“Can the child within my heart rise above?”

Landslide by Fleetwood Mac

It was pointed out to me that everyone I’ve expressed interest in or who has expressed interest in me, relationship/dating-wise, lives about 1,000 miles away.  A very astute observation.  The same person also pointed out that I’m where I need to be.  Another astute observation.  However, the latter was actually made before the former, so I’m not sure if that denotes a subtle shift in opinion regarding where he thinks I belong or not.

Yes, the people I actively have feelings for all live 1,000 or so miles away from me.  Which is probably for the best.  Because right now?  Not a good time for me to be a in a relationship.  I feel too weak, too damaged, to scared, and honestly too ambivalent (on some days) to be a good partner.  My baggage is poorly packed, my heart is making a bloody mess on my sleeve, and I’m not at home in myself anymore.  Not a good partner in any shape or form.

My minister, when I first went to see him a few times before I had a therapist, asked me what in me makes me think I deserve to be treated the way I have been.  He recommended that I read Legacy of the Heart: The Spiritual Advantages of a Painful Childhood by Wayne Muller.  To be frank, while I did plan to give it a look over, I really thought I had healed from the shitty childhood I had and wasn’t expecting much beyond blaming and shaming poor parenting, and really, I’m just done with that.  I’d had the requisite years of therapy, some stellar and some sucktastic.  I am (mostly) able to write about painful things in my past without breaking down.  Talking about horrendous episodes had gotten much easier.  I was fine.  I AM fine.

FINE.

Then I started reading the book.

You know what really sucks?  When you’re not as fine as you really want to believe you are.  Not nearly as fine as you think you should be after all this damn time.  That some scars may’ve stopped hurting but that’s not because they’ve healed but because they’re kind of numb.

It also really sucks when you read a book that exposes the coping mechanisms you’ve gotten so good at they almost felt like they were just normal, healthy parts of living, all the empty spots that you’ve tried to fill in various ways unsuccessfully, and those myriad ways you feel inept, unwelcome, and unworthy:

“When we doubt our own belonging, we grow desperate, and we learn to grab almost anything – a job, a sexual partner, a lifestyle – and make that our place of belonging. In our desperation we lose both our serenity and our sensitivity to the needs of others. If I need your company to feel that I belong, then I am more concerned with how I impress you than I am with your particular needs and desires. You become merely a vehicle for my belonging, an agent to my comfort, no longer [someone] with your own hopes and dreams. As I approach you, it is not you that I touch, it is my own desperation.”

And it’s simply amazing how painful things that happened long ago can translate into adult lives:

“When we are convinced how little is a available for us, we feel confused about how much is enough.  How much can we ask for, what can we hope for?  When we resign ourselves to a life where love and joy will never come in abundance, we reduce the depth and breadth of what is possible for us,  making our lives small and sparse.  ‘Ask and you shall receive’ rings hollow in the heart that has grown to expect less and less.  There will never be enough for us; why bother asking at all?”

These passages both hit me like a hot pink brick truck.  I’m too desperate, hungry, and raw to be a good partner.  I’ll either wind up giving everything (or simply more than I should) away again, trying frantically to phoenix my way through it, and be left wondering why I’ve been reduced to a smoldering pile of ashes, or I’ll go in selfishly, aggressively trying to get everything I hadn’t gotten in the past, ruthlessly making demands, and being disappointed at the inevitable shortfall and fallout.  I have things I need to sort out, one of which is not being afraid to ask for what I want.  Yet also finding a balance between my desires and those of a partner.  There’s so much that goes into maintaining a relationship that right now, the thought of doing it again exhausts me.  Of course, I just have to think about a hug, a look, a tone of voice, a gentle surprise, a touch and I’m reminded of why it’s all worth it…once I get my head and heart back on straight.

 

Louder than words.

There are many famous people whom I have a crush on. Recently, I rediscovered an early crush from my teens: Robert Fulghum. Around 20 or so years ago, I read All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten and felt my heart go a-flutter. Here was a gentle man, a thinking man, an artistic and sensitive man. I both wished he could’ve been my father and that he could take me out on my first date. My brain is an awkward place sometimes.

