Dealing with Impossible Tasks

Last week, leading into a huge Labor Day Sales weekend (and I’m currently in sales, so I had some trepidation going into that weekend) I came across this post about a “never-discussed symptom of depression” called The Impossible Task. This started when Twitter user Molly Backes (@mollybackes) posted some tweets talking about the fact that depression commercials never talk about this. From the article:

The Impossible Task, as outlined by Backes, cannot be defined by a specific. It varies from person to person and hour to hour. What to others seems mundane and simple appears insurmountable to many who suffer from depression.

To further explain one of Molly’s tweets:
The Impossible Task could be anything: going to the bank, refilling your prescription, making your bed, checking your email, paying a bill. From the outside, its sudden impossibility makes ZERO sense.

YES. THIS ALL DAY YES.

For me, it’s not just depression but also a symptom of my anxiety disorder. I freeze with certain things. For instance, if my anxiety is really bad, it’s not uncommon for me to get a full blown anxiety attack in the frozen food section of Shoprite, feeling like the biggest weirdo in the world because I’m staring at frozen pizza, crying, feeling like the world has crashed in on me. This can happen in any large store or venue, actually. It’s happened in Walmart, IKEA, other large grocery stores, malls, large Goodwill shops, events, concerts, festivals. Any place that has a lot of people, a lot of choices, and nowhere for me to quickly retreat to feel safe and reset my brain will freak me the fuck out. And it makes little sense to most other people. I was once left in a record store on my birthday by a former partner because I couldn’t stop an anxiety attack.  Them telling me to “stop it” (and getting angry at me when I couldn’t) didn’t work, so they left.

Thankfully I now have people in my life who understand anxiety and depression a little bit better and know that telling someone to stop is not a helpful solution. I’ve learned (and tried to teach those closest to me who want to help) what things might could help when I’m in the throes anxiety and depression. But to people who don’t understand or have never had to deal with it, it makes NO SENSE.

Another Impossible Task I used to have a lot of consistent trouble with was making phone calls. I had what I would almost consider a phobia of phone calls. It didn’t matter how simple the call was, or how much I liked or loved the person on the other end, phone calls used to terrify me. Every once in a while, I could use fewer spoons to make or take a phone call, but generally, it took MANY if not all of my spoons. And many times, I just couldn’t do it. This one has improved a lot in the past few years, and I’m grateful to the person who magically helped with it. And while it’s come back a bit, it’s no where near where it used to be.

What fucks me up most, though, is when the Impossible Task is driving. This has only happened a few times in my life and it’s been brutal. Driving is my freedom. It’s how I cope with stress, depression, and anxiety. My car is the safest place I know and to not be able to get in my car and go…fucks with my head and makes everything else feel impossible.

Last week, right before I found the article I linked above, my best friend had invited me to join them for Vietnamese dinner as their treat. I’d been battling anxiety and depression for days at that point and this was an incredibly welcome invitation…except dinner was 45 minutes away where my best friend lived. And at that moment, I could not get in my car and and make that drive. A drive I’ve done countless times. Because I love to drive. I’ve happily driven four hours to see a partner, three hours to go to events, over an hour to see friends and visit the ocean. But on this day, even though it was to see my best friend for one of my favorite types of food, I could not make that drive. It was Impossible. I contemplated trying to mentally strong arm through it, and that almost threw me into a full blown panic attack, so I sent my regrets and asked for a rain check. Thankfully, my best friend is someone I can tell directly that I couldn’t do the drive. They were wonderful and gracious and supportive.

It’s incredibly frustrating for me, though, because I can usually multitask like a mofo, I’ve worked hard to become good at emotional labor for myself and creating a safe space for others, and pride myself on being competent and reliable and able to do complicated things quickly (well…depending on the things. I’m not an astrophysicist). My last job was all about that. Someone would be asking me a question, while my radio was going off, while I was on my way to do something else. And I would get into a zone, a flow state, working with synchronicity and trusting the Universe to guide me. The things got done. The questions got answered. Granted, I also had an amazing team helping me, but I was also confident and most comfortable (it only took about three years to get there…).

When anxiety or depression hit, though, or when they both hit at the same fucking time, it fucks me up royally. Because if my productivity gets hit, then I start to feel worthless. Like….what the fuck is wrong with me that I can’t make this ONE phone call? That I can’t complete a fucking grocery shopping excursion without weeping on my frozen green beans? Or why the hell can’t I put away that laundry? Why am I feeling a seizing panic when I think of sleeping anywhere but home? Why can’t I can’t just get in my car, crank up the music, and drive it all away?

And if I can’t do these things that I always am able to do, will people still care about me? Like, what good am I if I can’t perform basic human functions? And how will I ever see people I care about if I can’t fucking get to them? Also, how will I eat if I can’t even buy groceries? I tend to be really hard on myself and then I get locked in this loop of yelling at myself “what’s wrong with you; just stop it!” and trying to remind myself that it’s just anxiety, it’s just depression, they both lie, the world isn’t ending and I’m not losing everything and everyone. And yet, all people see is a weird person staring at a frozen food case or who just bolted out of a room.

Molly Backes says that we should try to apply the gentleness and empathy that most of us with depression (and anxiety) generally have towards others to ourselves. Which is waaaaay easier said than done. Especially in the middle of a full blown anxiety attack or depressive episode. But I’m working on it. And I’ve got wonderful people around me to remind me and help me with it.

Here’s to anyone else who also has to tackle the Impossible Tasks. You are not alone.

