The sins of our fathers: it’s our time to make amends

I equally can’t and can believe this is happening. That today, over halfway through 2017, we’re still arguing over whether people chanting racist slurs and complaining about “white oppression” are wrong or right or Nazis.

Hey, guys — they’re Nazis. It’s simple. When you become a white supremacist, you are buying into the same ideals that rose to power in Germany in the 30s. And when you sit by and look to the side so they can pass you by, when you shrug and say, “Well, freedom of speech…”, when you refuse to condemn because you don’t think we can legislate morality…you are complicit. No, you might not be circling a Black church in Charlottesville or ramming your car into counter-protesters, but you are standing by and doing nothing, and that, my friends, makes you equally responsible.

Listen, I recognize that writing this post might be futile, because people are rarely convinced by logical arguments and whatnot. But at the same time, I have to do it. Because what happened this weekend in Virginia was…disgusting. And what I’m seeing from fellow white people, especially white Christians who have little to fear, is a lot of nothing. No condemnation, no horror, no disgust. Nothing.

Well, that’s wrong. I am seeing something. I’m seeing a shrugging off of responsibility. An attitude that says, I am not like these people, I am not a Nazi, therefore I have nothing to apologize for and well, it’s not my fault so I shouldn’t have to speak out against it.

The internet won’t tell me definitively who said it, but someone once said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing.” And even though I can’t tell you exactly who said it, I can tell you it’s true.

So if you’re a “good man” (er, person) you can’t sit back and do and say nothing. Speaking out against these acts is the bare minimum.

And you know what? Sure, I didn’t personally step out in hate in Charlottesville. But I am a white woman, and it is true that 53 percent of white women in America voted for Trump. It’s also true that he refused to specifically condemn white supremacy, and that the website The Daily Stormer (which I won’t link to because it’s disgusting), took his comments as positive reinforcement of their beliefs, including “God Bless Him” at the end of their rundown of his statement. I mean, when Nazis are saying you’re on their side…you’re on their side.

So there’s that fact: I did not personally vote for Trump, but the majority of white women did. Because white women all benefit from a system of white supremacy. Yes: women as a whole earn 79 percent of what men do. But wait, there’s more! Black women earn 67 cents to the white man’s dollar. Aka, white women, while still earning less than white men, earn more than Black women. There is inequality in this country, and inevitably white people come on top; and while white men benefit the most, white women definitely benefit from a system of white supremacy.

And that’s what I’m apologizing for. No, I didn’t choose to be born white and privileged, able-bodied and straight. But I was. And I live in a country that gives me privileges based on those factors. And the very least I can do is recognize that privilege, apologize for it, and work to equalize the playing field.

White men are scared — why? They’re not in any real danger; unless that’s the danger of losing their advantage.

And no, this is not a post where you can come and “not all white people” or “not all men” me. I’m not here for that.

I’m simply here to say, listen, fellow white people, we’ve been privileged all throughout history. We’ve been afforded and we’ve taken power and advantage where we could, and we’ve downtrodden everyone else. And sure, maybe it wasn’t this current generation of white people who killed and corralled and stole Native American lives and land. Maybe it wasn’t our generation who enslaved Black people and then freed them but kept them subjugated. Maybe it wasn’t this generation who imprisoned Japanese people in internment camps. But it is this generation who is refusing to open our doors to Muslim immigrants and refugees who are forced to leave their own homes out of fear for their lives. It is this generation who is so afraid we’re OK with building a freaking wall just to keep out Mexicans. It is this generation of white people who have benefitted from a history of white supremacy, and it is this generation of white people whose job it is to stand up and say “Enough already, it’s time to equalize.”

Maybe that means minimizing ourselves in order to be equal. Maybe it just means grabbing someone’s hand and helping them along. Either way: do what you have to do to make up for the sins of our fathers.

I mean, guys, come on, this is Biblical! In the book of Daniel, he prays and asks forgiveness not only for his own sins, but for those of his fathers. He says Jerusalem is a reproach because of things past generations had done.

If you won’t take it from me, take it from the mouth of a prophet: until we atone for the wrongs our forefathers wrought upon others, we will also be a reproach.

 

Depression: the waves will come back

You may know that I had a psych hospitalization last week for a very bad depressive episode. I’m not gonna go too in-depth about it, because I have a few pieces to-be-published that will describe it, but suffice it to say: things got really, really bad. Worse than they have been, and it reached the point where the only option was to go to a hospital.

That would have been the only option no matter where I was; that’s how bad things were. No amount of family or friends hovering over me was able to change my mental state.

And hospitals are really great, if you can get a good one. My first time in a psych ward was bad. The second time was better, but I still swore to myself and others that I wouldn’t go back. I didn’t want it to be a crutch, you see.

More on that in another post, because this isn’t the time or place.

IMG_3548This time, and this place, is to talk about what happened after I left the hospital. Obviously, I was initially overjoyed. As soon as I was out of the psych ward, I stripped the tape off my phone camera and took a selfie.

