Goodreads Review: Struck By Lightning.

Struck By Lightning: The Carson Phillips JournalStruck By Lightning: The Carson Phillips Journal by Chris Colfer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

First off, let me explain the rating. It’s not that this a terrible book. It’s not a great book either, but it’ll probably really click with some people. I watched the movie two years ago (review on my blog here) and it worked for me. I got it. I liked it. I talked about it.

When I came across the book, I figured since I liked the movie, it seemed likely that I’d like the book. For me, personally, this book is just “okay”. I’m not going to read it again, I’m not even going to keep my copy. I did finish it, and I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t really feel like I even got enough out of it to like it, hence the two-star rating. It’s probably because everything I would have gotten out of it, I’d already gotten from the movie. I didn’t feel like the book added anything to what I’d already seen.
Basically, if you love this book and have never seen the movie, then yay, there’s a great adaptation out there! But if you’ve seen the movie, this is one of those rare cases where you might not actually need to the read the book.

I typically don’t recap plots in my reviews just because I figure those are easy to find elsewhere. I am, however, going to expand a little on a couple of my status updates with this book, because they pretty much cover the other biggest issues I had reading this.

The Setting: this “small town” of over 9.5 thousand is actually MUCH bigger than the small town I grew up in, which was under 2.5k. So when the narrator goes off on tangents about how small and pitiful and dead-end his town is, I’m like, nope! I mean, the town has a freaking COMMUNITY COLLEGE. I’m pretty sure the closest community college to me was about a two hour drive, three towns over. But then he’s trying to say that getting a movie theater is a huge shinny new deal, whereas my tiny town had a movie theater that was converted from an actual stage theater and so old it was in a historic building. I know each town is going to be different and that comparative population size on average means his was technically a small town, too, but those kinds of things really stick out to me (obviously).

The Snark: Normally, I’m a huge fan of snark. My favorite website ever is called Snark Squad. My own family frequently can’t tell if I’m being sarcastic or sincere unless I drop some obvious hints. But the snark in this book often ended up coming across as overbearing or just plain nasty. And granted, the narrator is a teenager, and therefore might not be the most self-aware creature in the world, but on paper felt like a little much, and sometimes even made me uncomfortable because of just how unrelentingly mean it was. Oddly, there were a lot of line I remembered from the movie in here, but somehow in dialogue it just seemed to work better. Maybe it’s just that spoken words don’t linger like they do in print, or maybe I’ve just changed more than I thought in the last two years since I watched the movie and gotten more sensitive to what people say about each other. Maybe both. Either way, I think the moment I appreciated the most was when Carson started wondering if he was actually the villain in this story. I was a little disappointed that this sudden introspection didn’t actually seem to stick around or lead to any new growth, however.

All in all, I’d say if you haven’t watched the movie, by all means, read this and then watch the movie so you can tell me how it comes across in that order. I’d be very curious to know. And if you’ve already watched it, but are still curious about the book, don’t let my options stop you. Read it, and then let me know if you agree with me or if I’m being too harsh on it, or if I didn’t take it to task enough! Everyone’s take on media is going to be different, and that’s what makes discussions of it interesting.

View all my reviews

Fan Fiction.

Dear Cyber-Friends,

This is a subject I’ve been thinking about writing a post on for a while now, and a moment ago a twitter-friend told me to do it, so here it goes…

Fan fiction, for those who don’t know, is not-for-profit original stories using various elements from established works. Basically it’s a way to play in someone else’s sandbox, use their toys, and giving them back afterwards. There’s fanfic of books, movies, tv shows, video games, songs, real people…basically anything. There’s cross-over fanfic that combines elements from separate works, alternate universe fic that takes elements (for example: characters) and places them in a completely new setting, slash fic that explores potential relationships between various characters, and on and on. Again, it’s whatever the author can think of. There are really no limits when it comes to fanfic (except maybe legal ones).

There’s a huge stigma about fanfic; basically that it’s a shameful and shallow no-talent thing, often full of porn and/or “Mary-Sues” [the author inserts themselves as a “perfect” original character in order to be loved by their favorite characters]. While some fanfic can indeed have these things, there’s so much more to it than that. Even if there weren’t, I’d argue that fanfic can still be an important expression of creativity.