 

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[New Year, New You] Week 16: Little Magics Everywhere

Aaaaand, I’m back to a mostly weekly schedule for this challenge, which is awesome.

This week, we’re working on “little magics everywhere“.

For my life, one of the little magics I’m doing is taking back my power from people I’ve given it to in the past who demonstrate that they are no longer worthy of it. One of the ways that a friend helped me do this is by reminding me that names have power and by changing what I call a thing or a person, I can change the power involved. So I’ve been doing that with some very odd but good results.

I’ve also been manifesting like a mofo and reaching out to other magically-inclined friends to help with that, which has been incredibly successful. Some goals for the upcoming week are to figure out some offerings to my guiding spirits, trying the prosperity shot glass trick, grounding and centering every night, figuring out a regular gratitude practice, and planning for the upcoming full moon and lunar eclipse.

This post might be shorter than most, but it feels like one of the more potent ones. I finally feel like I’m actually making progress. I might be tired, and lacking in some energy or direction, but I also finally, finally feel like I’m moving forward and not just mired in the past. Like some of healing I’ve been putting massive amounts of energy into is actually starting to happen. In not just mental and spiritual ways, but in actual physical ways.

I lost 11 pounds doing the No Sugar Vow. Chronic skin irritations are healing. I’ve mostly broken my dependence on food as a comfort or replacement for love and affection. When talking with a friend this weekend, I had said that life over the course of the last few weeks has at least helped me figure out a better direction for myself and where I would ultimately like to live, at least short term if an opportunity I was recently presented with doesn’t pan out. Just the fact that I was presented with that opportunity shows me that I’m opening up more to the world and possibilities and moving more towards who I really am, want to be, and what I want to work towards.

So that’s some pretty awesome little magics everywhere, I think!

 

[New Year, New You] Week 15: Should to the Wheel, Champ!

You know, I was very excited to get to the last page of prompts for this writing challenge. It was only three pages of prompts, but getting to the last one felt like a major accomplishment. It meant I was almost done.

Can you hear my hysterical laughter from where you’re sitting?

Yeah. So. About that.

I mean, in some ways, I am almost done. I’m more done than not. When I was an event planner in a former life, I used to get very excited at the time on Saturday that fell “below the fold” of the printed schedule. I would say we were “below the fold” very happily because it was a visually measurable way to know that we were more than halfway done. We were doing it. All the prep, all the times it felt like shit just kept going wrong, all the fixes and thinking on our feet, all the behind-the-scenes scrambling that we tried to hide so that people had a wonderful time. It was all coming together and we could totally push through to the end. I miss those times dearly and I’m grateful for all they taught me.

For instance, I’m more than halfway through this challenge. After this prompt, there are only eight more prompts. I’ve done TWICE that already. Which makes me feel like I can totally do this. Granted, I didn’t do it in the same time frame as Deb originally did, but like my best friend told me, it’s okay to do it in my own time if that’s what works for me. And it is work. Recreating myself, being bathed in the fire of 2017, the ending of major relationships, a job, improving my health, taking control of my creativity, re-dedicating myself to my spirituality, healing some massive wounds I’d been carrying for decades, fostering healthier relationships, helping others, and taking care of and cleaning up my shit…it’s a lot. And for me, the best time frame for that wasn’t just six months. So be it.

I’m still here, tapping away at the keyboard. Thinking about each “week’s” prompt and lesson as it comes. But like Deb nailed it in her post for this prompt:

You’re tired. You’re bruised. You’re wondering what you’re accomplishing and why you’re putting up with me. You’re wondering if you are getting anywhere. You are. I’ve been reading each and every one of your journeys from the start. You have done so much more than you ever thought you could. You are kicking ass and taking names. I am so proud of you! All of you. Each one of you is pushing yourself past your comfort zones. It’s evident that you are working hard to get to where you want to be.

You’re a maker of things. A creator of dreams. A weaver of wills.

Don’t stop now.

I am tired. Bruised. I have many moments of wondering if I’m accomplishing anything. However, I definitely don’t question why I’m putting up with her. She’s a dear friend and has helped me more on this journey than I can possibly put into words right now. The gratitude I feel for that and this challenge is currently immeasurably. And she’s right. I sure as hell AM a maker of things. A creator of dreams. A weaver of wills. And I will not stop now. I’ve got more work to do.

To that end, here’s what I am doing:

Health:

  1. I have hauled my ass to two doctors that I’ve been putting off.
  2. I stuck with my vow and only have one more day of that and then need to re-evaluate, because I don’t want to just give it up when it’s done, but I definitely want to make adaptations.
  3. Therapy
  4. Continually fostering Amazon network connections. The love I give and get there is LIFE.

Job:

  1. I have been working on getting my resume in a better place and enlisted help with that.

Cleaning:

  1. I’ve asked for help with the cleaning hump I have to get over. And I’ve been doing little things here and there.

Creativity:

  1. I am still doing this challenge.
  2. Keeping up with the reading and writing challenge I signed up for a the beginning of the year (Cannonball Read 10)
  3. Posting 1 music video of myself per month to social media
  4. Created an art challenge – still have to complete the first two steps
  5. Took up Camp NaNoWriMo and I’m making some progress on it.

Spirituality:

  1. Been practicing every full moon.
  2. Talking more about it with people
  3. Daily tarot pull and doing more tarot readings
  4. Trying to remember and honor my divinity
  5. Listening to signs and omens from the Universe

Relationships:

  1. Not getting into any capital R Relationships until re-evaluation of my treatment plan in therapy in September.
  2. Staying aware of good relationships, bad relationships, what I can learn from both and what I really want for the future.