As you do.

Then my friends came to pick me up and we took the cutest Boomerang I’ve participated in and then got pancakes at iHop.

All in all, a great day.

That was Friday. By Monday, I was once again feeling like I was pouring out the dregs of my energy. You know when you brew looseleaf tea, and there’s some left at the bottom, and you think you’ll ration and make another cup with it, but then the leaves are sad and strangled and can’t provide much strength?

That’s how I felt.

Well, I guess it’s more accurate to say that’s how I feel. Because the dreg-feeling, that knowledge that I am functioning at less than half my capacity, it hasn’t gone away, not completely.

I’ve had some good days in the past week; well, more like good moments. The nature of my diagnosis is that my moods shift radically and quickly, each feeling lasting for a few days to a few hours.

So no matter how good things get, they always get bad again.

I guess the upside to that, the positive way to speak of it, would have been that no matter how bad things get, they always get good again.

I’ve written about the cyclical nature of depression. I think it was a pretty darn good article, so I’m not going to replicate it here, but I would appreciate it if you clicked that link and read it.

Because I think a lot of people still don’t “get” it. That depression, my mental illness, isn’t going to go away once and for all at some point. It’s not going to vanish if I live in the right place or have the right friends or eat the right foods. It might be diminished, yeah, if I take certain steps — and I’m trying to. I take literal thousands of steps a day as I walk to and from work in an effort to get some exercise in, and I’m taking up coloring as a de-stressing exercise when I feel overwhelmed.

But I do this knowing that it won’t “cure” me. My depression is not a disease that can be cured by meds and right living.

Even if, even when, I do everything right, it still comes and smacks me in the face and sends me spiraling.

So yeah. I’ve been really depressed this week. That’s not because I’m doing anything wrong, though. It’s not my fault. It’s my disease.

I can’t fix it. You can’t fix it. The only person (er, being) who could fix it is God, and while I’m 100% positive that He has the power to do so, I’m 95% positive that He won’t. (That’s a story for another blog post, though). Suffice it to say that I’ve come to terms with the fact that this is something I’ll live with for years to come.

And again — that’s not a depressing fact! It’s freeing! It allows me, at times, to take the waves as they come and ride them out, knowing they’ll fade, return, fade again, the same way the tides in the ocean do.

It can be hard to deal with at times when I’m in the thick of depression. But even then, I remember — this will pass and I will be clearheaded again.

Oh, man. 750 words in and I’m not sure what the point of this blog post is, except to reinforce that this is a disease I live with; and this is a disease I’m determined to be honest about.

So I’m going to post about it on social media. I’m going to tell my friends what’s going on. I’m going to be painfully, brutally honest about it, because it’s good for me and because I believe — I pray — I hope — that it will help someone else to see that yes, you can be chronically depressed; but yes, you can live and love and be successful and find joy through it all.

And when I do post these things, it’s not because I want platitudes or solutions or recriminations. I just want to be honest. I want to live life in the open. To know and be known, intimately, honestly, truly. I want you to know and understand what mental illness truly is, and I want to bring hope to others in my situation.

That’s my promise. Maybe it’s my threat. I’m not really sure — which do you think of it as?

Writing just won’t let you go: a profile of Katherine Nichols

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Photo courtesy of Katherine Nichols

For the past 20 years, Katherine Nichols has worked, in some way or another, as a writer.  Whether that means working as a print journalist or hosting a TV feature or, finally, penning the nonfiction book for teens DEEP WATER, Katherine has felt the pull of writing on her life.

“Though I have gone in other directions, I keep returning to writing because I love the challenge, the perpetual opportunity for learning and improvement,” she said. “But it never gets easier. So perhaps a more honest answer is that it won’t let me go.”

When she was a young girl, Katherine made mini-books out of construction paper. She describes these early literary pursuits as “average stories and terrible illustrations,” but with typical childlike aplomb, she demanded an audience of her family members.

In addition, like so many other writers, Katherine was a reader. As a child, her parents not only read aloud to her, but modeled the life of a reader by being avid consumers of the written word themselves.

In school, Katherine felt herself drawn to English classes. “I found them so enjoyable that I would save the homework for last,” she said, “as a reward after finishing math and chemistry and biology.”

Partly out of the necessity of having a steady paycheck, Katherine turned to journalism, saying, “If you’re not a bestselling author, it’s tough to make a living from fiction. Journalism jobs and assignments came more easily to me.”

But her choice of this career isn’t entirely pragmatic, though that is of course a big part. She said she’s a naturally curious person who enjoyed that journalism allowed her to learn about others, in essence to have a brand-new education in a new field almost every day.

Plus, there was the added benefit of being able to help someone with her stories. Early in her career, she published a story about a young man who, after a car accident, became a quadriplegic. He taught himself to paint by holding the brush in his teeth, and Katherine’s feature on him was published by the San Diego Union.

“It … brought attention to his work,” she said. “The idea that I could do something positive by telling someone else’s story inspired me.”

