Let’s Talk Books — House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

Warning: Spoilers!

Well it’s been a while since I’ve written one of these! As many of you know, I didn’t exactly have a satisfying reading year in 2016. It got to a point where I felt discouraged to pick up books, and I started enjoying my fiction in other forms. That’s not to say I’m not interested in reading literature anymore, but for the time being my pursuits in finding new books to talk about have considerably slowed down.

Today, however, I do have a book to talk about that interested me to the point of actually looking forward to read something! House of Leaves is a horror/romance novel that really, really loves to play with format. And if you remember my post on the ttyl books, I’m most interested in reading books with more creative presentations.

So House of Leaves is set up like a collection of fictional notes, academic-style essays, and interviews regarding a fictional film called The Navidson Record. One of the main characters, Will Navidson, moves into a new home with his wife Karen and two children, hoping to either take a break or retire from a life of traveling the world for his photography career. He wishes to document his family life in a quiet, suburban environment for a change, so he sets up cameras around the house to capture everyone’s day-to-day activities.

When the family returns home one day, they find an undiscovered door that leads to a hall connecting two rooms in the house. Looking at floor plans reveals that they didn’t just miss it, but this hall isn’t supposed to exist at all. Will also discovers that the dimensions of the house are off by 3/4 of an inch; the inside of the house is slightly larger than the outside. He calls his brother Tom to help investigate any possible causes, and eventually a new door appears in their home. This time, however, the other side of the door is more threatening. There is a very dark and cold hallway that leads into a seemingly endless maze. When trying to explore it, Navidson gets lost and almost doesn’t make it back. Not only is the inside a labyrinth, but the halls shift, making any progress markers pointless.

Navidson eventually makes it back home, but his curiosity needs answers. Although he promises not to go back because of a promise to Karen, he does hire a professional explorer named Holloway and his crew to investigate for them. Navidson also outfits them with filming equipment so Holloway’s crew can document what they find.

Eventually the team discovers an enormous, spiraling staircase that leads deeper underground. However, after descending for at least half a day they realize it’s not ending and decide to head back. Future expeditions cause problems with Holloway’s mind, convincing him there’s a monster lurking somewhere. Navidson, Tom, and their buddy Billy also believe something else is lurking in the darkness; they find unusual scratch marks in the halls and Holloway’s team also finds their progress markers shredded as well. Holloway eventually shoots his own teammates, who flee and try to survive until Navidson finds them with his rescue team of Tom and Billy.

They eventually make it out, but one of the crew dies in the process. Navidson also finds a recording of Holloway’s final moments before killing himself, and sees/hears the body being dragged away and consumed. The house eventually starts transforming outside of the mysterious hallways; floors in the main house collapse and threaten to swallow everyone inside. When Navidson’s daughter is still trapped inside when everyone else has escaped, Tom goes back to rescue her. He gives her to Navidson just before the house takes his life.

Karen, who has already had enough of her husband’s shit, finally convinces him it’s time to go. Karen takes the kids while Navidson says he’ll meet with them in a couple of days after he tries to salvage his footage. However, he doesn’t return, and Karen is conflicted whether she should finally just leave him or if she should go find him herself. She eventually does go after him; Navidson couldn’t help himself and needed more closure about what the house actually is. Karen rescues him from the dark and that’s it… sort of.

What makes House of Leaves unique is that this main story is basically a summary of Navidson’s documentary, which was released as a film in the book’s universe. There are intentionally missing pieces to this whole story, so if it feels unfinished I supposed you could say that’s one reason why. The “essays” on the film that summarize the plot (and give genuinely interesting insight into small details in the film that expand or theorize about different parts of Navidson’s relationship with Karen or the house itself) I believe were written by an old man named Zampano, but I’m not 100% sure on that. Mixed into that are journal entries, newspaper clippings, interviews, and other material that try to help us understand the mystery of this house, this documentary, and whether or not it all really happened.