Throughout my life, I’ve had people make fun of my adoration of Robert Fulghum. They’ve called him treacly, overly sentimental, boring, and other things I couldn’t possibly disagree with more. It bothers me for a little while when this happens, when people I care about can’t see what an awesome guy Robert Fulghum seems to be, why he’s a mentor to me on how to live life and why my heart beats a little bit faster when I think about him.

It’s just…the voracious way he goes about inhaling life is incredibly invigorating, inspiring, and, well…sexy. His writings are all about exploring the world around him, from bugs to love to death to kids to sports to war to various cultures and customs around the world he’s lived in or visited or read about. In the book I’m reading right now alone, What On Earth Have I Done?, half is set in Crete, Greece, where he lives part of the year. It also touches on the Massai, an African tribe that lives on the Kenyan-Tanzanian border, a story from when he gave the blessing in Geneva, Switzerland for a dinner honoring people who fought for human rights, and his time growing up in Texas as a side-lined football playing teen who was awarded MVP. Not for some touchy-feely “everybody’s a winner” thing, either. It makes sense, when you look at it from a certain perspective.

And I think that’s what I love most about Robert Fulghum. His perspective. He comes from a place of constantly learning, growing, exploring, discussing, observing, sharing. His stories are not ones of complaint, of bemoaning the future of humanity, of all that is wrong in the world. Yes, he writes about difficult, terrible, painful things. But always with hope. Always to expose the commonality, the unification possible, the things we can learn and grow from. He is the opposite of bitter and I find that intoxicating. I also love that he inspires me to be a better person. I want to see the world through such excited eyes.

Here is an example of what I admire so much about him:

One of his stories is called “The Meaning of Life”. Cliff Notes version is that he is attending a two week seminar on Greek culture. At the end of the seminar, the universal end-of-class question was asked, “Are there any questions?”

Fulghum had one. “Dr. Papaderos, what is the meaning of life?”

Some may read this and think Fulghum was being snarky. Like at a concert when the singer asks if there are any requests and someone always yells out, “Do ‘Stairway’! WHOOOOO!”

However, Dr. Papaderos saw that Fulghum was asking in earnest. So he answered him. First he took a quarter-sized round mirror out of his wallet. Then he began to speak.

“When I was a small child, during the war, we were very poor and we lived in a remote mountain village. One day, on the road, I found the broken pieces of a mirror. A German motorcycle had been wrecked in that place.

I tried to find all the pieces of the mirror and put them back together, but it was not possible, so I kept only the largest piece. This one. And by scratching it on a stone I made it round. I began to play with it as a toy and became fascinated by the fact that I could reflect light into dark places where the sun would never shine – in deep holes and crevices and dark closets and behind walls. It became a game for me to get light into the most inaccessible places I could find.

I kept the little mirror, and as as I went about my growing up, I would take it out in idle moments and continue the challenge of the game. As I became a man, I grew to understand that this was not just a child’s game but a metaphor for what I might do with my life. I came to understand that I am not the light nor the source of the light. But light – the light of truth, understanding, and knowledge – is there, and that light will only shine in many dark places if I reflect it.

I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have I can reflect light into the dark places of this world – into the dreary hearts of men – and change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise. This is what I am about. This is the meaning of my life.”

This is why I love Robert Fulghum. He shines light into places and the reminds us through the illumination that we can do the same.

On a similar note, there’s a song from the off-Broadway musical “tick…Tick…BOOM!” It is called “Louder Than Words.”

Why do we play with fire? Why do we run our finger through the flame?
Why do we leave our hand on the stove although we know we’re in for some pain?

Oh, why do we refuse to hang a light When the streets are dangerous?
Why does it take an accident before the truth gets through to us?

Cages or wings?
Which do you prefer?
Ask the birds.

Fear or love, baby?
Don’t say the answer
Actions speak louder than words.

Why should we try to be our best when we can just get by and still gain?
Why do we nod our heads although we know the boss is wrong as rain?

Why should we blaze a trail when the well worn path seems safe and so inviting?
How, as we travel, can we see the dismay and keep from fighting?

