Let’s Talk Books — The Art of Fielding

Warning: Spoilers

Have you ever read a book that had characters you didn’t really like, but had too much fun questioning their decisions and dialogue that you enjoyed reading the book anyway? The Art of Fielding was that kind of book for me.

I honestly thought I’d hate this title. It was recommended to me as a book about a college baseball team. Fun fact about me: I hate baseball. HATE. IT. As your average dorky person who likes books, video games, etc., it probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise that I’m pretty indifferent to sports as a whole. Baseball, however, is the one sport I completely dislike. It’s so… boring. Most of the game is spent watching the players just stand around (which was actually a hilarious comment from one of the characters in the book). Other sports I can see the appeal, but baseball? Nope. Sorry baseball fans, I just don’t see the glamour in it that you guys do. This is also coming from a person whose father is an extremely angry baseball fan, and has brought screams and obscure swearing echoing through our home all my life, so I suppose there’s some additional bias here.

So you might be asking, “Why on earth would you read a book about baseball, then?” That’s precisely what I asked the person who originally recommended me this book, and she said it was still really good despite the baseball themes. And that it wasn’t all baseball. Plus, an author I like gave it a positive review, so when I saw it on clearance for four dollars I thought, “Why not?”

So after sitting on my shelf since February, at the very bottom of my small backlog of used books I’ve picked up throughout the year, I finally read through it. Despite positive comments, I was still hesitant. But to my surprise, I ended up enjoying a lot of the book, even if some of the enjoyment came from criticizing the characters.

The Art of Fielding is told through a third person omniscient perspective, with each chapter focusing on one of the five main characters. Henry is a skilled ballplayer that was scouted by one of the players on Westish College’s baseball team. The student that found him, Schwartz, has spent so much time living on his own and recruiting new players that he starts to develop a crisis as his college career is coming to an end. Owen, Henry’s roommate, is involved in a secret affair with Westish’s president. The president, Affenlight, deals with his newfound homosexuality while battling his desire to be with Owen against the reality of how a student/faculty relationship, including the forty year age difference, is ever going to work. He also has to take on a father role to his daughter Pella, who has reappeared in his life since running away and marrying a man ten years older than her just before graduating high school. Pella has a ton of issues to work through herself, including those with her father and her own artistic and life struggles.

So yeah, there’s definitely a lot more than just baseball going on in this book. Actually, the baseball games themselves are pretty few and far between. I guess whether that would be a positive or negative thing would depend on how much you wanted to read about them. It goes without saying, but this was a positive for me. It allowed The Art of Fielding to focus much more on characterization, which I was surprised at how much it had. There are a lot of conflicts that unfold in this book: Henry develops a hatred for Schwartz for bringing him to Westish and filling his head with dreams and stress of becoming a pro ball player, while at the same time pushing Henry far past his limits; Schwartz hides an emotional breakdown as he’s about to say goodbye to Westish forever after he graduates this season, as it’s been his only home and way of living for so many years; Affenlight gets caught up in the middle of so many different midlife crises, including his relationship as a lover with Owen, his relationship as a father to Pella, his relationship as faculty member to both Henry and Schwartz, and his relationship to himself and the school he’s so rooted in. Pella starts dating Schwartz, Schwartz  gets mad and jealous of Henry and Pella’s ex-husband, they split up, Henry starts sleeping with Pella, Schwartz finds out and then Henry quits the team…

There’s a lot of drama in this book. I can appreciate how interconnected each character is and how each chapter tries to focus on them one at a time.

Of course, that’s not to say each character is a well-written character.

Henry couldn’t be any flatter or more boring if he tried, at least until he starts having a mental breakdown about halfway through the book. And even then, he’s still pretty boring.

Schwartz — I’m not even sure what kind of person he’s supposed to be. He’s described as a stock jock character, but he’s supposed to be well-read (even though we never really see him reading anything)? He also contradicts himself a lot. Like how there’s this one part of the book, when he’s still early in his relationship with Pella, when Schwartz says he doesn’t have time for a girlfriend and that coaching Henry takes top priority. But the next time we see him, he’s sleeping with Pella and he ignores a call from Henry!

When Owen was first introduced, I couldn’t stop laughing. His dialogue was so unrealistic he felt like a token smart kid from a 90s cartoon.

“He spoke so highly of you, and of the more abstract virtues of roommatehood, that I almost forgot to negotiate. Frankly, I find the professionalization of collegiate sport to be a rather despicable phenomenon.” (18)

“Did I forget to mention? I have a gift card for this establishment. And I have to use it right away. Lest it expire.” (27)

“Thank you very kindly for meeting with us today. I found it edifying but more cacophonous than might have been maximally productive. I don’t wish to impose on your busy schedule, but perhaps we could schedule a smaller meeting to determine which initiatives might be fiscally possible?” (78)

Dexter from Dexter’s Laboratory. Edd from Ed, Edd, and Eddy. Maybe Jimmy Neutron. These are the kinds of lines I’d expect from cartoon smart kids, not a character from a book of fiction. Especially not a college student. I mean sure, we all have probably met that one pretentious person that littered their speech with as much advanced vocabulary as they possibly could in an attempt to sound smarter, but it’s still pretty unrealistic here. Especially considering he drops this manner of speech partway through the book, for whatever reason. Was it after his accident? Was the accident the reason why? Who knows.

