So! In relatively recent news, I’m a hockey fan now.
It all started a few years ago when I started writing the book that’s coming out with Harmony Ink Press this December. The book is a companion to Here’s to You, Zeb Pike, and NO, YOU CANNOT KNOW THE TITLE OR SEE THE COVER YET. But both are coming very soon—I absolutely promise. There are special announcement plans and possibly even fireworks involved. Get excited.
Anyway, this book is told from Emmitt’s point of view, and it takes place a few months after he and Dusty first meet. As you might have guessed, there is a LOT Of hockey in it. I’ve always liked hockey; I grew up in northern Vermont, where it’s practically illegal not to. Even so, I was certainly never an avid hockey fan. Like many Americans, I tended to give my best support to the sport in June. I was the quintessential Easter-and-Christmas person of hockey supporters.
Then this book came…and this book required that I watch hours and hours of hockey. Know the history of the sport, the culture of the sport, the rules of the sport. And because Emmitt is gay, this book also required that I research and fully understand the NHL’s relationship with the LGBTQ community.
For better or worse, two important things came out of me writing this book. One: I am now an Avs fan for life, even in sad years like this when we collapse tremendously in the last few games of the season. (It’s okay, Dutchy. I still love you.) Two: I understand why what Andrew Shaw said the other night mattered so much.
In case you missed it—or in case you’re also an Easter-and-Christmas hockey person—the other night the Chicago Blackhawks played the St. Louis Blues. It’s the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and the Hawks have not always looked their best in this series. In this particular game, star player Andew Shaw—who up until this incident has always reminded me of a delightful puppy who happens to have tremendous stickhandling abilities—lost his cool. Not only did he flip off a ref, he also yelled a decidedly homophobic slur at the guy. I’m sure you can guess which slur.
And the cameras caught it.
Shaw’s apology later on was contrite and repentant. He said this wasn’t him, and he expressed regret multiple times to the entire gay and lesbian community. He said that after watching the video of himself he was horrified.
Either the guy’s an amazing actor, or he’s legitimately sorry. And I’m choosing to believe the latter.
I was proud of Shaw for apologizing. It’s never easy to stand up and admit when you’ve said something hurtful. He could have taken a path of denial or excuses, and he didn’t. That takes guts.
Because I was proud of Shaw, I read several articles covering his speech. Then I read the comments on the articles, and I sort of wanted to throw up.
This, people, is why you never read the comments.
Let’s set aside the Chicago fans who are clearly just upset one of their stars was suspended for a game. Multiple comments referenced how overly sensitive this world has become and how being politically correct is something horrible that we should all avoid. Free speech, several people shouted. He should be able to say whatever he wants! Sticks and stones and all that.
A common thread throughout several of the comments was this: They’re just words. Why does everyone care?
Writing a book about a gay teenager who desperately wants to play professional hockey had already answered that question for me.
Here’s the thing: despite things like the You Can Play project, which has its roots in the NHL and shares the important message that all people—regardless of sexual orientation—are welcome in pro leagues like the NHL, there are no current or former NHL players who have ever come out. Not one. Consider the math on that. Consider the hundreds of people who, statistically speaking, have likely spent years of their entire lives in the closet as they worked their way through the NHL and even after they retired.
I refuse to believe that’s some kind of accident. I do believe that the culture in the NHL is shifting to one of greater acceptance for all people…and that’s wonderful. That’s exactly what the NHL and this world needs.
You know what doesn’t breed acceptance? You know what doesn’t make teenage kids who play hockey or NHL players feel like they can come out to their teams? Professional athletes hurling homophobic slurs rooted in a deep history of vile hate and violence. Words matter. They send messages. They equally breed acceptance and discord.
What Andrew Shaw said on the ice the other night was another sad reminder that the NHL still has a long way to go before it can be the accepting place people like the fictional Emmitt LaPoint so desperately need it to be. But Andew Shaw’s apology was also a reminder that we as a society have come a long way, and so has the NHL.
