The Dream Won’t Die and I Don’t Know How to Deal

alternative press july 2016 digital edition
When I was in high school, I had an attic bedroom with hot pink, black, and lime green walls, and much of the surface was plastered with scraps of doodles and song lyrics, clippings from Rolling Stone, SPIN, and my personal favorite, Alternative Press. Oh, Alt Press, my old friend.

It wasn’t always my plan to go to college and enter the secondary education program; I made that decision only shortly after I was accepted, and it’s one I regret quite often to be honest. But this post isn’t about that; rather, it’s about the dream I’d harbored before that of signing up as a journalism major to work for a music magazine like Alt Press. I would reference their website for assignments in my high school journalism class and dream up elaborate scenarios in which I was out interviewing bands, writing up profiles on my favorites, and living this exciting life revolving around writing.

As you already know, that’s not how life turned out for me, because my seventeen-year-old self had her hopes crushed by a nitpicky journalism teacher who couldn’t be bothered to explain why he was repeatedly asking me to rewrite the articles I was working on and actually teach me something but instead just kept tweaking my focus to keep me out of his hair and from actually accomplishing a piece. (I’m not bitter. No, not at all. It’s only that I still remember fuming after each meeting we had to go over the articles I’d be working on as he would tell me to go at it from a completely different angle without explaining why. But I’m certainly not bitter, if that’s what you think.)

This is one of the things that I regret most days and don’t know how to change at this point, eight years after the fact. I still read issues of Alternative Press, now downloaded onto my tablet from the library rather than flipping through the glossy magazine pages of a subscription. I don’t cut out my favorite photos and blurbs to hang in my home office anymore. Sometimes I try to take a DIY approach with zines and blogging, especially after the creative non-fiction course I took in college–by far my favorite–and all I’ve learned about literary journalism, a genre that allows me to be a little more flowery in a nonfiction environment. But I’m beginning to feel more and more each day as if I don’t have a satisfying outlet for it. I can write the pieces–and then what? They sit in files on my laptop collecting digital dust more often than not. I’ve spent the past couple of days tossing around the idea of starting some kind of website, but why? The kind of website I would create already exists in various forms; it’s redundant. But I still want to be that cool girl writing articles about the things she loves, the things you might love, too, and telling true stories on glossy pages.

Final summation: I don’t know what to do with myself, with everything I have percolating inside me, with all the dreams I never quite let go of still clawing at the inside of my skull.

Here’s to Never Growing Up: Being an Adult Fan of Contemporary YA

contemporary ya novels
If there’s one genre I read more than any other, it’s young adult (or, in a few cases, new adult), and to be more specific, contemporary YA. I’m predictable in that way, and not only in books, but also in my choice of movies. Dan and I can be browsing Netflix and he’ll say, “That looks like a movie you would watch,” and it’ll have some coming-of-age description, and we laugh, because he’s right. A few times it’s happened, and I just blush and tell him that, well, it’s actually one I’ve already added to my queue, so he’s right.

High school was not fun. I was good at school, but looking back, I didn’t always feel that close to my friends, no matter how regularly we would hang out or how much I would spill my guts to them; oftentimes I wouldn’t get that same honesty back, and part of me thought I was just too concerned with myself, but I don’t think that’s it, given that I’m not even friends with my “best friend” anymore, and not for lack of trying. High school was lonely and most of my time was spent hanging out with my dad watching Jeopardy!, watching movies until 2am with my cat, or chatting on VampireFreaks (something I still miss, just like LiveJournal, but which feels foreign to me nowadays). Even now, my friends are more virtual than not, so I tend to live vicariously through all the contemporary YA lining my bookshelves and filling the small teen section of my local library.

To be honest, I still don’t feel like an adult most days. (Does anyone ever really feel like one?) I might do adult things, like pay my own bills and go to work and plan a wedding, but where’s the fun in that? Well, okay, the wedding bit is fun. But in general, it’s so much more exciting to dream about driving around with friends listening to music or going to the mall, adventuring someplace new or having a good chat. There’s a certain romantic nature to these stories for me, and while they’re fiction, there’s a truth to them that I feel like my adolescence was sorely lacking most days. It hurts to think about at times, and while I have no wish to go back to high school, I do wish I had that connection you see between best friends in a good YA novel. Friendship is different as an adult, something you have to fit in between work and distance and, maybe someday, children. For now, I’m just drifting through it all, but contemporary YA serves as a kind of anchor for me in this listless existence of mine.