Zampano is the person that was compiling all of this information together. He died before House of Leaves even started, and it’s here that the other main character of the book comes into play. And unfortunately, he’s the worst part of the entire novel for me: Johnny. He’s a 20 or 30-something guy that works in a tattoo parlor and mainly goes around abusing drugs, getting plastered, fucking random girls (sometimes all three at once), and ejaculating philosophy to… I guess make him seem deeper than he actually is. If you couldn’t tell, I’m not exactly a fan of this type of character, so being stuck with him for half the book when something infinitely more interesting is going on in the other half really hurts an otherwise great reading experience for me.

So for whatever reason, Johnny takes an interest in Zampano’s work and begins editing and finishing the compilation himself. During this time, he suffers from hallucinations, feelings of cold, claustrophobia, and other symptoms that parallel those suffered by the exploration team in Navidson’s house. I guess there’s supposed to be some kind of connection from reading about the situation to actually being in the house itself, but with Johnny’s self-destructive habits I can’t even take him seriously as a narrator. And while he may have been meant to be an unreliable narrator in the first place, seeing him abuse his life so often makes me think his symptoms have nothing to do with The Navidson Record, but just with his drug and alcohol abuse.

In fact, I don’t really feel like Johnny has anything to do with The Navidson Record at all. I think he was meant to be a vessel in which the reader can see that the collection of essays, interviews, etc. were meant to be a work of fiction within this fictional world, if that makes sense. I think if House of Leaves was, by itself, this random collection of documents, readers may not understand that this is a work of fiction. So Johnny is essentially a character in this book that was meant to discover The Navidson Record and present it to the reader in a more understandable way.

And if that’s all there was, then that would be fine. The thing is, among the many footnotes throughout the book, Johnny will randomly go off into tangents on his nights of debauchery that honestly didn’t feel like they held any real purpose. There would be so many times when I’d be in the middle of an exciting discovery about the halls in Navidson’s home, only to be interrupted for 10 pages about how Johnny dropped acid with some random girl and then went back to her house to fuck her. I found everything about Johnny extremely obnoxious; I ended up skimming his sections just to get back to The Navidson Record, which I honestly think this entire book should have been about. To make matters worse, the end of The Navidson Record is kind of tossed to the side in favor of a series of letters from Johnny’s mother to him. There’s a good 60-70 pages worth of letters, too, which makes the actual ending to House of Leaves pretty anticlimactic.

Johnny’s sections aside, though, House of Leaves was the most interesting book I read in a while. It had me captivated and I looked forward to each time I sat down to read it. The books plays with format a lot, not just with the different types of documents, but with page layout as well. The book is close to 700 pages long, but a lot of the pages don’t even have half a page’s worth of text on it. Sentences and words are sometimes scattered about the page or arranged in a certain way to compliment the way the halls in Navidson’s house are changing or how the mental state of certain characters is transforming.

The only thing that disappointed me (aside from Johnny) is that there are no real answers given to what the deal with the house was or if there was a monster inside. There are some clues given throughout the text that hint the house exhibits interstellar properties and that it may predate the Big Bang, but that’s about it. I don’t necessarily hold this against the book, though. Mystery and horror stories often don’t offer satisfying answers; the thrill of the buildup is usually supposed to be more satisfying than the conclusion. And since this is also supposed to be a romance story, I’m happy with the way Navidson and Karen’s relationship was explored and arguably fixed by the end of the book (which I’ll admit I haven’t done a very good job explaining in this post).

All in all, I definitely recommend checking this one out. 700 pages is a lot, but with how the pages are laid out I’d say it’s more like 400 pages. It’s a different kind of book, so if you’re looking for something to read that’s less traditional please check it out!