Andrew Shaw, wherever you are, thanks for standing up and doing the right thing. And for those of you who don’t understand why it was the right thing, do some research. I’d highly recommend the site OutSports; that’s where I did much of my research. This world isn’t getting any smaller, and staying closed-minded toward others’ feelings because you don’t like “political correctness” isn’t going to get you very far in the global community we live in now.
And go Avs. Next year, of course. For now I’ll just have to cheer on whoever Minnesota’s playing
David Bowie died, and I’ve already found a way to make it all about me.
This will surprise no one who has ever met me. Or any other human, probably. We’re inherently good at taking things that are not about us and making them all about us. I consistently manage to bring this skill to new levels.
Anyway, David Bowie died, and I was immediately all I will never change anything or affect anyone the way that man has. And truthfully, I probably never will. The amount of creative work he produced in his life lifetime is astronomical. I watch way too much TV to even come close to accomplishing what he did. (And no way am I about to give up Top Chef, dudes.)
Today was also the day that the American Library Association announced a host of book awards, and all kinds of authors that I tremendously respect and am inspired by were on the list, and I haven't even written much to speak of recently (well, there was that one grocery list), and then I was all everyone is doing all these great things and David Bowie did ALL the amazing things and I am not accomplishing anything because I try to do too much and THAT IS BAD.
This is a serious concern I’ve recently developed: that I am involved in too many things instead of focusing on one pursuit, and therefore I will never achieve as much as I could if I just did the same thing all day long.
I’ve also recently discovered that I am probably what Elizabeth Gilbert would call a hummingbird. Gilbert wrote Eat, Pray, Love (which I’ve never read, but I hear good things), and Big Magic (which I’m kind of obsessed with right now and reading super slowly so I can savor every word). Gilbert argues there are two kinds of people in the world: jackhammers, who are obsessive in their passionate quest of one pursuit, and hummingbirds, who flit from pursuit to pursuit based on curiosity and interest.
I’m a flitter. There was a time when I might not have been able to recognize that in myself, because once I flit to something I tend to jackhammer it right into the ground. But I like a lot of things, and I want to try a lot of things, and I tend to move back and forth between them all. I have multiple careers because I can’t seem to give up either teaching or writing, and I also like to write curriculum so I’m always trying to do that on the side, and I like skiing but I’m not about to give up running except when I decide to do yoga for a few weeks in a row. I even do this flitting thing within my writing. I move back and forth between manuscripts and projects, jackhammering at them periodically and then moving on to something else. I meet deadlines because I know do know how to jackhammer things when I have to. But I’ve never been good at picking one direct pursuit and just hammering at that for years on end.
So this morning I was thinking about how David Bowie must have been a jackhammer who just made things happen and worked and worked and worked at music, and I was bemoaning that I will probably never be like that…only then I remembered more about Bowie. He was a lot of things. He was a movie star and a cultural icon and within his music he played with genres and moved around in his various pursuits of artistry. Maybe David Bowie was a hummingbird after all. Gilbert argues that the power of the hummingbird is in our ability to weave ideas in and out of different fields and different passions—spread the pollen, you know? If anyone knew how to spread ideas between sects of humanity and different creative endeavors, it was David Bowie.
I don’t need to be the next David Bowie, but I do need to remember that there is value in my hummingbird instincts. Sure, I might never accomplish as much as some of the jackhammers of the world, but I genuinely love all the different ways I spend my days, and I love that all the ideas and passions I have travel with me wherever I go.
RIP, David Bowie. Thanks for all the marks you left across this world.
A long time ago I went to a talk given by the phenomenal YA author Gordan Korman, and he said something I’ve never forgotten. He said that when he’s coming up with an idea for a novel, he tries to ask himself a “what if” question. As in, “What if a mobster’s son fell in love with the daughter of an FBI agent?” (That’s the premise for his novel Son of the Mob, in case you’ve never read it. And if you haven’t, you should. Stat. As well as everything else Korman’s ever written.)
