Fear of the Blank Page: How I’m Trying to Get Back into Writing More and Punch my Fear in the Gut

For the past few months, I have been avoiding blank pages. I’ve been reading and studying and watching Doctor Who and cleaning my fish’s tank and working, but not looking at the blank pages in my creative writing notebook or empty Word documents.

But here we are. I’ve pulled up an empty Word document and written some words on it to share with you. Honestly, though, it hasn’t been easy to get here.

The amount of writing I do on the daily has drastically decreased throughout my college years to the point where I barely ever write unless it’s for a blog post, Instagram caption, or essay. Part of this is due to mental health issues, but a lot of it has just been that I’ve become afraid of blank pages.

I never used to have this problem. In fact, I loved blank pages! They have so much potential, and I can fill them up with anything I please. I can turn a blank page into a poem or a character or an entire world. I can make someone feel sunlight coming through the blinds or the softness of a puppy’s fur. The possibilities are infinite. And I used to love that.

But now I’m afraid. I’m afraid of writing something shitty or problematic or starting another story I can’t finish. I’m afraid of the possibilities, because of what if I choose the wrong one? What if someone wants to read it and I can’t share it because it’s bad?

You know what I need to say to myself? So what.

So what if it’s bad? So what if I keep it to myself forever? So what if I choose the wrong direction? I can edit and make it better. I can write for my own pleasure. I can change directions in a story any time I please. I’m a writer. And without writing, I feel a little lost.

My goal for myself in the future is to write more. I want to write a little bit every day, even if it’s just journaling. I have already started journaling daily again. Sometimes I write a few pages and sometimes it’s a few words, but I’m still writing every day. Hopefully, this will push me to write more for fun. In the same vein, I am going to start writing in notebooks again. I used to write so much more when I wrote stories by hand, because screens distract me and give me headaches. I find it harder to focus when looking at a screen. It’s why I prefer physical books versus e-books. I need to apply this logic to my writing, too. Writing by hand is slower, and I have to eventually transfer it to a screen, but I want to start on paper.

Now, writing more will probably mean that I read less, but I have to tell myself that it’s okay. My goal isn’t to read a ton. It’s to write more and be more selective about what I’m reading. I may actually have to not finish more books in the future. Yikes! That makes me anxious just writing it, but I’m sure I can give myself permission to do it every once in a while.

If there’s anything I’ve learned before starting this blog post, it’s that I just need to write. I just need to do it. I can’t only think about it or be hard on myself for not doing it. I can’t give into the fear. I have to give myself over to the possibilities and just write.

This little update is just to say that I hope to be writing more in the future, which hopefully means going back to posting twice a month on this blog like I was doing before.

I also want to add that I’m not setting any 2020 goals for myself. My goals are not going to be limited to one year. I want to write more indefinitely. I want to get better at cooking healthy meals in general. Plus more that I’m keeping to myself. I think 2020 will be a good year, but I want to start the year off without burdening myself with too many things. I’ve started working on some of my goals already, in December, instead of waiting for January, and I’m glad I’m making progress in the present instead of always looking to the future.

I hope everyone’s December is going well, that your holidays are great, and that you are setting goals for yourself that will make you happier.

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November 2019: How I Read Two New Favorite Books and They Were Both Memoirs About Identity

What I Read:

  • Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
  • Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera
  • The Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Xicana in a Female Punk Band by Michelle Cruz Gonzales
  • The Body by Stephen King
  • Sorted: Growing Up, Coming Out, and Finding My Place by Jackson Bird

I did not keep track of the books I got this month, so I am forgoing the “What I Got” list this month.

I know my blog posts have been sporadic lately, but my mental health has not been the best, so I apologize for the lack of posting. My depression has made everything, including reading, difficult to get around to. Even though this was not a great month in terms of mental health and organization, I did read two of my new favorite books ever: The Spitboy Rule and Sorted. These are both nonfiction books, too. Who would’ve thunk? And even the other books I read were all enjoyable; nothing I had to trudge through while wishing I was reading something else.

Let’s start with the best ones. Screw “save the best for last.” I’m excited to talk about these books, so we are going to do it now.

