always gave me. And isn’t that what she would want most, what we all want most when we’re gone? For the people we love to love each other and continue to love outside and inside of ourselves?

Finding the Beginning, Middles, and Ends.

They always say the start is the easiest. It's safe, we all know how things begin, and we can revisit them over, and over, and over. That's what we always say in the writing world. Of course some people say they know the end or that they have some of the critical events along the way lined up, but, most of us? We have no idea.

I feel like I've been looking at a lot of ends lately, and, in turn, trying to go back to my beginnings. I refuse to throw out old shirts with holes, instead clutching them close, same with the socks that can't be sewn up another time. I organize and re organize letters from the past four years, laughing and smiling as if I were seeing them for the first time. But then my day actually starts and I have to face where I really am. At the end of that middle expanse that I swim through, and experience daily, but never take the time to reflect on. "It's still too close," I tell myself.

The truth is I like that middle part just as much as I like the beginning. But beginnings? they're definite. They're marked in read ink that I can trace from my bed to the storage unit in my mind. The middle is harder to place, which is funny, since we live most of our lives part way through the marathon than at the end or the starting line. And that middle is filled with tiny beginnings and tiny ends that are swallowed up by time and remade time and time again. Miss marked here and there (many times where I've said "this is where it all turns around" when, honestly, it really hasn't).

"Aye, there's the rub" though. The rub of the middle is that it doesn't stop and that while you're swimming through it you have to process it instantly. The beginning and the end don't rub your skin raw, dear Hamlet, it's all the stuff whizzing by and with you in the middle.

Before we know it the jaws of the end, or the gates, however you see it, is staring us in the face. Now what? Do we tip our hats and say, "thanks for that, onto the next" or do we sit for a second with the beast, in the garden we've just run through? Looking back on all that's grown? What is we become one of those people who never looks forward, too busy looking back? Or someone who never looks back, too busy looking where they're headed? Ends make you yearn for that beginning feeling, while beginnings make you hope for the end, because with ever exhale we require an inhale and vise versa.

Yes, no story is complete without a beginning, middle, and end. Missing any part takes away the satisfaction of the experiences, don't you think? But that doesn't tell us how to deal with them, it's just a little inkling of a promise. So, here's my proposition. We keep going and we keep sharing every experience. Sure keep some things a secret, little things, and yes, stop and smell the roses or watch a snail crawl for a moment, but don't stop the story by trying to rewind. The right starts and stops are going to find you, because that's just how things work.

And at the end, take that deep exhale you've been waiting for. Enjoy the healthy deflate of your lungs and get ready to take that next inhale with some gusto. Count, one, two, three, and look. There it is.

Writing for High Schoolers

A week ago I did my first reading since April. To high school students. Ten of them.

For my last year in college I decided to take a class focusing on writing for young adults (YA), where the final project would be a manuscript for a novel. “Great,” I thought as I signed up, “I have a story, I have to take another writing class. Two birds, one stone.”  I ended this semester with the required four chapters, but I certainly did not consider that an adequate amount to conduct a reading. Even if I only had the time to read two pages.

If I’m being honest, I don’t mind teenagers. I suppose I wouldn’t write for young adults if I disliked them. Such, apparently, not the case for my classmates after finding out that we were scheduled to read to high school students.

You know that scene from Godzilla? You know, the one with all the extras are running down the street screaming and carrying on? It was a lot like that. They shrieked, “They’re coming here? Where we work?”

I get the fear. High school students become suddenly foreign entities after you graduate. So much changes in just a year once you exit grade school, and there’s no real explanation for it. Sure theirs the full-frontal lobe development, but blaming everything on that, I feel, is a cheap shot. It doesn’t account for the awkward feeling of being face to face with someone who may only be five years younger than you, but looks like nothing you regularly encounter anymore as a “new” adult. Certainly it’s strange, and perhaps unsettling, but it’s easy enough to deal with. It’s like getting in a hot tub, it may burn at first, but give yourself a minute and you adjust accordingly.

What made me nervous, however, was the fact that even though I was writing specifically for their age group, that I did the research, that I looked at what I was writing in journals at that age that what I was writing now, at twenty-two, wouldn’t connect to them, and because of that, the worst possible outcome would occur: They wouldn’t like it.

I wasn’t writing what I see most successful YA novelists writing about. No extra-ordinary, almost dream like events, no poignant traumas, no first love, and absolutely nothing supernatural in any sense of the word. I was writing about a girl in her late teens exploring music, finding strong female friendships, and immersing herself into a thriving community that she becomes an integral part of.

Not so action packed, much more internally based. I had people in my class writing high fantasy and sci-fi, magical realism, about cults and psychics, and creating high-stakes historical fiction. Comparatively, I was worried my novel would fall flat for them.

But, low and behold, they reacted well, with excitement and enthusiasm that I could only dream of getting as an author. The vise principal, who was silent through all the readings even ventured to ask what happened next.

After the readings my class and I were allowed to ask them questions, so I asked them about the content they were looking for. While some called for more about mental illnesses others requested plots related to current events and movements like Black Lives Matter, another talked about empowerment for women, and some requested more about friendship and dystopian narratives. All came together to agree on one thing though, that the character needed to have a voice they could relate to. Luckily they could relate and connect to mine. And that’s what YA should do. Sherman Alexie once wrote, “I write books for teenagers because I vividly remember what it felt like to be a teen facing everyday and epic dangers. I don’t write to protect them. It’s far too late for that. I write to give them weapons–in the form of words and ideas-that will help them fight their monsters. I write in blood because I remember what it felt like to bleed.” 

That is what I aspire to, and now, more than ever I’m ready to bleed for these kids. And I’m not afraid to.