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Book Review: What We Left Behind by Robin Talley


Title: What We Left Behind

Author: Robin Talley

Published: Harelequin Teen, 2015, 405 pages

Recommended if you like: Books with Diverse Characters, Books set in college, Character driven stories, LGBTQIA+, Gender Identity exploration

Read-a-Like: I am J, Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Not Otherwise Specified

Rating: 5 out of 5 Top Hat Pendents

First Line: Even before I saw her, it was the best night of my life.

*Toni switches pronouns a lot in this book, so for simplicity I’m going to stick with they/them for Toni in this review.

I haven’t had a chance to read Lies We Tell Ourselves yet, but I’ve heard only awesome things about it, so I was pumped to read Talley’s new book. In it we have Toni and Gretchen who are their high school’s ultimate OTP. Basically you had me at adorable lesbian couple, but it just got better from there. The two go to different colleges and… predictably… their relationship gets rocky. Toni identifies on the trans spectrum and while Toni talks about pronouns and labels and spectrums and binaries to their new friends, Toni doesn’t talk about it with Gretchen. Which leaves Gretchen feeling left out, and confused and scared to say anything lest she says the wrong thing.

Most of all I’m glad we get both Gretchen and Toni’s POV. In Toni’s head we see them grappling with their identity. What pronouns to use. Does Toni feel genderqueer, non-binary, gender non-conforming, trans, male? WHAT DOES TONI FEEL? Toni doesn’t know and while they work it out we see how complicated that process can be. Every other YA book (or non YA book for that matter) I’ve read on the Trans spectrum has been a person very confident in their identity going through the process of transitioning, so it is super fucking fantastic to see someone who doesn’t feel like any of the labels work. I also love that Toni has a crew of queer friends because that’s both highly possible and a genuine reality for many, especially once you get to college. I mean, I hang out with like two straight people, maybe three. We so rarely get to see that in YA books and it made me very happy.

I also loved Gretchen’s point of view. She feels guilty for being the one to change their original plan to go to college in the same city, but her whole life has revolved around Toni since they met. Gretchen wants to see what it means to be Gretchen, and not half of Gretchen-Toni like she’s been for two years. Toni has been a bright spotlight that sort of drowned Gretchen out. Of course Toni shouldn’t change at all, but it’s okay for Gretchen to want to be her own person.

And I love seeing how hard it is for Gretchen when Toni is changing labels three times a week and doesn’t tell Gretchen about it. Every time they talk, Gretchen feels like she doesn’t know what to say anymore because she’s ten steps behind on the processing journey. It’s hard for her too. It’s hard in a different way than Toni, but it’s still hard. Meanwhile Gretchen has a harder time making a big group of friends and ends up hanging out mostly with her Gay Boy Carroll and roommate Sam.

I wasn’t a huge fan of Carroll as a person, but I really enjoyed his inclusion as a character. He’s not particularly sensitive to the whole trans thing, which doesn’t help Gretchen wrap her head around it either. His reaction to everything is a bit selfish and extreme, and while I want Gretchen to go get some other friends, I knew Carroll in college. Hell, I know him now. I love that we have gotten to a point where we can include a queer character who is kind of an ass hole without sending the message that every queer person is also an ass hole.

This book does so many things and it does them so well. It’s a completely authentic portrayal of a high school romance falling apart, not because anyone did anything wrong, but just because in college you become different people, and that’s okay. It shows areas of the queer/gender identity spectrum we haven’t seen in YA before in a way that feels real and immediate and relatable. It shows both the person struggling with identity, and the person that struggle most affects, presenting both their experiences and not making any judgements.

But most of all, it feels real. It feels like I knew these people in college, and maybe that I was some of these people in college. It lets them be who and where they are so clearly I completely believe I’ll meet them one day at a bar.


Basic, Bitches

BASIC adjective ba·sic \ˈbā-sik also -zik\

Forming or relating to the most important part of something

So, can we eliminate the term “basic bitch” as an insult? Please.

First of all, lets look at the definition of the word. “Forming or relating to the most important part of something.”

So that’s, like, a good thing. It’s the most important part.

The More You Know

Like the basics of a wardrobe. This will differ depending on your gender expression and professional situation but for me, my basics are jeans, nerdy t-shirts, solid colored tops, dress pants in neutral colors, cardigans in all the colors and converse hi tops. They are my basics. I mix and match them in different combinations and I add fancy things to fancy them up, but these are my go to. My basics. Without them I would look a mess literally all the time. Not Figuratively. Literally.

Or the basics of reading – decoding letters, then words, then sentences, then paragraphs. Without learning the basics you couldn’t read this blog post.

Or the basics of math – addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. It’s how you know how much paint to buy and if that couch will fit in your new apartment.

Taking a perfectly awesome word like “basic” that means an awesome thing and turning it into yet another sexist way to reinforce the patriarchy? That’s just rude. Why would you do that to a perfectly good word?