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Photo courtesy of Katherine Nichols

Katherine’s debut book, DEEP WATER, released May 2 from Simon True, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, tells the story of a group of young men from Coronado, California, who during the summer of 1971 begin a drug-smuggling business that turns into a booming, $100 million endeavour. The catch? They are all athletes who swim the drug packages across the border.

It’s an intriguing story, and one that Katherine was familiar with as someone who grew up in Coronado.

“Growing up [in] the small beach town and graduating from the same high school gave the narrative an insider’s perspective,” she said.

Although she originally planned to fictionalize the tale of the Coronado Company, Katherine ended up writing it as a nonfiction book after Simon True approached her with the idea.

In speaking about the experience of writing the book, Katherine acknowledged that there was something freeing in writing about criminals (with the caveat that they were non-violent ones).

“It was rewarding to transcend that judgment, to find other ways to connect with their experiences,” she said. “Because we are all human beings with needs, desires, strengths, and flaws that influence our choices. Who among us has not made a mistake with potentially serious consequences?”

DEEP WATER can be purchased on Amazon and more information about the book can be found on Facebook. Feel free to check out Katherine’s website or follower her on Twitter to stay up to date with her writing.

Bittersweet: the Fourth as an adult

I remember being a child and wishing I were in America all the time. It was my Promised Land, and the American Dream was the one I wanted desperately.

It’s ironic, because I lived in Italy, one of the most beautiful place I’ve been, full of life and culture and delectable food, gorgeous, heart-rending cities that careen and curve around the angles of my heart until they settle in for eternity. But as a kid, I didn’t appreciate that.

I wanted America, fast and easy and convenient.

What I also remember is feeling incredibly lucky to be American, wondering how I got to win the genetic lottery of living in the “land of the free, home of the brave.”

And now? Now I still feel like it was lucky that I was born American, mostly because it means I’m able to get into this country that, despite the fear-mongering that’s rampant in our government, is safe and full of opportunity.

I work for and with a lot of Italians, and to the person they bemoan the lack of jobs in their country; they marvel at all the options for work available to them in this one.

It’s the same thing I hear from my childhood friends who are still in Italy: this land is hard. This life is hard. They wonder how I was able to find a job so easily (it took two months of unemployment to land a minimum-wage pizzeria job).

I marvel, too, because as hard as it’s been over the past year to find a good job in my field (read: impossible, hence the barista aspect of my life), I have been able to find job, one that pays just enough for me to pay my Brooklyn rent, buy my Brooklyn groceries and live the New York life that has become my version of the American dream.

Life in America is a lot easier than in a lot of other places, and my American passport affords me a heck-ton of opportunities.

As a kid, I loved all things American and wanted to be as foreign as possible in Italy. So when the 4th of July rolled around, I donned my American flag t-shirt and sang the anthem with gusto and reveled in my American status. I was proud and patriotic and in love with being from the “best place on earth” or whatever.

And now? Now I’m…conflicted. Like I said, I still see the value and opportunity in my homeland. But I also see the hardships. I see the fissures in our communities, the cracks between people of one kind and another…between black and white and gay and straight, Christian and Muslim, home-bred and foreign-born.

And it breaks my heart, because I can’t help but believe that we should all love each other. That our differences make us stronger. I know firsthand from growing up in a foreign culture that people who look, talk, act and think differently than you can add to your life, rather than take away from it. We thrive in diversity, stifle in homogeneity.

This Fourth of July is bittersweet. It’s the first under a new administration that is doing a lot of things I cannot get behind, including changing health insurance so it’ll be harder for people like me to get coverage, including trying to institute a ban of people from a certain religion, including firing up a lot of really hateful people to do really awful things.

But I’ve also seen, over the past six months, an outpouring of love. I’ve seen people online and in real life stand up for those who look differently, I’ve seen people mobilize to get more involved in their government, I’ve seen support given where it is needed despite differences.

So I know that the American people are worth celebrating. Not just the ones who were born here or who look like me; the ones who inspire me the most, often, are the ones whose stories are radically different from mine.

So I know that just like any person, America is a mix of good and bad. Unlike when I was a child, I don’t think I can don my T-shirt and proclaim it’s the best country in the world. I know now more of the history of how it was built, on the backs of slaves, and I cannot turn a blind eye to the racism and hatred that exists as a fault line through our culture.

At the same time, I can’t throw away the goodness of the American people, the strength and resilience and love I also see.

So this Fourth of July, I’m gonna celebrate. I’m gonna brunch with a friend, going to write and read and relax and watch the fireworks, and know that as far as we’ve come, we’ve got a ways to go yet. And I’m going to believe to we’ll get there. So I’m going to celebrate in advance. And tomorrow, I’m going to wake up and get to work.

I haven’t been politically involved lately because sometimes my depression makes it hard to think past myself. But I’m committing to get out of my head going forward…to call senators and vote and get others to vote and volunteer to teach kids to read and support people and love people and be radical. And maybe the fault line of hate can become a fault line of love.

