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!

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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

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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.

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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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July 2019: How Working at a Bookstore Has Made My Book Obsession Grow and I Got Back Into Sci-Fi

What I Read:

  • The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
  • Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram
  • Mettanoia, Vol. Two: Mental Health and Self Care Strategies (zine) by ??
  • The Miserable Mill by Lemony Snicket
  • In Conclusion, Don’t Worry About It by Lauren Graham
  • A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers
  • Anger Is a Gift by Mark Oshiro
  • On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden
  • Drunk Punk: Getting Sober without Gods or Masters (zine) by Tim Spock
  • 50 Queers Who Changed the World by Dan Jones
  • Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers
  • 3 Spider-Man comics
  • The Future of Another Timeline (ARC) by Annalee Newitz
  • The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling

What I Got:

  • Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon
  • 50 Queers Who Changed the World
  • Bowie by Wendy Leigh
  • Mettanoia, Vol. Two
  • How to Be Accountable Workbook (zine) by Joe Biel and Faith Harper
  • Drunk Punk
  • Skyward by Brandon Sanderson
  • The Future of Another Timeline (ARC)
  • Solid State: The Story of Abbey Road and the End of the Beatles (ARC) by Kenneth Womack
  • A bunch of old comics from my grandpa
  • The Luminous Dead
  • Punk in NYC’s Lower East Side 1981-1991 (zine) by Ben Nadler
  • Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson
  • DIY Zines and Comix (zine) by Fly-ø
  • Scythe by Neal Shusterman

So… I have a bit of a problem. A book problem. Now that I work at a bookstore and I have a bookstagram, my obsession for books has completely taken over my life. The circumstance that is driving this problem is that I get a bookstore discount and access to free ARCs and damaged books. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE having this problem, but the school year is right around the corner, so I’ll be staring at all of these beautiful, unread books for months! Not to mention that one of my goals for this year is to read War and Peace and I didn’t read it this summer. When’s that gonna happen? December? Maybe… Maybe not. That might have to roll over to 2020.

The good thing about this overwhelming access to books is that it allowed me to get back into reading sci-fi without worrying about spending too much money. Becky Chambers has revamped my love for all the space sagas and physics-heavy books I used to read all IMG_0205the time in high school. Her books in the Wayfarers trilogy (all of which are listed above because I read them all this month) offer so many characters that are easy to care about. She makes me question what my definition of a sentient person is, shows me how xenophobia can be worse in isolated communities, and offers many different answers to the big question of “What’s the point?” The first book, surprisingly, is my least favorite in the series, but it is still super amazing. This is the one that made me challenge my ideas of “normal” and how different societies can only be judged through the lens of that society’s norms. It made me care about aliens and humans and an AI. They found a family in each other, and getting a peek into that family was absolutely worth my time.

The second book, A Closed and Common Orbit, is my favorite of the three. This one follows a sentient AI that has been given a body in human form. She struggles with her limited field of vision in wide spaces and feels like her body is not her own, that it is not her. But she learns to dance, makes friends, gets a job, and finds a way to live her life that is weird to me but comfortable for her. We all have limitations, and no one’s should ever be discounted as not legitimate enough to deal with. In a conversation with my familyimg_0447-1.jpeg about the future of AI, I realized I was the only one who wasn’t scared that AI could become sentient. Because if they are, they’re going to be people. And people are both good and bad. If the AIs take over, it is because a small group of them were bad or were taken advantage of by humans. Basically, I am all for introducing new types of people (even artificial ones) into the groups I spend time with.

Record of a Spaceborn Few focused mainly on a human colony of space stations (called the Exodus Fleet) that formed after humans ruined Earth. It follows a caretaker of the dead, a teenager trying to get onto a planet, an archivist, and a visitor who has ancestral roots in the fleet. What’s the point? this book asked over and over again. Why do we uphold customs and traditions? Why do we care about our past? Why do we move forward in some aspects and not in others? The beauty of this book is that we don’t get answers. We just get to see different people’s ways of dealing with this uncertainty, giving themselves a purpose rather than going out to find one.

Becky Chambers is a new favorite author of mine, and I can’t wait to read every single book she writes, because not only did she rekindle my love for reading sci-fi, she also made me a more empathetic human being. Just in case the aliens decide to contact us sooner than we think, I’ll be ready. (Maybe.)

I read three more sci-fi books this month: On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden, The Future ofIMG_0509 Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz, and The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling.