First, the big picture: as a storyteller/bard and druid-in-study, here’s my take on fanfic in general.

Stories are meant to be alive. They are meant to grow and evolve and change with each new telling, with each teller of the tale. We are suppose to be able to make each telling of a story relevant to ourselves and our audience, adding or changing or taking away as we are moved to. We are suppose to explore and connect with our stories. Taking familiar characters and putting them in new situations is a story-telling tradition as old as stories themselves. Some of our most famous and beloved tales are basically fan fiction: retelling someone else’s story with new elements. From King Arther and his Knights of the Round Table seeking the Grail and having love triangles and bastard kids, to the fairy tales we all grew up listening to and watching, our culture is seeped in retold tales that have evolved beyond recognition of the original versions.

I’ve said before on this blog, it’s only because we humans started writing down stories that we started believing there was “one true version”. Even if having a true version is important to you, fanfic still doesn’t take away from the original; on the contrary, it can often add to it and even draw in a new audience to the original work. There are several examples I could use from my own personal life in which I gained an interest in a new show or found new value in something I was already familiar with, all thanks to concepts from well-written fanfic. It can give someone insight into a character they can’t otherwise relate to, or fill in missing scenes, or point out a subtext you may have overlooked. At the same time, the original work is still there, intact and unharmed by these new ideas surrounding it.

Second: let’s look at fanfic from a writing angle.

Writing something completely original can be huge and overwhelming. You might get lost in the little fiddly details of world-building, or struggle with creating multifaceted complex realistic characters. Original writing is a great skill to have, and it needs a lot of practice to hone it. It’s also a hard sell; there’s a lot of competition out there for getting your original stories into the market. Internet and social networking is opening up new ways to do that, but using those tools is practically a full-time job on its own.

Writing with someone else’s creations is a whole other beast. It takes a lot of attention to detail and tone to create accuracy and authenticity with an established character and/or world. It takes a lot of imagination to create new scenarios and figure out how these well-known and beloved characters would react to them. Playing in someone else’s world means playing by their established rules, or at least knowing them well enough to figure out how to break them. There’s a lot of dedication and passion involved, especially since it’s done out of love rather than hope of profit.

There’s several points I’d like to make about this. One is that writing fanfic is an amazingly powerful exercise as a writer; it trains not only better writing skills, but also an ability to write with someone else’s voice. This is exactly what a lot of markets call for (tv shows and franchises being only two examples). The other point is that both writing and reading fanfic can be hugely therapeutic.

Let me give a personal example here for what I mean. When I was a teenager, I self-injured. I couldn’t deal with the feelings I was experiencing, and I scared myself by not understanding why I felt the need to hurt myself. So I wrote fan fiction, and I placed those feelings and urges into an already-familiar character, giving myself an outlet for exploring and putting into words what I felt and why I did what I did. It was a safe place for me to figure out something that scared and confused me, and I was able to understand myself better after I did. I published the story anonymously, where I was given positive feedback from other fanfic writers. I felt accepted into part of a community, and it gave me more confidence in my own talent. I still self-injured, but I didn’t feel as alone or afraid, and I understood why I did what I did a little better. I was able to start helping myself. I started to heal, and as I did, so did the character in my fanfic.

As an adult, I’ve had a lot of traumatic emotional experiences. I tend to bottle those feelings up rather than process them (a bad habit I’ve had since childhood, that I’m actively working on breaking), and then they burst out in unhealthy ways. If I read fanfic about characters I already feel connected to, and go through similar experiences with them while I read, it helps me draw out those emotions, dwell in them, and express them. Then the overwhelming feelings become something manageable, and I can process and move on. The fact that it’s characters I’m already familiar with makes the whole thing easier and more accessible, especially when I’m feeling run down or mentally fatigued. I don’t have to work as hard to connect to them, and the journey they go through can therefore have more impact quicker. I don’t have to commit to a novel, but I can often get the same effect.

Same goes for fluff, the lighter feel-good pieces of fan fiction. If I need something distracting or that will give me warm-fuzzy feelings, and I don’t have the time or energy to invest in something completely new, and I don’t feel like re-reading something I’ve already read, I can turn to fanfic. You know that feeling when you finish a favorite book and you wish you could just keep reading about those characters who have become your best friends, and you don’t care if they’re having adventures or just hanging out? Fanfic can make that dream a reality.

