Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Fangirl

Rainbow Rowell has become quite popular since her publication of Eleanor & Park (which I really enjoyed). While I haven't read any of her other publications, Fangirl kept popping up in that way some books do that seem to shout "Read me! You'll enjoy this!" but I held off for a really long while until I finally gave in. And, of course, I really enjoyed it.

I think what will cause people to love this book is that many readers can identify with the main characters--whether you are college-aged or not. If you take Cath and Wren, Cath being our main character and Wren being her twin sister, and mold them into each other--you have my entire college experience in a nutshell. Awkward, introverted, a fangirl who wrote fanfiction and yet went out to parties and tried to be someone else, tried to escape from something, all of that was be. This book hit me hard and fast because I could identify so easily with the twins. I really feel Rowell hit the nail on the head with the power fanfiction can have--whether reading it or writing it.

The book did have some proofreading errors that really irritated me; simple things that I think anyone could catch. Also, there's so damn much that happens in this book I kept pausing, thinking "surely we've covered everything" and when I saw how much of the book was left I was surprised, "What else do they have to talk about?" It's such a long book and it could've been shorter, but I'm not totally against the length. I still really enjoyed it and the book was entirely escapism for me.

The characters were great and all very solid. They have wonderful development and character growth. Wren and Cath irritated me a lot--but I think that's more because they reminded me so much of my younger self and the mistakes I made. I wish I could have an update from the author on how the girls are doing.

I was particularly happy that fanfiction takes such a predominantly powerful seat in this story. There are so many people who write fanfiction and often it's looked down upon as if it's not "real writing." I think that's bull, honestly. Neil Gaiman always tells aspiring authors to write, just keep writing, always write because the practice helps and wouldn't you say fanfiction does the same? It helps you to view a world that is already created and build upon it. It gives you an opportunity to have a more intimate look at a bunch of characters or a fictional world than a reader would. It's often urged for writers to, when they are reading for pleasure, continue "reading like a writer." You want to see how something is created and all the little things a writer does if you're working toward being a great writer yourself and I feel, deeply, that writing fanfics is such a great way to handle that.

I enjoyed how Rowell handled many of those freshman year events. Cath is a little more introverted than I think is healthy, but she still deals with a lot of the struggles that freshman deal with, even if she's sort of a shut in. I can't say I know what it's like to have a sister, let alone a twin, but I feel that Rowell made Cath and Wren's relationship seem very natural and real, very easy for me to believe and imagine. I really loved the relationships that Cath creates with other people, whether they are good or bad, and that the story touches on people stealing your creative work. Then again, isn't that almost what this entire thing is about?

Cath is a fanfiction writer, she writes for a large number of fans who read her material, but she also writes with a classmate who then tries to claim the work as his own. Where is the line drawn to making something copyright infringement or creative thievery? 

This book has a lot of real-life issues that the characters deal with and with that, it's something you find your emotions completely wrapped up in, but all in all it's a feel good book. You're left feeling satisfied and happy for the characters although I still wonder how they are all doing.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha

I discussed awhile ago that I suffer from anxiety. It's something that has always been an issue until suddenly, it was an issue that was standing between me and living my life. I began meeting with a psychologist until we were able to overcome the most basic, day-to-day anxiety that I deal with and grab it by the horns. Readers, it had gotten that bad. Simple things like driving to work, going to a meeting, making a phone call, or speaking to someone I didn't know had me overcome with anxiety. Forget bigger things that can get anyone a little nervous like job evaluations or a fight with roommates, I was reduced to having anxiety and panic attacks for those events. 

I felt like my anxiety was some monster, a fat thing with wings that just slowly followed me wherever I went, biting down on my shoulder to remind me it was there just when I found I had to do something that was ever so slightly out of my comfort zone. It was very hard to admit that I had an issue, harder still to take the step to find a doctor to help me. It's one thing to tell yourself you have anxiety but another thing to have a professional agree with you. 

But bit by bit, I worked with my doctor and felt more in control. Instead of the anxiety monster latching on, I could fight him off. It took nearly a year, but I was finally given the ok to not return to my appointments unless I found it necessary. There isn't a cure all for anxiety, it's something that you learn how to manage and for me, reading Tara Brach's book True Refuge during my therapy sessions was a great help. 

Toward the end of my first graduate school class, I found I was beginning to have strong anxiety issues again. I was handling them, but I felt I could be handling them better. I remembered reading Brach's other book and how comforting it was to see that others dealt with an assortment of mental health issues just like me. Radical Acceptance, I knew, was another book by Brach and one that came highly recommended by my psychologist. With my first graduate class winding down and exhaustion taking over my body, I felt it was a good a time as any to buy this book and give it a whirl.

I can't begin to express how helpful it was.

The week after I read this, I began my second graduate school class as well as the biggest conference season my job had ever taken part of. Beside this, I found out my mother was due to have open heart surgery to have a valve replaced and two days later we were evacuated from our home in the wee hours of the morning, the day after that, we had to take one of our cats to an emergency veterinarian--had we not he would have died painfully a day or two later. It was an overwhelmingly stressful week. So overwhelming that my entire body responded to the stress and exhibited obvious signs that I was too overwhelmed. 

But this book was still there, festering in my brain, and slowly I regained my composure. 

While True Refuge had a broader range of issues that people dealt with, I feel that Radical Acceptance is much more suited for those with anxiety or panic disorders. If you're feeling stressed or overwhelmed with life, I urge you to give the book a try.

The number one thing I really enjoyed about both of Brach's books is that she takes real life examples of people dealing with real life issues. She speaks of their lows and discusses how they found their way out of the woods. Seeing all of these examples of people who have various experiences and emotional reactions was such a comfort. I'm not alone, I kept thinking while reading, This person is just like me.

