Goodreads Review: Isla and the Happily Ever After.

Isla and the Happily Ever After (Anna and the French Kiss, #3)Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I overly relate to Isla’s self-estimate issues like whoa.

I really like that this book broke the love triangle mold of the other two. It’s nice not dealing with that every time, especially when we all know how it’s going to turn out in the end. It’s also good to explore the “after” part once in a while — after you fall in love and finally get together with your crush, what happens next? Of course, that inevitably meant I then spent the next half the book constantly flinching in anticipation of what exactly was going to go horribly wrong to blow up the happy couple. I admit I didn’t quite expect it to happen the way it did, and I was further blindsided by the clear spelling out of exactly was Isla’s insecurities were and how they made her act and why. Which, as I mentioned, was basically like looking in a mirror. So I might be a little bias about how fiercely I now feel about Isla. Just a little.

It was cool returning to Paris and the school, seeing it through someone else’s eyes. As I mentioned in my review of Lola, these books are heavily bias in their descriptions by their very nature; everything on the pages is through the lens of the storyteller’s mind. Getting to know Josh through Isla instead of Anna paints a very different picture of his character, and her familiarity and comfort with Paris, the school, and her classmates creates a very different atmosphere than we get with Anna being the New Girl. It really helps separate each girl as her own person, with her own personality, tastes, friends, and styles. They all have very unique voices, while still being easily accessible (at least to me). One thing I thought was especially cool was the way Josh’s art was used in the narrative to break out of having only Isla’s perspective on events, particularly at the end.

I also liked that Isla gave us a good look at the friendships and family relationships around her, too. That’s true to various extents in the other books as well, of course. I just automatically have strong feels about sisters because I have more of a relationship with my own sister than with my brother — no one’s fault, but he’s almost a decade older than me, so he’s just never been around as much in my life. My sister and I fought like mad and resented each other and played together and shared secrets, and then we each grew up and got even closer. So when I read fictional sisters doing that, it totally give me all the feels. Plus, I could relate a bit to Isla’s friendship with Kurt, since so many of my friends are also on that spectrum. Basically, I guess I’m just saying if I were any of the three main girls, I’d probably end up being Isla by default, even if I’d rather have more of Lola’s fashion tastes.

But back to the actual book! I really enjoyed this one. I’ve enjoyed all of them, of course, but obviously I ended up projecting myself all over Isla, so it gets bumped up a little for that.

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Catching Up: A Quick Review of 2015.

Dear Cyber-Friends,

My first non-book-review post of 2016! I know it’s been a while since I’ve written about my own physical life adventures, so I thought I should take a moment today to write a post I’ve been putting off.

2015 was really hard. I started out last year having really high hopes. I was living and working in a beautiful snow-covered Rocky Mountains winter wonderland, learning and loving to cross-country ski, and having a job I pretty much enjoyed. All that fell apart pretty quick; the snow melted early, I stopped having the time and energy to ski, my housemates were mostly various kinds of awful, and I worked with half of them on a daily basis. I tried to make the best of it, but depression hits pretty thoroughly sometimes, and I spent the rest of the time basically gritting my teeth and waiting to escape at the end of the season. It sucked, because I wanted so hard to be able to appreciate the amazing place I happened to live it at the time, but all I wanted to do was hide until I could run away.

My spring road trip has been, eventually, fully detailed in the blog, as have parts of the following summer drama in Colorado. Suffice it to say, summer was basically a repeat of winter, but with added “fun” of getting injured in my right shoulder and unable to work the majority of my time on the ranch. Cue depression and alienation, with the side bonus of lost wages and extra paperwork.

I clung to plans of escape when the season was over, and left as soon as I could, leaving the ranch for the final time in the early dawn light and not looking back. Shortly after my return to the Northwest Coast, the region I’d been daydreaming about with nostalgic feelings of being as close to home as I can get these days, Mum came over from Hawaii to visit.

As glad as I was to escape the people and politics of the Mid-West, seeing my Mum was incomparably better. I played the driver, and took Mum up and down the northern part of the Washington coastal region while we visited her parents. We got to spend the last few days together, just the two of us, and getting to spend all that time with Mum…well, my heart is aching and I’m getting an about-to-cry feeling again just thinking about it, I miss her so much. If I could stand the bugs and the weather and the job market and the housing issue and all the rest of the stuff that comes from living in one of the poorest parts of the jungle side of an island in the middle of the biggest ocean, well, I won’t hesitate to be closer to my Mum. My sister is pretty astonishingly lucky that she managed to make it work.

Anyway. Mum left and according to my plan I should have started immediately to figure out the details of moving to Portland. I didn’t. I tried, but my heart wasn’t in it. I wanted to be in Portland eventually, but over the course of about a week I realized what I need to do first was give myself time and permission to just STOP for a while. Stop running from one thing to the next, stop pushing myself to keep going so I can’t feel how burnt out I’m getting, stop trying to fake being okay so hard. I needed time to wallow, to hurt, to distract myself, to be lazy and indulgent, to get to do all those things in a place where I was safe and not judged for it. I needed to let myself let go of the past year so I could finally start to process and heal from all of it. I needed to do those things before I could have my fresh start.