So I’m doing fairly well in terms of creativity and spirituality, but I want to do more in both. And I need to up my game in cleaning, health, and job. Though I will say, I’ve got some interesting prospects on the horizon in terms of job. We will see how that goes.

Now, as to what I’m going to do to keep moving forward, especially in terms of cleaning and health:

  1. Cleaning – By this time next week, I will clean one room (likely the upstairs bathroom)
  2. Health – re-evaluation of sugar in diet. Meal planning. Dancing more. Walking. Figure out a way to get my teeth taken care of.
  3. Job – Pursue current possibilities while also finishing up improvements to resume and start submitting, depending on what happens with current opportunities.

That’s where I’m at right now. Still pushing ever forward. Not giving up. Because fuck that. I’ve got shit to do.

[New Year, New You] Week 14: Spiritual Consultation

But you gotta dig your way out
From underneath the ground
Scratching at the dark
Pushing through the gloom
Oh, sticking around
Long enough to see yourself bloom

“Bloom” by Namoli Brennet

At long last! The last page of prompts! I’m a few weeks behind on this one, but as my best friend pointed out to me, I’m doing this in my own time. Each “week” is a relative measurement. I think it is well-paced, but life also has a way of interfering sometimes.

That being said, I also have to be careful to avoid falling into procrastination and calling it “life interfering.” This time around it was a little bit of both.

Y’see, this week’s prompt was all about checking in with my higher Powers That Be about my progress thus far with my goals and this whole making a new year and a new me.  As Deb wrote:

If you are starting to feel run down and dispirited, confiding in your PTB about your worries and troubles may lighten your load. Your PTB may also have advice as to how to better manage your goals. You may want their input to decide if you’re progressing as well as you could be.

How did she know I’d be feeling a bit run down and dispirited?!

Oh, right. She’s done this already. Okay, moving along. So, I actually wasn’t sure how to check in with my PTB. Or, at the very least, what would be the best way to check in right now.

See, I’m kind of eclectic and don’t have a specific structure of Gods and Goddesses that I worship. I tend to call my PTB “The Universe” but sometimes can feel specific spirits or Gods or Goddesses coming through. And I also got out of the practice of communing directly with the Universe, but I’m getting back to that. That’s part of why I started this whole challenge to begin with. To identify what’s important to me and to work towards those things. One of those things being reconnecting with my spirituality.

So. Checking in with them…I felt a little unsure about what to do and not confident in my ability to get good answers on my own. And lately, I’ve been getting more and more into tarot reading, so my first thought was to ask a friend who has offered to do a reading on me and help me with tarot to do a reading of checking in with my PTB. Life conspired against that plan, which we see sometimes.

In the meantime, I’ve been getting some messages loud and clear. Seems my PTB weren’t waiting for me to check in. They were gonna beat my door down. Here are some of the messages:

  • Eat more vegetables.
  • Move/exercise more.
  • You’ve got work to do. Take care of your shit.
  • Don’t throw your energy to people who are not reciprocating in some way.
  • Keep avoiding sugar. You’re on the right path.
  • You have power and are manifesting the things you want. Be careful, though and be REAL FUCKING specific.
  • Write more.
  • Seek out more authentic communications.
  • Be careful who you give your power to.
  • Remember laughter. Being competent. Appreciated. You are a magical human.
  • Dance more.
  • You may not have the love you expected or thought you were going to have but you are incredibly loved and cherished. It just doesn’t look like how you thought it was gonna look.
  • Make more music.
  • Keep being grateful for all the gifts. Even the things that don’t look like gifts. Like the bad pain. It’s still a gift that’s helping you. You’re learning.
  • Be gentle with yourself when you can.
  • Clean. Purge. Streamline. Don’t get so caught up in possessions.
  • Remember being topless in the courtyard, the grass under your bare toes.
  • More vegetables than that.
  • And more movement.

So that…all touches on what I’m doing and it seems I’m doing pretty well, but I clearly still have more work to do.

I also got a message loud and clear yesterday while driving that I really needed to hear. Sometimes, my PTB talk to me in a Dom(me) voice (as if you couldn’t tell from the list above), and this came though:

Little girl, this has nothing to do with you. Live your own life. You needed [this thing that you’ve put a lot of energy into] to get to a certain place. That time is over. Move on.

I had a bones reading this past weekend, and that carried with it a whole bunch of messages I needed to hear. Don’t get too wrapped up in potential. It doesn’t necessarily matter why something is happening; if it’s not working for you or actively hurting you, it needs to stop and you need to make better choices.

Basically, my PTB are telling that I’m on the right track, but I gotta step it up. Seems about right.

 

 

 

Sugar Sacrifice: Notes from the half way point

So, 21 days ago, I decided to sacrifice sugar for 40 days to show the Universe that I’m serious as fuck about making this new year a new me. Yesterday was the halfway mark…20 days without sugar.

Well, mostly.

Y’see, what happened was…

(And no, this isn’t one of those stories where I decided to abandon my course and had a cupcake. Because FUCK THAT.)

But what happened was…even though I was paleo for a while nearly a decade ago, I forgot about how SUGAR IS IN FUCKING EVERYTHING.

I wrote the post I linked to above, talking about how I was going to eliminate sugar from my diet and the process was all very…tra-la-la, I won’t have any desserts! It’ll be easy. A dear friend who both a) has done shit like this before and b) understands the gravity of making a sacrifice like this to the Universe cautioned me. It went something like this:

Day One

Me: Tra-la-la! I’m giving up sugar as my sacrifice.