So Rude.

So Rude.

And of course now we get to the real issue. The part about how once again the male population (and the female population because we can’t seem to stop sabotaging each other) literally MAKE UP reasons to hate on women for liking things. Things like wearing leggings and sweaters. Or liking Pumpkin Spice Lattes. Or listening to Taylor Swift. Or using pinterest. Or liking boxed wine. Or going to fucking brunch!!!

Let’s examine a few of these individually, shall we?

First. Leggings and sweaters and ugg boots and fall clothes. Dude. There is nothing wrong with liking comfortable clothes. Dudes should know this since 99.99% of what they wear on a regular basis is made to be comfortable. Their underclothes don’t leave red welts on their shoulders and around their chest. Their blazers don’t constrict blood flow when they raise their arms. They don’t squeeze themselves into non-breathable spandex to smooth out every lump because the dude world thinks we should all wear a size 2 but still eat like one of the guys.* Dude clothes are fucking comfortable.

I sometimes sit at a cafe or a bar and watch hundreds of straight couples walk by and the girls are all in little mini dresses and big high heels with hair and makeup that looks fucking gorgeous, and the dudes show up in cargo shorts, a polo and flip flops and maybe they’ve run their fingers through their hair. And then they go on the internet and complain that women don’t actually literally wake up that way! And when we do go out looking closer to how we do when we actually wake up, you call us fucking basic.


And you know what – if dudes don’t like what I look like in leggings and a long sweater they can kneel down and lick my vagina because I’m not here for them and I don’t care what they think. The “I don’t dress for you” is just as true in my casual wear as it is in my bar attire so you can fuck right off. Not to mention that women’s fashion is basically a giant conspiracy to make us uncomfortable and vulnerable in the first fucking place. There’s no winning. If I pour myself into skinny jeans and a crop top I’m slutty. If I wear looser pants and a t-shirt I’m a frumpy and unfashionable prude. If I wear leggings and a sweater I’m a basic bitch. In this sort of game, the only winning move is not to play. So I’ll wear my fucking leggings and sweater and you can fuck right off, sir.

fuck you face

Also, seriously,  brunch. Who doesn’t like brunch? Seriously? Tell me who doesn’t like super cheap booze consumed with friends and yummy foods on a day when you don’t have to work. What in the living fuck is wrong with that? Nothing. It’s basic in that it’s important and necessary for my making it through the week without killing you you condescending ass pirate.

Or walking home hungover the morning after partying. Because dudes are never hungover. And this is another no win scenario because if you party you’re a drunk slut and if you don’t you’re a lame anti-social prude. So fuck you. I own my hangover. Hangovers are the price you pay for being fucking alive.

And you know what else? I like pumpkin spice lattes. I also like Shamrock Shakes and Christmas cookies. They only come around once a year and when they do I want them in my mouth! What about the bros who go out for green beer on St. Patrick’s Day? Or LITERALLY ANY TRADITIONAL HOLIDAY FOOD! You like summer because you can barbeque? You basic bro. Like, what the fuck!? See also: Why do you care? WHY DO YOU EVEN CARE!??!! No wait, scratch that. I don’t care. I don’t even care why you care.

i don't care

Basic has become just another one of those “negative” words that is only used to insult women. Because to be a woman in this society is to be lesser than, so therefore everything a woman likes, or that a group of women like must be lesser than. Must be somehow worse and more useless than things that men like. Because obsessing over a group of men in spandex who throw a ball around is SO MUCH LESS MOCKABLE than how a woman wears her fucking eyeliner. Because watching a movie about two people who speak words to each other about an emotion that literally keeps the world populated has so much less existential value than watching dudes blow shit up in an attempt to depopulate the world. Seriously. Bros want to tear the fucking world down and basic bitches want to build it the fuck up.

Are women supposed to just not like things? Not get excited about things? Not have our own opinions and preferences?


internally screaming

They really would.

But the closest they can get is to put down literally everything that they don’t like, until it becomes so basic of an insult we don’t even notice how fucking ridiculous it is.

So seriously, can we just stop using basic as an insult to put down perfectly normal things that it is perfectly fine to enjoy and see it for the weapon of the patriarchy that it is?

scully knows

*Note: I give literally no fucks what any dude thinks of me in any capacity, but I speak on behalf of those who do enjoy conversing, relating and/or having sex with men.

Don’t Judge a Teen by their… Cover

Today one of my regular teens was waiting for me to open the teen space – like he usually is. And when I did he bounded in and said

I’mma get a family this week and I won’t be in the shelter anymore!

And after I blinked a few times I said

That’s great! I’m excited for you! [pause] I didn’t know you were in a shelter, I’m sorry you’ve been going through that.

He shrugged and when I asked him how long he’d been there he said

Counting today 115 days. But this week I get to leave. And they live even closer to here than the shelter!