Cages or wings?
Which do you prefer?
Ask the birds

Fear or love, baby
Don’t say the answer
Actions speak louder than words

What does it take to wake up a generation?
How can you make someone take off and fly?
If we don’t wake up and shake up the nation we’ll eat the dust of the world wondering why.

Why do we stay with lovers who we know, down deep, just aren’t right?
Why would we rather put ourselves through hell than sleep alone at night?
Why do we follow leaders who never lead?
Why does it take catastrophe to start a revolution?

If we’re so free, tell me why? Someone tell me why so many people bleed?

Cages or wings?
Which do you prefer?
Ask the birds.

Fear or love, baby?
Don’t say the answer.
Actions speak louder than words.

And that’s honestly where I’m at right now, in most areas of my life. Words are nice. They can be pretty. They can settle in a place in the heart that wants to believe.

But actions speak louder than words.

Another book the whole damn world needs to read

Raising-My-Rainbow-Adventures-in-Raising-a-Fabulous-Gender-Creative-Son-Lori-Duron

When I was in my mid-twenties, my dad told me that Ellen Degeneres coming out of the closet and my gay best friend being gay/having a boyfriend were “what was wrong with this world.”  It made me incredibly sad and angry to hear him say this (not the least of which was because he still didn’t know I was bisexual.)  In my opinion, Ellen and my best friend were two shining examples of what was right with the world. After finishing Raising My Rainbow: Adventures in Raising a Fabulous, Gender Creative Son* by Lori Duron (and foreward by the ever-amazing Neil Patrick Harris and his partner David Burtka)  I can say without hesitation that Lori Duron is now added to my list of “what is So Very Right with the world.”  Granted, she’s a “who” not a “what”, but this book and the open, loving, giving, accepting, nurturing way she and her family are raising her children transcends how awesome she is as a person.  (Though she is quite kickass all on her own.)

The book centers around the titular “fabulous, gender creative” C.J., who discovers Barbie when he’s just two and a half years old and sets off running down the gender creative road, leaving his family in a glittery, pink wake.  As Duron describes, “It was like watching somebody come alive, watching a flower bloom, watching a rainbow cross the sky.”  From that moment on, C.J. began to discover the world of “girl”, resplendent with long, silky hair, Disney Princesses, sparkles, Monster High, skirts, Hello Kitty, heels, and the sheer awesomeness that is the color pink.  His response of pure, unadulterated glee to it All Things Girly concerned his mom and dad.  C.J. is, after all, a boy.  Boys are supposed to like “boy things: trucks, dinosaurs, the color blue, to name a few.  Right?
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Long post about LGBTQ (and poly, too!) YA fiction is long.

So in the wee hours of this morning when my head wouldn’t shut off but also wouldn’t focus properly, I found this site called gayya.org which is all about LGBTQ Young Adult fiction. They have a pretty fantastic reading list, and welcome suggestions for more titles to put on the list (I sent them four.)

They also have an Online Resources page, where they link to “blogs, websites, and authors” who support LGBTQ YA fiction. I suggested youngadultmag.com, the online YA magazine I’ve written for. To demonstrate the LGBTQ inclusiveness of the site, I shared links to the lesbian poly story I wrote (did I mention the reading list for this site also includes YA books that have some form of polyamory? It’s part of the last category!) and a currently featured, first-in-a-series (called Reflection of a Leader) story, written by a dear friend of mine, centering around about a HS teacher and coordinator of a student LGBTQ group.

The reading list on the site was pretty comprehensive, so I’ve copy and pasted it here to spread the word, give me (and anyone else, if you’re the curious type) an idea of what I’ve read, add some commentary, and also help me to pick new books to check out from the library. Which, can I just say that even though I’m living in the South now, my library has a heartening stock of LGBTQ books? One of the newer ones on the Lesbian list, “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” just came out and the library had it ready to go!