Affenlight. Geez man, you’re kind of all over the place. For someone that thinks and questions his decisions all the time, I had a really difficult time understanding his motivation for anything. For example, why is he attracted to Owen?  And vice versa, for that matter. I never quite understood why a relationship with this big of an age difference existed at all. If they were ten years apart, or maybe even twenty, then I could see an affair happening. What on earth do they see in each other when there’s forty, though? I think the book dives into this a little, but for the life of me I can’t think of it.

Affenlight also dies rather abruptly at the end of the book. Personally, I think it’s heavily implied he killed himself after his affair was caught by the board, but after reading some other people’s reviews it seems it’s also possible he had a heart attack. Either way, it didn’t really sit right with me. As a person that struggles with depression, I can understand how someone killing themselves would come as a surprise to other people, especially if that person kept their issues to themselves. But after spending so much time following Affenlight’s train of thought, I honestly don’t think it seemed like his character to commit suicide. And if he had the heart attack, well… it’s not exactly any less out of the blue than killing himself. Honestly, it felt like Affenlight was killed off in order to make some kind of resolution for the book. All the characters were able to come together, forgive each other, and put Affenlight to rest together.

Pella’s the only character I didn’t have that many qualms with. Granted, she comes off as pretty spoiled and unlikable when she’s first introduced, but her backstory is pretty complicated and believable, if not unusual. Out of all the characters, she’s the only one I feel actively tries to improve herself and her life. She goes back to school, she starts working a job in the cafeteria kitchen, she even starts to learn cooking from the chef and wants to focus on becoming one herself. She’s a girl that made a lot of mistakes and is trying to correct herself, even if she screws up multiple times throughout the story anyway.

Despite all the issues I had with the writing and characters, I still ended up really enjoying The Art of Fielding, save for the last 50 pages or so. It was just over 500 pages, more then I really care for in a novel, but it moved at a pretty good pace and I found myself wanting to keep going. Granted, I didn’t like it for the best reasons. There were a lot of good ideas and backstories here. But like I said, a lot of my enjoyment came from poking fun at the characters and getting addicted to the drama. It’s not a bad read, but it could have used a decent amount of more polishing, so keep that in mind if you decide to give this one a go.

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Info for my edition of The Art of Fielding:

  • Published 2012 by Back Bay Books
  • Paperback, 512 pages
  • ISBN 9-780316-126670
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Let’s Talk Books — Fangirl

Warning: Spoilers

Fangirl is the third book I’ve read by Rainbow Rowell. Her work seems to be very well-received, and I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read so far. The first book I read was Eleanor and Park, which I talked about a couple of months ago. The second was Landline, which I also enjoyed, although I’ll admit it didn’t stick quite as much as I would have liked. But I did enjoy both books a lot. They were about relationships, but it didn’t feel like the usual love story I expected them to be like. Both books had very real, flawed characters whose flaws were major antagonists. They felt like characters that mirrored real relationships, rather than characters in a love story.

From what I’ve read online, if Eleanor and Park wasn’t someone’s favorite Rainbow Rowell book, it was Fangirl. And I guess I can see why, but honestly it disappointed me more than anything else. It wasn’t a bad book, please don’t get me wrong. But I feel it had so much more potential with some of the subjects it was talking about. I’ll get to that in a little bit.

For those that haven’t read it, Fangirl is about a girl named Cath and her first year in college. She’s obsessed with Simon Snow, this book’s equivalent to the Harry Potter series. She writes fanfiction that ships Simon (who seems like a hybrid character of Harry and James Potter) and another character named Baz (who seems like a hybrid of Draco and Snape). It’s apparently a huge deal online; Cath has a ton of followers that anxiously wait for her to release the next chapter in one of her stories, and many of them like her stories more than the actual Simon Snow books.

This is Cath’s main thing. She prefers to keep to herself and do this, rather than try to meet new people or experience new things. So as you can imagine, starting college isn’t the most graceful transition for her. She was supposed to share a dorm room with her twin sister Wren, who’s been her best friend and even coauthor for most of their lives. However, Wren is really looking forward to college. She didn’t want to share a room with her sister, she wanted to reinvent herself, go out, meet new people, and totally immerse herself in the college experience.

Which is fine, except Wren starts acting like a jerk. She gradually starts distancing herself from Cath to the point of not even talking. Cath feels hurt and betrayed by her only friend, although she makes do. Her roommate, Reagan, although at first very intimidating eventually becomes her new best friend. There’s also Levi, this guy that hangs around Cath and Reagan’s room more than Reagan does, that also becomes her friend. Cath thinks he’s Reagan’s boyfriend (or at least one of them), but doesn’t find out until later that their romantic relationship ended a couple of years ago.

Cath is in a fiction-writing class, one of the only things she really enjoys about college. Her instructor, Prof. Piper, is very nice and encouraging, providing a decent adult role model in Cath’s life. There’s also a boy named Nick in their class that she writes with in the library, which is the most fun she has in college. It reminds her of when she and Wren used to write together, which fulfills something that she’s wanted to rekindle for some time.