I had no inkling that this kid was living in a shelter. He was a bit moody and could be difficult, but not that much more than any other 16 year old boy. When I asked why he wasn’t living with his folks, his answer was

They didn’t want me back.

Don't worry, that's just the sound of my heart breaking into a million pieces.

Don’t worry, that’s just the sound of my heart breaking into a million pieces.

At this point I stopped asking questions because he didn’t seem like he wanted to talk about it, instead he wanted to be excited about living in a house with a family. All he knows about them is that the dad is a cop. He doesn’t know where he’ll be going to school in a few weeks or how long he’ll be with this family.

And we wonder why these kids act out.

But I am just incredibly grateful and honored to be part of a place that provides a safe haven for him. A place where he can come and play video games and just be a teen without the stress he is going through.

And it reminds me that you never know what’s going on with teens, or kids or adults for that matter. You never know who might be struggling with homelessness, or addiction or any number of other things.


rainbow books

Tales from the Teen Space: Happiest Lezbrarian Ever


[scene: library teen space]

(a teen girl looks cautiously around, browsing the books and keeping to herself. Then she spots something on the wall, smiles and walks over to the teen librarian)

Teen Girl: I LOVE your safe space sign!
Me: Thanks!! I’m glad.
Teen Girl: Can you help me find some good books with queer characters?
Me: Oh gurl can I ever!

(they walk through the stacks while librarian fills her arms with books chatting about her favorites)

TG: This is great! I just came out, so I feel like I need to do research. *smiles sheepishly*
Me: I completely understand that instinct.
TG: You’re queer too?
Me: Yup. I identify as lesbian.
TG: I identify as bisexual. [pause] *hugs librarian* Thanks!

(teen girl scampers off to read, smiling)

[end scene]



Asking and Giving

Rarely do I claim that books actually change my life.

Books frequently entertain me and make me think things; make me feel things. But when you read as much as I do, it takes a lot for a book to have a marked and lasting effect on me. Rarely do I say that a book fundamentally changed something about how I interact with the world.

However, “The Art of Asking” by Amanda Palmer, did just that.

art of asking

In her book, Amanda Palmer talks about being a street performer, standing as a statue and silently asking people to participate in her craft. When they responded, she gave them a flower and a moment of connection in return.

She talks about being a musician and crowdfunding an album, about showing up in a city for a show and simply asking Twitter for a place for her band to crash. And how people responded, opening their home, sharing their food, providing a bathroom and a bed.

Since I read this book several months ago, I’ve started reading her blog and following her on twitter and I’ve seen this exchange happen over and over again. She asks and people respond. She asks whoever took her ukelele to give it back, and they do. She asks someone to provide a venue for an impromptu concert, and they do.

She asks for support while her best friend lies dying, and the internet responds with words of love.

When we ask for things, she repeatedly says, we usually get what we need.

Now, I come from Scandinavian stock, a people who keep all our thoughts, good and bad, to ourselves, who don’t share any of our emotions or admit weakness.

Add to this mix my perfectionist and overachiever nature.

It’s probably not a shock that I’ve never been good at asking for help.

like ever


A thing happened.

Last Thursday I had a Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day

I had a series of bad meetings in the morning, followed by a confrontation with a coworker that ended in me being super upset in my boss’s office (and by that I mean I was hyperventilating I was crying so hard– it was super professional. *facepalm*), and THEN I got all kinds of insulted by an adult patron and all I could do was sit there and take it, shocked that he managed to put down every separate aspect of who I am in a single breath.

And while I realize that in the grand scheme of things there are way worse things that could happen, do happen, have happened and sometimes happened to me, it doesn’t change the fact that I had a ruhl shitty day.

And while normally, my response to this would be to wallow in my own misery and sit at home emotionally eating and thinking thoughts like “everyone hates me,” and  “I’m terrible at my job,” I decided to do something else. Something radical – at least for me.

I decided to ask for help.

And the people in my life responded.

I posted on my facebook “Y’all would not believe the day I’m having. Please send cat gifs and/or funny videos.”

Within moments, a series of pictures, gifs, and videos appeared in the comments that genuinely made me laugh, along with multiple messages full of affirming and supportive words and offers to lend a shoulder.

Including this gem. I mean COME ON!!

Including this gem. I mean COME ON!!

I asked a friend if I could come by his house after work and not only did he say “of course,” but also when I showed up he had pizza, chips and ranch, my favorite beer and cookie dough. We sat and ate all my favorite comfort foods while I ranted and yelled and cried and got all my frustrations out.

And then the next day I evaluated my work plans and concluded there was very little that absolutely had to be done before Monday, all of which I could do from home in my pajamas while watching Buffy. So I took a sick day (which I have the great fortune of being able to do) and texted a friend/fellow YA librarian “Playing hookey, wanna day drink?” The response. “Of course!”