Thanks for reading and I hope you’re having a great week! ūüôā

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House of Leaves
by Mark Z. Danielewski – Published 2000 by Pantheon – Paperback, 709 pages – ISBN 9780375703768

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

Let’s Talk Books — Eleanor & Park

Warning: Spoilers

For whatever reason, I’ve been reading a lot of YA books lately. I used to like them a lot more, then I kind of drifted away from them, and now I’m at a point where I think I can enjoy them more if I go into one with the right frame of mind. Like, they’re meant for young adults, they’re not technically adult fiction, they may have mature themes but don’t be surprised if the book as a whole isn’t as polished as fiction aimed at an older audience. With that said, I think I’ve started to be less distracted by things in YA fiction that normally would have irked me.

But Eleanor and Park — wow. It’s good. Like really, really good.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been reading so much YA lately, but the first thing I noticed about the book was that the writing was good. Really, really good. It honestly didn’t even feel like a YA book at times, and for that I was impressed. There weren’t many sentences that had to stop what it was saying to explain something to the reader, the characters felt extremely real and relatable (no feelings of “this is an adult trying to write teenage characters and it’s coming off cliche), the places felt real and relatable, all of the subplots more or less went somewhere or ended properly, it was paced well — while I can still see how the story may not appeal to older readers past their twenties, I think Eleanor and Park is more than capable of sitting on a shelf with other adult fiction.

The story’s concept itself will probably be the deciding factor of whether or not you’ll be interested in reading it — two socially awkward teens find themselves in love with each other, and they try to make a relationship work even though it may not be possible. The book’s cover art and font will probably give you a good idea of the tone of the book, so if it looks like something you might like, it probably will be. If it doesn’t, then it doesn’t.

Too bad the book’s summary on the flap doesn’t do it justice. There was a lot more to this story than just that. Eleanor is overweight; Park is way too skinny. There are a lot of body image themes spread throughout the story. Bullying is also a big part of the plot, at least for Eleanor. She’s the new girl and everyone harasses her because of her appearance. Park is pretty different from most of the bullies at school too, but he’s got a weird kind of social status because of his relationship with a couple of the bullies and because of his family’s role in the town’s history. He’s got somewhat of a free pass when it comes to bullying, and it takes a while before Eleanor starts to feel the effects of that pass as well.

And then of course, there’s the domestic issues. Park isn’t strong like his brother and father and often feels inferior to them. He doesn’t get along with his father all the time and feels like he’s constantly disappointing him. While I do feel like Park has some home issues, the spotlight shines more on Eleanor’s house situation.

Eleanor has an abusive stepfather named Richie, who verbally and physically assaults Eleanor’s mother and siblings. I know that sounds pretty cliche, but I was actually surprised at how well the author made me feel uncomfortable and fearful whenever a scene with him played out. To make things worse, Eleanor is unfortunately in a situation where her mother is either too scared to leave Richie or is in denial about what’s happening, and her siblings are all young enough to accept him as their new father despite his asshat-ery. He kicked Eleanor out of the house for a year before letting her come back, and Eleanor desperately wants to leave again. She can’t have any friends over, or have a boyfriend for that matter. Her family is very poor, and is even forced to take baths in a small tub off the side of the kitchen, barely concealed by a sheet. Eleanor’s home life is depicted very well, and it’s very unsettling.

The story’s written in third person, with sections switching focuses between Eleanor and Park. I love multiple perspectives in stories, so consider that another personal reason why I liked the book so much. By switching between Eleanor and Park, we get a much better insight into what their personal lives are like, something I feel a good romance story needs. It also stops the story from getting stale, although I don’t feel like the book was ever in any danger of doing that. This perspective switch also helps show how Eleanor and Park feel at the same time. For example, when Park says he loves Eleanor and wants to lose himself in her, it’s much more interesting to see her thought process of trying not to get attached to Park for either fear of retaliation from her step-father or doubting Park because of her own self-worth issues.