So I play with that question a lot in my head when I’m coming up with story ideas. Recently I was playing around with it in my head as I was going through my Facebook and Twitter feeds, catching up on what I’ve missed while Hubs and I were on vacation this weekend attempting to ignore the world. (Don’t worry—I’m sure I’ll find a way to work pictures into this blog.)
Anyhoo, I was going through my social media life and playing the “What If” game, and I started to wonder…
What would happen if people were physically unable to be passive aggressive on social media?
YOU ALL KNOW WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT. Those insanely aggressive-yet-not-outwardly-so status updates and posts. We’ve all seen them from time to time. Heck, we’ve all made them from time to time. All of the examples below are made up by me, of course, because if they weren’t...well, that would make me pretty passive aggressive.
Made-Up Example #1: Ugghh!!! Why are people so annoying sometimes?
Made-Up Example #2: Just don’t understand why some ppl can’t mind their own business.
Made-Up Example #3: The world has way, way too much anger in it. (P.S. That’s TOTALLY the type of post I’m likely to put up somewhere. In case you were curious.)
Okay, to be fair, there’s plenty of outright aggressiveness also out there in social media. But still, I like the “What If” game…so I began playing, and here’s what happened. Again, this is all made up. Duh. Because it could become part of a book plot. Who knows?
So in WHAT IF PEOPLE WERE PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO BE PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE ON SOCIAL MEDIA world, here’s what happens to Made-Up Example #1.
Alexis Maryland: Uggghhhh!!! My annoying ex-best friend Jamie Louis keeps talking to my ex even though she said she was on my side!
Jamie Louis: Did you seriously just post that?
Alexis Maryland: Oh…uh…oops. I meant to just say that people are annoying.
Jamie Louis: Yeah, but you didn’t. You said that I am.
Alexis Maryland: Well, you ARE. Why were talking to Brian in the grocery store?
Jamie Louis: Because I’m an adult, and he’s the father of my godchild? What are you, twelve?
Alexis Maryland: You’re the one having this conversation on Facebook!!
Jamie Louis: Yeah, because you started it here!!
Alexis Maryland: Look, just PM me.
Jamie Louis: Why didn’t YOU just PM me?
Maggie LeBruin: Ladies, you guys are BOTH awesome. This is all just some kind of misunderstanding!! Call each other. I’m sure everything will be fine.
Jamie Louis: Maggie, thanks for trying to keep the peace. I’ll take this off of Facebook because I have some manners and Alexis doesn’t.
Alexis Maryland: Oh, real nice, Jamie.
Jamie Louis: Wait!! I wanted to say that I have some manners, unlike some other people!
Maggie LeBruin: How is that really any better, Jamie?
Jamie Louis: Because I didn’t want to say her name!!
Maggie LeBruin: Yeah, but she still knows it’s about her. Wouldn’t you have, Alexis?
Alexis Maryland: Of course I would have!!
Maggie LeBruin: Right. Just like Jamie probably would have known what you meant if you just said “People are annoying” instead of saying her name. Or she would have figured it out eventually. Or wondered if it was her.
Alexis Maryland: So what?
Maggie LeBruin: So….never mind. You guys carry on. I’ll see you both around.
Yeah. So I was going to play “What If” with the other two made-up examples as well, but frankly, I’m already exhausted.
For this record? Playing this game in my head likely won’t actually reduce my own passive-aggressiveness on social media in the future. Because, as the above exchange indicates and reminds, aggressiveness on social media can be really tiring. But this whole thought experiment sure has made me wonder about the point of social media in general. Why would I ever tell hundreds of people, some of whom I know much better than others, that “the world has too much anger in it” instead of just coming out and saying that I don’t like the way people on both sides of the Common Core Standards argument are treating each other? (Oh, don’t worry teacher friends—that blog is totally forthcoming.) And if I’m really worried about seriously peeing off people I respect and like by just directly saying that, why don’t I talk to those people directly? You know, as opposed to talking indirectly to them in front of hundreds of others?