Since this book focuses on anxiety much more, there are a lot of end-of-chapter practices through forms of meditation that are helpful for people with anxiety. I am not religious and while I used to meditate in my youth, I no longer do. I think it would be beneficial for me to do it again as I found it beneficial when it was a stable in my life 15 years ago, but that's another thing to conquer another day. However, the practices Brach lists, many of them at least, are practices anyone can do--whether or not you are a whiz at meditation. 

I feel this book will be something I return to in the future. Things get crazy and overwhelming. Even if I have "conquered" the anxiety monster, he can still grow powerful and take over here and there, especially when I'm overwhelmed. I feel that this book will be something worth returning to in those moments.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Winter Doldrums



I reach top introversion during the winter months. 

During the summer and fall, ever since I was in high school, I am busy. When I was a teenager and in my early twenties, summer meant staying up until 5 a.m. writing, sleeping for a number of hours, then spending the afternoon outdoors in the sunshine until dinner. Once I entered the adult world, it meant working and spending every available moment I can outdoors. In the fall, it's work or school during the day, rest or homework at night, and then on the weekends I am making every sunshine-filled moment count before winter comes.

The holidays are endlessly busy and then... New Year's Day arrives. Just like that. It's there and a new year. There are endless possibilities. There are people talking about how they'll reinvent themselves--some will, some won't--and there are people who are the naysayers of such goals. 

After enduring months of busy days, I suddenly am at full stop. It's cold, it's cloudy, it's windy, it's uninviting outside and I'm stuck indoors without the glimmer of holiday lights. It's a dreary world and I have nothing to do on the weekends, nothing to look forward to. No matter what, guaranteed, if I make plans that will be the weekend we are hit with a snowstorm and all that planning goes to waste. That's when the winter doldrums hit.

I become sad, I become distraught, I become someone incapable of getting anything done. It's so dark and cold that it's a struggle to just finish each day. This isn't to say I'm suicidal, certainly not, what I feel instead is the urge to live. I want to go outside, I want to go places, I want to do something, but I feel like I'm stuck in a period of time where that isn't happening.

Every winter I am hit with the winter doldrums following New Year's day. Sometimes it doesn't happen for awhile, sometimes it's light, but sometimes it hits me out of no where and knocks me down so fast that I have no chance to fight back.

That was this January.



The winter doldrums hit me hard and it was pretty unbearable. I went to work, did what was expected of me, came home, and then sat blankly staring at the wall or the TV. I had school work to do, I had assignments to take care of and chapters to read but I couldn't bring myself to do it.

At first, I could. I was still getting work done because I had to, but by the second week, I was putting it off. By the middle of the week, none of my school work had been done and I had a large project deadline looming. But I still couldn't bring myself to do it.

It was during this time I fell into reading the Saga graphic novels with a dependency that no other area in my life saw in the new year. It was the only thing I willingly--happily, even--did with my spare time when I should have been doing just about anything else.

Among all of this, David Bowie died. It hit me hard, I have to say. There are two deaths that have occurred in the celebrity world that have really struck me to the core: Robin Williams and David Bowie. I'm sure (unfortunately) there will be many others in the future, as there are quite a few people out there who I appreciate thoroughly and have a great influence on my life, but thus far, these were the two that affected me most.

It was a different pain from Robin Williams' death, though. I considered it for some time until I eventually came to an understanding of what was causing these feelings. 

Robin Williams was the bringer of happiness to my childhood. He was always that person that brought laughs and enjoyment when I was young, and a light very much went out when he left the world. But David Bowie was grittier to me. I grew up with him as well--he was someone my parents listened to when they were young and I watched him in Labyrinth from a very young age. When I was a preteen, however, I began to appreciate my parents' musical tastes and adore the music of the 60's and 70's. I learned more about David Bowie and I began to understand him on some level.

He was a weird guy, he was so unique, and he didn't care about conventional standards or rules. This was the perfect thing for my hungry preteen mind to devour. I was weird, I was awkward, I was unique and like most preteens I felt extremely alone and misunderstood. But David Bowie got me. It was at this age that I began to experience my first fits of depression that would come and go with seasons. It sucked, as any bouts of depression do, but still I had the sweet music of Labyrinth to comfort me. As a teen, it quickly became my solace and it brought me closer to people in my area who battled similar demons.

To lose him was painful and upsetting, all the more so as I was already deeply into my winter doldrums, but I plugged myself into Blackstar and tried to move through. It didn't happen, not too quickly, but I suspect years from now when I hear the Blackstar album I'll remember it as what followed me through my baddest bout of winter doldrums I've had yet. 

All of this is to say that part of the reason the blog has been relatively silent has been because of this emotional turmoil brought on by this frigid month at the start of the year. At first, I had posts popping up automatically but I had no will to even share them on my Facebook page, let alone write more posts that would go up in February. I took down the edited blog posts and reverted them to draft form for a better, brighter day when I was willing to chat about books and correspond with the human world.

January continued on, we were hit by winter storm Jonas and buried indoors for over a week. But then the sun shined--the weather warmed up--and I felt the spark of life igniting in my soul again. I was slowly coming back, slowly stirring from my emotional hibernation.

As it's happened in the past, so it shall continue to be: I'll feel fine and then suddenly sad on and off again until we really have a firm grip on spring. But for now, this is my step into the light as winter starts to lose control.

So.

Hi there. Welcome, readers. Sorry to have been away for so long but I'm back now. I hope the past few weeks have treated you well. I'm excited to share books with you in the future.