LESBIAN CHARACTERS AND PAIRINGS
Gravel Queen by Tea Benduhn
How Beautiful the Ordinary edited by Michael Cart <- WONDERFUL book. Loved it.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth <- just got it from the library last week
The Dark Wife by Sarah Diemer
Down to the Bone by Mayra Dole
Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden <- one of the first lesbian books I read. Made me love the Temple of Dendur even more.
Good Moon Rising by Nancy Garden
Sister Mischief by Laura Goode
Perfect by Ellen Hopkins
A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend by Emily Horner
The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson
Torn by Amber Lehman
Gravity by Leanne Lieberman
Ash by Malinda Lo
Huntress by Malinda Lo
My Tiki Girl by Jennifer McMahon
Kissing Kate by Lauren Myracle
Tripping to Somewhere by Kris Reisz
The End by Nora Olsen
Between Mom and Jo by Julie Anne Peters
Far From Xanandu by Julie Anne Peters
Keeping You A Secret by Julie Anne Peters
Rage by Julie Anne Peters <- Incredibly good, and deals not only with lesbian teen characters, but an abusive one.
She Loves You, She Loves You Not by Julie Anne Peters
Luna by Julie Anne Peters
Grl2Grl by Julie Anne Peters
The Will of the Empress by Tamora Pierce
Scars by Cheryl Rainfield
Empress of the World by Sarah Ryan
The Rules for Hearts by Sarah Ryan
Inferno by Robin Stevenson
The Sweep Series by Cate Tiernan
Please Don’t Kill The Freshmen by Zoe Trope
Pink by Lili Wilkson
Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger
Love & Lies by Ellen Wittlinger

GAY CHARACTERS AND PAIRINGS
Vintage: A Ghost Story by Steve Berman
Baby Be-Bop by Francesca Lia Block
The Value of X by Poppy Z. Brite
The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd
Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You by Peter Cameron
How Beautiful the Ordinary edited by Michael Cart
Dance on My Grave by Aidan Chambers
With or Without You by Brian Farrey
The Screwed-up Life of Charlie the Second by Drew Ferguson
My Heartbeat by Garrett Freymanm-Weyr
The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold
Jumping off the Planet by David Gerrold
Bouncing off the Moon by David Gerrold
Leaping to the Stars by David Gerrold
Two Parties, One Tux, and A Very Short Film About the Grapes of Wrath by Steven Goldman
Mariposa Club by Rigoberto Gonzalez
Last Exit to Normal by Michael B. Harmon
Geography Club my Brent Hartinger <- This is part of the “Russel Middlebrook” series (as is the title below this listing) which centers around Russel and his friends in high school. This series is awesome to me, especially, because it features one of YA fiction’s few openly bisexual female characters.
The Order of the Poison Oak by Brent Hartinger
Jack by A.M. Homes
Tricks by Ellen Hopkins
Totally Joe by James Howe
Freaks and Revelations by Davida Wills Hurwin
Freak Show by James St. James <- OMG, I don’t think I’ve ever read a more fabulous character in all of literature than Billy Bloom.
Another Kind of Cowboy by Susan Juby
Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher
My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, and Fenway Park by Steve Kluger
Out of the Pocket by Bill Konigsberg
The Last Herald Mage trilogy by Mercedes Lackey
Absolutely Positively Not by David LaRochelle
Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Leviathan
Boy Meets Boy by David Leviathan
Wide Awake by David Leviathan
Love is the Higher Law by David Leviathan
Absolute Brightness by James Lecesne
Dramarama by E. Lockhart
The Year of Ice by Brian Malloy
Twelve Long Months by Brian Malloy
The Wicked Lovely Series by Melissa Marr
The Straight Road to Kylie by Nico Medina
Hero by Perry Moore
Sunblood by Maria Mora
Shine by Lauren Myracle
Exiled to Iowa. Send Help. And Couture. by Chris O’Guinn
Sprout by Dale Peck
Blood Hound by Tamora Pierce
Do You Know That I Love You by Mark A. Roeder
Obscura Burning by Suzanne van Rooyen
In Mike We Trust by P.E. Ryan
Saints of Augustine by P. E. Ryan
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Saenz
The Rainbow Boys Trilogy by Alex Sanchez <- ADORED this trilogy.
So Hard To Say by Alex Sanchez
Swimming in the Monsoon Sea by Shyam Selvadurai
A Really Nice Prom Mess by Brian Sloan
Stick by Andrew Smith
Big Guy by Robin H. Stevenson
The Blue Lawn by William Taylor
Please Don’t Kill THe Freshmen by Zoe Trope
Peter by Kate Walker
Dishes by Rich Wallace
My Heartbeat by Garret Freymann-Weyr
A vigil for Joe Rose by Michael Whatling
Bad Boys by Diana J. Wieler
Teenage Rewrite by Brandon Williams
What They Always Tell Us by Martin Wilson
Hushed by Kelly York