The Spitboy Rule has become a favorite of mine not because of its wonderful prose or storytelling prowess, but because I now am a HUGE fan of Michelle Cruz Gonzales. This memoir tells the story of her years as the drummer and songwriter of the feminist hardcore band Spitboy in the ’90s. She was the only person of color in the band and often felt that her identity was erased because she could “pass” as white. Her discussions of identity and the white-washed feminism of the riot grrrl movement were nuance and wonderful. My favorite thing, though, is that her nickname was Todd. A Xicana punk drummer with the nickname Todd? Immediate icon. Gonzales is now an English professor at a community college (because, as she said in an interview, “community college is punk”) and still drums sometimes in the staff band. I did an entire project on Gonzales, which I will be presenting tomorrow, and I really enjoyed learning her story and seeing her succeed because of the strength she got from the women in her life.

My second favorite book of the month, which I have a feeling will be a book that I hold close to my heart for a long, long time, is trans activist Jackson Bird’s memoir. He writes about his journey discovering and coming to terms with his gender, while also discussing his own personal transition. He intersperses his story with trans terminology and etiquette. Even those these little asides were a bit “Trans 101,” I love that they were included. People who may randomly pick up this memoir will learn how to treat trans people, and people questioning their gender will find helpful resources. Even though Jackson Bird has had a different trans journey than mine, as a trans guy who also came out in his 20s, this story felt very important to me. He discusses thinking that, because he likes rom coms and other “feminine” hobbies, he felt he was not enough of a guy. I related to that so much. I am a guy, but I like to scrapbook and read and watch rom coms and paint my nails. That doesn’t make me less of a guy, and I already knew this, but Jackson’s admission that he felt the same way made me feel even more secure in my identity.

Not only did I love hearing about Jackson Bird’s transition and trans activism, but I also loved hearing about his time working for the Harry Potter Alliance and being a big nerd at events like LeakyCon. I’ve always wondered what it was like growing up in the first wave of Harry Potter mania, and I was able to get a glimpse into it through someone who was super involved in the Potter community at that time. I can’t wait to re-read this book when I am further along in my transition and comfortable with my purpose and path in life as a writer or editor or bookstore owner.

Now onto the other awesome but not best-of-all-time books. Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo was my and my sister’s sibling book club book for November. I was super pumped because, not only did I get to read a new Leigh Bardugo book, I also got to discuss the book in person with my sister over Thanksgiving break! At Starbucks, we discussed how we were super confused throughout most of the book. Being confused while reading is not a huge problem for me because I am often confused in real life, but it was a bigger problem for my sister. There were a few plot points that were “too easy,” but we both agreed that most of the characters were awesome and we still wanted to know what happened next. We both wished for more of the occult and secret societies at Yale. However, the murder mystery plot was interesting and the character named Dawes, who was a motherly, level-headed graduate student attempting to finish her dissertation, was the best character. (Pammie deserves the best!) Even with all of these issues, Leigh Bardugo’s writing style and ability to infuse magic into not only the setting but also the characters made the reading experience super enjoyable.

Juliet Takes a Breath was the queer lit book club book of the month. This was another book that we all loved but still had issues we discussed. This book follows a Puerto Rican lesbian from the Bronx who interns with a white feminist writer in Portland. One thing I loved about this book is that Juliet doesn’t know everything about the LGBT community. At first, she is defensive about not knowing because she encounters people who make her feel stupid for not knowing. But when she finds people who are willing to teach her, she is willing to learn. This story shows people that it’s okay not to know things and it’s okay to fuck up as long as you are willing to better yourself and learn more. Unfortunately, the white feminist writer Harlowe was super annoying and a horrible ally to LGBT people of color. There were also a few side characters that I wished had more time in the limelight. Like the motorcycle-riding, cookie-baking librarian with whom the main character Juliet has a fling with. Or Juliet’s family in the Bronx, especially her brother Lil Melvin. Overall, though, this book was a really fun read. I have been wanting to read this book for a long time, but it was out of print, and now that it has been re-published, I can honestly say it lived up to the years of hype. The only issue I had was that this new cover was highlighter yellow, and I liked the purple cover a lot better.

Lastly, let’s talk about The Body by Stephen King. I have to say that I was surprised I liked this book. The other two Stephen King books I’ve read were duds for me, but this novella about four pre-teen boys searching for a dead body was, dare I say it, enjoyable. I had watched the movie Stand By Me, which is based on this novella, earlier this year, which I think added to my enjoyment of the story. It was kind of refreshing to read a novel about twelve-year-old boys messing around and being politically incorrect and making mistakes. Kids should be allowed to make mistakes, and even though I don’t believe that people should be politically incorrect on purpose, it felt realistic for stupid twelve-year-old boys in the 1960s.

