Helping a middle schooler edit her essay on the book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (which I have never read)….
Kid: “Ok, so, I have a serious question for you, and I need your opinion as a teacher.”
Me: “Go for it.”
Kid: “So there’s a part of the essay where I’m explaining the main character’s reaction to a really upsetting event, but I’m afraid to quote the event, because it’s like REALLY bad. Do teachers care if you quote bad language?”
Me: “Well, honestly, if the book was assigned by your teacher, then he knows about the language. And if using that specific quote truly helps to verify your argument, then you are absolutely allowed to do so.”
Kid: “But it’s like REALLY bad. Like the teacher might get mad.”
Me: “Again, if you are quoting the book, and it makes sense in your argument, it’s perfectly fine.”
Kid: “You’re sure?”
Me: “I promise.”
Me (laughing): “I swear! I wouldn’t lie to you!”
Kid (opening the book): “Ok, it’s this part here.”
(I read the words “Did you know that Indians are living proof that niggers fuck buffalo?”)
Me: “Oh, ok. Nope. You can’t write that.”
Furthermore– what the shit?! Who’s assigning this stuff to a MIDDLE SCHOOLER?!
“Is that like an Emmy for books?”
— Eric, when I told him that the book I’m reading was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize
Last time I look to this crowd for a pat on the back.
(Insert hours of absolute dead radio silence)
Who told him?
Eric says I read too many heavy, serious books about mental illness, and that maybe this contributes to my anxiety and hypochondria. So this time I chose one where, yes, the main character DOES have bipolar disorder– BUT he lives a super full, productive life, has a job he loves, is married to the love of his life, has a baby on the way, and takes really good care of himself. While it’s tough for him and his family to grapple with his bipolar disorder, and he often gets knocked down, he always finds his way back, and it’s actually a really inspiring take on living with mental illness.
His wife dies, though.
BECAUSE WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE OF CANCER.
Sitting on the beach with my kindle…
Me (without lifting my eyes from the screen): “You know, I have to say, I really didn’t like this book at first, but it’s taken an interesting turn and now it’s actually getting pretty good.”
Eric: <No response. Because, unbeknownst to me, he had gotten up and gone to the Tiki bar to watch football.>
On Thursday, at a Barnes and Noble book-signing event, I had the honor of meeting my idol and hero, Jenny Lawson. For those of you who don’t know her, she is a hilarious blogger (known as “The Bloggess“), a NYT bestselling author, and an inspiring mental illness sufferer and advocate.
Basically, she’s me.
But way funnier and hugely successful and totally established.
So, ok. Rewrite.
Basically, she’s who I WANT to be.
Up until about 8 months ago, I actually had no idea who Jenny Lawson was. In an ironic twist (and a twist that has surely prevented my blog from being more successful), I am a blogger who doesn’t really read blogs.
You know those tv actors who are asked what their favorite TV show is, and they say, “Oh, I don’t actually watch tv, I don’t really have time.” I’m one of those assholes. Except I do have time, I just spend it doing other things, like napping and eating and drinking Bloody Marys.
Basically I’m the worst.
Anyway, all of this is to say that I discovered Jenny out of sheer luck– one day, someone commented on my Facebook page that my writing reminded him of Jenny’s writing, and that I should check out her blog and her book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. I skipped the blog part (because again, I’m the worst) and went straight for the book.
Holy shit, y’all! (as Jenny would say. God I wish I had the right to say “y’all,” but I don’t think Potomac, Maryland counts as the deep South.) This woman is fucking HILARIOUS and she DOES kind of sound like me! (again– WAY better. I don’t for a second want anyone to think I think I’m as good as her. I’m clinically mentally unstable but I’m not delusional. When it comes to this, at least.)
Jenny is gleefully blunt, self-deprecating, has a beautifully foul mouth (she cursed about 17 times at the Barnes and Noble event, and my love for her grew a little more with each “fuck/fucking/bullshit” that came out of her mouth), is totally honest in her writing (and sidebars with long, hilarious, often barely relevant, ADD rants), bares all her flaws, and speaks candidly about her mental health issues in order to fight stigma, help others, and, most importantly, help and heal herself.