On a Sunbeam was very similar to The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet in that it involved queer people in space who find a family on their ship. It was such a wholesome and beautiful graphic novel that I read when I needed a break from the heaviness of Anger Is A Gift. The art was lovely and the characters were lovable, not to mention that there was a nonbinary character who was the absolute best. I can’t wait to re-read this in the future.

Annalee Newitz’s book was disappointing. It wasn’t bad, but I just never cared enough.

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In the corner, you can see my new fish, Paul Rudd!

The blurb advertised a punk-rock, time-travel story, and that’s what I got, but the characters didn’t grab me. I was confused by the explanations of the naturally occurring Machines and how they worked, and I found it hard to keep some things straight. I wasn’t always sure why things were happening and one of the two narrative perspectives just didn’t feel that important to me. The book didn’t feel cohesive. That being said, I did like the uniqueness of the idea of naturally occurring time machines and I loved the feminism at play in the story (feminism that includes trans women and nonbinary people). I guess it was more time travel than punk rock, and I was looking for the reverse.

And now, onto The Luminous Dead. Oh. My. Fuck. (Sorry, Mom.) This book is messed up. I’ve been reading lots of fluffy books (whether contemporary or sci-fi) and wanted something thrilling that didn’t hit too close to home. This book delivered. I’ll admit, the first third of the book was really slow, involving a girl climbing through a cave with only a handler above ground to keep her company. The handler lies to her about motives and what she is seeing, and thisIMG_0596 person also can pump the caver’s body full of drugs and hormones whenever they want. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I won’t say why it gets thrilling, but believe me when I say I will not being looking at caves the same way anytime soon. They creep me out now, and I almost stayed up super late one night to get through it. (Thirty more pages! I finished it right when I woke up.) I was looking for a change from the heartwarming stories I was reading and I definitely got it (even if the ending was still a little bit cheesy).

I read my first contemporary book, Darius the Great is Not Okay, when I was waiting for the other Becky Chambers books to come in at the library. Even though the plot IMG_0349sometimes felt thin, I’m so glad this book exists because it will show teens (and even adults) that having depression or other mental illnesses doesn’t have to be your entire life. It’s okay to need medication to stay alive and functional. Because many books focus on the struggles of mental illness rather than what we can do to combat it, this is an important message. The ending of this book almost made me cry, but in the best way. It was a realistic but hopeful ending. My favorite kind.

Anger Is A Gift, on the other hand, did not make me cry at the end. It made me cry several times in the middle and toward the end and in random cute friendship moments. This book hits hard. Very hard. It is a difficult yet necessary read about police brutality and violence against high school students of color. So many identities were represented in this book, and I can’t believe people aren’t raving about this as much as they are about The Hate U Give. Moss’s story made me feel so much more than that book did. Bits (the POC enby, badass, and quiet kid) and Rawiya (the Muslim, hijabi, punk rocker) were my favorites of the tight-knit friend group I got to follow through this story. But all of the characters will stick with me for a while. This should be mandatory reading for any white police officer in an area with a large population of POC, as well as for high school students, no matter what their circumstance. (I would look up a list of trigger warnings for this book before diving in, though. I’ll link CeCe’s (from Problems of a Book Nerd) review, which is very comprehensive and super well-written.)

For the last few books and zines I read, I’m just going to give short thoughts, because I want the spotlight to be on the books I’ve discussed above. I’m trying to add more focus into these posts rather than rambling the whole time.

Lauren Graham’s book was short, sweet, and uplifting. The Drunk Punk zine made meimg_0406.jpeg see the humanity of drunk drivers as well as the humanity of their victims beyond just numbers. 50 Queers Who Changed the World was good but not great; there was lots of deadnaming, but I also loved learning about some amazing queer people I had never heard of (and some I already knew). The Miserable Mill was miserable for the Baudelaires but entertaining for me. I learned that old Spider-Man comics are super heckin’ cheesy. (One was sponsored by a toothpaste company and had several scenes set at the dentist’s office… I guess even Doc Ock and Spider-Man need to take care of their teeth?)

July has been focused on reading, Spider-Man, and working, and while I have loved all of

IMG_0388

Paul Rudd guards my TBR.

those things, my creative writing has fallen by the wayside. I am struggling with the story I’m writing, and I’m completely changing the plot once again, but hopefully my brain will calm down with the anxiety and let me enjoy writing more in August. Either way, I am excited to turn my novel into a superhero story, just to fuel my recently rekindled Spider-Man obsession, and to read some of the many books I have acquired before I get bogged down by schoolwork!