Overall, even though I didn’t read a lot, my mood was horrible, and I didn’t keep track of anything in my bullet journal or reading journal, I read a lot of good books in November. And now that I’m on a new medication for my depression, I am hoping it kicks in this month and I can be better at organizing my life and my reading.

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October 2019: How My Attempted Spooky Read AND Punk Book Turned Out to be Flops

***Sorry no photos! I have some that I may add later but my computer is malfunctioning at the moment. 😦

What I Read:

  • Mooncakes by Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker
  • Opal by Maggie Stiefvater
  • Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward (school book)
  • Pet Sematary by Stephen King
  • Wild by Cheryl Strayed
  • A Tongue in the Mouth of Dying by Laurie Ann Guerrero (school book)
  • Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldúa (school book)
  • Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand
  • Teeth Never Sleep by Ángel García (school book)
  • Life is Wonderful, People are Terrific by Meliza Bañales
  • Intelligence in Nature by Jeremy Narby (school book)
  • Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud (school book)

What I Got:

  • Mooncakes
  • Cursed by Thomas Wheeler and Frank Miller
  • Second Son by Ryan K. Sallans
  • Transforming Manhood by Ryan K. Sallans
  • Life is Wonderful…
  • Wild
  • Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Here’s my hot take on the book that many people, including the author, consider the scariest book ever: Pet Sematary was not scary. There’s this whole introduction in my edition by Stephen King himself about how he thought this story crossed a line and he didn’t want to publish it initially, and I found myself waiting and waiting for the scary part. It never came. Sure, the forest and the cemetery beyond the “Pet Sematary” were eerie, and the whole resurrection thing was creepy, and the plot gets very sad, but I would not use the word scary or terrifying to describe this story. I thought that the whole “evil Indian burial ground” thing was insensitively done and the plot was super slow. It was building suspense but the suspense never actually amounted to something.

Pet Sematary was my classic horror novel for October 2019. Last year I read Dracula (kinda boring but ultimately an interesting read) and the year before, Frankenstein (a quality book), but unfortunately, I have to say that Pet Sematary did not impress me that much. It was a good read, but not scary or horrific or amazingly unique. It was just “meh.”

Mooncakes was a delightful switch from the sluggish eeriness of Pet Sematary. The story follows a nonbinary werewolf and their witch friend as they work together to defeat a demon. It is adorable and lovely and offers an ideal world in which sexuality and gender are just accepted as they are. The artwork is full of fall colors and autumn vibes, which was perfect for October. I might even re-read it next October, just because it is so perfect for the season!

The one short story I read this month, Opal by Maggie Stiefvater is a short story following The Raven King about a dream girl from one of the character’s dreams. I loved the glimpse back into Ronan and Adam’s world (especially because Ronan is my favorite) and it was a quick read that I got done at work. Maggie Stiefvater is AWESOME at imagery.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed was the Sibling Book Club book for this month. It was another okay read. This story is written so well and is a well-done slow burn, but I had trouble connecting to Cheryl’s story. I sometimes wanted to skip the internal memories and monologues she had just to get to the descriptions of the trail or the interaction she had with other hikers. This is a very important book, and I’m glad it’s out there and that my sister connected super well with it, but it just was not for me. I still would recommend it to some people, though.

Oh my goodness… Sawkill Girls was such a diamond in the rough. I found it for two dollars at Half Price Books, in good quality, and figured that meant it was a bad book that no one wanted to read. Still, I had heard good things, loved the cover, and was curious enough to drop two dollars on it. And I loved it! There were a few cheesy moments during which a man-cult is so overtly sexist that it seems ridiculous, but the whole idea that the island is a source of power and that three girls are the ones who need to save the day were so wonderful that it counteracted the cheese. There are no all good or all bad characters, which is something I look for in books. I would one hundred percent recommend this book to anyone!

The last book I want to discuss here that’s not a school book is Life is Wonderful, People are Terrific. I am so sad that I didn’t like this book. It’s about a Chicana punk who goes to Santa Cruz for college and works as a stripper. It sounded like a really interesting read, because I love reading about the punk scene, but it was so disjointed and poorly edited that I could not enjoy myself while reading. Missy, the main character, seemed to have no clear motivations and there were very few consistent side characters. I wanted to learn more about the Chicana punk scene, but I learned very little. So disappointing!