Great. Very helpful game of “What If” there. Thanks, Gordan.
NOW, I’m off to play “What if George R.R. Martin stopped writing 50 pages before he finished the final installment of Game of Thones?”
KIDDING! JUST KIDDING!
Oh, and here’s a picture taken in the mountains above Ouray, Colorado, which is one of the places Hubs and I visited this weekend. Doesn’t this just put that entire fake social media exchange into perspective?
So, this was a tweet I posted yesterday. (Yes, I am just self-indulgent enough to blog about my own Tweeting.)
Here’s the thing: I AM ON VACATION THIS WEEK!! People, it is amazing. Five whole days of nothing to do but clean my house, think about cleaning out my closet, write, and READ.
I am woefully behind on my reading list.
So I jumped into a new book this week. And it ended up being that book. You know, that book you pick up because everybody is talking about it and everybody says it is awesome. It has some crazy-high rating on Goodreads (like way over 4), and everyone on Amazon says it’s just the best, and your friends are all reading it and they all love it.
And then IT happened.
YOU know. IT. That moment when you realize you absolutely detest the book everyone else in the world loves so very, very much.
For the record, this actually doesn’t happen to me very much. I am incredibly forgiving when it comes to books, and I can almost always find something that I connect with in a book. I have sat through the most ridiculous, over-the-top plot lines just because I loved the characters so much. I have endured horrific writing, and sometimes horrific editing, because a plot line or a theme was so intriguing. I don’t even bother to rate books on Goodreads anymore because there’s almost no point—my ratings are almost all 4s and 5s.
But every now and then, even I manage to happen upon a book that I can find nothing redeeming in. And this was one of those books. The characters were all either absurd or so annoying that I wanted nothing to do with them. The themes were so preachy I wanted to vomit. The writing wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. And the plot? I can’t even talk about it.
I was so stunned by my own reaction to these author’s words that I actually looked the book back up on Goodreads just to make sure I hadn’t somehow imagined those ratings. Nope. Still waaay over 4. And from a LOT of other people, too. No one else even touched on any of my concerns.
Okay. So there are a lot of moments in life where we find ourselves wondering: is it them or me? As such, I was forced to ponder this question. Was I somehow missing something? Had I misjudged this author’s thematic weaving? Was there something in their characters I wasn’t understanding?
Which got me thinking about my own book reviews, and the nature of the book reviewer/reader/author relationship.
As a new author, this has been tricky water for me to navigate. I have cried my eyes out at more than one horrific review for my first book. I have actually lain awake at night, terrified of the reviews that will soon be emerging for my next book, which comes out in July. I have followed the Twitter chatter discussing whether Goodreads is a place of “bullies” who attack each other out of a need to hold power over one another and destroy the self-esteem of others. I have followed the arguing chatter that Goodreads should be a place where people can speak their mind about a book, free of being accused of the incredibly serious (and I do think bullying is a serious accusation, make no mistake) crime of bullying when they write a scathing review.
In the end, reading this book was a nice reminder for me. It was nice reminder of a very important sentiment I often seem to forget: “not every book is for every person.”
This quote is shamelessly stolen from author Amy Lane. Lane writes fantasy books for young adults, as well as romance novels for adults, and her blogs about the convoluted and confusing world of book reviewing have gotten me through more than one bad review. If you’re ever in the spot of needing to be talked down off the ceiling because someone’s just called your writing “utterly pointless,” you can find one of her blogs on the subject here.
It’s a quote I think we would all do well to remember—whether we’re writing an angry review on Goodreads, reading a book we think could hang the moon, trying to figure out why we hate the book that the entire rest of world loves, or just wondering why someone would so detest something we took the time and energy to create.