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About last year’s celebration…

But God…

Content notice: depression, suicidal ideation

Crushingly weary, my ankles sore and my back crackling with pain, I took myself to church at Hillsong after a long shift —after a long week—at work. I don’t know what propelled me to turn right instead of left out of the cafe and make my way toward the C at Franklin Ave instead of waiting for the bus that would have taken me to my soft bed, so I guess it must have something to do with God. Because somehow, I knew that I had—I just had—to get to church last Sunday.

See, I’ve been feeling pretty empty lately. I told my coworker that these days, I’m like tea running through leaves that have been strained too many time, rationed too many times, so instead of being strong and full of life and flavor, I’m weak and kind of bitter. I’m green tea that’s steeped too long.

I’m weary, just exhausted, and I feel like I have nothing left to give; I felt, even Sunday, like I had no energy for worship, no joy in the singing and the dancing and the celebrating.

But worship is simply stripped-bare soul meeting Creator, and its beauty is in the fact that He will meet you where you are. And Sunday, as I sat and worshipped, I felt Him meet me.

Crystallize this moment in amber, I prayed, because I want to remember, to reflect upon and cherish, that moment of wonder.

Wonder was the theme of the night, as the message Pastor Carl preached was called “Stay Wonderful.” I love a good clever sermon title, so I’m pretty fond of this one, which is about remaining filled with a sense of awe at God and his creation, namely, people and life.

I took more notes on the first part of the sermon (people are wonderful), but it’s the second half that’s struck a chord.

It’s the part that says “life is wonderful” that truly resonates with me.

You see, I’ve always thought that, as much as I’ve always been in such a rush to throw my life away. It’s a symptom of my depression that this thing I cherish so much—the mere fact of being alive—often became a burden on my shoulders, something to muddle through rather than exploring in joy.

I have memories, slightly vague, of being a child who was filled to the brim with this love of life. I thought it was so incredible, this chance we have to inhabit the earth for a few years, to love and grow and celebrate and emote. And somewhere along the way, my joy in life was tainted, soured, and suddenly I’m at a place where I don’t know how to function if I’m not suicidal.

I feel like that sentence bears explaining, so: my go-to solution to a problem, almost any problem, is death. If there’s interpersonal strife or I think I’m failing at work or I have writer’s block, I jump to thoughts of killing myself. It’s the path my brain has trod the most, and so it’s the path I inevitably take regardless of what else is going on.

So whether or not I’m actively dealing with suicidal thoughts, it’s my MO, the way I think; no matter where I am on the scale of not-depressed to hospitalization, if things go wrong, I dream of ending my life.

But life is wonderful, and keeping that sense of awe about life isn’t just something that I need to do as it’s part of God’s calling on my life; it’s something I need to do as it’s part of what helps me counteract and redirect the thoughts in my head.

Easier said than done, of course. I can’t just re-write the functions of my brain, forging brand-new paths from nowhere and hoping they’ll stick. I’m weak. I can’t do it.

But God.

This life is gonna be a long hard journey, my back bowed and aching with the weight of depression and cares, my feet blistering in agony, and I’m gonna need Him with me every step of the way to regain and retain my sense of wonder.

It’s a hard task, a high calling, a big thing to ask of anyone, and no human could do it, really.

But God.

Here’s the thing about my God. He is love beyond belief.

He created my flesh smooth and pleasing to His eye, and I took a blade and marred what he had loved. And though it cut him just as it cut me, He chose to love what he had made through what I had done to it. My fear has always been of ruining what He made.

But God.

He loves me regardless, and there’s nothing I can do to change that. Nothing. Absolutely not a damn thing, no matter what I or you or anyone may say to the contrary.

And my God, He is strength. He is power. He is the ability to do all and more, above and beyond.

So yeah. I can’t think of life as wonderful all the time.

But God.

He can. And through Him, so can I.

I may be weak,

but God

is strong in my weakness.

Missing my heart-land, away from home

There’s something about being away from New York that makes me miss Italy more fiercely.

It doesn’t seem like those two should be so intertwined, does it? How does leaving New York relate to missing Italy? They’re not the same!

And yet, somehow, being in the city, walking the streets of Brooklyn, glowering at the tourists in Manhattan, it has this ethereal quality to it, this thing I can only describe as a feel, that makes me feel at home and reminds me of Italy. And so I miss Italy a little less, because I’m distracted by New York City.

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Talk about a beautiful distraction

There’s so much to distract you in New York. There’s a fog of exhaustion that seems to float behind every step, compounded by the stress of public transportation as the only means to get anywhere. There’s a level of striving in everything, a tension that doesn’t leave your shoulders at all, because every month this niggling question hovers: will I make rent for next month? I breathe a sigh of relief at the end of every month when I pay my roommate the allotted amount to give me 30 more days in the city.

And there are people, new faces to observe, new oddballs to dodge, something different on every corner. There’s a job, 40+ hours a week on my feet in almost constant motion, serving other Brooklynites their coffee and panini, and yet, despite the countless time I spend working and charming people for tips, I’m barely scraping by and looking to pick up side gigs for a little extra cash flow.