I know YA (and it often seems contemporary YA in particular) can be a polarizing genre, and I can understand why. I’ve heard myriad reasons for why people don’t like it, and they’re perfectly respectable–for the most part–but there’s something about it that I can’t escape. Maybe I’m immature. Maybe I’m living in a dream. But so many of the books I read tug at my heart and resonate with me in ways that other genres don’t most of the time. I am, of course, open to reading any book that sounds like it will interest me or someone suggests I give a chance, but I feel like I’m always going to be biased towards young adult novels more than any other, and in fact it’s what I most like to write myself, alongside poetry.

I’m sure I’m rose tinting things, making them out to be better than they are or would be in real life, but a girl can dream–and I do, every time I open another book.

What are your thoughts on YA? What are your favorites, if you have any?

Reviewed: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

the serpent king by jeff zentner

I received Jeff Zentner’s The Serpent King way back in March in my first OwlCrate, and it piqued my interest not only because it was a contemporary YA, which I’m a big fan of, but because it didn’t sound like a book I would have picked up of my own accord. That’s a great thing about book subscription boxes: You get surprised with something new to read that you might not have had the chance to enjoy otherwise, and I can honestly say that I did enjoy this book, even if there was a point when I had to stop reading and just sob for a while.

From the description, I thought the book was going to focus almost solely on Dill Early, the son of a pastor who was already getting a lot of side eye from many people in town for his, shall we say, enthusiastic inclusion of snakes in spreading God’s word and has now fallen from grace. But in fact we get such a great distribution of story between Dill and his best friends, Travis and Lydia. I felt like I got to know each character well enough to form an opinion of each and get a good idea of who they were, what they were going through, and how they relied on one another to get through it all. Each character is so different from the other, yet they connect with each other through being outcasts and Zentner does a great job of making them diverse but still believable in their friendship, flaws and all.

My personal favorite was Travis, who has an amazing fondness for high fantasy novels and no shame about it. Each character is relatively likable, though, which I enjoyed because sometimes it can be emotionally draining to read a novel about a character you don’t even like but are still kind of supposed to root for. In general, I rooted for all of them, even if they did things that would piss me off–much like a real person.

I do wish Lydia had been forced to deal with more aside from the most devastating part of the book, because while Travis and Dill had their own personal troubles at home, Lydia seemed to coast through life without too many bumps in her road. Which is not to say that she has it easy, but she has a much easier time of life than the boys, and it was almost tiresome reading about how well everything was going for her.

Overall, though, I liked all of these characters. All I wanted was for all of them to be happy and to stay friends forever, despite their looming graduation date. While Dill and Travis plan to stay in town, Lydia looks forward to life in New York with her fashionable, wealthy roommates. Of course, things don’t go as planned, but I can tell you that it truly was a shocking twist that threw a wrench in the plans. I did not see it coming until maybe a page before, and, well, I don’t want to say too much but I cried. #noshame

To be honest, it can feel a little standard for YA–there’s some romance, some teen angst, plus it’s a contemporary–but I still loved it (but I’m particularly fond of contemporary YA, so I may be biased). However, I don’t think that makes it bad, and it does have its standout points: alternating POV narration, which I don’t think we see often in YA and “hard-hitting” topics, which can sometimes be overlooked for the more common romance arc.

I’m so glad I got this in my first OwlCrate; it gives me so much faith in the next time I decide to order one.

Are you interested in The Serpent King at all? Have you already read it? Tell me your thoughts!

Reviewed: Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King

glory o'brien's history of the future by a.s. king
I bought this, I think, two months ago now, and as I was struggling through my reading slump the last few weeks, I picked it off my shelf on a whim, much like how I bought it in the first place. I had no idea if it could help get me out, and maybe it didn’t pull as strongly as my On Writing reread has, at least not at first, but the striking cover was enough to get me try when I was beginning to feel desperate.

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future (oh my gosh, that title alone) is the story of recently-graduated Glory O’Brien and the arrival of her psychic powers. What she sees for the future is both confusing and terrifying, and oftentimes the question arises of whether or not they are even real.

This book turned out to be so much more than I anticipated. I was expecting a rather straightforward novel about a teenage girl who’s clairvoyant and the adventures and struggles that ensue, but the novel is a sad and scary, sweet and beautiful work that maintains its YA entertainment value while also touching on a literary tone with the perfect level of abstract mixed in. I was slow diving into it, though I consider that more a result of the slump than the actual novel, because once I managed to sit and read it, I didn’t want to stop, which I think we can all agree is a good sign. I was even reading it in the car, disappointed when I had to digest my food after breakfast out this morning before continuing on with the book because I knew I’d get carsick if I tried.