Alright, for my third point, let’s look at those stereotypes I talked about at the beginning of this post. What value lies in badly-written Mary Sues and porn? Well, for one thing, every aspiring writer has to start somewhere, and a Mary-Sue is often a jumping-off point for someone’s first attempt. There is no reason in the world not to encourage someone’s passion for writing, and eventually they might evolve beyond those Mary-Sue stories. Also, see my above point about therapy; maybe the writer is at a point in their life where they need that kind of escapism to survive whatever it is that’s going on. There’s no call or need to shame them for it. (This doesn’t mean I don’t support clever parodies of the Mary-Sue troupe. Writing those is a valuable practice for hopeful comedians and satirists. Being funny is amazingly difficult to pull off. Being dismissive and/or hurtful, however, is a talentless and useless non-skill.)

As for the porn, well, that’s easily avoided if it’s not your cup of tea, and if it is, a lot of the fanfic is better than the stuff making money. Fanfic means it can be exactly to your tastes, and involving the characters you might really want to see in those positions (as it were). It’s not hurting anyone, and it might even be helping some people figure out what really turns them on — something that can be difficult to safely explore given some of the issues and stigmas our society still has ingrained.

So that’s my take on fan fiction. Let me know if I missed anything, or what your own thoughts are on the subject!

Love,

GeGi.

6

“I contain multitudes.”

Dear Cyber-Friends,

I’ve mentioned before that I am genderqueer. In case that interests any of you, I thought that today I’ll talk about it a little more.

When I was a kid, I never heard of any options outside the gender binary (male/female). I was female-bodied, so I figured that meant I was female. I grew up in the country, and I was either by myself or tagging after older kids a lot. My favorite game was coming up with fantasy scenarios — usually along the lines of my being an elf ranger with a stick for a sword and an imaginary bow, fighting orcs and having epic adventure quests. I was quiet and and uncomfortable around girls my age, because I couldn’t relate to them. They were interested in love stories and playing mommy and being mean towards other girls, and I wasn’t. I was more interested in trying to prove that I could be as good or better than boys at anything, being physically strong, and having fantasy adventures alone in the woods.

As I got older and the other girls started reaching the ‘boy-crazy’ phase, I related less and less. I swore to myself that I would NEVER become obsessed with make-up and skin and clothes and especially with boys. It all seemed like such a waste of time to me, when there were so many other interesting things to do and think about — like reading, and fantasy games, and archery lessons, and riding horses, and running around in the woods.

As I entered teenhood, I got more and more uncomfortable with my body. I wore baggy boyish clothes, because anything more feminine or revealing felt awkward and wrong. I spent more time online, looking for things that would help me understand why I had slowly stopped feeling the pride I had felt as a child in my body and gender. I started fantasizing about being a boy, and experimented with binding my chest. I imagined what I would have been like had I been born male. I started writing stories with male narration. Yet I didn’t quite feel comfortable with claiming a transgender identity. Being a girl still didn’t feel right, but I didn’t quite feel like a boy either. I started identifying with androgyny, and the idea of being “both” and “other” at the same time.

When I first came across the terms “genderqueer”¬† and “genderfluid”– the idea that gender is a spectrum and one’s position on it can be outside the usual categories, and can even change dependent solely on how one feels at any given moment — I knew I had finally found the answer I’d been so desperately looking for. It was freeing and liberating; suddenly I could let go of the guilt I felt at “failing” to be a girl, or at “failing” to be a transboy. I wasn’t either, and I didn’t have to choice between them. I could just choose to be ME, free of gender labels that didn’t fit anyway and had been feeling more and more like they were full of constraints and expectations.

Some days I want to be a bit girly. Some days I want to be a boy. Some days I’m still horribly uncomfortable in my own body, because it is so very female. Some days I don’t care. Mostly, I wish society in general knew that gender wasn’t always binary, so people would see me as my actual gender rather than just my female body.