There’s constantly something on my mind in New York, and that combined with the Europe-ness of the city means I don’t have time to think back on Trieste…

…To think about long and lazy morning walks seven miles down the waterfront, ending at the castle I love so much I tattooed it on my body…

…To think about the gelateria where the hot chocolate is so thick your spoon stands up on its own, leaning in close to your best friend from childhood and giggling, giggling, giggling…

…To think about standing on the edge of the pier, staring out at the Adriatic Sea as its waves ripple the streetlights, this feeling of peace and serenity flooding you and overtaking every synapse…

…To think about home, with its creaky floors and warm-pumpkin walls and the bed you’ve had since childhood that’s still your coziest retreat…

When I sit down to try and write about Italy, about Trieste, about all the things I love from my hometown and my adopted country, I find I don’t have the words. The English language falls flat at my fingertips, unable to convey the depth of emotions I have toward that place, unable to truly translate to you the beauty of it, the beauty of its movement, language, of the ethereal feel it has that just wraps itself around me and holds me close to its heart.

I think I’m lucky, so lucky, to have found two places that I love beyond words. And when I leave one, I find myself craving the other desperately.

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetI’m in South Carolina at the moment, sitting in a comfortable chair in my parents’ beautiful home, a home I’m simultaneously jealous and afraid of. Because it’s small by suburbia standards but large compared to my place in Brooklyn; because nearly every inch is coated in soft carpet I don’t recognize from New York (or Italy); because mornings are slow and the sun seems to blink its eyes open as lazily as I do, rather than darting awake like it does up North.

Things are different in the South, it’s true, and a big difference is that down here there’s less to distract me and less to satiate my craving for Italy.

So I miss it, with a passion. For the first time in months I’ve found my fingers itching to buy a plane ticket to Trieste, I’ve found my stomach collapse at this longing that just eats at me, I’ve found myself blinking back tears and a lump in my throat because I’m here and not there, here and not there…

I’ve been asked so many times this weekend why I refuse to move back to South Carolina. There are reasons, one of them being that New York is home now and I don’t want to leave it, but a big one that I’m just realizing is that I miss my Italy-home more fiercely when I’m away from my New York-home.

And so, I stay safely cocooned up North, where the people are plenty, the smells abound and the Italy-missing is less intense.

 

On a see-saw: a metaphor (duh) on needing others

Today I see-sawed savagely between emotions, swinging from finger-shaking beginnings of panic to heart-sunk depression to soaring giddiness to just plain tired.

It’s been an emotional week for me, all told; I’ve hit some real lows but also had some great fun. There have been tears and this sense of total lostness, like I’m wandering and will never be found.

And I’ve been hit where I don’t want to hurt, where I feel most confident.

In a weird way, I’m super confident that I’m a great barista. It’s an odd thing to take pride in, but I do think I’m fairly good not just at preparing food and drink that will make people happy and content, but also at making them feel welcomed, at home, like Albero is a place they can chill and chat and sort of refresh.

I’m not gonna claim to be the reason Albero is that, because my coworkers are incredible, personable and really quite hilarious. They do just fine on their own at making people love the little cafe.

But I do believe I add something.

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And not just because I’m able to now make a great Macchiato!

And of course, of course, freaking depression has hit that thing that I’m weirdly confident and supremely proud of. I’ve been anxious over my performance and place in the company, and I’ve been concerned that maybe, just maybe, I’m not actually great at my job.

You see, some people are better than I am at being a barista. I’ve been told that I’m not the best, that others do a better job. And of course I translate that to, you’re the worst, Karis, get out while you’re ahead. Go sit in an office and cry.

I tell people that one of my hidden talents is the ability to turn anything into a negative. You can compliment me, tell me something incredibly nice, and I (almost) guarantee I’ll be able to twist it into something horrible.

You’re getting so good at making those Cappuccinos, Karis! you say, thinking you’re paying me a compliment on my teachability and improvement.

Wow, I can’t believe I sucked so bad that people noticed! I translate, not accepting praise because how can it possibly be true? How can anything good be true of me?

That’s the root of this week’s problems. There’s nothing wrong with my job, no areas where I’ve been told I need to improve upon. It can be stressful, but so can any job. I enjoy my days off, of course, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love being in the building, pulling shots, baking croissants and talking up my favorite gelato pairing, the blackberry sorbet with chocolate (it’s oh-my-lanta delicious, y’all!).

And yet.

And yet I panic, concerned that my bosses think I’m a failed investment and my coworkers giggle behind my back, mocking my incompetence. There are shining moments of goodness, when someone tastes my Latte and raves, someone else tells me the panino I assembled so carefully was delicious…that special moment when a customer howled with laughter at a joke I made and said it was the funniest thing she’d heard all day.