So we went to brunch and had too many mimosas to count while we talked about our jobs, both the good and the bad. She helped me remember all the things I do genuinely love about my job, and we talked about the future which isn’t as scary as it was a few years ago. And then we went to Lush where they pampered us and made me feel pretty and happy and also where I bought this soap that is rad as shit.

yes that is sparkly gay soap that smells like citrus

yes that is sparkly gay soap that smells like citrus

I asked for help, and people gave it. And afterwards I felt not only better, but rejuvenated, refueled and ready to get back on the horse of the profession I love.

It was astounding in its simplicity.

And then on Sunday, I got a text from a friend – a friend from back home in Iowa where, as Dar Williams sings,

“we never mean to bother, we don’t like to make our passions other people’s concerns”

-saying that there was something wrong with her eye and she needed to go to the ER, but was scared of riding alone in a cab when she could barely see anything (totes legit). Could I help her out?

Of course!

We live in a world where it is so easy to ignore a text, or decline a call, neither of which is necessarily or always a bad thing. But this weekend I found myself believing just a little bit in karma, because within a few days I had the good fortune to receive, and also the privilege to give.

My introverted nature combined with all the other things make me particularly reticent to ask when I need help, but I think also in general we live in a culture that discourages us from doing it. We are constantly talking to people on social media, yet when we really need support we often find ourselves feeling isolated. The very act of asking is sometimes too much. I have been there too.

And maybe this is what I love most about libraries — we are a place where people come and ask. They ask where to find things, how to do things, and we show them. They ask for stories, or instructions or access to technology and we give it to them. We never judge, you can ask us anything. You come to a library to ask. I work at a library to give.

If we could all just ask without fear, and give without hesitation, what an amazing world that could be.


In Which I Give a Teen Some Dating Advice

So I have a teen, let’s call him R, who is a regular in the space. He’s a smart kid, and sensitive and adorable.

Today he came to me asking why everything was so hard. Life in general, but especially dating.

Because, let’s not sugar coat things, dating is hard. It really is. Especially when you’re a teenager. And this is where I try to balance my roles as Pep-Talk-Giver and Dose-of Reality-giver. And in this, like most things, I think WWDD?

What Would Dumbledore Do?

dumbledore quote

Dumbledore’s so smart, y’all.

So we talked about how dating is hard, but it gets easier as you get older because you learn more about who you are and what you want out of life and what you want in a romantic partner (which is mostly true and also I just didn’t want to crush the kid’s soul) but that you really don’t want to find your soulmate at 17, because you have a lot of living to do before you settle down and you should enjoy those years.

And also if you find your soulmate at 17 then you don’t have all those stories to tell at parties about ridiculous first dates and crazy exes and wierd roommates who were cleptomaniac-compulsive-lying-alcoholics. And those stories are what make me fun at parties, so without them life would be way more boring.

And then I mentioned that if I actually had married the first girl that I thought I was going to marry I would be living a very different and unhappy life right now and his jaw dropped open.

R: What?

Me: What, what?

R: Did you say girl?

Me: Yup. I’m gay.

R: …..

Me: I’m also short, irish, a librarian –

R: I’m just surprised. You don’t look like a lesbian.

Me: Well, what does a lesbian look like?

R: *thinks* Well, I want to say short hair, and pants, and.. but that’s really stereotypical isn’t it?

Me: *waiting face*

R: and also, you have short hair, and you wear jeans, and oh hey, you wear shirts with ties, and that’s kind of… but then,  sometimes you wear dresses too….

Me: *waiting face*

R: So I guess there is no one thing a lesbian looks like.

Me: Exactly. Just like every other thing.

R: Huh. Yeah. ….*processes* … So you’re glad you didn’t marry your first girlfriend?

Me: So glad, dude. So. So glad.

::end scene:::


Sexism, Anger, and Andrew Smith

So the internet blew up again because Andrew Smith said this:

On the flip side, it sometimes seems like there isn’t much of a way into your books for female readers. Where are all the women in your work?
I was raised in a family with four boys, and I absolutely did not know anything about girls at all. I have a daughter now; she’s 17. When she was born, that was the first girl I ever had in my life. I consider myself completely ignorant to all things woman and female. I’m trying to be better though.

I have a lot of feelings about this.

The first is that I’m not all that surprised by his comment.

I’ll be honest about saying that the only book I’ve read of his is the recent Grasshopper Jungle. And I probably won’t read any more of his books because I fucking hated it.

To be fair there were many elements of the book that I liked, or at least respected. From a literary perspective, it was well written and much of my ambivalence was purely personal. I absolutely did not need to read that much detailed description of giant insect sex, see the word “semen” printed that many times, or read that the main character was “horny” every single paragraph. And that’s okay. As a lesbian who hates bugs, that’s not really my cup of tea. So whatever. I could still have acknowledged it as an excellent book.