 

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Magic and Endurance: How David Blaine’s Crazy Stunts Help Banish My Fear of Messing Up

Disclaimer: I am aware that David Blaine has faced and is currently facing sexual assault allegations. I do not support people who do this, and in light of any new evidence, I may take down this post. I understand if you do not or cannot read this post in light of this information.  

During my favorite creative writing class that I’ve ever participated in, my teacher had us do something called a “Passiontation,” which was basically a presentation about your biggest passion. Now, my passions tend to go in cycles or waves, and to be honest, my biggest passion is the written word (reading it and writing it). Well, I thought that doing a 81Vx469u-pL._SY500_presentation on the written word would be boring since we were all there for a writing class. So I did my presentation on David Blaine, who I had recently become obsessed with at the time.

Now, I wouldn’t say I have a “passion” for David Blaine, or even magic or endurance stunts, but one thing has stuck with me ever since I first saw David Blaine perform on TV—he has literally proven that there is nothing we can’t do if we try. To quote Mary Poppins Returns, “Everything is possible. Even the impossible.”

For the last couple winters, every time I dreaded walking to class in sub-zero temperatures—sometimes telling myself I couldn’t do it—I just told myself that David Blaine stood in a block of ice for three days with way less clothes on than I was wearing. If he can do that, I can spend the ten minutes walking to class in the cold. And thus began what I like to call “David Blaine Perspective.”

The short explanation is this: whenever I feel like I can’t do something, or it will be too hard, or I will mess up, I put it in David Blaine Perspective. He spent 44 days in a glass box suspended over London, so I can deal with being hungry for a couple hours at work. David Blaine allowed a professional fighter to punch him in the stomach, so I can deal with banging my knee on the table and getting a painful bruise. It’s helpful to put things in perspective this way, especially when dealing with pretty pervasive anxiety. Anxiety causes everything to feel like a catastrophe, so I need to remind myself that that’s not true. (If anyone can beat down the Hydra monster, it’s David Blaine.)

Lately, my anxiety has been making me insecure about my social interactions and theworld-tour-2014-david-blaine-andreas-Poupoutsis-fire-logo way I look. It has been making me doubt my abilities at every little moment. Then, at a staff meeting this past week, someone made a comment about how trying your hardest to solve a problem is all you can do. This made me think of David Blaine, and how, to learn all of those fancy card movements and sleights of hand, he had to start small and mess up a lot. But he’s still confident in his abilities. He still approaches every trick, whether it’s a three-card monte trick or jumping off a hundred-foot pillar after standing on it for 35 hours, with the mindset that he can do it, no matter what. He has prepared.

And if he messes up, he fixes it by doing something new.

For example, there is a trick in his What Is Magic? Netflix special during which he mishears someone. He thought the person’s card was an ace, but she actually said eight. So instead of freaking out and being hard on himself, he merely continued the trick and, lo and behold, her thumb rubbed off the middle of the card to reveal the number 8. If I could recover that quickly after a mistake, I wouldn’t worry so much about mistakes. Being spontaneous in the face of a mistake is not my strong suit, but I’m working on it.

static1.squarespaceDavid Blaine’s crazy and amazing magic/endurance also reminds me how much we as humans can endure. We are strong. Our bodies and minds are strong. We just have to have the fortitude and confidence and practice to make them do what we want. Of course, we don’t have control over everything in our bodies and minds, but the things that we do have control over are more plentiful than we think. As someone living with mental illness, it feels powerful to say that my mind is strong. Even if I don’t always think it is. Even if it sometimes works against me.

My mind is strong. And that means a lot to me.

David Blaine says he performs magic to bring out the childlike wonder in people—in everyone—but he also uses his magic to do tangible good in the world. In one of his Netflix specials, he turns one-dollar bills into hundred-dollar bills for a group of people in New Orleans who had suffered losses from Hurricane Katrina. Watching his specials is incredibly heartening, because he approaches so many different types of people and treats them all with the same respect and ability to experience awe.

When looking into his backstory, it’s easy to see why he does this. His mother, who passed away young, always encouraged him as a little kid. She never told him being adavid-blaine-wcards_img_6526_600x600jpg magician was impossible or a bad career. She just cheered him on and gave him the confidence to continue learning. And even though a lot of his endurance stunts are probably borne out of the grief he has over losing his mother early, he has taken this confidence in other people to heart. Whether a celebrity, a person full of piercings, a person of color, a person experiencing homelessness, or any other random person on the street, he performs at his top game for them. He has confidence that everyone still has that childlike wonder lurking inside.