TRANS, POLY AND QUEER PAIRINGS AND CHARACTERS
I Am J by Chris Beam
Speaking Out – Anthology edited by Steve Berman
Mariposa Club by Rigoberto Gonzalez
Jumpstart the World by Catherine Ryan Hyde
F2M: The Boy Within by Hazel Edwards and Ryan Kennedy
Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher <- It was good. But I also remember it not being as good, to me, as Luna or Parrotfish (see below).
Radiant Shadows by Melissa Marr
The End by Nora Olsen
Luna by Julie Anne Peters <- I love Julie Ann Peters. She’s my hero in the LGBTQ YA scene. I would love to meet her one day. Also, this book rocks my socks and I recommend it to anyone, whether you’re dealing with trans issues in your life or family or friends or not.
Blood Hound by Tamora Pierce
Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger <- AWESOME. One of my fav trans fiction books.

“I’ve been here sleeping all these years.”

It’s been a dark week.

My brain and body had very few spoons to start with and the slightest little thing seemed to tap them all at once.  I was besieged by unrelenting nightmares, surprised by physical and emotional pain (much of which shouldn’t’ve been surprising), and bombarded with a near constant urge for chocolate to soothe my nerves, however temporarily.

Slowly, I feel it lifting.  Suggestions from friends (force yourself to work on, and therefore through, it) and family (the less politically correct version: suck it up) helped slightly but not as much as I hoped.  One of the most helpful things was actually when a friend resurrected her round robin style of getting a group of her friends to say three things they’re thankful or glad for every single day. Constantly reminding myself of the good, and having other people do the same, reminded me how many blessings are in my life, if only I remember them.

It’s not perfect.  I still feel off, and things take far too many spoons away from me.  But I’m getting somewhere.  I’m getting some of it out in writing, some through reading, and some in just exploring the dark, painful parts and letting them hurt.

Also, music has been a comfort.  Tylan’s song “Wild Awake” sums up the last 14 years of my life, right up to now, fairly well.  The title of this post is a Melissa Etheridge song called “Into the Dark”, which is where I’ve been.  Others that have popped up are “The Morning of the Rain” and “Let There Be Lonely” by Jonathan Jackson, “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserablès, “Thank God for My Friends” by Crystal Bowersox, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” by Celtic Woman and sometimes Elvis, and “Hold On” from The Secret Garden.

So, yeah.  Holdin’ on.  I guess that’s something, right?

“The legacy stops here.”

Turn-on-the-light-Dumbledore

“Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times if one only remembers to turn on the light.”
-Albus Dumbledore

A few years back, I saw this on a bumper sticker:

“Barn’s burnt down; now I can see the moon.”
– by Japanese poet, Mizuta Masahide.

It became embedded in me, a reminder of the mentality and attitude to have when things go bad.  Because they will. Go bad. But they will also go good. One of my favorite folk singers, Susan Piper, wrote a song called “Wait Till Tomorrow Comes” (from before she eschewed all her albums made before she was Born Again). The chorus goes:

When the sun comes out it feels just like we’ve never known the rain.
And when the rain beats down it feels just like we’ll never laugh again.
But we always laugh again.
Wait till tomorrow comes.”

Life is an epic roller coaster; up, down, twist, turn.  You don’t know whether to scream for joy or fear, and many times, it’s both.  Sometimes you feel like you’re going to throw up, but damn…the rush is amazing.  Granted, I’ve only ever been on one roller coaster in my life.  But it was enough to inform me of that I’m making a right proper analogy.