So now it’s 2016. I just left Seattle finally, and am staying with an Aunt and Uncle in Tacoma while I gear myself back up to really actually for-sure-this-time start to act on my plans for Portland. I’m less hurt emotionally than I was before I took time off from being a “responsible adult”. I still feel the wounds of the past year, still have the new battle-scars, the aches and wariness, the depression and lingering suspicion. But I also feel more confident, more self-possessed, moreĀ me. It’s not perfect, but then, life never is perfect. The trick is to learn how to embrace the messy bits and make them into a new kind of perfect. Not the all-encompassing kind; the quiet contented kind that creeps in during the little moments.

I’m typing this upstairs in the guest bedroom, warm orange-red walls reflecting the soft yellow glow of the overhead light down onto the desk. Outside it’s overcast and has started to rain enough to hear it through the window and on the roof. This morning I woke to the smell of baking bread. Right now I can hear the rain, and muffled traffic, and the music I’m playing very quietly, and voices from whatever my aunt is listening to downstairs. The house has a faint and constant scent of incense and essential oils that’s saturated into the walls and the paint and the rugs over the years. There’s nothing big or flashing about this moment. But when I stop to notice it, I feel a sense contentment and home-y-ness that’s as close to perfection as I ever really need out of life.

Now I just need to figure out how to create and support this for myself in Portland…

Wish me luck, my friends, as I wish you luck in finding your own kind of perfect in the New Year.

Love,

GeGi.

Not the usual kind of post…

[WARNING: this post talks about my struggles with triggering subjects, including but not limited to depression, self-esteem, cutting, suicide, and bad relationships. Only read if you feel such subjects aren’t going to be harmful to yourself. Your own health and care and safety are far more important than whatever rambling words I’ve typed.]

Dear Cyber-Friends,

On the surface, I have a pretty awesome life; I’ve never had debt, I have decent jobs, I now have a good car, I pretty much always have somewhere to live and food to eat, I have friends and family who love me and support me when I ask for it, I have a computer and a smart phone and books and movies and an ipod full of music… There’s a lot of obvious comforts and benefits in my life. Not to mention things like being unattached to any location so I can travel whenever I want (jobs allowing) which a lot of people seem to find quite enviable, and having the ability and privilege to be independent, and apparently having some talent at artistic things like writing and painting.

On the flip side, I’ve also struggled with things like having a short and violent temper, having untreated depression, thinking I’m worthless and invisible, self-harming, finding meaning and direction in life, coping with the unexpected death of someone I grew up with as a teenager, isolating behavior, social anxiety, introversion, extreme trust issues, a history of bad and borderline abusive romantic relationships… A lot of those things are connected, and pretty much all of them have been/are being handled on my own — without the help of trained professionals or medication, or even much discussion with said friends and family.

I think a lot of the reason I’ve never gotten help or even opened up all that much about the internal things I deal with is due to those trust issues and that self-image of not being worth someone else’s care/time/attention. Everyone has shit in their life they deal with. My suicidal moments haven’t played out to actual action and my moments self-destructive behavior has been contained enough not to interfere beyond my own mind and body, so to the slightly damaged logic of my meaner side equals all that to being not bad off enough to bother anyone else with my own issues. Besides which, talking about my less-than-happy bits means being vulnerable and trusting not to use that to hurt me, and so far the track record on that working out in my favor has been spotty.

Even typing this post is hard to do, and the thought of actually publishing it terrifies me because then I’ll be admitting how broken I feel inside sometimes. I work hard to keep it hidden from everyone, and I honestly don’t think I could even tell you why or how I became convinced at such a bone-deep level that I had to pretend to be perfect, but for some reason I hold myself to an impossibly high standard. Exposing the parts of me that don’t live up to it, no matter how much I know those who love me already know about them, is one of the hardest things I could possibly do. I want to delete this whole post, but for some reason being honest right now feels really important and necessary. Which means I probably won’t be reading this over again before I post — something I usually do to make my typical long run-on sentences broken down into coherent thoughts — so if this post is a bit of a rambling mess, that’s why. Welcome to how my brain composes writing.

I don’t know what point I’m trying to make here. Maybe I just wanted to use my little corner of the internet to confess that I haven’t been feeling very stable lately. I’ve been using physical exhaustion (cross-country skiing) as a way to cope — I push myself beyond what I think I can do so I end up too tired at the end to feel anything but the “high” of exercise, while also satisfying the part of me that demands self-punishment by doing something a little more constructive than cutting. It helps to purge the build-up of frustration and anger and depression which cause my short temper, and allows me time and reason to be outside, which helps build a sense of contentment.