Her first semester eventually starts falling apart, though. Wren gets really drunk and accidentally texts Cath 9-1-1 and a place to meet. Levi drives her to the place only to find out Wren meant to text her roommate, and the 9-1-1 meant she should totally be out with her right now. Cath gives up on her sister, and their relationship gets even more distant when Wren decides to take their mother’s invitation to meet up after 10 years. Their mother left them on 9/11 (I’m honestly not sure why it needed to be this day in particular, but whatever), and it left Cath with some trust issues. Cath can’t believe Wren can forgive their mother, let alone start meeting with her, and now feels threatened her mother is going to disrupt her life as well.

Prof. Piper fails one of Cath’s assignments because she thinks she plagiarized. Cath turned in one of her fanfictions, and Prof. Piper found it on the site Cath posts on. Cath explains the work on the site is hers, but Prof. Piper says that writing fanfiction is still plagiarizing because she’s using another author’s characters and worlds. They debate about this for a while, and despite Prof. Piper saying Cath has the most potential out of any of her students, Cath says she doesn’t have it in her to be a real writer. All she wants to do is write Simon Snow fanfiction. The entire experience discourages her and she ends up skipping the final assignment in the class.

Her writing friend Nick, who she started developing feelings for, also breaks her heart by saying he wants to hand in the story they’ve been working on all semester as his final project. He tries to convince Cath that she had been right when she said it’s mostly his story, and that she merely edits it, but it hurts nonetheless. She feels very used and stops seeing Nick.

She’s also started developing feelings for Levi, who has also seemingly been trying to charm her as well. She ends up reading an entire book to him because he has too much trouble concentrating on the actual reading part, and they end up kissing and falling asleep on top of each other. Reagan catches them and explains how she knew Levi liked her and it’s “fine” because Reagan and him have been over for a while, but she sets some ground rules to follow if Cath and him are to start dating. Cath is invited to go to a party Levi is throwing, which she initially says she isn’t going to. But at the last minute she goes with Reagan, only to find Levi making out with another girl. Cath leaves, with Reagan following close behind.

Cath ignores Levi for the rest of the semester, and Levi has no idea why she’s upset. Eventually, though, she’s forced to speak to him again. Her dad was sent to the hospital and Levi was the only person available to take her. While waiting, Cath eventually tells Levi she’s mad because she saw him at the party. Levi says it was just a kiss, and that he didn’t know where he and Cath were at, but Cath says there is no “just” with her. She tells him to leave, she goes home with her dad, and she says she doesn’t want to go back to college next semester.

I loved the first half of this book. I didn’t realize it before I started reading, but I don’t think I’ve read a fiction book that talks about so much of the college experience. It started touching bases on a lot of things I was really interested in seeing more of. The life-long friends that suddenly become different people and almost snub you, the weird gray area between friends and lovers, questioning what makes a relationship, thinking you know what you want to do in school but then finding out it’s not right for you, adjusting to a new place away from home for the first time, having intense semester-long friends, even something as simple as getting lost around campus — these are all great topics to showcase. I’ve read plenty of books that feature the high school setting, but after reading Fangirl, I found out how much I really wanted to read more books with this type of college setting.

And yes, there’s some personal bias there. As some of you may know, I’ve been missing college lately. Well, specific parts of college, like my creative writing workshops. Reading the first half of this book really struck a personal chord with me to the point where it actually hurt (although I’d like to think it’s a good kind of hurt). I wanted that to keep going. I wanted this book to be more than just Cath’s first year broken into two semesters. I wanted to see more, with more people coming and going, with more ups and downs. I wanted to keep reading about the confusing journey that is college.

Well unfortunately, the book didn’t do that. All those different areas of Cath’s life completely fade away; the second semester is almost exclusively about Cath and Levi’s relationship. She comes back to school. Levi… I don’t know. Grows up? Sees he did something to make Cath upset? I don’t know. Levi more or less begs for a second chance and Cath decided to give him one. The rest of the story is pretty much their honeymoon phase of the relationship, and I’d be lying if I said it was pretty painful to read through. Not the good kind of painful.

I mean some other things happen, but they seem so minor in comparison to how much attention is given to Levi. Prof. Piper gives Cath an incomplete and is willing to do a semester-long independent study with her to finish Cath’s last assignment and pass her class, which she stupidly ignores until the very last minute. Wren blacks out and is dropped off at a hospital to have her stomach pumped or something. Cath’s mom shows up, there’s an awkward couple of pages where they don’t really talk much, and then she disappears. (Did Cath’s mom really need to show up again in the story if this is what it came down to? Couldn’t she have just left when they were kids and the impact she left have been enough? Seriously, this whole mom subplot disappears as randomly as it appeared.) Nick also shows up at some point to give Cath credit for the story, but only because Prof. Piper wants to publish it in the school’s journal and she won’t publish it without both their names.

But honestly, it’s all about Cath and Levi. Holding hands. Snuggling. Smiling. Flirting. Blah blah blah blah.There’s so little conflict, the story just becomes boring. Every other thing I mentioned that happened is just a minor roadblock. In fact, many of these events seem to exist just to make Levi seem more like a knight in shining armor.

It didn’t help that I found Levi really obnoxious. From the first scene of the book, I already had the feeling that I was either going to like or hate him depending on how involved he was. Levi’s the type of character (the type of person, really) who’s always smiling. Who’s super nice to everyone. Who goes out of his way to help whoever needs help. Who’s always positive. Who loves life. Who’s very forward. Who’s very flirty. Quite frankly, he’s a toned down Augustus Waters. And if you read my Fault in Our Stars post, you can probably tell this isn’t my favorite type of character.