Dear Friend: Okay…for how long?

Me: I dunno? 40 days? Maybe forever!

DF: Ummmmmmmmm. Back the bus up, (gender neutral) SisterQueen. 40 days is HARD. It may not seem like it now, but it is. I suggest logic and reason and thinking about this with a clear head and all these other really helpful suggestions. Like what about X, Y, and Z?

Me: Awwwww, (gender neutral) man. I don’t wanna do algebra. I just wanna go back to tra-la-la! But FINE. I suppose some parameters are a good idea. So I’ll write those out. I feel fine. I can do this. I am POWERFUL! The Universe will cheer for me as I journey ever onward towards enlightenment and self-care and being the best me I can be!

Day Three:

Me: (Actual text to DF) Jesus fuck, I forgot how much stuff has sugar in it!

Seriously. All the things. Like the frozen bag of dinner pad thai that I had in the freezer that I thought was fairly healthy and quick to make when I get home after a 12 hour work day and need food but barely have mustered a will to stand, let alone actually cook. Second ingredient? Brown sugar. I do more research and apparently, sugar is a standard in pre-packaged AND restaurant pad thai. Which….fuck me since I had pad thai in a restaurant the day BEFORE I looked this up.

The last 20 days have been kinda like that. I have NOT had anything that I KNEW without a doubt would have sugar. Y’know, desserts, candy bars, soda, cake, cookies, etc. However…I remembers that bagels have sugar as part of the base dough. So I thought an egg and cheese on a croissant would be a fine subsitute. Until I got this clawing feeling that I should check into that, too. Turns out, I was fucking Wrongy McWrongersons. Croissants typically have sugar in their base dough, too. Plus a sugar glaze that’s brushed over them. Huh! Fascinating! I’m learning so much about food and how it’s made. And also, FUCK EVERYTHING.

It doesn’t stop there. Most mass produced pasta sauces, dipping sauces, condiments, yogurts, deli meats, cured meats, and bread products like hamburger rolls, hot dog rolls, and english muffins…sugar, sugar, and more sugar.

And of course, there’s not just one type of sugar. On, no! That would be too simple. There’s also:

  • high fructose corn syrup
  • regular corn syrup
  • glucose
  • lactose
  • fructose
  • brown sugar
  • demerara sugar
  • turbinado sugar
  • coconut sugar
  • molasses
  • maple syrup
  • honey (which, thank fuck I specified that I wasn’t giving up)
  • muscovado
  • stevia

THEN there are the sugar alcohols like maltitol and sorbitol, and don’t even get me started on all the artificial sweeteners.

It is. Fucking. EVERYWHERE.

So I have put in a good faith effort, especially since DF has made it clear that the Universe doesn’t fuck around if you renege on a sacrifice to it like this. I had refused sauces on salads and dipping sauces for things. I searched for bread that didn’t have sugar in it (if you’re wondering, rye and pumpernickel are pretty good…but the fresher the better. Things with preservatives tend to also add sugar so not all pumpernickel and rye is safe. I found my pumpernickel loaf in the fresher bread section near the produce in my local Shoprite, as opposed to the pre-packaged bread aisle). I made a choice to have a Thai dish with molasses in it’s base sauce since that was a mostly natural sugar (and I didn’t rule out “naturally occurring sugar, such as is found in fruit, wine, and honey.”) It wasn’t eating a cupcake.

Though, speaking of cupcakes and things like chocolate, I went about two weeks without even missing chocolate. Until PMS hit. Then I wanted ALL THE CHOCOLATE. At first, I thought I was thoroughly and completely fucked, but then I remembered that there was a recipe for chocolate frosting shots that was paleo that I loved back in the day. I decided to give that a whirl. And if I had actually READ the directions and NOT poured the liquidy part in the recipe along with the creamy part of the coconut milk, everything would’ve been fine. Alas, I poured most of it in. And so my frothy frosting turned out to be really thick chocolate milk. I was disgusted with myself but didn’t want to deal with cleaning out the Ninja blender, so I stuck it in the freezer and thought maybe I can make ice cream the next night. And the next night, I did! As I told a friend, it wasn’t Haagan Daas, but it tasty like slightly softer than usual healthy soft serve. And it hit my chocolate craving right in the core.

I also went to Trader Joe’s and got coconut cream to try for the recipe (fun fact: not only should you NOT pour in the liquidy stuff, but when they say refrigerate the coconut milk/cream overnight…they might know what they’re talking about and might mean it. Says the person who also didn’t read that part, either, and came up with chocolate milk again on attempt two and couldn’t figure out what went wrong AGAIN. Oh, right. You didn’t READ, dumbass.

My internal monologue has been fairly unforgiving lately.

So, anyway, I stuck that in the fridge, hoping that it would thicken up even after everything was mixed together. And it did! It was lovely and delicious.

Trader Joe’s also had some other no sugar things that were wonderful: goddess salad dressing, vodka sauce, and these citrus date bites that kick a sugar craving in the ass AND are easy to chew because I’m still having some teeth problems, which is a story for another post. Shoprite has ONE yogurt type that doesn’t have any added sugar (beyond plain). They’re tiny, because they’re meant for kids, but they’re sweetened with fruit juice, which I thought was also acceptable within the parameters I established.

This whole process has been an interesting, if sometimes frustrating exercise in spending time looking into my own health and being more conscious about what I put in my body and why. I’ve been proud of my resolve when it comes to this, too.