I don’t have a lot to say about most of the school books I’ve read this month because I’ve been sick most of the month and, frankly, don’t remember a lot. However, I do want to give a shout out to Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. It’s a history of comics as a comic. Amazing, right? I learned so much about what goes on behind the scenes when comic artists make comics and, because of the medium, I was able to see what McCloud was discussing right in front of me. It got a little confusing at times, but I bet if I re-read it I would absorb more and it would make more sense. A great book!

October was a hazy month—just like the plot of Pet Sematary—but I did manage to get a big chunk of reading done. And I’m hoping Thanksgiving break gives me more time to read in November, especially because I’m reading Ninth House with my sister!

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Solitaire and Bedtime Stories: How My Anxiety and Creativity Live in the Same Room

As I’ve been getting out of my month-and-a-half-long sickness stupor, I’ve been getting back into my creative pursuits—bullet journaling, writing, etc.—and I’ve noticed one big change since I have been accessing this part of my brain again: I can’t fall asleep as fast.

My brain won’t shut off anymore now that I’ve turned it back on to almost full-on conscious mode. No longer consumed by my illness 24/7, my mind has time to wander as I rest my body, and sometimes I don’t like where my brain goes. I feel like I’m back in high school, during which, when my head hit the pillow, my brain would go on a whirlwind monologue about things I needed to do, things I had done, what I should be doing, how the future seems scary and also great but what if I fail, etc. At night, I think a lot about whatever creative projects I am doing and how I should be writing more in a day or drawing more in my bullet journal each month. My creative career is often the thing that takes the backburner in times of stress or illness, so it’s easy to be hard on myself for the lack of creative things I’ve done in the past month and a half.

I decided to try to solve this problem in two ways. First, I am using a tactic I have used for much of my life to get myself to fall asleep—I come up with stories that I tell continuously to myself each night. Sometimes, these turn into stories I write down. Sometimes, they’re just fun or stupid narratives I tell myself as bedtime stories. Not only does this distract my brain from my constant worries, it also makes being creative during the day easier because I’ve mulled over ideas already. Right now, my bedtime story is about a teen who is walking down a road with a blanket around their shoulders and a bloody nose, dreaming of a bowl of mac and cheese and their recently deceased dog. This is one I might actually write out, but who knows where it will go? I can do whatever I want with my no-stakes bedtime stories. I could add dragons. Or wizards. Or a bear. Maybe a ghost.

The only downfall to this practice is that I sometimes get too excited about the story I’m coming up with. I’ll want to get up and write it down so I don’t forget, or I’ll sit in bed with my mind racing through plot ideas. Then I queue up my white noise app and listen to fake rain fall instead.

The second tactic I’m using is much simpler: I play Solitaire on my phone. I usually have at least one mindless game downloaded on my phone to play in times like this. When I can’t sleep, I bore myself into tiredness with these games, pretending that having my phone on night mode cancels out the negative side effects of phones before bed. Solitaire acts as a baseball bat that knocks out a few of the Hydra Monster’s heads so I can get to sleep, whereas the bedtime stories just lull them into a more placating, malleable state.

One of the unfortunate things about how my brain works is that when I get more creative, the Hydra Monster gets more creative. That is to say, my fears and anxieties get more creative and my imagination goes wild. This is why I often take long breaks from writing if my anxiety or depression become particularly difficult to deal with. I have yet to figure out how to balance the moderate language that soothes my anxiety and the dramatic language that ignites my imagination.

Being creative is important to me. It is an important part of my personality and how I spend a lot of my time. Now I just have to learn how to wrangle those tendrils of imagination that fly out of control.

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September 2019: How Re-reads, Graphic Novels, and Sibling Book Club Saved My Month  

What I Read:

  • Death Note: Black Edition Vol. I by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata
  • The Raven Boys (re-read) by Maggie Stiefvater
  • Who Would Have Thought It? (school book) by María Amparo Ruiz de Burton
  • Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
  • The Dream Thieves (re-read) by Maggie Stiefvater
  • Blue Lily, Lily Blue (re-read) by Maggie Stiefvater
  • The Devil’s Highway (school book) by Luis Alberto Urrea
  • The Raven King (re-read) by Maggie Stiefvater
  • How to Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon
  • Part of I Wish You All the Best (re-read) by Mason Deaver

What I Got:

  • Death Note: Vol. I
  • Dream Thieves
  • Blue Lily, Lily Blue
  • Laura Dean…
  • The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks
  • Sing, Unburied, Sing (ARC) by Jesamyn Ward
  • Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai by Yamamoto Tsunetomo
  • Pet Sematary by Stephen King
  • A Cosmology of Monsters by Shaun Hamill

I’ll start off with an apology: Sorry for not uploading my middle of the month post! I’ve been busy and sick almost all month and when I haven’t been, I’ve been catching up on schoolwork and reading. Now, onto the book talk!