Honestly, he seems too perfect. And that’s boring. Really boring. Call me cynical, but his and Cath’s relationship seems more like what you would see advertised in photo frames. For someone that was so hurt by his betrayal and for someone that supposedly has a lot of trust issues, Cath sure went back to trusting and liking Levi pretty fast. And maybe that’s realistic; after all, love is weird and doesn’t make sense. I can see someone hopping back into toxic feelings.

And if she did and he broke her heart all over again by getting drunk and making out with some other girl again, then that would be fine. Maybe she could move on and learn that guys like Levi aren’t right for her (which is something she’s stated multiple times throughout the book). But that doesn’t happen. He acts obnoxiously nice all the time and wins her heart. And they have a perfect relationship that you get to read about for 200 pages. With one or two minor inconveniences, of course.

Rainbow Rowell also describes Levi as smiling too much. He’s always smiling. ALWAYS. Or grinning. Or radiating. Or whatever. The descriptions of him smiling get pretty old pretty fast. It’s like in Harry Potter when Draco and his goons HOWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWL with laughter every time something embarrassing happens to Harry. After a while, the same set of descriptions get really old and really annoying. And to her credit, she does mix up the descriptions of him smiling all the god damn time. But in the end, it all means the same thing. After a while I just wanted to say, “OKAY. I GET IT. HE’S A REALLY HAPPY DUDE. STOP TELLING ME HE’S SMILING AFTER EVERY CHARACTER SAYS SOMETHING TO HIM.”

But if you’re into this sort of happy “awwwww” romance stuff… then go for it. Like I said in the beginning, it’s not a bad book. But for me, it turned out to be really disappointing. And part of that is due to taste. Compared to the character flaws in Eleanor and Park and Landline, I really thought Rainbow Rowell could have made the relationship in this book a lot better and more interesting. I’m not very interested in romantic stories where both characters just partake in each others bliss for the majority of the plot. There needs to be more conflict. The characters need to have more flaws. And while you could argue these things are present in Cath and Levi, I don’t think they’re present enough.

Like I said earlier, I was also really disappointed the book started out by delving into the complexities of a college lifestyle but then strayed so far away from that. Maybe a second read would be more positive since I would know what to expect, but I still think so many more interesting possibilities existed in Fangirl and I really wish Rainbow Rowell would have explored them more. Everything kind of conveniently fell into place by the end of the book and I sort of felt cheated. But again, this could just be me.

I’d still recommend giving Fangirl a read if you haven’t, but keep what I said in mind. It very much becomes a honeymoon phase love story in the second half, so if you’re not into that then you may want to look for something else. But either way, I’d recommend Eleanor and Park first if you wanted a love story with actual flawed characters that make the story much more interesting. And I’d even recommend Landline if you’re in the mood for a troubled marriage/midlife crisis kind of love story. But Fangirl… I don’t know. Call me blasphemous, but I wasn’t exactly rooting for Cath and Levi.

Fangirl

Info for my edition of Fangirl:

  • Published 2013 by St. Martin’s Griffin
  • Hardcover, 433 pages
  • ISBN 978-1-250-03095-5

Dealing with Depression — Revisiting Community College

I don’t really want to talk about my depression, but against my better judgment I’m thinking of starting a new series of posts discussing ways I’m dealing with it and how effective they are. Like I said, I’m thinking of it — this may or may not be a thing, and I have no idea if it would even be a regular topic if it became one. But I know a lot of you also have issues with depression, stress, anxiety, and other emotional issues, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try this out in case it somehow helped someone, or at the very least made someone feel less alone.

A lot of my depression comes from the fact that most of my friends have either moved or started a new phase of their lives that I can’t be a regular part of. That departure also makes the fact that I no longer have the closer community of literature majors and writers from my four-year school that I’d grown to appreciate and need a lot more apparent. I feel like I’ve lost a lot, and it really hurts.

I’ve been trying not to think about it, which of course varies in success depending on how well I’m feeling at the time. I changed a lot when I transferred to my four-year school, and I still stand by the fact that I changed for the better. However, as much as those years and people have influenced me and helped me grow into the person I am today, I’m beginning to wonder if placing so much into those things is making my fight against depression more difficult. I feel like I’ve lost too much, and that makes it harder to feel like there’s anything more to my life.

However, I’ve been trying to think of a time before my four-year school and the people I met there. Because whether I want to admit it or not, there was a before. True, I was less mature then. I honestly don’t have any sort of desire to return to that time. But there was a time before then, and I’ve been trying to do the things that made me happy then.

Before I transferred to my four-year school, I went to community college for two and a half years. It was a really big transitional time in my life between high school and college. I had no idea what I wanted to do. I spent each semester cycling between art, business, teaching, psychology, and language classes, trying to see where my proper fit in life lay while making sure these classes satisfied my requirements for the A.A. in liberal arts I chose to pursue.

Honestly, community college wasn’t a particularly happy time in my life. College was a huge adjustment to me in terms of workload. I had a new 45 minute commute to do. I felt a lot of pressure to know what I was doing in life when I clearly didn’t. My friends from high school were dropping one by one. Now that I’m writing it, I see some similarities between then and now. 🙂 But a big difference was I wasn’t depressed back then. I was just mad a lot.

