Flannery O’Connor

So I have this term paper due on Flannery O’Connor and her collection of stories, A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories and if you don’t already know this, then you haven’t been paying attention. I’ve been complaining about Flannery O’Connor since the moment I was assigned her back in August, even though it was my own doing, like, I picked her from a list of authors and books, authors and books I would gladly trade with a classmate right now because I swear to all the holy peafowl the name Flannery O’Connor is getting on my last fucking nerve at this point.

Whew. Okay, deep breathes.

My paper is due…ummm… yesterday? Today? Friday? Our professor has moved the due date because she is gracious and kind and because we are all, “Uhhh, umm, about the final paper…” Our professor is cool. I like her. I hate Flannery O’Connor at this point.

Lately I’ve been waking up arguing with myself. I’ll be coming out of that dreamlike trance one is in upon their dog licking their face first thing in the morning and I’ll be thinking, “Flannery O’Connor is a raving racist.” Then my dog will lick my face more, and I’ll be all, “No, Flannery O’Connor was commenting on racism,” then more licks and then, “Flannery O’Connor was just a victim of her time.” Then finally I’ll yell, “Stop licking my face, God damn it, Flannery! Err, Winnie!” And I’ll begrudgingly start my day.

Life is weird.

Anyway, I better go work on this damn paper. Have a pleasant, Flannery O’Connor-less rest of your day, assholes.

M.

Wonderstruck

I have favorite words. I keep a list of them in my mind. Words that I’m eager to see out in the real world. Then when I come across one, I am overjoyed. I’m sort of like a birder who is traipsing across the American Southwest and comes across their first elf owl. They stand in awe of the world’s smallest owl, burrowed deep in a woodpecker’s saguaro hole. The birder might snap a picture, they might just look from a safe distance, their necks craned, their binoculars on high. That’s how I feel when I read someone else’s work, and one of my words pops up. Magic.

Yesterday I was thumbing through the newest Pushcart, an assignment for school, and I decided on an essay to read. Three paragraphs in was the word, tintinnabulation. Sweet Jesus, I could hear the tinkling when I saw the word! There it was, in all its glory! I wanted to snap a picture. I wanted to run downstairs and show Jerimiah. Then it hit me. I was forced to face my own nerdy ways. I’m a mess, a nerdy mess. So instead I read the paragraph over and over again until the ringing stopped.

M.

New-to-Me Office

If you’ll remember last month I got mad at Jerimiah for not telling me that he secretly wanted a home office and I maybe overreacted and immediately bought him a giant office suite and moved my shit into an extra bedroom upstairs? Yes? Remember I shared pictures of his office, which was my old office, but was totally made for him. Okay, anyway, it has taken a month, but my new-to-me office is finally done and I have the pictures to prove it. Now before I show them to you, just know that this was an extra bedroom upstairs that basically acted as a storage room/closet, it was stupid and it needed a purpose. Also know that I haven’t written anything of substance since I have been in my new-to-me office, but I have high hopes. Okay, that is all enjoy.

The thing that took the longest was getting my vintage Rand McNally map back up on the wall. You have to find two studs, you need certain screws, it’s heavy as shit, it was a whole thing. But he did it.
You’ll also recall I said my desk had a chandelier over it, did you think I was lying?
This bookcase, while it doesn’t match my others, was already up here. Which means I had more room to organize my books how I wanted to. This one has “classics” on it, along with some of my childhood toys, and all my man dolls. I put Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain so people would stop thinking he’s Colonel Sanders…
My cheap IKEA bookcases got a facelift with some llama wrapping paper! This is my “Ladies and Llamas” corner. Books are categorized by genre. Non-fiction on one side, poetry in the middle, and only female authors on the last one. To be fair, most of my books are edited and/or written by females.
Trying to keep my desk organized. It won’t last.
Sir Duke Barkington of Charlotte is looking for the pet beds. There aren’t any. They are in Daddy’s office for a reason, asshole. (They still lay on the rug under my feet.)

So there you have it. I have tons more room on my shelves now, since I had those extra bookcases, which means MORE BOOKS! I had to get rid of so many when we downsized a couple years ago. A common question I get about the map is “WHERE DID YOU GET IT?!” I bought it off a woman on Craigslist back in Charlotte. You can buy them on the Rand McNally website, but they are hundreds of dollars. I paid $10, so check Craigslist first, then the yard sale sites, then the thrift stores! There are also some really cute ways to make hanging maps yourself from cheaper maps you can also buy on their website. Google it, I don’t have time to tell you about it because I need to go eat some Cheetos.