Like when I was handed a free drink at a burlesque show (double AWESOME) and as I took a sip of it, the bartender was listing what was in it. Whiskey (delish), chocolate bitters (I had pause but had checked the bottle and it was surprisingly okay), bourbon soaked cherries (OMG YES PLS), and a dash of simple syrup. As soon as I heard that, I handed the drink back to my friend and said “I’m sorry, I can’t have any more.” And that was that. I just have to get better at asking and/or research BEFORE I have something. I got that message loud and clear from the Universe.

I’ve found I can make a sugar free mocha coffee at home by adding unsweetened cocoa powder and a dash of honey and a splash of half & half to cut the bitter. Thankfully, I can drink most tea black or with a dash of honey. And actually, except for the two attempts at chocolate frosting shots and the adapted mochas, I haven’t had any honey.

So that’s that. The first 20 full days down. Sugar is fucking everywhere, but I’m learning how better to navigate it. I haven’t been perfect…I had three or four croissant breakfast sandwiches before I got the clawing feeling to check that before I got wrecked. There was that one pad thai dinner I had in a restaurant. One Vietnamese dish might’ve had meat marinated in something with sugar in it, but I didn’t know the name of it so I couldn’t look it up.

I’m not seeing OMG results in my waistband, but the first week, I was able to sleep a little bit better. However, now that my period is here, all bets are off. My colon isn’t happy, my sleep cycle is off, and I’m exhausted. My face might look a little slimmer? Not sure. But I think I’d need a bit more time to see anything really noticeable. Here’s to another 20 days!

 

[CBR10 – 6/13] Lies We Tell Ourselves

(Cannonball Read book review #6 – original post @ CBR10)

It’s Juneteenth, AND Pride month, which makes an incredibly appropriate time to review Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley. This book was on my radar since it first came out in 2014, but it took a wee bit of time to actually find time to read it. (Seriously, on this site, I know I’m not the only one who’s reading list is longer than the time I’ll ever possibly have to read over the course of my entire life…) What first drew me in was that the book was about desegregation and I knew there was likely going to be a romantic subplot, but I didn’t know at first that it was a lesbian romantic subplot. And not just that, it was a white girl and a black girl falling in love with each. In the south. In 1959. You don’t have to know a whole lot about American history to know this is not going to be a happy story. However, Talley manages to take a difficult and complex story of racism, politics, history, growth, and first love and infuse hope, joy, wonder in it. I already knew I was a fan of Talley’s when I read and reviewed her second book What We Left Behind but this was a very different reading experience.

Format-wise, Lies We Tell Ourselves follows a similar back and forth POV style to What We Left Behind with the story being told from each of the protagonists perspectives. There are also some great internal monologues from all four characters between the two books. But that’s where the similarity ends, I think, because Lies We Tell Ourselves doesn’t give you a moment to breathe from the very beginning. What We Left Behind starts out happy, lighthearted. A dance. A first meeting of the couple. Lies We Tell Ourselves first page opens with the chilling title “Lie #1: There’s no need to be afraid” and the very first sentence is “The white people are waiting for us.”

If that doesn’t shoot you in the heart with dread, I…don’t know what will. I tend to try to put myself in the shoes of characters I read about to understand people from different places, times, cultures, classes, etc better. I thought about what it would be like to walk into a throng of angry people who hate me…just based on what they see and think they know about me. Granted, the one thing I can relate to in that regard is that being a larger person, I’ve been read as lazy, ugly, stupid, pitiful, and disgusting by many people…just based on the way I look and the reason people think I got this way. And while that is NOTHING compared to hundreds of years of institutional racism, and does not mean in any way, shape, or form that I understand what that feels like, it has given me a tiny window of empathy and I try to be a better person with it.

So there I am, in my mind, walking with the ten teenagers into the Jefferson High School and it’s terrifying.

“They’re out there all right,” Chuck says when he comes back. He’s trying to smile, but he just looks frozen. “Somebody sent the welcome committee.”

No one laughs. We can hear the shouting, but the sound is too disjointed for us to make out the words.

We learn from there that the teens have been assisted and coached by the NAACP on this transition. Sarah, the main character on the desegregation side gives us this run down:

My father and Mrs. Mullins and the rest of the NAACP leaders have been coaching us on the rules since the summer, when the court first said the high school baord had to let us into the white school. Rule One: Ignore anything the white people say to you and keep walking. Rule Two: Always sit at the front of the classroom, near the door, so you can make a quick getaway if you need to. And Rule Three: Stay together whenever you possibly can.

I’ve been reading fiction about desegregation, the South during the 20’s – 50’s, slavery, and runaway slaves and I never came across that kind of description before. I knew the kids who were the first to face desegregation were brave, but I never fully grokked what this looked like on a moment by moment basis until this book. And this is only on page three of the book. By page five, these two paragraphs stopped me cold:

Police officers line the school’s sidewalks in front of the boys. They’re watching us, too.

I don’t bother looking back at them. The police aren’t here to help us. Their shiny badges are all that’s stopping them from yelling with the other white people. For all we know they trade in those badges for white sheets at night.

The rest of the chapter is just them getting into school the first morning, and it’s filled with hate, name-calling, intimidation, and it’s unclear if Sarah, her younger sister, and their friends are even going to make it in the building. They do make it in, after an almost mosh-pit incident and chapter/lie #2 is “I’m sure I’m doing the right thing” and the new students try making their way to their classes, worrying about getting detention if they’re late. Sarah rightly wonders “but if we have to deal with shouting crowds every day, won’t we always be late?” Makes dealing with traffic or any of the hundreds of other things that made me late over the years for school and work seem more than a bit insignificant in retrospect.