I worry sometimes that telling people about all this will make them think that I hate or fear being female, or that I have “penis envy”, or some other completely error-filled assumption that helps them invalidate my feelings in their world-view. My response to these and similar claims: I believe those feelings are probably normal reactions in a society that creates a world where being female is a bad thing, and being male is a good thing, and it speaks vastly more about the problems with such a society than it does the invalidity of those feelings. I don’t know how much of what I feel about my personal gender is in reaction to living in an insidiously patriarchal culture. Even if the answer was “100%”, should that really make a difference? We don’t exist in a vacuum, so why should my influences make what I feel less valid? It’s still how I feel.

If we lived in a more equal society, I would hope that it would also be more equal towards a less binary view of things like gender and sexuality. I want to live in a society where the person I know I am is accepted as valid without explanation or defense, where discussion is surrounded by genuine interest instead of attacks, and I would be able to check the box that says “fluid”. All those things should be basic freedoms for all people.

At the end of the day, how I feel about ANYTHING when it comes to identity — gender and sexuality included — tends to be in constant flux. It’s part of being alive, at least for me. It’s part of my growth and change and exploration. Fluidity is part of my identity. I call myself genderqueer because that’s who I am. I know it the same way others know they are male or female.

Love,

GeGi.

“A scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived.”

Dear Cyber-Friends,

Most of the time, I try to be pretty cheerful and positive on this blog. This is not always an accurate picture of who I am in physical life. (I prefer calling it my physical life instead of my “real” life, because the internet can be just as much a real part of life as the physical bits.)

I’m sure that’s pretty true of most blogs; still, though, I want to talk a little about why I make that particular choice with this blog. However, first I want to mention why I’m going to talk about it.

Over the past year, give or take a bit, and especially the past month or two, I’ve become part of an online family of friends. Two in particular — real life sisters — have been through a few ordeals of their own recently. They have been amazing through the parts of it I’ve heard about. The vulnerability, honesty, and openness that they have shown in dealing with trauma is nothing short of awe-inspiring bravery. Their strength has encouraged me to start sharing a little more than I normally do.

By exposing the parts of ourselves that are most wounded, perhaps we can start to heal. By telling our stories, perhaps others will feel less alone in their own. By recognizing and naming the bad, perhaps we can start to build the good.

My own family hasn’t been the greatest at doing this. They kept a lot of secrets that I had no clue about, stuff they just didn’t talk about. For example, I didn’t know depression was prevalent in both sides of the family females until I was breaking down weeping after years of silent struggle. Imagine what a difference that could have made, if I hadn’t felt like something was broken in me for so long, if I hadn’t felt so alone in my pain.

Not talking about the negative things isn’t healthy, and it isn’t helpful. If everyone else keeps the bad stuff hidden and not talked about, it just leads to feeling isolated when we go through it ourselves. Those who have the strength and courage need to drag it kicking and screaming into the open, point at it and proclaim “this is real, this happens, this happened to me”. Only then can those without the strength begin to do the same.

So, on to my personal story…

This blog has become a kind of therapy, giving myself an exercise to find positive things to say and to think about. Here is why that is so important for me:

I struggle pretty much daily with anger and depression. I have for, well, about as long as I can remember. Even as a small kid, I had a lot of anger and a short temper — ask any of my family and they can tell you the stories.

Looking back, I can recognize the isolation and frustration I felt then, the fears and worries, the things that were just part of life to me. I didn’t know how else to be, what other options there were. I didn’t have any control or channels. Those things came much later, and with much deliberate work.

Teenagehood made things worse in a lot of ways. It’s always a difficult transition for anyone, I think, and it was no different for me. The depression got worse as the isolation and frustration got more prominent. The resulting anger turned more inward, bursting out in not-always-expected directions. And there were other things — like my best friend and first love dying — that made everything more intense and difficult to deal with.

The first part of my twentiesomethings were spent living alone, in a city; two things I had no previous experience with. I won’t say I wasn’t ready for it, because I don’t think I could really ever have been ready for it without actually having done it.

I made a lot of choices that I look back on as stupid mistakes, but I recognize that they were part of a learning curve. They made me the person I am now. I am lucky that nothing worse happened, and I recognize how much worse things could have been. For the record, I like who I am now. Mostly. Basically.

Still, I eventually hit my own personal rock bottom. I was in a living situation where I felt unwelcome and unsafe, in a relationship where I felt unappreciated and used, isolated once again from friends, and working at a job that was stressful and miserable. I was being emotionally abused and tormented, to the point where I couldn’t recognize what was true or not, and conditioned to blame myself for all wrongs. I was seriously considering killing myself. I needed help, and I needed out.