Despite trying to hide her relationship (and coming to terms that she is, indeed, in a relationship), Eleanor’s siblings find out, and her step-father soon discovers too. She comes home one day to the sound of him screaming and breaking things because of the news, and she runs away. She and Park formulate a plan to get her out of town. She has an uncle that lives in a neighboring state, and Park is going to drive her there with his newly acquired license. They part ways and, well…

I love the last set of pages after their parting. It hurts, but it’s so real I can’t help but love it. Park insists that they’re not saying goodbye because they’ll still phone and write each other. Eleanor leaves Park with that delusion because she’s too afraid of becoming attached to him. All of Park’s last sections consist of him having a very difficult time moving past Eleanor. All of Eleanor’s consist of ignoring Park and trying to get used to her new life. I’d say it’s cruel of her, but after getting to know her throughout the book I can completely see why she does it. Although something changes in the last chapter, with Park receiving a postcard from Eleanor with three words on it. We don’t know what those three words are. It could be “I love you.” Could be “I miss you.” Maybe even “I’m sorry, Park.” Who knows? But that’s the last scene, and I guess it’s up to the reader to make what they will of the relationship.

If there was anything I didn’t like about Eleanor and Park, it’s that the author sometimes overused ellipses. But I’m not a fan of ellipses in general, so take that as a personal complaint.

Honestly, I’d definitely recommend this to anyone that likes YA fiction, or for someone wanting to give YA fiction more of a chance. For everyone else, if the book sounded interesting to you by reading this post, then I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. As a side note, the book takes place in 1986, so there are plenty of references to that time period, so older readers can at least get that from the book if the story’s not for them (although they’re not so numerous that it becomes unbearable).

Info for my edition of Eleanor and Park:

  • Published 2013 by St. Martin’s Press
  • Hardcover, 328 pages
  • ISBN 978-1-250-01257-9

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.

The Gray Zone Between Good Friends and Lovers

All right, so since I don’t really see this talked about a lot, I figured I’d try writing something about it. I want to talk about this “gray zone” that exists somewhere between friendship and romantic interests. And for the record, I don’t mean a “friends with benefits” kind of relationship. I mean a… hmm. Maybe I don’t exactly know what I mean yet. Know what I mean?

So I watched a lot of TV shows and movies as a kid where dating seemed really obvious. Boyfriends, girlfriends, first dates- they all fell into this category of “romantic interest.” There was usually a lot of pursuit, with the pursuer being nervous or shy, easily embarrassed, in that stage of “puppy love,” where the pursued was absolutely flawless. And these people usually knew when they were on dates. They got dressed up, there was a lot of obvious flirting, and usually ended with a kiss. They knew when they were officially going out. And when they broke up, there was usually a lot of crying, moping around, and then they magically found someone else to replace the previous romantic interest.

And I guess to an extent, that works out for some people. You know, the ones with the perfect smiles, that post pictures of themselves doing everything together on Facebook, the ones that drift in and out of relationships every few months with minor problems. You know, traditional dating. The kind of thing you were expected to be able to do in the real world.

But… I don’t know. Traditional dating still happens, but for a lot of us we end up in these situations where we aren’t really sure what’s going on. And it can be mutual or one-sided.

And really, really confusing.

Let’s say you get to be good friends with someone¬†from school or work. At those kinds of places, you’ll probably end up getting to know a bunch of people, maybe even hang out with some of them from time to time. But maybe this one person is a little extra special. You’ll text or call each other a little more often than other friends. You’ll both have these moments when the two of you just click really well. Like maybe you’ll find out the two of you went through some similar incident that really affected both your lives. Maybe you’ll learn that the two of you struggle with the same areas of life. It’ll probably be something that will make you say “Hey, this person’s pretty important to me.”

And at some point one of you is going to form feelings for the other. And it’s going to suck. Because on the one hand, you’ve met some amazing guy or girl that you really get along with. Someone that really gets you, and you get them, and you both want to spend a lot of time with each other. And if you’re lucky, you probably already have a lot in common, too. But on the other hand, this person’s become a really good friend. A friend you don’t want to lose. And that’s going to make it very difficult to tell them how you feel.