And so.

I move forward.  To what, I’m not sure yet.  I should probably pick up that book (The Art of Uncertainty: How to Live in the Mystery of Life and Love It by Dennis Merritt Jones)  my uncle recommended soon.  Problem is, I’m in the middle of about seven books right now.

And writing.  Applying to freelance gigs of all stripes.  Figuring things out little by little and trying like hell to trust in the process and not panic because everything’s not The Way It Should Be.  Because really, what the hell “should” it be?  When I was little, I wanted stable parents.  Kids should have that, right? Well, yes.  Doesn’t mean it always happens.  Didn’t with me.  But there were positive things.  And I learned many lessons from the not-so-positive (and sometimes downright terrifying) things I wen through.  Another book I have to get through regarding that is one my minister recommended called Legacy of the Heart: The Spiritual Advantage of a Painful Childhood by Wayne Muller.

When I got older, even though I lived in the North, there was a certain push to be religious.  Or at least say you were.  Figuring out where I fall in the spirituality continuum is an ongoing process.  One of my favorite books on this subject (this is turning much more book-centric than I originally intended…case in point of thing not going the way they “should”) is called Laws of Spirit: A Tale of Transformation by Dan Millman.  I first had to read Millman’s Way of the Peaceful Warrior for a college acting class and was turned onto his work from there.  In fact, going back now to refresh my memory of Way of the Peaceful Warrior, the Amazon.com review hits it pretty much on the head (bold emphasis is mine):

During his junior year at the University of California, Dan Millman first stumbled upon his mentor (nicknamed Socrates) at an all-night gas station. At the time, Millman hoped to become a world-champion gymnast. “To survive the lessons ahead, you’re going to need far more energy than ever before,” Socrates warned him that night. “You must cleanse your body of tension, free your mind of stagnant knowledge, and open your heart to the energy of true emotion.” From there, the unpredictable Socrates proceeded to teach Millman the “way of the peaceful warrior.” At first Socrates shattered every preconceived notion that Millman had about academics, athletics, and achievement. But eventually Millman stopped resisting the lessons, and began to try on a whole new ideology–one that valued being conscious over being smart, and strength in spirit over strength in body. Although the character of the cigarette-smoking Socrates seems like a fictional, modern-day Merlin, Millman asserts that he is based on an actual person. Certain male readers especially appreciate the coming-of-age theme, the haunting love story with the elusive woman Joy, and the challenging of Western beliefs about masculine power and success. –Gail Hudson

No wonder I love his work so much.  And the book description of Laws of Spirit (from Amazon.com, again):

The Laws of Spirit opens with the story of Dan Millman’s encounter with a sage in the wooded hills near his home. Through stories, tests, and experiences in the wild, the sage challenges Millman to examine 12 core principles that underlie human existence: balance, choice, process, presence, compassion, faith, expectation, integrity, action, cycles, surrender, and unity. The book shows how these keys — at the heart of every religion, culture, and moral system — can lead to a deeper sense of meaning, connection, and harmony with the world. It also shows readers how these principles can transform relationships, careers, finance, and health. Quotations and reminders from across the centuries inform and inspire readers as they accompany Millman on his journey.

This one book has been like a personal spiritual bible for at least the last 15 years or so.  It’s a simple story, but incredibly complex in it’s message.  And so I pick my way forward on a spiritual path that draws from Paganism, Christianity, Discordianism, Buddhism, and others.  It’s not rigidly outlined, and it’s constantly tested, but it fits me better than any one religion ever has.  Luckily, I found a place of worship that accepts this Frankenspirituality in a local Unitarian Universalist church.

Then there are the romantic relationships and all that I thought would, could, should happen.  Currently, I’m in the process of stripping down and examining everything I thought I wanted, needed, believed, held dear about relationships.  I’m also looking really closely at my boundaries, desires, and abilities.  There are no easy answers.  Likewise, there are no “correct” answers.  Everyone has different settings, things they want in a partner, ways they deal with difficulties, goals to achieve together, etc.  That poly triad wants children while that monogamous couple does not.  Mazel tov for both sets.  Neither is wrong.  As Melissa Etheridge sings (and as was once a sign I painted in a big ol’ octagon on my bedroom door):

Mothers, tell your children.  Be quick; you must be strong.
Life if full of wonder; love is never wrong.
Remember how they taught you.  How much of it was fear.
Refuse to hand it down.  The legacy stops here.