IMG_0894.HEIC

Spidey’s back in the MCU, so I had to include him!

The most exciting aspect of this month’s reading has been re-reading The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater with my sister. Since the first book of the spin-off series comes out later this year (November 5), we decided to read a book in the series each week of September and then FaceTime to discuss. It was the one thing that got me through every week during this crazy month. The second two books still felt new to me because I’d forgotten so much. I was able to look at the series with a more critical eye, and even though I picked out a few nit-picky things that bothered me, I am happy to say that I loved these the second time around! The magic and whimsy and friendship/found family and history absolutely drew me in again. The Raven King is my new favorite book of the series despite the issues I found. While reading this book, I lost track of time for hours and hours, which doesn’t happen to me very often. I completely left the real world behind. This series saved this month—I got to chat with my sister weekly, read books I loved, lose myself in magic, and confront some of my own fears.

 

We are continuing with our sibling book club next month with just one book, as four in a month plus school was a bit much, so we will be reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed. So pumped!

I read two graphic novels this month, both of which I was pleasantly surprised by despite the praise I’ve heard from other people. Death Note: Black Edition Vol. 1 was recommended to me by a coworker who loves this graphic novel series. I was a little skeptical at first, but I was determined to read it. I wanted to try out a manga, and what’s better than reading a friend’s favorite book? Let me just say, this story gets WILD. Light Yagami finds the Death Note of a death god, which allows him to kill people by writing their names in the book. Light is a genius, and the way he uses the book cunningly to get

IMG_0909.HEIC

Reading at the cemetery!

around the international task force searching for him. His father is part of this task force, as well, and that adds a whole different layer to the story. The beginning wasn’t capturing me, but a few chapters in, I was hooked. I even stayed up late to finish reading it, and I can’t wait to continue with the series!

 

The other graphic novel I picked up was Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me. I bought this on a whim because I’d heard Ariel Bissett, one of my favorite booktubers, recommend it highly. I expected not to be too interested in the story, but both storyline and illustrations were fabulous. The main character, Freddy, starts out by writing to a romance help column about Laura Dean, her on-and-off girlfriend. Laura Dean is a horrible person to Freddy, but Freddy thinks she’s in love with her. She chucks her friendships to the side at times and often feels inferior to Laura Dean. But this story is really about realizing your self-worth and making new friends and tending to the relationships you have with old friends. There are more important things than someone loving you in a romantic way, and this graphic novel shows that beautifully.

I’m going to stick How to Steal Like an Artist after the graphic novels because it is full of illustrations. I found it to be a concise and easy-to-understand summary of many themes we discuss in my Creativity Capstone class. Kleon encourages artists to use something you love as inspiration for your own work, and I can’t wait to take this advice with my writing.

Who Would Have Thought It? and The Devil’s Highway are two very different books that I read for my Chicanx literature class. I didn’t really enjoy Who Would Have Thought It? because the story didn’t pull me in. It is very 1800s family drama and racism and money and Civil War politics, which is not my jam. I enjoyed the sarcasm in the narration, but that’s about it.

IMG_1146.HEICThe Devil’s Highway, however, blew me away. It is the horrific true story of fourteen men who died trying to cross the border in the Arizona desert. It details the lives and motivations of the coyotes who led them, the people who survived, and the Border Patrol officers. No side is without a voice. This book rattled me to my core, just imagining these people dying in such a horrifying way to reach a place that will discriminate against them in the end. Urrea does a good job of not pointing fingers at just one side. He points out the faults of the Mexican government and the U.S. government, as well as the discrimination in both societies. If you can stomach it, I highly recommend this book as a way to understand more personally what the border is like. Although it’s a tough read, it’s an important one.

My failed attempt at re-reading I Wish You All the Best for queer lit book club has turned

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Already excited for next month!

out not to matter, because I have a cold that has kept me home and in bed most of the day. Fortunately, that means I have time to write this post and struggle through my homework (maybe…). Unfortunately, it means I don’t get to discuss one of my favorite reads of the summer with fellow book-lovers.