That being said, a lot about that time doesn’t really stand out to me. I don’t remember most of my classes very well, and I don’t remember a single professor’s name. I never made any long-term friends there, just a few people to talk with before class started.

Honestly, despite the workload, what I remember most of community college was spending time with the one friend I had left. I went to high school with him, and he wasn’t having much more luck in college than I did. We ending up hanging out a lot, and those times are what I end up thinking about whenever I recall my memories of community college.

We’d usually have one day a week where our classes would line up in such a way that we could meet for lunch. We’d spend an hour eating and talking, very similarly to lunch period in high school. If we were both free afterwards, we’d usually go back to his house and hang out for the rest of the day. We’d take trips to the mall, buy new anime and manga, go out to eat, play video games — a lot of stuff what you would expect teenagers to do. But at the time it was fine, because we were still teenagers. It took us a while to grow up.

And like I said, I don’t have any particular desire to go back to those times and do all the things we used to. But I do miss something about those times. I miss feeling like someone else was in the same boat as me. I miss knowing what I liked and what made me happy. I miss feeling like even though I just started college and had no idea where I was going, I still had a lot of time before I finished school and entered the “adult” world. And I guess that’s what I would want to return to — those feelings.

Anyway, I hate building this up like it’s some grand story when it really isn’t. I’ve been wanting to revisit my community college and take a little walk around campus. Sometimes things become much clearer to me if I’m physically there, so I was hoping I might find a way to remind myself that I had a life before my four year school. You know, that I existed before it and I could exist after it, too. So yesterday after work, I finally took a ride up there.

I’m never really up in the area where my community college is. Of the 45 minutes worth of a trip it was from where I used to live, I only ever went 20 minutes of it for unrelated needs. So a portion of the ride there was full of “Oh, I remember this!” moments. I was a little concerned I would forget the way; I didn’t remember any of the road names I needed to take. But things started clicking into place fast. I smiled as I remembered some of the littler things on the way there, like this one roadside stop that sold garden decor and the large expanse of farmland. There was even a bridge that went over a really beautiful lake! How the hell could I forget about that?

I brought the messenger bag I wore during college with me — partially for storing some casual clothes to change into after work, and partially to look like a college student in case someone thought I wasn’t supposed to be there (I’m a paranoid mess, cut me some slack). I also brought my camera with me. I used to bring my camera everywhere when I used to walk a lot. There was usually a lot of beautiful scenery that I wanted pictures of, and eventually I started taking pictures of important places so I wouldn’t forget them. And although I must have gotten a few weird looks from passing students and maintenance workers for taking pictures of seemingly random things, I’m glad I finally had some photos of the places I used to spend time at on campus.

One of the first things I started thinking about was how it’s been almost 10 years since I started at community college. Those milestone thoughts are usually common ones for me. I started thinking about who I was still talking to, the car I was driving, the job I was working at, the classes I started out with (oh god, the art class) — my mind was all over the place.

And of course, these milestone thoughts make me compare myself to me 9 years ago. It’s a mixed bag; I’m still struggling with many of the same problems, albeit in different ways, but I can also see how much I’ve grown up since then.

As much as I don’t remember my classes and professors, I somehow retained a pretty vivid image of most of the buildings on campus, and this was really obvious as I walked about and toured the school again. With the exception of the cafeteria, everything at the school stayed the same. I recognized everything. And I guess that’s to be expected — after all I did spend two and a half years studying there. But like I said in the beginning, this was a very transitional time for me. When I think of community college, I don’t think of what I did at the college itself, but rather my time hanging out with my friend.

I looked through all the buildings again, trying to remember which classrooms I had courses in. I recognized some of them, even the dreaded art room that demoralized me from pursuing anything creative for over a year as well as the “psych dungeon,” which is what I called the basement level classroom I took my second psych class in with an awful and rude professor.

Maybe it was just the heat (90+ degrees and high humidity are perfect parameters for hiking around a campus with your messenger bag full of crap you never emptied from the last semester, btw), but the longer I spent exploring campus and trying to relive memories, the less I really cared. It was nice seeing the place again, considering it played an important part in my life that wasn’t all bad, but… I don’t know.

I don’t want to say it didn’t matter. In a way, I came back and confronted a place that gave me a lot of stress and frustration. So that felt empowering. I set foot in a place that had remained in my memories for years, so that helped me feel like I can always come back and revisit people and places. They don’t need to stay locked away in memories forever. Well, sometimes. And at the very least, I took a drive to somewhere besides work, and I enjoyed it. It’s nice to be going somewhere other than work. In clothes that aren’t work clothes.

But the trip didn’t make me feel much better in terms of believing that a life existed before I was depressed and could therefore exist afterwards. I’m still trying to maintain the outlook, but the trip itself didn’t do anything to really reinforce it. Maybe it was never going to. Maybe it was just a weird line of thought in my head and something got mixed up. I got up this morning, started working on this, got called into work, had an awful day, and came back to finish this post. The negative thoughts and me missing so much ran pretty strongly today. I was hoping this trip back to another time would have helped, and even though it did in some ways, in the ways I wanted it to, it didn’t.

Maybe it was because it wasn’t significant enough in the grand scheme of things. Maybe there are more important things to make me feel there’s more to me than what I lost. Maybe it was just a bad day. Who knows.