Thanks for looking!

M.

Muted and Listening

“Ideal Bookshelf: Anti-racism”, illustration by Jane Mount (www.idealbookshelf.com)

I’ve decided to take part in the #AmplifyMelanatedVoices Challenge created by @blackandembodied and @jessicawilson.msrd. I won’t be blogging, posting on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook from now until June 7th in an attempt to #MuteTheWhiteNoise. Instead I’ll be listening to what Black people have to say. I’ll be watching and looking at art created by Black artists and activists. I’ll be reading Black authors. I’ll be looking inward and reflecting on what I’m learning, how my world views need changing, and how I can help elevate the Black Community. Please follow the hashtags and the original creators of this challenge on Instagram.

Below you will find links to articles about white fragility and anti-racism by Black authors, as well as Black activists to follow on Instagram. I hope you can find time to educate yourself on these topics and listen to the unheard voices in the Black Community. Please remember that Google is your friend. Don’t rely on the people below, or any of your Black friends, colleagues, or Black people in your community to educate you. They are too busy and it isn’t their job. White supremacy and racism work because white people do not take a stand against it. It is a problem that white people created, and it is one that we need to work to end. It is time to take a stand, even toward people you love and admire. Our silence is deafening to the Black Community.

If you don’t already, please follow: @berniceking, @thekingcenter, @theconsciouskid, @rachel.cargle, @ckyourprivilege, @Ibramxk, @taranajaneen, @thegreatunlearn, @mspackyetti, and @staceyabrams. Check to see who they are following, and follow more. Be present in the conversations this week, but do not speak up. Just read and listen. Just listen.

Follow the hashtags #AhmaudArbery, #BlackLivesMatter, #BLM, #IRunWithAhmaud, #GeorgeFloyd, #RevolutionNow, #RadicalEmpathy, #BreonnaTaylor, #BlackoutTuesday, #MutedAndListening, #AntiRacism, #ICantBreathe, #WeCantBreathe, #SayTheirNames, #NoJusticeNoPeace to keep informed with the movement. **Please do not post with these hashtags, it was brought to my attention that some people are using them to follow the rioters and put them in harm’s way, and that coupled with the Blackout Tuesday movement, is blocking important #BLM info from getting out to the Black Community, just follow them for now.**

Read, read, read! Read the books listed in the illustration above for starters, and follow the authors on social media or on their paid Patreon accounts. Please keep in mind that some of these books have become very popular in the last few weeks (which is great), but I have heard of price gauging online. This in no way benefits the authors. Whenever possible, order the title from your local independent bookstore who supports Black writers. It may take a couple of weeks to get the book, because some are on backorder, but it is worth it. The titles from the illustration above are:

Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi
Have Black Lives Ever Mattered? by Mumia Abu-Jamal
The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong
America’s Original Sin by Jim Wallis
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
Good Talk by Mira Jacob
Blindspot by Mahzarin R. Banaji & Anthony G. Greenwald
Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad
So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? by Moustafa Bayoumi
The Fire This Time by Jesmyn Ward
White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown
When They Call You A Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors & Asha Bandele
An African American and Latinx History of the United States by Paul Ortiz
Citizen by Claudia Rankine
An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
Mindful of Race by Ruth King
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Tears We Cannot Stop by Michael Eric Dyson
Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Tatum
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
This Book Is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewell & Aurélia Durand

In the meantime, here are some articles to get you started reading and thinking now:

https://www.theconsciouskid.org/white-fragility

https://medium.com/@ralindaspeaks/black-parents-know-about-the-talk-white-parents-its-your-turn-a6a1209e5be2

I’ve had a lot of white friends tell me they had no idea about the Tulsa Massacre. History.com has great information on what happened to the thriving Black Community in Tulsa in the early 1900s: https://www.history.com/news/black-wall-street-tulsa-race-massacre

As always, be well and safe. And please remember what Maya Angelou said: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

M.