These are the reasons I get out of bed, the reasons I work at a cafe instead of trying to land a job in an office, in my field. Because I love the movement of it, the adrenaline, the humanity. The endless stories that come, the rush of inspiration at every new scrape of the door against the floor, every interesting angle by which the sun slants into the room.

There is so much life in my little cafe, and because I love it I fear losing it.

And so. So I’ve been shaking and sinking and losing myself in a mire of sadness and worry.

But here’s the other thing about today’s see-saws. Every time I swung back upwards, it was because of someone. Because a familiar face walked through the door and smiled at me, referenced a random running joke we have. Because a coworker patted me on the back and made a hilarious joke in accented yet beautiful English. Because we were training the new guy, making strangers laugh and feel at home in a place that is so not their home.

IMG_3137Because my photography-inclined coworker took a picture of me with the sun behind and said it was beautiful even though I felt as ugly as possible. Because they asked about recent updates in my life and genuinely, literally cared about my future, took time to ask probing questions and make sure I don’t make the wrong decision. Because I’m making friends and it feels good, and I was so scared to leave Farinella because of my family there, but it turns out you can have family in two, three, four places and it’s OK, it’s all OK.

Because there’s always an upswing.

The see-saw might take you down, slam you against the ground with such force your teeth clatter against each other and your butt stings, but it always goes back up. Even better — it eventually levels out. That’s the sweet spot: the moment when you’re hovering between the two, not on the ground and not in the air, just balanced, just stable.

But like, if you try to see-saw alone, you’re gonna end up stuck on the ground or suspended in air. You need another person to balance you out.

We — you, I, your cousin, the dude you saw on the subway — we need each other. Life kinda sorta really sucks when you live it on your own. It’s just no good. It’s the people that pull us up, the people that balance us out. We can’t do any of this alone. There’s a reason God created more than just one person; it’s because we’re helpless on our own.

So today, I’m thankful for the people who pulled me up and balance me out. Sure sometimes they aren’t enough to keep me from smashing into the ground, but so far, they’ve always been there to life me back up.

The romance trope that makes me swoooon is…

I won’t lie: I love a good romance.

As much as I’m currently writing a novel that isn’t exactly romance (on account of the no “happily ever after” aspect), and as much as I still believe we need more anti-romance books (books without romance, books were there isn’t a happily ever after but it’s OK, books where it isn’t OK…), the truth is I love nothing more than curling up with a romance novel and just…feeling ALL the feels.

During my lite initial research for my Work-in-Progress, I started looking up typical romance tropes. So I could subvert them, of course. But then that just made me think about all the ones I love the most, and how fluttery and gaspy they make me feel, and of course I got all excited about them again.

But there’s one I love more than others. The one romance trope that makes me swoon, that makes my head spin, my heart pound and my lips pull up into a grin, is…

*drumroll please*

FAKE DATING.

That’s right. I love a good pretend-romance that takes the characters involved (and literally no one else) by surprise.

Think…Jenny Han’s TO ALL THE BOYS I’VE LOVED BEFORE. I’m not going to give details because I don’t want to spoil the book (I’m assuming you’ll read it, because of course you’ll read it, because I just told you it’s swoon worthy and has my FAVORITE romance trope, so what are you even waiting for!! GO. BUY. IT.)

toalltheboysivelovedbefore-jennyhan__span

Are you back? Let’s continue.

For the uninitiated, a “trope” is something like a theme, in literature, that is used fairly often and in a wide variety of work, to carry the story. For example, “Instalove,” one that a lot of people love to hate, is basically “love at first sight” on steroids. It’s that moment when you’re at the party and you’re kinda pissed and feeling annoyed and you wish you were anywhere else and you look up and *OMG* there he is! You lock eyes and your heart pounds and your mouth goes dry and you know, you just know, he’s The One.

But done better than that (hopefully).

I am an absolute sucker for fake dating, in which the two characters come to an arrangement, for whatever reason, to pretend to date. This could be to make an ex jealous, to get someone’s attention, or even to protect yourself from unwanted advances. It could be out of boredom or as an experiment or because your father wants to hook you up with his business partner’s godson and you reallllly don’t like said godson.

You don’t like the person you’re fake dating. You don’t want to date him (or her!) for real. This is just a business arrangement, plain and simple! You’ll hold hands in public, maybe kiss on the cheek, perhaps even get fake-engaged so you can stay in the States instead of being deported back to Canada if you’re Sandra Bullock…but you don’t truly love the person.

Until, of course, holding their hand makes yours all tingly, and causes shivers to run up your spine and when they let you go you feel sad. For no reason, though, because you don’t like them!

But when you share your fake engagement story you find yourself smiling like a silly goose and thinking about how nice it would be…but no! You don’t like them.

And then the crowd cheers and asks for a kiss, and next thing you know your lips are just barely brushing and it’s fire and excitement (or it’s sweet and tender…or awkward and adorable…idk man, it’s your kiss with your fake boyfriend/girlfriend!

And suddenly…suddenly you wish the dates weren’t fake. You’ve fallen in love.