Next month is spooky month, and I can’t wait! I’m going to try to read Pet Sematary by Stephen King, my first truly spooky horror novel, as well as Mooncakes by Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker. Fall is the best season (in my opinion) and I love reading fall-themed reads in October. Happy spooky reading!

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August 2019: How I Got a Concussion and Lin-Manuel Miranda Narrated a Book to Me

What I Read:

  • Skyward by Brandon Sanderson
  • Ultimate Spider-Man: Ultimatum by Brian Michael Bendis
  • Sheets by Brenna Thummler
  • Bloom by Kevin Panetta and Savannah Ganucheau
  • Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (re-read; audiobook) by Becky Albertalli
  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (re-read; audiobook) by Benjamin Alire Saenz
  • The Hidden Witch by Molly Knox Ostertag
  • Check Please! Book 1: Hockey by Ngozi UkazuIMG_0810
  • Fun House: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
  • With the Fire on High (audiobook) by Elizabeth Acevedo
  • The Austere Academy (re-read) by Lemony Snicket
  • How to Train Your Dragon (audiobook) by Cressida Cowell
  • The Handmaid’s Tale: A Graphic Novel by Margaret Atwood and Renée Nault
  • 2 self-care zines
  • Peter and Ned’s Ultimate Travel Journal by Preeti Chhibber
  • Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson
  • Parked (ARC) by Danielle Svetcov
  • Looking for Alaska (re-read) by John Green

What I Got:

  • Ultimate Spider-Man: Ultimatum
  • Austere Academy
  • Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman
  • 2 self-care zines
  • Parked
  • Ordinary Girls: A Memoir (ARC) by Jaquira Díaz
  • Peter and Ned’s Ultimate Travel Journal
  • A Girl, a Raccoon, and the Midnight Moon (ARC) by Karen Romano Young
  • An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
  • Pop Science: Serious Answers to Deep Questions Posed in Songs by James Ball

IMG_0696Before you freak out about the amount of books I read while having a concussion, just take a closer look at the list. It is almost entirely graphic novels and audiobooks. Like last month, I’m going to focus on the books I have the most thoughts on since the list is so long and neither you nor I want to be sitting in front of the computer forever.

First of all, I just want to note that I got a concussion when I only had FIFTY FREAKING PAGES left in Skyward by Brandon Sanderson. Boy was that torture. But I figured out a brain hack: if I woke up and immediately read a graphic novel, I could still get some actual reading in before switching to audiobooks, podcasts, and naps.

Skyward’s ending didn’t feel worth the wait, but that might have been because I got out of the reading groove. However, I enjoyed the rest of the book and the sarcastic humor of the main character, as well as the promise of going into space and hanging out with aliens in the rest of the series. Spensa is hilarious and strong and susceptible to self-doubt, but she still goes where no one else goes and embraces her differences. Not to mention that some of the side characters are great!

Sheets is a super cute graphic novel about a ghost boy wanting to make friends with a ghost girl who basically runs her family’s laundromat because her father is depressed. It is SO CUTE. The Hidden Witch offers a cute friendship story, as well, between a witch boy, a regular girl, and a witch girl who got the worst of the foster system. Adorable! Another IMG_0712.jpegcute graphic novel is Bloom, which is a romantic love story instead of a friendship story. There is baking, flirting, two boys in love, family love, and deciding what to do in the future.

The last cute graphic novel I read this month was Check Please! Oh, my goodness. I can’t believe I took so long to read this. It took a concussion to get me to check it out from the library and I fell in love. Eric “Bitty” Bittle deserves everything good in life. He is a gay hockey player who loves baking for his teammates and falls in love with the captain of the team. He is just so pure and sweet and lovely and assumes the best of people, which was just what I needed. So basically, August was the month of gay-boys-who-bake-falling-in-love graphic novels. And it was FANTASTIC.

Now onto audiobooks! If you have the time and a library card, I highly recommend checking out the audiobook for Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe because it is narrated by none other than Lin-Manuel Miranda, our favorite Puerto Rican {7F239D2C-65BB-4175-A45B-90F25B6DC8C9}Img400playwright and actor extraordinaire. His narration added a whole new dimension to the story. I read this book a few years ago and just felt meh about it. But this go-around, I actually cried a few times and fell in love with Dante through Lin-Manuel Miranda’s portrayal of him. I even found Ari, the narrator, less annoying. The only issue with listening to an audiobook narrated by someone with such a soothing voice is that I found myself just relaxing into the lull of his voice. Boy, am I glad I already knew the plot!