That first day is marked with students screaming at them to go home, threats to them, spitballs, milk being dumped on her, and pencils being bored into Sarah’s back. But we also get the set up for her closeted lesbianism and her budding crush on Linda, a red-haired student.

My mind is running to scary places. The images come too fast for me to stp them.

I imagine what it would be like if I were alone with the red-haired girl. How it would feel if she smiled at me with her pretty smile, and I smiled back, and-

No. I know better than to think this way.

I can’t take any risks. Especially not at this school. If anyone found out the truth about me it would mean – I don’t even know what it would mean. I only know it would be horrible. It would be a hundred times worse than what happened in the parking lot this morning. A thousand times worse.

As the day progresses, there are more lies. “I don’t care what they think of me,” “I’m not lonely” and “They won’t really hurt me” forever” hit pretty hard. We learn that while Sarah’s father is in the NAACP, Linda’s father is the editor of the Davisburg Gazette. “He’s the one who writes the editorials opposing segregation. He’s also Daddy’s boss.”

Whelp. This story just went from star-crossed to totally fucked in two sentences.

There are bits sprinkled in about how the white people view the black people and one of Linda’s father’s editorials details how “Negro children should be taught only Negro teachers, for our own benefit, because no one else can understand how “uniquely” our brains work” but we don’t fully get the white perspective until a few more chapters in when we switch to Linda’s POV.

That set up was very telling of the privileged mind of someone who’s never had to examine her own biases and privileges. Linda’s first lie is “None of this has anything to do with me.” And the first sentence of her first chapter? “They canceled the prom today.”

Because the prom is CLEARLY the most important consideration at that moment. I swear, I’ve rarely wanted to slap a fictional character so badly as I did when I first read that. However, Talley knows how to skillfully turn that self-centeredness and build layers into the story very quickly. That first sentence was followed with:

Because of the colored people. Everything that happens now is because of the colored people.

If Daddy has to work later at the paper it’s because the integration teachers are making up stories. If I’m behind in English it’s because the NAACP forced the school to close last semester. If I get caught daydreaming in Math its because the colored girl in the front row distracted me.

Well, now. Apparently Linda is also taken with Sarah. But it’s disturbing to get into Linda’s head, even as skillfully as Talley brings us there. Linda theorizes, the first time she’s in a bathroom at school with Sarah, that “touching her probably feels like touching sandpaper.” Also that black people have a certain smell to them that “stink” up places. I think the most incredulous was that some of the white people wanted to know where the black people kept their tails. This kind of literal dehumanizing was clearly spoon fed to these people from birth and they just accepted it as fact. But what I love about this story is that we see and witness Linda as her thoughts change as she falls in love with Sarah.

Y’see, during that first time in the bathroom, Linda and Sarah get into a bit of a spat because Sarah dares to be anything but polite and deferential to Linda. This pisses Linda off to no end. At first, she uses it to justify her narrow world view:

Daddy was right. The Negro students think they’re entitled. They think their own schools – the ones set aside specifically for them – aren’t enough. They think they have to come for our schools, even if it means hundreds of us have to suffer just so a handful of them can be satisfied.

Linda doesn’t see that separate but equal rarely, if ever, actually means equal. She doesn’t see the suffering that black people have endured at the hands of white people for centuries. She can’t see beyond her own small corner of the world. But Sarah is about to change all of that. Because of the first convo in the bathroom, Sarah and Linda (and Linda’s friend Judy) are late to French class and the teacher decides that that means they’ll be grouped together for the French project.

Now Linda and Sarah have to figure out how to work together, but not only how, but where. Clearly they can’t be seen anywhere together in the white parts of town and it’s also likely not a good idea for Linda to be going to the black parts of town, either. Judy works in Bailey’s Drugstore in town, which has a back room that they can meet in because no one is in there after 4pm on a school day, so they all three agree to meet there. And that’s where the meat of the story really starts unfolding. I don’t mean to disrespect the desegregation parts at school, but it’s when the girls on by themselves and the mob mentality isn’t allowed to prevail that Judy and Linda can start to see that Sarah isn’t stupid. She’s not ugly. She’s not uppity or “entitled”. They begin to learn about the humanness of each other and that they’re more similar than each had previously thought, especially from Linda’s perspective:

The part about her parents and her church choir was strange to read. I’d never thought about what the colored students do when they’re not in school. Sarah must have a house somewhere. She must do things like help her mother with dinner or iron her clothes for church. The same kinds of things I do.

But this is one of my favorite parts of their conversation, after Linda calls Sarah and “agitator” like it’s wrong:

“The point is, we didn’t force your governor to do anything,” Sarah goes on.

“My governor?” I say. “He’s your governor, too.”

Sarah lifts her chin and looks me straight in the eyes again. “He’s not my anything if he doesn’t treat me the same way he treats you.”

My jaw drops.

“That’s anarchy,” I say quietly. I wait for her to take it back.

Sarah doesn’t even blink. “No, it’s not. If the law is wrong, we have to say the law is wrong.”

Linda freaks out about this and again, uses it to justify her views, calling Sarah a Communist. Sarah says she’s not but Linda counters telling her she’s going to tell her own father about Sarah being a Communist. She thinks she’s going “fix integration.”

Sarah very smartly asks how she plans to do that when Linda’s father doesn’t even know they’re working on a project together.

Linda’s list of chapters/lies for this section are little insights into her own mind:

  • None of this has anything to do with me.
  • I’m exactly who I want to be.
  • I’m sure I’m doing the right thing.
  • If I keep pretending, everything will be all right.
  • She’s wrong.
  • This doesn’t change anything.
  • I hate her.