And here I am, writing a review of it at most an hour after finishing because I had to share. I just had to share.

A.S. King’s story of Glory and her struggle to understand the mother she no longer has, the best friend she’s not sure she wants, and the dad who’s not quite  the same anymore is an impressive story of a single week that feels like so much more. We learn about who Glory is and becomes, and we see her starting to discover her own potential through her visions. She’s not a weak character, per se, when the novel starts, but her personality isn’t one I would call strong, either; she keeps to herself and, for the most part, that’s how she likes it. However, as she goes on through the week, we see her emotions grow and she becomes more sure of them, following the repeated mantra of the novel: Free yourself. Have the courage. She starts asking questions and taking action, and I could not be more happy for her.

Given Glory’s visions and the horrifying future she sees, you would think the novel might struggle to end on a positive note, but I had hope that one was there as I finished. So much changes for Glory and her dad by the end of the book, and I can’t help but see at least some brightness to their future, whatever it may hold.

Until We Feel All Right

06.27.2016 / working
I’ve been listening to an endless amount of Panic! at the Disco for, well, weeks, but it might be even more so the past few days after seeing them in concert on Tuesday night. It is a solid combination of genuine love for the band and my lady hormones going wild for Brendon Urie. (Yeah, I said it.) The whole concert experience made me feel fifteen again: giggly and excited and dreamy. Not that I had a great time as a teenager, but in its own way it was a good period; I was writing without fear and reckless in my nerdy own ways, and I enjoyed blogging so much more than I do now because there was no expectation. So continuing to listen to Panic! has helped keep me motivated again and inspired to work on my writing, along with rereading Stephen King’s On Writing for what I’m pretty sure is the third time so far. But now I’m second guessing myself and thinking maybe it’s the fourth time. I don’t know.

I am so enamored of both and want to surround myself with these two people’s work as much as I possibly can right now. If they were an article of clothing, they’d be a hoodie that I wear constantly until the elbows are just holes and the ends of the sleeves are threadbare. While my first answer to “Who’s your favorite?” will always be a combination of Bikini Kill, Green Day, and Sylvia Plath, Panic! at the Disco and Stephen King have also both been on my radar for so long that they can feel like a second skin for me at the times when I need them. (See also My Chemical Romance)

On Writing has also pulled me out of a reading slump more than anything else I’ve tried this month–although I have been enjoying Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future when I can focus–and it feels good to do something other than stare with glazed eyes at my TV, as much as I’ve loved binge watching my way through Glee the past few weeks. But I can’t do that forever. It won’t keep me happy. That’s why I’m glad that I’m pulling myself back into this wave of reading and writing. I’ve got three pieces started for my next zine and a story idea brewing in the back of my mind for my next bigger project. Besides that, I’ve been trying to keep up with working on prose poetry because I took off far too much time from that after finishing my chapbook.

A lot of my time is going to reprioritizing the projects I have going on and asking myself big questions about what I want to continue doing and what I want to move on from because why should I keep doing something that doesn’t make me happy or fulfilled anymore? That’s why I posted my last post, too. If I let myself be restricted to curated blog posts that fit the general blogging “rules,” then there’s zero fun in it and I stop posting, which would be fine if I didn’t end up missing it so damn much.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but I love and miss LiveJournal and the approach to blogging that space invited when I was in high school. God, I hate the way blogging has been bastardized from a personal platform to a business. It’s no fun. Sometimes I want to rant because that’s how I’m feeling and I don’t always want to have to have just the right picture to go with whatever I’m talking about because life doesn’t work like that in my experience.

I just want to do what makes me feel good and stop worrying so much about how other people react to it. I’m so glad that I wasn’t alone in my post from Wednesday, but I also don’t want to be expecting that every time. If what makes me feel good is listening to the same music as I did ten years ago and writing whatever the hell I want, then so be it. So the first steps: No more posting at the “right” time of day. No more creating things that don’t feel honest or worthwhile. Just experimenting and doing things my way until I can say it feels all right.

This is a Post Full of Hatred

I hate the internet. I hate the constant pressure I feel to put things *out there* and to be seen and to receive some kind of recognition, all of which sucks the fun out of pure creation. I hate feeling like no one is listening or cares when I make an effort, and I hate feeling like people should.

I hate the way I keep repeating this cycle of starting a new project, getting impatient, and giving up when other people do it “better.” I hate the way I let myself get brought down by other people, the way I let them affect me so deeply, and I hate that I don’t know how to stop.