After all, the truth is usually somewhere in the middle, right? Those nasty review on Goodreads usually aren’t bullying. (Though I’m sure there are outlier examples that do fall into that category, because this is the Internet, after all.) They’re just people trying to express an opinion, which is often not the same opinion everyone else has. And when we can’t figure out why everyone doesn’t share our opinion, we tend to go a little overboard convincing everyone else just how right we are. On the other hand, is there really that need to express extreme hatred for someone else’s work just because you didn’t enjoy it? What’s so wrong with stating your honest opinion, without vitriol, and moving on?
No worries if you’ve lost me, because I have an anecdote ready and waiting to illustrate this point. (Yes, I know, you thought this blog couldn’t possibly get any longer.) Not that long ago someone wrote a fairly unhappy review of my first book, Here’s to You, Zeb Pike. The review was honest. It said exactly what the reader found to be problematic with the book, who might still like it, and it moved on. When someone else commented on the review, it was clear they wanted to play on any potential negativity in the review, even though they hadn’t read the book. They said something to the extent that they hadn’t read my book yet, but they could see exactly how many things they would hate about it. (Here I would like to reiterate that they HADN’T EVEN READ THE BOOK.)
You know what the reviewer responded with? They acknowledged the responder’s concern, and then mentioned how many others had liked those aspects of the book. They didn’t engage with the negativity. They even ended their own response by noting how many people seemed to disagree with their opinion of my book.
Wow. I have never been more stunned by internet maturity. And you better believe I hope that same person will review my next book. Because even if they hate it, I can trust that they will review it with honesty AND honor for that all-important-adage: "not every book is for every person.”
As I mentioned earlier, I don’t write Goodsreads reviews, so I wasn’t forced to quell an urge here to prove that I was right and that everyone else was wrong by writing an angry and disgusted review of this book. If I had decided to write a review, though, I like to think I could have done so with honor for that adage. I like to think I would have written a review that would have steered those who think like me away from the book, thereby saving them the trouble of reading a book they probably wouldn’t like. I like to think that same review would still have made it clear that there are obviously people who find many aspects of the book to be incredibly valuable, thereby not steering the entire populace away from the book out of spite. I like to think I would written a review that does what a review is supposed to do: get the right books to the right people.
Because maybe it's them. Or maybe it’s me. Or maybe it’s just the simple fact that we’re all wired differently, and that’s what makes the human race so beautiful.
Not long ago Andrew Smith wrote this awesome Tumblr piece about the problematic ways that adults insist on categorizing, or “boxing” young adult literature. Andrew Smith (in case you just landed here from Mars) is a highly acclaimed YA author whose new book, Grasshopper Jungle, just came out. The Tumblr piece is here, and I would make it required reading for the entire internet if I had such power.
I can’t stop thinking about this piece.
That’s mostly because I AGREE WITH EVERY ONE OF ANDREW SMITH’S SENTIMENTS. I feel like I have to mention that up front, because I’m about to say some things that might, at times, make it seem like I do not agree with Smith. But this is one of those unfortunate moments in life when things are simply not that black and white and this is not a case of he’s-right-I’m-wrong. Rather, this is a case of HE IS DEFINITELY RIGHT AND I AM TRYING TO RECONCILE SOME OF THE WORLDLY PROBLEMS ATTACHED TO THE FACT THAT HE IS RIGHT.
In other words, this post isn’t going to fit nicely into a box.
This post is also, apparently, going to be filled with capital letters, as I seem to be in that mood right now. (I’m in that mood a lot. Let’s just be honest.)
So. Andrew Smith wrote this amazing Tumblr piece about how society likes to put literature, particularly YA literature, into boxes. It’s a great read. Especially this quote:
“In the past ten years or so of my writing career, I have been frustrated by all the boxes people hold up to categorize the canon of Young Adult literature. Here are the worst ones, the boxes I’d like to set fire to:
· Boy books/ Girl books
· Age level (This book is for grades 10 and up! Squee!)