But the holidays are here at the ranch, which means I haven’t had that outlet all week, and probably won’t get it again for another week. I haven’t been dealing with it well, which is to say I’ve been cutting and drinking and isolating myself and listening to angry music and crying. Not to mention getting progressively more annoyed, frustrated, and generally pissed off with basically everything, but especially the people who already take more energy to deal with. I simply don’t have the energy to spare for dealing with them right now, because I’m using it all to keep myself alive and get through this period. I cling to the knowledge that my emotions tend to cycle, so every darker time like this is always book-ended with brighter times. It helps. It helps me survive it, anyway. It doesn’t really help make it any better to go through.

I have a really hard time letting anyone see me when I’m like this. I get very edgy knowing people are around, and I just want to feel safe — which for me means being alone, or at least anonymous. The last thing in the world I want is people being physically around me, people I don’t know very well questioning me, or generally interacting with others physically or verbally. So I spend a lot of time with headphones on, and I spend a lot of time on the internet. Internet friends are, at the very least, a welcome distraction. Sometimes they even help me feel better, if only for a brief bright moment.

Family is tricky, because I don’t want them to worry about me, so I don’t want them to know how screwed up I feel. When I was a teenager and wanted to kill myself, I didn’t because I decided I would wait until my parents and siblings had died, so I wouldn’t be hurting them. Since I felt dead already and just wanted to stop existing, it seemed like the least I could do to simply hold on long enough not to cause those who would miss me any extra pain. Even now, in my darker moments, I wonder if anyone would really notice or care if I were simply gone. I know my Mum would, and probably my Dad and sister and even my brother, and maybe a few others, but I have a hard time understanding why anyone loves or cares about me, the real me, so it’s difficult to convince myself I matter.

Being alone is easier to deal with — even when I feel lonely and isolated — than trying to understand and deal with people caring about me. I just can’t quite wrap my head around the idea that I might be important to someone else. I mean, I’m important to me because I have to be, but I honestly can’t figure out what there is about me that would make anyone else care. If you’re not immediate family, telling me you love me and being serious about it is a sure-fire way to make me at the very least confused, if not actually freaked out and running. Partly because of bad past experiences, but partly just because if you think that I’m worth loving there’s clearly either something wrong with you or you just have no idea who I really am, and either way isn’t promising. Much better to just avoid all that and be on my own, where I can be as crazy as I need to be without fear of judgement or of causing pain.

Big chances to the outer life are good — for a while I can cruse on the excitement and newness, which gives me the extra energy to be social and optimistic. But it’s not really my natural resting state, so to speak, so eventually I revert back to introvert and depression, unless I put a lot of effort and awareness into self-care. The moment I let that awareness slip into laziness, all the issues I’ve pushed back pounce again, and it’s back to fighting to survive long enough to regain equilibrium, while expanding all extra energy into not letting the mask of strength slip enough to let those around me see how much I’m hurting. I think half the reason I’m being a nomad with seasonal jobs is so I know I’m only committing to a few months at a time before the next new thing. Having an end date in sight gives me sometime to aim for when things get dark.

I’d been talking about doing a Europe trip with a couple of the roommates here at the ranch once the season ends. I’ve been rethinking that plan this last week; I feel like I’d rather spend the majority of my time between seasonal jobs doing something on my own, being away from the constant interaction this lifestyle demands. It would help me recover enough to get through another season, and maybe I could even save up enough money to do a bigger trip later. Also, I’ve been feeling a strong urge to make going to the parts of Europe I’m drawn to into a sole trip, with more of a personal pilgrimage focus than just tramping around with a couple people half a decade younger than me.

The idea of traveling on my own is very soothing to that part of me that feels constantly on edge when I’m around people. Thinking about it brings a feeling of calm to the constant agitation, which seems like a pretty good sign that it’s a good call. I haven’t talked to the roommates about my possible change of heart about the plan yet, because I’m still not sure which way I’m gonna end up going on it. I’m not sure what I’ll decide to do this spring. I have a job interview for next summer already, though.

The whole point of the way I’m trying to live right now is to have freedom. I want to live life on my own terms as much as is very possible for anyone. I’ve always been pretty fiercely independent, even at my most co-dependent, and I’ve finally gotten over my own fears enough to act on it. I don’t want to start compromising that just yet, so right now I think that means traveling solo between jobs, and doing my own thing during jobs. I don’t hold on to other people well, so I lose touch as soon as I leave, and I think I’m actually pretty happy with that. I’m not a social creature. I think I want to just drift through the lives around me, and not hold on. I want to be free that way.

There’s more I could say, but this seems like a good stopping place. I’m only going to get less coherent as it gets later, for one thing. And I feel like I’ve lost the plot somewhat of what I was trying to say — which I’m not even sure what that was in the first place, so…

Anyway.

Take care of yourself. It’s the kindest act you can do.

I love you all.

GeGi.