I hate that I can’t stop wishing I was fifteen instead of twenty-five and struggling to get through every day. I hate that the world at large makes me feel like all the things I still love or love to do are juvenile rather than simply enjoyable. I hate being so confused.

I hate feeling this way, and I hate that I felt like I couldn’t even share it on my blog because blogging isn’t about being honest anymore but about crafting your picture perfect life or selling something (including yourself) or some other disingenuous presentation.

I kind of hate everything right now.

Reviewed: How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

how to build a girl by caitlin moran
Firstly, I’d just like to share that I picked up this book for about four dollars from bookoutlet.com, and after a few orders, I cannot recommend the site highly enough. If you’re looking for a fix on some new books, I suggest checking them out first. (And I am totally not getting paid to say that; I genuinely spent about $80 there in one month because they have such good deals.)

All right, onward to the review.

Caitlin Moran’s How to Build a Girl is about Johanna Morrigan, big-time nerd in a small-time English town. After reaching new heights of embarassment on local television, Johanna decides to reinvent herself into Lady Sex Adventurer/music writer Dolly Wilde. (Side note: Love the name.) I guess that probably could have clued me into just how much of a focus there was going to be on Johanna’s sexuality within the novel, but I guess I was just naive going into it.

Overall, I enjoyed the book and its depiction of Johanna trying to achieve a certain level of cool,” much like I’ve been attempting for the past twelve or so years. It was captivating to see how she developed, how she interacted with those around her, but how she also still maintained her innate self, whether she meant to or not. To be quite honest, the only parts I found boring were the repeated discussions of her masturbating, not because I think it’s wrong or anything, but because they were so frequent and didn’t feel as though they added much to the story most of the time, especially when that’s the opening scene. Even as I started reading, I had to wonder if that was meant more for shock value than substance, and I still haven’t settled one way or the other on it, so maybe it’s a bit of both, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The problem is if it is for shock, it goes away quickly with so many mentions.

Nonetheless, Johanna’s Adventures, both in and out of bed, make for a wonderful story. At times she can be slow on the uptake in situations, allowing herself to be manipulated or belittled by those (often men) around her. In the end, however, she shows so much development that I kind of ended up liking her. Compared to Eilis, in my previous review of Brooklyn, Johanna is a vastly more interesting and well-developed protagonist to follow. It felt like things were actually happening, and not just to her but at times because of her. She took action. Sometimes it was the wrong action, but sometimes not.

I’d give a big ol’ recommendation to this one if you like weird girls and music and coming of age stories. (I, for one, love all of these things, so maybe I’m a bit of a sucker.) Just make sure you’re not afraid of a little lot of sex talk.

Taking a Leap

Chapbook in the springI’ve been feeling down lately, knowing I should work on a writing project (any writing project), but struggling to find the energy. I haven’t even been able to read much in the past week. All I’ve really been doing since Dan left for Boston is watching The Simpsons, which is fun, but if I go too long then I start to feel like dirt for not “accomplishing” anything.

I’m still not feeling up to my best, but I did manage to achieve one thing this week: I sent out a couple copies of my chapbook for review and distribution consideration. I’m hopeful, though not expectant, if that makes any sense. I was in desperate need of a way to feel productive this week, and this turned out to be the easiest way to do it, and it really is productive. I often don’t do enough, or much at all, to actually get my work out there aside from making it available on Etsy and my distro website, and maybe posting about it once or twice online. It’s no wonder I’ve only sold five copies of my chapbook since October, right? But for some reason it never occurred to me to do this, to actually send it out and say, “Hey, please read this.” I was always stuck on posting on tumblr and Facebook and twitter and Instagram and waiting, but I need to assume that the majority of accounts following me in all those places are fake or inactive or spam–because, to be honest, they probably are–and that’s why it makes more sense to ask someone else if they would read and share my work. (Basically, I need to remember a lot of what I learned from Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking, which I feel like I just read but am already dying to reread; it was a very good bubble bath book.)

I’ve only sent out two copies so far, placed in the mail just yesterday morning, but it’s a start, and I’m trying to give myself credit, something I don’t think I do enough. Oftentimes I’m much more likely to do something I deem productive, be proud for half an hour, then start telling myself, “Okay, time to do more.” It’s not the best habit to be in because I’m belittling so much of what I do. But to be honest, it’s hard not to when it feels like everyone around me is doing so much and doing it well. It’s a conscious effort to keep reminding myself that I did well with this step, but when I can remember it, I’m excited to see what (if anything) comes of it.