This is my very favorite romance trope. Partly because it’s a great way for the hero to be all BROODING (and obviously I’m here for @BroodingYaHero, so I love me a good brooding hero), and partly because I just really love watching people who don’t want to fall in love end up in love.

It’s so satisfying. Look at those lil’ suckers, all unintentionally happy and gushing and annoying. Ugh. I love it.

So there it is: my favorite romance trope! What’s yours? Leave a comment below and let’s chat 🙂 Also — this post is brought to you because I’m a #BroodyBFF, part of the street team to rave about this book coming out soon. If you wanna know more, check out this post about how I met everybody’s favorite-least-favorite satirical yet sassy Twitter account, and maybe give the book a good ole preorder 🙂

Doing important work and being adorable: a profile of Sandhya Menon

When Sandhya Menon moved to America at age 15, she imagined the transition would be easy. She had, after all, spent her childhood bouncing between her home country of India and various other Middle Eastern countries.

“Boy, was I wrong!” she said. “It was a huge culture shock…I had a hard time understanding American turns of phrase, especially while I was in high school. But once I acclimated, I really began to love being part of the diaspora here in the US.”

I’ve been a fan of Sandhya’s since her upcoming debut, WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI, first crossed my Twitter feed last fall. The book, which I’ve had the pleasure of reading, is an adorable story about first love, pursuing your passions, and what happens when generations get their signals crossed. It’s cute; it’s funny; and it showcases character growth through pretty much every single person in the pages. It’s a great work of young adult literature, and I highly encourage everyone to go, NOW, and pre-order it.

(I’ll wait.)

(In the meantime, look at the beautiful cover!)

WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI front
Photo courtesy of Sandhya Menon

Did you buy it? Good. Now let’s talk some more about Sandhya.

In true adorable-human fashion, she cited as her greatest accomplishment her family before her work (although both made the cut).

“My very happy fifteen-year marriage, the fact that I have two healthy, happy kids, and my books all come to mind!” she said.

As for the hardest thing about writing, “I never wish I could quit,” she answered. “That probably sounds so saccharine and idiotic, but it’s true! I love this gig and the freedom/honor/privilege of making stories for others to read.”

She did acquiesce that there is one technical aspect that’s difficult: the first revision she has to work on after a draft is completed, the one she has to do on her own before the book is ready to be seen by anyone else.

“It always feels slightly overwhelming,” she said. But she loves “losing myself in the universe of the characters.” She quoted Stephen King and added, “I love that feeling of having to remind myself that I belong in this world rather than the one I was just romping around in!”

Sandhya Menon With Filter_Large
Photo courtesy of Sandhya Menon

During the childhood years she spent in India, Sandhya said she remembers “throwing rocks up at mangoes so we could eat them once they fell!” She lived in Mumbai, also known as Bombay, where her neighborhood was full of trees and parks.

And once she learned the art of writing as a kindergarten student, well, she was hooked.

“I began to write stories and poems,” she said. “It’s all I ever knew!”

Although she doesn’t remember a particular “first story” that spurred her writing, she does remember one incident of taking a real-life event and fictionalizing it.

“The possibility that life itself was full of stories totally fired me up,” she said, “and led to a lot more stories.”

One such story is that of Dimple and Rishi. It’s a young adult contemporary novel about two Indian-American teenagers whose parents want to arrange their marriage. Rishi, traditional and family-oriented, is all about it. He wants to please his parents. Dimple, passionate about coding and fiercely independent, is less enthused. When they meet at a summer coding camp, well…let’s just say things don’t go over as well as Rishi would have dreamed.

But WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI is a romance. That’s all I’ll say about what happens next, other than…guys, this book is so good. It’s one you want on your shelves, believe me. Not only is it physically beautiful, it’s full of heart, laughter, fun…and some uncomfortable scenes.

“Something that I struggled with was acknowledging casual racism in the story,” Sandhya said. There’s one scene where the two protagonists are at a restaurant and are faced with some really terrible, tone-deaf, racist comments. “Once I wrote [that] scene…I sent my editor an email asking if she thought some people would have a hard time buying it. All of those comments are things I have personally experienced, but to someone who isn’t a child of immigrant parents or living in the diaspora, they might seem completely overblown.”

Fortunately, Sandhya’s editor, also the child of immigrants, encouraged her to leave the scene as-is. “Since then,” she said, “I’ve gotten quite a few messages about that scene resonating with readers…so I’m glad she did!”

I asked Sandhya if she thinks her work is groundbreaking. If you tap, for just a few minutes, into the discussions online about the YA book community, you’ll find a ton of talk about diversity and representation in literature, and how hard it can be for people of color (or any other marginalization) to get their work published.

And here is Sandhya, Indian, immigrant, writing a book about two brown children of immigrants that’s getting a ton of buzz and is being published by Simon & Schuster, one of the “Big 5.” She’s doing huge things. So I wanted to know if she recognizes the huge things she’s doing.