Except for the treatment of women in the book.

The adult women are weak, one dimensional characters who are so blitzed out on Xanax they can barely function. They have no apparent role in the story, and seem to serve no purpose in the world Smith has built.

Austin’s girlfriend, Shan, is also lacking any definite personality. She serves only as the “other” choice to set up the triangle between Austin, Robby and Shan, to create conflict for Austin. Shan finding out that Austin kissed Robby could have been a brilliant opportunity to explore the complex feelings one has when one finds out one’s boyfriend is attracted to boys. I have experienced those feelings and they are many. But rather than acknowledging the fact that this would have an emotional impact on Shan, and also that Austin kissed someone else of any gender, Smith chose to make Shan’s reaction as horrible as possible.

At the end (SPOILERS) Shan is basically denied a choice about giving birth to the child Austin fathered. The child lives with Austin, who also gets to go out with Robby on adventures. It is the very definition of having your cake and eating it too. And we see that Shan’s real purpose in the story was to bring the next generation of life into being.

Gross. Sexist. Totally uncool.

When I brought up these points with a male teen librarian, his comment was,

Teenage boys don’t need more books sending them the message that they can do whatever they want with no consequences. That is the opposite of what they need. Everything on earth is telling them that. What they need are books sending the message that when they treat people of any gender badly there are consequences. And they deserve those consequences. Because they aren’t entitled to shit.

This is why, with my problems with Grasshopper Jungle summed up so nicely by my co-worker, I am not remotely surprised that Smith thought that saying women are these utterly different, utterly unknowable creatures was acceptable, and that his words would have no impact.

Now, do I think that bullying him to the point he deletes his twitter account is okay? No. I don’t. Because he is a person and we all say stupid things and yelling at him about it won’t solve anything. But I find it interesting that authors who quickly call out Jonathan Franzen for his ignorant and sexist comments are coming to Smith’s defense.

Because when we are friends with people we want to believe the best in them and we make excuses for them. I’m sure Andrew Smith is a nice person. I don’t think he should be treated this way online. But what he said was deeply problematic, and no matter how nice he is, no matter what he “meant” or how much he’s “trying,” it doesn’t change the fact that his comments reflect a society that continues to view boys’ stories as universal and girls’ stories as niche. It reflects a world where it is possible for a man to grow to adulthood, work professional and have a family while still remaining “ignorant to all things woman and female.

And while we don’t need to yell at him, we do need to talk about this.

We need to talk about how girls have NEVER had the option of viewing boys as a alien, unknowable creatures.

We need to talk about how we find it acceptable for girls to read about boys masturbating but not the other way around. How it’s okay to have literally buckets of semen in a book, but not expect boys to read about menstruation.

We need to talk about the pervasive presence of female characters who are one-dimensional and serve only superficial functions to the plot, and how that presentation of gender is problematic to how all genders view themselves and each other.

We need to talk. Not yell. But also acknowledge that women are regularly trolled for simply daring to speak at all. Women are attacked online and forced into silence for fear of their lives. Not that that makes it okay to attack a man, but just that we still live in a world where women know every word they speak will carry consequences, and that men are so often surprised when they words they speak do the same.

And beyond all this talking, I want to see action. I want to see Smith actively work to improve his writing of women and girls. Don’t just say “I’m trying” take steps to changing things. When people truly want to do something, or learn something, or change something THEY FUCKING DO IT!!! If you want to write better female characters then you talk to women and you read about women and you talk to people who write women well and you learn how to write better female characters. You. Just. Do. And if you don’t do those things then you clearly don’t want to do it enough to change. And I have a problem with that.

I am angry about Smith’s words. And I’m angry that the world tells me that I’m overreacting by being angry when this is ANOTHER example of sexism that piles on top of all the other examples of sexism that I’ve come across in the past 24 hours alone.

I don’t think he’s a terrible person. But I have a right to be angry. I have a right to demand better from authors. I have a right to demand more from people. Especially people of such privilege.


Ring Out Wild Bells

That’s right, it’s time for a nostalgic end-of-the-year post. You know you love it.

Looking Back

2014 – It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

I’ve never actually read A Tale of Two Cities. Mostly because I find Dickens boring as fuck and I never had it assigned to me in high school. However, this super famous opening line pretty much sums up this year for me.

I started this year in one of the darkest places I’ve ever been in my life – and I’ve been through some shit, ya’ll. In general, the last 10 years have been pretty shitty. Partly because everyone’s 20s totally blow. Partly because I was figuring out who I was – coming out of the closet, working out what I wanted to do with my life and then trying to start to be a person. And partly because sometimes the world shits on your head and calls it a hat.

At the start of 2014 I was working a very part time job as a library associate in a small library in the suburbs of Chicago.  My lame ass job was not enough to live on and pay my insanely enormous student loans, so I was also waiting tables at the local Olive Garden. And I had another job doing data entry because it had flexible hours.