Virtual Meet-Up

I did my first virtual meeting last week with a group called “The Quarantine Book Club” (I first told you about them in my “Submitting” post last week.) I stumbled upon them on Instagram. They are a group of readers, writers and designers, all around cool people who are hosting virtual meet-ups on Zoom with writers who are promoting books, or essayists and others like them. I stumbled upon them because one of my favorite writers, Megan Stielstra, was the guest. The tickets are $5 through EventBright, and I will post their events, website, and other links at the bottom of the page if you are interested in learning more. But for now I want to tell you about the hour I spent with 55 really nice, really honest, really empathetic and compassionate people at my desk in my pajamas.

I was nervous when I first logged onto Zoom, so nervous in fact that I didn’t even connect with video. That is an option you have. You can just stick a picture of yourself up, or it will just show your name. I chose this pic of Jackson and me as my image:

I couldn’t decide what I was nervous about, I think it was just the idea of meeting new people, yes, even virtually. I did feel a little better when Megan’s sweet face popped up, but I was still like, “Oh my goodness, what if I do or say something crazy and someone notices me?” So yeah, I sat in relative obscurity. For the record, I also didn’t ask any questions (though there were a so many for her we didn’t even get to them all), all I did was thank them at the end in the little chat bar, but I did listen, something I am really good at, and I did soak up some inspiration from one of my favorite writers and some really awesome new friends! (For real, some of us connected on Insta afterward.) And although I took four pages of notes just from listening, these were the big takeaways for me:

Because although Megan is a great essay writer, we didn’t really want to know about how to write an essay, we were all wondering instead, how you an keep writing, how you can survive, in a times like today. And she spent a lot of time telling us how she thought we could do that, how she was trying to do that, and how we as a community must do that. She talked about fear and sadness. About how we can service our communities with our writing. About how it’s okay to be down on the ground. It’s okay because there are people are around us who are not on the ground when we are, and we need to rely on those people, because one day we will be upright and walking, and our friends will be down there and they will need us like we did them. Really. Truly.

Don’t get me wrong, she did talk about writing. She gave some great tips on how to find where you should be submitting. She encouraged us all to get our words out there, but when one woman was unmuted to ask her question, and was crying alone in her bedroom because Megan had just given us all permission to be scared and sad, we all took a long breath in. We were all this woman. Or we have been. Or we will be. And it is scary and it is sad, and we feel bad about it, even though there just isn’t a need to.

I don’t know, listen, I’m still trying to wrap my head around all I learned in one hour with 55 strangers on the internet. I’m sure something good will come from it, but in the meantime here is the link to the Quarantine Book Club again, and here is an essay from Megan Stielstra’s book “The Wrong Way to Save Your Life” and here is a list of my favorite Indie Bookstores you can buy her, or any of the cool, fun, new books from. I’m sure you have your own Indie Booksellers too, but if not, check out Indie Bound.

Quarantine Book Club Twitter

Megan Stielstra Essay “Here is My Heart”

Some of my favorite Indie Booksellers, the kind of places you can get lost in for hours. Most of them are closed now except to online orders, but most are offering free delivery right now too. And if you’re ever in any of these areas, check out these fun shops, I’ve been to all of them and can vouch for their cold-hard coolness!

Okay, take care of yourself and each other.

M.

The Year of the Book

Book Club has really helped me engage in reading again. It has prompted me to look at all the Indie Book lists. It has forced me into spending time thinking/writing/planning books to read. Deciding what would be good for the group to read vs. what I should read alone vs. what Jerimiah and I should read together, that sort of thing. But mainly it’s helped me read more. I’m already three books in this year, halfway through number four, and about to start my March Book Club book and it’s only March. That’s good for me because that means I will be at five books at the year by the end of the month, and for someone who averages a book a month it sets me up for success. Yay me! I’m not bragging here. I’m not trying to start a competition. Unless you are into that, then yeah, I’ll compete with you in book reading. Not exercising or tracking our food or anything like that. But I will compete on book reading. And you will lose. Bring it, losers!

Okay, whew, sorry I got off topic. I wanted to tell you about the three books I have already read this year and what I thought about them because I dunno, people who read blogs are usually readers, and if you haven’t read these three, very different books, you might want to. Or you might want to steer clear of them, it all depends on whether you trust me or not. Well, do ya? Do ya trust me? No, you’re right. It’s too soon. Read the reviews I am giving first. Now, it’s important to remember that I am WAY behind in books. Some of these books are “old” in that they came out many moons ago, but I’m playing catch up. And I read one of them because a friend told me about it, and I’m not sure how I missed it all these years ago. Also, I am not, nor have I ever been a good reviewer of books. But let’s not worry about that, and just dig in.