I’m glad I went back there, though. Like I said, I’ve been thinking about it for a while now, and it was nice to physically see something that only existed in memories. Maybe in some unknown way I needed closure and this will help. At any rate, taking a drive to somewhere unexpected and having it go smoothly was a nice change of pace. Maybe I should make a point to go venture out to interesting areas more often.

Different Phases of Writers

Yesterday I attended a publishing panel hosted by the college I attended. A few authors visited to discuss their experiences with self-publishing. I don’t know why, but halfway during the panel I couldn’t help but notice how different writers can be.

And I know. Like, duh. But it was one of those weird moments when you kind of step outside yourself for a minute and look at the timeline of your life. And while that feeling is fairly fresh, I wanted to touch on it a little.

So one phase of a writer is their grade school selves. It’s usually when someone is writing something for fun, like fanfiction, or when someone is trying to express themselves, like through poetry. Writers usually find somewhere online to post their stuff, like fanfiction.net or their own personal blogs. This is usually the time in their lives where they can look back and laugh at how bad their writing was because it falls under that umbrella category of making fun of your teenage self.

Then there’s the college phase of writing. You listen to your professors talk about writers and writing and you’re in awe that you’re finally among people that understand your passion. You attend readings, slams, and other literary events on campus. You talk about your life as a writer on campus with other writers. You experience what will probably be your first form of constructive criticism, most likely about a piece that’s emotionally important to you, and it hurts. A lot. But you learn from it. You learn how to write better and you learn how to take and give constructive feedback.

The immediately-after-graduation phase of a writer’s life is wonderfully ignorant. Well, at least for me and a few others I knew. College is over; the community of supportive writers you’ve come to know and love is gone. You try staying in touch with people, and for a while you do. You talk about different writing projects you’ve started since graduating. You try to meet up and recreate some kind of writing environment like college provided, but it’s hard when everyone has their own life to live and schedules to keep. In an attempt to make your job-hunting seem more productive, you tend to talk about your writing life more often to those that normally don’t care. You start looking for writing quotes and advice to help your mind and focus stay sharp. You try to ignore the inevitable feeling of missing your college workshops.

The following phase in a writer’s life sucks. You’ve come to terms with the fact that you’re pretty much on your own for writing. If you’re still looking for a job, your dreams of being a successful writer start to diminish as you focus on more immediate problems. You focus less on writing, although the desire to keep trying still lingers in the back of your brain. Any writing you do is pretty much either for you or some kind of online network you post your work to; workshopping and constructive criticism are a thing of the past. Like college life, you begin to think the writer’s side of you should remain in the past. You try to grow up and achieve “realistic” goals.

And that’s all the phases I’m familiar with. I could guess what other, future phases would be like. There’s a phase when a writer teaches other aspiring writers at a college. There’s a phase when you’re published and develop a bit of an ego when you’re trying to promote your work. There’s a phase when writing becomes your actual job, and it starts to mean less to you as an art and more as something that needs to get done if you want to eat and pay rent. There’s a phase when you’re content with writing; you’ve been doing it for a while and you can reliably produce new content and not view it as a big deal.

And then I guess there’s whatever phase I’m currently in, when I have no idea what I’m writing or what I want to write about and just type whatever’s on my mind. 🙂

Becoming an “Adult”

Since graduating high school, age has played a much less relevant part in my life. I guess when you’re in high school, and even middle and elementary, age has a strong correlation to your grade, and as we all know your current grade was, like, the biggest deal ever back then. In college, though, when you start finding people from different walks of life and different ages in your class, how old you are doesn’t seem to matter so much.

But when I turned 26 last year, something sort of… I dunno. Rattled me, I guess. Granted, there was a lot of shitty stuff that happened around my birthday last year, and even for the rest of the year, that I don’t want to go into. So there’s some outside factors contributing to my unease of being 26. Still, I’ve had so many thoughts cross my mind since then like, “you’re in the second half of your twenties now,” or “you’re closer to 30 than 20,” and it’s really bugging me.

Adults (at least to me) always seemed like older, taller people who had the answers to everything. They owned homes, they were married (or divorced), had kids, drove mini-vans, etc. It didn’t matter if you turned 18 or 21 or whatever number you want to assign for officially becoming an adult. Being an adult, to me, was like this far-off state of being that always seemed to remain in the future.

So when I turned 20 and could no longer call myself a teenager, I used the term “adolescent” to describe what kind of age group I belonged in. Not the best one, since “adolescent” can cover a wide span of ages depending on context. Eventually I started saying “20-something,” as many people have, and I feel that’s appropriate both for me and my generation. But for people outside my generation, the actual people I view as “adults,” I can’t escape the fact that to the rest of the world, I too am an adult.

And it certainly doesn’t feel like it.

And for whatever reason, being 26 is really driving that point home for me. One of my co-workers just got married; she’s 25. We’re practically the same age, and a few years ago I would have said she was marrying pretty young. And it’s not like I know a lot of people rushing to get married right now, but the reality is I’m at the age where it’s not weird for my peers to get married. Same goes for having kids; someone else I used to work with just had a baby (she’s also a year or two younger than me). A few years ago I would have said we’re too young to be having kids. (In fact, I still say we are, and I’d even argue no one is ever mature enough to raise a child in the first place, but that’s a topic for another day). But, well… being 26 makes me feel it’s not that weird.