The story truly unfolds from there and Linda and Sarah grow closer while the tormenting at school gets worse. By the end of that section, though, which is about halfway through the book, things come to a head between Linda and Sarah. And right after, we switch back to Sarah for next quarter of the book. Sarah decides that the best thing to do to combat how she feels about Linda is to ignore Linda and put her energy into dating Ennis, one of the other students integrating with her. As we watch her do this, we also get her internal process of how she doesn’t feel that spark with Ennis that everyone says you’re supposed to have with a boy…that she definitely has with Linda.

It makes an odd juxtaposition to Linda’s musings about her fiancee, Jack, and how the pin he gave her “means I belong to someone” and that “Jack is all I need. He’s more than I deserve” whereas when Sarah starts to think about marriage to someone, possibly Ennis, and having existential crises while theater goers are gossiping around her on date, she thinks:

I envy these women. I bet none of them ever doubted whether they should get married. I’m sure none of them ever had any unnatural feelings.

As she’s trying to puzzle this out, she keeps dating Ennis and she and Linda avoid each other. Until Linda seeks her out to tell her that some of their classmates are planning something terrible for the choir concert tomorrow. Because after initially being told they shouldn’t join any extracurriculars at the white school, Sarah’s incredible vocal talents get her into the school choir. The classmates tried to sabotage Sarah by not having an accompanist for her solo. However, Sarah handles it in her own, graceful way.

After this third section of the book, we suddenly get a change. The last section is called “Amazing Grace” and from there on, we get three chapters, one each from Linda, Sarah, and Sarah’s little sister Ruth. Those chapters are now titled with “truths” instead of lies, to mark the journeys that each of them has taken:

  • Truth #1: (Linda) It’s up to me.
  • Truth #2 (Sarah) None of them can touch me.
  • Epilogue, Truth #3: Ruth We did it.

These last few chapters wrap up decisions that Linda has to make, including whether or not to confront her father, what she was going to do about her fiancee, and, by extension, the rest of her life.

Sarah has to face some of her own demons, too. And some things that have happened to her classmates. One got hit with a baseball bat, one was nearly killed by a band of white boys, and then near the end of school, someone pees on her desk chair and the teacher tries to make her sit in it and won’t listen to why she won’t. The teacher gives a choice to sit or leave, so she leaves and goes right to the principal’s office. That conversation is fascinating as all hell to get into yet another white person’s mind from the time about on how all this looks and should work. But after what could’ve been a very disheartening meeting, Sarah left feeling not angry or sad, but more confident in herself:

I can keep sitting quietly, like a good girl.

Or I can get out the letter that came yesterday and decide for myself what happens next.

The book ends on Ruth’s chapter, “We did it” and we get to see Sarah graduating after a brutally hellish year at Jefferson High School and then a small window into where Sarah will go next. I like that there’s hope in this chapter and in this book. It’s more than I was expecting during a volatile, difficult time. It also seems appropriate that it passes to Ruth, who is the next in line to stay on to fight next year when she attends Jefferson High School in the fall.

Even given all that hope at the end, the thing I hate most about all this, though, is how relevant it all was to the current political climate. Today, in 2018, this was scarily too similar to the rise of Neo-Nazis and white supremacy and it’s horrific and depressing to think we haven’t come all that far in 60 years. There’s still more to fight, more to overcome, more to change, but I’m so glad that there are authors like Talley out there on the front lines helping to make that change happen one reader at a time.

[CBR10 – 5/13] grl2grl

(Cannonball Read book review #5 – original post @ CBR10)

I’d been wanting to read this compilation of lesbian YA short stores from Julie Anne Peters for a few years, so I was very excited when I discovered a copy in my county library collection. As a fan of Peters for a while, since I love how she draws me into believable worlds of lesbian and trans teen characters with humor, warmth, and great writing, this book didn’t disappoint. In fact, it went beyond my expectations in terms of variety. Without going into spoilers on specific stories, it covers the fear of coming out and going to a Gay/Straight Alliance meeting, breakups, cheating, first love, sexual abuse, trans hate crimes & violence, impossible crushes, religion, classism and the complications of friendship, non-traditional families, less common pronouns, online dating, and so much more.

The first story, Passengers, details a budding crush one teenager, Tam, has on a fellow classmate named Andi. How she’s observed her sitting alone everywhere. “In Art, senior seminar, lunch, on the train.” Tam and Andi are drawn as different from the get go because Tam says if she were alone on the train, she’d “find something to do. Read or work on homework or doodle, fake it, so if [she were] alone it’d look like [she] wanted to be alone.” But Andi doesn’t seem to care. Throughout the story, Tam brings the reader along on her crazy whim to get to know Andi. It seems like Andi confounds Tam. She doesn’t understand the other girl. Andi is a bundle of mystery, and Tam wants to know her better. We get a snapshot of one day where they spend time talking outside in the cold and then go into school library’s “Brittanica Boneyard” where all the library and other supplies go to die. It was nice to read a story that was just…a beginning and like any great author, I so wanted to know what happened the next day.

The next story is called Can’t Stop the Feeling and it’s about the utter fear of coming out. Mariah keeps wanting to go to the Gay/Straight Alliance meeting at school, and keeps getting closer to going in. However, she has some pretty abject terror: “The dread and fear of exposing myself to them was nothing compared to telling my friends. Did they even qualify as friends? There wasn’t one of them I could trust, or confide in.” It sucks to be that lonely and I found myself rooting for Mariah to get in that Band Room to be part of the Alliance finally.