  1. The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeny

Jerimiah and I read this book together in January as sort of a precursor to book club. He knew he wanted to be part of my book club, but didn’t feel very confident reading the kind of stuff my friend Julie and I were talking about reading. Julie also has an MA in English, so he was feeling a little worried about fitting in considering an MBA doesn’t really set you up for literary success. So I found a book I thought we both might like that isn’t too “hard” to read. We’d just come back from a whirlwind trip to NYC over the holidays (a place we both love immensely) so I thought what a fun theme this would be.

The Nest is set in NYC, and Sweeney does an amazing job of place here. I mean I don’t want to spoil anything, but there were so many parts of the book that Jerimiah and I were both like, “Oh my gosh, I love that place.” Brooklyn plays a huge part in the book, and there are also some great instances of museums you’ve probably been to, Ground Zero, and Central Park. In a sense, it’s a love letter to the city, while showcasing a wholly dysfunctional family. I mean like, you’re gonna feel better about your family after you read this.

Like I said before this isn’t a “hard” read, which is to say it isn’t so much literary as it is just plain fun. Jerimiah appreciated the constant movement in the book. There weren’t any real “laggy” parts, and it seemed like around every corner there was a new surprise. It’s also told in multiple perspectives, namely the four Plumb siblings, with some you will love more than others. Fucking Leo. Ugh, that’s all I’m gonna say about that.

Jerimiah was happy with the end of the book. He liked what he called “a refreshing, unexpected turn.” I was pissed, and Julie (who read it after we did) literally had to skip parts because she was so mad at one of the characters. Two guesses who.

In the end, I’d say read it! It’s fun, and quick, and if you love NYC, or if you want to love NYC or if you have no idea what it’s like to have problems like the wealthy do (raising my hand) it’s like getting a glimpse inside a life you will never know. But again, don’t expect too much. Just fun! (You could argue that the big themes are money and power, but I really, really think there is more to it than that like love, so much love. Good and bad. But you know, you can argue with me if you want to.)

2. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

Shit you guys, I’ve been putting this one off. Like I started it a few years back, when it first came out and people we’re talking about it all good and saying things like, “Find out how people really live in the Rust Belt” and that sort of thing. Julie heard about it too, but never read it. We had both opted for Tara Westover’s Educated in lieu of this book, and we were both like, “Yeah, that was a good decision.” But because we wanted a book we all at least knew about to start off book club, we went with Hillbilly Elegy. And it did give us a lot to talk about, namely how it was kinda bad, in the grand scheme of things.

I have to be honest here, when I first read the title, the whole title, I was a little like, hmmm. The claim that he could write a memoir of a whole culture kinda didn’t sit with me well. I’m a CNF writer, y’all know this, and yet I would never claim to write a memoir of an entire culture, because well, I don’t think it can be done. A history, sure. A anthropological examination, yeah. But a memoir? Mmmm. Again, fight me if you want to.

So right away I flipped to the back of the book to see his picture, and I didn’t like him. I know, I know, that’s fucked Missy. But I just got this really uppity vibe from him, and it only got worse. Like in introduction he basically humble brags the whole time. Oh, poor J.D. he joined the Marines and became very successful, then poor J.D. got into Yale Law School. Oh, poor J.D. got out of this cycle of poverty, aggression, and fear, and is now living in San Fran with his wife and two doggies, talking shit on his hometown. Oh, poor J.D. Seriously, I’m maybe not the best person to talk about this book.

BUT the actual memoir part, his life growing up in his family, was pretty compelling. It was more the stereotyping and political shit that I didn’t like. Especially the way he would suggest the problems, but have no solutions to them. Typical Republican, if you ask me. But I’ll let you figure that out on your own.

When I posted this to my FB account on Book Club night, with my beautiful charcuterie board I made to accompany our first meeting, I had some people who actually live in this area, the Kentucky/Ohio/Pennsylvania Rust Belt area, comment to tell me that they HATE him there. So that kinda made me happy. Cause they should. Should you read it? Sure. Yeah. It’s an “important” book, to some people. Or you know, skip. Read Educated instead. Or The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. Janesville, maybe, by Amy Goldstein, or even Heartland, by Sarah Smarsh.

