Tag Archives: books

We Named Our Daughter After a Mouse

(Note: This post was written while still pregnant, lest you think I just shot a kid out of my baby-cannon and now have any ability to construct a coherent sentence, much less a mini-memoir.)

Yes, a mouse.

But stay with me. We have a rational reason for doing so. Well, maybe not a rational reason (not sure how anyone can expect me to be rational right now, as I am currently in month 9 of having two vaginas), but a reason that will at least provide some context for my desire to name our child after an animal that most people try to kill with strategically placed snap-traps.

Ten years ago, I suffered a deep, terrifying, paralyzing depression. I’ve written about it and referenced it many times on this blog so I won’t re-hash the details in this post, but needles to say, it was my darkest hour. What I haven’t mentioned before is a somewhat interesting (and now extremely relevant) aspect of this terrible time in my life– my obsession with mouse-kid Noisy Nora.

Yes, I’ll explain (because who? And huh?).

In the months I spent depressed living in my parents’ home at age 26, I was unable to do virtually anything. One day, while robotically eating breakfast and staring blankly at the Honey Nut Cheerios box, my mother put a pencil in my hand and suggested I draw something. Not only did I think this was pointless, as EVERYTHING was pointless, but I thought it was extra ridiculous given that, a mild talent for photography aside, I had never at any point in my life shown any kind of visual-arts ability or interest.

But I had nothing to lose (and nothing to do), so I grabbed the pencil and started drawing what I saw on the cereal box in front of me.

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Looking at it now, I think “Not a bad little Cheerios bee!” At the time, however, all I could manage was, “Well this drawing sucks.” Because, you know. Everything sucked. But what I did notice was that for the brief time I was immersed in the sketching process, I wasn’t, for once, writhing in despair and wondering how the minutes of life could possibly be ticking by so slowly. I was able to escape my agony for a short, precious time, and that alone was enough reason to keep drawing.

So I did. Basically, I stuck to sketching images that were on the boxes of the food I was eating:

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As you can see, I was really into carbs.

Then one day, in a further desperate attempt to pass the interminable minutes, I began sorting through mountains of crap in my parents’ storage room. To my delight (delight is a strong word– I hated everything) I stumbled upon a box of my most beloved childhood books. They were all there: The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Where the Wild Things Are, Doctor De Soto, The Snowy Day and, finally, at the very bottom of the box– Noisy Nora.

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GOD how I loved that book as a kid. It’s about a very endearing yet insufferable little mouse-kid who is jealous of the time her parents spend with her siblings, and therefore seeks attention by being a destructive little pain in the ass. I adored her, because I was her. No one could yell, stomp, and slam a door (then open it and re-slam it) for NO GOOD REASON like kid-me (and, ok, teenager-me. Adult-me…).

And for reasons I could not articulate, I suddenly became OBSESSED with drawing Nora. So obsessed, in fact, that I purchased a separate sketch pad solely for Nora drawings, where I could practice sketching her over and over again until I had her every tiny little detail perfected. (Side note: This genius separate-notebook idea backfired, as somewhere in the five times I’ve moved residencies since then, it got misplaced, while my notebook full of meaningless cereal box characters has somehow stood the test of time Face_With_Rolling_Eyes_Emoji_large ).

I sketched these Nora drawings in the privacy of my own bedroom, and kept the special Nora notepad under the bed where no one would find it. Unlike my Cheerios bee and Keebler elves, I was very protective of my Nora sketches and did not want to show them to anyone, even my mother, who was always so delighted and impressed by my cartoon drawings– so impressed, in fact, that she suggested I pursue a career in comic-strip writing (she was pretty desperate to give me purpose. She was also, understandably, drinking a LOT of wine during that time).

Nora was my little secret. I was never really able to articulate or explain to myself why I was so obsessed with her. Sure, I loved the book as a kid, but I loved lots of books and characters and wasn’t obsessing over any of THEM. At the time, the infatuation made no sense. But then again, nothing made sense, so I didn’t spend too much time or energy trying to figure it out.

Eventually, with copious medical interventions and the unwavering support of family and friends, I began to heal in early 2009, and life restarted again. I moved back to NYC, got a teaching job, found my marbles, and was functioning like the human I had forgotten I was capable of being.