I feel like part of the reason why this makes me feel so uneasy is because I’m comparing myself to other people and I’m disappointed I’m not where I am in life. And part of that is definitely true, but I also know a lot of people in a similar position as me. Other people that still live with their parents, other people that can still only find part-time work, other people that still don’t really know how to be a proper adult. And I know it’s okay, but I guess my overall point is that this doesn’t really feel like what being an adult seemed like it would be. Maybe us 20-somethings grew up with TV shows and movies and music that gave us this idea of what adulthood would be like, but then the world changed and it’s not what we imagined. Or maybe this is what it always felt like at this age. Who knows.

I know there’s a lot of reasons/excuses of why my generation is still stuck in this awkward transition between traditional adulthood and adolescence; our economy still sucks, we’ve grown up with too many ideals and not enough actions, the Internet exploded within the past 10 years and now there’s all sorts of ways to waste time that wasn’t available before (and the rest of the world does it too, so now it’s normal to waste time with social media and streaming videos and checking e-mails). But still, being 26 has really bummed me out.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ashamed I still like the things I like and do the things I do. I find myself immature, but not for what I haven’t accomplished yet. It’s just being an adult isn’t nearly as… well, I guess it’s just not what I expected it to feel like. I could say the same thing for any age I’ve been, I guess. But, and not to sound like an old person feeling sorry for himself, I’ve been realizing I’m not as young as I used to be and I still don’t have a lot of shit figured out yet.

Although to be fair, if there’s anything I’ve learned about “real” adults at all in recent years, it’s that most of them don’t have their shit figured out yet either. 🙂

Don’t Give Up on Your Craft

When I was on Facebook this morning, one of my friends from college was talking about looking for a new job. Among the comments following her post, it sounded like she had given up on writing. I haven’t talked to her in a while, so I’m not exactly sure what her thoughts on the matter are, but she was so focused on being a travel writer when we were in school together. Now, almost two years after graduating, she doesn’t even want a writing job.

It’s not like I’m particularly surprised; a lot of students from my writing workshops stopped writing after graduating. The thought of being a published writer someday is a pretty comforting thought when you’re in college. You spend so much time focusing on your craft, and maybe some publishing opportunities in small, college-supported contests that you don’t even worry about what kind of job you’re going to look for. Hell, I’m still looking for some kind of job I’m qualified for. It’s not until after you leave that network of supporting writers and go back to your home life that the doubts about how you’re going to use that degree start to noticeably manifest. Snarky remarks by relatives (so what are you actually going to do with poetry?), the lack of interest in your craft by other people, and for many, the need to start making substantial payments on student loans, are enough to start discouraging anybody from following their writing passion.

Stuff happens. Life gets in the way. Your focus and interest in writing starts to fade. It’s pretty easy when you don’t have a professor demanding another draft of something on a regular basis. I’m pretty guilty too. This year’s been shit and has demoralized the fuck out of me. I haven’t completed a short story in half a year, and although I’ve started several since then, I haven’t made nearly as much of an effort as I used to. If it weren’t for these weekly blog posts, I honestly couldn’t even call myself a writer anymore.

People come from and continue on different walks of life, and unfortunately, not all of them are going to support your desire to write. Accepting that you may never have anything published or “succeed” as a writer is something you should do as early as possible. It’s not being negative, it’s being realistic.

But don’t give up on it just because it’s not going to make you money. If you started writing, if you went to school for it, if you really wanted to perfect and continue appreciating the art of your craft, then don’t give up on it. You’ll have less time for it as the years go on, and you’ll probably be less enthusiastic about it too, but if you really love it then keep doing it. A passion for the arts is a true test; you see how much you really love something when it’s not working out for you, and finding that out is a pretty strong life accomplishment in and of itself. Don’t be discouraged by critical family members who don’t “get” it. Don’t feel too isolated if you’re the only one in your area that can appreciate the art of writing. And don’t worry about not making money off of what you write. You can find ways to live and still keep writing for you.

After all, didn’t you start writing because you had something to get out? Didn’t you want to put your unexplainable feelings into a more tangible form other people could connect with? Didn’t you find a joy in reading other writers’ work and finding ways to make intelligent comments to help improve it instead of just saying “it’s good?” Don’t you remember reading something that hit so close to home that you wanted to write something that would have the same effect on someone one day?

Just don’t stop doing it if you really liked it. Stop doing it if you’ve honestly lost interest. But don’t stop because of money or time. If you’re having trouble with that part of life, then you’re probably pretty frustrated. That’s understandable. Too bad there isn’t a way for you to express that kind of frustration, huh?

Change Is Scary

Hey! I’m moving soon! Hey! I’m not handling it well! Hey! I suppose now’s a good time to talk about change.

CHANGE (pronounced in an unpleasant, hesitant, through clenched teeth kind of way) is something a lot of people struggle with, including me. Absolutely including me. I don’t view the word “change” as neutral or context sensitive. (And to those ready to say, “well what about when you change a tire or change into your pajamas: please don’t be that person. We all know what we mean by “change” right now.)

To me, change is bad. Most people don’t normally think of the word “change” during positive events. “I started dating an amazing person!” isn’t viewed as a positive change, but instead as dating an amazing person. “I broke up with an amazing person,” however, is viewed as change. We think of the horrible ways this change affects us. No more cuddling. No more emotional support. No more love. I don’t need to explain the reasons why this change sucks, do I? I think you guys are smart enough to fill in your own answers.