Oh, but I did just see that there is a book out tilted: Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy and that book IS on my list.

3. Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem

I legit just found out this is being made into a movie, or was already made into a movie, or a series, or something. I only found out because when I was looking for this pic to steal from the internet it took me a long time to find the copy I read, because there is a new, fancier one out with the movie people. Then I got sidetracked, but not enough to learn about what is actually happening, just enough to be all, “The hell?! I just read it, give me a few years before I see the movie.” But in reality, I’m actually super pumped about the movie, cause even though I didn’t think I’d like it, I did.

This is a classic detective novel, which if you’re like me, you’re all what? Why? Hear me out, there is a very interesting character, well cast of characters, in this novel, mainly Lionel the “Human freakshow” who is an orphan with Tourettes Syndrome. For real.

This is ANOTHER book set in NYC, around real places that you may recognize, though to be fair, this is a seedier NYC, than what most of us are used to. But it is still really fun, and still the city plays such a lively part that you are sucked into it immediately.

The storyline is just complex enough for you to be all, “Wait, did I miss something?” and then figure out what you missed, then get back on track. It’s fun because Lionel is telling the story, but we are often taken off track into his actual mind, the one riddled with Tourette’s. It takes a few tries before you’re like, oh I get it. At least it did for me. Better readers might not need that extra time. That being said, it isn’t the world’s most complex story (see detective story above) but there are some common themes to work with, and some surprises that will keep you being like, “The hell, man?!” I’d actually be willing to read more from Lethem.

There you have it, my not so helpful review of books. But come on, you guys don’t come here for my real thoughts on literary shit, you come here for the fart jokes and country music references. And that’s why I love you.

On deck for book club this month is Crossing to Safety, another oldie that slipped by me, by all of us actually, and I’m super psyched for it. I’m also reading, How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster, because some of my high school English teacher friends live and die by it, and I wanted to see what it was all about. So far, so good! Not a lot of new stuff, but he’s insightful and funny as hell, and I’m finding that I’m teaching Jackson (and Jerimiah) some of the “tricks of the trade” as it were, by using his examples. I can see why high school teachers (and students) love it!

So I dunno, go forth and read today. And no judging on what you read, as long as you don’t judge me either, assholes.

M.

PS… Book club is on the last Friday of the month, come join us for wine and maybe talking about the book!

It’s Book Club Time!

Oh my goodness, do you guys remember like forever ago when I wrote about my secret desire to be part of a book club, but that I just knew that I would never be invited into one because I suck so hard?! Remember I called it Book Clurb because I was putting extra Rs in words to annoy my husband at the time? Okay, well guess what?! No, I wasn’t invited into a book club. Sad face. I started my own! Eek! Okay now before you are all, “Jesus Missy, this won’t end well.” Listen to what actually, for real happened.

First of all, at the beginning of the school year I met this friend named Julie outside the walker line at Jackson’s school. Not to be confused with THAT Julie. She cray. This Julie is legit, and nice, and totally, usually, up for whatever. So Cool Julie (who also has an MA in English) was all, “I’ve been thinking about trying to start like a book club or something.” And you know I tapped into that shit hard! I played it cool at first, I was all, “Hmm, I book club. I don’t know. I mean, do people read anymore?” And she was all, “I think so. I mean I do.” I looked toward the ground and pretended like I was unimpressed. “Sure, sure,” I countered, “But like what do you read?” And she proceeded to tell me some books and I fell in actual love with her.

Fast forward a couple of months and we have a book picked out, “Hillbilly Elegy” one of those ones we were always meaning to get around to one day, and a couple of people in the club. Full transparency, one of the people is my husband, BUT, he said he wanted to read more this year and in January we read a book together, “The Nest” and had our own mini-book club and it worked well, so there’s that. Also, read “The Nest” by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, especially if you love New York City, or family dysfunction, or various POVs. Good stuff.

Even fuller transparency, we are holding it at my house mid-month, we have very little rules other than we all have to be reading the same book, and you know I am gonna make a Charcuterie Board (and you know I can!) and have plenty of wine on hand. So if we actually get around to reading and talking about the book, cool. If not, that’s cool too. Either way I will let you know how it goes. And if anyone wants to join now is your chance! There is only one spot left if I stick to my original plan… Five. Five is a good number.