I had – count them – not one, but TWO masters degrees and the most common question I was asked from January to May was, “Can we get some more breadsticks?”


I was constantly anxious. Anxious that I would get strep throat because I had no insurance, or god forbid break an ankle or something. Anxious that my car would break down since I had no money for repairs. Anxious that I had made the worst decision in my entire life when I left teaching even though it literally made me suicidal. Anxious that I would never ever get a full time job and would default on all my loans and would have to go back and live with my parents for the rest of my life like the giant loser I was convinced I was.

But I did the only thing I could do. I kept applying. I got better at applying. I got better at interviewing. But mostly I just had to wait until things lined up.

In April of this year, I had 7 interviews in the span of 2 weeks.

I was offered every position except one.

And in June I started my current position as a YOUmedia Teen Librarian at Chicago Public Library.

It’s literally the dream job. The Best of Times.

It’s the job I cited in a practicum presentation about teen programs and teen spaces that were leading the way in the field. The job I molded my library school courses around building my qualifications for.

The second half of this year could not be more different to the beginning. I live in a city I love and have made friends with a group of amazing, smart, wonderful queer women. I have coworkers that inspire me and make me want to hang out with them and talk about books outside the office (aka over beer).  I finally cut a totally toxic person out of my life and couldn’t believe the weight that lifted off my shoulders.  I work with kids who make me laugh and have so much hope and promise that shines through their faces. I care about these kids. I worry what the world will do to them. I can’t change the world, but I can teach them a few skills to take with them. I can tell them they are valued. That their lives matter.

I feel a sense of purpose. And I know, Mr. Feeney, that I’m doing good.


Looking Ahead

I’ve found that being in a good place emotionally has drastically changed my perspective on the holidays. Where I’ve usually been a total Grinchy cynical Scrooge for my adult life, this year I found myself getting all kinds of in the spirit of things. I put up a Christmas tree and everything. So I guess it’s not surprise that as the girl who has always despised New Year Resolutions, I find myself looking to the future all resolution-y.

I still maintain that much of the hype around resolutions is crap, and that resolutions are so often framed in negative language. We resolve to “stop” this or that, to “lose” this or that. I just flat out refuse to cave in to that mindset.

So while I am an utterly fantastic human, there are things I want to do this year that will improve my general awesomeness.

  1. Apply for the ALA Emerging Leaders program. This in conjunction with generally becoming more active in the national ALA, YALSA, & GLBTRT organizations. I want to start putting myself in a position to be on committees, submit reviews to publish in VOYA and School Library Journal. I want to be part of the national conversation about teen services in libraries. (professional goal)
  2. Finish my novel. I completed 50,000 of a first draft for NaNoWriMo this November which is the longest I’ve ever written on a single project. It got me about halfway through the story, and now that I’ve worked out a lot of narrative kinks (I made some major changes to a major character) I’m starting over at the beginning. I want to have a full first draft done by March and a full revision done by October so that I can embark on a new project for next NaNoWriMo. (artistic goal)
  3. Exercise 2x per week. One thing about waiting tables was that I walked like 6 miles every shift. I walk a lot because I live in Chicago, but less so now that it’s cold. And in general I am a happier person when I am more active. I sleep better. I crave more healthy food. I feel better about myself. So I want to exercise more. Which can mean talking a long walk, or going to the fitness center, or doing my yoga video. Twice a week. Totally doable. The goal is to be healthy, not to lose weight or look like a supermodel. Just to be the best version of  me as I can. (health goal)
  4. Cook Healthy Meals 2x per week. Again, with the small goals. I cook a lot now, but it’s more along the lines of spaghetti, or chicken with pasta, or cheese quesadillas.  Carbs are cheap and filling. And delicious. So I need more fruits and vegetables in my life. I bought a steamer insert so I can steam broccoli and asparagus. Cooking complete meals takes planning, and I’m only cooking for one, but my goal is to cook two real, balanced, healthy meals a week. Because my plan is basically to live forever. (health goal)
  5. Pay off Credit Cards. I don’t know if this one will actually happen, but I would love to have all my credit card debt paid off by the end of this year. I’m budgeting like a maniac. And I hate having to say no to fun things, but I’m finally starting to work out this whole adulting thing and I’m trying to keep it up. (adulting goal)
  6. Blog. So I’m still kind of finding what I want this blog to be but I know I want to get back to blogging more than I did this past year. I want to review LGBTQIA+ and other diverse YA books. I want to talk more about my experience as a teen librarian. I imagine that occasionally I’ll rant about things not related to libraries or books, but I want most of the focus to be on those things. (artistic/professional)
  7. Read Diversely. For me this means something slightly different than it probably does for other people. I read a lot of YA lit, and a lot of Queer lit. This is partially because of my job and partially because I like it. So this year I want to try and branch out.  I want to read more adult books, more non-fiction, and more of the classics that I missed in high school. I want to read more books by/about people of color and by/about folks who are differently abled. I also want to read more books by people with whom I disagree. And I already read a lot by women authors, but even more so. (life/professional goal)
  8. Learn my fancy camera. So when I told my dad that part of my new awesome job involved teaching about photography and how I need to learn about that before I teach it, he loaned me his old but still super fancy DSLR camera. So I want to learn how to use it and how to take awesome pictures. (artistic/professional goal)