I feel lucky to have seen David Blaine perform live. He sewed his mouth shut and stuck an ice pick through his arm and performed amazing feats of mind reading and card tricks and tricks with puzzle pieces. And even though I usually hate uncertainty, I love not knowing the secrets behind his tricks and stunts. Sometimes, the truth is that it’s just real and he can ignore the pain of sticking something all the way through his hand. But it’s just as amazing as being able to trick someone else’s mind. In fact, it must be harder to trick your own mind than it is to trick others’.

Before this turns into a fanperson rant (if it hasn’t already), I just want to say that I know I won’t be able to do the things David Blaine does. Not because I’m incapable, but because it’s not my passion. It’s not what I’m putting my mind to. (Also, David Blaine has said before that he doesn’t fear death. Well, I do. That’s another problem for another day…)

MV5BZjc2MDE4ZWQtNjcyYi00ZmRmLWJjNjctNjdhZjg4MzQ2NjhkXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODUxNjcxNjE@._V1_.jpgOf all of the mind-boggling and insane things he has done, there is one particular stunt that has stuck with me. David Blaine has spent days underground, held his breath for 20 minutes, stood in an ice block until he had delusions, jumped off a 100-foot tall pillar after standing on it for a day and a half, and stood in place while tons of volts of electricity went through a metal suit he was wearing. All of these stunts have been visually stunning and difficult and beautiful and morbidly entertaining. But the one that stuck with me is the stunt he called “Above the Below.” He spent 44 days in a glass box suspended over the River Thames in London. People below him could watch and wave, but he was up there with nothing to eat and not a lot to drink. He had a journal. He had clothes. That’s it. If this stunt had gone on any longer than it had, David’s organs would have begun failing past the point of repair. He was sick. But afterward, he had so much enlightenment about people and connection and necessities. He parts ways with the crowd by saying, “I love you all,” and is then promptly sent to the hospital.

It’s hard for me to articulate why this was the stunt that has stuck with me for so long. I watched it years after it actually happened. And I’ve watched it several times since. And, to be honest, it is really hard watching someone starve themselves of food and interaction. Fasting for that long is not something anyone should be doing, even for enlightenment…

But during the special, there are clips of people dancing and hanging out on the streets below. And I think that’s what this stunt was really about. Observing humanity coming together when that’s all you can really do. As much as humanity can suck and being alive can be hard, this stunt reminds me that in weird and unfortunate circumstances, people tend to flock together and find joy. They hope for the best for other people. They cheer people on.

So what have we learned today? David Blaine is awesome. Our minds are strong. And humanity is beautiful. I love you all.

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June 2019: How This Month of Reading and Connecting Reinvigorated My Mind

What I Read:

  • Dreadnought by April Daniels
  • The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag
  • Real Queer America by Samantha Allen
  • We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia
  • The Love Songs of Sappho translated by Paul Roche
  • Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann
  • Naturally Tan by Tan France
  • The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
  • The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
  • The Wide Window (re-read) by Lemony Snicket

What I Got:

  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  • Let’s Talk About Love
  • The Song of Achilles
  • Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram
  • A Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson
  • The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue
  • The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
  • Money in the Bank by P.G. Wodehouse

Sadly, it is the end of Pride Month, but June was a much needed month of hustle and bustle for me. I started out the month severely depressed and ended it being grateful for life and the experiences I have ahead of me.

This month was all about reading queer literature, mostly #ownvoices, but not all. I had planned to take part in the Queer Lit Readathon from June 2-8, but I’m not that fast of a reader, so I extended the readathon to the entire month so I could check off all of the challenges over a longer period of time. Dreadnought, The Witch Boy, Real Queer America, We Set the Dark on Fire, The Love Songs of Sappho, Let’s Talk About Love, The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang (which I actually read in May), and Anger Is a Gift by Mark Oshiro were my original list for the readathon. The only two I didn’t read during June were The Prince and the Dressmaker (because I just couldn’t wait to read it) and Anger Is a Gift (because it is now the July book for my queer lit club). I think I did pretty well for my first readathon.

I also started a bookstagram account and have actually had so much fun keeping up with it and interacting with other people in the community. So many nice people were waiting with open arms to welcome me to bookstagram, and I can’t wait to see where it will take me in the coming months.

Okay, now onto the books!