Cheers to reading!

M.

Harry Motherfucking Potter

Harry Motherfucking Potter (not it’s official title) was a little after my time. In fact, I remember being forced to read the first book in a children’s lit class my freshman year and I wanted to bang my head against the wall. This was way back, back when I read the whole text that was assigned to me. I was 18, I was pissy, I was usually high from weed, and I was a little emo. I thought Harry Motherfucking Potter was the dumbest shit ever. Then, in January of 2018 we decided as a family to read the whole series (which was gaining traction in Jackson’s world at that time, damn fourth graders and their HP obsessions) and now here we are, two years later and last night we started the last book and you guys, the series has been a fucking DELIGHT! I love Harry Motherfucking Potter, and I’m not ashamed to say it anymore.

If you have never read it before, and plan on it, I suggest you stop here because I am about to spoiler alert the shit out of you, okay? Okay, stop reading, go on about your day. Visit your local library to grab a copy. Or better yet, run over to your friendly, local bookstore and purchase your ass the first four books that have been illustrated (they are only up to the first four) because they are amazing, here is a pic of them for reference:

No, here comes a BIG spoiler. Go on now, GIT!

The week of Christmas we were finishing up The Half-Blood Prince (my favorite so far) and Jackson had two complete meltdowns. Two of them, y’all. Melt. Downs. Like needing to excuse himself, go hide in his room, and cry for hours. The first one was when Harry got Slughorn and Hagrid all drunked up after Aragog’s funeral, in order to get Slughorn’s horcrux memory. At first I could not figure out for the life of me what that was about. Like why was he so upset about it. Later on I realized that he saw what Harry did as a betrayal and that he had not seen Harry as that kind of person before. Listen, I had. I know Harry and his stupid tricks (he’s not my favorite character, Hermione is obvi) and this did not surprise me in the slightest. But Jackson, his big-hearted, honest nature, was not okay after this whole scene. The lying, the sneaking, the Felix Felicis, it all added up to turmoil for him. But that wasn’t the worst.

Last spoiler warning, be gone!

The worst night was the night before we left for vacation. The second to last chapter. Dumbledore’s death. Sigh. Listen, it shook me too. But I had a sense it was coming because you know, reader, writer, purveyor of tricks of the trade, but Jackson was shocked! Absolutely, terrified at how it all went down and he lost his shit, as any good reader of the series should have. He excused himself, and sobbed into his pillow. We checked on him several times, tried to comfort him. But honestly this was his first beloved character death and we knew he needed to process it. So when he finally asked to be left alone, to have his door closed (something we never usually allow because of my anxiety and need to hear him breathing at night) we slowly crept out and closed his door behind us. At some point he fell asleep.

The next day we asked if he wanted to finish the last chapter, which included the beloved professor’s funeral and he said no. He said he couldn’t do it right now, and it took us two more weeks to finish the book.

What’s funny to me, is that through the whole process of grieving Dumbledore, he kept saying, “I’m so dumb. This is so dumb. It’s a book!” I’m not sure why he thought that. If someone said that to him. If he just innately thought this was something that you don’t do, but I assured him that this is something that happens. We invest. We’ve been with Professor Dumbledore for two years now. He’s been the topic of many conversations. He was a great wizard, and an even better friend and confidant to Harry, and well, this happens when a book, a series like Harry Motherfucking Potter, gets you under its spell. We told him he shouldn’t feel ashamed. He should feel happy that he found a series that he loved that much.

This is all to say that this has been a fun, agonizing couple of years for us. And I hope that Jackson has learned many lessons from this series, but more importantly I hope he remembers how it made him feel. I hope he remembers grieving over the great professor. I hope he remembers how triumphant he felt each time Harry battled, and beat Voldemort. I hope he takes with him the friendships between the characters, strives to live a life as noble as Ron or study as hard as Hermione, or yes, even possess the confidence and shear stupidity, at times, of Harry. Because this series is about so much more than a little magic wand, and I’m so happy Jerimiah and I shared this experience with him.

We started the last book last night, and the normal sense of urgency wasn’t there. I think we all want this one to linger a little longer. I sure hope it does.

M.

