Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Puppy Dog Tears

So here I am, approximately one month later and still on day... 6 of my book challenge. The funny thing is that I have known what this post would be about for a very long time. I will keep at this at my own pace and see how frequently I blog.

My book challenge asks me for a book that makes me cry. When thinking about the books that inevitably make me tear up (no matter how many times I read them), I noticed a pattern. Let's see if you do, too.

The Walking Chaos series is young adult fiction. And every now and then (or sometimes obsessively for a month), that's all I want and need to read. I find them to be imaginative and easy to understand. They are, in fact, a relief sometimes. I especially love distopias- The Hunger Games, the Divergent trilogy, The Uglies, Percy Jackson and the Olympians. My Kindle is chock full of them. The best part is that because YA lit is intended for younger audiences, the pace is consistently fast, and the worlds are broken down to be easily understood. 

They have several things in common. Factions. Districts. Pretties. All of these books divide the population somehow into labels that are more or less tangible and easy to understand. All of them have some critique on society today that you don't have to go hunting very hard to find thematically. All of them also pack the punch of themes that teens honestly must be getting sick of by now. Be Yourself. Be a good friend.  Stand up for yourself. Accept your body.

By taking the reader out of today's actual world and plopping them into District 12 of Panem, the values that make a good person are no different than here. But they can seem to be. It's all part of the mystique.

So YA books are a good way to unwind, enjoy some coming-of-age adventure, G-rated romance, and good old accept-yourself themes. Sounds relaxing, right?

Wrong. Every once in awhile, one of these books throws in a heart-wrenching or extremely violent scene. It actually surprises me that they get away with it. But usually there is some restraint shown. A girl is terrifyingly attacked, but gets away. Children die, but the object of the game is to kill each other, so everyone's dying. 

The Knife of Never Letting Go got me. It sneaked up on me with a threatening situation that had the potential to be violent. He's such a good dog, I thought. He'll get away. Nope. It broke me. It profoundly shook me up to the point that after reading the entire scene and being shocked, reading it again for clarity, I had to close the book and do something else for a time because I was so upset. Visibly upset. Crying. Books don't really do that to me, guys.

It made me most remember one of the first books that made me love reading. I read it in fourth grade with my AT class, and I remember reading ahead because I was so invested. I remember our teacher reading it to us. I remember how sad I was when Old Dan and Little Ann died.

Yup. Dogs. When they die in books, I completely lose it. It's one of my literary achilles heels. I don't think anything can unravel me faster. I think especially in YA books, pets are either the main character's only friends or best friends. It's a very effective tool because it draws on a relationship that people can identify with. Much of iconic American culture pictures people with their pets. Man's best friend. The nuclear family. Always happy to see you. Loves you even when you're bad to them or too busy for them. Loyal to the death. Saves Timmy from falling down the well. Saint Bernards rescuing people in avalanches. DOgs swimming (because aww). Puppies.

I own a dog myself and know the many qualities that must be SO EASY, the low-hanging fruit, for authors to grab onto and pour into these books. When I see how much my two-year old lab/shepherd/question mark dog ADORES my husband, I want to write it myself. The smiling eyes, parking themselves RIGHT in front of their "person" or "master." I could go on.

But it does beg the question. In the Walking Chaos series, and many other books and series, people die. I don't bat an eye. I keep right on reading. I may even chuckle to myself or feel a sense of justice and excitement. I mean, Hunger Games, people. I loved it. I'll be the first to admit it. But by writing a book that glorifies children killing each other via a reality tv show, and then watching that book be consumed just as greedily as the fictional Capitol citizens watch the show. It asks for a moment of (slightly meta or inceptive) reflection. 

I mean honestly, I know I'm not just as bloodthirsty as the fictional bad guys, because I know what I'm reading is fiction. But what if it was real? Would I watch? Before I say no, I have to take a hard look at myself and realize that shows like Hell's Kitchen, Teen Mom, Jersey Shore, The Choice... they're very popular. And they thrive on what comes close to verbal, emotional abuse. There's even an episode of the very popular Game of Thrones that has been said to be a trigger for some because it displays some very brutal physical violence and physical abuse.

Where's the humanity?

Friday, June 1, 2012

Neurotic Nation

I was not a Prozac Nation college student, but the "culture of silence" described here is SPOT-on. Pressure on students now begins as early as preschool in our ever-more-competitive society.

This has many gains, but I think it's garnering more problems as well. If we have the ability to have the best of everything because of competition, but are too stressed and anxious to enjoy it (because of competition), do the two cancel each other out?

I'd almost prefer not knowing there's lead in the paint!

The thing is, there were times in college (and after college, and last year, and so on) that it might have been a good idea for me to be taking some sort of anti-anxiety medication or at least an anti-depressant. But due to this crushing (really) pressure that I impose upon myself, I never gave it much thought. It was a possibility that got tossed around in my head. But there was never a moment when I thought, "Yes. I need to pull the trigger here because I REALLY need help, and I don't think I should have to suffer."

It's not only the self-denial/independent streak in me that won't/wouldn't accept help, it's the thought too, that because everyone I know has a perfect life, and I am pretending to have a perfect life (those things can't be related), that I a) have no concrete example of what it means to be "sick enough" to need to get help and b) don't want to give up the illusion (to myself more than anyone, I think) that I am ok.

Now, this was designed to be a blog about reading and writing. And we'll get back to that (I have PLENTY more books to talk about!). But I believe that the more good content you consume, the better informed you are. And when articles like this strike a chord in me, I'm going to share. Because as long as this article is (I knowww), it's worth reading if you have had an inkling that hey, all this talking in my head that I do? All this self-doubt? All those days when I honestly didn't think I could get out of bed and wasn't sure why? That time I cried myself to sleep because I dropped my books down the stairs? One of those might be your warning indicator that you "qualify," that you are "allowed" to get yourself help. There's no reason to suffer.

In the article, another reference is made. "Julia Lurie described her college as a place in which emotional problems were both ubiquitous and unmentionable. She wrote of working hard to make herself resemble the Yale ideal, someone academically top-notch but also popular, socially engaged, worldly, ambitious, involved in unique extracurriculars—and most important of all, appearing to fill these roles without effort. Outwardly, she had succeeded. But how surprised her classmates would be, she wrote, if they could see her private self, the girl who "takes her Zoloft and a sleeping pill" each night, then "writhes in hot, silent tears, white-knuckled, feeling like she could scream." 

This is a real thing. This is something of importance, that even though we are a highly-functioning society, full of people who will claw their own eyes out to get ahead, we are also an extremely neurotic society. And we hide it. We hide it very, very well. Anything less than perfectly stable mental health is seen as a stigma, something to be hidden from friends, family, employers, and strangers on the street. What if we treated cancer this way? What if we treated migraines and the flu, and food poisoning, and every other random-ass sickness as something to be shameful of and hidden?

Competition. It's great. But I think it's driving us insane.