IMG_9848.HEICDreadnought by April Daniels is an ownvoices superhero story about Danny, a trans girl, who witnesses the death of famous superhero Dreadnought and gets his powers passed onto her. This gives her the body she’s always wanted but outs her to her transphobic parents. This book dealt with a lot of deep themes all while being a very fun superhero origin story. Because I am a transmasculine person, I do not know much about the transfeminine experience, so this was definitely educational, but not in a boring way. It kind of reminded me of a very queer version of Sky High (the best superhero movie ever… That’s right, Marvel. Come at me!).

The Witch Boy had a similar tone to The Prince and the Dressmaker, so of course, I loved it. I think middle grade graphic novels are a new favorite genre for me and I can’t wait to read more! Molly Ostertag has such a colorful and whimsical art style that really adds depth to Aster’s journey as a boy who wants to be a witch, even though witchcraft is a “girl thing.” This book challenges stereotypes and is amazingly diverse and heartwarming.IMG_9873.HEIC

Going from this heartwarming, middle grade graphic novel to a book like Real Queer America was a bit of a kick in the pants. Samantha Allen is a trans woman from Utah, and this book details a road trip across the red states of America during which Samantha and a friend find the tight-knit LGBT+ communities that form in more conservative areas. I read this book at just the right time in my life. I am graduating in a semester and trying to figure out where I want to end up living. I love the Midwest, and have always loved the Midwest, but I never saw a place for me here as a nonbinary, asexual person. The labels I identify with are not widely accepted, and I thought my time here in the Midwest was coming to an end. Maybe it still is, but this book made me see that there is a place for people like me even IMG_9904in the most red states in the U.S.

The phrase I kept coming back to when trying to describe this book was “realistically hopeful.” Allen doesn’t sugarcoat anything, but she finds the pockets of acceptance and love that we all look for as queer people. It was inclusive and queer and heartwarming without losing any of the realism of being queer in the U.S. in our current political climate. I would recommend this book to anybody, but especially queer people like me who aren’t into the big city life, but thought that was the only option for safety and acceptance. I can be queer and love the Midwest; they don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

The other nonfiction book I read this month, Naturally Tan by Tan France of Queer Eye, had a completely different tone but dealt with a lot of things I was unaware of, such as the hatred toward Pakistani people that France experienced while growing up. I have aIMG_9988 lot of respect for Tan France after learning about all of the businesses he has started and the depression he went through because of overworking himself. He’s a cool guy, and to top it off, he lives in Utah with his husband. These two nonfiction books, though different in tone and topic, both have common themes that meshed well together.

The most surprising read of this month was We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia. I went into this book without knowing much about it except that it was queer in some way and had Latine roots. But I ended up loving this book. Even though it was a little predictable, I was completely lost in the story by about halfway through. The premise of the story is that, in this society, rich men get two wives that have different roles. Dani Vargas becomes the Primera, or the levelheaded housekeeper, for an important politico’s son—who is also a complete garbage human being. The Segunda of the household is one of her rivals from school. The best part about this book is not the spy aspect or the rebellion or the discussion of serious political issues, but the fact that IMG_9917.HEICDani and her Segunda fall in love instead of loving their husband. Their love blossoms slowly and unexpectedly in the face of this oppressive, sexist society. These women are brave in many different ways, and I can’t wait to see what happens in the sequel. The end left me hanging, and I want more!

The Love Songs of Sappho were actually quite fun and easy to read (in their translated versions, of course). If I learned anything, it’s that Sappho really loves nightingales, sex, women, and her daughter. Her words are beautiful and profound, even in snippets, and I thought Pride Month was the perfect time to delve into her poetry for the first time.

I moved on to Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann in order to boost my mood. Like I mentioned above, my depression was really daunting during the first half of this month. I needed something more lighthearted, and that’s definitely what I got. In this novel, asexual and biromantic Alice falls in love with her library coworker Takumi, even afterIMG_9970 swearing off relationships when her girlfriend dumped her for being ace. This book doesn’t shy away from the racial differences between the two, Alice being black and Takumi being Asian. Though this is a light, rom-com-esque novel, Kann does not ignore the difficulties of coming out as ace, especially when starting a new relationship. Nonetheless, it gave me all the fuzzy feelings I needed to get on with my month. Cute, adorable, dorky, and queer—this was the combination I desperately needed to get me out of my funk.