Two-and-a-bit years ago, I got those things: I moved back to living with my parents. Not in the house or even the state I grew up in, but in a place that I was still familiar with and felt like a second home. I spent some time recovering, having the safety and freedom to start to process all that had happened while on my own, good and bad.

Then I started to push myself in new ways. I started making long-term commitments to projects, like my photo blog and massage school and bardic training, that I would never have seen through before. I started finishing those things. It was a first, and it felt good. Unreal, a little, but good. I’m proud of myself for those things.

I went back to the city to visit friends, and started to realize how much I’d changed, how far I’d come since I left. I started to feel whole unto myself, for the first time that I can remember.

It’s a struggle, almost every day, to hold on to those positive feelings. There are always things to trigger old thought patterns, years of behavior and social influence, that hurt me. It is so important to have tools to counter those things: good friends, healthy habits, outlets, distractions, commitments with positive reinforcement. This blog is one of my tools. I didn’t realize it for a while, but I recognize it now.

It’s so easy to slip back into being negative, into being harsh or depressed or scared or apathetic. There are a lot of reasons out there to be that way. Sometimes it can even a healthy choice to be that way. It can certainly be a reasonable one.

But for me, for now, it’s a healthier choice to stay positive and reinforce cheerfulness here on my blog. It gives me a chance to practice having an up-beat voice in my head, countering all those worn-out endless loops of criticism. And I have other places to let out the occasional rant and rage, or breakdowns and depression. This place is not for those things.

I hope you all have a positive, cheerful experience in your day, and healthy outlets for dealing with the rest. Whatever your situation, I wish you care and safety.

Be gentle with yourself, and take time to smell the flowers!

Love,

GeGi.

Meanwhile, In Middle Earth…

Dear Cyber-Friends,

I’m a huge Tolkien fan; grew up watching the cartoons, listen to the BBC dramatizations, and of course reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy annually. I was endlessly excited about the first movies, dressed up with friends to go to the theater (something we sometimes did anyway, just for fun), and I even went to Trilogy Tuesday when The Return of the King was released. I could go on for hours discussing passionately why it bothered me every time they showed an elf using tack on a horse, or the character assassination they did of Faramir in The Two Towers, or how perfect Sean Bean was as Boromir, or…well, you get the idea.

There’s a situation every fan of an original work faces when an adaptation is made: how forgiving will you be of changes to the source material? As a geek, I tend to obsess and analyze pretty much everything. While there is nothing wrong with that approach and while it can be quite enjoyable, sometimes that can get in the way of appreciating the storytelling that is being offered.

It can be hard to separate the feelings and emotions and nostalgia you might have for the original from the adaptation, especially if it’s a story that has a lot of personal history for you. Seeing the adaptation, you might spend the whole time arguing in your head with the choices the creators made, picking apart every flaw and alteration. This can be a good exercise in critical analysis, but it’s not exactly a helpful frame of mind for losing yourself in a story.

My approach lately, thanks to the Bardic training over the last two years, is to think about adaptations in terms of oral storytelling traditions. The heart of the story is always present, but the details and events will evolve with each retelling and each storytelling, altered and embellished to become the most compelling it can be, the most meaningful or exciting, to that particular audience at that particular time. The idea that there’s only “one right way” to tell a certain story comes from having written accounts, but that’s an illusion. The old stories grew and changed as much as the people telling them; they were living things. Seen that way, new adaptations of original stories are simply the latest fashion in a very ancient and honored tradition.

With that line of thought, I can separate the original story — which is still whole and complete and able to be revisited at any time — from the evolved version, and enjoy it for what it is. I can compare the different versions from a position where my emotional investment isn’t at stake. I can see it from the viewpoint of a storyteller, and judge it accordingly.

That said, I’m really enjoying the Hobbit movies so far.

Yes, there’s a lot of changes and additions from the source material — even more that The Lord of the Rings Trilogy in certain respects — but I honestly don’t have issue with that. They have kept a lot of little details while I get a thrill out of seeing (the blue butterflies above Murkwood spring to mind). I loved that they used some of the songs in the first movie, by the way, because the books are so full of songs and poems that it seems a shame not to include them. Parts of the first movie came off a bit silly for some people, but The Hobbit was a story for a child. It’s meant to have silly bits.