With the Fire on High was narrated by the author herself, Elizabeth Acevedo, and because she is a slam poet, she also did amazing. The story itself wasn’t my absolute favorite, but I still enjoyed it. Emoni is an aspiring cook and teen mom who gets the chance to take a cooking class during her senior year of high school. Some aspects of the story felt unrealistic, but I don’t mind when things work out a little too well in books.

And then, oh boy, the mother of all audiobooks: How to Train Your Dragon. Narrated by…. DAVID TENNANT. He does all of these amazing voices and noises for the characters and dragons, which made the story much more exciting even though it was super different from the movie.

The last three books I will discuss here are the final three on my list above. I read them after I had recovered from my concussion, so I actually remember them well. Woohoo!

Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson is about a girl who grew up in a magical library where the sorcery books, called grimoires, have hostile personalities. She ends up fighting a huge conspiracy with a sorcerer named Nathaniel Thorn and his demon, Silas.IMG_0822 It was advertised to me as a found family story, but that was not the main focus of the story. Sure, the main character was an orphan and, sure, she had to find her own family. But it felt more like a coming of age story, her realizing that the world is not how she thought it was. And while this does sound like a fantastic idea for a story and people have been raving about this book, there were a few too many clichés for me to be able to ignore them. Full of striking imagery and lovable characters, I would still recommend this novel, but I can’t say for sure whether I want to continue with the story.

Parked by Danielle Svetcov comes out in February 2020, and I hope it takes the middle-grade world by storm. It offers such a heartwarming story about learning how to offer help to someone in the ways that they want and need, rather than how you want to help. It will teach kids that compassion toward others takes effort and should not be seen as a IMG_0850project. This story is also about the San Francisco housing crisis and how homelessness affects kids, making friendships with people outside your socioeconomic class, and how to give/accept help from others. I can’t wait for kids to read this and internalize the important message that you need to listen and act on what you hear and see in order to be really helpful.

Lastly, I re-read Looking for Alaska this month! This book has lots of problems, but there is no doubt that John Green can write a great story. I honestly just wanted to give the John Green who first wrote this story a hug. The tone of the story and the themes of death/suicide/pointlessness really pointed toward him being in a bad state of mind at the time. Even the ending, which is a little hopeful, embodies the struggle that is life. Pudge, the main character, just kind of goes along with what everyone else does, never thinking too hard about his actions. That bothered me, but not in a way that made me dislike the story; more like I wouldn’t have liked him. None of the characters are particularly likable or unproblematic, but they are interesting. And that’s all I ask of book characters. Now I’m super pumped for the movie that’s coming out soon.IMG_0867 John Green and the movies based on his books haven’t disappointed me yet, so let’s keep the streak going!

The semester has started now, and I am forcing myself to calm down on grabbing books from the damages and ARC shelves from work, so next month should be a lot calmer. My sister and I are re-reading The Raven Cycle together, and that’s about all I have planned for reading outside of class and book club. I did not include schoolbooks on these lists, though I might include them on books that I read in later months if I really want to discuss them. Good luck to everyone starting school up again! May the homework be light, the teachers kind, and the free time full of books, Netflix, and friends.

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Listening: How Recovering from a Concussion Forced Me to Develop New Self-Care Habits

This concussion has been the worst injury I have ever sustained in my entire life. I’ve been sad, lonely, hurting, foggy, lazy, and most of all, BORED. So that’s why this blog post is going up so late—I finally have an almost fully functioning brain again.

What made it even worse was that the story of how I got the concussion was lame and there were no bruises to symbolize the pain I was in! Basically, I slipped and fell out of the shower, hitting my ribs, shoulder, and neck on the right side of my body. Everything hurt for days, but no bruises ever showed up. Yet when I scratched my arm on a dumpster, the cut turned red and angry, even though it barely hurt. I don’t understand human bodies…

After this event, most of my self-care strategies were out the window, at least temporarily. No reading, journaling, making art, showering, listening to loud music, playing instruments, watching Netflix/YouTube, writing creatively, and even cooking healthier meals that require more planning. All gone from my repertoire for two and a half weeks.

So what I want to do here is list the new self-care strategies I’ve discovered or tried again with success, to help anyone out there who struggles with brain fog, migraines, concussions, and/or mental illnesses that cause or exacerbate any of these things.

IMG_0745

Face masks look stupid but feel great.