We’re All Mad Here

One of my favorite subscriptions, Creative Nonfiction, is having a huge sale. They are unexpectedly moving from the location they have been for many years, and are selling off their inventory and back issues at LOW, LOW prices. Naturally I perused their “Clearance” section for good deals. Y’all know I love a good deal, and the good deals were bountiful. Many books from Lee Gutkind, many back issues of their magazine, and even some anthologies, all for an average price of about five buckaroos. As I started to look deeper into the back issues, I noticed that most of the ones I wanted were already sold out. I was all, what gives? So I started looking for patterns and lo and behold they came, as they usually do. The sold out copies were centered around two themes: Finding joy in dark times and mental illness. So, there you have it. We’re all fucked up.

I know you know this already. But damn it’s hard to see sometimes. Especially when you’re down there, in the thick of it. And I also know that my little, let’s call it a gathering of intel (as it wasn’t really research) about what people are buying in a very specific holiday sale, at a very specific, pretty unknown publication, isn’t a tell-all about the state of the world, but… but… is it though?

On of my favorite stories is Alice in Wonderland. I love it so much, that I can overlook Carroll’s opium use (just adds to this particular story), his penchant for young girls (let’s call it pedophilia), and the hookah-smoking caterpillar. And yes, a deep dive into that bitch can elicit a million different readings. It’s about growing up, obviously, it’s about puberty quite specifically, it’s about social climbing, sure. It’s about desire, idyllic beauty, innocence. Then all the really DARK stuff too. But, one of my favorite parts is when Alice is talking to Cheshire Cat and she’s all whiny and bitchy (hormones) and she says, “Buuuuut I don’t want to go among mad peopllllllle.” And Cheshire Cat is all, “Bitch. We all mad here.” I’m paraphrasing. Alice goes on in her bitchy way to be all, “How u know I’m mad, asshole?” And he’s all, “U here ain’t u?” End scene.

In the Disney version Cheshire Cat says something quite different when Alice says she doesn’t want to go among mad people. He says, “Ohh, you can’t help that. Most everyone is mad here.” Then he laughs his weirdo laugh. See the difference? In the real, shroom-enlightened brain of Lewis Carroll, we’re all mad. In Disney’s version just some of us are. Which can really fuck with you, because Disney’s dead wrong. We’re ALL mad here.

I don’t know a single person in my life that isn’t a little cuckoo-bananas. Sure, they might be cool as a cucumber most of the time, but every, single person I know has a thing. Maybe just one. Maybe several. Usually several, but they have at least one thing that makes others go, “Hmmm…” And that’s normal, y’all. It’s okay. In fact, it’s preferred. Because what would this here world be like if we all were great and wonderful all the time? If none of us were looking for joy in dark times? If there were no dark times? If none of us were struggling daily with mental illness, or trauma, or just trying to make the ends meet? It would be a shitty, shitty world I’ll tell you that.

Of course Disney is linking to something deeper here. Now mind you, I’m talking about the original Alice in Wonderland from Disney in 1951. So I’m talking about a time in American History where shit was real bad. Not for everyone, pause, not for all white people, but for most white people. Black people and other minorities, well they weren’t even “people,” so there’s that. I’m also talking about a time when your run-of-the-mill mental illness could get you locked away for all eternity. Like, for real. This was pre-prozac. This was when mental illness was not considered a thing. Maybe you were sad sometimes. That’s okay. Pull up those bootstraps and go on. The sad, sad reality is, there are still a lot of people who think this way. Now, most of them are dying out, but still we have them in our lives. We see them everyday. They are running our country. These people who don’t think mental illness is real. These people who believe they are not afflicted by it. These people who hand-to-whateverGod think this is just all made up, fanciful, Lewis Carroll shit. Hmpf.

Imma stop. Y’all know me. I can get going down a rabbit hole, way bigger than Alice’s, about mental illness. About trying to find joy among the wreckage. And for the most part, you know what I’m gonna say. Keep on keeping. Keep up the good work. Go to therapy. Get your meds right. Talk to people. Check on your people. YES! Even your people who make mad fun of you for going to therapy or taking meds. Because the chances are good that they are in the same boat as you, but with no raft to throw on shore, y’all. Their ego, their pride, their family members or friends, their own mental illness is making it hard for them to talk openly about their own mental illness. I know this sounds crazy, but it’s true. It’s so very true. And sure, Alice in Wonderland isn’t real. There are no Queen Cards coming to life, there are no rabbits who are late, late, for a very important date. But mental illness is real. And trying to find and create joy in this shitbag, upside-down world is real (and here is a link to the Creative Nonficiton sale to prove it: Holiday Sale at Creative Nonfiction). And pedophilia is real (watch yo kids!) and opioid addiction is real. But you know what else is real? Help is real. Talking about mental illness helps. That is real. I’m living proof. And also I’m here. If you need me.