First off, she clarified that this book isn’t just “hers.” It’s her story, yes, the one she wrote, but she credits the Simon & Schuster team as well as her agent and beta readers, as well.

“I think of “my work”…as groundbreaking in that it’s a book about two brown teens just living their best lives, falling in love, chasing their dreams, and having a happy ending,” she said. “The media is full of the “bad” or “brave” brown/black/gay/disabled/trans person narrative, and I feel like there are so many other stories we have to tell.

“We are not just villains or tragic characters,” she added. “We have just as much depth and breadth as anyone else.”

Ollie snow 8 weeks
Photo courtesy of Sandhya Menon

To me, that’s a powerful, important sentiment. Sandhya is such a sweet, fun person, and it was a pleasure to get to know her a little bit through this piece. If you’re not satisfied and want to hear more from her, follow her on Twitter or Instagram (which is full of cute pictures of her puppy!) and sign up for her newsletter.

And if you want more of her talking, check out her episode of the podcast 88 Cups of Tea, an incredible writing podcast she was featured on recently.

 

A depression casualty: hope

One of the worst things about depression is how it clouds out my optimistic side.

Because if I had to guess, based on past experience and patterns of my brain, I’d say I’m inherently an optimist. There’s this stubborn streak of hope that courses through me, that keeps me fighting no matter how hard things get.

It’s why I keep applying for jobs out of my league, keep plugging away editing my book, keep hoping that someday things will get better, someday I’ll find love, someday I’ll be published.

Enter depression, stage left. Suddenly, all the hope is sucked out of me, and I’m just absolutely, certainly positive that nothing will ever get better.

No one will ever love me, because how could they? Look at me. I mean, just took a good, long look. 

You see it, don’t you? The truth, that I’m unlovable.

No one will ever publish my book, because why would they? Read it, just read it, and you’ll see — it sucks as much as I do.

You can tell, can’t you? The truth is, I suck at writing.

Nothing will ever get better, because of course it won’t. Life sucks. Take a good long look at the world, at everything happening…there is no hope.

You know it too, don’t you? The truth, that hope is a lie.

Those are the words that depression whispers to me. When I’m awake, she clouds my thoughts, making it impossible to focus on getting anything done, on trying to overcome by dint of proof.

When I’m asleep, my dreams are willowy and whispy and in the dark there’s this soft voice that coos, gentle as a dove, that there is no hope.

I’ve said it before: depression steals hope. It just sucks it out of you.

In my brain, somewhere, in some deep recess, floats the knowledge that depression is a liar. That hope is the one who’s correct, depression the one who needs to vanish.

But I become so overcome, to the point where reason is false and falsehoods reasonable. To the point where the most ridiculous of statements make the most sense.

I feel myself slipping through the rabbit hole today. I feel like I can’t breathe, can’t think clearly. I feel like love is a lost cause for me, publication a pipe dream.

Those are the two things I long for the most, if I’m being perfectly honest: I deeply desire someone to love me in that fiery, romantic way that novels are written about; and I crave publication. I want to see my words in print, want to hold my book in my hands and see others read it and I want them to tell me I’m amazing, and I want to give them some sort of hope.

It’s weird, that the thing that eludes me the most is the thing I want to give others: hope.

Because I know that it will be OK in the end.

For you, that is.

I talk about this with my counselor all the time…how easy it is for me to believe all the right things for everybody else. How easy it is for me to believe that love will come, that dreams will unfold, that hope is true, when it comes to someone else’s life.

In my life, though, I anticipate and expect and acknowledge that nothing good can come.

Because I don’t deserve it, you see.

 

I don’t know why I don’t deserve it and you do; I just know that that’s the case. I don’t know why my lil sperm was the fish that swam the best, that fertilized the egg the fastest, but for some reason it was and so I’m alive and not someone else. And that feels like a big, giant, glaring mistake. My birth? A mistake. It should have been someone else.

So I’m living my life just trying to make up for the fact that I stole life from someone more deserving.

So of course you will find love; of course your dreams will come true; of course you’ll be able to keep hoping. Of course those things, because those things are true, those things are right, those things are reality.

For you.

Me, though?

Nah.

This is how I am. And then there’s depression, which slithers in and whispers the above things, taking from me the two things I hope for the most, as well as the very hope which keeps me going.

Days like today, I just want to curl up in bed and eat popcorn and cry. I want someone to come sit with me and stroke my hair and say it’s OK. I want to lose myself in a story until I can’t remember reality.

Those are temporary fixes, though. They’re not gonna solve the root problem.

And so. So today I’m going to finish cleaning my room, because a clean room makes a marginally lighter heart. I’m going to write, edit and submit, because those are things that bring me joy. I’m going to go to Books of Wonder to see one of my favorite authors, and I’m going to come home and sleep and wake up and go to therapy and group therapy and talk to my counselor about what’s going on, and learn valuable coping skills.

Because the band-aids I listed above aren’t going to help for long. And I need something that will.

Today I’m gonna force myself to hope. As much as I don’t feel like it, I’m gonna do it.

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