Like I said– she’s me. But awesomer. (Fuck you, spell check. Awesomer is a word).
So what did I do when I met her? Yes, like a normal person, I asked her to sign my copy of her new book about living with mental illness, Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things (read it immediately. It’s fantastic. If you suffer from mental illness or are trying to understand someone who does. Or if you’re a human who likes to laugh and know things.) Then, like a NOT AT ALL normal person, I asked her to sign my pill case.
Because Jenny has a saying– “Depression lies.” And it’s so true. And when you’re not in it, you know this for a fact. But when you are in it, you forget. You’re utterly convinced that the voices telling you that you are worthless, shameful, and a burden are real. You’re certain you are nothing.
But Depression is a big, fat, fucking liar, and sometimes you just need to be reminded of that. Over, and over, and over, until it eventually fades and you’ve made it through.
I use my pill case every single day (and so does Jenny, by the way– “Oh! I have this very same pill case!” she exclaimed as she took it from me with what I think was compassion and understanding, but might have been fear). I wake up and diligently swallow my Prozac, doing my part to fight the demons (note: the Prozac is just one small part. I see a psychiatrist weekly, run my heart out, fundraise for mental health org Active Minds, write/blog my thoughts as honestly as possible, and surround myself with the most supportive, awesome family and friends– all forms of depression-fighting therapy).
Some days, though, none of this helps. Some days I wake up feeling like I am absolutely nothing. Some days I need that constant reminder that DEPRESSION LIES.
And now, thanks to Jenny Lawson, I have that. I’ll see those words every single morning– and when she says it, I believe it. I know it’s true. Because I know she’s been through it. Many, many, many times. She’s had it worse than I have– rather than just wishing she was dead, she’s actually had thoughts of wanting to kill herself. She’s hurt herself in an attempt to feel. She’s stayed in bed for months at a time because she could find no reason to get out.
But she makes it through and she keeps going, and she is fucking FANTASTIC at what she does.
So when she tells me Depression lies, I believe her. Because I look at her and see how Depression lies to HER. If someone like her can believe she is worthless, then clearly Depression is a fraudulent, deceptive douchecanoe. (Also a word, spellcheck. BACK OFF.)
So thank you for being you, Jenny! And keep doing what you’re doing– you are an inspiration!
Emily (the girl who whipped out her Prozac-filled pill case at your book signing. You remember.)
On Friday, our 4th grade class had “book buddies” with a 1st grade class (it’s exactly how it sounds– 1st and 4th graders are paired up, and they read books together). It was our first book buddy session, so we, the teachers, had to assign the partnerships for the year.
The 1st grade teacher immediately told us that one of her students spoke Spanish and almost no English, and we agreed that it’d be great to partner him with a Spanish-speaking 4th grader, to make him feel more comfortable. So we did.
Then we thought “Oh, WE have a Japanese-speaking 4th grader– do you have any 1st graders who speak Japanese?” And she did, so we paired them together and then watched delightedly as they conversed in both English and Japanese.
“How lovely! We’re great!” we thought.
But then, as we looked around the room and saw Asians paired with Asians, Hispanics paired with Hispanics, and Pacific Islanders/Other paired with other Pacific Islanders/Other….we thought, “Oh, fuck– are we racist?”
Nah. Our intentions were good.
I’ll admit we were toeing the line when we yelled “Hey, you two Jews! Go find a book about money and read together.”
Look where they’re getting their information!
Here’s a book my baby nephew is currently “reading” (Sucking on. Licking. Trying to put inside my nose. Then losing interest and trying to put his fist inside my nose.)
No wonder he stares at me blankly, line of drool slowly zig-zagging down his chin, whenever I ask him to hand me my phone. The kid is so fucking confused!
Shame on you, American children’s book publishers.
It’s like you WANT China to win.