· Male author/ Female author
· LGBTQ books/ Straight (“normal” kid) books”
I read this and immediately thought THAT’S EXACTLY RIGHT. Then I started making a mental list of the many ways my first book, Here’s to You, Zeb Pike has been “boxed” since it came out. I mean, there’s the fact that about 90% of the blogs that have reviewed it exclusively review books with LGBTQ characters. Or the fact that the only Goodreads group that seems to have noticed it exists is a YA LGBTQ group. Or the fact that whenever people ask me what the book is about, they won’t stop looking at me until I put the poor thing into as many boxes as possible. If, for instance, I say, “it’s a contemporary story,” they keep their eyes locked on mine until I add things like “aboutaboy” or “aboutaboystrugglingwithhissexuality” or “aboutaboywho’sneglectedbyhisparents” or “aboutaboywho’safreshmaninhighschool.”
I think the reason I reacted with such YES THAT’S EXACTLY RIGHT when I read this post is that I have been incredibly frustrated by the sheer amount of boxing that has happened with Zeb, especially around the main character’s sexuality. This book is, for me, about so much more than just a character who’s gay, or has neglectful parents, or is in high school. It’s about everything from self-confidence to the importance of family to how much the weather in Vermont sucks in October.
I haven’t liked the fact that the only thing some people see when they look at this books is “GAY TEEN.”
So there I was, reading Andrew Smith’s piece, and reflecting on the fact that I don’t really like how boxed this book has been, and how glad I am that someone much more clever than myself put this into words far better than I’ve been able to…and this line of thinking, of course, led me to imagine a world where books were never boxed or categorized
Which, of course, is where things get complicated.
One potential problem in this world: ensuring kids have access to diverse literature. I’m a middle school curriculum director. Last year, I compiled a book list for a 6th grade curriculum with some utterly brilliant teachers. And it was a killer list of books. Until some very awesome person went, “um, are you going to teach any books with lead female characters?”
I’m glad someone took a moment to put our list of books into a few boxes and notice such a huge diversity gap in that list. I want to make sure my students are constantly being introduced to a wide variety of human perspectives on life, and that may not happen if I don’t take a minute to consider which perspectives they have and haven’t seen.
Another potential problem: sometimes we have to acknowledge the boxes books have already been put in if we want to get those books out of their boxes.
This one’s a little harder to explain, but I’ll try. (C’mon, brain.) I write a lot about the importance of getting LGBTQ books into schools and school libraries. This is definitely boxing on my part, but it’s very intentional. There are so many schools that, either purposely or subconsciously, keep books off of shelves and out of curriculum because they've placed these books in “the LGBTQ box.” If we don’t acknowledge that those boxes exist and that this censorship exists, it stands to reason that this “quiet boxing” will continue and these books will remain out of classrooms and school libraries…despite the fact that a) this is doing a horrible disservice to children and b) all of these censored books are about much more than just an LGBTQ character.
And it’s not just schools that are boxing books—it’s the publishing industry as well. Here’s to You, Zeb Pike is published by Harmony Ink Press, which deals exclusively with LGBTQ YA literature. HIP was founded in response to the low number of books with LGBTQ characters that are currently succeeding in the publishing marketplace. Do I think it’s ideal that a company like Harmony has to exist? No offense to my awesome publisher, but no. In an ideal world, perspectives from all types of people would be evenly spread in bookstores. Am I incredibly grateful that Harmony exists? Yes. (And not just because they put up with my email tardiness.) I’m grateful that they exist to fill a void in a marketplace that has boxed a bunch of books and put them in a proverbial garage.
At the end of the day, though, Andrew Smith is absolutely right: by constantly putting books in boxes, we are sending the message that to kids that people belong in boxes. I’ve definitely been heard uttering things to my students like, “I think the guys in this class will like this book a lot.” I was once in a classroom where the books were shelved with such labels as “Books for Athletes.” This doesn’t make me or my colleague bad teachers. We were just doing our best to get kids interested in putting away their PSPs for a few minutes. But it does make us guilty of sending the wrong subliminal messages to some pretty impressionable minds. And as Smith reminds us, once you put something in a box, “the box can’t be destroyed.”