I think by default, the concept of things changing is negatively viewed. Maybe it’s just me, I don’t know. But that word seems to swim through my head more frequently when negative things start impacting my life. I don’t want to sound like I’m promoting the idea of things staying the same in a closed off bubble world for all eternity, but when something shitty happens and it in no way makes your life better, I think it’s a little unrealistic to believe the positive person that continues insisting that “change is good.”

I get that the pro-change crowd is only trying to help when they say this to people suffering because of change. Yeah, okay guys. I get it. I appreciate the effort into making us feel better. Please try to see things from our perspective, though. Those that have been affected by change, especially those that have difficulty talking about how hard it’s been for them, really really don’t need to be told that change can be a good thing. It feels like you’re writing us off, like you’re saying the problems change has brought us aren’t really affecting us. If you really want to help, the best way is by understanding our position and trying to be there for us. You don’t need to solve our problems, you don’t need to try fixing us, you just need to be there for us.

That being said…

There is… a certain… truth… in what they say (also spoken in an unpleasant, hesitant, through clenched teeth kind of way).

Oh, and believe me, I don’t want to admit that. I really, really don’t want to admit that. I’m still for my stance on change being a negative thing.

But when something negative changes your life… sometimes there’s something else that happens as a side effect. Sometimes. Not all the time. But sometimes.

All right, here’s an example. After my first semester of college, my best friend stopped talking to me. She was going to school in a different state, she stopped answering her phone, she stopped responding to E-mails, she basically disappeared. There was no warning, there was no closure, and it left me feeling abandoned. How else was I supposed to feel? The person who, throughout the entirety of high school, I’d talked to every day, confided in, made inside jokes with, and unfortunately, had feelings for, just disappeared. Had I done something? Was I not good enough to be friends with anymore? Did the knowledge of my feelings for her ultimately make her not want to deal with me anymore? Well, I’ll never know. I convinced myself that she was better than me and I didn’t deserve her as a friend, and that I did deserve to be given up on.

Fast forward a few years later. One of my friends from a creative writing workshop introduced me to another one of his friends. He eventually had to go, but me and her continued talking for hours. We clicked instantly. She said we should meet around campus and hang out more often. We exchanged numbers and each day that we were on campus with one another, we sat and talked. We talked for hours. If I wasn’t in class, I was either waiting for her to get out of class or actually hanging out with her. We texted each other at night, and we eventually started calling each other more frequently too. One night we talked for six hours. For the first time in years, I felt like I had an actual best friend again. It felt like I was making some substantial progress with my life, which for the longest time, felt stuck in time.

The best part was that both of us felt comfortable enough to open up to each other with unresolved issues from our pasts. She was the first person to really care and try helping me with my issues involving my best friend from high school. I told her everything that happened. I was a completely open book. She was the one that helped me realize I’d been bottling everything up for years. She was the one that convinced me to try therapy. She was going and it was really helping her. She made me aware of the wellness center at my college. She became an extremely important and essential part of my life, and I’d only known her for a couple of months.

Well, sometime during winter break she stopped answering my texts. I didn’t think anything of it at first, but when a week went by and she didn’t even try getting back to me, I started to panic. Memories of trying to talk to my best friend from high school started overflowing from the bottle I’d corked them all in. I was terrified the same thing was going to happen again. After years of trying to find another friend to have that kind of connection with, I’d finally found one, and as each day went by, the realization that the same thing was about to happen again kept washing over me. Only this time it hurt more. The first time allowing myself to form a friendship like this since high school, and it ended in the exact same way. And she knew how much that kind of ending affected me, too. No, this time was definitely worse.

I didn’t handle it well. I don’t remember what I started texting her when I tried getting in touch, but I’m sure it wasn’t anything that would make her start wanting to talk to me again. Don’t get me wrong, with both this girl and my former best friend, I was by no means always easy to deal with. But to go from what we had to simply not speaking for no reason… I mean, I don’t know. I didn’t handle it well, but I think I deserved a reason for why they did what they did.

As you can imagine, I had a lot to talk about when I returned to therapy once school resumed in the spring. I viewed the entire loss as an unneeded change. I felt like I was finally moving forward. After years of trying, I’d not only made a close friend, but… well… a friend. People came into and out of my life with each semester and no one really hung around long enough to form a friendship with. The change with this girl only brought me down to my lowest emotional point I’d as yet experienced. What did it do for me? What good came out of this? How, in any way, shape, or form, was this good?

Well… therapy came out of it. I needed it, and eventually the bottle I’d stored all my feelings in was going to burst at some point. Do I feel like I needed the loss of another close friend to start the healing process? No. Do I feel like there was a better, less painful way to acknowledge I have issues and to seek proper help for them? Yes.

But the fact is, this whole thing happened. And therapy, and thus this long, not even close to finished road to recovery began. It was a side effect from change.

I’m still not saying this change was positive, even if it may have been… needed, for lack of a better word. There must have been better ways to get to where I am now. I’m just saying sometimes, when looking at the bigger picture… I don’t know. Sometimes there are some side effects to change that may be, what the pro-change crowd, would consider… good.

I hope that made sense. Telling this story took a lot more out of me than I thought. Drawing cats and toast is definitely easier.

Hang in there.