I feel like I’m in a great place and I want to keep being in that great place. Developing the friendships that I’ve made these past few months. Doing the dating thing (I’m really bad at it). Being generally awesome at my job. I’ve been adulting so hard and I want to just keep adulting harder.  I have a lot of hope for 2015. I have a feeling it is gonna be





It’s Almost NaNoWriMo Time!

My boss ran the Chicago Marathon last week. Apparently she does this every year. I learned about this astounding feat of athleticism a day or two after the race, and told her how awesome I thought it was.

“Oh,” she said,” I run it in like 6 or 7 hours, though. Not very impressive.”

“But you finished!” I said, still amazed to learn this information.  “You ran a marathon! You ran 26 miles. I couldn’t run 26 blocks.”

“Oh, it’s not a big deal,” she said modestly.

But I was still floored. It IS a big deal. It doesn’t matter if she doesn’t make the cut for the Boston Marathon, or the Olympic team. She RUNS A FREAKING MARATHON!!! THAT IS BOTH A BIG DEAL AND IMPRESSIVE!

I’ve always wanted to run a marathon. Not because the act of running that much over that length of time necessarily seems super fun to me, but mostly because the act of completing a marathon seems utterly impossible.  And I like the idea of doing something impossible.


The other thing that has always seems utterly impossible to me is writing a novel.

And because I’m better at words than sprints, I’ve decided to conquer that one first.


I am going to write a novel.

I’m going to write the first draft of this novel in November for National Novel Writing Month. There is something terrifying about saying “I am writing a book.” The few times I have uttered this phrase I feel pretentious, ridiculous, like a total faker. I have a HUGE case of Impostor Syndrome.

I think this comes from my Scandinavian background. My rural (ish) midwestern mentality. Dar Williams said it perfectly when she sang:

 “Back where I come from we never mean to bother, we don’t like to make our passions other people’s concerns.” ~Iowa

And even while I encourage my teens to participate, while I support my friends with their own creative self-expression, there are these vampires in my head that say “you don’t have anything interesting to say,” “what makes you think anyone cares?” and, of course, “who do you think you are?”

The vampires in my head, the perfectionist in me, the ‘Go Big or Go Home’ mentality I have, the part of my brain that says ‘it’s no good playing if you can’t win’ tells me that that unless it makes the best seller list I’m just another loser who claims to have written a book.

However, the rest of my brain knows that the vampires are just telling me that because they’re scared. Scared of failing, and scared of succeeding.  And as Sara Bernicasa recently wrote, when things scare us we should just DO IT ANYWAY.

I agree.


It’s equally as impressive to me that my boss finished the Chicago marathon in 6 hours as it is when people finish it in 3.

It is equally as impressive to finish a manuscript of a novel that is never widely published as one that makes the best seller list.

And the only way to get better at things is to start doing them in the first place.

So I’m writing a book for NaNoWriMo.

A book about friendship. About performing. About failing. About succeeding.

Maybe it will be shit. But I’m going to write it anyway. And after November I’m going to rewrite it and rewrite it until it’s the best I can get it. Because WHY THE HELL NOT?

And maybe in there I’ll start running, a little, too.

I like the idea of being an Impossible Girl.




Why I don’t have internet at home

**I want to preface this by stating that I know the importance of regular access to internet for living in this modernize world. The digital divide is real and is a major problem and if I had a magic wand I would FIX THAT SHIT immediately. I am NOT saying that home internet access is a luxury for EVERYONE. For many, and especially for the working class and poor that can’t get access to the internet other places, home internet access is a NECESSITY. The point I am making is that I discovered that home internet access is not something I need to survive. Me, personally, and not anyone else. But that maybe others in a similar situation to mine don’t need it as much as they think they do.**

Now, don’t get me wrong.

I am a big fan of living in a world where I can google questions like “how big are Monopoly squares” and learn the answer immediately.

I am a big fan of paying minimal amounts of money for access to huge amounts of entertainment.

Oh, and there’s that other thing…

(you know)

But after moving into my new apartment and being in between paychecks and not having the money for all those start up costs and so just going without having high speed internet at home for a while… I discovered

I kind of like not having internet in my apartment.



Here’s the thing.