We obviously need to stop sending the message to kids that books, and therefore people, need to go in a box and never come out and once you are there this is the only box you can ever be in. Which means we all need to be much more aware of how we over-box books, or box them unnecessarily, or make a book out to be nothing more than a box it’s in. And if we MUST put a book in a box, we need to make sure we’re doing it for the right reasons.
Hopefully we will someday become a society where the only boxes young adults ever put a book in is the “I LOVED IT” box. I think I’ll like that world a lot.
And in the meantime, you should go read Grasshopper Jungle, so I have people to discuss it with when I finish.
Warning: I’m still crying, so this will likely be one of the more disjointed pieces of writing I ever produce, and I might even decide not to edit it, because the whole reason I am crying a in a hotel room has a lot to do with the fact that life is ultimately unedited, no matter how hard to try to take your red pen to it.
It all started…well, with me NOT in tears. I was sitting in this hotel room, which isn’t so bad, despite some really questionable décor choices involving pineapples. I’m here in Albany for a Conference to Make Me Better at Helping Kids Read Good, and overall it’s been a decent few days. Hundreds of teachers and school administrators together in a room are actually kind of a hoot. That’s what happens when you let us all sleep in longer than 5 a.m. AND we get to eat while sitting down for two days in a row.
But tonight has been surprisingly rough. My colleague who flew in with me already left, so I decided to lock myself in my room with overpriced room service, about twelve hours of unit plan reviewing and assessment writing, and a determination TO FIGURE OUT THE ENDING OF THIS BOOK THAT JUST KEEPS ENDING DIFFERENTLY AND MY POOR EDITOR.
And I just started to feel all very WHAT ON EARTH IS THE POINT. Because I’ve just spent two days in a room with educators who are amazing and awesome and who I know on MANY levels are doing this whole Teaching Kids to Read Good thing better than I am, and I often tend to wonder how I am perceived by these other Educators of Amazingness. Also because I am basically paralyzed by finalizing the ending of my newest book and I’m not sure why. I have seriously re-written it so many times, and my editor right now likes it, but I just cannot call it finished—and today I realized I am probably paralyzed because a few reviews of my first book that were unfavorable towards the ending.
Anyhoo, it was about then when I realized I AM THINKING A LOT LATELY ABOUT WHAT PEOPLE THINK OF ME AND HOW I COMPARE MYSELF TO OTHERS. This was disappointing for two reason: one, I read a book this summer that told me to stop doing that and I was trying really really hard. And two, I hate when I do that.
Anyhoo again, then I did what any sane person in this situation might do: I started watching John and Hank Green videos ad nauseum (spell check says I have that wrong, but it’s got no better suggestions). This was helpful at first, because John and Hank Green videos, I only recently discovered (yes, yes, multiple years behind here…I’m also still trying to learn how to squeeze all my thoughts into 140 characters), have this weird way of saying exactly what I need to hear. So when John (following his own Twitter rule, I am allowed to call him by his first name) almost immediately dropped this quote from Franny and Zooey about how “I’m sick of not having the courage to be an absolute nobody” I knew I had picked the right activity for the evening.
Until THIS video happened.
I just put it on again and teared right back up. Watch that video. Right now.
I was watching, and listening, and I got to the part about Lord of the Flies. Right about then I also got an email message that my book has a new review. So I started reading the review while watching the video, because all those studies claiming multitasking isn’t really good for us can’t POSSIBLY be right.
Here’s what I then heard John Green say:
“There are always nerdfighters…who will listen to you if you will also listen back.” (If you don’t get the nerdfighters reference, a few John and Hank Green videos will cure you of that right quick. And you want to be cured.)
At the same time, I read this review. Bear in mind that my first book has not sold well. And because I’m published through what is kindly referred to as a “boutique” publisher, not many people know about it. So I’m always a little surprised when, well, anyone at all has read it.