After Alex hit me pretty hard for some personal reasons. In this story, Rachael’s friends tell her not to take back her girlfriend after Alex cheated on her, but Rachael is still knee deep in heartbreak and pining for the loss of her first love. So when Alex comes back around, begging Rachael to take her back, Rachael is thrown back into remembering the first time they really made a connection and snuggled on a train ride back from a GSA field trip. It’s funny; the story just before this one was about a character who was afraid to join the GSA, and in this story, Rachael talks about finally getting up the “nerve to join the Gay/Straight Alliance at school.” Then Rachael remembers the first time they made love and we come back to Rach’s friends trying to convince her not to get back together with Alex. This is the first story we get a definitive ending on, in that we know what Rachael does in response to Alex wanting her back, and I understand her choice oh-so-well.

Outside/Inside was a clever way to tell the story of a crush, via the outside and inside of cards that the main character, Logan, wants to send to someone she cares about at the beginning of winter break. It ends with the card’s presentation to the crush and I shook my head at Logan’s feelings. I remember having similar ones when I was in high school. I don’t want to cast spoilers out here, even for a short story, so I’m just gonna leave it by saying that things are likely gonna be complicated when Logan when she gets back from winter break.

On The Floor uses a basketball game and two players who’re on opposing teams to build a sweaty, fast-paced, well played metaphor of lust and sportsmanship. I really liked the short, quick sentences in this story and how the way she wrote it really did make give it the stop-start-screeching halt-quick sprint feeling of both a basketball game and the dynamic tension of a couple.

Stone Cold Butch was a rough one for me as it dealt with sexual abuse and how it’s hard for someone who’s gone through that to connect to another person in a romantic or sexual way. The main character, Cammie, calls herself a stone cold butch. She won’t let anyone do anything for her in that intimate way. She’s shut down. Which is heartbreaking to watch from inside her head when a classmate develops a crush on her and pursues her, even though Cammie verges on cruel.

In Abstinence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder, Peters tackles the subject of how abstinence-only sex ed affects queer students. Things like how birth-control wasn’t really a thing for same sex couples because, duh, no risk of pregnancy. Also, when Aimee, the protagonist, asks why should students who were gay wait for marriage when they weren’t allowed to get married and did that mean that they were just never supposed to have sex, I almost threw my fist in the air when reading. Aimee’s teacher gets snarky with her and first tells her she’ll be playing a lot of Solitaire (wtf?! But I can totally see certain teachers I had in school answering that way, and now I’m suddenly glad that I had fairly good NOT abstinence-only sex ed in school) and then later, when Aimee presses her for a real answer, tells her it’s between her and her god. I love the anger that rises in Aimee and also that afterward, in her head, she goes into a rant:

I stormed out after class. My god? My god? What did she know about my god? She probably thought since I was gay, I was godless. Against religion. But I’m not. I have a god. I go to church. My god isn’t her god. My god doesn’t scorn or condemn me. My god is kind and benevolent and accepting. We made a sacred pact. I’d be the best person I could be and God would save me a place in heaven. The real one, where it doesn’t matter who you are or how you look or how you sacrifice your dignity and self-respect most days just to be true to yourself.

The story takes a bit of a twist (to me, at least) from there, introducing an old friend, Peyton, that had dropped Aimee after her parents got divorced and Aimee moved to the wrong side of the tracks and “inner-city housing.” But it was awesome to see Aimee and Peyton reconnect and by the end of the story, with some humor and snark, we get hope for the two girls to be friends again.

Boi deals with an FtM trans character and opens with some fairly explicit talk about children being curious about body parts and how one moment with a cousin was a tip-off for the main character that ze wanted zir own penis. Over a decade later, the same cousin helped Vince get zir first packing penis. Vince’s cousin Kevin were raised by their grandparents. I really liked this story as soon as I started reading it, so the assault that happens to Vince utterly gutted me. Fair warning, this story ends on an incredibly upsetting note and I hate these fictitious boys for what they did to Vince. The damage they did may’ve been fictional, but it’s indicative of the real damage and hate that gets carried out everyday all over the world towards trans people and it’s horrific.

I think TIAD was my least favorite story. I certainly relate to it. It mostly takes place in a chatroom online and I remember what it was like to connect to someone in a chatroom, think that you have something in an LDR, and then to have it all fall apart. This one just felt a little flat to me. However, it is funny that the acronym and it’s meaning has been on my mind a lot lately. I recently wrote a piece about how Tomorrow Is Another Day, so that’s important to remember but this one just didn’t really stick in my brain and I had a hard time connecting to the characters.

Aaaand whereas I couldn’t connect in TIAD, I did nothing by connect with the story and characters in the last story of this compilation, called Two-Part Invention. This was definitely my favorite, but that’s likely due a lot to the fact that it was music-based. Whereas On The Floor was all sweaty sports-filled adrenaline, this was pure lyricism, ripe with music references, and I love how music can be a metaphor for love. This story centered on Kat and her yearly pilgrimages to an elite camp for musical prodigies and the girl, Annika, she’s fallen in love with. There’s a beautiful tension where Kat is trying to bring herself to tell Annika how she feels about her and also trying not to freak out about how Annika has been recently talking about a fellow male prodigy musician named Bryce, throwing a wrench into things for Kat to figure out if Annika might feel the same way. I won’t tell you how it ends, but I was a fan of the ending and think it was the perfect story to end the book on.

Have I mentioned how much I love Julie Anne Peters?