You might just risk it and tell the person outright. You might just want to get it out of the way and start on the road to getting over him or her if they reject you, so you can go back to being awesome friends. If that person feels the same way, then great! But if you’re reading this, then chances are things didn’t go that way. The other person probably told you they didn’t see you that way, or they weren’t looking for someone right now, or something else that crushed your heart. And maybe after that, you two stopped being friends. After all, it can get really awkward for both parties after a confession like that. But if you’re reading this, then chances are you’re still talking or hanging out. And if this person is really as good of a friend as you say they are, then they shouldn’t just drop a friendship like that. You guys should still be friends.

But… things still don’t add up. This person rejected you, but the two of you still go out of your way to talk or see each other more often than your other friends. And I mean, if you’re good friends, I guess that’s to be expected. Maybe the other person just assumed you got over them and there’s nothing weird between the two of you. But you still have these moments with each other that make you feel more connected with him or her than any other person you know. Maybe the two of you still tell each other personal, intimate things that neither of you would normally share with most people. Maybe you guys will playfully flirt with each other, and you’ll wonder why if he or she wasn’t interested in you. It can even be something as simple as letting your shoulders or legs touch when sitting next to each other. People are so quick to apologize and put more physical distance between each other if they accidentally touch, so why would the two of you not only be fine with it, but continue to let it happen?

I guess one of the first things that come to mind may be that one of you is using the other, or leading the other on. That’s always a possibility. Admitting feelings for someone leaves you in a vulnerable position, one that can easily be manipulated. And maybe that’s happening to you. Maybe it’s happening, but the other person doesn’t know that he or she is doing it. That can happen, as well.

But maybe some time has passed since you’ve confessed. Maybe you’ve grown closer, or maybe it seems like the other person may be into you. Maybe you want to revisit the idea again. Except you don’t, because you feel like you already avoided losing an important friend once.

But the thing is… eventually this other person will probably start dating someone. What do you do then?

There’s probably going to be some awkwardness between the two of you. Those intimate moments will probably be toned down. You may not talk or hang out as often. Their new boyfriend or girlfriend probably isn’t going to like you. You’re a threat to the relationship, and you can’t understand why because clearly you weren’t good enough to gain the love of that certain someone but¬†they¬†were. They’re not going to like you hanging out with your special friend. And your friend might be convinced to distance themselves from you altogether.

Either way, there’s probably going to be some distance. You’re going to be frustrated. You’re going to want to be happy for your friend’s new love life, as any good friend would want to be. But you wanted to be that love life, and your feelings matter too. And since we’re talking about romantic feelings here… no matter how much you want to be happy for your friend,¬†your feelings are going to matter more.

And honestly, you might even be mad. After all, a lot of what you two did was a little more than just good friends. Maybe it wasn’t exactly romantic, but… it¬†was a little more than just good friends. And you both knew it.

Or you think you both knew it. But if the other person is acting strange with you after starting to date someone else… then yeah, you probably both knew it.

Or not. I don’t think many people talk about it. They usually just let it go and move on. Or try to move on. And¬†it will still hurt every time you meet someone new because you remember the other times you’ve been in the gray zone. You’ll be thinking about the mistakes you either¬†have made or¬†think you’ve made and how to avoid a similar situation. But people that find themselves in the gray zone tend to find themselves there time and time again. Maybe it’s because these halfway romances form between friends. If you just ask someone out, someone you just met at a party or a blind date or something like that, then you know their role in your life. It’s a date. It’s not a friend. That’s traditional dating. But… sigh. I don’t know. Traditional dating just seems so business-like that way. I mean, how do you know if you really like someone unless you get to know them over a certain length of time?

Problem is… well, you get to be good friends. A good friend that you like. I don’t know. Maybe traditional dating might work out better, but…

Sigh. The gray zone, man. It’s fucking balls.