The review said:
“When I finished this book, I was in tears. If I could meet the author, I would wanna hug her and thank her for writing this book. The more I’d read the more I wanted to read. And in the end, I found it to be a literary masterpiece.”
I realize and recognize that not everyone in the world will have that reaction to my book. In fact, just last month someone basically said they regretted the moment they ever laid eyes on it. But the fact that even one person ever in the world thinks that....
Well, I’ll come back to that in a second, but first you have to know what I then heard come out of John Green’s mouth:
“I call up the great Robert Frost quote: the only way out is through. You will get through. I will get through.”
And then I was REALLY, REALLY crying. Surrounded by strange pineapples in a city about 2,000 miles away from my home. And when I really wasn’t quite sure why, I decided if I started writing that eventually I might figure it out.
Here is what I think I know: it is a ridiculous exercise to base all your self-worth on what others say and think of you, obviously. And Salinger, as he so often did, captured perfectly that the human fear of invalidation or lack of validation is at best bizarre and at worst paralyzing. And Twitter proves that this really is a human condition.
So all we can do, I think, is what John Green pushes us to think about in this video: find the people who appreciate us for whatever it is that we are and want to be, so that we can validate each other in a space where that validation is real, and healthy, and worthwhile. I will never be sorry that the validation of that review makes me cry. That kind of validation is why I wrote it in the first place—because the truths in that book are truths for me, and I wanted to share them with people who have similar truths. But obsessing over whether or not an entire populace of people will like the ending of my next book? That’s when the human need for validation becomes so dangerous.
As Cyril Connelly put it, “Better to write for yourself and have no audience than to write for your audience and have no self.”
And I didn't get into education to be the best at it. Meeting other awesome teachers is amazing because they make me more awesome. The comparisons only drive the community apart rather than bring us together. It’s a sucky thing that in this day and age of teacher evaluation and pay-for-performance that so often the first thought on a teacher’s mind IS whether or not they are better than their peers. This is a collaborative practice, and it needs to stay a collaborative practice against all odds. And my inner human desires to be competitive and WIN AT EVERYTHING (especially Scrabble) that I thought I had squelched years ago must go back to being squelched because I clearly am not squelching them well.
John Green created that video for a teenage audience. I jokingly made the title of my author-world website “writing books for the young adult in all of us” because I, like so many YA authors, know that that gap from young adult to adult is a pretty short one, and we’re all crossing back and forth all the time.
The same twelve-year-old me who used to sit in class and wonder if what she just said sounded stupid to everyone else was at that conference today. And that same thirteen-year-old me who just had to win the spelling competition because I wasn’t good at basketball comes back every time I see my book’s sales rank on Amazon. And that fourteen-year-old me who swooned in happiness when my teacher said I was a good writer was reading that review today.
John Green’s right, and so was Frost: “The only way out is through.” I think you have to find your way out of a place where you simply let many others determine your happiness so that you can get to the place where you let THE RIGHT people determine your happiness. At that point, I think you’re actually determining your own happiness. And if you forget to do that for a while, it’s okay—apparently someone will eventually get on YouTube or a book blogging site and remind you.
Or something like that. I’m still crying at little, and I can’t find my red pen. But I think that’s close.
So, I've actually been blogging all over lately. Just not on my own website.
Partly 'cause this website is brand-spanking-new...and partly because lots of other AWESOME people have been kind enough to share my writing with the world.
So if you've just arrived here, and you were hoping to learn more about the Life, Beliefs, and General Dispositions of Johanna Parkhurst, here are a few other blogs I've written that live throughout the internets. Check 'em out!
A nifty piece on--yes--how the main character of Here's to You, Zeb Pike came out to me while I writing him. Seriously. Characters do have minds of their own sometimes....
Me on my soapbox about why students need more LGBT books in schools. And a few things you can do to get them there.
Hey, it's an important soapbox. Why and how teachers should stand up for LGBT books in schools.
Adventures in climbing a mountain (and being smoked by an 8-year-old)!