  1. Listen.

Listen to audiobooks, podcasts, soft music, ASMR Harry Potter rooms. Close your eyes and listen to booktube or other YouTube videos that you would normally watch. Sit outside and listen to water or birds. (Bonus tip: if you sit outside and have a snack, you can also feed the squirrels!) Listening was the one thing I could still do well that involved concentration, so I did a lot of it. Sometimes I had to listen to something that didn’t take a lot of brainpower, sometimes I could listen to something with a little more meat to it, but listening to something interesting or relaxing was the main way I passed the time while my brain was foggy.

  1. Baths and skin care.

IMG_0612I used to strongly dislike baths. Since I started showering in, like, middle school, I’ve always found showers more relaxing than baths. But then I fell in the shower. And showers make me ever so slightly anxious at the moment, even with a bath mat that is supposed to keep me from slipping again. So I bought bath bombs, face masks, and bath tea made of essential oils. I put on a swimsuit (because I dislike being in the bath for so long naked; it’s a weird thing that bothers me) and played music or an audiobook. Then I just sat and soaked in warm water, which after a couple of temperature tries, has become quite relaxing. When everything was sore, the warmth helped soothe my muscles. It’s just nice to sit and do nothing but still feel like you are taking care of yourself.

  1. Candles.

This one isn’t really new for me, but along with the bath scents and fresh air smell, I found that lighting candles (or making tea), closing my eyes, and just letting myself enjoy the scent was quite relaxing. This didn’t take up too much time, but if I ever got bored with audiobooks or just listening, adding a candle to the experience helped make things more bearable.

  1. Naps.

Naps are another self-care thing that I usually don’t like doing, but when I am sick, I recognize that my body needs more rest than normal. While sick or concussed, I try to allow myself naptime without saying that I’m wasting time. I don’t fight the tiredness like I would on a normal day and instead listen to what my body needs. This is a habit I want to get into more, just in general, with sleep, food, exercise, and socializing. I need to listen to my body, even if it’s not always on my side.

  1. Snuggles.

FIND FLUFFY ANIMAL. SNUGGLE. (This can also work with friends, stuffed animals, orIMG_9974 significant others. But I love snuggling with my dog.)

  1. Change scenery.

Whenever I got depressed or sad about being cooped up inside, I would just walk to another place that I could find easily. A coffee shop, a bookstore with tables, a fountain, a park, etc. These are great places to just be around other people and not sit in the same spot, even if you’re doing the same things there that you would be doing at home. People gave me some weird looks when I was just sniffing my tea and staring at nothing, but I would’ve done the same thing at home! Plus, if you sit by a window or outside, you can people watch, which is always amusing.

  1. Ask for help.

This one is hard for me. Not because I don’t think I deserve help, but because I don’t like inconveniencing other people. But I had to bite the bullet. I asked my parents to spend time with me and come visit so I wouldn’t be alone. I asked people at work to cover some of my shifts. I asked my writing group to let me go back on a promise to have something written for them the next time we met. I even had to “ask” Tylenol for help with the brain pain (which I rhymed on purpose… *pats self on back*). I still don’t know if I’m any better at asking for help when I need it, but at least I know I can do it.

  1. Go easy on yourself.

Oof, this is a difficult one, too. I am so hard on myself. And when I wasn’t able to read or write or overachieve at work or learn new songs, I felt lazy and bored and unproductive. I had to tell myself OFTEN  that it was okay to be lazy and bored and unproductive while IMG_0582letting my brain heal. It’s okay to be those things when letting your emotions heal. It’s okay to be those things when you just need time. I’m working on this one!

  1. Talk to your fish.

If you have one. Or your pet. Or your stuffed animals or posters or phone voice memos. You’ll look crazy, but it will give you something to do! I would even talk to myself and make up stories when I couldn’t really write.

  1. Phone calls.

This goes along with asking for help and listening. Phone calls normally make me uncomfortable, so there were only a few people I would call when I got bored or lonely—my parents, my aunt, my sister, and my friend. I would participate in the conversation if I could, or I would just let the other person talk. I learned a lot about what was going on in these people’s lives because I could only focus on one thing at a time, so while I was having a conversation, my brain was in the conversation and not off in la-la land as usual.

I hope you never have a concussion or a migraine or brain fog, but I do know these are common, so I hope these tips help. I’m luckily able to read and write practically like normal after two and a half weeks, but I do not do well with boredom, so I hope these skills will help me out in the future when I am bored or hard on myself. And hopefully my shower doesn’t try to kill me again!

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