And in the process, I let Nora go. Not completely and not forever– after all, she was there with me for those lonely, agonizing months and got me through a truly hopeless time– but now that I was able to participate in life again, the inexplicable obsession subsided and found a cozy spot in the back recesses of my mind, rather than in the fixated forefront.

Fast forward 9 years and I’m pregnant. As soon as we learned we were having a girl, out of (seemingly) nowhere, the name Nora came to my mind. I casually mentioned it to Eric as a name I liked, and he agreed it was nice, but suggested we keep thinking. He liked it but didn’t necessarily LOVE it, and maybe there was something out there we’d both LOVE. That was fine with me– I wasn’t even sure in that moment why I liked it so much, or why it came to me so suddenly, so I agreed to keep thinking. We looked through list after list and flirted with other names, many of which I did really like. But at the end of each day when I put my head to my pillow, I kept coming back to Nora.

And slowly, I began to realize why. Now, bear with me here– I’m not typically a hokey, whimsical or overly-spiritual person. But I am a big believer in things happening for a reason, and I do think “the universe,” however one might define that, plays a role in the direction our lives take. And in that time when I felt I truly had nothing to live for, I feel that maybe, just maybe, the Nora obsession was the universe’s way of saying “Do not give up, Emily. This darkness is temporary, and light awaits. There’s something big coming, and you’re going to want to be around to see it.”

Now I don’t want anyone to interpret this as me thinking that having a child is the only, or the ultimate, thing to live for. It has been 10 years since that depressive episode and my life has been beyond full of reasons to live– from big reasons (family, friends, major accomplishments both personal and professional, fabulous travel, discovery of new talents and interests) to all those little moments that make up a full, meaningful life  (a burst of uncontrolled laughter, hearing Journey’s “Faithfully” and remembering every single lyric to your camp alma mater, a post-run nap in a shaded hammock, the satisfaction of finally killing the pesky fly that’s been occupying your apartment for a week– sorry, that last one just happened like 5 minutes ago and DAMN it felt good! Anyway, we all have our things.)

There are trillions of reasons to live, big and small, but when you’re severely depressed, you can’t access any of them. So I think this Nora obsession, for which I had no explanation at the time, only an intense and seemingly primal NEED to draw her, was the universe desperately trying to shove hope in my face– to tell me that if I could just hold on and get through this time, I would rediscover all the reasons to be here, and come to see that I still have so much important work left to do in this life, including (but certainly not limited to) becoming a mom.

So I kept coming back to the name Nora, and although Eric liked it, he still wasn’t totally sold. I wanted to disclose the reason I was so attached to it, but I also worried he might think I was nuts (not sure why I still occasionally fear this. The guy has witnessed some pretty emotionally ape-shit moments and he’s still here, inexplicably, with bells on). For months, I kept pressing the name on him, with no explanation other than, “I just really like it,” only to get a non-committal, “I like it too, but let’s keep thinking,” in response.

So eventually, on a particularly hormonal day, I explained my reasoning. With tears in my eyes, I cautiously relayed the story of my Noisy Nora fixation, and how in hindsight I think it might have been the universe giving me a reason to hold on.

“Oh,” Eric said. “Well then that’s it. That’s her name. Why didn’t you just tell me that? Of course that’s her name. And now I love it.”

And that is why I married him.

And why we named our daughter after a rodent.

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Forget Everything I Said

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: “Absolutely.”
Kid: “Promise?”
Me: “I promise.”
Kid: “SWEAR?”
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.”

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Furthermore– what the shit?! Who’s assigning this stuff to a MIDDLE SCHOOLER?!

You Are What You Read

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. 

Of cancer. 

BECAUSE WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE OF CANCER. 

  

Sunday in the Bahamas

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.> 

  

Excuse Me While I Meet My Idol Jenny Lawson and Ask Her To Sign My Prozac-filled Pill Case

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.

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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.

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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!

XOXO,

Emily (the girl who whipped out her Prozac-filled pill case at your book signing. You remember.)

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#bestfriends #youjustdontknowityet

Are We Racist?

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.”

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