Of course, making one short book into a trilogy is a bit of an ambitious move, to say the least. However, I personally thing that a lot of the material they added was actually a very appropriate move. Including events Tolkien wrote about in the Indexes gives the story a broader picture of that time in Middle Earth. It’s still drawing from the same source, and it ties the story back into The Lord of the Rings Trilogy as setting up for the epic conclusion.

There are things they added that have no basis in the original writings, of course, but again I can see them as a product of both the medium (what works better in a movie than in a book), and of the times (what current storytelling requires in this era, as apposed to that era). There are very few changes that do not fall into one or the other of those categories.

It’s like the way the story of King Arthur grew and changed over the years and continents, adding the Round Table, adding the Holy Grail, added the love triangle, adding the sister and bastard son. Those parts can tell you so much about the society and politics, about the cultural priorities and beliefs. They become the rings of a tree, that can tell you the age and conditions of the original tale, and map out the path it took to get to you.

The words Tolkien wrote will always be center in my heart. The movies will join the cartoons and the BBC dramatizations to become part of the tale, to add to my experience and pleasure, to creating new paths and new places where I can immerse myself in Middle Earth. And for that gift, I will always be grateful.

Love,

GeGi.

How Punk Cabaret Saved My Life; or, A love letter to the Dresden Dolls.

I first heard Amanda Palmer when I was seventeen, in Portland, in a place called SMYRC. It was “Coin-Operated Boy”, and it was played as a rehearsal for performance in a drag show.

I don’t remember the name of the person performing, and I never got to see the final version. I didn’t even know the name of the song or the artist at the time. But it represented something magical and new and irresistible to me, something I was desperately searching for and grasping at in that phase of my life.

I deduced the name of the song later, written as graffiti on a shower curtain. When I got home, I looked it up online, and discovered the Dresden Dolls.

Shortly thereafter, a friend asked me to make back-up copies of her CD collection. One of them happened to be the self-titled Dresden Doll album, which of course had “Coin-Operated Boy”. I made a copy for myself. I listened to it obsessively. I needed it. It expressed things I hadn’t thought could be put into words, much less sung in such a powerful primal empathic way.

I hadn’t heard of Punk Cabaret yet. I hadn’t seen pictures of Amanda Palmer or Brian Viglione. I didn’t know I wasn’t alone. The songs gave me my first hint that others felt, could feel, the way I did.

Some backstory:

(WARNING: this talks about trigger issues, including drug use, teenage death, self-injury, suicide, and being a queer youth. Read at your own risk.)

I grew up in a small, conservative, religious town. I was raised by libertarian, non-religious, quietly hippy parents. I was taught open-mindedness and curiosity and acceptance, and I was also taught to keep a low profile and get along with people who were nothing like how I had been raised to be without drawing attention to myself. It was, in short, the mixed messages of “Be yourself but don’t stand out.” “Be proud to be strange, but look and act like you fit in.”

I was understandable unhappy and confused and felt isolated much of the time. To compound the problem, I was the youngest of three, and there was a sizable age difference between my siblings and I, both of whom were much closer in age to each other. Growing up, they’d had each other and various friends. I was pretty much on my own, tagging along when allowed.

But there was one who was close to my age, also the youngest, and also homeschooled as I and my siblings were. She belonged to a family whose siblings were interspersed in ages with myself and my siblings, whose parents were friends with our parents, and whose home was half a mile from our home. Our families were inseparable.

She went on to go to public school, and we grew apart. But she would spend her summers hanging out with me, and telling me all the things she couldn’t talk about with anyone else, because she knew I would never betray her trust by repeating anything. She was two years older than me, and I was in awe of her. As I became older, this naturally developed into a secret crush — my first.

She was going to High School, and spending more time with my sister, with whom she could drink and get high and whatever else makes someone four years older so attractive. But I was still the one she’d pick to cruise around at night with, because I didn’t expect or want anything more than to be near her, and because I would still keep her secrets and never judge her. I was in love, and never spoke a word.