I’m still looking for more places to send my chapbook, and I also have a few distros in mind to which to submit my perzine, so I’m thinking those will be projects for next week. *thumbs up emoji*

Reviewed: Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
My interest was piqued as soon as I saw the trailer for this on TV weeks ago: Saoirse Ronan? Yes. Ireland (sort of)? Double yes. 1950s setting? Take my money. Unfortunately, I haven’t managed to see the movie yet, but I did get a copy from my library after a few weeks on hold, so I dove right in.

Brooklyn is the story of Eilis Lacey, a young Irish girl who lives with her mother and sister in Enniscorthy. With the influence of her sister and Father Flood, a Catholic priest visiting from Brooklyn, she eventually moves across the sea to the East Coast American city. Hijinks ensue! (Okay, not so much.) As you would expect, especially in a time without the internet or even easy access to long-distance phone calls, Eilis grows homesick, but she soon finds a place for herself in the city, getting a job, going to school, and finding a boyfriend.

It’s funny because it all sounds really promising, and as a piece of writing, I did enjoy it. However, it often felt like not much was actually happening, and when anything did come up, my biggest gripe with the book would make itself obvious: Eilis. I just could not get behind Eilis. If she were a real person, I would find her kind of pathetic. She starts out the novel letting herself do what people expect of her, and she doesn’t end the book much better. My favorite moments were when she would say something sharp to the other women she was living with, but unfortunately those were too few for me to be rooting for her. I just don’t think I would want to be friends with her in real life, and if I was, I’d constantly be telling her to stand up for herself and tell people how she feels. She kept so much of her thoughts inside that it was hard to feel sympathetic when she was unhappy. She’s the kind of character I just want to give a good hard shake.

But enough of my ranting about her, because the book did have a redeeming quality in its prose. The story itself is beautifully written–“In the morning, she was not sure that she had slept as much as lived a set of vivid dreams, letting them linger so that she would not have to open her eyes and see the room.”–even if, as I said, it often felt like nothing was really happening throughout much of the story. It felt as if we are simply given a period of years in Eilis’ life to examine and time moves forward. There’s very little conflict, and when there is something that might prove to bring some excitement to the story, little comes of it. Eilis makes the easier, more comfortable choice (sometimes I agreed with it; sometimes I didn’t), and life goes on for her. See, my beef with her is so big I couldn’t stay away for long.

I’m certainly not going to say don’t read this book. I have a hard time suggesting others not even give an attempt at a novel because people have such different tastes; just because it was such a mixed bag for me doesn’t mean that you won’t love it. But I am saying that this book didn’t do much for me, and I’m glad I got it from the library rather than buying myself a copy.

The Allure of Numbers

Pink books
I’m not talking about math here.

Every morning, I wake up and check my bookstagram account notifications. Every once in a while I check my phone at work to see if more have popped up. When I get home, I take some photos for my account, trying to build up a collection for the week so I don’t have to take photos every day if I don’t want to (usually I want to). And all afternoon I check my phone, do some reading, check my phone, do some reading, check my phone, watch TV… You get the idea, right?

I have very quickly gotten sucked into the need to constantly look for notifications for my bookstagram account, and honestly, I’m okay with that. It’s like a game to me. It’s exciting. (Although I totally admit I probably need to cut back a bit on how often I check, and I am trying.)

But one thing I’ve noticed that bothers me is when people ask for likes. It doesn’t make me mad; it just feels disingenuous. Wouldn’t you want your followers to like your photos because, well, they like them, not just because you ask them to? It seems like once that point is reached, some of the fun is lost, and it makes me sad, because since I’ve started my account, I’ve had so much fun talking with people about the books we like and the beautiful, creative photos everyone takes. In my opinion, that’s the most rewarding way to get attention for your feed if that’s what you’re there for.

I’m not saying it doesn’t make me feel good when my photos get a bunch of likes or I have a good day when suddenly twenty-five people follow me; of course I like those things and celebrate them once in a while, but I don’t stalk after them because I think once you start letting yourself fall prey to that, it can become so much less fun. To achieve them organically is one thing. To seek them out feels like another.

I don’t know. This post is a little rambly and somewhat poorly thought out because I just thought of it after seeing this pop up on my feed, and I wanted to discuss it. I’m curious what your thoughts are on the situation because maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m being too hard on people, and it’s not as bad as I’m making it out to seem. Maybe no one else has even noticed!

What do you think about bookstagrammers (or anyone on Instagram) asking for likes?
And how do think the new algorithm affects this, if at all?