M.

Limit Ten

I’ve been thinking a lot about the library of my youth. I’ve been remembering all the time I spent there, on the long, blue sectional couch that wrapped all the way around the front lobby of the library, from the children’s section to the foyer. I’ve been remembering the glass blocks that encircled the Check-Out desk, where I’d tell the librarian that I forgot my card again, or when I had to call my mom for a ride home when I didn’t have a quarter, or when there was a book I needed help getting off the high shelf. I spent a lot of time at the Leavenworth Public Library as a kid. My middle school was a block from the library, so sometimes I’d be able to talk my mom into walking to the library after school and hanging for a few hours. The library was the first place I discovered internet. It was where I did my volunteer time for student council, it was the place I found the New York Times, and the Kansas Room, and the pleasure of curling up with a book—that was way too advanced for me—on one of the pink sofas in the back of the library, where adults read the newspapers, and plants and statues stood watch over the weird, curved windows overlooking 4th Street.

When I was a kid there was a ten book limit when you checked out books from the library. This was always hard for me, both because I am an avid reader, and because I suffer from FOMO. What if the ten books I decided on were not as good as I had hoped? What if my mom won’t bring me back for another week? What if I read them all in one day? I was anxious as a kid. The reference section was a good place for me. It had small shelves, easily accessible, and I never had to worry about which book to check out because you couldn’t take any of them home with you. Same with the periodicals. So I spent most of my time thumbing through those sections, with my stack of ten books waiting for me at checkout.

I’m not sure the architecture of the building, but I can see it clearly, it’s black overhang shielding me just enough from the rain on a wet and cold Saturday morning when my mom would swing her 1972 Dodge Cornett into the lot for me to race up and shove my books into the return. There were always plants planted just outside the door, and just inside was a water fountain that I stopped at a number times for a gulp after I had walked the block from East Middle School.

The original public library in Leavenworth, like many other small towns, was built in 1900 from funds donated by Andrew Carnegie. It was a two-story brick and limestone building, originally named the Carnegie Library, and it was, and still is, designated on the state and national registry of historic places. The library of my youth was built in 1987, and when it was brand new it was one of the most unique buildings in our small town.

Not much had changed in the library the last time I visited, but that was maybe ten years ago. There were still the same old blue chairs on the small desks for studying. The same glass blocks around the offices behind the check-out desk, and the same pink chairs in the back. The same plants. The same statues. The same weird, curved windows. And of course, the same smell. That old, musty library smell. I’ve come to love that smell, and as of late, miss it a little.

The library is actually two stories, but most people didn’t know that because most people didn’t venture upstairs. Upstairs was mainly just administrative offices, but once or twice as a kid I’d meander to the elevator, wait for the beep, then head upstairs. It was always quiet up there, always neat as a pin. Always a little dark. It wouldn’t take long for me to become afraid that someone would catch me and I would race back down the stairs on the north side. It always felt like a close call.

The year I spent volunteering at the library, seventh grade I believe, was spent mostly shelving books, living and dying by Dewey Decimal. I also got to spend a bit of time in the kid’s room, where I would sometimes cut out shapes for children to glue together, or help little ones find the book they were looking for. I usually got suckered into a corner by a kids’ book myself, and would lounge on the giant bean bag chairs with a Sesame Street reader until the cart was full of books to be shelved again. Volunteer of the year right there!

It’s a little funny, but I don’t know why I am telling you all this today. I don’t know why over the last few months I have been drawn to old buildings. The ones I knew growing up. Why the places we spent time in as a child, end up being so important to us as adults. And maybe they aren’t. Maybe I’m weird. Either way, sometimes, when I can’t find a comfy spot to read my borrowed book of essays, or I walk into a fancy, new library around my new town, I can’t help but wish I was back in Leavenworth. On one of those musty, pink couches. A secret bag of Doritos in my book bag, and the current copy of the Kansas City Star on my lap. Trying to figure a ride home. An escape from that town. A way out of that life. Maybe that is exactly what the library is for.

M.