I knew, or thought I knew, that she didn’t return the emotion. I didn’t expect anything more from my love than giving it silently. I wished only for her happiness, however and with whomever she achieved it. I knew from her confessions that she was desperately unhappy and wanted more than anything to leave our hometown and her parents behind, and never look back.

She turned eighteen.

Three days later, she died.

It was drug related, but not an overdose.

My world froze, dropped away from beneath my feet, lost all meaning, ended.

During the same week, we had her funeral and my brother’s wedding reception.

Two weeks after her death, I turned sweet sixteen. I was still numb.

Before her death, I had signed up for a camp tailored for unschooled kids like myself. I was still planning on going, but I wrote to the camp so that the staff would know what had happened less than three months prior to my being there. I went by train for the first time, traveling alone also for the first time in my life. I had spend what was left of the summer (her birthday and mine were both in July) in a state of shock. Most nights had been sleepless, spend in the only comfort to be had by driving aimlessly in her truck with her other close friend and her older brother, both of whom grieved in silent shock as I did, and wishing we could inflict personal bodily harm on the teenager whom we knew had given her the drugs.

So. I went to the camp. I was alone and away from those affected by her death. I was still numb and feeling isolated.

Suddenly I was thrust into another world. One full of life and creativity and joy and expression and all the high drama of teenhood. And all were as unique and free as I had been told to be all my life, without the oppression of having to hide it so as not to stir up trouble in the small town. It was a different kind of shock, and one that broke through a little and started to shake me up in a way I desperately needed.

I felt like a cold stranger looking into a world of warmth and friendship, and wanting desperately to cross the barrier of separation, being actively invited to in fact, and having no clue how to do it. But it was a start.

I cried all the way home after, and the bleak depression set in again until I adjusted to being home, and then I just felt alternatively numb and angry — the usual, at that point.

The next year, I arranged to spend the week after camp with some new camp-friends who lived in Portland. One of them had been emailing me, helping me stave off suicide and deal with the self-inflicted injury I’d started doing to myself. I honestly can’t remember if I started doing it before or after the summer she died. But I was doing it now, and I needed assurance and coping and help, and the camp-friend provided it. I was to stay with said friend for the week after camp as a way to slowly ease back into the “real world” after the immersion into “camp world”.

This was how I ended up at SMYRC — which stand for Sexual Minority Youth Resource Center — and how I saw that rehearsal performance, and how I ended up in the apartment with the graffiti shower curtain. This is how I found the Dresden Dolls.

It was only by listening to their music, by the raw emotion of Amanda Palmer’s voice and piano playing, that I started to feel less like that isolated numb stranger. I started to feel like maybe there was a place I belonged after all. My experiences felt validated. I felt¬†seen.

Part of why I had stayed feeling so numb and isolated after the death was because I had never told anyone about being in love with her. People didn’t know the extent of my pain and loss, and I didn’t have the words or courage to tell them. The first people I told were those from the camp and Portland, simply because I knew they didn’t have any other version of the story than mine. They hadn’t lost her too, so my grief felt like less of an intrusion on their own grief. But they still all had their own stories, their own troubles and issues, and I was just one of many.

The intimate nature of listening to music got through to me more than another person ever could. With a song, you can project whatever meaning you might need upon the lyrics. You can experience a reflection of your own emotions. A reflection, naturally, is a step removed from the raw feeling. That step can be crucial when dealing with something so vast it can swallow you whole and paralyze you. It turns it into pieces, and pieces can be dealt with a little at a time.

As I listened to the Dresden Dolls, a part of me was quietly deciding that a world which contains this kind of art might be worth living in. So I kept living, and started to look for more things that felt like that. A lot of the things I attached to at that point expressed a lot of pain, a worlds of hurt, but within them was so much creativity. It was a new face of depression that I’d never seen before, turning it into something beautiful in a raw ugly way. It was so appealing. I turned into the darkness, and found light.

This July will be the ten year anniversary of her death. I’ve grown so much since that time. But without those moments I’ve written about, I wouldn’t have gotten here. I still cry, but I laugh too. I’m not as angry. I still stay quiet when I should probably speak up, but it feels more like a choice and less like fear. Most days, I don’t want to kill myself. Most days, I don’t hurt myself. I see so much to love in the world now.

I still turn to the light I found in the darkness, and try to shine it to the world.