I spend between 2-6 hours a day sitting at a computer, depending on what day it is, how busy we are and how much non-computery stuff I have to do. And even then I have a lot of flexibility. So I can check Facebook every hour or so.  I can spend a while in the morning reading articles.  I can watch an episode of something over my lunch break.

(I will reiterate that I am aware how fortunate I am that this is the case. When I was waiting tables I had no time to do anything but run shit all over that damn restaurant. I am very lucky now.)

And when I have days off (because again I am fortunate to have days off) I can walk a few blocks to my local public library branch, or to the neighborhood cafe if I’m feeling fancy, and sit and watch OITNB or pay my bills through a handy bill payer thing on my bank website so it takes 3 minutes, or download books on my ereader or WHATEVER while I sip my white chocolate mocha with whipped cream (because, seriously if you’re going to get a drink that is pure calories and caffeine at least COMMIT to it amirite?).

And I have an iPhone (another luxury, I know) and so if I have the IRRESISTIBLE URGE at 3am to know why that witness on NCIS that I’m rewatching on the DVD’s I own bc I have a huge crush on Pauley Perrette  looks so familiar, I can IMDB it on my phone and satisfy my curiosity.

And I can check twitter to keep up with the latest time warp fuckery that is currently consuming our nation. (Seriously, did I accidentally get sent back to 1945?)

AND I’m not in school anymore and therefore don’t have homework. It’s impossible to do school without internet access anymore. For anyone. I swear Pre-Schoolers have online requirements.

So what am I really missing out on by not having internet in my apartment?

  1. A tiny bit of convenience
  2. A continuous stream of television

Seriously. That’s it.

For me. That’s it.

And it’s amazing the shit you can get done when you don’t spend 18 hours a day watching netflix and scrolling down tumblr and watching stupid Youtube videos or reading articles that you know will make you mad but what the fuck else do you have to do and the urge to click is just SO DAMN STRONG.

Seriously. It’s amazing.

I make my bed. I do yoga videos. (mental note, buy new yoga video.) I cook actual meals. I even occasionally BAKE y’all.



It’s crazy! I have all this time!

I read even more books than I used to. I started working on a cross stitch project I hadn’t touched in years. I’m learning more about photography. I take walks in the park. I

I just got a book on fonts from the library.

My journal and I are getting reacquainted.

And I’m starting to run again.

It’s amazing. Seriously. I had no idea how much time I spent falling down the rabbit hole of the internet until I had to go without it.

Now instead of getting sucked into clicking on everything, I walk into the library/coffee shop with a list of things I need to do: pay bills, order that book, google this question, email so and so. And when it’s done I go home. I’m much more focused now when I’m online, instead of jumping from one thing to another. (Unless it’s slow at work and I have 20 tabs open like right now)

Yeah sometimes I feel like I miss things, but if I don’t remember it the next day to look at it IT’S PROBABLY NOT THAT IMPORTANT!!!

So that’s #1.

And as for #2, it turns out that not having endless access to television is good for me. Emotionally. Spiritually. Grammatically.


Maybe this sounds like the weirdest thing ever, but when I watch a show for too long it really alters my mental state. Especially dramas– which is what I tend to watch most. I go to this melancholy ‘what does it all mean’ ‘nothing means anything’ ‘everything is SO DRAMATIC’ place and it can take me a while to snap out of it. When I get into a show I will ignore the entire rest of the world, and not in a ‘that’s kind of quirky’ way, in a ‘seriously kind of unhealthy way.’

I’m not saying tv is bad. I love tv. I am saying that I am a happier, more mentally stable person when I have limitations on my tv consumption. I am bad at limiting myself. I am bad at actually turning it off after 5 hours and going and doing something else. So only being able to watch 1 episode a few times during the week over my lunch break is good for me.

I have to DECIDE to watch a movie and what movie I want to watch, which is actually kind of refreshing alternative to the vastness of indecision I usually feel. And if I decide that I don’t to watch any movie enough to go down to the Redbox and get it, then I decide to do something else instead of spending 5 hours online looking for a movie to watch.

And instead of spending 2 hours finding that perfect gif I spend 20 minutes and CALL IT GOOD.

It’s this making a decision thing that is the biggest change. Instead of just taking the first thing that pops up on my screen I make conscious choices about how I spend my time.

The other thing is that being away from social media is actually really good for me. I love me some social media. I find it useful and interesting and amazing the way it connects people. But I can only be angry at the state of the world for so long before I just have to go gather some rosebuds while I may. I can only take so many reminders of the rape culture/patriarchy that we live in, so many frustrations at social injustice, so many voices tweeting in my ear before I have to get away and clear my head and remember that not EVERYTHING is going to hell in an actual handbasket.

Sometimes you gotta disconnect, y’all.

When I tell people that I am choosing not to have internet at home they look at me like


It’s actually a relief.

Turn off your internet, friends.

There IS life, it turns out, outside your apartment.

Go experience some of it.