The high that came from Let’s Talk About Love and Naturally Tan came abruptly to an end when I started Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller for queer lit book club. This book IMG_0122is SAD. I read the first little chunk of it while at Denver Pride with my aunt, but it took me what felt like forever to read. I wasn’t the biggest fan of this book even though I’ve heard it praised a lot. It is a retelling of The Iliad, so, of course, there was a lot of death and kings and politics and war. There was also a lot of sex and a problematic, codependent relationship. This book is told through the perspective of Patroclus, Achilles’s lover/companion/friend, and though their love seems very deep and real, Achilles is kind of a conceited asshole. There were parts I liked and parts I really didn’t like, but the ending was super amazing. I won’t spoil anything (though, it’s The Iliad, so…), but the ending is what really tugged on my heartstrings and made me care. The entire length of the book before it did not make me care for these characters as much as the heart-wrenching end did.

Though I didn’t read much of this book during my trip to Colorado, I did take a trip to The Tattered Cover bookstore. It was a half-mile out of our way, but so worth it. This is where I purchased Darius the Great is Not Okay and The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, because I wanted to buy queer books while I was in Denver for Pride. This place is one of my favorite bookstores ever because it just feels homey to me. I feel like I could spend hours there just browsing and lounging and reading.

Unfortunately, The Gentleman’s Guide was another book that just left me with a “meh” feeling. It’s a funny, quirky, and slightly anachronistic novel about Monty and Percy’s “tour” of Europe, with Monty’s sister Felicity in tow. There wasn’t anything very new inIMG_0146 this book. Monty has an abusive father and deals with the trauma by drinking, having lots of sex, and cracking jokes. Even though Monty was the main character, Percy and Felicity were the ones I was most interested in. Percy has the biggest heart and deals with his epilepsy alone for a long time just to make other people’s lives easier. He puts up with Monty’s bullshit and is still able to find a big place in his heart for Monty. Felicity is a badass, learned woman who is teaching herself about the medical field all on her own. You can see why I would love these two. This is actually why I will probably read the sequel, because it focuses on Felicity. There were a lot of good aspects to this book—alchemy, European politics, Venice, a sinking island, reasonable pirates/privateers, redemption arcs, discussions of race, and dark humor—but they didn’t mix into an amazing book. I had fun reading it, for sure, but it was a too cliché and I disliked Monty a bit too much for me to call this an amazing book.

The last book I finished this month was the next book in A Series of Unfortunate Events, which I’m trying to get all the way through by the end of this year. It was fun and quirky. IMG_0200I don’t have too much to discuss here except that I love the way Lemony Snicket inserts big words into the novel and explains what they mean without being condescending. This must be why I like using big words… damn you, Lemony! You made my vocabulary expand! Now people make fun of me for using the word dowager!

Now, I did start reading a sci-fi book while visiting my sister in Indianapolis this past weekend, and I’m really enjoying getting back into a genre that I used to read a lot, but what I want to discuss from my visit to my sister is our trip to yet another bookstore and why this past weekend has been so, so good for me.

If you know me well, you know I don’t like to cry in public. But I definitely cried on the plane home from visiting my sister. Part of it was the book I was reading being super cute and heartwarming, but most of it was the fact that I hadn’t realized how much I missed my sister. Our music and book tastes are generally different, but they overlap in small ways. We both love Walk the Moon and Twenty One Pilots. We both love John Green novels and local stores and coffee shops and dogs.

One local store we patronized was a bookstore. Indy Reads Books donates all of theirIMG_0231 proceeds to a literacy charity, which is so awesome! Drinking bubble tea and browsing a bookstore with my sister was one of the best parts of my weekend. There were books signed by John Green and a whole display of Kurt Vonnegut books—Indy really loves to lean into the fact that these two are from here. But I think the best part of this bookstore, besides the fact that they support literacy, is that I didn’t feel pressured to buy anything. I bought something (a random P.G. Wodehouse book) because I genuinely wanted to support the store and their cause.

Spending time with my sister browsing local stores, watching movies (any Howl’s Moving Castle fans out there?), and going to a Twenty One Pilots concert was a much-needed mood booster. I am happy to be alive and I am happy to have a sister as wonderful as Alisha. She is both my biological and chosen family, and IMG_0241she will always be my favorite person in the world. She and Twenty One Pilots reminded me why it is important to keep on fighting—fighting my mental illnesses, fighting my loneliness, fighting my fear, fighting my negative thoughts. Life is worth living, even if only for the good books I have yet to read and future visits with my favorite person.

I’ve read a lot of good, queer books this month. I celebrated Pride with my aunt. I got a job at a bookstore café. But, most importantly, I reconnected with my sister and my drive to enjoy life. I can’t wait to have more moments like this, both while reading and while taking the time to participate fully in my life.

VTSG

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