Now, onward to find that light switch…

A book the whole damn world needs to read.

Cross-posted from my Cannonball Read V review:
Wonder-RJ-PalacioThough it’s a New York Times Bestseller, I first caught word of this brilliant gem of a YA book on Amanda Palmer’s blog. She says:

i’m reading an incredible book.
this one is a “just trust me. read it.”
it’s a quick one (technically a young adult book – total page-turner).
it’s connecting a lot of dots for me.

(Side Note: The “connecting a lot of dots” part, while it stands on it’s own as a phrase, obviously, is also in reference to her talk at Grub Street’s 2013 “The Muse and the Marketplace” literary conference in Boston. The link has the transcript of her talk and the video, which is fascinating to me as a writer, a reader, and a human.)

So, with a “just trust me. read it” recommendation from one of my favorite musicians/writers, I hit up my library and a few days later Wonder by R.J. Palacio was in my hands. One page in, I was hooked.

Wonder is primarily about August Pullman. By his own description, he is “not an ordinary ten-year-old kid.” He says that he does ordinary stuff, sure. Eating ice cream. Riding his bike. Playing XBox. However, he knows he’s not ordinary because “ordinary kids don’t make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds.”

See, Auggie was born with many medical conditions that affected his face such as a cleft palate and a “previously unknown type of “mandibulofacial dysostosis” In his own words, he declines to describe what he looks like. “Whatever you’re thinking,” he tells us, “it’s probably worse.” Up until the start of the book, he had been home-schooled by his mom but when we come in, his parents are considering sending him to a prep school near where they live in NYC. Understandably, Auggie is scared. Hell, his mom, dad, and older sister, Via are kind of scared, too. How will other kids treat him? While he needs to grow, socialize, learn more than his mom (who isn’t a teacher) can teach him, they also need to consider the fact that people, especially children, can sometimes be cruel. Is it worth it the growth and experiences he might have to send him out, “like a lamb to slaughter” as his father fears.

They’re not unfounded, these fears. At various points throughout the book, he gets called things like Orc, Gollum, (both from Lord of the Rings), an alien, and freak. Kids devise a game called “the plague” which you will get if you touch August and don’t wash your hands within 30 seconds. But the steps that both Auggie’s parents and the director of the school (Mr. Tushman) take to help Auggie acclimate are heartening and heartwrenching. The quiet courage and kindness of some children in his class are wonderful.

Though narrated in first person, the book shifts voices throughout: first up is Auggie, then his sister (Via), his friend (Summer), his friend (Jack), his sister’s boyfriend (Justin), Auggie, his sister’s friend (Miranda), and finally Auggie, again. The change in perspective flows perfectly and offers surprising insight into things that happen in Auggie’s life and, as Amanda Palmer says, connects a lot of dots.

My favorite parts of the book were when those dots get connected and I feel myself expanding. When I saw something happen from one person’s perspective and how it affected that person, I thought I understood what was going on. But then another character would talk about the same thing and blow the lid off what I thought I knew. This was most true when you see the course of Auggie & Jack’s and Via & Miranda’s friendships. Another fantastic part was how Mr. Tushman responded to a particularly ignorant, insensitive parent with what I think amounts to a dignified bitch-slap if ever I read one. The English teacher (Mr. Browne) and his monthly precepts? Awesome. And I’m not ashamed to say the last few chapters made me weep.

This is seriously one of those books that I think everybody in the entire damn world should read. It would help us be kinder to each other, grow up a bit, get out of our own comfort zones and connect the dots to see just how similar, even in our differences, we are. Also? Any book that can manage to bring in references to Star Wars, David Bowie, Sappho, Hamlet, Magnetic Fields, Our Town, Doogie Howser, and The Polyphonic Spree is just fine by me.